Doin’ it Thai style … hanging out with the locals

Market place Thong Pha Phum

Packed and ready to go, the next part of my adventure was about to begin. Pong’s parents, Chai and Ta, have a holiday house in Kanchanaburi province, but since Chai retired a few years back they go there much more frequently. Pong made me out a handwritten map, with excellent directions in Thai. I had to first catch a bus to Kanchanaburi, and then an ongoing bus to Thong Pha Phum, from where her parents would pick me up. Their house is then some 10 kilometres away.  Pong’s map was a bonus!  As a backpacker I am accustomed to playing it by ear and winging it. Having said that, mobile technology has most certainly changed the way we do things. With all of us liaising on our mobiles, pinpointing my pick up was easy. Many would argue that this takes some of the fun and excitement out of travelling. Hmm, another discussion for another day.

Chai, my personal chauffeur


Meanwhile, I was picked up at the tiny bus station in Thong Pha Phum by Pong’s parents. I must say, I got a great vibe from this tiny town wedged between shaggy karst mountains. No tourists, and very traditional.  I knew I was going to love it!  As is often the case, the bus station was right next to a market, and you all know how much I love markets. Chai and Ta arrived soon after me and there were hugs all around.  I had met them both at Link and Pong’s wedding in 2007, but very briefly. Ta bought a few more bits and pieces in the market and I followed her around.  The word had gotten out … Ta is a fantastic cook!


Chai and Ta’s house

We drove the short distance to their house which was made of wood and was surrounded by lots of trees and foliage.  As soon as we walked through the front door, I immediately fell in love with it as the dining area was out in the open and the house backed right onto a stream. My ‘room’ would be downstairs; a tent set up in another open area with the sound of running water as my backdrop.  You can’t imagine how soundly I slept that night!


Ta and her many dishes!

Ta weaved her magic and made a number of amazing dishes that night. Names not known, tastes to die for! The pictures tell a thousand words. I just loved Chai and Ta! Chai’s English was really good, whilst Ta and I communicated using lots of sign language, which seemed to work no problem.  I am a firm believer that if you want to be understood you will be. When I went to bed that night I just felt pure bliss.


Hin Dat Hot Springs

The next day was lots of fun.  After a lovely breakfast, we went to Hin Dat Hot Springs. The naturally hot spring water is between 45 and 55 degrees celsius. Must say, after an hour there I felt like I had been hit with a shovel! Chai took us to a great place overlooking the jungle for lunch and then it was time to go home and chill … to be later followed by another round of Ta’s amazing food.

With Ta at Khao Laem Dam


Over the couple of days that I was there I also met a number of Chai and Ta’s friends who had also retired and come out to live in the countryside.  Some came over and others we went to visit; all within walking distance.


The next day was a busy one and we visited a number of places.  There are some spectacular national parks with some phenomenal views. Khao Laem Dam, officially known as Vachiralongkorn Dam, is only six kilometres from Thom Pha Phum. At just over a kilometre long and 92 metres high and with spectacular scenery around it, it’s quite breathtaking.  There were lots of monkeys around and there are signs everywhere telling you not to provoke them.  I got a bit too close to taking a photo of one and he was not a happy camper.  I had to scuttle back, as he inched towards me with a don’t mess with me look. Was not quite expecting that!

Three Pagoda Pass at the border with Myanmar

We also visited the famous Three Pagoda Pass near Sangkhlaburi, where Thailand borders with Myanmar (Burma).  The three pagodas for which the pass is named are quite small, but it’s the history and fact that it’s a border crossing (sometimes!) that makes it interesting. I had been here many years ago as a backpacker; yeh, still a backpacker and still young! It’s where you come if you want to see Myanmar without really seeing Myanmar, you know, like the Clayton’s drink. I will have to dig up my old photos; the place has most certainly changed in the some 20 years or so since I first visited, as all places do really. 


Selfie on the Wangka Bridge

Sangkhlaburi is a very interesting place too. It’s a brilliant example of a border town’s ethnic spectrum, with a mix of Burmese, Karen, Mon and Lao as well as Thais. The mix is evident as you look around. Even if you can speak Thai, it may not necessarily be all that helpful here as so many other languages are spoken. Ta and I made our way across the famous yet somewhat unfortunately named Wangka (thankfully also known as Monside!) Bridge. Its claim to fame is that it is a picturesque rickety wooden bridge, but perhaps it being rickety was also its downfall … quite literally! Very recently a flood or storm had swept half of it away! So, the picturesque bridge quite literally stops halfway, and drops into, well, the river below!


