Travel Diary

 ELS/MKS Cambodia and Laos Adventure

28 January to 15 February 2017

By Mary Bartz Sykes

DAY ONE – SATURDAY (JAN 28)

Should have departed Wichita(ICT) in the morning but due to United maintenance issue we only left ICT in the early afternoon en route to Houston where, instead of crossing the Pacific Ocean we crossed the Atlantic headed for Frankfurt.  The Frankfurt/Bangkok leg of this cobbled up itinerary was to be on Thai Airways, a flight for which we didn’t have a boarding pass until we got to Frankfurt.  It was somewhat nerve-racking leaving the US without a boarding pass, hoping the United agent in Wichita knew what she was talking about—“Oh, you can just pick up your Thai Airways boarding pass once you get to Frankfurt.” But on Monday morning, 30 Jan, about 7 hours later than our original itinerary, we arrived in BKK, deprived of a nice night’s sleep at the Suvarnabhumi Airport’s Novotel hotel.  Grrrr . … !  (Applied to our trip insurance company for “Trip Delay” and “Missed Connection” suffering but “did we incur any financial loss?” No, only pain and suffering=> no reimbursement.)

 

DAY TWO – SUNDAY (JAN 29)

Supposed to arrive in BKK late evening.  Nope, still in the air over Asia. See above.

 

DAY THREE – MONDAY (JAN 30)

Day in Bangkok.  Slept, ate the hotel’s super breakfast, pooled, wandered around hotel, hiked to the 4th floor of the new, monstrous Suvarnabhumi Airport to pick up our boarding passes for tomorrow morning’s flight to Phnom Phen, Cambodia.  

 

DAY FOUR – TUESDAY (JAN 31)

                INSIDER JOURNEYS TOUR “DAY 1”Flew to Phnom Penh.  Our tour company had arranged for a guy to pick us up (he was holding up the ubiquitous sheet of paper with “Sykes” on it) and get us to the Sunway Hotel.  He spoke a little English and made comments about Phnom Penh during the slow half-hour drive through lots of traffic and construction.  Driver said a thru-way was being built—they needed it!  [In retrospect, this was a total different route than the van driver who returned us to the airport the following Saturday.  Why?]  We had lunch with a fellow, Marcus, from the American Embassy that noon.  Ed had requested the meeting in an email weeks earlier.  Last year Marcus had played a role in people getting to the crash site of Dave Dinan.  Marcus’ wife, O, was with us too.  He’s an intense guy and kept staring at me like “Why would someone like you marry this guy?”  (Ed and Marcus’ relationship was not always civil regarding the search for Dave Dinan’s remains—two different perspectives.)  I had a vegetarian lunch, good. Tried to walk out after lunch. Got coffee and a horrible chocolate crepe at a sidewalk café then agreed we needed to get a tuk-tuk $2 ride back to the hotel and nap.

Met up with tour group members Louise, Karen, Paul, Ann and Barry and tour group leader, Krista, at the hotel bar that evening to get acquainted.  After our initial “free drink”, Krista recommended we have dinner at a “Friends” restaurant (a rehabilitation project for wayward young people).  I practically fell asleep and off my chair at dinner due to jet lag.  Ordered a salad but too spicy, couldn’t eat it, just ate one of Ed’s spring rolls.  I wasn’t hungry anyway.  All the rest ate the spicy stuff with gusto.

 

Our group was diverse, 3 Aussies, 2 English, middle-aged, sociable ladies and Ed and me.  The Aussies were a couple who had widely traveled, and a 45 year-old guy who’d worked in the Middle East and Africa, in human resources mostly.  Presently he lived in Beruit but was moving back to Perth to “settle down.”  Good catch for a lady, I thought.  Our tour leader was a 30-some Brit who’d lived in Vietnam for 8 years already.  She was very organized, knowledgeable, and  helpful in every way.

The breakfast in the hotel was fine. Didn’t cook omeleted eggs enough though.  Yogurt was very sharp, the service very good. Hotel room was fine, good hot water supply.  

