Journal 2/9/00: Damnoen, Bangkok, Pak Chong

This is an entry from my travel journals about Thailand and Laos.

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Feb 9 2000

After a veeeeerry long rest, we ate dinner at the Baiyoke hotel (buy-yolk, not buy-yokey: for some reason, absolutely nobody in Bangkok will understand you if you say buy-yokey). This eighty-some story building used to be the tallest hotel in Asia but was recently bested by another company by a few meters. Anyway, on the 77th and 78th floor they have a buffet restaurant (both Thai and farang food) and an observation deck, both of which are surprisingly good for such an obvious tourist trap. The observation deck has pictures and computer maps telling you what you are seeing in each direction as well as amazing old photographs and black and white films of Thailand in the late 19th and early 20th century. On a clear evening I would recommend this for anyone travelling to Bangkok (total cost to get up there and eat about 350 B per person).

Feb 10-11 2000

Nang and I decided, finally, to see these floating markets everyone raves about. We heard that the one in Bangkok itself was just for tourists and that the one in Damnoen Saduak was better. The main reason neither of us had gone to a floating market yet is that seeing one involves getting up very early in the morning. So we solved this problem by traveling to Damnoen on the evening of the 10th and then checking out the market in the morning.

We got up around 7am and rented a boat to take us around town and to the various markets. You can rent a rowboat, a small 2-3 person boat with an engine, or (if you arrive with a package tour from Bangkok) a 20-person monstrosity that tidal waves everything and everyone in its path. I would recommend the middle category since it is not so disruptive and allows you to see the town as well as the markets. In every case you rent boat and driver.

The town of Damnoen Saduak has an amazing number and length of canals, perhaps more than streets. It was very interesting checking out the early morning scene with everyone washing their dishes, clothing, and selves in the nasty black-green canal water. Everyone on the water had a "garage" with a boat or two. Some of the houses were corrugated aluminum shacks, some beautiful stained wood palaces with the typical Thai curves at the roof ridges. The main canals had a seemingly endless series of smaller canals leading to people's houses and fields. Occasionally, we would see floating food vendors moving from house to house selling breakfast.

As to the market itself, it would appear that although the people of Damnoen Saduak used to shop there, they now find all their needs on land. Our boat driver confirmed this. So, it was pretty much us and a whole bunch of Thai vendors. Around 8 or 9 am, all the buses from Bangkok started showing up and the water became packed with farang buyers and Thai sellers. They have even set up a large souvenir shop on land right next to the main floating market in town. We arrived on a Friday, and since there weren't so many tourists, one of the 3 markets in town didn't even happen at all.

It was still interesting seeing how the vendors can make portable, floatable food stalls for every kind of food from Pad Thai to pineapple to noodle soup. And it was interesting that while you were buying your food, waiting for the vendor to prepare it, or while the vendor was waiting for you to finish with the dishes, you could be sitting still in the water or both you and the vendor could be moving! And if you want some fruit with your noodle soup, just wait for a fruit boat to pass and grab the boat and/or the fruit in time! No need to go get anything! Fortunately the vendors washed their dishes in tap water from land and not the canal water.

There were a handful of boats selling farang souvenirs, hats, and other goods, but most of the non-food items were being sold on land, sometimes on docks where boats could pull up.

The scene at Damnoen Saduak was far, far from the pictures that have made it famous. There was not the variety of colors and products that you see in the pictures, and there certainly weren't that many Thai people! Perhaps there is still somewhere in Thailand where Thai people shop at floating markets regularly, but Damnoen Saduak is not it.

Feb 11 2000

Returning to Bangkok, Nang and I hung out with two American expat friends of Nang's, Doug and Ian (same Doug as earlier in the journal) Doug and Ian had heard about a poetry reading in one of Bangkok's English language papers and so we went to check that out. The place, "About Cafe," seems to belong in this brothel-ridden, predominantly Chinese area of Bangkok near Hualampong train station about as much as a drive-through Cappuchino stand belongs between two potato fields in Idaho. This truly bizarre place consisted of a trendy Art cafe like something out of Palo Alto, California, with an art gallery upstairs and a sort of garden place to sit and hang out on the roof.

