Escape From The Big Mango
Escape form the Big Mango is the ramblings of an Englishman, who on several previous visits to Thailand never left Bangkok. I hope that I convey what life with a Thai Family in the rural North is like.
The Pichau Adventure
Well the time was fast approaching, the trip to the village to meet the folks. Make sure you are ready at 10, taxi will pick us up darling, says Noo, so sweetly as she floats out of the room, weighted down with the new gold ring and half of the MBK Shopping Emporium.
Why do we buy so much I ask innocently, to which a scowl replies, must buy for family show you care. Yes but why do I have to care so much I mutter. One hour to go, time to get down to internet cafe on Si Phraya, hope its not full of school kids abandoned there since school was let out. Type in ‘How to Survive in the Wilderness’.
What am I letting my self in for, where the hell is Pichau, near Utaradit, says the Web, Northern Thailand, and nothing else, spooky. 11 o'clock at the train station thankfully, train has air con, settle down for a 6 hour journey. The air con is blowing a blizzard but it’s comfortable, clean and the train leaves on time. Six hours later, the early morning light breaks over Pichau and the fields are full of farmers herding Buffaloes and others tramping down rice paddies. We arrive Pichau station early morning to be mugged by Mr Uthon the taxi mafia. My eyes swim around in hope, where are the bars, restaurants and gogos darling I ask aloud to be greeted by howls of laughter, stupid farang, no bars in Pichau.
So after establishing that Pichau is no Las Vegas, it was time to meet the family. After a visit to the market, which was mayhem at 5 o'clock in the morning, we load up with groceries, drink, chickens and numerous bottles of Beer Chang, Heineken and Thai Mekong whiskey.
After we all pile into the pickup along with several others we seemed to have met wandering around the market, it’s off to the house. After about two miles, several drop offs, with no one paying but me, and twenty or more scabby soi dogs we hit base. The house is not as I expected and its quite a shock to the system, its neat with several rooms, a shower house and land, although the front room is the brothers garage, seems he's the village mechanic currently dismantling three mopeds and several engines.
Greetings all round, mother, father, sisters, brother, kids, kids, kids, exchange presents. Everyone takes their present away and puts into their personal space (save face and open later I suppose). Mother and Father seem distant, ok no English and very limited Thai on my part, no problem says Noo, they like you.
After a quick shower and change its time to explore Utaradit, Mr Uthon provides car, 500 baht all day. Girlfriend and I get in and so do seven Thais all dressed in their Sunday best, is this really the same people who one hour ago mulled around in old jeans and T-shirts. The countryside is neat, hilly and very green, the pickup makes good progress dodging various wildlife and straying buffaloes. First stop the iron mines, 2 baht admission, no double pricing here (have they not heard, farangs pay more) not much to see but family enjoy, ice creams and pictures all round.
One hour later we eat, for the first time and move on to the National Park, kids really enjoy it here, it resembles The Lake District with permanent sun, a couple of hours here and I see my first Thai snake, where is that guy who grabs them before they reach you, hell its going over my foot, howls of laughter as farang nearly faints, only to be told baby not poisonous. Can someone please provide a colour coded list of Thai snakes just for me I plead in vain!! So enough of the wildlife lets visit the Sirikit Dam I suggest, back to civilisation, ok but we eat first (what again!!!).
Lets play Poke the Farang
So it’s off to the Sirikit Dam, all back into the pickup, favoured Farang gets the front seat, thank you! I need the air con its 90 plus outside. Oh no three kids decide to sit on my lap, driver seems not to bother that there's now three crazy kids climbing all over the cab. Hit the Dam after about thirty minutes, this place is amazing, fantastic views over the lake from the top and the countryside is stunning. Family pour out the back and mingle with hundreds of Thais who are visiting today along with three or four school trips who decide to play lets poke the Farang. Ouch! my ribs are black and blue.
Don't understand Thai' business sense the place is packed but all the cruise boats are moored and will not be going out, try to get an explanation, but with limited Thai on my part and no English coming back, I give up after ten minutes. What shall we do I suggest, 'lets eat' comes back the chorus 'what again' yes darling only snacks before. So we settle down to what can only be described as a feast, giant fish, chickens, rice, noodles and of course Heineken, and Singha Beer.
Whiskey Mekong is ordered. Mekong is bloody awful, tastes like Marmite and two week old Tea mixed together but with a wicked kick about thirty seconds after you swallow. Food is eaten and the bill hits 800 baht, not bad fed eight people with lots of beer, all the remains are doggie bagged and its time for a nap for the kids and Dad, does he normally sleep in the afternoon or was it the four bottles of Singha and the Mekong, which causes him to snore like a stranded buffalo.
