Tag Archives: locals

Last day in khao sok and on to Koh mok

I have good intentions to do a few things such as having a massage, but achieve little beyond returning the bike and after half a day of weighing up options getting a ticket to trang. The rest of the day is spent at the restaurant and bar talking with various people. The world is due to end. It’s the end of a cycle on the Mayan calendar. At around 7.30 thereis a blackout…so this could be it. The dark and candles provokes discussions about beliefs, religions, philosophies. Klaus tells me about the student movements and the badder meinhoff supporters. He had no political leanings and unlike some of his peers was not excluded from being a state school teacher for any ideological reasons. Ingo points out that we talk louder when it is dark. The Canadians further away at the bar talk annoyingly loud. I had already taken a dislike to their jock like poses and attitudes. Soon they are in the restaurant too, all drunk and jumping around, being twats. Bird says he loves these guys cos they are happy…well…..

I suggest we decamp from the restaurant so that the girls can get to bed. At the bar it’s quite busy. I join a table where Paco and kristian from 2 nights previously are with their friend klaus, I go and then Austrian lukas. Son we are disturbed by a Canadian who engages me with British associations and themes. How he loves the accents in snatch. East end gangsters. Wants to know my views on the. England football team. Then, the worst thing is that he sits down and joins us. Dominating physically and volume wise. Making crass statements about nationality groups and boasting how BASE jumping has meant he no longer fears death or life. Ingo says he does not need to do that to not have fear. I ask the Canadian how that relates to an unimproved peril such s a terminal disease. S with most of my retorts he fails to grasp anything. We have to do something to stop him dominating us, so I coax. Him into a guessing game. He doesn’t have the lateral thinking skills to guess our jobs, so I suggest we try to guess his, which blInd to him gives us an opportunity to discuss what we think of him right in front of him..he is not creAtive, he talks a lot at people,…it becomes quite fun. We never get near the answer: he is in rr&d……what he also manged to slip in is a detail about how he can’t bed all his fingers on his right hand due to a knife practice incident in the army. It takes a while. He never gets us, and never sees how we have been mocking him, but eventually he leaves. We drink and smoke some more then its time for bed, one by one of us.

The next day I get up early to have breakfast, but the power is still off, and the place is deserted. When the cleaners appear , they will not do anything for me until they have finished that Thai obsession of sweeping up. I saw today at khao mok that hey even sweep the beaches. I even make up my own bill, as I know I’m running out of time before my pick up. Fortunately I do mange to squeeze ibreakfastbedore I go. It’s mostly locals on the mini bus to Surat Thani, where I am helped out and pointed toward s a place to weight for a second minibus to trang. Spend some time at the bus station buying more mangosteens, and taking some pics. I discovered that the power blackout had been over a huge area, reaching phanom . Weird when you think we are right next to a hydro electric power plant. It did seem like this was a symptom of the end…..

I should recount my dream. I met jez and pete from Nottingham. I think. I was in my house in brighton. There was an orange flash, a mushroom cloud in the sky. Lots of talk of an approaching tsunami , me saying I wanted to be with those 2 guys, but had lost them. I opened the door, there was rising water. I go up to the top of the house, the water has reached this level, some people Re telling me I will be sauce if I grab one off the floating blackened logs. I realise hat hese are parts of west pier which has been annihilated by a a tsunami wave.just then the is a nearer similar mushroom cloud.i know it’s the end. There is that classic whaling fading to white and everything is gone.

The deem has even more provenance as I end up on an island called Koh muk, which does in fact have signs all around indicating evacuation routes nod tsunami instructions.

The trang minibus drops off athe bus station which is far out of town. I mange to work out that I need a sawntaewn into town, roughly to the station. The power cut denied me electricity to charge my ipad and I am mapless. The town quite clearly is not what I want. Big, traffic, grey, nothing of note. The taxi lets me off near a cluster of travel agencies, and I get the lowdown on a good place to go. The. 2 places I go to both recommend the same place. I book with girls who spend the longest trying to match my priorities. On going to collect my bag at the first agency, I have a brief chat with a Norwegian woman who has been staying on Koh muk too, and she leads me to believe its a good choice. I had around10 minutes to make my mind up in order to get the last transfer at 4 pm. A good decision. A minibus drives for a around 40 mins, takes us to a jetty and we cross the sea studded with dramatic looking islands in about 35 mins.

