The Storks of Böbs

The Storks of Böbs
A Very Fine Pair

Around the World (Again) Bangkok to the Border and beyond.

To the Thailand-Cambodian Border and beyond.
I was up with the spuggies, long before the alarm went on my mobile phone. Up showered and all ready to rumble. I the Sky Train just after six, I thought no one would be out and about this early, but I was quite wrong, the two building sites outside of the complex were in full swing (it could have been in Germany). The street food vendors already doing a brisk trade feeding the people on their way to work and the building site workers. I jumped onto the first train (they all go to Mo Chit) well   I didn’t really as I had a large rucksack where it should be on my Rucken and a small on containing my life strapped to my front. So you could say this old salt was loaded Fore and Aft. I have managed to keep my cargo down to a bare minimum have never had  more than 13Kg strapped to my back and my small one including Net Book charging cables, my tablets, blood testing kit, guide book and e-reader is about 7kg.Even the two together are well below my 24kg allowance. So that having nothing to do other than I didn’t jump.
At this time of the morning I was even able to get a seat (not normal during the day), I was at Mo Chit well before 07:00 and got a taxi straight away, he took me a short cut (that Scouse and Cockney have a lot to answer for). I arrived at the bus station still not 07:00, I realised that I could have booked on the 07:00 or even the 08:00 ones. I went to the window, it was the same young lady that had sold me the ticket, smiles all round, ”excuse me I am booked on the 09:00 bus, but am here early ,would it be possible to get an earlier bus” ? smile, smile always keep smiling. Reply Sorry Sir, all the seats are fully booked, I found this hard to believe, but had to admit I would have to sit and wait for 2hrs. It wasn’t too bad  as I could read up a bit about temples of Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. But I did look into the two busses and neither were particularly full, lying Toosy I thought. I now know I was doing her a dis-service, even my bus was only half full, but we are only the start of the journey, they pick up as they go along, these busses are used by all of the house maids and Nannies that require to  get a new Visa or extend the tourist one that they are illegally working on. I seemed to be the only back packer on the move this morning so may be the border Visa issuing office wouldn’t be too busy. 
The bus left Bangkok right on time after loading a load of baggage belonging to other passengers (I now know those Cambodians with money travel this route and buy designer articles from the weekend market and then take it into Cambodia).

The route on leaving Bangkok soon turns into a suburban sprawl, at times piles of timber, this I was informed was turned into charcoal and what fuelled the street food vendors BBQs, Market Gardens and then it was out into green countryside.

We travelled for a long time alongside a canal, this was obviously used for paddy fields irrigation but also cantilever fish traps at regular intervals along it.
We passed through lots of small villages with their scratching chickens and ducks swimming great gaggles on the canal and on ponds, obviously a prime source of protein.
We passed through a very well built holiday complex, for whom I don’t have a clue.
At various stops we would take on new passengers, some laden, some with children at last we reached the outskirts of Aranyaprathet, this seemed to go on for a very long time and then the sign said Border. We turned into a small bus station and here the scams begin, you will be accosted by scammers trying to say they are able to get you a visa, do not believe them, walk straight past them turn right along the road you are almost there! First the Thailand side, no problems, you get stamped out, make sure you have your departure form filled out (I didn’t) or you will have to do it there, not endearing you to the queue of backpackers, nannies and housemaids behind you.

