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NeoPatrick in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos

NeoPatrick in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos

Old Sep 8th, 2010, 07:59 AM
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A really indulgent way to enjoy Face is scheduling a late afternoon massage, followed by a relaxing light dinner.

The massage is given in an outdoor tent, which alone makes it a bit unusual. I especially enjoyed the treatment where the masseuse pounded you with the aromatic bags of stuff.
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Old Sep 8th, 2010, 09:06 AM
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They are doing massages in tents now at Face? I've been doing spa there for years, but it's always been in their little teak houses turned into spa rooms.

We usually try to schedule a couple of hours of spa followed by a wonderful Thai meal there.
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Old Sep 8th, 2010, 09:14 AM
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It could well have been a little outbuilding turned into spa room rather than a tent; I haven't been in at least 2 years. The feeling I recall was that the space was separate from everything else -- not a standard air-con room in a building full of air-con rooms.
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Old Sep 8th, 2010, 08:51 PM
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SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA

My flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap was on a smallish plane and very nice, complete with a nice little box lunch and free beer even though it was only a little over an hour's flight. I had booked four flights (well five, counting the one connecting flight) with a Bangkok Airways Discovery Pass. I fly from Bangkok to Siem Reap, from Siem Reap to Luang Prabang (via Pakse, Laos), Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai, and finally Chiang Mai back to Bangkok. The total cost with taxes was $551.

I was met by the hotel for a free transfer -- staying at Steung Siem Reap (originally from the name I guessed this was a German owned hotel -- not knowing that Steung is the name of the river in Siem Reap -- DUH!) It was a nice hotel and I had a huge room with three little balconies and outside shutter to close along with double French Windows for a quiet night's sleep. The cost was $60 a day including the free transfers and full breakfast buffet -- and I loved it mainly because it's right on the edge of the old quarter so I could just walk out my door and immediately be in the "chaos" that I tend to like.

I walked through town a bit, had a nice ice cream at Blue Pumpkin, then came back for a relaxing swim in the deserted but very nice pool. A little later I headed to Linga for a cocktail and "taught" them to make me a Johnnie Walker Red dry robroy, but the guy made it then added "Hey, this is a Scotch martini" Yea -- exactly. The nice touch was a rolled lemongrass straw. I had a couple of them and chatted with the very friendly staff -- it was quiet as much to early for their "crowd". I then wandered off to the off recommended Khymer Kitchen where I had some good broad fried noodles with beef, and some great "summer rolls". They offered Angkor beer -- a large bottle for $3.50, a small bottle for $2.50, or a glass of draft for $1. I opted for the latter expecting it to be small but it was a full pint.

Afterwards I headed back to Linga and chatted with a local guy who works at Raffles Hotel and before long we discovered we had much in common. He had moved to New Zealand with his older partner about 5 years ago, but one day a year ago his partner dropped dead with a heart attack, so he moved back to Siem Reap. We ended up consoling each other and crying a little in our drinks. I bought his drinks (under protest) and he asked if I'd be back the next night and we made plans to meet at 7:30.

At 9 AM on Tuesday, my prearranged guide who came highly recommended appeared. His name is Pilu and he's one of those ambitious young men who is going to University, working as a guide, and also working for a travel agency whenever he has a free day. His website is www.affinityangkor.com
He was great. I had told him I don't like a lot of detail and that I was totally unprepared for the local attractions as I hadn't studied up. And I put myself in his hands for two days. We had a nice young driver with a very clean leather upholstery Camry with super AC. We did the Angkor Thom, Prohm (Jungle Temple) and Preah Khan before lunch. We went to his favorite lunch place where they treat him like a God and ate upstairs under fans. I invited him to join me for lunch, which he usually doesn't do, as it was so nice to have a companion for lunch for a change. I had chicken Amok in a coconut. He ate steamed vegetables and soup -- I tasted the soup and it was wonderful. Pilu gave me several options. They would take me back to the hotel for a few hours to relax and swim then meet me again later, or we could keep going. I said I'd rather just keep going and head back earlier. Once I cooled off and swam it would be harder to get going again. So that's what we did. Yes, it was really hot -- particularly in the sun -- but I am from south Florida and used to it. And there were nice breezes in the shade. I was surprised how "comfortable" the Jungle Temple was. We went to Angkor Wat at 1:30 -- just what a lot of people say NOT to do, but he was right. As he said there is almost no one there then as the tour groups all go to lunch then, and others avoid it in the heat of the day. We entered from the back and almost had the place to ourselves. Pilu often asked if I wanted more information as he described carvings, etc. and usually I said no. He appreciated my honesty and said many people want to hear the whole stories, but he sees their eyes glazing over as it's often too much information for most people to absorb. He also made it clear to tell him to leave me alone if I wanted to wander on my own. He was the perfect guide for me.
So we were there for about 2 hours, then they took me back to my hotel. Sure enough, after a nice long solo swim, then a shower, I was like jelly.

