Tag Archives: bus

Travelling to phitsanulok

This is bus is more like a plane than the local one I caught from phi mai to korat. That one was rickety, jump on and off, and full of leathery faced older people and u overstay students. They all wear uniforms too. The boy going to the technical university has a dark grey military uniform. He stands to attention on the bus holding along set square like a gun. Schools are very visible and prominent in this culture. I’m sure you wouldn’t be aware of them driving through England.

Korat bus takes us past a huge school, with a green clad military sentry. The kids, all in orange shirts and black trousers, wai the guard.

Last night it rained incessantly. The night market packed up as the road became a big puddle. It must be tough when your livelihood as a trader can be rained off Like this. I do manage to get a bag of mangosteens, which always remind me of Cyrus, and longans, a huge bag of crushed dried red chillies, and a package of spring rolls which comes with an inconceivably huge bunch of salad leaves, including basil and some crunchy bitter shiny dark green ones. I have this for lunch on the bus to phitsanulok the next day.

As I was saying, it’s more like a plane: liveried purser, a welcome announcement on the mic, a box of cakes and water for each passenger, and a personal appearance by both drivers who stand in the door of the cabin(the crew is sealed off from the passengers, yes, like a plane) to wai to us all. This one has air conditioning as opposed to opening the windows at speed and letting the air rush in…..

When the Rain eased momentarily I did stretch my legs to alleviate the growing sense of tedium and isolation.i haven’t found a very sociable place to stay. The only other 2 guests are a cold French couple whose sum conversation is to ask if I know the whereabouts of the police station. In fact whilst over here in the east all the travellers I have met have been French. Funny how this works out. Last year in surathani everyone was German.

There are a few brave stall holders, who anyway look prepared for this, and a couple who have much better, dry and sheltered pitches. Under the ruined chedi is a barbecue stall. The woman perched on her motorbike watching a tv she has rigged and up and protected in layers of polythene…..

Dinner is a disappointing and overpriced plate of stir fried rice and veg, over which I attempt to plan meeting up with hon in ayutthya on fb. He hasn’t looked at my dates,says he is busy, says we can meet at koh Changan the end of my trip, but doesn’t factor in his starting work. A impasse. He then blocks me…wtf? Thais guys are flakey, confusing and full of shit……

Back to this bus. For the first 2 hours I have had to plug myself into my iPod. I should say, even though I have around 40 days of music on it, it doesn’t seem able to provide the necessary soundtrack for Asia. Most of the music I have is too rooted in uk,my uk past. Some is too abrasive, some too electronic….anywayi plugged it in to drown out what we were subjected to on the tv screens on the bus. It starts with some pop videos. There was one particular one that sticks in my mind. Beautiful young man arrives in his land rover at a school camp in the countryside. I’m not sure why he is there, but on arriving the kids are excited when they see him and there is a lingering meeting of eyes with a beautiful teacher. I think he has brought them gifts as he is later surrounded by the little munchkins waiing him as the open presents. maybe they are orphans….The following scenes show her to be wonderful, caring, loving, a perfect teacher, adored by her little kids. She tucks them in under blankets, by a camp fire. A few shots of the happy couple. Then he leaves again in his land rover…touching waving goodbye scene. All the kids and woman waving. The man drives off and has a quiet moment by the river. Cut to the woman. Se returns to the class room. There is a script in chalk on the board. It startles her and she reflects. Obviously he wrote something…I have no idea what. But judging from the tone of the video it has no sexual innuendo. Probably praising her qualities as a teacher! Kind of weird.it’s clearly a love some….but the kids element makes it quite obtuse.

The other videos were very amateurish. There was a rock band. I can tell this as, rebelliously, the sing had long hair. He was surrounded by a team of women dancers, who all. Had pink suitcases, the pull along type. In fact all these videos have beautiful long haired heavily made up Thai beauties, modestly dressed. Even the one with the old guy in the cowboy hat walking along the river singing and playing his guitar. Could be any of the characters I saw in pai!

There followed a video, could it have been a music video???of sepia footage of the current Thai king through the ages, looking noble, benign, respected, intelligent. Walking around villages, fishing, receiving guests, meeting the people.i can’t imagine anything like this being made in uk…if it is a music video…..

