Saturday, January 30, 2010

Happy days

Cycling along the dirt/gravel road linking the town of Vang Vieng to neighbouring villages at dusk today, I felt something I don’t often feel: carefree contentment. I was muddy from visiting a cave, a pedal on my bike kept threatening to fall off and, in the wider scheme of things, I’ve no idea what I’m doing with my life. And yet it all felt right, somehow. I felt vibrant, I felt alive, I felt the sun and the breeze on my face and I felt the friendliness of locals as they waved at me. If only I hadn’t felt every judder of that blinkin’ boneshaker.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been doing since I last blogged.

1. Pinching food

Goodness me, Laos is expensive. I don’t mean in the traditional sense of costing a lot of money, I just mean that it’s more costly than Thailand, which surprises me greatly considering how poorly developed this country is. After my usual thorough research (looking on the internet) I’m convinced that it’s either because Laos doesn’t export much besides silk, and has to import everything else, or that prices have been pushed up by the large number of NGOs here.

Whatever the reason, my couple of days in Vientiane tore a hole in my budget that made me feel all faint for a minute. It wasn’t just staying in an upmarket hotel on the first night; it was also the fact that crossing the border had addled my brain and made me confused about how much the local currency, known as the kip, is genuinely worth.

There are about 8,500 kip to the dollar and about 13,500 kip to the pound. Naturally, then, all the banknotes come in huge denominations and this made my head spin. When I moved to a cheaper hotel and saw that having your laundry done there cost 30,000 kip/kg, I automatically correlated it with Thai prices and thought it would cost me in the tens of pennies. For several hours I thought my 2kg of shirts and smalls had cost me about 50p to wash. Then it hit me that it was closer to £5 and that moving there hadn’t saved me much at all.

Still, the hotel situation wasn’t a dead loss, seeing as Expensive Place From The First Night was in reality Expensive Place B, the new offshoot of Expensive Place A just up the road. If I wanted a buffet breakfast of cold fried egg, cold chicken in breadcrumbs, cold sausages, cornflakes in lukewarm milk, fruit juice and coffee, I had to have it in Place A. The same went for using the wifi. But the staff never asked for my credentials, which meant I carried on breakfasting and surfing the net even after I’d checked out.

2. Feeling sniffy about local transport

I stayed in Vientiane less than 48 hours, meaning the brekkie-theft only happened once. Then it was on to Vang Viang, three-and-a-half hours to the north (and again, stupidly, I thought this was costing me 50p at first). I booked a seat on a ‘VIP bus’ through The Less Expensive Hotel With The Extortionate Laundry Charge, the idea being that the bus would pick me up at 10am the next day.

At 10.15am a tuk-tuk driver showed up and took me to a bare patch of land where a battered old charabanc stood. I got onboard - there were a handful of seats left - and waited for the bus to leave. I waited some more. It was now 10.30am. Then about a dozen additional passengers turned up, most of whom had to sit on the VIP bus’s floor for a good 90 minutes until we transferred to something more salubrious.

3. Loafing around in my hotel room

This is partly to get my budget back in order and partly to avoid taking part in the adventure sports for which this area is renowned. I refuse to get involved with anything remotely risky these days following an unfortunate incident in South Africa eight years ago in which I fell off an ostrich I was attempting to ride and couldn’t walk properly for a month.

The big attraction in this area is called ‘tubing’, which my guidebook describes as ‘floating down the Nam Xong (river) on huge tractor inner tubes’. In the end I had to look up tubing on YouTube because I had visions of people floating down the river on giant tractor tyres from a monster trucks show, like hamsters in a wheel. It’s not like that at all, thank goodness, but it’s still not for me.

I do like my hotel room, although it took me a while to work out how flies could get in when all the windows are covered in mosquito netting. Eventually I noticed the large gap at the bottom of the door. I remain largely bite-free, however, thanks to the liberal use of repellent. Yesterday I found a small colony of ants on my toilet seat, reached for the spray and felt a little guilty for launching the insect world equivalent of a mustard gas attack.

4. Admiring the scenery

5. Absorbing the local culture

Coming back from the restaurant last night (it was full of gap-year kids talking shite and trying to act cool), my attention was drawn to an entertainment spectacle at what looked like a school or local government building. It largely consisted of traditional Lao dancing and not-so-traditional pop acts. Being in a People’s Democratic Republic with communist leanings, I still haven’t worked out whether this was all laid on by the government (which assumes a rather patronising view of the showbiz scene here) or whether it was a school gala night (which assumes great talent on the part of Vang Vieng’s teenagers).

