Thailand


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Hong Kong to Bangkok

This is day 6 (5/24/2005) & we made it from HK to Bangkok.

Earlier today in Hong Kong I felt a sense of anticipation & deepening into Asia. Difficult to describe - very very good. Trip unfolding, into the mystic.

Bangkok: Immigration painless. At last, I was not a "selectee" as the Homeland Security guy called me in Houston (what a fool - really logical to shake down a 60 year old college faculty member - so many of us are terrorists, right). Took A2 AC bus to Khao San Road for 100 baht each ($2.50 USD). Left Jeff in a restaurant & David & I went of looking for a room. Found decent place (Merry V on Soi Buttri a block from KSR) with 3 beds, AC, & bathroom en suite for 600 Baht (about $15.50 US). It is not really very hot - today, anyway. KSR is full of backpackers - way more than in HK - just solid with mostly young Westerners & fair number of Asian travelers as well. Prawns & rice for about 90 Baht - a little more than $2 US. Jeff had satay and David paid 20 Baht for pad Thai. We're going to eat very very well! Photo: Some of that 20 baht pat Thai

Khao San Road

You encounter all sorts of people traveling:
- Two
 Israelis - young men from Negev Desert, long hair, "leftists" - had several very enjoyable conversations in Mirador Mansion. Very gentle men. Thanks, ya'll. God bless you, the People Israel, & the Nation Israel.

- 72 year old Indian man, tailor, very fit & just generally happy in Mirador. 40 years in HK.
- Valuables Boy - odd fellow we saw all over the place in HK. First time we saw him he was trying to leave his "valuables" with woman at desk at Cosmic Guesthouse. She didn't understand & he kept saying the same thing over & over & waving his bag at her: "My valuables. My valuables." Finally she understood & said "You keep."
- Young woman at bus stop to H airport asked for change for a $100 HK. We had $33 each & said we would give her that & just give the driver a $100. Then she wanted the dollar difference - "You only gave me $99." I gave her another dollar ($.0775 US) which mean

t we lost the dollar difference. That $.075 cost her any help with her very big bags. Once on the bus, a man helped her when one of her bags fell over & she never thanked him. Difficult life ahead, I think.
- A couple let me up in line at immigration so I could go through with David & Jeff in Bangkok Airport - it's the little things ... Photo: Wat near KSR

Kao Sanh Road area is different from where Leslie & I have stayed before. There are about as many backpackers here as there are Thais. Many Europeans. We are saying beside a wat on Soi Buttri & our street is much much quieter & actually a little cooler than others I've been on. Probably because the street is narrow, next to an utterly quiet wat, and has a lot of shade from trees on the wat grounds. People have a lot negative to say about KSR, but as far as I'm concerned, it's great. KSR area is "not really Bangkok" - but nevermind that. It really is cooler & quieter. Food in restaurants not great around KSR, but street food @ KSR is very good, like satay for 5 baht (39.8 baht/dollar), pad Thai for 20 baht, or mango shake (like a smoothie for 20 baht). Photo: The Shake Man at work.

I may join the crowd & get some dreadlocks braided into

my hair. Ha-Ha Leslie, just kidding. Probably also won't get a tattoo in a van parked on the street, but I could, I guess.

Got out into what I suppose is "the real Bangkok" earlier today, scouting out a place known for students hanging out for David to hang out at - alas, it was closed as is the nearby university, but we did find a couple of what looked like good restaurants. Went back this evening & had a Thai feast: papaya salad, chicken curry, pork with garlic & pepper, & grilled beef salad (+ rice, orange juice, tea, & Pepsi) - altogether 400 baht (~$10 US).

The "real Bangkok" has savage traffic & unimaginable pollution. Very unpleasant - at least on the street.

I was thinking yesterday, I am very interested in people's souls - not so much their eternal souls, but whatever that spark is that defines them & gives them joy. I love to see people sparkling & am saddened to see a dim or even no light. I'm looking all the time. Sitting in a bus in deadlocked traffic & looking into the next bus & seeing people engaged with one another, laughing, connected, & I'm happy. Really, it doesn't get too much better than that.

Tomorrow planning to

make it to Wat Po & maybe to a department store. Photo: Wat Chana Songkhram - our guesthouse is next door

One or two days after that, we're off to Cambodia. We had originally planned to go to Vietnam first, but David wants to get to Cambodia. This may mean we'll be in monsoon in VN, but I've been through two monsoons before, so no big deal - actually, I like monsoon. It's a little uncomfortable because you're always wet & we'll get some fungus action going, but nevermind, I have plenty of clotrimazole.

