Thailand Digest

A few words from the month in Thailand.  All pics are online at thee Flickr page.

May 24:

One never quite appreciates the majesty of awnings so much as when in Thailand. May not look it in the video, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a squall as intense as this one. And it stayed at or very near peak intensity for a looooong time, too — like thirty minutes or more, I’d guess. Welcome back in Bangkok!


May 25:

If I would have been told that I would arrive in Bangkok and something would shock me totally by bringing me an unbelievable joyment, I would surely have guessed that it would be at the ping-pong show. But no!, it’s in fact the A quality phone talk and the devices entertainment found in these delightfully hued s tereo earbuds — and for only 199 Thai Baht, no less. Shall the wonders ever cease?

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May 30 – June 11:

Chanthaburi, Thailand.  Where weird reigns, and Durian is truly king of all it surveys.


June 17:

Oof, my flattened ass is in open rebellion after having been made to endure yet another interminable third-class passage aboard the Thai railways. Every time, I wonder to myself how many more of these I can take. But, it’s gonna have to be at least one, as I’ve already purchased a ticket for the longest route in the entire system, departing in two days’ time. Masochism ? us…

Am here in Bangkok following a brief-but-mirthful trip up to Isan (the collective name given to Thailand’s northeastern provinces, near to the Lao and Cambodian frontiers; it’s famous for, among other things, its extremely spicy cuisine) to visit a friend; happy to report that Thailand has not lost its propensity to dazzle and delight, while, moreover, the remarkable Thai hospitality — about which, one will no doubt recall, I have heretofore spoken with great frequency and in the most glowing of terms — is, ever still, fully in its swing. Highlights of the jam-packed three-day itinerary included…

~ Calling in to four different English language classrooms at three different schools to chat up the eager students who, living in the countryside as they do, have rarely if ever had an opportunity to converse with a native English speaker. One of the stops, you can see, coincided with the school’s weekly “Scout Day”. I never laid witness to the setting of any bear traps; but did, at the least, put in a recess-time stint between the playfield pipes, as the students took it in turns to drill my (then) dimpled ass with a never-ending stream of shots on goal — including from the girls, by the way, one of whose excellently struck ball not only found the back corner of the net, but also just may have been the shot of the day.

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~ A crash course covering the intricacies of the twice-monthly Thai lottery. It so happens, I now have learnt, that any held ticket matching the last three digits with one of the two winning combinations for the three-digit category pockets a cool 4,000 Thai Baht (that translates to about 120 greenback smackers, if you wondered). I hadn’t known of the existence of this three-digit option. But, alack!, ALL of the vendors with whom we checked — they’re visible by the dozens, in constant patrol over every square metre of Thaispace, housing their tickets for sale in fashionable little briefcases emblazoned, for good luck, with the likenesses of known monks — had already sold out of tickets ending in my beloved 666 (“Hok-Hok-Hok,” when you’re speaking Thai). Damn and blast! All I’ve got to say is the fricking constabulary (as so, according to one vendor, the responsible parties were) had better stop buying up all the tickets with MY number on them…if’n they wanna know what’s good for their general goddam welfare, that is. Thinking on his feet, one entrepeneuring vendor tried his god damn darnedest to sell me a 999, arguing that, turned upside-down, it would be just as good as a 666 — but I was having not a whit of that shaky-arsed logic.

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~ A nice, weeklong breather betwixt the all-out Mango gluttonism of the month just past and the all-out Durian gluttonism of the month about to come, compliment many meals’ worth of very consistently high-quality Watermelons procured at absolutely dirt-cheap prices.

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~ A gorgeously scenic and wonderfully serene rowboat cruise in amongst the assembled floating fishing rigs and all (the fisherfolk spend the night in those little tin huts, and sell their catch next morning in the ad hoc fish market set up onshore), whilst being lorded over by cloud formations as impressive as any I’ve seen outside of western goddam Montana. Please be informed (if you’re now planning to drop all and come a-running here to take up thee fisherfolk lifestyle) that, by writ, fishing activities are limited to the hours of 6:00pm to 6:00am daily.

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~ Receiving roughly ten different sets of directions from roughly ten different neighbourhood dwellers, but eventually triangulating our way, for a look-see, to a little 200-tree Durian orchard — Durian trees are a most atypical sight for this area — so new they’ve not even begun selling the fruits yet (this year will be the first). The dickens ain’t got nothin’ on the supercuteness of these heavenly bodies!

