Poor Circulation - 28,000 miles, 28 Countries, £20 per Day ... and that was just the beginning

In 2008, I finally realised that working in London as a Despatch Rider had lost much of its charm and all of its financial viability ... So I resigned. I sold all of my worldly goods and invested the proceeds in a previously enjoyed Triumph Tiger Motorcycle. With a travelling budget of around £20 per day, I set out from the Ace Cafe in London with the aim of riding around the world.

In November 2008, having completed my first circumnavigation of the globe, 28,000 miles across 28 countries, I returned unharmed to the Ace Cafe in London. That should have been the end of the journey, but it actually marked a new beginning. The world that I’d found beyond the BBC and News Corp wasn’t the world that I’d expected to find. I’d arrived back in London with far more questions than answers. I clearly wasn't ready for the adventure to end, so unburdened by wealth or shackled by property, I engaged first gear and kept on riding

Post 396: The Dhamanurak Foundation .. giving hope to kids in Kanchanaburi (Posted March 11th 2014)

It’s a long and complicated story, but my girlfriend’s parents died when she was really quite young.  Thankfully for Nongnoo, her extended family were able, and willing, to take care of her until she was old enough to finish high school and venture out on her own. Sadly, even here in Thailand where family units are relatively strong, such support isn’t always forthcoming.
Every year to celebrate her birthday, Nongnoo hosts an amazing party. She carefully chooses a venue and invites a few of her closest friends and about fifty total strangers to join her. Her friends are there to help with the organising, and the strangers are young orphans who weren’t as fortunate as herself. If you’ve read my book Ashes to Boonville, then you’ll know a little about my own early start in life, so you’ll understand that when Nongnoo asks for help, I’m the first to volunteer.
(Nongnoo's Birthday Party 2013)
 After three months of planning and raising money, ten volunteers set out from Bangkok at an amazingly rude hour and headed to Kanchanaburi Province. Nongnoo had raised 40,000 Thai Baht, around $1,300, or three months salary, and this year’s chosen venue was the Dhamanurak Foundation about 150km east of Bangkok.
 The Dhamanurak Foundation is described as a ‘non-informal education centre’ and was founded back in 2004 by a wonderful Nun called Jutipa. In essence, it’s now home, health centre, school and family for around 125 kids between the ages of 1 and 16. Not all of the kids are orphans, but I suspect that for some their home circumstances have made Dhamanurak a much safer and more loving alternative.
 The kids here at Dhamanurak are cared for by a small group of Nuns and a wonderful group of volunteers, and the Foundation is funded entirely by private donations. Conditions here, even by local standards, are best described as being ‘basic’ and everything is in short supply, everything that is except for the love. The home’s located on the side of Highway 3199 and every day thousands of tourists pass by its gate on their way to visit the waterfalls at Erawan National Park, though I suspect that not one of them knows that this orphanage even exists.
(Some of the things that we brought from Bangkok. The whisky and Beer cases only contain food .. we drank the real stuff the night before)

 (Nongnoo hanging-out with some of the kids)
 (Two of the boys play happily for an hour with two simple glass marbles)  
 (One of the Nuns carrying two of the smaller kids to lunch)
 (Twins in SE Asia are very common, especially it would seem in orphanages)
 (Many of the kids seem to be lost in thought, but when you face the challenges they've faced so far in their short lives, that's hardly surprising)
 (Two boys playing happily with a broken plastic toy camera. It was either that or to wait for the two marbles or a broken computer mouse)
 (Young guy proudly showing me his mushroom house)
(The dormitory for the older boys is functional. The dormitory for the younger kids is a relatively modern building. It's called 'The Alice Home' and was built in memory of Alice Glenister. Alice was teaching here on her gap-year, but sadly lost her life in a kayak accident in Laos)
 (The Alice Home)
 (Volunteers and some of the amazing Kids)

The day at Dhamanurak has touched me, deeply, and we’ll return here soon. Hopefully we’ll be able to do a little more to help improve the lives and futures of these amazing kids. Physically they need everything, and every little helps, so if anybody reading this would like to know more, or to offer a little help, then please don’t hesitate to contact me via email or a Facebook ... thanks for reading.

