Posts Tagged With: Laos

Kob Chai Lai Lai

I am a bit disoriented.  Where am I?  Oh yes, Vientiane, Laos.  It is the capital and its largest city.  Sabaidee@Laos hotel (I promise to have a Review Page on all soon.) I had left the curtains open before I went to sleep and am rewarded with a pretty cool sunrise.  It is still dark.  I grab my camera from my bedside table and snap away as it gets lighter.   

I get up and notice that I have not unpacked yet.  I wonder why and go about doing so.  As I hum a song to myself and go into the shower I realize that I am feeling absolutely, completely well.  Was I really sick yesterday?  Was it a nightmare?  Did I imagine it all?  Definitely not!  My imagination is pretty developed but for good.  Never would have I imagined being so sick.  The main thing is that I am well and ready to go.  Later on I would consult with a doctor friend and he said it was most certainly a case of mild food poisoning, otherwise I would not have recovered in 24 hours.  I wouldn’t call it mild but it is now forgotten. Down to kow sao (breakfast  in Lao). I go with a smile on and a “goooooood morniiiiiing” to all.  It is so nice to find some of the group in the restaurant, remarking that it was good to see the old me come back.

We are taking a tour of the city.   Laos gained its independence from France in 1949.  Vientiane certainly has a “Frenchness” to it.   We pass by the Presidential Palace , which is not open to the public and only used for formal ceremonies, on our way to Ho Phra Keo “Hall of the Emerald Buddha”.  It was there that the Emerald Buddha, taken from Chiang Mai, had its home until King Rama I, repossessed it and took it back to Thailand.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t figure out whether to point my camera at the flowers…

Or at the Buddhas around the museum.   One in my favorite pose of “stop the war, make peace”   

Another in a pose –and attitude- I should adopt:  walking meditation  

In any position (or mudras as they are called) these Buddhas are beautiful.  This one is in the Bhumisparsha mudra symbolizing the enlightenment of the Buddha under the Bodhi tree. 

Or at the Nagas  (mythical serpents, protectors and guardians of treasures) flanking the steps going in. 

 We continue to Wat Sri Saket, home of 6,840 Buddhas.  Some in little niches.  Fascinating to see so many in one place.  

Really sad to see the storage room of the ones damaged in the war.  

But the surroundings are also worth exploring.  This is where I find a Smiling/Happy Buddha.  The story –according to our guide- goes that Buddha was so handsome that many where those he attracted while meditating.  To avoid interruptions he transformed himself into a plumper and less attractive version and therefore happily gained solitude for his meditation.  Looking it up it seems it may have other versions but the constant is that the parasol is for protection. 

Our trip leader finds a nest in a tree, of what is a delicacy in Thailand and Laos:  ants.  He points and pokes at it.      And the ants get angry.  

Then they are really, really mad.     So we leave them alone!

Next is That Luang stupa, said to contain remains of Lord Buddha.  It is impressive.  

The day is brutally hot, there is no shade at all and I can barely stand it, so head back to the bus.  Snapping photos on my way back.

It’s hot even for the monks! 

This building is a Monk’s Center.  The streetlights look very French to me. 

Off we go to Patuxai or Victory Gate.  It was built to commemorate those who fought in the independence from France.  At first sight it is a copy of L’Arc du Triomphe in France and when I ask our guide if he doesn’t find that fact ironic he doesn’t seem to believe so.  It is, however, decorated with mythological Buddhist half female, half bird figurines (kinnari) which makes it quite Laotian on inspection.     

Other details also make uniquely Laotian.    And as I climb steps up to the top on each level there is a mini shopping mall of Lao crafts and souvenirs as well as architectural details that continue reinforcing the Laotian side of this monument.       

The view from above.   

