‘hello, welcome!’

Are the two words I will forever relate Karon Beach, Phuket, with.

In my last update I kept you informed of my current status of doing very little. The couple of days after followed a similar pattern as I spent the majority of my time catching up with an old friend called sleep. At a rough estimate I reckon I slept about thirteen hours of a day in Phuket, whether it be back in the room in the afternoon or just gently dozing in a cafe having an afternoon Chang.

That is not what you want to hear though, I’m guessing. You want tales of visits to far out places, irresponsible partying and maybe even the odd anecdote thrown in for good measure. As ever, I will endeavour to deliver the last but the other two I’m afraid will be absent for the time being.

The best feature about this country is its people. Thailand is known round the world for being ‘The Land of Smiles’. I’d suggest that in most cases, this is true. The vast majority of local people I have met here have been of a happy nature whether they be hotel workers being pestered for wireless internet connection passwords at 5am or serving you drinks in a local bar. That said, they are probably two shit examples given they both work with the public. If you work with the public and don’t smile, you aren’t going to get far. In fact, you will probably pay a part in your employer going bust in the long run so smiling and being courteous is pretty crucial to you keeping that job.

All in all that was a rubbish example, but I’m leaving it in now I have written it.

It does actually lead me onto my next point though, and without getting too deep and meaningful at this stupid time of the morning (I’ve just arrived back in Bangkok and the sun is coming up) I want to ask the question whether or not Thailand and it’s people really are happy or are they just hiding behind a false smile? Now, don’t get me wrong I am not going to stereotype a whole race here, just give my opinion on what maybe is going on in places in this beautiful country.

Thai people have had to deal with a hell of a lot of shit in recent times. We all remember the 2004 Tsunami disaster that hit parts of Southern Thailand such as Phuket, Phi Phi and the many other islands around extremely hard. I can’t believe the scars of this event have fully healed as yet, even if the physical damage around the south has been all but cleared up. On the bus ride both up and down from mainland Thailand you could still see some old hotels and bars left irreparable from the carnage of that said event. It was quite sobering in a way, knowing that many of the people that come from this part of the world would have lost people and never got the chance to say goodbye. In Bangkok there is still the ongoing issue about the Thai Red Shirts not being given a chance to exercise their right (or lack of it) to protest against the Government. Thailand is actually in the hands of the military after a coup several years ago – as recently as April this year small areas of Bangkok were cordoned off as the army and police fought a very heavy handed battle with the Red Shirts. A quick check up online showed that 25 people were killed and over 800 injured.

The title of this blog was slightly tongue in cheek. Everywhere I walked in Phuket I seemed to be greeted by a group of females with big smiling faces all saying to me, ‘Hello, welcome!’ Whether it be a bar, club, market shop or massage parlour (yes, both official and non) this same greeting was heard time and time again. Naturally, I smiled back and stayed polite – after all, they are only being friendly even if it was slightly tiresome come the third morning. I mean really, I’m walking down the street with my backpack, strap bag and a bag full of water and you are still asking me if I want little fish to nibble at my feet? Use some bloody common sense. I smiled back at you for the last three days while not carrying the contents of my life on my back, you must recognise me. I’ve walked past you maybe thirty times and decline politely, yet you still say ‘Hello, welcome!’ Give it a rest man.

You get the picture.

I appreciate a good smile between folk – don’t get me wrong. Some English girls I met earlier on in Bangkok were very complimentary about my smile (we all had dimples, apparently) but it’s safe to say that yesterday morning my smile had diminished. I’d had a good catch up on sleep in Phuket, and my body was very thankful for some time out after the move out, Bangkok boozing and then jungle experience. But by yesterday morning I was just glad to be leaving.

There is also a problem here that cannot go unnoticed – the large number of Western men coming to Thailand, namely Karon Beach for ‘me love you long time’. I don’t get openly bothered about things like that, it isn’t my provocative to judge what individuals do with their lives and bodies but there is something not quite right about seeing an eighty year old Western bloke with a young Thai woman on his arm. My point about happiness is prominent here; if the Thai girl is happy with this situation……well I’ll leave it at that, else we could open a whole can of worms.

