Categories
Asia/SE Asia

The Last Hurrah in Tawdry Hua Hin

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Apparently Ian and I are managing to get older without getting any smarter. The night before we had to take our 6 am train from Hua Hin to Bangkok we decided to go out and photograph a girly bar or two and ended up hanging out in one of them instead. (It was too dark to take decent photos without a tripod or being too intrusive so the shots are lousy but I’ve included a few to give a hint of what its like there). An old Londoner with a big cockney accent bought us beer and shortly thereafter he and his ‘thai wife for a week’ and his old fart of a friend and his Thai “wife”, and Ian and I, were all singing and trying to follow the hooker behind the bar who was doing the arm movements to YMCA (as in “I wanna stay at the YMCA”). So too many hours later we got home too late to do anything but tumble into bed. However, we did manage to get up at 4:30 am as planned, pack our panniers and the bikes in suffering silence and cycle out to the train station in the dark only to find, hey deja vu, our 6 am train was delayed by 2.5 hours. Sigh.

Ian caught a few zees on a bench at the station and I amused myself watching a local family sorting out all the stuff they were moving to Bangkok including their rooster who they let out of his box for a bit so he could get some air. We also met a chiuahua whose owners have taught her to put the tips of her paws together and wai (traditional Thai greeting). She was very cute and did her tick many times for us so I shared my cheddar cheese with her. She loved it and would have gobbled down my entire stash if I hadn’t held back as I was worried about her eating too much given her teeny little stomach.

I shared cheese with another little pet we met in Dolphin Bay, 50 km south of Hua Hin. We stayed at the Terraselin (next door to Dolphin Bay Resort, 50 bucks a night including breakfast, double our budget but a nice treat) and the manager there had a six-month old black kitten that Ian nick-named Miss Marnie and who visited us every morning for the 5 days we were there. She purrrrred when she ate cheddar – I have never seen a cat purr and eat at the same time. But I know exactly how she feels. Extra-old New Zealand cheddar.Yum.

We haven’t done much in the last two weeks. We’ve enjoyed our time on the coast but have learned a few things for future trips. First, it is too hot to cycle in Thailand after mid-March and when it starts to get hot, the best place to be cycling is right along the ocean. So, a possible plan for next winter is to fly from India to Malaysia in mid-January and then cycle up to Bangkok along the coast and then home to Canada by the end of March.

Despite the heat we tried to make the best of our 50 km ride to and from Hua Hin to Dolphin Bay a week or so ago. We managed to ride most of it off the highway and a significant chunk on a road paralleling the ocean. Except for the 10 kms on the highway the ride was quiet and we loved the views of ocean and palm trees on one side of the road and, between Hua Hin and Pranburi, all kinds of resorts on the other side of the road. By the time we got to Dolphin Bay, the resorts were fewer and further apart and we loved the peaceful setting and the pool we found ourselves in for a week where I celebrated my 51st birthday and finally got over the flu. On both the ride there and back we put up with 39 degrees with fully loaded bikes and there were moments when that was not a lot of fun.

After our week at Dolphin Bay, we headed back to Hua Hin for another few days of being ocean-side before heading to Bangkok (where we are now). Hua Hin itself is a small city, about 100 kms south of Bangkok, with an eclectic mix of people. We stayed at Bird’s Guesthouse, which we learned has a regular expat following, and we enjoyed the people we met there. The room itself was kind of run down (we paid 23.00 per night) but the location is amazing as it is right on the ocean. The building sits on stilts and we could hear and watch the tide come in under us. There is a large deck which the guests share and in the late afternoon we gathered to drink beer and gin and tonic and watch the fish boats that were anchored directly beside us get ready to go out for night fishing.

