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Leaving, Arriving

Parting is such sweet sorrow, but it’s also quite a hassle. Packing for a three-week vacation is troublesome. Should I bring my swimming pants that are three sizes too small? How about my sunglasses? I’ve never worn them before, but maybe it’ll be really, really bright this time and my retinas might get burned out. There’s this outside chance that I might get asked to do a bit of juggling, so I’d better bring those yellow tennis balls that I “found” at the court. Right? So many non life-threatening decisions to make.

Moving permanently is a different beast altogether. In a way, it’s easier. After you’ve packed everything, you just look around your abysmally small apartment to see if anything you’ve accumulated over the past five years, including dust, food droppings, sticky notes with meaningless phone numbers written on them and your passport are still lying in hidden corners of your room. If they are, pick them up and either toss them in the garbage or keep them. There should be nothing remaining. Everything important should be in your 1995 vintage Kelty backpack or your hand-me-down suitcase, given to you by Rob, a Scottish colleague who returned home six months ago.

But, before packing, I have to decide “Do I keep it or haul it out to the trash bin?” That old, moldy coffee maker has to go of course, as do all the condiments in the ‘fridge, including the five year old jar of what used to be pickles. Incense? Gone. All that old scratch paper? Gone. Garish polyester shirts that I bought in the Dominican Republic? Hmmm, they sure pack nice (wrinkle-free) and they kind of make a statement and I sure like the day-glo colors. Keep ’em.

It was problematic, but I finally packed everything that I thought I needed to have for a permanent change of location and life. I finished all the obligations to the university, like paying my final utility bill and cleaning my apartment, and I left. For good. Never to return to South Korea, I waved it a more or less fond farewell. I hopped on the overnight bus from Yeosu to Incheon Airport with no regrets, no tears of farewell and no looking back.

The bus departs Yeosu at 11:10 pm and arrives at the airport at 4 am. Usually, I can intermittently doze off, but I never arrive at Incheon refreshed. As a matter of fact, I always need a transfusion of caffeine. You really have to experience the vast emptiness of Incheon Airport at 4 in the morning. It’s like the Sahara of Korea. Dry. Unoccupied. Trackless. Except for KFC and McDonalds restaurants. They’re open at that ungodly hour. I don’t care for fried chicken for breakfast, so I always order a McDonalds Big Breakfast. I hate McDonalds. Really, I can’t stand it. I live for Burger King, but the BK at Incheon doesn’t open until 8:00 a.m. So, the Mac breakfast has to tide me over. Especially the Huge Cup of coffee. I embrace it.

So it was, then, that I checked in at China Eastern Airline, and left Korea for Bangkok, with a brief stop at Shanghai. Four thirty in the morning is dark, of course, but the sun eventually rose on a smoggy, hazy, foggy, misty morning. What was it? Smog, haze, fog, mist. Seoul, and nearby Incheon, had been experiencing a lot of smog and dust blown over, I suspect, from China. The morning was not illuminating. Here’s a shot of the airport.

Incheon Airport smog

It’s a hazy, misty, smoggy morning at Incheon International Airport.

The plane ride to Shanghai, the only stop, was uneventful, but the view from Pudong airport wasn’t any different from Incheon. Indeed, smog seems to be taking over all of east Asia. The atmosphere seemed to be a mix of fog, mist and smog, but the rising Sun couldn’t dissipate the smog.

Smoggy Pudong Airport in Shanghai

It’s quite smoggy at Pudong Airport in Shanghai around 10 a.m. local time.

I had about a two hour layover at Pudong Airport, so, as I always do in an airport that I’ve never been to before, I walked around the concourse. It’s a stunning-looking area, but the main concourse goes on forever. I would guess the straight-line walk from end to end is at least a kilometer long and maybe closer to two. Lining almost the entire length are duty free shops, where you can buy Chinese-themed items. Stuffed panda bears? Check. Chinese tassels? Check. Chinese tea? Check. Restaurants? Not many. I didn’t go into any of the restaurants or coffee shops, mainly because I wasn’t hungry and I didn’t have any Chinese yuan on me. The businesses will exchange dollars, but the exchange rate is cruel.

Pudong Airport Concourse

The main, very long concourse at Pudong Airport in Shanghai. Walking up and down this duty-free lined passage will give you plenty of exercise.

Stuffed panda bears

Cute cuddly pandas on sale in the Panda Store at Pudong Airport in Shanghai.

Stuffed panda bears

More pandas at the panda “hangout” in Pudong Airport, Shanghai.

Chinese tassels

Chinese tassels, thousands of them, can be found at the duty free shops at Pudong.

Chinese tea

Chinese tea for sale at the duty free shops. All kinds, all tastes.

From Shanghai, it was a four-and-a-half hour flight to Bangkok. China Eastern definitely isn’t the greatest airline in the world. No in-flight movie that I could hear or understand even if I could hear it, and no great food, but the service wasn’t bad, and I had a window seat, which I always enjoy in the daytime. And the flight was on time–extra points for that.

When I stepped out of the climate-controlled, stale, dry air of the plane cabin, I knew that I was in Bangkok when the heat and humidity enclosed me in a suffocating cocoon, but I loved it after the winter temperatures of South Korea. Welcome to Thailand! More on Bangkok later.

Bicycle Ride to Jang-deung Beach, Yeosu Peninsula

Spring seems to be fully here, with the cherry blossoms beginning to bloom, and azaleas, camellias and other flowers brightening the landscape. As a matter of fact, there’s an annual azalea festival at Yeongchuisan (san = mountain) this coming weekend that I’m going to visit.

So, despite 3 inches of rain last Friday, I decided to take a bicycle trip Saturday down to Jang-deung beach here on the Yeosu Peninsula. My riding companions were a couple of the new teachers, Rob, a Scotsman, and Trevor, from Canada. Now, both of these guys are much younger than I (who isn’t?) and in much better shape (insert another rhetorical question here). Trevor, especially, is quite the athlete; he’s a dedicated football (soccer) player, rides his bicycle all over the place, jogs, plays tennis and who knows what else. Rob’s no slouch either. When they suggested the ride, I was all gung-ho. Even though it looked like a fairly long trek and that it would be my first time out on my bike in almost 6 months, I thought I’d be ok. Wrong! It turned out to be a 36-mile (60 km) round trip. I haven’t ridden that far in about 20 years. Plus, it was mostly up and down hills, hills which I mostly pushed my bike up (or maybe it was pushing me). I probably spent more time pushing than riding. And, as I said, it was the first time on the bike in quite a while, so my muscles were sorely taxed by the end of the ride. I’m still recuperating.

However, it was fun for the most part and the scenery was pretty nice. We made it to the beach and stopped at a small restaurant on the way back and had some delicious fish stew. By that time, though, anything would have tasted wonderful. I just wanna thank the young studs for waiting for me at the top of all those hills. At least they didn’t have to carry me back! Here are some photos of the ride.

First, here’s a map of the peninsula. The university, from where we started, is circled in red at the upper right and the beach is at the left center. Click for a larger image.

Here we’re getting prepared to start the trip from our dormitory. That’s Trevor on the left and Rob, already on his bike. My trusty steed is in the foreground.

Preparing for the bicycle trip

Beginning the bike trip

There are many small fishing towns and harbors sprinkling the coast. We all thought that it would be great to live in one of them as long as we didn’t have far to commute to and from work.

Yeosu fishing village

Fishing Village

There are, of course, many beautiful spots along the coast. Here’s a small sample.

South coast of Yeosu Peninsula

South Coast View

South coast of Yeosu Peninsula

South Coast Shoreline of Yeosu Peninsula

South coast of Yeosu Peninsula

Yeosu Peninsula South Coast View

South coast of Yeosu Peninsula

Yeosu Peninsula South Coast View

The above photo is actually the beginning of Jang-deung beach, which is out of sight at the bottom of the photo. Here’s a shot of the beach.

Jang-deung Beach

Jang-deung Beach

And, here’s a view from the end of the beach. As usual, it’s pretty hazy along the coast looking toward the sun.

Jang-deung Beach view

Another view from Jang-deung Beach

Rob and Trevor, showing no ill effects of the ride, mock my exhaustion. I took this shot just before I was put into the ambulance. :smile:

Rob and Trevor

Rob and Trevor

If you take a look at the map again, you can see that just to the east of Jang-deung there’s a small island called Baekyado (pronounced dough = island). Connecting the island to the mainland is this pretty little bridge. Quite a few of the islands are accessible by bridge, though many more require a ferry boat ride. Rob and Trevor are taking one of the ferries to another island this Saturday. I really wanted to go, but, like I stated earlier, I’m still recuperating and the rash I got on my, ummm, . . . well, you can guess where . . . is still bothering me, so no bike ride this weekend. The more sedate azalea festival beckons.

Baegya Island Bridge and Harbor

Baegya Island Bridge and Harbor

Our total trip time was about 7 hours, but that include dawdling on the way (the young guys waiting for the old guy to catch up) and stopping at the restaurant. I’m really looking forward to doing some other bike trips, especially later in the year when the bicycle muscles in my legs are in better shape. As always, then, more later.

Laos Friends

OK, one final post with photos from my vacation in Laos and Thailand back in December. I put up some children’s photos last time, so this one has a few photos of adults.

Most of these were taken around the New Year holiday, but the Lao people like to start celebrating several days before and continue for a few days after New Year’s Day. Here’s lunch at Nai’s house on Dec. 31st, eaten by about 7-8 family members and friends. Let’s see, what do we have here? Looks like the remains of some fish, deep-fried chicken feet, various greens, a veggie salad and, of course, Beer Lao.

Lunch at Nai's house in Laos

Lunch at Nai's House

While some of us were eating and talking (with me pretending to listen–I don’t speak or understand the Lao language, yet), other folks, including Nai, were playing cards. It looks like a Lao version of gin rummy, I guess, with small wagers included.

Laos card game

Afternoon card game

These are a few of Nai’s brother’s friends, who are working on a good-sized platter of semi-congealed cow blood soup. Various herbs are thrown into the soup, along with a couple of hands full of peanuts. Yummmm! Nai’s sister Nui is on the left.

Next are Nai’s brother Pui (Poo-ee), in the center, flanked on the right by cousin Mot (Maht) and on the left by another lovely cousin, whose name I’ve forgotten. Mot’s mother (one of Nai’s sisters) and father live and work in Thailand, but he was visiting the homestead for a few weeks. I mentioned to Nai that Mot didn’t appear too happy to be here, but Nai told me he wasn’t happy to be going back to Thailand (and to school) soon. The young lady asked me, through Nai, to find her a Western boyfriend. I told her I’d put her photo on the internet, so here it is.

Laos friends

Laos friends

The day before, on the 30th, Nai and I were in Vientiane visiting a Lao friend’s pub. While shooting pool, Nai introduced me to a friend of his from Nai’s village. He’s a policeman in Vientiane, I believe, and a very friendly fellow. Here he is, posing with Nai.

Nai with his friend

Nai and Friend

I really love this guy’s expressive face. To me, he looks like one of the characters in the early-60s hit TV comedy “Car 54, Where Are You?” Actor Joe E. Ross played my favorite character on the series, Officer Gunther Toody. Mr. Ross is on the right. On the left is Fred Gwynne as Officer Francis Muldoon. Gwynne was also famous for the Herman Munster character on “The Munsters.”

Car 54, Where Are You?

Fred Gwynne and Joe E. Ross

What do you think–resemblance or not? To help you decide, here’s another photo of Nai’s friend with me, an obligatory shot, I suppose. Nai took the photo, but he did such a lousy job. It makes me look too fat! Where’s my chin? I DO have a chin. (I must have had my head tucked into my neck on this one!)

Ron and Nai's friend

Ron and Nai's Friend

We also took a walk along the Chao Anouvong Park along the Mekong. One of the signature features of the park is a larger than life statue of King Anouvong, the last ruler of the Lan Xang (Million Elephants) Kingdom. The Vientiane Times of June 15, 2010 (by way of LaoVoices) states that:

“Since Chao Anouvong is remembered for reuniting the country, his statue will depict the strength of his leadership, and should be as close to lifelike as possible,” said Head of the Ministry of Information and Culture’s Fine Arts Department, Dr Bounthieng Siripaphanh.

The statue, which is costing about 5 billion kip to make, will stand about 8 metres high and 3 metres wide. The king will be represented holding a sword in his left hand while gesturing with his right.

One of the greatest achievements of Chao Anouvong’s reign was the construction of Vat Sisaket, Vientiane’s oldest standing temple today.

This Wikipedia article, however, is not so kind to the king:

Modern Lao nationalist movements, on the other hand, have turned Anouvong into a hero, even though his strategic and tactical mistakes combined with his hot temper led to the end of the kingdom of Lan Xang (Million Elephants) destruction of Vientiane, and a permanent division of the Lao people between the country of Laos and the Lao-speaking provinces of northeastern Thailand.

Hero or not, it’s still an impressive statue.

Chao Anouvong statue

King Anouvong Statue

That wraps up my vacation to Thailand and Laos, so we’ll be goodnight and adieu, until next time.

Photo of the Moon and Venus

The Moon and Venus at Dusk From Nai's House

Laos Kids

One of the fun subjects of travel photos is taking shots of kids. Children everywhere are ingenuous and innocent, and don’t seem to mind when some strange, old foreigner sticks a camera in their face. Most of the time, I’ve found, they like to ham it up for the lens. As usual when visiting Nai and his family in Laos, I had plenty of opportunities to take some shots of all the kids in the family area–sons and daughters of Nai’s brothers and sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews, as well as assorted neighborhood children.

While I was there, a couple of the families had birthday parties for their young daughters. Some of the photos, then, are from the parties.

Here, everyone’s getting ready for one of the parties, blowing up the balloons, preparing some of the food, with the bamboo baskets filled with sticky rice.

Children's Birthday Party

Laos Birthday Party

Earlier, the wife of Won (Wahn), one of Nai’s brothers, prepared the sticky rice. Sticky rice is eaten with your hands, generally out of a bamboo basket, and can be dipped into a hot (spicy) sauce, or can be used to grab a handful of really hot papaya salad.

Preparing Sticky Rice

Preparing the Sticky Rice

Some of the kids chowed down on a few appetizers.

Lao Kids Birthday Party

Chowing Down on a Few Appetizers

So, what exactly are they eating? Deep fried chicken feet, of course. (Never tried ’em myself)

Deep Fried Chicken Feet

Deep Fried Chicken Feet

Here’s one of the birthday girls, Took, who was 8 year old, if I’m not mistaken. Notice the money wrapped around her wrists with string–birthday gifts from the people attending the party. Most of it will probably go to her parents, to help with the party expenses, but she’ll get some of it, I’m sure.

Laos Birthday Girl

Birthday Girl, Took

Here’s Nai with his brother Guay’s (Gway) daughter.

Nai with baby

Nai with baby

Here’s a few shots of one of Won’s kids, just a cute, adorable little guy. I’d guess he’s about 4.

Lao Child

Cute Guy

Cute Lao Kid

Cute Young Guy

Hey, let’s see what those shades look like on you. Cool!

Young Lao boy with sunglasses

Cool Kid

And a few more shots. Looks like somebody got banged up. Guay’s daughter with Nui, one of Nai’s sisters.

Lao baby with slight injury.

Banged Up

Nap time?

Nap time for young girl

Nap Time

And finally, here’s Kim, never camera shy, the son of Nai’s sister Lot.

Lao Boy

Kim

I’ll try to get the final photos of my trip posted soon, so, as always, 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.

Wat Traimit

As I indicated in the previous Chinatown post, I did have enough time to tour Wat Traimit, one of the big attractions of Chinatown. According to the link on that post, the Golden Buddha in Traimit is the world’s largest solid gold Buddha image, weighing in at 5.5 tons and standing 15 feet tall (although the image is seated). So, at today’s gold prices, the image is worth quite a few millions of dollars!

Wat Traimit Buddha

Wat Traimit Buddha

There’s also an interesting history of the 13th century statue, a history involving deception and discovery. Again, check out the link to read about the image.

Here’s another smaller Buddha image that’s near the Golden Buddha.

Wat Traimit Small Buddha Statue

Wat Traimit Small Buddha Statue

There’s also a detailed history of Chinatown located in a second-floor exhibition, which shows 3D life-sized scenes of daily living and which also includes a scale model of Chinatown as it looked in the mid 1950s or so. This was the only photo I got of the exhibition, since most museums and similar places don’t allow you to take photos. I didn’t see any signs forbidding it, but I didn’t want to offend anyone. At the final exhibit, the scale model of Chinatown, I saw someone else taking a shot, so I figured it was ok and took the one below. As with all the photos taken this vacation trip, I had only my pocket point-and-shoot with me. It’s a good camera, but it doesn’t do too well in dark lighting, so I had to crank up the ISO to capture this shot. In post-processing, I removed most of the digital noise that’s usually present with high ISO settings, but in doing so, the image lost some of its sharpness, as you can see in the photo below. I’ll have to bring along my small tripod next time.

Wat Traimit Chinatown Exhibit

Wat Traimit Chinatown Exhibit

And, of course, here are a few shots of the exterior of the wat. As you can see, Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej is honored everywhere.

Wat Traimit exterior

Wat Traimit

Wat Traimit Bell

Wat Traimit Bell

Wat Traimit 3D Mosaic

Wat Traimit 3D Mosaic

This one is looking up to the spire from a position close to one of the outside walls.

Wat Traimit

Wat Traimit

Directly next door to Wat Traimit is a smaller temple, sort of an annex. Here’s a detail shot of the roof of that area.

Wat Traimit annex

Wat Traimit annex roof detail

Also next to Traimit is a boys’ school (well, I didn’t see any girls, so I assume it’s a boys’ school). At the entrance to the school is a statue of a scholar (again, I assume) from days gone by. Here are the kids during what appears to be recess.

Boys' school next to Wat Traimit.

Boys' School recess

And the scholar.

Boys' school statue

Boys' school scholar statue.

Finally, I did have some time to go to the Siam Paragon shopping mall to buy some reading material. They usually have some kind of display outside the center, and this year’s set-up featured an Alice in Wonderland motif. (Pretty girls not included) Quite colorful.

Siam Paragon display

Alice in Wonderland at Siam Paragon shopping center

OK, that’s about it for the Bangkok portion of the trip. It feels like I’ve kind of over-saturated the blog with too many photos of the trip already, so I’ll just post a few more from Nong Khai and Laos a bit later. In the meantime, I’ll process the new Expo 2012 photos I took this past Saturday and get those up soon. More later.

Laos-Thailand Trip Report: Bangkok’s Chinatown

In all my previous visits to Bangkok, I’d never visited Chinatown, except for a crazy tuk-tuk ride on my way to another area several years ago. I’ve read and heard that this section of Bangkok is one of the city’s most interesting and fascinating to visit. Here’s what Lonely Planet has to say about it:

“Bangkok’s Chinatown is the urban explorer’s equivalent of the Amazon Basin. The highlights here are a rather complicated web of tiny alleyways, crowded markets and delicious street stalls. Unlike other Chinatowns around the world, Bangkok’s is defiantly ungentrified, and getting lost in it is probably the best thing that could happen to you. The neighbourhood dates back to 1782 and relatively little has changed since then. You can still catch conversations in various Chinese dialects, buy Chinese herbal cures or taste Chinese dishes not available elsewhere in Thailand. Getting in and out of Chinatown is hindered by horrendous traffic but the area is a brief walk from Hualamphong Metro station.”

Although my time in Bangkok was very limited this trip, I decided to take a brief excursion to the Chinatown area, knowing full well that I wouldn’t be able to see it in depth. I had several hours to kill before I hopped aboard the overnight express to Nong Khai, so I dropped off my big bag at the luggage holding room at Hualamphong Railway Station and made the short walk (15 minutes) to Chinatown.

It’s easy to find the main road, Yaowarat–just look for the large gate marking the beginning of the area.

One of Chinatown’s main attractions is Wat Traimit, which is a short walk from the gate (I took the shot of the gate from the top of Traimit). It was on the right hand side of the road as I was walking down Yaowarat.

I wasn’t sure how much time I was going to spend browsing around the area, so I decided to visit the temple on the way back, if I had time.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have all that much time to spend in Chinatown, with its many shops, side streets and vendors’ stalls. It was extremely busy and crowded with shoppers and tourists, and walking was quite slow, although it’s probably faster than driving. Motor bikes would probably be the fastest way of traveling through the dense mass of traffic.

It’s a very popular place to buy gold, gems and other jewelry, but it appeared that, in the short time I spent there, you could buy just about anything you might be looking for. Here are a few items that caught my attention.

Traditional clothing.

Tassels

Fruit and vegetables.

Stuffed crab, anyone? Chinatown is renowned for it’s nighttime outdoor eating venues. Unfortunately, by nightfall I’d be on the train to Nong Khai. The next time I’m in Bangkok, I definitely want to visit this area at night.

