Same same but different
Mar 9, 2005
|I've only recently left Ranong, a welcoming provincial town renowned for its hot springs and separated from Myanmar only by the Pak Chan river. Ranong is one of those refreshing places where you feel like you're in the midst of Thai living rather than in a world geared mostly for tourists. The internet cafe here is filled with Thai boys with crew- cuts playing noisy computer games.
I feel like I've been in southern Thailand now for an eternity - the long days and languid heat, combined with officially being on 'Thai time,' all the time, seem to have this effect - but soon I'll be bidding farewell to Thailand to begin my write-up back home.
I'll miss this place: the aromatic punch of garlic sizzling in back kitchens; sunshine filling up every inch of the day; watching monks draped in burnt orange robes and sporting cool aviator glasses; bursts of freezing air-con massaging my forehead on rocky bus trips, and oily pavements glazed with bright light.
Back home, I won't get the same pauses of accountancy, politeness and considered delay when settling bills, nor a waiter hovering around the table waiting for me to choose a dish. I'll crave the blazing sunsets that catch you by surprise, and wish for the taxi drivers who go out of their way to find a destination for you.
I'll miss catching television commercials set in softly lit studios showing potions and lotions - dripping avocado oil, dancing wheat husks and milky waterfalls - surrounding fair-skinned Thai models. I'll miss hearing the Thais answer their mobile phones with deep "hello(s)" then at once launching into animated Thai.
Travelling beyond the obvious itinerary stops, I've been fortunate enough to see glimmers of 'Thai-ness,' undisturbed by mass tourism. I'm amazed at how the Thai people remain so centred and calm amid frenetic street life, busy traffic and in the company of sometimes demanding tourists. Even many local dogs possess a certain peacefulness.
Seeing giddy kids in the back of pick-up trucks and hotel staff breaking into fits of laughter has demonstrated to me, time and time again, the Thai's sense of fun. They have a great freedom of being, of going to sleep just about anywhere and enjoying the abundance of life and nature - the fresh fruit, the heat, the meaning of a smile.
I think it's this personality which has enabled them to be so incredibly resilient in the wake of one of the world's worst natural disasters, the tsunami, which catapulted itself onto Thailand's western shores not so long ago. But I'm confident that despite the profound losses, Thailand will recover, stronger and wiser, more welcoming than ever.
In bright and brassy Bangkok, the balmy heat is soothing and as travellers on action-packed Khao San road stop to ponder at the many signs showing missing persons lost in the tsunami, the velvety tangerine and grey hues of dusk, the tiger-like roar of the traffic and the balloon vendors carrying masses of buoyant air stay forever etched in
memories, and it feels like it might rain.