Monday, 26 March 2012

Punks vs. Laos - Part 2: From Boredom to Insanity

We stand outside the bus station in Oudonxai, repeating the now familiar and surprisingly tiring action of standing with a thumb out. The scribbled directions are turning into sweaty dust in my pocket. The heat's throbbing silent, burning dubstep waves into our skin. We constantly swig at water bottles. We're tired, grumpy and dusty. Both of us are probably restraining ourselves from kicking the other one in the face.

Hitchhiking has many great elements to it, but, above all, it's one of the most intensive patience tests you can ever experience.

Fortunately, we reach Luang Prabang within the day. It's a very pretty (bland word, but the only word for it), nice (ditto) city. And, unfortunately, there's tuk tuk drivers. You'd think, escaping Thailand, that they wouldn't be around. But no, there they are, being annoying, getting in your face, jabbering incoherently in order to baffle money out of you, offering everything from rides to opium.

We get to a hostel called SpicyLaos and hung out with some pretty awesome people there. There was a chap from Arkansaw called Jeremy, who let me rip loads of music off him. A pleasure to have The Boss back in my ears. He also downloaded The Inbetweeners movie, which was comforting, predictable and incredibly funny. I still think the series is probably the most authoritative observation on suburban British teenagers. Pretty much everything you see there is exactly how they are. And, if you've never been a teenage boy brought up in suburbia, it's scarier than you could possibly imagine.

After our slightly mental journeying, it was good to stay put somewhere for a few days... although it is a bit of a mission finding things to do in Luang Prabang. There's a couple of decent bars filled with irritatingly perfect looking people and rubbish music. A plus side is the great night market where I bought some beautiful hand-stitched juggling balls and honed my haggling skills. My Mum would love the place.

Speaking of juggling, Mr. Furious, myself and a couple of other folk from the hostel went to a bar to see a circus trio, who were shamblingly fun. They had clearly completely blagged the gig on the hoof, and were basically rehearsing onstage. This all added to their charm though. What was particularly odd was the way the bar area occasionally blasted out bits of music at random. Whether they were either hinting at them to get off stage, or quite clearly telling them to fuck off, I couldn't quite gather. But, like with most things on this trip, I just accepted it as another level of weirdness being shoved into my brain.

Also, I'm reliably informed I talked in my sleep in the dormitory. Anyone who's shared space with me will attest to my nonsensical nocturnal ramblings, but this one apparently went overboard. The girl sleeping in the bed nearby mine said:

"It was like you were at a football match, shouting 'GO GO GO!'"

So yeah, turns out I don't even shut up in my sleep. There is no escape.

And that was pretty much it from Luang Prabang. Revved up to go again, Mr. Furious and I head south to Vang Vieng: the trouncing, booze-and-drugs-powered juggernaut of Laos partying. We waited for ten minutes, and a guy parks up in his pick up. He is heading to Vang Vieng. He says he will do it for 10 000 all in. We break the unspoken hitchhiker code, agree and jump in the back. Still, we get to Vang Vieng by late afternoon, and have the smug pleasure of overtaking a couple of tourist buses. Sorry guys but, honestly - pull your thumbs out and start hitching.

I believe I've covered my views on Vang Vieng in a short story I wrote a couple of weeks ago, which you can find here. However, it's worth going into a bit more detail. After a now-regulation meal and beer to celebrate not being killed and left to rot on a South East Asian rural roadside, we find another SpicyLaos guesthouse, drop our stuff, and go marching off into the unknown. And when I say "the unknown", what I really mean is "in search of various intoxicants".

Stumbling through the dark, going off road, we hear the familiar party rumble - the thundering, distant, deep bass that cuts through the pitch black. The primal calling to wreckheads world over. We come to a river which is blocking our path to the beats. And instead of trying to find a bridge, we wade through the dark water, scrambling up the muddy bank to the other side, fully formed songs forming in the darkness as we get closer and closer.

