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I am a Yank retiring abroad and going a fun journey starting now and ending.....?

Leaving Bangkok- the Journey now!

Bangkok, Thailand

A October 9th.
Train from Khon Koen to Bangkok

This trip has changed again.
Now it is becoming about the peacefulness of the Thai countryside rolling by my window and the dragonflies and butterflies floating on the breeze beside me.

I have just started to Cambodia after visiting with my friend, Louisa in Kalasin, Thailand, a small agricultural town in the Isean Region of Northeastern Thailand. A big shout out to my friend for hosting me and sharing het friends and her knowledge of where to go and what to see on my recent trip sourh- you are a true exploring spirit!!! Thank you!!!!

It is sunny and hot, but the humidity has dropped and we have had no rain in four days. Everything around is still lush , wet and green. There are neatly planted fields of corn and crops I don't recognize, some of them small broadleaf bushes and of course there are long stretches of rice paddies. The odor of burning crops sometimes fills the air as the slash and burn style is practiced here, but most of the time the air is sweet with the smell of grasses or sometimes rice.

The train goes slow over areas with the track under repair.and workers look at me from under their wide brimmed straw hats, eyes peeking over or thru facemasks. The sky is blue and the land is green and I am so very relaxed and content now - not looking forward or backward. The wind comes through my wide open window and with my barefeet up on the seat across from me I watch other travelers gently dozing and who knows what their dreams are?

I think this trip is now about me finding my new dreams and listening to the wisdom around me from friends, poets and madmen. We should always dare to live our dreams and to people who say this is 'fun', i will only say, " not always". Some of the discoveries are painful, frightening or just unpleasant. These lessons can be about the people and places around you or even yourself. And you never know when the lessons come.

Sorry, more philosophical than usual, but that is where my head is at.

More posting from Cambodia soon

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on October 27, 2013 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Laos, Thailand and Beyond!
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Traveling in Thailand to Ayuttaya, and Lop Buri the Monkey City

Lop Buri, Thailand

A Mike in Sukothai after Ayuttaya and Lop Buri

I've been on the road since Bangkok traveling by rail north, first on a commuter train and then on the National Railways.
Transportation in Bangkok was by Taxi and Motorbike Taxi and walking. I never made it to a Sky Train station or took a city bus. Sad but true true. The motorbike taxi was an awesome ride often at breakneck speed weaving thru Bangkok traffic like a drunken cyclist!

First up was Ayutthaia, an ancient Imperial Palace city with amazing ruins- all of the ruins make me feel like I am in an Indiana Jones movie with the ancient bricks with plants growing over them and old cracked and headless Buddhas forever in their Lotus position. I've even learned the stories about the Buddha's positions in meditation and teaching like the " Subduing Mara' position with Buddha's right hand pointing at the ground to call upon Mother Earth as the witness of his worthy deeds thru his many lives.

Each image has peace and gentle wisdom within and you can feel the power of many of them given by the people who have viewed and prayed and meditated before them for centuries and make a connection of peace.

Ayutthaia is an island because of a moat that was dug around it hundreds of years ago and you take a small ferry across it for 4 Baht ( about 20 cents). I stayed at a guesthouse for 350 a night (no aircon) as it was cooling off at night because of the storms. The guesthouse had a small restaurant that the owner's wife cooked for and the tables were on a covered deck overlooking the river and the ferry stops so you could sit and have a beer and watch the boats go by. The food was authentic Thai and the best and cheapest outside of a street stall that I have had here. So I ate my fill and watched the tugboats haul cargo barges and the ferry haul passengers and the party boats with karaoke float and power by me.

My plan is to rent a bicycle tomorrow and ride around the island so I was up early and on a bike I rented by 8. Riding in morning traffic was just like being on the motorcycle in Vietnam- weave and watch and keep to the shoulder, only here they drive on the left side, like in Australia.

I passed through the busy downtown and found my first ruin with Chedis (tall, bell shaped spires) and Buddha statues. As I passed around the island and saw the scale and scope of the old city it impressed me; what an effort was required without modern machinery just to clear the land! This is a jungle and stuff grows fast here and tries to fill every crack with foliage.

Many amazing ruins later my chain broke on the bicycle and left me pushing it. I called the number of the rental agent and just got a recording o couldn't understand so I just walked and scooted the bike to the next stop- a large open park with lakes and moats and elephants! I did not ride an elephant at this time, but I hope that lies in my future. It was fun to watch the mahouts walk the gentle giants with two to three tourists on palanquins riding each elephant decked out in red and gold blankets and costumes for the drivers. The palanquins had gold fringed shade covers over the seats and under the covers were the amazed or bored faces of people from all over the world. One western man with a camera with a huge lens walked beside and patted an elephant's flank which I thought was a little too bold, but the elephant did not seem to notice him. I was thinking of a famous 'Mary Tyler Moore' TV show where Chuckles the Clown was killed while dressed as a peanut in a parade by an elephant that " tried to shell him", according to Lou Grant. I gave the elephants a wide berth!

My phone rang and it was the bike owner who saw my number on his missed calls. I gave my phone to a Tuk Tuk driver who gave the owner directions so he could come to me.

