Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sgt Kai & The Excellent Adventure

Wednesday Dec 12

Remember that dotted road on the map----I feel like the cartoon character where there is a big flashing sign saying DON'T GO IN THERE but I can't see it....

I had gotten so many good recommendations for Sgt Kai that I couldn't resist using him, and the bottom line here is that he is sooooooooooo worth it. BUT....there is that dotted road...He and I traded pages and pages of emails trying to hammer something out for me that would satisfy my real curiosity about northern Thailand and the tribes that live there. I didn't want to see "THE HILL TRIBE VILLAGE: Go here for trinkets."

I know now that my instincts were solid in that regard.

Sgt Kai picked me up at 8:30 on Wednesday in his cute Isuzu SUV and then we picked up his associate Nooy, the lovely women who picked me up at the airport. I am not quite sure why, but I have a hunch he did not feel conformable being the guide and driver on an overnight with a women...or maybe not.

As soon as we started talking I knew this was gonna be fun---he's very relaxed and loves to talk about Thailand , his time in the army ---we started driving out of Chiang Mai and I asked what our plan was---" no plan" just see some villages not on the beaten track, visit the caves at Chian Dao, and end up in Tha Ton for the night---sounded good to me.

Nooy was designated the navigated because she knows the roads much better---we avoided the hiway and were on a two lane blacktop that was wandering north...until we took a right onto a dirt road.

I am sure that if we had a map it would have been a dotted line. I cannot even describe how beautiful this area was---and I so wish I knew where we were!

Climbing ever up, the road narrowed. We saw no one until we passed a moto standing by the road---didn't see the owner but there had to be someone....We came to a slight rise, and ooops. Stuck. We all got out to look. I think he was a bit embarrassed untiI I started to laugh...we were well and good stuck there and we could not get the car out of the mud. But what can you do? I asked for adventure.
Nooy finally went back to where we saw the moto, and found two workers who came to help. I kept saying that we had to push it out, but the "guys" insisted on trying to put rocks and boards under the wheels...that would have been ok had be not be hung up on the running boards too....

Well, we finally had to push. And we did. Having had plenty of time to scope this out, I chose the side where it wasn't muddy and avoided the mud shower that Nooy got.

But we got out...and continued along the road that didn't seem to get anywhere...we were headed to a village of Palong that was NOT supported by the government, then on to a school for the very poor that Sgt Kai wanted me to see. After another 20 minutes on the dirt road, we came upon this very beautiful house in the middle of no where, and were told that we had to go back the way we came.

I don't think so.

Well, we kept going on thru some of the most beautiful country you can imagine---the type of thing seen only in beauty shots from Conde Nast Traveler. Rice paddies with one ox in the middle, purple mountains in the distance, and everything is GREEN. Much was made of Nooy not knowing her right from left, but all of us I think were enjoying the adventure.

And we ended up exactly where we started!! Only this time we turned right instead of left.

We found the first of several villages that morning---and if you are not of the strong of stomach and heart, this kind of adventure is not for you. They were definitely not the “human in a zoo” Hill Tribe village that the Thai government has set aside for tourists. These were the ones that got left behind.

(And before anyone has a moment's thought of OH that’s horrible, let me just remind you of what we did to the American Indian. I had made up my mind that I would not bring my Americanized judgment muscle with me and I do believe that for the most part I was successful. I did not judge the poverty or the life of the villages that we saw—in Thailand or Cambodia. I cannot judge their government lest they turn that mirror on me.

These villages are poor beyond what we can imagine. Or what I would like to describe here.
Whether they were Karen, Palong Lisu, Yao or any of the other hill tribes that have settle in Northern Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, they have a specific culture and a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. It can be said that they have a slash and burn attitude toward farming and when they are done, they move on. So they have been restricted where they can live in Thailand, and with those restrictions come the inevitable lack of education and information. This is passed down like an inheritance from generation to generation.

