Road Trip...Chiang Rai, Isaan Loop ...

Despite our best efforts, we appear unable to hit the road before eight o'clock in the morning.  The one exception, being a trip to the airport for an early flight.  So we departed a little after eight, with only a vague idea where our trip might take us.  We had two inadequate maps that helped to point us in the general direction but we relied primarily on road signage and asking people for directions along the way.
Nong Wua So Resort

Our primary destination and anticipated turnaround point was the home of my wife’s nephew in Nam Wua So, in the Isaan part of the country between Nong Bua Lam Phu and Udon Thani.  After the death of his father, the nephew went to live there with his mother, half sister and grandmother.  My wife felt the need to go see where he was living and how he was doing.  With me being the driver, I negotiated the route and where we stayed as payment for my services.
The reason for our trip.

With me not wanting to do the drive in one day, the wife suggested a resort she had heard of in Khao Kho.  That made for an easier drive to our destination the following day.  One night and two half days with her nephew and the obligatory part of the trip was over.  Fortunately my wife had the foresight to bring a backup camera as I had forgotten to bring the battery charger and used the flash to excess around the house getting pictures of the nephew.
The Imperial Phukaew Hill Resort

Not wanting to retrace our path home, I suggested trying to find a route through Loei and Nan, two places I had not been before.  At least not in recent memory.  Not far past Loei is a resort area called Phu Ruea.  After inspecting several resorts, we finally found one to our liking on the outskirts of town.  The owner was a shrewd negotiator and refused to go down in price but did upgrade us to one of her larger units, with four large beds in it and no noisy neighbors.
Ruan Mai Resort

The real adventure started the next day as we negotiated the back roads from Phu Ruea to Nan.  I have never been on such remote and beautiful roads in Thailand.  Surfaces were good for the most part but the roads were often wet, very narrow, steep and twisty, with no shoulder or center line.  With barely enough room for two vehicles to pass, fortunately we seldom encountered oncoming traffic. 
Phu Soi Dao Waterfall

Unexpected Encounter

Sao Din


There were some unseasonable clouds which made for cooler driving but meant we were often in heavy mist when driving through the mountains.  Lights and four wheel drive were engaged much of the time.  We came across rocks and cows on the road as well as one major landslide.  Perhaps the most unexpected encounter, was a long procession of monks that stretched beyond our line of sight.  We estimate perhaps two hundred of them.  They had another month or so of walking before they would reach their final destination in Nakhon Phanom.  Despite their hardship they seemed in good spirits.

After a very long day of driving, we finally arrived in Nan, where we chose a resort on the outskirts of town once again.  We did drive into town but without a map we soon found ourselves disoriented and struggled to find our way back to the resort where we ordered room-service and a massage.
Sasidara Resort

From Nan to our home is only a little over two hundred kilometers but the 1148 is an epic road, known for its beauty as well as its steep twisty bends.  With a stop to eat in Chiang Kham, we arrived home at a reasonable hour with time to unload the truck and prepare dinner before the sun went down.  I returned slightly under the weather but two nights in my own bed have me feeling half human again.
Route 1148

For now my need for adventure has been sated and I have over 400 photos to deal with.  Be sure to checkout the map of our route in my previous post.

Road Trip...Chiang Rai, Isaan Loop...

Just got back from a road trip and wanted to get this map posted.  I'll try to write something in the next couple of days.

View Road Trip...Chiang Rai, Isaan Loop. in a larger map

Faux Bois--A lost Art

Faux Bois In Concrete www.

Well , today I learned that the decorating we are doing on the house is actually a lost art and is starting to be revived by some folks all over the world old pieces of Faux Bois are quite collectiable and sought after by collectors , soooo I guess our place will be a collector item for our grand-kids one of these days , who would have thought , ha ha , I'm posting a few up-date pictures of the work and it should be finished in a few days and then we will paint the green part of the house a light tan color , should look good. Hope you enjoy the pictures and the story from the web.

This school of art goes back as far as "art" itself. From our very beginnings, artists have been fascinated with the infinite variety of shapes, forms and textures that Mother Nature expresses in trees and their wood. And while the French are indeed to be credited with giving this art a name, there are examples to be found that far predate the existence of France as a nation.

The modern schools of this art today encompass two principle branches. One employed by highly skilled wood finishers that involves itself with making "lesser" woods such as pine, have the appearance of a "finer" or more exotic wood. The other branch creates three dimensional representations of wood and wooden objects by applying various cement-based mixtures onto a steel framework or "armature", and sculpting it to mimic the real material.

