Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Lao Trip 14.6 - Montezuma's Revenge

In North America it is often referred to as “Montezuma’s Revenge.” With all the travelling I do into less than sanitary locations, you’d think it would have struck me sooner and more often. In the five years I have lived in the Thai countryside and travelled over a dozen times to Lao, “traveller’s diarrhea” has not hit me -- until today.

In a way, it couldn’t have come at a better time. My accommodations at Souksanh Guesthouse were comfortable and I was not pressed for time to go anywhere or be anywhere, except for the falls. I had wanted to go to Tat Somphamit (Li Phi Falls) and possibly Khon Phapheng Falls, but these will have to wait for another time.

The diarrhea hit me upon waking. It was so strong I first worried it might be something worse. It basically put me away for rest of the day and overnight. I didn’t start to feel presentable until late afternoon, but really wasn’t thru it until the next morning. 

I suspect unclean and under-cooked pork was the culprit. If that was what it was, then I was partly to blame. The restaurant where I ate did not have ping gai (BBQ chicken) and asked if pork could be substituted. I said “OK” figuring meat off the grill would be alright. The pork I ate either wasn’t bar-b-qued and/or was under-cooked.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Lao Trip 14.5 - Don Khon

Last night, I had done my usual thing of hanging out with Khon Lao. In this case, I was invited in to eat and drink with the family that operates Souksanh and has an outdoor restaurant directly across the dirt road from it, with their homes in back of the restaurant. This morning, they acted like it hadn’t happened -- you know, no joking or laughs -- so that sent me a signal not to do that again; totally unlike what it would have been in PL2.

I called Thip via Line. She was watering plants at Bann Nah and enjoying not having our workers out there using power equipment. Also, she’s enjoying having family around more, as it is the beginning of the rice season and activity increases dramatically at both farms. Additionally, we have a lot of tools around and the house still doesn’t have a front door so we can lock things up. Consequently, Thip’s brother and wife have been staying out at 9 Rai overnight.

Here on Don Khon, I decided to delay travels to the waterfalls close-by and relax. I’d been on the move every day for over a half a week, so it was nice to just be stationary for a day. Of course, I walked the town’s main dirt road and stopped in for Beer Lao’s and food at various small and different outdoor waterside restaurants. Importantly, I was able to get caught up on my travel log.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lao Trip 14.4 - Si Phan Don

Following Mr. Singh’s advice, I left his Saythong guesthouse and headed for Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) a day ahead of schedule. Before I left, Mr. Singh’s wife came up short of change -- 7,000 Kip -- for my breakfast. She was steadfast that she would make good upon my return. Of course, my return was never guaranteed and I just basically wrote it off. It was less than a bottle of Beer Lao.

Now, this is a prime example of me not being “fast enough on my feet.” In thinking about it later, I figured I could have at least bartered for a bottle of beer or bottles of water to make up the difference; that way I wouldn’t show a loss and maybe Mrs. Singh would have felt better.

The ride on the small long tail boat from Champasak to the other side of the river was cute and then, after a bit of a wait with some Falang girls, we were off on the bus to Ban Nakasang, the staging port for Si Phan Don. This fact, I’ve noticed, is often overlooked in travel books.

From Nakasang, I rode a long tail with other Falang to Don Khon. Don Khon is the southernmost big island and known for its laid back lifestyle. No cars or trucks on the island that I could see. Opposite Don Khon is Don Det, which is a backpacker party magnet. Don Khong is the northernmost of the three main islands and supposedly even more laid back that Don Khon.

After embarking from the long tail boat from Nakasang, I asked a guy where my guesthouse was. At first, he didn’t understand me -- probably due to my dialect, which is Lao Isaan, and here I was all the way down at the end of Southern Lao. His directions were simple and I found Souksanh guesthouse toward the end of the main road; basic but cheap and -- importantly -- waterside.

