A Travellerspoint blog

May 2013

MAR 12th-MAY 7th: SUMMER HOLIDAY TRAVELS & ADVENTURES

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THIS LATEST ENTRY COVERS MY SUMMER HOLIDAYS. I HOPE YOU ENJOY READING ABOUT MY TRAVELS AND EXPLORATIONS AND CHECK OUT THE MANY BEAUTIFUL PHOTOS IN MY GALLERY.

MARCH 12-14th UDON THANI

I decided to stay in Udon because I was unsure about making the flight to Chiang Mai on time on the day I left school because I was uncertain what time I’d be able to leave.

Every time I come to this city I see changes. The week before I arrived the new Tukcom opened with a big fanfare. There are Tukcoms in a few other Thai cities – they are computer/IT centres with dozens of related large and small stores inside plus some related stores and many different eateries. It is always interesting walking around such places to see what’s new and with Tukcom itself being new to Udon there were plenty of special opening offers.

Udon is also a good place to pick up some of the latest DVDs for 50 baht (around £1.20) which is far cheaper than anywhere else.

The shocking thing is that the baht is now very strong with the effect that one now gets only 43 point something baht for £1 whereas only a few weeks ago one got 46-48 baht per pound. Thailand is getting more and more expensive as the baht strengthens and the pound weakens.

CHIANG MAI: MARCH 14-21st and MARCH 28th – 4th APRIL

I flew to Chiang Mai from Udon with Nok Air Mini which, as the name implies, uses relatively small aircraft on their routes and today’s 75 minute flight was about three quarters full.

There are always plenty of public taxis waiting for passengers at the airport and the good thing is that there is a flat rate charge of 120 baht to go to the city centre. It’s good that there’s no fare hassle, but the flat rate is way over the top as it usually costs only 80 baht for the reverse journey.

When I got to my hotel, the Anoma Boutique House where I always stay, I was told that the hotel was full and the couple occupying my room had asked to stay another night and they had arranged for me to stay at a similar hotel opposite if that was ok with me. There was nothing I could do, so I agreed and someone from reception took me across to the Come Chiangmai hotel which I had seen being built a couple of years ago.

I checked in and was taken upstairs to my room which at first glance looked very nice but I came to think that the hotel designer didn’t try staying in rooms he/she’d designed because there were several impracticalities. The double doors leading into the room and into the bathroom were floor to ceiling wooden affairs. The room doors were secured on the outside with a padlock and on the inside with a wooden bar both of which meant a lot of fumbling.

The bathroom doors opened inwards and when fully opened you faced the wash basin but the doors thus blocked the way to the toilet on the right and to the shower on the left. See the crazy design photos in the gallery!

There appeared to be a nice double bed in the room but in reality it was just a mattress laid on a wooden platform built across a wide niche in the room. If you look at the photos you will see that the access space to the left of the mattress was tiny with most of the space taken up by a uselessly placed table and by a lamp. The only other way to get into bed was to scramble onto the platform and over the foot of the bed.

But there was one other oddity: the cupboard was a cut-down affair, a curious box that was useless for hanging anything but the smallest thing. Take a look at the photo and let me know what you think.

Next morning I was expecting to move out and into the Anoma but the receptionist came to visit me while I was having breakfast and explained apologetically that the same family had requested a further night in their room which meant I had to stay at Come Chiangmai for a second night. I didn’t mind though it meant I was unable to unpack or settle in properly.

One of the next things I did was to hire a Scoopyi motorbike/scooter which enabled me to get around easily and explore even more of the city. As you will doubtless recall, I have been to Chiang Mai many times and it is always a lovely city to be in. The difficulty I have is what photographs to take for you that you have not seen already in previous reports. This time I decided to focus on flowering trees of which there are many at this time of year and you can see the result in my gallery along with some other pictures. I have managed to discover the names for some of the trees but not all so if you can fill a gap let me know via a comment.

As I have also mentioned before, I have been searching for either a Thong Laang (or Coral Tree) sapling or its seeds. I am looking for the variety Erythrina Poeppigiana, which grows in many places in Thailand. This is why I went to Kham Tiam, a vast area of nurseries and gardening stores. I rode slowly around it on my bike and it was fascinating. I did find some Thong Laang but the saplings were far too big for me to carry around on my travels. My Plan B is to import some seeds and I have found a supplier online and will order some when I get back to school.

