It's been a while since my last email, I've been pretty busy although it hasn't really resulted in much excitement but that hasn't stopped me from describing it in excruciating detail before and it's certainly not going to stop me now!
By the way, blame Gary, today he pointed out that I hadn't sent much mail recently...
I've already told you about the sex (or lack thereof) in my trip to a Laotion knocking shop. The rock and roll could be Michael Learns to Rock or it could be bus journeys in Laos. Or a mixture of the two. I thought it was bad enough spending hours in an overfull 30 year old bus on a road that gets completely destroyed by floods every year but I didn't realise how much worse things could get until the driver started playing his bootleg Laos pop tape.
Lao traditional music is elegant, graceful and soothing. Lao pop is a disaster. It's as if the musicians have just handed over their life saving to the rent the instruments. They seem absolutely determined to play as many notes on their instrument as it humanly (but not humanely) possible. There are no solos, no duets, not even any trios, everyone is pressing every button they can find and twanging every string they can reach as often as they can manage. They're determined to get value for their money. Worse still, I think the singer borrowed his share of the money from Big Tony and has missed the last few repayments. It sounds a lot like Tony's sent the boys round and they've wired his nuts to a car battery and are sticking tooth picks up his finger nails.
The final insult is that the "sound system" on a bus in Laos is made by the same people who make musical ties and those cards that sing "Happy Birthday to You" when you open them.
So that's the rock and roll. The drugs are a little further on...
Had a dull train journey to Bangok from the Laos border, sleeping above a pleasant enough old English barrister. Met a nice yuong Irish man from Dundalk and we had a couple of good nights on the piss before I headed north for Chiang Mai.
Interesting train to Chiang Mai though. I was sharing a seat with a Japanese guy called Osamu. He had very bad english, a dodgy phrasebook and a was progressing nicely through his half litre of Thai whiskey (he had already drunk his supply - 7 bottles - of Jap whiskey over the previous week or so). Luckily I had actually brought my dodgy Jap phrase book for just this situation and so we managed to have something approaching a conversation and I got to practice my very bad Japanese, which was fun. It was even more fun when the guy from Hong Kong arrived and we all had a few beers. He spoke bad English and no Jap but was convinced that the Jap guy could read chinese because they use the same symbols. The fact they mean different things in each language didn't stop them trying. The woman serving us the beers was actually from Laos and Osamu wanted her to marry him, or at least get into his bunk for the night. He managed to get her drinking a few beers but I realised it was time to go to bed shortly after I taught Osamu to say "Oh my darling" in Lao (a phrase I picked up from that mad old woman in Vientiane).
That morning I checked into Libra guest house and booked myself onto the 3 day trek and the cooking course. The family that run the place have excellent english and are always taking the piss out of one-another and the guests. They also have the hottest, most powerful showers I've ever experienced. After wandering around for a bit, I decided to treat myself to a 2hr whole-body oil massage. There's nothing dodgy about this, they do actually those bits of the body out, it only costs 6 dollars. The only dodgy bit was about half way through when I told my masseuse that I didn't like the traditional Thai massage because it was too painful. She asked me if I liked pain!! I said no, so she asked me again!!!! Another no seemed to do the trick but I'd love to know what would have happened if I'd said yes!
Next day it was out on the trek, into the wilds of Northern Thailand, about 40 miles from the Burmese border. The group was
Al - a DJ from London with more of his body tattoed and pierced and than he could see, even if he used 2 mirrors and a glass coffee table! Also, one of the nicest people I've ever met and a really good laugh. He'd smoke anything that wasn't nailed down
Morten - a Norwegian who should never have left Norway. He managed to leave 1 trainer in Bangkok and only noticed it 3 days later. He also brought his money as a supply of Norwegian Kroner travellers check, accepted almost nowhere around the globe. He was dishonourably discharged from the Norwegian parachute regiment for disobeying everything he was told to do but he did do a couple of dives with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer from Man U! Last seen heading for Bangkok 2 days after his visa expired, preparing to argue his way onto a flight that he had already cancelled. A dab hand at airport politics, he has already been driven onto the runway in the special late-person-holding-up-the-whole-plane car. Twice. He'd smoke anything that wasn't nailed down and would also be quite happy to try and unnail anything that was.
Dave and Joe - a Canadian couple teaching in Japan. Very nice and, like all Canadian's I've met so far, big into smoking. In fact they'd both smoke anything not nailed down and if you nailed something down, they'd probably smoke it, the nails and whatever you nailed to as well.
Kieron - an English guy who lived in Meath street until he was 5 and now an expert in Thai massage. He hadn't smoked dope in 3 months. He broke his fast the night we got home from the trek. It was incredible to witness him try to speak that night, he could move normally and his speech wasn't slurred but they weren't words that were coming out of his mouth, they were just random sounds and he was amazed that none of us could understand him.
