Friday, February 20, 2009

Phang Nga

We caught the 9:00 bus out of Khao Lak, and attempted to doze while a succession of doomed love stories (Thai music videos rarely have a happy ending) played out on the TV above our heads, accompanied by the split-octave sounds of Thai country music, and subtitled with the lyrics. We arrived in Phang Nga late in the morning (as the desperately sobbing young man on the karaoke VCD bewailed the loss of his girlfriend to an arranged marriage), and booked an excursion into the bay. Phang Nga bay is famous for its fantastical limestone karst scenery, and in particular one island that was used as the villain's secret hideaway in “The Man with the Golden Gun” and is now generally known as James Bond Island. The trip (with an overnight homestay in a Muslim fishing village) didn't depart until four in the afternoon, so we attempted to find some diversion in the town of Phang Nga in the meantime. First we explored the park. It didn't take long. We had lunch, then went to the internet cafe, and eventually it was time to leave.

A songtaew took us to the pier, and from there we went by longtail boat to Panyi island. The village is built entirely on stilts in the sea, butting up against the gigantic, looming presence of Panyi rock (the “Tsunami Evacuation Route” signs helpfully point up the vertical cliff face). There's very little to do in Panyi village, so we went for a wander around along concrete walkways-on-stilts, stopped by the school-on-stilts (complete with playground-on-stilts), and further along came to the mosque-on-stilts. The village is home to about 2,000 people, most of whom seem to be involved in selling tat to tourists. The walkways are lined with stall after stall selling exactly the same selection of souvenir keyrings, pearl jewellery, shell trinkets and printed batik sarongs, and at each a headscarfed Muslim lady greeted us with “hello-madam-you-lookiiiing”

We resisted, and returned empty-handed to the restaurant, where a somewhat over-friendly local joined us. By way of conversation, he pointed out at the stilt-houses and said “bungalow,” with that uncanny Thai knack for stating the obvious. Then he asked if he could sleep with us. We politely refused, so he invited us to go dancing with him in Phuket. We declined, and having established he was getting nowhere, he lost interest and wandered off.


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