Category Archives: Central Countryside

Road trip to Pattaya

After a few days in the central countryside I was informed that we were off on a road trip to Pattaya.

An overnight trip to the seaside is some sort of family tradition at this time of year. So in the early afternoon we piled three adults and four children into the pickup and set off. The children were kept amused by the DVD/VCD player. And the old American cartoons were even funnier in Thai than English. When we got sick of Daffy Duck and Loony Tunes there were other cheap options available at the convenience stores.

One of the delightfully unexpected features of the fuel stops (at least for men) was the outdoor urinals around the back of the toilet blocks. Very civilised, I thought.

Roadside signs in Thailand are intriguing and usually a great way to practice your reading. However, the sign below was in English. I was not sure whether to feel more or less safe after seeing it.

When we stopped for late afternoon noodles I was reminded how delightfully polite Thais are in such situations. One of the things that had surprised me on this trip was the way my friends talked within the family. Not rudely, but bluntly, without the little niceties you get taught are so essential when speaking Thai. So when we got to a restaurant and they switched to textbook Thai the contrast was dramatic.

A little further on rain threatened. This is one of the disadvantages of a pickup. Your bags are out in the open. There was a brief stop at the side of the expressway to bring the least waterproof items into he cab, but the rain never amounted to much.

We got into Pattaya in the early evening of the last Songkran public holiday and spent what felt like hours in a traffic jam observing (comfortably) the last vestiges of the Songkran waterfights. Pickups full of drenched revellers, people on the roadside with buckets of water, and some enthusiastic and extroverted dancing by people of indeterminate gender. Not quite up to the excitement of Richard’s video but interesting nevertheless. Unfortunately it was dark by this time so I have no photographs.

After losing our way a few times we finally found the hotel. After an hour or so at the pool we headed out to look for something to eat.

We were staying at Jontiem beach, which is south of Pattaya, and so relatively family friendly. However, I felt rather uncomfortable sitting at a table in a restaurant with two Thai adults and four children when a late-middle aged tourist wandered in wearing only shorts and parked himself opposite his Thai friend. To add insult to injury, the meal we had was by far the worst and most expensive I had in Thailand.

After total immersion with Thai people for almost a week the sight of foreigners, and the way they behaved, was a little disconcerting. They seemed so loud in comparison to the Thais that I had been mixing with. Not that the foreigners I saw were behaving badly, it was simply a large contrast with what I had become used to.

We were up early, on Jontiem beach by about 9am, and enjoyed breakfast and lunch on the beach. After the 35C heat in the central countryside it was nice to be a little cooler. The almond trees in the photo are discussed in another blog. Pattaya proper is beyond the headland in the distance.

As you can see in the picture beach wear for adult Thais tended to include a t-shirt. I didn’t really register this at the time, but no one seemed too bothered about me taking my shirt off to go in the water. However, I definitely had my shirt on at other times.

The beach was a very friendly family-oriented place. While I was minding the children out in the very mild surf a pair of twenty-something Thai women from Bangkok befriended them, and we became involved in an extended game of tag. I was pleased that I had enough Thai so that when they asked me if the children were mine I was able to explain that they were children of friends.

The public toilets and showers you see at western beaches don’t seem to exist here. However, across the road there were a number of places to take a shower, for a small fee.

After the beach we headed into Pattaya itself. It seemed odd to see so many signs in English and even more foreigners. The whole place had a slightly run-down feel about it.

Our main destination Pattaya was Ripley’s Haunted Adventure. It was reasonably interesting and moderately scary. The advantage of travelling with children is that you get to do things that you otherwise would not have an excuse to do.

After the fake horror we were off to see some real-world carnivores at the crocodile farm. Apart from the crocodiles the animals included camels, tigers, bears, and various birds. Feeding the crocodiles with meat on a line was popular with the visitors, but there were few takers for posing with a tiger or a crocodile. I considered it briefly but in the end passed on the idea.

We headed back in the direction of Ang Thong in the late afternoon, with several meal stops, and a shopping stop where we picked up various foods, including some durian, which made an excellent breakfast the next morning.

