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 400: 'Homeward Bound' Poor Circulation II ... Posted July 30th 2014

This morning we left an old and dear friend behind us. We turned our backs on the Pacific Coast Highway and turned inland on Highway 128: ‘Boonville 25 Miles’. It’s a sweetly paved ribbon of road that’s bordered on both sides by giant redwoods. They’re the tallest trees that I’ve ever seen and quite possibly, the oldest too. They look like a ceremonial guard, pencil-straight with dark red tunics and pointed green helmets, proudly standing to attention and welcoming us into California’s Anderson Valley. With the constant twisting of the asphalt beneath our wheels and the sweet heavy scent of the early morning forest, the dappled shade from the giant trees and the total absence of traffic, we’re discovering another valid contender for the world’s best motorcycling road. It’s another road that I never want to end, but sadly, that desire for infinity has little to do with its beauty or suitability for motorcycles.  
BOONVIILLE A Novel by Robert Mailer Anderson. Most books that I’ve read have had little to do with the reality of my life. They’ve generally been works of fiction, stories set in times and places that were a thousand years, or a thousand miles, away from me. But, this book was different and it’s proximity had disturbed me. After turning the final page, I’d returned to Amazon and found myself agreeing with exactly half of the reviews. I’d found five stars and one star, love and hate with absolutely nothing in the middle. If novels were food then Anderson had written the literary equivalent of Marmite. Anderson’s BOONVILLE is a small community of seven-hundred and fifteen ill-sorted souls in Northern California; peace loving hippies, gun loving rednecks and self-exiled Mexicans who’d possibly avoided the official count. The novel had introduced me to a disparate cocktail of humanity, on-third depression and two-thirds insanity, shaken for decades before being gently stirred and violently kicked into an unwelcoming twenty-first century. BOONVILLE was a town that had once been dominated by hard-drinking loggers, and then by hippies who’d arrived in search of love and togetherness, but discovered marijuana and stayed on in the hills long after the music had ended. Anderson’s writing was almost as quirky as the town, and as edgy as the people he’d portrayed, and long before turning that final page I’d concluded that for any traveller with the luxury of choice, BOONVILLE would be an easy town to avoid. However, on this particular journey, spending a certain amount of time in Boonville was never going to be optional.
I should be enjoying the final few miles of our journey together, but I’m not. My mind’s in a strange place right now, ignoring the beauty of the road and concentrating instead on the darker images of Boonville. They’re images that Mom had failed to mention, that I’d totally missed and that Dad had never had the opportunity to see. I adjust my nearside mirror and get a clearer view of the topbox behind me. Dad’s offering me his most unconvincing smile and Mom’s just telling me not to worry. Their efforts are kind and well meaning, but they’re not really helping. I can already see Anderson’s characters preparing to greet us, rolling their joints and combing their beards, tuning their banjos and liberally greasing the prettiest pigs in town. We’re twenty miles from Boonville and we’ve travelled twenty thousand miles to get here, but I’m mentally unprepared for arrival. I back-off the throttle, slow down the pace and encourage my mind to concentrate on the present.

The road continues to twist but the redwoods gently thin as the bleached golden hills transform into luscious green vineyards: Handley Cellars, Roederer Estate, Husch Winery and Navarro Vineyards, all regimentally green and rustically polished. Between the numerous vineyards, sheep and horses graze in dusty meadows, and in ancient orchards, apples thrive on gnarly trees. Roadside signs, hand painted with lots of love and random apostrophes, announce the sale of fresh organic produce; apples, peaches, pears, figs, olives.  This is clearly an abundant valley with good food, fine wines and more importantly, a soon to be united family. In perfect unison, we bank to the left passing a large wooden house and an invisible cloak of marijuana adds substance to the damp morning air. Life seems to be good around here.

 Five miles short of Boonville, we slow to 30mph for the small town of Philo. The Post Office, Libby’s Mexican Restaurant and Lemon’s Market line one side of the street and on the other, a small gas station and a random cluster of slightly neglected wooden huts. The huts probably act as cheerless homes for migrant workers, Anderson’s uncounted Mexicans, those who toil in the vineyards in the hope of building a brighter future for their families here in land of opportunity. There are perhaps five or six assorted huts and a couple of small single storey houses on either side of the road, but surely insufficient homes to justify this tiny no-horse town having its own bloody Post Office?

In a flash, the town of Philo is behind us and the road ahead begins to straighten. Beyond the eye catching white picket fence of Goldeneye Winery, we begin our final descent into Boonville. Arm doors and cross-check for landing.

www.justgiving.com/geoffgthomas

Post 399: Thailand Democracy RIP? - Posted 29th May 2014


‘A week is a long time in politics’. It appears that in Thailand, a week is also a very long time without politics, or at least without government. Since the military announced a state of martial law on May 20th 2014, closely followed by a coup, it seems that much in the Land of Smiles has changed, including perhaps, my own views on democracy. 
As an individual I firmly believe in democracy, and as a liberal standing somewhere to the left of centre, I firmly believe in freedom of speech, fairness and equality for all citizens. So, after less than two weeks of military leadership in Thailand, why do I now feel that it’s probably the best thing that could have happened here? Don't get me wrong, that's not a personal show of support for military intervention, but a reflection of how bad Thailand's alternatives really were.
A few years ago, I was deeply in love with my latest motorcycle, a BMW R1100SS. Deep red paint with bags of torque and a lusty exhaust note, it was a bike that constantly reminded me of everything that was good about motorcycles. I was working as a motorcycle despatch rider in London, a difficult test for any bike, but that BMW turned every working day into an absolute pleasure. Sadly, a despatch rider’s income and BMW ownership were never an ideal pairing and as the mileage mounted, things started to go wrong. Small things at first; electrical niggles, brake issues, suspension glitches - things that didn’t stop the bike in its tracks but issues that I really ought to have fixed as they arose. But, being amazingly lazy and ever so slightly broke, I decided to ignore them and ride around the problems. Finally the clutch, which had been slipping for weeks, finally gave up on the task of delivering 100bhp to the rear wheel. On many bikes, replacing the clutch is a relatively simple task, but this was a BMW. Off came the exhaust system, the catalytic converter and the rear wheel. Then, out came the sub-frame and the shaft drive assembly, followed by the swing arm and rear suspension unit. Finally, I reached the burned-out clutch and set about replacing it. My journey towards the depths of the BMW's problematic clutch was a journey into the unknown, a true mechanical voyage of discovery. With BMW tools being unique to a BMW, and my own tools being universal to everything but a BMW, the process ended up taking two weeks to complete and during that time, I was forced into using a slightly different mode of transport.   
To non enthusiasts, all motorcycles are recognisable as motorcycles, but as enthusiasts, we know that beneath the visual outer skin, or the identifying symbol on the tank, they’re all amazingly different beasts. Democracy is the same. In Thailand the democratic clutch had burned out and no amount of cursing, kicking tyres or adding fresh oil was ever going to fix it. To the outside world it still looked like a democracy, but in mechanical terms it was absolutely unrideable and the only option was to rebuild it. If Thailand's democratic problems had arisen in Europe, then I'm confident that the courts and media would have done their jobs and called-out the politicians long before things had been allowed to deteriorate that far. But Thailand’s in Asia, a continent where democracy has a certain ‘uniqueness’ and is often seen by politicians as having little, if anything, to do with following the law or abiding by the decisions of the courts. 
For those people following the current reports and editorials in much of the Western media, you’d be forgiven for believing that the ousted government had no sins, and that once elected they'd followed a true path of democratic rule. You’d also be led to believe that democracy in Thailand was now dead, but it’s not, it’s just temporarily off the road and undergoing much needed and long overdue repairs. In two weeks, many good things have happened in Thailand and the military leadership seems to be gaining increasing support from the people, North, South and Central, but the Western media seem to be concentrating only on the negatives. The negatives certainly exist, and small groups, so far, have certainly taken to the streets to show opposition to the coup, but the true feeling within Thailand is far different from the West’s portrayal of it. Of course, most people fundamentally disagree with military intervention in a democratic country, but those living in Thailand are painfully aware of the alternatives. Without intervention by a third party, Thailand was undoubtedly heading for a bloody civil war, and ultimately, secession. If the West had been half as observant and critical of Thailand's elected politicians as it now is about the unelected military, then I firmly believe that the need for military intervention would have been avoided. 'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing'. Burke, Aked, Kennedy? There's doubt as to who first uttered this famous sentence, but there's no doubt that it's applicable to Thailand's spiral into democratic immorality.

In time, working democracy and free elections will return to Thailand, and when they do, suspension, engine, electronics, brakes, gearbox and clutch will hopefully all work far better than they ever did before.   