Life in KSR area

Another little lesson today. It came to nothing, really, except to remind me to pay attention all the time. About 1100 we caught the bus to Siam Square. 30+ minutes into the trip I remembered we had not paid for our room for today (due at 1200). Travelpod is a family-oriented site, so I'll say this in a family-oriented way - I was irritated, to say the least, because no question about it, I had to go back to the guesthouse to pay. Maybe it would be okay to wait, but maybe not. Jeff said, well let's all go back together, but my irritation extended to David & Jeff for leaving it up to me to take care of all the business like the room, finding best way to get from one place or another, etc. so I said, never mind & jumped off the bus. Yes, Leslie, I do get the irony of this!!!

So, back I went for a total of 1 hour 15 minutes of breathing heavy particulate matter through the window of the unairconditioned bus & no Siam Square for me. A small price to pay for a remind

er to pay attention.

Right now it's mid afternoon of this hot day, but I'm cooled out & sitting in the guesthouse restaurant having coffee. All the GH restaurants open on to the street, so I'm watching the show (Photo below) go past on the street:
- Many Thais going about their business.
- Many Western, some Asian, & few Latin travelers - most in mid 20s to mid 30s. David on the young side & I'm on the old side, though some young & some old. More longhairs than Austin in 60s or 70s - dreadlocks & tattoos the fashion around here.
- Vendors pushing, peddling, driving, carrying their wares: satay @ 5 baht a stick, grilled bananas, brooms (brooms? yes, brooms), bumper stickers & patches, clothes, honey, fruit (rambutan, papaya, pineapple, banana, & mystery fruits).
- Tuk-tuks, taxis, motorcycles (1-4 people riding), pickups, bicycles ...
- Cats & dogs.

Here comes one of the casualties, a farang wearing the same dirty shorts he was wearing the day we got here - about as dirty as his body - serious infection going on his foot - saw him yesterday sleeping on the sidewalk. Today he has a beer, so I guess things are looking up (so to say) today. Photo: David at Mr. Yim's, a recommended place, especially for breakfast.

Actually I've seen a fair # o

f people with foot injuries - just part of the price to pay for wearing sandals in the developing world. It's shoes for me - my feet are neither hot nor cool - but no mosquito bites & no infection. What a cautious old fart I am. Like Uncle Leo said, "I'm an old man!"

So this is the KSR area life, except coffee drinkers in distinct minority & beer & Thai whiskey drinkers the major majority.

Yesterday & day before many many people coming in from full moon party, looking pretty ragged out (it's a lot of party). 10,000 - 20,000 people on the beach Ko Phangan for an all night party/rave under the full moon. Alas, I really am too old.

I'm truly ready to move on to Cambodia, but David satisfied to be here - Probably leave Sunday.

Patpong

Our last day in Bangkok for this leg, anyway. Tomorrow around 0600 we will catch a cab to northern Bangkok bus station & bus to Aranyaprathet and then cross border into Cambodia. Leslie and I were in Aran years ago when we were at Kao-I-Dang refugee camp.

Last night David and I went to Patpong, a pretty wild area of Bangkok. We walked around for awhile looking for a club he wanted to go to & when we found a club he had heard about we walked around the corner to an internet cafe where I was to wait for him. Seemed prudent to be very close as the area really is rocking and rolling. Patpong reminded me of Olongapo in the Philippines, except not near as violent - everything else the same, though. The bars are all open to the street and some spill out into the street. Photo: Inside a tuk-tuk.

I stayed in the internet place for awhile, but the fact is, I really do not want to know the latest news about car bombs and what have you. So I went back outside and sat on the curb for several hours watching the show - and what a show it was. The best part for me was watching a man about my age in the street bar across from me singing karaoke -"Welcome to the Hotel California" and dancing in the street until he was soa

ked with sweat ("How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat. Some dance to remember, some dance to forget. Last thing I remember, I was headed for the door. I had to find the passage back, to the place I was before. 'Relax,' said the nightman, 'we are programmed to receive. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.'") from his head to his thighs. After the bars closed at 0100, I applauded him as he walked past. He didn't know what to think, but was willing to find out, so we talked for a good while. He told me his "secret" is that he does not drink or smoke. He has amazing stamina - I was thinking maybe he was on meth, but no, he was completely straight. He would probably be surprised to know he was a high point for me. People in that area are all about getting something and like this man, several people responded very nicely when they realized I really was not looking for anything.

