Showing posts with label Road Trip. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Road Trip. Show all posts

Road Trip Part 3, Nong Wua So …

First order of business upon arriving, was to get a room at Nong Wua So Resort, the only place close to where we wanted to be.  We stayed there a couple of years ago but that time we made the mistake of not getting a room early in the day and had to settle for the last and least desirable room they had available.  The room and bed were not as nice as the White Inn Nong Khai but the wooden standalone bungalows were rustic and more interesting to look at.  Being able to park by the front door was a welcome convenience, as well.  In the morning light I was able to capture a shot of the pond at its absolute best.  Believe me it doesn’t usually look that good.

After seeing the nephew, and meeting the new Swedish husband and luk-khrung baby, we walked to a nearby temple compound with the ex-sister-in-law and the kids.  It was a huge area with old growth trees and a large pond with equally large fish and at least one good sized turtle.  Even the temple dogs were huge and their greeting echoed through the forest of trees, like the sound of thunder. 

The extensive temple grounds seemed to serve as a community park, at least for the ex-sister-in-law.  The fish and other wildlife entertained our five year old nephew, while the infant slept in her arms.  I wandered around taking pictures, generally doing my own thing, as usual.  On our walk back to their home we passed through the Nong Wua So Market, around sunset. 

While my wife did the shopping, I managed to capture my first passable iPhone 5 image.  I was lamenting not having my camera on me, and the numerous obstructions blocking my view of a very interesting sunset and cloud formation.  The best of the clouds had passed by the time I realized I had a camera in my phone.  Still I did compose one decent shot combining, the dramatic yet peaceful sky, with the vibrant and colorful market.

Sleep did not come easily, nor in adequate quantity for either of us that night, but soon enough it was morning and time to gather up family to go visit the grandmother in another village.  While the women folk lavished their attentions on the half-farang infant and the five year old played with friends, I occupied myself with the camera searching out interesting angles and portraits.  When I tired of that it was time to focus my attention, once again, on the writing of this blog post.

I tire quickly of the incessant questioning about why we don’t have, or want children, so I have learned to separate from the group and entertain myself with hobbies more to my liking.  My wife runs interference assuring others they need not be worried about me as I am quite capable of taking care of myself.  I forgot all about the Swedish guy finding out only later, he had gone off to visit friends in the village and to enjoy some home cooked Swedish food.

As I sat writing, there was a constant din of village talk in the background, in the Isaan dialect with which I am not fluent.  Still I understood enough, but I chose to focus my limited attention more on their emotive style of presentation which I find entertaining, or at least I did on this particular day.  Village people have an earthy, expressive way of communicating in general, but there are also distinct regional differences which I took note of.  It was all just background noise, really, while I sat writing with the laptop.

At some point my attention shifted to the route we should take the following day and I began looking at Google Maps on the iPhone.  This trip was my first encounter with GPS and I was learning as I went.  In the car I had to turn the navigation lady off, as she kept telling me to go in a direction not of my choosing.  I must admit, marking where I was occasionally, did make reproducing a Google Map for this blog a little easier in the end.

Later the second day after leaving the family, my wife thought it might be a good idea to have a massage in Udon.  She found a place on her iPhone which sounded like it would do.  We have massaged together many times over the years but this was the first time we ended up in separate rooms, as well as the first time I had been offered a special or what is sometimes refer to as a Happy Ending.

The girl seemed unfazed by my somewhat parochial suggestion that her offer might not be entirely appropriate considering my wife was figuratively, if not literally, in the next room.  I did sense a little disappointment at the loss of a bigger tip but that was all.  When I asked about her standard procedure she casually offered, she was required to ask but it was no big deal.  I just couldn’t get over her casual naïveté, unusual questions and limited insights.  She was young, however, so perhaps she was representative of modern girls in her profession. 

The wife and I had a good chuckle in the car on the way to dinner.  We had clearly chosen a place that specialized in sensual, as opposed to therapeutic massage.  Speaking of dinner, we had both noticed a nice modern looking restaurant on the highway and my wife suggested we try it out.  Surely we couldn’t be wrong twice in one day. 

