1 Mar 2006
|For the sake of brevity, I am condensing our next 3 days into one entry. We are touring the infrequently visited, undiscovered jewel of Southeast Asia called Phaic Than (it is spelled many different ways as their alphabet is hard to transcribe into English). First, we are visiting the grand capital city of Bumpattabumpah. The capital, while large and spread out, has only a few sights to see so our time there will short.
First, we stop at Wat Duop Prahm, also known as The Temple of the Wobbling Buddha. The Buddha is more that 22 metres high and inlaid with gold leaf and pigeon poop. There are 61 bronze bowls behind it, all bearing auspicious inscriptions except for the last one which is, in fact, an ashtray. Another very interesting sight is the Floating Market. The financial section is the best with slick young brokers bobbing around in brand new boats buying and selling stock. As a note, Bumpattabumpah is the only stock exchange in the world that closes for high tides.
We retired to our hotel, the luxurious Orient Star. You can sit out on the opulent balcony overlooking the river, sip a fantastic cocktail and watch all of the overloaded passenger ferries capsize. It is also the only hotel in Asia where you receive a full massage while checking in and a full string quartet plays in the elevator.
Dinner was at the Bhodi tree where, if you are not seated too close to the Karaoke bar, is a very nice little spot. Dishes are prepared in the customary Phaic Tan style - burnt to a crisp and drowned in chilies. A quick night cap at Thuy Trai, a gay bar that, not surprisingly, features a rear entrance and its back to the hotel as tomorrow we leave for another spectacular city.
Today we are flying to Pha Phlung in the province of Sukhondat. The flight into Phlat Chat airport is rather uneventful Interestingly enough, the nation air carrier, Royal Fok Tok airlines, encourages smoking on board all of its planes to compensate for the lack of cabin lighting. The first sight you see as you are driven towards the city seems to be a group of ramshackle wooden shack. In fact that is exactly what these are, comprising a majority of the buildings in Pha Phlung. Really there are only two sights to see here. First, the thriving commercial centre first set up by the French in the late 1800's where semi precious gem such as emeralds, sapphires and depleted uranium are still traded today. The second being the Nam Chak Water Slide Park and Elephant Sanctuary. The water slide park is a great deal of fun if you are OK with rides that exceed civil engineering safety standards governing velocity, vertical drop limits and exposed rivets. The best slide is called Hhoc Whoa (the Big Enema). Good times!
Tonight we are staying a bit down scale at The Sea Breezes, a small boutique hotel popular with backpackers and methadone addicts. Rooms are small and fairly dim, in keeping with the staff. The hotel boasts a pool designed to look like a natural pond-the surface scum certainly helps.
After a long day of seeing the sights, we stopped at a sidewalk vendor cafe for some dinner and a few beers. You can't imagine how excited I was to see a Phaic Than specialty on the short menu called lah-see. I was very close to ordering it when the nice German couple next to us suggested it might be dog and that we stick to the vegetarian noodles. They also warned of drinking any beverages in Phaic Than as you will most likely get diarrhea (Whet Pu).
So, today we are off to the tropical paradise of Thong On on the regional air carrier Southeast Asia Royal Airservice (SARS).
Thong On is a great place to relax and truly enjoy the hospitality of the Phaic Thanese. The beaches have been cleaned up a great deal (it is now required that sewage pipes drain at least 20 metres from the shoreline) and it can be beautiful. Getting sun is the main thing to do here and as long as you can avoid the stray dogs, vendors selling t-shirts, vendors selling bracelets, vendors selling necklaces, vendors selling bedspreads, massage huts, vendors selling corn on a stick, vendors selling pineapple on a stick, vendors selling dog on a stick, vendors selling donuts, plastic bottles, chunks of Styrofoam and the odd sea creature, it can be a lot of fun. If sunning yourself isn't the thing to do, there is always the main road which stretches behind all of the beach bungalows for about 5 kilometres. It's a hopping placed filled with bars, restaurants, backpacking chav that have fallen down in the gutter from drinking too much 2USD beer, motorcycles, dogs, massage stores, people selling an array of items like t-shirts, bracelets, necklaces, bedspreads, corn on a stick, pineapple on a stick, dog on a stick, and donuts. Good Times.
We are staying at The Shangri-La, a very posh resort in the middle of the beach. A fabulous place, it has a staggering array of guest facilities. All suites come with a personal butler, complementary cocktails and breakfast, all night pillow fluffing, free local calls, your own pants press, your own pants, daily newspaper, someone to read it to you and a sunken bath so large it is possible to do laps. The hotel offers free laundering of clothes as well as currency. Guest rooms also feature hand woven carpets, each with a certificate of authenticity as well as a photo of the pre-school child who made it. Those wanting to keep fit look no farther than the fitness centre in the Shangri-La. It boasts a gymnasium, squash court and two indoor air-conditioned tennis court complete with resident professional coach and ESPN commentary team standing by to call your match. It is so large and so self contained, except for the smell, you would never realized you were in Phaic Than.