Sunday, January 31, 2016

Around the Town

Luang Prabang isn't a very big town. Our hotel has bicycles so we've gone out to explore a few times. The road in front of our hotel heads northeast until it hits a small river, the Nam Khan. Then it curves around to the left, passes the confluence with the Mekong and heads back to the southwest on the south shore of the Mekong. All along the river the road is one way, making it easier to deal with traffic, not that it is very heavy anywhere. The full round trip takes about 40 minutes or so at my slow speed.

Our hotel is very nice. There are eight rooms in our building, four up and four down. There is another building that appears about the same size. The manager is a very young man and is very helpful. They offer tea and coffee at any time of day, and bring it to the small table on the balcony just outside our room. It is always very hot and with fresh milk on the side, just as I like it!

Here is a view of our building. Everything is teak wood, including the room interiors. It faces the street, which isn't too busy.

Breakfast is served outside our room. The French bread is fresh, and there is a small plate of fruit in addition to the eggs. More tea, of course!

This bamboo bridge is over the Nam Khan River. Definitely pedestrians only!

This view is looking across the Mekong. There is a village over there, but it's not very visible from our side of the river.

I liked this big tree along the river. The trunk and branches are covered with small green fronds. It reminds me of the trees in Mussoorie during the monsoon, when they are covered with ferns. I don't know if these are a kind of fern, but they might be.

This goat maa-ed pitifully when I stopped to take its photo. There were two of them tied to trees passing the time of day.

We found a hotel/restaurant just a couple of blocks down the street for lunch. I had a pork and egg noodle soup with lots of vegetables. It was delicious, but I couldn't eat all the noodles.

We tried the fresh spring rolls being sold near the Night Market. Unlike ones we've had before, they had some mint in the greens. Very good, although I would have liked to have a peanut dipping sauce rather than the liquid one shown here.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Off to Luang Prabang

Thursday morning we went down the road to have breakfast at a small cafe recommended by one of Dan's pickleball friends. We had a lovely breakfast of eggs, French toast, and plenty of fruit.

Our flight was at 3:15, so we reserved a taxi for 12:30 (it never hurts to have a bit of extra time). A travel company across the street from our place seemed like the logical choice. However, the taxi didn't come and time passed. Eventually, the woman at the travel company called someone else and we finally got on the way. We *probably* won't use them next time! Everything went smoothly at the airport and we got settled to wait for our flight. The plane was late coming from Laos, so we were delayed by an hour. It was a small prop plane with only 70 seats. We had declined to pay extra for a reserved seat for a one-hour flight, so we ended up in the back row (18). However, the door was at the back, so we were the first ones off! I really enjoyed watching the scenery below as we crossed from northern Thailand into Laos.

Yes, a one-hour flight and they served us a meal and drinks! A nice small box with a chopped vegetable sandwich and some fruit.

The Luang Prabang International Airport has obviously been updated recently. It was very nice and there weren't other flights there. We followed a British traveler who was the snobbish sort -- hated the airport, the "real" Laos is being ruined by tourism. Sorry, buddy, but all of us foreigners who come to another country contribute to "ruining" these places. But I'm sure those people who rely on tourism dollars are happy to raise their standard of living. We were able to get a tourist visa on arrival for $35 (must have American cash) plus a $1 processing fee.

Our hotel, the Lakhangthong Boutique Hotel, sent a driver to meet us. He was sitting outside the airport playing with his phone. The hotel is a small teakwood place, very nice. I'll try to get some photos today. We are on the upper floor with a balcony facing the (not very busy) street. We were greeted with fresh hot tea and fruit on our breakfast table outside the door.

After getting settled in our room we headed to the center of town and the Night Market, about a 10-minute walk. We found the food booths first (no surprise!). There were many possibilities for picking up a bite to eat.

This woman was making small coconut cakes in the cooker on the left below. We got a little packet of them -- a bit like pancake batter with soft coconut in the middle. She put them together like small sandwiches. The buns looked interesting but we didn't try them.

Along one side there was a series of sandwich booths. They also sold fruit and smoothies.

We picked one of the booths and got an avocado and bacon sandwich to share. We are in former French territory, so the bread is quite wonderful.

There were many gorgeous craft stalls all along the way -- I'll photograph some of them the next time. We needed to get some money and finally found the ATMs on the way back to the hotel. Yes, they are all in a row, just pick the bank you want to use. Dan got out 100,000 kip and afterwards realized that it was only about $15. We will have to get more soon!!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Food Update

I haven't put food pictures in for a while, so here are some of the things we've had over the past two weeks or so. If I know what they are, I'll label them! They are in no particular order

Stir-fried chicken and vegetables

Doo Dee special curry -- coconut curry sauce

Green curry and Thai sausage stir-fry

Chicken kabob maker (great for a quick carry-home supper)

Mixed fruit (black grapes, spotted dragonfruit)

Pad Thai with egg cooked separately -- nice presentation

Penang curry

Doo Dee 4-way pizza (4 different toppings -- pepperoni, ham, artichoke, mushroom)

Doo Dee Hawaiian pizza

Chicken cashew with vegetables

Shrimp cashew with vegetables

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Weather (and Massage)

Well, I do know what is happening around the world weather-wise. East coast friends, I hope you are digging out and both enjoyed and survived the snow. South Korea family are having temperatures in the single digits (F°). Indiana appears to be reasonably mild at the moment. Spokane also is warmer than sometimes in January.  Chiang Mai is having a cold, rainy spell. Last year we had one day of rain and it was a bit cool for a short time. This year the rain hit on Sunday afternoon and the temperature dropped dramatically. Monday and Tuesday it has been in the lower 50s (F), which is really cold when there is no warm place to go -- and when you don't have any cold weather clothing. Our apartment has stayed very comfortable.

