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A change of scenery for a couple of weeks, as I wondered if I could actually catch something from the Mekong. Well, at least something that didn't require a course of antibiotics and a mile of Kleenex. I was sadly mistaken. Nice place though.

I'm sat in Bangkok, talking to my folks back in the sunshine resort of Sandal's Spalding for the first time since my departure to the east, before leaving for a little two week 'annexe' of a trip into Laos. It was great to hear their voices again, and catch up with what's been going on, and as we chatted, my dad's inquired about my health since I've been away:
"Fine mate- no problem at all. Well, there's been the odd knock-kneed sprint to the loos, but no more than after an average night on the Guinness and a late one down at the Indian Cottage. In fact, so far I'm only one pair of boxers down", I replied with no small amount of pride at the achievement. The moment I said it, I knew I should have found some wood to touch, or crossed my fingers behind my back or something...

I caught the Bangkok train to a town called Ubon Ratchathani in the east of Thailand, then took a couple of rickety old buses to the border with Laos at Chong Mek. Dead easy, if a bit of a never-ending journey. The paperwork duly completed at both the Thai and Laotian sides of the border, and a two week visa sat in my pocket. I changed up about 4000 Baht (60 quid), and was handed back two rolls of Lao Kip in return, totalling about fourteen squillion of them - something like that anyway. I briefly wondered if I should buy something from one of the roadside vendors there so I could use the plastic shopping bag to carry the loot in, but decided instead to jam handfuls of the stuff into any spare spaces in my hand luggage and rucksack. Starving hungry, I used a few thousand Kip to purchase a tray of rice and 'stuff miscellaneous' from a roadside vendor,

 

Getting cosy for another luxury coach trip courtesy of SAGA South East Asia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh look! Some local fishermen have found a space to set some more nets!

and was then 'kidnapped' by a Laotian (Lotion?) bloke and directed onto his Songthew. I wanted to head for what is, to be honest, a grubby little town called Pakxe for a connection down to the deep south of the country near to the Cambodian end of things. We waited for some half an hour for the truck to fill up with OAPs, kids, carrier bags of fruit and veg, and some sacks which were quite plainly moving of their own volition. These, I was later to discover, were likely to contain either snakes, lizards, kittens or puppies - none of which I'd guess were likely to become family pets. It was baking hot, dirty, dusty and cramped on the 'bus', and I counted 32 people in all, either packed into or hanging off of a vehicle not much bigger than a Toyota Hi-Lux - and that didn't include the people on the roof I couldn't see. Staking my claim to a bit of space on the wooden bench, I surveyed my companions for this leg of the journey.

Now, I had seen on Discovery Channel the effects that chewing Betel Nut can have upon oral hygiene and aesthetics, but little had prepared me for a face to face encounter with a veteran Betel-chewer at close quarters.

 The offender was a grandma sat opposite me, perhaps aged between 60 and 120 (it's hard to tell out in Asia... at least that's the excuse all the fat kiddie-fiddlers down at Patpong Market use). I looked up to be confronted with a vision I'll never forget for the rest of my days. As my mate Sim back home would have noted, her breath must have been pretty bad in the first place, cos all her teeth were trying to stage a breakout on their own. But not only were they sticking out at all angles like a row of condemned houses, they were just a solid wall of red, the gaps between them now non-existent, full of a thick crimson plaque and tartar, and the teeth themselves stained a bright orangey-pink. The garnish to this orthodontic ratatouille, was a thatch of fibrous remnants of Betel stuck under her top lip and hanging down like a miniature grass skirt. Bad enough as this was, the final straw came when she started talking to the young lady next to her, who was wearing a white T-shirt with 3/4 length sleeves, and drips of red saliva landed on her arms as they spoke. Heaven knows how the younger lady managed to ignore it, because by the time we arrived in Pakxe she looked like she'd accidentally detonated a small jar of pickled beetroot. If I wasn't so mesmerised, I could have gagged.

Are Barbs the only fish left in Asia? Well they seem to be the only ones I can regularly bloody well catch!

Self take picture in the bamboo hut. Feeling great. I had to put my camera onto the 'Sports' setting just so the shutter was quick enough to fit in a gap between sorties to the "Scat-Shack" back in the bushes.