Hua Hin is home to a bunch of condo developments for expats, weekend Thais from Bangkok, European family tourists staying next door at the Hilton, and a fair number of sexpats and tourists looking for bar girls. There were days when the bar girl scene got to both of us – it is sleezy and discouraging – and days when we just shrugged as it is commerce as old as humankind and well, there ain’t no fool like an old fool and we saw lots of them every day. Many older white guys are dumb enough to think that they can find themselves a gorgeous girl thirty years younger who will fall in love with them and not their money. Let’s just say that that is a rare event. The other side of the coin is that a lot of these girls are from Issan, a poor area of Thailand, and they are expected to work in the bars and send money home. If a foreign guy does get involved in a long-term thing with a bar girl, he will be expected to support her family (that is her parents and siblings and any children she might already have). So, not a great situation for a lot of the girls either although I think it beats the street-walker level of prostitution we see at home on the downtown east side.

That being said, I think we all sometimes need to be shaken out of our own judgmental points of view and by happenstance Ian and I were drawn into an interesting scene at our night in the girly bars. The old cockney guy and his ancient buddy told us they come to Thailand once a year for a three-week blitz. One of them told us he was married to a Thai woman for a number of years but she had died a few years back and he was on his own now. On this trip, these two old guys had rented a villa and two ‘Thai wives” for their three weeks. As we drank beer and chatted with them, a street vendor came by with lots of slinky looking dresses. Mr. Cockney bought dresses for his ‘wife’ and one of the bar girls who just happened to be sitting on the other side of the bar from us, acting as the disc jockey. There was a lot of laughing and teasing going on and no one seemed to be under any illusions about who felt what for whom in that foursome. It was strictly business and fun. But eventually Ian and I started chatting with the hooker who had been leading the YMCA song. She had watched us talking between ourselves for a long while and then told us rather wistfully that she had a 63 year old Austrian boyfriend she didn’t see very often. She eventually poured out her heart to me telling me she loved him and was waiting for him but it was hard because she missed him (and reading between the lines I could see she was worried about whether he felt the same way about her). She told me she had lots of invites from other foreigners who would set her up and pay her 5000 baht (a week I think) but she said no as her heart belongs to the Austrian farang (foreigner). When we got up to leave she came running around to the outside of the bar to give me a big hug, grateful for having had someone listen to her heartache.

So, judgement suspended…

Given there weren’t a lot of sights to see in Hua Hin and the fact that it was so hot we spent a lot of time on the internet. I have downloaded three books of fiction by Turkish authors from the Vancouver library, found a blog on camp sites in Turkey, have spent hours looking at an interior design website called Houzz (highly recommended), have downloaded a learn French app for my ipad and once again can remember how to conjugate a few basic verbs in a few basic tenses and have been having a lot of fun looking at a site that publishes menus from Michelin starred restaurants and saving them as inspiration for a time when I can cook again. Oh yeah and yesterday morning I found a bunch of DIY sites and learned how to make self-irrigating vegetable planters.

A busy few weeks indeed ☺ I don’t think I have ever been so relaxed.

Categories
Asia/SE Asia

The Expat Experiment — A Month in Chiang Mai

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Chiang Khan to Loei 50.59 km
Phu Ruea to Dan Sai 50.00 km
Dan Sai to Nakon Thai (10 kms beyond) 61.13 km
Nakon Thai (about 10 km outside ) Phitsanoluk 81.85 km
Phitsanoluk to Chiang Mai – we took the bus. Its bloody hilly!

We’re off the bikes for a month except day rides and commuting in Chiang Mai. This is the first of two one-month breaks we planned for this year of cycling. The next one is scheduled for August in France. We will, however, continue to take the odd week off here and there.

