Chiang Mai

 
Friday February 15th

 
      I bought a CD player from the main department store. It's guaranteed until 2546. But that's the next Thai year not the western year. The next Thai new year is in April, it's a very hot and dry month so there's going to be plenty of water thrown about.
      Spent the afternoon with two beautiful Thai girls and beer at a small waterfall up the big hill outside Chiang Mai. Afterwards the best Thai food I've had so far, and only £1 each. Later we went to a new bar and I spent the evening teaching beautiful Thai girls how to play pool.

 
Saturday February 16th

 
      Om's off already for the next computing contract job in Chiang Rai, I updated this site and booked the bus south for a couple of weeks in the direction of Malaysia to get the next Thai visa. The last few days have been very hot, it's still supposed to be winter here (their winters certainly aren't cold by UK standards), but Bangkok has had it's hottest day for February since records began 50 years ago, 36C. While I am writing this a funeral procession of another family moves down the street.

 
Sunday February 17th

 
      Instead of deciding where to go while Om is working I spent the whole day talking to Eg in the bar.

 
Monday February 18th

 
      Still helping Eg a bit but decided I might try to have a look at Nan, I can get a flight there for only £9 each way. It's a small remote non-tourist town surrounded by mountains near the Laos border, and with some cool sounding temples.

 
Tuesday February 19th

 
      Heard another James Bond trick around here, apparently even old women have been known to ask for help and then open their handbag and enough fumes come out to make an easy theft. Interesting how the tables can turn, old people would be the victims in England.
      Also heard about how buses in the extreme south can be dangerous. Glad I took the plane up here then. Down there (beyond Krabi and the islands) it's mostly Muslim instead of Buddhist and some of the attitudes seem to be different as well. When I took the bus from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia I had noticed that not many people put luggage in the hold, and the bus driver didn't supervise it at each stop. This evening I hear stories of people digging holes in the road to cause buses to stop and then robbing the passengers, also a case of a bus letting people out half way for a meal (that's normal on long Thai bus trips), but driving off with all the luggage and leaving them stranded. For the south it seems better to take sleeper trains, the faster ones aren't much slower than buses.
      Oh and I also found out the 2 euro coin is exactly, and I mean exactly, the same as the Thai 10 baht coin, even with the different coloured metal bit in the centre. They were designed at the same time and didn't seem to notice each other. So people are taking 10 baht coins worth 16 pence back to Europe and buying cigarette packets from machines in places like Holland and selling them in England for £4!

 

Shrines by a tree on the road
 

 
Wednesday February 20th

 
      Woke up early and changed guesthouse. It seemed too much bother for too short a time to go to another town, I have to go up to Burma again on 25th for the next visa, easier to travel afterwards. The new guesthouse is more than twice as expensive, but for £4 a night you get a good big room that is cleaned every day, and much less wildlife too. Great swimming pool and place to have breakfast.

 
Thursday February 21st

 
      A working day, spent 7 hours on the internet, but it only cost £2.
      Heaps of police around the town this evening, the vice president of the government is in Chiang Mai for 4 days. Loads of uniformed and plain clothes police looking at everyone. Emptied the town of most of the tourists, perhaps that many have something to hide, but it's not so relaxing as before.

 

Mae Sai, Thailand and Tachileik, Burma

 
Monday February 25th

 
      Back up to Burma for the next month's visa. Burma is a country full of problems, run by a military junta of the main tribe which cares little for most of the other tribes, who either manage to move into Thailand or are repressed by a huge arms budget. As I mentioned before the border area is the world's largest producer of heroin...
      The first class bus is 170 baht (£3) and 4 hours each way. The wide but hilly and winding road is finished now apart from a few groups of straw hatted workers improbably moving centimetres of earth at the side of the road with hoes. Last time in January stretches of it were dirt track half-built road, rally driving on a massive scale, better than any game I've played. We had to dodge around all the road building vehicles that were doing their work right in the middle of where everyone was driving.
      So I arrived at Mae Sae bus station, the town at the top end of Thailand. The red car taxi the last couple of miles to the passport control was only 5 baht, 8p. The passport control where you get the stamp to say you've left Thailand is the most relaxed I've ever seen, just a girl having lunch. So with stamp in passport I walked through the town to the bridge across the border. In Burma I found a large monument to a king, and passed through the busy street market three times. It sells all kinds of very cheap stuff, mostly reliable it seems, 4 CDs for 100 baht (£1.60), non-flexible but collapsable fishing rods for about 250 baht, £4.