From there, the rest of the afternoon and night is on our own.  I decide to have a mani/pedi since it’s on our way to our hotel.  Will be my first in Southeast Asia.  Unfortunately, though the ambiance was unique the service was not the best.    My feet are happy campers anyway for the little TLC I have provided them.  Little do they know that in the afternoon I will join our guide and some of the group for a walk on Vientiane’s boardwalk and will make them work all over again.

The boardwalk is a surprise.  I am finding that in laid back Vientiane there is much more to see and do than I expected.  Again I wish that I knew how to ride a bike.  Though even as it gets darker the heat is quite oppressive.    
King Anouvong overlooks all this activity.      Giving his back to the “new” aerobics craze and the free class that is held in open air behind him.  
Which I decide to join… for less than a minute. 

I have a feeling he wouldn’t approve of this girl’s attire, an American flag printed on her shirt.  

Alongside freestanding exercise equipment stands this banyan tree, completely ignored by most.  I just stand in front of it awed by its intricacy (and dutifully avoiding –due to highly allergic reaction to exercise- even looking at the exercise machines in front of it 🙂 

At night I join part of the group to eat a pizza, of all things, at a French restaurant in Laos.  Kinda weird, huh?

We leave Vientane, and Laos, tomorrow morning.  I, once again, will be leaving part of my heart.  The Lao people have an acceptance of all things ingrained in them by their religion.  Acceptance… something I should add to my vocabulary and to my life.    Kob chai lai lai (thank you much) Laos for giving me a life lesson.

What will Vietnam (our next destination) teach me?

 

 

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Laos, Uncategorized, Vientiane | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Unexpectedness

I have been waking up earlier than usual on all our stops.  When I don’t think I am going to be up on my own, I ask to be woken up at least 1 hour before the rest of the group.  The group is woken up 1½ before any departure.  I wake up 2½ hours before.  I unpack everything when I arrive to the hotel room, even when we are somewhere for just one night. The extra time allows me to pack calmly and a lot of times enjoy a sunrise with a cup of coffee in my hand.  Tonight is different.  I’m too exhausted to unpack and since we are leaving at 7:00 am, wake-up call is at 5:30; I ask for a 4:30 am call –or a 4:30 am knock on the door since the hotel is quite basic and has no phone.

I plunk onto bed almost hurting myself ‘cause it’s so hard.  Regardless, I fall asleep immediately.

And I wake up just as suddenly, earlier -way earlier- than my wake-up call and at an hour that is quite indecent to be awake.   My eyes shoot open so violently they almost hurt my upper lid.  My stomach is in knots.  My head feels like it’s burning –I touch my forehead and it is- and feels like it is going to burst open at any moment.  My legs are shaky and I am sweating.  Then I feel a dry heave. Now I know I am very ill.  I don’t throw up, ever.  If I even feel like doing so, it means I am violently, horribly sick.  Fortunately I am organized and fumble towards the Azitrhomycin/ Loperamide combination the Healthy Traveler’s Clinic gave me.  I’m going to take it even if I don’t have, you know, diarrhea… yet. The instructions are blurry and move side to side defying me to grasp them, but I decipher them and with the pills in my hand I crawl to the bathroom where usually a bottle of drinking water has awaited.  Not now, not in this hotel, and not when I need it the most.  I drag myself to the open-air restaurant (fortunately next to my room) where I intend to raid the refrigerator.  There it is.  I plaster myself against it searching for the handle so as to open it but find around it a big old lock preventing me from doing so. I go back to my room, actually bathroom, where the next 3 hours are spent being grateful that I wrote my will while alternately bent over and on the toilet.  Hoping I won’t inconvenience the tour.  Don’t think I have ever thrown up for that many hours.  I hear noises out in the restaurant.  It’s 5:00 am and they haven’t come to my door.  I ask for water, feeling like I’m in the desert and after traveling hours under a midday sun, encounter a nomadic tribe that will give me some life liquid.  I take my pills, open my door, close my suitcase, look outside and see it is light.  I have missed the sunrise and my morning coffee, but I am alive and am as relieved as I am surprised.

