A little out of our depth in Thailand.....

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Asia » Thailand » Southern Thailand » Songkhla
June 13th 2001
Published: March 29th 2012
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2012 - These entries have been copied from emails I sent home in 2001. I can't help but laugh at them now - many years of travelling since have changed our values etc so much. I guess our experiences and expectations now have been shaped by these earlier travels. I'm also pleased to note that my photography skills have improved - very few photos were taken on this trip - maybe too many are taken today with digital cameras.....

Jerry and I have been in Thailand now for four days and are enjoying it a lot but we are finding it much harder than Malaysia to find our way around. The main problem is language - nobody speaks any English and to make it harder all the signs are written in squiggly Thai symbols… All part of the travel experience!
Our final day in Malaysia Was spent at the Cultural Centre in Kota Bahru and it was great fun. They were doing demonstrations of all the arts of Kelantan, such as Malay martial arts, kite making, spinning metal tops off ropes and lots of music. The music was unusual, involving a lot of drumming and cymbals plus an oboe like instrument (the type Indian snake charmers use). We thoroughly enjoyed watching the top spinning - it was amazing as they use large heavy metal discs which they wind with metal ropes before throwing these dinner plate sized pieces of heavy metal forcefully onto earth mounds where they spin as they hit the ground. The discs are quickly scooped up by a second person with a large spatula and then balanced quickly on a metal spike where they sit spinning for at least the next two hours. They also play a game of trying to knock each others spinning tops off a playing mat.
Kelantan is famous for beautifully decorated and very large flying kites. It was fascinating watching the men construct these works of art from many layers of coloured shiny paper. Each layer of paper has a pattern cut out of it which is placed on top of another layer of paper with different pattern shapes also cut out of it. It can take months of work to create one of the multi layered kites - they flash with colour when moved. I originally thought they were made from brocade fabric when I first saw them for sale in the shops. Stunning! I would have loved to purchase one but they were far too big to carry and also very expensive.
That evening we returned to the Cultural Centre for a musical performance. It went for two hours and part of it involved audience participation. I played the drum (not too badly) and Jerry asked to play the oboe like instrument. They looked horrified but were too polite to refuse. It is a very dominant instrument so they handed it over reluctantly. A bit of quick practice and soon Jerry was playing along. It obviously wasn’t the flute but must have had similar fingering as he managed it more then adequately. It was really funny to watch as the young man who owned the instrument had very dark skin - he was sitting next to Jerry as he played and gradually his face creased into a big grin - and all the dark skin was dominated by his white teeth glowing. He kept giving Jerry the “thumbs up” sign! Another lovely moment in the holiday… We walked home in the rain at the end of the evening - one of the many stormy nights we’ve had this trip. The rain has never been heavy enough to bother us too much though.
Next morning w caught a taxi to the Thai border which was 45 minutes away. After being dropped off at the Malaysian border post you have to walk a kilometre over a bridge (no man’s land) to the Thai border post. No problems with border control, after a quick glance at our passports we were waved on after being informed that we could only stay in Thailand for 30 days. If we wished to stay longer we would have to cross back into a neighbouring country and turn around and re enter Thailand. A very common occurrence we’ve since discovered. From there we had a 2 kilometre walk to the train station and hopefully a ticket onwards to Hat Yai. No taxis in sight so we started dragging our suitcases. It was midday and very hot. The only taxis appeared to be motorbike taxis and they constantly approached us during the next half hour - we would have gladly have used them but couldn’t really see ourselves and our luggage balanced on the back of on of them
We reached the train station and had absolutely no idea where to go to next. We pulled our suitcases up the stair way bridge over the railway lines towards the ticket office - from the bridge we looked down and saw everybody else just crossing the railway line - much quicker then going across the bridge! We had decided to go to Songkhla on the coast of Eastern Thailand - we had changed our plans (we had been planning to go Phattalung, a rice growing inland region) after a few people had said that they enjoyed Songkhla. It was a four hour trip to Songkhla and we decided to buy 3rd class train tickets - we figured that we would be using trains a lot over the next few months so if we hated 3rd class this time we would buy 2nd class next time. The tickets were very cheap - 4 hours for a total of 164 baht (AUS$8) and it was comfortable enough. The windows were open, sits weren’t too hard though a much longer trip to Bangkok would probably have been more comfortable 2nd class.
