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Laos, Thailand and Beyond!

a travel blog by Mike_Veine

Hello Dear Friends and Beloved Family! This Blog picks up after Vietnam and will cover traveling in Laos, Thailand and probably Cambodia too- we will see....miss you all! Mike
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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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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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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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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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