Thursday, 24 December 2009

Luang Prabang

Stayed in Cold River Guest House, clean, hot water, very quiet, at night one hears only sound of water in a river. View from my room:

It's a truckload of young monks:

You could tell french influence here. Tourist industry is only happy to promote it.

Stop over

At 5pm we arrived to a small sleepy village Pakbeng

which springs to life with the arrival of the boat, locals have to make money on tourists quick

next tourist boat will be tomorrow evening.
View from my guest house:

Next morning we continued and in the evening arrived to Luang Prabang.


From Chiang Mai after 5 hours on the road we arrived to Chiang Khong, stayed overnight there and next morning crossed the river to Laos, payed $35 for visa, from cash machine I took 1 million(!) Laotian Kips (communists still rule here), sat on the boat and enjoyed the scenery.
Last look at the Thai side:

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Mekong river

About to go on a slow boat trip from Chiang Khon to Luang Prabang, Laos. My sim cards (phone and internet) will stop working. My Vietnamese visa starts on 30th of December.


I suppose this is as close to Christmas as I can get:

With 30°C outside does not feel real...

Chiang Mai

Hired a bike and went to see famous Phrathat Doi Suthep, 18 km away.

Street scene:

Have you noticed something? If not then here?

Leaving the lake

Time to move on, my visa expires on 18th of December.
Two hours on a local bus to Kanchanaburi:

Three hours - to Bangkok.
Then ten hours - to Chiang Mai, in the North, second biggest city of Thailand.

School trip

One evening I heard music playing, which is unusual, one hears nothing here. Next morning it started again, I took a boat and went to investigate. On the other side of our island was parked a big house full of children, who were having a lot of fun.

Later I saw this house being towed away:

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Buddism, (as I understand it)

Once upon a time, 2500 years ago in Nepal, a clever man was thinking about misery and unhappiness of people around him and came to this:
It is all in your head.
If you think you are unhappy - you are unhappy. If you think you are happy - you are happy. Clever, isn't it?
So, his next challenge was: how to make people think that they are happy?

First he looked into what makes people think that they are unhappy?

  • Present needs and wishes. "I want to eat nice food!". "I want to wear nice clothes! No, not this. My neighbour wears this. I want better ones!" Our countless wishes and needs, which we are trying to satisfy whole life long. We cannot win this battle. We are all swimming in unsatisfied wishes.

  • Worries about past and future. Someone hurt us 10 years ago, and we are still revisiting this moment in our memory again and again. Isn't it silly? It is in the past! It is gone! It does not exist! Just as silly to worry about the future. It does not exist! Enjoy your life now and here, every coming and going minute. And not "When I go on holiday", "If I win in a lottery", "I'll wait till I come back home". Now!

  • Shit happens. Bad people, bad weather, bad luck... Except it. And move on. There are a lot of things which are outside of our control. Just move on!

So, what do we know so far?

Shit happens.
Cause of unhappiness are our unsatisfied wishes, needs, bad memories.
Solution: reduce amount and intensity of wishes and needs. Exercise control of you mind, what is filtered out of memory, and what is reinforced. Easier said than done? Here come the
User manual.

These are four points , called "The Four Noble Truths", which our clever man came up with 2500 years ago. Sounds reasonable. Where is the religion come into play? - you might ask. I don't know. I don't see it. But it was inevitable, that during following 2500 years those illiterate (but happy) peasants started to worship this guy. Our education system told us many times the importance of staying focused, being able to concentrate on things. They never taught us - how to do it. I never looked into "User Manual". Didn't want to be bogged down by the need to distinguish between what our clever man said and what was added. My motivation was just to be a little happy man. I got it easy way, my Buddhist monk told me basics and showed some exercises, like:

Start with a simple task like concentrating on the air you are breathing in and out. And not to think about anything else. Just on air. "How long have I been doing it already?", "Look, I am concentrating and managing not to think about anything else!", "Do I look pretty with my eyes closed?" If you are having this kind of thoughts during exercise - you are not there yet. You
will know when you are ready for the next exercise. First three Noble Truths helped me a lot, dodn't really need any exercises

It is through personal experience and exercise we will be in control of our mind and our life. Happy life, that is :)

It is no coincidence that when we walk through slums in a Buddhist country, we see so many happy smiling faces.

