Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Journey's end, Chiang Mai bliss.


I retired four months ago and I've been in a state of constant flux ever since. I've ridden my motorbike almost 11000km around three Southeast Asian countries before finally arriving and deciding to settle in Chiang Mai.

I last wrote from Vang Vieng, Laos. I was on my way to Vientiene to resume work as a GCSE/A level maths teacher in an International School. I found the school on Sunday 29th September and was due to start the following Tuesday. After meeting the boss and touring the school I went to buy some suitable attire that evening. As I was about to purchase some shirts I had a major panic attack.

Only three months previously I'd thrown away all my work clothes in a state of ecstasy. Did I really want to re-enter the drudgery of paid work again? Did I really want to get up at 0630 every morning and wear the worker-drone uniform? No, I certainly did not!

I returned the suffocating prison garments to the rack and promptly returned to my room where I wrote an apologetic letter to the Head. I felt bad letting him down but I had decided it was better to remain retired. There were also some other issues, one being the low salary despite Laos' higher cost of living compared to Thailand.

Panyathip International School in the heart of Vientiene. The job that never was.
So after the school abortion I went on long walks around Vientiene. There were some incredible changes from when I was last here in 2007.

It seems to me that Laos pays for nothing itself. These buses have been donated by Japan. The Chinese built many of the roads. Many other things have been funded by France, Australia and South Korea.
Vietnamese influence. I could manage OK speaking Thai but many words in Laos are different. Noodle soup for example takes the Vietnamese word Pho (pronounced Fer). The Laos script is similar to Thai but different enough that I struggled to make sense of it. 
This photo still makes me angry. World Vision is a charity supposed to alleviate poverty in the so-called third world. However, before any poverty is alleviated the caring charity workers must have their BMWs and Mercs first.

The grotesque display of wealth in a car park of an institution that is supposed to help poor people was sickening.

I have an idea. Sell a BMW and feed half of Northern Laos for the next 6 months. It must be a cushy number working for these charities. I implore people back home to stop giving to these gargantuan institutions of waste and greed. It's unlikely any of your generous donations reach the people you intend. Instead, you're probably helping some overpaid expat lord it around Vientiene in a Brand-spanking BMW.


Patuxai monument in the middle of town. 
I love this. A road safety sign sponsored by BeerLao. Class. 
NamFu fountain in the middle of town. At night it is nicely lit up with some musicians providing a soothing acoustic backdrop. Quite a trendy area these days. 
Since I wasn't going to be working (and living) in Laos I went to the Thai embassy to get a tourist visa. This was the queue to obtain a ticket to be in the queue!

Apparently this embassy issues double entry tourist visas......but not for me! The immigration bitch officer nonchalantly flipped through my passport and told me I can only have a single entry. I guess my face just didn't fit. I hate the way my life is at the whim of a moody woman. I have no idea why she did that?


Whilst waiting at the embassy I got talking to Canadian Blaine who teaches in Lampang. He invited me to try my first BeerLao. This was the start of a punishing four day bender where I met some great expats.
Some of the lads I was drinking with. A great bunch. Tasmanian Sean (furthest away) spent a week in Vang Vieng where we embarked on another four day bender.
This fellow will be happy. Bob from Sunderland. He was in the Royal Navy for seven years in the seventies. He served with my Uncle and knew my Uncle and Auntie who live near Edinburgh. Talk about a small world!
Once I picked up my passport from the Thai embassy I headed back to Vang Vieng where I spent 15 days chilling in this hammock, drinking shakes and generally relaxing.

Vang Vieng is so laid back it's horizontal. I loved it. 
There are so many daft signs in Asia that I don't normally bother with them. This one raised a smile though. This hotel offers a good view of someone's arse. Nice. 
Watching hot air balloons sail gracefully over Vang Vieng's main street. I reckon this would be an excellent way to see the sublime landscape here. Not bad at $80 a pop if you fancy it.
On the 24th October my Laos visa expired so I had to exit over the first Friendship Bridge. I didn't bother with any customs stuff for the bike because nobody cared. So, officially my bike is still in Laos although physically it's in Thailand. I wonder if that might come back and bite me on the arse one day? My first night in Thailand was spent in Chiang Khan. It felt really good to be back in Thailand as I had missed it.

I re-embraced simple pleasures like going into a 7/11 convenience store. Paying 20bt for a bag of crisps instead of 32bt. Paying 6bt for a small bottle of water instead of 12bt. The only two things Laos beats Thailand on is beer and cigarettes - everything else is pricier.
The next morning I woke to see fog and rain over the Mekong River. I waited until midday before leaving in the hope that things would clear. I only made it as far as Den Chai in Phrae Province (350km). I got very cold and wet in the hills of Leoy Province this day.
Saturday the 26th of October I made it to Chiang Mai. Austrian Armin was in town and we got to spend 4hrs catching up. It was great to see him again.

I then moved into my new room. This is the view of the pool from my balcony. For 3000bt/month (£60) I get a pool, AC, free wifi and free coffee. I have really landed on my feet here. I'm just outside the tourist zone but close enough to easily venture in. Yesterday I walked 8km around the square moat that encloses the city.

I also went to the language school where I will learn Thai in order to obtain a one year EDvisa. The course costs 18,000bt for one year of classes. I am looking forward to embarking on this language endeavour. i have always dreamed of being fluent in a foreign language and this is my best chance!

I have to leave the country in order to apply for the initial visa so I will go to Phnom Penh for 25 days on the 18th January. I will then start my classes in February 2014.

The AirAsia flights from Chiang Mai to Bangkok to Phnom Penh and back cost £150 together with a Cambodian evisa. The Cambodian evisa is $5 more expensive than a visa on arrival but you save a valuable page in your passport this way - thus delaying the purchase of a new UK passport - the world's most expensive!

I went to a local bar to witness this disaster. Typical Newcastle. Sunderland's first win of the season. I was absolutely gutted and ended up getting very drunk until 5am with some sympathetic Thai lads.

So, to conclude, after an epic Asian motorbike journey I am nicely settled into retired life in Chiang Mai. I'm looking forward to the future here. Only last night I had an excellent oil massage followed by a drink in Spicy Disco - a local institution. I got home around 0330! It feels good to do stuff like this on a week night when you don't have to be up at 0630 the next day to teach maths!!

I'm off for a spin up to Doi Suthep Temple for elevated views over the city.

Laos - Thai - English
Bobenyang - Maibenlai - No problem
Namgong - Namkeng - Ice
Sip pan - Neung meun - Ten thousand
Seb bo - Aroi mai - Deliscious?

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