Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Off and running

Tuesday 17th September

I check out, and breakfast on tea, bread & marmalade. I load the motor and am ready for the off by 10.30. I find my way on to the expressway eventually, but only after another faulty right turn. I am pulled again, but this time the cop doesn´t speak any English, so I keep a blank expression on my face, and shrug at everthing he says. He soon gets fed up and lets me go. Phew! It saves me 500b though. Out of the city over the fantastic Rama 1X bridge, but then the expressway ends and I get lost again. I’m in the suburbs now and can´t find anyone who understands me. However I muddle through, with map and sign language, and get back on the road south.

I am writing this at a Shell station, past Petchaburi, in the company of a large Singha (Thai beer), sitting on a marble seat at a marble table surrounded by Thais eating strange looking scran. About 30ºc but a coolish breeze. Suddenly a truck pulling out of the gas station runs over a chicken – screaming and wailing ensues – I expect the murder squad to turn up at any moment! A hasty funeral is held, with short silence, the truck driver prostrate with grief. The temperature of the beer is rising rapidly, so must drink up and go. I need the loo, but am pointed at a hole without visible means of support or Andrex, so I decline.

I stop for lunch at Admiral´s Inn, in Hua Hin (famous for cricket V11´s, sponsored by British Rotary Club). I am served by Miss Thailand (must be). I contemplate pulling her but amdissuaded by another waitress telling me that she´s married to a Thai kick-boxing champion! Ce´st la vie! I eat a sandwich, drink an ice-cold beer, and use the gents. The toilet deserves a mention here – blue water, supersoft tissue, scented soap, monogrammed hand-towels, the lot! The best I´ve come across on any of my travels to date.

Off again, pushing south on A2, dual carriageway, good surface. I bypass Prachuap Khiri Khan and, after couple of hours start thinking about accomodation for the night. It starts to rain and for kilometre after kilometre there´s nothing but small villages. I pull in, about 90 Ks north of Chumpon, at a rest area which has an artificial waterfall, a bar and offers rooms at 350b. I check them out, but they turn out to be sheds with earwigs – I decline gracefully.

It is now getting dark, and still raining, horrible driving conditions, trucks with spray etc. but I perservere and, at 7.30, reach Chumpon, an eminently forgettable provincial town which looks as if anything over 0.1 on the Richter scale would reduce to rubble. At the local filling-station, amid much hilarity and gesticulating, I am directed to the Grand Hotel, an ageing, 21 storey monolith which has to have seen better days (I actually passed it on the way in but thought it was derelict). Fearing it might be full, I ask at reception and am given the choice of 287 rooms at varying prices! I opt for the best and after parting with 650b, am bellboyed up to 1806. Adequate but tired-looking, like me! The lifts are grudgingly efficient so all is O.K.

I take a well earned shower and go down. I ask for the bar and am given a blank look. I settle for a table in the cavernous dining room, and am immediately surrounded by grinning waiters who probably don´t see many Farangs (foreigners) in these parts. I point at the menu (all in Thai) and am served a finger bowl and hot towel. I try again and get enough fried rice, with chicken, ham & pineapple – piled up in a large tin frying pan – to feed all of Thailand and part of Laos! It is tasty though, and I make a hole in it, but go overboard with chopped chillies and am rendered speechless for half an hour. The food, at 35B, is half the price of a large bottle of Carlsberg I estimate the restaurant to be at least 50 metres wide, so, from my corner I order a beer and the waiter walks across to the serving station diagonally opposite, writes a ticket, and the drinks waiter walks 20 metres and disappears. He returns with the bottle and my waiter strolls back to me. Fortunately the air-conditioning is efficient, thus allaying any fear of dehydration setting in before the libation arrives.

I drink all evening, and am royally entertained, along with about a dozen other clients (all Thai) by lovely girls singing unintelligible songs, from a stage, with backing tape. Relaxing after a hard drive I am enjoying myself – I have only to raise a finger and 4 or 5 waiters descend on me and humbly beg to be of assistance. They throw me out at 1am, I fall into my sack, and drift off to sleep to the sound of the rain lashing against the window.

Organising wheels, etc.

Monday 16th September

9am finds me having coffee with Noc. I would like to take her with me on my travels, but no, let us not be hasty. There will be many more fish in the Andaman Sea. I offer her a thousand baht for services rendered, she wants two, we split the difference and she’s happy. I kiss her and send her home, wherever that may be.

My next move is to sort out transport. The girl at the hotel reception is very helpful and sends me in a cab to Lumpini Car Hire at Lumpini Park, a short distance away. After some haggling I get what I think is a good deal for a 2002 Toyota Soluna 1.5 Automatic (made in Thailand) in silver. 21,000b for thirty days. It looks a lovely motor. The sweetie in the office is very nice and offers me tea, fresh grapefruit and herself. I accept the first two but, as it´s only 11am, pass on the third. I need to conserve energy for my trip. After completing the paperwork, and with the help of a street map, we carefully plan a route back to my hotel, this is my very first time driving in Bangkok and I am a little nervous. Within ten minutes I manage to screw it up! Wrong lane, get forced on to the expressway (40b toll-shit!), come off after 2kms, double back, then get caught on the wrong side of Ploenchit Rd and do a moody right. The bill spots me, a shrill blast on his whistle, and I´m pulled. 1000b fine if you want a ticket, fine payable at the police station, or 500b slipped into the cop´s back pocket. I stump for the latter, and the officer, after redirecting me, waves me off. I make it safely back to base, but with a few more grey hairs!