And stay on core, forget the religion.

By the way, the name of our clever man was Siddhartha Gotama.

Thursday, 3 December 2009


One day some 15 people arrived to our house loaded with food, flowers, candles etc. First day they were preparing and second day celebrating something, which has to do with their plans to erect a statue of Buddha on the island. They arranged things on a separate floating platform, were towed by a boat to the middle of the lake, many ceremonies, presents for gods and ghosts, including a bull' head and a penis. Very picturesque.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


When I was staying at Paul's, every morning I watched a Buddhist monk coming to collect food and perform some rituals. One day I said something trying to strike a conversation. He answered in poor English and invited me to his place (another floating house 2 km away) for a day and I went with him on a little boat. We talked about, yes, you guessed it, Buddhism. And my problems. And how easy they are solved. I felt it was working. In the evening he brought me back and asked if I would like to stay at his place for several days. I said yes and next morning after his usual round I went with him with my rucksack.

And here I am, two weeks later, still in his house.

Sometimes he has to stay in hospital. First time he was 4 days away, second time it is already 5th day and he is still not there. I am enjoying my solitude, riding a boat once a day to Paul's (his nearest neighbor) to get some food (Paul is an excellent cook) and fruit at a stall next to the ferry. His house is the best I've seen in this area.

efore he was an interior designer, had his company. He owns some land in this area, including a little island next to his house. The only drawback is there is no electricity. We charge our batteries at Paul's. And Internet connection (GPRS, through sim card) is so slow, that I am unable to upload a single picture. And because there are no tourists here (not a single one) there are no internet cafe or wi-fi spot or such.


Noticed a monkey living next to a house where I stayed first 4 days at Paul's? It was 12 years old (they live till 20), got a cold or something and, in spite the vets giving him some injections, died on Sunday. Paul is very upset.
When I arrived the temperature was 32-33°C and then it dropped to usual 28°C, and these changes in temperature caused the problems. I prefer 33°C to 28°C, because nights are too cold now, before dawn it s 15°C.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Slowly to the North

Got my Vietnamese visa, one month, whole January. Decided to move slowly, 200km at a time, stay a little and then do a next bit. Saw on a map artificial lake North-West from Bangkok, took a tourist bus to Kanchanaburi, then local bus to the lake. When we reached the first town by the lake, the driver indicated that I should go. I did not like the sight of it and indicated (nobody spoke any English) my wish to go further. Driver: (pointing finger to the window): hotel! (pointing finger to the road ahead): hotel no! I got worried, then remembered I had a hammock and a bottle of water and pointed my finger to the road ahead. During next half-an-hour of driving I could tell driver thought he had a problem on his hands. Couple of stops came and went, and when our bus took a ferry to the other side of a bay - the driver indicated that I should follow him. I did. He brought me to a floating house and spoke to the owner. The guy spoke excellent English (he worked for Americans during Vietnam war) and suggested I stay at his place tonight (it was 5pm, and at 6pm it is dark) and consider my options tomorrow. So we returned to the bus where passengers were patiently waiting, took my things and ended up staying in another floating house, without any walls, just like majority of other houses in the area. Reason - with walls its too hot inside.

He runs a little restaurant, loves animals, breeds fish, not fishing himself and nobody allowed to fish on his property (he buys fish from fishermen when he needs it), and, obviously, fish trust him.

Waiting for a visa

Takes three days. Did some more sightseeing.

Don't know what it is - but Bangkok has plenty of them!

Not very popular.

Very popular.

