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Prachuap day 3, Christmas Day

Happy Christmas to anyone reading this.

It’s been a slow and pleasant day, waking to the lulling sound of the tide coming in and daylight breaking. In the kitchen I bump into Rita, the old German lady staying downstairs. She’s just come back from the market and inspires me to pop out at 7.45 to get a pineapple. I also buy some bags of curry paste. Much of the morning involves eating fruit and Chinese pastries on my balcony alternating with chatting to various guests from om’s and next door. Several of them are cyclists and I’m felling inspired to maybe do an extended cycle trip one day in Thailand. JJ turns up on her bike with some delicious home made pumpkin soup. I’m full, but manage to eat it then have a nap.

When I stir myself at 1.30 the overcast warm breezy weather has changed to blue sky, hot sun and blue sea. Once again I cycle South across the airbase and to the empty beach behind it. After a blissful float in the sea and some intensive reading, I’m roused by 2 military bods who move me in. Apparently this is a restricted area. Instead I go down to ao manou where the beach is now partially in shade. The sea is shallow and a bit choppy. Ok for wading but not so floating friendly. I read and dry out, then once more, like yesterday bump into Petra the German on the mountain bike I had coveted. We cycle and chat back to town. I feel ennervated by the sea and the sun. The light is beautiful and the temperature wonderful. I would like a few more days like this. Too bad that tomorrow I have to leave.

My Christmas dinner is a huge plate of rice and assorted stir fried dishes (a lot of spinach and Chinese mushrooms) which I bought as a takeaway from the vege restaurant yesterday. Stuffed and content!

Kanchanaburi

Early start, for me anyway. Eggs and lemongrass tea, and oh my god Fran is already moving into my guesthouse and planning to follow me…..

The minibus to kanchanaburi is rapid, too air-conditioned and a bit bumpy. Only 3 passengers, so lots of space. It’s easy to get a room, and I soon discover there is a long farang stretch of pars and guesthouses. This one ain’t so bad, and I’ll keep the name hidden for the time being. I have the option of a bungalow on stilts on the river but take the cheaper option, online, which is free. Renting a bike is full of issues. They are all knackered in some way and the one I take in the end, going for something with gears rather than the usual rickety basket at the from number. Typically it’s too small and the seat is stuck so can’t be raised….

I cycle up to the fabled ridge over the river Kwai. On the way I look at a Japanese obelisk monument and enter the front yard of the kitschy war museum, a rusty steam locomotive with a car on its roof…for some reason. The bridge is a tourist magnet you can walk over it, and I attempt to cycle over it at night time. It’s kind of creepy and scary so I only get a third of the way over. 200,00 prisons of war and enslaved Asians died building the death railway for the Japanese in world war 2. What I don’t get is how the Thais let this happen on their soil. The weird thing is that now where there was death, disease, beatings, slave labour there are now luxurious floating restaurants. I know time moves on, but it seems totally perverse. I haven’t come her for this, but it’s fascinating. So are the huge allies cemeteries. Next door there is also a rather bizarre Chinese one full of pointy spires and a large outdoor crematorium.

Lunch is at on’s Isaan thai restaurant. A tiny place with 4 tables and where the kitchen is on the street in front of the shop, and On cooks non-stop. The food is terrific. Full of flavour, packed full of diverse and interesting veg; Chinese mushrooms, sweet potato, thai aubergine, to name a few. My green curry and red rice is amazing. The food is so good I return for dinner and have a banana leaf salad and sour large flat noodles with pak choi (perhaps). It is here I share a table with Jo, a professional poker player from Switzerland, a job which is location non-specific and, he says, allows him to live wherever he wants and earn all he needs to exist for a year in a couple of months…he is quite intense and has a curious stare. After a while our conversation has got incredibly deep and we examine the concepts of knowledge, understanding, being…..there were odd moments when it almost felt like I had entered into a scene from a film. Could it be Hitchcock? 2 strangers meet and decide to swap identities. It doesn’t go that far…but it’s true that when you meet someone for the first time you could, if you wanted pretend to be anything you wanted. Who knows if he was telling the truth. He could be some crazy guy on the run from Interpol…..anyway, it was an entertaining lunch.

