Thursday, February 2, 2023

Luang Prabang ~ Laos

This quaint Buddhist town situated between the junction of the Mekong River and the Nam Khan River is one of my favorite places in SE Asia.  It has a sweetness and pace of life I enjoy. No buildings on the peninsula can be higher than the many temples, so nothing exceeds two stories.  The streets are bisected with brick paved walking lanes so you can have some really sweet wanderings past peoples homes and businesses.  The French were here for many years and left a legacy of good coffee, delicious croissants  and baguettes.  Their lovely stucco villas contrast with the old wooden houses of the Laotians.  Gardens of tropical plants and huge trees along the rivers offer pleasant places to have a rest, sip a coconut, watch the boats cruise along the Mekong, and dine under garden lights in the evening. It’s magical.

We are staying in a beautiful hotel, Maison Delabua, who are the care takers of several large UNESCO protected lily ponds within the grounds.  The property has been in this family for several generations. It’s so nice to sit beside the ponds eating breakfast and watching the lilies open in the sun.  As the light changes throughout the day it is just stunning to see the colors intensify. It’s quiet and restful and our room feels old world with thick walls, dark hardwood polished floors, and high pitched ceilings.  Most of the guest are French. The locals all say “Sa Bai Dee” and put their hands together in greeting and my favorite is their singsong thank you of “Cop Chai Li Li” … soft and gentle.  Like them.

Our days are spent walking, interacting with shop keepers, drinking cuppacchino and enjoying observing the life on the river. It’s not too crowded as in years past.  Covid put a real shut down on the town but the tourist are returning slowly. Unfortunately the road from China has created an influx of newly released Chinese in their camper vans. The “blue license plates” a reality of their incoming cars.  It’s sad too because the Laotians depend on their coming and spending money.  But they can be quite overwhelming.  We were bummed when the Chinese were suddenly allowed to travel fearing an exodus.  Selfishly we enjoyed their absence in Thailand. We flew here just as their Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year, was in full swing.  We worried there would be too many and bringing their Covid variants!  But truthfully it has been half as many as we feared and kind of quiet.  

I love cruising through the streets at night seeing the temples lit up and solemn.  Such sweet energy.  

We met a nice couple from Dublin who had lived in the states for many years. They suggested we take a sunset cruise cruise down the Mekong together.  Usually I just find a poor simple boatman and hire him for a couple hours on his old wooden boat but this time I gave up control and just let them make the plans. We found ourselves on a double decker boat complete with comfortable chairs, good music, and strong drinks. It was FUN!  We motored up river watching the sun set behind the surrounding mountains, then cruised back as the town’s lights came on.  So pretty from the water.

Morning market offerings…

Coco with Obama

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Good bye Thailand ~ Hello Laos

What a wonderful month we had in the islands (not counting the two days with the rude Russians).  Always one of our favorite places to be. Life is idyllic. We got stronger physically. Calmer mentally. And very in touch with nature. All of the young workers who made our stay in Samui were an integral part of the charm.

Lek, Daada, Pond, Way, Smile, Wat, Oliver, Ott, Pet and Ahm ~ they took care of us, fed us, brought us towels, served our drinks, made our many cuppacchino, and even captured the huge gecko that hid in our room.  So many more that remain nameless- cooks in the kitchen, the precious three girls that daily cleaned our room (Sweep, Giggle and Mop) and all the gardeners who made the grounds beautiful. It takes a village for sure!  They all treated us with kindness and graced us with hugs goodbye. 

Now it was back to Bangkok for one night. We stayed at the Park Nine Hotel close to the airport as we had a very early flight the next morning. We were totally surprised by the modern, polished, contemporary hotel. Like another world.  Had a real Vodka Tonic with Kettle One that was so tasty in the bar. Ate a last delicious Pad See Ew.  All in all a lovely ending to a wonderful two months in Thailand.

Last few days…in Thailand

After leaving tranquil Tan Nai Pan beach and skimming across the channel in the speed boat back to Koh Samui we had only four more nights at our sweet Saree Samui resort.  They were gearing up for Chinese New Year. 

