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Author Topic: A Siam Adventure - Captain Corto Maltese's journey log  (Read 760 times)

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Online Captain MalteseTopic starter

A Siam Adventure - Captain Corto Maltese's journey log
« on: April 22, 2010, 10:18:06 AM »
Below is the first post of my journal for my trip to Thailand. You are welcome to post comments and questions as you desire. If I manage to complete the work - for once - in a readworthy manner, I intend to repost it all in edited form on a more public forum so my Non-Elli friends can read it too.

----------------

Finally. As I begin to write this first journey log entry, I am on the flight from the Vaernes airport in Norway to Schiphol, the largest airport in Netherlands and possibly in the entire Europe. It is the first stretch on my airborne journey to Bangkok in Thailand, the Land Of Smiles. Thanks to an unexpected tax refund and a flexible employer I am just starting on an 11-day holiday to a continent I have never visited before, and right now I am near giddy with explorer's anticipation. It was just 7 Celsius as I left my home this morning and plenty of snow to be seen on the road to the airport... while Thailand has just entered its most warm and humid period of the whole year. After six months of snow, ice and temperatures below zero I can barely wait.

Things were looking bleak for a while. A week ago all hell broke loose in Iceland and half the world's airports stopped all services, cancelling flights for noone knew how long. It took several days before anyone official would even make a guesstimate of when flights would resume. Well, eventually the air opened again as much by frantic pressure by the economically threatened airlines. as much as by the ash cloud receding. But flights couldn't pick up as quick as they were halted, and not all airports opened at the same time. And since Norway is relatively close to Iceland and directly in the path of the main ash clouds, our airports have opened and closed like fluttering eyes. For my part I have been glued to every news bulleting and visits to KLM's flight schedule list has been a daily occupation. In fact, for the last couple of days it has been a hourly occupation after Schiphol finally reopened. The flight from Schiphol to Bangkok reappeared on the list only two days ago, and the flight I am in right now didn't reappear until yesterday! So those who wonder why I've been too preoccupied lately to be social online much... there's the answer. If I had booked a flight only one day earlier I don't know when I would have been able to fly instead, because the airlines now have huge backlogs to deal with. I would not have been able to go just whenever possible, but would have have had to get a new agreement with my employer about my absence period.

As if the ashpocalypse wasn't enough, other things have happened that could give a more cautious traveler reason to reconsider. Thailand which has largely been peaceful since the military regime that ruled from the previous coup in, gave the power back to the civil politicians in 1992. But with the military ousting of the popular-among-the-poor President Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 a gradually more vocal grassroot opposition has been publicly visible with large scale demonstrations. Demonstrations like last year's occupation of the main national airpot, and which have been disliked among the country's middle class and elite for disrupting tourism and other business, but have been largely peaceful and courteous by most countries' standard. Unfortunately the peaceful aspect has been badly marred these last few weeks with fatal street fighting and shootings between the military and the demonstrants - more than 20 are dead and 800 wounded so far, and the blow to Thailand's reputation as an ideal country for family tourism and attraction for foreign investors will be long lasting. The good news is that both the demonstrators and the military are asking for negotiations, the demonstration leaders are willing to turn themselves in and the shooting incidents seem to have been started by individuals rather than being planned actions by either side. There could be a honorable end to this at least. As I write this however, the news of four grenades exploding in the middle of Bangkok are reaching me...

And the political disruptions in the poor north and the capital are not the only woes. In the far south, muslim groups desiring independence from a largely Buddhist country are possibly using the fact that the national security is fixated on Bangkok to stage their own pieces of action. Only yesterday someone threw a grenade into a police station. Reports conflict but one to three policemen are dead and more than 30 wounded. If that isn't enough action, there were clashes on the border between Thailand and Cambodia as military units fired on each other for fifteen minutes. It seems to have been a fairly isolated event though and probably the result of some triggerhappy private's overeagerness. But other than that, Thailand is a very peaceful country! Really! And in none of these incidents there has been any violence aimed at foreigners, so I have been more morbidly amused than worried.