Thanks to the motorbike I rode around exploring various unseen extremities of the city which were very interesting. I also went in search of a 2lb loaf tin in which to bake the cake I am planning for when I get back to Sai Moon so I visited a Baking Supplies shop which has everything you can imagine for baking as well as other things like coffee making machines, baking ingredients and decorative items. One of the items I found were rubberised cake moulds – have you seen these ? They look like thick floppy rubber in various cake mould shapes which, apparently, can withstand high oven temperatures but make extracting a finished cake very easy.

One evening I went to a German restaurant with a couple of farang friends. On the night we were there there was no a la carte menu only a vast buffet selection to choose from featuring every German dish and dessert you can think of and more. It was hard to avoid filling one’s plate to capacity because everything looked so tempting, but I managed to do that and have one of the excellent desserts too.
On another evening I met up with a student who had just completed her TEFL course in the city and we went to dinner. She contacted me before her course started to seek advice having been given my address by the school at which I did my own course in Phuket and I was able to answer all her questions over many emails. For dinner, we went to Chiang Mai’s hip district aka Nimmenhaeman road which is full of trendy cafes and restaurants, expensive hotels, designer guest houses and quirky shops. I chose Cafe Nimman after some googling and it was excellent with a really interesting menu and, unusually, some appealing desserts and not too expensive.

Another day I revisited the zoo with a Thai friend to see some of the parts of the huge complex I didn’t see on my last visit such as the bird sanctuary and aquarium. The Bird Park is huge and contains many different species of tropical birds but it can be very hard spotting them and even when you do it is even harder to take a decent photo as they keep darting around, but it was fun trying though and my feeble efforts are in the gallery. Can you name any of the birds there ? There also some interesting flowers around and a few of these are in my gallery as well.

I also revisited Saturday Walking Street which is always entertaining and full of interest and I took more photos of some of the quirky things there. I came across a stall offering chilled sugar cane juice and squeezing the cane to order. I’d never tried it before and very nice - thirst quenching and, er, sweet. See the pic in my gallery.

MARCH 21-28th PAI, MAE HONG SON PROVINCE

I split my two weeks in Chiang Mai with a week in Pai, Mae Hong Son province.
I had to wait for more than an hour at the bus station for a seat on one of the regular minibuses that go over the mountains to Pai to the west of Chiang Mai. After leaving the city the bus passes through Mae Rim district and what caught my eye was a succession of army barracks to our left. There must have been about a dozen of them and it struck me as odd to have so many next door to each other. Each had a grand entrance way with a large regimental sign, some in Thai and English a few just in Thai but they all had the Thai national flag flying atop a big flagpole as well as regimental flags and mounted insignia.

I have mentioned before that one rarely sees a horse anywhere but in Mae Rim I saw hundreds grazing in two separate fields not far from the barracks though I don’t think there is a connection between the two. What the horses were for remains a mystery.

The minibus journey to Pai took three hours with a stopover half way which is just as well because anyone of a nervous disposition or prone to carsickness could have a break from the 762 bends along the way. I had been told the best seats for pictures were on the left and I duly booked such a seat but in the event it was a bit too smoky for any meaningful photos so I missed the chance.

My guest house was excellent and the result of lots of googling. It was the family owned and run Ban Nai Wiang which only opened last October. The family told me they used a local architect who’d trained in Bangkok and the result was very appealing. My room was large and comfortable with a nice bathroom attached.

Once organised, I went off to hire a motorbike and chose a great looking Fino which was to serve me very well. Pai is a small town set in a valley surrounded by mountains with stunning scenery whichever way you look. Pai used to be a remote hippie hangout and you still see a few bedraggled hippies around town and they look as if they have just emerged from a 1960/70s time warp and there are still one or two street vendors selling woolly bobble hats in Rasta (ie Jamaican) colours. Apparently the police had a crackdown on the drug scene a couple of years ago which drove out most of the hippies and the dealers etc. It is now a very pleasant town which has recently seen a large increase in visitors from China after Pai was featured in a Chinese film called Lost in Thailand. There are lots of quirky and trendy shops, cafes, restaurants, bakeries and there seems to have been a competitive edge to finding the right innovative name for these outlets but the one that caught my eye was Queen Burger....get it??? If not, check out the photo and you may see something familiar.