 

DAY FIVE – WEDNESDAY (FEB 1)

                INSIDER JOURNEYS TOUR “DAY 2”First stop of the day was at Phnom Penh’s Central Market, a large European style open enclosure built by the French in 1937. (Bigger and cleaner than Casablanca’s markets.)  Everything you’d ever need was for sale, food, hard goods, electronics and soft goods.  I liked the clothing styles, more unique styling than American clothes.  Next on the agenda was a visit to the Killing Fields of Choeng Ek, the site of Pol Pot’s executions of an enormous number of educated Cambodians who he felt stood in the way of his perfect Communist state.[1] Sadly, oftentimes brainwashed children were used to do the killing. Our Cambodian guide was able to talk about the history of Cambodia from a personal perspective.  He was a victim of the Pol Pot regime as a child. He talked about his life virtually the entire time(1.5 hours) it took us to be driven to our next stop, the Genocide Museum, a school that was converted into a prison and torture site during the Khmer Rouge regime.  Two Cambodian authors, victims of the Khmer Rouge, were on-site selling their books. Our guide said everyone, including him, was sent to farms to raise a lot of rice, not to feed Cambodians, but to give to China as payment for weapons the Khmer Rouge (“Cambodian red scarves”) needed."

 

As we toured that morning, Krista was kind enough to contact Thai Airways to change one of our flights on tomorrow’s two-leg flight itinerary, Siem Reap to Bangkok, then on to Vientiane, as I had only given us an hour and a half to transfer in Bangkok, not nearly enough time as we realized we had to go through passport control in BKK before getting to the boarding gate for our BKK/Vientiane flight. a time-consuming process for which I didn’t account (the danger of naively making internet flight reservations weeks before our trip.) Now we had another 5 hours in BKK awaiting our 4 pm, 45-minute flight to Vientiane but at least we didn’t miss our flight.  Thai Smile airlines did not charge us a change fee or anything.  Nice.

 

As we drove these distances in and outside of Phnom Penh it became apparent the city was not real orderly as a whole.  Obviously zoning was lacking and trash pickup was haphazard to say the least.  Had lunch back in town at the “Friends” place. I had a really good hot(temperature) veggie dish this time with couscous,; was a little spicy but edible. 

 

On to the Royal Palace, each on our own tuk-tuk, one-person bikes with a passenger seat in back. The Palace was a compound of buildings housing the king’s residence and other classic buildings some of which contained large collections of Buddhist statuary in stone, silver, and gold embellished with gem stones. Cambodian rubies are not red but pinkish. Hot day. Back at the hotel we regrouped later for a sunset boat ride on the Tonle Sap River. Not so eventful just a chance to become better acquainted with our tour group member.  The older Aussie couple, Ann and Barry, and Ed and I had a nice supper at the hotel that evening.  The rest went into town.

 

DAY SIX – THURS (FEB 2)

                INSIDER JOURNEYS TOUR “DAY 3

Flew to Siem Reap, checked into Hotel Somadevi Angkor, a nicer hotel than Phnom Phen’s, also with a good breakfast and rooms, had lunch on the flight so we could take a little break before setting off for afternoon touring.  Ed and I got a manicure at a near-by salon.  Was pretty mechanical.  I did coat my fingers with a germ killer afterwards.  While collecting for the afternoon tour we talked a bit with Paul, a member of our seven-person tour group, about why he's looking for new job in Perth, Australia. 

 

That afternoon we vanned to the “second largest” lake in the world, the Tonle Sap.  The Tonle Sap River connects to the lower Mekong River.  We loaded onto a traditional boat, traversing an OSHA-horror wharf (no railings to hang onto, narrow, bouncy boards as a gang plank, gross water below) and motored on a canal that led to the lake so we could see the boat houses that people lived in permanently.  The inhabitants just move from shore to shore depending on the seasonal height of the water.  Fishing is the people’s livelihood.  The boat motor was loud, the day was hot.  The motors weren’t Evinrudes, but a strange

combination of an engine block set on the floor of the boat connected to a long shaft that protruded from the back end of the boat It was underwater but a propeller had to have been attached to the shaft, sometimes 20 feet behind the boat. Some boats had inboard motors and propellers but most just had this motor/shaft/propeller setup. Some people were throwing nets out along the shore line to catch fish, kids were playing along the banks here and there.  I noticed some houseboats had little “lawns” with shrubs and flowers and some had netted off a little section of water behind their boat—to raise some fish I’d guessed.  I saw an inhabitant toss his plate scraps into the netted-off area.  Lifestyle not for me.

 

DAY SEVEN – FRIDAY (FEB 3)

                INSIDER JOURNEYS TOUR “DAY 4

Tour temples & Farewell Dinner

We began the day piling into tuk-tuks two by two hoping to end up watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat for starters.  The ride(6 km’s one website noted) was chilly but sort of fun, got the real flavor of the country-side.  Temple touring is big business judging by the 5 am ticket lines already formed at the visitors center for the Angkor Archeological Park.  Lore is that a rich Cambodian originally owned the temple grounds but “sold” them to the State, maybe under some duress?  We drove by many large, good-looking hotels on the way to the ticket compound.  We, along with large numbers of fellow travelers, many Asians, toured Siem Reap’s main temple site, Angkor Wat, large and impressive, its construction stone walls extensively carved.  Brief history:  built mid-12th C.E. by people devoted to Hinduism as a temple and a mausoleum for Suryavarman II—you remember him, don’t you?  Only found by a French naturalist in 1860.  After walking through the passageways and up and down the stairs, sometimes only ladders, we breakfasted at a restaurant on the grounds and headed for Angkor Thom.  If you are an aficionado of Game of Thrones, the large heads carved on the towers of this temple will remind you of the Hall of Faces in the more recent episodes.  Our mid-day break was welcome, our tuk-tuks took us back into town, most of us jumped into the pool back at the hotel.  The last two temples were a smaller version of Angkor Wat but with more detailed carvings.  We ended up at a site that was overgrown with huge trees, the Banteay Srei Temple.  Because we’d gotten up around 4 am in order to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat (morning was cloudy though, boo!) by the end of our temple tours I was hot and beat.  Around 7:30 pm Krista led us to an open-air restaurant several blocks from the hotel for our farewell dinner.  We were all reluctant to leave the restaurant tables that last night as the conversation flowed freely. It’s amazing how perfect strangers can become comfortable friends in just three days really.  That is a benefit of international travel that does good for our global family.  Finally we all left to go pack for our next adventures--to Laos for Ed and me, to Vietnam and to … Thailand(?) for the others.

 

 

DAY EIGHT – SATURDAY (FEB 4)

                LAST DAY OF INSIDER JOURNEYS TOUR “DAY 5”

We flew Siem Reap to Vientiane via Bangkok.  Today was the only day we breakfasted at the Somadevi Angkor hotel. As described up onmy DAY FIVE, wespent most of the day traveling to Vientiane.  Phet met us at the airport and got us to our hotel, S Park Design.  Front desk was fashioned out of a car hood front grill work, many of the hotel fixtures were iron pipe and repurposed construction hardware.  We had a sort of supper at the hotel—Phet said he was hungry.  His salad looked good but I stuck with a Lao Beer.  Ed and I were not so hungry as on each leg of our flights, despite the only 45-minute plane rides, we were served a meal.  

 

DAY 9 - SUNDAY (FEB 5)

After breakfast at our hotel (good, but had pay $3 for a decent coffee) we met up with Phet.  On our wheezy tuk-tuk, we drove into town.  We toured the Wat Si Saket (Wat = temple) where we saw a soon to be married couple in traditional costume, knee pants with white knee socs and a Neru jacket for the groom and a beautiful, surely silk, flowing costume for the bride.  Also saw the Wat Si Muang with its snake-ish stair railings.  Phet didn’t have a lot of history to relate regarding Buddhism and the temples’ history but he knew about what it was like to be a monk as he’d been one for twelve years. We made a point of visiting the COPE Visitors Center that presented the impact of the Vietnam War bombing on Laos. Dangerous bomb remnants still remain in the Laotian countryside.  Many Laotians suffer lifelong disabilities, and some death, because of old, but still armed, bombs that explode by accident, either a fire is built over a buried bomlet or a farmer dislodges one as he works the ground. Building prosthetics that work for farmers and farm women is an ongoing project. NGO’s around the world participate in the restoration of a safe countryside as noted by posters mounted in the display rooms.  Day was hot.  We motored on to the That Luang Great Stupa, “perhaps built in 1566.” Today’s version is the result of restoration work done in 1900 and again in 1930 with the help of the French.  It looked like the stupa was gold covered(very bright and shiny in the sunlight) but whether it was or not I don’t know. We made a quick stop at the Laotian Arc D’Triomphe, the Patuxai Victory Monument.[2]  NOW can we go to lunch!  Phet and our tuk-tuk driver kept saying “One more monument, we’re so close!”  (Speaking of our tuk-tuk, we were stuck with this loud, squeaky-braked, clutch on –the-verge-of-giving-out tuk-tuk because the guy was so friendly and Phet couldn’t get up the nerve to tell him we’d like to abandon his services and find another tuk-tuk that was quieter and working more smoothly.)  We ate at the Kap Khao Lao Restaurant.  Ordering food for lunch and dinner was hard:  Was it too spicy?  Where all the ingredients cooked?  Rice was always the back up nutrient.  Ever present bottled water was sorely needed.  (I swear there was no color to my pee these days.)

