Don’t Say A ‘Phrae’ For Me Now – It’s Too Late!
Paul and Andrew clambered into the mini-bus in Lampang to embark on a windy journey east. Windy being in the circuitous sense and not the flatulent.
For mini was definitely what the van was. It had obviously been built for day-tripping Munchkins. Or perhaps the odd Oompah-Loompah. The antiquated jalopy had certainly not been constructed with any six foot ‘falang’* in mind.
Along with the discomfort of the vehicle’s bijou interior, Paul was nursing a painful urinary infection, which had been diagnosed, thankfully, by a sweet young Thai pharmacist he had seen on route to the bus station. She had giggled behind her mask as she asked him embarrassing questions about his ‘wee-wee’! Along with the state of his ‘peepee’.
He’d apparently contracted this complaint whilst staying in Lampang. It had become incredibly painful. An almost debilitating condition sometimes known as ‘Honeymooner’s Disease.’
Paul could not begin to think why, as there had been no Hankypanky at ‘The Riverside Guesthouse’ – What with it’s paper thin walls! Other, that is, than from the young Italian couple next door who clearly couldn’t help themselves. Paul thought at one moment he could hear the young Romeo ejaculate.
And he wasn’t talking verbally!
The lodgings were rickety enough to hear a pin drop, so it was obviously gonna carry when one’s pants did the same.
So, the day following the young honeymooners stereophonic performance, as the boys bumped into the hills, Paul spent a tortuous three hours squashed between an equally uncomfortable Andrew and the seat barely a foot in front. He was wedged in like pilchard in a tin of sardines!
Added to this discomfort, he was forced to listen to Andrew’s bleeding headphones as they spewed out ‘Michael Ball’ giving his best ‘Boy From Nowhere’! At one point Paul, with an altogether different kind of ball on his mind, was wishing his husband would go somewhere, but he kept it to himself. He knew Andrew may hit the roof if he complained.
When the bus arrived at the bus station in Phrae, he knew his knees were bruised to buggery, only the contusions had not yet reached the terminal. They would no doubt appear the following day. He could only pray that his testicles would do the same!
Phrae was a little town mostly unknown outside of Thailand. One of it’s oldest settlements, dating from 828A.D. Paul hoped, on a wing and a Phrae, that the place would live up to his expectations or Andrew would probably say a prayer for the dying.
Over his dead body!
Mercifully, Phrae turned out to be the answer to both their prayers. An absolutely gorgeous little town of twenty thousand souls, who were probably the friendliest they had ever met during their many pilgrimages east.
The old town had a medieval, walled moat, just as in the more famous Chiang Mai 128 miles to the west. It also had many impressive temples dotted along the little sois and alleys through which one could wander. It did not, however, have the choking traffic of it’s larger neighbour. Nor any of the ‘Eat, Pray, Wank’ brigade, of whom Andrew and Paul were so fond. Thank the Lord there wasn’t a mung bean smoothie in sight. It seemed hardly anyone had become ‘woke’to Phrae. Her charms remained intact. Veiled, like a vestal virgin, in Thailand’s northern land of temples. And for that she became more attractive by the day.
Her riverside, unlike many he and Andrew had visited in the east, was entirely unspoilt. In fact, Paul might even have described it as underused. There was only a small arboretum on the banks of the Yom river, which made a perfect romantic stroll, even if the thought of any romance couldn’t be further from Paul’s mind. It was the perfect spot for a few guest houses set into the wooded bank. But the locals hadn’t twigged yet. Luckily.
In his experience once development began in Thailand, the financial enlightenment that appeared with it, came much faster than it had to the Buddha. He hoped that any real commercialism that was bound to arrive in the wonderfully authentic town, was just that. Authentic. Sensitive. There was certainly some beauty to preserve. And he knew there to be quite a bit of cash to be made out of the natural. Not everyone wanted to stay in a concrete monstrosity with a pool and a gym. But Paul was well aware cash was King.
But sshhhh! In the Land Of Smiles one wasn’t allowed to mention the ‘k%#g’!
Admittedly the ‘hotel’ they had checked into was not quite as beautiful and could herself have done with a covering here and there.
