Thursday, 29 December 2016


15th - 17th Dec 2016

Café girls being Festive in VV
Continuing on from the tubing, we (Bs) were taken on to the Blue Lagoon about a couple of miles out  of town. Actually, to be pedantic, this is a murky green coloured pool in a small tributary off the main river; but then 'Murky Green Pool' doesn't have quite such a romantic ring to it. I noticed that most of the streams coming out of the sandstone Karsts were a greenish colour. This is due to whatever chemical there is in sandstone, I was told.
Anyway, the 'Blue Lagoon' attracts a lot of youngsters (and the occasional oldster in observer capacity) who swing on ropes, hang on trapezes, swim around in it and, most popular of all, jump from an overhanging branch into it. I suppose it is about a 30ft drop. Lots of showing off and some even doing somersaults to impress their mates below.
Left: If you cannot swim it would indeed seem an obvious precaution to wear a life jacket, or not jump in at all. However you might if you are  pissed and if so would probably be incapable of taking any notice of this warning!

It was nothing too exciting to watch and I and couple of others went off for a beer and sandwich in one of the several cafés around the place. We came back and there was continuing leaping and cheering. One rather well built Thai girl was causing some amusement. She climbed the ladder up to the branch and, after stepping up to jump, hesitated. Lots of 'go go go!' from below, but she didn't and retreated. She stepped up to the plate again and the crowd were right behind her now with cries of "one, two, THREE...GO!", she was on the point of leaping, but pulled back again. She repeated the process several times. Each time she took up position there was an increasingly expectant hush from a gathering number of supporters, including me, followed by more "one, two, three...Go Go Gos!" She nearly did with one foot dangling into space on several occasions...but didn't and with an increasingly panicky look about her. She was developing a bigger fan club with every failed attempt and was obviously doing her best not to let them down. By the time I left she still hadn't taken the plunge and they were still cheering her on. It was very funny. Maybe she will tomorrow, after a night on the pop.
Right above: The 'Blue Lagoon' with the Thai girl in black swimsuit preparing for yet another abortive descent.

That was the outside entertainment for day one. Day two, and I decided to visit a much advertised waterfall and a cave. The sandstone cliffs are riddled with caves; some several kilometres long with lots of side passages. It is a speleologist's dream. Some have guides which, if unlit, you are wise to employ even if you take the elementary precaution of taking a good torch. It is not unknown for the unprepared to get lost in a labyrinth below ground. I expect some gap-year students are still in there well after their gap-year ended. Some you float into on tubes from the river. But first of all the waterfall.

I made a bit of a mistake when organising this trip through the same little little travel agency as yesterday. I found I had hired a personal tuk-tuk at some cost to take me there ($30). Tip for future: I realised afterwards that I could have hired a motorbike/scooter very cheaply ($8 per day) with tour map included and done the whole thing at my leisure and much else besides.
Anyway my driver was very decent and off we went to the celebrated Kenlon, or Kaeng Nyui, waterfall about 12 kms out of town. Down some bumpy gravel tracks and I was dropped off at a small hamlet at the foot of a hill and told vaguely in which direction to climb. There was a well worn path, nobody else around, and after about half a mile I found a sign directing me to the waterfall. After another few hundred yards uphill passing some attractive little pools and river banks   I came to it.

Well whoopee! OK, its the dry season and the watercourses are not exactly brimming but this waterfall did not exactly fill me with awe. Hardly on a par with the Victoria or Niagra versions. In fact a water-pipe sprang a leak in my house last summer and the resulting deluge was not unsimilar in volume to this one.

I returned back down to the hamlet and waiting tuk-tuk, coincidently passing the Cambodian engineer and his lovely Lao girlfriend (from the zip-wiring yesterday) who were on their way up. They had sensibly hired a motor-bike.
My helpful and chatty driver asked me if I would be interested in visiting a Hmong village nearby. Well, I have visited several Hmong villages in the north of Vietnam so not that keen to see another. The Hmong are a people spread around southern China, northern Vietnam and Laos. They are divided into several tribes such as Black Hmong, Red, Striped, White, Variegated, Green, and Flower Hmong who sport very colourful costumes, speak strange dialects, lead a subsistance life in the mountainous regions, are very jolly industrious people and have become something of a tourist phenomenon. They may have become unexpectedly prosperous on the proceeds, but have to hide it of course to preserve their touristic credibility. If they now own BMWs and Mercs and have holiday homes in Monte Carlo they keep the fact well hidden.