We are almost at the 4000 km mark and I have to say the big mountain climbs are still hard for me. They must be easier since I started this trip I guess but after all that flat riding – essentially since the Lao/Vietnam border, getting into the mountains en route to Dan Sai and to Phu Ruea was still tough for me. We were about 10 km out of Loei when the first long climb started – probably about 10 km with some steep bits. We also climbed out of Dan Sai for five or six, again with steep bits. As usual, though, the mountain scenery was beautiful and the traffic light. Maybe one day I will manage to get through a climb without cursing at some point…Close to Phu Ruea I passed a sign that said STEAK AHEAD and was very happy to find that Ian, who was ahead of me of course, had pulled into the roadside restaurant to stop. We had a great meal (steak!) and continued on for another 10 km or so and then stopped at a mountain resort (and there were a number of lovely resorts) frequented by Thais, all wearing toques and scarves (it was 15 degrees at night oh brrrr ☺) We were the only farangs and the only downside to a beautiful night was a lot of bad singing. The Thais do love their karaoke but I swear they are all tone deaf! Luckily they stopped by 10 pm.

We both felt a huge wave of nostalgia when we arrived in Phitsanoluk. I don’t know if it was because it was the end of another cycling leg or because it was such a typical large Thai town, a city really and we loved all its Thai characteristics. It was also quite hot once we hit the plains and I enjoyed rolling by brilliant green rice fields and coconut palms.

I also enjoyed the bus out of Phitsanoluk, especially when I got to see the 20 km climb I missed on highway 11. Although it has a wide shoulder it is quite busy and I think I will prefer practicing some hills around Chiang Mai on quieter roads. As usual the bus was great: we were charged 3.00 each to put the bikes down with the luggage and then less then 10.00 for the two of us to ride for 8 hours.

We both love Chiang Mai. It is very western in the old town and if this was the only part of Thailand I’d ever seen I would find it too commercialized. However, given all the beautiful rural places we’ve seen and all the small towns we’ve visited I am not bothered by the western aspects at all. I am thoroughly enjoying the fact that there is a pub on every corner and an amazing choice of restaurants. Within a 10 block radius we have an Irish pub, a middle eastern restaurant, a few Indian restaurants, a number of Thai restaurants of course, British places with fish and chips and bangers and mash, a big Mexican place, a French-inspired bar called the Writers Club where you can get steak and frites and red wine. The list is endless and it is all easily walkable and in a perfect climate – 20 degrees at night and 25 in the daytime (although I hear it is supposed to get up to 35 this week).

Our room is large, air-conditioned if we want it, has cable tv, internet, a fridge and western style bathroom, a large wardrobe, a desk and a small café table and chairs. We have a view of a temple. We are paying 200.00 dollars a month. There is a small restaurant on the premises where we can lounge about outside and eat pad thai or a curry dinner for 1.25 each. There is also a shared kitchen if we want to cook ourselves. An expensive meal out with a carafe of wine, a steak with peppercorn and frites and a pork chop with mashed potatoes, apple pie with ice cream and an additional glass of wine was 28.00. Last night we had an Indian meal for 18.00 (for the two of us). Breakfast is typically 3.00 for eggs, coffee, croissant and often ham or bacon. Many of these places are outside or have outside spaces and I love being able to be outdoors much of the time.

We can’t afford to come home!

And so I am seriously thinking of retirement with some freelance work thrown in and a lifestyle where we are here for 6 months and somewhere in the Gulf Islands or Vancouver Island for the other six months. Accomplishing this sooner rather than later has become a serious project in the last week and will be what I focus on while we are in Chiang Mai. I’m building complicated retirement calculators in excel… I’m selling my boat…I’m looking into health insurance costs and property taxes on the island…I’m trying to do a little freelance article writing to prove to myself that this is all doable…

And when I am not sitting at my computer calculating the cost of my existence I am wandering about the neighborhood. The old town in Chiang Mai is a maze of little lanes called sois. On a typical morning we walk 200 metres to our favourite restaurant and bakery, saying hello to neighborhood dogs along the way. We have made our first trip to the expat grocery store where I can buy cheese and wine…not cheap but no worse than home and possibly better as wine is 10 to 12 dollars a bottle rather than 15 to 20 (although there is a selection of pricier wines as well). Riding a bike around town is the best way to get around and I am really looking forward to more exploration after number crunching in the mornings.

The tough part is missing friends and family and we will eventually rectify that with our six months in Canada, six months in Asia plan.

Ciao for now from Chiang Mai…