Afterwards I cycle through the area that all these towns seem to have: a school zone with. 3 or 4 large school complexes, the buildings with an open space on the ground floor level, where kids often congregate politely sitting cross legged reciting something with a teacher. The kids are all smart and somehow noble looking in crisp simple uniforms. Their parents pick some of them up from school on their mopeds. It’s not untypical to see mother plus little son plus little daughter all on the same little bike puttering home. There is a new temple complex being built by the river. It’s very unusual. The central temple is still plain concrete, and the embellishments along the eaves and ridge of the roof are being attached. Some, strangely have been painted already. Dragons. Seems strange to be finishing the decorations before the structure is complete. There are 2 completed smaller temples. They are Chinese pagodas, and round with 2 levels. Garishly painted and with a recording of chanting resonating within.

I cross the river and cycle a few miles to Wat Tham Khao Pun, which is known for its caves. There is a serious of around 15 chambers, some requiring serious stooping to enter. 2 of these are used as temples, ie they contain Buddhas. The most striking and most beautiful thing was the sheer silence. Nobody else there, maybe 20m underground, I sat and listened to silence. Wonderful.

Ayutthya

So glad I didn't get sunburned today, and I'm surprised!

Today I cycled most of the day, well from when I felt together enough to go out, which was 11. I rented from a girl, who also had a masculine element to her! She wore a skirt made from Hmong fabrics, which I recognised from a bagi bought in chiang mai. We have a discussion about my necklace, and have our doubts about it being real jade. She likes my British accent! The bike rent is 40 per day, I get it for 2 days for 60. Cycling around the place reminds me of Anuradhapura, in that the town is build among the ruins, mostly well restored, of some magnificent wat and palaces, on an island, which contains a number of ditches and tanks. It also reminds me of jogykarta, sukhothai…elements of others. I've done this before: losing myself on archaeological parks, spending long pauses sitting on temple steps watching the world and emptying my mind. There are fallen cherries on the ground, small children selling some kind of bird made from bamboo leaves. There is a souvenir/snack market, where women are smearing green batter onto hot plates to make pandan pancakes. Others in rubber gloves are dropping batter into huge woks of bubbling oil to make donuts. The stalls have bags of twisted dark crispy snacks. On close inspection they seem to be reptilian in origin. Lizard heads?, snake skin?

Lunch is at the small pure vegetarian food place I had read about but thought I had no chance of finding. I just stumbled upon it. Tasty and cheap!

I cross the bridge to the east and off the island, and follow a smal windy road to a place called th elephant krall. This is like a stockade fenced with red tree trunk like piles. I get excited when I spy a pale grey bull elephant with long tusks swaying his body outside this empty arena opposite a school yard. On encircling this massive space I come across a dark skinned man marshalling 2 smaller darker elephants across the road and down a smaller one to a cluster of buildings and wooden structures. Elephants! Maybe 30 of them. This is some kind of elephant sanctuary. It's fantastic. I spend a happy hour or so watching a 3 day old baby elephant stumble at his mother's feel looking for her teets. The mother shows amazing grace and awareness not to step on the tiny creature. Further along the road I come across the river once more. Here, in twos or threes the elephants are being ridden..and then ridden into the water where almost submerged they are washed, their riders standing on their backs like listing living rocks. On the banks of the river some small children are fishing. All these goings on are every day occurrences and unremarkable to them.

 

I cross the island and over to the other side of the river to experience the end of the sunset at the serene wat chaiwatthanaram, nearly get lost cycling back, and am overtaken by a man with a puppy in the front basket of his motorbike.

Dinner is at gubar. I ask for my curry to be spicy. Big mistake….too hot even for me!

 

Negombo 2

A good sleep followed bya. Cycle along the main road past Hindu temples, juice shops, cheap samosa stalls and churches to the fish market. Old women crouched by their plastic sheets with tiddlers, men at butcher blocks chopping the larger catch, a cluster of curious men and boys surveying a 70cm ray of some kind. Seems nobody knows what to do with it. Beyond on the beach are sheets of small silver fish laid out to dry under the right sun. By. The shore the small boatsarelandi g their catches and teas of me and old women are shank out the nets. Women and men are gutting and sorting larger fishes further along. Catches are ferried by pairs of men by baskets on poles to the sea edge to be washed. Everyone is working fast and the bosses are circulating and handing out pay.

