Tag Archives: Thailand

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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Kanchanaburi, the Cave temple and the Russians at Erawan Falls…

15 Jan

After spending a delightful Christmas and New Year with my brother on the Southern Islands of Thailand I decided to make the most of my Thai 30 day visa and headed to Kanchanaburi, east of Bangkok.

I checked into the Jolly Frog “Backpackers”. Its Lonely Planet description of a “young backpacker” “happening” crowd should be rewritten to “perfect for old, fat, bald tattoed Western men either seeking or with young, beautiful Thai women”. Still it was amusing to watch them in the bar at night chatting to other “old Western men”. The mind boggles as to what they chat about.

I went out jogging after I’d checked in hoping to see the Bridge Over the River Kwai at night but was chased by Thai dogs, one of which tried to bite me through his muzzle (!) so gave up on the idea.

Next day I chose the safer option of a bike and cycled to the Bridge.

The railway bridge was built as part of the Thai-Burmese railway (415 km long) intended to link Thailand and Burma and as a supply route for the Japanese conquest of India. The Bridge was built with parts from Java, Indonesia.

I went to the Thailand Burma Railway Centre in town which explains everything about it including the huge number of lives lost during its construction.

113,000 died during the construction from exhaustion, malaria, cholera, beri beri and vicious beatings from their Japanese captors….13,000 of them were allied prisoners of war. The rest Asian labourers.

They called July to October 1943 the “speedo period”. During it, the men had to work 18 hours a day in hellish conditions, sleeping in bamboo huts or outside, ravaged by mosquitos, without shoes (it was during the rainy season), with a little watery rice to eat and few medical supplies.

They used spikes from trees as needles to insert drips, traded with locals to try to get some extra food and carved their food tins to count the days and their location. They tried to keep cheery by having competitions on the number of bowel movements per day. The winner would get a cigarette.

I cycled to a Buddhist Cave temple outside town. It was quite interesting with small Buddhas inside but was a bit creepy as I went deeper into it as I was alone. The Cave was used by the Japanese for weapons storage and torture during the War.

Local women were selling food outside the cave and as they had finished serving they shared their lunch with me which was very kind.

I took a local bus to Erawan Falls. I walked to the top of the falls and got the dry skin on my feet eaten by the little fishes. The best pool was number 7 at the top as it had the fewest Russian travellers.

Most of the Russians who arrived in a huge tour bus were at pool number 1 which involved the least walking from the carpark. The Russian men all wear tight speedo swimming shorts. I wish someone would open a bermuda swimming shorts shop in Russia. It would make life more pleasant for many people. The Russian girls are very slim and reasonably pretty until the age of about 25 when they seem to get fat. This is ok as by then they seem to have found Russian husbands wearing speedos.

The older Russian women complained all the time about the nice fishes.

The fishes got their revenge by eating the dry skin on the Russian women’s feet in a particularly vicious way. I tried to explain to the Russian women that it was nice to have the fish eating the dry skin and they charge 200 thai baht for this service in other places. They just shrieked loudly about this and then instructed their Russian husbands to dive in on top of me in the pool! Oh well!

By 2pm their big fancy tour bus had taken them away and I had the pool to myself as the Thai tourists there do not swim. They just look at the waterfalls, eat lots of food which they have brought with them and sleep! They also try to hike to the top of the waterfalls wearing high heels which is not very successful but they smile a lot and are nice so that’s ok!

Another day I took a local bus to Hellfire Pass. This is a really deep pass which the Pows were made to cut through hard rock for the railway to pass. They called it “hellfire” as at night with the lanterns burning (they had to work right through the night as the Japanese wanted the Pass cut very quickly) the men working thought it was like the fires of hell. There is a great museum here which has been set up by the Australian government. There is a good movie but I got into trouble when I sat down to watch it as you are only allowed to stand and watch it for some reason. I also got into trouble as I had a picnic with me and you are not allowed food there. So I went back outside and ate my food. A nice local man gave me some nice fruit from a tree. I don’t know the name of the fruit but it was delicious and kind of him to give it to me. He got it down from the tree with a very big stick.

I walked along the railway cutting. It is really good as you walk and press the buttons on the audio guide and it gives you a lot of information. It was very, very hot though and I could only imagine how hard it must have been to work here with hardly any food or water. One of the prisoners recounted that he came back after the War was over and was so sad that all the lovely teak trees had been cut down. One of the only things that kept him going was the lovely view of the trees.

After being woken very early in my Hotel in Kanchanaburi by a Thai women shouting about how she had not been paid by her “Western boyfriend” I left Kanchanaburi and headed further East to Sankhlaburi…next post adventures over East…where I got to use my Burmese words again with some of the refugees there…

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