Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 295: Accidents will happen ....

Thankfully, most of the traffic accidents that we see are in movies or on television. Staged for dramatic effect by the wizards of Hollywood and Pinewood. The special effects departments can create Magical Shires in New Zealand and Robots that transform into even more amazing Robots, but they’ll never truly capture the earth moving sound of vehicle meeting vehicle, or of body meeting concrete. It’s not something that you simply ‘hear’, it’s an experience that instantly overwhelms all of your senses and something that pictures alone will never truly capture.
On the face of it, the dense traffic in any Thai city seems chaotic, dangerous, frantic and disorganised. In reality, it isn’t. Almost 80% of Thai’s ride motorbikes of one sort or another and they begin riding alone from as early as 8 or 9 years of age. The sheer density of bikes brings with it an awareness from car drivers that you simply wont find in Europe of America. There is no 'Shoulder' in the cities, so bikes generally keep to the left, undertake on the inside of cars and the system works beautifully well. "Sorry I didn’t see you" ( Sia jai, pom mia hen ter - เสียใจ ผม ไม่เห็น เธอ ) is a phrase that you’ll seldom hear in Thailand … mai pen rai

It’s early evening, Wednesday 24th of March, around 6:00pm and just before everything stops for the public tribute to The King. I’m walking away from the Fort Suranaree Hospital with a leg wound that’s been freshly molested by every Thai medic who’s remotely interested in how a Farang’s body reacts to pain …. Then the accident happens.

It’s a busy road, but due to the Thao Suranaree Festival, tonight it’s actually quite quiet. A Thai Lady, riding towards me on her red Honda Wave, a bag of shopping dangling from the handlebar and wearing the inevitable Thai smile. She’s doing nothing wrong, riding slowly, within the correct lane and seemingly paying attention. From the opposite direction, a Thai man travelling quickly aboard a silver Honda Sonic, talking on his mobile phone and overtaking a slower moving car on the outside. The bikes collide with a sickening crunch that seems to shake the buildings at either side of the road. A split second later, as the Thai Lady and her Honda Wave cartwheel through the air, you hear every shard of broken plastic as it hit’s the ground, and then the sickening ’Crump’ of metal and bones on concrete.

A middle-aged couple dash from the pavement towards where Lady and Bike have landed. I look to my right, the other Bike has stopped in the centre of the road, somehow the rider’s managed to stay upright and seemingly unscathed. I walk towards him but instead of rushing to assist, he starts hurling insults at his victim. And then he’s off. I catch hold of his flapping jacket but it just tears from my hand and he’s away down the road to anonymity. I turn around and the Lady and Bike are alone on the road. The middle-aged Thai couple hadn’t been rushing to her assistance, they’d simply taken the opportunity of a temporary break in the traffic to cross the fu**ing road. They’d totally ignored her.

A pool of blood is spreading out across the tarmac like something from a horror movie. Fortunately she has a crash helmet, but unfortunately when the other bike had hit her it was being carried in the forward basket and not on her bloody head. She’s hysterical and screaming at me ….. "rong-tao …. rong-tao". Rong-tao is Thai for 'Shoes', so she either has serious concussion or I have an awful lot more to learn about Thais.

A new packet of Kleenex Balsam Travel Tissues in my pocket, wrapper off and press the entire wad against where I think the blood is spurting from. It’s hard to tell, too much screaming, too much bloody hair. Bollocks. I’m trying to remember my First Aid and how to speak Thai at the same time, I might as well try to recite Homer’s Iliad while I’m at it. It’s bloody useless and nobody at all is looking to help. Screw this. The, dressing’s pressed against the wound, she’s still entangled in the bike but all of her limbs seem to be pointing in the right direction. She’s screaming at me now, and from what I can tell, the whole accident was entirely my fault. That’s gratitude for you. I suddenly realise that I’m an alien here, a stranger in a strange land and I need help. The traffic is just circling us so I stand up, walk in front of another bike and hope to hell that he stops. Thankfully, he does.

