Saturday, May 1, 2010

Bangkok, May 1, 2010

I arrived in Chiang Rai on Tuesday morning, and had good meetings with Nancy and some new friends she introduced me to. Then on Thursday morning I left on a 12-hour bus trip to Bangkok.

I had noodles for breakfast in my room, and on the bus, I had a meal ticket at a buffet along the way. You guessed it - noodle soup with pork was the thing of the day. I enjoyed it.

Arriving in Bangkok at 8:30 at night, I was glad I made reservations at "Your Place Guesthouse." near the train station. I like it there because I can tell a cab driver - HUALAMPHRONG and he is supposed to know how to get to the train station. I then just walk to the guesthouse.

This cab driver acted like he knew , but as the trip progressed he started asking more and more people for directions, and even called someone on the phone, and I said to that person, 'Hualamphrong', the train station, and handed it back to my driver.

I understand my pronunciation was probably bad -- but how many things a foreigner with a backpack, at a bus station - says that sounds like Hualamphrong!

Anyway - we got here, and I bought the deluxe package! AC, hot water, attached bath, with WI FI! The works, Cost $20.00, but it is nice -------!

Bangkok is having real trouble - riots and demonstrations - somewhere near where I am. But I have seen none of it , nor any signs of trouble. The police came on our bus coming down here , checking every ones I.D.s, and really questioning young men that looked to be from the countryside. That is who is causing the trouble, the rural folks.

A few pictures. two are houses, one is a canal in Bangkok - there are many, one is on the river - it goes through the city, and one is of the Gold Buddha.

Now the gold Buddha is interesting. Up until 1957 it was just another Buddha, in another temple here in Bangkok. In 1957, they were renovating the temple, and had to move the Buddha while they worked on the Temple. It was a stucco statue - and they were lifting it very carefully
with a large crane, .... and suddenly the crane cable or something broke, the the Buddha crashed to the pavement!

The stucco shattered, but the statue remained. It turned out to be made of 5-1/2 tonnes of solid pure gold!!! The Gold Buddha! It is now ranked as the most valuable historic and religious artifact in the world!!

And no one knew it - til they almost broke it in 1957!! I think that is a cool story!

And with that -- I close this trip. Heading to Moultrie tomorrow.
Enjoyed it - hope you did.
Johnny Ray
May 1, 2010, Bangkok, Thailand

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Some photos - April 28

These are a few shots from the last town in Laos I was in - Nha Khect or something like that.

The first picture here is of my pack and cap in my sleeper bus seat. The bus only holds 24 people, with one side having 2 seats, and the other side having just one. My seat is the single.

Next picture is of steps leading up from Mekong River ferry landing to immigration into Thailand..


Then a shot of the immigration office while I was in line. Glad there was a little English on display.

This is a picture from inside the ferry. It is a little wooden boat, but the ride only takes 5 minutes or so.

.lets get down to other pictures.
.Here is a picture of my hotel, and then a picture of a home - not a store. Many of these homes are also stores, but some are just homes.
And then there is my all time favorite TRASH CAN
made of used tires.

I'm In Chiang Rai now, and had very good meetings
with some friends about
some upcoming trips in this area and even
up into Burma.

Tomorrow morning I leave by bus for Bangkok. I had hoped to take a night sleeper bus but they were all full for the next two days at least. So I decided to just take a day bus, hopefully - VIP. I'm not sure how long the trip is. We'll see.

With buses filling up, trains over booked, and politics in Bangkok getting interesting, I decided to go ahead and get into the city - although I am 2 days early!!
later - from Bangkok

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April 27 - Chaing Rai, Thailand

It's been 5 days since I last logged on. Time flies, or either I lost a blog or two! Probably just didn't get a blog written.

I have been in kinda blah places, without much to tell about.
One thing that has happened is that I now prefer "noodle soup" in the morning instead of those eggs and toast!!

I have gotten fairly good with grabbing a mouthful of noodles using chop sticks, and can also pick up some vegetables or an 0ccasional piece of meat with chop sticks. Of course since it's soup, a spoon is necessary, but a spoon will not get the long noodles! So - I'm a noodle man. Wonder if I can get them at the cafe in Moultrie?

