Kimleng and the Cambodian Silk Scarves, Part 2

February 10, 2013

As of when I wrote to Kimleng, I knew I would be coming back to SE Asia in the spring, but I didn’t have any particular plan to visit Siem Reap again. Instead, I had planned to visit my European friends Jean-Louis and Kerstin at their new guust house in Koh Rong, an island off the south coast of Cambodia. Between the time of my deciding on the destination and the time of my booking the ticket, however, Jean-Louis and Kerstin’s situation changed rather dramatically, and they sold their half of the guest house to a Cambodian investor. Thus it was that I was a bit at loose ends at the end of my stay in Chiang Mai, so I decided to go to Siem Reap for a while and see about getting the silk scarf enterprise going with Kimleng.

As it happened, the King of Cambodia passed away around the end of last year, and the country was in mourning. As a result of this, Kimleng was out of school for about a week, so she and I went scarf shopping, checking out the nearby silk farm, a couple of the high-end tourist shops, and the much more local central market, where, as you might imagine, we found the most competitive prices. We decided to start out small, buying about forty pieces, in several different colors and designs. We chose traditional Cambodian motifs, for the most part, with designs of elephants, and/or the main temple at Angkor Wat against the colorful background of the woven silk.  The workmanship was very nice, at least to my eye, and thanks to Kimleng’s bargaining skills, the prices were a fair bit less than I had paid for similar scarves the year before.  We made our agreement verbally with the shop owner, and arranged to meet the following day to settle up. Each scarf was individually packaged in a cellophane bag, folded nicely for easy shipping; of course, silk is very light, thus inexpensive to ship and virtually impossible to damage in transit. We plan to sell them somewhere in the $10-12 range, plus shipping, which I imagine will run about another $5 or so from Japan to Europe or North America. If we can manage to sell as few as a couple hundred scarves over the course of a year’s time, it will pay Kimleng’s university tuition.

I will not keep any of the proceeds, other than enough to purchase the next lot of scarves (assuming that the first lot sells…). Anyhing that we manage to generate over and above the cost of her tuition will go into a bank account for her in Cambodia, accessible via the signature of her teacher, and will be used for school supplies, books, uniforms, tutoring, and the like. With luck, there will be enough left for her school lunches and the occasional chocolate bar (and Kimleng is a girl who loves her chocolate).

This is a small initial investment for a Westerner (a few hundred dollars), but it has the potential, I believe, to make a huge impact on one person’s situation, without being in any way a gift or charity. The scarf venture will be some work for Kimleng, without a doubt, and she has more than enough work to keep her busy already. She will have to handle the banking, the purchasing, the packaging, and the shipping, and she will be the one responsible for negotiating better terms as the quantities grow. For my part, I will try to find outlets for the scarves: online auctions; the blog; a few strategically placed newspaper articles. And then we will see…

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Kimleng and the Cambodian Silk Scarves, Part 1

February 10, 2013

With ChiangMai deep in the rear view mirror, I headed to Bangkok, then on into Cambodia, to Siem Reap, the city adjacent to the World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat (arguably the most amazing example of architecture on the face of the planet).

I visited Siem Reap last year, and I met a girl named Kimleng, who worked at her parents’ tiny grocery store a few doors down from my hotel. She was cute, sweet, and she spoke a bit of English, all of which conspired to make me do my small shopping at her place. On a typical day, I would have a Coke there in the evening, and chat with her about pretty much anything: life in the West; life in Cambodia; music; her school work; whatever. They have only snacks, cold drinks and the like, and they are, I suspect, barely making ends meet. When I left Siem Reap, I stopped by to say goodbye, and she asked if she could have my email address, so she could ask me questions about English usage. I told her she could email me whenever she liked, and about whatever subject struck her fancy, and she took me up on it. Over the course of a year or so, we became pretty good pals, a situation that was enhanced when we became facebook friends several months later.