But I did not come away with a sense of pity for them, but that of resigned resilience. )

We handed out some cookies and such and looked at some weaving—I got my first look close-up of what chewing beetle nuts really does! Not a pretty picture.

From here we moved on to a school for the hill village people—we helped with lunch. A few of the more enterprising older kids had filled balloons with Kool-Aid and frozen it to sell—I bought all they had we had a great time treating everyone.

From there we headed to Chiang Dao---caves used for centuries by meditating monks. This is one instance, of many, that I was glad for doing something touristy---they were magnificent!

The Peak of Doi Chiang Dao Mountain is 2225 meters above sea level making it one of Thailand’s highest mountains. The caves extend around twelve kilometers into the mountain and but only 5 areas are designated for visits (Tham Maa, Tham Kaew, Tham Phra Nawn, Tham Seua Dao, and Tham Naam). And only two of these have lights—the rest are lit by lanterns that are carried by guides. I opted out of this part of the adventure as some of those “dark” caves are VERY tight and you have to crawl.

The caves contain crystals that have formed through dripping water – these are extremely impressive formations and make the visit well worth it. The two I visited the two main caves (Tham Phra Nawn and Tham Seua Dao) that have electric lighting and can be visited without a guide. But I had Nooy to tell me all about it. (Sgt Kai---well he “meditated for this part”.) The caves contain a number of sacred Buddha images, as well as resting monk images, but as they are lit only by sporadic florescent lighting it was hard to shoot pictures.
The caves are mainly visited by Thai, as they are difficult to get to, so they were virtually empty. Outside there are vendors selling herbs and such. Sgt Kai and I discussed the efficacy of herbal healing and we both agreed that there are things that herbs do that we cannot explain. I bought beautiful saffron here for pennies.

We ate a late lunch in a Chiang Dao village local eatery, where I ate noodle soup (what else?) and watched as a papaya salad was being prepared. We headed a long to Tha Ton where we were to spend the night. The drive to ThaTon was uneventful—we made a few more village stops, and around 6pm arrived at ThaTon.

ThaTon, and the ThaTon River View Hotel (sic) sits so close to the Burma border that Sgt Kai jokes that the border guards can look into your room any time.

The immediate area has attracted many of the displaced hill tribe groups to inhabit its verdant hills and lush valleys. Yao, Lisu, Lahu, Karen and Akha peoples have all made their homes here spreading out among the foothills and along the river. They were closely followed by Chinese Haw and the remnants of a Nationalist Chinese (Kuomingtang) army that fled China in 1949 to Burma, and arrived in the area in 1960, having been expelled from Burma following political changes there.

The ThaTon River View Hotel sits right on the Mae Kok River and is set amongst some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. But we are in the north, and the weather started to chill as soon as the sun went down…and I mean CHILL.

Nooy and Kai checked me and went to another guest house where they were staying. I was there alone. ALONE means VERY VERY freaking alone as everyone at the “hotel” was Thai and NO ONE spoke any English. It gave me a moment’s pause. (Does anyone else remember the very forgettable Debra Winger movie, The Sheltering Sky?)

The rooms are Spartan in the extreme but would have been OK during a warmer time. They have no heat. The room are much like the auto courts that sprang up in the 50’s across the US—2 room connected, then a space, then two more. All spread out so every single one had a view of the river. It was really lovely, but cold. I had nothing but a thin sweater since we had been in 80 degree weather for almost 2 weeks, I was good, So I thought. WRONG.

I tried asking for a small heater but they showed me how to turn on the air conditioning. Nope that won’t do. I gave up and decided to have some food---dinner was passable but not memorable. I ate, went back to the room, put on all the clothes I had with me, got down all the extra blankets, and looked at all the pictures I shot that day. I had twelve hours to last.
I could do this.

I was so cold I took a scarf and wrapped my head Khmer style, and NO YOU DO NOT GET TO SEE IT.

