Saturday, November 30, 2013 1

 Today I left Thailand and took a quick 1 1/2 flight to Hanoi, Vietnam.

            As we started to leave, I was surprised to notice the plane was fairly empty. Of course two big buys were sitting next to me; just us three sardines jammed in row 11. I asked the stewardess if I could move back one row to the emergency exit. She told me sure, but I would be charged more; this after being charged about $45 for my one check in bag. No thanks! She said I could move to any of the black seats. I got the last laugh; the couple sitting opposite me moved, leaving three seats for me to spread out and enjoy the flight. We stayed very low, I guess due to how short the flight was and I got pretty good views of Vietnam's country side early.

            I'm still unsure if I have just been here in Southeast Asia during the constantly cloudy time of year, or there is just that much smog and pollution. I am doing a 15 day tour with a group, and was a little nervous, as I couldn't really find anything online as far as reviews when I booked it. To my delight as soon as I left baggage claim there was a man waiting for me with a sign. He introduced himself and escorted me to a car. We drove to the hotel in the most chaotic traffic I have ever seen. There are traffic lights, but they are all but ignored. People swerve all over and there is constant; and I stress constant; honking of horns. The landscape however was beautiful; and I watched it pass by rather than being gripped by fear of impending doom! We arrived and I checked in. I exchanged some US currency for VND, or Vietnamese Dong. I had just gotten use to Thai Baht and hearing 60 Baht for a red bull. It is just ridiculous here. I traded $200 US for 4.6 million dong!!! What? I am tho a millionaire now.

Ho Chi Minh is pictured on all of the money. Another odd thing I saw and am not sure; maybe it was a memorial, was the communist flag flying. It made me mildly uneasy. The Vietnam flag itself is a bit of a throwback to the Iron Curtain days.

         Moving on; I as I said I am going to be travelling with a group and have a welcome meeting soon. I did arrive early enough to take a quick walk and see the city a bit. So far I have noticed that it is extremely dusty here; I mean country road dusty; and that here unlike Bangkok, everyone was starring at me. It was not it my mind, it was a sure thing.....uncomfortable. So I will quickly add before my meeting...and local cuisine; that I did manage to make it to Hoa Lo prison; more commonly referred to has The Hanoi Hilton. I will just add pictures for now. In closing I will just say, with out going into detail; there are always two sides to every story; and they definitely tell a different story about the war here.

...................more coming soon..............

Friday, November 29, 2013 16

     So as the sun rises on my final day in Bangkok, I sit and reflect on my time here.....


               I woke up around 4:30 am so I decided to have a little breakfast and enjoy the rare and welcomed quiet. I needed to once again move to another hotel. I will spend my last day directly across from the airport. I have a 7 am flight so I figured the closer the better; chancing traffic is just too risky here. It was a good choice; I discovered as the trip was the better part of an hour. The one thing I have liked about every hotel is although check in is 2 pm I have showed up early to every one and never had an issue. The hotel is quite nice; obviously catering to business travelers; as I looked around there were conference rooms surrounding the lobby; all busy and full. I went to my room and put my things down. In hotels here you have to put your electronic key into a slot right by the door to turn the electric on. Not a big deal, but it shuts the A/C off every time you leave.

          A nice feature is the control box bedside. It controls the lights, alarm clock, and a make up room/ do not disturb sign outside the door.

          The long ride here gave me time to think once again about my time here. Although I really enjoyed the overall experience here; I think that Bangkok; as I may have said before; is just another big city. It like many cities has some beautiful spots, monuments, and history; but it is also dirty and very busy.

          I guess that travelers must feel the same way about a big city in the States. If you went to Philly or DC, there are tons of things to see; and a lot of beauty; go a few blocks in the wrong direction and it is shocking. I am not judging Thailand as a whole; and will certainly come back to Thailand; probably just not Bangkok. If I do it will be for a much shorter time.

           After I checked in I went out to see what was in the area. I took one step out of the hotel parking lot and was stopped by a cabbie....."need a ride?....massage?...". I turned right around and headed back to my room. Enough is enough! The street was the same as every other one in Bangkok. I wanted one last sampling of street food, but instead opted for Fajitas at the hotel bar and grill. I loved the temples, and museums, but the packed streets and constant harassment...well I can just do without it.

      A little side note; I did like the multi-faith convenience on hand; or in drawer; at the hotel. This is the first time I have seen this.....

