CHIANG KOHONG THAILAND TO LAO

 The trip up to Chiang Kohong was long . The mini van was full.  A husband and wife with
two children from Melbourne. She was a former elementary school teacher.


 
Their eighteen year old son we traveling also but left him to meet his older brother in Hong
Kong.  They were worried as this was his first venture on his own.  He was traveling around
China.  There was a sheep farmer and saxophone player with his wife who was a Mathematics
teacher.  A well traveled American.  Two young men from Jerusalem, another from Maui and
another from Santa Rosa California.  The others I haven’t met or couldn’t hear them to carry
on a conversation so I shied away.
We arrived at the Guesthouse late afternoon


and were assigned our rooms.  
I walked into town and on the way back, joined the family from Melbourne for a beer.  We had
dinner another beer and was in bed around 11 pm.  I woke an hour later and shivered
throughout the night.  I had blankets and doubled them up but if you are in a freezer blankets
don’t help much.  Then I had to get up to walk to the toilet.  Never did get back to sleep or
warm.Well I am in an internet cafe in Chiang Kohong at the Guesthouse NamKaHong.  I froze
my bloody ass off last night and finally decided to go take a hot shower to warm up.  I waited
and waited until the teacher from Australia finally relinquished her shower with a big smile.
Oh that hot shower was wonderful as she left.  I couldn’t wait but after I got in the stall I
realized I left my soap in the room.  Oh well I will have a hot shower but no …she used all
the hot water so I had  cold shower on my cold body and returned to my cold room. Then I
went to the cafeteria and had a cold breakfast.  I am wearing a coat!  Well we leave this cold
part of the world shortly for the boat down the river…Wow…A day that will be one of my worst
and best stories.  It started in Laos when we crossed to get our Visa’s  We had given the
 Hostel our passports along with the applications for the Visa and were to pick them up on
the Laos side of the border along with the passports.  
We did. It took all morning.  We had to have everything stamped with each department of
 immigration and I did.  Then I left to go find out where the 37 people were that were part
of my group.  I had a tag I wore that identified me as part of that group and  as I left
immigration a man saw that and directed me to a Taxi that was to take me to  the “Slow boat”
to Luang Prabang.  I saw my Aussie friends so joined them while the Taxi driver loaded my
bags  on the roof of the Taxi.  We all jumped on and drove 10 Km to the debarkation point.
 
We were all waiting around a restaurant /bar and ordering sandwiches to go for the trip and
buying up bottled water when after an hour someone drove up and dumped all these
passports on the table for distribution with the TICKET for the journey.  I went over to the
man in charge and explained that NO ONE had taken my passport and …I had NO ticket.  He
took my passport and ran off to get my ticket.
 I joined everyone….over 140 people …my group was 37…and stood in line to board the boat
 while waiting for the man to return with my passport and ticket.  He returned as the one boat
was leaving. He had my passport but explained that I did not have a ticket.  There were only
36 tickets.  What actually happened was that I was part of 37 that had prepaid but when they
only received 36 passports…they only issued 36 tickets and sold mine to one of the other
passengers and pocketed the money.   He said they only had 36 tickets.  There was no list with
our names only the tickets and the passports.  Understandable that some underpaid and civil
servant decided to take advantage..but now I am waving goodbye along with the guy from
Santa Rosa California…they misplaced his passport.  The two of us are stuck. 
 I asked about a  “Fast Boat ” …he said it would be 40000 Baht or $120.  I already paid for the
slow boat and my only other choice was to get a room there and they would arrange the slow
boat the following day.  This was not an option.  Then they said there might be a possibility
that his missing passport might be on the  boat and we could split the cost of a fast boat taxi
that would catch the slow boat and take us there.  I said I am ready but how much…he said
that would be $75….I asked the guy from California and he said that the tour company should
pay.  I said I agree so sue them after we get on the boat.  He argued with the guide and the
guide  had to call his boss to request payment and I am thinking the slow boat is getting
further away. It is going to cost even more …so I told the California guy that I was sorry he doesn’t have  a passport but I want out of here .   He understood and I ordered the guide to book the fast boat to the slow boat and I would pay the whole amount of $75…I had already made an advance payment for the Guest House on the overnight stop.  

  Now we are talking money and money talks…I’m on the taxi going to the Fast Boat dock 12 km away.  I had to pay for that too.  I arrived and jumped on the boat to discover there were two other passengers.  I was paying for them too!  OK.  I’m in the front with the wind in my face

…we are doing 40-50 miles an hour down the Mekong river.  John Kerry didn’t go that fast.  

My coat almost blew overboard. My hair blew off.  I finally, after an hour on the boat, pulled
up along side of the slow boat.  EVERYONE had their cameras on me.  The Slow boat matched
the speed of the fast boat and  a deck hand came aboard the fast boat to take my bag while
I struggled to get up after what was like riding a bucking bronco for over an hour and board
this  moving boat without falling into the Mekong and becoming a Be Gone.   I did and
everyone on the slow boat welcomed me.  But no one bought me a beer!  That would never
happen in Australia or Scotland.   So I did…about 3-4 of them .  All the seats were taken as
they overbooked and I thought I left the pillow on the fast boat in a frenzy to get on the slow
one.  Then my friend from New Zealand ..the sheep farmer brought it…the captain had thrown
it on.  Everyone wanted to hear the story and I was quite a celebrity.  Some said they would
email the photos because I was too busy trying to board at the time to take photos.  People
came up to me and asked to photograph me for their trip story.  Wherever I went  people gave
me the Loo or their seat or opened my beer…but still, never  bought me one. 
Finally we arrived at the stop…I don’t even know the name of it but  it was pitch black and
my bag was in the front on the way off.  My friend from Jerusalem had a flash light and
stayed to help me identify my bag.  I saw it right away and a Laotian offered to carry it off
the boat for me.  First I denied the assistance but it was dark, I was tired, and really didn’t
know where the Guest house was so finally agreed to let him “Porter” my bag. 
 It weighed at least 50 lb and he was solid muscle.  He threw it on his shoulder walked the gangplank off in front of me.  I almost fell into the Mekong.  Then it was straight uphill.  I couldn’t keep up with him.  There is no way I could have carried my bag without stopping every five feet.  He could have jogged up to the hotel.  Then  when we did get there , after I begged a couple stops along the way to catch my breath, the greeter from the hotel had my key ready and directed me up another couple flight of stairs to the first level.  The “Portor” stuck with me and dropped the bag in the room .  I was so gratefull that I asked how much I owed him he sheepishly said like $3….I gave him $5 and he turned and put his arms around me and kissed me on the neck, 
not the cheek.  That show of affection made the trip worth while even though he had his
hand in my wallet while he was doing it.
I went to a Laos restaurant and ordered Water Buffalo with Lemon and sticky…Wild rice…
a bit different.  I had a Lao Beer and after had a Lao Whiskey…which was like 5 shots for
one dollar in a glass.  Now the Buffalo dish was spicy.  I forgot to ask so I ate the dish because
is was a small portion with a small price .

I ventured down the street to a fairly nice little Mamma and Papa place that impressed me.
 I decided to just have some “spring” rolls as they call them and a glass of red wine.  I sat
next to 3 French couples around my age.  I drank my wine and ordered another.  He explained
that he was out of the Red but had house White…no problem but I did notice the French
couples asked to pay their bill with separate checks for each couple and paid him with large
denomination bills. Trying to accommodate them ,he got on his motorcycle and took off to
get change for each of the couples.
While he was gone , one man pulled out a bottle of whiskey as an  after dinner drink from
his “purse ” and bragging, poured everyone a drink while they were waiting for their change.  
I remembered Bernard , the owner of O’Brians in Saigon telling me…(he is French Vietnamese)
about how the French would come into his bar and kiss him on both cheeks and tell him how
they loved his place and then order Coca Cola and he would see them pull a bottle of Whiskey
out of their purse and add to the Coca Cola….he remarked on what hipocrites they were. 
I got pissed and when the owner returned to pay each of the couples their change  I stood up
and introduced myself and asked the man who poured the Whiskey if he had  bought the
bottle of whiskey from this owner that worked so hard to not only present him with good food
that his wife cooked but also ran all over town to bring him his change.  They had a nervous
giggle but then SILENCE. Perhaps I was so upset because the owner had handwritten his
menus on handmade paper, he painted murals in the restroom making it the best Eastern
toilet I had seen, he decorated the place with pride and it showed, plus he was the owner
and I know what that is like. 
I told them that all of them should be ashamed of themselves for taking advantage of this man
and his wife the chef that worked so hard to give them pleasure.  I then asked the owner for
my  bill. When presented with it in front of the people , I gave him all I had in my wallet and
thanked him for such a nice evening then turned my back on the 6 Assholes and left.
I almost danced down the street.  I felt so good.  I had neven done that in my life but always
fantasized about it.  I will sleep well tonight.  I did take the owner aside on the way out and
told him I didn’t mean to offend his guests but that I was proud of what he did and they were
insulting to him and his wife.  He thanked me. I did sleep well.
The next day I boarded the boat after a wonderful breakfast.  None of the travel guides or tour
operators on the continuing trip knew about me, or what happened on the first part of the trip
and wanted my ticket…long story again.  I didn’t have a ticket and they had a list with all the
passengers but me.  I tried to explain in my best Lao but for some reason they didn’t
understand.  I gave them the phone number and name of the tour operator for NamKhong and
requested they call.  I thought I was to be escorted off the boat when a young lady that
accompanied the ticket taker, pulled a cell phone out and called Noi the in the other village.  
I was so tense while she waited and waited with no response.  She called again.  Nothing.  I told
her to keep his number and call after the boat left with me on it and he would verify my ticket.
 She refused but then got an answer.  The whole boat was waiting because I was the hold up.  
The other boat left an hour ago and everyone was getting anxious…especially me.  Then she
smiled and said…no problem and got off the boat while the captain left port.  All the passengers
wanted to know what I was going to do today to entertain them?  What new adventures do you
have in store for us?, they asked.That was it.  
We arrived in Luang Prabang on time and before dark.  I took a taxi after showing the address
and name.  He even quoted me $12 which is the most I’ve paid in a month but I agreed.  I was
tired and wanted this leg of the trip over and to be settled in.  On the way, he commented on
what a nice place I was staying at.  I knew he had the wrong place, especially when he showed
up a a palatial villa. He wanted to get paid and drop me off and run.  I wanted to check with the
front desk and insisted he join me when the desk clerk gave him directions to the real Guest
House I was staying at.  He understood then drove me to another wrong place but they insisted
I stay.  even though they only had a room for two days that was twice the price of where I had
booked.  I told them I had made reservations for 3 days and this was obviously not the place.  
Again I showed them the name and address and they explained to the driver that I was staying
the next street over.  He acted like I never explained it right to him and he knew the place all
along.  He then took me right to the front door and wanted me to pay him more.  He had also
solicited me to be my tour guide while I stayed in Luang Prabang.  I refused him everything
but the money that I agreed to pay him and then insisted he carried my bag in before paying.  
I could have walked there from where I got off the boat!!  
   I joined some others from Toronto and Seattle on the veranda for a drink.  They invited me to
eat with them but I still had a sandwich so declined.  I did go for a brief walk into town.  It was
packed and busy with music coming from everywhere as well as a night market that made
Chiang Mai’s look small.   Everything closes early here so I was in bed by 10 pm..I slept well
and was afraid I might oversleep and miss part of the short time I have in this World Heritage
City. My clock said 7am but I didn’t believe it. I had my coffee at JAMA Coffee house where I
saw some of the same people from my trip. 
A older man with a suitcase and a Bob Marley Tshirt was looking for a place to sit.  I was
sitting at a table of 4 and there were no seats left so I offered him a seat to join my table.  Later
we talked…he was leaving that morning .  He used to live there 5 years ago and was visiting a
friend. He was French and started explaining that we put money into Laos and cleaned it up
and then they gave their country to the Chinese.  The Europeans come here and expect the
same as in Europe so they get it at a cheaper price and think it is wonderful.  But the Chinese
only pay the Lao the cheap wages so make enormous profits and take the money to China. 
I set out with a map to explore the town.  I first visited one of 37 Temples that make this a
World Heritage Site.  I wandered from one to another and another…and another but noticed
one on top of Phousie Hill overlooking the whole city as well as where two major rivers merge.
 I decided to climb the one million steps to the top.  One at a time. I rested and drank a bottle
of water to replace all mine that I sweated out climbing the first 100,000 steps. I finally reached
the temple at the top and fell down on my knees and paid homage to the Buddha for not having
a heart attack on the way up …or for not falling off the edge of the mountain.
I visited a few shops along the way through town and ran into one of my fellow travelers.  He
said he saw the guy who lost his passport.  I guess he took a fast boat and arrived today. I hope
to see him.  I stopped into a Scandinavian Bakery I saw advertised.  A Swedish Pastry Chef got
the King and Queen of Sweden to donate $50000 for him to open this bakery-restaurant and
employ all orphaned young girls.  They showed up for the opening and I decided to try his bread
pudding.  I have one of the best recipes in Phoenix so thought I would try his.  It was fantastic
as was the Latte.
 Then I saw a Wine shop with Merlot from Italy for $3 a glass and stopped for that.  Then I
noticed one of many shops that had an oriental hanger to mount my wall hanging I bought.  
It was hand carved wood for $3 so I bought that when I noticed a framed photo from the turn
of the century and bought that.  It is impossible not to buy these things that you will never find
in the US…at least not for that price and quality.  I stopped by the post office and the ATM
machine with the intentions of sending another package from Asia to the USA. I got 2,100,000
Kip.  Yep…over 2 million…about $240 in American …probably what our money will be worth
in a few years. Now to figure out what I’m going to buy.  I am going to get another wall hanging
and hanger to go with the one I have.  Maybe some more shirts, pants  and a scarf. .  A
Tablecloth…I don’t know but shipping goes by the kilo so have to keep the weight down.  I
thought an Opium pipe might be a nice conversation piece.  I can tip the waiters 1000 kip and
feel important…even though that is about 13 cents. There doesn’t seem to be a problem with
customs in any of these countries …only bringing things into the US. 
I completed my walk , paid my hotel bill, then asked to stay another two days.  She said OK
without hesitation.  I asked if she wanted me to pay for the extra days now.  She was disciplining
her children and didn’t want to be bothered. 
I read in the Vientiane Times that the Muong that the USA recruited to assist us during the
Vietnam war were being sent back to Lao.  They were in refugee camps in Thailand for years
trying to join their families that were living in the USA and elsewhere.  Brig Gen Bouasieng
said Lao officials will educate the returnees to make sure they are not tricked into leaving the
country again and to prevent them falling victim to human trafficking.  What if they want to
leave? Oh well be thankful you have you freedom.
I’m in the Joma Coffee shop and going back to spend some money on the market.  
I ended up going the other direction toward the river where I ran into two old…younger than
me Aussies sharing Snake Wine at 10 am. Later I went to the Museum, bought some music
then took the back neighborhood home for siesta. 




