from Jae Sorn to Ko Lanta

..... and on to Singapore



by



Griffth Evans

32,515 words



© Martin Griffth Evans 1994

Christmas Eve (Friday), Dec. 24: In transit.

The day started auspiciously. There was no snow storm in Toronto. Accordingly, the cab whisked us out to the airport in record time. "Us" included of course our various bags and trappings. Each of us had a brand new US Army parachute bag. Nancy's was reasonable to carry, Martin's a bit too heavy as he had his talk and supporting documents in the bottom of the bag. Still, even that was OK to drag along the ground. In addition, each of us had a carry on bag: Martin with the Blue Jay/CIBC knapsack which was to appear again and again in photographs of the trip; Nancy with her blue plastic bag -- at this stage full of films and her camera.

We were able to check our baggage right through to Bangkok. It was a relief to be rid of those heavy loads and to relax ever so slightly. The flight to Chicago was uneventful and on time, so we easily made our San Francisco flight. It was in Chicago, where else, that we came across the first of the interesting toilets that we were to encounter on our trip. This was basically a standard north American toilet but the lavatory seat was encased in a sheath of clear plastic. Pressing a button on the wall started an electric motor which caused the plastic to be pulled around the seat, rather like a typewriter ribbon. Modern technology ensures that each customer receives a fresh clean seat! Just enough plastic is used to completely replace the previous occupant's usage. It is not clear what happens behind the scene. Is it merely a tromp d'oeil with a continuous strip that is reused many times, the ultimate recycling, or is it wound from one bobbin to another which is then hygienically disposed of?

We left Chicago at about 10.00 a.m. The airline immediately went into its food, film, drink, food routine which kept us occupied for the first three hours of our six-hour flight. We scanned our guidebooks to check out the delights ahead of us. The Lonely Planet Guide(1) seemed to have more detail especially about reasonable places to eat and stay, the others(2)

(Malaysia and Singapore) better, glossier, pictures.

We arrived at San Francisco at about 11.00 a.m... Our first action was to go over to the International Departure section to meet up with Kathrine, having expected her plane from Vancouver and Seattle to get in half an hour ahead of us. There was no sign of Kathrine at the departure area. Checking with United, they told us that she had made the plane in Vancouver. What they did not tell us was that the plane got no further than Vancouver as Seattle was fogged in!

This we did not know, so we spent the next couple of hours wandering around the airport. We checked the stores, bought more books to read, spent some time reading in the Departures area, re-checking with the United desk about her whereabouts ("Oh! She made the plane;" how stupid we felt not to have asked the question "And is the plane on the way?"), and all the time on the look out for Kathrine. Our dominant, and incorrect feeling, was that she was holding out from meeting us until the very last minute. How we grumbled about her. The only difficulty with all this checking and rechecking is that we had to go through security and all the X-rays time after time. That meant that poor Nancy had to pull out her films and camera, get them hand checked and replaced in her bag. It was only after about the third time that we figured that stowing them all in a plastic shopping bag inside the blue carry-on bag would make things a little easier!

Soon 1.00 p.m. was approaching, the Bangkok flight took off at 2.00 p.m.; United was making moves to start getting the plane boarded. By now the Evans' were getting quite anxious. We started a serious huddle with the United desk staff about what could have happened; finally we got the admission that Kathrine's plane had never got to Seattle, let alone San Francisco. Nancy hit the roof: "Now you tell us, half-an-hour before take-off. We have been asking you about this for hours." The desk manager heard the tone of voice, sensed an incipient problem and took over dealing with us! Half way through our recitation of the situation, the desk received a phone call from Kathrine. She was trying to get a message through that she had been delayed.

What to do? The options were for the senior Evans to go on to Bangkok and wait for Kathrine there. As an alternative, the United manager said that there was space on the next day's plane, so that we could wait for Kathrine at San Francisco and all fly on to Bangkok the next day. That is what we decided to do. Kathrine had a flight that would get in at 5.00 p.m.. As a sweetener, United gave us a cheap rate at the airport Day's Inn motel. Though they did charge us $75.00 to change all of our tickets (for 12 segments, we thought that a bargain!)

The problem, of course, was how to notify Lisa. She was due to meet us in Chiang Mai in two days. Although we could get to Bangkok, there was no assurance that we could fly the next day from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. All that United could do was change our confirmed reservations for standby tickets a day later. We had no phone number for Lisa. This was no surprise as her park has no phone, though it is in Radio contact with the National Park Headquarters in Bangkok. We did the only thing we could. Right then it was 4.00 p.m., San Francisco time on Christmas Eve. That made it 7.00 p.m. Washington (DC) time so the regular bureaucrats would all have been at home, preparing for Christmas (at least most of them). After some soul searching, as it was not a real life and death emergency, we called the emergency number at the Peace Corps Headquarters, explained the situation, and asked them to try to get a message to Lisa at Jae Sorn Park. They said they would try. They even called us back at the motel to tell us that a message had been sent.

We had another couple of hours hanging around the airport which we enlivened with revisiting the shops. It is amazing what you can find to buy if you are trapped in an airport for an extra three hours. We bought more books as, by now, Martin had almost finished his first, the bizarre Congreve Academy by Fay Weldon. We fixed Nancy up with a couple more films. We ate ice creams to hold us till dinner. We also decided to rent a car, so we could enjoy San Francisco the next day. Just before Kathrine arrived, Martin suddenly remembered that we had a hotel reservation in Bangkok for Christmas night and that we would not get there until late on Boxing Day. There are some advantages of booking with an international hotel chain. Al though the accommodations are expensive and lack charm, at least there is an 800-number where one can arrange a last minute change in plans. So we called the chain and changed our reservations to the following night. Unfortunately we could only get one room not two.

At 6.00 p.m. Kathrine's plane did arrive and, with her aboard, we enjoyed a relieved reunion. She told us that she had made many efforts to get hold of us, but United were not very helpful. They only provided assistance when she was down to the wire and was clearly missing her connection. She also had her difficulties with the government bureaucrats. When she went through US immigration and customs, she was given a complete luggage search by the US customs. It was now late, late, late Toronto time so after an early dinner at the motel we were off to bed.



Christmas morning (Saturday), Dec. 25: San Francisco and beyond.

This was to be a double day as we would cross the International Date Line at the end of the regular day. Being Christmas, it was a weird feeling as we had no presents for each other, the trip was the present; a weird feeling heightened by the absence of snow and bitter cold. After breakfast at the hotel, we took off to view San Francisco on Christmas morning. The streets were almost deserted. We whizzed up and down the hills with no obstruction. We spent an hour or so at Fisherman's Wharf, a closed and unvisited Fisherman's Wharf, at that time in the morning, though around eleven it was livening up as we drove by on our way back to the airport. The only place open was a sidewalk restaurant offering mountains of steamed crab -- looked delicious but it was too early in the day. After more driving around the town -- including a trip up to Haight-Ashbury to see where Lisa had lived during her stay in San Francisco, near the Vampire Shop -- we got back to the airport by noon so as to check in early for our Bangkok flight, we did not want there to be any chance of overselling that would leave us stranded again.

What can I say about seventeen hours on the plane: food, booze, films, books, more food, more films, and very, very swollen ankles. All the blood sank to the bottom extremities. At some point in mid Pacific they announced that we had crossed the date line, so those with automatic date watches should reset the date. Martin and Nancy had new multi-function electronic watches, with no fewer than four buttons to press to adjust the various functions: regular clock, stop watch, lap timer, day, date, month, year. We struggled and struggled to get the functions to work as we had packed the instructions in the checked baggage, which was presumably now in Bangkok. Our efforts were without success. Once, by chance, Martin got the time set, but to Taiwan time rather than Bangkok time, so we spent half a day subtracting an hour mentally to get the right time. We had little success with getting Nancy's watch to the correct time until the instructions were unpacked. Even Kathrine, who is a whiz with the VCR was baffled.

Our only respite on the flight was an hour stopover in Taipei. They really didn't have the commercial spirit well institutionalized. Stop overs at Shannon and at Rhodes (and on our return via Hong Kong) were arranged so that transit passengers were herded into a giant souvenir store. On Taipei the flight attendants merely shepherded us into a small, very bare transit lounge. Its only furnishing, except for plastic lecture room seats, was a large TV monitor which showed a production about Taiwan in Chinese. The stopover also had very inadequate toilet facilities; even our half-full jumbo jet overloaded them.

We arrived at Bangkok at midnight Bangkok time on Boxing Day, mid-day by our internal clocks which were now quite sluggish and disoriented. Our plane parked out on the tarmac and we had to take a bus into the terminal. There was an armed guard at the bottom of the steps down from the plane, and from one of those monster planes it is a long, steep way down. Our arrival coincided with the arrival of four other jumbo jets from Europe, Australia, and North America. The queues at immigration and customs were interminable.. While waiing in line we had a chance to observe the flight crews from a dozen different airlines as they passed though immigration controls. Nancy adored the uniforms of the Japanese Airlines stewardesses; but Martin thought those from Singapore and Air Philippines were also striking. They provide an exotic point of colour and interest in an otherwise bland airport terminal. The lines moved very slowly, and as with everyone else's experience, our line seemed to move more slowly than most. Eventually we reached passport control and we worried about how we were going to communicate; we had no problems getting our tourist visas(3) -- we never had to speak a word, which was just as well as our Thai was (and is non-existent), "My pen rai" (never mind). Then came the next challenge. It was unlikely that we would find our luggage (remember those green parachute bags) riding around on the carousel as it had gotten to Thailand a day before us. Fortunately we were able to talk English at the United luggage desk. We wondered whether our bags would be there or whether some airport worker had appropriated them when they weren't claimed. We found our bags buried in a little back room and we got them back without difficulty. Of course, Kathrine's knapsack was on the carousel.

The airport concourse was large, modern, and air-conditioned, as we were to discover as we stepped outside into a steamy hot Thai night. Our lack of communication skills, coupled with our weariness led to the first minor glitch of the trip. At the Taxi stand Martin booked for the "Comfort Inn," instead of booking for the "Airport Comfort." Only after we had gone a few miles past the sign for the "Comfort Inn Airport" did it dawn on us that perhaps there were two Comfort Inns in Bangkok, one at the Airport and one downtown. It took us a few more miles to convince the cabby that it was the Airport Comfort that we wanted, and even further down the freeway before he could turn. We ended up back at the airport, and then went just a mile further to the hotel! The hotel, a six story modern concrete building in international hotel architecture style(4), was set in a pleasant garden. There was a wall around the whole complex with guards on the gate to check all traffic in and out. We checked in easily. The clerks were able to do everything in English. After getting to our room, we were soon asleep.



December 27: Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Jae Sorn.

We awoke really, really early being still on Toronto or Vancouver time. Looking out of the window we found one of the reasons for the wall around the hotel. From our window we could see a bare dusty patch of ground around which was gathered a little shanty town. Huts made of old pieces of board and wood, tin roofs. Here and there a small stall had been set up and people were cooking food. A number of stray dogs wandered from stall to stall sniffing at the food. One or two people were squatting washing clothes, or so it seemed, in front of their shacks. A real contrast to the luxury by which we were surrounded.

We soon found the limits of the desk clerks' English language skills(5) when we tried to get information about phoning Thai airlines and the Peace Corps office. It was impossible to communicate that we needed the phone numbers for these two places. We were reduced to asking for help because the phone book in our room was printed only in Thai script. Eventually, we did get a number for the airline, I was unable to communicate the concept of the Peace Corps Office, but when we called to see if we could confirm our flight, there was no response. Accordingly we decided to get back to the airport by about 8.00 a.m. (we are still on Toronto time so had woken quite early, at about 5.30 a.m.). Our first breakfast in Thailand was eaten at the hotel with a choice of Western or Thai style food. Kathrine went western, Nancy and Martin tried a mixed menu.

Then it was back to the airport; lugging our luggage. This time we were at the Domestic terminal; older and more cramped than the spacious international terminal. Straightaway we checked in for the 10.0 a.m. flight to Chiang Mai. We were lucky, getting the last three seats on the plane. Having checked our luggage and gotten release from our two parachute bags we wandered the airport, changed some money to bahts, watched the variety of people heading to the out of Bangkok. Nearly all of our fellow passengers were white skinned, a major contrast to our later trips by train. The big lineups were for the planes to the beaches in the south. There, regiments of large, blond, German speaking people were patiently lined up for the next leg of their voyage to the fleshpots of Phuket, pronounced not as you think onomatopoeically, but Puukay.

The trip to Chiang Mai was an easy hour-and-a-half. The person across the aisle from Martin was an Englishman with a Thai wife (and half-Thai small boy) who was going to visit his in-laws for the holiday. He ran a motor-cycle dealership in Wolverhampton and was complaining how viciously the UK safety regulations had affected motorbike sales. His sales of new machines were a tenth of what they had been six years earlier; he had had to partially compensate by greatly expanding his maintenance and parts business. He was full of glee at the discomfort of the Japanese over their economic downturn. He was also complaining about the smoky air resulting from the farmers burning off the stubble in the rice paddies. Martin opined that this was good husbandry as the ashes fertilized the soil efficiently. We agreed to disagree.

We could not see much from the plane as we flew up to Chiang Mai as we had the center three seats. Our initial sight was of the hills to the North of the town; they rose straight up out of the ground almost vertically. Naturally, we were apprehensive as the plane taxied to the gate. Would Lisa be there? Had she received our message? Had she given up and taken the long trip back to her park? Imagine our relief when we got off the plane to see Lisa, towering, at 5' 6", above the Thais in the crowd. It was a joyful reunion. No she had had no message via the Peace Corps. She had waited all day Boxing Day at the airport, meeting every flight from Bangkok. Finally, toward the end of the day, the airline people told her that we were booked on the next day's flight; but she had decided that if we didn't arrive today then she would be back off to the park.

Lisa looked well, and to hear her speak Thai was a delight. She had developed the sweetest tone imaginable, quite different from her normal voice. For the Thais, it must have been quite a surprise coming from a blond young woman. Our first step was to complete the change of our reservations for the return to Bangkok. With all the kerfuffle over Kathrine's delay, it turned out that it was possible for her to have a couple of extra days in Thailand so that our return flight to Bangkok had to be postponed. With Lisa in charge of the negotiations all went well and new arrangements were easily made. More difficult was to phone Bangkok to change the arrangements at the hotel. It took us a long time to find a telephone that worked. None of Martin's credit cards worked on the international phone at the post office. Lisa then bought a local, Thai, phone card. Many of the local phones seemed out of order. A frustrating half-hour passed before we got those arrangements made. Again sweet tongued Lisa made the arrangements.

Now we were in Lisa's hands. It was like being a child again. Things happened, animated discussions took place, plans were made about which one had no knowledge, and over whose outcomes one had even less control. To someone as compulsive as Martin, this was quite frustrating. He likes to know where he is going to sleep at the end of the day. So although today there was no problem as we were off to Lisa's house, future days were less predictable, and more wearing on his nerves.

The next step was to get to the place in downtown Chiang Mai from which we could get a "songthaew"(6) to Lisa's house in the village near her park. We took a fast driven cab so the first impressions of Chiang Mai were a blur. We had a brief view of the grey concrete Westin Hotel beside the river on the way in from the airport; across from it there looked like a fake Tudor Inn. There was a ride along a canal -- it turned out to be the moat that surrounded the old city. Then we saw a flash of ruined redbrick city wall on the inside corner of the moat. The cab deposited us and our luggage on a narrow sidewalk outside a moped rental store. It turned out that this was right next door to an open air restaurant, which the Evans in their bemusement had not noticed. It was a little tricky to handle our luggage among the people along this narrow sidewalk, the street was crowded with rushing cars, taxis, and a whole variety of other vehicles whose names we could not even guess at. The restaurant had long picnic tables underneath a trellis covered with some sort of clambering vine. Someone was going from table to table trying to sell balloons. There was a big notice-board near the bar advertising treks to the nearby hill tribe villages. The clientele seemed to be made up of foreigners who were sitting around, chatting and eating lunch. There we sat and waited, sucking on a cold, but ice-free, coke(7). While we waited, Lisa went off to negotiate our fare to Jae Sorn. It was while we waited that we first confronted the Thai toilets that we had been warned about by Karen Connolly in her "Touch of the Dragon." They were not, as we expected, like European country toilets, mere ceramic holes set flush to the ground in a tiled surround. Instead they were ceramic holes with the narrow surround raised a foot over normal ground level, so one had to balance on a pedestal while doing the necessary. There were three ways of cleaning up afterwards:

The traditional Thai way with a scoop of cold water from a tank next to the toilet; in our travels, these tanks ranged from marble (the Italian restaurant in Bangkok), tile (the public toilets at Jae Sorn Park), rough, unfinished concrete (Lisa's house), an old oil drum (restaurant stop outside the park), a plastic barrel (Lisa's friend's house in Ko Lanta);

Directing a stream of cold water from a hose pipe in the appropriate direction, Thailand's version of, or answer to, the bidet;

The farang (foreign, western) way, using toilet paper. However, toilet paper is not provided in most public toilets; many westernized Thais carry a roll around with them. At least here at the Chiang Mai restaurant, the toilet paper was flushed away. At Lisa's house, used toilet paper was placed in a small box as the septic tank would not handle that type of waste.

This confrontation past(8), Lisa was soon back with a good deal in transportation; she had also stocked up on toilet paper, figuring that four of us would use more than her current supply.

After finishing our cokes, we struggled(9) our parachute bags down the street toward the songthaew that Lisa had hired. A monk, with shaven head and saffron robes, was sitting in the back. As soon as he saw this phalanx of farangs, and mainly female farangs at that, he leapt from the back of the truck and went round to sit up front with the driver. Then began our trip to Jae Sorn: two hours bouncing around in the back of the truck. Martin had to take at least one Gravol as his tummy began to feel the effects; no one else seemed bothered. The views were fascinating. Everything was different. Even the most modern houses, and we went past several middle class subdivisions, were built on stilts so that the main floor was high off the ground. The bottom floor was used as a carport, or as a verandah with little furniture. The outskirts of Chiang Mai were industrial: concrete plants, plastic pipe factories, pop bottlers and breweries lined the road. This urban clutter did not last long and after a few miles we settled down to an endless vista of paddy fields. These were bare and dry as the farmers had harvested the crop a month previously, but one or two bright green paddies remained to show us how it all must have looked a few weeks earlier. Occasionally, the paddy fields were interrupted with groves of banana trees; apparently they only give one crop then have to be replaced. In the background the hills of northern Thailand rose in ragged irregular peaks. It was toward these peaks that we aimed.