6. Visiting the Phou Kham cave

The cave is about 6km from here, near the village of Na Thong. It's set quite high up a mountain and features a shrine with a bronze Buddha.

This is a child who came out and gestured for me to take his photo when I stopped to take a swig of water in Na Thong.

Here you can see him thinking about asking me for money using the single word “gift”.

Heh. You’ll be lucky, sunshine…

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Compact and bijou

Right, I’ve done Vientiane. In an afternoon. There’s not much to see and everything’s within walking distance.

So that’s the 19th-century monastery Wat Sisaket,

the museum of art and antiquities, Haw Pha Kaew

and Patouxai, Laos’s answer to the Arc de Triomphe, nicknamed 'the vertical runway' because it was built with concrete the US donated for an airport.

You can climb up it too.

Tomorrow: a little place called Vang Vieng.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The good Australian

It’s the peak season for tourism in southeast Asia, which means hotel rooms are sometimes scarce. In Bangkok I just about managed to find a cheap one and hold on to it for dear life, but the situation generally hasn’t concerned me that much. Until tonight.

See, prior to a couple of hours ago I’d had several very easygoing days. My time in Ayuttayah ended with a return visit, after five years, to Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, which looks like this.

And to think I’d considered giving the temple a miss on the basis that it was a long cycle ride, the weather was scorching and I’d seen it before. It’s strange, the way I forget how gobsmacking these places are.

From Ayuttayah I took a sleeper train to the northeastern city of Khon Kaen, picking up a visa from the Lao consulate while I was there. I also bought a new rucksack/daypack to replace the cheap piece of crap that fell apart a fortnight after I bought it from Bangkok's weekend market. *Sigh.* Will I ever understand the concept of ‘a false economy’, I wonder?

Anyway, my plan was always to bus it from Khon Kaen to the Lao border and make my way independently, via tuk-tuk and bus, to the capital Vientiane, 24km away. But yesterday I saw a swanky air-conditioned bus leaving Khon Kaen station with the city’s name marked on it and thought: “Ooh. That’s handy.”

So I checked out of my hotel at 8.30am today and bought a ticket, only to learn that the service didn’t leave till 3.15pm. “No worries,” I thought. “I can kill time listening to my mp3 player and hanging around that shopping mall with the free wifi.”

The upshot is I got into the city at 6.45pm and couldn’t find a hotel room.

At first I wasn’t too worried. I’ve always said to myself: “If the worst comes to the worst, I’ll just splash out £20. That buys a lot in this part of the world.” But to my growing consternation, £20 rooms weren’t available either.

Eventually, following an hour of traipsing, I spotted a bus passenger I’d swapped pleasantries with in the immigration queue.

“Have you managed to find a room?” I asked. “Because I can’t.”

“Oh, I come here a lot and always stay at the same place,” said the guy. Turns out he’s an Australian who’s worked on various agricultural projects here and speaks fluent Lao. He told me where he was staying. I’d already tried there, but we decided to have a quiet word with reception anyway.

As luck would have it, the hotel had just expanded, opening a new business just seven weeks ago - and that place had a $35 room. Reduced to $30 as a favour to this bloke. That’s about £20. So I’m writing this from what, by my standards, is somewhere very posh.

There’s one more thing: I’m losing weight rapidly, as tends to happen when I go travelling. Thai 7-11 shops always have electronic scales outside and on my way to the temple the other day I found I’d lost 5kg, or 11 pounds, in two-and-a-half weeks.

I don’t know if it’s healthy to shed weight that quickly but I simply can’t help it. It’s all that walking and cycling in the heat, eating natural food (I’m getting quite partial to the Asian diet) and drinking bottled water every day.

If this hotel‘s free breakfast is a buffet I’ll be stuffing my face tomorrow, (a) to get my money’s worth and (b) to slow my progress towards Skeletor status.

I’ve also had… wait for it… a hot shower!

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I’ve been in Ayuttayah a couple of days now. I’d been here before, during my 2005 trip, and it was only when I heard it from the bus driver’s mouth that I realised I’d been wrongly pronouncing it for five years. It’s not Eye-you-TIE-ah, it’s A-YOO-ta-yah.

I got here from Kanchanburi on two local buses. The first had the kind of psychedelic interior that would have made Timothy Leary proud and the second just looked as old as Leary was when he died.

A couple of hours into the journey, some hawkers got on board offering food and drink to the passengers. Feeling peckish because I’d skipped breakfast, that was when I discovered the delights of bits of cold chicken on cocktail sticks and some cold rice in a small clear plastic bag.

