A Travellerspoint blog

On to Bangkok

The last city of my visit to SE Asia

sunny 28 °C
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I decided to go by bus to Bangkok from Siem Reap. I would be picked up at the guesthouse and the stop in Bangkok was a short walk from the area I had selected (Khao San Road) to look for a hotel. There was a lot of information on the web of things to look for with a passage through Poipet, Cambodia border town to Thailand.
http://www.talesofasia.com/cambodia-overland-bkksr-self.htm None of it too comforting. The road on the Cambodian side is dirt and almost impassable in the wet season. I was traveling in the dry season, so it was very dusty and many deep ruts in the road and travel was slow. The travel agent said it would be a 45 passenger bus with air conditioning. However, I have learned that you can never rely on what you are told.

We were picked up by a minivan and taken to the departure point of the bus at 7:30AM. I was pleased to see an Irish couple from my guesthouse on the mini van with me. As promised we had a 45 seat bus with air conditioning!

We started out on our journey going very slow due to the road conditions. We passed many poor rural villages and had many detours as the government is building bridges and doing some preparation for what may be paving this road. We stopped in a regional center for lunch. One look at the kitchen and I decided not to eat.

We arrived at Poipet around 2PM. The bus driver did not speak English, so we were not given any directions on how we were to make the transfer to the Thailand side and the bus that was to take us to Bangkok. They took our tickets and gave us a badge to attach to our clothing, something you would see with a children's group to identify them. We had a long walk to Cambodian immigration and no man's land to the Thailand immigration to complete forms and enter the country. Then a walk to the bus area, where we were informed there was no bus until 5PM, but we could take a mini van that would be arriving shortly. I wanted to arrive in Bangkok before dark so I was going to take the first mode of transportation offered. 11 of us plus the driver and all our gear was put in the mini van and away we went. The driver drove very fast on good roads and we made it to Bangkok by 6pm just as the sun was setting.

There was a Spanish woman in the minivan that had been traveling in Vietnam and Cambodia for three weeks and she and I started walking to find a hotel. I had a map I had drawn of the area from the internet and after a few false starts we found our way to a very attractive walking street with lots of people and a nice hotel, Four Sons House, 78-80 Phraarthit Rd. (fsh@fs-hotel.com)

Bangkok is the largest and most modern city I have visited with 8 million people. Bangkok was originally called the Venice of the East for the many canals. Many have now been eliminated, but I traveled by boat (very fast) on some of them.

I went to Chatuchak (JJ) Weekend Market on Saturday. The largest market in Bangkok and some say the world. Up to 200,000 people visit each day and there are more than 8,000 vendors. There was an amazing variety of goods and lots of opportunities for people watching. They have places set up for foot massage to keep the shoppers refreshed and on their feet!

Next day I went to Chinatown, a labyrinth of streets with restaurants, shops and warehouses. I took the river ferry to Chinatown and had a great view of the city. The streets were very crowded and the shops were overflowing with merchandise. Lots of beads, pearls, costume jewerly, plastic toys, adding machines and other electronics, military clothing/equipment, fabric, clothing, household items. It was a very hot day. 7-11's are on every street corner of Bangkok. I went inside to get some air conditioning and to purchase the largest soft drink they had! My first 7-11 in SE Asia.

I met a 37 year old German doctor over dinner who is traveling in SE Asia for 6 months. I shared my experiences and recommendations for Vietnam and Laos and we decided to explore Wat Po the next day. We met at the river ferry and toured the major flower and vegetable/fruit/fish market of Bangkok. Early in the morning it was very active as restaurants were there buying food for the day.

Wat Po (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) is the largest wat (temple) in Bangkok. The 150-foot sculpture covered with gold has 10-foot feet with the 108 auspicious signs of the Buddha inlaid in mother of pearl. It is also home to one of the oldest universities in Thailand and a Thai massage school.

I sampled the massages of Thailand during my stay. I had an oil massage (not my favorite), a traditional Thai massage (enjoyable) and foot massage ( I prefer the foot massages I had in Laos).

