Tag Archives: thailand

A Noodle abroad: Thailand versus Cambodia

7 Jan

lanternsHow did you spend your New Year holidays? For me it was a return to Thailand and Cambodia on a whirlwind six day trip. It was a tale of two countries which bloody hate each other but have a mutual friend – the big spending flabby white tourist.

Mutual mistrust and hostility have characterised relations between the two countries since the time when they weren’t nation states at all but the kingdoms of Siam and Khymer.

The animosity is still invoked by modern day politicians to rally the people of both modern states and popularise their policies – most recently evident in a century-old border dispute which was finally resolved last year by the UN.tuktuk bangkok

In many ways Thailand is a canary-down-the-mine portent of what might be for neighbouring Cambodia – a country decimated by the bloody tyranny of the Khymer Rouge in the ’70s and the decades of instability that followed.

But after revisiting both places, I rather hope that doesn’t happen.

Yes, Bangkok has built up and out massively since even a decade ago. Skytrain, MRT, airport rail links and other big infrastructure projects have brought it well and truly into the 21st century, thanks in no small part to a steady stream of tourist cash.

soi cowboy

Soi Cowboy – Bangkok

Yes, its people are friendly, its beaches lovely (even though they’re packed with dreadful Russian oligarchs and their trophy wenches) and its 5-star hotels cocooned us in air-conditioned comfort.

But if I had the choice I’d probably go back to its near neighbour. I’ve said it before but Cambodians haven’t yet been worn down and made cynically acquisitive by a never-ending barrage of rudeness from arrogant tourists.

The service industry may be haplessly incompetent in some of the bars, restaurants and hotels you visit but just get over it; you’re paying a fraction of the cost you would elsewhere and there’s always a sincere smile when all’s said and done.

Plus Siem Reap*, our base for exploring the epic Angkor Wat, is possibly the nicest SE Asian town I’ve ever visited. Lovely low-rise colonial-era buildings housing cafes, bars and decent restaurants, and a main entertainment thoroughfare called Pub Street. What’s not to like?

Well, Korean and Chinese tourists who treat the whole Angkor wonderland like a theme park, for one. On my visit they managed to shout, bawl and litter their way around the temples like neo-colonial overlords, getting in the way of any good photo opportunity and turning a place of beauty, wonderment and silent contemplation into downtown Shenzhen.

That said, witnessing a tour group in which some of the girls are dressed in boob tubes and ripped jean hot pants only serves to highlight the gentle dignity of the Khymer people.

So tip big – they locals your money more than Thailand – and enjoy it.

*(Siem Reap means “Siam defeated” in Khymer … told you they didn’t get on)

lanterns

Ko Samed beach, Thailand

tuktuk bangkok

NYE tuk-tuk-ing, Bangkok

angkor wat

Angkor Wat

angkor wat

Bayon

Bayon, Angkor Thom

bayon temple

Bayon temple

Ta Phrom

Ta Phrom

Ta Phrom

A bit more Lara Croft action, Ta Phrom

pub street

Better…

angkor night market

Electro Siem Reap

pancake stall

Always time for one last pancake…

 

Ladyboys in Boots – NYE in Phuket

4 Jan

IMG_1064The world’s population can be divided very neatly into two mutually exclusive camps: those who enjoy New Year’s Eve and those who’d rather stay in with a box of wine and the box set of the Wire. Unfortunately for me, I’m firmly in the might-as-well-have-a-fucking-party category and have been searching for that perfect night ever since a roller-coaster ride through the suburbs of Newcastle in ’95 left me temporarily blind in one eye.

What this meant a few days ago was decamping to Phuket in search of fun, sun and lots of Chang (beer). Only now do I feel my blood is purified and my head clear enough to recount what went down. You may even find the following useful if you too fancy a break on Thailand’s debauched west coast.

My first observation: I have never been mistaken for a Russian oligarch so many times in my entire life. Yup, there’s a direct flight from Moscow to Phuket, which means lots of stunning ice maidens and horrific, vodka soaked, flame-haired 50-something divorcees. Then there are the men. Mis-matched primary colour wearing oafs, skin as pallid as cold pelmeni. I hate to regurgitate stereotypes but they don’t smile, they don’t talk, they just drink and growl whilst shoveling Borscht into their mouths at the many Russian restaurants that have depressingly sprung up in the area….

They played a persistent, menacing counterpoint to our lovely, smiley, patient Thai hosts who, to be fair, managed to make everything better. Phuket is actually not all bad and the beaches of Kata and Karon offer more relaxed, up-market holidaying options for those not prepared to join the Full Moon party loons in Patong.

A trip to Phuket, however, really isn’t complete without a visit to this town:

If Hong Kong is a coke-fuelled banker then Patong is his methamphetamine-addicted younger sister. Up. All. Night. A walk down Bangla Road is enough to cause temporary cerebral cortex shut down. Sketchy touts brandish laminated cards offering ping pong shows and shove live iguanas and slow lorises at passers-by; ladyboys – and not particularly hot ones either – grab at balls, arms, and anything else that comes close; sadness, tragedy, sex and sheer unbridled joy sit cheek to jowl, often in the same person.

IMG_1092Tattoo parlours proclaim “15 years experience. Brand new needles”; stunning Thai girls gyrate hypnotically around their poles with the agility of Olympic gymnasts; dirty electro blares out of every available speaker; cockroaches scurry; Japanese tourists gravitate between awe and terror – literally having no frame of reference for this shit. Even staff in the Boots at the top of the road are pre-op trannies.

A chance encounter with a flyer led us down to the beach on New Year’s Eve for electro festival Sydictive Element. A vanity project which encountered numerous hurdles as over-officious local government and police chiefs waited for their palms to be crossed with baht, the beach party to end all beach parties finally went ahead. Some DJs didn’t show but those that did will be glad – it’s not every day you get to play to 20,000 people on a stage moored a couple hundred yards off shore.

Never been to a rave on a beach before. Would be back in a shot. As the beach area was only 600 metres long and fairly narrow it meant everyone could get a good view of the floating stage, with its monumental soundsystem, giant LCD displays and floating VIP area. At midnight, flying lycra-clad ladies attached to hanging wires soared overhead as fireworks exploded around us to the tunes of Bassment Jaxx and beach-front party go-ers let loose a thousand paper lanterns.

Phuket: you party good. I shall return with reinforcements.