|It can sometimes seem that all you do all day in Thailand is fill up the time between eating. And with such fantastic food on offer it's not a bad way to go about things. I've yet to have a bad meal here and in fact I've had some of the best soups, curries and stir fries ever. I've even had rice and pork soup for breakfast. Toast just seems really boring now. I took a walk this morning down Khao San road, the backpacker ghetto, lined with traveller friendly restaurants along with Burger King and McDonald's. With such fabulous food to be had in cheap Thai places and on the streets I just can't understand why anyone would choose a Big Mac over a chicken curry or a papaya salad. Even when I buy a packet of crisps I like to try the local brands with flavours like Fried Lobster and Spicy Squid.
Thailand is very different from India. The people are friendly, for sure, but they're not genuinely curious about you as people in India are. Tourism is big business here and everything is fairly well organised. The downside of this, of course, is that so much package tourism leads to overdevelopment and on many islands you feel like you could be in Greece or the Spanish costas.
My first stop was on Ko Chang which pretty much summed up the sanitised Thai experience: bars and clubs with music till the early hours, a 7 Eleven on every corner and unsophisticated Russians with minimal language skills. But it was nice to relax and the island is undeniably beautiful. I found a great little local restaurant with authentic food, the kind that leaves you sweating and with a burning mouth, and I ate there every day. I also went snorkelling on a boat trip round some of the smaller islands just offshore.
After 5 nights I was ready to move on and caught a ferry further south to Ko Kut, very close to the Cambodian border. The weather had turned a bit cloudy and windy and the sea was a little choppy, but the views were fabulous. Much to the bemusement of all the passengers, one of the boat crew members was wearing a belt full of carved wooden phalluses (or should that be phalli? I don't remember declining this noun in Latin at school!).
Ko Kut is still pretty much underdeveloped although how long that will last I don't know. I stayed at an incredible place right on a river that flows in from the sea and a stunning beach. The hotel provided kayaks free of charge and so I spent one morning rowing upriver along dark and mysterious mangrove lined canals. Once I'd worked out the correct way to hold the oar it was a great experience.
On the way back to Bangkok I decided to break the journey in Trat, a small town on the mainland close to the ferry piers. There was not much to see or do, but there was a fabulous food market so I ate a lot. It was definitely off the tourist trail with no menus in English (or Russian) and so I had to point. Actually I have learned a few Thai words so I pointed at some soup and said "moo" which counter intuitively means pork and has nothing to do with cows. Thai is a tonal language which means that the same words can be pronounced with different tones which alter the meaning, but the woman at the stall seemed to understand and so I sat down on a plastic chair and waited. And pork soup I got. Or rather soup with many bits of the pig which I've never eaten before and will be happy never to eat again. Surprisingly it was very tasty, but I admit I didn't eat all the pig pieces.
I've spent the weekend back in Bangkok which is very hot, although I still manage to eat a lot. I took a ferry boat on the Chao Phraya river today to Wat Arun a very imposing Khmer style temple. After many days of relaxing and sunbathing, it was good to be sightseeing again. Thailand has been a nice rest, but I'm keen for a new challenge now and I think China will be exactly that. I fly to Hong Kong tomorrow for a week and then head into mainland China for a month.