Sunday, 8 July 2007

Half Time Results

Whilst in Chang-Mai, we reached the mid-point on our journey and celebrated with a beer and a lousy chili. A traditional past time of the Scottish Holidaymaker is to keep count of the number of Celtic or Rangers' football tops seen adorning our lobster-pink fellow countrymen. The final result being as passionate a score as a match result itself. For anyone who might be interested the half time report reads as follows:

The game got off to a slow start with neither team securing a point for a good six weeks. Then towards the end of our time in NZ Celtic snuck the first ball into the net with an away strip being worn by a fat lady in Warehouse supermarket. Celtic then clinched a second when an appearance in the paper and a show as opposition on the tele in a feature on Barcelona combined to take the Celts 2-0 up. A series of near misses for Celtic came next as countless people were seen with green and white hooped tops, but no Celtic badge meant no Celtic point as the ball flew past the crossbar time and time again. Celtic mantained the pressure though and with Rangers nowhere to be seen in the game, the blues took a further knock when a local on the Singapore underground passed the turnstiles with Nakamura's name on the back of his home strip. 3-0 up and Celtic would score a further two points before Rangers would put a ball behind the net. Phuket this time and on the beach, a Rangers flag flying high would give the Gers a very much needed lift of spirits. The Bhoys seemed a little dazzled by this as in less than an hour Rangers would score a second with a pedestrian walking along the road. 5-2 and a long fight for the next point would see the game move to the Vespa Bar in Phnom Phen. Celtic would have thought the green-washed pub would have played to it's favour but up the back in a frame, a signed Rangers' top would bring the score to 5-3. The half time whistle approaching and both teams upped their game. A market stall in Chang-Mai saw Larsson make a return to Celtic Park with his name across the back of an old home top bringing the score to 6-3. Then the crowd erupted when just as the ref raised his whistle for half time, and we raised our glasses to toast the mid-point, a Gers' adorned patron of a nearby pub sauntered passed to bring the half time score to Celtic 6, Rangers 4.

For the full time results, click here.

Chang Mai and Our Big Decision

Chang-Mai is the second biggest city in Thailand after Bangkok, and as such is the largest city in the north of Thailand. We had a few days to soak up the atmosphere and to get a feel for the differences between the north and the rest of the country. Sadly, the city seemed as though it had lost any sense of self.

It's remaining features of interest include the moat and tumbling wall which surrounded the old part of the town but other than that, it felt like little more than a jettison point for backpackers heading off in various directions. The old town is mostly a maze of little alleys, full of guesthouses and bars, while the new town has wider roads and bigger hotels, but the same sense of tourist town permeates both halves. We didn't really find any solid sense of what Chang-Mai was or had been. It did have quite a number of working Wats (temples), but having spent the last week at Angkor Wat, we felt a little templed out, and on top of that, we always feel a slight sense of intrusion when we step into the monk's realms, not least because you're not really supposed to wear shorts or t-shirts, and it's just too hot to wear anything more.

We walked around aplenty, and shifted accommodation every night as we struggled against paper thin walls, and neighbouring night clubs. We had a good enough time just meandering and taking care of e-business, including arranging our flights into Laos and catching up on the blog - this literary epic doesn't come without effort you realise - but we didn't actually do anything worth reporting. A couple of bad meals later, and a couple of good ones, and we headed to the airport for our flight into Laos.

We had weighed up whether to fly or not. Our options were plane or boat. Boat meant a 6 hour bus trip to the border and an over night stay, then a two day boat trip on a slow boat down the Mekong. At first this sounded like a romantic and authentic way to make the journey but further research would reveal that the boat has little in the way of comfort. We would have been sitting on our bags, or if lucky a wooden bench, and have been crammed in with a couple dozen other backpackers and probably a load of chickens. There was no food available, so it would be two days of crisps, and the toilet was to be found by hanging you rear end over the boat while your poo-buddy held your hands. There was a fast boat we considered too. That made the trip in one full day, but apparently was so cramped that you simply can't move at all while being deafened and battered as it raced up the river. The fast boat was widely reported as dangerous too with not an insignificant number finding the bottom of the river.

Given this list of horrors, air travel would seem like the easy choice but consider that we would be flying Air Laos, with a fleet of planes without radar who fly continuously through cloudy mountainous terrain with a terrifying track record. We decided that the International Red Cross were probably wise in their policy of not allowing it's staff to fly with Air Laos, but it seemed at least the most comfortable way to die trying to get into the country. We bid our farewells to the world and buckled up. The flight was really quite good, the food was utterly dreadful (stale crab sticks in a croissant), but the free beer went some way to calm the nerves.

Flying over Laos was really quite amazing. The country is one big mass of mountains, there's hardly a flat spot to be found. There's no towns or villages to be seen either, just a little hut on each hill side, minding it's own little spot of farmland. Every inch, is a deep lush green of rice terraces or virgin forest lying thick over all the peaks and troughs. As far as the eye could see was hill after mountain, with pockets of white cloud clinging to the peaks. We were starting our descent and the highest hills were about as far below us as the runway tends to be about 30 seconds before landing. I wondered how high Luang Prabang's airport sat and if we were nearing it or still had a bit to go. Flashes of cloud started to race past the windows and you could catch glimpses of the approaching slopes between the breaks. Then we entered completely white cloud and remained in that for about a minute. Judging by our rate of descent and what we had seen out the windows, it was easy to guess we were now flying somewhere lower than the highest hills, and remember there were lots of hills, but unless all the gaps in the cloud lay directly in front of the cockpit, we had to be relying on the pilot's local knowledge to know there was nothing in the way - no radar remember. Sure enough, we popped out the bottom of the cloud to reveal we were approaching Luang Prabang, flying along a valley, with the ground a further minute or so below us but the sides already higher than us on both sides. It's quite odd, looking out both sides and seeing the ground, and still going down for a further minute. A smooth landing and we were in the terminal queuing to get our visas.


There wasn't one. We queued, we paid, we got a receipt that said we had payed less than we had. The immigration man was a couple of dollars up, we were just glad to have survived the trip. We got a big stamp, we left.