The winter of 2011-2012 in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma)

November 8, 2011 - Time to get busy...
November 9, 2011 - Transiting Beijing International Airport
November 10, 2011 - Back home in Bangkok
November 11, 2011 - Chiang Mai for the next 5 weeks
November 20, 2011 - Homesteading Chiang Mai style
November 22, 2011 - Quick trip to Pai
November 23, 2011 - Back to our Chiang Mai studio
November 29, 2011 - Visa run to Myanmar... Overnight in Mae Sai
November 30, 2011 - Back to Chiang Mai again...
December 18, 2011 - Chiang Mai to Bangkok to Krabi
December 20, 2011 - Chillin' out back on Siboya... Ahhh!
December 31, 2011 - Out with the old... Happy New Year!
January 16, 2012 - Time is a flyin'...
January 24, 2012 - Love Laos!
January 26, 2012 - Vientiane, Great hotels and great restaurants.
January 28, 2012 - SOooo glad to be back in LP!
February 13, 2012 - One night in Bangkok.
February 14, 2012 - Just landed in Yangon (Rangoon)
February 18, 2012 - On the road to Mandalay
February 22, 2012 - 25 minute flight to Bagan
February 26, 2012 - Heho, Heho it's off to Inle we go...
February 29, 2012 - Back to Yangon to Bangkok to Victoria

View Full Size Inter-Active Travel Map at

November 8, 2011 - Time to get busy...

The list has been checked and rechecked... our bags are packed and I think we're both just hovering around the 20Kg zone for our checked bag. I know that sounds like a lot, but hey we are going for 4 months and we do like some of our creature comforts.

Victoria has turned cold enough to make heading off to SE Asia easy. As usual the next few days are going to be long and tiring. This year we are flying Victoria, Beijing, Bangkok. The total time door to door (from our place to the Thong Ta Hotel) will be very close to 25 hours. This our first trip with China Airlines... we'll see how that goes. The price was right, hope we get more than we paid for.!

At latest check, the flooding downtown Bangkok still hasn't peaked. That should happen in the next two or three days. In the short term we will not be affected as we are just staying over night just outside the airport. (still dry) Next day we fly to Chiang Mai to stay for 5 weeks. I think we will dodge the bullet!

November 9, 2011 - Transiting Beijing International Airport

While at the Beijing airport we checked out the transit hotel for the return trip (we have a 9 hr. layover). Shockingly it's CA$30/hr. for a double withOUT shower or toilet. (Their web address is can you say Lost in Translation? :-) We'll just have build it into the cost of doing business.

November 10, 2011 - Back home in Bangkok

It was 28.5 hrs door to door. Just a little burned! Our China Airlines flight... was very basic... our seats had broken video... we got what we paid for.

Interesting... the Vancouver to Beijing leg was 80% Indo-Canadian seniors en-route to Delhi.

Lucky for us (and all the Thais living here) Suvarnabhumi Airport and the Thong Ta Hotel are still high and dry. That may or may not last. Merchants all around the hotel are sand-bagging. Tomorrow we are flying north to Chiang Mai.

It is SO great to be back in The Land of Smiles

We're over-nighting at the Thong Ta Hotel and flying up to Chiang Mai tomorrow.

November 11, 2011 - Chiang Mai for the next 5 weeks

Being jet lagged and exhausted was no excuse to miss the Loi Krathong (locally Yi Peng) festivities the night we landed in Chiang Mai. The parade route from Tha Phae Gate east to the Nawarat Bridge bridge was lined with throngs of Thais and farangs. The floats are all part of the competition for the King's Cup (this year transvestites were included, gorgeous makeup, tall and slender). The Iron Bridge is the main spot where everyone lights (sets fire to) their Khom Fai (paper lanterns) and loft them high in the sky, sending this year's bad luck and problems soaring away. This year's estimates came in at over 100,000 (yes that's correct) lanterns launched skyward. This would never be allowed in North America or Europe... far too great of a fire hazard. Next morning was evidence of thousands of dead lanterns having exhausted their flames and floated back down to terra firma.