The staff really worked hard all that day to create a fun party on the beach. They hung red lanterns, prepared a big dinner with all kinds of dim sum, salads, curries and fresh caught prawn, red snapper, barracuda and blue crab. Sweet sticky rice and mango for dessert.  The entire staff wore red shirts. 

Fortunately the weather complied and the wind died down and the skies cleared.  Everyone was in a happy mood. The best part was the launching of the fire lanterns into the sky. We set a couple dozen aloft and they floated up to form a small constellation. 

Made a wish for the new year. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

Leaving Koh Phangan

It’s difficult to express how perfect our time on this remarkable beach was.  All the elements came together to make for a beautiful 12 days. Panviman Resort is like a comfortable old friend. We could float in the gentle sea for hours. It was around 80 degrees. The beautiful tiered pool dropped down the mountainside over a vanishing edge into the sea. Boulders and huge rocks hugged the shore. Boats came and went. It was visually captivating.  We got into an easy routine: swim, eat, lay in the sun, swim, walk, kayak, rest, eat and walk up all those steep steps.  It was blissfully relaxing. And easy. The birds were expressive and loud. The cicadas were beginning to chime in, and the frogs were loud and clear.  But as usual things change. Can’t have it too good for too long.  The last couple of days the wind picked up, the water got choppy and the noise of the waves hitting the boulders beneath our room kept me up at night. So it goes…

One last mango shake.

The morning we left we arrived at the pier expecting the giant catamaran to ferry us across the channel back to Koh Samui.  What a surprise when this large speedboat showed up!  WHAT!  WHERE’S MY CATAMARAN!  Oh well…big surprise…we are going on this boat with about 60 other people all crammed together along with the crew of five.  And it was pretty cool!  It didn’t bother me at all. I kept my sight line on the sea and the island.  The guy in front of me looked like he was gonna lose it at any minute.  I recognize the symptoms. We’ve now returned to our sweet Saree Samui for a few more nights.  Greeted with clapping and hugs. Love the people working here, they are so kind and friendly. It’s nice to be back.

Coco Loco

On our last night in Tan Nai Pan village on Koh Phangan, we passed this very small new dessert bar. The two young men working there always had the nicest smiles.  The sign said “Fresh Coconut Ice Cream”. We had to have one!  

Well, we had two…. It was the best coconut ice cream ever! And they served it in half of the coconut shell with “ noodles” of the fresh coconut meat and peanuts. It was divine.  The presentation was so cool as well as they placed the “bowl” in a natural wood holder. While we were there another family came and ordered the same.  That’s when I spotted their technique. They had a guillotine contraption that took both guys, one to hold it down and one to work the lever, to split the coconut.  It was hard!


This little boy gave it a try… he was only 6!

Moon Soon Thai

We discovered this small restaurant, MoonSoon Thai, and it’s a gem. We were walking by on our first night in Tan Nai Pan and spotted it. The tiny waiter wore pink fisherman pants. We’ve ended up eating here most nights as the food was so delicious.  One night I asked the waiter (his name is Suzi!) if the red snapper was fresh and he looked at me with some level of disdain and said with his slight lisp, “
yes of course, everyday”. It is an island after all!  He proceeded to tell us he would deep fry and debone the fish and all the of fillets would be covered with fresh tamarind sauce, pineapple, red peppers and a few pepper corn.  It was incredible.  With fried crispy Thai basil leaves on top. We feasted!  We had a bowl of squash and chicken in a light red curry sauce with it and rice.  A large bottle of beer rounded out our feast.  Cost 700B - $22 with small tip.

We enjoyed some great dinners there. Suzi would tell us if we were ordering too much. He was a hoot.  If you didn’t get there early, say 6pm, the tables were full. It was the best local place in the village. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Koh Phangan

