Friday, February 16, 2018

Travel guide to Satun, Thailand


Satun is a small provincial capital in the far southwest corner of Thailand. It has a definite end-of-the-road feel to it. A dusty little town where nothing ever happens. On the surface.

8km further south is the port and jetty of Tammalang. It has ferries to Langkawi, Malaysia, but this is not the main gateway. Ferries to Koh Lipe depart from Pak Bara. So Satun sees very few tourists passing through. You may see some people living in Malaysia on a visa run or having their yacht maintained at the wharf. And there’s a hand full of western men living here with their Thai wife.

Satun is part of the Islamic south of Thailand, that used to be part of the Kedah Sultanate, until that was divided up between Thailand and then British Malaysia. Satun has none of the troubles the other (southeastern) Thai provinces have. It is largely Muslim but with a strong Thai influence. People speak more Thai and Malay than English.


The ferry to Langkawi leaves from Tammalang, 8km south of town. The ferry to Koh Lipe leaves from Pak Bara, 60 km northeast of town. Pak Bara can be reached directly from Trang or Hay Yai, so most people bypass Satun city.

There are minivans from town to Hat Yai and Trang, and busses to Hat Yai, Trang, Krabi, Phuket and Bangkok.

The nearest airports are in Hat Yai and Langkawi. The nearest train station technically is Padang Basar, but Hat Yai is much easier to reach.

For visiting villages in Satun province, use the songthaews, the main stops are in front of the seven-11 shops.

Getting around town you can walk, take a tuk-tuk (that are mini-songthauws here) or a motorbike-taxi.


The landmark hotel is the Sinkiat Thani in Buriwanich road, the main street that runs south from the clocktower. Cheaper options  downtown are the Satun Thani and the Udom Suk hotel..

There is some resort-style accommodation as well. That’s a bit further from the city center. Still within walking distance are the Rose inn, on the north west side of town, simple cabins around an open field. Our favorite is The Gleam on the south east side of town, pretty bungalows in a beautiful garden, with a pool


There loads if eateries around town. To name a few (all of these can make you something vegetarian, even if it isn’t on the menu):

Fahat and Negara are halal Thai/Malay restaurants near the mosque. Fahat, right next to the clocktower, is somewhat more upmarket and doubles as a café. Negara, Saridphoominart rd, is very popular and has an extensive menu and a great roti corner.

Real Thai curry places (but they serve much more) are a.o. Bangrak in Sathiyuthihum rd (our favorite!), and the Thai restaurant at Satun Thani rd Soi 7, semi-outdoor.

For a romantic dinner on the riverside, go to Dee Dee motel.

For Chinese go to Ko Ho Gruel, corner of Samunthaprasit and Satun Thani road.

For lunch there are two ”jay” vegan buffet style places: one is at Sarid phoominart td opposite Phoominart pakdee alley, the other is at  47 Tirasathit alley.

Expats, beer and fusion food may be found at Ti Baan, On's and Bobby's Pizza.
The Chill Chill is what comes closest to a bar, some nights it has live music from 9pm.  Satun Thani rd, opposite soi 7.

Good iced coffee can be found in many of the stalls all over town. For a real capuchino or americano go to Fahat, the Corner Café, or… the southern seven-11.

The Corner Café is 25 km north of town, in Khan Kalong. A good place to stop for lunch on the way from/to Hat Yay or the waterfalls in the north of Satun province – if you have your own transport.

Things to see and do

• Mumbang Mosque in the city center, next to the clocktower. Sometimes you may be allowed to climb the minaret for stunning views.
• Satun national museum. Originally build in 1902 to accommodate the King on his first visit to the newly acquired south.
• Saturday night market in main street, mainly food and clothes, gets pleasantly busy.
• Khao Toj Yonh Kong park, a small foresty lime rock identical to the islands in the Andaman Sea, there’s a shrine at the foot of its southern side – beware of monkees
• Khao Toh Prayawang park, a big foresty lime rock identical to the islands in the Andaman Sea, there is a walkway all around – beware of the monkees
• Mangrove walk. Go south on route 406, Sulakanukoon. Find soi 15 on your left. Walk it till the end, cross the bypass road and enter a narrow somewhat winding path. Very soon there’s a fork where you keep left. Cross a bridge and then you walk right in the middle of mangrove. Watch the trees, the spooky roots and don’t miss the tiny crabs in the mud. When you reach the bigger river, pass along some fishing ponds keeping the river on your right. You’ll reach a T junction. Either venture right between fields until you reach a bridge over the big river. Return or explore further. Or the T you go left, walk through a tiny hamlet. When the tarmac road goes right, you can go straight then left for a shortcut back to town.
• Fields walk. Start behind the big rock beyond the mosque. Go through the small fishermen community, go over the bridge, continue for about 1k until the bypass road. Turn left until you reach the south side of town.
• Chebilang, a fishermen village with jetties and a big wharf
• Thale Ban NP, close to the Malaysian border. This is pristine jungle, but the facilities at the Visitor Center could be upgraded. There is a beautiful lake and a short jungle walk. Get a songthaew to junction 4184 and hitch a ride from there. *link*
• There are waterfalls, caves and a hot spring in the north of Satun province. Let us know if you visited any of those.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Breeders at The Milky Way

"Good morning" is the opening chant of the single that The Breeders issue on the eve of their tour. It reminds me of Last Splash, the legendary Breeders-album from 1993. They are back with that line-up and with that sound.

