Sunday 8th December 2018
Thailand has a very different feel to Cambodia. It really feels like a Tale of Two Journeys. After what we have been through in the Stans, China and Cambodia, this is utterly different and it is not just the ‘facilities’ that are better!
As Jim points out, the per capita income is at least three times higher in Thailand than Cambodia, for example, plus there is less corruption. So the very obvious big differences are much better roads and simply tonnes less litter everywhere.
We hope we can spend more time camping for free in Landy here and after our first night next to the sea near the border with Cambodia, we are optimistic.
We drove Northwards to a small car ferry which would take us across the sea to the small island of Koh Chang, visible from the shore. The tempting breakfast in the shoreside cafes was not to be found!
Before long Landy was loaded up for about $4 and we set forth. It was just like crossing between the smaller Greek islands. A mixture of visitors and locals on the ferry and clear sunny skies, the cooling breeze and calm blue seas.
With the help of Maps-me which has got us this far, and advice on free camping spots in the I-Overlander app. we are off to locate the Mandalay beachside cafe which welcomes Overlanders and is a spot which has free shady parking close to the beach.
Thailand is blessed with a vast expanse of coastline with white sandy beaches. For beach lovers Thailand really is a Paradise. You could be amongst the Greek islands. Or once here, it is similar to the beaches in Sri Lanka, but much less crowded.
I actually think that they get it. Tourists want beaches to be clean, look like a paradise, to be dotted with little cafes offering fresh food and cocktails, the roads to be reasonable and hotels to be back from the beaches. We want trees to be preserved and paradise includes bananas and coconuts palms, encroaching jungle, a few wandering cows, not too many mosquitos and a vast medley of birds with early morning call signs with whoops, chuckles and chattering cackles. Lazy friendly dogs lying in the shade, ever hopeful that food will come their way and shops with necessities away from the beaches on the main road.
Also litter to be magically whisked away. (A lot of recycling goes on. Wobbly little trucks can be seen weaving between the beach side cafes discretely collecting vast rice sacks full of empty beer cans or plastic bottles or folded piles of cardboard boxes.)
We drove here with the car from the UK, still feeling a bit intrepid. However, we are now, on a little ferry going to a popular Thai holiday destination which will have Europeans who have jetted in with suitcases with little wheels. How did that happen? I am just trying to say, that it feels a bit like the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Bumping off the ferry, we set off on the small but decent road that loops Koh Chang island, which as well as the usual local produce being sold from scruffy huts and roadside shops and under umbrellas, there was a Tesco for heavens sake!
The island had a short but steep jungly hill in the centre which we had to traverse and although we made it, the effort triggered the old gearbox problem and a familiar gloom threatened to impinge on the general bonhomie. We knew now that we would not grind to a halt, but we would have to juggle around in the wrong gears for a few days or weeks!
However, putting that aside, the plan was to camp here for a few days behind the Mandalay cafe, with permitted access to toilets and a cold shower. Actually with temperatures in the 30 plus degrees, a cold shower is quite pleasant.
Emerging on the beach felt very strange. Here there was a fair smattering of tourists who had flown in from Russia or European destinations to escape the winter back home, in the hope of sea, sun and cocktails! Koh Chang did not disappoint.
The sea looked clean, was warm and there was no shock wading in. The slope into the water very gradual and no noisy motor boats or jet skis. No windsurfers, just a few people paddling on surf boards. Busy but not at all crowded. If you like relaxing on a sun bed and slipping into the shade to buy iced fruit drinks or a cocktail, then this hits the spot.
The sunsets later were great. Like Sri Lanka, the little cafes put their tables out on the beach at night with candles and surrounded them with twinkly coloured lights and party music. Fresh fish was on display in ice-filled cabinets. The neighbouring cafe to ours hosted a nightly fire juggler display to the approval of a handful of diners.
This is so different from the intrepid journey through the Stans and China. How long will it be before Jim is looking for a temple, monument or statue to invoke a political past or evidence of a troubled history?
