Southern Thailand: The untreated truth

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Southern Thailand: The untreated truth

The bamboo and thatch bungalows on the beach had the feel of a village: the family which owned them lived there, so did the staff of the small restaurant and their extended families, plus a few other unspecified people who came and went every day.

I stayed a week or so in this quiet part of an island off Thailand's central east coast, initially eyed warily by an Australian new-comer, the droll and dry Ian.

He had spent some years drifting through Asia and didn't have much time for fellow Australians. Wearing an inherited University of Melbourne t-shirt cast me as the enemy.

On the second day we got talking and, reassured I was more quiet that the boozers from his homeland, we hit it off. Most days we chatted in the sun beneath palm trees, swam in the warm sea, and in the late afternoon would share beers on the restaurant patio talking with the owners and kitchen staff, sometimes helping kids with their maths homework or teaching rudimentary English.

We'd carry supplies from the van, one day I helped a local family move house, another day Ian and I helped the taxi driver tinker beneath the bonnet, and we happily became part of the family.

One afternoon I poured a leathery old man some Mekong whisky and in return was given a bag of strong marijuana and was massaged within an inch of my life.

Later Ian and I were invited to share a special dinner treat with the family, what appeared to be sweet crispy fried chillies. They were delicious so the following morning I went out with one of the boys to find another wasp nest so we could again fry the larvae.

Every morning we'd watch two young German guys emerge from their bungalow and try to build a bigger and better bong, then spend the rest of the day getting stoned. Sometimes they'd go to town and come back with an even worse tattoo, then make another bong.

One day however the two girls with them were in a panic. It turned out they could no longer pay their bill. The woman who ran the place grabbed another German guest who had just arrived and insisted he pay for the countrymen he had yet to meet. He was bewildered so Ian and I intervened and later that day I took a stoned and badly tattooed German to town where he rang his father and asked for more money.

I don't speak German but I gathered from the tone of the conversation that it hadn't gone well. Nothing for the guy to do but go back to the village -- and get stoned all over again.

All week some local men constructed three concrete bungalows along the shoreline. They were built at a leisurely pace, but within days there were longdrop toilets dug, walls erected and the paint arrived. The owners were delighted and said they would be building three more within the month. Maybe more later. Business was good.

Ian and I watched this activity as he told hilarious stories, one about how he had diarrhoea in Pakistan but had to leave the country because his visa had run out. He had been too ill to travel but they dumped him on a plane to Heathrow where he was identified as a drug courier and informed he would be having a cavity search.

"I says, 'Knock yourself out mate, but I wouldn't go down there'. But they deed, and they regretted it. I was shuffled through pretty queek."

We laughed and had another beer and lazily watched the construction of the bungalows.

After a while Ian, who had been mulling over something, said "So, where d'ja rekkin the sheet goes?"

We looked at the longdrops in the new bungalows, looked at the ocean, looked at the longdrops behind our bamboo bungalows, and back at the warm ocean.

We didn't swim again.

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