Right: Hmong ladies. The Hmong were persecuted following the Laotian civil war (courtesy of the Pathet Lao) in 1975 and many emigrated to Thailand and even to the USA and Europe. It is rumoured that there is now a Hmong tribe living in Cowdenbeath, the Tartan McHmong, who are noted for their drab dress, surly attitude,  indolence, heavy drinking and foul unintelligible language directed at foreigners, especially Englishmen.

We went back to Vang Vieng and to the Jang Cave on the southern edge of the town. This is a big cave complex, but a thoroughly touristy one in so far as it has electric lights down the main passages and even a paved floor in parts, and lots of tourists. At least not much chance of getting lost forever in here.

Left: Steps up to the Jang cave.

Right: Views inside the cave......

.....where you come across the odd Buddha or two parked in small niches.

I had planned to investigate the hot-air balloning and micro-lighting that afternoon, but it had started to rain and the cloud base descended. So far the weather has been sunny and warm, but today it turned overcast and I suspect the weather system I fortuitously avoided in Vietnam had moved west and caught up with me. As the day progressed the rain increased to torrential proportions so I spent most of the afternoon in various cafés and bars. No chance of balloons etc. The gravel roads had turned to mud. 

For some reason many of the larger restaurants and bars feature these platforms with low tables on them (right). I haven't noticed them anywhere else apart from a Hari Krishna restaurant in Belfast. I believe they are popular in Korea and, as mentioned earlier, there are many Korean visitors and workers in Laos, especially Vang Vieng, which might explain their presence. I find them remarkably uncomfortable.

The next morning I set off north in a mini-bus up to Luang Prabang. This journey normally takes about 4 hours and routes over a high mountain pass. The mini-bus was full and, again, contained a small contingent of chatty giggling studenty types, this time from Canada. More of the 'like like' conversation ensued; or perhaps 'comme comme' when they spoke in French.
All went well to begin with. We stopped for a breather at the aptly named village of Kasi for a loo break and coffee before climbing on up to the pass.

Then the problem. The overnight storm had caused several landslides along the precipitous hillsides. Just before reaching the summit the road had become a slick of mud and a large truck had bogged down in it. We tried to go around it but ground to a halt. To our left was a sheer drop. 
We were in cloud and visibility was down to about a hundred yards. It was cold and wet.
We were there for about two hours while traffic queues built up behind and people were wandering around rather aimlessly wondering what to do. Some 4X4s managed to plough their way through, but not cars or our mini-bus.

Eventually they started to reverse the bogged down truck which was top heavy and slid dangerously close to toppling over the edge of the precipice. It was nail biting stuff.
Having cleared a bit of room our intrepid mini-bus driver took a fast run at it (without us in it I hasten to add) and after smacking the nose of the vehicle into a deep rut or two made it out onto some clear road. We were on our way again.
The slalom ride down the other side was again hindered by landslides but we managed to negotiate them slowly and therefore on to Luang Prabang. It took us over seven hours and was quite a hairy journey.

Left: A gathering of the Cowdenbeath Tartan McHmong tribe performing their traditional song and dance  routine, the 'Yoolookinatmejimmy'.

News from Luang Prabang to follow in due course.

Thursday, 22 December 2016


14th -15th Dec 2016

Off by bus for a 4 hour trip north to Vang Vieng. Quite a full bus-load with the last two rows occupied by a group of about ten American and Aussie student types. By crikey did they witter on. Loudly. Non-stop. One American talked like a runaway machine gun and almost every other word they uttered was 'like', interspersed with inane giggling and shrieking. It was like really like getting on my nerves, like. Where on earth do they pick up this irritating verbal tic? Some young Brits do it too. I would not employ someone who spoke like that. I couldn't have understood what they were banging on about even if I was, like, interested which I was, like, definitely not. We stopped for a pee and coffee break about half way and so the 'likes' could recharge their batteries. 