Here at Schiphol, I have now enjoyed a good salad with bread. I'm not a salad fanatic but it looked good, a light meal is to be preferred when flying, and I won't be eating any salad while I am in Asia. Never mind the grenades; my greatest worry on this trip is food poisoning. By the time I was tipped that I ought to get some vaccines, it was too late for the local health centre to get me an appointment for injecting them. So I will be making do by watching my hand-to-mouth hygiene closely, avoid potential bacteria bombs like unshelled greenery and icecream, and stick to well done meat. Which is what I prefer anyway so no loss there.

So what are my plans, now that the flight is going as scheduled? For a start I'm spending the first night on the plane since it's 11 hours of airtime from Schiphol to Bangkok, with arrival at lunch - since there are 5 hours of time difference between Norway and Bangkok. So, I arrive tomorrow in a probably rather soggy state what with the warmth and the length of the total ride. Providing my last minute hotel booking works out I'll then head to a four star hotel - the hotel prices here compared to in Norway are riciculously low, I estimate that the same room would cost me three to four time as much at home - and the luxury of a long shower before considering what to have first, a dip in the pool or dinner. I will barely have the time to sample Bangkok initially because the next day I am heading to a coastal pearl, the Koh Samet island with hotel bungalows, palm trees, white sand beaches and water so warm it's actually pleasant to swim - a rarity for a Norwegian used to 15-16 Celsius in the sea in the middle of the summer. There are no snakes in this paradise but I have heard that there are mosquitos... we'll see. I'll spend two nights out there before heading back to Bangkok for some real exploring. Mmmmmmarkets, some of them floating... oh yes! The second weekend is still not decided on but there's Koh Samui which isn't just another coastal pearl but a national park with breathtaking sights if the brochures can be trusted. And a chance to go sailing... which could be the high point of the entire trip. In the words of Captain Jack Sparrow; "Give me that horizon!"

Online Captain MalteseTopic starter

Re: A Siam Adventure - Captain Corto Maltese's journey log
« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2010, 09:14:32 PM »
My writing is not going so well. I observe, I write in my head, but when I settle at the computer for a while to actually record the lines I get distracted by other stuff. There's pages and pages of journal queued in my head... I'll sit here for a while now, so maybe I can get a day or two down at least. In the meanwhile, here's some pictures.


The view from my beach cabin from last weekend.


Someone I found on the outside cabin wall.


The Bay Of Siam. Can you guys feel the pull too?


Fishing boats.


Tourist boat.


Local fauna. Mangroves, I think.


Bench outside the dubious-sounding 'The Love Shop'. I did not enquire for details.


Tourist souvenirs... but how would I be able to make that survive the airflight?


Where I am writing this.

Online Captain MalteseTopic starter

Re: A Siam Adventure - Captain Corto Maltese's journey log
« Reply #2 on: April 30, 2010, 05:09:22 AM »
Just posting the end of the Thursday entry before getting on with the Friday one.

On my way to the gate I do an expensive mistake - I exchange currency at an airport. Remembering I have 700 nkr or about 100 usd of Norwegian cash in my wallet, I go to the currency exchange stall in order to have it changed to Baht which is the Thai currency. I'm informed that it means two exchanges as they 'have' to exchange it to Euro and then to Baht. Which means twice the 3 Euro exchange fee. Oh well, I'll still have about 92 usd's worth of cash - right? Wrong. I fail to realise in time that in addition to the exchange fee I'm also being subject to their exchange rate which isn't quite the same as the official currency rates. Guess in whose favor. This too happens twice... I do realise my mistake as I'm handed the Thai cash and the receipt. Gee, that little double transfer only cost me 35 usd - of 100! Note to self for next occasion to exchange currency at an airport: Don't.

And so I can finally climb about the flight to Bangkok. As we take off, I'm hearing 'One Night In Bangkok' in my ears and smiling because I'm going to get a whole lot more out of this trip than that.

