----------------------------------------------- Google Site Map ----------------------------------------------- Cindy in ...: 2006

Friday, December 29, 2006

Myanmar: A Bit More

'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.." How appropriate that I could buy roasted chestnuts on Christmas Day in Myanmar! I gave most of them away, because when I tried to buy only 10 baht worth instead of 20, the vendor thought I was negotiating and just took a couple of nuts out and charged me 10 baht. No way I was going to try to talk my way around that with someone who only knew her numbers in English. Which, by the way, is more than I know in Thai.

I bought some other things to eat, but since I was guessing at what was in them, I had to toss several of them.

I took this picture of a little boy, and showed it to him. He recognized himself immediately, and was quite excited to see himself. But when I took a picture of his mother, he didn't recognize her. Isn't that strange? I don't know what the mud streaks on his face are for, but several children of about the same age had them.

I bought some stuff for myself. A ring for 50 baht, earrings for 70 baht, and a straw fan to add to my collection, 70 baht. That thing was a pain to carry around. Fortunately it just barely fit in my pack.

I never felt as if I had left Thailand. The only thing that let me know I was in a different country was the stamp in my passport, and that was being held at immigration.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Myanmar: Two Hours in Another Country


The bus from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai took about five hours. At the bus station I took a song-theouw to the border. As I was asking how to get there, I saw the man who had been sitting next to me on the bus, totally absorbed in a Thai book. On the chance he spoke English, and remembering that when IDs were checked he pulled out a passport, not ID papers, I asked if he were going to the border. Yes, he was. "Where are you from?" I was curious. He was from New York City, and as unfriendly as I remember New Yorkers being.

Anyway, took the song-theouw, filled out my exit card, and got stamped out of Thailand. I walked across a short bridge, filled out my entry card, paid $10, and got stamped into Myanmar, and left my passport in the care of the immigration authorities, as required. My entry stamp was good for 14 days, but only allowed me to go to three towns. This was Shan state, home of the rebels. To visit any of Myanmar other than the border towns, I would have to buy a 30-day visa and fly to Yangon (Rangoon).

I followed the crowd down into the shopping area. I was surprised at the number of Thais coming over the border. Then I learned that the border area is a duty-free zone. The products most in demand were liquor and cigarettes. Lots of people were buying things like the kinds of snacks you put out in a bar. Since they don't have to pay the $10 fee, I think a lot of Thai business owners come over to buy supplies for their shops.

The currency used was the baht. The language used was the baht. There were very few tourist-type shops. While I thought the border was there to make money off the visa fees, it seems it is really there to make money off of the duty free. The Thais are the main marketing target. Us Westerners don't really count. We're just an extra.


My apologies for not posting for several days. In addition to spending a fair amount of time on buses, the earthquake off Taiwan damaged six undersea cables and wreaked havoc on Asian communications. The effect on the internet here was a bit odd. It seemed to hit some sites and not others. I could get to Yahoo! and Amazon, Lonely Planet and the forums at Digital Point, but I couldn't get to Google or Blogger as late as this morning. Go figure.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Chiang Rai: Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Thailand!

Yes, that's Chiang Rai you read, with an R. I made my visa run today, taking the bus up to Mae Sae, crossing into Myanmar, walking around some, and returning. I decided to stay a couple of days up here in Chiang Rai, the utmost north of Thailand, but it is really cold, so I may not last. I liked the feel of the town, though. Anyway, it was a different way to spend Christmas.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Chiang Mai: And Still Changing

Yesterday, while I was having my Mexican breakfast at the little place down the road, I met a woman who goes to Chiang Mai University on the weekends. She was about to go out there to do some reading at the library and asked me if I wanted to go along. Of course.

She drove me out there, to a very pretty wooded campus. We had some iced coffee, then went on to the library. At the very back of the first floor there is an American Center, with American magazines, videos, and a big TV that is always set to some American channel. I sat and read magazines, some pretty out of date. Still it was fun.

I got lost about three times on the way back out on foot. I asked directions, and left a couple of students looking pretty proud of themselves for having been able to give them.