Then as quick as possible, down the steps and along a cordoned (with barriers) pathway, across the road and into Cambodia (well not quite) to the Visa on arrival office, (it is well sign posted), If you’re lucky and all your paper work is in order you pay your $20 (if they ask you for an extra 100bhat don’t quibble, you want to get through tonight). Then you are out and off to border post (those that had already got Visa’s in Bangkok have bypassed this stage). I looked ahead and saw the border post, with an orderly queue, I walked towards this, on reaching the end of the building realised that it actually turned the corner and was another 30mtrs long so in total about 50 mtrs (what I also didn’t realise was that inside of the border hut was also another 20mtr queue).
I have in the past spent many long minutes up to an hour at the old DDR border posts (they always picked on me) but that was a piece of cake compared with  Cambodia ( I now know where all of the Grenzpolizei have gone). But after 2 hours, we  actually had a good laugh made new friends and swopped stories, I got attached to a Japanese teacher who lived in Siem Reap and her Hong Kong boyfriend, a smashing couple. I inquired about the massive suitcase that she was pushing; it was her that told me about the transiting to the market to get clothes. She had travelled with an empty suitcase on Friday been to the market and was returning today.
But at last the queue split into 4 and I was at a window, all that was done was photo taken (don’t smile) and some had electronic finger prints taken (not I as my passport is chipped).
Then it is outside and try to catch a shuttle bus to the bus station (don’t fall for the scam about getting you there quicker in my private car), the government supplied shuttle is free and the busses all set off together.
Our group (we had now bonded) stuck together and got on the same minibus shuttle, it drops you off at the bus station, and you pay your $10 then board the coach to Siem Reap. When the coach is full off you go do not worry, there are plenty of coaches and they all cost the same. If you are feeling flush you can get a mini bus, or even flusher share a taxi millionaires take their own, but I doubt they would be backpacking. Unfortunately it was dusk (at 17:00 it starts getting dark) so not a lot to see outside. But that didn’t really matter as there was a great banter on the coach.

These coaches are full of backpackers and they are only going to Siem Reap so they don’t stop (what did I say!) it does stop about 1 hour from its destination, the driver pulls of the road and you have a break at a restaurant (he and the other two coaches said it was regulations, they must take a break after 4 hours, but no doubt, they get a backhander from the restaurant owner. But we did have a meal and used the loo. The road from here to Siem Reap is one of the worst in Cambodia, the bus travels at snail’s pace trying to miss the bigger pot holes, if I wasn’t a good seaman I do believe I would have been seasick.

But at last you arrive at Siem Reap bus station, it is quite a way out of town and you either get a Tuk-Tuk or a motorbike. You can get lucky and pick up a good English speaking one, but they will all try to steer you in the direction of a guesthouse where they are going to get commission, nothing wrong with that they are making a living, I lucky, very lucky, mine took me to a very nice one, single room with bathroom $10, do not expect hot water for this price.
Clean room, though the towels were a bit grey (no matter I had my own), I also sleep in my cotton sleeping liner on top of the bed (it is too warm to sleep under the covers), I spray this each evening with DEET, it does work, thank you dear daughter! Then out for a couple of beers.

I forgot to say my Tuck-Tuck driver didn’t charge me for the transport from the bus station to the hotel and I had hired him for 3 days to do the Temple tours and the sunrise (more about that later) and the Fishing village $70, that is below the going rate.

Sorry I haven’t many photos as I was either in a bus or standing in queues at the border, then it was dark, but I did take a few. But don’t worry I took thousands of the temples.

Around the World ( again) Jim Thompson, Chatuchak Market and bus station

Bangkok, Jim Thompson, the Weekend Market and booking my trip to Cambodia

So before we start, who was Jim Thompson?

He was an architect, soldier, tailor, spy and I believe remained a spy, having said that he was a very good businessman and also a generous philanthropist in the mould of Fry, Cadbury and Silver. He really did help the poor and without him there would in all probability no Thai silk industry today.

But to the beginning:

He was born in 1906 into a very conservative US American Household, his father a very Successful and wealthy textile manufacturer, his mother the daughter of a famous Unionist General.
He graduated from Princeton University, going onto Pennsylvania University as a post graduate to study architecture, alas he was unable to grasp calculus (tell me about it) and so left without his Doctorate. This did not stop him having a very successful career in architecture, it just meant that he couldn’t put his name to designs and had to get them signed off by others.

During the 30s he became involved in opera and ballet sitting on the board of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He also became a bit of a political animal, but having liberal leanings, this estranged him from his very Conservative family.

