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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.

Baannakee Restaurant, Nongkhai

We’re having a short mid-term break of nine days before starting again on July 4th. (Obviously, not a holiday here) Nai and I are staying a few days across the river in Nongkhai. I’ve got to do some shopping at Tesco-Lotus, a French chain that’s similar to Wal-Mart, more or less. My old computer bag is literally falling apart, and I’m in the market for a new compact camera, probably a Canon Ixus (Elph, in the ‘States.) I’m also looking for an e-book reader, but I’m not sure what I can find in Nongkhai.

On our last visit there, we found out about a great little bar and restaurant called Baannakee, which means “The House of the Dragon,” according to the owner, a Thai man named Toom. He’s very friendly as well as being an excellent cook. The food, mostly German fare, is great. A local German expat makes a variety of sausages at his home and sells them to the restaurant. Though I’m not particularly fond of sausage, what I’ve eaten at Baannakee is not bad at all. Some of my favorite food that’s served there are the fish and chips, and the mashed potatoes, which come with a variety of dishes.

The fish ‘n chips come with very hefty proportions as well as with a generous-sized side of salad. You could almost share an order with another person, and the price is right-about six dollars at the current exchange rate. The mashed potatoes are some of the most delicious I’ve ever tasted; I have to see about getting his recipe. (UPDATE: The secret ingredient is a bit of nutmeg, believe it or not.)

The other food is superb as well, with pasta dishes, a variety of sausages, sauerkraut, pork knuckle and tenderloin, and a large selection of Thai food.

Another nice thing about Baannakee is the atmosphere. The place seats about 20 people, though it’s never been that busy, and the crowd is made up of mostly older expats, Germans and Northern Europeans, so it has a fairly laid back atmosphere. Toom has a huge, eclectic selection of cd’s, but the music is always played unobtrusively in the background; it never interferes with conversation. Also, there’s no pool table, which, it seems to me, always creates a noisier environment.

If you’re ever in the area, give Baannakee a try. It’s right near the start of the market along the Mekong, just down from Daeng Vietnamese restaurant. I’m sure you’ll like it.

Baannakee Restaurant

Here’s the entrance to Baannakee. Just to the left and up the street is the beginning of the covered market along the Mekong. In the opposite direction of the market is Daeng Restaurant.

Baannakee Restaurant

Here’s the restaurant at night. Toom will usually stay open until at least 11 pm, but if it’s busy, he’ll stay open until the wee hours. The kitchen closes at 10.

Daeng Restaurant

Here’s the Vietnamese Restaurant. Baannakkee is behind us, to the left.

Toom

This is Toom, the friendly proprietor, who’s restaurant has been in Nongkhai for 13 years. It used to be called DJ Thasadej, and Toom had a German partner. He’s returned to Germany and Toom changed the name to Baannakee.

Nai

Nai, looking dapper, vouches for the quality of the Thai food. I’ll vouch for the Western offerings. Neither of us has had a bad serving yet.

Fish and chips

This is a single serving of fish ‘n chips, but it could feed a couple of guests. Most of the portions at the restaurant are very well-sized and priced lower than what Toom probably could charge.

Pork tenderloin

This is pork tenderloin smothered in a curry-cheese cream gravy. The mashed potatoes are to die for.

Baannakee bar

The small bar at the restaurant seats five patrons and serves up a variety of liquor and beer, though the selection isn’t that extensive.

Interior of Baannakee

Part of the interior. This part seats eight people or twelve, if it’s really crowded.

The following are various photos of the odds and ends and paintings scattered throughout the restaurant. Not much to say about them, but they do contribute to the eclectic and cozy atmosphere of the place.

Baannakee Restaurant

A display to the left of the bar. Toom lives up the stairs.

Baannakee Restaurant

Another display near the kitchen area.

Baannakee Restaurant

The area just in front of the bar.

Baannakee Restaurant

Another area near the stairs.

Painting at Baannakee Restaurant

One of the paintings, which were created by a local artist.

Painting at Baannakee Restaurant

And another painting.