A second bike then stops to help, but only because he’s a mate of the guy that I‘ve just hijacked. The still screaming Lady is carried to the side of the road, she’s found her lost shoes and somebody is dragging her Honda Wave to join her. She’s loaded onto the first bike that I’d stopped and the riders friend jumps on behind her to make sure that she doesn’t fall off the back. They’re off to the hospital which is only 100 yards away, but no they’re not. The bike stops, she’s screaming about something else. The guy jumps off the back, runs towards me and picks up her crash helmet .. horse, stable door and bolted.

As my mind returns to planet earth, I stand at the side of the road covered in blood and wonder WTF has just happened? Quite possibly the most surreal five minutes of my entire life, but not quite. Then, to round off the experience, another unknown guy is now riding off down the road in the opposite direction on her swiftly resurrected Honda Wave. Thief or Good Samaritan? I have absolutely no idea and quite frankly, I’m beyond caring. Bring me some beer …. mai pen rai

Post 294: OK .. so it took a few attempts to get it right ....

.......................................................... and now it's your turn

Post 293: Roaming Rural Roads

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll say it again. Here in Thailand on a motorbike, you’re expected to ride on the left hand shoulder of the road. That is unless it’s a toll road or motorway, in which case you’re simply not allowed to be there at all. It actually works quite well, once you get used to it. Other drivers know where you are and you soon become accustomed to them brushing your right elbow as they speed past you overtaking two or three abreast. It’s a little like riding in London. A lot of people are wary of it, but once you’ve done it for a while you just think that everything is normal.

The main problem with riding on the shoulder, is one of obstacles. Sometimes it’s just sand and debris that’s been swept into your path, and sometimes it’s not. You get used to other motorbikes riding towards you, but sometimes you come across something a little unexpected.

Here, the local growers use the shoulder of the road to dry their chilli harvest during the day. They mark their individual territory with fallen twigs and branches and at night, they sweep the chilli carpet into neat little mounds which are actually slightly more difficult to see. That’s wrong, they’re quite easy to see in the beam of a motorcycle headlight, but in Thailand every motorbike has a carrying basket. Unfortunately, on every bike the basket sits directly in front of the headlight. If you carry anything in the basket at night, not only do you loose the lights beam, but it reflects back in your face and you can see absolutely bugger-all. I used to think that this was a stupid system, I wondered why the Thai’s didn’t carry their crap somewhere else on the bike, but now I’m doing exactly what they do ….. mai pen rai

Once you’ve avoided the oncoming motorcycles, the way too close for comfort speeding cars and the accidental/deliberate debris, you then encounter the road vendors. I first saw this in Russia. You ride along and for a few miles and every stall is selling exactly the same thing. In this photograph it just happens to be melons. After a few miles, the melons stop and the hammocks begin. After a few miles of hammocks, it’s kites then straw hats and then mermaid's nipples. It's quite wierd, but then this is Asia ..... mai pen rai

Then of course you run out of road. Everything for no apparent reason just stops. You’re riding on sand and there are always several tracks to follow. You assume that the most eroded track is the main one, but that’s not always the case. Maybe Sat Nav would be a useful thing, but I prefer just finding out what lies at the end of each track …. mai pen rai

Post 292: The Road to Korat

The road was hot, uncomfortably hot for an Englishman. It had turned from tarmac to sand but thankfully the little Yamaha objected far less than it’s rider. I was choking on the dust and frying in the intense heat. It reminded me of the Amur Highway, just a little hotter and with Palm Trees instead of Birches.
I was 23 Km from somewhere, possibly Kantharorom (กันทรารมย์). It was difficult to tell, the signs are all in Thai and my map only shows the Anglicised names for the smaller towns. It was definitely the ‘2412’ though, so at the very least I was moving South on the right road.

Everywhere that I stopped, the waterholes were either full of vegetation or buffalo, and to be quite honest, I didn’t really fancy swimming with either.

Then, I came across a bridge and heard the sound of laughter coming from below. Beneath the bridge was a river and in the river were snail pickers harvesting the river bed. I turned around and found a rough track running down to the bank. Closer to the water it was a good ten degrees cooler and in the water, it was just absolutely bloody perfect.

The snail pickers all looked at me and laughed as I swam around trying to cool down in the murky waters of the unknown river. “Jor-ra-kay …. Jor-ra-kay“. To them it was the funniest thing in the world and to me at the time, possibly the scariest. They were pointing behind me, moving towards the riverbank and screaming loudly … “jor-ra-kay…. jor-ra-kay”. It took me a few seconds to understand, but from somewhere in the depths of my mind, I suddenly realised that “Jor-ra-kay” was the Thai word for Corcodile.