The town is divided into tourist strip, commercial main road, a market full of fabric shops and residential streets stretching along the canal and shore of the lagoon, larger fishing boats moored here. I see home made nativities of straw, plastic figures and fairy lights at many street corners, some constructed on abandoned boats. I see small boys crossing themselves as they pass the crucifixes at junctions.
Back at Lewis place I have a juice in a place run by a half Filipino family which has a variety of fruits new to me. Must go back there. My dinner cum lunch at Edwin’s restaurant is a very. Good and interesting curry and rice which includes a pineapple and soya korma type affair. I catch up with Dave and Donna on a stretch of the beach near some fancy hotels. The sea is refreshing, the surfs.aps you hard and is bracing. A wedding banquet is being set up on the beach, photos of the bridal pair taken at sun down by some catamarans. Some ponies are ridden by, Russians on sand mobiles drive up and down. We play cricket with some locals in underpants by the waters edge as the sun descends turning into a glowing orange disc, disappearing into cloud just a before it hits the horizon. There are quite a few hawkers with Xl polo shirts,saris, shorts, necklaces. Closer to the road is a guy with a monkey on a chain and a cobra which he offers to tourists to hold. A couple of cocktails later, I’m back at the guesthouse which is deserted. The soundtrack is fire crackers and the roar of the increasing waves.

Christmas in Anuradhapura

It’s Christmas Day and I have a hangover, as expected from the cheap local lemon flavoured gin I shared last night with Simone, a French guy from Strasbourg who is travelling around on a shoestring. He has stories of losing his passport in India, sleeping rough and being robbed in Greece. A sad story of his father disappearing at sea after an argument a few years ago. Boat found, but no body.
Last nights dinner at the lake view guesthouse was really delicious. The usual rice and curry. As usual a huge mountain of rice, far to big for 1 or even 2 people. In small bowls: Dahl, pumpkin and coconut, green bean, aubergine…actually I can remember all the curry dishes, or recognize the vegetables.
The journey here was quite swift and I settled on this guest house pretty fast. It’s family run, is low key, and should have been easy to find last night on my bicycle, but once more I became disorientated and the several people I asked for help were unable to read my map, or thinking they were being helpful gave me wrong information, or due to poor English were unable to explain adequately. It was dark,very dark and only 7pm, roads with few landmarks and far too many roundabouts with statues on for me to be confident that that was the one tha I needed. At the significant elephant roundabout ( it has a big elephant statue in the middle), a guy on a motorbike pulls up and right on the junction oblivious to the traffic engages me in a very broken conversation. He wants me to come and see his office, he is a doctor at the hospital, he wants my phone number, address, he wants to know about my family. He shakes my hand many times and restarts this one sided conversation several times before I am able to get away.
There is a mystery to solve after dinner. I parked my rented bicycle at the guest house in plain view of the terrace. As the owner is putting away the bikes she notices that one of her bikes has been replaced with an alien yellow one, which also has gears and different brakes. She reckons I must have mistakenly got on the wrong bike and ridden off with it on my way back. I’m adamant that this is impossible. Her husband even takes me out on my route back to see if I can spot their missing silver bike. Of course this is fruitless. It is 11 pm and anyway, I know I brought back the right bike. We don’t solve this problem. Someone else is responsible, not me..but who could have done this and why? The upshot is that the guest house now has a new and possibly better bike.
This mirrors an experience earlier when one of the Nepalese monks I meet finds that his flip flops have been taken and an identical but smaller size pair have been left in their place. I met these monks yesterday afternoon on my bike trip trying to find some free attractions. It was raining on and off, and my first encounter was with a plain clothes police officer who engaged mein conversation when I paused to watch a motorbike training course : guys weaving around 5 orange traffic cones on a patch of land next to a roundabout. The usual questions: country, family.married, if I like Sri Lanka, then more interestingly we talked about his job, which is to train and educate drivers. We compared notes on the horrendous driving habits of the bus drivers in Sri Lanka. The west side of the city has an open landscape of empty roads going to stupa sing rebuilt or already reconstructed, a cave temple in front of a lily pond, which I pay to enter, and it’s no great shakes. Like every monument in Sri Lanka there are bus loads of locals in their white clothes. At the lake further on, I see them disembarking to eat wadi and bathe in the waters en masse. The roads pass through paddies complete with egrets and storks, and past military compounds. Guarded roads blocked with yellow barriers, barbed wire empty machine gun posts. There isn’t all that much worth seeing around her, but the whole atmosphere is kind of bizarre. As I begin to head back I spy a cluster of 5 yellow and red cloaked monks shuffling along the road towards me under umbrellas. As we pass they call out hello and where are you going and I ask them the same back. We begin to chat and they persuade me to come with them to their nearby monastery, which takes a long time to get to, owing to their languid pace, our confused conversation and the avoidance of shortcuts across sodden paddy.

