Monday, February 28, 2011

Massage & Burmese Curry with Squid

Burmese Curry Soup with Squid
We began our evening wanting to get one last massage before leaving for Laos tomorrow. A little misreading of the schedule has us departing from our hotel at 8:30 at night, not in the morning. Oops, so we have time to ship some purchases back to Bisbee, inquire about future short hop flights, and maybe squeeze in a foot massage. But tonight we walked over to the massage house but the couple who own the place were eating dinner so we agreed to return in about 30 minutes which gave us time to find the shipping company for tomorrow. About 45 minutes later we returned only to find a family had squeezed in before us so we were asked to return in about one hour which we did and received a great full body Thai massage. If you've never had on of these experiences you need to try it. These people get right to every little muscle place pressure on those points that seem to be tight. I can't say it's always pleasurable but afterward you are happy about treating your body to such a sensation.

It was just past nine when we left the massage house and we decided to have a bite to eat. The Number 9 Restaurant was within a two minute walk and on a previous occasion we discovered their food to be flavorful, fresh, and really cheap. Sharon had the Phad Thai with chicken and I went for the Burmese Curry Soup with Squid. Everything was quite delicious and with the ambiance of florescent lighting and the traffic whizzing by the open air venue, it made for a cozy setting. The fresh fruit drinks quenched our thirst of not only the spicy food but the warm evening air.

Customer Warning Sign at Restaurant Number 9
Now we need to pack, review our plans, and get our papers in order for tomorrows journey to Laos.  

Sleeping in Gravy

I didn't quite get the jest of naming the room
Yesterday the honeymoon was over. We moved from our "honeymoon suite" to a "superior" room within the same hotel. The difference was identified in so many ways such as the Americanized bath with separate shower now is the Thai all in one, toilet, shower, and sink with the floor drain. This bathroom design is just fine...just not for honeymooners. The television is no longer the flat screen but the ceiling mounted box you once saw at outdoor bars through out the world and the Aljazzeer news network looked to be broadcast in multiple tones of gray. The biggest laugh at all this is the name of the room other than the room number 12. The rooms have names such as rosey, lily, latte, pastry, earth, stone and even room number 1 is called "Woody". I thought that would be more appropriate for the honeymoon suite. Our replacement room is called.....ready for this..."Gravy."

Sammy and his class
Class assignment completed

A couple days ago we attended "Sammy's Thai Cooking School" located on his organic farm about 30km south of Chiang Mai. Sammy picked Sharon and I up at our hotel in his personal Nissan car and we met up with the rest of the all young internationally mixed female class waiting for us at the remote local market for the village of his farm. These tours of the markets are very interesting and this one especially was nice since it was a rural market in lieu of the hectic city markets. Sammy's wife escorted the class of nine through the market while I took photos. I took a class last year and did quite well so I didn't need the class room refresher before entering the kitchen. Sharon was amazed at how many different types of basil they used and the variety of fresh ingredients. After the market run down we boarded "sung tao" an open air pick up with benches in the bed to haul people efficiently, and wound our way through the lush agricultural countryside single land roads eventually turning through a mango grove into a clearing of Sammy's farm. The cooking school itself has an organic look about it which was a nice change from the concrete and steel city. Everyone has already chosen what they were interested in preparing and after a quick monologue from Mr. Sammy we got to work with Mrs Sammy instructing the class of four British birds, two sweet Dutch sisters, and a Finnish Russian girl about as tough as they come though very funny. I would have loved to knock down some vodka with her to really get the full flavor of her culture.

All the dishes were prepared by the students and then it was time to eat what we cooked. Everything was really tasty including my green curry, hot and sour vegetable soup, and phad thai. Then when all the students finishing eating, Sammy had a number of hammocks strung below his house on stilts next to a small pond. It was very relaxing. Desert and appetizers were next and I prepared mango sticky rice and chicken wrapped in banana leaf. The last was a lot of work for little bit of chicken inside the woven casing but it was flavorful. After all this it was back in the bus to our hotels.
Dutch sisters and Sharon relaxing between classes

Thai Dancer at Doi Suthep temple
Yesterday morning after packing up to move to the "Gravy" suite, we walked out to the main street and hailed a sung tao to take us up to the most important temple in Chiang Mai called Doi Suthep. This impressively constructed temple is built on a mountain top overlooking all of Chiang Mai. Because yesterday was Sunday, many musicians and dancers performed while we poked around and enjoyed the entertainment.  Once we returned to our hotel to relax in "Gravy", I dragged Sharon down to the Sunday night market which is the most fun of all the markets in Chiang Mai. It's a social occasion for everyone with great arts and crafts, endless racks of clothing, live music performances and tons and tons and tons of food. The Thai people will never starve. We ate from little vendors on the street which each little items costs between 30 cents and one dollar. Everything was delicious.