Post 395: Thailand, the final nail in the coffin of morality? : Posted 1st March 2014

When it comes to political unrest, Thailand has more history than most. Eighteen military coups in the last eighty years, but still, the political turmoil continues. Thailand is a deeply divided nation, perhaps it’s always been that way, but today those divisions are deeper than they’ve ever been and it’s doubtful that they can be easily healed.
The Western media seem to portray the current political crisis as a fight between the rural poor of the North and the rich elite in Bangkok and the South. Historically speaking it’s much more complicated than that, but currently, it’s also much simpler.
What we have today is a battle between two distinct gangs of rich and privileged Thai’s, waging war against each other using the poor citizens as their disposable infantrymen. The winner of this war will get to control the political trough, and in recent years, that trough has been absolutely overflowing with riches. Thailand has always suffered from corruption, but now, corruption has spiralled to an unbelievable, and thus, the incentives to hold power have dramatically increased.
For many Westerner’s, the most memorable vision of this current conflict will be the harrowing video of the policeman kicking away an exploding grenade during the battle at Phan Fah Bridge in central Bangkok. It was a truly awful sight, but sadly, that was just one of the many deadly incidents.
Attacks by as yet unidentified assailants on anti-government rallies have so far cost 21 lives, including 5 innocent children aged 4,5,6,6 and 12 while 750 others have been seriously injured.
The number of deaths and injuries is saddening, but perhaps even more saddening is the reaction to those deaths from the pro-government movement.
On the evening of Saturday the 22nd of February, supporters of the anti-government movement (PDRC) gathered in the small town of Khao Saming in Trat Province, 200km to the south of Bangkok. Two young girls aged 5 and 6, were helping to wash dishes at their grandmother’s food stall close to the rally site. Two pick-up trucks carrying unidentified assailants drove into the area and showered the market with automatic gunfire and fragmentation grenades before speeding off into the night. 5 people were killed, including the two young girls, and thirty five others were seriously injured.

One day after the killings at the market in Trat, the pro-government movement UDD (Red Shirts) were holding their own rally in support of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai Government. This YouTube video shows a leader of the UDD talking to the 4,000 strong audience from the stage. 51 seconds into the video, you see the audience reacting with jubilation to his enthusiastic announcement. The audience included at least two serving Government Ministers. At 1:06, the organiser of the rally steps in and asks the speaker to stop. If you have any interest in the future of humanity, then please take a minute to watch this video before you read what was said, and who was speaking.

The speaker on stage is Dab Daeng, a serving officer with the Royal Thai Police Force, and a high ranking official of the UDD pro-government movement (Red Shirts).
This is what he said:

"I have good news to tell my Red Shirt brothers and sisters. The People’s Democratic Reform Committee members at the protest stage in Khao Saming in Trat province were deservedly given a reception by the locals. Five of the PDRC supporters were killed and over 30 have been injured"

This speech came from a serving Officer of the Royal Thai Police Force, an Officer from the force responsible for investigating the crime, and was jubilantly applauded by 4,000 citizens and two Government Ministers. To put this into a British context, it would be like the Foreign Minister and Home Secretary cheering a speech by a Chief Constable declaring that the Dunblane massacre was a glorious victory for England.
This video went viral across Thailand and the reaction to it, and even the reaction to the deaths of these two young children, and the three other children who were killed in another fragmentation grenade attack the very next day, was divided along party lines.

The hatred that has been created by the leaders of the two political factions is now far stronger than their followers underlying love for Thailand itself.

Post 394: Vientiane - Vang Vieng - Laos PDR: Posted 21st February 2014

When the Thai Government opened their new Immigration Office on Chang Wattana Road, life became an awful lot easier for me.  Efficient, organised, air conditioned and just a stone’s throw away from my apartment.  No more travelling across town to wait in a disorganised queue in order to extend my tourist visa. Then, along came the Anti-Government protest and all access to the new and improved Immigration Office was blocked. That for me was a personal inconvenience, but rightly or wrongly, the protesters were seeking to shape the democratic future of a nation, 65 million people, so I thought it best to keep everything in perspective. So, once again, in order to remain in Thailand, I first had to leave.

When I travel to Laos, I usually take the overnight bus from Bangkok to Nong Khai - VIP Service, twelve hours onboard for around 650 Thai Baht. However, perhaps as a result of the political crisis, Air Asia were offering some amazing deals and if I could travel with just hand luggage, the one hour flight would cost just 800 Thai Baht - $27. There was really no contest, so I hopped onto a taxi-bike and headed to Don Meuang Airport for the one hour flight north to Udon Thani.
(Laos Kip ... feeling rich)
 After landing at Udon Thani, a minivan whisked me directly to the border crossing – Thai Friendship Bridge - and an hour later I was enjoying my first Beer Lao at the Chokdee Cafe overlooking the Mekong River in Vientiane. The sun was shining, the beer was cold, and having changed $200 into the local currency, I had 1,650,000 Lao Kip in my pocket. I really do enjoy spending time in Vientiane before heading north into the country. For a capital city, Vientiane has a homely village feel ling about it and relaxation comes easy. It’s a city that’s changing, rapidly, with money flowing into infrastructure projects, many that possibly threaten the atmosphere of the city, but I guess that change is inevitable and I’ll enjoy the ambience while it lasts.     