 

Statue of a king in Tachileik
 

 
      On the way back to Chiang Mai we were stopped and searched at one of the police checkpoints and the bus managed to break down for a few minutes in the hills just before the end. I'm not sure I want to go back to Burma even for a visa, there's not a good vibe there and all my Thai friends say it's dangerous.

 

Chiang Mai

 
Monday March 4th

 
      It's been hot every day, even by Thai standards, but somehow I've managed to get a cold for the last few days. So I feel for everyone in London, never again do I want a cold in a cold country, bad enough here.
      Though this morning having breakfast in the sun by the swimming pool in my colourful guesthouse, surrounded by exceptional topless English girls does wonders for making me feel better!

 
Tuesday March 5th

 
      Spent the day at Om's house. The family has a little shop now at the front of the house, selling mainly deserts as the particularly hot season is nearly here.
      It was great to do absolutely nothing today, except talk with Om about her idea of selling good and very cheap stuff she finds in the remote villages to England. So I bought a good website name (farawaystore.com), I'm not sure how it would work yet, but maybe I can help her out.

 
Tuesday March 6th

 
      Om's uncle passed away after a long illness, he has been lying on the floor of Om's house for days, he used to live next door in a very small wooden house. Now his children are being looked after by Om's parents, so even more people in the house than before.

 
Sunday March 10th

 
      Really strange evening, presumably an annual event. There was a plague of flies, luckily not the biting kind, but huge numbers of them so that every light in Chiang Mai had a swarm (up to thousands) of these largish flies flying around it, looking like a huge solid column of flies hanging from every lamp. Then just a couple of hours later they had mysteriously disappeared, no trace of them at all.

 
Tuesday March 12th

 
      Just about getting the hang of living in Thailand now, lots of nice surprises every now and then (found a cake shop at last yesterday) and I think it is beginning to all make sense. I've still not learnt much of the language but for now that's ok. Om might finish work in a few days so we can go somewhere together for a change. In the meantime I can begin to think properly about some of my work ideas. I have found that some things definitely aren't going to work, or be worth it (i.e. trying to make money in any way from Thailand businesses!) so I can concentrate on the remaining ideas: mostly games, and even the fallback option of working in London for a couple of months a year!
      First I'll try to get the photographs up on this site. Then I am thinking of making Computer Art Store into a games portal until my own game is ready.

 
Monday March 25th

 
      It would have been nothing in the UK, but here the slightest cut won't heal in the hot weather unless you are really careful. Not knowing this I've been delayed by a foot problem, not been able to walk much for days, until I realised the trick is to keep it in the open, dry in the sun. I'll be wearing open sandals like everyone else from now on and learning to avoid the mosquitoes some other way.
      Now it's just one day from expiry of my visa and I have found out I might not be allowed one again at the Burma border having done it twice in succession already. The plan is to go to the country of Laos instead, just a couple more hours on the bus, but I'll need to get a 10 day extension in Chiang Mai first (£8) to give me time to recover properly and also to read all about Laos.

      Laos is a very attractive country for a traveller, and not many go. Apparently most of the country is beautiful mountains and huge rivers with dramatic limestone valleys and very few people. And if you believe the guidebook, it's also a communist state with a certain amount of anarchy and local fiefdoms. The average income is only US$263 a year so most of the population have only what they need to survive, which is until the age of 53 on average. As there are not many people, and few hard-surfaced roads, the forests are some of the wildest in the world.
      The Australian embassy advises against using internal flights because the Chinese planes might not be maintained properly, the British Foreign Office advises against using many of the roads except in convoys in daylight hours because of bandits, and the Lonely Planet warns against using speedboats because of weekly crashes. So if you believe them all, all that's left are the slow boats along the rivers such as the Mekong!
      At the nearest Laos border crossing to Chiang Mai is where they fish giant catfish, the largest freshwater fish in the world. The Mekong river itself is huge but the fish are up to 3 metres long and 250kg in weight! I'd like to be there when they catch them this year, starting in a couple of weeks. Even Thai New Year seems worth missing for that.

