The plane touches down (do planes really just 'touch down'?) late afternoon in Bangkok and we take the slow bus into the city. The air-conditioning on the bus is set to deep freeze and as we sit in the endless traffic jams of the Bangkok rush hour my lips slowly start to turn blue. When we finally get off Gayle has to massage my hands and frost nip has caught my nose. We soon thaw out.
It's high-season in Thailand, the climate is much less humid than our previous two visits and there's a noticeable increase in tourists. There's also a noticeable increase in Western men young and old walking around with their rented girlfriends. The streets seem to be full of food stalls - a bit of a change from China and Hong Kong and we soon get back into the habit of stopping for snacks and meals when the fancy takes us. It's great to taste Thai food again, even if the red curry sometimes seems to go beyond our taste buds' range. We have a few 'jobs' to do - find a Burma guidebook, trade a few novels, catch up on e-mails and this blog, eat a few choc-ices, buy pristine dollars to take to Burma - all easily done here. I am also in need of a haircut. Down by the main station we had noticed fellas getting cuts on the end platform in the open air. When I get there there's a queue. A man starts chatting to me and explains the haircuts are free. I don't believe it, but when it comes to my turn I'm told the same thing. The woman explains that they are all learning and that the cut is free but I don't get to choose the style. I have about 2 cm of hair, and all I want is a no. 1. She obliges and when she's finished directs me to a stand-tap at the end of the track to wash my head. Thinking back now, it's possible that the trainees were on some sort of rehabilitation programme.
Jurek, our Czech friend who we last saw in Chengdu, is also here and it's nice to catch up with him and hear his stories. It's also good to stay with Fiona and Gordon again. Seeing friends like these helps alleviate our occasional pangs of homesickness, particularly as this will be our third Christmas away. Lest we forget the overt commercialism of the event we are bombarded with carols and kitsch seasonal songs in all the shops. It all seems out of place here and even more phoney than at home. So it's with some relief and excitement when we catch our dawn flight to Yangon.