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Report Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand 5.June 2006

Hi folks,

In Thailand during monsoon it is not the place to be. My visor was all misted up and I could hardly see. So en route to a waterfall the mud road came suddenly … Oops and I've fallen off again!

As you can see, after my luxury time in the penthouse in Kuala Lumpur I have come down to earth with a bump! Here are the details.

I left KL by train, a 2 night trip , which was a lot more comfy in the sleeper than I had been on the bus on the way down (Thanks to Choo and Jenny for this). On arriving at the guest house I picked up the bike and said farewell to Ralf and Eva who were heading to Cambodia while I decided to go north to rendezvous with Chris and Elke, the Belgians on Transalps that I had last seen on my birthday in India. They were coming down from Chiang Mai so I could meet them in a couple of days en route at a border town near Burma.

It's always a hassle getting out of a big city and, though it looked easy on the map, guess what, I was immediately lost and ended up being on a freeway. As in Pakistan bikes aren't allowed on them and I was flagged down by a cop. I foolishly stopped, mainly cos I wanted to ask him the way. He immediately demanded a 1000 baht fine (about 18 Euros) which I refused to pay. He tried to take my bike key but I covered it with my hand. I kept smiling and said I had just arrived in Thailand and didn't know the rule.(This was all in Thai, but I got the gist) He said that I must lock the bike and come to the police station. I said no, he could show me the way on his bike but I wasn't leaving my bike. We were at stale mate so I just at there, smiling and wondering how long this was going to take. It went on for about half hour, he demanding money and me refusing. Eventually I asked his name and introduced myself and suddenly he waved me off and wished me luck. I was out of there!

My aim was for Kanchanaburi and the famous Bridge over the River Kwai. Japanese used Allied and Anzac prisoners of war and Malaysians workers to construct a railway to Burma for supplies. Thousands of men died and the survivors told tales of incredible cruelty.

Having stopped for the obligatory photo and walk across the bridge I continued to find a fellow overlander, Ben, who was doing some voluntary work looking after tigers in a monastery. The abbot has been collecting orphan tigers for a few years and is building a sanctuary for them, Hence a pretty hefty entrance fee but you are able to actually touch the tigers and they are  impressive beasts. Luckily I could also stay the night there with the other foreign volunteers and, as it was a wet ride there, was able to get out of the rain for a bit.

The next morning I continued to Hell Fire Pass, another site where you can walk along the railway and see how hard the men had to work to make cuttings through the rocks. As the pressure increased for the railway to be finished the Japanese insisted on 24/7 work which meant the use of blazing torches during the night, thus the name. This site, much quieter than the Bridge, is run by an Australian and I was able to do the 4 km walk through the jungle in peace and get the feeling of the place. Shades of Gallipoli.

Pouring rain again and, unable to find a guest house I was finally invited to share a cabin with a local teacher and her boyfriend. As it was their weekend love nest I felt very privileged to be invited to use the spare bedroom and also be treated to an evening meal , with beer!

Leaving very early to leave the lovers in peace I headed off into the jungle area to locate a waterfall. As it was pouring with rain my visor misted up and the next thing I knew the paved road ended and I was on very slippery mud. Thump!. on the ground, no one in sight and the bike over the horizontal and totally impossible to move. Panic. Silly really, I should have taken a photo but I was thinking of petrol and battery acid escaping and wondering where the hell I was going to get help. About 1 km back I had stopped at a small house to confirm the way and luckily this must have been that of the local guide for a few minutes later he arrived on his little bike. It took the 2 of us about 20 minutes or so to get the panniers off the bike and pick it up. He had a gammy leg and I felt my back go as we slipped and slid trying to get a grip. Finally upright again I followed him up to the cave which wasn't that good and then I fell heavily on my backside while walking barefoot down the track. Muttering about the Thai wet season I continued, having given the guide a good tip. The evening saw me bedded down on the floor in a large Buddhist temple at the next town. I have since discovered that I was lucky, not all monasteries allow women to stay.

The next morning I spent quite some time looking for a Glass workers village. Thailand has great roads and signs but they don’t give kilometre details for these attractions so I went round in circles for 30kms finally finding the village with some local help. As the day was dark and stormy I headed on over a pass to reach the border town of Mae Sot, had a note from Chris and Elke that they would be there the following day and collapsed into a bed at a friendly guest house.

What weather, you can hardly see for the rain and I even made some enquiries about teaching English as I felt that I would be unable to continue in this type of deluge. Chris and Elke had a very wet ride but arrived with broad grins on their friendly faces and their bikes typically loaded with yet more souvenirs! They had unloaded the last collection in Bangkok and were busy accumulating more... literally suitcases full! We had a great night in the local bar, Crocodile Tears, where the Thai musician, Rachan, was brilliant and , when I borrowed his guitar, he accompanied me on piano. Amazing all the songs he knew. A few beers were downed that night.

Elke and Chris needed to do a border run to renew their Thai visa so we all spent a day walking over the bridge into Burma and seeing all the smugglers trying to sell their whisky and cigarettes on the Thai side. It was just like being back on the Gibraltar/Spanish border!! I felt really at home there. Chris and Elke were on the look out for a lucky jade lion statue to help with their upcoming business plans so we toured all the market areas and ended up back at the bar that night for more singing and drinking.

