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Trip Report Bangkok, Luang Prabang, Luang Say, Chiang Rai, Singapore (but no Siem Reap)

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Thought I would follow up on our recent trip, and thank the people that gave me so much advice here.

The itinerary plan was intended to be a 19 day trot in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos prior to a two week sojourn in Singapore (where my husband was working.) Unfortunately we had to cut Cambodia on the fly, more on that later.

Since this was our first trip to SE Asia, we decided to trust the non-Singapore portion to a local TA, Exotissimo. This was a tough call, but a good one for us. We could now go back with confidence on our own, although I'd still like the air-conditioned vans with the cold washclothes, please! Exo was great when we were forced to change our plans on the fly, because of illness. It was very simple, one phone call plus some cancellation fees, of course.

So cut to the chase, Siem Reap was not to be. The day before we were to fly from Bangkok to Siem Reap I had an episode of "turista". I was pretty sick for about 2 days, weak for another couple, and ate very modestly and lightly for several more days after that. Moral of the story, take all the imprecations seriously--not sure what caused it in my case--we were staying at the Hilton in Bangkok, so I made the mistake (perhaps) of eating lettuce there. Or it could have been the shrimp. Or, it could have been the buffet meal we had on a tour boat on the river. Whatever it was, I will be even more vigilant and prepared next time.

Anyways, I'll cut this into episodes, Bangkok first.

Arrival in Bangkok:

We were originally booked at the Ariyasomvilla which comes highly recommended as a "boutique" style hotel, near Sukhumvit Road. But we'll never know what it was like; because of the protests in Bangkok before we left and while we were there, Exotissimo moved us to the Hilton Millennium on the river--the river was considered very safe, and it was. There was violence in the city while we were there, but would never have known without BBC.

The Hilton Millennium, although not the kind of hotel we would normally choose, was a great choice location-wise. Shuttle ferries across the river, and to the skytrain, nice amenities in the hotel, great breakfast, an oasis that became pretty important when we realized that we weren't coping well with the heat, and especially while I was ill. Expensive restaurant, of course. Nice rooftop bar with a great view and a happy hour. Nice pool area right by the river.

Great view of the river from our rooms, first on the 11th then on the 29th floor. In fact, because of the heat and the protests and my illness, the river is my dominant lasting image of Bangkok. Wow, what a busy river, what great river traffic of all kinds up and down it!

Now I know why people say that you should stay by the river in Bangkok. It is genuinely interesting. Downside is a bit of isolation, but with cabs and ferries, it's not too bad. Of course, I haven't experienced the alternative.

Next episode, I'll talk about the tours we took in Bangkok, and the rest of our stay before proceeding to Luang Prabang.

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    Sorry to hear you got sick. (I would suspect the buffet on the boat) Did you seek medical care in Bangkok? Bangkok has excellent medical care. For future reference, Bumrumgrad Hospital is the place to go.

    Looking forward to more on your trip!

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    So sorry to hear you got ill. Could have been the buffet, but could have been the Hilton. Expensive hotels are no guarantee of safety - my last trip to India I got sick in the most expensive hotel of my stay.

    Definitely agree that the river is an interesting place to stay.

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    Thanks guys, will post more today at some point. I wasn't sick enough to seek medical care, thankfully. I had come armed with cipro and imodium. I decided to wait 24 hours before starting the cipro, and by then I was improving, so I didn't bother--I hate antibiotics, although I'm very glad I had them along just in case. We had also done oral Dukoral before the trip--not sure if this protected me from a worse case, or whether it just failed. I'll never know I guess.

    Yes, David thinks it was the buffet. But I felt fairly stupid eating Vietnamese spring rolls with all the lovely raw foliage they tend to come with, in the hotel. By the end of the trip I was eating salad, so go figure.

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    And thanks for the info on the aptly-named hospital in Bangkok, Kathie.

    Bangkok excursions, sights, first 2 days:

    We were meant to spend three days in Bangkok, plus two nights coming back. After spending the first day sleeping and attempting to acclimatize, we took a trip out of town to Ayuttaya with our guide Alex, and to the summer palace at Bang Pa. The palace was stunning, and we learned a lot about the history of the kings called Rama (our guide new political history very well). Spent several hours there, and since it was our first day, everything seemed very vivid--David saw his first Bodhi tree and we began to realize what Spirit Houses were all about.

    This vividness stayed while in Ayuttaya. Not Angkor, I'm sure, but since we didn't make it there, I'm so glad we went. It was a weekend, just after one of their big Buddhist holidays, and the place was buzzing with local tourists. We didn't mind, we love to people-watch, and get an idea about the lives of the people around us. We saw so many Wats that we can't name them all. I tried to take photos of the placename signs so I could identify them later, but I'm still going through the photos so the details are obscure. The large site with the huge reclining buddha, and the rows of buddharupas all with saffron sashes draped over their bodies.

