It’s 1am and I couldn’t get to sleep. The hot stagnant air inside our tent squeezed my chest too tightly. As I lay awake, the urge to go to the toilet rose. I couldn't work out if the noise I heard came from the wind or some animals walking the ground. “No way I walk the distance between the tent and the toilet," I told myself.
The beginning of the camping experience was better if not great. We arrived at the campsite just after the hottest hours of the day. The place was nothing like European campsites, which often occupy big grassy fields outside a town or hidden in the wood. You pick a slot in the field and nail our tent firmly down on the ground. I love the feeling of grass my feet and the smell of damp soil coming into the tent at night.
It was not like that at all where our friend Win took us in Thailand. Our tents were provided and set up for us on a balcony of a brick house. Yeah, you’ve heard that right. No nails were involved.
From the balcony, we could see over a decorative garden nesting at the heart of a grapefruit farm. Win toured the whole farm the following morning, but Ian and I didn’t go as the night was too rough for us both.
Before nightfall, it was brilliant. We saw an amazing sunset. Everything seemed to have a darker tone than normal: the red sun, the green leaves, and the grey mountain.
We sat in the garden until we no longer saw our palms holding up. Retreated to the house, we turned on the light and started a BBQ. It was an exotic BBQ with ingredients like okra and fermented sour pork. We dip the food into a special Thai sauce, called “suki”. Though it was made only with common ingredients: lime, coriander and green chilli, it added magic to the food.
After two hours of eating and drinking, we decided we better stopped. With stuffed bellied, we crawled up the stairs to the roof of the house. The boys lied on the roof, looking at the stars, while I got myself a bench. The stone was still warm from the heat of the day and I felt like I got myself another Thai massage. There were a few patches of cloud in the sky but the stars totally outnumbered. The view was unbeatable.
When I sat up on the bench, I could also see the remnant of a fire. It started fairly small. It was most likely that somebody was burning their rice straw as rice season just came to an end. We thought it would go out soon enough, but it didn’t. Nobody did anything for a while and at one point, the fire roared and painted a huge area of our horizon with an intimidating red colour.
Ian urged Win to go talk to the host, so he could tell somebody else. Win was reluctant to report, just like I would be. It’s something to do with the Asian cultural norms: we don’t like confrontation and don't want to meddle with other people’s business whether it was good or bad.
Win eventually went searching for the host because Ian could be very persuasive. He couldn’t find anybody around so we waited for a bit and somehow the fire went down. By the time we got on the roof, the lingering remnant was merely another reminder of various scars we humans leave on Earth.
Now and then I would quit listening to the boys and search for any other living noise. There were only us and two other girls “camped” there that night. They stayed in a cottage on the far side of the garden so I couldn’t really hear them. I could see them moving around, though when they set their mosquito net on the porch to spend the night outdoor. How little did I know that I would dream of that airy net while suffering the heat inside our tent.
The boys chatted in length about their Boy Scout days. I know them well, one a good friend and the other my husband, but they sounded strange to me at that moment in time. A starry night sounded strange to me too as I was born a city girl. I am more familiar with electric lights and find it comforting the noise made by food vendors going about at night. I felt alienated in semi-quietness and darkness.
When it got to midnight, we decided to leave the roof and get some sleep so we could be up for the 8am farm tour. It was only until three in the morning when the tent has had enough time to cool down a little, I got some sleep. Naturally, no farm tour for me. I also promised myself that the next time I go camping, it would be in a temperate country. As for Thailand, I’ll take a room with an air-conditioner or a fan, please. I hope I could find a room with this view, though.
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