Well, the time eventually came to leave again and I headed north to Chiang Mai while Chris and Elke started on the last leg on their SE Asia trip, to go south to Malaysia and then ship home. It had been six months since we last met and I don’t know when I will see them again so it was a sad farewell, more faraway friends though.

My ride to Chaing Mai was blessedly dry and I found a nice friendly, cheap guest house and spent the next few days sightseeing all the temples and catching up with the local bike crowd, Aussie, American and German, and getting info on what I should do next. John, who runs the Jonadda Guest house, is also a bass guitarist and pointed me in the direction of a jam session pub where he joined in one night for a few songs. I also had a back massage to alleviate the ache that had been with me since my fall.

Joe, the German bike shop man, another Haefale aficionado, helped me reset my choke which was jammed on and I treated the bike to a new set of plugs, oiled the chain and finally found a visor to fit my helmet so I would have some better rain protection. Then I was off on the Mae Hong Son Loop, about 1000kms up and around some Burmese border towns and tribal villages.

My first stop was at an elephant camp which was amazing. Not only was there very detailed info on the life span and treatment of the animals but you could visit the baby elephant nursery, watch the adults being  bathed, and then see a show put on by them and their handlers which included the animals playing football, dancing and playing harmonicas, log hauling and rolling, one elephant massaged his mahout with trunk and foot and then, the peice de resistance, the elephants actually painted some pictures! The mahouts put out the easels with paper and places the brush in their trunks and the elephants did the rest. I was gobsmacked! The results were beautiful and, had I been in the market for a painting, I would have bought one. I thought a lot about my mother here as she used to collect elephant ornaments and would have been so happy to be there. I'm sure she was watching from above.

The road was smooth and dry, for a change, and I took a turn off to see a gyser and then stayed in a rush hut by the river in Pai, a trendy backpackers tourist town where you can go on jungle treks. I made my own the next day following a river up to find a waterfall. Unfortunately the last bit entailed rock climbing and, had I not been alone I would have attempted it but, not having seen anyone all day I thought it was a bit unwise to try. Had I been in India there was bound to have been someone pop up out of the undergrowth but Thailand is a different kettle of fish and I do tend to feel more isolated here. Still, I had a good days walk and my feet and sandals were a lot cleaner for having walked more in than by the river while looking for the elusive track, The thick tree cover kept the temperature perfect for walking and there were jungle sounds of cicadas and frogs. Inspiration to play The Butterfly on my whistle.

Back on the road to find yet another cave, reputedly the biggest in Thailand. I just saw a small part. Unfortunately recent price increases for foreign tourists have made many of these attractions way out of my budget, and, after all, caves and waterfalls are pretty much the same all over the world.

I went up to another Burmese border post as there is a village inhabited by many Chinese immigrants who have brought their tea drinking customs with them and you are able to try Umlang, Ginsing and Jasmine tea there. Such a nice little village I looked around for somewhere to camp. The last 2 nights had been dry so I thought I would take the risk. Wrong. A charming young teacher said I could camp in her garden but, as soon as I had the tent up the skies opened. Fortunately there was an empty rush hut next to her house so I hurriedly decamped in to it, not without getting very damp in the process.

The next morning I accompanied her to school and taught a song to one of her classes, it was very interesting to note her teaching methods and to see that she had a stick in her hand which was frequently used to give the students a little tap when they weren't working hard enough. Also a hand tap on the head. You could just imagine the uproar this would cause in English schools! It reminded me of my own school days and the clip round the ear and caning I often received. Didn't do me any harm now, did it???

While there was a break between showers I took the opportunity to pack the bike and find a very interesting village inhabited by a refugee Burmese tribe called Long necked Karen. These women start wearing brass rings around their neck from age 5 onwards and this has the effect of pushing down their shoulders and thereby lengthening their necks. They also wear rings on their legs. One woman was bearing a total weight of 12 kgs. 6 around her neck and 3 on each leg.

Another refugee tribe living in the same village are called Long Ears as the women wear heavy earrings which pull their lobes down.

The Thai government do not give these people residence papers and they are not allowed travel outside the immediate villages. They earn a living by making souvenirs for the tourists who come to visit them. I was really impressed by how good their English was and they told me they learnt languages from the tourists and also by watching television. Their power is totally supplied by truck batteries that are charged by generator in a nearby village every 3-4 days. I was told that this village had been in existence for about 20 years. It seemed a shame that they hadn't been helped with solar panels but obviously there are political problems at work here.

A night in the very pretty and well kept town of Mae Song Hon (whose Buddhist temple didn't allow women boarders) and I did the last 300kms back to Chiang Mai. Great roads but heavy rain over the mountain pass so I was a drowned rat returning to its lair.

Now I must decide what to do next. It will take about 4 days to get a Laos visa during which time I may return by bus to Mae Sot to help another teacher there for a few days. I would like to get a waterproof jacket that will withstand this torrential rain but who knows.

If anyone has a chance to find some Barbour mitts for me and post them I would be very grateful and could pick them up in Malaysia. I am really lost without them, as I have used them all my life and they are the only thing that keep my hands warm and dry. Perhaps an English reader could contact Barbour to see if they still make them, or maybe someone has an old pair hidden away.

As usual my thanks to everyone I have met on this leg of the journey, it has been very interesting, despite the adverse weather and I am learning a lot, as usual.


lots of love


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