             So, I guess this closes one chapter of my trip; tomorrow begins a new one......stay tuned!!!!!!

Thursday, November 28, 2013 15

         As my time in Thailand draws to a close; I really think I have seen everything I came to see. I'm sure on further reflection I will realize I missed something, but I'm ok with it. The idea of this trip was two fold; firstly to see and experience all the different places and cultures of the amazing places I am going. Secondly it was to relax and unwind after a long year in Antarctica. I sometimes feel as if I should keep going, do more, push the exploration further; and then sometimes I think to myself, why? The great thing about saving for a two month trip; 16 days of which will have been spent here; is that there is no rush. It's not a weekend's months. So with that being said, today was an uneventful day. I got up early and had some breakfast at the hotel. Now that I think about it I can make this a short entry about food. So, breakfast is served at the hotel buffet style. I was very confused by the offerings....I guess it was somewhat like a brunch. There were cereals and bread; fruits and potatoes; an omelette station; but then there was fried rice, and soups, and sausage much like kielbasa. It was very different for am on a Wednesday. So after breakfast I got ready for a half hearted day of touring. I headed back towards Khao San Road inadvertently. I figured I'd look a little closer for these famed fried bugs...still nothing; maybe they are a thing of the past or only at night. Either way I can live without that experience....not that I would've tried them. So once again I was endlessly harassed about suits and tuk-tuks; I just moved on paying no mind to them this time. Big score of the day was finding a pair of Diesel brand flip flops that actually fit....$9. Sounded like a deal.
       So I headed home stopping at random shops along the way.  Moving on to lunch. I walked by a Pizza Hut and although the combinations pictured in the window looked interesting; I passed. I have fought the urge; albeit rare; to have "Western" food. No McDonalds, BK, or Pizza Hut. The closest I have gotten was a burger here; but it was it doesn't count. I will admit if Taco Bell and I cross paths, it is so on! One of the most popular banks here has a sign that looks; sadly;  just like Taco Bell. I walked down a typical alley looking at the offerings, nothing looked appealing. I found a small open air cafe that looked promising. I went it and sat down. There were cats walking around and a dog napping in the center of the dining area. This sounds strange to Westerners, but is not at all uncommon here. I ordered an appetizer and a salad. They came in reverse order; but what's the difference? The salad was smoked duck with some diced vegetables; more garnish that substance on a single piece of lettuce...hmmm salad? I will say that it was one of the spiciest things I have had in Thailand. It crept up slowly and then made my lips and tongue burn intensely. The second dish I just couldn't pass on once I read it. It was essentially deep fried beef jerky. Much like my feelings about bacon, I have the same regard for jerky. It was house dried beef; fried; served with a sweet chili sauce. Not bad.
        I returned to the hotel and relaxed for a while. I had to pick up my custom tailored pants in a few hours so I opted to stay here being as the tailor was right across the street. I was still a little nervous about them. So I headed over and picked them up. Not bad. Here is a picture of what I showed them I wanted. Something casual to wear barefoot or with sandals. I even downloaded the exact same picture on their computer. Simple enough. He said "Oh yeah, no problem..." like they make these all the time.

So that's what I wanted. 1 linen, and 1 in a really nice looking cashmere.....Here's what I got:

      Exciting stuff. I like the first pair. Pretty good attempt at what I showed them, and very comfortable. The second pair is much more like a pair of suit pants with a drawstring. They are supposed to be wrinkle free material, so I will find out in 2 days when I unball them from my bag. Overall happy for what I spent.
     To wrap up this day of shopping and eating, I went back to eating. I returned to Hemlock were I had eating yesterday. The food was good and the lady was super helpful. I told her I want something that is very traditional Thai. My first course was called Miang Kham. It translates as "eating many things in one bite" 

          I am surprised how well this picture came out...I took it on an old cell phone I have that I use for a clock. The dish is finger food and is served with no utensils. There is dried shrimp, diced onion, lime, peanuts, ginger, and diced hot peppers. There is also toasted coconut which I was told should be the main component. The ingredients are placed in a piper leaf and folded like a taco. It is finished with a sweet sauce made of palm syrup, lemongrass, galangal, ginger, and fish sauce. It was an very nice dish, popping with flavor and textures. I mixed different amount and combinations finally finding the one I liked best. I asked the lady for a main course....once again very traditional. Although the dish she recommended was tasty it was very simple. I guess that is one thing that made it good. There were no competing flavors. Beef, rice, and a spicy sauce with a hint of fish sauce and cilantro. Not two of my favorite flavors; but I went with it and was happy with the results.
        Upon looking at this larger picture I have only one thought.....Beef?....You sure? Only kidding it was beef. I finished up and thanked the lady for all her help. I looked at the picture on the wall of this coffee house style room....Too true! I laughed as I snapped the picture and headed home. A side note as far as I can tell, they don't sell Tums or Rolaids in Thailand. Gonna have to ride this one out......

