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jhubbel Apr 29th, 2015 06:28 PM

Thailand and Myanmar-Hot Hot Hot!
Today I began a month of travel, including a return to Thailand for two weeks and then about three weeks in Myanmar. Thailand because my plans to hike Annapurna were shortcircuited by the tragegy in Nepal, and Myanmar because I want to see this lovely land before hostels cost more per night that it takes to spend a week in a hostel in Cambodia.

Four years ago I came to Thailand having learned enough of the language to get by-and today I am utterly delighted to report that a fair amount of it still exists in my brain pan to make people smile and laugh at my lousy accent but genuine attempt to converse. The plan is to spend 13 days in Phuket, and that plan is wide open- what that means is that I"ll be adventuring, exploring, horseback riding, kayaking, kitesailing, or anything else that might be available during the uber hot season. No beach sitting. Not my thing. I signed on for a three day kayaking adventure beginning next Sunday, but that's the only current plan. I've no clue, and frankly, that's going to be part of the fun this time around.

Those of you who know Phuket (and I don't, having blown through here last time in favor of Krabi and Trang and places far north and northeast) kindly fire me suggestions. Open to any and all. Thanks in advance.

jhubbel Apr 29th, 2015 06:43 PM

It's 9:30 am Bangkok time, and this open restaurant is crowded. With staff. I'm the only client here which is a happy advantage, the Thai are famous for their service and I've been waited on hand and foot. The rather limited breafast menu was expanded quickly when I finally remembered the words for pineapple and mango and the young man whipped out the real menu and proudly showed me a fruit plate. A few minutes later he carted out an enormous platter fit for the King, which has taken me a very happy hour to consume. Since I'm from Denver, chowing down on fresh papaya and pineapple and dragonfruit is close to heaven. AAAAAAHHHHHH.

It's not often that I can say I LOVE my airline, but United did me a good one, in that I was able to upgrade at the last moment and said upgrade translated to a three across in their Dreamliner to Narita. International travelers can relate: three big chairs in Economy Plus, three pillows, three blankets, total yum. I could watch The Equalizer three times over (okay I admit it I did) and eat all I wanted for the cool ten hours it took to get to Narita.

While it was a good while later getting to Bangkok, and I actually woke up my hotel driver (he was at home and in bed asleep) when I got there, I found my way to my resort (a loosely interpreted word if there ever was one) near the airport. It was, um, hot. The room was sticky. Kid turns the a/c on, blessed cold air flows out, I take a hot shower, feel renewed. Sleep.

Wake up and the room is a flippin refrigerator. I risk my head out from under the covers and ice crystals form from my breath. Now this is funny. The window is weeping, the mirror is weeping. My bladder is shrieking. I argue with my parts for a few minutes before I give up and dance across the frozen tundra to the toilet, which, btw, is a heck of a lot warmer since the window had been left open. I stay there and thaw out. Any Floridian (I am one by birth) knows this drill. It's hot, you turn on the ac to cool off, forget to turn it down to "reasonable" and wake up in the antartic.

I dress in less than four seconds and fling open the door, and nearly send myself butt over teakettle because there is a huge puddle on the slick tiles: thunderstorm the night before. My glasses instantly fog over. I'm blind, but I do make out intense greenery, and happy humid warmth. Everything is dripping, including my eyelashes, and I let the air sweep into the room, and I find the bathmat to soak up the puddle.

Welcome back to Bangkok.

thursdaysd Apr 29th, 2015 08:14 PM

Have fun!

jhubbel Apr 30th, 2015 12:57 AM

Hey darlin'. Did I say it was hot?

Heat index today was (still is) 106 F. What is that, 46 C? Or thereabouts?

I hate to admit to this but after spending a day in my BRAND NEW SNEAKERS I returned to my room to shower off the sweat in preparation for the flight to Phuket. Removed sneakers. Augh. They could clear out the Bronx YMCA. Come ON man. Really? I just started this trip. I find it hard to adjust to the reality that the older I get, my high arched dancer's feet have developed a remarkable tendency to become useful for riot control. Took out a pair of sneaker balls and with Very High Hopes jam them down the throats of the offending footwear. Now in sandals, which can get just as bad, my first stop in Phuket is a store where you can buy those smelly dingleberries you put in cars. For my backpack.

