The King and I.
11, 1995 20:45
11:56 Bas Mini; Georgetown -> Krabi-Thailand :: 6
At 7AM today Thai border guards welcomed me, on behalf of his
majesty, the King, to the kingdom of Thailand. It's different here.
Yes there are the visible signs of difference. Cattle everywhere.
No helmet laws in Thailand. The brightly multicoloured buses and trucks
with ornate patterns in paint and metal work. De rigeur Japanese pickup
trucks, some with high ornate caps and bench seats used as bus cabs; wave
them down and tell them where you're going- maybe, if the people already
loaded are going near there, this will be your bus. If not, try the next
one. They're prolific. Malays use the English alphabet to write their
language, but none of that here. Thai language is written in what looks
like a cross between Sanskrit and Cyrillic (Russian). Since few Thai speak
English, I'll probably be reduced to uncovering the relationships between
squiggly patterns and the food that arrives after I point at them. A Thai
phrase book will be mandatory. Even the Chinese here advertise in Thai.
Both Malaysia and Thailand plant row upon row of rubber trees
but thus far I have seen coconut palms in Thailand but no Palm oil plantations,
though, as one would expect from a tropical country, banana trees sprout
here and there often without plan. [Near Krabi we encountered a few palm
oil plantations. Rubber remains the mainstay.]
The architecture, particularly the homes, are different though
I'm unsure how to describe it. The tendency here is toward plastered cinderblock
or stained hewn timber. The regular dottings of dwellings alongside the
highway seem poorer, even as their cars and trucks seem richer. Larger
commercial structures, as in Malaysia, are reinforced concrete lattices
whose external walls are filled with brick and then plastered over. Paint
adheres to these constructions reluctantly.
I have seen the characteristic mounds of Chinese graveyards,
each mound interring the remains of husband and wife. At the base of each
mound an altar, of sorts, a shrine really, where money and incense are
burned and food and money are left in homage or tribute. The incense sticks
burn in groups of three, always, representing the triumvirate of Mother,
Father, Son or Sun, Moon, Earth. Four is very unlucky.
In Vancouver, with the second largest Chinatown in the Americas,
I have never seen people buried in this way. Perhaps I must look harder.
Our bus passes a pack of Harleys. The Thais seem to purchase
larger motorcycles than the 125cc to 175cc scooters common to Malaysia,
though there are plenty of these. The roadway is better maintained, with
guardrails. For the first time in months, the center-line is yellow. Except
that we're on the wrong side of the road, and the houses, plants and people
are all wrong, this could be an American secondary road. Even the caution
signs and guardrails seem American.
While I have seen where the Chinese dead are worshipped, I have
yet to see where the living worship their gods. And nary a mosque or Hindu
shrine. Thailand is Buddhist and we've passed several temples with their
uniquely Thai pagodas.
There is none of that annoying blue terra-cotta covering the
roofs of newly constructed buildings that is so popular in Malaysia. Then,
little enough new construction has appeared. Certainly, not the large
residential and commercial blocks springing up all over Malaysia. Roofs
here are often thatched.
1:16 Bas Mini; Georgetown -> Krabi-Thailand :: 6 APR
Thai chili tingles on lips, tongue, palette. Nummers. Well, not
entirely. The fish with bamboo shoots curry weren't too tasty. And even
when they put a whole grape in a container of what can only be assumed
to be 'grape juice', you're still going to get unusually flavoured sugar
water. The chicken red curry was fine, as was the Sprite® drunk when
the 'grape juice' refused to go down.
Telephone poles are square pillars of reinforced concrete. The
town of Hat Yai, where we changed mini buses (actually, a Toyota mini-van
seating 12, including driver), advertised cable television but once out
of town aerials rise over every home.
Every now and again we pass an inventory of personal shrines
and grave markers. The shrines, ornate temples in miniature on a shoulder
height pedestal, find their way in front of homes and businesses. And
the grave markers form the burial 'mound' of the deceased with a central
spire reaching 2 meters skyward.
If allowed but a single word to describe first impressions: ornate.