Now, a small digression: when I returned from Siem Reap to Japan last year, I brought some Cambodian silk scarves as souvenirs. They were unanimously well-received, and I was mildly chided for upping the game at souvenir-giving, as most of my friends typically brought back cookies or snacks as souvenirs from their travels. I assured them that they had probably paid more for the cookies than I had for the scarves, an assertion I am not sure was widely believed. I asked a couple of the recipients what they thought such scarves might be worth in a First World market, and the responses I got were in the $25-30 range. Hmm! A possible business opportunity.

Okay, back to the main thread of the story. At some point in my facebook chats with Kimleng, I asked her what she planned to do after high school. University perhaps? She said that she would really like to continue her education, but there was simply no money for that. She said she would probably continue to work at her parents’ shop, and perhaps get married somewhere along the way.  A shop girl in her situation can expect to make perhaps $60 per month. As it is now, she goes to high school in the mornings from around 630-1200, and then again from 2-6pm, then comes home and works until after midnight, sometimes as late as 2am.  When the shop is not too busy, she can work in some studying, and somehow she has managed to place 4th in her class of 75 students.

One night on facebook, I asked her if she might be interested in serving as the Cambodian end of a small silk scarf enterprise, in which she would buy the scarves at the local market, send them to me in Japan, and I would sell them either in Japan or in North America. Her command of the language, plus the fact that she was a local buying the scarves in some quantity, suggested that she might be able to secure a better price than I could ever negotiate as a foreigner. My access to higher-paying markets, on the other hand, suggested that there could be a decent spread between the buy and sell prices. She texted me back, and said that it was a lovely idea, but that she had no money to buy scarves, and thanked me profusely for thinking of her nonetheless. Of course I had no intention of her paying for them, and I told her that, but still there remained the problem of how to get money to her to get the fledgling business off the ground…


The Chiang Mai Photo Dump

January 31, 2013

Lotsa photos, not lotsa text:

Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden

 

Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden

 

Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden

 

Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden

 

Chinese lanterns

 

Been there, worked there, got the T-shirt

 

Koi's grandma's traditional Thai stilt house, soon to be a guest house

 

Under the house is the top half of a tuktuk (just a tuk?)

 

One of the guest rooms...

 

Heather (US), Koi (Thailand), Anisha (India) at coffee plantation

 

Lurid color notwithstanding, actually quite tasty

 

Chiang Mai by night

 

And again...

 

Recumbent Buddha

 

Night shopping

 

Sukie channels her inner chimpanzee; Bruce simply watches

 

ChingChing (ham) poses with mini Mt. Fuji

 

Royal Garden

 

Royal Garden

 

Royal Garden

 

Royal Garden

 

Royal Garden

 

Fang, posing sweetly

 

Fang, Bruce, Khae, ChingChing

 

Sky Blue, the Payap University people mover

 

Dramatic Chiang Mai Sky

 

Sukie chillin' at the hot spring

 

The feet of Fang

 

Boiling eggs in the hot spring

 

ChingChing's too-cool-for-school instant camera

 

A Chiang Mai traffic jam; yikes!

 

Bougainvilleas abounding

 

Above Chiang Mai

 

Bell and belle...

 

OOH SHINY!

 

The dance of the umbrellas

 

The rules of the gong; I love the part about "it is not good for it".

 

Julia from Taiwan has a way with the birds...

 

Seriously!

 

Ally feeds koi; Bruce drops lotsa food at Ally's feet, surreptitiously

 

Where did all those pigeons come from? Heh-heh...

