Best Short Holiday
The year was 1989 or maybe early 1990. Almost 30 years ago. It’s a fact that the further back you reminisce the more you tend to idealize long past and positive events. I’m sure I do too. Even so I’d pay a fortune (if I had one) to relive those few happy days.
For over a year now I had been struggling to get my newly created tour-operating business on its feet. It was hard going to be sure. For months I had been working long days and often late in to the night due to the 5 or 6 hours’ time difference with Europe. The main tools of the trade then were a rented Telex machine from the post office, soon to be replaced by the emerging Telefax. A first generation cellphone purchased at the now unbelievable high price of 95’000 baht and as heavy as a volume of the concentrated works of a mildly successful novelist. Even so, the first 2 office girls still remember the daily trips to the main post office posting letters by snail-mail to individual and prospective clients containing offers and later airline tickets, vouchers, itinerary.
Luck was on my side for once to launch that kind of venture. That’s Phuket in the late ’80s. Halfway through that high season it became apparent that it would be a good one. Phuket was THE in place then and hundreds of people wanted to visit. Lots of bookings including a tour group of 28 people. Satisfied by the price and performance of the tour co. they would later become an important pillar by word of mouth advertising for many years to come. As for me, it was high time to have a breather, to relax after months of non-stop efforts. What I refer to above as best short holiday was in fact just a 4-day kind of unplanned mystery tour. Past experience had taught me that such unplanned outings with no distinct destination or special aim often turned out to be the best.
My ancient Jeep from the early days on the island had recently given up the ghost and I bought a second-hand Fiat 1800 saloon car from a shopkeeper in town. On the eve of departure I took a trip to Patong and barfined a girl named Lot. I only remember her name because I made the very first flight to Phuket on Poland’s national carrier also called LOT via Warsaw and Tashkent, at the time still part of Russia. My choice of Lot was totally arbitrary. Just like my earlier decision to settle in Phuket rather than Pattaya was much more due to luck than specific design.
Lot was young, pretty, a bit bashful or shy and happy to follow whatever I wanted to do or go to. As goes the much-abused cliché she came fresh from the farm and surprisingly in this case it was actually true as I later learned. I was past the years of a young Adonis but liked to think of myself as a man in his best years, energetic and ambitious and still in good shape. Which is also a cliché as it’s really just a euphemism for a middle-aged guy.
We departed the next morning crossing Sarasin Bridge heading for the small town or village of Pang-Nga. Several sightseeing stops on the way: a rubber tree plantation and a young man demonstrating the making of the crude product, compressed yellow or whitish mats, all the while giving explanations supposedly in English but the only word understandable was caoutchouc as rubber is called in French. On we went to a temple cave curiously named Wat Thum Suwan Khuha. Further visiting 2 nearby waterfalls, a memorial where no one could tell us in whose memory it was.
Early evening we reached the little town to settle in a very basic kind of hotel or guesthouse. But here an unexpected surprise awaited us. After diner the owner of the place walked past our table in the tube-shaped long dining room holding a pile of what I assumed to be long play or LP vinyl music records. The surprise came when he switched on the TV and the player below it. I paid no attention until I saw the familiar names of Bob deNiro, Meryl Streep, Chris Walken rolling down the screen. Within minutes I realized that I was looking at the Academy award-winning film The Deer Hunter. It’s a very long film made 10 years earlier. I’d seen it in the movies.
When it ended I wanted to know how it was possible to present a movie in such good quality on a TV screen. Laser disc technology, I was told. An early version of what became the compact disc or CD we all know today. Ironic that I should be introduced to it at that remote village in southern Thailand. And just as ironic is the fact that a generation or 25 years on, CDs are slowly being out phased, replaced by USBs and other more advanced technology. The same happened to cassette players in years past.
But Lot became impatient. She had fallen asleep halfway through the movie. It had been a long day for her doing things she was not at all used to do. Her only salvation at this point was bed and sleep.
Next morning we continued the journey to the region of Khao-Lak. Not the latest Thai tourist ghetto that became reality later in the decade of the ’90s and as most readers will know still is these days. It was a long stretch of sandy and pristine beachfront with lush, fertile vegetation. Just as we descended the hilly road that leads there next along the beach we saw a dozen or maybe more charming small bungalows. It may have been called Khao Lak Bungalows but I’m not sure. Fronted by a nice-looking restaurant with a bamboo roof. More visible were the signs beside the road. One said bungalows for rent and another, bigger one resort for sale.