  
New Year’s Eve Day I went shopping and spent a Million…literally.  They have no coins here.
Great idea really.  Everything costs 8000 or 210,000, etc.  I bought a purse that I carry my
computer around in as well as all the junk I bought.  I may ship some out tomorrow or wait
until I get to Saigon.  I spent the evening treating myself to a really nice dinner then wandering
around the downtown festivities.  It was loud , busy, and tiring so I returned home with a
bottle of Hanoi Vodka , had a couple New Year’s Eve drinks, and played poker.  Fireworks
could be heard in the distance and after checking the clock I retired at about 12:05 am.


CHIANG RAI AND CHIANG MAI FINALE

I slept most of the 3.5 hour Mini Tour Bus ride to the Golden Triangle except for some
announcements and brief stops along the way.  The first stop was the Hot Springs
that John wanted me to see with him.  People buy and boiled their eggs for lunch. Some are
regular chicken eggs and others baby quail eggs.He made it sound like a paradise.  It wasn’t.
 I think Scottish are impressed with Ceramic Dwarfs and cheap tourist attractions…
no offense. I liked the HoJo’s.  The street vendor.
 We called them HoJo’s when we in Nam for Howard Johnson’s.  He had roasted nuts of
some kind. Charcoal roasted Purple Sweet Potatoes , a sticky rice with coconut milk stuffed
in a bamboo tube and roasted, and other things?
Another hour or so and we stopped at the White Temple.
 A privately owned tourist trap but quite nice and different. We drove through Chiang Rai
and arrived at the Golden Triangle.  
I would have loved to see some of the country side but instead there was a Disney world
like Buddha
with some sculptures amid vendors selling assorted junk at inflated prices. The pubic toilets
have no paper…you wash yourself.  Try that on these toilets is impossible without taking off
all you bottoms and even then it is difficult. I saw vending machines at a Shopping Plaza
toilet that dispensed toilet paper for 1 baht or about 3 cents.
 We dallied around for about an hour while some took a boat ride in a circle then back.
 We then stopped for our buffet that was included. The tourist took everything that was free
until there was no more
then we left for the Long Neck Village.
..with other tribes thrown in to help educate us on how to spend our money.
A three hour ride later and I was dropped at the night bazaar in Chiang Mai to do some last
minute shopping before I mailed as much as I could back home the next day. I vowed never
to do a group tour again!
  I rose late the next day.  Demetri was bugging me about his web site.  He just put it up on
the internet but every time he tried to search for it by Googling ” Guest House in Chiang Mai”,
his site never came up.  The company that created it told him it takes time for the registration
to go through and for the Google search engine to pick up on it.  He came to my room and
asked if I could sit with him to help.  I promised the next day around 10am I would try.  I
took all the stuff I didn’t need to the Post Office to return to the USA.  Half was souvenirs and
the other half was too much stuff I packed when I left.  $200 worth and it cost me $100 to
mail it.  
That evening I went to a Guitar Concert
that had about 12 people playing different guitars and music.  It was an international audience
and they served snacks during intermission. I bought some more stuff that I could have
mailed with the rest.  I may have to visit the post office one more time before I leave!  I
stopped at The Writer’s Club and Wine Bar to get a bite to eat and have some wine.  When I
was getting ready to leave two older Brits and a German were having a lively discussion at the
bar so I introduced myself and joined them for last call.  An hour later and a bottle of wine
along with some Gin and Tonics , we were asked to leave so they could close up.  Wolfgang,
director of his own company in Hong Kong, had been showing us , on his computer, photos
he took of Northern Laos . He rented a driver and a jeep to visit and then camped in a tent.  
They were fantastic pictures.
I woke late the next day .  Just in time to be confronted by Dimitri and his website.   I helped
him a bit. 
  Then I went to a great photo exhibition of the Golden Triangle area and of all the tribes that
inhabited the region.  These were done by a lady from Chicago to document these tribes while
they still exist. It was held at a very nice place called Tamarind Village
just down the street.  I bought some more stuff then had lunch at Chillis
before taking a siesta.  My trip to the Royal Flower Gardens was postponed.  When I got up
Dimitri was talking to the wine salesmen and wanted my opinion of California wines.  I said
I only drank box wine and took off.  I think he is gay and wants to do me.  
I had my first hamburger in months at the Writer’s Club.  The beef here is Bahama cattle that
was first brought here from the USA. It is part of the Angus and Hereford  and was being
raised in the U.S. at the turn of the century.  I have to admit that is was one of the best
Hamburgers I’ve had. I had some wine then came home and sat on the porch with my
computer and lost $100 playing Poker until Midnight.  
This morning I went for breakfast across the street at the UR Chiang Mai, the really nice
hotel with the big buffet.  I had some yogurt, granola, fruit, juice, Spanish cheese omelet ,
bacon and coffee and espresso.  
Great start on the day so went for a long walk…over 3 hours in the neighborhood
then branched out and explored other areas.  
I stopped in a Mega Mall for some thing that resembles a dumpling.  I have had them in
Phoenix but they are a Thai specialty.  It is a bread that is stuffed with custard, beans,
vegetables, or whatever and steamed until is cooks through.  
Dutch Chocolate milk from Haarlem, Holland topped it off. 
 I finally broke down and hired a taxi to take me to the Royal Flower Garden.
Half of China was there too.  They arrived on 100’s of these tour buses and were like ants.
 I took a trolley that does a tour of the place.  
He spoke in Chinese of course.  Everyone got off at the Chinese Garden so I did too.  Bing
Crosby was singing White Christmas over the loud speakers while I was surrounded by these
Chinese ants talking a mile a minute while photographing each other.  The garden had
different exhibits or Gardens from all over the world.  Arab Gardens, India, Dutch, English,
China, Laos, Thai, etc….It was beautiful and well tastefully done.
 Alvin and the Chipmunks serenaded me with Jingle Bells as I crossed the parking lot to me
my taxi. My driver was waiting to take me home for some Pad Thai lunch and a siesta. My
laundry was waiting for me. I gave it to the maid the day before and got it back all clean,
pressed and still warm from the iron. $1.30!!!
Now to go celebrate Christmas Eve.  I do feel a bit melancholy tonight.  The best Christmas
Eves were home with Mom and Dad and then to visit Grandma and Grandpa the next day
with all the Aunts, Uncles, and cousins for Dinner.  We never forget that.  Last Christmas I
celebrated dinner with one of three of my Aunts and Uncles that are still alive.  We had a
great time around the Christmas tree with Snow out the window while opening presents.  
It was the week after Mom passed away.
Well yes that was sad and it did make me cry.  I decided to get out and enjoy Christmas Eve.
 I went to the Gardens down the street where they have many restaurants and Fargangs.  I
sat in the Garden and ordered a Gin and Tonic but it was 14oz of Tonic
and one shot of Gin.  I was feeling lonely so took a Tuk-Tuk
to my Wine and Cheese Bar.
 I saw the owner again
He is in his late 50’s but was an athlete all his life.  Now he walks his favorite golf course
three times a week.  I met a man from Melbourne.  He lived nearby me and was here for
a month holiday.  He comes every year.  I also saw two Chinese ladies
that I shared breakfast with this morning.  They live at the exclusive resort across the street
from me.  
I returned to the Writer’s Club in hopes of seeing Wolfgang, the German Photographer I met
before but the owner said he was there last night and still had a bottle of wine he bought
waiting for him so may be back on Christmas.  I got talking to the owner who almost qualified
to be a Mayflower Society member because he was related to the Howlands that came over
on the Mayflower.  He was denied because he was not a direct decedent of the Howlands…only
a relative.  He flew to Plymouth where I used to live and did a documentary film about it.  
He visited Plymouth Plantation and stayed at the Holiday Inn that I tried to transfer to in
Boston.  We chatted a long time about Gin and his experience living in Majorica Spain…where
they have a very special Spanish Gin.  I had never heard of this but hope to try it when I return
with Marjorie this summer. He has owned the Writer’s Club for 6 years now and had a lady
friend named Alician from Kerry Ireland.  I chatted with her and we all took pictures
…it was Christmas Eve.  Also there was a couple celebrating there Honeymoon.  Neither had
a camera so I took photos…she was from Cornwall and he was from Hastings.
 I promised to email them the occassion.
I had my usual breakfast buffet then went to the Post Office to drop a card. I asked Demetri
where I could buy a pillow to sit on for the boat ride long two day boat ride I had coming up.
 “Well z take z taxi to z market.  This is where I buy all z pillows for z Bateau.  I buy
all z furniture too.  Very cheap.  You don’t think I like to spend money…you should know
I am very cheap.”    I took another Tuk-Tuk
to the Central Chiang Mai Market
to buy a pillow for my 14 hour two day trip on a wooden boat seat.
 
 You sit up in the back of the Tuk-Tuk and don’t really get to see anything because the roof
comes down around you. Believe me…that is a good thing. Notice his fancy seat cover.  Great
idea…an old recycled T-Shirt.  It costs me $3 round trip to buy a $1 pillow. I might treat
myself to a massage by one of Santa’s elves. FOOT MASSAGE!
I did none of that.  I walked to the garden up the street but there was no Jazz music that was
advertised.  I argued with a Tuk-Tuk driver about his price.  I said that where I wanted to go
was only a short distance and I could walk.  He told me to walk…so I did.  I visited the wine
and cheese shop again but only had one wine and some cheese.  I met a  couple from Michigan
that has lived and worked in Australia for the last four years.  They were on a two week
holiday and was leaving for Laos tomorrow.  I might meet them there but I leave day after.
 Their favorite SE Asia country was Vietnam.  I bid the owner goodbye and thanked him then
went to John’s rooftop restaurant
in the old city where I was staying.  
I had Shrimp Toast and wine then joined Wolfgang at the Writer’s Club. 
 He was just finishing eating when I arrived.  We chatted a lot about travel. He had been all
over the US…mostly California, and Oregon.  Did a lot of business in Boston, as well as
Chicago and traveled to Mississippi and Tennessee in the 70’s.  Very enjoyable conversation
that was joined by another Chiang Mai expat from Buffalo N.Y.
 He was conversing with a retired Anthropologist that was from Columbia University.  She
had been living in Chiang Rai for years.  Lovely lady that radiated warmth.   Got lots of good
input on where to go and what to do in Laos.  It was late when I left to bed down.  Got to pack
tomorrow and leave the following day.
I visited Black Canyon Coffee for breakfast this morning.  I love sitting inside and watching
the world go by outside. It is great. All the people from all over and so much activity. 
Saturday morning must be street cleaning day. They sweep the street all day everyday but
this morning they wash it with hoses and workers go along scraping old paper signs off the
electrical poles
and washing the phone boothes, The sweepers carry 5 gallon metal square cans that are cut
in half diagonally to form a scoop with a handle they tape on it.  They sweep up everything
with homemade brooms then deposit into old burllap rice bags or used pet food bags…all
recyled.  That evening I bid goodbye to everyone and finished packing.  
PS.  This is where the Buddhist Abbot was Cremated:

