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Phuket Photos

At last, a few photos of my trip to Phuket, Thailand back in December. We stayed at Patong Beach at a couple of different hotels, the Thara Patong Beach Resort (our usual favorite) and at the Ramada Phuket Deevana Hotel. They’re both nice places to stay and have swimming pools (though the Deevana’s is rather small and fills up early), good service and decent food. If you by chance decide to visit Patong and stay at one or both of them, I recommend reserving a room at the Ramada with the free breakfast buffet option. The buffet is awesome, with a few dozen or more choices of food and plenty of hot and cold drinks. The buffet at the Thara Patong is OK, but can’t compare with the one at the Ramada. Either hotel is a good choice, though.

The weather during the first several days of our stay was a bit unsettled at times with cool temperatures and occasional rain, but near the end of our holiday, the sun and warmer weather dominated. As I mentioned in a previous post, I did a bit of shopping and bought a Lenovo Tab Essential, mainly to use as an ebook reader. It was a great buy at $75, and I use it every day. I’m getting in a lot of reading in my spare time, having recently read “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” native-Montanan Ivan Doig’s “This House of Sky,” and George Saunders’ “Lincoln in the Bardo,” among others. Next up is “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing, followed by Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” and the first book in a trilogy by Ivan Doig titled “English Creek.” I better get reading.

Here are a few of the photos that I took. More later.

Thara Patong swimming pool

One of the swimming pools at Thara Patong Resort. This is the smaller one, just a little splash pool compared to the much larger one at the main building a little ways behind it. This one has a bar right beside it, featuring a “Happy Hour” (limited selection) every day, so be careful if you swim and imbibe here.

Swimming Pool, Patong Beach.

This is the view from our eighth floor room at the Ramada. The swimming pool is on the property of a hotel next to ours. It looks inviting, but there appeared to be little shade available.

Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand.

This was high season, so there were many vacationers at the beach and in the town. The hotels were booked full and some of the choice spots at the beach were taken. Nai and I always stayed at one particular spot, where we made friends with the ladies who gave massages and sold beer and food under a shaded pavilion, of sorts. This is the scene near that pavilion.

Nai drinks a Heineken beer.

Nai really likes Heineken Beer, even more than Beer Lao, I suspect. Here he enjoys a cold one under the umbrellas at “our” spot on the beach.

Nai gets a massage at Patong Beach

Nai gets a massage from the “boss lady” of this little place on the beach, where, along with the massage, you can get food and drink. This gal, whose name is Ma, I think, was a dear. She addressed everyone as “Dahling”, a la Zsa Zsa Gabor. A very friendly spot.

Paragliding at Patong Beach

Late afternoon paragliders enjoying a flight over the beach. It’s a pretty expensive proposition, costing about $30 for a 3-minute experience (I timed it). Still, a lot of people shell out the dough for it.

Patong cruise ship

Quite a few large cruise ships pulled into the bay off Patong Beach. They didn’t stay long, mainly for a day or overnight. Lots of smaller boats anchored in the deeper water away from the beach.

Patong beach at night

Patong Beach at night. As the evening progresses the beach goers head back to wherever they’re staying. This is a pleasant time to take a casual stroll on the sand.

School’s Out Forever

No, it’s not; it just seemed that way. After a 5-week break, we’re back at it. I didn’t do a lot during that five weeks due to all the rain we got. The Mekong is quite high, but it’s not at a dangerous level. We’re nearing the end of the rainy season, so the level should start dropping. I did get into Nongkhai, across the river in Thailand, and I stayed in Vientiane for a few days last week during the ASEAN summit that was hosted by Laos from September 6-8. I was hoping to see some of the high level dipolomats that attended, including President Obama. I didn’t see him, but I did see his motorcade-very large, with about 15 vehicles and an extensive police escort in front and back. I waved, but I doubt that he saw me.

So, classes have started and, again, I’m working full-time, six days a week. It’s not so bad except for the ride in and back, a total of 50 kilometers (30 miles) every day. The pay is quite nice, however, and I need to save up some money for the holiday break in December, when I plan on going to Phuket in Thailand. I’ve already bought the airline tickets because they were on sale a few weeks ago, but I haven’t booked a hotel yet. I’ll do that in a few more weeks, perhaps in October, unless I find some discounts now for booking early.

Let’s see, what else has been going on? Mostly, I just sat around reading and putting on weight over the break, and I find myself getting winded going up the stairs at the school, so I’ve decided to join one of the fitness centers in Vientiane, Sengdara Fitness. It’s on my way in to school, so I’ll stop there in the mornings and do some treadmill running and weight training. I’d jog out here in the country except for the dogs that chase me, the large sand and gravel trucks that take up most of the road, the constant flow of motorbikes and the general crappiness of the road that runs through the village. It’s quite a hassle, so using a treadmill is the next best choice. I’m starting this Saturday, after classes, so I can take my time and get a feel for the place.

I also bought a new refrigerator to replace our small, worn-out old one. It’s a good-sized Samsung, but I hope there are no exploding batteries in it!

Despite the rain, we’ve had some very nice sunsets. Here are some photos of recent ones.

sunset

I like the silhouette of the palm trees and part of the temple on the road running through the village against the backdrop of the rays from the setting sun.

sunet

Another closer view of the palm trees and the temple.

sunset

Here’s one from Nongkhai that I took with my pocket camera. I was sitting at an outdoor restaurant near the river. It was getting too dark to hold the camera steady, so I set it on a flat spot on a metal railing and set the self timer to 10 seconds.

sunset

This one was taken the next evening from the same location.

Rainstorm and sunset

From the same spot a few nights later, I took this shot of an approaching rainstorm coming in from Laos. It hit Nongkhai about 15 minutes later and it rained quite heavily for about 10 minutes, then stopped.

The Internet connection out in the country has been complete crap the past couple of months, so being away from the school for five weeks has led to zero posts. Now that we’re back in action, I can use the school’s internet (most of the time, not much better than the one out in the country) to get more posts up. More later.

Rainy Season?

A couple of weeks ago, after a week of clear skies and hot days, I began to wonder how short the current rainy season might be. The Mekong, rising steadily before, began to recede, little by little. But, of course, rainy season wasn’t ending early. It proceeded to rain quite heavily for a few days, turning the dirt road of the village into a quagmire. However, it’s now been another week of clear skies and plenty of sunshine. Thankfully, the road has dried out, but that means I have to ride through a cloud of dust when I go to work. We’ve had a few nice sunsets, shown below. Nothing spectacularly beautiful, but there are usually some awesome sunsets at this time of year, when a break in the rain allows for it.

Speaking of breaks, we’ve got a long one coming up at the school. Right now we’re doing final grading, filling out reports, planning for next term, etc. This term ends on August 4th and we don’t start again until September 12th. We were originally supposed to start on the 8th, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said we wouldn’t be good to go until the 12th. Why? President Obama is visiting Laos sometime during the week beginning on September 5th, so security will be insanely heavy and many roads will be closed, I presume. I’m going to try to get into the city to see him, but most likely I’ll be unable to get anywhere near where he might be giving speeches or whatever. I might rent a cheap guesthouse room in the city that week to increase my chances. I’ll let you know what happens.

Sunset

Sunset

drainage channel

This is a small (usually) drainage channel from the rice paddies to the Mekong. During the rainy season, though, it becomes quite a torrent. As the river rises it will fill this entire ravine.

More Gunk in the Air

Here are a few more sunsets that we had over the past few days, and the sunrises are equally picturesque. The second photo shows some clouds in the evening sky, and, in fact, we finally had a bit of rain the day before the shot was taken. It was a very small amount, barely enough to dampen the ground out here, but Vientiane received quite a bit more, enough to create some large puddles. Any amount is welcome, of course.

Sunset

A nice sunset from last Sunday evening. Clouds! Rain! But not much.

Red sunset

Another crimson sunset behind the temple across the road from the farm.

The beautiful beginnings and ends of day aren’t without drawbacks, though. The sun is very red due to the haze in the atmosphere, which is mainly being caused by farmers burning the stubble off their fields in preparation for rainy season planting. I smelled smoke the other evening and stepped out onto the porch and noticed a heavy smoke cloud drifting in the fields near the house, caused by someone burning a nearby field, either across the river in Thailand or here not far from the house. Not pleasant at all. Hopefully, the burning will cease and the haze will clear soon.

Smoke drifts over farm fields.

Smoke drifts over nearby fields not far from the house. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, but I couldn’t see where the smoke was coming from. Not a pleasant smell, and it just adds to the hazy skies. Lots of rain soon, please.

