The verbal diarreoah continues...
but not just from me this time... for a change.
A couple of people where I live went to Cambodia this weekend. I say a couple. I should probably say a couple of groups. There were about 15 people in total. All went with their own little group of friends.
I came back from school today, brought my coffee and logged onto the net as usual. I was sat here, typing away when 2 of them came in. I said a quick hello. So did they. I had things to do, reports to write for school, thai homework to finish, friends to MSN. So did they. We didn't talk for long. Before they went back to their room, I asked them about their trip.
It was amazing they said. I can see why. I've been to Cambodia a few times, and to Siem Reap twice. It was a mind blowing experience but also one of those trips that I promised myself that I would never repeat. A 150km bus journey, that would rarely take more than 3 hours in Thailand, takes between 6 and 8 hours, and sometimes even up to 12 over there. Once you cross over the border at Poipet, tarmac disappears and Siam Reap is a long and very bumpy bus ride away. The main 'highway', is 2 lane, potholed dirt track. Bridges, and sometimes even the road itself collapses at will.
The 2 girls repeated the journey I took, 2 years ago. One of them was sat in the lobby, planning their trip last Saturday night, which is how I discovered that few people, including the people that manage the bus company website, actually know where Sa Gaeow is.
I was watching the football at the time, but didn't mind talking about travel for a bit. If there's one subject I like to waffle on, or listen to other people talk about, it's travel. I could talk about travelling for hours. I showed her a couple of photos from my trip the year before last, some of which were of children that lived in the floating villages around Lake Tonle Saab.
Ankor's Temples were awesome, one of them said. But, one of the hightlights of their Cambodian adventure was a trip to a floating village. Unlike me, they went to a 'real' floating village, a non-touristy one where there were no other 'farangs.'
Until then, I didn't realise they had 'farangs' in Cambodia but, apparently they do. Foreigners that stay in Thailand a while, or like to sound cool seem to like using the word 'farang' when they talk about themselves. I have to admit that I do too... but, it's not because I want to sound cool, or because I want people to think that I know all there is to know about living here. It's more because I like the sound of it. It sounds cute, especially when Thai friends are being really sarcastic and drag the syllables out.
Anyway back to the story... Their floating village was a 'real' one. One of the photo's I'd showed them last week was of a kid in a floating polystyrene box. I remember him paddling to our boat in desperate hope of getting some candy or money from us. He can't have been more than 5 or 6 years old. We were on our way home that day. We'd just done our shopping. We had nothing except a couple of 20 baht notes and 10 dollar bills. I can't remember whether I gave him anything or not (there were so many kids paddling their way towards our boat and, what little candy we had ran out quickly) but looking at the photo again last week, I hoped I did. He looked like he really needed it.
I almost took the same photo as you, one of them said. But, in the 'real' floating village, no one asks for money. And unlike in your photo's my child is smiling and waving. It wasn't just the children. Everyone smiled and waved at them, they said. It was so good to be somewhere so non-touristy, somewhere where people seemed to be so happy, somewhere with no other farangs.
I'm always confused when other farangs talk about wanting to go to 'real' places or visit places with no other farangs. It's an odd kind of travel one upmanship. It's like you've only really 'travelled' (rather than taken a long and very expensive holiday) if you've been somewhere that no one else has, or knows about.
The same people who rave on about wanting to be places with no other farangs (even in countries where the word 'farang' doesn't exist) normally travel with their friends. So 4 farangs, wanting to be somewhere with no other farangs. Sounds wierd... right ? These people travel with their mates. They're already in a group. They already have people that they can talk to, communicate and share the experience with. If they were really, really on their own, in a place with no other 'farangs', and they struggled to do something as basic as buy food or drink, and had no one to talk to as they sipped their Ankor beer at night, would they really enjoy the experience as much ? I doubt it.
Being in a place with no other farangs is an odd kind of badge travellers strive to get. Tour companies in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son (and no doubt lots of other places that I've not quite gotten round to visiting yet) advertise tours where you can walk in the jungle, ride an elephant and raft for a couple of days. Their main selling point ? The all round trekking adventure, a chance to camp out in the jungle ? Nope, its that they guarantee that you won't see another tour group or farang for days. A 'real', 'genuine' hill tribe experience. It's what everyone wants to do and talk about.
The irony is that, trekking between villages and camping in the jungle isn't that 'genuine' at all. Camps have often been built especially to house the trekkers. Bamboo rafting and elephant riding's hardly 'traditonal.' Elephants were used for pushing logs, not ferrying tourists. Hanging out with a trekking group, staring at people cooking your dinner in some poverty strikken village, just so you have something different to brag about when you get back to Chiang Mai, isn't really my idea of fun. I've done it, and enjoyed it but, its not something that I would rush back to do again.
I went trekking in March. I went to a place called Umpang, in the north. It's quite remote, a 4 hour songtaew ride away from Mae Sot, probably the most important border crossing point between Thailand and Burma. I didn't go there because I was desperate to avoid other farangs, or have a 'real', 'genuine' jungle adventure. I went because I'd seen a photo of Tirosu waterfall. It looked nice, and I thought that it would be a cool thing to see before I went back home.
