Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Thailand take three. Wednesday 25th October
(DH cannot understand why I'm doing this - who on earth would want to look at my holiday snaps!?. Just tell me if you're bored and I'll probably carry on anyway. After all - noone HAS to read it!)

And tonight I'm sitting in a bar/cafe/bookshop around the corner from Eagle House Two in Down Town Chiang Mai. The Rough Guide informs me that Eagle House2 ismore modern than Eagle House One. I think it's incredible rough and basic, so God knows what Eagle House One is like. My room is spacious, but painted in a blood red gloss paint on the bottom half and stencilled roughly with what looks like a drippy smudged bamboo type pattern in bright green gloss paint over woodchip on the top half of the room. Lucky I'm only sleeping in there. And the shower IS good.

I'm listening to the Eagles sing 'Hotel California' and getting the occasional ripe whiff from the drain in the street. I also had noodles which makes a change from rice - and no chilli! It's now a toss up between a cocktail after my meal and having a massage. I've already had a foot massage today - at the airport while waiting for my connecting flight from Bangkok. It was heavenly - what a hedonist I am ay?

Had a good night out last night talking to Jerasik, Tony (from oop north of england) and two german girls called Lena and something like Madeleine. We all decided to get up early and get to the next ceremony in the Vegetarian Festival at a local Chinese temple, where the palsied guys I'd seen earlier in the evening would be indulging in a spot of body piercing in a big way.

During the parade, the participants would stop at significant locations and beat the ground with their whips and axes - lots of firecrackers and yelling fiercely. That got rid of a few tourists, let alone demons.

Ohmigod, the piercing was gross! And I felt so voyeuristic. There were TV cameras and professional photographers all over the place, who specialise in getting right in your face. It's no wonder I don't get good pics. It's not just the lack of a decent camera, it's my inability to push my way in - I try to take a picture from afar and someone is bound to walk past just as I'm waiting out the digital camera delay. I also felt like I was violating the ceremony by not dressing in white - probably invited the spirits or something - speaking of which I decided to go for the 'margarita' - in order to get into the 'spirit' of the next few days of inebriation at Interhash...

I followed the procession for a little way - firecrackers and dragons, to chase away any more demons who happened to have been missed by the bashing, and also to appease the Gods.

Every shop we passed had a special display out front with offerings...

This is just a Thai fire engine - I thought it was beautiful. And while I was hanging around - I visited the market (I adore wondering around markets - admiring displays of food, enjoying the exotic colours, smells - fantastic places).

Then I realised I'd better get a move on if I was to make it to the airport which was a good 30+miles away. As it was, I missed the airport bus by just 5minutes and they only left the bus terminal hourly - I decided to go for another moped taxi, as I might not be allowed on the airplane if I waited for the next bus. 300 baht got me a numb bum and vibrated to hell - but I made it to the airport in record time (beat the bus I'd missed!). Here is pic of the man who bravely took me all the way - hoisting my rucksack off the moped!
I also had time for that foot massage I mentioned earlier.

The rest of the day was spent in airports which are - like high streets in England - ubiquitous and all alike. Mind you, the architecture of the new airport in Bangkok, with gardens and glass and pipes like the Pompidou Centre in Paris without the colours, is pretty spectacular. It even has artworks lining the endless corridors between embarkation and baggage claims.

Several strange truncated phone calls to Eagle House do result in a free lift from the airport to the Guesthouse, and, despite the dire decoration and I'm not sure about the mattress, it does seem to have a pleasant garden to sit in and help yourself to hot water and toast type arrangement.
Couldn't get that margarita so had another beer instead - I'm beginning to sound like an alcoholic - but I don't normally drink anything like as much. I AM on holiday!
I am also admiring yet another specimen of those semi wild dogs that seem to roam Thailand - they look happy enough, with pricked ears and tail curled proudly over their backs. Even if they do scratch more than me. There are also cats. There's a very cute tigger like kitty at Eagle House - very small with a tight collar, so I hope it isn't planning on growing up. Since I was robbed of the Margarita, I went for a full body massage - heavenly and less than a fiver. Mmmmm I could do this every day.