He has already discovered that Thai rappers (Rap against Dictatorship) have just become an internet sensation by releasing a very hard hitting rap, (listened to by more than 40 million people in a country of 60 million people), criticising the local dictatorship. The government reaction, has been to respond in kind and the President has issued a counter promotional musical offering featuring none other but himself crooning patriotically. With national elections in February, I guess this is part of the run up to that.
After a few days we drifted back to the mainland, and headed off up the coast towards Bangkok. But not before a visit to David Goodchild and “Plodd Stop” outside Pattaya, which I understand has a reputation as one of the sex capitals of the world.
David himself, has become a bit of an internet sensation, at least in Overlander circles. In that, once any overlander reaches the borders with Thailand, he is like a shipping pilot, guiding in the ships.
As a seasoned Overlander himself, living with his family in Thailand, he is tireless in sending out the correct car import papers, sourcing insurance deals, advising on borders, coaching us so that we can approach the task with minimal trepidation. He has even custom built Plodd Stop, adjacent to his house, to welcome weary travellers and its, and David’s popularity has surprised his long suffering wife Lesley whose life has been impacted by scores of friendly overlanders in an array of unlikely vehicles which are now constantly stationed in front of her house!
In case you are wondering, Thailand has introduced regulations banning vehicle entry to Foreign campers and Overlanders. So that was us stymied. This is apparently pandering to tour company lobbyists who are seeking to charge over $1,000 to ‘help’ you across Thailand.
Luckily for us, not all borders are enforcing this rigidly and little clusters of Overlanders meet in fields and cafes and on websites, planning cat and mouse strategies to cross the borders, late at night, early in the morning, on a Sunday or at a little used spot, here and there! There are many many pages written on the subject on line and entry with our vehicles is still very much hit and miss.
But for the latest ‘know-how’, your man is David Goodchild! He knows where we all are and how we slipped in. And we, like many before us, are now framed on the wall of his rogues gallery. We have enjoyed spotting people we had previously met, far and wide.
Now we are in Thailand, we need to buy two new tyres for Landy and every time we spy a BF Goodrich tyre outlet we detour in and wave our requirements at them. This has not been a great success so far. We want All Terrain tyres and here they want to sell us Mud Terrain, which are noisier. We have enough noises off without making it worse!
So the hunt continues, however, one of these visits revealed that the slight knocking we had heard was in fact a totally broken leaf spring which had snapped where it joins the chassis. Cripes! This is serious. Landy is now officially in the Plodd Stop sick bay. (David’s courtesy Inspection pit).
An elderly Chinese woman he knows, in charge of car spares in the local market is sourcing the leaf spring and a local Thai garage mechanic is being dispatched on Monday to jack up the car in situ and to remove the offending item, and do our oil change!
In the meantime, we are happily sleeping aloft in Landy with access to hot showers and loos, fridges containing cold beers, a roof garden with a pool table and the company of other Overlanders, many of whom are now setting off for Xmas back in Europe whilst our lot come the other way!
Apart from fixing the suspension, we are using this time to research the shipping of Landy a couple of thousand nautical miles, via many a tropical island en route to Australia. On our first night we joined David and Lesley at their favorite local restaurant. Look closely Nora!
Yes I can hardly believe it. Cousins eat your hearts out, we are almost there. Merely Malaysia and Singapore now, between us and a lot of Aussies.
In case you think Thailand is all about the camping between hot and humid sheets in our stuffy sleeping compartment aloft, think again. (Dont read this bit Blanca Fernandez).
As a seasonal treat, when we leave Plodd Stop, we have booked ourselves in to a Michelin starred restaurant, called Gaa, on 14th December in Bangkok. It is owned by an Indian female chef, Garima Arora, who recently got her first Michelin star at the age of 30.
This culinary outing will necessitate staying somewhere with an iron and hair dryer. So we are saving up, sleeping in the car for a few weeks now!
Jim is looking forward to Bangkok. He wants to buy some socks and see if we can fix our car radio, and perhaps find some temples? I still want to buy new tyres for the car.
Then we will only be days away from our Christmas destination, Ko Lanta and our rendezvous with Ben, Kristjan, Jess and Grace and Jonnys Roberts and Schmid! Family holiday. Woowoo.