Buy a Watch, Support my trip!

Always trying to make a buck or two… Fake watches are actually really good here, and I spent a few hours at a market tonight talking about buying bulk quantities of watches with vendors. If you are interested, visit benhanna.com/watches. Makes for good x-mas and birthday gifts…

In Chaing Mai

Traveling many hours in Thailand is usually a taxing experience that wears down even the most hardened of travelers (which I am not). This trip was different. We were so sick of being sick and hot in Bangkok, that we opted to pay a little extra for an air-con sleeper train for the 14 hour trip to Chaing Mai. We had bottom bunks that were large, comfortable and dark. The train is set up so that there are large seats facing each other with a table between them during the day, and at about 10:00pm they change them to beds. During dinner we met up with a Dutch couple who were sitting right across from us and spent the whole night drinking and playing poker with them.

I woke up at about 6:00am and watched the sun rise over the mountains through the windows of my bunk. It was relaxing to just sit in bed on a moving train, seeing the terrain flash by and not have to worry about anything.

This morning we all got off and made our way into the city where we walked for a while to find a guest house. We hit several, and settled on one that is cheaper than the room in Bangkok, but has a balcony, its own bathroom and some furniture!

Laura and I did some laundry, hung it up to dry, and met up with the Dutch couple to get breakfast. There is free wireless here so we won’t have to worry about that. I have been in contact with my father’s friend and am meeting up with him for dinner tomorrow night. It will be great to finally meet him, as we have been emailing back and forth since before I even left on this trip.

We are going to try a trek soon, and then we don’t know exactly what we will do. Probably head to Pai, which is a small town near here, or go into Laos and spend New Years and Christmas there. I have to leave Thailand by Jan. 1, so we do have somewhat of a time frame.

Dutch Couple
The Dutch Couple (Their names are impossible to pronounce, much less write…)

To Chaing Mai

Laura and I were hanging out with some French guys and talking about the “Americanization” of the world and how people are getting fatter and fatter in the developed countries, and how it is disgusting. It was an interesting conversation, but it was one of those that doesn’t really go anywhere. They had recently gone on a trek in Chaing Mai, and we thought that sounded like a good idea, so we are getting on a train tonight (probably while you are reading this) and heading north to that area to hike in the mountains, make bamboo rafts and take them down the river and ride elephants.

We are so tired of Bangkok that we can think of nothing else but getting out of here.¬† Next post will be from the mountain city of Chaing Mai. We are going to meet up with one of my father’s friends for lunch or dinner one night before we go off to trek.

We got hosed Danny, We got hosed

Laura recently arrived here in Bangkok, and I met her at the airport. Her flight was delayed, so I got to spend some time people watching, and was practically laughing out loud by the time she came around the corner. Almost every single person had the same reaction as they came out of the low, dimly lit customs area into the cavernous, full plate glass windowed terminal greeting area. Their gaze slowly drifted up to the top of the terminal, leaving their chin hanging slack below, and their eyes took on an unfocused “I’m so lost right now, help me God” look. Laura took on the same expression before I walked up and we headed out to the bus that would take us back to Kao San Road. We got settled in, and went out to do some shopping for Laura, because she needed a backpack and many other little things.

I had forgotten how Bangkok makes you feel when you first arrive and was going along like I always do, but Laura was looking at everything, taking it all in. I finally got the point and slowed down. That night we met up with about 30 other couch surfers for a birthday party that ended up going pretty late.

Today, we set out to do some sightseeing, and either because we were tired, hungry, caught unawares, or simply distracted by each other, we got scammed. I knew that this scam was in existence, but it was so flawlessly executed that I did not even catch on until it was too late. We were going to see the Grand Palace, and on the way met a guy who was getting food at a stall who told us it was a special day where admission was free to several temples. He mentioned that government tuk tuks were cheap today because the government helped pay for their gas to promote tourism to the temples. He also mentioned that there was an export market that had a big sale going on and if we had time, we should stop by it. We jumped in a Tuk tuk, which took us to a few temples, and at one of them, we met a guy who was praying. He started talking to us and mentioned that he was in town to see the lucky Buddha, where we were, and that he was getting married and had just gotten two suits at: the export market. He then left us without any pressure, so we had two separate references for this market. Surprise surprise. The tuk tuk then took us to the export mart (because we asked him to) which was just a big tailoring house. I had been planning on getting a suit anyway, so this was not a big problem for me. We went in, and we both got suckered into paying way more than I should have for two suits, a shirt and an overcoat. Less than the states, but expensive for here. Good news, I don’t have to buy a suit again for a looooong time and I will have a custom tailored cashmere suit. Bad news, I don’t even need to wear a suit in the near future and I feel retarded! Whatever, we learned our lesson and won’t be taken again anytime soon (or ever hopefully!) We have tried not to think about it, but damn… we are smarter than that and it pisses us off that we went that smoothly.

