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Report Thailand III

Hi folks,                                                                                             24th June 2006

I haven't fallen off for a couple of weeks so no extra verse to the Bent crash bar song but I thought I would send this poem which should really have been with the last report as I copied it from the Museum at Hellfire Pass, site of the Burmese railway cuttings.

"Mates" by ex POW Duncan Butler 2/12 Field Ambulance

I've travelled down some lonely roads
Both crooked tracks and straight
An' I've learned life's noblest creed
Summed up in one word "Mate"

I'm thinking back across the years
(A thing I do of late)
An' this word sticks between my ears
You've got to have a mate

Someone who'll take you as you are
Regardless of your state
An' stand as firm as Ayres Rock
Because "e" is your mate

Me mind goes back to '43
To slavery and 'ate
When man's one chance to stay alive
Depended on 'is mate

With bamboo for a billie-can
An' bamboo for a plate
A bamboo paradise for bugs
Was bed for me and me mate

You'd slip and slither through the mud
An' curse your rotten fate
But then you'd hear a quiet word
"Don't drop your bundle, mate"

An' though it's all so long ago
This truth I have to state
A man don't know what lonely means
Til 'e 'as lost 'is mate

If there's a life that follers this
If there's a Golden Gate
The welcome that I want to hear
Is just:"Good on yer, mate"

An' so to all who ask us why
We keep these special dates
Like Anzac Day, I answer "why,
'We're thinking of our mates"

An' when I've left the drivers seat
An' handed in me plates
I'll tell old Peter at the door:
"I've come to join me MATES"

And now to the last couple weeks, action packed as usual. This report includes :Monkey business, Golden Triangle, money laundering and much more!!

Back in Chiang Mai I did a pretty daft thing and bought a fiddle at the Sunday market. A cheap , small one made by a local man. It has hardly any sound , which is great for practising and is the same length but much slimmer than the real thing so easier to carry. Ha, bloody ha!! How an earth can you keep a fiddle safe on a bike with the pouring rain and hot sun?? Of course I had to find a suitable case for it.

As I was waiting for my Loas visa , which would take a few days, I decided to catch a bus back down to the border town of Mae Sot, as an American volunteer had asked my advise on teaching English to some Buddhist monks . I took the fiddle in it's soft cover to show my musical friends there and also try and get a box made. Arriving that night I promptly broke a string while trying to retune it but went to the bar with my voice and whistle and ended up getting very drunk on Thai whisky in company with some of the other travellers and volunteers. It was with a big hangover that I went to teach for 2 hours the next day.

Fortunately, Rachan and his wife, who own the Crocodile Tear bar, also run a music school with stringed instruments and I went up there after my lesson to see the lovely music buildings they have made with mud bricks and to listen to the students practising some of the songs and tunes written by the King of Thailand, who is also a musician. Rachan's son offered to restring my fiddle and I returned the following day to play it with the other students, trying very hard to learn by ear the melodies (as I can't read music).

My 2nd English class that the morning had been especially entertaining for me as I taught the monks the Brown jug Polka. Would have loved a photo of this coup but the head monk wouldn't allow it. What a sight though, orange robes flying, hands clapping and grinning faces. None of us will forget that lesson in a hurry!

On the final evening was the special concert in some school grounds to celebrate the king's 60th Anniversary on the throne.(Must be like me and have a sore bum) Lots of Thai dancing, fireworks and finally the music ensemble to play the king's tunes. I was there ready with camera poised and just as they went into their final triumphal tune the heavens opened and there was a rush to get all the instruments off stage. My heart went out to them, after all the rehearsals not to be able to complete their program.

Well, back to Chaing Mai once more this time with the fiddle in a nice new tin box, lined inside and out for protection from heat etc. More weight for the Suzy.

Armed with a set of bright fluorescent orange waterproofs which dazzle me every time I see my elbows in the rear view mirrors, I left the city in company with some of the Chiang Mai Farang (foreigners) bikers as they were on a ride n/e and me north. After 90 odd kms we parted company, I was off to meet another Haefale aficionado, Michael, who owns a lovely tourist resort made with old Rice houses.  He especially welcomes the motorcycle groups that come to stay there in the biking season. www.doifarangbungalow.com After a brief visit I started my exploration of the north most part of Thailand finding some spectacular countryside and, a most amazing South Australian woman, Susan, who keeps 23 monkeys in a sanctuary that she has built in her garden. She saw me in the village looking for a place to stay and invited me to the home she shares with Yuki, her Japanese boyfriend. Enjoying their company I stayed an extra day and helped clean out the cages and entertain all with Yuki's guitar.

