Notes from Thailand

DSC_0026-I had had more than two hundred good meals for less than a quid in local eateries, but it finally happened; I got food poisoning. Or an upset stomach. Whatever it was, last night’s tea was checking out at both ends. In the morning I was in a bit of a pickle since one needs to keep hydrated in such situations, and yet I had no water. The guesthouse staff were only present for a few hours a day, so when I felt less awful I ventured out to the shop. Except, I started feeling worse halfway along, and ended up chundering into a gutter. I tried to retain my honour, but there was no way around it. A woman passed by on her bike and, seeing me down on all fours and panting, gave me a ride on the back. She even came in to help me buy some of the local electrolyte solution.

-I got a massage from a female inmate. There’s a rehabilitation program in Chiang Mai for ladies who have been getting their fingers dirty with the drug trade, and part of their masseuse and cook training is offering said services to Joe Public. It was a nice massage, comfy and at the standard rate, and the only prisony thing to it was the warden staffing the reception.

-I went into Laos for a few hours. Technically it’s a different country, but I don’t count the excrement hole that was Don Sao part of Laos. It’s literally a few trees and a market selling fake designer bags and cigarettes, the only place in Asia where a tout grabbed my arm. While we were waiting for the boat back to Thailand to leave, a couple of child beggars stood beside me, and I had to endure two minutes of being judged by tourists who don’t understand that giving them money does more harm than good (parents keeping kids out of school to go begging, kids being abducted and used this way by gangs, etc).

-That wasn’t even the worst part. We were shown some jars containing local whisky, each with a different dead animal inside – a cobra, a turtle, and a tiger’s penis. I’m not sure if it even was genuine, but the tour guide used the moment to enforce the myth that drinking that would cure any disease, like some sort of machine from Elysium. Anyway, I later recounted the experience to a girl whose first language wasn’t English, and she asked me; “what’s a penis?”

-It’s prefectly possible to go to Thailand and leave still liking monkeys. Liking them more than when you arrived, however, is more challenging. In Lopburi I witnessed macaques ripping shopping bags out of tourists’ hands and then stealing one’s baseball cap, for no apparent reason, whilst I found an absolutely obese one in Phetchaburi. No joke, his belly was sagging downwards and covering half his legs. It was amusing, however, to watch him getting chased by a puppy!

-One of my guesthouses was owned by an American guy and his local wife, and he was a very hospitable fellow – there’s no other way to describe someone who gives a student a free beer. He told me all kinds of interesting things about Thai culture and Phetchaburi, including how the council had blocked off access by cars to a hill leading to a tourist attraction, basically to throw taxi drivers a bone. Hence, the reason why there’s a huge but deserted car park up there.

-I saw a Thai girl wearing really skimpy shorts at a temple whilst saying a prayer. Now, normally Thais only just tolerate that from foreigners, but not always, so that shouldn’t have flown from a local. The American later told me that what I had seen was a one-off, and yet I saw the same thing later in a temple in Malaysia. Perhaps things are changing.

-I visited the River Kwai area, where POWs in WWII were forced to build a railway by the Japanese. There were some pretty sad facts in the various museums; Asian labourers, tricked into working with false promises, died in the millions, yet only three unidentified bodies were exhumed and reburied. Many had arrived with their families who, just like them, often succumbed to disease and starvation. Food was usually full of maggots, eighteen hour shifts became common at one point and some POWs were killed because Allied warplanes couldn’t tell which huts had who in them. In the cemetery, one tombstone described the soldier’s son as “my pal”, and another’s message was from the guy’s mother. Imagine that; three years of waiting and hearing nothing, and then you finally find out that your husband/ dad/ son is not coming home.

-The owner of my guesthouse in Kanchanaburi was a strange geezer. Yes, pot calling the kettle black. It takes one to know one. Anyway, there was a sign saying “no outside food” – on top of a picture of a pair of eyes. This might as well have been Count Olaf’s home. Adding to that, there was an honour system in place where one would write down in a book the drinks they’d had. One night I had a fanta and forgot to add it on the record, and the next morning the guy came up to me and said “you didn’t put last night’s drink down”. And no, there were no CCTV cameras in the area. Lucky for me, I had written it down just before he had said it, so my image as a saint had not been compromised. Regardless, why have an honour system if you’re going to behave like Roz from Monster’s Inc?

-I took a sleeper train to Malaysia. It would have been a decent night’s sleep – except they didn’t and wouldn’t turn off the hallway lights. Because I was in a sleeper berth, with just a thin privacy curtain, light streamed in. I ended up building a makeshift curtain myself, using every item of clothing I had available to plug any openings. I still only got three hours of sleep out of twelve onboard.

-The border was a nightmare. They wanted to process people coming into Thailand first, and a train guard said “Malaysia, wait, wait” to us. Fair do’s, since their train was leaving first. Except, we weren’t told when it was OK to go, there were no further directions, so we just used guesswork. The train guard continued staring, indifferent, when we finally decided to start queueing. The line still took half an hour for me to get through, and by contrast the Malaysian immigration side only took three minutes to get my passport processed and stamped. When I got through, I missed my train by one minute and had to wait two hours for the next. I’m still pizzled off at that train guard to this day. I accept that in the developing world, travel is never as smooth as back home, but it’s when just a little effort could make things easier that it becomes unacceptable.

-Since I don’t want to end on a sour note, I was cycling in Phetchaburi when it started raining heavily. I took shelter in a shop, and some ladies in the back invited me over to sit with them. They were interested to find out why I was here (Phetchaburi is a bit off the beaten track) and what Scotland was like, and when I took a fanta from the fridge they insisted I had it for free. And, of course, they took a selfie with me.

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