27 Jan

Places I Stayed In Laos

I did not spend a lot of time in Laos, but I did enjoy my time there.  I am just going to list the places I stayed, and some notes on each.

Odosim Guesthouse, Ban Houayxay Nua, Houay Xai

I stayed here prior to my Mekong River Cruise.  It was a great guesthouse, good wifi, hot water,  clean and a good bed – all I ever want or need.  Little 4 year old in his Superman outfit was cute beyond belief.  Excellent service by the staff.

Phonemany Guesthouse  Pak Beng

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Overnight stop on my Mekong Cruise.  This place is quite new, very clean, very nice – great helpful staff.  As I am a senior they picked me up at the bottom of the hill with a motorcycle with a sidecar box, great fun! Wifi was not great and only worked in the dining room.

Villa Aphay  57/4 Phomathath Road,  Luang Prabang

Did not enjoy this place.  This was one I had booked and paid for online.  Fellow checking me in insisted I have a printed voucher – in spite of the fact I could show him my booking on my computer.  Before I could get my key he was trying to sell me tours, and every time I left my room I was accosted to buy a tour from him.  My bed was old, and wifi only worked in the common area – and then you got the sales pitch non stop.

Sengko Guesthouse  Ban Muang Song  Vang Vien

This place was just far enough from the downtown to escape the noise.  It was clean and comfortable and the owner spoke excellent English, and was very helpful.  Will be better when they eat the rooster next door for Sunday dinner.  Wifi was fine.

R.D. Guesthouse, Nokeokhoumanne St.,  Vientiane

Loved this place -great staff.  Not the fanciest place I have ever stayed – and the room could have used a coat of paint.  When I checked in late afternoon I asked if my ceiling fan could be cleaned the next day – it was cleaned within an hour.  Wifi worked well, bed was clean and comfortable, bathroom was clean.  Great staff and Manager made this  one of my favorites.20160123_125425

Victory Hotel  7 Vuong Thuc Mau, Vinh

I was so looking forward to this hotel -I had booked a room with a bathtub – and after 3 months, I needed a bath.  I came off a 18 hour cold bus trip so was excited to arrive.  My room did not have a bathtub, and reception said water was limited i rooms with tubs.  I was so cold -they let me use one of the steam rooms in their spa area to warm up.  There was also a jacuzzi tub for me to use, but when filled with straight “hot” water – it was barely warm.  Manager brought a heater to my room, and some corn on the cob and an orange.  The staff went out of their way to make sure I was as comfortable as possible,  The next day one of the girls from the front desk took me to a cafe and ordered for me to make sure I got what I wanted.  Wifi worked really well here.

 

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Binh Minh DIen Chau Hotel,  Dien Chau

I decided I would like a few days at the beach.  I knew it would not be very warm, but I love to walk on the beach.  There was record cold weather when I was here, and my room was beyond cold.  They did not have any heaters. The beach was very dirty.  The hotel shows photos of food, and people eating -but they do not even have a place to get coffee.  There is no place to eat or drink within walking distance, you must go by taxi.  I had planned to stay 5 days, but the manager approved reducing my reservation to a one night stay.

 

I found the places I stayed to be clean and comfortable.  The best part of almost every place was the kindness, friendliness and helpfulness of the staff.

21 Jan

Mekong River Cruise Made Me Smile

20160117_10225120160116_132556I have always dreamt of cruising the Mekong River.  This week that dream came true.  There are cheap public boats, but I have heard horror stories about how overcrowded they can be.  This is high season, and its a long two day trip. I felt this is one of the times I must realize I am not that young.    For those reasons I decided to book a cruise.  I booked with Smile Mekong River Cruises and what a great choice it was.