Online Captain MalteseTopic starter

Re: A Siam Adventure - Captain Corto Maltese's journey log
« Reply #3 on: April 30, 2010, 06:07:38 AM »
Friday.

It's a bleak morning as the airplane starts the landing procedure over Bangkok's international airport Suvarnabhumi. It's bleak mostly because I haven't been able to catch a second's sleep on board. I can salute KLM for their attention to service as I have lost track of the number of meals and drinks of various types I have been offered. The yummy dinner alone was so big that I was unable to enjoy it all. And I have enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes movie on the lcd screen mounted on the seat before me, along with half a dozen episodes of the nature/science tv series "The Beagle" that follows a sailship along Darwin's voyage. And there was a real, soft downfilled pillow, and a fleece blanket, and earphones and everything but a Netherlands flag to wave, but the seat could only be reclined by a few inches and the temperature on the plane was fairly high. Also, as the plane lands at noon local time it's only 7am for my body since we've been flying eastward. Jetlag. To top it all I have been in a state of traveling fever for several days and haven't slept as much as I should.So I am kind of worse for the weather already as I leave the plane, and the moment I step into the gangway I am hit with the local environment. I don't know exactly how many more degrees Celsius it's outside the plane than inside... 10? 15? But the real kicker is the humidity, which compared to what I am used to, is like a bucket of water being poured over my head. So I sort of squelch and wheeze my way into the airport.

And Suvarnabhumi airport is a beauty. I am privileged to have visited a few airports around Europe and Thailand's main airport is at least as good as any of them. It was built in 2006 and is a modern, efficient and very clean facility. I'm impressed as I go through the passport control that part of the procedure includes having a facial photo taken. Once my luggage is secured and I leave the secure area, I find myself in a long immaculate exit hall staffed with more airport and official service personell than I've ever seen in one spot - it's like visiting a car dealership in a very expensive suit because I'm asked every ten feet if they can help me in any way. I guess I look a little lost.

The hotel I check in a a couple of hours later at, the Asia Airport Hotel, is pretty much like being back at the airport. It's huge, and the four stars it got at the website where I bought the stay in advance seems like an understatement because this place is huge, new-looking and so crowded with uniformed service personnel that I feel like I have entered a Disney boot camp. A bellboy? This place has a bell captain, just to have someone in charge of the orange horde of luggage rollers. On, and a brand new nine-storey mall under it... There's a swimming pool and I don't know what else, but it matters little as I have other things to do than explore it. Like trying to catch up on sleep. I disregard the fantastic view over the city and fiddle with the aircondition for a little while, then plunder the minibar for anything that's cold,  and then I get vertical. 

Offline Arhys

Re: A Siam Adventure - Captain Corto Maltese's journey log
« Reply #4 on: April 30, 2010, 06:20:07 AM »
Wonderful photos and I really hope you enjoyed it. :)  I love Thailand and completely agree with you as to safety even though there are the troubles going on.  I spent 6 weeks there and loved every minute, that's about 15 years ago now, oiy time to go back.  A good friend of mine and I are committed to a bicycle trip (still far off in the future) through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, so I love to hear any current travel stories.

Next time I recommend for you to go north a bit, I really recommend seeing Sukothai.  It's a laidback town especially compared to the southern islands, and the ruins are just amazingly beautiful.  There's a nice place (or used to be anyway) just outside of town towards the ruins with wooden bungalows on platforms over lotus ponds, very simple but beautifully made.

I was in Chiang Mai for Songkran, the Buddhist New Year festival with great parades, Chiang Mai has an Emerald Buddha in the main temple as their focal point.  Otherwise it is a huge street festival,  the custom is everyone has the days off, you party and eat.  Whiskey drinking is the big thing, then engaging in water fights.  People walk, drive around spraying everyone they can with water and it's so much fun.  Actually if you haven't had your shots don't do that...or count on the Mekong to kill the germs. ;p   

Chiang Rai is also cool, the younger guys from indigenous tribes there are really taken with the look of Native American tribes in the U.S. so it's interesting to see the town and then we did a trip to one of the hill tribe villages.  I haven't been to any of the islands except Koh Chang, near the Cambodia border.  It was much quieter when I was there, and incredibly beautiful though without the same standard of coral reefs.

