NEPAL AND THAILAND
I think of Mary Frances when I start to use this notebook. I wonder if she ever guessed where I'd open it -- surely she didn't expect me to be flying over the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Or maybe she did since my exotic tastes in travel are so well known. Left New York quite happily. Greg took me to a bon voyage lunch at the Cheese Cellar, then I slipped out of the office around four and got the 5:20 bus to Kennedy. When I checked in, they told me sweetly that the flight (scheduled for 8:25) wouldn't be going until 10:30. As it turned out, it was more like 11:45. Lucky me, I had a voucher for dinner at the terminal buffet, plus my own supplies of Perrier, yogurt, crackers and apple. All that and a crossword book kept me moderately amused, but it is a sin that attractive, mildly efficient airports are built without comfortable seating or decent lighting. What are you supposed to do when a flight is delayed three hours? And when will airlines learn that a simple announcement can keep passengers content? I had to find the departure gate by rumor mill. Anyway, the flight was OK. I had my window seat and an empty middle seat, so I snoozed my four hours. No idea if the food was any good and my impression of the service was based on one little Hitler stewardess who had an S&M flair for waking people up. (Me only once.) Very few Western faces on the plane. The flight (Air India) does go straight on to Delhi and Bombay. God help anyone who does that.
I toddled off at Heathrow and met Jim Flynn easily at the Hertz counter. Thankfully he'd called ahead, so hadn't had to wait out the delay at the airport. He turns out to be a sweetheart; quiet, probably shy, but very nice. I was doing all right on the energy level, but I know I was hardly coherent and he took it right in stride. We drove off to a pub for coke and coffee (guess who had what!) then set off to find my hotel. Naturally we got lost, so I got to drive his Sirocco around Hayes while he got directions. I guess I seemed sane enough. Once the Ariel was located, he left me to nap and headed off to apartment hunt in London, promising to meet me back at the hotel at six-ish. (Now about 1:30.) I dozed a little, not much real sleep, but did recharge so I felt fine when I got up and dressed. (Black silk with Irish sweater and shawl: punk chic??) We drove into London and then to a play. 84 Charing Cross Road. I don't think that even now Jim realizes what a serendipitous choice it was. As a play it went a bit slowly, but I was already in love with the characters from the book.
Afterwards we hit a (poor- quality) Chinese restaurant behind Leicester Square, but with the help of a bottle of Soave and a rowdy party at the far end, we got pretty well comfortable. Jim expressed an interest in coffee/ dessert when we finished (an either / or situation -- I declined the offer to drive on the way home) so we found a place in Knightsbridge (Borscht & Tears) that was still -- just barely open at 1:25. They'd only serve main courses, so Jim downed an order of almond trout which must have made up for the less than terrific Chinese place. The restaurant was like a coffeehouse in Cambridge, except that the musicians went home at 1:30. Entertainment thereafter was supplied by two singing rowdy tables including one fellow who was inspired to moon the restaurant. I still felt awake, but I knew it was false euphoria so we headed back out toward the airport with a quick swing around a square in Chelsea to check out the neighborhood around a possible apartment. Poor Jim must have been dying of exhaustion, but he only expressed wonder that I was still functioning. He left me off at the hotel with the invitation to do it again if the September trip works out. The he drove out to Marlow where he lives (where Sue and Martyn used to live too!) I was absolutely thrilled that it all worked out, I really enjoyed it.
Somehow sleeping from 3:20 am to 6:45 seemed painfully short. I wonder why. My stomach had no interest in breakfast, so I had my juice and tea, then swiped some toast that I managed to force down in the departure line. Everything at Heathrow was as smooth as could be and I quickly found myself in my window seat, alone in a row of three, and taking off at 9:35 on the dot. I very quickly lay down for a two hour nap before lunch, then sacked out again for another three hours before dinner. Suddenly I feel almost human. We land in about an hour so I now have to face the only scary task of the trip -- getting myself from the Delhi airport to the Oberoi Intercontinental. Sleep is enough of a motivating factor STILL that I'm sure all will go smoothly.
