Watch out Delia!

Trip Start Jul 27, 2003
Trip End Jul 26, 2004

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Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Friday 2nd April
We had a lazy day after our 3 days on a bike marathon. We headed to get some coffee and had a read of the Bangkok Post (this paper even contains the Division 1 football results!) We spent over an hour reading the paper and getting endless refills of delicious coffee before going out to explore a bit more of Chiang Mai. By midday we made our way to a place called the Bagel Cafe which does amazing hand rolled hot bagels and smoothies.

We headed back to the guest house and watched a bit of TV and played some cards. We headed out at 7 and met up with Harvey from Mae Sariang who was in Chiang Mai for a day before flying home. We went to get something to eat and then went to a few bars for a few drinks to people watch. Its quite amazing how many Western men there with beautiful Thai girls. I hate to say it but they are normally at least double their age and not the most attractive I have come across!! The bars are normally set up to have a Thai girl on every table and then when Western men come in they pick a table and buy the Thai girl a drink and it goes from there. Its quite sad really. Even more disturbing is Thailand has the highest number of sex change operations than anywhere else in the world and some of these extremely pretty girls weren't always girls if you know what I mean but you really can't tell!

Saturday 3rd April
We got up and checked out of our guest house and waited for our 9am pick up to take us to our Cookery Course. It cost us 700 baht with Golden Triangle tours and was with Chiang Mai Kitchen Cooking School. We were picked up and met the rest of our group, 2 Canadians, 2 Irish Girls, 1 American girl and a Danish Girl. We first chose our 6 dishes and made our way to the Local Market where we picked out our ingredients. The market was fabulous selling everything. They had rows and rows of pigs heads, goats heads, live crabs, eyes... then in the vegetable section every herb imaginable. We picked out eggplant (aubergine to us Brits!), mushrooms, bananas, chicken and pork and fish sauce. I went to get some coconut cream and the guy started crackingopen some cocnuts and putting them through a squeezer to get all the cream out. He filled me two big bags wrapped in an elastic band and it cost just 40 baht.

We made our way through the market and back to the car where we headed out of Chiang Mai and into the nearby countryside. We stopped at a little place with a big garden and the Cookery School was in the middle. We went out to the garden and picked our lemongrass and corainder and dug up ginger and spring onions and everything else we needed. We then headed into the kitchen where we made our first dish, Thai chicken and cashew nuts with sticky rice. When we finished cooking it we ate it for lunch.

We then went on to make Thai green Curry Paste, which involves a lot of arm work with a pestle and mortar, and then onto make Thai Green Curry. We left that on the side for later and made spring rolls followed by Tom Yam Koong which is the Shrimp Hot and Sour Soup. We then finished up with a sweet and chilli papya salad and for dessert hot bananas in sweet coconut cream. It was a really good day and by 5pm we were finished with sore arms. We said goodbye to our teachers who left us with the place to ourselves! We had lovely thatched houses to sleep in and a big outddor table dining area and of course the huge kitchen to heat up our food as and when we wanted it. All the food was delicious and we sat eating, chatting, eating, playing cards and eating again in a splendid setting in the middle of the countryside.

Sunday 4th April
We got up and left our little thatched houses and sat and drank coffee at the table in the morning sunshine. We had some leftover banana and cocnut milk for breakfast, some even had their spring rolls. We were picked up at 9am by the owner who took us back into Chiang Mai where he would rrop us off and pick up a new set of luck people to bring back. We parted company with the people we met but with us all heading to Laos in the next couple of days we will no doubt see them again (and maybe rustle up a curry!). We headed to Ok guest house and got a room for 150 baht and decided to make it our last night in Chiang Mai beforeour visas run out next week. Tomorrow we will head up to the Golden Traingle are where Burma, Laos and Thailand meet and stay near the border.

We then headed to the internet and spent a few hours updating Travelpod. We took a walk around the great Sunday markets then decided to treat ourselves to lunch at The Bagel cafe. I had a toasted BLT Bagel and Simon had a crunchy toasted Chicken salad Bagel. We sat on the deck in the shade and demolished our late lunch. We then went to sort out some cash for Laos but found out we couldn't! The Laos kip is pretty worthless and you get 20,000 kip to the pound but you can't actually buy Laos kip outside of Laos and no one exchange place will exchange kip once you have left. Because of this Laos excepts US dollars and Thai Baht and actually prefer that to their own currency. So we changed the last of our Australian dollars into Thai Baht!

We then went to sort out our onward bus up North for tomorrow. We need to get Chiang Khong which is the northern entry point to Laos. When we get there we have a choice between a fast boat or a slow boat from Houy Xai in Laos down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang as their are no roads heading south. The fast boat takes 6 hours and the slow boat takes 2 days but I have heard too many horror stories about the fast boat so the slow boat it is! After sorting some details for North we headed back to OK and caught up on a bit of diary and reading, particularly on Laos as we have a 15 day visa and want to make sure we spend it well.

