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High Water in Vientiane

I went into Vientiane a few days ago to see how far the Mekong was from topping the embankment (levee?) that was constructed after the big 2008 flood. It has quite a way to go before it gets that high, but it is flowing through some sluice gates and other channels to flood the park that’s on the city side of the road that runs along the top of the levee. I watched a video of the effort to pump water out of the area, and you can watch it on Facebook here.

Though it’s not going over the embankment, the river has flooded the new addition to the night market in that area. Here are the new vendor stalls that sit, usually, right above the river. Someone who did the planning must have thought that the river would never get this high again. Tell that to all the sellers who had to move their goods to higher ground.

flood

Night market vendor stalls under water

flood

More night market stalls under water.

We had no rain yesterday and there’s none in the forecast for today or tomorrow, but the water level is forecast to keep rising for the next few days, according to the Mekong River Commission daily bulletin. (If you click on their link, check out the Nongkhai report–it’s only a few miles downstream from the old place where I used to live and is much more relevant than the Vientiane report.)

The river has crept nearer to the old place, but it’s still safely below the houses. However, if the water does get higher over the next few days, that situation could change. Thankfully, many of the houses are built on stilts or on foundations that are several feet above the ground. More later.

Flooding on the Farm

So, I did make it out to the old place where I used to live, out on The Farm, to see what the extent of the flooding is. It’s not nearly as bad as in 2008; the water has quite a way to go before it reaches the houses, and, unless we get a region wide typhoon, I expect the river level to begin falling. (Update: I just talked to Nai and he told me that China is releasing a lot of water from their upstream dams due to heavy rain farther north. I’d forgotten about that factor, so the threat of further, heavier flooding looms.)

We had a lot of rain a few days ago, but none yesterday or today. Today is joyful–it’s been nicely sunny all day for the first time in a long time. We’ve had a few bouts of sunshine, but only for a couple of hours at a time. Maybe things will start to finally dry out. Here are a few photos of the flooding.

normal crop land

This was taken in January, 2015, during the dry season, and it shows what the crop land usually looks like in a view from Nai’s sister’s house.

flooded field

This is what the field looked like a few days ago. Not as bad as in 2008, but the crops of chili peppers and marigolds (used in the Buddhist temples by worshipers) were wiped out.

drainage channel

Just up the road is this drainage channel from the rice fields. This was taken during the rainy season in July, 2016. There is normally much less water flowing through here during the dry season.

drainage channel

Here’s the channel a few days ago, engorged by the river.

This is our front yard during the heavy rain we had this past Thursday. All the sun we’ve had today is starting to dry it out, making for easier navigation for motorbikes.

muddy front yard

The front yard was a soggy mess after heavy rain on Thursday, Aug. 30. It’s starting to dry out. I’m glad I didn’t have to ride through the muck–the school is still on break. Back to work on Sep. 13th.

Early Morning Showers

Another day, another morning rain shower. Much of the rain during the monsoon season falls at night and continues into the early morning. So, my attempt at staying in some semblance of shape by jogging has suffered. I usually do a couple of miles around 7 or 7:30 a.m.; any later and it’s just too hot, and the traffic on the road picks up as people start heading to work in Vientiane.

There’s still a lot of rain ahead of us, but I think we’re over the hump, past the mid-point of the monsoon season. Hopefully. The Mekong has slipped over its banks in some areas near Vientiane, including at Nai’s sister’s house, where I used to live. The river has flooded the family’s crop lands, but, luckily, it hasn’t reached the houses yet. It’s not nearly as bad as in 2008 (see my previous blog entry), though I haven’t been to the old place to check it out. Right now, blue sky seems to be breaking out, so if it stays nice, I’ll try to get out there to take a few photos. In fact, our usual rain shower was pretty short, so it looks like I might be able to take a jog this morning after all. Better get going.

P.S. The schools’s on break until Sept. 13th, so I’ve got all this time on my hands. Just got back from a short stay in Bangkok. Not much to say about the trip, but maybe I’ll write up a short post about it later.

