Archive for Thailand and Journal
Haircuts – (or how I attempt to feed my vanity)
Unless you are willing to join the hippy trail or adopt the unkempt backpacker look haircuts become a necessity after several weeks of travelling. Allan toyed with the idea of dreadlocks but gave that up when he realised you had to have a significant amount of hair to which to attach them. I decided to try to stay reasonably tidy although I did flirt with the idea of colouring the hair a bright purple (a thirty second moment of madness). Vanity, however, does not allow me to adopt the colour of hair that nature is trying to impose on me.
How to find a decent hairdresser and communicate my tonsorial needs in an unknown culture, with no knowledge of the language was a challenge. The scarecrow look that my hair takes on if not trimmed frequently does not sit easily with me. Something had to be done.
My first “on the road” haircut was in Ayutthaya in Thailand. Hairdresser number one greeted me warmly, her beautifully coiffured poodle jumping up and down excitedly demonstrating her owner’s skill. No English, no signs of hair colouring products and a beautiful canine frizz as an example. (Did I want to be white and fluffy?). I backed out smiling.
My second choice seemed more promising- no English but a shade card to choose from. It should be noted at this stage that the natural colour of Thai hair is black, very black. I chose a colour, pointing to my eyebrows to confirm that I wanted mid brown colour. Eagerly my hairdresser set to work. The dyeing complete out came the scissors and crunched their way through my hair. Was it rust I heard or just extreme bluntness? Eventually the deed was done and the creation unveiled (I put my glasses on). A raven haired scarecrow stared at me from the mirror. “Beautiful” said the hairdresser mustering up a long forgotten piece of English. Still the magnificent creation cost me only about £2.50 and it would grow out.
“Beautiful” said the Thai hairdresser
Eventually as nature competed with chemicals I developed a magnificent piebald look with a white Dulux would be proud off forming a cap beneath the black. In Bogor Indonesia I sought out another hairdresser. This time a professional looking salon in a modern shopping mall. Still no English,yet another country where the natural shade is unremitting black. This time I pointed out a light brown optimistically called light blonde. The result – BLACK! The cut was done by a pleasant young man. It was more professional than before but not quite a short as I wanted. I was wary about gesturing “shortness” with finger and thumb coming together in case the lad mistook my meaning and was offended. Still this time there was a hint of brown in the black and the tidier cut merited the extra expense. £6.
The result – BLACK!
Who knows what the next visit to a hairdresser will bring. Maybe I should go for the purple after all.
A huge rock, almost a mountain, leans over at a precarious angle giving the town of Krabi an interesting landmark. Krabi is a “working town” but the tidal Mae Nam River flows by, disappearing into the mangrove swamp. So Fishermen offer short cruises on the river, under the shadow of the leaning Khao Khanap mountain, and down the delicious brown river flowing sluggishly like a river of molten chocolate. As the longtail boat drifts with the current herons rise from the mangroves and glide gracefully over the tree tops to the next bend in the river. Basking monitor lizards, big enough to be seen clearly from the boat, clamber lethargically from their vantage points on sunny trees to disappear into the rustling foliage.
What attracts most people to Krabi, however, are the beaches. Ao Nang beach is long and clean with well designed shops and restaurants built on the beach road. Behind the beach huge limestone cliffs rise up in vertical columns and these step out into the clear turquoise water as sea stacks. Just off shore, coral islands dot the horizon.
A range of boats, to suit all tastes and budgets, take trippers out to the islands for diving, snorkelling to see the coral or just exploring the island. We went on a slow long tail boat to visit a few of the islands. The beaches were clean and sparkled with powdered coral and the water was so clear that even from the boat several species of brightly coloured fish could be seen.
On one island a bar of sand in the shallow water allowed people to walk from one island to another. Here red and white striped fish, about four inches long, played in shoals amongst the legs of the waders, occasionally nudging into hairy legs searching for tit bits of food. They loved the crumbs of bread from our sandwiches and even when there was no bread left the brightly coloured fish still followed us, keeping pace as we strolled along the white beach.
