I was standing in a queue to board a plane from Phuket to Bangkok recently and got chatting to the guy next to me, a fellow Australian. He told me he’d just had a fantastic fortnight in Patong, drinking beer in the same bar all day, every day. The words that came into my head were: “What a waste of a holiday!” and “You could have stayed home and done that” What I actually said was a more diplomatic: “Mmmm.” I’m aware that not everyone shares my “gotta see everything!” tourism ethic. Plus, I have to admit to spending a whole day lounging around a bar while I was staying in Khao Sok, in Surat Thani Province just a couple of weeks before that conversation. Mind you, Khao Sok is a place where quite a lot can happen while you are doing nothing.
I managed to pretty much wipe myself out before breakfast on my second day there, after badly misjudging the distance to the local Wat the night before while riding around the neighborhood on the back of a motorbike. I know Thais aren’t much into walking when it’s not strictly necessary but I understand Buddhists see merit in effort. Merit must have been written all over my face.
Anyway, lounging around for a while seemed thoroughly excusable after that. I was waiting for my friend Pit to get back from Surat Thani. We had rough plans to go exploring in the jungle that afternoon. So I made my way down to Sao’s bar, the social hub of Khao Sok village.
It was all happening at Sao’s. Two monkeys had just raided the kitchen and made off with a dozen eggs. Both managed to fit one in each cheek, two tucked under their chins and one in each hand, before scarpering. All the trees around were laden with fruit but monkeys probably like variety in their diet. Actually, they mustn’t get bored with eggs too easily.
I was a bit disappointed at having just missed what would probably be the most exciting event of the day. However, in the time it took to have a cup of coffee, more local wildlife was on the scene. A luminous green snake was winding its way up the side wall. In the possibly mistaken belief it wouldn’t be poisonous, I got up way closer than I ever would with any wild snake in Australia. Not that it seemed bothered by my presence. Even Thai snakes have that happy go lucky way about them.
Thai cats are pretty happy go lucky too. Sao’s cat (whose name I’ve forgotten) was feeding her blended family of kittens through all this. The two ginger ones in the photo aren’t hers. They had just appeared out of nowhere a couple of weeks earlier and started suckling.
Then the power went. That had two consequences: the television went off (good) and the fan went off (bad). From the hammock though, I had a very good view of the clouds building and the rain showers rolling in. That kept me entertained for a while, before lulling me into a pre-lunch siesta, if that’s the right word.
Around midday another tourist, Carolle, dragged me out of the hammock to go down to the river and see the monkeys. Unfortunately they weren’t in their usual spot but there was a very nice hammock tied between two trees over the water. It seemed like the perfect spot to wait for the monkeys to reappear, dangling alternate feet in the current. A group of tubers went by – riding in huge truck tyre inner tubes, which describe slow clockwise circles as the current carries them along. I made a mental note to go and do that some time. Then lunchtime came around and the monkeys still hadn’t shown but you get that.
After lunch Sao hopped on her motorbike and left me in charge of the bar for a while, confident there would be no customers. Some people came and began harvesting rambutans across the road; several squirrels frolicked around the nearby trees; new arrivals lugging huge packs asked for directions to this or that bungalow; and two truckloads of happy tubers headed back up river.
Around afternoon-tea time things gathered pace when the monkeys (long-tailed macaques to be precise) came back for whatever they thought they had missed out on at breakfast. Luckily, Sao was back. She knew how to speak their language. An appropriately delivered “BAI!”, with accompanying threatening gestures, deterred any that looked like actually making it into the kitchen. Eventually they admitted defeat and wandered off.
Or so I thought. It was now officially siesta time and the power was back on so I arranged some cushions in front of the fan and nodded off. I was awoken by “BILL!” being shouted with enough urgency to make me think I’d better come to my senses quickly. A rather big male monkey (the alpha male I’d wager, assuming macaques have them in their troops, which I’m sure they would) was sitting a few metres away baring his teeth at me. Just why they were there I don’t know but a large hand of bananas had appeared on the coffee table next to me while I was dozing. The Australian banana crop had recently been decimated by a cyclone and I made a quick calculation that this monkey was about to make off with $20AUD (520B) of bananas (assuming current Australian prices applied in Khao Sok, which they didn’t but I’d just woken up). I snatched the bananas to my chest and sneered “mine” at the monkey. That probably wasn’t such a good idea, because next thing he was sitting on the coffee table and there I was, lying on the floor looking up at a wild monkey so much more closely than I ever wished to happen, thinking “this is going to hurt a lot.” Just a few hours earlier, I had been disappointed at not seeing monkeys. Then Sao came running in, shouted “BAI!” and possibly tossed something and the monkey scarpered and I was miraculously unbitten.
Although it was a bit early to start drinking, I thought I’d have a beer.
In the evening one of the tourist guides, Moon, came in for a drink. He shook his head sadly at the sight of me sprawling in the hammock with beer in hand: “Bill! We hear you lie in that hammock all day! And only get up to fight monkey! Why you want to fight monkey?”
“Maybe we can have show for tourist,” he mused. “Come see farang fight with monkey.” I don’t know, though. If sitting around here watching the world go by isn’t entertaining enough, you probably get bored too easily.