We just bought our tickets to go to Chang Mai in the north of Thailand, where we will go trekking before we cross into Laos to take a slow boat down the Mekong river. It is so hot and humid here that we cannot wait to get up where the weather is cooler, but we would not mind the heat if we were on a beach, so that is always an option too. Who know right? Plans change all the time… the only sure thing is that we are on an overnight sleeper train to Chang Mai on Saturday night.

More later,
-Ben

Standing
Standing Buddha

candle
Temple Candles

The next step

I have been chilling in Bangkok for a few days, and am more than ready to leave again. The place is fun, but tiring and hot and humid as only a mega city in the tropics can be. I have been hanging out with Couch Surfers pretty much every day, and it has made life great.

The reason I am still here is because I am waiting for Laura, the same one who comments often on this blog, to arrive. She is getting here on the 11th, and we are going to head to Everest base camp via Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, China, and India. We should arrive in March, just as the weather clears…

H.M. The King’s Birthday (His 80th)

The past few days have been incredibly busy. I found out the other day that I will no longer be teaching because the school I was going to teach at does not have a form that I need to get the work visa in Thailand. This was a bummer, but I should be able to get money back for my flight, so it isn’t the end of the world.

This means that my time frame is now skewed a little bit. I was planning on meeting Laura on Jan 5th to go to Everest base camp, but if she can meet up before that, then That is what will happen.

Yesterday was “H.M. The King’s Birthday” which is like 4th of July, New Years Eve, and every other holiday combined into one. Millions of Thais were dressed in yellow, which is the king’s color, and were swarming Bangkok because there was no work. I met up with some fellow couch surfers and 14 of us traipsed across the city to Chinatown, the Grand Palace, and some temples. We got to see the king in his car drive by, and a bunch of fireworks and parades. It is the biggest holiday of the year. My pictures do not do it justice, but swimming in a sea of yellow was a pretty cool experience. The crowds were clogging streets, parks, stores, etc… At one point we all got split up and locked in an unmovable mass of people. Amazingly, at the end of the night we all met up again after four hours of chaos.

Today I met up with Pete, a 40 something year old couch surfer from yesterday, and we had some drinks while I gave him pointers on Laos, because he is taking the night bus up there tonight.

Still trying to figure out what I am doing, it is between heading overland to Katmandu, or going through Cambodia and Vietnam.

kings car
The King’s Car

prayer
Paying respect at a temple

yellow sea
Sea of Yellow

couchsurfers
Couch Surfers!

Vientiane part duex

We (Thad and I) are back in Vientiane, and this time we are doing it right. We got a Tuk Tuk to take us around all day to the major sites, and took a bunch of photos. I have only put three of four of them up here, the rest can be found on the photos, or photo albums pages. Laos has a very strong French presence, and the “s” at the end of “Laos” is silent, and was added by… the French! In the city, the streets are called ‘Rue de…” and many of the Lao people speak french. We are pretty worn out from the day, but are planning on getting a good night’s sleep tonight, then heading for Bangkok tomorrow. I still have to work my South Korean visa out, and he has to do some shopping before he goes home.Today was Lao National Day (much like the 4th of July) so most stores were closed, but we did see some fun festivities, and a soccer game or two. We tried to stop off at the Lao Beer Company (L.B.C.) factory, but it was closed, so we will do it tomorrow on our way out. L.B.C. is one of the biggest companies in the country, and you see their flags and banner and signs absolutely everywhere.