Shrines and temples, alphabet, cars and trucks; curlicues, curves and
colour. But Katrin comments: the people are so drab. True, there are no
bright batiked silks wrapped and draped over the women and men. There
are no Muslims or Malay to parade such a shout of colour. So the people
I am told another difference will be in the expression of human
nature. "Helloooo! Where are you going?" Several times a day
the ethnic Malays would sing out in melodic greeting. They are curious,
friendly and they speak English. In Thailand, English will not serve so
well. When paying for our Lunch the Thai woman had to write '74' on a
piece of paper before I understood the price was not 24 baht. However,
"Two plate" proved a sufficient signal that I would pay for
22:05 Ya-Ya Bungalows; Ao Railay (near Krabi)-Thailand
:: 6 APR 95
One of the recipients on this distribution said of the Thai peninsula
"The Krabi area in S. Thailand is a great area to explore-Karst topography
coming out the ying yang. Also great beaches etc. " By Karst topography
she's referring to the limestone massif formations that predominate the
landscape. It's not too far from here that the Island pinnacle scenes
appearing in the 007 thriller "Man With The Golden Gun" were
filmed. The limestone rises like mountainous dollops of cookie dough bunched
together on baking pans. By great beaches she means sand like talcum powder,
an ocean warm as a freshly drawn bath, coral formations a short swim from
shore and the Karst pinnacles all around.
The Thai word Ao means bay and we are staying in the [supposedly]
cheap huts found on the east beach at Railay. This is a smaller beach
with mangroves and murky water, but the west beach, just a brief walk
across the peninsula, is of the variety described above.
After the initial disappointment of a roadside lunch dinner tonight
was exceptional. The Thais make my favourite food and my favourite dish
out of the Thai kitchen is Pad Thai (called Phat Thai here), rice noodles
in a red chili-paste with crushed peanuts, vegetables and, often, prawns.
The Phat Thai tonight was very good, but the coconut milk soup, loaded
with vegetables (the kitchen forgot the chicken) was divine.
We got here after a 12 hour bus trip from Georgetown, Penang,
which the booking agent assured us would take 8 hours. Then it was 40
baht each ($1 CDN = about 18 baht) for the boat to Ao Railay, about a
45 minute trip. The bungalows themselves were initially disappointing:
concrete and raw brick inside and out with an open beam and timber ceiling.
I hardly expected to see the Thai version of 3-story condos here, but
that's what we've found. What do you want for 200 baht a night?
12:53 Ya-Ya Bungalows; Ao Rai Lai (near Krabi)-Thailand
:: 7 APR 95
My response to Georgetown, on the Isle of Penang: disappointment.
If for no other reason than the inundation of white-feller travelers.
They were everywhere. Most are in transit to/from Thailand and stop here
for a couple days before moving on. Georgetown is a popular place to purchase
a Thai visa.
When you go to a restaurant there will be travelers there. You
walk through markets and there are white fellas there. Street restaurateurs
demand payment upon service, a request not made once in the entire month
I've traveled in Malaysia. A protection against the old 'dine & dash'?
But why here and nowhere else?
That Australian tourist network I once pined for-where hostels,
transit companies, tour operators join forces to share the profits of
tourism while providing cheap, efficient service to the tourist-I find
it here and it rankles. I wonder if what I'm being guided to will be authentic.
I wonder if in the heightened awareness of tourist presence whether I
experience Malay culture or a tourist trap. I begin to understand a little
better the difference between tourism and traveling.
The setting here at Ao Railay is, as I described earlier, beatific.
I just wish it didn't feel like a western enclave, like a cheap Club Med
where you can climb, snorkel, scuba, soak the sun and play a little beach
volley ball amidst all the cultural comforts of home, people who speak
your language, and a good ethnic restaurant staffed by those 'adorable
Thai people'. If there were any Asians here besides the staff, I'd feel
Patrick. -- Responses Sought --
- The difference between a tourist and a traveler:
- A traveler doesn't know where they are going;
- A tourist doesn't know where they have been.