Eventually the Thai version of American Idol put me to sleep ---the morning could not come soon enuf.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

If it's Tuesday it must be Yui.

Yui and her husband Kwan picked me up for my cooking lesson in a 1972 Volkswagen bus. BOY! Did that bring back memories.

As soon as I go in the car I found that no one else was going to be in their class today because of some scheduling error…I immediately volunteered to come another day, but after some discussion we decided to continue as scheduled, and am I glad we did.

Those of you who have been to Thailand have probably seen the schedules for this fantastic cooking school, but for those of you who would like to drool, go to I went on a Tuesday so I was going to see and learn the Popular Dishes menu: Pad Thai, Hot & Sour Soup. Spring Rolls, Green Curry, Sir Fried Chicken and Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango. YUMMY!!

Note to self: REALLY, when they say don’t eat they mean it.

After 5 minutes in the car, I knew I had made the right decision. Yui is absolutely passionate about food, and loves to share her thoughts and visions about cooking. She asked me what interested me and I told her that although I had taught myself some Thai cooking skills, I wanted to learn some specific dishes and techniques—because it was just us and I said I was interested in the Stuffed cucumber soup and the Panang Curry—she made those changes for the day.
Usually she stops at the market during a break in the menu, but we stopped on the way. A very local market where she is well known and obviously loved. We went thru the separate stalls and vendors with her buying certain small things. We talked a lot about the sameness of good cooks and about the differences of produce, the fun of experimenting, and the inevitable oops that result and the occasional Ahhs!!!

One vendor was cooking a very translucent discs over a small charcoal grate ( see picture) ---this is a delicacy that will forever elude me: cowhide. And yes, it tastes like warm glue---Yui could not give it away to other vendors who replied to her offer with a sure “Are you nuts? “ No one wanted to avail themselves of her generosity!
She told me that the real organic and home farmers are the ones on the skirts of the markets—try them for unusual things you might want--the others buy from wholesalers.

Marketing done, we go to her house where she lives with her husband, two children and in laws. It was lovely and cool. She employs a helper to keep things moving along, and keep things moving we did.

Pad Thai has never been one of my favorite dishes, but after tasting this one and seeing how she cooks it, I might try this at home---a very light touch is required here.

Next we tacked the stuffed cucumber soup—amazing, light and extremely flavorful, any one with a deft hand at cleaning out cucumbers can make this. We had some fun her with Yui trying to teach me to carve vegetables—not gonna happen. I can dig out a cuke with the best of the but making a carrot flower. NOT.

After the soup it becomes abundantly clear to me that there is a lot of food that will be wasted because I can only eat so much…I ask her to teach me about the dishes—show me the proper way to cook them and talk to me about Thai cooking in general and how she does it in particular---this she did.

We talked a lot—about food, her mother (a chef that has traveled from Thailand), her desire to learn about the food of other cultures. We did some impromptu recipe exchanges, and remarked how even thought let’s say the dance of Italian cooking was vastly different in ingredients from Thai cooking, certain steps remain the same. And I was still STUFFED when I left …

We did finish early, but it didn’t matter to me because I felt that I had a great experience with a genuine cook who loves food as much as I do. I highly recommend this school and will go back again.

They dropped me off at Baan Orapin and I dropped like a stone onto the cool bed and slept for 3 hours---

Another dotted road:

I swear that I never learn… after my long nap I needed to stretch my legs. I was running out of SD card room, having shot close to 1000 photos so I was on the hunt for an SD card. Remember that “PhotoBug” store that as next to the spa that got me lost the first night? Well not to be cowed I went on the hunt for that store, and retraced my path of Sunday night. Walking Walking and more walking---but I did not get lost at all. Found the store, bought the card, and felt very proud –so proud I decided I deserved a good dinner and a massage. I went back to the Gallery and order some HUMONGUS prawns that are sold by the gram, a glass of wine and some French fries. Yum Yum---perfect.