Monday, I finished up my business in Tha Kheck (I think that's where I was), and was pretty much finished with my trip except for visiting my friends in Chiang Rai.

I decided to leave Laos. I was on a border city on the Mekong, so with a 50 cent ferry ticket, and a visit to the Laos immigration office, I was on my way to Thailand.

I always (almost always) travel with a LONELY PLANET travel guide book. On this trip I had not planned to go anywhere in Thailand except from Vientiane, Laos to Bangkok, which I can handle without a guide book, and to save weight in my pack I had left my Thai guidebook.

After crossing the Mekong on the ferry, and Thai immigration, I walked out onto the street of a town I don't know the name of. I was looking for a Bank to exchange my left over Laos KIPS and some USD dollars for Thai Baht.
At ALL border crossings there are always money changers, or exchange banks, plus touts and tourist guides.

At this border - nothing! No money - no guides - no touts - no one that spoke English!

I decided I just needed to walk a little ways into town, and I would find a bank and a travel office and someone that spoke English. Well, I walked , and walked, and it was getting hot - and I was seeking help. I went into a nice looking Hotel, surely someone speaks English. There was no one in the hotel! I walked over the bottom floor, behind the desk, the office, the closet, there was no one there!

So, back on the street, I saw a policeman sitting on a stool in the shade, and he was looking at me.
I walked toward him, and he looked friendly and I asked if he speak English. He smiled, said a little. I asked him where a Bank or money exchange place was. He understood, but could not explain how to get there.

He gets up, goes to his scooter, motions for me to get on, and off we go. Now, it's a little scooter, not much room for my big fanny and him, plus I have my day bag to the side, and my backpack on my back! We're loaded. He took me a LONG way, and dropped me off at a very nice and busy bank!! People are nice!

Inside the bank I'm being careful with my Laos Kip and a fifty dollar bill as I sit in line for the clerk. The man next to me is casually holding a stack of hundred dollar bills. Later counted out by the clerk (for everyone to see) as being 4, 500 dollars. I'm hiding my fifty!

When my turn came, they did not convert KIP, I had about $35.00 worth left. I wanted to save as many dollars as possible, and after getting an initial small stash of Baht, I will use an ATM in Bangkok to get more Baht. But without the KIP I had to pull out another of my dollar money. Now I am low on emergency reserve, but --- not a serious worry.

The clerk did not speak much English, and could not tell me how to get to the bus station.

The tut tut drivers did not understand 'Bus' either. Nor the policeman. So, I walk. Thinking this is some predicament I had to find an English speaker.

I walk in front of an electronic store with big TV's and all kind of stuff. There was a desk near the front entrance , and a young lady sitting there - looked like -"information center" to me. She spoke no English, but understood what I wanted, and she motioned for me to wait.

A minute later this young guy shows up, speaking American English, and he is very friendly. I asked him did he know where the bus station was that had night sleeper buses to Bangkok. 'Of course,' he said!! It's close by. He gave me instructions, and then I asked a question about what he had just said, so he says - 'wait'. He gets some paper and draws me a good map.

Thanks man! Thank you, Lord! ... I'm now going somewhere.

It is a 20 minute hike to the bus station - far enough. As I'm walking through the bus station to find the Bangkok ticket window, a tout calls out to me - 'want go to Chiang Rai'? - I stopped and asked what kind of bus - and he said a sleeper bus, AC, Toilet, VIP.

I had no idea I could even get there from here. I called my friends in Chiang Rai, and they said come on up.

So, 2 hours after arriving in Thailand completely lost, I'm having lunch (fried rice) , have Thai Baht in my pocket, and a night ticket to Chaing Rai.

It was a good ride. The bus has two seats on one side, and one seat on the other. I was on the single seat side, second row. It was very comfortable, and I had a John Grisom book I have not read, or read and forgot, plus my Sudoku book, so it was a good trip. Now for some, it may have been a little long, but we stopped every 2-3 hours and got out, and at 3:30 in morning I had a bowl of noodle soup at a bus stop. But it was long - 18 hours. Cost $26.00.

have some pictures I will put up later.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

April 22, 2010 - Sannavankhet, Laos

April 22, 2010 - Savannakhet - I finally learned how to spell it - maybe.