But the worst thing was an hour of something called he variety show. Tv at its worst.ridiculous looking hosts: a woman ( see description of eye candy for music video) and a guy who would give timmy mallet a run for his money in the worst dressed guy in tv history. Big glasses, a green striped shirt, bow tie, pink jacket with sleeves rolled up to the elbows 80s style, and 3/4 length skinny trousers. I not sure what happens on the show. There are 2 teams of possibly celebrities. One is a. Big jovial fat guy with a shaved head who play some games, such as eating some apparently revolting bright green food. These guys are dressed I really tasteless costumes: black and white check jackets with bright yellow or green spangly hoods, hats to match. The show involves a lot of standing around and saying things that result in a lot of guffawing.the studio Audience clearly loves it. There is an extended section with motor cycle stunt riders. Actually they ride 100cc automatics, so I guess the audience identifies with them.they wheelie, do rear wheelies as they stop, ride standing on the seat…nothing very jaw dropping. There is some young teenage oh who features here. I think he asks one of the riders some questions. Maybe he has been selected for this show. He looks bemused, bashful, perplexed…anyway eventually he takes part in the final stunt. Get this: two rows of riders lie perpendicular to the approaching bike. The rows are separated by a line of purple balloons, around 8 of them. The bike approaches. The boy is also on the bike, his back is facing forwards. On the first approach the rider pulls the bike into a rear wheel wheelie but stops just short of his prone colleagues, as he would have run them over. Gasps of horror from the crowd. Close ups of the celebrities, the pretty eye candy host looks bored. Second approach…this is the stunt….the rider takes a straight line this time, pulls the rear wheelie, the boy is now hanging backwards over the handle bars. He. Is wearing a crash hat with aspire on it. All the balloons are burst in sequence, the bike clears the lines. Cue applause and adulation. The boy is overjoyed and I am underwhelmed.

One more bus to get to sukhothai and it feels like an oasis of tranquility. Staying in a bamboo hut at 300 baht. Town is small and sleepy…good!had armed curry at choppers bar…styled around the Wild West and biking and Buddhism. There is a big group of chunky middle aged Thais with a German tattooed guy, who I presumed was chopper. One of their group has brought in a job lot of 80s style Motorola phones, which he is sharing around. I don’t get it it. It’s like something out of only fools and horses. I notice that waiting is the way to greet here. There is a 14 year old kid serving the drinks, unmeasured. The Thai guys great him like slackly and don’t make eye contact or thank him. My red curry is ok…needs much more spice. There. Ae several pairs of adventurous western females here. A guy is singing,and playing guitar and harmonica. His stage is a replica bull cart..I have 2 beers and return to sit in the near Silence outside my bungalow.

This is day 4

Day 4

Wake up and unsure what to do. After chatting to another French couple I’m swayed to go to phi mai, a few hours north of here. The bus is a local one and there are hawkers selling some barbecued skewered animal on the bus.

It has just struck me how I saw none of the ubiquitous monks in buriram province.

Bus to khorat. It’s actually raining on arrival, but it’s sticky rain that doesn’t leave you wet. I’m on some fairground attraction of a bus with chrome backed seats and chrome lined ceiling, wooden floor and ceiling mounted green, red, blue lights that I bloody hope don’t start flashing


Actually maybe the decor is more cheap nightclub. I get cruised in the toilet at khorat bus station. For heaven’s sake! The conductor is blinded up, skinny guy with flat cap, white towel round his neck, like a boxer, looks like a hustler. He offs me chewing gum. His information about bus times is as confused as my memory of Thai numbers. When asked how long the trip to phi mai is he says 6 hours, which then becomes 2 when I show him how many fingers.

It’s a local bus, more and more hawkers jumping on and off, bus fills up with tired students going home.


Pimai feels small, safe, friendly. I’m 1 minute from the khmaer temple. No hurry to explore. Welcoming young girl noan,who majored in English…lots of tattoos and very in-Thai. Her mum fixes me an out of hours pad Thai.


Christmas Day in Koh Muk, Penang and return

I start the day quite early and walk around the headland to cut across the island to Find Sabai beach. The path climbs through rubber plantations. The trees have a groove spiralling down which channels the white dripping sap into half dried coconut shells tied around the trees with wire. Loads of bright beautiful butterflies, a zipping green grasshopper the size of my big finger. A rustle in the trees and I spy the face of a macaq. The path turns into jungle, the track about a metre wide, yellow rutted path used by the motorbikes of planters. No other foreigners. Palms with leaves up to 3 metres long. Dead brown palm leaves hanging in swathes, dry and brown and rustling loudly in the breeze. Past some rubber planters houses, crudely shaped white sheets of pressed latex hanging on lines to dry. Under the house I can see a couple of hand mangles. The path peters to breaks in the bushes and navigation is a bit harder. As I pass another house A voice cries out ” hey my friend, where are you going?” I look up and see a cropped grey head, brown shoulder, brown-orange robed monk. He beckons me over. His friend is swaying next to the house ( it is his house). I join the monk, Ajairn and spend the next hour or more gazing out over the jungle and talking about the directions we have chosen in life. He tells me to be careful not to get lost. I tell him, philosophically that you never get lost. You take paths and the path is either the right one and you continue or you realise it is not the right one, so you choose another one. He is 55 Has been a monk for 5 years. Is from Chang mai and travels Thailand. He works in a foundation that promotes Buddhism to foreigners. He has been sent to Koh Muk to serve the island. One temple, one monk. The island doesn’t seem too interested in Buddhism. I see no shrines, prayer houses, wai-ing. He has had a normal life of working for an airline company in hotels, marriage, children, money, divorce. Turned to drink and women. Says he did bad things and he was damaged. Becoming a monk meant he gave up and away everything, and was supported by his family totally. He has a new name, as do all monks, and even his family must dress him with a higher more respectful language. His friend has also been a monk. He is now married and living on this hill in the forest. I notice a long scar with stitch arcs right down his belly from his navel. He goes down to the neighbouring house where his wife is, and comes back with a flask of hot water and some cups and sachets of instant sweetened white coffee. After a while we go down the hill to a bend where he sends me on my way, suggesting a mark my path with scratches on trees. He invites me to his temple in the evening.

The path to the beach is indeed almost invisible. After anotherc20 minutes it arrives under a pineapple tree at a stagnant pool of flotsam and jetsam which I negotiate on a wobbly plank bridge onto the beach. It’s about 100 metres wide flanked by craggy mountains on each side. Accessible only by boat or by my path . There is nobody there. The plan had been to have a final dip in the sea. Though the beach is soft sand the edge is littered with sharp protruding and underlying rock. I test the water. It’s a bit unpredictable to negotiate the sea bed. I walk in a little way, the sit down, letting the swell wash over me. I spend. A little more time on the rocks then begin my sweaty return journey. A startled dog runs back into the bushes. There are some beautiful flowers, in 2 parts. A red thing like a rubbery red open pine cone and out of the top a delicate long white trumpet of a flower with a yellow stimen.

When I get back to my beach the sun is out, it is around 3 pm. Actually I have no idea, and don’t care. Though hungry I lose myself on the beach. The tide is way way out. You can walk about 500 m out over the sand and rocks. There is a popping sound. I think it’s the crabs, maybe the shell fish. Hoi nam (sea snails), dap (starfish). Little bright sand crabs scampering around and back into the myriad of holes in the sand. Women are banging rocks, and collecting shells, big inky blue grey long legged birds with yellow feet swoop down and wade the pools looking for dinner.

I go back to the Coco Lounge for an excellent green curry with tofu and aubergine. Perfect level of spiciness. The lady asks me about why I’m vegetarian. It’s a question I never know the answer to. Every year in October there is a vegetarian festival in Phuket and Trang. I really should plan a trip around that. At dusk I go to find the wat. It’s actually behind Coco Lounge. And next to the health centre, in front of which teenagers are playing volleyball and a group of older guys are playing a game with a wicker ball. Standing in a ring and passing it around in the air by foot and head. The wat is an open modest affair, in a little square surrounded by houses and sitting next to a diminutive red Chinese temple which only opens for Chinese New Year. Ajairn is sitting freshly shaven and in brighter orange robes. I remember him joking about different types of Buddhist monks. Red shirts and yellow shirts! He is at a table with a small boy who is a tiny 11. He immediately notices me and calls me over. Delighted to see me.

He sends the young boy off to buy him some cigarettes. The boy comes back with a slightly bigger one and they have some fire crackers,which they take glee in tossing in the bushes to bang loudly. They play with a box of matches and I film their antics.

From then on the iPad takes over the evening. Suddenly it is dark and the mosquitoes are ferocious driving us into the temple where the 2 boys and a little sister cluster around the iPad looking at pictures of places faraway and of houses and faces they know. They watch the film I made of the boys playing football. They know them all. Interesting to see how intuitive and easy it is to use this iPad. The younger boy picks up navigation, zooming, speeding up and slowing down film very easily. This evening Ajairn doesn’t make too much sense. He asks me to help him with a website. I will do, but I’m not sure how. He insists I come by tomorrow before leaving to donate a coffee. I say I will, sadly knowing I won’t have time. We say goodbye.

Back at the beach the tide is very very high. I chat with William about my day, then pack. Later in the evening I go to the bar by the beach. There is some live music, a few foreigners, William and some locals. There is a mixture of pro performers, marked out by their sunglasses after dark and long hair, who play a couple of covers including Hotel California, but much much better are their Thai songs, many of which the locals know. They sing about the islands and the sea. The show is interspersed by some of the locals who sing and play too. Very talented and mournful lilting voices. These rough moustached guys by day are fishermen. William takes the mic to sing to some of the tunes. Everyone gets up and dances, the beer flows and some strange crunchy sweet cookies are passed round. It’s a beautiful night, and I’m reluctant to say goodbye and goodnight.

Boxing Day

I wake up with a cold, oh my god. It doesn’t seem to get worse during the day. I have my last breakfast as the sun comes up then walk with Dada to the pier with bags following with her husband in the motorbike and sidecar. At the pier I meet one of the singers from last night. He works the boats lugging boxes. He has a cowboy hat and looks funny lassoing the rope to tie up the boat. Waving goodbye to Dada and husband from the deck of a heavily laden ferry boat. Koh Muk slowly receding, sun beating down, exhaust belching noise and smoke. Lulled into a reverie, next to some weather beaten brown locals and a young lugger with the eyes of an old man. We are transferred to Trang where I go back to Rungtip travel. The girls remember me and I buy them some mangosteens from a very friendly fruit stall. Share a ride with some Dutch girls full of stories about Koh Muk to the bus station, where I kill 20 minutes buying sweet meals. Each bus counter has big bunches of bananas which they hand out to the waiting passengers. The minibus is piled high with bags and the stereo booms past my own headphones. Wafting smell of those menthol nose sticks so many Thais sniff obsessively.

27 December and my time has taken a whole new slant and perspective.

Arrived in Georgetown around 9.30 and the Hang Chow hotel had kept me a room but it was seedy, grotty and on the ground floor. I look at a couple of other places and remembered my trudge 2 years ago trying to find a room. I end up at the Hong Ping hotel, a big place on Lebuh Chulia. Chinese, smells a bit smokey, lacking in atmosphere but ok. I shower and get the long wished for masala dosa and mango lassi.

Phone and meet E and this is where things change. After some stalling he tells me about his illness and I still can’t take in it in. Sitting in a Chinese temple, a chanting cd and on the verge of tears. Slowly now I’m uncovering his layers. Layers he is ashamed of. Man, he has done some bad things and I can only begin to imagine how he is dealing with this. Can’t tell his family. He called it the death sentence.

What else is there to say? The minibus from Hat Yai was driven by a git who spent several stops smoking and chatting to his mates, leaving us waiting. He even got a bit lost. Hat Yai had rows after rows of stalls of dried nuts, porn DVDs, and I ate some vegetable rice salad. The waiter was gay. Shit, so what? Who is reading this? I want to change as a person, but I don’t know what I can do. I love E. What can I give him?

The afternoon ends with heavy rain and I edit pics and doze. I arrange via dodgy Internet to meet Eyrique for dinner at the food court near his hotel. His mum and brother and sister will be there. On this day the 15 th of the lunar month, his mum is vegetarian. Se treats me to dinner, rice, aubergine with garlic, water spinach, we have some beers. The entertainment on the stage is 3rd rate karaoke Carpenters style. Eyrique and I go off on our own initially to find a gay bar, but Georgetown has none. We sit in the side street at the Monkey Juice bar. Same guy, same menu, same prices as 2 years ago. We have a juice, Eyrique eats more, I photograph an old guy with his poodle. We leave as the market is closing. Back to my room. Eyrique has already picked up my cough.

The next day we were going to spend together, but his mother wants him back with them to do family stuff. We have a dosa for breakfast. Seems to be some tension around him being with me. We say goodbye, I’m a bit tearful. Weird how little we know each other, how fleeting our meetings are, how big an effort it is to reach each other. Funny how much I like being with him.

Final 2 days

Yesterday I walked around, hung around some temples, chatted to an old Chinese lady in her medicinal tea shop. Walked the malls, bought nothing. Oh, I forgot about meeting William Orchard from Singapore. A small guy in a baseball hat guarding a pile of flight cases next to the row of ruined heritage buildings I investigated last time round. They are still there, but I think the row behind has vanished. The is still one occupied by a Chinese grocer. He insists they won’t pull them down. Doesn’t seem to be much substance to rebuild though. The guy from Singapore is there making a film. He is the producer and it’s a self financed student film. A sci-fi ghost story and they have come all this way for these cool locations. We chat quite a long time, then they load up their fancy coach and drive off.

