hailand Blog


June-July, 2006

We send out lots of email while we travel. In fact, of course, we send email much more often than we update the web. We can never quite remember who we told what to, so this page is meant as a sort of bulletin board for our most recent whereabouts, impressions, and comments while we work more slowly and deliberately on the permanent web pages.

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Sunday, July 23 —
Thai Tour Terminates

We're in Hat Yai, very close to the Malaysian border, about to close-out our Thai Tour. From Bangkok to Hat Yai it is about 750 air kilometers (450 miles) and about 993 land kilometers. But because we came via Ranong, Kamala Bay (Phuket), and Ao Nang (Krabi) we added a few hundred more kilometers to our travels. These are the wigs and wags that we were talking about when we wrote that we expected the 4000 km straight-forward journey Bangkok-Bali to get up to around 6000 km. If the 993 km estimate is about right we've done a 1/6 of the land journey. Whatever the distances may be we are now 7 degrees north of the equator, farther south than anywhere in Panama, but still not quite as far south as Bogata, Columbia.

We got to Hat Yai, as usual, by bus but it was slightly more complex than usual. In the last four or five displacements from city/hotel to city/hotel, particularly from Ranong on, there has really only been two choices: go backwards (not our choice) or go forward. In otherwords there was only one bus and we didn't have much trouble getting on the right one. In leaving Ao Nang it was easy to get a sangtheaw to Krabi Town. But there, it being big enough, there was a choice of destinations and even a choice of buses to ours, Hat Yai. If we could have told what extra we got, we might have taken the more expensive bus. Most likely all that we would have got for our money is an earlier arrival and a few skipped stops. But the stops being interesting and we not being in a rush, we took the cheaper bus.

We got to Hat Yai at the bus station, which is not in the center, so we had to negotiate for a tuk-tuk taxi to the center. We felt the price should be 40B; the starting offer was 100 B but we got it for 60 B. (The next day we came back and were again offered and refushed 100 B.)

After checking in and cooling off we went out to dinner and to explore Hat Yai a bit. We soon learned and confirmed the next day that Lonely Planet is right: there is nothing exciting in town. We arrived on Friday and spent a good part of Saturday walking to the bus station and back. The town is like most other Thai towns in layout and types of buildings, more western than not. Unlike most towns except Bangkok, the center has four or five 10 and more storied buildings, including the Regency. Nearby the Novotel seems to be about 25 stories. It has a substantial number of Chinese and even the Chinese temple is really not worth visiting. We saw an old railway engine with a plaque that said the railway came to town in 1917. We guess that means that in just 90 years Hat Yai went from being a sleepy, remote village, to an important commercial center.

After the standards we got accustomed to in Phuket and Krabi our hotel seemed a bit deficient. In the Regency elevator they claim to have "a giant pool" and that is why we chose the Regency; it now seems that Lonely Planet, our source, quoted them rather than visiting the pool. When we did the pool was only 1/2 the size of the Print Kamala and it always had many more people in it. (We would look out our window at the pool, trying to choose a low-usage time to swim.) The buffet breakfast was okay but not good enough, either.

Since town and hotel had no particular attraction for us we decided to stay only two nights and not three. This morning we checked out and went to a close-by tour office, thinking we'd get a van to Penang (230 B each), leaving about noon. (We'd already checked and been disappointed to learn that large buses only go to Kuala Lampur.) Unfortunately after being told there was space, when we went to buy tickets there wasn't. Disappointed we went to the train station and bought train tickets to Butterworth (180 B each) that will get us there earlier and with more certainty than the 3:30 van and cheaper.

Since we have two hours to wait for departure we've decided to do it in air conditioned comfort: first an hour at the internet cafe and then one at KFC around the corner. Then we'll only have 10 or so minutes to wait until we can get into our air-con carriage.

We should pull out of the station at 2:50. In well under an hour we'll be at the Malaysia border and be saying goodbye to Thailand. It was a nice seven weeks, mostly doing nothing but catching up. After a night in Georgetown (and an exhausting month at three resorts) we'll rest up and celebrate Jan's birthday at the Tanjun Bungah Beach hotel on the north shore of Penang island.

July 23,2006

Thursday, July 20 —
Karst Waters

Through the Americans that we met at the pool on Wednesday we made what is locally known as the "Four Islands" trip which consists of going offshore a few kilometers and swimming, snorkeling, and eating. We've done such things before, in Vietnam, Egypt, and Turkey, so didn't think we'd be missing much if we didn't do it here. Holly, an American living in Singapore, brought three of her friends here and told us that this morning they would be picked up at the hotel to make the trip. It being our last day in the area we (mostly Gerry) decided he didn't want to miss it so we tagged along, doing our first really touristy thing since Kanchanaburi.

In the high season there seems to be a big, say 60-passenger boat that makes the trip. Today we had a boat that just held about 16 of us, powered by a twin-outboard engine. When the driver put the power on the boat really blasted along. That was a new experience for us. When he made a sharp turn, as he did several times, there were many ohs and ahs.

We had a fun time and raised our estimation of the karst country around here. Seen from offshore the coastline is rather pretty. Here and there, sticking out of the water like giant thumbs are karst formations and they too are impressive. Not as impressive as those of Halong Bay, but nice.

The swimming and snorkeling was nice, but far from spectacular. Most of what we saw were schools of 6-8 inch green tropical fish with black stripes. The other fish, less numerous, were mostly less interesting. Not like Ras Mohammed in Egypt. We're told that in the high season, i.e. when the monsoon isn't around and the waters are calmer that the fish sighting might be better.

We had several reminders today that it is rainy season. On the drive to the dock it drizzled some. Fortunately for us it was dry through the first two stops and then lunch. But at our last island stop it really poured down. Since we were still in swim suits it didn't make much difference, except that the waters got rougher for the return trip.

Today we learned that our hotel was built four years ago. It was designed by the owner, Mr Somkiet, and named after himself. In effect Somkiet Buri means "Somekiet City". Well done, Mr Somkiet.

July 23,2006

Wednesday, July 19 —
Somkiet City

Last night and the night before we saw on TV an old friend, in a sad context. It was the Greek ferry "Iera Petra" (St. Peter) which we took from Santorini to Iraklion, Crete and later from Satia, Crete to Rhodes. It was being used to evacuate foreigners caught up in the battle of Lebanon. Having a lot of leisure, we spend a fair amount of time following the reporting on the BBC, Fox News, and Deutsche Welle. Our own opinion is that in the short run everybody is obviously going to be losers. We agree with what President Bush has said: giving in to the kidnappings of Hezbollah will only make things worse. We, like he, hope the Lebanese government will gain control of and take responsibility for its entire territory; that Hezbolla (and all other non-governmental forces) will lay down their arms, and that peace reigns on the Israel-Lebanese border.

After our first day here in the Somkietburi Resort we decided to renew and did it via internet to get the best price. The night before our first pre-paid four days were up we still had not heard so we went to the front desk and asked if they'd gotten a new reservation for us. They hadn't so we told them directly that we'd stay another four days. They were happy and gave us a price of 1350 baht/night. The next morning we got the internet confirmation and voucher; we'd be paying 1208 baht or $32/night.

Our enjoyable hours on the balcony have introduced us to more of the local wildlife. Each evening a bat makes a short appearance. At about the same time a rat comes by. Too fast to see much of it, but it is a rat. That's outside. Inside, the geckos or wall lizards have come out. Since we didn't seem them at first perhaps they have become accustomed to us. There are some tiny ants that come and go. These tiny things are almost too small to see, about 1/4 the length of standard American black ants. They run about as if they are in the Tour de France (which we are catching a bit of). They aren't numerous; killing a dozen clears up a desk or the bathroom sink and then they are gone for 24-36 hours.

Gerry has gotten into another book: "Moscow Rules" by Robert Moses. We bought it at the great second-hand story in Phuket Town just because its locale was Moscow. In fact, that was just the beginning, because it soon switched to New York City. Either way it is fun to read about places we've been. Jan continue with "Brazil" which is a giant book, nearly 900 pages. It has turned a bit borning, being structured like a history book — she's just past 1692 and has three centuries to go, or at least it feels like it will take that long to finish.

Coming back to the hotel one night we noticed a sign for a "visa run." That rather surprised us, but on reflection, why not? There must be ex-pats here, whether residents, or just passers-through, who linger long enough to need more than 30 days. In this case we guess that the 400 baht ($10) air-con van trip takes you to and back from Malaysia. Except that we want to stop in Hat Yai and that we have so much baggage that it probably would overflow the van it could be good for a one-way trip for us. That's among the reasons why we like busses.

At breakfast one morning we got into a conversation with an American woman. She lives in Singapore, where her husband works for Boeing Aircraft. Each time friends from the USA visit her in Singapore she brings them here to Ao Nang. Its an easy, direct flight to Krabi airport. Who'd ever have imagined this part of Thailand as being virtually Singapore's back yard?

July 20,2006

Sunday, July 16 —
Ao Nang Paradise?

As soon as we entered our room at the Somkiet Buri Resort in Ao Nang, Krabi, Jan said "A Honeymoon Suite!" She's always wanted one and at last has gotten one, if you describe a spacious, superbly decorated room in a romantic jungle-like setting as such.

Before continuing that line of thought, let's go back and tell the story in order and that will make it clear. While at the Print Kamala Resort in Kamala Bay, Phuket we told a couple that we were going to Krabi. They said they'd liked the Somkiet Buri Resort, although they did say its pool was smaller than the Print Kamala's, which we liked so much. We found it listed in Lonely Planet with the description "It might just be the most paradise-like place in town." That was enough for us to decide to go there, price and availablity working out right.

Once again we went to AsiaRooms.com, reserved, and waited to find out if our reservation was accepted. After mistakenly assuming it would be for the Kamala Beach, we no longer trusted; we verified. Asia rooms says wait "24-48 hours." We checked and checked and checked and got no response until the morning of our departure from the Phuket City Royal hotel. We were as good as checked out, with bags and carts in their lobby, when through their free internet service we learned that we had a place in Ao Nang.

We left Phuket City Royal with a light heart and walked the two blocks to the bus station. We were in luck on every count: it was not raining and when we arrived there was a bus that would leave in 15 minutes. (We got on, Gerry got off to take a picture, and the bus almost left with Jan but not Gerry.) The ride to Krabi Town (capital of Krabi province) took us through karst country that reminded us of southern China and north-east Vietnam. If we hadn't already visited those places we might have been more impressed by this very pleasant countryside; but as it was it ranked third among the places mentioned.