Mekong Rising and Red Sunrise

As I posted previously, the Chinese are releasing water from a dam upstream from us to help out during the current drought. Riding into Vientiane today, I noticed that the Mekong had, indeed, risen about 3 to 4 inches. Just a wild guess, but the water level has gone up since last week. I hope that helps out the farmers downstream, especially the Vietnamese.

I’ve put up a photo of a red sunset before, so here’s a somewhat similar red sunrise. Morning and evening, with all the haze in the atmosphere, we’ve had about a month of these colorful risings and settings. About the only time the sun casts dark shadows is when it reaches its zenith, around noon or so. The weather forecast is calling for a small chance of rain this Friday. Hopefully, we’ll get at least a few showers.

Red sunrise

A red sun rises over Thailand and the Mekong River (unseen in this shot) from my front porch.

A Few Things for Your Perusal

Laos Hosts ASEAN Summit

Laos is hosting the summit meeting of the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, which is quite an honor for the small country. The government has been tidying up the capital for the last several months, painting the lane markers on the roads so that they’re visible, putting up Christmas-like lights on the trees on the main roads and on government buildings, installing new traffic lights and making other less noticeable improvements. The importance of the meeting will be emphasized by the arrival of President Obama in the capital in September. I imagine security will be over-the-top, but I think our school will be on break at that time. I might try to come into Vientiane while Obama’s there, just to record the scene.

Already, though, there has been an increased security presence, with armed military and police patrolling the sidewalks along the main roads, something that was rarely seen in the recent past. I’ve noticed the increase especially along the road that runs next to the Mekong River, one I travel most days when I come to work. There have been groups of three armed (Uzis, AK-47s ??) military personnel meandering along the sidewalks, which are not normally packed with people. I don’t know what they expect to happen, but I assume they’re prepared for anything. They mostly look bored. When Obama arrives, I suppose most of the military and police will be present, or at least it will seem that way. Anyway, congratulations to Laos for being chosen to host this event.

A Better Red Sunset

Here’s a better photo typical of the red sunsets and sunrises we’ve been getting due to the extreme haze lately, mainly caused by farmers burning the stubble off their fields. One of the Thailand news agencies reported that the haze has been caused by fires in Myanmar, Northern Thailand and Laos.

red sunset

I purposefully underexposed this photo to bring out the red in the sun. The color of the sun here pretty much echoes what I see at sunset and sunrise.

Crop Diversity

I’m surprised at the number of different crops that are planted in the fields near my house. In the panorama photo below, you can see corn, marigolds (made into garlands and used in the Buddhist temples) and other crops (see the photo caption). Right now, we’re in the dry season and it hasn’t rained since I don’t know when. Everything is very dry and the temperature is forecast to be above 100 F (39 C) for at least the next week, with no rain in sight. The house I’m renting is far enough away from the very dusty road that runs through the village that we don’t get too much of the dust. Along the road, however, almost everything is coated with a layer of brown dust. Whenever we do get any significant rainfall, there should be dancing in the streets. But, until then, how many of these crops are going to make it? Most of the farmers here, near the Mekong, have wells that can be used to water the crops, but elsewhere, the dry season rice growers are having big problems with this drought. Hopefully, the rain will come sooner, rather than later.

Crops in Laos village

Some of the crops near the house. Starting at the left, from front to rear, are marigolds, an unknown crop (that’s really helpful, eh?) and corn. Then moving to the right, there is a crop of basil (I think) and another unknown crop. Then, there are a couple of fields, the front ready for planting and the back one with a plant just starting to come up. To the right is another corn crop, and in front of it is a hazy, green something. Again, not very helpful, but I’m not much of a plant and flower guy. Don’t forget the banana grove, also, in front.

banana grove

The banana grove that surrounds the house on three sides is growing and seems to be doing well. Hope it doesn’t block the sky later. And, you might notice the other farmland beyond the banana grove. Many more crops back there, too.

Hazy Days and Nights

I bought a pair of Olympus 10×50 binoculars on my trip to Bangkok back in December, primarily to use for star gazing. I got in a few nighttime sessions and was able to pick out some star clusters and galaxies that you don’t ordinarily see with the naked eye. However, I needed to get a tripod adapter to hook the binocs up to my camera tripod. I purchased one on my recent stay in the United States, so I was ready for steadier viewing.

