The winter of 2010-2011 in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia

 November 10, 2010 - Victoria to Bangkok
 November 13, 2010 - Bangkok
 November 16, 2010 - Bangkok to Chumpon
 November 18, 2010 - Sawasdee Resort, Ko Chang
 November 25, 2010 - Krabi
 December 6, 2010 - Pai
 December 13, 2010 - Phitsanulok - Sukhothai
 December 20-27, 2010 - Siem Reap, Cambodia
 December 29, 2010 - Siboya Bungalows, Krabi
 March 03, 2011 - Laos and then Home

November 10, 2011 - Victoria to Bangkok

We were very lucky that we didn't need to travel to Seattle yesterday. Gale force winds had canceled the Clipper, that would have been a major pain in the ass. Today the crossing to Seattle was smooth as silk.

Going through check-in at Victoria was interesting. Everyone lines up and goes through a metal detector gate before a brief interview by US Customs. But no one was attending the detectors, maybe they weren't even on. No one seemed to be setting the things off. My pacemaker doesn't like metal detectors so I just slipped around it. Dozens of people saw me do this but not one said a word. Talk about passive bystanders. So much for Homeland Security.

We stayed the night on Motel strip alongside Seattle airport. We are flying Bangkok on Asiana tomorrow.

Up early and up the block to the International House Of Pancakes. Haven't been to one of these in many years. The menu now has very comprehensive foot notes outlining the recommended daily limits for sodium and calories etc and each menu item had the number of calories listed. That's great but many of the choices were (believe it or not) over 1800 calories. Bring on the whipping cream please.

Lucky for us the first 11.5 hour flight to Korea was only 75% full so we were able to change our seats to A-B-C with B vacant. It's always good to ask these questions at the departure gate along with Bob's "gimp card". In fact we pulled off the same coup for the second 6.5 hr flight to Bangkok.

We are wondering if Glenn will still be up by the time we roll into Lamphu House at about 0245A.

November 13, 2010 - Bangkok

From Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok we hopped in a cab and headed for town. Our cabbie was definitely a speed freak! 140Km and still lots of cars were passing us as though we were crawling along. We zoomed along and found that we were definitely weaving over 3 lanes. Bob turned to me at one point and said if we saw that we were actually going to meet another vehicle head on we should grab our shoulders and crouch down below the front seats. I didn't realize that he thought the driver was falling asleep (common in Asia) as his eyes kept closing! In actuality I could see that he was looking down and counting his money, then he was looking through his phone at his photos, finally he pulled down and commenced to rearranged his visor! (it looked like a filing cabinet and barely stayed up ) I always say to people that the most dangerous times in Asia are not encountering Cobras or other scares, but travelling on the road… We survived.

Glenn greeted us with a huge grinning smile. We immediately hit the street and went out for a drink in the wonderfully warm night air and just felt so happy to be back in Thailand. We got to sleep at 4 AM and dreamed of mangos and sticky rice.

We are presently sitting in the lovely courtyard at Lamphu House (an oasis away from the frenetic street scene that defines the Khoasan road area) filled with greenery and awaiting a pot of tea from our waiter Mr Song (who we have known for several years). He was telling us of the flooding in Hat Yai and Trang in the south (up to 3 meters).

Last night we splurged and went to the Sky Bar. What a view perched on the top, 64th floor with just a glass railing and no roof. Met people from everywhere including a gracious young couple of newly weds from Mexico on their honeymoon… they looked sooooo much in love.

After my delicious (read expensive) cocktail of Vodka, Kaluha and espresso, I felt "on top of the world". We watched the sun set over Bangkok and all the twinkly lights come on. The winding Chau Praya river looked so beautiful with many boats illuminated with coloured lights. We are so fortunate!!

Watched BBC news this morning and we are all extremely delighted to see that Aun Sung Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest in Myanmar (Burma). Her story is a must read for any of you unfamiliar with this Honorary Canadian! She is a hero and an inspiration for the whole world! She is a Nobel peace laureate who has been under house arrest for about 20 years. Her future is so fragile.

