The Ping River winds its way down from Doi Chiang Dao, Chiang Mai Province through Lamphun, Tak, Kamphaeng Phet and finally Nakhon Sawan where it flows into the Chao Phraya River. A journey of over 550 kilometers and one of many stories, I would like to add one more.
Tak City in the north-west of Thailand was an ex logging trading post many years before. Located on the banks of the Ping River, Tak gives out a feel of quiet secluded comfort set against a background of flowing rapid waters.
All photographs in this post are used for illustration purposes.
A one horse town is a place where very little happens and at first glance Tak appeared a one horse city. Tak’s horse looked lame and staring down both barrels of a shotgun. At times in life you judge things wrong, be it a person, incident or in this case a location. Tak’s horse rose to its feet and ran like the wind. It is almost certainly still running today.
Tak City 2002…. The Viang Tak 2 Hotel sits looking quite proud of itself on the banks of the Ping River. I woke around eight in the morning, quite late for me, no birds singing or the smell of fried bacon dancing across my nasal hairs. I had woken after my fourth night at the hotel suffering with my fifth hangover, that’s how it felt. The length of my tongue tasted like the inside of a skunks colostomy bag, you could have trapped it between two cymbals, smacked them with a baseball bat and it would have been noisy but moisture free.
I was suffering dehydration with a sun bleached capital D, solving the World’s water shortage crisis looked easier than negotiating the short stagger to my water mountain in the hotel fridge. The only water replenishment my body had received in the previous four days had been on the end of a toothbrush. After a couple of cigarettes I headed straight for the bathroom before my teeth crawled out of my mouth and bit me.
The hotel reception area was much busier than previous days, people stood talking in groups of threes and fours, I noticed a few policeman sat at a table drinking coffee and eyeing the assorted crowd. Handing in my room key I was greeted by Team Thai the four beautiful and immaculately groomed receptionists, now it was time for breakfast.
The hotel had its own complex and not a bad one at that, apart from the restaurant and bar it housed a nightclub, karaoke bar, massage parlour, snooker hall plus a few other bits and bobs. At the nightclub my wallet was a magnet to some of the girls and my whisky and cigarettes a legal mugging opportunity for the boys. The karaoke bar cleared the wax from my ears and the massage parlour was like the snooker hall, you potted your pink.
Breakfast was my usual eggs and toast with those horrid hot dog sausages that are quartered at both ends. A couple of cups of coffee washed down with a smoke and I headed outside to the swimming pool area. Yesterday I had relaxed by the pool drinking, smoking and watching two local female synchronized swimmers going through a training routine. A delightful afternoon and I was hoping they would return later that day, I certainly intended being there.
I finished my last couple of cigarettes lent on the pool area wall overlooking the Ping River, a magnificent view. I needed to buy cigarettes so I decided to take a stroll down the main high street and have a look around.
I exited the hotel at the main lobby doors which faced the high street. The sun was hot and beating down even at this mid morning hour. There were crowds starting to line the high street outside the assorted collection of shops, I guessed a procession or carnival of some kind was expected soon. The main street was a run of mostly small unit shops with pull down roller shutters with housing above, I’d looked around the shops every morning, day time there did not seem much else to do.
The shop owners sales strategy seemed to be cramming as much goods inside the shop as possible and leaving the aisles as narrow as can be done. A 360 degree turn in a glassware shop would probably result in a very hefty bill. Security was non-existent , the shopkeepers seemed half asleep, totally asleep and in some cases possibly dead. I guessed it would be at least 50 years before anyone slid a CCTV brochure under a Tak roller shutter door.
I spotted a small cigarette kiosk in one of the shops directly opposite the hotel and started to walk over. There were policemen stationed every 50 metres or so on both sides of the high street and one was positioned inside the cigarette shop. The shopkeeper and police officer both greeted me with “sawatdee krap”, and I returned the greeting. The small cigarette kiosk was balanced on a table which doubled as the checkout and next to the cigarettes was a bottle of lao khao (rice whiskey) which tastes awful and is best avoided. Lao khao is usally drank from a small glass tumbler and is swallowed in one hit.
Behind the checkout was a small round table with seating for half of a dozen people, every seat was taken and in the middle of the table sat two glass tumblers and another bottle of lao khao. Party time Tak style. As I paid for my cigarettes the policeman raised a glass of lao khao and knocked it back in one. He asked the shopkeeper for one more and motioned for me to join him for a glass too… what the hell you only live once.
The police officer, fascinated by this farang drinking the local firewater laughed out loud, downed his drink in one and gave me a grin the size of which was normally associated with the collection of a 200 baht traffic fine. The sound of music broke his grinning stare, looking down the high street a marching band and school majorettes were heading a carnival procession. I thought it best to return the policeman’s kind offer of a drink.
By the time the head of the carnival procession had reached the cigarette shop the party six had swelled to eight and the hosts were a half-cut policeman and a chain-smoking asthmatic farang… Da rrum da rrum (drum roll) da rrum rrum rrum….
The marching band and school majorettes with drums and musical instruments stretched back down the high street and out of sight. I figured on it taking at least half of a hour for the carnival to pass by the shop and did not want to appear rude to the party goers by returning to the hotel. I ordered one more bottle of lao khao and a few bottles of beer…. Da rrum da rrum da rrum rrum.
It was not long before the party eight had formed a splinter group and the marching majorettes professionalism of smiles and eyes fixed straight ahead had started to slip from its previous regimental mode. The original party 6 had reformed and turned into a Thai variant of The Gremlins. The old fairground favourite the laughing policeman had degenerated into a drunken mess and the farang was looking half cut and wholly concerned.
The deep furrowed brows of the shopkeeper were immersed into his mobile phone at the back of his shop as he jabbered away in Thai. The majorettes smiles had slipped to giggles and their eyes were fixed firmly left on the noisy shopkeepers party. Luckily for the majorettes the high street went on straight ahead, if the Ping River’s flow had turned left just after the hotel and the high street had followed its course then I am sure the majorettes would have marched straight into the river. I imagined the next day’s Bangkok Post headlines reading:
Farang Guilty of Drowning 756 School Children
Talk your way out of that one…. Da rrum da rrum.
The next event happened very quickly, that quick I’m not even sure I saw it happen. The policeman had all of a sudden taken off his brown uniform jacket and shirt, unholstered his gun and was stood bare skinned from the waist up waving the gun in the air with a fixed deranged grin on his face. The shopkeeper grabbed his mobile and once more exited to the back of the shop, I took a step back and changed my Bangkok Post headlines to Farang Shot Dead in Tak… Da rrum da rrum. The majorettes stopped giggling and slightly lengthened their stride.
A few minutes of madness passed and then all of a sudden a woman appeared at the front of the shop. After speaking rather sternly to the policeman who I assumed to be her husband she reholstered the gun, grabbed his clothing and with the aid of the shopkeeper hauled him off to a waiting car that had suddenly pulled up. Maybe it was a mixture of the beer and lao khao but I swear that when the car pulled away I could see a bushy proud tail pointing skywards from the boot, and shiny muscular hind legs digging deep into green turf sending large lush divots spiralling into the River Ping.
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