That was the day before yesterday. Back to yesterday and my wandering. I don’t see anything new, just enjoy the familiarity of the place. Have several lassis at various cheap Indian restaurants, and buy a big bag of fresh samosa and bhaji for the homeward journey. I browse one of the several used book stores and chat to the missing toothed Chinese owner about my travels. It’s amazing anyone buys anything in these stores, and this is better than most. Sun-faded, sea-water-curled trash best sellers probably from airports around the world. I do manage to find Memories of a Geisha and hope I will get round to reading it. I’ve got money to burn and I find myself in a crockery shop buying discounted Japanese plates and bowls. Quite cheap, but no haggling possible. For dinner I go back to Sri Amman…whatever it is called. No free tables so I’m invited to share a table with an Indian looking guy who is actually British. Quit his job as a banker in Canary Wharf and travelling Asia. His travels are a bit mainstream, and he isn’t too keen on experiencing the real Cambodia I tell him about. Anyway, he is ok company. We share a passion for vegetarian food and fruit, but his comments about missing uk, eg soya milk irk a little. Soya milk is easy to find and deliciously fresh here. Hope he will discover this. When we part I go back to Monkey Juice bar for a series of juices, each different, each refreshing. Suddenly remember to print my boarding passes, then go back to Hong Ping to sleep.

Next day, ie today. Breakfast is impossible to find even at 9am. For a city so keen on eating and with a Chinese population so geared to making money I can’t believe there is absolutely nowhere open. I settle for snacks from the 7-11. The minibus picks me up and takes me to the bus station where I board a luxury cruiser with remote controlled footrest and massage controls. I actually only discovered this by accident. I must have leant my elbow on the button, as suddenly I felt a trembling vibration on the left side of my back. First I thought it was the throbbing of the engine, but then I pressed a few more buttons and found more areas to vibrate. The journey was longer than promised. That’s no surprise, and the traffic was snail-like. The bus got hot and the air fuzzy. I chatted a little to my neighbour, a Malaysian kid of 19 who lives in Penang and studies in KL. To my relief the bus goes to KL Sentral, which means an easy connection to the airport. However, the bus takes me to the Airasia terminal. Why didn’t they tell me? I wander around the terminal a while and only when I ask for help do I realise my mistake. Sweltering sun. Waiting for a connecting bus. Once at the right terminal the rapid drop in queue doesn’t move as a family of Arabs are checking in about 20 pieces of luggage. One of their kids opens a Coca Cola bottle which sprays sticky brown sugary goo all over the counter and floor. Once through to departures I get some Mango Absolut, and the girls in the duty free shop are in a quandary about whether I am allowed to take it into Abu Dhabi where I have to transfer. I buy it anyway, and later am told at boarding that it will be ok. The airport book shop has many peculiar looking books on Malaysian politics and social commentary. I would have bought one if I hadn’t changed the rest of my ringgit back to pounds. My media research continues with buying some newspapers to analyse.

That takes me back to last night. I don’t usually have any interest in tv in my hotel room, but I thought I would check out what is broadcast here. It was an English language news channel from Malaysia. Interesting coverage. No Chinese faces or Indians. Lots of minor dramas, deaths, incidents, all involving Malays. Crimes such as gang robbery of a tanker, a crime of passion involving a woman, her husband, her lover. An overturned pick-up which mowed down a couple of electricity pylons. Floods on the east coast, army rescues. Education reforms. The deputy PM emphasising mastery of Behasa Melayu and English. There were complaints and suggestions by Dong Ping, a Chinese campaigner for Chinese education, for inclusiveness for all students with the new policies. The deputy PM made some comment to the effect that “we cannot please everyone and these policies are not going to be changed just for Dong Ping”. Then he made some speech about how we must curb text language as it is destroying the beautiful Malay language. Basically we saw a portrayal of a single race nation, with a single language. All smiles and silk.

I saw many of these people in the evening, yesterday. I walked up to the town hall and the harbour wall near the fort. This is a Malay area. Funny how segregated they all are. Promenading families, headscarved mothers. Everyone creating meaning and moments by snapping each other on their phones over and over, silly poses, poor light. Rituals that give shape to their evenings. I dangle my feet over the wall and watch a mammoth container ship glide slowly in, then like a mirage a brightly lit blue and white ferry positively motoring into to the port.

Even on the plane, the guy near me. A black African snaps himself several times on his Blackberry. Why oh why? To show he is on a plane? Meaningless.

My god, what a long journey. Arriving in Heathrow at 6.30 am local time. I decided not to change my watch since leaving Malaysia. Time means nothing. Except I’m tired. I can see I have lost a day, or is it 2 and I have been travelling for 30 hours now. By my reckoning it. Will be 32 by the time I get home, mid-morning, and go to bed. It’s cold here, maybe 8 degrees, my sleep on the planes was drowsy and hypnotic due to my iPod streaming whatever it liked on shuffle mode.

Uk transport….well the District line isn’t running from Hammersmith, necessitating another change. The train from Victoria to Brighton should be quick and reliable. Crawling to East Croydon, taking half an hour. This journey is costing 25 quid. I just want to get home. Uk is miserably frustratingly crap.

