The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville

Andrew Negus came on the 26th March to give us the second part of his talk and slideshow which was titled Thailand and Vietnam. He went at the end of 1991 for two months to China back-packing meeting the locals who spoke very little English.

He then flew from Kunming to Bangkok where most of the people he met there spoke English. He managed to find a hostel to stay in for about 50p a night in Khao San Road which is a short street in Central Bangkok. The shops sell many things like handicrafts, paintings, clothes, local fruits and many useful backpacker items.

Whilst Andrew was there he met a German Ex-Paratrooper and a Belgium Customs Officer. They seemed to get on very well, and went to many site-seeing places together which included visiting many beautiful Buddhist temples.

On his next trip he went to Ko Chang which means Elephant Island and comes from the elephant shape of its headland and is located on the Gulf of Thailand’s eastern seaboard, 310km from Bangkok and near the border with Cambodia.

It is a mountainous island, with Khao Salak Phet being the highest peak at 743 metres. Andrew found another place to stay which was 1 a night. It consisted only of a door and a mattress. There was a cold shower, he didn’t have a hot shower for 4 months.

In the evenings he drank Thai whiskey which is very popular with both Thais and travellers alike. He would sit under a coconut tree and often wonder if one of them might fall on to his head. This did not of course happen.

One of the attractions Andrew did visit was the ‘James Bond’ Island. It is a famous landmark in Phang Nga Bay. It first found its way onto the international tourist map through its starring role in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun. The two best ways to view James Bond Island are from boats or from the small beach on Koh Ping Ghan.

The next place was Chiang Mai which is the largest and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand. There, Andrew met a ex-Buddhist monk who said he would happily show him around. He did have a wife and child whose name was Fiat, this ‘child’ would be about 25 now.

They took a Tuk Tuk (Little Taxi) to many temples and to an industrial area where in a large building he was shown how Thai Silk was made. It is considered among the best in the world, due to the higher fibre ply, quality of weave and rich hues. He was also shown wood carvings and huge sunshades which would have cost about 10 to have shipped back home. Andrew thought that being shown around would cost him lots of money, but when he asked how much did he owe, the answer was no charge.

Pai was his next place of tour. This is a small town in Northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province. It was once a quiet market village inhabited by Shan people whose culture is influenced by Burma. Andrew thought the Thai ladies looked a bit frightening there. He found another place to stay for only 50p. Outside of the town there are several waterfalls, as Pai lies at the foot of the mountains, many tourists use it as a base for trekking and visiting hill tribes.

Whilst there Andrew met a man from a local restaurant called Udin. He had a niece who was from a hill tribe and she would spend most of her time pounding rice. One day, Udin said to Andrew that he was going to visit his wife’s family on his off road bike and would Andrew like to go along with him. So, Andrew said ‘Yes’ and hired himself a bike.

To begin with, the road was reasonable. then it got a bit stony, then it was a muddy track, then they had to stop to buy petrol. Back on the bikes they proceeded, the trip seemed to go on and on. All afternoon they travelled through mud and rivers. Andrew was getting very tired. It was starting to get dark. Then unfortunately, Andrew’s rubber came off the foot rest on his bike and the metal sliced his leg to the bone. He was in pain and bleeding. They continued on, and finally got to their destination. His leg was cleaned up and bandaged. He said that he had his worse nights sleep from hearing all the different sounds.

Next morning he woke up, had a look around the area and found to his surprise that the opium poppies were being grown in a field. The Thai Army of 200,000 men used to smuggle opium and fight against Burmese and Thai Military forces. Opium is legal for hill tribes to possess, but illegal to sell. Penalties for being caught possessing, trafficking or smuggling drugs are very high, carrying imprisonment sentences and large fines.

Opium smoking in the hill tribe villages in North Thailand is quite common.

On the journey back to Pai they switched bikes. When arriving there, Andrew immediately went to a hospital, he was seen by a male nurse and when looking at his leg, he said that it should have been stitched up two days ago. The nurse produced a hypodermic needle which was a reusable one. Seeing this, Andrew got very worried, as he had seen many advertisements around regarding Aids. He was thinking ‘shall I let him mend my leg or not?’ In the end the needle was okay and he was well enough to continue on to his next destination.

The next place was Chiang Rai where he hired yet another bike. He got to see many more different Buddhas and even tasted ‘Snake’ Whiskey which is an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol.

Next Andrew travelled to the Mekong River which is a river in the south eastern part of the continent of Asia. It flows through the Countries of China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and finally Vietnam. On this trip he happened to meet a German man who asked him if he had been to Vietnam? Andrew had said ‘No’, he didn’t particularly want to go there. This man was very persistent, and kept saying ‘you must go and see it for yourself, you really will love it’.

Another famous place which Andrew did visit was ‘The Bridge over the River Kwai’. During WWII Japan constructed the meter-gauge Railway line from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbyuzayat, Burma. The line passing through the scenic Three Pagodas Pass runs for 250 miles.

Allied Forces bombed the iron bridge in 1944. Three sections of Bridge River Kwai were destroyed. The present bridge has two of its central spans rebuilt. The Bridge River Kwai became famous all over the world, when it was featured in films and books. The track is developed in to a walkway with side platforms. This allows crossing the railway bridge on foot. These platforms are useful as viewpoints and for avoiding trains. A small tourist train runs back and forth across the bridge.

Andrew met a Canadian nurse whilst staying in a hostel. She helped him with putting bandages and cream on to his leg and it recovered very well.

He rented a motorbike and drove past the Three Pagodas Pass where, during World War II, Japan built the infamous Death Railway through the pass. There is a memorial to commemorate the thousands of Australian prisoners of war who with other Allied prisoners and Asian civilians died as forced labourers in the construction of the railway. He arrived in a village called Payathonsu. There were soldiers around talking and laughing and children in a bamboo cafe and even saw some guerrilla fighters. Andrew then went back to Bangkok and flew to Ho Chi Minh City formerly named Saigon, which is the largest city in Vietnam.

He found the people were very poor but also very friendly. There were no cars, only bikes. The food was French, American and Chinese. He stayed in a ‘Rex’ Hotel and went to the American Embassy which was first established in June 1952. The children would all run out to him because they thought that as he was white, he must be Russian. Many more places he visited was Cu Chi Tunnels and Hoi An which is a city of Vietnam on the coast of the East Sea in the south central coast region of Vietnam. Another place he went to was called ‘Hue’ which is located in central Vietnam on the banks of Perfume River just a few miles inland from the East Sea. He went to a castle built in 1968. He also went to a French hotel called ‘Snake’ on New Year’s Eve. Whilst there he got talking to some students who showed him around places, and insisted that he went to the New Year’s party. He was told to get there for 9pm, when he got there, he was shown to the top table and was treated like a King. He had a wonderful time and everyone was so kind and friendly.

He next flew to Vientiane which is the capital and largest city of Laos, on the banks of the Mekong River near the border with Thailand. The next and very last place Andrew went to was Indonesia. This is a sovereign state in southeast Asia. It is the world’s fourth most populous country. It consists of hundreds of distinct native ethnic and linguistic groups.

We enjoyed this very interesting journey with Andrew and do hope he can come back to give us another talk.

Priscilla Barlow

Festival 2015

St George’s Ladies Group