The subject of this brief essay is the three dimensional variety,
also known as Ferrocement Faux Bois.

Ferrocement Faux Bois is a very popular and much sought after category among serious antique collectors. One of the most notable of whom is Martha Stewart, who collects antique as well as modern works executed by the very few remaining artisans still practicing this craft. Sadly, there are only a handful of artisans alive today who are capable of executing Faux Bois at the masterwork level.

The most familiar works are those imported from Europe by antique dealers specializing in garden art. Typically they have what I refer to as a "French" finish composed of a gray, lightly sanded mortar mixture of Portland cement and sand. What few people today, including many collectors, do not realize, is that the vast majority of these pieces were at one time painted. Often quite garishly. Thankfully, nearly all of the paint has succumbed to the nature of the concrete and fallen off, leaving only a faded and aged patina. Many of these works are crude. Others more convincing in their detail. Most of the better pieces were constructed from about 1880 to WWII, but there were a few very capable craftsmen still producing an utterly amazing body of work well into the 1950's...right here in America.

Today, the very best of those major works rightfully represent an entire category on the National Register of Historic Places. And there is a serious movement taking place to add many more and restore them to the former glory that as much as a century of neglect has all but erased in many cases.

The process of creating these works is at once complex, technically demanding and extraordinarily labor intensive. It involves first building a steel framework (referred to by sculptors as an "armature"), securing and forming metal mesh known as "lath", then building up multiple layers of concrete, mortar and often pure cement paste. All the while, shaping, sculpting and detailing the material as it hardens. Once the process of adding cement-based media begins...there is no stopping. The material will not wait and absolutely must be worked from beginning to end. Complex and highly detailed works can often require an artist to work non-stop for 12 to 24 hours to achieve many specific effects. Little wonder it is less than popular with today's generation of artists. But there are rewards for the few who invest themselves in this demanding art, as well as the buyers of these rare works. Because the time and effort put into a quality piece is also reflected in its' longevity. Properly formulated and skillfully placed modern cement formulations can endure exposure to the elements for an estimated fifty-thousand years. How's that for "heirloom".

And while works of this calibre are obviously rare and understandably expensive, they can still be found or commissioned by a properly skilled sculptor

The Phuket Big Buddha - Latest Photos

The Big Buddha, sitting on top of a 400 meter high hill, is now well established as a stop off for many tourists. We have been up this hill countless times, and still enjoy going up for the views, the fresh air and to check on the progress of the building. I have blogged about the Big Buddha several times before in 2006, 2007, 2009 and this year I did a hike to the Big Buddha! We first went up that hill on a dirt road in 2001, when construction had not yet begun, but ground was being prepared. 9 years later, still not finished, partly because the plans have become more extensive, with a large landscaped area being built around the main statue, and lots of car parking space being added.

The Big Buddha is 45 meters high, but sits up on a raised platform that will be surrounded by marbled lotus leaves. The main statue is complete, just there is a large amount of work going on around it. When will it all be finished? Unknown. The photos on this page are all from September and October 2010. There are more on my Flickr page. I am sure we'll take another trip up there soon! I'd like to do the hike again in the dry season, and sometimes we like to go and eat at a small restaurant near the top which looks out over the sea and Karon Beach.

Phuket Big Buddha with Blue Sky

(above) The main Buddha statue is complete.. sort of. The photo below is the back of the Buddha, where I believe the plan is for some kind of Buddhist museum inside the statue. Work continues bit by bit ...

Big Buddha - Still being built

A wide angle view shows the Big Buddha with lots of work going on around the base...

Big Buddha 25 September 2010

The views will never get old. Below - looking south to Phromthep Cape, you can see various islands like Racha Yai, Koh He and Koh Lon. From different points on top of the hill you have views all around looking towards Phuket Town or Karon Beach or Chalong Bay. One of my yet-to-be-accomplished plans is to watch the sun rise from the Big Buddha. This will require a superhuman feat of waking up really early. Best time of year to try - end of January, when sunrise time is about 6:45am.

View South from Big Buddha

The Big Buddha is getting more commercial - OK, there is no entry fee or parking fee (yet) but there are a lot of opportunities to buy Buddha related souvenirs and there must be about 30 different donation boxes. We always donate something, and we have in the past paid to write our names on bricks and marble that are to be used in the construction, so our names will always be part of the Big Buddha. Here's our daughter putting coins into bowls ...