The group passes by my front door.  I rise (it really feels like from the dead) and join them.  The doctors say I look very pale.  I tell them I’m sick, though I can safely be away from the bathroom from now on.  The prospect of many hours on the bus, on the death road, bopping up and down, is almost making me sick all over again though.  Another one in the group is also sick.  Misery likes company they say.  I just want to recover.

We are headed to Vientiane, Laos.  It is the capital and largest city in Laos though as of 2012 its population is still less than a million. On the way we will stop at Tham Jang Cave then continue to an organic farm where the group will have lunch.

The group is concerned about my wellbeing and check on me periodically.  I feel cared for and well-liked.  When they stop at the cave they ask if I can make it.  There is a suspension bridge leading to it.  Am feeling better but extremely weak so don’t want to chance it.  Our trip leader, Otto, and others in the group offer to take photos for me.  I hand Otto the camera and this is what I didn’t want you to miss, though I did:

Beautiful!

I think he took this photo just to make me feel less bummed about not having gotten off the bus.  

  Wouldn’t have made it up these steps.

Or down this tunnel.    

I’m bummed anyway.  They seem beautiful.  

They are back, so onward we go to Vang Vieng Organic Farm.  

I am still weak so will not join the group with the owner of the farm, Mr. Tim, on the walk around the farm.    I ensconce myself under a thatched roof, able to enjoy the slight breeze by slathering myself in bug repellent. I still seem to be a magnet for mosquitoes.   

Up from a snooze I feel well enough to slowly walk around.

The farm is really involved with the community.   

Found a jack fruit tree.  Strangest fruit.  The taste is really sweet.  Orange in color.  Texture sort of like an oyster.   I can relate this not from tasting it then, but on another day.      

The only thing I am tasting today is my mulberry tea. 

And a little bite from this fried leaf which actually was tasty.  However, the oiliness prevented me from having more than a tiny bite.  

I take a photo of the group and they all cheer as they say: “Lidia is feeling better; she is taking photos, wonderful!!”  Their reaction made me feel even better.

I did not have dinner, however, when we got to Vientiane.  Needed to get more rest.

The city surprised me.  Will tell you why on the next post.

PS:  As you may have surmised, I am behind in my posts.  Just didn’t want you guys to worry about my health so rest assured… I am fully recovered!

Categories: Laos, Ramblings, Vang Vieng | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Day Sawng (Two) in Laos.

The day is only an hour or two past its midpoint and we have seen so much, felt so much.  I feel a bit spent, but adrenaline keeps me going.  Walking away from the village presents me with snippets of this village I doubt I could experience otherwise.  

The shield that comes up for protection when in an urban jungle is non-existent here.   There is no need of it in this village of hospitality, smiles and curiosity.  Somehow, a sudden hug or touch does not surprise me and I welcome and succumb to it.  Mostly, their sense of gratitude is shown with even-broader-than-usual smiles.  Not that they don’t try to sell and earn.  They do.  Lady pleeeease buy from me beautiful scarf.  Little kids add on the guilt thick with a sad look if you don’t.  But that doesn’t seem to cool the warmth they generate in me.  Wish you could see it in the photos, but I realize that when I point a camera the smile is modified.  

The town is dirt colored, peppered with burst of colors from unexpected sources.

Like a lime-green plastic rack with men’s boxers out to dry.  

Or corn on a cake-dried soil, out to dry for a purpose unknown to me.  

Or a cement house painted in a color that sharply contrasts with the straw used for most. 

But we must walk to the Hmong village.

Even as I go, this town calls me back in the guise of a confused, surprised, curious little boy that stares at us passing.

And then it happens.   That one moment I will cherish.  A little boy in the balcony of his hut,  as I pass by, joins his hands as if in prayer (the way they say hello and good-by) and I see the beginning of a smile.  He has given me his respect and his appreciation in that simple gesture and he did it with a shyness that is absolutely disarming. 