I have been known to say that getting old stinks but I didn't intend to be taken literally.

The good news, the really good news, is that I remember enough Thai to get by and send the staff into paroxysms of laughter, good humored, and they have been giving me tips all day. As well as feeding me lovely, luscious Thai food. I love this country.

Kathie Apr 30th, 2015 07:24 AM

lol - we did warn you that you had chosen the absolutely hottest time of the year to visit. I'm glad it lived up to our billing.

Enjoy your beach time - a good place to good in the heat.

Wait until you get to Yangon - hottest city I've ever visited - and that was during the "cool" season. It makes Bangkok feel air-conditioned.

jhubbel Apr 30th, 2015 10:26 PM

Hey Kathie,

Well, the earthquake in Nepal forced my hand, andf what's funny, I never would have chosen Myanmar in May had I not been going to Annapurna for the hike. It's just how it all ended up. I find it hugely amusing. Sitting here in my ac room, blinds drawn, largely to keep out someone's prattling voice down the street here in Kamala Beach. I can only guess it's sales or polltical, who knows.

My first funny was stapling an email (without reading the prevoius thread, of course) to my reservation in Bangkok. I was expecting a driver at the airport, and there was none. So, natch, since my phone didn't yet have a SIM card or minutes, I nabbed a helpful agent. Called the poor guy and dragged him out of bed. It was, after all, nearly midnight.

After he finally understood what we were asking he said, trying to be polite, "That's a long way away...." You think? The light began to dawn on my travel addled brain. I did ask if I had the wrong airport but he either didn't hear me or had already hung up. Which of course he did, had every right to do, and went back to sleep. I found my hotel bus, and promptly wrote a huge apology to the driver, who was kind enough to show up last night and take me to my new digs.

So whaddya get for eleven bucks a night? Surprisingly, even in Phuket, a lot. A huge clean room, a/c, a fridge, wardrobe, big queen bed, balcony, big bathroom, two waters. And a lovely view of the construction site across the street. Which, of course, we all have to put up with, even the nice condos next door.

The down side is that the safety box doesn't work, the staff speaks no English and you have to pay for the electricity. If you use the kitchen, you pay for the electricity. You get the picture. They have services here there and everywhere but to use them you have to find someone who can speak to you, which means that someone has to call the absentee boss, who does speak pidgin English and is nearly impossible to understand.

This is what you get for eleven bucks. OH- and you have to turn off the ac when ypu leave the room. But hey, I do that at home.

It's surprisingly quiet at night in this part of the beach area, which is why I picked Kamala. The stores and supermarkets are a very sweaty but reasonable walk away. The best news is that about a hundred steps out the door I stumbled into a house/travel agency (lots of those here) where I got referred to local riding outfits, a ride to see them later to set up rides, and a sweet gal who also set me up for some other cool adventures. She supports her family with this business and I like the idea of giving her the work.

jhubbel Apr 30th, 2015 11:08 PM

The best news about uber cheap digs, which I love when I travel until the very last week, is that this allows for paying for the stuff that really burns the baht, like kayaking tours for one (you have to pay double), horse back rides, parasailing, kite sailing, all the uber cool things that I love to do or have never done and eventually will not be able to do. I love parasailing but the paid tours give you five minutes. Five minutes, are you nuts? When I paraglide I stay up for at least an hour, depending on the thermals, and with parasailing you don't need thermals. So my tour agent down the street kindly informed me that the best place was to troll the beach at Patong and hire someone- that was after she translated the word parasailing and called some friends, did some research and then helped me out, Which is why I am going to go back and keep giving her as much business as I can.