Thailand 2006
take two (take one can be found in November 2006)

Saturday 22nd October.
After getting the reception to phone Dave and Tanya of
PaddleAsia, I get ferried by yet another moped taxi (how they manage to balance overweight me and my backpack I don't know) to the Imperial Hotel, which is no relation to Imperial 2 guesthouse. There I meet fellow kayakers Leeja and Lowry, a couple from Latvia who cannot keep their hands off each other, and we get collected at 08.10hrs to be transported to the South of the Phuket. Lowry the Latvian lover is drinking whisky for breakfast - ah, such is the folly of youth. I meet a further three members of our small group - this time three aussie (hashers!) guys on a male bonding trip. I really am the gooseberry here!

We board a 'longtail' boat to get ferried to Ko Yao Noi in Phang Nga Bay, me and the Latvian lovebirds in one boat with a thai english speaking guide called Bow (or Beau or even Bo!), and the aussies in another boat with another guide. Before we get there, we stop off in kayaks and paddle around three different islands. We have no spray decks or buoancy aids (that's PFDs for you american guys) but the water is amazingly calm and the paddling very easy. The boats are plastic and pretty manouverable for sea kayaks too.

Our first stop is an island with a large 'hong', an interior room formed by the collapse of a huge cave system in the middle of the island. We paddled through a cave and into the hong. This was an impressive introduction to the unique limstone geology which we explore over the next couple of days.

Best sight of the day - a yellow hornbill (I'm guessing at its name!) sat in a tree:
The hot sun glinting off the waves, the islands in the distance, mangroves, red ants, jungle - you can practically hear everything growing like mad here with so much sunlight, water, heat. I can't believe this is the Thai autumn going on winter - it's so humid and hot - what must it be like in SUMMER? Already I feel like I'm living in the hothouse at Kew: same fruity, rotting smells of vegetation.

We get back to the bungalows at Santisook and they are beautiful - my own little pad, with a deck overlooking the sea and coconut trees. There is plenty to eat: rice and veg, chilli, prawns, chicken and fruit.

There is lightening and thunder at 4pm - a deluge of rain which doesn't last long and doesn't clear the air either. We're supposed to go paddling again that afternoon, but I'm so tired and jetlagged that I'm unconscious as soon as my head hits pillow. I get bitten despite the mozzie net.

Monday 23rd October. I wake up bright and early just as the sun is rising, so go for a stroll along the beach to take some pics.

Breakfast is a huge cakelike omelette/pancake hybrid with honey. We all then pile in to a tuktuk to go back to the longtailed boats ready for our second day's paddling adventure.

Today we paddle around and about Koh Roi, Koh Kudu and Laem Tang on the Krabi coastline.

First we paddle through a mangrove swamp: there are monitor lizards sunbathing and swimming, crabs that climb the trees and large snails disguised as tree bark. The limestone dripping off of cliffs form weird and wonderful shapes that would all have names like "elephant's nose" if this was England. We stop for lunch where I find beautiful sea shells and a little red chilli plant growing wild. Later more paddling, and when we reach the Krabi coastline, there are starfishes galore in the turquoise water, and living coral (which I never imagined would look like this!). I can see why scuba diving is so popular around here - wouldn't mind having a go myself.

Back at the bungalow, it's brewing a storm again. There are so many exotic plants growing around here: coconut palms, begonias, plants that I'm used to seeing in greenhouses. There are crabs on the beach that dig holes and chuck the sand over their backs leaving little perfect 'sand pearls'. Had to be sneaky to catch them out of their holes - keep very still like playing "What's the time Mr Wolf". The food is fantastic and plenty of it, with lots of beers too - the australian guys engineered that. The family matriarch who runs the kitchen is interested in my knitting and has a go. She loves my socks - but not much call for warm socks here. I meet Bow's little girl - he can't have seem much of his family while we're here on the island. Being piggy in the middle, I disappear off to bed relatively early to read 'McCarthy's Bar'.