It was fascinating. The most interesting part was the audience. About 30 people of every age, race, gender, fashion sense, and temperament showed up for the poetry reading. Everything from a brash, British actor type (working in sales, of course) reading/performing a British spoken word drinking story, to a soft-spoken grey-haired guy nervously edging out the words of a heartfelt poem he wrote for his Thai girlfriend, to a young Thai lady who read poetry in Thai and English. Most of the poetry was really bad and the wireless microphone continually belted out static and buzzing that it picked up from the dysfunctional electrical systems of passing Thai buses and motorcycles, but nobody cared because it was all really neat and it took these people a lot of courage to go up and speak.

Neither Doug nor Ian had ever seen a crowd or a literary event like this in their many years in Bangkok. This was only the second time About Cafe had had poetry readings. It was as if the organizer (an American expat now working for the internet division of a Thai gem company) had struck an unknown vein of pent-up demand in Bangkok. You got the feeling that this was the same sort of incubator environment that gave birth to things like Beat poetry, as if some day someone will come to About Cafe and read something really really good, and a new genre will develop.

After the poetry reading we went to another expat hangout, a nearly-all-night dance bar on the infamous Khao San road (see the first trip description). This place was a strange mix of backpackers, expats, Thai prostitutes of both genders (or all 4 genders if you count cross dressers), and Thai high school and college students looking for anything from English practice to one-night stands to boyfriends/girlfriends. Several hundred people cram into this small space every night so that there is barely enough room to dance. Personally, dance clubs are not my scene so I don't understand why anyone would voluntarily come here on a regular basis, but it was fascinating nonetheless.

This place very clearly shows one pattern I noticed in Bangkok and to some extent all of Thailand: Although Thais in general are more conservative about public displays of affection than Americans, there does not seem to be any specific prejudice or taboo against cross-dressing or homosexuality. Prejudice may exist, but while in Thailand I heard no stories of "gay bashing" or job discrimination (about sexuality that is: sex-based discrimination is the norm), and in both Bangkok and the countryside people told me of same-sex couples in the same tone of voice they might use to describe the weather or what they did last new year's day. In some ways it seems that Thailand is far ahead of the United States. But I could just be seeing the surface layers of a more sinister reality.

Feb 12 2000

Nang had to return to work, so I went with her to the North-Eastern Bus Terminal to see her off. After weeks of semi-organized and organized tours, and travel planning where I was always thinking about myself and at least one other person, I definitely felt it was time for a good, aimless, unplanned, possibly-futile random-walk. I set off from the bus station in the vague direction of Chatuchak weekend market. After crossing some dangerous big roads I happened upon Chatuchak Park, a really nice and surprisingly large city park with cool sculptures and fountains. There were a lot of photographers shooting kids in graduation cap and gowns.

One corner of the park housed the construction site for the Children's Discovery Museum. While they were breaking ground they had set up a free, temporary version of the museum in nearby tents. It was really cool! Definitely along the lines of the Exploratorium in San Francisco, this museum taught kids basic science, history, and trades through all sorts of neat-looking hands-on exhibits with "explainer" employees to help the kids. There were physical exhibits and also computer-based exhibits with lots of buttons to push. The main difference I noticed compared with US museums was an extremely high level of corporate logo and product placement on the walls and in some of the computer exhibits. Also, this museum was a bit more practical than the purely scientific Exploratorium in that it also let the kids explore a variety of blue-collar jobs. For example, there was a play "construction" area where they gave the kids hard hats and let them "install" interlocking wooden floor tiles in a two-story metal play-house frame. There were buckets on pullies, play cranes, and other gadgets they could use to get the tiles up to the second story. The kids, boys and girls, were just eating it up.

Wandering further, I finally managed to find Chatuchak Weekend market itself. This crowded, bustling city of a market has several thousand stalls, vaguely organized into product categories (as much as that is possible for Thais :) ranging from clothes to books to antique buddhas to garden supplies to pets (kept in thoroughly inhumane conditions) to construction materials. The stalls of the market occupy a seemingly endless row of metal-roofed buildings and since you can generally only see a few stalls in each direction, it is nearly impossible to visit here without getting lost. In the "sort of mostly books area" (although there were an awful lot of pots) I found a really cool old used book which shows some of the beautiful paintings from the Ramakien that line the cloister of the Grand Palace, and tells a little story (in Thai) for each picture. Someday, I will be able to read this book!

