Some might have noticed a minor news item: a military coup d’etat in Thailand. I was pleased to hear this, because such an even lends credence to my last novel: Flying’s Easy. I strive to ensure that everything in my novels is plausible. Anyone foolish enough to read my books without a grasp of geography, history, or basic current events might question some aspects. Some might have found the bits in Bangkok in my novel to be far-fetched, but recent happenings prove me justified in writing what I did.
I was amused to note that the US Government is “reviewing” its ties with the Thai military. They don’t care about the government of Thailand, a country that has been a stanch ally and partner in war crimes. And, no one wants one less friend in the neighborhood of China, the future “Evil Empire” of military planners.
Here is a tough question: Consider the two photos below and think of where you would rather be at this moment.
One photo shows my current predicament; the other was taken where I was two weeks ago. One has a daily temperature of -5C; the other enjoys daily temperature of 33C. The makes a difference of almost 40 degrees. (Those of you not on the metric system can do the math.)
All things being equal, most would choose warmth and sunshine. But, all things are not equal and choice is not always available. One tends to become stuck where one is, with the occasional vacation escape.
Despite winters more harsh than in Thailand, I am happy to live in a temperate climate. Anyone having read Somerset Maugham or Rudyard Kipling will understand what I mean.
Anyone planning a beach vacation in Thailand should know one fact: all beaches are public. Travel brochures with carefully cropped photos showing pristine, uncrowded beaches can be deceiving.
Even the land in front of hotels and private homes cannot be restricted. It seems that hotels can prevent independent operators from setting up umbrellas and lounge chairs, but the cannot prevent anyone from lying on the sand or peddling wares on the sand. Of course, the can restrict access to their property, which protects guests from buying trinkets, fake watches, fruit, coconut milk, etc. once they leave the beach.
The above photo shows the beach adjacent to the hotel, where entrepreneurs rent chairs and umbrellas and hawk food to people staying in town. The open beach is in front of the hotel and is open to anyone with a towel.
I have never had a problem with this feature of Thailand. Most beaches are away from cities, so few people besides hotel guests are ever present. Hua Hin is different, because the beach is narrow and is adjacent to the town. Although it was never crowded, one did not have the same feeling as at a hotel in a secluded bay on Phuket.
The beach in front of the hotel (behind the trees) is less crowded, which suggests some control over vendors. At the extreme left is the sprawl shown in the first photo.
And, Elephant of the Day (I can't promise there'll be another...)
The elephant is the symbol of Thailand, or so I was told. One runs into them everywhere. Well, not real ones, but carvings, paintings, vases, you name it. Each table in the hotel restaurant had such a vase.
Having been to Thailand many times, we now own several: in teak, ceramic, sand stone, and so on.
I doubt that anyone, who has stood in line at McDonalds for a Filet-o-Fish (I never have), has ever considered what it would be like to have to catch one own's fish. Or given any thought to the logistical process of getting that food onto his or her tray.
I also doubt that the guy in the photo below, who understands the logistics of putting food on the table each, has ever stood in line at a McDonalds. At least, his supply chain is shorter and simpler.
I like local markets, because the offer a picture of daily life of wherever they exist.
Today, I visited the twice-weekly market in Hanau, Germany. Customers were also few, but I attributed this to the nasty weather and over-supply of grocery stores competing with price. Vendors seemed to be resigned to low sales, but still proudly touted their wares. I like the market, because many items are superior quality to chain store goods. I am fortunate enough to be able to choose quality over low price.
Last week, I explored the market in Hua Hin, Thailand. This was located in a narrow warren of alleyways off the main street. Outside, bright sunshine pushed the temperature past 30C. Inside, light was minimal; odors were intense; and the atmosphere was friendly. Despite an air of being at the lower end of the economic scale, people seemed happy. Prices were extremely cheap. Customers were few, but I attributed to the time of day.
Thailand offers several forms of pollution to both residents and visitors, but the most-intrusive is noise produced by the ubiquitous long-tail boats. This unique feature of Thailand can be enjoyed along rivers or at the seacoast.
There oughta be a law...
A long-tail boat is an interesting develop in naval architecture. At some point, some local genius decided to mount an automobile engine on a boat. Why? Because he had one and needed to power a boat? Who knows? Modern-day versions have probably not evolved much from earlier models, beyond an increase in horse power and noise. For some reason, mufflers did not make the transition and seem to have skipped the notice of government regulators...if such an animal exists.
Anyway, the motor is mounted on a pivot at the rear of long, narrow boat. Size varies from putt-putt to monster-truck.
The drive shaft is extended by a long pole (‘tail”) and a propellor is added to the end.
The “driver”, or whatever he’s called (I have yet to she a female handling a long-tail boat, so there’s work for emancipationists yet to do.) Speed is regulated with a hand throttle.
The propeller is lowered into the water, power is applied, and off the boat goes. Anyone knowing the sound of a tractor or a Harley without its muffler will be familiar of the noise made by these nuisances (unless you need a ride). Unlike Harley's, these babies are working machines, not unlike a tractor. They are used to fish, carry tourists, or haul goods. I have never seen a "pleasure" long-tail, even if some drivers look as if they are having fun...
Yesterday, I watched a report on television about how the German police control trucks using the highways for size, weight, and safety. I could not help but recall my recent trips on Thai and Vietnamese highways, where I spotted a need for such controls. I also noticed more than one truck broken down with broken springs. I doubt that weight and balance is taught in schools.
We were forced to check out of the semi-paradise and ride to Bangkok, where we will stay overnight at the airport hotel. Ending a vacation is always difficult, but ending a great vacation is depressing.
On the ride in the back of a Mercedes, peering out the window at reality of Thai daily life, I was reminded of the importance of time and space in traveling. Both the first night and the last night of this trip will be spent in airport hotels, to prevent a nervous dash in the morning and risk of being stuck in traffic. Having the time to spend roughly two days to catch a flight is a luxury. The other important aspect of good travel is space: first class seats, airport lounges, hotel suites, and limousines. I find that each is worth the extra expense to make a vacation relaxing and smooth-running.
I was also reminded of how lucky I have been. My life has been rather pleasant, compared to that of most people on this planet. As we approached Bangkok and passed many huge factories, shifts were changing. People streamed from or towards their places of work, most in some company uniform and most female. I felt a twinge of sympathy for these poor souls. They must be happy to have a minimum wage job, but will be stuck there for the rest of their lives without upward mobility or chance or improvement. Frustration must be great, mollified only by Buddhist beliefs, if anything.
Speaking of minimum wage: an article in the Bangkok Post informed me that the government recently ruled that minimum wage will be 300 Baht per day (about 7.50 euro). That is about equal to the German minimum hourly wage. The article mentioned some employers laying off workers, because wages have become too high! This is more extreme than Republican efforts to lower wages in the United States (Right to work for less), and many would love to copy this.
One must stop and think, when his or her hotel room costs about twice as much for one night as the maid makes cleaning that room in a month. As I said, I am reminded about how lucky I am...
We left the sheltered confines of the hotel and ventured into town, where we could glimpse the adjacent hills, the horizon, and clouds. As daylight faded, the show improved...
I take back some--but not all--of what I said about Thai sunsets.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.