 

Mighty fine pad thai

 


Wattanapong Yothaitiang

January 31, 2013

One of the first evenings I was in Chiang Mai, I went out to supper with Koi and her friend Anisha, to a wonderful restaurant called Khao Soy, which, to no one’s particular surprise, specialized in a northern Thai dish called khao soy. The company was especially sympatico, the conversation was agreeable, the food was delicious. On the wall behind the girls were what appeared to be two large woodblock prints of mountains, so I got up to have a closer look. I liked them both quite well; they reminded me of a Japanese artist named Hideo Hagiwara, who did a series of thirty-six prints of Mt. Fuji.

hideo hagiwara print, one of 36 views of Mt. Fuji

 

Cellphone snapshot of Wattanapong Yothaitiang print

The artist’s name was Wattanapong Yothaitiang. I snapped photos of his prints, and of the attached cards with the artist information. The price of each print was 15000 Thai baht, around $475, not inconsiderable, particularly for someone I had never heard of. On the other hand, I really liked the prints, and thought that if I could get in touch with the artist, I could perhaps negotiate a better price, especially if I were to buy several. So, later in the week, I went back to Khao Soy with Khae, Sukie and ChingChing, and asked Khae to find out the artist’s phone number from the restaurant owner. This proved to be no problem at all, and shortly thereafter Khae phoned to Wattanapong to see if he might be available to meet with us.

He proved not only to be available, but he offered to pick us up the following day and drive us to his studio, where we could have a look at his large selection of prints, paintings, and drawings, some of which were still in process. His woodblock prints differ in technique from Japanese woodblock prints in that they are printed from a single block, where Japanese prints utilize many blocks, one for each of the colors in the print. His method is called reduction woodblock printing, because for each new color to be added to the print, he must cut some of the original block away (hence “reduction”).

Wattanapong, who nowadays goes by the rather easier to pronounce nickname “Det”, picked us up at a temple in town, and the four of us (Det, Khae, Allyson, and I) headed back to his house, the entire first floor of which serves as his studio. He showed us his bio sheet, which is really impressive: works in several museums in Thailand; first prize in a couple of major Southeast Asian printmaking competitions; and he was the recipient of a gift from the Princess of Thailand in recognition of his artwork.

I wound up buying a dozen of his prints, smaller ones than the ones at the restaurant/gallery, but similar in imagery. Allyson was quite taken with two of his designs, and she bought both (one, destined for her mom, I particularly liked; it depicted a night scene with a hazy moon, that Allyson was sure would resonate strongly with her parental unit). As I thought might be the case, the artist-direct prices were more favorable, and I was really happy to be able to get that many prints from him.

Det proved to be an exceptionally affable soul as well. Although he spoke little English, he was gifted with warmth and good humor that transcended language barriers. Khae translated as we went along, and we all had quite a pleasant afternoon. His wife was with us for most of the time, and she was really sweet too, always ready with a smile. When it came time to leave, we all piled into Det’s Honda Jazz and made our way back to Khae’s house for supper.

Some of the prints will be for sale, and I will split the profits with Khae, without whose help the whole affair would never have taken place. If we make even a couple of hundred dollars on the batch of twelve, it will make a significant difference in Khae’s lifestyle. And, of course, she will be the go-to person for further purchases from Det, of which I expect there will be many!


Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach

January 29, 2013

Note: if you haven’t been following Mysterious Orientations closely for the past several days, it will probably make a lot more sense to you to start with the post dated January 22, 2013, titled “The Bruce Tierney/Colin Cotterill Saga Continues”; that way, you won’t have to skip back and forth to see who is who (and, as they say in Thailand, wat is wat…). Okay, they don’t really say that in Thailand, but it makes for a good story, ne?

If ever a title were deserving of the chance to catch your eye on a bookstore shelf, it would have to be Colin Cotterill’s second book featuring on-hiatus crime reporter Jimm Juree, Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach. I have been afforded what must be a unique opportunity for a book reviewer, to stay at the author’s house on the Gulf of Siam, to “interview” him (and I use the word interview extraordinarily loosely), and to meet a number of the two- and four-legged characters upon whom characters in the novel were based.