Nedime - a Turkish tour guide with a weak bladder and quite an appetite for smoking too.
Anna and Ilien - two Swedish cartoon characters who never stopped talking and never separated for 3 days, not even when they went to the just-a-hole-in-the-ground toilet. And no, they weren't...
Alicia, Sasha and Suzie - 3 Ozzies, 2 of them doctors which was handy as I had picked up some really nasty bites, rashes and swollen bits after another two days in Bangkok. Although they were disappointingly reluctant to inspect the bites on my inner thigh.
Num - the name of our Thai guide and also a good description of our buttocks after 3 hours in the back of the pickup truck that took us into the mountains.
The trek consisted of sweating intsensely while walking up stupidly high hills with an incredibly heavy pack until we arrived at a remote village full of people who didn't really like us but wanted our money enough to tolerate our presence and try to flog us shoddy handicrafts.
The minor attractions of this village are about 500 incredibly loud roosters, a pig pen conveniently located under the hut we sleep in and a very cute monkey on string being yoyoed up and down for our amusement by his loving owner.
The locals were also quite amused by Al, his dreadlocks, tattoes and piercings. To quote Al, "I'm the monkey now!"
The major attraction was administered by Dr O. For 2 dollars you could get 3 pipefuls of opium. 6 of our 12 trekkers thought this was good enough value to give it a go. They were probably right too, they slept soundly while the rest of us spent a freezing cold night frequently woken by pigs, dogs and roosters and bursting for a pee but not quite bursting enough to go stumbling around in the dark trying to find the particular hole in the ground that was our toilet. Why we were the only animals in the village that had to shit in a particular spot is a mystery to me.
The next day was quite good. We had a hearty breakfast and set off to lose another 80 or 90% of our body weight in sweat. After about 3 hours we reached a river. Once the wet season finishes there's feck all rain in these parts, the whole place is dusty and as dry as a dead dingo's donger, so I can only presume that this river is the result of other heavily sweating trekkers somwhere further up the mountain and after lunch we were going bamboo rafting on it!
Bamboo rafting is a lot of fun and hopefully I got some good footage of us going over rapids and stuff. Amazingly I managed not to disable my camera this time which was good. The rafts are made of bamboo poles tied together with bamboo bark and steered with other bamboo poles, it's pretty cool. The guys who do the steering are also pretty good at bringing them to a sudden and absolute stop which is good dumping for Canadians at the front of the raft into the water! Not on video unfortunately.
After the rafting was another village. We were quite welcome there mainly because most of the villagers had pissed off down the road to the new year party in the neighbouring village, including the ones who were supposed to provide our entertainment for the night. The only ones who stayed were of course the one who wanted to flog us more dodgy handicrafts. There were some pretty nice bits and pieces here and I bought myself a super-cool hat from a 7 year old girl who spoke better English trhan I did when I was 7! I really hope she doesn't spend the rest of her life peddling crap to tourists. I also hope she doesn't decide to becme an evil super villain because she'll kick everyone's ass!
In this village we were actually penned into our own enclosure, complete with spikey bits on the top of the fence. Luckily enough the lock on the gate was on our side, although that really makes me wonder what exactly might happen! They also built us a nice fire. The result of this was that we stayed up much later than the previous night and of course bought much more over priced beer and weed. These people will rule the world as soon as they feel like it.
The next day was our final day and we travelled by elephant for the first 2 hours. It was cool. Elephants are absolutely lovely creatures, elephant handlers on the other hand are complete pricks. These are people who like to hit elephants with rocks, metal bars and sometimes knives and then laugh. I'd try to describe them in more detail but I'm afraid I'll break the C, U, N and T keys on my keyboard.
After that, it was a trip down the world's hottest, sweatiest cave for an hour and a half and then lunch and home for yet another of the best showers ever. Lots of fun for 40 dollars but one or two downsides.
Next day was the cookery course. Myself, the Ozzies and a dutch girl cooked delicious Thai food (even mine, although I did kinda make some Franken-springrolls). By 12:30 we had cooked and eaten 3 main courses on top of our breakfast and the stuff we sampled at the market. We were given a 1 hour break but none of us could actually move for the first half hour. After the break it was spring rolls, bananas in syrup and ice cream (stunningly nice) and soup. We saved our spring rolls and soup for the next day.
Somehow, by 9pm I was starving again and I managed to eat about 2 more dinners worth! I am now scared of my stomach and am officially on a diet. I even voluntarily ate my 2nd ever vegetarian dinner the next day and I was dining alone!