Thoroughly enjoying my wander so far, I meet up with a South African photographer at the Chatuchak BTS (elevated train) station. He had heard that there was some kind of music going on in Lumpini Park, so we took the train over there. That turned out to be a bomb so instead we went to a well-known upscale Thai restaurant in the Siam area named Baan Kun Paw (Dad's house). I was a little worried when I saw a group of traditionally dressed Thais out front singing what amounted to a Baan Kun Paw pep rally song in English to attract foreign customers, but the food was really good. The South African was fairly new to Thailand and it was interesting how much he reminded me of myself when I first visited Bangkok. I told him about my travels and visiting Nang's family and he was amazed and said he couldn't imagine himself doing that kind of stuff. That makes two of us.

I wanted some Thai desserts (now that Nang wasn't watching :) so we sought them out at a night market in National Stadium in the Siam area.

Feb 13 2000

In the morning I handled some lingering issues from that increasingly fading reality known as my life at home. Dealing with some health insurance red tape over phone and fax with the US, I came to realize how amazingly much more stuff I had done in the last month and a half in Thailand then I had done in the previous nine months working.

Plastered all over town, seemingly on every major building, BTS train trestle tower, and street corner, was an advertisement for the BOI fair currently going on north of Bangkok. I was not entirely sure what this thing was, but it was sponsored by the Board of Investment and it was intended to impart good feeling to Thai and foreign investors that Thailand has indeed come out of its economic disaster and is ready for lots of foreign investment. I decided to check it out.

As I boarded the shiny new BTS elevated train (a centerpiece of the fair) and super-crowded shuttle buses to get to the event, it occurred to me that this must be the Thai Comdex. Attendance was free. They handed me a map of the fairgrounds. Hundreds of huge international companies such as Sony, Philips, Toyota, Pepsi, Procter and Gamble, Colgate, IBM, and Toshiba constructed enormous "pavilions" outside the main convention center to show off their products and brag about their Thai investments and factories. Inside the convention center were thousands of stalls with small foreign investing companies divided up into categories like "computer and electronics," "satellite communications," etc. For example, Seagate was there talking about their huge factories in Northeast Thailand. They seemed to be recruiting both foreign investment and local labor. I even managed to find something I was looking for: a handful of small Thai software companies trying to make a living writing educational software. It was a lot like Comdex: thousands of companies from an incredibly unfocused range of product categories here to advertise their products, hoping that someone will attend interested in their area.

I thought I had it all figured out, but then I was suddenly snapped back to the reality of being in Southeast Asia when I wandered into the "handicraft," "woodwork / furniture," and "jewelry" areas. Suddenly the semi-crowded halls of white-collar types turned into shoulder-to-shoulder packed mobs of people of all persuasions purchasing products in a market atmosphere not unlike that I saw in Chatuchak the previous day. I had heard that the BOI organizers took great pains to make sure this event would look like a "respectable," non-commercial international tradeshow and not a street market, including forbidding the sale of products in the booths. But since the vast majority of attendees have never seen an international tradeshow, and would find it boring and pointless if they did, this was much like trying to keep water from flowing down a stream with your bare hands! In some ways I imagine it was embarrassing for the BOI, but in other ways it serves them right for creating a situation where they knew there would be such contradictory expectations.

In another area of the convention center, universities and companies were showing off their robotics projects, welding robots, 10-at-a-time robotic sewing machines, and other human-replacing devices. I wonder what the Thais thought of this. There were not very many people there.

I talked to the university students for a while about their projects. Some of them gave me tickets to a concert that was going on in the convention center's arena. Like most things at this fair, the tickets were glittery and expensively produced, printed on expensive card stock with a 3-D lenticular pattern. The concert was equally glittery. When I arrived a modern dance troupe was doing some lavishly choreographed numbers to electronic music. After that, a college-age rock group came on with a really amazingly Hendrix-like lead guitarist.

It was impressive, but I couldn't help thinking how it was exactly like a concert I had seen at my own University, 8,000 miles away, and how it was so unlike anything (even rock music) I had seen in Thailand. Was the BOI trying to impress Thais and foreign investors by showing them that Thai people can do dance and music just like the foreigners? The message seems weak at best. Thais have some amazing musical and dance achievements: why weren't they on display? The performers were definitely having a good time, so that's good, but the BOI's message at this fair, and it success and failure in delivering the message, definitely shows the country still has a bit of an identity crisis to work out before we can really know how Thailand will contribute to the world economy.

One of the large pavilion areas outside the main hall was reserved for the royal family. There was an enormous two-story walkthrough exhibit showcasing the King and all of his many accomplishments and projects. There was a slightly smaller pavilion dedicated to one of the King's daughters and her various projects for charity. There was an outdoor exhibit extolling the various farming projects with which the king is credited, such as a large cloud seeding operation in the dry north-east, and work on better hybrids of various crops.

