Sunday, 19 July 2015

Step in my spring.

Hitched a ride on a motorbike to the hot spring outside town. The touristy one is expensive to visit and well, touristy. Drove about 20 km from Pai in the rain, which was light and refreshing. The hills were incredible; not the spectacular countryside, but the roads. We were on a pretty old hired bike, which wasn't fast at the best of times, but going up some of the hills, we had to push with our feet to keep going.

The gradient of the road was such that as you reached the top of a hill, you got the feeling that you were going to drop off a precipice. Never seen such steep roads. Of course the descent was quite impressive too; like going down a moderate blue piste at a ski resort.

Got to the the river, just off the road in the middle of a forest. There were bamboo seats and a smallish river. It was hot. Not boiling, but as hot as a comfortable bath and very clear. Sitting down, the water came up to your chin. It was extremely relaxing, so much so that we spent about three hours just sitting about, watching lots of beautiful red insects, which looked like small helicopters hovering above the water. We had been told that the mud in the river was good for the skin, so we improvised mud-packs. After washing it off, felt cleaner than after a dozen showers.

Glorious mud: Cecilia and Peter.


I was with Peter who is Polish, Robert, Dutch and Cecilia, French and we were the only ones there. After a while a guy arrived with his young daughter, so Robert gave her his Dutch tulip to play with, which she loved. People came and went and finally, after sitting out a downpour, we headed back into town for a late and delicious lunch.

I know, I've already put another version on Facebook, but I like it.

Getting installed

By the time we left, everybody was in a rather shrivelled state. As I was sitting on the bank, I felt something on my leg. It was a largish spider. I've managed to get over my childhood arachnophobia to a certain extent, but this was a bit close to my limits. As a reflex, there was a strangulated cry accompanied by a sweeping motion to rid myself of the monster.

The red insects were interesting. I'll try to find out what they are. The wildlife since I've been in Asia is a little disappointing. I was expecting giant monitor lizards which were everywhere the only other time I've been to this part of the World, but haven't seen any, although someone told me that he'd seen one in the centre of Bangkok; Asia's equivalent of the fox perhaps.

Dogs are everywhere. They have their own community in the town centre and seem to enjoy themselves, especially the professionals, who can do doggy eyes and thus get a snack from the tourists. I was walking through town last night, wearing walking boots, when a blur shot out from under a street trader's awning. It was a small, white puppy, who immediately went for my laces and seemed to be enjoying himself. I suddenly became the centre of attention as the dog heaved and growled and tugged, with his back legs straining for more traction, while tourists gathered and took pictures on their phones. Maybe I'll go viral.

The fireflies at night are great: pure white lights which drift in front of you. When I was walking without my torch the other night, they were eerie, but pleasing company on the way home.








Wednesday, 15 July 2015



Pai and sky.


Got to Pai yesterday: a small town of 2,800 inhabitants, which, like Anduze, near Sauve, swells massively during the tourist season. I was expecting a quiet, picturesque place, but even in what is now off season, it's too touristy for my taste.

Rented a ridiculously cheap cabin just out of town, with views of the surrounding hills. At night the cicadas make a racket which put their cousins back in the Languedoc to shame. They are accompanied by bullfrogs, or more accurately cow-frogs which make a loud mooing noise. Tried to record them, but they were drowned out by the cigales.

Went into town this afternoon and had a look around which didn't take long. After a meal, and a couple of beers, was wondering what to do with myself. Found a bar that had a quiz night, something which I've only ever done once before, many years ago with my brother in law in Cardiff. Sat at the front of the bar so that I could photograph the World passing and got talking to a young German lady called Francesca. She was there for much the same reasons as me and wanted to have a go at the quiz, which was played in teams.

An admirable response to that fat, pig ignorant UKIP woman, who is now siding in the European Parliament with Marine Le Pen.

Each team needed a name, so we decided on the Anglo-German Alliance. The prize was a bottle of Scotch, with the worst team being awarded a bottle of the undrinkable local hooch; undrinkable that is, if you're not a twenty something tourist out for a party.

Did we win? Of course, slaughtered the opposition with a score of 36 out of 40. Francesca didn't fancy the whisky, so I came back with it. Only trouble was that it rained this afternoon and I had to get back up the hill. It was OK to this side of the bamboo bridge, but after that got pretty dark. I'd left my flashlight in my cabin, so moved very slowly, to avoid the muddy puddles. I nearly went over once on a stretch which was nearly pitch black and next to a rice paddy. At one point, was up to my ankles in mud, but I made it and celebrated with a wee dram. I think I'll donate the rest to some young party enthusiasts.

