Wednesday 1st December

The wind is still with us at dawn resulting in the first canceled flight ever on a Thailand Balloon Tour in ten years. Back to bed after the earliest breakfast yet.

We leave the hotel at 11 and head for the Laos consulate to pay our visa fee and to collect our passports which now bear an impressive array of seven stamps, two handwritten codes and a signature. This takes up one whole page and you get a lot of hand-crafted bureaucracy for your fee of 1560 baht (£26).

Lunch is taken at the Rimpao Hotel at Kalasin, followed by a power-nap by the pool, followed by a shopping trip to a silk shop. Silk is this region's speciality - the Queen of Thailand does her silk purchasing here. We return for tea bringing with us some of Ratchasak's friends. Ratchasak is a Bangkok Thai and is one of nature's larger-than-life characters. Very easy going and always with a huge booming laugh it would be easy to dismiss him as just another playboy personality, but his bluff good humour conceals a very focused business entrepreneur from a very wealthy family and whose interests extend to manufacturing, property and a vast collection of classic cars including Jaguars and MGs. Well those are the magic words for me, so he's an OK guy by definition. We meet Dr. Suthachai, who runs the local hospital, Pantip his wife who works as an administrator there and Eddie, who is a successful motor cycle distributor and who is a candidate for city mayor. Thai formal names are difficult to remember and pronounce (for us), so most Thai will tell you their short names or their family nicknames if you are considered a friend. You will have gathered that "Eddie" is not, therefore, a Thai name but a Westernised version of something more complicated! Very charming people, power suits and mobiles, expensive but understated tastes in clothes, cars, houses. They represent the power-houses of the Thai regional economy, but would never draw your attention to their status.

We dine with them at a local restaurant and the food just keeps on arriving, the house speciality being fish, which Nigs hates. The meal is a big success and is, apparently, Pantip's treat. Back at the hotel, the small stage in the dining area is occupied by another of Ratchasak's friends who plays traditional Thai music on violin and is well worth listening to. Suthachai sings us two beautiful Thai songs; the first is about a dream and the second about the King. Pantip then sings a love song and then they both duet, their performance is very polished and quite without any trace of nerves. Would *you* feel at ease about singing to entertain your friends in your local restaurant? Beautiful, clever people.

The wind is still with us, being driven by a high pressure system over central China and a low over southern Thailand. We're between the two, just where the isobars are at their most dense. It doesn't look good for the morning.

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