Tuesday 24th October.
I woke up at 3am, and then tossed and turned and slept fitfully - despite the mozzie net and jungle formula stuff smeared on, am still eaten alive. Missed the sunrise this morning!Had breakfast of fried eggs on weird toast. Bright yellow yolks as good as my freerange eggs used to be. Said goodbye to the cat with the crooked tail which kept me company the whole time I stayed in the bungalow. Must be horrible to live in a fur coat in Thailand. Our bags are chucked on the boat and we head out to explore an extensive area of mangroves. We explore different channels through this unique ecosystem. It's a remarkable area, a real highlight of the trip. Apparently Thailand's remaining mangrove forests are the breeding ground and nursery for much of the marine life in the ocean.
Here be monkeys galore. I'd been trying to photograph a monkey from afar, when around a bend in the swamp, a monkey decided to hitch a lift! It even checked inside my boat - nearly dropped the camera in surprise. The limestone cliffs are truly amazing and the photogaphs just can't do them justice - Sheer walls towering overhead with the roots of Banyan trees hanging down. As it draws toward noon, we start to see large groups of tourists on 'sit-on-tops'. We feel superior in our much more lightweight and manoueverable craft. There are loads of kingfishers (or lesser spotted redthroated speckled blackcap thingummybobs) and one herontype wader with bright yellow legs. From the gorge and mangrove forest we get back in boats to head for the coast and the wind is getting up. WE have one last paddle to a lagoon, seeing an amazing array of brightly coloured fish of the type you normally only see in fishtanks - tiger bellied, blue and yellow striped, small neons. I especially liked the lot eating a dead jellyfish - there were so many they were leaping out of the water.

It's now evening and I'm back in Phuket Town sat in the cafe next door to the ONON guest house - particularly apt for a hasher heading for interhash next, I thought. Rooms are very basic, but for 300 Baht (less than a fiver), I can't complain. Tanya (of Paddleasia) has sorted out my flights to Chiang Mai for tomorrow - via Bangkok, but still quicker than a bus! As I'm sitting here, supping my beer, I'm tempted to follow the large number of people who have been passing by, all dressed up in white. I ask the proprieter of the cafe what is going on and discover that this is the 3rd or 4th day of the Vegetarian Festival of Phuket. There have been fireworks going off accompanied by the biggest thunderstorm I've witnessed yet. Just got to finish some more beer dot dot dot.

Well, it's now 21.45hrs and I've just watched one of the weirdest processions - into the twilight zone methinks! Everyone was dressed in white and/or yellow, except those that weren't. The youngsters thought it was all an excuse for throwing firecrackers. A couple ran past with what looked like a comatose child over their arms. I wasn't sure wether this was an accident with fireworks or just all too much - because being in a trance seemed to be all part of it. Then there were the girls in pink and frothy wedding dress type outfits and the guys in ornate aprons, like masonic gear, waving flags and wobbling their heads with Parkinsonian rhythm - some terrible affliction seemed to have struck them all down. Were these the ones who skewer themselves? Drumbeats and smoke from the fireworks all added to the druglike atmosphere. Add a couple of brass horns to the general melee. And another beer or three. I get into conversation with a Chinese/Thai local fella called Jirasak, and ask him the reason behind the palsied shaking of the dressed up individuals. He tells me that they are possessed by spirits. These spirits need to be propitiated - by incense, or fire or sounds and smoke. Give something to them and they'll give something back! Apparently, many years ago, the chinese community had forgotten to pay homage to the gods. As a result, there was sickness in the community and many people died despite trying lots of different remedies. The ceremony was reinstated and the community got well again - so, ever since, the local temples hold an annual 'vegetarian festival' . This whole ceremony was imported by the chinese community in Thailand, from 'Pochee' (sp?) in China, because Communism banned such things. Whatever, it seems like a particularly spectacular way to bow out of Phuket and I feel blessed and thank all and any spirits that have been looking out for me (particularly the Great Knitting Goddess!).