Dave's Travel Journal

A vacation is what you take when you can't take what you've been taking. - Earl Wilson


Thailand Goods

Thailand TrinketsWe are not trinket people so I was a bit surprised when we unpacked our bags after the trip to Thailand. Look at this stuff, and that's not all of it. Missing are a couple of blank journals I bought (see below).

Lertsark Bangkaew's ElephantsOne day we went out looking for local artists. Lertsark Bangkaew paints these funky, quirky elephants. The oil originals are about $60-$100 whereas the prints are only $6. Each year he changes his style. This is a 2009 style, which I like. (You can check out his page by clicking on: Lertsark Bangkaew's studio.)

It's great to have the time and be able to chat a bit with the local folks. We learn so much more about the country when we spend time with them.

Blank sketch journalsGood inexpensive journals are everywhere in Thailand. The leather one (on the right) you see here was $9 and the cloth one was $6. I waited until the last day before we left and took all my change to the very sweet lady selling leather goods on a folding table on the sidewalk. She gave me a big discount (at least I think it was a big discount) on this leather refillable journal. The pages are tied in through the back. After I'm done with the current paper inside I can reload it with watercolor paper. The snap closure is great because it protects the pages as I slide it into my travel pack or backpack.

San Francisco in Chiang Mai Thailand?Ruth picked up the cloth runner you see above from the "Long Neck Village" lady you saw yesterday. In this small way we give them some income. They live in extremely poor conditions, in tiny huts and mud floors. Buying these items provides some food and shelter and keeps the young girls off the streets. It's a very sad situation for them. While we were there we taught two of the kids some English words. I was amazed at how sharp they both were. They pickup the sounds quickly and imitated me perfectly. Perhaps the next generation will have a  chance at better living conditions. We wanted to stay longer to share with them some positive things but had to re-join the rest of the tour group. Next time I'll come better prepared.

We have many great memories of our trip to Thailand. Most of the people we met were friendly and seemed happy to meet us (more than can be said for the foreigners we met yesterday). They were always ready to help despite the pressures they felt of the oncoming flood.

We look forward to returning someday.

...dave
The happiest asks directions, even though he knows the way.

Package Tour

Elephant Snack
Snack Time - sugar cane sticks
I am embarrassed to admit this, and I normally wouldn’t do it in a public blog but I feel compelled to warn you. And before I tell you what there is to be so embarrassed about, I have to tell you that in all our foreign travels we have never, ever done this. Never.

But this time we succumbed and . . . are you ready for this?  We booked an all-day package tour.

It’s so humiliating I know. I hate to even admit to it. We take great pride in avoiding the camera wielding busses of sunburned tourists in tank tops and way-too-much-skin-showing shorty shorts.

HutThe tour guides of these mass tours cart you around like cattle, chained to one another, and dump you off in trinket shops of overpriced “hand crafted” stuff. You wander around zombie-like stuffing shinny things into your pockets, buying things produced and replicated in every trinket shop across the country.

Not us. No way. We ain’t doing that!

But yesterday we gave in, we folded under the heavy pressure of sameness and joined a clan of eleven foreign tourists.

And you know, it wasn’t all that bad. The free lunch was bland, the requests for tips was endless, and the sights were definitely “touristy” but other than that the pain wasn’t that severe. We made it through the day.

DSC_2236
Long Necks Village
We did meet a rather interesting crowd of tourists in our van. Some from China, others from America, one from Australia. What was most interesting to me was that even though we asked lots of questions of all of them, no one asked us any questions in return. In fact, after asking a simple question like: “Where are you from?” They simply gave us a one word answer and went back to eating their lunch. Come on people! Interface! Talk! What’s wrong with you? Why would you travel the world and not even get to know the folks sitting right across from you at lunch?

Our tour guide was wonderful. She was personable and funny, and spoke great English. I bailed on the rafting ride after she didn’t directly answer Ruth’s question: “Have the guys ever tipped over a raft?” Her indirect answer was: “I can hold your camera for you.”

Room in Chiang Mai Hotel
Vieng Mantra Hotel - Chiang Mai
We saw elephants, oxen, and long-necked people but alas, no lions, tigers, or bears. The elephants, up close and personal, were friendly and seemed to take a liking to Ruth. One rocked back and forth as she stroked his forehead and touched his trunk of sandpaper and wire hair. I love their big brown eyes and long eyelashes. They "look right into your soul" said our tour guide.  I think she means they seem to sense your mood, like a loyal dog. The trainer had gone back into his hut so I asked Ruth to back away a bit.  I always visualize the worst and imagined the elephant's trunk wrap around her and put her down his cavernous gullet in one large gulp.  I'd hate losing my travel partner.

There was one interesting woman from Australia who has traveled the world several times . . . alone. Yep, that’s right. All by herself. She makes all her arrangements via the Net, package tours and all, and then proceeds to enjoy them, all by herself. Initially, she didn’t really say much to us. Eventually, she warmed up . . . a little. Then she talked about herself.

When the van came to pick us up in the morning and the door slid open, everyone just sort of stared at us. No warm greeting. No welcome. Not even a ‘hello’ from the dark interior. It didn’t start out well and and really didn’t get much better either.