We stagger into the glitz of Smile Bar, with its raging campires and dizzying lights. We head straight for the bar, flip the menu over, and there are the previously mentioned/consumed "happyshakes" of Kho Phang Yan. A decision is made with a single look to each other and a grin. We order two, and delve into our minds for six hours. It is, frankly, fucking fantastic. We dance like chimps, babble mindless crap at people, avoid the irritatingly beautiful people playing beer pong and posing about like twats and, through doing so, meet some people who're on the level, which seems to work out just fine. After quite a while of all this, we stagger off to bed.

During the day in Vang Vieng, there is little to do apart from go tubing. I didn't bother, partly out of being contrary for the sake of it, and partly because it sounded fucking nightmarish. Basically, you go down the river in a little rubber ring thing, and stop at various bars. At these various bars, you get hammered. And that's it. There seems to be a strange delusion which grips some folk abroad, which is when there's plenty of cheap alcohol available, somehow the individual's alcohol tolerance rises. I'll let you into a secret: it doesn't. Unsurprisingly, Vang Vieng is host to many accidents and some deaths every year, and not just of dignity.

What amazes me most about this get-fucked-as-much-as-possible culture is that the individuals within it are frequently surprised when you don't want to join in. One guy comes up to me whilst I was lying in a hammock. He's a touch worse for wear at 6pm.

"What'd you do all day?" he asked.

"Err... well, I'm currently reading and lying in a hammock and enjoying the sun."

"You just seem to get hammered at night and do nothing during the day."

"Okay, I'm fine with that."

The implied question lurking beneath "what'd you do all day?" is "why aren't you getting drunk?" By all means, drink as much as you like, but why criticise me for not drinking? I felt kinda bad for him, as he was clearly bemused by how anyone could be enjoying themselves just hanging out on their own.
I found this psychology quite endemic in Vang Vieng, and as such Mr. Furious and I made it our mission to scurry off in search of small bands of really cool people have fun our way. Which, to be fair, seemed fairly similar to the way everyone was having fun, but with added scummy crustiness, swearing, over-expenditure, less posing and more chimping around.

Vang Vieng has the potential to suck you in and refuse to let you go. We stayed there five days and considered it too too long. We meet a girl who'd been there two weeks, drinking every day. She looks dazed, like she couldn't possiblyenvision a world outside of the Vang Vieng bubble. The environment of irresponsibility seems to not stop at the abuse of the individual's liver, but extends to treating other people like toys in a game. We hear about one guy who slept with a girl in our hostel, and told her that he could only have sex with the same girl three times, because it was an agreement he had with his friends (I use the term 'friends' very loosely here), otherwise he would have to down a pint of piss or something equally twattish. She didn't really take him seriously, and when it turned out he was serious, she was very hurt.

It's this kind of heartlessness that an inherently heartless environment will engender, and that's kind of sad.

That said, Vang Vieng at least has the gumption to wear its heart on its sleeve. It is what it is. Unlike Pai, with all its sinister hidden codes and hierarchies, Vang Vieng is as loud and as crass as a pair of massive brass balls banging against a pair of equally massive brass tits. Which is kind of fun to experience for a day or two, but after a while, it becomes a repetitive blur of lights and superficial noise, and we realise that there just isn't any substance to the place. Nothing to sink your teeth into, nothing to properly engage you.

Rinsed of all other possibilities, Mr. Furious and I get ready to hit the hell out of the road for Laos' capital, Vientiane...

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Punks vs. Laos - Part 1: Mountains and Night Dogs

So Laos is the reason why the updates have been so, so very slow until recently. A big hand to Mr. Furious for not just being there and making it more interesting, but also bothering to remember it all in order so I don't write it as a jumbled, impressionist mess.