On arriving on Koh muk, I’m met by dada, the owner of the garden resort I’m booked into. She is on a well used scooter, her daughter on pillion, and a 70cm fresh fish draped across the foot well. As is followed by her husband driving a ubiquitous motorbike sidecar combination which has a bench seat, but doubles up as a goods carrier. He takes my bag and the fish and the daughter and some boxes, and I jump on behind dada. I’m shocked and delighted by the road, rather a narrow windy sany, sometimes paved track that weaves through Woden houses on stilts with fires outside and families poor he’s preparing food, watching tv or just watching the world. I’m struck by the amount of plastic trash under the houses, on the edge of the. Sea. Our path is blocked by a felled palm tree, sow we take an even less clear route. The resort is around 8 bungalows on an incline next to the family house with its big porch which contains the restaurant and lounging area. This is directly above a narrow curved sany beach. Very secluded, very peaceful. A number of shy smiley girls work ther nod one of them, Koh, shows Myers my large but primitive room. I need electricity, but the one PowerPoint is burnt out. I go to he restaurant area ad after ordering and eating a red curry, meet a Dutch guy, William who supplies n adaptor which enables me to plug in there. I have a little stroll through the village then back again. Spend a pleasant evening chatting to William, and sharing some beers at the bar he is constructing. His. 2 labouring mates turn up later. Brothers both from the island.

 

I still have some kind of muscular problem. I twisted a muscle win my side when I jumped off the motorbike back at khao sok. It’s weird that you need muscles to lie down and turn your body when you sleep, and that’s when the pain is.

Anyway I’m still on Koh muk. My first day was languid and did involve getting burnt on the neck and shoulders. Stupid European skin. Been here 2 weeks and been really careful, but my skin is so sensitive to sunlight. I walked along the beach and through the village, pausing to watch fisherfolk (sounds quaint) repairing boats, nets, pulling huge squelchy fish and starfish out of entangled nets, kids playing with kites. I see a lot of birds, and an eagle, and a goat type animal sleeping on a low wall in a school ground. I follow a track, actually the main road up a hill, past some bigger houses and snaking up past another village. Houses on stilts, interconnected by gangways and blue water pipes. A few stalls selling snacks and drinks, the occasional motorbike passing me by, usually with a smile or hello greeting. Lots of beautiful butterflies in the bushes opposite. The road carries on into some jungle and past some guys making concrete by a pool and dam. This is being transferred further down the path to where they are turning the track into a narrow solid surface. I found out this is because over the hill, past a Couple of woodland resorts with tents and bars at the shore there is a big faring resort. Clean white wide sandy beach accessed through a well appointed collection of bungalows, shops, Internet room, lobby and even pool. I get as far as the beach then turn around. I don’t want to be there. Walking back up I see a metre long monitor lizard in my path and some other smaller reptiles. Back past the village I linger some more. Cockerels running around, a boy and girl showering dressed with a hose. I take lunch at palace by the sea, which has wifi. Som tam and pineapple shake. Right in front is an open stretch of beach where a collection of young boys aged between 5 and 11 are playing football. Brightly coloured kick and rush and lots of shouting. I position myself in a hammock nearby to watch the spectacle. They spot me nd rush over to ask where I’m from. The talkative one in the yellow shirt and purple shorts claims he is kaka and shows me his stopovers. All the other kids are boisterous and try to hack him down. I beging to take pictures, then show them, which they love. The youngest understands pretty fast how to navigate pictures on an iPad. I make some video too and they play up to me, telling their names and showing me their party tricks. Kaka’ is an illusion of pushing a nail through the back of his neck, and it appearing on his tongue inside his mouth. They wave and shout goodbye as far as they can see me disappearing.