It was a gigantic, teakwood house that was almost empty, apart from the boys and two charming Sikh gentleman who just happened to be in the room next door. Paul supposed it was easier for the old boy that ran the place to put his guests close together for cleaning purposes. But as no room service appeared to occur in the faded mansion he knew that not to be case. Perhaps, he had pondered, they were the only two available rooms out of the fifty or so which hid beneath a layer of dust. It was a touch ghostly. But after the blithe spirits which seemed to have haunted their last digs in Lampang, it was nothing but heavenly. And at least they had walls within which to moan. Unfortunately with pain rather than pleasure.
After two days the antibiotics had still not kicked in, and Paul was almost thinking of returning to Lampang just to kick the giggling bitch who’d dispensed them. He felt like dispensing with her it was so sore. But he gave her the benefit of the doubt. She had been so lovely and had seemed entirely professional.
Downstairs at the mansion there was a spacious communal area in which to try and relax. This was not altogether easy as all the furniture was made of solid teakwood.
When Paul had perched on the lone seat furnished with the only cushion, the friendly old proprietor ambled over to him, and with a wooden-toothed smile, pulled it sharply from beneath his posterior. Paul’s prostate hit the rock hard surface with such force he thought he may never get wood again. He smiled through the agony, as he realised this was the pillow on which the ancient gentleman both sat and slept. So, in an almost saintly manner, he forgave him. Although it wan’t the sign of the cross he made when the old geezer’s back was turned!
Andrew had remarked that the solid wood furniture would be worth a fortune back in the West. There was a veritable forest of it planted throughout the ground floor.
‘They don’t know what they’re sitting on’ he had remarked to Paul one steamy afternoon’
‘No they don’t. But I know what I’m fucking sitting on’, Paul had retorted.
The ache in his groin having remained unabated, and only worsened by the solid quality of the furniture on which he sat.
He thought he may lobby the old fella to provide another cushion for the lobby. He tried, but to no avail.
One of the many charms of Phrae’s beautiful remoteness was that hardly any of her inhabitants remotely spoke any of that beautiful language: English! Paul’s Thai was rudimentary, to say the least, and his vocabulary definitely did not stretch to words such as, pillow; pain; or prostate!
In Phrae,(which by now Paul hoped his readers had worked out was pronounced prayer), Paul and Andrew appeared to be the only westerners in town. They hit the small night market with gastronomic gusto. Sampling any regional dish which they had not come across before.
Some were delightful, such as the Kow Som, a delicious rice and tomato concoction. Simple – yet addictive.
Others like Jin Sot, a mixture of pig’s blood and cow bile.
Simply – vile!
Yet, as Paul knew, if one could stomach it, it was delicious. He’d had a slurp – but it wasn’t for him. He made enough bile of his own thank you very much. But he and Andrew would try anything once, and sometimes once again in case they’d acquired the taste for it. One never knew what could pleasure the tongue unless they had a go at least twice!
They strolled atop the ruins of the ancient city wall, shaded by the few remaining teak. Paul preferred the stuff upright and alive, rather than horizontal and dead uncomfortable. Once the magnificent tree had been as ubiquitous as bamboo throughout the region. But during the colonial era, the East Indies company, and others, had yelled timber to that and now there were only pockets of forest remaining. The cutting down of Phrae’s surrounding woods had been banned in the 1960s. But not before most of it had before most of it had suffered the chop. Hence the price of second-hand teak furtinure. Andrew was correct when he’d said Paul had been sitting on a small fortune.
But then Paul had always known that!
The boys were having a ball in Phrae, sadly Paul’s urinary infection was doing just the same. And in the very same region. He had resisted alcohol for the last two days, which was no mean feat, as Andrew was sinking beer at the rate of a Belfast dockworker!
One night, after Paul had retired with a painkiller, one of the friendly Indian chaps came and joined him on the sort of verandah. He sidled up close and then asked in a conspiratorial whisper if he required a ‘Ladyboy’? Andrew had politely declined. Or so he told Paul the next morning! Paul only wished he had been there to enjoy the comedic moment. Early nights were not his thing.
This illness was beginning to grate.
He did a little research into the anti-biotic he was taking and discovered a little ale would apparently not impede it’s efficacy. So without further hesitation he reached for a bottle of ‘Chang’ to soothe his ailing groin.
It couldn’t hurt could it?
Well – not anymore than it bloody did!
He said a prayer and took a sip.
He was beginning to feel better already!
*’Farang’ – A Thai word for westerners generically referring to non-asians. Generally used without derogatory connotation, derived from the Thai word “farangsayt” for French. Or another definition, as Paul had discovered long ago – ‘triple the price!’ But not in Phrae.