Today was the last full day for Sharon to pick up those last minute items and for me to arrange our next logistics to travel to the Laos border, cross to Huay Xai by boat, board a large slow boat (two days) to Luang Prabang on the Mekong River. Sharon is going to miss Chiang Mai for the incredible shopping and her daily massages. Tonight we shall cherish our last night in Chiang Mai by sleeping in "Gravy"

Friday, February 25, 2011

Local Bus OK...Not Next Time

Sharon's friend riding with us to the bus station
Our first full week of picking up and moving about has stirred  the travel cobwebs from my brain. This means years ago I instinctively knew when to inquire about bus timetables you immediately discount the buses that run in between the direct express buses. In this case I didn't ask when the express buses from Sukhothai to Chiang Mai ran....I just asked "next bus to Chiang Mai?" and there is always a bus leaving within the hour so I felt pretty good until I looked up and at the schedule taped to the ticket window glass just above my eye level showing two times, 7:10 and 10:00. Even in Thai writing I could tell we were in for a long ride to Chiang Mai. If I would have done my homework, we could have left an hour earlier and caught that ten o'clock bus and instead of six and half hours of stop..start..stop..wait..start, we could have been downing our third Mai Thai a cocktail lounge in Chiang Mai. We certainly got our Baht's worth on that bus trip.

New Eco-Adventure, Chiang Mai by Panda
I was pleasantly surprised we had quite a bit of daylight remaining when my boot hit the tarmac at the station in Chiang Mai. The night before I was in email contact with the desk clerk at the Charcoa Hotel where I wanted to stay but she said they only had one room left for the five nights I requested and of course it was their most expensive luxurious honeymoon suite at roughly $65.00 a night. I know that's about the cost of a Motel 6 in the states but here in the land of plenty $20.00 a night rooms, it's the principal of scale. I took it because I slapped and scolded myself for being ridiculous and unromantic.

A (OK Class..who meets you everywhere you go?) Tuk-Tuk driver! Muy Bien! asked where we wanted to go and I handed a brochure I had with me from last year (thanks Chuck for saving it) which clarifies any doubt as to what your destination is. Then I asked, how much. (you got to ask or you will really get it in the end) I used my confident pout face look and he responded with a reasonable 80 baht (about $2.50) and I agreed.  To the airport they will charge you upwards of 300 baht for about the same distance but they feel sorry for the poor souls coming in on the "local bus".

Riding bicycle in Chiang Mai
Hey all you voyeurs out there...are all you getting to see my newly posted photos on Shutterfly? To see them, just click on the "On the Road Again Images" on the upper right side of this blog and it will get you there. Then for god's sake sign up to be an official member. I can't afford any more Ronco nose hair trimmers but I got a line on some pristine NIB "Buttoneers" if you sign up. I just want to make sure this site is getting everyone a chance to see my images. I'm sure Chris Collins, the owner of Shutterfly would like to make sure his product is doing its job as give me some feed baby.

Because of Sharon's addiction of foot and back massages. descriptions for each of the photos has fallen behind but who gives a hoot if its a Wat or a Waddy.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bonus Post

Once in while I trip across something that is way too incredible such as yesterday when Sharon and I were bicycling around the ruins at Sukhothai Old City when my eye was immediately drawn to a passerby walking to a site. A statuesque woman sporting a hair fashion that was beyond...way beyond anything I'd ever seen. The highly styled hair was part architectural and part Burningman with a Warhol flair. The hair texture, color and cut were immediately playfully stunning accompanied with matching blue eyeliner and lip liner. After I gathered myself and spun my bike around, I asked the woman if I could photograph her. She lit up and posed quite nicely. She said Paris was her home and once I snapped my third photo, she bid me a classic au revoir! "Merci mon cheri". What an unexpected bonus!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wat's Goin On