The gods have been with me (or maybe Harriet was, uh, emphatic with the Lindblad people). As I came out of customs in New Delhi last night, a guide was there to taxi me to the hotel. Room was fine except for disco overhead, but I wish I'd been able to try it out for longer than 5 hours. Sorry, but it was rise and shine at 5:45 to meet with my tour in the lobby. Much expectation, excitement, etc. Tour is one other person plus me. A Joe Orthobandt of Reno, Nevada. He seems quite pleasant, so the week should go pretty well. Back to the airport we went and loaded onto a Royal Nepal 727 heading north. Delhi, based on the airport, is no place I'd want to hang around. The flight was a revelation. India is so dry and barren looking. Then suddenly, these rugged foothills appear and the real Himalayas come into view. It's almost like a mirage. The mountain bases are in a blue haze so that the snow peaks float on top like clouds.
After plowing through customs at Kathmandu, we were met by a lovely guide -- much better English and atmosphere than the Delhi types. He hustled us over to the gate for our twin-otter flight to Meghauli. The old 19-seater. Boarding, I got frisked for the second time in the day. The Delhi lady was thorough; in Kathmandu she hit only the key spots: chest, armpits, crotch. Ugh. It's totally impersonal, but what a creepy feeling. The flight to Tiger Tops was awesome. We paralleled the mountains the whole way, flying over the low foothills. Probably bigger than the Appalachians and certainly more rugged. It looks exactly like a survey map come to life. What's unbelievable is that you can see terraced fields up and down these hills. All I need to know is just how they get to these fields.
Meghauli airport turns out to be a grass strip and HOT -- maybe 80's. Everything very dry. It was Land Rover to river, boat (just like the Chinese boat we caved in at Seven Star) then a longish Land Rover ride to the lodge. I'm amazed; when I hear "jungle" I guess I think of rain forests. This is very dry and dusty, but thickly overgrown. Like pictures of Africa which shouldn't surprise me. My room at the lodge is on the second floor of a stilted building. It's like a giant sleeping porch. The walls a braided whatever, varnished dark brown, screens for windows, and matted roof. Furniture all overstuffed and cotton covered. It's obviously set up for tourists, but doesn't have a glitzy feel. Sounds like Lila's birdhouse. We went on our first elephant ride around four. Everyone was getting a good giggle over the whole escapade. It's really amazing to be riding through the elephant grass and seeing rhinos. Unbelievable. I should have mentioned that you board the elephant when he walks up to the lodge and backs under the second floor porch. A gate opens in the rail, and you step straight onto the howdah on the elephant's back maybe twelve feet off the ground.
We were all getting ready for a slide show in the main lodge around seven when the gong went off. A tiger was at one of the blinds. Everyone (silently) jumped in Land Rovers and drove off. Then we did a single file walk up the path into the jungle. The only lights were a couple of flashlights; otherwise it was pitch black. I couldn't believe how quiet and quick everyone was. I know my heart was racing along. At one point we took off our shoes and padded barefoot the last five minutes to the blind. The trail was covered with fine white sand. Suddenly we were at the blind, a mat screen with peepholes. The guide shone a light on the tiger and there he was feeding on the bait. We were looking down a hill to the far side of a little stream, but he was as clear as could be. Someone had binoculars, but the real thrill was BEING there. After about five minutes, we reversed the whole process and padded back down the hill. Everyone was so excited - we almost glowed in the dark! Dinner was great in the main lodge. Then to bed for the first full night's sleep since Wednesday. Absolute heaven.