The Breeders originated as a side activity when Kim Deal was the bass-player with the Pixies, but didn't get enough creative space. The importance of the Pixies for the development of modern music has often been illustrated by Curt Curbain's quote that with Nirvana he was trying to imitate the Pixies - with more commercial success. Less known is that Curt also said that he wished Kim would write more Pixies songs. We could write a book about the immense influence of the Pixies and Kim Deal.

But now it's 2017. Nirvana and the original Pixies no longer exist, Kim is sober and the Breeders are standing on their own feet. In the Milky Way, in Amsterdam.


The venue is half empty when the opening act begins, the Pins from Manchester. But when they have finished their set, the place is packed. Most of the guests are dressed as casual as we know Kim. No expression of subcultures, no striking outfits.
The Breeders
Kim takes the center of the stage and clearly is the heart of the band. With visible pleasure she sings and plays guitar. Drummer Jim brings that same pleasure, drive and dynamics. Josephine plays her bass guitar cool and unmoved. Kelly needs all her attention for her guitar, all the time looking down at her hands when she plays.

We get a one and a half hour set of short and powerful songs that span the four decades of Kim's career. They also have the necessary historical awareness: "In the room next door Philip Glass is playing. This is from the Safari EP that we recorded in his studio in New York in 1993." "This song we played in 1992 when we were on tour with Nirvana, here in the Milky Way." "Back to the eighties" as announcement for Gigantic, the first single of the Pixies, built around Kim's bass line. She swaps bass and guitar with Josephine. Kelly captures Joey's screaming guitar riffs.

Instruments are also swapped for Off you. Now Kelly is playing bass, but she has to sit on the floor to read the chords of a large sheet of paper. Roadie Mike, who takes care of the guitars, is also playing along. It results in a very beautiful rendering.

Warm-up show for the tour in Newport, KY
The performances of  Drivin' on 9 and Beatles cover Happiness is a warm gun show how The Breeders are capable of transforming any song into their own unique sound. After a week on tour with the Pins, they discovered that Pins singer Faith plays the violin, and that's exactly what makes Drivin' on 9. Tonight she plays along for the first time, and it's the perfect addition. This could have been turned into an extended version, but even this song remains within the three minute limit.

The Breeders play all but smooth. The guitar changes take too long and sometimes go wrong. In the beginning, Kim's voice is mixed too low. They're constantly fiddling with the foot pedals and amplifier knobs. Kim has to explain Kelly what part she should play on Wait in the car. But the joy, volatility and energy laid in Kim's amazing compositions and arrangements make for a memorable evening.


More concert reviews 

Read more concert reviews (PIL, Patti Smith)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

I got a bad review. Now I want to quit. What to do?

Now reality has overtaken Dave Eggers' The Circle and everything possible and impossible is being reviewed, the people at the receiving end are having a hard time. Reviews, feedback and evaluations can make or break your business, your job, your income, your way of living.

People can get rather upset by one bad review, even if it is outweighed by a hundred good ones. Why is that? Not just because reviews matter. Maybe more so because we take reviews too personally?

It's not personal

Reviews can feel very personal, so the first thing to realize is: they are not. They are not about you as a person, but at best about the service you provide. A review says as much about the reviewer as it says about the subject of the review. Maybe the reviewer has a grudge against the company you work for. Or against the website that acted as the broker. Or against their spouse. Or their car didn't start. Or they are just being silly.

Trust me, I write reviews, and sometimes I do so mindfully, other times I just jot something down. If it is the tenth request for a review that day, I may not realize that on the other end there is a real live person to whom this matters much more than it matters to me. There are a million reasons to give a bad review, and some of them are just unfair and out of your control. A system in which so much depends on reviews by customers/clients is unfair indeed.
All the more reason not to take it personally. And yes, it can harm your business. But so can many other things: the weather if you have an outdoor business. The exchange rate if you have international clients. The budget if you work for the government. The mysterious algorithms that put you higher or lower on a website listing.

How do I overcome the 'negative bias'?

Yes, all these things matter, but we do not get upset by all of them. Maybe you can mitigate the upsetting a little and ask yourself: Why do I let it get to me? Why do I identify as a person with this one review? Why can I not be happy with the one hundred positive reviews? How do I overcome the 'negative bias'?

Remember: it is simply not realistic to expect to get good reviews only. You can please some people some of the time. You can please most of the people most of the time. But you cannot please all of the people all of the time. If the service you provide was alright for everybody, it would be excellent for nobody. If you provide something special, there must be some people out there that do not particularly like it. If you provide a cozy homestay, you can not please the person that wanted a five star hotel. If you run an excellent five star hotel, you cannot please the person that wanted to meet other travelers.

Take positive action

That brings us to one thing that you can do something about: expectation management. Be sure that your customers know, or at least could have known, what to expect. If you run a cozy café, make sure customers don’t expect white table linen.

And then there is the possibility that there is a grain of truth in that bad review. Once you are over the initial shock of the bad review, consider whether - however excellent the service you provide -  there may be a reason the customer didn't quite experience it that way. Was something not up to standard? Did the customer overlook something? The old saying goes 'a complaint is free advice'.

Don't be tempted to get into long discussions on public forums. Acknowledge they had a bad experience. Correct if they got a fact wrong. Say how you saw it. Say what you'll do about it (if anything).