Anyway, enough of these trifling side issues and onto some more. A change of bus at Pakxe, and another cramped 3 and a half hour rattle through the countryside (just the 29 on this truck), and we pulled up at the side of the Mekong River at a small village called Ban Nakasang. As myself and another 3 or 4 travellers shared a boat across the river to the island of Don Det, the oily smooth water and surrounding hills were bathed in the evening sunshine, and I was really taken with how beautiful the whole area was. After a short walk round to the 'sunset' side of the island, a bungalow was soon found overlooking the river, and the extortionate rate of 3 nights for $5 U.S. agreed upon - which roughly translates to about 10000 Kip to the dollar - stay extendable upon request. One of the Israeli blokes who had walked round there with us stunned me by actually complaining to the owner, Mr Ong, that this seemed rather expensive, and went to find somewhere a little less opulent. For this fee, it should be pointed out, one should not expect a hot shower, complimentary mini-bar, satellite TV, air conditioning, a full English breakfast, or even electricity for that matter. However, what you do get is a roof over your head, somewhere to put your stuff and lay down of a night, a hammock and a veranda, and, not least of all, a wonderful view in an truly idyllic spot. Having thrown Quasi onto a suspect

Paddling down the Mekong - in and out the 4000 Islands and the 4000 nets.

looking mattress, I joined a few people catching the last of the sunset at the bar, and after a few introductions, whereby everybody promptly forgot everybody else's names anyway, we set about having a few Beer Laos. All very nice indeed. As the evening wore on, however, I was becoming more and more aware that something wasn't feeling so great in my stomach region. In fact I was beginning to feel pretty bloody awful. When the other travellers decided to move to the bar at another bungalow just up the track, I decided to hit the mattress and hopefully sleep off the griping pains which were by now slicing though my midriff...

The next four days were spent in my hut, the old mattress wet with sweat from either my fever or the tropical heat, or both, except for the regular dashes to the latrine when a particularly ominous stomach cramp racked it's way through my system - and never has judgement been so critical... I have to say that it got to the stage where the thing I coveted most on Planet Earth was an air-conditioned en-suite to my bamboo hut with western-style lavvy on which to comfortably sit and wile away the hours, book in one hand, head in the other. Unfortunately I had to make do with a 30 metre sprint to a fly-filled 'Tenko' style sweat-box with an eastern-style hole in the ground. This became the mystical temple at which I was to worship regularly each day, and eventually, with some considerable affection, christen as 'The Scat-Shack'. The nice ladies who were in the cooking area would also sometimes appear as I made my dash past, holding out toilet rolls reminiscent of those support teams with bottles of water at the London Marathon, laughing and giggling as I tried to avert an nasty pin-stripe-pant disaster. Ha bloody ha.










Oooooh.... Voices.....

During my time in the hut, I also became aware that I wasn't alone in there at nights. Each morning, more of the filling from the mattress was piling up along one side, not more than a couple of feet from my head. Soon the pile was getting to heap proportions, and when I felt well enough I got up to tell Mr Ong about the problem. Later Mr Ong appeared again, and a wire cage-trap was baited and set. I was awoken in the small hours of the next morning with a loud bang, and for a short while I had no idea what had happened... until I heard a scrawking and a scratting from the cage which went on in the pitch darkness for the rest of the night. When I retrieved the trap from under the bed at first light the next morning, I wasn't surprised to find my nocturnal companion for the last few nights had been a large rat which was now scurrying around in his new wire home. I handed over the trap, which duly disappeared, and when I asked Mr Ong where it had gone, again, I wasn't unduly surprised to find that the next door neighbours had now got some meat with their fried rice and noodles that evening. "Waste not, want not", as they say. Whoever 'they' are.

Anyway, even after I felt well enough to be up and about again, I was still a little delicate for another couple of days, and it was with some considerable relief that I awoke one morning actually feeling something close to 100% again. Contented that my brush with 'Asian Arse' should now be behind me for the time being, it was time to try and do some fishing...

So I started my now familiar task of asking around about bait and fishing possibilities. I purchased a couple of baguettes from the ladies in the cook house, along with a ball of sticky rice. I would have liked more, but I was beginning to understand a few things out here in Asia with regard to fishing. In this case, I needed to remind myself that I was actually using food for bait. 

More murder in the jungle. Doesn't matter how big you are, the spiders will still have a go.

Don Det, Southern Laos - it's hardly Mekong Ugly.

 

 

Above: Mrs Ong rustles up some breakfast. That day there was no way I could eat it though, purely for fear of squirting a shat in my shorts.

