I spent a wonderful four hours yesterday morning touring around Krabi’s Neua Khlong district, scouting locations for my next novel. My driver, Khun Tak, is a native of Neua Khlong town, and incidentally had worked as a driver on one of the Rambo films and also the Nicholas Cage version of Bangkok Dangerous.
Without giving too much away, I had Khun Tak take me to various villages in Neua Khlong district: Pakasai and Khlong Kanan villages on the way to the local power plant; past palm oil and rubber plantations and through the poorer Ban Huay Sok; then on to Laem Kruad (‘Cape of Small Stones’) on the coast overlooking Koh Jum.
Ban Laem Kruad is a fascinating place, built on and over the water. A left turn at the T intersection where the road meets the pier found me in a bustling Muslim area, the air filled with the sound of birdsong from the caged birds hanging in every shopfront. The most popular birds are the nok palot hua jook, believed to have the sweetest song. Birdsong competitions are held throughout Krabi province and winning birds can fetch as much as 150,000 baht. But I digress…
Re-tracing my steps to the pier and turning right brought me to a distinctly Chinese-Thai quarter, where the wooden houses were hung with red banners with gold Chinese lettering, with small shrine smoking with incense in every doorway. Despite this apparent division in living areas, the village was a fascinating mix of Muslim, Thai Buddhist and Chinese-Thai and Khun Tak said it’s not unsual for people form the different faiths to intermarry. I am determined to set a scene in Laem Kruad village: perhaps the village headman can train songbirds in one of the houses backing on to the river with a view of the islands.
From Laem Kruad, we followed the road along Hat Yao (‘Long Beach’), past mangroves and shrimp farms, through Khlong Mak village, where I mistook a household of caged bird enthusiasts for the local vendor. They must have had 10 or 12 cages handing from a frame in the garden.
Weaving our way back towards the highway, I was rapt when in Nah Ok (‘Eastern Ricefields’) village we stumbled across a bull-fighting contest, known in Thai as hua chon. Unlike the Spanish version, in Thailand two bulls fight each other — which seems fairer — by locking horns and trying to force each other to quit the ring. Two handlers stay in the ring the whole time, sterring the bulls on ropes threaded through the bulls’ noses. The ring is fenced in wood, fortified with tyre treads, and surrounded on three sides by bleachers — one concrete, two wooden. Apparently you pay a higher entrance fee to sit closer to the action.
The bout I watched produced no winner as the bulls were evenly matched, the crowd subdued, though I believe things get noisy when large amounts of money are at stake. There were bulls tethered outside the ring and more arrived on the back of pick-up trucks as we left. I will have to find a way of incorporating a bullfight into the new novel.
After the hua chon, Mr Tak took me into Neua Khlong town to see its famous 13-storey Chinese temple, Umm Jingjui Johsugong, sight of the annual nine-day Vegetarian Festival. It turned out Mr Tak’s houses fronted on to the temple grounds and I had coffee and delicious khanom — sticky rice sweets — with his family.
Finally, on the way back to Nopparat Thara beach where we’re staying, we visited Wat Sai Tai, which proved to be the ideal setting for a funeral scene in my next book. The Sai Tai temple has a reclining Buddha at the foot of a limestone cliff and boasts an ‘Ancient Sea Shell Site’, which is little more than a square pit embedded with shells. There is also a cave shrine, a crematorium, funeral hall and several areas devoted to funereal stupas that contain the ashes of the deceased. It also happens to be the closest temple to Nopparat Thara.
I knew within hours of arriving back in Krabi that this visit would help enormously in terms of writing the next Jayne Keeney novel. From our first walk along Nopparat Thara beach, I re-imagined the discovery of a body. Each new outing, whether to beaches, villages or Krabi town, delivers new sources of inspiration and rich material.