Thursday, May 26, 2005

Erik's Thai Miscellany

I've been in Thailand for almost 4 weeks now and so today's post, as well as recounting the highlights of the past few days, is a bit of a mixed bag of some of my observations that I've been unable to crowbar into any of my previous posts.

At the moment I'm in Chiang Mai, the backpacker capital of northern Thailand, which means my time here is almost at an end as I have only a couple more places to visit before embarking upon Laos. The north of Thailand is definitely more picturesque than the centre, with forested hills and beautiful teak houses built on stilts. On the way up here I stopped off at several more archaeological sites i.e. ruined wats, and although they are undoubtedly interesting they get rather "samey" after a while. A nice break from the wats was a visit to the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre where, as well as the standard elephant show, they have an elephant hospital and "retirement home" for old pachyderms. They also do mahout (elephant rider) training programmes, which I was very interested in, but unfortunately they have to be booked well in advance and there's fat chance of me ever booking anything in advance. But if anyone is planning to visit the area, at only 200 pounds for 10 days' training with food, lodging and your very own mahout suit all included in the price it seems very good value.

Right, now for some pointless musings that I'd like to share with you. If you ever travel in Thailand there's one person you can never get away from: the King. He's everywhere. He isn't just content with having his face on all the money in the country as well as on huge billboards dotted all over the country, but he seems to have passed a law whereby all calendars sold here must be of him. Every house, shop, office I've been to has a calendar (or three) of him striking various poses. Plus there is a deference towards the king that harks of Victorian England. Another common sight, and one that continues to disturb me, are clothes mannequins. What could be so disturbing about clothes mannequins you may ask. But these aren't real mannequins, they're all horror, B-movie props (probably rejected for being too unsettling).

A local oddity that is still bemusing me is Thai magazines. They have many of the same magazines we have back home: FHM, Elle, Vogue, etc. which, reasonably enough, have their English names. What baffles me is that the article titles are also in English, whilst the rest of the text is in Thai (see FHM Thailand to see what I mean). I wonder if the Thais actually understand the titles, or have to read the articles before they can find out what they are about?

There has also been a culinary improvement upon crossing the border from Thailand, even though the basics are still the same (either noodles or rice with something). Ordering the food, however, has become more arbitrary, as I am usually reduced to pointing and hoping for the best (I rarely frequent restaurants, preferring instead to get my meals from street hawkers). Through trial and error I have learnt two invaluable phrases that should see any travel through safely in Thailand: pad thai, which is the basic noodle dish with assorted stuff that can always be relied upon (people who have lived with me may recognise in it hints of my own signature dish: Noodles And Shit); and mai peh, which means "not spicy", very important for those with a more delicate palate.

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