Tomorrow we are off on and early train south to Chumpon for at least one night. Then it's over to Ko Chang (small island near Ranong near the southern border of Myanmar). Time for a little beach fix! We may also check out Ko Phayam, another small island close by.

November 16, 2010 - Bangkok to Chumpon

We were a little apprehensive about taking the A/C day train south. Thai air-conditioned trains are notoriously freezing, very meat locker'ish. It left exactly on time at 0805A and was to arrive in Chumpon at 1428P. We were met by Suda who runs the guest house of the same name that we had arranged. She was surprised to see the train on time… apparently the first time in a year it hadn't been two hours late.

Chumpon is the terminus for anyone going out to Ko Tao on the east coast or those like us who were heading west to Ranong and farther south to Phuket.

Had a great time out to dinner at a very popular Thai eatery infamous for it's buffet BBQ. It is also known as "Cow on the Mountain" or "Mongolian BBQ". Picture a perforated metal dome over a charcoal brazier. Little bits of all kinds of meat, seafood and vegetables are laid on the dome to quickly cook. The perimeter of the dome has a trough you keep full of water to catch the BBQ juices and boil noodles, veggies and mushrooms of assorts this becomes a great soup. It's a bit like a Asian version of a fondue. The place was packed with laughing Thais cooking and eating up a storm. We all three gorged ourselves for a paltry 404Bt ($13). Saw a great dish on the menu for Stir fried vegetables and friendly … Glen said he didn't feel like vegetables but would like the friendly. We just love the Thai/English translations.

November 18, 2010 - Sawasdee Resort - Ko Chang

Well here we are again travelling to a small island without electricity. Crammed into the magic long-tail boat along with tons of supplies and ice and headed to Ko Chang off the west coast of southern Thailand just south of Myanmar. We are staying at a gorgeous place called Sawasdee Resort. Nui and Fon, the Thai owners met in Melbourne and fell in love (they were studying there). It was great to speak English with them and get the scoop on Myanmar and Thailand. They really are such delightful people and their place was spotless. They have the nicest place on the beach, with a beautiful garden and great furniture made out of weathered wood from old teak rice carts. We were surprised to see lots of Hornbills! What huge birds and noisy too, they would peer down at us with huge eyes and chatter away.

Time for a massage. We were advised that a lady who practiced massage Burmese style was available. So the next morning after a refreshing shower I lay down in the Gazebo and waited. It was so lovely with a gentle breeze and the gurgling ocean a few feet away, I felt like the Queen of the Nile under the Palm trees. Rubber time… finally my lady appears. Suddenly she points to my thighs and says "big" (oh… cruel, cruel world!) I was laughing about this to a friend and he suggested that perhaps this was a compliment as child bearing thighs may be something to brag about! So the acupressure type massage lasted an hour and a half for $6 and she didn't understand when we wanted to tip her. Lots of people from Myanmar working on this island.

We could see Myanmar on the horizon… such sadness only a few miles away. We heard stories that after the big Typhoon many people fled to Rangoon but were turned away by solders only to die of starvation on the way back home (home was under water!). The stories are endless about the death and destruction in that country. It's hard to understand the total lack of empathy from the Generals in charge. We viewed a documentary that was smuggled out during the rebellion by the countries' monks. Many monks are in hiding now. The documentary, "Burma VJ" is so chilling! The solders tore off the Monk's robes before throwing them naked in trucks to "disappear". A Japanese photographer was there filming and a solder just came up to him and shot him in the head. The photographer who filmed this was so brave and was so lucky not to be murdered himself.

Saw on the news recently that the Generals allowed Aung San Suu Kyi's son into visit for the first time in 10 years. When her husband was dying they would not allow him to visit and she, of course, could not leave as she would NEVER have been allowed back in.

November 25, 2010 - Krabi

Back at the great City Hotel where the staff gives us the "Tony/Siboya" discount. Each year we are welcomed and it really feels heart warming.