This second installment (a third is due imminently) in the Jimm Juree series finds our heroine embroiled in two concurrent mysteries. The first she almost stumbles upon, when she witnesses one of her adopted canine friends playing with what appears to be a shrivelled ball on the beach in front of the family’s coastal guest house. As you might guess from the title, said ball turns out to be a human head, and its discovery launches Jimm into an investigation of a Thai fishing fleet that may be exploiting, and sometimes killing, Burmese laborers who have come to Thailand in search of a better life. Meanwhile, a mother-daughter duo, apparently on the lam from the law (or something worse) show up at the guest house in a car devoid of license plates or identification numbers, and a very flimsy-sounding explanation for all of the above. Naturally, for an on-hiatus crime reporter, this is a story that merits some delving into.

As is the case with the previous Jimm Juree novel, Killed at the Whim of a Hat, the characters are particularly well fleshed out, based as they are upon real-life individuals. The dogs in particular, all of whom I became well acquainted with, are exceptionally well drawn; if you met them, it would take only a short time for you to figure out which was which, just from the personalities ascribed to them in the book. The true number of dogs, however, lags behind reality in the book, as there are several recent additions to the family. Jimm Juree, as far as I can ascertain, is not based on a particular person, but rather an amalgam of others, spun into a cohesive whole that is self-effacing, engaging, and by times laugh-out-loud funny, not unlike the author, come to think of it.

Sadly, the plight of the Burmese fishermen that forms the basis of the book is far from fiction. They live in what could be described as tenements, if you were being charitable, working for pennies, eating rice and vegetables. Still, many of them, like undocumented workers the world over, make the pilgrimage to the greener pastures of the wealthier next-door neighbor.

A final note: In the first book of the series, Killed at the Whim of a Hat, Colin Cotterill used the whimsical device of beginning each chapter with an actual quote from former US President George W. Bush, one of the many in which the sometimes tongue-tied orator made a hash of what he had intended to say. This time out, each chapter begins with fractured song lyrics, along the lines of the famous Jimi Hendrix line from “Purple Haze”, “scuse me while I kiss this guy.” In the appendix at the end of the book, you can find the actual lyrics, in case you’re interested: “scuse me while I kiss the sky…”


The Girl Guides of Chiang Mai

January 29, 2013

Khae (pronounced “Kay” with a slight cough at the beginning) was about half the reason that I decided to come to Chiang Mai. After her nasty fall at Colin’s place the week before, she had gotten a doctor’s excuse from work for a month. She was in a fair bit of pain, and had somewhat limited range of movement (she couldn’t bend down to pick things up, and reaching above her head, to wash her hair, for example, was nigh on impossible). I thought I would spend some time with her and try to cheer her up, and perhaps give her a hand if she needed it. In the event, she didn’t need a lot of assistance, but she seemed happy to have me around for company, and we talked about everything under the sun, cementing a friendship that had started warmly but haltingly a year before. Khae arranged for me to meet, and hang out with, her “gang”: ChingChing, Sukie, and Fang, and then later on, an American girl named Allyson. Khae is the de facto earth mother of the group, the go-to confidante, the kind-hearted gentle spirit. This is not to say that she cannot get a bit grouchy by times, but it takes her longer than it it takes most folks I know to reach that threshold. She made sure that I saw all the must-see places in Chiang Mai, for which I will be forever grateful, as it is really one of the loveliest places I have ever visited. Breaking news: Khae just hooked me up with a Thai woodblock print artist, who is really great; I bought several of his prints, and I anticipate buying quite a number more for sale in Japan and the US.; Khae will be my Thai contact for purchase/shipping, etc. The full story of this will appear in Mysterious Orientations within the next few days; bookmark this page!

