Day 3 - Monday 23rd

Up early for a shower and re-pack of last night's purchases. Discovered that the case that I bought to hold the goodies has an expansion zip, which is just as well, really. Retail therapy can continue unabated. The luggage is loaded into one of a fleet of airconditioned mini-buses and we climb aboard the rest. By chance, we're in the lead vehicle with Yutakit, our Thai pilot host. There's only Norman, Tom and myself aboard so although it's limited to 100kph/60mph our driver frequently has to slow down to allow the more heavily loaded buses to catch up on the hilly bits. Otherwise, it's pretty much pedal to the metal. There are frequent near misses but they seem much more controlled than UK ones. It is rare for a vehicle, be it pickup (in the country these outnumber ordinary saloons by many to one) or motorcycle to overtake us, but when they do the direction and side chosen is random. You just have to get used to close-quarter manoeuvers at speed otherwise your journey lacks enjoyment. The operation of the mobile phone is, of course, mandatory during the tricky bits.

We stop in the mountains before reaching Chaing Rai for tea and some excellent star-fruit pie. Someone buys a box of local candied fruit, round with a coloured paper band and flower. Suddenly there's a run on them and we leave the stand devoid of produce. Not to worry, as it is quietly restocked. The building is another low one, set back from the road amongst trees and overlooking the river. This seems to be a favourite Thai building position and one can see why. Both this building and our first hotel have the same "feel" about them. To me it evokes a colonial atmosphere although Thailand has never been subject to British Empire attentions. A raised wooden veranda with broad steps from the garden, an open loggia and spur decks under a shingle roof. The whole site acts as a road-side service area for people and not for cars and the attention to the layout of the gardens surrounding the entrance is evident. A star-fruit is purchased, washed, sliced and bagged for my convenience. 10 baht. I have never tasted fruit like it.

Onward to Chaing Rai and lunch (35 baht) consisting of a kind of din sum. Two sorts, both with a sweet white dough enclosing firstly a meat centre and next a pea mixture, bright yellow and tasting slightly of confectioners' custard. Wonderful, although there are reservations elsewhere. The main dish of spiced soup and noodles is fiery - after this a vindaloo back home will hold no terrors. Naturally I'm wearing a nice white shirt, which is de rigueur for noodle eating. Pepsi tastes truly vile after Thai chillies - must remember that in future. Thais usually sweeten the last mouthful of really hot food with sugar to sooth the mouth before the next course, but this tip was learned from Yutakit later that week.

Arrive at the Ba'an Boran. Well, I hope that the photos do it justice. I'd heard about the Golden Triangle - I just didn't expect it to be right outside our balcony windows. Very luxurious rooms - quite frankly not what we are accustomed to! Walked one of the jungle tracks leading to the Mekong River. Strange straw- like mounds puzzle me until I remember that there are elephants in this area and this must be one of their routes through the estate. I spot four sorts of butterfly almost immediately - 2 nondescript brown, one lemon yellow (a bit like our Brimstone) and a black-and-white one that has the boundary running from wingtip to wingtip. Striking. Lots of ant columns out here, busy ferrying dead spiders, beetles etc. back to their nests. The more industrious columns had a rate of a victim every four inches or so. Round a couple of turns down the track and it's green everywhere. The sound of silence is incredible - you can hear the blood in your ears. A little birdsong and a lot of insect noise. No wonder it's so hard to move through jungle quietly - even the birds don't seem to be able to. Back at the hotel on our balcony there's a lot of noise from the high-speed boats on the river. There's serious horse-power being deployed here and after an hour it becomes quite intrusive. It's the first time I've been aware of Yahoo behaviour.

Before dinner, there is a quiet knock at the door. Norman was just going out with the camera and let in the houseboy, who wanted to turn down the beds. I am writing at the desk while he pads around barefoot, working quietly. Concentrating on my writing I don't see what he is doing, but he finally bows, smiles and wishes me good-night. He has miraculously transformed our bear-pit back into a haven of tidy clothes, removed the heavy brocade covers from the beds and turned down the sheets. A single Thai orchid has been placed on each pillow and the house-slippers that you find in each Thai bedroom placed ready. I feel like a lord...

Dinner is another fabulous experience. Self-service, with a vast range of dishes. Norman makes a bee-line for the prawns. This is entirely predictable and is one of our in-jokes about him. Had my first encounter with the lethal Thai chilli - it's a matter of wonder how such a tiny, tiny piece can have such a powerful effect on the novice. Used Yutakit's sugar trick referred to earlier and to my relief it works! Creamed cocoanut set in a green leaf container is devine, but I miss out on the hot banana in cocoanut milk. The chef doesn't think that there is any left in the kitchen (other dishes are being restocked) and I say that it doesn't matter. A few minutes later there is a tap on my shoulder and he is presenting me with my own freshly prepared portion. He returns silently with a spoon without being prompted - the Thai staff are incredibly observant and always make you feel special. After dinner, Yutakit asks if anyone would like a boat trip or a bus ride into Mayanmar (Burma) tomorrow. I add my name to the bus list. It's only later that I realise that I'm probably going to miss being part of tomorrow's Yahoo tendency...Nigs tells us that we won't see the balloons until tomorrow, although we have already spotted Humbug's red cover on her black pickup truck earlier on the road. They and the inflation fans have been fuelled and checked in Bangkok. Up at 0530 for flying tomorrow morning. At least we have a couple of maps and two GPS's.

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