Prayer bowls

There is a large gong at the top close to the Big Buddha statue. This can be hit with a wooden mallet, or rubbed with bare hands until the gong starts to sing. Making it sing is not easy. I have tried several times! We watched other people trying. And then guess who did it? Our 5 year old boy, no problem, rub rub rub and the gong started to sing. Oh yeh, he thought he was so clever!

My boy could make the Gong sing

The Phuket Big Buddha is easy to get to, you can go by car or moped up the hill which starts close to Chalong circle, or a tuk tuk will take you up, they charge about 800 Baht return trip from Karon Beach. A bit more from Patong. Or you can hike up :) We will no doubt be up there again in the next few months, see how things are progressing. And I ought to do the hike again, before I merge completely with my office chair.

The Phuket Big Buddha - Location Map

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Chiang Mai Bike Week ...

I’m sure the majority of people had a great time but Chiang Mai Bike Week is one more event I won’t need to attend again.  Well, any Bike Week for that matter.  Don’t get me wrong, the three of us had a great ride over and back and I was pleased to make introductions when we met up with my Harley friend at the hotel.  That tipped the balance toward the Aussies, with 2 Aussies, 1 Scot, and a Yank.  

The four of us spent time together in various groupings and rode back together as far as the first big PTT station, had a coffee and then parted ways, for a while anyway.  Bumped into a bunch of Thai guys I met before at the same place.  They were headed in a different direction, though.  The Harley Custom Springer set off in the direction of Phayao.  The Ducati 999 disappeared down highway 118, to be joined a little later by the 2 Ninja 650’s at the next designated stop on the way to Chiang Rai.  We were back in time for Sunday Brunch at the Meridian, with more food and conversation.  Of course I had to do the last 55km home, on my own.

Chiang Mai was not bad, with good food, good conversation, good friends and some interesting bikes to look at, but the biker scene was not really my thing.  A hard nut to crack with everyone posing, feigning indifference, and hoping to draw attention to themselves or their bikes.  Boys will be boys, and with that concentration of testosterone in the air, there tends to be some silliness on the roads, as well.  I guess I can see where people get their ideas about bikers.

Away from the shows, however, are people who just like to ride.  Perhaps a little fast at times but usually with a great deal of control.  Most of us don’t aspire to the manic movements of those snaking their way through heavy traffic or passing in near impossible places.  We just like a little space between us and things that are bigger or less focussed than we are.  In contrast to the perceived death wish, we are often speeding away from potential trouble, looking for a little open road.

The camera stayed in at night, when most of the action took place but I did get a few shots walking around in the light of day.  Beautiful weather and location.  Including a few shots of our bikes for good measure.

Phang Nga Bay Tour - Doing it our way!

Recently when I had family visiting (mum, dad and a traveling cousin) we had some time to explore. Cousin Simon was only here for a few days in between Singapore and Cambodia and one place on his wish list was Phang Nga Bay. We've been before of course, quite a few times actually, but earlier this year in March we found a new way of doing it, starting from a restaurant called Samchong Seafood which is only about 20km drive from the Sarasin bridge that connects Phuket to the mainland. Takes about 1 hour from our house. On that trip in March we had lunch and then went to James Bond Island, then on to Koh Panyee, the stilted Muslim fishing village. We took the boat for about 4 hours. I had an idea that if we maybe went to Panyee first, and then on to James Bond Island, we might be able to avoid the crowds - since there are lots of afternoon "James Bond Island" tours. The plan was to hit Scaramanga's hideout at about 5pm and hope all other tourists had gone home. Also hoped for a nice afternoon light for photos. Our plan half worked...

Samchong Seafood, worth looking for, very local, good food, super quiet location on a wide mangrove creek. The view below is looking from the restaurant to the small Muslim village on the other side of the water ...

We made a more recent Phang Nga Bay trip in February 2015 - we had lunch at Dairy Hut Seafood and then got the boat from the Phang Nga Municipal Pier. See : Phang Nga Bay Revisited for trip details. Another great day out!

View from Samchong Seafood

And a similar view interrupted by a "Formula 1" longtail boat. I don't see these little sports models in Phuket! They can move!

F1 Longtail Boat

And here's my dad at Samchong Seafood. Possibly my favourite recent photo of my dad, photoshopped with loving care. And he's not making a silly face, which is unusual :)


NOTE : A tour like the one described here with a few extras can be booked via my friend's tour company - contact Easy Day Thailand for information on PHang Nga Bay tours and other trips around the Phuket area.