That was just the beginning of my walk. I decided I needed some exercise, and since there were no tuktuks in sight, now was the time to get it. On the way I found a place called The Pub, and suddenly I was starving. I went in and had real bangers and mash, with fried onions. A real treat, since every time I order sausage here I get these absolutely horrible hot dogs.

Back on the road, I finally found a tuktuk. The driver proceeded to drive me all over creation, but I eventually made it back to the Guest House.

Of course, I'm still debating about which way to do the visa.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Chiang Mai: The Visa Run Plans Are Changing

My first task was to get money. After I got the money I needed, I went to the drugstore to get some of my medications. Of course they were out of one, only had ten of another, and 28 of the third. In poor countries, medications are bought on a week by week basis, because coming up with the full cost all at once would be impossible. Since prescriptions are only required for scheduled drugs, this is possible. The effect is that pharmacies only stock a few of anything. So I took all that they had, and ordered the rest. Even then, I couldn't get a full month's supply. I'll have to make a third trip later in the week.

When I got my valuables from the safe,I thought maybe I should double-check my visa expiration. That was a very good thought. Although I actually went through immigration in the first hour of October 28th, I was stamped in with an arrival date of the 27th. My sixty day visa expires, therefore, on the 25th of December. A change of plans was in order.

The plan to be changed involved taking an early morning bus to Chiang Rai, near the Myanmar (Burmese) border, getting a place to stay, then taking another bus to Mai Sae, the actual border town. I would walk across the bridge and walk back, paying a $5 or $10 Myanmar visa fee, collecting a couple of stamps in my passport, and being magically granted another thirty days in Thailand. Now, if I stuck to the plan, I would pay a 500 baht (34/US$) overstay fee.

The new plan was to go to immigration and pay 1900 baht for a visa extension. It sounds expensive, but after adding up bus fares and taxi or tuktuk fares, it's not all that out of line. But the woman who runs the guesthouse says that here in Chiang Mai that they will only give me a seven day extension, and that I'd be paying 1900 baht every week to get the total of four weeks allowed. I'd heard the same thing before, but I'd been told I could keep going back for additional time for free.

Now I plan to leave on Christmas for Chiang Rai and celebrate by getting a new stamp in my passport and paying a brief, but appreciative, call on Myanmar. I could do it all in one long day, but I'd like to look around Chiang Rai. Maybe when I cross the border I'll look around for a while there, too. I thought about turning it into a three or four day visit, but you can only travel to one other town in the area. I'm not sure whether it is because the country is rough and the transportation bad, there are rebels in the area, or the government only wants tourists in places where they can be monitored. Probably all three.

Leaving on Sunday means I will lose four nights on my pre-paid month at the Top North. Or so I thought. It seemed unlikely that she would agree, but I asked the manager anyway. Could I have my lost nights back when I returned? Yes. So when I get back I will have four nights at the monthly rate coming to me. Amazing.

But maybe I should just do the one-day turnaround and ... I swear, honest, I used to be a decisive person.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Chiang Mai: Internet at the Pirates Cove

I started yesterday at one of my favorite breakfast places, a little spot that has a Mexican breakfast that I like. Scrambled eggs with green pepper, tomato, and onion, rolled in a flour tortilla, and covered in salsa. Somehow I got involved in a couple of conversations, and really didn't get on my way until noon.

Then I got a rather unfortunate manicure. I chose white polish, not expecting a sort of day-glow white. I really should get over this manicure thing. But it is so nice.

I pretty much spent rest of the day at the Pirates Cove, on the internet 'working' on the blog, my photos, a possible website. I worked away at the Pirates Cove, ate, worked some more, chatted with a couple of people, then back to the clicking and typing. Things went well for a while, until I lost an hour's work. Suddenly, in my mind, the whole day was wasted, when really it was only a small piece of it. So I packed up to go back to the room a little early. But it was already past midnight. Again. Not exactly early.

The second bed is used for storage and as a stageing area where I sort out what to take with me on any given departure from my room. Last night it was so cold that I got out of bed to move all the junk. I shuffled it around so that I could remove the bedspread and add it to my own. Once I thawed, having two blankets was much warmer. The windows in this room don't close, so it is freezing at night. Not literally, since there has never been a frost recorded here. But still, it was cold.

