Thursday, February 10, 2005


I guess I covered too much territory and tried to do too much. I feel pretty wasted. I lug around a lot of weight but don’t really work out on trips, so get out of shape. I was shooting pictures seriously, buying silks (also seriously), and doing the blogs, and all this didn’t make for much relaxing. I spent a lot of the trip in cities (Bangkok, Saigon, and Phnom Penh), which, even if stimulating is exhausting. (Am I whining here?) BUT, there’s a glimmer in my mind, that maybe after a few days it will all seem worth it. I might just bounce back and have some great results for the effort.

Book on Southeast Asia

Which leads to the fact (forget if I mentioned this earlier) that we’re going to do a book on this part of the world. Similar to Home Work, with material from me as well as others. So if you know people who travel to Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, or Burma — and if they take pictures or have communication inclinations — put them in touch with us. We might be working on a book like this in 2007 or so. Working title: Southeast Asia in the 21st Century: Traveler’s Tales.

More Coming on This Trip

I saw a lot that I haven’t communicated, I have a bunch of notes and I’m motivated to tell a fuller tale than the blogs could encompass. Also, there are the photos, which are better than the words in describing what I saw. It’s just too much trouble to add them to the blogs from the road.

End of Trip

I wrote the list of this from the Tokyo airport yesterday, but lost it twice on the airport’s lame-o coin-operated Internet setup. Christ, can’t the biggest airports in the world get an online setup comparable to, say Phut Quoc Island, a tiny place out in the Sea of Thailand? So I’ll reconstruct it now that I’ve been home for 24 or so hours.

I ended flying in at least 8 airplanes on this trip, from two-engined turboprops of Lao Airlines to a new 747-400 I took from Bangkok to Tokyo two days ago. I just about went crazy on the flight(s) to Asia, they seemed to take forever, and they were of course, packed to the gills. But the new 747 was a fabulous plane, with, can you believe it, adequate leg room in economy class. The flight crew, based in Tokyo, was sharp. The head guy was compact, early ’50s, witty, good-looking. He was mildly like a Samurai. The other flight attendants were charming and helpful. Time went fast. I had 5 hours to kill in Tokyo and after the blog/computer debacle, I rented for this cool tiny room with bed and shower for $10/one hour, took shower and slept for 45 minutes. The facility is called “Refresh,” and it does, All airports ought to have these facilities.

The flight to SFO from Tokyo was one-third full! When was the last time you had this happen? We all had 3 seats apiece, so it was almost as good as first class. Except the flight crew, American-based, was sour. Not top quality. What a difference in attitude. I watched 4 movies, read a third of The Da Vinci Code, which I love.

The California air smelled good! The Bay Area looked so uncrowded compared to the big cities (and much of the surrounding countryside) I’d been in. It’s always a thrill to get home, my sense are sharpened, the sights I’ve seen on the road put everything at home in fresh perspective. My heart sort of leaped when I saw Mt. Tamalpais. We stopped at my regular waterfall spot on the way over the mountain and I splashed water on my face and head. Home!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Women Power

The other day in a Mekong riverside restaurant, having lunch with my French friend, about 10 local women came in and sat at a table. Maybe 30s-40s, they seemed established, secure, happy with each others’ company. Energy was high at the table, lots of jokes and banter, there was this energy of strength and good will emanating from the table.

Woman Power

I walk pretty fast, almost always pass people in front of me. Walking up the street in Luang Prabang the other day a tiny (under 5') woman was in front of me and I wasn’t gaining ground. Thing is, she had a piece of bent bamboo on her right shoulder from which hung two baskets containing papayas and mangoes, she must have been carrying 70 lbs. and she sprang up the road.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Sloggin’ with the Bloggin’