We saw flaming lanterns caught up in trees, stuck on electric lines and landing on roofs!!! Yikes... What a fire hazard. The Thais just grinned while we were aghast! What a crazy time but oh so much fun. We launched our lantern with the help of a young monk in front of a gorgeous Wat (temple). I wished for world peace... don't laugh. The fireworks never stopped till dawn for several nights. This year with so many deaths (over 500) and the flooding it goes without saying that all the prayers were heartfelt. On top of it all this tragedy the king (who has been in the hospital for 2 years now) lost consciousness yesterday. They say he is so worried for his people.

We have spoken to many Thais from Bangkok whose homes are chest high in water and have been for weeks. When we flew over Bangkok it was tragic and we felt so sorry. Everywhere else in Thailand it's dry so tourists need to come to help the economy (stay at a hotel near the airport then travel north or south).

Apart from venerating the Buddha with light (the candle on the raft), the act of floating away the candle raft is symbolic of letting go of all one's grudges and anger, so that one can start life afresh on a better foot. People will also cut their fingernails and hair and add them to the raft as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of oneself. Many Thais believe that floating a raft will bring good luck, and they do it to honor and thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha.

Loi literally means 'to float,' while krathong refers to the lotus-shaped receptacle which can float on the water. Originally, the krathong was made of banana leaves or the layers of the trunk of a banana tree or a spider lily plant. A krathong contains food, betel nuts, flowers, joss sticks and candles. A low value coin is sometimes included as an offering to the river spirits (and often children swim out to grab a few coins for themselves).

In addition, there are fireworks and beauty contests. According to the writings of H.M. King Rama IV in 1863, the originally Brahmanical festival was adapted by Buddhists in Thailand as a ceremony to honour the original Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama.

Loi Krathong coincides with the Lanna (northern Thai) festival known as "Yi Peng". A multitude of Lanna-style sky lanterns are launched into the air where they resemble large flocks of giant fluorescent jellyfish gracefully floating by through the sky. Some of the lanterns have long trailing sparklers that sizzle for hundreds of feet. Spectacular!

Interestingly, we have found that all the tourists who usually come to Bangkok long term are now in lovely cool Chiang Mai. We have found a studio in the university area. This is the new trendy hip part of town (suits us, right?) outside of the Old City wall, so new adventures. Chiang Mai is a city of about only 160,000 people so it really is such a great walking city. The temperature in here in November is quite perfect... in the heat of the day it gets up to about 28 degrees, but the evenings are lovely and warm in the 24 region. Cooler night time temps make sleeping with the windows open very nice.

Bob and I dropped in at a favourite little Buddhist vegetarian restaurant for lunch yesterday, the bill was a whopping $2.20! You can catch a songtaew (song tay ow) which is a little red truck to almost anywhere in this city for about 20 baht or about $.70, great for Bob who is limited in walking. Well... time for a fresh, out of this world, mango and some coconut yoghurt for lunch. Mmm! maybe a cup of tea to finish.

Loi Kratong Video...

November 20, 2011 - Homesteading in Chiang Mai

We are ensconced in a studio apartment at the Baiyoke Ciao Hotel. It's a new area of Chiang Mai for us, Nimman Road and it's quite busy with students from nearby Chiang Mai University. CMU is reported to have 26,000 in enrolled. The area has a full compliment of restaurants and shops. It's quite amazing to see so many students with apparently deep pockets. All up and down the strip they sit and study. Everyone seems to have a laptop and a smart phone and be downing endless ice coffees. The abundance of restaurants is great. We've found some amazing veggy places, great Japanese and lot's of international cuisine too. All this on top of very good Thai food. Life's good.

Just happened by Wat Chedi Luang Lanna Festival on our way to have dinner with Byron. Surprises around every corner...
Short video...

November 22, 2011 - Quick trip to Pai

We rented a car and did a quick overnight road trip to Pai. Wow, what a road... 128Km and 674 turns... took us 3.5 hours in our little Mazda 2 rental. Visited the waterfall, had a great dinner at Na's Kitchen then walked around the night market, didn't need to buy any of the touristy stuff, but it was fun. Stayed at the very nice Luli Hotel. Next morning after our included breakfast we were off back towards Chiang Mai on some of the back roads then we took the same 674 turns from another point of view all the way back.