Up for a 7am elephant ride that topped yesterday. This time I had a front seat, so the view and comfort were much better. At one point all the elephants/riders had two rhinos surrounded. We had a long, close view with the elephants snorting and trumpeting before the rhinos took off. We also saw boar, chickens and gorgeous deer. All this before breakfast! One good trick showed up when someone dropped a lens cap from the elephant ahead of us. Ours search in the grass for a bit, then came up with cap in trunk and "handed" it to the guide. Incroyable! After breakfast, we loaded into Land Rovers and headed off for the tented camp. The trip also included legs by boat (just like the flat-bottomed Chinese versions) and foot. The camp was a revelation. Each (double) tent was set in its own hut with porch, twin beds, and a bucket/sink arrangement. The facilities were just around the corner, along a powdery clean path. Meals are served in a central hut and are terrific. I can't believe what it must take to run this place.
We had a brief siesta, then a 1 and 1 /2 hour nature walk that was a bust -- no sightings. A nice solar-hot shower came next, then dinner (continental). We all sat around drinking and chatting until about 10pm (end of tiger baiting time). The only weird thing about settling in for the night was the absolute blackness. Even a flashlight only pierced it; you couldn't get your bearings. Serious comfort though -- we even had hot water bottles tucked into the cots. Later note: Some security (?) was provided by the three Italians who kept asking me -- in Italian -- whether I wasn't afraid of the Tigre and wouldn't I feel safer joining them in their tent. Certainly a line I hadn't heard before.
Linda McMurray and I set out early (6-ish) for a walk to the tiger blind with the guide Mon. Again, interesting, but only saw a woodpecker. Breakfast then a float down river passing deer and crocodiles. Jeep back to the lodge. The plane back to Kathmandu must have been late so we all trooped out on another walk. We went back to the tiger blind to check it out by daylight, then walked back along a riverbed complete with vultures. Lunch was yet another feast, then it was back to the airport. While we waited for the plane (a viscount this time} we talked with this amazing little schoolboy, Hamla. He was 11-ish, spoke English, and knew more about the U.S. than any American kid. Crazy. Flight back was uneventful. We were met and whisked off to our hotel, a very posh Hilton- type. I immediately hopped in to wash my hair and will soon mosey down for dinner. Dinner turned out to be Continental. I held up my sound end for by tour mate Joe and quite dazzled him. He's pleasant, but beyond that it was quite unintentional.
I didn't realize until too late that this was St. Patrick's Day. Thinking of New York kids!! Our guide Hira met us after breakfast and started us on our Kathmandu tour. First we hit Swayambhunoth which was fascinating. I expected, but didn't comprehend what a crowded hodgepodge it was. Weather was hazy so the valley views weren't much, but the temples were neat. From there to old Kathmandu (market and Palace -- Durbar -- Square}, lunch at the hotel, then crafts and Patan.
I'm left with many impressions: DIRTY, crowded, people nice, many ethnic groups (Tibetan, Sherpa, many others) and very poor. The atmosphere is quite happy, but everything is so cheap and dirty. I wonder what the fascination was for the hippie generation of Americans. Cheap easy drugs I think primarily, but the rest is not particularly wholesome. I sound very negative which isn't accurate. I don't feel grossed out or disgusted (as I think I would in India). The people seem warm and pleasant. There's some hustling and mild begging -- young kids -- but it never became upsetting. I guess I have to digest my impressions to come up with even a superficial reaction. Other comments: Joe is pleasant, but not chatty which is hard on me. He is also a mother hen which is a mixed blessing. A week will be fine; more would be too much.
Very few things can tempt me out of bed at 4:30am, but I saw one this morning. We left the hotel at 5 and headed up 7300' to Nagarkot where we had a view of the eastern Himalayas. It was clear enough to see a 180-degree range including, wonderfully, Everest. As we watched, the sun rose over the peaks, piercing cold gold. Once the sun was up, the haze and light began to obscure the mountains.
(Best viewing time: mid October through February.) What an absolute thrill. That's what I came here to see and I got my money's worth and more. When Hira finally peeled me away from the view, we drove back down to Bhaktapur. It's similar to Patan, but MUCH nicer. I can't put my finger on the difference, but this one I liked. We were there so early that we were the only tourists in town. As we wandered around, I began to feel as if I were in a medieval city. I honestly doubt if life has changed much in 500 years. We unpacked our box breakfasts at an open-air cafe right in the market square.