That was it. Exciting, no?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Chiang Mai: An Inefficient Path

I slept really late, after reading way into the wee small hours. First I went to the Same Same for fruit salad, and to do a free book exchange. Then I crossed the street to the drugstore that carries Off! insect repellent. I picked up a few other things - a small bottle of shampoo, some body lotion, basic stuff. The basic stuff that I left out of my budget when I was estimating how much it would cost to stay here. None of the items is expensive, but I go through a can of insect repellent in about a week. When your budget is low, even inexpensive items have a big percentage impact.

From there I went to another pharmacy to get some meds and to weigh myself. It helps to use the same scale, so I know any change is in me, not the hardware involved. I'm not an ounce lighter than I was over a week ago.

Then I backtracked past the Same Same to pick up my laundry, and went back to the guest house. After distributing all my various goods, I propped myself up on the bed with a book.

When I woke up, I picked up the big computer pack, and started the walk over to the bar. I stopped at the Corner Restaurant for dinner, because I really like their vegetable green chili curry.

Somehow I managed to spend the whole evening on the internet without getting anything done but yesterday's blog post. How could that be? I had pictures ready to upload, applications to microstock sites to submit, and all I did was surf.

Walking back at about a quarter past midnight, I felt quite safe and secure. There are a several open bars along the way, and here the bars all have one side open to the street. This makes being out seem safe. But I wonder if I should. I'll go with my gut, because it has worked for me so far.

I've been thinking that, as a traveler, I have been here nearly long enough. I am used to the carts selling just about everything, the odd forms of transportation, the occaisional Thai carrying goods in baskets suspended from a pole balanced on his or her shoulders. But maybe a traveler isn't what I need to be right now. The comfort of the familiar is very appealing.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Chiang Mai: Not doing much

Yesterday I went to the pool, took a nap, and spent some time on the internet at the Pirates Cove. I intended to only spend two hours at the pool, but I started talking to some people, and suddenly it was late in the afternoon. Being in the sun makes me sleepy, so I had a nap.

I spent some of my time talking to a woman from England, trying to convince her that she and her husband could get by in Latin America without speaking a lot of Spanish. She tried to explain to me just how much the US is resented overseas because of Iraq. I already know.

Then I chatted with two English guys. The younger one, who is in his early forties, told me that when he first came to SE Asia as a backpacker back when he was 35, he felt a little old, that most of the backpackers were considerably younger than he is. Now, at 42, he feels young, because an increasing percentage of the backpackers are in their late fifties, their sixties, or even their seventies. Even after you drop out the aging European sex tourists, even if you restrict the count to couples, there has been a dramatic change in the composition of the backpacking community. I noticed this for the first time in India two years ago, and again here in Thailand.

All I can say is, "Senior Backpackers Rule!"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chiang Mai: Not quite getting there yesterday

The other day I was reading someone's travel blog, and I realized that it was a lot more personal than mine has been. So I decided that for a week I would write a traditional, this is what I did, and this is how I felt, blog. I'm going to start with yesterday.

Yesterday was Monday, and it didn't go as I planned. It was to be an 'errand day', and I started out well.

I called Jellybean, because I had a favor to ask. I left some papers at her house and now have decided that was a mistake and I need them. Of course I decided this while she was on vacation in Florida. When she returned her mother went into the hospital. I caught her when she was getting ready to visit her brother and then go on to see her grandkids for Christmas. She's going to mail the stuff off to my brother Skip's. I need these papers because I think I'm going to look for a job teaching English. More about that some other post.

Anyway, I took my laundry in, and worked out with the laundry lady what the cheapest mix of services would be for washing a small load and ironing two blouses.

From there I walked up the street to the Same Same to have breakfast. I like the fruit salad with yogurt and muesli. At the Same Same it includes dragonfruit in addition to the standard bananas, pineapple, and watermelon. I remember when fruit salads here used to include mango and papaya, but even though they are available, they are never included any more. Just another one of those things that has changed.

I also like the Same Same because they have a small collection of books that they let me exchange on a one-for-one basis, no cash involved. I think it is because I eat there fairly regularly, whenever I drop off or pick up my laundry.

