During supper I got chatting to two Irish women who were on a three month holiday of South East Asia. Sue had a nondescript job in insurance but her friend Jean proved the surprise of the day. She practised International Law in Dublin but had spent the first year after graduating working on the Slobodan Milosovic trial as part of the British prosecution team. Her descriptions of Milosovic himself, the trial process and the utter belief by his defence team that he was as guilty as sin of most of his alleged crimes, was fascinating. Apparently Milosovic denounced the court and trial in public, while at the same time working hour after hour on his defense with his own and The Hague-appointed defense teams. He was the original power-mad loony toon.
I had switched from the relative luxury of the brass-placqued Asian Pavilion Hotel, immortalised in John Le Carre's The Honourable Schoolboy, and decamped to an abode of more modest means and aromatic demeanor. This proved to be a disastrous mistake. The 160 baht I saved did not compensate for the fact that outside my new bedroom window, was a makeshift home karaoke yard that was put to ear-splitting use until 4am. It was no use trying to sleep and so I read until 4am, made the impromptu decision to go home and therefore decided to push on through the night and catch the first bus to Thailand with the intention of catching a train straight to Bangkok and the boarding the earliest flight to Singapore. I was told there was a train to Bangkok from the Thai town of Nong Khai,on the opposite bank of the Mekong, at 8am. That would have been perfect, except it was really 6am and I missed it by 20 minutes. There was no other train until 6.30pm and I was therefore stuck in the outstandingly awful provincial town of Nong Khai. Nong Khai's bland industrial facade gave one the impression of a lifeless factory that, if kicked into life, would produce cheap toilet seats. I had escaped from World's Most Boring Capital City to Blandest Provincial Town and apart from the fact that is was cleaner, was in fact zero improvement.
Bangkok for a few final hours with all its fumes, its filth and its traffic was paradise compared to Nong Khai and Vientiane. Apart from anything else, Bangkok actually has coffee and not the liquid produced in Laos that is spelt the same but could replace petrol in an emergency. I had gone on the backpacking trip to clear my head after a stressful few months. At 4am on Saturday morning, it dawned on me that taking buses, boats, tuk-tuks and nature's own transport had done the trick. It was time to go home and see my beloved wife who had so graciously let me go and traipse around Thailand and Laos indulgently, without so much as a murmur of complaint. When all was said and done, I had stayed under budget. It has been a real pleasure despite the dodgy accommodation, rather questionable food and life-threatening transport. As Jack Kerouac knew, there is nothing quite like being On The Road.
The pictures are now up - look here.