Walking to Souksanh on the dirt road lining the water’s edge, I had passed an 18-20 year-old Falang guy with a Lao girl of about 14 years of age. I might have been mistaken on the ages and them being together, but that’s what it looked like. They were walking separately, but at the same pace. Walking separately is not uncommon when you have a Lao or Thai girlfriend. Unless she’s a wife, the girl does not always want to be seen as close to a Falang.

This reminded me of a couple of nights ago, at Savan Kaim Khong in Savannakhet. There had been a really overweight Falang guy with an absolutely beautiful Lao girl much younger than him; maybe her 20 years to his 40; something like that. When she would come back from the restroom, we would exchange looks and smiles. Sometimes I find myself envying these guys who score big like this. Not that I’m unhappy with my own marriage (who could possibly have a bigger heart than my wife?), it’s just that some of these girls are just so beautiful and of the body type that I’ve always admired. This is why I went ga-ga over Nuey, two years back.

After my usual guesthouse settling-in routine, I set about in search of a cold Beer Lao. After that and coming back to Souksanh to hang out riverside, I was happy to finally be able to connect with my wife via Internet. I’d had problems with communications on the front-end of this trip, as times when I expected to have Internet, I did not. Also, I could not use my phone easily, so didn’t. I vowed on the next trip to have comms more together. Buying separate country sim cards and minutes used to be the way I did it and that worked fine. I’ve gotten lazy and cheap by thinking I could have Internet most everywhere in Lao. No, that’s not the case.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Lao Trip 14.3 - Vat Phou Champasak

Morning of my third day, I flagged down a pedi-cab near Pakse’s city center, to the southern bus station and market. Here I got a sawngtheaw from Pakse to Champasak and even got to ride up front with the driver and his buddy.

There were many stops along the way, as the passenger truck driver serviced many outlying businesses along the highway. Notable commodities included fruit and ice.

Champasak is lots smaller than I originally imagined. I was happy to land at Saythong Guesthouse, Mekong-side, and discover that it was slow season and I had the owner, Mr. Singh all to myself.

While we watched all the ban fai (rockets) across the river -- marking some kind of special local occasion -- Mr. Singh convinced me to change my plans and go to Vat Phou Champasak this day as there would be little to no tourists and it probably worked out better for him.

I really love Khmer -- Angkor -- temples. The antiquity and stonework amazes me. My greatest experience with Angkor temples was in 2013, when I visited Angkor Wat and the Khmer temples of Siem Reap. This trip could be considered an extension to that one, as Vat Phou Champasak originally was connected in a straight line to those temples:

(shot taken from the upper section looking down to the middle and lower sections)

Vat Phou is basically separated into three parts: the lower, middle and upper. Starting with the lower section:

Walking into the middle section from the lower:

Middle section:

Walking towards the upper section with squeaky sands:

Upper section sanctuary:

Backside of the sanctuary, cliff side and rock caves:

Panel shots:

... and a selfie!

A particularly good YouTube video by Nigel Fowler Sutton, taken on a sunnier day than mine; starts out in the middle section and goes to the upper:

3.5 hours after first embarking on walking Vat Phou Champasak (“Champasaek” is how it is locally pronounced), I was exhausted. Back at the guesthouse, I took an ab nam, had a Beer Lao and some food, watched a rain storm blow in and then retired early.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Lao Trip 14.2 - To Pakse

My second day of my 14th trip to Lao, my previous day’s tuk-tuk driver transported me to the Savan bawkawsaw. Here, while having a BBQ chicken baguette sandwich, I was joined by a crazy but attractive Lao girl named Jan Dee Buapon. She was probably on ya ba, but it could have been all natural, too.

She was interested in my because I’m Falang, but she couldn’t stay engaged on a single subject for very long before moving on to another. It was hard to follow her, so I had her write out a lot of it, which I later had decoded. Apparently, she is a morlam singer/dancer and rates herself highly.

Nothing came of this, even though she was on the same bus to Pakse.

The ride to Pakse, itself, was a long six hours on a second class bus. After I disembarked, I made my way to the riverside, along the Se Don (Xe Dong) Mekong tributary, finding a little outdoor restaurant situated between the boat landing and the fancy Khem Khong floating restaurant.