I hadn't realised it until I got here that Vang Vieng is the epicentre of the backpacker and 'Gap Yar' student route. It is a fairly unkempt town (pop. 35,000) with pot-holed and gravel roads in the valley of the river Nam Song surrounded by stunningly beautiful limestone 'Karst' terrain. Same sort of geological features as at Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. This view (left) out of my window gives a rough idea.

The town consists predominantly of guest-houses, travel offices, massage parlours, bars and restaurants catering for the adventurous and thirsty backpacker/student. There were innumerable lodgings to choose from and none seemed fully booked up. Indeed the place did not appear to be very full of tourists at all. Virtually every third shop was a small tour/activity agent all offering the same menu of options namely 'tubing', kayaking, caving, rock-climbing, rafting, trekking and a visit to the 'Blue Lagoon' as well as bus trips mainly to Vientiane and Luang Prabang. You could pick and chose 'a la carte'. I don't know how all of them make a living.....unless they are all owned by the same company.
No problem finding lodgings. I chose a small guest-house called the Orchid and, at $13 per night, was  excellent value. Comfortable bed, air-con, wifi, decent bathroom and a pleasant balcony overlooking the river towards the mountains. As said there seemed much more capacity than needed and this is, apparently, the high season for tourists. Indeed many of the dozens of bars and restaurants were  almost empty. Boringly most of the restaurants offered exactly the same menus catering for western and local tastes (full 'American' all-day breakfast etc.).

Anyway, 'when in Rome....just go for it' as the saying nearly goes. The next day I went to the nearest tour shop and picked zip-line, tubing and Blue Lagoon off the menu for my entertainment. I had also noticed that Vang Vieng has a small airfield from which hot air balloons, micro-lites and powered parachutes were operating. I made a note to investigate these later as they were constantly floating or buzzing overhead and looked rather fun.

It was all very efficiently organised. The back of my hand was marked with 'Z T B' to indicate the order of where I was going. I don't know what sort of marker pen was used because, a week later, I can still read Z T B on the back of my hand. An open backed camionette went round the town collecting other punters who, mostly, were marked with Z K B (K being Kayaking). Z was first for all and we set off to somewhere up-river. We were kitted out with harnesses, a helmet and glove and ferried across the river to walk up the other side. Initially we were taken to a spot where we were given a demo and instruction on how to do it. Then a hike up to the start point.

Left: Our zip-wire team. There were seven of us in our little group; a 70 year old retired Thai lady doctor (living in New York), her nephew from Singapore, a young Cambodian engineer and his very sweet Lao girlfriend, a Korean chap and a girl food-science student from Switzerland. 

The final leg to the starting platform was up a very steep rocky climb. We all made it OK. This, of course, would immediately contravene 'elf  'n'  safety' regs in the west. Indeed most of what you can do here would be closed down in nano-seconds if regulated by the nanny 'Elf 'n Safety' Gestapo in UK.

The zip line involved eight stages, platform to platform, of distances ranging from about 200 to 500 yds. We were all getting rather good at it by stage 3. I think the total distance covered was about 3 km and some of it a long way up from terra firma and occasionally zipping scarily close to trees and foliage.

Our two guides were excellent and slick. We were always hooked onto a safety line. One guide set off in front to meet us at the next platform. The other acted as the dispatcher. The zipping bits were interspersed with walks over wobbly log bridges and, by far the most unnerving parts, were when lowered on an abseil from one platform to a lower one. The final abseil to end it all was about 100ft to the ground. Lowered slowly for about 20ft and then free-fall to a couple of feet from the deck. This caused not a few screams of panic....especially from me.

Right: The plucky wee Lao girl who was thoroughly enjoying it.

Left: Back across the river on a raft to a hut for lunch. This was an unexpected bonus. A delicious lunch of hot kebabs, rice and fruit plus, much appreciated, a couple of cold cans of Lao beer.