We headed out to the old Pine Bungalows to see many of our old Thai friends (we first met all of these people in 1988) but especially to see dear Lek. Lek lost Sompong. her husband last year to a Cobra bite. It had slithered into the Pine kitchen early in the morning. He was taken to Krabi Hospital and then finally to the Bangkok hospital in Phuket where he died 9 days later. She is still very sad and distressed. Her daughter Susan has one year left in high school and then she is off to University. If you know Lek it would be a good idea to perhaps send her a card as she still needs support. If you plan to visit Lek she likes fridge magnets!

Lek (same name, different guy), one of Pine's drivers is going through chemotherapy for cancer in his leg. Juri (Chung's sister) looks happy with her crew cut and big smiles. She has two small poodles who follow her around dressed in brightly coloured sweaters. Tanu is helping out as manager in Sompong's absence looking quite dapper. Juri called the semi retired Ban Sen (Pine's boatman) who came over to say hello. They have moved the restaurant right next door and it's new and bright. We had a great visit and were served WAY TOO MUCH food, then Lek drove us to her new house which was really well designed and had a pretty garden.

We decided to see Tonsai Beach and Railay Beach… lasted one night! Tonsai looks quite run down and there are bungalows drenched in mud for 300Bt or 3000Bt ($100). The Thai hippies are still there in the Chill Out Bar! The beach looks seedy and run down.

Railay is still a gorgeous beach with far out red limestone karsts (shear limestone cliffs that reach to the sky). The tourists you meet there don't look you in the eye or even smile. The prices are outrageous and the food is mediocre. Bob was standing with our luggage while Glenn and I scouted out a room… he was approached by an employee of one of the bungalows and was asked to move along. Anyway could only handle one night. The only highlight was the sighting of a Red Slender Loris (aka: Slow Loris) who was so darn cute dangling from a tree. The creature then ever so slowly crawled along an electrical cord towards a small cart that served roti (Indian pancakes with bananas and egg). The Loris was on the move, albeit at a snail's pace, slowly towards the hanging bananas. Bob hand fed him a banana which he consumed enthusiastically… he was missing a hand and sure had big sharp teeth. What a treat to see them move with grace like a circus acrobat… sloth like. Speaking of sloths I just turned around to ask Bob something and there he was snoozing away enjoy the luxury of an afternoon nap.

December 6th - Pai, Thailand

Since our last update… we took a cab from Krabi to the Surat Thani train station, then the over-night train to Bangkok. One night in Bangkok and another night-train to Chiang Mai. (Note: As we waited at the train station, our departure time, came and went. Most of the people waiting on the platform were confused farangs. The loud speaker crackled to life, and squawked, "Train number 158 from Bangkok to Chiang Mai will be late. Thank you for the convenience." As time ticked on, I sidled up to a track worker and asked "Train pai Chiang Mai mee?" He said, "Train late, fell over." I asked, "Accident?" To which he smiled, nodded and said, "Kap." (yes) That made us all go hmmmm! Fifteen minutes later the train arrived and we travelled without incident.

While in Chiang Mai, one excursion was up to the Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens. We hired a private song-taew for the five hour round trip. It turned out to be, one of the best Asian gardens we've seen. An hour north of town, the gardens climb up the mountain side as the grounds transition from well keep manicured into natural jungle. At the top, there are several green houses which have unique environment installations like orchid, lily, carnivorous and even a dessert. It was a great day. The temperature was excellent… only 24 degrees, just perfect for hiking around.

Five days in Chiang Mai was a great break… a little shopping, a bunch of massages, great meals at Kanjana Kitchen and a very comfortable room at the Na Inn in the centre of the Old City. We're going back again after Pai for another five nights. More of the same relaxation.

Yesterday we traveled from Chiang Mai to Pai on the local bus. The distance is only 121 Km but it took 4 hrs. Travel in Thailand is slowly changing, as more and more middle class Thai families start to head off to see their own country. This week (Dec 5th) was the Thai King's birthday and here in Pai, a cool (and kool) mountain retreat, it's packed out. Hundreds of Thai students sleeping in tents. Trying to book the train from Bangkok to Krabi was a none starter. All full Christmas week. We are splurging ($120 ea) for an AirAsia ticket. And the highways to everywhere are now packed with new SUVs, transporting the people we used to see in "the modern Thai family" commercials years ago. It has actually happened they have evolved.