Looking forward to seeing more photos and hearing about the rest of your trip.

-edited to reflect past tense ;)
« Last Edit: April 30, 2010, 06:21:54 AM by Arhys »

Online Captain MalteseTopic starter

Re: A Siam Adventure - Captain Corto Maltese's journey log
« Reply #5 on: May 05, 2010, 02:26:42 AM »
Saturday 24th April.

Next morning don't really leave much time for exploration either. I don't care too much as I have Plans. After a breakfast procured at a roadside stall  I sign out of the hotel determined to find humbler abodes when I get back to the city. I also find time for a haircut, which becomes an experience in itself. Right outside the hotel I find salon with a familiar brand name, and once the language difficulties are sorted out - without humoristical misunderstandings, luckily - I get a very good haircut. I'm puzzled by the speed at which the hairdresser works, though. A Norwegian haircutter tends to be efficient and fast - time is money like in few other businesses since the more customers you can fit into a day the more you earn - so the general pace is 'brush-cut-cut-cut-brush-cut-cut-cut'. Now I am getting the 'brush-brush-brush-cut-brush-brush-brush-cut' treatment. The result is excellent anyway. The other difference from Norway is that this haircut job usually costs me about 40 usd. Instead I am asked for... 11 usd. It's a useful lesson in what tiny wages does for the costumer price.

Now I can focus on where I am going next, which is... Koh Samet. A jewel of a tropical island situated in the Bay Of Siam near the coast south of Bangkok. It's a couple of hours of... taxi driving? It would be a laughably expensive concept of transport in Norway because of our taxi fees per minute, but here it's really both the most efficient method of transport, the most pleasant because of the car's aircondition and solitude compared with the train's, and the price is so low it's acceptable even if considerably higher than the train. There are even planes but the flights are few and the coastal airport doesn't park me at the docks like the taxi do. So before noon I find myself waiting for the little tourist ferry which is really just a speed boat. Vrooom.

As the boat approaches the beach near the beach hotel I'm hoping to check in on, I am looking for a pier. There is one, but the boat doesn't head that way. Instead it just floats onto the sand floor underwater with hoisted propellers and I wade in while my luggage is carried in the same way. Unexpected. The water's warm, anyway.

The little bungalow hotel I had hoped to get a place at is full. I am not too surprised since it is listed as the best place to stay at Koh Samet. And those small blue bungalows on stilts placed right into the sea sure looks pleasant. I could have gone on to search for a similar place but next door there's a beachhouse with empty rooms - all of them, actually. This is definitely not the top of the tourist season at the best of times and with the recent demonstration problems AND the ashpocalyse, there are maybe a couple of dozen foreigners on the entire island. Koh Samet used to be mostly the playground of the upper classes of Bangkok anyway, until the backpackers and the travel tv shows got the word out. It is a beautiful place in any case, and the sea is lapping on the beach which goes straight under the stilted cabin. My cabin is pretty choice too, with internet and breakfast and a higher standard than the bungalows - I have learned to appreciate aircondition after only a few days in Thailand.