I exchanged a book yesterday, so I was doing pretty well. Three tasks completed already. The next item on my list was to go back to the place where I got my phone set up and find out why I can't make outgoing calls. This is where my downfall came. Since it is cooling off here and it wasn't overly hot, I decided to walk to the mall. It's a bit far, but I thought I could do it without any trouble, and get some good exercise.

I got out my map and chose a route that would take me down some streets I hadn't walked before. I was walking along, at a good pace for me, staying on the shady side of the street. I stepped off the curb onto the street whenever the sidewalk was blocked by signs or motorcycles or whatever. Then I saw this wat. I hadn't been there before, so I thought I'd take a look. I walked around taking pictures. It turned out to be a famous wat, with a big Buddha image. More pictures. Then another wat, and another.

By now I had been on my feet for hours, so I stopped at an internet cafe to have a Diet Coke and check my e-mail. If Jellybean couldn't find my papers, she would have e-mailed me. Only later did I remember she was going to bed right after my phone call and that it was only about 5 am there.

At this point any sensible person would have gotten in a tuktuk and shortly arrived at the mall. Not me. I continued to walk. Except I made a wrong turn, and was actually headed back toward my guesthouse. Oh, well, I wasn't going to get much more done today. Onward to the Top North.

Hunger set in, and I stopped for some fettucine in blue cheese sauce. It was good, but a bit mild for my taste. The pasta in the Italian restaurants is always freshly made and the noodles themselves are really, really good. By the time I finished eating, it was dark. Forty-five minutes later, I was in bed, curled up with my new book.

It was cold last night. I got up and put on a long-sleeved T-shirt and pulled the blanket/bedspread over my head. I need to stop using the other bed as a storage and staging area, so I can get that other bedspread and add it to my bed. And I'll have to dig out my one and only sweater, and my sole pair of long pants.

I've never been in the north this late in the year. I've been here in December twice, but I both times I went to the island of Langkawi, Malaysia for Christmas. I had to head south well before this, since, in the days before budget airlines, I was looking at long train or bus rides.

As I lay in bed, trying to get warm, I got into yet another debate with myself about what to do next. Maybe I should head south now, to places where it is warm at night.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Chiang Mai: Blogging

I've been playing around with the blog, as you may have noticed. Or not.

At one point the background was black with orange print. When that wasn't too popular, I switched to a beige color scheme. I went back to the black background when I logged on in an internet cafe and instead of the beige I thought I had chosen, I saw an ugly yellowish color. To be blunt, it looked as if my pictures were swimming in baby shit. Back to black.

Then I fussed with the blog text font size, which used to be a bit time-consuming. The new version of blogger has made it easier to manipulate this stuff, so I also messed around with the headings and the sidebar colors.

Which made me notice that I don't have much in my sidebar. So I added links to my microstock photo agencies.

Then I saw these nice book cover images on another blog, Paris Breakfasts, and I decided to add images for the books I've been reading. That proved to be a bit complicated, so I just put in text links. Just when I decided to abandon the idea, I had an inspiration, and now I have my book covers. I think I really just like the bright colors.

For someone who used to earn her living as a programmer, I seem to be awfully dense about this stuff. But then I don't devote eight hours or more to learning, either. The only reason the books all got done today is that it has been overcase, so I didn't feel like going to the pool. Instead, I did books. And this post. Tomorrow is looking like a big pool day.


No Second Chance

Life Support

The Skull Beneath the Skin


The Sinner

Blinding Light

The Last Grain Race

Mean High Tide

Bloody River Blues

Anybody Out There


Hell's Kitchen

Break No Bones

Monday Mourning

Bare Bones

Grave Secrets


Fatal Voyage

Brick Lane

Final Appeal

Bella Tuscany

Final Appeal

The Best Of O. Henry

Butcher's Theater

Die in Plain Sight

Clara Callan

Copenhagen Connection

Running From the Law

A Patchwork Planet

Sleep No More

Startide Rising


The Uplift War

Rough Justice

Heaven's Reach

Brightness Reef

Infinity's Shore