9. Picture This

from “Parallel Lines”, Blondie, 1978.

We’ve been thinking that a life on the road demands a little more than the camera we currently have, which is getting a bit long in the tooth, and so that we can capture more of the upcoming sights we’ve decided to upgrade a little. After consulting with some of our camera sages (thanks to Adrian and Gary), we plumped for the Sony DSC-RX100M2.

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DSC-RX100M2 – ooh, we do love a bit of Sony kit.

With a little further research it seemed better to buy it before we got to Japan, as there we might find only Japanese editions: potentially no English menus and/or international warranty. Plus it was cheaper in Thailand anyway, we got a free 8Gb SD card thrown in, and a proper Sony camera case for half price. Hurrah.

Admittedly it’s not top of the range, but more than sufficient for our needs and within a reasonable budget; it’ll take better pictures than the old camera, and still has plenty of features to confuse and amaze a couple of photographic-philistines like us.

Bangkok is certainly a shoppers’ paradise with a dazzling number of plush mega-malls, busy both with people shopping and just escaping from the Bangkok heat; definitely a civilised way to browse cameras and look for a bargain.

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Central Embassy – flagship mall of the Central group and five minutes walk from our Bangkok condominium.
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Central Embassy – looking up one of the escalator atriums.
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Siam Paragon – Bangkok’s most prestigious and popular mall where you can buy almost anything including supercars on the 3rd floor.

Bangkok’s malls’ stores range from 60 Baht shops (think pound shops only nicer and they’re mainly Japanese chain outlets), all the way up to the big brand luxury names; in Siam Paragon for instance there are stores where you can buy cars from Aston Martin, Porsche, Lamborghini and other manufacturers.

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Shall we get a Lamborghini?
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Or an Aston Martin?

And as well as shops the malls have many restaurants and food courts covering most all cuisines, as well as multi-screen cinemas where you can see the latest blockbusters from roughly £2 (or up to £25 if you want a mega luxury electrically reclining seat in a cozy bonkette with pre-film lounge access, drinks and nibbles – classy!), and it’s all under one roof.

And it wouldn’t be a Bangkok mall without some event going on with people having their pictures taken; it’s seems to be a Thai institution.

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Central Embassy – meh, who cares about the celebrities? Here’s trying out the new camera on the photographers. Hmm, I think I’m getting a lens inferiority complex.

So, mission accomplished and now we’re all set for our adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun. Sayonara for now.

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8. It’s Oh So Quiet

from “Post”, Björk, 1985.

Shhh, shhh. Well it’s time to leave sleepy, quiet, and somewhat hazy, Chiang Rai for the noise and chaos of Bangkok. Despite Thailand and Myanmar doing their best to disrupt our stay with earthquakes and prolific stubble burning – which led to the haze that was present here for a couple of the days of our stay – we’ve had a very relaxing time indeed.

Apparently the Le Meridien resort has been quite full during our stay, but we only really noticed any kind of level of occupancy during Songkran, which is the Thai New Year where the Thais generally all go mental for three days, throwing water over each other, drinking a lot, and driving even more recklessly than usual. No wonder we decided to “stay on the boat” and hunker down at the hotel to avoid any unnecessary wettings or other such calamities.

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The view from the room – under the canopy of the Rain Tree, and with the Kok River in the background.

So we’ve had the place seemingly almost to ourselves – apart from the twittering birds, chirping geckos (mainly in the room usually in the night), croaking frogs and toads (24 hours it seems), whirring insects, and other assorted wildlife – and it’s been very pleasant.

And in the calm Philip has made a really good start on returning to the gym in force as well as swimming, and he’s pretty much shamed me into admitting it’s about time I seriously starting to use the gym regularly again myself. I think he’s probably right.

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Le Meridien Chaing Rai – a quiet haven (not counting the wildlife).

It’s been a wonderful stay and here’s to hoping we return one day but, for now, it’s goodnight Chiang Rai.

7. Shake Your Groove Thing

from “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” soundtrack, Peaches & Herb, 1978.

We woke up this morning to find Facebook asking if we were safe; there had been a 6.9 magnitude earthquake overnight in neighbouring Myanmar. Chiang Rai is located very close to the Thailand-Myanmar border, around 20 miles away.

Checking the BBC News showed the quake had taken place at a depth of around 90 miles, north-west of Mandalay.

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Myanmar earthquake – we’ve put in a green dot to show Chiang Rai.

However, we seem to have missed the quake, most likely due to the facts that we were (a) asleep, and (b) at the edges of the quake’s area of effect. Luckily there were no casualties from this event.

Funnily enough we were only the other day talking about whether we’d experience an earthquake during our upcoming 3 months in Japan – perhaps we should be careful what we wish for.

Addendum: 24 hours later…

A 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck southern Japan near Kumamoto, at a depth of 6 miles.

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Japan earthquake – not quite so close to us this time, but in our next destination country.

Unfortunately there have been some casualties as a result of this quake, though Japan is very much geared towards coping with these events as they are relatively frequent; they have very stringent building standards for example.

Come along now Planet Earth, let’s not have any more tectonic tantrums please.

6. China In Your Hand

from “Bridge of Spies”, T’Pau, 1987.