CHIANG MAI

 The weather has been great…a little muggy the last few days but Chiang Mai is a little cooler.
I even wear long pants at night instead of shorts.  This is a great City..;.cheaper, cleaner, better
food, better everything…I could stay here a while…well 9 more days anyway.  
I went for a walk last night after checking into my $9 a night room with shower and toilet
…sink outside on porch. I have a fan but no A/C.  I am located within the walls of the old city.
 I walked by the place where David Watts , the CouchSurfing Welchman invited me to stay.
I emailed him that I would contact him in the morning as it was late tonight.  The downtown
area has a Night Bazaar
with a lot of nice and cheap things.  It was busy and I was hungry and tired so left the
and headed back.  I noticed a Wine and Cheese shop with a few people sitting around chatting
so stopped in for the first reasonably priced glass of wine I have had in Thailand.
 The house wine was from South Africa and another from Italy.  I had one of each along with
a small (turned out to be large) cheese platter with passion fruit, apple and homemade
excellent bread.  I chatted with a man from Manchester , England and John from Lochobie
Scotland.  John joined me and we talked about our travels.  He just arrived and had been
traveling in Canada , Montana, Nebraska, and into the Rockies.  Lots of snow so he headed
for Thailand.  We hit it off well and decided to meet for Breakfast in the morning. I returned
to the room.  It was so cool last night I requested another blanket.  
This morning I met John and we had breakfast .  He invited me to join him visit the Hot
Springs but I was to meet David Watts at his home.  I went to David’s and his gracious wife
took me through their massage parlor and up four flights to the roof top garden
complete with a Koi fish pond.  David was listening to classical music , smoking his cigar and
reading. Living the good life at 69 years of age.   He made us some Tea and we chatted about
his travels all over South and Central America.  He gave me some tips on Burma and then
took me to his travel agent.
 She was very helpful but Burma was out. To get to Burma I have to return to Bangkok to catch
the flight and would take 7-10 days for the Visa because of Christmas holidays.  I’ll try after I
do Vietnam…I am going to the Golden Triangle the 21st.  
I moved into better accommodation in the Old City where I am located.  Lots to see here.
 I don’t care about leaving it except for day trips. I depart for Luang Prabang Laos, two days
after Christmas .  Three days by boat after an overnight at the border then on to Vientiane,
the capital,  for a day or two before flying into Hanoi on the 5th. I got a better room for $2.50
more…in a different location for security reasons…this place appears safe but I could easily
get into my room without a key.  The new  place is really nice.
Very clean with flat screen TV ,
internet access , A/C but the beautiful bath and shower is down the hall.  I can deal with that.
I meet John again for Wine and we will split the cheese platter tonight. I hope he will join
David and I at an Irish bar where we will compete in a Trivia contest.  David invited me over
to his home this afternoon but I wanted to explore my neighborhood.  Lots of Wats or
Temples built in 1500 that I will take some pictures of and visit in the next few days. Chiang
Mai was founded in 1200 I believe.
 I met John at the Wine and Cheese place and we share a Cheese with Homemade bread and
Fruit platter before taking a TukTuk to the UN Irish Pub to join David in a Trivia game.  We
were a bit late and missed out on the first round but I got to introduce John  to David.  John
and I
formed team…Taylor and Houston and fell flat on our face…we actually placed last and didn’t
care but everyone got a prize.  The prizes were all wrapped as Christmas gift and ours was
250 Baht gift certificate and a bottle of water.
 David…took first prize but got less than us.  It was a real fun affair.  David introduced me
to a Chiang Mai CouchSurfer from Homer Alaska named Lorrayn. 
She has been living in Chiang Mai for over  a year and helps organize a lot of the get together
with the local group.  David and I agreed to meet at 3pm at his home the next day.  John and
I paid our tab with our bootie and left to have a couple of night caps at a local bar on the way
home.  We agreed to meet again for breakfast at 9:30 am . John quickly said David…get out
your camera there is an elephant coming down the sidewalk
…I turned to see an Elephant coming at me as I took a quick picture then another as it passed
by.  Both out us agreed that we would never see that back home!  We parted and I packed to
move the next day before checking my email and retiring.
When I awoke in the morning I thought it was 9am so jumped out of bed, showered, shaved
and since I was packed I decided to get a Tuk-Tuk to my new place, drop the bags and
continue on to meet John.  I checked in to the the Bateau Irve and met Demetri the owner.
 He used to be a ship captain for an oil company in Africa and was very pleasant.  He then
went over to the front entrance where the neighbors dog was taking a leak on his flower pot.
 After looking around to make sure no one was watching, he kicked the dog right into the street.
  I then took a Tuk_Tuk motor taxi but got my bearings wrong.  I had told the driver I was
going to Thapae Rd where David lived but was going the next one over.  I thought he took me
to the next one over when I told him so insisted I get off.  When I looked around I realized it
was Thapae road and now had to rush to meet John.  I took a short cut and walked for about
15 minutes when I came back out on a main road I thought I was to meet John at and
discovered I had done a complete circle and it must have been 9:30 already.  I started out
again but varied my direction hoping I was going where I was supposed to when I ended up
on the main road close to the hostel I just moved out of!!   Now I at least knew where I was
and another 10 minutes later arrived at the meeting place but no John.  Did he leave when
I didn’t show?  I asked a taxi driver the time and he informed me I was 30 minutes early…it
was only 9am.  John arrived early also so we ate then went to my Tour Agent to see about
getting him to Bangkok and on to the Bridge on the river Kwai.  She arranged all that , we
exchanged addresses and I returned to my new digs for a nap. 
Later that afternoon I visited David a bit then browsed the shops before returning for dinner . 
Went for a long walk wearing my long pants this morning.  It was great .  Visited a lot of
Temples
and chatted with a monk
for a while. Stopped by a Guitar shop called Eagle.  He had a big collection of old electric
Gibson and Fender guitars.  There were autographed photos of Eric Clapton and the Eagles
and a few others on the wall.  I asked if I could take a photo…he declined.  I visited a local
food market then relaxed with great Cappuccino and Mango Pancakes
after a pick me up Fresh Pineapple and yogurt shake while reading my Bangkok Post.  The
Post is a great paper.   I read David Carradine died in Bangkok last June.  He died at 72 of auto
erotic asphyxiation. I always liked him and remember watching his Kung Fu TV show where
he would battle the bad guys with nothing but his Kung Fu…he is the one that made it so
popular back then.  
There was a guy in Bangkok riding around in the street on Roller Blades (extremely
dangerous) dressed as Santa passing out Christmas Cookies to people in there cars and on
bikes. 
I returned and took a brief siesta after receiving a call from my daughter Jennifer on Skype.  
It was like 1am on Friday in Buffalo and 2pm on Saturday here in Chiang Mai. The landlord
sent a crew up to install curtains in my room .  The noise of the construction made it hard to
take a nap.  I had plans to visit some events that evening but when I arrived at the UN Pub.
It was empty so I started walking toward the night bazaar then past that to the river and
crossed the bridge.  There were lots of fishermen.  I counted 37 rods in the water but never
saw anyone catch a fish.  I walked along the river then came back another bridge where lots
of young people gathered to chat and hang out.I stopped at a few shops and noticed bamboo
stick incense burners where the smoke came out the elephants mouth at the top of the burner.
It was 300 Baht and very original.  I was headed for my cheese and wine shop when it started
to rain a bit.  I didn’t pay much attention until it started to pour a lot.  I ducked into the Wild
Boar.  It was another Brit bar with Plymouth playing Liverpool in a live football match.  I
thought it was snowing in England.  The bloke explained that was in London.  It was cold
and I ordered the Chicken Patay with a beer while waiting out the rain….then another beer.  
I thought I ordered a Satay but it was a Pate.  Still frozen! While I was in the Wild Boar, an
old lady came in from the rain selling Lai’s.  Like you get in Hawaii except smaller as gifts to
the spirit house or Buddha.  I bought one and gave it to the bar girl to offer the Buddha.  The
woman could have been my Grandmother and had a charming smile.  When she arrived in
from the rain, she started tapping her foot to the Disco music and rocking back and forth.  
Then 3 Street Urchins came in from the rain selling Red Roses.  They were from 8-11 years
old , barefooted and had a smile to melt you down.  The bar girls bought all the flowers then
tried to get their boyfriends to pay.. Didn’t work. They didn’t care and the children left smiling
as they came in except with no flowers but barefooted and into the rain. I regret not taking my
camera and won’t leave home without it for now on. I put it on toast with some lettuce and
tomato and ate it like a meatloaf sandwich then , when the rain subsided, dashed up the street
to my Wine and Cheese bar.
  I had 100 Grams of Danish Blue, a fresh loaf of homemade cracked whole wheat bread, and
a tall glass of Italian Merlot for $7.50.  The rain started again so I took the cheese and bread.
with me and hailed a Tuk Tuk for $1.25 to my Guest House. We passed right by with the rain
and my eyesight before I got him to stop.  I walked back.  
Got a newsletter from Couch Surfers and a testimonial from Kitty in Duluth Mn
recommending Janet in Chiang Mai…I sent Janet a note in hopes she can take me to the
Elephant preserve…she is a teacher here and I hope to visit her school and meet some of her
Thai friends….another world traveler to compare notes. Got to get some sleep…lots to do.
I met Anne from Switzerland this morning. She is living on the top floor and taking Massage
Classes. Classes on massaging babies, pregnant women, energy forces, and all kinds of
amazing things taught by Masters.  She has a bike she rides around Chiang Mai and told
me that the Buddhist Abbot of Chiang Mai and all of Northern Thailand is being cremated
tonight.  The celebration starts at 3 this afternoon.  Janet contacted me and wants to go.  This
is a big event as he was like the Pope here or actually the Abbot  I’m meeting her in the parking
lot of the police station and hopefully we will find Anne in the crowd.  My street is also blocked
off from traffic every Sunday for a huge market.  I hope to visit that afterwards but the
cremation doesn’t take place until 7:30…he is wrapped in his sarong and placed inside this
wooden sculpture of a Elephant I think.  They burn the whole thing at the temple.  I haven’t
been to this temple but see Monks arriving from all over the country to pay Homage.  They
wear silk saffron robes instead of cotton. I did some shopping this afternoon and had the best
coffee in the world at Black Canyon Coffee!!!
 Siesta
I met Janet at the Police station and we visited the Temple to see the Funeral Pyre.
 It was not at all what I expected.  The Abbot died 100 days ago and they have him wrapped up
inside this immense structure they built to burn him in.  People come from all over the world
for this guy. We decided to return to the market and see some of that.  While there we ate
and
 get a foot massage.
  7:30 in the evening, we returned and took up a ring side seat on the grass in front of the Pyre.
 We were surrounded by Monks and fellow Buddhists that came to pay tribute to the Abbot.
 They gave EVERYBODY a huge book with his whole life history as a gift for coming.  It took
forever to pass them out.  Prayers were said for over an hour then around 9pm they had some
ceremony with dancers
and all the lights went out and the fireworks
started along with the fire.  It was quite an affair and one I shall never forget.  I walked Janet
to her car then retired late. 
I got up early to get my Mini Bus tour to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle.  The Bateau
Irve was void of anyone at 6:30 am so I ventured across the street to the UR Chiang Mai…a
very exclusive and beautiful hotel.  
The waiter informed me that for $7.50 I could help myself to the buffet and also order any hot
item on the Breakfast menu. I choose the Eggs Benedict.  Cappuccino was included.  

I had two.  When I ordered the second Latte I told the waiter that I wanted another coffee
before I left and as soon as possible because the taxi would be here shortly.  He asked if I
wanted the Special Coffee and I assumed he meant the Latte I had previously.  What he asked
was did I want Espresso Coffee because I was obviously in a hurry…and that is what I got.
 I will be eating there again.  I came back to the Bateau to wait for the taxi and Demetri was
there to greet me.  He said the tour agent called last night for instructions so they should be
arriving any minute.  When any minute came and went, he called them for me to let them
know I was waiting.  Shortly after, they called him and said they had been driving around
unable to find the place so he gave them directions again and they picked up the last of 13
passengers for what turned out to be a disappointing long day.

PATTAYA….the Finale 2009

  My Dentist put the finishing touches on my tooth with one last appointment set to remove the sutures.
Well all this tourism stuff caught up to me and I surcummed to Pattaya fever. I got sick of being a good boy and decided to treat myself to a few beers. I started the evening at the Pattaya Beer Garden listening to the Classic video performances of Bruce Springsteen, CC Revival, Pink Floyd, etc…after 5 beers I stopped at the Wonderful bar and met Mr Bean. He is an English Guy that looks like Mr Bean (Rowan Ackinson…
the famous comedian know for Mr Bean movies, Red Dwarf, Black Adder,etc) .We hit it off and were discussing the local music scene…lots of Thai bands playing Fargang (foreign) music badly. He pointed out a greatband on Soi (Lane) 8 that was worth seeing. Now I am reading the book about Danny Gatton ( the most famous unknown guitar player
in the world). I found, while reading the book that I have a lot of his guitar and rockabilly music that I downloaded from the internet. I wanted to hear some good guitar so arrived at the bar at Soi 8 whilean English girl was singing with the band. When the song ended ,
she came out and sat at the bar. I went over and introduced myself. She was celebrating her 21st birthday today and asked to sing with the band. She was with an older guy from Britain that brought her to Thailand to celebrate her birthday. They had been friends for over
6-7 years….so that meant he was dating her when she was 15? Anyway, he was a nice guy and we chatted a bit before I left to get my movie camera. I wanted to film the music and the full band was starting shortly. That was just a warm up.I was looking for Mr Bean to invite him along, after I got my camera, when I passed a Hookah Bar
with lots of Thai people sitting around outside smoking the Hookah.
This is something I had not seen in Thailand so joined them. They
passed me the Hookah and against my better judgement…well no
judgement at that point…I tried the Mint flavored one then went to
the Apple. These were all employees of the local hotel that just got
off work at 10pm and come there to unwind. Something that I could
identify with from my younger days. I bought a beer and joined
them for about a half hour. One adopted me as his new father.
I bid goodbye to my new son and returned to the Soi 8 music.
 It was in full swing and so was I . I got POO (yes that is her name..my friend Leif married a Vietnamese name Phuc)…one of the bar hostesses to play pool with me. The music was good but the lead singer wasn’t so I returned to the hotel and called it a night…or morning. 
 The next day I went to the bus station…a little bar/restaurant called the TRAPEZE and caught a Mini Bus to Chanthaburi. I was told it was about a hour and a half. The driver passed everything on the road. Everything. There were no seat belts, except for the driver and front passenger who refused to wear them. I pictured myself going through
the windshield at 100 mph. It was closer to three hours when I arrived I had no clue of what to do or see in Chanthaburi except to see the waterfalls. Well that was way out of town and my time was short as I wanted toreturn before dark . I saw a map at the station, where I was dropped, that had historical sites marked on it. I tried to pick one that would
be close to others so maybe I could walk around. The taxi told me it would be 250 Baht. I thought he was taking advantage of me just arriving but I had little choice. I agreed to go, thinking I could find someone cheaper when I arrive to bring me back. He drove and
drove and drove. Now I was way out of town…could have seen a hundred waterfalls by now… and in the middle of the jungle.
 I started to relax and take photos…it was proving to be a very scenic ride.
We arrived at an old Fort built by the French when they enslaved the Siamese people to work in their rubber plantations and make a lot of people name Michelin rich. I also saw part of the prison
they put those in that didn’t work hard enough for them. Later the driver took me to one of the most outstanding beaches
I have ever seen and to the river for some pictures. I had him drive me back to the bus station where he charged me another 250 Baht for the return trip. It had been worth it. I caught the 3 pm Mini Bus back to Pattaya arriving around 6 pm with one sore butt from all that riding around in the Mini Van and the Taxi. The taxi was actually a Baht bus
where you sit in the back of a small truck and bounce around like a
sack of beans.
  I had dinner at Shenanigans Irish Pub…ate Thai food and washed it
down with a Guinness . 
   Sunday I slept late,played Texas Holdem, then met Doug.  We went to Dicey Reilly’s new Irish Pub then back to the room and just sat on the balcony overlooking the sea and chatted about life until late.  It was nice.
Today I’m doing laundry, joining the Coffee Club and visiting Chon Buri.  A town that is much closer than Chantheburi.  Starting to get bored here. Maybe I will get back to my book. 
I had coffee at the Coffee Club and the best Eggs Benedict
since the last time I had mine!  I took my morning walk out by the pier
and ended up getting on the boat for Koh Larn…a beach resort/island.
 I only visited the town a bit then came back but it was a nice trip and took up most of the afternoon. The Monks
that returned with us don’t pay for transportation and got to ride with the captain in the steering room.  It was better than bouncing around in the back of a truck. Played Texas Holdem on the internet and went to bed early.
Picked up the laundry to pack and off to the market. Well itlooks like the market is only open certain days.  I road and road down the road until I was almost in I don’t know where when I decided…being the only one left on the bus…to get off, cross the road and return.  When I got off, it turned out that I was at a tourist attraction way out of the city…the floating market.
 So I decided to make that due and became a tourist.
 It turned out nice but by the time I returned, it was time to see the dentist for the last time.  All went well and Doug and Denise stopped by the dentist to meet me for lunch.  We went to a really nice , out of the way Thai place in a garden for a very leisurely lunch.
 We then walked to the beach area to visit a new 7 STAR resort.  I am not into resorts or hotels or tourist places but this was an architectural wonder.
 We then stopped for coffee at a special coffee shop where the ice cubes were espresso.  We parted with plans for a night cap later.
Doug stopped by just as I finished packing.  I was booking a room for my return to get my crown tooth installed when Doug mentioned that he knew the man who owned the hotel I was changing to.  I was changing because it was cheaper but no pool. If there is a problem,
he will see the owner this week and try and correct it. I’m done in Pattaya and already emailed two SERVAS people in Chiang Mai and one in Myanmar for advice and a possible back up place to stay. See you in Chiang Mai.


