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Travelogue - 02-19-05                                                                                                                               Links to all Travelogue pages


Thailand, page 2

I'm staying in a bamboo bungalow on the banks of the Maesai River at the northernmost tip of Thailand, looking across at Myanmar (Burma) on the opposite bank. The river is a small one and Burma is literally a stoneís throw away.



I just came up here yesterday by bus from Chiang Rai, a small city an hourís drive south, where I spent a few days hanging out and getting to know the town. One character I met turned out to be the madam of a Chiang Rai massage-parlor-slash-happy-house. In fact, the name of her establishment IS ďHappy House.Ē She volunteered to chauffer me around for a few days and I thought it would have been an interesting way to visit the hill villages around the infamous Golden Triangle. But it turned out what she really wanted to do was hook me up with one of her girls for the duration, none of whom interested me enough to want to spend any time with them.

First photo is Ahm, the madam. Then the girls of Happy House, not a fox among them. (There were much prettier girls at several massage parlors a block away.) Finally, one of the girls giving a traditional Thai massage. I don't know who the guy is. Ahm gave me these photos.

Now that Iím settled into this bungalow on the outskirts of Mae Sai, I think Iíll just hang out here for a few days. A friend asked me the other day whether I ever get tired of traveling. I've been on the road pretty much full time since mid-March last year and, truth be known, I do occasionally get tired of constantly moving around. That's why I just stop someplace every so often and don't do much or go anywhere for days or even weeks at a time. Usually, by the time I get going again the open road is a refreshing change from the sitting still.

As I travel, Iím forever on the lookout for a home base, a place that says to me, "This is it. You're home. Set a spell. Here's a house with a view that you can afford to buy, and a community of people you can relate to." When that happens I'll establish a homeport from which I can make excursions that actually have a beginning and an end, but since I don't have any idea yet where that place might be I keep poking around. For a while I thought it might be Thailand, but now that I'm back here I think not. Itís a wonderful place to visit, but itís not home to me.  

In any case, itís good to be up here in the far northern hills of Thailand. The air is at least a little less smoggy than down in the central plains and much less than in the cities, and the temperatures up here are much more comfortable. Last night I actually needed a couple of blankets in the wee hours, it got so cool! The days are sunny and warm, but not oppressive like they were down south. 

Thailand is nearing the end of its dry season. The plains are parched and even the rain forests appear dusty and thirsty. Many of the streambeds and waterfalls are dry. Of course, that'll all change when the monsoon arrives in April, but I wonít be here to see it.  

As I mentioned before, I feel inclined to fly to Bali the first week in March and spend a month poking around there. Itís a place Iíve always wanted to visit and, since the airfare is only about $275 round trip from Bangkok, now seems like the time to do it. I made flight reservations a couple of days ago. 

Bali was 3,000 km from the December 26 tsunami-quake epicenter and was unaffected by that event. However, they had some earthquakes there a couple of weeks ago. It seems that whole area gets shaken up regularly. Always has. I guess no place is 100% safe. Hell, some days I thought I might die of air pollution poisoning back in Bangkok. 

After Bali Iíll be facing the long series of return flights back to the States (Bali-Bangkok-Singapore-Auckland-Tahiti-LA-NY. I'm going to be mush by the time I land in New York!)

Iíve heard Bali is even less expensive than Thailand. The way I like to live and travel, I find Thailand is costing me about $1,000 a month to do everything here I want to do. It's possible to stay in 4-star hotels and spend much more than I do, or to do an extreme-budget trip and spend less than half of what I spend. I've seen rooms offered for as little as a dollar a night, but they're pretty shabby affairs. If you were to rent a place by the month it would cost very little, indeed, but I keep moving around and so I rent rooms or bungalows by the night. My average room is clean, secure and civilized, with en suite shower, AC and often a TV and costs around 500 Baht, or US$13 a night. (The riverside bungalow Iím in right now costs just 350 Baht, or about $9 a night. It doesnít have AC, but up here in the hills you donít need it.) Figure another $5 or $6 daily for food and beers, plus $3 to $5 for a massage. Round it off to $30 a day including miscellaneous expenses, like transportation, etc. (Buses and trains are very cheap, as is flying in Thailand.) You can see how traveling here costs $1,000 a month when done comfortably but not extravagantly. If you were to actually buy a house and live here, you could do so very nicely for a fraction of that, but as I said, for me Thailand, as much as I like it, doesn't feel like home.

Next Entry: 02/21/05


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