The pleasant ride was over in three hours rather than the five we'd originally been led to expect. This time we went all the way to the bus terminal — no trying to be clever and get off at a "closer" place as we'd done in Phuket. It was the right thing to do: immediately next to our bus' parking place there was a sign and a sangtheaw that said "Ao Nang." It could have hardly been simpler to move our bags and enjoy the 30 minute tour of Krabi province that also took us through Krabi town. The latter shouldn't have happened but this being the low season the sangtheaw driver did much extra driving in his search for another passenger or two.

Our only problem was (as usual) knowing where to get off the sangtheaw and how to find the resort, which we knew was set back from the main road. Fortunately the map was accurate and we got off very close. Jan went to inquire and was told the entrance soi was 50 m down the road. After a quick bite at McDonalds (while small this is a tourist town!) we went and checked in.

Now we are about up to our opening: We checked in and were led to our room. It was just as LP described: "The lush jungle grounds are filled with ferns and orchids, while lagoons, streams and meandering wooden walkways guide you to the 26 large and creatively designed rooms." Each time we walk these walkways or sit at breakfast or are at the pool we wonder who was the landscape artist and how he or she managed to create such a wonderful atmosphere in a relatively long but narrow lot. (It seems to be that most building lots in Thailand were once rice paddies, which are always long and narrow.)

When we got to our room we saw that from its balcony it's hard to tell that you are even in a resort. Yes, you can see the balcony of another room and a glimmer of the pool through the jungle, but that is all. As soon as the porter was gone we sat there and just enjoyed it. We didn't leave the room for the rest of the day. We've liked it so much that the next day we went back to AsiaRooms.com to extend for another four days. Now we wait for verification.

All is not perfect here at the Somkiet Buri Resort. Our room is a bit too dark. And we can't explain to ourselves the lack of shelf space: People come for a week. What do the managers expect them to do with their clothes? The rainy season has really caught up to us. We organize our schedule around the rain: if it rains in the morning we swim in the afternoon. The management does provide big umbrellas. If it seems that it will rain while we are at breakfast we carry them with us.

Three days here have gone by very fast. We've read a lot, Jan finishing Sidney Sheldon's "The Best Laid Plans" (but she read the Russian translation) and Gerry finishing Ken Follet's "The Key to Rebecca." Jan has gone on to (still in Russian) "The Anti-Soviet Soviet Union" by Vladimir Voinovich and continues to plug away at the giant "Brazil" by Errol Lincoln Uys. Gerry's started and almost finished "Washington Goes to War" by David Brinkley.

We have many more TV channels here than we've recently had. There are two good movie channels and five international news channels. We get BBC World, DW-TV (Germany), TV5Monde (France), NKT (Japan), and Fox News (which we almost never get). The big news of the week has been the Hamas-Hezbollah attacks on Israel and Israel's response, including bombing of Lebanon. We watch with great interest, saddened to see the end of a relatively long relatively peaceful period.

July 19,2006

Thursday, July 12 —
Urban Life Again

After a week and a half in a small town and a resort, Phuket Town seemed like a big place to us. Our stay here was half to get to see the town and half — a bigger half — to make it easiest for us to get to Krabi. By spending a night we would not have to worry about bus departure times. In for a night, we chose to spend three.

Our residence for the last three days has been the Phuket Royal City Hotel. As much as big Phuket Town difers from little Kamala Bay, towering nineteen story PRCH difers from low-rise Print Kamala Resort. Our room is on the 17th floor and gives us a great view of the Phuket Bay, about 2 km to the south. It is set up, we'd say, for businessmen: there is a long counter, just at the height for computer work. with a conveniently placed power source for a computer and a cable modem. Unfortunately the modem doesn't work; we'd been told that before we went to the room. But we'd also been told we could have free internet service in the lobby, which we have been heavily using. Breakfast is on the 19th floor, gives us a great view as we eat. The buffet is perhaps the best we've had.

Our first afternoon we walked down to the bay. It's not particularly attractive; when the tide is out mud and sand flats extend out hundreds of meters. Nonetheless we enjoyed sitting there and enjoying the breeze. Nearby a man was flying a kite shaped like a giant insect; it made an unholy buzz.

Yesterday, Wednesday, we woke up to heavy rain outside. That was enough for us to stay in the morning and just go out for lunch. On Tuesday we'd passed a member of the MK Restaurant chain. In 2001 we'd eaten at the one in Chaing Rai so it felt like we were seeing an old friend. Wednesday we went back and had a fine hot-pot lunch, Thai-style.

Phuket Town has a small collection of fine old, 19th century and early 20th century Portugese-Chinese mansions, built by families that became rich through tin mines and trading. This morning we set out to see as many as we could on the way to have lunch at a restaurant near the top of the highest hill in town, Khao Rang.

We had two planned stops though. The first was at the Temple of the Shimmering Light; we easily found it though it is hidden down a path behind some non-descript buildings on one of the main street. It reminded us of Tin Hau temple, of which we've seen many in Hong Kong and China; it was a small jewel.

The other was at the Southwinds used book store. We went there not expecting much, hoping but not expecting to find one or two books that interested us. Instead we found dozens and dozens and dozens. There were two shops in fact, packed to the gills with used books in many languages, including French and Russian. Our guess is the the source of all of these books is the staff at various resorts on Phuket. Vacationers come with books to read and, having read them, abandon them. The staff is commissioned by the book store to bring them in, at maybe 20 baht (50 cents) each. The store re-sells for them 80 baht and up. We walked away with half a dozen books, three in Russian. And we left behind one that Gerry had just finished, it seems from a small price tag on it that it may have come from that shop and then passed through many hands before getting to us.

Before we entered the book shop it was spotting rain; by the time we left it was lightly raining. Nevertheless we set off for our hilltop restaurant, the Tung Ka Cafe. We had to walk over a kilometer and climb about 150 m. By the time we were nearly there it was raining hard and we were more than half soaked. At the top the entrance was well hidden; when we did find it we were delighted with the hidden-world effect of the entrance. (In retrospect, we wonder if the restaurant was designed by the same person who designed Somkiet Buri.) Our lunch was in the open air, with a view of the city that came and went as waves and waves of rain clouds alternately obscured and revealed the view.

We waited at the restaurant until we thought the worst of the weather was over. At the restaurant Gerry had used a large napkin to dry himself off. We'd hardly left the restaurant when he — we — were as wet as ever. And then we got wetter. Yes, it is rainy season.

On the way back we finally found some of the classic Portugese-Chinese mansions. They were worth going out in the rain for. Any of them would be a wonderful home, but one was just what you'd expect Mr Raffles of Singapore fame to live in. Too bad we couldn't take it away with us.

July 16,2006

Friday, July 7 —
7/7 Thoughts

Today is the first anniversary of the 2005 London transport bombings. The extensive coverage on TV reminds us of the horror and the fact that although we were in the vicinity we escaped involvement. We had taken an overnight bus from Darlington, getting to London about 6:00. Only because we couldn't find a suitable restaurant open at the hour for breakfast did we go directly to Heathrow airport. If we had eaten first then at the minimum we would have been caught in the chaos that came three hours later. At the worst we would have suffered injury ourselves.

In the evening we watched a documentary that traced as far as known (which is in fact almost everything) the planning and aftermath of the bombing. We learned a lot. Much of the documentary consisted of interviews of victims: One man was sitting three feet from a Tube bomber and survived, though with terrible burns. A woman was on the lower level of the bus that was bombed; the blast dropped the upper level on her, fracturing her neck, and nearly enclosing her, very tightly, in debris.

Being a year since the bombing, it is also a year since we left Britain. That day we flew via Zurich to Moscow. Two months there began Jan's serious study of Russian that continues. In one of the "if only" of lives, we think "if only" she had understood Russian then like she does now how different our experience would have been. After Russia we returned to England for a weekend and then were off to Greece. We spent more than half of our year there: just under seven months. Enough time to learn Greek? In theory yes, but in practice Gerry made just mediocre progress and Jan ignored Greek in favor of Russian. Nearly two months in Turkey came next. Their use of a near-latin alphabet made everything seem more accessible, although in fact it really wasn't. The last of our last twelve months has been here in Thailand.

Turkey and Thailand represent returns to places we've been before. This had happened before only for Paris. In all three cases it was a novel experience to arrive somewhere and have something of an idea how things work and how to get around. Now, as we look ahead, it seems that this sort of novelty will occur less and less. Yes, Indonesia will be new. But that will last just two months (or maybe three with an exit to get a renewed visa). Australia has to feel somewhat familiar and New Zealand will be a return to a place we really have been to (and liked very much) in 1983. In an undefined future we will certainly go back to Russia, Ukraine, and Germany as well as Mexico. There are of course large parts of the world that we still haven't seen, but those will probably be a small fraction of future travels.

We've been in the Print Kamala Resort long enough to experience a change of shifts. We interact mostly with the staff at breakfast. While in theory we are entitled to a buffet breakfast there are not in fact enough people in the hotel to justify one. We think that for several days we were the only ocupants of the hotel. In very expensive resorts one of the benefits of the high price is that almost all of the staff speak good English. In our nice but lower cost hotel the English level of the reception is barely adequate and that of the restaurant serving staff even lower. So it took us two days to get some clarity on what we wanted for breakfast. On Friday morning we found that our "hard work" had gone out of the window. The "weekend" staff brought things other than what we expected and in a different order than we had come to expect. But it wasn't all bad — Jan discovered she could get hot milk as well as hot water for her decaf.

We've just learned the origin or meaning of the "print" in "Print Kamala Resort". It had seemed to us a strange name. One guess was that it was a misspelling of "prince" but that was unlikely and wrong. Another was that, like Japanese do, an English word was being used without any true understanding or even care about true meaning. That was also wrong. But in fact the explanation is simple: "print" is a false cognate. The name in Thai of the daughter of the hotel owner is "Print" which was explained to us as meaning something like "is like her father". Anyone who knows Thai well and can confirm or deny, please let us know.

July 12,2006

Thursday, July 6 —
A New Routine

We've been at the Print Kamala Resort long enough to have a daily routine. We generally wake up before 7:00 and by then are listening to the BBC World Service. When we've caught up on the news we get out of bed and head for the pool, which is about 30 meters away. So far we've had the pool to ourselves. There we swim until we've met our goal or are pretty tired; the two sort of amount to the same thing. (On arriving in Thailand a month ago we had hardly been in a pool for more than 18 months. We've gradually built up our endurance from just over 100 m to nearly 1000 m.)

