2008- Entry 7: The Final Days

With the traffic in Bangkok it takes me just about as long to get to the Southern Bus Station as it does to  get to my destination, Ratchburi… about 1 1/2 hours west of Bangkok. I did not travel frequently in this part of the country, but at one point we stopped at one of the “remote” locations of one of our English Summer Camps of long ago……..   Those wonderful waterfalls (Sai Yok) that we bathed in are now crowded with shops and visitors. The in-season fruit being sold from Mom and Pop stands along the route. I wouldn’t have recognized the place if my host and former camp-attendee, Dr. Wanchai, hadn’t pointed it out to me.
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I reached Ratchburi after a short trip through bearly recognizable towns from the past. Char, you would not believe how Ban Pong has grown!  And Ellie, there is hardly a durian tree  to be found in Nonthburi— I’m not sure if that is such a bad thing! The high sulphur content of the fruit mixed with the heat let out such a foul odor!

After a quick lunch at Dr. Wanchai’s and photos with the family, we were off to a reunion of people who had attended the old summer camps. Our destination was a beautiful lake area in the northwest created by the damming of the river that passes through this part of Thailand. We stay at a resort near the lake. As we pulled up, Narong came out to greet us. He is now a police superintendent  in the same province. His wife is a gem and I am so pleased to see that they have such a terrific loving relationship. When he became a police cadet years ago, I was concerned because he was acquiring that tough exterior , but she seems to keep him grounded. There are also several others that I do not recall from the camps, but they are nurses in local hospitals and spend our time together trying to speak as much English as they can. I had to laugh because I had been trying to explain the inexplicable to Wanchai on the trip up—— the “culture” of cruise vacations! And wouldn’t you know it, one of the women there works for Carnival Cruises as a waitress and was back in Thailand on a two-month leave! What are the chances of that?!!? One of the others is Meng. He was always gregarious as I recall, but now he is an uber-extrovert and talks obsessively—— one joke after another—- with a vocabulary that would make a sailor blush! NOT exactly polished, but a great person. He is the head of the security guards at one of Thailand’s prisons.
Well, we ate and sang karaoke till 1AM. Then got up at 5:30 for a quick breakfast of rice porridge and off we went for the Burmese border. Thai “tios” (short vacation trips) are not for those who do not have the constitution for it!
We arrived at “Three Pagodas Pass” on the border about 1 1/2 hours away. I am glad that the Thais who had never been there were as disappointed as I was! This place is hailed as a near-romantic destination… what it is, in fact, is a small town selling cheap jewelry, gem stones of dubious quality, and been-there-seen-that souvenirs and furniture made in Burma…… all of it cheap in both price and quality. When you view the three pagodas, you think that someone is messing with your head—– they are barely 5 feet tall and not special in any way. Needless to say, we checked out the market and left to visit some architecturally interesting temples and do what one normally goes on a Thai tio to do—– eat at scenic restaurants! In fact we spend as much time at this beautiful eatery on the river as we do everywhere else that day combined……. The Thais learned a long time ago that it is the journey not the destination that is important.

We headed back to the resort in the afternoon and off back to home. Like most Thai tios, I got back to my hotel in Bangkok and wondered where the past two days had gone, they passed so quickly.

The next day, Thursday, I joined a group of other former camp-goers and went to a fantastic outdoor restaurant north of the city. We sat on the terrace overlooking the river and the quaint town of Pakret. The night was unseasonably cool with a clear sky and near-full moon. We enjoyed fish, fish cakes, vegetable dishes… all perfect. I love hanging out  with these four guys. They have all been best friends since childhood even though their lives have taken different courses and degrees of financial success. They talk about everything with the ease that people who have known each other so long often do. Topics ranged from politics to the latest gadgets available for cars. 

Yesterday was a get-together of some former students of mine from Peace Corps days. I was surprised by the arrival of Amnuay, who used to  be a “man of many jobs” at the school back then. He studied hard and is now a news director for a popular Thai newspaper and TV channel. He is still funny and straight-forward. We met at the same restaurant where we ate last year. The food was great—- haw mook fish (my favorite), vegetables, a salad, spicy pork  and fruit ripened to perfection. 

Now I am busy doing all those little tasks that one leaves for the final day. It is always hard to leave here. But I also know that this trip almost didn’t happen because of cancelled flights and the craziness of the airline industry these days. I remember at one point I almost gave up the idea of getting over here at all this year. So, with that in mind, every minute of every day has been a gift appreciated even more.

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