can hardly believe my own extravagance. I blame it on the
full moon. Why else would I splurge on such a luxurious
dinner this evening at the best restaurant on this side of
Mae Sai, just for the hell of it? A large, garden-fresh
green salad with a delicious, unidentified dressing, garlic
bread, rice, and a huge, delicious, fresh fish of a species
unfamiliar to me, charcoal broiled with herbs, the whole
washed down over a couple of hours with 2 liters of
excellent Chang beer. For entertainment the restaurant's
television set was featuring a Harrison Ford action movie
with Thai subtitles. Ah, Thai heaven.
spent more than I have for a single meal since leaving New
Zealand - ten dollars and change, an exorbitant amount here!
- and then left the flawless waiter a 25% tip just because
he was so damned good. Tipping is not customary in Thailand,
and while he has probably been tipped before by farangs
- this place does attract many of the Western tourists in
town - nevertheless he was so surprised by my largesse that
he stammered trying to thank me. A $13 night out in a
country where a laborer earns $3 or $4 a day. I suppose I
should feel guilty, but in fact I feel as fat & happy as
a smiling Buddha.
though, while I am generally happy I am not fat. Between the
normally light Thai meals I eat twice a day and the
considerable exercise I get walking as much as I do, plus a
30-minute stretching and calisthenics routine I follow most
mornings after meditating, I am presently in excellent
physical shape, trim and strong.
I rented a Honda motorbike ($4 for 24 hours!) and
toured some of the region's mountain back roads.
Unfortunately, the ever present smog was even
thicker than usual so I did not see or photograph
the wonderful views my guidebook promised along my
route, eastward across the Mekong Valley to Laos
and westward just a mile or two to the hills of
Burma. Still, I did see some sights closer to the
road, including a thousand-year-old Buddhist
temple high in the hills called Doi Tung, where
visitors stroll along a lane lined on both sides
with a hundred ancient bronze bells, ringing each
with a stick as they pass it for good luck.
you can click on any photo to enlarge it.
afternoon I drove along a mountain road that paralleled the
restless border with Burma. I had to pass through several
Thai military checkpoints with signage intended to soothe
the tourists, but which merely served to alert me to the
fact that I was in rough country. On this steep, winding
rural road I did not see another vehicle at all for many
miles, making me wonder if I alone was naively passing
through troubled territory that others prudently avoided.
I drove out of the mountains, across the Mekong Valley, and
on to the infamous Golden Triangle, which was once an opium
smuggling crossroads and is today a grotesquely tacky
tourist trap. I couldn't even bring myself to take a picture
of it, so shamelessly has it been developed. One of the most
successful drug lords of the region, having discovered
another profitable addiction to peddle, has build a huge
casino to milk the tourist hordes. Hotels have sprung up and
that stretch of the Mekong River is lined with souvenir
shops and fast food stands. Enormous, double-decker tour
busses roll in and disgorge their flatulent load to shop and
snap each other's photos beneath a gaudy sign that says
Golden Triangle. It's so gross. I couldn't believe I even
plus side, along the way I passed some roadside rice
paddies, reminding me that I really am in Southeast Asia.
back in Mae Sai, I discovered a backyard statue carving
operation along the narrow lane leading to my bungalow on
the river. I chuckled at the convenient "shelf"
one workman used for storing a power tool (last photo).