In conversation with one of the owners of the guest house it turned out she was an ex-teacher and she invited me to join her and two friends for lunch: one who was an owner of a private primary school and the other who was the Deputy Mayor and also a former teacher. The trio go out to lunch regularly and take it in turns to pay the bill. We had lunch at a simple looking thatched hut restaurant out of town and a range of different dishes were ordered (see photo in the gallery) which were delicious. One dish in particular was my favourite – a simple plate of hot and large roasted cashew nuts – I just can’t resist them!

After lunch we drove round an area of the outskirts of the town called the Beverley Hills of Pai where there are lots of nice houses, some smart hotels, and guesthouses. Little roads led towards the mountains and I made a mental mote to explore further when i got the chance.

I spent most of my week in Pai exploring. One day I went to see the Memorial Bridge which is a bit of a tourist con as one is given the impression from brochures that the bridge is the original one but in fact it was built in 1975 on the site of the original bridge. The history of the bridge is interesting so I took a photo of the info board for you which is in my gallery.

Next stop was Pai Canyon a unique geological structure featuring a series of high narrow ridges and deep bowl-like canyons and if you are brave enough you can walk round the biggest one and this is what I decided to attempt. There was an easy stroll round to the far side but to progress meant descending down a near vertical narrow gritty path in my flipflops. Yes!! I know what you’re thinking! While I was standing there poised to take my first step the neckstrap of my Nikon camera came slipped from the buckle and the camera crashed to the ground smashing the lens. Luckily I had a UV filter fitted and it was this that smashed and not the actual lens. Lucky, too, that the camera didn’t drop a few minutes later when it would have been lost for good. Even so, you can imagine my loud curses!

Anyway, I managed to get to the bottom of this part of the pathway where there is a small wooden bridge across an abyss. Looking up I could now see that the ascent the other side was a lot more difficult than it looked from above. Not only that, but there were sheer drops either side and there appeared to be no margin for error but I had no option now. I was at the bottom, no one else was around; I was alone and had to make my way back up to the top.

I admit I was scared and my legs wobbled while I tried to dismiss thoughts of what would happen if I slipped. It wasn’t just the thought of possible death, it was the thought that my slip would be unseen and I would not be found for some time since no one knew I was there.

I scrambled up the slippery blade of a path while fixing my gaze on the next foothold and not on the drop on either side of me. Step by step I got higher but at the top the path became narrower still though it was now level but there was also a breeze. I needed to look down at the path to choose my steps carefully but I had to close my mind off to the naked abyss on either side. There were a few other people at the top viewpoint now which made me even more determined not to make an ass of myself. It was a huge relief to make it across and I felt proud that I had managed it after seeing so many other people recoiled in horror when they saw the narrowness of the final ridge.

My next stop was the Pembok Waterfall which I reached several kilometers down a narrow track. It was a good waterfall only spoiled photographically by a few farang swimming in the pool below it. According to a large signpost the same track led to ‘the best viewpoint in Pai’ so I decided to continue up the track to find it. But as has happened before in Thailand there were no further signs so I had to guess which way to go at junctions and in the end I never found the viewpoint. On the plus side I passed through some interesting hamlets and spotted some different flowering trees/shrubs.

On the way back to the main road I stopped off at a makeshift cafe for a chilled Roselle juice which I had never had before and it was delicious. Roselle is another name for Sorrel according to google. What was surprising was that the owner provided some nice snack food including nuts, bananas, banana chips to go with the Roselle jam and a glass of the alcoholic version of Roselle juice for free in return for a donation. Also advertised but not available when I visited was fresh passion fruit juice squeezed from fruit grown in the garden which interested me as I have never seen p/f growing before and there’s a photo in my gallery.

Also at the cafe were a group of five Chinese, probably students, and the owner had asked them to compose and write a sign in Chinese characters to display on a tree by the cafe entrance. It was funny listening to them discuss which words and characters to use and how best to write the words vertically. There is a photo of this in my gallery also.

SUNDAY 24th MARCH, PAI

After breakfast I set off once again on my trusty Mio Fino for the Stone Forest. I had spotted a small roadside sign for this a day or two before and wondered what it could be. Petrified tree stumps perhaps ?