When we finish we get ready for breakfast; by the time we're there it will be something between 9:00 and 10:00. Theoretically there should be a buffet breakfast but there are too few guests in the hotel to justify it so they just give up whatever we want. For Gerry that is (in the order usually served), plain toast, a mushroom omlete with bacon, saugage, and ham on the side, French toast, and a fruit plate. Jan started with this but found it too much and has cut back to about half of it. Gerry gets orange juice, milk, and water; Jan gets juice, water, and hot water to make her own decaf. During and after breakfast Gerry reads the Bangkok Post and Jan reads the paper and/or her Russian novel.

After breakfast it's back to the room where we read and work with our computers. Jan continues on her Russian; she finished an anthology of Soviet literature that she found in a dingy second-hand bookstore in Athens and now, even more surprising, has gone on to a Sidney Sheldon novel translated to Russian, found here at the Print Kamala among the small pile of books below the newspaper rack. Even though it's just a translation and a translation of a trashy novel, it's still a precious resource for Jan as her library of unread Russian books is dwindling; she only has three left (four if you count the Sheldon). She's also been reading an epic novel in English, "Brazil". Gerry has started and finished "Rose" by Martin Cruz Smith and has gone on to "The Key to Rebecca" by Ken Follett. What we read is almost entirely determined by what we find in second-hand book stores and hotel exchanges. We acquired these in Greece and Turkey.

Our computer work can broadly be classified as "getting up to date." Jan is reconstructing our accounts and diary; that is pretty much done now. Gerry has been installing programs and recreating his data files; a large part of that is getting rid of duplicates that crept in from using several inconsistent backups. That is done too. He now has to sort and manage the June photos.

By late afternoon we're hungry and that is where the variation in our day begins. About half the time we've had an afternoon swim. Twice we've gone out to find meals in other restaurants; once we've eaten in our hotel, and twice we've made do with the food in our room, which is bananas, bread, and a bit of other fruit. There's not much to see around here and we think we've seen all that is interesting in the walks taken before or after eating outside.

In the early evening we usually read more and compute more. But then on comes the TV. We get pretty good coverage of Wimbeldon and Jan is a devoted fan of tennis, so watches all that is available. Gerry watches about 1/3 of it. We both watch all the international news we can get. Here that includes DW TV (German origin in English and German), NTK (Japanese origin in English and Japanese), and TV5Monde (French origin in French. We could be watching the Tour de France but it is not on at the hours we watch.). We get HBO with movies in English as well as Star TV with English language movies with Malay subtitles. Besides this bit of Malay we get plenty of commercials in Malay. That should give us a step up on our next country.

July 7,2006

Monday, July 3 —
Home Alone

We've got a new home, a bungalow at the Print Kamala Resort in Kamala Beach, Phuket. It's our first time in Phuket and we have found ourselves a nice, small hotel with a great big swimming pool. We think we are the only guests which suits us just fine; we haven't seen anybody else at breakfast or in the pool. They are still working on rebuilding after the tsunami, so they can't take big groups yet.

The pool is among the nicest we've ever had. Not the largest, i.e. like the Olympic sized 50 m pool in Panama City, but very, very attractively designed. Very approximately it consists of three intesecting oval rings, forming a chain. Down the center the long-way one can swim about 40-45 m; across at the widest point it is less than 10 m. Each of the three rings is different. The westernmost oval, i.e. the one closest to the sea, is shallow, about 80 cm, very good for kids to play in. The middle and largest oval is 1.5 m deep and the closest to a plain pool, except that on one side there are two masonry elephants spouting water from their trunks; the water goes into a small pool and then cascades into the central oval pool. On the opposite side is the pool bar with a half-dozen in-pool bar stools. The boundary or edges of the easternmost oval is a triplet of steps, each about 50 cm high, suitable for sitting on. In the base of the upper step and along the walls are water jets so this pool is like a giant Jacuzzi. The entire pool is covered in attractive turquoise tile squares. The bottom has four or five large butterflies depicted in green and blue tiles.

There are two types of buildings: bungalows and large blocks. Each bungalow has two suites in it with a bedroom, living room, bath, and a covered deck. That's what we are in and it's very confortable for us. There are a few drawbacks. The aircon is only in the bedroom; the living room has just a ceiling fan. And the living room sofa is rather uncomfortable for watching TV; we have to take our bed pillows and use them as cushions.

There are two large blocks of rooms, each three stories high. One seems to have 27 rooms and the other 24 rooms. None are occupied now and lots of construction work is going on, which gives us a chance to see how Thais do things. For example, we saw large square dark wood blocks carried in; they are the undersides of beds. In every room there will be an internet connection, just as we have been surmising is the wave of the future. It may be that these accommodations are entirely new or that they were badly damaged by the tsunami. If the latter is true it is hard to understand why the bungalows were not hit even worse, as they are all at the same level as the lowest floor of the blocks. Another argument for the blocks being new is that they aren't mentioned in Lonely Planet's 2004 entry. The work on them, undoubtedly planned for completion well before the big winter season, shows that at the least this hotel expects tourism to recover to its pre-tsunami level and increase even more.

As interesting as the Print Kamala Resort is how we got here. Our desire and plan was to make multiple stops on our overland journey from Bangkok to Bali. The obvious and necessary first step was to go to Ranong in order to cross the border to Burma and thereby renew our visas when we re-entered Thailand. The next obvious stop was Phuket or Krabi. At first we were just going to go to Krabi because we'd heard it was nicer and on top of that the quality/price ratio was better. But unwilling to leave "important" things out we decided in Ranong on a few days at Phuket. On the internet we found a good deal at the Kamala Beach Hotel (almost within sight of the Print Kamala Resort). There it said that if you paid for five days you got two more free. So in a decisive moment (or is it over-all indecision?) we booked for seven days. (Work expands to fill the time available and so, apparently do our stays.)

The hitch was that on this web site, which we'd used to book in Bangkok, one doesn't get an instant response — it can take up to 48 hours. The next day, Saturday, it rained and rained and rained. and we didn't want to go out to the internet to find out if our reservation had been accepted. We were sure it would be because all indications were that Kamala Beach and most of Phuket was nearly empty. (We also thought to ourselves how lucky we were that we went across the channel to Burma on the long-tail boat on Friday and not in this horrible weather.)

Sunday we had a choice: just depart for Phuket or first go to the internet to see if we had confirmed reservations. The first being rather inconvenient — involving a one kilometer walk into town — we elected for the second although that wasn't particularly convenient either. We thought the bus to Phuket would pass just in front of our hotel but we couldn't get confirmation that it would or that it would stop. So instead we decided to go to the bus station. That had its draw backs too, because three days earlier on arrival into Ranong our Bangkok-Ranong bus had passed through a deserted bus station and then let us off in the middle of town at the bus company offices. Did buses to Phuket start or pass through the station? Nobody could understand our question let alone give us the answer.

Before breakfast Gerry went over to the station without bags. There was nobody in the office or anybody else official around; only a food vendor and there was no communication. Back came Gerry to the hotel and suggested we skip breakfast and wait in front of the hotel for what might be the 8:30 bus. We did that but we were hardly on the highway when the first drops of rain came. We knew what that meant: shortly there would be enormous amounts of rain. In going to the bus station Gerry had observed a bus shelter up the road in the direction of the station. Rather than going back into the hotel we went over to the shelter. Sure enough, we were shortly joined by a tremendous downpour — and by two motorbikes accompanied by their drivers who also wanted out of the rain.

In an hour wait the rain came and went. And the bus did not come. When the sky indicated there would be a long lull in the rain we set off to trundle our four bags the rest of the way to the station. To our pleasure the rain held off. As we approached the station we saw a bus parked on the highway in front of the station. When we got there we learned that it was a bus to Krabi, but the conductor assured us it was easy to change to a Phuket bus halfway to Krabi; if we'd been waiting inside the station we might never have known about the bus. We bought tickets and got on and were rather happy with ourselves. However the announced 10:00 departure time came and went and there was no departure. At 10:30 a bus arrived from farther north, probably Chumphon, and stopped next to our bus. We, everybody, and all the luggage, were transfered to the newly arrived bus; our "bus" had been a bus station on wheels that served to keep us out of the rain.

As our bus conductress had told us, we had to change at Takua Pa, about 2/3 of the way there. We did that, changing from a modern, aircon bus with sealed windows to a rather older, open windowed bus. In the few moments between our arrival and departure we managed to buy some boiled rice and bottled water and a whole pineapple. This complemented the cookies that had served as a substitute for our missed breakfast.

Phuket is an island and a big one by Thai standards, about 50 km north to south and averaging about 15 km in width, east to west. There are perhaps a dozen large bays with major tourist infrastructure. We had to get to Kamala bay, on the southwest of Phuket Island. The map we had made it obvious that we should get off the bus at Thalang, about 20 km north of Phuket Town and find a songtheaw or taxi to take us to Kamala. That trip would be shorter by a considerable amount than going on to Phuket Town.

Unfortunately logic did not make sense. Whereas almost everywhere in Thailand is extremely well served with songtheaws little old highway 4030 had not a one. Asking the locals if there was one didn't make one appear. Asking a traffic policeman if there was one didn't make one appear. Adding considerably to our distress was the news we learned from the internet cafe that we found where we were searching for a songtheaw: Our reservation at the Kamala Beach had been rejected! We couldn't believe it. But it was true.

After searching the web more and making several attempts to make reservations over the web and all failing we decided on a phone reservation. We picked three places out of Lonely Planet and telephoned. The first was a wrong number. The second didn't even answer. The third was the Print Kamala Resort and we struck a bargain over the phone, paying 1800 B a night whereas the reservation that we didn't have would have cost 1000 B a night. (Internet prices really are better, at least in Thailand.) But we were happy because we had a place to sleep.

Or at least we would have been happy if we had had transportation to where we had a place to sleep. We decided to accept reality: if you can't get there from here go someplace else. So we went back the few blocks to the highway to Phuket Town, where we had gotten off the bus, and caught a bus very similar to the open window, "local" bus we'd arrived on and intending to go to the next main intersection, about 6 km farther along. We of course had the problem of knowing where to get off! We managed it, but just because Jan saw in the middle of the highway the "Heroines Monument" From here a highway also led to Kamala beach, but it seemed really stupid to have to come here because we were now farther away than we had been in Tha Lang. But, as instructed, we crossed the road and waited for a songtheaw.

And now our story ends happily: In just a few minutes instead of a songtheaw a smaller vehicle, often called a tuk-tuk came along. This was our introduction to a system that may be special to Phuket or southern Thailand. While these vehicles look a bit like common-carier songtheaws and do have a row of seats behind them they act like taxis. One makes a deal and is carried to an agreed destination. The driver was happy to strike a deal, but not to come as far down in price as we naively believed he should, and take us to the door of the Print Kamala. We set off.