    And the (kind of sad) site where many of the buddha statues had had their heads cut off and stolen long ago, but some have been donated back, and one is caught in the banyan tree.

    All in all, I am very glad we went to Ayuttaya. It gave me an appreciation of how seriously these folks take their religion. And we learned a lot about Theravada Buddhism that we hadn't really bothered thinking about before, and how it is practiced in Thailand.

    We then drove a while and boarded one of the many tour boats that go down the river into Bangkok, for a 3-hour tour including lunch. This one was the Grand Pearl. I ate the buffet lunch, which seemed fine, nothing special. I now wonder if this was what made me sick (David didn't eat anything). Anyways, we had a great, relaxing ride, seeing all the sights along the river, including Wat Arun, which is great from the river.

    Next morning we set off for Wat Pho and the Grand Palace in Bangkok itself. I'm glad we got there early, since I can imagine how insufferably hot it must be in the afternoon. Lots of tourists again, mostly locals and Chinese. This was an incredible morning, everything was stunning to us. We again saw how seriously this culture takes its religion and history. Saw the giant reclining buddha, and the emerald buddha. The multiple stupas of different styles, Burmese, Khmer, Thai. It was so great having a guide who was so knowledgeable about this.

    The one problem about our great guide, Alex, and in fact all of our guides, was that we couldn't really talk "buddhism" with them (we have a serious interest, and have, at various times in our lives considered ourselves to be Buddhist). They were all very knowledgeable about the religious sites and practices, but could not talk about the broader subjects, such as how their form of buddhism differs, nor could we really bring up our own interest with them--didn't seem right somehow, and their English was not good enough probably. But back in our rooms, we were furiously googling to find out interesting facts, all during our trip.

    Came back to the room and I suppose we had a sandwich or something, I can't remember. Soon I was beginning to feel funny, and by mid-afternoon I was fully in the throes of what I now call "Rama's Revenge". We were due to fly to Siem Reap the next morning, for three nights, and we knew this was not going to happen. So we made the decision to cancel that leg of our trip completely, stay in the Hilton an extra 3 nights, and then fly directly to Luang Prabang.

    As disappointing as this was, with the perishing heat and me being weak as a kitten, it was the right choice. Later people told us that it had been very, very hot in Angkor, so this eased the disappointment.

    Our subsequent days in Bangkok were pretty uneventful because of my recovery. We stuck close to the hotel, going across the river for dinner once I was feeling better, wandering around the area, sitting watching the river.

    Soon enough, I was reasonably recovered and we were ready to fly to Luang Prabang, the highlight of the trip (I think, although it's a tough call. More on that later.

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    We also went to Ayuttaya before Ankor Wat. Loved Ayuttaya but it needs to be seen before Ankor for best effect.
    Bangkok is a good place to be sick if being sick is what happens. Nice hotel, river view, no feeling of being somewhere without services. We had medical problem in StoneTown, Zanzibar. It was scary because they kept talking about flying us by charter to the mainland. Better to be in major city and really good you had your own medical kit.

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    Elainee, I so agree with you! I read a blog while I was lying around doing nothing on how to cope with this particular complaint when you're backpacking--one of the recommendations was to splurge for a comfortable hotel! I can't imagine having some other kind of more serious medical problem in a place like Zanzibar! Crossed fingers, this is the first time something even minor like this has happened to us while travelling.

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    Enjoying your report WW, and yes, when it happens a nice hotel (and bathroom) is imperative.
    At least you'll now have a reason to return - for Angkor.

    Looking forward to more, especially Luang Prabang.

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    Luang Prabang

    Let me just start by saying that this place is a gem. A small city, a beautiful colonial place. Set in the midst of the poverty of Laos. It's an oasis, touristy, but just enough to have a good infrastructure. Perhaps it would have been nicer ten years ago, but not much more perhaps.

    The town as a whole is nothing much, bustling, hot and dusty, the drive from the airport dusty and rundown, but the UNESCO historical area just lovely. We rarely left it, except on excursions. Looking out over the two rivers that meet at one end of the historic peninsula, it's nothing but dirt paths with the odd temple and house--very rural quite nearby the city. Patches of small market gardens everywhere.

    Flying in we encountered our only glitch with Exotissimo, and one that was rectified nicely. We had arrived around noonish, not in the afternoon as per our original flight itinerary. The local operator had not got the message, so we had to take a cab into our hotel. We called the guide's cellphone #, and got someone who really didn't have a clue. We're thinking, hmm, so much for the cold cloths! Within about an hour of our arrival, an Exo guy with our new guide had arrived at our hotel full of apologies. They did the whole number on us, going over everything that we were going to do, and then comped us our dinner that night. Since I was still eating lightly, we ate in the hotel, but it was very nice, and we felt much better about Exo.

