February 2006 Archives

Horizontal Day


I have spent 99% of the last 21 hours in a horizontal position -- either laying down in bed, laying on the couch, or laying in the bath. Most of that time I have been asleep (except in the bath!). I haven't eaten or drunken a thing, except for a couple of bottles of gatorade.

So it looks like I picked up a stomach virus along the way somewhere. Needless to say, today hasn't been much fun. But now I am starting to get bored and hungry, so I guess that's a good sign that the worst is over.

Update: I had originally titled this post "Vertical Day". But thanks to Ian for sending me an email to say, "I know you've been out of the U.S. for a while, but laying on the bed or couch is horizontal, not vertical." D'oh.

Opposition Not Particpating in Special Election?

So what happens when the Prime Minister dissolves the Parliament and calls for a special election, but the three main opposition parties cry foul and insist they will send no candidates to the election?

That's what might be happening today in Thailand. The Democratic, Chart Thai, and Mahachon Party are threatening that they will not have any candidates in the special election because Thaksin didn't play fair in his actions on Friday.

So if the opposition parties don't, ahem, show up to the party, then does that mean that Thaksin's party will get even more than their current 75% of the vote?

This is getting more and more interesting all the time...

(For more info about today's events, see the Nation Newspaper's Real-Time Internet coverage of the anti-government rally today in Sanam Luang.)

Trekking Near Kroung Sri Waterfall

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As soon as Stephen told me he would be visiting Southeast Asia, I knew that I would have to take him to my favorite spot on this side of the world: Luang Prabang.

We have been here for three days, doing the usual tourist stuff: visiting centuries-old temples and eating lots of Lao food. We also took a boat up the Mekong to visit the Pak Ou caves along with the "Whiskey Making Village" and the "Weaving and Paper-Making Village". As I expected, the two villages had been transformed from traditional small Lao villages into tourist attractions, with the usual shlock for sale. It was a complete waste of time.

But today, on my 8th trip to Luang Prabang, we had a true "Lao" experience that I have never had before. We signed up for a 7 hour trek / hike through the jungle to visit two Kamu Hilltribe villages and the beautiful Kroung Sri Waterfall.

When we started the hike, the air was nice and cool and the trail was wide and flat. I jokingly pointed to a tall mountain nearby and asked our guide if we were going to go to the top. He said yes and I laughed. An hour later, I was sweating, not laughing, as the trail turned very steep. Sure enough, we went to the very top and up and over it into the next valley.

The villages we visited were true, untouched Kamu villages. Our tour guide (a 20 year old Lao boy named Tong) was also Kamu, so he was able to translate for us as we chatted with the locals a bit.

Eventually we reached the waterfall, hot, sweaty, and very tired. But apparently we hadn't worked out enough, as Stephen and I immediately climbed to the very top of the waterfall. By the time we reached the bottom again, I had definitely had enough!

There's nothing better after a long, hot hike than a quick swim in a chilly waterfall, and that's exactly what we did. We didn't stay in long (it was really cold) but it was a refreshing dip.

So, that was the highlight of Luang Prabang Trip #8. I can hardly wait to come back again!

Trying out Skype

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I just downloaded and installed Skype for my Mac at home. I've heard great things about being able to make free international phone calls. But is it any better than say, Yahoo Messenger with Voice?

Anyway, if anyone out there wants to add me to your Skype list, you can find me by searching for "sgtowns". Feel free to give me a ring sometime!

PM Thaksin Dissolves Parliment


Watching Thai politics has been an interesting experience the last few weeks, with growing calls for PM Thaksin to step down. As usual, I am at a huge disadvantage because there is not very much English language news. (The only news sources -- Bangkok Post and Nation newspapers -- have so many conflicts between them, it's hard to know which to believe.)

In any case, we were just watching the evening news here at home (in Thai), and it looks like Prime Minister Thaksin will dissolve Parliament tonight and call for special elections.

Although it's a bit surprising to come at this time, it's probably a shrewd move by Thaksin. The momentum lately has definitely been on the side of the anti-government camps. But by dissolving Parliament now, it seems to me that Thaksin's TRT party might still be able to hold a majority in the government after the special election.

It will be interesting to see how the leaders of this coming weekend's anti-Thaksin protests react to the news and how they conduct the protests.