In 1941 seeing the growing clouds of war coming towards the US  he  joined the Delaware Reserve Unit as  regular. It was while serving with this unit that he met Edwin F Black a graduate from West Point. This was to change his whole life, he was talked by Black into joining the OSS (office of Strategic Services) the forerunner of the CIA.
It was while with the OSS that he was recruited as an operative (spy) by WJ Donovan and went on to be very successful in the North African and European theatres of war. After VE day he was transferred to the Asian field of operations, being stationed on Ceylon (now Sri-Lanka) and became very involved with the Seri Thai (free Thai movement), this was headed by Pridi Banomyong, later to become the Prime Minister of Thailand, the King in exile Ananda Mahidol and the Thai Ambassador to America.

He was about to be sent into Thailand, but just before that the Americans dropped the Atom Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the war ended. He was still sent into Thailand as the political situation was far from stable, his job was to set up the OSS office in Bangkok.
In the spring of 1946 he went to work for his former Princeton buddy  Charles Yost ( the US Minister to Thailand) as the Military Attaché. At this time there was a bit of a problem at the Laos and Thai borders, Thompson used his contacts in from the Free Thai and Free Laotian days to help defuse the tension.

It is thought (far be it for me to spread rumours) that he had an affair with a Connie Manskau who worked on the translation desk. But whatever their relationship, they remained the closest of friends until (and who knows after) his disappearance.
While working as the Military Attaché he became friends with Kenneth Langdon whose wife wrote Anna and the King of Siam, and The King and I.

At the end of 1946 he left the army (lots of people in Military Intelligence did at that time), shortly after this he got divorced and returned to Thailand, to set up the Thai Cottage silk industry, that was in a dismal state, neither having the funds or the expertise to compete against the new artificial fabrics like Nylon. His idea was to allow the silk spinners to stay at home and do their silk winning and weaving, thus allowing them the freedom to look after their families and become the bread winners.
Along with his partner George Barrie he set up a company in 1948, they had equal 18% shares the rest they sold to Thai and foreign investors (it is mooted that here he used his influence within the Thai political circles and also his contacts within America).

The big breakthrough came in 1951 when he landed the job of supplying the silk fabrics and designs for the Rogers and Hammerstein’s Musical the king and I. There was then no turning back he was the primary silk producer now, but stayed faithful to his ideals of cottage industry.
He had built himself a very nice living area, this was not (at that time) in a prime part of town, but was right in the middle of the silk workers quarters, with only a canal separating his piece of real estate from his workers huts. He had collected the wooden traditional houses from all over Thailand, some well over 100 years old (as well as artefacts, wall hangings, furniture and sculptures) and turned them into a very nice home. He joined some houses together and left others intact But all are aesthetically pleasing. to the eye. He may well have saved a lot of these buildings for posterity as out in the villages they would slowly have rotted or been eaten by termites.

In 1967 he and his closest “friend” Connie Manskau left Bangkok to spend Easter with some close friends in Malaya. The stopped off first in George Town, Penang staying at the Ambassador Hotel, they toured the island in a taxi before setting off for the Cameron Highlands, they reached their destination mid-afternoon and stayed at the Moonlight Bungalow with their friends Dr Ling Chen Gi and his wife Helen Ling.
On Easter morning March 26 he attended Mass at All Souls Church, they returned for lunch and then retired to take a nap (alone), here there is a bit of a discrepancy as Dr Gi seems to think he went for a walk at about 3:30 PM while his wife thought it was 1:30PM. But he went out and was never seen again, there are some witnesses that said they saw him or someone of his like at about 4PM. But whatever, this started one of the biggest manhunts ever known in Malaya and involved a psychic investigator called Peter Hurkos from the USA, a team of British Jungle experts and their trackers, his old boss now Brigadier Black and l load of other would be expert investigators, but since then nothing. Though some years later bones where found but are under lock and key, someone wants to keep the interest burning.

Now Jim boy was no fool, he had been in OSS and the CIA for many years, he was trained in clandestine behind the lines operations, could live in the jungle, HE didn’t get lost, he was either taken out, or wanted to disappear, I don’t think it was the first, I opt for the later. Though if he is still alive today he will be 108!

 So It was Friday
I let the family get all packed and ready to leave for the beach; I then got myself ready and headed into town to visit the Jim Thompson Museum. I now had this off to a T, down the street turn left and on to the sky train, getting off and walked through the crowds of demonstrators, hawkers, tented areas and cavalcades. The cavalcade that passed by me was a little while later the object of a grenade attack, it is just being in the right place at the right time, I saw or heard nothing. 