They are all 18, from Nepal and are studying here in Sri Lanka for 5 years, I think. They don’t have the dignified comportment you might expect from people devoted to a life of religion and austerity. They share savoury snacks with me, pouring them into my hands, and offer me bites of red lollies. They drop the wrappers, uncaring by the side of the road. The reason being that there is no rubbish bin. I’m sure also that they should be much stricter and not eat at this time. In one respect one is strict, as he declines my invitation for him to ride my bike. Lord Buddha forbids their driving of vehicles. I attempt to do a little interview with them. They struggle with English, though insist they want to improve. 2 of the boys want to talk the others too shy or unable. We exchange email addresses, and will become Facebook friends. Their monastery also has military guards.its quite a new building, 35 years old, with a massive white Buddha siting under a roof which lessens the impact. They invite me into the base of this statue to look at the illustrated through crude and childish wall paintings and painted models the story of the life of Buddha. I particularly remember the big eyed blue devils that looked like something from a children’s book, comic rather than scary. We are In a long white chamber which is sweatily hot, the statues and pictures are strangely behind metal grills like animals in a zoo.i teach the guys some words they should know, like temptation, resist, reincarnation. Then we walk around the stupa and they ask me what my biggest problem is… We talk about striving to improve oneself, about dissatisfaction. Then they take me into another room called heaven. More statues and paintings around a central white column. The piece de resistance comes when they ask me to stand in front of a black window in this column in a cubicle sectioned off by a gold curtain. One of the monks drops a coin into a box attached to the wall, and I see the craziest thing in the window. There are flashing fairy lights and wax work like statues of the Buddha reflected into infinity by mirrors on all sided in the chamber in the centre of the column. It is a cross between a gaudy Christmas light display and a scene from twin peaks. It’s so funny I can’t contain my laughter. The monks think it’s great too, but I’m sure they don’t share my reference points. It’s quite sad when we say goodbye. I don’t know how to say goodbye to a monk. Do we wai? I try this, but this seems to be a Thai habit. Shaking hands with a monk is not a done thing either, so we just wave. The dark skinned silent one gives me a handful of crunchy fruits. They look like marzipan pears.

Tuesday 3 sept, chiang mai

Day 3 in chaing mai

Hectic search for hire bikes. The place next door is closed. We are up against it to get tp Kuhn chorn, but we make it.

We take the wrong road to wat u mong, and my memory cannot reconstruct where we should be. In fact we are at the wrong temple

Wat umomg, 14th century, tunnels. A monk giving lessons to some young adults in the tunnel. Nice calm atmosphere on the square with the chedi.

On top of a 14 th century cave temple. The flat hill is crowned by a 40 metre chedi a brick wall marks out a kind of sanctuary. In the shade of. A bell house, guarded by four nagas. And under a tamarind tree gently arching down,30 cm long seed pods hanging down, black squirrels scampering in the high branches. 2 cockerels stru across the grass. A choir of monks chants drifting clearly upward, accompanied by a chorus of cockerels and squawking of birds. Little reddish brown and grey ones with white chests and a huge white plume and black beaks. They swoop to the ground where they pogo and bounce across. Some bounce back into the lower branches of the tamarind tree. A bell is struck. A solitary monk sits cross legged on the wall reading. The monks stop chanting. The birds stop squawking, a cavalcade of barking dogs takes over. Eric sleeps on the steps of the bell house.

