Night train to Bangkok

I made a couple more purchases of useless, space occupying junk from the market which I can start to get away with now as I won’t have to unpack again too often. In Thailand and Laos the vendors have this wonderful tradition of taking your money and touching it against many of the items on display, when they make the first sale of the day. Today the honour went to my 500 baht note in one place.

Killing a couple of hours now (which I used to dread doing, but with practice has become remarkably easy on this trip!) before the night train, which I’m looking forward to quite a lot. In the 13 hours it takes I can decide which way to head once I’ve arrived at Bangkok…

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Busy day today – not only have I logged on to this, I’ve also had a massage and even a haircut! I must learn to take it easy really… Oh, and I bought a new pair of sandals too as my last ones fell apart, he fourth pair I’ve got through on this trip!

Tonight is definitely going to be a relaxing one on my balcony and in front of the telly, last night I decided to pop into the bar over the road from my hotel as they have a good band on, and ended up in there until closing time playing pool, badly. For some reason my room light has a switch outside the door as well, next to a switch which controls the balcony lights. So at 4am when the German geezer in the next room comes back with some Thai bird they decide to sit on the balcony for a while with the lights on, and as you’ve no doubt guessed they turned on mine as well. So what with all this today got off to a rather slow start!

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Mae Hong Son to Chiang Mai

I took the bus direct from Mae Hong Son to Chiang Mai, a nice, roomy air-conditioned thing which was all going so well until about 100 miles short of Chiang Mai when the clutch started to give up on a mountain pass road. The procedure adopted to get around this became familiar – when the clutch started going and the bus ground to a halt, the conductress would jump out and look for a rock to shove under the wheel to stop us rolling back down. Then after the driver’s spent 5 minutes with a spanner in the engine compartment, he’d restart and the bus would lurch away, with the assistant on board as he could not stop again, and the rocks left out in the middle of the road to provide entertainment for traffic behind. About a thousand yards later the cycle would repeat, until we reached the summit when it was plain sailing downhill to the straight that leads into Chiang Mai. Only on the outskirts did it give up altogether and they loaded the whole bus load of people into a single sangthaew (large tuk tuk) to get us there.

Well, you may start to know me by now but I’ve changed my plans, yet again. I am now heading to Bangkok by train on 9th Oct and will probably spend two or three nights to the west in Kanchanaburi. I was there a couple of years ago but there’s more out there I’d like to check out. Then I can cross back through Bangkok to Pattaya and then return on the flight of 16th Sept.

Meanwhile Chiang Mai seems quite different in just the 7 days I’ve been away, there is a lot more sun (if that was possible) and a lot more farang (western tourists) about, a hint that high season is on it’s way I suppose, in turn meaning it’s good to get out of the country before that happens!

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Mae Hong Son

Surprise, surprise, was out with Zvi until 4am or something, but still managed to wake up just in the nick of time to catch the 10:30 bus! As were about to leave the Bamboo Bar, Pai’s late night illegal drinking hole, where a sign warns “silence please, or the police will arrest everybody”, Zvi joked that he hoped nobody had stolen his flip flops from the steps of the bar. (In Thailand it’s common for everyone to remove their footware before entering many public places). Sure enough, someone had taken one of his flip flops, presumably mixing it up with one of their own, and left their other one which was about 5 sizes smaller than Zvi’s. They must have been steaming drunk not to have noticed that!

The route to Mae Hong Son is scenic enough, not so the town unfortunately. I was expecting it to be a slightly larger version of Pai, but it’s completely different, much more of a concrete looking place with a fairly dead nightlife. I took a ride this morning up to a Wat on a hill overlooking the town which is impressive enough, then a longer ride out of town to Mae Aw which is a KMT town (whatever that means) sitting on the border with Myanmar (formerly Burma). It’s a pretty little sleepy place, where the inhabitants are Chinese of some desctription, basically. Some of these villages must have a seriously small gene pool, I’ve always thought! It was a nice ride with some waterfalls and caves to stop at en route. At the caves the guy in the information booth was blatantly reading Playboy in front of everybody which was amusing! Finally I took a ride south to some hot springs, but short of a rather unimpressive looking spring itself this is really a commercial venture where they pipe the water into bathing houses which you can rent.

So I think I’ve seen enough of here and will leave tomorrow, maybe going directly back to Chiang Mai but via the southern route this time, through Mae Sirang or something rather than Pai. Maybe I’ll stop at Mae Sirang, but I gather that town’s even worse! I’ll sleep on it…

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Caves and Coffins

Well I’m still here in Pai, I only awoke at 9:30am after a large one with Zwi the Israeli in a club last night, so it seemed easier to stay here. We drove the 50 Km to Tham Lod cave, a lovely drive on a windy mountain road where some of the hairpins don’t even have potholes. Unfortunately only one of the three chambers in the cave was open due to the wet season, but it was still quite good. You can only even get into this one by raft (which was actually 4 large pieces of bamboo tied together with string). On the way back we scrambled up a cliff to a coffin cave, there are many of these in this area, which have these very long coffins in them made by hacking outside the inside of a tree trunk. They’re of unknown age and origin.