On previous visits to Laos, I’ve rented a scooter in Vientiane and then headed north. However, if you wish to take your rented scooter beyond the city limits then you’ll be charged double the daily rental price. That price is still reasonable, but it’s much easier to take the bus to Vang Vieng and rent a local scooter when you arrive.
Vang Vieng is 150km north of Vientiane, about four hours on the bus and $2 in expense.  Most tourists seem to bypass Vang Vieng in favour of Luang Prabang a further 150km to the north. That might not be good news for the local economy in Vang Vieng, but it works for me. Rooms, food and beer are plentiful and cheap, and the views of the phallic mountains are breathtaking.
(Early morning balloon over Vang Vieng)
(Amazing sunsets at Vang Vieng)
In order to explore independently, a scooter is really the best option. Larger bikes are available, but to be honest, the Chinese copies of the 110cc Honda Wave’s are all you’ll really need. They’re easy to ride, indestructible, will go absolutely anywhere and cost around $4 per day. Mornings and evenings are cooler, and probably the best time to explore. You could use a map, and head for highlighted attractions – swimming holes, caves, mountain lookouts etc – but I prefer to go freestyle. I just head off around the paddy, across the rivers, and see where random tracks will take me. Whichever direction you take, you’ll meet people, structures and geographical anomalies that constantly draw you in and plant questions in your mind.  
(Local kids doing what what local kids do)
(Random caves to explore, alone of with guides, according to your level of bravery)
All in all, I spent 10 relaxing days in Laos, mostly in and around Vang Vieng. I ate well, stayed in decent rooms with en suite bathrooms, rented scooters and drank beer to capacity. The VIP bus service back to Vientiane wasn’t all that I’d hoped for, but as I’d spent less than $200 on the entire holiday, I’m not going to complain.
(VIP Bus Service?) 

Post 393: Horizons Unlimited Meeting: Chiang Mai January 2014

For the New Year’s holiday, I travelled north to the rural town of Phi Chit. I like Phi Chit, it’s a warm and sleepy sort of town way up in Rice Country where the people are relaxed but the living ain’t easy. But, it’s also 500Km away from the equally warm but far less sleepy district of Lak Si, the place that I call ‘home’  when I’m here  in Thailand. I really ought to have taken the VIP bus with its reclining seats, air conditioning and flat screen TV, but because I’m me, I decided to ride there instead. For a small Scooter, the Tiger Retro coped unreasonably well with the journey, but the rider failed miserably. I hate to admit it, but my joints aren’t as supple as they used to be and the ergonomics of the diminutive Tiger puts my feet far too close to my arse for comfort. I should really take a daily dose of cod liver oil, or something else that’s supposed to combat arthritis, but I don’t, and my recovery times are starting to increase, dramatically. I must be crazy for not taking the bus, or the train, or maybe I’m just too broke or mean to buy a more appropriate style of motorcycle. To be honest, I think that in a secret non kinky kind of way, I actually enjoy the being alive feeling that the pain induces. Anyway, as soon as I’d returned to Bangkok in early January, I decided to turn around and ride up to Chiang Mai for the 2014 Horizons Unlimited travellers meeting.
Chiang Mai is around 800Km to the north of Bangkok, but taking the scenic route stretches that to just over a thousand.  I could’ve booked a $20 flight with Air Asia, just like my more sensible better-half, but I didn’t. I just changed the oil in the Tiger, rubbed some liniment into my wounded hips and knees, fastened the bamboo baskets to the rear carrier, and starting riding north.
I’ll spare you the drama, of which there was thankfully very little, but two days after leaving Bangkok I arrived at Rider’s Corner in Chiang Mai with an urgent need for cold beer and a pair of replacement metal hips. I tell you, Tiger’s can do some serious damage to an old man like me.
Of all the Horizons Unlimited meetings that I’ve attended, Chiang Mai‘s probably my favourite gathering. The people tend to be locals, riders with some serious knowledge on the best local riding trails or serious travellers who are partway through their own amazing journeys. And, I don’t mind telling you, both groups certainly have a penchant for drinking beer and chewing that overland fat.
Wandering around the Rider’s Corner car park, not really to inspect the metal, but more as a form of exercise designed to keep my seizing joints in motion, I spotted a familiar looking motorcycle. At first glance I’d thought that it was ‘Dorothy’: Nathan Millward’s Australian Postal Bike that he famously rode back to England, but I was wrong. It was a Postal Bike fitted with a similar looking Honda XR fuel tank, but this one belonged to Robin Thomas, an Australian making his overland way to absolutely nowhere in particular. I have to admit, I do like that sort of journey. You’re a free spirit with no fixed destination or timetable, so you’re always on time and you never get lost.
 The most travelled motorcycle in attendance was a 750cc Africa Twin from Russia, via almost everywhere. It’s difficult to say where he’d been, or more economically where he hadn’t been, but I can say without fear of contradiction that it was widest motorcycle that I’ve ever seen. Its ample rear end features prominently in the second photograph above ... The wide one to the right.
The best thing about the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Chiang Mai is the beer fuelled camaraderie and Rider’s Corner’s amazing food, but the worst thing is the end of it all. It’s always sad to say goodbye to friends, but when you’re looking at another thousand kilometres on a Tiger Retro it brings additional tears to the eye.
 In 2013, I’d returned to Bangkok in one long and very painful journey, a metric Iron Butt, but lessons had been learnt the hard way and this time it would be slightly more sedate.  With the baskets filled with bags of tasty pork scratchings, a story that’s far too long to tell here, I rose early and started riding south. For some reason I never get punctures when I’m heading north, but I seem to make up for it when I’m heading south.  The photograph above was the second puncture of the day. Luckily I’d wobbled to a halt right next to a tyre fitting shop, but unluckily, it was closed. Doubly unlucky, the local dogs were very much attracted by the smell of pork scratchings and did their very best to hamper my already unprofessional tyre changing skills. 
Thankfully, the other two punctures both happened within short pushing distances of a tyre fitter and on both occasions my energy was saved.  Next year I’ll go back to the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Chiang Mai, but I fear that the Tiger Retro won’t be joining me. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the cute little thing, but unless my legs shrink in the next twelve months, I’ll be looking for a slightly taller ride..... or an air ticket. Mai pen rai kap  