The weather was very hot with a partly cloudy blue sky and I found a shady spot to sit, eat an ice cream and wait for a new bike. It took an hour, but the owner rode up on a tandem!!! which he gave to me to ride around solo. For awhile I tried this, but it was just too much bike and I rode back to the rental shop to exchange it for another single- one problem, no owner was there and the shop wad closed. O waited and waited for over an hour and he never showed up. Besides not getting another bike so I could continue my ride he had a 500 baht deposit I wanted back. A woman at a food booth next door tried calling him and just shook her head with disgust and said he does this all the time.
My room wa close, so I went back there and took a shower to cool off, had a beer and a snack and went back in the early evening to gety deposit. To add insult to injury he wanted to chargee for a lock he hadn't provided and I had to show him all the bikes that had no lock to assure him that mine had no lock when he sente out. This he finally accepted and I got my full 500 back.

I walked around town to a favorite bakery and purchased some snacks at a little store nearby and watched TV that night and went to bed early to leave Ayutthaia for Lop Buri and the Monkey Temple early the next morning.

Lop Buri turns out to be interesting in an Archeological sense with a nice museum and easily accessible ruins, some of which are quite well preserved for 500- 300 year-old temples and statues. The town itself is forgettable and the monkeys are kind of cute and kind of scary. I witnessed a young Dutch girl getting attacked by a mother when she tried to innocently take a picture of a baby and it was scary. The girl lead scratched, but fortunately not bitten or rabies shots may have been necessary!

I caught the next train out of town after that.

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on October 22, 2013 from Lop Buri, Thailand
from the travel blog: Laos, Thailand and Beyond!
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Pics, Pics, Pics

Siem Reap, Cambodia

No Blog yet, just a place to put my pictures- I've only been here three days and the Temple ruins are amazing!!!!

See the pics!

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on October 13, 2013 from Siem Reap, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Cambodia Temples and Travel
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Top Gear Adventure- Thailand Edition, 'Driving Miss Pahka'

Bangkok, Thailand

A Taxi from Bangkok Airport 6:30 pm taking me to a guesthouse hopefully....
Today was an unusual day even by Travel Standards.

It started the day before when I heard my landlord in Kalasin was going to Bangkok to the Family Home- I wanted to get to Bangkok on Friday on the bus, but if I could get a ride with her in her Mercedes I felt that would be quicker and more comfortable.

I went downstairs to see if I could wrangle a ride. " No ", she said, " I not drive, I take the bus. I do not drive outside of town."
So I offered to chauffeur her to Bangkok in her car. " It will be fun, Pahka, I will pay for gas and drive us and it will be much more comfortable than the bus! " I convinced her and she agreed as long as she could get her son to drive her back on Sunday, he agreed so it was settled, I would have a new Top Gear Challenge, Thailand Edition- ' Driving Miss Pahka'.

7:30 AM and we hit the road to the temple taking flowers and water for the monks. I always enjoy the atmosphere of community at Temple when the offerings are given. The women all lined up and bowed as they presented their rice to the monks putting a small amount into the bowl. The monks chanted prayers and it is such a beautiful energy of peace.

After the blessings we went back to the car and a young man got into the backseat to ride with us. I don't know his name, he was never introduced to me, but now I had another soul to keep safe as I piloted the Merc 400 kilometers to Bangkok.

It was raining a deluge as we pulled out of the Temple and back on the highway with me at the wheel. This is my first time driving.a Mercedes and I was surprised that it only had one large windshield wiper. It was not keeping up with the rain and visibility was bad. I took it slow, under 60 kph at first as I got used to the handling and braking. It was an automatic and had no pickup in 2nd gear at all! I was surprised, but later I realized it had some kind of fuel saver governor on it that restricted the power output...so not going to dodge trouble, best to avoid. We would pass two bad accidents today, one with a truck that dumped nitrogen tanks all over the highway and another multiple car accident probably due to the wet conditions. The only problem I had was on my second parking I pulled too close to a high curb and broke some plastic off the bumper under the front license plate. Pahka made wounded noises and was concerned which was fine, but this part of the bumper had seen a lot of earlier damage including a 24 inch section on the left side where it had been completely chipped off and two large sections by each of the front quarter panels with visible damage! My thought was " oh well, stuff Happens", but she was talking about me paying 30% for an entire new bumper! Keep in mind that this is purely cosmetic damage and the bumper was untouched!
There was a palpable tension in the car the rest of the trip because of this which was sad. We ended up agreeing.on 2,000 Baht, but I still feel that it should have been chalked up to just bad luck since I was paying.for this whole trip.

My bad luck was not over yet as I gradually began to feel quite queasy and sick to my stomach. I just made it to a rest stop and as soon as I got out of the car I threw up my KFC lunch all over my shirt and pants. This forced me to change and clean up in a toilet with only a water dipper. Fortunately I had my nylon shorts and shirt that I sleep in with me in my daypack to put on and I did the best I could, but it was very unpleasant to say the least and embarrassing as well.

As I drove again Pahka sniffed on some lip balm because I guess I still smelled bad! Yuck!!!

