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.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Thailand And Laos 1998: Day Eight

Had I realised that today's excursion would turn out to be a series of shopping opportunities I might well have chosen to stay in the hotel again. As it was I was misled by the descriptions and went along with everyone else. It started promisingly enough with a visit to a stupa which was old and grey and not vastly interesting to look at in spite of its impressive size. The accompanying Wat was, unlike others I had seen, open on three sides and had inside a kind of raised platform at the closed end upon which various images of the Buddha were standing. This was a little more interesting as we sat cross legged and shoeless on the floor while Wit tried to teach us the basics of meditation and to explain something to us of Buddhism.
The posture was uncomfortable but Wit spoke entertainingly of the concept of Karma, good deeds being rewarded and bad deeds being punished. I had assumed previously that the punishments and rewards would be delayed until the next life but from Wit's description I gathered that they might be a little more quickly forthcoming.
"Perhaps," he said with the slight hesitancy and bobbing of the head that we had come to know, "If I do good things everything will go well. Uh-huh. Or perhaps if I do bad things my trips will not go so well. You see."
I considered the concept.
"So," I asked eventually "You do bad things on one trip and the next trip doesn't go so well ?"
He nodded at my simplistic explanation.
"I wish you had behaved better on your last trip."
He looked puzzled.
"You drink a little too much whisky last time and I fall down the stairs this time. It doesn't seem very fair does it ?"
After a few moments he worked it out and howled with laughter.
"Uh-huh" he said "Yes perhaps I will not drink too much whisky again."

Outside the stupa was a small market which, had I but realised it, was to be the most minor shopping opportunity of the day. I looked around for a while but found little of interest and soon we were on our way to the Golden Triangle. This is the name given to the region where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Mekong, the Ruak and the Sai Rivers. Of course the Golden Triangle is famous in the west for just one thing, Opium. Although the Thai government have spent enormous amounts of money on trying to destroy the opium trade and introduce other crops this has largely resulted in pushing it more and more into Myanmar and Laos. The annual output of the region, mostly from Myanmar, amounts to about 4000 tonnes. Much of the crop from Thailand and Myanmar simply crosses the border into northern Laos where there are many Heroin refineries.

We arrived at a one street town whose name I didn't catch which, in addition to its street had a steep climb up past a Wat to a viewpoint overlooking the river. Once there only two choices of entertainment presented themselves - standing under a sign saying Golden Triangle and having your picture taken with the river in the background or shopping in the row of stalls selling carved goods and clothes. Having climbed painfully up the hill I arrived just in time to climb painfully back down to eat lunch in one of the riverside cafes. Then it was back into the bus to drive on to Mae Sai. The descent into a shopping trip continued unabated as we had a ten minute tour of a jade factory followed by a compulsory visit to the very large and, to my mind rather expensive, factory shop. Clearly other people didn't share my aversion to enforced shopping as almost without exception the group started to bargain for goods. I left them to it and wandered up the road to have a look at the border post. Perhaps my perceptions were being coloured by my aching foot and sour mood but I found it to be an uninteresting feature in an uninteresting town. After about half an hour, with some considerable time left before we were due back at the buses I was getting bored and fed up and starting to wish that I had stayed in Chiang Rai. It was a considerable relief when it was time to go and even more of a relief to realise that we were heading straight back to the hotel.
Back in my room I massaged half a tube of anti-inflammatory gel into my foot in the hope that it might relieve the swelling and ease the pain and then went to the bar for a couple of beers with exactly the same intention.

Having been less than impressed with both the quality and the service during last nights meal tonight I went with Robert, Paula and James in search of a restaurant from the guide called La Cantina. The building where it was marked on the map proved to be opposite a garishly lit and blatantly sleazy sex club. It also proved to be closed. As we had been intending to meet quite a few others at the restaurant we decided to look around in case we had missed it somehow. We had hardly turned the corner when a plump man came running from his pavement restaurant and by sheer force of his salesmanship hauled us in. It was a pleasant enough place even if the TV was playing a Spice Girls concert (thankfully with the sound turned off). We all ordered pizzas from the menu and we were already tucking in when the manager came running over again with a large bowl of cooked diced tomatoes apologising for having forgotten to include them when making the pizzas.
Afterwards we went to an almost empty bar (not one of the sleazy ones) which Paula and James had visited the previous night. Here we met up with all of the others we had been supposed to meet in the restaurant. They informed us that had we walked another twenty yards we would have discovered that La Cantina was simply marked in the wrong place on the map and had a much better, although perhaps a little pricier, meal. While we drank and chatted a band played more bland versions of western pop songs. It had been a depressing, dull and unsuccessful day and after a very short time I decided to cry off and head back to bed. Tomorrow we were going to Laos. I wondered exactly what changes that would herald.