Post 392: Political Problems in Paradise .. Posted 7th December 2013

Once upon a time, in a constitutional monarchy not so far away, a series of unfortunate political events were unfolding ......
In order to explain the current political turmoil in Thailand, which is like trying to explain the unexplainable, you need to find an appropriate place to begin. However, no matter where you start there’ll always be a day before, a day when something of political significance happened. Because, when it comes to political unrest, Thailand has more history than most. Since the dissolution of the absolute monarchy in 1932, only one Thai prime minister has ever managed to serve a full term in office and Thailand has experienced more military coups than any other nation on earth. Given that unenviable history, I’ll begin with that one prime minister, the one man that most people will recognise, Thaksin Shinawatra, or as the fans of Manchester City used to call him, Frank.
So, billionaire telecommunications mogul Thaksin Shinawatra became the first prime minister to serve a full term in office: 2001 to 2006. However, although he implemented policies that certainly improved the lives of many people, especially those in rural farming communities of the North and North East, his premiership was controversial and climaxed in 2006 with another military coup. Accusations of treason, corruption, cronyism, unusual accumulation of wealth and undeclared assets whilst in office, suppression of the media, fiscal negligence and tax evasion had flourished during his premiership and in 2008, tow years after leaving office, Thaksin was found guilty on charges of corruption. Perhaps fearing that the court's decision might not go in his favour, Thaksin wasn’t in court to hear the verdict and hasn’t returned to Thailand since. A year before his conviction, Thaksin had purchased Manchester City Football Club, but his subsequent application for asylum in the UK was denied by the British government. Thaksin sold Manchester City, was then ousted from its board and eventually settled in Dubai, and strangely, became a citizen of Montenegro. Shortly after the court’s verdict in Bangkok, Thaksin was sentenced to two years in prison and had personal assets to the value of $2.2 Billion frozen. 
Between 2008 and 2011, the Thai political landscape seemed to be dominated by supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the Red Shirts, in constant confrontation with supporters of the Democrats, the Yellow Shirts, and vice versa. In December 2008, Yellow Shirts famously occupied Bangkok’s two main airports and their actions eventually led to the dissolution of parliament and the appointment of a Democrat led government. In April /May of 2010, thousands of Thaksin supporters wearing their famous Red Shirts then occupied the business district of Bangkok. They were protesting against the military appointed Democrat led government of Abhisit Vejjajiva and demanding new and fair elections for Thailand. After six weeks of mostly peaceful occupation, the military moved into the main protest site and ninety people were killed by gunfire and many more were injured.
Roll forward to July 2011, the Democrat government steps down and opens the door for new and 'fair' elections. Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party has been legally disbanded by the courts, its successor the People’s Power Party has also been outlawed on the grounds that it was Thai Rak Thai under a different name, and the latest incarnation, the Pheu Thai Party, wins the general election. Thailand had just voted for its first ever female prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s youngest sister. 
 The fact that the Pheu Thai Party won the 2011 general election wasn’t really a surprise. The Thaksin years had cemented support in the rural areas of the North and in the poorer quarters of Bangkok and the people had voted in great numbers. However, to many people, inside Thailand and beyond, Yingluck Shinawatra was virtually unknown. Many supporters of the defeated Democrat Party suggested that Yingluck was simply a puppet for her exiled brother, that Thaksin himself was holding the reins of power and that in a very short space of time, he’d be back in Thailand with his conviction for corruption overturned and his fortune restored. It’s true that Yingluck hadn’t actually entered politics until just a month before she was elected prime minister, but the Democrats appeared to have very little evidence to support any of their claims. However, confidential documents supporting their claims may have recently surfaced via whistle-blower Edward Snowden, but I haven't seen them and given where I am, I wouldn't like to comment further.  