At the garden resort I drift asleep reading, then go down and swing on a hammock in an afternoon overcast breeze. Very very tranquil. A Thai girl from the next bungalow is on a swing nearby. She starts talking to me after noticing we both. Had iPads. We talk more about where we are from, illustrated by sketching places in the sand. She is called peas and is. A doctor in hat Yai. She is here for 3 days with 4 other doctor friends, who I saw the night before watching the Thailand soccer match. I meet them all later at dinner and we chat a lot about how the media reports events in Thailand, about my job, about being a doctor travel experiences, my dream country. I realise there isn’t one. It is a combination of Vietnamese landscape, Thai people, vegetarian food, Asian winter weather, tropical fruit, ruined temples, sea. The weather here is refreshing. It rained heavily the first night and in the evening it spotted rain, and was very breezy. The breeze is never cold. I love it.

It’s now Christmas Eve. This means nothing really. There are no carols, no shops, no tv, and no pressure. It will be low key. I have decided to stay here til 26 and just chill. Money is stretched so even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be having any blow outs. I settle up my rom in advance, to understand how much money I have left. Dada offers me a free kayak trip. She is great. Not sure if I will accept, being a bit of a landlubber.

 

Lang kawi

Day 6

Made an effort to get up and get to the beach before mid- morning. Floating in the sea. Go off to hire a motorbike and cruise out of town (not really a town).nice to feel a breeze on my arms. Not much traffic on the island. Roads are quite good. No idyllic local scenes by the roadside, but there are stray dogs, fawn cows and a few monkeys. The countryside is green, jungle in places, shacks by the road selling the usual fried rice. After a few mis-turns and even coming across the first place I booked a rom at, then cancelled shortly before coming here. Glad I did that. The area looked tedious. I follow the road to the seven wells waterfalls. Climb up god knows how many steps and come to a serious of pools at the top of a big drop into the jungle. Don’t linger long, cross the river and head up he jungle path. Climb and climb for about an hour. many of those huge fig trees, butterflies, ants, and a mother of a termite mound. Hardly anyone on the trail and its very silent…but also very sweaty. It seems the peak could be a long way off and I decide I’ve had enough and descend. Back to the pools where a big group of cute young Malaysian boys come and try to chat with me. Our common language is Wayne Rooney, Manchester and Liverpool. They gather around me and I don’t know what to say. Then their leader arrives. He speaks better English. He is their scout leader and there is some jamboree that are participating on. H is amazed I am alone and I have to field the are you married question.

Back at the carpark I wolf 2 fruit juices. I’ve been there longer than I thought. Can’t find anything worth eating. Back on the road. It’s fun racing and overtaking, then I hit rain and get soaked. I’ve put my electrical goods in the seat box, but in the end it makes sense to get into some shelter. A petrol station, where some others have pulled ove and are buying ridiculous 5 ringgit rain capes. Definitely not waterproof. After a snack and 15 minutes I head off along the north coast. The weather is grey, low clouds hanging over the mountains. More rain is imminent. I get to taming rhu, which is resort beach with restricted and limited access. The beach is combed and rather crunchy, not so nice to walk on barefoot. Hardly anyone there. A couple of boats offering a trip to the mangrove. I’m not tempted. The bay contains a number of limestone outcrops. Look great through my binoculars. Apparently this is the place for watching sunsets, but the sky doesn’t look promising, and besides they close he gates at 7. I leave and take an age getting back, taking many wrong turnings.

Discover the joys of editing photos on an iPad, and the tin roof begins to clatter with another torrential downpour. Several walkin hopefuls arrive then leave, all rooms are taken. So glad I booked ahead.

With the rain over..and there is no sign of water anywhere…where does it go…pop down for a thai green curry and singha beer. Watching the promenaders.

Buy some flipflops.back to the hotel to. Pay for sunday. takes a bloody long time to sort out what is going on with cit. tries hard but his english is poor. he didnt reply to my email warning that i would be late cos of my delayed flight dor 2 days. he’s not too efficient.anyway i share my druit with him and chat him up a little. he earns £200 a month! Not longan, but cats eye; mata Kucing. Mangosteen is mangi. I love these fruits.