The first stage of our journey, along the road from Chiang Mai to Lampang, was along a good four-lane road. After Lampang, the road north to Muang Pan, the nearest town to Lisa's park, deteriorated. The road surface itself was quite good, but the builders of the two-lane road didn't quite seem to have the knack of aligning the road level with the level of the bridges. The bridge surface was at least two inches higher than the road surface. As we encountered many, many bridges, the trip took on the pattern of a high speed bus: rapid acceleration followed by rapid deceleration as the next bridge approached, a bump, a slow crawl across the bridge, another bump, followed by a burst of speed, then squealing brakes, and so on for the next thirty miles.

It was almost evening when we arrived at Lisa's village. Lisa's house was in the middle of the one-street village. Her house was a modern concrete and teak construction. A two-floor square box, with a balcony running half the width of the upper story. The ground floor had two large garage-like doors. A single windowless room comprised the first floor. Fresh air continuously poured in through a course of pierced cinder blocks near the ceiling. Daylight could only be secured by throwing open the two doors in front, exposing the whole room to the gaze of the curious passers by. As we sat there chatting with Lisa during the late afternoon, a number of villagers stuck their heads in to see the funny(10) looking farangs. This plan was the pattern for most of the newer houses in Muang Pan. The older, bamboo and reed huts had stables or parking on the first floor, while the modern houses had sparsely furnished rooms -- for example, Lisa just had two chairs and a small table. Behind this large bare room was the bathroom, with the toilet perched very high off the ground, and the box for used toilet paper conveniently at hand. To flush the toilet, one scooped water from a large concrete tank beside the toilet, every time I perched up there I feared slipping off and into the open cistern. A second large cistern provided water for a scoop shower, the water drained away through an outlet in the floor. Beside the toilet was the pantry, and outside the back door, the cooking place.

Upstairs were two rooms, one Lisa used as a work-place, the second as a bedroom; a mosquito net hung precariously over the futons and blankets in the centre of the floor. This was to be our room for her stay; we were her justification for getting this larger house over the objections of her coworkers. She and Kathrine would set up futons in the downstairs living room; in the cold season, in the north, the mosquito netting would be superfluous.

Our unpacking was swift. We got out the Christmas presents carried with loving care from Toronto and went downstairs. Lisa had borrowed a small potted fir tree from the greenhouse at the park. It was a veritable, scraggly, Charlie Brown, type of tree. This served as the center of our exchange of Christmas gifts and thoughts of friends and family back in North America. By the time our belated Christmas celebrations were over, it had grown dark. We all were hungry. Since our hotel breakfast, a very early and not very substantial lunch on Thai Air was all we'd had that day. There was one problem, we had to wait for a truck from the park to deliver extra futons's and comforters so we could all be warm at night. Soon it arrived and we unloaded a mountain of bedding onto the empty floor of Lisa's ground floor room. Off to supper we went. We walked through the darkening village to a little rice shop that Lisa knew of.

Opposite Lisa's house was the morning market. This is where people buy their fresh food supplies for the day. At this time of day it is deserted, but there is also an evening market elsewhere in the village where one buys one's dinner supplies. We can see at the back of each lot a small structure like a bird house on a pole as far from the house as possible. We ask if these are bird houses. Lisa replies that they are Spirit Houses. Thais are terrified of evil spirits and are afraid to sleep alone in a house; hence their horror that Lisa lives alone. The spirits of one's ancestors can turn into evil spirits if not properly placated so that small houses are built in the garden (or on the balcony if you live in a high rise apartment) and offerings are left for the spirits. On our way to supper, Lisa pointed out the various stores, the hardware shop, the appliance store full of TV's and refrigerators, and washing machines. Lisa said that the peasants got into enormous debts to buy these. The refrigerators are used to store the men's beer, not to keep food cool and fresh. Food just sits in a shady corner of the house. At the restaurant, we ate our first Thai meal, rice, braised morning glory vines, and Chinese tea. On the way home, in a little village store, Nancy bought her Thai peasant hat, a hat that was to haunt us for the rest of the trip. I think that first night we lasted until about 7.00 p.m.; after that we collapsed into bed.

For Martin, it was the longest of nights; though eased by enjoying, on Lisa's tape player, the Miss Marple tapes that Kathrine gave us for Christmas. He woke at about two; the tummy was a little rumbly, nature called. Grabbing the torch, he made his way silently down stairs to the toilet. Perched up there the diarrhoea came. Back upstairs; fumbling in the luggage for the Immodium; taking the pill; lying back down. Twenty minutes later the procedure was repeated (without the pill taking); this kicked in a major anxiety attack: "I am going to be like this all holiday! How are we going to travel around if I have to stop to go to the bathroom every twenty minutes? I can't take these Thai bathrooms, it is OK at Lisa's house, where I can get out of my pyjamas, but out on the road, I am going to unload in my trousers (the configuration of squatting on a Thai toilet places one's ankles, around which one's garments gather, almost directly in the line of fire)." This resulted in yet another trip to the toilet twenty minutes later; fortunately soon after that the Immodium kicked in and the necessity for downstairs visits subsided; Martin's anxiety ebbed. Complete sleep still did not come.

Suddenly he was wide awake, the toilet door had banged. This was followed by the most blood curdling noises he had heard, it sounded like someone was being violently sick. Martin's anxiety returned: "Oh Lord, Kathrine is being sick. That's all we need! She will be running at both ends, and we won't even be able to get her to keep an Immodium down. Now what are we going to do? Well, I better go see what I can do." Martin crept downstairs, he waved the torch in the direction of Kathrine's bed, a blond head lay on the pillow; it must be Lisa who was sick; a second blond head was on the other pillow. It turned out that those frightening noises came from the neighbour's pigs. We found out later that the next door house had two pigs whose stye was right next door to Lisa's house. It was their early morning snortings that had so alarmed Martin.

December 28: Jae Sorn, the first day.

We awoke early, Martin had dozed off after the pig incident. The day was cold. We could see our breath in the air. "Brrrrr! I thought Thailand was supposed to be warm," muttered Martin as he hustled into his clothes;. There was to be no scoop shower for him, this morning. He was not living up to Thai standards of cleanliness, a failure in which he was joined by the rest of the family. We discussed plans for the day. We were to be picked up to go to breakfast at the park, then Lisa was going to try to get a truck so we could go to see a Hill Tribe village and see the wilder back reaches of the park. If that didn't work out, then we would spend the day at the Park and do all that tomorrow (which we did). Lisa's house was right opposite the 'morning market'(11). We had heard some bustle and clanking of pits and pans while we steeled ourselves to get out of bed. Now we went out and looked around. Immediately in front of all the houses on Lisa's side of the road a small stream ran. A couple of people were out in front of their houses scrubbing their clothes with their dhobi brushes. Lisa, while on duty, has to be perfectly turned out in her park's uniform, so she has a washerwoman who keeps her completely spick and span. Well almost completely. Washerwomen won't do underclothes, you are on your own for them. We took advantage of her services to get our shirts washed and pressed. Next to her house was a bamboo and leaf house with the pigs, right in front of it was a wooden platform with a peaked thatched roof that bridged the stream. This was one of the places where the women of the village gathered to gossip. The farangs were a prime subject.

We wandered through the market. As we strolled between the small bamboo stalls, we could see that it was mainly a food market with bananas, coconuts, chicken, pork, and both live and dead fish -- eels swimming around in a large wok. Many of the stalls had a variety of vegetables. One, that we were to get to know well, was Morning Glory vine; it became a staple in our diet. Nancy bought some bananas which turned out to be a bit mushy, we did not find them a very pleasant texture. We tried to buy a coconut -- one of the brown, hairy kind but the shopkeeper would not let us. She said they were all old and for cooking. We should wait until we could get fresh ones. Puzzled we agreed with her, but they looked just like any coconut that we had ever seen. It was not until Malacca that we got a fresh coconut. Next door to the night market was a small cafe. We all went there for a cup of tea (Nancy and Martin) or cocoa (Lisa and Kathrine) while we waited for the park truck to pick us up. Lisa also bought some sticky rice for us to have with our meals.

After half an hour or so the pick-up truck arrived. Lisa and Kathrine, as the youngsters, rode in back. Nancy and Martin rode in the front with the driver. He and his wife were good friends of Lisa. The landscaping of the Park was his special responsibility, we were to see what a wonderful job he had done. Conversation was brief and elementary, his English was very limited in vocabulary, our Thai was non-existent, still.

Lisa's village was set about two miles from the foot of the hills; the park was nestled right at the foot of the hills and encompassed most of the mountains between where we were and Chiang Mai(12). At the entrance, the lodge was surrounded by a grove of young Teak trees with even ranks of wonderful dusty reddish golden brown trunks. The park was a surprise. The Headquarters was set up at a "Hot Spring." The area around the springs was manicured and planted like any North American municipal park. It had gracious lawns, sparkling springs, pruned bushes, and majestic trees. The hot springs fed a dozen bath-houses where one could soak away the day's dust and aches, which we did several times. Across a rickety swinging bamboo bridge was the tourist accommodation. Scattered up a wooded slope were twenty cabins; each contained several simple beds and bedding. This accommodation was available for rent. Lisa told us that at week-ends the park was busy, but mid-week it was deserted. All her co-workers at the park wanted us to stay there.

That first day at the Park was fairly relaxed. After a breakfast of rice and spiced morning glory vines we were introduced to many of Lisa's coworkers at the Park. Then we spent a little time wandering around the area near the main complex. This consisted of a Visitor's Center with handouts, exhibits of indigenous bugs and animals, and a lecture hall, administrative offices, the director's cottage (he lived in Lampang and only spent a couple of nights a week at the park), cottages for the assistant directors and the hot spring bath houses. The Director's house was set by a small stream and waterfall; it was a one story mock-Tudor half-timbered cottage. The other houses and offices were white stucco. The glory was the administration centre made of dark teak logs, quite magnificent. Lisa's best friend in Thailand, the wife of the landscaper, was in charge of the Visitor's Centre. All were surrounded by the most beautiful plantings. Poinsettia in this climate is a tree -- we were amazed at the bright red Christmas flowers growing fifteen feet tall. Finally, and more mundanely, we were much impressed with the elegant litter baskets which were made out of old car tires.

We then walked a mile or so along a flat trail through the rain forest to the other major attraction of the park: a high waterfall. The vegetation was lush but the path well maintained. Lisa pointed out that many of the trees were, or had been, surrounded by vines, the strangler vine, whose stalks completely surrounded a tree trunk until it died, the vine then took over its place in the jungle! As we came around the corner of the trail just before the waterfall, we stopped in amazement, sitting on a spit of rock that jutted out into the pool was a monk, sitting cross legged in the shade, meditating. It epitomized the tranquility of the spot. We sat and absorbed the scene for a while.

While walking back to the main area of the park, Nancy nearly bumped (Oh sacrilege!) into another monk, while looking at the wares offered by villagers at the waterfall parking lot -- according to Lisa, even the short trail we had walked was too much for the Thais, they usually drove up to the waterfall. We then walked a short way through the forest, Lisa wanted to pick up one of the traps she had set as part of her "Small Mammal Survey."

It was then time for us to get cleaned up. The day, which had started cool, was now very warm. We took ourselves down to the hot springs. The water bubbled up among a rocky pond and was then channelled to the bath houses where it was mixed with fresh spring water to a decent temperature. The pond steamed even in the middle of the day. The smell of sulphur was very strong. All the rivulets of hot water were overgrown with a slimy, white, sulphur loving algae. At the bath houses we all hurried to wash off the heat of the day. There we soaped, showered, and soaked for a while. It felt good to wash our hair. Martin and Nancy, confronted by a hot tub and by a shower head with only cold water took a while to figure out that the way to shower was to scoop water out of the hot tub rather than submit to the cold shower!

We then lunched at the park dining room: more rice, vegetables, mainly morning glory vines, in spicy sauce, and some dubious looking fish, which only Lisa took. Kathrine has moved to a pure rice diet. After lunch it was back to Lisa's village. This time we paid attention to the paddy fields that lay between the park and the village, fields in which water buffalo grazed. Nancy and Martin wandered through the village and the fields behind Lisa's house. There was much taking of photographs, the old Wat and its decaying chedi, school girls in their white and blue uniforms walking down the street. We enjoyed the variety of houses, ranging from bamboo and palm, to concrete and stucco, to teak. Some were very plain, others as ornate as a Swiss Chalet. We went past these funny little stores with their dusty merchandise, candy, detergent, coke (the drink). We went past the rice husking mill where we photographed the jolly miller at his work, then came to a sweat shop where ten young women worked at old sewing machines putting together cheap synthetic clothing. Nancy was much taken with the pots and pans for sale in one store; but confined herself to buying souvenirs that weighed less than two ounces and which were unbreakable. This time, we explored the evening market, at another location in the village, but with much the same mix of merchandise as the morning version, lots of cooked meat available for people to buy for supper. While taking a picture, disaster, well a mild disaster strikes, Nancy drops her camera and it breaks; one film is ruined. Many of our pictures of the village lost! Fortunately Kathrine has her camera and graciously lends it to Nancy for the next few days. We had a lift back to the park where we had our dinner. Again, rice and spiced vegetables for the evening meal. When we got back to the village, everyone was sitting outside at the back of their houses. The women were huddled around fires cooking the evening meals.

We walked down with Lisa to the house of a friend, she lived with grandmother, parents, and brother. They lived in a gorgeous teak house with steep stairs up to the living floor; on every step stood a pair of shoes so we added ours to the collection,. Lisa and the friend did much of the talking. We were interrogated about our lives: how old are you; how much do you earn; how much did your house cost?

Again early to bed.

Dec. 29. Jae Sorn.

After a better night's sleep, we awoke to another cold morning. This time, our trip back to the park took us along some back roads, those that Lisa rode her bike to work along. This was a dirt road that was first lined with palm huts, then paddy fields, with the ubiquitous water buffalo. A couple of fields were green and had not yet been harvested. I can't remember what we had for breakfast but it must have involved rice..

Today we get the truck to take us to a hill-tribe village (Lisa teaches some of the children who come down to the local school in her town) and through the park. The driver has dark greasy hair and a thin Clark Gable moustache, Martin thinks he looks like General Ky, sometime premier of South Vietnam.

It turns out that the Hill tribe village (the Hmong) is not in the hills at all. The village was moved many years ago to a piece of flatland just outside the park. We spend a lot of time at the school as all the children were wearing their tribal robes (they do this every Wednesday). Started out taking pictures of all the children sitting on the football field in front of the school. Then visit all of the classrooms. It turns out that none of the teachers speak Hmong, so some children have to translate the teacher to other children. There are one or two very blond children in the group, though most are dark haired, we wonder ....

We then get a tour of the village. Behind the school is a big fishpond where the people raise fishes for eating and for sale in the market. All the houses are made of bamboo and palm fronds. Many are up on stilts, though some are on the ground. Nearly all have TV antennae; most have motorbikes out back. We do feel a bit awkward. It is like going through Pioneer Village or Williamsburg. But the houses we wander into are actually lived in by the people, they are not there "on exhibit." See women doing embroidery for sale in the market. We are taken to one house where our guide, the head teacher, says "Not many in the village smoke opium, but everyone in this house does." See opium -- sticky black beads, and opium pipe.

By now Martin is dehydrated. We had forgotten our cardinal rule - always take bottled water everywhere you go. Ask head teacher for water. They have no bottled water, we won't drink tap or well water; they give us sickly green soft drink - ugh! Kathrine likened it to drinking bubblegum; it reminded Martin of the acid drop candy of his childhood. Off now for lunch, the driver knows of a restaurant and takes us there. Lisa, unknown to us, has a talk with the driver about beer and driving, tells him they do not mix, driver promises not to have beer. Apparently the driver is well known at the restaurant. They have nothing. Have to go off to get rice, to get cokes, to get soy sauce, all different people on different mopeds. Our driver goes in back of the restaurant and cooks up fried liver for us. Eventually we get cokes, rice, stringy chicken in sauce; none of it very nice. Then Lisa catches driver swigging beer in back of the restaurant, to add insult to injury he put it on the bill that we paid! She is furious; insists on driving after lunch. Big fight with driver, loses face with his restaurant friends, Lisa wins. We, driven by Lisa, drive up in the hills of the park. Dramatic vistas, lush vegetation, see a banana plantation way high up the mountain, site of another hill tribe village. The road is dirt, the road is dusty, the hills are steep, The road is rutted; we often have to take a couple of shots at the steeper hills where the dirt and stone surface is very loose. A rough ride for Nancy and Kathrine who are bouncing around in the back of the pick-up truck. After going for ten miles or so into the park proper, up into the hills, with many ups and downs as we cross streams, we retrace our steps and return to the manicured section.

Another soak in the hot tubs, just inhale that sulphurous steam, memories of the Assembly Rooms at Bath. How different this is! Then it is back to Lisa's village, Martin and Nancy retrace yesterday's walk retaking the photographs lost in the previous day's debacle.

In the evening we, the landscape guy and the woman in charge of the visitors centre (who was also his wife), the Pu-chu-ee(13) and his, very pregnant, wife (who was also a nurse) went to dinner at a local restaurant. This was very much a cut above the usual noodle shop, and the park cuisine. Delicious food. The Pu-chu-ee and the landscaper put away about two small bottles of Thai whisky between them -- Lisa can't get in an argument about drinking and driving here as these are her seniors. We hope for, and get, an uneventful drive back to Lisa's house. We can hardly believe that it is our last night at Jae Sorn, and that tomorrow we will be off on the beginning of our voyage to the equator.





