Updates from South East Asia!
Thankyou for your birthday emails! I had a good day once Dave finally got out of bed (3pm) and we had a nose round Chiang Mai. It's not what I expected here at all, quite a lot smaller than I anticipated but it's nice and chilled out. We bumped into a lovely Irish couple in the town who we'd met on the sawngthaew (nope, I don't have a clue how to pronounce it either. It's a converted pickup truck with a roof, two benches running parallel with an open back) from the coach to our guesthouse. We went for a few celebratory birthday drinks before we had a meal (which I had to send back twice because they kept covering it in cheese... third time lucky, eh?) and then went back to drinking. Ended up having a really good night actually! We stayed in the Chiang Mai Saloon bar for quite a while, couldn't find anywhere else open. July 10th is a Buddhist festival so they're not allowed to serve anything that looks obviously alcoholic (great timing). They conquer this problem by serving beer in coffee mugs and masking spirits with innocent-looking mixers, imitating soft drinks. Ingenius, no? In the shops they had "No beer sell today thanks" written on the fridge but when we took it to the counter they served it to us anyway...? Presumably it's just to keep up respectful appearances although I'm also pretty sure Dave bribed the shopkeeper... Once we'd bought some drink from the local minimart thing we went back to the guesthouse where we sat on the benches in the courtyard outside with a lovely group of Irish people (Aisling, Mark, Jackie, Adam, Chris, Aoife, Rachael and Andy) and had muchos mandarin vodka and pineapple juice. Two of the Irish lot had a drunken "marriage ceremony" which involved Jackie wearing a scarf over her head for a veil and an exchanging of flowers with her betrothed (which were from the old jam jar on the table). Beautifully symbollic, very moving. They headed for Heaven-grungy but cool little bar- for the "reception" and we caught up with them a little while later. We were told to take our own drink but the Thai barlady (so we thought) started to have a go at Dave when he plonked his bottle of beer on the table and started guzzling, telling him it was extremely rude and disrespectful bringing drink from elsewhere into her pub. Dave squirmed for a while trying to apologise (and bribe her) before she burst out laughing shouting "I joking, I joking, Ha ha ha, I tell joke, ha ha ha". Dave didn't seem to find it that funny but at least she enjoyed herself. Turned out she didn't even work there, crazy woman. Everyone sang happy birthday and raised their glasses to wish me "slauncher!" ("health" in Gaelic, don't you know). The Irish lot, Dave, Gill, another random canadian bloke and every Thai person in the vacinity (who hadn't passed out on floors or benches) singing to me! It was very funny, if slightly surreal, definately a different birthday celebration! When we got back we went swimming in the pool to cool off except I decided that it was a far more sensible idea to jump in fully clothed than walk the 10m to our room to change into a swimming costume...gorgeous swim, until I got really cold and stumbled back to our room around 5am to get dried and into pjs and bed. I woke up at about 10:00am though so pretty damn tired now. Not done much today really. I borrowed a SE Asia Lonely Planet from one of the Irish crew and "accidently" forgot to give it back before they headed off to Laos today (they have three between the them and I'll give it back when we see them in Laos. What? Stop judging me! Ah, what depths I stoop to for Lonely Planet...). Anyway, I spent the day planning our itinerary and route through Laos. Organised eh? Well, first time for everything I suppose. More complicated than you think trying to connect everywhere you want to go, everything you want to do with plausible transport links while avoiding landmine and unexploded bomb regions (Laos is the most heavily bombed country on Earth, little trivia for you there), terrorist and ambush threat areas, known gun crime areas and bandit territory. I learned that Laos has a grand total of one cashpoint, which doesn't have international facillities (very helpful) and there are 13,205 kip to one pound sterling. Nice round number for easy mental currency conversions then... I kept myself amused for a good long while route-finding as Dave slept. Dave woke up at 6pm (?!), then we booked our trek and headed to a vegetarian restaurant I found in Lonely Planet on a tuktuk. It was closed. Luckily we hadn't left the tuktuk so we re-directed him to another one recommended in the LP (oh, how I love thee) called Blue Diamond. It was amazing. They had a massive selection of (organic?!) vegan food, vegan icecream in every flavour known to man (beetroot anyone? or sesame?), soya yoghurt, wholemeal seeded bread, cookies, bluberry muffins, chocolate muffins, savoury biscuits, brownies, toiletries, everything. I was so overwhelmed I couldn't choose what to eat for about 10 minutes, I kept changing my mind. It's the first place I've found like that in Thailand so I bought one of nearly everything for the trek. I'll finish it all by tomorrow no doubt though, in fact, sod the trek, I'll hitch a ride back to the Blue Diamond. I ate far too much though, good job I've got 10 hours of walking to do over the next couple of days eh? ha ha...ahem. We need to try to buy a mosquito net for the trek actually (I got bitten 22 times last night! Not entirely sure it wasn't ants though because we've got an infestation in our room, well, several I think) and get some malaria prophylaxis as malaria is increasingly prevalent the further north you go and we're almost on the border with Myanmar on the trek (Pai). Sorry that's not of any particular significance or interest to you, just thinking aloud there. Anyway, hope you're all well and happy (I have got to find a more interesting signing off phrase...) and enjoying your hot weather and sunshine. Grr... (Bitter? Moi? Loadsa love Jx