Thai hospitality - another dimention

from Phuket to Malay border 03.04. - 02.05.2014


The rainy season seems to be on its way and every now and again we have to stop and seek shelter before one of the heavy tropical rain showers and  end up in Phuket rush hour traffic and it is already late when we finally reach the Tamarindbar (which surprisingly is located by my navigation program) but how else can it be: it's the wrong bar and it takes a while until we arrive at the right place here we are greeted like two long- missing family members with big Hello and immediately the smart phone jungle drum is put in action to get the whole group here is to greet us - Liza gets parked in the bar and Tam even has a bed for us in a small attic room and although it is full of cracks and joints and the mosquitoes are waiting for with a drawn suckers we sleep really well for first time in a long time because the fan makes a big difference. As much as we love to we spend the night in a tent, in the hot temperatures here it's sometimes an ordeal and I can say in fact, that I have never seen so many sunrises without an alarm clock, as recently (that is if you don’t count the cicadas as an alarm clock which kick up with the first daylight and make a ginormous racket). We have already decided last night that we will stay here for a whole week, because next weekend begins the Phuket Bike- Week - which of course we need to visit and on Sunday is Songkran - the New Year celebration of the Thai which we also must not miss - it will be our third New Year for this year.  Last night we have met Fred a nice guy from Britain who has stayed here quite a long time to pick up his wife Bow, who now wants to move to England with him and he says that he will fly home today but has paid his room for the whole month, so there are a few more nights left and he wants to check with the hotel if we can use the room for the remaining days and Lek and Roni have invited us for today to their home for dinner - we are overwhelmed by so much help and hospitality and now sit in the Tamarindbar and enjoy a coffee and a functioning Internet and wait what happens next.. First Lek and Roni appear in the early afternoon and then Fred with the good news that we have a room in a real hotel with pool and air conditioning for 4 nights. Soon all are in a festive mood, the afternoon is boozy and when Fred and Bow finally say goodbye to drive to the airport, they are well pickled and also quite tight in terms of time. We say goodbye with an amused: "Not that you later throw us out of bed because you missed the plane" Lek is now also3 sheets in the wind and decides it's too late to cook at her house, and so without further ado the grill comes out and some meat and side dishes are fetched from the market and in next to no time a barbecue for everyone present is on the go. For a bit of fun Lek has also brought fried beetles from the market all the locals seem to enjoy them and Kev also has a go - I try to be brave and let them show me how to peel and eat the critters, but when I bite into the beetle it crunches and then I feel a soft mass in my mouth I have to choke and heave - while Kevin claims it was delicious I spit to everyone's amusement everything more or less discreetly in a napkin and decide that beetles are not going to be included in my diet. There are more and more guests - regular clientele and bikers from Chalong Riders Club - and all are very excited about our trip and our Liza. Again and again we have to answer curious questions and get that much recognition and admiration so much so that for the first time since we are on the road we feel as if we are doing something special. When we arrive at the hotel with Lek as a translator in tow it’s already quite late and it turns out that Fred has actually missed the plane and is now sleeping off his afternoon session in his own bed - we find it funny and have to return and ask for another nights shelter in the Tamarindbar.

The next day, Fred calls us and says that he now definitely takes off and we have a room. For 3 nights we enjoy the luxury of air conditioning and also to have a TV and a bathroom while Lek rings all her friends to find a place where we then can put our tent up and finds it at Pele's Reggae Beach Bar! A slightly overgrown corner on one of the most expensive beaches of Phuket, where all neighboring plots are either super luxury resorts or residences of really rich people. The Beach bar, however, is meeting place for young backpackers from all over the world (but mainly Russians), some of which have set up camp in the vacant rooms here and decorate as payment for the accommodation the house inside  and out with paintings or help repairing the place and we can camp here for free – well actually Kev does get his almost virgin Fiskars axe out and has a mad man chopping action one morning and gets rid of some wilderness – so we did do our bit too.