Left: One of her kids enjoys a Laos Lollipop.

Now, it seems out here that you are looked upon as a crazy fool to use a lot of bait. After all - if you have bread and rice, you have food... so why the hell do you want to give it to the fishes? Hence the purchase of only a small amount of bait, albeit if only to try and maintain a little kudos in the eyes of the village. I asked around about getting a boat, and an English bloke who had been living on the island for a couple of years reckons he could do the negotiations and sort it all out for about a dollar a day. Thing is he had been on the island perhaps 18 months too long, and 'later' ran into tomorrow, which ran into the next day... You should be getting the picture. I guess it's hard to get motivated when breakfast each day consists of a large Beer Laos and a cone of grass the size of a Cornetto.

Boomshanka indeed. Sundowner for stoners down at the bungalows.

 

Barbs, barbs, barbs, barbs, barbs, barbs...

Taking matters into my own hands, I asked if I could salvage a canoe which was sunk in the edge of the river, and after a few hours of trying to effectively raise the Titanic, and then bailing the thing out, I eventually had my own vessel from which to fish. I made a mud-weight from some bricks I found in a ditch up the track, and all was looking almost ship shaped once Mr Ong had loaned me an oar. A spade was also borrowed and I set about digging some worms too. A small patch of ground behind my hut was wetter than the rest, and the 

presence of some worm casts betrayed where they were laying right in the centre of it. A hour of digging saw a nice collection of several types and sizes of worms collected, but it was bloody hot work, with every square inch of my body dripping by the time I was finished. To keep the worms nice and fresh until I ventured out to fish in the cool(ish) evening, I placed some leaves and grass in the plastic cup with them, and then wedged them in the corner of a cool box with some ice. Everything was now in place...

As the afternoon started to creep towards evening, I loaded up my craft. There wasn't going to be a lot of room to manoeuvre on there, and I certainly wasn't going to be able to stand up or turn around, but it would have to do. Remembering the worms, I nipped back to the cooler, but they were nowhere to be seen. I searched the next cooler. Nada. I searched around the coolers... and there, sat in a patch of bright sunlight was my plastic cup. Someone had removed them from their nice cool home and just left them out, whereby they had cooked quite nicely in the tropical sunshine and now stank like roadkill. 

 

Temporary home on the Mekong. Looks idyllic doesn't it? And to be quite honest, all things considered, it really is.

After grubbing through the slimy mass, only two survivors remained. What a waste of time, and not a good start to the session. 

So, armed with two worms, a ball of rice and a couple of baguettes I edged out onto the river for a recce around and a bit of a fish. There were several nice looking spots to try, with runs drifting between small vegetation covered islands, and deeper pools opening out at the ends.

Choosing a run in which to fish, I dropped my mud-weight and set about fishing. First cast: snagged on net. Retackle. Second cast: different spot. Snagged on another net. Swear. Retackle. Third cast: another spot. Snagged on different net. More swearing. Retackle. Move spots. I soon realised that if I thought Sri Nikharin and Kao Laem in Thailand were festooned with nets, then the Mekong is chuffing well cocooned in them! I paddled around the islands for a while, and I realised that not only were all the channels filled with a slalom of nets, all marked by the ubiquitous water bottles found across south east Asia, (some of which were placed just under the water surface- hence my not noticing them in the first spot I fished), but also that each and every island resembled a cross between a gun turret on a battleship and a Russian space probe, since so many bamboo poles adorned with deadlines and live fish were there anchored into position around them. Not encouraging at all. Eventually I found a spot that looked a possibility, and dropped a bait in. Managing a mere hour now before dark, I had two bites, one I missed and the other culminating in another Armoured Tyretrack Eel. Since it was deep hooked, I decided to put it in a bag and take it back to camp, feeling pretty sure that someone there would eat it- possibly alive. Thing is, as I sat there with darkness closing in, the thing kept thrashing about in the bag, the constant rustling really becoming irritating in the silence of dusk. So I decided to put it out of its misery by knocking it out on the edge of the canoe. I picked up the bag and gave it an almighty thwack, whereby the bag split and the eel somersaulted 15 feet into the air and disappeared with a splat into the river. "Hey Mr Andy- where your fish?" shouts Mr Ong as I walked back to my hut a little later. "Me catch and release" I replied. After all, it was a story I'm not sure he'd understand anyway. It didn't stop him giving me the standard look of Asian incredulity as he tried to disseminate what I'd just told him. 

