by ANN RICKARD
It was about this time last year that a chance remark to a stranger changed the way I think about, well, this time of year. And how and where to spend it.
I mentioned to the supermarket check-out person, as she handed me yet another receipt for a couple of hundred dollars spent on yet another trolley load of goodies bought for the festive season, that I could have a holiday in Bali for the same amount of money I spend on hosting Christmas parties every year. She laughed. I laughed.
I went home and thought about it.
Instead of spending, oh, say a few thousand dollars on Christmas parties and the big day itself, why don't I spend those few thousand dollars on a holiday? And don't think for a moment that a few thousand dollars is a lot to spend in the lead-up to Christmas. Most of us do it. Add it up yourself if you dare.
I mentioned this to a friend, also harassed from supermarket visits and hundreds of dollars fleeing out of her wallet at this time of year, and we decided to let our families fend for themselves this Christmas and go to Thailand. Yes, I know I said a holiday in Bali, but Thailand suits us more. We don't surf.
So it is that we are packing suitcases with swimsuits rather than trolleys with Christmas fare at this usually frantic time of year. We love Thailand. Its charms are numerous and beguiling and its food is the most exciting and flavour-filled in the world, but it is the Thai people we love most.
Nowhere else on earth are you welcomed so warmly and treated with such kindness and respect.
Our first visit was to Bangkok many years ago where the love began at the airport.
That respectful little bow people give you, and the holding of their hands prayer-like as they say 'sawadee ka' and take your bags and usher you to your car - it's love at first impression.
Then at the hotel as the car pulls up and a handful of people rush to open the door while yet more gracious people escort you inside to the reception where beautiful women with glossy hair and orchids behind their ears and snappy men in smart jackets all treat you like a long-lost relative returned to their loving arms. Who could not fall in love with a country after such an arrival? We loved the dizzy contrasts of Bangkok: hot, muggy streets, food carts on the footpaths, brightly lit shops and small dark bars, chaos and traffic and noise and crowds and people eating everywhere...always eating at any time of day and night.
And at the end of each exhilarating but exhausting day came the delicious indulgence of falling into the cool and welcome embrace of a classy hotel to shut out all the heat and bedlam of the city. We could not get enough of it.
After many Bangkok return visits, then came holidays in Phuket with its beach vibe and then Koh Samui where a stay at a health resort in the hills changed bad habits forever.
When we ventured to Chiang Mai with its lush hills and haunting temples, to Hua Hin where we ate satay skewers every night on the street and watch the food venues make pad thai in an instant.
This year, instead of Christmas turkey and pavlova it will be a banquet of spicy food in a villa overlooking the Andaman sea in Koh Samui.
But we are not that heartless to leave family behind at this special time of year. They are all going to their in-laws anyway.
Read more of Ann's musings at annrickard.com