    The hotel we had chosen was Villa Santi, which is right in the historic district, on Sakkaline Road. Very nice place. Lovely room, only proviso would be this: if you have trouble with stairs, ask for a ground floor room. We didn't know to do this, and the stairs were quite steep to the second floor. Good exercise for most of us, but not great for anyone with knee problems. But a really nice place, lovely breakfast, and very good restaurant. Not on either of the rivers, so no great view, but we had our own personal Wat almost next door! Convenient to many of the well-known restaurants. We didn't go to any of those, since with the heat, and my appetite curtailed, we ate very modestly. The last night there I went crazy and had one of the famous baguette sandwiches from a street vendor, and a crepe, just to say I had. They had a small plunge pool, but you couldn't really swim, just sit in it.

    Walking around town, we saw many other nice-looking modest guesthouses and charming higher-end hotels. The one right at the tip of the peninsula, the Riverview I think, looked great, albeit a little isolated. The rivers on both sides are lined with waterside cafes and restaurants, with hotels on the other side of the street. We spent several evenings there, watching the water and the world go by, very pleasant.

    We did the food market one morning, and it was pretty amazing and slightly depressing. The hill tribes come into the city every day to sell their meagre products. Weirdest thing was a little pile of tadpoles (I've read since that frogs are an important part of the hill people's diet, in places.) Honey, honeycomb full of bees. They had pieces of the comb wrapped in banana leaf and grilled--if it hadn't been for the dead bees I would have tried it.

    The diet in that part of Laos has many fresh greens, and they were for sale in abundance--best known was morning glory leaves, but they weren't like the flower I'm used to. I really liked the food in LP, stress on simple, natural ingredients, heavy spices left to the side. Caged songbirds, even a small owl--I hated seeing them, in both markets. I heard later that they catch them live to sell to tourists to release--that upset me no end.

    We also did the night market several times--I bought enough small items for everyone of my women friends--but how many scarves can you buy? Weaving is a big thing for the hilltribe women, it seems everyone does it, everywhere. This market is mostly Hmong I believe. A tough life they seem to have, but they work very hard to get by.

    Our wonderful guide took us to many of the major Wats one day, plus the royal palace. This was great--I really admire the style of the Laotian standing buddhas, hands open and straight down at their sides--this is the mudra of asking for rain. Seemed suitable since it was the dry season. Loved watching the monks, and seeing the locals practicing their religion. We had a nice lunch included that day, the restaurant was Japanese, oddly enough, although we had terrific Lao food.

    Our guide also took us to visit a Laotian shaman, in a nice residential district, for a blessing ceremony. We sat in his house, on the floor, while he intoned blessings, then he and his crew of women, old and young came and tied cottage strings around our wrists, quite a bundle of cordtage, some of which we wore for three days. This was really neat, I must say.

    Next day we were taken up to the Kuang Si waterfall. On the way we made a stop at a Hmong village. Visiting this village was a good experience. They were very poor, but not abject--they seemed to be moving forward with their lives. With some help, apparently from Grand Circle Travel, who had build cement walkways through the village, and provided a reliable water supply. The houses are very small, built on the ground, with packed dirt floors--this is a feature, apparently cooler. Our guide was himself Hmong, so he took us into visit the village shaman, who was an astounding man, not very old, perhaps 40, but a very powerful personality. He talked to us (through our guide) about his healing and augury practices, how he did them. He talked about remote diagnosis, by phone, and I learned later that the Hmong have an active business providing these services to the large diaspora in the U.S. His house was about the size of my bedroom, bamboo walls and reed roof, and housed 8 people. A little kitchen, storage area for bags of rice, two sleeping platforms with mosquito nets. But very proud people. They were not on display for us, which I liked, and there was only two women with a tiny table of things for sale--I bought a couple of embroidered aprons, which turn out to be too small for anyone but my slimmest friends, but I had to buy something, you know?

    On to the next village, which we didn't really visit, just made a stop by the side of the road to visit a weaver. She was ginning her own cotton, that they had grown. She then fluffs it, spins it, then weaves it. I bought several gorgeous cotton scarves, which will have to be drycleaned for sure, but still. She also wove silk, and I bought two of each, and she would only take $15. She bargained *me* down from $20, go figure.

    On to the waterfall, which is truly lovely. Lots of people there, Europeans and Asians (few Americans, anywhere). We had a nice picnic lunch by the water, catered from a resto in LP, then I went for a swim, the water was great, the local women did not approve of me in a bathing suit, let alone all the young girls in bikinis.