Upon our arrival in Hat Yai we knew we had to catch a bus to Songkhla and that’s where the fun part of the day started! We were still travel virgins and really had no idea what price we were supposed to be paying for things and only had the Lonely Planet guide to use as comparison. We were pounced on by taxi touts who immediately quoted prices that even we knew were outrageous so we decided instead to find the bus stop for Songkhla. Easier said then done when we couldn’t read any of the signs! Everybody we approached for help didn’t understand us so they shrugged their shoulders and turned away. Eventually I found a policeman who helped me - there seemed to be a lot of military style police in the region and they all had guns on their hips. He told me that I was actually very close to the bus stop for Songkhla - I was virtually standing at it - so I left to find Jerry who was a few blocks up road checking out bus stops as well. It was very late in the afternoon by now and we were both hot, tired, frustrated and probably even a little scared by then.
We went back to the bus stop but none of the buses allowed us on. We were maybe trying to board buses that actually weren’t going that way, we just had too much luggage or were just too foreign but the bus boys kept literally pushing us off the buses as we boarded. The buses were very crowded so in the end we decided to find a hotel and spent the night in Hat Yai instead. None of the signs were in English and though we eventually found a building that was obviously a hotel it was very expensive so Jerry decided to just go back to the railway station and renegotiate with the taxi drivers. He came back in a tuk tuk or at least a tiny truck with tiny seats in the back tray. The luggage and I were packed into the back but the driver insisted Jerry got into the tiny cabin with him. I guess he wanted to practice his English. The next hour was really scary as he drove down the centre of the road - weaving in and out of the traffic and with his hands off the steering wheel more often then on. It was a real experience - and cost us 300 baht (AUS$15) which I’m sure was far too much.
A guest house had been recommended to us but our driver wasn’t letting us out until he found it. At one stage we were on the footpath outside what we thought was our guesthouse (it was getting dark by then) when he suddenly bundled all our luggage back into his vehicle and started off down the street. We were really confused by then but a few minutes later he dropped us off at another guest house and drove away quickly. It wasn’t the recommended one and only had cold water showers and I needed hot water by then. We eventually went to a hotel down the road and paid 400 baht for hot water and a/c. What a day it had been - at that stage we were really unsure that we were going to enjoy our time in Thailand. We realised for the first time that travel through the country was going to be a real challenge for us. We were only hoping that as we went further north more people would speak a little English and that the signage might have sub titles on it!!! The Thai written language is very different to our eyes.
Our first day in Thailand ended with a lovely meal at the guest house we originally planned on staying in - we found it just around the corner from our hotel when we went out exploring - a hot shower and a relatively early night. Next morning we moved into the guest house - it was half the price of the hotel and though we discovered it had cold showers I figured that I would have to get used to them eventually. It was very comfortable and clean though. We walked all over the town, visited the markets and found a 7/11 store (they seem to be on every corner here) so we stocked up on a few things. We also visited Samila Beach where we saw the golden mermaid and cat and mouse sculptures both of which related to folk tales. The beach was clean though didn't compare to Qld beaches.

We tried finding the bus station but gave up eventually. Everybody was very friendly though and tried to help but when we realised that they were reading the Thai maps the guest house had given us up side down decided they were probably confusing us even more! We spent a long time wandering along the water front and looking at the hive of activity surrounding the fishing boats. Also the people here seemed even poorer than the people from the fishing villages in Malaysia. We felt very sad as we wandered past their house and tried hard not to look too closely. Late that afternoon we took a taxi back to the beach with the plans of climbing the hill behind the beach to look at the view but it got dark much earlier thae we expected so we abandoned the idea so we walked back intot he main town where we headed to the night market for a meal - tasty and very cheap at under 6 aussie dollars including a large bottle of beer. We should be able to travel around here for under AUS $50 a day - at least once we have the guesthouses and taxi drivers sorted out. That evening though we had the worst night of the trip so far - without a/c the windows were open so it was very noisy. The traffic didn’t stop all night so we had very little sleep. The apartment block next door was strung with neon lighting which flashed all night as well. I think we may have to pay more for a/c to keep our sanity levels reasonable so our daily budget may have to increase. Also surprised by the amount of very mangy dogs we see around the streets - there are even more than Bali…..


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