(I have gotten in the habit of checking 2Bangkok.com as soon as news breaks, and sure enough they are all over the story. Get more details on the 2Bangkok.com home page.)

Update (8:45 PM): It's official. PM Thaksin just appeared on Thai TV to "apologize for returning the power to the people". Special elections for Parliament will be held on April 2.

My fears of sitting on a boat in the middle of the ocean in the rain were unfounded. In fact, I was forced to liberally apply sunscreen for three days. And if I have to pick the lesser of two evils, I'd definitely pick the latter.

We've spent 95% of the last three days either on a boat or in the water, including at least 3 snorkeling dives every day, and one full-blown scuba dive. Needless to say, the underwater sights were incredible. I saw lots of Nemos, along with the other fish he with whom he shared the dentist's aquarium. There were also lots of colorful coral, foot-wide starfish, sea anenomes, parrot fish, and sea urchins, one turtle about 15 feet underwater, a "shoulder-to-shoulder" line of black squid looking as if they were marching to war, and the highlight: a manta ray with a 2-meter wide wingspan.

One of the best parts of the trip was compliments of one our fellow passengers. He was a diving fanatic who took a video camera underwater on 2-3 dives a day. After dinner every night, we gathered around the TV to marvel at the National Geographic special that we were living in.

These movies showed off coral reefs that were by far the best underwater scenes I have ever seen in person. The view above water was amazing as well. We spent some time at beautiful Ko Surin, the home of the Moken Gypsy tribe that survived the Tsunami by running to higher ground when the water receded. We also spent one afternoon on one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen: Ko Tachai.

Hopefully I will be able to post some (above water) pictures soon!

Spending the Night in Kao Lak

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I am writing this from the beach at Kao Lak, in Southern Thailand. This beach will always live in infamy, as it was the hardest hit area in Thailand from the tsunami. In fact, the hotel we stayed at was almost completely destroyed.

This morning, we will be boarding a boat and heading off for a two-day trip to Ko Surin. Unfortunately, though, as we arrived at the hotel in Kao Lak last night, we could see lightning in the distance. And sure enough, it is raining today. I hope that it breaks soon. Being on a boat in the rain won't be much fun.

Site Changes


I spent most my Saturday afternoon and evening tweaking this website. Return visitors might notice that the "Locations" list in the left menu is a little bit different. I created subcategories for some of the provinces I have visited, and moved some of the content accordingly (both photos and writings).

Movable Type has this funcitonality built in, but I have to say that the article Understanding the Category Listing Code from the Learning Movable Type website was very helpful, so I give kudos to the owners of that site.

I also continued tweaking the CSS for the Photo Gallery. I still have a ways to go before everything is the way I want, but it's getting there. Feel free to take a look at the Photo Gallery to see what you think. Let me know if anything seems broken!

Update:Thanks to a heads-up from my friend Farol, I realized that my changes to the Photo Album was working in Firefox, Safari, and Camino, but was broken in the one I forgot to check: Internet Explorer. And since most people still use that one, then those pages were broken for most of the visitors to this site. So, I have reverted back to an old copy of the CSS and page templates. At least it (mostly) works now, but I lost a lot of work over the past few days. Oh well, I'll try to improve it again soon.

Another Warning from the Embassy

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Yesterday, I received another email from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. It said:

Attention American Citizens:

Thailand has recently experienced a number of large, unrelated public demonstrations in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. These protests have been mainly peaceful in nature, and have targeted, among other issues, the Thai-US Free Trade Agreement, the listing on the stock exchange of a large brewery, and opposition to Thai Prime Minister Thaksin. The crowds often include several diverse groups of demonstrators which assemble with no set starting or ending times.

As stated above, these demonstrations are usually peaceful in nature, but all demonstrations are unpredictable and conditions can change unexpectedly. The Royal Thai Police attempt to have sufficient officers on hand to maintain public order, but unforeseen events can lead any demonstration to turn violent without warning.

For this reason, the Embassy encourages all Americans in Thailand to monitor local media for announcements of future demonstrations and to avoid the area where demonstrations are held whenever possible. Should you find yourself among or near the demonstrators, move indoors for shelter until the demonstration has passed, or ask for police assistance to leave the area. If a demonstration is expected to pass near U.S. Embassy facilities, Embassy entrances and functions may be restricted depending on circumstances.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-317-472-2328. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

On our third and final day in Cambodia, we woke up VERY early, caught the tuk-tuk at 5:45 AM and headed to Angkor Wat. The idea was to experience a calm peaceful, solitary sunrise, but we were amazed that many busloads of tourists (most of whom were Japanese) had beat us there and were setting up their camera tripods in front of the temple and were noisily waiting for the sun to appear.

