Spider bites, Amphawa on the Mekong, temples, elephants, more temples and a gory suicide

Worryingly, yesterday morning the blisters on my ankles still looked quite gross and frightening, so I went to the internet to try to discover what might have caused it.
Let me give you some advice. Do not believe a single word that you read in online forums.
According to lots of people with stupid online names they no doubt think are amusing, it is a reaction to mosquito bites, my feet are being digested by my shoes due to the formation of ‘sock acid’, it’s the first sign of the beginning of the end of the world, a reaction to soap, ghosts, peanuts or poison ivy.
Looking at some more scientific and, frankly ‘well balanced’ accounts it seems that in all likelihood they are spider bites, and, so long as it doesn’t get infected, nothing to worry about.
Happily there are very few spiders in Thailand for some reason and none of them are dangerous. A blister is as bad as it gets and Tiger Balm cures everything.

On Wednesday we went to Amphawa, about an hours drive away down Rama 2, which runs from Bangkok to the south coast, and where there’s a floating market, some days, but not yesterday.
Amphawa is a beautiful little town, or village on the Mekong and we headed off to get a coffee and smoke a cigarette but Nel and I were stopped by a man who wanted to know if we’d like to go for a trip down the river in his boat, we guessed.
Kev and Jayne were a little ahead of us so they came back and we all agreed that a trip down the river in his long tail boat and lunch at a restaurant on the way the boatman knew would be lovely. What we couldn’t have guessed at, though, was just *how* lovely.
Long stretches of riverbank lined with banana trees like the opening scene of Apocalypse Now, but many many times nicer for not exploding.
Men in white, fishing from tiny flat bottomed boats in the reeds, homes on stilts, terns, and some kind of osprey. Egrets and kingfishers and nets slung between posts sunk in the riverbed, and the noisy engine of the long tail blatting behind us.
The boat is a traditional hull design, with a slightly convex bottom and a second hand turbo charged car engine mounted on a pole. Steering is by moving the prop about, which is mounted on a ten foot shaft connected to the standard car gearbox. Cooling comes straight from the river and out from the water pump and when he opened it up it was pretty bloody quick. Well it seemed it, and great plumes of water shoot spectacularly into the sky. Fantastic fun! When we got back I reckon he tried to freak us out by opening the throttle right up, turbo whistling as we approached the pier. To a large degree he succeeded, but, living on a boat, I knew that throttle off, it would slow quickly and I was in no doubt whatsoever that he knew how to drive the thing.
I had no doubt whatsoever that the restaurant we stopped at half way round was way, way too expensive and that we should have just had a coke.
Be suspicious when the beer is 150 baht and there are no prices marked on the menu
When Kevin’s food arrived, it was being eaten by two large crabs but he showed them not to mess with his curry sauce and killed them with a forkanspoon.
Steeling myself, I foolishly ordered fish curry for the first time and was not surprised to find that my dislike of fish had not diminished to any degree at all. It was horrible.
That was my fault for trying fish cakes. And their fault for bringing me a bowl of water in which chillies had died with some pieces of Victorian bathroom sealer in it.
We did, however, take some great shots of a gecko, which has the largest feet out of all the lizards, maybe.
The boat trip was spectacular and cheap and when we disembarked I shook the boatmans hand, which was a novelty for him, and he seemed pleased.
We walked on down the street which was signposted ‘Walking Street’, past an open gym where two sweaty and sinuous Thai boxers were battering the crap out of some punch bags, and where Nel and Jayne lingered outside for some time.
I’d not realised my wife took such an interest in contact sports, but she she seemed to be enjoying watching these two lean muscular athletes practice enormously.
Further on down the end of Walking Street we came across a temple. Just an ordinary parish church, and not an extravagant cathedral like the Golden Temple. A monk was sitting on a bench eating and drinking coke or something and didn’t mind me taking pictures discreetly, and then, while I was snapping the temple, two monks came out of the door and I got some lovely lovely shots of them talking. Amazing!
Later, the younger one was sweeping the road, and I can’t see the local vicar back home doing that!
Jayne went to ask him how old the temple is and he was smilingly happy to talk.
Back home we sat on the balcony drinking beer and chatting. Kev has told us about the iPad apps he writes. He’s made one called Power Penguins which he showed us, and he told us about the explosion he’d tried to build into it.
Now. As I understand it, there are algorithms online for character movements, rain, trees and things, and effects such as explosions, but Kev, being Kev, wanted a different kind of explosion and couldn’t find anything or anybody who could help him create this. And so, one night, after musing this puzzle and drinking beer, he had a eureka moment. Knowing Kev as I do now, I can well see in my imagination how this happened. He got out of bed and started to write the algorithms. He told us, and I have no reason to disbelieve him, that he is rubbish at maths and the result was arrived at with a mix of Leo beer and serendipity, but he wrote an explosion that behaves as required in the game, sometimes, but is unstable and will equally sometimes explode everything, including your Penguins. He was laughing hysterically as he told us this. And, despite trying, he cannot understand what he wrote, or where to begin trying to change it. Beer is brilliant!