Yingluck Shinawatra’s first two years in office were to say the least, turbulent. Shortly after becoming prime minister, Bangkok famously flooded causing the recovering economy to stutter. A relaxing of credit rules and a new car incentive scheme designed to stimulate economic growth added to the increasing debt burden of households and a rice purchasing scheme to support the rural farmers in the North seemed to seriously deplete the nation's coffers. Things were difficult, but Yingluck seemed confident that her policies were leading Thailand in the right direction and her supporters continued to stand by her.
Then, on the basis that they’d given the orders for the military to disperse the 2010 protests in the business district of Bangkok, the current leader and former deputy leader of the Democrat Party, Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban, were charged with murder and warrants issued for their arrest.  This act clearly pleased the Red Shirt followers of the Pheu Thai Party who demanded justice, but angered the Yellow Shirt Democrat supporters who claimed that the charges were simply politically motivated.
At around this time, the governing Pheu Thai Party presented a bill to parliament, a bill that Yingluck stated would help in the healing process and bring about reconciliation for all political parties and supporters. The bill became known as The Amnesty Bill. The bill was presented to parliament, and then amended, and then proposed again. Because the Amnesty Bill would clear Abhisit and Suthep of their recent murder charges, it seemed that the opposition Democrat Party would support it. However, once details of the proposed bill were made public, the people, Red and Yellow, reacted with anger. The Red’s didn’t want Abhisit or Suthep to avoid responsibility for the deaths in 2010, and the Yellow’s, well, they looked deeper into the bill and found something slightly more alarming. The bill had been amended in such a way that Thaksin Shinawatra would also be cleared of all charges, proven and pending, and would allow him to return to Thailand and reclaim his seized fortune of $2.2 Billion. Red and Yellow were angered by different elements of the Amnesty Bill, but both seemed untied in their anger at the perceived deception by their own elected government. 
Throughout November, demonstrators have been taking to the streets of Bangkok, waving their banners, blowing their whistles and demanding that the Amnesty Bill is defeated. Red and Yellow for the first time united? Well, almost. In response to the protests, parliament asked the senate to vote down the Amnesty Bill, and thankfully for all of the people concerned, they did. However, the story doesn’t end there. In fact, it’s really just beginning.
As the Amnesty Bill was buried, instead of dispersing and allowing government to continue its work until the next national election, the protests continued. Unsatisfied with simply defeating the Amnesty Bill, former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban is still out on the streets of Bangkok, vociferously urging his supporters to continue their anti-government protests. Suthep’s current objective is to force Yingluck Shinawatra to resign and to have the democratically elected parliament dissolved. In its place, Suthep is demanding an unelected council that will govern Thailand for the foreseeable future, I suspect with himself at the head of it.
The Pheu Thai government and half of the media are claiming that Suthep's demands go directly against the constitution and a warrant for his arrest has been issued. However, getting the police or the military to serve that warrant might prove to be difficult. Thus far, the army has remained in barracks and the police have dealt with the protests, in most cases, with velvet gloves.
But, and it's a big but, Suthep has today publicly called for Monday 9th of December to be D-Day, the day that he brings down the democratically elected government of Thailand. Let's hope that this all ends peacefully, because when politicians start openly playing with matches, it's usually the innocent who get burnt.      

