2007 Trip: Getting ready, Hong Kong, Burma, Thailand, Phnom Penh (1) & Phnom Penh (2), Luang Prabang
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Jun 06, 2007 04:15 ( local time )
Back to Bangkok. Up at 0500, nice warm shower for a change (I found the hot water in our bathroom last night, but then, who really needs hot water in Burma - still, it was nice). Breakfast at 0600. Van to airport with one of the few American travelers we've met. No problem with security. One hour flight to BK.
By the time we got to a taxi it was after 1pm - proving, once again, that a day with travel is nearly always a day of travel. Ride to the house where we are staying took about 45 minutes. Young man opens a big rolling gate and we walk across a parking area to an old small, thick gate overhung with flowering vines set into a white masonry wall. Photo @ left. There is a laterite wall between the gate and the house. Past the wall there is a reflecting pool with lotuses growing (and not your average garden lotuses, either) and then a contemporary 3 story white house.
Into the foyer through massive old wood doors – old table in the center, large (~10’high) old cabinets on each side of the next door and between them and the door are a pair of old metal Dong Son or “rain drums.” Through another doorway into a courtyard with a fountain in the center, several pots with large orchids growing, and a servant offering cold water. On the other side of the fountain are open sitting and dining areas, with beautiful antiques everywhere. Beyond that is a swimming pool (that we later learn is salt water) and past that, beautifully landscaped grounds. Up the stairs (3 flights as the first floor is 2 stories high) and onto a balcony running above/around the courtyard and into the room where we’ll stay for the next 3 days. Our room is furnished with (what else) beautiful antiques – mostly Chinese, and some English. Everything is of the most exquisite wood. There is a sitting room 1 door away with one of the many old Chinese settees or daybeds (also several “opium beds”) in the house. If we had a 1000 times more money this is a lot like a home we would have. Photo below: our room (well, the room where we stayed - Thank you, Harry!)
After we shower and settle in we meet Harry, the man who owns the home, with his partner, Brook. Cocktails at 7 (juice for me, please) and Leslie and I take off for dinner – pad Thai and shrimp with garlic and chilis. Good, but expensive (~$12USD).
Needless to say, the aircon works very well – a needed break after the heat of Burma. Breakfast is continental, with cereal, fruit (grrreat mango), toast, coffee, etc.
The Bangkok Post today has an article about a woman living in Malaysia, a country the paper calls a “moderate Muslim” country. The woman lost a 5 year battle to have the religion on her ID card changed from Muslim to Christian. She converted 17 years ago according to the article. The Malaysia Supreme Court Chief “Justice” (Justice – what a crock that title is) was quoted in his ruling as writing, “You cannot, at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another.” The issue for that vile old cracker is “apostasy.” The paper said “apostates” undergo “counseling and, ultimately, fining or jailing them if they do not desist.” There’s “moderate Muslim” (the religion of peace) for you.
We took the “skytrain” – a great new (to us) addition to Bangkok – to the Central Department Store Mall to walk around in the aircon cleanliness and sample this and that great thing in the food court (more on food courts later – they ain’t your American food court variety, that’s for sure). We had a pork variety of laab (chopped meat with lime juice, chilis, onion, and so on – actually, I can make it better than this, but it was still good), rice, prik nam pla. We brought home some sticky rice with mango and coconut milk + some bread and cheese. Photo: DK & CK at airport, listening to iPod (in one ear and in the other)
We got back just a few minutes after David arrived from Amsterdam. Joyful day! He looks wonderful and seems very well – if a little tired. We had lunch with David, Harry and Brook, catching up. After lunch we went to our room to talk and be together. We’ve been a half a world away since December – a long time for our close little family.
David is well, except for having a cough. His trip to Europe with his friend Brandy was very good: Amsterdam, Madrid, Rome, London, Paris, Amsterdam. They stayed either in hostels or with friends. In contradistinction to David’s previous travels, they went to many museums, galleries, etc. David and Brandy will rejoin in Cambodia in July and finally, in August, will come home together.
Going back to Cambodia this time will be bittersweet for David. He has chosen to live in a Cambodian vs. expat neighborhood and being in Cambodia has not been the easiest of times for him. But he has persevered and done well. The first time I was at the market 1.5 blocks from David’s apartment there was a man lying face down in the mud. He was alive. I have no idea why he was lying there like that, but there he was. It felt like India in the 1970s. There was a man whose face had been burned off and what was left was an awful red, oozing mask of horror. I remember wondering if he had been handsome before. There were women begging, each one carrying a wispy-haired baby and trailed by children with the red hair of malnutrition. But now I see that there is a lot good about David’s neighborhood too – some nice homes, some people who have been nice to David, some people who have been extraordinarily nice to him, a great market close by (and a not so great market a half block away.
It is good to be with our son and I am glad we’re going back to Cambodia together. Photo left: looking across the atrium; Photo right: the (salt water) pool
Side comments: (1) In a few hours in Bangkok we’ve seen many more westerners than in 10 days in Burma. I recall several discussions on a backpacker message board re westerners speaking to one another in passing. Several posters were like, superior to speaking (I have no idea why) and here in Thailand, overrun with westerners, they do not often speak to one another – maybe it’s about being too cool – (I’ve been here for 2 weeks or 3 months or whatever). In Burma, everyone speaks. (2) In my opinion, people who think there is no difference between tourists and travelers probably have not traveled in Burma – it is not a tourist place!
Part of the time the windows and door to our room are open for the breeze to cross the bed and Chinese day bed.
About those food courts. You used too be able to get a plate of rice and 2 curries for 20-25 baht (when $1USD = 20-22B) at places along the street. Now the same thing is available at numerous food courts in department stores except that there is a much wider variety of food, there is aircon, and it’s cleaner. Back when at our favorite place in Chiang Mai it was easy to spot rodents running along the walls and I remember once while we were eating a dog was vomiting on the sidewalk. A plate of rice with 2 curries or 1 curry and a bowl of tom kha now costs ~50 B (33.5 B/$1USD). For dinner our last night David and I got full bento boxes (I told you the variety is wide), one with salmon, rice, sushi, and sides; the other with shrimp tempura, rice, sushi, and sides – each for 150B. Bud, it’s an extravaganza alright. The major issues are what to have now and when will be able to eat again. I still haven’t beaten 1st Chinese BBQ – but I have matched it,
Our time in BK has been good. Being with David again is a great blessing. My family of origin was not close, so this especially sweet for me. Photo: dining area
Neither of us has ever lived in such luxury. There is almost nothing new and the antiques are incomparable. Almost everything is paired, except for the numerous Persian, etc. carpets and the day beds and opium beds. There are also several hill tribe baskets of first quality in every room. In our room alone there are 3 Chinese tables, 2 English tables, 3 Chinese chests of varying sizes, a day bed, a sleeping bed, a Chinese thing to set shoes etc. by the door, and 5 or 6 excellent quality rugs. Our bathroom here is bigger than our guesthouse room and bath in Hong Kong. We have not seen a TV nor heard a radio in this house either.
Even with windows closed, though, we can hear the singing of the call to prayer at the mosque a few blocks away. Fortunately, their sound system is good, if way to loud. If I lived here I think I might be playing some Nine Inch Nails classics at top volume in response.
I’ve read a great book while in BK: River of Time by Jon Swain, one of the last westerners to get out of Phnom Penh in 1975. You may recall early in the movie, The Killing Fields, that Dith Pran, Sydney Schanfield, and two other men were captured by the Khmer Rouge and kept in an APC. Swain was one of those men. He wrote in this book,
“Whole generations of westerners who went out there as soldiers, doctors, planters, or journalists … lost their hearts to these lands of the Mekong … there are places that take over a man’s soul.” Photo: a random room upstairs
Chiang Mai - lazy days (at end of trip)
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Jul 05, 2007 04:22 ( local time )
Made it from Phnom Penh to Bangkok to Chiang Mai - arriving about 3pm. Taxi to Roong Ruang Hotel where we had stayed before. Airport "taxi meter" is a rip-off - 122 baht for what should be ~60 baht. Best to walk out to airport entrance and catch tuk-tuk there. Anyway, we checked in to Roong Ruang - the room a little grotty. David pointed out that when he and I stayed there before we had spent the previous night at the grottier Midtown GH ($5 double), so the RR seemed great at the time. We had a look at a new hotel (Lanna Hotel) across the street and decided to move there the next day. Dinner at a place that serves Italian, Mexican, and other Western foods – and David showing how much he’s missing Western fare after 10 months in Cambodia. He had a bacon avocado cheeseburger and immediately made plans to come back the next day for a salad. We talked of bookstores, coffee houses, spending time with friends, things of home. Photo: Food court Chiang Mai moments before the guard said "No picture!"
