Malaysia Hotel, Bangkok, 13/3/73
I have just had my most comfortable night since I left home. This hotel has air conditioning, swimming pool, lukewarm water (the first I've experienced since Sydney) and comfortable beds. I am sharing a room with an Irish Catholic from Belfast, whose name is Frank - must be a good Oirish name. At Baht 60 for the room I don't know why anybody would want to live in a flat. I fly out to Rangoon this morning (1125) with Thai International, so this is a hurried note to keep you abreast of the news.
We paid Baht 200 for a group of 5 (an American couple, a Scot and two Aussies) to be guided into the mountains out of Fang to visit a hill-tribe. It was 3 hours of hard slog (and I don't say it lightly) to get there. I suppose it's good training for the Himalayas. We greeted the chief in the accepted manner with folded hands and were invited to drink tea after handing over our gifts of biscuits, candles etc. and having prayers muttered for us by the witchdoctor. We inspected the village and the Americans got themselves high on opium. After that, their manners were even more of an embarrassment. There is a lot of opium grown in the "Golden Triangle" - borderlands of Thailand, Burma and Laos.
The chief then offered us whisky, which we were glad to help him with, and dinner of rice and noodles, after which the tribal New Year festivities began, with dancing around a sort of maypole. This went on until about 0400. We had to join in as best we could (complicated steps) and even had a go at banging the drums and clashing the cymbals. I was also bitten on the ankle by one of the local curs - that's news!
The tribe was very uncommercialised but not as primitive as I expected. They have a lot of Western clothes and the chief even had an M16 American service rifle which he was firing around for New Year greetings, though I did see one tribesman with a muzzle-loader - I'm not sure they still had those even in the Boer War, did they? These guns are used as protection against insurgents.
There was another village nearby of Burmese refugees who had been running so short of rice they were eating mud.
Next morning (after sleeping on the chief's floor) we were up early and trundled all the way down again, took a ridiculously overloaded bus to Thaton on the Kok River (from where Burma was visible) and paid 30 Baht each for the trip downriver to Chiang Rai, which ended up taking 5 uncomfortable hours.
There was not as much rainforest as I expected - a lot of it has been chopped away and is now replaced with secondary growth. Shooting the rapids was good fun, though some of us had to get out and walk around the worst parts, through jungle just like the Vietnam war pictures. From Chiang Rai I took an air-conditioned overnight bus to Bangkok, arriving about 0600.
Spent a lot of frustrating time trying to find a pair of gym-boots to fit me. Bata shoes are everywhere in SEAsia but they stop just half a size too small.