Everyone told us that Laos is "a really chilled place" many, many times. Now, Mr. Furious and I have many qualities, but being chilled is not among them. For a fascinating variety reasons (not worth explaining now), we are quite unchilled people. This unchilledness projected on to the landscape of Laos makes it as chilled as the aftermath of punching a rhino's balls in.

And so we arrive in Huay Xai, the Laos border town, and we get bored almost immediately. No offence to the place, but hitchhiking through Thailand to arrive somewhere really quiet was a bit of a comedown... so, after a look at a map, some scribbled road numbers and destinations, we do the sensible thing and start hitchhiking again.

We head north east to Luang Namtha, taking one truck ride nearly all the way there. We bravely begin walking the 5km walk to the town, but we end up hailing a lift to take us the rest of the way.

It's late and the town is dead. We meander around for a while trying to look for a place to sleep. I don't know if you're aware, but provincial/rural South East Asia after dark tends to be where all the Night Dogs come out and begin acting rather aggressively. These Night Dogs generally look a little bit wild and haggard, and like they're going to chew your face off at any give moment. A bit like George Bush in his drinking days. Thankfully, most of them are all bark and no face chewing, and certainly wouldn't be capable of launching illegal wars.

We happen up on a guesthouse. After a brief discussion, we decide to bed down in the porch. This is all fine and dandy until the lady on the nightshift comes out, and then we kinda feel obliged to pay for a room. Ah well.

The next morning, we agree that the journeying is way more fun seems way more fun than any destination, so we continue hitching. We get to ride in the back of pick ups and taken through the mountains. This, beyond every other view I've seen so far in South East Asia is easily the gobsmacking and breathtaking. It's cocking panoramic - craggy mountains rocketing out of dense jungle, cramming into the horizon. Frequently, we just sit in silence, occasionally muttering something along the lines of "... fucking hell". We are officially awe-inspired, our eyes melding into the scenery.

To add to the excitement, frequently the mountain roads have no barriers and are also occasionally blocked by massive boulders. Oh, and there's the small matter of cars coming the other way too.* I have no idea how the drivers don't just suddenly snap and scream:


But, to their credit, they don't. And nor do we. Whilst slowly burning in the sun, Mr. Furious and I have some nice chats about anarchism, ideas of community and the individual, our old squat... just generally sifting through the politics in our brains. All in all, jolly good, enlightening stuff.

So, after a hard day's hitching, we arrive in Oudomxai. We try to hitch for a bit longer from near the bus station, but it gets dark, and, not being hot girls, we don't get picked up (oh, how I longed for my Chang Khong molester and his gentle, pissed, masculine touch). We're tired, but our adrenaline is pumped, and we don't want to sleep just yet. We go and eat and bimble around, before happening up on a tiny bar. There's a load of articulated lorries outside, with the truckers drinking there. Being adventurous, curious and wanting a drink, we go and join them. All the truckers are really drunk, but incredibly friendly and inviting. We chat in broken English, try and fail to learn what "cheers" is in Laos, and, when they leave, refuse any of our money to pay for the bill. They then proceed, whilst hammered, to get in their lorries to drive home.

Watching five huge vehicles on a road barely wide enough for one of them, simultaneously attempting to execute three point turns was a truly beautiful and terrifying sight. No fatalities either.

We wander back to the bus station, and bed down on some chairs. I wake after about an hour to find Mr. Furious gone. This concerns me slightly, but I don't do much about it, being a terrible friend and everything. It turns out he's helping some of the dudes also sleeping at the bus station build a fire to keep warm, so I chip in, and wander off to get some wood. Unfortunately, every bit of wood I try to pick up seems to be protected by the aforementioned dreaded Night Dogs, so I've got three options:

1) Pick up the wood and pray the Night Dogs do nothing

2) Pick up the wood, and, if the Night Dog tries to chew my face off, beat it to death with said wood


3) Don't pick up the wood

I choose the third option, put some other stuff on the fire, go to sleep, and then we wake up early, get some cheap noodle hobo broth in us, and get our hitch on to Luang Prabang...