The agent's brother, who runs a taxi in Phuket, got me to the local riding club, and due to low season and because I wanted extended hours, they offered me a cool package of ten hours for 7000 baht. That is a nice deal. Now it's true that I'd be on the same trails every day, but different horses, after I'm vetted. But that happens everywhere, since some people have an unfortunate habit of claiming to be better riders than they are. I go out with a guide first thing in the morning and based on that I get a spicier horse. I saw a few today, too, along with their Appaloosa stallion, one gorgeous piece of horseflesh, and two of his newly born offspring. Even as they stood in the stalls, these animals were sweating, but to the stables' credit fans were blowing on them. I suggested that I'd be delighted to show up at 5 am and ride to 7, to ensure the horses' comfort, but that suggestion was pooh-poohed. That's unfortunate, for I'm not allowed to ride bareback, which I would prefer, and it would be cooler for the horse. I'm a far better rider bareback than on a saddle; some of you can relate especially if you grew up riding bareback as I did. But, that's all right, I get to ride, and that makes me very happy.

The manager showed me a Thai horse, which is really interesting. He was at one point their breeding stallion. No more than perhaps 13 hands, at most, he's a pony, and cut proud (castrated after he'd been used for breeding). He was nippy and mouthy, a little sorrel, not suitable for young riders or beginners. Handsome but small, typical of what most Thais would own, those who have them or race them. I would liken him to an Icelandic pony without the shaggy coat.

What I like best about this stable is that they are constantly consulting a vet who has advised when to ride, how long to ride, all aspects of care to protect the animals. I saw several horses which were either very old, or handicapped by being blind in one eye. The owner has kept and taken care of these animals and given them a lively, interactive life, including stalls which allow therm access to their neighbors. The one-eyed animal was very affectionate and not head shy at all, easy with strangers. Only seven, this animal has found a good home. All this speaks well of Phuket International Horse Club, where what I've seen so far is a focus on good horse care as well as fun rides.

thursdaysd May 1st, 2015 05:14 AM

I usually say that I sleep cheap so I can eat well, but other activities count too. Sounds like you've found some good places.

needmorevacation May 1st, 2015 08:55 AM

Very interested to hear about the riding club! I've competed in show jumping my whole life and love to see my beloved equines when I am away from them while on vacation- love the price too- about $21USD/hour? Can't beat that!
I hear you on the 'vetting' of rider thing. I tell people that I am an advanced rider, but I know they hear that all the time. When I was in Malawi I did a trail ride/beach ride (just me and the guide- so much fun!)and the owner of the stable thanked me for putting training on the horse during the ride (guide told him I wouldn't let the horse stop and eat grass). He even offered me a free ride the next day, but alas I was scheduled to leave early the next morning.

Glad you found a place that treats the horses well, that is always my #1 concern!

jhubbel May 1st, 2015 01:56 PM

Dear thursdays,

I've had a good chuckle about this place, given the absentee owner, but I honestly can't complain about what I do get for so little. Once I got my bearings in the neighborhood and made friends with a few folks nearby, I was set. The owner here would prefer that I use his facilities for my tourist needs but I can't talk to his staff about what he offers, so until he's willing to invest in someone who can speak the coin of the realm for international travel, that door is going to be hard to open. And I'm with you- sleep cheep and save your bucks for what you love!

NeedMoreVacation: While I am not a competetive rider like you, I'm a dedicated equestrian, and like you I ride everywhere I travel. The most typical response is eyerolling to my comment that I'm an advanced rider, and within a ride or two I've been bumped up to the best horse in the facility, and quite often have also been given permission to tack up on my own as well. Trust is earned- and I've come to appreciate why. Over the years the guides all over the world have shared their horror stories of people who claim skills they don't have and either harm the horses or themselves or both, and then sue. Sometimes their stories are funny, more often they are tales of silly arrogance. For whatever reason, horses can bring out our best and worst, and looking good on one (even if we aren't good riders) seems to be more important than admitting we're clueless. I recall a few years back riding with a gal from New Zealand who went into a shrieking panic the moment her horse starting trotting. The reins went flying and she grabbed the horn of her Western saddle, sobbing in desperation. The horse placidly trotted along with the rest of us, and I came up alongside of her and mildly suggested that she might want to gather up her reins and let her horse know that she was in charge. She got horribly angry at me. Such are beginners. Sigh.