We got there. Or sort of. At the end, none of us knowing exactly where the Print Kamala was, the driver pulled out his mobile phone — we're very happy that Thais all have them — and got the directions for the last kilometer. That still wasn't enough. We were driving right by when Jan's sharp eyes caught the hard to read sign. Off we got, unloaded we were, and then we checked in and relaxed.

July 6,2006

Friday, June 30 —
Burma for a day

To save $75 we went to Burma for the day. It was an interesting experience, but the real purpose was to save money. Thailand gives automatic visas at entry, but only for 30 days. They can be extended once for 1900 baht, which is $50. Jan's brother Dave knows this system well. For years he has gone from his home in Phayao, northern Thailand, north to the Burmese border to make a quick crossing. Now we were doing the same, except going south.

Given that our ultimate destination was Malaysia and then Indonesia, we decided to attempt a crossing at Ranong, 600 km south of Bangkok. We'd looked into continuing northwest from Kanchanaburi and crossing at the Three Pagodas Pass area into Burma but that border seemed to be permanently closed, at least for our purposes. And we saw plenty of advertisements in the Bangkok Post and The Nation for air-conditioned "visa-runs" to Cambodia. They were very reasonably priced, 2000 Baht, and included all transport, guides, people to wait in line, and a lunch. But they went the wrong direction (we didn't want to stay in Cambodia and we weren't particularly interested in extending our Bangkok stay) and actually cost more than the 1900 Baht the government wanted.

We got up in the morning and wondered, now exactly how do you get to Burma from here? We'd been told that just outside the Ranong Garden Hotel, our abode of the moment, there was a blue songtheaw (pickup converted to an open-sided bus) that would take us near the Thai Immigration Office (TIO). So after an early breakfast we crossed the six lane highway, placed ourselves in what we thought was the right place, and waited. Indeed, in just a few moments a blue songtheaw came along. We said "immigration office" (in English!) to the driver, he nodded (yes?), and we climbed on, hoping that he was taking us to the right place and that we'd know where to get off. When sitting on one of the two benches that make up the songtheaw (literally "two rows") it's very hard to look out past the awnings and get one's bearings. Fifteen minutes later (or so) the driver turned off the road that we were on and that we thought would take us to the Immigration Office. Fortunately after a detour around a big block he was back on the main road and at the appropriate place told us to get off and walk down a hundred meters.

It may even have been less, but in any case we quickly found the TIO. Then we had another worry: the front door was obviously locked. Coming closer didn't change that evaluation. What we had worried about was apparently true: like all Burmese borders, this one was closed at times. But wait! That's not all! We realized that there were more buildings at the back of the small compound. One was open and it was the right place.

We were so early that we were the first customers and we got quick and very pleasant service. (In the afternoon we came back and found the place crowded with foreigners and we had to wait in line.) The official there was very friendly; he knew exactly what we wanted and assured us that we'd have no trouble in Burma or coming back. It didn't phase him one bit that Gerry had two passports: his old one with the original Thai visa and his new one with no entries at all. The Thai official handled all of the paperwork for canceling the old visa and making sure the Burmese did their work in the new passport and that the new Thai visa was in the new passport.

The Thai official then told us how to walk down to the docks. We left and walked along the main boulevard, here about four lanes, and except for the signs being in Thai, pretty much like you would find in any developed country. As we walked we started to question things again because the walk was longer than expected; we didn't see any signs of water or the road ending. Of course we shouldn't have worried. As in all such situations, a young fellow soon joined us and offered us a boat to Burma. We had to be in the right place.

About 800 m from the TIO we reached a sign directing us along a narrow lane to the pier and boats to Burma. We could have turned there, but it seemed wiser to wait for a drivable road rather than this alley. When we did get to such a place the young Thai was still with us. We asked his price; he wanted 150 Baht and we offered the 50 baht each that Lonely Planet says is the going rate. He accepted and led us another 100 m to his boat. To get there we crossed through a large waterfront shed and then climbed down a 3 m ladder to the water and the boat.

The boat was a "long-tail", which refers to how it is powered. The boat itself is like a triple-sized canoe; wide enough for two people to sit abreast and maybe 8 m long. At the end sits a pivot; on this rests the power driver of the boat: an engine connected to a very long propeller shaft with a 30 cm diameter propeller on the end. Shaft and propeller are the long-tail.

When we'd been in Kanchanaburi we'd had plenty of chances to ride a long-tail. But then it would have been at inflated tourists prices and done nothing more than gone up and down the river. We like our transportation to be for something. Now we wanted to get off to Burma. Instead we sat and sat. We guessed that the boatman was trying to get other passengers. The boat would go when he made a profit. After 15-20 minutes another passenger did come — but she was Thai (or maybe Burmese) and wasn't at all likely to be paying the rate we were. Eventually the boat did leave with just the three of us; had the boatman worried that if he didn't go he'd lose us as passengers? It certainly was on our mind.

Now we were off to Burma. But where was Burma? We had an extremely poor map and the Lonely Planet description did not explain the distances involved. Was it just across the river (if that was a river out there)? I.e as close as crossing from Westminster to Lambeth? Or was it farther along the water, i.e. like going across the Hudson at Jersey City? We set off and found neither of these guesses was right. The boat sped along and we got some water spray in our faces and had plenty of time to worry about the wisdom of carrying our computers along in our backpacks. If the boat capsized could we stand having to replace them again?

Ranong Town sits at the most easterly point of what we'll call Ranong Bay. That is about 5 km from the bay mouth. We're not sure from where we departed, but it was certainly on the south side of the bay and probably 2-3 km from the mouth. Our boat took us past a few small islands and then to a point on the north side of the mouth of the bay. There the boat stopped and we went into a very small Thai immigration office. They checked our papers — for what we don't know — and then we were off again.

Next the boat travelled almost due west and crossed the mouth of a 40-km long estuary that marks the border between Burma and Thailand in this area. The crossing was about 6 km; about four times the width of the Hudson at Manhattan. This is a bit less than the trip the Manhattan to Staten Island ferry makes. On the big New York boat one is far above everything and unless paying attention hardly aware of moving. The more we got out into the estuary the more the swells rose and the more we worried about our lives, let alone our computers. But well before we were half-way across we were used to it and not really worried. And at least Gerry thought that if the worst did happen our swimming pool exercises would be our ace-in-the-hole.

It wasn't until we were really almost at Kawthawng that we were really sure that we were nearly to our destination. As we came closer and closer to the Burmese port city we could see a golden pagoda on the hill above it. To our right we saw a large passenger boat approaching at perhaps double our speed; later we confirmed our guess that it was the Andaman Club private boat taking upper-bracket (i.e. above backpacker) people in comfort (and security!) to see Burma and perhaps renew their visas.

Five hundred meters off-shore our long-tail diverted to the left; to a large-ish cruiser that we'd spied from a distance. To our surprise we tied up in front and were directed inside. It was the BIO - Burmese Immigration Office. Everything went more smoothly there than we had any right to expect. We knew that we had to pay $5 each or 600 baht; the first being the smaller we elected to pay it. We'd come with a US $20 and were only momentarily set back when we were told it was too dirty. Only pristine money accepted! Well, in our backpack we not only had several thousand dollars worth of computers (which were never inquired about) but several clean (or clean enough) $10 bills. One was accepted and we were as good as officially in Burma.

On shore Kawthawng proved to be a slum adjacent to a wasteland. Immediately adjacent to the pier it wasn't too dirty but just 100 m farther the degradation began pretty quickly. We saw what looked like an interesting multi-tiered Thai-like gold temple but it was an office and restaurant in masquerade. We considered the restaurant, we think the best in town, but found that the prices were about as in Thailand. We concluded that back in Ranong we could have more comfort and a better selection. We decided to explore: we'd go up the hill to the temple compound that was behind the golden stupa we'd seen while asea. On the way up we came to a small Chinese style temple and found it pleasing enough; but for us it was nothing knew — just a pleasant reminder of many such places we'd seen in China and Vietnam.

We managed to find our way up the hill through a series of broken paths that alternately took us through semi-mud and between hill-side homes of the sort that Thais might live in before they take the first or second rung up the economic ladder. At the top of the hill we went into the temple and were immediately latched onto by a fellow who wanted to be our guide. He didn't know enough English to say that. While Gerry coddled him Jan independently looked around. Then Gerry said goodbye — gave him the brush off — and looked around himself. We went to the far end, nearest to the sea, and when we came back we encounted a tour group. They were the ones from the Andaman Club boat. It seems they were all Thais and consequently not out to renew their visas.

We walked down the hill an alternate way. We passed the road leading to the "interior" with a golden statue of a modern miltary man placed in the center of traffic circle. Here the place didn't seem so slummy. Then it was down the hill through a buddhist monastery, also poor, but neat. We passed a large group of teen-age school kids, obviously leaving the school and going home. Dressed in blue uniforms with white shirts they were like kids anywere: some in groups of 4-5 and some alone. Back in town we confirmed our decision to skip lunch until back in Ranong.

We didn't have to wait but a few moments before somebody was touting his boat to us. We accepted at the same 50B and were led to a bench to wait as he ran off. It seemed possible that he had gone to rent a boat, now that he had customers. Or maybe not. Anyway the way back was familiar: sign out of Burma at the cruiser tied up off shore; cross the choppy waters of the estuary; pass the small Thai immigration office; tie up at the Ranong bay docks; and walk to the TIO.

The one difference is that as we left Burma that it started to rain. We considered the dangers of being in the middle during a storm and disregarded them, probably because the boatman didn't evidence any fear and because we were lazy. If we'd been wise we would have gotten off. As it was going back we got wet, though not soaked.

July 3,2006

Thursday, June 29 —
Bangkok to Bali

We're off to Bali! And then Australia. In 1999-2001 we went in stages overland from Beijing to Bangkok, on the way to Australia. But we got sidetracked. Now we are at last picking up the trail again. We've just completed the first 600 km of our overland trip from Bangkok to Bali (midway to Australia) and where we will make a long stop. It is a minimum of 4000 km (2500 miles - Chicago to LA) and we guess that with inevitable twists and turns and side trips it will be more like 6000 km.

We're in Ranong and left Bangkok this morning. This first day, in which we travelled 8 hours and did 10% of the entire journey, will undoubtedly be a record — we usually prefer to travel no more than 3 hours per day. Bangkok lies at 13.74 degrees N and Ranong at 9.73N. In other words, we went south 4 degrees in a single day. (That's 1/90 of the way around the world. Not quite as fast Phineas Fogg's average of 1/80 per day.)