Beautiful temple architecture

We also visited some lovely temples in the area, including Wat Wang Wiwekaram. It’s always lovely to walk around temples and observe the beautiful architecture.  What I liked about the ones that we saw around Sangkhlaburi was that I was the only tourist and so I was able to observe the locals in their own habitat. 


What a day!  We had seen and done so much, yet once again Ta weaved her culinary magic and I was treated to yet another spectacular Thai meal.  I was most certainly going to miss Ta’s food.  I asked her if she was interested in coming to Australia and being my personal chef!

Burmese lady



The couple of days had gone far too quickly, but I had seen, done and eaten so much. It was easy to understand how Pong had turned out to be such a wonderful person; she has two wonderful parents, who I was most certainly going to miss. The morning that I was to make my way back to Bangkok, we went to visit some of Chai’s friends as well as a Burmese family, who  all lived within walking distance.  Being so close to the border, there are a number of Burmese refugees in the area. The war between Myanmar’s (Burma) army and the jungle-dwelling Karen ethnic group has been running for 63 years and is ongoing. The civil war is often labelled the world’s longest. Needless to say the Burmese are desperate to get out and will try anything in their power to do so.  Tragic!


Saying goodbye to Chai and Ta

With hugs all around, I was back on the minibus to Kanchanaburi, where I would have to change once again for Bangkok. I promised them both that I would be back with Alex. I waved to Chai and Ta until they were out of sight … and then I cried. It’s the part of travel that I least like … saying goodbye.


Bangkok awaited me.  My last few days would be spent shopping and just hangin’ out in one of my favourite cities.  Bangkok, you never, ever disappoint me!

Ombi

“Philosophy begins in wonder”. – Plato


Chai and Ta see me off

Dedication: Chai and Ta, I would like to thank you for your amazing hospitality over the couple of days that I spent with you. You showed me your kindness and warmth in everything you did. It made my heart sing to see the smiles on both of your faces. You now have a place in my most special place, a place I only reserve for special people, in my heart. I look forward to seeing you both again very soon.


A room with a view!



On the back patio with Ta


Chai and Ta


Home-cooked tofu


Ta weaves her magic in the kitchen


Ta preparing the food to be cooked


Voila, mission accomlished!















Lost in translation? Hin Dat Hot Springs


Chillin’ at the Springs with Ta
At the Dam … this could be used for people too!


At the Dam … cute but don’t get too close


At the Dam
To market, to market


Veggies for me thanks!


Red hot (and green!) chilli peppers!


Pong and Link’s wedding 2007 … a photo of a photo


At Pong and Link’s wedding 2007


Driving around Kanchanaburi Province


Pom Pee National Park
At the border


Myanmar … thatta way


Tax free options at the border


Herbal remedies … at the border


Soccer at the border
Wangka Bridge … now you see it …


Wangka Bridge … now you don’t…
 At one of the temples


Try your luck, or fortune, at the temple


Shoes off! (at a temple)


Temple architecture
With the Burmese family


Burmese family


Thai condiments


The wonderful colours of Thailand
Chai cuts up some fresh pomelo


Ta’s kitchen


Sticky rice and banana … yuuuuuum!


Thai veggies and herbs


Yes, ir really is ALL about food!


View from Chai and Ta’s balcony

When the going gets tough … travel!

Off to Thailand … yay!

One door shuts and another door opens!  Oh, how I love the travelling door!  She is always kind to me; never creaks, never hard to open and always opens with the first push.  So, in between jobs, I decided to sneak away to Thailand for a couple of weeks … as you do!  Organising the gig?  Yeh, that would be five days prior, and booking the cheapest flight I could, which ended up being on Royal Brunei. October’s not a bad month to travel through Thailand.  OK so it’s the monsoon season, but seriously, worse things could happen in life!

I thus spent the nights of my last working week getting myself organised for Thailand.  Yep, finished work on the Friday, and was flying to Thailand on the Saturday. Whoo, hoo!

I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go and I had just over two weeks to do it.  Alex and Dad took me to the airport, and before I knew it I was off.  In usual Ombi style, I introduced myself to the guy sitting next to me, and Daryl and I had ourselves some pretty decent conversations over the course of the flight.  A brief stopover in Brunei and we were in Bangkok by 8pm. I would be spending my first couple of nights with my dear friends Link and Pong and their family. I met Pong in the early noughties when she was studying in Australia, and Alex and I attended her wedding to Link in 2007. They have since had two children, Grace (Nu Deang) who we met when we were in Thailand in early 2012 and Sean (Singh) who was only a couple of months old, and whom I would be meeting for the first time.

