Sunday, October 24, 2004


In Bangkok and I've just booked my flight home. Not that I'm not looking forward to seeing people, but living and working in London isn't adventuring around foreign soils and meeting excellent new people everyday.

Having said all of this I am especially lucky. Lucky in the standard sense in that I have been able to do all of this, but especially so because being a Londoner means I get the opportunity to reunite with many of the friends I have made on my travels. I have met dozens of fellow travellers who either live in or near London, plan to live there, or plan to visit at least once in the near future. Some of these people I made a real connection with.

And I will go home a changed and improved man. Literally - yesterday I was told I had better than twenty-twenty vision, which is a definite improvement on my myopic astigmatised vision upon leaving Britain. And I'm probably more confident now as well. Which might sound strange to those who know me as I've always been a confident type anyway - not yet aroggant though; not even sure if they are part of the same sliding scale mateys.

So generally speaking this whole adventure has probably been good for me. And good for my personal possesion count. Yesterday I took in Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market for the second time. I try to avoid unnecessary usage of swear words here but: fuck me it's big. The biggest of its type in the world with in excess of 9,000 official stalls covering over 26 acres. Click here for some piccies... It's not enough of course that market stalls cover pretty much the rest of Bangkok which also hosts a superb floating market and a marvelous night market in Patpong (the area that is largely famous for other more lurid trades). The weekend market isn't the cheapest place to buy goods in this city but definitely offers the best choice, and if your bargaining skills and patience are well honed you will find some excellent deals. I bought five excellent quality t-shirts for less than ten pounds and three fake Rolex watches for about 12 pounds each. Always good. Gotta be careful where I flash my supposed bling though in London.

But anyway the point is, Chatuchak Market is insanely big and one could never hope to see all the stalls given even every minute of its opening times during one weekend. But should you want to shop that much - you deserve shooting frankly.

So like almost everybody else who comes travelling in this region, I'm leaving via Bangkok and I'm stocking up on the shopping before I do so. I have met countless people who have done the same - my purchasing is really quite tame in contrast. And my return ticket was a bargain too - 11,300 bhat is about 140 pounds. I think one could buy a flight to Bangkok, spend a shed load at Chatuchak Market, come home and find that money has been saved had the same purchases been made in London.

Well maybe...

Thursday, October 07, 2004

I would have been relatively suprised to learn, when I started this weblog, that I would still be posting entries after two years. Mainly I expect because knowledge of the future is an amazingly unlikely thing, but also because I was not confident in my own determination to write regularly. Yet here I am in a particluarly slow internet cafe in Pai, northern Thailand, writing the 130th entry. Which works out at a dissapointing 5.6 days between each entry - all good things must be waited for I would like to think. (Though I'm dubious as to whether that is true, and even if so it does not follow that all things that must be waited for are good.)

God this internet connection is slow. It doesn't help when others come in to use a neibouring computer although I suppose they have as much right as I do. It does amuuse me though when someone comes into the shop, stands by a computer, spends twenty seconds trying to attract the attention of the person behind the desk, then says "Is it okay if I use the computer?"

So anyway: Pai. Pai is a haven of easy living, pretty scenery, friendly locals (this is an increasingly familar list I'm sure) and cool bars and shops. I would say roughly one in two people here are westerners either visiting or residing here permanently - and many are of my parents generation. And you can see why it's so popular. It's a bit on the hippy side, but not too strongly; the food is varied, bountiful and tasty; there is excellent live music; a host of useful shops which specialise in doing differing things very well; and a nice little market. Nearby there are hot springs, waterfalls at the bottom of which you can have a swim, and picture perfect scenes of varying geography.

I met a sharp 50 year old chap - who's brewing his own wine from oranges of all things - and who has moved here from Blighty. He pretty much summed it up in his Welsh Anthony Hopkins voice: "Home? Why should anybody want to go there? Last time I went back to Britain we gathered about twenty of us ex-pats and went en mass to give each other support." He lives here with his son his wife and his nephew. Family members come to visit him and they love it. I met at the same bar a chap my age with his Mum. None seemed unhappy with their new life.

