Day 9 - Sunday 29th

Another dull start, with a 45 minute drive to Sri Satchanalai, and again the weather looks less than ideal. The met balloon shows mild instability up to cloud base, but the clouds are moving in very nearly the opposite direction. I wouldn't care to be in the shear boundary between the two airstreams. We move to another site a few miles away. This is much better and away we go. The inflation is enlivened by the inflation fan flipping over while running at full bore - I retrieve it, hoping that Norman hasn t spotted the event, and continue with my foot on the frame. I am slightly worried that the plentiful supply of dried rice stalks in this field will catch when I fire the burners and make a mental note to direct the flame higher into the horizontal envelope. The real problem turns out to be the crown line man, who is pulling too enthusiastically, causing the parachute vent at the top to tear free from the Velcro tabs that keep it in place during inflation. I decide to keep the heat pouring in and Humbug's black and silver envelope starts to rise into place. The parachute will close as it is pushed up against the upper load tapes that meet at the crown ring, but a lot more fuel than normal has been used.

Once in the air an amazing collection of ruined temples can be seen amongst the trees crowning the low hills. Ruin after ruin appears and I am reminded of lost cities in the South American jungles. I put in a good burn to keep Humbug hot while I take a few shots using the telephoto lens, although the light isn't really good enough for dramatic effect. I've been trying to maintain level flight at a nominal 350 feet, but I m not making a good job of it and taking photographs is no aid to concentration. Putting the camera aside, I remember the rules; aviate, navigate, communicate - in that order. I apply myself and settle her down to within a few feet as indicated by the aspect of the trees against each other and confirm it on the electronic altimeter strapped to one of the flexi-rigid poles that carry the burner frame. The other balloons are well to our right and I consider joining hem by rising higher. We discuss this and decide to stay low, creep over the forested ridge ahead and see what lies beyond. A golden image of Bhudda, its temple long since crumbled to rubble, lies below. Being a holy image, I suppose that is why it is kept gilded, but the effect is fairly unworldly as it pokes through the forest canopy, miles from anywhere, its blank eyes staring perpetually over the scenes of decay and past splendour. Just in case of surprise, I take Humbug up to 1000 feet from which height the land beyond the ridge can be seen. It's awesome; there must be a good 40 miles of agriculture between the ridge and the mountain range on the opposite side of the valley floor. Dropping down to 350 feet, we cross the ridge, alert for the possible curl-over effect.

Landing options look reasonable on this side of the road at the ridge foot, but uncertain beyond. There's a nice linked strip in a U shape, with a cental area of long rough shrubs. It offers good access to the road, which carries mainly farm traffic. I hand over control to Norman. Going down, Humbug doesn't follow the expected track, but ends up touching down briefly and the reversing back upwind. Thinking of snakes, we clear the rough ground and land. There is a beautiful smell of crushed lemon and mint as the basket drags slightly. As the retrieve crew handle us over to the road, three farmers who work the fields beyond greet us. We say hello in our own ways and with much smiling, the woman who is carrying three mangos in her hat offers them to us. First someone's supper and now their breakfasts, we think as we accept them. I lean over and solemnly shake hands out of the basket as we drift by at a height of 3 feet - it has the right effect as her eyes crinkle up in amusement at the antics of the crazy foreigners. Farang is a word that we hear often now when Thais are talking about us, presumably in the same way as we think "bloody tourists" half-jokingly in our own city.

Having reached the road, we indulge in some really eccentric farang behaviour by closing it to through traffic by collapsing two envelopes along its length (Yutakit's Phillips balloon is doing the same several hundred metres away). Broad grins all round and it's obvious that the locals are enjoying this free show mightily. Traffic has just started to flow slowly round us again when a smartly brown uniformed policeman on a Honda stops by us. Not speaking, and with a studiously neutral expression, he parks his machine and watches. I emerge from the depths of the envelope and rip off what I hope is a smart salute. To my surprise he responds with one of his own, although his eyes are obviously searching and failing to find any rank indicators on my white pilot's shirt. Richard is keen on having a go on his motorcycle. The officer nods, but it is obvious that he doesn't understand. Thais find it culturally hard to say No - it involves loss of face - so they tend to say Yes and then do nothing. Not a million miles away from what often happens in the West, come to think of it. I'm getting fairly twitchy less Richard makes a move to sit or ride his machine by way of illustrating what he wants. I haven't seen a smile yet, but I have spotted the .45 revolver and a bandolier of ammunition. I tell Richard that I will remain outside his arc of fire as my contribution to World Peace should he still be tempted to push for a ride. Disappointed, he agrees - he is missing his BMW road- bike back home. With Humbug stowed, breakfast beckons.

Later, after another excellent noodle lunch, we visit the temple complex at Sukhothai. Here are colossal temples in various states of repair surrounded by a pleasant green park. Several of us opt for hiring bicycles (20 baht) rather than using the minibuses. I've not cycled for over 10 years, but it soon comes back. Richard, Jackie and I wobble off for a photographic binge at the Wats, culminating in a trip to the Black Bhudda, a modern and very neat monument to a leader who effectively kicked the Burmese invaders back out of Siam as Thailand was known then. Admire the turtles in the adjacent pool, then return the cycles to their owner. Dinner this evening is taken outside on the terrace. Presumably our reaction to last night's performance has been noted and we're not troubled by a repeat performance. There are a lot more people in the hotel his evening and our meal is uninterrupted. Going back through the dining room afterwards we notice that the tables nearest to the singers are obviously vacant and the guests are occupying the ones closest to the exits. So no record producers in tonight either.

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