We are the champions.







Monday, 13 July 2015

Deceiving looks and elephant pants.


Who knows?

Was chatting to two American girls and a couple of Dutch guys. One of the Americans said she wanted to visit a waterfall: 'I've never seen one.'

I was amazed: 'Where are you from, the Sahara Desert?'

'No, I'm Egyptian.'

As soon as she said it, it was obvious, as she has those beautiful, dark North African eyes.

The other American girl is in fact, German.

She's the second Egyptian I've met recently. The other girl also had an American accent, but was half English, having been to an international school. She had then been a boarder for 4 years at a school in Vientiane.

'Which one?' someone asked.


It's the McDonaldisation of education; had a friend in Paris who went to Roedean, South Africa.

Selfie. Don't know who the guy in the hat is.


One of the guys I was travelling with in Laos had become obsessed with Elephant pants. There are elephant statues and elephant sanctuaries all over SE Asia. Some entrepreneur has cashed in on this to the point where every market and small boutique has a massive stock of these baggy cotton garments with draw-string waists and elephants parading around the legs.

Jonas's gripe was that they have usurped the more traditional clothes which were once more easily available. You see both men and women wearing these rather amorphous and unflattering trousers.

I mention this because I've just bought three pairs of silk boxer shorts for the ridiculous price of 7.5$ or £5. At least they claim to be silk and probably are. If they were nylon, I'm sure my nether regions would have ignited by now. They appeared to have a small flowery pattern on them, but when I looked closer, the flowers are in fact elephants. I too have fallen for the old elephant pant scam.

Saw a bar last night called Jammers Paradise, or something like that. Feeling it was time for a beer, went in to find an elderly Australian and a thirty something woman sitting at the bar. There were no musicians. The two women behind the bar were heavily made up. When I asked where the Jammers were, one of them told me that it was just the name. I took a seat at the bar and was immediately engaged in conversation by the woman, who was clearly a prostitute. Now, I have no real problem with working girls; a couple of friends are ex prostitutes, but I'm certainly not interested in the sterling service which they provide. I'd said little more than 'hello,' when she jumped off the barstool and began massaging my neck and back. Very good it was too.

'You wan' buy me drink?'

Rather warily, I agreed. She ordered the smallest orange juice in the world and continued her sales pitch: 400Bhatt for full massage, 1,000Bhatt for me. I thanked her for her generous offer and said I wasn't really interested, but she repeated the massage as a final loss-leader.

During the half hour or so that this went on, another suspicion was taking shape. Although a great looking girl, I began to wonder if she might be a man. Some lady boys are very convincing. I started studying her a little closer and thought that her hands didn't look right, slightly too large. At this point the music system started playing the BeeGee's 'More than a Woman to Me.' Was this a sign? I was none the wiser when I paid up and left. The tiny orange juice was more than my beer.

I'd say 90% chance of her really being a woman, but will never know and certainly don't want to find out.

The cleaning order of Wat Dok Euang. Burma has a temple of the jumping cats. Hope I get to visit.

Typical Thai telephone box.


Where I'm staying.

Memorabilia shop.








Saturday, 11 July 2015

Arrival in Chang Mai.


Street view, nice car.


Finally got to Chang Mai after yet another more or less sleepless night. It was the first time I'd taken a night bus in Thailand. It was quite different from the others I've been on, with large aircraft type seats instead of the tiny couch things. Thought that might work, but it wasn't any better.

While I was sitting there, waiting to go, a guy got on and sat in the seat looking out the opposite window. The lady allocating the seats told him that he was in the wrong place and pointed to the seat next to me. He became a little agitated; like a kid who had been looking forward to sitting by the window.

Finally, he took his place. There was something slightly incongruous about him. He looked a bit like an off-duty or ex monk, (de-saffroned?), with a shaven head and did lots of bowing and hand gestures. However, he was wearing a tee shirt with a Beretta pistol emblazoned on it and a pair of camouflage cargo pants which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a decorated marijuana leaf motif.

He bowed to me, with palms together, grabbed my hand and proceeded to read my palm. After a few seconds, he blew on my hand and then gave it back to me. Whether it was good or bad news, I couldn't tell, as he only spoke Thai. A couple of minutes later, he did the whole thing again.