I would suggest anyone visiting Bangkok take the Sky-train to the National Stadium or Siam and walk as I did, two blocks from the National Stadium, down a little side street backing onto the canal you shall find The Jim Thompson Museum.

It isn’t expensive and you get a guided tour in with the price, The gardens, buildings and designs are fabulous, I could spend hours just enjoying the tranquil atmosphere in the gardens.

After buying your ticket, you walk down a nice leafy avenue towards the actual house and garden.

You can visit the shop and buy Jim Thompson shirts, blouses, skirts, ties scarves or just the silk cloth, not cheap but the very best quality.

Outside you can watch how they still remove the silk from the cocoons, dye and weave it.

Removing the silk from individual cocoons and twisting it into silk threads (about 30 gossamer strands to a thread.

Then dyed and twisted into skeins

Before being woven into silk cloth.

First you  pick up your guide, ours was a very nice well spoken Thai girl, who knew her stuff. 

After a short tour through the garden passing his house keepers house, guest house and boat house

You visit his wonderful raised up Bungalow, with its wonderful raised living room and antique Thai furniture, his bedroom and guestroom and unusual for Thai houses inside bathrooms. He sure had an eye for design and quality; it is a dream house, in a dream setting.

Outside as well as in is full of wonderful Khmer sculptures and artefact's.

You can also stop and give an offering to the Gods (take your pick there are enough around.

Above are some photo's taken after the tour (they ask you not to take photo's during the tour, but said please take your time and enjoy the pleasures in the garden. Well I was in the garden when taking the photo's.

So that is (or was) Jim Thompson, his house and now his museum.

On leaving I turned left this takes you to the Ban Krua Nua canal, on the other side are the original workers houses when Jim started his silk production for the poor. Alas they have now moved the production outside of Bangkok and industrialised it, I think Jim will be turning in his grave, wherever it is.

If you wish to get speedily to the Chao Phraya River and Royal Palace jump on a dragon boat from here.
I passed an interesting building, I would suggest that the allow laundering as the bank notes are filthy, do not put your finger into mouth when counting bank notes.

But I was heading for a spot of late lunch, as I passed a Jack Fruit seller I thought street food as I walked back towards the Siam Sky Train, there were enough.

But  while browsing the Mall I had noticed that on the top floor of Siam Centre (a large shopping mall), there was a place to eat with a novel idea, you go to a cash desk and buy a cheque card for a minimum of 100Bht, you can then go to any of the cooking stalls and get what you want, you can always top up your card at any time, a quick and efficient service is the outcome.

I chose the duck three ways today.

I then headed  back towards home and watched a bit of TV about the problems in Bangkok, though in general it seemed to have passed the Western World by, with only a fleeting news flash. But I did learn about the grenade attack.
Next morning was Saturday and the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market takes place near the Sky Train (BTS) terminus Mo Chit and also I had been informed that the Bus station that the busses leave for the border town of Aranya Prathet was also in the vicinity, though no one said exactly where! All they could tell me that it was near Mo Chit well that was where I was going, wasn’t it?

From the Sky Train Bridge you could see the crowds and the market, that is it against the covered building (no it is not Christo, it is being renovated)

I took in the market first, you could and I did get lost in it, I went in one sideand could have sworn I would come out the same side. Outside is the normal barrage of street food stalls. Offering everything from fruit, mango salad, sticky rice to crispy pork or fish dumpling stew.

While inside you can buy anything that you want, though I didn’t want much, only a pair of trekking sandals as my deck shoe soles were wearing a bit thin and down at heel. But I love to peruse a good market and this is pretty good as markets go.

I found the artists quarter in the market and there was some interesting pieces on sale, though far too large and far too heavy for me to lug around with me.

I dined in a very nice restaurant in the artists quarter on a giant prawn boat, it was excellent value. Very tasty indeed.