Day 7, Lang kawi

Get up to return motorbike and have a little cruise first. Super duper inefficiency. to rent the bike i had to sign and check any damage evident on the bike, pay deposit, declare my type of licence etc etc. none of thos is computerised, so when i come to return the bike the poor girl cannot find my rental papers. In fact when we do find the right number amid a stack of forms, that number form has been completed by someone else. So ther system breaks down and she has to return my deposit without any records to match against! Do some reading in the heat of the. Beach. So hot almost deserted except for some burning Europeans. Read about narratives in films. I get a quick lunch of some Malaysian curry and bread in an open wooden shack by Babylon bar.

At 2 I get picked up for my island hopping trip. It turns out really good. Only 10 of us in the boat and the weather is nice. The seascape is dramatic lush limestone crags. We go first to the pregnant maiden island, which we spend an hour on. There is a massive deep green, almost black lake formed from a collapsed cave and with legends surrounding it about elves and babies. The are lots of warnings about the depth and the absence of lifeguards. Only the really brave and strong swimmers venture in. Everyone else suns themselves and dangles their feet from the assemblage of pontoons. It’s a bit boring in the end . Climbing back down the steps to the landing jetty- the only way onto the island is by tour boat – monkeys appear, one particularly savage that attacks a kid. As the boat readies to set off the skies open and the torrential rain reappears. The boat speeds off with rain and waves spraying and battering our faces. The weather clears as we reach the next spot, an island where around 30 eagles are circling and swooping for fish, and whatever food the tourists scatter over the sides. By exciting, and I’m so glad I brought binoculars. Our final stop is the island of wet rice. We spend another hour here and I spend much of the time floating, instinctively. I think soon I will be able to swim. It finally feels natural and unforced being in the water. I meet. An Indian guy called sati from Singapore. Lots of gold. We chat a bit in the water.

Spend. Around 10 mins drying in the warm air on the palm fringed beach, and get a cold beer. Watch the Malaysian kids playing in the water, t-shirts and long pants. A group of scarfed girls at the waters edge. Boat back and a refreshing shower. At sun down the rain begins once more. Almost like clockwork.

Day 8/9 Lang kawi and leaving for Thailand

reflections on sweet inns motel. Efficiency and modernisation not so important here. Cit may well have a spreadsheet of rooms, but when I Asked to pay one more night, it takes 20 minutes to sort out. He can’t work out what I’ve paid for, how much to pay. I try to negotiate a cheaper price and there is some debate about agency booking commission and corruption. His English is pretty poor. Shouldn’t really be running reception. The Thai cook works all hours. There at the death at 12. Up making breakfast at 7. I try to engage and I’m never sure if she is telling me Thai or Malay words. Skinny cats with mutated half tails. I’m sure I owe some money for breakfast eggs, but it never gets written down. Several young Malaysian boys. All soft eyes, black hair. Shy friendly smiles.

Langkawi efficiency. Tomato restaurant is a good place to eat. Freshly cooked curry good prices. I thought I had left my money at the hotel. They don’t seem to mind. It takes me a while to go and get it, only to find I already had it tucked in my book, where I thought it was anyway. A the fruit shop I’m a little short, and the girl lets me off of 60 sens!

On the beach, stung by jelly fish, floating, and keeping an eye on my bag as the guys are packing up the loungers. No deck chairs here. A young boy swims by and says hi, and speaks quite good English, at least for a brief conversation. He is unusual in that he is alone and actually swimming the length of the beach. But in t- shirt, and later I discover, having got out and tracked him along the beach, he is wearing flip- flops. Actually, you don’t see many people really swimming, and the kids don’t seem to be able to anyway.

Haven’t really experienced much darkness. Though last night on the beach I noticed the stars for the first time. I don’t know where the moon is here, but in a whole week, I haven’t spied it. after my final swim at dusky a couple of beers at Babylon and chatted briefly to a beautiful long haired Malay called om(?), 18, born here. Like everyone here describes Lang kawi as paradise and never wants to leave. He compliments. My earrings. Funny one of them is 20. Years old. I remember I got it from rosé in Dorchester. Dorchester. Reading my film theory book, I’m beginning to see that giles studied from the same book: it’s full of praise for John ford and Truffaut and makes me realise how unoriginal giles’ views on film were.funny how expert I used to think he was.

