Full moon Thai-phoon

Trip Start Jul 2003
Trip End May 2005

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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Number 26 (17th November 2004 - 2nd December 2004): full moon Thai-phoon

Spending a last sunrise over Mandalay, we returned from our Burmese side-excursion the way we had come; strolling back across the border from the very unrepresentative Tachileik, we re-entered northern Thailand.

From a Sim World point of view, Thailand is one of those seriously successful countries. Aside from a little Japanese occupancy during WWII it's never been conquered, and cleverly gave away chunks of its territory to escape the local ravages of European colonisation. Unfortunately the result of this success is major development and a lessened aesthetic appeal for the visitor: no buffalo carts on broken roads and most people have indoor toilets, telephones and are schooled (and to think without colonialism). In general, faces have expanded hugely under the influence of good living. More importantly, no more smiling and waving for us, we're no longer the centre of attention. Waiting in a bus station in the very north we had the strange feeling we were in Ipswich, and that the SE Asian leg of our journey was over.

Reaching the unpleasant tourist metropolis of Chiang Mai we witnessed the carnival of huge crowds of 'hill tribe/refugee group' seeking, skimpily dressed Londoners. We also met the thin edge of the 'western 50 meets eastern 25' meatmarket wedge: lonely looking, middle aged white men in shorts wander around ogling and dribbling over young women, whilst pretending they're here for some other reason. It was worse than watching those dogs being skinned in Peshawar, if only because here there's no mystical setting, it just looks like some grim town at home. Then the strangest thing happened: we turned a corner and there, right in front of us was a young Thai guy with a western girlfriend. Weird.

The train journey south to Bangkok is rich in unhacked looking teak and bamboo national parks, one of the benefits of development, law and order. Train rations were disappointingly plain, but the sleepers were cosy. 'One night in Bangkok' should have been sung as 'one morning': we arrived in a quiet Khao San road at 6am, and by 8am the beer and pool was flowing freely. Sixteen hours later and the stronger groups were heading off to the next part of town looking for ping pong ball road. Movement is either by water express, sky train, underground, aerial walkway or terrifying wheelie-pulling Mario Kart rickshaw. Some of the skyscraper-over-golf course city skylines must have been computer generated, and just how many mobile phones were there in that shopping centre? Rusty shacks dry t-shirts over the river whilst a vast Sheraton next door costs $200 a night (no
Thais allowed upstairs). When waterways become sunsets, parks become vast aerobic exercises and office streets become neon adult playgrounds. And every child beggar feeds the demand for freshly undrowned puppies. There are some awesome cities in the world, and Bangkok is one of them.

The next destination had to be Kho Pha Ngan; arriving on the legendary party island with mass crowds we must have been the only ones not actually aware that we were arriving on the afternoon of a full moon party. By 2am the small beach at Hat Rin had filled with thousands and thousands of bucket swilling, fire twirling, luminescent mid to late twenties, mainly British or Thai. A row of speaker dominated clubs pumped trance out on to the ocean until some time the next day, and 'whooping it up on the beach' was had by all. Assuming that was all Kho Pha Ngan had to offer, we were surprised by a few pleasant days on a good beach on the jungly north coast, and very excited to bump into the backgammon Basques again.

For the first time since China, a lack of direct colonisation seems to have created a greedy people with a high self-esteem where we're not just viewed as ATM super beings, although we are the main source of income. For all our cynicism there are some good things about Thailand. A stable monarchy, Buddhism and experienced tourism appear to have created a polite local. It is the most touristy place yet, but some of the beaches are impressive and they do drive on the left.

A quick departure into Malaysia is now called for, although it looks like we may be back for Christmas.

Take a look at the moon, man and the DVD fiend

p.s. the food is potentially sharp and tasty, but with too much chilli powder for our liking: it just seems to have been added to make it hotter, without the flavour from freshly chopped chillies. Coconut milk is relied on for that creamy flavour, but the novelty soon wears off. The simple, traditional dish of pad thai is probably the best, although pork with pumpkin and egg was delicious. Liking fish helps.
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