Christmas Day was all planned out the night before. I checked the weather forecast and it predicted a spectacularly sunny day. One not to be wasted. So I planned an early morning walk on the beach, and spot of tootling for the afternoon.
Not that I celebrate Xmas. In fact, it’s easy to ignore in Thailand. It’s not a public holiday. The kids are in school, the banks are open. The commercial aspect is not forgotten though, and the stores are decked out with decorations. The checkout girls at Tesco Lotus wear silly Santa hats. But no one wishes you a Merry Xmas, which is just fine with me.
Anyhoo, I was woken at about 2:30am by a noise which sounded very much like someone had parked a 747 in my driveway and had left the engines running. I dragged myself out of bed to investigate, but couldn’t see much. So I wandered out onto the front patio and was met by a strong warm wind and a wall of water.
Just like the Inuit supposedly have fifty words for snow, I really need more adjectives for Thai rain. The rain causing the jet engine noise wasn’t just torrential, it was way beyond that. Biblical, maybe. I certainly felt like I should have built an Ark in my spare time. But I slunk back to bed, and dragged myself out for a second time somewhere around 7am. By this point, the rain was nothing special. Just normal torrential. Well, that’s blown my day, I thought.
But, as so often happens, the weather changed quickly. By 10am there were sunny patches. By lunchtime, it was the drop dead gorgeous day the forecast had promised. Right, I’m out of here, I thought, but where to go?
Well, the sky was so clear I decided to revisit the Thale Mok Lookout, mentioned a while ago in this article. I figured the view should be stunning. But a few kilometers from home I looked across to the mountains, and there they weren’t. Covered in cloud. Darn.
But, you know, us male types have been genetically programmed to prevent us turning round, so I pressed on. You’re an idiot, I kept thinking. I wasn’t wrong. An hour later I was at the lookout, about 200 meters up in the clouds.
Okay, the views weren’t too bad, but really no different from the last time I was there. Maybe the mountains always have cloud. Maybe I need to be there at sunrise. Like that’s going to happen.
Well, I decided to carry on up the hill for about 20 kms or so. On Google Maps there was something called the Krung Ching Sea View Resort. They have to be kidding, I thought. You’d need a portable Hubble telescope to see the sea from there. Which turned out to be true, because nestled in the hills, there’s a view of not much at all. In fact, the resort seems to have different ideas on the spelling. However, their tiny chalets do border the river, so maybe they’re a little unclear on the concept.
Now what? See the aforementioned genetics rule. I couldn’t possibly just go back the same way. On Google Maps I’d noticed some “interesting” roads that headed north. I figured I’d go that way for thirty or so kilometers, and then head east back to the coast.
The problem with both Google Maps and Google Earth is that with the very tiny roads, you can’t tell if they’re paved or not. The road I chose was, then wasn’t, and then really really wasn’t. Unless covered in mud counts as paved.
A little voice kept saying “This is too rough, turn round.” A much bigger voice said “Shut the **ck up. Can’t do that. And anyways this looks like fun.”
Mostly it was first and second gear work. Dodging the potholes where possible. Deciding which pothole to fall into when it simply wasn’t possible to avoid them all. Skirting around the sea of mud if it didn’t stretch right across the road, or trying to figure which part offered the most grip when it did cover the whole road. In a few places there were rivers running across the road, with poles marking the edges.
And the mud and potholes went on, and on. 20kms in low gears takes a long time.
Surprisingly it was quite a busy road. Only pickup trucks and motorbikes. You wouldn’t want to take a regular car through there. The bikes had the advantage, as they could weave their way around the potholes, looking like Valentino Rossi on his warm-up lap. Whereas the trucks were obliged to hit a large number of bone-jarring holes.
Bert was rocking from side to side so violently I needed Formula 1 driver-style neck muscles to prevent my head from hitting the B pillar. I don’t have such muscles, and periodically the pillar won.
There were many homes and small villages along the way. I just couldn’t imagine having to do this several times a day. There was a school, and in this part of the world regular pickup trucks serve as school buses. The kids are crammed in the back with at least a half dozen more standing on a rear step. I wonder how many they lose?
I had a vision of a small family living in one of the many wooden shacks, with the father shouting to his kids at midnight “I think your mother has appendicitis. Help me throw her in the back of the truck.” To go where? The nearest hospital must be three hours and a few thousand jarring bumps away. Life can be tough.
Anyhoo, I figured the locals would know their way through this maze of potholes better than I. So, as soon as I found one moving at a sensible speed, I decided to follow. That was a smart move. Whenever I saw brake lights I knew something extra potty and holey was in the offing.
Eventually, the mud returned to being a fairly normal road. Wide, but gravel. Sweeping bends. A real drivers’ road. But, where was I driving to? There was no cell phone coverage, so Google Maps wouldn’t work. It insisted I was still at the lookout, and that had become a distant memory. I knew that by this point I needed to be heading east, and so tried to keep the setting sun behind me. But, really, I had no choice but to press on, in a northerly direction, as I seemed to be on the one and only road.
Eventually the road became paved, but still without junctions, so eventually I hit the 401, as inevitably one does, but about 40kms north of where I wanted to be. As soon as I arrived home I checked with Google Maps to see where the heck I had been … and lo and behold … I have found the elusive road through the mountains, up into Surat Thani province.
So, that was a Good Day.
And having taking way longer than I’d expected, I arrived home just at the right time to see the Xmas Full Moon.