Dec. 30: Lampang and Chiang Mai

Today we went back to Chiang Mai from the Park. Lisa had initially gotten it organized, to take an early morning minibus from the village to the town of Lampang and then the bus to Chiang Mai. However, her coworkers would not hear of it. First of all, the Huana (the Park Director) would be there first thing in the morning and wanted to meet Lisa's family, second, you couldn't get to see the elephant training school by bus. So it was agreed that we would go back to the park for breakfast and then the Pu-chu-ee would take us to Lampang, then on to the elephant training school, then back to Lampang where we could get the bus. We were up good and early. We were soon packed and had all our goods and chattels piled up on Lisa's front yard awaiting his arrival. The Pu-chu-ee was late; Lisa grumbled, especially as the minibus went by; if they hadn't made us change our plans, we could have been on that. But it turned out that he was only half an hour late, which, Lisa said, was pretty good for him. Breakfast was a cut above the previous food in the Park. As well as spiced vegetables, we had shrimp and pork in nice sauces. When the director is in camp, the food shows a dramatic improvement. When he is not, the cook, known affectionately and with no disrespect intended, as the fat butterfly (despite the fact that she merely is not rake thin which is the Thai ideal -- Lisa is also thought of as fat), makes the assistants do the cooking. She only cooks when the Huana is around.

During breakfast the Huana joined us -- much wai-ing. His English is also very good. Everyone was very upset that we slept at Lisa's house rather than in the Park cabins. We explained that we were only here for a short while and that we wanted to be with Lisa as much as possible. Honor seemed satisfied by our explanation.

The Huana refused any payment for all our meals in the park -- much, much wai-ing. But, Lisa made sure we left a good tip for the fat butterfly and her staff; though we aren't sure that it got beyond the head cook.

At last, about 9.30 (after getting up at about 5.00 a.m.) we are off. The Pu-chu-ee has a big pickup truck with seats for six and room for goods in the open back. This is where we stuff our luggage, but Nancy's hat had to come in the back seat with the three of us, it flopped around a bit as the trip progressed. But no one actually stomped on it. The trip back to Lampang is once again punctuated by speeding and crawling as we alternate between roads and bridges. In the back seat, Martin's tummy starts to churn -- a Gravol soon puts things to right. After an hour or so we reach Lampang, where the Pu-chu-ee has a half an hour meeting. We wander the open air market -- Nancy buys some blue Lampang ware; the woman at the stall has both little fingernails four inches long, and painted blood red. Then we wandered through the most ornate, gold leafed modern Wat. This was followed by a quick trip to a camera store to replace yesterday's broken camera.

A half hour's drive brought us to the Elephant training School. We arrived just as the morning display was ending, half a dozen elephants clearing up the teak logs that they had been stacking and passing around. We watched this, fed the elephants sugar cane and then went for an elephant ride; Martin having reached the top of the loading stairs took one look at the distance to the ground and ungracefully surrendered his seat to Lisa. He appointed himself photographer. Nancy, Kathrine, and Lisa all enjoyed the ride, though their elephant was quite slow and took it into its head to stop for a munch of leaves every few minutes.

We then spent some time looking at and photographing a tiny baby elephant that was just a few weeks old. You can imagine how cute it was.

By now it was lunch time, Lisa and the Pu-chu-ee knew of an Italian restaurant outside of Lampang. There we went. Spent a pleasant hour drinking coke and eating a mixture of Thai food and Italian Pizza in air-conditioned comfort surrounded by photographs of Venice. Lisa eagerly reported that the toilets were "farang-style"; we all made use of them before the meal was over.

The Pu-chu-ee then took us back to the Lampang bus station where we were to get the bus to Chiang Mai. Complications arose at the bus terminal. According to Lisa, they would not sell us tickets on an Air-Con bus to Chiang Mai, only through to Bangkok, as they want to get the seats filled for the whole journey. We lined up for the regular bus (taking good care to buy a bottle of water for each of us). The bus comes and we stow our luggage at the back; Nancy is wearing her new hat. The bus is crowded. Lisa and Kathrine are at the front, Nancy and Martin at the back. Suddenly the bus stops, and Lisa calls for us to get off -- we are on the Chiang Rai bus, not the one for Chiang Mai. Panic. Off we get; the driver, grumpily unstows our baggage from the back of the bus. Across the four lane road (with a grass median) we see a bus standing. The driver says, "There is the bus for Chiang Mai." Two of us grab each parachute bag; oblivious of mopeds, songthaews, cars and taxis, we scurry across each lane to the median, then across the other lanes to the bus -- just like "Frogger" dodging the traffic. Finally we settle on the right bus. This time we can get the baggage into the luggage compartment; Nancy nervously puts her hat up on the overhead rack. She hope s that no one puts a case down on top of it. We drink a lot of water and enjoy the two-hour trip to Chiang Mai. The hat survives unscathed, though Martin was very nervous after accidently kicking the person across the aisle(14).

We wonder what kind of a place Lisa has in mind for us to stay in; we are all used to big air-con hotels, Lisa lives more simply. Martin worries about being in a flea bag for the next night. Once Martin got that worrying out of the way, the rest of the bus trip is uneventful. We retrace our steps of the first day coming out of Chiang Mai, though we do detour into Lamphung for a quick stop. After arriving at the Chiang Mai bus terminal -- which is utterly unmemorable, we take a songthaew to the place that Lisa usually stays. When we get there, we find that there is only one room available; however, there is a slightly less good place across the street. Martin and Nancy go there. We have a huge, high, slightly grubby room. It is completely filled by two pieces of furniture: a giant, super king-size bed and an enormous glass-fronted teak bookcase, with about a dozen raggedy paperbacks in it. We have to share bathrooms; and to our surprise a corner is cut out of the room with walls up to within two feet of the ceiling. It turns out that this is not a storage cupboard, as we supposed but a very small room. All night we could hear the occupant hacking and coughing. One toilet was Thai style, the other foreign; but there is only cold water in the showers -- Brrrrr. It turned out that we had to take our shoes off every time we stepped inside the hotel. Fortunately our room was on the ground floor, so it was easy. However Kathrine, with her Doc Marten's with multiple lace holes had a boring time of it. It was not easy of you found you had forgotten something in your room just after you got the last lace firmly tied. It also made visiting several Wats in rapid succession quite difficult.

We arrived at Chiang Mai at mid-afternoon, after a coke in the courtyard of the hotel, we decided to take an hour's rest. We had a lot to do that evening. Unfortunately we only then noticed that our hotel was right next door to a construction site and that pile drivers were operating continuously. We checked that they would stop by evening, before taking a wakeful rest for a while.

Then we had to find a place to eat. The vote from the younger members of the party was for foreign food. The family set off, in a tuk-tuk(15), to the area of the Night Bazaar. Here we found a street filled with foreigners strolling by the McDonald's, the Burger King, the KFC, the Pizza Hut, and the Swenson's -- just like the good old USA. Despite our Italian lunch, we plumped for the Pizza Hut. Again just like home, the only difference being that Bottled Water was figured prominently on the menu.

After supper we set out to do our Christmas shopping in the Bazaar. It was about the size of the St Lawrence market and was filled with stalls. People were selling everything from silk, to T-shirts, to wood carvings, to Hill tribe jewels and embroidery. The place was packed with people, but Lisa assured us that this had been a bad year, so that the stall-holders would be eager to bargain. We first wandered around checking out the merchandise. Having had a full view of everything there was to see we started purchasing in earnest. We had liked some silk shirts for Betsey and Mimi. Lisa offered the stall holder a quarter of the asking price; they settled on a half. The same went on at the other shops - T-shirts, with little lizards climbing on them for Luke and Duncan; a wood puzzle for Grandpa, Thai T-shirts for Todd and Alan, small charm bracelets for Johanna and Greta. We also did alright by Kathrine and Lisa. Kathrine bought some stuffed cotton, bean-bag lizards for her friends back at UBC. After a couple of hours at the Bazaar we were tired out; it still feels as if we have been up all night. Another tuk-tuk soon deposits us back at the hotel and we thankfully clamber in to bed. The night, for Martin and Nancy, is a bit disturbed by the coughing of our neighbor. This night we do not have Lisa's radio and our tapes to lull us to sleep, so it is a long, rather wakeful night. We wonder if we will ever get onto Thai time.



Friday, Dec. 31: Chiang Mai.

We wake early. We still have no problem of waking before dawn and read for a while until it is a civilized hour and we can get up. Around 8.00 a.m., Lisa and Kathrine come over from their hotel and we set off on the search for breakfast. Our walk does not take long. Lisa has a definite destination in mind: the English bakery. It turns out that Lisa has brought along her Brie cheese and is going to get English bread and eat it with French cheese! I persuade Lisa to make a small investment so she gave a large wedge of Brie to the Irish owner of the bakery. While at the bakery, a couple of Lisa's Peace Corps cronies come in for breakfast They are in Chiang Mai for the New Year's Eve Peace Corps party. Lisa will miss that as she'll be on the train to Bangkok. After breakfast we set off to explore the town. First we are in narrow little streets with storefronts spilling over on to the sidewalks. All have a profusion of goods, everything in on sale. We pass stores with motor scooters, next to stores carrying odorous Chinese medicines, next to stores busting with a dozen different kinds of rice, these were next to workshops carrying out repairs to a myriad of different kinds of greasy machine, the odour of engine oil overrode all the pleasant spicy smells that we had experienced earlier, these in turn were followed by Pharmacies carrying the latest western soaps, deodorants, and patent medicines.

Over breakfast we had decided that we would all visit several Wats. Our walk then took us through some grand residential area in the center of town. Outside one house we saw the lady of the house loading three tiny little dogs into a Mercedes. We then passed the police station and city hall with the statue (modern) of the three queens (some myth from Thai past that I once knew, but now cannot remember). We were interested in the first Wat, which in fact was two Wats side by side. The first and larger had a large wiham and an enormous prang. The prang was surrounded with wonderful elephant carvings, some of which were being restored with coarse modern versions. The main temple was tall, ornate, with an interior covered in gold leaf. The second was more restrained. The wiham was a wooden teak building, but next to it was a huge stone chedi. Outside the Wats, pedlars were selling small caged birds: the idea was that if you bought a bird and released it, you would gain great merit in the eye of Buddha. Pedlars and tuk-tuk drivers kept on bugging the few visitors that were there: Martin eventually got annoyed with an overly persistent bird pedlar and suggested she earn a lot of merit by releasing her own birds. Fortunately his English was too rapid for her understanding.

By mid morning it was getting warm and we walked a mile to the next Wat, stopping on the way to stock up with bottled water and post cards. Here Kathrine announced that she had seen enough over decorated Wats; she was also tired of lacing and unlacing her boots so she could go into the buildings. It turned out that she and Lisa had concocted an alternate plan on the walk to this second Wat: that they would go off to have their hair washed while Nancy and Martin, if they insisted, could visit another Wat or two. So it was agreed. This second Wat, we do not remember much as they all began to look the same -- though the guide book says that this had a famous Buddha, but I cannot recall it. We then left Kathrine and Lisa to the tender mercies of the hair dresser and walked over to the next Wat. The street was hot and dusty, there was now a fair bit of traffic to be negotiated; we were getting frazzled. This increased when the Wat did not seem to be at the point marked on the map; it turned out we had to walk all around the block to get to the entrance. The trip was worth it. The wiham held two small, exquisite images of Buddha. One was a cream marble bas relief, the other carved from crystal. Like all famous Buddha images they had had adventurous times travelling between China, Burma, and Thailand before ending up here. We were now hot and tired; a rest and a coke were called for. We found a neat and clean Japanese restaurant, open to the street, and settled there for a few minutes rest while we discussed the next thing to do: we had about an hour before we had to meet Lisa and Kathrine. The National Museum sounded interesting. We hailed a songthaew and, after some mild bargaining, got him to take us to the Museum. This, it turned out was outside the town proper, and even outside the ring road. Initially we went through a busy commercial district. The shops looked much more authentic -- i.e., selling things people might need like hardware and washing machines rather than those in the more touristy center town. Then we got on the ring road -- we felt a little fragile even in the songthaew as big cars and trucks roared by, especially as lanes kept changing due to extensive construction work. After ten minutes or so, we reached the museum, an elegant, white stucco building set in a green park, quite a change from the dusty, torn up road outside. Unfortunately, it was closed for the month -- though in the grounds, we did see one or two bronze Buddha images and several pottery kilns. Back to town center, this time we passed the modern center of Chiang Mai -- Orchid square with its big modern hotel, and a host of American fast food restaurants. We were glad to pass it by; though later Lisa told us it was the place she went to see an English movie occasionally.

We found Kathrine and Lisa sitting, as arranged in the Square of the Three Queens. Their hair was clean and glossy, with Kathrine's plaited into a gorgeous thick braid. The hair wash had included a head and neck massage. Lisa and Kathrine both told of the awe that the women in the hair saloon had had over these two blond heads. They were less kind about Kathrine's freckles: "Will her skin ever get better," they asked?

We then had lunch at the same open air restaurant where we had had our cokes the first day. Kathrine had the smallest hamburger ever seen -- about the size of a sand dollar, and as thin! We then went back to the hotel for an hour's rest, which Kathrine extended into an afternoon. Nancy, Lisa, and Martin then took off on another shopping expedition. This time to the local market -- as opposed to the night bazaar which is inhabited by foreigners. The market was a three story building packed with stalls. Those on the ground floor were packed with food stalls, fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. Those upstairs had clothing, shoes, and fabrics. It was the latter that Nancy was after. She was looking for some silk and some cotton batik. We did not find much in the market proper, but outside in a dusty store, Nancy found a gorgeous blue silk jacket. We walked back from the market to the hotel. We went into several more silk stores but most were of great elegance, with prices to match. Almost at the corner of the street the hotel was on we came across a silk store, where the prices were more reasonable: There was a beautiful black jacket hanging outside; and even more elegant things inside. It was approaching 3.45 and we had to check out of the hotel at 4.00. Martin did not want to stop, but Nancy thought the black jacket would suit Kathrine and she was sure that Lisa might find something interesting. Martin grumpily went back to the hotel to get Kathrine. Meanwhile Nancy took Lisa's arm and twisted and twisted it until she agreed to get a skirt. Back at the Hotel, Kathrine took some persuading to come out again, then followed the delay while she laced up her boots, we went back to the store. She very much liked the black jacket, and soon Lisa was busy negotiating again for her skirt and Kathrine's jacket. All this time Martin is jiggling from one foot to the other, saying hurry up, we have to get to the hotel to check out. Of course it didn't matter at all. Once we had checked out, we sat in the courtyard for a while drinking cokes until it was time to take off to the train station (for Lisa), and on to the airport (for the rest). Lisa went off up to the main road to get a tuk-tuk to take us to the train station. It took her an age -- Martin is getting agitated again, where is she. We load up and take off for the station through the Chiang Mai rush hour; Nancy's hat barely stays on as the tuk-tuk roars through the town. As we come to one traffic light, we see two women on a moped. The one riding pillion is carrying a tray of beautifully iced cakes. We watch fascinated, wondering if the moped swerves, will she lose the cakes. She doesn't.

Once we get to the railway station, Lisa checks that her train is on time. She then goes off to the songthaew stand to negotiate a songthaew to take us to the airport. She soon comes back and the songthaew drives over. When he sees us, he says "Fifty baht." No says Lisa, we agreed on forty-five. The deal falls through. Lisa refuses to bargain in bad faith. There is a wait while we wait for a songthaew to come whose driver hasn't been corrupted by contact with the previous driver. Eventually we say good bye to Lisa and take off for the airport. There we have a long wait as the plane is delayed. No problem with Nancy's hat, we just stick it in the overhead compartment. Finally we get back to Bangkok after dinner on the plane. This time, there is no confusion about the hotel and we are soon back in one room at the Airport Comfort.

Our first task, before going to bed is for each of us to wash out our underwear; Lisa's washerwoman had got us set up with clean outer-wear, but the undergarments were our own responsibility. By the time we had finished showering and washing, the bathroom was festooned with dripping clothes. What with the air conditioning, they did not dry in three days! We had to take them damp to Ko Lanta!





New Year's Day (Saturday), Jan 1: Bangkok.

Today was the first of 1994. What a surprise (but not for the attentive reader) our underwear was still wet. Although we did not know it we were to be spared the delights of Bangkok traffic. The following day's paper had a view of the main boulevard only half filled with traffic. Usually there was four times as much. Lisa joined us from the train station at about 6.30 a.m., she had had an uneventful trip on the train from Chiang Mai. We had a leisurely hotel breakfast. Kathrine and Lisa and Martin all on the western side of the buffet. Nancy being a bit more adventurous with a Thai omelette: egg and shrimp and bamboo shoots. We then took a cab into the centre of Bangkok for our day of sightseeing. We had phoned for it and Lisa did the negotiation. However, once we were out on the feeder road for the highway, the cabby reneged on the deal and tried to add 50 baht to the fare. Lisa expostulated, the driver was adamant. She told the driver to stop and we got out of the cab. I suspect that Nancy and I would have paid the extra couple of dollars, but Lisa has principles. Fortunately another cab was along soon. Negotiations were concluded satisfactorily and we were on our way.

The way onto Bangkok was lined with new office construction, shopping malls until we got to the older part of the city. We then passed through mile after mile of small Thai shops: small ground floor rooms that opened out onto the sidewalk. In the centre city these reverted back to giant skyscraper offices and apartments and hotels. We crossed the river a couple of times on our way into town. Traffic, despite the holiday, seemed quite busy.

The cab dropped us at the major sight of Bangkok: the Royal Palace and Wat Pra Keo. This was where Martin and Nancy were to sightsee, Lisa and Kathrine were off to the record market where they could enjoy Bangkok in their own way. Crowds were pouring into the Palace. Martin and Nancy joined one line that seemed to be going in the right direction. We soon found out our mistake. It turned out to be the line for the New Year's Day levée, complete with diplomats in silk suits, and officers in white uniforms and golden scabbarded swords. We soon found out our mistake and joined the line of hoi poloi for the Palace and Wat. There were enormous crowds trying to get in one tiny opening; an opening that was also being used by earlier visitors to leave. It did not take us too long, but was very inefficient. The Palace and Wat were magnificent. Every surface covered with mosaic tiles. Every wall covered with paintings. Every roof and dome covered with gold leaf -- except for what appeared to be a model of the whole complex which was left in the original sandstone. It looked for all the word like a giant sandcastle. In the wiham was the famous, according to our guide book, peripatetic Green Buddha. Just a foot or so high. Today, being a feast day it was swathed in yellow silk so we did not get to see all the intricacies of its carving. Many Thais had come to the Wat to make merit and were leaving flowers at the altar or lighting candles to the Buddha.