The Thai massage is more energizing and rigorous than the more classic forms of massage. Thai massage is also called Thai yoga massage, because the therapist uses his or her hands, knees, legs, and feet to move you into a series of yoga-like stretches. Many people say Thai massage is like doing yoga without any work. Muscle compression, joint mobilization, and acupressure are also used during treatment. Laos also has a Lao traditional massage which is similar.

I visited the National Museum for the once a week English tour given by an Australian woman who has lived in Bangkok for 8 years. She did an excellent job of showing us the highlights of the collection of one of the best museums of SE Asian art in the world. Several of the royal funeral barges are there and they were all being repaired and readied for the King's sister funeral that will be held November 14-19 2008 with a budget of Bt300 million (about $US8.8 million) being set aside for the ceremony.

The first four days of the ceremony are associated with the cremation, while the latter two with the collection and entombment of the ashes and royal relics.

There will be six grand processions for the four days of the cremation (November 15, 16, 18, and 19) ceremony involving 3,294 soldiers and the three royal chariots: Phra Maha PichaiRatcharot , or Great Victory Chariot (มหาพิชัยราชรถ), PhraWetchayanta Ratcharot (พระเวชยันตราชรถ) and Phra RatcharotNoi , or Little Charriot (ราชรถน้อย). I hope to see some of it on TV.

I enjoyed walking the streets and seeing the fine silk garments offered by the tailors, the many Chinese imports and beautiful Asian art in the stores. I had read about the air pollution in Bangkok but was surprised to have my eyes red and burning at the end of each day from the pollution. It was in the high 90's every day I was there and the heat in the middle of the day was unbearable. Thailand was the only country where I saw overweight people including children. It was also the only country that had American fast food restaurants on every corner.

There are a lot of tourist scams in Bangkok and the tourist police do their best to warn tourist of them, but it is the only country I visited that had such a presistent problem with tourists scams. I did find many people who were very helpful to me on buses and on the streets to find my way. The people and food were wonderful.

Picture are at http://community.webshots.com/user/splendrous

Posted by goodearth 05:52 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Angkor Wat

Temples in the jungle of Cambodia

sunny 36 °C
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1002_AngkorEste.jpg1003_AW3.jpg1003_AThomKapu.jpg1003_AW1.jpgThe temples of Angkor are the capital of Cambodia's ancient Khmer empire, The Cambodian god-kings of old each strove to top their ancestors in size, scale and symmetry, culminating in the world's largest religious building, Angkor Wat, and one of its weirdest, the Bayon.

The hundreds of temples surviving today are the skeleton of the vast political, religious and social center. An empire that stretched from Burma to Vietnam and which, at its zenith, boasted a population of one million.

I flew in a prop plane of Lao Airlines from Luang Prabang on the 2nd of October in a rain storm. Good news is that before I had my Cambodian Visa and picked up my luggage, the sun was shining. I made my way to a tuk tuk driver and into town to meet Peter, who was one of the IBM'er with me in Vietnam. He flew in from Saigon.

We found a nice guest house with a pool, Ancient Angkor Guesthouse http://www.ancient-angkor.com/, and went off to see the sunset from the top of one of the temples. Angkor Wat is lit at night and is quite spectacular. We arranged to be met at 5AM by our tuk tuk driver to begin our tour by seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Amazingly there are a lot of people who chose to avoid the heat and start early.
We had a big day seeing the major sites.

The heat in the middle of the day is hard to believe. It is difficult to think of the people working to build and decorate these buildings in this heat. There are hugh modern hotels here and more being built. This is on the package tour circuit now that Cambodia is not in a civil war. People are here from every continent. I have seen a lot of Japanese tourist and my tuk tuk driver speaks Japanese as well as English!

The next day we started at 6AM to a small town where the temple building began. We hired a boat to take us to a village built on stilts that is flooded most of the year from the overflow of the large lake near by. It was very interesting to think of living on the water all the time. We returned and saw several of the oldest temples and called it a day.

Three other IBM'ers arrived that evening for their visit and we had dinner with them and caught up on their travels in Vietnam.

The Kymer culture is one I was not familiar with and I will enjoy learning more about it. They were a very powerful civilization and have some beautiful art.

