Friday, June 29, 2007
Walking through an American air terminal, you may recognize a flight attendant by the determined walk, wheeled black weekend bag, generic navy uniform or plethora of official looking IDs. So it was like a fun exercise in yesteryear for us to walk through Seoul-Incheon International where Asian carriers dominate and there were groups of identically, impeccably clad stewardesses (yes, they were all young, pretty and female) in the colors of their airline.
Lisa and I discussed the difference and decided that different attitudes towards men and women and the workplace between the East and the West were probably at the root of the difference and while it probably strikes a blow for feminism, we both liked the friendlier service of the Asian carriers...
Thursday, June 28, 2007
to have a 36 hour Thursday. To make our particular
trip surreally longer, our departure from
Bangkok was at 1:30 AM so we had a full day of
Thailand fun, then a full day of intercontinental
We were blessed again with a good seating arrangement
on the BIG flight - one of the rows of 2 in the rear
curve of the plane - same size seat, but no neighbor,
nobody behind us (guilt free recline) and a tad more
All good fortune must come to an end. For us, that end
is JFK Airport. After 24 days of the Asian Buddist
"have a cool heart" style, we are jolted back to
reality by New Yorkers and the angst-ridden goings on
at our departure gate. Oh, don't forget the wallet shock at
lunch (airport Chili's) - no booze and still cost more
than our priciest hotels in Asia. Tack on the 3:30 flight that
hadn't left yet at 5:30..... all together 34 hours
from doorstep to doorstep
Just a few day before we left on this trip, I was at Fav's for lunch with Mom, Grandma and Aunt Madelon (note to Charlie - Ken S was our waiter, he says "hey Mr Kennedy"). It was my last chance to ask Madelon for Thailand tips and advice. (For those outside the Murray clan, Madelon served in Thailand in the Peace Corps.)
After the term "3rd world" came up, Madelon disputed that Thailand was not a 3rd world country now and wasn't when she was there. I found this a surprising statement and figured that Madelon was just trying to make the point that we would be comfortable and safe in our trip. I'd taken enough poli sci classes to know that my professors thought of Thailand as "3rd world". The closest I'd ever come to 3rd world was a trip to the Bahamas and I don't think that really counts.
Lisa and I had an itinerary that allowed us to see Thailand in stark contrast to its much poorer neighbors. After 4 or 5 days in Thailand, we spent 2 weeks in Laos and Cambodia before returning to Bangkok. In our first foray, we noticed news stories that hinted at Thailand's comfort: problems with illegally trafficked workers from Burma and Cambodia as well as the emphasis on green, eco friendly choices. An economy whose business sector wants low wage workers more than it fears legal repurcussions is a booming economy.
Upon our return to Thailand after the Mekong Valley sojurn, we noticed other, smaller signs: Thais dining in Western restaurants, grand public transit and infrastructure, exhorbitant rents and teenagers with braces.
I presume that the old academic notions of "1st world" and "3rd world" are breaking down, so I'm sure that the poli sci classes of today would have a new designation for nations in Thailand's sector.
As for these two travelers, our eyes have certainly been opened in new ways.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
are smaller than Westerners as myth rolled up with
cultural stereotypes. I read something once about
Japanese being shorter on average than Americans, but
thought maybe it was just Japan. I mean, there are
like 4 Chinese guys in the NBA and none of them are
I'm ready to reassess. The reason I'm hitting my head
every other day may have something to do with the low
ceilings and door frames.
Shopping for tee shirts in Lao, I had to go with
Double X-L - and pay extra for what I presume to be
the Lao body language sign for "needs more material".
They said "big" several times.
The kicker came the other day at the mall. Lisa
dragged me onto a scale. (NOTE: we are both down
several pounds). A curious teenager peaked over the
top of the scale as I got on. When he saw the meter
hover around 90 kg, he swayed backwards, his jaw
dropped and he let out a shocked "oh" that could have
been a "whoa", though I'm sure his command of American
slang was not very strong at that exact moment.
To paraphrase Ron Burgundy "I'm kind of a big deal
around here" ;)
Monday, June 25, 2007
Call it a cop-out, but we enjoyed all 5 floors of air-conditioned glory. I bought a pair of Ray-Bans for $5 (surely, they are genuine) and I had some fried noodles at the food court. The oddest moment came when Lisa took a picture of me at the food court. A security guard appeared, as if from nowhere, and declared "no camera".
Presumably, he thought we were industrial spies, taking the concept of indoor shopping back to America to make millions
As unsettling as those things can be at times, we both really liked it here.....
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
I passed up freshly cooked
- cricket (or grasshopper, Í can't really tell the difference)
(Gordon, if you are wondering, Lisa didn't eat any of these choices either, so you haven't lost your lead...)
Lisa and I visited a school for blind and deaf in Siem Reap yesterday. It is run by Krousar Themey. Some of the kids are sent there by family, many were abandoned. They specialize in preserving Cambodian culture, so there are training programs for Khmer massage and there is an educational exhibit on the importance of Cambodia's water system, especially their great lake, the Tonle Sap.
