Day 18: Chaiya

I decided to stay in Chaiya. A few things influenced my decision, most of all the opportunity to go to the local snack-town another two times. Other than that, I wanted to go to the beach again and I got in contact with another bike tourist whom I’m going to meet tomorrow.

Another beach near Chaiya

Another beach near Chaiya

Mee a-rai a-roi baang – What do you have that is delicious. I’ve just learnt this phrase and I’m eager to use it. It probably won’t make any difference to my life other than speed things up a bit because everything I’ve had so far has been delicious. I wish good food was so widely accessible at home. Australia has lots of great food but it doesn’t have great food, if that makes sense. Today I got lost coming back from the beach and ended up in a tiny village whose main road had been commandeered by snack entrepreneurs. The snack village was a veritable run-way of local delicacies – it was like they had set up there just for me, just because they knew how happy I would be.

Could you ever imagine that happening in Australia? Sure there’s lots of great food in Sydney, Melbourne and a bunch of other places but imagine getting lost in Singleton or Mildura and accidentally stumbling upon a food paradise? This isn’t a complaint about how Australia doesn’t have a cuisine, in a country so full of immigrants I don’t think that’s been too much of a dent on my well-being, it’s more the fact that good food is more based on socio-economic factors. In Thailand good food is the norm, it’s available to everyone of every class whether in the home or not but in Aus it’s restricted to certain areas and groups, I think that’s really sad.

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One thing I really like about Southern Thai food in particular is the ubiquity of fresh vegetables and fruit. On most restaurant tables you will find a tray of mixed raw vegetables, which are free for you to use as you like. Unfortunately though they don’t have the drink culture that Malaysia does. Whenever you order food in Malaysia you always get a drink. Most restaurants and food stalls have as many drinks as food options – juices, teas, coffee, milky-rosewater things, milo, cendol, weird shit etc. Here it’s mainly just water, coconut juice or tea.

On my way to the beach today I rode past a curious intersection. It had three signs. One pointing to the left said ‘SHRIMP GENETIC IMPROVEMENT CENTRE’, one pointing to the right said ‘tourist attraction’ and one pointing forward saying beach. The tourist attraction sign gave no indication of what it actually was. I rode right to find, predictably, it was a temple no larger or more ornamented than an obese cow. Fuck, how arbitrary is that? I’ve seen about one thousand cow sized temples on my way here, all accidentally, none of which I stopped for closer inspection. I rode up to the shrimp-enhancement lab and was immediately impressed. Not only was the building of more architectural significance – it was far more interesting – WHAT ARE THEY DOING TO THOSE SHRIMPS?! Making them taste better? Improving their intelligence so the genius-shrimp can explain what it’s like to see more colours? Making half-man half shrimps so they can finally make a live tv show of Street Sharks (they couldn’t use sharks obviously that would be too dangerous).

This temple, street-shrimp bonanza made me think a lot about the tourist trade.
This is my theory:
The tourism industry, led by guide books, is completely antiquated. For something to have tourism value it needs two of three things.
1. Oldness
2. Bigness
3. Difficult to makeness
Beauty can’t be included because that is way to difficult to define yadda yadda blah blah.
When the internet didn’t exist this was probably a pretty good way of going about things. Most people had no idea what big temples, animals and mountains looked like in other countries. Now that we can google them, most of those things have become less significant but tourism business still approaches the trade the same way – if I had followed a guide book I probably wouldn’t have met Jang, Farhan or Leong, I wouldn’t have been to any snack towns and I definitely wouldn’t be in Chaiya (probably my favourite place so far). Instead I would have just glanced at a few thousand temples, visited some packed beaches and partied until my patience and liver had eroded. I’m not saying religious buildings, mountains and parties, are uninteresting or less interesting, just that’s what interesting has been defined as by the majority of the tourism industry.

A tourist attraction in central Chaiya

A tourist attraction in central Chaiya

Now it’s harder to find significant experiences travelling. We have to find other ways to travel, find other things to do which aren’t within our reach as citizens of the internet and wherever we live. I guess for most people that usually means trying to live like locals do and for others it means riding their bike 60km a day.

Most of you who know me well will remember I had a few second thoughts about going on this trip – mainly travelling alone, extreme heat and constant rainfall but another minor concern I had was the certainty of getting regular diarrhoea from all the spicy food I would eat. Well it had all gone swimmingly until I reached the border. Despite some sever warnings from some concerned Malays, nothing I had in Malaysia was very spicy (apparently all the fiery stuff is down South). As soon as I got to Thailand that all changed. I just had the spiciest meal of life – a jungle curry with pork, bamboo shoots and a variety of peppercorns, half a roast chicken doused in chilli sauce and some candied peanut dumplings with whole fresh chillies. Usually when you have a spicy meal it burns like a line of hot pins in a very specific location – scuds on your lips, wasabi in your nose, dried chillies on the tip of your tongue. Well this was spilling everywhere, it felt like someone had sandpapered the front of my face and then flooded the grazes with acid.

I’m now lying on my bed nursing a frighteningly mobile stomachache, thinking about what kind of extra precautions I should make for my ride tomorrow to mitigate any rectum related explosions.

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3 thoughts on “Day 18: Chaiya

  1. If I had a dollar for every time I heard you say ‘in Thailand they have fresh vegetables for you to use how you like and they are free!!!!!!’ I’d have about 17 dollars.

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