When a rain squall moved in, all of us in the restaurant hunkered down in protected areas and socialized a bit. When I figured the rain had stopped, I walked towards my intended guesthouse. 

The rain resumed while I was en route, so I found a little shelter at a package store not far from the Sabaidy 2 guesthouse. The owner and his father subsequently invited me in to their living space and we shared some Beer Lao until the rain abated. This kind of thing is not unusual in Lao and also, to a lesser degree, in Thailand... just another reason why I love travelling in this country.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Lao Trip 14.1 - To Savannakhet

There are basically two approaches to taking trips. Of course, back in the day, I might have argued that there are three.

The trip that is planned is my most preferred; over pointing myself in a direction and seeing “whatever happens.” There’s a lot to be said for just going with whatever transpires, but I’ve found that it is more rewarding to plan something out and see what your percent of success is; going for objectives and achieving them.

I left our village with several things going on. At Bann Nah, the stairs tred was being placed. Thip was sick (cold with cough) and it was the time of ow gah (rice seeding) on both our farms. Then there was all the usual stuff, too.

Due to logistical problems, I wasn’t able to apply for my one-year Thai visa while I was in the United States. So, within a month of returning to Thailand, I set about to leave the country once again and apply for the visa in Savannakhet, Lao, where I have previously applied for and received my one-year “Non-Immigrant ‘O’ Visas.”

As Thip was not feeling well, I didn’t want her to drive me into Nong Bua, to the bawkawsaw. Instead, I just had her drop me off at the highway (210) and I picked-up a sawngtheaw (passenger truck) from there. From the provincial heart of Nong Bua Lamphu, I took a bus to Khon Kaen and then another, longer one to Mukdahan, on Isaan’s eastern border with the Mekong and Lao. At Mukdahan, I rode the International Bus for checking out of Thailand, crossing the Mekong via “Friendship Bridge 2,” and checking into Lao. From the Savannakhet border crossing, a tuk-tuk driver drove me into the city and to the riverfront, to Intha Village Restaurant and Guesthouse. I had spotted this place last year but had, regretfully, not taken a room there. It was a bit of a bust that night I met Jitzy and her girlfriends in March 2015. I was in one of the worst rooms at Nongsoda Guesthouse, at the time, when I really should have upgraded to Intha.

After a shower, I had a Beer Lao Mekong-side and talked with a Norweigan guy, then headed off to my favorite spot riverside in Savannakhet: the Savan Khaim Khong karaoke bar and restaurant. Nothing as exciting as the night, last year, that I met up with Jittzy and her friends. Eventually, the staff checked me out for my own good. They do that when they think someone’s had too much to drink. Maybe they saw me dozing off. That’s fine. I appreciated them doing it.

Back at Intha, as if confirming the feelings of the Kaim Khong staff, I slipped on the bathroom tile and got a bad bruise to the forehead. I’m usually very careful on the slippery wall tile that is used on floors throughout Southeast Asia, but when I’ve been drinking, I’m less careful. I lucked out this time. It could have been lots worse and even a show-stopper.

Beware the floor tile, mixed or not with alcohol.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Bann Nah 36 - Trim, Railings and Balluster

While I was away visiting family and friends in the USA, our workers finished up the one remaining inside wall of “yellow wood” and did the trim work for the entire inside.

When I returned to Thailand, Sam Lott and Sam Naht had completed all the inside work and had moved on to working on the porch handrails and balluster, which, like the stairs, were partly designed by our head monk, Lungpaw Boon Long.

One problem that they had encountered was that the mae sak (teak) originally bought for the balluster had split badly when it dried. I suspect the wood pile should have been placed in more shade, but what was done was done.

Once the porch railings and balluster went in, the beauty of the porch was even more enhanced. Not only that, but the railings were super strong. Combined with the inside trim work, Bann Nah was really shaping up and I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel for Phase One (the main house) construction.