Traveling to some of the distant sites away from the crowds of tourists and persistent souvenir sellers - “mister...one dollar...postcards” – you could see something of daily life there. One puzzle was the ubiquitous glass bottle refilled with a yellow liquid. I asked “what kind of drink is that” to find that is was smuggled gasoline. A liter bottle would refuel a moped. We also saw large roadside woks steaming over wood ovens. Here boiled the sap from a palm flower into sugar which tasted like maple sugar with a touch of coconut. We had noticed bamboo ladders that consisted of a single length of bamboo with the side branches trimmed long. These were lashed to tall palms in several sections reaching the flowers where they would extract the sap into bamboo ‘bottles' carried in bunches by bicycle to be boiled down or drunk fresh. Power lines did not reach here so the small fluorescent lights, radios or whatever were powered by car batteries. As we drove about we sometimes saw a small shed spilling over with batteries connected to a gas powered generator: the local charging station.
Jan had thought while we were in that part of the world she would like to see Halong Bay where karst islands rise dramatically out of the water, but we learned of similar geology in Phang Nga Bay south between Krabi and Phuket. Again we chose a short plane ride instead of a 12 hour bus trip to Krabi. From there a bus took us past rubber plantations to the town of Phang Nga. We were greeted by 'Mr. Kean' a tour service owner at the bus station who set us up a boat tour the next day and found us a bungalow at the park headquarters near the tour boat dock. There was a nice restaurant next to our abode. Am I boring you to say again that it was a covered but open air space with picnic tables and great food. Only one person at the park spoke any English, but the menu was in both languages and that was all we needed. Here we could look over the railing and watch the fish and fishermen.
The boat wandered through a Mangrove swamp before breaking out into the bay filled with the tall islands. We stopped to climb on one, go through a cave on another then to a small beach on a third for lunch and a quick swim. On the way back we stopped at a fishing village anchored to an island with houses, restaurants and a Mosque, all built up on pilings over the water. I would have more pictures, but my camera broke a couple hours into the boat ride leaving Jan as the sole photographer. There were lots of large tour boats and several small private yachts crowding around some of the more popular islands.
Here and in Siem Reap we stayed across from small construction sites. Most building is done in concrete as the wet and termites threaten any wood construction. Small electric cement mixers were used. A backhoe placed the concrete at one site, but the other now on the 2nd story must have been carried up by bucket. Wood forms were the norm and scaffolding was lashed together bamboo. About a third of the crew were women and while the hours were a bit longer than in the US, the pace was not fast (or slow) and no one carried very heavy loads. Particularly the women were covered fully in baggy clothing with big hats and gloves to keep off the sun and scarves about their lower face, I assume, for the dust. Arc welders on construction sites or in shops would wear goggles not helmets. Why their skin did not peel off, I do not know. Of course big building are constructed with all the same serious equipment you would see here.