The Chiang Mai to Pia local bus was fun, in retrospect. Each double bench seat, seats 2 Thais perfectly. Joann and I, that's a different matter. Up into the mountains north of Chiang Mai, the narrow 2 lane road winds through hundreds of switch-backs. An intrepid french family of 6 were in front of us and behind us was a group of Bangkok university friends going up to Pai for only 1 night. Tucked into he ceiling hand rail were tucked convenient bags if required. Ominous!

We checked into The Bueng Pai Farm about 3 km south of town in the middle of fields of rice paddies. From the deck of our 2 bedroom bungalow, we enjoyed the sun setting over the rice fields and behind the mountains. The after glow bathed the entire valley in a rich golden hue. Day was the King's 83rd birthday, so as if for our sole benefit, major fireworks exploded in the valley right in front of us. Then Thai sky lanterns began to rise and drift away over the Buddhist temple at the edge of our rice field. What a great welcome to Pai.

The lack of evening meals at The Pai Farm, our proximity to town and the lack transport required that we each rent scooters. All was going well as we were exploring the verdant mountain vistas all around Pai, until I cauterized my leg on the exhaust and then Joann hit a pot hole and launched herself onto the road. Miraculously Joann emerged with only a badly sprained ankle and my burn is recovering. That was day 2 in Pai. Day 3, Glenn and I went for a long ride up one of the many rural valleys around. Very remote with just a scattering of villages here and there. Why did the chicken cross the road? Well apparently this one had a death wish. As I sped along it didn't know which way to go. At the last second it exploded into flight and right into my face. No damage, just shock and awe. I didn't ask how the chicken felt. Glenn almost fell off his scooter laughing. NO MORE SCOOTERS!

December 13-17 - Phitsanulok and Sukhothai

After a no-fun nine hour day train from Chiang Mai to Phitsanulok, we checked into to the La Paloma Hotel ( as the LiThai was just starting to look like a tired prison. The La Paloma is a large monolithic granite lobbied hotel that seems to be the place for all government staff stays and the default venue for upscale weddings. And other than the odd French tour group, we were alone at the buffet breakfast in a dinning that seated 200.

After 2 nights we headed west 2 hours to the ancient Thai capital of Sukhothai. We stayed at the TR Guesthouse again. (we were here last year) Took a tuk-tuk (say that fast) out to the old city, stopped by a ceramics museum. Some very beautiful ancient pottery, and right next door was a mothballed 5-star with an almost closed pottery/antique store. We asked around and were able to get someone to open it. Wow, what a treasure trove, and no customers. Glenn managed to find a couple of wonderful old specimens.

That evening we contracted a private songtaew to take us the 1 hour drive to the train station back in Phitsanulok to catch our over-night sleeper to Bangkok. On arrival at the station we were told it was delayed 4 hours. That would mean a 3:30am departure… yuck! The only other alternative was a A/C seat on a train in 40 minutes. Overnight in a seat, also yuck, but we took it. What an absolutely shitty night. Tomorrow it's off to Cambodia.



December 20-27 - Siem Reap, Cambodia

We decided to go to Cambodia for Christmas. Siem Reap is a favourite spot to hang out... small town, great restaurants and the spectacular temples of Angkor.

While Glenn spent many hours at the Angkor site, Joann and I continued to nurse our moto mishaps. Things are coming along quite well... my burn is all but healed and Joann's ankle continues to improve slowly. All our friends a the Mandalay Inn are well, the kids bigger but still very approachable and vivacious.

Much time was spent shopping for silver (they make great hand worked 90% pure silver boxes in shapes of fruit) ornaments and hand woven scarves. We have left a bag in Bangkok as there is now way too much to carry around.