Next on by camionette to the launch point for 'tubing'. I was the only 'T', the others were all 'K's.
Tubing, a rite of passage for any self-respecting gap-year student, has gathered a rather unfavourable reputation. I read that in 2011 there were 27 'tubing related' deaths. I think these could more accurately be described as 'alcohol related' deaths. As I think I have mentioned previously, 98% of incidents and fatalities amongst, especially young, tourists i.e: falling off balconies, getting robbed, being beaten up and especially drownings have occurred when the victim is drunk or under the influence of drugs. I have no issue with people getting plastered but, especially where deep water is involved, it is moronically stupid. I think the Darwinian Theory of the Survival of the Species applies here. The moronically stupid are likely to perish.
There is nothing dangerous about tubing per se. In fact I found it a rather relaxing and soporific way of drifting downstream. One merely lies in an inflated tractor tyre inner tube with your arse hanging in the water. The rest of you stays perfectly dry. Admittedly this is the dry season and perhaps the river was not flowing so fast as in the wet, but the problem was that there were dozens of 'drift-in' bars positioned along the riverside. The irresponsible yahoos who got hogwhimperingly drunk within the first half mile were asking for trouble. The water varies from deep, calm and sluggish to shallow, ripply and fast running. The shallow ripply bits conceal rocky protuberances, as I uncomfortably discovered with some surprise as my arse was hanging in the water through the tube, and hidden tree roots. These can cause the tube to tip. If sober, no problem. If pissed you might fall in.
I say there 'were' dozens of draft-in bars along the riverside. These have been greatly pruned due to the problem they caused. There are now many fewer.

There were few of us intrepid tubers on the river that day. I joined up with an amusing German couple (right). We were also escorted by a guide in a kayak. He proved most helpful in steering us to shore for a couple of pit-stops and also pulling us along on a tow rope when the current got really slow.

As you can see, there was no problem in taking a camera. We were given sturdy water-proof bags to put our possesions in. The whole tube ride, including a couple of 15 minute refuelling stops, took 2½ hours and covered a distance of about 3 miles. If it hadn't been for our trusty guide in the kayak towing us through some of the slower bits it would have taken considerably longer.
We were overtaken on several occasions by the Kayakers, including those from our Z party. The kayaks mostly had a 'guide' at the back end. You can guess who was doing most of the paddling.
Left: The Thai/New York ex-doctor and her nephew passing by in their kayak.

Right: At one of the refuelling stops.

Left: I was fascinated to see a full sized snooker table here. I think it might have needed a few repairs; just bare slate and Hurricane Higgins must have whacked a few balls through the corner pockets, but what a strange place to find one in any condition.

Right: My German companions and our helpful guide/escort/tug.

Left: Also sharing the river were these speed boats. They were not much more than surf-boards with powerful long-tailed engines. I believe these have been the cause of a few disasters. I mentioned the hidden 'just' underwater rocks and roots? Say no more.

The journey ended in the centre of the town. The camionette was waiting to take us on to the next port of call, 'B', the Blue Lagoon.

That will do for now. The Blue Lagoon and other highlights to follow. Bet you can't wait.......

Friday, 16 December 2016


12th Dec 2016

Pha That Luang stupa, Vientiane
It was an uneventful 1hr10min Air Asia flight from Bangkok to Wattay International airport, Vientiane, and a charming uncrowded small airport it is. They have an efficient and rip-off proof system for taxis into the town centre whereby you pay $7 at the desk for a ticket for the 10 minute taxi ride, and no extra costs or arguments.
There are hundreds of guest houses and hotels in the city (it is the capital, so must be called a city I suppose, but in reality feels more like a big town) and I took pot luck with with the Hotel Chanthapanya in the centre. It cost more that I would have normally have paid and I'm sure there are many cheaper and equally satisfactory establishments with plenty of rooms available, but what ho! After a cheap deal in Bangkok I felt I could afford it. It was very comfortable....sadly didn't have a bar, but decent breakfast included. All I really need is a clean room, reasonably comfortable bed (without bugs a Le Aviation in Brussels), a bathroom..,,and air conditioning (it is hot in Vientiane)...and Wifi, but everywhere out here has that. After all, I'm only in it to kip and get washed. Coincidently I heard from my friend in Saigon that just after I left they had lots of rain followed by a vicious cyclone. Most unseasonable. I got my timing right for once.

