April 12, 2015, Sunday: Yesterday was a pretty full day of travel as we left Brisbane, Australia on a 6 am flight (yes, that means we needed to get up at 3:45 am to get to the airport on time!), connected in Sydney for a flight to Bangkok, Thailand and then flew on a flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand arriving finally at 11:30 pm (actually 3:30 am Brisbane time so a total of 24 hours travel). Our Chiang Mai location is somewhat less cosmopolitan than bustling Bangkok but there are still many US and European tourists here, although of the younger backpacker set. We did a riverboat tour today of the Ping River that runs through Chiang Mai, a very opaque brown waterway that is presumed heavily polluted due to untreated sewage and animal waste running into the river. There were still plenty of people with fishing lines in the water hoping for a free dinner to take home, and apparently the river fish are considered a premium to the “farmed fish” brought in from the coast. Thai people are gracious, friendly, and extremely hard working. They work for much less (minimum wage of $1.22/hr) than the $16/hr minimum wage of the Australians, as evidenced by the remarkably low prices of taxi rides, food, and tourist activities. As an example, in Australia we were lucky to find a burger for under $15, whereas, tonight in Chiang Mia, the three of us had an excellent meal of fish, pork, rice, fried vegetables, bottled water, and two large beers for a total of $14. Now I know why American expatriates retire here! Of course it would be even cheaper in other Southeast Asia countries like Laos where the minimum wage is $0.31/hr. Not exactly an even economic playing field to make a living comparing these countries we’ve visited.
Although we clung to the lush green eastern coastline of Australia in our travels, our flight from Sydney to Bangkok certainly provided an appreciation of the breadth of Australia's interior or "Outback". We flew at 33,000 feet elevation and 500+ mph for hours and there was still this scene of dry, desolate, and devoid of towns. Can't imagine what a drive across this huge continent would be like.
This is a home-brew whiskey made by the river cruise operator consisting of conventional whiskey, ginger root, poisonous snake (cobra?), and scorpion. Important rule - let it age for five months before drinking or it could kill you! Apparently, a few ounces of this every night during the cold season will prolong life. I didn't try to test that hypothesis.
The father and son chefs of a street side family run Thai restaurant in Chiang Mai, were in constant motion grilling fish, frying pork or beef, and pounding herbal mixtures to add to very delicious main courses. We ate here for the good food and also to escape being doused with water from celebrants of the Thai New Year - everyone has free license to throw water on any passerby in an attempt to "wash away bad luck" for the New Year.
The restaurant was spotlessly clean and the food was excellent, but there were still some adjustments like the design of the bathroom. This is what they call in certain countries a "squatty potty", requiring good balance and a steady aim but any mistakes are easily remedied by the shower hose! Fortunately at our guest house we had a conventional porcelain throne.