Never let it be said that Thai’s have no sense of humour ……. bastards ( bu-dtra-nok-som-rot บุตรนอกสมรส ) …… mai pen rai

Post 291: Ya Mo Thao Suranaree

Ya Mo Thao Suranaree. It’s not a place, She’s actually an historical figure and I’ve probably murdered the translation and spelling of her name. Anyway, back in 1826 Ya Mo (Grandma Mo) set in place a rebellion against invading Laotian forces and was instrumental in giving back to Nakhom Ratchasima it’s freedom. In the centre of the City, close to the Chumphon Gate, her statue takes pride of place and is adorned with flowers and offerings from the good people of Korat who are undivided in their devotion. "Thao" means Lady and "Suranaree" means Brave, but "Lady" as a title rather than a simple generic term. Thao Suranarre …. "The Brave Lady".

In Thailand they enjoy their celebrations, they do more festivals than a promising Indy Band, but aside form the main events at Songkran and Loykrathong, this one seems to be the most fun. The square is a heaving mass of people, the entire population of Korat has turned out to honour Ya Mo. The smell of blossom and incense is so strong that you feel it rather than smell it. Everybody is smiling and I’m pushed towards the front where blessings are being given to all who wish to receive them. I resist the temptation. I’m an innocent bystander and in most categories, I’m already the luckiest boy in the world and I feel blessed enough just to be here.

Prayers are being chanted and all but one of the crowd join in with the appropriate responses. It’s not a religious ceremony and it’s hard to compare it to anything that I’ve ever seen in Europe. It’s just an absolute barrel of fun and the atmosphere is contagious. The crowd begin to circle the base of Ya Mo’s statue carrying offerings of food, flowers and drink. A rhythmical beat from the drums and it soon turns into the worlds largest and longest conga, but nobody is pissed. After several circulations, the beat changes and spontaneous dancing breaks out. WTF, nobody knows me here anyway, go with the flow .. mai pen rai

On occasions such as this, there are two things that usually amuse and annoy me in equal measures. The first is the obvious outsider who considers himself to be culturally cute and altogether down with the local movers. Normally he’s already become a caricature of the image that he wants to portray. If the local tradition is baggy clothing, then his will be baggier, if colourful then his will be the loudest, if beards are worn long, then his will be the longest. But tonight there is only me. I’m the only Farang in a crowd of thousands and to be brutally honest, I‘m down with nobody and culturally clueless as to what‘s happening. But you know what? I really don’t care .. mai pen rai

The second thing annoys me much more than it amuses me. The middle-aged middle-class fortune teller. Usually, but not exclusively, female. The interfering Auntie who sits and gives advice to those who seek it, and to those who don’t, on every subject that she knows absolutely nothing at all about. She probably speaks English and is of an age where 'Respect' in Thai culture is almost guaranteed. Her clothes will usually set her apart from the others and She’s so full of self-importance that there’s little room for anything else. These 'Aunties' give life changing advice based upon the look in a persons eyes or their favourite colours and numbers. Perhaps I’m being unkind, or perhaps I’m just a realist from a very different world, but if your favourite number is 9, does it really mean that you should abandon your dreams of becoming a Nurse and become a Nun instead? Or if you once wondered how snow would feel against your face, should you really leave your family behind you, move to Lapland and marry Father Christmas? The scary thing is that the people who take this advice actually act upon it and then call it 'Destiny' …. mai pen rai

Post 290: Ubon heading West (5 Posts Today)

Heading back West with the sun blazing above me, I pulled in for fuel and met the Buri Ram Classic Bike Club. No English sadly, but a warm welcome for the crazy ‘Angrit’ on his modernish scooter.

They assembled the bikes for a group picture, each wanting their own bike to take centre stage. I took photographs of all of them and everybody was happy.

As I packed away the camera, with my usual good timing, the yellow Honda C90 suddenly burst into flames. No warning, just spontaneous combustion. Panic. People running everywhere for water and me diving for my camera.

Thankfully the flames were extinguished before any serious damage was done, but sadly also before my camera was ready. In the aftermath, the C90 sat in a pool of water and seemingly refused to start.

