Day 5 - Wednesday 25th

A misty start, although in contrast to yesterday the sun breaks through. We're last off, a consequence of yesterday's rushed repacking of the envelope. While we sort out miss-placed carabiners and twisted flying wires the others are up and away. Finally, airborne, we fly a track well to the right of our earlier one. We keep low and, using the GPS to give us best ground speed are soon back in the middle of the pack, if that is the correct noun for 6 balloons. The Belgian balloon is a 105, the largest one here. We notice that it has touched down before reaching the swamp and, although fully inflated, does not move again as we head out over the marshes. A lot of bird life here, mainly small varieties (Small Brown Jobs, as our resident bird expert calls them. His interest in birds has been life long, although he only bothers with specific identification once it's actually stuffed and on the plate...) although there are large flocks of white egrets bickering over the best spots in the shallows. We have a flock of them who roost in the trees below our hotel balcony and these might easily be the same ones. A marsh harrier quarters the ground below us, very agile for a large-spanned bird, jinking rapidly left and right as it hunts, finally closing its wings and dropping into the grass. It takes little notice of us and I suspect that it is hunting prey startled by our presence. A small island emerges ahead. It is mainly beaten earth with three bamboo and thatch houses grouped near a landing area where a few punts of the type seen yesterday are drawn up in a neat line. Some 50 long- horned white cattle chew stolidly and pretend to ignore us, unlike the families who come outside and look up. We wave to them and immediately they all wave back - a universal greeting signal that spans time and culture.

The landing options are limited and we opt for a touch-down near Zodiac, which has already landed and is being de-rigged. The ground crew help us to move Humbug on a handling line towards Zodiac and nearer to the access path. The field contain cut rice which is laid horizontally to dry. Each field is tiny compared to English ones and we have traversed three of them and an irrigation ditch (which I cross by hanging onto the handling line and letting myself be pulled over using the mass and momentum of the balloon. It's hot and very wet. I have to leave the final de-rig to the others as I am getting signals from my brain that it lacks water and oxygen and is considering a re-boot. I learn that a gentle walk up and down while drenched in perspiration cools you faster via the wicking effect than simply flopping down in the shade. Humbug is back on the pickup and we head back for breakfast. The farmers are about to accept a few baht each for our traverse over their fields but Yutakit is confronted by a female farmer who has worked out the commercial opportunities in a flash and has demanded more. Naturally, her male counterparts won't risk losing face, so he has to renegotiate a much higher figure. The Thai, as I mentioned earlier, are quick to learn! This is the only flight that has a landing fee.

Embussed for the journey to Waing Pa Poe where we will spend the night. En route there is a stop for shopping ("Retail Therapy") at a small town on the bank of the Mekong River. Richard and I walk about taking photographs, as the goods are very similar to those in Chaing Mai. There is an Opium Museum here, set up on an embankment with an impressive stairway leading up to it. A few tread up there is a bench which serves as the operations centre for two very young Thai girls beautifully dressed in traditional costume. Their fee for a photograph is 20 baht, which they ask for in French, very politely giving the wei, the general gesture of thanks and welcome, delivered with palms together and a bow of the head. By contrast, the 20th century intrudes as the long-tailed boats, which seem to have their base here, howl at racing speeds up and down river, some carrying passengers and not a few laden with packages and bales of merchandise - a sort of racing delivery service.

Next stop is for what comes to be known as the mid-day noodle break, although this is barbecued chicken prepared and cooked at the pavement edge. Hot spicy soup with noodles precedes this and a fresh salad also appears. Some are not enthusiastic about the skin, which is crisp and golden. Nigel (Trust Me, I'm a Doctor) expresses interest in the pestle and mortar used to grind the spices and herbs together before the salad is mixed and is allowed to pound some ingredients for the Belgian team's meal. He manages to slip extra chillies into the mix. Anyone who has eaten the small green Thai chillies will know what treat is in store for the recipients. The Belgians chew solidly and order lots of extra beer. The hostess is delighted and Nigel could have a holiday job at any time and give up consultancy.

Onwards we travel and finally arrive at the Suan Thip Vana Resort for the night. This is another sumptuous place that has a massive central polished wood entrance and pool with covered "flying bridge" wings housing the dining rooms. The suites are raised in groups of two or three and possess highly polished teak floors. They are arranged inside a service road whereby the luggage is swiftly delivered. The balconies face inward and overlook extensive grounds lavishly planted with ranges of shrubs that you only see smaller versions of in England.

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