We stayed the night in Houay Xie, got off the boat and straight into the nearest hotel, then I ran back to the boat when I realised I’d lost my wallet.
There’s not been a single minute during the last six months when I’ve not been acutely away of our day pack wrapped around my leg under the table and my wallet in my pocket. Happily it was under the seat. Manfred, a retired German teacher from Germany ran after me down a mud bank, where the traveller disembarks the boat saying, scheiße, which means shit! in Germany.
Manfred and his wife, Kit, who’s Danish were excellent company on the two day bus trip.
Germans, as we all know, are not renown for their sense of humour, but Manfred likes to laugh a lot.
We explained to him what budgie smugglers are. There was a reason for this. I wasn’t just being weird. Evan the Aussie had told a bunch of Germans he was teaching English about budgie smugglers and they looked at him blankly and said ‘but zis iz not far knee, vy vould you put a bird inside of mein hosen? Zis does not make sense!’ but they thought that it was very far knee when he told them that a cockrel makes the sound cockadoodledo.
And now that I say it, it does seem a bit weird that budgie smugglers be mentioned in an English class, it’s not really conversational English is it?
Not polite conversational anyway.
Manfred laughed his socks off when we told him this story. Also he thinks Monty Python is hilarious. Mostly his countrymen absolutely do not.
By coincidence they are flying back home the same day that we are. They’ve been away for eleven months.
Delicious and fun! Who’d think it?
We had dinner with him and Kit, looking out over the Mekong, and with a strange Kiwi called Mat who’d been on the boat and who’d learned to count to two thousand or something in binary on his one hand. Not while he was on the boat though, some time ago this was, although that doesn’t make it any better.
He was strange but likeable and looked a bit like Donald Sutherland. He’d bought a push bike and had cycled all the way from Cambodia. Cambodia!
We had to move away from the river view when another storm came in. Sitting by an open bar in a Laos storm is like being waterboarded, I imagine.
We’d arranged transport from the Laos border to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand at the guesthouse. He seemed like a good bloke. A trustworthy bloke.
Next morning we were taken by minibus to the Laos check out hut about five minutes away where we were stamped, where we unloaded all the bags that we’d just packed on the roof of the minibus and put them on a boat. Minutes later we took them all off the boat and queued at Thai immigration where we realised our double entry visa expires the day before the flight. This could be a problem but probably won’t be unless the Thais want to be arsey in which case we’ll have to pay a small fine.
The minibus, which the bloke at the guesthouse had lied would be a coach, took about five hours and we got to Chiang Mai mid afternoon.
We were, its fair to say, a little bit tired of travelling and wanted a nice cup of tea. We were thinking that we’d pay about three hundred a night but the hotel we were dropped off at was charging four hundred. But they have a pool! and it’s up in the high thirties. We paid for the pool and showered.
The first restaurant we stopped at was called Delicious And Fun Mamary, and that looked good to us.
Afterwards we went to get lost, which is what we usually do in a new town late at night. We’d been in a bikers bar and drank a few Leo and left hopelessly confused. No problem, we got a tuk tuk to take us back.
While we were sat there in this biker bar American Erica walked past. She’d got here the day before we did to get some dentistry done that she needed after her Hanoi bike crash.
Thailand is a much better option than Laos if you need medical care, they’re especially adept at sex change operations and these days can even remove a man’s Adams apple. Somehow.
I’d completely forgotten about the ladyboys until we went to a bar that seemed like quite a quiet place to sit and talk and sip a beer or two.
We’d walked by about ten welcome bars where scantily clothed girls shout ‘welcome!’ as you walk by and charge you too much for drinks, but they will sit with you all night so long as you’re buying overpriced beer and make an lonely man feel better about themselves.
The quiet bar we stopped in, on closer examination turned out to be run by three ladyboys and there were two older English men who’d found their true sexual identity when they’d come to Thailand, and that’s ok with me but they were very loud and very lewd and we didn’t really want to hear about when they’d dropped the bombshell on their wives, or how they were groping them and assessing the ladyboys’ comparative charms.
