Thailand as seen by Barry Trewin
The trip of a lifetime began when I met the Editor at the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service offices in Melbourne airport on the Wednesday, where he and Dennis Hayes the Chief Veterinary Officer were having a chat about times back in the old country. (They’re both Irish you see) Having about 8 hours to kill before our flight, we paid a visit to Keith Veall at his Toorak home and enjoyed some great stories over a meal and possibly a little too much refreshment. The night was too good, as Richard and myself almost missed the flight and held up the departure of Thai International flight 989 by a few minutes. Finally when on the plane for the 9 hour flight to Thailand it was good to be able to discuss pigeon topics and have a good laugh about almost missing the flight (Richard will be certainly entering the next Olympics in the 800 meter car park dash). Your mind is certainly working over time trying to imagine the next week ahead.
We were met at Bangkok airport by Tna Dharmajiva and David Finerty (David is a well known fancier with the VRPU in Melbourne and is a regular visitor to both Thailand and Iraq), the first impressions of Bangkok is how enormous the city is and there is so much happening it is hard to absorb everything. The streets are very busy with vehicles and people, with everyone busy doing something. Firstly we visited the loft of Johnny Supachai and were welcomed by fanciers calling in to meet us. The main difference you notice about Thailand and its people is how when they first meet you they ask if you are well and if you are well fed. They believe in looking after the person first and foremost (something we should take more notice of ourselves.) While Richard stayed with the fanciers at Johnny’s, I traveled to visit the Thailand Cup lofts at the Manam hotel. The lofts are located on the 17th Storey rooftop. It is an experience to see the passion and dedication the Thai fanciers have towards their pigeon racing. It is interesting to note the Thail and south East Asia fanciers place importance on the pigeons vent; they feel it plays an important role in the selection of their racing birds.
That night we traveled back to Tna's home where we shown his magnificent lofts and gardens. He lives approx. 160 km south east of Bangkok. That evening more fanciers from Tna's local Chon Buri and Rayong clubs visited and it was a great evening of discussing pigeons and making new friends. Some Thail fanciers live and breathe pigeons with racing pigeons being the main topic of all conversation. I also met Willi Netzler (a German fancier now living and flying pigeons in Thailand) who I had previously only met through email, so it was good to met him and his friend Dutchman, Johan van Kleef . Johan is an endurance expert who breeds and races the Van der Wegan pigeons, stamina being his main selection criteria. He has taken top prizes from most of the classic European race points such as Pau etc. He is also a professional pigeon photographer and general bon viveur.
The following day we visited Willi Netzler's loft in Pattaya. His loft is mainly open with wire grid floors. This is due to the temperature and humidity in Thailand. "Dr Willi" makes his own picking stones etc; and the gleam in his eyes when he prepares his grain mix for the race birds is something you need to see to believe. Johan flies some birds in partnership with Willi; this type of partnership is quite common and helps fanciers from around the world to test their birds against the strong competition in Thailand. Johan has achieved some very top class performances at distance racing in Europe. That evening we were taken out by Willi to see the nightlife in Pattaya. I was fortunate enough to play some guitar and sing with a band (something I hadn't done for a few years) in the Winchester club in what was to develop in into "Onehelluvanight" The following morning I had the chance to see the basketing at one of the Clubs for the following days race. Here I saw many birds from different fanciers and as at home, the quality and condition of the birds varied considerably. The following day I had the chance to visit a market near Tna's home, a lot of the Thai cooking is done with seafood and fish oils so there is a very distinct smell at markets and road side stalls. I could smell the aroma of the of the food places long before I could see them. Seafood plays a big part of the Thai diet as do vegetables and fruit which are both available in abundance. We travelled back to Bangkok where we had the chance to visit some more lofts. There were many different designs, some with 3 storeys and some built on the roofs of tall buildings. Floors ranged from wire, grate, cement and hardwood, but whichever loft we visited they were all maculate in the cleanliness. The competition in Thailand is very strong and the fanciers put a lot of time into keeping their pigeons in top condition. One loft manager was a chef by night, having only a few hours of sleep and spent his days with the pigeons and even had his accommodation as a part of the loft. He produced 4 bottles of 7 Up which were very welcomed by us all (See Photo Left). The birds were very quiet in all the lofts we visited and on occasion we saw loft boys having to move Them out of the way as we walked through the lofts. Quite a number of fanciers (especially those involved in business) employ loft boys to look after the birds and keep the lofts clean. These boys are with the birds all day and keep the floors and perches spotlessly clean. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Lookgrok lofts in Bangkok the Thailand long distance champions in 1998. 1999 & 2000. This loft was of a very high standard, with the lofts maintained on the roof of their business premises in Bangkok. The stock sense at this loft is proven by their results and the outstanding quality of the birds we handled, it was an experience in itself, each bird was bred to type and the success of this loft is very evident. Each race bird has his own compartment and is rested. One particular bird "Black Superman" was outstanding, he was able to be called from his perch and also from a kit of flying birds, he has helped to win this loft many thousands of dollars. There will be more written on this bird and his loftmates at a later date, they were superb.
That night we visited the Na Na district of the City and were able to see many different nightclubs, street stalls and restaurants. The streets are always moving with every person having a job to do. Although the wages in Thailand are not very high compared to Australia, the streets were always clean, parking places had security and you begin to notice the fact that the Thai people are not as stressed as us Westerners. The driving of a car is very different with everyone understanding the need for patience, although there were millions of vehicles on the roads, there were very few accidents and no road rage! Once again I had the chance to play some guitar this time in a Blues Band at The Warbler Pub made up from guys from all over the World and run by a couple of American Viet Nam vets.
In order to satisfy the Editors seemingly endless hunger for information on anything and everything, the following day we visited the Wat Phra Kaeo Temple in Bangkok. It to see the work and detail that has been carried out in the construction of these buildings. Work was ongoing on the famous Reclining Buddha which was really breathtaking. We then took a boat ride on the river and finally partook of a traditional Thai massage which was very good and badly needed! Massage plays an important role in the Thai custom and maybe this is why they are so relaxed and never seemed to get upset. The following day Richard and I travelled to Chon Buri to visit Surinthorn, Jamnong and Israwat. Surin and his friends won this year Mallee Classic with a bird bred by Joe Denaro of Melbourne. Their lofts were of excellent design and were a credit to these 3 fanciers. There will be a loft report of these good friends in the next journal. They treated us to some exceptional hospitality and the friendships formed will last forever. The night before we left Thailand we visited Chan Chailertvanitkul in Chon Buri and were once again able to see some top class pigeons and as seems to be the usual custom, we were treated to a great meal on the seashore. The spicy food in Thailand was something I was not quite accustomed too, but maybe if McDonalds will introduce a Thai section, I can get used to the food before my next trip. I also forgot to take my Wheeties, maybe next time. I will never forget the hospitality and respect of the Thai people and I can see why many visitors to the country end up staying. I left with mixed emotions but the friends and memories will stay with me forever.
Before I go, I learned a short Thai proverb which is most appropriate in the Pigeon Sport and in many other walks of life. "Those who can’t dance blame it on the flute and drum".