Travel writing is often a flurry of buzzwords. They come and go like the seasons, more often than not losing all their meaning in the process. “Travel like a local” hit the scene a few years ago, but I’ve always felt it missed the mark.
Why travel like a local when you can travel with a local?
Onto day two of my planned one day in Yala, I wake on the floor, to see the two kids perched on the lounge examining me like their pet science experiment.
He’s awake! Wat Na Tham, Yala. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
“He’s awake,” the daughter yells in Thai as I rub the sleep from my eyes. Within 15 minutes we’re out the door, Mum in tow, to the market.
I say market, but it is more a collection of street stalls around the corner, and once there we pick up coffee and pa thong ko. Then back to the house where we eat as Dad explains the plan for the day.
The previous evening I’d thought about how to extricate myself from another full day in Yala. Already running behind time on my trip, I’d planned to head to Betong first thing, but I didn’t want to offend my hosts. My plan—spend the morning here and get moving after lunch. Best laid plans etcetera.
Coconuts and mountains. Wat Na Tham. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
Dad explains he has already made arrangements. A friend who doubles as a driver will drive us around Yala’s best hits, and in the evening we’ll eat seafood with friends. Betong fades over the horizon to tomorrow.
Shortly after, the friend arrives. His vehicle is an ancient—and I mean ancient—Mercedes. With a dent, scratch and paint patch-up for every year since it rolled off the factory line, it isn’t short of character. Nor is the driver.
He’s a tiny guy, both in height and girth and the car seems way too big for him. He’s wearing a wrap and a business shirt, dark Ray Charles like shades, leaning against the vehicle as we walk out. I’d guess he was a child but for the cloud of smoke enveloping his head, a slick comb-over of white hair peeking over the haze.
All wrapped up for cool season, Wat Na Tham. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
“Sawatdee khrap!” emanates from somewhere behind the smoke, with a tiny hand appearing below the cloud for me to shake.
We spend the morning touring Yala’s downtown. We visit the family mosque, a market and walk through a couple of the city’s parks. The attractions are, as I expected, low key. There is nothing wrong with them, but nothing jumps out at me either. As far as provincial capitals go, Yala is small and it feels like we spend as much time in the car as we do sightseeing. More than once I suggest we walk, but the consensus is we drive—why walk when you can drive?
The driver’s English is limited, but that doesn’t stop him from talking to me non-stop. Dad translates, but often I’m sure much is lost in translation. It is the usual driver stuff. Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend? Do you want a girlfriend? I can get you a girlfriend. When I mention I’m heading to Betong next, he laughs—plenty of girlfriends there it seems.
Should have packed an extra shirt. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
We lunch at a small hole-in-the-wall. The food is simple and good, but it is left in the shade by the coffee. Rich and syrupy, I’m ready to sand back then paint the driver’s car afterwards.
We leave Yala behind and drive west to Wat Khuhaphimuk, which thankfully is known as Wat Na Tham. They tell me it is a revered Buddhist site, the best in Yala, and while I have nothing to compare it to within the province, it feels on the money.
Wat Na Tham means “temple in front of a cave” and it is what it says on the can. The temple itself is (to my eyes) unexceptional, but the cave is more interesting. Jammed with Buddha images, the large cavern opening overlooks rice paddies and farms. In the distance, mountains. It isn’t a scratch on say Phattalung, but it is pretty.
Thailand’s endless variety of green hues, Wat Na Tham. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
I’m drenched in sweat, and dream of reclining like the Buddha does behind me, as they take my photo with my camera. We linger, enjoying the view as the driver chain-smokes, flicking his butts out the cavern. There’s nobody else here.
Then it is back to Yala, then the house for a clean-up, feet up and more chain-smoking before we head out for dinner. Thara Seafood is walking distance away, but we drive of course. A long table has the family friends already seated and we join them. I’m not asked what I’d like, instead, the food simply begins to come.
And come some more.
At the end of the banquet, gorged, I offer to pay for the entire meal. It seems like the least I can do. As with the previous evening, I’m waved off.
“You’re our guest. Welcome to Yala.”
Betong will have to wait until tomorrow.
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