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~ Spotting stuff-strutting peacocks and wicked beautiful foliage about the woodland grounds of the wonderful community temple pictured here. Unfortunately, the pics decidedly do not do this space justice — though its size is bordering on the gargantuan, its decor is much more elegant and restrained than one would normally expect to find in a temple of this size; while the atmosphere honestly comes very close to matching the je ne sais quoi spiritual eminence I’ve found in but a select few of Chiang Mai’s most hallowed chapels. Possibly this is owing to the lumber used in the construction — this was, I’m told, obtained from the dredging up of trees flooded under many decades prior with the completion of the local cement dam. Consequently, the boards here are much larger than what could otherwise have been found in the area for many, many a moon.

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~ Catching up with the latest town gossip. The most hi-larious development is that two brothers have opened identical shoppes selling convenience items, lottery tickets (natch), and funeral services — and sited them right next to each other! The vagaries of commerce being what they are, the brothers are not currently on speaking terms. Well, blood may be thicker than water, but it apparently still cannot quench the mad lust ensuing from single-minded pursuit of monetary gain. These two could stand to take in a screening of The Devil And Daniel Webster, methinks!

…and many else besides. But, as this correspondence has already grown far too unwieldy for use in polite society, I’ll, for to-day, dispense with the pleasantries and simply declare: Rocka rolla Thailand, how much I do love you so.

Next stop: Penang (oh yes, thy WILL be done)…


June 17:

Oy, I think thee thermometer repair fella (or gal) is going to have a windfall<>bonanza kind of day tomorrow after the scorching doled out to-day here in the world’s hottest city. (And somehow it feels even hotter at nighttime.) It’s one of those cold-shower-before-bed-even-though-the-dorm’s-A/C-is-running kind of nights.

I might drink twenty of these tomorrow. At minimum, it’ll be fifteen.

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June 18:

Here’s a tip for the next time you’re traveling in Thailand. You won’t see it often (at least I have not), but any time you DO see Dragonfruits priced at only 20 Baht to the kilo and looking all scummy and nasty and like they’re gonna die and everything, you don’t wait, you don’t pass Go, you don’t make a note to come back and get some later — you BUY them, toute de suite!

For, much as is the case with Papayas, the scummier and rattier and nastier they look on the outside, the sweeter and softer and more delicious they’ll taste on the inside.

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June 18:

Who knew there was a goddam Mangrove forest right in the heart of BKK? Definitely not me!

Having secured only about 30-44 minutes’ worth of sleep on the train from Udon Thani, I figured I’d have a lazy, relaxing day to recover and to begin to steel myself for the impending eighteen-hour trip to Hat Yai. But, somehow, there is no such thing as a “lazy, relaxing day” in Bangkok — the city’s heartbeat sends notions pulsing into your skull; one thing leads to another; and before you know it, you’ve logged another dozen miles on your pedometer.

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What it was, I suddenly got the notion that I would rather like to take the river taxi up to the Grand Palace area than to take the bus; and looking to see whether there were any piers near the hostel, noticed that there was, at least, a ferry pier, and that right there close was a park I’d never heard of before. On the map, it looked like any other Thai park, with a big water feature in the middle, some grass, a running track, and probably some exercise equipment, and so forth. It wasn’t in the direction of the Grand Palace, but, what thee Hell?, the ferryboat would be fun, and one could sit in the shade and drink some Coconuts. Plus, it looked like there were a bunch of hiking trails in the area around the park. Everybody wins, ain’t it?

So I schlepped my dimpled ass over there, only to find that the “park” was actually the aforesaid (and very pleasing indeed) Mangrove forest, and the “hiking trails” were actually miles and miles of criss-crossing concrete boardwalk. Turns out, it’s rather a popular activity to rent oneself a bicycle at the ferry landing and while away the hours tooling around beneath the canopy. Right here in Bangkok!

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According to the signage, the recently-deceased King, in 1977, extolled their virtues; and every since that moment it’s been trees-a-go-go all throughout Thailand. The present forest, too — “Bang Kachao”, it’s called — was begun at that time.

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After a few hours’ tooling around on foot, I had another look at the map, and figured out that I could take the boardwalk all the way to a different ferry pier, cross the river again, and be within spitting distance of the Museum Of Counterfeit Goods. Now, I’d thought that I’d visited every one of Bangkok’s little specialty museums — the stamps, the dolls, the cameras, the butterflies, the pottery, the trains, the longboats, the knickknacks, and on and on — but I’d never even heard of the Museum Of Counterfeit Goods, let alone having visited. Ooh, this was gonna be fun.

