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Merry Xmas everyone! I'm still in thailand, still climbing, still on a beach... hope everything you're up to over xmas is fun, I'm certainly having a great life at the moment and just don't want to leave..I'm on Ton Sai beach, near Krabi, no cars, just longtail boats and climbers..
The climbing here is world class, and I've been climbing intensively ever since i came and have really improved, I can do HVS now.
other than that, went diving and have written an awful lot of diary but this place rots your brain and the hemingway feeling soon dissappears...

will write soonish,

Chiang Rai

We're heading to Laos tommorrow, taking a boat down the mekhong to Luang Prabang, to admire some French colonial architecture and eat a chip butty (no, really). Then we'll head by road or river to vientiane and from there to Bangkok and the Similan Islands.
Spent yesterday doing 360 work: interviewing a bloke who'd invented a phonetic script for Akha, a tribal language around here. He was very nice, very trying to help us journalists shed light on his wonderful tribe. The Akha are a very distinctive hilltribe: the women wear heavy headdresses decorated with bells, strings of beads and silver ornaments. They are of sino-tibetan origin, look tibetan and speak a language related to Tibetan. They live in villages made of teak planks: the houses are on stilts to enable air circulatition and they have thatched roofs made from split bamboo. They keep chicken, pigs and water buffaloes and farm rice, maize abd some opium. Their villages have a spirit gate and a swing which looks like a bbq tripod made from bamboo rods. Many hold on to their original ancestor worship and animist beliefs, but an increasing number are being convertde to catholicism and protestantism. Matthew, the man who'd surveyed their language and mad ehte written record, was very vociferous about this: he had stickers on his mutilated pickup truck which proclaimed:''missionaries suck!'' and kept on pointing out ''spoilt'' Akha villages with huge churches along the way. Amusingly, we also saw a huge drug rehab place in the middle of nowhere run by the resident Kuomintang drugs baron, for addicted farmers. Talk of ironies... Matthew was of the opinion that through losing their traditional beliefs, Akha also start to lose their distinctive way of life and their culture: hence the privately funded book project, to teach kids how to read and write in their own language. And from the reception that he got in the villages that we visited with him, the Akha were very happy about this. The first village we c\visited, driving over godawful unpaved roads in the chill november rain (I never thought a teak rainforest could look like the lake district in mid november. It can. Something about lowlying cloud and few inhabitants.) was a christian Akha village, of about 50 huts. A number of its inhabitants were on a veranda, clustered around a small wood fire. The older women had badly stained teeth from chewing betel nut, and expectorated small quantities of red at regular intervals. They carried children in a carry cloth on their back, and busied themselves sewing traditional ambroidery patterns on to black cloth. They were dressed in western hand-me-downs: scruffy acrylic pullovers in lurid colours, adidas tracksuit bottoms. Also not too different from the satorial style of north england, then. Scrubby tshirts that proclaimed polo ralph lauren and versace jeans. A few sported cheap cotton sarongs. The children were for some part bronchtic, but generally clean and fairlyn lively looking.The men were similary attired. They listened with grave interest when Matthew explained the phonetic transcription system: cautiously at first, then with growing enthusiasm. Matthew later told us that they were worried about the rain on the rice harvest, as it is rice drying season at the moment. The village was overalll clean, a concrete road through the middle of village. Plumbing, toilets, all in existance. We drove through further, smaller villages including a living museum run by the PDA, the largest NGO around here. Curiously, that's where the people seemed most interested in the literature: granted, it was a traditional village, but one would have thought that the PDA would be happy to run such a project, rather than leaving ti to a one man vehicle in a cannibalised 4wd pickup.

Got back to Chiang Rai, had pizza, went shopping, went to bed. Off to Chiang Khon today, to catch the slow boat to Luang Prabang tommorrow, which should be fun, but I'll be away for another 6 days or so until I return to civilisation.

Still in Chiang Mai

Unusually for a traveller, I have been sedentary for the past week, both of us recovering from bouts of sickness, and then dropped into Lao visa limbo. But tommorrow they'
re ready and we'll be on the road once again. Aa the day to day movements, unmarked by changes in place have blurred somwhat, I can only leave you with general impressions of our actions in Chiang Mai. Few things stand out.
First of all, Loy Krathong and the main parade on tuesday. Are you familiar with theTrench Experience in the Imperial War Museum, London? One pays a princely sum (a fiver) to descend into a ramschackle 1st wordl war trench, and to have shooting noises blasted at one from all directions. Well, that was Loy Krathong. But rather than shells, there were fireworks. Really vicious nasty loud asian ones. And they were everywhere.. people follhardishly handholding them, just like you're told NOT to by daddy whe you're five, shooting them at each other, throwing them under cars.. it was madness. The acrid smoke just added to the war flavour.
The parade lasted four hours. After a while, it dulled into repetitiveness: floats bedeckd with flowers, dragons adn pretty girls (and boys)in traditional thai costume and three kilos of gold smiling through and waving, closely followed by a generator truck blasting trad Thai music at 50000 watts. Occasionally, the girls did a little arm waving. Then endless lines of students from the various uniersities dotted around chiang mai: by the time the Lanna technical College was passing at 2 am, we were ready to go home and so were they. Special mention goes to the lines of honourable grannies wearing wonderful sarongs and carrying womens' institute banners.
We also visited the university and the Art Gallery: rather odd exhibitions by the teachers at the Fine Arts department: sculpture and printing. Some rather fine blockprinting by a student: looked a lot like Van Gogh but had used tradThai themes...
We also saw the latest Harry Potter (not as good as the first ione, by far) and climbed a 1600 metre mountain Doi Pui, adn failed to a) have a view or b) see a hilltribe village. But we managed to be c) laughed at by lots of thai teenagers on mopeds tearing up the hill for our sedate attire and pace. There was a temple near this summit containing a bone of Buddha: I had a lot of holy water sprinkled on me. But it was rather beautiful. Lots of incense, the pure rainforest air, the himing of gongs, the festive red and gold colours, the beautiful gld chedi, and the strolling monks and chattering nuns...