I decided that it was time to search out the bus station, I asked a few people and I did have an address but I drew more blanks than smiles, but surely the address would take me their?
So I found what I thought was the street and walked and walked until I hit a demonstration after looking around this being offered corpus amounts of food (I had to refuse as I was still full), I retraced my footsteps, back to Mo Chit MRT , I then thought according to the map I should just walk through the Queen Sirikit Park and it would lead me to it, fool that I was.

I heard two English voices alongside me a Cockney and a Scouser, well if anyone knows there way around town then these must. So I popped the question, do you know were the bus terminal is, the one that the bus to the Cambodian border leaves from? Well yes as we have to go there to get the bus to the border when we need to extend our Visa. That is the one I said (I knew all about the scam of getting a visa if you have outstayed your old one), you’re going in the wrong direction, the Scouser said, go back to the main road (the one I had walked up and down twice, it was hot and I was hot and bothered) go to the end and at the intersection turn right keeping the markets on your right, walk along that road and you can’t miss it. You bet?
So I once again retraced my steps hit the main road and came to an intersection turned right keeping the markets on my right, all I could see was markets and roads. I stopped at a shop and thought these must know, I asked the chief he babbled something about 5km, but then had the decency to call one of his staff out, he was most helpful, he directed me and said just jump on any bus that is traveling up that road and it will be going there cost you 10baht, but isn’t far only about 1 km,. Now you’re talking, but wanting to save the 10Baht I decided to walk, I at last saw loads of busses, this must be it!

Just as I reached it an English elderly couple stopped me (do I look as if I know where I am going) and asked is that where you get the bus to the border and Siem Reap, I replied, I certainly hope so as I have been looking for it for 2 hours and my feet are sore, she said close to tears so have we she said. I happened to look across the main road and there was a fence and on the other side was the place I had seen the Cockney and the Scouser, there are some stupid people in the world but those two take the cake, I shall be having a word with my mates Mark and Tony when next we meet.
So into the bus station asked a few questions, in the wrong part you want to be over there, so we went over there and at last what looked like the International Terminal, busses to the Cambodian Border, I went to the information (by this time I had lost my elderly English friends) and got directed to a window on it said Aranyan Prathet –Border, that’s my boy I had hit gold dust! Went to the window and a very helpful young lady asked me what time bus, now I knew that the crossing formalities at the border could take time, so I took the early one leaving at 09:00, this would leave me enough time to get to the bus station and after the 5-6 hour trip to the border still leave enough time to get my visa and clear the border formalities.

That done and  my 242 Bahts paid, I went outside and hailed a taxi, I had enough tramping the streets for one day, just as it was about to pull away the elderly English couple came running up and said have you got your ticket, In replied yes I am on the 09:00 bus Monday morning seat B2. She said (he never spoke) they told us we had to have our passport, did you have to show yours? I replied no!, they said which window, the third from the exit to the bus platforms, she then hot footed it back in with hubby in tow. I thought about it later and they had been talking about getting a bus to Siem Reap and I was getting mine to the border and then crossing and getting a bus from the other side for onward journey. That could have been the problem, but that was their problem not mine, I had my ticket and could head for home, a shower and bit of a rest.  Below from the Sky train bridge  I looked down and could see that the market crowd had the same idea.  

That evening I popped out to a nice little Japanese restaurant just down the road that I had spied on my wandering, having miso broth and a fish noodle stew. A very quick, cheap and very tasty meal. I then hit the sack, I was knackered.

The next day Sunday, got a bit of laundry done, after packing and doing my chores, put the dish washer on (I had been instructed by Nina so knew the ins and outs). I took a few photos of the very nice complex,

then jumped on the sky train and went to the Siam Centre. They were still demonstrating,

and had a look around, tried on a few pairs of trekking sandals, but far too expensive, they wanted something like 80 dollars, if I want to get ripped off I would have went to Turkey!
So I just went upstairs , I could have had crispy roast pork.

or a shellfish omelette.

But I had a nice curried chicken with rice and a soup (you get soup with everything in Thailand).

I then went home watched some tele, then set the alarm for 05;30, I wanted to be on one of the first SMTs to Mo Chit no messing about tomorrow. Night, Night, it is not easy being a Grey Nomad, but it is rather fun!