But I got dressed and headed to Linga to meet my new "friend" for cocktails. He insisted he was taking me to dinner and off we went to Viroth's, which he said all the people that Raffles sends there love it. This was kind of funny because I read less than stellar reviews on Fodors. So I hopped on the back of his motorcycle and off we went. But as we went over the bridge, he said "uh-oh" as he realized we had just run out of gas. We coasted into a little store and I found out those old litre bottles of Pepsi and Whiskey that looked like old diluted soft drinks are actually gas that many stores sell for Tuk tuks and motorcycles. I enjoyed Viroth's. We had a steamed fish in curry dish that was very good, but had a "tropical pork" dish that was superb. And I loved the atmosphere and the huge spaces between tables. He dropped me off back at my hotel after a nightcap at the fun Miss Wong's, and he told me he might have to work the next night -- but took my email to let me know for sure. Yes, in fact the next day I got an email that he would be working until 11 PM -- he is a personal assistant to VIPs at Raffles.

Wednesday morning, Pilu arrived and off we went to Pre Rup (the brick temple), Banteay Samre (the water temple, I called it) and Banteay Srey (the ladies temple). At one point, we ran over a small board on the road which the driver couldn't dodge as a bus was coming the other way. He stopped and sure enough there was a huge nail in the tire, but we coasted to our next stop and while Pilu and I explored, he changed the tire. Then a stop at the Land Mine Museum as I requested. He does not go into the Land Mine Museum and it upsets him to do so -- as it upset me, but certainly worth seeing. One of the saddest things of the entire area is how many missing limps you see and how many armless or legless beggers there are.

We returned to the same place as yesterday for lunch -- and I had really good spicy fish and vegetables. Then we set off for Lake Tonle Sap. We boarded our own boat with a driver who looked like he was 14, but he insisted to Pilu that he is 19. This was a good time to visit, as the lake is pretty high, but not at full height as it will be later this month or the first of October. Still it is a little unsettling, particularly the constant "attacks" by toddlers with huge snakes around their necks being brought up to your boat by a parent. The idea is to take their picture and give them a dollar or so. I declined. It just seemed so exploitive to me. As Pilu said the area is still very much a working and living village, but is quicly becoming more of tourist thing as several big restaurants have now opened for stops and for tourists. When we stopped at one of these and then got ready to go, the boat wouldn't move. The driver discovered the propeller had "fallen off". Luckily he had another, and he put it on and we were on our way. What is it about me? Flat tire -- propeller falling off?

Back to the hotel about 4 for another swim and cooling off period. I had been lucky as there had been no rain at all during my stay -- I arrived just after a huge thunderstorm on late Monday morning, and it had rained all day hard on Sunday. Pilu wanted to take me to a very small, uncleared "jungle type" temple or ruin, and we went there but couldn't do it as it was completely surrounded by water from the recent rains.

I returned to Linga for drinks, then went to dinner at Malaraun (?) a fairly large, mostly outdoor restaurant on a corner. I didn't have great expectations but the menu appealed -- mostly French. I had a country salad of lettuces, chicken gizzards, smoked duck breast, and fried potatoes -- that topped similar salads I've had in French many times. And I had twin filets of beef, perfectly cooked with a side of peppercorn sauce, great potatoes augratin, and steamed vegetables and a nice glass of Bordeaux. This place was really good, and as I said I was especially surprised as I really expected it to be a sort of tourist 'trap'. Total cost was $24.50, a little pricy for local standards particularly in that area, but still a great bargain for its quality.

