Thursday, October 27, 2005

Chiang Mai

After eventually arriving at Chiang Mai, I was beseiged by taxi touts trying to take you to their guesthouse. I decided I was just have a wander about, I had glanced at one of the maps and a guesthouse lay to the right. On reconsideration the map was probably upside down, as the reality is everything is to the left of the train station.

I had picked up a second-hand South East Asia LP at Khao San Road, but after checking it I found all the Chiang Mai pages had been ripped out. Anyway, I stopped one of these taxi-bus-songthaews and got him to take me to a guesthouse near the night bazaar.

Every night in Chiang Mai the pavements become crammed with street vendors selling their various wares. Although a lot of it looks like the same stuff! Then at the weekend there is the BIG night market in the old walled city. I went along to this and was suprised how busy it was. You end up just shuffling along slowly going with the crowds. No way out! Also as well as the usual handicrafts, there are some buskers doing their thing. Some traditional 4 string Thai instruments played with a bow, making strange noises.

One day I headed up the hill to Doi Suthep, a temple perched high above Chiang Mai. A series of steps leads you up to the temple itself. And there is a lot of gold used there! Golden pillars, golden statues, golden buddhas. Also a nice view back down to Chiang Mai itself. Quite a few cyclist stuggling up the big hill. Saw more cyclist in one day here than on my entire bike trip.

Tomorrow I head to the Thai border, where I should cross over the Mekong into Laos!

Friday, October 21, 2005



In 2548, after cycling over 3 million metres I arrived in Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. Which translates to 'The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.' or more commonly known as Bangkok. In Thailand they use the Buddhist calendar which starts 543 years before the Christian calendar, so 2005 is 2548. The final distance from Singapore to Bangkok on a roundabout route, and skipping a few bits by boat came to 3020km (1877 miles). Anyway, after all that cycling I decided it would be good to spend some time in one place, so I went flat-hunting. There are some places advertised in the Bangkok post, so I phoned them up, but most of them were full. I went to have a look at one place, and on my way I saw another apartment for rent, so I went and had a look. I decided to take this one and I was up in the 13th floor. Just a studio room, bigger than the other ones I had seen. And it had a fridge to store my cheese slices in!

I was staying close-ish to the Victory Monument skytrain station. A ten minute walk or so, and then I could jump on the train elsewhere. The skytrain and metro work well, which is a lot better than can be said for the roads which are pretty much constantly snarled up with traffic all day. Plenty of taxis, but all they do is sit in traffic jams, creating a haze of pollution! And don't even think about trying to cross the road as a pedestrian. Best to use a bridge. While the cars might all be still, the motorbikes will be weaving their way through the chaos.

I hadn't heard much music on my travels, so it was nice to be somewhere with a music scene. So I saw some good bands. Whilst I was staying in my guesthouse in Banglamphu I went to see a blues band play in the stangely names Ad the 13th. Geogia's Blues Band or something they were called. They played 5 nights a week, so plenty of practice. I chatted to a guy who had seen them quite a few times before, he'd been coming back to Thailand for a few years now. After the gig, the band were heading off to another music place, Saxophone, and invited us along. So we jumped in a taxi and arrived at Saxaphone, where another band was pumping out the tunes. It took me a while to realise, but the Saxaphone pub, was besides my flat, so I was in there a few times. Jazz-tastic!

Also went along to the Rock Pub, (great name, that must of taken a long time to think of) complete with large neon sign that says "School of Rock!". The first band up, weren't taking themselves to seriously, playing "I will survive"! I think they had a new line-up, a bit hesitant. Mind you better than I expected for a Tuesday night. Then the next band up were old school Classic Rock. With a long haired frontman, who looked like he should be in a shampoo advert, the thumb-plucking fat bassist (why are most bass players fat?) , the nonchalant guitar maestro and a Spinal Tap-esque rotation of drummers! They used up three drummers! The singer asked for any requests, and someone shouted out Foo Fighters and then they ended up playing Come As You Are, by Nirvana. I don't think I've ever seen a guitarist so bored, as he plodded through the song. He had previously just outplayed Jimmy Page on an old Led Zep number.

Also popped along to see a Thai Folk Band. Well one drunk guy in the corner liked the songs as he sang along and clapped (out of time), but somehow having lyrics in an unknown language doesn't work for me. Another night I went along to Tokyo Joes, where a guy, Ryan Adam was playing eclectic accoustic songs. Kinda strange, but quite good. Also saw a band called Live after Nine, who had a slightly crazy electric fiddle playing front man. Played some old Irish songs (Aah, ooh, me-daddio there's whisky at the bar), as they were Canadian. The frontman had a wireless thingy so he could run about the pub as he played "the world's fastest fiddle song". Done a good version of the ants go marching in one-by-one!

Nearby at Victory Point there was a food court, one time I got some nice pork, rice, bbq sauce and some noodle soup. They also give you another clear soup to go with the pork. I made the mistake of finishing it before I had eaten all the rest of my meal, and the guy whipped it away and replaced it full again. Oh, I've only had 2 bowls of soup. Please, Sir, can I have some more? Also popular here is the English Premier league, due to the time difference it airs on Saturday night. When you see Thai guys slagging off each other teams.

I managed to catch the flu in Bangkok, so I slept a lot! (Yes, even more than usual) At least it wasn't bird flu! Somehow a month whizzed by and it was time to move on. I bought a sleeper train ticket to Chiang Mai, and then lost the ticket! I didn't know the number so I couldn't get it re-issued. Ended up with a normal seat for 14 hours. Numb bum!