At the Hmong village we go into the home of the leader. His wife is already there.

He joins us once we are settled.  

Children and part of the village follow us to the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music is important in Hmong life; we are joined by the village qeej player who plays for us.“A player must be trained; it takes years of practice to memorize the flowery language of the instrument. Its music contains the entire repertoire of Hmong knowledge and wisdom.” (Quote from Wikipedia)       

Villagers get a kick out of one of our tribe (aka: as the travel group) that gives it a try.

The village returns to daily life as we leave. 

We head down the hill where kids from our first village (Kia Luang Village) run along the waving good-bye.  I don’t think I have a heart left.  Been leaving a piece in almost every place I go!

Next is a cruise on the Mekong river “the mother of all rivers”.  The Pak Ou Caves, (which means Caves at the Mouth of the Ou River –Ou River is a tributary of the Mekong) is our destination.  But, as expected of this country, much to see before we board…

Another weaver and scarf vendor.  “Close your eyes!”  (That’s me talking to myself.)  I don’t need another scarf!  

An elderly woman looking at us pass.  Gosh, I am marveled by these faces.  

And the piece de resistance”: home made liquor stand.  I tried it.  The crystal clear one was my first taste and it burned my inside more than anything ever has!  Think it was 70% alcohol!  The cloudy one had a    slight sweetness to it and not as strong, but then anything would be mild after the first one!  The reddish one was actually not bad, much sweeter and passable.  And what can I say about the one with the snake?  No, I did not try it and don’t regret not doing so.  

Our captain and his boat.

  

There is a breeze that is refreshing.  The boat movements are just right, providing a “motion lullaby” that would put me immediately to sleep if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t want to miss the sights that the river offers me.

The Mekong glows.  The river is said to produce balls of light along its surface, which the locals attribute to the Phaya Naga, or Mekong Dragons.  I am starting to believe…    

Am I seeing orange?  Yes!  Monks bathing along the river.  

Are those cows?  No, water buffalos also enjoying the water!

  

And we arrive!  

Climbing.  Looking back.  Really just catching my breath.  Which the landscape takes away.

  

We head back. 

The Mekong shows its beauty. 

We arrive back to Luang Prabang.  Most of the group climbs on a tuk tuk to go to the hotel to freshen up before dinner.  I and other 4 head out with our guides to a local place to have a little appetizer and the local beer (of course) at a place where we will see no other white face but us and where they only serve duck in all its forms.  

The menu. (Not for the squirmish.) 20,000 Lao Kip to the dollar. 

The Westerners are brave enough only for the beer and the grilled duck –in that order.

  

Our tuk tuk driver, which has joined us, orders blood soup.  I try to look away.  Our local guide says he used to have it and like it but his cholesterol is high and was told not to order it any more.  Our Thai trip leader has never dared.  Two girls in the table next to us are merrily enjoying theirs.  Oh my!

We take a stroll along the riverside.  Luang Prabang is beyond quaint.  It is just a perfect combination of elements that produce a lovely peaceful “I want to live here” feel.

Riverside 

Side street 

Tuk tuk back.  Obviously there is no “hands-free” law here.  

Hotel pool looking mighty tempting now but no time.  Going to dinner with the group and then dragging myself to bed!

Tomorrow you must eat a hearty breakfast because we have a loooooooong ride ahead of us.

Ready?

Categories: Laos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

I Get a Laotian Kid

I don’t usually start with an excuse but on this one I must.  Either this will be the longest post ever or I will have to do it in parts.  So much was done today, and I have so much to share, that as I write I am trying to figure out how I will do it.

Laos, as you know, has me prisoner.   Loatians or “Lao peoples”, as our guide so endearingly calls his countrymen, are gentle people.  There is no aggressiveness in their demeanor.  Even their smile is gentle: slowly, but steadily, corners of lips rise to remain in a smile for as long as you care to look.  Their eyes reflect the same.   I want to be awake as much as possible so I can soak up more of Lao.