 Every day we are being cooked or grilled for by someone and also invited several times by Roni and Lek to a meal in a restaurant – once even to a proper German place with really good German food (I know some people would find this debatable but a proper Kraut loves his Sauerkraut!) There are real sausages (meaty not sweet), minced pork, smoked meat, pickled cabbage and real bread) and  even a dark Erdinger wheat beer to wash it all down with - after 7 months in Asia with mainly rice and noodles  it feels like we died and gone straight to heaven - even though I thought the food was extremely tasty everywhere it is hard to imagine how beautiful it is from time to time to get something really homey. After a while I start to feel embarrassed by all this attention and generosity shown to us by so many people here but Roni enlightens me about the fact that you should also learn to accept gifts as they come from Buddha - so I decide to just simply enjoy the good times. Once I even manage to pay back a little of the  hospitality shown to us and make a huge pan full of meatballs for all – accompanied by bread from a German baker. I am not sure if the Thai like them but all the farang (Westerners) really enjoyed them.

Even before Songkran I decide to get myself here a new pair of glasses as my old ones have been sandblasted almost continuously since Kazakhstan and I can’t see much through them anymore  - after I noticed is that there are so many opticians, but hardly any locals with glasses I asked myself and also Roni why this is so and found that many tourists seem to get themselves a new pair of glasses here because they are so cheap. Because Songkran However this means that the delivery and making of them take longer than usual at the moment and this in turn means that we will have to stay another week - what a pity. One of the guests from the Tamarindbar has emailed an English local newspaper and told them about us and our trip, and now of course we have to give an interview.  We manage to make an appointment which fits into our present time rich social life (our days seem to be scheduled by our new friends here quite efficiently) and it's even fun - at the end a surprisingly good report comes out (even if it says that we are on tour for 4 years on 4 wheels instead of 3 years and 3 wheels) and we even make it to the front page. We are very curious about the Thai New Year - every Farang and Thai raves about it and so we get up early in the morning and in the Tamarindbar not wanting to miss anything. It starts very slowly there are some big and (still) empty tubs, which are being filled with water and slowly one by one all women arrive and start doing what they do seemingly most: cooking. I try - as always without success to offer some help but no one has a job for me and so I just drink a beer with the others for breakfast while the bar is filling up slowly. There is an ever-growing buffet set up and the first water pistols appear. Gradually, everyone arms with bowls, buckets, water pistols and then goes outside where the water battle is slowly starting. You get splattered, strewn sprayed with water, paint and talcum powder and it's real fun with no one  managing  to stay dry. Then of course there is a lot of eating, drinking dancing and laughing and soon it is clear from all the different New Year celebrations this is definitely the best. I am determined not to dance but soon one foot starts tapping and eventually I let myself get dragged along with relatively little resistance - there is no need to report that I once again end up with a twisted thick knee - what the heck - it's only once Songkran. Kevin, does not miss out on the dance round, which means that he is well drunk by now - that's why I decide to stick with anti-alcoholic to drinks from now because the way to the tent is far and walking with my knee out of the question and Kevin's driving skills are rather debatable now. At the end of the party Kev gets stowed in the sidecar and I take us to our tent all in one piece.