Economic situation is very poor here. There is a corrupt government. Election was held recently, but the people are powerless to make changes. One example: A private group has the contract to collect the fees to Angkor wat ($20 a day). The precentage for the ticket collector is 17%, only 10% goes to the restoration of the temples. The rest, 73% goes to the corrupt government treasury. Angkor Wat has created a tourist boom for Cambodia. Visas into the country are $20 and exit fees at the airport for international flights are $25. None of this benefits the people.

Several US companies have opened garment manufacturing in Phnom Penh. Columbia, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, Gap, Gant, and Next are some of the brands. Any consumer spending slow down would affect the number of workers and is a subject of one of the front page stories in the newspaper.

There is no social network, so disabled people are on their own with no assistance from the government. There are many people who are disabled from the war or the land mines that explode accidently even today when people are looking for scrap metal. I saw a man with no arms below the elbow holding a display around his neck selling books on Cambodia. They try, but there is not enought work for the people.

The Cambodians have been at war either with invaders of their country (France, Thailand, Vietnam), at war with themselves through civil wars or the Khymer Rouge regime for so long, they just want to enjoy today, and look forward to tomorrow, because for so long, there was no tomorrow. Millions were killed during the 4 years of the Pol Pot Kymer Rouge regime attempt to create a suppressed agricultural workforce. No one has ever been brought to justice for the crimes against humanity and some of the leaders of the Kymer Rouge are now in the government. The population wants peace after so many years of war.

Now on to Bangkok! The most developed economy of the neighbors and a country that has a cultural debt to their poor neighbor of Cambodia for their music, Kymer kick boxing. and their arts.

Photos can be viewed at http://good-times.webshots.com/album/568351538HidiJV

Posted by goodearth 03:40 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Wonderful Luang Prabang

Welcome to Laos, Jewel of SE Asia

sunny 27 °C
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Sa-bai dee from Laos!

Laos is an unspoilt, mountainous country of 6m people struggling to survive since their country was literally blown apart by French invasion (and colonization), Siamese and Japanese occupation, the Vietnam war, civil war, coups and chaos. It's estimated that more bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam war than were used during the whole of WWII, with the equivalent of one bombing run every eight minutes for nine years.

Luang Prabang was the capital of Laos when there was royalty up until the 1970's. It is in the north nestled in the mountains on a peninsula between the Mekong River and the Nam Khan River with 12,000 people. It has the feel of a mountain town you might find in Colorado, New York or Vermont. French Colonial architecture, walking town, 30 pagodas, lots of monks, night market, beautiful views of the river. The citizens are living their lifes and it is not a totally tourist town like Hoi An in Vietnam.

I was fortunate that Vietnamese Airways said yes they would put me on the 10:20/AM flight to Laos. I arrived at noon to a beautiful sunny day. The airport is small. Passengers walk down the stairs to the runway and into the terminal. They provide Visas on arrival. So stand in a few lines and then collect baggage and go into the city. I rode into town with two New Zealand women that had spent two weeks in Hanoi and were on a two month holiday. I found a room in the same guesthouse run by a family with two teenage daughters. It was a wonderful place and the people were friendly and helpful. Mama usually brought us things to try from the market in the morning. I had Lao muffins and sticky rice (with coconut wrapped in a banana leaf). All were very good. The room came with all the bananas, tea, coffee, and bottled water we wanted.

The market is every morning with women coming to sell vegetables, meat, live chickens, frogs, crabs, and fish from the river. They have a grill and the most wonderful marinated fish, sausages, and chicken are for sale. I think it is the equivalent of their fast food. There are no McDonald's or Starbucks in this town.

The first afternoon we hiked to the top of a hill in town to see the pagoda on the top with great views of the surrounding area and a wonderful sunset over the Mekong River. The pagodas are very lovely and each are unique. Laos is a very poor country. The French did not invest very much here or in Cambodia. They invested in Vietnam and used the Vietnamese as their administrators, like the British used Indians, in their colonies.

