Second Tour Of Duty (Act 2)
After getting through the Cambodian border at Poipet and back into Thailand, my first thoughts were to get a few cold beers and give my battered and dusty body some much needed sustenance. A high speed tuk-tuk ride to the bus station at Aranyaprathet saw us arrive just in time to snatch up a few cold beauties and board the bus to Chantaburi. As I mentioned in my previous article, my mate had picked up a memorable case of the trots in Cambodia, forcing me to cancel my Vietnam trip, and to avoid hearing more complaints, decided to get him back to Pattaya for some R & R. Our intention now that we had days to spare was to travel to the north of Thailand and see what was happening there. Our luck ran out when we missed the last bus to Pattaya and were now at the mercy of the privateer taxis. I was not keen to overnight in Rayong and being dog tired we decided to take the Baht uppercut just to get to a cool, comfortable room and a decent shower. It turned out to be a well equipped "cab", actually a converted pickup with a massive sound system and a mini colour TV. Once again it seems that shock absorbers were low down on the priority list, but a pleasant trip to Sin City nonetheless.
The one thing about Pattaya that always amazes me is, that no matter how tired one is, the sheer adrenalin rush and pent up energy (lust?) of the place shrugs off any feelings of tiredness. Back at my favourite beer bar we were greeted like returning heroes (nice…but predictable) and proceeded to alleviate poverty once again with numerous lady drinks. I noticed that my lady from the trip to Ko Samet wasn't there and was informed that she had been ordered home by her mother. There was a chance that she might not have left yet they told me and a girl was despatched to seek her out. Being the cynical shit that I am, I did not expect to see her again and presumed she had probably been barfined for a few days. I was therefore pleasantly surprised the next morning when a timid tap on the door turned out to be my little brown babe (henceforth known as LBB). I was actually very pleased to see her because I enjoyed her company and funny remarks. All the major security agencies should hire a few Thai bargirls as their information gathering is second to none. LBB had really been on her way home when they found her. Her sister and her Farang husband confirmed this when I met them a day or two later. My mate then sprang his next surprise by informing me that he had decided to rather stay in Pattaya than journey north. In a way I was actually glad because I wanted to get away by myself for a while. On hearing of my plans, LBB begged me to go with. How can one refuse those beautiful satin bodies when they fold themselves into you? Of course I agreed after much "careful thought", and after laying down a few ground rules. The following morning while having breakfast on the veranda, another highlight of my trip occurred. I was busy on my second cup of coffee when there was a massive explosion in the Soi below. Sparks flew and there was a big cloud of smoke. I honestly thought that somebody had thrown a grenade or thunderflash. LBB seemed totally unfazed and merely pointed and said "Nok!" A pigeon had landed on the electrical cables that run above the sois and had shorted the power. There it lay stone dead on its back feet in the air as people ran out from various bars to see what caused the explosion. I'd always wondered how safe the electrical installations in Thailand were and here I had a grandstand view. After more sparks flew the cables coatings now caught alight. I watched with amusement as everybody then proceeded to discuss the flames and examine the dead pigeon. Eventually the hotel maintenance man arrived with a stepladder and a fire extinguisher and after more discussions climbed up only to find that the extinguisher was empty. More discussions followed as the fire burned merrily away until another extinguisher arrived and did the job. Five minutes later the city's electrical department arrived and (yes you guessed it!) after more pointing and discussions took a long pole and ripped loose a cable which then just hung loose. Everybody looked pleased with themselves and life went on as usual. What would happen when the next downpour came with those cables exposed I did not know. I think an electrical inspector from the west would close down the whole city (if not the whole country!). Anyone who has been to Ko Samet will also wonder how their power stays on, with wires running underfoot, through the trees and having exposed connections. Yet in spite of all this the lights shine merrily at night even through heavy rain. Amazing!
After breakfast, LBB and I gathered our bags and after arranging to meet my mate in BK, set off on our trip north. We stopped off in Chonburi and met LBB's sister, actually her cousin but they consider themselves sisters, and her husband who is a great guy from Wales now working in Thailand. After filling me in on my companions background and 3 large Singhas later I felt glad that I had made the decision to take her along. I had decided to try travelling by train and we arrived at Hualamphong station just in time to get the last 2 tickets in the 1st class sleeper coach. This in my opinion is the way to travel and at just over 600 Baht each made the 10+ hr overnight journey to Chiang Mai a pleasure. It was only on boarding the train that we noticed that we had been booked into separate carriages and LBB seemed very nervous to be alone. Luckily we got chatting to an old katoey ("she" must have changed over when the Dead Sea was still sick) who got hold of the conductor and a railway policeman and after much looking at passenger lists arranged that we could be in the same carriage albeit a few berths apart, nothing that a midnight "raid" could not fix. My main problem was that being a smoker I had to find a place for a nicotine fix now and then. One of the doors had been left unlocked and it was a great feeling hanging onto the outside step with the Thai countryside flashing past. The early dawn as we approached Chiang Mai was also very memorable with the drizzle and mist giving the jungle a ghostly look. It made one realise how frightening it must have been to fight a war in those conditions. And so into the capital of the north we rolled….
Finding accommodation in Chiang Mai is really easy. Most guesthouses have kiosks or their touts on the platform and having become fairly proficient at judging reasonable lodgings from photos and prices, one can get something to suit your budget. Should something not be up to standard, a quick walk around will get you what you want. I loved Chiang Mai !! The city itself is very clean with no litter to be seen, cheap rooms (280 Baht for a room with a king-size bed, TV, fan and fridge!), good food and a relaxed rural feel to the whole place. It's great to walk through the market areas and hear traditional acoustic music instead of the blaring BK / Pattaya western stuff. Buying and bargaining is all done in a very relaxed manner and sitting and eating with the locals was unforgettable. In the markets you also get genuine local handicrafts and not just mass produced western designer labels. The night market on Chang Klan road is great. I also met an old friend there one night. LBB and I were leaving the market one night when I saw a woman who looked very familiar at one of the stalls. She seemed to remember me too but we never spoke to each other. LBB seeing me looking at the woman got an instant fallen lip, tug on the arm attack and wanted to know who she was. All I could say was that I was sure that I had met her in Pattaya on my first trip. Just before we got to the guest house a scooter came shooting towards us with its hooter blowing. It was the girl from the market and I suddenly remembered who she was. On my first trip I had been invited to her birthday party in Pattaya. We had had a fantastic seafood meal cooked (steamed) in a big wok and flavoured with lemon grass and chilli. Eight of us had sat on the floor around a small table in her room eating fantastic food and washing it down with copious amounts of beer and Thai whiskey. Her English was pretty good and LBB looked very threatened as we chatted away. She had left the bar scene and was running a few stalls in the market. Old habits die hard though because she made it very clear that she would still be available should I want her. Back in the room it took a lot of denials and sweet talk to get LBB back into semi smiling mode.
As I mentioned in my first submission, I'm not really a "Temple Tourist" but the Doi Suthep Wat was very impressive. Containing the incus from Buddha's ear, this Wat is a very sacred place to Thais. This is perfectly reflected by the amount of "devotees" who run their stalls and vendors catering for everything one needs. The wat itself is beautiful and the panoramic views outstanding. The stairs leading up to the Wat are a killer though. Saw many a monk chatting away on his cellphone or catching a sly smoke behind an outbuilding. It reminded me of a story told to us by our American lady in Cambodia. She and a female friend were travelling through Nepal and visited one of their holiest temples. An old monk ushered them inside and she got a bit wary when she could smell alcohol on him. He insisted on having his photo taken with her and while her friend was lining up for the shot, his hand was lining up on her butt. She had the last laugh by also insisting that her friend have her photo taken with him and recording for posterity the look on her face as his hand found her Gluteus Maximus. There are many nice waterfalls around Chiang Mai and the Zoo is worth a few hours visit. Strange seeing creatures from my part the world there! The penguins and Cape Fur seals are housed in a specially airconditioned building with chilled water. What it must cost to run that section in that heat I shudder to think. The exotic birds, fish and monkeys make it a pleasant time there.
Walking through the town one day I found myself slipping on the pavement and looking down saw that I had stepped in dog shit. LBB laughed and said in Thailand that it is considered good luck. I spotted a section of nice lush grass ahead and started wiping the "good luck" off. The grass seemed strangely soft and on looking closer I saw that I had picked out another pile of shit lying hidden beneath. Double good luck!! LBB laughed for a long time. I managed to do a walk that would have made John Cleese proud, and eventually found a sprinkler to wash the good luck off properly. I must have done too good a job because thereafter things started going awry. I thought that my funds would be sufficient to last out my trip but overspent and spoilt my lady a lot. Never mind, I'd seen the Western Union signs around and would phone my office back home and ask them to transfer me extra funds. To my horror I found that South Africa no longer had any W/Union offices and being a weekend I could not get hold of my secretary to arrange the transfer. I found out that a moneygram could be arranged through the Siam banks but had left it too late. To be stuck in a foreign country with hardly any money is not a good feeling. LBB seeing my look of consternation asked what the matter was? There I was, wealthy Mr. Farang having to explain to Miss Thai that I was temporarily indisposed in the cash department. All LBB (Bless her!!!) said was "No Problem" and dug into her suitcase and handed me TWO THOUSAND BAHT! I could (and did) have kissed her. "You pay back when money come". That Monday, due to the time difference, I could only get hold of my secretary at 2pm Thai time. It did not give her much time to arrange the transfer and phone me the reference number at the internet cafe where I was waiting. Then the heavens opened up and it really pissed down, bringing all transport to a standstill. Five minutes before the banks closed the rain slowed down and off I bounded searching for a tuk-tuk. The driver sped off and got me there with 30 seconds to spare. The lovely little clerk took one look at my dishevelled pleading face and stopped closing off to help me. What a lovely sight seeing those purple beauties being peeled off into my eager grasping hands. I could not thank LBB enough as I paid her back (I hate owing money!) but all she said was "No problem, I know you pay back, I trust you". I will never forget her. Thank you my Teeruk. Another reason I was so thankful was that we had booked and paid for our bus tickets back to BK and only had 1 hour to collect our luggage, check out and catch the bus. Amazing what a full wallet can do, we did it with time to spare. The luxury bus we were booked on lived up to its advert, recliner seats with plenty of leg room and air-conditioned. What they didn't advertise we found out later. Rain water leaked through the air vents, the aircon packed up and we only had 2 flat tyres! At 300Baht per person I couldn't really complain, it all added to my memories. Looking back on my trip up north, apart from bailing me out financially, LBB saved me so much in transport and food by getting Thai prices and that I had no qualms in offloading all my extra Baht to her when we said goodbye at Don Muang. Yes I know that scam, and yes I did cry. It was my girlfriend holiday experience.
You met a good one….but tears at the airport….dear oh dear.