Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cambodia Trip 2.4 - Small Circuit

Das and I had breakfast at Ivy, then got going around 8 A.M. Bunleng was waiting for us, as we proceeded to go on what’s called “the small circuit” of Khmer temples in Siem Reap.

Before we got to the temples, though, I had to purchase my pass (Das already had his). I was surprised to find the old structure for getting the pass was now just a check-point. The main ticket booth is now housed in a very large complex near an even larger complex of hotels catering to visitors on group tours -- usually Asian.

I surprised my son with my agility and stamina going around and up and down the temples our first morning together. He even made mention of it. I hadn’t thought about it much, except in appreciating I had a little more experience behind me, this second trip to the Khmer temples of Siem Reap. First trip I walked through on wet sandstone in sandals! 

We broke for lunch and then continued on. My idea was to see the best of what I’d seen on my first trip along with some new sites and, of course, the best of the best for Das.

Switching gears, we took a long tuk-tuk ride out to Phnom Krom to finish the day with a sunset over the Tonle Sap:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cambodia Trip 2.3 - Link-Up with Das

I’ve been getting up around 7:00 A.M. on this trip; a far cry from the 4:00 A.M. wake-ups Thip and I have been making, out at the farm.

I spent my first couple of hours of my third day on my “smart phone.” There were messages from Thip, keeping up with my surfing website subscribers and readers, calling my credit union, downloading video for later viewing, checking messages from Das who I would meet up with later in the day, and lastly messaging Bunleng thanking him for his help the day before; setting up our itinerary for the days ahead. Digital cellphones are revolutionizing communications in cultures throughout the world and have made traveling so much easier for me. My Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is of great help to me back home, too.

I had a late breakfast at Ivy and walked around Psar Chaa some more, especially Pub Street which is “Falang capitol” here in Siem Reap. More foreigners in the street than Cambodians.

While having some Angkor’s at that place across the street from “Cheers,” I met two expats Paolo and Darron and Darron’s Cambodian wife who was very attractive, small but solid. The husband/wife team operate a bar called the “Fox’s Hat” and made a point of explaining how the name came about from the phrase “where the fox it’s at.”

Late afternoon, I met my son Das back at Ivy Guesthouse and it was great to see him again. It’ had been almost a year since I visited him back in Carpinteria, California. We ate at an Indian food restaurant a street over and then called it an early evening. We were scheduled for the next day, to get in as many temples as we comfortably could.

[below: sights to greet us early the following day]

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Cambodia Trip 2.2 - Psar Chaa

Multiple problems faced me after my first overnight in Siem Reap. I had had a weird cramping of an ankle and lower leg muscles during the night. The pain woke me up a couple of times until self-massage eventually lowered the pain and cramp. It was another one of those things I had learned as a lifeguard so many years ago. All day traveling in buses, van and car must have been the culprit.

Additional problems were my room and cash. I arrived a day early and my booking was incorrect. I needed to switch to a better two-bed room in preparation for my son’s arrival.

First thing I did when I left Ivy this second day of the trip, was to try my ATM card again. Alas, it still did not work -- even at two ATM’s. This was unusual and I was beginning to feel a little at a loss. Just then, almost miraculously, I crossed eyes with a tuk-tuk driver and it was my friend Bunleng!

After a brief reconnect, I told him of my problem and asked if there were any banks open on Saturday? He replied that Canada Bank was open half day and drove me the block over. There, I took money out of my Visa credit card which I carry as a back-up for just such an instance as this. Later, I would resolve the issues with my credit union ATM card without the pressure of having no cash.

With all immediate problems resolved, I spent the day walking around the area of Siem Reap that caters exclusively to foreign visitors. Psar Chaa’s entire economy is built for tourism and is a little like a mixture of Khao San Road in Bangkok and downtown Luang Prabang, Lao.

Wat Preah Prohm Roth

In the evening, I had some Angkor draft at Ivy and caught up on all my Internet communications. Later, upstairs in the lounging area, I even watched a downloaded episode of “Designated Survivor.” I had originally purchased the largest screen cellphone I could find in order to do this kind of thing.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Cambodia Trip 2.1 - Full Day

I had a chance to spend a few days with my oldest son Das, in Cambodia, so I made plans to go.

Prepping for my trip to Cambodia -- sometimes called “Kampucha,” no longer “Kampuchea” (the Thais call it “Kamin” [kah-mihn]) -- was more involved and required more attention to detail than traveling to Lao. This was due to the lesser frequency. This would only be my second time in five years in the land of the Khmer.

This trip also required a lot more research than normal, not only because I’d been to Cambodia only once before, but because things change over time and my memory gets fuzzy about what and how I did things the time before. Refreshing the memory banks and improving on the first trip was essential.

Then there are the Khmer temples, if you are visiting Cambodia’s biggest tourist draw. Documentation on them is extensive and there’s always more to learn. It’s always best to read up before you go and take your references with you (weight permitting). Chances are, you’re not going to have time to do it all on the run.

So, I read my Cambodian and Thailand guidebooks, what I had done before and about the temples. I did some Internet searches and posted some questions of my own at Falang forums, receiving some helpful replies. I checked my maps numerous times. Lastly, I got in touch with my friend and Siem Reap guide Bunleng to confirm that we were on and gave him an idea of what was planned.

As I got underway on the first day of the trip, I reminded myself that timing would be important. I would need to be less “laid back” than I normally am when traveling, in order to make my bus connections and get to resting stops at times of my choosing. I don’t like arriving in a city in the evening, for instance, and then having to navigate my way through unfamiliar terrain in the dark.