In fact I would walk a good distance to be nowhere near to them, which was what we did.
They wouldn’t let me bang it
On our first day here we lay in for a while. That seemed to right thing to do after journeying for two and a half days. At about midday we hired bikes with American Erica and cycled around town a bit. We went to a temple. Woo Hoo, another one.
There’s an especially old temple not far away, built in twelve something, or fifteen something, or something, but I expect it will look like all the others because they’re constantly renewed and renovated, big statues of elephants and cocks that people have donated are installed.
It’s all very nice, but a bit, well same samey. Except for the White Temple which we went to see yesterday.
We booked a trip through the hotel, for twenty quid each. The cost included going to see the hot springs, which is the world’s least interesting geological feature.
These hot springs had been capped with a collar and had a pond built around them. They looked for all the world like fountains that someone had built, and may very well be, except they do smell sulphurous.
If you want to know what a fountain that smells a bit bad is like, and, you’ve seen too few markets that cater solely to the tourist souvenir hunter, this is a good place to go.
The White Temple is worth seeing though.
According to Wikipedia, it is expected to be completed in another fifty or more years, but it’s not easy to see what’s incomplete.
It’s built entirely in white and mirrors and you enter over a small bridge that has a man with a microphone shouting at one end of it. It also has a Buddhist hell vision, with many arms reaching out from the earth and heads hanging in trees. Amongst the sculptings of human heads are horror movie monsters. Freddy Kruger is there, and the alien thing from Predator, Hellboy, Batman, and Pinhead. Bizzare, with a capital Biz
Buddhist hell is where you go to if you’ve got really bad karma until it’s all used up. I don’t know what Batman has done that’s so bad, I thought he spent most of his time saving Gotham City.
Being smug probably, he always seems a bit smug to me.
Inside the temple is quite conventional and you feel the same uncomfortable mix of reverence and voyeurism and there’s a statue of a monk in front of the Buddha’s. Actually it was be a real monk testing his skills of meditation against the hundreds of tourists – not by any means all white men, who bustle in and then out again.
The very strange White Temple
We were taken, our little day trip, to the Golden Triangle where you can see the banks of the Mekong, that look just like the banks of the Mekong except less interesting. There, we were expected to pay more money to go on a boat, which we’d been told was all in with the price when we’d booked it.
Later we were taken to see the ‘long neck hill tribe’, where we were asked to pay more money, which our hotel had told us was in with the price.
The ‘long neck’ people put rings around their necks to stretch them. Apart from this peculiarity which I’m sure can’t be good for them, they’re the same as the other tribe, which we got to see cos we wouldn’t pay any more money. The ‘ethnic’ village is what you or I would call a few market stalls selling pretty bags and scarves to tourists, and some chickens and sad children who wonder round after you asking for ten bats. It’s not nice and the people may or may not belong to different tribal groups but they’re exploiting themselves and their identity and their children for money. We hung about by the bus and fed biscuits to a dog.
We also went to the Burmese border where we were free to take a photograph of it and where there are many shops.
We were out for twelve hours, nine of them spent on the minibus.
It was a crap trip and if we’d had an inkling of how rubbish it was going to be we wouldn’t have done it. We only wanted to see the temple, but it’s hard getting around. I’m pretty sure we could have hired a taxi cheaper and been far more comfortable.
Once we got back, we ate, had one beer and went back to our room at an ungodly early hour.
Chiang Mai itself is a pretty city with remnants of the old city walls and the moat that once surrounded it. It’s clean and bustling and right now it’s about 35 at nearly seven in the evening and we’re waiting for American Erica. We’re supposed to be having dinner but we fell asleep after a day of doing nothing much except occasionally ordering a fruit juice and having a nice refreshing dip in the pool.
There’s a night market where I shall buy some shorts later because one pair has dissolved and the other pair are poisoning my legs I’ve been wearing them so long.
There’s a big expat community here, living amongst the bars and restaurants and travel agents shops and everyone it seems services the tourist trade.
There’s a big boxing scene and every time you sit down for a refreshing fruit juice, you get handed a flyer, like this one, ladyboy v man boxing