The currency here is the Kip. At present there are about 10,000 Kip to the £ but this currency is not internationally recognised and they happily accept US$ or Thai Baht in lieu. Even allowing for exchange rate fluctuations things are much cheaper here than most other places I've been to.

The French did not lavish so much money on buildings here during their colonial rule as in Cambodia, and Vietnam, but they put in place a good street grid system which still exists. Boulevards such as this (right), the main Lan Xang, are examples. There are lots of trees bordering most of the streets which give the place a slightly rural feel and there are no overpowering high-rise structures.

There is a totally different atmosphere here compared with Vietnam and Thailand. It is quiet and understated. Lightish traffic, and scooter riders don't constantly toot their horns. The people are cheerful, polite and modestly behaved. In short, as the title above suggests, 'laid back'. There are many decent and very reasonably priced bars and restaurants. On my first walkabout I passed a tennis club with four courts which boasted a smart clubhouse/bar and a couple playing there who, to my inexpert eye, seemed to be of a rather high standard. Well out of my league, but then thats not difficult.

The Lao language is written in the squiggly Thai/Cambodian (ex-Sanscrit) style and as spoken, I am told, is similar to Thai. Thais can normally understand them. Street signs are prominently placed and have their almost unpronouncable names conveniently translated into Roman script as per photo (left). Note they still use the French 'Rue' or 'Boulevard' etc.

The city was actually called, and is still pronounced locally as, 'Viang Chan' which means 'Sandalwood City'. The Frogs called it Vientiane.

Right. At the northern end of Boulevard Lan Xang is the impressive Patuxai Monument. Built in the 1960s it got its inspiration from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, although instead of two archways it has four in a square design. Apparently it was built with US-purchased cement which was supposed to have been used to construct a new airport. Hence it gained the nickname 'the Vertical Runway'.

You can climb up to the top for 3000 Kip (30p) via several shops selling mountains of souvenirs, jewellery and bric-a-brac. The view to the north from here looks over the pleasant gardens and 'musical fountain'. Jolly nice, what?

Right: A view of the intricate design in the roof under the arches.

Government buildings tend to be built in this style (left). There are several similar dotted around the city.

At the southern end of Lan Xang is the Presidential Palace (right). Had to peer around a corrugated iron shed at the entrance to take this photo. Quite a grand building but the effect was somewhat spoilt by neon lit signs around the top of the wings. Enlarge this photo to see them.

Left: Outside the Palace gates is this large portrait of, presumably, the President whose name rather escapes me for the moment.

Of course you cannot escape Christmas anywhere (other that North Korea) and decorated trees were in evidence in most shops and hotels. This one (right) was at the entrance to a pleasant pedestrian circus featuring some decent outdoor eateries. I have seen the dreaded articulated saxophone playing Santas in many Oriental cities, especially Vietnam where even they have become a bit 'passé'. Maybe they get passed on as a job lot from one part of Indo-China to the next on a rotational basis each Christmas. Why always a saxophone? Suggestions welcome.

Left: The restaurant area inside. I must say, everywhere I've been here, so far, the service you get is excellent. The staff are much less robotic and more imaginative than the Vietnamese and, as far as I have experienced, thoroughly polite and charming. Some relatively pleasant and unobtrusive music was being played over the sound system. Laos definitely seems to have a quieter and less brash manner than in other countries around these parts.

Down by the Mekong riverside, a line of Lao flags is interspersed with the old 'hammer and sickle' variety. The 'hammer and sickle' seems to feature widely.

Also (left) this imposing statue old Lao warrior presumably. The name was on it, but in squiggly writing so none the wiser. Looks a bit like Robert Baden-Powell, the author of 'Scouting for Laos'.

Being a Buddhist country the place is full of 'Wats' and 'Stupas'. Although they don't appear to be  a particularly religious lot, they do have a tradition of monk service for young boys and I saw a few of the saffron-robed variety wandering the streets. This stupa (right) is a bit overgrown and outside a café where I was taking some refreshment.

Left: The major national monument in Laos is, apparently, the Pha That Luang stupa, about a mile or so north-east of the centre. It has been knocked down and rebuilt a few times. Unlike the stupas in Burma which are positively dripping with real gold, this one is merely painted gold. There was a lady busy splashing gold paint on it while I was there. Its probably a bit like the Forth Bridge in that by the time they've put on one coat its time to start again. As I approached there was a strange buzzing noise coming from it. Couldn't work it out until I looked up and saw a drone being flown overhead. Possibly checking on the paint job.

