Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Thai dry

"Let's rent a motorbike. It's only 200 baht a day (about Dh20, or £3)."

It's very tempting. The Japanese step-through bike is everywhere, and unlike in the UK where there is a major social stigma associated with grown adults riding chicken-chasers, these machines are the practical transport of the masses. Given the riding style, however, I dread to imagine what would happen if the major motor manufacturers got their way and managed to prise everyone off bikes and into cars.

Of course, people ride bikes out of necessity rather than choice. Two, three or in extreme cases even four-up on a Honda C90 are common occurrences, as are riding helmetless and in flip-flops.

The law demands that riders and pillion passengers wear helmets, but as the local constabulary chooses not to enforce the law, it is widely flouted. Does this sound like anywhere else? It reminds me of everywhere else.

With a maximum payload of 170kg, I was advised that Mme Cyn and I really ought not to share a moped. And the only big bike I saw for rent was an ancient Hardly Ableson with bald tyres. But it was the flip-flop issue that convinced me not to rent a motorcycle. Neither of us had any proper shoes, and in my mis-spent youth I have learned the value of foot protection while on two wheels. But not while elsewhere. Being an inveterate nelipot, I packed my flip-flops away on the bus trip from Phuket airport and didn't find shoes necessary again until I got back to work.

We rented a car, and spent a couple of days exploring the astonishingly small island of Phuket.

You still have to be a bit careful when renting a car in Thailand...

It turned out that the west coast bays were rather commercialised. This is where to go if you like posh hotels, souvenir shops, bars and nightclubs all jostling for space on the seafront road. Chalong, which is where Mme Cyn and I stayed, is rather quieter.

The roads are still loaded with shops, this time offering diving, dive kit and Thai massage (sometimes all in the same venue), but there was a lot less of the 'in your face' pandering specifically to the rich foreign tourist who wants a suntan, a souvenir and a shag. Are cormorants indigenous to Thailand?

Thai silk, I am reliably informed by Mme Cyn, is the souvenir. After dragging up to a new shopping mall, Jim Thompson informed us that we should go to the factory outlet, and gave us directions. Souvenirs and gifts for the folks back home all sorted. Job done.

We visited Wat Chalong, the major local Buddhist temple, where I took photographs.

I wonder why it remains necessary to have the Hot-Pants Police on permanent duty? Do people really not understand that thing about respecting other peoples' beliefs? Based on my observations, it seems not.

I really like the local habit of setting of very loud fireworks inside an enclosed space as shown above, in order either to attract the attention of supernatural beings, or in the case of evil spirits, to scare them off. Just as well I'm not an evil spirit; I'm a great fan of irresponsibly loud pyrotechnics.

Elephants were on my to do list. Whilst very familiar with the elephant in principle, I'd not seen one close up since about 1969 in Singapore, when I was extremely small. Our hotel manager gave directions to a recommended elephant emporium. We chose the short, 20 minute ride, which turned out to be a wise decision given the terrain. Elephants don't do downhill very well. The animal's handler alighted from his beast partway through the short trip and took photos with my camera.

Some of the shots are not of his thumb. He tried to encourage me to get off the saddle and sit astride the elephant's neck, but I declined, fearing that moving my large and ungainly bulk might unbalance the payload and cause me to fall off. Thai elephants aren't very large, but it's still a long way to tumble.

After taking the punters for a ride through the woods it is, of course, necessary to get a good wash down.

In the bar at Pachyderm Central were some other funky creatures...

We managed to get horribly lost in downtown Phuket, but the town not very large so the principle is to keep going in a straightish line until a direction sign is enountered. Traffic lights have countdown numbers, which seems like a brilliant idea until you realise that everyone waits until the red numbers get down to about five seconds and then jumps the signal. It's disconcerting to drive through a green with several seconds to go, and to have a horde of mopeds accelerate straight at you!

We eventually found our way to Phuket aquarium, where it was possible to see some of the fish that we'd missed while diving. The major tank is one of those with a transparent tunnel. The water was full of leopard sharks, white-tip reef sharks, eagle rays and trevally. It proved impossible to get a satisfactory photo of any of the aquarium's denizens.

We also found a butterfly farm. In order to see the insects it was necessary to pay for admission and then to run the gauntlet of various live tarantulas on display in acrylic domes. I'm not an arachnophobe, but it's beyond me why anyone should wish to keep a large spider as a pet. It's furry and has long legs, I suppose. The same as a saluki. Anyway, the highlight for me was the world's largest moth.

The atlas moth, that metamorphoses from this gigantic caterpillar, was capable of dwarfing my beer gut, and that is some achievement.

It is enormous. And so is the moth.


El Casareño Ingles said...

Ah! I remember Sauron the moped. That which I got multiply and comprehensively nicked on.

Helmet law is now strictly enforced by the Guardia Civil here, but the locales still seem to have a lax attitude in some places. No police force seems to want to encourage safe riding practice though. Young males still make up 90% of the RTA statistics.

Would you believe it? The government has also outlawed loud fireworks (except where organised by a commercial company), so the Valencia fallas literally went off like a damp squib this year - remember those little crackers you had to throw at the floor to go off?

Glad to see you having a good time on holiday. Perhaps Spain one day, though forget the flip-flops.

sirrah said...

Moped! You shouldn't have been allowed to share the elephant. Poor pachyderm

Grumpy Goat said...

Would you care to identify yourself, Sirrah? I demand satisfaction! etc, etc. ;-)


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