The cheap room I’m in doesn’t have wifi but it does at least have electrical sockets, so yesterday I caught up on important business like reading an ebook and discovering the delights of the Windows 7 Media Centre on my new laptop. When I went out it was to buy a train ticket and to drift around the air-conditioned and very Westernised shopping mall.

Why am I here? Because it puts me in the right spot to catch a sleeper train tomorrow night to the northeast Thai city of Khon Kaen, which is a few hours away from the Lao border and has a Lao consulate where hopefully I can pick up a visa on Monday morning.

Today I hired a bike and went looking round Ayuttayah’s ancient temples, the same as I did five years ago. I’ve just been looking through my old photo album on Facebook to see how many times I’ve repeated myself pictorially.

It’s funny how much I’ve forgotten about the places I’ve been, and how each one produces a strange mixture of déjà vu and fresh excitement. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I’ll be pedalling across to some more before I leave.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The falls guy

“Don’t go chasing waterfalls,” the girl group TLC once warned. Paul McCartney, on the other hand, urged us not to go jumping them. After that he went off at a bit of a tangent, wibbling on about how much he needed love and consulting a rhyming dictionary to help him illustrate his point. (“Like a castle needs a tower. Like a raindrop needs a shower. Like cricket needs David Gower.” OK, I made that last one up.)

What triggered all this anti-waterfall sentiment remains a mystery, unless Macca and the lasses had had a day like I’ve just had. The fact is, I recklessly ignored TLC’s advice and did go chasing the wet sprinkly buggers this morning, and I’m not sure much good came of it. The rest of the day was mildly disappointing too, but I’ll come to that in a moment.

I was on one of those day-tours-in-a-people-carrier things, where they pick you up at 8am, drive you around to the places public transport don’t reach and drop you off at teatime when you’ve done the region’s edited highlights, as it were. A variety of companies in Kanchanaburi run these tours and it’s obvious now that most follow the exact same template, meaning I could have randomly swapped places with a fellow tourist at any point in the day and it wouldn’t have made any difference.

Driver and guide aside, our group consisted of four middle-aged white blokes and two southeast Asian spouses. In the vehicle’s centre three seats there was a mild-mannered fortysomething Frenchman, his thirtysomething spouse (fair enough) and me. Behind us sat a silver-haired Yorkshireman and alongside him was an obnoxious, paunchy, boorish, greying, balding and eminently punchable Australian tosser and his 12-year-old wife.

French bloke and his partner spoke only rudimentary English - though oddly enough, this was the language they communicated in - which meant I could get away with watching the world go by and not be forced into any stilted conversations. The downside was that I then had to listen to the guys behind me role-play David Brent and Chris Finch from The Office. Just think of the Aussie gobshite as Finchy, tirelessly sharing his reactionary views of Asia and the world with his overawed new friend. At one point I could have sworn I heard him giving advice on the best go-go bars to visit, though that might well be my journalistic exaggeration gene kicking in.

Our first stop was the Erawan National Park with its picturesque seven-tiered waterfall. When the guide said we were staying two-and-a-half hours, I wondered how we were going to fill the time. The answer turned out to be: walking up a mountain trail, admiring each tier… and in your case, Davy boy, taking far too long with the old photography so that before you reach the highest waterfall you have to turn back in a panic and practically run down the sodding mountain.

Next we drove to Hellfire Pass, which is basically a railway cutting. To be fair, though, it is a railway cutting with a tragic history that deserves recognition. The slave labourers I wrote about yesterday endured an especially brutal time here carving a path through solid rock. The strikingly modern Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum that overlooks it stands as a testament to their suffering.

According to The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia that I’m carrying, the train journey along the Death Railway is really scenic in parts. Unfortunately the section of line that we travelled on just after 4pm is bounded mostly by fields. As we waited at the station, our guide advised us to nab a right-hand seat as soon as we boarded, as this would afford us the best views.

I got on the train. All the right-hand seats were taken by tourists. Bastards.

There I was, desperate to rubberneck and quietly resenting all the rubberneckers who’d got there before me. If we passed something vaguely interesting, they’d all lean towards the glassless windows and take photos. All I had was a view of white people’s backs. So I tried my luck in the next carriage or, to be more precise, that bit of the carriage where the doors are.

The train was packed not just with tourists but with children coming home from school. In front of me, two girls sat in the open doorway as it rattled along, their legs dangling over the side. Behind me, two teenage boys were doing something similar, except they were engaged in a fun fight for most of the journey. I shudder to think what Health & Safety would make of it.