Post 391: Laos PDR .. Posted - 27th November 2013

I arrived safely in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos PDR. The bus journey to the North East of Thailand wasn’t great, but at just $15 it was difficult to justify the additional expense of flying. At Nong Khai bus station the Sam Lor, a three wheeled taxi-bike, whisked me to the Friendship Bridge and crossing the border into Laos had been easy. Given the early hour, I’d expected the Mekong crossing to be quiet, but it was far busier than I’d expected. Crossing the bridge with me were large groups of Thais, traders heading to the markets of Vientiane to buy stock for their respective stores back in Thailand. That didn’t surprise me at all, but what I found coming in the opposite direction, well, that was slightly unexpected. Small groups of sweet painted ladies, girls heading home after a night or weekend of commercial activity in Laos. Their shorter skirts and broader smiles set them apart from the locals, and a certain understanding of the laws in Laos, well, that kind of confirmed that the girls were Thai. I’m not here to pass judgement, but if there is an adult entertainment market in Vientiane, then it’s thankfully underground and discreet .... mai pen rai kap  
Over the years I’ve developed certain personal rules for travelling, and one of those rules involves a Country’s approach to the provision of electricity to its people. Basically, if a country can afford to bury its electricity cables, then it’s probably a little too expensive, and quite frankly a little too dull, for Poor Circulation. Thankfully, despite massive economic and structural development over recent years, Laos and Vientiane Capital have made absolutely no attempt to break that rule.
For a capital city that’s home to almost a million people, Vientiane still has a village feel about it. The atmosphere is gentle and relaxed, the people seem not to rush and although traffic volumes are rapidly increasing, walking or cycling is still the best way to explore.  
The influence of the French is obvious, and everywhere. The old colonial buildings nestle comfortably in the growing shadows of modern office buildings, the language of visitor’s seems to be French and the food is a cultural mix of East and West.
 Today, it’s almost impossible to visit any capital city without being overwhelmed by advertising for McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and Starbucks et al. But, you won’t find any of that here. In Laos there are very few Super Markets selling convenience foods and Fast-Food outlets simply don’t exist. Along with the absence of McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut, there’s also a visual absence of obesity and a statistical absence of diabetes. I wonder if those things are in anyway related?

Post 390: Leaving Thailand ... Temporarily - Posted 19th November 2013

 I’ve no idea where the time goes. It seems that I arrived in Thailand only yesterday, but already it’s time to leave. Ironically, in order to remain in Thailand, I first have to leave. I’m heading to the bus station, the start of a journey into Laos. It’ll take ten hours on the overnight bus, and then another hour to cross the border at The Friendship Bridge that spans the Mekong River between Nong Khai on the Thai side and Vientiane Capital over in Laos. 
I’ll visit the Thai Embassy in Vientiane and hopefully, receive a double entry 60 day visa for Thailand. It means that after I come back into Thailand, I’ll be able to stay for 60 days before crossing another border, probably into Cambodia. It’s an administrative headache, but it’s not optional, so I’ll make the most of the opportunity and do a little more exploring in Laos. 
Last night in Thailand, it was the festival of Loy Krathong. I’ve written about the Loy Krathong Festival before, so I won’t bore you with details, but this year, well, things have moved on slightly. 

When you gently launch your Krathong, a decorated float made from banana trunk and leaves, into the canal, it carries away the ‘bad’ parts of your person and the coins placed on the float are meant to bring you good fortune for the coming year. In previous years, enterprising young kids would swim in the filthy waters of the canal and taken the coins out of the boats. This year, those same kids have become more enterprising. 
The young girl in the water charges 20 Thai Baht to launch your Krathong into the middle of the canal, far away from the other swimming money collectors. It sounds like good value because after all, the coins in your Krathong are going to bring good fortune. Good Fortune yes, but probably not for you.  From the shadows, a small boat emerges, a boat containing other members of the girl’s family. In the central waters of the canal a hundred yards downstream, they meticulously remove every coin from every Krathong.
Maybe that's why I'm destined to remain poor? ... mai pen rai kap 

Post 389: Home Sweet Home? ... Posted 3rd November 2013

I should really start riding. The Tiger Retro’s ready to go and the roads are calling, but something’s holding me back. I’ve been here for a week and the truth is, I’ve been absolutely nowhere. Okay, I’ve ridden to the market at Chat-u-Chak, and that’s a hell of a place to visit, and I’ve been to Chang Wattana Soi 14 for some amazing Street-Food, but apart from that, I really haven’t been anywhere. For the first few days I’d thought jetlag was holding me back, or laziness, or even that I’d caught some God awful disease, but maybe, maybe it’s actually worse than that.
 It seems that I’ve spent my entire adult life in a hurry, usually racing motorcycles from one destination to another. Sometimes that was for work, the way that I earned my living as a Despatch Rider in London, but more recently, it’s been overland travelling for pleasure. It’s been fun, and I’ve visited some amazingly wonderful places, but the process of racing between those places means that I’ve totally bypassed a lot of the really good stuff. The funny thing is, it’s only now that I’m beginning to realise just how much I’ve missed. Now that I’m on the wrong side of fifty, the life that once seemed eternal must be approaching its twilight, or perhaps it’s already there. Who knows?  Anyway, the truth is, I’ve changed.