Our expectations are that we will continue south along the Thai peninsula to Malaysia (border at 6.5N - almost next door), then after a visit to Georgetown on Penang, cross to Sumatra at Medan. From there the future is muddier, but we will probably go half the length of Sumatra before crossing for a short visit to Singapore (1.28N). This is needed to extend our Indonesian visa, which otherwise has a maximum of 60 days. From Singapore we return to Sumatra and continue on to Java; there our two main goals are Jakata (6.2S) and Yogyakata (7.8S), the later being the site of the great Borobudur Buddhist Temple. We'll continue more or less easterly from Yogyakata to Bali (Denpassar is 8.7S) and explore as much as our visas allow. From there it is about 1850 km by air to Darwin, 2600 km to Perth, and 4600 km to Sydney. Air fares and the weather will probably determine our entry point.

Tomorrow we hope to cross the border into Burma and then back into Thailand to get another month visa so that we can spend time in both Phuket and Krabi. It seems that the Burmese border is open on an off and on basis. If it is closed it won't be a disaster as we've saved a few days in our current visa to get us in a relaxed manner to Malaysia.

June 30,2006

Wednesday, June 28 —
Missions Accomplished (and More)

We might have called this section 'Urban Renewal' but the double-entendre would have undoubtedly gone over everybody's head. By 'urban renewal' we mean that since we first got to Bangkok we have more or less put ourselves back together. We not only bought two computers to replace our stolen ones but we also had health checkups, dental cleaning, and got new sandals. Gerry also got new glasses just where he did five year ago. It was a very profitable stay in Bangkok. Profitable that is for Bangkok merchants!

During our first three day stay in Bangkok we went to MBK center and Pantip Plaza to look for notebook computers. We found that it was hard to get a bargain in the sense that everybody sold at list price; there was no (not a dime or baht) difference in price between one merchant and another. The biggest potential difference was that some places offered tax refund but to get that you have to fly out and we weren't planning to. The biggest real difference was the actual models that a merchant had in stock. There are so many permutations and combinations of features that you really have to search hard to find THE machine that has everything you want. Lots of machines were tempting but it was pretty clear that Acer gave the most for your money. This was almost certainly due to the fact that Acer was attempting in a serious way (as we read in the Bangkok Post) to build market share. Gerry finally managed to settle on an Acer Aspire 14" notebook with 1 GB of memory and a 100 GB hard drive. These figures are 25-30% bigger and better than his stolen VAIO. His new processor, a Centrino M 760 (2.0 MHz) is about the same speed as his old Pentium 4 (3.04 MHz) as measured by Mike Eddy's 100 factorial test. In only one respect is the Acer less than Sony: size. The Acer is 14 inches rather than 15 and considerably lighter and easier to carry around. Jan now gets the Compaq all to herself. We bought that the night before leaving for Kanchanaburi and shared it all through our stay there. That was almost worse than waiting in line to use the bathroom.

Another part of our urban renewal was new glasses for Gerry. He's now seeing clearly for the first time since about a month ago when he broke the arm of the glasses he bought in Phayao, Thailand back in 2001. Since the break he's been wearing his 1999 Paris glasses which he had been carrying as an emergency pair. Because the lens of his Thailand glasses came from a place in the MBK center he went back there and found an optical shop. During the examination the tester assured Gerry that the 1999 Paris prescription was better for him than the 2001 Bangkok prescription. Gerry assured him otherwise and had him make a set of lenses that pleased Gerry rather than what some strange measurement said. In fact, it seems to Gerry that he should not have let the tester measure his glasses and then the tester would not have been misled. Four hours after he'd placed the order Gerry had new frames with new lenses that matched the 2001 prescription. He felt vindicated as his vision immediately seemed much better than with the Paris prescription. After wearing the new glasses 24 hours Gerry came back and ordered replacement lenses for the Paris frames — the new lenses would have the same prescription as the 2001 Bangkok ones. When these were ready Gerry was even more pleased. Some slight variation in cutting made them even better than the full frames and lenses he had bought the day before.

At the end of the day in walking around another shopping center, the Siam Paragon center, Gerry discovered the smart looking Siam Center Dental Clinic. He made appointments for the next evening. It happened that the Dental Clinic was on a floor that was 80% filled with restaurants. One of them was the US chain Sizzler and we came back and had dinner there before having our teeth cleaned. The meal was good but it wasn't really the usual Sizzler. Around our table were several others filled with teenagers in the standard Thai school uniform, white shirt over black skirt or trousers. We knew that for 95% of Thais this was a very expensive restaurant. We wondered and wondered what elite this was that could afford to eat here. After our meal we went and had our teeth cleaned. The job seemed very professional but very fast compared to the cleaning we'd had done in Athens. Afterwards we talked to the dentist who did the work. She told us that she'd had a clinic there 17 years. In the early days her floor was not filled with restaurants and the pedestrian patterns were such that people easily saw her sign. About five years ago all changed and now some partitions for a restaurant block the view of her place; she was amazed that Gerry had managed to find it.

Let's end this section with what happened first: the retrieval of Gerry's new passport. His old one would have expired in February, 2007. Many countries require at least six months remaining validity and that would have been August, 2006. In other words, it was safest to get a new passport now rather than waiting a few months. So in our first three days we went to the American embassy, filled in the forms, paid $67, and were told to wait two weeks. That is partly why we lingered in Kanchanaburi. On our first day back we went to the Embassy and quickly got the new one. Gerry's photograph is digitally printed directly on the passport; that is certainly for security reasons but the end result is that the photograph is not glossy, fades into the background, and it is hard to recognize Gerry.

And last but not least, we thought we got a great deal at the First Hotel on Petchburi Road. We originally booked it over the internet for three nights and paid 1050B/night. When they wouldn't renew at that price we went back to the internet and booked it with another site for another three days and paid 950B/night. We got a pretty good buffet breakfast, a decent swimming pool, and a spacious room with all mod cons. Everything here feels very cheap after Greece and Turkey.

June 29,2006

Wednesday, June 28 —
Health Checkups

For months before our arrival in Thailand we'd been looking forward to getting health checkups. Our last comprehensive ones were in Guatemala City in February, 2004. Before that we'd had check-ups at a hospital in Cheng Mai in northern Thailand in June, 2001. Then we'd been very impressed with the modern hospital and the way everything was well organized for foreigners. So our first day, even before the trip to MBK, we went to Bumrungrad Hospital and made inquiries. They, like Cheng Mai, have a package and we would have taken it if we hadn't later passed by the St Louis hospital, closer to our hotel. Their package was pretty much the same and half the price. On return to Bangkok from Kanchanaburi we immediately made appointments.

Perhaps the hardest part was having to skip the good buffet breakfast provided by our hotel, the First Hotel. We got to St Louis hospital by walking to the Skytrain, took it about six stops, and then walked to the hospital. In the next two hours we followed each other through the Stations of the Checkup: here the martyrs had their weights (too much) and blood pressures (okay) checked; at another station blood samples were taken; at still another we had chest x-rays. When all the standard, included tests were over we saw a dermatogologist. That, like the general tests, was for us precautionary: make sure that the little colors and growths were benign. We got the dermatologist's report right away: everything fine. We had to wait several hours for the other reports to come back from the radiologist and chemical labs.

All were as expected (i.e. we were in good health and no signs of that most dreaded item, cancer), except one thing: the consulting doctor reported to Gerry that the radiologist saw, and she agreed, possible signs of tuberculosis. Tuberculosis? The kid in us wanted to scream "Impossible. I can't be sick." The adult in Gerry thought about it and came up with the rationalization that the "possible signs" were misreadings. He can't have tuberculosis. The adult in Jan worried about Gerry and worried that if he had it, she could hardly avoid getting it.

We don't know why but the consulting doctor did not suggest any tests. Gerry did — that samples from his lung be examined. That idea was accepted and they gave him three small plastic jars to collect three sputum samples. Two days later we came back to the hospital with two jars empty: Gerry couldn't produce any sputum. This suggested to him that any TB he had was pretty minor and in early stages, if it existed. Since he had no sputum to test Gerry was sent to see a lung specialist. The specialist re-examined the xrays and guessed that the spots were very old scars from earlier illnesses. He said that if he had an old xray he could confirm it by seeing the scars in the same spots; lacking that he recommended another chest xray in six months. We'll do that.

We noticed quite a bit of difference between the four doctors we saw and have some speculations why they were like that. Before her tests and afterwards to get the results Jan saw a male doctor, about her age. She didn't hit it off with him, finding him brusque. The story was almost exacly the same for Gerry: he first saw a female doctor who quickly took his medical history and afterwards gave him the news about TB. Her manner didn't please him. We both saw the same dermitologist and he was the opposite of brusque and took all the time we wanted to answer our questions. The chest specialist was even more patient. Why? We guess that the consulting doctors see foreigners everyday for check ups and are bored with it. Nothing new and certainly not exciting for them. On the other hand to the dermatologist and chest specialist we were not just the same old cogs to be processed. So they had a personal reason to take an interest in us.

June 28,2006

Monday, June 26 —
MBK - Mighty Big Kentro

The MBK or Mahboonkrong center is unbelieveable, until after you have seen it. Imagine something as big as one of the towers of the World Trade Center on its side, or as big as the biggest luxury cruise liner and imagine it entirely devoted to shopping and eating. Want a cell phone? There are at least two hundred independent merchants happy to oblige

But we were not cellphone buyers this trip, even though Jan's brother Dave has been nudging us to buy a phone so that he can call more easily. It's not that we wouldn't enjoy talking to him, it's just that we need more than one reason to add yet another item with its charger to our mountain of electronic stuff.

The other focus of our shopping habits is Pantip Plaza — five stories of everything to do with computers. If it has something to do with computers you can get it here.

June 28,2006

Tuesday, June 25 —
Waiting for Godot?

We are sort of on vacation — if only for a weekend! We have several remaining things to do here in Bangkok, like get a health check-up, get Gerry's visa transferred to his new passport, and so on, but that all has to wait until Monday. That means time today to spend an hour in the swimming pool trying to take off some of the weight gained from day after day of buffet breakfasts. Isn't life tough!

Yesterday Gerry spent about six hours looking for his next machine at Panthip Plaza. That process will continue today but down around MBK center. It will probably take him a few more days to make up his mind.

Our guide books say it is the rainy season here in Thailand, but that is not always so clear. We don't really know what to expect: should there be periods where it just rains and rains all day long, day after day? We haven't seen that. But in Kanchanaburi there was an afternoon shower that often came as we were eating lunch. We just sat in the restaurant, usually open air but covered, and waited. Then we'd be off with relative dryness. Our first three days in Bangkok had some showers but nothing that inconvenienced us. Now back in Bangkok we yesterday had a quite terrific thunderstorm with lots and lots of lightning and torrential rain. The nice consequence of that is that it is cool enough today to dispense with air-conditioning. The local weather makes us follow the US and UK weather charts more. We don't seem to be doing too bad compared to them.

The World Cup matches are all in the news, local and international. There is no escaping it. We take some mild interest but it doesn't grab our souls as we are not great supporters of any team, including England. On the other hand Jan is very much hoping to catch some tennis when Wimbledon starts. We just heard that Agassi has announced he will retire after the US open this year. That's too bad, as it means there's no chance of catching him at the Australian open — assuming we can get there by January!

Our second evening back in Bangkok we got to meet Poy. She came over to the First Hotel and we had dinner together and so we got to know her a little bit. Like all the Sonphao girls she's both pretty and smart. We enjoyed talking to her about her ongoing medical studies.

June 26,2006

Thursday, June 22 —
Nakhon Pathom

We decided to return Bangkok via Nakhon Pathom and that was a good idea. We'd seen the 127m tower of the Wat Phra Pathom Chedi from the train and then read up on it. It was convenient to get to since the bus from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok passed right outside of it. We checked out of our hotel and took a taxi to the bus station. Going to Nakhon Pathom it seemed like we were passing through one continuous strip city but in fact there were a few discontinuous parts where some countryside was visible.

Two hours after leaving Kanchanaburi we were in front of the Wat. We got off the bus and went in where we found a booth used by the people who collect parking fees; the woman there kindly agreed to let us store our bags there and we set off very relaxed about our things to see the Wat. It truly is a tall, tall, stupa or chedi (Thai for stupa.) We walked competely around it, stopping at each of the four temples that we encounted.

After seeing the Wat we went to the Nakhon Pathom National Museum, on the same grounds. The museum covered the history and prehistory of Nakhon Pathom from thousands of years ago to today. They have some especially good Buddhist artefacts from 2-300 years ago. We were surprised to learn that when it was first founded it was a sea port; at that time Bangkok's site was completely underwater. From about 600 a.d. on the silting around Nakhon Pathom began to be so severe that it began to lose its economic role and it declined. By about 1600-1700 it was far from the sea and Bangkok had emerged from it.

This story made us think back to Ephesus and Miletus, the ancient Greek cities that we had so recently visited in Turkey. They too were once sea ports and at just about the same time, 700 a.d. silting began to deprive them of their sea access. At Miletus the silting was as severe as at Nakhon Pathom: the sea receded about 30-40 km.

After our visits to the Wat and museum we retrieved our bags and returned to the very spot where we got off the bus. We weren't certain that there was another bus or that it would stop for us, but there was and it did. We assumed we were headed for the Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai) and that proved to be the case. Our knowledge was so limited however, that we didn't realize that the bus went by the terminal and took us closer to the center of Bangkok than the terminal. While others were getting off, to connect to other transportation, we were wondering what was going on. When we got back to the terminal we realized our missed opportunity. Eventually, after some hesitation and an impending rainstorm we took a taxi directly to the First Hotel, where we'd reserved a room.

June 25,2006

Tuesday, June 20 —
Kanchanaburi and the Death Railway

We are still holed up in Kanchanaburi, of Bridge over the River Kwai fame, We've been as unhurried as a June bug in May and lingered and lingered rather than going out to see tourist sights every day. Every couple of days the hotel staff has called the room and said "Check-out today?" and we have, until now, said no, we will stay two or three days more. But after two weeks in Kanchanaburi we decided that we really have to leave. Our visas will run out in just two more weeks and we haven't done most of our major errands. We probably have one more day (or maybe two) here and then it's back into the fray to buy replacement laptop number two, pick up the new passport, get our health exams, and do last minute shopping before heading south, first to the Burmese border at Ranong to renew our Thai visas on the exit-entry method, then to Krabbi for a well-deserved rest!

All of the sights in Kanchanaburi town and Kanchanaburi province can almost certainly be seen in three days, if not two, by taking the locally offered tours. In fact, the really important stuff can be seen in one long day that starts and ends in Bangkok. We met a tour doing just that; we estimate they must have started at 5:00 or 6:00 and will end at 22:00 or later. That, of course, is not our style: we do one thing a day, or even every other or third day.

There are two main themes to touring in Kanchanaburi: the Death Railway and nature. We thoroughly explored the first and spent one day on the second by going to Erawan falls and hiking there. It was a pleasant day and we enjoyed the prospect of swimming in any one of the pools that lie in between the seven levels of the falls/cascades until we actually got in and learned the fish nibble at you. There are several other sets of falls one can visit and innumerable caves in the karst formation, and, if one counts it as "nature", many elephant rides available. But Jan has been karsted out by China and Vietnam and after the true magnificence of Yosemite isn't much impressed by the local, immature falls.

The Death Railway got its name from the horrifying number of people worked to death by the Japanese in their rush to build a railway connecting Thailand and Burma. At the beginning of WWII the Japanese had captured Burma. Later British-American forces counter attacked and cut off shipments of military supplies by sea from Japan. To remedy this problem the Japanese worked about 100,000 asians and about 60,000 allied prisoners of war night and day to build a connecting railway. Lack of proper rest, nutrition, and medical care led to 90% of the asians and about 25% of the POWs dying.

Our first taste of the story came as we visited the War Cemetery near the railway station and a ten minute walk from our hotel, the River Kwai. There lie the collected and relocated remains of about 7000 British, Australian, New Zealand, and Dutch POWs. It is now a beautifuly maintained site that reveals not a trace of the horrors of war. For that one must go across the street to the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre or Death Railway Museum. We did that in the same day and there the whole story is presented calmly and without bitterness. The Japanese viewpoint is presented: this was an unavoidable necessity of war. The Allied viewpoint is presented: this was horrible, inhuman treatment.

On another day we went about 90 minutes northwest to Hellfire Pass. This is where some of the roughest work was done and the deathrate was the highest. Much of the railway covered relatively level ground and was of comparatively easy construction. Here, however, it was necessary to alternatively cut through solid rock and build trestles for about 15 km. The Japanese would not bring in any heavy equipment and all work was done as it might have been done in the 18th century with men breaking rock by hand and with explosives. Only when the work seemed so far behind that getting supplies to Burma on time seemed threatened did the Japanese bring in a jack-hammer. We visited the museum at the site — a very modern, tasteful building subsidised by the Australian Government — and then walked about 4 km of the route of the roughest work. Almost no trace of the railway remains today except for the cuts themselves; standing above it and looking at the greatest of them, one has pity for those forced to work there. Anyone going out to see the remains is required to carry a two-way walky-talky and report in every 30 minutes. Our supposition is that a high proportion of visitors are survivors, many of whom would be 80-90 years old now. Their tolerance of the heat and exertion on this walk would be much less than ours, and we found it strenuous.

Our last excursion related to the Death Railway was to the bridge itself, the Bridge on the River Kwai. There were actually two bridges. The famous, and still existing one, is a steel bridge that was originally in Indonesia. The Japanese dismantled it and shipped the pieces to Kanchanaburi for re-assembly at a site where the railway would cross a main branch of the river. As part of the construction process a wood-bamboo bridge was first built and then used to carry construction material. After the completion (really assembly) of the metal bridge it was put out of action by allied bombing. While being repaired the wood bridge was put back into use.

The atmosphere today at the metal bridge is one of tourism, not remembrance of war and suffering. Nearby are a dozen restaurants, large and small. Below the bridge the river flows as always, but now the traffic is long tailed boats carrying tourists. We walked across the bridge, as did most of the people around. One large group was obviously Japanese; we would have liked to talk to them and understand what was on their mind. In one museum we saw that all Japanese do not think the same about the railway: some are apologetic about the suffering they and their colleagues caused. Other Japanese are proud of their contribution to the Japanese war effort.

One day Gerry went for an afternoon walk by himself. Here in his words, is what he did and saw:

My main goal was to get to see the southwest part of town. I started by walking from our hotel about a kilometer to the JEATH (Japan England Australia Thailand Holland) War Museum. Rather than going in immediately I passed it and went into the nearby Wat Chaichumphon. It is a rather fine example of Thai wat construction with its large main hall under a splendid gold roof trimmed in green. If you had never seen a Thai wat before you would be very impressed with this one. I was impressed with the fact that several hundred men, monks I suppose as they were all in orange toga-like robes, sat under a multitude of fans as they watched a Powerpoint presentation.

After touring the wat I went over to the JEATH War Museum. It is owned by the wat and was founded by the head. It consists of a large u-shaped building that re-creates the type of building or dormitory in which POWs lived during construction. Each wing was about 60 meters long and 4 meters wide. One side was a 2 meter wide walkway; the other side was a continuous platform, made of bamboo, on which the men lived and slept, hardly more than two feet to a person. This was the most impressive part: seeing and feeling how the men lived. Along the bamboo walls there were dozens of photographs, many of which I had already seen before in the other museums, showing life as it was lived. Several times there were letters from survisors describing their lives in the period. One of the letters was from the widow of a surgeon, Weary Dunlop who as a prisoner had done so much for the other POWs; she described his funeral.

JEATH is just above the river bank and I went down and sat on a bench on a floating pier. The breeze made sitting there very enjoyable, watching the world go by. Part of that world was a fleet of long tailed boats that I saw far across the river going downstream. I hardly guessed that twenty minutes later, while I was still there, the fleet would arrive where I was and from each boat five Dutch tourists would disembark.

I then started for my next goal: to find the Kasem Island Resort, a place we had considered staying at but rejected because it was too far out of town. I walked by Wat Chaichumphon and just beyond it passed a typical Thai school, a three-storey building with open balconies outside the class room. On the road, opposite the school, were a half-dozen vendors, prepared to sell snacks to the school kids when they left classes, as they soon would. I spied some peanuts in a bag and decided I'd like them. I went up to the 50-ish woman selling them and asked the price. Not knowing how to say it in Thai, and not thinking she would know English I said "Gai daw chin?" (Cantonese for "How much does it cost?"). Why that came out of me I can't say. Even more surprised than me were the woman and her two companions. She turned to them with a look that must have meant "Can you believe what you just heard?!" And she turned to me and said, in Thai, the price, which, no coincidence, is very close to the Chinese equivalent. In Thai she said "yi sip"; in Cantonese it would be "yi sup".

