Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Acquiring the Taste - Gentle Giant

There comes a time, particularly on a journey such as this, that some transiting is inevitable and photographs are in short supply. The last 2 days have been just that, but when you receive help and kindness from people around you, how much easier everything becomes. The following is a precis from the Trip Fair Log which becomes the final narrative.

24/04/2012 - 06-00 After coffee went down to ask Mr Bean (Assistant Manager) to arrange taxi to Bus Terminus. His reply and action was to take me there (3 miles) in his own car saying, "we are friends now so this will help"!

07-00 Arrived Bus Station to find a man I met on arrival, he sorted my ticket and destination.
09-00 Took coach from Kuala Terengganu to Koto Bharu almost top north eastern corner of Malaysia, arrived 12-00.

12-30 Local bus 20Km to Thai border no problem with Immigration or Customs, either side, but found it a little difficult 'escaping' from the Tourist Police on the Thailand side. Asked where I was heading, I was ushered into the office, given coffee, an excellent map of the country and a fob with an Information/Emergency telephone number. Cameras in such sensitive areas are best kept well under cover but there were a couple of shots missed.

 13-30 - Senior Tourist Police Officer escorted me to motorcycle taxi, briefed driver and agreed price to take me to mini-bus taxi office in Sun-Gai Kolok. Much change here since last crossing at this point in 1999, mainly population with almost 95% Muslim. Discovered later that there had been a 'bomb attack' just a couple of weeks earlier, no note on Foreign and Commonwealth Office Web Site. Not a feeling of well-being, mainly due to language barrier, no English spoken at all.
2 hrs 30mins to Patteni, surly driver, seedy hotel.

 25/04/2012 No breakfast or even coffee at hotel, so down the road to find some along with guidance to next destination Thale Noi (Tally Noy). Excellent coffee at small cafe owned by Buddhist family who arranged motorbike taxi to take me to Coach Depot 5 miles out of town. Taxi man failed to get the Fat Lad and the luggage on his bike, cafe owner got his own car out and took me there, wouldn't accept fare.
90 minute wait at Bus Depot but nice ride to Phathalung 30Km from destination. Coaches only go into major cities, so abandoned at the roadside outside of the town. Entered small roadside cafe, warm welcome, coffee 30p with free Plantain. I now have a 'Lovely Bunch of Bananas' as well. Owner motorcycled me for free to Collectivo Taxi point some 2 miles away, wouldn't take payment and waited until I was safely on my way. Arrived Thale Noi 15-00, Nature Reserve accommodation full but found excellent alternative just down the road and on waterside for less money. After check-in Singaporean man helped me get Internet access then he and his girlfriend took me on 'one hour' boat ride on the lake - there treat. Said I would reciprocate in the morning, but they leave first thing. They then took me on a tour of the market, introducing me to many of the tastes and treats of this part of Thailand - that just about sums up 2 decent days more or less on the road.

The not overly inspiring town of Pattani, 

but the Dim Sum in my new found friends cafe looked good enough to eat!

Well folks, it looks like I've done it again! This is my new temporary residence, just a tiny, family run affair but already a feeling of well being, good service and that I may well over-stay my planned 3 days here. Unfortunately, I only have a card with a Thai hotel name, but do have the telephone number 074-685573,081-3683081, because the 2 things none of you will want to miss when you start rushing out here to Southern Thailand are Thale Noi Lagoon and this place.

More or less the views from the hotel, just 50 yards from the lakeside, the start of what has been a quiet day feeling ones feet (oh, did I tell you about my ankle?).

There was a little birding involved in the look around, but the photos will have to come when all is figured out about 'you know what', in the meantime it was a wander down to the Buddhist Temple Complex.

Where I have to say I was quick to pick up on the Karma of gentle sounding gongs, wind chimes and accompanying music. It was a full 45 minutes before I left.

Despite the initial sense of a poor community, Thale Noi is quite to the contrary and as mentioned before totally changed from my last visit here. Then, a hotel had to be sought some miles away meaning an early morning taxi. There was also only one access track, unmade and in wet weather impassable leading to just 2 broken down boats to view the lake at close quarters. Since then the Thais have built this small community, no more than a village, on the western shore excluding all the Holiday Inn, Kentucky Fried Chicken mob keeping it more or less traditional and it really is a wonderland. Everybody is busily doing something, even collecting used 'plastic bags' (as above) for resale, while each day a man presumed of my own years peddles his 'carrier bicycle' past the hotel and returns later gunwhals under with cardboard - must be a quid in it?

The place is not devoid of modernisation, as the Internet Cafe seems to be doing pretty well, while personally there has been not problem with access - except for those Goooogl - no won't go there!
One of numerous narrow alleys which hide a wealth of interest, but not as numerous as the caged birds which I do have a strong inclination to release.
Without a shadow of a doubt, food plays the biggest part in this village (as it does across the whole country) and just in time along comes the lady with her mobile Hookah Stall and my lunch.

A brace of chicken wings tightly clamped a'tween split bamboo, delicately marinaded and cooked over hot coals - Master Chef, get a grip!

Say Haven't You Noticed? I Ate The Lotus!
 (Stipe, Mills, Buck aka REM)

OK, so maybe not considered in the same category but this massive lake is at the least 50% covered in LOTUS providing a cheap and reasonably easy supply of food.
Each morning men and boys are seen both from the banks and in boats gathering this valuable crop, which I feel somewhere someone must control.
The root systems are much sort after

while seed heads too are much prized. The jury is still out as to whether I'll be back for more, but as Gentle Giant maintain it's 'Acquiring the Taste'.

It'll  come as no surprise either that the local waters hold an abundant supply of fish, some cultivated others caught wild, but most left to dry (cook) in the sun au naturale, now that is what I call 'tucker'.
I have only been here a day and a half, and already I've visited this lady 3 times. So much so that her mates on the neighbouring stalls are now making 'wolf whistle type sounds on my approach. It's her 'fish cakes' I'm after of the mini size, tasty fish and just a hint of lemon grass. Anyroad, they do say the way to a man's heart etc, so I may come home with a Thai Bride yet - breath holding is not recommended at this point!

The fixed stalls and
the mobile Green Grocer  and by the look of the sky not much more time for wandering about.

By the time I reached the jetty, just a few yards from the hotel, Thor was already getting angry, hammer clashing on anvil and the wind (Odin, send down a wind and make it safe for snorting - an old Submariners chant prior to charging batteries while still below the surface, particularly aboard HMS/M Odin) freshening through the trees.

We were in for, and got, rain of monsoon proportions, but nothing compared to what is being experienced on the west side of the peninsular, just 200Km away. The family in the next room are taking shelter from what have been 6 earthquakes in recent days with many injured.

Just time for a quick photo call with the trainee Buddhist Monks before making a bolt for home.

There, I surveyed my purchases and what amounted to dinner. A bag of a dozen small fishcakes, 3 barbecued belly pork slices, some bread and a 640ml x 6.4 bottle of Chang Thai beer all for the princely sum of £1.30. I should point out that the pork had been marinaded in Satan's Spittle but can report to getting used to the spicy stuff - Bon App├ętit.

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