Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Chapter 35: Banglamphu

by the bends of Chao Phraya river, under the foot of Rama VIII bridge sits the area called Banglamphu

from the river to the East, Banglamphu canal cuts into the town and many people’s lives are deeply connected to the flow of water

on the corner where the canal and the river meet is Phra Sumen fort, a park stretched around it offers the best recreational spot in the tourist-populated Banglamphu

and by Pin Klao bridge is Thammasat university, which took an important role in this country’s pro-democracy movement

Free Wi-fi is available at the cafeteria, 20 bahts for non-student person to go in and out for the use of underground library facility all day long, and if you need a break, the whole campus is facing a beautiful view of Chao Phraya river.

Tammy, a California origin Seattle resident whom I met in Pai (see Chapter 5) contacts me while we are in the same internet café (which we didn’t know), ‘I’m in Bangkok, too!’ so we get together for our yoga-in-the-park session

New friendship is born! Lek really likes Tammy’s yoga class. Tammy then decides to give her purple yoga mat to Lek

In a few days ‘Tammy’s yoga-in-the-park club’ brings more practitioners. Rachel and Lindi, my beloved Melbournite sisters from last year’s Cambodian tour (see arrive in Bangkok, join the class before their intensive yoga training weeks in Koh Pangan

Toshiro gets the first haircut in this 3 1/2 months trip

All this is a fraction of collective life in Banglamphu, for majority of people spend their time and money over near Kao San road, the booming tourist hell. It’s convenient to stay in Banglamphu while traveling through SE Asia, but it’s easy to fall into traps of Kao San madness. For me, I been too disgusted by Kao San road and area immediately around it, to even take any photo to inform you of this insanity that goes on there all the time.

*1st, 3rd and 4th photos in this chapter by Miguel Aflalo

Monday, April 28, 2008

Chapter 34: Back to Bangkok

April 28, Panic Farmers once again gather at Alexia café. This is our last day together in Laos

‘Francesca’ takes off on her bicycle to goddess knows where

Miguel dreams of further travels

Toshiro dreams of being a rock star

as a Tuk Tuk carries 5 of us to Friendship bridge, a crossing point between Thailand and Laos, 23km East of Vientiane (above 4 photos by Lek)

there’s no footpath crossing allowed. You have to take this shuttle bus between two countries, 4000 kip or 15 bahts

Last time I see the great Meckong, as the bus carries us and local travelers nestled in memories and thoughts

leaving 30 days of Laos, entering Thailand again.

Immigration, custom, blah blah blah… always tiresome process

and we are in Nong Khai, Northeastern town of Thailand. Jump….! with all our luggage

from there Lek and I go straight to the train station, for two tickets of 2nd class seat on the night train to Bangkok

shakey and bumpy, Thai night trains are always bit hard on your back. 2nd class sleepers are comfortable, 2nd class seats are pretty good too, for they recline far enough to make your bed, one thing you should avoid is 3rd class seats, they are upright narrow box seat with no room between you and other fellow passengers

kitchen on the train

Military general poses for my camera, in the dining car

next morning we wake up over the lake

nearing Bangkok, we pass an abandoned expressway project. Small reminder of bubble economy and colluption

9:30 in the morning of April 29th, 3 hours behind the schdule, finally we are in Hualamphong, Bangkok central train station. Been away since the night of February 5th

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Chapter 33: Legs of Southeast Asia

When a society fulfills its inhabitants’ basic needs such as food, dwellings and healthcare, then it would starts to develop its commerce. And one of the most important elements for the commerce is the legs, or transportation.

From wheels of bicycles to Honda 50cc, small paddle boats to large Tourist cruisers on Meckong, From Tuk-tuk’s to Classic Mercedes, in this chapter we can study all different means of Southeast Asian transportation.

In Laos waterways are primary means of transportation. The great current of Meckong pours in from China, cuts through the country from North to South, flows out to Cambodia, then to Vietnam. In Mueng Ngoy in Northern Laos where I spent two weeks, no road reaches for motor vehicles and people use boat to travel to other places.

Most basic form of boat is made by binding together three pieces of wood. Children of Mueng Ngoy can paddle this boat through still water for their afternoon fishing.

For your increasing needs of transporting heavier goods for further distance, you might consider installing a motor on your boat.

Equipped with motors, many of these ‘slow boats’ are everywhere on Meckong, Nam Khan and Nam Ou rivers. Northern Lao’s main source of transportation for local travelers, short distance commuters, international tourists and all kinds of merchandises.