    Enough for now. Next will be our two day Luang Say boat ride, northbound.

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    Glad you enjoyed LP. But I am afraid it was much nicer ten years ago. i visited in 2002, 2004 and 2011, and I was disappointed in 2011 by how much more touristy it had become (and by the tourists, who were no longer showing respect for local customs). But if it's your first visit I'm sure it's still enjoyable, although not the magical, misty, forgotten backwater it was in 2002.

    Hope you enjoy the boat ride, that was a highlight of my 2002 visit.

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    Lovely report, WW. Fascinating to hear about the village shaman and performing remote diagnoses for the Hmong in the US! Truly a marriage of the old and the new!

    I'm loving hearing about your travels, having just come back from SEAsia as well. We also fell in love with the very pretty and charming Luang Prabang.

    Sorry to hear that you got sick, but as others have said, how good that you were in a comfortable hotel with all the amenities to feel taken care of.

    For what it's worth, the only time I experience "Rama's Revenge" (love this term,) was in Siem Reap. Fortunately, I never felt ill, and it was at the end of our trip, so we weren't impacted much. But you never know where and when it will hit, despite all good precautions.

    Paule

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    Luang Say and the Mekong

    Okay, so on to the Luang Say two-day boat ride upriver on the Mekong from Luang Prabang to Houay Xay. This was the "luxury" version of the two-day trip. There are cheaper versions, not sure how many.

    All the boats look the same from a distance, I believe, the Lao-style river boats. There are lots of pictures on the web of these. Ours was the luxury version. It apparently could hold 40 people, but I can't imagine more than 20 passengers, frankly. We really lucked out because there were only seven of us. So we had the run of the boat, pretty well.

    This is a long, open boat, with certain covered areas. A dining area in the middle with a moveable roof, covered sitting area, and small seating area bow and stern. Nice comfortable, padded seats, well-appointed, and good food for the meals they served (one breakfast, two lunches.) Western-style toilets!

    This is a great, slow trip up an incredible stretch of river. If you like the outdoors, scenery and nature in general, and can relax and let the world go by, this may be the trip for you. If you just want to get to or from Luang Prabang, you can take the hair-raising one-day speedboat, helmets and all. Apparently the alternative is a bone-crunching, very long bus ride. So the river is the way to travel north from LP.

    The scenery is much more spectacular the first day north of Luang Prabang. The second morning was great too, but the area flattened, the mountains receded, and as we reached the border with Thailand, started getting more built-up, not as wild. We also saw sand extraction in one area, and a huge bridge being built across the Mekong by the Chinese--they are investing a lot of money in Laos right now (shudder.)

    I am an outdoor nature-lover, so I was in heaven just chilling on the boat. The water is quite rough at times, not whitewater, but definitely rapids, so that's exciting. The geological interest along the river, particularly the southern half is spectacular--all manor of teeth-like rock formations, all engulfed in the fine white sand which comes down the river every flood--still don't know where it comes from, but at times it's like a beautiful sand beach. Lots of little villages growing tiny crops in that sand, the villages up tortuous paths above the river.

    Tons of water buffalo and goats were the main farm animals we saw from the boat (chickens, ducks and pot-bellied pigs in the villages). Very little wildlife of any kind--virtually no birds of any kind (we saw a swallow once, and a lone egret the entire trip.) I suspect, from reading about the diets of the hilltribes, that birds and their eggs all get eaten. Tremendous trees, sometimes lonely, teak and mahogany. Much deforestation, slash and burn, but still some beautiful forest.

    It was cold in the mornings, but they provided big warm capes for everyone. But bring a fleece along. It warms up pretty quickly, however.

    There were excursions included on the boat ride. Our first stop upriver were the Pak Ou caves, notorious for thousands of budda statues. The cave itself was unremarkable, but the views out to the river from inside the cave were very nice. We saw elephant trekkers across the river--at this point we realized we should have done an elephant ride! Oh well, next time.

    Second was a visit to a Lao Loum (lowland hilltribe) village called Ban Baw. It was very poor, and had problems with water supplies, but were getting along. I think this was the village where there was a small, but richly gilded, wat, that had been abandoned by the monks for a new village--so much for their religion helping them. The whiskey distillery was small, the whiskey awful, and the distiller was sprawled passed-out drunk nearby. Pretty sad, the whole thing.

    End of the first day, our arrive at Pakbeng. Since we were the "luxury" boat, we stayed at the Luang Say Lodge, slightly upstream from the town (which we therefore never saw.) The river was very low (end of February), so we could not dock right at the bottom of the long staircase up to the hotel. They finally moored several hundred feet upstream, and we had to trek along a sandy, uphill path, then up the long staircase, which was mostly sand reinforced with bamboo.