Further on I saw some roasted meat that I wanted and had equal success with my Cantonese. Later, when I wanted to buy some bananas it didn't work. My guess is that it is because the banana-seller was a girl of about 16-17; for this age group Cantonese has apparently disappeared from the market place.

To get to the Kasem Guest House I had to cross the river so I found my way to the ferry, there being no bridge. This was set up to accommodate motorbikes. The ferry was a flat raft of about 3 x 10 meters. Maybe six motor bikes could be directly riden on to it and on the opposite side ridden off. One end of the ferry had a small lean-to whose roof covered the engine, around which was a bench that could seat 4-6 people. I rode across and quickly made friends with the ferry man even though we could hardly exchange a word. An hour later when I came back he greeted me with a big smile.

After a twenty minute walk I reached a place where I had a good view of the Kasem Guest House. It seemed not to be open; I didn't see anyone around. The place looked a bit like a fort in Adventureland at Disneyland: unpainted log construction suitable for romantics or backpackers but not for us.

I returned to town making sure to pass the only remaining segment of the old city walls and the Lak Muang Shrine. Kanchanaburi was established by the emerging Thai (or Siamese) empire as a first line of defense against the Burmese who considered this part of the world rightfully theirs. As such it had walls and four gates. Today the southern, or river gate and a bit of the nearby walls have been restored. By world standards it is not impressive but seeing it does contribute to understanding Kanchanaburi and Thailand. Every Thai city has a point where its "soul" is located and worshipped. This is the Lak Muang Shrine, or "City Pillar". Kanchanaburi's is attractive, under a small, open-air temple with a golden roof.

From Kanchanaburi one day we took local buses to Tha Meuang, a town on the river about 12 km away, and then motorcycle taxis to Wat Tham Seua and Wat Tham Khao Noi. Being on a motorcycle taxi took some getting used to; initially Gerry had some fear of his skull being broken open. Wat Tham Seua is a Thai-Chinese Buddhist temple built on the sides and top of a karst hill. From the top there are excellent views of the green countryside and the dam-created lake nearby. After seeing it we went in search of Wat Tham Khao Noi, a purely Chinese temple. Much to our surprise we found that it shared the hill with Wat Tham Seua; in otherwords it was next door. Gerry climbed to the top of the 10+ story pagoda.

Afterwards we walked four kilometers back to town so that we could see the countryside and inspect the dam. It is a low-rise affair, much broader than high. We were able to stand right above the sluice gates and watch the water run out. We stopped nearby to have a delicious bowl of Thai fish-ball soup, bought from a woman with a stand about the size of two bicyles. Then we walked along the main irrigation canal back to Tha Muang and took the bus back to Kanchanaburi.

June 22,2006

Monday, June 12 —
The Non-Tourist Tourist

We decided to come to Kanchanaburi, where we are now, mostly because it is the site of the infamous "Bridge Over the River Kwai." We would have come anyway because it is a part of Thailand we hadn't seen and it was reputed to be quite beautiful. After three nights at the BW Elegance we got up and walked with our carts past the Saphan Taksim Skytrain station to the Tha Sathon river boat landing to catch a Chao Phraya river ferry. There we easily caught a boat that would take us to the Tha Roi Fai landing next door to the Thonburi (or Southern) train station. The boat ride was excellent: smooth water, blue skies, a cooling breeze. We stood at the back of the boat and enjoyed the forty-five minute ride. As we went up-river we passed some familiar sites, Wat Arun being the most famous of those actually on the river. On the other, eastern bank, back from the river we also saw the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Keaw, both of which had impressed us so much in 2001. Among new sites was the Hilton Millenium Hotel, open now just a few months and dominating its section of the Chao Phraya.

As is almost always true the Thais were helpful and made sure we got off at the correct landing. From there it was but 100 m to the Thonburi Station. Unfortunately for us trains actually no longer operate from there; we had to take a songtheaw to the new station, about 1 km away. During the wait for our departure we got to know a re-incarnation of ourselves: a young lady just starting to learn to be a world traveller. She'd left Holland just three days earlier and, while appearing to us very sure and mature, undoubtedly had lots to learn. We also had a chance to be jealous, if we were so inclined: A special train was waiting on another siding; twenty minutes after our arrival about 200 Spaniards arrived in special buses and were whisked into air-conditioned comfort while we continued to sweat.

After an hour or more's wait our slow train to Kanchanaburi, with all of its windows open and ceiling fans a-whirring, left. Whistle-stop after whistle-stop we made our way slowly west. Along the way we passed the giant Wat Phra Pathom Chedi at Nakhon Pathon, said to be the tallest in the world. Until seeing it we knew nothing of it. Now it seemed to be a must stop on the way back to Bangkok.

Before coming to Kanchanaburi we had chosen the River Kwai Hotel out of a list and made a phone reservation. We walked from the station down the main street and arrived, as very usual, all sweaty and hardly looking like the kind of guest they might normally like to attract. As soon as we saw our room and then "tasted' the swimming pool we knew it was our kind of place. We are swimming twice a day and reading most of the rest of the time. The breakfast buffet, which we take after our first swim, is wonderful. We have a choice of Western and Oriental breakfast, the latter including fried rice, sauteed vegetables, and congee. We take a bit of the Oriental but primarily choose fried eggs or omelette, bacon, fried potatos, sausage, French toast, fresh fruit (watermellon, pineapple, and papaya) as well as fruit juices and milk. Once again we are going to be fighting the battle of the bulge. With our new computer, which will be Jan's alone soon, we have plenty to occupy us, in restoring the system as it was, writing some blog, and much more. TV is pretty poor but we get some French Tennis open and a few movies.

June 20,2006

Wednesday, June 7 —
Kings 60th

After our arrival in Bangkok we didn't tarry too much in getting out and doing our business. In doing this we brought back to the front of our brains lots of what we used to know about Bangkok and had forgotten. What was the name of that hotel we stayed in? What was the hospital and where was it that we'd visited? Soon we answered these and many other questions.

After spending a few hours in our room cooling off and unpacking we went out to see a bit more of our neighborhood. First we ate at a Chinese restaurant on the street-level of our hotel and then we headed for Silom Rd. In 2001 we'd been down it many times; near where we were there are many jewelery shops and we'd almost made a purchase in one of them. Our strongest memory of the neighborhood is that of a confidence man: on one walk down the street he struck up a conversation with us and as soon as he learned we were going down to the ferry created some story about going to visit his sick wife in a hospital across the river. When we said we were stopping at the Shangri La (not disclosing that it was for their nice loos) he suddenly remembered that he had another appointment. We were so unkind as to ask him about his sick wife and he didn't know what to say; he'd apparently already forgotten his "cover" story.

On returning to the BW Elegance we passed a bookstore and popped in. To our good fortune we found a Lonely Planet Thailand Guide book. Of course we'd come without one because we didn't want the extra weight in our baggage that just topped our allowance anyway. In Turkey one can only find LP Guides in the two or three largest cities and we'd passed half of our time there without a guidebook. The same may be true in Thailand, but now we were in the largest city and snapped up the book.

Having it was like having cataracts removed. It was easy to put the LP Guide and Gerry's memory of maps together and determine that it was the MBK (Mah Boon Krong) center where in 2001 we had had great buffet meals and Gerry had found a good deal on eyeglass lenses. In the same way we found the name and location of the Bumrungrad (confusingly pronounced Bamroongrat) hospital. Finally, we also found that if these two sort of formed the two ends of the top of a T then the US Embassay was a the bottom.

After a good night's sleep and halfway to being on Bangkok time, we set out to visit all three of the above mentioned. We walked over to the Saphan Taksin Skytrain station and took it, via a change at "Central" to Ploenchit. This initiated a series of alternating between hot and cold: a hot walk in to the station and then a cooling period on the aircon Skytrain. The sweat had hardly evaporated when we got off and walked ten minutes to Bumrungrad and lost another liter of our bodily fluids. Inside, Bumgrungrad was just as we remembered it: ultra modern and ultra pleasant to be in. At the inquiries desk we got a brochure listing four different types of health check-up and the prices. (The most expensive is cheap: 6000 baht or about $160). Not wanting to make an appointment our business was done and we felt we had enought time to make the American Embassay before they closed. The walk was longer than expected (and as sweaty or more than expected) but we did make it. There Gerry turned in a completed application, showed his old passport, and paid $67 and was told that in two weeks he'd have a new one.

We felt we'd done a lot and it wasn't even noon yet. Now we could go to the MBK center for lunch. We walked back to the Skytrain Ploenchit station and took it just one stop to near MBK; it was well worth it for the sweat it saved. You might ask why we didn't take a taxi or tuk-tuk (a three-wheeled taxi). It's because we wanted to get where we were going. Taking a taxi has the risk of being misunderstood as to directions. The one-way streets and long distances to make a U-turn or right-turn (Thais drive on the left, as in England) give rise to anxiety that the driver is not going where desired.

We found the MBK Center much more crowded than we remembered it. In 2001 it felt very open; now there were continuous crowds. We might compare it to the change that took place in Tsim Tsa Tsui East, the district of Hong Kong where we lived three years. When we first moved there in 1982 most of the hotels, restaurants, and shops had been open only a few months; we helped inaugurate Pizza Hut. When we returned as visitors in 1999 all had acquired a patina of age overlaying a forest of signs that adorned the sides of the buildings, converting them from their original Bauhaus simplicity to a cacophony of impressions.

Now in the MBK center we couldn't find the restaurant we wanted to go back to. Eventually we convinced ourselves that it had been replaced and so settled on a Japanese sushi restaurant. After lunch we went to look for our 2001 hotel, the one in which we had first heard of the 9/11 disaster. It was a few blocks away and instead of being called "The American Hotel" or something similar it had a very American name: Reno. In five years we've moved upscale a bit; the BW Elegance is nicer than the Reno. Of course, it also costs more.

We'd originally booked three nights in Bangkok with the idea of moving to another hotel for up to a week more; part of our program was to check some out. After seeing the Reno we'd originally thought to go on to some others. But jet lag caught up with us and we went back to the Elegance, swam a bit, and then hit the sack. The next day we went directly to the area near Pantip Plaza (where we intended to research lap tops) to look at the Baiyoke. On the way we passed the First Hotel and inspected it. From there we set off to find the Baiyoke Suites, which was harder than expected because we didn't know which soi it was on and connections between sois are pretty haphazard. We did find it and didn't like it: it's a very tall tower. The room felt as big as an aircraft hangar which was fine but the wait for elevator was so long that we thought we'd be unhappy on ordinary days and terrified in case of an emergency.