And so I'm chilling out here for a few days making friends and supping at the cup of life. Maybe I'll do a tour to a nearby village. I haven't decided yet. Need a new book though.

Meanwhile the hit count for this site is nearing 9900. The most popular day for visiting is a Thursday which accounts for 18.91% with a peak of 7.76% logging in bewteen 1 and 2pm. Interesting eh?

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Having established that Laos is both poor and technologically backwards, it is no surprise to learn that it is a country where NGO's (Non Governmental organisations - or in laymens terms: charities) undertake activites everywhere. Walking around the place one can see signs of this on the sides of jeeps - which look out of place anyway; on signs erected alongside completed projects; in advertisements in the local press; or in the conversations of the volunteers who drink at certain bars. So reliant has it become on these organisations however that it appears the peoples attitude there has grown to one of: "let the NGO's sort it out". Nowadays little development of infrastructure is undertaken there that is initiated and completed by government alone.

I ended up last week in the northern Laos town of Luang Nam Tha. There's not much there except the opportunity to partake in the government organised eco-treks, which center around hill tribes. Eco-trekking supposedly limits the numbers of tourists that might engulf a village and ensure the tribes are not changed by it - although how true that last point can be is questionable. I cannot say too much about this personally as I didn't go on one in the end. The cost is very high and since such a project by its very nature makes it illegal for any other trekking firms to operate around the area the government holds a monopoly on this business. I wonder how much is "eco" and how much is economy - the numbers of visitors to this part of the world is extremely low so I wonder how important "eco rules" on group size actually are. We wanted to do one but we were only three and didn't want to cover the cost of the fourth missing person - four being the minimum size to get the lowest price per person!

So I went away from Luang Nam Tha having done little more than research a trek I never did and headed straight for the Thai border by bus. It was a 200 kilometer journey; hilly but not mountainous. The estimated time was nine hours! When I got to the bus station they were replacing the engine and the front of the bus was pretty mangled up. The 9am bus finally departed at 10.45am, the sealed road lasted about five minutes before the long thread of dirt track and mud was embarked upon. A television sat in the aisle next to my feet; further forward lay some large sacks of an unknown grain or cereal; the back seat, always a desirable lying down possibility on any bus, carried luggage and produce rather than passengers. The overhead luggage rack - fastened to the roof by strings in parts - creaked with rhythmical loudness throughout the journey.

By midday we had required our first bulldozer. We all piled out: 30 or so locals and about six of us falang (Westerners) - we stretched ourselves by the beautiful scenery and waited for a fortunately nearby bulldozer to go to work. It cleared a landslide remarkably promptly. We crossed some streams and rode through some large ponds or small lakes over the following hours before one proved too much. For the second time the bus was cleared whilst the bus driver attempted to climb an extremely muddy patch of dirt road which should normally be attempted by four wheel drive, not by rickety two wheel drive passenger bus. After much revving and careering about a rope was produced and tied to the front. In these situations the Western travelers are always the first to eagerly volunteer their services. Presumably for the locals such an inconvenience has long ago lost its novelty and become downright frustrating. There were four of us western males and all of us and three or four locals grabbed the rope and started our tug-of-war with a bus, a muddy bog, and the laws of gravity (helped by whatever horse power our driver could produce). Success and celebration before we all cursed the fact we did not give our cameras to the two Western girls to capture the moment.

A third evacuation occurred for the inevitable flat tyre (to be replaced by an equally decrepit looking specimen) and us four Western lads heaved the flat to the rack on the top to the approval of the Laos locals.

Laos bus tyre changing. A ridiculously common sight. This looks much like the bus we were on, but here there seems to be a dissapointing lack of Western assitance in proceedings.

It was a good journey in truth. When one goes through rural areas, all the kids run out to catch a glimpse of the bus. When they spot some Westerners they all wave and shout "helloooo!!!", and we all try to wave back before we are out of sight. That's Laos for you. We arrived at the Mekong side of the Thai border at about 11pm tired and arguing whether Mekong is properly pronounced May-kong or Mee-kong. I said it was the former, everyone else said I was mistaken and being foolish. But look! Look at this....

Never doubt me!