Our stop on the way back to town was Pashupati where the Hindus cremate their dead and go through various mourning rituals. UGH. Absolutely filthy. Somehow the Hindu stuff turns me off more than the Buddhist. I'm going to need to do some reading up when I get home to make sense of all this. Finally back to the hotel at 10-ish for postcards, snooze, and a nice nap. The afternoon took us to Baudha, a Tibetan community with stupa. I'll have to look up the name. Then on to Surkha, a non-tourist stop village of about 20,000 maybe 15 miles out of Kathmandu. I'm sure this is how most Nepalis live -- farming towns - - and, so help me, if I hear one more tubercular cough/spit, I'll scream. The local kids followed us everywhere, not begging, just hanging around. Not one was particularly wholesome. I don't suppose life is too different from the cities, but it seemed worse -- dirtier, nothing at all above subsistence. Yet everyone is well fed and relatively content looking. I guess if you have to be poor, the place to do it is in a fertile country.
Before dinner I went (minus Joe) to a folk dance performance. It was surprisingly good despite the amateur-night presentation. On to the mountains tomorrow -- pray for clear weather!
One later memory of the trip to the folk performance was the cab ride. In Nepal, cars drive on the left. So my cabbie pulled out to pass something and found himself playing chicken with an oncoming truck. Pull back in lane? Never. Instead he pulls around ON THE RIGHT to miss the oncoming truck. I was on the floor in the back hysterical!
We flew to Pokhara this morning and I had a sinking feeling -- no mountains visible due to clouds. The lodge is a lovely spot. The service isn't up to the level at Tiger Tops, but the setting is spectacular. You're pulled over to the lodge (far bank of inlet) on a pontoon raft. After lunch the clouds closed in and a thunderstorm started. Now, unbelievably, I think that the rain may clear the air a bit. The peaks in front peek out from time to time now and at a quick glance you almost think it's clouds again. Just white snow and blue/black rock at unreasonable heights. I played hooky from the scheduled town tour and just read and watched all afternoon, never really satisfied, but always thrilled. Sunset was spectacular, even limited by the clouds. First, the mountains are isolated in cold which while everything else goes into bluish shade. Then a glow creeps up until a rose color covers the mountains, then fades rising and dimming until it just slips off the top of the peak. What this must be like on a clear day.! Dinner was preceded by drinks around the main lodge fire. It's hardly a late night. It's now 8:30 and I'm in bed, safely off the flagstone floor, writing this by the light of four candles. I'll say my prayers tonight in hopes of a clear sunrise.
My credit must be holding up well in the great beyond. At 5:45 I woke to CLEAR as in cloudless skies. It's unbelievable what's out there! The glimpses I got yesterday were totally deceiving. It's all right there in front of the lodge, probably no more than 25 kilometers away. Dhaulagiri on the left, Annapurna South and I, Fishtail, and the other Annapurnas. They're like live giants looming up suddenly behind the foothills. From the lake I had a view of mountains and reflections as sunlight hit each peak in turn. It was every bit as awesome as I'd hoped it would be. After breakfast (even from the lodge I couldn't keep my eyes off the mountains!) we set out for an hour's cruise on the lake -- more spectacular views. Then it was reading time and back to the airport. This time the flight was glorious -- mountains in an unbroken line to the north. Lunch at the hotel (old home week) and soon we'll be leaving for the Delhi flight. Until then I'll lie here in the sun on the hotel lawn and love it. Flight back to Delhi was fine with fabulous farewell views of the mountains -- this time from much higher of course. Then delivered to the Oberoi. Joe and I had a lovely dinner in the hotel's continental room, then quickly said goodnight. Bangkok in the EARLY morning.