 

After resting in the afternoon heat(Ed worked out—approved of the elliptical at the hotel—and I just read), Phet took us to the shore of the Mekong for dinner.  We walked a ways, Phet using directions from a passerby.  After some distance on darkening streets we wondered was the passerby friend or foe?  Our last few blocks down a well it but deserted street finally led into the larger street along the river shoreline.  The “restaurants” here were set up like one big campsite.  The fish and “carmel” pork (bbq’d pork) were cooked over grills, the vegetables were set out in big dishes right there in the open air ready to be selected for a stir fry or a noodle soup.  I only ate foods (Phet tended to order a wide variety of dishes) that were steaming hot.  Sorry, but the fish tasted like dirt to me.  I longed for a Panera salad.  Big bottles of Lao beer with ice(!) was the order of the day.

 

DAY 10 – MONDAY (FEB 6)

Today we used our $576 worth of tickets (wow!, $192 RT for a half-hour flight compared to $170 RT for our 1 hour flight from BKK to Vientiane) to fly to Phonsavan (XKH).  The “airport” was like . . . . Rhinelander, Wisconsin, sort of small. This airport had the first squatty potty I’d encountered on the trip so far—it was clean and non-smelly though.  We stayed at the Vansana Plain of Jars hotel, a relatively nice place, no pool or fitness room but up on a hill so great views of surroundings.  Good dinner but lousy (Ed tells me good for the area though) breakfast.  Coffee particularly bad.  At least at other hotels one could order a latte or Americano out of a machine, not here.  First thing at the Phonsavan airport Phet engaged a fellow to drive us around for the two days for $130 or so.  Van was spanking new!   Mr. Lee, the driver, was pleasant and enthusiastic about all there was to see in the area as we sat in the hotel planning out the next two days’ touring.  So helpful to have Phet to sort out the intricacies of communicating and negotiating with non-English speakers!  Mr. Lee did speak a bit of English. We had dinner that night at the hotel early.  At first we thought we were the only hotel guests but later in the evening after 7 pm other groups showed up. 

 

DAY 11-  - TUESDAY (FEB 7)

Toured two sites of the three Plain de Jars phenomenon.  Day was pretty hot.  The jars remain a mystery despite many archeologists’ studies.  Site 1 contained bomb craters to impress on one the devastation of war-making.  Ed remembers this area from his time at Korat flying F-105 missions.  Dave Dinan crashed about 25 miles from Phon Savon Ed said.  We toured a UXO “museum” in town, showing the results of the Vietnam War bombings and the ever-present dangers of “unexploded ordinances” in the countryside.  We discovered a coffee shop, Cranky’s, with GOOD COFFEE.  The owner was reputed to be the daughter of a rich construction company owner.  She’d gone to school in San Diego so spoke good English—she said she opened the shop because she was bored but now it had become a lot of work as it was pretty popular.  She didn’t let me include her in photos of the shop.  We had a hard time finding a place to eat dinner.  Ed wanted to go to a place he’d remembered from a previous trip but as we got there and wandered in, I became extremely dubious about the whole idea.   Even Mr. Lee(he tried wiping off the table top with a little napkin, to no avail) and Phet were a little unsure we wanted to actually eat their food.  A group of eight men sat at another table carrying on and eyeing us. Thank goodness we all just sort of looked at each other and tacitly decided to make a silent retreat back to Mr. Lee’s van.  We ended up at a more decent restaurant, don’t know what led us there but seeing other non-locals eating and carousing there was encouraging.  I got a vegetarian bowl of noodles which was good but required a pepto bismol tablet later that evening.  