Post 398: Martial Law to Military Coup in Thailand – Posted 23rd May 2014

Within 72 hours of declaring Martial Law, Thailand’s Army Chief, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, has dismissed the caretaker government and placed the military in control of Thailand, another Military Coup in the famous Land of Smiles. Three days ago I said “It’s still early days and I'm not certain if there's a measureable distance between Martial Law and Military Coup, so things may quickly change”. However, I really didn’t expect things to change quite as quickly as they have. So what happened in those 72 hours, and, what made General Prayuth feel the need to take control not only of the Kingdom’s security, but also control of its government? 
On Tuesday, following the imposition of Martial Law, General Prayuth invited all leading political figures to attend a meeting to be hosted at Bangkok’s Army Club. This was the first meeting of all relevant parties since the start of the political unrest seven months ago. The aim of the meeting was to find areas of common ground and compromise between the two main political parties, the governing Pheu Thai Party (PTP) and the opposition Democrat Party, and their supporters, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). After the meeting was adjourned, it was announced that all attendees had been ‘given homework’ and would return on Wednesday to continue their discussions. I suspect that the Generals had noted that recently ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and former executive of Shinawatra Corporation and current Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, had failed to attend the meeting.
On Wednesday, the second meeting began with Yingluck and Niwattumrong still absent. Reports suggest that after having twenty-four hours to consider the situation carefully, the various parties and factions were unable or unwilling to compromise or reach any sort of agreement. Several media channels also reported that governing Pheu Thai Party attendees stated that having discussed the content of the previous day’s meeting with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, they were unable to accept any meaningful electoral reforms until after another election had taken place. The validity of these reports is uncertain, but if General Prayuth had received direct confirmation that Thailand’s Government was indeed taking council and directions from a wanted criminal, a man living in self-imposed exile in order to escape a jail term in his native Thailand, then perhaps he’d considered that any hope of finding a direct political solution to the troubles was gone. Whatever happened, at some point in the meeting Prayuth announced that given the obvious political impasse, and the real threat of an imminent escalation in violence on the streets, the Army would be taking control of Thailand’s Government. After the meeting, representatives of the political parties and their support movements were detained by military police and placed under temporary house arrest. Several of those detained had long outstanding arrest warrants for crimes including, but not limited to, arson, incitement of terrorism, acts of terrorism, and murder. An announcement then called on 150 other officials to report to the Army Club within 24 hours and all international travel for all of the named people was prohibited. The list included the names of Yingluck Shinawatra and Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan. Thailand had just witnessed its thirteenth Military Coup in eighty-five years as a Constitutional Monarchy.
The announcement of Martial Law on Monday was swiftly followed by action. The military quickly uncovered several caches of arms in and around Greater Bangkok. The arms, described as war weapons were confiscated and the owners, mostly pro-government supporters, arrested. New investigations have been ordered into the murder of civilians during the recent political conflict and teams of military police have today confiscated thousands of documents relating to what seems to be significant money transfers by important political figures to their off-shore bank accounts. Today, the ruling military has also vowed to pay the beleaguered rice farmers all of the money that’s been owing to them from the deposed Government’s controversial and corruption fuelled Rice Pledging Scheme, a scheme that has so far cost the Kingdom, and more importantly its rice farmers, an estimated Bt450 Billion. With thirty unanswered murders and eight hundred serious injuries, many of which were caught on camera, and with weapons of war being openly stock-piled and even flaunted on the streets of Bangkok by all sides, and with billions of dollars being stolen from the mouths of the Thai people, one has to ask the question - What have the Royal Thai Police Force been doing for the last seven months?   
Since news of the Military Coup spread on Thursday, USA’s John Kerry and UN’s Ban Ki Moon have been quick to condemn the General’s action and have warned of future sanctions against Thailand if democracy is not quickly restored. Since the announcement of the Military Coup, a curfew exists across Thailand from 10pm until 5am and it’s uncertain how long this will remain in place. Initially taken from the air, TV channels are now returning and the internet has so far remained operational. Media and demonstrations now appear to be strictly controlled by the military but so far there has been very little in the way of a violent reaction to the Coup. Again it’s early days and things could quickly change, but the general feeling from friends in and around Bangkok is that they now feel far safer than before. I’m not sure if that feeling of safety qualifies as ‘hope’, hope for a resolution to the seemingly never ending problems that plague Thai politics, but it may be a good start. 
Democracy is a very emotive term, but democracy can take many different forms. North Korea, PDR Laos, Egypt, Cambodia and Zimbabwe all have democracy, but I don’t remember such outrage from the West when the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi was recently overthrown by the military in Egypt. Should Robert Mugabe be removed in Zimbabwe or Kim Jon Un in North Korea, I wonder what the West’s reaction would be? Perhaps it all depends on how ‘friendly’ the elected leader is towards the USA and its allies, and it’s safe to say that Thaksin Shinawatra and his successive proxy Governments have over the years, been very good friends indeed. I'm not suggesting that a Democrat led Government would be any better, at least under the current legal system, but I maybe they'd be less likely to waii so low to the West and spend a great deal less on lobbying.    