20160117_121241  The boat was big and beautiful,  a great guide, non stop good Version 2food,  serene scenery, interesting and informative stops at two villages, and some famous caves.  We were a fun crowd of 13.  Our guide Kae and the boat crew could not do enough for us – we all felt so pampered.  It was lovely to be able to move around and sit inside or out.   The boat was over 100 feet long, and all beautiful wood. The Captain and his family have living quarters at the back of the boat.  We stopped at a hill tribe village that to this day does not use money – everything is bartered, including their electricity.  We stayed in guesthouses overnight in Pak Beng, and a group dinner with free whisky from the cafe was lots of laughs.  Our second day started seeing a working elephant having a bath in the river.  It was an early morning start so we could stop at another village where three different hill tribes, that speak three different languages, all live together.  I found it interesting the village with no money has electricity, and the one with money does not.  Our last stop was famous caves full of Buddha statues.  The scenery was incredible, the action on and along the river was interesting,  and I now know why the company is called Smile – I smiled the entire time.

www.mekongsmilecruise.com

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15 Jan

So What is a Wat?

20160109_15070120151211_16283420160109_143637A Wat is a Buddhist Temple.  There are over 40,000 in Thailand.  They are usually quite large, several buildings, and always a wall around the outside.  I have been to many, and every one was beautiful, and different.  There is a lot of gold, and red in every one. This is where the Monks live and learn.  Wats in Thailand are open to all but you must remove your shoes, and they request appropriate dress (no shorts, no bare shoulders etc.)  Some even have signs to say No Kissing, No Smoking, No Alcohol…… I guess some people need to be told.  Monks were always very welcoming.  I had one say to me “Come on in – tell me where you are from” and we had a lengthy conversation.  Locals enter and kneel down and it would seem prayers are short.  People light incense  and joss sticks (candles).  There are lots of flowers and chrysanthemums are the flower of choice. Night blooming jasmine is also popular and makes for a wonderful smell as the sun goes down.  Buddhas are in many positions, and I believe each position denotes a purpose.  Most Wats have very elaborate chandeliers, several clocks, often big and digital,  a picture of the King of Thailand, and clean public toilets. 20160111_15034220160107_134207They also often have very realistic replica figures of monks – I find them creepy.  I have seen ashes of locals stored at a Wat, and one I visited had a crematorium.  There was a photo of a woman, many floral wreathes, and a fancy gold casket – with blinking Christmas lights on it……Tucked in behind one Wat was a workout area for the Monks.  There were home made weights, and a big mirror.  At another one I rounded a corner to see 4 Monks playing cards, modern music was playing good and loud, and three others were checking their cell phones.  All were smoking.  Not my idea of life as a Monk.  You must be at least 20 years old to become a monk and you can be one for as long as you like.  Terms are usually in amounts of 3 (3 weeks, 3 months etc.) Here is a typical day for a monk.

4 am  Wake up and 1 hour chanting, 6 am Walking in the neighborhood to collect food and alms,  8 am Brekkie,  Before noon – a 20160111_143854 lunch, and they will not eat again until sunrise the following morning.  Balance of the day is studying, working at the Wat and chanting.  There are 227 strict rules a Monk must follow.20151230_131048

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12 Jan

Place I Stayed in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai ViewPlace 2, Condo B 90 Moo 1 Mahidol Road, Phaded Sub-District,
Chiang Mai, Thailand, Chiang Mai 50100
Thailand

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I thought it would be nice to be in a quiet place for my week in Chiang Mai.  I knew this small city was very popular with travelers so I looked for a place away from the city center.  I found a studio apartment for rent on Airbnb.  It is a new building, spotlessly clean and nicely furnished.  There is a pool, gym (that I never used) and laundry. It is in a neighborhood of many new condos, and close to the airport.  If I walk the 2 blocks to the main road, and turn left it is only a 10 minute walk to a big shopping center called Airport Central Plaza.  I love the doormen there, white gloves, sharp uniforms, and they salute, and click their heels when you enter……makes me feel important.  This mall has a huge saltwater aquarium. I spent an hour watching the fish. From this mall it is easy to catch a songtaeu (shared taxi) to town, but I always walk.  Its only 30 minutes and an interesting walk every day.  My only complaint was the neighbor’s rooster, who can not tell time.  He thought we all needed a 5 am wake up call most days – and it is still dark then.20160111_081954