Time to take in the sights with my girl and visit the Dam, don't know if this is normally allowed but a neighbour Mr Bin who we picked up on the way, works here. (He’s drunk more than I have and he's got to work a twelve-hour shift) Never thought I would find a dam interesting, but hey what else can you do in the middle of Northern Thailand on a sunny afternoon, when you are three sheets to the wind.
Finally finish the tour of the dam, leave Mr Bin to flood Northern Thailand and head back to Pichau, for my first night with the family, I wonder what that will bring.
Things That Go Bump in the Night
We arrive back at the house in one piece after killing several species of Thai wildlife on the main Pichau highway. Don't worry Chris good luck to hit bird with car, not for the bloody bird I say to scowls of disapproval.
Everyone piles out of the pickup and back into his or her old clothes. Mama who we left at base has surprise surprise cooked up supper, lets eat (how come I'm a fat farang and these Thais are all super slim, must be the Chillies!). Supper is eaten in split shifts, with several people I don't know arriving over the next two hours, neighbours, friends, others darling who have nothing, explains my girl, everyone must eat, share good fortune.
Time for a shower, now did I mention what the shower was like, its strip off, throw buckets of cold water over yourself and shampoo as best you can. Get dressed with three Thai kids sat wide-eyed watching, now I know why Thai girls dress with the towel wrapped around, its because there's no privacy in a Thai house.
Cover all my exposed bits with vast amounts of mossy repellent, to no avail I get bitten badly. Get called outside to the front porch where father and brothers are breaking out the Chang and Heineken, we sit here for several hours, chewing the fat and getting quietly drunk again.
Its dark outside, venture two or three foot from the house and you cannot see your hand in front of your face, still that doesn’t stop pickups, bikes and vans that resemble taxis in Legoland from whizzing passed at fifty miles per hour. Note to brain don't go out for a breather in the middle of the night. Its time to bunk down, now where are six adults and three kids going to sleep, problem solved says my girl, sisters have own house in the grounds and parents will vacate room for us and sleep at sisters. Oh no I'm evicting two seventy year olds. No problem darling you guest my parents like you. Its all hands on deck as the front room becomes the main bedroom, its brushed, and mopped and beds are assembled, mossy nets are strung up, dividers are put in place and we all bunk down. I awake several times during the night, to strange sounds and the scraping of something with more feet than I have. No I'm no going to investigate.
Morning comes at about 4.30, with the dawn chorus of cockerels, crickets and Soi Dogs. Time to get up darling we go to temple and then to Market, I can’t go, I'm a lapsed Catholic darling, but it cuts little ice.
Farang Have Taxi
Back from paying our due respects to Buddha and stocking up on fresh supplies, it time to leave for Chiang Mai.
So it’s back to the demon shower again, shoo away the lizards and the dog and hit that refreshing water. Dress and step outside as the early morning sun breaks through onto the smiling face of Mr Uthon.
You want taxi to Chiang Mai, Farang, mai pen rai, only 1000 Baht for you. So we pack up our belongings get weighted down with Buddha Amulets from the family, keep you safe Chris journey to Chiang Mai very dangerous by road; says Mr Uthon with a wicked grin. The taxi slowly winds its way through the maze of back sois, happily dodging soi dogs and smiling children, some staring with fear in their eyes at their first sighting of a farang.
After twenty minutes or so we pull into a small lay-by, where Mr Uthon breaks into a big smile and runs from the taxi to embrace a group of people dragging luggage, chickens, dogs and small children towards my taxi.
Who are they I innocently enquire of Noo and Mr Uthon, his family they live Chiang Mai, come with us. Excellent so taxi split five ways only 200 Baht, I proudly expire. No Chris, no be silly, Thai people cannot afford, have no money says Noo and Mr Uthon in unison, you no mind I tell them ok. Of course I say, after all this is Thailand.
So we all settle down for the journey through Northern Thailand to the oasis that is Chiang Mai, I doze and dream of restaurants, bars and most of all a Hot shower free from Lizards, Dogs and curious Thai children.
Perhaps today I made some merit with Buddha, Noo certainly thinks so, although it’s made me a poorer man, Thailand enriches my life in so many ways.
Big Mango Bangkok, Thailand
MBK Mahboonkrong Shopping Complex, Bangkok
Farang Thai name for White Europeans
Soi Dogs Stray Street Dogs
Mai pen Rai No Problem
Baht Thai currency
Uttaradit / Chiang Mai Regions of Northern Thailand
If there is one thing that I regret from my days of "doing the bar girl thing", its that I never allowed a girl to take me up into her village. It all sounds like a lot of fun.