. We soon pass the spirit house besides the road where we toot the horn and offer a 'wai' for good luck and a safe journey. By 9:00 we arrive at our first 'toilet stop' at the usual place, Pong Nam Rong. When I first came here in 1987 there was nothing but a small dirt clearing on the edge of the jungle besdies a small river that was bubbling with sulphur springs. Now there is almost a small town here wih huge health spas, shops, restaurants, gardens; they have even detoured the river to make more space and built convenient small pools to show off the hot springs - progress ?! As we continue north we arrive in the Wiang Pa Pao district where their seems to be an enormous Christian presence. Evangelism is big in Thailand but has met with little real success. There are always converts when being a 'Christian' is the only way for the young children in the villages to get a decent education but they never move away too far from Buddhism. A lot of the churches are named 'Hope of ...' and the town name and nearly always seem to be the best looking building in town. As we climb we drive around a section of tight bends and everyhing I have with me falls onto the floor of the bus and I spend an uncomfortable 10 minutes crawling around trying to pick it all up - thanks driver. We take a back road to bypass the city of Chiangrai and pass a number of 'Outreach Foundation' buildings. Both of these words conjure up Christian overtoes to me and then we pass a large building named the Akha Outreach Foundation. They would appear to be targetting the hilltribe people now who lacking education are probably vulnerable
. Sorry for being so down about this but why cant we just leave these people alone with their Buddhism ? After all, did you ever hear of a Buddhist Fundamentalist Terrorist ? I am sure there have been more deaths in the name of Christianity than any other religion so who are we to preach. Sorry, enough, moving on. We rejoin Highway 1 north of Chiangrai and continue our journey. We pass the turn offs to Mae Fah Luang gardens, Doi Tung mountain and then Chang Saen where the majority of the tour buses go each day. Then we pass the turn off to the relatively new 2nd Friendship Bridge which crosses into Laos and only have 7 more miles to go. We arrive at Mae Sai just before midday and have until 13:00 to complete our business before the bus will head back. I hurry to Thai Immigration and am soon making my way across the short bridge and under the welcoming gate and into Burma. Sorry, I cant call it Myanmar, it will always be Burma to me. You have to be a little careful of traffic when walking over the bridge. In Thailand they drive on the left, like all civilized countries, but in Burma they drive on the right. This means that vehicles have to change sides of the roads whilst crossing the narrow bridge and can often be messy. Apparently the day after the Brits left the new boss ordered that they change driving priorities from left to right as a sign of independence and to thumb their noses at us Brits. He didnt think about changing road signs, traffic lights etc until later ... !!! When I first came to renew a visa here years ago it was a simple affair of walking into a small office where one man sat behind a desk stamped your passport into and out of the country, asked for $5 and wished you well
. Now there is 6 people in the same office today. I am met by two uniformed officials who scrutinize my passport before slipping a card into it and telling me to wait. There are two girls sat at computer terminals and as soon as oe is free I am summoned to take a seat. She processes my passport, takes a photo on her webcam - what for ? - and tells me to wait again. With my photo now printed onto the card I am backl to the first two gents who relieve me of $10 for the pleasure. The one asks me if I am going in to Tachilek and when I tell him that no, I am going straight back to Thailand, he gets quite offended that I wont even pass an hour looking at his country. I tell him that I have been in Tachilek before and have no wish to go back again, wave goodbye, and head back to Thai side of the bridge. Immigration here is painless and I soon have another 90 day stamp in my passport which takes me through till January 21st 2011. Take a couple of photos for on here then go shopping for underwear for Jai - yes, I know, you dont have to pass any comments. With my 10 pairs of knickers, matching the sample pair that I happened to have in my pocket (perve or what) I head for the stairs that takes you up to the temple on the hill that overlooks the border and into Burma. MOst visa runners will be standing by the bus by now waiting to go back to sleep on the return journey but there are things to see in Mae Sai even if it appears to be a concrete jungle. There are 204 steep steps to climb to get the temple at Wat Phra That Doi Wao - I counted each and every one of them
! The temple itself is nothing special but there are great views over the border bridge, of Tachilek and Mae Sai and further afield to the mountains of Burma. I am a little warm and out of breath by the time I reach the top but there is a lovely breeze once I got there. Time is ticking so after a quick look around I return to the 204 steps and descend back into the alleys lined with shops that is Mae Sai. It is supposed to be a shoppers paradise but most of the stuff looks like cheap Chinese tat to me. At 13:00 all 6 of us have returned to the bus which is a miracle in itself. I managed to grab a couple of sandwiches at the 7/11 to eat lunch on the way back. Settle down for a few hours before we make our midway toilet stop at a large shop that sells cashew and macadamia nut products. I have never actually seen anyone buy anything here and it is difficult to imagine how they can make a living but they have been here for years, expanding, so must make some money some how. The drive back to Chiangmai is uneventful although our driver does like his speed, overtaking on blind corners, and playing dare with the oncoming traffic. It is better to look out the side windows rather than the windscreen. I am back in Chiangmai and in the room by 17:30 and after a shower and something to eat feel almost human again. After a rest for while we go to the night bazaar for a look around. I am surprised by how many farang are here and wonder what they have been doing with themselves all week. Visit a few of the bars in the old complex to say goodbye to a few people and Jai goes back to the room at about 22:00. Being our last night here I wander off to have a couple of beers with Bill. listen to some music before crashing out at 02:30.
Its my turn to go for the breakfast again this morning and I am up and out about 06:00. Being a bit earlier than usual all of the monks are still wandering around collecting their alms. There seems to be a lot of very young, 10-13 year old, monks here at the moment and their alms bowls are nearly as big as they are. I am standing outside Kong Court just after 7:00 and the minibus arrives on the dot of 7:15. He only has 6 passengers today not the usual bus laod of 12+ that always used to be onboard so we have plenty of room. I sit up front in the comfy chair but as we are collecting the others the driver tells me that someone has specifically booked this seat and I will have to move back. It is an old lady who can hardly walk let alone board the bus. I later find out that she has been in Thailand for nearly 2 years with her son and they are on a visa that needs renewing every 14 days !!! And I thought every 90 was bad enough. We are out of town by 8:00 and shortly pass the chedi of Wat Doi Saket which signals the start of our climb into the mountains