Right: A nearby line of 'stupa'd' stalls selling knick-knacks. They were outside the adjacent Wat, or Monastery.

As I was wandering around the Pha That Luang and had found a good spot to take a photo, a group of about a dozen Japs rounded the corner. They then went into that traditional Jap tourist procedure of each one of them taking photos of the others with all their cameras. It takes forever with lots of posing and re-posing. Its worse than a film set. I was getting a bit impatient and quietly wishing that they would 'nip off' sharpish. Amongst them was a couple of pretty girls who, after the final photo had been taken, offered to take my photo.

They were very charming and even spoke a bit of English, so who was I to refuse. 

Actually I discovered (from the girls) that they weren't Japs, they were South Koreans. Interestingly, as I came to discover, Laos is a very popular destination for Koreans for both work and play. I am told that there are even a few 'escaped' North Koreans holed up here. 
That's about all from me from Vientiane. A very pleasant if unexciting place. Off up further north tomorrow and intend to stop off at Vang Vieng on the Nam Son river about half-way up to Luan Prabang. It gets hilly up there.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016


28th Nov 2016

It's that time of year again and having developed an increasing distaste, now almost a paranoia, for all the ghastly 'festive' commercial pressures, incessant advertising of useless 'must have' gifts and enforced jollity, I have decided again to do a runner; my annual 'Chrexit' plan. It all starts nowadays at the beginning of October which is no doubt a (futile) attempt to try to catch us Chrexiteers before we can escape. If as much expense was lavished on public services as is squandered on trivial urban decorations, advertising and money spent by over-generous parents on undeserving sprogs we would all be a lot better off.
Amongst the plethora of unsolicited junk mail containing adverts for Christmas 'gifts' I have received was a heavy glossy magazine supplement in my Saturday newspaper. This advertised amongst much other tat a watch selling for £431,000. What! It told the time, whoopee...but for £431,000? You can buy a smart house or small estate for that. Also, a small wool and calfskin handbag for £6,320 which presumably, if you took it out in the rain and it got wet, it would shrink. Most extraordinarily it showed a 'Berluti Venezia leather-trimmed wooden beach bat and ball' for sale at £330. I have never heard of a 'beach bat' before; what on earth do you do with it? One bat, one ball...  I can't see what the point is. Presumably you hit the ball with it up into the air, and hope that some other daft idiot has also spent £330 on another bat to return it, but then his ball would be redundant. The whole thing defies the imagination....let alone spending £330 on it. There must indeed be many people out there with considerably more money than sense. I remember having fun on a Northumbrian beach in arctic temperatures where our only sources of amusement were an inflated inner tube, a small fishing net and a bucket and spade with which to make sand-castles and try to bury father when he was asleep, and we got sand encrusted jam sandwiches to eat with our picnic. It was great fun and didn't involve splashing out £330 on a sodding leather-trimmed beach bat! Things must have changed.
.....and while on the subject, what is all this 'Black Friday' stuff? Another marketing scam I suppose to titillate the appetite of the greedy and fuel the bank accounts of wealthy merchants. I give up.

Nothing like a good rant to make you feel better. Have now arrived in be continued.

Arrived in Saigon early morning of 4th Dec. For once the Vietnam Airlines flight departed and arrived spot on time. Not a bad journey with reasonable food/wine and some newspapers to read and films to watch and some kip. I had the aisle seat for the 12 hour flight with a middle aged English couple sitting window side. I choose to sit at the aisle so I can easily get up and wander around and use the loo without having to climb past the other pax. However, what is it about some people who seem to have to go to the loo every couple of hours. I went twice during the flight, but this English couple, who were perfectly charming in every other way, had to get up, and therefore so did I, to go to the 'toilet' no fewer than 7 times! You can't win.

