Hotel Pool Sub
Nong Khai, N.E.Thailand
7 January 1986
This is a very different part of Thailand and probably the area which will become the ‘real’ Thailand for me. Off the tourist beaten track, it does not offer any concessions to our supposed needs. The commercial centre caters solely for local needs and where a restaurant or girlie bar purports to do that, if only through slightly higher prices on the menu, it’s as if they’re replaying the echoes of the Vietnam war.
For some ten years the Thai government supported the USA through the provision of bases for the USAF. From here, across Laos and Cambodia, now Kampuchea, planes would take off to drop tones of explosives and napalm and other defoliants. Now it only seems to only have been an excuse for the build up of the American economy. The armament companies are an important component of a capitalist country’s economy. When they do well, it triggers bigger profits for their suppliers and down the chain to the workers. And Coca Cola.
Their signs, and Pepsi’s, are everywhere: on the name boards of eating places, even small street food stalls, on the napkins and toothpick dispenser on your numbered table; and even on the label of a cassette of the most commonly heard band on the radio, Carabao.
With a military lead ‘democratic’ government in power here, there is, naturally, an inclination towards the USA. Defined by the river Mekong, the borders with Laos and Kampuchea are insecure. Occasionally insurgents will enter and cause some havoc. From Kampuchea come the Vietnamese army faced with the protracted guerilla actions of a strange alliance – Prince Sihounak and Pot Pol, the genocidal Kymer Rouge leader who came to power having deposed the prince.
Yesterday with Jamie, an Australian and a fellow Aquarian, and Paul from Portsmouth travelling the same route, I bussed from Loie to here. Several army checkpoints had to be passed through. Occasionally we passed a ‘model’ house and, once, a ‘model’ village. The inhabitants have bamboo gate posts adorned with the red and white striped national flag. An American, met this morning, said that few people can be seen as “they are busy in the fields working.”
The government obviously has problems winning the support of the local populace. Yesterday morning, the editor of the Loie Daily News – an excellent source of information for the few farangs passing through – gave me a photograph (now sadly lost) of heavily armed, including machine guns, uniformed men guarding, or perhaps just posing, in a field of opium poppies. I have yet to understand the significance of it, although it is a source of interest to the Thais who have seen it. The editor couldn’t explain it to me because his English is as poor as my Thai.
Trainee Buddhists monks, practising their English with us in the area college for novitiates, said that they thought the men could be Laotian. I’ve heard somewhere that the Laos government’s income is 20-50% derived from opium. So the insurgents photographed on a Thai mountainside could well be the Laotian regular army.
In spite of that and the rumours on the circuit which mention bandits and keep travellers away, I feel no paranoia here. In these small towns it seem possible to count the number of westerners. In Loie there were maybe 13: here there were five of us this morning, with possibly 3 or 4 new arrivals this afternoon. This creates a nice clubby feeling among us. In Loie, four of us played a few games in the local snooker hall, yes the game with large tables which is apparently a working class pastime here as it is in the UK.
Another reminder of ‘home’ came with an Australian couple met in the local supermarket. She was wearing a sweatshirt from the Phoenix and Firkin micro-brewer pub, one of my locals. Printed on it was the never to be forgotten “If Phoenix my beer, I’ll Firkin hit him.”
I’ll pause here for an “ah, I’ll have a pint of Dogbolter please” and the thought that my first meal when I get back must be a ploughman’s lunch. Decent bread and tangy cheese, some pickled onions, salad, half an apple with a pint, or two, of the best.