The good news is that some say Laos is a taste of how Asia was 100 years ago. They resist adopting the modern ways of the Thais. They have a silk and weaving industry and several shops in the city promote their crafts. Bicycles and motor bikes are the typical ways of transport. Sometimes I did not see one moving vehicle of any kind on the main street.

I spent several days wandering the streets, one day biking to the other side of the town where the markets were for the Lao people vs the tourists. We rode up a hill to a pagoda and met some 10 years old students who shared their English lessons with us. They spoke very well. I also was invited into a monastery compound by some young Buddist monks. They spoke good English and showed and talked to me about their life. These young boys were here from small rural villages to get an education. They did have email addresses also. The internet is everywhere and makes a profound difference as a vehicle for learning if the people know English. So much of the information that is available on the web is only accessible in English.

One day we took a trip by car to a rural village where we boarded a long boat to a waterfall and elephant camp.
We rode the elephants throught the pools of water often at steep inclines. The mud was deep and the elephants feet went deep into the mud. It was great fun. We then hiked along the falls going over wooden bridges made of poles. Returning we spent the afternoon in a natural pool at the base of the falls before returning via the long boat to catch our ride back to town.

My last night I attended an opera of traditional music and dance at the Royal Palace. It was great. I am sad to leave. The people are very friendly and welcoming. The food is great and it is a wonderful place to relax, enjoy the views of the river and the smell of the Lao barbecue (which is grilling for us).

Photos can be viewed at http://good-times.webshots.com/album/568185789wZuJyz

Posted by goodearth 09:15 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Celebrations and the Royal City of Hue

Levon is 29 on 9/22 and we tour Hue on 9/20

sunny 35 °C
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We left at 8AM for our trip to Hue in a large van. We crossed the Hai Van Pass that separates the northern area from the south. This has always been a strategic area for the Vietnamese, the French and US. There are towers from the time of the different city states in Vietnam, as well as French and US bunkers. There is a great view of the sea.

In Hue, we toured the Citadel which was begun in 1805 and completed in 1832. The Nguyen Dynasty ruled until the French took over. The dynasty was heavily influenced by the Chinese and the Citadel is patterned after the Forbidden City. It was very interesting to see. We also went to one of the impereial tombs in the outskirts of the city. The emperors built their own tombs. This one was used as a weekend getaway while the king was alive.

We stopped at a nice cafe on the Perfume River to enjoy coffee, tea and ice cream. A lovely setting seeing the small boats on the river. We then made our way back to Danang through a tunnel in the mountains that was built with funds provided by the US.

Our last Sunday in Vietnam started with breakfast with Charles Bailey of Ford Foundation. He has 30 years with the Ford Foundation, spending 10 years in Vietnam. He speaks the language and talked about the Agent Orange initiative he was working with as well as some of the other programs that they have funded. The Danang Airport was one of the sites that was used to load airplanes with agent orange. He said that during the war there were more takeoffs and landings at Danang than any airport in the US.

A contractor was hired to rinse the containers once they were empty of the agent orange. The residue has polluted the current airport area which is where the US military airstrip and base was. He was there at a meeting to discuss how they might clean up the chemical contamination.

I met my interpreter to review and discuss her travel business and then we went out to some shops. Levon, Canadian, was hosting a birthday party on the beach and we were leaving at 4pm. The setting was lovely at a private resort. The table was on the sand with great views and the food was delicious. We had grilled shrimp, spring rolls, pork ribs, french fries, rice crackers, and cake. As our time in Vietnam was coming to a close, we all enjoyed celebrating with Levon.

Sunday kicked off a week of saying goodby. Nam, the Chamber of Commerce representative, invited a few of us to his home for dinner. His wife prepared a typical family dinner. She went to a lot of work with many dishes. His home is only a year old and he gave us a tour of the four floors including the roof garden.

Thursday, I made my final recommendations to my company and we went to a nice seafood restaurant on the beach. The General Manager was there along with many of his managers. We had clams, grilled shrimp, Japanese sushi, a seafood soup, squid and salad. We then went for Karaoke, favorite passtime of the Vietnamese. Everyone of he managers sang and they were very good. The song list included songs in Japanese, English and Vietnamese. The TV screen had scenes of Vietnam and the words were at the bottom of the screen. We had a lot of fun.