    This brings up one of the caveats about this trip--if you can't climb, don't do this. All the villages were up steep paths from the river, as was the hotel. I was a bit miffed, because it turned out there is a road behind the hotel that connects with the village of Pakbeng--they could easily arrange to transport their guests that way, and I believe they should--especially since many of their guests are in their 60's and 70's, including us. Don't do it if you have bad knees or a heart condition!!

    The hotel was lovely, once we caught our breath. It was dark by then, so we settled into our luxuriously rustic cabin (think safari or ecolodge luxury), then adjourned to the outdoor dining room for another lovely Lao meal, and fun with our fellow pax. The dark was profound except for the brilliant stars, and we fell asleep to the sound of strange birds and the gekkoes inhabiting the eaves of our room.

    Next morning we had a nice breakfast and set off down the damned path to the boat (no opportunity to visit the village). It was foggy, so we huddled under our cloaks--it didn't really warm up until midday. Again the scenery was great, although as I said, it started getting less spectacular (or maybe I was just getting blasée).

    We visited two more villages that day. David opted out of both, since his knees could no longer take it.

    One was Khamu (originally "khmer", although indigenous to this area, go figure) and one was Bor, I believe, since the sign said, "Bor Model Village". I believe it was the Kammu village that was actually a new village, made up of two villages that the government had moved--to share a school, electrical power, satellite dishes, etc. It was quite prosperous, in a disturbing way, and showed signs of a class-structure. Very interesting, though. The Bor village had received some help--they had water piped down from the mountains, at various places around the village, and therefore didn't seem as abjectly poor as the Lao Loum village. They had electricity, for instance. All these villages struggle, however, and live lives that we can hardly imagine.

    As we approached our destination, lots of commerce and construction to be seen on the Thai side. Chinese banana plantations on the Lao side, and an increasing number of villages. Arrived at comparatively bustling Houay Xay and were escorted in a air-conditioned van to the border checkpoint at the new bridge, where we boarded another bus to be taken into Thailand. Next thing we knew we were being whisked away by our private guide to our next destination, Chiang Rai.

    I'm so glad we did this, and I could even imagine doing it again, but for the climbing. A lovely adventure, so different than anything. Don't do it if you get easily bored, or need to be active all day.

    And we loved Laos. I would like to go back and see more of the country, especially the south, the Four Thousand Islands, which several people raved about. It's so poor, but I can't help telling anyone who is young, "go to Laos!"

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    I, too, loved Luang Prabang. It was a nice laid-back, cool, unpolluted respite in our 9 weeks in SEAsia. Great description of the boat trip. Reading your description I kept asking myself, why didn't I like the boat trip? Maybe I am one of the people who "get easily bored, or need to be active all day."

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    Didn't mean that in a disparaging way, by the way. I'm sure my son would have been bored, and most of his friends too. Maybe it's something to do with age. And we made friends with one of the couples onboard as well, so had some nice conversations.

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    No problem, I didn't take it in a disparaging way at all. I do get bored easily and tend to generally be on the go, so you nailed it. Looking forward to the rest of your trip.

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    We spent a week in LP back in 2002 and just loved it. We had lunch on the balcony of the restaurant at Villa Santi quite a number of days, sharing the crepes Suzette ($3) for dessert. SO you brought back great memories. I always wanted to do the boat trip - maybe one of these days.

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    Sorry, I'll get on with the report about Chiang Rai soon, we have houseguests right now. But I must say that The Legend Resort was a wonderful, relaxing place to stay, we loved it.

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    "Our guide also took us to visit a Laotian shaman"
    No, this is not a "shaman". What you had was a Barsi. The Theravada Buddhists believe the soul is divided into 24 Kwan. Over time these become fragmented. The morphone recites ancient Pali to call the kwan back to become a unified whole.
    Far from being a shaman, this person was probably a highly respected ex monk.

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    This was not a buddhist thing, it was an animist thing. It was nothing to do with buddhism, at least not that I know. The rituals were not buddhist either.

    Anyways, on to Chiang Rai:

    As we were being driven from Huay Xai to Chiang Rai, we felt a real change in the prosperity of the country. I know that Thailand is not "first world" in many ways, but it felt that way to us, after the poverty of Laos.

    So, we settled into our lovely resort hotel, The Legend. Right on the Kok river, so on the outskirts of downtown, to the north.

