Last time I wrote, I was in Bangkok and had just arrived really. Well, I stayed for another 2 days before heading up to Chiang Mai. While I was in Bangkok, I made sure to do and see something every day (as I've been doing since Alex left). This included the ladyboy cabaret I went to on Saturday!
As I was on my own, I had decided to go out for the evening instead of wandering around aimlessly or eating alone or reading my book quietly. Luckily, the lady at the hostel was able to call one of the cabarets and get me a ticket (front row no less!) and a taxi there and back. I'm really glad I went as it was a lighthearted, silly, colourful selection of lip-synced songs by girls in ridiculous costumes (leotards with every conceivable area cut out or bejewelled…only the key areas were covered up! Also, huge meringue dresses in pinks so saccharine sweet they gave you sugar-induced headache just to look at!) and, as I was so close to the stage, and the only English speaking audience member, they seemed delighted by my singing quietly along to myself!
Speaking of English: as we all waited to be allowed into the auditorium, three teenage Thai boys approached me and asked to interview me for a school project on tourism. I think it was genuine….either that or they randomly carry around a video camera and asked lone women questions while sweating profusely. While waiting, I also noted a gaggle of Buddhist nuns waiting to take their seats, which I thought was interesting.
After the show, the girls came down to the lobby for photos with the audience members. As I'd seen a programme about the Bangkok ladyboys, I know that this is where they make most of their money. Therefore, even though it might seem a bit exploitative and voyeuristic, I made sure to have 2 photos. I had really wanted a photo with the most beautiful woman I had possibly ever seen…but needless to say, she had a queue and was raking in the vouchers (the girls swap the vouchers they collect from the audience members for 50baht a piece). Although there was a clear discrepancy between some of the girls, most of them were absolutely stunning and, apart from the suspiciously thick makeup and the fact they were taller than me (!), you'd never have guessed they weren't biological women. I hope they are happy in their jobs, that they revel in being viewed as beautiful and don't feel like they are being stared at like a caged tiger.
(Way to feel seriously matronly and unfeminine: stand next to these women!)
In Bangkok, I also booked onto a tour to the floating market which lies about and hour and a half's drive away. While a nice excursion out of the city, the market didn't have anything beyond the usual items you find in every Asian tourist market. However, it was fun sitting in the little boat as we weaved between the hundreds of other boats on the narrow canal. My boat was powered by a woman who looked about 60 years old or more. Her age did mean we were overtaken by numerous boats fitted with motors; however, she took us into the village behind the market and, when no one was racing to overtake us, it was a lovely, quiet tour.
On my final day in Bangkok, I took myself off to the Vimanmek Mansion which is one of the royal residences. The mansion is made of wood and I thought I might be able to get some nice pictures. I hadn't banked on the fact you had to lock everything up before you were allowed entrance. No phones, no cameras, no wallets, no keys, no money. Nothing. It is a beautiful building though; if I were to have a mansion, I think I'd like it to look like that place! It reminded me of a Louisiana plantation house, mixed with a Japanese garden and then made absolutely gigantic! Coincidentally, as I made my way to the mansion, my tuk-tuk was held at a traffic crossing by the police as the Thai royal family drove by!
Also, something that really reinstated my fondness for the Buddhist culture (especially after my not-so-pleasant discoveries in Cambodia) was my experience on the water bus back down through Bangkok. I boarded it near the top of the city and intended to ride it all the way down to Shilom where I was staying. As I tried to pay, an exchange between the ticket lady and a nearby Buddhist monk took place and the ticket lady refused my money. From what I gathered (later, when her boss demanded the money nonetheless), the monk and ticket lady had clocked my hand and wanted me to ride the water bus free of charge as a gesture of kindness.
So, now I am in Chiang Mai. I took an overnight train from Bangkok on Sunday night and arrived at my hotel, very tired and in need of a shower mid-morning on Monday. If you are travelling in Asia and are given a choice between a sleeper train or sleeper bus, definitely go on the train! Although you'll get a fraction of the sleep you would normally get in a fully fledged bed, you'll at least to get a few hours, as well as your own little bunk and you get to lie down fully instead of curling up, uncomfortably, in a reclining chair. I think I also felt a lot more confident taking this train as mum and I took a similar train down to Surantthani last January and we had a blast! I wish she'd been with me to chat to during the journey though!
The reason I came to Chiang Mai is to volunteer at Care for Dogs (http://www.carefordogs.org/) who look after around 200 dogs who have been abandoned, hit by cars or just are running wild. They spay them, without exception, and then either re-home them, send them back to the temples or care indefinitely for them if that is the best solution for the dog. I knew it was going to be hard to see the damaged dogs but some of these poor animals have awful wounds or diseases and, for the majority, they are caused by mistreatment at the hands of humans or neglect: all of which is horrible to see. There are a number of dogs who are missing one or both eyes, lots who have spinal injuries (though they all appear to be recovering, which I was very surprised by!) and many who have emotional issues. Having said that, the majority are boisterous, bouncey characters who just want a scratch behind the ear or to crawl onto your lap. Sit down on any surface in the enclosure at your own risk: you'll end up with a dog nosing their way under each arm, one pawing your back to get your attention and two at your feet looking up expectantly!
As you can imagine, with so many dogs in one area (there are 180 at the moment) there are tensions and scraps which need to be broken up (with a strategically aimed water hose) and also there are just not enough hours in the day to walk them all. I was dismayed to hear that the record in a day was 70 dogs walked. Yesterday, I walked about 10 dogs during the day, taking one troublemaker out for an extra long walk to tire him out. Today I didn't do so well as my feet had been ripped to shreds by my flip flops: I only managed two long walks: first an hour and a half with another trouble maker and then an hour with two of the strongest bitches in the centre. My arms are like spaghetti now! Luckily I was on the walk with another volunteer called Morgan, so we got to chat and laugh at our dogs tangling themselves in their leads! Hers were even more intent on winding around each other and her legs than my two dogs, who were keen on half choking themselves in an attempt to drag me across Thailand! (At least that's what it felt like!)
I think Alex should be prepared for me to adopt one of these dogs…I already have my eye on a young collie cross called Lilu who was brought in as a pup with a shattered hip. She is just divine and scoots up next to me for a cuddle if she sees me sitting down…all you can hear is the thud of her tail wagging! However, I'm volunteering for 2 weeks so who knows how many I'll want to take home after that?! (A litter of puppies came in yesterday so maybe they all need a new home in the UK! Haha!)
(This is Lilu!)
Anyway, until next time!
Love and miss you all!
Ps. If anyone sees my dad, remind him to wear his boot! He has really hurt his ankle and, as I'm not there to help nag him, you'll have to be my spies instead! 🙂 (love you daddy!)