|Photos of the King of Thailand are in front of most government institutions (Photo LP)|
I had never visited Thailand before my recent trip to the island of Phuket with a girlfriend. Because of Western Australia’s proximity to Bali, Indonesia, I have had the opportunity to visit there many times and will continue to as the three hour long flight makes it very accessible. Phuket is a six hour flight with a transit stop in Singapore. Hardly a “long haul” flight, but that bit further for a short vacation.
There were many European tourists in the area of Cape Panwa where we stayed. I so enjoyed hearing German, French and Italian spoken over the breakfast buffet, during the snorkling tours and in the local, tiny restaurants. Australians were the majority tourist group, even in the remote peninsular which is Cape Panwa. I had heard about the town of Patong where there are many bars and restaurants, the “lady boy” concerts; the opportunity to see live porn shows, and the sleazy patrons of some of the many side alley bars. It’s not my scene and so Louisa and I avoided the western side of the island completely. I’m adventurous, but more in the way of snorkling and diving trips.
"The Beach"Island welcome (Photo LP)
On a day tour to the Phi Phi islands the snorkling in beautiful azure waters did not disappoint.
Maya Bay on Krabi Island was the scene for the movie “The Beach” with Leonardo di Caprio. Our multi-lingual German tour guide informed us that the producers removed much of the natural vegetation in order to plant non indigeneous coconut and palm trees; but fortunately the arrangement they made with the local owners was that the vegetation would be returned to it’s natural state when filming finished. It is a truly beautiful island…albeit with a few introduced trees.
"The Beach" lagoon (Photo LP)
The local monkeys don’t mind, as between frolicking in the crystal clear water (I previously did not know that monkeys could swim!) they enjoyed the diverse vegetation. We were always warned not to stray too close to them, though, as they are proudly wild animals.
So cute...but not cuddly (Photo LP)
The day of our tour to the islands, Louisa and I were joined by about 40 others of differing nationalities. I was intrigued by the discretion of the non-English speaking tourists and the lack of discretion of the Australians; it is spoken about often in travel journals and blogs but in a confined space it was obvious, and embarrassing. A few of the other Australians joined us at the front of the boat to get away from those who had no empathy for their fellow passengers. It reinforced our decision not to venture up to Patong. Sad but true…
In contrast our Thai guides were quietly spoken, multilingual and elegant with their hand gestures and body language. They were obviously used to garrulous Australians and Americans and well trained to humour them. And all of this in an environment where alcohol was not permitted.
We Australians have often spoken about the “ugly American” abroad. How unfortunate that a clash of cultures, largely through the influence, I think, of popular culture, has resulted in equally inappropriate behaviour in the “ugly Australian”. I regularly hear Australians on flights to Europe speak about how the French, the Italians and others do not speak English...and so were unfriendly. I have countered these comments previously by suggesting that when people from Europe, and from around the world, visit Australia they invariably attempt to speak even a few basic phrases in our language.
Australia is one of the most mono-lingual societies in the world. While the learning of a second language is offered in our schools, it is not mandatory; I firmly believe that our education system does not cater for the young people of the future, in what will be an even more interconnected world.
I only speak one and a half languages; I am working on my French and next year will enter a program in France at the Institut de Français which is complete immersion for a month. It is the program that many diplomats take prior to their accepting their posts in French speaking European countries. It is a challenge which I will encourage my children to emulate when they have breaks from their careers.
The day tour to the islands contrasted with a half day cooking class we took in a private home. Pat's Home Thai Cooking Classes is well known and highly regarded. Pat is charming and her assistants warm and friendly. There were six Australians: a father and his 14 year old son, a newly married couple and we two “women of indeterminate middle age (!)”. It was a great morning, commencing with a tour of the local markets so that Pat could explain the many varieties of vegetables, noodles, herbs and spices we would be using in our cooking class.
One of Pat's Team...and a little helper (Photo LP)
We then donned our aprons and learned the techniques of chopping, mixing, pounding and cooking to Pat’s very high standard…the outcome? Absolutely delicious! A delightful luncheon served in Pat’s beautiful dining room, with a conversation about Thai dining etiquette to complement the meal.
The finished products...delicious! (Photo LP)
The people of Thailand are renowned for their gentle manners. Their graciousness is obvious at all levels, from the staff at the hotels, to the assistants on the beach, the shop keepers, the market stall holders and the massage therapists The gentleness of voice and body language is in Thailand not an art, it is a way of life…and more particularly respect for others.
I look forward to visiting Thailand more often. So many experiences and Mai Tais to enjoy…