After a couple of hours at the Palace and Wat, it was time to meet Kathrine and Lisa. Getting out was easier, a second door had been opened. We had arranged to meet them at a row of stores that were across the road from the Palace. To Martin, they seemed the grubbiest stores and restaurants that he had seen in Thailand; Nancy thought they were about average, so perhaps Martin was reacting to the magnificence and sumptuousness of the palace across the road; but he did think that they should have put the higher class shops near the Palace!

After a short wait, Kathrine and Lisa turned up. Each had had a successful tape expedition. No doubt pirated copies of western hit bands. We decided to walk down to the river to see if we could get a boat up river to the boathouse where the Royal Barge was kept. Our route took us through an open-air market with stalls selling meat, fish and vegetables of every variety. When we got to the quay, we found that the boathouse was closed for New Year's Day. However there was an opportunity to go for a tour of the larger klongs (canals). This we did. Martin almost balked at the last minute when he saw how big the drop was from quay to boat gunwale and from gunwale to thwart; still even he made it. It was about this time that Kathrine observed that she wasn't going to come on a holiday with the parents again! The boat trip took us in a wide circle through a series of canals that struck out from the west side of the river. Anil Verma had warned Martin that the water was black, very, very dirty, and that the water lapped the gunwales of the boat. The latter was true, but the water in the river and the klongs we travelled was just a muddy grey, nothing like the beak picture Anil had painted. Most of the time we passed residential neighbourhoods. They ranged from the opulent to the poverty stricken; usually cheek by jowl. On the one hand we say a lot of rickety bamboo houses with the wash hanging out over the river, and the people washing themselves in the river. Occasionally we passed an ornate Wat. More frequently was passed a beautiful mansion with gates and railings cutting it off from easy access to the canal. In one place we say an old woman paddling herself along in a flat bottomed boat. At another we saw a large number of barges lined up for loading with cement. We were the only passengers in the boat, so the expedition was spiced with thoughts of farangs disappearing in the back canals of Bangkok. For us nothing untoward happened, though by the time we regained the main river the wind had come up so that the last section of our voyage was a little choppier and damper.

When we got back to the welcoming dry land, it was still a little early for lunch, so we all get a pop and then walked along the shore to Wat Pho, the home of the reclining Buddha. Again, our path took us through the market and we enjoyed the variety of foods laid out. After a twenty minute walk we reached the temple. The reclining Buddha was the length of a cricket pitch, one of the largest in the world. It was covered in gold leaf, all except for the feet which were covered with small pictures of a sitting Buddha. The temple was filled with the sound of tinkling: along the whole length of the route past the Buddha were small brass bowls. Into each bowl the Thai pilgrims were dropping their small change; the noise was supposed to symbolize the sound of wedding bells. If you made lots of merit you could expect to have a good marriage. We followed suit. The rest of the Wat had the usual ornate decoration; and something less usual: a massage school where the monks trained their novices in the art of Thai massage. Lisa tried to persuade Kathrine to have a massage. There were also some interesting, rather odd sculptures of goats, dogs, and lions scattered around the courtyard.

By now we were hungry, hot and tired so we decided to take a cab to the place we intended to have lunch: the one Mexican restaurant in Bangkok. Lisa had been looking forward to this ever since meeting us in Chiang Mai. It felt wonderful to sit in air conditioned comfort as we whizzed through the streets of Bangkok. We had a good view of some of the new hotels and apartment buildings along the river. We were the only people in the restaurant. The burritos and fritos were good. We all enjoyed the lunch.

After lunch we took a tuk-tuk for the short trip to the Jim Thompson house. Thompson was an American who had served in South East Asia during World War II. He is credited with having revitalized the Thai silk industry in the 1950's. As his house he reconstructed a number of old teak Thai houses. His house was a wonderful cool (and green) oasis from the dust and bustle, even on New Year's day we found it a bustle, of Bangkok. Why, wondered Martin wasn't the rest of town like this instead of theses anonymous grey office towers? The tour guides wore very fetching green silk outfits with boxy jackets and pencil slim skirts. The house was filled with China, tapestries, and art work. Martin's bizarre favourite was the glass fronted mouse house; he was sure that somewhere in his childhood he had seen one before. We were greatly impressed with the old panelling that enriched every room. After going through the house, we sat in the garden for half an hour while discussing what to do next. As Lisa was on the look out for a notebook computer we decided to go to the shopping area of Siam Square to see whether or not any of the shops there had computers. It turned out to be full of low tech stores in a high tech mall. McDonald's, where we had a pop, and Swensen's anchored the ground floor. You could by every exotic piece of clothing, leather work, but nothing electronic. We were a little disappointed not to be able to price PC's for Lisa. It was getting toward 5.00 p.m., late for us, so we decided that we should have dinner and then call it a day - hard to believe that Kathrine is going home tomorrow. Lisa knew that there were good restaurants on Surawong Road, and the call was to have something Italian, this seems to be a theme of this part of the trip. We took a cab and fairly soon after we turned into Surawong Road, Martin spotted an Italian restaurant. Lisa though it a little up market, but we went for it anyway! The waiters were all over 6' tall. Lisa whispered that the owners must have scoured the country to get so many tall waiters. The food was magnificent: giant garlicky shrimps for Martin, spaghetti for Kathrine, scallops for Nancy, and Lasagna for Lisa. Nancy and Martin had the first Gin and Tonics of the trip (at least since the airplane). After dinner we wandered the nearby shops for a little while. We saw the first up market Thai souvenir boutique; it was full of arts and crafts straight out of the "King and I." Statues of Thai dancing girls, of horses and of elongated Buddhas. We took a cab back to the Hotel. What a surprise to find that our underwear was still wet.



Sunday, Jan. 2:

We were up early. We had to pack. Today Kathrine was off back to Vancouver, via San Francisco (but with no stopover at Seattle. We found out later that she had another close search at US customs, complete with drug sniffing dogs). The rest of us had decided to go to Ayuthaya which was the second Thai capital. Nancy and Martin took Kathrine off very early to the airport. We saw her check her luggage and into the departure lounge. We then waited at the airport for an hour and a half to make sure that her flight took off safely. We did not want her stranded at the Bangkok airport by herself if there was some hitch with the flight. Then we went back to the hotel to pick up Lisa; the Hotel staff were a bit bemused as we had booked the room for three but there were four of us. Lisa heard them saying, three of them left, but there is still one there! After picking up Lisa, the three elder Evans left our main baggage (with the wet underwear wrapped in a plastic bag in my parachute bag) at the Hotel, we also persuaded them to take care of Nancy's hat, and just took overnight bags with us to Ayuthaya. The first step on the journey to Ayuthaya was to retrace our steps to the airport (by taxi) and then go to the railway station. This was a dramatic switch from the clean sterile first world airport to the dusty run down third world railway station. This was symbolized by the fact that there was an air-con bridge to a hotel while railway passengers had to walk on a parallel bridge outside. We got third class tickets to Ayuthaya -- that's what there was. While waiting at the station, a train came in going in to the main Bangkok station -- it was like the movies, dozens of people riding the roof, hanging out of the train doors, and running alongside to get on the tain as it started up again. Nancy bought kenones (snacks) for the trip at the station store. Martin, walking behind the store en route to the toilet, found living quarters for a large family behind the counter of the store. Martin now worrying that he will have to stand hanging out of the train as we go to Ayuthaya. Well, the train was crowded. But we only had to stand well inside the car and well away from the door. After a couple of stops, and the train stopped at every halt, we managed to get seats. Initially the trip took us through industrial neighbourhoods, but we were soon out in the country with the line surrounded by rice paddies on all sides. We saw people bathing in the klongs and fishponds, Martin even saw a little boy and a water buffalo sharing a muddy water hole. The stations ranged from modern concrete constructions to small bamboo and palm shacks. Often such a station was out in the middle of nowhere with only a dusty path stretching off into the distance on both sides of the tracks. Occasionally we say people riding up on their mopeds to catch the train. We knew that it was about an hour's ride to Ayuthaya, so after about of an hour Martin is getting anxious, will we recognize it when we see it? Will we be able to get off in time, the aisles are jammed with people? After an hour and a quarter we still haven't got there, suddenly we see a flash of river and a ruined Wat standing near it. We are there. We push ourselves to the entrance and get off the train in good time. We have selected a cheap hotel from the guide book, so Lisa negotiates with a tuk-tuk for the fare. She is having some difficulty. They want to charge more than the trip is worth. They know that we are just tourists. Martin and Nancy stand around disconsolately, privately Martin wishes she would just settle even if it does cost 50 more than it should. Martin's expectation from the map of Ayuthaya is that all the ruins will be scattered around some enormous park. It turns out that they are scattered around a dusty provincial town. Our tuk-tuk ride to the hotel is scary. There is a new bridge, whose approaches are under construction. Our road from the station has a high speed merge with trucks and cars, we feel very fragile in the little tuk-tuk. We get a couple of rooms at the hotel. This time we have private bathrooms; well semi private, it turns out that we share them with some persistent bugs; Martin tries hosing them away with the toilet hose, to no avail. We dump our overnight things at the hotel and then go out to find some lunch. There is a little market outside the hotel, but the old fogey Evans are a bit fussy and do not like the look of the stalls. So we walk, and we walk, and we walk. The distances on the ground are much longer than they appear on the map. We first come to a business district, banks and stores but no where to eat. Things then get a bit commercial as we walk alongside the river, we have a post-lunch objective, the local museum. Eventually, very hot and tired, we come upon a restaurant. It has tin chairs and tables, and the thinnest cats you ever saw, but has a nice view over the river. Nice, or not so nice, depending on your perspective were the Tiger Beer ads featuring bare breasted Thai women. We quickly polished off a couple of large bottles of water and then settled down to order lunch. We had a couple of delicious Thai dishes. Nancy who had bought some Tamarinds was busy sharing them out for desert. The restaurant was right across the road from the museum. This had been the residence of the local governor, usually a royal prince. Like all old Thai buildings, the air currents were so arranged that it was quite cool inside. After our long walk in the morning, we decided to take a tuk-tuk to one of the more attractive Wats which was a little distance out of town. Lisa did the negotiating honours, and when we got to the Wat was amenable to the drivers suggestion that we could hire him for most of the afternoon and he would wait for us to visit this one, take us to a second Wat that was further out of town, and then return us to Ayuthaya. This we readily agreed. The first Wat was magnificent. It was in the parkland that Martin had expected to find for the whole complex. Dominating the Wat was an enormous chedi. We could climb half way up. Lisa, of course, threatened to continue up a flimsy aluminium ladder to the very top, but that was reserved for the workers who had draped the whole chedi in yellow silk in celebration of western new years. The Wat was maintained by a group of Buddhist monks but was also home to a group of nuns. We saw a few in their white robes and with shaven heads; initially we thought they were novice male monks. The grounds were beautifully watered and tended. It was a wonderfully relaxing place. After an hour there we went off in the tuk-tuk to the second Wat. What a contrast. Surrounding the Wat was a market, antique stalls, fish, meat, and fruit was all for sale. There were crowds of people, the ground was littered. The temple contained one of the largest Buddhas that we saw on our travels, again covered in gold leaf. Despite the crowds and generally grubbiness surrounding the Wat, Martin was very impressed with the cleanliness of the Thai style toilet!

When we came out of the toilets we found that Lisa and the son(16) of the tuk-tuk driver were sharing a couple of ice cream cones. Nancy made a beeline for an antique stall, but found little of interest.

After returning to the town, we wandered through the two Wats that were closest to our hotel. As we entered, Lisa almost adopted, was adopted by a tiny, almost hairless dog. The Wats were red brick, quite badly ruined, but retained a decaying majesty. We enjoyed the water buffalos that were grazing among the ruins. There were some wonderful ruined Buddha heads just lying around. After the sun started going down, we headed for the Hotel We needed showers and a nap, and then dinner. As we went, remembering our difficulty in finding a lunch place we kept our eyes open for somewhere to eat. The first promising place, just across the road from the Wat turned out to be unsuitable: Lisa, after examining the pictures and notices in the window, announced that the restaurant/pool hall was just the front for a brothel. After a couple of blocks we found a couple of suitable places, so hastened back to the Hotel. Well, cold water never felt so good! After a short rest we had dinner in a courtyard restaurant about a block away. Again the food was good, the restaurant full of farangs, mainly German. The restaurant had cats, dogs, and chickens all competing for the scraps that fell to the floor. Actually one had to be a bit careful, occasionally a chicken would flutter up to the rafters. We stayed up a bit later than usual and slept well.



Monday, Jan. 3: Ayuthaya and Bangkok.

We were up early. As it was so convenient, we decided to have breakfast at the restaurant where we ate the previous evening. We all had farang food: french toast, corn flakes, regular toast, and, wonder of wonders, Marmalade. Once again, we were harassed by the marauding chickens. The small waitress of the night before turned out this morning in a crisp school uniform, white blouse and dark blue skirt. After her breakfast, she hopped on the back of her father's moped and was whisked off to school. We had time for one more ruin before having to get the train back to Bangkok. We walked down to the Wat Phra Si Phanet and the old palace of the kings. Again in ruins, but the notices boasted that the palace had a large accounting department! Much of the palace remains were walls just half a dozen courses high. The walls and chedis of the Wat were rather better preserved. The palace lay in water meadows that ran down to the river encircling Ayuthaya.

It was now time to return to the station. We deputized Lisa to negotiate with a tuk-tuk. It took a while before one came along. Lisa could not come to terms: they wanted 15 baht instead of six baht. The tuk-tuk tuk-tukked off. Pretty soon another one came along. This time negotiations went smoothly and we were on our way -- again much terror as we went over the bridge to the railway station. Again the train was crowded, but the trip passed without incident. We got off the train at the airport station and temporarily left the third world by crossing the bridge back into the air-conditioned airport. It was now about 11.00 a.m., we decided to stay in the air-con comfort for a while, then collect our belongings from the hotel, go into the main railway station in Bangkok, leave our luggage, and, after lunch, check out computers for Lisa. Lisa was quite exasperated with us in the airport, we spent a little while looking at the Malaysia guidebook, even sneaked a look at the Lonely Planet guide at the book-store. Nancy and Martin arguing about whether to go to Kuala Lumpur or Penang, the merits of the indigenous government versus colonial remains were hotly debated. "How can you spend an hour on deciding whether or not to stay a day in KL!!!"

The rest of the day panned out pretty much as expected. After getting out of the cab, it was a bit of a chore trying to wend our chain of parachute bags through the crowds to the left luggage office; and we had a little difficulty convincing them to take care of Nancy's hat. We just did not want to lug that around Bangkok.

It was our intention to buy rail tickets for the trip through Malaya down to Singapore. When we tried to buy tickets from Drang to Penang, we were unable to do so; and this after a half hour wait on uncomfortable benches. Though the wait would have been much more unpleasant if the ticket office had been, like the rest of the station, un-air-conditioned. It turned out that we had a much more varied and interesting trip than if we had been able to get tickets. But, of course, we did not know that then and Martin fretted a bit about how things would work out. "Keep a cool head," said Lisa.

We then had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant just round the corner from the railway station: Martin stuck to a vegetarian dish, but Nancy had some very funny fake chicken. After lunch, we took a tuk-tuk to an area where we were told computer firms could be found. Indeed many of the shop fronts had computer in their title, but it turned out that they did computer training, not sell computers! The most interesting was a daycare centre that offered computer instruction to toddlers. We never did find a store that actually sold computers; many places were closed for the extended New Year's holiday. The cab back to the railway station took us past the snake farm, where snakes are reared so that they can be milked for their venom which is made into antidote, not that we could see any; and, at the very end, to our unmitigated delight, we passed an Elephant sweeping the road outside the station.

We had an hour to wait before the train was due to leave. Our first trip to the station had been too brief to leave any impression. Now we looked around, the place was the third world epitomized: thousands of people sitting, lying, standing around. It was a veritable tower of Babel: Germans, Americans, Indians, Thais, Chinese, even a couple of Africans were patiently waiting for their trains. Even the passengers on the famed oriental Orient Express would have to step round beggars, stepping over anyone is a big no-no in Thailand, to get to the sleek train. We tried to get a view of the train but couldn't. Nancy loved the Victorian tiles that covered the floor of the main concourse. Martin took a photograph of a little old steam engine which was exhibited just outside the station. We stocked up on water, on toilet paper, and Nancy bought more Keones both for our trip and to give Lisa's friend Karen in Ko Lanta. This was to be our next long stopover. We had a sleeper on the train, but when we got on, it was set up as a day car. We had second class reserved seats in a non-air-conditioned carriage. When we got on it was fairly warm, but after the sun set it cooled down nicely. We left at about 5.00 p.m. and would get to Drang, the town closest to Ko Lanta by 8.00 a.m. the next morning. Going out of Bangkok, we crossed a number of klongs. It was here that we saw the black water that Anil had told us about. We also passed a giant lumber yard with great teak logs, but no elephants doing the work. We had hoped that there would be a sit-down dining car on the train, but it turned out that there wasn't. Nancy and Lisa bought supper (rice and chicken) from a train vendor. Martin was luckier, he had just decided to wait when we stopped in a large station and a swarm of vendors came aboard. Their rice and chicken was more appetizing than the train version!

Soon after dinner, the sleeping car attendant came by and with a couple of flicks of his wrist turned our comfortable seats into comfortable curtained bunks, complete with sheets and blankets. At one end of the bunk was a small electric light and a small fan and a small shelf; at the other end there was a larger shelf. That is where Nancy parked her hat. I think all of us experienced difficulty at the toilet. It was Thai style with very narrow foot rests eighteen inches off the ground. It was difficult to concentrate and keep your balance poised up there as the train swayed around curves at sixty miles an hour! Before we turned in, we stacked our our bags on top of each other and locked them to the floor racks in the corridor between the bunks.