November 23, 2011 - Back to our Chiang Mai studio

This year the 5th Annual International Balloon Festival just happened to be in Chiang Mai. We made the effort to be on site at 6AM for the mass launch. Quite the spectacle in such close quarters. 40 minutes later and all 12 balloons assembled, lit and gone.

Balloon Festival Video...

We are discovering lots of great eateries just out our front door and down various lanes. The Khun Churn Vegetarian Restaurant… probably the top rated veggy specialist in town. It does the most awesome buffet lunch. Next would be The Punpun Organic Restaurant. It's a project attached to Wat Suan Dok aimed at supporting local organic farmers, farmer networks and propagating biodiversity.

November 29, 2011 - Visa run to Myanmar... Overnight in Mae Sai

Our 60 day Thai visa was going to run out on January 9th when we'd be in Siboya. From there it wouldn't be easy to go to a border crossing... the best solution was to do another road trip. This time to Mae Sai at the northern most point in Thailand where Hwy 1 crosses into Myanmar (Burma). It's quite a pleasant 4.5 hr. drive up through the country side. En route we passed through the once sleepy town of Chiang Ria. Sleepy no more. The area's population of 200k has now created a commercial corridor the entire 60Km to the border. Tesco Lotus and shops galore. As you reach the very end of the the road in Thailand you have a choice of crossing over or doing a U-turn. The pace of activity at this point is hectic. Porters from both sides seem to drift unchecked from no man's land in the center of the bridge to either end with goods piled high on every form of transport imaginable.

We had no choice but to turn back a try to park somewhere to do our visa run. Presto... a fellow on a Honda scooter holds up a sign in Thai then quickly spins it over to read Car Park 50 Baht. We nod, he says, follow me. A quick spin 500 M down a back alley and we were parked in front of someone's business. 10 minutes later we were on the bridge being stamped out of Thailand. Then it was just a mater of walking across the Friendship Bridge to be stamped into Myanmar. The interesting part is that on the Myanmar side it's all really "unofficial". You pay 500 Baht per person, they take your photo and you fill out a form. They stamp your pass port, put half of the form into it, put it in a box and hand you the other half of the form. This allows you an unofficial 14 days inside Myanmar with out your pass port. They will keep that safe for you back at the border. We said "No thanks, we're just here to renew our Thai visa." Stamp, stamp... and we walked back to the Thai side, stamp, stamp to activate the 2nd of our double entry 60 day visas and we're done. I don't know how far you are allowed to venture inland on this 14 day pass, but I understand that it is now possible to take your own vehicle into Myanmar. Times are a changin'.

We cruised the very busy market, Shiitake mushrooms were a popular item along with tons of bits and pieces that were obviously from China. We found a coffee shop with wifi and sat down to figured out where we were going to stay. Trip Advisor had a suggestion, but their website had no address and no phone number??? Google maps to the rescue. Plugged the Hotel name into the iPad and poof there was the location... maybe. Only 3 km away so off we go. It was spot on. A great place just as advised. Thank you technology.

The Mae Sai River Resort was our choice for dinner... a little restaurant hanging on the edge of the river overlooking Burma. No English menu and no English spoken until the cook peeked out. It was quite delightful.
Next day was a relaxing drive back to Chiang Mai.

November 30, 2011 - Back to Chiang Mai again...

We have taken out a fitness/pool membership at the Kantary Hills Resort. Wow... this is really something special. The pool is cool and the gym is great... big fluffy towels, a steam room and sauna. It's sooo nice that we have already reserved a fully seviced studio apartment here for a month next year (they were fully booked till March this season). It will probably spoil us for the rest of our travel adventures. Our apartment will have a nice little galley kitchen area just incase we feel like some home cookin'. Included is a extensive buffet breakfast. The hotel has a lounge/reading room serving pastries and coffee for residents (gratis). Imagine... we're planning a whole year ahead.

Our time here in Chiang Mai has been busy. Socializing with Byron (Bob's xBCBC manager) who has moved here to Thailand permanently. We rented a car a couple of times, up to Pai in the mountains for some fun and then a week later we were off to to Burma for a Visa run. Driving on the wrong side of the road and watching out for passing traffic that force 3 cars to travel the 2 lanes is highly exciting at times. Bob seems to survive it quite well whilst I am tensing up and saying things like Oh My God!!!!

