|Mae Head Beach, Koh Tao|
We took the sleeper train to Chiang Mai. As far as sleeper trains go (and I'm becoming quite the connoisseur of overnight Asian transport) this was pretty comfortable, with slightly more privacy than average, afforded by a flimsy curtain across each booth that also doubled up as a wind breaker for the gale-force aircon vent at the top of the cabin. They must think that all westerners live in Arctic conditions and have the constitution of a Geordie pub-goer.
Chaing Mai is a charming little city, overflowing with culture (read: more temples) in the mountains of northern Thailand. I was promised cooler temperatures and lower humidity. In return I promised Laura that rain in the wet season is just a heavy downpour lasting 30mins, then followed by bright sunshine. Neither were correct. We took shelter from the rain in a cocktail bar/ massage house and had the strongest pina coladas ever created.
Chiang Mai is famous for its walking markets streets. On weekend evenings the locals pedestrianise a street, setting up stalls and displays to sell their crafts. There's music, dancing, and the ubiquitous hawker selling percussive wooden frogs (my irritation with this particular piece of tourist tat knows no bounds - they're peddled in every country I've visited so far), all set against the backdrop of illuminated temples. The markets are supposed to have different themes for each day but the only thing that changed between Saturday and Sunday was the location.
Walking around these markets you appreciate how food and transport are ingeniously interwoven: vehicles are only limited by the owner's welding skills. In Bangkok we passed a VW campervan-cum-backlit-bar and saw several motorbikes with icecream-vending / rotissery-chicken sidecars throughout Thailand, Chaing Mai included. Think of any specialist equipment you need in order to sell something and I can guarantee there'll be a customised vehicle for it.
We enrolled in a Thai cookery course, which was great fun, although there wasn't much opportunity to go off-piste, as we were under the watchful eye of the professional cooks at all times. However, that did ensure my output was almost edible. I'm now the self-proclaimed king of spring rolls and will be accepting challenges after xmas.
|Dusk, Koh Samui|
|Me and yellow tail barracuda|
|Phra Nang Lanta, Koh Lanta|
The next day we whiled away the hours on the beach before taking a 30min taxi to the other side of the island for a recommended restaurant. I convinced the hotel reception that we wouldn't need a return cab, we could get one over there. After all, there were a few restaurants in that area and it should be fairly lively. We rocked up and there was nothing, not even streetlights. Everywhere looked closed. Bemused locals stared as we arrived in the pickup. Our restaurant looked to be the place open, so I was practically on my knees begging the driver to come pick us in 2 hours. The waiter/owner was over the moon to see paying customers. After saying they we can have anything we like from the menu (always a good sign, though do I really want seafood from a place with no customers?) he showed us to our table and bounded away like Andrew Sachs on PCP. We were sat on someone's unfinished patio, on stilts above a mosquito-infested swamp, the restaurant layout as intuitive as a level of Zelda. We shared the restaurant with one other couple about half a mile away over the other side. But it was hilarious and the food was terrific. The tide came just in before we finished our meal and we had a final gin and tonic listening to the waves lap against the stilts.
|Island near Koh Phi Phi|
Laura and I spent our last day kayaking in Bothor to see some old caves paintings. After Laura headed to Bangkok I decided to grab a few more fun dives off Koh Phi Phi (not totally convinced about my headboard-punching story, getting back underwater can't do me any harm) and went looking for reef sharks. Unfortunately not a single one in sight but managed to get my first turtle. Still impressive, but I'm hoping that Fiji delivers the goods next month.