This is my acquaintance in Vietnam…now has a web site…you
will recognize his photos if you have been to my home: 

2010 HANOI

  Leaving Laos went easily.  They had a nice airport, everything was comfortable and on time.
 I flew a little 80 seat prop plane and landed in Hanoi at 3:50 pm, claimed my bag, went
through customs with no check , had someone waiting from the hotel, then got 1,500,000
Dong at the ATM, and boarded the taxi to the hotel.  An Irish couple joined me.  They were
going to the same area and though my trip was free they paid $15.  I thought that a little high
until one hour and a half later we were just pulling up to their hotel.  They said things in
Ireland were bad with the economy.  The Irish weren’t going out as much but they decided
to get out of the cold and take advantage of a relatively cheap two week trip to SE Asia.  It is
against the law to swear in Ireland now.  
I got to my hotel shortly thereafter.  The traffic is impossible to describe.  Wall to wall
everything in every direction.  I checked in and after trying to hook up to the internet,
realized I left my adapter in Laos.  I had bad feeling from past experience but after
mentioning it to the clerk, the bell boy brought one to my room. It had A/C with cable,
balcony, etc.  I ventured out into the night.  I witnessed a Vietnamese get hit by a motorbike
with two Vietnamese ladies on it.  The driver caught herself before the bike went down but
the pedestrian was thrown to the street. She got up but I think she was in shock. I was very
careful afterward.  I had a peddler approach me trying to sell me some pineapple or bananas
she was carrying on her shoulder. I kept refusing but she was persistent and took her bar with
two large containers attached, that she carries her wears, and put it on my shoulder.  I was
amazed at how heavy it was so I bought some pineapple to lighten her load.  Then a man
pulled up on a motorbike offering a ride which I refused. Then he offered a four pack of
Viagra which I refused.  Then a lady pulled up on a motorbike and asked if I wanted to get
on and she would give me massage.  I refused and realized I turned down the wrong street
and backtracked.  I had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant overlooking the street then
returned early to plan my week.  
 I  ate rice and broccoli for breakfast with toast and coffee.  Breakfast was served in the 6th
floor rooftop restaurant.  I couldn’t see much as it was raining and the restaurant was all
steamed up.  I packed and the maid moved me next door to a single room which was smaller
but cheaper and no balcony 😦   
The hotel travel agent  booked my tour of Ha Long Bay tomorrow , my tour to Sa Pa in the
mountains to sleep with the villagers and smoke opium, my flight to Da Nang and my taxi to
the airport.  He then gave me a walking type tour on the map for the local sites in Old Town
and out I went. 
 I did most of the Old Town, photos until the battery went dead, then movies before
returning to plug my battery in to be charged. I then went back out and took some more
movies. It is raining this morning and for the first time I can use that umbrella that I have
been carrying for the over a month!  
A lady passed me a brochure to visit the Green Tangerine Euro Viet style food.  It was a 1928
Villa converted into a restaurant.  I had a 333 Beer and the Duck in a red wine sauce.  Then a
cup of Vietnamese Coffee with Creme Brulee and some kind of homemade Ice Cream.  The
Brulee  was the best I ever had.  The lady, wife of the Chef, that handed me the brochure came
by to thank me for trying the restaurant and to inquire as to how the meal was.  I asked for
the recipe for the Brulee and introduced myself to the Chef.  He took me in the back where
his well trained (they do as the Chef orders) Vietnamese staff actually knock out the food and
wrote me out the recipe.  It needs Lemon Grass! NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW


After returning to get my now charged battery,  I ventured out again with camera in hand..
never used the umbrella.  I hired a Cyclo to take me to Ho Chi Minh Monument.  I was hoping
to visit but after he charged me 100000 dong…twice the price …I walked over to get into the
Mausoleum and found it closed 5 minutes ago.  Another Cyclo driver tried to get me aboard
and asked for twice the price that I paid the last!  I decided to walk. Then a Motorbike driver
, who had listened in and watched then approached me with a quote that was right.  I took his
offer and hired him to pick me up at the hotel on Friday to take me for a haircut, to the
Mausoleum and shopping for some cinnamon. 
That evening I ate at the Little Hanoi restaurant.   I ate Shrimp in Tamarind sauce with a
glass of Bordeaux then finished with Vietnamese coffee and a Grand Mariner before walking
back to the hotel. Most menus and prices around the restaurants and stores are quoted in U.S.
Dollars.  That did surprise me. You can buy U.S. dollars by the package at the local market in
$100 denominations.  You can also buy bundles of fake dong in 50000 denomination notes.
They buy and use these at Karaoke contests or weddings when people get  up to sing and you
show your appreciation by pinning the money on them .   In a real situation, not a party, they
pin real money on them.  The one with the most is the best singer.
A personal aside:
I noticed the French are always pursing their lips and throwing up their arms while shrugging
their shoulders as if to say…it is not my fault.    The oriental women are always hitting or
slapping their boyfriends playfully but then what happens after they get married?  They also
are always looking at their face in the mirror while picking at it. 
Every now and then while walking around there will be someone that looks at you knowingly
and I recognize the same in them…we fought together or against each other but we were in
the same war.  You just know.  It is a good feeling but difficult to explain.  We both went
through the same experience in life. I get it with Vietnamese in the states sometimes when
our eyes meet. I see it in other American  Vietnam Vets,also.  
When the street vendors approach, I get stressed. First thing…where you from…it is not that
I am annoyed or don’t want to carry on some banter with them, it is that I can’t hear and with
their accent and the street noise it is stressful to strain in order to hear. You have to
concentrate  your mind to try and sort out what they are trying to communicate.  You tend
to avoid people and that is not why I travel.
 It is very rewarding when I can understand and the message comes through.  The vendors
all have been trained well.  The Pineapple and banana lady that put her load on my shoulder
was trained to do that.  It worked.  I went out the next day and a different pineapple and
banana vendor did the same to me as did another.  I think they weigh those baskets down to
make you think they carry such a heavy load. Each vendor has their own tricks.  The book
vendor’s approach…where you from…I love to say Arizona…that stops them in their
tracks…Russia ? they ask…no Arizona…then you say cowboys and their eyes light up.  
When they can’t sell you a book they try a tour guide, then a map and finally a postcard.
 The hat vendors start with …where you from then you buy Army cap with Vietnam and a
Star on it…no….you buy Army cap without Vietnam on it just a star…no…you buy Vietnamese
peasant hat…no….you buy bracelet…no…each one works for the same people …there is an
Army of them spread out over this entire city.
 I did venture out to get my Hanoi Vodka for the evening but instead of paying the little old
lady for the mixer, I felt I should buy it from this midget that ran a small soda and cigarette
store next to the hotel.  He was always friendly and asking me to sit and buy a soda with him.
 I did buy one to take to the hotel and when I entered the Front Desk Manager noticed I
brought in my own soda instead of buying his.  I explained how I felt bad for the midget and
he informed me the guy just returned from a 6 month tour of the U.S.  This place is full of
surprises.  
I’ve been feeling a little feverish and chills the last couple days that I attributed to the diarrhea and maybe having the A/C too cold where I almost froze one night.  It could be the onset of flu.  I’m bedding down early again with a 7am wake up call for my trip to Halong Bay. I noticed my new room is next to the elevator and it does make noise.  When I take my hearing aides out it should cease.  This is the best hotel I’ve stayed at in years.  The service is great and I’m not going to let a little noise bother me as long as I don’t lose sleep over it.  I booked another two nights here because the staff is great and go out of there way to accommodate you.  The Front Desk called my Motor Bike driver to have him pick me up on Friday.  The maid noticed my pineapple in the refrigerator when I moved rooms and moved it for me as well as plugged my battery and charger into the new room so it would be ready when I returned.  Little things mean a lot. 
The Minivan picked me up for the trip to Halong Bay right on time.
I was the last stop at 8am and the van was full.  There was a couple from Zealand, and a large
group from China.  Later I met a couple from Florida. He was from Needham , Mass
originally and I think she was oriental from Hawaii.   He proposed to her in a balloon at the
Albuquerque balloon festival and they did their honeymoon at the Grand Canyon. The
weather was rainy and cold.  The rain cleared but the cold got colder.  We arrived after a
brief stop for coffee then boarded the boat immediately and arrived in the island area with
in a half hour. 
 It was beautiful but a lot of tourist boats like ours took away from it a bit.  We visited a
“fishing village” which was a bunch of floating rafts with live seafood in open fenced areas
submerged in the water.  You could walk around and pick out the seafood you wanted…live
shrimp, crab, fish, clams, etc and then pay the man and he would give it to the boat captain
that would cook it for you and serve it along with the 10 courses they already served.  
We ate after that tour and it was great.
 One Japanese man bought some large clams the captain had steamed up and his table shared
them.  We did a brief cruise around before stopping at an island to visit some limestone caves
that were truly amazing.  On the climb up to the caves I had to sit down to catch my breath.
One of the Chinese, that commented to his wife on how handsome a man I was , stopped and
sat with me then took my arm to assist when I started up the stairs again.  I was fine but just
lost my breath and it was hard to explain that I only had one lung working for me. 
We shared taking pictures of each other and then boarded the boat again to return to the
harbor and the bus.  The ride back was tiring and most of us napped until we stopped at
another souvenir shop where I grabbed a big bowl of hot chicken noodle soup that was grand.
 When we arrived in Hanoi, I was the last off at the hotel and still a bit hungry but didn’t have
any small change and the desk didn’t either.
  I stopped by one restaurant and explained I only had a half a million dong bill.  The owner
said no problem so I pointed to what someone was eating and said give me that and a beer.
 It looked terrible but tasted pretty good.  They thought at first I wanted the big one that they
light a fire at your table and you cook it yourself.  I would have welcomed a fire at the table
but not a big meal.  While I was eating , motorbikes kept pulling up and stopping by the
cashier to order a chicken pate sandwich to go…every 10 seconds.  I watched the guy go
through at least 5 pounds of pate and chicken while sitting there.  I made a note to return my
last night in town and do that myself. It was a tiring day. 
My Motor Bike driver will pick me up at 10am to visit Ho Chi Minh and pay my respects to a
very honorable man who made his country free.  If he was only alive today to see how the
foreigners returned to take it back.  The country was so poor after the war they literally sold
off all their resources.  Rubber back to the French, old growth lumber to the Indonesians,
Shrimp rights to the Thai, tourism to the Chinese, the list goes on and on. 
 After WWII when the French refused to join NATO unless they got back some of Vietnam, it
became divided with half to Vietnam…Ho Chi Minh and the other half split between countries
like Berlin but eventually to the French.  Ho Chi Minh…begrudgingly accepting the Northern
part , established it by reciting our Declaration of Independence verbatim…then launched his
war to oust the French and then the puppet regime that included the USA. That is not the
exact story but pretty much like it was.  He was our ally during WWII and helped rescue many
a downed US pilot and was awarded a silver plated US Army issue Colt 45 by Col Stillwell for
in honor of his efforts…he said …I just want my country back. He finally did in 1975 but even
though he was instrumental in the Paris Peace talks he passed away before see the fruit of his
labor.  Did I mention he attended Columbia University in N.Y. and helped pay for it as a
busboy at the Waldorf back in the 30’s? He was a Communist through and through but born
out of necessity with Colonial France occupying his country most of his life.
I hope to get a haircut and a massage tomorrow before packing up to sleep with the villagers.
 Maybe buy some warm clothes. 
Well I got up 10 minutes late to meet my Motorbike Driver, Doan.  I rushed downstairs and
informed him I would be another 10 minutes then returned, took a shower and we speed off
on his Motorbike.  I requested the Ho Chi Minh Monument but he informed me that it is
closed.  I said we would have to do that when I returned on Monday and he informed me it
was closed on Monday.  We now are scheduled for Tuesday just before I depart on the plane
for Da Nang.  I suggested we have breakfast then.  He took me to a great little place and we
had Chicken Noodle Soup then went to the Cathedral and took a photo before stopping at a
Cafe for some great Vietnamese coffee. I told him about my trip to Sa Pa today and he
suggested I get some warm clothes.  I didn’t want to pack my own jacket and now need
something in case it snows…it does on occasion. We went to a second hand clothing shop
and I still ended up paying $10 for a jacket and hope it works.
  We next visited the Hanoi Hilton where John McCain stayed from 1967-1973.  They knocked
down most of it and put up the Hanoi Towers, a very upscale hotel…as if to say…so there!
I wanted to buy Cinnamon for Marjorie’s Birthday and he said he could get it at the market.
I don’t know the name for cinnamon in Vietnamese but suspect it sounds like whatever limes
are in Vietnamese.  He stopped by his house and asked his wife where to buy it and she took
us down the street and was very proud that she got a large bag of cinnamon for so cheap.  
They were limes and I explained I can’t take fresh cinnamon on the plane (by now I gave up
trying to explain what I wanted)  He said I could take anything.   So for $1 I took home a bag
of limes. 
It was time for a cup of real authentic Vietnamese coffee.  Doan knew the best…and it was
outstanding.
We next went to get a haircut but she was busy so we went around the corner at a cafe that
was close by. It was in the Fine Arts Museum Complex and since I had an hour to wait, Doan
gave me his extra cell phone and I went to the Museum then called him when I was done.  He
came over and we waited a little longer before she could get me in.  I asked her to trim my
eyebrows so she got out her straight razor and proceeded to trim both the top and under my
eyebrow.  I never had a blade that close to my eyes! Next she took these huge Q Tips and did
both my ears.  I think she had little miniature scissors and cut the hairs while wearing this
headlamp to see with.   When the haircut was done Doan took me home and I paid him $20
for the day and agreed to meet him on Tuesday for the Ho Chi Minh tour of the Mausoleum,
his house and the Ho Chi Minh Museum.  He admonished me for being late today and
reminded me to be prompt on Tuesday. 
I returned to my room and tried to get online with Merrill Lynch.  They wanted my Mother’s
middle name and I spelled it wrong or something so I am now locked out of my account until
I call them.  I tried to call but it is 4 am in NYC on the 8th of January.  I won’t be able to try
again until Monday the 11th.  Travel! 
Leif, my traveling Danish friend,  just called me on Skype to say hello.  We chatted a bit but as
usual I was having a hard time hearing him even with my headphones on.  He was in Kuala
Lumpur and did not like the fact that IF he could get a beer it cost a fortune, but that is Leif.
  It was good to chat with him.  He is on his way to Melbourne in a few days.  
In preparation for my trip I thought it best to hit an ATM machine and stock up as these
mountain villages may not have one and I’d be begging for food.  I found a bank open but
their ATM was out of money.  The two down the street were out of order.  The other around
the corner and down another street was out of order then I found one that talked to me. How
much do you want?  Give me all you got!  I punched in 200000 then enter before I realized
that was only $10…I wanted 2000000 or $100 so did it again and got charged two fees of
$1.50 each.  So finally I have money but haven’t eaten and time is running short.  I bought a
Pate sandwich at the shop I ate at the night before.  It was like a submarine sandwich and cost
$.75 so I put it in my tourist bag I bought at Ha Long Bay. 
The next morning I came down to wait for the Minibus and the cheap zipper broke on my
cheap bag…so I needed another bag.   I left and went next door.  $10 later I had a smaller but
useful bag and barely transferred everything into it.  I went to a restaurant in a hotel down the
street and ordered a stir fried beef and pineapple dish with rice washed down with Hanoi
Lager.
 It was still early when I arrived back at the Atlantic Hotel so went next door and sat with the
midget.  I bought a bottle of Hanoi Vodka and a Fanta Orange and squatted on one of those
kiddie chairs and had a drink while chatting it up.  I poured what was left of the orange into
the Hanoi Vodka bottle and returned to the Hotel to catch the taxi to the train station.   A large
contingent of Aussies arrived from Hoi An which is where I was headed in a few days.  We
exchanged notes and I wrote down two hotels for under $30 that were quite nice to try and
book at a later date.
The taxi arrived and one Dutchman joined me.  His name was Pim and we hit it off right away.
  We arrived to mass chaos at the train station
but our tour guide got us our tickets to and from Sa Pa and directed us to the train car we were
to board.  We got to our compartment to find I was in the top bunk and Pim, in another
compartment, was in the bottom.  I asked if he would swap as I didn’t relish climbing back
and forth in the dark of the night to go down the hall to use the toilet..two or three times.  He
agreed and I ended up with a lower berth in a compartment shared with a Thai mother and
her two sons from Bangkok.  One was a Professor of Property Law and the other a student at
Bangkok University.  We crawled in our beds and agreed to sleep early.  I tried to read with
my book lite but it was uncomfortable in the bunk and I eventually gave up and tried to sleep. 
   The train rocked clickity click and I was soon asleep.  Then the train lurched and then it
screeched to a halt and we all woke …then it went clickity clack and we all went to sleep.  Then
it lurched and then it screeched…well you get the point.   I was up and down 3 times during
the night and didn’t get much sleep.  At around 5 am a loud knock came on the door so we all
got up and turned on the lights , etc but it was only to announce a stop that none of us were
getting off at. 
 We went back to sleep then awoke to loud Vietnamese music and another knock…this was our
stop.  We got off the train and tried to board a tour bus that I thought was ours when Pim
inquired if there was any charge for this bus. There was…so this was not ours.  We went further
and found a guy with a sign and our name on it.  We identified ourselves and he put us in a
corner to wait until the rest of the group showed.  When they did we boarded the bus and I fell
right asleep.  The bus stopped and I woke to see Pim bolting out the door and across the field
to take a pee.  There was no bathrooms on the bus so he requested a pit stop. 
 The lady across from me struck up a conversation…where you from …what you name..when I
asked her the same she said she was from Sa Pa and was just returning from her first trip to
Europe and had left Paris early that morning.  There was a foot of snow on the ground and
she was glad to be home.  Well it was cold in Sa Pa but I adjusted thanks to my new jacket.  I
know I slept on the ride to the hotel because Pim showed me photos he took of me snoring
away.
 We arrived at the Hotel and were told to meet the tour guide at 9am for the day’s adventures. 
I wanted a hot shower and sleep.  We were given a breakfast of chicken noodle soup and told
we could use the showers downstairs and when we returned that afternoon, we would be
assigned our rooms.  Our tour guide explained there were 8 of us in the group and what the
game plan was. He then gave us a brief tour of the morning Market and the Aussie was
interested in trying the Dog.
We left for a tribal Hmong village by Minivan. They made up about 50% of the population of
around 4000.  The mornings are foggy and cold.  We spent a couple hours visiting one village
on the outskirts of town.  Pimm had opted for three days and four nights so he was part of
another program. An Aussie joined me along with two oriental couples from Australia…with
Australian accents..not in the least bit oriental except for looks.  There was another real oriental
couple.   
 We were taken to the top of this mountain and let off to begin our journey.
 It was all downhill and beautiful.  The people and the villages we passed by were real and
after an hour or two we arrived in a Hmong village and spent an hour touring before descending
further to a waterfalls. We  saw their homes and how they dyed there clothes , what they ate
and in general just got a feel as to how they live.    There was a BBQ of different native tidbits
at the waterfalls that we could purchase for lunch.  We did and then started our journey back
up and up and up.  I was tiring when we finally came to a curve and some Motor Bikes wanting
to know if we needed a ride for $5.  I jumped on but the Aussie continued his trek the entire
way back. 
I took some pictures around the town before returning to the hotel to get my room.  When I
arrived, our guide got my key and took me to the room.  It looked OK so I dumped my stuff as
he urged me to come with him for a brief summary of what we would be doing this afternoon
and tomorrow.  I locked up and after our meeting, the Aussie and I, went out for some Hot
Hmong Wine then I returned to the room to shower before I left on our next adventure.  
When I got to the room I noticed the balcony door open and looked out to see that all the
balconies connected so someone could have entered the room  and as  it turned out did.  All
I could ascertain that was stolen was my headphones and mp3 player….total of $250 worth of
stuff …and my chocolate! There was not much I could do so joined the group.
 It was 2pm and time for our afternoon Motorbike trip to the top of the highest mountain peak
in Southeast Asia and to visit another waterfalls.  We could rent a Motorbike for $5 or pay $7.50
and hire a driver and ride on the back of his bike.  I opted for that. We took off up the mountain
.  The sky had cleared and the sun felt good. It was a long winding ride and we stopped for gas
before reaching the summit. We arrived at our destination then went on to visit the waterfall .
The trail went downhill through beautiful forests.  It looked like New England or Colorado…It
was cold and windy but the sun was out and it had cleared up.  The views were spectacular. I
got about halfway down the mountain and realized it was going to be a chore for me to return
from where we were, let alone from further down the trail, so I begged off and started back.  
Shortly after I got back the Aussie showed up.  He ran back up again after seeing the falls.  A
half hour later the others arrived and we returned to dinner and a stroll around the village of
Sa Pa.  I was invited to eat dog and horse that night but retired under 6 insulated blankets and
slept well.
I heard all about the dog the next morning.  It was like a pig that was rolled in dog shit.  The
horse was great.  We took a Mini Bus to the local Hmong Village and spent the morning there.
 We had lunch and then ventured into another village of Red Hat Hmong.  There are 5 different
tribes.  It was a great trip and long.  I got a lot of great exercise as well as pictures and while
waiting for our Mini Van back, I ran into Pim.  He did spend the night with the villagers.   I
thought I was supposed to stay with them too but glad I ended up at the hotel .  He said I didn’t
miss anything but they did have fun.  He certainly was having fun.  He had on the headdress of
the local tribe and was drinking beer while soaking up the sun. We were picked up that evening
around 6 pm.
  We left the hotel as a group and arrived an hour and a half later at the train station bound
for Hanoi.  None of us had our tickets but had vouchers.  We finally found a man that cashed
in our vouchers but we still had an hour or so before departure so I grabbed my Aussie buddy
and recommended we skip across the street for a beer.  He agreed but on the way we saw a
little stall that was roasting corn.  They are all over VN but neither of us have tried them so we
agreed to have a beer and an ear of corn.  Then we had another beer and some roasted chestnuts
.  It was time to leave so we headed for the train station after settling up the bill and bidding all
our new friends goodbye. 
 We got to the train and I tried to board but they said I had to wait for the next train in an hour
and a half.  All my group was on this train including the Aussie and I’m arguing with an official
that I belong on this train and they are telling me not.  I ran back to the guy who issued me the
ticket and he agreed with the official.  I had to wait another hour and a half.  Well this is going
to screw up my arrival as the tour operator is planning on me arriving with the train that is now
taking off.
 I found an internet Cafe and had a drink while catching up on my emails.   The time on the
computer said 9:15 so my train leaves at 9:40  I ran back to the station and showed the
conductor my ticket and he directed me to car 10.  I boarded and went to berth 1 to find it full.
 I showed the man my ticket and he showed me his with the same berth assignment.  Then after
a second look, he said your train doesn’t leave until 9:40 and this is the 9:00 pm train.  I asked
if I could sleep on their floor but they declined my request and I put my tail between my legs
and returned to the station where I met Anne from Darwin.
  She was carrying a backpack that was about the same size as herself.  She also was carrying
another normal backpack in front of her and a large basket full of goodies she had collected in
Lao Cai, the village where the train station is located.  She was an environmental research
something or other and worked in the outback.  We finally boarded the correct train and I
found my berth when two Vietnamese join me.   One couldn’t walk and his brother threw him  
down on the bed unconscious. 
 He and I chatted a bit before calling in a night.  I only got up twice that night and managed
some sleep.  At 7 am we arrived in Hanoi but no one was waiting for me.  I took a Motorbike to
the hotel to discover they gave my room away to someone else and would have to put me on a
fourth floor walk up room in a Guesthouse down the street.  I got on a Motorbike and checked
in.  They brought my luggage over and I told them I wanted to move into MY HOTEL that
afternoon.  They agreed to make an arrangement and take care of it.  I showered and will now
take a nap.  I will go have breakfast later, return to the hotel to drop my laundry so I can have it
when I leave tomorrow, and check my email.  
It all turned out OK and they gave me a room , did my laundry, and I went out for lunch at
Little Hanoi where I met a lady from Vegas that just arrived from a Bicycle tour in Chiang Mai
with her husband who was on a business trip in Hanoi and they were leaving for Singapore the
next day.  I returned to the room and got a bite to eat and settled in to bed .  Tomorrow is my
Ho Chi Minh day and flight to Da Nang.

Doan, my driver, was right on time and Pim from the Netherlands was on the internet in the
lobby.  He just returned from his trip to Sa Pa and we exchanged emails. I jumped on the
Motorbike and a few minutes later pulled up to a mile long line at the Mausoleum.  Doan
dropped me off while he parked his bike and assured me there would be no wait for me.  We
proceeded to walk by everyone in line right up to the security check point where he pointed
me out to the head of security and she ushered me through.  I started to put my wallet and jacket through the Xray machine and the guard just told me to walk through.  I set off the alarm and another guard waved that wand over me and set off his alarm.  Then they both said to go on.  Never looked in my pockets or cared.  Doan takes them out to lunch and buys them drinks after work!  I did stand in a procession leading by the Tomb of Ho Chi Minh.  Guards reprimanded the man in front of me for putting his hands in his pocket.  They insist you dress proper and behave properly to show respect.  I put my hands behind me and was reprimanded for not keeping them at my side. Ho was on display.  I don’t know if that was a wax model or if they have him preserved since 1969 when he died.  I returned to meet Doan they we toured the grounds and he directed me to the Museum and we agreed on a meeting place after.  It took about an hour for me to see what I wanted so left and met Doan.  I offered to buy him lunch and we  returned to the restaurant we first ate at.  It was so good.  I tipped him and gave him my jacket hoping I would no longer need it after I arrived in Da Nang. I will take a brief nap then off to the airport..I made the airport.  All the time I was in Hanoi, I never saw the sun or any paper towels to wipe your hands after washing….goodbye Hanoi. 

SPIRIT HOUSES

Spirit Worship is as old as mankind itself. In Thailand the phenomenon goes back to the ancient days when the Tai’s were beginning their slow migration from the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam to all parts of the Southeast Asian region. Spirit Worship, or Animism, was a religion by which the entire world lived at one time, and when Buddhism came to Southeast Asia, it developed side by side with the ancient spirit religion. Today, many of the old animistic beliefs are intertwined with Buddhism and some animistic practices still exist in Thailand. One of these which is practiced by every Thai is the Spirit House.


The Spirit House can be seen at a prominent spot outside every business establishment in the country. It can be seen on a pedestal in Front of every hotel. It dresses the corner garden area of a restaurant, the Front of a bar, disco or pub. Spirit houses are even seen at outdoor food markets. They are built on the grounds of Buddhist temples. outside caves in the mountains, near Fishing ponds in the valleys, and occasionally in the middle of an otherwise uninhabited forest. Most importantly, however. the Thai Spirit House is built at the yard of every home.


The purpose of the Spirit House is to provide an appealing shelter for the spirits, or celestial beings, who would otherwise reside in the heavens, Find a place in large trees, or in caves, cliffs. waterfalls or other natural surroundings. According to folklore, the spirits themselves are neither good or evil, but most are just finicky and mischievous, demanding respect from humans and capable of disastrous interferences if they don’t get their way, The spirit of the land, for example. expects to be informed when a human intends to start a business or engage in improvements to an existing business. If the spirit is not informed, and if the human does not respectfully request permission, the spirit can indeed cause the venture to fail.


The style and construction of a spirit house may be as simple as a typical Thai-style shelter or as elaborate as a Thai palace. The exact style often depends on two Factors, which spirit the person wishes to invite and how much one can afford for the spirit house construction. Construction itself is a specialized field and only an expert Spirit House builder would be considered for proper construction. His responsibility, in addition to construction, is to be familiar with all the necessary rituals involved so that the spirit to be invited will find it an acceptable earthly abode.