 

Evening

Cycle into town

To main temple

 

To wooden Lanna style one. Chanting and candles

2 kings square. Tribute open air concert.dead singer maybe? Candles and swirling lines of yellow jasmine flowers. A succession of folky acoustic songs, some wel known by the audience, sitting on. Rattan mats on the ground. Many cameras. Many intent live uploads. Eyrique videoing everything. Some puppeteers.

More meandering

Herbal sauna discovered

Food might market by moat

Mobile cocktail bar

Jd French tattoo artist. Travelling alone and spending his inheritance. A local alcoholic Saksi, not sexy, comes on to Eyrique. Eyrique is squirming. He tries bravel Thai whiskey.

 

Sukhothai

Strange atmosphere at night around the bungalow. A pack of dogs howling and barking, in the morning the echoing discordant tangly of at Thai voice maybe advertising something or giving the news. There’s aalittle kitten who is desperate to be with me, on my bed, only breakfast table….

I get a sawntaewn to old sukhothai which acts as a delivery truck for the hawker stalls at the old temples.i rent a knack erred bike for 30 baht and the ticket sellers at the gate to the historical park are grumpy and unhelpful. The park itself is flat and features the partially reconstructed complexes of some pretty vast temples replete with standings and seated Buddhas. There are quite a few tourists, like me on bikes, or bigger groups on the electric shuttle or in tuk tusk. It’s not a particularly serene place. It’s a tourist park..but I guess I’ve been spoiled with the low key and more evocative Khmer ruins in the east. I grab a plate of fried vegetalian food ( that’s how it is written) and a pineapple shake at a little shack, and the groups of spa airs and French trawl back to their buses, all with a bottle of coca Colain hand.

The park is all manicured and a bit dull. I take my clunky one speed bike out of the park and follow the back roads through the woods where there are dozens of ruined chedi and temples. Not as well reconstructed as the park, but a lot more evocative.the best one is here, wat sapan hin, a 200 metre climb taking me to a shell of a temple, 6 columns and a 25m standing Buddha overlooking a flat falt forested plain. I’ve had my 15 minutes alone.a Spanish couple arrive, the girl adopts a Buddha posture for a photo.here come some more. At least cos you have to make am effort to get here, theses people won’t be asses!

 

 

 

 

 

I st for a mango shake by the roadside, and am on the point of returning to base when I realise ther is still more to see, and it’s spectacular, a lily moated crumbly temple on an island with smashed and broken Buddhas, a Khmer style tower and a herd of cows grazing. And hardly anyone there!

 

Banyan tree

This has to be the craziest tree in the world. It takes up an entire island and its hanging roots plunge to the ground like hundreds of trunks, in the bowls of this monster is a shrine and trees are bedecked with strings of flowers, the ground scattered with monkey, horse, and elephant statues. Am old woman pursues me asking if I want a massage. A local family come to shake prayer sticks and an excited boyreadshis fortune from the one that falls out. I catch their eye and first they want me to take their picture, then they ask me to pose with them so they can take my pic too. They are overwhelmed with joy. Scattered around are small tables and chairs where teenagers are gathered. Across the bridge back on dry land is a long open shed of benches and food stalls where I get the usual pad Thai. The rain is spotting down on me.

 

Tiziano terzano’s is becoming even more relevant. I read his Bangkok chapter under the tree, and notice that there is actually a fortune teller lodged at the far corner of the island. More stick shakers. Some saffron figures, monks, glide through the trees. Back on dry land there is a stall selling bags of fish and turtles. Buy them and set them free for luck. It seems quite perverse that these creatures are bred and. Imprisoned and sold to bring people luck.

Cycle in the rain past the big square pond covered with lilies and water buffalo grazing the banks. I trace the site of the perimeter wall of the old town. The roads are still laid out in cruciform and the remains of each gate can be found at the ends of each cardinal artery.

 

Day 31 – Melaka

The complimentary breakfast at the cafe over the road is not inspiring. The staff are unfriendly and the service a bit rude. The cafe is soulless and the food mean: a miniscule sliver of melon, barely enough jam or butter for my toast, which is more like heated bread turned cold. The eggs are ok, but the next day I decide that the “local” breakfast of noodles might be a better bet (I was wrong!).

