Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wandering Around....

After Hangzhou I got a cheap flight down to Guangzhou staying again on Shaiman Island. It is so much easier finding your guesthouse when you’ve been there before! And now just a few short months later they had built a handy bridge over the highway. A few nice restaurants dot the island, perfect place for a slow lunch. Next a short train journey brought me back to Hong Kong again staying in the same place, the somewhat crumbling and optimistically named Mirador Mansions. From the outside of the building the surface is pitted with air-conditioning units, cheerily dripping water on unsuspecting pedestrians far below. A huge mixing pot of cultures is in evidence just by the way people dress. From saris to burkhas to suits and back, you’ll see it here.

I took a stroll around snapping pictures, coming across some sort of demonstration that had brought out the local TV crew. Although I doubt it was adhoc as small area was tagged as the demonstration area. The only other bit of English writing said “Legislation Now!”, so I’ve no idea what it was about. The Hong Kong media must be a lot freer than the mainland Chinese media. Down at the ferry there is people handing out leaflets about how practioners of a religious group, Falun Gong, are persecuted. According to them prisoners are being used as organ donors. Hospitals will arrange for liver transplants from freshly executed prisoners. More .here.

Onto Macau, which has a couple of fancy new expensive casinos added since last time I was here! Reports indicate it is expected to overtake the Las Vegas strip profit, and become the world’s premiere gambling spot. Did I mention the new six star hotel, they were fully booked so I had to stay elsewhere :) Oh yeah, one of the casinos is underwater…. strange place Macau. I opted for a rather delicious dinner in a nearby restaurant of which Macau has many. It was from here I flew over to Bangkok and into the fancy new airport. For some reason the Air Asia flight were already flying into Suavbhumi airport a day before the official opening. As they were only a handful of flights it was very quiet, allowing me to change my money and get onward transport without too much a headache.

A short stay in Bangkok, the most memorable event being sipping a beer on the 83rd floor of the Baiyoke Tower. Interesting to try and work out the layout of a big city from up in the sky. Back down on ground level a stroll around Khao San road is always interesting the ideal people watching road! Dotted around are people getting their hair braided, just browsing through the stalls, or sitting in a roadside café watching people watching the people go by. Good place to pick up some new books as well, I offloaded my LP China and bought a couple of novels. Food ranges from simple food on a skewer to the ubiquitous rice with something/anything dishes. I spotted a “British Café” which had fish and chips, but it didn’t really taste like home, where’s the grease??

I had to decide to nip back to Chiang Mai and pop into the dentist as they had advised that I need a filling, but I was flying to China the next day. I had one look at the dentists in China and decided it could wait. They are like barbershops where you are sat in a chair beside the window and then your teeth are all pulled out because of a verbal misunderstanding. At least that’s what I imagine would happen. I did go into one place but stumped them by asking if anyone speaks English.

So back in Chiang Mai but the next free time is not for ten days, and so off again. This time a winding bus ride through the hills to the valley hangout of Pai. A cluster of guesthouse, cafes and bars set pretty much in the middle of nowhere. A few long timers hiding out here, not surprising as you can get a house in beautiful surroundings for 4000baht/month. T-Shirt vendors sell shirts proclaiming “I did nothing in Pai” and yes it is a relaxing place, kick back read a book, listen to some music at night.

Quite lively on Friday with a few band playing on a stage in the main street. Some “imaginative” ska dancing was seen. Winner of the best dancer goes to the guy with the mullet, as he was also making the singer laugh when burning down the dancefloor. In contrast Saturday seemed dead, didn’t seem to be anything happening, maybe it was too early in the night, maybe it was Sunday? Easy place to lose track of the days! Anyway I decided to rent a bike and the weather gods decided to throw a bucket of rain on my head. I pushed on to Pai Canyon regardless. A curious natural phenomenon where a tiny ridge pathway is left while the surrounding ground has been eroded into a sheer drop. Only about 1/2m wide at some points, you should watch your balance if you don’t want to die! After surviving that I jumped back on the bike and past a World War II bridge built here. The idea being to push Japanese troops up from Bangkok to Burma. Over the river I looked about for a place to get a drink. I asked a Thai restaurant having a somewhat confused conversation. I thought they had coffee, but they were saying there is a café around the corner. I found this Café Del Doi, nice views over the Pai River here. After a refreshing grape juice back on the bike and past a handful of elephant camps, and just beating more rain to head back into Pai town proper.

I jumped on the bus onwards to Mae Hong Son, a small town of only 7000 people, but curiously enough with its one airport. A fact very apparent when I headed up to the temple on the hill and had a look out over the town. The airport runway strip appears slap bang in the middle of town! Trekking is probably the most popular activity out this way, but I just bought new shoes and have blisters breaking them in. Cue “Aaaaaw” from the audience. I thought I might take a bus or songthaew out to Fish Cave to have a look around, but after talking to the guesthouse staff it seemed that was ruled out. I would be able to get there, I just wouldn’t get any transport back! Oh well, at least I was given a free bottle of Lychee Wine, which taste as good as you would imagine. Some more live music here, although more traditional Thai music than most in Pai. There is a carnival in town at the moment bringing all the excitement with it. The most popular thing has to be bingo, closely followed by a game of pop the balloons with the darts and win a cuddly toy. Although it was mostly traditional music, it did lapse into reggae for a few songs, which was a bit unexpected. Shabba!

Heading back to the dentist in Chiang Mai, I broke the journey with another couple of days at Pai again. On the bus I met a young English bloke, Rob, who had been teaching English in a Karen village. The Karen are one of the best known hill tribe as some of the tribes wear the golden neck bracelets which depresses the collar bone giving the appearance of a long neck, hence the long-neck Karen tours. Although where Rob was teaching they didn’t have this practice. Having been on in the sticks for a couple of months, he was salvating at the wide choice of Western food in Pai. I think he lived of fish for two months. After a satisfying dinner, I had the exotic pork chops, we headed out to the edge of town to a bar called BeBop. But as there was a power cut nothing was happening, no music. Still at least you could see the Milky Way!

After the dentist in Chiang Mai I flew down to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. I organised my plans for the rest of the year. One of the goods things about KL is the food and the fact I can read the menu (mostly)! Lots of Malaysian/Indian food is available for reasonable prices. Although I couldn’t find a thali, I settled for a Nasi Daging (spicy beef with rice) with a dosa (big crepe with a couple of dipping sauces). A simple breakfast if Roti Canai, flatbread with sauce and Milo Ais (Iced Chocolate Milkshake) Of course I had to have Ayam Goreng (Fried Chicken) always seems delicious in Malaysia. Another tasty dish was Ikan Bakar (Grilled Fish), stringray cooked on a hotplate. The fish was slitted and covered in salt, and then the sauce was rubbed in before being cooked on a hotplate with oil. Also very tasty, although the sidedish of sauce was too spicy for me. A stroll around, refreshed the memories, although I still got lost. Mostly in Times Square, a massive 10-13 level shopping mall, with 5 basements judging from the lift buttons (could be the carpark?) Next stop was a bus journey back up to the Spice Island, Penang. Well except all the buses were full, so I jumped on a bus heading North to the Cameron Highlands for a quick look about. Nice enough place, but probably better to stay outside the town in the natural surroundings, but that would entail an expensive resort! I took a stroll through the woods on a trail, heading up to the top of the hill and rising above was the watchtower. Good views from the top across the rolling hills, in the distance some rain coming in, back to the hotel! Next day I got the slow bus to Penang, going along down these winding roads takes hours

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