I have a bit of a … uh … communication problem. I can’t keep up with all that’s happening, can’t get 10% of my adventures written up. Plus it doesn’t help that I stupidly lost an hour’s worth of blogging last night by hitting the wrong button. I’ll just try hitting a few highlights of the last few days, thumbnails as it were:
  • Allan Maxey met me at the Phnom Penh dock, where I had come by boat up the Mekong from Chou Doc, Vietnam. Allan’s a heavy duty traveler, very experienced, very together and he looked cool and relaxed in fresh khakis, neat shirt, hair pulled back in pony tail. He had a fourth-floor walk-up corner room in a small hotel for $4, fresh breezes blowing through windows and sunset view over a monastery. His medium size backpack was so well organized I got him to lay out its contents on the bed and I shot pix. This will be of serious interest to serious travelers. We spent the next day riding all over the city, going to the three big markets, and then at night to watch the sunset at Phnom Penh’s lake. We’d ride the two of us on the back of a moto. Yee-hah!
  • The kids are so friendly. “Hel-lo,” they sing out with the first syllable a higher note. They are all having such a great time. Even in dirty neighborhoods in cities, they’re having FUN. A Frenchman who’s lived here for 10 years said to me, “They don’t even know they’re poor.”
  • Last night at the street weavers’ market (at least a hundred women display their weavings — it’s mind-boggling) I got out one of my books on Lao weaving to show to a woman I’d just bought some scarves from. Her neighbors converged on the book — they hadn’t seen it — and a 12-13 year old girl (weaver) just bored into the book and its color photos of different patterns.
  • The best place to eat anywhere in Asia (or most likely the world, for that matter) is in the heart of the big markets. There’s such vitality, the food is fresh and cooked fast, you’re out of the gringo loop and seeing real life, it’s cheap … Allan and I had a delicious bowl of soup and iced coffee in the O'Russei market in Phnom Penh for about $1.25.

I’m gonna go out and ride my bike around town. Between shooting photos (probably a 1,000 already) and buying and investigating weaving, it’s been a full trip. I’m catching a flight tonight to Vientiane, to get a flight to Bangkok tomorrow, to catch a flight at 7 a.m. out of Bangkok to Tokyo/SFO on Wednesday, Feb. 9.

On the Mekong

This morning I had an elephant’s ear and a frothy latte at a streetside bakery in Luang Prabang, the old capitol of Laos. No kidding! When the spirits are with me, life can be so exotic. (Oh yeah, an elephant’s ear is a large flat crispy sugar cookie.) I’ve been on a roll since getting to Laos. The people, the towns, the weavers — they’re all to my sensibilities. The entire town of Luang Prabang (with 70 or so Buddhist temples) has got good feng shui. Despite being heavily touristed. It’s at the conjunction of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers and these last few days, after some rains, the temperature has been perfect.

Yesterday a Frenchman and I took a boat upriver to see the Pak Ou Caves and also to visit two riverside villages. The caves — again heavily touristed — contain 4,000 Buddhas of various sizes, and the upper cave has a powerful feeling of serenity, maybe due to old Buddhas in it, that I looked at by flashlight.

The villages each had many stalls selling silk weavings, and I made contact with two weavers (I’d stop at stands where there was a loom) and I bought a bunch of scarves and a few shawls. The villages were clean and airy, the kind of place where you could spend serious time in a hammock looking out at the river.

The Mekong is almost as powerful as the ocean. It’s said to support a million people along its thousands of miles journey through Asia. Water and topsoil for agriculture; boats for transport; fish and seaweed for food, playground for village kids. On the way back to Luang Prabang yesterday I got the skipper to pull into a sandbar and stripped down to shorts and went swimming. It felt so great, was maybe 72 degrees, refreshing, swift moving, deep. I bonded with the river. If I’d had a tent I could have stayed there on the banks for a few days, swimming, beachcombing, lying in a hammock (that I would string) between two coconut trees.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Magic of Laos

I just arrived in Luang Prabang, the old capitol of Laos. It has just rained and the air is fresh and sweet. I got here in a Lao Airlines turboprop from Vientiane (the present capital) and therein lies a bit of a story and an out-of-order from-the-road dispatch from my Southeast Asia travels.

I left Phnom Penh Friday (will get back to that wild place later), intending to get to the peace and quiet of Luang Prabang that day. Fate intervened and the flight to Vientiane was late arriving and the plane to Luang Prabang took off without 8 of us. Damn!

Vietnamese Airlines got us hotel rooms in Vientiane, the next plane was at 6 p.m. the next night. I was tired, still a little shaky from a few bad days of a food bug, so went to bed early. Got up at 7, went outside and immediately loved the place. It’s a city of 200,000 — manageable — with trees and old French villas and Buddhist temples along the banks of the Mekong. I got an iced latte and a pastry, got some directions (to the market, mainly), rented a kinda dorky bike with a basket and took off around town.

