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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The last several days at Viking were fairly quiet. There were some Australian girls from Sydney who pleaded me into showing them around Phi Phi for an evening as they had just arrived at Viking and assumed I was working there and knew my way around. I was in two minds because given I felt no attraction towards them I was happy just to stay and relax at the bar area, but it would be rude to say no and a part of me also wanted to go and have a few drinks. In the end I took them to three good bars located at intervals from the start of Phi Phi town itself to the end of its last beach. We had a good time and were joined by some others to make for an interesting night. The next day was similar to the one before with some more people along the way including three Norwegians, one a pop star (not hard in Norway I assume) and another an actor and they were good fun and easy to talk to. One morning I awoke to a cat landing on my head as it tried in vain to catch a cricket which had taken up residence near my head outside the mosquito net. For five minutes this bloody cat scrambled about trying to catch the cricket, doing the usual cat thing of catching the insect and then throwing it out of its claws in a fright. My hut is nice but has many gaps for all kinds of creatures to get in; I just hoped a truly scary creature did not make its way too my bed! When I woke the next day and walked around I started to feel like I was ready to move on.

What is a plan? Whatever one is it rarely shows itself on my travels. I don't tend to plan much when moving around from place to place. I was on Viking for nearly a month and could count the plans I made to do things on one hand. Stuff just flowed naturally and you followed it. Whenever I actually tried to make one of these plans they often didn't materialise, so really what was the point in having a plan on a tropical island? The answer of course is that you need a plan to travel. Of course I didn't have a plan to travel rather I had half a plan. I would fly to Bangkok (to avoid another overnight bus), stay at Charlie's place and then move north to meet my friends around Thursday. However, getting a plane ticket for my rough check out day was proving difficult as over here they just hike up any plane costs during January, so I just settled for an overpriced ticket to Bangkok arriving in the afternoon of the day I wanted to travel for a nice easy journey. Charlie is an English guy teaching English in Bangkok but we met in Phi Phi, we got on straight away and he had mentioned he was heading to Bangkok and would be at his apartment from then for a few weeks and I was welcome to visit. This was really helpful as my plan was I was going to Bangkok anyway for three days before heading north, now I could just stay at a central apartment  which was great. I had lucky timing on my side this time and having the apartment would make my stay in Bangkok that much easier

I arrived at Bangkok on Monday afternoon and made my way to Charlie's flat which is in a central area called Sukhumvit. This area is close to where I had stayed before in Bangkok but is trendier and a little more interesting and this time moving around the city felt a lot easier as I knew my bearings a lot more. I just jumped off the plan, got on the airport train, changed to the BTS Skyway system and after three stops I was there. The flat itself is on the twentieth floor of an apartment block and is stunning and I won't tell you how much it costs because I don't want you to laugh too hard at how cheap it is. Charlie teaches English out here and various people come and go through the flat at different times, we had his cousin and three of her friends over for part of the stay and other people came and went. It is a real luxury when at the end of a hectic day in Bangkok you can go back to this great flat in this great location and relax with the great views the flat affords of the skyline of Bangkok. There are skyscrapers everywhere and it is the best way to get a sense of the totality of the city. I love Bangkok. We started drinking pretty early in the flat and another girl I had met in Phi Phi joined us for dinner at a lovely old looking tea house round the corner called Soi Rang Nam. We ate some little nibbles and some noodles with soup and washed down more vodka before moving to a club called Insomnia. The club was good and my first time actually clubbing in the city so it was great to have a really good dance. At seven am I found myself on my own, lost and completely drunk; not good. If I realised I was in fact about five hundred yard from Charlie's flat I wouldn't have hailed a cab to take me there. A kind taxi driver obviously took pity and even phoned Charlie on my phone to say I was there which was extremely kind of him. I woke up not knowing where I was and with a big red swollen left eye. But I wanted to go out and see more of the city with Charlie's friends so we headed out and took the canal ferry heading to the west of the city to see some temples. The canal ferry's are really fun to go on and give you a nice view of the city as you pass family homes and other such buildings. Sometimes the roof of the boat has to be lowered to pass under particularly low bridges and you had better make sure you don't get hit by it! Sometime waves gush up bits of water but there are pull up side panels to offer protection. It is probably the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to get around the city. We missed the closing time for the temples so headed into the backpacker area of Ko San road to have some food before heading to a twenty four hour local market for food for dinner. The market was huge and with all kinds of food there, but the smells were so much more pungent than what you get on the street. Then at six pm a surreal moment happened as a megaphone suddenly announced something and everyone stood still for a couple of minutes as a national song of some kind was played. I couldn't work out if it was the King's song but either way it was an interesting experience in a relaxed country like Thailand to suddenly see everyone stand still to this voice in the sky, like something out of 1984. It served to remind me of the country's political past and that politics in Thailand is like theater. We headed back home and all ate some delicious food at the table together to cap off a nice day