It was almost 8 hours when we got to the suburb her house is in and she dropped me near a bus station where I got a cab for a 45 minute ride in evening traffic to the,area my guesthouse was supposed to be in. I wandered for half an hour up and down and just couldn't find it and to make matters just a little worse my left flipflop picked this time to break so I was kind of walking on it and dragging it at the same time. I am sure I looked pathetic. I found a place with a room and booked in for one night. When I got in my room I washed my clothes in the sink with shampoo and hung them to dry. After a shower I changed into clean clothes and went out to explore the night and listen to music and people watch my Top Gear adventure complete!

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on September 23, 2013 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Laos, Thailand and Beyond!
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The Flood!

Vientiane, Laos

In Kong Lon caves area

Arrived here by a 7 hour bus ride from Vientiane yesterday and it started raining when we arrived and still hasn't stopped for 22 hours.

I came to see the cave and ride a boat 6.5 k thru them, but the water is too high and fast so the caves are closed. My guesthouse is about a kilometer from the park where the cave is and on my way to check it out I ran into most of the other westerners playing cards at a coffee place and they told me the bad news. My guesthouse loaned me an umbrella and a flashlight optimistically, but I think they knew there was no chance of going into the cave.

I had coffee and played Blackjack with Sonya from my hostel in Vientiane and a German guy she knew and a Belgian couple who had come from Cambodia and were leaving for a beach town there. They were all catching an 11 am bus out of town to a main road where they could get a bus back to Vientiane.

After playing awhile it was time for a walk and I headed down the tarmac road to the Park entrance and into the park. It was completely deserted! Many tarp covered areas, but no one in attendance. I walked to the boat launch and other was almost completely underwater and the boats were jammed together at the top of the banks of the full river. I hiked up some old stone stairs, but they petered put at the river again going nowhere.

I hung out under one of the tarp areas on a plastic chair and enjoyed the solitude there, it truly is a beautiful place, green and lush like Portland with different plants and temperature!

When I left to return to my guesthouse i passed a porch/store with a couple of men sitting at a table having a beer. The woman proprietor called to me, " Beer Lao?" and motioned me to come over. At first I said,."No", and made a show of checking my watch because I thought it was too early to have a beer, but I saw it was 1:10 pm and realized that a beer would be fine! Time to socialize!

I sat at the table and was quickly given a glass and one of the men poured from the bottle and we all toasted each other and clinked glasses and drank up. When that bottle ran dry the shorter man ordered another and poured that off. Their generosity was touching and I thought snacks were in order so I bought two bags of chips and opened them for the table. Now we were starting to draw a crowd as three women with various aged toddlers sat down and I ordered beer and glasses for everyone and pretty soon we were all toasting and laughing and drinking up. Then a truck pulled up with three buddies of the guys and the owners husband and I ordered more 2 more beers and now ten people were drinking these off. It was becoming a blowout in the middle of nowhere Laos! PARTY!!!

But everything was.very cool, only one guy ( the shortest of course) got a little obnoxious to my eyes with one of his buddies, but I don't know the relationships, so who am I to judge. The women had a large loom there and I asked them to show me the work and it was so great, brilliant colors of peacock feathers were being woven together in a basic pattern with even brighter versions of some of the colors as inserts in the pattern, very cool.

After buying a whole 4 beers and creating a party for 1/2 the neighborhood I headed back to my guesthouse for a well deserved nap.

About 6 pm the power went out. It was still raining very hard at times and I went downstairs for a candle, with the continuous rain it was kind of gloomy and I thought the candle would brighten my mood. The guesthouse owner told me the power had been shut off due to flooding and the bus could not reach the village any more. He said he would try to drive me to the road a 6:30 am so I could catch the 7 am bus. I thanked him because I felt this,was a very generous offer! Off to bed and an early night's sleep to the sound of the rain drumming on the roof.

The next morning I was downstairs early anticipating an eventful day and I was not wrong! When we tried to drive to the main road we ran through many areas where the road was underwater and we drove slowly and picked our way around potholes my driver knew. He owned an SUV so our clearance was good. We also had to slow and stop for livestock that were all over the road. When the area floods the people drive their cattle and pigs onto the road for safety so many times the path was blocked by cattle or goats and we slalommed past them continuing down the road until we reached a place where it was too deep. You couldn't even tell a road was there, it was water as far as the eye could see!

We turned around and headed back to the guesthouse and my host booked a fast boat which would leave in two hours and take us 30 k by the river to a place where the bus could pick us up and take me to the main road for a bus back to Vientiane. He said it was 500,000 kip to get the boat and we would split it 4 ways since he was bringing his wife and little boy as well as a bunch of bags of food that would spoil without refrigeration. I had breakfast and found a travel book about Thailand and dug in for the wait.

An hour and a half later we loaded into the SUV and drove down the tarmac road towards the Park, but we turned off onto a dirt road that led into a more residential area with stilt houses and people fishing with drop nets that are mesh squares a little over a meter on a side supported by a light bamboo framework and attached to a bamboo pole by a line so the user could dip the net under the water and then pull it up trapping whatever swam or crawled over it. I was told they catch small fish that are crushed and mixed with chilis, garlic and herbs to make a pungent fish sauce for cooking and occasionally they get frogs or bigger fish to eat.