The high point for the day is, brace yourself, the hotel. After my too-early flight from Delhi (ran into Ralph the movie UPM from Tiger Tops at the airport) I needed something nice and I certainly got it. Even the Bangkok airport was clean and friendly. But I walked into this room and almost fainted. Big room, nice decor, TV with movies, bar, SERVICE, marble/tile bath with wrap-around mirrors (almost the size of the room) and a GLORIOUS pool where I spent much of the afternoon. Heaven. [Later note: everything in the room: walls, floor, bedspreads, etc. was silk.] This, of course, was the Oriental.
After a shower the phone rang and my companions arranged to meet for dinner. Bob and Charlene Sessions. Come from Fairfield, CT. She seemed a bit tough, but after our riverside Thai barbecue dinner, I'd decided that they look like good company. We strolled through the old hotel after dinner. It would make a great movie set white, shaded by trees, shuttered windows above, an inner courtyard with steps up to an arcade off which are the rooms. Everything white and flowers and on a manageable scale. The new wings are VERY nicely done, but there's nothing to match the atmosphere of the old. I've got to read up on the English literary connections around here. The old hotel presumably inspired Conrad, and the whole wing is now the " Authors' Wing." One of many nice touches: Copies of the AP news tickers are hanging in the lobby.
Now sign-off until my 7am tour .
This is going to be a great week. Breakfast with the Sessions (1 like them more and more -- interested, but easy laughers} then headed out by private boat to the Floating Market. The klongs are fascinating -- houses of teak on both sides. Quite poor, I suppose, but clean. What a contrast to Delhi and Nepal. This lacks the squalor. Of course, everything in Bangkok is light years ahead of the others. I liked the market -- mostly produce and souvenirs. I even found a panda for Laura. Back to the boat and on to a magnificent temple. I think it's Wat Arun, but I'll have to double check. I, of course, clambered all over to check the place out. On the way to the Grand Palace, we passed the royal barges practicing for the Bicentennial. Unbelievable! Gilded all over, long swan like design, maybe 40 rowers in ceremonial unison. I'll bet that the celebration will knock your eyes out. It's like an Eastern version of Cleopatra.
The Grand Palace turned out to be closed for renovating, so we went instead to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. The whole complex was fabulous. The gold and ceramic work sparkled like gems. It never occurred to me that the fairy tale quality could be real, but it is. Just as shimmering as a stage set. The Sessions must really have reamed the guide yesterday, because the fellow today couldn't do enough for us. He bought each of us a straw hat, fans and purses for us women, and at every stop some fruit to sample -- baby bananas, coconut milk, jackfruit and several unknowns. This is travel up close and personal! Lunch was a trip. We went to a Chinese restaurant/ club called Galaxy where a nice lunch came complete with a Thai/Chinese floorshow. We were almost the only tourists there; it caters primarily to the Chinese. The singers were all women and wore fabulous gaudy outfits, mostly slinky. The club was big and nicely laid out two or three tiers of tables above a central area that could be cleared for dancing. It was really eerie; the place looked like pseudo NY, tasted Chinese and was totally unexpected.
Next stop was the Jim Thompson store where I picked up a silk camisole for Betty. Back to the hotel then and headed out to the airport. I was really fading and managed to sleep sitting in one of those awful molded plastic airport chairs. Then I got another hour's sleep on the flight, so I felt much revived when we arrived in Chiang Mai. We're staying at the Hyatt which is simply stunning. Lots of wood in the lobby and rooms. I suppose it's teak. Somehow it gives a very dark, cool look, especially in the lobby where it's combined with tile. It doesn't seem crowded at all. We had dinner in the coffee shop serenaded by a Filipino trio singing Spanish and American songs. You explain that to me!
Now it's time to crash and work off an incipient case of exhaustion.