4T Guesthouse Bungalow in Sukhothai, Thailand
We left Bangkok just after noon...not the time I liked to because it gets us to Sukhothai right at dark without a hotel. I just hope there is a little light left or there is an information booth at the bus station to guide us towards a place to spend the night. In the meantime I'm on an island...a concrete island with buses idling on both sides of me with the rhythmic shuffle of people and sweepers. I don't have to worry about falling over because the air is so thick I'd never hit the ground. Our big Mercedes bus pulled up and now we board into a nice air-conditioned cabin. These buses are not standard fare people they've had the Thai package added such as very elegant drapery all around, spiced up color schemes for the upholstery, and chandeliers...ones that Grandma would be proud of. The buses have a team..a driver of course, a navigator, and a hostess. The hostess gave us water, fried rice, and some little dough covered fig paste pastry.  We pulled out right on time, 12:30pm and rapidly left Bangkok, north to Sukhothai. These drivers are fearless but respectful unlike many of their breed in Mexico. By the time I saw the turnoff for Sukhothai, I thought we would be dropped off by 5PM which would be daylight to check out a few places but culture gets in the way logic (well at least mine), and we passed the turn off to drive 30km to begin dropping off all the other passengers at each of their own custom stops before the last person (excluding us) was let off. Then the hostess sacks out, the bus speedily retreats 30km to the Sukhothai bus station arriving at a dark 6:30PM. I made my last step from the bus when two young Thai men came up to introduce their 4T Guesthouse and for 30bht, roughly one dollar, the...what is it boys and girls?...right...the Tuk-Tuk driver will take you there to check it out. Tired, hungry, and not having any idea where to go I said "load um up driver", who in this part of the country sits in back as we passengers ride up front, blocking the insects for him.  Well the travel gods again were with us because this lovely place has served up well for three days. It has a great restaurant, pool, and individual bungalows with air-conditioning. Ah...thank you...thank you...thank you. 
Back Alleyway Personal Temple

Sorry for the corny headline but that sums up a big part of today. Like touring Europe for the first time, your sightseeing includes many cathedrals and after a few days you get the same response as 99% of others doing the same drill, "Seen one cathedral...seen um all". And for the most part here in Thailand and other Buddhist countries, the abundance of Buddha statues and temples can make you brain dead, I mean they are thick with um here. But last year when I returned from Thailand I began to take notice of how many houses of worship our American neighborhoods sport and I quickly discovered we pretty much dominate the quantity of god houses per square mile. It's just most of our parishes, synagogues, or churches are boring architecturally speaking. In fact many slip into strip malls and sell smokes and ice on the side.
Buddha Sharon

A little before seven this morning we left our very cute $20.00 a night bungalow in (you should all know this by now) a Tuk-Tuk and headed off to the "Old City" Sukhothai to explore the ancient temple ruins that were at there peak sometime around 1200 to 1300 AD. About the same time the Maya and the Inca were lighting up. We were well schooled on arriving to the site early morning, (in our case 7 a.m.) before the tour buses, and once there, rent a bicycle to get around. Both were very good pieces of advice because later the throngs of tourists and students were very prevalent and the bike permitted two areas of comfort. First to flee from over populated sites and second, to create a breeze in the stifling heat. OOOWEE she be hot today. The early morning was very nice but overcast which made my photographic images flat but at least the temperature wasn't peaking. Later, about 10AM, the sun broke through and the photography improved but the waterfall off my frontal lobe resembled Havasupai Falls. By this time Sharon retreated to a shade tree and took up reading while I continued on with camera and sponge.

It was almost noon and I rendezvoused with Sharon to return our bikes and meet up with our.....very good...Tuk-Tuk driver. Again the service in Thailand can't be beat. On the way back Sharon mentioned it would be good to get an afternoon Thai massage. OK everyone I want to warn you, if you ever get started the $7.00 an hour Thai Body Massage like Sharon did she is on a daily schedule. I must admit, I'm hooked too. Today my masseuse sent me to the moon quite a few times. That meaning the pain was beyond my pain threshold zone but I endured it and I feel the better for it.
Sharon at Sukhothai

Now we must move on and tomorrow Sharon and I board the bus to Chiang Mai once our laundry is returned to us. In Chiang Mai I have a special treat for Sharon, a really, really nice small hotel in the old part of the city. It's called The Charcoa House. We'll hang there for 5 days to do things like visit another temple...also we will go to a Thai cooking school, go to an elephant work camp, go to night market and stroll around the large beautiful park in the south east end of the old city. Between all those great fun adventures I will plan our route into Laos to catch a 2 day boat ride down the Mekong River.