We quickly walked past the tourists and up to the very top of Angkor. Even there, a few people had gathered, but everyone was quiet and respectful. The sunrise was quite amazing -- not so much the way the sun looked as it rose above the horizon, for I have seen many sunrises and sunsets before. But instead it was more of a spiritual feeling this time with my back propped up against this amazing ancient temple, looking out over the trees, listening to the birds calling to each other and watching the yellow light dancing on the grey carved sandstone.

The afternoon of the third day was spent at the floating village on the great lake called Tonle Sap. When Mark and I visited last time during the rainy season, Tonle Sap was much wider, and the floating village was closer to the main road. But now in the dry season the village is out on the lake. We hired a boat for $10 each to get a closer look at the floating houses and restaurants. I recognized a few of the same buildings (like a Christian Church) but it was funny to see them in a different location.

So all in all, it was another great trip. The temple ruins of Angkor are still as impressive as they were to me three years ago. This time around I knew a little bit more about the context of SE Asian history, which made the experience all the more richer. Unfortunately, though, the tourist bubble of Siem Reap don't allow one to learn much about modern Cambodian culture, but perhaps I can explore the country a bit on my own at some later date.

On our second day in Cambodia, we took the same tuk-tuk out about 30 kilometers to see the "River of a Thousand Lingas", or Kabal Spean, and then stopped at the tiny but intricately carved sandstone temple called Banteay Srei. The road out to Bantey Srei has been paved, but the remaining distance to the river has not. By the time we arrived, we were coated with a thin layer of red dust.

In the afternoon, we went in the opposite direction to visit three temples near the town of Roluos. These temples date from the 9th Century and therefore pre-date the 10th-13th century temples around Angkor Wat. They weren't as impressive as the Angkor temples, but they were still fun to climb and admire.

After another long day in the tuk-tuk, we again found ourselves at the pool eating snacks and relaxing. We headed out for a little "night-life", which in Siem Reap it consists of drinking beer at foreign-owned pubs surrounded by white people. This area is truly a tourist bubble, like a dirty, run-down Disney World. But unfortunately, we don't have the time on this trip to break outside the bubble and to see what real life is like in Cambodia.

Angkor Wat First Day: Small Circuit Temples

Stephen and I arrived in Cambodia late last night. Our plan for the three days we are here is a very similar schedule to the one that Mark and I had three years ago. The first day (today) we hired a tuk-tuk to take us on the "Small Circuit" of temples at Angkor. We visited the Banyon, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, the Leper King Terrace, the Elephant Terrace, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, and finally to the grand-daddy of them all, Angkor Wat.

Luckily, the crowds weren't TOO terrible, and the weather was not TOO hot. And we found the tuk-tuk a great way to get around. It was slow enough to be able to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the area, comfortable enough with a nice padded seat and a roof to block the sun, and certainly cheap enough at only $12 per day for an all-day tour.

We are staying at the Auberge Mont Royal hotel in Siem Reap, where my friend Martin is the General Manager. It was a decent hotel with a great little pool area. After touring the ruins today, we rested our weary bodies next to the pool and snacked on beer, fried spring rolls and fruit.

We are noticing that prices are a bit high here in Siem Reap -- even more expensive than Bangkok. Most meals are $3-4 and our mid-range hotel is $30 per night. And also thanks to all of the tourists, we are getting a lot of offers from tuk-tuk drivers, book sellers, massaeures, and restuarant employees. We are also getting a lot of attention from dirty little children and amputees who are begging for money. I have mixed feelings about this kind of begging, since I know that most Cambodians have had horrible experiences over the last few decades.

But on the good side of being in a tourist bubble is that most everyone speaks fairly good English. I've also seen a lot of Cambodians leading tours in French, Japanese and Korean.
I don't know how the rest of the education system is, but the language skills are
quite impressive!