Unfortunately, the skies have been extremely hazy lately, mainly due to farmers around Southeast Asia burning their fields in preparation for another growing season. I can’t see the sun until way after sunrise as it tries to plow through the haze on the horizon. At night, only the brightest stars shine through the murk, which means that viewing those fainter cosmic sights is next to impossible. The only good thing about the haze is that it makes for some beautiful red sunsets. Guess I’ll have to wait until rainy season to get in some more good nighttime sky-watching.

red sunset

We’ve had lots of red sunsets because of the haze in the atmosphere. This photo was taken from a window in my house. The view isn’t great, but I’d have to walk or ride the motorbike quite far to get a better shot.

Vientiane Boat Racing Festival

Once again, the brilliant, white-clad crew from Luang Prabang won the traditional boat race category at the Vientiane Boat Racing Festival. Defending their championship from last year, they swept through the other competitors, winning races by large margins. At times they appeared to reduce their effort to save energy for the next race because their lead was so big. They’re an awesome crew, and the other teams will have to improve vastly to give them a challenge next year.

Thousands of people attended the festival, lining the banks of the Mekong or strolling on the car-free main road, which was closed to all motorized traffic. Because of the massive throng of people, it would have been impossible to drive a car or even operate a motorbike on this vendor-filled stretch of the normally traffic-heavy road. Nai and I walked the two kilometers from this area to the boat racing venue upstream. We found a small, covered food and beer booth where we watched the races out of the sun (but still in the heat) for a few hours, and then we walked another half a kilometer to the Kong View Restaurant and Bar, kind of an upscale place with upscale prices, but we could sit in the shade of trees with fans providing a welcome cooling breeze.

At day’s end we walked back to the main road in the cooler air of twilight and hung out at the Bor Pen Nyang rooftop bar and restaurant and watched the parade of people traveling up and down the main road.

Here then are a few photos of the festival–goods for sale, people and even a couple shots of the race.

Sandals for sale

There were lots of items for sale by the vendors at the usual night market, including these well-manicured feet. The sandals came for free. Most of the vendors along the main road were hawking products like TVs, mobile phones, and household appliances.

Children's Shoes

Need something else to put on your newly-bought feet? Try this whimsical collection of tiny sandals. Whoops, you might have to downsize those feet.

Stuffed Toy Animals

For the child in all of us. Would you like the baby chick, Garfield or the platypus? I had to ask another teacher what she thought the green animal was, so blame her if it’s not a platypus. Any other guesses?

Usa Laundry Soap

USA! USA! USA! Well, not really. It’s actually Lao lettering on bags of laundry soap. Quite a resemblance. You can try to make your own caption, something like “America: We ______” (then add a reference to cleaning up or something similar.)

Fabric for sale

These look like they would be used in making traditional Lao dresses. I don’t think they are genuine handicraft items–there were just too many of them and they were too cheap.

Phone case vendors

Selling is hard work. These two guys, one alert and one not, were trying to peddle mobile phone cases.

Big red balloon

I didn’t know exactly what these folks were doing. I figured the red object was some kind of balloon, and I was curious where it was going to be located. See the next photo to find out.

Overview of the festival

There’s the red balloon overlooking the crowd on the main street of the festival. The boat race itself was held a couple of kilometers upstream, to the right. It was a hot, dusty walk to the racing venue, and the umbrella vendors were doing a brisk business.

Women's boat racing

It wasn’t only men racing. Here a couple of women’s boats compete for the top spot in their category. I think there were eight ladies’ boats competing this year.

Meeting of boats

A few of the boats, after finishing their races, head back upstream to continue in the competition. The runaway winners of the traditional men’s category, the shimmering white-clad Luang Prabang crew, are quite noticeable in the boat at the top of the photo.

Boat race spectators

A crowd of spectator and sponsor boats watched the race from a distance. If you look closely, you’ll notice several people standing on the river bottom in the shallow water.

Boat race team

This is a fairly new team from the village where I live. The village used to be part of Sithanthai village, but was split off from it. Thus, the talent of Sithanthai was diluted. Most of these guys, though, are new to boat racing and they finished near the bottom of the competition. Their enthusiasm was not outdone by anyone, however. Here they enjoy a few post-race beers.

Boat race team

The other half of the Khokxay team. Two of their members are Nai’s brother-in-law, Aik, and Aik’s 14-year old son (not pictured here), neither of which had raced before.

Paragliders

After the race, Nai and I walked backed to the main festival area and climbed the stairs to the Bor Pen Yang rooftop bar to take in the view. Several motorized paragliders graced the area with some beautiful flying. See the next photo, also.