Waterlogged Laos

“ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when.” Living here in waterlogged Laos, I’m reminded of this line from Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. Virtually every day since the cave rescue near Chiang Rai, Thailand, it’s been raining–not heavily, mind you, but steadily. There have been a few heavy downpours, but mostly it’s been a steady drizzle or moderate rainfall.

The recent disaster near Attapeu, Laos, has been followed by reports of numerous rivers in the country nearing or above flood stage. Unfortunately, the Vientiane Times stories are behind a paywall, but here’s another view from The Nation, a Thailand newspaper.

The mighty Mekong is near flood stage in some low-lying villages near Vientiane, including Sithanthai village, where I used to live. Nai told me the river is getting near his sister’s house in the village, and I asked him to take some photos today when he goes there. If he gets any good ones, I’ll try to post them. I’m a bit worried about one of his other sisters, who has a house very near the river. I assume she and her family have evacuated. I don’t think the situation is as bad as it was back in 2008, yet. Here are a few photos from back then that I took.

Nai surveying flood

Nai surveying the flood waters at his house in Laos.

Children playing in flood waters

Children having fun in the flood of 2008 at Nai’s house.

And this one is from Nongkhai, Thailand, just across the border.

The Weather Underground forecast for Vientiane is calling for 1/4″ to 1/2″ of rain daily through next week. The forecasts are highly unreliable, though, so we could get more rain than that, or, hopefully, less. There was a steady drizzle overnight, but right now the rain has stopped. We live a few miles from the Mekong, so it’s highly unlikely that the river would reach us here.

Like I wrote, I’ll post some photos here if Nai gets any, and if the situation is still bad this weekend, I’ll try to ride out to the village to see what’s going on and to get some photos of my own. Stay tuned.

Lazy Days and Pi Mai Laos

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. OK, it’s only April, but it sure feels like lazy summertime days. This is the hottest time of year in Laos, with temperatures regularly near the hundred degree mark (38 C.) Tomorrow it’s supposed to be 104 degrees. The monsoon season is in June, July and August, so the temperature doesn’t normally get as hot as in April and May, since the wet weather has a bit of a cooling effect.

Our school is on break until May 10th, so I’ve been hanging out at the house during the day. In the afternoon, it certainly feels like the song, Summertime, suggests. I’m about 500 feet from the main road that runs into Vientiane, so the traffic noise is somewhat muted. In the afternoon, everything is very quiet: the neighbors’ kids are in school, the grown-ups, most of them, are at work and the only thing you can hear is the buzzing of flies. Obviously, I keep a fan blowing. (No air-con) I mostly lie down and read a book and take a nap. Very peaceful and pleasant (despite the heat). Until today, that is. Today, April 13th marks the start of the traditional Laos New Year, Pi Mai Lao (Pee-my). There will be plenty of noisy parties going on, with extremely loud music playing into the early hours. Goodbye relaxation time for several days.

The holiday is also celebrated in Thailand, where it’s called Songkran, and in Cambodia, Myanmar and some other parts of Southeast Asia. Traditionally, the holiday runs from April 13-15, but the Lao government, not content with a three-day weekend, has dictated that, because the 14th and 15th is Saturday and Sunday, Pi Mai will also include Monday and Tuesday. So, it’s a five-day weekend.

Probably the biggest feature of the event is the inclusion of water. By this, I mean the traditional activity of cleaning house and also of pouring a bit of water over the various Buddha statues in the local temple as part of a purification rite. But, the main focus in many parts of Laos, and in Thailand, is throwing water on other people, drenching foreigners and natives alike in large-scale water fights, especially in the cities. I’m going out to my former village today, where the celebration is a bit gentler. I’ve posted about Pi Mai before, here, here and here.

