An unexpected highlight from my trip was visiting a local Muay Thai bout in Chiang Mai. Not being a huge fan of boxing generally, I found that I really enjoying the ceremony and speed that I witnessed in these young fighters. They fought during a down pour that flooded the streets. Photographing while avoiding leaks streaming through the tent was a challenge, as was keeping up with the boxers.
Just back from Thailand, so here are some photos. This first lot are of some women handmaking indigo cloth. It’s a labour intensive job, with lots of fine detail work.
More images on their way soon.
Visiting the Elelphant Nature Park in the hills behind Chiang Mai was an awe-inspiring day. Created by Lek Chailert, the park is home to a large number of rescued elephants. Many of the elephants have heart-wrenching pasts of abuse as either logging elephants or as entertainment for tourists. Lek runs the park with volunteers from all around the world. No riding here people, just looking, feeding, and helping give them a wash.
Here is the parks website if you would like to visit, or perhaps even spend some time there helping out.
I had been warned that the roosters woke early in Pakbeng. True to word, they were up at 4 something (I was too dazed to note the exact time). Once awake, the roosters didn’t stop their crowing until they were assured that everyone in town was fully awake with them…some 3 hours later. Ouch! At least I’ll have plenty of opportunity for a nap back on the slow boat today.
In between the napping, a couple of stops were made along the river to stretch our legs and take in some local life. Our first stop was Bou Village. This village is obviously a regular stop for boats travelling down the Mekong, as the locals were ready for us with scarves and other wares lain out. Exchanging a few purchases for photo opportunities, I left with more scarves than intended. Back down at the river the village kids splashed about in the water, jumping off logs and generally having fun.
Pakbeng, halfway along the Mekong River between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang is our stop for the night and in fact the stop for everyone travelling down river. It is the only place with the guesthouses and restaurants to cater for guests. With the addition of electricity last year, I think it will grow quickly. Not much more than a village during the day, the place becomes a hive of activity as the evening boats dock in. Some enterprising local kids carried our bags uphill to the hotel for 20 baht each. I would have been quite happy to carry my bag the short distance, but their smiles and shows of muscles were too hard to resist.
Dinner was a comedic affair of mixed orders and missing dishes. The bottle of Beer Lao that I nursed while waiting for my meal though was light, crisp, and refreshing to drink as I watched the sun slip behind the hills, leaving a view as black as can be…and eventually I ate.
On the drive out, a lot of the houses in the Chiang Rai area reminded me of home and made me wonder why we ever stopped building this style. The wide eaves and raised floors really do make sense in this climate.
The border crossing from Thailand to Laos left me happy to be Australian. I only had to pay US$30 for my Lao visa compared to the $35 the Irish and American paid, and the $42 the Canadians paid.
After a tight squeeze into a small truck, our Laotian guide Soun transferred us to our slow boat, our ‘home’ for the next two days. It’s wonderful just sitting back, letting the cooling breeze blow gently over my face while looking out at the green hills that slide slowly by. I can feel the stress of work and everyday life slipping away with every passing minute.
Our ‘ships’ crew is a couple and their 3 sons, joining their parents river journeys for the school holidays. While the father captains the boat and the mother prepares lunch, the boys keep themselves occupied making miniature models of traditional pan-flutes…using spaghetti! Such is the ingenuity of children without Nintendos. Listening to the boys quietly sing as they play, I drift into a comfortable doze.
Returning to tradition, I arrived in the northern city of Chiang Rai under the cover of night. For us Chiang Rai is really just a stopover, before crossing the Laos border tomorrow. A late dinner in the open air market area accompanied by an ice-cold Singha beer was just the thing needed in the steamy evening weather. The air was filled by a repertoire of Beatles songs, played well by a couple of local guitarists. A strange interlude by a lip-syncing stripper left us both giggling and offering opinions on gender – we never did reach a conclusion on that one!
Sawadee ka! (Hello)
Stepping into the airport lobby the sky through the windows is threatening and suggests a time later than the 4pm it is. An afternoon shower has just rolled through. It is after all rainy season in Thailand.
After coming from ever-efficient Japan, the service of the airport transfer company that is to drive me to my hotel seems a little lax. However, the smiles I give in thanks are easily and genuinely returned.
On the drive to the hotel, I look out through rain-spotted windows at the city rolling by (for a change I’m not arriving in a new city by night). It seems to extend in every direction, providing space for Bangkok’s 11 million residents. Like Tokyo, it doesn’t seem to have a clear centre. My first impressions are of shiny hotels and office buildings rubbing shoulders with tumbling down shacks. Interspersed randomly between these are patches of inviting jungle green that somehow, by just looking at it, seems to lower the temperature by a few sultry degrees. I suspect that if left to its own devices, without human interference, this green would slowly take over the city, such is its wildness.
Along the raised expressways bubble-gum pink taxis zip along, while on the local roads below tuk-tuks, scooters and buses rule the roads.
Middle aged foreign men can be seen wandering the evening street markets with young Asian boys at their sides. Are they simply their sons, born of their Thai brides, or something more sinister? I feel guilty for wondering, but Bangkok is a city of such reputation, it is hard not to. Though, other than a furtive whisper offering tickets to a ‘show’, I have not been witness to the seediness that no doubt resides in Bangkok’s shadows.
A stop at a small supermarket after a welcome dinner of tom yum kun left me with high hopes for Thailand. After stacks of colourful fruit, I stumbled across nothing less than my favourite of snacks – Twisties!!! I’ve yet to taste them, but fingers crossed. (Update – did not live up to hopes. Nothing better than a no brand replica)