|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
33rd World Vegetarian Congress
| Mr Pye's Post
Monday 11th Jan
I decided to stay on after the Congress at the Lotus hotel in Chiang Mai. Breakfast on the Monday morning was thoroughly depressing the dining hall was empty of people and the only vegetarian dishes available where on a single separate table. Three dishes were on display, one of rice, one of that pinkie meat substitute that looks like SPAM and a third dish with what looked like a mixture of the other two. Thanks goodness there was toast and fruit which I ate whilst peering out of that vast window watching the distant boiler house chimney pumping jet black smoke out into a cloudy and overcast sky. "Should have gone to Bangkok with the others", I thought.
I met Christine, Lawrence and Gerry from the UK on the way out from breakfast and we had arranged a boat trip together down the Mai Ping later that day so things started to look better. Went for my first Thai massage at 10am where I was squeezed and leaned on for a hour by a small Thai lady with the biggest arms and hands I have ever seen attached to a small body. She didn't speak any English but fortunately she new what the word "Ow!" meant when her squeezing frequently went over the pain threshold. This is doing me good I kept saying to myself as she massaged my buttocks with her knees. Afterwards I staggered up to the pool only to discover that all the sunbeds were taken and the pool was full of noisy kids. Still we had a great trip down the river in the afternoon where seven of us crowded into a boat for a 45 minute trip through idyllic scenery to a lovely little farm where we were fed on fruit and coka cola by the delightful smiling owner and his mum, all complete with entertainment from some charming pussy cats.
In the evening we had a superb meal at the Aum restaurant near the Ta Pai Gate and only 100 bt each. A short walk to the night bazaar followed with some hard bargaining followed by a trip back to the Hotel in a Tuk Tuk. I was just in time for a last beer with my mate Sid at the World of Heineken bar where the staff always outnumber the customers.
Tuesday 12th Jan.
A lazy day with a 10am Thai massage followed by sitting around the pool and swimming. Sid and I walked up to the Mata vegetarian restaurant at lunch time for a tasty meal and a bottle of revoltingly sweet iced coffee. Cheapest meal yet though at only 40bt. Spent the rest of the day saying goodbye to people. Suddenly found I was all on my own with no one to go to dinner with so went back to the Aum restaurant where fortunately I met Karen and her mum from Chicago. Another walk to the night bazaar followed by getting lost again and coming back to the Hotel on my own in a tuk tuk. My late night conversations with tuk tuk drivers all follow the same pattern. "How much to Pang Suan Kaew Lotus Hotel", they say "60bt", I say "30bt" we agree on "40bt". Once in I am asked " you like Thai massage, yes?", I say "No thanks, take me to the Lotus Hotel only", They say "How much you pay for very good massage?", I say "I don't want a massage just take me to Hotel". A few minutes pass and I am asked "You like lady, yes?" I say "No I don't want lady just take me to hotel" This goes on for some time till I arrive at the Lotus.
Wednesday 13th Jan
An overcast day looking like rain and I really am on my own and my attempts to arrange trips out have all floundered as you generally need at least two people to arrange a tour and there were no groups from other hotels to tag onto. Didn't fancy another massage so decided to negotiate with a tuk tuk driver to take me around Chiang Mai temples. Got a deal for 160bt and the friendly driver happily waited for me a I wandered around each temple. In one of the temples a monk came up to me and asked if I was English and if I had some time to spare to help with his English grammar lessons. His name was Amart and had been a novice monk for 5 years so I spent half an hour with him going through his lessons. I continued my tour of Chiang Mai's magnificent temples with my driver then went back to see Amart. He wasn't around but the other monks asked me where I was from. When I said Liverpool they all cheered "Michael Owen, World cup". Those monks certainly enjoy their football.
