Thailand - Phuket Blues Festival and Chiang Mai by Baz
After our brief experience of Thailands touristy Western Coast Islands we travelled to the Eastern Coast and Koh Phangan. There we spend 4 very relaxing nights which largely involved, reading, sunbathing, swimming, eating and drinking and playing frisbee; a real holiday within a holiday. Then it was back across to the East coast for a date wth the Phuket International Blues Festival.
The journey to Phuket was less than perfect. It should have taken around 7 hours but was closer to 10 hrs. We had made the mistake of booking with a private company rather than the Government bus company and were bounced about from one tourist office to another as they gradually filled the bus. We were eventually on our way in an 8-seater packed with sweaty tourists, including a midget Belgian Champion Bodybuilder who sat behind me with his Thai Rent-A-Girlfriend. They were slobbering over each other for the entire journey and to say that there was "Heavy Petting" involved is an understatement. He was certainly getting his moneys worth. It is of course unfair for me to assume that because she was a pretty young Thai lady and he was an average looking bloke that he necessarily paid her for her time. However, over here I have seen alot of unbalanced relationships between European/American men and hot Thai ladies. When consistently presented with such a mismatch in terms of looks, youth, physique and general attractiveness you have to wonder.
After arriving in Phuket and checking into our overpriced accomodation we proceded to the Hilton to purchase our tickets for the festival and check out how the other half live. My Uncle Mal is a live music fan, and in all his years of attending concerts he has rarely paid for entry. Whether it involves scaling a wall, digging a tunnel, pretending to be one of the support acts (and actually carrying in an instrument), or pretending to be a roadie Mal will enter free of charge. As we were taken trough the tight Hilton security I considered the possibility that I could "Pull a Mal" at this concert. I had my guitar with me that I had purchased in Bolivia, I have the look of a tired and haggard blues musician - Big-Willy Rooney perhaps. But in the end I just didnt have the killer instinct and decided to pay in advance for both nights. I hope Mal isnt too disappointed with me.
On Friday 20th February we went to the first night of the Blues Festival. We were accompanied by Steve, who runs the guesthouse we were staying at and is a veterin of these festivals. The first act we saw was an Australian Singer songwriter whose name eascpes me. She was neither bluesy nor good and sounded consistently out of tune. But it was to get worse. I was particularly looking forward to an artist called Jimmy Fame. An American Jimmy Hendrix tribute act. I eagerly read Fame's biography in the festival brochure but found no mention of his guitar playing prowess, nor his stunning vocals or magnificent stage presence. In fact, Fames only claim to fame appeared to be that he had written a book on Hendrix's life entitled "Chasing Jimmy". I wondered if he would appear on stage and read extracts from his book. He did not, but 10 minutes into the act I wished he had. The man couldnt play guitar and had borrowed Rich Harper from the Rich Harper Band to play. Fame decided to sing (badly) and toss out copies of his book into the audience. It was so bad it was both surreal and hilarious. As he left the stage to polite applause 2 questions were left unanswered; did organisers knew what they were getting when they booked him? and, what on earth would his act have been if Rich Harper wasnt there to play guitar?
The rest of the bands that evening were good fun. Rich Harper and his pand in particular were great craic. The night was ended with Eric Bibb. An American Blues guitarist who now lives in Sweden. As the Headline Act he came on with his acoustic Guitar and completely stole the show. He played brilliantly, sang very well and looked authentic and believeable - he had the image down to a tee.
Seonaid and I went round late for the second evening of the concert and missed most of the show, but I understand there was no-one who even came close to Bibb. Overall we very much enjoyed the 2 nights.
The other notable thing that we experienced in Phuket was television. Our room had one, and it was our first experience of TV for some time. It really is a horrible thing that sapps your energy and attention. I was in the process of ridiculing Seonaid for watching back-to-back episodes of the reality TV muck that is Janice Dickensons modelling agency when she reminded me that the previous day I had sat in silence giving my full attention to an entire Scooby Doo cartoon. "I had to see how it would end" I protested "and I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasnt for you pesky kids!
Next we began the long journey to Northern Thailands Chiang Mai and it was certainly a tiring one. Two 7 hour bus journeys in 2 days took us to Bangkok, where we stopped overnight. Bangkok was buzzing. It seems a really exciting city, and although we were only there overnight we are excited about heading back for a couple of days before our flight home.
We then flew from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai Centre is surrounded by a square moat, is relatively easy to navigate and has a relaxed feel to it. It seems to be much cheaper than the Islands we visited in Thailand and we got excellent accomodation for the equivilent of 4 pounds per night (including another dreaded TV). We both did a Thai Cookery course here yestrday, but decided to separate and selected 2 different schools in the hope of learning more. I had a great expereince, with 1 to 1 tuition in an excellent school, whereas Seonaids experience was not so good. They neglected to collect her as arranged and she arrived late and into an oversized class where they rushed through the dishes. Still, we both learned alot and Im looking forward to trying some of the dishes when we get home.
Both Seonaid and I intend to call home now (after watching America's Most Smartest Model or some other mindless rubbish). Seonaid wants to wish her mum a happy birthday (Happy Birthday Kathleen) and I want to wish my brother a happy birthday (Happy Birthday Eoin).
Next week I begin my Muy Thai Boxing training and Seonaid begins her Thai Reflexology course. We both visited our schools yesterday. Seonaid is justifiably excited but I am a bit more intimidated, not least because my training begins at 6.30 am.
Then its off to Vietnam on Sunday 8th March.