So, back to the question, why execute a Military Coup now? Could it be that General Prayuth saw little hope of any side giving an inch, or that the ruling government was being openly directed by the exiled Thaksin Shinawatra from his home in Dubai? Possibly, but I doubt that this alone would have convinced a seemingly reluctant General to execute a coup just three months before he was due to retire. Was it that recent calls for pro-government supporters to raise arms and fight the perceived injustice of Thailand’s courts had gained traction, and likewise the oppositions determination to stop them, and that the newly discovered arms caches were evidence that such action was moving closer and closer to Bangkok? Possibly, and allied to the first point, this might have been enough for General Prayuth to take such action. But, there may be another reason, something that is sadly inevitable but something that none of us care to mention.             

A statement from Prayuth’s spokesman early on Friday stated that ‘the General had not met with the King and had no wish to burden him at this time’.

Post 397: Once again folks ... Martial Law in Thailand - Posted 20th May 2014


On Monday 19th of May 2014, armed troops took to the streets of Bangkok and Thailand’s Army Chief, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, declared a state of Martial Law across the Kingdom. Almost immediately, the Western media expressed outrage at the General’s actions and called for Democracy and the Rule of Law to be followed. However, here in Thailand ‘Democracy’ and ‘Rule of Law’ are seen as totally unrelated concepts. Thailand has Democracy, basically a two party system similar to that in the USA, and it has Rule of Law, but each of the political parties seems to believe in one, but not the other. Actually, to call them Political Parties would be wrong. They’re actually nothing more than huge business conglomerates. On the left you have the new-money Shinawatra Corporation and on the right, old-money Bangkok PLC. In fact, the best thing that I could say about Politicians in Thailand is that they make Western Politicians look trustworthy. Well, almost.   
Over the course of seven months, Thailand has been transformed into a dangerous powder keg, a huge stick of dynamite searching for a match. This coming weekend, 24th - 26th of May, it’s likely that the coming together of Pro and Anti Government movements in Bangkok would have lit the deadly tapper. During this current period of political unrest, with thirty deaths and eight hundred serious injuries, the police have done little to stem the violence, or to bring those responsible for the violence to justice. When the Constitutional Court recently decided, unanimously, that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was guilty of abusing power for the benefit of her own family, something that’s becoming a bit of a family tradition for the Shinawatras, and she and half of her cabinet were removed from office, the scene was set for an escalation in the already bloody conflict. Government supporters openly called on their followers to raise arms and march south to Bangkok while Anti-Government leaders called on their own supporters to prepare for the final battle.      
It would be a battle that neither side could win, but a battle from which neither side could ever step back from. Retreating from a stated position would mean losing face, and to be honest, most Thai’s would sooner lose their lives than lose their perceived standing in society. Thankfully for them, this being a political dispute between wannabe billionaires, the leaders would have allowed their foot-soldiers to take the bullets on their behalf, but I think you see my point.

With neither side willing to give an inch, and the police force dormant on the sidelines, the only real alternative was the army. By stepping in with a show of military force, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha has allowed leaders and activists from both sides of the political fight to avoid further confrontation and at the same time, to come to the conference table without any loss of face. To the Western eye, this might seem like a strange and radical solution to a political problem, but if Western standards were applied here, then the majority of Thailand’s current and former politicians would already be banged-up in jail.   

It’s still early days and I'm not certain if there's an official distance between Martial Law and Military Coup, so things may quickly change. However, since the imposition of Martial Law the deadly grenade and gunfire attacks have ended, at least four large illegal arms caches have been confiscated and representatives of all political parties have come to the meeting table for the very first time. But, with the current caretaker Prime Minister and former Prime Minister not attending the meeting, and there whereabouts currently unknown, it's uncertain if any side will be willing, or authorised, to compromise or accept an alternative point of view to their own, but it's hopefully the first small step on a very long road to peace and stability for the people of Thailand. The fact that these talks are taking place has taken a little of the wind from the sails of many Western journalists, but still searching for the negatives, they now seem to be concentrating on the suspension of certain satellite TV news channels. Suppression of the media is certainly detrimental to democracy, but a biased and corrupted media can be severely detrimental to peace.I suspect that very few of these vociferous journalists are familiar with the offerings from Thailand’s BlueSky or Choice TV, because real journalists mourning the temporary demise of these particular ‘News Channels’ would be like Mozart mourning the failure Jedward’s third album.
For myself and my many friends in and around Bangkok, the presence of the army is the first sign that a solution to the Kingdom’s plight may at last be insight. Politicians have proved incapable of helping anyone other than themselves and the streets today feel an awful lot safer than they did a week ago. Media images showing close cropped photographs of heavily armed soldiers are somewhat misleading. It’s not how the streets of Bangkok really look and the photographs have been cropped for a reason. On the other hand, a new industry in Soldier Selfies seems to be flourishing .. mai pen rai kap       
  

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?