I’ll take plenty of photos and get them posted as soon as I can. Gotta wrap my camera and cell phone up in plastic grocery bags before I head out on the main road, where I’ll try to avoid water-throwing kids. I can probably avoid getting too wet there, but when I get to the dirt road going to the village, I’ll have to slow down and it’s very possible I’ll get soaked before I get to where I’m going. So, I’m going to wear some light, drip-dry clothing and hope the heat and the sun will dry me quickly. Just part of the deal, I guess, but it’s all in fun. I’ll get my licks in at Nai’s family’s party. More later.

Wonder what I’ll look like during this year’s celebration. This is from last year.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Well, that finishes this year’s Pi Mai Lao celebration. One more photo to show. Here are a few friends posing for the camera. Nai’s on the left and a friend, name unknown, is on the right, but who’s the old fart in the middle? Got his face and clothes powdered, I see. He looks fairly full from eating all that fish and rice. Guess he had a good time. See ya next year, sport.

Photo Art – Window Into Infinity

For various reasons, mostly inexcusable ones, I haven’t been doing much in the way of creating any photo art lately, though I have continued the learning process. I’ve even signed up for another artistic learning site, the highly recommended Shift Art Summit course. But, my long creative drought has ended with this piece, which I’m titling “Window Into Infinity.”

I started working on it in December, but I put it aside for awhile until just a few days ago, when inspiration and motivation got me going again. It’s a combination of about ten different images and several adjustment layers in Photoshop. So, without further ado, here it is. Enjoy.

Bangkok in December, Part 2

As promised, here are some photos in part 2 of my visit to Bangkok this past December.

I usually stay in the Silom section of Bangkok at the Silom City Hotel, which is near the extremely interesting Hindu temple of Mariamman. I don’t know if you could call this the Hindu section of Bangkok, but a stroll around the area offers paintings and murals of Hindu interest. Walking up Silom road I saw these paintings–bright, colorful, beautiful.

Hindu painting

Hindu Painting (I think) that I saw on Silom Road.

Hindu painting

Another Hindu inspired painting on Silom Road. Check out the litte mouse near the lower left corner–cute.

The Mahboonkrong (MBK) Shopping Center always has some kind of exhibition outside the main entrance and December through January was the “Amazing Carnival” display. Amazing it was, and, though it’s a short walk around the plaza, you could spend quite a while taking in this bizarre but delightfully fantastic exhibit. Most of the photos below don’t contain any captions, because what could I say about them. Indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words (or imaginations). (Note that there were a lot of people walking around and it was difficult to get many “uncluttered” shots.)

MBK Christmas tree

Here’s a night shot of the main entrance to MBK, featuring an 18 meter (60 feet) Christmas “tree.”

band

There’s gotta be a band leading the performers into the carnival, like a circus coming into town. So, here’s the small ensemble.

This is the main feature.
All the smaller characters are scattered around her.

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

And, back to the start.

There is usually some kind of display on the skywalk from MBK to the skytrain station. At this time, the display featured cats. Nai and I found ourselves attracted to them.

Nai and cat

Nai enjoys the company of one of the felines near the National Stadium skytrain station.

Ron and cat

This guy is the cat’s meow, don’t you think?

That’s it for the Bangkok trip. I don’t know what’s up next on the blog, but I haven’t worked on my photo art in quite a while, so I’ll probably concentrate on that and try to get some stuff posted here. More later.

Bangkok in December, Part 1

Here are a few photos from my stay in Bangkok around Christmas this past December. In this part are some shots of the “Rubik’s Cube” building, as someone else termed it. It’s actually called the MahaNakhon Tower and it’s the tallest building in Thailand at 314 meters (1030 feet). “The Edition” hotel will be In the lower third of the building and the upper sections will be devoted to Ritz-Carlton condos. It’s supposed to be finished and ready for use sometime this year, but I think some of the condos might already be occupied. See the night shot of the building below.

MahaNakhon Tower

Remember the “Rubik’s Cube” building from previous posts? It’s called the MahaNakhon Tower and it’s almost finished. It’s the tallest building in Bangkok and it really dominates the skyline with its height and striking design.

Bangkok at night

Bangkok at night. Notice the MahaNakhon tower at the left. It appears that quite a few of the rooms at the top are lit, suggesting that perhaps some of the condos are open.

