(Entries will be backdated as they appear, so scroll down. The dugong entries are coming soon!)
Today I thought I’d engage in an act of mass tourism, since is was my last full day in Trang.
The day trip to the Hat Chao Mai National Park, taking in the islands of Ko Muk, Ko Cheuk and Ko Kradan, would leave from a travel agency near the station. Speed and efficiency ruled from the start. At the Sin Ocha Bakery, my breakfast was on the table before I could reach for my cigarettes, which meant that I was 45 minutes early for the minivan.
I could see the station from where I sat. The loudspeakers spewed forth a barrage of either political propaganda or morning pep talks as no trains were arriving at this time, leaving them free for other uses.
The street—alive with commuters—was lined with cake shops and travel agents, but there were no convenience stores, let alone newsagents. It made me wonder where to get the elusive Bangkok Post from. The copy at the Sin Ocha had been five days old.
Where do people in Thailand buy their newspapers? Especially here in Trang; a town full of pharmacies, opticians and whiteware stores—as well as the cakeshops and travel agents clustered around the station—but with amazingly little of practical value. Getting from the internet café to the nearest food outlet involved a fifteen-minute trek.
Music began to play from the loudspeakers and the girl in the chair next to mine gave me a prod.
I blinked. Everybody had stopped doing what they were doing and stood still. I hastily rose, feeling like an Olympic athlete at somebody else’s medal ceremony.
The girl turned around and grinned. “National song,” she said again.
I almost hushed her, thinking that we should stand quietly to attention, but the man who had frozen in passing as the music started up joined in. “National Song.” —Just in case I hadn’t got it.
When the anthem was over, life resumed as if nothing had interrupted it. A gaggle of Schoolgirls walked by, dressed in pleated navy skirts and short-sleeved shirts. The Muslim girls wore white headscarves down to their shoulders, but that was the only difference.
Trang is a mix of Muslim and Buddhist and the atmosphere here is relaxed. There are no tensions like in the Southern provinces which were once part of a different Malay Sultanate.
“But they speak another language there!” I said (Yawi).
“Nonsense,” the Professor said. “They are all Thai, all go to Thai schools and speak Thai. What they speak at home is their affair.”
Little chance of a quick reconciliation then.
I have travelled through Hat Yai, Songkhla and Satun in the past, and crossed the border at Sungai Kolok without any problems. But in rural areas people are sometimes kidnapped and executed at random and bombs are regularly planted in the towns. The government’s harsh response has done little to calm tempers. So far Farang have not been targeted, but it is only a matter of time. Farang matter because the government could lose face internationally, and sooner or later the separatists will realise this. At least the Professor maintained that things have grown more relaxed with Thaksin gone.
Nobody would believe it just from travelling around the Land of Smiles (provided they don’t watch the news, but who bothers with that when travelling?) but politics in Thailand are volatile, and riots—even civil war—are not out of the question.
Nobody knows what will happen when the King dies.