After about 10 minutes of winding through the houses we came to the riverside and our boat. The boat looked like a dugout canoe to me even though it was plank construction, about 5 meters long and maybe a meter and a quarter at the widest point in the middle. It had a 10 horsepower Honda motor with the prop at the end of a 3 meter pole that acted as a power tiller as well. No rudder. There are five 1 x 4 planks for seats that are rigged canoe style with an open area in the middle for cargo. The boat was painted a bright blue, but the sun and other elements had begun stripping the paint and dulling its luster so the wood beneath showed through the paint in long strips.
Our boat pilot was a leathery looking local with a gold tooth and a pirate's grin who looked like he had lived on this river his entire life (which he probably had). I felt pretty confident in his skills to get us where we need to be and could easily imagine him carting big pigs to market in his boat, so how hard would I be to haul around?

It was still raining as we pulled away from the riverbank.and I had a raincoat on and a plastic poncho pulled over me and my pack was wrapped in a plastic garbage bag for protection. The boatman provided PFD's which I wore over the poncho. The PFD had a whistle attached which he demonstrated practically in my left ear and which worked very well! So, partially deaf I met the full brunt of the flooded river.

The river was the exact color of milk chocolate and I was reminded of the movie, 'Willie Wonka'- I was being motored upstream by a Laotian Umppa Loompa pirate on the Chocolate River!
One of the exciting things on the ride was ducking under the wires that had been strung across the river and we're now either in it or hanging very low above it.
I was in the back of the boat facing the pilot in the stern so I could not see what was coming. I got to where I understood it was time to duck by watching the pilot- when he slowed and started weaving in the channel I knew it was time to get at least as low as he was. He was wearing a motorcycle helmet for any rogue wire encounters and he grinned and showed off that gold tooth and pointed at the helmet when we passed under a very low wire letting me know he was prepared of anyone was!

On my right side we passed spectacular limestone cliffs covered in trees and plants and averaging between 300 and 350 mmeters high. Some area looked like rock climbers might enjoy them while others were so covered in bush you would have a very hard time finding a safe route. On the left side were trees and occasional open areas where the flooded river was all you could see to the horizon, it was a huge amount of water and this would be headline news in the US, but here they are pretty well prepared for it with the houses on stilts and crops,that depend on a lot of water. Even rice can be flooded though so I hope that my new Laos drinking buddies come through this unscathed.

We were over two hours on that river and pur pilot knew it well; I was reminded of my favorite Mark Twain book, 'Life on the Mississippi' where Twain describes the Mississippi as a living thing always changing and how a river pilot must learn to recognize the channels of the river at all stages from low to flood. I was sure our pilot had that kind of knowledge and confidence as he took us along the dark waters.

Finally we came to a place where you could see some tarmac with water and we tied up to a guardrail and started to offload the boat wading into the lukewarm water with the rain still pelting us. After 10 minutes a covered pickup bus came for us and we loaded on. The driver hauled us about 15 k and then we transferred to another pickup bus for a 40 minute ride to a town on the main highway. There was a German couple on this bus when I got on and we were all heading to Vientiane. The girl part of the couple went to find a restroom and before she could return a double decker sleeper bus pulled up to get us. All told I paid about 250,000 kip to get back to Vientiane. I took a berth on the upper deck sharing with a local man. The seats are like lounge seats that you can raise the head of but the feet are always straight out in front . In this way I rode through the evening home to my hostel.

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on August 25, 2013 from Vientiane, Laos
from the travel blog: Laos, Thailand and Beyond!
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Leaving Vietnam for Laos and New Adventure

Vientiane, Laos

The border

They won't let me cross with bike!!!!!
Think it is driving across, not a technical problem with ownership- they don't let any bikes across hete!
Maybe I could hire a truck to take it and me across?

That didn't work out. Went back to guesthouse and sold the bike to the innkeeper. Got 150 bucks and a free night for it. He also called a bus company for me and booked me on a bus to Laos. Originally I thought I would leave at 1 am but it became 6 am instead. That's the pattern here , things take time and schedules are flexible. The innkeeper's family invited me for dinner and so my last meal in Vietnam was homecooked, we had roast pork that was sliced with boiled onions and cucumber, tofu that was fried with some hot spices, a very spicy fried fish, soup with greens, and sticky rice. They also gave me a beer, but I was the only one with any kind of beverage so that felt weird.