Today we got to Phnom Penh. We had a late lunch/early dinner at the highly recommended Friends restaurant run by the Mith Samlanh charity (Khmer for "friends"). Street kids are taught skills for the hospitality industry, with some moving to Phnom Penh's (and presumably Siem Reap's) very high end hotels (while we are spending $25 a night for AC, hot water and a frig, we could have spent up to $3000 for presumably much more). The food was served Tapas style - small servings - so we tried a few things. Gourmet menu very well done. Because of the guarantees on the menu and the reputation of the place, I even ate the fresh fruit (tasted so amazing after 2 weeks staying away from most of it).
Monday, June 18, 2007
Sunday, June 17, 2007
eventually, so we booked a multi part ticket with
Bangkok Airways (working hard to be "Asia's boutique
airline"). To call the LPB airport small is an
understatement of sorts. We left from International
Gate 1, though they didn't really need to number it -
there was only the one gate! There was no monitor
with listing of arrivals and departures and what was
on-time; you knew that your plane wasn't leaving soon
- it hadn't arrived yet. We saw the airport 2
different times from high views around the city and
never saw a plane or a hanger. Planes fly in or out
on non-stops then go right back.
I used the very clean restroom at the airport where I
saw the first urinal in Laos. With so few, I guess
the price on urinal cakes is high - the airport
authority opted for mothballs, which makes for quite
an interesting scent.
We took off on time, and the flight was pretty smooth.
After a very short transfer in Bangkok, we took a
short flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Siem Reap is the provincial town closest to Angkor Wat
and so has become quite the tourist town. Driving in
from the airport was akin to riding down the strip in
Vegas - giant lux hotels on both sides. It was
completely unlike the strip in Vegas in that the Khmer
don't seem quite as into neon.....
Friday, June 15, 2007
We finally made it to the Kuang Si waterfall today.
When we got there, we found the Bear Rescue project,
working to save Southeast Asia's black bears. There
were about 9 or 10 bears, mostly very young (1-4
years). One or all of them were making odd chirping
noises and were just generally being bearish.
Next door to the bear enclosure was Phet, a lone
Indonesian tiger. She was very small compared to the
larger ones at Busch Gardens (Bengal or Siberian) but
she very conveniently placed herself right at the
front of her enclosure so we could take a picture of
After that, we visited the waterfall, hiked to the top
and swam for a while in what has to be the coolest
water in Southeast Asia.
So the other day, we learned of a project here in Luang Prabang called Big Brother Mouse. Started by a few young locals, the aim is to provide books for kids here in Laos. For several reasons - poverty and small size - there are incredibly few books here and many of those are not even in Lao. The group has a storefront where you can buy books and a classroom where they have "English practice".
A portion of the profits from the bookstore goes to giving books away in the countryside, with the hopes of hooking readers early (sounds familiar). We went by the classroom today to donate an hour teaching a few novices ("novice" referring to their status as monks, not yet to their English). Lisa worked with an older, slightly more advanced boy - a task made difficult since he is not allowed to have contact with a female. I worked on reading "pen", "pencil", "table" and "chair" and a few other classroom vocab words with 2 younger boys.
After our "work", I chatted with one of the young men who runs the classroom part time. His name is Linthot, he has finished college and plans to attend university to become an English teacher. He comes from a farming village and we had a great chat about farming life in Laos.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
capitale coloniale et les rues dans le viel quartier
sont vraiment français. C'est aussi possible de parler
français avec les Laotiens et aussi avec les autres
gens de l'Ouest (aujord'hui, c'était des touristes
francais, hier, c'était un homme qui m'a donné
(ma mere et ma soeur doivent écrit une note après
cette exercise de langue)
for years is that people are the same, everywhere and
anytime. Every once in awhile, I am reminded of the
truth of this idea.
Completely unsurprising has been the prevalence of
mobile phone usage. I know that mobiles have long
since passed land lines for price and flexibility in
developing countries. In spite of my expectations, it
does startle me a bit to see a traditionally dressed
Hmong on the side of a rural highway chatting away on
a Nokia or the monks at the Wat we visited today with
a more up-to-date phone than me...
Riding through less affluent areas, I've noticed a
phenomena identical to one i'd noticed in rural SE
Georgia 13 years ago: satellite tv dishes outside of
homes that barely seem like they keep out the rain.
I guess everyone wants to be connected to the rest of
Saturday, June 09, 2007
trek today. We went through 2 hill tribe villages and
ended at a beautiful waterfall. It was a great day
(overcast so not too hot) and we had a great time. We
walked through rice fields, banana groves and bamboo
A truly amazing day.
Our guide, Cha, was a member of the Karen tribe
We walked through a village of the Lisu tribe
Lunch was in a Lahu village, with "Lahu noodle soup" -
Lisa is going to look for the Campbell's version when
we get back to the States
Pai is a small town (3000) in the north-west of Thailand. The trekking and hill tribes that are a
popular trip from Chiang Mai are close here. Chinese Muslims from Yunnan are here too.
