Tuesday, 30 January 2018


8th - 11th Jan 2018
Thai kick-boxing
I met up with friends who live in Chiang Mai. Their whole extended family (19 of) were visiting for Christmas and New Year. Interesting bunch; one of the wives runs a successful jam and chutney enterprise based in Chiang Mai ( I plug; littlespoonthailand.com), and her husband runs a series of fitness centres (gyms to you and me). Another wife is a professional singer/pianist and her husband is an artist (see okdavid.com). There are a lot of ex-pats, mostly British or American, who have emigrated to this part of the world which I hadn't realised beforehand. I was told it is cheaper and there are more opportunities to set up businesses and, of course, the weather is pleasant.

Anyway, one evening we, the boys, decided to go to a Thai kick-boxing event. This had added interest because a lady called Val, from Wick in Scotland, who was living with one of the couples, was competing. She was a cartographer in her previous life but had given up on the rat-race in UK and was now in full time training as a Thai boxer. She is quite powerfully built.
Left: Val in action (red gloves). Poor pics because the lighting wasn't great and they just wouldn't stand still!
PS. The pic at the top is not mine you won't be surprised to learn.

Val won in a closely fought 5 three-minute round bout. She sustained a couple of black eyes and looked absolutely knackered afterwards. We met for lunch the next day and she was quite interesting about this Thai boxing system. As she explained, at one level it is seriously professional. At 'tourist shows' like this it is somewhat contrived. The boxers tend to be impoverished students who get paid £50 per bout, win or lose, so there is not a great incentive to win. In fact, she told me, that it is often better for a boxer to 'take a dive' in the first two rounds because it involves less effort by both parties, they get paid the same, they will be fit enough to fight again sooner and it amuses the crowd. Makes sense! In fact the first two bouts here were over within two rounds and the stricken boxers lay for dead before standing up and staggering around a bit for maximum effect. In a later lightweight girls match neither boxer ever appeared to lay a glove, or foot, on their opponent. They just walzed around and held onto each other. Val said that they were being very careful not to inflict any damage to their good looks. Val did not have this cop-out option because she had the home team cheering her on. She definitely fought to win and her opponent (a rather masculine looking lady) was forced to defend herself vigorously. They also had a 'special' bout involving four (rather overweight) fighters who were blindfolded. They rarely managed to hit anything other than thin air, and the referee.

Right: Archer's Restaurant on Ratchaphakhinai St. owned and managed by an Essex boy called Mark Archer who originally worked for the Midland Bank. He has been here for over 10 years. It is definitely worth a visit and does a proper English style Sunday roast lunch (including Yorkshire puddings of course). Delicious.

A few sights from the Night Bazaar.

Left: This little (real) dog was 'driving' a mini-car around the busy street. It must have had a lot of faith in the remote control operator.

Right: A colourfully attired bead seller.

Left: This blues/rock group was performing on a roof bar inside the bazaar. I'm not really into this sort of music but they, especially the guitarist, were very good in a 'Jimmy Hendrix' sort of way.

Right: This wee lad was singing and 'strutting his stuff' on stage. Impressive performance. I'm not sure why it was considered necessary to have a 'no dogs' sign (if indeed that was what it was).

Again with aforementioned friends, we visited the Royal Project botanical gardens in the National Park to the west of the city. Left: This palace/wat was the central feature.

The gardens cover a huge area with a large variety of features. Some more well maintained than others. It is the brainchild of the previous King. A bus tour is available, although many visitors seemed to be whizzing about the place on bikes. We walked.

It includes an extensive orchid garden which was another popular venue for pre-wedding photographs (right). At another location there was even a large American chap, from Florida, posing with his Thai 'Qatar Airlines' stewardess fiancé. He was wearing an extraordinary costume of Thai origin, trying to look like the King of Siam I suppose. I had an interesting chat with him and then forgot to take his picture (he will be relieved to hear).
Just prior to this we had met up in a pleasant retaurant for lunch. I am always a bit suspicious of Thai dishes as they, unlike the Vietnamese, tend to present meals already spiced up with, sometimes, very powerful chilli seasoning. I ordered what was advertised as a 'non-spicey' dish; trout soup. It was excellent and no spice until half-way to finishing it I unwittingly spooned up a mouthful containing the mother of all chillies. I nearly exploded and must have somehow, when trying to dry my weeping eyes, wiped them with chilli. I was then blinded for some time. 
Swear words were uttered, vociferously. Why do they do this? Were the waiters hanging around to watch just for a bit of a giggle? Bloody annoying, and painful.

There are a few museums in Chiang Mai and I was encouraged to visit the Lanna Folk Museum in the old town. Frankly it was rather boring, consisting mainly of Lanna Folk handicraft, clothing and woven fabrics. It also cost 300 Baht to get in which was poor value for money in my opinion. I just mention this in case you are tempted.