In seeking the Baiyoke we'd been stopped by a couple who offered their help. The man was Steve Van Beek, an American who has made his career writing books about South East Asia. He now also offers tours. We checked out his website and it looks pretty interesting We also passed the "Iranian Restaurant" and went back there for lunch. It was excellent food. A good start to Thailand: first Chinese, then Japanese, and then Iranian food.

We then made it over to the Pantip Plaza, across the street and down a few sois. Gerry wanted to check it out from corner to corner, all five flours. Jan was having none of that; it was too late in the day and jet-lag was still having its effects. We went into a few shops on the second floor and found they had pretty much the same machines at the same prices as we'd seen in a shop in the MBK Center. We were more or less on our way out when we passed a dinky shop that seemed to have second-hand computers. Why not take a cheap, stop-gap measure? We stopped and asked what he had. To our surprise he had a Compaq very similar, and a slight upgrade, to the one stolen from Jan. Because he was very accommodating he let us check out all the functionality, including Wi-Fi (we checked our email there). Jan asked why the original owner sold the machine; her underlying fear was that this machine had been stolen from him. Perhaps if we had things to do over we would not have accepted the answer so blithely but we did. As everything worked we made an impulse buy, saving 20% on an equivalent new machine.

Jan's brother Dave is married to Jhap, who is from Thailand. Her niece Poy, has been studying to be a doctor and a few weeks earlier had started a residency in Bangkok. Jan spoke to Poy on the phone but we couldn’t see her immediately because she was on call.

As our third night in Bangkok approached we had to make a decision: where to move to? We liked the First Hotel but they didn't have any rooms available for the coming weekend and we weren't sure that we wanted to stay in Bangkok. The next day would be the beginning of three days celebrating the 60th Jubilee (sixty years on the throne) of the Thai king. Lots of events were planned and, while we would like to have seen them, we thought we had almost no chance of getting up close. In particular, there would be a parade of royal barges on the Chao Phraya River. In 2001 we had visited the museums where they are kept and had been very impressed with them. And just a week earlier we'd visited the museum in Istanbul where the Sultan's equivalent barques were kept. But the newspaper indicated without a reserved seat in one of the riverside grandstands we would have almost no chance of seeing them.

Because we had to wait two weeks for Gerry's passport to be ready, and because we had one of the two replacement computers, and because we wanted to see Poy, and because it was hardly more difficult to move to a hotel out of Bangkok than one in it, we elected to go to Kanchanaburi on Thursday.

June 12,2006

Monday, June 5 —
Bangkok Beginnings

We don't fly all that much, preferring land travel where we can. Now we've just jumped five time zones, from Istanbul to Bangkok, via Bahrain. In Istanbul we scheduled our pickup by the airport bus for four hours early as we always like to have plenty of time to get to the airport and then to go through security. Hanging around in the airport, if we do have extra time, is no big deal for us as we are as happy there reading as we would be in a hotel waiting for the bus. After picking us up right on time the bus went to a hotel near the Blue Mosque and found that the people who had made bus reservations weren't ready. We didn't know this at the time; what we observed was our bus going into a narrow street and then backing out with difficulty. "Why?" we wondered; "could the driver have been miss-informed?" From there we visited a good dozen other hotels and came back to the one that had puzzled us and picked up the late comers. They had been told the wrong time for the bus. There was a very good silver lining to this: we got a great free tour of almost all the important sites in central Istanbul, seeing again the Blue Mosque, St Sophia, the imposing gate into the Topkapi palace, the former hippodrome, and much more.

The bus did get to the airport speedily and with plenty of time for us. We'd been at the Istanbul airport before but never officially in it. How, you ask? When our wanderings started seven years ago we flew from London to Beijing with a change of planes at Istanbul. We weren't officially there because we never went through immigration. This time around we were there and consequently got to experience the usual airport doubling of prices in restaurants. We spent our last Turkish money on newspapers, having enough for Le Monde, Die Zeit, and the Herald Tribune. Then after a fair wait in the departure lounge — long enough to wonder where our plane was — we departed late.

On a side note, we didn't have the usual trouble getting our luggage down to a size small enough to fit into the allotted 20 kgs each. That was of course because we didn't have the six to eight kilos represented by our computers and the backpack they were stolen in.

A few hours later we started a three hour stop-over in Bahrain. We would have liked to have gone out and explored the place as the only Arab country we've been in is Egypt. What is a modern, even ultra-modern Gulf state like? We'd hoped back in Istanbul that our flight to Bahrain would be so late that Gulf Air would have to put us up for the night because we'd missed (at their fault) our connection. It wasn't so and all we got to see was the duty-free shop. Modern and glitzy, the only indication where we were was the marking of prices in Bahrain dinars as well as US dollars. Usually duty free goods are no cheaper than what can be found in town. That may even be true at the Bahrain airport but they were cheaper than what was on offer in Istanbul. If there had been laptop computers on sale we were prepared to buy one.

Bahrain to Bangkok was an overnight flight so Gerry's window seat did him little good. If we flew a great circle route we would have travelled about 5400 km, the mid-part of our flight taking us over Karachi and then the broad belly of India. We suppose that was the case but we saw none of this, sleeping through as much of the blackness as possible. Two hours before our morning landing we were overland and it was light. We might then have been over south-west Burma, but the cloud cover was heavy and there were no decipherable landmarks. An hour before landing at Bangkok mountains, edging a plain, were visible; these must have formed the border between Thailand and Burma.

Bangkok Arrival

After landing we naturally had the problem of getting out of the airport and to our hotel. It was only after going through immigration that we found out where we were. This may be a surprising statement but our doubts or uncertainty were due to the possibility that we might have arrived at the new Bangkok airport, Suvarnabhumi, rather than the old one, Don Muang. We didn't know if the switch had yet occured. We'd been at Don Muang several times and as soon as we got to where there were windows and we could see the highway we knew: we're on old, familiar grounds.

From Don Muang one can take a taxi from the many touts that greet arriving passengers, but their price is always over priced compared to the line of dispatch taxis available just outside the airport building. Or one can take a pedestrian bridge across the highway to the commutter train and go into town that way. We'd done that before, but this time elected to take the airport bus, a surprisingly rickety, barely aircon affair. Only after we asked the ticket price did we remember that we didn't have any Thai money to pay the 100 baht fare. Fortunately Thailand is extremely well endowed with ATMs; just inside the terminal there were a triplet of them — choose your bank and get your money.

The bus ride into town brought back lots of memories from our visit(s) of five years ago. As we entered the edge of the center of Bangkok we went by the Victory Monument and then switched over to Thanom (Blvd) Ratchaprarop. From here on lots and lots was familiar: we caught a glimpse of the Baiyoke Hotel tower and knew the Baiyoke Suites must be nearby. We'd made a reservation at the Best Western Elegance but thought we might switch to the Baiyoke, since nearby was Pantip Plaza; we'd soon be over there in search of new computers. Continuing south we recognized a half dozen upmarket shopping malls and then a scattering of big hotels. Shortly we turned on to Silom Rd, one of the most important up-market shopping areas of the city and knew we must be near the end-point of this trip. We expected the bus to go as far as the Shangri-La Hotel and that from there we would find the BW Elegance; we didn't know exactly where it was. To our surprise at the end of Silom the bus turned right, away from the Shangri-La, not toward it. We were told to get off; this was the end of the line. We'd have to walk more than expected.

We retrieved our bags from the bus, but not before the driver almost went off with two of them; we had so many. Then we piled them the usual two-two on our trolleys and were faced with a question: where do we go? From the web, when we'd made the reservations, Gerry had in mind a map, not overly detailed, of the location of the BW Elegance. In mind, unfortunately, and not printed on a paper in our hand.

Trundling our two trolleys, we set off to find our hotel. Just around the corner was a shop that seemed like it was run by Indians by their appearance. As they were much more likely to speak English than were Thais, we popped in and asked directions. After some consultantion between the two men in the shop we were given directions; very happily for us, they had heard of our hotel. Their directions were to go down a small street that they pointed to. We should have asked again because on crossing the road we somehow went right past the soi (or small side street) they had in mind — if it was there.

A few blocks later, convinced that somehow we'd missed the soi we were looking at the airport bus map in hopes of discovering something when a man stopped and asked us in good English if he could help. We explained we were looking for the Best Western Elegance and he offered to call on his cell phone and get directions. That done he offered to guide us. Although we said that wasn't necessary he insisted so we followed him. After following the directions for several blocks it was clear that the hotel was not in sight. He asked a person and that person sent him off (we not knowing this) farther from our hotel. Two blocks later we had to ask again and again got clear directions. This time Gerry suggested that Jan stay behind; there was no point in dragging the bags in the heat and humidity. You can guess that Gerry didn't think we were going in the right direction and your guess is right: Gerry was convinced that we were on the wrong side of a major road, Th. Charon Krung.

When Gerry and his guide arrived in front of the Shangri-La Hotel it was obvious to Gerry that the people giving directions thought that was what we were looking for; not the BW Elegance. As they went along Gerry learned from him that he was a Singaporean living in Bangkok for business. That seemed to explain our troubles: his Thai was not up to the task at hand. We think that when he had asked the questions "is the BW Elegance on the river side or away from Th. Charon Krung" he had got things backwards and that is why we ended up at the Shangri-La.

Gerry thanked the fellow and said that he didn't want to delay him anymore. (We're grateful to people whose sincere efforts actually cause trouble which makes it tough to thank them and get them to go away.) Then Gerry retrieved Jan and took her to a McDonald's he'd passed so she could guard the bags in cool comfort while he set off to walk every block until he found the place. Since the remembered map located the hotel in relation to the Saphan Taksin Skytrain station he went down the block until he could see it. Then he followed the elevated tracks east until voila — there on the top of an eight story building was the name he was looking for. As it turned out, The BW Elegance entrance was on a soi that led exactly back to the McDonald's where Jan was waiting.

We trundled down a very long block to the hotel, passing "old Bangkok": On this soi there weren't aircon malls nor 30-50 story office towers. We passed two story buildings with plenty of mildew on the outside. The street itself was half blocked with street business, mostly food carts. Behind them were small shops, including a laundry which we were sure we would use later. The mildewed outside of the BW Elegance building and the general appearance of the street raised the possibility in our minds that the elegance for which we'd pre-paid would not be delivered.

We went into the lobby. All changed. We were in cool air-conditioned comfort. It was attractive and clean. Our room was a fine, comfortable suite. On the roof was a pool that would be a pleasure to swim in. We began our recovery from our long travel.

June 7,2006

July 20, 2005