With Nu Deang at the local market

Luckily it did not take me long to get through passport control and Link was waving at me as I came through the doors and into the arms of my second home; a country I love, enjoy and feel so comfortable in. Ah, Bangkok!  You either love it or hate it.  I love it!  Yes, it’s crazy, frenetic and muggy, but perhaps it’s the sensory overload that I find so appealing.  Bangkok, you and I have the same personality, which is perhaps why I love you so!

It was quite late by the time we arrived at Pong and Link’s house, which is in the south of Bangkok, but at the glass door was Nu Deang waving, the adorable not quite yet one year old baby I had met last year, who was now two and a half. Bright as a button, she was not going to miss out on the action. She knew I was coming and was waiting up. It was so lovely to see Pong and Nu Deang again, and I was greeted with big hugs from both of them. Nu Deang introduced me to her baby brother Sean and took me up to my room and told me that that is where I would be sleeping. A bit of chit chat all round and then we went to bed.  At least tomorrow was Sunday and I would be able to spend some time with the family.

Yum, yum!

To market, to market … on Sunday morning Link, Nu Deang and I went to the local market to buy some food.  My love of markets, any market, is no secret. They are the pulse of a nation! They tell you so much about its people. And I just love that whole … when in Rome! This is the real Thailand. First up, some Thai coffee, complete with both evaporated and condensed milk!  Oh yes, if you don’t like sugar … in Thailand you will have to build a very big bridge and get over it! I don’t  have sugar in my coffee at home, but hey, I do in Thailand. We wandered around, had a look and bought some food.  Link and Pong were so totally hospitable.  I feel so honoured to have such special friends. Back at home we chatted and ate. In the afternoon Link’s parents and sister, Sung, came around. It was just really lovely to hang around and be ‘part of the family’. Nu Deang is a little doll, and her first language is actually English because that is what her parents speak to her in so that she can be bilingual. She is such a well-mannered and gorgeous little girl, and we really did have so much fun together.

15 minute haircut … love it!

On the Monday I went out to the local shopping centre and had my hair cut. Link and Pong recommended where to go and off I went. My kind of place … fifteen minutes, a funky haircut and $6.50 (200 baht) later, I was out! Edward Scissorhands had weaved her magic!  I am not one for pampering and three hour hair cuts. Cut my hair and let me get out! I also decided to have a massage. Massage places in Thailand are everywhere and the Thai use them regularly. Thailand is renowned for its massages, which cost from $5.00 upward an hour, depending on where you go. Oh, it was soooooo good. When I come to Thailand I pack in as many as I can.

Pong helped me map out what I would do over the next couple of weeks. A few days on the island of Ko Samet, back for a night with Pong and Link, some time with her parents north of Kanchanaburi near the Myanmar border and then back to Bangkok for a few days shopping before flying back to Melbourne .  Sorted!  Link has an IT background like Alex, so I was technologically wired, so to speak. In my lifetime I have travelled so extensively alone but the boys made sure that I was contactable 24/7!
Thanks Link and Alex.

See you soon Nu Deang

So, on the Tuesday morning I set off nice and early with Link, and he dropped me off close to where he works in the centre, from which I caught the skytrain to the Ekamai bus station. By mid-morning I was on a bus to Ko Samet. Only 220 kilometres southeast of Bangkok, I chose this island because it was relatively close.  To be honest I had never thought to do it before, as being so close to Bangkok, it has a bit of a reputation as not only being party-central but also totally overcrowded, especially on weekends.  Not really my deal! With fairly low expectations, however, I thought I’d give it a go. After some five hours we were at Ban Phe pier from where the ferry ride was about 40 minutes across to Ko Samet. It was a lovely sunny day and the short ride across was relaxing.

On the ferry to Ko Samet

Once across, I made my way to the area where I had picked some potential places to stay. The island is only eightkilometres long and so the initial walk was quite short, possibly less than two kilometres.  As I walked I noticed lots of muddy potholes and lots of water.  It had obviously been raining quite heavily. This is not what I had expected, and I say this in a good way.  Ko Samet seemed to be a pretty little island that had not been as damaged by tourism as I thought.  Having said that, it is a national park and thankfully along with that has come some rules with not being allowed to build upwards.  In this way the island has been saved from becoming the ugly monstrosity that places like Phuket have become! Sure, there were tourists, but it was also interspersed with locals, including fishermen. I could see where tourism had bobbed up its head, but I did not feel that it had taken over the island.  Relief! And I must say, a pretty little island it is.

