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สิงหาคม 2550
24 สิงหาคม 2550
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Amazing Thailand - Part I... Things with wheels

I was inflicting my bad thai on a couple of guys from my old work earlier today, and told them the story of how the new students here are amazed by absolutely anything. Some things I can understand. Tuk-Tuk's, Thai food, the Thai langague, the way in which every spare inch of pavement is used for selling things... But, some of the people who've just moved in here are so full of wonderlust that they can even make cockroaches, roadkill and the smell of rotting rubbish sound good.

My former workmates thought that it was a bit odd, especially when I said that, 3 years ago, I was like that too. They looked puzzled, like they didn't quite believe me, and asked for an example.

I said 'pink eggs.' You don't get pink eggs at home at all. The first time I saw them I was like 'Wowwww, pink eggs, soooo cool.' My friends looked at me like I was crazy. But, it wasn't just pink eggs. It was all sorts of eggs. Eggs floating in curry sauce (what I thought Kai Palao was at first), barbecued eggs (Kai Ping.) I'd never seen eggs on sticks before, let alone eggs on sticks on a grill. Quails eggs. I'd never seen such small, cute looking eggs before. I've since found out that we have them at home too, but they're very expensive. Even the weird tasting salted eggs in Thai salads. They all seemed cool, in a strange, roundabout kind of way.

Whenever I travel around, and see new places, it's usually not the big tourist attractions that grab my attention. Sure, Wat Phra Gaew, Wat Po and Wat Arun are undeniably beautiful. To vist Bangkok and not see these places would be utterly stupid. But, what attracted me to Bangkok in the first place, and what made me want to come back after my first visit here wasn't the grandeur of the temples. It was the things that I saw everyday as I went to and from the place where I worked.

Crowded streets. People selling anything and everything. Strange looking food carts and even stranger looking food. Giant cooking pots, and calor gas cannisters. Tray upon tray of curries. Fried fish, fried fish cakes, fried meatballs. Fried pretty much anything. People standing next to their wok, a bowl of meat and a glass case full of noodles and veggies, offering to make you a soup or cook you anything you want... Wanna be skater boys and breakdancers and strutting their stuff in the park down the road. The American style shopping malls in Siam and the hippy, trippy craziness of Khao San. The higgledy piggledy mix of styles, of old (monks walking on their alms rounds in the mornings, ricketty wooden shop houses) and new (shopping malls, art house cafes.) The sheer vibrancy of the steet life was intoxicating... It's impossible to describe. It's one of those things that needs to be experienced.

I was hooked. I went home. London seemed so tame in comparison. I needed a reason to come back.

When I first planned my big trip out here, I didn't plan on staying for so long. Bangkok was to be a place to study a TEFL and have fun before moving on. I'd read my lonely planet and had listed the things I wanted to do. I'd hoped to learn to dive, to party on Ko Pgan Ngan, to chill on the beaches and islands in the south and go trekking in the famed mountains in the north. Thailand was to be a stop over, albeit a 2 month one. Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam (where I originally thought I would teach, on route to Oz and NZ) beckoned.

But, Bangkok as a city, sucks in farangs. Ricky, my old room mate came here with similar ideas. When I met her, she'd been here for over 4 years. She'd found a teaching job in a school. The pay wasn't great but she could surivive OK. She had a nice apartment, could afford to eat out and had long since abandoned all plans to leave.

To a foreigner the everyday sights, sounds and smells of Bangkok, things that most Thai people take for granted, find boring or annoying are amazing. Our cities can't compare. We have wide, empty streets. People leave work at 6, go home and hide behind their privet hedges. Kids rarely play in the street. The few markets that are left are dying out. Our cities close down at night. City centres are either drinking and partying or no-go zones. They're so sterile.

Bangkok's streets are truly amazing. They teem with life. They're polluted, dirty and noisy but they buzz, 24-7. It's fun to walk around, overhear conversations ('where've you been?', 'how are you?','have you eaten yet?','how many days did you go home for') or simply stare at the vast range of things (food, mobile phone covers, hairbands, baseballs caps) and food on sale.

I thought I'd try and list some of the things that I found amazing when I first came here, and try and fathom out some sort of reason why they left me feeling so awestruck. I'm going to start off by looking at things with wheels...


* Tuk Tuks

It's hard to walk down a street in Bangkok and not see a Tuk Tuk. Even when you can't see one, if you're white skinned and anywhere in Central Bangkok, before too long someone is bound to walk up to you and say 'Tuk Tuk. You want Tuk Tuk ?' or 'Where you go?'

Tuk Tuks are brilliant little things. OK, they're probably dangerous but, on Bangkok roads, what isn't ? It's great to travel in one, dodging through the traffic and feeling every twist and turn of the journey. It's even more fun to do what Thai people do, and, once you've announced where you're going, have 5 of 6 other friends jump in the back too. Like most farangs I know here, I love Tuk Tuks. I love the way the driver squeezes his way though even the smallest sois. I love the way their engines make a cute purring sound. And, now I can speak a little bit of Thai, I enjoy talking to the driver, finding out where he's from and making fun of of his football team.