Yeah, I’m embarrassed to say we succumbed to a package tour.

I’m going back to traveling alone with Ruth. She’s the best partner and we see and do so much more.

...dave
Do I look like a people person?

Room with a pool

Thailand Chiang Mai Hotel
Pool view from our room balcony
We didn't see any lions, tigers, or bears today. Instead we saw paintings of them. We visited the local artists and enjoyed hearing and watching them work.

One guy paints nothing but stylized elephants, cute mother and baby elephants, almost cartoon looking, in every color of the pallet. Each year he changes his style so I could actually see his technique change from year to year. He does't allow photographs in his store for fear that some will take pictures and sell his work themselves. "You I trust" he said "I can tell you are a good person." Well, I'm glad someone finally noticed.

In another art store we met a girl who's husband photographs models and then digitally adds creative elements. The results makes the models look very fairy-like. Very interesting stuff. Not the kind I'd hang on my wall but creative nonetheless. She also is a photographer who shoots nature flowers in arranged patterns. He father carves wooden elephants which she displays in the shop. I really enjoy talking to the local artists. They give me creative ideas.

pano-pool
Pool Panorama with iPhone Pano app

Near the elephant artist we found a place that makes fresh pizza in a real pizza oven. We sat at a picnic table under the garden trees and ordered a mozzarella and spinach pie, local beer and Coke.

We headed back to the hotel so i took advantage of the beautiful pool and cooled down during the hottest time of day.

Relaxing at lunch in Chiang Mai
colorful eats
At 6:00 PM we walked about a third of a mile and visited the night bazaar. Even at 6:30 PM all the shops were not yet open but there were still too many to visit in a lifetime. Every craftsman is represented there. We saw leather belts, purses, and wallets. There are artists working in oils, pastel, and charcoal, some painting from pictures left behind by tourists, There are sculptures of wood and brass. Beautiful linen and silk cloth, stitched or dyed in rich patters. Jewelry of silver, jade, and gold hang from endless stalls along the narrow sidewalks and in closet booths in warehouse-sized buildings. I passed a bar pumping out rock music. Noisy foreigners were gathered around a huge wood table, all talking at the same time and toasting the day's adventures.

We rode a Tuk Tuk back to the hotel, took another dip in the pool, crashed in the room and dreamt of all the stuff we didn't buy.

...dave
Life's Tough.  Get a helmet. - Anon

Chiang Mai - Thailand

Sandbags
Due to the Thailand flood the tickets getting out of Bangkok were skyrocketing. The tickets were twice and sometimes three times what they are normally. People were bagging their doorways to prevent the inevitable waters from rushing in when they finally reach Bangkok. The government says it will come, but according to the vendors they are not saying when or just how much water will flood their stores.

Chiang Mai TempleMeanwhile, because we didn’t book a return flight we had difficulty finding a flight out. We had talked about going to Chiang Mai, just north of the city but didn't make any plans before this. We found a reasonable flight at a ridiculous time and got up at 5:00 AM to catch it.

Chiang Mai is a tropical place with elephant and lion wild parks. We see them advertised everywhere. Tuk Tuk drivers hound us to hire them to take us there. We decline and decide to do a walkabout in the city square.

Chiang Mai Tuk TukNot realizing just how big it is, we spend three hours looking into all the small craft shops. Eventually becoming week from the heat and miles of walking we find a small air conditioned Starbucks-like coffee shop and plunk down 75 boht (about $2.50) for a 6oz cup of mocha coffee. Yikes. But without it I would have had to crawl back to the hotel on my hands and knees.

When I did finally make it back, I collapsed in a sweaty heap on the bed, clothes and all, and slept for hours. I’ve never been so exhausted. After several hours I was resurrected to life, tripped into the hot shower, and returned to the horizontal position. I slept another eight hours.

The Black Coffee - Chiang MaiDid I mention I was exhausted?

This morning I'm feeling much better. We found a place that serves American Breakfast: eggs, bacon, rolls, banana bread, and of course, endless coffee (via IV drip if you prefer).

I think I'm ready for the lions, tigers, and bears. Oh my!

...dave
My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it. - Mark Twain

Boat Ride

BoatLockThis was a wild day.

We decided to rent one of the long boats and take it through the canals of Bangkok.

 These boats torpedo across the water from the thrust of with what looks like a V8 450 from an old Cadillac. The engines are huge, loud, and throaty monstrosities perched on boat's stern.

 There is a long rod with direct drive propeller dipped over the the back into a few feet of water. They are easily manipulated by the pilot who can make them turn on a dime.

DSC_1678All the while I'm worried we'll be dumped into the water should he hit a rough patch. I cover my lenses from the water spraying over the sides.

Soon though we are slicing through the quiet canals at a slower pace and pausing briefly to navigate the locks of the river.

On our return to the the hotel we took a Tuk Tuk.  (Try to say that twice.)  They are three wheeled motorcycles on steroids.  It started to dump heavy rain on the way back and again I thought we'd end up in a pile of tangled metal in the street after whizzing around one of the blind corners. I said to the driver (but he couldn't hear for the rain and muffler-less motor) "Dude, easy on the throttle. We can arrive tomorrow if necessary."

