Wednesday 8th December

Well, it would have been a very fast flight but it is also unstable, so another cacellation. After breakfast we take our bus into Ubon Ratchathani, dropping off John and Anne at the local Internet Cafe for their daily email fix. Strangely, it's something that I have little interest in out here. We travel in a large loop to the north of the town before spotting our destination (which would be hard to miss), Wat Ban Nua Muang, the Elephant Temple. We drive through the legs of the triple-headed elephant at the entrance and view the huge building in the form of a boat, rowed by warriors and bearing a high pagoda-like structure amid-ships. The god sits in state at the stern, steering through eternity. Along the long edges of the outer enclosure rest four gigantic naga, or seven-headed sacred serpents for protection. Jaw-dropping is not quite adequate as a descriptive word to sum it all up. Away through the trees is another structure that is still being built, taking the form of a boat-temple floating in the water. It is surrounded by scaffolding and is being roofed as we watch. There is also a cemetary here for the monks and the colours on the tombs indicate whether there is a burial inside or if its future owner is still alive. The whole vast complex is surrounded by a high wall topped with symbolic statues in bright colours every few feet. There must be hundreds of them, alternating with the same Buddist symbol. The tranquility is broken by the howl of a jet engine being run-up on a test-bed at the airport next door.

Ubon Ratchathani owes its size in part to this airport, a legacy of the Vietmam war and bequeathed by the Americans who originaly built it to support the massive B-52 bombing raids during the sixties. Quite a lot of the older generation here have a working grasp of English as a consequence and there are some distinctly mixed features to be seen in the town. It is perhaps fitting that the Thai have reclaimed the facility and have built a modern airport to help them realise their particular vision of the future prosperity of their nation.

Dropping off in town, we shop and separate. I'm determined to exist independantly, if only for a few hours. We walk, photograph and eventually pick a random noodle shop some distance away, on the other side of the road. We enter. "Hello, Geoff", says Yutakit and our drivers wave to us from their table. I give up. At least I get to indicate my preference for the pork noodle soup (moo) and no chilli (nam prik). I draw some satisfaction in that my choice of eating establishment was a good one, given that the Thais had already endorsed it! After a further walk round the vegetable and fish market we hire a tuk-tuk and travel back across the Moon River, although it's nowhere near as wide as a mile.... This is the fastest tuk-tuk in Ubon, or feels like it as there is a 300cc Suzuki racing engine powering it instead of the more conventional asthmatic two-stroke. Dead chicken. Don't ask.

Back by the pool and iced coffee with the others, we sample some dried durian. This is the fruit which in the fresh form smells so appalling yet tastes so wonderful. It is banned in many Thai hotels for the first reason. (At Rayong, the hotel signs said "Welcome to our Visitors. No Pets or Durian"). Wonder where we'll end up eating tonight. The wind is picking up again very strongly although night has fallen. We hear that 170 people have been drowned by the floods in Vietman with thousands more homeless and destitute. And we're grumbling about not being able to fly for pleasure only 150 miles away....

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