I made it to my Tai Chi class both days. It was a heavy mist, sort of a sprinkle. I wore my sweater, which is a very thin one. Fortunately, I get very warmed up in the class! Today it was cooler yet, and rainier. There aren't many people out walking. I had a massage this afternoon and made it back home at a good clip trying to dodge the drops. A hot shower and fresh clothing helped a lot. It is supposed to be back into the upper 70s tomorrow, so this is short-lived. The manager at the massage place said this is the coldest it's been in ten years. The people here are not used to it and they are all bundled up in winter coats and hats. I saw people riding their motor scooters holding an umbrella over their heads (this doesn't exactly work if you are driving forward...). Many of the bikers have a plastic rain cover to protect them somewhat. On the way home from dinner last night I saw two dogs dressed in T-shirts to keep them warm. I'm not sure if a cold wet T-shirt is better than a natural coat of fur!

Monday evening we went back to the Doo Dee. They had their doors closed to keep out the cold, which helped a little bit. Our waitress, Lek, was dressed for it, though.

Today I had a most wonderful 2-hour massage. I've been doing this twice a week and I can feel some of my muscles, especially in my legs, getting better. It's amazing how the therapists use their entire bodies as they do the massage. Compared to western techniques, there is more pressure, kneading, and stretching, and less rubbing. I wish I could describe better how it is done, but if you are especially interested, there are lots of videos on YouTube.

Below is my massage person, Daang. (Pronounced like a short a, but stretched out -- not ah.) She is very good and is working hard on my legs, trying to get my hip socket range of motion extended a bit. I like her, but we can't converse very much, as her English vocabulary is quite limited. She does know "ow" and "pain." (Not that it happens a lot!)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Another Week

Time is flying by! I can't believe it has been nearly a week since I posted. I do routinely take pictures, but many of them seem similar to the ones from last year. The following photos are just things I have noticed on my walking around. I'll do another post on food soon.

This banana tree is in the garden of a house I pass daily. I left it large so that you can see how small the bananas.

Close-up of flowering shrub.

Does this remind you of India?

Fish for sale at market.

Coffee shop at Somphet Market -- very rustic tables and decor.

Decorative entrance to bakery in same area.

I've mentioned before that there is a large plaza between the one-way roads surrounding the city. Most of the way there is a moat between the roads, but near Chiang Mai Gate there is this large plaza. Every morning the used clothing sellers come in and set up. There are racks and racks of clothes:  T-shirts, pants, dresses, etc., etc. There is a pedestrian crossing from the south side over to the plaza (we are on the south side). As far as I know, this is the only pedestrian light. It lasts 10 seconds. On the other side you just make your way between vehicles. It is generally very slow there, as there are many stalls and the road narrows.

By 11:30 the clothing vendors are all gone and the plaza is wide open. There is a small coffee shop on the left of this picture, obscured by clothes above. In the early evening, it is again full, this time with food vendors and small tables and chairs, all brought in on scooters.

Rice cake snacks for a domino game. Not all that tasty...

Food on sticks. In the back are roasted sweet potatoes.

This little stall is near my tai chi school. I think these are drink concentrates of some kind. I'm not sure what the curly green vegetation is; it isn't always there. There is never anyone around when I pass at 9:40 and 11:10.

Walking along the street near the plaza, I heard a truck blaring something through its speakers (not an uncommon thing -- often it is advertising for a Thai boxing match). When I got to the rear of the truck, I saw this fat monk sitting there and receiving offerings from the passers-by. I've no idea if he was someone particularly special or if it had to do with a special event.

Monday, January 18, 2016

My Favorite Books of 2015

I have loved to read since I was very young. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have a book going, even if I only had time to read a bit before falling asleep at night. Since 1998, I’ve kept a list of books as I’ve finished them, just listing the author and title and a few words to jog my memory of the story or characters. Some books have made indelible imprints on me and I can remember the stories, characters, and/or how they made me feel. Others are fleeting; even the few words I wrote don’t bring back the book in full, or sometimes at all. My daughter reads more voraciously than I do, and she publishes a book roundup monthly on her blog ( For some reason, I feel drawn to share a few of my favorite books of the past year on this blog. So read on or not, depending on your interests!