On a side note, I am heading back to Bangkok, so if anyone wants a perpetual motion Rolex for under $40, let me know… They are the genuine, real, original fakes. Best quality fakes I have seen anywhere.

mouth
Seriously… it was going to eat me.

lao soccer
Just for you Laura… Soccer game by the Mekong River on Lao National Day

shadow
Just a cool shot

More on the Photos Page

Back South…

Last night was our last night together as a group. Dustin and Jared are leaving to head back into China, and Thad and I are going back down to Bangkok over the next week. We went to Pizza Falconi, where we have been eating every night, and hung out with the staff there for a while. We made our way down to the strip of beach bars that run across the island in the river, but quickly left after a bunch of drunk Irishman broke a bench and the fire pit.

Thad and I are about to get on a bus to Vientiane, the capital and largest city in the country. About 200,000 people live there. Vangvieng, where we are now, is something like the 5th largest city in the country, with 26,000 people. It is three roads and a river. This country has simply not joined the economic ladder at all.

Just wanted to post quickly before we left!
-Ben

Pizza Falconi crew
Pizza Falconi Crew

Rural Laos

Thad and I woke up this morning and left for our motorcycle trip. Dustin and Jared decided to sleep in and have a lazy day. We left and headed north on Hwy 13, one of the few paved roads in the country. We had no set agenda, just to explore. This we accomplished to perfection. We crossed rivers, rice fields, went through bamboo forests and banana groves, flew down dirt paths carved in the side of mountains, and chickened out of fording a stream. We parked the bikes for a while and went hiking into a cave, where a guide appeared out of nowhere and pointed to a sign that said no admission with out guide. Obviously a rip off, but what were we going to do? This happens all the time around here – 5000 kip to cross a bridge, 10000 to enter a lagoon area, 20000 for a guide because you can’t enter without one… we think most of it finds its way to organized crime but who knows.

We went 1 km back into this cave and swam around for a while in an underwater lake. This was extremely cool, and the pictures do not do it justice. After leaving, we found a well traveled dirt road and decided to follow it. It ended up leading through the mountain range to a small village on the other side. The river had washed out the road and we were nervous about crossing since our bikes were hot and we would have to pay for any damages. Loas on the other side were telling us that it was fine to cross, but we didn’t. On the way back I did get a picture with some Lao kids who were carrying AK-47s. Strangely, they have been the only show of a darker side of Laos that I have seen yet. I assume there is a stronger violent presence, but it is not evident. These teenagers were thrilled to have their picture taken, and took the time to straighten their shirts before the shot.

We are thinking about heading to Laung Probang tomorrow, not sure if we are still going to do it on motorbikes or the bus. Motorbikes were fun today, but tiring.

More later,
Ben

Three-AK
The teenagers with AK-47’s

boats
Skinny boats at the river crossing

flag
Flag flying in a field

panorama-vang-vieng
Another panorama (to view larger, visit flickr.com/benhanna)

Laos by motorbike

The past two days have been amazing. We went tubing down the river yesterday, which was a lot of fun and then today we rented motorcycles (oh, and when I say motorcycle, I mean motobike. 110cc, no clutch, 4 gears) and drove them up to a lagoon near the base of the cliffs. After the lagoon, I left the guys for a while and went far out into the country, steering around cows and stray dogs. I made my way to a bridge that I did not feel comfortable driving the bike over before I turned around. This country is beautiful, and of all the places I have been so far, I like the atmosphere, climate, and people here the most. They are smiling, honest and hardworking. I have made friends with one woman who is a cook at the restaurant we have been eating at, and I get her to choose my meal for me every night. She chooses well.

My ankle is feeling much better now, and I can move around alright. The guys and I are planning on meeting up with Greg, a Canadian we met in Ton Sai in Laung Probong, and I think we are going to rent motorcycles to make the journey there. Should be a good way to see the country on a more intimate level. We are sick of busses, so this method of transportation appeals to us. Thad and I went and cruised at dusk tonight for about 45 minutes and wandered way back on some old roads next to a river. I love the feeling of freedom that having a motorcycle gives me in this place because I can just zip off anywhere whenever.

Driving here is a trip. They drive on the right side of the road, same as in the US, but there are no lanes (on dirt roads how could there be?) but generally you pass on the left, and slower people stay to the right, but sometimes someone will be heading right for you, and you have to go all the way to the other side… when there are busy sections, it is chaos, but somehow it works.

I have been trying to get my laptop online so I can upload a ton of pictures, but no luck.

More Later,
Ben

rice paddy hut
Rice fields and the Mountains

bridge
The bridge I would not cross on the bike

cows in road
Cows

lagoon
The Lagoon