A Travellerspoint blog

February 2009

Love Blossoms

sunny 30 °C

The sweet fragrances of frangipane and jasmine have scented the evening air throughout our journey, but their delicate blooms pale in comparison to the exhuberant hues of hibiscus, lotus and lillies like these ....
It is summer here in the tropics, but it's always summer. Only the hot monsoon downpours mark a change in the season and bring relief to the sun-parched rainforests. And, with the welcome rain, comes a profusion of blooms in the canopy; clusters of vibrant red, pink and gold dangle like giant ornaments on Christmas trees, while fragile-stemmed orchids cling to the lower branches.
Walking anywhere here - even through the grimiest of city slums - is like strolling through the Tropical House at Kew.
Love blossoms in this beautious place, both for honeymooners, and for old-fogeys like us who are rejuvenated by the eternal summer. However, all is not rosy in this equatorial Garden of Eden. Thailand is renowned as the epicentre of sex-tourism, attracting multitudes of fat, ugly and old men to despoil the beautiful young flowers of this ancient kingdom. Young girls, and boys, forced by poverty and often encouraged by family and friends, prostitute themselves with the low-lifes of our 'civilised' society. It is sickening to see men who, at home, might be considered upstanding citizens, parade their nubile catches as trophies; inviting us to pretend that they have conquered by charm and good looks and not because of a handfull of cash or a promise of a passport to a better life.
Here is just one of the many thousands we have encountered ....Yuk!

Posted by Hawkson 20:04 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Take only photos - Leave only footprints.

sunny 33 °C

As waves wash away our footprints from the Samui sand we are coming to terms with the fact that this Asian adventure is nearing its end. Sheila's dream of becoming a full-time professional sunbather is fast fading into the equatorial sunset and she is ready to throw in the towel. Why? Because she has realized that her proposed new career is no less bothersome than her last. Who would imagine that lying on a lounger, with a good novel, by a warm cerulean sea could be anything short of heavenly? Who would not be happy to swap a corner office at Vancouver Island University for long, dreamy days on this sun-soaked beach.
Hang on just a minute - belay that wistful thought. What about the pests? What about sandflies, mosquitoes and stinging jelly fish?
There are none of these here. But there are pests - hordes of them. Here is one ....
This pesky purveyor of pan-pipes can drive a sane person to an asylum with his ear-splitting tuneless whistling - an apparently successful sales strategy .... anything to get him to buzz off.
These guys operate a mobile BBQ and fruit stand and are just an example of the dozens of food merchandisers who stop by during the day - all day - every day!
Then there are the trinket salesmen. This one was so determined to overcome Sheila's well-practised resistance that he fell asleep.

Watches, (all fake ... naturally), sarongs, ties, T shirts, necklaces, bracelets, carvings, balloons, wall-hangings and paintings are paraded past in a never ending stream. These sales sharks carry more haberdashery than Marks and Spencer's, (all guaranteed handmade and very cheap), and more deli delights than Thrifty's.
At V.I.U. Sheila could shut her office door and tell Maxine to keep pests out!! But here on Lamai beach there a no doors, so the pests just keep a' coming.
It's a tough life for Sheila - but someone has to do it.

Posted by Hawkson 19:47 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Safety Second

sunny 33 °C

Due to the overwhelming, (dare we suggest "gloating"), interest in our near-death experiences, we thought we would take you to the dark side of life in south east Asia. It soon became apparent to us that the locals enjoy a wake as much as the Irish, which, we assume, is why they are so careless about safety - especially other peoples'.
The roads are the New Killing Fields. Here on the small island of Koh Samui we are reliably informed that two people a day die in motorbike accidents. Motorbikes are deadly, especially when racing down the sidewalks to avoid traffic jams - like these guys in Ho Chi Minh...
Wide, uncluttered sidewalks are almost non-existent here, but our delight in finding a stretch was always marred by bikers using it as a shortcut, or by open sewers or massive unprotected potholes such as this ...
Sea travel is always risky, but an inspector from the Canadian Transport Safety Board would be instantly driven insane here. We've been on boats where the liferafts were welded to the deck to prevent theft; where life-preservers were a few old lumps of polystyrene jammed into the roof struts; where the only way on and off was to leap from a steep, muddy bank; where, if you were fortunate, you could balance your way across a bendy plank. Safety rails? What safety rails!
Try riding a motorbike aboard the Gabriola ferry like this!
The locals take it all in stride and laugh at us 'falangs' as we tread fearfully. But everyone here lives on the edge. Some of them live on the edge of the main trailway line, like this ...
... and some on the edge of the river, like this ...
And this isn't a monkey up a tree. Take a closer look. It's the municipal arborist testing for rot. Notice the complete lack of safety equipment.
Ladders, scaffold and safety ropes are for wimps here, but construction workers all wear knitted woolly hard hats and steel-toed safety flip-flops.
Death and disfigurement are very much part of daily life here, but we were puzzled by the almost total absence of handicapped people in wheelchairs, until we realized that they simply can't exist here - there are no facilities for them whatsoever: no ramps; no unobstructed footpaths; no adapted buses or taxis. If you really want to make an Asian shake his head in disbelief and give him a good belly-laugh, tell him that we have specially marked parking places for the handicapped.