And finally, there was a very impressive laser light show that ran every 30 minutes at night. The show happened at the site of a massive wooden BOI Fair logo, easily 20 feet in diameter. At the beginning of the show the logo would rise up under motor control and the laser and fog would emanate from underneath it. The main reason this show was cool, and why you'd never see it in the US, is that the powerful, multicolored laser was projected through fog and dancing water directly at the audience! You got the distinct feeling of being inside a floating, warping 3-D shape which stretched off into infinity. The shape twisted around and changed colors with the rousing modern electronic music. The aim of this show was clearly to restore confidence in Thailand's technological savvy for both Thai people and foreigners, and this exhibit went a long way towards that goal.

Feb 14 2000

Two friends of mine from the San Francisco Bay Area, Bruce and his wife Jan, were arriving at the airport today for their 2-week trip to Thailand. I met them at the airport hotel and accompanied them to their first stop, the Khao Yai Garden Lodge where Nang works! Since they were only here for 2 weeks, they travelled with heavy bags and took the expensive rooms. While I was with them, I hung out at fancy hotels with swimming pools for the first time since our little splurge at the Oriental Hotel during New Year's.

Jan is a hard-core biologist and hit it off immediately with Nang. For both Jan and Nang, it was an immense relief to meet someone (i.e. not Bruce or me) who understands the difference between an orchid, a fern, and a grass, and who cares deeply about all the different plant and animal species and their properties. Individually, Jan and Nang were already used to teasing Bruce and I about how hopelessly ignorant we were of biology. Together, it became a social game, a nearly "us" vs. "them" approach where even if Bruce or I really legitimately wanted to learn some detail of a plant or animal, our query would be seen as either insincere or requiring so much explanation that it was simply not worth the effort. Eventually Bruce and I gave up trying to escape the game and basically played the part; when all four of us were together on a forest tour, Bruce and I would bring up the rear with childish, snickering comments about how "obvious" it was that the last bird or orchid was X instead of Y, and Jan and Nang would do their best to ignore us. Needless to say this didn't help matters. I'm not exactly sure why the social dynamic was that way; I would have preferred to learn what little I could (given my lack of basic knowledge) about the plant and animal species, which is what happened in February 1999 when I first went on a Garden Lodge tour with Nang as guide.

Over the next few days, Jan confirmed that Nang does indeed possess an uncanny ability to spot and identify birds in Thailand, moreso even than the famous scientists who come to Khao Yai for study. Many avid birdwatchers return to the Garden Lodge again and again to book tours with Nang and add more birds to their "life list," a hobby as intense as the distant communication cards collected by HAM radio operators.

On this particular evening, there was a rock concert in town. Always ones for adventure, Bruce and Jan decided to ignore their jet-lag and accompany Nang, myself, Nang's sister, and an ever-increasing crowd of folks from the Garden Lodge to see this concert. The warmup bands consisted of several famous north-east Thailand folk-rock singers, including one whose guitarist's wife organized the concert. But the real attraction was: Loso. This trendy rock band was the hottest of the hot in Thailand at the time. Their songs filled every other slot on Thai radio stations and Thai girls fainted at the very mention of their names. Loso coming to play Pak Chong (the town where the Garden Lodge was) on Valentine's day was roughly equivalent to Bruce Springsteen coming to play Needles, California in 1985. It seemed too good to be true.

We arrived "late" for the 6pm concert but they hadn't even begun playing. The stage was built on an enormous grass field. The audience was divided into two sections. The 150 baht ($4.05) section consisted of a few hundred rows of folding chairs. The 50 baht section was behind that (and behind a tall fence) and there were no chairs. Next to the stage, everyone was avoiding the first row or two. I later found out this is because at a Thai rock concert, all the chairs in the first rows inevitably get folded up so the area can be converted into a gentler, kindler "mosh pit" of sorts, where people scream, yell, jump around, and dance but god forbid if they were to hurt each other...

The stage was about 8 feet off the ground and on either side of the stage was a two-story stack of 32 speakers per side. What they lacked in quality they definitely made up for in quantity. Behind and on either side of the stage there was a 3-4 story scaffolding with a grid of colored theater spotlights which flickered on and off in a more or less improvised fashion. The front of the stage and the area above the speakers was completely covered with advertising logos and signage from the sponsors.