My little bungalow, Tubtim Resort

After checking out a few places, I settled on Tubtim Resort.  Sounds pretty flash, but it was really just a set of comfy bungalows perched up on a hill with the jungle behind and a gorgeous view of the beach in front. This is where I would spend the next five nights … well to sleep anyway.  You know what I am like, always up and about and doing something.

It did indeed rain quite a bit and although I did not get much sunbaking in (one two hour session with sunshine and another two hour session with clouds, but at least no rain), I did go on a couple of hikes and did a lot of walking. I met a lovely Dutch couple called Monique and Davey who were staying in the bungalow next to me, but as it was low season there were very few people actually around.

My Ko Samet masseuse, Aida

I had  read a bit on Ko Samet, and I was not sure what to expect. I just don’t do doof-doof music these days (oops, I just inferred that I once did!), and Iwas hoping that my night times would be pleasant and relaxing.  Fortunately, I was able to do this, but was told that in the high season this was most certainly not the case. Sure, there was music at night and some outdoor performances, like fire shows, but it was all rather low key. I found a few local restaurants where I indulged in one of my favourite Thai dishes, green curry, and the coconut shakes are always good! I found a great massage place, Aloha Samed Massage, run by lady-boy Aida, and boy did s/he give a good massage.  Sunshine (well, a bit of it!), good food and good massage … what more could one ask for?

Ko Chan

One day I decided to explore the island, heading south, and made my way right down to the southern tip. I must say the views of the sea beneath the jungle were exhilarating, and I weaved in and out of jungle and beach to maximise my views. Gorgeous white sand views everywhere.  Thailand rarely disappoints! The many beaches and bays that I passed were spectacular such as Ao Vong Duan, Ao Wai and Ao Kiu Na Nok. The further south I walked, the more isolated it became, as the beaches are harder to get to.  I finally made it to the tip, Ao Karang from which you could see the tiny island of Ko Chan. I sat down, breathed in the beauty and chilled … I was the only one there … just the way I like it!


Monsoon season … baby!

And so, my few days on Ko Samet came to an end.  I would be catching the Sunday morning ferry at 8.00am, as I wanted to spend some time with Link and Pong before moving on once again. Of course the skies opened up and I had to trudge through the rain to get to the port, but hey, it’s all part of the fun!


Before I knew it, I was back with my Thai family who surprised me with an early birthday cake (I would be leaving Thailand on my actual birthday). What a lovely surprise indeed! I was only there for a night, as the next day I was going out to visit Pong’s parents two hours north-west of Kanchanaburi, near the border of Myanmar. I would leave the next morning. The next adventure awaited me.

Ombi

Happy Birthday!

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. ” – Helen Keller


Next:Hot springs, amazing homemade food and visiting the Myanmar border in and around Kanchanaburi province with Pong’s parents, Chai and Ta.

Dedication:To my wonderful friends Pong and Link. Thank you for your hospitality and warmth.  Thank you for making me feel like part of your family and for allowing me to ‘adopt’ Nu Deang and Sean as my niece and nephew. Thank you for caring and looking after me. You are very special to me and I have adopted all of you as MY Thai family! Kap Khun Ka.

With Pong, Nu Deang and baby Sean

Some birthday cake Papi?

Nu Deang wants to go with Ombi

Ko Samet

One of the many ‘sturdy’ piers on Ko Samet

Ko Samet



Ko Samet National Park



About to catch the ferry to Ko Samet

Nuan Thip Pier, leaving for Ko Samet

Welcome to Ko Samet
Link at the local market near his house

Pong and Nu Deang



Pong and Nu Deang

Baby Sean and Grandma (Link’s mum)


With Link’s family
Green Thai curry and Asian greens on Ko Samet

Hello Baby Sean (Singh)
Ko Samet ‘roadhouse’
The random things you find on islands, Ko Samet
Another gorgeous Ko Samet beach

Mummy and Nu Deang
L to R: Nu Deang, Pong and Link
Happy Birthday to Ombi!

Baby Sean sleeping peacefully

Pad Thai at the local, Ko Samet
Miss Tim … only in Thailand!
One of the many gorgeous beaches on Ko Samet
Ko Samet, when it rains it pours … quite literally
Fresh produce, Ko Samet
This is the way we dry our clothes, Ko Samet
Rubbish on Ko Samet