A very ecumenical journey

The bus station is a huge affair, more a shopping centre an anything but very efficient and my ticket for the three hour journey cost about £1:50. Can you imagine that in the UK? When I got on the bus I noticed that the space normally reserved for the TV instead boasted an image of a Hindu god (Siva I believe). Nothing odd in that, as there are a good number of Hindus inThailand and the driver was obviously one of them. The bus was remarkably empty although I was joined on the back seat by an elderly Buddhist monk, we exchanged greetings and I settled down with my notebook.

Unusually, in addition to the missing TV, there was no blaring pop music, and we left bang on time at 1124. Whilst driving through the suburbs, I was aware of a young man sitting a few seats in front singing, not raucously but in a low and melodious voice. This went on for a few minutes before he stopped as abruptly as he had started and it was then that it began to make sense to me. I checked my watch and it was just about midday. Friday at midday. As Rolf Harris used to say, "Do you know what it is yet?" Friday lunchtime prayers are the holiest of the week for Muslims and roughly the equivalent of the Christian Sunday service. He was obviously making his devotions to Allah. So there on this bus with only about a dozen people on it we had the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Muslim and your humble narrator, the Godless heathen. It struck me as being very typical of this region where, whilst they might occasionally butcher each other for various reasons, religion is rarely one of them. Something to be learned there, perhaps.

During the obligatory rest stop, the equally obligatory vendor came on board with her offerings of green mango, boiled eggs, peanuts etc. hung from a stick over her shoulder. I bought a bag of mango, as I am particularly fond of it. It is nothing like the sweet mango you see at home (mostly in chutney!) and has a distinctive taste. Very occasionally, you get a hint of anothertaste, as if it is something else. It is only a very mild undercurrent of flavour and for ages I have been trying to put my finger on it without success. In what I suppose an alcoholic would call a moment of clarity it came to me. Of all the things, the elusive taste is parsnip. Sounds odd I know, but that is what it is. I had also forgotten how it is served which is that you get a small plastic bag in the larger bag with the mango which contains a mixture of fairly coarse sugar andchilli which sounds an odd combination but is absolutely gorgeous.

We made Cha am slightly late, but that is what happens and after a quick search decided on the Narindorn 3 hotel on the main seafront drag, which has proved a good choice. Immaculately clean, ensuite, fridge, friendly staff and swimming pool right in the centre of things and all for £13 a night. Not bad.

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