Saturday 11th December

Looks flyable to me. We whizz off at 05:45 to get a few kilometers inland for obvious reasons. Naturally, the lead bus takes a wrong turning and half an hour later we are miles away from where we should be. To compound this, the two lead buses lose the rest of the convoy and by 07:15 the vehicles are scattered and out of contact. This reminds me of the account of the light cruiser scout squadrons during the Battle of Jutland.
(Admiral Nigs paces up and down alongside his flagship bus. "What the hell's going on? Where are the other ships?").
We wait by the roadside, frustrated. No balloons, pickups or ground crew. Eventually the rest of the convoy turns up having been rounded up via mobile phone. Far too late, the three remaining balloons are laid out and cold inflated on the fans. Nigs is not at ease and senses something not quite right. Suddenly a gust of unstable air rolls our envelope over on the ground and twists it through over 90 degrees onto Peter's balloon next in line. Yutakit has also been fighting to keep his envelope in shape and all three pilots pull the parachute tops out before things get too far out of control. Flight abandoned - there's just no point in trying to buck the odds with the weather. We pack up gloomily and go home for breakfast. At least we can lie on the beach this morning.

For lunch we drive to the harbour area at Rayong, crossing to the inner side on a narrow road bridge and threading our way through the narrow streets of this busy little community. It's an exciting area to be in with its multi-coloured vessels, slipways, netting sheds and repair yards. From the street you can look between and sometimes through the buildings and watch the work being done in wood, metal and rope. Here are two large wooden boats drawn up on a slipway - new planking is being shaped and dressed by hand with an adze. A short distance away a modern welding set is being used on the deck fittings of a trawler while next door a fish dock is awash with ice and bright plastic containers as the catch is unloaded with a small hand winch. Further on three men perch on bamboo-rigged planks and I recognise a caulking iron, pitch and oakum being used to stuff the joints between the main planks of another sea-going hull. Yet again, a large shed has a squad of netters busy retying and mending nets while others are hanging the recently used ones up in the beams to dry. It's a brilliant, vibrant place. I love ports, harbours and railway stations, there's always something to watch and to learn! The restaurant is built over the end of a landing stage and obviously specialises in sea-food. Sorry Nigs, it's the pork and rice for you again! The stock is swimming around in large tiled ponds, which is a variation on the aquariums theme. Some of the fish (plaa) are rather large....

Back to Rayong for a last cash top-up from the ATM machine and a walk through the produce market and the back streets and buildings which Yutakit tells us are rather more authentically Thai vernacular than most. I'm buying some delicious sliced jack-fruit, fresh and bright yellow, which normally come packed fresh in a container with the preferred sticky rice to eat with it. This is for the folks back home, so I'm trying to explain that I don't want the rice (nam khow) and my accent is obviously hugely entertaining to the female stall-holders. A small and ancient Thai lady suddenly enquires of Pauline how she is finding Thailand? We reply that we love it all and in turn ask her where she learnt such good English. She tells us, with a decided twinkle in her eyes that "Oh, I like to travel, you know!". She's been to London (twice), also Stratford on Avon to see the Shakespeare and thoroughly enjoyed the weather ("We had snow, wonderful!"). She introduces us to peanuts boiled in their shells, which taste quite different, and also a kind of roasted bean that tastes like a combination of almond and coffee. This spontaneous kindness to complete strangers is, as I've said many times before, one of the best reasons for coming.

Back for a poolside soak and a shower before dinner. The other occupant of the pool turns out to be the marketing director for Blue Funnel Lines in Singapore and we spend about half an hour talking and answering each other's questions. "You British", he begins and my heart sinks. But it wasn't the expected diatribe about the evils of Empire, far from it.
"You're so apologetic as a race. Best damn thing that ever happened to us, being taken over by the British. You gave us an example, structure, education, opportunity and then handed it to us to run for ourselves. What other nation on earth would have had the courage and decency to do that? Where on earth would people like me be if you hadn't? I'll tell you. We'd have been taken over by someone else awful, like the French, and we'd all be Communnist by now. You have nothing, absolutely nothing to reproach yourself for. The Chinese threw us out and you took us in. The Japanese chopped off my grandparents' heads. You came back and rebuilt our society. I owe nearly everything that I am to you British". I'm stunned. Oh, all right. Just a bit pleased that we got something right, after all. We don't mention the Boer War, exept in passing.

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