We also stopped off at Sappong for some lunch, a nice little spot but very quiet at the moment, as in the guesthouse we ate at only had 3 guests in September! I was giong to stay there but I think I’ll pass on that and head straight for Mae Hong Son tomorrow, if I actually wake up in time.

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The town was decidedly dead last night, so in the end I went to a shop and bought 12 candles, 12 mosquito coils, 10 boxes of matches and 2 Chang beers for about 1 pound 75, and had a seance at my cottage. Over breakfast today I bumped into an Israeli bloke I met in Muang Noi Neua in Laos, so together we attempted to make our intrepid adventure to the other falls. After driving down a dirt track so narrow that both feet were clipping each side in places, we quickly discovered there wasn’t actually a trail, and you’re forced to wade up the river. After about 40 minutes of this we decided to head back and check the details with anyone we could find that speaks English. The girl working in my guesthouse came to the rescue, she said “Ah, yes. There is no trail, you have to hike up the river for 4 hours – it’s better to go with a guide”.

Unperturbed, we headed towards another waterfall, once more having to drive 4 Km down deeply rutted dirt tracks, and then a simple 150m hike which turned into about 400m of hanging onto steep, slippery earth slopes about 50 feet above the rocks, trying to make it to the top. We got there in the end, neither of us dying in the process, only to discover the real track on the way down, which again leads you to wade up the falls themselves, but in somewhat more safety. The only slight snag is that the water seemed to be full of sewage, which is a little strange.

On finally somehow getting back to the bikes, the Israeli (who’s called Syri or something like that) discovers that him and his key have parted company somewhere, so I have to pillion him all the way back to town and back again once he’s obtained a replacement. I’m not sure who was shitting himself more, him or me.

Sappong tomorrow, probably..

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A Stoned Monk

Today I’ve been out of town, first to some hot springs which were in a nice setting, but that’s about all you can say. Apparently you can bathe in them, but I couldn’t see anywhere appealing enough to want to do it. Then I went to a Wat on the top of a hill which was hilarious. I was the only tourist there, and the resident monk (still wearing his bed sheet) was sitting there listening to The Eagles, drinking copious amounts of coffee and smoking a spliff! He told me he has to meditate for an hour in the morning and another in the evening or something, so the rest of the day is for him to chill out.

This afternoon I went to a waterfall, half of the fun being to get there as it was down a dirt track heavily rutted by rainwater. On the way you pass through several tribal villages, I must have been offered opium about 15 times on the way, mostly by mothers carrying their infants, but then it is their major source of income I suppose. The falls were also in a nice spot with a pool to swim in at the base. Tomorrow I think I’ll find some other waterfalls which are a few hours trek, but the photos I’ve seen make it look worthwhile.

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The Road to Pai

I bumped into Pete last night, a fella I’ve seen several times on the Laos circuit. Of course we went for a beer, a disaster waiting to happen. We ended up in some club called Bubbles, then at a night stall serving beer until who knows what time. I woke at 11am with my bus leaving at 12:30, but still made it, including returning the motorbike with only a few near-misses on the way. Halfway along the route to Pai I see Pete on the roadside who was also travelling to Pai on a dirtbike. Now I’ve just bumped into him again in town, he says it was a nightmare with the hangover he had. So of course, tonight we’re going for a beer…

Pai appears to be a very pleasant little town, I’ve got myself an A frame cottage on the riverside in a nice, leafy guesthouse complex. Time for a massage and to find some breakfast (not bad going, as it’s 19:40 at the moment)

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Wat Pra That

Fish and chips became steak and chips but at least the idea was sound. My Honda Dream sputtered to the top of Doi Suthep today, at 1676 metres the tallest place around here. Perched right on the top is Wat Pra That, giving an impressive overlook of the city. You’re supposed to pay 30 baht to go in (foreigners only) but “somehow” I sneaked in a side entrance without paying. It’s a bit of a con on the part of the monks if you ask me, and they insist that you cover you arms and legs whilst they’re allowed to parade around wearing only a sheet that they accidentally washed with granny’s red cardigan, so sod ’em.

The waterfall people wanted 200 baht so I snorted in disgust and sped off. You can buy 5.714285 large bottles of Chang for that money! Tomorrow I’ll leave for Pai, working my way around and back here in time for a train I’ve booked to Bangkok on 10th Oct.

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No Porn Here Please

There’s a fantastic sign on the monitor in here – “Don’t open naked web too much. It will make every computer slow”. Pure class…

I hit a few too many Chang beers last night which has wiped out today, having woken at 9:30 with the TV and lights on (again) so tomorrow I’ll probably go and check out the waterfalls near here, then leave town the next day, first to Pai I expect.

I’ve discovered that the cables on my TV are long enough to reach it out to my veranda, so that is my appointment for this evening after I’ve sated the craving I have today for fish and chips!

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