This morning I was walking around town, and this woman with a bicycle came up to and started talking and pointing at the sidewalk.

I was walking in the street when she was pointing at my feet, and the sidewalk all I could think of "oh no, not a sidewalk policeman - this

I moved to the sidewalk - smiling and being obedient - saw no sense in arguing - since I was in the street!

But once I was on the sidewalk - she became more persistent about pointing at my feet.

By now there are 4 or 5 of these women on bikes hovering around me.

Then she reaches down and
touches my TOE, and points to her basket.

She is a TOENAIL person - a pedicurist I guess!! Realizing this I said, "NO - NO!", and waved
her off, and smiling - started my walk again.

The whole crowd of them followed! And as you
can see - barely - by the picture, I got a pedicure there on the street!

The picture doesn't get everyone in, but it was taken by one of the girls (the one trying to give me a
back massage), and I don't think she had ever held a camera before.

It was fun, cost $1.20, and my ole toenails are sure cleaner and neater looking.

I hope I can find one before I get on the plane to the US. Wearing sandals and flip flops here does
wonders to the destruction of foot skin and toenails.

I rented a TUT TUT this morning and went for drive out to some "jungly" areas.

I met some leaf pickers, and tasted there pickings. Then I spit for the next 30 minutes when no one was looking!

Came across some really really big trees. Some of them had holes cut in them and then a fire had been build in the cavity for little while . Now the trees produce a fluid that burns -
like lighter fluid. Used in the old days for torches.

Went through a little country town, not much of anything there. I got a picture of the street and the local grocery store.

Then of course, any time in this country you go touring, you're gonna visit a Buddhist Temple. This one is over 500 years old - but not much more older.

Yet the story for this place is it has some of Budda's actual bones buried here! ... yea ... sure.

At the big "Stupa" - the main place, there was a short fence with a gate - and, yes, Ladies you are NOT ALLOWED to enter past this little 2 foot fence, into this area about 10 feet by 10 feet. Sorry.

Not much else on the trip of eventful remembering.

I got back to town early afternoon, and immediately set out to find lunch.

I tried to talk myself into some noodle soup, it was all I could find, but I kept going and found a little
restaurant that had a name. -- "a good sign for something besides noodles."

They did have a menu. The second place in town that I've found that has one.

I ordered a tuna sandwich and french fries. I didn't say it was a broad menu, or a varied menu.
They also had a decent ketchup!

I'm going back there for dinner tonite!!

The sun remains to be terribly hot. No clouds. But in the shade the temperature is okay -

HOT - but okay.

All for today.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

April 21, 2010 Savanaket, Laos

Today I am in Savanaket. Yesterday I started in Sekong, and the day before - Attapeu.

Here is how my day was Monday - April 19, beginning in Attapeu.

The bus station in Attepeu is 8 - 10 kilometers out town. I came to town on a Tut

Tut from the bus station , and have not seen a tut tut since. I think tourist travel is way off in this area.

So this morning when I started for the bus station, there were no taxis, tut tuts or

anything. I started walking down the highway toward the bus station - thankfully it was

cool - 7:15 a.m.

I thumbed, I flagged, I smiled, I got discouraged! But then a little soul searching - back

up .... let's do it! More thumbing, more flagging, and THEN a guy on a motorbike stopped and

took me all the way to the bus station, which I think was out of his way!

I offered to pay, but he said 'no' - and drove off. I turned around and my bus to Sekong was

ready to leave. I got on, got a nice seat, and the bus pulled out!! NICE. And the bus was

air conditioned, and it worked and they had it on!! The ticket man came around. The ticket

cost 20,000 kip - $2.50.

The ride was nice and took about 3- 1/2 hours. We traveled 65 miles.

In Sekong, there were no TOUTS - the guys that drive tourist crazy in some places. However,

there was NO-ONE! I think I had rather have touts. So I started asking where my hotel was

- and was always met with an empty stare. Where is town? nothing. Where is the center of

town? nothing.

