Notes From A Recent Trip To Thailand Part 2
My wife and I awoke in our little resort house next to a deserted beach. We went for a walk before breakfast and we were the only people on the beach for what seemed like miles. A beach this nice and this deserted is unheard of back in America. The small
fishing boats close to shore look so peaceful as they slowly fish their patch of the calm ocean. I suggest to my wife that maybe we should buy a boat and fish for our income. I get another "stop talking so stupid" look. She is right,
of course, as this peaceful scene hides the fight for survival these fishing families face every day. After our walk, we shower and eat a small breakfast on the chairs outside our room.
When my sister-in-law arrives, she announces that I am to drive to today's destinations. I protest but she and my wife are insistent. This seems insane to me as it has been some time since I drove on the "wrong side" and I am still a bit jet lagged. Also, these country roads scare the hell out of me as they are filled with disparate vehicles of all sorts, including overloaded trucks, fast moving motorcycles, and mobile phone talking maniacs. Sure enough, after 30 minutes, I almost ram into a motorcycle who pulls in front of me to avoid a car parked halfway on the highway. I curse the person who parked the car in such a dangerous way, but my wife reminds me that people park like this Thailand all the time and I have to adjust. Well, I almost adjusted that motorcyclist's spinal cord but I get her point. I slow down and let the weird traffic patterns happen, remembering that getting there safely is the only reason to venture out on Thai roads.
Our destination is the city of Prachuarp Khiri Khan, another small city in the south on the coast of the Gulf of Thailand. When I return to America, I am surprised to learn that the Japanese invaded Prachuarp the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. Thai Army troops tried to defend the city but were quickly overwhelmed. As this is one of the thinnest parts of the Malay peninsula, it's clear the Japanese were trying to cut off any escape route for the British troops on the Malay peninsula. I guess this was Thailand's "Pearl Harbor" day. Anyway, we arrive in the city and I immediately see a large mountain temple on the north of the city. I gasp and ask my wife if we can visit it. She smiles slyly and says "why not".
As we approach the base of the temple, I see a large monkey statue with his hand positioned like he is forever giving the finger to the world. As we get closer, it looks like the rocks are moving. Instead, I discover they are monkeys clamoring all over
the entrance on the steps leading up to the temple. We meet a short but very personable Thai woman who offers to be our guide. My wife, who is usually very frugal in these situations, instantly accepts. Why do we need a guide? There must be
a compelling reason why she has done this, so I silently prepare for the worst.
Armed only with a bag of cut-up corn on the cob, we approach the temple stairs. There are over a hundred monkeys around us but our guide deftly scatters some corn and we are soon walking up the many stairs to temple on the top of the mountain. It is, of course, the famous monkey temple of Wat Thammikaram. When we arrive at the temple, there are even more monkeys vying for our attention. Our guide has saved some corn and she scatters it across the stone floor which starts a monkey frenzy of activity. There is one monk there (the monkey monk?), and he picks up a small monkey and gently feeds it some corn. A bigger monkey tries to get in on the act but the monk slaps him across the back. This monk runs a tight ship when it comes to monkey insubordination.
The temple seems very old with many parts in disrepair, but the structures are unusual and harkens back to an earlier time. Although the monkeys are entertaining, the spectacular views of the city, the mountains, and the ocean, are easily worth the climb
to see. Please use the guides, you will have much less problems with the monkeys. As with humans, they can be very greedy simians.
My wife and her friends have decided we should stay at a particular hotel in Prachuap. As they have never stayed here before, red lights start flashing in my head but I remain calm. Even after we drive by what looked like a perfectly wonderful hotel right on the beach, I decide to take a wait and see attitude. When we pull in front of a new, boutique hotel with a spectacular view of the water and mountains, I regret earlier caution. As we toured the hotel, I find it is very clean with new windows and doors. Our room was well organized and free of the scary electrics so common in Thai hotels. I tried out the pool and found the water was clean as bath water and refreshingly cool. I went into the lobby to get a beer from the well-stocked cooler and the office manager told me the hotel was owned by a German man who had an apartment above the office. The bed in our room was firm and we had a wonderful sleep that night and a clean shower in the morning. Wi-fi was free and so was the coffee the next morning. This seems to be a real jewel of a hotel mostly discovered by European couples. It could be a wonderful escape from the manic silliness of Bangkok and Pattaya; what with its majestic scenery, clean beaches, and nearby restaurants and shops. Those wishing for a similar escape should check this place out at: Sunbeach-guesthouse.com
After a quick refreshment of beer and a clean shower, we drove down the beach road about a mile north of the hotel. Here we find a small market of Thai vendors selling tourist clothes and Thai snacks. We walked though this and enjoyed the food and the scenery. There were a few girls standing against the sea rails who were giving me the working girl smile. I commented on this to my wife but she insists I am seeing things as there are no working girls in Prachuap. A Thai beach town with lots of foreigners and not a working girl to be found? I'm sure of it.
We wander back towards town and meet some of my wife's friends at an open air restaurant. We enjoy a wonderful meal and as her friends speak pretty good English, I am able to have some good conversations. As we are leaving, two middle-aged farang men sitting together near the entrance stop me. They say they heard me speaking American English and wanted to know where I was from. My gay-dar was in the red zone so I assumed they were a couple. They tell me they are from New York City and they are curious why I was with so many Thai people, as almost all foreigners here stick to themselves. I explain they were my wife's family and friends. They nod in agreement and tell me they have been coming here for 10 years and wouldn't vacation anywhere else. They also tell me they both work in the airline industry as attendants. I ask if they do international flights and they say no as all their flights are in America. We shake hands and say our good-bye's, but as I walk away I can't figure out how two domesticated gay men from New York City found their way to this lovely, faraway city. The world truly is getting smaller.
I wished I could have stayed another day in that hotel by the beautiful bay, but we had new places to explore. We were headed to the Dan Singkon marketplace on the Thai border with Burma. My brother-in-law picked us up in his truck and we met other family members at an open Thai restaurant. Our group was 16 strong and included adults as well as small kids and teenagers, all in a festive mood. I feared this had all the markings of a Thai goat rodeo, one in which I would spend most of the day standing around watching Thai people do their thing. Oh well, I held my tongue again. After breakfast, we jumped into our respective vehicles and weaved our way up into the mountains. Soon we entered a huge open market impossibly situated on steep slopes. My wife said the stalls were run by Burmese who brought their goods across the border to sell to Thais. If you bought anything of value, you had to show your ID so the Thai government could collect tax on the item. A true win-win for both countries.
The largest and most numerous items for sale were wood furniture made from huge slabs of what I believe is teak wood. Most of it was rough and not the finished furniture you find elsewhere. I did find one table of symmetrical cut with six heavy stools. I showed my wife and soon she was talking to the shop owner. I gave it no mind as there was no way we could get this dining set back to America. Suddenly, my wife announces we had just purchased the table and chairs for an incredible 3,000 baht. My wife held out her hand and asked for the money. I was dumbfounded but she explained I had just bought my dear mother-in-law a new table for her front porch. It would be transported in my brother-in-law's truck and it took four strong Burmese men to put everything in the truck. This was quite a good deal, but in fact most everything in this market is very cheap. So it is understandable why, even on a rainy day, this was the place to be for Thai people shopping for bargains.
It was on this day that I realized I had arrived in Thailand at the beginning of the rainy season; mostly cloudy and only sometimes raining. This produces a warm and gentle climate, although short lived but much loved by the Thais. Although not ideal for those looking to succumb to skin cancer, for me it was ideal. For the record, I do like to be in the sun but I am trying to parse it such that I will get the big "C" when I am 100 years old. During this wonderful season, there are brief moments right before it rains, when the wind blows so cool it feels like an April day in Virginia.
I was grateful for this cool weather as my wife and I waited on a bench at Prachuap's Hualampong train station. Our time in southern Thailand was over and now it was time to return to Bangkok. The 2:59 PM train from Prachuap to Bangkok, as another passenger informed me, was "on-time" when it arrived at 4:18 PM. Normally, this would make me a little pissy, but the cool wind and the anticipation of my first train travel took my mind off this minor irritation. Yes, I said first train travel. Sure, I have traveled many times on city trains both below and above ground, but this was my first long distance train experience. I was like a kid waiting for Christmas. After boarding the train, my first task was to chase another person from our seat. After that, we settled back and relaxed at the soothing movements of the rail car. I was looking out the window and after an hour or so, I remarked to my wife there seemed to be a large number of ugly shrimp farms located along the tracks. Why did they allow so many of these scourges on the Thai landscape? She coolly commented that shrimp farms made a lot of money for Thai people and besides, what else would someone to do with the land? With that checkmate she turned her head and went to sleep. Of course, she was right. In what seems like a forever emerging third world country, money and jobs certainly trump scenery.
A little later, my wife's opinion was proven correct. Now, all I saw was natural but barren land scattered with small villages with huts of grass roofs. At every crossing, I saw poor people on old scooters waiting to cross the tracks. I realized I was an elite observer of life in Thailand passing judgment on people who may go to bed hungry tonight or quietly died in the night of curable diseases. If these shrimp farms provided jobs that allowed people to have happy lives, who was I to declare them to be undesirable? Considering the life these Thais were born into, it becomes easier to understand the bar girls, the corrupt police, the drug use, and the resentment of foreigners. As the Buddha teaches, stop judging and start observing.
Ironically, the products from the fish and shrimp farms that scatter throughout Thailand are mostly not destined for Thai dinner plates, but foreign ones. It is no secret that as proud as Thais are of being Thai, they have embraced foreign influences since the Portuguese visited in the 16th century. Much like the Japanese, they embrace what they like from the foreigners and yet retain their own identity. As striking as this seems in Thailand, it is much the same in the rest of the world. The huge influx of Japanese vehicles into America did not drive us to start drinking sake. But one Thailand import does seem to have changed the culture: white skin. More than before, on this trip have noticed many more white-skinned and western-nosed celebrities and models. It is clear the Thai media is now fully obsessed with the western look. This perversion of Thai culture is pretty disturbing to me as it marginalizes perfectly beautiful, Asian-looking men and women. Even my own beautiful wife obsesses over how dark her skin is. I know this is an age-old fashion that pre-dates modern media, but you can't deny the current litany of Thai stars of western parentage. Of all things to embrace from foreign shores, why is it white skin? Why not decent public schools or clean drinking water? Oh well, I must remember not to judge but to observe.
But of all foreign invasions, there is one that is still producing a large influx of foreign visitors and a huge amount of tourist dollars.
Next in Part 3.
Nice report. Prachuap is a nice spot and is not over-touristed as many beaches and islands in the south are. Taking a guide up the monkey hill is wise – I made the trip without and the monkeys were an absolute scourge!