EPISODE TWENTYFIVE – JUNGLE WARFARE
I spoke to soon about the weather. It’s inevitable isn’t it as the rains have started again. This morning it was coming down in stair rods, then the sun was out like a blast furnace in the sky and then rain again. One of those days I suspect when you need protection for all seasons, except the cold.
I hired a car for the day and my first port of call was the Immigration office in Phuket Town. I was advised by Dave (the King and I) that I could get an extension to my permit for thirty days at Immigration if they felt so inclined. Well, unfortunately today, they didn’t feel so inclined. I thought I was doing the sensible thing by following the map. Not so! The map I had must have been charted by Christopher Columbus because I must have circumnavigated the globe before finally reaching my destination. But I did find it. It was such a shame that the, usually very helpful, Thai people were missing from the Immigration offices. ‘I can give you seven days, that’s it. You’ll have to go out of the country and come back’.
Isn’t it amazing; we live in the 21st century and talk about globalization and how small the world is. We talk about United Nations, a European Union of Nations, the United States of America and the African Renaissance. We can get from one side of the world to the other in a day. We can fly to the moon. We can talk and see each other by webcam on Skype when we are thousands of miles apart but we aren’t allowed in each other’s back yards without miles of ‘Red Tape’.
Coming out of Phuket Town heading north on the main 402 spine road towards the airport we took a left, at Two Heroine’s Monument, onto the 4025 to Surin Beach for lunch. The life-size statues of heroic sisters, Thao Thep Kasattri and Thao Sri Soontorn, stand side by side on the decorated marble plinth located at Tha Rua. Built by local residents, and opened on 23 May 1967, an annual fair commemorates the bravery of these two girls who were instrumental in the defeat of the invading Burmese army in 1785. By disguising hundreds of women in army uniforms and parading them through the town, they tricked the enemy into believing that they were troop reinforcements from Bangkok. This eventually forced the Burmese to withdraw. Clever girls.
Surin Beach is a lively yet rural holiday destination ten kilometres north of Patong. It has a beautiful, small bay and the shores are washed by the Andaman Sea. We bought Papaya salad, baked fish and sticky rice from one of the roadside motorbike shops which we ate leisurely under the coconut palms. Not directly under the coconuts, I might add. Retracing our path back along the 4025 we crossed the intersection at Heroine’s Monument to join the 4027 heading north-east towards the gibbon rehabilitation centre and Bang-Pae Falls which is in the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park. The area is primarily a dense forest 390 metres above sea level at the highest point. A small area of the park is devoted to the rehabilitation of orphaned, injured and sick gibbons. Sadly these highly intelligent creatures have virtually been hunted to extinction on Phuket but I’m glad to say the project is slowly working. Once they are ready they are re-introduced to their natural habitat. It’s quite an eerie feeling walking through the forest and hearing their high pitched calls echoing all around you.
Before setting off towards Bang Pae Falls we took some water on board at the restaurant lodge near the entrance which was fortunate because it started to rain heavily. We waited about half an hour until it cleared and watched as a number of early walkers returned saturated from a typical tropical shower. The path to the waterfall is, I would guess, about one kilometre but seems a lot further because the path is rough, slippery and uphill most of the way. The natural beauty of the forest is breath-taking and at the same time overpowering. This is nature in the raw and you know instinctively who the boss is. I had no desire to speak as there is just too much pervading the senses; unfamiliar sounds, sights and smells. The oppressive hot wet blanket of air meant it would have made absolutely no difference if it had still been raining or not because by the time we reached the ‘falls we were drenched with perspiration. Someone once told me that ladies glow when warm, gentlemen perspire and pigs sweat. So I purposely used perspiration so as not to offend anyone even though I was sweating like a pig!
I now have some idea what it must have been like for allied soldiers in the Burmese jungle during the World War Two. Suffering from heat exhaustion, de-hydration, dysentery and mal-nutrition all at the same time can’t have been much fun. Surviving the jungle in addition to fighting the Japanese enemy must have taken enormous courage and will power.
I only went for a short walk but my clothes were soaking wet and I’m knackered. I had no change of clothes but fortunately I brought a towel with me so at least I could peel off my shirt, which was now like another layer of skin. I can recall memories of jungle restrooms/toilets in the Gambia, West Africa and here they were not dissimilar. The forerunner to the sceptic tank or the long drop we used to call it, as it took so long before you heard the splash. Hand basins with taps? – Maybe – Water from the taps? – Unlikely. – Squat toilets? -Inevitable and not so good on the old knees. – Toilet paper? – You must be joking. -Showers? – Very funny!! – Hygiene? – I beg your pardon?
Driving back in an air-conditioned car and wrapped in a towel it seemed a far cry from the experience of the last few hours. ‘There’s a roadside market! Maybe I can get a shirt.’ Thais are generally about half my size so we quickly returned to the car and zoomed off to Patong. I got my shirt, some toilet water (Eau de toilette so you don’t misunderstand me) and a Starbucks coffee. Nin got a dress and some jeans and with the onset of weariness we made our way back by the long and winding coast road to Kata and into another downpour.