Suddenly, he started rummaging in a cloth bag, of the type carried by monks and in the same colour as their robes and handed me something. It was a small but heavy Thai Buddha in brass, with little fake red jewels for eyes. It looked like a Buddha who had smoked a lot of weed. There was something demonic about it.

I wasn't quite sure what to do.

'For me?'

He mumbled something, took it, and put it back in his bag.

Lots more rummaging went on, with me trying to persuade myself that his bag wasn't capacious enough to conceal a Beretta. Finally, he stopped and went to sleep. There wasn't another peep out of him for the next 12 hours.


Lying at the side of the road.



Staggered off the bus at about 6.30 feeling a bit the worse for wear and headed to the nearest café for for a fruit drink. The lady spoke English and as I was leaving, heard a shout. I'd left my guitar.

At least the weather is slightly cooler here up north and I've finally stopped wearing the dark blue elastic strapping on my foot, which made me look like a middle aged (I should be so lucky), Anglo Saxon holiday maker.

Got to the hotel by Tuktuk to find that everything was open, but with no-one about, so did my morning ritual of headlines, mail check and Guardian Quick Crossword. Finally, a smily lady turned up and showed me to my room, where I had a couple of hours' sleep.

I'm finally getting to grips with Thailand, which has a character all of its own although I can't quite figure out what that is. The Thais do seem to be even more smily than the peoples of any of the other places I've visited; the people of Laos being the most reserved.


On the way to lunch.


By the canal, which looks like the Canal St Martin, Paris.


Went and had lunch and got chatting to one of the waitresses, who, when I told her I lived in France, wanted to practice her French. It wasn't great, but had the impression that she had picked it up on holiday there, as she told me that she was useless at it at school, but had spent a month touring from Paris to the Cote d'Azure a couple of years ago.

On the way back, popped into a tattoo place for a quote. All I want is a small semicolon on the top of my ankle. They said it would be 1,000 Bhatt, about 25€, which I thought a bit steep for what is essentially two small dots. Why a semicolon? I'll let you find out on the Internet.

There is music everywhere in this town. The choice is great, with most bars offering live bands every night. Got a message from Magali this afternoon saying that she was back in her adoptive Barcelona. When I replied, the first thing she mentioned was the great music scene. A good recommendation, as she works as a musical events organiser. Will see this evening.

Joined in a photo session of two newly weds on the ancient fortification. The second time I've photographed a wedding since I've been in the region. One more to go, then it'll be three weddings and a funeral.









Friday, 10 July 2015

Heading north.

Jason and the Argonauts type statue taken from a speedin Tuktuk.

I'm now back in Thailand, in a place called Nong Khai, which is just the other side of the Mekong. I arrived yesterday afternoon after picking up my Burmese visa. At the frontier, I got a Tuktuk and asked the driver for the town centre. At first, I was under the impressions that he was reasonably proficient in English, but was mistaken. By comparison, my Spanish is on a level with Cervantes; even my German, which nowadays, is almost non-existent, is better than that.

There ensued a ridiculous conversation:

'Town Centre please.'

'No problem, train station.'

'No. Town centre, er, City centre?'

'Hotel, yes?'

And so on....

I was finally deposited in a shopping mall on the edge of town, featuring all my favorites: KFC, Starbucks, McD's etc.

The information desk inside wasn't any better. At least I've learned to see the funny side of these situations and was much cheered to discover that there was a sale on. There were piles of clothes of mainly European origin at bargain prices. I got an 'English' shirt, made in Madagascar, another pair of shorts in a fetching mustard colour and some good quality Chinos for 15€.

Heartened by my purchases, had another go at asking directions and made it to the pleasant town centre. Decided to pamper myself and booked into the first hotel I came across. For the outrageous sum of 13€, got a luxurious, modern room with great shower and a television, which started showing a Thai soap as soon as I inserted my door card in the slot. Hate soaps, (apart from the earlier episodes of 'Shameless). Only small problem was that there were no power sockets. Finally managed to charge the iPad using the TV connection and various bit and pieces to keep the plug in place.

After a shower, went to a funeral.I was hungry and went for a walk around. After a quick look at the Mekong and taking some sunset shots, which were immediately erased, found a street where there were white plastic chairs down one side.

The Mekong at sunset.