This morning (Thursday) I thought about going to the museum, or going to visit Wat Bo, but just felt like taking it easy. I did walk through the old market -- wow, is that an eye (and nose opener) especially with all the hacking of fish going on everywhere. And had a super coffee at Blue Pumpkin. It's now just before noon and the hotel is taking me at 12:30 to the airport to catch my flight to Luang Prabang.

So I actually liked the chaos of the old quarter and am really glad I stayed where I did. I thought my timing was perfect. I know some would stay for days and days studying the temples. I loved what I saw, but even though they are all somewhat different, they were starting to look alike and I really don't think I could take another day of temple hopping. Two full days was perfect for me. I did get tired of the constant cries of little kids begging you to buy their books, postcards, and miscellaneous junk. It's all so sad and hard to turn them away. And I can only take so much of the third world type poverty and begging. But at least, while it was a constand cry of "Tuk-tuk?" in town, they were never overly aggressive. And I found the locals -- those I met in the hotel and in the bar generally warm and friendly -- more so than anywhere else I've been on this trip.
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Old Sep 8th, 2010, 09:57 PM
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Aloha, Patrick. Thanks for checking in with your continuing report. I think I would be like you... a couple of days of temples would be fine. After that, it would be overkill for me. I'm glad you found a new friend, and got to spend some time having meals together. Travelling solo, as much as I love to do it, is pretty quiet and mealtime unless you have someone (like my friend Maeng in BKK) to visit with.

Carol(on the big island at Waikoloa now)
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Old Sep 9th, 2010, 05:02 AM
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Patrick- I like your style. I too can only take a few hours of temple viewing and then they all begin to look alike. Its like cathedral watching in Europe - only so much then they all look alike! And yes I also don't want to hear all the details, just a little info is fine. I also like to wander on my own as well.
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Old Sep 9th, 2010, 06:36 AM
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It sounds like a marverlous time in Siem Reap! And while a week was too little for me, you knew what your level of interest was in the temples and timed your stay accordingly.

I'm really enjoying following along with you. One of the delights of traveling alone, in my experience, is meeting people you likely wouldn't meet if you were traveling with someone.
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Old Sep 9th, 2010, 06:45 AM
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the guide looks like he would be fantastic and i like his traditional pricing....those are the prices from a few years ago and seem just right for the situation....

please do a special thread on him alone so that folks can find this new wonderful english speaker... it should be a boom for him and a real plus for fodorites to find someone new
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Old Sep 9th, 2010, 09:01 AM
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Thanks for the tip,we will be in SR in November (yay jst confirmed all my Cambodia flights)and i am starting to think about a guide. Like you i want the details but not ALL the details. Your 2 days sound perfect,I will contact him. anything you would change? we have 5 nights in SR but there is no way Muffin would do 3 or 4 days of temples!! How did you hear abot him?
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Old Sep 9th, 2010, 09:23 AM
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I am loving your report from the road, Patrick! Cambodia is just about my favorite place I've been in my travels. I, too, found the Cambodian people to be so friendly and warm-definitely part of the reason I enjoyed my time there so much. I'm glad you had a good time! I am desperate to return there!
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Old Sep 12th, 2010, 12:09 AM
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LUANG PRABANG, LAOS:

A few months ago I had never heard of this place, but when several Fodorites said that I “must” go there, I started looking and thought it did indeed sound interesting. As I’ve often said, I’m not one to relax well when traveling, but here is an ideal place to do just that.

My flight from Siem Reap with a stop (no change of plane) in Pakse on Lao Airlines (part of my Discovery Pass) went without a hitch, although the hot dog baked in dough served with a single cold crinkle cut French Fry was a bit strange. I was to be met on arrival at 6:30 by my hotel (free transfer) and they had confirmed. But our plane left Siem Reap 35 minutes EARLY, and we only stayed on the ground in Pakse 10 minutes or so instead of the 40 it stated, so we actually arrived in Luang Prabang a full hour early! A little while after I arrived (others were waiting for their missing rides also) my hotel rep showed up very apologetic. They had called to see if the plane would arrive on time to be told it was already there.

