Friday 3rd December

Despite the clear skies at 4 a.m. it is overcast and misty this morning. The only worry is the ground level wind direction of 145 degrees which will take us over the river border into Laos. We agree that ditching in the river would be preferable to the trouble caused by an illegal overflight into Laos and the improbability of recovering the balloon under those circumstances. The upper wind looks promising so off we go, experiencing a frisson of excitement as we all head for the river, which has suddenly become magnetic. Up at 1000' we encounter the expected veering which is nearly at 90 degrees to the ground wind, so we head joyfully inland towards the new airport which is under construction. It has a very nice perimeter track and a half constructed terminal building. Presumably the main runway will be started once they've drained the swamp. Oh, and some drainage would be good too, unless I've missed the point and this is a seaplane facility. As one often finds in Thailand, a lot of ventures are started with the hope of attracting funds later.

Delightful flight. We fly very low over a farmhouse set among trees next to a dried-up watercourse. We wave to the delighted owners. A few minutes later the wind dies completely and then reverses. Three out of the four balloons start to track back towards the town. We wave again. About half a mile later the wind dies again, makes up its mind and settles down again in the original direction. Overflying the house for the third time we get only a languid wave of acknowledgement. I suppose it looks a bit like harassment - I mean, stirring up a chap's water buffalo three times in under half an hour is probably stretching hospitality a bit thin! We find a field and do a stand-up landing, being quickly surrounded by the villagers from a village whose name means "Place where the pigs are grown". Before leaving England we came second in a County inter-Library Quiz and we have brought along our prize of a box of Cadbury's Roses. I make sure that each child gets a sweet even though some of the tiny ones are shy and are almost forced forward by their grandparents. I kneel right down and offer the shiny dainty on outstretched palm from where it is quickly taken with a wei of thanks, which I don't return as it is considered to take a little of the childhood away being an adult salute. One of the children seems on the large side, squatting in the line almost curled up into a ball, sporting a well pulled-down basketball cap and giving a suspiciously high wei (the salute of a very inferior to a high superior). It is Sawat, our crew chief, playing the fool: it earns him a sweet anyway.

Back for breakfast, a proper one with a sweet pepper omelette freshly cooked by the duty chef in the dining room. The milk served is thick and creamy, coming as quite a surprise after so many years of healthy semi-skimmed at home. Trust our dairies to make a virtue of selling a product twice...

Power--nap, shopping, lunch, market (an amazing place, this, with locally produced foodstuffs of all sorts, fresh live fish, sacks of tobacco, spices, nuts, vegetables and fruit) and we see only about one third of the stalls. A riverboat trip is arranged for 600 baht (about £10) which gets us the use of a huge boat and its driver for over an hour. We cruise close to the Laos side on the return which gives us the opportunity to compare the Laotian building style with the Thai equivalent on the other bank. Generally similar, but with a shallower pitched roof and a somewhat lower aspect. We'll no doubt see more of them when we cross from Mukhadan next week. The fish meal of two days ago seems to have caught the imagination of our more dedicated shoppers because several sets of charcoal burning stoves have been purchased along with the fish-shaped aluminium dishes that sit on top. The whole is brought to the table to allow the fish to finish cooking there. Fine for an English barbecue but I hope they've got good fire insurance if they are going to emulate the Thai style meal and serve it in-doors!

On the subject of meals this evenings is taken in the hotel and has not fish, by request. Well, alright, just a bit. Nigs has hit on the perfect drinks solution which is both refreshing and cheap! He buys a decent bottle of scotch - Johnny Walker Red Label seems favourite - and serves it Thai-style with soda. This actually is rather good, since there is only a little scotch with a lot of soda, served in a tall glass and replenished automatically by the waitress whenever she spots that you've drunk half. If you are very attentive you might spot them actually doing this, otherwise it appears to be magic! In this way a bottle lasts the whole party all evening and no-one feels the worse for wear the following morning, or five hours, whichever occurs sooner. The wind, unlike last night, shows no sign of abating.

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