We did most of the Chiang Mai sights today starting with a trip to an elephant-training center at Mae Sa. Interesting to see how they get the elephants to work in the logging process; otherwise the elephants at Tiger Tops were a better deal. Bob did take a picture of me sitting on an elephant's knee though. Then we visited a hill tribe village. That was really eerie. The geography looked like the TV shots of Vietnam and the people seemed unresponsive. Our guide said that the tribes were traditionally opium growers/smokers and that the government was trying to resettle and reeducate them. All I know is that I was spooked. Dry , dusty hills overhung with a smoky haze from intentional brush burning. The houses were all wood with thatched roofs and dulled children. Few adults around and no men (presumably working in the fields.) It wasn't particularly dirty -- dusty yes, but not filthy -- but it was sort of an American ghost story. I wonder how we would have reacted if we hadn't the Vietnam connotations. Bob pointed out that a news correspondent could film this village and write any one of several stories: horrors of war, sadness of poverty, progress in social development/education... Who knows which story is real?
The next stop lightened us up considerably. We toured an orchid nursery. Lovely flowers to admire. Then it was on to lunch -- broiled chicken -- in a "local restaurant". It was really an open shed, clean but mosquito infested. I enjoyed my lunch while the bugs feasted on me. We also had several cats and dogs as spectators. I thought that the meal was fun, but I had to agree with the comment that Lindblad certainly made money on that lunch. After lunch, a quick look at a waterfall, then on to the temple tour. First, Wat Chid Yod, then Wat Suan Dok. Then we got the handicraft tour - lacquer, woodcarving and silver. I picked up a silver chain and abacus for fun. I think we were all close to heat prostration so we headed back to the hotel with only two stops. One to see (briefly) another temple. Another to see the fighting fish. Apparently Thais bet on fish fights between these little 2-inch fish in a small tank. We were told that the fish turn beautiful colors when they fight. ("You're beautiful when you're mad.") Time out for a couple of hours in and by the gorgeous pool. Heaven. Dinner was Khan Toke style -- sitting on the floor, chicken, pork, nibbles and sauces -- complete with floorshow of Thai dances. The food was good, but the show paled after a bit. Or maybe I did. And so to bed.
Off from the hotel to the Meo village. After a long climb by car, we transferred to the back of a converted Datsun pickup truck to cover the last 4 or 5 miles of rough, dusty road. The "village" consisted mostly of primitive souvenir shops. We did stop in at the school and snapped some kids who were play "camera" among themselves quite innocently. Then it was back down the hill to Wat Phra Dhat Doi Suthep. Down the road I should say - since one approaches the Wat via a 300 step climb. The temple itself was quite attractive and worth the climb -- luckily since the haze was so heavy that you couldn't get any city views. Lunch was a good break to scrub off all the dust before heading to the airport and Pitsanuloke by 737. The hotel here is truck stop style compared to the others in Thailand, but a big banner outside read 'Welcome Lindblad Party." No rest for the weary celebrities. It was straight off to Wat Maka Dhat which had a gorgeous Golden Buddha (Phra Buddha Jinaraj.) A quick tour through the market, then it was straight back to the hotel. We saw on American jogging in the heat (mad dogs and...) He turns out to be a military attaché on a project here. Wants to be thought a spy. He says that after 18 months he's used to the heat. He is nuts.
The day did NOT get off to an auspicious start. After breakfast Bob came down to announce that someone had ripped off his camera from the room. Speculation is that one of the room boys nipped in between 7:30 and 8 and lifted it. Later in the day we spoke with the manager's wife who turns out to be a youngish airhead from Louisiana. She was solicitous in a talkative way, but I don't see any way that the camera will be found or any satisfactory action taken. Then didn't even file a police report, I suppose to avoid bringing attention to the hotel etc. which is probably natural in this and many other countries. After a certain amount of turmoil, we piled into the van and headed off to Sukhothai, the earliest capital city of Thailand. (After the demise and departure of the Mons and Khmers circa 1296). A brief stop at the National Ramkamhaeng Museum set the scene. Then we wandered through the ruins -- Wat Maha Dhat, the main temple. Wat Sri Chum was next and very striking. The wat itself is square and encased in scaffolding. Inside however is an immense sitting Buddha, visible through a narrow gateway. Very striking. The King's Monument (Ramkamhaeng again) and a view across the lake of Wat Sra Sri wrapped up the morning. Today's local lunch restaurant was excellent. Bare bones decor of course -- cement floor, Pepsi posters -- but the food was nice.
