National Geographic : 1967 Jul
He said it was a declaration of love. "A boy and a girl met here. You know." Another man came by and said those char acters meant that the tree was no good. They were a notice not to bother tapping it. I copied the characters as best I could and showed them to still another man later on. He thought someone had carved them as a trib ute to his late father. It was a Chinese custom. Back in Bangkok I got one more opinion: "It probably was an extortion note, from the Chinese terrorists. The first man you asked probably knew, but didn't want to tell you." Too bad I'd lost my copy of the characters. Hotel Grows a While-you-wait Wing In the rainy south I had often been drenched to the skin, but in 20 minutes I'd be dry again. And I never felt hot, the way I usually did in Bangkok. Years ago, I suppose, people feeling as hot as I did just jumped into the klongs around them. Nowadays numerous klongless Bangkokians jump into their cars and head southeast, to the beach at Ban Phatthaya. The drive led through the new residential quarter called Bang Kapi, past chemical labo ratories and construction offices on Sukhum vit Road, past windmills and fishing nets, past rice fields on the left and salt flats on the right. Prasit said, "The coconuts that grow in the 110 salt water taste especially sweet." The road paralleled the coast of the blue Gulf of Siam. Ban Phatthaya had a hotel and cottages; a yacht club and beachside restaurant; a rec reation center for JUSMAG, the Joint United States Military Advisory Group, and another for the U. S. Army's 9th Logistical Command. Ban Phatthaya was a hotbed of water-skiing and scuba diving. We pulled up at the Nipa Lodge at noon. "We're full," said the clerk. "But at five o'clock we'll finish a new wing with 36 rooms." We came back at eight, glad we had reser vations. The other new rooms were full of tourists from Switzerland. During our roomless afternoon we had driven farther into the southeast-past pine apple and sugar cane and the sweet smell of cassava mills-to the harbor of Sattahip, long a Thai naval base. Now there stretched near by, at U Taphao, the longest airstrip in South east Asia-11,500 feet, plus 2,000 feet of over run. Parking ramps and taxiways appeared at astonishing speed: every day 4,000 feet of concrete, 18 inches thick and 25 feet wide. Tank trucks hauled jet fuel from the newly deepened and expanded port to the airbase. There would be pipelines soon. I saw a moun tain half green, half brownish-red and dusty. Bulldozers chewed at it. A foreman said this was laterite, a low-grade iron ore, good for making roads and filling land.