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Thai Planes, Trains and Mototaxis

This is the first post, then, about my recent vacation in Thailand and Laos. Let me say congratulations, though, to Yingluck Shinawatra, leader of the winning party in Thailand’s recent election, future Prime Minister and sister of deposed ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra. Hopefully, the election will help to unite the country and heal the wounds caused by all the strife there recently. Some commentators on Thai politics think it will be a good thing, but there are those who think another military coup is possible. I left the country just a few days before the election, and, while I did see more than a little campaigning going on, I didn’t see any demonstrations or acts of violence. Good luck, people of Thailand!

Next, I have to comment on the quality of Thai Airways. I used to enjoy flying with the “Smooth as Silk” airline, but lately their service has really declined. The quality of the food served on flights has gone down noticeably from, oh, say about five years ago; the attendants, while not surly, don’t seem as interested or caring; and the in-flight entertainment has become sub-par. On the trip to Bangkok, all we had were the overhead video monitors–no individual seatback screens with video on demand (older planes, I guess). On the trip back to Korea, we did, indeed, have the video on demand, individual screen system–nice. However, less than halfway through the flight, the system went down–no video, no music to listen to, nothing. That made for a much longer flight. Yeesh! I’m gonna have to start booking my travel on another airline, methinks. Sorry, Thai Air, you’re gonna have to pick it up quite a bit to keep my business.

Ok, I got that out of the way. I only stayed in Bangkok for one night, so I didn’t get around too much. One thing I always do in Bangkok is eat at the Bourbon St. Restaurant, which, as you might guess, serves mouth-watering Cajun cuisine. It’s only about a kilometer or so from the hotel, so I could have walked there. I felt like having a little fun, though, so I decided to take a motorbike mototaxi, a rather unsafe way to travel in Bangkok’s notorious traffic.

It was around 7 p.m. and Sukhumvit Road was experiencing its usual rush-hour jam, so taking a regular taxi probably would have taken around half an hour. On a mototaxi, it took about 10 minutes, with the driver weaving between the non-moving cars and buses, working his way to the front of the pack waiting for the traffic light to change. Then, at the green light, he roared to the back of the next stalled pack and again squeezed to the front. You have to really keep your arms and legs tight to the bike–you’re the meat in a sandwich and the buses and cars are the bread. It’s actually not that bad in a traffic jam, because not too many of the big vehicles are moving–just watch the arms and legs. I took a couple of videos while I was riding on the back, holding on for dear life with one hand and holding my compact camera with the other. I’ll try to get one of them posted here for your amusement.

So, I did make it to the restaurant ok and had a great meal of red beans and rice. Fantastic! Be sure to give the Bourbon St. a try if you’r ever in Bangkok. It’s on Sukhumvit Soi 22. Check their website for directions.

Another thing I like about Bangkok is all the surprising cultural trappings that seem to pop up out of nowhere. I walked back to Sukhumvit 11 (no sense pressing my luck on the mototaxis), and this statue caught my attention. It looks like it might be a shrine of some sort, and it was located across the street in front of a bank or department store–I really don’t remember which. I didn’t notice it on the ride down, but that was probably because I was too busy taking the videos and trying not to die. :smile:

More mundane transportation is the overnight train to Nong Khai. It departs from Hua Lamphong Station at 8:30 p.m. and arrives in Nong Khai around 8:30 a.m. The train is usually late by about 20-30 minutes, although it’s been on time occasionally on my past trips, but this time we were 2 HOURS late getting into the northeastern Thai city. Again, on the return trip, the train was almost 2 hours late arriving in Bangkok. Very unusual, but not a big problem for me, since I wasn’t on any real pressing time schedule. (Nai had a pretty long wait in meeting me, though.)

Here’s a shot of Hua Lamphong I took from a restaurant above the main waiting area.

I kind of like the rickety, over-aged night train–it’s seems like an escape to the past, when people weren’t in such a hell-bent-for-leather hurry to get somewhere else. On the train, it’s not the arrival that’s important, it’s the trip. The train has a dining car, so I rocked and rolled my way down a few cars and sat down to have a snack. You meet all sorts of interesting folks. I talked to one Norwegian guy who co-owns a guest house in Vang Vieng, Laos, and he told me that the police up in the “frat” town (about which I’ve previously posted) had clamped down on the after hours (closing time–midnight) partying there. That’s excellent news–it’s a beautiful area, but the young backpackers that seemed to party ’round the clock had turned it into something less than appealing to older folks like me.