On closer inspection, the C90 was running with an open carb, not even a bellmouth or K&N Filter. That’ll teach the guy that no matter what you’re riding, smoking never looks cool…… mai pen rai

One question that haunts me is this ..... Why do all Thai's look so cool on their scooters ... and I just look so bloody English? ..... mai pen rai

Post 289: Ubon Province

The roads here are strange. As a bike, I have to keep to the very left of the road, the area that in Blighty we’d call the ’Hard Shoulder’. That’s fine, but in parts the lane is littered with debris and more often than not, you meet something coming directly towards you. Then, the road just vanishes. No warning, just tarmac turning to sand. You have no idea how long the sand will last and in parts, it reminds me of the Amur Highway … just a little shorter and with more palm trees. Other traffic is variable. Kid’s on scooters as young as six or seven, buffalo walking along, a ten year old boy on his biycycle hitching a ride by holding onto the buffalo’s tail and the ever present tak-tak.
Then, you come upon something quite unexpected. Like this, it’s not Giverny, but with Monet’s eyesight, he could well have painted this.

Post 288: Towards Ubon Province

“Kun roo reu bplao waa nai tee nai?” (Do you know where this place is?). “Kun roo waa rohn raem yoo nai?'' (Do you know where a hotel is?). They answered both questions, but what they actually told me in reply I have absolutely no idea. The problem with trying to show-off and speak a little Thai, is that most people then assume that you really can speak Thai and actually answer you. The problem is that they talk too quickly, and as many have never attempted to understand a different language, they have no idea that talking more slowly could be in any way helpful. They speak Thai perfectly, so why would anybody else not also speak Thai perfectly …. mai pen rai
I need not have worried, for this is rural Thailand and my Hotel turned out to be the open-sided room at the top of the house where the question had been asked. Natural air conditioning, the sound of tak-a-tan filling the air until the early morning cockerel took over. Has nobody told them they should wait until dawn?

As dawn breaks, I’m up early and moving East. No I’m not. I showed an interest in the tak-tak. Tak-Tak is the all purpose tractor unit that replaced the buffalo in the rice fields and the bicycle as a means of taking the kids to school and the produce to market. I’ve wanted to ride/drive one since first seeing them back in the 80’s and now was my big chance. What can I say? A lot more complicated than it looks. I really didn’t dare take it out onto the open road but once again, at least I didn’t crash ….. mai pen rai
After the completion of my first tak-tak driving lesson, apparently I’m going fishing. I haven’t been fishing since I was a kid, but this fishing is slightly different. We arrive at a waterhole amid the seasonally dry rice fields. The waterholes catch the water during the rainy season, May to September, and are then used to flood the fields when the rains have stopped. The waterhole is full of weeds but apparently, it will also be full of fish. The weeds are cleared using a wide sweeping net and then the fish taken out for supper. The landowner is happy because the weeds have been cleared and the fisherman are happy with their catch. Life in harmony … mai pen rai

With the fishing completed, it’s then off on my way again ….. But first a little daily exercise 'a la Natthan Milward' at the Temple.

Post 287: Riding East .....

I’ve borrowed a bike. A ‘Yamaha Fresh II’, but it’s essentially a Honda C90 wearing a more fashionable frock. It’s got gears, four of them, all down. My toes well enough to handle them but it’s taking my brain sometime to get used to it. No room on the back for the box and it’s too heavy anyway. I’ll head East. I like East, it’s where the sun rises. Ubon Province is about as far East as you can go in Thailand before running out of country, and so for no better or worse reason than that ...... Ubon it is.