Khae and I, Royal Garden

 

Khae, Royal Garden

 

My favorite pic of Khae, Royal Garden

 

Koi (pronounced more or less like it looks, but the K sound is about halfway between a K and a G) was the second half of my initial reason for visiting Chiang Mai. We had talked for some length at Colin’s house, and I looked forward to the chance to get to know her better. Although Koi works with the others, as c0-worker or mentor, she runs with a different group. So it was only once or twice during my stay in Chiang Mai that I was in the company of all of them at one time. If you have been following Mysterious Orientations, you will remember Koi as the “Great Organizer” who shepherded a group of Burmese youngsters into a well-trained play unit, despite the fact that Koi speaks not a word of Burmese. While the others were in class or at work, Koi and I would often go out for breakfast, and we managed to make time for an occasional afternoon chat or supper as well. Koi has a dream to open a guest house in her late grandmother’s traditional Thai stilt house, located in a mountain village outside Chiang Mai. The house adjoins a working coffee plantation, and guests during the winter harvest season could actually pick their own beans, roast them, grind them and brew a cuppa in the space of a short stay. For Java-heads, this would be an unparalleled experience. The problem is that the startup money, while quite modest by Western standards, is kind of monumental by Thai standards. We have looked into kickstarter-like organizations to see if there are some funding options, and I am confident that she will have the place up and running by next harvest season. She is attractive, engaging, motivated and hard working; how can that not be a winning combination?

Koi, Chiang Mai University

 

Our dueling weapons of choice: cell phones at ten paces

 

ChingChing (pronounced Shing-Shing) was our designated driver, piloting the crowd around Chiang Mai in her new dayglo lime green Nissan March, a small four-door car we get in Japan, but not in North America. I loved it; it is roomy and smooth riding, and it seats four more comfortably than my considerably larger Honda Civic, even though the exterior size is roughly the same as my Mini Cooper. Ethnically Chinese, ChingChing is really beautiful: perfect makeup; a great sense of style, and a photographer’s dream, as you will see from the many pictures I took of her. Many pictures, you ask? Well, yes, because ChingChing is also something of a ham, making flying leaps in between my camera lens and whatever I think I am taking a picture of at the moment (I am slightly, but only slightly, exaggerating here). Although her English is virtually as limited as my Thai, we managed to communicate very well, as her expressions telegraph every thought going through her mind; she made me smile constantly, and she made me laugh out loud more than anyone new to my life has in quite some time.

ChingChing, the genie in the jar!

 

Hey, she picked the sign, not me!

A weirdly wonderful concoction of ice, syrup and (get this) white bread

 

Miss Photogenic 2013

Sukie (pronounced just like you would think) was, in many ways, the group member I related to best. Where the others are all super-feminine, Sukie is a bit of a tomboy, yet warm, affectionate and exceptionally centered. When one of the others would channel her inner drama queen, it would be Sukie who would step in and calm the situation down. It was as if her motto in life was “go along to get along”, and when I explained that saying to her, she grinned and tapped her heart twice in a “that’s me” acknowledgement. Despite 40-odd years and a dozen time zones separating us, we shared an affinity for off-the-beaten-track music, and were able to turn one another on to lots of new (to us) stuff. Her tastes are eclectic: Lily Allen; Boys Like Girls; Hikaru Utada; traditional Thai music; LMFAO. And yet, she was entranced by Richard Thompson, Matt Andersen, Howie Day, and REM, none of whom she had encountered before. Because Khae was in some discomfort, she sat in the front passenger seat of ChingChing’s car everywhere we went. My spot was the place I would typically refer to as the penalty box, the center position of the rear seat, with Sukie to my left and the passenger(s) du jour on my right. Sandwiched as I was between several attractive young women, I was forced to reconsider the term “penalty box”. Often we would arrive home late, and I would have one cuddled up on either side of me, sound asleep, and not the least bit inhibited about using my shoulder as a pillow.

Sukie the camera guru! Royal Garden, Chiang Mai

 

Superman Sukie with parrot

 

Sukie the coconut assassin!

 

The staff photographer...