We had him drop us off at the local store to buy some food.

DSC_1726The stores here are better supplied with foreign goods than those in China. They carry all the stuff we love: sharp cheeses, ruffled chips, blue cheese dips, California wines, and olives. We cart off half the store and hand over $3,110 baht (about 100 bucks U.S.). It seemed bizarre to spend 3,000 bucks on a single grocery trip.

Afterward we found some Thai beer and slices of beaf wrapped in a tortilla of sorts. We doused them with hot Arabic sauces and found some air conditioning to cool us down.

...dave
Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired. -Jules Renard

Thailand Trip

DSC_1581Where does a person go for a vacation when they already live in an exotic place like China? Well, how about another exotic place like, for example Thailand?

We needed a vacation. China is full of noise, construction, people, and congestion. Thailand might be better, right?

Not Bangkok. It's just as noisy, congested, and peopled as China. But at least the vendors are friendlier.

DSC_1611Oh, and it has more water, lots more, especially lately. As we walked through the city streets and markets, water from the river cascaded down stairs, swirled around our feet, and ran off into the street drains.

We took a two hour dinner cruse up The River of Kings and enjoyed local Thai cuisine, the names of which I can't begin to pronounce nor read from the menu.

"Yeah, I'll take one of those" I say as I point to one of the items.

When it does come I recognize the items as scallops, shrimp, mussels, and stir fry in curry and coconut sauces.  Everything is delicious and perfectly prepared.

DSC_1600And so they deliver it to the table. I take a picture, eat it, and order another item. This continues for the entire two hours, ending in a selection of deserts, coffee and finally a Thai Rusty Nail.  Don't ask. It's always scary when you have to tell the bartender what's in a drink and then discover they only have a local scotch.

The entertainment included traditional Thai music and dance. But frankly we were more interested in the new friends we met sitting across from us and all the stories they had to tell. We clapped politely when the dancers were finished but then quickly went back to our intense discussion. It's rarely the place but often the people that provide the most absorbing and engaging experiences.

...dave
Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist. -G K Chesterton

I hate losing stuff

photo-14Some people lose their keys, others lose their wallets, not me, I lost my wife.

China is a big place. Losing anything in China means you can pretty much kiss it goodbye. Of course, I didn’t know I was going to lose her so I didn’t have that opportunity.

I left the apartment at 9:30 PM and when I came back, she was gone. I called out for her. Even though our place is not really that big it’s much easier to just call out rather than hunt myself. “Ruth?” No answer. Then I searched each room myself. There was a strong odor in the apartment. She was working on a re-finishing project when I left. Maybe she passed out from the fumes. Maybe she’s behind some large cabinet or in some large cabinet. “Ruth?” I opened the cabinet door and looked inside.  Nope. No one there.

My next assumption was that she went out to the store. There are small shops downstairs that stay open late. You can buy soda, beer, chips, and such. Maybe she just stepped out for a moment. I’ll wait. So I did. Thirty minutes later she had not returned. I phone her. Why didn’t I think of that before? But I could hear her phone ringing in the apartment. She didn’t bring her phone? How strange. And her keys are still here. Wait, her shoes are still here, right by the door. No one leaves the house without shoes. I’m getting worried. Where is she? Now I don’t know why this occurred to me but I thought: “Maybe she fell out a window?” Weird I know but it could happen. I went to each window and looked down. It was dark but I didn’t see a body down below. Forty-five minutes has passed and she’s still missing.

So I try my best to think this through: Shoes at the door, keys and phone on the night stand, no evidence that she knew she was going out. I got it! She was forced to leave.

She was kidnapped? It was the only logical conclusion I could reach at the time. But why and by whom?

I started to dial a friend.

But wait, before I do, let me go downstairs and look around the apartment complex. Even though I was down there all the time, maybe we just missed each other. There are gazebos and and exercise areas all around the buildings. Maybe she got locked out and decided to go to one of them to wait for me downstairs? But no. She’s not there. All areas are empty. It’s now 10:30 PM. I decide to widen my scope. I walk toward the guard’s house on my way to the exterior buildings. I always wave to him when I pass but this time when I look over I see . . . Ruth! There she is, in the flesh, in his glass booth, calmly swinging her legs from the chair’s edge. She has no shoes on, she is wearing only her socks on her feet.

So I asked the only question that came to mind: “What are you doing here?”

“Got locked out. When I came here they wouldn’t let me leave. I’ve been a prisoner for the last 45 minutes.”

When she tried to get up and tell them that she’d wait by our door, the guard pushed her down in his own seat and insisted that she wait for me to come find her. The guard felt personally responsible for her and insisted that she stay in his warm glass guard house while he sat outside in his heavy long coat, braced against the wind .

But at least we were reunited, sock foot lady and myself. We celebrated with Amaretto brandy.

...dave
If you’ve heard this story before, don’t stop me, because I’d like to hear it again. —Groucho Marx




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