 

Above: Fishing a deep confluence pool below Somphamit Falls on the island of Don Khon. Yet more barbs and small catfish....

Below: "Hey mister; put the fish down real slow and put your hands upon your head"... Mr Oum: The fastest draw in the far-east.

   

I tried once more to fish up at that end of the island, and results were pretty much the same. To be honest, after this I really couldn't be bothered with the hassle. Mr Ong and family wanted to know when I was gonna bring them some fish- a dialogue I had to go through every time he clapped eyes on me. The boat was horrible to fish from and impossible to paddle against any kind of current (as I found out when I got drawn into some faster water at the head of the island and had to jump out and drag the thing upstream to calmer waters). Bait was in short supply, and the other backpackers at the rooms looked at me like I was nuts cos I was actually doing something. I concede that maybe they had a point. 

Most of the people there were really nice, but I'm beginning to realise a person can be in Asia too long. Well, too long without a reason to get up in the morning anyway. Aside from the English bloke who'd been there a couple of years, there was his mate, an Irish bloke, who had lost the plot completely. Somehow he was up at the crack of dawn each morning, and immediately began on the weed. This was followed a short while later by the first beer of the day. By mid-morning he was on grass, beer and the Laos whiskey was getting a hammering. By dinnertime he was off his face and talking utter rubbish to anyone who'd listen, and, to be fair, plenty of people who weren't listening. By 8pm he was usually getting worrying, shortly before blacking out until dawn the next morning - to start it all over again. To cap it all off, his favourite music was rap, and he only had three CDs: Eminem, 50 Cent and Tupac. And so he'd play them... over and over and over and over. Sort of like a rap Chinese water torture. Like a proper knob, he was enlightening everyone in the bar with some more of his pearls of cosmic wisdom one afternoon: 

"Tupac was killed in '92. That was the year that Shiva became very angry and sent earthquakes across all of India". Silence for a long couple of seconds.
"F*** me", says the bloke next to him, "I never knew Shiva was a Tupac fan".

Oh, and then there was also the very cool and very karmic French bloke who had Shiva tattoos, a Shiva vest (authentic, apparently, although I think his mum knitted it for him) and so many beads that I could have stuck a light bulb and some wheels on him and rolled him down the Khao San Road and pretty much paid for my flight ticket. This guy was completely harmless, and a nice kind of bloke. But he actually used the word 'boomshanka' for real. The only other time I have heard this word used was on TV by Neil the Hippy on The Young Ones, and his translation of it was "May the seed of your loin be fruitful in the belly of your womaaaan". Seriously. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm as up for a playful night as the next man, as anyone who knows me would tell you. But it really was time to move on.

Despite all the aforementioned hiccups I really liked the 4000 Islands. It is a really peaceful (rap aside) and beautiful part of the world. So, although it was time to move, I still had a few days left on my visa, and I simply hired a local lad on a moped and he ran me and my rucksacks right down to the opposite end of the island a few kilometres away. If I thought the top end was quiet, then this end was deserted. I dropped in at a bungalow right next to the bridge linking the islands of Don Det and Don Khon and decided to ask for a room there. This was clearly not a problem, since there was no one else staying there, and when they asked me to sign their guest book, the last inhabitants had been there a week and a half before, and the last Brit that had stayed there was almost a full month before. 

Unfortunately, this little piggy didn't make it to market.

 

Thing is, I liked the place so much more, even though the cats, dogs and chickens running around the place looked like they had a couple of chromosomes missing. In fact, talking of genetics, the sons of the couple who ran the place were also two of the most blatant lady boys I've seen thus far, complete with painted nails, hair in grips, eye make-up but the voice of an eastern Bernard Manning. Very trippy - especially in such a remote kind of place.

Here I managed to do some pretty much uninterrupted 

Yet another Yellowtail Barb. Nice fish, shame about the legs.