    I chose this place as a sort of splurge, a respite after our travels. The grounds were nicely kept, very modern but with Thai touches--relaxed, not plastic. Our room was in a semi-private bungalow, i.e., two suites per unit, but no one was next door. Private porch, with a swinging couch, which I inhabited for hours at a time. Lots of birds, gekkoes, flowers, ponds with fish, a great pool nearby.

    Breakfast was good, dinner buffet was kind of over the top, so we never tried it. But did try their Italian restaurant, of all things, one night, and quite liked it (including the salad that I ate with no problem at all.) We used the beer garden several times, down by the river, at happy hour.

    We went into town one night, via the hotel shuttle, to the night market, and ate at the big restaurant in the middle, and watched the Lao dancing performance. Food was good, prices reasonable. That night was Saturday, so there was also the weekly, "walking" market, which is just a big flea market with tons and tons of cheap stuff of all kinds, from hello kitty phone cases, to underwear. There was also a large outdoor food area close to that, with at least a hundred stalls, selling great-looking food, plus some not-so appetizing grubs, beetles, innards and other goodies. Got a tuk-tuk home no problem.

    Next day we went up to Chiang Khong, to the Doi Tung Development Project. This is very high, the climate quite different. Great views of the Thai way of life in the car coming and going--spirit houses, or often pairs of them, again in front of every house. In the mountains they grow lots of flowers, including roses. We saw the Queen Mother's former home, really beautiful, the botanical gardens, a museum that was mostly the history of the royal family and the rehabilitation of the hilltribes and the surrounding mountains, both of which were decimated by the opium trade. The hill tribes people produce lots of vegetables, coffee, flowers, and nameless other marketable goods, some of which were for sale in the area. Beware that there is lots of walking up and down hills, since the whole thing is on the side of a mountain--David didn't make it down to the gardens, he sat in the shade instead. I bought some coffee for my son--we'll see how it is after being carried around and stored for a while.

    Then on to Wat Phrathad Doi Tung, even higher up the hill. The original temple dates from the 10th century, and purportedly has a relic from the Buddha. Very interesting to again see buddhism in action.

    And back to the hotel. Both our excursions were half-day ones, that started in the morning, so we were back in time to relax and get away from the heat. In retrospect, we probably could have stayed in a hotel in the north somewhere--this cut out the back-and-forth. But we didn't mind too much.

    So, the next day, we went right up to the Golden Triangle, saw the confluence of rivers where Mayanmar, Laos and Thailand meet, went to the silly tourist centre somewhere up there, with lots of gaudy religious statues and tourist junk, mostly catering to Chinese tourists, of which there are many. There we took yet another boat ride on the Mekong, this a hair-raising half-hour trip in a speedboat. It was fun. We went through Chian Saen, with its ancient ruins, and then went on to Mae Sai, the bustling trading town at the border with Myanmar, with a "friendship bridge". This was pretty interesting. Many Burmese come across for the day to sell goods or pick up a day's wages as a labourer--they all have to be back across the bridge by 6 p.m. Huge market selling food, and lots of tourist "trinkets".

    I tried to find a statue of a naga, since I'd fallen in love with this particular creature, but couldn't find anything. Mostly you see them protecting the Buddha, with him sitting on the snake's coils, with the multiple heads forming a hood over his head.

    So again back to the hotel, another fabulous lazy afternoon at the Legend. We had arranged late check-out the next day, since our flight was at 5, so we just lazed around the next morning, did absolutely nothing. We had an uneventful trip to Bangkok, and got ourselves re-checked in at the Millennium Hilton for two nights. I'll tell you about our excursion there next time.

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    Just a brief one on our two nights back in Bangkok. Just one full day since we had an early flight to Singapore.

    We did a morning tour again, but it included lunch.

    Picked up promptly at the Hilton by our guide Alex, we proceeded to the river dock and got in our long-tail boat. This was a treat. We had seen so many of them, but not been in one, at least not the standard Bangkok variety.

    As some of you may know, the remaining khlongs (canals) that connect with the Chao Phraya River have watergates, kind of like locks, that open and close. We went by and saw that the gate was closed, so we proceeded first to Wat Arun. This wat is often seen from the river, or from the other side (downtown), and looks very haunting from a distance. Up close, it's pretty awesome. Lots of decorative elements on the main wat, mostly mosaics made from ceramics. Amazing statues along the walls of the tower. This was our favourite wat from the whole trip I think. Built in the days when Ayuttaya was the capitol.

    I managed to climb up two levels, the second set of stairs being pretty steep, and walked around outside of the wat. I did not take the third staircase, which was like a ladder, very steep--I would have had to come down on my bum, I'm sure.

    We then got in our boat, and went to the entrance of the khlong to await the opening of the watergate, along with a dozen other longtails. Did a nice circuit of some of the canals in that area (Thonbury)--fascinating to see this (disappearing) way of life. We saw at least a dozen more temples along the canals, all with their own docks. I can see why people want to live along these waterways.