We rent some bikes which are a bit heavy to ride and are certainly not made for tackling any kind of gradient.

Our exploration of the outer lying areas of the city is quickly aborted as the busy roads with their open drainage ditches (a scary potential hazard) and the pushy drivers make the experience quite unrelaxing. We turn back to the water front and Cyrus takes me for a mille crepe cake, which is delicious, so too is the mango and basil seed smoothie. We cycle along the pedestrianised zone between the mall that looks like a mosque with its Islamic motifs and windows, and St Paul’s hill. The foot of the hill is ringed with museums, including a scruffy derelict “museum of enduring beauty”, and a fenced off display of planes and trains. The house where Independence was proclaimed can be found here, with its adjacent armoured vehicles from the state of emergency, and a Chevrolet limousine, along with the remains of the Dutch fortress. We climb the steps with the other tourists to the ruined shell of St Paul’s church. There are some buskers and a posse of Korean women wearing sun visors. We rest in the sun, which unexpectedly results in a little burning for both of us.

The trishaws come and go. A couple jump out of one to take a series of photos of each other posing before the ruined gateway, then jump back in and off they go. I don’t think they even looked at where they had been.

We return to the more sedate streets of the Chinese quarter where I buy a box of traditional pineapple tarts (look more like minature sausage rolls).

We take lunch/dinner at the gourmet veg restaurant we chanced upon on our bike ride over on Melaka Plaza. It looks expensive but is amazing value. The food is organic, unprocessed and without MSG etc. We both have set meals: mine a vege hotpot containing bitter gourd, okra and tofu, a soup with bamboo shoots, sesame/bean salad, mixed brown and wild rice…..it is spectacularly good, and Cyrus rates his mock fish curry too. A successful and satisfying meal.

It is dusk as we cycle over the bridge where hundreds of shrieking little birds are settling down to roost. We zip along the water front that I had walked the night before. The city is strangely reminiscent of Bristol: a floating harbour, a big sailing ship (the museum), modern apartment developments by the water, brightly lit bars.

After returning the bikes we take a rest then later walk the waterfront and find a row of houses with some great street art depicting the history of the city.

We toy with drinking at the reggae bar, which we guess has gay clientele, and Cyrus thinks I’m being eyed up as we pass. Instead we go back to Discovery Guesthouse, where we rented the bikes and have a jug of beer. The place is quite bohemian and has a lazy colonial feel to it.

Day 19 – Cycling up Route 13

Once more I didn’t get up at dawn, and anyway a bit bad-tempered after being woken up and kept awake by noisy neighbours, but still haven’t put a face to the din.

I rent a mountain bike, as yesterday’s one-speed heavy iron thing was useless for rough roads and hills. After buying some stuffed beyond capacity baguettes for breakfast and a picnic later I ask at tourist information for a good local map. What I get is useless and pointless.

Ive read about Route 13 and I missed it on the bus as it was dark. It goes all the way to Vientiane, which is 384km, but I’m not going to do that. It winds gently up the mountains and for a main road it is rather low-key, poorly finished and with no markings.

After about 30 minutes I come to a turning marked Tadhong Waterfall and take the steep dusty mud road/track, passing a couple of locals with sling shots, searching for food, some small houses and a boy doing something with large planks of wood, possibly preparing them for seasoning. It’s hot and I’m not sure how far I will have to go, but 20 minutes later I descend to a pond and a cluster of buildings labelled Snack Bar. Nobody there, just a local standing on the crumbling brick bridge.

The surroundings are beautiful, mountains all around, lilac coloured bushes a waterfall gently falling over the rocks. A woman appears from the shacks and sells me a ticket for 10,000 kip, which seems a lot just to stand at this clearing but she explains there are more falls higher up.

I take the wrong path immediately, and find myself climbing the side of the mountain through semi-cultivated slopes and past the workers’ shacks. As ai limb the view becomes more dramatic. The trodden path (not well beaten) takes me higher into the forest. There are hundreds of twisty vortex-like spider webs at knee height in the grass and bushes, and some spiders too.