Depending on where you travel I can clue you into some magnificent places especially in Argentina and Peru where I've had some of my best experiences out of country. My friendships at these estancias have led to being able to ride some very fine animals, and have some freedoms that are gained through their seeing my skills and love for their horses. Let me know if you're ever headed that way and I'd be tickled to make the introduction. Much joy lies ahead when you go there.

needmorevacation May 4th, 2015 08:48 AM

JHubbel- Yes, I've heard some stories too! I plan on S.America in 2016, so I will be reaching out to you for sure!!

jhubbel May 5th, 2015 05:33 PM

Whenever you're ready. I've got several very dear friends who come equipped with dear animals that follow the ones you're riding as well.

Just back (and this will come in bits and starts as a driver is coming shortly) from three days in the lovely southeastern islands of Thailand, kayaing for hours and hours and hours. So kite sailing might have to wait a day but meanwhile but thank god for tiger balm.

I had signed on to Sea Canoe for what I thought was doing to be a solo journey of tree days' kayaking, but turned out to be three days on an escort boat- a ginormous escort boat- with four crew. Make that two crew, my guide Tom, uber competent and Cook, and two utterly useless teenagers who couldn't be bothered to clean out the used nasty TP from the girls' toilet. After three days, come ON man, exactly what are you doing for the five, six hours we're on the water? Well, I"m merciless in this regard. I took a shot of the kid sleeping and on their IPhones and that got posted on my Trip Advisor report. Frankly I hope they get fired because Cook and Tom had to work double duty to do what they couldn't be bothered to do- and I also cleaned up dishes, messes, towels, you name it. Kind of like having a family. This for five hundred bucks plus a day.. But I digress.

What was terrific was that this boat gave us access to places that otherwise would not have been available simply by kayak. So that was a huge boon. I'd asked to see and go to places tourists don't go. And for that, Sea Canoe delivered. I'd had to pay double for this trip as they required two people so I ponied up $1600 for my three days. So Tom took me into a few caves that everyone sees, including the ones that require that you let the air out of your inflatable kayak to get in. Now let me make this clear. The tide was hgher when we went in. Tourists came later. That meant that the top of the cave scraped my nose, I had to bend my toes in. I have the video. Claustrophobics need not watch. I had a ball. I trusted Tom, I knew we'd get through, we did, and the resulting lagoon was gorgeous, And no touristss! As the tide dropped, they came in droves, but we were on our way out. Brillliant.

The whole first day was like that. Then a huge boat full of tourists copped our camping beach, and, sigh, we had to sleep on the boat. Well...okay...I had to sleep out on the deck, until it rained, then I got moved inside under the table where I slept on wooden slats. Now I dunno about you but forty years ago that wouldn't have bothered me at all. I'm find on hard ground. But slats? I moved back on the deck about 2 am where a fine breeze, 70 ish temps and a gorgeous fat full moon greeted me. When I creaked awake aty 5, I did an hour of flow yoga in the moon's glitter in penance for the insult to my bones. I figure it was worth it.

Mutti May 7th, 2015 11:10 AM

JHubbell, I think I like the way you travel with more modest hotel rooms and paying the money saved for activities and food which is what we like. I also like some beach time, too. I enjoyed reading your report and will read more of your posts.

jhubbel May 8th, 2015 05:57 AM

Thanks kindly, Mutti. I tend towards adventurous travel, fair warning. My activities can tend towards the extreme at times, so bear with me!

jhubbel May 9th, 2015 05:11 PM

Still working towards time to fill in that kayaking trip, but been busy with my final rides on the beach at Laguna and my love affair with their Appaloosa stallion. It appears he loves to be massaged with fake nails. For the last two days I rode there I spent the better part of an hour at his open stall where he backed up to me and shoved his big hairy butt in my face for me to scrub. I had started with his sides and shoulders, but then he got this great idea, and just showed me his butt. OKAY, big boy, so this is what you want?

