A Year in Asia 2006- 2007 travel blog

Food vendor at the Chumphon night market

Another food vendor at the market

The very sweet woman making our very sweet Thai pancakes. Mmmmmm.

A close up of the most delicious thing you can buy for...

I bought an extra bag of Thai pancakes for eating back in...

The wind whines and howls around our little bungalow on the hillside. Tree branches grind against the walls. The curtains flail about with each new gust. Its hard to tell how hard its raining for the sound of the fan in our room. It is a restless sleep, mostly because we know we'll be catching a ferry back to the mainland in the morning. Will it run? Will we want it to? The day before we'd stood on our balcony and watched the blur of white water and dark clouds approach, a wall of rain and wind drawing ever nearer until we fled to the safety of our room. In minutes, rain was being blown sideways under our door. The storms here are ferocious. Nervously, sleepily, we wait till morning.

The storm fades a little so that by the time we climb into the back of the pickup truck that is our taxi, we are not getting wet (though are pack covers are on just in case). Back in Mae Haad, we heft our packs and weave down the narrow gravel and dirt road to the ferry terminal. We wait and wait. The catamaran finally arrives, bouncing atop the waves, and we watch as slighly greenish passengers walk very slowly down the pier and into town. Hmmm. Might be a rough ride.

It isn't nearly as bad as it could have been. We're lifted up and down over the crests of large rollers for the first twenty minutes and it starts to look bad. Water splashes against the windows with each new rise and fall, and Laura puts on the IPOD to distract herself. I watch possibly the worst movie I've ever seen -- the premise being that Winston Churchill was an American soldier who saved the incompetent Brits from being overrun by Nazis -- but am sufficiently disgusted and horrified to forget being nauseous. Eventually the waves subside and the rest of the trip is calmer. Soon, we arrive in Chumphon.

We've planned to stay a night in Chumphon largely because I enjoyed the night I spent there en route from the meditation retreat to Ko Tao. We return to the same guesthouse, a familiar room (for me), and a very friendly welcome from the owner. The town, unlike most places in Thailand we've visited recently, is full of incredibly friendly, sweet people. This is likely because it is also largely free of tourists (its just a transit hub where tourists arrive and leave with less than a few hours in town). It is a relief to walk around a place that is not entirely geared toward tourists. There are local restaurants and (surprise surprise!) shops that are for local people!

Sadly, the tourist centres also seem to be places where many of the Thai people are either fed up or have ceased to care about being kind, gracious, and welcoming. I hate to say it, but its true. Chumphon is different: we visit a coffeeshop and the woman who owns it (and makes an incredibly array of the most decadent chocolate desserty things imaginable) welcomes us in a way we haven't experienced for weeks. A bow (wai) greeting, a pot of jasmine tea while we wait for her to prepare our order, and a feeling that she is genuinely happy we are there. It is a feeling we get from pretty much everyone we meet in the town. The woman who runs the local internet cafe tells us where to buy cellphones in Bangkok and allows us to print a document for free, and the owner of the coffeeshop waves goodbye to us when we leave. Simple gestures, but enough to make us feel like we are truly welcome ... a big difference from the tourist centres where I often felt like people were happy to take our money, but would rather we disappeared after that.

The Chumphon night market is a fantastic array of street food vendors: grilled satay and sausages, pad thai noodles, and my newly discovered favourite dessert: thai pancakes. They're basically a tiny crepe with melted marshmallow filling (or at least that's what it tastes like) topped with grated sweetened coconut. Mmmmmmm! I eat a ridiculous quantity and enjoy the sugar rush. That's the great thing about Thailand ... and I quote a monk from the monastery where I did my retreat: "Thailand is full of sweet and wonderful foods and its not easy to restrain yourself" Indeed. Is there ANYTHING that doesn't taste good?

The next day we check out of our guesthouse (the owner waits at the door for us, wishing us good luck and a happy journey) and head for the nearby train station.

The train to Bangkok is fast (amazingly fast at times, rocketing along at a somewhat unnerving speed), includes food that is quite edible though with somewhat mysterious slices of whitish meat, and would have been great if the journey wasn't so long. Seven hours of clickety-clack later, and the highrises, lights, and big city craziness envelopes us. I find myself feeling more and more excited as we pass huge highways filled with cars, massive skyscrapers, and the expanse of buildings as far as you can see. My favourite places on this trip have mostly been cities, and I have fond memories of Bangkok. I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

And our first experiences are surprisingly, shockingly, easy. We get off the train at the main train station and there are no taxi drivers cajoling us, no rickshaw touts to bother us, no grief at all. A man from the tourist information counter politely directs us toward the subway and off we go. Could it get easier? And the subway is pristinely clean, organized, and easy to navigate. Wow. So we find our way to our hotel with only a few Bangkok raindrops to navigate ... and find ourselves in the noisy, traffic congested, seedy Sukhumvit section of town. Its the same area we stayed a year ago, though it feels like we just left. It will be fun to explore Bangkok again. For now, though, we need some sleep.

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