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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.

Return to Vang Vieng?

I really love the fantastic scenery of Vang Vieng, Laos. The last time I was there was in June of 2009, and, as I posted then, I was quite loathe to return, due to the extreme frat/high school drunk-party atmosphere of the town. The backpacker crowd had taken over, completely lacking any respect for the local culture, running around half naked, noisy, and totally out of control. The laid-back vibe of Vang Vieng had disappeared, perhaps never to return.

Salvation has come, though, in a report posted on a Travefish blog. It seems that last August, the Lao authorities stepped in and closed the bars lining the area of the Nam Song River where most of the party crowd began their day by kayaking or tubing. They also shut down the all-night party spots, and most of the bars now close around midnight. The blog reports that

Vang Vieng is returning to its roots as a place where people came to chill out, have a couple of beers and take in the natural beauty of the surrounding area. If you were tossing up over whether to come or not because of Vang Vieng’s reputation, don’t deliberate any longer. Vang Vieng is now back on the map as a top spot for those seeking to experience the natural beauty of Laos and interact with the local people. But for those seeking a serious party — the party is over.

From my point of view, all I can say is Hallelujah!

My Lao traveling companion and good friend, Nai, has been having some family troubles lately. We had been planning to go to Phuket, Thailand, but with the troubles, he may, perhaps, want to travel somewhere that’s closer to his family. If that’s the case, perhaps we’ll head north to Vang Vieng rather than to Phuket. I don’t know yet if our plans will change, but I’d be quite happy to return to Vang Vieng.

Expo 2012 Map

Hi, readers. One of you (thanks, Austin) suggested that I take a photo of the Expo map and post it here. I don’t know why I didn’t think of doing that, but here it is.

Sorry about the delay with the map, though, but I’ve been experiencing a perfect trifecta of events here in Yeosu. First, we’ve been having end-of-the-semester exams–grading, paperwork, etc.; that’s been keeping me pretty busy. Second, I’ve been preparing for my upcoming vacation to Thailand and Laos, cleaning the house and packing. Finally, and this kind of relates to the first item, I’ve been fighting a fierce cold, really bad. I picked it up from a student who coughed right in my face last week during final interview (speaking) exams. I knew it at the time that I was gonna get something; I could just feel that some kind of sickness was on its way. Sure enough, for the last week I’ve been coughing my lungs out and been experiencing fevers and chills and just generally been run down. I leave tomorrow night, Thursday, on the 11 p.m. bus to Incheon Airport, and then fly out of Incheon for Bangkok around 11 a.m. Friday. Geez, it’s gonna be a long day, and I sure as hell hope I’m feeling a bit better soon. It’s quite depressing, of course, to start a vacation feeling like this.

Anyway, here’s the map. The front side shows the Expo site and the back side gives some more useful information. The photo file sizes are quite large (around 900 Kb) in order to keep the resolution high enough to read the fine print. Click on the photo a couple of times to get the full view. They’re not my best effort, but I hope they help.

This will probably be my final post before I leave tomorrow, and I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks. Don’t expect anything before then, please. Once I return to Yeosu with my good friend Nai, we’ll be touring the Expo and probably be spending a few days up in Seoul. I’ll try to get a post or two up while we’re here, but no promises. Once I return for good from vacation, around July 8th, I’ll get going full time again. Please be patient for more later and have a great early summer.

Expo Map Front

Front of the Expo Map

Expo Map Back

Back of the Expo Map

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-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: Incheon Airport

The weather here in Yeosu has been great lately, with abundant sunshine and temperatures around 6 or 8 C (mid-forties fahrenheit); however, the big factor is that the wind hasn’t been howling, like it usually does this time of year. I even managed to get a few jogging sessions in this past weekend. If it would stay this way the rest of the winter, I’d be quite content. It ain’t gonna happen, I’m sure.

No winter in Thailand and Laos, though. This is the best time of year to visit that area of the world, with temperatures in the 80s (30 C), low humidity and clear skies. It was wonderful when I went there in December and early this month, and it was tough coming back to what I expected to be cold, windy Yeosu. (Like I wrote, though, it’s not that bad right now).

I flew out of Incheon about 1 p.m. on December 19th, after taking the 11 p.m. bus from Yeosu on the 18th and then hanging out at the airport from 4:30 a.m. until the flight departed. Incheon Airport, Korea’s award-winning facility, isn’t all that bad to kill time in–lots of restaurants, internet access and other niceties in this state-of-the-art site.

At the main foyer on the first floor, there is usually some kind of Korean cultural theme or event. Featured this season was a traditional Korean winter scene. At 4:30 in the morning, there are hardly any other people around, and I usually head into McDonald’s for a large coffee. The fast-food joint is situated on one side of the foyer, so this was a very tranquil area at that time of day, especially with the winter scene just outside the boundary of the restaurant. So, here are a few photos of the setup.

Very nice, and, like most other things at the airport, a first-class effort.

I’ll get some more photos of the trip posted when I can, but don’t expect something every day–I have one more week of long work days to go before the schedule settles down. Stay tuned.

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.

Off to Thailand and Laos

I’m leaving in a few hours to spend a couple of weeks in the relative warmth of Bangkok and Vientiane, though my friend Nai occasionally complains of the nighttime cold. To the folks in Laos, 60 F. is cold, but I think I’ll like it.

I’ll try to post some updates while I’m away, maybe a few photos. At any rate, to all my family and friends and other readers, have a Great Holiday Season–Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.