To conclude: 

Yes, reviews matter. No, reviews are not about you as a person. The occasional bad review is inevitable. Maybe you can learn something from it. If not, shrug your shoulders and carry on.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Travelogue 2017, Episode 3, Amdavad (Ahmedabad), Gujarat

...a lively, almost boiling city full of vitality and contradictions, poverty and opportunity, tradition and progress...

Amdavad old town

Jama Masjid, the Friday Mosque, was built 600 years ago, shortly after the founding of Ahmedabad (Amdavad) by Ahmed Shah.  Clearly he had a big vision, as the large courtyard had room for thousands of believers, just like the main building. 260 Pillars created a mystical atmosphere, the sculptures were very refined, the proportions and the dimensions perfect. The consistent stony colour added to the serenity. The outer wall had murals of large Arabic letters. It was very quiet and peaceful, and the building was really impressive. 

Next to it stood the mausoleum of Ahmed Shah, along with his son and grandson. The graves were revered daily and covered with coloured cloths. This building too was a masterpiece of architecture and sculpture. We sat for a while on the steps at the entrance and saw a miniature neighbourhood before our eyes.  Right next to the mausoleum, laundry hung out to dry above a couple of anonymous graves, girls were getting ready for school, women sat on the street baking chapatti's on a wood fire.  Goats were herded (one baby goat carefully kept in a crib), cats strolled at ease on the street. It was a lovely homely and relaxing scene, you would want to move here instantly. 

Once this had been the core of it, now it was a different world than the metropolis Amdavad had become in those six centuries. The day before in the bus we drove kilometre after kilometre along industrial complexes, then large areas full of modern offices, before we entered the city centre where the traffic was crawling along poor neighbourhoods. It was a lively, almost boiling city full of vitality and contradictions, poverty and opportunity, tradition and progress. 

Next was the mausoleum of Rani, the wife of Ahmed Shah, also completely hemmed in by the encroaching city. Again the building was superb, with lots of fine sculpture, but it was much less maintained. The elevated walkway around it even housed a family. Still they were better off than the family we saw on the sidewalk not far from our hotel, covering themselves up for the night. 
We walked through the maze of alleys. Motorcycles and bicycles zigzagged around the cows and the potholes and us. Houses, shops, workshops. Close together were concrete buildings and old stone houses with havelis, overhanging balconies of carved wood. Some well maintained, most neglected. We stood there admiring a  facade when an old lady motioned us inside. Her shabby courtyard  also had a facade full of carvings. Just down the road was a square with a bench where we could sit down. In two hours we had covered 200 meters as the crow flies. But zigzagging so much and seen so much, that we were fully saturated. 
We went to a restaurant for lunch by auto-rikshaw. The four of us crammed in the back, the small tricycle overloaded. A kamikaze ride through crazy traffic, steering left and right to avoid collisions, diving into each gap, braking and acceleration. Scruffy males cheerfully waved at us from other rickshaws and freight cars. For contrast two beautiful girls in modern dress, all made up, sat on the back of a motorcycle. When we stood still in traffic we inhaled pure exhaust fumes. 


A stepwell is a well with stairs dug until the ground water level. That sounds easier than it is. To gradually descend to the depths required, 20 to 50 meters, you either have some sort of spiral stairway, or build a long straight slope. This one was of the latter type. The slope and the pit themselves were fully ornamented with statues, arches, platforms. Over the full length that gave beautiful vistas, the full depth of about five floors with balconies above the well. Deep underground it was a relatively cool place, and thus a sort of village square, where gossip and news was exchanged. The overall design, the elegance and the details of the stonework were gorgeous. Actually, it was a kind of three-dimensional, inside out, underground, oversized artwork.

We visited seven stepwells in Junagadh, Amdavad and Patan. 950 to 500 years old, simple to richly decorated, in good and in bad condition, with slope and with spiral staircase, deeper and shallower. This variety gave a good idea of the differences and similarities.

What we were really concerned with

All these sights are a good excuse to travel through Gujarat, but actually we were more concerned with: Where can we buy dahi (yogurt for breakfast)? What are the toilets of the bus station like? How clean is the bathroom in the hotel? Is there hot water for the shower? Where do we have lunch? Did we get bananas? Do we have Wi-Fi? How hot / cold is it? What time do we have breakfast? How often have we been addressed / stared at / photographed? Who is sick, weak or nauseous today? How much can we get off the fare of the auto rickshaw? At what time does the bus leave?

North - South

Amdavad was a worthy conclusion of Vibrant Gujarat, as the slogan of the tourism office goes. It’d been a long time since I've experienced India so intensely, and we were ready for a quieter stage to digest it all. No better time or place than our friends down south.

The sheer size and diversity of India was evident once again. Language and ethnicity in the north is close to European, while the south is Dravidian. Even though the Muslims are a minority in Gujarat as well, they are much more visible there, both in architecture and dress – maybe because of several centuries of Moghul rulers.

Gujarat is semi-desert rather than tropical. Wheat and cotton in stead of rice paddies and coconut plantations. Camel carts in stead of oxen carts. The infrastructure was better  and the road discipline was even better (that is: less suicidal than in the south).

On average the ladies in Gujarat were dressed more  modern, their hair done more fancy, and blue jeans were no exception. People spoke less English, but as they were more extrovert, you engaged in a conversation more easily. But once you got to know them, people were equally as friendly all over India.

The weak instant coffee was no match for the real filter coffee in the south. Then again, the Gujarati thalis were much better than the Tamil meals.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Travelogue 2017, Episode 2, Gujarat, feels like the first time

Our trip through Gujarat was very intense. All the impressions and adventures were overwhelming at times. It felt like the very first time I had visited India.

