While we were in Thailand Bob and I made many new friends. We first met one of our new friends, “Mr. A.”, a truly genuine young man who drives his own taxi for a living, purely by chance. We were out walking one day, passed him on the beach, said g’day, and got talking. In the course of conversation we mentioned that we were staying at the Manathai in Surin Beach. “Mr. A.” gave a surprised laugh, and told us that Dome, a manager at our hotel and another of our new friends, happened to also be his best friend.
For a good part of our stay in Surin Beach “Mr A.” was our constant companion. He’d drive up in his taxi straight after breakfast and take us exploring for the day. He introduced us to his friends, told the locals to look after us, and was never short of suggestions about marvellous places to visit. Some of the places he took us to were known to tourists. Other places were off the beaten track and known only to the Thais: mostly, these were “nature” places, the forest hideaways, the rivers and creeks and swimming holes and waterfalls, and the forest walks and clearings that the local Thais took their own families to for picnics and swimming on Sundays and holidays.
With “Mr. A.”, we poked around, talked to the people, discovered beautiful and fascinating places that are virtually unknown to tourists, and learnt a great deal about the Thai culture, the people, the local history, and the traditions and customs.
One of the beautiful spots that “Mr. A.” took us to was a natural sea-channel that is almost hidden from view. During bad storms, super tides, and tsunamis, the Thais use this natural channel as a safe haven for their long-tail fishing boats. Running alongside this sea-channel is a narrow, stone-walled road that opens out to end on the beach. If I understood our history lesson correctly, the local Thais built this walled road by hand.
We explored tiny secret bays and beaches.
In the forest, we saw a great many coconut palms and a lot of different kinds of edible fruit bearing trees. Some of the trees, such as the mango trees for instance, we already knew, and others, such as the durian, we recognised instantly even though we had never seen one in our lives before. The durian has quite a distinctive smell. No-one could possibly mistake a durian tree for anything other than a durian tree–the stink of its fruit hangs in the air and instantly lays you flat. In the forest, many of these fruit trees grow wild, and many more are planted there by the local farmers. In the forest, we climbed steep, rocky, mountain paths, marvelled at huge edible fungi that are a highly prized delicacy in Thai cuisine, and learnt to identify the various gingers and other edible plants.
Then there are the waterfalls and the hidden creeks and the leafy, tropical glens.
On another day, we drove along rural back roads beside rubber-tree plantations,
met some of the local farmers,
looked at great stretches of swampy land where water-buffalo once wallowed, and were shocked to see how it is now being cleared ready for future building developments–luxury villas, apartment blocks, and hotels–
and drove through country villages
before finally stumbling upon the inevitable and coming back to the reality of globalisation and commercial-wrappers on heart-attack hamburger buns …
Another of the places we explored with “Mr. A.” was Old Phuket Town. He took us through the old French Quarter and the old Chinese Quarter and the other quarters and sections, told us the history of the town and its quarters, then dropped us off to walk down an old, old street made famous by the traditional silk merchants. In this street, nothing much has changed for centuries. The modern-day silk-merchants still conduct the same businesses their forebears had established long before. Silk-businesses were passed down through the families from generation to generation. At the bottom of this old street we rejoined “Mr. A.” and his taxi, and the three of us went looking for somewhere fairly reasonable to have lunch.
We drove around looking, found a restaurant, and while we were waiting for “Mr. A.” to find a parking spot for his taxi and join us, Bob and I walked around a corner and bumped into Ronald–a familiar and somewhat vivid character whom we had already met in Australia. It is widely known that Ronald is an American, and a globe-trotter. Or perhaps I should say he has clones all over the world in places one would least expect. He has even set up a camp at the base of the great pyramids in Egypt, so I’ve been told. In any case, Ronald is also a bit of a clown by nature and he couldn’t stop grinning when we met him in Old Phuket Town. In fact, he seemed so delighted to see us that Bob decided to brave the fierce, hot, dust-laden wind that threatened to blow us away, and renew the acquaintance by getting up close and personal.