I’m just back from three weeks wandering around Thailand, the Kingdom of Siam. In the above photo I’m hanging on Ko Jum. With plenty of head space I relaxed and took in that combination of elements: moisture filled balmy air, gentle breezes, large leaved trees and palms and green grass, wide sandy beach and an ocean so benign that it feels in temperature and texture like cool silk on the skin. In the background was the Andaman sea, calm as a sleeping giant murmuring incoherently to himself now and again. Over in the local Muslim fishing village I got over culture shock and was able to calmly take in the main street on which everybody lived, traded or scooted along in ad hoc, resource-poor, community-rich South-East Asian style. Unlike in the West where large and anonymous retailers turn high streets into citadels of corporate power, here the little man on the street grabs his share of the market, even if its just in the form of a tiny road side stall. Oranges are sold as they grew on the tree out back, rather than being trucked in and only sold if they fit a cosmetic and flavourless ideal. On the down side foul odours of rubbish or raw sewage assault the nose on a regular basis.
Later I was in Khao Sok National Park further north and west. This is one of the most significant refuges for nature in south-east Asia. It also turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
The centre of the park has a huge lake in it. One night I stayed on floating bamboo hut in a distant corner of this lake. The journey on a longtail (traditional wooden fishing boat fitted out with an absurdly loud converted truck engine as a motor) wound through huge limestone crags covered in rainforest over endless and placid, deep green water. I started to feel like one the conquistadores in Werner Herzog’s film Aguire the Wrath of God, taking a trip down an exotic tributary of the Amazon.
Arriving at our floating bamboo village I alighted and looked down through the floor boards at a large freshwater fish hanging motionless, suspended in clear, sunlit green water. There was a feeling of makeshift honesty to the construction of the place. If you stepped too heavily in the wrong place you might have fallen through one of the worn floor boards, but it didn’t matter. It was uniquely beautiful and, like so much of the day to day life I encountered in Thailand, a thumb in the nose to safety-obsessed Australian bureaucracy.
Some images that came into my sight as I wandered through this part of the planet…
Floating in my little kayak one morning I make my way up a small tributary into the wilderness. I hear a gibbon singing his long, plaintive song into the cool morning air from off to my right. I stop paddling and listen. Another gibbon replies from far off to the left… A very special moment for me, alone with an ancient Thailand.
On the way back to civilization the boat passed through a bay of the lake which was ringed with towering green mountains. White cumulous clouds topped the scene against a blue sky. Looking out of this panorama I felt my spirit rising up. Shangri-La if there ever was one. One of the most uplifting landscapes I have ever seen.