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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lao Trip 8.5 - Lao National Museum

You get a free continental breakfast at the Duang Deuane if you make it before 10am. After I got mine, I set out for the Lao National Museum.

Besides being an historical writer and generally a person who knew Lao history better than most, I was attracted to visit the Lao National Museum because of something I’d read in the Lonely Planet Guide:

[the museum] “does serve to sum up the country’s ongoing struggle to come to grips with its own identity.”

I found this to be true and I’ll add that it was quite obvious – at least to me – that the Lao communist government’s perception of the country’s history after winning victory in 1975 is not very clear. Certainly, it is not presented well or logically for foreigners. Also, it seems that the attempt to translate things into English, post-revolution, has been haphazard. There were a lot of post-1975 pictures coming up to present day, but they are mostly of people receiving medals and awards for who-knows-what.

The museum collection is expected to move into grander digs and it is unknown what will become of this classic building which was originally built in the 1920s to serve as the French colonial police commissioner offices.

Coming back to the area of my hotel, I took a beer break at an outdoor food stall situated between the commercial district and the riverside vendors. It has a nice big shade tree.

After the beer, I went back to the Duang Deuane for an air-con break, laundry and shower, getting ready for the second part of my day.

The Bor Pen Nyang had been recommended to me from a falang guy on the Teak Door forum. It has great elevated views of the Mekong, draft Beer Lao, and is frequented by freelancers.

Although I passed a very attractive girl in the stairwell, leaving unfortunately, there were no freelancers at this time of day (late afternoon). However, there were great views of the western-most riverside vendors setting up for the evening’s commerce. Beyond the vendors, close to the river, there were groups of young Lao girls doing aerobics exercises to the beat of “Sexy Music” and “Baila Chili Cha-Cha.” The Nolans tune is from 1981, when my wife was ten years old, and I hadn’t heard “Baila” since the days when I first met Thip, 15 years ago.

On the way back to the hotel, I “ran the gauntlet” of riverside vendors, but didn’t see anything that really grabbed my attention despite the fact that it’s times like these that are opportune for buying gifts.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lao Trip 8.4 - To Vientiane

Day 4, after waking up in Nong Khai, I headed for the “Friendship Bridge.” At the border, this time my checkout from Thailand and check into Lao proceeded smoothly, mostly thanks to the extra pages I now have in my passport.

On the Lao side of the border from Nong Khai, there are an incredible number of touts offering rides at inflated prices. Away from the main group, I was able to score an old tuk-tuk driver at reasonable rates. And he definitely looked like he could use the kip.

Arriving in a foreign location now that I’m in my mid-60s, I usually set myself in or near the center of the action. Since I’m on-foot, I like to stay in that mode as much as possible. This second time in Vientiane, I picked a hotel not far from the river front and not far from the hotel Thip and I had stayed one night in, back in 2012. The Duang Deuane was a little cheaper than Orchid, didn’t sit right in front of the river, but had a little bit of a Mekong view if you got up high enough, which I did. The desk clerk warned me that the hotel’s wifi sits on the ground floor, so I might have a little problem accessing it, but didn’t.

After my usual clean-up routine, I went walking the neighborhood, having a beer and fish and chips on the outside patio of the Belgian Beer Bar. Later, I had an Indian sweet tortilla from a roadside vendor and checked out a small portion of the riverside vendors.

Back at the hotel, before going to sleep, I stumbled on a John Carter movie on TV; based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ last installment of the Barsoom series. It was surprisingly good!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Lao Trip 8.3: Forced March: BKK

On Day 3 of my 8th trip to Lao, I hadn’t even gotten there yet.

The bus from Nong Khai left around 7pm and arrived at Mor Chit, Bangkok’s main bus station, around 6am. I grabbed a cab straight to the U.S. Consulate in Bangkok, dismissing the first first cab because it didn’t have a workable meter. This is a well-known taxi scam in Bangkok. If the cab driver does not have a workable meter, chances are he will charge you lots more than it would have cost running a meter. Many cab drivers apologize that their meter is broken, when in fact they don’t want it to function, anyway. You don’t want rides from these guys. There are loads of taxis in Bangkok to choose from.

 Everything at the Consulate proceeded smoothly and I was again reminded of American efficiency compared to Thai. My appointment had been for 8am and I was out by 9:30, with a lot more pages added to my passport. I grabbed a cab back to Mor Chit where, lo and behold, I got the same bus crew going back to Nong Khai. They were even excited about that and shouted at my arrival back on the bus.

When I finally got back to Nong Khai late that night, I was able to get my usual room in my favored guesthouse, even though my reservation wasn’t for that night, but a different one. I was pooped. I took a shower and collapsed on the bed, falling asleep immediately.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lao Trip 8.2 - No More Pages!

Checking out of Thailand was routine, but when I tried to check into Lao, I was informed that I could not, as there were no pages left for the visa stamp. I had assumed there were, but actually at the back of my passport, the last two pages are reserved for “amendments” like travel restrictions. Apparently, most countries require these last two pages in your passport to be empty or contain the relevant information and not be used for visa stamps.

There was only one thing I could do. I had to leave Thailand, as a condition of my one-year visa. Every day I went over my 90 days renewal and stayed in Thailand I would be fined stiffly. I needed more pages in my passport so that I could have space for future visa stamps and be able to leave the country. There was only one place in Thailand where I could get more pages in my passport and that was the U.S. Consulate in Bangkok.

We’re talking about a 10-hour bus ride south, getting in a consulate queue and then a 10-hour ride back, not counting all the time in-between those events.