Awake as the cock crows. Literally. It’s dark. Mat Lovegrove has a cockerel too. I’ve seen into his fb page.not sure how much I want to continue to communicate with him there. The voyeurism thing is safe. Distance. No commitments.

I’m getting the ferry to Thailand. It’s scruffy, dirty. Full of poor looking locals.

Some gruesome film playing with sound turned down, but subtitles. I’m thinking film theory, watching the edits. Facile silly subtitles. She is smart. Yeah. She is in control now. What’s the genre? Well it feels like alien. Lars be careful. They are not human.. The threat isn’t here. It’s out there. Sci-fi, siege,. Equilibrium, disruption, disequilibrium, new equilibrium.

Arrival in Thailand. It takes 5 hours just to get to hat Yai . Sprawling concrete frontier town, full of saewthawn and thoroughfare. Chat to 2 different English guys travelling alone and doing different things. Practise my Thai fruit vocab with the guy at the ticket office as I wait for my minibus. They tell me I will arrive in Surat Thani by 7.30, but my experience of buses so far today, stopping every 2 minutes to let on some old lady with small children and bundles of baggage leaves me dubious. Thailand smells different and looks rougher round the edges than Malaysia.

Arrival in Thailand. It takes 5 hours just to get to hat Yai . Sprawling concrete frontier town, full of saewthawn and thoroughfare. Chat to 2 different English guys travelling alone and doing different things. Practise my Thai fruit vocab with the guy at the ticket office as I wait for my minibus. They tell me I will arrive in Surat Thani by 7.30, but my experience of buses so far today, stopping every 2 minutes to let on some old lady with small children and bundles of baggage leaves me dubious. Thailand smells different and looks rougher round the edges than Malaysia.

The minibusi to surat Thani is crazy. Driver seems to be on a death wish. Weaving in and out at high speed, u dear taking, overtaking, tail gating. For a laid back calm country the driving is a contradiction. I think everyone drives on the belief that nobody wants to cause a crash, so cos of that crashes do not happen. Pickups loaded with kids in the back, pick ups with stacks of individually caged fattened pigs, the dark brown co-pilot gnawing a chicken bone. Sun is going down. The woman wedged in next to me has got off and I can stretch my cramped legs.

There is a video screen playing endless beautiful boy meets beautiful girl in idyllic locations. Period cars, vw camper, 50’s mercedes even a London cab, farm boy, mechanic boy, all very pretty and not very masculine. Maybe this is masculine here. The woman is definitely the helpless one who needs the man’ s help. A theme in them all is a longing look at old photos of her. And everything is in slow- mo. little girl takes care of injured boy. Meeting wondrous eyes, touching her chin, boy sitting there looking at girls photo.

Toilet stop. I can’t identify any of the snacks in the shop. It’s very Thai here.

Arrive in Surat Thani 14 hours after leaving Lang kawi. The mini bus stops all over the place and I”m the last off at a bus office. A young Thai guy working there takes me on the back of his. Motorbike to a large cheap hotel. It’s fine for the price of£8/ night. It’s opposite a “you want massage?” Place. The town is dead. Like Khonsu kaen. Not a pretty place and the nearby night market is tiny and closing. I get a bowl of soya milk with beans and jelly stuf and a donut type thing. Not satiated get some super noodles from the 24hourshop and sit in the large teak furnished lobby, full of massive chinoiserie urns, and eat and then drink beer. Watching qpr actually win a match. Going to turn in early and head for khao sok early tomorrow.

Day 20 – Luang Prabang – Magic moments

This is 3 days out of date: long haul journeys and holidays keeping me away from a computer.