The house may be permanent or temporary, made of wood, concrete or brick. At certain times the spirits are invited down only for special occasions and this is when temporary spirit houses are built. the size may vary from the very small to a large, walk-in, ground-level affair. The houses are finished with statues, small figures, or symbols of many other sorts in the center within the spirit house. In addition, there may be various animal figures, such as elephants or horses; figures of people, such as a married couple or other images; and even furniture. Outside, around the balcony that usually surrounds a spirit house, incense holders, candlesticks, and vases for flowers are placed.


There are countless gods and other celestial beings in Thai folklore, The primary spirits the Thai’s are concerned with, however, are called the Phra Bhum Jowthee , or Guardian Spirits of the Land, There are nine of guardians and each offers a different type of protection. The Guardian of the House and the Guardian of the Gardens are so frequently consulted with and prayed to that they are the only two that have permanent spirit houses built for them.


The Guardian of the House is the spirit that watches over and protects the home. It is uncertain whether there is one spirit that watches over all homes, or if individual spirits do this for each home. However, all you have to do in Thailand is look around and you’ll see that every home has a spirit house. Thai families who believe wholeheartedly in the spirit house and it’s importance light incense every morning and ask the spirit to watch over and protect the home. Others do it on ritual occasions.


The Guardian of the House includes the spirit or spirits who help In business matters, and spirit houses at business sites are of the same type. More often than not in Thailand, the business and the home are in the same location.


The Guardian of the Gardens also has a permanent spirit house shelter built for him. This spirit watches over and protects the natural surroundings, yards, gardens and orchards of the Thai family. There is a separate spirit for rice fields, so the Guardian of Gardens should not be mistaken for a spirit protecting all of agriculture. Rather, nature, flowers, plants and fruit are so important to the Thais that the Guardian of the Gardens receives a separate and permanent house of his own.


The other seven Guardians of the Land are Protector of Gates and Stairwells, who is believed to reside in the home doorstep which explains why one should never step on the doorstep of a Thai home; Protector of Animals ; Protector of Storehouses and Barns; Protector of Forests; Mountains; fields and Paddles; Protector of Temples; Protector of Waters ; and Protector of Military Forts and Defence.


The various temporary spirit houses built at times requiring the intercession of a particular spirit can be constructed at any time and at any place. An example of this is a spirit house that sits in the rhododendron forests at the top of Doi Inthanon in northern Thailand. Here In the middle of a forest hundreds of years old is a spirit house constructed for soldiers who died in a helicopter crash years ago. At the front of this spirit house, in addition to candle holders and incense holders, are small ledges for the placement of burning cigarettes. This because those in the helicopter were believed to have liked to smoke.


Offerings to a spirit house and the spirit who is intended to reside within can be nearly anything. The traditional offerings include flower garlands, betel leaves, bananas, rice, chicken, duck, and a wide range of other edibles and non edibles. Candles are often used while incense is usually lit daily before a spirit house.


There are spirit houses everywhere In Thailand. Some very famous ones such as the one that houses the Chiang Mai City Pillar are large enough to walk into. A visit to Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai will give you an opportunity to see it for yourself. At these people go to make offerings and request aid from the spirits to help them in monumental tasks such as bringing in the coming rice harvest. The ritual involved at such events often involves hundreds of people with a common goal and the spirit is called upon to help all. In return the people make promises of future offerings in the event that they are successful. Thus. a return visit to repay the spirit for his help is another important part of the ritual.


The Spirit House is one of the most fundamental features of Thai life even today and it is easily the most obvious. In Thailand devotion to Buddhism most often shows itself in ritual within a temple while Thai devotion to the spirits and especially the Guardians of the land and most often shows itself in their own front yards.


[Editor’s note: many people have asked about what happens to old spirit houses. When changes dictate that a new spirit house be created, a ceremony will be held to transfer the spirit from the old spirit house to the new. After that, the old spirit house can be discarded. Many are discarded near a temple or wat, but usually at a place where other spirit houses have been discarded . So it is common to see many old spirit houses jumbled together.]


Asked about their religion, most Thais will happily respond that they are Buddhists. Indeed, about 97 % of the Thais adhere to Buddhism. However, the exact response to the question about religion should be : We are Buddhists and then some… Indeed, elements of Animism and Hinduism are interwoven in daily prayers and even important religious ceremonies. The system of beliefs of Thai people is a complicated one, and we would challenge any foreigner to be able to fully understand it. Thais do have a spiritual (and often superstitious) inclination that makes them respect more than just the teachings of the Buddha. Passing any religious shrine (also when travelling by bus), you will see Thais wai, as a sign of respect. They may beep the horn and bow or wai.  All school children do a wai when they enter to school grounds.


Animism and Hinduism are represented also in the ubiquitous Thai Spirit Houses. Spirit Houses can be seen closeby most houses, apartment buildings and office buildings (and Buddhist temples!). 

Spirit Houses seen around Bangkok’s streets come in two main varieties. [Larger structures may better be referred to as ‘shrines’. See Hindu Shrines in Bangkok]
 The Lords of the Land, are represented by figurines of an old man and an old woman. They inhabit the San Jao Thi. Here pictured at the San Jao Thi at Sino-Thai tower.


One variety (probably originating earlier) is the San Jao Thi (San Chao Thi) or Abode of the Landlord. It resembles an old wooden Thai house, raised above ground level by usually 4 pillars. The Lords of the Land will be represented by figurines of an old man and woman. As with the other type of Spirit House, the San Phra Phum, there will be a variety of attendants, angels, offerings, dancing girls, elephants etc. around, to provide an enticing environment for the Landlords. The relationship with the Landlords in mutually beneficial : we look after you (by giving you a nice house), and you will look after us.
The San Phra Phum (in English, the Abode of the Land Guardian Angel, but the Thai meaning is very similar to the meaning of San Jao Thi), when adjacent to the San Jao Thi, is usually positioned higher. It stands on a single thick pillar (rather a pedestal).
San Phra Phum almost invariably will be topped by a Khmer style Prang. This building structure, common since the Khmer Empire, and in modified forms throughout the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya era, resembles a corncob. It represents Mount Meru, a sacred mountain in Hindu mythology. [on mural paintings in Buddhist Thai Temples, Mount Meru is also regularly depicted]
 Phra Chai Mongkol (height about 15 cm) inside the ‘door’ of the San Phra Phum at SrinakharinWirot University compound in soi 23, Sukhumvit Road. The right hand holds a sword, the left hand carries a bag of money.


Inside the San Phra Phum, you will usually see an image of Phra Chai Mongkol, an angel like figurine, often gilded, and holding a sword in one hand, a money bag in the other hand. Phra Chai Mongkol origin lies in Hinduism. Suffice it to say, that she is there to protect the land and its inhabitants.
The Thai Spirit House in front of most houses and buildings, is well attended to. It is common to see office girls pray in front of the Spirit House, make some small offerings of foods and drinks, and make sure that the Spirit House is well kept. What prayers are offered? Well, often prayers are directed to the Lord Buddha, which ads something more to the puzzle of Thai spirituality.
Buying and installing a Thai Spirit House is not a simple affair. Often a new Spirit House will be commissioned and installed before or at the start of building. A suitable place has to be found. The Spirit House should not stand in the shade of the building (quite difficult in Bangkok, for sure). A tree nearby is a good thing. The color of the Spirit House is also not random, and should be related to the color associated with the birthday of the owner of the property. If done properly, Hindu priests (but not Buddhist Monks) are involved in finding the right spot. An elaborate ceremony with invocations of the Gods and Mother Earth will be organized, when installing the Spirit House. 
When a new owner occupies a building, a new Spirit House will often be installed, with the old one staying in place (or removed with a proper ceremony). There are some so-called Spirit House Graveyards in Thailand, where Spirit Houses that are not anymore in use, are gathered.
 Beautiful wooden San Jao Thi, in front of an old condominium in Soi 23, Sukhumvit Road.


The images of Spirit Houses seen on this (and next) page were not taken during an elaborate field trip. We just walked around our soi on Sukhumvit Road, and took some pictures.

 Lots of figurines can be seen in Thai Spirit Houses. They are good company for the Lords of the Land. This collection was seen at a car repair shop.


Spirit Houses are usually located just outside a building and can be different types.  Generally there will be two.  One is on a pedestal and the other is usually on four stilts or pillars.  There are hundreds of sizes, colors, and differing workmanship depending on the property they protect and look after.  

When one is considering a Spirit House they must seek the guidance of a Brahim.  He will advise the owner as to the placement of and quality of such  a house.  The Spirit House should reflect the status of the property it is placed on.  If there is no room for it around the building, it could be placed on the roof.  A welcome party is held…like a house warming and the owner must provide a celebration commensurate to the status of the property.  If  the owner chinzes on the expenditures for the festive occasion, they may face bad luck down the road. The Spirit House on a pedestal houses an older couple that represent the landlords of the property.  The other houses the ancestral spirits of the people that used to occupy the property before and as such are treated as guests and offerings are made in the form of food, pretty flowers, animals for pets and company.  If  the owner should decide to tear down the building and build a larger edifice, they must move the Spirit Houses and build new ones befitting the new property.  Generally the Spirit Houses may be moved to the country…perhaps on a bend in the road to protect those passing by. They may be discarded in a Temple area with other spirit houses.


BANGKOK 1 PATTAYA

It is 5am Friday and it seems like I have been here a week yet it has only been 3 days in
Pattaya.  Lots to do as I get to know the city better. I met with Denise, Dr Doug’s wife,
yesterday at the Wonderful Bar II. Dr Doug was out with the Boys and arrived a little later.
 Denise had been to a Thai cooking class so we discussed food and life in Thailand.  
They arrived in October and will stay at there condo until March or maybe May.
 Doug arrived and we talked and shared photos of their recent trip to Koh Chang.
 It is a nice island off the coast where they stayed over the water in a nice bungalow.  
We ventured out for a brief walk up the street before taking a Baht Bus (small pick up truck).
for 10 Baht or .30 cents to the end of the street…a mile or two.  You push a button to alert
the driver when you wish to get off and wave him down when you want to get on.
The woman next to me kept praying…either for me or that she arrived safe?
We went to see the new Holiday Inn and a few places at the end of the beach area where
they frequent.  We had a few drinks at happy hour. 
I left to stop at a modern mall to look around before buying two hamburgers at DQ
…yes hamburgers. Christmas is in the air.
It is now Thursday.  We will meet today at 10 am to visit the Sanctuary and then have brunch.
I visited Au Pain for my morning coffee and croissant. I am have intermittent deja vu inspired
by the warm ocean air, the Asia bustle of motorbikes, the smell, the noises, etc.  I’m not really
sure why.  I do feel like a rich man both in spirit and for real. Everyone smiles and treat you
with respect and a good sense of humor. It is very pleasurable to be around such friendly
people.  I returned to the room to work on my portfolio when in the middle of intense
contemplation…buy sell buy sell???…the computer rang.  A Skype phone call that startled me
out of my world and back into reality.  Dr Doug wanted to move up our morning meeting
to 9:30 am…I am ready. La gon or good bye in Thai.
The Baht Bus took me to the Dolphin Fountain where I thought it would turn to Beach Road
where I get off to meet Doug and Denise. It kept going instead of stopping.  I thought it would
turn further up the road but after 10 minutes I decided I better get off and hop another back
to the Dolphin Fountain and walk over to the meeting point.  I did but this time the Bus
turned and entered Beach Road and there was Doug and Denise. I was right on time.
We walked to a Resort Hotel on the beach. They had bought a membership to allow them
on the grounds and showed it when approached by security.  It was a very lavish Resort.
 We walked down by the water where tables were set up looking out to the sea.
Behind us were Thai masseuses at your service.  They seemed to know the whole staff well,
including the dog Brownie.  We had coffee and a light brunch then left to check out my Dental
Emporium and find out the time of my appointment on Monday.  We did that and she
explained I would have to come back on Tuesday to install the teeth.  Then we stopped at an
English Bar and I met Steve from London, we had a beer then took the bus
to the Sanctuary of Truth.
 This is a Teak building that has been under construction for 50 years and is all Teak and
custom carved. It is to honor the Mother, Father, Earth , Moon, Stars, Water and Sky. 
Quite impressive.  Two hours later we left for lunch at a street side Mom and Pop Thai
restaurant that was excellent.  The bill was $15 including tip for the three of us.  I returned
to the hotel with a rendezvous scheduled for 8 pm at my hotel. Doug was going to show me
the night life as he knew it.  I need a nap and also need to schedule somewhere to go or a place
to stay the rest of December as this is holiday time and is becoming “high season” with
rates up and full occupancy.  This is my goal tomorrow. 