* Motorobike Taxis

Who needs white knuckle rides when you can have them for real ?

* Rot Kaens - Food Carts

Anything and everything here can be bundled onto a cart and sold. Soups, hot milk, iced coffee, steamed buns, BBQ meat and fishballs, fried bananas, pad Thai noodles, fruit, thai deserts, freshly cooked French crepes and Indian rotis. Even fried cockroaches and grasshoppers are sold from a push cart. I love the food carts here. The food's cheap and tastes great. I also love the way they're designed. They're so ingenious. Everything a vendor needs to make and sell their food is crammed onto the cart.

My Som Tam lady (well not mine personally but the one who sells it near my house) has a great one. It has a tiny BBQ on one side, just large enough to cook 4 or 5 peices of chicken and a couple of catfish, a glass case, full of beans and grated papaya on the other, a plastic cool box - for storing sticky rice in the middle, and a giant pestle and mortar behind that, read to mix it the ingredients together. Every nail has something handing from it. Carrier bags full of tiny packets of dipping sauce, bags full of limes, chillis, spare plastic bags and elastic bands. Not one inch of space is wasted. And, suppose you're having a bad day. No need to wait for the cutsomers to come to you. Just push your cart along the street until you find some new ones. Genuis!

* Green tin can buses

Yep, hard to believe now I have to catch one home from school everyday, but even green buses seemed amazing when I was first here. I'd never seen a bus so small, or one so crammed with people. The conductor was literally hanging out of the door. The first time I got one, and had to stand up I was worried I would fall off.

* Buses upcountry

Upcountry everything's more laid back. Nothing's rushed. Everyone and Everything slows down, including the buses. Drivers can relax as they wind their way through the countryside. Speed and engines aren't important. Chilling out and amplifiers are. Most journeys upcounty have their own unique soundtrack, normally 'Luk Toong' music, or Thai country. The songs and volume vary. Some are ear splittingly bad wailing numbers, others sound quite upbeat, almost poppy, with trumpets attached. Some drivers prefer 'plaeng peua cheewit' or 'song for life' music. Bands like carabao. The english equivalent would be something like Dylan or the levellers.

A couple of weeks ago I took the Chiang Mai - Mae Hong Song bus. The bus was packed. There were a few Thai people on board, but the majority of passengers were foreigners. A couple of them complained about the journey. The twisting roads had already made them feel queasy, the music made their aching heads even worse. But for me, like so many other bus rides upcountry, the music made the journey. Whenever I look at my photos of the mountain roads, I'll think of the music that the driver played, and the blaring trumpets that accompanied every bend.

* Sleeper Trains

I love sleeper trains. Nowadays I don't get the chance to take them that often. Once you've lived in Bangkok a while you realise that its normally quicker and cheaper to take a bus upcountry, than wait for the train to crawl its way out of Hualompong station. Like Rot Kaens, the thing I love most about them is their design. It's great the way the upper bunk comes down from the ceiling, and the way the chairs underneath can be pushed together to form another bed. I love the way the people in the upper bunk need straps to hold them in, and the way that each bunk has it's own light and little pocket to put your belongings in. Sleeper trains aren't for sleeping. I've rarely slept on one. They stop too often and jerk everytime they brake and start again. But, everytime I've been on a sleeper train, its been fun. I've met some cool people, either other travellers heading down south to the beaches and islands or to Laos, or Thais returning home for long weekend. I've seen some great countryside too. The mountains near Lampang and Surat Thani, the big dam (I forget the name) near Saraburi, and the sticky rice fields around Sisaket, Surin and Ubon.

* Rot Tai

I have no idea what you call a rot tai in English. One time someone once translated it as a 'motor buffalo.' It's a kind of cross between a plough and a tractor rolled into one. They're a brilliant idea. So simple to make too. Take an engine, and add handles for a guy to push it. Then add a towbar that allows you to add all manner of attachments (ploughs, tools for weeding the land) and carts, and what do you get ? A machine that you can use for anything farm related. Want to take your family to visit a nearby relative ? Easy. Add the cart, get your family to sit in the cart and off you go.

Last year, when the company that I worked with was supporting the protests against the Taksin government, some of Taksin's supporters in the north east rode rot tai's all the way to Bangkok. OK, it was probably a publicity stunt. I've been on one when it was in top gear and they definitely don't go fast enough to make a journey of over 500 miles in a few days... But the fact that people thought they could shows how versatile and durable these little machines are.

Create Date : 24 สิงหาคม 2550
Last Update : 31 สิงหาคม 2550 0:18:04 น. 0 comments
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