To be continued...

*This reminded me of when me and some friends were being driven through the mountains of Botswana in 2003. I peered over the edge of the road to look down to the valley floor. There was a wrecked up lorry, slowly rusting in the dust. This scared me. But I wisely chose not to share this memory with Mr. Furious until we were done with the mountain bit.

Monday, 19 March 2012

A completely self-imposed race against time...

Pai was bit of a critical moment for me in realising that, from Bangkok onwards, we've been shoved from box to box. From cab, to tuk tuk, to minivan, to guesthouse, to bar, to club... all claustrophobic four walls, barely any open space... designed not to challenge but to comfort.

And so, being men of extremes, Mr. Furious and myself decided to hitchhike to Laos.

Oh yeah, I also only had two days left on my visa, which meant getting over half of Thailand to border town Chang Khong by that night. In a country neither of us had hitchiked in before. Yes, it was a dramatic race against time. Like '24' if it mainly consisted of two increasingly desperate-looking punks standing on dusty roadsides with their thumbs out.

Hitching is surprisingly easy in Thailand. Some people wanted money for the rides, but when we said we couldn't afford public transport most of those who stopped took pity on us. And it definitely broke us out of the claustrophobic box of the tourist trail, opening our eyes to a damned beautiful country and some extremely nice people.

There is a slightly unnerving ride with one guy. He stops, and I jump in front, and Mr. Furious in the back. The driver is slightly, how should I put this... over-friendly, what with his drunken (yes, drunken - drink driving seems something of a sport in South East Asia) strokes of my leg. He speaks okay English, and suggests that we go to his place and stay "for free". His manner suggests that he had a very liberal interpretation of the word "free". I turn to Mr. Furious - who is happily ignorant of the whole situation - and say: "I don't think this ride is going to be free". He doesn't have a clue what I mean, seeing as he can't see the occasional light petting. Mind you, I'm pretty sure he would encouraged me to take one for the team in order to get a free ride anyway.

The driver is clearly a nice guy - he isn't really
that creepy (the whole picking-up-younger- men-on-roadsides-and-trying-to-bang-them-whilst-drink-driving-thing notwithstanding), and dropped us off where we needed to be dropped off. I am, however, a little shaken by the experience. If that had happened in a club, I obviously could've just gone "sorry man, not interested" and wandered off. But being in the car, with someone else in control, not able to get out... that is genuinely a bit frightening. I don't think the driver quite realised how intimidating a situation like that is to a girl like me.

Anyway, after that, some kindly gent drops us off outside a police station. Now, given my very brief history with Thai police and their reputation of being pretty corrupt, this doesn't exactly make me feel safe. However, it seems that the cops out in sticks are a bit nicer than Bangkok's finest, and help us flag down a ride with their torches. This does take some time though, and I'm amazed at the number of people who simply ignore cops trying to flag them down. And fair play to them for wanting to avoid getting involved with Thai police. I wouldn't if I had the choice. After an hour or so, a car stops, with a lovely English-speaking couple who had a lovely car which smelt lovely and had lovely seats. And then two men - who, at the best of times, probably don't wash their clothes enough - clamber in and ruin the atmosphere. Still, they are very tolerant of us, and drop us off in Chang Khong.

And so, eight rides and around nine hours later, we've made it. Boom! We then meander around trying to find a hostel, and wander into one owned by a guy called Danny. We ask him if he knows anywhere cheap to stay. The exchange goes something like this:

Me: Do you have anywhere cheap to stay?

Danny: How low can you go?

Mr. Furious: Free?


Danny: If you buy food and a few drinks here, you can sleep in the massage palour next door.

Us: Yes, that sounds great, thank you.

"If you beg for free shit, sometimes you get it" - The Bible, Chapter 674

And so we do as he says. We watch an amazingly terrible horror movie dubbed in Thai, drink, eat, barble nonsense at each other, before being shown to the massage palour.