Day 29 – Taman Negara to KL

We have to get back to KL for Cyrus’ job interview. After breakfast we trudge up the hill to wait for the local bus, though the location of the bus stop is guesswork. We stand by the clinic for no more than a couple of minutes when the driver of an NKS minibus waves to us, then comes over and offers us a ride to Jerantut (same price as the bus would have been, so a bargain).

The journey through the beautiful forest, passing cows in the shade and bright blue birds flitting across the road, is uneventful apart from a sudden sickening loud thud which jolts everyone out of their reverie. Apparently a bird struck the windscreen or the windscreen struck it and the impact has smashed the glass directly in front of the driver. I would be so shaken I wouldn’t be able to drive on, but he pulls over just for a minute to brush the splinters from his lap then drive on. Thank god for shatter-proof glass. I don’t think he could see too much through the windscreen for the bulk of the journey….

We don’t have to wait too long at Jerantut and by mid-afternoon we are once more in the heat, humidity and jungle of the big city of KL. Once more we try Le Hotel, but it doesn’t have any affordable rooms free. Cyrus is getting irritable and impatient, so it’s lucky that the next place we try (Etica guesthouse) has a room, and it’s peaceful and cool (it looks on to the back street market which starts up in the morning. No mosque!). After a shower Cyrus and I clear the air, and I tell him he needs to be more appreciative and patient, and less demanding. Everything is fine.

We go different ways: he back to Ampang to do my laundry (which turns out to be a big mistake as it doesn’t leave enough time to dry, and so I end up carrying around musty stinky damp smelling t-shirts for the remainder of my trip), and then to an education fair. I arrange to meet Eyrique, who I havent seen since he was in the UK in February.

He turns up in a car at Pasar Seni (a new experience for me in Malaysia) and takes me to the Institute of Performing Arts, where there is a buffet posh restaurant, but we are too early, it isn’t open, and anyway dressed in shorts, singlets and flip flops we wouldn’t be granted admission. We walk the main street in Brickfields, the road lined with bright green, red, orange painted Hindu-styled arches, and find an Indian Restaurant that does a great buffet and mango lassi. We talk about his life and relationships. He is in a similar position as Cyrus: back in Malaysia, not sure about staying. With an English boyfriend. Having to make decisions.

Eyrique wants to talk somewhere quieter and we end up at the temple on the hill that Cyrus and I walked to a few weeks earlier. The scaffolding is down and there are lanterns hanging in readiness for the Chinese New Year. A big gaggle of photographers is photographing some model. We talk at length about religious customs, re-incarnation, concepts of time and experience, spirits, aspirations of perfection and my dream about killing. It’s a sprawling conversation that covers a lot of ground. Temples do that to me.

Cyrus calls. He has gone back to the hotel to rest, as he feels a bit unwell. So, I stay out longer. We take a walk along Petaling Street and see a lion dancing troop doing some shop promotion. I get a mango dessert and then a kumquat and lime juice. Eyrique gives me a bag of fruits from his grandmother’s garden: rambutan and another fruit whose name I forget (like a less hairy rambutan, more like a conker or testicle..lol). i ask him about Chinese character (it’s helping me understand Cyrus some more). Eyrique walks me back to the guesthouse where we say goodbye. It was good to meet again.

Cyrus is sleeping, and I begin to edit my photos.

Day 26 start of journey to Taman Negara

We spent some of the evening planning what to do. Cyrus in the end contacted his boss, who had asked him to give up booked holiday to come in and work, to tell him no. I think it was a big decision for him, but it should have been an easy one, when I hear how badly he is taken advantage of. Maybe it’s a Chinese attitude: loyalty, work comes first. Anyway, I’m glad he put me first. But….Cyrus had also lined up an interview for a new job, so at some point in our holiday together we would have to be back in KL. We plan a trip to Taman Negara, back to KL for a day then go to Melaka, and from there I would go to Singapore.

On waking up we checked out, got breakfast at the food court in the market (for me Chinese veg buffet). Got the subway to Titiswanga and from there a 3 hour bus to Jerantut. From here you need to get another bus or bus/boat connection to get to the national park. It was hot when we got to Jerantut. Cyrus seemed a bit bewildered to be in a strange little town and hesitated a little before we carried on with the plan: to spend a quiet night here and get the boat the next day (we were too late for the last boat of two anyway). Jerantut turned out to be much smaller than the Lonely Planet suggested and we quickly found a recommended hotel (Sri Emas), where the friendly gay receptionist with mutiple pierced ears and a camp laugh took a shine to me and quizzed Cyrus in Malay about me and him (Cyrus never really told me what he said). Anyway, the room is adequate and cheap. Over the road is the LBK agency/cafe where we would take breakfast the next day and book a boat ticket. The road is quite pretty with a row of gabled colonial houses from the 1920s in purple and pink.