The first thing I noticed when I turned off the road onto the track was the great number of large elephant droppings. Evidently this was a popular route taken by elephants from one of the nearby camps. I also noticed some people collecting the droppings left by the side of the road presumably as a fertiliser but I couldn’t help noticing that all the droppings by the road and along the path seemed to be made up of partly chewed grass and nothing more.

After riding along the path for about a mile I came across a signboard in Thai which I assumed to be about the Forest. There were no petrified trees, only a large collection of vast rocks scattered over a couple of hillsides amongst varied trees. They and the wooden hillsides were very scenic and I left my bike parked followed a faint path around the main outcrop. I was totally alone and it was very relaxing and peaceful as you can see in the photos I hope.

On the way back along the path on the bike I came up close to an elephant with handler and two female Americans riders heading where I had just come from.
A bit later I stopped off for a coffee at a very attractive looking place called the Tree House Cafe where you really do climb up wooden steps into a large tree house attached to a building. The coffee was really good and do were the views over the gardens and I took a number of photos for you. They also had a small shop where I bought a small bottle of locally made Strawberry wine to take back to school.

In the afternoon I headed to the Mae Yen waterfall one of several around Pai. You can ride so far and then you have to walk the rest of the way. It didn’t look very far on the map. My plan was to see the waterfall and then have lunch. What a joke!!

Getting off my motorbike I noticed someone else doing the same and I introduced myself and he said he was from Rome and we decided to walk to the waterfall together. Lorenzo had pretty good English so we had a good chat as we walked....and walked....and walked and scrambled up and down over rocks and fallen trees and crossed the shallow crystal clear river numerous times. After an hour and a half I was beginning to question if the small falls we’d seen were all there was to see. We passed a lone walker, a German, heading back to the start but he said he gave up and did a u-turn about 45 minutes before. We thought, a German giving up, whatever next ?

The path then rose up above the river and looking down we could see two women bathing. We walked on but a few hundred meters later the same two women caught up with and joined us. They turned out to be from Biel, Switzerland and were overjoyed when I said I’d been there as they had never met another tourist claiming the same thing. In passing, Biel is unusual in that it is both French and German, Biel being the German name for it and Bienne being the other and as a consequence everyone speaks at least two languages and most people speak English as well, as did Nadine and Veryan, the two who joined us.

The further along the path we walked the scrambling got tougher and the river became faster and the bed more rock strewn. Despite all my efforts to stay upright I fell over on one crossing, my foot sliding off a submerged rock. Luckily my watch is waterproof and so is my camera bag. The phone in my pocket got a dunking but still worked. Around 4.15 we decided to call it a day and turned back. It was now two hours since Lorenzo and I parked our motorbikes and we decided we had to leave now if we wanted to walk back in daylight. It took ages to get back and I was whacked but we all went for something to eat and drink as soon as we got back to Pai and it was a fun evening.

Monday 25th March, Pai

The next day my thigh muscles ached and it was hard to walk properly so I had a quiet unadventurous day. I was supposed to meet Veryan and Nadine in the late afternoon in order to see the sunset from a certain hillside temple but Nadine was feeling sick and needed to be near a loo so we changed tack and went to Pai Canyon to see the sunset which would have been amazing if it had not been so smoky. Back in town we had dinner a drink and a chat at the Buffalo restaurant which was good.

Tuesday 26th March, Pai

Today I went to the Mhor Phaeng waterfall which has two good waterfalls and three pools and a lovely rock slide. Local boys were having a lot of fun and there were two farang women with flaxen haired kids about 5 or 6 years old. What was interesting to see was that the local boys were fearless and scampered around on the steep smooth wet rocky surfaces sometimes in flipflops and sometimes barefoot. They baited and teased each other but always in fun whereas the farang kids gingerly paddled in the pool at the bottom of a small rock slide, didn’t get out of the way when the local kids wanted to slide down, and cried and mewled when one of their fair haired friends took a stick or a stone away. I took some photos which are in my gallery.