Now, given that it's a Thai massage palour, and it's free, I presume there are be some kind of strings attached... so we wander in with some trepidation and find...

... two made up beds.


So we snuggle down for a decent night's rest in the most comfortable beds we've had so far. Danny, if you're reading this: You're our hero, and thank you.

So we wake up, buy breakfast, give our heartfelt thanks to Danny, and go to the border. We pay 40 baht to cross the Mekong River into Huay Xai, Laos by boat (when, later, we see people crossing it on foot - and that's the kind of petty revenge Thailand takes on you when it senses you've got something for free), pay $35 to be let into the country, bimble around the border town for a bit, get bored, and decide to continue our hitchike into Laos, with little to cling on to other than second-hand advice about the country and our own ever-decreasing grip on reality.

And that, my friends, is how you get to Laos, UK-crusty style.

New short story: Party at Ground Zero

Vang Vieng, Laos, 2012

The open air bar bangs out a discordant mash of popular songs that meld with the humidity. Snoop and Dr. Dre are shoved uncomfortably next to Rage Against The Machine, who, in a lurching seugeway, suddenly turns aimlessly generic dubstep and drum n’ bass… bundled together into a compilation CD aimed at the mythical average party goer. The DJ seems less concerned with playing good dancing music, and more with soundtracking a cultural apocalypse.

This particular cultural apocalypse is alight with gaudy neon and dazzling superficiality. Faces melt from beer bottles to kissing lips, to campfire fire trance like a montage of a trailer for an advert. Bundles of meaningless banknotes are bundled into invisible hands, passed from tourist to bar to police for protection. This is a carefully designed experience, where fun comes from the top down and any notion of grassroots has been dug up and left on the compost heap.

It’s a whirl of booze and hormones, of blonde girls and ripped guys grinding in a hammered MTV parody. This is UK high street drinking with added mushrooms and opium on the bar menu to lend an aura of decadence.

To be fair, though, the drugs are pretty fucking good.

I sit with my friend Mr. Furious, greedily sipping whiskey and coke through straws like the needy, infantile, irresponsible goons Vang Vieng needs us to be, debating what drugs to take, where the next free drink is coming from, lip-synching to whatever the hell is being thrown at us by the DJ.

This is pretty much business as usual in Vang Vieng.

Then, through the clouds of cigarette smoke, dust, polished skin and unattainable dreams, she appears. It’s 9pm, and she’s seriously drunk. It’s the kind of unpredictable drunk where elation and depression are in constant battle with each other, and a thread hangs between tottering calm and spitting rage.

She stands and sits repeatedly, swaying like a rag doll in a gale. Her carefully applied make up has been swept up in a torrent of sweat and tears. She lifts up her dress and displays the crudely drawn spurting cock on her back to all who will look. This could be funny, except it’s all acted out with such lingering, trashed security. Like I said, she’s seriously drunk. It’s difficult to not feel deeply uncomfortable. Mr. Furious and I can only avoid her glazed eyes, ashamed on her behalf, lost at what to do.

She attempts to talk to us, but her chat is a gabba set on loop, a mash up of repeated slices of anecdotes and cut ups of opinions and accusations. She tries to explain, reason or justify her arrival to us, at this bar, alone, and drunk. But, because of the latter, it comes out as a hopeless ramble.

Suddenly, she clings on to a piece of driftwood from our conversation. I’ve no idea what it is – a word, a phrase, we’ll never know – but it triggers something inside her, and her first words of clarity are as direct as they are saddening.

“No woman has any self-respect.”


Mr. Furious and I almost hit the deck at the sudden bluntness of her words. She nods to herself as if her point is finally made, and drifts back into incoherence. Again, we can only sit, helplessly at a loss.

No woman has any self-respect.

The six words reverberate in my brain for hours, days, weeks after, and make my heart shudder whenever I repeat them to myself.