The Mekong Riverview Hotel couldn’t have been a better choice. This was a place built with great local style just a few years ago by a Swedish hotel owner named Urban who has resettled in LP after falling in love with it on a vacation. It’s presently only 8 rooms, with 6 more to open in a month or so. In fact the 6 units in a new building next door were under construction from 8 to 5 daily and Urban apologized profusely for the noise (which didn’t bother me in the least) and then on the second day I received a note that due to the inconvenience of the delayed construction the room price – normally $90 was being reduced to $45. Wow. What a deal. The young all male staffr couldn’t have been more accommodating, taking you on a golf cart if you didn’t want to walk, although I found the 5 or 10 minute walk to the center perfectly charming. The hotel is located at the very northern point of the small peninsula that forms the old town, which is all a Unesco Heritage site and strictly controlled by them. As one person said, it’s one of the few places Unesco got to before it was too late. The hotel is on the point where the Nam River flows into the broad Mekong and the views are wonderful (albeit obstructed by gorgeous palms and lots of lush tropical vegetation). The offered me choice of rooms, one was quite a bit larger, but I’d only have it for two nights and would need to move to a different room for the third night – or a smaller room that was quite lovely – so I decided to take the smaller room and not move. The rooms are rather dark with lots of wood and wonderful wide board polished wood floors. The beds are remote controlled if you want something other than reclining. There is a small frig with beer, soft drinks, and lots of bottled water – all complimentary, and a separate water closet from the bath area with a nice wood vanity and a large walk in rain shower. The new rooms (and two suites they are building are supposedly even more luxurious) but this room had lots of charm and style – and each two rooms share a balcony facing the river, but with two sets of tables and chairs. They will happily serve you breakfast there if you like instead of on the downstairs porch or inside. Breakfast was a small but nice buffet with numerous complimentary things to choose from besides – omelettes and banana pancakes for example. I really can’t recommend this hotel enough. It was just perfect, never mind that I got it at an incredible price in the end.

http://www.mekongriverview.com/

After unpacking and settling in, and having a glass of wine with the owner and a couple from Germany, the only other guests for the night, one of the boys took me in the golf cart to l’Elephant for dinner. But I needed to stop at an ATM on the way to get Kip, the local currency. Well, we hit 5 non-working ATMS before the 6th one which did work, and to my surprise it was one that allows a million KIP per withdrawal as opposed to the 700,000 most of the others have. That’s only about $87 so when you have to pay about $4 to the local bank and another $5 to BofA – that’s over a 10% charge. Signs in town of 3 to 4% extra charge for credit cards were actually kind of welcoming as that was a big savings over using ATM currency. I've never worried too much about ATM charges as I use partner banks when I can and BofA gives me two free non partner withdrawals per month, but I'd used those up. If I were doing a lot of travel in Laos, I'd seriously consider another bank. The search for ATMs took me through the night market on the main street – a sleepy kind of market of handicrafts and goods where most of the sellers were snoozing on pads.

Dinner was wonderful, but I opted for French food – a great pork loin with tons of chanterelle mushrooms in sauce, potatoes au gratin, and grilled vegetables, and a nice glass of Bordeaux. It was a lovely place. I walked back to the hotel along the river bank, where casual cafes were serving dinner thinking what a charming town this was.

I should mention that I hadn’t been feeling well since getting up my last morning in Siem Reap. I had a horrible cough, a headache, and was feeling very stuffed up and slightly feverish. Why would I be getting a cold? Tylenol didn’t help the headache even, and by the time I reached LP, my throat was sore from all the coughing. I mentioned it to Urban, the hotel owner who immediately asked if I was on malaria meds and I said yes but I’d now been taking them for a full week so doubted if it was a reaction it would take that long, but he seemed to think these were common side effects. I went online and did some googling of Malarone and decided that yes, that’s probably what it is and that often people don’t get a reaction for a week or even more – but the cough is a real standard one.