Then, after about three stops, all the tourists got off and trooped back to their people carriers. We had one more destination: the Bridge on the River Kwai, which I’d seen yesterday. But by now Finchy’s rants were becoming ever more unguarded and expletive-strewn and when he got to “I’m sick and tired of the bloody Aborigines,” I’m sorry to say my brain imploded.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lest we forget

Six months ago I visited Auschwitz, where a million people died in World War Two. Now I’m in Kanchanaburi, where more than 100,000 perished working on the Thailand-Burma railway. The two places couldn’t be more different, however. For a start, Auschwitz doesn’t feel like a beach resort.

Truth be told, I’m starting to understand why a certain type of middle-aged European male views places like this as paradise. I’m a little creeped out when I see them with their much younger Thai wives and girlfriends - and here I’ll admit that I’m making assumptions that may or may not be warranted - but putting that aside, there’s a great deal that’s attractive about this town. The scenery is beautiful, the cost of living low, the food magnificent, the pace of life almost catatonic and the weather, for the moment at least, is spectacular. Add to that pubs serving cheap beer and screening English sports and it’s hardly surprising that every time I go out I pass stocky, bullet-headed geezers in football shirts.

I arrived yesterday on a bus service from Bangkok that reminded me of National Express coaches in the UK, back when they had hostesses serving you drinks of water and there was no law requiring you to wear a seatbelt. The bus pulled into Kanchanaburi at 1pm and I was immediately targeted by a samlor (bicycle rickshaw) driver who was determined to pedal me to the well-established strip of guest houses in a area of town 3km away.

Now, I don’t know if I’m mellowing in my old age or whether it’s the friendliness of the Thais, but I’m being much less of an arsehole on this trip than I have been on previous occasions. Time was when the merest whiff of a hawker, tout or pushy taxi driver would get my back up, and yet these days I just smile and think: “Well, they’ve got to make a living.”

So I indulged the samlor lady, agreeing to let her transport me to a guest house. I should have guessed she’d hang around, trying to wheedle commission out of whoever I stayed with, but to my surprise this didn’t bother me too much.

I settled on a place called the Noble Night Guesthouse, one of many perched on the banks of the River Kwai and extremely affordable considering the comfort, setting, swimming pool, TV and wifi it provides. In British terms, I’m paying £6 a night to live like a [down at heel, penny-pinching and still showering in cold water] king.

Having mooched around the shopping centre on my first day, this afternoon I was much more concerned with the town‘s place in history and paid a sobering visit to Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

Some 16,000 Allied PoWs and 100,000 Asian labourers lost their lives constructing the so-called Death Railway; the cemetery contains 6,982 servicemen’s graves. Most have names, regiments and ages on them. This one, heartbreakingly, does not:

Across the road, a highly informative museum describes in horrific detail the cruelty meted out by Japanese engineers and guards. Faced with photographic evidence, film footage and first-hand accounts of what went on, I could well understand the bitterness of some veterans, and can only admire those who’ve been able to forgive their former captors. Sadly, though, the museum’s frontage doesn’t quite get the tone of respect right.

Leaving the museum as the sun was starting to set, I walked the couple of miles to Thailand’s most famous railway bridge, still in use today. (And in the next 24 hours I’ll be returning there, taking a train ride across it during a day-long guided tour of local sights.)

It had been a sad, reflective sort of day, but I was glad I’d taken the trouble to come here. Still, I couldn’t help asking myself: if there wasn’t a film called The Bridge on the River Kwai, would people be quite so keen to have their picture taken with it?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Shirley's temples

This is my friend Shirley from the TEFL course I did last summer in Krakow, Poland. She's currently working as a teaching assistant in her native Hong Kong and came to Thailand two days ago for a holiday with her colleague Jennifer. Serendipitous or what?

The three of us met soon after they arrived and took a stroll over to the Rajdamnoen Stadium to watch Thai boxing with Jennifer’s Canadian friend Greg. To add some colour, I should note that I’m the only one who doesn’t speak English with a North American accent. I’m also older and perhaps more world-weary, but when it comes to teaching English I have to admit I’m the novice.

We enjoyed the Thai boxing - which is a bit like ordinary boxing but with added bowing, ceremonials and kicking - and managed to have a worthwhile chat in the meantime. I confessed to Shirley some of the doubts and insecurities I have when it comes to teaching in Asia and she told me that I think too much. I think she might be right.