The folk rock bands started playing around 8pm. They interspersed songs with jokes and speeches. One group sung songs filled with references to local places and political issues. Their lead singer was a local legend for speaking out about controversial issues like the under-the-table payoffs for poaching in Khao Yai National Forest. These payments went to park rangers, the forest department, and even the army, which was called in at one point to "protect" the forest but ended up auctioning off illegal access to its rare trees and animals to the highest bidder. This singer became so famous that he became immensely rich, and now people complain that he invites his "city friends" to all-night parties at his farm which disturb the neighbors and mess up their crops and livestock. Is nothing sacred?

The folk rock bands were pretty cool. Most of the music you hear on the radio in Thailand is Thai pop rock music, which essentially distills down all the most annoying aspects of early 80s US/Britain rock music and amplifies them until you want to tear your hair out. This music, on the other hand, had interesting melodies and kept the teenie-bopping to the minimum.

These bands played for an hour, then another, then another. Since I didn't understand their Thai I don't know exactly when they let the audience know that Loso was late in arriving. Nang talked to her friend, the concert organizer, and apparently Loso had actually made some scene straight out of "This is Spinal Tap" and refused to come on.

The folk bands ended up playing until about 1 in the morning. The audience was impatient but still cheered. At this point Bruce and Jan and I retreated from our post on the front lines to near the back of the 150 Baht section, Bruce finding it quite difficult to stay awake, but gosh darnit, they were hear to see Loso and they were gonna see Loso.

Finally, the stage went dark and it looked like Loso's sea of techies were setting up. All of the synthesizers, amplifiers, and monitor speakers on the stage suddenly became about three times more expensive. A row of expensive electric guitars appeared.

Finally, after an endless series of crowd-teasing, cheer-generating introductions by the MC, "they" appeared on stage. Two suspiciously young guys with very long, curly hair, and another guy on drums, proceeded to consume the audience's rapt attention for song after song. Their music bore a striking resemblance to about 10 hits from the top of the US and British charts from 1965-1999. From slap bass to wah-wah pedals to Peter Frampton to REM, you could hear it all again (except that most of the audience had never heard it before). Their stage presence was practiced and perfect. They banged their heads. They flung their hair about (was it a wig?). Their guitars and whammy bars were just as important as props as they were as musical instruments. They took flowers held up by the ladies on their boyfriend's backs, stuck them in their guitars, and, can you believe it, actually looked them in the eye and sung them a line. They squealed and yelled on stage like wild monkeys. They looked absolutely dedicated to their art, yet full of complex inner torment. They never smiled but they were always righteous. At the perfect time, they stretched out the end of the perfect song by faux masturbating with the neck of their electric guitar until they had a faux orgasm. And the audience just lapped it up. In short, in both their music and stage theatrics, they had surgically extracted and sewed together hundreds of ideas which worked before in the Western markets, and translated in the result into the Thai language, to produce a mega-hit.

While you can't give them credit for nearly any of the melodies, themes or moves, you can give them credit for being able to copy, filter, and reuse old ideas with the professionalism and the marketing savvy of the Home Shopping Network.

Despite an initial crowd-pleasing promise that "no way would Loso leave you, they'll be here all night," the band ended up playing for 30 minutes then skipping town.

I was thoroughly amused by the whole evening, though perhaps not for the same reasons as most.

Feb 15 2000

Having returned around 3am, I got some definite sleep this morning and afternoon while Bruce and Jan got up for a jungle tour with Nang. I took a van into Pak Chong (the town proper is about a 5 minute ride from the Khao Yai Garden Lodge—very convenient for the proprietor since his guests are effectively captive). I did some faxing, several hours of email typing part of this journal, and wandered around town. I ended up at the Happy Trails guesthouse.

Happy Trails is, well, an experience. I simply live for pockets of culture like this one. The rickety, misspelled sign that hangs over the run-down property a few doors down the street from the train station is definitely one of the more well-maintained features of the guesthouse. The place is a complete mess. You can't hang out here for more than a few minutes without spotting some of the rodent population squeak under piles of forgotten junk, through the exposed wiring, past the long-dead washing machine on their way to the dingy rooms. The thing is, nobody who stays here cares, and I agree with them. The place makes up ten times in character for what it lacks in maintenance. It has to be one of the most sincere and unpretentious places I ever found in Thailand. The dirty pots on the ground, the hammock precipitously strung up with a conveniently available set of ace bandages and rubber jumpropes, the crazy, non-sensical signage, the demented resident dog who barks at birds, runs shrieking from mice, and likes to stand stiffly on the top of the concrete fence with a tortured expression on his face: they're all like charms, garlic necklaces which ward away the evil spirits of bureaucracy, politics, pomposity and all around no-fun.