I’m here partially to buy silks, as I love the weaving that is going on over here, and I think it will sell in America. I ended up meeting two shopkeepers (stall-keepers) that had wonderful things, bought about 15 pieces, and made contacts in case I come back and want to buy in quantity. I’m interested mostly in scarves and shawls, but there are a myriad other wonderful items being produced in this part of the world. I surprise them by asking what tribe made the item, I usually ask, “Lao Loum?” and it gets me out of the category of casual tourist browser. The ladies really like the fact that I’m asking who made each item and what part of Laos is it from.

Then just as I was about to leave for the airport and the flight to Luang Prabang, I was pulled into a shop by stuff in the window, I just couldn’t go by, ended up meeting a designer and shopkeeper, and when I showed her my book on Lao textiles (given me by Lesley before the trip), she got very excited — we both did — I pulled out my Laos map — I ended up buying two of the women’s vests she designed (made out of Lao shawls), two shawls, all of very high quality weaving. We set some prices for me buying in lots of 5 to 10 of different items. I’m learning to see the difference in craftsmanship and finish.

Then after landing here, and chilling out for an hour in my room (in a very old building, with broad-plank, pegged-down oak floors and ceiling fan, I took a walk before dinner on the river (the Mekong, farther up) and got pulled into another shop. This was a couple from a small village and everything made in their village (at least tonight) looked exquisite. The guy spoke English and his wife (no English) was a weaver. I left my two Laos weaving books with them until tomorrow morning when the guy and I are going to meet and head up the river in (his) boat to the village…

A friend of mine used to call it the sequencer, like a sequencing of events, out of our control, that turn out to put us exactly where we want to be at the right time. My life seems so random at times, like I get bumped into doing stuff I would not have chosen to do, and it works out so beautifully. Hey, I’m just along for the ride…

Monday, January 31, 2005

Being from the USA

I apologize to everyone for what America is doing now. I tell them we have a criminal government right now that is going in the wrong direction on all fronts. I’ve met a bunch of Americans over here who tell people they’re Canadian, but I’d just as soon be forthright and explain that a huge bunch of us think Bush is a disaster on all fronts. I haven’t met one person from Europe or Japan or Australia or anywhere that thinks any differently. Seeing how the Vietnamese defeated the Americans makes it clear to me how America is going to eat it in Iraq. It’s not winnable. You can’t obliterate the human spirit. Think if all the money going into the war were put into developing sustainable energy sources. Also think about the atrocious reversals of environmental protection this administration is orchestrating. Oh yeah, a week or so ago (in Bangkok) I saw Condy Rice (just who is her hair stylist?) in front of a congressional panel. Barbara Boxer’s voice was trembling when she asked Condy questions and Condy’s arrogance and confidence were sickening. She’ll go down with Henry Kissinger as one of the greatest unpunished war criminals … OK, I’ll get back to blogging the trip now…

Us Old Guys

I was the only gringo on the ferry boat, which was a funky wooden boat maybe 30' long that was loaded to the gills with crabs and fish being transported from the island to mainland. No conveyance of any kind over here goes anywhere until it’s maxed out in cargo, passengers and weight. An older guy sitting on the deck (no seats for the four-hour trip, you just sit or lay on the wooden deck, which is OK with me and actually better than sitting in a cramped airline seat), so this guy motions me over to sit next to him. He pointed to himself and held up 6 fingers. (In this part of the world, very few people speak any English.) I finally figured out he was saying he was 60 — he looked pretty good — and asked how old I was. Since it was getting to hard to convey 69, I told him I was 70 and he didn’t believe it. Finally I showed him my driver’s license. He started telling everyone around us how old I was. Then he touched my forearm and rubbed his hand on the hairs there, this seemed to fascinate him — then my leg. Next he got two of what I suppose were his grandchildren, one a girl about 3, and a boy about 8 to feel the hair on my arm and then the grizzled whiskers on my face. Everyone was delighted. 3-4 teenagers were hanging there and they were vastly amused. All of us were sitting real close together, arms and legs touching, it was a warm and nice experience — no words. One thing I’ve learned of late is to smile. I didn’t used to, but I actually learned from a Chi Gung teacher about 5 years ago how to smile on demand (like girls and women have always been able to do) and it works wonders.