Some parts of the journey went smooth, the people were very friendly and helpful. Transport was easy, and (in the beginning) the distances were shortish. The food was superb, espescially in Junagadh. The weather was sunny and dry. Midday temperatures of about 25 degrees, nights and mornings were cold (15) and windy.

Sometimes we’d encounter Indian bureaucracy or lose track of what was going on. Especially the shortage of cash was an issue. Credit cards were rarely accepted.


Junagadh is a medium sized town in the middle of Gujarat, full of palaces and mosques in Islamic architecture, a 23 centuries old fort, a mountain with holy Hindu and Jain temples, and lots of people. Lots. I don’t know whether it was because I was more familiar with southern India, or because I was so tired, but everything felt as overwhelming as the very first time I had been in India. The lively colours, the countless people that greeted us, the crazy traffic, the fantastic shops, the cows in the street – it was just too much.

We picked a hotel in the old town, but the air pollution in the narrow streets was so bad  we had to move to the newer part of town, next to the bus station. It was slightly better. And just as noisy. It made you wonder how long this could go on. The smog entered your throat, eyes and head.
The old town was an endless collection of old palaces, mosques and mausoleums, surpassing each other in how neglected and crumbling they were. In between the vibrant city life. If you are afraid  good old India is disappearing, go to Junagadh.

Sasan safari

It was an enchanting and magical sight in the headlight beams. Trees, bushes, giant leaves, trunks, boulders  - everything looked like an animal. Later, in the morning fog, they looked like grey ghosts. It was dry forest, not very dense, with some slopes, creeks and tribal villages.

With all our sweaters and coats on, it was still cold in the back if the open Jeep. We saw a rabbit, deer and peacocks. Then, some Jeeps that were parked on the side of the road. Something had to be there. Yes, very vague behind the bushes was a lion’s head. Then a lion got up. They walked closer to the road and we got a better view. As grayish-brownish as the  shrub and dirt, and above all, huge, gigantic. One adult female and four adolescent children. Ignoring our presence they strolled around, laid down for a moment, walked on. Majestic!

The second half of the safari the sun came up and we saw lots more deer and peacocks. Also an antelope, some black faced monkeys, a crested hawk eagle, a common hoopoo, and two spotted owlets. One female on a branch and one male opposite hidden in a tree trunk, really you just saw its eyes.

Somnath town

Somnath is an important Hindu temple on the Arabian Sea that draws pilgrims from all over India. 

The old town of Somnath was a maze of narrow alleys. Most of the houses were made of concrete, the older brick ones often run down and deserted. Cows and pigs roamed the streets or the open sewers. There were just some small shops, until we reached a wider street with a street market. Old women sat on the ground with vegetables in baskets in front of them. The veggies looked good and varied. Old men sat in tiny rooms, open to the street, with a sewing machine or performing other crafts.

We visited an old mosque with an ancient Persian stone inscription. In the back was a beautifully tiled room with a grave, covered in clothes as tradition wants it. The caretakers were most welcoming and friendly. Down the road was a Hindu temple with a silver façade and a black marble statue inside, hardly visible underneath all the cloths. Men were performing rituals, women were praying. A little further again was a big Jain temple, beautifully maintained, colourfully painted, with decorated pillars and coves with statues of wise teachers. A group of women was performing rituals but could spare us a friendly nod with the head.

This street had some larger, older houses with wooden balconies, maybe of merchants. The old town was pleasantly quiet without traffic, and the pilgrims for the big temple didn’t bother to come down here. No other Western visitor even considered visiting this faraway corner of Gujarat.

Portuguese Diu

Diu is a small island on the south side of Gujarat. Until 1961 it was a Portuguese colony, and the Portuguese had left a far better legacy than the British. The contrast with the mainland was huge. Everything was better kept, cleaner, neater, quieter and more peaceful. The architecture was quite different, in Portuguese style, with churches, monasteries and chapels. A welcome change after ten hectic days.

The street pattern and the curved shoreline provided total disorientation, and we regularly lost our way. Thanks to the wonders of GPS all ended well. We did see several other western tourists, but in the end it turned out to be only a handful who were there for a long time and who we bumped into again and again. On weekends it was very busy with domestic Indian tourists, coming to get that drink that is illegal in Gujarat.
We fully enjoyed the "holiday within the holiday" with, among others, a motorcycle tour around the island and a walk on the city walls.


Palitana is a provincial market town, a regional centre where people from all over the region come to shop. Farming tools, rope, cables and provisions.

Money troubles

November 8,  Prime Minister Modi declared almost all banknotes invalid, as per immediately. It was a move against black money and corruption. However, without additional structural measures, it was a senseless action which inflicted a lot of damage to the Indian economy, which runs primarily on cash. Especially the poorer half of the country does not even have a bank account. Farmers cannot buy seeds and miss a harvest. It means bankruptcy and starvation. Since then, new banknotes have been distributed sparsely.  There are way too few, and people can only withdraw very limited amounts.

We could take small amounts from the ATM, at relatively high cost. The first two days that sort of worked, after that we didn’t see any ATM's that worked for a week. Slowly I began to worry. We tried regular ATM's and bank offices, but all we got was zip, zero. In Veraval we were referred to Somnath. In Somnath we were referred to Veraval. One bank pointed  to the other, and vice versa. Credit card and even cash were refused by  the banks.