Next was the trip across the top to the Golden triangle Where Loas, Burma and Thailand meet) and the very interesting Opium museum. The King and Queen have set up this info centre as part of their clean up program for the drug

problem. www.goldentriangle.com Although there is little opium trade these days, apart from medical reasons, there is now a problem with amphetamines made in Burma and brought illegally over the border. Susan told me that they also have a problem with youth glue and petrol sniffing in some of these tribal villages. Shades of some aboriginal life in central Australia.

Following the mighty muddy Mekong river down to Chiang Khong I stayed with American David and his Thai wife, Mai, Bailey who have a BM or two and a lovely property which they are busy landscaping. They treated me to some G and T's and red wine, so it was real luxury!

As they were going down to Chiang Mai that weekend to meet a friend they rode a short way south with me, having pointed me in the right direction for all the pretty roads and sites before we parted company. I then rode on down to Nan, viewing waterfalls, caves and Wats (This is standard Thai tourism) and while there also took a trip out to a tribal village and a silver factory.

My route south and east towards my Loas entry point took me past an gorge with some interesting sand formations and to a little fishing village on a large lake. To continue I could have taken a ferry across and picked up the main road after a dirt road of 50kms. The locals said the road was good , all except 10kms of it, which was "rocks" Now, this may have been passable but, as I have said before, the rain makes a huge difference and I simply cannot take any risks because, unlike India, there aren't people around to pick me up. As there was no-one else taking this ferry and I could have been totally alone on this road, I dared not take the risk and had to back track and make a big detour to be safe. I still encountered some dirt which would have been a nightmare in the rain but, fortunately, the showers held off this stretch. Finally I spent the night in a Wat (temple) with the Buddhist monks and had a nice meal in the market. Had to laugh when the women I was talking to, on hearing where I was staying said "Do you realize that there are no women there, only monks, do you feel safe?"

My next stop was Udon Thani, site of a big US base during the Vietnam War. There are quite a few ex military who have settled with Thai women here and Eddy and Lucky are such. I had met them while they were in Chiang Mai on their bikes and they invited me to stay while I was passing through.

When I arrived at Lucky's place his wife, June, kindly offered to wash my clothes and pointed me to the shower. I stripped off and then on emerging went to put back on my clothes and money belt to find that she had dumped the whole lot from my clothes bag into the washing machine. Rushing to the machine before the full cycle started we retrieved a very wet money belt and spent the next hour drying out both passports, all the driving licences, import papers, money, credit cards, inoculation certificates etc, etc, that make up my whole existence and without which the journey comes to a complete halt!!

Luckily, apart from some very smudged stamps and crinkly pages, everything has survived. The paper money was literally laundered!! Poor June felt terrible but we all had a laugh and a beer over it. Accidents do happen  and I was lucky it wasn't worse. My money belt hasn't been washed in 14 months so it needed it.

I have been here for a couple of days enjoying their company while I wait for a new rear tyre to come from Bangkok before entering Loas. I thought the last one would make it to Oz but it won't so may as well change it now and then I don’t have to go back to Bangkok on my way south.

So far the fiddle has survived the rigours of being on the bike and it is great to get it out and have a practise on it when I have the opportunity. I now have a lagerphone( Australian percussion), Chimta,(Pakistan percussion) an Indian B flat whistle, a Clarke C whistle(UK) and a D whistle form Adelaide, Oz) Some Rajastan leg bells complete the music section, so I can always find something to entertain myself or others with!

Now, having got the new waterproof I have avoided getting really wet. I have also learnt to pull off the road when the really heavy showers start and wait for 10 minutes or so till it stops. If I have to continue the only bit that gets we now are my feet and hands and at least, unless at altitude, the rain is warm.

Again my thanks to everyone on this leg of the trip and I will send photos when I can. For anyone who has noticed there is some spam on my guest book which Heiner can't remove so please ignore it.

Lots of love to you all.


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