 

DAY 12 – WED (FEB 8)

After a lazy morning and a return trip to last night’s restaurant for lunch and another Cranky’s coffee we flew to Vientiane mid-afternoon for an overnight at the Mercure, Ed’s favorite hotel in Vientiane.  We met up with another American in the Laos diplomatic community, Duffy and his wife Connie.  They were right there waiting for us in the hotel lobby as we trundled in from the airport looking tired and beat up from the day’s effort to get back to Vientiane.  She looked so well dressed and made up and was instantly very friendly to me (must have been lonely for Americans). I looked like crap having spent all day on the road and had intended to shower and change before our dinner engagement.  We checked in and I did at least change before sitting down in the Mercure’s restaurant.  While they talked I ate a full up dinner off the hotel’s enormous buffet as I thought the hotel food would be safe. Duffy was pretty laid back throughout our time together but Ed said it was a worthwhile meeting.

 

DAY 13 – THURSDAY (FEB 9)

Flew to Luang Prabang, nice airport, lots of tourists as the town obviously catered to them.  Main street was lined with shops, hotels, there were more Western food offerings than the other cities we’d been to.  Although other parts of the town were probably more traditional Laotian, the part of town where we stayed was all like this.  Lots of non-native kids wandered around in flip flops and wacky hair styles.  A number had bandages on their knees and legs, bike accidents I guessed.  The night market was huge—fabric, art, all sorts of stuff but I didn’t see much pottery despite the simple but beautiful, I thought, serving pieces in nicer restaurants and our hotel, the Maison Dalabua, which I had reserved, happily, on the recommendation of a couple Ed met at a Thud reunion last year.  We lunched at a classy restaurant (they offered an amuse-bouche at the beginning of our meal) on the hotel’s grounds.  Nice intro to Luang Prabang.  This evening we climbed the steps (many, too bad I’d left my Fitbit charger back in the Siem Reap hotel and didn’t get a count of them) up to the main shrine in town, That Chomsi.[3] After the first 30 or 40 steps I wanted to quit to avoid a heart attack but Ed and Phet made me continue.  A couple at the top, extremely crowded right now waiting for the sunset, had bandages on arms and legs and I asked what happened.  They said they’d had crashed into a small pig on the road as they biked.  The road’s oncoming traffic prevented them from swerving to avoid the pig.  We found a “Friends” restaurant that Krista had told me about and had a wonderful dinner.  Our hotel manager had made reservations at “Khaiphaen” for us although we got there an hour late; despite that, we were seated and beautifully served. 

 

DAY 14 – FRIDAY (FEB 10)

Toured Luang Prabang, Phet found an SUV with only 7 passenger seats, instead of the usual 12-14 seaters, for 80$ to drive us around for the day.  We saw the Kuang Si Falls (worth the trip), the Bear Rescue Center (kudos to caretakers:  it did not smell bad one bit) and wanted to visit a local farm where they showed how rice was grown but got there at lunch time and they couldn’t be disturbed.  We visited the Mulberry Farm where they showed how silk was produced.  They grow their own mulberry trees organically (the “trees” are pruned down to 3-4 feet every season so that the leaves will be tender and tasty to the silk worms) and teach Laotian women how to produce the silk thread and the dyes they use and how to weave the cloth to sell.  Was a very rough production facility with less than stellar machines but they got the job done.  We caved to our western tastes and had a big lunch at Joma Bakery Café.  Ed had a Rueben sandwich and a brownie, I a roast veggie and hummus wrap(now, this wrap was nice and thin, not layers and layers of thick, pasty, floury tortillas like the usual American wrap) and an almond croissant-yumm!, and Phet had a fruit shake and a piece of apple pie.  Ed and I had a delicious latte to round off the lunch.   

 

DAY 15 – SATURDAY, (FEB 11)

We left our hotel about 6:30 am headed for our Mekong River Cruise boat.  Because of the early hour we were witnesses to the daily “Alms Giving Ceremony” of the Buddhist monks in Luang Prabang.  Citizens line up along the street with their gifts (food, sticky rice, fruit), the men standing and the women kneeling (one guess as to why), and as the monks pass by these people put their gifts into the “cans” that the monks carry using a strap over their shoulder.  At 7 am we boarded our Mekong River Cruise boat, Ed, Phet and I, for our two-day trip north on the river ending up at Huay Xai, Laos, near the Thai border.  Morning stop was at a complex of caves along the river populated by 1000 Buddha that people over the years had placed in the cave for good luck.  Afternoon stop was at a village; all the females of any age were showing fabric for us to buy.  One lady was sitting at her loom weaving a length of fabric. Phet pretty much forced me to buy two lengths; he negotiated but, regardless, the costs were minimal.  I have to say the trudge up the steep and sandy riverbank to these villages was no easy task. Cruise vistas (trees, some croplands, rocks, water buffalo loafing, some empty upland rice fields, fishermen, speed boats whizzing by us) were endlessly repeated but the importance and history of the Mekong River was impressed on us.  Crew served breakfast, snacks and lunches onboard.  Other cruisers not real communicative.  We overnighted in the Pak Beng Lodge hotel, a very rustic collection of little cabins connected with wooden walkways along the hillsides. Phet said the environment made him homesick for his northern Laos village.  Walls were paper thin, rooms clean and mosquito netting was provided.  Probably geckos everywhere, shower was hot though.  Dinner somewhat upset me, required a pepto-bismol tablet or two but local dancers put on a dance program that was entertaining, the 6-7 year old dancers were especially charming.  The maids left two little, palm-sized, stuffed elephants as a momento on our bed.  Until Ed discovered them BEFORE we turned out the lights we had no idea they were there.  Imagine my reaction if I’d felt them within the covers AFTER we turned out the lights!

 

DAY 16 – SUNDAY (FEB 12)

Boarded the boat again at 7 am and arrived in Huay Xai @ 4 pm and overnighted in the Riverside Hotel right next to the wharf.  Mid day we’d stopped at another village but there was no selling going on there just mostly women working (e.g. harvesting tamarind pods) and children. Some teenagers, older I thought, were driving around on their motorbikes.  How did they afford them?  One little kid was taking a bath in a tub and the lower half of her back was almost a total blue, the Mongolian birthmark?  Our guide said their water was not safe for drinking but that the villagers drank it anyway and got sick of course.  Safe water is a big concern there in the villages, as the water appears to look clean.

 

Here’s what I wrote on my cellphone as we cruised along the River at a fairly good clip:  Ok. A review of the Luangsay Cruise:
Long at times boring lengths of coast line interrupted with good lunches good snacks a communicative boat captain and lounge chairs that between the waters passing by and the chair's comfort one is invited to take time for a good nap.

 

Stay at Huay Riverside Hotel was pleasant. Room was clean and overlooked the river we had just spent two days on. Had a point of use hot water shower the ecology of which made up for a low flow, moderately warm, shower. Hotel check-in lady was a no nonsense mama-san with tired makeup and an even more tired hairdo who knew, nevertheless, what was going on and even walked out and down to our room to show us the check-in “need to knows” of the room. Unfortunately it was left to us to discover how to get the water flowing out of the shower head to be warm (switch on a  toggle switch on a plate outside the bathroom door.) Bathroom was an open, tiled space that lent itself to be cleaned by hosing the entire room down. Yippee!  Had dinner at a restaurant in "new" Huay Xai. It appeared to be a family place in which the family’s teens were blasting karaoke onto the restaurant’s sound system from their phone. Phet was reluctant to ask the waitress (mom?) to turn the sound down so I did. Ed was pissed at the noise. Phet was singing along with some of the Adele songs.  Phet ordered frugally this time unlike other meals:  cuts of chicken sausage lightly fried with lime juice and 3" sections of BBQ ribs. Ed had fried rice. I ordered noodles with veggies and “no chicken” but it came with chicken anyway. The noodles were good, a little sweet. I could have eaten the whole plate but seeing as how I had been popping Pepto tablets through the day I ate half of it and gave the rest to Phet. No intimation of spicyness as I ate but on the walk home my mouth was glowing some.

 

DAY 17 – MONDAY (FEB 13)

Today we had to get to Chaing Rai where we would catch a flight to Bangkok and rest up a day before flying to the US.

“International Bus to Chaing Rai”  when I read about this it sounded complicated but it was not.  Here’s the drill:

1)       hire tuk-tuk with the help of hotel lady and pay the hotel lady for whole trip(cheap, but don’t know exact cost.)

2)       next morning the tuk-tuk driver takes us to a store front, like 7-11, where a seeming forgetful lady looks at the official two-section paper I got at the hotel saying I’d paid to get to Chaing Rai, then tosses that aside after she handwrites a few notes on an old-fashioned restaurant order tablet that supposedly shows we paid $____ to get to Chaing Rai to catch our flight to BKK.

3)       tuk-tuk takes us to border (20 mins. . . ); interestingly we had an additional passenger who was a retired art professor (photography) who taught at Wichita State University(!) and was chair of the art department there for around a year.  From conversation it appeared he was just tooling around SEA for several weeks.