Oh, and did I hear you say that you need a barber’s chair?

So, just about anything you need or want, you can probably find it here.

Yes, I did return to Wat Traimit and took the tour of the temple area. This post is getting rather long, so I’ll save the wat for next time. More later.

Laos-Thailand Trip Report: Beijing Airport

Beijing’s Capital City Airport (BCIA) is a bit of a contrast to Incheon Airport, although it is a huge, bright gleaming facility. On my departure to and return from Thailand, I had the opportunity to browse around Terminal 3, which could be described as cavernous. T3 is kind of in the shape of a 3-bladed propeller, and each “blade” of the propeller, where the boarding gates are located, is very long, perhaps as much as half a kilometer long.

It was my misfortune to spend 6 hours and 8 hours there going and coming back. There are very few restaurant options and only one western outlet, Pizza Hut. The prices are insane, $10 for a medium-sized hamburger and a medium to smallish order of fries, somewhat underachieving in taste, at the western styled Lucky Shamrock restaurant, named Rucky Shamrock on the BCIA website. The website also states that there are a McDonald’s, a Burger King, a KFC and a Roger’s in T3–not so. False info. The Lucky Shamrock, luckily, took US dollars. There’s also a Starbucks in the terminal, and after spending from midnight until 6 a.m. (Starbuck’s opening time) in the terminal, I was really ready for an invigorating, hot cup of coffee or two. Alas, Starbucks does not take dollars, only Chinese currency, of which I had none. There was a currency exchange machine and a booth, (not open at 6 a.m., though I checked it out during the day on my way to Thailand), but the commission that was wanted on any exchange in either place was ridiculous. I don’t remember what it was exactly; I just remember shaking my head in shock and walking away.

On the way down to Thailand, the temperature in the terminal was moderately warm, but the long overnight stay (midnight to 8:30 a.m.) on the way back became an impossible attempt to take a snooze. I found some very nice lounge-type chairs that I could lie down on and probably easily sleep on. However, the temperature was incredibly chilly! I had a long-sleeved sweater, but it was no match for the draft coming from the vent system. Just really unbelievable–I was shivering, so no sleep. There was an hourly hotel right in the terminal, but, again, the prices were incredibly steep.

Skytrax gives BCIA a Four-Star rating, but I’d say, in my opinion, that for stays of over a couple of hours, it’s only about two stars, especially if you have to stay overnight and you’re not rich. If you end up with a long layover at the airport, bring your own snacks, if possible, and definitely bring a heavy jacket if you’re trapped there overnight.

Back to Work

After enjoying more than a week off while the students took mid-term exams, I go back to work tomorrow. I didn’t do a whole lot during the time off, but I did get up to Seoul for a few days; I needed to get some more pages added to my passport. I wouldn’t have needed any more until my passport expired, but the Laos government chooses to take up an entire page with their large tourist visas. Because I go there so often on vacation, I use up quite a few pages in a short time. Although I enjoy Seoul, I don’t really like going up there because I spend so much money in a short time. The passport pages used to be a free service, but now the U.S. government charges $82 for it. Add in the cost of transportation there and back, a couple of nights in a guesthouse, eating, visiting the Kyobo bookstore for a few reading materials, and a trip to the Foreign Food Market in Itaewon, and the price climbs. I was able to get a few spices that I can’t find here in Yeosu, including a Cajun Spice Mix and a bottle of cardamom. I also discovered that they have all kinds of beans and pasta, so I got a couple of bags of couscous and, unbelievably, black-eye peas. Now I can have that traditional southern U.S. dish, Hoppin’ John, which, if eaten on New Year’s Day, will bring you good health and prosperity for the rest of the year. Yummmmm, I can’t wait. Heck, I’m sure I’ll cook up a few batches before then. I might even have to make another Seoul run.

Well, the World Series is over and the Rangers kind of blew it, but what a classic game 6 that was! I watched the replay on MLB TV when I returned from Seoul. I avoided checking the Internet and my email as a precaution to avoid seeing the game result before I watched it. A really exciting game and hard to top, as game 7 seemed rather anti-climactic (unless you’re a Cardinal fan).

I’ve still got a lot of photos to put up, including some from Seoul, so stay tuned for more later (sooner, I hope.)

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.