As I rent the room for two nights, a resolve I made before the trip is broken. I was firmly decided against touching a wheel of any kind myself on this trip since the traffic of Thailand is, to put it mildly, a teensy little bit more anarchistic than in Norway. However, my resolve caves in like an eggshell as I am offered 'Batman' for my use for the stay for a pittance. 'Batman' is a very neat and fairly new Suzuki scooter with unfamiliar but simple controls, and with an Adam West Batman figure on the footplate to earn it its name. So I rent it along with the cabin and soon after I am commandeering the vehicle. On Koh Samet's only and mercifully small single-lane road, where the odd pickup can only progress if walkers and the multitude of similar scooters literally get out of the way. It is my first powered two-wheel ride since I got rid of my own ancient and broken-down scooter at the age of 17, 25 years ago. And as I totter unsteadily along at a sedate 12 mph on the cracked asphalt, weaving around sleeping dogs, wearing no helmet and driving on what's the wrong side of the road where I come from, I am grinning so widely you'd think I was Marlon Brando on a Harley. "Booooorn to be wi-iiiild....."
« Last Edit: May 05, 2010, 02:44:18 AM by Captain Corto Maltese »

Online Captain MalteseTopic starter

Re: A Siam Adventure - Captain Corto Maltese's journey log
« Reply #6 on: May 05, 2010, 02:33:43 AM »
Sunday 25th April.

It is a beautiful morning on my island as I wake up at 6am by the environment heralding a new day. Birds are singing, the waves are lapping under the cabin, roosters are having trumpet practice and vans with workers politely signal for everyone to get the heck off the asphalt road. After a nice breakfast I head for the main beach.

Ahhhhhh.... Sae Kaew Beach. The Glass Beach. I've seen some pretty neat beaches at Gran Canaria, the spanish islands outside Africa but they were no match for this. A long silvery curved blade of very fine and milky white sand, flanked by the tropical forest and teakwood restaurant huts on one side and only the misty horizon on the other. Near the beach is a number of speedboats and waterjets for hire and transport that almost equal the number of guests on the beach. Or the number of workers and salesmen, for that part. Definitely not the height of the tourist season. Which suits me fine. The water is at a perfect bathtub temperature and I stay in and just soak for a long while, disturbed mostly only by the odd wave from passing boats.

The evening is passed away at a restaurant on the same beach. There are lots to choose from but I fall for the one who offers beanbags for sitting furniture... how could I possiby choose otherwise? Afterwards I go on what passes for the disco floor, which is a small stage in the sand. There are maybe twelve or fifteen people who dance (and entertain the onlookers); all the females are european, and all the men except for me are Thai and considerably younger. There are also a few older guys, sitting by the bar alone or with very pretty Thai ladies.
« Last Edit: May 05, 2010, 02:44:05 AM by Captain Corto Maltese »

Online Captain MalteseTopic starter

Re: A Siam Adventure - Captain Corto Maltese's journey log
« Reply #7 on: May 05, 2010, 02:43:13 AM »
Monday 26th April.

Up at 6am by necessity once more. The time to head back to Bangkok is in the early afternoon. As I check out the home news on my laptop I learn that travelers are discouraged by the Norwegian Foreign Department from going to Thailand since the political situation is worsening. There's been more shooting, and more bombs. And as I study the Bangkok News online newspaper I learn that the bloody violence becoming mixed with the demonstration is from a sinister source; a paramilitary unit of former anti-guerilla fighters that was more or less disbanded a few years ago by the current top general. They are now known under names like 'The Boys In Black', 'The Samurai Army' or the 'Ronin Army'. Their leader is a former, now ousted general who has anything but friendly relations with the current regime. AT the moment it is unclear what their political goals are, or what their exact affiliation with the Redshirts or Thaksin are. What IS clear is that they are seen armed and in full black uniform in small numbers whereever demonstrations are, and are quite capable of firing the M.79 grenade launchers connected with the explosions so far. One theory is that they are acting as mercenary guards - a job that numbers of them have been doing frequently since the 'official' disband - while another is that they are veiled warnings to the police and military to treat the demonstrators with silk gloves. Or else. 'Discouraged from going to Thailand'? I feel privileged to be here; it is as if I am in a cloak-and-dagger revolutionary romance fully worthy of my favorite fiction character, Hugo Pratt's Captain Corto Maltese. For the sake of my Thai friends I hope everything resolves in a peaceful manner, yet as a writer I feel a perverse urge to get closer to the action wherever it is happening. But so far I haven't even noticed a demonstrant anywhere in my vicinity.