I started walking. ..... I came to a big gasoline station with a "kinda" store with it. I

went in and there was a young guy who spoke a little English. He did not go blank when I

asked him where my hotel was! "a good sign!".

he tried to tell me, then signaled for me to wait, then came back and signaled (he knows

charade sign language) that he would take me! --- Thank you, Lord! ... again!

The Hotel was not too far away, but too far to explain. Too many turns.

My Hotel - the Sekong Souksamlane Hotel , had a non air condition room for 50,000 kip,
( $6.00). The weather was cooler - just the sun was HOT, and with large windows and an overhead fan, plus hot water and attached bath, it was very pleasant.

Later in the day, as I was walking around town I learned how to get back to the bus station -- about a 30 minutes walk.

In this town my guide book told me I could rent a bike and travel to various villages.

However, the book is old, and no one in town has a bicycle for rent. Not many even ride them
any more . It's all motorbikes.

This town also has no Internet. The stores sell cell phones and big TV's, and a lot of
businesses have computers - but no internet yet. Guess the money has to catch up with
technology. Too much at one time - can't afford it all at once!!!

After arriving at hotel, I was interested in finding the market so I could buy some flip
flops. My big shopping spree. Well, let me tell you, when no one speaks English, they
just "ain't able" to tell you anything!...... And " Charade's sign language " is hard for - "where
is the market?"

It took me an hour or so to finally find an English speaker who could tell me - "two blocks

- left - two blocks!" to the market. While looking for the market .. however .. I got a shave and a head massage - wow - nice.

Cost 60 cents, but I threw in a 30 cent tip!

Found the market. Now one thing I remember about markets is they always seemed to have a million pair of flip flops. HOWEVER .. Not this one..... But there were certain stalls that did
have a small selection. And small sizes!

I checked all the stores/stalls and finally found one place that had a shoe to fit my normal sized
American feet. And of course it was some famous name brand that cost $5.00 not the normal
$2.00. I didn't even like them, but just gave up shopping and bought them .... the only pair I had found that fit!!

Had fried chicken for dinner. that was interesting. Very tasty, and I enjoyed it , but the
chicken must have been cut up into 130 pieces!, and I didn't get very many of the pieces.

See pictures of my chicken dinner, my hotel, and the bus station.
Tomorrow I leave for Savanaket. A much larger city.

So now it is Tuesday April 20. I got up really early to have an enjoyable cup of coffee in my room and to have a cup of rama noodle soup for breakfast, before setting out to catch a bus to Savanaket.

I had found how to get to the bus station the day before, so I set out about 7;00, in the cool of the day. What I missed was one little road to the side, that went a block and then back to a paved road - just like the one I was on! After 45 minutes - I knew something was wrong ... and what was wrong is that I was LOST.

Fortunately, about that time a tut tut came by, and for 5,000 kip, he took me the 5 blocks to the bus station. I was relieved.

The trip to Savanaket was about 225 kilometers, (less than 150 miles). The bus was a local, not an express - but that suited me. It was not Air conditioned but I got a window seat, and it was a fairly nice bus. In the US it would have been called a dumpy bus!

I got to see a lot of "stuff" on the trip. We must have picked up and dropped off about 500 people. PLUS cargo. I have pictures of some of the baskets we carried.

It was an 8-1/2 hour ride, so timewise I got my money's worth. and it was a nice ride. Definitely not rushed. In addition to all the stops we made , we also made toilet stops. Now, these were not at a bus depot. These were out on the open road where there were a lot of bushes!

In Savanaket, and many other towns in Laos, people live in their stores, or just don't even have a store and live in the store. These are stores that open up sort like a garage door. the room is wide open, and in many cases it is the family's - family room, bedroom, and kitchen. I have a picture of one lady who let me photo her as she was eating lunch and watching her favorite soap opera.

When we got to Savanaket, I was looking forward to a western type meal, but that was not to be.
I ended up with fried rice which is always good, and then for breakfast this morning, I didn't even hunt for eggs. Just stopped at the first place I came to and had noodle soup! BUT ... for lunch I went to a place I had seen that had french fries, and that was my lunch!

