Episode 18

Thailand…so far.

I have been putting off this moment because I have not known where to start. To add to that issue, I am not sure where I would finish. This country, formerly known as Siam, and I love the name Siam, conjures magical myths, colourful splendour, majesty and honourable people, it has so much to talk about and I run the risk of rambling and losing the readers attention. Although, I think primarily, this exercise is for the benefit of my immediate family, as a keep sake, as evidence that Jo and I didn’t disappear into a huge film set and make this whole thing up, and not for some random reader who perchance comes across my words and takes delight in them to want more!

So I shall make efforts, now started, to be brief, informative and without prejudice bring you the flavour I have tasted of Thailand.

Lemon grass is the smell and Masaman curry is the taste. I could finish right there, but that would be neglecting……..where do I start?

This place is filthy. This place is chaotic. This place is a mess. This place is mayhem. This place works.

Despite the mayhem and the mess and the very unfinished appearance of just about everything, excluding the exclusive resort areas and golf courses, it actually works. Society, these wonderfully natured, polite and respectful people make it work. Somehow. Much of our time has been spent on the roads. The roads are a swarm of moped users, each small motorbike carrying, on average, three people. Man, woman and child, young child, baby! Babies being cradled at the back, in mum’s arms with younger brother or sister in the middle and dad upfront driving, and probably on the phone. These bikes are everywhere. Weaving in and out, at speed, coming from nowhere they dart in front of you from the left and the right sometimes two from either side, in formation, very neat….but dangerous! Helmets? What helmets? Oh yes, they are stored in the very cleverly designed seat locker. Rules of the road are very different from ours in the UK, assuming they exist of course. The only policemen I have seen have been blowing their whistles, incessantly, like a new toy, and directing traffic with a silly, somewhat effeminate hand wave. Perhaps they are the famous lady-boys in disguise at their day job! These policeman wear helmets, sunglasses and mouth mask, so they could be anybody just having a spot of fun dodging cars and avoiding the swarm of mopeds, who incidentally, all line up at the front of the queue when the lights are red. The lights are great. Alongside the red or green light you have a countdown digital clock, the same of which you will have seen for pedestrians in major cities across the globe, which informs you of how long you have before to have to stop or, in the case of the afore mentioned swarm of mopeds, GO. And they generally jump the gun anyway. Twenty or thirty mopeds all with suddenly screaming little engines under the weight of their extra loads, with flattened rear tyres. Chaos. Orderly chaos. Accepted chaos. Charming chaos.

Bangkok is a place I have no desire to return to, the heat, the pace, the noise and the awful smell of the durian fruit on every street corner. I certainly enjoyed the experiences we crafted but an invite to return would be declined.

I would however certainly consider most other places we visited, to date (10th July) as a return trip. Although, I do question the idea of returning anywhere, when there are so many other places in the world to discover. I want to see the world before you put me in it. Shouldn’t one inspect one’s final home to be sure it suits? I think when folk say “I’d like to come back here” it is more a stamp of their approval rather than an inclination to return.

Thai people love their food. Me too. I love their food. I think there are as many street food sellers on the sides of the streets as there are mopeds on the streets. The pavements are a crowded restaurant. Open all hours and providing all manner of delicacies. I suspect everyone has their favourite spot, their favourite cook, and their favourite dish. The idea is, you rock up on your moped, no need to jump off, lean across, make your order, its cooked and ready, straight off the grill, or out of the pot, pay your bill (very cheap), and away you go, revving up as you re-enter the traffic munching on your chicken, shrimp or whatever gave you reason to stop. This is not fast food. This is very fast food. You have to stop at McDonalds, because of the queues. No waiting for this food. If your man is busy, go to the next. The streets, as I said, are lined with them. I did some tasting too. If you like spice, rich flavours, then the street food are for you. I imagine no-one has kitchens at home. Naturally the restaurants do a great job. Super foods at super prices. Our favourite has been BAANBURI, on Phuket. We eat their everyday. Cheaper than cooking at home. I come away from there wanting to open a Thai restaurant in Canterbury. Who knows?

Thailand is definitely an exciting land. The Land of Smiles, so they say. I am enthusiastic about that epithet, because it really is. Every which way you turn, and whoever you meet, you are greeted with a smile, a bow of the head, with hands in prayer position in front of the face, and even a smile accompanied by salutes, if the person is in uniform, be it car park attendant, policeman or security guard. This, I do feel, is a genuine gesture, not just a daily chore. In addition, the indigenous folk have a beauty about them that is quite endearing. They are a beautiful people.

We have explored islands, capes, atolls, waterfalls, tracks, roads that go nowhere, temples, palaces, beaches, mountains, rivers, seas and numerous view points, all by various means of transport. One of our goals was to see how many modes of transport we could use during our trip. At this point, I have to mention public transport. When it is available, generally in the cities, they do not tolerate food or drink. This is also echoed in the theatre, no food or drink allowed. Wonderful. Imagine our joy as we took our seats in Row U, five from the front, to have no distractions other than the show itself. And boy what a show! The auditorium must have held 2500 people; the stage was the size of Chilham Square, probably bigger. There was a cast of about 200 actors, singers and dancers, two full size elephants, 20 odd fly points, a ton of trucks, a river, yes a river, which an actor jumped into and disappeared, remerging as part of his morning wash routine. The story was that of Siam, its history and traditions, called Siam Niramit. The grid system then opened for us to experience torrential rain as part of a tropical thunderstorm. WOW; items in the river, thrown there as part of the previous scene, floated stage left and disappeared into the wings. So the river was flowing too. This was a stage-managers and tech-crew nightmare but an audiences dream.

It was simple spectacular…much like the Thailand story we are living at the moment.

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