Later in the evening we headed to the Sunday markets for a wander round. They were so busy with many more Thais than tourists. We had a couple of spring rolls and a chocolate Rote from the street stalls for dinner and then sat and had a Singha beer while watching the world go buy.

Monday 5th April
We got up and caught a mini bus to take us North where we would be able to cross into Laos. The two Irish girls Merdeth and Francis who were on our cooking course were on the bus too and were planning the same as us. We set off and made our way to Chiang Rai which is smaller than Chiang Mai but becoming very popular with tourists. After Chiang Rai we continued on to Chiang Khong where Laos was clearly visible from across the Mekong River. We would stay here for the rest of the day and the night.

Chiang Khong is just in the Golden Triangle which is 75,000 sq miles spanning Thailand, Burma and Laos. Its called The "Golden" Triangle because of the opium and heroin trade. It is also home to many different types of hill tribes. Chiang Khong is a nice town with a big wide paved footpath which takes you alongside the Mekong River where you can see Huay Xai which is the Laos border town and where we will head tomorrow. It was definately worth us buying our Laos visas in Bangkok as they get more expensive the closer you get and nearly 2 - 3 times more here! We got a really nice room in PJs guest house overlooking the Mekong River and wandered into town to find some malaria tablets as we should be taking them now we are bordering Laso. We found a chemist and they had some for 3 baht a tablet so we got a hundred to do us through Vietnam and Cambodia as well.

We headed back to the guest house where we had a lovely dinner of red curry rice and noodles with chicken with Francis and Merdeth and a girl called Jenny from Bristol and an Ireali guy called Neer. We then all headed out to check out some of Chiang Khongs finest bars!

Tuesday 6th April
We got up early and our guest house took the 6 of us to the banks of the Mekong river where we passed through Thai immigration and got our passports stamped and then we all piled onto a little boat that would take us the short distance across the river to Laos. Once we got there we then went through Laos immigration and had our visas checked and passports stamped and headed to the slow boat ferry (well a wooden little boat with little hard wooden slat seats)! Our tickets would take us to Luang Prabang but tonight we would only have got half way to Pakbeng where we would get off and spend the night.

We got on the boat and found a bench to sit on and wondered if we had made the right choice in choosing the slow boat when a fast boat went passed. It was basically a canoe with a massive outboard motor with 8 people squashed in wearing lifejackets and crash helmets with their rucksacks on their knees and the noise of the outboar reverberated through our ears even though we were about 200 feet away! Apparently it takes two days for the ringing in your ears to stop! Satisfied that this boat wasn't so bad after all we settled in for the ride.

We eventually set off at 10.10 and had a packed lunch from our guest house to eat on the way and 3 bottles of water to get us through the day. The Mekong River is a grand river that travels 2,500 miles from the Tibetan Himalayas then travels through China and Burma before it reached here at Thailand and Laos and thenit carries on through Laos into Cambodia and Vietnam before exiting into the South China Sea.

We travelled down the river waving at the naked children that were bathing and playing in the river always with big smile and waving back. We passed loads of fishermen with their big nets that they were casting out and pulling back in continually. The Laos countryside is very dramatic with lush greenery and huge limestone rocks and cliffs. We would stop occasionally to pick up Laos people and their produce! We ate our lunch and read for hours. We had a 10 min stop at one place where the locals were ready and waiting with Beerlao and fruit and cans of juice. We got to one part of the river which was to shallow for the boat to go through so laden down so we had to all get off the boat and walk about 1km over the hill to let the boat get through with out the weight. We finally arrived in Pakbeng and found a double room for 80 baht (1 pound our cheapest yet!). It was called Monsovan Guest House and was a lovely bamboo house with a very friendly couple who owned it. After showers we met up with Merdeth and Francis and a bunch of others from the boat and headed to an Indian restaurant for dinner. It was the best Indian food and owned and run by a man from Madras.

Everywhere excepts baht and US $ and prices are displayed in a variety of those and kip. Whatever you pay with you get change in kip which can get confusing at first but you soon get used to it. We all had a feed and tried Beerlao for the first time which is very nice and comes in huge bottles for 8000 kip (about 40p). I exchanged a 1000 baht note and was presented with literally a wad of money 260,000 kip, the largest note being 5000!

The exchange rate varies from place to place from around 250 kip to one baht to 270 kip to 1 baht. Its quite weird how fluid the money is. we were all pretty knackered although it was only 9pm so we headed back to Monsovan and sat on the balcony cahtting before getting an early night for much the same tomorrow.
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