Thailand is a place. A place on earth. It’s a place that I quite love. But it is also a place of contradictions. It’s beautiful with its beaches and rolling countryside hills, yet ugly with its insane busy cities, garbage and rank smells. It is a calm and peaceful place, yet unruly, frustratingly maddening and virtually lawless. Many people we’ve met have been wonderful and warm and friendly. Some, not-so-much. Mostly those folks have worked in the food service industry.
I can see why one might be jaded, serving delicious food to unappreciative loogans who demand the same level of service they are used to back home. We read a lot of Tripadvisor reviews of places before we set out for eats just to get an idea of what’s what. We also take them with a grain of salt. Delicious, succulent salt. I’m always amazed how many folks complain about the bad service. Yes, compared to dining in the West, service can be pretty trying. But that’s just they way things are done here, because, well…Thailand.
We were in a lovely little place for dinner last night – essentially it was a tiny restaurant that had been fashioned out of part of this nice old lady’s house. It’s the kind of place where there’s a bed right beside one of the tables. I can picture the old woman sleeping there when it’s not too busy. That’s what I love about this place – you walk into a place, wake up the cook and enjoy your meal. Can you imagine that in Canada?
The food was great – I had a nice red curry with chicken, Tami had some delicious fried rice and Swanson had some steamed rice, because, well…Swanson. The table next to us was a little demanding. At one point they called out to the woman’s daughter for something. She interrupted them, “Just a minute”. I looked over and she was just standing there eating food out of a bag, looking at her phone. I thought it was quite amusing. That’s just the way things are here, best to accept it and look at it with a smile.
Our meal came to 200 Baht (about $7 Cdn). Amazing. And that was with a Coke for Swanson and large Leo beer split between us. Leo is one of the three Thai beers available. It’s not too bad, – somewhere between the superior Singha and the elephant piss of the lowly Chang – it’s the middle child, the Jan Brady of Thai beers. When one’s meal is that cheap, please don’t complain about anything.
Sometimes it’s the language barrier that can be a little frustrating (one can only go so far saying; “Hello”, “Thank You” and “Very Delicious”). We have a free breakfast at our place. It’s always the same – a big bowl of rice and sausage soup and some toast. It’s OK but I’ve had it for three days in a row now. A little variety might be nice. I’m not a cat. Anyways, I asked for no soup for Swanson (you can guess why) and just some toast for him. But of course we got three bowls of soup and pretty much an entire loaf of toasted Wonder Bread. Oh well.
It’s a wonder that Thailand works at all. It seems to me that it’s a country that is always on the verge of utter breakdown into chaos but it seems to work. Sort of. The bathrooms always crack me up. If you;ve ever spent any time in a bathroom in this part of the world, you’re familiar with the showers soaking everything in the room. Why then would you instal an untreated wooden door? It will and does rot out quite fast. But I’ve seen that so many times. And the mould. Wouldn’t take much to wipe that off. But, well…Thailand.
The roads are insane. There are hardly any stoplights. People drive like maniacs, scooters whip around with entire families on them (no helmets of course) – small children stand up at the front and hold the handle bars – I saw one woman driving a scooter with a metal side-car, which looked more like a cage, with 7 toddlers in it and she had a baby strapped to her chest and another kid on the back. Maybe that was some sort of daycare? Mini-bus drivers are crazy (we’ve taken our share of those things), passing other vehicles on mountain roads going around corners and very high rates of speed. It can be dangerous and more than a little terrifying. In fact there was a crash today. I heard there was even a fatality.
We’re in the northern mountain town of Pai. It’s nice enough but it is so overrun with tourists it’s like a mini Khaosan Road in Bangkok. And that’s not a good thing. I imagine that Pai was once a nice sleepy little place with a few hippies and ex-pats but now it’s a infected by a glut of the usual slack-jawed, party-animal, backwards baseball cap wearing, short-fingered vulgarians mixed with loads of Chinese tourists, all of whom seem to want to ride scooters and many of whom have obviously never been on one before. Keep your head up around these parts. The thing I noticed about these large groups is the reluctance to fasten their helmets onto their heads. They have it perched on their noggins, usually on top of a sideways baseball cap, but refuse to do up the strap. Maybe they think that if they don’t do it up no one will notice that they are wearing a helmet.
And for some reason, the mountains around the town are on fire. Every night they set portions of the hills ablaze. The smoke is intolerable. It’s in our eyes, throats, hair and even our crotches. It wakes me up at night. I look out my window, naked, and shake my fist at the burning hills. I’m not crazy. I can’t wait to get out of here and breath the clean air of Thailand’s second busiest city, Chiang Mai.
I’ve also been a tad under the weather for the past week or so. I think I got a hold of something that liquefied my insides (shouldn’t have eaten that pork leg I found on the side of the road) shooting anything I consumed through me faster than a Thai bus driver on a mountain road. So the ancient question arose – Imodium – friend or foe? I say foe. The gravest of enemies. You know that old saying, “Friends don’t let friends vote Conservative”? Well, replace Conservative with “take Imodium”. It is fine for what it does – turn off the tap – but then when you still have to eat, things get backed up like a Thai traffic jam. Not good.
We’re heading back to Chiang Mai for a week before moving on to Vietnam for a couple of weeks and then back to southern Thailand for one more stint on the beach. Interesting to see what Vietnam is like 12 years later. I had a love/hate relationship with it back then, who knows now?