From there I headed further uphill on my motorbike to a viewpoint which had the best view over the Pai valley that I have seen so far but, again, the smoky haze obscured the distant mountains. The very steep narrow road passed through Chinese and Lisu villages and it was tough on my Mio Fino to reach the peak but my bike made it. I had to pay a 20 baht entry fee to see the view and in return was served a pot of nice Chinese tea and a very small cup to drink it out of and I took some photos to share with you.

On the way down I stopped at one of the cafes for a cooling iced coffee and when I told the lady owner that I had failed to reach the Mae Yen waterfall she exclaimed joyfully that she’d walked there herself but she went on to say she began her walk at 5.30 in the morning and took all day!

Further along the road at the bottom I spotted some boys clearing weeds from a muddy pond in a garden and having great fun splashing around and cooling off in the blazing hot afternoon sun. The scene looked very photogenic so I stopped to take some pictures and the boys immediately urged me to join them, but I declined.

Wednesday 27th March, Pai

This morning I decided to revisit the Mhor Phaeng waterfall in an effort to get better photos. When I got there a different set of local boys were splashing around and laughing at each others’ antics. Too soon, a farang appeared with a locally dressed girl friend. He wore pink-rimmed dark glasses and had a Rasta-style bobble hat on. He stripped off to his boxers and leapt into the pool and at the same moment all the local boys vanished and I decided to leave too.

I set off for the remaining unexplored area around Pai riding along narrow concrete roads past nice house and pleasant countryside. I tried in vain to find a widely advertised gallery but in the process discovered small almost hidden hamlets. I stopped off at a small smart looking coffee shop and had an iced coffee and long chat with the owner who used to work for Shell in Bangkok but decided to resign and set up his own resort in Pai.

Alas, this evening I had to hand back my Fino and take to walking again and I browsed the bookshop and bought some stamps, not at the post office, but at a small shop selling sets of stamps featuring nice photos of Pai scenes and local flowers which I plan to send to my friend in Tokyo when I get back to Chiang Mai. The shop owner very kindly gave me a small handmade cloth bag for the stamps for free.

Thursday 28th March, Pai

I had breakfast and packed my bags. I was sorry to be leaving Pai. I can well understand why people like to live there surrounded by mountains and greenery and stunning views. There’s much more to discover in Mae Hong Son province so I hope I can return one day.

I caught the 12.00 minibus for the three hour 150 baht (about £1.80) ride back to Chiang Mai. The journey was uneventful and when I arrived at the bus station a cluster of tuk tuk drivers approached me hoping I would choose one of them to take me to my hotel. These tuk tuk drivers are a greedy bunch and they collaborate to quote a uniformly high fare. I tried to haggle one of them down but he just laughed at me and with his mates. I walked off towards the newer half of the bus station and found a tuk tuk happy to take me to my hotel for half the price of the other one. Yes, I know, the amount is small either way but I object to being ripped off, don’t you ?

APRIL 4th-11th CHIANG RAI

A tuk tuk took me from my Chiang Mai hotel to the new bus station where I got a Green Line bus to Chiang Rai. The Green Line bus company operates smart air conditioned buses on a number of routes but mostly in north Thailand. I got a slightly more expensive VIP seat which is a single very comfortable armchair-like seat by a window and a hostess comes round with small bottles of chilled water and a packet of biscuits which are very nice.

I arrived about an hour and a half later and got a tuk tuk to my hotel not realising it was just around the corner and I could have walked there easily. I had found the hotel on the internet where pictures of it looked very nice. The reality was that it was fairly basic but it was adequate and, anyway, I was only staying a week.

In many ways Chiang Rai is like a smaller version of Chiang Mai: it has a number of nice cafes and restaurants; a vibrant Night Bazaar; a Saturday Walking Street and a very ornate city clock though CM doesn’t have one of those.

One of my first tasks was to hire a motorbike but, unlike CM, bikes for rent are not available on every street. I eventually found a large rental outlet and discovered that the per day cost was 200 baht per day, a 50 baht per day increase on Chiang Mai. Once again, I chose a good looking Fino.

I walked the full length of the Walking Street market and enjoyed looking at the enormous variety of things on sale. I wanted to take some photos for you but I didn’t want to simply repeat shots I’d taken in Chiang Mai so I chose a rather special theme. Looking at the Chiang Rai photos, can you spot the theme ???
The subject of the theme has become very fashionable, iconic even, in Thailand and ones sees whatever ‘it’ is everywhere these days.