 We had closed every opening of the tent in the morning because it looked like rain and now it is so very stuffy so Kev tries to open the rear entrance, stumbles, tries to catch his fall by grabbing the tent poles, it makes crackling noise and the whole thing collapses. Our poor home has indeed suffered greatly already in Kazakhstan and now it had the final blow. We repair the lot the next day with metal rods, tape and rope but we will it no longer be able to take it down now so we decide that it's time for a new tent. Fortunately Phuket is large and full of tourists - so there is also an outdoor store where we'll hopefully find a new one. The new tent is of course nowhere near as stable as the old one and also has no vestibule into which we can retreat in rainy weather but it is the best we can get here and it has the advantage of being fairly airy which hopefully means an improvement in sleep quality in the local temperatures. We also take the opportunity to purchase two new camping chairs but we want to try and not use them until we get to Australia - until then, we must always sit with crossed fingers on the old chairs and hope that the seams that are becoming more widely still hold this long (that would be at least one part of our equipment, we do not have to scrub in Timor - Australia has very strict rules with regard to the cleanliness of everything you take into the country) Next, thing to sort is the charger of our computer.  This has been making problems because the cord was broken (also already in Kazakhstan) for some time and I had to cut the cord again and again and reconnect it but now apparently the adapter part has a Short circuit and nothing works anymore. (as we do not possess a phone or GPS this computer is our only life line to the outside world and just needs to be in working order - A blessing in disguise it is that this happens here in Phuket too - our last stop in a city in Thailand which has plenty of tourist traffic and shops in order to get replacement. The new charger will not last forever according to the seller's opinion but if it holds out to Australia, we have a chance to get a new unit from Panasonic. So we spend our time in Phuket mainly between Tamarindbar, Pele's Reggae Bar where we sleep, our new friends amongst which we are being passed around for meals and a variety of stores where we replace what has fallen victim to wear and tear to the many potholes and generally just being on the road. Saturday we will go together with Roni, Lek and a load of Chalong riders to Phuket bike week. In the afternoon there is a big ride-out with motorcyclists from all over the world through the city and along some of the beaches. It's really fun - there is much for us to take pictures off and we are being photographed at least as often too . In the evening there is a party and live music from one of Thailand's top bands. Participants from neighbouring countries are asked onto the stage and after Roni points out to the organizers that there are even some Germans who have ridden all the way here we also get asked on stage and presented with a commemorative plaque and then have to give an on stage interview.

 The highlight of our time in Phuket above All is the farewell party though which the girls from the Tamarindbar make for us.

They make a real effort and cook in European style with mild Thai side dishes - Bu even makes potato salad and garlic bread. It will not be easy for us to leave this lovable gang again, but it is probably better for us - otherwise poor Liza wil break with the weight  of us together - we also want to see a little bit more of Thailand before our visa expires - the road is calling us again . For the last evening we arrange to meet again with Roni and Lek - the two of them indulge us with one of the best steaks that we were able to enjoy for a long time but then on Tuesday morning it is over: Liza is packed again, our old tent we leave at Pele’s  should one of his guests needs a shelter, our friends from the Tamarind bar come to say their farewells with breakfast and freshly brewed coffee, after a couple of photos we wave good bye and while everyone claps and cheers we finally hit the road and wind our way out of town. First we go north along the coast because we want again to visit Khao Sok - where  we have missed to visit a large reservoir on the first innings, which we were told  to be  worth seeing. However shortly before Khao Lak - the town with our favorite campsite we are caught in a Thunderstorm and get wet down to the underwear. I feel weary and remember that there are bungalows to rent in the National Park and I have such a longing for a night with fan (two weeks in a tent at these temperatures have left us both with a serious lack of sleep and a desire for a good nights sleep in a bed and cooler temperatures) we quickly decide that we treat ourselves to another night here in this little paradise. When I wake up late the next morning and feel f                                                 it for more nights in the tent I hear Kevin out there talking with someone, so curiosity drives me out of bed. On the veranda, my husband is sitting with a young Thai couple and it turns out that they were sent here by their boss to ask us to come and see him. He is apparently also a motorcyclist and had on the way to Phuket Bike Week an accident, but one of his friends has posted pictures of Liza on Facebook and he has learned that we were staying here - practically next door and would like to meet us. We promise to drop in after packing – it won’t do us any harm to just pop in and maybe there is even a free coffee in it. When we arrive at the specified address and we are pretty sure that we must have misunderstood something - we are at the gatehouse of a luxury resort and uncertainly announce to the gateman in uniform that we believe to be expected by the boss here!? Our Liza is parked between sparkling luxury cars and we are invited into the foyer with a welcome drink and coffee while the boss is being called. Again and again we look around and then in the foyer we see a replica of an old Harley and there is a huge painting of the bay of Krabi with a tiny motorcyclist on the access road which we take as a sign that we perhaps are in the right place . The boss then comes - in a wheelchair - and confirms that we have not misunderstood anything. We chat for a while about his accident and our journey, then he suddenly declares that he now has to put up his injured leg, and ASKS us to be his guest for two nights..... pfff well …actually .... here we are in our slightly damp dirty clothes feeling a little out of place and do not know what happens to us next. Well ...we might just about be able to postpone our plans for 2 days – and suffer some 5 star luxury - right?