Later I tried an foot and leg massage at Chiang Mai Massage, right on Tha Pae Rd, (23/1 Thaepae Plaza, Tha Pae Rd) about a mile from the bridge but a great after dinner walk. I loved this place—doesn’t look like too much from the outside but great massage and fair prices. Also, it is registered with the city which is one of the things I started looking for when looking at massage places.

This city has many MANY massage parlors---put out a chair and a stool and you are in business—in fact many people do that…but I although I have had massages all of the world, I am kinda funny about the “hey soldier, wanna have a good time “ attitude of some of the places I saw. Cheap does not mean good—in all senses of the word.

Anyway, I digress...massage over I walk back to the gas station—OH, I never mentioned that is where I would get my Cornettos? Hmm, must have been an oversight.

The BBC lulls me to sleep and its Sgt Kai in the am.
Don't forget to check out My dd is still working on finsihing her side of the trip. And more to come form me later.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Chiang Mai:Temples & Markets

Got picked up this am by Kampun, part of Sgt Kai's team. He is the one that is going to shepherd me around today.

We head out early for the State owned Elephant Conservation center in Lamphun ( this is the one that you can go to for the 3 day training). Before we hit the hi-way, he takes me to his favorite laundress to get some laundry done. Unlike Cambodia it is by the piece, and we are told that it will be about 1 BHT each piece. I leave some about 5 pieces and some underwear, we are promised that it will be done by 5pm.

TECC is a huge complex and set up very nicely in the mountains southeast of Chiang Mai. Of course, there is an elephant show---this is where all the foreign mahouts get to show what they have learned. I must say that although this is a "show" there is no sense of drudgery from the animals---they are just having some fun and they know at the end that they will get lots of treats. Today is a holiday so we are joined by many school children, and two bus loads of guys from the army. The show is short and Kampun tells me that we can go to see the baby elephants---I don't want to take the tram ( got to keep walking) and so we walk up the road--what a score, we come across a mother and her baby getting their bath---

5 months old!! So cute--they trainer tells us to follow him and we see another 9 month old with his "step" mother as his real mom is in the show. This is special and not part of the show with the crowds.

After leaving the TECC, we are to visit a local market along the way but it is over run with Thai tourist buses headed back to Bangkok after the holiday...I opt out and we head for the old road, where we do make a quick stop at another market. I cannot get enuf of them---each one different with different types of food stuffs.

We fortify ourselves with coffee and head out to Wat Umong and Doi Suthep. I was disappointed in Doi Suthep---it was a zoo. Too many people---in many ways like any holy shrine--avoid on a holiday. But I get my "luck" from this lovely monk and his helper.

After this we head back for the laundry---when we get there the laundress tell us it's 120BHT because of the color of the shirts and BTW, she normally doesn't do underwear...who knew???
This could turn out to be the "who knew" tour.

Along the way I learn about the local customs from him and why he doesn't like to drive in Bangkok ( crazy people) sense is that he is a quiet, religious man. He bows at each shrine we pass and tells me their history. He gave me quite a bit of back ground on the Japanese and Chinese during WW2. He also tells me what it is like to be a farmer, which he does, rice and some vegetables--during the off season. I very much enjoy our time together and would recommend him to anyone.

I rest for a few minutes after we return---the room is cool and dark.

Later I find a massage place that interests me and have my first massage here. Just OK and I cannot even remember the name---a walk thru the night bazaar and a bit of food from the vendors. I am done for the evening. CNN keeps me connected to my other world, and soon the bed calls.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Do Not Take The Dotted Road

Version 221a, Asia

NEVER EVER turn right when your instincts say turn left...the dotted road syndrome does not live in Sicily alone. ( See

This is foreshadowing for the next 8 days.

I left the hotel put securely in a taxi at the Sheraton by Kristina (who is thinking that I will not survive without her) and the hotel taxi guy who personally picks this taxi. Before we go 20 feet he turns and says, you pay me 500 BHT? I laugh and tell him to take me back to the hotel as I am experienced (right!). I know that this trip should be around 200 plus tolls, and I tell him so. She shrugs sheepishly as if to say “can’t blame a guy for trying.”