I witness this annihilation of self-respect too often back home. A majority of the populace have been convinced that the only way to handle life is by debasing themselves because, after all, as British people, we come from a social structure that tells you daily:


… while at the same time attempting to force complete obedience through a labyrinth of complex institutions and archaic traditions. Growing up in the UK, we’re told that obedience is the key to climbing the mythical ladder of life. We’re told to “play the game”. And obedience doesn’t work if the individual is allowed self-defined notions of self-respect, because any self-respecting individual will tell anyone who orders them around to go fuck themselves.

And we come back to those five words – No Woman Has Self-Respect, and have flashes of her past, present and future.

I see the teachers training her through detentions and suspensions. I can see the politicians on television, all smiles and shark teeth, telling her everything will be just fine if she buckles down. I see newspapers scaring her into work to let someone else profit from her anxiety. I see bosses, red-faced, barking orders at her. I see boyfriends convincing her to have sex when she really doesn’t want to, a subtle threat of violence snaking through his words. I see advert up on advert holding up a postcard to a life that’s as alluring as it is illusory. All these conspire to do one thing – to convince this woman that she isn’t special.

But she is special. And I hope one day someone shows her that she is in charge and doesn’t have to take all this shit. I don’t want her to fall into the spiral of Vang Vieng, into the abyss that deceives people into settling for nothing, into the whirlpool that drains all natural energy and creativity…

I want to tell her all of this, but instead I look away. As I try to figure out what kind of a hellish world could make someone utter those six words, I immediately begin to drink away the memories.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Pai (pronounced 'pi', in case you were wondering...)

As you will see from the blog entries that will be forthcoming over the next few weeks, you will realise how utterly justified I am in not keeping this blog up to date. It has been a completely, ravishingly insane month, so I'm going to spirit you back to early February, as Mr. Furious and myself depart from Chiang Mai and head to our main destination: the traveller hippy town of Pai, "hidden" among the mountains of North East Thailand (ie. feels like it's hidden, but it's possibly the worst kept secret since Barack Obama pretended he wasn't from a reptilian bloodline).

Pai is very beautiful. The minibus crawls up five hours worth of gorgeous, mountainous views to get there. Mr Furious and I get in pretty late, eat, find a hut by a river to stay in, and mooch about waiting for the lovely people we met in Chiang Mai to bump into us, or for us to bump into them. As we discover, Pai has a very Smalltown mentality, and you bump into the same people a lot. You do not have to arrange to meet up whatsoever. It's a bit like a town where 90% of the population don't work (a bit like most smalltowns at the moment that are being throttled by David Cameron and his band of merry money-loving demons, but with loads of happy, stoned hippies instead of justifiably angry drunks). We meet up with a friend of Mr. Furious', Caroline, who happily shows us around, introduces us to people, and is generally extremely lovely. She even takes us up to her friend's house out of town, where they live on a mountains, to watch the sunset. (We go on motorbikes, and Furious still doesn't quite trust me until the end of the week to get on it again without the danger of destroying us both.) It's all geniunely a bit breathtaking. After that, I scamper about with a toddler who tries to steal my juggling balls, and we end up playing for two hours, much to the amusement of all the proper grown ups there. Furioso gets up at an open mic with an improv band and becomes a local celebrity for rocking the crowd, and we also gatecrash a singer/songwriter open mic with anarcho-rambles and shouts. We go down pretty well. I did War on Romance and, a little later, the pre-sliced veg poem, but Furious really had the balls of the night, forcing a whole crowd of extremely privelidged people to shout: "Realise you're not alone no more, say it loud and proud, no but BUT THE CLASS WAR!" I honestly hope they all went home thinking about the problems of consumer culture convincing you you're too busy to slice vegetables, and pitting themselves against riot police in the battle for anarchy.

Personally, I think we were quite a welcome break from all the Cat Stevens covers.