An interesting trip, but I was happy to be “home”.

Out and about in Ang Thong

All of my travels around North West Ang Thong, and beyond, were done by car or pickup truck. This was comfortable and convenient, though I was often not sure exactly where I was. Also, I did not get a chance to discover whether I really could survive for long on my own devices, which may or may not be a good thing…

As well as visiting what could be described as tourist destinations (which I’ll talk about later) we made a lot of trips to restaurants (all excellent), markets, or the 7/11. Occasional trips to ATMs also posed no particular difficulties.

Thinking back on my trip I realise that in my ten days in Thailand I did not say one word to a foreigner. Furthermore, I only recall seeing one or two in Ang Thong province. On the other hand, I did not feel like a curiosity either. Thai people appeared to hardly notice me. If they did they would smile or respond as best they could to my feeble attempts at communication.

The cities are small, as you can see above. If you look carefully you’ll notice that we really should be on the left side of those double yellow lines. Driving like this would cause havoc in most western countries, but in Asia the oncoming traffic anticipates it, making it marginally safer. I just wish my Thai friends would wear seatbelts more often.

On Mondays there was a market nearby, with a variety of food, clothing, and household goods for sale. Not much for a tourist to buy, though I did get some shirts and shorts. People to whom I’ve shown the above picture have commented on the power lines. If they had seen the power sockets on the pole and the extension cords that the vendors ran from them they would have been even more surprised.

Inevitably, events like this are noisy, often with incredibly loud music being broadcast around the lot. But they are good fun and there is plenty to eat and drink.

Motorcycles are, of course, a widely used form of transport. I’m not sure what these workers are going to spray. I still can’t get used to the hats and balaclavas!

There are tens of thousands of temples in Thailand. It’s hard to avoid tripping over them. The local temple seemed almost deserted most of the time. However, some nights it turned into a carnival, with music (loud of course!), rides, competitions, and all kinds of stalls selling food, toys, and other items.

One of the buildings had some very graphic illustrations of what I imagine happens to people who live unwholesome lives. Scary stuff.

Towards the end of my stay I walked down to the temple to have a more careful look. A couple of km in the 35C heat had me drenched with sweat. The workmen doing some renovations looked concerned and offered me some beer and I accepted a mouthful, though it did not seem quite right to be drinking there. They offered me a ride home, but I explained in my broken Thai that I wanted to look around and take some photographs. They did understand one or two important English words. As well as “beer” they understood “New Zealand” and “rugby”.

After looking around for a while I started on the walk home. But I only got about 100m before a policeman stopped and offered me a ride on his motorcycle. This time I gratefully accepted.

Rural Thailand is such a friendly place…

Ang Thong Countryside

Most of my ten-day April trip was spent with a family in North West Ang Thong province. Less than two hours drive, but a world away, from Bangkok.

I knew that central Thailand would not have hills, but it’s different to actually experience it. Like The Netherlands, this is area is flat. Rivers, canals, trees, rice and other crops, small towns.

The umbrella in the photo on the top left is not for a picnic. It was keeping the sun off a pump that was taking water from a small river into the fields. Houses were a mixture of modern concrete construction and a few in the more traditional style that you see in the photo on the right below.

My hosts run a store and sell everything from fuel to fishing rods, so there was a regular parade of people stopping by to buy something, or maybe just to chat. After a while the idea of fitting three or four people on a motorcycle started to seem normal, but the sight of people wearing balaclavas in the heat still seemed a little odd. I was surprised how new most of the cars and motorcycles looked. I guess they don’t get a chance to get old under these conditions.

Of course, this was the hot season. Over 35C. It was not as bad as I feared, since it was not particularly humid and there was almost no rain during my visit. Of course, taking several showers a day helps make it bearable. I think that not being in and out of air conditioned buildings made it easier to acclimatize. I did have air conditioning in my bedroom, but it was only used to cool down the room before sleeping.

It took me a couple of days to get used to the idea of putting ice in my beer. But it’s either that or drink it much too quickly.