We slept well on the train and awoke to clouds and odd shaped mountains rising vertically from the plain in southern Thailand.

Tuesday, Jan 4: Train, Drang, & Ko Lanta

There had been some rain earlier in the day, so everything looked scrubbed clean. The guidebook also told us that Drang was the cleanest town in Thailand. I am not sure that we would have noticed if we had not been told; Nancy disagrees, she thinks we would. The train passed by the endless, inevitable rice paddies and the serried ranks of rubber trees. Southern Thailand and all of Malaysia is covered with rubber trees. Many families have small plantations where they tap their trees, let the rubber harden into flat mats which they dry on racks outside the back door. The rubber is then sold to local merchants who sell it to the international companies. At Drang we leave the train. Lisa negotiates with the porter and we get to leave the bulky luggage in the station master's office cum signal box; this time Nancy wears her hat. The signal box is full of those old fashioned switching levers that you see in old movies. Our first job was to plan the next stage of our trip. We could not get a train to Penang. We could not get a bus to Penang, but we could get to Hat Yai and people thought we could get to Penang from there. I think that this was the most frustrating ten minutes for Martin. Here was Lisa doing the negotiation, and we did not understand what was going on. Martin wanted some certainty for the next stage. We had breakfast, rice and tea, at a little store. We then went shopping for snorkel equipment and fruit to take to Karen. We are very loaded down with stuff already, Martin is grumpy as Nancy goes from stall to stall, he is worrying about how we are going to carry all this stuff; getting a large cake seemed, to him, to be the last straw. We have a bit of difficulty getting the snorkel gear, Martin gets even more grumpy as he sees how bulky it is. Of course, in the end, it is all easily stowed. Then it is back to the station to pick up our luggage, followed by a tuk-tuk which takes us to the stand where share taxis are available to take us to the ferry for Ko Lanta. The ferry is at a Ban Baw Muang, a town about 60 km from Drang. Lisa negotiates a good price for us.

We are a little apprehensive as we have heard stories about the wild taxi drivers in Thailand and their penchant for taking blind curves on the wrong side of the road; did we tell you that Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore all drive British style. Our taxi driver was quite circumspect and we soon relaxed. Our journey took us through mile after mile of rubber plantation. The latter part of the trip, close to the shore led us past rice paddies that had been turned over to shrimp culture. Lisa told us that the use of aeration, every pond had rows of propellers beating up the water, pesticides, and fertiliser destroyed the area within a few years; pity, Martin did so enjoy jumbo shrimp!

We had about an hour's wait for the ferry. The view was absolutely gorgeous: white sand, blue water, and green islands in the distance. There did not seem to be much at Ban Baw Muang, just a pier, a couple of rows of houses and shops and a small restaurant just off the beach. The pier was new and of concrete, but lying in its lee were two old, long wooden boats, each with wooden seats arranged like a bus. We stowed our luggage then went looking for a place to eat. Lisa tried on flip-flops at a store. We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the sea. We had a wonderful shrimp dish. The restaurant had a glass case full of dusty whisky bottles. There was a myna bird singing in a cage, every time it saw us it screamed "Farang!" Leaving for the ferry, Nancy almost left her hat on the floor of the restaurant, she had to run back and get it. The ferry ride to Ko Lanta was wonderful. We passed between islands whose sheer cliffs grew straight out of the water. The contrast between the blue, blue water, the grey cliffs, and the green trees was stunning.

We were in for a big disappointment when we arrived at the amphur (district capital) of Ko Lanta. There was no sign of Lisa's friend Karen. Martin's anxiety level shoots through the roof! We lugged our luggage down a long, new concrete pier and set in the shade of a tree. Nancy and Martin sit disconsolately on the luggage while Lisa walks around the little town to see if she can find Karen. She is back in fifteen minutes, no luck. We decide to take ourselves and our kit down to a little cafe that we see, so we can have our afternoon cokes. Lisa asks about her friend. The people in the cafe tell her that someone in a house a little way long the shore may know where she is. Lisa goes off. Nancy and Martin sip coke and take in the comings and goings of the little town. A Moslem family wade out to a long-tailed boat(17) anchored just below where we are sitting. People walk by with their market stalls pulled behind them. Mopeds whir up and down the street. Most ridden by Thais, but a couple with ubiquitous Germans aboard. Lisa returns -- again no sign of Karen.

Martin is now really getting worried: we'll be sleeping on the beach. Nancy points out that that might not be so bad. Martin calms down a little. Lisa says, Jai yen yen" (keep a cool head). After an hour and a half, another ferry arrives from the mainland. Off the ferry gets Karen. Apparently she had been ten minutes behind us at Drang, and had only just missed the ferry we were on. She had spent a couple of days with her new Thai boyfriend. Karen looked around for the park boat. There was no boat, but, under our tree were a couple of park workers who also had to get back. Karen is furious. She complained that the lazy boat captain was always doing this; you just cannot rely on him He was also being a bit stroppy while the Huana was away. He seemed to think that if there were a few waves it was OK not to leave the shelter of the park.

Karen goes off to see if she can negotiate for a boat to take us to the park. She succeeds beyond our wildest expectations. A wizened old sea gypsy takes us in his longtailed boat. Again we have a wonderful voyage. We keep close to the coast, past a couple of Sea Gypsy villages -- all rickety bamboo and palm frond houses. It is quite breezy but the sea is not too choppy close to the shore. Nancy has to keep a firm hand on her hat. After half an hour we come round a point and see, on the other side of the bay a tall white lighthouse. We have arrived at the park. It is gloriously green. There is a bamboo pier running fifty yards out in the water; our boatman ignores that and runs the boat aground. We manage to get most of us, and our luggage off the boat without getting it too wet.

The park, unlike Lisa's, has no tourist accommodation. Tourists have to camp. However it does have a dozen brand new stucco cottages for the senior staff, and an equal number of bamboo huts for the remaining staff. Karen lives in one of the new stucco houses. It is half way up a hill. From her verandah, she has a wonderful view through the trees of the bay and the lighthouse and some islands on the distant horizon. It is my dream of a south sea paradise come true. Paul Gaugin here I come.

The houses are absolutely brand new. The proper connections for electricity have not yet been made and the trees between the houses and the main office, where the generator is, are festooned with electric wiring. It's very difficult not to succumb to the temptation of hanging on to them to pull yourself up when you hit a steep bit of the hill. Each bungalow is also connected to each of the others by a bright light blue plastic pipe. These all connect eventually to the fresh water supply. The insides of the buildings also have festoons of electric wire as the connections have not been made properly yet. Still, we do get electricity at the end of the day for a couple of hours.

After unpacking we all take a swim. Great sand, thousands of tiny crabs run up and down the beach, warm water and warm tropical breezes. We have no towels, Karen has no extras, so she lends us a couple of cotton passant -- the common garment for both men and women in this part of Thailand. Karen's house has two main rooms: one her bedroom where she and Lisa will sleep and a living room where we sleep under a large, square, white tent (mosquito net). Off the living room is the toilet and washing area. There we wash off the salt from our swim and wash the clothes we have dirtied over the past few days: this and the damp wash from Bangkok are soon laid out on the verandah where they dry within hours. We were delighted to be able to hang Nancy's hat up for the next three days.

Over supper we discuss the plans for the next couple of days. Karen wants to take us out to one of the islands in the park so we can go snorkelling. The problem is that the Huana is away, and she is having difficulty persuading the Boat Captain to take us out there. As he is the same person who failed to pick us up this afternoon, the prospects look dim. We decide to hike tomorrow and snorkel the next day, if we can. I do not remember what we ate that evening. I do remember the ginkos running up and down the walls and over the ceiling. I do remember our astonishment when we found a stick insect perched on the side of the mosquito net. I do remember that the electric generator was turned on at seven for a few hours -- to charge the radio batteries. But we are still asleep by nine!



Wednesday, Jan 5: Ko Lanta.

We waken to the glorious smell of french toast. Karen is busy cooking in a corner of the room. She has a large red single burner propane stove running. On top of the stove is a large stainless steel wok. In the wok, french toast is turning a golden brown. Mmmmm! We had never thought you could cook French Toast in a wok. Karen says, "There is nothing you can't cook in a wok." Today we plan to go for a long hike through the park. Karen has to check out the trail up to the small resort up the coast. She also needs to book a boat so we can go out to the distant island for snorkelling on a coral reef. As we are putting on our shoes outside the house, Martin notices a thick wavy black line running up the side of the house. Closer inspection shows that it is a mass of ants climbing the wall from ground to roof -- just a constant stream of black ants. Lisa decides she will demonstrate the efficacy of "Cutter." She takes a stick and draws a circle around an outlying ant. The poor thing is disoriented; it is in a circle from which it can't escape. Lisa then decides on a tougher test. She plunges the ""Cutter" stick into the heart of the stream of ants and draws a quick solid line across their tracks. The results are dramatic. The ants stop in their tracks. The ants coming down from the ceiling start to retrace their steps, a few explore the possibilities horizontal to the ground; the ants clambering up from the ground do likewise. We leave the ants in a muddle and, with a a bottle of water each in our knapsacks, set off on our hike. The initial stages are hard going, a steep slope up from the beach area through heavily wooded slopes. After about fifteen minutes, Martin has to call a halt to regain his breath. Fortunately, that was the toughest part of the walk. The next hour took us up and down gentle wooded ground high above the sea. We often got fantastic glimpses of the sea, distant islands, and passing boats as we walked along. At this time of day, most of the walking was in the shade. After a while, we came to a steeper descent and came down to an enormous sandy beach. Everything was beautiful, except for the very highest water mark where the detritus of the Adaman Sea had washed up: plastic nets, styrofoam floats, old bottles and cans. Karen thought that would make a good project for a mainland school trip -- to camp out for a night and clear up the garbage. The beach is absolutely deserted. After walking for half a mile along hot sand, we go back into the jungle and climb over a small ridge. The path then leads through a small sea gypsy village and on to the "Waterfall Cottages," which is our destination. We are hot, walking the exposed beach as dehydrated us, our water is almost gone. Fortunately we have reached civilization: a pleasant restaurant. We sit on the bamboo verandah at the edge of the beach and start with water for four, followed by cold cokes. While we are drinking, Karen is negotiating with the owner of the cottages for a boat to take us out to one of the Park's islands, where there is a field station and some good coral. She cannot get anyone to take that trip, but there is the possibility of getting a boat to a closer island where we can also snorkel on a coral reef. After some discussion between the four of us, we decide to take this certainty, rather than cast our lot in with the unreliable boat captain at the Park who has let Karen down on several occasions.

Lunch surrounded by farangs is good: spicy shrimp, rice and spicy vegetables. Then comes the walk back. We stock up with a water bottle each. This time, the sun has risen high in the sky and is veering to the west (we are on the west coast of the park), so there is little shade. We are all glad of our hats, funny though they look.

When we get back to the Park, we all rush for a swim at the beach. Nancy and Martin walk out along the rocks underneath the lighthouse to try to sea a small patch of coral that Karen says is there. Martin finds the rocks slippery so does not go as far out as Nancy who finds the coral out at the tip of the headland.

Dinner on the cool porch is made by Karen's friend Ba, among the dishes are the hottest spiciest pieces of pork that we have ever eaten. We only managed some very small portions, washed down with lots of rice and water. Ba is leaving the island in a couple of days. Her boyfriend is going into the navy, so she is moving to the mainland to be near him when he is in basic training. Karen wonders whether the next cook will be as good. After dinner we walk down to the water and try to see the southern Cross, but we are too far North, returning we stop off at the main office to see if we can help fix the VCR, no luck!



Thursday, Jan 6: Ko Lanta.

Today it dawns another glorious day. We have arranged for the boat to pick us up at about 9.30. We are woken up early by Karen. She whispers that there are monkeys playing in the trees near the bungalow. We tiptoe out the back door and sure enough a troupe are swinging in the branches about 30 yards away. We watch fascinated till they move off to play elsewhere. We are soon breakfasted on French toast and last night's leftovers. We dress in our swimming clothes and collect snorkelling equipment and the underwater camera. by 9.15 we are down by the dock. Over night the Huana has come in His boat is a boxy wood gin palace. with beautifully carved teak benches. Karen says she hopes he will rent it to her when her parents visit, but she thinks he will ask too many baht. By 9.30 a small procession of long tailed boats are sailing past. None stops for us. By 9.50 we are worried; lots of boats have gone past, none have stopped for us. By 10.15, just as we are giving up hope, and Karen is contemplating throwing herself at the mercy of the Park boat crew, our boat arrives. It is crewed by a couple of ageless looking Thais. It is about an hour's ride out to the island where we are to go snorkelling. Once again we pass some other islands whose sheer cliffs rise hundreds of feet out of the water. The cliffs are crowned with trees and partially covered with vines and other vegetation. The one thing missing is any sign of a sea bird. Usually coastal areas are just full of birds. We have barely seen any. Most, Karen says, have ended up in the village cooking pots.

We arrive at the reef; Karen is impressed that the boatman looks to make sure his anchor doesn't hit coral before throwing it over the side. We don life jackets and masks and snorkels. We enter another world. Martin, to his delight and fear, sees a giant sting ray draped over the reef. By the time he can call the others it has swum off. There were a dozen different kinds of coral -- branches, fans, kidneys, all in a variety of colors. And the fish, it was like swimming in an aquarium. There were fish with pointed noses, with square noses, with bright colors, with sombre colors, with lacy gills, with plain gills, with large fins, with small fins; in every combination except one, there were no plain looking fish.

After swimming around a while, Martin heads back to the boat. He has great difficulty getting back in. It takes both of the crew to haul him aboard. Nancy has a similar experience. Why, she muses, do I have no difficulty getting out of a swimming pool, but here I am having trouble. Lisa explains that it all has to do with the centre of gravity. The poolside doesn't shift. Here, the boat tips over so the centre of gravity shifts down and out. This makes it much more difficult, especially for those of us with much gravity.

We spend a couple of hours lazily drifting over the reef, exploring the fissures between growths of coral, tasking care to avoid the ubiquitous black sea urchins, especially when the coral is very near the surface so we can almost touch it as we kick our feet. We putter in to a small beach for our lunch. As we land a troop of monkeys scamper away up the beach and vanish into the trees. Again the beach is almost deserted, there is a small German party also lunching. The sand is beautiful, except for the grubby high water mark.

After lunch we sail of to visit a sea cave. Nancy. Lisa, and Karen make the expedition in; Martin sits out in the boat as he is not sure he is up to diving through a narrow passage.

We spend the later afternoon swimming at another island. This time there is no coral, but schools and schools of fish. Returning to the park, the sea is quite choppy. Both Lisa and Martin feel a bit queasy.

Big dinner with Karen and her friend the cook. A magnificent spread. And so to bed.







Friday, Jan 7: On the boat and on the road to Penang.

Today we leave this paradise. It would be wonderful to laze for a couple more days, but we have an appointment in Singapore and we want to see some of Malaya. We wonder where we will spend the night. We have to be up really early, so the night before we set no fewer than three alarm clocks: two for Nancy and Martin, one for Lisa and Karen. Morning came very early. It was pitch dark, and there was no light except from our torches. The generator had been turned off at midnight. We had done most of our packing, so all that was needed was to brush our teeth and throw our nightclothes and washing things into the bags. Then, with Nancy's hat perched precariously on her head, we struggled the bags down the narrow path to the beach. It was 5.30 a.m.. Karen wakes the boat captain who is sleeping in a little shed at the base of the jetty. He mutters and goes off to get ready. While we are standing there the dawn starts to break, the sky gradually turns rosy and then blue. No sign of the captain. It is about of an hour later before he eventually appeared. We walked out to the jetty while he waded out to where the park's long-tailed boat was moored. He brings the boat over to the jetty. Then disaster strikes. As we are loading the bags from the pier to the boat, Nancy stands on a rotten piece of decking. Her leg plunges through the deck up to her thigh. One minute she was standing there, the next she seemed to be waist deep in the deck. The skin on her shins and at the top of her right thigh was rubbed raw. The whole leg was rapidly bruising. Fortunately, it did not appear that there was any major damage, nothing appeared to be broken, there did not seem to be a major sprain. She soldiered on. Her hat, which she was wearing, was undamaged. We got everything onto the boat and set out to the amphur. This time as we passed the Sea Gypsy village we saw that it had been joined by a floating village, a dozen or so long-tail boats all lashed together and anchored off some rocks near the village. Our captain explained that some of the sea gypsies had become more settled, but there were still a large number who were nomadic and sailed up and down the Malaysian peninsula. Martin had visions of taking a long-tail boat to Penang; but quickly decided that we didn't have that much time. We also looked more closely at the village. Now we could see that nearly every bamboo hut had its TV antenna. We could see the electric cable that ran along the shore to connect with the district capital. We could see the blue plastic water pipes that linked the houses to the well.

Our delays, the slow moving captain and Nancy's accident proved costly. As we sailed toward one side of the jetty at Ko Lanta, the ferry pulled out from the other side. Despite our desperate waving, it did not turn back. We were quite grumpy with the captain for keeping us waiting, another five minutes and we would have made the ferry. We settled down for an hour's wait.

Stowing our kit in the next ferry freed us up to go into the village for breakfast. Karen was friendly with the owners of a noodle shop so that is where we went. On the way, Martin and Nancy tried to buy Iodine in a small store. We had no success. On the way back, Lisa was able to get some with no problem! At the noodle shop we faced Thai deserts for the first time: everything was wrapped in banana leaves: banana and rice paste, banana and coconut, ....etc.