    Our boat them took us to a pier on the other side of the river, where we proceeded to do a walking tour of Chinatown. As with most major chinatowns in the world, this one was unique. It was definitely one of the largest, and most gritty of any I've seen. Alex pointed out all the different types of food we were seeing for sale, and helped us avoid being run down by motorbikes driving through the bazaar delivering goods.

    We walked through the district that sells gold--the kind of gold jewellery that Indians come to buy by the gram, and where prices change hourly depending on the world price.

    Made it back to the river, and a complex where there was a large restaurant. It had several storeys. It catered to large tour groups at lunchtime, so our guide went off as usual with his fellow-guides, and we were left to have a reasonably nice buffet lunch, with hordes of French and German tourists. If could have chosen, I would have rather just had a bite of street food, but hadn't really thought that out in advance.

    Then back to the hotel where we had a relaxing afternoon and dinner at the hotel that night. Did I mention the awesome spirit houses that hotel has? They are in an internal courtyard, on the way to the river pier. They have preserved a large banyan tree, decorated, with the smaller spirit house beside it, with offerings. A nice touch. Altogether a really nice hotel, albeit a splurge (for us.)

    Flew to Singapore the next day, and said goodbye to our travel agency, Exotissimo. The next stage is mostly my adventure, commuting into Singapore by day to see the sights while husband worked on campus at Nanyang Technological University. Will follow up on that, since I did have lots of adventures, and even David had some too, on weekends and evenings.

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    "This was not a buddhist thing, it was an animist thing. It was nothing to do with buddhism, at least not that I know. The rituals were not buddhist either."

    I live in Lao, have done so for a long time, am married to a Lao Buddhist and have attended probably 20-30 Barsis in the time I have been here, some for me, some for friends etc etc. This is "a Buddhist thing" now. I think you are forgetting that there are many different types of Buddhism. The morphone recites in ancient Pali, not pasaa Lao.
    You are partly correct in that the ceremony dates back a long time, but it has now been incorporated into the Lao flavour of Theravada Buddhism. It has nothing to do with animism at all.

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    Well sounds like you know better than I, so I bow to our local knowledge. But it's not what our guide told us. And as a fairly low-keyed, non-practicing Buddhist myself, it certainly didn't seem Buddhist (but then Theravada was new to me). So perhaps now I'll have to find out more about it. Thanks for educating me.

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    Okay, so I'll take a stab at Singapore.

    As I said above, this was a special kind of stay. It was a working holiday for my husband, and we stayed out of town on a university campus, necessitating a long MRT (metro) or cab ride into the city. Our hosts were very nice to us, and we had several special dinners out, and a trip to Gardens by the Bay laid on. David had touring time on the weekend, but during the week it was mostly me taking the MRT into Singapore city and doing various tourist things.

    Singapore, I suspect, is a surprise to many the first time they go. It is, as we all read, a highly-regulated society. But a successful one, I must say. Very prosperous. The citizens seem to have lots of disposable income. They also seem content to live in the forest of flats that cover large parts of the island. I know there are guest workers who are not so fortunate, and I know the port areas along the coast are probably not very attractive, but I didn't see a lot of either, frankly.

    The climate is hot and humid. It was more so, I believe, when we were there, since they were having a serious drought, so there was little relief from rain. The one weekend day we had a downpour that lasted for an hour or more, when we were luckily ensconced in a museum--the residents seemed very happy, and the air was lots cooler and fresher for long afterwards.

    So perhaps we saw the climate at its worst. But I could not personally live like that--no thanks. Because of the level of prosperity, there are many, many opportunities to escape the heat in shopping centres and malls, and the Singaporeans seem to count on that--and the air conditioning is kept at fierce levels of cold.

    Places I visited:

    Chinatown, several times. Lovely, although touristy. Did the beautiful Thian Hock Keng Daoist Chinese temple. This place is definitely worth a visit. Also the very ornate Hindu Temple to Durgha, Sri Mariamman. Wow, that is an eye-opener! Watch out in the heat--no shoes allowed, and the courtyards in the sun were very hot. But the statuary is really special.

    My favourite was the Buddha Tooth Temple. Since we are (kind of) buddhist, loved all the statuary to the bodhisattvas. There are several levels, so if you are into this sort of thing, don't miss those.

    Opposite that temple, is a huge multi-level market. The second level is a huge hawker centre (food court), with literally hundreds of stalls. Eating street food is an obsession with Singaporeans, so a lot of this food is really good stuff! One night we also went to the Maxwell Street Hawker Centre, which is another large food court in Chinatown--lots of yummy stuff. I managed to eat Chicken Rice several times, Carrot Cake (not a sweet, no carrots), lots of noodles dishes, and the local crab specialty, chili crab--this we ate in the Hawker Center at one end of Gardens By the Bay.

