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Travelogue - 02-22-05                                                                                                                               Links to all Travelogue pages


Thailand, page 4

I 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. 

I 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.

Actually, 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.

Yesterday 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.




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That 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. 

Later 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 went there.

On the plus side, along the way I passed some roadside rice paddies, reminding me that I really am in Southeast Asia.

Finally, 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). 

Next Entry: 02/25/05


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