There really was nothing else I could do. So, I voided my Thai exit stamp and took a tuk-tuk to the Nong Khai bus station. There, I got a ticket on the next bus to Bangkok (Kreung Thep) and proceeded to bide my time at an outdoor eatery in the bawkawsaw complex. I probably should have gone for a VIP bus or van, but I travel cheap and I like riding with average Thai people. Anyway, working out the schedules, a van or VIP bus really wouldn’t get me there any sooner than the public bus, although the VIP bus would be loads more comfortable and the rides quicker.

While having a Beer Chang and ice, I availed myself of a local wifi and used my smart phone to reserve an appointment at the U.S. Consulate for the following morning; first thing. My main worry was not knowing exactly the time the bus would arrive at Mor Chit (the main Bangkok bus terminal). It was possible that I could miss my appointment.

While having my beer and then another one, I indirectly met Pu, an early 30’s Thai woman. She was related to the owner somehow and showed interest in me. Since that time, we have struck up a friendship using social network links on the Internet (Facebook, Line).

A few hours later, I got on the bus for Mor Chit, and rode through the night.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Lao Trip 8.1b

So, in the center of the city, at the “inside” Udon Thani bus station (there is an “outside” bus station out on the “ring road,” also, that services primarily east/west connections), I took a second class bus to Nong Khai and Nong Khai province. From there, I could have gotten on a “Friendship Bus” to Vientiane, but decided that since the day was already half over, anyway, I might as well hang out in Nong Khai for a little bit and go to Lao the next day.

This is one reason I like to travel Southeast Asia alone. I can make changes to my itinerary “on the fly.” I don’t have to check with anyone or worry about whether my changes to The Plan are going to upset anyone.

Nong Khai is actually a pretty neat city. Each time I visit it, I like it more and more – and I don’t like cities!

This was only my third visit to Nong Khai, but it threw me some curves, all of which I made without sliding out of my turns.

I checked into the same guesthouse I used last time, close to Wat Hai Sok. Not sure if the owner/operator recognized me from before or not. It’s a nice place; clean and right by the Mekong, near the main waterfront road Th Rim Khong.

After washing my clothes, a shower and change of clothes, I headed out to the Nam Khong. I was glad to see the Mut Mee expansion complete and looking good. Thip and I had stayed there one night, back in 2010, but the construction noises had been too much. That’s how we found the guesthouse I now use. It was our alternative to the Mut Mee, not on the travel guides, but a better option in our opinion.

However, the Mut Mee is its own thing, being a kind of crossroads for international travelers; mostly of the backpacking kind.

I had a Beer Chang with ice at the floating Nagarina restaurant (owned by Mut Mee), Khong side. I was served by a very pretty and very young teenage girl who I had to wonder where her school was and why she wasn’t in it.

Gangway from the Nagarina to the river bank.

The Nagarina, looking from the west, down river.

 After watching the commerce bustling at Nong Khai’s small commercial port, I made my way eastwards along Th Rim Khong to the main shopping area; the Tha Sadet market. I bought a pair of cheap sunglasses, binoculars and dried mango and peanuts.

On the otherside of the market, I hit another floating restaurant and had some squid – pah merk – in crab sauce, with a Beer Chang and nam khaeng (ice). I was just about the only one in the whole place that probably did its best business in the evening and at night. From my vantage point, I could see some of the girls and younger women doing aerobic exercises to Thai pop music on land and watch the sun go down over Lao and the Mekong.

Have I told you how much I love floating restaurants? There’s just something about them that I can’t adequately describe. Wanna find me on the road in Southeast Asia? Look for the closest floating restaurant!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lao Trip 8.1a - To Nong Khai

I was fast coming up on my three-month travel permit expiration, so given that we were in construction mode and I needed to keep close tabs on what was happening, I decided to go to Vientiane, the capital of Lao (Laos), this time around. Being right across the Mekong from Thailand, Vientiane would allow me easy cellphone contact. I wouldn’t have to switch sim cards and calls wouldn’t be expensive. If I needed to rush back to the construction project, it was only a day’s ride away.

I had had it in the back of my mind to re-visit Vientiane. I wanted to make another assessment of it. I’ve found that living in Southeast Asia, my initial impressions are not always accurate. So, after dissing Vientiane in 2012, when I briefly visited the city river front that first with Thip, I wanted to give the place another chance.

This 8th trip to Lao was notable not only for a few days in Vientiane, but also for time spent in Nong Khai, Thailand, and two significant mistakes I made – one small, one big.

The trip started off as they usually do. After I took care of the monks, I drove my tuk-tuk toward the highway, parking it at Thip’s sister’s property. From there I continued walking to Highway 210, turning down an offer for a ride from a villager who would have driven me out of his way, for all the ten kilometers to the bus station, if I would have let him.

Instead, I took the Line 1 sawngtheaw to the bawkasaw and from there hopped on a bus to Udon Thani, the next province over.

At the Udon Thani bus station, I discovered that I could not take a direct bus to Vientiane. I would have to take a bus to Nong Khai, then get the “Frienship Bus” from there.

OK, a small mistake that set me back a half day; baw peng yawng (no problem).

On the riverfront, near Wat Hai Sok, in Nong Khai

Commercial shipping at Nong Khai (Lao in background)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bann Nah 9 - Foundation and Beams

After all the power line electrical work was done and after the post-raising ceremony, Lott and Naht set to setting the nine cement posts and bonding them to the column footers. Once this was done, they prepared the main horizontal floor beams at our village home. When they were done, we had the nine vertical concrete posts placed three meters apart and nine horizontal floor beams bolted to the posts.

Shots of the cement foundation posts being set:

Shots of the main floor beams installed: