Friday, July 26, 2013

Lao Trip 4.2a - Chiang Rai to Chiang Kong

I no longer travel with gold or anything that might indicate I am “rich” (hah!). That includes watches, so generally, I can only figure out the approximate time by the position of the sun. On overcast days, it is a challenge.

When the bus arrived in Chiang Rai, north western Thailand, I knew I was in a little trouble. We should have been arriving in low beginning-morning light. Instead, it was fully light outside and the sun was visible.

As soon as I could, I took the bus to Chiang Kong to get to the Thai-Lao border in the hopes to catch that day’s slowboat that would take two days to travel down The Khong to Luang Prabang. The bus itself was probably the most rundown bus I’ve ever ridden, but it did the job and the company was good. One guy around my age even made sure I made my connections correctly. I love guys like that!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lao Trip 4.1b - Trip Map

Ever since I was old enough to do it, I’ve loved being “On The Road.” In fact, I have travelled across the United States at least a half a dozen times, hitch-hiking, when I was younger, 1968-1971. Travelling in Thailand many years later, I would never give a thought to hitch-hiking. My style now is very laid back and mature, as fitting my age of 64.

Wow! A “senior citizen” travelling in Southeast Asia on his own is still – I must modestly say – very impressive. Of course, the beginning of this trip was easy and anybody could do it. Thip booked my bus trip through a private bus tour company. All I had to do was sleep… Here's a map of the route I took beginning my first day and ending with the last:,101.140137&spn=8.2

View LAO 4 in a larger map

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lao Trip 4.1a - To Chiang Rai

Leaving the village and especially leaving my wife is always a mixed bag. I look forward to the vacation, but I worry about how Thip will do when I’m not around. She plays on this a bit, too, so it always makes leaving a little harder.

Thip has helped me a lot, though, in learning how to safely solo travel through Thailand. Of course, her advice is always a little paranoid and negative, but that compliments me very well, as I am overly friendly and naive, despite my many years of occasional burn.

My first day on my fourth trip to Laos, June 2013, was all Thailand. Thip and I waited at the Nong Bua Lamphu baw kasaw (bus station) for a private 1st class bus that would take me overnight to Chiang Rai. It came a half hour late and then I was on my way.

This wasn't my bus, but it looked a lot like it:

Bus travel in Thailand is such a great value. It’s one of the reasons I have not invested in a car or truck. For local transport, we have bicycles, Thip’s motosai and my samlor (tuk-tuk, aka “skylab”). For long distances, a First Class bus ticket (meaning I had air-conditioning and the bus didn’t stop at every possible stop), I paid about $40 USD. That’s a trip that began at 5pm and ended at 6am the following morning. Try to get that kind of mileage in the United States!

Anyway, to be entirely truthful, I was so far in the back of the bus that I often got a whiff of the restroom and later, I nearly froze my ass off in the overnight air-conditioning. To top it off, the bus was late – a critical issue if I was going to make it to the Lao border and get on that day’s slow boat to Luang Prabang.

I was on my fouth “visa run” since retirement; the first one of this year. As usual, I was headed for Lao (Laos), the closest country to the Isaan and a place that I grow more and more enchanted with.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Thip's Closet/Laundry Room

Before Pong completed the renovation of our downstairs in the summer and early fall of 2012, we made sure Thip’s clothes closet/laundry room was included in the makeover. Here’s what it looked like before all that, when Thip first moved in and her brother Pawt and sister Lahm helped her clean the place up (fall 2011):

Which progressed to this:

Then looked like this, after walls were finished and painted and tiled:

I don't have a good picture of how it looks, today, mainly because we're still working on the clothes racks and how to make them work in the small space along with the washing machine, but here's a shot of Thip's best friend:

You want a way to keep a woman’s heart beating strong for you? Make sure she's got a good washing machine!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mak Pow! (coconut)

Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve loved coconut. Yet, it has taken me a full lifetime to really know and understand what it is; its variety and different uses.

Growing up as a kid, my only exposure to this fruit was in the form of sugared flakes and coconut milk ice cream. Later, as a young man, I got into coconut-pineapple juice. What a great combination coconut milk and pineapple juice is!

It wasn’t until I became a father that I finally came in contact with a real coconut, learned how to crack open the hard inner shell, drink the juice and pry out the “meat.” It was only then that I understood that “coconut milk” was different than “coconut juice,” and was made by pulverizing the white inner core.

Living in Ojai and Santa Barbara, California, “back in the day,” all the coconuts used to come from Mexico (nowadays, of course, there is more variety). They tended to be all of one kind: thick inner cores with juice that was good but not sweet.

Now retired in Northeastern Thailand, I have almost two dozen coconut trees on our home property and almost monthly I learn a new aspect about them and coconuts in general. There are actually many kinds of coconuts and how they are used varies.

My wife Thiphawan and I have two kinds of coconut trees. One kind produces thin “meat” you can easily scoop with a spoon and the juice is sweet. The other kind is similar to the Mexican: the juice is good, but not sweet, and you have to pry out the actual coconut in order to eat it or else grade it out. The former is used mostly for on-the-spot drinking and then eating. The later is mostly used for cooking, once the juice is drained or drunk.

Although I’ve learned how to de-husk the things, I still am not very good at it. I’ve also learned the correct technique for cracking open the inner shell; how to make coconut flakes and even how to bring a tree down.

No, I haven’t learned how to climb a coconut tree, but there are some kon thai who do.

Originally, I was going to title this post “If The 8 Turned Out To Be 5” (a take off of Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9”), because we recently had to cut down three of our eight adult trees. I didn’t want to do it, but feel it was the prudent thing to do since they were so close to our house. We have one that is still pretty close, but it is leaning quite a bit away from the building, so I’m fairly confident we can keep it over the long haul.

Most of our younger coconut trees are less than two years old, as we are in the early stages of repopulating an area of the village that used to be a thick coconut grove.