Sunday, 9 August 2015

passing through

At Chiang Rai airport everyone has gone home.  Our plane arrives half an hour before the airport shuts for the night, but the security guard not only lets us stay to set up the bikes, but also offers his help.  Do we know where to go in the town?  We do - we have booked a hotel and drawn ourselves a sketch map.  The road is quiet except for a few scooters and pick-ups.  It's only 10pm but the place is pretty dead.  We ride through countryside briefly before turning onto a road with closed-up shops.  Chiang Rai is not a huge town - we find the hotel easily and collapse in our room
er......these aren't ours
We are coming to the end of the first stage of our journey.  Back in February our friends Coralie and Fabien, who we first met in Iran in 2008, wrote and asked if we would like to house-sit for them in Luang Prabang in Laos while they took a holiday in France with their daughter.  We know that they try and return to France each year because we regularly get invitations to join them with their other friends in the south of France.  We've never made it - trying to save money for our journey - but this is a great opportunity to see them in Laos, so we accepted their offer.  The last time we had a long break off the bikes was back in Beijing, last October.  So we're really looking forward to seeing our friends again and having a little rest and recreation.  

We have a couple of days in Chiang Rai and spend it pootling about the town, visiting a wat or two, checking out the bike shops for replacement parts ("Do we really need new cassettes, John?") and checking out the food.  The two best things about Thailand have to be the genuinely smiley people and their food.  We are happily now in a country with plenty of good fruit which we can afford.  There's also a decent breakfast included at the hotel.  We thought it'd be just the regular egg/toast/tea/coffee so imagine our delight when we find three types of Thai curry and rice also on offer, plus Frosties and cold milk.  No more creamer in the cereal.  Being true to type, these cycle tourists sit down to breakfast with the sole intention of staying and eating for as long as is feasibly possible.  On the first morning we are one of the first and I consider going for a lie down before returning for a second sitting.  We even buy some tupperware just to take away some curry and rice for the day we leave....

The road to Chiang Khong is a nice countryside ride through fields and villages, crossing some small hills before turning north.  The roads are not busy and the riding is not hard, but it's over 100km to the border town so we can't dawdle.  We spot a Tesco's on the way into the town but neither of us have the energy for shopping.  We just want to find a room and something to eat.  But when we set off down the main street it's all very quiet.  We pass an empty noodle stall and wonder if there's anything else.  Eventually at the north end of town we come to the posher hotels and a few cafes.  There are a few tourists around.  We instinctively want to say hello to any foreigners we see, but we stopped doing this in Chiang Rai after getting blanked by a few people.  This is our first really touristy country since we left Turkey in January 2014.  We find some good food and order some fried rice to take away for our lunch tomorrow.  Out on the street is a band of four kids busking.  Thai rock pop.  They're not great but just hearing and seeing them is refreshing.  They all look to be about 13 years old.  

There are more pictures of the queen about than we remember from 2010 and we wonder what health the king is in.  But how to ask without causing offence?  Is the king about to "blow his last saxophone solo"?  In Thailand they still have the law of lese majeste and under the military government there has been an increase in court cases - one man has just had a 30-year sentence.  The king plays a significant role in Thai politics - he usually endorses military coups - and his son, heir apparent, is not nearly as popular or as revered.  Best left unasked perhaps.....

too hot for us

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