Thursday 2nd December

No flight. Peter, Pauline and myself walk into Kalasim (to the horror of the staff - farang should be driven everywhere!) admire the sights and stumble on some sort of parade. It is headed by a uniformed brass band leading a vast number of high-school students. Some are carrying inflated condoms and giant syringes so this must be an AIDS - awareness march. Thailand has a huge, largely hidden AIDS problem that is particularly rife in the North. I video a sequence as it passes a roundabout shrine and statue in the town centre and we watch column after column parade in school uniform, good order and no teachers with them. We need to return to the hotel, but we make time to wave at the students who are eying us with curiosity as they pass. They grin, wave back and cries of "Farang! Hooray!!" reach our delighted ears. Much amused, I hail a tuk-tuk and negotiate our return fare to the hotel, made all the more interesting by the driver's complete incomprehension at our efforts to explain our destination. Never mind, we arrive safely anyway by means of non-verbal communication. During the hand-waving rituals on the pavement, a local girl stops her journey and makes sure that the driver knew where to take us even though she spoke no English either but, unlike the driver, could read the Thai script on the hotel card - a charming example of Thai concern for the welfare of visitors.

The drivers are late as they had decided to stop and have a late breakfast. It is a 200km journey north-east to Nakhon Phanom on the banks of the Mekong River and as Yutakit has dozed off in the lead bus the driver ignores the planned route and devises his own with all the other buses following. So, no temples, comfort breaks or, after two and a half hours, apparently lunch. Yutakit wakes up and finds us a golf course club-house in the country, which everyone agrees is charming. A wooden construction set in bougainvillea trees on the banks of a stream, we eat rice, soup and omelettes in various orders. Considering that we arrived unexpectedly the meal is prepared and brought out to us amazingly quickly by half a dozen young girls. Rene is surrounded by an admiring group of them and a photo is demanded. They tell him that they love him. I put the stills camera down and take a digital photo of them and show them the results. They examine it with care and then announce that they love me. Fickle or what? It does raise interesting questions about which foreign phrases are considered the most important to learn, doesn't it?

We arrive at the Nakhon Phanom River View Hotel, cunningly named because it's at Nakhon Phanom, is on the banks of the Mekong River, is a hotel and our room does have a view. It's so important to check these things. I prefer this hotel to the last, which although opulent, well appointed and efficiently run, was also rather characterless. Why, for instance, have a beautiful swimming pool and then surround it with white painted concrete and a few plastic chairs? It felt like sunbathing in a motorway underpass. The tropical trees were there, but too far away to relate to the poolside. Again, the normal arrangement in the rooms is to have either twin beds or a double. As a double had been booked, they had pushed the two singles (these are 5' singles) together to make a bed only marginally smaller than a medium sized ice rink. You needed advanced navigation skills to cross safely in the night. As the headboards were fixed to the wall and there was a centre console it made the room wierdly lop-sided with a large area of empty carpet to one side. This ones OK. It has a karaoke bar. Bliss. Good excuse for an early night, no worries. The wind which has been blowing steadily all day suddenly drops out to zero after dusk, which is what we normally expect. It looks as if it'll be flyable in the morning.

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