Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lao Trip 1.1


[Excerpts from the journal I kept on my first trip to Lao (Laos), mid-May 2012, part 1]:


Apparently, Thai banks don’t ever carry Lao kip. Thip and I went up to the currency exchange counter at the provincial capital’s biggest bank and were informed, more or less, to this effect. We were told what is in the guidebooks: that, in Lao (Laos), Thai and American currency is accepted same as their own... This I gotta see.

Thip and I are taking a break from the village at a near-perfect time (mid-May, 2012). Thip’s mother, Khun Mae, is stable; I need to leave LOS before my 3-month travel permit expires; and there’s so much needless drama going on with Thip’s family that’s it’s just a pain to be around and within contact range…

Two and a half hours from our village, riding the bus west on Highway 210, we reached Loei (“loy”). Thip and I have passed through this provincial capital a number of times, usually en route to or from Chiang Khan and Khaeng Khut Khu, north of Loei, on the Mekong River. This time, after switching buses, we split off from Highway 201 and got on 2115, which is a really beautiful, slightly mountainous, ride to Tha Li (“tah-lee”).

The road from Loei to Tha Li was so scenic, I started expecting Tha Li to be a hidden gem. Although located in a beautiful area, upon arrival it did not appear to me to be other than another dumpy roadside community; the kind you see all over the Thai countryside. What I’ve heard of the development plans for the area is even worse. There may well come a time when we come by this way again and look back fondly on the funkiness of the “old” Tha Li…

At the Thai/Lao border, Thip started to get excited. I had started to notice a new shine in her eyes as we rode Highway 2115 to Tha Li; the country girl in her really starting to come out. At the Nam Heuang border crossing, her eyes and voice of wonder continued to grow, especially when she compared this crossing with the one at Nong Khai. While it’s common to see many westerners at the Nong Khai border crossing and bus loads of people, here on the Thai-Lao Nam Heuang Friendship Bridge, we were the only non-Lao making the crossing and there were only a handful of us…

After doing the paperwork for exiting Thailand and then, on the other side of the bridge, getting a one-month visa for Lao, we took a travel bus to the Kenthao bus station, which wasn’t much more than a petanque court. Petanque is somewhat like botchi ball and is a hold-over from when Laos was colonized by the French. From Kenthao, in the company of some locals getting off along the way, along with a lot of groceries, we traveled by truck bus to Pak Lai northbound on a highway that – for the life of me – I couldn’t find a number for, but there must be.

The road from Kenthao to Pak Lai is beautiful and in good shape. The area reminded Thip of Thailand many years ago. Later, after walking around Pak Lai, we agreed that if you discounted the cars, trucks and motorcycles, Lao could pass for the the Thai countryside as much as 30 years ago, when Thip was 10.

Pak Lai is often spelled “Pak-Lay” – even the town’s own signs that have English translations show this spelling. However, the pronunciation of Pak Lai is “pack-lie” or “pack-L-eye”, not “pack-lay.” It is a relatively small town. I’d guess the population at about 10,000 Laotians. The only reason tourists would come here is as a stopping point between points north (especially Luang Prabang) and Thailand. I later learned that there are caves in the area that attract particularly Japanese tourists. While Thip and I were staying in the town for three full days, we never saw anyone that wasn’t Lao or Thai.

I specifically took us to Pak Lai just to hang out in a lesser-known corner of Lao…




Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thung Yai Music

I know this blog is supposed to be about The Isaan, but here's one more short (3:33 minutes) video capturing some of the best moments of our trip through Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, April 2012. This one features a poem written by Ajan Boon Long, our head monk, with music written and performed by Mann:


Friday, August 17, 2012

"Thailand's Role in the Vietnam War"

Hard to believe that Northeast Thailand (the Isaan) was once contested territory between communist insurgents and the Thai government. Below, is "Thailand's Role in the Vietnam War," produced by the ABC television network in the United States, 1967.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Expats


I’m not the first expat to write about Thailand and my writing about the northeastern part of this Southeast Asian country is not as good as many. I’ve listed some of the guys writing about the Thai countryside (as well as other useful links) in the sidebar of this blog and I keep the list updated. Included are also forums where most of the expats in Thailand share information and viewpoints, ask each other questions and get help via a communication exchange.



Some of my favorite blogs are:


The forums I like include:


A particularly interesting and diverse forum thread about expat experiences and feelings about living in Thai villages is located here:


“Expat” is short for “expatriat,” a Latin derivative meaning a person who temporarily or permanently resides in another country other than his or her own. Before I became one myself, I had a one-size-fits-all perception of what an expat was – especially a Southeast Asian one. He was grizzled, a Vietnam War vet, single, knew all the best bars, frequented the most earthy of them, knew all the bar girls and frequented only the most fun.

Well, that image might work for one type of expat in the cities, but there are many, many other kinds -- and what about the countryside? It’s very difficult to insert yourself into small communities unless you somehow have an “in” – a job, friends, family, or, more likely for expats in Thailand: a woman. If I’m sounding a bit too sexist, well, I am because whereas you see male expats all over Southeast Asia, I have yet to see a single female expatriate. That’s not to say there aren’t any, it’s just to indicate their numbers are extremely low.

There are a great many different types of expats, both in the cities and in the countryside. The one thing we share in common besides coming from other countries is the loneliness that sometimes comes upon us and that we rarely admit to. It is the loneliness that, in our own separate ways, comes upon us when we miss people or aspects of our former country.

It happens. No matter how grizzled or disaffected an expat may be about his first country; no matter how excited he may be about his second (or third, or…), or how well he knows the language or solid he is with his wife or GF, there comes a time…

… when all us expats face the realization that, like a Rainbow In The Dark, we are unlikely and absolutely... alone.

P.S. For the very best version of "Rainbow In The Dark" go here:  http://youtu.be/LmSt1oEIshE

Friday, August 3, 2012

Gold Buddhas


Back last March, I video recorded the gold melting and casting that took place in our local Forest Temple. I've finally edited it to my satisfaction and it is posted below, at bottom.



Ajan Boon Long’s gold Buddhas melting had to do with a weekend-long event at the temple where gold jewelry was melted down to form high-grade gold Buddhas – the biggest one now sits front and center in our temple. Thai jewelry has a high resale value as very little of it is below 22 karats; 24 being the purest you can get. Fourteen and eighteen karat gold are not even considered by the average Thai – rich and poor alike, mostly because of its far lesser resale value.