My friend Nai and I had a short holiday in Hoi An, Vietnam last month, and we had a decent stay. The UNESCO old town was interesting, even though we didn’t see much of it, and, being beach bums, we thought An Bang Beach was quite nice.
The biggest factor preventing full enjoyment of the trip was that my debit and credit cards weren’t working all the time. In hindsight, I should have taken more cash with me. The ATM machines weren’t much help in telling me why my debit card wasn’t working. The language they used was very confusing; mostly, it was something like “This machine cannot complete that process.” Why? Is the machine out of cash, is my card blocked? No idea. After we arrived at the hotel on Sunday evening, I walked quite a way to find some ATMs, but the card worked in none of them. I called my bank the next day, and, yes, they had blocked the card, even though I had told them I would be using it in Vietnam.
So, unblocked, it worked fine the next day and I was able to get some cash. Unfortunately, two days later, it again didn’t work. Called the bank again–something about a 48 hour exclusion. Couldn’t get it to work until the final day of the trip. Too late. Fortunately, a restaurant on the beach, La Plage, accepted credit cards and mine worked fine there each day. (That’s where we hung out; it’s a nice place to relax, if you’re ever out that way.)
Then, we checked out of the hotel on Saturday morning, and there were a few extra expenses to take care of. I had little cash left, but the credit card’s working, right? Wrong. It didn’t work at the hotel, for some reason. I think their connection was screwed up. I had called the bank again earlier that morning about my debit card, and they told me the card should be working again, but it was too far to get to an ATM before our ride to Da Nang airport, so I used up my remaining cash to pay the hotel. Got to the Da Nang airport, and the debit card worked fine; got back to Vientiane and the credit card worked fine. Go figure. Next time I go, if I go to Vietnam again (which I might), I’ll take plenty of cash.
Anyway, the trip was OK, despite the cards and despite the huge amount of tourists in the Old Town, which is why we didn’t explore it more (along with the cash problem). Here are some pics, along with comments.
So, that was my first journey to Vietnam, and overall, it was OK. If I were going to give it a grade (and I’m not LOL), I’d give it a B- due to various reasons, like wrong time of year (we got lucky with the sunny days), too many tourists, and money problems. I’d like to go back again and stay in Hanoi and see Ha Long Bay (very famous, Google it), but it would have to be at the right season, probably spring or summer, before the rains set in. See you next time.
As promised, here are some photos in part 2 of my visit to Bangkok this past December.
I usually stay in the Silom section of Bangkok at the Silom City Hotel, which is near the extremely interesting Hindu temple of Mariamman. I don’t know if you could call this the Hindu section of Bangkok, but a stroll around the area offers paintings and murals of Hindu interest. Walking up Silom road I saw these paintings–bright, colorful, beautiful.
Hindu Painting (I think) that I saw on Silom Road.
Another Hindu inspired painting on Silom Road. Check out the litte mouse near the lower left corner–cute.
The Mahboonkrong (MBK) Shopping Center always has some kind of exhibition outside the main entrance and December through January was the “Amazing Carnival” display. Amazing it was, and, though it’s a short walk around the plaza, you could spend quite a while taking in this bizarre but delightfully fantastic exhibit. Most of the photos below don’t contain any captions, because what could I say about them. Indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words (or imaginations). (Note that there were a lot of people walking around and it was difficult to get many “uncluttered” shots.)
Here’s a night shot of the main entrance to MBK, featuring an 18 meter (60 feet) Christmas “tree.”
There’s gotta be a band leading the performers into the carnival, like a circus coming into town. So, here’s the small ensemble.
This is the main feature. All the smaller characters are scattered around her.
And, back to the start.
There is usually some kind of display on the skywalk from MBK to the skytrain station. At this time, the display featured cats. Nai and I found ourselves attracted to them.
Nai enjoys the company of one of the felines near the National Stadium skytrain station.
This guy is the cat’s meow, don’t you think?
That’s it for the Bangkok trip. I don’t know what’s up next on the blog, but I haven’t worked on my photo art in quite a while, so I’ll probably concentrate on that and try to get some stuff posted here. More later.
