Not often are trips planned more haphazardly. Even without the comfort and organisation that a pre-booked holiday can bring, James Springer finds out why Thailand still remains an excellent destination for a short visit even when everything, essentially, goes to pot.
Mum is over for a holiday and as well as the submersion into Penang culture, a beach holiday is obligatory. However, where to go? Malaysia proudly sits at the top of sun-seeker holiday destinations with islands such as Perhentian, Sipadan and Redang offering relaxation, snorkelling and diving vacations with all one thing in common – guaranteed sun and a world class tan!
That, however, would be too close for comfort; too familiar to the normal routine of easy travel and a lounging holiday signed, sealed and delivered to you in a neat package complete with bowed ribbon. Far too boring for such an intrepid traveller as Mum, a woman sprung from the valleys of Wales made up of Margret Thatcher’s dictatorial pluck, Mary Kingsley’s fortitude and directness and a dash of Maggie Smith’s enactment of the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey. There is then, as you may imagine when figuring out what to do with this type of a person, a fine line between ease and adventure, crowded and sparse, touristy and local, rustic and comfortable, authentic and regurgitated… pricey and good value.
Obviously, a travel agent would be out of the question. Watching a man behind a counter mouse-click your vacation together like building a link chain would just not match up to the adventure side of things and research is always the start of the adventure. Luckily, however, there is no need to prepare days, months, years in advance by writing scrawled, ink-pen letters on parchment to a spectral contact in the region. No, not when you have the internet; with the internet info suppliantly offers itself to you.
Once decided on where to go (to take roughly thirty minutes to an hour depending on how decisive you are; in our case, it took all of five with Mum at our heels and I with some wide estimations on climate) we raring to go.
After an hour and fifteen-minute flight on Firefly, we found ourselves in Phuket. An easily negotiable taxi-ride took us to Bang Rong pier where-by we sped towards our destination in a speedboat mounted with twin 250 cc engines; Koh Yao Noi. By this time we had been travelling for four and a half hours including flight check-ins and waiting around, something not to be considered lightly in Thailand, and off to a flying start.
I mentioned earlier about my rather morbid mistake of calculating Thailand’s May-June climate conditions. Sun did not greet us with open arms as we made our way over glistening turquoise water but instead wind and lashing, horizontal rain. Note to self: May-June is monsoon season, and for the rest of our short trip the weather did not abate. As well as the weather, however, it was the tourist low season and our breezy tuk-tuk ride to the resort we were staying passed empty cabins, shops and restaurants; the only occupants of which were squatted Thais smoking and watching the world go by. This was local country and certainly fell into the ‘sparse’ destination.
Were we deterred by this bleak outlook of our remaining time in Thailand? – certainly not. During the rest of our stay we sampled quite a different side to the stereotypical view of a tropical island in Southeast Asia; a side which was more insightful than we could ever have imagined. As we began to explore (seated high and mighty atop a D.I.Y. Thai motorbike and sidecar) it became clear that tropical islands lose their character as quickly as it takes for the sun to evaporate the water. As with the foliage in the surrounding jungle, the local people seem to come alive with a little wind and rain dancing, smiling and rejoicing the respite from the unrelenting heat and humidity; and without the excess baggage of tourists, the locals take back what is theirs, albeit for only a brief amount of time.
It was also jellyfish season, meaning that if we wanted to go swimming out in the murky grey sea then our efforts would have been rewarded with nothing other than some pretty horrific stings. The pink, dustbin lid apparitions floating near the surface of ……. Bay provided another secret glimpse into an offseason local habit; jellyfish fishing. Without any frills or fancy rod work, long-tails boats manned by a driver and a netter zipped along the surface occasionally stopping to collect their prize. Interestingly, we found out that the industrious Thia’s export them to other neighbouring markets such as China, Singapore and Malaysia as an ingredient to jellyfish salad, a delicacy for these countries Hokkien – Chinese populations.
Another surprise was still waiting for us. Once back, showered and refreshed, the inner bowls of the bar area revealed the staff huddled around as if in conference. It later emerged that they were having their English lesson; a weekly instalment of an hour to brush up on the pronunciation of menu items and improving their conversational skills. They seemed to be enjoying the extracurricular learning. However, an important point remains; this life in the F&B and hotel business on a small island like Koh Yao Noi is an investment by the local population for a life in this globalised world. Without abandoning their families or their cultural way of life (two things especially all Thai’s hold dear) being taught English and professional service training in hospitality multiplies their opportunities for the future exponentially; something that maybe the neo-hippy community – looking for the untouched and disgraced with the developments of tourism – should remember before judging Western influence too harshly; I should know, I used to be one.
Be that as it may, travelling in the low season is very under-rated. It’ cheaper but, as if that wasn’t enough, it is also enlightening. Being able to see a destination with-out its ‘make-up’ (lights, booming music, touts and floozies) as establishments constantly compete for the next customer by playing their music a little bit loader or getting their girls to a be a little friendlier makes you realise that normal life does prevail even in a country as popular as Thailand; even when Mum comes to visit; even when it rains.
Originally published by The Expat Group, The Expat