When I arrived back in Lak Si, it wasn’t jetlag or laziness that stopped me from hitting the highway, it was roots. I swore that it wouldn’t happen, but it has. I’ve found a location and a community that I care about, a place that I could easily call home. Sure, there are lots of places that I love, places that I’d like to settle down, Boonville for example, but here in Lak Si I feel that I can actually make a difference. I’ve certainly spent time with less privileged people than I find here in the Northern district of Bangkok - the displaced people of the Hmong and Karen on the Northern borders of Thailand for example - and I’ve witnessed atrocities that can’t be mentioned in this blog, but here in Lak Si, well, things are different.  
I’m no richer than the average resident here so I certainly can’t help them financially, and aside from a knowledge of English I’ve no skills to share that they don’t already have, but there seems to be something that I can contribute. That something is basically, Time. I take time to stop and talk with people, and fleeting as it is, that seems to make a difference to their lives.  
Within a square mile of my apartment, there's enough to occupy the mind and soul of any traveller. It’s difficult to explain, and maybe in the coming weeks I’ll find the right words, but the truth is that I’m in no great hurry to ride away from here .. mai pen rai kap 

Post 388: Travelling West to the East .. Posted 30th October 2013

I swear, the flight from San Francisco to Bangkok takes at least a year. EVA Air do their best, but I honestly didn’t buy the ticket because EVA have the largest economy seats. No, I certainly didn’t. I chose EVA Air because they were the cheapest, no other reason. Thankfully when it comes to air travel, ‘cheap’ doesn’t mean ‘unsafe’, but it can mean ‘uncomfortable’. Looking on the bright side, even at half the price, EVA Air is still twice as accommodating as United or American. Travelling West to get to the East, I fly for 18 hours and arrive 36 hours after take-off. Crossing the International Date-Line, well, that really screws-up the body-clock. Compared to many airports, aiprots where Terminal really does feel like Terminal, arriving at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport is an absolute joy. Walking from the Arrival Gate to Immigration you’ll pass four ‘Smoking Rooms’, important for some but not for others, and all of the Duty Free Shops before joining the queue for Arrivals.

Several aircraft have arrived at the same time, but the line of people keeps moving. With my Arrivals Card completed, I find myself standing in front of the smiling Immigration Officer. That’s right, he’s smiling. Looking into the mushroom camera, he snaps my likeness and flicks diligently through my almost full passport. Back to front, front to back. I like what he’s doing, it shows that he cares. He could take the easy option and stamp an empty page, but what’s easy for him would be unhelpful for me. It’s almost as if he’s read Pirsig’s Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and he’s applying Quality to his task. Finally he finds what he’s looking for. He looks at me and raises a questioning eyebrow? I nod and smile my thanks. Carefully, he places the rubber stamp on a page that has just enough space for an Entry and Exit stamp. He presses down and hands back my documents - ‘Welcome to Thailand Mr Thomas’.
At Baggage Carrousel 20, my tote bag is right in front of me, no waiting required. Green Lane, nothing to declare and nobody cares to check. A hundred Taxi-Touts, smiling and shouting, easily ignored. Down to Level 1, where the Meter Taxis are waiting: ‘Wat Lak Si, Highway Kap’, I talk like a native. A forty minute journey, a little conversation and $8 exchanged, I arrive at my apartment. Nothing seems to have changed. Have I really been away for six months?