Another Nongkhai Attraction

Just one more thing about Nongkhai before I do a Bangkok post. Another small attraction in this laid back, small town is the wall around Wat Si Chom Chuen (I think that’s the name of the temple, though I could be wrong.) Lining at least one section of the wall are murals (stucco) with scenes of traditional, daily Thai life. They’re quite interesting and well-done. Now, it’s possible that there may be more of these around the other walls, but I didn’t get a chance to explore them all. I’ll leave that for next time or for you to do.

Here’s the temple in question; it’s just across the street from the Danish Baker restaurant. You can see a few of the murals by the motorbike in the lower right corner.

Nongkhai temple

Nongkhai Temple

Here, then, are some of the murals. I didn’t get all of them, so, if you’re ever in Nongkhai, try to check them out.

Nongkhai mural

Nongkhai Mural

Nongkhai mural

Nongkhai Mural

Nongkhai mural

Nongkhai Mural

Nongkhai mural

Nongkhai Mural

Nongkhai mural

Nongkhai Mural

Nongkhai mural

Nongkhai Mural

So, that evening, Nai and I set out for Bangkok on the overnight train. There were some impressive clouds building up near the train station, but they eventually drifted into Laos. Here’s a shot I took and converted to an HDR photo, just playing around–probably with not that much success. It’s fun trying, though.

Storm coming

Storm Coming

I’ll soon do a final post of my most recent visit to Bangkok, including some beautiful (I hope) night shots of the skyline.

Two Riverfront Parks-Nongkhai and Vientiane

Both Nongkhai, Thailand, and Vientiane, Laos, have nice riverfront parks along the Mekong. Whereas Nongkhai’s park is more of a walkway, Vientiane’s is a large park and walkway, and is frenetic with activities, in contrast to the sedateness of Nongkhai.

I like the quiet of Nongkhai. It’s a small town that shuts down about 11 p.m., except for a handful of mostly expat bars near the river. I’m sure there are other venues that Thai people frequent later at night, but I’ve never been to any of them, except for a hotel karaoke now and then. The river walk reflects that quiet. Here’s a shot I took of it a few years back, to give you some perspective.

Nap time at Nongkhai river park

Nap Time

New to this walkway and off to the right are some added items of whimsy that I found amusing–lawn ornaments. Here are a few of the new denizens of Nongkhai’s river walk. There are several more, but I don’t want to spoil your fun should you ever get there.

Lawn ornaments in Nongkhai river walk

River Walk Whimsy

Lawn ornaments at Nongkhai river walk

River Park Whimsy

Lawn ornaments at Nongkhai river park

River Park Whimsy

Lawn ornaments at Nongkhai river park

River Park Whimsy

Lawn ornaments at Nongkhai river park

River Park Whimsy

Lawn ornaments at Nongkkhai river park

River Park Whimsy

Here’s a fella I found who was caught between a rock and a hard place, between two dragons. Hey, guy, are you another lawn ornament?

Nai at Nongkhai river park

Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

In contrast to the Nongkhai walk, the Vientiane River Park is busy, busy with activity during the evenings. Here’s a short video showing a small slice of the action along the Mekong–aerobics classes, the night market, kids doing tricks on bikes and skateboards, and families out for a stroll. For once, it wasn’t raining.

Vientiane, Laos, Mekong River Park from Ron Anderson on Vimeo.

Whichever city you visit, be sure to take some time to amble along the Mekong. I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself.

Rainy South East Asia

There’s been boatloads of rain here in Vientiane the last few days, and more is in the forecast. The Internet connection has been spotty, at best, and I also spent a few days in Nai’s village, where there is no Internet. So, I haven’t been able to post in a while. Here’s what’s been going on.

First, here’s a bit better look at the Sri Maha Mariamman temple near Soi 20. It was fairly crowded and difficult to find a good position for a shot, due also to the heavy traffic in the area.