Left: A model of a traditional Lanna folk music group making whoopee as only they know how.

I decided to go on a day trip, by train, to the town of Lam Pang, about 80 miles south-east of Chiang Mai. This sign (right) was in the Chaing Mai station. The service was indeed very polite and efficient, and cheap (about 50p one way) on a local 3rd Class slow 'stopping' train with no air-con, but cool and breezy with the windows open. It took about 2½ hours.  

We stopped at many stations through the hilly Doi Khun Tan National Park area. They were all beautifull maintained as per this one (left), Lamphun I think, and the station staff all wore splendid uniforms. The Thais obviously take pride in their little railway stations.

Lam Pang is 'quite'  an interesting town which is divided into 2 parts. The railway station is in the 'commercial' part and it is a 3 mile walk (which I did to avoid taxis and to get some exercise) to the more attractive part lying along the River Wang.  

I passed this rather strange arboreal umbrella display (right); unless there had been a sudden blast of wind when several umbrella wielding pedestrians were walking nearby and taken by surprise

.....and of course there was the inevitable wat. Left: This one with a large Buddha outside it was quite impressive.

Right: Down towards the river there were many of these horses and carts.......

......which were often in long convoys taking tourists for a ride (probably financially as well), but going from where to where I couldn't think. There was really no beautiful part of the town that I could see. I suppose they just wanted a ride in a horse and cart.

The only civic construction of any note that I saw was this clocktower on a main intersection........

.......before arriving at the riverside.
Here there is a very pleasant guest-house, called, imaginatively, The Riverside Guest House (left). It had some lovely balconied rooms overlooking the river, and a very charming bar and dining area. I think it is run by a French lady. Nice place to stay if you want to look at a river.

Almost next door is the equally imaginatively named Riverside Inn. Again, a very pleasant place at which I had lunch. Fish and chips if I remember correctly, and they had a good selection of beer and wines. These two places catered exclusively for tourists.

I had a good wander around the area and, as far as I could see, there was absolutely nothing else of great interest.
In fact these two places were the only establishments that I could find that sold alcohol or offered a 'western' standard meal. There may have been a posh hotel somewhere or other which I didn't see.
Walking (3 miles) back to the station I passed numerous chemists, hardware stores, schools, health food shops, car spares shops and other rather technical and medical outlets, but with the exception of a couple of small basic cafés, absolutely nowhere to relax, eat and have a drink. I have gathered that the Thai government has a rather prohibitive attitude towards the purchase and consumption of alcohol. Even in the large open air markets, there is no alcohol on sale. They make exceptions for this in 'tourist' areas, but even these have a 2pm to 5pm curfew on the sale of alcohol, although I certainly didn't notice this in Bangkok. I was sweating hard and dying for a cool beer when I got back to the station. None on offer in the local market but, just before the train departed at 5.30pm, I found a local 'Tesco' store which opened at 5.00pm and I got some beer. Phew! The fire was extinguished.

Although I believe there is a national law which makes the wearing of crash helmets on scooters and motor bikes compulsory, I have noticed that outside the main cities (ie Bangkok and possibly Chiang Mai) that this is seldom enforced. It is  as good as voluntary. I reckoned in Lam Pang that about 20% of scooter/motor bike riders wore helmets. 

Now, I am the first to agree that wearing a helmet  when riding a motorbike is a sensible thing to do. I always used to when I rode a bike, and a good helmet at that. However, I am a great believer in the view of a famous politician/philosopher (whose name I have completely forgotten...and a prize for anyone who reminds me) who advocated that laws should only be made to protect you from the actions of others. They should not be made, and you should not be legally penalised, to protect yourself from your own choice of action, however stupid (or words to that effect).  I think I may have mentioned this somewhere before regarding the use of helmets, seat belts, life-jackets etc. if, in a private capacity, you choose not to. There is no end to how many laws could be passed to protect you from yourself. Think about it! Not long ago a lady was sadly killed in London when a brick fell from a building and hit her on the head. How long before there is a law to enforce the wearing of helmets on all occasions!......and seat belts on bar stools, etc. etc......

Anyway, I caught the 'luxury express' train back to Chiang Mai. It was indeed much faster, with comfortable seats and boasted a  powerful air-conditioning system. So powerful, indeed, that I was  almost hypothermic by the time we got home.

Just found it. John Stuart Mill, British philosopher,  political economist etc., 1806 - 1873 suggested:
"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant".
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/john_stuart_mill_169399.

These old boys displayed a modicum of sense in those days. I certainly agree with his philosophy!

Just a little bit more to come from Chiang Mai when I took a short cruise up the River Ping and then the return to Bangkok.

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