I hear the ‘Thud’ and feel a gentle shake of the Yamaha’s rear wheel. Too many years despatch riding, I know exactly what it is. A choice, stop or keep going? I pin the throttle wide open, which on this little thing makes very little difference. The speed increases but the bike is weaving like a pissed ferret. I crash up a gear, get the speed up to it’s maximum and hope that I paid attention in physics. The forces should keep the tyre inflated, I’ve tried it on the Bandit many times before and sometimes it actually works. Tyre walls on a Yamaha Fresh II are not as substantial as those on a Bandit, but at least I don’t crash ... mai pen rai The sleeping man in the hammock tells me one kilometre, possibly two. I figure on three at the very most and wobble my way eastwards to the promised puncture repair man. I know that a puncture repair kit isn’t going to work, the tube has exploded and I’ll need a replacement. Seven kilometres and the sign comes into view. A tractor tyre at the side of the road with the writing ’Yaang’. The tyre man is in the process of fixing a blown tyre on an oil tanker, so I smile and wait until he’s finished.
Ten minutes later, the Yamaha’s tyre is off revealing a huge tear in the inner tube. He strips it out, vanishes for a minute and then emerges from a dark cabinet with a perfectly sized new tube. Within ten minutes, I’m good to go again. “Tao rai?” (how much) …. “Bpaet sip’’ (eighty Baht, £1.60). I can hardly believe it, £1.60 for a new inner tube, fitted to the bike. I don’t ask for a discount, I just pay him 100 Baht and tell him to keep the change. I’ve just made his day. Nobody ever leaves a tip in rural Thailand, it’s just not the done thing … mai pen rai

Post 286: Vientiane ... Laos

Thai Consulate Vientiane .. take a ticket … take a seat .. enjoy the wait. Well, it’s done now, a shiny new 60 Day Thai visa in my about to expire passport. Not such good planning then.
Sitting beside the Mekong River, or "The Red Mekong" as they call it here, Vientiane seems almost as much a part of olden-day France as it does a part of modern-day Asia. Unlike Thailand, here they drive on the Right and the streets are ‘Rue’ and not ‘Soi’ but the language is essentially Isan and therefore the same as North Eastern Thailand. Café Society, Al Fresco dining on the banks of The Mekong … except they’ve moved the banks of the river. Land reclamation. A sign announces the development of a Public Park for the good people of Laos, but the plans suggest 10% Public Park and 90% Private Enterprise … mai pen rai

During the day, heavy machinery moves sand and cement from one part of the area to another creating a cloud of dust that shrouds the City. Water is then added and allowed to seep into the mixture. As the sun begins to set, scooters arrive towing trailers laden with restaurant equipment and the building site becomes a heaving throng of restaurants. Nobody seems to mind the dust or the compromised views, everybody just settles down and eats local food washed down with local beer, BeerLao …. quite delicious.

No disrespect to Laos, but if anybody is thinking of visiting here, then I’d personally leave it a year until it’s finished. The BeerlLao certainly helps remove the dust from the back of your throat and it’s really all quite quirky, but like any development area, it’ll be far nicer when it’s finished. Having said that, I commented in the last Post that nothing in Vientiane ever seemed to be finished … mai pen rai

Post 285: Vientiane .. Laos

Vientiane is the capital city of Laos PDR and literally translates as "City of Sandalwood" … apparently. "PDR", Peoples Democratic Republic, but I’m not sure exactly how ’Democratic’ that makes it. Laos is a communist country, but like in many other supposedly "Communist Countries" that I’ve visited, somebody forgot to tell the people. It’s no different to any other Capitalist Country, people do what they can to make the money that they need and 'more' is seemingly always better than 'less'. It’s just like Animal Farm but without the pigs and horses.

I think I like Vientiane. It’s kind of weird and quirky in a very unfinished sort of way. Lots of things seem to have been started, but nothing is quite complete. The "Freedom Gate" (Patuxay) was built in the 1960’s to celebrate their struggle for independence from France, but as conflict continued, they never quite got around to finishing it. The strange thing is that they actually seem quite proud of it’s 'unfinished' nature and celebrate it on plaques around it‘s base. It’s actually not very 'Asian' at all. It reminds me of the Arc de Triomphe and maybe that’s what it’s supposed to represent. Perhaps they wanted to rub French noses in it, or maybe they just found an old set of plans laying around and decided that it was the easiest option. Whatever the reason, the views from the top give great panoramic views of the City.
The temples around Vientiane are really quite shabby and I think I quite like that. None of the over-glossed Disney of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, these are crumbly affairs that are probably more beautiful for the neglect that they’ve enjoyed. The places are also empty, no people to spoil the atmosphere, no clicking cameras and nobody demanding extortionate entrance fees with different prices for locals and tourists. Access all areas, climb the walls and nobody seems to mind …. not that I would of course.

