Our ‘research trip’ with Intrepid started in Bangkok, which it still does today, see here. After meeting our group we travelled on the klongs by long-tailed boat to the railway station.
Our overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai was rather luxurious. My notes say “Wednesday morning we woke at 6am in the pleasantly rocking train as we sped towards Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. Gradually peaceful flat valleys between picturesque pointy mountains gave way to wider valleys, ribbon development of towns creeping closer together, rice paddies, water buffalo, piggeries, chickens, banana and coconut groves … Chiang Mai came creeping out to suck us in. Condominiums and apartments spread over the farmland, some Thai-style, others like Haciendas and worse. Another huge dirty city.” We travelled by bus further north, in a bus which stank of diesel fumes which the air-conditioning unit seems to be sucking in from the road. “From 9am until 3pm we rushed along winding rural roads, stopping to collect and set down passengers, overtaking continuously with much horn blowing. As we entered the Golden Triangle new houses began appearing regularly beside the road, concrete, brick, timber, lots of building. Small Thai-style homes usually, but some larger and Western-style. We wondered if it was a rich agricultural area, yet despite the orchards of lychee, rambutan and so on we all thought of the illegal opium poppies growing out of sight.”
Chiang Khong was small, one street with a dozen concrete shops on each side, and a stream of buses and motorbikes running along the centre. We were fascinated by the ingenious rubbish bins, made from old tyres!
Our guest house Baan Tammila was brilliant. An elegant timber building with wide teak verandahs overlooking the mighty Mekhong, where we feasted on freshly caught river fish as the monsoon light closed in during the evening.
Laos was on the other side of the river. On the hour we heard loudspeakers blaring, educating the populace with the latest regime news. Sounds of roosters drifted across the river too, as cocks of different nationalities competed for the available hens. The sky was cloudy, thick grey and white cloud of the ‘rainy season’. At 6am I wrote “Although it is very peaceful compared with Bangkok, the ubiquitous sound of small petrol engines can be heard, a few long-tailed boats on the river, the occasional motor bike, although at 6:30am most people are still at home. Now the sound of the national anthem blaring through the loud speakers from Laos!”
We crossed through the border on the Thai side, were ferried across the river in two longboats,
then had a long wait for Lao officials to let us through … and a longer wait for our transport, that it transpired, was no longer available.
No, it wasn’t the elephant found in the village, where we wandered for an hour while things were being resolved. We had an official Lao guide, Sum Pon, who made it all possible. Here he is with Lisa, our Intrepid guide, sorting things out!
We relaxed, took photos, drew and wandered, and eventually we were supplied with a boatman and his long boat, into which we would all just barely fit. But that story tomorrow!
You might enjoy seeing Stuart’s drawings, which he has just posted, as an accompaniment to this series of posts. Like me, he will add more tomorrow!