 

Allyson, the American member of Khae’s “gang”, hails from southern Alabama, but you would never know it from listening to her. A bit of interrogation about that unearthed the fact that she had gone to some lengths to shed the accent after being teased about it in college. Nowadays, you’d think she was from LA. We met one evening at a supper outing at some very local eatery, the kind with plastic tables and chairs, kids and dogs wandering among the diners, and curious locals surveying us with an equal mix of curiosity and amusement. On the menu, slotted in between more prosaic offerings, were scrambled brains and some unidentified raw meat dish I immediately dubbed “rat tartare” (and which I opted not to partake of). Allyson sat across from me, and as we were two of the three native English speakers at the table, we fell into easy conversation. For a woman in her early twenties, especially one from southern Alabama, she has an impressive number (and variety) of stamps in her passport: Thailand and Kenya among others. She occupies a volunteer position teaching English at Payap, a Christian university in Chiang Mai. She receives a small stipend plus a room in the women’s dorm, and she will stay for the remainder of the school year. Early on, we discovered about one another that we both have a love/hate relationship with writing, and both of us have to drag ourselves to the chair every time we feel the need to write. We chatted about favorite books, writers we admire, and so on for the better part of the evening. After that night, she was a regular member of our ad hoc group, and we had the opportunity to talk at length about pretty much anything: travels (naturally), family, boyfriends and girlfriends, religion. One of the peculiarities of foreign travel is that sometimes friendships can be sealed in a matter of hours or days, as opposed to the rather longer gestation period of a hometown relationship. Perhaps it is because there is an innate honesty shared among fellow travelers; after all, if you show someone your true colors, and they don’t like you, in a few hours or days one or both of you will be on the road, and you will never have to see one another again. On the other hand, if you really resonate with one another, you fast-track your way through the learning phase, and find yourself inextricably bonded with someone you didn’t even know a few days earlier. This is how it was for me with Allyson, and I’m pretty sure how it was for her as well (I hope so…).

Allyson at Nok's restaurant, Chiang Mai, Best Pad Thai ever!

 

How did Ally contract bird flu, you ask?

 

Hi Mom!

Fang (pronounced something like “Fon”) is for me, the conundrum of the group. There are two distinct sides to Fang: the slightly rambunctious, flirtatious and outgoing public persona, and the warm, curious and introspective private persona. Having met her twice before, and exchanging only the briefest of pleasantries, I was really surprised to find that her English was quite good, perhaps the best of the group (hence my earlier comment about not putting too much stock in first impressions). As you can see from the pics, she is adorable, but if you ask her what she thinks of herself she will respond with “too fat”, “not beautiful” and the like. That said, she is almost as much of a ham as ChingChing, regularly asking to be photographed alongside charming hill tribe children, or next to one of Chiang Mai’s myriad exquisite sights. Often she would look at the photo and ask dubiously “Am I beautiful?” Naturally, the skeptic in me had a sense that I was being played, so when I took this photo…

Beautiful...flower

and she asked me “beautiful?”, I took a critical look at the picture and said, definitively, “Beautiful…flower”. This earned me a slap to the back of the head, which I no doubt deserved. That said, on my last day in Chiang Mai, as we arrived at the train station literally one minute before the scheduled departure of my train to Bangkok (which, oddly, turned out to be perhaps the first on-time departure in Thai railway history), it was Fang who was running alongside me down the platform to my sleeping car near the end of the train. Hustled onto the train by an impatient conductor, I never had the chance to give her a goodbye hug.

The sensual strawberry girl!

Peeling eggs boiled in a hot spring!

 

Fang and I, Bhubing Palace, above Chiang Mai

The Afters:

Shortly after I got settled in on the train, I received a phone call from Khae’s number. One by one, the Girl Guides of Chiang Mai came onto the line to say the goodbyes we had missed out on at the station. Allyson was last to the line, and she told me that there wasn’t a dry eye in sight, which I could easily believe; a similar situation was playing out on the southbound train.