I was taken over to the accommodation wing to see Amart and sat down next to Amart's apprentice who was a young novice of about 12 years old who was attempting to reassemble a metal toy pistol which lay in pieces all around him. He had another toy pistol which he gave me to play with and when I inadvertently pressed the oversensitive trigger and sent a plastic pellet whizzing down the corridor my little friend roared with laughter. Amart came out with a plastic bag of food and asked me to join him for lunch. We sat down on marble seats at a marble table up on the balcony, Amart laid out the contents of the bag on the table, a plastic bag of fried rice with vegetables and sliced sausage, a second bag with small cakes, a third bag with puff pastry rolls containing hot dog type sausage and a folded banana leaf containing sweet sticky rice. I explained I was "gin jay", vegetarian so I was given the cakes and sticky rice. He was curious about my vegetarianism and asked me why, after I explained he told me that the monks eat what they are given as offerings, they go out early in the morning with their bags and the people come out and give them little plastic bags of food as an offering. Apparently it is good karma to give food to the monks. Amart wanted me to come down to the school to meet and talk English with some of the other monks who where all learning English. I agreed and Amart instructed his apprentice to clean up the food.
When we got outside it was raining so Amart rushed back in and returned with a large yellow umbrella for us to use. We walked down to the Wat Chedi Luang temple where I was told there are about a 1000 monks studying Buddhism in the school. Many of the monks are learning English also so they will be able to talk to tourists about the temples and Buddhism. At the school I chatted for most of the afternoon to several monks. One of the monks Chaowalit Wongma who is a real sweetie and his English is good was on e-mail and wanted me to keep in touch and tell him about life in England. Also there was Chamon Outaboon who had excellent English as he listened to the BBC World Service and had picked up that perfect pronunciation that the BBC prides itself upon. He had been a monk for 5 years but was undecided whether to continue his studies as he didn't enjoy the life of study and wanted to either leave or perhaps become a "forest monk" living out in the wilds. A very interesting character he was curious to know if there was any way he could do voluntary work in England to improve his English. (If anyone knows of a way Chamon can achieve this please let me know or contact him direct by visiting the above web site). I said cheery bye to all my new friends and made my way back to the hotel via the Tieng Sieng veggy restaurant where a plate of tasty spicy Taiwanese style rice and vegetables cost a mere 15 bt. Back to my room for an early night as off to Bangkok in the morning.
Thursday 14th Jan
Got the 10.15 flight to Bangkok, left my case in the left luggage (70bt) and got an official meter taxi. Had a battle with the driver who didn't want to use his meter preferring to charge an all in rate of 400bt but he eventually gave in. We took the expressway which is a toll road at 70bt (if we had gone the A-road it can take up to 2 hours to travel the 15 miles from the airport). Took around 45 minutes to reach Wat Po temple The expressway was empty but once we came off the Bangkok traffic was a nightmare. The taxi charge was 50bt for the driver 70bt for the express way and 180bt on the meter. Had a great day looking at the temples of Wat Po and Wat Phra Keo and the Grand Palace. Got kicked out of the Palace at 4pm and sat on a wall outside the palace but inside the grounds pondering my next move as I had to be back to the airport by 11pm and to be honest I found Bangkok a bit scary and overwhelming. I had decided I would go back to the airport by train and was considering how best to get to the station when a Malaysian chap came up to me and asked if I spoke English as there were some schoolgirls that wanted to interview me for their school project. I duly conceded to the request as was interviewed by three charming and giggly Thai girls who recorded the interview for playback in their English class. The girls went off looking for another interviewee and the Malaysian guy stayed with me. He had already been interviewed by the girls as he spoke excellent English and Thai. He owned a fish restaurant in Malaya and was in Bangkok for a night. He then proceeded to tell me all about the red light district and wanted to me to come and have a good time with him and the girls in some expensive brothel that he new. He was very persistent but I told him politely and firmly that I wasn't interested. After I had finely got rid of him I ventured out of the palace grounds and was immediately accosted by various touts wanting to know all about me and where I was going. I eventually succumbed to a tuk tuk driver who promised to take me to see the standing Buddha and the Seated Buddha for 20bt if I would go to a shop with him so he could get his petrol vouchers commission. I know I should have said no but he just wore me down so I agreed.