Yesterday Kev had to work in the afternoon, so he dropped us outside a food stall on a dusty track and we got a taxi to Central Rama 2. The mall opens at eleven so we had to take a lift up to floor 3 where they work and wait half an hour in the reception. Jayne introduced us to the staff and the coffee machine and we sat, a curiosity, while we waited for the mall to open.
When thousands of people arrived up the escalator, we said goodbye and thank you to the staff and the coffee machine and found a cafe that sold food without a face for breakfast and so spent pleasant hour sat eating croissants and drinking coffee until Jayne finished.
I didn’t know what they had planned, but we got into a taxi outside, and then got out again when he refused to put the meter on and said it would be a thousand baht one way. I don’t understand why he did that and then acted surprised, when Jayne had spoken to him in Thai. There are thick people everywhere I suppose. And so then we found an honest taxi driver who, it transpired was lovely as well, and he drove us about an hour to the elephant sanctuary and waited for us, while we watched elephants putting on the entertainments, and they are very good at it.
At the end of the show, the riders bought their elephants to the low barrier, which they rested their front paws on and we fed them lumps of sugarcane which we bought for twenty baht and which they took with their noses, taking one piece and stashing it deftly in a bend in their nose, and then taking another, and another until they couldn’t stash any more. Only then did they eat them.
A driver called Nel closer, and told me that I could take pictures, and so she nervously approached.
Passing them lumps of sugarcane is one thing, when you can jump backwards out of the way, should it became alarmed, or annoyed, say, or should it sneeze. But getting close up to that enormous, enormous animal with its tusks inches away from your head and it’s powerful nose swinging. Well that’s different.
I got some shots and a man told me to go forward and he’d take some pictures with my camera of us both. Passing them lumps of sugarcane is one thing. Oh man.
The power that you can sense,the immense strength of the beast that can pick up a tree with its nose!
The tusks were inches from my eye, and I looked into *his* eye and I wasn’t worried. I knew he was gentle. The kind man took a couple of pictures and ran off with my camera. Only kidding.
We told Jayne to get close for a shot but she was slower and more cautious than we were.
The elephant looked at his driver, clearly thinking she was a bit daft or something, and then pulled her closer with his nose! I swear it, and we have pictures.
We watched some obviously deranged men hauling crocodiles out of the water by the tail and putting their heads into their annoyed mouths and I don’t know why they tolerated that, after doing their best to bite off their legs.  I bet the interview with his careers teacher was weird.
Then our driver took us to a floating market where we ate and fed rice to enormous catfish in the river. They seemed to like it.
But then we went to another temple and market. This one was bigger and more impressive than at Amphawa and it had skeletons dressed in immaculately laundered and pressed white shirts, impressive trousers and sunglasses. Honestly. Would I make that up? I don’t think I could.
There were beautiful statues of elephants and figures of famous Thai singers who’d visited. We knew this because our driver, whose name was terrapin, or something, had relaxed and taken off his taxi drivers shirt and came with us, explaining things to Jayne, and praying in front of statues. For a while he rubbed a gong and he grinned, embarrassed I think when he saw me photograph him but then later I caught him trying to photograph us sneakily on his phone, and so we stopped for him and posed. They don’t see many white people here.
The monks were smiley and approachable and one asked in English where we are from. They waved their hand dismissively when we wai’d them. Don’t believe the guide books either.
Another brilliant, brilliant day, and Terrapin grinned at me when Jayne asked him to stop for beer on the way back. It’s a bloke thing everywhere.
His pleasant,  polite and helpful company cost us 700 baht all day so we gave him a good tip and a couple of bottles of beer.
We were all happy.

Kev got back from work and asked us to watch a scene from a film he’s making. It was the suicide scene and me and Nel both winced and looked away when his friend who’s playing the part broke a glass in the sink and then nutted it.
He’s an odd man is Kev, and the poor bloke needed company while he wound down from work, and so he and I drank beer on the balcony til the small hours.
Its a good way to end the day.

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3 thoughts on “Spider bites, Amphawa on the Mekong, temples, elephants, more temples and a gory suicide

  1. Hi both, Wow Andy you’re quite a travel blogger aren’t you !!! You are obviously discovering all the wonders of Thailand and having a ball as I knew you would. I look forward to hearing your take on the beautiful Southern Islands, Koh Phi Phi had me in tears with the natural beauty. All is well here and working back at The Barge is fab, hoping to save a bit to get away next winter, I’m thinking Sri Lanka this time. It’s pissing down and cold here as you would expect so enjoy the glorious sunshine and lovely warm ocean. Lots of love Catherine xxxxx

  2. What exactly does a floating market do on its days off ? Sink perhaps,,,,. And while i think about it, Id like to take issue with your assumption that tiger balm heals everything,,,it didnt cure my eye infection. In fact it hurt like having a vaseline javelin hurled into my retina. Are you sure the elephant wasnt just two men in an elaborate costume ?

  3. They say elephants have excellent memories and will remember you clearly 30+ years later. I’m not so sure . . . Imagine someone taking a flash photograph in your face, thrusting bananas into your mouth and then sitting on top of you on the way to your local pub, or in the elephant’s case its local watering hole. Then, having someone whip you and smack your bottom if you stop to take a leak . . .Yeah . . . think I’d remember this experience.

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