Here are some closer views of the building. It’s located right next to the Chong Nonsi skytrain station, a stop that Nai and I use all the time. I don’t know how I missed the building before. I took these shots from near the station.

MahaNakhon Tower

Shot taken from near the Chong Nonsi skytrain station, just down from central Silom

MahaNakhon Tower

A much closer view of the tower.

The tower looms over you this close to it. I took this shot from “The Square” at the front of the building.

In “The Square,” the front courtyard of MahaNakhon, sits an interesting sculpture, “Bangkok Soul”. From the MahaNakhon website:

MahaNakhon Square features a 9 meter tall sculpture by Jaume Plensa “Bangkok Soul” featuring various letters from different languages combining in a crouching human form.

Here are a couple of photos of “The Square” and of the sculpture. Click the second one to enlarge it and see the individual letters making up the “man.”

"The Square" at MahaNakhon Tower

A photo of “The Square” at the base of the tower. This area also contains an upscale restaurant and shopping areas. If you look closely, you can see some construction workers in the final phases of finishing off the exterior.

"Bangkok Soul" sculpture

“Bangkok Soul.” Click a couple of times to enlarge it to see the individual letters making up the piece.

In Part 2 of Bangkok in December, I’ll show some photos of the delightfully strange “carnival” exhibition at the MBK Shopping Mall.

Bangkok Bound

In my previous post I mentioned, more or less, that this was my favorite time of year in Laos because of the weather. I also like it because it’s the end of the third term at the school, so that means there’s some time off, about five weeks. So, foot-loose and fancy-free, I’m bound for Bangkok with Nai for a week.

We’re crossing the border into Nong Khai, Thailand, and then taking an early morning bus to Udon Thani to catch a noon flight to Bangkok. The ride to Udon takes about an hour, so we’ll probably leave Nong Khai around 9 a.m. The flight to Bangkok takes an hour, so we’ll get into “The Big Mango” around 1:00 and be at the hotel about 2:30 or 3:00. It usually takes about an hour (everything takes an hour, eh?) to get into the city by taxi and the ride costs around $10, if I remember correctly. Not a bad deal.

As usual, we’re staying in the Silom area of the city, close to good street food, entertainment venues and the skytrain and subway. Speaking of entertainment, I’ve just gotta go see the latest Star Wars movie. I’ve heard a lot of good things about, so it’s a must-see.

Here are a few photos from previous trips to Bangkok.

Bangkok Skyline

Here’s the view outside our hotel window up on the ninth floor (out of 10). If you stay at the Silom City Hotel, be sure to get a room that’s 8th floor or higher for a great view.

Bangkok at night

Bangkok at Night. This photo was taken in 2013 and the one above in 2016. You can see that a few new buildings, including the odd one on the left, were constructed in the three years between photos.

Food vendor

Food vendor near the hotel. There are a lot of these little outfits about a block from where we stay.

Winter in Laos

Ahh, it’s the best time of the year in Laos, and in most of South East Asia, I suppose. The winter months give us almost perfect weather–highs mostly in the mid- to low-eighties and lows in the fifties to high-forties. Those low temperatures can seem quite chilly if you’re used to much higher temperatures. If you spend winter in more northerly climes, like Montana, they might feel balmy by comparison.

Overcast, rainy weather is usually not a problem (it hasn’t rained since October) and the haze-free skies are a delight. That will end in February when the farmers start burning the stubble from their fields, here and in many areas of S.E. Asia.

If you ever get the urge to visit Laos, now is the time to come if you want to enjoy the country under optimal weather conditions. Here are a couple of photos from recent mornings, my favorite time of day.

morning light in Laos

If we have a decently-colored sunrise, the trees and the neighbors’ houses take on a beautiful color. This view is looking out my living room window towards the west.

morning fog near Vientiane, Laos

This shot is looking out the kitchen window towards the north. We don’t get a lot of heavy fog since we’re not near the river, but it’s not unusual to get some. It burns off quite quickly.