So on Friday, I really felt lousy. After breakfast I felt really tired despite a pretty good long sleep in spite of the coughing. I went upstairs, lay on the bed, and suddenly woke up at 11. Wow. So I walked into town, had a wonderful light lunch of Larb, a minced chicken specialty of LP, and a salad at Blue Lagoon, and then climbed the “mount” in the center of town – some 300 plus steps up – to a little shrine and great views of the countryside. I casually popped in and out of shops and had a wonderful fruit smoothie. Then headed back to the hotel and actually took another nap. At about 7, I walked into town, and on the main street went to Arisai, a Meditteranean restaurant I’d read about. I ordered roast chicken with herbs, and then added an antipasta platter. The platter came out and what was I thinking – despite its $6 price it was designed to feed a small army. I tacked the wonderful cold squid salad, the proscuitto and salamis, the grilled eggplant and peppers, the assorted olives and was just thinking that’s all I should have for dinner. Then without warning I felt very sick to my stomach. I was sitting on the sidewalk, and I jumped up ran across the street and threw up in the dirt under a tree – I knew there was no time to find a restroom! Immediately I felt better. I know it wasn’t the food – it was this other thing getting to me. So I sat back down and the waiter asked if I wanted dessert. I was surprised and asked him about the chicken. What luck. He misunderstood and thought when I added the antipasta that’s what I wanted instead of the chicken. So I paid for the antipasta and headed up, actually feeling good right now. But I went to bed at 9:30. When I told the guys at the desk about my getting sick (and they had been hearing me coughing all day), they decided I should have a cup of tea, so they made me one. Then soon after I took it to my room there was a knock on the door. They made me a whole pot of tea for whenever I'd wake up during the night – and gave me a little pot of honey – for my throat. Nice touch, but I didn't touch the honey. And all the tea I drank made me get up to pee too many times. LOL

Saturday morning I felt great. I hadn’t coughed all night, my headache was gone, my head was clear. So if it was the Malarone causing the issues, it seemed to all be gone now. Or maybe it was that miraculous Laos green tea. I walked along the main street of town again, relaxed with a super coffee on a patio, and just as a sudden downpour came, I popped into a cute little French bistro for chicken fricasee and chantarelle mushrooms on fettucine. It was delicious, and just as I finished eating the rain stopped and I headed back to the hotel. I had arranged with the hotel for a boat to take me up the Mekong to the “buddah” caves – where there are either a couple hundred or 10,000 buddahs inside two natural caves facing the river. I didn’t count, but I think the latter estimate is closer to the fact.
I didn’t want to join one of the group tours which sounded like they incorporated too much other stuff including seeing rice wine made and visiting a handicraft village. So there I was on a very long boat that holds up to 20 people. Just me and a delightful driver who spoke some English. It’s a good hour and a half upriver to the cave, slightly less coming back with the current, so he planned on 2 to 6 PM – or 4 hours. The driver was surprised how little time I spent at the caves – hey, I saw it and took pictures, what else? So he asked if I wanted to stop at a village and I agreed. Ooops. There it was, sampling the rice wine and feeling VERY obligated to buy some – especially being the only one there. And I walked the sad little village which may be “real” but mainly exists with all the women setting up their wares of hand woven silks or other handicrafts in the streets. As we departed, all the kids of the village were assembling on the banks to take a swim in the muddy Mekong -- their daily bath. Yeeccchhh.

The cost of this whole tour with the private boat was 300,000 KIP, about $37. On the way back though we stopped at a little secluded island in the river. There is an old pavilion there that was built for the king when he traveled on the river, but it is all grown up with weeds and there are no loading platforms there. My driver pulled up the boat and put out a gangplank onto the slightly drying mud. The river is now down about 6 or 8 feet from its highest stage, and I carefully made my way across the fairly soft mud and through the weeds up to the pavilion which now has a buddah in it. Meanwhile the driver was happily gathering some wild weeds that he was taking home to make soup from. He was very excited, as these particular “weeds” are hard to find.