The trip is rolling strong which is why I'll need another massage tomorrow.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Down But Now Up

Good Lord folks I don't know how to describe the beginning of this journey other than fog like. We arrived to our hotel in Bangkok at 2:AM after being en route for over 26 hours. Like punch drunk boxers we hit the mat in our hotel room but the bell for the next round rung our internal clocks at 7AM and actually we didn't feel all that bad. Friday was a special holiday in Thailand, the celebration of Buddha which attracts believers from all over Asia to Bangkok so they can visit the many extraordinary temples within this very large city.

River Taxi
I started with a quick internet search of local transportation and found their light rail known as SkyTrain is cheap, fast, and very efficient. Sharon and I left our hotel via the complimentary Tuk Tuk service to the Nana station, took the stairs up to the platform, figured out what zone and what the cost of the tickets to get there. The train zoomed up, we boarded and off we flew over the city to the Chao Phraya River, bounced down the stairs and purchased an all day ticket on the shuttle boats delivering everyone up and down the river at 18 or more piers on each side of the river. This is a very busy waterway for transportation not only for people, but long barges of goods being towed to a market or warehouse somewhere.

Bangkok Temple of white Carrera Marble from Italy
With some of the notes I made from my internet search and the tourist brochure from our boat ticket purchase we decided to disembark at Pier 8, Wat Pho where the gargantuan reclining Buddha lies. Massive amounts of tour buses deposit thousands of tourists to this site but the crowd was well directed and obedient allowing all to pass around this incredible statue housed in an equally beautiful temple. The whole complex consisted of many temples and countless forms of Buddha.

Reclining Buddha
After getting ourselves lost and regaining our bearings, we began to walk to another site up the river. The weather was nice...a bit warm....a little humid and we didn't know exactly where we were going but as the travels gods have done so many times in the past, they sent an angel in the form of a Tourist Policeman who happened to walk past us the opposite way, turned back and asked if we needed some help. He immediately went out of his way to make certain we had a reputable Tuk Tuk driver, told him where to go and negotiated a base cost and wished us on our way. Of course we were now in the hands of a Tuk Tuk operator serpentining the crowded boulevards and back alleyways. At each stop he would explain the best he could what we were to see. This went on for hours and at one site, a temple located off a small alley we returned to our driver after viewing the temple to which he asked if we could wait for a few minutes...I believe he had to relieve himself. While waiting Sharon and I clowned around with me being the driver of the Tuk Tuk and she was my passenger. A nice looking young man in his late twenties asked if he could take a photo for us which we obliged. After the photo session he introduced himself and after finding out he was from Singapore, worked in the silicon valley in California for a few years but now lives in London. He asked if we were aware that today was the last day for a year to which tourists can purchase gem stone jewelry at wholesale prices which he does every year. He suggested  the place and when our driver returned the young man told the driver the name of the shop and the address. Our driver knew exactly where it was so off we went to the Premier Sapphire Company LTD to make our purchase. After selecting a couple pieces, then came all the paperwork and documentation. The saleswoman was extremely efficient and apologetic about all the forms but this was a special that is not available until same time next year and they document everything since these gemstones are regulated by the Thai government.

Our Tuk Tuk driver with a happy Sharon
Once we completed out purchase, we attempted to see a mansion of royalty but it was closed so we asked to be dropped off at the nearest pier to catch a boat into central Bangkok and board the train back to our hotel. Once off the boat Sharon was hungry so we got some Indian food then stepped upon the train and all was good until we left the train station. Neither of us could remember exactly where our hotel was. I tried to remember when we were dropped off early in the morning was now dark and to be honest...our hotel was in the middle of the sex trade district so the activity at night puts a whole new spin on walking the streets. After an hour of asking directions which no one wants to give you and walking the neighborhood streets knowing we were very close but because of the dense population of high rise hotels you can't really see, we finally got to our hotel and I collapsed not totally from the days activity but from a deep ache in my muscles all over. Half way through the night my body was on fire. The next day was a blur with Sharon following suit by 9AM. Both of us down with the flu. If you have to be sick while traveling, make it happen in a decent hotel with a clean bathroom in your room, airconditioning, and TV to numb your brain when you're awake.

Today is my first day on my feet and we have decided to move out of Bangkok to a UNESCO heritage site half way to Chiang Mai called Sukhothai. This ancient temple site is located in a tropical setting which is way better than the concrete jungle of Bangkok. In thirty minutes we take a taxi to the bus station and off we go five hours into the central area of Thailand.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cookie sez it all!

While the Catholic believers are still reeling from the image of the Lady of Guadalupe burned into a tortilla, Stacy Maxwell, uber baker for the stars, gifted us with a cookie that sez it all. "We love you Stace!"