My feelings on the Thai people in Phuket are that they are hiding behind the ‘Land of the Smiles’ tag, which seems a bit of a shame given the general feeling of warmness I felt from the Thai folk that I have shared train, bus and held conversations with.

Anyway, after that rambling on about a country and its people it’s time for a travel tale. My arrival back in Bangkok is down to a meet up with Fred, who is showing me round Cambodia over the next ten days or so. Seeing as both he and my sister lived and worked there for over a year, he is the perfect guide! I am sat in out guesthouse reception feeling like I have just stepped off a plane and into a new time zone. Of course I haven’t, that’s just the lack of sleep from the overnight jaunt here. I started off back in Phuket at about 1.30pm yesterday afternoon and arrived in the guesthouse lobby here in Bangkok at about 5am this morning.

After the fulfilling, if not slow and uncomfortable at times train and government bus ride down south last week, I decided to go plush for the opposite trip back north to the capitol. A little tour operator in Karon sorted me out minibus and VIP bus tickets for just 800 THB (£17) Now, if you consider that this price was based upon a journey of nearly 550 miles, you will appreciate I got a pretty good deal. The first minibus saw us pitched with a rather angry Thai bus driver who pulled into a random side street minutes after leaving Karon Beach – he gave our tickets to a random woman and that was the end of that! Myself and a family from Karachi, Pakistan, were slightly concerned about this but all we had in response from the Thai bus driver was a load of verbals in his local lingo and some arm waving – no land of the smiles here.

All seemed OK when we pulled over and then clambered into a much tighter minibus just outside Phuket Town. In here was a great mix of people. There were three Canadians, this family of three from Pakistan, a couple of Thai’s, a chap from Israel and then me. The lad from Israel did his best Tony Blair peace envoy effort by telling Adnam, the Pakistani lad, that ‘Israel was friends with Pakistan!’ Love it.

From here was a drive back to Surat Thani where we arrived via the worst service station in the world (bar South Mimms) after sun down. After stocking up on water, myself and the three Canadian girls were shovelled in the back of a large, open tuk tuk where Britney decided to start puffing on a rather large joint. I declined, naturally – the only drug I need is beer and I was soon to be swigging on a few bottles on the VIP bus. We all had visions of some rickety old banger being bought out for our long journey north to Bangkok – we shouldn’t have worried (not that the girls were) or me for that matter, weed or no weed.

So, another long journey swallowed. This one was about 15 hours and every single sleep deprived bit of it was fantastic. The sense of not knowing where we were being taken, whether we would actually get a VIP bus or not, the slightly dodgy belly – nothing could spoil another top journey. I’m starting to sense that the best part about travelling is the overland journeys. I get a great feel for the country when I’m on these long trips, just sat there listening to my MP3 player for hours on end. Time just seems to fly by. I’d imagine that a lot of my mates back home will be reading this wondering how an earth I don’t get bored on these long journeys in the middle of nowhere. In fact boredom is far from my brains upmost thoughts at the moment. I’m still buzzing from the experience of actually being here, just watching the world go by. Not having a worry about work, a flat to look after, a meal to prepare or a bill to pay – none of that.

And all of that allows me to do two things I love doing – thinking and passing judgement on the world!

Postscript – for those facebook types I have posted a reasonably updated album full of amazing photographs at here

More mist, Phuket

No 'hello, welcome' types at Legends

Beers on the night bus to Bangkok

Fred has arrived - chilling in Lumphini Park


3 Responses to “‘hello, welcome!’”

  1. 1 Matt
    October 13, 2010 at 8:06 am

    I’m with you – bus/train rides through the country are great – time to chill out, meet the locals, and see the country warts and all (instead of just seeing the touristy bits they want you to see).
    Glad you had a good time chilling on the beach – enjoy Cambodia!

  2. 2 Donna
    October 13, 2010 at 9:05 am

    I really enjoyed reading your latest Blog Richard. Some great sounding much needed rest, very interesting experiences and ideas about Thailand too. I like the photo’s too. You look a lot healthier than you did in the Jungle!! I am very much looking forward to your Blogs about Cambodia.

  3. 3 Martin Chapple
    October 13, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Keep on trucking!

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