One of my favorite authors is Alexander McCall Smith. I love how his simple story-telling veers off into thoughts on a wide range of issues of life. He creates wonderful characters. I am happy whenever a new book in the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series comes out; reading more about Precious Ramotswe and the other characters is like a visit with old friends. I usually don’t remember much about the actual mysteries she solves, but it doesn’t matter. I like his Sunday Philosophy Club series even better. Isabel Dalhousie is the editor of a philosophy magazine and has a loving relationship with her husband and child, as well as others in her life. The 44 Scotland Street series is very different, yet lots of fun. The characters have flats in an apartment building in Edinburgh. Bertie, age 6, is one of the leads and you will never find a more wonderful child.

I am drawn to family sagas and recently read three trilogies that captured my imagination. The first is by Sarah Lark:  In the Land of the Long White Cloud, Call of the Kiwi, and Song of the Spirits. The setting is New Zealand, the two main characters are young women from England who emigrate to be married, one to a wealthy landowner and the other to a poorer farmer. Their intertwined stories follow their families to the third generation. Another trilogy I enjoyed is by Petra Durst-Benning:  The Glassblower, The American Lady, and The Paradise of Glass. Three sisters in a small German town in the early 20th century continue their father’s glass-blowing business against the village tradition. 

A long-time favorite author is Nevil Shute. I read a couple of his books every year. My favorites are Trustee from the Toolroom and A Town Like Alice. This year I read The Rainbow and the Rose and The Far Country. Shute writes about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I even belong to the Nevil Shute Norway Foundation ( He was an aviation engineer and there is often information about airplanes. A number are set during and after WWII.

Memorable books of the year (in no particular order):

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. This highly recommended book was indeed great. But it was so difficult that I had to stop halfway through, take a quick read of Pride and Prejudice, then go back and finish it. Reading about torture in the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps is not for the faint-hearted.

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott. A young seamstress manages to get hired by a woman who sails on the Titanic and gets embroiled in the scandal of her mistress’s handling of a lifeboat.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. A young girl is sent west to be adopted; at age 91 her story is uncovered by a foster child helping her go through memories in the attic.

The Unlike Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce. The first book is an amazing account of a salesman who hears that a former colleague is dying in the north of England. He decides to walk many miles to keep her from dying. It’s hard to describe the wonderful feelings in this book. The second is a sequel and companion novel that tells the story from the woman’s side. As often, it is not quite as stunning as the first, but does help fill out the story.

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman. A childless couple who keep a lighthouse off Australia’s west coast find a rowboat with a dead man and a live baby. They love the baby but the mystery of the child’s origins hangs over them.

A Room with a View by E. M. Forster. I had to reread this in Florence in August. We didn’t have a view of the Arno, but we saw many of the other sights and sounds of the story.

A House Called Askival by Merryn Glover. This was a re-read, as I read it so quickly when I first got it that I couldn’t remember a lot of the details. Merryn graduated from Woodstock School in India, where I lived for some time. She was in my son’s class. The story focuses around an aging missionary who has his own secrets and demons and his daughter who has been estranged but returns in her 40s. It takes place in Mussoorie. The book is outstanding and has been nominated for several awards in Britain. (Merryn lives in Scotland.) Even if you've never been to India or don't know about Woodstock, it is an excellent read.

The Lake House by Kate Morton. This was a Christmas gift from my daughter, who knows very well what I like! A wonderful weaving of a missing child in the 1930s, a modern policewoman who is on forced leave, a famous author and the home she loved. 

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. This mystery series was recommended to me by a friend and I am totally hooked! There are 11 books in the series and I have just finished the 8th. Maisie starts out as a maid, is caught reading in the library in the middle of the night, and is taken under the wing of her employer, who gives her the gift of education. Her teacher and mentor becomes like a second father to her. She is a nurse in World War I, falls in love, is wounded, goes back to school, works for her mentor, and eventually opens her own business as a psychologist and private investigator. She has to be one of the best characters out there. The author has done a lot of research about WWI, especially regarding shell shock (now called PTSD). Her cases are complex and well-thought-out. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

This and That

Having our grandchildren here in Chiang Mai has made a big difference from our visit last year. We are getting together about twice a week to play dominoes and eat together. This week we got our supper at a variety of food stalls and brought it back to our apartment. We are enjoying having this time to get to know them better as young adults.

My tai chi school is in a quiet neighborhood across the soi (alley) from a temple. The place next door is being renovated to become a restaurant, so Rod had his fence raised to provide a little more separation.

Marisa and Dario fooling around with the staff before class

Worker adding height to the wall

Finished wall awaiting painting

Stone-inlaid sidewalk in front of a business on my walk to tai chi

Bridge over moat built last year; plants add a nice look. It also has
lights at night in Christmas tree, snowflake and star shapes.

Along the moat. This cement structure holds plumbing equipment and is
finished off to look like a tree trunk.

Making individual orders of pad thai at food stall

Private home gate along road; very apropos given the number of roosters we hear every morning.

Small restaurant along street

There are about 3-4 of these u-turn places along the moat road,  which encircles the old city.
The road is one-way on each side of the moat.