Tuesday 7th December

Well, a much better morning with wind levels merely dangerous rather than impossible. I attend the little group gathered before dawn in front of the hotel, but quickly make up my own mind: someone else might decide to fly but it's not going to be me.... Back to bed, there are no prizes for heroics here. At breakfast Pauline finally persuades the chef to cook her egg that she was given at the silk village.

Here we say goodbye to Dr. Suthachai, Pantip and Ratchasak. They have been good friends and companions to us and lively company at all times. The parting is sad, and we are sorry that we haven't been able to give the hoped-for balloon rides, but at least Ratchasak got one flight in on our first day.

On the road later that morning to Ubon Ratchathani we stop at the Buddha Utthayan or Buddist Park to admire the colossal statue there which looks splendid in the blazing sunshine and cool breezes that we are now enjoying. Disaster strikes and I am summoned to assist Nigs. Behind the statue a monk has a pet monkey on a long string. It has made a snatch for Nig's camera, who, startled, tries to grab it back. He loses the draw and receives a small bite on the arm in the process. The monkey then drops and breaks the camera which was an early Christmas present from Maggie. The lens assembly is half pulled out of the body mount exposing the servo contacts and interlock rods. Part of the plastic lens mount ring is broken and one of the screw threads is stripped. It takes me some minutes to release the lens from the body and try and tease the mount ring back into its groove. The lens now clips onto its mount but the servo coupling no longer works and it is evident that the body at least will require repairs at a main dealer. The only consolation is that as it was bought on credit card it will be insured against damage. What a nuisance. Subdued, we move off to eat at the next town which is Amnat Charoen. Wait a minute. My Thai given name is Charoen, making the translation of this name-place "Powerful Success". And we all thought that "Oxford" had a fine ring to it!

Our hotel room at Ubon Ratchathani is a little different as each room is a separate two-roomed chalet set in the gardens, surrounded with water, winding paths and little wooden bridges. This is all very charming, fresh and green. There is a raised hardwood platform forming half the main floor area on which repose two Thai day-beds and a lower area containing the Western-style one, a cocktail bar/fridge and a television. A cool green-tiled bathroom and shower open off this to provide self-contained accommodation. Unlike the some of the others in the group who don't seem to be able to survive without television news and email, our television sets remain unused. We dine in town at a newly-opened resaurant, shunning the karaoke section and choosing the outside area that has gardens and a water feature as a backdrop. Our waitress is stunning in gold and black and is very keen to practise her English as we take our leave. As we do so, she takes my hands in hers (she's absolutely freezing cold in that dress, but doesn't show it) and tells me that she finds me "very handsome".

Ed. Are you making this up? Author. No.

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