As usual BKK was a zoo, and there si a reason for the “get there two hours early”. Although I do not have to go thru passport control, it still takes time to clear and once there, Kristina is right: Do not go thru security until you are ready to board---there is nothing there except a bathroom. I talked to 3 Scots who have been traveling for 2 years, going for a last 3 days in Chiang Mai and then home for Christmas…nice guys. A quick email ( using a machine that I swear is gonna eat my cc) and I am off on my own.

The flight is uneventful, except for the Italian kid who spends his time kicking the Brit in front of him and as we land, vomits into his mothers lap. Cute.

Baggage is quick and I am picked up by one of Sgt. Kai’s team: Nooy and a driver. They zip me to Baan Orapin. It’s lovely and I am impressed by the grounds at my very first glance.

But we have a slight glitch when they show me my room. I had specifically asked for a room in the back, second floor, and this first room was NOT it. There are actually three parts to Baan Orapin now. The front, where they say there is more noise, but the rooms are bigger, The middle ( next to the pool and very small and darkish rooms) and the back, which has bigger rooms and much brighter. After some discussion with Anne, they switch me with a bottom floor room in the back that is quite lovely and I am happy to call home for the next seven days.

It’s mid afternoon and I take off for the Walking Market. The distance from the Tae Plae Bridge to the gate is very misleading. (more foreshadowing) It’s about a ½ mile, and I spend some time trying to figure out where the damn gate to the old city is.

Behind the wall, silly---set up to celebrate the King’s bday, there is a new brick wall in front of the gate. I finally see people walking around it and the light bulb goes off.

The Walking Market lives up to it’s name---surely a mile long, with booths set up randomly along the sides and in the middle, and food in courtyards off to the side---this is some real fun. I walk and walk, and eat and eat. Pennies for yummy food: fresh roasted corn cut from the cob and dressed with butter and sugar (I for-go the sugar but go back for seconds) I look at everything---food that I cannot hope to figure out what it is intrigues me but I settle on some chicken and a nice chat with a lovely Dutch girl who is traveling alone… Ice cream Ancient Style is next and I am full. In between these gastronomic delights I am eye shopping, and walking. I don’t think I ever made it to the end of the market, when I decide to turn around and head back.

I noticed right outside the gate, a book store and a dot on the map that said Oasis Spa and I decide to check it out. There is an alley way just behind the Starbucks at the gate that holds a great book store—a girl there says that the spa is just down the alley a bit. I walk. Hmm. No spa. Hmm I walk some more, and consult the map. Looks like I am headed toward the moat that boarders the old city and it seems that when I get to that I can turn right and find my way back tot the foot bridge and the hotel.

Wrong assumption, and an hour later I am asking a police man I see in front of a hospital where is the footbridge. He is from Bangkok and doesn’t know the city…just passing time in Chiang Mai.

I must look desolate ( I AM DESOLATE) because a young girl takes pity on me and takes me to 7-11 where she is sure they can help me…they can’t, and now I am starting to get concerned because no one seems to know where we are on the map. I refuse to panic, and stand very quietly for few minutes trying to get my bearings. Understand that no one I have met so far speaks any English, but hand signals an smiles are working so I figure I will make it all right. But I will give a BIG THANKS for the flashlight that K left with me. Some of those streets were dark!!

I break down and start looking for a tuk tuk---I know I paid too much but at that point I would have paid more! I find out later that I have walked about 5 miles NORTH of where I should have been, and ended up near the soccer stadium. It will take 4 more days before I finally figure out that the maps I have are worth LESS, and none of the street names remain the dame for more than 2 blocks. Oh well.