She was eager to eat something other than village food for a change, feeling the need for something more substantial in a nicer environment.  Considering the number of patrons, both Thai and Farang, we had high hopes for the food at Faroh House, but we were sadly disappointed.  The best part of the meal was the garlic bread and desert.  Nothing tasted anything like what we expected.  Everything was too sweet and there were strange fillers, like peas, in my lasagna.  Her fish was not much better.

So it appears we are indeed capable of being wrong on multiple occasions, all on the same day.  Chalk it up to experience and try not to be too disappointed, I guess.
The pond at Nong Wua So Resort.

Our bungalow.
The poser.

Facebook time again.

The temple lake and buildings.

The temple grounds.

The temple turtle.

Sunset at Nong Wua So Market.

Ex-sister-in-law and new mother, again.

Nephew and friends
Grandmother weaves straw mats with this stuff.

Little boys and their ice cream.

Road Trip Part 2, Na Haeo, Chiang Khan, Nong Khai …

The road from Na Haeo to Chiang Khan moved prominently to the top of my list of the worst roads I have ever encountered.  Dirt, mud, broken asphalt, major roadwork, and a moonscape of potholes left me rattled and the car looking like a chocolate covered ice-cream sundae. 

Sorry I didn’t get any pictures after the initial construction area but I just couldn’t see getting all muddy to get an ugly picture, of an ugly road.  We did stop at a dilapidated roadside park.  It was terribly overgrown but you could just catch glimpses of some interesting rock formations in the river which must have been the motivation for developing this little park in the first place.  I tried to get down to the waters edge for a better shot but the closer I got the less I could see.

As we limped into Chiang Khan my wife was in dire need of food, nothing unusual about that I guess.  Asking around we were advised to drive a few kilometers further down the road to Kaeng Khut Khu, a riverside market and dining area that looks out over the mighty Mekong River.  This was a great find and after a quick bite, I went for a walk down by the water’s edge to stretch my legs after a day and a half of driving, collecting a few images along the way. 

From there we went back into town to see what all the fuss was about in this modern must see riverside destination.  Though midday, and nearly deserted, it was not hard to imagine the area as a bustling hotbed of nightlife reminiscent of Pai, with a walking street that seemed endlessly lined with quaint wooden shuttered shops, bars and guesthouses.

With our main goal of this trip being to visit our young nephew we hadn’t seen for two years, it was decided we were too far behind schedule to spend the night as we had planned.  Soon we were back in the car and heading to Nong Khai, again snaking our way along the river road but at a much fast pace.  Every once in a while there would be an opening in the roadside foliage and I would think to myself, that would have made for an interesting photo, but I had fallen in behind a couple of Bangkok drivers who were making good time and I was enjoying driving on a much better road, at a much better pace.

My wife had drifted off to sleep again and I didn’t want to wake her by stopping, so I never did get a record of that section of the river.  When we did finally pull over it was not at the most scenic of stops.  Continuing along the river we arrived in Nong Khai late in the afternoon.  A carwash was the first order of business in this expansive Isaan outpost on the Mekong River. 

From there we looked for and found a hotel for the night.  The White Inn Nongkhai didn’t look like much from the outside but we opted for one of their more expensive rooms at 800 baht and found the room quite spacious with a huge wonderful bed and a large glass enclosed shower with a large rain-shower style shower-head similar to what I use at home. 

Daeng Namnuang Vietnamese Restaurant, prominently situated on the riverside promenade was a must for my wife as it came highly recommended by friends.  Stepping out of the hotel on our way to the restaurant, we traversed a gauntlet of those stereotypic roadside bars, with their equally stereotypic punters, gracing barstools and eyeing us as we walked by.  The restaurant was only a few blocks away and we needed a walk, so there was nothing for it but to soak up some local color as we offered ourselves up as fodder for their evening gossip.