I was grateful, too, for Greg’s advice over the next 24 hours. He had a couple of choice tips about where might be a good place for me to work and he put my mind at rest regarding the relentless negativity of teachers on EFL forums. “Other teachers are too busy enjoying their lives to post there,” he said.

Yesterday the four of us did Bangkok’s biggies: the Grand Palace (and its shrine containing the super-sacred Emerald Buddha); Wat Pho (a temple with a 45-metre-long gilded reclining Buddha); and Wat Arun (across the river from Wat Pho and equally made of awesome).

I’d like to describe the dazzling and freaky ostentatiousness of the Grand Palace but, to be honest, my ownership of a camera makes that unnecessary.

“No commentary?” asked Shirley as I waved my camcorder about silently.

“No,” I said. “It would only be: ‘Ohmigod I can’t believe how amazing this place is!’” (Although, oddly enough, in the five years since I was last here, I'd forgotten.)

Similarly, there are no words to adequately describe Wat Pho, so here‘s a couple of photos:

Then came Wat Arun, which was a revelation to me; I’m not even sure I knew it existed on my visit in 2005. We arrived as the sun was setting, bathing its five towers in a golden glow (the sun, that is, not us) . Long before we headed back, I was buzzing with the thrill of it all.

Perhaps inevitably, today was something of a letdown by comparision. Left to my own devices, I’ve visited an arts and crafts exhibition and been on a guided tour of the all-teak Vimanmek Palace - but as cameras aren’t allowed inside and I’m very shallow, I’m sure it’ll seem to me soon as if I was never there at all.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Big Buddha is watching you

I’d been in the internet place a couple of hours by the time I got up to leave, just before 3am, still wide awake after dozing off at an inappropriate hour earlier in the evening. My session on the computer had been an uncomfortable one due to the presence of a middle-aged Australian who had obvious mental problems and/or was off his tits on drugs. He drifted in and out of the place, ranting at his monitor screen and enthusing about pieces of music he’d been playing. As I was leaving, he bid me farewell. “Are you going beddy bye-byes, you caffeined-up twat? Fuck off. I hope you die in your sleep, you wanker.”

As it happens I awoke in the morning full of enthusiasm, confident that I was gradually acclimatising to Asia. On my way out of the guest house, I noticed another encouraging sign: a cool breeze. Instead of faffing around with bus routes as I normally do, I‘d be walking all day, even if that did mean popping into a 7-11 every hour to stock up on bottled water.

In fact what I ended up doing was visiting a few of Bangkok’s second-division Buddhist temples - the ones most tourists would probably skip for time reasons.

An unusual shop suggested I was on the right track.

Across the road was Wat Suthat, which doesn’t rate a mention in my guidebook but which turned out to be a fabulous place.

The same can be said in spades for Wat Prayoon on the other side of the Chao Phraya River. I really must Google this place to find out what its purpose is, as it consists of a stone grotto and a garden with a pond. Beats me what the religious significance is.

The best part is: it has terrapins!

And people feeding the terrapins!

From there I moved on to Wat Kanlayanamit (I’ve tried saying it and it’s impossible) which has a buddha the size of King Kong. But just as I was about to take photos, my digital camera’s battery threw in the towel, claiming exhaustion. So you'll just have to take my word for it. Now I'm off to get some caffeine.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Always believe in your soul

This is the Golden Buddah.

He was made in the 13th century, stands three metres tall, weighs five-and-a-half tons and is made from solid gold.

For centuries he was encased in stucco to hide him from marauding bad guys, which meant no one realised his true worth until 1955 when a bit of the stucco fell off in transit.

I visited him today at the Wat Traimit temple in Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Then I walked round Chinatown, marvelling at how Chinese it all was like the gawping tourist I am.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lost in translation

As attempted cures for jetlag go, it’s certainly novel: just cycle around Ancient Siam all day and then lose yourself on Bangkok’s public transport system.

Ancient Siam, otherwise known as Muang Boran, has to be one of the oddest museums I’ve ever visited and yet at the same time one of the most spectacular. This open-air attraction, on a site just outside the city outskirts, offers the visitor a comprehensive cultural experience in a day by either recreating historic buildings and monuments from all over Thailand or actually transplanting what in the UK would be considered listed buildings.

It sounds tacky, and sadly it looks tacky in most of my photographs - I blame the glaring sunlight for giving everything a cheap washed-out look - but to cycle around the vast site, stumbling across temples, palaces, statues and ruins as you go, is a frequently awe-inspiring experience.