I laid into his rear end with my nails, and scrubbed down his left leg, and hit this point right inside his left knee and he nearly collapsed, all 1400 lbs of stallion, like when you hit the IT spot on a dog and it goes spastic? His lip went up and his head went out and he got all quivery and he planted his foot wider and backed up farther and looked at me like DO THAT AGAIN. I got him on both sides with that, and he ended up with both his back legs spread way wide and his tail held high so I could scratch away. He looked ridiculous, but boy was he a very very happy boy.

By the time I'd given him an hour of my massage time his eyes were at half mast and he walked up and planted his head on my right shoulder, I scrubbed his chin, he stuck his tongue out and I got some righteous photos of Mr. Man. My horse people love this. After that, he got all stallion on me and started nipping, which means its time to go. But what fun.

Yesterday afternoon I visted Tiger Kingdom about which I have mixed feelings. However I went anyway and am glad I did. For the time I spent with the tigers, all four sizes of them. I concentrated not on stupid silly photos (my camera died anyway) but on massaging them. Now THIS was something else again. Sign says they love their tummies rubbed. Okay, so my challenge was to get them to flop. How do you get a 500 lb Bengal male tiger to flop? You rub, scrub, use your nails, and invite him to, and he will. His legs will land on yours and suddenly you have several acres of white tiger fur to play with. Big, loose, happy tiger belly. OMG what fun. You scrub and rub and scrub and rub and he is in tiger heaven. Trust me, not something you forget. I loved that my guides l(most of them) loved on the tigers and the tigers clearly loved them back. What I could see. I am well aware of the down side. And I am also well aware that we are chewing up their habitat, and their body parts are Asian viagra. So in some not too distant future this might be the only way we see these extraordinary creatures. I agree with the purists, but until man can control his appetites (and that isn't going to happen) facilities like this may someday be a norm. So before someone rips me apart for supporting these facilities, I considered that viewpoint already. Lots of differerent ways to consider things.

crellston May 10th, 2015 07:28 PM

Hi Jhubbel,

Looking forward to reading of your exploits in Myanmar. In planning our current trip around Asia I completely forgot about Ramadan which was when we were planning to visit Indonesia so have been looking around for alternatives and Myanmar is high on the list so lots of detail please! Nepal was also under consideration but clearly that is now out of the question.

PS "So before someone rips me apart for supporting these facilities, I considered that viewpoint already. Lots of differerent ways to consider things."

Elephants and tigers always seem to evoke very strong responses on this forum. This article from WWF surprised me:

jhubbel May 13th, 2015 01:27 AM

Hi crellston,

Great to hear from you. I am currently one night away from leaving for Yangon, and will keep you apprised as long as I have access to wifi, which may be spotty.

Given what I know about gangs, people, the black market in tiger parts, what I've learned since being here about the price of tiger bone wine (again, Chinese viagra) and what has happened in Myanmar to the tiger population, I can believe it. Kindly don't get me started. I too have very strong feelings. And I also have no answers. As long as some redneck jerk thinks it's cool to have a 500 lb tiger in his backyard, well, Land of the Free. Personally I hope the tiger takes advantage of an unguarded moment. Some moron at my gym brought a wild cougar cub to the facility one day. Walks up to the front door. Cub gets scared and first girl to walk out the door, this terrified animal sinks its very very long teeth into her unsuspecting leg. I've got a solution for people like that: cannon fodder. Or better yet, cougar food. Unbelievable.

I went back, this time to the Chiang Mai facillity, and did much the same thing. This time I got to work on a very responsive fully grown female who rolled around and stretched and vocalized and yowled when I scratched her butt and rubbed her tummy. Look, it isn't much. But I spent two hours working my tush off massaging and scratching and rubbing these beautiful animals and they clearly enjoyed it, and to the extent that was good for them, that was worthwhile for me to go do.

The three day sea canoe trip with Sea Canoe Thailand quick report follows.

jhubbel May 13th, 2015 02:03 AM

Sea Canoe Thailand gets excellent marks for two things: Tom, the top notch and very hard working guide, and Cook, who did his best, working with bad information and limited supplies.