Or rather not in our hands unfortunately, as I’ll explain. We visited the Doy Din Dang pottery – which translates as Red Clay Hill pottery – located not far from the Black House outside central Chiang Rai. Set up by potter Somluk Pantiboon, Doy Din Dang produces a wide range of pots, vases, plates, cups, and other assorted ceramics in what is generally an Asian contemporary style.

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Doy Ding Dang – the Red Clay Hill pottery near Chiang Rai.

You can wander around the pottery quite freely and there is no hassle or pressure from the staff, so you can browse both the pottery and the shop at your leisure. This was certainly welcome as despite the shady grounds it was still very hot, and that was without getting near the kilns!

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Cuptastic – but which one to use for my morning lapsang souchong? Decisions, decisions.

The shop had many items for sale and unsurprisingly we found a few things that we’d have liked to buy, and at any other time we probably would have. But now that we’re on the road and that space is a premium in our luggage there was no real option to purchase any of the chic little objects we spotted to adorn either Hampstead or Bangkok.

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Lots of pots – might have trouble getting them in the luggage though.

But despite the shopping impairment Doy Din Dang was still very interesting to visit and see how a real pottery works, even if we couldn’t take away anything as a reminder other than memories and pictures, which perhaps are more important anyway.

5. Black Or White

from “Dangerous”, Michael Jackson, 1991.

Or both. Owww! Having had several days of relaxing at the resort we thought it was time we did a little sightseeing in (very) sunny Chiang Rai. There are plenty of tours available though we opted to see something of the architecture of the region and so decided on the White Temple and Black House tour.

The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is one of the most recognisable in Thailand and unique in its use of plaster and glass as compared to the more colourful wats elsewhere. The White Temple is actually very new – only about 20 years old – and was built on the site of the original wat, which had fallen into a poor state. The White Temple was created by Chalermchai Kositpipat, an artist born in Chiang Rai, who decided to fund the construction with his own money, creating this whimsical edifice that is a kind of Thai-Gaudi fusion.

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The White Temple – Wat Rong Khun.

You enter via a bridge which starts in Hell and leads you over the peak – the Earthly realm – and then into the temple itself which is Heaven or Nirvana. The guides encourage you not to look at Hell too much for fear of corruption – there’s some quite spooky imagery such as these grasping hands below. We of course stopped for a full Hellish intake!

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Hellish hands – waiting to grab you as you enter the White Temple.

So with the White Temple very much representing the lighter, heavenly side of existence, we then visited the Black House (Baan Dum). Despite having Buddha images and a shrine, the Black House is not a temple (wat) but simply a museum.

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The Black House – Baan Dum.

Similarly to the White Temple, the Black House is the creation of an individual, namely the national artist Thawan Duchanee. It is a collection of eclectic buildings that are part art studio, part museum, and part home.

The Black House itself contains many weird and wonderful constructions and furniture, more than a few of which are made from animal remains. Additionally there are skulls and skins – including a huge anaconda skin – on display. As the guide commented, the Black House is viewed by many as the Hell to the White Temple’s Heaven.

Aside from the many quirky but still Thai-style buildings in the grounds of the Black House, there were other more bizarre constructions, particularly the strange slug-like one below.

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A giant slug – or maybe Captain Nemo’s Nautilus has run aground?

We spent a half day on our tour, which in the heat here (it was 38C) was quite long enough, though fortunately much of the grounds of the Black House were shaded with trees to keep the worst of the sun off – otherwise we’d have had to dig out our hats, and while Philip gets away with it, I really don’t look good in a hat.

4. Flying North

from “The Golden Age of Wireless”, Thomas Dolby, 1982.

Indeed Mr Dolby we did fly north today, travelling from Bangkok to Chiang Rai and it’s the first time we’ve been to the north of Thailand. A very quick flight of “up, snack, down” and we arrived with a rather bumpy landing in the Golden Triangle.

We’re staying at Le Meridien which is on the banks of the Kok River (fnarr!) and set in fairly expansive and scenic gardens – all in all seems quite a nice little oasis of calm which is just what we wanted.

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Chiang Rai – the Le Meridien is on the banks of the Kok River, a tributary of the Mekong.

Oddly while we were having a sundowner in the bar at happy hour a sudden and strong wind sprang up and we thought there was about to be a storm, but it blew through the place for 20 minutes sending flowers, twigs, and other planty-stuff swirling everywhere and setting the staff into a flurry of activity to stop things being blown away. Then as suddenly as it came it was gone, leaving everything a good five or more degrees cooler – good for me but Philip was less impressed.

So now the plan is: do next to nothing for the coming few days.

3. Pandemonium

from “Yes”, Pet Shop Boys, 2009.

Almost the end of the first week and it’s been quite a lazy one, though not entirely by choice – Philip seemed to have picked up a cold/fever from the oik who was sniffing and coughing in the seat behind him on the plane.

Fortunately it was pretty short lived and resting was on the agenda anyway to get over the jetlag and moving-out work so all in all it wasn’t a big problem – in fact he got lots of sympathy from the staff at the hotel and plenty of mothering to make sure he was OK.

Aside from taking it easy and getting some rest we just had a few things to do including getting a new cash card from Bangkok Bank as the old one had split (“huk” in Thai). While we were doing this at the Central Embassy mall we encountered the “1600 Pandas”.

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1600 Pandas – though they’re not all in this picture.

This is an exhibition by WWF-France that has been touring the world since 2008 to increase public awareness of panda conservation, and remind people of wildlife and environmental sustainability. Quite right too.