Post 387: Summer in Boonville ... Posted October 11th 2013

After 150 days in Boonville it’s time to start moving on. In many ways it’s been a very productive summer, but in other ways, not so much. The first months of summer were spent navigating my way through the minefield of publishing, a journey that reminded me of trying to leave Russia with the Triumph Tiger. Lots of false hope, a good many 'maybe’s' and lots of dead-ends, but eventually things did get accomplished. With the help of Lemon Fresh Design and The Ted Simon Foundation, towards the end of August the first book in the Poor Circulation trilogy was finally published: Ashes to Boonville. I can’t tell you how excited I felt when I collected that first case of books from the post office, Well, I could tell you but you probably wouldn’t believe me. You’d probably think that I was being childish, over reacting, and you might be right. But, it really was an exciting day.
I donated a number of books to Loretta at the local bookstore, Laughing Dog Books. I like bookstores, especially those that are small and quirky, and Laughing Dog Books is certainly that. A few days later I looked in the window and almost fell on my arse with shock. Ashes to Boonville was on display, nestled between books by JK Rowling and Will Self. Me, sitting between two amazingly famous writers? I was certainly flattered. Loretta told me that the book was ’selling well’, though in Boonville terms, I’m not entirely sure what that means. Actually, I’m not even sure if I want it to be ‘selling well’ , at least not in a bookstore, even in a bookstore as nice as Loretta’s. I know I’m being selfish, but sales in bookstores might be good for a writer's ego, but they’re fatal for the bank balance. Of course, I didn’t write the book to make money, I’m not that stupid, but I’d at least hoped to cover my costs. Anyway, I hope that the local’s here aren’t too disappointed when they read Ashes to Boonville, because it isn’t really about Boonville, it’s just about the overland journey to get here. Perhaps they’ll prefer the 2nd book, Homeward Bound, because that is about Boonville? Well, at least the first three chapters are.  
I’m not sure if I’m getting old, or if I’m just getting lazy. Everyday I’ve been writing, sometimes way into the early hours of the morning, but you couldn’t really call that ‘work’. I’ve written a few articles for UK magazines and most of the chapters for the 2nd book, but that’s probably not a lot to show for my 150 days of opportunity. If I had a normal job then I'd probably be a lot more productive, and I'd appreciate my writing time more, but I don't, so the hours, days and weeks just seem to blend into one another. I’m not sure what I’ve achieved, or where the time’s gone, but Autumn’s already here and the lazy day’s of summer have simply vanished into an ocean of idleness. Sure, earlier in the summer I was a little help to the family here in Boonville, helping with the house-build and caring for their growing herd of livestock, but it really wasn’t a great deal. The truth is, they’re working on an ever tightening budget and when materials aren’t available, it’s difficult to build anything. But you know what, that doesn’t seem to phase them. It would totally freak me out, because I really don’t handle responsibility well, but they just seem to smile and get on with it. This summer they’ve managed to build the decks on the upper levels of the house, and some internal plastering and wiring, but there’s still an awful lot more to be done. Their home will get finished, finished in a Boonville way, but I'm not sure if anybody would be brave or foolish enough to suggest an actual completion date.         
I’m probably telling you things that you honestly don’t need to know, but I’m telling you anyway. You see, I’m becoming very forgetful and if I don’t write these things down, then I just seem to lose them. I can remember the shirt that I wore for my first day at Corporation Road Junior School, and even how many buttons it had and why I hated it so much, but I’d struggle to tell you what I ate for dinner last night. I used to keep a diary, religiously updating it every evening, but I don’t do that now. I really don’t like paper anymore. It’s not about how paper looks or feels, it’s more about how much it weighs and how much space it takes up in my luggage. Luggage is baggage and I’m bored with it. I should blame my growing forgetfulness on old age, but I don’t. I’m blaming gluten, because it’s an easier target to aim at. In SE Asia I don’t really eat gluten, I only drink it in beer. But since I arrived here in America, everything I've eaten has been wrapped in either pastry or bread, and usually washed down with beer. Gluten overload, not old age, that’s the culprit. I’ve been gluten-free for three weeks now, and I actually feel better for it. I've discovered the Boont Berry Farm Market & Deli here in downtown Boonville, and it's great for gluten free food. It's actually great for a lot of things, even if it's just chatting with the amazingly eccentric members of staff, but I particularly enjoy the organic gluten free meals that they serve. That’s probably something else that you didn’t need to know, but I’ve told you anyway.            

I’ve bought my air-ticket out of here. EVA Airlines, San Francisco to Bangkok via Taipei. I had to buy the ticket at a travel agent, on account of not having a credit card, but I really don’t like travel agents. In England, travel agents are quite large and glossy, but here in America they’re a little bit different. Cold stark offices with a computer screen that they never let you see and a lot of out-of-date brochures for places that you’re never likely to visit. They don’t give me confidence and I’m always worried that they’ll somehow rip me-off. It’s silly really, but it’s just the way I am. Anyway, I found such a travel agent in Ukiah, and the ticket was almost $150 less than I would have paid if I’d bought the same ticket on-line. That made me happy, so I gave the young travel agent a copy of my book. I doubt that she’ll read it, she didn’t strike me as the reading type, but I gave it to her and it seemed to make her smile. I’ll arrive in Bangkok for the last week in October, and I’ll have to knuckle down to some serious work. I need to write more articles and do something about promoting book sales in England. I might be gluten-free, but a man’s still got to eat.