We unpacked and settled in one of the pavilion like huts or cottages. Lot not surprisingly was still tired and went to sleep as I sat down for a beer and was joined by the lady boss. It soon became apparent that she wanted to talk especially when she realized German could be used to converse. That surprised me so I ordered another beer and sandwich and listened. Her husband was German and she had lived in Germany for several years and quite naturally picked up the language. His dream had been for many years to retire in Thailand or run a small business by the sea he so loved. Encouraged by her he took early retirement and they returned to Thailand. Khao-Lak had always been his favorite spot during his Phuket holidays where they first met. On his rented chopper bike they had travelled here many times.
But this time it was different, it was serious he said. In Germany they had lived a frugal lifestyle and he had quite a bit of savings put aside to realize his dream. He bought that piece of land for her by the sea. It was considered fairly worthless and therefore cheap at the time. They started to build two huts, one of which they lived in. Followed by the basic restaurant that would soon become a meeting point for backpackers on bikes. Next came another two huts, then another two and another two. 15 at present and in high season they were mostly occupied and often reserved weeks in advance. They were on the right path. Life was good for Dieter and Poo.
Then tragedy struck.
On his weekly drive to Phuket to restock comestibles at the newly opened Makro store and various other necessities for the resort, Dieter had a fatal accident in his pickup truck on the way. Overwhelmed with sadness and grief, facing the daunting task of running a resort on her own, Poo broke down. Members of her family came to help. But it was not enough. Nobody was able to maintain or carry on with the much-needed communication skills, the most important liaison with German tour companies or individual clients in Dieter’s homeland. Poo decided to hang on until the end of the current season that was just two or three months away. Then she would sell out.
A sad story that I needed to digest in my own way. Down to the sea and after a vigorous swim I just lay on my back letting myself drift along for what must have been hours. Time had become irrelevant but I only realized that when I observed an agitated Lot standing in knee-deep water waving frantically for me to come back.
It was early evening now. We showered and went to sit at the restaurant already partly occupied by guests from other bungalows. Poo’s kitchen staff prepared us some excellent Thai food. That was more than sufficient to keep Lot happy for the evening. Later ordering another bottle of Singha or maybe Kloster, Poo came to sit again with us. After some inconsequential blabber between the two women, Poo was now in a much more relaxed frame of mind and again eager to talk about her time in Germany and the towns she had lived in; Ulm and Baden-Baden, both towns familiar to me. During a long hour or more we talked. Lot just sat there a somewhat enigmatic but gentle smile looking out at the sea. Remember that was the time before smartphones or handy’s when bargirls were content to just sit and be quiet when not otherwise in use. She was happy.
Later in bed and perhaps incited by the events of the day, the relaxing time in the sea or simply the fact that I could finally decompress after weeks of tense working hours it was my turn to be overwhelmed by what is best described as the inherent zest for life. I needed to let off steam and did so the way men have let off steam for a million years and more. Lot was a willing participant in a night of passion.
The next morning another first awaited me. I am usually an early morning riser and still am to this day. But that morning it was Lot who had to wake me up and unbelievably it was close to lunchtime. In later years, reminiscing to myself or talking to friends I’d sometimes referred to that weekend as “best swim, best sleep and best sex ever”.
The next day was a bit of an anti-climax at first. Takuapa, where I had intended to stay for a while and explore the region but eventually decided there was nothing interesting to discover. I continued back on the road and on to Ranong. Here we stayed in Jansom Thara. A pleasant hotel that offered its own hot water source with individual cells for bathing and a large outside pool to cool off after.
Exploring the way down to the sea later we discovered many large, spacious Chinese grave sites with richly decorated tombstones. Built in honor of the wealthy founders of the town and the fertile land it was surrounded by. Ultimately ending up in the small town on the way back we found it rather charming and still very laid back, no tourists in sight. In the little and simple terrace restaurant we dined, another first for me on TV. Clips were shown of the young English comedian Rowan Atkinson in the role of the incomparable Mr. Bean. It must have been the first few TV clips he made of the character that later became world-famous.
An absolute treat for Lot a non-English speaker as there’s almost no dialog in those mini clips.
In years to come I was to travel that road many times. Sometimes up to Chumpon and a few times all the way to Bangkok. Amazingly within only a few years after my excursion with Lot many new hotels shot out of the ground like mushrooms after a rainy day and a new tourist destination was being created along that lovely stretch of beach land of Khao-Lak.
Poo’s bungalows had disappeared and I never saw her again. In late 2004 the new hotel infrastructure was mostly destroyed by the tsunami. I’d visited the hospitals in Pang-Nga, Takuapa and Krabi looking for survivors in the aftermath. Two of my company’s clients lost their lives in the tragedy. They were never found.
The hotel infrastructure of Khao-Lak was rebuilt in even a shorter timespan than previously.
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