I went on a number of trips including one to the Khun Kom waterfall about an hour’s ride outside Chiang Rai. On the way I spotted a giant size golden lion and I stopped to take a photo and wondered what it was. At first I thought it was something Bhuddist but then it dawned on me that it was actually the brand symbol of Singha beer.

I also passed a sign which directed one to turn right for the waterfall but the same sign stated that Holy Water was in the same direction. I didn’t see any further signs for Holy Water so I began to think the fall’s water was somehow sacred.

The waterfall was located in a National Park and, once again, one could ride so far on the motorbike and then one had to walk 1.2km to the falls. The path passed though some amazing stands of very tall bamboo and in some places the bamboo stalks were jumbled up ready for a game of spillikins. There were bamboo steps and bamboo bridges as the path rose up and up and then suddenly the sound of crashing water became clear and the dense trees opened up to reveal the waterfall in all its glory.

Before descending to the base of the falls I took my turn at a look out where I took a lovely photo. There were some Thai youngsters in front of me who each made an identical pose with the falls behind them for their friends to take on their cameras. As they finished, they poked their empty plastic bottle into gaps between trees in the vain hope, I suppose, that they would somehow disappear. I ticked them off and told them to take their rubbish home and I was mildly surprised that they actually obeyed me.

I was further surprised at the abundance of different species of butterflies at the base of the falls and I tried to photograph them but they always seemed to sense when my finger was about to press the button and flew off.

On another day, I went on a two hour trip to the Phu Sang waterfalls. Less spectacular than the Kuhn Kom falls but in a very attractive setting with an informative eco trail above the waterfall which had display boards explaining the different types of dry and wet forest one walked through.

Whilst in Chiang Rai I witnessed a boy of seven becoming a monk at a temple. At the beginning he sat very still and calm while one of the monks shaved his head. Then he went off to change into his new saffron robes which was followed by a ceremony inside the temple. He’ll only be a monk for a month and he will join a number of others his own age to learn the ropes and all the chanting that goes with being a monk.

The far north of Thailand is very mountainous with many distinct hill tribes living on the mountainsides. There are also tea and coffee plantations and I had hoped to visit the Doi Chaang coffee plantation but decided to abort my plan when I discovered that I wouldn’t see beans of any age on the coffee trees.

I had also thought about visiting a vineyard but because it was the wrong time of year aborted that plan as well. On the other hand, the area around Chiang Rai is also famous for fruit wines and there are roadside and other stalls everywhere. If you take a look at one of these stalls the owner will immediately offer you free tasting shots of half a dozen or more different fruit wines which are all distinctly alcoholic. I think one could easily get quite tipsy going from one such stall to the next!! All the ones I had had a really nice taste and weren’t too cloying or sweet. The one I liked the most was Lychee wine and I bought a bottle to talk back to school.

Another day I visited Wat Khun Rong which is the famous and fantastical white Wat, the only one in Thailand. Take a look at the photos and you will see why. It was actually my second visit as I had been there before in 2007 but it was nice to see it again.

The Night Bazaar is hugely popular with many different and interesting things for sale. I quite enjoy looking at the inventive and often very funny t-shirt designs and there were plenty of those to enjoy at the Bazaar.

Before I left Chiang Rai I came to realise that I was running out of space in my bags and I decided one way to create more would be to buy a laptop shoulder bag. I found some at the Night Bazaar but they were too narrow for my 15.5” wide laptop. On the morning of my departure I dashed over on my motorbike to the Central Plaza shopping mall thinking it opened at 10am only to find it opened an hour later so I had to hand around till then. Luckily, I soon found a modestly priced bag of the right size so I was soon on my way back to the hotel.

APRIL 11th – 13th MAE SAI, the northernmost point in Chiang Rai province

I caught a regular bus for the one hour journey to Mae Sai bus station where I had a dilemma because there are no tuk tuks or taxis there. I now had four items of luggage and I managed to hang on to them all on the back of a motorcycle taxi to ride the 7km into town.

I stayed at the Wanliya Resort slightly out of the town centre which has a number of rooms and chalets around a very nice shaded swimming pool. After settling in the owner very kindly rang for a m/c taxi to take me to the border crossing into Burma. My idea was to get the visa run out of the way then hire a motorbike to get back to the resort.