In Diu I walked into an office of ICICI Bank, and the manager said at half past one the ATM would be filled.  We happened to walk past the office again at 12pm, when the guard waved us over and said  the ATM would open in ten minutes. So we started queuing. After twenty minutes, the shutter opened and a man came crawling underneath. An hour delay, he said. We decided to split. Two of us went for a bite to eat. After twenty minutes the others came over: the machine was broken, it would take another hour. While they had  lunch, I went to look at the SBI  across the street. There was a queue and something seemed to happen. I joined and was immediately waved forward. White privilege. That helped me jump at least 15 places, only 10 people left in front of me, inside the booth. Then came an Indian lady in sari who was immediately allowed all the way to the machine. Ten minutes later it was my turn, and sure enough, I got money. Wow!

When the others had finished their lunch, they tried the SBI. But they were not waved to the front and the line barely moved.

We walked back to the ICICI - there too was action. We joined the queue, but were directed to the front by the guard – after all originally we had been the first in the queue. Two of us took money out. When the other two moved in, the machine was empty. All in all it had been operational less than half an hour…

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Travelogue 2017, Episode 1, Two nights at Mumbai airport

Take your mind back to New Year’s Eve 2016-2017. Where were you? At midnight we were on an escalator towards Bombay airport departure hall.

Seldom an outbound journey has been so adventurous and the arrival so overwhelming

In spite of the early start - we were at Schiphol at 5am - the journey started well. After days of fog and cancellations there was a brief window of visibility, in which we took off. Changing in Zurich was easy and the flight to Mumbai was comfortable. We had the first row in economy with extra legroom but no noisy toilets or freezing emergency exits. The veg meals were delicious.

No long queues for immigration and customs. The brand new, huge terminal "T2" wasn’t exactly beautiful, but a huge improvement. In the arrival hall we had some trouble getting money. Because of the recent demonetisation there was a huge shortage of cash, and you could take just 2500 rupees out of the ATM. With  a 230 rupees service charge. That was, if you found an atm that actually had money, about 1 in 10.

Midnight. We spent the night sitting, walking and waiting. At 5am our domestic connection should depart. At 5:05 the pilot announced a delay due to poor visibility in Rajkot. The fog had caught up with us after all.
We had to deboard and received new boarding passes for the same flight one hour later. Which was then cancelled three hours later. By that time we were too exhausted to wait around for the evening flight, so we decided to wait until the next day. Getting our luggage and getting out of the airport was a true ordeal. Clearly departures was a one way process, and to backtrack we needed special assistance and authorisation.

There we were, in front of the airport. No travel desk, no travel guide, no clue where to go. Airport hotels were 200€ per room, the city centre was too far away for an early departure the next day. So much out of character, I ended up with a shady guy offering a taxi and rooms nearby. Negotiations and exchanging money on the back seat in a dark parking garage. On my own I would have felt uncomfortable,  but with the four of us I felt safe.

Within 10 minutes the guy dropped us in a narrow winding street full of tiny shops, street stands, potholes, colourful people, cows, goats and a small hotel. Which wasn’t too bad really, except we paid way too much as the guy obviously took a large commission.

It was a fascinating little neighbourhood, very poor, one step above a slum, very lively, the tiniest shops, and people dressed in their Sunday Best – after all it was New Year’s Day. At the beginning of the alley was a main road with an elevated metro line, some expensive restaurants and hotels, and a middle class neighbourhood on the other side.

The rest of that day and night we slept, we ate, we slept, we ate and we slept. The next day at 11am we flew to Rajkot, Gujarat.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Rohingya: A people hidden in the jungle

Visiting the Thai-Malaysian border

This was real jungle with lots of trees that sprouted up to 50 meters straight up to catch a little light where their crown expanded. Thick lianas and parasitic plants growing around it. Withered leaves of half a meter mixed with bright red leaves covered the ground.
The trail was held in place by shallow roots, except for a stretch that was washed down, where we had to climb. There the vines and roots came in handy to hold on to. Traces of wild boar, thorny rattan, large butterflies, loud high-pitched chirping of insects - the forest was full of them.

We walked along a path through the Thale Ban National Park in the far southwestern corner of Thailand. According to the sign this was an evermoist forest, almost but not quite as impenetrable as the tropical rain forest that we had seen further south in Malaysia. This was an inhospitable area of swamps, mountains and jungle. That's why we had crossed the border with a cargo boat on the Andaman Sea.
But now we were near the only land border in the region, a small road with little traffic and certainly no public transport. The last 20 kilometres we had hitch-hiked with a border guard in uniform, in a big pick-up truck on his way to work. The National Park was two kilometres from the border with nothing but jungle between.

It was shocking, but not unimaginable, when we read in the newspaper a few months later that exactly here they discovered secret refugee camps where Rohingyas had been detained, extorted by traffickers and left for dead.

The boat people, refugees

Thailand and Myanmar share a long border, and some 150.000 Karen have been stuck for 30 years in refugee camps just across the border in Thailand, 1500 kilometres to the north. They are now a major destination for cultural visits and volunteer work by Western tourists. In contrast the Rohingya from western Myanmar are virtually unknown. They are not accepted because their religion is different from the majority, the Buddhists. They cannot flee over the border with Thailand through the jungle, but need to sail across the Andaman Sea. Their goal is Malaysia, where Muslims are the majority. But often their boats land in southern Thailand, where on their way to Malaysia they fall into the hands of human traffickers.

