I don’t know the name of this hotel. Likewise, I don’t know the name of the hotel stayed at last weekend at Prachuab Khirikhan. Given the locales and the absence of other westerners, although I’m still travelling with Jamie, an Australian and fellow Aquarian, nomenclature is of minimal importance.
We have travelled down the narrow isthmus south of Bangkok stopping at those places not on the traveller circuit, mainly to avoid what I term the ‘banana pancake syndrome’ but also to enjoy Thai pleasures. Except that we first took the train to Hua Hin, “the beach town for Bangkok’s elite“. That’s because the King has a holiday home there. It’s also a town well used to western and Thai tourists; we could tell by the seeming indifference to our presence and the high prices.
Transient visitors like us have to look at a town’s setting and, through careful exploration, find the ambiance which best suits a longer lingering. Usually first impressions count.
A bus brought us south and deposited us in Prachuab in a quiet tree lined street. Directly in front of us lay the sea, through a road intersection governed by traffic lights although traffic was minimal. Resisting the attempts by samlor pedallers to hijack us to their favourite bungalow, we wandered past the beach side canvas covered food stall and the pier used by the fishing fleet and into the back streets where our wooden hotel was to be found. We booked in with no hassles, although the proprietor may have slightly overcharged us at 60 baht.
Much of the town is still of wooden construction, not yet dominated by concrete structures. The banks are easily recognisable. Apparently there is just the one acceptable design for each clearing bank because each branch we’ve seen throughout the country is identical. Occasionally one can see a little ornate metal work or a concrete curlicue to differentiate between the box like constructions which house the shops and restaurants which are open to the street until night-time shutters the stocks. That is when the shop becomes the family parlour for TV watching and, maybe, sleep.
They are such familiar sights: the seeming lack of vernacular architecture, the constant variables of purchase – Chinese ‘testicle’ soup, the sweet stall, all multi-coloured jellies, rice and coconut confections, the trans-national Nescafé, Coke and Pepsodent toothpaste, the ever-present samlors – except in Bangkok, songthiews (truck buses) and Japanese pick-up trucks.
All this is accompanied by Carabao singing Made in Thailand* on every sound system within earshot. In the two months I’ve been in the country, not a day has passed without hearing it at least once.
Prachab was where I first experienced rain in Thailand. A vicious squall blew in from the sea and made the fishing fleet flee for shelter in the lee of the headlands and islands at the ends of the curving bay. These extremities are exclusion zones: at the south lies an air force base and to the north, beyond the fishermen’s village and weekend bungalow settlements, lies a scout camp. Connecting them is a long sandy slightly rubbish strewn beach.
It was here that we had most of our conversations with a few English speakers, graduates all, and friendly without being overwhelming. The Bangkok police chief’s daughter. studying business administration, was staying in her father’s beachside house. (How much does a policeman earn in Thailand – officially?) At the backstreet pudding stall we were served by the long weekending daughter. The ex-welder turned fish descaler (“welding is too dangerous“) had the best grasp of English. Ter and Al, he an auto-mechanic, she a community development worker with rural women, fed us enough coffee in the evening to keep us awake until three in the morning.
[In fact, I’ve never forgotten how Ter went out of his way – “please don’t tell Al” – to meet one of Jamie’s particular requests. Jamie visited red light district in most towns we stopped at; he just wanted to look. After the evening of coffee drinking, Ter offered to drive us back to our hotel and Jamie asked if we could visit Prachuab’s. Although initially hesitant, Ter drove out of town and eventually drove up a track to an isolated two-storied house. It was dark, but they knocked on the door and a couple of lights came on.
By now, tired and uninterested in Jamie’s quest, I’d started strolling away. Suddenly there came a horrendous scream. One of the ladies of the night had caught sight of the back of my 1.92m frame in the dark and freaked, presumably equating height with length.]
*Thirty years later, as I type this I can still hear Made in Thailand: have a listen here, and to this longer version with English lyrics ‘ … and Made In USA.)