Nothing much changes in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon in essence, but the place is a constant building site with old buildings being demolished and new ones erected. This is compounded in the city centre (District 1) where there is ongoing construction of a new cross-city Metro system; a Vietnamese/Japanese project. I am told it is due to be completed 'sometime in the future'. The only serious change, if only a minor construction, is adjacent to the beautiful and iconic French-built main post-office across the road from the Roman Catholic Cathedral. Within the last year they have put another goddamned MacDonalds there. This is desecration at its worst! As mentioned in my blog from this time last year, the first MacDonalds opened in HCMC on the eastern end of Dien Bien Phu Street in 2014. Of course once they have a toe hold they spread like a rash. I expect there are now more of these monstrosities in other parts of the city; symbols of American influence and decadence which gradually fatten and poison the local population. There is also a noticeable increase in the number of cars on the roads; often enormous expensive 4x4s and flash Mercs and BMWs which can never travel at more than 10mph. They are bought purely as status-symbols. As a result even more congestion and traffic jams. Their owners probably also buy £330 leather-trimmed beach bats. This city is not constructed for cars; it is designed for scooters and bicycles. If the number of cars could be reduced all would be fine. But they won't be reduced, they will increase and consequently more road construction and disruption ad infinitum. Sounds remarkably similar to our traffic problem in UK.

Left: The MacDonalds excrescence at the far end of the Post Office. Actually, they did a good job blending the architecture in with the same style, but it still has that tasteless sign on it to ruin the effect

Right: I would like to put a few of these on an army firing range as targets. It would give me the greatest pleasure to blast them to bits with a machine gun.

I do not intend to write another journal from here with lots of photos, unless I spot something extraordinary, having covered most things of interest in the Vietnam blogs of March/April 2012 and December/January last year. Off to Laos, via Bangkok, on Saturday evening so more news from there.

10th Dec. Arrived in Bangkok courtesy of Air Asia. Got a really cheap price for the flights from ''. They are a very helpful organisation and even speak to you on the phone. Plus, thanks to a cut-price hotel offer on the same website, I got a room in the five star Narai Hotel on Silom Road for a two night stay. This really was an exceptional deal. A luxurious hotel in the touristy Silom area close to lots of 'entertainment' and shopping and walking distance from the excellent underground system for £25 per night! I mean you couldn't get a bunk in a wog run flea-ridden sleaze-pit in any British backwater town for less than three times that price!

I haven't been to Bangkok for over five years. Glad to hear that the traditional salutation of "Yoowon   massah" is still the norm down Silom District.  They are still in mourning for their revered late King Bhoumibol and there are lots of big portraits of him on bill-boards throughout the country, and in all hotels, surrounded by black and white swags of cloth. Many people are wearing black ribbons on their sleeves. Even the cabin crew on the aircraft were wearing black armbands.

I couldn't help but notice the increasing number of fat Thais. Not just fat, but with spotty complexions and bad teeth. I rather rudely took these pics to demonstrate the issue. I can only assume that the cause is their 'trendy' modern fast-food diet, and probably compounded by a lack of exercise.

Twenty years ago you would never have seen heffalumps like these. Now they are not uncommon. Sad really, and I expect Vietnam will follow suit in due course.

I spent most of Sunday in the vast Chatuchak weekend market up in the north of the city. It is a marvel to behold. It is the biggest of its kind and covers an area, I'm guessing, of about 15 acres. There are seemingly endless stalls tightly packed in a rabbit warren of narrow passageways under covered sheds, selling everything from clothes to antiques name it. Lots of bartering is the order of the day and you get some fantastic deals.

Left: This young girl was playing very jolly tunes on a strange looking three stringed electric guitar. She had a couple of mechanical performing cats which danced along to the music. It was a great draw, especially for the children, and she was collecting a lot of money in the process (for her college education). Most enterprising. Bank notes were being stuffed into the wicker basket by quite a lot of the considerable audience. When she went for a break she left the basket with the money (and cats) where it was, unattended. Nobody touched it. Very trusting I thought. I wonder how long she would have got away with that in a London market?

This was just a quick pit-stop before setting off to Laos. Curiously there are no direct flights to Vientiane from Ho Chi Minh City which is the reason I was staging through Bangkok. Apart from flying into Luang Prabang a few times from Hanoi in a previous existence, I have never really 'seen' Laos. It might be quite interesting.