The bugs were not too bad, though I did use repellent frequently in the evenings. My hosts relied on mosquito coils, stubbornly refusing my offers of repellent, and complained more than I did about the insects!

Earplugs are something I always pack when I’m travelling. In this case they were useful not only to keep out the early-morning sounds of animals and machinery. There was always the risk that a pickup with a multi-kW sound system would park outside my window.

It was enlightening to experience the details of the countryside. Picking mangos and wandering among the coconut palm, bananas, rice, and other crops. Little details that puzzled me when researching the trip, or learning the language suddenly fell into place. Hmm, “sor sala”. There’s a “sala” over there in front of the house. The few traditional houses I saw were familiar from the illustrations in the Manee reader:

My hosts spoke little English. This was an advantage because it was much easier for me to use my broken Thai without feeling like a complete idiot. Sometimes I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen, or when, but I soon learned to be relaxed about that.

It took me a while to get used to the Thai “showers”, scooping water over myself, and the squat toilets. But after some practise the practicalities were apparent.

I had worried a little about getting sick, so I had made sure that my vaccines were up to date, and that I had some emergency supplies. But I had few problems. Some runniness at times, but probably just from too much seafood and more spices than I was used to.

It was a pleasant and friendly place to spend time in. I hope to be back soon!

Finally: beyond the airport…

In Mid-April I finally got beyond the transit lounge of Bangkok International Airport. I’d been in the airport several times, but always on the way to someplace else. I’d been preparing for several months for this visit to the family of a friend in North-West Ang Thong province. But I still had misgivings. Could I cope with Thailand in the hot season after a New Zealand autumn? Could I cope with the food? The bathrooms? Would anyone understand my Thai?

A short flight from Hong Kong, but a world away in atmosphere. Just boarding the Thai Airways plane had a soothing effect. The runways and the transit lounge looked familiar. There’s an annoying space on the immigration form for a visa number. I don’t need a visa but I hate leaving blanks on a form! Looking at the “Address in Thailand” box I realised that I didn’t know where I was going! “Just write ‘Bangkok’” my friend advised. The immigration officer made no comment.

Out of the building and into a pickup. The heat was not as bad as I feared; it might be 35C but at least it’s not particularly humid. The expressway could be anywhere: are we in LA, Beijing, or Brazil yet? Bangkok was out there in distance somewhere, but this is the closest that I got on this trip. Next time…

I did a lot of research for this trip, including watching a lot of movies, and I drove a little in Malaysia in the 1990s. So once we got beyond the expressway the towns and roads were much as I expected. The drivers seemed a little crazy at first, but nothing as harrowing as I’ve seen in India or China.

My halting Thai at least made a good impression on my hosts. But I started to realise that just knowing a few greetings does not allow much exchange of information.

Since it was late afternoon we stopped at Ayuthaya for a little sightseeing and dinner. One thing that struck me was how small it was. And it hadn’t registered that brick would be so prevalent in the old ruins.

We spent some time at Wat Phanan Choeng, which, according to the guide book, features a 19m Buddha. It’s certainly neck-straining and stunning. I was pleased that I’d spent some time at the local Thai wat back in New Zealand, so I knew what to do with the incense and gold leaf that were thrust at me.

The next stop was a restaurant on the river, opposite a mosque (right-hand picture), which I didn’t anticipate. The food was even better than I expected. I’ve had good Thai food in Hong Kong but there’s nothing like being in the right place, with the right ingredients. My hosts were impressed that I didn’t pass out from eating the tom yam. Luckily I’d been practicing for this for months by cooking with lots of chilli.

One of my overwhelming impressions of Thailand is the amount of food I was persuaded to consume and how wonderful it all was. I eventually developed a self-defence response: the command “gin” would trigger “im laa-ou” from me.

We planned to come back and do the dinner cruise when the city is lit up at night, and I wanted see a few more temples, but in the end it didn’t work out. “Next time” was a recurring thought during my ten days in Thailand.

It was dark by the time we got “home” and I remembered that this was the tropics, and this was countryside. It was nice to see stars, even if they were somewhat unfamiliar.