Colonel Sanders do your best. 30 years on, and it looks like Agent Orange is still playing havoc with the chickens.

fishing, although I couldn't arrange a boat, which was a bit of a handicap, and caught loads and loads of barbs on legered and trotted bread- including some Yellowtails- which were really beautiful. I also met Mr Oum and family who lived at the shack next door to the bungalows. The first time I got my gear out to try and fish, it's mystical magnetic field got to work again and immediately I had a gaggle of locals looking over my shoulder, muttering amongst themselves, and gasping as I threw back another tiny fish... alive, heaven forbid! Soon Mr Oum appeared, and he was the only person who spoke any English. He looked at my tackle admiringly, as you do (!?): "Wery gud... wery gud...", he said. Then he picked up my box of tricks, and started looking at sinkers, floats, line, and especially my hook boxes. "Wery, wery gud", he said, gesturing the open hook box toward me. I now knew that Mr Oum had his eyes set on getting hold of some western fishing gear.

During the evening, I gave him a couple of the fish I caught (my now standard 'pipe of peace' for Asia), which he seemed happy with, and then he said: 
"Me like pishing too. You pish tomorrow?" 
"Yes", I replied, "Downstream of the waterfall". (I had cycled down there and looked the area over earlier on and selected a likely looking spot).
"I come pish with you tomorrow". So what can you say? It looked like I had a partner for the trip.

 

I sat up at dawn the next morning and caught another load of small fish on legered and trotted bread, and even the cats and dogs were getting more curious of the weird white man by the river. To the point where as I played a fish to the bank, a scabby old mongrel which looked like it had some kind of canine alopecia ran up behind me and grabbed my lump of bread paste I had made for bait. Giving the mutt a slap it dropped the bait and ran off, and I watched helplessly as the bread rolled down the bank, picking up twigs, dirt and sand on the way and finally coming to rest in the very edge of the river - to my relief, rather than disappearing into the depths. I returned the fish, then retrieved the bait from the mud in the edge. 

Later, once the family were up and about, the kids were soon stood behind me watching what was going on. I reached behind to re-bait, but couldn't find the mud/bread mixture. Turning all the way round, I stood up, and there was one of the kids eating my ball of bait - grit and all. Like I say, in Asia, if you have bread and rice you have food... I had to laugh. And I admit I did feel a little mean as I gently tried to coax it back out of his little mitt without inducing any tears. He didn't seem to mind though, and ran off sharpish, probably to breakfast on a lizard and a couple of spiders or something.

If it's not the cats and dogs eating your bait then its the kids.

 

Mr Oum and myself headed off later in the afternoon for a try downstream of the Somphamit Falls. We cycled down, arriving soaked in perspiration as standard, and for my bait I had the remnants of the bread, as well as a plastic bag with three small barbs which I had kept alive and planned to use as catfish bait. Mr Oum had also smoked out and dug up some red ant nests and had them in a bag, complete with the big queens and eggs etc. By the way, I was mistaken when I thought that the water at the falls would be too fast to be netted or deadlined, since even in the very fastest of the white water the locals had put ropes across the rocks adorned with loads of deadlines with rocks on to weight them down in the current, and constructed bamboo platforms from which to fish and set the lines. Nowhere is safe!!

 

The spot I had picked was a small confluence whereby a stream entered from the left side of the river, creating a nice long crease and a large slack and eddy. The water was also nice and deep here, and looked very fishy. I dropped out a legered livebait on a 4oz sinker just on the slacker side of the crease, and it bounced a couple of times and then held. Then I rigged a lighter rod to see what species lived in the large slack. First three casts on the lighter rod gave me a nice Yellow Belly Barb, a fish which I have yet to identify, and a species of Pangassius Catfish. I was just getting to enjoy this, and checked the livebait to make sure it was still working and not snagged. When I turned round, Mr Oum had commandeered the lighter rod and had gone off up to the edge of the rocks about 30 feet away, his bag of ants in hand, and had taken it upon himself to get on with some fishing. "Oh well, I'll sit here then shall I?" I muttered to myself. It wouldn't have been so bad if he actually knew how to use the stuff, but he was just getting in a terrible mess- line everywhere, Mark Of Zorro mistimed casts- the full works. I tried to show him, but it was falling on deaf ears, so I sat and watched until he got in such a state that I had to re-tackle again- at which point I seized the opportunity to gain overall control of the gear! A little later as we sat catching a few more fish, everything went dark, the mountain disappeared behind behind a huge bank of black clouds, and it became obvious we were in for a good soaking.
"Mountain disappear. Rain come. We go", says Mr Oum.
"I'm staying".
He didn't look happy at this, but sat down again, no doubt thinking that he shouldn't leave me. It got even darker.
After a few minutes, he clearly wasn't happy at all; "I go wait back here in tree".