Tonight I hope to find something a little different for dinner.

My Guest house is Saisouk, and again I went with no AC, with fan and attached bath, but with cold water. The room has large windows and is cool. Same price as the place in Sekong.

will stop at this .

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Big Trip to Phu Vong - Sunday April 18th

My big trip to Phu Vong

This morning I was up and ready to head out on a day trip to Phu Vong.

I changed "pocket books". I can see why women don't like to that often, especially if it's carrying different stuff.

I switched to a small back pack, and not knowing where I was going or what the weather would be like or would I even get back here today, I wore a tee shirt, short pants, and Tiva sandals. I carried leather socks in case I got into sticky walking, zip on pant legs, and my long sleeve shirt. All that in case I had to stay overnight. I also had iodine tablets for water, flash light, and walking sticks.

I walked to the river, found the ferry, and crossed the Se Kong River over to the village of Ban kaman. That cost 1,000 kip - about 12 cents.

Ban Kaman was a nice little village. I found a woman cooking fried bananas , and they were delicious. For 25 cents I got about 8 slices. They were fried in some kind of sweet batter.

There was no public transportation - tut tuts or motor bikes with side cars. I spoke with two older men sitting in front of a shop about how to get to Phu Vong. Well, not actually both men - one said nothing - the other even knew about 10 words of English.. They were - "no bus", "walk? - 16 kilometers!" , "where from?" I told him I was looking for a motor bike, or would walk. We all nodded, I threw in a "Sa-bah-dee", they responded the same, smiled and off I went down the road.

While walking through the village , a motor bike delivery man asked where I was going. He spoke a "little" English. I asked would he take me to Phu Vong, and he said, 'yea'. I asked "jock kip"-"how much". he said he would do it for gas only - 20,000 kip. Great! . and I immediately thought I would pay him more - maybe 40,000 kip plus gas.

We were to meet when he finished his work, very soon. I walked on down to the end of town
and found a little store with a table and chairs in the shade. IT WAS HOT IN THE SUN.

There I waited a short while, and a new guy shows up. A little bit slicker than my delivery man. He said he had been sent by my man, and he would help me. He spoke pretty good English (scale of 1 to 10 he was a 2 ... but far better than anyone else.) After conversations I could not understand much of - I got the PRICE - 200,000 kip. Up a little from 20,000. We parted ways.

Again I started walking down the road out of town, flagging down motor bikes with only the driver. Several stopped, spoke their English, - "hello, where from, glad to meet you," and then off. After 20 minutes, I walked back into the village.

At a bike repair shop, the owner(or not) spoke to me and said "Phu Vong?" Then there was some unintelligible English . The guy then leaves the shop, and returns with pad of paper and pen. He writes 200,000 Kip. I wrote 50,000 Kip. Then he writes 100,000 and draws what seemed to me to be from Ban kaman to Phu Vong and return. I agreed, and would pay 50,000 in Phu Vong, and the last 50,000 back in Ban kaman. DEAL.

Well, the driver was a young guy - maybe 14 - 15. I don't think he had ever been involved in a deal with so much money!! He was giddy - laughing and smiling. A happy young man!

This area was the most heavily bombed districts in Laos in "The War", and Phu Vong was not much of a village even now.
. A little market, and 4 or 5 streets of scattered little houses. A few nice houses. There was just really not much there. I started asking men where the "Ho Chi Minh"Trail was, and I was disappointed that NO one even acted like they had ever heard of it. I drew pictures of tanks and bombs like my guide book said I may have to do, but this action really started some strange looks at me, and mumbling among the natives. I know it was in English - but I thought there would have, over the years, been enough tourist interest or scrap iron merchant interest that most men would kinda know where it was. But no.

Could be not many people are interested!! I find that hard to believe - but it's possible.

I looked around town for some older men, and could not find any. About the oldest men I saw could not have been over 35!! No old people. So maybe no one living here now , even know about the trail.

I was disappointed. But I was satisfied that I had made a good effort.