Right, let's get on the boat and out into Phang Nga Bay... from the restaurant to Koh Panyee is about 7 miles/11km, takes around 30 minutes on the longtail boat. Water was calm, but weather started to look a bit gloomy. My hoped for magical evening light was not appearing, but never mind, Koh Panyee was the first stop. Although we have been several times, it's a great place for photos, so I never get bored. We wandered around all the side streets including the path down to the school which was just ending for the day ...

Koh Panyee Schoolgirl

Koh Panyee (also written Koh Panyi) is a real odd place. It's what I would call a micro-society. Don't ask what that means, I just made it up. A place where everyone knows everyone, where there is no trouble, where people can always find a friend. It also has the tourist side, every day while the tours arrive there are stalls selling souvenirs, necklaces, shirts, shells, sarongs and much more. There are also local shops selling normal local things, though most things have to be brought from the mainland, since there's no place here to grow vegetables and (amazing!) there's no 7-11 here :)

I am amazed sometimes why a town would exist here. Everything is built raised on wooden stilts, there's no livelihood here except fishing, and you can do that without living in such an odd place. I like it here. The view below is looking along the east side of the town. Boats everywhere. You can't get anywhere without a boat. Many things about Panyee remind me of a place I used to live called Utila, a small island off the coast of Honduras. Fishing mixed with tourism, lots of boats, a unique people.

Koh Panyee

Here's one of the local McLaren F1 longtail boats arriving at Koh Panyee...

Formula 1 Longtail at Koh Panyee

I enjoy revisiting a place. You can never see it all first time, there is always something new to discover. I walked around with our daughter, while my wife went with our son. We met up after a while when both kids were asking for a drink and we found the same shop to buy one. Our kids like these kind of trips. They're 9 and 5 now, but we have been taking them out on boat rides since they were babies. When people ask me "what can we do with kids in Phuket?" - I say "anything" - kids will love it, love seeing something new. Please don't come all this way to Phuket and leave the kids in the hotel "kids club". Take them with you. They will learn and you will enjoy watching them learn. Thus endeth the Phuket parenting lesson for today.

Meanwhile, at the main jetty on Panyee island, I found a list of rules. Please do not bring alcohol onto the island unless you have 5000 Baht to spare. And a goat.

Koh Panyee - The Rules

After about one hour we left Panyee village and headed for James Bond Island, about 4 miles south. Weather was now looking distinctly unwelcome. Rain to the east, rain to the west, but somehow we stayed dry. On the way, we took the usual route through a stalactite infested cave on the west side of which is a sheltered area used by all the seacanoe companies as a base.

Longtail boat and cave

I realised that taking wonderful photos in tropical afternoon light would have to wait until next time. But not many people can say they have been to James Bond Island with NO other tourists there. We owned that island! We arrived a little before 5pm. The national park desk was closed already and when we walked over the rough-cut stone steps to the main beach, we found all the souvenir stalls had closed too - well, one was open and he managed to convince my mum to buy a bracelet. The man selling drinks was still there so cousin Simon and I had a Chang :)

Beer Chang at James Bond Island

It's very odd to find yourself at a major tourist attraction and be all alone. Frankenstein wrong. Alone .. good! Tours run at set times. If you visit on your own, it's not so hard to avoid the crowds. As mentioned above, some friends of mine have a travel company called Easy Day Thailand, and they can do a tour rather like the one described here, based on this blog - want to get to James Bond Island with no crowds? They can do it for you. Tell them you want to do Jamie's Phang Nga Bay Tour!

Here's my mum and dad at a deserted James Bond Island:

James Bond Island is OURS!

The island is not really called "James Bond" of course - that's because scenes from the 1974 film 'The Man with the Golden Gun' were shot here. The island is called Khao Ping Gan, named after a leaning rock on the island, and the one that's in all the photos, the tower, is called Koh Tapu, which means "Nail Island". The lack of light on this day means we'll have to do this trip again sometime... High season is here now, so sunny evenings should be more common than September, but who can trust the weather? It was rather gloomy at 5 in the afternoon on that day but the scenery was still great. And being on the island with no crowds was a breath of fresh air.

View from James Bond Island

at James Bond Island

By the time we left, it was well after 5pm, and as we chugged back in the longtail boat, it was close to sunset. I think we got back to the restaurant about 5:45pm, and the kids were crashed out by the time we got home, poor wee lambs. We'll do this again sometime and hope for a perfect orange sunset. Best I could manage was this view from the boat on the way back ...

Sunset from the longtail boat

More Information

Book a trip with Easy Day Thailand
More about James Bond Island
More about Koh Panyee
More in Phang Nga Province

Phang Nga Bay Map

View Phang Nga Bay in a larger map