So my 'plan' was to get a train north on Thursday from Bangkok. I duly went along on Wednesday to the train station to buy a ticket; after being told you could just walk in on the day. It turned out they were fully booked up for any sleeper trains until 15th so I would overshoot my stay a bit. In a way that was fine as I was happy to relax at Charlie's place until then and 15th was when he had to move out of his flat anyway. I shopped around a little for some items in Bangkok and then on the last day I went for a massage at a place I had been to three days earlier. It was called Happiness Massage and was a two minute walk from Charlie's place. I had my massage and was talking to the two girls who worked there as they were very friendly and pretty and I explained it was my last night in Bangkok before heading north. We got talking about this and that and one of them asked me what I did. Previous to this my answer would be along the lines of, 'I used to work in advertising in London, then I lost my job and decided to play poker for a year etcccc'. However this explanation was boring me as it took too long to exit my mouth so I just went with the punchier 'I play cards'. 'ohhhhh' she cooed as her eyes lit up again, 'and where do you play?' she asked, 'all over' I said majestically with a wave of my hands symbolising the world. That was it and they were mine, from now on I would just say I was a poker or card player, why I had not done this from the start I do not know. I was after all technically still a professional poker player so why not take advantage of this and show off some. Funnily enough they then asked me if I wanted to meet up with them later and we could go out together for my last night. Who could say no? Nana and Coconut (her Thai nickname) are both from North Eastern Thailand and have been friends for ten years, Nana was actually visiting Coconut for a week and staying at her massage parlor as Coconut had sold her apartment months ago and was yet to find another. You could tell they were very close friends and I was attracted to them and the bond they had with each other. We went out together in Bangkok on Friday night and had a great time, they were such fun and I was taken to some good bars and clubs. The next day Charlie left at 3pm for his scheduled ending of the contract and I waited several hours at the massage par lour until it was time to leave for my night train.

These are the times when you feel low when you travel; you have just met some nice people and had a good time but it is time to move on and leave those people behind. The transiency of the whole experience can both lighten and darken your mood. I had taken a liking to Coconut and this combined with the lack of sleep made me pretty sad. But it was time to move on to Chiang Mai and if I wanted to I would return to Bangkok to see Coconut. The train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai pulled out of the Hua Lamphong station at seven forty five pm as scheduled and I was wondering if I would get any sleep; even though I was very tired. I always struggle to sleep on public transport and so my plan was to get some food and take it from there. The train itself was nice and clean and the sleeping areas comfortable. It had cost around eighteen pounds for the ticket for a distance roughly equivalent to Glasgow to London with a journey time of roughly fourteen hours. I spent most of my time in the buffet car and met more interesting people during the journey and we talked about this and that. I managed to actually doze off at three am in my bed but was then woken at four am by a call from Coconut and when she hung up I could not get back to sleep anymore. I was a bit annoyed but decided to take in the sunrise from the buffet car and hope for some good views. The last three hours of this journey are meant to be pretty special for the scenery and we did pass some stunning hillside scenery but the sunrise itself lacked any really depth of colours which was a shame. Obviously the train arrived at Chiang Mai two hours late and I took a taxi to meet Magic, the girl I met in Phi Phi who was also in Chiang Mai with some other friends I met.

Luckily there was a spare room where Magic and Ichi were staying at a place called Baan Jing Jung. For five pounds a night I had a huge room and comfortable mattress with mosquito net to sleep in. The room was clean, there was a beautifully decorated courtyard with a water fountain and various nice touches as well as free coffee and tea; I couldn't have asked for more. Usually I have been paying a minimum of three times this for a room so it goes to show how much cheaper it is in the north. We went out and walked around town a bit and later on hit the Sunday market which is a big night here apparently. Chiang Mai is a walled city and as such there is the old town and the new town, with most of the entertainment taking place between the two. As we walked around the market we ate some delicious food and it struck me how much better and varied the food was here than in Bangkok and the south. The city itself is small with a population of around four hundred thousand, but has many different influences going on both culturally and ethnically. Walking around you could see all manner of activities occurring around you from monks offering spiritual advice to assembled crowds, to a child singing in a shop window in front of a big crowd, to the young break dancers doing there thing to an all but silent crowd looking on with curious eyes, to the Irish bands singing Scottish songs in the jazz courtyard, to the Englishman bemoaning to his small audience about the decline of post industrial Northern England. It was nice to simply walk around and take it all in as there was so much to see in this bohemian town and I was struck by the gentleness of the people and the slow pace of life. I made some plans for various activities and contemplated whether to go back to Bangkok to visit the lovely Coconut or just push on to Laos, a difficult decision

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M&D on

Have just seen this. Congrats - fantastic account, wonderful photos and a great video - how do you do that? Really brings everything to life. Press on to Laos - it's almost February already, can you believe? xxxxxM&D

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