My wife drove me to the Nong Bua Lamphu bus station for that morning’s first bus to Khon Kaen. Arriving there 2.5 hours later, I was just in time for the Surin bus just pulling out of bay. The Khon Kaen to Surin bus took six hours -- less than I had remembered. So, I found myself in Surin at 2:30pm when I had expected to arrive in late afternoon.

Availing myself of the extra time and doing some quick time calculations, I scrubbed plans to stay overnight in Surin and crowded into a van to the Thai border at Chong Chom. Across the border, in O Smach, Cambodia, there is a casino popular with Thais, but accommodations expensive. So, I pushed on, letting the border touts talk me into private transpo to Siem Reap. It’s pricey, but saved me over a half a day getting to Siem Reap. I ended-up only paying about $25 USD more than I would have, considering I didn’t have to pay for lodging in Surin or at the casino that night.

Riding from O Smach to Siem Reap was a little hairy. The driver -- whom I mentally dubbed “The Horn” -- knew the road well and acted as if he owned it, constantly beeping the car’s horn. It was actually a good safety precaution as there were scores of kids on bicycles, motorbikes, mechanical buffaloes, trucks and even an occasional tractor on all parts of the road all along the length of it. We traveled late afternoon on into the early evening when light for travel is at its worst. Adding a little to the danger was Horn’s windshield which hadn’t been cleaned in days.

We made it to Siem Reap in one piece, without causing accident. I had a little trouble with my ATM card, but found enough cash to pay Horn off. I was at Ivy Guesthouse, with a room, sipping Angkor draft at the bar by 9 pm.

Monday, January 30, 2017

New Year's Eve 2016

New year celebrations in Northeastern Thailand center around New Year’s Eve, as it does most everywhere on the planet. The apex of New Year’s Eve is, of course, “the countdown” to the new year. This is probably adopted from Western culture, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Usually, the guys organize a party for the last day of the year, with the high point being the count down, but by no means the end of it. In fact, celebrations could go on for a number of days, but usually only one. Not all parties are just on New Year’s Eve, either. During the last week of the old year and the first week of the new, there are scattered celebrations across family, friends and even business lines. What this means is that at any given time during this two week period, there’s usually a party going on somewhere.

The women will either be a part of it or not, depending on whether the party is a family gathering or just a guys’ thing. Even if it’s mainly for the guys, the women will prepare the food and come and go throughout. However, they tend to celebrate with each other, usually at family homes. If alcohol is present, it is in very low quantity and strength. Also, country women never smoke.

Thip’s brothers broke with their tradition this year by not having a party because -- well, they’re broke. I didn’t find out about it until the next day. I had already determined to stay away from the large amount of alcohol usually consumed. Instead, I attended my wife’s New Year’s Eve party out at our farm house. She and a few of her closest friends got together for food and a little bit of what Thip calls “Sprinker” (sparkling wine in 8 oz. bottles). They followed this with the bringing-in-the-new-year ceremony at our Kamattan temple -- within view of the farm house, a little less than a quarter mile away.

Candles lit on the ground floor of Bann Nah; outdoor kitchen in background right.

When I saw Thip’s brothers Sawt and Pawt the next day, I asked how their party had gone.

“Pee Mai mai” (no new year) was their reply. I asked why not?

“No money,” they said with sad faces and more words to Thip in Thai.

Later, I asked my wife what they had said.

“They barbecued some chickens for you yesterday, but you not come.”

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Favorite Songs of 2016

By “2016,” I mean these are the songs that were in “heavy rotation” on my smart phone in 2016. Except for two, all of them were released in earlier years:, 2016 - ไสว่าสิบ่ถิ่มกัน - non-story, original song

"Sai Wa Si Bor Thim Gan" (ไสว่าสิบ่ถิ่มกัน) -- what I call "Sai Woosy" -- was played throughout Thailand and Lao in 2016. I even heard it in Cambodia in December. As Long As The Last Breath, start at 00:35

This one is one of my wife's favorites. It is a sad song and a bit depressing, but I think it's healthy to remind ourselves that we will not be in this life forever; that our bodies break down even if we are fortunate enough to live into old age in relative good health. Carabao’s tribute CD to The King, 2016

A good song with a really cute video. Still very popular in Thailand and Lao.

A few other songs I listened to a lot this year, from my days back in the USA:

"Dragon Fly" by Fleetwood Mac, circa 1972, rediscovered 2016

"Look To Your Soul," Johnny Rivers, 1967

"At The End of a Rainbow," Earl Grant, 1959

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Rice Harvest, 2016

Returning home from my 15th trip to Lao, I arrived in time to continue helping with the family rice harvest and just in time to help thresh the khao nio (sticky rice) at 9 rai.

Threasher kicking up rice stalks, dust and dirt at 9 rai; 
more dirt than normal due to recent flooding.

I got in there, but as usual, was not dressed for the occasion. That’s OK, my greatest value to family at harvest time -- as it is most all the year -- is as major supplier of liquid refreshments, food and cash.

Next morning.

The recent flooding negatively affected our yield at 9 rai. We brought in 15 50kg bags less than the year before because of it. However, we did so well at our 8.5 rai farm -- where there hadn’t been flooding -- that we brought in 30 bags more than the year before. So, the net gain meant we were ahead by 15 bags this year, counting the yield at both farms.

Thip's brother Pawt giving the thumbs up at 8.5 rai.