4)       As we disembark the tuk-tuk, an unknown fellow walks up to us and gives us a sticker to attach to our clothes and motions that we should got to the boarder “gate.”

5)       walk through border control, get on a big bus that drives us across the “Friendship Bridge”

6)       coming out on the Thai side of Lao border after a short bus ride across the bridge, the same man who met us on the Lao side meets us and now takes us to his van.  (at this point we realize hiring a private van was better than taking the 2-trips/day-8 am and 4 pm, or so- bus to Chaing Rai)

7)       We are driven to Chaing Rai airport (for an EXTRA fee, of course, over and above what we paid at our Huay Xai hotel despite the fact that the airport stop was BEFORE the stop that he would make in downtown Chaing Rai!)  But the Chaing Rai airport was a nice place to spend a couple of hours. 

On boarding our Thai Smile flight we discovered we had a first class ticket!  Nice, but we hadn’t requested that.  (Later I discovered the price that we paid for our Chaing Rai/Bangkok flight ticket was $40/person higher than the highest ticket price on the internet.  Whaaa…?)  But here we are at the Bangkok airport again, for the third time.  After passport control we waited quite awhile for our checked bags but finally made it through the customs gate and walked the 20 minutes to our hotel.  Our overnight in BKK Novotel was peaceful and calm.  We relished the idea of a good breakfast the next morning. 

 

DAY 18– TUESDAY (FEB 14)

Day in BKK:  took the train into the central city to look for Johny’s Gems, the shop where Ed had bought our wedding rings back in 1969.  After a long taxi ride and  along walk (taxi driver tried to get us to the Emerald Buddha shrine as he didn’t understand “Johny’s Gems” ) but close to that temple we encountered huge lines of Bangkokians in dressed in black so I said drop us off here hoping I knew about where we were and could walk to right street, 197-199 Thanon Fuang Nakhon.  With the help of an official at a gate to a government building, we found the right street and eventually “Johny’s Gems.”  The traditional posting of American soldiers on the walls of the jewelry shop had been somewhat edited and Ed’s picture was nowhere to be seen.  Johny said it was probably in a stack of photos somewhere in the back room.  We had a fun visit with Johny’s son and a fun purchase of a jade necklace and ruby/zircon earrings.  The appropriate value of jade eludes me:  I decided to purchase a jade necklace that was priced at “200.”  I assumed dollars, but no, Johny’s son said, that was Bahts so the necklace was actually 200BHT/33USD = $6!  Should have bought the sodalite(blue) necklace too!  Got a taxi back to the train station located next to an enormous mall, had lunch at the Novotel nearby and trained back to our Airport Novotel.  Very easy.  We bowed to All Nippon’s denial of printing out our boarding passes tonight yet, the night before tomorrow’s flight, so we packed up and prepared for a 4 am get-up to stand in line at the ANA counter to get those boarding passes right before we went through security and border control.  We did make it to the boarding gate in ok time though.

 

 

 

DAY 19 – WEDNESDAY (FEB 15)

Depart early morning for USA; arrived late afternoon to ICT.  We both felt the trip back went very fast, especially the Narita/Denver segment.  Must have been that Boeing Dreamliner!

 

 

 

POSSIBLE THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN THE VILLAGES

I have noted the things that we did do.

VIENTIANE(Arrive 1 day, Tour 1 day, Depart 1 day)

Pha That Luang Monument

Patuxai War Memorial

Pha That Luang

Talat Sao

Wat Si Saket – we saw some of these temples, not sure which.  Took tuk-tuk with              bad clutch and worse brakes that Phet had secured for our Vientiane   sight-seeing.  Phet was too good-hearted to tell the guy we would get     someone who had a better-running machine.

Stroll the Mekong – ate supper one night; bbq chicken called “carmel” chicken

                Oil cloth on tables, pretty rough, all cooking done outside in makeshift “kitchen”

Tuk Tuk Safari tour - no

Lao Textiles Museum - no

Mulberries Textile Shop - no

Sisaket Temple and Museum – maybe . . .

National History Museum - no

COPE center – yes, bought coffee there.

(See Asian historical architecture” website)

 

PHONSAVAN (Arrive 1 day, Tour Plain de Jars 1 day)

UXO Information Center – yes, close to Cranky’s Coffee Shop

Mulberry Silk Farm – yes, quite interesting

Buy tour for the three Plain of Jars sites – driver did that, we visited 2 of 3 sites

 

LUANG PRABANG

33 temples – climbed up to one _________

NATURE PARK – wha…?