I am beginning to worry about my funds. This was planned and funded as little more than a backpacker city trip, and as my wishes for various experiences solidify it's becoming clear that I will be skirting the limits of my funds with several days of the trip left to go. I end up shuffling my accounts and writing off some semiplanned things for a later occasion and/or a different place. In the end, it's the opportunity for unique experiences that wins the priority.

After my taxidrive I arrive at the N-Siri Resort Hotel, a somewhat more modest above than my first one but still a 3 to 4 star location with outdoor swimmingpool. Not such a grand view from the hotel room windows, and the minibar isn't stocked with anything but water, but beyond that I don't see much of a difference between the two hotels' rooms. I seem to be the only guest at the moment, which is fine with me, and there's only three or four crewmembers around which is a lot less stressful that the orange army at Asia Airport. On top of that the breakfast is included in the rent per night which is only half that what the first hotel wanted. I decide to settle here for a few days.

They don't make suitcase lapels like they used to. (Or suitcases; my nylon luggage unit is becoming ragged here and there.) Back when travel was done by propeller planes and steam boats, luggage would carry badges put there by the travel companies to show their destination, and an old worn and well-travelled suitcase would proudly carry a good number of exotic proclamations. Today we travel as never before but our nylon suitcases carry little but luggage band scratches and a disposable paper ticket around the handle. Some might see it as a good thing that their trendy suitcases aren't spoiled by glued and ragged pieces of paper, but to me there's something lost in the lack of past showing. As if the travels' value diminishes because they have become more commonplace. I would have LOVED to have a suitcase that showed off my past; screw souveniers, let there be a shelf in my house for a battered suitcase as the story of my experiences. Budapest's antique streets. Bangkok's insane scooter traffic. London's hole-in-the-wall cafes. Leipzig's serene mundanity. Amsterdam's little canals and ubique rose leek vendors. Maybe a hole to display the trip to Leningrad that was botched by the Chernobyl explosion... I currently declare my resolve to make such an object even if it will have to get the lapels made and put on post travellum.

The swimming pool? The water is cold and delicious after the taxi ride. Mmmmmm.

Online Captain MalteseTopic starter

Re: A Siam Adventure - Captain Corto Maltese's journey log
« Reply #8 on: May 05, 2010, 02:49:07 AM »
Wonderful photos and I really hope you enjoyed it. :)  I love Thailand and completely agree with you as to safety even though there are the troubles going on.  I spent 6 weeks there and loved every minute, that's about 15 years ago now, oiy time to go back.  A good friend of mine and I are committed to a bicycle trip (still far off in the future) through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, so I love to hear any current travel stories.

Next time I recommend for you to go north a bit, I really recommend seeing Sukothai.  It's a laidback town especially compared to the southern islands, and the ruins are just amazingly beautiful.  There's a nice place (or used to be anyway) just outside of town towards the ruins with wooden bungalows on platforms over lotus ponds, very simple but beautifully made.

I was in Chiang Mai for Songkran, the Buddhist New Year festival with great parades, Chiang Mai has an Emerald Buddha in the main temple as their focal point.  Otherwise it is a huge street festival,  the custom is everyone has the days off, you party and eat.  Whiskey drinking is the big thing, then engaging in water fights.  People walk, drive around spraying everyone they can with water and it's so much fun.  Actually if you haven't had your shots don't do that...or count on the Mekong to kill the germs. ;p   

Chiang Rai is also cool, the younger guys from indigenous tribes there are really taken with the look of Native American tribes in the U.S. so it's interesting to see the town and then we did a trip to one of the hill tribe villages.  I haven't been to any of the islands except Koh Chang, near the Cambodia border.  It was much quieter when I was there, and incredibly beautiful though without the same standard of coral reefs.

Looking forward to seeing more photos and hearing about the rest of your trip.