Our tuk tuk driver has his headlight on.  It is pitch black outside but a convoy of 3 tuk tuks head out to the streets of Luang Prabang.

We woke early for we are giving alms.  Monks eat only twice a day.  They come out of their temples and collect their morning meal (around 5:30 am) from locals –and now tourists. Our guide has found a street away from most and in front of a temple.

There is a ritual that goes into our offering.  We put a scarf over our left shoulder, around our back, under our right arm and over our left shoulder again. We kneel.  We will offer sticky rice from a basket, still steaming hot, prepared by a local. They will not stop as they walk past us.  With our hands we will pick the rice and throw it into a basket they will open. We are ready.   We wait.

It’s light now and with it comes the river of flowing orange.        

I have finished my offering and concentrate on faces.  It is in observing that I see the children in some of them

the belief in their faces

and some generate in me cartoon-thought-blurbs, which change depending on their expressions.

I am not being irreverent or making light of it at all.  I was lucky to kneel next to a local giving alms and she gave me an insider’s look.  It has been special forming part of this daily ritual.     

Today we will have a “home-hosted” meal in a village in the mountains so, since we are up and in this daily ritual thing, we head to the morning market where Khamsouk gives us each a piece of paper with the name of the ingredient we have to buy for the meal.  

He also gives us the exact amount that we are allowed to pay.  Not that easy of an assignment when he refuses to tell us what we are looking for and where it might be sold in the market.   In Mission Impossible, weren’t they allowed to decline the assignment before the tape autodestructed?  Seems that’s not the case here.  Off we go!

The place offers such a wonderful array of colors, shapes, and textures, along with smells that could never attempt to be aromas, sounds of women bargaining, animals not yet silent, and odd noises –as that of a vendor keeping flies at bay by shaking a plastic bag at the end of a stick– all tangoing together in a not so graceful dance. 

 Yet this market is small and not quite as chaotic as others.

Am I buying carrots?  I say the name of what I want and the vendor shakes her head as she laughs and points further down the road.   Carrots are so big anyway I don’t think I’d have enough money.

Why does that bucket have a net?  Oh noooo, I’m not even asking if it’s frogs that I am buying.  Much less live ones!  So glad that Americans are known to be squirmish about such things and they wouldn’t expect us to buy them! 

Eggs, why can’t eggs be what I need to buy? 

I meet the others empty handed.  We go tuk tuking (freshly coined term) to the bus where our luggage awaits and a long ride, up a winding road to the village where the parent company of my tour supports a school.

The ride goes on for hours and the road is starting to look like the Death Road in Bolivia.  Thankfully, as I am starting to not like this much, we are directed to look to the right where our school children and their teacher are lined up with a little flower bouquet in greeting. 

One kid each.  

Each kid will give us a flower and take our hand and walk us to their classroom. 

We introduce ourselves writing our names on the board, then sit with them in class.  When I go to my kid he has written my name on his notebook and under it, his name in Lao.  I point at my name, then at myself.  He points at his, then at himself. 

They sing to us their anthem, we sing to them the Star Spangled Banner.  Then we sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It…”  They are having a blast.  We are too.  I look and at the window is a mother with her child observing us.  

He repeats everything I say and I thought he understood very little until we go to the library and he brings me a book “Do Kangaroos Have Mothers To?”  (Of Course they Do.  Just like me and you!)  It repeats, with the only variable being the animal.  At one point I take a breath after “Just like…” and he fills in –pointing at me-, “me”.  I say “and” and he says “you” pointing at himself.  I am smitten and want to take him home.

We say good-bye.  They go back to class as we head towards the meeting hall to be received by the village chief and the woman’s leader.  He will host lunch in his house for 8 and she will for the other 8.

On the way, these little girls captured whatever is left of my heart.  

