Bangkok, my old friend, back again in your embrace. Paul Theroux is adamant in his description of Bangkok as “a hugely preposterous city of temples and brothels” and though I haven’t been that bold in my explorations, I concur. I am in transit, leaving to the Gomorrah of the East – Macau, city of a thousand one armed bandits!

Chiang Mai. This city is the largest in the north of Thailand and the gateway to treks, waterfalls, national parks and the isolated border areas near Burma and Laos. I took the night train, 2nd class, and compared it with my Vietnamese experience. White, sterile, the harsh fluorescent light remaining on all night which makes a comparison with an operating theatre not too far astray. The air conditioning was nicely tuned to keep frozen meat frozen. Less use for those attempting to sleep shivering in their shorts and t-shirts.

Chiang Mai is laid out with an old moat surrounding an ‘old’ city and the larger city sprawling beyond and around. It is bisected by some major roads and little sois come off these which follow the old water buffalo tracks and it is studded with old wats that rise above the surrounding houses. There is a fairly strict height law in place which restricts buildings near wats which almost excludes all of the city in the wall from buildings more than two stories high. 

I really hit the jack pot and rambled into a wonderful guest house called Giant House which while simple, did have the kitchen area opening straight onto the street and a collection of disparate inhabitants from all corners of the world. Many of them were on two week massage courses and I sadly only received one brief back rub on the last day from a friendly Tibetan! They had complimentary bikes so I entertained myself by losing my way in the little lanes, coming across wonderful organic food restaurants and jazz bars.

I probably should mention that at some point during some long term travel, one gets nostalgic for some rest (I know how this sounds…) and a desire to stay in one place for a bit. Chiang Mai is such a place. I visited the local university for a film viewing, was invited to enter a massage course, narrowly missed out on visiting a palmist, stayed up all night talking to a Dutch girl who discovered the keen southern man in Southland and went on a cooking course! Delicious stuff those cooking courses.  For one day I cooked eight dishes including pad thai, chicken green curry, tofu masaman curry, spring rolls, T.V.P with basil leaf (my biggest miss) and fried bananas with ice cream! Lots of fun and I certainly enjoyed the flaming wok and lack of washing up.

Train travel. What a wonderful way to travel! I am ranting now for I have been inspired by Paul Theroux’s book where he travels for four months from London to Japan and back on the Trans-Siberian. Of course he completed that 35 years ago so probably not as relevant now but certainly one of the best books I’ve read on my trip so far. The perfect accompaniment and I believes now that reading ‘on scene’ is much more powerful. My own trip back to Bangkok via train was wonderful – overnight but with enough daylight to take in the electricity pylons straddling the land like the bridges of cellos, a green fastness enclosing the train as we sped through jungle over rusty bridges, being fed some poor excuse for a chicken rice dish (the worst meal I’ve had in Thailand so far), woken by my friendly top bunk mate drunk as a skunk after a session in the dining car on Chang and again experiencing the fear that my bag will be stolen while I sleep, the carriage being one long compartment. Why was getting to sleep on thetrain such hard work? You’d think the rhythmic clickity-clack, swaying motion, harsh fluorescent bulbs, the regular tramp of the guards boots and the slam of the door as persons unknown enter and exit the carriage would lull me. 

My final day in Bangkok sped by, dropped my bag off at 6am and straight to the Chinese embassy to pick up my passport, burnt all photos to DVD, bought a fake ISIC card, posted two packages full of presents home, uploaded all photos to Flickr as backup, completed my income tax return and posted, sold my read books and bought the Count of Monte Cristo, received a one hour foot and lower leg Thai massage (feet like semi-soft butter!), met a fellow kiwi and finally sat down and started and finished Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Finished off with a wonderful red curry and masaman curry with A. which really rounded Southeast Asia off. So long!

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