Friday night, the team had our final dinner together. We ate early, because everyone had packing and last minute details to take care of. Several of our talented team gave good imitations of some of the team members. The Texan did a great imitation of the Indian woman, the Indian did a great imitaion of the Hungarian and of me. It has been a wonderful experience spending a month with a great group of people who have become like family.

We now are heading back home or to a few weeks of travel before returning home. I leave Saturday AM for flight to Hanoi and then connecting flight to Luang Prabang, Laos. My Laos flight does not leave until 6:30 putting me into Luang Prabang after dark. The earlier flight is full, but I hope they will be able to get me a seat. I did not go to bed until 3 and was up at 5.

Farewell Vietnam. It has been a great fun. I leave with fond memories of the people I worked with as well as other individuals that greeted us warmly and helped us in understanding their land and culture.

Posted by goodearth 07:27 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

My Interpreter

Insights into the life of a 31 year old university graduate, mother and travel agent

rain 32 °C

Photos are at this site. http://community.webshots.com/user/splendrous
I have spent time over the past 10 days talking to my interpreter about her life. She was born in Hue to a rural family. Her father made a living driving a rickshaw and her mother raised and sold vegetables. She has two older brothers and one sister that is 7 years older than she is. Her sister only went to school until she was 13 and then she left school to earn money for the family. She paid for her younger sister's, my interpreter, fees to go to school and to add to the family income.

I will call my interpreter, Yen. She worked hard in her studies and she was selected as a monitor. She also sold cigarettes on the street corner when she was a child for money. She applied to the University in Da Nang and was admitted. Her mother did not want her to leave as she did not have the money for the tuition, but Yen was ambitious and borrowed the 25 cents from a friend she needed for the bus to Da Nang. She arrived in the fall and went out in the Full Moon festival parade and asked families with young children if they would be interested in hiring her to help with the children. Most were suspicious as they did not know her. One couple was interested and she began to work for them.

She is now married with a 3 year old daughter and a 3 month old daughter. Her husband works very hard for his sister working on boats. She says it is hard work and he is very tired. She did work for Foster's Beer and now has her own business as a travel agent focused on English speaking clients for the past 3 months. She says she had an objective to graduate, then to get a motor bike and a house, get married and have children. She says she has achieved them all.

She arranges tours and hotels for visitors to Vietnam. She looks for clients on the travel forums and has many happy customers. With the difference in the time zone, she said she usually stays up late responding to questions. Her husband goes to bed at 10. He is very encouraging of her business and she said he tells her how proud he is of her as he kisses her good night.

She now wants to buy a car. But she says that will have to wait until later. Her father is 70 and her mother is 67. Since they did not work for a government business, they have no pension. She purchased a house for them as well as a house for her own family. She sends money home to them. One of her brother's is unemployed (unemployment rate is high at this time). She sends money to him for the school fees of his children. Her sister lives with her and helps take care of the children. She says her sister is sad. She does not have friends, cannot get a job to make money and does not have something to look forward to. Yen respects her sister for helping her and she now provides support for her sister. Her sister loves her nieces.

She says she is the lucky child in the family. I told her she has worked hard to find opportunity and make her way. She says she is lucky. I think this is the Asian way of not being the focus of attention or seeking the limelight.

Regarding unemployment, she said many university graduates cannot find employment and are working in menial jobs. Most people do not have health insurance. She said she could not look at the sick people in the hospital because she knows that they can not afford medical care and will be left with no medicine. She said she was very worried that her parents will be ill and she will not be able to pay for their medical care.

She works very hard. On top of everything else, she also tutors students in English. I complimented her on a blouse the other day and she told me she bought it second hand for 5000 Vietnamese Dong which is 30 cents

She has asked me to take photographs of her 3 month old daughter because she has no photographs of her. She also has asked me to assist her with her travel business, review her website and, talk with her about her plans for the future. We have begun to talk and will do all of the above when her daughter recovers from a cold.

Posted by goodearth 04:26 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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