Yesterday there was a power cut. It’s not an unusual occurrence, and power was restored in less than an hour. Being without a fan to keep me cool is a minor inconvenience, as is not having any water supply. Had the power been out for much longer I might have contemplated contacting the electricity supplier. If I were living in Burma, I wouldn’t.

Back in August U Khin Maung Kyi ‘phoned the electricity company in Rangoon to complain about a power surge. It wasn’t the first time he’d complained. He’d already been charged with “obstructing the work of the electricity company’s staff” with his complaints. This time he was arrested and imprisoned. The man who’d taken his ‘phone call agreed that the caller hadn’t used offensive language or made any unlawful threat. However, his manner was “impolite” and his calls were “an inconvenience”. The court was told that he had encouraged people to vote “no” in last year’s (farcical) constitutional referendum, and had photographed flooded roads after heavy rains. The people of Burma must surely be grateful that such a dangerous criminal is off the streets.


The metal feels cold against my hand as I slide open the gate. The street lights harshly illumine the deserted street. As I shut the car door the dull thud breaks the early morning silence. A dog barks. And as I drive I can hear the dull rumble of tyres against the rough concrete.

As I pull out onto the main road I can faintly make out the flooded paddy fields on the far side. There hundreds of ducks sit on the low mud banks that partition the field. They weren’t here yesterday, and they won’t be here tomorrow. They’re simply taking a break as they fly south from Cathay to warmer climes. Later they’ll dabble in the shallow waters for insects and fish before heading on their way. I pause to envy them: a break in life; a respite from the daily round; and the certainty of better to come.

I pass the Old Man’s shop. Outside are stacked carboys of water and tanks of gas for sale. I can make out the outlines of the Old Man and his wife faintly illuminated by a single light bulb as they sit, stooped eating their breakfast from bowls, not talking; it’s not a tight, difficult silence, rather a relaxed companionship brought on by half a century of familiarity. There is nothing more to say, and nothing more that needs to be said.

I see orange-robed monks padding, bare-foot against the chilly ground, clutching their alms bowls tightly to their chests. A few women wait patiently to place their offerings in an alms bowl. They kneel behind low wooden tables bearing bags of rice and curry. A monk quietly recites a prayer in return for that which is proffered then moves silently on. This is as it has been for the last two and a half thousand years – a symbiosis between the sacred and the secular, between those set apart and those who remain.

Beyond is the modern: a convenience store that never shuts. The harsh light from its bright fluorescent tubes spills out onto the road. A gaggle of young men with motorcycles is encompassed by the blaze.

The railway station disgorges its passengers into the street: factory workers, students. Some climb into waiting tuk-tuks or onto the backs of motorcycle taxis, but most take a place on the back of one of the old, rusty songthaews that ply their regular routes around town. Others cross the street to the small market that clings to the side of the road to break their fast on rice soup, grilled chicken or one of a myriad of fragrant delights. I can smell the smoke, the spices and the burning fat from the braziers, see the steam rising from the bubbling aluminium pots. Mingled with the crowd are a few monks, their sacred orange flashing bright in the early morning light.

And on.

The sun is now low in the sky, a red disk suspended above the horizon. A band of mist hovers above the paddy fields. Soon light will flood the earth and a new winter’s day will begin.


Sunflower field panorama between Saraburi and Lopburi

As one moves from the flat central plains towards the East the landscape changes. The road climbs and craggy limestone hills jut from the ground. This makes the area perfect, it appears, for the cultivation of sunflowers. The area between Saraburi and Lopburi has many large fields and for the few brief weeks the flowers bloom each year, attracts hordes of domestic tourists.

The first I knew I was approaching a flowering field was crazy men in the road waving red flags. My initial thought that there were roadworks ahead, or a bad accident. But no. At the side of the road there were cleared fields where one could park, and beyond vast swathes of the yellow flowers right up to the edge of the hills beyond.

Sunflower fields in the shadow of a hill near Lopburi

At the entrance to the flower fields there’s a small market selling sunflower-related knickknacks and local products such as wild honey, fruit wine, dried fruit and (of course) sunflower seeds.

Small market at the entrance to a sunflower field near Lopburi

In the fields people wander along the paths and into the blocks of sunflowers taking photos of their companions.

There are also a few elephants giving rides.

Elephant in a sunflower field near Lopburi

(The large metal sunflower on the right of the picture is to poke your head through to have your picture taken.)

Everyone seems to cheerful. It truly is a happy time and place.

A perfect sunflower in a field near Lopburi


Thailand isn’t usually associated with big game hunting. There aren’t wildebeest or giraffe roaming the central plains. The few remaining wild elephants, tigers and gaur are highly elusive, confined to the depths of the forest, protected in national parks. However, in Chiang Mai there is a new sport, hippo hunting. But let me begin at the beginning…

It is said that if sleeping were an Olympic sport, the Thais would win, hands down, every time. Thai people have an innate ability to sleep anywhere, any time. Oft has been the time that I’ve been white-knuckled with terror as a crazed minivan driver has been weaving in and out of traffic at high speed on the Asia Highway whilst the passenger next to me has been in the land of nod, his or her head falling on my shoulder. It’s therefore not surprising that security guards are often caught snoozing. Unfortunately, one such guard was supposed to be keeping an eye on a sick baby hippo (a one month old female) in intensive care at a zoo hospital in Chiang Mai. Whilst he was asleep the baby hippo wandered off. Footprints show she headed towards a large forest area which forms part of the zoo grounds. More than a hundred people – zoo keepers and volunteers – have been searching for her, so far to no avail. It is thought she is unlikely to survive if not retaken quickly.

Update (8 December)
After a week searching the baby hippo was found dead, less than 100 metres from the hospital.


The Nai Lert Park hotel is one of the many 5-star hotels in Bangkok. For me it’s not a favourite. It seems very cold and a little clinical, as if it’s going through the motions of being 5-star by ticking off the boxes on some list, rather than setting out ab initio to provide a luxurious experience. However, once a year, for the past 23 years, for a few days the interior of the hotel has been transformed by a flower festival.

The flower arrangements range from the traditional

Floral arch at Nai Lert Park Hotel

to the abstract

Abstract flower arrangement at Nai Lert Park Hotel

to the witty.

Bridal dress made of flowers at Nai Lert Park Hotel

There was also a display of hats decorated with flowers.

Floral hat at Nai Lert Park Hotel

I thought this one was particularly fun.

Floral hat at Nai Lert Park Hotel

The hotel has a garden full of lush greenery and orchids, though I failed to take any photographs there. I also failed to photograph probably the most attractive thing there: a stall selling thick slices of roasted belly pork.

All in all, a pleasant diversion.

Mossy elephant at Nai Lert Park Hotel