At open sea, their boats were chased or towed away by the Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian coast guard. In May 2015 the case received so much international attention that Malaysia decided to allow them in temporarily.

Visiting Rakhine state

We were especially touched by this case since seven years ago we were in Rakhine, the Myanmar region where the Rohingya come from. For a short time the area was accessible when Myanmar was just beginning to be more open and the regime sought rapprochement with the opposition and the world. But soon a new domestic conflict was sought and found in this minority. Although they have lived in Rakhine for many generations or centuries, partly descendants of Persian and Arab traders, partly migrants within what was one British colony in the 19th century, they are now seen as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Looking back, it is astonishing that at that time we did not recognize the region as Islamic. Apparently they already had to keep a low profile. The streets of Sittwe were dominated by monks, nuns and temples. The scarce tourist did not bring prosperity to Mrauk U, which was clearly a dead poor corner of the country. Cell phones had no cover in Sittwe, Mrauk U did not even have a land line with the rest of the world.
Mrauk U was an ancient capital of a 16th century empire that stretched over parts of present Bangladesh (whose proximity was illustrated by imported cookies in the store) and the current Rakhine State. There were a lot of temples and pagodas of that time left, located half way between the village and the fields, sometimes dilapidated and overgrown. Again and again you'd see another temple on a hill or around the corner. The setting alone was stunning, but the chedis themselves were also beautiful.
We walked around, occasionally accompanied by groups of children who should have been at school. Further away from the village there were no more children shouting "bye bye" or calling after you, but vast fields and women who walked with baskets on their heads. There wasn't a meter of paved street, not a wall of stone. All was wood and bamboo and dirt yards.

A bizarre circle

This last paragraph of my 2008 travel diary, and the paragraph from my 2015 travel diary this piece started with, join a bizarre circle around two places that we visited in ignorance, and then briefly made the world news. Only to be forgotten again.

Amsterdam, May-July 2015, June 2016

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Lost in the jungle of Sumatra

Lately there has been a boom of news and TV programs about people getting lost in the jungle, dying, or just barely surviving.  That made ​​me think back to one of the most perilous experiences I've had myself.  I am blessed with a decent sense of direction, but getting lost in the jungle can happen more easily than you think.

November 2000. We had planned to cross Sumatra from south to north. I had travelled a lot in Asia, but I had never been in such a vast and sparsely populated area. Besides long-distance night buses (which I avoided) there was hardly any public transport. And if there was, it was slow and unreliable. In one town we waited three mornings in a row along the side of the road before a van actually left. And three times we got off a bus at dusk, well before our destination, in order to find a hotel by daylight.

Sparsely populated it was.
So we progressed with difficulty and slower than planned and were spending more time on the go, than enjoying the beautiful places. But in the town of Sungai Panui (Sungai Penuh) in the Kerinci valley we allowed ourselves a break for a couple of days.

View from the valley to the hills

Around the Kerinci valley was the Kerinci National Park, an area of hundreds of kilometers. A walk in the jungle would be great, but we did not do irresponsible things, so first we went to inquire at the NP headquarters. Where could you take a nice walk, and what about transportation to the starting point and a guide? A group of rangers explained the different possibilities. The area where we had driven through on the bus from Tapan, appealed to us. One of the rangers said he had a car to drive there and was willing to be our guide. For him it probably was a little extra on the side.
He went home to get a car, his brother's blue mini pickup truck, that had no first gear and hardly any brakes.
We parked 15km away, at a small eatery along the way. At 10 o'clock we went out, first ten minutes on the road, and then onto a path. The path soon became worse, and the forest thicker. There were so many branches, ferns and thorny bushes on the path that I had to walk with my head bent down, sometimes it was almost crawling. It seemed a kind of tunnel between / among dense fern bushes. Being the tallest of the three I suffered most, and it took away the pleasure in the walk and the surroundings.

After an hour we had a discussion: to return or to find better trails? I didn't want to be a spoilsport and stop too soon, so we tried to make clear to our guide that he should find us better paths; he seemed to understand.
But after another 30 minutes, he seemed less and less sure of himself, retracing his steps regularly. We made it ​​clear that now we really wanted to get back to the main road. Yes, follow me, this way, he gestured. We asked explicitly whether he knew where the road was, he said we must trust in Allah. That is when I lost faith in him. Where we walked couldn't be called a path. All the time we had to push our way through the creepers, brambles and undergrowth.  When I saw on my compass that we constantly changed directions and were just zigzagging, I began to worry. I knew he did not know the way back, but I had not paid attention myself how we had walked. Normally I would always know the same way back, but not now. After all, we had an official ranger of the park management organization with us. Can you do better?

Not knowing what else to do, we followed our guide again. He pointed to a hill top, and said over there he would certainly be able to see the road. Meanwhile, this was absolutely not a path, it was a battle with the vegetation that was giving us bleeding scratches and torn clothes. It was really scary when we ended up on top of a layer of ferns covering the underbrush, meters above the ground. Every now and then a branch would break or you'd stumble, and drop down a meter. The idea to break or even just sprain your ankle was terrifying.