The ferry ride back to the mainland at Ban Baw Muang was as enjoyable as the ride out, though we spent the first few minutes sitting down dousing Nancy's leg with iodine. This time the trip was tinged with sadness as we were leaving such a beautiful place. On landing, everyone scrambled for the songthaews and taxis that were waiting at the dock. Ours was very crowded with at least one young man hanging from the tailboard as we roared back through the shrimp farms and rubber plantations. In Drang, the driver dropped us off at the place where VW minibuses left for Hat Yai. We bought tickets and were told that the bus would leave when a full load of passengers were available. This seemed to be a bit of a pattern, there was no fixed schedule. The driver waited until his bus was full and then set off. Of course the big buses ran to a more formal schedule. We had a fair old wait, at least an hour. The first thing that we did, once our tickets were sure, was to change some travellers checks into bahts. We had had an unexpected expense in the previous days' boat charter. In most Thai towns the shops and stores all seemed to be a little dusty. If you saw a bright shiny building you could be almost sure it was a bank. Inside was a little different. Behind the counter were scores of desks all cramped together. Although there were one or two Personal Computers, the majority of people at the desks were busy counting and bagging coins and baht bills! Banking in Thailand is a very, very labor intensive business. The men and women talked cheerily with each other as they fulfilled their tasks; not that the tasks were very fulfilling. After our banking, there was still time to wait. Next door to the bus station(18), was a large restaurant. We all got cokes and sat near the front so we would be aware if the bus ever filled up. Martin, exploring for the toilet at the back of the store comes across an aquarium filled with enormous gold fish. There was barely room for them to swim around. Each fish was a deep golden red.

While we waited, school got out. Lots and lots of chattering Thai school girls in their crisp white blouses and dark navy skirts passed by our lookout point. It was funny to see these modern uniforms walk by an indicator of the old Thailand: the store next door had a whole set of dome shaped cages each containing a loquacious myna bird.

Eventually the bus filled up, we set off. We stopped, someone was on the wrong bus, and we had left someone else behind. After ten minutes, and much expostulation, everything was sorted out and we were on our way. We had been warned, on leaving Drang, to look out for the new hotel on the outskirts. This was built like an ocean liner. Stacked and raked decks, bridge, superstructure and fake funnels. All made of concrete. Of course, that was all facade, the side facing away from the road was as plane and flat as any tower office block.

The two hour trip to Hat Yai takes us through rolling countryside that is just full of rubber plantations. The trees stand in exact rows and we can see the tapper's scores on their bark from the road. When we get to Hat Yai, the driver takes us all around town to drop people off at their destinations. It looks a bustling town and seems chock full of jewellers and gold dealers. We are last off the bus, because we are at the back, I think, as we have retraced our steps around town a couple of times. We are let off at another garage where we can rent a "share taxi" that will take us to Penang. Lisa negotiates the rates. It is 250 baht each if there is one other passenger, or 300 baht if we go alone. We decide to let fate take a hand: we will go and have lunch at a noodle shop across the street, when we are done lunch we will take off no matter what. By the time lunch is over, no new passenger has shown up at the garage across the street. We decide to go ahead anyway. We all pile into a large Mercedes and set off for the border and Penang. It is a five hour trip. We start off on a dusty four lane road that passes through flat countryside. On the way through one small town, the driver stops the car, rushes in to a rice store and comes out with a heavy bag which he throws in the trunk. We wonder, to ourselves, why he would be carrying rice to Malaya and wonder whether it is something to be smuggled. When we get to the Thai border, the driver takes all our passports and visas and takes them to the border control post. After ten minutes he is back to get Lisa. There is some problem. It turns out that the border guard can't translate between western dates and Thai dates so thinks her visa has expired when it has not. So after another 15 minutes we are free to go on our way. Half way to the Malay border we come across an enormous duty free store. The driver stops to buy booze, he even asks for our passports so he can buy twice as much. We refuse. He does not seem particularly surprised or grumpy thereafter. When we get to the Malay border, it is everyone out of the car, even Nancy's hat. There is an enormous list of prohibited goods, including whisky and batiks! We have to go through three check points. First there is immigration where we get new visas. Then we go through a police check to make sure we have no guns in our luggage. The policeman pulls out my copy of Ulysses and immediately asks if I have a copy of Satanic Verses. Instead of making a big fuss about freedom of expression, I readily deny that I have any such book. "No, No. No." Somewhere a cock crows. We each have to lug our own bags about twenty yards to the next check point which is customs. They rummage in the baggage again to see that we haven't bought any batiks or whisky. They do not seem bothered by the booze that our driver has just purchased. We load everything back in the car and are off again. The road is still a good four lane highway, but much less dusty. The verges are green and the centre median strip is filled with leafy bushes. We have barely gone a mile when we hit an army check point. The car is pulled over by rifle toting troops and our passports are examined once again. It turns out to be just a routine check so we are off again without incident.

The highway stretches on and on, first through rubber plantations and later through flat plains of rice paddies. Martin is enchanted as we cross a railway track and see a signal gantry that looks like something built for the Great Western Railway in 1935. Our trip is punctuated by occasional downpours. But our driver does not ease his foot off the accelerator and we are hopeful that the car doesn't slither on the slick surface. The heavy Mercedes holds its own. We hit Butterworth, the mainland train stop for Penang, at rush hour. We make slow progress through the streets which are crowded with cars, taxis, trucks and mopeds, but not a songthaew to be seen(19). After driving through some back streets near the ferry terminal, the driver stops and runs into a small garage carrying his sack from north or the boarder. We then rejoin the steams of traffic that are heading for the Penang ferry. The rain hits again. It pours and pours and pours. The ferries are many and yellow. They run about every ten minutes and the crossing takes about that time. Penang and Butterworth have a busy docks, though nothing like Singapore.

At Penang we want to stay at the Cathay, an older hotel, which they guide book says has a lot of charm. We get the driver to take us there. Alas it is full up. It has an ornate Victorian porte-clochere and a wonderful airy lobby. The cab stops under the canopy so I can run in and make inquiries without getting soaked by the torrential rain. We stay next door in a cheap, clean modern shoebox called the Waldorf Hotel, ah bliss, western style toilets, after a day of the Thai variety.

After a shower and a rest we sally forth to get some supper. It has stopped raining and the streets are washed clean. Outside the hotel, and all along the street is a deep and wide klong. We have to be careful not to tumble into it when cars drive by too closely. The sidewalks are under arches beneath the overhanging upper stories of the shops. The sidewalk in front of each shop is at a different level so we are going up a step, down a step every few yards. We soon come to a busy part of town. There are several Indian restaurants grouped together and we choose one. Lisa had an Indian omelette, Nancy and I have curried chicken. The bird was a scrawny one lacking much meat, but the sauce was very tasty. On our way back to the Hotel, we stopped at a shop selling cotton passant and clothing. Nancy bought a couple of lengths and we admired many others. So to sleep after taking a colourful photograph of Nancy's leg which has turned a rich spectrum of colours from red to purple to blue to green, to yellow..



Saturday, Jan 8: Penang (& the train to Kuala Lumpur).

The day dawned dry and sunny. Checkout time at the hotel was about noon, so we decided we would defer packing until then and go out, have breakfast and do a little wandering around town. The Lonely Planet Guide said there were a couple of good hotel restaurants for breakfast. Our first stop was the next door Cathay, but their restaurant was no longer operating for non-residents. We took the opportunity to wander around the lobby and enjoy the spacious airy tiled halls. It would have been nice to see what the room were like. In the hall, the ceilings were very high, so we expected that the rooms would be similar. Thwarted in our attempt to feed here, we set off toward the main part of the old town. We passed down a number of streets with old Chinese Victorian buildings. The next couple of places mentioned by the guide were opposite each other. We first checked out the Swiss Hotel, but an examination of the menu was not encouraging. The foreign dishes were few and far between. So we rudely got up from the table and left to check out the other hotel. It was quite amusing to look around the breakfast room, a half covered patio in front of the Hotel. Nearly all the customers were farangs, all were busily perusing their Lonely Planet guides! The dog from the Swiss Hotel was not amused at our effrontery and barked at us as we made our way back out of the courtyard into the street. We had better luck at the An Eng Hotel. Farang food at its most varied. Lisa and Nancy had pancakes, I just toast and marmalade. While we were waiting for our order, a young woman came over and accosted Lisa who was wearing a Peace Corps T-shirt.

"Are you in the Peace Corps?" she asked.

"Yes, I am," said Lisa, "I am stationed in Northern Thailand."

"I mean are you in the United States Peace Corps, said the woman in a doubtful tone. "Yes, of course," replied Lisa, "How about you?"

" Yes I am stationed in the Philippines and I came over to Malaya for a holiday."

"I'm doing the same, we are making our way down to Singapore." And that was the extent of their interaction.

During breakfast someone borrowed our Lonely Planet guide, and that was all the interaction we had with him, except to get it back again. We are not a chatty lot. Over breakfast we decided on our next steps. We wanted to get tickets for the next leg of our trip. After much discussion we had decided not to stay in Kuala Lumpur but to go to Malacca for a day. We decided to take the night train from Butterworth/Penang to Kuala Lumpur and then ride the bus, preferably air-con to Malacca. We saw from the guidebook that down by the ferry terminal there was a railway ticket office where we could buy tickets for Kuala Lumpur. After breakfast we set off toward the ticket office. Once again we passed through the little colonnades that were all up and down as different houses and shops had their ground floors on different levels. Often the merchandise of the shops was overflowing onto the sidewalk so we had to step over it, and in the worst cases risk stepping out into the crowded streets which were full of mopeds and cars. Most of the little noodle stalls had their washing up water right on the sidewalk, so we had to take care not to step in them, or on the inevitably tiny, Chinese person who was doing the washing up. We soon passed the ornate Hindu Temple with its crazy carvings covering the doorway and the roof of the building. Another interesting sight was the fire-station with an antique engine out front. Passing the fire station soon led to the main road running along the shore. Here the traffic whizzed bye. Fortunately there were traffic lights so we were able to get to the other side without much risk, how different from Malacca.

We first came to a complex of old wooden houses standing on stilts over the sea,. This was a colony of Chinese seafarers. People were washing and doing their washing in the sea. But there were no boats bobbing around that we could see. Close to this was the train ticket office where we were able to get tickets down to Kuala Lumpur. Following Lisa's instructions, though with some misgivings as it was a lot warmer here than Thailand, I asked for sleepers in a non-aircon coach, the ticket seller smiled at me sweetly and said, "Sir, in Malaya all the sleeping cars are air-conditioned." Once again, they were unable to sell Lisa tickets for her return up the peninsula. That she would have to do in Singapore.

After getting tickets, Lisa announced that she wanted to wander the town by herself, so we split up after agreeing to meet at the Hotel rooms at 11.45 so we could pack and check out. After taking a few photos at the ferry terminal of people in Moslem dresses, Nancy and I, following a considerable haggle, got on a bike-rickshaw and got pedalled over to the European fort. This was called Fort Cornwallis. It turns out that after the minor disagreeableness at Yorktown, Lord Cornwallis had been appointed Governor General of India. Penang was annexed by the British at about this time so the fort was named in his honour. Martin enjoyed clambering around the walls and looking at the bronze cannon, including a giant one that was originally Portuguese, before being captured by pirates and then recaptured by the British. It had some wonderful carved lions entwined around the barrel. Nancy was entranced by the giggling schoolgirls in their Muslim dress; giggling because they were being trailed by a band of goggling school boys. She got a couple of wonderful pictures. Set within the walls was a reconstruction of a traditional Malay house. Again of teak but the carvings were a little more elaborate than those of Thailand. Again, when one stepped inside the windows were so arranged that cool breezes wafted through. Quite refreshing after the searing sun outside.(20)

The fort was set at the southern edge of the Padang. This is a giant parade ground/cricket ground with the Penang Straits on one side, and all the official buildings of Penang on the other three: Fort, Law Courts, Government House. We walked across the Padang, past the law courts and past a local convent school whose students were steaming out for recess. These girls were not in the traditional Malay costumes but in westernized white shirts and dark blue skirts. Next door was a public school with a furious game of coed volley ball in progress.

The convent was just around the corner from our hotel so we repaired there and rested for twenty minutes before Lisa arrived and we had to pack and check out of the hotel. We were fortunate in that once again we could leave our baggage at the hotel while we spent the afternoon sightseeing; they were even willing to store Nancy's hat..

As Nancy was beginning to favor her good leg, after lunch we took a taxi out to the Butterfly farm. Our trip took us first through some newly built office towers, a road of grand mansions, a new shopping complex complete with the ubiquitous McDonalds, Swensen et al. We started then along the coast road that runs along the north shore of Penang Island. Our view of the sea was initially cut off by a large army camp (trust those colonial troops to choose a good site), then we hit a snag. There was a huge traffic tie up because of an accident. Our driver who knew the roads, did a U-turn and then headed inland. We drove through a couple of attractive middle class subdivisions before heading back to the coast. Our route was then surrounded by gigantic hotels and condominiums punctuated by beaches with dazzling white sand and the bluest sea you ever saw. After driving for half and hour, we arrived at the butterfly farm. This turned out to be a large greenhouse with a stream running through it filled with butterflies of all shapes and sizes. There were displays of larvae in all stages of development. There were displays in which the challenge was to find the stick insects. There were displays of slithering snakes that just took your breath away. We were fascinated for a couple of hours. The gift store, as we were warned by the Guidebook, was filled with very expensive antiques, as well as the usual tourist tat. We finished up buying a couple of gifts for our cat sitters.

After driving back to the town, Nancy proposed a treat for Martin: Tea at the Eastern & Orient (E&O) hotel. This is the grand hotel of Penang and, in its day, was a rival to Raffles in Singapore; being run by the same Armenian family. Today, of course, Raffles is stratospheric, while the E&O is comfortably upper class, even if a bit seedy. We had tea on the terrace: Tea with cucumber sandwiches while watching the ships pass up and down the Straits of Penang. Felt just like Somerset Maugham; if only I wrote as well as he. Though I doubt that he would have put up with the perfunctory service that we got: Pay for your meal when it is served rather than when you are ready to leave!

After sitting for an hour or so on the terrace we got a second wind and decided to do some more exploring. This time we set off to find one of the ornate Chinese clan houses that are scattered around the old town. We set off in the general direction but were sidetracked by another stop at the cotton batik store where Martin bought a Christmas gift for his secretary, Edith. Lisa also bought some cotton dresses. The off again, this time leather goods caught the eye and Nancy equipped Lisa with a good strong belt. Eventually after winding our way through crooked little streets, we arrived at the most ornate Chinese building we had seen. Carved dragons protruded from every corner. The blue-green tiled roof shimmered in the afternoon sun. Ornate wrought iron gates which had been carefully gilded kept the non-members out in the courtyard. Very very baroque in tone.

We set off to find a place for dinner. Martin and Nancy again turned up their noses at the streetside noodle stalls. We wanted a sit-down dinner. Lisa humoured us. But it was hard to find a place. We tried two or three restaurants but they were all closed on this evening. One of the places we tried was a good Indian restaurant, but we ended up at he cheap and cheerful place we had been to the previous evening.

Then it was back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and take a taxi over to the railway station at Butterworth. There was quite a lot of traffic waiting for the ferry, so we had to wait a couple of boats. The taxi driver got quite lost looking for the railway station and took us down some quite insalubrious looking places. We almost got swept up in a police check for teenagers joyriding. We had quite a long wait for the train, but we were getting quite groggy as it was now 10.30 pm and we still were not completely on Malaysia time. The train was very clean, cleaner than the Thai version. The only problems was that there were no racks for the luggage. Each of us had to sleep with their cases. Nancy and I were not too uncomfortable with the large parachute bags along side our legs. Nancy had to balance her hat on the little tray above her feet. Fortunately it did not fall down and get squashed in the night. We slept through most of north central Malaysia. Martin was sorry to have missed the Cameron Highlands, a name he recalled from news reports from the time of "The Emergency," not of course to be confused with the similar sounding "White Highlands" of Kenya which usually appeared during similar news reports due to the Mau-Mau emergency; and certainly not to be confused with the Cameron and Sutherland Highlanders, a British Army regiment that probably fought in one or other of these places.





Sunday, Jan 9: Malacca.

We arrived at Kuala Lumpur at about 8.00 a.m. Lisa and Martin left Nancy on the platform with the luggage while they went to see if there was a train to Lampin, which is the nearest station to Malacca. There was, but it was just drawing out of the station! Great timing. We then went to the tourist information booth and found that there were frequent buses from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca. Back to Nancy; lugged our luggage up the ornate cast iron bridge and down the other side. Queued for fifteen minutes for a taxi and then got taken to the bus station. Unfortunately the taxi driver could not take us in to the terminal and left us about two hundred yards away. Lugging the baggage, and for Nancy wearing the hat, on an empty stomach was no joke. We stood in a confused little group on the sidewalk wondering what to do. Just outside the regular bus station there were a number of freelance bus operators who tried to persuade us to sign up with them. Lisa got very impatient with our indecision and so we agreed she should go to the terminal to see what the situation was there while Martin and Nancy waited with the luggage. For some reason, Martin then followed Lisa, but could not find her in the bus station. When he retraced his steps he found Nancy and Lisa lugging all the luggage, again up the stairs of a bridge, on the way to the terminal. Lisa had found the Malacca bus. As it was due to leave in only ten minutes we had to rush. Martin stayed with the baggage. Lisa went to buy tickets, while Nancy tried to buy some snacks for the trip, remember we still have not had breakfast. Meanwhile time is passing, Lisa has returned with the ticket, just a few minutes to go, but no sign of Nancy. Martin runs off to find her. She is at a stall getting cartons of fruit juice, bottles of water, and some banana chips and corn chips. That is our breakfast. We finally get to the bus platform. No sign of the Malacca bus. A bus for Johore is standing at the gate. The Malacca bus is late. Eventually it arrives, but cannot get into the gate, so parks perpendicular to the platform; so again we have to lug our bags a little further than we had anticipated.

The bus is very grubby, though air conditioned. None of us dare risk the toilet, and when we finally have a stop on the road at a big concession stand, there is a rush for the toilet. It turns out that that is probably slightly worse than our imaginings of the bus toilet.

