If there is one thing that living in Thailand has taught me, it is to suspend expectations. Not lower my expectations, but defer them completely and try to be ready for all contingencies. This is easier said than done, especially for someone like me who likes an orderly (some might even say controlled) environment.
On our recent weekend sojourn to Ao Nang, Krabi, on the Andaman Sea in Thailand’s south, I met with both metaphorical and concrete reminders of the need to ‘go with the flow’ and cope with the ‘shifting sands’ of Thai life.
The day of our arrival, we were waiting for lunch at an open-air seafood restaurant, looking out over the the mud flats of Ao Nang. Long boats with their gaily decorated prows dotted the bay. I went for a walk on the sands and low waters with the camera to try to ‘capture’ some of these boats and was surprised by the strength of the swell as the tide washed in over my calves.
The sand itself was quite muddy and my feet made deep indents even when I was back out of the water. I was picking my way gingerly back to solid ground when I became aware of a chirping noise and noticed the sands seeming to shift rapidly: small sand crabs, with bodies as round as playing marbles and about the same size, were scuttling in waves all around me!
While we were eating our lunch, a group of tourists arrived on the flats with their hard-side wheeled suitcases and backpacks, and we watched with some amusement as they stood, apparently perplexed, trying to figure out how they were meant to get to the boat that was to transport them to their resort. I suspect that their travel agents had neglected to inform them that they would be wading in thigh-high water with all their belongings on their heads!
Fortunately, this group all made it in one piece, but I can’t help but wonder how often someone gets knocked flat by a rogue wave!
The next day it was our turn: as part of our package, we were booked into a “four island tour” by longboat. We’ve been on a lot of island tours over the years. Most of them leave from a pier and are on large enough boats that you generally have space to sun bake. So, I don’t know why my instincts told me to rip the cupboards at home apart while we were packing to find our wet-bags. It sounds rather trite to say that in Thailand, you need to “expect the unexpected”, but in this case it payed off. Within five minutes of being on the water, the wash was over both sides of the boat, drenching all passengers and all their belongings. Not one square centimetre of myself or my clothing was dry… Without the wet bags, I would have been more than a little concerned about our phones and cameras! Fortunately, the seas were relatively warm and although I had goosebumps from head to toe, I knew I’d be okay as soon as we put to shore.
Many Westerners love Thailand because of the free and easy nature of the life, and the lack of restrictions that many western countries are trammelled by. Of course, the flip side is that piers, when they exist, may have rotting timbers and gaps in them, sidewalks are not fit for pedestrian traffic, seat-belts and helmets are a rarity and although there are probably life-jackets on any boat, they may not fit or clip or be readily accessible.
The country is unquestionably beautiful, but to call it ‘unspoiled’ is a stretch. Contrasts and contradictions are everywhere: ‘eco-tourism’ is often code for under-developed infrastructure; ‘recycling’ means that the underclass sorts through your garbage to find anything that might be useful; and ‘community involvement’ can include under-age kids working all weekend.
Things are improving, though. We noticed that our tour-guide made sure he collected all the rubbish from our green-curry lunch: styrofoam food trays and plastic bags tied with elastics. So at least that didn’t end up in the sea! And, we got home safely (we knew we would: the boat had it’s protective ribbons tied to the prow) after a terrific, albeit wet, day out.