Mingalaba (or a warm Burmese Hello) Sankhlaburi!

15 Jan

Sangkhlaburi is the last stop before Burma. My brother had told me it was a bit of a weird place with very few tourists except some NGO folks he met..this was 5 years ago….welcome to 2012. The NGOs have arrived with a vengeance and Sangkhla seems to me to bear no resemblance to the place my brother described.

I checked into the P Guest House which is both the cheapest hotel and the flashest place in town. I think they work on the basis that it’s better to be full and cheap rather than empty and dear. I had an amazing view of the Khao Laem Reservoir.

This was created in 1983 when the Thai government built the Khao Laem Dam flooding a dozen villages. Most of the villagers were Burmese refugees who came over to escape the regime in Burma. The abbot of the local monastery helped them create a new village and they built themselves a very nice wooden bridge to connect the 2 sides of the village. There is also a temple which was partially submerged which I saw during a boat trip around the reservoir.

Lots of young, rich Americans had come to Sangkhlaburi, I think, to see how the “poor refugees” live. Seemingly they pay 500 euros a week to “volunteer”. I wondered if the money might be better spent on food or medical care for the refugees?

They were quite annoying as they spoke in very loud voices and complained all the time about being tired and stuff. So on the first night there I headed out to the local market to source some local food not fancying the “banana pancake inspired pad thai” at the hotel. I met a nice family on the way to the market. The parents are teachers at the local school and the son is a student in Bangkok. We had dinner together. Fish “pet pet” spicy and rice and water. It was very nice. They were a nice family but I couldn’t speak too much to them since my thai is very basic. I did manage to say the food was delicious though!

There was a fete on in the town to raise money to restore the temple. This involved lots of stalls selling food and clothes, a bouncy castle and a screening of a horror movie and some local dancing.

It’s funny but the town seems to have two sides. The refugees who live in bamboo houses, wash their clothes in the rivers, wear thanaka (tree bark powder which gives a yellow tinge to the skin), chew betel nut which rots and reddens their teeth….and the local NGO workers who are beautiful of course, wear trendy clothes. carry apple mac computers to the posh cafes which have sprung up around town and talk in “ngo” speak about “projects, issues and management”.

I found a nice local restaurant run by a Burmese lady who was happy when I spoke to her in Burmese “Mingalaba” I said for “hello” and “chezutaymalay” for “thank you”. She made delicious cheap food…fried bean sprout cakes served with chilli sauce (3 for 20 pence) and potato and egg curry (60 pence). She had very many children…at least 10 and too many cats which fought with her too many dogs!

I watched a French movie with some French folks. This was in one of the NGO hangouts. I was, of course, ignored by the NGO workers. Walking home was an adventure as it was Thai dogs time to annoy falangs (tourists). I’ve still not mastered how best to deal with the crazy Thai dogs at night. My brother suggested talking to them but this didn’t seem to work with these ones. I just tried to act brave instead and made it back to my homestay (P Guesthouse being fully booked after my initial night of luxury!).

I also went to the Three Pagodas Pass where the Burmese Border is but there was not much to see except shopping. There were some clothing factories where they made Ralph Lauren shirts!!!! They had following the well known practice of making extras and tried to sell me one for 4 quid but it was too small.

On the way back to Sangkhla I stopped at a spot by the river where I had lunch on a bamboo float overlooking the local teenagers “in the tubing”. It was nice to see teenagers having fun as too often in Asia I only see them working.

On the way back to Bangkok I decided to stop by Thong Pha Phung. Not knowing it was the annual cycle event in the town I checked out every hotel. Full, full, full. Eventually I found a room in a homestay with a Thai man and women. He had shaved his hair and then died it yellow. It looked strange.

Next day I headed out by songthaew (local bus) to see the dam. When I got there the Thai women (in beautiful uniforms complete with green kind of 1950s style hats) said there was no way I could walk to the dam as it was 3km. I said that wouldn’t be a problem but they were insistent. They then arranged for the police to take me to the dam! I was quite glad actually as it was more than 5km away and uphill. Often in Asia the people say “tooooooooooooo far, tooooooo far” when it’s just at the end of the road but this time it was “toooooo far”. There was a very funny sign at the dam about monkeys not liking women or children and I got into trouble for walking past a no entry sign which I didn’t see and waving to some men in a boat below!

I stopped off at Hat Din hot springs on the road between Thong Pha Phum and Bangkok timing my arrival with the arrival of the Russians. Out came the speedos again…and it was the first time I’ve ever seen 60 people come out of a bus all in their speedos and swimsuits! How do they do it? Where do they get changed? They loved the hot springs. And all the signs there were in both Russian and English! There was a funny one about not taking suitcases to the side of the hot springs. I wonder if the Russians are known for doing this?

Again the smiley Thai people just sat and looked at the hot springs, sometimes dangling their feet in and then went off to get some food. I had a thai massage. It was torture. I had to meditate to get through it. Never again!

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