Sunday, 30 November 2008

Dawn till Dusk

I'm glad to report riots have yet to break out in Chiang Mai and the airport remains open (I can see planes in transit from my hotel window).

The closest I got to the political clash was seeing red and yellow taxis in close company, and I must admit I don't know if taxi colour even denotes political alignment in these parts. Anyway, it was an interesting coincidence. Reds are Thaksin/government supporters, yellows are PAD (read: anarchy) supporters.

Word from my boss's girlfriend's friend's Thai army general father ('s flatmate's ex-hair stylist's postman's....) is that there might be a coup today, so I'm remaining vigilant... in fact, I'm taking the car and heading for the hills (with two colleagues, we've decided we need to celebrate our first Saturday not stuck in a factory).

We headed east towards San Kamphaeng, with no particular idea where we were going. We crossed some hills, and stumbled upon the Mae Takhrai National Park. We drove up to the visitors' centre, where we were greeted by a friendly Thai man, presumably a park ranger manning the headquarters, who apparently didn't speak a word of English. He gave me a large pile of pamphlets, mostly in Thai. I found one in English, the leaves crackling as I opened it. Apparently it had been there a while. There were cobwebs on the some of the others. I thanked him, and went to use the men's room before continuing our journey. There were cobwebs in the urinal, which smelt as fresh as a urinal unused for months. Brown water gushed from the faucet.

We encountered many cryptic signs along the way,

as we meandered along friendly rural backgroads.

We came to a lake, where a woman was angling for bite-sized fish.

She heard me step onto the rickety bamboo jetty; turned, smiled, said something in Thai, and went back to flipping her line. Her dog seemed disinterested in me, and the tiny fish being caught.

Zammo experimented with a trick to lighting a fire from little kindling, which involves opposing thumbs and index fingers pressed together to make a small hole, then blowing through the hole. Apparently it creates a concentrated jet of air, delivering oxygen to the fire. It didn't seem to work, but looked pretty funny.

Zammo up to no good:

Looking toward the setting sun through trees along the lakeside:

There was a hut with some facilities in dire need of attention. The door was stuck in soil, presumably after the last monsoon:

Sun setting over the lake:

We left the lake just before the sun went down, and drove 7km north to a lookout point. The road, although wide and sealed, was little used. Clumps of grass scattered the asphalt, which was covered in leaves and stones. Almost a ghost highway, it was quite strange. It transitioned abruptly into unsealed road.

We reached the top just after sunset as the crescent moon, stars, and town lights began to appear. The view down the valley was impressive; Zammo joked this was probably a popular make-out spot for the locals, just as I spotted an empty wrapper, eww!

We took some photos of the sunset, and lit a fire.

We drove back to Chiang Mai, half expecting to see tanks on the street. Much to our disappointment it seemed to be business as usual. I went to the night market and bought Christmas gifts for my manifold young nieces and nephews, and some t-shirts and Cuban cigars.

Friday, 28 November 2008


In 2006, when I visited Thailand for the first time, the country was dusting itself off from it's 18th military coup. As I write this in my hotel in Chiang Mai, I wonder if I'm about to witness the next episode in the series.

Bangkok is closed to commercial flights after PAD (Peoples' Alliance for Democracy) protesters took control and shut down both of the city's airports in a desperate attempt to blackmail the (democratically elected) government into resigning.

Many travelers have been stuck in Suvarnabhumi airport for days now, wondering what it all has do with them.

Thailand's economy and public image will take years to recover, if it ever does.

Several people have been killed in pro- and anti-government clashes. A taxi driver was pulled from his car and shot dead in Chiang Mai, where happen to reside.

I'm supposed to be in China on Monday, a place I usually dread visiting. But with increasing civil unrest and political instability in Thailand, the prospect of escaping to China is starting to look far more appealing.

The only problem is getting out. Bangkok is closed, and international flights out of CNX are full. And even if I got a seat, there might not be a plane as many are apparently stuck in Bangkok. With the Prime Minister in Chiang Mai there's also a chance rioters will storm and close CNX.

I hope not, but I'm starting to think it would be a good plan to get bus tickets to Vientiane and high-tail it outta here. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Loi Krathong, Chiang Mai

I've been coming to Chiang Mai for the last two years. The first year I came here (2006) I arrived in mid November, a few days after the Loi Krathong festival. The second year (2007), I arrived at the start of December.

This year I planned my flights better and arrived in time. It was worth it! This timelapse image shows lanterns going up all over the city.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

5 Easy Steps to a Horrible 48 Hours

1. Down a burger from No 1. Takeaways in Balmoral.
2. Get on a long-haul flight, and ensure you roll hoi polloi (failing this, somehow forsake all physical comforts).
3. Await symptoms of food poisoning from Step 1.
4. Hammer that bathroom over the next 10 hours.
5. Spend 9 hours at Changi waiting for connecting flight, ensure this is done in total agony.

This last step probably applies less to Singapore's airport than others; the ground staff noted I wasn't looking too well and put me in a wheel chair like the jolly good folks they are. I was a bit of sight stumbling around and they probably just wanted me to stop scaring people...

Alternatively, watch The X-Files: I want to believe as I did on the flight. It was an equally painful experience.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

A mellow monday morning.

It's 12.35am, I'm sitting in the lounge at Auckland airport waiting for a long flight to Singapore... It's very mellow indeed.