My wife was very happy with the restaurant, so I was too, if you get my drift.  She made plans to return the next morning to checkout the promenade in the light of day and get some takeout to share with others at her nephew’s home in Nong Wua So.  It was divided highway all the way from Nong Khai to Nong Wua So and it took us past Udon along the way.  We arrived much quicker than we had expected having become accustomed to slow mountain roads over the last couple of days.

Road out of Na Haeo.

Beginning of the road work.
Neglected Park

A glimpse of the river.
Walking street area of Chiang Khan midday.
View from Kaeng Khut Khu
Looking back up at the market from down by the river.
Market at Kaeng Khut Khu.
A little lunch, a little Facebook.
Temporary dinning area during the dry season at Kaeng Khut Khu.
White Inn Nong Khai
Daeng Namnuang Vietnamese Restaurant
Another view of Daeng Namnuang and the riverside promenade.

Road Trip 2013 Part 1, Home to Na Haeo …

One could say our trip really began the night before, as an unseasonal deluge continued unabated into the night and we found ourselves questioning the wisdom of beginning a long road trip in that kind of weather.  We continued with our preparations, however, deciding to wait and see what the next morning would bring.

While we had discussed an early departure around 7am, and thought we would be awake well before then, somehow it was after 7:30am before we began to stir.  In the end it was 9am before we got everything sorted and were able to hit the road.  It was dark and grey even at that hour but at least the rain had ceased.  A quick look at the weather forecast and we decided it was a go.  We encountered nothing but perfect weather on our trip but received frequent updates from home of rain and even hail.

We had some wild-eyed notion of making it from Chiang Kham to Chiang Khan in one day, which did not come to pass.  This was not to be a high speed highway cruise but rather a backroad mountainous adventure that also snaked along tortured riverside byways.  As the sun began to set we found ourselves far from our destination and still in the midst of high mountain switchbacks.

I almost never drive after dark but on this occasion we had no choice but to drive well into the night.  Ten hours of hard driving, not including breaks along the way, put us a mere 500 kilometers into our trip and far short of Chiang Khan were we hoped to spend the first night.  It hadn’t helped that I got lost at least once, missing a turn, but my wife also got carsick along the way further delaying our progress.  Thankfully that is not a regular occurrence.

She fought it as long as she could but finally said I should pullover, which I did immediately.  At that point she lost her breakfast, and everything she had eaten since, right there on the side of the road.  Not long after we got moving again, she feel fast asleep and awoke feeling much better.  From that point on she was fine, and her normal wonderful self.

Sometime after 8:30pm we arrived at Na Haeo which looked like the only possibility of finding accommodation in the area.  Sure enough we stumbled onto the sign for a guesthouse and pulled in to check it out.  Fortunately the gate was open and as we drove in the owner, a lovely well spoken lady, came out to greet us.  It ended up being well worth the 500 baht she asked for, even if the bed was a bit hard.

My wife was starving and there was a roadside vendor just across the road in this sleepy little town, who served up tasty stir fried dishes.  To our surprise we were not the only ones who were hungry after a long day.  There was a Norwegian couple who had peddled over 100 kilometers from Chiang Khan that very day.  Waiting for our food we shared a pleasant traveler’s exchange which left us quite impressed with their fitness and sense of adventure.  This was before we realized what kinds of roads they had covered.  Lets just say our admiration was turned to absolute awe not long into our drive the next day as we traversed the same roads they had traveled.

As this was a long trip, it is also a long trip report so I have divided it into four parts, so as not to overwhelm my readers.  Stay tuned as the best is yet to come.
Classic view of highway 1148 from Chiang Kham to Nan.

Closeup from above.
Nan River

Backroads out of Nan
Pit stop along the way

Guest House in Na Haeo

300 Posts and Still Blogging…

Typically reaching a milestone, even one a trivial as 300 posts, would have me examining the blog and moaning about my lack of motivation or direction.  As fate would have it, I have already done that quite recently.  So clearly I need to find some other way of marking the occasion.

