In the last picture of Cat I posted you could hardly see her. It's hard getting decent shots of Cat as she's so small and keeps moving all the time, but here's a rare one of us together at Khao Phra Viharn. It shows Cat propping me up as usual, lest I topple over like the other venerable monuments at the site.
Khao Pra Viharn is one of my favourite places, in fact it's probably at least as amazing as the most beautiful temple in the world, perhaps even more beautiful. It's just over the border in Cambodia but you can visit it from Si Saket province without showing your passport so it's very easy to get to.
While Ankor Wat has no Grand Canyon and while the Great Rift Valley cannot be viewed from the great temples at Luxor, in contrast this extraordinary place has everything together in one package. As you wander up its magical stone avenue through a series of dramatic temples, a symphony in stone, you cannot anticipate the final surprise. For there at the top you'll come into the open and spread before you is the vast wilderness of Cambodia. A thousand feet below, devoid of any buildings, it spreads far and away into the hazy distance, the mountains and towering clouds adding to a very remarkable vista. To me this ancient temple has just about everything.
The Cambodians still charged me 200 baht for entry as usual, a bargain at the price. However, the Thais have scheduled a stretch of road before the border as a National Park and to take their cut, they now charge 400 baht. For this you receive nothing except the right of passage over the road. Some time ago the Thaksin government announced that the usual 200 baht fee for farang entering National Parks was to be doubled to 400 baht, but it was later reported that the new government was delaying the increase for a year. Thus it was to my great surprise that I have twice been charged 400 baht for entry in the last few days. At the booth there was no tariff written up and when the staff handed over two receipts for 200 baht each, it made me wonder a little bit.
Isaan desperately needs to develop its tourism and this is certainly not the way to go about it. Khao Phra Viharn is one of the great unseen sights of Thailand and is not close to any big population centres. Thus it was also sad that there were no hotels within easy reach except a few small town places in Kantharalak some way away. However, this problem has now been remedied as a delightful small resort has been developed where you could stay the night before an early start to the temple to avoid the worst of the heat. Run by a Norwegian, it's called Suan Loong Daeng Homestay and is a useful addition to the local infrastructure.
I can't keep away from Khao Phra Viharn and always take visiting guests who come to stay. The rare shot of Cat and me that appears above was taken by Bill, my Canadian friend, an academic who talks non-stop about classical history and English literature. A few days later I again went with my friend Bill, an Australian academic who talk non-stop about classical history and the economy of the Autocratic Republic of Lao, his own personal obsession. As I rarely get the chance to talk to a farang, it was a great luxury that, like buses, two old friends similarly named should come along so close together in time.
Some of my best friends in fact are Americans and one day recently I opened my inbox to find no fewer than three messages from American friends who call themselves 'Darn'. Whatever can be the importance of being Don? And my two American friends who have houses nearby in Surin are called Terry and Jerry (the latter being Jerry Hopkins the famous author who writes lots of books and things).
But I'm beginning to wander a bit because really I started all this as I wanted to post a picture of Cat in which you can see that she's bigger than an insect. She's well worth seeing so I hope when I click on 'Publish' she actually comes out big enough.
Maybe you think I must be a bit pickled but sadly I'm stone cold sober. Really I ought to hit the bottle tonight as although I'm now still a youngster at fifty nine, in approximately two hours time I won't be any longer... I'll be a signed up sexagenarian! Oh my God, as the Thais say, where's the Sang Som! I hate birthdays!