Was walking on a busy street, noticed locals going through a gate, followed them to a little market, locals were not buying anything and were disappearing through a hole in a fence, followed them - a diner! Notice little sections at the perimeter - these are all different stalls preparing food. The cheapest in town.

To Bangkok

It rains more and more often, off I go to the North. First to Bangkok to get Vietnamese visa.

Bought myself a hammock:

All my things are with me.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Island Koh Tao

Spent a day on a neighbouring island Koh Tao. Much smaller, quieter, and if you are into diving - it is paradise.

It is, actually, a lot of fish...


I was riding motorbike and saw roadworks ahead. A guy was redirecting traffic into, basically, not prepared woods, where everyone was negotiating their way between coconut trees. Thinking how unlikely you see something like that in Europe, I was smiling at the thought and when I was passing him, suddenly realized that he was smiling at me, almost giggling. Caught unaware, I imagined he had read my thoughts, and we parted half- laughing. It took me a couple of minutes to stop smiling, he stopped smiling much sooner, I think. But what I know for sure is that amount of times an average Thai smiles or laughs is at least ten times bigger than us, farangs (Thai word for westerners). Not only they are looking for a funny or pleasant situation - they also create them out of nothing.

And I don't remember a single occasion when in Europe a stressed out worker on a roadside smiled at me anyway... :)

Monday, 2 November 2009

Fruit Du Jour: Noina (Custard Apple)

I saw a small woman trying to pick some strange fruit from a big tree, offered to help, got this as a reward:
This heart-shaped Thai fruit has green, bumpy skin and its creamy flesh inside tastes similar to vanilla ice cream and can be eaten with a spoon. Their peak season is from June through September. The trees need wide areas to flourish (thereby taking up a large expanse of valuable land) and and are very labor intensive as they are extremely prone to disease.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Fruit Du Jour: Dragon Fruit (Pitaya)

From Wikipedia: The fruit can weigh from 150-600 grams; some may reach one kilogram. The flesh, which is eaten raw, is mildly sweet and low in calories. Few people find its taste offensive; some may consider it bland. It is generally recommended that dragon fruit be eaten chilled, for improved flavor; dragon fruit should not be used to accompany strong-tasting food – except to "clean the palate" between dishes. The fruit is also converted into juice or wine, or used to flavor other beverages. The flowers can be eaten or steeped as tea.

To prepare a pitaya for consumption, cut the fruit vertically into two halves. From here, either cut the halves into watermelon-like slices, or scoop out the two white fleshy halves with a tablespoon. Eating the fruit is sometimes likened to that of the kiwifruit due to a prevalence of sesame seed-sized black crunchy seeds found in the flesh of both fruits which make for a similar texture upon consumption. Although the tiny pitaya seeds are eaten with the flesh, have a nutty taste and are rich in valuable lipids, they are indigestible unless chewed.

There are some farms in Vietnam that produce 30 tons of fruit per hectare every year.

At first I did not like it, taste was like a mixture of melon and cucumber, but after a while I like it now.

Price 50 Baht/kg

Monday, 26 October 2009

Life is great!

Cause to celebrate, bandages are off!

The life is great again.

Do I look like Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Fruit Du Jour: Sala Fruit

Sala Fruit (A member of the Salacca family)

The Sala Fruit is white inside (the red, prickly skin is easily removed before eating) and has a big pit. Extremely sweet, like concentrated mango.

May to August

In season price range:
30-60 baht per kilo

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Short trip to Malaysia

I got 30 days Thai visa on arrival, 30 days are gone,
need to go to a Thai consulate in a neighbouring country.

Took these pics from the ferry:

Leaving Thailand:
Stayed for 2 nights in this Guest House in George Town, Penang, Malaysia:
British legacy is strong here. Electric plugs, road markings, buildings, solid infrastructure...
Less anarchy than in Thailand, where capitalism has gone wild, so to say. One feels that the state has it under control here.

City Hall:
View from island on to the mainland (tropical storm is coming):
Turkeys on this market have no idea what is going on right behind them: