Thursday, June 30, 2016

Part One - Chapter 6 -

Place: Hua Hin / Bangkok
Time: September 1993 


On my first journey to Thailand, I tried to avoid Bangkok as good as possible. My time in Thailand came to an end. I chose Hua Hin for my last stop. I arrived there in the middle of the night. I intended to spend the last two days in this beach town. It was close enough to Bangkok so that I could go into the capital on the day of my departure. At 2;30 a.m., I came with the train to the town. I had expected it to be quiet and calm. According to the information of a friend it was still not too touristic. I had planned to take a few more swims in the Gulf of Thailand. Maybe some shopping was possible but mainly I wanted to get back on track, away from the bohemian lifestyle of Koh Phangan. There was the fear that I had adapted too much to a world full of mystery and drugs. It was also far better than an overload of impressions that I was afraid of about Bangkok.

I had made so many different experiences in Thailand, particularly after the island, that I tried to come to a personal conclusion about the country. I had been living in a dream for almost the last two weeks on Koh Phangan. A lost soul, too much apart from the life in a civilized world. This made me feel uncomfortable. These were only holidays and they had developed into a very strange direction. Two months ago I had been an employee, a student and a son of a good family. What was I now? This question was much too difficult for me to answer. I hated what had happened with me. These were the most extreme two months of my life. How could I ever expect going back home and living an ordinary life? I needed to get out of Thailand. Maybe, some day, coming back. Then I would do everything different. I would visit my friend Pee Pee for sure. But I did not get anymore any kick out of this country. Probably, I would have a look at other countries in South East Asia. Maybe Vietnam, Indonesia or Laos. I had heard much about these countries. I had started my journey with a lot of expectations and nothing had gone the planned way.
The arrival Hua Hin showed me that I had lost track of certain parts of reality, such as time. The train station was not far away from most of the guesthouses. I was tired and took for the first time in Thailand a Tuk Tuk. The driver promised me to find a place where I could at least spend the night. This was not easy as it was in the middle of the night.  Usually, I do not like the idea to trust any Tuk Tuk driver for the search of a shelter. At half three in the morning my options were restricted. The first guesthouse was reasonably inexpensive. However, the owner was only able to offer me a place in his laundry. He assured that I could have a good room for the second night. At least a place with a bed, lucky me. Again, I loved Thai hospitality. A few hours later, I was woken up. The owner apologized but his stuff had to do the washing. However, I got directly a nice room with a good view. The first guests had left in the early morning. I continued to sleep a couple of hours and got up at lunch time. I definitely needed to get back on track about time but that was not the only thing that I had to adapt to 'normal' society again.

Another issue was that I had to get used to certain conventions and limitations in a civilized world again. Hua Hin was another world compared with Koh Phangan. The guesthouse was at a main road but only hundred meters away from the beach. As I was used to, I put my sarong around me and walked there. Some tourists gazed at me in strange amazement. Well, better to run around with a sarong then in typical cheese cutters. The scenery here was definitely middle-aged mainly male tourists with their Thai bunnies at their side. I thought Pattaya was bad, good that I had not gone there. Hang on, I do understand that these people bring most money to the country. Still, they are some species of different animal than me. This was something like stone age man meets humans of the future. However, I did not go back to the guesthouse to change my clothes. Instead, I went to the beach. I had planned to take a few good long swims. Unfortunately, Hua Hin has a small problem, the beach near the city center is full of stones and riffs. I did not want to do again harm to my feet. So, I had nothing better to do then taking a walk along the shore. Even that was only limited as some  hotels had made parts of it as private resort. This actually, is against the law, the beach belongs to everybody in Thailand. Corruption makes it possible that the large hotels can avoid that and put up some zones only for their guests. I did not like these limitations and the mindset of the people here, still it was better than hanging around in Bangkok.


Through my visit in Hua Hin, I came to enjoy for the first time a Thai favourite, Som Tam. This dish originated in Northeast Thailand, Isaan, but is made in all parts of the country.  In my eyes, everybody who comes to Thailand has to try it. If you visit Thailand but miss out on this dish then you did not try to grasp the culture. It has such cultural value that you have actually not even been in Thailand without eating it. It is a must! You may like it or not, but you have to try it. It comes in different grades of hotness. A newcomer to Thailand should never say that he wants to have it hot. Because hot means super hot. Hardcore Thais put up to ten chilies into this salad. The ordinary Thai is happy with four to five. The Western newcomer should try it with only two if any. I do not like tasteless food and so for me it is a must to put three or four inside. I was once able to eat it to the most extreme grade but these times are over. The traditional SomTam consists of finely shredded green papaya pieces, tomato pieces, peanuts and dried shrimps. It is spiced with lime, garlic, fish sauce, sugar and of course chilies. The ingredients are crushed in a mortar with a pestle. That is the basic structure of this meal. It is usually eaten with sticky rice. As I already said  about Thai food, without any kind of rice, a meal is just not a meal. So, enjoy this culinary side of the country!
A cultural dish which is close to a national dish should have of course variations. There are many different versions of Som Tam.  Thais use a many different recipes of making this meal. The basic papaya salad can be enriched with green beans, crab, fermented fish or egg or yard long beans. In any version it is an interesting yet challenging meal. There is even a rather sweet version that includes apples, oranges and other fruits so a delicious fruit salad with the spices of Som Tam. The essential side dish is khao niau, the sticky rice. The typical meat to it is grilled chicken. Many people eat it as well with grilled catfish which has a soft meat and not so many bones. It is one of the dishes in any Isaan restaurant and will never be overlooked by Thais if you are going there. My favourite version is with fermented egg, it is fabulous!
Beware of thinking to compensate the lots of chilis you might find in the papaya salad. If you have by mistake ordered a too hot Som Tam, then eat a lot of sticky rice so that it is calmed down. If you on the other side want to wash it away with water, good luck, you just intensified the hotness. Just think of it similar other spicy food. As an example in the Turkish cuisine where you have bread to calm it down, in Thailand it is the rice.