On from there to Sri Satchanalai, the northern city of Sukhothai kingdom. Again, the ruins were very extensive. Wat Chang Lom had a cute frieze of 39 elephants all of which were unrecognizable due to lost trunks, tusks, etc. Directly opposite was Wat Jedi Jet Thaew with a nice Buddha seated on a serpent. Many other ruins stand in the immediate area, but it was seriously hot (maybe 95 humid; no breeze) so we headed hotel-ward. I feel that we've really done Pitsanuloke as much as need be, but the flight schedule means that we'll have to hang around here until tomorrow afternoon. The three of us have opted for a countryside tour, but I think we're all mentally composing the letter to Lars Eric L regarding suggestions. Charlene went so far as to say that she - wouldn't recommend the Thai tour. I'd cut off a day here for sure and maybe rearrange the time in Chiang Mai all with the idea of extending the useful time. Based in Bangkok, you could take in the museum, the river Kwai, and other excursions just using time saved by, for example, cutting out one Wat here in Pitsanuloke and flying back after one day here instead of two. If I were drinking tonight, I'd make a toast to Portalegre!
I'm back in the Oriental now and so dazzled that I can scarcely remember what we did in Pitsanuloke this morning. Charlene caught tourista, so Bob and I headed off for a scenic tour to the B&N farm. On the way we passed through some very hilly areas, nothing very high, just steep. Acres and acres had been burned out in a forest fire -- set accidentally it seems. Our guide, Tim, did speculate that the fire had been set by the military to flush out Communist. He did some asking around, then said no, it was accidental. Just the fact that he voiced such a suspicion was scary , though. [Boy was I naive!] The farm itself didn't do much for me, but we did sample the produce and tasted some simply terrific peanut brittle.
On the way back we passed though the fire zone and the same two checkpoints. Still no checking to speak of, but at the second a group of "paramilitary" types was gathering, all clad in the classic black pajamas. It was like seeing a bunch of ghosts. I now know that we were awfully close to the border with Kampuchea. No wonder I felt nervous. We ate a picnic lunch at a waterfall, then back to the hotel and on to the airport. In Bangkok, Charlene recognized a woman on the plane who turned out to be a Citibank wife. Apparently the IB is holding an Asia/ Africa/Middle East conference here and the wives were doing the tourist jaunt up to Chiang Mai. Funny coincidence, but there didn't seem to be anyone I knew, so I guess I can forgive the dirty looks from the wives. Dinner was at Piman Restaurant complete with excellent dancing (Thai.) Now I've earned my reward: a corner room with balcony, Oriental style. It's a professional suite with a twin bed disguised as a couch during the day. The view is mainly city, not river, but I'm still luxuriating. The furniture is done in Thai silk, the refrigerator is stocked, the marble bath is big and well equipped, the towels are fresh every time you come in the room, and there's a fruit basket welcoming MR McKelligott. Well, nobody's perfect!
A lovely day to end up with. First we vanned up to Ayudhya. I was absolutely staggered by the extent of the ruins. At our first stop we spied on a full and active monastery /convent, while our second stop was at the main ruins. Impressive, even to me, and I'm not overly into ruins unless I can picture the original. Next stop after / during a rainstorm was the Summer Palace -- at least the grounds. Mostly European style buildings which made a startling contrast with any Thai buildings or gazebos. Finally it was onto the Orchid Queen for a lovely luncheon buffet and a quiet four-hour cruise back to the hotel. In the two-hour break before dinner I managed to buy. one batik sundress, 2 books, 1 batik teddy bear, and 1 pair of sapphire earrings. For a grand total of $175 so I wasn't going crazy! Dinner was at the Seafood Restaurant which left me cold. The quantities of seafood served were eye-catching, but I don't care for it, so I wasn't too excited. We did however drive through the red light district which held a few surprises: the Mona Lisa, a seven-story massage parlor with coffee shop. Up to 400 ladies according to the guide. Gape.
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