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Rural Thailand, Christmas and New Year (in Lao)

January 5, 2009

img_0060.jpgHappy New Year everyone! Albeit six days into it. We celebrated New Year’s Eve in Vientiane, Lao, and enjoyed that city for a few days. It was actually quite peaceful and relaxed, especially when compared to Phnom Penh and some of our other travels in South East Asia.

We have a lot of recent stories to share about our travels and many pictures. We most recently spent 3 days in Rural Thailand with the father of a work colleague of mine and are now in Chiang Mai in the Northwestern part of Thailand. Let’s start with the best first, our visit with Jack, Pan, Som-o and friends.

When my work colleague Becky heard about our trip she immediately said that her father lived in Thailand and that we should consider visiting him there. So, from early 2008 on we received weekly “Thai Reports” from Jack about their rice farm, his wife Pan, her daughter Som-o, the animals and the many wonders and challenges of life in rural Thailand. As we were captivated by his updates and really wanted to experience new cultures in a non-touristy way during our travels, a visit with them was high on our list of must-dos.

Jack and I stayed in pretty regular communication about our travels and he was an invaluable resource about what was really going on in the country when the protesters took over the two airports in Bangkok. He remained flexible to our ever changing travel plans and finally on New Year’s Day we arrived, all five of us who were most certainly quite a spectacle, in tiny Ban Wong Phoem, Thailand. (A town of just one or two thousand people.) We took the Lao-Thai cooperative bus from Vientiane across the Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River to Udon Thani, Thailand. The bus ride was only three hours or so, complete with stops at both sides of the river and came with the extra bonus of some friends along for the ride. Cockroaches in the seats! Thankfully, time in the jungles of South America and even some tasting of bugs helped us not be alarmed by their companionship. We then called Jack from the bus station to let him know about our timing and hopped on the next bus towards Chum Phae. Two hours or so later we arrived at the “Blue Market” in Ban Wong Phoem and Jack quickly spotted us in the crowd of locals.

The rest of our days with them were spent at a traditional Thai barbecue at a local restaurant, learning about rice farming, the kids playing with Som-o and Palm, seeing a calf just minutes after being born, learning about “High Society” cows in Thailand, walking through the rice paddies, eating a traditional lunch with Farmer Laap and his family (he farms all of the fields for Jack and Pan), visiting the nearby Buddhist sacred grounds, hearing about Jack’s incredible life of third party politics and life during the Great Depression and just relaxing in the countryside.

Jack and Pan were such gracious and welcoming hosts. Pan was so accommodating with all of her cooking, recognizing that the kids are experiencing a bit of Asian food fatigue. Grilled cheese, precious chicken noodle soup from the grocery store 2 hours away and eggs for breakfast. They even woke up with us at 3AM to take us the one hour to the bus station in Chum Phae.

Our stay with Jack, Pan, Som-o and friends really was everything we could have asked for. One important goal of our trip has been to step off the tourist track and experience different cultures through interaction with local people. We were really able to do that in rural Thailand and we will hold very fond memories and great lessons from our short three day stay. Thank you!

And Jack, yes you definitely get “YES” for both WGGSH (Would GG stay here?) and WWSHA (Would we stay here again?)

Mostly to fix our Thai visa issue we headed to Vientiane, Lao PDR (Laos is the more common pronunciation in the US, but here it is Lao) for New Years, although it was a destination we wanted to visit anyways. Outside of Hong Kong (and maybe Jean-Christian’s house) this is the only socialist country we have visited. We had a really enjoyable visit. Funny what little things mean to us at this point in our travels. Vientiane, one of the smallest capital cities in the world, had a number of them - good French bread and bagels, navigable, quiet, ordered streets, inexpensive and good french food, and one of the most lovely temples we have visited thus far (and believe me, we have seen many temples). Yet, a relaxed Lao garners only a ranking of 156 out of 167 from Reporters Without Borders’ Worlwide Press Freedom Index, 163 out of 179 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index and 130 out of 177 in the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Index. We loved our short stay, and will now always be able to say we spent a new year in Lao.

Finally, here are some last photos of our Christmas at the beach in Thailand. We made a small Christmas display on the vanity in our bungalow, complete with garland and decorations made from seashells, coconuts and coral. The kids all went to bed early in hopes of bringing Christmas morning all the sooner. They were not disappointed when Santa brought DSes for the boys and an ipod touch for Ainsley — lightweight gifts sure to please and easily packed in a back pack. On Christmas night the staff prepared a very festive Christmas meal complete with a whole grilled king mackerel and slow cooked Thai curry, not quite standing roast with yorkshire pudding, but delicious none the less.

At our resort we met yet another wonderful family from Germany, Marcus, Peggy and their little boy Moritz. We very much enjoyed sharing a few meals and some laughs with them, and learning about their life in Poland, where Marcus, a policeman, works on EU border control issues as part of a EU-wide team. On our last night together with Marcus, Peggy and Mortiz, we lit and set aloft lovely, small hot air lanterns that glowed and floated high above the sea as we made our wishes for the new year. A wonderful ending to our stay.

…..not quite!

June 23, 2008

We plan to go here, but haven’t yet arrived. Take a look at the map at the top right side of the home page to see where we are and the “Where?” page for where we intend to go.