I paid for two people, as no one else had signed up. As I'd mentioned, my $1600 bought me a ginormous escort boat (lots of fuel), three kayaks including an inflatable, and the four crew. This confused me a bit until I realized the huge advantage. I had requested, and subsequently got, taken to places outside the tourist zone on days two and three. Once we cleared where EVERYBODY goes, we were where nobody goes, and explored.

Tourist loads took over a camping beach, which forced (hahahaha)us to sleep on board. Okay, this is rough duty. Spread a pad on deck. Sleep in your clothing. No blanket, covers. Under a fat full moon. Breezes. Wake up with the moon sinking, the dawn breaking at your back. You're in the balance of the two orbs. You cannot create this. It just happens.

I had brought fruit of my own, they had yogurt. Good. Because after not having had fresh shrimp and crab for years, I found that I couldn't get them down. Guts, fishy smell, goo, ugh. Couldn't do it. Unfortuntely, Sea Canoe had mangled my food instructions and cook kept sending out crab and shrimp in different disguises for lunch and dinner hoping they would get consumed even after Tom told him that I woudn't eat them. It got very funny after a while, I kept eating just the fruit and yogurt, the crab and shrimp kept coming out in new and improved settings, and they kept going back the same way they came out.

Tom squeezed me into low caves, we slipped into sea caves to explore the gorgeous hongs which were the definition of tranquility. We would paddle in silence, avoiding water noise, just to take in the cool, the light rain, the shadows, the greens. On the first day when we were still close in to the ports, the big tourist boats sent out flotillas of inflatables. Tom got us in an hour ahead, and we would enjoy the serenity. As we headed out, these tourists would arrive into this extraordinary beauty with all the subtlety of an artillery attack. Shouting, blaring, laughing, blasting away, the silence shattered. I couldn't wait to get out. If the point is to get away from the noise, why can't people shut up and enjoy the lack of it instead of bringing it with them? I'm stumped.

Tom taught me more efficient sea kayaking strokes. I'd done it a number of times before but my style wasn't as effective. By the end of the third day my kayak was moving smoothly and swifty through the water, a side benefit I'd have gladly paid for separately. We had to get through some wind and rough water on several occasions and this training paid off handsomely indeed.

We got way far out, places where villagers had illegal traps, we paddled in water only inches deep, using the sand to push ourselves back to deeper waters. We fought tides to get back to the boat. Paddled for hours with and against the water flow. Paddled around big islands, explored bat caves, found thousands of fruit bats and not a tourist boat in sight.

That's what the investment got me. And it was so worth it. Today I got an email from Tom of about twenty shots from his camera, which were backups to the ones I was taking. Great service. I'd already submitted my review. Depending on what you like, if you like crowds and lots of socializing, you would prefer to organize a group. My trip allowed me lots of thinking time, kayaking time, time to develop skils, explore where people didn't normally go. It was also hard damned work which appeals to me immensely. My arms and upper body got enough of a work out that when I got back to Kamala Beach, kite sailing was flat out of the question. There were knots upon knots. So an investment in the little massage studio a few doors down was the perfect thing. I developed new wrinkles from grimacing but I was much more limber afterwards and we laughed the whole time.

What I so appreciated about Tom was that he saw that I took the kayaking seriously, and treated me as such. So he pushed me very hard. It annoyed me at times, but I'm ex-military. I've had much worse than Tom shout in my face. (Tom shouted over the waves) He developed fine new skills in a demanding environment and I now have that muscle memory. And that is priceless. In many ways, this was almost a sea kayaking clinic, taken in one of the most gorgeous places on earth, seeing things that few people will ever see. For that, I consider $1600 a bargain indeed.

jhubbel May 13th, 2015 02:49 AM

After a few more lovely days' riding at Laguna, which afforded me both a deeper relationship with Bonita as well as a chance to rub down that Appaloosa stallion I can further and happily argue that the Laguna facility, once they have a good read of your riding skills, really go out of their way to accommodate. When I'd come in from my ride and wash up, there would be a basket of cut carrots for me to distribute among the horses in their stalls. This was a vote of confidence, because by now I knew who bit and who didn't. I know horse body language very well, and they can be very wiseass about looking sweet and taking a swipe. I ended up with plenty of great shots of babies, had baby time with the cold working on his ear scrubs which he came to love, and spent an hour a day on daddy. I got some candid portraits of big man leaning his head on my shoulder, eyes at half mast after an hour of massaging his butt and back legs. He looks drunk.