Above: Storm clouds gather over Cambodia. Another soaking on it's way.

"Ok- I'll see you later", I replied. It might sound stubborn, but I just had a feeling that the livebait, which kept banging away on the rod tip like crazy was going to get monstered. So off Mr Oum disappeared into the darkness, leaving me to wait it out on my rock by the rapids. In short, the livebait didn't get eaten, and I packed up after darkness had descended and rain had began to fall- those heavy type of drops that seem to be the size of marbles. I worked my way back through the trees, and eventually found where we had left the bikes- Mr Oum having long since departed. I gingerly made my way back through the undergrowth, taking many a wrong turning along the way, riding through the rain, cobwebs sometimes settling and sticking to my face. It took about an hour to pick my way through the multitude of obstacles- least of all the dark and the mud (no bike lights out here!), before I pulled up at the digs again to find the whole family sat in front of the TV, generator running, watching a DVD (or VCD) of trailers for western movies. The nice lady host disappeared into the cook-zone to knock me up a plate of rice, and as she did so, I heard a yelp and one of the lady boys came running out of the kitchen dragging one of the dogs by it's ears and kicked it out onto the path into the rain. Very fiery these girls, and clearly not to be messed with!


Weighing out the catch at Ban Nakasang. Oh bollocks to it- I'm getting a net too. 

It rained like crazy all night, and next morning the river had clearly risen, and the water colour had gone to that of milky tea. Not too inspirational, albeit that I did catch a load more small species and kept a couple to be used as bait later in the evening. During the evening, I caught a few more fish while the kids looked on, and an interesting little vignette of Laotian attitudes to life on Earth then occurred. One of the kids, a cute looking little girl of about 5 years old I guess, was playing in the margin of the river next to me. I handed her a fish to see whether she would drop it back. Instead, as the fish squirmed in her hand, she began scraping the scales from it's flanks with her nails. Then she 

put it on the floor... and dropped some rocks upon the poor thing. A few minutes later, she got the fish out from under the rocks (still faintly alive), and then peeled the remainder of the scales from it's back. And then she just randomly threw it into the river. I don't understand...? Furthermore, I had been told that the people of Laos like to make an eel stew or soup. I caught one that evening on a strip of fish dropped into a slack beneath the bridge, so I quickly walked up to where the boys and girls were watching more movie trailers in the darkness. I pointed to the eel on the end of my line:
"You want?", I asked, gesturing an eating motion with my other hand. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Oi, Igor, did you remember the Kleenex?!"

The old man smiled and nodded twice. So I headed back to my fishing spot to do the necessary, and he sent one of the lady boys to follow. I got out my knife and decapitated the poor thing, before removing the hook. The lady boy looked at the still writhing eel in the torch light, then picked it up and threw it out into the swirling Mekong. All you can do is shrug your shoulders... The further three I caught that evening were returned alive.

And that was about my time in Laos used up, my visa due to run out the next day. I paid for my room and food the following morning, and left a bag with some line, hooks and sinkers for Mr Oum, whereby Mr and Mrs Landlord each tied a piece of string around my wrist. Mr Oum appeared and did the same. Then his two kids saw what was going on and joined in on the act. I left the place with my arm looking like a joint of meat ready to go in the oven, for some reason. On the bus north a little later it was explained that it was all to do with Pi, and that it symbolises keeping your spirits tied within your body and will bring good luck on your travels. I'm not usually taken with superstitious stuff... but for some reason I haven't dared cut them off yet for fear of being mown down by an errant tuk tuk. I guess they'll drop off in the end.


Instant handbag- just add zipper.

So that was my little jaunt into Laos completed. A beautiful part of the world, and an education in just how the other half live, with very welcoming and friendly people throughout - unless, of course, you're an animal. The bus back this time was again rammed full, complete with baskets of fish (the stinking juices from the contents leaking through the weave and running up and down the floor of the truck- not good in that heat after 3 hours), chickens with their legs tied together in bunches thrown on the roof, two geese - again with feet trussed up and making a terrible commotion, a basket of ducklings running around, sacks of fruit, a few of the 'self-bustling' sacks as per the journey down, and last but not least, a live Monitor Lizard roped up in true Harry Houdini fashion and carried aboard like some kind of macabre living handbag by a young girl. Truly bizarre. Arriving in Bangkok some 20 hours later, never before has Thailand seemed so sophisticated.

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