The manager of a bar next to where I was sitting on the curb told me I had to move on because they were going to put the trash where I was. Then he gave me the chair to sit in in front of the bar. Awhile later, one of the girls there offered me a cigarette and we talked a little about my son - I guess they don't get too many people there waiting for their sons. So for me, it was actually a pretty nice experience. I especially enjoyed the dancing guy.

Got back to guesthouse about 0230 or 0300. Slept in. No doubt about it, my rock & roll days (even just as a sober observer) are over.

For dinner this evening, ate all street food: pad Thai for 20 baht + pork satay (5 baht/stick) and a couple of spring rolls (10 baht each). Great food (all for less than one USD), except we also had some other chicken satay which was pretty much all fat. Photo: Food kind of on the street

Here we go, into Cambodia.

At this point we headed to Cambodia, Vietnam, and back to Cambodia. The narrative below picks up on return to Thailand

We are in Chiang Mai now. Flew to Bangkok from Phnom Penh via Bangkok Air and went straight to booking office and got a flight on Thai Intl an hour and a half from then. I was surprised that Bangkok Air has better facilities and better food than Thai Intl. These were our first flights within SE Asia for SE Asia destinations and I realize now that we did well to use air toward the end of the trip vs. the beginning. I cannot say that we're doing hard traveling, but still, I'm a little tired. We seem to be a little drained after Cambodia - Vietnam - Cambodia.

Our last stay in Phnom Penh included a visit with David's birth father, Chheng Nuon. That was, how can I say, challenging for all of us and as almost always before, a good visit. Chheng is a missionary in a semi-rural area about an hour from Phnom Penh. He is going for the vision as hard as he can and is accomplishing great things. Truly a hope-bringer. He reminds me of the Apostle Paul. It was a good visit and I was happy to see my old friends, An and Ieng whom Leslie and I met in an apartment on Cambodian New Year, 1982. It gives me joy for David to have these good contacts. See photos of area around Chheng's home previous entry. Photo: Our hotel in Chiang Mai (not the $5 one)

So anyway, we stayed the first night in Chian

g Mai in the Midtown GH, a true budget backpacker place - no AC, no towels, no bidet, no toilet paper (but $5 USD for small twin room with fan). But like Uncle Leo said (put a quaver into my voice), "I'm an old man, I need my facilities." We moved to the Roong Ruang Hotel, where large twin with AC (the best since the Merry V in BK), towels, bidet and toilet paper, fan, chairs, very nice porch, and quiet is $12 USD. We're right outside the moat/old city walls in an area with tons of restaurants, coffee shops, and travelers.

To me, one of the best things about SE Asia now compared to last visit 20 years ago is the backpacker areas like Khao San Road, Pham Ngu Lao in Saigon, pretty much all of Hoi An, and this part of Chiang Mai. These areas have everything: good restaurants ranging from all Thai, Viet, etc. customers to all travelers, internet access on almost every block, mango shakes usually in $.50 USD range, easy transpo - everything you need. Photo above: Soi (side street) in Chiang Mai - not an unusual soi

The worst part now compared to then? No worst part. Only slightly more expensive, more places to go - it's all good. One picks up on a little anti-Americanism from a very few travelers (usually drinking), but overall, these young people are nice to be around.

A conversation in Hue: A young Vietnamese woman and I

were talking about this and that (like school, what she hoped for, etc.). I asked her if she would like to go to America. That Vietnamese politeness slipped away just for a moment and she looked at me as if I were demented and said, "Of course. Why do you ask?" I said I was just interested (the real reason why) and asked her what she would do if there if she were to go. She said, maybe go to school, go to movies, go shopping, get a job. Later I thought it likely that maybe it was unkind of me to ask because maybe, just for a moment, the impossible seemed possible. America! The favorite target of religious fanatics and the privileged (semi)intelligencia - just as we were the favorite target of communists worldwide (or at this point, their tattered remnants) - and the GREAT HOPE of the rest of the world.