Our route along a super-highway takes us through the rubber plantations of southern Malay. They look identical to those of southern Thailand and Northern Malaya. After about four hours, spent eating, drinking, and reading, we reach Malacca. The bus station is a dusty compound near the river overlooked by some modern concrete (crumbling) shops and offices. As we get out of the bus, obvious tourists, a tout from a modern hotel seizes us, pushes a photograph album into our hands and presses us to stay at his hotel. We decline. We are going to try to stay at the Majestic, a copy of the Cathay at Penang. This time we are lucky. There are rooms available. One is just being made up, the maid has filled the bath with water and is sloshing it around the bathroom to clean it up! Our early taking over of the room discombobulated her a bit and she was not very thorough in her clean up. We found a long cigarette ash on top of the toilet later in the day! Lisa's room will not be ready until noon. The lobby of the hotel is high and filled with rattan armchairs with one or two elderly somnolent Chinese sitting there. Later in the day, they are sitting supping Tiger beer, now they are just sitting. After our grubby bus ride all we want is a shower. Never, except at Penang, except in Ayuthaya, except in Bangkok did a cold shower feel so good.

We then set out for lunch and to explore Malacca. Initially, we did not see much in the way of the towns legendary charm. The area around the hotel was a bit commercial, and next door a major construction project was in process. Our first stop was at a large Chinese restaurant where we had large plates of rice with stewed vegetables, not the best we have eaten. We then came to a very busy cross roads and had to take a pedestrian bridge to get to the other side. We then walk down a busy shopping street toward the shore. All of a sudden the picture changes completely; well almost completely, we are still besieged by fast moving traffic that rushes down the narrow street; of course we are on the wrong side of the road to get to the sightseeing area so have to take our lives in our hands to get across -- no traffic lights, no crosswalks, just an endless stream of cars and trucks.. We enter the historic area. All the buildings are painted either dark red or a bright red ochre. We are now surrounded by farangs, doing the sights. The historic district is a palimpsest of influences: Portuguese, Dutch, and British, the latter the least distinguished in their architectural remains.

From the Dutch, the second group of colonists, we find the old Christ Church with a stepped facade like those of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The church was appropriated by the Anglicans after Holland and England redivided the spoils in the seventeenth century, the Dutch concentrating their efforts in Java, the British in the Malay peninsula. The interior was very English, pine-like seats, stained glass and encaustic tile, nothing like the tiles we saw in the Chinese houses throughout the older part of Chinatown. Next we came to the Statehouse, the original Governor's Palace of the Dutch colony. This had been turned into a museum. The ground floor had an impressive collection of antique imported China, as well as an array of Malay weapons, Dutch weapons, British and Portuguese weapons. The upstairs contained what seemed like hundreds of small models illustrating critical events in Malacca's history from 1300 to 1960. Like European history of the same period, the early days were full of fratricide, patricide, adultery, committed by fathers, sons, mothers, and evil court chamberlains. Apparently Malacca had only been a minor town until the Europeans came, still it was important enough to its elite that politics and plotting were rife. The typical way to succeed to the throne of the sultanate was to kill your predecessor. Poignant were the displays representing the more recent (1942) Japanese occupation and the "Emergency" of the 1950's. On a happier note were the events of Independence.

Everywhere throughout the museum were signs saying no photography, but Nancy was able to persuade a group of smiling museum guards to pose for their photographs in their uniforms with little Malay kilts wrapped around their waists, and over their khaki drill pants. We also took lots of pictures of the contrasting red walls and green lawn of the old palace which was full of little nooks and crannies of courtyards. Among the stranger exhibits in the grounds outside the museum was an old 1930's fire engine built by Leyland. Together with a 1940's American built caterpiller tractor that had been used in road building in the 1950's. We could not quite figure out why they were there. After wandering though the palace we were getting quite dehydrated. We bought pops at quite exorbitant prices at a little concession and drank them in the cool colonnade surrounding the palace.

Then, despite the very hot day, we decided to climb the hill to see the old Portuguese church, after a false start which ended with a barbed wire fence and a notice saying keep out, it was a Malay Naval Signal Station that occupied much of the hill -- the old colonial officers' mess, or was it the CO's house, looked like a North American country club from the outside. The trek up the hill was steep, but not long. Nevertheless we were panting in the hot sun as we made our way up the winding stairway. Behind us there was a magnificent view over the Straits of Malacca, quiet and peaceful now, with only a few ships moving slowly up or down the coast. The old church was in a state of ruins. Inside, a young farang was playing his guitar and singing folk music,. Around the walls of the church were propped enormous stone slabs, carved with intricate coats of arms and with deeply chiselled names and dates -- the tombstones of the aristocrats among the first Portuguese settlers. Outside the church was an enormous tree, we sank gratefully in its shade, and took advantage of Nancy's changing a film in her camera.

Down the other side of the hill to the other Portuguese remain, he ornate carved gateway of the original fort. Surmounting the arch was the carved coat of arms of the Dutch East India Company. After the Dutch took over from the Portuguese, they erased all sign of the previous occupants. The reason that the gate is the only remaining piece of the original fort is that after the British captured Malacca, they demolished the fort, Only the arrival of Raffles as governor prevented further destruction.

In front of the fort gate was an enormous grandstand. That was for the sound and light shows that are given every weekend. Nestled at the foot of the hill was a reproduction of the Sultan's palace, an ornate "Buffalo Horn" building of dark teak. Like the Malaya House at Fort Cornwallis, they had harnessed the breeze to cool the building down. It was wonderful to slip off our shoes and wander through this enormous two story building. Many of the room contained dioramas of significant events in the History of Malacca: the fight between one of the early sultans and his chief advisor over the ruler's wife; the arrival of the first European emissaries to the Sultan. There were also displays of costumes from various periods and various tribal and colonial groups; one attractive series showed a variety of different wedding ceremonies: Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Portuguese. Out in front of the palace were elaborate European style gardens, these led to the final layer of the historical record: the British.

Their legacy was less interesting than those of their predecessors: the neo-classical Malacca Club (now the museum of Independence, with Tunku Abdul Raman's 1950's limousine in the grounds, next to a light armored car used by the Security Forces during the Emergency). This is where the planters and merchants, sorry the European planters and merchants, gathered at the end of the day for tiffin, dinner, and bridge. Walking back though a small market full of souvenirs, which we bravely resisted(21), we passed the second reminder of the British presence: Dunlop House. This was an undistinguished office building about six stories high and about three times as broad. It occupied a superb location at the bottom of the hill beneath the church, and did absolutely nothing to enhance the view. Much of Malacca's rubber trade must have been coordinated from that building and its forerunners.

By now we were hot and tired. It was mid afternoon and we had been on the go since after our early lunch; we were also running out of money. So our two priorities were to find somewhere to sit and have a drink and then to change money. We found a little restaurant with a garden overlooking the Malacca river; by good fortune it was right next door to a money changer.

Lisa ate a plate of french fries while Nancy and I sipped sedately at our sodas. Across the river was the old Chinese neighbourhood of Malacca. The main street was lined with small antique and junk shops. This was a gold mine for Nancy. She was impressed with the pieces of wood carving available, with the tiles stripped from local houses. Traces of the tiles remained in situ round the doors of the shops. After half poking about in half a dozen shops, each more stressful than the last as the cramming together of so many things made it a virtual certainty that we would knock some valuable object to the floor, Lisa announced she had seen enough. Fortunately, the next place we went into turned out to be an antique store cum restaurant. So Lisa settled down with a large piece of chocolate cake while Nancy and Martin continued to explore. Three shops later, Martin decided he had seen enough Chinaware, Old Pictures, intricately carved Chinese scenes, bulky teak furniture, prewar tin-toys, and old coke bottles, some with the original (?) coke still in place. He returned to join Lisa and had a good cup of tea. The restaurant was a large house part of a terrace that ran the length of the street. It, and the other houses like it, had a unique style called Peranaka, a term meaning "born here" and applied by the indigenous Malays to the (local born Chinese).The ground floor comprised three section. In front, opening off the street a large square, high ceilinged room. This had a large arch which led to the room immediately behind. Here the ceiling was twice as high and it was a covered in courtyard with, in one corner, a spiral staircase that ran to a balcony from which the upper rooms were accessed. A niche in the courtyard contained the altar for the family ancestors. A second arch led to the back room of the house. This was cluttered with heavy Chinese furniture. As a restaurant it was the cleanest and nicest that we had seen all day. We were disappointed to find that on Sunday it closed early so that we could not eat dinner there.

Having heard my description of a Peranakan house, let me give you that of the guidebook which provides a better picture:

{the houses} have highly decorated facades with Chinese, Malay, and European Classical Architectural details. Delicate Malay-style wooden fretwork roofs with Chinese elements in the curved clay tiles and in its rounded gables (sic). Also look out for Chinese decorative tiles or gilded carvings on the doors. European details exist in the scaled down Classical columns and elegant capitals. These give the structures their stately touch while colourful wall tiles and decorative plasterwork add yet more ornamentation. Not for nothing has it been called Chinese Baroque architecture.

High ceilings, verandas and louvred windows air and light the interiors -- European architectural adaptations for the humid tropical surroundings. ... In the residential terraces, the sensible pintu pagar (carved and ornamented half doors) screen residents from passers by yet allow good ventilation in the rooms.(22)

After another half hour Nancy joined us having bought a beautiful small blue and white China dish. She also picked up several photographs of the colonial days which she intended to make into a Christmas present. After another cup of tea, we split up: Lisa to walk back to the Hotel while Martin and Nancy took a bicycle rickshaw to the bus station to buy bus tickets for Singapore. The man peddling the rickshaw was thin but wiry. Still he had a tough time working the pedals to get the machine started on the slope up away from the waterfront. When we got to the more modern part of time, we were all a bit nervous about the heavy traffic, nevertheless we reached the bus station safely. At the bus station we hit a snag, well, more an embarrassment of rickshaw: there were several bus companies that ran buses to Singapore. We studied the itineraries and times closely, finally choosing the firm that ran an air-conditioned bus via the expressway. That shaved half an hour off the five hour trip. Tickets bought, we took a closer look at the shops around the bus station. To our delight, there was a bakery just in front of us. We went over to find out if it would be open the next morning before our early (8.00 a.m.) departure. Alas no! We therefore stocked up on Danish Pastry, Croissants, and Cheese Rolls for tomorrow's breakfast, and of course bottles of water. We then strolled back slowly to the hotel where Lisa was waiting. We found that she had bought us a fresh green coconut to eat. The outside is covered with a smooth green cover, not unlike apple peel. The milk was very refreshing but the flesh was a disappointment, very slimy and quite unlike any coconut we had ever had. It appears that the whiskery brown coconut that we are used to in Canada is old and good only for cooking. We preferred what we are used to. How unadventurous.

After a short rest we sallied forth to find some dinner. We decided to go out to the Portuguese section where there was reputed to be a good restaurant. Took a cab out, the driver pointed out the Chinese cemetery where the original Chinese immigrants, the 500 maids in waiting for the Chinese bride of an early Sultan, were laid to rest. The approach to the restaurant was through a lower middle level suburb with 1950's style tract housing. The restaurant itself was faced with bamboo poles. At 6.30 it was deserted. We were the only people eating there, not many seemed to be expected as there were only a couple of waitresses, the thinnest young women we had ever seen, for about thirty tables. However by the time we left there were about four other parties in the large room. While waiting for our orders to arrive both Nancy and Martin separately took a stroll out to Portuguese square. A set of shops and restaurants built in a hollow square, with an open side on the beach; the restaurant was a block inland from the square which had been built in the early 1960s. We found at dinner that our palates must be adapting, we found the food quite nice, but the blandest we had had all trip. After dinner we had the problem of getting a cab back to town. While Nancy and Lisa were collecting themselves, Martin went to the front door of the restaurant, and lo and behold, a cab drew up full of Australians. Martin and the cabby had some heavy negotiation. The driver wanted to charge more than we had paid to come out. The situation of power was nicely balanced, the cabby was unlikely to get another fare, Martin would have to call a cab and pay the extra for it to come out of town. We compromised half way between our offers, at about the same price that we paid to come out.

We went to a dairy for ice cream, Nancy was surprised when she got tinned peaches and vanilla ice when she ordered peach ice cream. We hen walked through the almost deserted streets back to the hotel. We slept well in the expectation of a long early day tomorrow.

Monday, Jan 10: The road to Singapore.

We were up early and while Lisa walked to the corner to get us a cab, Martin and Nancy dragged the parachute bags out of the room, through the lobby to the front door of the hotel. When we got to the bus station we were a little confused. Several busses were going to Singapore and it took us a few minutes to figure out which was ours. This bus was a delight compared with the bus from Kuala Lumpur; new, clean and shiny. Then followed five hours of highway driving. We all buried ourselves in our books, occasionally looking up to see yet another rubber plantation whiz by. Martin had bought a copy of the Straits Times, the local English language newspaper. There was an interesting article showing the scientific productivity, based on number of articles inputted into the ISI science data base. The real anomaly was Indonesia whose productivity was in the hundreds whereas every other country, including those that were much much smaller had output in the thousands. Very distressing.

The first stop of the bus was at Johore. This is the nearest Malaysian town to Singapore. The bus station was surrounded by a bustling Farmer's Market. Martin had to make a rapid pit stop, otherwise he' have burst before we hit Singapore. After a few more minutes drive, we arrived at the Malaysian exit control, everyone is out of the bus, hands over their passports, passports get stamped, visas removed, and we are back on the bus again, all within ten minutes.

We then traverse the mile long causeway between the Mainland and Singapore island We cannot help notice the enormous pipelines that carries in water for Singapore's daily consumption. As soon as we reach dry land, it is off the bus again for the Singapore immigration and customs. This time we have to hump our luggage a couple of hundred yards -- we begin to notice the heat. The customs examination was quite perfunctory, quite a contrast to entering Malaysia where we had been quizzed extensively on our reading habits, gun carrying capacity, etc.

We look out of the bus windows in wonder at our first sight of Singapore. Everything i so very green. The north part of the island is mainly parkland. We see off in the distance the towers of the city. Even in the city there is lush planting, and, of course, it is rare to spot a piece of litter. Again our initial impressions are of big buildings, many cars, buses, and trucks. We look forward to arriving at the bus station where we can call Young and find out what accommodation has been arranged. We are to be sorely disappointed, the bus dumps us in the parking lot of an office building. There is no bustle of travellers, no place to change money, nothing. Martin mutters about the anarchic system in South East Asia with dozens of competing bus lines with no central terminal, give me regulation every time! The parking lot is right next door to a park so we lug our stuff to the park, Lisa and Nancy sit on the steps while we discuss our next step. There is some ambiguity in may last e-mail message with Young as to whether we has booked accommodation for us for the Monday night, or just for Tuesday and Wednesday night. We are debating whether to go find a hotel on our own or check with Young first. The sensible thing is to do the latter so Martin leaves Lisa and Nancy sitting while he goes off to see if he can phone Young. This requires several steps: although we stocked up with plenty of Singapore money, it is all in large bills, so he has to split his S$50.00 bill so he can get change for the phone; find a phone (working) with a phone book; find the number; make the call. All of these become a major set of hurdles to be overcome. First of all, we are in an office district, here are few stores where he can get change. After a few minutes walk, he does come to a money changer shop and even gets the change free; first hurdle surmounted. Walking back toward the park, he sees a phone in a booth against the wall of a building, but it has no phone book and the bare minimum of instructions, nothing about how to call the operator or call inquiries. He puts in a 10 piece. Nothing, there is no dial tone at all. The phone is not working. He tries some common numbers: 0 (for operator), 411 (for directory inquiries). Still nothing, the phone is definitely out of order. He walks away, having lost his first 10. Walking on, he notices that he is outside a Bank, looking in, he sees a phone in the lobby. Someone is using it. That means it must be working. Into the bank, much more North American than the Thai bank. No sign of thousands counting coins; if that is the way they operate, it is all done behind the scenes. After a five minute wait, the phone is free. I scan the instructions, again they lack the information I need. Put in the money, again dial ), nothing, dial 411, I get a series of beeps that sound like a north American busy signal; hang-up, try again, same. I give up that tack. Looking around the bank, I see two young women sitting behind a counter without any customers lined up in front of them. I walk over and, after checking that they speak English, ask if they have a phone book I could borrow. Fortunately it is printed in Latin script not Chinese ideograms so I am able to find the number for the National University of Singapore. I call the University and within a short time I am connected to Young's office. My heart drops, here is a personalized recording telling me that he will be in class for another 90 minutes and for me to call back later or give his wife a call. This I do, but she is equally hazy on the accommodations issue.

Well, I have done what I can for the moment, we are still unsure as to whether we have a roof over our heads for the night. What to do: play it safe and get our own Hotel, or assume that Young has things well in hand. We assume the latter and decide to go eat. Lisa is still on a Mexican food streak, if one meal in Bangkok can be called a streak, She has found the address of a Mexican Restaurant in the guidebook. We decide to go there. We drag our bags over to the main road that runs past the park and try to flag down a cab. At this point, not having read the guidebook that carefully, we are oblivious of the fact that in Singapore you get cabs at cab stops, miniature versions of bus stops. Fortunately, there is at least one cabby in Singapore who is willing to break the rules to get a fare so we are soon ensconced in an air conditioned cab, what a relief, en route for the main section of downtown Singapore, it turns out that we are a few miles north of the core. The restaurant is on Claymore Road, just off the main shopping area of Orchard Street. We pass though Fort Canning Park, a nice green area before being swallowed up in the high rises of Singapore. When we get o our destination, the cab deposits us and our luggage in the 900 heat and humidity, within seconds we are sweating, I mean I am perspiring and the womenfolk are glowing. We stand with our luggage in a big pile blocking half the sidewalk while Lisa goes to reconnoitre the building where the restaurant is so that we don't have to carry our stuff too far. Nancy draws appreciative glances for her peasant hat. Lisa draws a blank, there is no Mexican restaurant in the building, it must have closed down. Across the street is a Denny's. To our shame we head towards it -- anything for food, anything for aircon. We have a thoroughly North American repast. Lisa hits the hamburger, Nancy goes for chicken liver, Martin for the all day breakfast of bacon and eggs, hash browns and toast and marmalade. How unadventurous we are. We get like that when hot, frustrated, and tired.