I also struck up a conversation with one of the police who patrol the cars, checking passports, watching for thievery, and other such mundane chores. I took a photo, but for some reason I had the settings on my camera messed up and didn’t get a clear shot of him. However, it does give some idea of the swaying motion of the train, so I kind of like it anyway.

So, I’ll end this rather long post with my arrival in Nong Khai and try to get some more photos and stories up this weekend. Stay tuned.

Back to Work

I arrived back in Yeosu yesterday afternoon, tired after a nice vacation, but ready to settle back into the daily routine of work, which begins again tomorrow. The flight back from Bangkok took off in a steady rain at 11:20 Friday night, and landed in a very dense fog at Incheon airport around 6:30 Saturday morning. I hopped on the bus to Yeosu, via Gwangju, at 8 and got back to my apartment at 1:30 yesterday afternoon. I can never sleep on airplanes or buses, so, like I said, I was pretty tired and, to some extent, still am. I need a vacation to recuperate from my vacation. :smile:

I’ve got some photos that I’ll post soon, and I’ll start processing some of them this afternoon while I’m peeling off skin from my legs that got sunburned on Patong Beach on Phuket Island. Though it’s rainy season in that part of the world, there was still plenty of sunshine. I’ll try to give a full trip report with the photos, so I better get started on that, and, as always, more later.

Back in Bangkok

I’m back in Bangkok again, and it’s still the polluted, noisy, smelly, hectic and crazy place it’s always been on my past trips–I love it! Not because it’s polluted or noisy or smelly (some of the smells are wonderful), but those detriments do seem to add to its edgy appeal to me. Seoul–that huge megacity–doesn’t have the same attraction; it just seems to sterile, too mundane, and too predictable. Don’t get me wrong–it’s a nice city and many people love it. Nothing wrong with that. But for me, that’s the difference–Seoul’s nice, but Bangkok is NASTY! Nasty, though, in a good way. :smile:

I’m heading north this evening on the overnight train to Nong Khai, where I’ll meet up with Nai tomorrow morning. I’ll probably spend a few days in Nong Khai, then go to Laos for several more, then back to Bangkok and to Phuket on the 22nd. More later.

Field Trip Time

It’s that time of the semester again, when the Intensive English students and teachers go on a field trip to tour some of the attractions in Yeosu as part of the English course. We’ve had two of these events in the past, about which I’ve written here (in 2009) and here (in 2010). Both of the previous trips were taken in the fall, but because of the revamped Intensive program, we’re taking trips in both the spring and fall this year.

The fall trip should present no weather problems, but late May is starting to get close to the rainy season. It’s been rainy and misty all day today (Friday) and the forecast is calling for showers tomorrow, with heavier rainfall after 6 p.m. We should be finished with the trip by then, but KMA forecasts have proven to be wrong in the past. Hopefully, we won’t get soaked.

Of course, I’ll try to get some good photos and get them posted here in a timely fashion. :roll: (Rolling eyes, looking at watch, waiting . . . waiting) More later–eventually.

Another Year in Yeosu, June Vacation

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention in my previous post that I’ll be signing on for another year here. Lots of reasons for doing that–familiarity with the job, pleasant people to work with, friendliness of the students and the people of the area, the beauty of the countryside, and, the biggest reason, the upcoming 2012 Expo next year, about which I’ve posted quite a few times. (Use the search box to find the relevant posts.) So, I’m pretty stoked about being here for at least another year.

The new contract begins at the end of August, so there’s still a bit of time to go before then. In the meantime, I’m heading down to Thailand and Laos in June. I purchased my ticket from Thai Air last week–I’d been logging onto their web site for about a month, waiting for their ticket prices to drop, which they do around this time of the year. Sure enough, prices went down about $100 for a round-trip ticket in June. Sweet!

I have a ton of frequent flier miles built up on the Star Alliance frequent flier program and they expire soon, so I probably could have used those for a free flight, if I’d been lucky enough to grab a freebie at that time. I’ve read that it’s very difficult to get a seat by using miles for free flights, and a more realistic scenario would have been to get an upgrade. However, I thought that wasn’t really the best way to go. I’ve decided to use the miles for a hotel room in Patong, Phuket, Thailand for a week for my friend Nai and myself. We’ve stayed at the Thara Patong Resort before, and we really enjoyed it, so I’m going to use the miles for that. It’s an upscale hotel, right across the street from the beach in Patong, with friendly staff, a very large swimming pool, and a pretty good inclusive breakfast in one of the restaurants. (I’m the early bird breakfast zombie–Nai usually sleeps in, lazy guy. :smile:

Here’s a quick snap of the pool from our hotel room, back in 2007.

So, as of now, my tentative plans are to fly into Bangkok on June 11th, take the overnight train to Nongkhai, Thailand on the 12th, arriving the next day, then goofing around in Nongkhai and Vientiane (Laos) with Nai until the 19th. We’ll then take the train back to Bangkok and fly out of the City of Angels on the 22nd for Phuket, returning on the 29th. Back to Korea on July 1st. Too short. But, it’ll do.

So, long term–another year in Yeosu. Mid term–the trip to Thailand in June. Short term–get in beach shape. I’ve taken off 5 kilograms (about 11 pounds) since the beginning of the semester in March, and I’ve got a long ways to go. I’ve been working out at the gym on the weight machines, so I’m trying to develop the physique, along with losing the weight. This recent illness has slowed my progress, but I’ve got a couple of months to go yet, so I’m hopeful that I’ll look like this guy. More later.

Not kidding about the physique. Jack LaLanne at 95 years old. Fantastic.

In Hanoi

I arrived in Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport with nothing extremely noteworthy happening on the flight here. Viet Nam Airlines still leaves a lot to be desired–just so-so food and absolutely no in-flight entertainment. (They said that the system had a mechanical/electrical failure of some sort.) Mostly the cabin attendants were polite and attentive, but one guy was having a bad day. A couple of older Korean guys sat in the seats in front of me, and they seemed a bit goofy to begin with. The attendants handed out Viet Nam immigration forms to fill out at the beginning of the flight and, a bit later, one of the Korean guys tried to hand his passport and form to the aforementioned attendant, for what purpose–who knows? The attendant waved him off and went about his duties. About ten minutes later, the fellow again tried to give his papers to the attendant, who got a bit perturbed and told him (if hes gestures and tone of voice were any indication) that “I don’t do this–You
do it! Don’t ask again.” The Korean guy didn’t.

Then, one of the female attendants handed out lunch menus and about 30 minutes later our previous male attendants came along with the meals. Only then did the two Korean gents open their menus and proceed to discuss the choices with each other. I imagine the conversation was something like:

“How about the fish?”
“I don’t know. You hungry for fish? The beef might be ok?”
“Maybe. What does the beef come with. Let’s see . . . hmmmm.”

The attendant was really getting impatient by this time.

“C’mon fellas. Order already. Why didn’t you look at the menu before? I only got about 150 other passenger to serve. And look, the bald-headed guy behind you is laughing at ya.”

It was humorous, I thought, but I wasn’t laughing out loud. Really.

The Koreans finally ordered their meals and even managed to choose what they wanted to drink after only a little hemming and hawing. The attendant was surly the rest of the flight.

The Sky Cafe in Noi Bai looked the same as last Christmas. See the post below. (I wonder if they keep the decorations up all year round.) However, the rest of the transit area has changed.

I posted previously about the construction at Noi Bai. It’s finished and they opened up some of the usual duty-free shops–Tobacco/Liquor, Confections, Watches–and the rest of the ample concourse went to souvenir shops. But, every . . . single . . one . . . of them is selling the exact same stuff at the exact same over-pricing. What a waste. Another restaurant or two would have been nice; perhaps an Internet Cafe, bar or whatever would have upped the interest factor, but as it is, nobody used any imagination. Ah, well–on to Vientiane.

Trip Postings

I’ll keep updating on my trip to Laos and Thailand, probably at least once or twice weekly, and this notice will stay at the top of the blog until I return to Korea. Just scroll down to read the rest of the story.

