Monday, 8 June 2009

White is the new Brown

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to Wak Po we go - ok dear readers, welcome back after what must seem like a mammoth gap. Blame the high speed internet that exists....not. Anyway Wak Po was HUGE and the bike ride there was great fun, with all of the villagers shouting out 'Hello Felang' or Hello Foreigner. Felang I am assured is a nice friendly expression and as everyone seems to say it, I believe them.
Never found out why this Budha was there, but it was white, carved of stone and some 683 steps up a steep mountainside. My guide decided to stop at the bottom 'to look after the bikes' - right. The view at the top though was stunning and worth the climb.
Back to the resort and that night I went out with the owner, which if you recall he had promised earlier in the week. What a night. First off, we wnt to an open air concert, for a popular band from Bangkok. Now I've dissed Thai music quite a bit, but I have to say this was really very good. Fusion of the manics and the stereophonics, so not bad. Locals love them obviously, singing to every song, but it made for a great atmosphere. Then onto the 'bar' which turned out to be Karoke with a twist, in that the girls 'sang for their supper' if you get my drift. Singing was pretty dire and being propositioned by a decidedly dodgy 'girl' was interesting, but we had a laugh.
Next day, back to Bangkok, to stay at the Ba Pra Nond Inn, which was a former home of the grandfather of the owner, Tasma, who was lovely. The home was quite beautiful, with rooms that would put somewhere like the Malmaison in the shade - it was that good. Very central and off I ventured on my own to take a walk - the ferry up river (13bht around 20p) to the Khao San Rd, another place made famous in the film the Beach, although it's heritage goes back to the late sixties/early seventies. Great vibe, lots of backpackers and hippies - felt quite at home in my flip flops and 7 day old stubble. Hung around here for a few hours, before heading back on the ferry and 'Skytrain' (monorail) to the night market.
Picked up at 9ish and taken to meet up with Dee from Tell Tale Travel, who was the agent who took care of all of this trip and who was in town for a travel convention. Downturn in inbound means there are and will be lots of deals if you want to come to Thailand. Anyway, we met at the Eugenia bar and met her friend Lizzie, who has made a life in Bangkok and developed a publishing company along the way. They were really delightful company and after two bottles of decent Chablis, it was 'home Tommy'
Next day, I was to transfer to my new Homestay, the home of 'Wan' and 'Goi', who were absolutely fantastic and couldn't have done more for me had they tried. I shared their garden accomodation with an American girl called Mollie, who was on an internship with a big Bangkok newspaper and as luck would have it for her, she was there when the whole David Caradine story broke, which looks quite seedy in hindsight, but nonetheless, if you are going to work on your first newspaper story, then the suspicious death of a famous hollywood actor in a Bangkok hotel, ain't a bad place to start.
Wan took me to Chinatown - now I've been to Hong Kong and Chinatown in Soho and Manchester, but nothing prepared me for this attack on the senses. It was amazing. The food; the smells; the trading; the praying;the noise; the hustle; the bustle - it was so intoxicating and how I imagined the old 'Peking' would have felt.
Onto another temple only this one was different in that it was quite contemporary and was to house a 5 1/2 ton solid gold budha recently found encased in concrete. Nobody knows why; nobody is claiming it but it's soon going to be in magnificent surroundings.
Next day, was a visit to an island called Ko Kret, in the middle of the Chao Praya River, notable for the fact there is no traffic and it's the home for an old Burmese civilisation known as 'Mon', who were driven out of their homeland and given safe haven by a previous Thai King. The island is frequented in the main by city people and in fact, the whole time we were there, we never witnessed one other western face.
Slapping on the old suncream as the sun was out in full force, I noticed Goi and Wan cover every last bit of themselves. When I enquired why, she said they like the skin to be as 'white' as possible, as dark skin means you work the land and are a peasant, whilst white skin means you probably work in the city and therefore have status. So all of you out there, some more than others, who tan beautifully, remember you are peasants...white is in; white is cool!
A visit to a particular temple on the island was interesting in that I had a Budhist fortune taken and it was quite revealing. Not for here readers, but happy to share later once I've had a chance to reflect. Surely the fortune was not another coincidence that was just meant to be...?:-)
Throughout this part of the stay, Goi, who spoke incredibly good English, gave me more and more insights into Budhism and I can see it's appeal for many Westerners who come back from the East. I don't know how much I will get into it, but I am intrigued to learn more, mainly because of what I've seen of the wonderful people in this amazing country. Goi and her husband Wan, were so generous up to the last, giving me some very personal keepsakes that I will treasure. They don't even know me for Christ sake, but what can I say, it's a measure of them and others like them that I have met along the way.

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