After three weeks of scooting about in and around Korat, I saw possibly three or four other Westerners ( Farang - ฝะ-หฺรั่ง ), but here in Vientiane there are plenty of them. These Farang seem to fall into four very different groups. Firstly there are the NGO workers and United Nations people who all seem to know each other and talk constantly about the good deeds that they do. The world over, these kindly folks tend to meet in the same places; European style coffee shops, boutique hotels and trendy little bars. I have no reason to doubt the good things that they achieve, but I’m sure that if they spent less time talking about them and more time doing them, then the world would be a much richer place for everyone. A persons arse will only accommodate so much sunshine, so when it’s full .... stop f**king blowing.

The second group are the Hippies, both old-time and born-again together in the same place. The folks who left Goa when it became too expensive and moved on from Thailand when it became too legitimate. It seems that baggy draw-string pants, braided hair and monk’s bags are the legitimate uniform for this group. They don’t seem to meet anywhere in particular, they just seem to wander. Maybe 'wandering' is therapeutic, but in a City the size of Vientiane, surly there is only so much wandering that one person can possibly do?

The third group is the group that I fall into. Visitors of convenience. Folk’s who have crossed the border for a couple of days to see what Vientiane has to offer and to renew or replace their visas for Thailand. As rules for visas are constantly changing, this group is probably now in the majority and Vientiane is beginning to establish a market to specifically meet their needs.

The fourth group of Farang are altogether quite different. They seem to be men of a certain age, all with suspiciously tinted hair, comb-over’s and quite a unique sense of style. They always seem to sit and walk alone, they come out from their hotels after dark and then vanish into the night. I might be jumping to the wrong conclusions about this third group of people, but in the region that made the AK47 famous …… there’s never one around when you really want to use one ... mai pen rai

( Thursday 18th March 2010 .. I'm about to start moving East on a Yamaha Fresh II .... so I'll probably be away from the Internet for a while .... I'll try and stay out of trouble )

Post 284: Into Laos

So, what do I know about Laos? Well, I should really give it the full name, the ‘Lao People’s Democratic Republic‘. The ’S’ was added by the French to distinguish ’Laos’ the Country from ’Lao’ the People, and the ’S’ is silent. The capital is Vientiane, it gained independence from France in 1949 and a civil war raged here until the communist party took full control in the mid 1970’s. Laos is probably famous for being the most bombed country in the world. Apparently between 1964 and 1973, Laos was hit by a B52 full of bombs on average once every eight minutes, day and night. That’s 260 million bombs, 80 million of which failed to explode and continued killing people long after the American’s had called it a day. The other thing that I know about Laos, is that it’s apparently the easiest location in which to renew a visa for Thailand.

The bus journey to the border should take four hours, but after seven hours I’m dropped off at Nong Kai and find a tuk-tuk to take me onto the Friendship Bridge, the crossing point between Thailand and Laos. On the way to the border, the friendly tuk-tuk rider invites me to buy a visa for Laos, but I’ve already read the script. At the border, a visa into Laos will cost me $30, but the tuk-tuk riders solution will cost me $40. He’s disappointed, but he’ll get over it.

At the Friendship Bridge, the atmosphere turns a little icy when I pull out my camera and try to take photographs. Not so ’Friendly’ then? Leaving Thailand is a breeze, but entering Laos at the other side of the Mekong River is not quite so easy. I don’t have any $ or Laos Kip, so I have to pay for my entry visa in Thai Baht, 1,500 of them and that’s roughly $50. Bugger, if only I hadn‘t tried to be so bloody clever I could have saved myself $10 and at the same time made the tuk-tuk riders day.

Inside Laos, it looks a little like Thailand but the cars are a little older and the people slightly less chatty. The taxi driver asks me ’where to?’, and I reply, ’the fountain’, thank goodness for Lonely Planet guides. Searching for a cheap hotel in Backpacker Central, the first is ’full’ but across the road is ’The Phoxy Hotel’. I can’t resist. Inside it’s not quite as Phoxy as the name suggests and the price is reasonable too, $10 per night. Tomorrow I’ll apply for my visa, collect it the following day and then travel back into Thailand the day after that. Three nights in Vientiane should be enough, and I’ll be heading back this way in a few weeks time anyway.