 Sometimes, you are so far away from the reality that you can't believe when it catches you again. Such a thing happened on my actual last evening in Thailand. I was not expecting anything special anymore and just drove around the city and had some Thai food. There I met two guys from Canada. They took me around the pubs and bars of the city. It was a pleasant evening and I thought that I could keep it as a last good memory. I was very wrong with this estimation. It was in the second or third pub that we ran into a German guy. Actually, he ran into the bar as a madman and shouted wildly around. First, I could not figure what he wanted in this pub. He was already very drunk but that is a poor excuse. After nobody paid much attention for him, he rushed to the bar counter and screamed towards the bar tender 'Ich will was zum Ficken!' Unfortunately, from the same country, I understood that he cried out for somebody to fuck. I had respect for the country and hearing that yell, I felt offended. Knowing that my two new friends from Canada could guess what he was bellowing, I felt as well ashamed. Call me stupid, but I had the urge to do something. I tried calmly to tell him that his behaviour was out of order. His reaction on that was initially a shocked stare. Then he laughed out loudly 'You are fucking weird. Do not tell me that you are here for the temples or culture. That is fuck paradise number one on the planet!' I did not want to reply, I just wanted to smash my beer bottle over his dumb head. Fortunately, my Canadian friends saw that I went dark red and took me out of the pub. The German was kinda right. Most people came to Thailand because they wanted pussy. It is far beyond me to criticize that. However, it was a shock at that time and it made for me the final point that I did not want to go back to Thailand. 

On my way back to the guesthouse, I summarized about what I had seen in this country. My experiences were summed up with getting too involved with drugs, prostitution and stupid sex tourists. I thought that last night in Thailand, I had experienced a nightmare. I felt stirred up by the encounter with the German and I somehow could hardly see anything positive anymore. The dark sides of my journey to this country were throwing a shadow about anything nice that I had seen here. I honoured the people of the country, it had been nice to meet them. The food had become pleasant and an adventure. The weather was great but actually too hot. It was just that a lot of people came to the country that I would have never talked to back in Europe. Thailand was just too much on the beaten path. There had to be better countries in South East Asia. I was not the right person to mingle with most of Thailand's visitors. Then, which made it worse, I had even not been at places that sounded horrible such as Patpong, Soi Cowboy or Pattaya. I had only traveled on an alternative line and that shocked me most. I wondered how bad had the rest of the country to be?


It is a good idea to travel only at the departure day into Bangkok if you don't like cities, but in 1993 you had to be aware of a few things. My flight was in the evening and so I went in the late afternoon to Bangkok. There were stories about the traffic jam in the capital city. This could not be too bad. Four hours should be enough time to get from the central train station to the airport. I arrived at Bangkok's central railway station around four hours before departure. Taxis at that time were real adventures. Most taxis refused to run their meters. At present time they are compelled to run it. However, most tourists will not hand in a formal complaint. I had not been aware that all trains passed the International Airport so my whole enterprise was actually pretty stupid. If you do not waste time get yourselves more information as I did back in 1993. 

However, a strange holiday was rounded up by an insane ride with one of those motorway cowboys. Already in the first five minutes of the tour, I felt like in some kind of meth dream. First, I was offered to go for a beer somewhere because it was still a lot of time. I denied knowing that there are people who drug you and you will never get the flight back home if you do not have a coffin. Then he tried me to get laid. I had not gone to prostitutes all my holidays. There was no reason to do it on my last day. Again, you go for such a gamble and you might not have anything left at the end. The guy got seemingly disappointed and angry with me. He had never seen somebody like me who did not value these precious things of his country. Finally, his last shot was trying to persuade me to do some crack or speed. This got me so angry and I told him harshly off. I doubt that he understood the words but he saw my gestures, he finally shut up. At the airport I gave him a generous tip so that he would not get me into some trouble. After all, I should be thankful for this trip as I know from first hand experience that the stories about the taxi drivers are really true.

 Final impressions, me sitting on the floor of Don Muang. Smoking was still allowed, with a cigarette in my hand. Happy to get home. Many strange thoughts. Last final idea not to get a parcel stuck on me with illegal substances. Looking at the sex tourists and their not pretty girls. Would have never touched that. Finally going home. The boarding call, just out of here. Bye Bye Thailand. In these last hours, I did not even believe that I would see it again.

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