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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On Thai Weddings and catching up with good friends.

We crossed at Poipet/ Aranya Prathet. It's amazing what an "imaginary line" can do. As soon as we crossed this line it was more than clear how much more affluent Thailand is compared to Cambodia. The roads were excellent, showing us the most immediate, obvious and visible difference! In no time at all, we had negotiated a tuk-tuk to take us the 7 kilometers or so to the main bus station, where we organised a bus to Bangkok. Before we knew it, we were on our way. The last time we had been to Thailand was about two and a half years ago, and I was astounded by the change. Over the last 19 years I have been to Thailand some 5 or 6 times, and each time I return, I am overwhelmed by its rate of growth and progress. It was great to see! This country had been very third world when I first visited, in the early 90's, but now, wow, it's moved into the 21st century with its pedal to the metal and in fifth gear!

Although we normally do not book places to sleep in advance, we had done so for our arrival in Bangkok, as we would be meeting some dear friends, and all attending a Thai wedding together. Just a bit of background information: Bec is from Canberra, and I met her in Bolivia in 1999 when I was on my South America trip. Birdie is Bec's partner. Megs is originally from New Zealand, and was house sharing with Bec (she's now back in New Zealand). Pong was also Bec's flatmate - she's Thai and was studying in Australia. Link is the man that Pong was about to marry. Alex and I met up with them all (apart from Link, obviously) on the many occasions we drove through Canberra when we had the jewellery business. So, how is this....Bec and Birdie fly from Australia, Megs from New Zealand, and Alex and I bus it over the border....so we can all hang out, and go to a wedding together. You have to love that!

Once we arrived in Bangkok, we caught a bus to our final destination. In Thailand, whilst tuk-tuks are still used, taxis are a better and inexpensive option if you do not desire to accommodate a decent portion of the city's smog in your lungs. We ended up staying at the Sukhumvit Rd YHA (Youth Hostel). Whilst it was clean, and organised, I found it overpriced and, may I be forgiven for saying, anal. Years ago, I used to use these official youth hostels regularly, but I have found that in recent times they have changed a lot, and believe that they no longer represent the best value for money. In our case, however, it was in a location that was close to the wedding, and where we would all be together. You cannot and shouldn't complain, I suppose, when it suits your purpose.

As soon as we entered we saw Bec and Birdie! Hugs all around! The last time we had seen Bec was in Darwin in June 2006 (just before we came away on this big trip), where a group of us did a several day hike in Kakadu National Park. Bec and I have a penchant of meeting up in exotic locations. We met in Bolivia (before I met Alex actually), we then met up again in Peru, where we crossed the Amazon River all the way through to Brazil, another time it was in Peru, then Kakadu, and now Thailand! Of course we have also caught up several times in both Melbourne and Canberra. Megs was due to arrive later that night. It felt so good to be amongst good friends! We all had so much to chat about, but where to start......with some good food say I!

Ah, Thai food! My favourite cuisine by a long shot! I had been dreaming about it for months, and in places like China, I longed for it desperately. Thailand never fails to impress me with its food, the best part being that decent food is even obtainable on the streets. In no time at all, I was chowing down a vegetarian and tofu pad thai, whilst the others opted for its carnivorous counterpart. After that it was chicken (or beef?) satay sticks....I may not eat meat but the satay had me licking my chops! Yay, at last decent food! It was lovely to be able to kick back and relax and just catch up. Megs arrived later that night, but we did not catch up until the next morning. I was somewhere between la-la land and seventh heaven!

The next few days were spent relaxing, chatting, doing some shopping, and getting ready for the wedding. Pong and Link came to visit us one night at the hostel. Not sure how they did it as they had so much to get organised, and there were only a few more days to go before the wedding. It was nice to be able to finally meet Link, as we had heard so much about him. On another day, Som (Pong's sister) took us shopping as Megs and Bec had to get a traditional skirt and top, as they would both be participating in the wedding. The skirt was found with relative ease, but the top......long after Som had gone, Bec was beading blood, as finding an appropriate top seemed to elude her. I might add here that Bec HATES shopping! She eventually found her top (as did Megs) but she was so over it! And I thought I hated shopping! You win hands down Bec!

Pong and Link would be having a traditional Thai wedding, which would go all day, and include several ceremonies. The date was the 2nd of December. We all had to get up at the crack of dawn, as the gorgeous Pong had organised for we gals to have our hair styled. So get up early, and have ourselves showered and dressed we did. I had bought a lovely orange silk dress in Vietnam, and matched it up with some strappy shoes I had purchased here in Bangkok. Alex on the other hand had nothing to wear, but he seemed far less worried about it than I did. Actually at 4.00pm on the day before the wedding, in MBK, one of the city's largest shopping centres, he had looked at everything but purchased nothing! The pressure was on! He persisted, and finally found the "whole ensemble", including a shirt, slacks and shoes. I had reached the point where I was saying, "Just buy something and throw it away after the wedding if you don't like it!". Perseverance obviously paid off, and he finally got what he was looking for. That's my tranquil Alex!