Here are a few photos from my stay in Bangkok around Christmas this past December. In this part are some shots of the “Rubik’s Cube” building, as someone else termed it. It’s actually called the MahaNakhon Tower and it’s the tallest building in Thailand at 314 meters (1030 feet). “The Edition” hotel will be In the lower third of the building and the upper sections will be devoted to Ritz-Carlton condos. It’s supposed to be finished and ready for use sometime this year, but I think some of the condos might already be occupied. See the night shot of the building below.
Remember the “Rubik’s Cube” building from previous posts? It’s called the MahaNakhon Tower and it’s almost finished. It’s the tallest building in Bangkok and it really dominates the skyline with its height and striking design.
Bangkok at night. Notice the MahaNakhon tower at the left. It appears that quite a few of the rooms at the top are lit, suggesting that perhaps some of the condos are open.
Here are some closer views of the building. It’s located right next to the Chong Nonsi skytrain station, a stop that Nai and I use all the time. I don’t know how I missed the building before. I took these shots from near the station.
Shot taken from near the Chong Nonsi skytrain station, just down from central Silom
A much closer view of the tower.
The tower looms over you this close to it. I took this shot from “The Square” at the front of the building.
In “The Square,” the front courtyard of MahaNakhon, sits an interesting sculpture, “Bangkok Soul”. From the MahaNakhon website:
MahaNakhon Square features a 9 meter tall sculpture by Jaume Plensa “Bangkok Soul” featuring various letters from different languages combining in a crouching human form.
Here are a couple of photos of “The Square” and of the sculpture. Click the second one to enlarge it and see the individual letters making up the “man.”
A photo of “The Square” at the base of the tower. This area also contains an upscale restaurant and shopping areas. If you look closely, you can see some construction workers in the final phases of finishing off the exterior.
“Bangkok Soul.” Click a couple of times to enlarge it to see the individual letters making up the piece.
In Part 2 of Bangkok in December, I’ll show some photos of the delightfully strange “carnival” exhibition at the MBK Shopping Mall.
In my previous post I mentioned, more or less, that this was my favorite time of year in Laos because of the weather. I also like it because it’s the end of the third term at the school, so that means there’s some time off, about five weeks. So, foot-loose and fancy-free, I’m bound for Bangkok with Nai for a week.
We’re crossing the border into Nong Khai, Thailand, and then taking an early morning bus to Udon Thani to catch a noon flight to Bangkok. The ride to Udon takes about an hour, so we’ll probably leave Nong Khai around 9 a.m. The flight to Bangkok takes an hour, so we’ll get into “The Big Mango” around 1:00 and be at the hotel about 2:30 or 3:00. It usually takes about an hour (everything takes an hour, eh?) to get into the city by taxi and the ride costs around $10, if I remember correctly. Not a bad deal.
As usual, we’re staying in the Silom area of the city, close to good street food, entertainment venues and the skytrain and subway. Speaking of entertainment, I’ve just gotta go see the latest Star Wars movie. I’ve heard a lot of good things about, so it’s a must-see.
Here are a few photos from previous trips to Bangkok.
Here’s the view outside our hotel window up on the ninth floor (out of 10). If you stay at the Silom City Hotel, be sure to get a room that’s 8th floor or higher for a great view.
Bangkok at Night. This photo was taken in 2013 and the one above in 2016. You can see that a few new buildings, including the odd one on the left, were constructed in the three years between photos.
Food vendor near the hotel. There are a lot of these little outfits about a block from where we stay.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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. 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.
Here, finally, are some photos from my December vacation in Bangkok and Phuket. Below are some I made in Bangkok, and in the next post I’ll feature some Phuket photos.
My friend Nai and I stayed at the Silom City Hotel, which is about a three-star facility, so the price per night is fairly modest, about $40-45, depending on if you want to have the buffet breakfast, which is not that great, but it’s ample. The hotel is in a great location and the staff are wonderful, so it’s become our go-to place when we stay in Bangkok.
We were there for four nights, enough time to do a bit of shopping, walk around at night and wander through Lumphini Park, Bangkok’s version of New York City’s Central Park. I highly recommend Lumphini for some serenity amidst the hustle and bustle of the metropolis.
Here are the photos. If you’re interested in other scenes of Bangkok from previous trips, just do a search in the search box on this page.
(Please note that my Photo Gallery link on the right side of the page isn’t working at this time. I’ll try to get it back up soon.)
Here’s the view outside our hotel window up on the ninth floor (out of 10). If you stay at the Silom City Hotel, be sure to get a room that’s 8th floor or higher for a great view.
Here’s a fellow that looks suspiciously like me, posing at the fountain at the entrance to Lumphini Park. Nai took this picture, but he made everything in the photo look older than it is.
This is my friend Nai at the fountain. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you’ll recognize him from innumerable previous posts. What a ham!
This is near the entrance to Lumphini Park, looking toward the Silom section of Bangkok in the late afternoon. Around this time of day, many urbanites use the park for jogging, strolling, bicycyling and relaxing on the luxuriant grounds.
Here Nai stares across the pond (lake) at Lumphini Park, watching the boaters enjoying the afternoon coolness.
Looking across the lake at Lumphini Park with the late afternoon sun highlighting some of the skyscrapers that surround the park. Perfect time to go boating.
More skyscrapers around the lake, and one of the fountains is gushing, sending spray on some of the boaters. This is a great place to relax in Bangkok.
This is the spire atop the main building of the Dusit Thani Hotel in the Silom Area of Bangkok. I’ve never stayed there (too expensive), but I’ve heard it’s pretty nice. I took this photo at the entrance of Lumphini Park at dusk.
This is the top of the GPF building in the Silom area. I took this one also from the entrance of Lumphini. The building is not far from the Dusit Thani, but I have no idea what the GPF stands for. I’m fairly certain it’s not a hotel, but it could be a bank or investment firm.
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.
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.
Another closer view of the palm trees and the temple.
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.
This one was taken the next evening from the same location.
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.
Along with the Vientiane Boat Racing Festival (see previous post), there have been a few other celebrations recently.
Just after the boat race, from Nov.23rd through the 25th, was the That Luang Festival, which honors Laos’ national symbol. Below is a night photo of That Luang (not my photo).
That Luang at night. Not my photo, but one I pulled off the internet from an Italian site, www.orientamenti.it
Next was the huge Laos National Day on Dec. 2nd, kind of like the U.S.’s Fourth of July. This year marked the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. (Why is it that whenever you see an official country name that includes “People” or “Democratic Republic” it almost always seems to be a dictatorship or a Communist country? It’s neither democratic nor does it belong to the people. If the U.S. were named the “People’s Democratic Republic of the United States of America,” don’t you think it would be a completely authoritarian government? /end of opinion)
There was an enormous parade at the That Luang esplanade that involved 15,000 people from 45 different government and private sectors. The Vientiane Times reported that “National Day is a landmark date to reflect on the history of Laos and the ethnic Lao people fighting bravely against foreign colonialists and imperialists to protect their territory and bring independence and freedom to the Lao people.” (emphasis mine-who do you think they might be referring to?)
Along with all the parades and celebrations of National Day, Vientiane city or the Laos government decorated some of the main avenues with beautiful lights in the trees and along government ministry buildings. The lighting is a pale bluish-white color and it resembles Christmas tree lights. Riding my motorbike along the main avenue, Lane Xang (lahn zahng), is like riding in a winter wonderland. Well, except for the fact that there is no snow to enhance the scene, though it’s still beautiful. I hope they keep the lights up until after the New Year holiday.
Laos, a mainly Buddhist country, doesn’t officially celebrate Christmas, but New Year’s Eve and Day are celebrated, with January 1st being a national holiday.
A Beautiful Automobile
I was cruising down the main road along the Mekong last week when I spotted a gorgeous blue and white automobile. I couldn’t take a photo of it (ain’t gonna try that while riding a motorbike), but as I got closer I saw that it was a Rolls Royce. Later, I looked on the internet and found that it was probably a Rolls Wraith. Here’s a photo from the ‘net that looks exactly like the automobile that I saw. (I dare not call it a “car.” That seems like the wrong description of this beauty. “Automobile” sounds classier, and I suppose I could also call it a “motor vehicle.”) As I rode alongside it (it was parked), I told myself “Don’t scratch it. Don’t hit it. Don’t even breath on it.”
Totally awesome-looking automobile.
Down to Bangkok
The school term finishes in a few days, so Nai and I are travelling down to Bangkok for several days on the 22nd of this month. We’re going to take the overnight train from Nong Khai and are staying in a mid-priced hotel in the Silom section of the city, withing easy walking distance of the Sky Train and Underground system. Hope to have some fun, but have to be careful with the money. I don’t get paid again until January 29th. (An exception to spending too much is in the next section of this post, below.)
The Cosmos Beckons
With the beautiful weather we’ve been having lately, the clear night skies have reawakened my interest in astronomy, one of my main hobbies when I lived in the ‘States. However, I don’t have a good pair of binoculars to satisfy my star gazing hunger. So, while I’m in Bangkok, I’m going to see if I can’t find a pair of binocs or perhaps even a small telescope. I know of a couple respectable places in Bangkok to go shopping. I want a pair of Nikon 7x50s or a pair of Celestron 15x70s or 20x80s. They’re all relatively cheap, so any of the three would be nice. A good 4 or 5 inch ‘scope would do nicely also, but I’ll probably have to stick with the binocs, unless I can find a good price on a telescope.
At last, today marks the end of the semester, the end of assessments, the end of all the paperwork involved that’s been required for the past couple of weeks. I have one more class at 2 o’clock (just 30 minutes from now), a short class in which I’ll show the students their final scores for the class and have them sign off that everything is correct. Then, it’s the start of a three-week vacation for the English teachers!
I’m not going anywhere; just gonna hang out in Yeosu, try to stay warm (i.e., stay in my apartment). It wouldn’t be so bad, but the wind seems to always be a bit more than a stiff breeze. We had a few lonely flakes of snow earlier today, but a friend in Seoul reported that they had 8 inches up there overnight. Better them than us.
I don’t usually take many photos this time of year, so maybe I’ll go back and sift through some that I took earlier this summer and spring and maybe post them here. Stay tuned.
We had an old-fashioned, rip-roarin’ thunderstorm claw its way through Yeosu earlier today, a nice respite from the bland, misty weather of late. It brought some brief, but heavy rain and cooled things down a bit, though it did nothing to relieve the miserable, high humidity. This is probably the worst time of year to be in Yeosu, July and most of August.
The storm brought back memories of Bangkok and some of the heavy rains that occasionally hit the city. In my previous post, Nai and I left Nongkhai, headed for the City of Angels. We checked into the same hotel, Silom City, that I had stayed at during the first part of my vacation. I had booked a room for 3 nights, unsure if we wanted to stay in the same area for the remainder of our time in Bangkok. The room we had was similar to the one I had earlier, with the same view out the window.
We decided not to change hotels, so I asked the front desk if we could book the room for another 4 nights. They said the basic rooms were full, but they could move us into a deluxe room for about the same price, if I’d want to forego breakfast. Sure, I thought, why not. Well, the 8th-floor view from the new room was incredible. We had a small balcony with a floor-to-ceiling view of the Silom area skyline, one of the best views of Bangkok I’ve ever had. I stayed at the Baiyoke Sky Hotel way back in 2004, in a room on the 65th floor or so. That, of course, had a fantastic view, but this one ran a close second. Here are a few shots.
Bangkok at Night
Bangkok at Night
Sunset Over Bangkok
Several of the tallest skyscrapers in Bangkok are in this area. Here are a couple of (not very successful) panoramic shots.
Panorama of Silom Area
Panoramic of Silom Area
Anyway, I certainly recommend the Silom City Hotel, especially if you can get a deluxe corner room.
That about wraps up my posts from my recent vacation. Stay tuned for some other stuff later, though I’m not sure what!