The staff also allowed me to wash Bonita down, an activity that finally cost me my first pair of paddock boots which were never intended for sea water and horse bathing. After five exposures to that level of dousing, they disintegrated, and they took leave of me in the big trash can at my hotel in Phuket. the half chaps survived.

jhubbel May 13th, 2015 03:17 AM

My last side trip was a three day excursion to Chiang Mai, actually about two days. I landed just in time to get ready for the Sunday Night Walking Market. I'd done this about five years ago. My hotel, the Safe House Court, was about fifty steps away from the midpoint. What was more important, however, was the fine little antique store that I discovered right across the side street from Safe House Court. There I met Juliet, the villager who made her way to antique shop owner, collector, and one truly beautiful and delightful soul. After I'd walked the market (a great deal of tourist same same) and found two truly good handmade things, I made my way back to her shop. There we grabbed waters, sat on straw mats, and talked for hours. I picked out four or five gorgeous items, knowing that this was where I'd likely spend most of my money.

The next day my taxi driver picked me up and we began the adventure by tracking down a pewter manufacturer by the name of Loyfar. My potter friend Jill wanted pieces from them, wholesale, and we took an hour to track the facility down, located on a tiny windiing back road in an isolated area. Long story short, they had a hard time with my story and sent me to Siam Celadon where they were for sale, retail. Jill is legit wholesale buyer but she hadn't armed me with cards or a resale number. Sigh. At least Siam Celadon was a fine place to pick up some gifts for my roommate and friends. My carryon bag was gaining weight fast.

Arnot, my driver, took me the considerable distance to the second Tiger Kingdom, we've covered that already, and we stumbled on another antique shop where I met a military family specializing in old SEA pieces. The woman was a lieutenant, a nurse during Vietnam, and her husband a Lieutenant Colonel. It's rare that I get to meet an Asian service woman. We were the same rank, and had fun saluting each other. I found a wonderful wooden horse, we bargained like the gleeful old ladies we are, and had great fun finding a suitable price. We closed the deal new friends, and she spent extra time showing off her prize Buddhas.

Arnot also helped me track down a couple of hilltribe stores. Neither had air conditioning on. The first, HillTribe House, does a modern take on hilltribe fabrics. Go upstairs, however, and you can purchase the hilltribe pieces (used) yourself, or the fabrics from the villages, all vintage. Having been to the Hmong tribes I will say their prices are pretty high, but their rent is also high given their city location. The interpretations downstairs are quite pricey, roomy, loose and robe like. Two hundred or so, on average. No tailored pieces. This being said, the fabrics are what set them apart. They also have jewelry and other small items, but for what I was after this was not the place.

The second had a unit but it had been turned off. It was the more authentic of the two stores but was actually much hotter inside that out, and so insufferably intense inside I almost couldn't breathe. And this with 102 heat outside already. They did come to my rescue and turn on the huge unit, where I stood gratefully until the rivers of sweat abated, before I tried on the jacket I ended up buying.

That night I returned to Juliet's shop with a glass of water, and enough cash to purchase all my treasures. We again sat and spoke for another few hours, after which I bought what I'd chosen plus a few more things. However Juliet was the real treasure. The next morning she met me on the curb and put a jasmine flower necklace around my neck as I climbed into my cab. The precious, extraordinary, wonderful people you meet.

Juliet is the kind of person you make that special trip to see, and wrap other things around spending time just with her. Her husband was teasing us about how long we spoke, but as anyone who travels knows, when you meet one of these people, you stop. You invest the time. They don't come along often and when they do, they make your life ever so much better. Travel increasingly becomes a combination of adventurers combined with returns to places where pearls have been discovered and need to be treasured again, and that is indeed the best part.

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