Up to bed for a few hours sleep and in the morning when I went downstairs the innkeeper was crashed out on the,small sofa in the sitting room/lobby. I shook him awake and he went to his phone and texted someone then made a phone call and after that he said we would wait for a phone call and then go. Around 7 am the call came in and he gave me a lift on his scooter to a main corner on the town and waited with me until the bus came. The bus was a 20 passenger model that they were cramming 30 or more into and cost 150,000 Dong for the trip unto Laos. When I paid I thought this was pretty cheap to go all the way to Vientiane, Laos capitol city about 450 k away and they had saved me a one person seat on the right side of the bus so for a little while I had my own space. Away we went stopping in smaller hamlets along the way to drop off or pick up passengers and once for a short breakfast stop. After that we began the trip up into the mountains that line the border here and the air began to cool off and the hamlets fell behind as we climbed higher and higher. You first know you are at the border when you see a cobbled together shack flying a large Vietnamese flag. The actual border immigration control building is more modern. We filed off the bus and there was a mad rush to the 'DEPARTURES' area where you slid your passport across a counter and under a glass partition to a guard who watched another guard process it. When they took mine the guard said " No Moto", and I assured him that I was on "xe buyt" not on a motorcycle. It was pretty busy at the counter with people cramming in behind and around me shoving their passports,under and speaking to the guard. I saw,my bus drive through a checkpoint behind me and got just a little worried about being left behind, but there was a whole other process to go through on the Laotian side so I relaxed and let it all unfold.

Eventually the one guy who was working the computer got to my passport, ran it through the computer, squinted at it a couple of times and stamped and returned it to me.

After that I walked through a border checkpoint and showed my processed passport and left Vietnam.

It was a short .5 k walk past my bus, which was waiting to be checked in to Laos, to the Laos Visa on Arrival Office. I was the only one in this line happily and got the forms I needed from an unsmiling young bureaucrat. They required a passport sized photo and fortunately I had purchased some in Australia, after a short delay they issued my 1 month Visa for 38 US dollars.
Next stop was the Currency Exchange where I converted all my Vietnamese Dong to Laos Lip and got what I think was about $300 and left there for a little store by the roadside where I bought a Coke for 5,000 Kip and waited for my bus which I could see in line at the Laos border checkpoint.

Back on the bus and the two fellows next to me laughed and tried to start a conversation and one of the whistled a tune so I thought, "why not sing some bus songs"? and started with " the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round" which cracked up half of the bus because I think they know this song! The other half looked at me like I was nuts and possibly dangerous, so I switched to " 99 bottles of beer on the wall" but that didn't take off like I had hoped, but my seatmates were amused and pleased all the same.

Now the bus seemed to have climbed to a plateau and there was a beautiful clear river running beside us on my side of the bus. This area looks much poorer than Vietnam, but maybe that is the Bordertown nature of it. We drive on to very small villages and one by one my fellow travelers exit the bus to family and friends.
I believed that the bus was going to Vientiane, the Captiol of Laos, but I was mistaken and the bus dropped me off at a local bus stop still 400 k short of my destination.

The bus stop was a roofed over concrete pad about 30 by 30 meters with rough wooden benches and a little snack area run by three girls who were BBQing meat skewers over a small open flame. There were about 20 people waiting in the area and every so often a small pickup with benches in back and covers over the bed would back up to the pad and people would jam in and load packages of various kinds, mostly old rice sacks filled with ????? on top of the roof cover. Often the driver would throw a tarp over the "luggage" before driving off. As the people jammed in they would also bring parcels and suitcases in the back and try to fit them amongst their co-riders. The impression I had many times were that I was seeing large families traveling together so they were fine with the crowding.

I found a blackboard that had departures listed and I could see that the bus to,Vientiane didn't leave until 5:30 pm and it was 11:30 am now, so I had a long wait ahead. I spent the 6 hours walking around and buying snacks occasionally and just watching the scene.

Finaly 5:30 rolled around and I was on the bus with a row to myself. I soon figured out a way to stretch my legs across the aisle and caught a nap that way. The bus stopped for a quick dinner in a town that had bonfires burning in the street, very Mad Max-ish! They sell incredible BBQ meat on a stick! They had a whole pork chop on a stick even! I bought some BBQ that was on a kind of bamboo string in loops. Very tasty.

Back on the bus for a total of 6 hours and finally getting into Vientiane at 11:30. The Tuk Tuk driver wanted 100,000 kip jut to run me downtown and since it only cost 85,000 to come over 400 k I said "No thanks" and he, like a smartass pointed at the bus benches in the station. That was,fine with me and I explored the station and realized they had a roach motel there so I got a room for 60,000 kip (no aircon or hygiene in particular) giving me the last laugh obtuse Tuk Tuk driver!

The next morning I set out for downtown with my monster sized pack on my back and my small pack in my hands. At 8 am it was 90 degrees with 90 % humidity so after 2 k I was rethinking my plan in a bit of distress when a bus pulled up next to me and the driver motioned me in. For 3,000 kip I got my ride downtown in an airconditioned bus full of women going to work. I was kind of a mess since the motel bathroom had no shower or sanitation to speak of so I felt sorry for the girl in high heels and makeup next to me who probably was wondering how this had happened to her. Extra offerings to the commuter God probably followed the next day!

Now I was downtown but I still had no idea where the backpacker area was and even the Tuk Tuk drivers didn't understand what I wanted, so I ducked into a place for breakfast and eventually, after a couple of tries, found something on the menu they would make for me (scrambled eggs) and kicked back with an iced coffee. The coffee here is nowhere near as good as Vietnamese coffee. I guess they just don't appreciate it as much. After eating I once again threw all my stuff on my back and set out into the inferno.