December 5th was the King's birthday (84) he has been living in the hospital for 2 years... he is so frail. He felt his people needed to see him so he did a cavalcade past the Grand Palace. Imagine all the flooded areas, people are still chest deep after almost 2 months... yuck. Such hardship. Wonder if there will be any water borne diseases popping up. The water is starting to go but it will still be another month. Thai tourism is down by about 2 million visitors!

Everyday, almost like clockwork three or four of the Thai Airforce's fighter jet take off from Chiang Mai International, scrambling to the north. They must have a daily route to keep check on the border with Myanmar. As our apartment was directly in line with the flight path, the roar of the after burners was thunderous. Later in the day they would be back to refuel and blast off all over again. The low take off was great to watch. Our private little air show.

December 18, 2011 - Chiang Mai to Bangkok to Krabi

Chiang Mai to Bangkok was a quick Air Asia flight. As we approached Bangkok from the north there is still water as far as you can see. We had to endure a 6 hour layover at Bangkok Airport before our flight to Krabi so we hung out at "Subway" and played canasta.

Also we were finally successful at finding the employee cafe we had always seen from the domestic departure lounge... The Nad Jour. Just as we had thought, it was great very good Thai food and very good prices. Mmm. (At the Bangkok Airport, go out door number 3 on the 1st floor, turn right and walk to the end of the terminal... about 100M)

Two nights in Krabi at the City Hotel... May & Mark's for breakfast... hello Kitti... lunch at the Siboya Office... hello Sow... blitzed around, shopping for the necessities for our 5 weeks at Siboya Bungalows. Zoom zoom...

December 20, 2011 - Chillin' out back on Siboya!

Our arrival at Siboya Bungalows was greeted with smiles and hugs from all our friends that work there and wait on us and treat us like royalty. Moving into Holgar & Maiby's house again this year was like coming home. The place looked great. Christmas and the famous feast is only 5 days away so plans were in high gear. Chung was stressed as usual. " many people shall I plan for... and what do they want to eat?"

Rachel & Kris and Jodi & Chris arrived as planned. Nice to see them here enjoying Siboya.

Our Christmas was so much fun with an over the top buffet. Our tree was fantastic. The feast seated just under 50 people. Of cousrse everyone over ate. And dancing under the palm trees was a huge success this year. Chung's vision for the decorations was spectacular.

December 31, 2011 - Out with the old... Happy New Year!

It's New Year's eve now and we are getting ready for yet another buffet and more dancing under the stars! Bob is in charge of the music. My nephew Kris and his partner Rachel were here for 4 days and now are off to Cambodia. Time for a swim... I'm back... great swim, saw a stingray.

Mr A and all the staff wanted to introduce a new feature... in the past they cooked and served and we partied. They wanted to be more involved, so everyone was to bring a wrapped gift in the 200Bt range. Mr A numbered them all, then after the feast we picked numbers and EVERYONE had a gift to open. Much fun and a great sucess.

January 16, 2012 - Time is a flyin'...

Time is just flying along we leave Siboya in a week (5 weeks here). The bicycle that I bought 6 years ago was getting pretty old and rusty and was really heavy so... off to Krabi town. I have a nice new aluminum bike in Robin's egg blue and white. Cost me about $200. Most mornings I circle the island with a stop in the village for STRONG Nescafe and sticky rice with coconut or mango. Janet (USA friend) has started the "Siboya Ladies Bicycle Club" every Thursday. She even has a little sign in Thai with that info hanging from the back of her bicycle seat. The locals love it.

This is the first year for The Siboya Ladies Bicycle Club. The next set of photos documents some of their activities as they depart at 7:00am en route to do a circle tour of Siboya. This trip was to Khlong Thok, the general store, the wharf, pet the kittens, noodle soup for breakfast, say Hi to Siboya's most famous fisherman and home again.

Just looked at Facebook and a lot of people are saying (at least Vancouver Islanders) that they have no power, I guess there is a wind storm!!???? The weather here is really perfect, 22 in the morning and early evening with about 28 degrees in the daytime. Loving it.!!! Quite different from southern Thailand with it's high temps and high humidity.

January 24, 2012 - Love Laos!