Chiang Mai

January 29, 2013

True to her word, Koi picked me up at Chiang Mai train station sometime around dawn, a good hour and a half before she’d normally have had to get up for work. Even if I hadn’t liked her before (and I quite liked her before), this would have strongly endeared her to me. She was driving a full-size 4-door Isuzu pickup truck, with a growly diesel engine. We sat half again as high as most of the rest of the car traffic, and it was easy to imagine ourselves piloting a HumVee through the back streets of Baghdad, on high alert for snipers. We stopped for coffee and croissants en route to my hotel (which Koi had booked for me, and which was the nicest hotel I had stayed at in Thailand to date). Large room, two thick and fluffy bath towels, silent aircon, and limitless hot water. Pricewise, it was a bit upscale from my typical Lonely Planet-esque digs, but well worth it for my planned few-day stay. I was able to check in early, around 930 am, and I immediately availed myself of a shower, testing (and affirming) their claim of limitless hot water. This put me in the mood for a mid-morning nap, after which I poked around my neighborhood, the Muslim Quarter and the adjacent Night Bazaar, which, despite itss name, was alive and kicking by midday.

Koi phoned me later on, suggesting supper at a riverside restaurant run by a friend of hers. Across the river, the city lights twinkled, reflecting in the calm waters. Accompanying us were Khae and three of her friends from Payap University: ChingChing, Sukie, and Fang. As far as I could ascertain, Khae’s friends had limited English at their disposal, an impression that was borne out by the fact that they sat at one end of the long table and spoke in Thai, while Koi and I chatted in English at the other end. This would turn out to be a reiteration of a lesson I seem to keep forgetting: don’t rely too strongly on first impressions!

As it turned out, by “few-day stay” turned into a nine-day marathon. It was lengthened thanks to a bit of stupidity on my part: after it proved impossible to secure a sleeper car on the return train to Bangkok, I opted for the second best choice, a VIP bus. A note: people in Thailand (and Japan too) customarily speak languages that have no “V” sound, so when they pronounce “VIP” it comes out sounding something like “Bwee-eye-pee”. I tried to explain that the “V” sound can be made by putting your top front teeth against your lower lip, and blowing air through the opening while making an “uh” sound in the throat. I might have well been explaining this in Swahili. Or Martian. So, back to the VIP bus. It turned out there wasn’t one of those available either. All that was left was a standard bus, which is comfy enough, I guess, but which does not have personal movie screens, gratis snacks, and an attentive hostess. There is a hostess, but she is not attentive. Khae went ahead and booked that for me, suggesting that we hold off paying for it until that evening; with luck, in the meantime, there might be a cancellation on the train. We had until 11pm to pay for the ticket. Not to telegraph the ending or anything, but at 11:09 Khae looked up from her winning UNO hand and let out the Thai equivalent of “aargh!”, correctly making the observation that the window had closed for paying for the bus ticket, and I had lost my booking. This created some difficulty: as originally scheduled, my Wednesday night bus would have gotten me to Bangkok on Thursday morning. I would have hustled over to the Cambodian embassy to obtain my visa, which would be ready early Friday, and by Friday evening (in a perfect world), I would have been drinking 50-cent Angkor draft beer at a Siem Reap sidewalk bar. Missing that bus meant that I would be stuck in Bangkok over the weekend awaiting my Cambodian visa on Monday, which didn’t appeal strongly, so I bagged the whole idea and wound up staying in Chiang Mai for an extra four days. This was no hardship whatsoever, as Chiang Mai is one of the loveliest places I have ever visited, and nobody has ever had more charming guides!

Tawan Court, Chiang Mai, $27 per night

 

Queen Sirikit Garden

 

Queen Sirikit Garden

 

Queen Sirikit Garden

 

Queen Sirikit Garden

 

Chiang Mai Zoo, up close and personal with the animals

 

ChingChing charms a baby elephant

 

The birdman of Chiang Mai

 

Young musician at Walking Street

 

The second half of the duet

 

One nigth only!