I exited Thailand and crossed the bridge into Myanmar and the town of Techilek with no problems. You have to leave your passport at immigration and collect it on your way back. Meanwhile, you are given an official entry card for the duration of your visit. There is a large market on the Burmese side which has expended a lot since my last visit in 2010. Wandering around I came across a very large DVD store selling every type of DVD you can imagine. All the music and other categories were well set out and the staff were very knowledgeable about their vast stock. I bought a number of DVDs there for just 25 baht (about 60p) apiece.

Back on the Thai side I got another m/c taxi to take me to the Honda store which had bikes to rent but it was closed so I had to delay hiring a bike until tomorrow. This evening I borrowed a m/c from the resort owner to allow me to get something to eat in town.

Next morning another m/c taxi took me back to the Honda store where I rented a manual gear Honda Wave and I set off for the Mae Fah Luang Gardens, a project started by the Thai Queen Mother to wean local growers off opium farming. The gardens are spectacular and I took so many photos that I have uploaded them to a separate online album which you can see here:

https://plus.google.com/photos/102059636004663132941/albums/5868146994684650865?authkey=CNnFldLn7_e3oAE

Do take a look as these gardens are simply amazing!!

I have mentioned dual pricing for Thais and farangs before where the farang usually pays double or more than the Thai price for entry into somewhere. At the gardens they offered discounts for those over 60 and I was astounded they gave it to me as such things are usually for Thais only so I paid half price, only 45 baht.

On leaving the gardens I came across a shop selling bulbs and plants from the gardens and I could resist buying something. I bought some dahlia bulbs – though I will be surprised if they survive in Kalasin – and a small sealed glass bottle containing a Lady’s Slipper orchid plantlet with its roots in a kind of jelly substance which can keep it alive for up to two months.

Also by the entrance to the gardens there is a small market which has locally grown fruit on sale where vendors give you samples and I tried a number of them. I tried a local peach which was so delicious I bought some for lunch along with some roast sweet potatoes. Further along there was a butcher on a bicycle selling meat from two panniers and some t-shirt sellers with some unwitting spelling mistakes.

From there I headed off to the Arboretum some 15km away and higher up the mountains where pine trees cover the mountainsides and it is reminiscent of Cyprus. The Arboretum is on a huge site and has acres of azaleas and rhododendrons though it was the wrong time of year to see them in flower but I did see a few late bloomers giving me a hint of what it looks like in season. There were many beautiful trees and flowers to be seen but I took too many photos to upload here. There is a photo taster in my gallery but to see the true wonder of the Arboretum go to:

https://plus.google.com/photos/102059636004663132941/albums/5874460383641399201?authkey=CLeJlNbkpayTYA

Enjoy!!!

I wanted to visit Chiang Saen, a well preserved ancient city, but with Songkran now in full swing it was impossible to get there without getting soaked. At the Golden Triangle I visited the very interesting and informative Opium Museum after which I let my m/c parked and walked round trying to find the side street leading to the top of the mountain from where you can see border nexus of Laos, Burma and Thailand. Failing to find it, I popped into a shop to buy a chilled Oishi green tea and the owning couple offered me a stool on which to sit and drink it in the shade. We got chatting and when they discovered I am a teacher they immediately brewed some herbal china tea and presented me with a pack of 7-herb tea and a book with English translations of Pali chants. I can’t imagine anything like that happening in any shop in the UK!!

APRIL 13th – 17th BANGKOK

Songkran for me this year started gently in Mae Sae as I mentioned but the Songkran weekend here in Bangkok was unbelievable. When in Bangkok I usually stay in the Silom district which happens to be one of two areas in the city where huge crowds gather to celebrate the new year. With some Thai friends I joined in the celebrations and it was great fun though I am sure you will think otherwise when I tell you that taking part means getting soaked repeatedly either by people with very large water pistols or people manning fire hoses attached to water hydrants and having your cheeks stroked repeatedly by other people as they apply a chalk based paste to your face. The entire half mile length of the northern half of Silom Road was jammed with people; the pavements jammed with food and drink sellers or vendors selling iced water (to refill water pistols, natch) and the dried paste pellets. The sale of alcohol was supposedly banned during Songkran but the edict was widely ignored though I did not see any drunkeness. It is really hard to describe the fun of it all, but just take my word for it, and, what’s more, it goes on all night!!