Mr A just sent a message on Facebook (Siboya Bungalows Facebook) where lots of photos are, by the way (including the Women's Siboya bicycle club). He wanted to say they missed CowboyBob and JellyJo, so I guess I have a new name (smiles).

We are happily back in Vientiane, Laos at the Khamvongsa Hotel once again enjoying the lap of luxury. This capital city is such a sleepy little town with no traffic, very walkable.

We arrived from Thailand by overnight train from Bangkok… the previous year we had taken a 2nd class sleeper and experienced a horrible cockroach convention (Jo didn't as she was in the upper bunk). We have taken many Thai trains over the years and this seemed unusual...this year we had a 1st class compartment. Jo was in an upper berth but poor Bob had cockroaches crawling around his head and feet… ugly!!! Bob finally poured some baby powder around his pillow, they didn't like that and left him alone. So… Thai trains never again, we will be flying next time.

We went directly from the train station the the Myanmar Embassy yesterday and they said it would be 3 days to process our visas. We asked if they could speed that up as we had a plane to catch, they said yes they could... if we bought 2 calendars ($10 ea) then we could pick up our visas the next day… today. Want a calendar?... they have lovely pictures of Myanmar beauties in sarongs and gold jewelry. We will leave them here in our room as they are huge, I guess someone at the embassy pocketed the $20… so goes the system.

If you ever get the chance watch Burma VJ (I got it from the library). It's truly an amazing VDO and the people who sacrificed their lives to film it and manage to get it out of the country are true heroes. Many are still in jail or dead. We are so lucky to live in a free country - Canada Rocks!!! I am so proud to be Canadian. Except for Harper, I hear he wants to annul the legislation for gays/lesbians who were married in Canada in the last few years if their home country doesn't allow it! Bastard!! Lets vote him off the island.

First night was dinner at the ever fantastic Taj Mahal. Wonderful cool evening.

January 26, 2012 - Vientiene, Great Hotels and Great Restaurants

I am just waiting for Bob to shower and then we are off to breakfast downstairs. We went out for lunch yesterday to a great soup kitchen (Vietnamese) called the Pho Dung (great name), unfortunately the t-shirts the staff were wearing were unavailable for sale.

Going to check out the NEW night market on the waterfront tonight for dinner which should be fun. The very first time we were here they had a night market (before the major construction along the river) which was great so we hope the same atmosphere is renewed.

The temperatures here are really wonderful, still need a jacket in the am and evening but 28 in the daytime. Going to look at silk hangings today... dangerous.

Just went to another little soup kitchen on the way home, lunch cost $4.00 for two (fresh noodle soup, bottomless ice tea and assorted vegges) BUT spent $1,000 on a silk wall hanging (YIKES). The silk hanging is all done by hand, and in our opinion is absolutely awesome. We are also helping to support the local weavers by purchasing their art.

LOVE the people here, they are so sincere... they were once part of the Khmer empire so a lot of the people understand Thai language. Good for us.

January 28, 2012 - SOooo glad to be back in LP!

This year we opted to fly from Vientiane to Luang Prabang… the VIP/mini bus trip varies between 11 hours at best to 14 hours on a bad day and the scenery is stunning… been there done that. The flight was 40 min for US$87.20… duh!

We are ensconced at the great Alounsavath Guesthouse on the banks of the Mekong. Pinch me, it's still as great as last year!

February 13, 2012 - One night in Bangkok

Even though our flight from Luang Prabang was listed as 1 hr 40 min, we were picked up at the hotel at 06:00 and didn't get to The Davis Bangkok until 13:30. Bangkok traffic around the the Sukhumvit area is horrendous. Very nice digs at the Davis… North American prices at the cafe. Lunch was Phad Thai Goong for 4, 1 beer… 1200Bt ($41)

We rearranged all our luggage, down sized as much as possible and left a bunch at the Davis.

February 14, 2012 - Just landed in Yangon (Rangoon)

Our planned excursion into Myanmar was tacked on to the end of this years Asian winter escape. We downsized the stay in Laos by a week which gave us about 16 days. We quickly discovered that if you have limited time then pre-booking everything was the only way. We managed to contact and book hotels in Mandalay and Bagan quite easily. But, with no credit cards accepted in Myanmar, all we really had were just emails that said "Yes, we confirm your booking." None of the airlines even responded to our overtures.