Getting to Ancient Siam isn’t easy. First there’s a long bus ride in which you rely on a conductor, who speaks little or no English, to send you on your way at the right stop. Then you have to look for a number 36 songthaew (that’s a pick-up van with benches along each side) to take you the rest of the way. My songthaew driver was so excited to have me there that he let me use the passenger seat in the driver’s cabin. Being a suspicious, paranoid git, I was wary of him pulling a scam, but it turned out he was simply being hospitable and the fare turned out to be a modest eight baht (about 15p).

Once you’ve bought your ticket, you’re provided with a map of the site that features a long, rambling, cack-handedly translated essay, presumably by the museum’s owner. “I would like to draw the attention of the world population to come to witness our art, customs and culture,” he writes. “I believes certain that in one day or another they will benefit the noble spirit and will be a good reminder to those who are drawn to materialism.

“Thus the ‘Ancient Siam’ has been created. This may remedy the existing moral deterioration of human society.” Which is more than you can say for Legoland.

Another plus is that you can lose weight (something I badly need to do at the moment) riding around in the sweltering heat on a bicycle they lend you for the day. Arrive as a pair and they’ll provide you with a tandem. Come in a group of three and they’ll give you the kind of bike I thought only existed in The Goodies.

There’s even a small farm, though its livestock consists of just deer. It also has a snake-handler who invites small children to stroke his python.

I wish I’d had breakfast before I set out, or at least known that the Floating Village exhibit contained restuarants, as by lunchtime I was getting woozy and stopped off at the nearest beverage provider to drink my own weight in bottled water. For food I had two XXL packets of crisps, as it’s the only other thing they sold.

Thoroughly worn out, I left at 4.30pm, half an hour before the site closed, and took four hours getting back to Banglamphu. Catching a songthaew was easy enough. Getting a bus to stop for me wasn’t. By the time I caught one it was getting dark and since most of Bangkok looks identical, I missed my stop by miles. After a while the conductor twigged this and through gestures and the few words of English she knew, we agreed that I’d stay on the bus, turn round at the terminal and be prompted to get off when the time was right.

After all that, getting to sleep was a doddle.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Talk of circadian rhythms

I’ve never really been jetlagged before, (a) because I don’t often leap a seven-hour time zone in a day and (b) because when I have, I’ve been sensible enough to stay awake until the evening and not succumb to sleep on the first afternoon. Oh well. It’s done now. You can’t argue with exhaustion and when you gotta sleep, you gotta sleep.

Besides, it seemed like an easy fix. After a sleepless night, all I had to do was spend the day being a tourist and go to bed at a normal time. So, shortly after 7am, off I popped on a local bus to the city’s Chatuchak Weekend Market, which, depending on whose info you read, has upwards of 8,000 or 10,000 stalls. It was a pleasant way to while away the morning and gave me an opportunity to replace my daypack - the zip of which started to play up as I was leaving for Heathrow - at a bargain price (that’s assuming it doesn’t fall apart in a week).

I returned to Banglamphu full of good intentions, all undone when I headed back to the guest house for a half-hour rest that developed into a full afternoon’s sleep.

Next week I’m meeting a friend who by coincidence is coming here for a holiday, and my original plan was to fill in the next few days visiting the Bridge over the River Kwai. Now, however, I’ve decided to stay in Bangkok until she arrives.

Cheap rooms are so scarce right now that every time I go out, I see forlorn backpackers being repeatedly turned away. I’m growing quite fond of my £3 cell - it bothered me at first that it didn’t have an electrical socket for my gizmos, but now I’ve realised that, through judicious use of a three-socket surge protector I’ve brought with me, I can charge them up at the internet place while I’m using my laptop.

I’ve toyed with the idea of embracing my new nocturnal nature and treating every afternoon as one long siesta, but it’s not going to work. I don’t want to be a character from an REM song - “My bed is pulling me, gravity” and all that - and with the talcum powder doing wonders for my personal hygiene, I don’t see why I should.

This evening, before eating, I decided to freshen up in one of the shower cubicles on my floor (needless to say, my room isn’t ensuite). The water is cold, or perhaps I should say cool, which is quite refreshing in this humid climate. Anyway, once I’d finished I realised I hadn’t brought my towel with me. I could either stand there for ten minutes, drying in the air, or put on my boxer shorts and sneak back to my room. I chose the latter course, since most of the young guests here walk around in their pants as a matter of course. You can guess what happened next. I slipped on the shiny floor of the corridor, executing a spectacular pratfall and drawing all of my neighbours out of their rooms to check what the hell was going on.