-edited to reflect past tense ;)

Yay, another Siamese traveller! :) Chiang Mai and Koh Chang were both on my to-do list but I got other priorities. I wouldn't dream of a bicycle trip in this area; a motorcycle trip on the other hand would be fantastic. Songkran was only a few days before I went there so, unfortunately.

Online Captain MalteseTopic starter

Re: A Siam Adventure - Captain Corto Maltese's journey log
« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2010, 02:56:32 AM »
Tuesday 27th April.

The anticipated stomach problems arrive with dawn. I spend the first half of the day partly sweating and holding my breath while sitting on the porcelain throne, and partly laid out rigidly in bed. I am thankful it'not food poisoning which would literally have put a cramp in my trip, but only the result of unaccustomed heat and foreign bacteria. By evening the worst is over although I'm going to have some trouble for days ahead.

And I am glad that I'm okay again by the evening since there are Plans. Through years of Internet socializing I have acquired friends in the damnedest places, and speaking of damned... as the taxi navigates me closer to my local acquaintance the building structure changes from suburbia to industrial, and from industrial to something I would call slum at first look. It's definitely not a place where people with a substantial income would want to settle. I've felt like a stranger ever since I left the airport what with my white skin, and I have a feeling - not unrelated to the very curious looks I get now - that there hasn't been a 'farang' (caucasian) in this area in a long time. Ramshackle sheds, lolling dogs, buildings without doors or windows or all their walls... it is obvious that at least they don't need to worry about the cold much. The house I emerge from the taxi at looks like one of the worse in the neighbourhood, inside and out. For a start there's hardly any furniture. A few shelves and a cupboard, but there's only one small table and that holds the tv. I'm welcomed in to sit in the mainroom which is a tiled floor with streams of flypaper hanging from the roof and a few bamboo beams that separates the floor area from the heaps of electrical cables and similar lying about. I'm told that the landlord partly uses this house as a storage facility for his shop.

As soon as I arrive and meet with my friend, family and neighbours and friends begin to filter in. Noone except my friend can speak more than a few words of english if any, so we smile and nod and exchange greetings 'Sawatdee Kaah! Sawatdee Krah!' (said accordingly to female or male gender) and that's about it. But as I sit on the naked floor tiles, wave to the smallest children and try to relax while being the local evening curiosity, I have time to observe. And I gradually decide that it is unfair to call this place a slum. Yes, there has been little money to spare on non-essentials. And there's no aircondition in spite of the heat and humidity, or the kind of furniture I'm used to expect in a home. But the place is very clean, there's electricity and fans and tv with dvd and (dubious) cable and water from a tap and - I eventually discover - a perfectly okay water closet. These people aren't suffering from naked poverty. As I slowly learn through the translated presentations and greetings, they work in shops and offices and little factories or drive taxis. The bigger children go to school and there are always some stayathome adults to watch over the smallest ones. There might be bad teeth to be seen and not more clothes in most wardrobes than what is absolutely needed, but there is no need for international help agencies to come and offer their help in this particular area. So I stop being surprised at how the local are smiling not just to me but chattering happily with each other as they cast sideways glances at me. A few youngsters stare directly at me, but I can live with that.

Before the evening is over my plans for the rest of this trip have changed. While going to the international tourism magnet and marine national park Koh Chang was a sweet plan, the invitation from my friend to stay next weekend at a small farm in a tiny rural village far east near the Cambodian border is so much more promising for contact with real Thai life. The only practical problem is the distance. 700 km each way.   

Offline Arhys

Re: A Siam Adventure - Captain Corto Maltese's journey log
« Reply #10 on: May 07, 2010, 04:23:57 AM »
I'm loving reading this. :)  You got ripped off badly on the haircut I think, but with the extras like scalp massages that are the norm in Asia I find it worthwhile too.  I'd recommend going to a barber for a proper shave with steamed towels and such too, friends have said that's awesome.

So..more photos?  Boots for beaches perhaps?