Returned to Attapeu and my nice hotel room. Had fried noodles for lunch, I think they were in the soup this morning.

This afternoon, after the temperature had cooled down some, I went to the internet place I used yesterday. There were two boys inside on the computer, and mama san waved me in and shook her head meaning , I thought 'okay'.

As it turned out the internet was not working, and the two boys left before I did. When I got to the door, my flip flops were GONE! I pointed this out to Internet MamaSan, and I could have been talking to a wall poster! - nothing - she says nothing - does nothing - just stood there staring at my best International Charade sign language - "pointing to my feet, and then opening my hands up and shrugging my shoulders, with a look of disbelief on my face!!"and repeating this for everyone's benefit! Several times, I did it!

I mean that's better than talking!

Of course, I know our problem is that neither one of us can speak a word of the other's language, but I felt my sign language about having my shoes taken was pretty good. I would have felt better if she had looked a little upset - and started looking around at least!!

In the little noodle shop next door, there was a man and woman. They had seen me walk up, and we had exchanged SA-BAA-DEEDs, etc (greetings),to each other, and now they just smiled.

This was a very frustrating situation!

I tried on the Internet Mamasan's shoes but could hardly get my toe in them. About that time one of the boys that had been in the store when I arrived rode up on his bike.

He got off his bike and was going into the noodle shop. I got his attention, and went over to his flip flops and put them on. Actually only about 3/4's on, and told him and MamaSan that I was taking them(In English), but I'm sure this time they understood my international charade sign language.

I walked back to the hotel, kicked off the flip flops in the lobby, told the desk clerk who speaks no English, the entire story, and went to my room. I felt better after telling the clerk my story. Now I have a reason to go shopping -- gotta buy me some flip flops!!!

Nice day after all!

Check out the pictures below. I can't get them up with the story!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

April 178, 2010 - Pakse to Attapeu, laos

Travel to Attapeu.

This morning I left my hotel early and set out for the "southern bus" terminal, to catch a

bus to Attapeu. One bus was at 7 , I missed it before I left hotel, but the next was

leaving at 8:30.

I arrived at the bus terminal at 7:20 in time to catch the 7:00 bus!!

On the trip to the bus terminal, we of course stopped to fill up with fuel. This time I noticed the motor cycle had an alternate gas tank. A one liter plastic carton strapped to the roof supports of the umbrella over the passengers, and right at head level!! Look closely you can see the bottle.

Now that's a real safety thought provoking item. Forget, sitting on a bench on basically the front of

a car,with no seat belts, now we can add possible gas explosion, in case of and accident!!

.... but that was just a quick fleeting thought.

The bus to Attipeu was excellent. It had large windows that opened all the way! It had large seats, with actual cushion left in them, and it was a fan bus.

These are ceiling rotating fans that are very effective when the bus is not moving , or going slow in town.

I found out it was a fan bus when I cracked my head on the way back to my seat. I hollowed,

and everyone got a big kick out it! Just bringing joy to some!

I was so glad I had the big window , and it was under my control! No problems with sweating
and not getting a breeze today! NO SIR!

so,..... about an hour later, I had to pull my windbreaker out of my backpack! it was cold!!
The trip took almost 5 hours, 120 miles, and by the time we got to town, I had put the jacket
back up, ..... but it never did get HOT! ...... figures.

Attipeu is on a paved road. It is a secondary road - kinda like a county road, but not
quite as good. and it is 120 miles from Pakse, the large town I just came from.

It is a small town, with a few hotels, and is close to the area in Laos that received the
largest amount of bombings of any place in Laos. The Ho Chin Min Trail is about 30

kilometers from here, across the river, and then I'm not sure.

Tomorrow, I am going to try to go to PHU VONG, (the place of largest bombing) a small

village on the trail.

This is an area of many Hill Tribe villages.

oh yea, Got a nice room with Air conditioning, TV with HBO and news, and fan and bath attached. No Hot water - but even I do not need hot water here! Cheaper than Pakse, and nicer. 65,000 kip, or $7,50 or so.

had noodle soup for lunch, not sure if there is anything else in town to eat! Will find out shortly.

so --- type you after the trip!