Our guide admitted that he was familiar with another part of the forest, but in fact had never been in this area. If only we had known sooner! He talked about sleeping in the woods, hoping that they would come looking for us tomorrow.  But who would actually miss us and who knew in what area we had gone for this walk? And how much of an operation would a possible search be? By now I was really worried how this would end.
After a tough journey of about three quarters of an hour that covered about 100 meters, we were on the hilltop where the guide had put his hopes on. In vain. We saw the rain arrive over the next ridge.
Kerinci National Park

Now it was clear that our guide had no clue, it was time to take matters into our own hands. And our guide was grateful for that. In the sand we drew the mountainside west of the valley. If we would walk steadily to the east, we had to encounter something somewhere. Weak point of the plan was that it could be 10 or 20 km, and we might cover just 250m per hour through the bush. That could take 4 to 8 days. Four days we should be able to keep going without food, shouldn't we? I chose the direction, south east, because I thought the road had to be south of us. In any case, it seemed a straight line had to be better than running around in circles. However hard it was it by now, we took turns cheering each other up.

After a while, again we were standing in front of fern forest that we would have to cross high in the canopy. A horrible prospect. We heard water and planned to follow it downstream - that had to lead somewhere, didn't it?. The descent was very dangerous, the lower we got the muddier and more slippery it got. So either you slid down or you were sucked into the mud. After about 20 minutes we arrived at the river, a narrow, fast-flowing stream, and I was happy to wash the blood off my face. But the vegetation was so dense that it would be impossible to follow. Moreover, it ran to the north, intuitively the wrong direction.
There was no other choice than to climb back up the slope. Clinging from one trunk to the other. After roughly an hour we were back at the place where we had come up with the river plan.  So we had to switch back to the original plan: the straightest possible line to the south east. Our guide had long ago switched to "follow" mode. Personally, I felt already better to at least have a plan, and not aimlessly drift after him. When we rested on a soft heap of fern leaves, and forgot that it was going to rain soon, it felt we could hold on for a while.

In the meantime I was pretty exhausted. We were, after all, fighting through scrub and up and down steep slopes. Lianas grabbed you all the time: sometimes around your feet so you stumbled, sometimes around your body so you had to pull them apart to detach yourself.
The guide searched for broken twigs, so sometimes we walked on a relatively passable animal track (but always lost it again) while I was overseeing the predominant direction to remain south, as far as the terrain allowed. Actually we had developed a good division of labor.

At one point I saw a beautiful single mushroom in the grass, which I was certain to have seen before. If that was true there would soon be a thorny tree trunk on the right, on a place where we were still on some sort of path, many hours ago. Indeed came the spiked stem, and although the guide had already passed it, I called him back and insisted to turn left, to go south. Suddenly it looked as if we were going to come home today! What a relief!  Almost immediately the long-awaited rainstorm erupted. Had that come before I thought that we would get out, I don't think I had managed to keep up my spirits.
Thorny tree trunk

Soon we recognized the tunnelled path that had been so uncomfortable, but where we were not yet lost. We even found the sunscreen I had lost that morning when my backpack was stuck in the branches. Drenched, and sometimes half crawling and always slipping on wet branches and leaves, even our guide was cheerful. When we finally got back to the road he kissed the tarmac.
Back to the diner, I took off my clothes and hung my shirt to dry by the fire while we drank a cup of hot coffee.

Our guide took us back to town. We insisted to go by the now almost deserted office. Although we knew not to expect western standards, we were outraged by the irresponsible and dangerous situation in which the guide had put us, so we wanted to complain to the NP office. If only to prevent future recurrence. To what extent we succeeded in was doubtful, but the message that we were very unhappy came about.
Like vagabonds we walked through town back to the hotel. Dirty, wet, wounded and in torn clothes. The hotel staff came running with thermos of hot water to our room! The scratches on face, arms and legs remained painful for days.

Really, you do not need to do very strange or very stupid things to get lost in the jungle. The vastness and desolation is easy to underestimate.

* November 2000 - August 2001 - April/June 2016 *

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Patti Smith at Paradiso

Behind her bandmates Patti walks on stage. A subtly ironic shake of the hip, and half the venue is sold. She walks up to the microphone, puts on her reading glasses, and recites the cover text of Horses, the album that was released 40 years ago.

D eze maand bezocht ik twee concerten van grootheden uit de midden-70's.This month I attended two concerts by mid-70's celebrities. PIL (John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten) and Patti Smith. Allebei revolutionair zowel muzikaal als maatschappelijk. Both revolutionary, both musically and socially. London vs New York. London vs New York. Voorpaginanieuws vs underground. Front page news vs underground. Arbeidersklasse vs intellectuelen. Working class vs intellectual. 59 jaar vs 68 jaar. 59 years vs. 68 years. (*) (*)

Het publiek bij Patti Smith was gevarieerder.Patti Smith's audience was more varied and Ook duidelijk maatschappelijk geslaagder.clearly socially more successful. Hoewel de 50'ers en 60'ers in de meerderheid waren, was er een flink aandeel jongeren. Although the majority of the audiance was in their fifties or sixties, there was a large proportion of young people. TheDe hippy-spirit zat er ook in: toen de stoelen op de galerij allemaal bezet bleken, ging menigeen in kleermakerszit op de grond. Hippy-spirit was present: when the chairs on the gallery were full, many people sat cross-legged on the ground.

De toetsenist zette de eerste noten in van Gloria , het begin van de integrale uitvoering van Horses .The keyboardist put the first notes of Gloria, the beginning of the full performance of Horses. In de stevigere nummers ontpopte Patti zich als een ware rock chick , met ritme in de stem en swing in het lichaam, van links naar rechts over het podium bewegend, leunend over de monitoren, In the louder songs Patti turned out to be a real rock chick with rhythm in the voice and swing her body, moving left to right across the stage, leaning on the monitors, shaking handjes gevend aan het publiek op de eerste rij, zwaaiend naar de bovengalerijen. hands with the people in the front row, waving to the upper galleries.