After this adventure, I decide that I will just walk down the street for dinner at The Gallery.
(25-29 Charoenrat RoadChiang Mai 50000 Thailand
Oh, goody: wine, and actually drinkable, one glass please, very cold with some Khao Soi ( what a freaking faux pax: who knew you only eat it at lunch?) …a great meal for 190 BHT.
THEN I discover Cornetto. Don’t ask, just know that it’s a damn good thing I walked almost 10 miles today.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Cambodia: Rice and Salt

Tuesday Dec 4th thru Sat Dec 8 2007

In my mind now the 5 days spent in Cambodia are compressed into picture bites: the first glimpse of Siam Reap airport ( What’s that beautiful building doing here?) to the last as we pull up and over the short airstrip to go back to Bangkok…

We came to do good stuff, and we did. We came to see the famous temples of Angkor Wat, and indeed we did.

Built in the 9th century the temple complex at Angkor is made of scores of sites---filled at this time for year with tourists from the entire world, they chatter and shuffle along pathways walked by kings ---there are few actual Buddhas left in any of the temples. They have been looted by countries too many to count, including their own

The devastation wrought by the Khmer Rouge is apparent everywhere you look. 65% of the population is under 15 years old, 80% under 25. There is a great irony in the juxtaposition of the age of the population and that of the great temples.

Outside of the Angkor complex, there are hundreds of other sites, some of which have been cleared by CMAC and some not…some like Bang Malea have been cleared but not ‘tricked out” for tourists. Here, we feel like Indiana Jones climbing over stones and through collapse portals. Few foreigners and few Cambodians come here.

I would be lying if I said I could remember them all---I cannot. But I remember the feeling that I got when walking thru them. Majestic—the scale is on par with the Coliseum in Rome…and soft: that’s weird because they are made of stone—and volcanic rock. But carved, intensely and richly carved, and that softens them. And green…the color of the stone ranges form black to mottled greens and white…some rich reds—not form paining I am told, although some temples were painted. The colors are from aging and weather….

I take pictures of doors and windows—there are thousands and like Kristina they intrigue me: where are they going? Who walked thru them?

Ponhery points out the bullet divots from the war at Angkor Tom. And she isn’t referring to WW2…her war: the one that began with the Khmer Rouge and has not ended yet. Land mines still dot the country side and you dare not walk anywhere that has not been cleared. As we climb over the stones of Bang Malea someone points out the groups of people walking by all dressed in powder blue: these are the new troops of Cambodia—CMAC workers whose job it is to clear the thousands of land minds that still pockmark the countryside. Put there by there own people solely to further kill and maim.

Our second, or maybe our first reason for coming is to bring money for the Ponhery Ly Foundation. (I won’t go into it here, but see Kristina’s site for why).

We have brought a significant amount with us and it is to be directed a one school: Kol Keh. Built in the middle of a cleared area, it is so far off the beaten track that there is no track. There is no road, there is an ox cart track. We have discussed with Lori Carlson at length what this money can do, and I am fully convinced that she will use it to it’s best advantage and squeeze every possible penny out of it.

Lori’s story is the stuff of romance novels and adventure tales---a successful business woman in Austin, Lori recently made the decision to come to Cambodia and devote herself to the foundation. She is driven and incredibly focused on this and I have no doubt that she will be as successful in this as she was in her past life.

No one can describe the poverty in Cambodia. It is devastating, but if possible, what I see in Kol Keh leaves me without words: these children eat “rice and salt”. There is some canned fish, but a can is supposed to feed 8 and they have to make it stretch to feed 25…

They are listless--malaise. They are hungry. Food, and then education, basic skills, respect and hope. It’s hard to learn when you need to eat. We bring soymilk, lychee drinks, and ramen noodles. Five packages each and they fold their hand and bow their thanks. Some open the packs and eat the noodles dry.

Their eyes make me numb.

Ponhery hands out uniforms and flip flops for each child. The uniform is a badge of honor and success. They have made it this far. For some it will be their best moment, but for others, it will be the beginning of many best moments… and that’s a very good thing.