I walked one block and coming towards me was a Western girl with a map and I immediately glommed onto her like a long lost twin.her name,as 'Amanda' and she was in Vientiane getting her Thai working Visa for her job teaching English in Chang Mai. She was heading to a hostel and she let me tag along. It was a long walk, but worth it and I was able to get a single room and they even have a pool and BBQ's a couple of times a week for cheap. Awesome!!

On that note I will leave you wanting and tease you with the title of my next post-

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on August 23, 2013 from Vientiane, Laos
from the travel blog: Hanoi and Vietnam- Living Day to Day
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Climbing Mt Fansipan 8/10

Sa Pa, Vietnam

A Climbing Mt. Fansipan

Up at 2:30 am, fell asleep at 9:30 last night and I need to pack for the climb of 3400 meter Mt. Fanispan and pack up my room to store my excess gear at my hotel.

The hotel staff arranged the climb which is costing me 1,400,000 Dong inclusive of meals, guide/porter, transportation, and sleeping gear. The climb is a 2 day affair where we begin at around 1600 m and climb to.a high camp at 2800 m overnight in a steel shed then summit run early am weather permitting and back to Sa Pa.

The bus picks me up at 8 am and it is jammed with Vietnamese climbers- as the foreigner on the trip they kindly give me the shotgun seat while they pack them in like sardines behind me.

We have a short ride to the National Park that Fanispan is in, but I still almost get car sick from the way the driver throws the bus through the corners of the,winding mountain road- nice way to start a climb!

Mt. Fansipan requires a permit to climb it and it is very difficult to get permission to go without a guide, maybe impossible even, and as I leave bus I am introduced to my guide, Mr. Xing (pronounced sing). Mr Xing will carry my group gear and food and cook for me and make sure I make it in one piece out and back. As,with any climb you can't guarantee a summit since fitness and weather play a huge roll in your success.

Mr Xing is about 5' 2" and probably 100 lbs soaking wet. He carries the,gear in a woven basket with thin nylon straps to go over his shoulders. He is wearing calf length black cotton pants, a black mid sleeve synthetic t shirt and plastic shower sandals. I estimate the weight of his basket at 30 lbs easy, maybe more.

Mr Xing and I set out ahead of everyone else and of course instead of going up we begin to go down on rocks and mud to a stream. Mr Xing casually trots down a slick 30 degree rock section while I carefully watch where he puts his feet and slowly move down it. I realize I am in for a wild ride!

The trail is very wet and muddy and st times we are literally climbing up waterfalls and walking in running streambeds and it will almost surely rain some more today.It is a tree enclosed jungle we hike through with bamboo and sticker bushes on either side for some stretches. You will come to a steep scrambling section that climbs 100 meters and then hit a ridge and descend and lose 75 and that is the hlike to snack camp in a nutshell.

At snack camp I sat in a large tarp shelter that could accommodate 20- 30 climbers, because we left first I had it all to myself! Mr Xing brought a tray with sliced tomato and cucumber, two baguettes and two fried eggs for my "lunch" and while I was eating a trio of French trekers arrived and behind them a gaggle of Vietnamese climbers of assorted aged men and women.

Mr Xing and I left before the French, but they caught us on the second steep climb and went ahead. Right after they passed me a Mountain Goat walked onto the trail! He was black and grey and had curling horns like a ram should. He was fairly small, but much stockier than a billy goat and had a big chest. He eyed me for about 4 seconds and then walked off the path and back into the brush. We also found a two foot long earthworm on the trail who was a centimeter across at the middle with a pinkish-purple band around his otherwise grey body at precisely his mid point. Did not touch him, but was tempted....the only other animal encounters were dogs, puppies and a very friendly cat at the snack camp.

The climb to high camp was very steep proceeding up and over a series of progressively larger peaks with short descents between each peak. There would have been spectacular views, but we were shrouded in clouds with drizzle and occasionally raindrops as our companions.

After two hours of climbing we reached the High Camp just as the skies opened up with a torrential rain that would last all night and well into the next day.

Our high camp shelter was a metal shed with a wooden plank floor and raised platforms on either side of s central aisle.
There were lines strung over the center to hang set clothes onto and I quickly shed my raincoat and shirt.and t-shirt and hung them over my corner spot where Mr Xing had my gear.it was dark inside the shelter and the steady beat of the rain accompanied the tapping of my keyboard as I made notes. I was still feeling very cold despite changing so I asked the girl who maintained the hut if she would make me some hot tea. For 30,000 Dong she made me a glass of hot tea and promised one hot water refill as well which was good because I managed to knock the glass over when it was still half full as I took off my soaking wet socks! My boots were thoroughly drenched- sopping wet in fact. The tea warmed me up and by the second cup I had my sleeping bag pulled over my legs and my music player going and headphones on and I relaxed and watched the soaked stragglers wander into camp. Inspite of my poor condition I had beaten the majority of climbers to camp by a wide margin, so I guess they had a party on the trail and didn't invite me!

It was pitch black inside the shelter when the guides started bringing our dinners in. Each party seemed to be getting different foods with some getting fried foods and others (like me) getting sticky rice, cooked chicken and boiled greens. It was delicious as only camp food can be and the guides lit candles to provide a bit of atmosphere and light for the occasion.

