I left you last episode waiting for a bus from Lampang which I got and the journey otself was fairly uneventful, save that the bus was half full of police trainees returning home from the Police School for the weekend. I was sitting beside one and we had a conversation as his English was very good. Whilst the journey was uneventful, the events following it give rise to the heartwarming story I alluded to in the last instalment. I had been wearing a pair of cargo pants for the journey with my camera in my front leg pocket. On getting to the hotel, I went to get the camera to take a photo of the room for my Virtual Tourist (travel website) pages as I usually do, and it was not there.
I was absolutely distraught, not for the photos which I have backed up on the notebook, and I could have bought another camera but it had been a gift from a friend and the loss of it really annoyed me. I knew I had had it when I got on the bus so the only explanation was that it had dropped out of the pocket which is not too securely fastened.
Anyway, hired a scooter and went back to the Bus Station the next day, not really hoping for too much and resigned to the loss. The young girl there was more than helpful, although she did not have much English so a lot of miming was involved. She must have spent 20 minutes on the phone and eventually handed me it, where I found myself talking to a guy in Head Office in BKK. He had made enquiries of the driver on his mobile and the camera was safe and with him, having been found when they cleaned out the bus.
Now to put it in context, that camera probably represented what, possibly a fortnights wages for that guy (I am guessing a figure here) yet he had not flogged it and sworn it had never been there. The way the buses run here, it was going to be three days until he was back North again, so I left my hotel room and number and I was assured all would be OK. Yesterday, the lovely little girl on reception told me I should go to the Bus Station again before five and my camera would be there. Sure enough it was, and I was so so happy. I offered the same girl there 1000B (about £20) for the driver in recognition of his honesty and she absolutely point blank refused it with a big smile. I was almost reduced to tears at the generosity, helpfulness and honesty of these people who have very little. So that is my story about why I love this place.
Chiang Rai really is a lovely place, although it seems a bit busier than the last time I was through here. After having done very litle temple visiting on the first part of my trip, I am now completely templed out, including undoubtedly the strangest place of worship I have ever seen. In my travels I have been in literally thousands of churches, mosques, temples, gurdwaras, synagogues etc. but Wat Rung Khon is really the most unusual of them all. It has little history, having only been started in 1999 and is the brainchild of a famous Thai artist called Chalermchai Kositpipat. His style is a mix of traditional Thai styles mixed with sort of comic book fantasy art and he has carried this style into the temple complex which is pretty big.
The central wat (temple) has the most beautiful murals on the wall but they are really strange for a Buddhist holy place. Religious images are interspersed with things like spaceships, nuclear bombs, wristwatches, the bombing of the Twin Towers and perhaps most bizarrely the central character from the film The Matrix. I really am at a loss to describe this place to you. I will try to post a few photos of the outside which is impressive enough although photography is not allowed inside so you will have to take my word for the murals.
I visited a very impressive warterfall although it was on one of the days I didn't have the camera and aI didn't fancy repeating the 1400 metre climb in the heat of the day wearing only a pair of sandals. At this point I must go back a bit to report a sad loss. Whilst in Prachuap Khirikhan on the way back, my venerable old sandals which have served me well and around the globe for over a decade now finally parted body from sole (ouch!) and I ran into a problem I had heard of but never experienced before, namely the size of Asian feet. I scoured PKK for a new pair of sandals. The question of style did not arise as I was forced to take the biggest pair available, some three sizes (European) less than my fairly large size 11's. Thais just don't have big feet. Still, even with the small size they are comfortable enough and if I can scramble nearly three kilometres up and down a fairly rough path without injury to me feet, I think I will stick with them, not that I really have an option.
Back, however, to Chiang Rai which I shall regretfully leave tomorrow for Chiang Kong, another place I like. This portion of the journey really is a rerun of my trip from about seven years ago when I last went to Lao. I have been whizzing about on my trusty scooter and yesterday getting myself gloriously lost in the small villages up in the hills. I was bumping aobut on unpaved roads and going through villages where people really do stop and look at you as an oddity, especially the youngsters who are just so damn cute. I contrived to drive past the Provincial jail and it does not look like a place I would like to spend time and saw yet another wonderful sunset which prompted a ten minute Kodak frenzy.
The nights here can be lively enough and, yes, I have contrived to get myself a gig in circumstances that were yet another example of the synchronicities that seem to attend my travels. Second night here I found a bar called the Teepee Bar and is a backpacker hangout owned by a Thai guy and run by his Dutch girlfriend. Next door is a tattoo shop, and the long haired guy there pops in for a drink or a chat now and again. As soon as I saw him I had a wierd feeling I had met him before but it seemed unlikely as I only stayed one night in Chiang Rai last time round. Anyway, they have loads of guitars there (most unplayable) and in the way of things I ended up doing my thing for a few tourists and locals, great fun. At the end of the night Esther, the Dutch girl, gives out stickers from the bar and it all suddenly clicked into place. The sticker is distinctive as it depicts a Thai hippy and I recognised it instantly as I have the very same sticker on my guitar case at home. I got it in Chiang Kong last time when I used to jam with a couple of hippies there in a bar. Turns out the tattoo guy was one of the guys who ran that bar which is now closed. To add another twist, I was wandering home last night and fancied a last beer. There is a whole strip of bars near my hotel, and I wandered into one out of all of them because there was a band playing a Gary Moore song. Who is playing bass in the band only the same guy. Bloody spooky.
I suppose I should end this here and go and find an internet place so I can post it all.
If I do not get another chance to post in the next couple of days, which might be the case, I will wish you all a very happy Xmas.
See you soon.