Today I find myself at home again, playing househusband and servant to Cookie and our other four legged family members.  My wife is taking that last of her final exams and will no doubt go out for lunch to celebrate with her classmates.  Now that we both have iPhones, she is texting me more often using her favorite apps.  “I arrived safely.” or “Going in to take my test now.”, things of that nature pop up on the screen from time to time.

Speaking of iPhones, I only kept the iPhone 4 roughly a week.  One of my wife’s classmates jokingly suggested she sell the old phone her and get me a new one.  Well, to make a short story even shorter, that is what we did in the end.  Now we both have a new iPhone 5.

I am pretty sure we are taking a road trip later this week but with my wife cramming for finals we have put off any detailed planning.

Pause ll,

Writing of this post was interrupted yesterday, by a call and invitation to join my wife and a few of her friends for a movie in Chiang Rai.  This was one of those few occasions when it was convenient to have my own transportation since she had the car.  (I am still considering selling the Ninja 650, however, since it hardly gets ridden.)  After a shower, closing up the house and seeing to Cookie’s needs, putting on my gear and inspecting the seldom used Ninja 650, I zipped into town and enjoyed a pleasant afternoon with wife and friends.

Of course I could have opted to stay at home but I have learned to read the signs and usually know when to accept an invitation and when to decline.  Sometimes you are invited because you are there and it would be considered rude not to extend an invitation.  On those occasions it is perhaps best to decline by offering a polite excuse. 

Whether my wife really wanted me there or simply wanted to do something nice for me, to make up for the time she spends away from me, I don’t know.  I do know that when she makes the effort to mention something, even in passing, there is often more to it than idle chitchat.  So I pay attention to the signs, understanding that ignoring them comes at some peril.

I now have an idea where my wife wants to go on our pending road trip and it looks like I will have the opportunity to drive some of the same amazing backcountry roads we found a couple years ago, Road Trip, as well as pickup a few we missed.  I’m thinking of reversing the previous route and heading first to Nan, then taking the scenic route all the way to Chiang Khan before continuing on to a few other places she wants to go.  Sounds like a very long drive but it also sounds like my kind of fun and a great test for the new SUV.

As an afterthought I have decided to include a few shots from my last Mt. bike ride.
Under the bridge next to the Ing River.

The first bridge of the day.

Rice ready for harvest.

Rice just planted in the next field over.

Adding a little color and perspective.

Blocking the flow to make fishing easier.

The second bridge of the day.

Irrigating the rice fields.

Young rubber wood trees near home.

Phu Chi Fa and Phu Sang, A Family Day Trip...

We loaded up five adults and set off on our first real mountain drive in our new Fortuner.  Someone had never been to Phu Chi Fa and someone else needed to visit a market near Phu Sang Waterfall so we took a circular route which included the shorter but steeper 40 km assent of Phu Chi Fa followed by a longer 110 km mountain and valley drive to return home.

With three rows of seats, we rode 2 in front, 2 in the middle and 1 in the back.  Everyone seemed to have a comfortable ride and I really enjoyed driving.  It was a very different ride from the old truck.  Comfort, control, handling and visibility were great, as I took on two steep climbs and a myriad of mountain bends.  It was a bit hazy on the mountain top but we got a few nice pictures anyway.

The classic Phu Chi Fa shot.

New car and the driver at the trailhead to Phu Chi Fa.
On the trail to the summit of Phu Chi Fa.

Later we stopped at Phu Sang Waterfall for a picnic lunch and I ventured up beyond the falls for the first time.  The steep stairs leading to the top were interesting and lead to a raised wooden walkway that meandered through the lush forest and past a bubbling hot spring before looping around to where the trail began.  I loved the walk as it reminded me of similar hikes we have taken in the old growth temperate rain-forests in the Pacific Northwest region of the States.  The roadside park in front of the waterfall is great but one really needs to take in the short trail above the falls as well.

Looking down on the park from the falls.

The stairs to the top.

I couldn't capture an image of the bubbles rising from the bottom of the pool.