I got back before 6, took a shower and joined the others for wine in the lobby. Now there were two young ladies from Montreal, and two British couples who are friends – one couple now live in Kuala Lumpur and the four of them were traveling Laos together.
Then I got a ride from the boy on the golf cart to dinner at Blue Lagoon. My dinner of chicken satay followed by a stir fry of beef, chantarelle mushrooms, lemongrass, peppers, onions, and various spices with sticky rice was wonderful. And then I ordered dessert something a rarely do – but the flambe bananas on vanilla bean ice cream with mango coulis was just calling to me. Wow, delicious – no wonder my glucose was the highest of the whole trip this morning! They had said to have the host at Blue Lagoon call the hotel and they'd come pick me up, but it was too nice a night – I love how it cools off beautifully in the evenings here – so I walked back enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of the town.

I slept until after 8. If I did anything in LP, it was get plenty of rest. I had breakfast on the front porch (more chantarelle mushrooms along with some great cheese in an omelette – chantarelle mushrooms must really be big or in season there). Then I packed up for my complimentary shuttle to the airport for my 1:00 flight to Chiang Mai.

I think this is the first place I've been on this trip that I can say I truly LOVED. It just seemed so unique – while focused on tourism, it didn't have any of that plastic or phony tourist glitz going. And the people everywhere were charming. Even the tuk tuk drivers would simply say gently “tuk-tuk?” or “waterfall?” and if you said no, they just let you go. No pressure – no one tugging on your arm to buy things, just smiles and pleasantness. What a great place to go for a week or even more and just hang out. I didn't do any of the usual stuff – didn't go to the waterfalls, didn't take advantage of the free bikes the hotel has, and didn't go to the elephant camp. But who cares? I just loved it. So thanks to those Fodorites who suggested it in the first place. Someone, I can't remember who, specifically said knowing me they thought it would be my kind of place and it was!
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Old Sep 12th, 2010, 12:45 AM
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Oh i truly LOVED LP too, your days there sound lovely (apart from you feeling ill of course)so glad you enjoyed it.
Looking forward to hearing about CM.
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Old Sep 12th, 2010, 07:48 AM
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great reporting yet again
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Old Sep 12th, 2010, 01:32 PM
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Great report. I am going to LP in January and you make it sound like just my kind of place too. Cant wait. Looking forward to more of your report.
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Old Sep 16th, 2010, 06:08 PM
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NeoPatrick, your malarone experience is not atypical. This is one reason why I suggest using deet and covering up rather than taking prophylactics. Prophylactics do nothing against the far more common Dengue fever anyway. A good lesson to be learned for the posters on this site who push anti malaria meds.
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Old Sep 16th, 2010, 06:21 PM
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Sorry, NeoPatrick is not currently available -- he has floated away in the mud, floods, landslides, and downpours in Northern Thailand this week. Only joking, but barely. Who posted recently asking about the rainy season in Northern Thailand? I await my driver today in Chiang Mai -- all our previous plans for hiking and rafting are definitely off. And right now it is pouring so hard I can hardly see out my windows.

By the way, my reaction to the malarone seemed to only last two to three days. It seems a small price to pay compared to having malaria. And of course, it depends on WHERE specifically you're going, although further reading made me feel more and more that malaria is virtually NO problem anywhere I'm going to be. I wonder if anyone who did get malaria would agree that one shouldn't take the anti-malaria drugs?
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Old Sep 16th, 2010, 06:51 PM
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Patrick, I'm so glad you loved LP!

I'm sorry the weather in Northern Thailand hasn't cooperated.
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Old Sep 16th, 2010, 07:44 PM
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my wife got sick on those hot dog things on the airplane and it lasted a couple of days....i bet that was your problem
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Old Sep 16th, 2010, 08:25 PM
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Wow just saw the newscast about the flooding in N Thailand. Water flooding over cars, it looks like a mess.

We should have warned you about the hot dogs and sandwiches on the plane. I got sick with what tasted like a tuna and cucumber sandwich on Bangkok air. Stay dry, a dry rob roy would go nicely right now.....

Aloha!
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Old Sep 17th, 2010, 08:40 AM
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"my wife got sick on those hot dog things on the airplane and it lasted a couple of days....i bet that was your problem"

A hacking cough is more likely a symptom of eating a bad hot dog than it is the known side effect from taking Malarone?
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