For better pictures (and more of them) see, and click on Thailand and Cambodia. Krsitina has several more pages up by today ...

To learn more about the Ponhery Ly Foundation go to Should you choose to donate, please mention Kristina Johnson or Sharon Miro.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Early to Market, Early to Rise, makes you….

Er, not on vacation but up we go to the early morning local market of the type that we like to visit.

DO not imagine your Friday evening Farmers market in Encino or Beverly Hills. Local wet markets have not only produce but meat and fish and whatever else is being eaten for the people that live here.

Local markets are not for the weak of stomach. But they are interesting. This one seems to be for wholesalers and perhaps restaurant owners.

But I digress: we are always these first few days, in search of the perfect noodle soup.I four last trip was the Strudel tour, then this is the Noodle tour.
Or it can be the cat and dog tour--not sure yet. At any rate the perfect noodle soup, well, it’s not here, so we push on to another very small market near the Oriental Hotel. There we find a man and woman cooking in the middle of the fish market: Noodle soup that looks good…we make the appropriate signs and they ‘seat us “ 20 seconds later YUM YUM…noodle soup, fresh &`fragrant and I don’t even ask what kind of “pork” it is…after a few minutes the elderly woman brings us a taste of something else---duck we agree, and smack our collective lips…hard to relate to this kind of eating unless you have done it…yes, a risk but why not? For less than 60 cents our tummies are full ( for now) and we have made a new friends from the smiles of the two cooks.

The rest of this day goes by in a blur ( more to come of that!) We see an exhibit, eat lunch and shop for scarves…Hmmm, is this really the scarf tour? Tomorrow Cambodia.

For better pictures (and more of them) see, and click on Thailand and Cambodia.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Day 2 Tong & The Tiger Temple

Yes, it cudda been a movie.

Tong is a force of nature—she picks us up at 6:30 to “make merit” before we leave for the floating market. Thai monks must eat only what they are given. They cannot cook for themselves or own anything except their bowl.

Most Thai make merit every day. There is a precise ritual to follow-precise but simple. You must put the food you buy into the bowl in a proscribed manner. The monk blesses you. Done. Start you day with a blessing instead of a traffic jam.

We go to an area where there are many disabled or elderly monks. Some come with caretakers and people who hold their “bag’. There is a cottage industry that has built up around this custom—vendors that come with your “merit” pre packaged: rice, vegetable, something unidentifiable, water and a flower with incense. 75 cents. A pretty economical way to get on the good side.

Later they will return to their temple, share all that has been gathered, and if they have too much, they will feed the poor.

For an American, we who buy something new everyday, or clog landfills with our Starbucks cups, this is sometimes a difficult lifestyle to grasp.

Do not touch the monk. You will want to because they have an allure not often experienced here. Don’t.

We move on to the Floating market. Not normally into heavy tourist items, I really wanted to do this for some reason…now I know why: Chicken skewers and noodle soup, fried bananas at 8:30am YUMMY!!! Don’t go without Tong or someone from her team. They know the right places and do not allow you to shop in the relentlessly touristy places. And everyone knows them. Including the animals. As we floated along, we noticed that Tong was buying LOTS of food…I mean way way too much for me and the last French tour bus we passed to eat. We asked why and she said for the animals …but “what I bought for you was better quality.” Good to know.

We veered away from the “beaten” canal and as we did Tong and the boatman started to sing out…and the dogs started to appear. It seems that Tong feeds the strays. For most she doesn’t take the skewers out—in fact we saw several that had learned to hold them down with their paws and remove the meat…but still there is more than just for the dog, but we will find out about that later.

After the market we head for the Tiger Temple. You can read about the controversy about this on Fodors---or other places. Yes, I was skeptical too, but now I understand that at least they are doing something. And something is better than nothing. None of the animals that we saw seemed to be worse fro wear at all—in fact they seemed to be well taken care of. Yes, there is an air of commercialism that didn’t set well, but, hey, we have Disneyland.