    Gardens By the Bay is an incredible place. It's one of several "theme park"-style attractions in Singapore. Normally I would stay away from this type of place, but our hosts took us there. It is an ecological wonder, so for anyone who's into the environment, it's very educational. They have two very large domes containing special ecosystems. A cloud forest, mountain rain forest habitat, and a Mediterranean habitat with trees and plants from the major regions with this climate--California, South Africa, Australia and, of course, the Med.

    The weird thing is that they spent so much money on these habitats. The cloud forest is truly extraordinary, waterfalls cascading down through walkways that gradually spiral up into the clouds. Lovely, of course, given the climate outside. The Mediterranean dome had full-grown trees imported from their native places--baobob trees from Africa, and full-grown, ancient olive trees from the Mediterranean, for example. No expense spared.

    We didn't have time to see the rest of the park, but it sounded great too. But with any outdoor attraction, you would have to do the outdoor parts either early in the morning, or in the evening. One weekend day, we went to the Botanical Gardens. They are really amazing too, but we only could manage a small part before the heat just floored us and we had to retreat to the cool of the MRT and somewhere indoors--we didn't even get to the orchid garden, which supposed to be outstanding.

    We did Little India the next day, and had a nice lunch there. It was the only part of Singapore that I saw that was ever so slightly shabby and dirty. Just like India. There had been some riots there recently, so drinking was restricted in weird ways, but we still managed to have a beer for lunch.

    I also did Kampong Glam one morning, the old muslim quarter. It is very, very nice. Many shops, especially for women's clothing, and many lovely-looking restaurants. I only had an iced coffee there, but everyone was really friendly. I found that iced coffee in early afternoon was a great pick-me-up that helped me get through to mid-afternoon before I wilted completely and headed for the train back to the campus!

    Hmm, other places. Oh yeah, the Asian Civilization Museum--awesome. We went there twice, and still didn't see everything. Of course, we have a strong interest in this subject, stronger now after having learned so much about Thailand and Laos. The National Museum as well--very well-done, learned so much about the history of Singapore.

    The river itself--a bit touristy in places, but fun. We had a nice lunch in the Boat Quay area. Clarke Quay was dead when I was there--it seems to be a nighttime place. I was impressed with the area around Robertson Quay--I could imagine staying around there. Orchard Road--wow, like Rodeo Drive and Time Square combined!

    There's a HoHo bus, and river boat tours, neither of which I took, but both of which seemed like they might be efficient ways to get from place to place if you wanted to see a lot in a short time.

    I myself walked and walked, even if some of those walks were in air-conditioned malls--lots of people-watching to be done in places like that, and always interesting to see the merchandise for sale in a strange place.

    The multi-cultural aspect of the city seemed very familiar to us, coming from Toronto, Canada. It felt very comfortable. The downtown too, seemed familiar, with tinges of New York City as well, lots of bustle--people there work very hard.

    The parts of the island that I saw are very built-up. Almost everyone lives in high-rise apartment buildings. Although there is plenty of greenspace, I would miss the "great outdoors", since it's so hot. So...

    ...would I go back? Absolutely! Could I live there? Absolutely not.

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    Warm greetings again, WWanderer, and thank you kindly for your brilliant writing -- and for your thoughts on our fine home of Singapore. A pleasure to finally read on this Good Friday Singaporean morning. SIN is most certainly not for everyone; for various family and business reasons, I cherish the place.

    Should work/holiday take you back to our sweet city-state of SIN, would be honoured to offer additional suggestions. If you (and others) have another extended SIN stay, will suggest two organizations I (we) have supported of late, The Green Corridor and the Nature Society of Singapore. Would love to devote more time to those causes, but current business travel has me on the road most of the time. Will also give suggestions of some delightful neighbourhoods, containing some rather unique private residences.

    Thanks again Wanderer for the sublime writing and your lovely impressions. Any chance you have experiences and writings regarding Dubai? Enquire, as will be returning to Dubai for business within the week. Interesting locale -- and so thankful to call Singapore home.

    Warmest Easter holiday wishes to you and all from Singapore,

    macintosh (robert)


    ... Singapore Airlines, You're a Great Way to Fly ...

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    Robert, glad you enjoyed my report. I did very much like your home, and I certainly will ask you for suggestions if we go back (which is certainly possible, given my husband's contacts there.)

    Nope, I have not been to Dubai, so I can't help you. H ope you do enjoy--many people really like it.

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