Motor on a small tourist boat in Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river.

Traffic on Chao Phraya is constantly heavy with a variety of vessels

Interior of tourist express boat. Chao Phraya river, Bangkok.

meanwhile on the ground, this type of tractors is seen all over Laos mostly for local commuting and transporting the goods. watch out if you ever try to hitch a ride from one of these, for they are quite bumpy and often jam-packed with people or goods

The most popular means of Southeast Asia’s transportation is without a doubt motorcycles. You see them carrying a family of five, or a live water buffalo, or a ton of bananas.

Above pictures are taken in Siem Reap, Cambodia on my last year’s tour. More on this I have discussed in a chapter from previous year’s Rice Farm Tour 2007. (see

Honda Super Cub 50cc. A genesis of motorcycle. Completely stripped off, 50 years old and still thriving on the street of Luang Prabang.

from Vientiane, Laos and from Kanchanaburi, Thailand, all different style of Honda Super Cubs

and this pink one! With the horns and the pig paint, you almost wouldn’t recognize it as Super Cub. Cute!!

Incidentally while I was writing and editing this chapter in my parents' house in Japan, there is an article on Asahi newspaper about the 50 years anniversary of Honda Super Cubs. Estimated number of manufactured bodies reached 60 million, it is the most popular motorized vehicle in the world that has not change its basic design from the beginning, when Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda motors, released it in August of 1958, with it concept being 'as easy to operate as even for a soba noodle delivery with one hand holding noodle soup'. Today Super Cuba are sold and driven in more than 160 countries. (from Asahi newspaper, May 21st)

and here’s the French imported Vespa. while many of Honda Cubs serve heavy duty transportation role, these cute motos you would see on the side of posh café with its owner on wireless internet… well, you think Vespas are only for cute little intellectuals…?

Check these out, near Sumpeng district of Bangkok, streets are filled with Vespas for transporting their goods, mainly fabrics.

in Vientiane we found this very rare Vespa with a side car, owned by a antique collector. Made in 1974.

Alien of motorcycle. Often seen in Bangkok, with their head sliced off and swapped with a trolley, for delivering goods.

you want some more of the motorcycles with side cars? Here’s a side car style ‘Tuk Tuk’. Although the words are used to categorized the whole Southeast Asia’s mini taxis, so many variations can be seen depending on where you are. This side car type is in Luang Prabang, for 2 people and small luggage.

slightly bigger, this Tuk Tuk is a version of motorcycle with its back converted. Again 2-3 people and some luggage, not too much. ‘Tuk Tuk’ in Thai and Lao language means ‘every’ or ‘perpetual’ because they are everywhere, and come one after another...? It’s funny they also makes the sound of their engine ‘tuk tuk tuk tuk…’

everywhere in cities like Luang Prabang, Vientiane, or any large city in Thailand, you see beautiful antique classic cars on the streets. If you are into classic cars, try taking an afternoon stroll and see what you find. Like this Mercedes, they were probably all imported in colonial era, kept in good condition for decades.

Pougeot and Mustang with ‘Indochina’s Handicrafts’ logo. Some are kept on the same spots without ever being seen driven, some are seen with owner (or his driver) methodically wiping the windshield.

‘I Love Laos’ This mini Rover I found in Vientiane, has a Lao flag on top. While I got the feeling that it is owned by a Farang, Lek thinks the owner is a Lao. What do you think? Would it make a difference?

Big disco music came blasting on a Bangkok street and we turn around. Here comes a chartered party bus!

for your group tour down to southern beaches and up the mountain with waterfalls, why not we can start drinking and karaoke before we get there!

In Thailand too, normally fire engines are red, but this one is for fire lady-boy.

Buick and Dogde, big ol’ American cars can also squeeze into tiny streets of SE Asia

and the classic of classic cars, VW beatle, a day wouldn't pass by without seeing at least one of those

meanwhile you can enjoy the state of art, brand new models of sports cars, Ferrari and Porsche, Lamborghini and Hummer all displayed on the upper floor of Siam Paragon shopping center. (see Chapter 38)

is it true that Mercedes makes a Tuk Tuk?

*the first, third and sixth photos (the bicycles and the boats) and the one of mini Rover with Lao flag by Lek, the eighth picture with boat’s engine, the tenth with boat seats by Miguel