At our last lunch in Pangers we got to try the famous Assam Penang Laksa at Joo Hoey. The mural you can see on the wall is one of a couple of dozen scattered throughout Georgetown, undertaken by a Balkan artist commissioned by the Government. They’re quite the tourist draw card.
Everywhere we eat in Asia feels like we are having a tea party with our dollies. The plates are all tiny, brightly coloured plastic. We did love Malaysia and the Malaysians. You could easily spend a month here and only scratch the surface. We will go back one day and laze on the beaches on the East coast, watch the baby turtles burst out of the sand and race for the water and go and gaze at our long armed orange haired orang cousins in the Genting and Campbell Highlands.
The mini bus from Penang started off like a hurdy gurdy and involved riding around and around Georgetown in circles picking up more and more people. In the end a jam packed bus made off over the very impressive bridge. Below is me looking scandalised and appalled as another group of passengers squeezed onto the already crowded bus whilst Kristen looks on beatifically. Kristen appeared to be levitating at one stage and I was worried that they would squeeze another small family in under her.
The star of the bus was a blind man who was making his way to Krabi island for “the beach and the food” as he explained to me. He’d been to Phuket the year before. We (the mini bus tribe, a tightly knit association of fellow sufferers and contortionists incorporated) took it in turns guiding him around rest stops, through immigration etc and at Hat Yai this remarkable fellow got off the bus and was immediately led down the street by someone. We both thought him courageous & very trusting – but I suppose like Blanche du Bois, he’s relied on the kindness of strangers.
Hat Yai has exploded over the last few decades, miles and miles of pretty ordinary looking outskirts stretching right from the border. The town itself is no beauty spot but there were a number of beautiful things in it.
The two Muslim girls running the coffee shp at the Hat Yai train station were particularly gorgeous and cool. Have a look at the deaths head pirate Mickey image on the back of her denim jacket.
Another unusual experience at the train station came when I smiled at a woman in a full burqa and had the second most beautiful eyes in Hat Yai at that time twinkle back at me.
Whilst wandering through the town we were lucky enough to bump into a Malaysian couple who very kindly and proudly showed us their indelibly inked fingers from the historical election just 2 days ago.
We ate at an extraordinary restaurant (the only one that seemed open at 5.30pm) where the waiters and staff seemed never to have seen Europeans. Their jaws dropped and their eyes became as big as saucers as Uncle and Aunty appeared in their midst. They were particularly amused when we did a turn of food-lucky-dip not having any idea what we were ordering but doing an Oscar-worthy performance of pointing, miming and mugging .
We challenge you, gentle readers, to try to mime a fish or any barnyard animal whilst still retaining any dignity. (If any of you would care to try we will be happy to publish your photos in our next blog, suggestions include chickens, goats, crabs, lobsters, frogs, turtles and oysters).
Despite this dinner turned out to be a delicious spiced fish paste wrapped in a leaf, steamed fish (that we had thought were noodles) and some thing that may have been pork and pork fat but that we were hoping was chicken and mushrooms. Anyhow it wasn’t too bad for me (but Kristen avoided it after her first taste and here we are alive and kicking the next day).
Sad to say but all of the usual American franchises are here but glad to say that their logos are lost in a sea of leaping tigers, stoic elephants, portraits of His & Her Blessed Majesties, itchy scalp powder and others too many and dazzling to recount.
So to the Hat Yai Junction railway station to catch the overnight train to Bangkok. Utterly charming (and heavily armed) railway police gave up their seats for us and posed with Kristen.
North of Hat Yai is replete with rice paddies filled with wading birds high stepping through them, palm trees, water buffaloes, rivers, lotus flowers blooming in lagoons, and some plantations of unidentifiable trees being tapped for something ? We are Bangers bound.
A lady has just come through and enticed us with a large bucket of absolutely unidentifiable snacks. I think some of them may have been quail eggs ? Others seemed to be heavily salted dates ? Yet others were small mysterious packages wrapped in leaves. We demurred, cravenly.
Here comes the ticket checker. They all seem to favour the General Douglas MacArthur style of hat and who can blame them ? Not we.
Thai 2nd Class Sleeper. Train 107 Yala to Hualamphong.
Imagine the train scene in Some Like It Hot. The sleeper scene – but no Marilyn. No Tony Curtis, no bottle of gin, or all girl band, but apart from that it’s exactly like it. The pillows are rock-like but you can’t complain because they’re in cleanish pillow slips. The blankets are sealed in plastic so they must have been washed… (or perhaps just sealed in plastic each trip). Kristen has a lower berth which is a little like being in a film noir hotel room- Lights flashing at every station we pass, Bill is in the upper bunk, hermetically sealed with a light inches from his head on all night.
The Thai landscape is forming around us as we rattle north. Beautiful, volcanic looking, strangely shaped mountains, lakes and lovely villages, Brahmin bulls and goats, chickens and dogs, everything is suddenly very rural and picture postcardy. Old hands have assured us that Cambodia and Vietnam are “much more rural and less developed than Thailand”. Our collective mind, such as it is, boggles.
Wow, the carriages are old school, connected with jumping foot plates in between and open doors. Thai blokes hanging out of them sucking on gaspers, it’s just like the old Adelaide to Melbourne Overlander in the 70s.
Chap in the berth opposite has a little hand held tranny the dial of which he is constantly spinning. So all through the sleepless night screeching ear bleeding static interspersed with snatches of Chinese opera, political speeches, children screaming, cymbals clashing and, most fantastically of all, a Thai version of “Dem ole’ cotton fields back home”.
Going for a hit and miss and/or a Numero Due in an Asian outhouse is always an adventure and when the outhouse is an inhouse on a bucketing, vibrating, jostling, jolting Thai train the adventure ramps up a notch or two.
Picture this gentle readers if you dare, your knickers at your knees, holding up your long (Malaysian modesty) skirt, avoiding all surfaces – up, down, all around, nothing to hold onto as you ride a bucking bronco and stay as steady a possible whilst balancing on two rippled platforms atop a prodigious drop through the mere willpower of your thighs (with a dash of pleading to the almighty). Then the elbow acrobatics to wash your hands, bucking all the way. Yee Ha!!!! Roy Rogers and Annie Oakley live on.
We arrive at Bangers and our first and second impressions are not good. It’s a monster alright. Then again, we are a bit worn out from the sleepless sleeper carriage and after a scrub up and lie down we might spear into Chinatown tonight and see if that can change our initially jaundiced view. Have an alka seltzer and stand by for some more gushing and sickly sweet Pollyanna-ing in the next post, tentatively entitled “Bangers by Night.”