30 December. Woke at dawn, up at 5.30, thinking it was 6.30 and onto the deathly quiet and empty street in complete darkness. Like passing ghosts an apparition of novice monks in orange robes, barefoot passed by in single file their alms bowls around their necks, and then gone again into the blackness. A second line passed right by me on the same side of the street, in descending height order, sleepy and looking like they would rather be in bed. An old woman, crouching on a cushion, with a bowl of sticky rice, waiting for the next contingent. I thought about climbing the mount to watch the sunrise, instead, I did a circuit of the peninsular, So still, so quiet. A couple of locals offered me some rice for the monks (for sale)… On reaching the main road, the one lined with the spectacular temples and guest houses and cafes, a few mini-buses and tuk-tuks were arriving and discharging their cargoes of tourists with cameras ready for the “performance”. I really didn’t want to be part of this. Light was slowly coming. The street busying with those taking vantage points either to give alms or take pictures. I wandered the fresh food market, Women cooking and preparing over fires in big pans their dishes, Men browsing the vegetable stalls, some with torches, some apparently with night vision. I couldn’t even make out what the produce was, let alone the quality. Back on the main drag, I sensed then saw the next troop of monks and I watched from a respectful distance. On a side road I chanced upon another, where an old woman, head bowed was dropping a handful of rice into each monk’s bowl.

As they turned the corner onto the main street through the half-light there was a series of dazzling flashes, Like media stars being ambushed by paparrazzi the monks’ daily chore was rudely disturbed. This happened with the next 2 groups of monks too. These assholes with flashes obviously haven’t read any of the polite notices asking tourists to desist from this kind of disrespectfulness of what is a solemn ritual. Or, he thought it doesn’t apply to him. What does he think when he takes then looks at those pictures? A special moment? A moment ruined for those giving alms, those collecting and everyone else observing with dignity. I decided I had experienced my own special moments and didn’t want to see any more. Zoo animals and people offering us (the zoo visitors) bamboo shoots to feed them. Most sights are raped of their magic by idiots with camera or phones. Those who think a picture is worth a thousand words. The point is they wouldn’t even have 5 words to say, so little do they actually engage and reflect on their experiences. Cameras make us lazy and give us something to hide behind.

I enjoy the first light at the temple near the guesthouse and witness the bizarre sight of an over-dressed man in his thirties wearing a red and blue shell-suit jogging circuits of the grey stupa.

I take a little sleep and dream of sitting in a cafe at a window with a woman. In the street outside is a procession of high-powered super cars, some with big spoilers.

I have breakfast at the Mekong and watch the long boats ferrying monks, locals their baskets empty, now they’ve sold their produce and other folk on some kind of business over the river.

I visit the library where you can swap books to replenish the stock, Here, the Children’s Library, which relies on donations is managed. They collect clothes and other recyclables. Most importantly they encourage people to but books from their stock to give to local remote communities, where books are a a scarce commodity, and schools are to few. Children by law only need to attend school to the completion of primary level. Some villages have no teachers. Distances are great and travel across the mountainous areas is hard. This organisation also has a river library which is trying to spread reading habits and increase the availability of materials to the harder to get to places. Books are a luxury. I think about all the stuff we throw out in UK. I think about all the books we threw out at Regency.

I do my bit. I buy a couple of books. They are are cheaply published and do not look fun to learn from. I’m touched by the plight of kids here. On the one hand I don’t like being a tourist, but on the other hand tourism brings money to this country. As the volunteer worker told me, all kids should learn English  as they need to connect with the outside world.

On my bike I cross the wooden bridge, over to the rural side of the town, and end up once more at the ruined temple (incidentally I just got an email message wishing me a happy new year from the monk i met there). I was drawn there by the large group of people and a spectacle. I was at another cremation. Opposite the altar, which stands beneath a tower are 2 shelters, one for the men and one for the women (they are dressed up in white, the men are slightly less casually dressed than usual), I summise.There is evidence of a kind of feast/picnic, but now the proceedings are quite advanced. On the altar stands a big cream gilded coffin. This is lowered by monks with newly shaven scalps into a hole on top of the altar. There are some set-piece photos. A group of women, a couple quite elderly pose before the altar, one ( a sister of the deceased) holds a framed photo of an old woman (must be the coffin recumbant). This is watched by a solitary standing old man. The sole man there who seems moved by the gravity and dignity of the moment. As the women return to the shelter area, I notice the old woman has tears in her eyes. This is the only show of sadness seen. Everyone else is quite sociable and jolly. A fire is lit under the coffin and a huge ball of fire engulfs the coffin. The monks stand in a group for a photo and video opportunity before the fire, then begin to take their leave. A could light cigarettes. The crowds disperse quicky with the pyre still burning. Strange there is no smell.