There isn’t much to do here, we wander, get an iced drink, and get hot…..Evening is a bit disappointing as the travellers’ cafe is closed and all the eateries are Malaysian (thus not vege friendly). I feel I’m annoying Cyrus with my food requirements, but we finally find a cafe by the railway (Railway Cafe), where the owner speaks good English and helps me order a stuffed omelette (with noodles and veg). Cyrus’s banana split is served minus banana, my mango dessert is replaced by a less exciting black cherry one. We go to bed early, and give up on TV as there are only 3 channels (Malaysian drama/ HK movies).

Day 22 – Leaving Laos- Arriving Khon Kaen

I’ve booked a bus to Khon Kaen, Thailand to see Nick, in the afternoon. My morning is filled with relaxed activities: breakfast and a sit in the shade at Wat In Feng where I read my murder mystery set in Vientiane. Later I search for the building where some of the action is set, but cannot distinguish it. The area by the fountain has probably changed a lot in 20 years. I get my final mint-lime shake and watch an American girl eating noodles with one chopstick: she pushes into a mound of noodles and hooks up a bunch which she then sucks up like a kid eating spaghetti. She later uses a spoon, using the sole chopstick, held like a pen to push noodles onto it before putting it in her mouth.

As soon as I board the bus at Vientiane I feel I have left Laos. It is a Thai bus and feels like a plane. Our luggage is tagged. The bus has a separating door to the driver’s “cockpit”, the aircon is cold, and the seats are all new. There is a crew with uniforms with medal ribbons, but I’m not quite sure what they are awarded for. I know we will be on time, and there will be no breakdowns or unscheduled stops (actually we do set down people where they want later on).

A fidgety old guy sits next to me and he talks to himself from time to time. He has a big bag of baguettes (don’t they sell them in Thailand?). One of the most noticeable things about being back in Thailand is mobile phones. There are a number of very loud and lengthy calls throughout the journey, including one from the woman directly behind me, which makes the ride rather unrelaxing. My little old guy, like many others also has a loud musical ring tone which I hear far too often… just for an update on where are you now? I see a girl whizzing along as her friend’s motorcycle passenger using her phone as a mirror as she does her make-up. A boy in the back of a pickup having a loud conversation over the noise of the road.

I notice my bus ticket would have been almost half price if I’d bought it myself. The transfer to the bus station costs as much as the ticket. Anyway it’s peanuts. What I wasn’t expecting (as I’d spent all my Kip) was an exit fee at the Friendship Bridge. I ask to pay this in dollars and have to pay an “overtime charge” for the imposition this makes! Again it’s trifling really.

The roads in Thailand are free-flowing, cars look newer, settlements more developed. Oh, there is a huge stone monument welcoming me to “the Land of Smiling”. Laos seems happier to me.

Khon Kaen 4 hours later. Nick is not at the bus station. It’s dark, busy, a bit hectic and it feels like not many foreigners pass through. Finding somewhere to sleep is a priority, so I take a bed in more or less the first hotel I find: Saen Samran, with scrubbed wooden interior and peeling sad walls. It’s fine for 200 baht.

I pop back to the bus station, thinking maybe Nick was there…and he was. Good news. We walk to the night market. Everything written in Thai except the fruit shake stall, it’s obvious there are no veggie stalls. I ask Nick to ask a stallholder to fix me some noodles and egg, which they do and it’s nice.

We walk a lot. There isn’t too much to do or see. Khon Kaen has a lot of very wide roads lined with banks and commercial buildings, lots of hoardings, dinosaur statues and many golden bridges and photographs of the king. We spend an hour at a square which contains a shrine which contains a stone pillar. Outside are shrines to Buddha, to Shiva to other deities, and here people come and light joss sticks and pray for good fortune. They seem to try every belief sysyem just to make doubly sure. The square also has a large number of plaster animals. elephants mainly, left there as tributes. The trees here are brightly lit and there is an out-door cinema playing Hong Kong movies. We chat and get bitten by mosquitoes.

Day 21 – Leaving LP

Still trying to catch up, but I don’t think anyone is reading this, so who cares…it’s just for my memory sake!

Don’t want to get up and don’t want to leave and progress slowly back to faster, more “civilised” ways of living.

The so-called VIP bus is typical of those plying the route from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, and I soon discover why. It has a cracked windscreen and some other windows sealed with tape. !5 minutes before departure a team of ” mechanics” are tightening/adjusting/fixing some part of the engine with a wrench.

