March 21st, 2015
Unsure of how to proceed, I spend the day doing absolutely as little as possible – and yet it feels strangely redeeming, the day relegated to some random meanderings. I should be panicking about the status of my camera, but then the low-level neuroses I normally carry around have somehow inculcated me with a feel strange feeling of ambivalence.
On the street, the stuffed banana leaves at the stand in front of the massage parlour contain mildly curried whipped fish with fresh cilantro and basil, absolutely amazingly good. I had wanted to sit down for an inexpensive brunch in the neighborhood, but could just wolf any amount of these down, especially if I see them being sold on the street.
Apparently, there are some good eateries on Dechanuchit as per the travel guide recommendations, but the restaurants I see have no visible English signage. Onwards to the main road, and then east on soi 61, where some web site highly recommended a vegetarian restaurant, but there is nothing to be found but market stalls, conventional restaurants and the ubiquitous massage parlours.
Amidst the locals rushing off to their destinations and meandering Caucasian tourists, the small dark street vendor, probably heralding from the Isan like so many of the workers here, stoops over the two baskets she carries on a pole, laden with sweet snacks, happy to offer me the baggie of large puffed rice wafers coated with a sweet syrup dressing.
There is nothing easier than catching a white songthaew to the Village Market, which in the end I could easily have walked towards. My clothing is so sweat-drenched that it stinks even after I wash it, so I really am not feeling the love for the usual aimless meandering in the boiling heat. Not only do I not anticipate seeing very much along the main road leading to the mall, but without a functioning camera, don’t have the incentive to memorialize anything either.
The Market Village is housed in a shining, new, glass-encased structure, with a spacious atrium, well-lit interior, high ceilings, presenting retail establishments in a micro-boutique form along the central open passages, complimenting the shops flanking the sides. The mall is very air conditioned, much to the probable delight of all the foreigners traipsing through. And one thing about Thailand – no one will ever reprimand you for appearing in beach wear.
On the mid-level is a huge Tesco, and on the top level in the equivalent space a huge home improvement centre. Small boutique-flavoured restaurants are scattered through the upper levels of the mall, although largely offering food not much fancier than would be found on the street, for elevated prices. In the basement, the food court is an utterly winning proposition, well presented, with a wide variety of Thai foods, very clean, well-lit and almost fancy, with prices comparable to those charged at the most inexpensive market stalls but far more upscale.
I opt for a typical Malaysian nasi lemak – which is actually very good – accompanied by a potato salad from a stand catering to the Russian palate. There is a paucity of English signage, which I find somewhat confusing, although it’s not as if you will get gouged on price at any of these stalls. Not surprisingly, there are many farang here as in the rest of the mall. There is actually a bakery that has authentic European breads, including German white bread and whole wheat rolls, the real thing, which is pretty astonishing.
The clothing and shoe retailers are largely original and local (rather than just being some generic international chains at the best), complimented by an endless swath of bargain-basement junk – at non-bargain-basement prices. Many shops flog quality leather shoes and hand bags. Despite the fact that the information counter has no idea as to whether there are coffee shops in the mall, there are in fact good places on the upper levels. I had been thinking of buying an inexpensive alternate camera, given what has just transpired with my DSLR, although looking at the prices being asked, I would have to spend at least $500 CAD for something decent. I should wait until I get my camera back tomorrow before making any rash decision.
On the highway running past the mall, the traffic is now heavy and the day waning. Police have stopped numerous motorcycle drivers – mostly farang – for their lack of international driver’s licenses. While the fines are not great, I am now resolute at not taking a chance on renting a motorbike without the license, and so will definitely not be visiting the national park to the south. On the way to a big-box electronics dealership close to Market Village, I enter a shining new real estate dealership whose windows are filled with equally-sized photos of new airy bungalows and condominiums intended to appeal to the wealthier European retirees looking for a home in Thailand.
The corpulent older German get up out of his chair to unlock the door and greet me, answering some of my general questions about real estate acquisition in the area. Sure, the prices here are high, but if you want quality in the vicinity of Hua Hin you have to pay for it. Of course, land far away from town is much cheaper, although you won’t be able to get the kind of quality building that is provided in Hua Hin, home to consumers with far higher expectations.
You can forget about getting beachfront property in town – it is prohibitively expensive. Of course, the idea of land being expensive is very relative – it is if you are Thai, but very cheap if you are coming from Europe, conveniently forgetting about the fact that as a foreigner in Thailand, you enjoy little in the line of legal rights, you don’t speak the language, you don’t know the culture, the country is a potential powder keg, never mind being a crassly overdeveloped and polluted haven of prostitution and concealed misery. I listen to the man with a certain degree of suspended disbelief, thinking you would have to be very wealthy to throw the kind of money being asked at the mediocrity I see around us here.
Back in the vicinity of the hotel, the restaurants I had walked by earlier on are now absolutely packed with crowds gathering around, one with mostly locals and the other farang. Looking at the food on the plates, I can’t really imagine these places being much better than the average market stall with minimal traffic …
March 23rd, 2015
Thinking again about the possibilities of onward travel, a subject that seems to perennially keep me busy when on the road, particularly now that I am at another juncture, ie. with a broken camera. Perhaps following the return to Bangkok I could travel northwards into the Isan until the camera has been repaired in Bangkok, then return, and pick up a Myanmar visa prior to returning to that country. And even if I made such plans today, tomorrow those plans would change. In the end the trip through Southeast Asia will have been heavily curtailed …
The day is overcast again, hence offering little motivation to going to the beach. It will be fairly ironic that I will have gotten little in the line of beach time in Hua Hin.
The hotel owner tells me she would be at loss to recommend place to eat in town. She goes out occasionally, but doesn’t really pay attention as to where. The area the hotel is located in is definitely not a culinary haven, full of upmarket farang eateries that are pretty much all the same. She is surprised I have found places that are so cheap to eat in – she had no idea there were such cheap options in Hua Hin. The town is expensive, and always has been expensive, as it is considered a royal enclave. She goes to Phetchaburi to buy anything, and in fact, the highway running along Cha-Am has big box retail outlets that offer pretty much anything a person could want.
I tell her I am surprised she lets her mother do physical work, but she tells me her mother takes care of her own personal business, and in any case, they don’t have endless money to take pay staff at the hotel. The one woman doing the cleaning is very hard-working and professional, she tells me. The owner does not professes a huge degree of affinity for Hua Hin, inasmuch as she has lived in Australia for years now, and before marrying her Australian husband lived in Bangkok for many years. Furthermore, she had been used to traveling around southeast Asia in her work for a telecommunications company.