Monthly Archives: September 2011

Day 22 Chiang Mai

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Flood waters receding a little.

Today mostly involves mountain biking from the top of Doi Suthep with a couple of californian vegan lesbians….

Pretty hairy ride to the top in the back of an overloaded pick-up truck with a crazy driver. Bikes equally lacking any efforts towards health and safety.

Wet, slippery, muddy, dangerous but very entertaining ride down dirt roads and a bit of single track through the forest and jungle. Not a challenging ride on a good bike, but on such poorly maintained pieces of junk it was quite tricky. At least two participants crashed, simply because the bikes were so crap.

Recover with an hour of swimming practice in the hotel pool, before heading out to enjoy more of Chiang Mai’s nightlife.

Day 21 Chiang Mai

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Chiang Mai is bigger than I expected, but relaxed and much more modern than Vietnam. Spectacular Buddhist temples of gold and red with orange robed monks, and I forget my camera battery… mobile phone isn’t really up to the job.

The place seems very quiet. It’s still too early for your average backpacker to be out on the town, but all the bars and restaurants are empty.

Day 21 Chiang Mai

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Flight went as planned, and from the air I didn’t see any suggestion of flooding. On the ground it’s a different story. The area around the river is flooded, and the river is very high. More rain and it will spill over the walls and make things very difficult.

The hotel I picked is in the flooded zone near the river. If I had chosen one in the old town, I’d be able to get around in the dry, but this one was a good deal and had good reviews. I don’t mind having to wade through the floods to get into the town, just as in Siem Reap, and it won’t be a total loss if it gets worse and I’m stuck in the hotel, which has a pool and a restaurant, but I’m really hoping I’ll be able to get to Chiang Kong on Sunday and continue the trip.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping there are still enough areas above water to be able to have some fun.

Day 20 Phnom Penh

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PP isn’t anywhere near as manic and frenzied as Vietnamese cities. It’s big and sprawling, the streets are wide, there are more cars than bikes but it still seems quiet. There are traffic lights, and drivers mostly pay attention to them. Crossing the road is easy compared to Vietnam. There’s a higher frequency of “you wan tuk tuk? Lady massage? Boom boom? Weed?”, and they don’t stop following you and asking over and over even after the tenth “no thank you”. There is an obvious group of rich and powerful (ie corrupt), driving around in expensive Range Rovers, Audis, Mercs and Lexi. The museum is compact and bijou, but has some interesting artifacts. The royal palace is closed. Huge numbers of western back packers, all looking and acting exactly the same. It’s not a particularly interesting place to visit, but there is a good night life and decent food to be found along the river front. It seems like the sort of place you’ll get the best of only if you stay for a long time and settle into the local lifestyle, like all the NGO workers, teachers, and sex tourists seem to be doing.

I’ve heard reports of bad flooding in Thailand, with hundreds dead. It’s hard to get clear information, but the airlines, hotels and tour operators I have bookings with all say Chiang Mai is ok, and so is the route from there to Laos and Luang Prabang. I’ll find out for myself tomorrow… At least it’s not raining here today.

It’s funny how there are an obvious local elite who have money, therefore have power, and therefore act like they can do whatever they want, and also a depressing number of white men who have enough money to act like they own the place, even though back home they would just be average scum, and seem to treat the locals like scum. Several times every hour I see a white man with a local girl half his age, it’s really quite alarming how much of that seems to be going on around here. This town is full of rich or powerful men exploiting others, whether they are sex tourists, policemen, business men or politicians.

Day 19 Phnom Penh

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Heavy rain through the night means the flooding is even worse. Mixed reports suggest the ferry quay is unreachable, and as it’s a public holiday it’s not clear if busses will be running, so I order a taxi to the capital. The taxi is the obligatory Toyota Camry, ubiquitous in these parts, with the obligatory box of tissues on the parcel shelf. Formula one legend Gilles Villeneuve used to say his theory of road driving is to just go for it, and there will always be a gap. Taxi driver has the same idea and guns it down the middle of the road, scattering cars, trucks, mopeds, pedestrians, children and animals. He barely slows to hand some cash to a waiting traffic cop, seemingly just normal around here. After one particularly near miss on the wrong side of the road on a blind bend, he puts his glasses on. Sadly, being able to see impending death doesn’t slow him down. Ahead there are animals in the road and an oncoming truck. We squeeze through a gap so tight it leaves the side window smeared with water buffalo snot. The guy has a death wish, and is coughing so hard I can’t decide whether I’m more likely to die in a crash or from bird flu…

The landscape is under water, so is a lot of the road. Driver ploughs on. I glance at the speedo to see we’re doing 90+. I decide not to look again, but do keep my eyes on the road. If a water buffalo or a moped rider comes through the windscreen, I want chance to duck.

By some miracle, we make it. He needn’t have rushed, as Phnom Penh is not much to look at in the rain, and very quiet because of the holiday. Some delicious satay in the Foreign Correspondents Club, overlooking the river, creates a better impression, and I settle in to enjoy the food, the drink, the view, the obligatory gob-shite American, the obligatory ethnic hairstyle backpackers, and a surprising number of what I can only believe to be sex tourists accompanied by local girls half their age and immeasurably more attractive…

Day 18 Ta Prohm



Day 18 Ta Prohm, originally uploaded by Big Al!.

A tuk-tuk ride along flooded roads takes me to the ruined temple of Ta Prohm, overrun by jungle and tourists in equal measure. Take your own path through the maze and soon you’ll be alone with the sound of monkeys and exotic birds, just you, the ruins and the ancient trees enveloping even older walls and buildings. In the steam and shade of the jungle, it’s easily the most atmospheric and photogenic of the Angkor temples, although I haven’t seen the outlying areas because of the floods.

After the temples, the most striking thing about this area is the poverty, and yet you still hear backpackers from rich western countries haggling over a two dollar tuk-tuk fare, or quibbling over the four dollar price of a souvenir. I don’t care how much you’re trying to stretch your budget, just look around at the way people live and get a sense of perspective. I just donated a small amount of money that I’ll barely notice, but it’s enough for the cycling from poverty charity to buy two bikes for local children to be able to get to school. Compared to what I spent for my own pleasure on this trip, it’s nothing. Backpackers please take note. It’s really not ok to be so tight in such surroundings.