SUNDAY EVE AND MONDAY DENTAL EMPORIUM

This lifestyle is getting to be addictive.  I awoke after my Siesta and stopped at the Scandinavian Bar to collect my free Heineken.  I get one a day for booking through HostelWorld.   There I met a Russian Merchant Marine.  He has been traveling the world for over 20 years and visited almost every country.  He is 42 years old and speaks good English.  His job allows him 10 weeks on then 10 weeks off.  He is a Boiler man or as he calls it..an Engineer. We had a nice chat and met a Norwegian that worked for British Petroleum on the North Sea Oil Rigs. …I left for dinner with a German.  His food looked so good I ordered a Chang Beer and whatever he is having.  We talked a bit.  It was a quiet little place on the Street where we could have a conversation and watch the world go by.  My total bill: $2 including a tip. I bought a half a pineapple to put in the fridge for breakfast , an energy drink M150, and lo dee which was a banana and egg pancake of sorts…very good.
I took Monday like a man of leisure.  Leisurely Thai breakfast, leisurely read the news with coffee, leisurely walk on the beach, and a leisurely soak up the sun by the pool.  Now it is time for the Dentist.  I arrived on time and he was ready.  Best Radial X Rays of my mouth ever.  Then…the dentist asked if I take medication and I replied Plavix.  It is a serious blood thinner unlike others and you can’t stop taking it especially if you have had two stents with anti inflammatory and blood thinning medicine already in them on time release.  Which I have.  Thank God the dentist in Tijuana didn’t have to do any surgical work.  He had my history but I forgot to inform him of my recent stents and  Plavix.  So I wrote to Dr Bear my cardiologist to request he talk to the dentist.  Dr Narin won’t do it until he consults with Dr Bear. This trip to Pattaya was wasted…well half of it.  I would have only got the posts or implants put in and then a return visit before I left to install  the teeth   Now I have to wait until  I return and maybe I can get it done in the states.  I was so happy with the stents and my energy back but now am without two molars for maybe another year!  I just want my mouth back!  I should be happy I could have bled to death…not really that bad but complications could have put me in the hospital for a week or two.  I really wasn’t aware that if I needed surgery, I couldn’t have it until I’m off of Plavix and I have to stay on Plavix for one year. Even then, the first 3 months off of Plavix can be dangerous but better than the alternative of throwing a clot from a stent.
So I spent yesterday in bed and half of today.  I did go out touring some more of Pattaya with Doug last night then dinner before retiring.  I finally got up and visited Jombien Beach
and the Buddist Temple today.
Guess which sandals are mine?
Had lunch
Then returned to Pattaya
Now it is Wednesday so I picked up my laundry and packed then checked my email.  Dr Narin talked to my Cardiologist and wants to do the operation ASAP.  Now I have to change my flight, taxi pick up, stay in Chiang Mai and find a place to stay here for a couple more days…and all this morning.  Changes in flight have to be done within 24 hours.  Doug wants to meet for dinner at 5 pm…the Dentist wants to see me now…and the lady at the desk, said she can’t assist me for at least an hour.  Now I get another email from China Air that my return flight has a schedule change and would I call ASAP….also a notice that my computer may be compromised if I don’t update Microsoft Explorer immediately. Well I guess I better get busy!
    My first call to China Air proved futile.  It is 8 pm in L. A. and their office won’t be open for another 12 hours or 10 Thai Time.  I tried to call NOK Air to change my flight but I couldn’t understand anything she said…and I think she was speaking in English? I tipped the Desk Clerk to change my flight to Saturday, change my taxi pick up and extend my room stay, then left for the dentist office. 
 Doug showed up while I was waiting.  The Dr said he is concerned and doesn’t want me leaving for a week after.  He will do micro surgery and one implant today at 5pm then another tomorrow.  He assured me he has done this before but complications have happened where the bleeding didn’t subside and the person had to go to the hospital.  He was weak but recovered and all was well.  I trust him so we changed the flight from his office, returned to the hotel and extended the stay a week then changed the taxi pickup.  Now I have to contact China Air about my schedule change on my return flight to the USA and I’ll be done. I return to Pattaya to get my new teeth just before I leave for the states.  Now I feel like I’m accomplishing something. Doug took me around the corner to the Pattaya International Hospital
so I knew where it was.  It is one of three and I was impressed. We walked around a bit, had a drink then I returned to the hotel.
 I changed my reservations in Chiang Mai and informed my new Welch friend that was expecting me. The desk clerk was nice enough to call the taxi company for the third time and reschedule.  Thai people are very helpful…95% Buddhist.  It will be nice when all this is over and I can relax and get back to traveling. Now I’m off again to the Dentist for the first of two implants. 
He welcomed me then after putting me in the chair, put a cloth over my face with a hole in it for my mouth.  It looked like one of those scenes from ER with the patient on the operating table but all you see is a sheet with their skin all mapped out for the incisions.  I liked it better than eye contact or blood splattering.  Well we did run into minor complications.  The bone graft I had done in Black Canyon City over 6 months ago was soft so he had to angle it into the jaw but the jaw bone was thin so he did another bone graft and installed the implant then sutured it.  The problem is it won’t be ready for a crown for at least 6 months.  Tomorrow we will see how the bleeding went and if OK he will do the other and hopefully with better results so I can get the Crown for one before I return in three months. I suspected something was wrong with the bone graft on that tooth when the sutures that the dentist in Black Canyon did, broke loose and I thought some of the graft fell out.  I even returned to Black Canyon to have him look at it and after X Rays he said it was fine. I’m glad I didn’t have him do the implants.  I like Dr Narin.  He is young and talks with a nervous stutter.  His voice is high pitched when he gets excited and he giggles but when he is working , he is intense and concentrated.
Tomorrow I will spend the day around the pool and have to move again since I was scheduled to leave anyway. Maybe I’ll take some photos.  Doug took me to around this afternoon
and showed me some places I would like to photograph.
I also got some brochures and may take a day trip to Chanthaburi, an old city not far away with a nice park and very restful.  Maybe I’ll go ride the Elephants or Chang’s for a day.

I felt great this morning and after a nice restful day by the pool am ready for my second implant.  The implant is GREAT and I only hope the other one will be able to have a crown before I leave.  I’m off.

THAILAND ARRIVAL ..ON TO PATTAYA

Well the  lift off on Southwest was OK .   I found it was necessary to board a transfer bus
to the international terminal after I arrived at LAX airport.  I did that then asked a passenger
how did I know when I got to the right terminal so I could get off.  He said to watch for signs
so when I saw China Air I got off and went to the ticket counter to get my boarding pass.  
No one was there.  I saw a man behind the counter  and asked when the counter would be
open.  He said Noon.  I returned at noon and got in a small line waiting for an agent to appear.
 The people were going to France.  The signs had changed so I asked the same man where to
find China Air.  He said I had to go to Somebralie Terminal .  I got directions and after walking
10 miles, I arrived at Somebralie….Tom Bradly Terminal.  China Air was at the end, of course.
 I checked in but the agent said my bag was too heavy for carry on so I checked it then had to
take it to a special area and stand in line to drop it with security .   There were 100’s of bags
awaiting the xray machine so the attendant directed me to another area further down.  I stood
in line there …less time.  Then I had to find gate 102.   The signs said ALL GATES so I stood in
line to discover 102 was on the South side not the North.  I walked through and around the
corner to discover the LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal was under construction and
after navigating a few detours, I saw a sign 101-106 Gates so got on the moving walkway and
then another.  Finally I was at 106…then 105…then the walkway was broken and I started
picking up the pace afraid I might miss my flight. Finally arriving at 102, I discovered the
plane had been delayed so now I was in desperate need of a bathroom.  There were three stalls
.  One occupied and the other 2 for handicapped  and one of those was occupied so I did the
unthinkable and took the other.  How often do you ever see anyone in a wheelchair in the bath
room.  No sooner did I sit down when there was a handicapped oriental in a wheelchair trying
to access  a toilet.  I hurried as fast as I could and apologized on the way out but I do nøt think
he understood and his companion might have but he looked mad and was nøt buying my
apology.  I returned to 102 just in time to wait some more while the crew of  30 all dressed in
pink boarded.  I am not exaggerating, there were at least 30.  This is a BIG plane
(notice the upstairs first class section) and I think they are going to wait until they fill it before
they take off.  I’m in seat 68 F which I think is the bathroom in the back which would be fitting
. Not the bathroom but the next thing up from the bathroom…the last row and wedged in
between a Taiwanese business man and one hot lady in a Mini skirt with legs she likes to
show off and rightfully should.  Opps…she covered them with her blanket. This is going to be
boring.  13 hours later, 2 movies, no sleep, and the seat of the occupant in front of me only 15
inches from my face, we land in Taiwan.  I hate going to a country I have never been and not
getting out of the airport. 
The next leg of the trip
was in an aisle seat on a plane that also had an upstairs. I sat next to Eric, a Vietnam Vet
that sold his Sport Shoe distributorship last year. He has been traveling ever since he got
amnesia in the Vietnam war and almost has 100 countries under his belt.  We hit it off after
I ordered a double wine to save the waitress a trip back.  He reordered then I reordered then
he reordered…well you get the point.  He talked me into sharing a cab with his travel buddy
Kurt, who was waiting for us when we arrived. I cancelled my stay in Bangkok and we left for
Pattaya. A two hour and two beer taxi ride
and we were in Pattaya at 4am that seemed like 10pm with all the traffic and people in the
streets.  I saved some money and time but spent a little more for the first two days because
my hotel didn’t have a cheaper room available on a moments notice. 
The first night…well I checked in at 4am and bedded down at 7:30 am. That night was an up
and down affair. I slept 3 hours then got up to see the city.  I walked a few hours, took some
photos
, had breakfast. While walking down “Walking Street”
, there was a flurry of action. Sirens started in the distance and one ambulance after another
went by me with police and Red Cross following.  I noticed lots of people gathered on the
beach, around the patio restaurants, and on the pier.
 They were pointing and straining to see.  One man was sitting down crying. I guess he had a
lot of tragedy in his life and one more, though not personal, was too much grief for him to
handle.  Later I discovered on CNN that two speed boats collide killing both the drivers. 
I returned at 2:30 in the afternoon and went back to bed.  That evening, I awoke at 8:30
and walked to Jameson’s Irish pub about an hour away.  I had a nice Beef and Mushroom Pie
and a Guiness.  The Pie was $8 and the Guiness was $8.  Time to get back to Singha Beer.
I walked around observing the night life, stopped in a couple bars for a drink and retired at
1 am.
I left on Monday and today is Thursday. There is an English restaurant next door where I
had a full Irish breakfast for $3.50. Irish Bacon, Bangers, Mushrooms, Tomatoes (so good) ,
Eggs, Fresh thick sliced bread, and coffee! There was a man who had a bag on the floor with
the words “LIVE YOGA”.  He was sitting in his chair in the lotus position reading a book.  
Most of the tables had single old men, reading their news, and having breakfast like me.  
Took some more photos.
Then I went to Starbucks, got a Latte and Muffin for $4.  Crazy.  Starbucks would have
accepted my Starbucks card from Arizona.  Global economy!  I observed an oriental reading
a leather bound Suduko book.  He would not make notes but studied it until he got a number
without notations like I do.  Very disciplined, unlike myself.  A middle aged lady from the US
on her cell sipping her Cappuccino.  The Patio was full of retired old American men having
their coffee and cigarettes while recounting their conquests or how much they paid, the night
before.  Pattaya is full of these men. Some are in remarkable shape.  I saw three men in their
70’s that worked out everyday or took Human Growth Hormones or both.  They were
weathered…nothing you can do to change that…but in great shape.  This morning I noted a
lot of men jogging down the beach or the others in not such great shape walking at a good clip
down the esplanade. They come to Pattaya in all shapes, sizes and age.  Single, divorced ,
widowed with one common denominator…loneliness.  They need to be touched, massaged,
shown affection and attention. Oh yeah and to get laid. Some are old , fat drunks on a budget
who would never get anything back in the states. Others just lost their wives of 40 years, have
a disability, are shy, or are hermits that ran a trap-line in Alaska for the last 6 years and seldom saw a lady.  This is a place for them to become human and get back in touch with what was and what could still be.  Some have little time left in there lives and it shows as they walk hand in hand with someone that could be there great granddaughter.  They have the sparkle back in their eyes and the ladies laugh at their jokes and make them feel desired.  The ladies are there for the money.  They always smile and most are fair. You get what you pay for.
I moved this afternoon into the cheaper room that I call Marjorie. I will stay here until I
check out on the 9th of next week. The two big amenities lacking are a coffee maker and a safe.  

Dr Doug is meeting me at 4pm for “Family Hour” at the Wonderful Bar II down the street. 

Brussels,Waterloo, Antwerp,Leveen, Rouen, Mont St Michelle. Paris, Jim Hayes and Amsterdam

  Phoenix was another 112% day when my my plane departed for Dulles International in
Washington, D.C.  It was the beginning of August and for me, the beginning of another
adventure.  The Flight reservationist was sympathetic to my request for a forward seat on the
plane.  Especially when she saw the short connection time between my US Air arrival and
United Air departure in Dulles  for Brussels.  It helped that she was taking the same trip in
another week! I was the first aisle seat behind first class and if it hadn’t been for this obsessive
compulsive businessman twitching  and fidgeting the entire trip, I would have thought I was
in First Class.  I carried my bags on so when we arrived I went right to the departure gate and
was boarding shortly thereafter.  I slept through most of the night.

When I arrived in Brussels, I ATM’s some Euros, bought a train ticket and hopped the train

into Central Station in Brussels.  A short walk later, I was checked into the Madeline Hotel
right in the center of everything.  I took a four hour nap then a On/Off Bus tour of the city.  I
had been to Brussels on two different occasions. Both experiences were wet and in a beer fog.
  Now Brussels was a real and enjoyable experience.  The weather was sunny and the people
were friendly.  The next day I returned to the Bus Tour but got off at the site of the 1958
World’s Fair to see the Anatomic…this large structure shapes like a Atom complete with a
restaurant overlooking the city.  I quickly returned to the bus and got off near an
Antique Market.  There I spent some time browsing some amazing collections of antiquities…
not Flea Market junk you would find in Phoenix.

When I returned I took my Notebook to Toones , a bar/restaurant/theater that dates back to
1650 or thereabouts.  After eating there I stopped in an outdoor Cafe for “Wine and Watching”
.  Different street entertainers were everywhere.

  The next day I was off for Antwerp.  The train station in Antwerp, as well as the whole city, is
an architectural wonder.  It was raining a bit so I took a Taxi and tipped the lady…total 8 Euros.
I thought Helen had part of the house when I went to the door but only saw one doorbell.
 Expecting to hear a buzz that allowed me in, and then expecting to see a list of occupants and
intercoms to different apartments after entering, I was surprised when Helen greeted me at
the door.  The whole 4 stories was her’s for a month.  It used to be a restaurant at one time but
had primarily been a private residence for very wealthy people.  

It was Sunday and we went downtown…Iron Man world competition  and Mussels at the Elf
Gebowud to  waterfront Cafe and home with dinner at CityZen.  Dim Sum really nice place.
Monday….visited the downtown…museums were closed…lunch dinner and wine.
Tuesday….Zoo, Train station, dinner at City Zen again, Dietrich and Michelle at Makobe with
Tapas…anchovies, olives
Wed ..Brugge ..Antwerp…Elf Gebouwd…dinner at Makobe cancelled Flanders
Thur…Square Merry Go Round  Fiskbar Oysters, Crab Halibut
Fri …ReVista…Night Museums were Saturday so we went to Ciro’s for Horse, Mussels and
washed it down with Pinot Gris..$100 but worth it.
Sat…I got up early, did laundry and made coffee.  I moved everything into Helens room in
anticapation of her sister Carol arriving with her husband from Elmira.  They called when they
arrived at the airport in Brussels…it appears that Helen never gave them the address of the
house.  They looked in up in the yellow pages I guess and after a short bus ride, arrived in
Antwerp and took a cab to the house.  