I cycle into the compound of Wat Phan Sa-At which is high above the Mekong and take my time to take in the view of the 2 rivers converging, framed nicely by a small group of novices and some shady trees.

I follow the road through the Bans with the textiles and paper workshops, til the road comes to an abrupt blockage: an open-sided marquee straddling the road where some party is taking place. There are some young guys playing a keyboard and the microphone rotates between a number of others. Laos pop, strangely soothing and up-beat. I’m spied from the wings and invited to sit, and a beer is poured. Beer Laos with ice. Then I’m beckoned to the swelling dance floor where both old and young (I don’t mean kids) are jiggling, moving, rotating in a merry way. The girl who invites me insists on my downing countless BeerLaos in one. Soon lots of people want to dance with the falang, Everyone smiling at me, laughing, and Beer being our common vocabulary. One of the PA speakers falls over, the numbers dwindle, then there is a second wind.

By 4pm we are all drunk, and I decide the time is right to retrace my path. I’m drawn back to the Wat by the river for sundown and am entranced, almost hypnotised by the chorus of novice voices led by an older deeper monk voice chanting in the prayer hall as dusk descends. A special moment.

I roam the night market and to my deep joy discover several stalls selling bountiful cheap and delicious veggie buffets. I eat at the first place I see, but really should have browsed first, as each one along the same lane looked better and better. I stymie my excitement by buying a takeaway box from more stalls for my long journey tomorrow. Here I bump into Marie, once more. Somehow it didn’t surprise me. We meet up later after i have done some souvenir shopping (I didn’t want textiles, so I bought a painting of a tree with some Laos text on hand-made paper). Marie and I go to Utopia bar, with its little winding paths and coloured lanterns it feels like some kind of fairy land. By the river we drink. The 1/2 hour of reclining chat and stargazing is eventually disturbed by a large loud sweary drunk group of British (some) backpacker types. Shouting at each other about cliques, hostels and beer.

I have many calming dreams this night.

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!

Day 1 Singapore

After 11 hours on a crowded, and restless Airbus I’m finally in Singapore.

First impressions? Well, the people don’t seem to be interested in you at all, which could be good, but not when you turn up at a B&B and there is nobody there for over 45 minutes. Sleepy Sam’s is on a little street with a huge mosque at the end. I’ve stayed in worse. If it was full I think it would be horrible as I’ve got to walk through the dorm to get to my little cell….

Jet lag isn’t so bad, as it’s evening when I get here so I can go to sleep whenever and not feel like I’ve missed a day. I decided to take a walk to Little India, 10 minutes away. Streets and all outdoor spaces are throbbing and jammed with Indian men in their twenties and thirties, with moustaches and neat shirts with collars. There’s a lively buzz, murmur, like the sea…male voices discussing things of import….No women…so weird. And I’m the only white face around, yet no glances of curiosity, no menace, no calls of “Hey you…” It’s nice to be left alone, but there is a strange feeling of detachment. I hang on to my bag, but have the feeling that this is not a dangerous place. But no police anywhere. I find what I came for: masala dosa and mango lassi, and sit communally in a cheap vege Indian eating place, but still no offers of engagement.

The architecture isn’t dissimilar from Georgetown and KL: colonial Chinese shop houses, but here in better condition, and interspersed with high rise malls, hotels and car parks.

I hang out at a bar on a Chinese food court, drink  beer and see Sunderland go a goal down to Blackburn, the goal scored by some guy with a mask like Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The waitress has a limp, and wears a red Carlsberg dress that looks like it was made from a Liverpool shirt. I hesitate to comment..more indiffernce and going through the motions, like everyone here. Withered wizzened Chinese men in vests with fags in their mouths. I wonder how they spend their days. No smiles. Is anyone happy here?

So much for the letter of the law in Singapore. I see Jaywalking, and soon join in too. I see fag butts strewn on the streets and rubbish everywhere. All the signs are in English but I don’t hear a word spoken other than by tourists, or as courteous replies to my requests for information.

The mouse on this computer works back to front and the keyboard is greasy and sticky, so I’ll end here for now.