So I schlepped my dimpled ass back across the river, to the location of the building, and down an alley where it looked like the entrance must be. But the only sign of life down there was a guy making some weird-looking furniture. I tried to prove to him with the map that this space was supposed to be counterfeit goods, not weird furniture. But he didn’t know what the Hell I was on about, so he went into an adjacent office and retrieved three ladies who would. (One great thing about Thai people, among many, is that whenever they don’t know what the Hell you’re on about, they’ll scamper off somewhere and return in short order with an English-speaking compatriot or three.)

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After some time scrutinising the map, the ladies agreed that I’d stumbled myself into a straight-up conundrum.

Around the corner, then, I stopped at a little outdoor restaurant and solicited the help of the proprietor. She didn’t know what the Hell I was on about, but pointed me to one of the tables, where sat a young lady looking like she was approximately eight months three weeks six days and twenty-three hours pregnant. She snatched the phone out of my hand and began zooming in and out on the location. After about fifteen or twenty zooms, she bade me hang tight and loped into the salon (or whatever) that was right next to the restaurant. Surprisingly nimble, come to think of it, considering how pregnant she was.

After a while she came back, returned my phone to me, and indicated that I may as well go back whence I’d come, as I would not be finding any Museum Of Counterfeit Goods in this neighbourhood — to-day or ever. She may have been right about that one, but, what I did find in the neighbourhood was some pretty awesome street art.

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Was it as awesome as the museum would have been? Perhaps not. But, operating on the assumption that everything happens for a reason, I guess we can deduce that the reason some goofnut entered the Museum Of Counterfeit Goods at this location into OSM’s database was so that I and others would be led to that area in search of same, and end up appreciating the street art instead.

Huhn, it just occurred to me that the person who finagled the phantom museum onto the map must be none other that the graffiti artist hisself! Or herself. I think I just solved this fucking conundrum right now! I did eventually get the river taxi up to the Grand Palace, but by the time I’d arrived, it had already closed.

Just call me…down-but-not-out in Bangkok town.

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p.s. Which would you rather name your band — “Assembly Point” (logo included) or “Assembly Of Beautiful Fish”? Either way, you can’t go wrong!

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June 19:

Just checked out of De-Talak Hostel for possibly the last time, as new regulations may soon force its closure. It’s almost impossible to imagine arriving in Bangkok and not staying here; but, there it is, kids: Best appreciate the good times while you can, ’cause nothing in this world is permanent. Seems like I’ve been learning that lesson a lot of late…

No words could ever adequately express my admiration, Rata Chaipatikul. You made the best place ever.

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June 20:

It’s a looooong way riding the rails on Thailand’s southern line. But the benefit with such a long overnighter is that you get some hours of daylight at both the beginning and the end of the trip to take in the terrifically gorgeous countryside. Plus, it’s usually a lot less crowded than the northern lines, so one has the opportunity to stretch out and get some sleep.

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And whoso arrives here in Songkhla province (which includes both the cities of Songkhla and Hat Yai), will find perhaps the friendliest people in all of Thailand.

I’ve told before of the lady whom, having seen me walking barefoot down the street in the middle of the day, pulled up on her motorcycle intending to gift me a pair of flip-flops and a bottle of water; and of the lady who insisted on giving me a ride into town rather than letting me walk the few miles; and the mother and daughter who, thinking me lost, pulled over their station wagon and, with great concern, told me, “We want to help you”; and of the streetside vendors who went into DEFCON status in order to find somebody to explain to me in English why the floating market was not at that time operating.

And now, to-day, fresh off the train, I was walking barefoot through the clock tower plaza area drinking a Coconut, and heard somebody screaming, “You! You! You! You!” I turned in time to find the gentleman scurrying to grab a pair of flip-flops from under a bench to give to me.

Don’t get me wrong: The wayward farang will encounter this type of friendliness in all reaches of Thailand. It just seems a little, tiny bit more forthcoming down here in the southern reaches. (Walk down the street barefoot in Cambodia, by way of contrast, and you’ll get 9,000 people offering to sell you a pair of flip-flops. I love Cambodian people, but…Thai people definitely go that extra mile.)

Yep, departing Thailand is always a sad occasion.


June 20:

Aaaand boom goes the dyn-o-mite. The great good number was not on display, so the vendor had to procure it from a special locked drawer in the vending desk. But, procure it she did; and I am now down with the sound for the next drawing. Don’t forget to tune in July 1st to see how I did!

I told the lady staffing my guest house that if it turns out to be a winning ticket I would come back and share the prize with her. (I had earlier been trying to ascertain from her thee nearest place to purchase a lottery ticket, but with her limited English, she had thought I was looking for somewhere to do my laundry. …For which, considering the state of my wardrobe these days, I could hardly blame her.)

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