At some point, Pai became the spot for bohemian Westerners to drop out for awhile. In certain parts of town, it seems the fareng outnumber the Thai...
We had lunch at the appropriately named Drop In Cafe where we had the best Thai food we've had yet, but we could go back tomorrow and have bangers&mash or a croque monsieur. The proprietor was a Swede who took our orders and relayed them in Thai to the rest of the staff. He drank beer and smoked cigarettes while they did the busy work. Seems to be a workable business model.
Chiang Mai told us that Chiang Mai is much better -
including the guy vacationing from Bangkok. According
to the folks around town it is more relaxed (we were
relaxed), less crowded (1.5 million people versus 8
million), less polluted (believable).
I think we are still going to spend a few day in
Bangkok, but CM was very nice. Chiang Mai was the
capitol of the pre-Siam kingdom of Lanna and so has a
large walled and moated area. Further more, there are
a lot of wats (temples) in town. Various "experts"
have told us 300, 1500 and 2500. I'm sure a real
figure is in our guide book, but who cares...?
The highlight is outside of town - Wat Doi Suthep.
Perched on a mountain, it was built in the 1500s
because a particularly special white elephant died
there. I'm putting some of our photos on the Flickr
Thursday, June 07, 2007
stream. Depending on your computer, there may be a
link right about here -------->
that reads "Flickr Photo Stream"
If there are no links on the right side of the page,
scroll to the bottom of this page and find them on the
night and got a cab to our hotel. The concierge was
very nice (told Lisa how beautiful she was) and our
reservation was all prepared - here is where I plug
www.directrooms.com - and our room was great - nothing
special, but clean and cheap.
The hotel had a taxi waiting to take us to the airport
when we got downstairs - about 45 minutes earlier than
we'd told them - apparently cab ride to the airport
comes with our room rate...
Spent some extra time at the airport - ate first Thai
noodle dish and went to Starbucks - scoff if you will,
but the Thai seem to think that all the fareng want to
drink instant coffee and I'll choose Starbucks any
Thai Airways plane was fantastic - gorgeous multi
colored seats. I'd have laughed at the idea of a
"beautiful airplane", but seeing is believing. Flight
to Chiang Mai was uneventful.
First snafu of the trip - my ATM card doesn't want to
work, so until we sort that out, Lisa is my "sugar
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
of the Seoul-Incheon Airport and passed up dozens of
duty free opportunities (though the Ginseng Cognac is
a big maybe for our return). I think we've recovered
a bit from the flight. We have another 2-3 hours here
- likely will get a beer and perhaps some food.
We just missed the mirror event for the Delta - Korea,
Sparkling event that was in the Atlanta airport. Don't
know if they were serving Coke and peach cobbler at
I've never been in such a new airport before and only
on Christmas morning at 5:00 AM have I been in a more
deserted airport. It is strangely eery...
At the point where I started to feel like it was
almost over, it was less than half done.
At the point when Lisa described me as "a little
loopy", there were 4 more hours.
We were given 3 meals
While flying over the North Pole there is so much
sunlight that the windows were hot to the touch.
(Roger, any unclassified stories about this
Did get to see some of the Arctic Ocean through the
clouds and many, many frozen Siberian lakes.
After all that, there were still 2 hours left.
the first Atlanta-Seoul non-stop that was branded as a
Delta flight. Had we flown yesterday, it would have
been on a Korean Air jet. I guess when you link
Olympic cities (or as one of the big-wig speakers
pointed out: major economic partners) ou have to throw
a party. Free food, gift bags for every passenger,
Korean dancers, Korean drummers (remarkably similar to
the MHS Drum Line at a pep rally), Delta, Korea
Tourism and Georgia Economic Development dignitaries,
and here are Lisa and I, not even leaving the
Seoul-Incheon airport. The man who interviewed Lisa
for KTN TV was obviously disappointed that we were not
seasoned travellers to Seoul whose lives were to
improve due to this new service. The cameraman was
pleased when I later told him that we were headed to
Bangkok and the look on his face makes me think he may
have enjoyed the "nudge-nudge, wink-wink" sites in
"Korea, Sparkling" is the newly branded motto of the
Korea Tourism Organisation (www.tour2korea.com). The
intent is to imply "revitalizing energy and freshness"
along with "vital refreshment". The Korean Minister
of Culture and Tourism emphasized that Korea, Koreans
and their culture offer an experience unique from
their Asian neighbors, China and Japan. I think he
started to say something about unification, but
changed direction midstream - all of hte sudden his
English went from stronly accented but grammatically
correct to heavily accented and very broken. Maybe i'm
reading too much into his comment, but I like to think
abou the possible international intrigue.
Good fortune continues here on the flight; the only
empty seat on a 15 hour flight is next to us. Lisa
moved over and now there is a spare seat between us -
how lucky can you get?