Paragliders

The same three as the above shot, coming in outta the sun.

Solo paraglider

The last glider aloft tries to beat the sun in setting down. I think there were five gliders in all, and you can usually see them above the Mekong on Saturday evenings during good weather.

My friend Nai

Nai contemplates the view from Bor Pen Nyang. (Or, perhaps he’s just tired.)

Taking down the festival

The next day, the welders were out dismantling the stalls of the larger vendors, like Huawei, Samsung and, yes, Apple. So, another Boat Racing Festival comes to a sparkling end.

Sunrises and Sunsets

Since the heavy rainfall earlier in the month that led to flooding, landslides and a few deaths in other parts of Laos, we’ve had nothing but beautiful weather, with a few minor exceptions. Deep blue skies speckled with fluffy clouds have been the order of the day. A few rain showers have interrupted the nice weather, but it’s like the rainy season has ended, though that’s not what the forecasters called for back in June, in the middle of a drought. Then, the meteorologists were predicting that we would have an abundance of rain through September and into October. That still may happen, but right now we’re enjoying the nice weather.

There have been many nice sunrises and sunsets during this dry spell, so here are a few photos. I’ve even managed to include some from around 5:15 or so in the morning. Yes, I’ve actually managed to get up early enough to watch the sun come up. I leave my camera on the tripod overnight so it’s ready to fire off some photos first thing in the early dawn light. There are also some views of a storm cloud that appeared to be bringing some heavy weather, but it fizzled out before it reached us.

P.S. Had to post this very quickly this morning while my internet connection was still relatively fast. I can almost always get a connection, but most of the time it’s very slow.

Sunset

Sunset, August 16, 2015, behind the temple on the road that runs through the village. Unfortunately, those power wires that interfere with the photo are very difficult, for me, to take out with Photoshop. I probably could have eliminated them with some time-consuming editing, but, oh well…..

Sunset

Sunset, August 16, 2015. The small area between some trees is pretty good for taking photos of the sunset, except for the small branch in the upper right which protrudes into the shot. It’s high enough on the tree that I can’t pull it off.

Sunset clouds

Clouds tinted by the sunset, August 16, 2015

Sunrise

Sunrise, August 18, 2015

Pink cloud

Pink cloud highlighted by the setting sun on August, 16, 2015.

Early morning village

Early morning light floods the view just outside my front window. August 18, 2015

Storm clouds

Storm clouds headed our way. They fizzled out before they got here. August 16, 2015

Storm clouds

Storm clouds, August 16, 2015

Storm cloud

Storm cloud, August 16, 2015. The Cloud King.

Storm clouds

Storm clouds, August 16, 2015.

Clouds and Rainbows

We’ve had some terrifying-looking clouds lately that promised to deliver more heavy rain and strong winds. Some of them brought the rain, but not much wind, and some of them fizzled out completely, merely passing overhead on their way into Thailand or elsewhere. One bright side to the storms is that there are often rainbows associated with their passing. We had a beautiful ‘bow the other day about an hour or so before sunset.

Rainbow

A beautiful rainbow visited the skies after a heavy downpour earlier. The only way I could have gotten a view of the whole thing was to walk to the left, which was a muddy quagmire.

Rainbow and clouds

This is the same rainbow, captured with a wider view. It disappeared just a few minutes later as the sun went behind a bank of clouds.

Here are a few of the storm clouds that have threatened us the past few days. Though many people might think that the rainy season is nothing but dull, grey overcast skies for days or weeks on end, it’s really not like that. We get hours, if not days, of bright sunshine, and some of the storm clouds are amazing. Beautiful sunrises, sunsets and rainbows punctuate the season. Sooner or later everyone will be looking forward to the end of the rains, but we still have a few months to go before that happens. For now, the rain is welcome.

Dark storm cloud

This looked as if it could spawn a tornado or two. I don’t know if Laos is subject to twisters, but this one didn’t lead to one. It passed to the east of us of us, heading toward Thailand.

Storm cloud

This one was coming right at us and I thought we were in for heavy rain and strong winds. Luckily, it completely fizzled out as it reached us, becoming nothing but wispy clouds.

Sunset

This was a fleeting moment in an otherwise dull sunset. The cloud looks like it could do some damage, but it wasn’t coming our way. The strange-looking objects at the bottom are supports for the roof of a house that was being built, but it looks like the construction has been abandoned for now.