Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tour Of Laos, Day 4

Pui and I had breakfast at a nearby café. Justin wanted to join us, but his girlfriend Raht wanted to eat Thai food and dragged him off in search of vegetables in battery acid. After that, we dropped off our rented motorcycles and checked out of the hotel.

Rick hired a van that picked us up in front of the hotel and we all piled in (including Caroline — the first time we had seen her since arriving in Vientienne) and rode 3½ hours north to Vang Vieng, which is a measley little place that caters almost exclusively to backpackers. Bars, internet cafés, low-end restaurants, guest houses, and souvenir shops that seemed to specialize in camping materiel represented the bulk of commercial endeavor in this town. However, the town is merely the parking lot for what lies beyond, which are mountains. As best as I can guess, a million years ago, this place got twisted 90 degrees, so that sedimentation layers that were lying flat suddenly became vertical plates, and as the softer layers wore away, massive thousand-foot cliff faces and jagged mountains were born. I think this is called Karst topography, but I'm not sure if that specific enough to explain this.

We checked into a rustic (in a semi-demeaning sense) bungalow hotel on the banks of the river at the foot of these cliffs just to the north of town and then immediately set off for something to eat (Caroline losing us at first opportunity). We stopped at one of the nicer restaurants in town and had dinner, which was pretty good all told. After that, we had a bit of a wander, and I bought one of the items I had returned to Laos for: A huge hand-stitched silk tapestry (about 3 meters by 1 meter) to hang on the wall back home. It was $120, but that is half the price it would be in Bangkok, and about one-tenth the price it would be in America.

After that Rick and I wandered on our own, leaving Da and Pui in a salon, and Justin and Raht wandering off to enjoy a marijuana-laced milkshake (a local delicacy) back in their hotel room. Rick and I managed to find some rather upscale hotels along the river where we enjoyed a beer at their riverside patio. I think that one of my favorite things in life to do is sit with Rick, have a beer, and talk about stuff. Somehow we entertain each other that way with very little effort.

From there, Rick and I walked back to the bungalows and found Pui and Da there with beer, and we sat on the porch and drank, eventually going to bed.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Tour Of Laos, Day 3

We woke up at the hotel and Justin and I rented motorcycles from the nearby hotel (which didn't have room for us yesterday). Rick had Da's motorcycle (she lives in Vientienne). Pui and Da once again went off (this time with Raht) to do their thing, and Rick, Justin, and I went to the Swedish Bakery for breakfast.

Unfortunately, the motorcycles we rented were terrible. (This is a fact: Lao people turn down the brakes on their motorcycles to almost zero so as to save on wear and tear.) We returned the motorcycles for a refund (minus some money, of course), and found another motorcycle rental place where the bikes were slightly better (brakes notwithstanding). Dave rented a motorcycle there as well.

After that, Rick and Da on a motorcycle; Justin and Raht on a motorcycle; Pui, Pot and I on a motorcycle; and Dave on a motorcycle drove out to Da's house. Unfotunately, along the way, Justin and Raht decided to turn around after falling too far behind on the ride, and then we lost Dave when he went back to look for them. That left Rick and Da, Pui and I (and Pot) to travel onwards.

We got to Rick's new house which actually is a "temporary" house on the piece of land that he and Da bought together. It's really just a shed, a porch, and an outdoor toilet, but it's kind of pleasant in its own way. Rick and I sat on the porch and drank some beers. Pot immediately was in his element, as there was a bike there, and kids to play with. Pui and I had decided from the beginning that we would just drop Pot off here for the duration of the trip and let him play, since nothing that we would be doing over the next few days were anything that he would go crazy over.

So in the late afternoon, Rick and Da, Pui and I got back on our bikes and rode back to the hotel. We had quick showers, and then the same group as last night re-formed (minus Pot, natch), and returned to La Terasse for a second meal. (I forgot to mention that they have the best home made ice cream on earth.)

From there, we walked to a bar called Kopchaideux (or something like that), but couldn't find a decent place to sit, and so we wandered down the road and back to the Samlor Bar again. Once again, Pui and I turned in early.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Tour Of Laos, Day 2

We woke up on the train, and arrived in Nong Khai at about 8:00 a.m. From there, it was a 5 minute tuk-tuk ride to the border where we were checked quickly out of Thailand (except for Dave, who accidentally overstayed by 2 days, taking about 20 minutes of red tape to clear up).

We were then taken across the border — the mighty Mekong — by shuttle bus and dropped off at the Lao border crossing, where we proceeded to spend about an hour in the heat waiting for our visas.

After that, when we were finally stamped into Laos, we hired yet another van to take us the 30 miles into Vientienne, where we were dropped off at our hotel... only to find our reservations meaningless, as the hotel was full.

Fortunately, as is true in all places in southeast Asia, 50 feet down the road was another hotel that was even better than the one with no rooms, for less money.

So we got our rooms, took showers, and then walked as a group (minus Caroline, who hates all human contact, and went off on her own for most of the trip) down to the river and had lunch at a food stall there.

Then, we all went our separate ways. Kailosh and Pascal went wandering. Pui, Da, and Pot went shopping. Justin and Raht went back to the hotel. Rick and Dave went to a sauna, while I went and had a foot massage.

Then, in the evening, minus Kailosh and Pascal (and Caroline, natch), we went to La Terasse, my favorite restaurant in the world. We all stuffed ourselves on five-star French cuisine.

