Tiong Hoa Hotel
We have a month to wait for the boat with the Land Rover to reach Singapore, so try to keep ourselves amused. Albert Street famous for its restaurants is a few minutes walk away and we end up with a favourite one. Here a young waitress usually serves us, practising her basic English “Coke ha? Rice ha? Noodle ha?” One day she mentions “Me ha?” but I am not sure if this is a kind of noodle or the lady herself.
Another family friend of Anussorn is there and early one morning, we turn up as instructed at his house. Introductions made, we sit down and our host (a doctor) has just retired, so let’s celebrate. Whisky tumblers out, and at 10 am we each have two pegs of whisky to finish. He takes us out for a fabulous lunch at a huge Chinese restaurant where Dim Sum is circulating in steam cabinets. While charming and kind to us, the doctor shows another side to his nature which has after all, been spent saving other lives. A small fly enters the room which he pursues and kills quickly grinning at us afterwards “No question of coexistence!”
Singapore is very clean, especially after the squalor of India making Anussorn comment that we might be disappointed with Bangkok. The doctor is well connected and advises us to drive north on one of the three roads available. Southern Thailand is Muslim and there is sometimes trouble, so not all routes are safe.
Being a small country, one can “do Singapore” in two days using the tourist map – southern tour, western tour etc. We get plenty of exercise climbing up the steps at The Tiger Balm Gardens.
Along the coast are very new blocks of crowded flats out of which are placed horizontal poles sagging with washing. These are built with very low ceilings resulting in a high suicide rate.
Anussorn’s mother and sister join us where another new food is introduced to me, a Club Sandwich four inches thick. At night, a car park becomes a fantastic food market where stall holders try to outdo each other making flames from their woks reach 10 feet into the air and the food is some of the best I have ever tasted.
To everyone’s surprise, Edward Heath wins the 18th June election and is in power for four years.
Two weeks later, the Land Rover finally arrives just in time as the Carnet de Passages en Douanes expires and the Land Rover gets a full service. We say goodbye to the Tiong Hoa Hotel and its busy roundabout. One of the staff there has escaped from China and is shy talking to us. He smuggled out a beautiful Renminbi note for which he could have been sent to prison – a bit strange as the Chinese invented paper money. When we talk about politics, he tells us that we should not think about such things “no, no, mustn’t think, not good!”
A days drive and we are in Kuala Lumpur, an exotic place I first saw in my stamp collecting days. Penang is another stop where we retire after a wander round town and a couple of beers with our dinner. Sleep is not what we expect with the walls being thin. We can hear music the night before but something else the next morning. The bed in the next room is obviously right next to the wall and a couple are at it. The guy is not in a hurry, obviously doing a grand job as the lady’s groans get louder. Minutes later they are louder still which we can hear clearly. I manage to sleep through this excitement, only waking up at the end and find it hilarious. Dave who woke up earlier does not find it so funny.
At Penang, we have a satay feast. Only having tried this once at a Chinese restaurant in Chelsea where the cost of 5 satay sticks was huge, we grab the chance to eat more here at a cost of one Malaysian Rupee each. They are delicious and after a while, we just carry on gorging ourselves with the little meat skewers ignoring the rice and vegetables. Finally stuffed, we ask for the bill where the restaurant manager makes a great show of counting off the little bamboo skewers ten at a time, to the amusement of the other guests.
Dave and I share one room while Anussorn has his own. Walking back to the hotel, we both get into the lift and a young lad from the hotel gets in as the doors are closing. Lift ascends and he turns round to us.
“Hey, you want hotel girl?” grinning at us. With a leer he continues, “Fucking!” It’s been a really long time since leaving home and while I am willing, Dave is not – so female company has to wait until we reach Thailand.
Driving steadily north, following the doctor’s route we are only 20 miles from the Thai border when the Land Rover starts weaving and we get our first puncture. The new Avon tyres have done a great job over 14,000 miles – Dave’s guess of adding 50 per cent to the official mileage total from the AA proves surprisingly accurate. We have two spares so get out the pillar jack and change the wheel – we can always get the puncture fixed at the next town.
The last part of the journey to the border is on an unmetalled muddy road through jungle with deep ruts from previous traffic, so we engage 4WD (and the freewheeling hubs) something we haven’t needed for ages. Progress is slow and we come to the actual border post, a bamboo hut with thatched roof and open windows. There sit Anussorn’s mother and sister who had waited there the previous day too. It is late June, much later than we thought, but we have made it to Thailand.
North of the Border
The beach hut at Hua Hin is on stilts and every hour, a man comes out and taps the hours with two sticks. Beneath the hut is a store for a small dinghy and stuff.
Less than a days drive to Bangkok where we appear on the front page of local newspapers Pim Thai and Thai Press and are filmed for Thai TV. Alighting from the Land Rover, Anussorn talks to the TV crew after we have all had Phuang Malai (flower garlands) draped around our necks.