Vacation Time

So, our spring semester ends today and the teachers have 3 weeks off, until July 6th. Hmmmm, I wonder what I should do, where I might go . . . ? I know, how about a trip to Laos and Thailand? Great idea!

Yeah, I’m leaving tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. from Seoul, flying to Bangkok, where I have a 6-hour layover at the airport there. Then, it’s on to Laos, the flight arriving in Vientiane around 9 p.m. tomorrow night.

It’s rainy season there right now, so I probably won’t get a lot of sun, but there’s usually still enough that I won’t get waterlogged. Should be fun despite the wet weather. I’ll try to keep you posted. At any rate, I won’t be obsessed with watching baseball for a while. I’ll also be leaving behind my disappointment that the Yanks lost 3 more games to the Red Sox, making the team 0-8 this season against the Boston guys. :( Sheeeeesh! More later.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

One last posting before I leave the Dominican Republic in a few hours. It’s been a bit sad saying goodbye to all the staff and players at the baseball camp even though I’ll be returning in a few months. Everyone has been very kind here, making me feel right at home. I wish all the players luck with the Dominican Summer League and with their careers. No doubt that this is the last time I’ll see some of them, but when I return in October for the Instructional League, most of the faces will be familiar.

The flight leaves Santo Domingo at 10 this morning, and I’ll arrive in Great Falls at 10:35 tonight, with stops in Atlanta and Minneapolis-St. Paul on the way. I brought along a book to read, one that I read several years ago while I was in the Peace Corps. It’s titled “Perfume, the Story of a Murderer” by Patrick Suskind. Excellent book, which I couldn’t put down the first time I read it. (Thanks, Rusty Duncan, for recommending it to me.) You can read a review here.

That’s all for now. The next post will be from hot, hot Montana, “the good Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise.” More later.

Winding Down

Only two weeks left until I return to the U.S. for a while, and then it’s on to Thailand, Laos and Singapore. I’ll be fairly busy here, getting things together, filling out forms and reports that are necessary for the completion of the current contract and for the start of the next. I’m also preparing a workshop to give for teachers in Samana, in the northern part of the country, as soon as I return in the second week of October. The tough part about that is that most of the English teachers there speak no or very little English!! I’ll have an interpreter when I need one, but it’s still going to be a difficult task. It should be very interesting, if nothing else.

My teaching schedule here at the Yankee camp is winding down. Friday is the last day for my regular classes, although I’ll be teaching some classes next week to some of the new players who will be signing contracts on July 2nd. I’ve given them a few classes already and they’re a pretty sharp group of youngsters, aged 16 to about 18. They’re very charming and polite, and, as I’ve found out with most of my other students, they actually know more English than they think they know (if that makes any sense).

In the other classes, to avoid going into a chapter that I know we wouldn’t finish by the time I leave, I’ve been showing some excellent English language videos about baseball, especially about old-time Yankee teams and players, which the students enjoy. It’s fun and it’s English! To check their listening comprehension, I ask questions afterwards and lead a discussion about who is better; e.g., Babe Ruth or Alex Rodriguez? (Babe Ruth, by a mile.)

Anyway, like I said, I have a lot to do, including getting everything packed. I never have made a practice pack yet, but I have to do one this weekend in order to see how much room I’ll have for souvenirs going back to the ‘States and for class materials to bring back to the D.R. When I go into Santo Domingo for the Ambassador’s 4th of July Fiesta, I plan to do some souvenir shopping earlier that day and the next. Actually, from looking at the U.S. Embassy website, it seems that there is not an official ambassador appointed to the D.R. at the moment. The Charge d’Affairs, Mr. Roland Bullen, appears to be the Chief of Mission at the moment. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong.) The party will be at his residence, I assume, and Rex Moser tells me that it’s a great affair. I’ll let you know in a later post who of influence and power I end up rubbing shoulders with. 😀

My Laotian friend Nai is in the hospital with malaria. He sounds ok over the phone, but I definitely am worried about him. I told him that if he was still sick when I got to Laos, I would take him to Bangkok to find a GOOD doctor to help him out. I’m not sure that I trust the Lao doctors or their health care system, an unfortunate drawback to living in this charming but impoverished, Third World, Communist country. (Sigh) More later.