This is a place with a weirdly hypnotic, dreamlike atmosphere. The same faces float around in the same venues, the same venues have the same singer songwriters doing the same covers. 'Hotel California' merges into 'We Jammin' merges into enjoyably comfortable song after enjoyably comfortable song. There are two types of music available in Pai: acoustic singer/songwriter, and reggae. Our first night was misleading when we saw an amazingly energetic Thai ska band. Pai is not about expending energy. Pai is designed (and it does feel designed, no mistake about that) not for new experiences, but for leisure. Pure, uninterrupted, floating leisure. It was very telling that, during the great ska band, only a few people danced while a lot of annoyingly cool and beautiful people posed around a bit and took photos of themselves, clearly unable to live their lives without some kind of barrier provided by mediating technology. Just as the thirst to save an experience in digital images avoids the challenge of actually experiencing something, a leisurely lifestyle builds a foamy barricade against stress, pain, upset... in short, all the things that make us fully-rounded human beings.

But, as we all should know but frequently don't act on, leisure comes with its own set of problems. If unhappiness is repressed by forced jollility, it can rise up in strange, twisted ways. Furious witnesses an aggressively drunk argument between a couple, which verges on violence. We see teenage prostitutes - very young teenage prostitutes - in a rock bar, with men that define words like 'sleaze' dribbling and leching around them. A friend of ours is hit on in an incredibly crass way ("I'll be the best fuck you'll ever have"), and the next day when we bump into this individual, he seems completely shameless. This is because he feels that, in a place like Pai, where indulgence of relaxation is the endgame, he has an entitlement to attempt to exploit acquaintances he's built up over a period of time. (He may've just been a bit of a nob whilst drunk, but it was his response to his behaviour that disturbed me more than the behaviour itself.) There are subtle hints of a Pai social elite, a feeling of key 'organisers' of apparently casual, informal social events. There's a witchcraft/pagan-themed cafe which sends my brain spinning into Rosemary's Baby territory. In case you haven't noticed, the hippy perfection of Pai makes me a bit paranoid. As Antares at Magick River, Malaysia said last night: "Pai seems like the people have fallen out of a novel". He captured it perfectly. But when the artifice of the novel is transposed into reality, weird things begin to happen.

So, feeling trapped in the town, we move to Tacompai - a farm 5km up the road. This is an awesome place with great people, campfires, making mud bricks... I got to stay in a treehouse for a week, with a great view of the rice fields and forests for miles. Showering then sitting on my balcony naked whilst drying, undisturbed, listening to music, was pure bliss. The physical work on the farm was something I needed, even just collecting the firewood, as I was feeling a bit lazy and complacent after the seemingly endless touring coffee shops and bars. Getting out of the town also eased my neuroses (see above), and I learnt how to flip omelettes properly without totally fucking it up. If you go to Pai, I can't recommend staying in Tacompai enough.

There was also the saviour of Blah Blah Bar, which deserves a special mention. It's a tiny punk bar run by a lovely couple, and they take song requests on YouTube scrawled on scap paper, which is obviously a terrible mistake when worse-for-wear punks rock up, since we filled the request paper with Dead Kennedys, NOFX and Flogging Molly songs. Still we danced too much for a tiny pub, sung too loud for a small group of people and generally had a roaring time. Felt good to be listening to punk rock again - I-Pod isolation isn't enough, and you need other people around you, shouting along, to feel punk's gorgeous dirt on your hands.

And so, after nearly two weeks, we haul anchor once more, saying goodbye to our dedicated crew and begin the hitchike to Laos...

Thanks for the good times Pai, but being with you was a bit like pretending to be emotionally intimate with a drunken one night stand. As I get a bit older, the need to create gets stronger and stronger. The skills laid down by DIY cultures don't just apply to the physical or even artistic spheres, they also apply to finding, to quote one of my own poems, "space between the gaps" in any given environment where you can challenge and be challenged.

And that, Pai, does not include The fucking Eagles.