The chief tells us about life here.  They support themselves by weaving.  I am fascinated.  Later I would buy a scarf at each of the vendors.    

For those interested in an authentic hand-woven scarf from Laos, just give me a ring.   Didn’t want any to feel left out.  Just tug at my heartstrings and I am putty in your hands.

Then off to lunch.   Our host is one of the warmest and joyful human beings I know. She is generous with her hugs and as solicitous as can be.

The meal is simple but really good!  Our main course is wrapped and cooked in banana leaves.

One more hug… 

And we say good-bye.  

We are headed a little up hill so that we can meet with the Hmong people in their village.  For that we must cross this village and go to the other.  You’ll see that tomorrow though, or this will never post!

Categories: Laos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Ayutthaya and more…

Bangkok is huge.  10 million people live here though only about 6 million are “official”.  It is a metropolis of pagodas, temples, new buildings, a ton of cars (nothing to envy my beloved Los Angeles), tuk tuks, brand new cars, a wave of pink and green and yellow and orange cabs and –needless to say- people shoulder to shoulder in the street that manage to follow their own path and not be swallowed by the swell of people going another way.

We are headed to Ayutthaya, a couple of hours away from Bangkok. 

It was the capital of Thailand for 417 years, and is now registered as a UNESCO world heritage site.  I take advantage to write a blog that I very possibly won’t be able to post for a few days.  At least it will be ready to go.

We will walk the last part of the trip and I am really glad to do so. Ever seen a leaning stupa? The soil is soft to begin with, but the floods have made it even more uneven and this one is going sideways, indicating perhaps that too many years have past and a time to rest has come.

I pass scenes of daily life that mean nothing to those who live it while I feel blessed to be able to witness.   

A headless Buddha intrigues me.  In the old days it was customary to –when making a Buddha statue- to put valuables in the Buddha’s head.  As a result, when this country was invaded Buddha statues were decapitated to find what they held.  Later, looters finished off what the invaders did not find. It is during this walk that I start to see “The Land of Smiles”. 

We arrive to Ayutthaya.   Everything guides you to look up.  There are a few stupas on the side that hold ashes of past kings.  A gold offering plate contrasts with the redness of the rocks. 

Otto told us that Americans have a penchant to check bathroom facilities everywhere they go.  He may be right.  Bathroom break.   We have to pass through a market to get there.

Disco balls anyone? 

 The bathroom itself is worth it just for its signs.   We pay 5 Bahts to get in (roughly .15 cents in US money).  

The sign that indicates the female toilet just makes me want to break out in song… “I am woman. I am strong!”

We head to the temple.  It is at this Buddha’s feet that I decide to follow tradition and pick up a bamboo cylinder with wood straws with numbers on it.  You shake it until only one of them falls out.  On my first try number 9 comes out.  Then you make an offering and you are handed a paper that corresponds to it.  For those curious, mine said in Thai and in English:  “Going South or West will bring you good luck.  Love affairs will not yet meet up to your expectations.  Health problems are lessen.  Donation is beneficial to you in the long run.”  I quiet my inquiring mind that wants specifics and would have preferred it to read something like:  “You will continue to travel and be inspired for the rest of your life. You are where you need to be.  Getting old won’t come with aches and pains. Donation will bring you much wealth.”  Not touching the love section 🙂

We make another stop at a place where we can feed and ride elephants.  I am doing a mahout course (elephant owner/trainer) in a Chang Mai elephant camp that rescues them.  (Mahout) I don’t think I want to do this 10-minute ride, but do so anyway.  I feel sorry when he raises his trunk and its mahout asks me to put a dollar in it.

Next stop is Rich Restaurant with two honorable mentions.  One is and ice cold Singha beer.  And the other a dessert that consists of combining a whole lot of things (I won’t even attempt to know what they are),   adding ice cubes, a sauce that has evaporated milk in it, mixing it all together and getting something that looks complete unappetizing but that tastes delicious!  I have two servings.  Our guide says it’s called friends dessert ‘cause so many different ingredients are joined to create something fabulous.  I agree.