Posted by Hawkson 19:17 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

The Vivacity of Daily Life

sunny 31 °C

When the French King, Louis XIV, pronounced that, "Nothing is more tiresome than ceaseless pleasure," he had never strolled the sugary palm-fringed beaches of the southern seas in the pink warmth of the fading sun, nor had he bathed in the crystalline water that briefly turns to champagne as it effervesces onto the sandy shore. After four somnolent days in this Siamese Nirvana, Sheila is ready to abandon retirement for a second career as a professional sunbather. Louis XIV would not have approved. However, he was a man of innovation and mechanization - often operating the valves and sluices that set the spectacular fountains of Versailles in motion - so he would thrill at the occasional commotion as a Jet-ski roars across the placid bay leaving a turbulent trail of foam and fumes. We, on the other hand, prefer to be lulled by the gentle swish of wavelets rucked up by a lazy breeze.
Blue burns itself into the memory here - blue in all its glorious natural shades: cyan, indigo and navy through azure to powder - both sea and sky conspire to turn our world blue.
The Provencaux appropriated the epithet 'Les Cotes d'azure' for their corner of the Mediterranean, but it is a name that would happily apply here. Throughout our jouney we have been constantly struck by the vivacity of colours and the vivacity of life in south east Asia. Life here seems much sharper - more in focus - than at home. The colours are, metaphorically, more black and white. But life itself is more piquant - more on the edge. It's richer and poorer; faster and slower; sweeter and bitter. In our world the sharp edges have all been rounded off; the road is generally smooth and the temperature thermostatically controlled.
Here we are living La vie en rose without the filters. You can almost taste the sweet juice of these rambutans
.... and hear the gentle breeze sighing through the rice in this paddy.
.... and smell the scent of these exotic flowers
Perhaps the Balinese know something that we don't when they leave their offerings at the shrine. Maybe there is a god after all.

Posted by Hawkson 18:34 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Safety First

sunny 32 °C

"You just can't be too careful," our 'nanny' travel counsellor told us before we left home. Then she reeled off the top 20 of the world's deadliest diseases - all of which we were almost certain to contract on our Asian travels. We heeded her advice, had the shots and stocked up our first-aid kit with more drugs, hyperdermics and sterile swabs than the average junky. It was insurance - we told ourselves. But it wasn't cheap.
Did it work? Well, we didn't catch rabies, typhoid or tetanus. But we didn't get leprosy, bubonic plague or scurvy either ... and we hadn't taken precautions against those. However, we suffered many near-death experiences on the roads and could have come a cropper almost every day in one way or another.
Following are some basic guidelines for travel in South East Asia. (Note that this journey should never be attempted by persons of a nervous disposition).
Never expect motorists to stop, (or even slow), at pedestrian crossings.
Never assume that anyone will stop at a red traffic light.
Motorists speed up if they see little green men at a pedestrian signal - maybe they think they are Martians!
Don't think for one minute that sidewalks and footpaths are for pedestrian use.
Don't bother to look for the seatbelts in the rear seats of cars.
"One-Way Only," signs apply exclusively to the other driver.
Don't hire a motorbike that isn't equipped with airbags .... Wait a minute - what's a motorbike airbag? We knew you would ask, so we took some photos to show you.
Here are a couple of motorbike airbags - off duty.
Yes, they look just like a couple of cheeky little toddlers walking by the side of a busy main road. (Note that children under two are rarely left to wander on the road without the supervision of a three-year-old sibling). But they are actually airbags in-waiting.
Here's what a couple of airbags look like when in use.
Notice the broad smile on the adult's lips. He is very happy because he is protected back and front by a couple of squishy little airbags. Well-done dad - although you should be wearing a crash helmet. Just think what could happen to your brain in a really nasty crash!
Here's an airbag who is determined to grow up with more brains than his mother, (if he lives that long), so he is doing his homework on the way to school.
And here is a baby airbag in training. Note that the 'training' position is as a central airbag. He will have to wait until he is big enough to cling on before being promoted to a front or rear bag.
Note that both mum and dad are wearing crash helmets - way-to-go parents. Don't you just love to see parents bringing up their kids safely and responsibly?

Posted by Hawkson 19:47 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

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