From there, we wandered to the Samlor Bar, where we had some drinks, and then (in a pouring rain), Pui, Pot and I caught a tuk-tuk back to the hotel, leaving our friends behind.

(Oh... I forgot to mention, Pot managed to survive this extremely long day with a stamina and patience belying his age. He only lost it once, in the restaurant, but otherwise managed to bear up quite well overall.)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Tour Of Laos, Day 1

It was off to Laos again for a week, this time taking along Pui and Pot. We traveled with my friend Rick, his wife from Laos, Da, his coworkers Justin (with girlfriend Raht) and Dave, plus three students of Rick's English Teacher School, Kailosh, Pascal, and Caroline.

We hired a van to take us from Pattaya to the train station in Bangkok, and from there we took the overnight train to Nong Khai on the Mekong River.

I bought first class tickets for Pui and myself because I find it very difficult to sleep with the side-to-side rocking of the train cars when I am lying lengthwise in the car (which you do in second class, where all of my fellow travelers rode), as opposed to widthwise (as in first class). The 12 air conditioning jets right over my upper bunk were an added bonus.

We all gathered in the restaurant car and hung out until closing when we finally went to sleep.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The World's Largest Hamburger

Today, my friend Bob, owner of Bob's BBQ here in Pattaya unveiled the world's largest commercially available hamburger, coming in at 78.5 pounds. A massive fete was held in the Carrefour shopping center, and hundreds of people and dozens of news outlets were in attendance.

So what exactly does "commercially available" mean? That means that this isn't a one-off, one-time monster, but any time you like, you can walk into Bob's BBQ and order one of these for yourself and take it home with you. (You could also sit down eat it at the restaurant, but let's be realistic.)

And to be realistic, who is going to come in and plop down 15,000 baht ($400) on a hamburger? (Bob should have put in a bid to be the world's most expensive hamburger while he was at it.) Well, probably not very many people... but that's really beside the point, isn't it? If you should ever want an 80-pound hamburger, there is only one place on earth to get it, and that is in Thailand... at Bob's BBQ.

(Oh... additionally, it's a pretty safe bet that if Bob can make an 80-pound hamburger to order, he can probably make more down-to-earth sized hamburgers in the 10 to 20 pound range for folks who are interested. Call for details, obviously.)

So anyway, congratulations to Bob for doing something so entertaining, inspiring, and ridiculous. I've followed the process from brainchild to today's blowout beef bonanza, and I can tell you, that along with 80 pounds of hamburger, 80 pounds of Bob's blood, sweat and tears went into making this as well. (Yuck... that didn't sound right.) Proceeds of the entire event (and lots of leftovers) went to the Pattaya orphanage.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Prettiest Hot Rod Ever

This is "Impression" by Chip Foose (of The Discovery Channel's "Rides" fame). Basically the entire car, and most every part on it, is hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind work. (Even the tires have custom tread on them which matches the driver's foot pedals.) Click here to see a full run-down and more photos of this amazing vehicle. Oh... and if you want to buy this car from its current owner, a very high 6-figure number might get his attention.(I've decided to turn this post into an "Ode to Chip Foose", and thus here are a bunch of other cars he has designed.)

Out For The Evening

Thursday night is my usual visit to TQ2 for the all-you-can-eat BBQ buffet (courtesty of Bob).

I had a great time, as all my friends who had left on vacation were back: Owen from Australia, Ray from America, and Stan from England were all hanging out tying one on. Alan, Damien, Harvey, Mike, Fred, Bob were all there as well. Rick and Justin never made it however.

Ocean One Tower in Pattaya to be World's Tallest

Final permission has been granted for the Ocean One Tower (or "O1" for short) in Jomtien, which will be the world's tallest apartment building at 1130 feet (345 meters) and 91 stories, and will be Thailand's tallest building. Ground breaking had begun a while ago for O1.

It really is a pretty building, if I do say so myself. (I do question the wisdom of purchasing an ocean-front condominium 1000 feet off the ground: It's not like the view of the sky and water is any more interesting at that height compared to, say, 100 feet up. Oh... and talk about a sea breeze! Balcony living in the jet stream?)

Original purchase opportunities came in at 75,000 baht per square meter ($200 per square foot), but now 100,000 baht per square meter ($250/sq.ft.) is the going price, regardless of floor.

In related news, Jomtien's Ambassador City is not the world's largest hotel as I thought it was. The MGM Grand in Las Vegas has 5,000 rooms, and officially The Ambassador has 4,200 (at best) after several smaller components of it were split into separately-owned properties.) Regardless, Dubai is building a 6,000 room hotel to open in the near future and the whole MGM/Ambassador argument will be moot.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

New Phone

It is the duty of every Farang to buy Thai people mobile phones as often as they would like.

Well, not quite, but I've gotten that impression from a few girls I've known. Pui most certainly is not one of them. She has been carrying around the same beat-up light-blue Nokia p.o.s. wrapped in a clear jello-plastic protective cover since 1999 or so. She fully intended to be buried with it decades hence.

Today, at the Tukcom Mega Technology Center, while Pui was browsing for some earphones, I spotted a most interesting phone being sold used for 3,000 baht. Now, knowing that eventually Pui will need a new phone, and that could mean (would mean) spending much more than 3,000 baht, I decided that this was a good phone, and talked Pui into buying it.

Besides, you have to admit that it is cool. I mean... it's small and square. That's cool. It has a camera, and the screen on the inside plays all sorts of funky graphics, and well... all of that.

Well, I like it, and it sure beats the hell out of having to buy a 20,000 baht Nokia down the line.