Mr Xing sat with me and filled my bowl first and then I would gesture for him to fill his bowl or he would not eat; he had brought a bottle of ice tea drink that he poured into glasses for us and I was very happy because I was basically out of water (they only supply one bottle a day) and was very thirsty. Imagine my surprise when the 'tea' turned out to be rice alcohol! Mr Xing smiled and toasted and we drank it down, but all I really wanted was water! There was way too much food so I ate my fill and dinner ended with Mr Xing carting the tray out and me watching a movie on my phone before trying to sleep.

Sleep was tough to come by with 25 other people crammed in with you and my provided sleeping pad was flat and leaked- not comfortable- I tossed and turned all night sleeping maybe three hours.

As the night went on the storm only got stronger and by sunup it was a full on monsoon with wind and lashing rain. It was not ideal conditions for sumiting in fact pretty dangerous just to climb down, and I had let Mr Xing know the night before that if it was storming I would not climb up and he could take me down early. By 7 am we were ready to go and for the next four hours we made pur way down trails that were now rivers and rocky descents that were kin to waterfalls. I made use of every hand hold I could find which in many places was bamboo that would dump water on my head when I grabbed it in retaliation! Finally with muscles aching and completely and utterly soaked to the bone I made it back to the park headquarters! I thanked Mr Xing for getting me down safely and tipped him discretely since I was unsure of the cultural aspects of that. I left Mt Fansipan satisfied I had done my best and ready for a nap!

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on August 14, 2013 from Sa Pa, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Hanoi and Vietnam- Living Day to Day
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Last Night in Hanoi 7/31/13

Hanoi, Vietnam

My Last Night in Hanoi
I have not really bloggd much here because I am just living day to day- watching TV, sleeping in, taking long walks around my neighborhood.In short, Hanoi is just like anywhere else when you live there!
There are cultual and language differences, but nothing insurmountable and with so many people here, especially so many Expatriots and Westen business people you have many oppotunities for good connections.
Highlights for me include my neighborhood market owner who always invites me to have a cup of coffee with her, a German burrsinessman who shared a ton of his friends wih me and opened up some doors and an English woman working on her Masters Degree who is changing the World in a great way!
The weather has been hot and humid mostly so my Aircon is essential, but there have been some wild thunderstorms and gulley washer rainstorms as well and it is now cooling off in the nighttime.
For enertainment and food you have the choices of any national capitol city, all styles and choices are represented with some outstanding restaurants and first run movies in the theaters. I did not find a motor racing scene, but the way they drive everyday is close!!
I liked my modern apartment and the included cleaning service very much- if I were livng here the kitchen would be too small though! And it might be nice to liive with a roommate or two for the company :)
Like many places you live you look past some of the negetives and focus on what's in front of you at the time- as they say in Hanoi- if it's snake eating time you eat snake! (Disclosure: I am not sure if ANYONE here actually says that, but I do!)
I may be back here someday, they pay well for English teachers and I have enjoyed my visit so definitely keep Hanoi on a list of Places to See if you come to SE Asia!

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on July 31, 2013 from Hanoi, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Hanoi and Vietnam- Living Day to Day
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My Third Week in Hanoi 7-18-13

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hi Family and Friends- It has been a long time since my last blog entry and I have been absorbing the sights and sounds of daily life in Hanoi since then. After I arrived here I stayed two nights at the Sheraton Hotel and celebrated the end of the Top Gear Challenge of successfully riding a small motorbike from Ho Chi Minh City in the South to Ha Long Bay in the North and then to Hanoi. I lived large soaking and sunning at the pool and enjoying the complimentary breakfast buffet and the nightly cocktail and hors de voures reception and eating steak and pizza with nice red wines! Tough living!!! My goal was to find an apartment and live here in Hanoi for a month and take lessons in the Vietnamese language and Iam happy to say I have succeeded on the apartment front, but unfortunately I have not had any success in enrolling in language lessons that would help me. I signed up for one class and anticipated it all weekend only to have them cancel on me and return my deposit on Monday when I showed up for my first class and this put me a little off of the whole thing sadly.

I live on the fourth floor of a seven story hotel called the Lotus in an area that is near the big lake and close to the Sheraton hotel, but still fairly far from the backpacker/ tourist center of Old Hanoi so there are very few westerners around me. My apartment is one room with a bath and a kitchen sink, hot plate, electric kettle, microwave/oven combo and wifi and cable TV. Also A/C and a wall mounted oscillating fan. All utilities except electric are covered and the apartment is cleaned for me three times a week and fresh bed linens provided. My view is mostly the blank wall of a six story building next door and some surrounding buildings that are smaller and the sky where there are lightning storms almost every night! The windows are very large and open so I can hear the thunder and feel the temperture change as the rains come if I want to. My apartment is very new- all new tile and all the appliances still have their stickers on them so I may be one of the first occupants!

Parking is on the first floor and is a locked garage and the lobby is one level up and seems to usually have someone on duty all the time. They have a small bar area and a cooler with drinks you can buy and a menu for delivery pizza I have yet to use.