The next job is to buy a film for my camera. Had I done it yesterday I could have taken a snap of Noc, but never mind, there’ll be lots of photo opportunities to come. This done, I sit at the Golden Bar, where I am writing these words and nursing the first beer of the day. Right in front of me a boy has his bicycle parked by the kerb. Over the rear wheel is a metal platform, on which sits a small charcoal grill and a mangle. Suspended from a coat hanger, attached to a vertical bar, are what look like bunches of leaves. Customers select leaves and the boy puts them through the mangle, then grills them on both sides. He slips them into a plastic bag and collects 20b. I have no idea, to this day, what they are! On of life’s mysteries.

Just before 3pm the sky darkens, a wind gets up, and down it comes! Within a couple of minutes the cop directing traffic at the entrance to the Nana Hotel is a drowned rat. Five minutes later it has stopped, the sun is out, and the cop is steaming – literally. On my way back to the hostelry I drop in at Chequers Pub and partake of a cheese & pickle sandwich which fills a gap. Siesta time.

In the evening I take a tuk-tuk ( 3-wheeled taxi ) to Patpong, another entertainment/commercial area across town (there will be a full description of the place at a later date), where I look round the shops for a while and scoff fried chicken at a kerbside café. I spot a handsome hooker at one of the many girlie bars, her name is Took and she speaks a little English. I buy her a drink and chat a while. Promising to look her up the next time I’m in Bangkok, I wish her goodnight and grab a meter-cab back to Nana Tai, finishing the evening at Golden Bar. I fend off all admirers, must sleep alone tonight as I have some serious motoring to do tomorrow.

The first hesitant steps

Sunday 15th September.

I arrive at Bangkok International Airport on time at 13 30 local. ( 0730 UK ). My campaign plan will be to stay a couple of nights in Bangkok, to get acclimatised, and organise some wheels. Then I shall head south and see what fortune brings. The clock cum thermometer on the concourse reads 32ºc, but outside it is overcast and quite muggy. I join the queue and take a meter taxi to the Hotel Dynasty in Central Bangkok, on Nana Tai, off Sukhumvit Rd, one of the main thoroughfares of this bustling metropolis. At the hotel I am allotted a double room with air conditioning and sat.TV for 800baht. For readers wishing to make comparisons, 1 pound Sterling = 68 Thai baht ( at the time of writing ) Therefore 500b is under 8 pounds, and 1000b slightly less than 15. I shower and take a long nap to recover from the 10 hour, overnight flight from Europe.
Up and out by 7pm, I stroll along to the Golden Bar, next to the Nana Hotel, where one can sit overlooking the street and savour the atmosphere. Here I enjoy the first ice-cold beers of what will prove to be many. Just across Sukhumvit Rd I discover a smart German-run restaurant which is advertising Formula One motor racing on the box. Over a tasty plate of leberkäse with home-fries I watch the Imola G.P. Replete, I wander back to Nana Tai and walk into the Nana Entertainment Plaza, which is a very up-market name for a very down-market bunch of bars and clip-joints. I am tempted, nay dragged, into Argel Witch, a tatty go-go palace in which, among other things, the price of ale rises sharply, and where I witness a reasonably erotic floorshow.

From there I move on to the Fantasia, similar, but much better appointed, which boasts some very pretty dancers. After a couple of beers I choose a sweet little thing from among the showgirls and she joins me at the end of her stint on the stage. Her name is Noc ( as in knocking shop ) and she is mine for tonight. I pay 600b bar fine, this is what punters must fork out to take a dancer away from the club, and we leave. Her own fee we will negotiate over breakfast in the morning. We have a nightcap on the way to the Dynasty. This is a most satisfactory end to my first day in Thailand, and I drift off to sleep with a contented smile on my face.

SIAMESE SALLY ( Harry in Thailand )

This is a traveller’s tale with a big difference. Low on culture, high on hedonism, it offers an irreverent and, hopefully, amusing slant on South East Asia, as seen through the eyes of the writer.

The author is an unattached, fifty-something Lancastrian. A free-lance translator and traveller, he has been based in the Canaries for more than two decades. A beer-drinking sports fanatic, he is an avid follower of Liverpool FC and a despairing aficionado of English cricket.

This is a bona-fide account of the author´s car journey around Thailand, September and October 2002, and January through February 2003. All incidents and events related therein are true. If a little poetic licence creeps in every now and again, it is the writer´s privilege.

Read, believe and enjoy!