I did take some quick photos for you which are in my gallery. I had my compact camera in my pocket safely sealed inside a plastic bag but unfortunately the bag was of the wrong kind of plastic and it was impossible to avoid the crinkles impairing the photos but I did take the camera out of the plastic bag – difficult with wet hands and fingers covered with wet chalk paste – to take a few clear photos of the crowds and the mayhem. I cannot imagine anything like this being allowed to take place in risk-averse UK. The Health & Safety zealots would ban all the fun immediately.

After Songkran I bought some glacé orange and lemon slices with which to make my own mixed fruit for the cake when I get back to Sai Moon. All I have to do now is find some wholewheat flour and some sultanas which seem unavailable though raisins can easily be found.

I took Jasper’s non-functioning hard drive to a specialist data recovery firm in an area of the city called Bang Na and, with luck, they’ll be able to recover his documents and photos.

One evening I arranged to meet the Swiss friend I made when I was in Pai. Veryan was staying near Khao San Road and I agreed to meet her there. KSR, as it is commonly known, is a tourist hotspot and is like it was depicted in the film The Beach a few years ago only more so. I have only been there once before and that was in the daytime but at night its nightlife is really buzzing with farangs from around the world.

More interestingly, I got a motorcycle taxi to KSR and was taken through Bangkok’s Chinatown – an area I have only nibbled at the edges of in the daytime. At night, every pavement is occupied with street vendors mostly selling food, and cooking it on the spot, but many other items are on sale as well and, of course, there are lots of gold shops there too. It is a large district and half the population of Bangkok seemed to be eating there or browsing the shops.

Not far away there is the night flower market with street upon street lined with fresh flower vendors. You have to try and imagine the scene: stop and start traffic jams with my m/c taxi weaving around the cars and making some headway; people criss-crossing the road carrying vast bags of flowers; porters with trolleys creaking under the weight of stacked fresh flowers with each bud carefully wrapped in styrene ‘paper’ for protection; groups of people sitting on stools eating food at the small tables of the numerous food vendors; and then there the lighting – not from street lamps, but from hundreds of white bulbs strung between the many street stalls. Thais love night markets and they exist in every town and city across the country with many in Bangkok.

PATTAYA APRIL 18th – May 7th

I had a longer than usual stay in Pattaya simply because I ran out of convenient and inexpensive ideas for the holiday. I spent most afternoons on the beach which was very nice and relaxing. I also bought the other ingredients for the cake I am planning to bake; in fact, I bought sufficient ingredients to make two cakes.

I discovered, also, that there is no difference between wholemeal flour and wholewheat flour. It turns out that the latter term was invented a decade or two ago to boost flour sales and it stuck but it must cause a lot of confusion. The only difference between the two terms is whether one or other is strong flour or not. I need strong flour for my cake.

I have not been able to find sultanas but a google search tells me that there is little difference, other than colour, between the two so my mixed fruit for the cake will be made entirely of raisins and glacé citrus fruit.

Most afternoons I spent on the beach reading the Bangkok Post and/or watching the world go by very pleasantly. Refreshments are just a finger click away and it’s interesting watching the banana boats, paragliders and jet skis weaving around beyond the protected swimming area. And, yes, before you ask, I did swim and that was fun as well.

Today, May 7th, I took a taxi to Bangkok airport. When I checked in I discovered that there had been a mix-up over the flight date and to their credit Thai Airways happily changed the date from May 3rd to today's date without asking me to buy a new ticket. The snag was that economy c;lass was already full but there were 4 seats left in Business Class. They suggested I go on the Standby List and if there was still a Business Class seat left 20 minutes before boarding I could have it. Although that sounded good I didn't want to miss the flight as I had already made arrangements to get to Kranuan and then to get to school so I paid the extra £30 to be upgraded. Business Class was very nice - much more room and a nice full service meal/snack with a mini linen table cloth, napkin, china plates and proper cutlery. I flew to Khon Kaen where another tame taxi driver took me to Kranuan where Jasper collected me and drove me to school.

So here I am back at school and wondering what the new term will bring when school opens on Monday.

Posted by talismanic 06:52 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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