Gingersnap with a message!
Early yesterday afternoon began as a delightful pleasant mingling of friends stopping by our house to wish us well all the way into the wee hours of this morning. We visited with friends we hadn't seen in many moons. (I'm almost fluent in native american lingo) This morning heap big fog is lifting from my frontal lobe and I was amazed at what I achieved at 2:AM. For all you fans out there in Bloggoville, I installed a Shutterfly link located in the upper right corner of my world famous "Back On The Road Again" blog. Yes, with a simple click of your mouse, a touch from your touchpad, or for those with touchscreens, a kick from your boot to your monitor will connect you to the mother lode of images that I'll post as we move about. So you can test this improvement, I've posted some Thailand photos snapped a year ago from my Chuck Fiel Amazing Photo Workshops in Chiang Mai.  Also added on the Shutterfly link is a calendar showing what area of the world we will be which is handy reference for all the world leaders and diplomats giving them time to organize parties and parades honoring our arrival. It will be international fun for the whole family.

Stetter family conference
Speaking of family, many are wondering how does a family stay together when they are millions of miles apart? Carl is pedaling his ass off to New Orleans, Ericka will be living in Brazil the end of March, and Sadie will be comforting Gretchen and her students in Flagstaff.  The Stetter's have adopted the latest Apple technology sweetly named "Facetime". This voice over internet combined with live video permits us intimate communication worldwide without a penny from our pocket. In fact it has enhanced our communication skills by freeing our normally repressed personalities to creatively making faces and totally goofing on each other yet still revealing the general health and whereabouts of our naughty kids and they seeing their crazed parents evolve into who knows what. This is no small task coordinating a time which all of us are at our computers or their convenient pocket size iTouch. We're still working out the details but the basic tools are in place.

 Roughly three days to put the finishing touches on plans and responsibilities. Little to say that our anticipation afterburners are beginning to kick in but the cookie sez it all. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Revolts, Freezes, and a Cup a Joe

I was being elevated up high into the sky by a fork lift towering over the dusty orange of daybreak in a  stark desert tented encampment by my Paris friend and now forklift operator, Lisa Wines shouting at me to imitate a Muslim call to prayer so our peacekeeping forces could get a sense of how to react within the morning hours of Cairo. I tried calling out my best chant but I couldn't get the volume right...then the phone rang and I jumped from bed, bouncing like a pinball off the furniture following the ring tone and once again not answering it on time. Half in Egypt and half slumped over the foot board of my bed, I pressed call back to hear Sharon in Bisbee telling me all her pipes were frozen (this was not a personal problem) while I was still trying to sort out why I had a lingering desire to chant. With cell phone in one hand and hooking a coat sleeve with the other all the time dragging one foot in front of the other from bedroom to the kitchen, I reached for our faucet to brag to caller number one that I had water for coffee but soon I discovered my water petered out to a dribble. What! I'm in Phoenix...we can't have frozen pipes...this is why we suffer the wrath of hell for five months year after year never to have frozen pipes! Thoroughly pissed and now fully awake I inspected the entire plumbing network of our house. Oh by the way...Good Morning!

I was lifted high above the Egyptian desert trying to chant
 The unrest in Cairo has me hooked. The dismantling of another regime parallels the changes in our climate and the diluting of our cultures into a homogenized lumpy stew. The world is changing and now we can follow it minute by minute even though the dastardly rulers attempt to "blackout" all communications. With the naive cultures being eroded by thieving political legacies and global corporate giants with voracious cheap labor appetites , I get anxious to seek them out before they disappear like melting glaciers. I've been fortunate to experience what it was like to be in the Soviet Union in 1972 at the height of the cold war or the exuberance of the people gaining their independence on the Caribbean island of Dominica. Whether it's gunfire in the streets of Arequipa, Peru or over turned vehicles lit afire in Rocky Point, Mexico, the passion of a united people is intoxicating and if you've never been in the thick of it well...maybe you're lucky. Me, it gets my juices going. Please don't mistake me for a thrill seeker trolling for dangerous moments. I innocently wonder into these situations not knowing what's normal so I always default to the "when in Rome" credo. Soon, Sharon and I may have the opportunity to experience a new government or a repressed society in Egypt when we arrive in Cairo at the end of May or we may have to peer out the window of our plane as we pass over Giza on our way to Kenya. Anticipation is like the third cup of coffee in the morning.