It was only when I looked into the logistics of getting there and back that I realised that it was possible to do a trekking trip, and that trekking in the jungle, rafting and elephant riding (though I skipped that bit) worked out to be almost the same price as going to the waterfall, camping there for 2 nights and coming back home again.
The Umpang tip was a great adventure. I met a French girl in Mae Sot who was also heading that way. She'd already booked a trekking tour and, since she was easy going, and fun to talk to, I tagged along with her. We checked into the same guesthouse and I booked a place on the same tour. A German girl arrived the next morning and the three of us, plus our Burmese guide and 2 Karen people, who would paddle our raft, set off down the river.
The day before the trek, the French girl and I had a look around the town. We didn't exactly go looking for them but, as there weren't that many other foreigners around white faces really stood out. We spotted a couple of Americans, who told us that they taught English at a nearby refugee camp, and 2 other girls who were also planning to do a trek.
Umpang isn't that well known or easy to get to. It was also the low season, a time when the villagers start clearing the forests and burning their fields. The Nation and Bangkok post were full of stories about the smog in the north. This years was, apparently the worst ever. Almost everyone that I'd mentioned the trip to had advised me against it. 'Why go to the north to get a cough?' one of them had said. "You can stay in Bangkok and get a cough too."
Anyway, back to the story. We set off down the river in our boat. Our guide, a Burmese refugee with a Thai Karen wife, explained why he needed to leave Burma, and started telling us about how hard his life in Thailand is. We spent a nice, realxing hour floating down the river, listening to his stories and staring at the jungle scenery. We soon arrived at a hot spring, our first scheduled stop of the day. As we walked towards the spring we saw the 2 girls we'd seen in town the day before, heading back to their boat.
Later that afternoon we saw them again. We'd just reached the campsite near Tilosu waterfall. They had a tent each, pitched 10 or so of meters away from ours. We chatted. They were from Ireland, teaching English in a government school in Bang Yai, and really starting to doubt whether they'd done the right thing extending their contract for another term. The French and German girls seemed keen to listen and to share stories about travelling, and living abroad.
Dinner time came around. Our group had a long picnic table all to ourselves, one end of which had 3 plates of rice, a plate of fried veg and a couple of curries piled on top. They had another, a few feet away from us. I suggested to their guide that he brought their food to our ttable. He seemed surprised.
The next day we all went to the waterfall together but, once we got back to the campsite, and met up with our guides, we set out on seperate treks. We caught up with the Irish girls again later, in the Karen village where we were due to stay the night.
They were sat outside a Thai style house, sipping a can of Leo, and comparing cuts and mozzie bites. We were due to stay in a Karen shack 1/2 a kilometer or so away. I said hi to them and their guide, who was chopping veggies, ready for dinner. I jokingly asked if I could eat with them, and said that their food smelled so much better than ours.
I had a beer and talked to their guide for a while. He said that it was strange that we all got on so well, and wanted to be together. Normally, foreign groups hate seeing other farangs on tours, and becaue of this, he normally tries to avoid, or avoid speaking to other groups. I asked him why he thought foreigners thought this way. He said he didn't know. It was strange he said. Thai groups aren't like this at all.
Joining the other group worked out really well for all of us. The guides got a break, as we all took in in turns to ask our Burmese and their Thai guide for different things. The Irish girls got to hear about the life of a Burmese refugee, and got to speak to a guide who spoke excellent English, and could explain things much better than their own guide. I got to chat to their guide and practise my Thai. Their guide let us try their group's red ant egg omelette and snake soup supper. The Irish girls got to share our dinner too. Their guide got to swig our sangsom. Everyone seemed happy.
I don't know why it worked so well. I've been on tours since and most of the other British or American people in the party have been desperate to avoid other farang tour groups. Maybe it was because there were only 5 of us. Maybe if we had been in larger groups - of 10 or so we wouldn't have been too eager to join up with others or meet new people. Maybe it was because 3 of us (the 3 Irish girls and myself) had lived in Thailand a while and don't buy the 'no other farang' bull anymore.
Its now 3 days later...I wrote this on Monday night but, for some reason couldn't post it. Every time I tried uploading it, my net connection died.
I saw the American girl a couple of days ago. Her photos are great, way better than the ones I took. And, as she said she had one of a boy in a plastic box, smiling at her, one hand waving, the other holding a makeshift paddle. She told me how they took longtail boat ride and visited a floating village on the edge of Tonle Saab. The place sounded fascinating. Unfortunatley I heard very little about it. Most of the story revolved around how good it was to be so untouristy, somewhere with no other farangs, and how, unlike me, she saw the 'real' Cambodia. I found it sad that she had so little to say about that, or how she believs life in 'real' Cambodia is.
Next destination, for her and her friends is Laos. In 2 weeks time, I think. She's determined to have another farang free experience, and do all the 'non' touristy stuff. She asked what I suggested.
I didn't reply...
|Create Date : 10 กันยายน 2550
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