Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Thailand And Laos 1998: Day 3

It was a restless night. First there was the problem of the noisy drunk Germans in the opposite berth swigging whisky, making passes at the stewardesses and generally being loud and obnoxious. They settled down though and I started to doze but another problem stopped it being more than a light and frequently broken sleep. The bunk was actually pretty comfortable and I found the motion of the train soothing enough, apart from at the stations. There it was a different story. While the train in motion was fairly smooth it stopped and started with the elegance and grace of a Goony bird. Every arrival pitched me to the front of the bunk and every departure to the back. If not for the leather straps everyone would have ended up on the floor a dozen times. All the same I managed to sleep in twenty minute bursts until about four O'clock when an early riser in a nearby bunk got up and dismantled his bunk so noisily that he probably woke the whole compartment. It certainly woke me. Afterwards I found it impossible to drift off again so that by the time we arrived in Chiang Mai at six thirty I was feeling fairly wretched.

We transferred to buses which drove us to our hotel which was bright and modern with a heavy preponderance of dark wood in the lobby and a small swimming pool at the rear. The rooms were clean and comfortable if nothing out of the ordinary. After a break to freshen up we met up for a short walking tour of the town. This led us through a clean, modern and unremarkable market, round several streets of shops that apart from the language seemed identical to their western counterparts, past a couple of temples that we didn't stop to explore and finished up at the uninspired 'Three Kings Monument'. There seemed to be little of interest and by the time we boarded our bus for the ride to Wat Phra Doi Suthep we were all glad to be on our way to somewhere else.

Wat Phra is a temple built on the peak of Doi Suthep and named after a hermit who lived there before King Keu Naone ordered its construction.  According to legend the king released three elephants saying that he would build a temple where they rested. I had a mental picture of the hermit jumping up and down frantically trying to wave the elephants away from his home so that the king would build somewhere else.

After running the gauntlet of the souvenir salesmen and ascending 300 steps, the Wat itself is small but interesting and the views out over the plain are marred only by the perpetual heat and pollution haze. Several of the group had their fortunes told. In this numbered sticks are placed in a cup which you shake gently until one falls out. The fortunes are written on numbered papers and the one that matches is yours. Either the fortunes are obscure or Wit's translations were inadequate as none of them made any kind of sense at all. By now I was however already beginning to tire of temples.

We arrived back at the hotel with just enough time to eat lunch locally before the optional visit to a 'crafts factory'. I went, with Robert and Ellen, to a tiny local cafe on the opposite corner of the street to the hotel. I had been prepared to choose dishes randomly by pointing at Thai words but the menu contained English translations although no-one seemed to speak the language. I toyed with the idea of 'Spicy Frog Chilli' or 'Jungle Curry with Frog' but eventually asked for the marginally safer choice of 'Wild Boar Green Curry'. The wild boar, I was informed in mime, was off. My reckless moment had passed and I ordered one of the many chicken dishes. Ellen went for a very hot curry and Robert for the only western dish on the menu - steak. The whole thing, complete with four bottles of beer between us came to £1.50. I was already getting the idea that spending money in Thailand and Laos was likely to be difficult.

The idea of a visit to a 'Craft Factory' is only ever appealing to someone who intends, or least is willing to consider, buying the crafts on offer. I wasn't so I opted instead for an afternoon by the pool, drinking, reading and - just occasionally - swimming. It was all most relaxing and followed by a hot shower prepared me nicely to go out for our evening meal. A group of us had decided to find a restaurant called 'The Riverside'. This was highly recommended both by our various guidebooks and by Wit. We strolled down to the river and over the bridge. Initially we turned left but soon realised that we were wrong. At a restaurant called 'The Shallott' we asked directions. It was a large clean, well lit and well decorated place with a band playing anodyne versions of western pop songs. It was also completely empty. We felt so guilty at asking directions to another restaurant that we stayed and had a drink. As we drank twelve waiters hovered anxiously nearby as if the force of their will power might convince us to order a meal.

When we had drunk up and paid we went back the way we had come and continued on down the road through an area that was poorly lit and distinctly unpromising. Suddenly a large wooden building loomed up on the right and we realised that we had found 'the Riverside'. Inside it was crowded and lively. A much better band were playing note perfect copies of western rock music. As we entered they were performing an Eric Clapton song.
We sat and ordered and the food when it came, barely fifteen minutes later, was excellent. Conversation died to a minimum as we all ate appreciatively. Once again a two course meal complete with beer and wine turned out to be less than five pounds a head for one of the nicest oriental meals I have ever eaten. Taking our drinks we moved downstairs and out onto the terrace. The band had now moved onto an extended set of Pink Floyd numbers which were indistinguishable from the originals. The beautifully decorated terrace was filled with people, both western and Thai, all having a great time, the lights of the city could be seen across the river, everything was just about perfect.