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Published: February 16th 2008
All that glimmers is..
Stupa at Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Thailand's holiest of holies.
Tet (or Chinese New Year to those outside Vietnam) approaches. Panic! The dates on the Lunar calendar lurch this way like some distant (but notorious) relative that Mother has warned you not to get to close to - we decided to get ourselves away the hell out of Saigon. Sofie and myself will fly to Bangkok and meet Kelly there for a couple of days of shopping, eating and wandering.
First: I have to get off my chest how p***ed off I was with Thai Customs officials who stamped their little stamp all over my final passport page thereby denying me the possibility of crossing via Cambodia (with it's one page visa) back to Nam. When I get the next passport it will be jumbo all the way, larger than life (well 30 pages extra at least). That should be a first commandment of travel. Thou shalt always spend the little extra to get those extra pages as unlikely as it might seem that they will ever be used.
Ahhhhh, where were we? Oh yes, Bangkok: Gotham, Venice, Sodom, Gomorrah - your sweat smell caresses us knowingly.
Not our first time in this city, no, but no
Spiral Tribe Klong Prao Beach - Ko Chang
This kid was about 7 years old and just learning the ropes. Great show...
more beds on Khao San Road for us thank you. We'll stay near shopper paradise of Siam Square where all roads and tracks and walkways twist and coil towards the light - out of the crazy soup of the Thai capital. Everything feels so much more connected and conceived than in grotty swampy Ho Chi Minh. True, in Bangkok, it is sometimes impossible to walk at ground-level at all due to pedestrian-unfriendly planning, roadworks and assorted fumes (durian? dead person?). True also that many of the afore-mentioned walkways seem hell-bent on depositing the unwary in a sprawling department store never to see the sun again. True, it is possible to spend hours getting from A to not-so-distant B if the time of day prove unfavourable.Why go there then? Simple. The madness is invigorating and the madness is familiar and whereas in Ho Chi Minh pedestrians have to trust the millions of moto riders (read: assassins) with their lives as they try to cross the road, here we have the option of getting above/beyond, up in the canopy of this urban jungle so to speak, and that IS indeed more preferable.
Seventh time here and we are battle-hardened in the
ways of the city. Think VietCong st the time of the Tet Offensive many moons ago. So what are the rules of engagement? Thou shalt not use tuk-tuks no matter how garishly kitsch. Thou shalt not trust that well-dressed man who sauntered over while you were checking your map. Thou shalt travel by river ferry/Skytrain whenever possible. Thou shalt seek out the quiet places all over Bangkok
. The back-streets, parks, rooftops - seek them out and the shouts and screechings and belchings of this watery tart of a city will be (if not a distant memory) at least a manageable one.
On this visit we meet up with, Noel and Anna. Noel is Warren's cousin and anna, Noel's girlfriend. we were introduced to great sushi and endured the awful IRE v ITA rugby in an Irish (possibly Italian?) pub afterwards. We managed obligatory river trips; went to the movies to see Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of London
. (the fear in Kelly and Sofies' eyes as these first bars of musical ring out)
There's a hole in the world like a great black pit
and the vermin of the world inhabit it
and its morals aren't worth what a pig could spit
and it goes by the name of London.
We also ate our favourite vegetarian food
at Tamarind Cafe near Asok BTS and at Cafe Corner near Khao San, visited the
Grand Palace and Warren saw the amazing Temple of the Emerald Buddha (for the first time) - unfortunately for us (and the King's sister) there was a funeral and most of the Grand palace was closed to all but mourners.
Later we picked up some books, clothes, other sundries and tried to organise a trip to a secluded island somewhere: instead we booked return tickets to Koh Chang: the Island of Elephants as the 'locals
' call it.
It required an early start and a long day by VIP coach to get to our Koh Chang ferry. While the typical Khao San minibus offers 5 easy steps to deep vein thrombosis our VIP version had leg room aplenty and the only criticism was that the disaster movie shown as part of the on-board entertainment
was a little on the quiet side. (I am aware that this sentence may never before have been written). Luckily for us, Dennis Quaid's jutting, angular features spoke volumes of their own and I am satisfied that Dennis did actually save the planet from impending environmental catastrophe.
So to Ko Chang - our beach 'resort' all booked and ready to shelter us. But wait!
It isn't booked they say. Cue nervous shuffling. Internet printouts are wielded and parried. Serious faces are tried on for size. Later: smiling/pleading faces. Where will we stay the tourists wail? Who will take these destitute travelers? The night is drawing in... Our heroes in a state of near exhaustion remember something that flashed by in the taxi. Yes, the tens of other hotels and resorts within a coconut's fall. As luck (fate?) would have it we find another (better) room in no time. A room where towels can be swans or elephants. We find an Alhambran pool where elephants gush water, bubbles burst and crisp inviting water flows. Chai Chet Resort is thy name.
Can I have a Rewind?
When a German friend of mine told me about visiting Ko Chang over 10 years ago it sounded idyllic. Rough-hewn huts likely to be swallowed up by the forest by morning. The elements, no respecter of pampered traveler in search of something bijou and comfortable. Fast forward to today, you are as likely to be confronted by a croissant as a fisherman. Ye Olde Fishing Village is now lined with cappuccino bars and dive shops. Rustic wooden huts have
given way to huge resorts sitting plumb on the edge of eco mangrove, eco jungle and eco river. Isn't it supposed to be a National Park? That topless lady in the dayglo pink thong seems less than interested in ecosystems of any kind.
Thailand's coastline is slowly becoming a Asias Costa Del Sol. Somehow, though there are spaces and niches that remain. Untouched parts. Hard to get to places. Eventually they too will be gobbled up. The East of Ko Chang is pretty empty. Long Beach
on the South East side of the island is a real antidote from all the package tours around White Sands and as far as you can go by road on the horse shoe road that (nearly) circumnavigates the island. I rented a motorbike for a couple of days and drove there and for a brief few hours and I could see what some of the fuss was about. I scoffed down my 'special' (read: locust) salad. A thin white duke shaking fine white sand from between his toes seeking shelter under beach palms from the blinding tropical sun. I was practically able to shout all the way to Cambodia from this practically deserted
Funeral Procession Grand Palace
The King's sister lying in state.
outpost. A quick dip in the shallow waters was welcome too. If I come back to Ko Chang I would like to stay a week or two in this place I think.
After decompressing on Long Beach it was back to pizzerias with 'real Italian chefs', Lipton Tea, tailor shops and mopeds mopeds mopeds. Civilisation, it is called. The beaten track will likely be Little Chef'd any day now.
So we make our way back to Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh and that relation had left for another but the streets of Saigon were mercifully quiet and Sofie went back to school and Warren had to endure another week off. In my lethargy I forgot two Bangkok commandments. Thou shalt take the time to find and utilise that Bangkok Airways lounge in the Bangkok International Airport rather than spend your time in said airport resisting the urge to strangle other people's offspring. Thou shalt not strangle other people's children. And in this way normality can be resumed - the lounge a victory of civilisation in the truest sense.
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