After a dozen days of onshore winds and choppy seas, the weather took a much needed change for the better!  We traveled from Samui on the big catamaran.  A driver from our resort awaited us and took us off on a wild ride over the mountains and through the jungle.  This is a very mountainous island and has serious jungle. The first time we came in 1992 there was only a dirt road and you needed 4-wheel drive. Now the road is paved and it takes half the time to reach our location.  We love Tan Nai Pan Noi beach. Actually it is two curved bays separated by a lush dense mountain.  Our hotel, Panviman Resort, is located between the two coves on the hillside.  Huge rock formations tumble to the shore. It’s wild and beautiful. Panviman has aged but it’s still one of the most beautiful places to be for the views, the sea, and the beauty of the natural surroundings.  It’s fairly far from the party beaches and didn’t used to have many tourists. This time there were two more resorts on the Noi side, and many smaller places on the other larger cove. It feels unique.  It was stunning the first eight days. A gift.  Perfectly smooth sea, like “morning glass”, soft breezes and warm water.  But the steps… up and down to the beach, to the pool, to our room… everyday, many times.  145 steps from our room the the beach.  At night, the single small street in the village had grown from a few basic restaurants last time we were here to about a dozen restaurants and several shops and of course the proverbial 7-11.  After walking down through the “ arboretum” as Ron named the lush jungle that rose up alongside the resorts driveway we’d enjoy dinner in town.  Later we would walk back up that steep driveway. The resort has cute stretch electric golf carts to take people up to their rooms.  You could have the guard call one for you, but we walked!  Our legs got strong!

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Koh Samui

Ron and I flew south to Koh Samui island in the Gulf of Thailand on December 30th. We arrived at our old family owned resort we’ve been staying at since New Years Eve 1999 ~Y2K. We lasted two nights. It’s sadly run down and tired. The weather was not kind either because of the big wind and choppy seas. But mostly because of the heavily tattooed couple in the bungalow just 10 feet away. They  played pounding, throbbing angry music from the time they woke up until late at night. They sat on their porch and smoked endless cigarettes and talked loudly.  It was a nightmare.  I asked them at 1:45 in the morning to please lower their music. They looked at me as if I were an alien.  And continued their noise. Russians! Not to be dealt with easily. 

So we left.  Found a beautiful friendly resort down the beach, Saree Samui, and got lucky. The registration manager gave us generous discount and we moved in.  There was the most beautiful infinity pool, 50 meters of clean clear cool water.  Since the beach was littered with trash and seaweed from the storms I was grateful for the pool.  The staff were genuinely sweet and happy the tourist were returning. They suffered during Covid. All the rooms are encircled by a tall walls with a small gardens inside, outdoor shower and tub, sitting room and air conditioned bedroom. Especially nice considering the weather. 

We’d walk miles every day, found a few small restaurants nearby for simple but fresh Thai meals, went to the local market and met up with an old dear friend who has lived on the island for many years. 

This woman made the best fried chicken.  She’d slice it for you and top it with crispy fried shallots, wrap it in brown paper and stuff it in a plastic bag along with some sweet chili sauce… yum!

At night we would lay on the chaise beneath the moon and stars and enjoy the balmy evenings… sometimes you really need to step up, pay more and find comfortable places to stay with peace and quiet! 

The last morning we had reservations to take the large catamaran from the nearby pier to the next island, Koh Phangan.  The sun came out and the seas were calm and it was the beginning of a new weather pattern.  Things were looking up!

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Food is Fun

Thought I would add some more photos of the delicious foods we have been enjoying… enjoy!

Our favorite pizza place.

Best noodles and khao soi curry soup.

Squash and tofu curry.

Fern Garden Cafe. Popular with expats and tourist this garden was a nice respite from the street noise. I couldn’t resist the bagel, lox and cream cheese.

Delicate and delicious. 
These special “gifts” were given to us by our hotel on New Years Day morning.  One was a savory yellow curried rice with shredded coconut topping and the second was black rice sweetened with coconut cream and topped with sweet coconut.  Both hand wrapped in banana leaf.  Lovely way to start 2023.

More breakfast.

And dinner.

Cocktails. In crystal, no less.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Wat Pralad

One of the last days we had in Chiang Mai we visited a temple higher up in the forest.

It was so serene and beautiful, unlike any temple we had ever seen in Thailand.  We walked up a steep curving narrow road lined with a woven bamboo fence. 

The temple included several wooden buildings all placed within the trees, including a stream with a waterfall.  To me it felt more like a temple in Japan with its calm simple beauty, natural elements and peaceful aura.  As a sign said “the delightful place for awakening and awareness”.