The next day I bravely/stupidly decided to cycle to the temple on the top of the nearby mountain. The girl in the guest house warned me that it took her 4hrs to go up and 2 hours to come back down again. What she didn't say was that she only got half way up! It's 16km to the top (1676m above sea level and maybe 800m above Chiang Mai) it only took me about 2:05 do the 13km main hill but I was in such a mess at the top that even the hardcore souvenir peddlars moved away from me. The actual temple is at the top of another 306 steps and I decided that it would be cheating to take the cable car. It's definitely worth seeing, I think I got some lovely pictures, you can see all of Chiang Mai from up there.
At the bottom of the steps they were selling some very pretty nice paintings on silk, maybe they're mass produced prints on 100% polyputthekettleon. I don't care, they were really nice. I decided to try out my haggling skills and also my mastery of the Thai language.
The pricetag says 150 baht (about 3 quid) so I offered 70 baht. The woman came back with 2 for 160. This told me two things. First, bargaining in Thai is better because they don't have to worry about other foreigners hearing the prices. Second, I was still being ripped off because even doing it in Thai it shouldn't be possible to get them that near your price in one go. I picked out 4 of these things and in a complete master stroke offered her 350. It wasn't until I was walking away that I realised what a tool I'd just made of myself. Fair play to her for keeping a straight face I wish I'd told her I had a masters in maths! Still I managed to rip myself off without either of us using any English.
As soon as we were done, another girl offered me a really nice one for 75 baht. I wanted to buy it from the first woman but her copy was covered in dirt. It was actually the nicest off them all, so I went for it.
When that was over a third woman started frantically trying to get me to buy from her, complaining bitterly that I'd bought from the others and it would be only fair to buy more from her. I really didn't want any more but just so you know how ripped off I was, this woman's last offer to me was 3 for 100 baht. I'd just payed 425 for 5! No wonder she was pissed off!
The cycle home (if you could call it a cycle, 13km without peddling even once!) took 20 minutes. This should give you some idea of the hill involved. Yet another fantastic shower followed by some Thai lessons from Nai. The girls who cook in the kitchen also like to spend time teaching Thai to anyone who wants to learn it which is pretty cool.
The next day I spent wandering from temple to temple and by the end of it I felt like I'd been up and down Doi Suthep again only this time the road was much worse and I was strapped to the front wheel of the bike. It seems I ate something dodgy again, in fact most of the people who ate with us the night we came back from the Trek were suffering. This combined with the exercise and a lingering coldy-fluey thing from Laos left me completely banjaxed and it was all I could do to take one more Thai lesson and collapse into bed, horrified by the thoughts of trying to catch the 6:25am train the next morning!
Luckily I made the train and had an uneventful trip to Phitsanulok, home of my somewhat dodgy seeming Thai friend Lek. He picked me up from the station and checked me into a decent hotel. I wandered round the town for a few huors and then slept for another 14 or so! I felt much better this morning although I'm still not in peak condition by any means.
I spent the day being driven around by Lek, we went to various scenic cafes (he's into good coffee and will be opening a coffee shop in the near future). We also went to see a turkey farm. It was much more interesting than it sounds because it was actually an emu farm and the guy who owns it paints fantastic pictures onto emu eggs. A few more local sights including 4 or 5 different plots of land that Lek owns (all suitable for me to start and English/computer school) and it was back to the hotel.
Lek seems to be stinking rich, he has his everyday car, his 20,000 quids worth of 4-wheel drive Toyota, lots of land all over Thailand, a house he doesn't use very much because he nearly always stays in hotels (even in his home town, he's staying in the same hotel I am!), another house that he doesn't use at all (he's just waiting for it to be worth a bit more before he sells it) and he spends most of his time giving orders to his employees via his mobile.
He's incredibly nice, in fact he's too nice. I was looking forward to getting back to my room or a bit of a rest when I mentioned that there didn't seem to be any bananas for sale at the market we just passed. He asked if I like bananas, I said I did and before I realised what was happening we were taking a 15 minute detour to the only banana shop in town where her bought me about 10 bananas to add to the 8 oranges and about 15 things a bit like pears that he bought me earlier. What am I supposed to do with all this fruit?
My only option is to followed Lek's lead and give them to strangers. When we arrived, he gave 6 of the pear things to the rather puzzled girl at the reception desk in the hotel and told her that he was paying for his hotel entry visa!
Tomorrow Lek is going to drive me to Sukhothai - the ruins of the first capital of Thailand - my main reason for coming to Phitsanulok. He also wants me to come back to Phitsanulok so he can drive me to the wedding in Laos, not something I want to do, given that he's not actually invited.
So here I am once again in a cybercafe, this time I've written so much my right wrist aching, bad news for a growing boy about to go to bed!
On that happy image, I'll say goodbye. Have fun,