Sri Maha Mariamman temple

Sri Maha Mariamman

Sri Maha Mariamman temple

Sri Maha Mariamman

Here are a few more shots of the Soi 20 street food area. The Islamic Mosque can be seen in the first one, to the right side of the photo.

Soi 20 in Bangkok

Soi 20

Lots of fruit to be found on Soi 20.

Fruit Market

Fruit Market

Fruit Market

Fruit Market

So, I had a lot of time to kill before catching the overnight train to Nongkhai. Mainly, I did a lot of walking around the Silom Road area, and I hit some of the big malls near Siam Square. First, here’s a shot of the spirit house outside of the hotel. I find these little shrines quite interesting and there’s thousands of them in Bangkok. This excellent article says that they are houses for invisible helpful spirits. Most of them are fascinating and beautiful.

Spirit House

Spirit House

Here’s a couple shots along Silom Road. One is a dragon statue not too far up the road from the hotel, and the other is a shot of a new building framed by the sky train.

Dragon Statue

Dragon Statue

Bangkok Skyline

Bangkok Skyline

I bought a couple of books in the Siam Paragon mall, a really upscale shopping area. How upscale? Wanna buy a car? Take a gander at these that you can find there.

Rolls Royce Dealer

Rolls Royce Dealer

Maserati Dealer

Maserati Dealer

This one’s a Lotus.

Lotus Dealer

Lotus Dealer

Finally caught the overnighter to Nongkhai. It departs at 8:00 p.m. and is supposed to arrive at 7:45 the next morning. The last few times I’ve taken it, it’s been almost two hours late arriving, so I asked Nai to meet me around 10 o’clock. Unfortunately, I guess, it was only half an hour late, so I had a bit of time on my hands until Nai got there. Started reading a book, but I also noticed the station crew giving a good scrubdown to the cars.

Cleaning the train

A Clean Machine

Nai got there around 9:30 and we stayed a few days in Nongkhai, then went into Laos and to his village outside of Vientiane. I’ll have a future post about that, hopefully in a couple of days. More later.

Laos-Thailand Trip Report: Nong Khai

So, if you read my previous posts about Wat Traimit and Bangkok, you probably know that I took the overnight train to Nong Khai, in northeast Thailand, just across the Mekong River from Laos. If I recall, this train used to run, more or less, on time; perhaps it was late, but usually no more than 30 minutes or so. However, the last couple of times I’ve taken it, it’s been 2 HOURS late pulling into Nong Khai. It departs from Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station at 8:30 p.m., but this trip, it didn’t pull into Nong Khai until 10:30 a.m. Hmmm, don’t know why it was so late, but perhaps the railway authorities were being cautious and slowed the train down because of possible damage done to the tracks due to the widespread flooding a few weeks before.

Anyway, I made it to Nong Khai OK and was met at the station by Nai. We checked into the Pantawee Hotel and stayed a few days there. The Pantawee had hung some new, attractive lanterns in the trees at the hotel since I’d last been there. I don’t know if they’ll be permanent decorations or if they were only seasonal, but they added a nice ambience to the property.

Pantawee Hotel Lantersn, Nong Khai, Thailand

Christmas Lanterns at Pantawee Hotel

Detracting from the usual peaceful ambience, however, was street construction going on right in front of the hotel. I usually like to sit at the outdoor patio in the morning to eat breakfast or just have a cup of coffee or two. The extreme noise and dust made it impossible to enjoy a quiet morning outside; sitting inside wasn’t too bad, though, and, occasionally work would halt for a short while, with the temporary silence standing in sharp contrast to the noise.

Nong Khai Street Construction

Street construction in front of the Pantawee Hotel

Another peaceful spot in Nong Khai is the promenade along the Mekong River. It’s quite pleasant to take a stroll, to sit in the shade of one of the gazebos, or to eat in one of the many restaurants. We usually have lunch and/or supper along here. Below are a few food photos of tom yam (tohm yahm), a spicy and sour soup, with fish, and fried rice with chicken. Nai and I shared the tom yam, and I had the fried rice. Both were delicious and cheap.