I'm reading David Chandler's biography of Pol Pot, Brother Number One. It is eerie and unsettling. Chandler summarizes modern Cambodian history 1940s through Pol Pot/Khmer Rouge era and afterward and gives a detailed account (as much as that is possible) of Pol Pot's life and . I get a sense of the purposefullness and resolve of the international communist movement in general and the Cambodian communists in particular. Clearly communism (totalitarianism) has been a massive failure with millions upon countless millions killed and hideous economic disasters. Yet for awhile they succeeded in most of their goals. Making a leap from communism/totalitarianism to Islamism with its cadres of dedicated revolutionaries, I see clearly for the first time (what I think is) the genesis of neocon passion and resolve to combat these dark forces. Whew, pretty big leap! Photo: One of many beautiful yard/gardens in Chiang Mai

.

Food is a big part of the trip in Chiang Mai. Hey Alison, can you dig papaya salad (som) for $1 USD? Panang for $1.60 or tom kha (coconut chicken soup like Tom used to make at Thai Lanna) for $1.50! Also a lot of sweet coconut sticky rice with papaya around. Rotee with banana, chocolate, & sweetened condensed milk for $.50. Get up. Eat. Come back to hotel to shower. Read. Take a nap. Eat. Read. Take a nap. Walk around. Eat. Walk around. Internet. Read. Sleep. Get up ... Yeah, we're in kind of a non-action time here. Chiang Mai just the place for this - very laid back. My big activity today was walking around photographing gardens - cottage gardens , Thai-style (here is a link to my cottage garden). Photo: Why is that man photographing my walkway?

Looked at sign-in book at hotel people staying there were (that page) from: Japan, Australia, USA, New Zealand, France, Denmark, Hungary, Holland, Canada, and UK.

Today (Thursday) went to Thai-Burma border. I thought it would be a 2 hour drive, 3-4 hours in Burma, and 2 hours back. The drive on an AC minibus was 4 hours each way through the hills and mountains of northern Thailand/the golden triangle, so not a complete loss. For us Burma was basically just walking around a big border market full of all sorts of contraband. Had some samosas and fried spicy corn balls in the market. When Leslie and I went to Thai-Burma border years ago we rode a people's bus. When it was full they pulled the bottom parts of the seats over a foot or so toward the middle of the center of the bus thus creating more seating space and leaving the people at window seats half on and half off a seat.

Man on the bus today has lived in Chiang Mai for three years. From California, though he has a decided Brritish accent now (not unlike Cleeeburne), he says he just does not want to live in the US anymore because it has changed so much since 9/11. I guess he didn't notice that we went through three police checkpoints/shakedowns between the border and Chiang Rai. Of course we didn't get shook down because we were in the minivan and clearly all farang. Anyone in America been shook down lately (other than at the airport) - I didn't think so. I guess one man's police state is another man's easy-living paradisio. But I didn't point out the police action to him. Good boy, Chas. Photo: Spirit houses or Phi - there is one or more at almost every home or business in Thailand. Spirit houses are part of Phram, a spiritualist mix of Buddhism and Brahmanism

We're off to Bangkok tomorrow for a few days, then to Hong Kong for a few more and then home. If not for Leslie, I would be happy to stay on indefinitely. Here I come Beanie! I can't wait. It's that magical edge where you're not at all tired of the trip and really ready to be home.

Bangkok, last time through

Jeff stayed in Hoi An while David & I went back to Saigon and to Phnom Penh. We're together, again in Bangkok. Jeff spent last few days in a 100 baht ($2.50 USD) room with no air con, needless to say, and cryptic messages written on the walls. Mostly he's been walking around - for long distances - the area. He's learned a fair amount about the life of Thai street people, and there are a fair number of them living around Sanam Luang (large open area near the palace). Fair amount of huffing and some kind of inhaler sniffing going on. Someday the king may be embarrased by these people - "Hey, King, who are all these people flopping outside your house?" He'll have to take drastic measures like sending them to a place like the one on the old military base near Amarillo, Texas - Flop Town, they call it now. Over there you can live however you want, except you can't leave. There is all the muscatel you can drink, roll your own tobacco (Bugler

or Kite, up to you), peanut butter, bologna, beans, bread, blankets, water, pretty much all the basics and its all free! Photo: On the street at KSR. At least one of these guys is an American.

So anyway, I'm spending a lot of time in the area around Wat Mahathat, Thammasat University, and the river. It's like being in Bangkok without the insane traffic. Near the ferry dock there is more good food than I can even begin to sample and the prices are all Thai (vs. traveler). There are even trees around here! However, KSR remains the home of the best shakes.

We're off to Hong Kong for a few last days and then home. Photo to left: How a blind man can make a living. He is a good singer, a crooner, to be exact. Photo below: a wat. Goodby Thailand

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