Many types of butterflies, yellow, dirt colour, a red and white one the size of a child’s hand, 15cm long green dragonflies, blue-black ones near the water courses, and dirt coloured jumping cricket-like insects about 6cm long, hopping all over the place. And no people, just me.

Over the top of the mountain the path flattens then descends a little leaving the forest and I see it doesn’t lead to a waterfall, but a village, I later learn is called Ban Huay Ton. Seeing this remote village brings a moment of excitement. It looks just like the places I read about: remote, undeveloped, poor and not used to falangs.

I hesitate about proceeding, knowing I will be stared at and feel like the stupid whiteman looking at the natives, but I know I cant miss this opportunity. The approach is strewn with waste and on the edge of the settlement a small girl of about 6 or 7 is crouching and learning to weave the grass panels that are used for the walls of the huts. Her sister works behind her.

The village comprises about 25 similar houses with thatched roofs and grass panel walls, on stilts with wood stored underneath. This space is also used for keeping animals and has a platform for sitting on in the shade. There is a lot of sitting around: 4 boys are being taught something by a teacher: a woman standing on a small mound in front of them. Kids playing in an empty oil drum, another with an old bicycle tyre, some chase a skinny half-plucked chicken.

They are all shoe-less and have old dirty, some ripped, clothes. There is a gathering of people, mostly kids watching a truck unloading some stone. 2 monks also. Smoking. I know this is taboo. The place has 2 stores, which are just houses with big open window counters holding soft drinks and tissues.

Only the kids call out Sabaidee, the adults respond to me, but I’m tolerated rather than welcome. Anyway nobody objects to being photographed. There is electricity and there are a few satellite dishes. There is a dust road and motorbikes. I don’t think these people travel far, and I wonder what they make of and feel about the world they view on their TVs. I regret not having anything to give the kids. That was titillation, and leaves me a bit sad and awkward. Like going to a zoo.

The route back over the hill takes me through more forest and I’m passed by some locals who are not very responsive. Eventually I find the initial goal: a series of pools linked together by little cascades, sparkling in the dappled light shooting through the canopy. Its soothing, beautiful, peaceful.

Back at the Snack Bar pond area, a man is fishing with a rod, and a couple are wading the stream searching for something with a large net.

I return to Route 13 and carry on up the mountains away from Luang Prabang. It’s a joy to have a good bike. I’ve never ridden a bike that makes such big hills effortless. After passing through a number of villages and 30 minutes later, I decide that I should turn back..though, to be honest I just wanted to keep on going. The scenery is so awesome and the watching of everyday life so engrossing.

Back in town I go to the UXO visitors’ centre. This is an information centre run by UXO Laos, who are an NGO who are systematically removing all the unexploded ordinance left over from the Second Indo-China War. Laos had more bombs dropped on it than the total number of bombs dropped in the entire Second World War. The poorest areas were worst hit and the carpet bombing and use of chemical weapons is still having a significant effect on the people there. Lives being taken, children being maimed, livelihoods lost. Last year there were still 300 incidences of injury or fatality. This is 4 decades on and there are victims who weren’t even alive when these things were dropped. One of the biggest problems are cluster bombs. These are now illegal. The Americans dropped thousands of these. The casing breaks apart in mid-air scattering 400-600 mini-bombies, brightly coloured (nice for kids) and the size of a grapefruit. 30% of these never exploded. When one goes off anyone within 30m of it faces injury or worse. These are being dug up, found almost day by day..in school fields, paddy fields. I read that it will take another 100 years to completely remove all these bombs. Another problem is that poverty drives the locals to trade bombs and bomb casings as scrap metal. This is out-lawed but not enforced. This trip was really emotional and it made me angry to see that the USA isn’t more involved in righting this affront to humanity.

Another evening of shakes, crepes, and cycling in the cool dark evening. Ive found this part of the trip a bit solitary. Couples here, groups of friends with money, families, retired people. Anyway, I’m doing what I want to, and I was getting bored with the traveller’s chat: where are you from/where have you been/where are you going next?

I’m looking forward to being with someone: Cyrus and wonder how he will respond to this kind of travelling. 7pm here feels like 1am!