Kristina REALLY wants to take this one home to Nem.

And by the way, all the animals here know Tong’s voice as well…as we entered she would call out and goats and dear and dogs would come running.

And really, the trip out there and back was made all the more worth for BamBam…Tong seems to have adopted a bear…found on the Thai-Myanmar border as a baby this bear was brought to temple, and is quite taken with Tong ….she used to run free but there is construction going on for new habitats and she has to be caged for now…

This was a long day, and I look forward to some rest tomorrow before we go to Cambodia.

For better pictures (and more of them) see, and click on Thailand and Cambodia.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Day 1: Da Plane, Da plane

It’s late, and I am tired and cranky—both K and I suffer from pre trip anxiety—and both of us worked a full day. We have to consciously remember that is a vacation, not a death march. There were several “are you panicking” calls today.

When we check in (me in business and K in Premium Economy) they are nice enough to give her a pass to go with me to the Lounge—in the end we could have used my Red Carpet pass, but still a nice gesture and a for-shadowing of the treatment on board.

The Thai Airways (Star Alliance Lounge) at LAX is quite nice---all over a domestic lounge: for one thing the liquor is free, and the food is plentiful. From some sort of Thai noodle dish to tiny sandwiches—yummy.

Boarding is relatively painless and quick, and still we leave an 30 minutes late---Kristina is about 10 feet behind me and I can see her if I turn around. Kind of weird, as we are both used to hanging on as we take off, and sharing in flight conversation.

I am seated next to a lovely main-Reiner, who is a scientist physician on his way to Bangkok for a conference---his specialty field is cancer and he works with stem cells.

Right behind us are two families with 3 children, hmmm. How is this gonna work? Well 20 minutes up and we know: one of the kids is coughing a deep wet cough and we decide to take advantage of several empty seat and we move…better. I warn that I sometimes take pictures of food.

Meal one comes shortly after we level off—great appetizers pretty good lemon tart. A very nice Tokay Pinot Grig, Michel Nartz 2003 and I am ready for sleep.

The flat beds are great but not all they are cracked up to be—slanted and a wee bit hard, I am awake at 2:30 am and my achy left hip area tells me that the rest of the flight will be piriformis hell. My fears bear out, and I spend the next few hours tossing …at 7:30 I am on the floor trying to remember stretches that will relieve the endless cramping.

The next meal arrives—many people are still sleeping, and my watch says 8:15---I am wide awake but no amount of caffeine is gonna make my stomach say yes to the garlic pork they bring (what was I thinking last night???)

We are over Korea and a glance out the window shows lights far below where there once was the relentless back of the Bering Sea. Not much longer. In fact, flight data says 5:40 more to Bangkok. We will be arriving early.

Day 1, or 2 or maybe 3? Bangkok

There is truth in all the sleep deprivation theories. We land early 6:10 and immigration is a breeze---the new Bangkok airport is HUGE and looks eerily like Denver. Lots of lying buttresses and while sheeting…we look, but our brains are not quite catching up to our eyes.

A cab takes us to the hotel which sits right on the Chao Praya river---it’s early and they are not quite ready to let us check in, so we walk thru motorcycle taxis and food vendors to try and reach some caffeine that we can recognize. We find a bakery that makes incredible croissant, lousy coffee and a great view of the people getting off the river boat to go to work. It’s 8am Saturday .

When we get to the room, it gives us an impressive view of the northern curve—we take pictures before we decimate it, but really what’s for lunch?

Both K and I need to get out—get to the streets and smell…and taste. We have an errand to run, and then hit the road…

The Wat Po Buddha is still huge, the streets still crowded with sites and sounds and smells and no matter what happens, the Thai people sooooo friendly… we put on 5.5 miles today—before we have a massage. Bed comes early because tomorrow is Tong Day.

You can see Kristina’s take and lots of better pictures at click on Thailand/Cambodia 2007.