To say the ride is slow is a serious understatement. 380km in around 11 hours, sometimes moving at no more than 15km/h. This is a main road, but is without markings or lighting and the edges are broken. In many places, around 405 of the road between LP and Vang Vieng the road is unsurfaced, dusty, pitted. God knows what it is like in the rainy season. Because of this or inevitably there isn’t much traffic: local motorbikes, motorbikes and sidecars, pickups, a few buses, kids on bikes and trucks. One of the reasons for the country’s lack of development is surely the almost complete lack of decent communications. Oddly this is one of the attractions.

The first 6-7 hours are twisty (SHARP CURVE, SLOW DOWN!), bumpy and mountainous rural kms of wondrous sites: beautiful craggy densely forested limestone peaks, like jagged teeth. Houses and Bans hug the edge of the road, as there is no flat land anywhere else: i see men and boys gathered round a cock fight, marquees being set out for a celebratory meal, girls in colourful Hmoung dress, including amazing pom-pom fringed headwear arriving in pick-ups, parents blowing up balloons, girls collecting tall grasses which are dried in the sun by the road before being woven into thatch panels, old women walking up the steep road with baskets of chopped fire wood in baskets strapped to their backs, big round flat basketfuls of red chillis drying on the roofs of shacks. A man pumping water, another scrubbing his jeans with soap.

Everything covered in a grimy layer of red dust from the road: roofs, crates of bottles, drying clothes, motorbikes, kids with no shoes…..

The bus stops intermittently to pick up locals by road and load their baskets of wares into the huge luggage space beneath us which already contains a motorbike. There is a toilet but using it on these roads is a losing battle against gravity. The lilting sound of Laos pop is broadcast on the bus stereo. Strangely calming, and totally apt.

The available farming land is paddy in the valleys,and is being burned to fertilise the soil. Further toward Vientiane, where the villages and roads are evidently more developed, the land is more cultivated and looks like it is commercially exploited for produce rather than the subsistence of the highlands.

Our pit-stop involves a free meal at the canteen. My choice of veg and rice is pretty basic and not very appetizing. So glad I brought my takeaway from the night market in LP.

Over the top of the highest ridge we descend gradually as a big red sun slowly sinks beneath layers upon layers of blue and indigo ridges shrouded with an ethereal mist. New year’s eve is upon us: some men are sitting around fires drinking beer as their women bring out a plucked chicken to boil in the pot. For most people it looks like a regular evening.

Unsurprisingly there are accidents on this road: one involving a couple of motorbikes. A big group gathered around, but you wonder how on earth, if indeed any serious emergency would be dealt with in these difficult places.

!! hours, yes and I’m back n Vientiane, which compared to Lp feels as busy as London (well), but it has traffic and people and noise and is so much faster! SO glad that the Mixay held onto a room for me as I’m able to get out fast and have a nice Indian dinner by the river and then buy some beer and look at the tiny horizontal sliver of a moon lighting a patch of the distant water on the last night of 2011.

I go to the BeerLaos MusicCentre for the countdown: It’s a big stage with yellow tables and chair and mountains of beer can displays all sponsored by BeerLAos, behind the municipal hall. The square is busy, but I wouldn’t say really crowded,. I guess all the young Laos teenagers are there, eating at tables, drinking, laughing. All are in their smartest casual dress. Even some Laos girls are wearing high heels, but not expertly, as I see at least 2 trip and stumble. There is a group of British girls wearing little black dresses, exactly as if they were back home. There are older western guy with Laos girlfriends. The smell of fried fish and boiled chicken’s feet.There are those photographers again, taking posed pics for you: this time by an avenue of white fairy lights.

Some singers/bands are doing what looks like X-factor Karaoke style performances, but the crowd seem to know and love every word.

As midnight approaches, some old guys in suits make a long speech…Don’t know who they are, but probably important officials. Many party poppers firing confetti into the air, a couple of Chinese floating lanterns, accompanied by gasps as they falter then lift off, as if there was a tragedy averted.

After a sing along by a mixture of suits and stars (I guess), a popular band takes the stage. They are a bundle of cliches: guitarist with AC/DC t-shirt with long headbanging hair, kids dance on each others’ shoulders and sing along with a rather chubby sun-glass wearing singer with a blue t-shirt who croons such provocative lyrics (in English, some): “Girl you’re amazing. I wouldn’t change anything about you. You’re perfect the way you are…” They move from soft rock to rap metal (tuneless and stupid!).

A small group of khaki wearing police in too big caps watches from the distance, and I’m poked by one so he can have his chair. They are really pissed, groggy, almost stumbling. Clearly enjoying the sponsorship deal by BeerLaos. They toast me and wish me happy new year (oddly the only people who do), then see a “flashpoint”….. a small group of teenage boys have removed their t-shirts as they dance to some rap act. This requires action and the police rush over to make the boys comply with strict Laos law! They are monitored from then on…….

That’s enough for me…back home to bed…alone 😦