Up early to head for the Chiang Rai bus station and the two part journey to Nan via Phrae. I had practised the pronunciation of “Phrae” with various Thai speakers but wouldn’t you know it, it was China all over again when the two different people in the bus station ticket office misunderstood my pronunciation of Phrae for Pai (I swear I said the “r” but Pai is a more common farang destination) and sold me tickets for Chiang Mai. This made absolutely no sense to me as it is in entirely the opposite direction, but then so is Phrae, it just happens to be the only place for transferring to Nan. After more queries and the same answer, I spotted a couple of minivans under a sign saying “Phrae”, sent Doug running over there to enquire, they were just about to leave, 2 seats only left in the back of one — “Wait wait — I ran back to see if I could get a refund on the Chiang Mai tickets — only $9 I was willing to eat it, but still — ended up behind 2 Italian guys with hardly any English arguing with the ticket seller with hardly any English about changing their 3 bus tickets to Chiang Mai as their friend was in hospital after a motor bike accident and couldn’t travel… Amazingly the job was done, the ticket seller still insisting there was no bus to Pai, but when I pointed to the sign, he said “oh Pre” or some such, clearly thinking he had just had transactions with an imbecile. The minivan was by now at the road, engine roaring, Doug standing by to get the packs put on the roof to make sure I would get there, leapt in, squashing the other 2 people in the back seat into the corners and off down the road. Fortunately people got off along the way so we weren’t so mashed the whole 3 hours. In Phrae, we got out, said “Nan” — how wrong could we get that? — a minivan was ready to race off, another one 3/4 full — “I have to use the toilet” I cried, “Hurry Hurry” Doug ran for tickets and in we leaped. What efficiency, Thailand’s bus system is flat out amazing. Thai people use it even when they have cars as it is so cheap, clean, comfortable, and there are so many of them. We are spoiled now.Nan is a cute little town, and we hove up at the Nan Guesthouse having been recommended to it by the woman running the guesthouse we are going to in Hongsa, Laos, having been recommended to her place by our friends Kurt and Judy who give us such excellent advice on all our Asian trips. It’s a good little place, down a quiet lane, and a fantastic bargain — $11 for a room with AC, hot water bathroom, fridge, and wifi. Not bad… Nan is very flat so we have rented bikes for our stay and have been all over the place on them. In Chiang Mai I saw a slogan on a shop that said, “You can’t get lost if you don’t care where you are” and I tried using that phrase on my trusty guide when we got completely lost on the other side of the river, but it seemed to give him little comfort, indeed his frustration increased. You all know me, absolutely not one clue where we had come from, let along where we were going, so it is all up to him to get us back to the guesthouse at some stage. Eventually as dusk came on we started asking people, the key thing being we needed to find a bridge back across the Nan river to Nan proper, of course no English at all spoken, we encountered this all the time in Indonesia but I picked up enough of that language to ask basic questions, Thai is another matter entirely. We really thought that even considering the language barrier people were being amazingly obtuse, but when we finally did reach a bridge, we realized that we had circled back on ourselves and were at the bridge we had originally crossed while we had thought we were 10 kilometres south of there and so were pointing out all the wrong landmarks on our map. It was us not them who were obtuse. Very cute little paths through village/suburbs, very nice housing as we have found all over Thailand. Such a high standard of living compared to other parts of SE Asia. We read somewhere that Thailand has the 3rd lowest unemployment rate in the world, after Monaco and maybe Qatar, so maybe that explains the absolute space cadet who mans the desk in this guesthouse and cannot even manage to supply a roll of toilet paper when the English speaking owner is away (most of the time). Thailand has been such a pleasant, easy place to travel in. Standards of hygiene are very high especially relative to the region, as I said the buses are great, and our guesthouses have all been excellent. You can eat anywhere, including at street stalls, and live, and the food at those places is dirt cheap. It seems that most Thais do very little cooking at home now, which is what had our cooking teacher Noi so upset, they just drive up to these small hole in the wall restaurants or street stalls in their cars or on their motorbikes, go in and choose dinner which is all put in plastic bags or styrofoam containers and go home with it. We have been going to more upscale restaurants in the larger places — not possible in Nan — because we wanted to sample all types of food. Most of the stalls serve only one thing, and it is hard for me to enjoy a meal while walking in the heat. However when we eat lunch at the small hole in the wall places, we can easily eat full scale meals for about $4 for two. Dinner comes to a bit more with the addition of two large beers at about $2.50 each and our upscale restaurants often cost us $25 in total if we really go all out. It is possible to sleep very cheaply too, but we have not tried, and for what we pay we get very nice accommodation in the $20 to $40 range mostly. We had forgotten how polite and reticent Thais are. No hard sells here, a big contrast to Vietnam and Cambodia. Very smiley and welcoming too, but practically no English spoken outside of the bigger places. Thai has 43 consonants and 27 vowels or some such, so would take a real effort to learn, particularly the written word, not something your language challenged correspondents are capable of it seems. We find some aspects of the culture puzzling, and so it would be nice to ask people more questions but it is always this way when we are traveling. For instance no one seems to be able to tell me what the deal is about all the face masks. Like all Asians it seems, Thais are phobic about getting suntanned so women and men wear full face regalia, long sleeves of elbow length gloves and hats whenever in the sun but especially when riding motor bikes. However you often see people in shops wearing them, sometimes but not always people in kitchens, and weirdly, almost always people who are cutting hair wear both masks and white lab coats. Must tell my hairdresser she needs to garb more hygienically. However I am told it has nothing to do with infecting others, and is about “pollution.” Who knows, and only foreigners ask a lot of questions. Buying any kind of skin lotion or face cream without whitening powers is also almost impossible. I have been trying to find out about recycling of plastic as the plastic water bottle is ubiquitous here as in all Asian lands. Water in the tap is treated so that is one reason food is so much more hygienic now, but no one drinks it I am told. There are many ways to buy bottled water, the cheapest is in glass bottles which are reused, and which we sometimes get in our rooms, but they are never available for take away. There are large carboys of water, which we have seen left outside the gate for the water deliverers to take, but far too many of the usual 500 ml bottles we know and hate at home. There rarely seems to be a recycling bin in a guesthouse or restaurant but sometimes there is, and then people talk vaguely about recycling but I can’t seem to determine whether it actually happens. Plastic will eventually kill us all just by piling up until we can’t see anything or breathe I fear. Much less litter and garbage on the streets than in any other Asian country I have been in, it seems to me that only happens when a certain level of affluence has been reached. Fun time here, just sitting on the guesthouse roof typing this and chatting with a young German backpacker who has been here almost 4 months, doesn’t know what to do next, had 650 Euros stolen the first week she was here on an island in the far south, and seems worn out and depressed. When I suggested she go to Laos she said she doesn’t want to pay for a visa… Also met a French family here with kids 2, 5, and 9 who are traveling for 4 months and will follow us to Hongsa in a day or two. Very laid back, nice people, the baby is covered with chicken pox marks, all the kids had it while traveling. No shots in France? We take a bus for 3 hours to the border tomorrow, cross both customs stations on foot, then by santheow on to the bus station where we hope there is a bus, there seems to be some debate whether it will run on a market day which this is, but oh well, then a bus an hour and a half to Hongsa. We are bringing groceries from the Tesco obtained by a woman who runs a restaurant called Hot Bread at the request of the owner of the Jumbo guesthouse where we are headed, a woman called Monika with whom I have had voluminous correspondence, very interested to meet her. After a few days there, over to the river and down to Luang Prabang on a public boat (we think/hope) Will keep you posted after a bit of time in Laos. Thanks for reading! Your happy travellers.
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