Taking a dip in Hua Hin a long time ago
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Taking a dip in Hua Hin a long time ago

It is not often I can remember what I was doing five days ago let alone 55 years, but a moth-eaten diary confirms that on April 14, 1969 I was in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin. A brief explanation is necessary.

A few days earlier I had arrived in Thailand after an exhausting overland trip across Asia from London. With me in Bangkok was one of the travelling companions on that journey, fellow Brit Clarence Shettlesworth. We were both broke and our immediate aim was to get to Alor Satar in Malaysia where Clarence had a bank transfer awaiting. We were so low on funds we opted to hitchhike.

So that's why on April 14 all those years ago we were standing by the Petchkasem Highway in Thonburi thumbing a lift. The heat was overwhelming and we bought a couple of sombrero-type straw hats to keep off the sun. That did not stop me succumbing to heat stroke later.

We were picked up by a friendly Shell tanker driver who didn't know a word of English and we didn't know a word of Thai but somehow we communicated. It was a slow journey as in those days the only road to the South took a circuitous route via Nakhon Pathom.

We eventually arrived in Hua Hin in the late afternoon and the beach was crammed with Thai holidaymakers celebrating Songkran. We found a 20-baht hotel and then headed for the beach. The crowds had thinned out and Clarence and I plunged into the sea with unashamed delight.

After three months of backpacking it was absolute bliss. It was the first time we had seen the sea since the English Channel, let alone have a swim. It was my first taste of warm tropical waters and went down very well. It was certainly an improvement on Bognor. That was 55 years ago… and I still haven't got a tan.

Hospital hospitality

The second day of hitching saw us arrive in Chumphon and by this time I was really suffering from the heat and had a splitting headache. I staggered into Chumphon hospital desperate for medical attention. The nurses fussed over me above and beyond the call of duty. After a couple of hours I was feeling better and somewhat reluctantly announced I was fit to leave.

Then came the awkward bit. I was presented with the bill and didn't have nearly enough. In fact I only had 60 baht for the remainder of the journey. I offered it to them explaining that's all I had. To my relief the nurses said " mai bpen rai" (never mind). They explained I was the first farang they had treated in a long time and because they enjoyed this unexpected opportunity of speaking English there would be no charge.

That early taste of Thai hospitality is something I will always savour.

Buckets and bowls

In my early days in Thailand I was young enough to regard Songkran as fun. Throwing water and getting drenched seemed a welcome diversion from the overwhelming April heat. Everyone seemed so happy. Importantly there were no tourists with those silly giant plastic water guns. If you got wet it was from old fashioned buckets and bowls, admittedly also plastic.

It will come as no surprise that five decades later I am of a somewhat different persuasion and take refuge at home during the Songkran festivities. I think they call it "growing old".

Last hurrah

It was many moons ago when I was last a willing participant in Songkran water throwing. We were in Udon Thani and I knew I was in trouble when the wife presented me with a garish yellow Songkran shirt and shorts with multi-coloured blobs. With some trepidation I clambered aboard the back of a pickup with assorted kids and giant-sized buckets of water. The children at least were ready for action.

Our pickup took us to Nong Prajak park, the centre of Songkran activities in Udon town. It was total mayhem, but in a nice sort of way. Being soaking wet seemed to make total sense despite the sunburn and numb backside. I couldn't imagine anything remotely like this happening in England. It would all end up in an almighty punch-up.

Back seat blues

One Songkran trip I won't forget was aboard a bus from Chumphon to Bangkok in the mid 1970s. It was swelteringly hot and along with Post colleague Peter Finucane we arrived at a chaotic Chumphon bus terminal with hundreds of people trying to cram onto each Bangkok-bound bus.

It was in the days before air conditioned buses and eventually we squeezed onto the back seat of an overcrowded Orange Crush. That was unpleasant enough but there was an added complication. The back seat had somehow detached itself from the rest of the bus so that every time the driver braked the seat continued its forward momentum, dumping us all on the floor. We laughed the first time it happened but the joke quickly wore thin.

Adding to the discomfort was that because of the heat all the windows were open allowing kids lining the highway to lob in plastic water bombs. We had to endure this for about 10 hours and I can safely say that by journey's end we were not in a festive mood.

Contact PostScript via email at oldcrutch@hotmail.com

Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

Email : oldcrutch@gmail.com

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