We met Yo, a manager at ‘Rayavadee’ one of the exclusive upmarket resorts at Krabi. We chatted about the tsunami in 2004 and how that affected the region. It was impressive how the Thai authorities had helped to revitalise the area and put tsunami warning systems and escape routes in place. Yo invited us to tour his resort and the next day he welcomed us like lifelong friends. It really was an impressive place in a wonderfully scenic setting. www.rayavadee.com
It had not occurred to us before that the cyclone that hit Burma had many other side affects. Yo explained that the number of visitors to the west coast of Thailand were significantly down this year. So as well as the death and misery in Burma there were people in the service and tourist industries in Thailand laid off, unemployed and unable to support their families.
So we were pleased to be doing our bit to support all the lovely, friendly and engaging local people we had met. The beaches around Ao Nang, especially on the islands, really were the paradise beaches in southern Thailand we were looking for. We planned to stay only a couple of days but kept putting off our eventual departure.
It was in a standard local bus that we set off from Kanchanaburi to Ratchaburi to get an ongoing local service to Petchaburi, where we intended to stay the night. As always the conductor helped us get our gear on board and everyone nodded and smiled. These local buses have good seats facing forwards, glass in the windows and ceiling fans all the way down the bus. They are designed for people travelling with cargo, like big boxes, sacks of rice and in our case, rucksacks. So there is plenty of room inside for storing that kind of stuff and the other passengers help you on and off.
The local bus naturally weaved in and out of the small towns and villages on the way, so we saw a good deal of the countryside. We noticed that there was rice being grown on every available piece of land. One local man, Sakda Prompat, told us that the rapidly increasing price of rice was a problem for everyone except the farmers, who anticipated a bonanza. One farmer had even ploughed in his orange orchard to grow rice.
Passing through the provincial market town of Ban Pong we smiled at a huge banner strung across the main street that announced “Ban Pong, the Town of Really Nice People.” We agreed that you couldn’t beat that as a town motto. If the people on the bus were anything to go by it was probably true. They chatted to us about our destination and discussed it at legth among themselves in Thai. We suspected that our route had been agreed – but not with us.
Approaching the outskirts of Ratchaburi we were let off in the suburbs. The conductor explained in halting English that this was the best place to get the connecting bus to Petchaburi. After a few exchanges in Thai we were encouraged by nods and smiles to alight there. Allan was counting on getting to the toilet in the bus station, but it’s always rash to ignore local advice. The bus driver told a local man at the bus stop where we were going and he nodded. Sure enough the Petchaburi bus arrived and many people got off and we were nodded onboard. So we had good seats for the onward journey. As we progressed into town more and more people got on. By the time we reached the bus station the bus was crammed and we just swept into it and back out again.
A young man, Somsak Chaikasem, who was delighted to practice his English, enthusiastically advised us to go beyond Petchaburi to a seaside town called Cha Am. “It’s absolutely beautiful” he said, “long sandy beach, lovely trees and magnificent mountains behind.” OK we thought Cha Am it is. We were in good time and Allan was keen to inspect the toilets at Petchaburi bus station.
Our friend, Chaikasem, explained to the bus conductress that we wanted to go on to Cha Am. An exchange with the driver led to our being deposited in a side street in Petchaburi, where the Cha Am bus was waiting ready to go. Our conductress rapidly outlined our plans to the Cha Am conductress and our rucksacks were efficiently transferred from one bus to the other in a blink of an eye. It was a bit like allied airmen being passed down a French resistance escape chain. Everyone else knew our route and encouraged us on to the next step.
But Allan’s ever stronger desire to find a toilet was becoming urgent. The Cha Am conductress however was the master of the situation. “Follow me,” she called over her shoulder, and marched purposefully down the side street away from the departing bus with Margaret onboard, wondering what was happening. The conductress led Allan round the corner and into a Pagoda where she explained the emergency to a saffron robed monk. He nodded and smiled and beckoned Allan to follow. In this religious sanctuary Allan found serene happiness. After profound thanks to the monks the waiting Cha Am conductress then led Allan to another gate of the Pagoda where the local bus full of smiling passengers, including a relieved Margaret pulled up.
We pulled into Cha Am an hour later in a tropical downpour. In the cloudy light of the next day the beach really wasn’t all that special after all. The town though was full of really nice people.