Today, it rained. Varying from monsoon to drizzle, but unceasing. So we went to the post office and sent stuff home (seamail, two moths) and then went to the hilltribe museum, set on a lake. It was surrounded by bamboo huts on stilts selling all manner of edibles. But evidently, the tourbuses stop at the museum for an hour, then leave, as noone spoke english and the menus were entirely in Thai. Not daunted by this, I got out a phrasebook, but soon realised that a recited list of food in a teriible thei accent wold render us laughing stock. So I pretended I had understood and pointed to two items on the menu, dearly hoping it was too cheap to be ''deepfried grasshopper'' or somesuch delicacy. I also thoughtfully added the international gesture for ''not too hot. - fanning one's tongue with one's hand. It all looked like a fabulous game of charades.
We waited. The anticipaiton was rather more than for an ordinary meal, especially as the fat lady cook demanded if we wanted kao soy. I nodded and hoped it was the right thing to do, or whether I'd just landed myself with curry flavoured beetle as desert. Our food arrived. It was pedestrian. They must have thought us mad. It was spinach in Oyster sauce, and on the other plate, mixed veg. The kao soy turned out to be boiled rice. I was very glad to have instinctively varied my pointing, the necessity of consuming two plates of oysterflavoured spinach due to starvation may have been too much to bear. It was ok.
And now w pack to leave for Chian Mai tommorrow, where we get to sit on a bookbus, an watch little Akha children beeing given books. We also get to try out our new super Indian voicerecorder. It will be great... I will report again from Chiang Rai and then from Luang Prabang (in Laos).....
Loi Krathong

I had a severe case of Delhi Belly yesterday, so spent all day being ill. Highly unpleasant, and I missed out on Krathong (small floaty things made of marigold, daisy and other blossoms, and bananaleaves: you put a candle and incense on them and float them down the river: they're supposed to take all you troubles away) making.
The people in the guesthouse made them, and then we went to the river together to float them, along with every other person in Chiang Mai. It ws so pretty: the little specks of light floating down the river, and everyone holding floweres and smiling.
We also released big lanterns into the sky, you looked up and saw literally hundreds of tiny orange specks drifting on the wind. So beautiful. And then there was this huge parade, with people in traditional costume performing classical music and dancing.. there were a few of the hilltribes in their native costume: peaked black hats covered in silver bells, huge collars made of hundreds and hundres of tiny silver chains, black tops and elaborately decorated waistcoats - embroidered with green, red, blue and yellow and pink and black wollen legwarmers, decorated in the same manner. There were also lots and lots of overmadeup thai tots sitting on floats surrounded by flowers, who by 10 pm were drooping visibly - flowers as well as tots. Apparently there's an even larger parade tonight, which I am looking forward to.

Travellers paradise

Chiang Mai is a true travellers paradise. We met a few americans in the Songthaew here who expressed this opinion. They had been here for a month, and hailed from Hawai and Alaska. When I asked them what they were doing, they answered massage courses and meditation classes. One of them was a ''massage therapist''.
Everything here is cheap, easy and plentiful. The food is brilliant. The guesthouses chilled. One can have a safe tattoo or piercing, and buy fishermans trousers, fake diesel tshirts and fake rolexes to ones' hearts delight. They even have fish n' chips and marmite! One can go and stare at unfortunate Karenni burmese refugees, who happen to place rings around the womens' necks. One can go and stare at other ''primitive'' tribes in the''jungle''. The travel agents that line the many streets of Chiang Mai can do everything: sort out lao visas for the trip into the next ''paradise'' (Ok, i admit it, we availed ourselves of this favour) or organise an aircon minibus to any destination one cares to mention. Providing its not not on the beaten track, obviously. It really does feel like a slightly less sanitised version of disneyland, call it travellerland. The heart palpitates when one thinks of Ko Samui. Ok, I'm feeling ever so slightly bored, and also quite cynical. India was much harder work, but also, because of this, slightly more fun.
On monday, I was lazy, drew a bit, wrote a few pages. At night we explored fake rolex paradise of the night-market and watched a loi krathong pre-procession. We then went to the THC roof top bar to watch lanterns drift away across the houses: a myriad od tiny orange dots in the night sky, drifting on the wind. It was an incredibly beautiful sight. We aslo drank chang beer, and met two canadians, who were doing the se asia circuit and by and lasrge, also bored by chiang mai. ''You can go up to a waterfall, but you have to pay, cos its so near the city'' they said, sniffing. After that, we started arguing US defence policy and singha (6.5% abv) and thus the evening was lost. Aside from the bar releasing its own lantern, that is.
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