The Bangkok traffic was horrendous and my driver was insane driving down the wrong side of the road in front of oncoming traffic at every opportunity. After about 10 minutes driving he suddenly shot off down a side road took a left and a right into a very poor area of tin shacks and people cooking by the roadside. I suddenly panicked thinking that he had lured me down this street where his pals were lurking and they would rob my money and passport and perhaps worse. I leapt out of the still moving tuk tuk and ran back up the street to the main road. Glancing behind I expected the knife wielding mob to be in hot pursuit but no one was there. That was close I thought until 5 minutes later my tuk tuk reappeared with my driver shouting "Where you go, where you go!". I shouted back "Look pal. I don't know you from Adam, you could have been leading me down that street to rob me". "No! No! Is short cut", said my driver, "Is short cut to standing Buddha". For some reason, probably because I hadn't the foggiest idea where I was, I decide to believe him and got back in saying "No more short cuts".
We carried on along the busy main roads and the driver stopped to show me where the ‘short cut' came out. I felt a bit sheepish over my panic but kept my cool and leaned forward and shouted "No more short cuts". We eventually reached the impressive standing Buddha and I took a photo. A man appeared and told me he was a government official and was there to tell people about the Buddha he warned me about tuk tuk drivers that lure tourists to shops where they get overcharged. "Great", I thought so I thanked him and went back to my driver.
Off we shot to the Seated Buddha temple which unfortunately was closed, as I looked around the outside of the temple a nice chap appeared who started telling me about the Thai Award centre where tourist could buy jewellery tax free for this week only. I thanked him and went back to my driver, he wanted to go the loo so I waited by the tuk tuk. As soon as he had gone six Thai children suddenly appeared from nowhere and started climbing all over his tuk tuk. I was having a kind of conversation with them when a well dressed Thai man appeared asking me if they were my children I said no and he said that he thought they might have been as many Europeans adopt Thai children, support them financially and come over to visit them. He introduced himself as a lawyer, he had just got married and had come to pray to the Buddha before his honeymoon but like me had found the temple closed. He was a thoroughly nice chap and told me about the Thai Award place and the special tax free week for tourists, I said I would get my driver to take me there.
When we finally arrived at the Thai Award place it looked like a posh jewellery shop to me. The smooth talking gentlemen inside told me about the special 50% tax saving which was only on for a week and tried very hard to sell me a 24,000bt sapphire pendent. I said it was odd that if everything was half price why weren't the price tags double the amount, it hardly seemed worth while re-pricing everything for one week. He said that was no trouble as they had plenty of time to price things. He was keen on having me pay by Visa card as well. When I eventually got away back to my tuk tuk, my driver insisted on taking me to another jewellery shop. I was to tired to argue and went along to the other place where the price tags were all marked down by 50% so it did look more genuine. Again they were keen on having me pay by Visa card. I spent ten minutes looking around so my driver could get his petrol vouchers. On leaving my driver said "Why you no buy", "Because it's too dear I said and I don't trust them, now take me to the railway station". My driver said he couldn't take me so he stopped another tuk tuk who agreed to take me to the station for 50bt. I was glad to change drivers and eventually found myself outside the railway station. As I opened my wallet to pay the driver his 50bt a young girl appeared by my side who can't have been more that 16 and started asking me who I was and where I was going. She followed me all the way to the ticket office until I told her that where I was going was my business and not hers and she should go away and leave me alone. She turned away and walked back to the entrance.
I bought a ticket to Don Muang station which is opposite the airport, it cost only 15bt. It was a fascinating train journey the track was lined with tin shacks which all faced out onto the railway so you could see in from the train. People playing cards, playing snooker, little cafes and shops all full of activity. All very poor and they all seemed to have pictures of the king on their walls. One station had a large travelling fair around it and lots of food stalls, the whole place was brimming with people. A very nice Thai gentleman on the train told me when to get off at Don Maung which fortunately has a convenient walkway to the airport. So it was with some relief that my interesting day in Bangkok came to an end.
On the plane back to the UK I sat next to a fascinating chap who was returning from two weeks in Thailand after going over with the intention of marrying a Thai girl that he met over there six months ago. The whole episode ended in disaster for him but he didn't regret it at all. Thailand has that effect on people, I certainly intend to go back again as soon as I can.
From: David Pye