Tom Yam Thai Soup

Tom yam with fish

Thai Fried Rice with Chicken

Thai fried rice with chicken

You could also take a short excursion on the Mekong. Below are a couple of photos of boating leisure. The first was taken in Nong Khai and the second was taken last summer in Yeosu, looking down from the Dolsan Bridge. Which one would you prefer? I like both of them.

Taking a boat ride on the Mekong River

Taking a boat ride on the Mekong River

Lazy Day Fishing in Yeosu, South Korea

Lazy Day Fishing in Yeosu, South Korea

Probably the biggest highlight of the whole vacation was the chance to attend a live concert of Isaan music. Nai and I did just that on the evening of December 23rd. We enjoyed a 3 to 3 1/2 hour concert featuring traditional and modern Isaan music. Isaan is a region of northeast Thailand that features various aspects of Lao and Thai culture, including language, music and cuisine. I didn’t take any photos, but I did take about 50 minutes of video with my point-and-shoot camera. (I didn’t take the big DSLR with me on this trip.) The area in front of the stage was too crowded to get close, and I was handholding the camera in low light, so the videos aren’t all that great. But, I’m going to try to piece together the best bits into one video and get it posted here eventually. So, tune in for that and for a few photos of my visit to Laos. More later.

Happy Holidays

To all my readers, friends, colleagues and family–may you have a very enjoyable holiday season and a prosperous and happy New Year.

I’m in Nongkhai, Thailand at the moment and I’ll be heading over the border into Laos tomorrow, Christmas Day. Even though Thailand and Laos are Buddhist countries, many of their people celebrate Christmas as a holiday, not a religious event. Nai and I went to Tesco-Lotus (a department store/mall) today and the place was packed with shoppers. Of course, it’s Saturday, but it still seemed like a lot more people were out today than on a normal weekend. Perhaps the Spirit of Christmas is not recognized here, but the Spirit of Consumerism is alive and well.

Like I said, I’m going into Laos tomorrow and I’ll spend several days with Nai and his family, celebrating the holidays. Folks there will be eating and drinking and entertaining friends. We’ll be chowing down on those large Mekong fish that are so delicious and I’m sure the Beer Lao will be flowing all over the country.

The weather has been great, with daytime temperatures in the high seventies (25 C.) and cool nights, around 55 or so (13 C.), I would guess, and plenty of sunshine. I’m not looking forward to going back to chilly, windy Yeosu in a few weeks.

I’ve got some photos to post, but I want to edit them first and, unfortunately, I don’t have any photo editing software on this particular computer. I’ll try to get some of them up before returning to Yeosu, but if I don’t, I’ll get them up as soon as I do return.

Again, Happy Holidays to all.

Weather Woes in Laos; Typhoon Muifa

Tropical Storm Nock-Ten recently made its way over Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. I phoned my friend Nai last night to find out how badly his area had been hit. He said that most of the farmland in his village was under water and the crops destroyed. Many people were heartsick and crying, he told me, and he sounded like he was ready to cry himself. He also stated that the Mekong was lapping at his doorstep, a possible foreshadow of a recurrence of the flooding of 2008. On top of that, he’s been quite ill recently, bedridden, unable to walk, he told me, and under medication. When it rains, it pours.

The Bangkok Post reported that Nong Khai, just across the river from Nai’s village, received 80 centimeters of rain–that’s around 32 INCHES! Really incredible. It’s easy to understand what a calamity this is. The paper also said that cars were stranded in the middle of roads with floodwaters up to their windshields. I really feel for the people in that area of the world and wish them the best. I suppose I’ll be sending some money Nai’s way to help him and his family get back on their feet.

Meanwhile, in Yeosu we’ve gotten a bit over an inch of rain this morning, with more in the forecast. More ominous, though, is that Typhoon Muifa, churning in the Pacific south of Japan and packing winds of 140 mph, is heading our way. Usually, typhoons forming in that area get swept east into the Pacific by the prevailing winds before reaching us. Not this time, though. According to the Weather Underground website, Yeosu is, at this time, right in the bullseye. According to the graphic below, we’re at almost the exact place where Muifa will make landfall in South Korea. Of course, this is about a week away and I’m sure the projected path will change before then, but still, it’ll be something to keep an eye on.