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08 Jan

Welcome to My Neighborhood

The street where I live

The street (alley) where I live

I have spent the last month living in a little local neighborhood in Bangkok.  It is always so interesting I thought I could give you a tour.  Everything starts at the 7/11.  It is on the corner of the busy street, and a, little street.  It is a typical 7/11, open 24/7 etc.  Outside there is always a vendor selling fruit, another sells pieces of fried chicken, and another sells coffee drinks.  Sometimes in the evening there is a lady selling food that I do not recognize.  As I walk towards my alley on the left is the old lady selling sugar bananas. $1 gets a hand of 10 – 12, and they are so sweet.   On the right is the lady who makes a great green papaya salad, a lunch favorite of mine.  I once requested no green beans (I do not like them raw) she always remembers not to add them.

Papaya salad shop

Papaya salad shop

Beside her is another fruit vendor – pineapple watermelon, guava, cantaloupe, papaya, all cut up and ready to eat. Left side is a hairdresser, and a place that does mending.  Then we have a lady selling grilled meat kabobs.  Late night Chinese cafe is on the right.  At this point my little alley is off to the left, and on the right side is the tailor shop.  Gals working here work long hours, and wave every time I go past.

Sewing girls

Sewing girls

Its nice to be recognized.  Next to them is a fruit and veggie stand only open in the morning.  Left side is several street cafes.  I always eat at the last one. Mama cooks, always one of their three daughters working, Papa does fetch and tote.  Cafes here have little plastic stools, no backs.  When I arrive at the cafe Papa is always sent to the back to get a real chair for me.

My local cafe

My local cafe

There is an endless parade of vendors down our alley.  They sell peanuts, fruit, rice, eggs, brooms, cooked corn on the cob and sweet potatoes, plants, ice cream, and often at night my favorite – a guy who makes crepes and fills them with bananas and a sweet cream.  Each vendor has a different sound (bells, horns etc.) so we can tell who is coming.  Hope you enjoyed the visit.Version 2Version 2Version 2

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04 Jan

Bridge on the River Kwai

20151223_08484020151223_085928This famous bridge is 3 hours from Bangkok at Kanachaburi. 20151223_085420There is a tourist train that does a one day tour twice a week from here.   I went to book it and it was all sold out,  so I decided I could go on my own.  I found the bus to there runs from the South Bus Terminal.  There is a city bus from the train station near me to that terminal.  I had someone write in Thai for me where I wanted to go, and to please tell me to get off at the correct stop.  At the train station they told me to take bus # 40.  Got on bus #40, showed them my note, bus going in the wrong direction.  Off that bus, and onto one going in the right direction – for over 2 hours, at a cost of  9 cents. This city is big, and it was interesting to see things at street level.  They let me off on a median on a very busy road.  I had 4 lanes of traffic to cross.  An old Thai lady was half way across.  She turned and saw me, came back, took me by the hand, put her other hand up to stop traffic, and we crossed the road. She was about 90 years old, and 4 feet tall.   Next bus cost $3 and took 3 hours.  I had booked a guesthouse one night. I went to the bridge early in the morning.  First day I have not had sun, somber weather for a somber destination.  The Japanese built the Death Railway and this bridge with POW and conscripted Asian labour during WW2.  It is estimated 16,000 POWs and 100,000 Asian labourers died during the construction – one out of every three workers.  I visited one of the POW cemeteries, it was simple and perfectly maintained with a flowering plant at every grave.  As I walked up and down the rows I was surprised to see the average age was +30.  The war cemeteries in Europe were graves of teenagers, and those in their early twenties.  On my return trip my city bus cost 13 cents – it had A/C.   The Bridge on the River Kwai is a sad, but historic place – worth seeing.20151223_090758

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