The boys watched as we had our hair styled. The girls also had their make up done, but I opted for doing my own. We then caught a taxi to our first destination; a beautiful hotel, where Pong and Link would partake in two small, separate and private ceremonies. The former was a Thai one, in honour of Pong's family, and the latter a Chinese one, in honour of Link's Chinese heritage. Being Pong's friends, we attended, along with very small number of people, the first one. Pong wore different, but very beautiful and traditional gowns, for both of these ceremonies.

"ALater, we would all attend a huge lunchtime banquet. This was more for the family than the friends (that was to come later). In this instance there were lots of people, lots of food and lots of drinks. Our table even had a big sign sayingustralia", which left the others with absolutely no doubt as to where we were all from. The food just kept on coming and coming, and the quality was top notch. Unlike Australian weddings there was no band or dancing, but it was still lots of fun and very enjoyable. We felt honored and privileged to be able to experience something so unique and different. It was at this reception that Pong wore a gorgeous, western style, wedding dress.

That evening, but in another location, there would be yet another party. This included nibblies and cocktails, and was for friends rather than family. It was more casual than the lunchtime function, and Pong surprised us again, with yet another exquisite dress. Having said that, Pong is categorically gorgeous, both inside and out, and she would look stunning in anything. If you are reading this Link, you scrubbed up OK as well! (In Australia...that means that you looked great too!)

Wow, it had been quite a day, a fun and munch-fest! And all in good company too! Needless to say, we all returned home exhausted, and in need of a good night's sleep, as well as a sleep in.

The next day saw us all getting ourselves organised for the next part of our prospective journeys. Bec and Birdie had just over 4 weeks in total and wanted to visit Cambodia, and Megs had a total of 6 and was open to suggestions. As for Alex and I (time to let the cat out of the bag!), we had booked a flight home months ago in China, for the evening of the 24th of December, arriving in Melbourne on Christmas Day. We wanted to surprise Dad, but had also wanted to keep it a secret. So, our aim was to spend the last two weeks on a deserted Thai beach, doing nothing but relaxing! Of course, we would allow some shopping days just before our return!

But, where to go? Anything that even whiffed of a resort and a million foreigners, was immediately ruled out for us. Thus places like Pattaya, Phuket and Koh Samui did not even hit the radar. We finally decided on the area around Ko Chang, in the Gulf of Thailand. What we definitely did not want to do was jump from one place to another, as we'd been doing this on close to 16 months! Bec and Bird were off to Cambodia, and Megs would come along with us. Sorted!

We had all had a wonderful time together, but as always, it was time to move on! I want to make a special mention of a beautiful French family we met at the Sukhumvit YHA. Sylvie and Serge were travelling around-the-world with three children, the youngest being Milla. Despite the fact that she mostly only spoke French, this little girl clearly showed how desire can bring so many things to fruition. She used her French, a little Spanish (that she had learnt in Peru), a little English and body language to make herself understood. When I asked her, "Do you speak English?", she gave me this cheeky little grin, and answered in French, "Un petite po" (spelling?), which means a little bit. We had absolutely no problem understanding each other. She had such an amazing spirit and energy, and each time she would see me, she would give me a big hug. I will never forget her!

Ombi

Dedication: This one is for Milla. Milla you were like a shining light in a dark room. Although little, your smile was huge and radiant. Every time I saw you you made my heart sing. May you never lose that contagious smile and love of life. I looked at you, and saw myself. May adulthood never change your indomitable spirit!


" I have found that if you love life, life will love you back"
- Arthur Rubinstein (1886 - 1982).

(Photos: 1.- Two very itchy pairs of feet in a tuk-tuk,Bangkok. 2.-Entering Thailand on the Cambodia/ Thai border. What part of "don't do drugs" don't people get? 3.-Ombi and Birdie...sipping on a Birdy. Cold coffee in a can, Bangkok. 4.- The future bride and groom to be with the "mob" at the hostel in Bangkok. L to R: (top) Megs, Ombi, Bec & Alex. (bottom) Birdie, Pong & Link. 5.-The bridesmaids and me. L to R: Bec, Ombi & Megs. 6.- Pong and Link after their Thai Wedding Ceremony. 7.-Lunchtime wedding reception. Bec, Birdie, and .....Babe's youngest offspring on a plate! 8.-The Australian contingent at the lunchtime reception. L to R: Alex, Ombi, Megs, Bec & Birdie. 9.- The Aussie contingent yet again at the nighttime wedding reception. Welcome to the "Cafe d'Love". 10.- The Jetsons? No, Bangkok in the 21st century! Makes Melbourne look so yesterday. 11.-Ombi with L to R: Milla, Jodie and Brad. 12.- Ombi & Milla.)

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