One of the staff then brings us to an apartment that's as big as my first flat with air conditioning, a huge flat screen TV, kettle, locker room with fluffy dressing gowns and a real bathroom with hot / cold shower ..... even toilet paper, well-functioning WiFi high-speed internet and outside a shaded veranda overlooking the well-kept park!  We collect our scruffy belongings off the bike, make a cup of coffee in the room, Kev finally gets a fix of news on television again while I take the chance to to have a large sink with a proper fitting plug available to wash our dirty clothes and then hang them up on the covered balcony to dry. After the obligatory midday thunderstorm we jump in our cosies and find our way through the resort to the beach, where we plunge into the sea. It has pretty high waves and a fairly strong current, and as the waves catch me (I'm just standing on one leg in order to save my twisted knee) they throw me around and pull me quite a bit along the beach and over the rough sand, it feels like being sandpapered - I end up almost doing the splits and then the other leg hurts too. So I decide to take pictures of Kev, who has ventured further and announces that this is great – yeah right you can swallow salt water. We enjoy a beer at the beach bar, but only a small one the prices are exactly our budget and we do not know if our consumption is included in the offer, so we do not want to overstretch the hospitality and run up a big bill (and if it’s not included we do not want to run up a big boll either)  . After we’ve cooled down a bit in our room with the air conditioning and showered the sand out of every crack we go to dinner, where we meet the owner Sam and his family again and we entertain them for a while with some of our Travel Stories. Sam tells us that this is his family business and they have done this even before the tsunami. In the disaster he has lost a brother, and the whole area was flattened. At first it was difficult, everything had to be rebuilt and his staff needed a long time to allay their fears.  Now there is an early warning system and they make all regular evacuation drills to be prepared for the real thing .... After a quite entertaining time our hosts leave (he has to go to the doctor) and we treat ourselves to another beer and then retreat to our room before the onset of the mosquito plague. Here we now discover that the high society are tired from doing nothing - what a day. The next morning at breakfast we meet again with our host - this time we have brought the computer and show him some pictures of our travels and he invites us to dinner before he has to leave again. Kev seizes the chance to catch up his news withdrawal and I finally thanks to the fast internet bring our blog with writing and pictures up to date. I am able to post not only Vietnam but also Cambodia - text, translation and photos and for the first time in a long time, we are finally as good as up to date. In the evening, after a delicious meal, I try again to repay the hospitality shown to us by showing photos of our trip and the next day we actually continue our journey despite the fact that Sam offers us another night, because he expects a motorcyclist friend from Malaysia, whom he would like to introduce to us but slowly time is running out. In a week we have to leave the country and there are still a lot of kilometers to the border with Malaysia. So we don’t stop anywhere for long. We visit the lake, a temple along the way and Krabi but somehow we can not quite understand what the great thing is here - the beach is narrow and crowded, the campsite small, full of ants, equipped with two half-ruined toilet blocks and overpriced, the rocks in the sea definitely can’t compete with Halong Bay (I think Vietnam has spoiled us a little too much in the department of natural beauty) so we soon are far in the south of the country. Here I use the again slow and sporadic internet to find another small National Park, where we once again rest a few days and enjoy the beautiful beach and the fact that we are the only foreigners here and finally only have to pay local prices for everything (aside from the entrance fee to the park - for locals 20 baht for farangs 200). After 2 months in Thailand, we are now more than ready to take on the next country – Malaysia.