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 14

     Since the National Museum was closed the last two days, I decided to head there today. It was a short walk; right around the corner; so I headed out to beat the crowds. I got there in 5 minutes...maybe lest, bought my ticket and collected my map. I did not beat the crowd........

At first I saw this group with mixed emotions. I was a little worried because a huge park is located directly across the street from the museum. This has been a major staging ground for the protesters in the area; to the point of them camping out now for days. On the other hand I thought I was safer here because of the military presence. Turns out that they were on a tour of the museum.....furthermore, I believe they were from a military academy!
      Moving on; I wandered through the grounds "touristing" it up; camera in one hand, map in the other. The grounds, like every other public area I have seen, were both immaculate and beautiful.

             The first building you come to within the confines of the tall walls that confine the museum compound; of course; was a temple. It was typical, that is not to say less striking, but still a short walk around was enough to take it in.

Got this part, hat, shades....check! Oh yeah and "Church clothes"...which I will later regret...

    Ok...still quiet impressive....paintings that are above covered all the walls.

          So I entered the exhibition hall, or halls as it were. The layout was basically an outer ring of buildings with a few in the center. The buildings on each side were connected. I originally had though; museum; nice inside day. I went with long pants and a thin; yet long sleeve dress shirt, sleeves rolled up. Oh what a mistake. Indoor...yes; air! It was hotter inside than out due to lack of air circulation. There were fans scattered about, but most of them were oriented towards the employees sitting in the corners of each room. Oh well, Southeast Asia; gotta sweat a bit; and this was really the first time. It has been warm, but overcast and other than a few of my more extended "walkabouts"  I have remained relatively comfortable. Hopefully that is enough information for you.....Back to the museum. It housed artifacts from Thailand's history. I eventually noticed almost all of the pieces were Buddhas of parts of Buddhas. Here are some of the most interesting ones; some dating back to the early 500s! Many of these were hand carved out of stone. I looked carefully at them, and upon close inspection they were amazingly detailed and symmetrical.

               There was also an interesting collection of dolls, games (some very familiar), and masks.

       The two largest rooms contained royal transportation displays. The first were litters; or wo; they were hand carried as depicted in movies. There was also carts that looked like stagecoaches. All of these were ornate and certainly fit for royalty. To give you and idea of scale; the top piece is were the person sits.

          The second; and final building; housed chariots used to transport royalty during their funerals; hearse if you will. This building was the size of an aircraft hanger, maybe taller. Although maybe a bit morbid; it was one of the nicest exhibits. Each of these wagons is hand built some taking months.

The people in the foreground give you an idea of the scale of these...

              As I ended my visit I checked out a peaceful oasis hidden between the exhibits. It was silent and coy fish swan about in the water...

         Later in the day I wandered over to the infamous Khao San Road. It is the back packers' and Westerners hot spot of sorts. Imagine Jersey boardwalk in downtown Philly or New York.....ewww. I followed the signs, which very oddly led up some stairs at one point; which I was hesitant to follow, but did; and through a shipping business, down some stairs through a coffee house; and back onto the street. It is the area depicted in the movie The Beach. For some reason it is on every "must see" guide to Bangkok...not sure why. So I went and saw it; walk the streets; looked at the wares. The only thing I was interested in seeing was fried scorpions and stuff like that; sadly I saw none! So I walked and just kept saying; "No I don't need a suit"...."No I don't need a tuk-tuk ride"......Not impressed....


and then......

Just kidding....tempting...but no.

            At the end of Khao San Road is an entire street; and I do mean entire; of stores all selling jewelry; mostly silver. Every store looked exactly the same and all seemed shady. Maybe not. I might head back and take one more look....but probably not. Two more days in Bangkok, and I must say I am more than ready to move on. Although I would like to see much more of Thailand; Bangkok is one place I highly doubt I will return too. Just another big city....I have enjoyed the beauty and different culture; but the dirty, loud, and crowded city part....well I've had my fill.