I am on a large and busy street, but off the street are tiny alleys with residences and shops and market stalls where I buy food and vegetables from street vendors and haggle over the price of cabbage and how many tomatoes I can get for 5,000 Dong. Fun. I am still the curiosity even after three weeks and there is good natured laughter and banter as I shop and mostly smiles- not bad.

I've been cooking much of the time and eating in and my appetite has been very suppressed probably because of the heat. I rarely eat the street food and sometimes buy prepared meat like BBQ Pork chop and cut it up into my rice or other things I prepare. I've been craving western food and have tried Vietnamese Mexican at one place that was not Mexican at all and a hamburger at another that was highly recommended but not as good as a Burger King Whopper! My best meal I cooked was rice/beef stuffed cabbage rolls in a stewed tomato sauce with onion, garlic and basil that I made from scratch with mashed potatos. Some basic things are tough to find here at least where I shop- like butter, milk that is not sweetened, and ketchup or tobasco sauce. Just not in their diet here.

I try to walk ten kilometers every day and most of the time walk part of the way around the large lake and combine this with a taxi ride either out to a sight to see or back home. Cabs are pretty cheap and I pay about 5 bucks per ride including tip so very worth it to me to avoid the traffic/parking and navigation problems of the big city and when combined with my walk gets me some of the exercise I need.

The lake is very cool with little cafes and coffee shops all around it and you can watch fishermen toss their lines in reel up their catch. There is a nice breeze in the evenings and it is quieter there than the other more hustley-bustley areas of the city. Sights I have seen include the Ho Chi Minh Museum, Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton), the Women's Museum, Peace Park, Lenin's Park and the National Fine Arts Museum. Still on my list are the Military Museum and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where Uncle Ho lies mummified. That closes really early so I've missed it so far. I will be in Hanoi until July 31st so there's no real hurry!

I've been to the main tourist/backpacker area at night once and it was amazing to see all of the Westerners! More than I've seen in a month in one night!!! My area is very quiet at night and I like it and the more local feeling I get there. There is a KFC near that area and I guess I will go there when I want fried chicken sometime and I just heard on the Asian news that Mc Donalds will be coming to Vietnam next year so the West continues to assimilate this culture slowly...

Some of the very cool things near me are a farm right off the main street where rice and vegetables are grown and fish raised and at night there are small bats all over that area eating the little flies and bugs. I've seen women harvesting herbs from the smallest areas that look like weeds, but are actually carefully planted- these people are industrious and waste not- want not oriented.

Overall I am having a vry good stay here and getting fit and resting up at the same time. After Hanoi I will travel North to Sapa near the Chinese border and try to climb the largest peak in Vietnam, Mount Fansifan- 3143 meters and a bit of a hike as well. That trip will be guided and I hope to see some ethnic minority villages there as well. Then I will drive South along the Ho Chi Minh Trail which is the inland North-South artery and will be all new scenery for me since I came up the coast on Highway 1.

Then out of Vietnam and into Laos.

More on Hanoi living next time....Peace, Out!

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on July 18, 2013 from Hanoi, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Hanoi and Vietnam- Living Day to Day
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Top Gear Challenge Completed, Mike in Ha Long

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

A Top Gear Vietnam Challenge Complete-
Mike in Ha Long!!!!!

Well, my friends, I've made it to Ha Long Bay, a World Heritage Site and amazingly beautful place in our world.
I got here at 2:00 PM and chose a hotel on Cat Ba. the largest island in the archipelagos and also the home of a National Park where I intend to go hiking tomorrow.
According to Google Maps the most direct route to my currrent location is 1816 kilometers, but I did not take the most direct route so I am abititrarily adding 300 k for a total of 2210 kilometers or if you figure in miles, over 1300 miles thereabouts. I calculate I had 13 driving days for an average mileage of 170 kilometers or 100 miles a day.
That may sound easy with all day to do it, but sometimes the miles came hard, paid for with tension, sweat and blood!
Right now I am sitting in a retaurant across the street from my hotel watching the lights of the fishing boats on the water, the only sound carrying is the sound of a single piston engine working hard to put to sea. It reminds me of Croatia and the Aegean Sea and the family boat I went calamari fishing on- same engine, same lights, and reminds me that we are all knit together by our shared experiences. Fishermen are Fishermen wherever they are and the tools of the trade share more similarities than differences.
I notice this when I am rewarded with a smile when I turn a cup upside down or share my language book with the people I meet and we share a laugh at how I say the words, and they help me. I have been lucky to mostly meet people who don't mind a stranger who travels in a respectful way and wants to learn from them.
Like all good adventures, this one is just begining and changing at the same time. After chilling out in Ha Long for a few days and maybe a short cruise it will be off to Hanoi, another big city to put down some roots for maybe a month and take some real language lessons. Not sure why, but I think it is the challenge to be a better communicator and a better guest and host to the people I meet and the new friends I make that drives this desire.
There will be more beautiful places down the road and I will also try traveling by train and bus as well for the experience.
Thanks for sharing this trip with me and please check the blog for updates and I wil continue to share photos by email with you unless you sic your SPAM filter on
So, on that bombshell, I say "goodnight to all of you, until next week!"

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on June 25, 2013 from Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Top Gear Adventure 2- Vietnam Boogaloo!
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