With full bellies and a happy countenance, perhaps due to the beer, we head to the river.  

We board a long boat.  (Actual nomination; not a description.)Life along the river is hard.

Some live on it.  Some don’t have it that hard.  Some worship along it.

Catholic Church on Riverbank

Some observe from it. I am relaxed and marveled by it all.  The hour ride seems like minutes.

A two hour bus drive to the hotel and we are on our own.  But, of course, I have built up an appetite and Otto has talked about a restaurant called Cabbages & Condoms. The restaurant has really great food, some organic, most healthy, in a really cute, laid back (yes, pun intended) environment. “Statutes” made of condoms dot the entrance.  

Tiger figure. Read the sign. 🙂

"Tree"

Lamps are condom covered.  It was established in part to support the activities of the Population and Community Development Association and promote the health and safety aspects of condom use in a fun and amusing manner. All proceeds from the restaurants are used to fund this organization.

A quick tuk tuk ride back and we are done for the day.

Tomorrow, Laos awaits!

Categories: Ayutthaya, Ramblings, Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

8 Days to Departure. But, Who Is Counting? Oh, I am!

It is 12:30 am and I am awake. Calmly… well, maybe not so calmly but meticulously… yes, carefully making arrangements to… oh gosh no, I will not paint a picture that is not! I sit in front of my trusted Mac with my eyes tired of reading through countless blogs/forums/mails/photos that the wonderful Internet provides me with just a few clicks. I am on information overload and I am seriously considering just going back to my old procrastinating self. After all, how bad can it be to get to my Thailand portion of the trip and have all my hotel reservations done but no flights to get to the wonderful places I will go within the country? Probably really bad! I punch in my dates again. A scheduling nightmare ensues. Why was I so confident that there were going to be flights every 15 minutes?

  My passport has returned. That is a story all in itself, but I will choose to tell it later. I am just relieved that it has come back to safe harbor. It was a thrill to leaf through it and see the colorful visa stamps. For what all this process cost me I would have expected a lot more vibrancy to those colors though! Though Laos has one with a hologram that’s pretty cool.

My rambunctious inner child is still jumping up and down and going “Yay!” (I think she is eventually going to take over and will have me smiling, skipping, and dancing throughout BLT+.)

It was worth every penny, however, not to have to trek to every embassy or to have to FedEx it to one and then to another or keep track of where it was or make sure all the info was right, or… well, you get the idea. No doubt it would not have had a good outcome. When I sent my passport in December my heart was still hurting and my mind was not into details. Now I have absolutely no excuse for not getting all the pieces of this puzzle together.

I don’t usually worry too much about itineraries –I have a backpacker mentality with a gentrified execution to travel- but being it the first time that I am alone on a trip this long I am not leaving too much to chance. Or at least I’m trying not to.

I go back to booking my flights and am sort of soothed by the fact that I am making reservations towards the latter part of March. That’s really far away. The first flight on Asia Air from Bangkok to Chiang Mai seemed really cheap until it directed me to the extra charge for my bag and then more for my seat (yes, really) and then to the meal –I’m not eating- and then to insurance –no again- and then to a place where it tells me that should I not use their internet check in, at the airport they will charge me extra. Once I added an additional $55 in fees I click again and I have at least one round-trip ticket taken care of. Fortunately, Asia Air doesn’t charge you for oxygen since I am hyperventilating and using a lot of it now. Then I have to find a way that when I return to Bangkok I can just go ahead and jump on my next flight to Koh Samui. This island better be worth it ‘cause there are no cheap flights and I proceed to pay what I was not expecting. $320 dollars later I am booked on a barely 1-hour Bangkok Airlines flight.