I joined Helen and Carol for breakfast while her husband took a nap.  That evening, we all
went to the Museum then downtown to have dinner at the Elf Geboud…mussels , chicken with
Bearnaise , soup and a Belgium Beef stew.  I slept in Helen’s room that night after packing
and taking a quick shower.  I didn’t get up till 8:30 and everyone was waiting to get in the
room to shower!  We had coffee and discuss our meet up in Mont St Michele the next week
and I took the bus to the train station and was in Central Station in Brussels by 12:30.

 I secured my luggage and walked to the Beaux-Arts Museum and had a light lunch before
meeting Gene and Francisco across the street at the Magritte Museum.  It had only been
opened a month or so and was sold out.  Magritte was a surrealist Belgium painter and artist
that thrived around the 20’s and 30’s.  There were 16 of her friends that showed up for a
guided tour of the museum.  Her daughter Marcia and her son and his pregnant wife were
among the group.  An Aussie from Melbourne was there too.  I didn’t get a translator and was
just interested in seeing the show.  It was quite good though our guide was a bit too serious.

 At the end of two hours we all went out for drinks.  I thought we were having dinner so
ordered a half carafe of wine.  Everybody else had one drink and that was it.  I was a tad
embarrassed.  Most of the group departed after except for her daughter , boyfriend and
another couple that used to live in Larchmont , N.Y. and work for UpJohn Corp for 15 years.
 They were divers that traveled with Gene on her Travel dive trips.  They are off to Santorini
in the Greek Islands next.  I had Gazpacho then Waterzooi  with Chicken.  The rest all had Steak Tartar.  I will have to try that before I leave Belgium.  

Francisco drove us back to Gene’s home where he lives with her.  We sat up a little then when I awoke this morning they were gone.  I laid in the Hammock and played on the computer…read a little .  Very relaxing and a nice change from the bustle.  We will play Poker tonight and I am to make a salad from nothing for the meal…we shall see.

 The evening started with the three of us taking a side trip to Belgium wine country where we
visited a vineyard where the grapes are grown in Hot Houses.

 Quite interesting and the largest and sweetest grapes I’ve ever tasted.  We purchased some grapes and
 tomatoes to add to my salad for the pot luck , poker , BBQ party.


Genevieve had to take us both on a side trip to the University town of Leveen where she has
worked for 100 years.  It was quaint but large.  There are over 55000 students at what is one
of the oldest Universities in Europe. Cambridge, Barcelona, and Salamanca are the others.  
After we stopped to have one of the best pieces of chocolate I have ever eaten, she took us into
the University where she got her Doctorate or something like that.  She described her in her
long black gown approaching the entrance with all the faculty waiting in their gowns.  The
doors opened for her and all of a sudden they all broke out singing while she ascended the
staircase to the main hall where they placed a ribboned metal around her neck and then after
a brief speech she walked with the whole procession following her back down the staircase
and out the doors and through the town to the church where the bishop or cardinal blessed
the whole ceremony and said some Mass of sorts.
We walked around briefly then on the way out of town she drove us to a restaurant on a lake
where we had tapas, beer and met a wonderful waiter who asked where I was from.

 When I said Arizona , the first thing he replied with was…do you play Poker.  Then, after I acknowledged that I did, he said they play in this restaurant for free twice a week but advised me to visit a nearby Casino where he plays all the time.  Never the tournaments though the next night they were featuring a Belgium championship event that went for three days like the World Poker in Vegas but only for the title of Belgium Champ.


We arrived later at Christof and Christine”s home in the hills.  It was beautiful and the
Chicken was being roasted over a wood fire on the BBQ that he built for himself.  We sat at a
table made of a large antique wheel with a “Lady Susan” he created out of another smaller
antique wheel.  The terrace overlooked their pond with a small waterfall and his herb garden.
 Christine made a tomato salad with fresh Mozzarella and Basil while Francisco broke out a
large corked bottle of his homemade beer to sample.  Then we started with fresh radishes , the
tomato salad and Italian Red wine from the North of Italy.   The conversation, in two
languages, was lively and from the Tapas, we moved to  the salad with roasted potatoes and
the Chicken.  After we had some special dessert wine and roasted Apples stuffed with
cinnamon and almonds.
We then adjourned into the “Poker Room” for Pear or Apple Cognac and splitting up the chips
to begin the game.  The game went for 4 hours until 2:30 in the morning when I promptly , as
chip leader, went all in with 3 Kings and finished the Host off.  When he was out the game was
over….if he had stayed in, he would have kept us there all night.  He enjoys Poker as we all do
but both Genevieve and Francisco had to work early.
 I slept until 12:30 and never left the house.  Genevieve arrived at around 4pm and suggested
we visit Waterloo.

 When we arrived they were closing for the day so I really didn’t get to see much. She called Francisco and he met us at Waterloo then followed us to a nice country Restaurant called the Big Bike.  We were the only guests and ordered a bottle of wine to sip on the terrace while awaiting our order of Pig Cheeks and Lips in Salad, Brains in wine sauce and Razor Clams.  When that arrived, we feasted in the dining room while sharing our meal.  I ordered the Brain but never before had them fresh.  It was fabulous.  The Pig’s Face was served with chopped dill Pickles on a nice bed of butter lettuce and a vinaigrette dressing.  The Razor clams were steamed in wine with a garlic and parsley sauce.  Next course was Chicken Big Bike. A half chicken steamed in Garlic and wine with Celery, Onions, and tomatoes…very fresh and very good.  Also, Genevieve ordered Calves Liver with Vegetables that came with a tart sauce made with fresh limes, Creme Fraiche, and the drippings from the Liver sauteed in butter.  To die for!  Francisco ordered the homemade sausage that I think Chef Katherine ground fresh while we were waiting.  It was also great and served with a rich white wine and cream sauce.   I ate a Chocolate Mousse and we left after talking to the owner Michele and his wife Chef Kathrine.

I wrestled with Gene’s Opel and managed to drive to Waterloo for a day at the Museum and
Battleground.  We had an Omelette that evening , watched Pulp Fiction and retired for a new
day of Laundry and packing.  It was raining hard the next day when she arrived home early
to take us to Brussels for dinner???
 The next day we visited a Castle and
a Casino where I lost $50 and we left.  She made me buy a $7 pair of socks so I could get in
because she had never seen a Casino.  We ate at Henry’s , a very nice old restaurant in the
center of Namas? Nante?, beautiful town on the river. The steak Tartar and her pork ribs were
not that beautiful.  I treated since this was our last night.  
She came home from work to drop me at the Euro Car Rental at 1:30 and I drove to Rouen…
arriving at 5:30 I checked in .  When I discovered there was no restaurants or Bistro in the
local town on Montigny, I reserved a spot for dinner.  I had a complete meal for 32 Euros that
consisted of raw salmon and oysters, leftover duck that was lukewarm with overcooked
vegetables, two cheese with a wilted salad, and chocolate tart with fruit.  I got sick about 1 am
and every hour after I was running back and forth to the bathroom.  I had the Jaque Ricard
Revenge!   I reported it the next day but no one seemed overly concerned.  Either it was an
everyday occurrence or they didn’t understand my English?  I did have some food and juice to
hydrate me and left for Normandy.  Three and a half hours later I had made the halfway point
in Honfleur.  The holiday beach traffic was bumper to bumper in first gear for miles down an
85 mph speedway.

I made it about 3:30 in the afternoon….spent an hour and a half looking at a Cinema tribute
and a museum then tried to book a room for the following night but failed so left.  9pm that
evening I arrived at my hotel after futility trying to find a store open to buy some wine.  I paid
the hotel $10 Euros for a 1/2 liter and drank it with my meal I had purchased at the market in
Honfuer. I told the manager when I arrived about my illness but she said she didn’t
understand me.  I tried to book a hotel for that evening but no success…I will have to wing it. I
have spent too much time in the car and hope to change all that after today.  I spent 45 Euros
on tolls and 40 Euros on diesel fuel.  The car gets 40 mpg so though the price of fuel is double
compared to the US, the mileage is double so it is a wash…except I have to drive a small 6
speed manual transmission Opel.  Well I’m going to settle my bill and request a refund for
dinner. Off again
No refund…I paid them to make me sick…that makes me sick.  I followed another couple that
was checking out ahead of me because I noticed they had a GPS so figured they would get out
of town without getting lost.  They did but just after, they pulled into a gas station for gas so I
was on my own.  They took me where I wanted to be going and kept following the road until I
ended up back in Normandy in half the time with half the traffic.  I went right to the American
Cemetery.  It was quite impressive.  I spent the afternoon there then drove to Avranches to see
if they received my booking from the night before.  They did and I had a room…a bit pricey
but very nice.  I went to the Patton Pizzeria and had the Patton Pizza.  It was next door to the
Patton Bakery and across from the Patton Hotel.  The Patton Memorial was in the center of
the square.  It appears that he freed the town from the Germans and so they put a bust of him
with a tank and a monument in the town square.  I knew Gen Patton’s grandson and worked
for Gen. Abrams who was Gen Patton’s right hand man in the Battle of the Bulge when they
broke through the Siegfreid Line .  That was some of the worst fighting and American
casualties of the war. I sat outside to finish my wine and looked up at the sky to see an ultra
light flying over the monument while the sun was setting.  People were pulling up in there cars
and running in to pick up there Pizza’s to go and next door to get there baguette to have with
their morning coffee.
  I returned to connect with Helen and arranged to meet at the entrance of Mont St Micheal
at 10:30 the next morning.  I was at the entrance to the Cathedral Mont St Micheal and she
was at the entrance to the town of Mont St Micheal.  She found me after I endured three
hours of standing in line and pushing and shoving in a huge crowd  through the place in the
heat.  We went to her car but she had lost Ed and Carol who  had the keys to the car.  I needed
to get a room for that night for both of us but didn’t even know where we were going.  I got in
my car and agreed to meet her at the Mcdonald’s in the nearby town where I could get internet
access.  I decided on Renne , the capital of Brittany and booked a room.  She arrived with Ed
and Carol and we switched her suitcase over and left for Renne.  I pulled into the center, found
and checked into the “Dormitory” then went back and fetched the car.  We parked the car and
finished checking in.  It was so nice we decided to stay another night and just relax.  Now I’m
off to eat and drink. Weather is great. 
We had a great dinner at an outdoor cafe.  The first good meal I have ever had in France other
than Jim Haynes meal and he is an American.  We loved the town and decided to book even
another evening.  Came back early and retired early.  Awoke to a cold shower!  The repair man
came and fixed it but we must wait two hours before we can shower.  Oh well our breakfast
was great. I’m now in a nice Cafe on the street in Renne with my Cappuccino and enjoying the
view.  Two days later and we checked out with Citea and received my 10% discount. Highly
recommend this chain in France.  I drove straight through to Antwerp and arrived to catch Ed
and Carol walking down the street.  I dropped the bags, parked the car and joined them for
dinner.  I had a great Thai Chicken Curry and retired early.  The next day I returned the car in
Antwerp a day early and took a stroll through a Jogging Park inhabited by rabbits and
Hasidic Jews that cut 80% of the world’s diamonds in Antwerp. Tomorrow I’m off for
Amsterdam…oh, did I tell you, I bought a home today…hope to close on it when I return.
I arrived in Amsterdam around 1 p0m from Antwerp after three transfers.  I stored my
luggage and went to Smokey’s at Rembrandtplein.  The whole area was dug up for
landscaping and my favorite bar changed hands with better management.  I had a fresh juice
and a no nicotine marijuana joint…two hits.   I returned to Central Station , picked up my bags
and took the #4 Rooseveltlaan where Jeannette and Peter had my Hash, Pipes, Joints, bed
and a Sun Tan light to keep me from missing Az.
We drank too much wine…me….whiskey …Jeannette….near beer Peter. 


So I’ve been in Amsterdam  since that Saturday.  Sunday I walked for hours around
Amsterdam and stopped into Mulligans where the bartender still remembered me.  
Monday I don’t remember what I did.


Tues…I met Sanna at Boom Town Chicago and we had dinner then the show.  We met
Jonathan Whitcup from NYC who just moved to Amsterdam and set up house 8 months ago.
 He rode his bike to the show.  We exchanged contacts and Sanna took me to the Chaos Bar
and got me drunk.  I went to bed around 2 am after taking a taxi home. 

Wed I wandered around a bit and went to the Hermitage Museum then returned for a brief
nap then off to play Texas Holdem in a tournament at the Holland Casino.  While waiting for
the Poker room to open in walked Jonathan…he said he loves Poker and plays a lot there but
was not in my tournament.I lost and left to return early.

Thurs…I slept late and left for the Market where I bought some food for dinner on Friday at
Jeannettes then came back to have some Mint tea at Diva’s down the street.  That eve we all
went out for finger food at Orbit, an eclectic neighborhood restaurant.  Peter
and Jeannette treated me.   I retired early to take Magic Truffles.  I ate half the 15 grams
recommended to try it before consuming the rest.  It was the first time in 25 years I have done
any hallucinogenic drugs.  I always wanted to do the mushrooms but they were recently
outlawed in Amsterdam so now they get around it by offering Magic Truffles…a root and not a
mushroom.  It was like chewing on a nut.    It has been almost a half an hour…takes one
hour to take effect….so I am waiting to try the other half after I find out what the effects of the
first half are.  So far the music is starting to sound better….I’ll see how my Texas Holdem
game is on Poker Stars…I do believe my typing has improved but I need someone to monitor
this that can be objective….
Friday we went to a Cheese tasting in the center with some wine and chocolate after. That
morning I visited the Market.

Saturday Jeannette fixed Lamb Chops and we watched a James Bond film…I was getting sick
and staying in.

Sunday we went out to Eau du Vie for an upscale $300 dinner that I treated them.  Frankly I
don’t care for dinners out that run more than $50 per person.  It was good.  Today I am
nursing my cold…going out for Meds…and packing….D Day tomorrow.  Well that didn’t work
well….went to the Drug store and got some cough drops but had to go to the Pharmacy for
decongestant.  They only had nose spray and recommended another down the street.  They
were out of business.  The ATM didn’t work and the only other one was out of order. I took a
Tram to the Rembrandtplein but it was under construction so got off on the other side.  I
found an ATM and got some money but then couldn’t find a Pharmacy or the paintings I
wanted to buy that I saw in Rembrandtplein so took the Tram back and bought a bottle of
Scotch for Jeannette , poured myself a drink and packed. Done.