Being back in Thailand, went to a German restaurant, as you do. The owner was Thai, but had obviously worked out the tourist situation. The menu was in Thai, German and English and most of the customers were middle-aged German guys. Ordered a schnitzel, which would have been too much for the Flintstones and asked one of the guys what the chairs and gathering crowd were all about. Was astonished to find that they couldn't speak English.

An Australian guy at the bar informed me that it was the funeral of a local dignitary. By this time, it was standing room only. The interesting thing was the cheerfulness of the whole thing. The audience or congregation were all very smiley and adopted the Thai prayer gesture, as monks chanted, occasionally sending texts, or photographing the proceedings. I recorded some of the chants, but they will have to await my return to Europe, as, so far, I haven't worked out a way of uploading them to the iPad.

Took one or two pictures, but didn't want to appear an interloper.

Funeral ceremony.

Am now sitting at the bus garage, having bought a night-bus ticket to Chang Mai. It's 1.35, and I have a wait of 5 hours before boarding. Bought an iced drink at random. Thought it was tea, very strange, it tasted like sweet celery juice. I don't like celery that much, but still, it was refreshing.

In the last few days, I've noticed that Tuktuk drivers keep calling me 'Papa.' This is better than 'Sir,' a word I detest, but even so....

Perhaps, with my beard, they think I'm Ernest Hemingway. As I've said before, us Europeans all look alike over here.

Or maybe they think I'm the Pope travelling incognito. Heaven forbid that it should be something to do with my advancing years.





Tuesday, 7 July 2015


This is what I call rain. Will be interesting to see if the flood plain on the Mekong, about a mile away, will be underwater tomorrow. As long as I can get to the other side to Thailand via the Friendship Bridge. Although by no means chilly, the temperature is becoming more comfortable.



The Road to Mandalay or Irrawaddy Dreaming.


Went to the Myanmar (Burmese) Embassy this morning to arrange my visa. What a relaxing experience. The Tuktuk driver said he'd wait for me, which I was a bit dubious about, but he didn't seem to be bothered, so I agreed. I went through a gate, expecting to see a colonial embassadorial residence and instead found a rather homely sort of bungalow. By comparison, the Mairie de Sauve is a chateau, although rather more run-down looking. The man at the gate pointed me up the steps, where I was met by a lady who gave me the necessary forms to fill in. There was only one page, asking the normal sort of questions; passport number, place of birth etc, although it had to be filled in duplicate. Three passport type photos were required. I only had two, which weren't actually passport size. When I told the lady, she just shrugged: 'OK two will be fine.' I handed over my 20$, or rather 180,000 Kip and was told that my three month visa would be ready on Thursday afternoon.

The whole process took about ten minutes and I left with free glossy brochures detailing the delights of the country.

Feeling at a bit of a loose end, I asked my driver to take me to 'The big, famous temple;' I couldn't remember its name. Ten minutes later, we arrived at a large complex, covering a few acres.

A woman approached, carrying a lot of tiny wooden cages containing even tinier birds. I must have looked a bit disapproving and rather curtly said no thanks. It was only a minute later that I discovered that this is quite a charming tradition. In fact, you pay her some money, she gives you a cage and you let the inmates free.

Bird lady.

There's Buddhist symbolism for you.

Checked out some of the temples which were a little disappointing. One huge building had a golden Buddha inside which somehow reminded me more of a church, but obviously without the dreary vibe.

Churchy Buddha.



The most impressive thing there was a huge reclining Buddha and a giant Stupa which cost 5,000 Kip to enter, on the pretext that it housed a museum. The place was roughly square, with altars on two sides and a sort of cloister running round the outside. This was the 'museum.' There were lots of old bits of stone Buddhas and Nagas which had seen better days. There were no labels or descriptions, I want my 50p back.




Amongst all this debris was one interesting item, only because it didn't seem something which one normally associates with the tradition. Don't know about you, but I thought that there was something rather malevolent about it.

Creepy statue.

Friendly statue.

By this time, it was getting cloudy and thunder started rumbling. After the terrible heat, this came as a relief: rain, rain bee you tifool rain was approaching. It wasn't long coming.

Went and had lunch in a Chinese restaurant and by the time I came out, it was hammering down. Very pleasant it was too; such a change to be drenched with cooling rainwater than drenched in sweat.

Hobbled about for a mile or so, coming across the two images below and finally arrived at a bus station. Nobody could understand what I was on about, but it was just fun to stand at the shelter with the locals and feel cool in the by now heavy rain.

A little piece of found art at the side of the road.

Motorbike parking place.

Buddha gate.