 

Dangerous work!
 

 
Monday April 1st

 
      This turned out to be no April fools joke, while I was having breakfast a French guy came around asking if I was interested in a film for £10. But he wasn't selling a film he was asking me if I wanted to be paid to be an extra in a proper cinema film, a mixture of French, Thai and English. So of course I went along and it was for real, I saw the actors, set and cameras and stuff but they were already filming. (A few days later I met some others who actually did make it into the film, a few days earlier, one girl even had a speaking part!)

 

Chiang Khong, Thailand and Huay Xai, Laos

 
Thursday April 4th

 
      Got up to Chaing Khong in a minibus, and luckily the Bamboo Guesthouse Om recommended was near where the minibus stopped. It's definitely the best guesthouse, beautiful, and like all the others it looks right across the huge Mekong river to Laos on the other side. I took the best room at just £3 a night. Sitting by the river before nightfall is a very relaxing experience, such a huge calm river. It's low because we're near the end of the dry season, nearly 10 metres below the footpath along the side but there's an impressively strong current. The river starts in Tibet, goes through China, the borders of Burma, Laos and Thailand, and still has to go all along Laos and through Cambodia and Vietnam to reach the sea. Had dinner there with everyone else on the minibus, Australians and Canadians.

 

The Bamboo guesthouse (with bamboo growing to the side of it)
 

 

View from the guesthouse across the Mekong river,
that's an island only half way to the other side
 

 

Cool place
 

 
Friday April 5th

 
      A very hot day so I decided to leave my bags at the guesthouse in Thailand and walk along the river to catch a little, very low wooden boat to the other side. When you climb off the boat into Laos there's no obvious administration at all, I just walked up the river bank into the little town of Huay Xai. A few hours later on my way back I noticed the immigration office so stamped my visa into the country just before leaving! Everything is just as relaxed as this, no hassle even from the tuk-tuk drivers. Mostly people cycling around with umbrellas to keep out the sun. This beats Burma hands down for a place to renew the Thai visa, except that the visa takes three times more room in the passport (a page and a half) each time.

 

On the Laos side, with the low boats used to cross and travel along the river
In the distance some of the rocks, dangerous for speedboats
 

 

From Laos, with the island opposite my guesthouse
 

 
      As I said before it was very hot, so I just walked half the length of the town, took a few photographs and watched the children playing Songkran (the new year festival in a weeks' time where everyone throws water over everyone else). The water had started already on the minibus journey through all the villages up to Chiang Khong. Before going back across to Thailand I climbed the many steps up to the temple, which was well worth it, just like Thai Buddhist temples, and with some good murals. The monks lived in a big wooden building up there next to the temple, you could tell by the orange robes hanging from some of the windows. Being high up there were a few tiny bells sounding in the wind.

 

Girls cycling in Laos
 

 

Another very hot day so even cyclists use umbrellas to keep out the sun
 

 

Boathouse
 

 

Girl walking home from school and a cheap tractor
 

 

The way up to the temple
 

 

The Buddhist temple
 

 

Action in the mural!
 

 

View from the temple, Thailand in the distance
 

 

Fishing on the Laos side
 

 

Back in Thailand (Laos the other side)
At the end of the dry season the water is now 3m deep, the top is at 10m
 

 
Saturday April 6th

 
      I asked the guesthouse owners about the giant fish. It's all perfectly true but the value of the fish means that most are caught further downstream, like in Cambodia before they get a chance to swim back up here to breed. Only about one a day is caught, and you need binoculars to see what's happening, and have to be on the right country's river bank to see it land. They showed me a cool picture of them catching a fish several times the fishermen's size, but said it wasn't worth coming back for it as I'd be lucky to see one.
      One of the guys in the minibus back lasted just 45 minutes in Laos! He hadn't done his research and found out that there are no ATMs in the entire country (actually the first one opened in the capital just a few weeks ago). He was sure the immigration guy wasn't thinking he was trying to bribe him, but asking where he could get cash out and waving his ATM card frustrated the official who stamped out the visa so he had to leave. Perhaps just as well, he might not have lasted long there anyway!


 
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