Krabi, April 10, 2001
The green, green teeth of Krabi.
The bonus eleven days in Thailand are coming to an end. Tomorrow we fly to Kuala Lumpur, or Muddy Confluence as it's known to its friends. Krabi has been very OK, and the availability of English breakfasts has not gone unnoticed by the Stairs. World cuisine is always there, after all, but baked beans are notoriously hard to come by. (So it's come to this: the Englishman reverts to true type. I won't even tell you how much Premier League football I've been watching.)
Krabi has been hot, the rainy season has arrived early, and Asian Glossy Starlings are nesting in the traffic lights. Life is good. We've floated around the mangroves in search of rare species and socialized with Nigel and Donna, the Anglo-American birding couple we met up a mountain in Chiang Dao. It's been nice rediscovering how much fun it is to hang out with friends again.
One word of advice: if you stay at Krabi's City Hotel and are thinking about purchasing water from the drinks case outside the video store two shops down, I wouldn't recommend it. I tried this the other day and then noticed a dog had sunk his teeth into my leg. Not, you would think, a good method of attracting custom. I can only assume that, being a video store that rents Thai movies, very few Farangs (that's us) cross the threshold, and the poor dog was confused. Hopefully when my boot connected with his head he was less confused, and the next thirsty tourist will meet with a less bloody welcome.
So after spending $450 on rabies shots, you might think I'd be well chuffed. But you'd be wrong, Jackson. The shots may be expensive, but they're only preliminary in some strange medical way, and if you do think you're at risk you need to get at least two more. I didn't bother, mainly because I knew I'd never get the owners of the video store to cough up the ackers, and my English bloody-mindedness prevented me from paying myself. I was, after all, totally innocent of any wrongdoing. I blame the lack of emphasis paid on dog training in southern Thai culture. And Thatcher.
Later on, we were sharing a boat with a couple of English birders when it occurred to me that one of them had mentioned being a nurse. Golly, I thought, perhaps I can get some free advice on my current medical crisis. It turned out he was a psychiatric nurse, so would probably have been better qualified to have me committed. Luckily his friend had read in the Bangkok Post that Thailand only gets about fifty cases of rabies a year, so I statistically decided to not bother panicking. Perhaps foolishly, but there you go. I never enjoy having needles stuck into me, and less so in any country where they might be less than fresh. (Unlikely in Thailand, I admit.)
There are only twenty three Gurney's Pittas in the world. This is a very sad thing and, as you might expect, a fact not unnoticed by birders. We had not originally planned to go in search of this rare beast because we had, accurately enough, predicted that our birding skills might not be up to scratch when in pursuit of something this uncommon. But we had some extra days, we were in the neighborhood of their last holdout, so what the hell. Khao Nor Chuchi, here we come.
We rented a car and drove down with Nigel and Donna, who knew where the place was, luckily enough. We got to spend more time with them which made us happy and hopefully wasn't too detrimental to their livers. And the birds down there were great, even if we did manage to successfully elude the pittas.
Khao Nor Chuchi really is in the middle of nowhere - big surprise. It's a tiny remnant of the rainforest which used to cover southern Thailand (even though the bird seems to prefer secondary growth, but never mind). It's a bona fide frontline in the eco-war, so there was a predictable amount of tension in what you might have thought would be a quiet little backwater. The specifics of which I shouldn't go into here. But as you can imagine, the plantation owners don't have much interest in the survival of an insignificant bird when, according to their standards, there's goodland going to waste.
The only other thing I'm going to say is that the Merikot resort is a very nice place to stay, and the owners are equally nice. Any resentment that the locals might feel due to them being from Bangkok is probably your typical rural small-mindedness - you can find enough of that in Beaver Dams or Horseheads.
And I'm certainly not going to talk about the Danish funding drying up, or the former warden who charges big bucks to show birders the bird. We'd have to get into the whole Big Issue of conservation and ego-tourism, and that would be far too depressing. There's a song about Karl Marx on the last Randy Newman album that more or less sums up the last couple of hundred years, so go and listen to that if you think you're feeling a bit too cheerful about the world.