NATIONAL MUSEUM - no

LIVING LAND FARM COMMUNITY – shut out, not open over lunch

KUANG SII WATERFALLS – yes, quite nice and very popular; can swim there

Textile Center

Butterfly farm?

http://www.luangsay.com/cruises-laos-2-days-1-night-up-river/#scroll - yes

Baci ceremony?(white string and marigold pyramid ceremony) – SAW this at Angkor Wat

stroll thru Handicraft Night Market – yes, did this; bought wooden Buddha placque, fabric and wrist bracelets for Abby and Gracie

elephant village sanctuary day trip; will end up riding elephant into water

sa sa sunset cruise

white elephant adventures – kayaking, no

look at iPlanet day tours

Asia Travel Legend Laos Day Tours

WAT MAI

ROYAL PALACE

Dawn Yoga w/ Luang Prabank Yoga

Restaurants:  Le Banneton

Tuk Tuk to Tat Kuang Si (swim) – SAW this

Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre -  yes, saw this; many bears

Drink “Beerlao” at end of day – yes, did a lot of this

Monk’s Procession –Tak Bat – yes, saw this morning of day we left Maison Delabua for the Mekong Cruise

Produce Market

Ferry on Mekong to Ban Xieng Maen village

Watch sunset from hilltop Phu Si – yes, MANY stairs . . .

Attend Garavek theatre in evening

Have night cap at bohemian Icon Klub

Tamarind, Tangor Chez Marius

Joma – good, western style foods on main drag, close to our hotel

HUAY XAI

http://www.mekongsmilecruise.com/information/huay-xai-travel-guide/

http://backpackerbible.org/get-huay-xai-chiang-rai/

[1] Pol Pot (1925-1998) and his communist Khmer Rouge movement led Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. During that time, about 1.5 million Cambodians out of a total population of 7 to 8 million died of starvation, execution, disease or overwork. Some estimates place the death toll even higher. One detention center, S-21, was so notorious that only seven of the roughly 20,000 people imprisoned there are known to have survived. The Khmer Rouge, in their attempt to socially engineer a classless peasant society, took particular aim at intellectuals, city residents, ethnic Vietnamese, civil servants and religious leaders. An invading Vietnamese army deposed the Khmer Rouge in 1979, and, despite years of guerilla warfare, they never took power again. Pol Pot died in 1998 without ever being brought to justice.

 

 

[2]Patuxai, formally Anosavari monument whose literal translation is the Victory gate, is a monument that was built in the year 1962 to honor those who fought in the independence of Laos against France and also for those who perished during World War II.

United States indirectly financed the construction of Patuxai, since the Lao Government used the cement should be earmarked for the construction of an airport in the construction of the gate of the victory of Vientiane. American funds were destined for the airport and not the construction of the monument, which cost total were 63 million of Kips, although he never came to finish completely due to the turbulent political situation in Laos, as well explains a plate at the same Patuxai monument.

 

[3]Built in 1804 during the reign of King Anourouth and ideally located at the top of Mount Phousi (in the heart of the town), Wat That Chomsi has become a symbol of Luang Prabang’s spiritual significance to Laos. The Stupa is reachable after climbing the 300 steps when all the way up the hill consists of various temples, beautiful shady trees and a magnificent view of the river. At half way up the hill there is Wat Tham Phousi Shrine that consists of a big–bellied Buddha snuggled in a grotto. The temple also consists of another Buddha statue in a reclining position.A terrace at the foot of the stupa offers an 360° panoramic view of the town. A MUST DO, especially in the evening, during the sunset, when the golden Stupa reflects the last light rays on one of its face.During the Pimai Festival, woman carry flower offerings up the stairs and leave as offerings at the foot of the stupa.One of the most interesting aspects of Mount Phousi lies in the legend which surrounds it. Tradition has it that at the site of the sacred hill there used to be a deep pit that led to the centre of the earth. Helped by villagers, a monk went down into the pit and found an immense treasure. The villagers seized the treasure and buried the monk alive by sealing the entrance to the pit. However, armed with magical charms, the monk succeeded in extricating himself after defeating the seven guardians of the treasure. News of this murder attempt reached the ears of the king of Luang Prabang, who punished the villagers by condemning them to take turns in beating drums, gongs and cymbals every three hours to stop the dragons from disturbing mankind. This practice is still carried out today at nearby Wat Thum Thao.