Phuket Old Town, Thailand
An old woman passed us on the narrow street.
Despite the heat, she was wearing a long sleeve shirt, full length Pajama pants and a wide brimmed Thai farmer’s hat, that had an attached scarf to cover her neck and face from the sun.
It is the common outfit that all street vendors wear.
She walked by us sideways, making sure that we do not trample on the two wicker baskets hanging from a wooden pole she was carrying on her shoulders.
The baskets were large and heavy.
In one basket she had roasted sweet potatoes, and in the other, warm roasted peanuts in their shells.
We were in old Phuket town.
Some old mansions still stand, hardily defying the harsh weather, gently whispering of glorious past times in this city center.
Some of the area has gone through a revamping.
Small business owners have invested in fixing the streets and renovating the old buildings, converting them into charming modern businesses.
The downtown is comprised of two level run down buildings, operating as printing presses, and a variety of other dark workshops.
You can buy plumbing supplies right next door to a new juice bar with a beautiful funky decor.
Or you can eat a delicious snack next to dark place filled with half naked greasy men repairing scooters.
By our hotel, a Taxi driver offered us a good rate to take us to the downtown (almost an hour away if the traffic is heavy).
He insisted that he wanted the rate to include our return back to Patong.
We told him that we plan to stroll around for hours, take our time, eat, and that we did not wish to rush back.
He said that he would not have to wait for us, but that if we agree to meet at a certain time, he would pick us up at a certain corner and take us back.
We reluctantly accepted, but since we were not sure how interesting the downtown might be, we changed our minds and said that we would pay the regular one way fare.
In the hour that it took us to get to the old town, the taxi driver had transformed from a business man trying to get the highest fare, to a caring and almost overly concerned friend.
He gave me a map of the streets and made sure that I knew where to walk and what to see.
He told us not to spend money on a taxi getting back, but to make sure that we take the last bus back to Patong, which charges next to nothing.
When he dropped us by Thalang road, he seemed almost comically concerned, as if he were sure that we will get lost and wander aimlessly around.
He gave me his mobile number and said that we could call him if we needed any help.
He emphasized that if we needed to communicate something in Thai, we should call him so he can translate for us.
He looked around restlessly and finally said: “OK, OK, you will be OK, I am sure! If you need anything, anything at all, ask anyone or call me, people will help you! Anyone will help you….”
It felt a bit comical, since we are world travelers with tons of experience of leisurely and most enjoyably getting lost all around the world, and we were not nervous in the slightest.
I had no intention of riding the bus back, since despite our backpacking lifestyle, we are not doing it on a backpacker budget and we have more than enough money to pay for taxis.
I knew that his concern, which we have also encountered in Japan, where wonderful taxi drivers came with us into places to make sure that we did not get lost or are able to communicate our desires, all stemmed from the fact that they envision themselves traveling in a foreign country where they do not speak the language, and therefore they imagine that we too must be secretly anxious and nervous.
I find their concern very endearing and very heartwarming.
Instead of eating a lunch, we decided to eat a progressive meal, of tasting small different dishes in different places along the way.
Jules lingered by a small hole in the wall, where a group of friendly Muslim women dressed in veils, were folding bananas into a pastry and toasting it on the hot griddle.
A young woman was sitting inside and she told us that it is a version of a local banana pancake and that it was delicious.
We ordered one.
We joined the young woman.
She told us that she was half Japanese and that she was originally from California.
She said that she has been backpacking around Southeast Asia for years.
She teaches English in Phuket now, but before Thailand, she lived in Chengdu, China.
We chatted a little about her experiences and about traveling.
I loved listening to her.
I love young adventurous people who do not follow the well trod path of establishing careers, birthing 2.4 babies and raising families that they often grow to resent, since they secretly believe that it robbed them of living an authentic life.
She was an open charming young woman with many sensibilities and a mixture of naïveté with much worldliness that comes from living alone on the road.
She knew the code of the road….
The code of the road states that you have to keep on going….
That you have it be light and airy and not get desperate or too attached.
That being lonely on the road is an illusion, friends are everywhere…
The code of the road says that you have to have an open mind – always….
The world is one big family and strangers can be your lifeline….
Places have stories to tell you if you take the time to listen…
You cannot dig the energy of a place until you give yourself time to experience it….
The code of the road reminds you that you are NOT on vacation!
You are not simply looking to charge your batteries before you go back to your work and your “REAL” life.
On the road you are LIVING your life moment by moment, experience by experience, person by person and nothing seems solid or “real.”
The code of the road says that you often come to major crossroads…. and that you gotta choose….
It does not exactly matter which road you choose, be it Singapore, the road to China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal or Cambodia, or even a metaphorical road into a relationship or a job, each will bring you different experiences and challenge you in different ways.
You can choose to live next to your family and friends, or build your own legacy on remote mountain tops.
You redefine what is home for you and what is important to you, writing your own story from within.
Anyway… I am rambling…
The banana pancake was lovely, the California girl a delight, and we moved on.
During our stroll we came upon a fantastic Chinese Taoist temple.
The gate keeper was lounging in his recliner, wearing only shorts, nodding to us with disinterest, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.
As lady luck is always on our side, a distinguished looking Chinese man came from the back office.
He spoke sternly to the gate keeper who jumped to his feet.
The distinguished man welcomed us and went to back his office.
Apparently he told the gate keeper to turn on the lights so we could enjoy the beauty of this old temple.
The gate keeper invited us warmly now, turned on all the lights and left us to enjoy the splendor of this stunning shrine.
We continued our stroll, ate some handmade, small savory-sweet dumplings in a beautiful cafe, Pad Thai noodles in a beautifully renovated local restaurant, and had the best Hokkien veg noodle soup in a small corner restaurant that was decorated with photos of the king, starting from his early childhood all the way to his adulthood.
It was a funky, mishmash kind of decor and I loved it and loved the food.
In an all vegetarian Buddhist restaurant, we burnt the roof of our mouths, lips and tongues on a green eggplant dish and a dish of sautéed Morning Glory greens.
The food was hellishly spicy, spiced for the local palate, and we simply could not eat it.
To cool our palate we ate delicious sticky rice with mango and coconut milk, from a shop on the corner that sold only mango dishes.
Super fresh and sliced right there for us.
By the end of the day we found a modern-design juice bar, and sat to enjoy some of its healthy concoctions.
Of course we had no problem hailing a taxi to go back.
Two taxis blocked the road to negotiate a price with us.
We jumped into one of them, feeling apologetic for blocking traffic, but meanwhile not one car blew the horn in anger….
A reminder that we are in a different world… A less stressful place in which minutes are elastic and tend to stretch easily….,