25 Dec 2007
Trang, Thailand
7°33'5.96"N 99°36'4.39"E


Merry Christmas. It doesn't feel like Christmas. It isn't a holiday in Thailand (why should it be in a Buddhist country?) with everyone going about their normal business and kids at school doing end of year exams. We couldn't find Christmas cards for our parents - only Happy New Year cards (which we posted on Christmas Eve - shhhh).

There's something about Trang. Something - well, I don't know. Just something. Then Peter made me realise what. The morning after one of his Big Night's Out he'd remembered someone telling him that Trang has won an award for being a clean town three years in a row. That's what the something is. We weren't picking our way through piles of rotting garbage. There were lots of bins, and most people were using them. For the few that weren't and the leaves, there were lots of street sweepers. I watched several of them over the course of a few days from the balcony and was surprised to see that they weren't going about it in a half hearted manner. They really were sweeping all the leaves, and going back for any they missed. They also cleaned leaves out of the drains rather than brushing them in. Clean streets, no litter, no nasty smelly piles to step over. That gives Trang a really big thumbs up. Good on them.

We spent last week at the beach at Pak Meng, about an hour east of Trang. It's only 40km, but as usual the minibus crawled and tooted and crawled and tooted until there were no more empty seats. At least this one didn't have live chooks on board. We hired a motorbike and got around a fair bit of the coastal area. There really isn't that much to see, hot springs which we thought you could take a dip in but were just to look at and a waterfall was about it apart from the scenery. Fortunately for us it was overcast so we didn't get burned, but overcast makes slim pickings out of the photographs. We crossed a temporary bamboo pole bridge, in place whilst the other was being repaired which led to a hairy moment or two. About half way across, I got off - my back can only take so much juddering in one day, and I figured it would be easier for Peter to get across without me on the back. It wasn't. We also rounded a corner and were confronted by a herd of 20-odd cows which had escaped from somewhere. We stopped and waited for a car - figured it would be easier if it parted the wave and we followed very closely. Great idea in theory. Not so good in practice. It was a quiet country road and we were there for a while, just hoping that for some reason they didn't decide to turn around and head towards us. Eventually, help was on the way. Not. We got a rally driver wannabe in a big 4 wheel drive. He blasted his horn all the way through and drove really fast, spooking the poor buggers and making them run. We had to wait for another, more sensible driver. And wait. Plenty of cars seemed to be coming towards us. Bad timing I suppose.

In Pak Meng, the food was a bit disappointing (again) and the only good meals we got were one at the Resort and one really good one at a sea front canteen. They didn't speak a word of English, but we managed to get across our orders, even though Peter ended up with two grilled squids - that whole meal you can see (I had grilled fish steak) cost less than A$7/£3 - including 2 big bottles of beer.

The food in Trang is heaps better. We've had some of the best meals since arriving in Thailand, although some of them have been a little too hot to handle or left us with tingling lips for several hours. During the day there isn't so much going on, but when the night comes around, markets set up and there are food stalls everywhere. Our biggest problem is that we don't know what things are. In Malaysia, it's easy because they use the Roman alphabet and we can recognise words. In Thailand, if we get something we like we can't ask for it again because we don't know what it's called. Sometimes the stall holders will be very patient and repeat the name over and over, but it's such a difficult language to come to grips with. I take my hat off to anyone who studies Thai.

As you can see in the picture opposite, you don't get a salt and pepper pot on your table in Thailand. You get all sorts of things that we try a little bit of (mostly - some of them look a bit too evil and some of them we are warned off by staff who are a bit concerned for our safety). In touristy areas, the people on food stalls and in canteens don't even ask - they automatically make the food quite bland for westerners, which is a shame really - there seems to be no in-between, you either get no chili or mouth tingling chili. As we tend to eat away from the areas where there are a lot of westerners, we are sometimes asked if we are sure we want something if it's already prepared like a curry or soup, and if we want spicy if it's being cooked to order. I keep trying to get it over to them that we want a little spicy, not mouth burning, but not none at all. I really should get someone to write it down for me. And a few other things. Like don't put melon on my plate of fruit salad because I can't eat any of it once it's been contaminated. It really ought to be banned. Peter does really well out of fruit salads, almost always getting two.

Anyway, tomorrow we're off to Satun. It's close to the Malay border, and we still haven't decided if we're going to get a bus to Alor Setar or take a boat to Langkawi. We still have a week left on our visa, so we might poke around the islands off Satun, or we might go back to Hat Yai and hire a motorbike and explore a bit.

Decisions, decisions.