Comfortable night at RR and in the morning breakfast at Thai place where David and I ate several times in 2005 – scrambled eggs, toast, and Nescafe style coffee for 40 baht (about $1.20).
Moved hotels, rested, took songthaew (pick-up truck taxi) to a mall to get some things for Leslie (I left some essentials in our left luggage in BK airport). There was a small, okay food court near where we went in. Then, after walking around we found an amazing food court (amazing to me, not to Leslie). We got tom yum from two different places and in both cases it was nothing like what we expected. Mine was 35 baht (~$1USD) and had ground pork, sliced chicken, shrimp, fish balls, noodles, and all kinds of other good things, put together by a meticulous woman – don’t you just love it when people take pride and care in what they do. Dave and I each got a box of sticky rice with mango (yet another obsession) for 35 baht/box – best price and best taste so far. I got another box on the way out. The sticky rice and mango was right across from the man selling “cricket little” – fried little crickets (actually, I think they were roaches), fried silk worms, and other delicacies (for someone else).
Dinner at same place as before, the Art Café – salad, pizza – alright. Tomorrow, I take an all-day cooking course.
We’ve ended up on the same street and same block as before. Good Thai restaurant (Phon Non), Art Café, JJ’s (java and juice), a bar open to the street with a pretty good band playing that old-time rock & roll, Eco-Tour, pizza place, 20 baht pad Thai street place, roti from a street cart for 10-20 baht.
Sign at entrance to the Supreme Guest House down one of the nearby sois: “No entry for drugdealers, missionaries, and pedophiles!”
Songthaew with sign on the side that says “Monkey School” – alright!
Cooking class: took songthaew to a house outside of town. Class was on a covered patio behind the house. There were 10 Australians, Brits, and Irish; and 1 Korean, and 1 Texan. The Australians, etc. talked incessantly and (mostly) unintelligibly about soccer. We each had a place to chop vegetables, etc, and a gas burner for wok and pan.
(While I’m writing this into my little notebook I carry everywhere, I’m listening to the Ipod (Hotel California again) and flashing on Sophea and I rockin’ with our air guitars at David’s great birthday party – what a fine time.)
I made or learned how to make pad Thai, panang, red & green curry, tom kha, tom yum, chicken with cashews, drunken noodles, papaya salad, and the crown of it all, sticky rice with mango. Most of these things I’ve made in the past, but in every case in this class, I learned something of value. Photo: CK cooking
Back to the hotel for a rest, then walk down the street for some 20 baht pad Thai and 15 baht roti (with banana and sweet milk) on the sidewalk. This pad Thai place was where David and I had eaten several times before and I remembered it as the best pad Thai we’d had – but questioned my memory until we had it again: it is the best.
Leslie on the phone to Cathay Pacific to change the time of our flight. When she told the agent what seats we want, he said, “Oh my God, madam!” “What?” “Those seats are not available.” “Oh.” Photo: Chiang Mai market
Leslie stopped in at a silver shop on Tha Phae Road to ask where she might find gold earrings similar to the ones in the shop. David and I had a good laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Oops, joke’s on us. Leslie got the name of a market where there are some gold stores, and directions, and the name of the market written in Thai. So today we walked to the Warojrot Market, which turned out to be a good market with all kinds of shops and stalls – food, gold, clothes, house wares, everyday things – and on one the streets leading to the market, plenty of quality hill tribe things. In the former times good hill tribe things could be found at the Chiang Mai night market, but now the night market is totally tourist-oriented with vast amounts of tribal copy things sold by person after person – same same, but not different. I bought a knife for fruit carving, a mesh bag for steaming sticky rice (WooHoo!), and some other everyday things. A man in the market went waay out of his way to help me find the mesh bag. Thank you.
Lunch: tom kha, pat si euw, and chicken with basil. Dinner pad Thai again and roti again.
