Permanent Vacasian

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G. K. Chesterton

Slice of Pai

April 27, 2009
by Tina
6 Comments
2,755 views

Downtown Pai.

Downtown Pai.

Pai, Thailand – Pai (pronounced “bye”) is one of those glorious small towns where there isn’t much to do.  We were lured there by this and its hip, artsy feel.  It’s a Lonely Planet proclaimed “traveler’s mecca”, but the loads of Westerners doesn’t take away from the town’s laid back atmosphere.

Breeze of Pai Guesthouse.

Breeze of Pai Guesthouse.

The locals have embraced tourism in a way unlike most SE Asian towns, in that they have incorporated themselves into the traveler’s community as artists and funky shop and restaurant owners as opposed to strict businessmen.  I was even pleasantly surprised to see several Thai/Western couples where the man was Thai and the woman was Western.

After a windy four hour bus ride from Chiang Mai we set off on one of our least favorite activities – finding a room.  Stuart and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on the types of places we want to stay.  I like air conditioning (it is over 90 degrees every day), an ensuite bathroom and a clean place that doesn’t look infested.  Stuart gravitates towards places that are “interesting” – such places often lack the few amenities that I desire.  Our opposing views came to a head in our search this afternoon, but I won out and we booked a cute concrete bungalow at a guesthouse called Breeze of Pai.

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Sukhothai Or Bust!

April 27, 2009
by Stuart
Comments Off on Sukhothai Or Bust!
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Photo

Stupa top of Wat Pra That Lampang Luang.

Northern Thailand –  It had been a while since we took a motorbike trip, so we were getting restless for freedom. Our friends, Ray and Megan, suggested an itinerary they had done around northern Thailand that sounded pretty good. So we rented a bike, bought a map, and hit the “super highway” heading south towards Lampang.

The super highway is anything but. No doubt it’s a highway – it’s the “super” part I take issue with. It’s certainly wide enough – three lanes of traffic going in both directions with a nice grassy median to give it some order. But drivers, particularly motorbikers, seem to ignore the flow of traffic and drive on the wrong side against the flow of traffic at full speed. This makes it hard to drive on autopilot and enjoy the scenery.

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Polls used to keep branches from falling. Can even see the original tree now!

Thailand really showcases their elephants so our first stop was at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC).  There are offerings of rides, shows, baths, etc in almost every town but the TECC was supposedly one of the best in terms of treatment of the elephants with proceeds from the center going towards their elephant hospital. They also treat elephants from around the country.

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Friskies

April 17, 2009
by Stuart
3 Comments
2,089 views

Chiang Mai, Thailand – When crossing into another country, we usually make observations about how different things suddenly are. This is mostly in jest because things don’t change that fast. You are in the middle of nowhere when you leave Russia, and when you enter Mongolia, you are still in the middle of nowhere. This nowhere just has a different name.

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Wat Chiang Man.

When crossing the Mekong into Thailand from Laos, things did change that fast. Everything was paved, shiny, hammockless – and there was a sense of being with people who had someplace to be soon. When I asked our minibus driver if we were all going to get our own seat or if he would cram as many people in, he laughed at me for thinking they would stuff it like a Thanksgiving turkey. “It only has eleven seats”, he said. “No more”.

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That’s right!

Our time spent getting our Thailand visas while in Vientiane paid off – we got a 60-day stay, but the people we were crossing with, who didn’t have a visa, only got 15 days. It also paid off that I am taller then the average Asian – the immigration office was a zoo, but learning a trick I discovered in China, I pushed towards the officer and reached over everyone and put our passports through the window into his hands. He took care of us next.

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Two Days to Thailand

April 10, 2009
by Stuart
1 Comment
2,073 views

Along the Mekong, Laos – We had yet to do a long trip down the Mekong, and taking the two-day trip from Luang Prabang to Thailand would be our last chance. The trip starts early in the morning, and gets to Pak Beng – a village who’s sole purpose seems to be proving eats and accommodation for passengers on the boat – late after noon. Then the next evening you get to the border towns of Huay Xai on the Laos side and Chiang Khong. Because you get there at night, you have to wait until the next morning to cross over to Thailand.

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The ferry boat parking lot.

As one might imagine, there wasn’t much to do along the way – you just sit on a boat. For two days. And these weren’t fancy passengers boats – they were single level, open air jobs with either wooden benches or seats that looked like they were ripped out of a van. There was a “bar” in the back that sold snacks, coffee and noodle soup. That was pretty much it for the boats.

You could take a fast boat which takes six hours to the border, but you miss out on the whole reason for the trip. Taking it slow is the point. Plus taking it slow is so Laos. Along with making a terrible noise, these fast boats have a notorious record for crashing – there isn’t time to maneuver around rocks or floating debris – especially in the dry season when the water is low.

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Heading down the Mekong.

Taking the boat is similar to taking the train – you see things you just don’t see from the highway. Little villages, farms on the riverbanks, kids riding water buffaloes down for their nightly bath, fishermen casting nets from atop boulders surrounded by rapids, even elephants. And the farther we got from Luang Prabang, the haze started to clear, washing way the constant stain from everything in site.

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Laung Prabang and the Motorbike Mafia

April 10, 2009
by Stuart
3 Comments
10,452 views

Luang Prabang, Laos – You can tell you are getting tired of planning when you start relying on the walking tours in the guidebooks. The tour in our LP seemed pretty good so we set out for a morning full of lots of wats. This being Laos, the town was pretty quite and not much was happening. And since the rice season was coming up, there was massive burning in the hills around the town, giving the town a sepia tone and limiting visibility.

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Wat Choumkhong; Umbrellas for sale at the market.

While passing a wat not on the tour, we noticed a few monks trying to get green mangoes off a tree in the courtyard. They were really into it, laughing and playing around. We fell into a long conversation with a monk who spoke fairly good English. He was funny and told us about his life and let us ask anything we wanted. Most of the monks there were in their mid-teens, so I asked about relating to their friends, and more importantly, if they missed girls. He laughed nervously at this and said no. But I didn’t believe him.

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Sim and detail of Wihaan, Wat Xieng Thong.

Once they got enough mangoes down, they soaked them in a pot of water. Another monk came over with a bowl of homemade chili sauce. After about ten minutes they sliced the mangoes and started eating them, giving us a few and laughing when we found the chili sauce spicy. One monk kept bragging about how he didn’t think it was spicy.

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Crepe stall.

These monks went to town on these mangoes. I just saw all these arms and saffron robes flailing around as the mangoes disappeared from the pot. A few other tourists came around so the monks took the remaining mangoes and hid behind a wall to finish eating. The monk who was talking with us explained that they weren’t supposed to eat after noon. So they decided to hide from the tourists instead of explaining that it was ok for them to eat mangoes.

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