In de meer poëtische nummers schreeuwde ze, krijste ze het publiek toe als een ontketende messias, vloekend en tierend als Jezus in de tempel.In the more poetic songs she yelled, she screamed to the audience as an unleashed Messiah, ranting and raving like Jesus in the temple. De lange grijze haren wapperend, de armen breed uitgestrekt, het publiek bezwerend. Her long gray hair waving around, arms stretched wide, beseeching the audience.

Haar stem was bepaald niet meer van fluweel, maar dat maakt ze goed met een intensiteit en energie waar John " Anger is an energy " Lydon niet van terug zou hebben.Her voice had nothing velvetty, but she made up for that with an intensity and energy that could have tought John "Anger is an energy" Lydon a lesson.

In aanmerking genomen dat Horses 40 jaar oud is, bleef de uitvoering dicht bij het origineel.Considering Horses is 40 years old, the performance stayed remarkably close to the original. Alleen kregen we een extra stuk Gloria na het titelnummer, en werd Elegie een aangrijpende klaagzang voor een lange lijst te vroeg overleden musici.HoweverHowever, we got an extra bit of Gloria after the title track, and Elegy became a poignant lament with a long list of prematurely deceased musicians. Bekenden als Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Corbain en Amy Winehouse, waar ze allemaal songs ter nagedachtenis voor geschreven heeft, en minder bekenden als Johnny Thunders, Johnny Winter en natuurlijk haar eigen man Freddy " Sonic " Smith. Famous people like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Corbain and Amy Winehouse, for who she wrote songs in memory, and lesser known artists like Johnny Thunders, Johnny Winter and of course her late husband Freddy "Sonic" Smith.

Na Horses werd een song opgedragen aan het publiek van Paradiso.When Horses was finished, a special song was dedicated to the audience of Paradiso. Toen de Patti Smith Group midden jaren '70 begon met touren, vond Patti het zo jammer dat het publiek nooit meezong. When the Patti Smith Group started touring in the mid 70s, Patti felt so sad her audiences never sang along. Pas na drie jaar, in Paradiso, werd ineens uit volle borst van begin tot eind meegezongen met Dancing Barefoot .With the exeption  of that one show  With the exeption of that one show in Paradiso, where suddenly they chanted along with Dancing Barefoot from beginning to end. Nu weer. Same thing happened tonight.

Daarna was er soort pauze, een intermezzo waarbij de band een medley van Velvet Underground nummers speelde.Then there was a sort of a break, an interlude in which the band played a medley of Velvet Underground songs. Toen Patti terugkwam op het podium, zei ze dat ze een costume change had ingepland om als hedendaagse rock star mee te kunnen. When Patti returned to the stage, she said she had planned a costume change to comply with the modern rock star. Alleen was ze vergeten zich om te kleden en deed dat alsnog on stage . Only she had forgetten it backstageand had to change on stage.

In het volgende blok van drie nummers zaten die andere grote hit, Because The Night , en twee nummers van de latere albums Dream of Life en Gone Again .The next block of three songs included that other big hit, Because The Night, and two songs from the later albums Dream of Life and Gone Again.De bandleden wisselden eens van instrument, Patti praatte wat meer en gaf opmerkingen uit het publike steeds een gevat weerwoord. The band members changed instruments, Patti talked some more and witty rebuted some comments from the audience. Ze kwam bijna niet meer uit haar woorden van het lachen, omdat ze zo blij, zo gelukkig was. She was almost silenced with laughter, because she was so happy, so overjoyed. Na een onderonsje met de bassist volgde een vertederend ... my boy ... Het was haar zoon. A chat with the bassplayer was followed by an endearing ... my boy ... It was her son.

Als toegift kregen we, hoe kon het ook anders, My Generation .As a bonus, as if there was any other option, we got My Generation. In een concert dat in het teken stond van leven en dood, hoop en vrijheid, was de tekst toepasselijk veranderd in " hope I live untill I get old" .In a concert that was dominated by life and death, hope and freedom, the text was appropriate changed to "I hope I live untill I get old". Wellicht met het idee "de jeugd heeft de toekomst" werden twee tiener-rasta-meisjes uit het publiek het podium opgehesen, om een dansje te doen.Perhaps in the spirit of "youth has the future" two rasta teen girls in the audience were hoisted on stage to do a dance. Ze waren te verbijsterd van geluk en versteenden bij vlagen. They were stunned with happiness and petrified at the same time. Patti deed een gitaar om om de feedback effecten uit dit lied te bewerkstelligen.Patti took a guitar in order to create the feedback effects from this song. De gitaar in de versterkers kapotslaan zoals Pete Townshend in 1965 deed, ging misschien te ver, maar wel werd de ene na de andere snaar geknapt. Smashing the amplifiers and the guitar like Pete Townshend did in 1965,  went too far, but one string after another was snapped. Onder een nagalmende feedback verliet de band het podium. Under a reverberant feedback the band left the stage. De zaallichten gingen aan en Jimi Hendix' Freedom klonk. The hall lights went on and Jimi Hendix's Freedom sounded. De roadies deelden set-lists, bloemen en prullaria uit onder het publiek. The roadies shared set-lists, flowers and knick-knacks with the public.

Het was een memorabele avond.It was a memorable evening.

More concert reviews 

Read more concert reviews (PIL, Breeders)