Happy 4th of July. Leslie was reviewing a few of our freedoms – really a lot – from freedom to criticize our leaders to freedom to have healthy babies to freedom to go to school free. Here’s to the men and women fighting for the U.S.
Tomorrow we're headed to Laos - Luang Prabang - so it may be a few days before the next post. David is supposed to rendevous with his friends, Ben and Magera, who will be coming off a 36 hour bus ride - Hanoi to LP. I'm sure they'll be in good shape.
Only those who’ve ridden Bangkok’s Sky Train will have a chance at a clue what this is about (actually, nobody will get it - this is for you, Leslie): “Chitlom – Nana”
Stopover in Bangkok
Between Chiang Mai and Hong Kong Photo below: fish for sale, dried, fragrant
A month ago someone we know was cheated out of several hundred baht by the official Bangkok taxi stand (or what appears to be official or at least the airport franchise) for a 220 baht taxi ride to Sukhumvit Road. They cheated him by telling him the standard fare was 400 baht + airport fee + toll road, so we were on alert when we got to "Taxi Meter" at BK airport. They tried to scam us and Leslie caught them out. They wanted to charge us for two taxis (which they planned on us discovering only after we arrived at our destination) because we were three people with 6 bags. When Leslie tried to question the dispatch guy about what they were planning for us he would babble nonsense at her and then say, "Okay?" – as if he spoke just a few words of English - oh sure. She would say, "No, what are you saying?" The guy would gesture incredulously at our bags like they would make the taxi more expensive to operate or something. I would say, "No, no problem - Do I look like I just fell off the turnip truck?" Of course he didn't know the exact meaning of my words; but he did understand that I wasn't buying his theatrics. Then the guy walked away from us (oh, they are sooo friendly in the LOS), so I stood right between the two sitting down dispatch guys at their table - impossible to ignore - saying, "What's the plan? What's the plan? Three people, one taxi." Oh gosh, hope I wasn't being, you know, culturally offensive by standing too close to the lying cheaters. Finally we got what we wanted. Of course we spent another 70 baht for the toll road (more about that in a minute) and a 50 baht airport theft - excuse me, airport fee.
The toll road is necessary or maybe not. The next day when we left we caught a taxi from Sukhumvit back to the airport. The taxi driver missed the turn and gestured apologetically to let us know he missed it. I said, "No problem, mai pen rai." In the end we got back to the airport in about an hour - same, same and the same as it took to get from the airport - except it cost 176 baht (we gave him 200). Photo: some to-go snacks
Back to the arrival in BK. We stayed with Jean Francois, a friend of a friend. Gracious host, very nice apartment, excellent aircon.
We went to dinner at the all-time great food court downstairs at Siam Paragon Center. We all got the rice with two things for 50 baht. My two things were tom kha and red curry. But the man behind the counter said, "Sorry, out of red curry." I said, "Okay, what's that?" pointing at a platter of what turned out to be pork (fatback, as we say in Texas) with chili and red curry paste. Then the man gave me a bowl of the last of the red curry gravy with just a little meat (I would rather have the gravy than the meat, anyway). So I ended up with rice and three things + cukes and prik nam pla for 50 baht ($1.50USD!!!). It was our last night in BK (maybe ever), so I dashed over to the grocery store and got 100 gm "Chiang Mai sausage." What a feast! They wanted 100 baht for sticky rice with mango. We'd been paying 20-40 baht, so didn't get any, which was fine because we were really full.
Here's a good thing about the crappiest airport I've ever been in (shoddy construction; poor security; institutionalized thievery; incredible waits at security; hot, crappy departure area - and if you're early, an even worse waiting area; incomprehensible signage, and a design based on making you walk past endless shops selling luxury garbage, lower-class "luxury items than, say Hong Kong airport - Bangkok is what you get with hog-wild corruption). But here's the good part: a floor below departure area there are some restaurants and at the end of the row, there is a mini-food court called the Miracle Court. They have okay (as good as anything else in the airport) rice with pork and chillis and a cold fried egg on top (you have to be an Asia traveler to appreciate the cold fried egg part) and all the prik nam pla, etc. you can eat for 30 baht. AND, you can get decent sticky rice with mango for 50 baht. There is other stuff, too, like passable espresso and Americano for 30 baht - so I had sticky rice and mango for breakfast - happy me.
Onward to Hong Kong and then LAX