Happy Trails is "run" by a Thai dude named Tommy who spent at least a decade in Midwestern USA (St. Louis?) and at least a year in LA. Tommy has clearly had a few thousand too many hits of something. He speaks perfect but dazed English through an impressive set of ever-smiling teeth. His cheshire gaze reaches in and kneads your brain whenever you speak with him, as if to say "yeah I see you're worried about something, but is it really that important?"

Tommy's venture is somewhere between a guesthouse/tour agency and a homeless shelter for backpackers. As far as I can tell, Tommy's guests rarely pay. Tommy is simply too laid back to run a profitable shop. The better guests make up for their stay by providing Tommy with some form of entertainment like music or Game Boy games, by cleaning up the place, by attempting to make signage (a form of remuneration which usually takes place late at night under the influence of "inspiring" substances), or (most commonly) just by hanging out to "take care of the place" and pull in backpackers from the train station while Tommy is away. I have no idea how Happy Trails stays in business.

Over the next month I would frequently hang out at the Happy Trails. After having spent most of my last 6 years as a computer programmer cog in a rusty corporate machine, the simplicity of this place was intoxicating. Tommy and his guests could make a rolling good time out of any story or occurrence. The longer you stayed in Pak Chong, the more you realized this hicksville town was a Northern Exposure-like micro-universe with intrigue, corruption, and vice. And it was all fair game for jokes at the Happy Trails!

That evening I had a delicious meal at Pak Chong's excellent night market and took a motorcycle taxi back to the Garden Lodge.

Feb 16 2000

Jan and Bruce left quite early for a special birdwatching tour with Nang and another serious bird-loving couple. I slept in and then, around 11am, decided to go to the park. Having travelled for two months, always pressured to see things and move on, I was just now learning how to slow down and take it easy. For the first time, I did not have anything specific planned, any particular day I would have to leave town, or even any required day I had to leave the country.

I decided to try and hitchhike into the park rather than paying the usual exorbitant fee the garden lodge's owner charges for a ride. It was definitely the slow way, but it was more fun. I took a bus to the park entrance, and then, meeting up with some other just-arrived backpackers, hitched a ride in the back of a pickup truck owned by a ranger family. This was apparently the gasoline run, and as we took each sharp switchback up the hill, we shifted to avoid the full metal drum which shared the truck's bed with us. The backpackers got off at the visitor center, completely guessing at the amount of money (if any) which the drivers expected. I tried to communicate the name of the waterfall I was trying to get to, and they took me more or less halfway there and let me off at a quiet intersection! I then waited there for about 20 minutes until a truck came around. Amusingly enough it was the Garden Lodge truck taking guests to the waterfall for the day tour, so I hitched a ride there. By 2pm I had made it!

Haew Sawat waterfall is a very beautiful setting, where a 40-50' tall stream crashes down into a large swimming hole. The waterfall appears in the otherwise pathetic movie called "The Beach," where it supposedly lies in the middle of a tropical island. Next to the waterfall is a small building with a government "approved" restaurant, where Bruce, Jan and Nang were eating lunch after their morning birdwatching tour. I decided to tag along with them. Nang took us along a rocky stream bed where hundreds of tiny, colorful butterflies hovered over every little pool of water which the rocks had captured. We saw numerous bird species. Bruce and I made endless cracks in defense of our birdwatching ignorance and managed to annoy Jan somewhat. Nang took us on one of her famous "shortcuts" through the forest; although it appears to the untrained eye that we are wandering aimlessly off the trail, Nang always, and I mean always, manages to find her way back to exactly the right spot for a pickup.

We returned to the Garden Lodge (the fast way :) and Bruce and I went for a night swim in the brisk 70 degree evening air. Bruce and Jan had not yet seen a night market, and Pak Chong's is one of the coolest in Thailand, so Nang offered up her tour services yet again to show them the town. We ate another well-chosen meal and hung out until quite late at a local bar/restaurant. When it was time to get a pickup truck taxi back, Nang instructed us to wait while she went to negotiate: if the driver knew that the customers were farang they would demand a much higher price!

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