Early Super Bowl and Cambodia

Stephen B and I were up at 6 AM this morning to watch the Super Bowl live. Thanks to Stephen C's recommendation, we were able to watch the game on ESPN here at home. I didn't even realize I had ESPN, since they only show football (soccer) and I am likely to just skip that channel if I am flipping through. Besides, I hardly ever watch TV, I just pay the bill.

In any case, the game was entertaining, although the outcome was not to Seattle-native Stephen B's liking.

Tonight Stephen B and I fly to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. I visited there a few years ago with Mark when we first moved to Asia. It will be very interesting to see how Siem Reap has changed, and to see how my impression of Cambodia has changed, now that I have lived in Asia for three years.

So... stay tuned. Words and pictures from Cambodia coming soon!

Phra Pradaeng Floating Market

A quick trip to the Phra Pradaeng Floating Market turned into an all-day tour of the area, and we had a wonderful time. Stephen B and I drove over the Rama 9 Bridge to Jit and Stephen C's house. I only made 5 wrong turns, and what should have taken 45 minutes took 75.

We picked up Jit and Stephen C and drove over to the Phra Pradang Floating Market. It wasn't really a floating market, as one might see in glossy Thai tourist photos; only the noodle soup vendors were sitting in narrow boats in a klong (canal). And the market was mostly a food market, which was fine by us. We spend a couple of hours walking around, trying lots of new foods, and buying samples of fruits and shrimp cakes and duck noodle soup.

After the market, we hired a boat for a few kilometer trip down the river just to check out life along the Chao Phraya. On one side were many houses built on stilts over the river. On the other was a large cruise ship and many huge cargo boats docked at the Bangkok Port. Two high-school girls from Jit's neighborhood joined us. It was them who decided to call Stephen C Stephen Gao (Old Stephen) and 6-foot-plus Stephen B Stephen Lek (Little Stephen).

"Little" Stephen and I ended our day by stopping at the new bridge to snap a few photos. The bridge is impressive from a distance, but up close it is VERY impressive. I am looking forward to driving over it some day.

Here are a few of the many pictures I took at Phra Pradaeng today:

The view of the
"floating" market
Our first stop:
Duck Noodle Soup
Plants for sale
(with the names in Thai)
This man played the keyboard
"Old" Stephen getting
into the boat
Nit, our driver,
and Jit on the boat
A boy paints
his baktik
"Little" Stephen under
the new bridge

Super Bowl in Bangkok?

My friend Stephen is currently visiting Bangkok from Seattle, and he has been saying something about a "big game" this Sunday... and something about the Seahawks?! I am completely out of touch with American sports these days, so I have no idea what he is talking about.

In all seriousness, does anyone have any idea where we can watch the Super Bowl? I think it will be on around 6 AM on Monday morning here in Bangkok. Are there any sports bars that will be open for this special event?

Public Announcement from U.S. Embassy Bangkok

I just received a very interesting email from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. It says:

Attention American Citizens:

The Royal Thai Police (RTP) authorities have confirmed that a large demonstration is expected to occur in the area of the King Rama 5 statue, Rajdamneon Avenue, near Sanam Luang and Government House in Bangkok on Saturday, February 4. Police estimate up to 100,000 people will gather in an anti-Thai Prime Minister Thaksin demonstration headed by Sonthi Limthongkul, a prominent Thai government critic. The crowd will include several diverse groups of demonstrators and is expected to start assembling in the morning with no announced starting or ending times. Organizers have not indicated a marching route, should they leave the area.

Bangkok demonstrations are usually peaceful in nature, but all demonstrations are unpredictable and conditions can change unexpectedly. The RTP has indicated that 2,000 � 3,000 police officers will be on hand to maintain public order. There are concerns that anti-Sonthi groups may attempt to confront the demonstrators, which could lead to violence. For this reason, please do not approach the demonstrators.

The Embassy encourages all Americans to avoid this area. Should you find yourself in or near the demonstrators, move indoors for shelter until the demonstration has passed, or ask for police assistance to leave the area. While the demonstration is not expected to pass near U.S. Embassy facilities, Embassy entrances and functions may be restricted depending on circumstances.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department�s Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-317-472-2328. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

I for one will certainly be nowhere near this area on Saturday. I hope that the demonstration remains peaceful, and I hope that the organizers and protesters realize that there are better ways of making changes in government than storming the Government House (which is what a small group did last week).

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

January 2006 is the previous archive.

March 2006 is the next archive.

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