The 1hr 20min uneventful AirAsia flight from BKK to RGN was as cramped as usual. A local tout had snagged R&J by the time we got through the rubber-stamp centric immigration. Right away it seemed a little weird that a tout would have access to passengers right in the baggage area. He had a great deal for us… US$10 for the 4 of us to go into Yangon to our hotel. We we're only about half way in before… for some reason I though about where I had packed a particular item. Oh ya, it's in my carry-on roll bag. Wait… I didn't see that get loaded? The next 2 hours were spent back at the airport, hurriedly going back and forth from the AirAsia office to Customs baggage control. We had returned just a little to late to catch it before it was scooped as suspicious and put throughout the channels of red tape. It ended up in the "domestic" terminal Customs storage. VERY lucky for me that our tout/escort obviously had carte blanche to go anywhere in either terminal with me in tow. Happy ending, checked-in and dinner at The Parkroyal Hotel.

February 18, 2012 - On the road to Mandalay

Domestic airlines in Myanmar are scrambling to deal with the exponential increase in traffic from both business and tourism. They all seem to had very similar routing and either code share or outright cancel and give their ticketed passengers to someone else to maintain efficiency. Our flight with KBZ was turned over to Asian Wings. All the domestic airlines seem to have 2 or 3 French ATR70 or 72s. We stopped in Heho (Inlay Lake) en route to Mandalay.

February 22, 2012 - 25 min flight to Bagan

Bagan surprised me... I expected more of a city infrastructure, but when we drove the 10 km from the airport to The Kumudara Hotel in New Bagan it was along very basic sealed roads through and a very arid dusty landscape with scrub vegetation. Everywhere you turned your gaze Temples where in view. Virtualy as far as the eye could see.

February 26, 2012 - Heho, Heho, it's off to Inle Lake we go

Our early flight to Heho (Nyaungshwe/Inle Lake) was interesting. All of the 6 or 7 domestic airlines have flights leaving Bagan within a half hour. It's more like a busy bus terminal than an airport. At check-in there is no belt to take away your bags. They are given little elastic tags, loaded onto a cart beside you and rolled away. The security check is very rudimentary. All carry on bags go through the scanner including my bottle of water. Then as I point to my chest and say "pacemaker", they send me around behind the scanner operator who takes time out from watching the stream of bags still going through to give me a tersery pat down. On to the departure hall, noisy and bustling with throngs of tour bus clients seeming slightly confused. As the flights get ready to depart, someone walks around the hall with a placard held high announcing who can board now. Not unlike the bathing beauty walking around announcing "round 2" at fight night. The passengers then proceed out to the planes by foot. All this while some planes are landing and others taking off. Our flight was on the circle tour from Yangon-Bagan-Mandalay-Heho-Yangon. So when we were transiting Mandalay, we waited on the plane for 15 minutes. The flight attendant came by and asked us to please unbuckle our seat belts as the plane was being refuelled. Presumably this was incase of fire so we could run quickly. This is air travel in the wild's of Myanmar.

Transfer from Heho airport to Nyaungshwe was an hour drive in a quite nice Corolla station-wagon on the road which eventually takes you to Mae Sai, Thailand (if you kept on for 15 hours). The Princess Garden Hotel lived up to the feedback we had read and on which based our accommodation selection. Nyaungshwe is a little frontier town you could easily circumnavigate on foot in an hour. It lies at the north end of Inle Lake, the highlight of the area.

February 29, 2012 - Back to Yangon to Bangkok to Victoria

Went into Min Min's for lunch and to take photos for the website I am doing for him. (Update: I hear that Min Min is still there but have lost contact) En route we all four hopped into Myanmar's incarnation of a tri-shaw. I had to shoe-horn my ass in. Good thing we were only going for 5 minutes. Again, our flight was delayed 2.5 hours at Heho and then the flight back tracked to Mandalay before going south back to Yangon. So even flying took 7 hours door to door. The bus from Nyaunshwe to Yangon is supposed to only be about 10 hours.

Back to our cocoon at the Parkroyal Hotel. Last visit to the NLD (National League for Democracy)