After a couple of failures, I finally get to talk to Young in person. All is fixed up. He has arranged for us to stay at a cottage complex out along the east shore, about half-way between the city and Changi airport, Martin shudders when he hears that name, he remembers vividly the stories in Russell Braddon's autobiography of his days in the Changi POW Camp. We agree to meet him at the cottages at 3.00 p.m. It is now about 2.00 p.m., so we have time for another cup of coffee before setting out to our home for the next couple of days. The cottages are owned by the Singapore Government and are known as the MUDC Chalets. We manage to communicate this to our cab driver with little difficulty. First we drive down Orchard Road with its big Department Stores and Hotels, later there is a glimpse of the old colonial buildings and of Raffles, then we are on the east coast parkway, looking inland there is a forest of new construction and of modern office towers, apartments, and hotels. We see little of the old Singapore.

After about ten minutes on the expressway, as the driver gradually increases speed as the traffic thins out, we are suddenly assailed by a "ping, ping, ping." When a cab exceeds the speed limit a little bell starts ringing, to remind the cabby that he has gone beyond the limit. I suppose the passengers too are supposed to pressure the cabby to adhere to the rules. We did nothing. After twenty minutes, the cab deposits us safely at the headquarters of the Chalet complex. Not a small rickety office, but a spanking new secular cathedral. The nave is a three high A-frame. off to the side is a small shopping area, games rooms; on the side away from the road is a large open air swimming pool. To each side of the main building are three ranks of chalets running about a mile up and down the shore. Ours turns out to be further east and is in the front rank right on the shore.

After a short wait, Young arrives and we enjoy remaking his acquaintance. He is enjoying teaching in Singapore, except for the heat, and has done a lot of work investigating the extent and type of Korean investment in Singapore. He has become NUS's Korean expert and is doing a fair bit of economic analysis!! He tell us that his daughter is now settling down in school well after that first tough year when she had to readjust to far eastern ways, after almost a lifetime in the US and Canada, where she lived from 4 to 11.

The chalet complex is a bit like a military camp. There is a chain link fence with one, guarded gate leading to the beach. There are several gates with guard houses between the chalets and the main road. We have to carry passes with us, these allow us to get in and out of the complex. Our chalet has a big patio with table and chairs, a big dining room/kitchen with another table and four chairs. At the back of the main floor are the usual offices: shower and toilet. Upstairs there is a bedroom with twin beds, closets and a large TV set. The whole is delightfully air-conditioned. We need that air conditioning, every step outside is an effort: The heat and humidity are intense. The view from our patio is awe-inspiring. First the fence, then a green park, then a sandy beach, then the ocean with line upon line of ships at anchor waiting for access to the port. Beyond are the shadowy outlines of Indonesia.

After unpacking, and Martin's suit did look wrinkled, we decided to walk down to the pool for a swim to wash the heat and Malacca dust from our bodies. The water in the pool was warm but refreshing, after about half an hour we noticed storm clouds gathering. They never did break but we though it prudent to return to the chalet. We went into town for dinner. Another search for an elusive Mexican restaurant. This time we were successful. Again, we ate surrounded by farangs, this time mainly of the UK variety.

Dinner over, we walked the length of Orchard Street, with an occasional step up to the more attractive shop windows. Our destination was Raffles which we reached after about an hour, very thirsty. We repaired to the Long Bar where we ordered Singapore Slings, very tasty, and, as it turned out, very expensive. The Long Bar was a little disappointing to Martin. He envisaged a room running the length of the verandah overlooking the water. He imagined sitting there while the punka wallah gently fanned the air creating a cooling breeze. The punka's were still there but they were machine operated. The long bar was cramped into a second, as in one flight of stairs up, floor corner of the building. Still the drinks were good and the peanut shells scattered around the floor crunched authentically under foot. We then did wander around the Raffles compound, much to Lisa's disgust who was depressed by these signs of conspicuous consumption. We resisted the high class tourist tat in the Raffles gift store, though we confess to taking a couple of beer mats from the Long Bar.

As we still hadn't figured the correct way to get a taxi -- go to a taxi stop -- it took us a while to get one. Very frustrating in the heat and humidity. Back to our air conditioned beds.



Tuesday, Jan 11: Singapore

On our way out and in to Singapore city, we had seen a McDonalds about a ten minute walk from the Chalet. We walked down there for breakfast. It was very very hot, we were glad to reach or goal. But we were amazed at the number of people we saw jogging along the shoreline. There was no cool breeze. It was just hot. Singapore is quite regimented and there were clear instructions on the path as to which way you were to walk, and woe betide you if you jogged or walked on the bicycle path or, worse, biked on the jogging path. After breakfast Nancy and Lisa went in to town to get Lisa's train tickets and wander through China town. Martin had to work on his talk. He would then be picked up by Young and we would then pick up Nancy and Lisa at the nearest subway to the University.

The first part of the plan worked out fine. They got a cab into town, easily obtained tickets, after all the failures up and down the peninsula. They were fortunate that the information office at the station, a tiny outpost of Malaysia in Singapore, sold them the tickets instead of making them wait in the huge line at the ticket office! Then they had a good time soaking up the atmosphere of Chinatown. The whole city was being decorated for Chinese New Year, as were Penang and Malacca. There were red lanterns everywhere and sticks of firecrackers were available for sale. There were wonderful Chinese temples with enormous carved wooden doors. Brass pots stood outside. There were small Chinese shops selling everything from ginseng to pigs feet. Nancy photographed a butcher at work. Martin too had a successful morning rehearsing his talk. The problem lay with Young's other commitments. Everything was nicely timed; but then Young got called in by his Dean to meet with the Dean of his old school in Seoul. This meeting took half an hour longer than expected. So he was late picking Martin up, a Martin who by now was pacing like a caged tiger in his air-conditioned den.

Off we went, Martin asked if they could pick Nancy and Lisa up at the subway. Young, who was running late and had arranged for Martin ad him to have lunch with a couple of colleagues, including Kai Lee, at the University, misheard the name of the station. So we went to one station while Nancy and Lisa waited at another. Once we got to the station and found no family waiting the mistake was discovered and off we went for another fifteen minutes to the right stations. We got there an hour or more late, they were about to give up on us.

We were running even later by the time we got to the University, had a very quick lunch at the student cafeteria. This took up the whole of the ground floor of the building and was completely open all round. This meant that cooling breezes continual flowed through keeping the temperature to delightfully low. There were a number of fast food places offering every type of oriental food. We stuck to rice and stir fry.

After lunch went to meet the Dean, a Western PhD, the chair of the Management group, a Chinese lady with a PHD from Australia; and finally gave his talk to a crowd of about 20. Nancy and Lisa went off to check on the tropical resistance of computers by talking to people in the Biology department whom, we figured, should be used to rugged field conditions. Then they checked out the deal in the University Computer store.

We met back at the student cafeteria at 5.30. They had had a successful afternoon wandering the wooded hilly campus of NUS. They found at least one deal to measure future possibilities against. But Lisa was feeling a little under the weather with an incipient cold.

We then drove with Young to his house where we spent a pleasant half hour getting acquainted with his family. The university housing that he lives in are the old officer married quarters from the British army garrison in Singapore. It is full of expatriate. We saw European, Indian, Chinese children all playing in their quiet road. The Youngs seem to be enjoying Singapore life. Interesting Korean drink -- a suspension of grains, including barley, and green. Thick and green, with a taste of Barley Water.

Young then takes us back downtown to Orchard road. Lisa who is miserable, elects to take a cab back to the Chalet while Nancy and Martin go out to dinner. Walking down Orchard Road we see a couple of places are banning the Durian fruit. The fruit apparently tastes wonderful but smells like ripe sewage. We end up at the restaurant of one of the big hotels. Excellent, but a bit expensive, Chinese food. The Singapore shops are on a par with London and New York.

In the evening our discussion turned to the computer purchase. The main non technical issue was whether Lisa could take it into Thailand without paying duty. She could have in the first six months, but not thereafter. We decided we needed more information, wo went to the Thai Embassy first thing the next day.





Wednesday, Jan 12:

This time we had more difficulty getting a cab to take us into town. Our first stop was at the Thai Embassy, a grand white classical mansion at the west end of Orchard Road. Nancy was deputed to talk to the officials about whether or not Lisa could get the computer in duty free. We wanted to keep Lisa at arms length from the inquiry, and we felt Nancy might get a more sympathetic hearing. than Martin. It seem like she could import it but might have to leave a refundable deposit.

While Nancy was conferring at the Embassy,(23) Lisa and Martin went to some stores across the street. Lisa had been ordered by the Huana to get him some good golf balls from Singapore. Just by chance there were a group of sporting goods stores cheek by jowl opposite the Thai Embassy.(24) We wandered around a while before Lisa said. "I don't know which to get, I forgot the name he told me."

"Don't any of the names strike a bell?"

"No."

"Well, you will just have to guess and hope for the best."

So that is what she did(25)

After a while, Nancy joined us after her discussions at the Embassy.(26) We checked out our funding and decided to change some travellers checks. In the store, Martin spotted a Singapore key ring which he bought for the boy next door who is, we hope, keeping our sidewalk clear of snow. Martin made the mistake of dallying too long outside a tailor's shop, they offered him a new suit by 4.00 p.m. that afternoon. He hurriedly declined.

Out into the street, walked till we found a taxi stand, then a cab to the final shopping spree of the trip. Sim Lin Square, the electronics capital of South East Asia where we hoped to buy Lisa a Laptop computer. Incredible, five stories of small stores each selling different brands of computers; in a building with a faint whiff of incense about it.

After wandering though a dozen booths it became clear what the options were. A no-name local brand whose warranty would not extend beyond Singapore Island, and maybe not beyond Sin Lin Square; or an international brand machine with a wordwide warranty. We chose the latter, and after much discussion, but no bargaining, as the product was on sale, we chose a Toshiba 1900. It was light, had a clear screen, and, most important, a fast chip. Lisa was delighted. A snag, we had to pay a premium to put the machine on Visa.(27) Then we had to wait while they loaded in the software.

While we were waiting, we went to the Bank to buy travellers checks for Lisa's deposit, Lisa then went back to the store to pick up the Computer, and as she was a little sick still went back to the Chalets. Meanwhile Martin and Nancy had lunch and then went to the outside of Sim Lin square to await Young who was to give us the grand tour of Singapore.

Sim Lin Square is two buildings and the one we were at had a couple of main roads running down opposite sides, we didn't know which Young would come down. Martin spent his time going round and round the building until Young arrived, fortunately on the side that Nancy was stationed at. People looked at us a bit oddly as we sat on the sidewalk in the heat of the day.

First Young drove us around the colonial heart of the city, the Padang, government house, and the rest. We declined Chinatown as Nancy had been there already. We then visited the Singapore TUC Labour Education and research centre. The director is an old Toronto graduate. They have an impressive fresh new facility; complete with restaurant and dance hall.

Then we went to the highest hill in Singapore. We had a magnificent view from the top -- old mansions, the straights between Singapore and the outlying Indonesian Islands, the harbour. What an incredible complex. Toronto or Cardiff in its heyday were not as busy as Singapore. Everything for South East Asia, or from South East Asia tranships here. Just a very busy place, hundreds of container cranes. Ships lined up to come into port. Amazing!

Young then took us to the Island of Sentosa, Singapore's answer to Toronto Island (and the non falls part of Niagara Falls). We got there by riding a cable car, hundreds of feet off the ground. Our starts was inauspicious, Young, who is no lightweight, was sitting alone to one side of the car. As we started there were awful scraping noises, the attendant ran along side telling Young to move to the middle. The noise sent Martin's heart to his mouth. It popped out as we sailed out into space. The car gives a swing as it leaves the secure anchors of the supporting pillars and relies purely on the cable. At the end of the first swing it seems as though the car is going to take off into space. All the visions of breaking cables, screaming occupants flashed through Martin's mind. But after a few minutes and after nothing untoward happened he started to relax and enjoy the view. Again, the whole port was spread out below us. As were the Indonesian Islands, a very attractive sight.

After riding for about ten minutes we arrived at Terra Firma. Martin kissed the ground, figuratively. Then we took off to the Singapore aquarium. The highlight was a plastic tunnel that went through the exhibit. A conveyer belt ran through the tunnel so you just stood there and watched fish swimming all around you -- just sting rays floated above our heads; hammer head sharks did their thing to the side of the tunnel., sea anemones swayed gently as we went past. A wonderful display. The fish of the coral reef were revisited here.

Nancy and Martin wanted to get back to the Chalet as this was our last evening with Lisa, but Young wanted to show us more of the Island. We compromised on another half hour, feeling guilty about taking him away as he had done so much for us already. We walked down to the flower gardens and then back to the Cable Car. Another minute or two of pure terror and then the wonderful view again, followed by the relief of being on solid ground.

Young drove us back to the Chalet and we made our farewells. Young insistent that he would drive us to the airport at 5.00 a.m. the next morning; Martin and Nancy equally insistent that he should do no such thing and that we would get a cab.

Getting a cab proved to be a problem. Cabbies do not like working that early in the day. We needed two cabs, one for Lisa to go to the station, the other for Martin and Nancy to go in the opposite direction to the airport. We were fairly relaxed. We'll call a cab company after supper and arrange it. We walked up the beach, past a sea gypsy and fisherman settlement to a seafood restaurant, recommended by Young on the beach. There we ate well and drank plenty of Tiger beer.

After eating, Martin went over to the phone to call the cab. There are about ten companies. After about an hour of calling we had almost drawn a blank! Half the cab companies were closed down for the evening; four refused to do anything that early in the morning; one could provide us with one cab. Panic! We had to eat humble pie and call Young and ask him to come and fetch us the next morning. What a horrible demand to make of any one.



Thursday, Jan 13: Flying, Hong Kong, San Francisco and Toronto.

We were up and ready by 5.00 a.m.. It was a real steam bath, the hottest and muggiest day we have had. Lisa was all ready so Nancy walked with her down to the main exit -- only one gate is open during those hours. They only had to wait a dew minutes fore the cab came along. Young arrived a few minutes later and took us to the airport. There we check in quickly and manage to have time for a light breakfast before our flight is called. The first couple of hours in the air gets us to Hong Kong. Cannot see a lot of the city from a very cramped airport, no wonder they are building a new one. We hang loose in the duty free shops. Nancy buys a pretty silk scarf. Martin loads up on Harvey's Special Reserve Sherry -- turns out to be delicious. Then to San Francisco, then to Toronto -- arrived at 8.00 pm exhausted to the coldest days of the year, decade, century.

Lisa's trip to Bangkok went well. She had no difficulty with customs who did not even check her section of the train. When in Bangkok disaster struck. The strap on her computer came unclipped, the computer fell to the ground as she was getting off a bus, the bus ran over the computer. Thank goodness for the VISA 90 day protection plan, a claim is in the works!

1. Cummings, J. (1990). Thailand (4th. Edition). Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia: Lonely Planet.

2. Sin, Y. M. (Ed.). (1992). Malaysia. Singapore: MPH Publishing & Sun Tree Publishing.

Kim, V. (Ed.). (1992). Singapore. Singapore: MPH Publishing & Sun Tree Publishing.

3. Despite the fact that we passed through immigration at about 1.30 a.m. on December 27, our visas were dated Dec 26. We were a bit concerned as our tentative leaving date was to cut the 14-day allowed period a bit fine. Any delay in leaving might create a problem.

4. The only difference, which even we immediately noticed, was that the ceilings were much lower than they would have been in North America.

5. In all fairness, we should note that their English language skills were superb compared to our total ignorance of the Thai language.

6. A songthaew is a pickup truck with a steel roof and a bench along each side. They are widely used as shared taxis in Thailand.

7. We didn't think that we should drink the tap water, or use ice cubes, until we got to Singapore. That was no problem in Thailand where bottled water was cheap, and refrigerated; we never, well hardly ever, went anywhere without a couple of bottles in the knapsack. It was more of a problem in Malaysia where the prices tripled, and refrigeration was less usual.

8. Before leaving, Lisa had left us her portable roll of toilet paper.

9. Actually by now it was less of a struggle. The traffic had diminished so we could walk on the road so we, by trial and error, evolved a good system. Instead of one person trying to take a bag we had two persons per bag. This was a bit unfair on Kathrine as she also had to lug her backpack. Once Kathrine had returned home, the system adapted. One of us took the middle with a bag in each hand while the other two took the outside handles of the bags. Now we were unfair to Lisa who had to carry her backpack. She later vowed never to travel with us again unless we backpacked

10. Before we could do this we had to get into the house. It turned out that Lisa had left her doors unlocked while she had been away. Several of the villagers commented on this. Getting into a house, or a hotel, or a Wat, but not a store, can be a complicated business. Entering a house in Thailand, and Malaysia entails taking off your shoes. Lisa in her velcro tabbed sandals was suitably attired. Nancy in her slip on loafers was even better equipped. Martin with his laced shoes was not badly off. Poor Kathrine with her black ten lace hole Doc Marten's took several minutes longer than the rest of us. The first few days at Lisa's house we occasionally forgot this rule, till she yelled at us, in the nicest possible way.

11. There was also an 'evening market' further down the village street.

12. In March, Lisa and a friend were to ride their bikes to Chiang Mai over the hills.

13. The Assistant Director of the Park. Lisa says that he is in charge of security arrangements and is very proud of his gun collection.

14. Pointing your twos at anyone is the epitome of rudeness in Thai society, so think what kicking must be.

15. A tuk-tuk is very similar to a songthaew but is much smaller and is powered by a motor-scooter.

16. Many tuk-tuk and songthaew drivers have their wives and children riding around with them. Lisa is convinced that it is at the wives'

17. A long tailed boat is a fishing boat of timeless design, powered by a car engine that drives a small propeller at the end of a shaft which is about eight feet long.

18. That is too grand a term. It was a garage set among the row of shops, just wide enough to hold a minibus and a bench of people waiting and long enough to hold two of the minibuses.

19. We never did see one in Malaysia or Singapore.

20. Did we ever say thank you for sunscreen # 15. If not, we do now!

21. We also resisted taking a ride in a buffalo cart.

22. Kim, V. (Ed.). (1992). Singapore. Singapore: MPH Publishing & Sun Tree Publishing, p. 160..

23. What a grand sounding phrase, I should use it more often!

24. Maybe it wasn't by chance, many all Thais come to Singapore for their golfing supplies.

25. We've not heard that the Huana was disgusted by the offerings.

26. There, I did get to use it again.

27. See the final chapter