I have a false notion that I have all the time in the world till departure until I look at my February calendar. Eight days. Only a week-and-a-day before I leave? I still have to stock my antique stores/booths in Orange, CA. My will and my health directive have to be done. I have to meet with friends. Will I manage to do it all?

My new camera lies next to my bed. I swear it stares back and says in a very snooty way “You better get to know me. I’m not that simple you know.” If we don’t get acquainted really fast I will not be able to take all those amazing photos that I promised you I’d post. Time is running out.

Will keep you posted. It’s now 2:30 am and I am going to bed. Sleep is next.
Hypnos, Somnus?

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Uncategorized, Vietnam, Visas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Immunization = $$ = Needles = :(

I am good at procrastinating.  If it were a class and I were in school, I’d be getting an “A” with no effort at all.   But they say change is good and this is a facet in me that I must make an effort to abolish.  Well, maybe modify.  Perhaps just alleviate?  You see how good I am at procrastinating?  Because I feel uninspired, I am using words to stall (at times I  equate stalling to procrastination) and not communicate what I have come to say.   But, no more.  Here goes.

I have a strong aversion to needles and side effects so I have… yes, you guessed it: procrastinated in going onto the Center for Disease Control website to find out what immunizations (ie: needles) I will need to go to Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Hong Kong.  I promise I will find a pseudo-acronym for this trip.  I got it!  BLT+ (B for Burma –actually Myanmar- but for this purpose it will be Burma; L for Laos and T for Thailand and the “+” for Cambodia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong.)  Phew, no more repetitive typing!

As I have lunch at The Black Cow in Montrose I pull out my trusty computer and get on-line.  Victor, the best server ever, knows exactly what I order so he greets me with a hug and asks “The usual?”  This feels like home.  So I am on the site.  Lazy me can’t believe that she has to go to each country one by one.  No cheat sheet.  I find a link to a Global Travel Clinic Directory that “know all about traveler’s immunization needs.”   So here I am.  I call the first one in Glendale and they are closed.  I leave a message.  I call the next one in Pasadena.  Also closed.  I leave a message.  I try another.  Ditto.  So now I have nothing left to do but wait.  And enjoy my steak salad.

My cell rings and I am told that this is the Medical Clinic for Immunization returning my call.  So she gives me the laundry list of immunizations that are recommended.  This is not sounding good.  Well the Hepatitis A and B (a series of 3 shots) is $170, then the Rabies shot is another $100.  I become restless.  “Could you give me an approximate figure of how many and how much?”  “Well around six of them would be around $800 but that’s without the two most important ones which are the typhoid one and the….” I stop registering anything until she says:  “Those two are $1,600.”  And this is without the malaria pills.  I’m not that great at math but I immediately add it up to $2,400.  I calmly thank her for the information, hang up, and panic!  Are you kidding me?

I get on-line and e-mail, Facebook, go to the OAT Travel site and message everyone if this is even remotely in the ballpark of what others have paid.  Two of my friends whom I know well and have traveled to BLT+ say: “Noooooo, no need for any of that.  Just go and enjoy!”  I have yet to hear from the travel company’s previous clients.

In the process of checking for responses I find a post from a traveler that says that the CDC has just posted a health warning for travelers going to Vietnam due to an outbreak of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, though it seems to primarily affect children.  What the heck?

My cell rings.  I’m starting to feel real important.  My phone is ringing a lot.  This is the Healthy Traveler Clinic in Pasadena.  Me:  “Well, you are calling at a time when I am still almost speechless.  Just got a call from another clinic saying that all the vaccines I need are going to cost me roughly a third of my trip so far.”   On the other side I hear a compassionate voice saying that she understands and she hears that a lot.  She wants me to see the doctor who will go over the priorities, if any, on the shots and pills and that I am at liberty to decline or even go to another clinic to get them.  Things are looking better.   I have an appointment tomorrow morning.  But before I go to the doctor, I must fill out 9 pages of forms. Will be reporting back.

Categories: Cambodia, China, Immunizations, Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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