Two Sides of the Mekong

I stayed a few short days in both Nong Khai, Thailand, and Vientiane, Laos. I mainly hung out along the Mekong River, and both cities have built up their respective riverbanks.

Nong Khai hasn’t changed all that much in the year since I’d last been there. It’s a pleasant walk along the river, where you can duck into one of the small shelters, out of the hot sun, and take a nap if you’d like.

There are also any number of small, open-air restaurants. Go in, sit by a fan and grab a snack or a meal. Here, Nai and I prepare to chow down. I’m the fella without glasses. Oh, sorry about that. You’ll just have to guess which one of the handsome guys is yours truly.

I forget what Nai ordered, but I got shrimp pad thai (first photo below) and spring rolls. Yummmmm.

You can also eat dinner ON the river by taking the dinner cruise boat, located at the end of the river walkway. It’s not too expensive and it’s worth it, in my opinion. Nong Khai is very colorful from the middle of the Mekong. One of my favorite sights is the Big Buddha that sits on top of one of the temples, contemplating the river and gazing into Laos.

This particular evening, the sun was close to setting and the golden light it cast really bought out the colors along the river bank.

Let’s take a look into Laos, shall we?

Not too much to see except temples and lots of vegetation. But, then again, it’s not Vientiane. You have to go about 20 kilometers upstream, as the river flows, to get to the capital city. In the past, the river was lined with small restaurants, merely chairs and grills set up to serve diners, but it was a nice spot to watch the sun go down over Thailand. Here’s a shot of one of our favorite spots from days gone by (actually, from December, 2009).

Here’s another one from the same time from the fourth floor location of the Bor Pen Nyang bar. However, this one shows some of the dramatic changes that would be made to the riverside. The image below it gives a broader look at the construction that was still ongoing in June of 2010.

The result of all that work is a very pleasant riverside park, one that Laotians can be very proud of. Gone from that area are all the old dining areas (they’ve moved farther down the river), but there’s a very nice walkway, play areas for the kids and lots of greenery. Here’s another view from almost exactly the same location from the Bor Pen Nyang. The park stretches nearly to the large, white Don Chan Palace hotel in the background, and I believe work is still being done on the section near there.

The two shots below were taken around 6 p.m. on a Saturday, so the place was fairly crowded with families, couples, singles and even a few monks, all out enjoying a stroll or riding their bicycles in the cooling evening breeze.

So, yeah, it’s a nice park and a welcome addition to Vientiane. I kinda miss the small eateries, but they can still be found if you look for them. Sitting on the river, sipping an ice-cold Beer Lao or another beverage of your choice and watching the sun go down over the Mekong is also still possible and a memorable experience.

That’s it for now. I’ll get some more photos up later of Bangkok and Phuket, so stay tuned.

Laos Update

After an uneventful journey on the overnight train to Nong Khai, I met up with Nai and we decided to stay in the small border city for a few days before going to Laos. At the moment, I’m in Vientiane, and I still haven’t decided whether to venture up to Vang Vieng or to go back to Bangkok tomorrow and then to either Phuket or Hua Hin to take in a few days at the beach.

Nong Khai hasn’t changed all that much, unlike Bangkok, which has dozens of new buildings going up and old ones being torn down; the skyline seems to be in a constant flux, undecided as to what face it wants to show. Everything is open again, at least those places not destroyed by arson in the recent protests. There are very few signs of the trouble, though a cleaning man pointed out a couple of bullet holes in the metal railing of one of the skywalks near Central World, courtesy of the Thai army, he told me.

Vientiane is also seeing a lot of activity, with new construction going on in the city itself and along the banks of the Mekong, where a new waterfront park is slowly taking shape. It’s been very dry and hot here, though we’re getting a bit of rain this morning. I’m not sure where my next post will be from, but I’ll certainly have more later.