Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Mae Hong Song on a scooter. Illegal crossing into Burma.

One year

Today is Wednesday 13th June 2007. I left Newcastle at 0500 on Monday 12th June 2006. One year - blimey!

Reflections

On this trip I've been to the Shetlands, Faroes, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Mongolia, China, Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Tibet, Hong Kong, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Borneo, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and back to Thailand again. Next stop is Burma.

I've visited around 50 countries now. According to my online bank I spent about £6000. That's about £500/month - similar to my old mortgage in Rothbury! Admittedly, I spent about £2000 before I left on vaccines, visas, travel insurance, ferry tickets and the trans-Siberian trip. So about £8000 to travel the World for a year - not too bad eh?

I learnt to speak rudimentary Chinese and a little Thai. I got a tattoo in Bangkok and a tooth filling in Khorat. I've eating brains, intestines, scorpions, insects, balls, dog, duck's tongue, bizarre jungle fruits, alcoholic horse milk, snake and goat-penis wine, marijuana pizza and a magic mushroom milkshake. I've forgotten what a cheese sandwich tastes like.

I've been attacked by dogs and monkeys, slept in tents, on the streets, in  electric-free bamboo huts, hotels, churches, trains, ger camps, ships, jungles and beaches. I've cruised down the Yangtze and Mekong rivers. Hiked in Tibet with altitude sickness. Got body searched in Japan as a drug trafficking suspect. Seen Red Square, Tianemen Square, Siberia, the Great Wall, Angkor Wat and many other things of World fame. I've been drunk with Muslims, and met people of every race and creed.

The highlights are too many to mention but if I had to choose I would say Iceland, Mongolia, Japan are amazing places to visit. The Borneo jungle and the tribal village in Vietnam were pretty special too, as was my time at the farm in China. The one place I would not recommend visiting is Russia - shite! The typhoon in the Philippines was an awesome demonstration of nature's savage power. Helping to butcher a pig in Vietnam was an unusual activity and horse riding through the Mongolian wilderness was incredible.

I've traveled by tuk-tuk, songthaew, jeepney, minibus, motorbike, cycle, tryclo, many kinds of boat and ship, canal boat, train, plane, taxi. The fastest mag-lev train in the World. I've been hungry and dirty. I lost a toe-nail in Kuching. Injured my knee playing football in Mui Ne. All in all a pretty amazing year.

Lick my passport

In Chiang Rai I ended up on a drinking binge. It was only after sleeping on the street for two nights that I thought enough's enough and vowed to have a break. At one point I remember Taff, a Welsh English teacher, asking me to lick his passport! He'd covered the pages in LSD and the whole bar was tripping as a result. A surreal evening.

I hired a bike and rode up to Mae Sai, Thailand’s most Northerly town on the Burmese border. I strolled around the markets feasting on local delights and observing the many races that seemed to fill this town. Local women had some kind of yellow paint smeared all over their faces. I never got to the bottom of that.

Next I rode to Mae Se Long which is an Aka tribal village in the middle of the mountains NW of Chiang Rai. It was an superb hilly and windy ride out here. This place had a very Chinese feel to it. The Aka people originally came to Thailand from Yunnan province in China and they resemble the Chinese more than the Thai people. I had a laugh with three Aka girls selling tribal bollicks:

“Helllooooo hansum man, you buy from me?”


“Na ge piaulian, wo meiyou chien” (It’s beautiful but I have no money).


Aka
They invited me to sit with them impressed that an Englishman could speak a little Chinese. I ended up staying there for the night hanging out with the Aka folk. The women wore dazzling traditional clothing. I drove up to a mountain peak housing yet another highly glamorous Buddhist temple.

I headed back to Chiang Rai and decided to test out my no drinking/smoking policy by going to a local trendy nightclub beneath a posh Hotel. I passed with flying colours despite the peer pressure from the drinking lads.

I went to Chiang Mai where I had previously spent one month in October. I walked around some old familiar territory and drooled in Spicy disco  a CM institution. Again I didn't drink or smoke which was quite a feat, given the three Danes shoving bottles of Chang in front of me every few minutes. I met Charlie, an old mate from Hull whom I first met in Kunming. He runs a bar in Jinghong with his lass Lena who's eight months pregnant. He was in Chiang Mai to renew his Chinese visa and he's just as mental now as he was back in September.

Geordie

I met my first Geordie last week. I was looking to hire a scooter when I got talking to Tommy who runs a bar here. It turns out he's 85 and originally from the Toon! However, he's lived away for years and has only trace elements of his accent remaining. I rented a scooter off him for a decent rate and set off for Pai

Pai

Pai attracts many dreadlocked hippies who like to walk around barefoot wearing ethnic fishing pants. I've no idea why you'd want to walk around barefoot? I met Vinnie the Irish boxer/musician here. I saw him in Bangkok in February, he was one of the clinic boys. He's been in Pai for three months and seems to have become a permanent feature. We sat at his old Thai mate's shack where they all took turns playing instruments - cleverly switching between Irish and Thai melodies - great crack!

I slept in a wooden hut with a mattress and fan for £1/night. I bought Kane and Abel by Geoffrey Archer and lounged by the Pai river, reading and eating sumptuous tropical fruit from the local market – luxury. I kept thinking: you could be sitting in some crappy job in the UK right now! I felt very lucky.

Mae Hong Son
I rode from Pai to Mae Hong Son. I bought an Army jacket for £1 as it's cold when it rains here (especially on the bike).

I bought a flight from Bangkok to Yangon, Burma for £35 on the 20th June. I plan to visit Mae Sariang, Chiang Mai, Sukhothai and Bangkok before leaving Thailand. I've also started applying for teaching jobs in Taiwan as I fancy a short break from travelling.

Chinese

I went by my motorbike to a small village on the Burmese border called Rak Thai. This place is populated by anti-communist Chinese fighters from the days of Mao Tze Dung. Again, I had a chance to try Mandarin. I was offered free tea while chatting to these folk. I was so close to Myanmar that I decided to walk to the border. I followed a jungle track for about 2km and came across a tatty fence with a gate. This was the border although there was no indication - no guards, flags or immigration.

Illegal

Shan man
I passed through and eventually reached a small village. Bewildered locals stared at me as I tried to establish which country I was in. I had the feeling that very few (if any) Europeans had ever been here before. After much confusion I managed to ascertain I was inside Burma. The only way I could tell was that an old village man approached me covered from head to toe in tattoos. On closer inspection the tats were in Burmese script which is distinct from Thai script. I thought this is very dangerous as Burma is run by a military junta warring against the Shan and Karen tribes on the Thai borders. I literally ran back to the sanctuary of Thailand.

I also went to a village called Ban Noi Sai which is inhabited by the Karen tribe people. The women here stretch their necks by placing brass rings around it from an early age. Really strange! However, I wasn't allowed inside because as I was walking into the village a young lass asked me for a ticket. To walk through a village? They wanted 250baht and I didn't even have that much money on me. I reckon Pegswood could operate the same policy by charging Morpeth folk £4 to enter the village and see the curiosities within!

I rode to Mae Sariang and spent a quiet couple of days finishing a book. On the way there I ran out of petrol - nightmare trying to sort that out. I headed back to Chiang Mai and returned the bike to Tommy who ended up getting me drunk for a couple of nights. I'm now going to the bus station about to head to Kalasin in Isaan with a friend. I fancy going there instead of Sukhothai as it's deep in Isaan province and I'm curious to see it.

Nam (water)
Gway tio mu (pork noodle soup)

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