The other thing that I’ve noticed about Vientiane is the temperature, it’s bloody freezing here. I’ve travelled only three hundred miles North but the climate is totally different. I had to laugh though, the people are really quite ‘English’ in what they say … ‘if only you’d been here yesterday, it was lovely weather’. Being the well organised chap that I am, I haven’t brought any clothes with me so I‘ll either have to suffer the cold or go shopping. I find a money changer and decide that around £30 should see me through. Then I look at the ’Exchange Rate’ and hand over £80. In return I receive 1,024,000 Laos Kip. I’m an instant millionaire …. mai pen rai
I particularly enjoyed the items left and right #5 on the the Hotels disclaimer .... or should that be claimer? .....ไม่เป็นไร

Post 283: Bikes & Bits

When the opportunity to go to Vietnam and buy the 'Minsk' vanished ... more of which later, I was disappointed with the fact that by restricting myself to 'Rentals', I'd be missing out on the actual 'Riding Experience' that comes with 2-Wheel-Travel. However, for the first time in my life, I've ridden bikes that back home in Blighty I would never have considered worthy. I've discovered the 'Break-Back' and the 'Twist N Go' and it's been something of a revelation.

I met these Guy's from the Nogthong Classic Bike Club out on the road, all riding Honda Cubs. It was great to ride with them for an afternoon and at last I was with folks that I could actually keep pace with. It's a great experience, there's none of the cock-fighting that you get riding with
sports bikers back at home. Nobody gives a shit if you've got virgin sliders or shredded tyres, everybody just wants to laugh and have a great time ... no pressure ... mai pen rai.

Back in Korat, I came across this little beast ... the Honda Chaly ... with a few modifications. It's fitted with Nitros, but it's more about Vanity than Insanity. Sadly I couldn't arrange for a test-ride, but I'd love to try it one day ....

It seems that the Honda Cub is this years 'Black' ... and if Honda's marketing team are reading, which they used to do when waiting for my Tiger to explode in Siberia, then reintroduce the Cub in retro form .. but a pucker retro .. and you'll make a packet. (Copyright Blue88 .. Patents pending etc.)

Then there was this lump of lead parked at the side of the road. I was heading South after exploring a possible future business venture, and this was 'For Sale' at the side of the road. No documents, no papers, but yours for around £2,500.00, which in these parts is cheap for a big bike. I took it for a 'Spin', or should that be a 'Grunt', and returned it when the fuel tank was empty. After so long on scooters, I couldn't tell if it was a real Harley or a Honda in disguise. It felt great and sounded lovely, but it had gears and a clutch ..... way too much effort for a lazy arse like me .. mai pen rai

Post 282: Street Breakfast

Every morning in Thailand, just after sunrise, if you go down onto the streets you'll find saffron robed monks making their way to the temple. They'll carry their monk bags, a container and the obligatory iPhone ... all monks have iPhones. As the monks pass, I put a little food into their bowls, usually rice and a bottle of water into their bags. Apparently once inside the temple, monks can only consume that which has been grown or donated, they can not buy food. Why? ... I have absolutely no idea, ... but it's nice to 'give'.

Once my charitable deed for the day is done, it's time for 'Kow Dom', my favourite meal of the day, breakfast. Kow Dom is basically rice soup, and in Korat I buy it every morning from this happy girl a little way down the road from my room. It might not be the best kow dom in Korat, but it's served with the warmest smile. If I'm on the move, she'll serve it into a plastic bag and then drop a raw egg into the top and I'll eat it when I stop for my first coffee of the day. If I'm being idle, then I'll eat it at one of her plastic picnic tables while she chats to me at the speed of sound. I think she wants to marry me, or failing that perhaps one of her many daughters .. but it just feels great to sit surrounded by happy people on their way to work at 6:30am ..... that doesn't often happen in and around London.

Kow dom is rice soup with the addition of Pak (Vegetables), chunks of Meat (Neua) and Egg (Kai). It's not too spicy and it's a hell of a lot nicer than cornflakes. It probably wouldn't taste the same back in Blighty, few things do, but it's one of the things that makes me love this place so much. It's not simply the food, it's the whole opera that seems to surround it. It makes you sit back, take in the atmosphere and realise just how lucky you are .... mai pen rai