We decided to treat ourselves to the Christmas Brunch Buffet at Raffles Hotel d'Angkor. It was 5 star all the way... every time we headed for a refill they refolded our napkin, pushed in the chair an straightened our place settings. All the food was set up in the lobby with seating in the restaurant and cafe. From the turkey, ham, lamb to the chocolate fountain, it was a gourmands delight. We managed about 2.5 hours of bloody luxury.

The rest of the week was spent chilling and enjoying SR's great restaurants and being chauffeured around by Kat our tuk-tuk driver. He was at our beckon call for the 8 days from 9am till dusk for $80, such a treat.

This trip to Cambodia we opted to travel overland instead of the expensive flights. It was mini-bus/taxi coming and going between Bangkok and Siem Reap. 3.5 hours from Bangkok to the border... 1.5 hours dealing with the Cambodian mafia at the border and walking across the DMZ... the 2.5 hours by taxi to SR. And instant replay going back to Bangkok in reverse 8 eight days later. (With the exception of the border hassle coming into Thailand) Arriving back in Thailand really was a breath of fresh air… not that Cambodia was bad… it just seems to be more civilized back in Thailand. Even the speaking the little Thai we know makes for a lot less angst.

Exhausted and back in Bangkok… tomorrow we fly to Krabi then to Siboya. Can't wait!

December 29 - Siboya Bungalows, Krabi

We made it back to Siboya in time for Chung's famous New Years feast. And here we sit, just goofing off...

We're out of here on Friday, Jan 28th enroute to Vientiane, Loas for 2-3 weeks.

March 14 - Home again in Victoria

Yes I know that it's been a long time since our last entry. What can I say... time just slips away, traveling can be very busy. Anyway we'll try to fill in the blanks a bit.

Our month of January on Siboya was unseasonably cool and wetter than normal. Read that, delightfully cool and nothing to complain about. We weren't planning on baking on the beach anyway, so just hanging out in the relative coolness was just perfect. Also it was a bit quieter this season with less people coming through. Thailand is still a very popular and cost effective winter destination but with prices all around the world increasing, Thailand is not as big a bargain as it once was. That translates to less "travellers" finding their way to Siboya and more "tourists" going to the 5-star's. (even more major hotels are projected for the Krabi region)

On Jan27 we flew from Krabi up to BKK... then went straight to the train station to wait for our night train to Laos. This particular north-east route which terminates at the Thai-Laos border in Nong Khai, seems to have some wonky runs of track paired with the dregs of rail cars making for quite a rock & roll night run, but we survived. Then we transferred to the train to Vientiane, a weird little Thai-Laos joint project that runs a train across the Friendship Bridge to a small station only 5Km away. It is far less hassle than doing migration at the normal terminal though.

Our arrival in Vientiane (capital of Laos) at The Hotel Khamvongsa was delightful. Big well appointed rooms, big comfortable beds, spacious bathrooms, fridge, cable TV and WiFi. The included breakfast choices were very good. I can see that this hotel will be more expensive very soon. Celebrated my 64th birthday with home made bruschetta and a bottle of Patron tequila. (thx muchly to Ross & Joyce for bringing that in) Vientiane is such a great little city. The very walkable core encompasses about 20 city blocks scattered with copious amount of good restaurants and decent hotels. After 3 nights here we hired a private minibus with driver to take us all (6) the 160Km from Vientiane to Vang Vieng (VV)... only 4 hours of bad road. VV has the dubious reputation as Laos' mecca for Sex and Drugs and Rock & Roll. And it's all true. Wandering around town we saw that many of the restaurants/bars were outfitted with low tables and big cushions/pillows. People were lounging all over the place watching re-runs of "Friends and Family Guy". Very weird vibe… I think they were all nursing hangovers or in an opium/banana shake haze. The next day we wanted to catch the some of the spectacle that VV is so famous for. We took a tuk-tuk (say that fast) up river about 2-3 Km to "The Other Side". The Other Side is a big riverside restaurant/bar that is party central. Access was across a private very substantial suspension bridge. Included on-site is a huge 3 storey concrete water slide, a flying fox zip line and a big swing over the river. As the afternoon wore on the revelry got busier and busier. The dock side tube catcher was throwing a rope out to any passers by who felt like popping in to join the fun. A very wild and crazy place.

The next day was not fun. 8 hours to travel 219Km from Vang Vieng to Phonsavan. This is where The Plain Of Jars resides. The road was constant switchbacks for almost all of that 8 hours. Up to the top of one mountain range then down to the valley bottom then do it all over again… all day long. A very exhausting trip with only a half hour stop for the ubiquitous chicken noodle soup. We were all a little apprehensive about what the Duangkeomany Hotel in the Plain Of Jars was going to be like. Lonely Planet had said it was… "The best value in town for fussy travellers". We found it to be a large cavernous bunker with a grand stair case up to the 2nd floor. It was very evocative of the Overlook Hotel in the Shinning.

The hotel lobby boasted a large book case chalk a block with munitions from the Vietnam war. (Laos is the most bombed country in the world per capita. More than two million tons of ordnance was dropped on the country between 1964 and 1973. Up to 30 per cent of some types of ordnance did not detonate. Unexploded ordnance (UXO) still contaminates the ground, affecting a quarter of all villages.) We actually saw UXO being dispatched in a farmer's field by the MAG crew. He had discovered it while tilling his field, he was lucky. The rooms were very rustic but quite clean with king size beds, crisp white bed linens and big warm duvets. The 6 of us were the only people staying at the hotel. Breakfast and dinner were served in a separate building that housed the dining hall. It seemed that whole place was being run by children. Everyone was so earnest and polite, delightful.

The only reason to make the trek to Phonsavan is to see the Plain Of Jars. Said to have been hewn of solid rock in 500BC the jars were maybe used as funerary vessel. They all range between 1 and 3 meters in height and are found in 52 locations thought the plain. We went to the 3 closest sites. They are also the sites most cleared of UXO. Navigating throughout the sites requires one to stay between the designated markers or risk getting your ass blown off. In fact while we were just finishing up at site 2. We were told to hold our ground for a few minutes. BOOM… out in the field, a farmer had been lucky enough to have dug one up without detonating it. The Mines Advisory Group assigned to UXO clearing, had just dispatched it for him with a large cloud of smoke. Laos is the world's most heavily bombed country. Stats say it will take another 150 years to find all the UXO still waiting to do harm. Sad.

Back into the mini van for another 8.5 hour marathon that will take us back to the junction and then north to Luang Prabang (LP). LP has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The whole city. It is right on the Mekong river in the centre of northern Laos. Originally we had planned 8 nights and had wondered if that was going to be too long. After just 3 days we changed our flights and room dates to stay 15 days. What a fantastic small town. We are amazed that no one has ever expounded on the virtues of LP. Even all the guide books and websites never seemed to give it it's due. The number of quality accommodation choices and restaurants is huge. The climate in February is a wonderful 20-28 and usually without rain. We love it here.

We all stayed at The Alounsavath Guesthouse on the banks of the Mekong in the old quarter. Very classy, comfortable and Phon, a great owner who always went out of her way to help and provide any information needed. Every morning we would gather on the riverside terrace directly across from our rooms to enjoy a wonderful included breakfast.

We enjoyed our time in LP so much that we have made plans to return in 2012 for the entire month of February. Looking forward to it.

On February 17th we flew from Luang Prabang to Vientiane... then onto Bangkok later that evening. We over-nighted in Bangkok, went back to Suvarnabumi Airport to use the Left Luggage while we zoomed into town to pickup a bag left at Lumphu House then over to New Road. I left Joann at Julie Tailor to wait for my short's eminent arrival while I went over to Siam Bronze to pickup our stainless steel cutlery orders for gifts. Then it was back to the airport for a 5:30P flight home. Joann was lucky to get 3 empty seats on the Taipe-Vancouver leg.

So get this... 3 days after returning to Victoria it snows big time AND then freezes up for the next week. Welcome back to Canada. Bloody cold!