Got My Moto Workin’

The only way to travel in many situations in this part of the world is on a moto (lightweight motorcycle). In Mui Ne, the driver was late in picking me up (5:30 instead of 5 a.m., to watch sunrise over sand dune) and he drove fast. We’d come up to a bunch of cows crossing the road and he’d just lean on his horn and keep up the speed. Lucky no cow or calf took a hop to the right or we’d have been creamed. He was passing with aplomb and I must say a high degree of skill, but for the first 15 minutes I kept wondering how much skin I’d lose hitting the ground at 40 mph. Finally I gave up fretting and just started looking at the scenery. Today I took a ferry from Phu Quoc Island to the mainland of Viet Nam and got a really great driver — safe and skillful — to take me the 115 miles or so to Chou Doc. (I forget if I already wrote something earlier about the moto situation — you know how memory goes in later years.) Speaking of which, see the next blog entry (“Us Old Guys”).

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Bo in Viet Nam

I live in the town of Bolinas, nicknamed “Bo” by locals. Here on the island of Phu Quoc by a series of happenstances I end up at a resort called Bo Resort — It turns out to be a wonderful place, with 8 bamboo bungalows looking down the hill at the sea. $15/night. No air conditioning, no TV, and the bungalows are perfect for my tastes. Everything has been done with great care. Designer is Marie, a Vietnamese woman married to Regis, a Frenchman. I shot lots of pix. I showed the owners Home Work and they loved it. They started passing it around to other guests in the restaurant (food is excellent!). Mostly French guests, I’m the only gringo. I’ve had a wonderful time for the last two days with these people. I’ll write more about it later. The manager of the place next door is an Englishman and he flipped when he saw the book. He’s a world traveler, just doing this gig for a while, and he carries a very tattered copy of Shelter with him wherever he goes — he showed it to me. Says it’s been a major influence on his life. It’s so great, after all that work, to connect with people. Gratifying. Last night we all sat at a big table in the restaurant and had the local crabs. Also present were some French and Vietnamese people who have a wine importing business in Hanoi and Saigon and they broke out a bottle of 23-year-old Armagnac Cognac, which we shared after dinner. (For me after bananas flambĂ©, which I got the recipe for.) It was a great night. At 2 a.m., I went swimming in the warm water. This morning I swam about a mile, trying to recharge after too many big-city fumes. Right now I’m in an Internet cafe with pleasant breezes from fans surrounded by local kids all playing video games. Time to head back to Bo Resort and hoping the lights work.

The Kindness of Strangers

Last night I was driving my rented (funky) motorcycle back to my hotel. I’m on Phu Quoc island in the Gulf of Thailand, off the southern coast of Viet Nam. I got sort of lost, and it had turned dark and I was backtracking to a missed turnoff when the lights on the moto went out. Black night, could hardly see the road. Thought, “Shit, I’m going to have to spend the night out here.” Along comes a local guy on a moto and with no words, he pulls alongside me and I follow his light on the road. After a few miles, I spot a moto mechanic’s shop and pull in. The moto driver takes off without a word. About four guys in the shop, they pull the front off the bike and work on the light. One guy hands me a glass of rice whiskey and a piece of meat, both of which hit the spot. They get the light fixed, won’t take any money and shook my hand. I drive off and find my way back to the hotel.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


A lot of people are wearing T-shirts that say on the front “Same Same” and on the back “But Different.” Saw a guy in Bangkok whose T-shirt read “No Money No Honey.” There are some nice looking yellow T-shirts with a red star. Just about every male trekker wears cargo shorts, with baggy pockets. The backpackers have huge amounts of stuff. I lightened up drastically, shipping about 13 pounds home, leaving books behind. Now I’m pretty mobile, can walk for a few miles with all my stuff…

Viet Cong Tunnels

Today I took a $3 tour about 50 miles northwest of Saigon to see the Cu Chi tunnels. The Viet Cong had something like 150 miles of tunnels, some three layers deep, even went under a big US base, invisible in the jungle, uncanny cleverness in design and construction. They made fake termite mounds on the floor of the jungle that were actually air vents. They had escapes where they could go directly from the tunnel into the Saigon River and swim to the other side. They had kitchens, hospital, munitions storage, living quarters. They set lethal traps in the jungle with sharpened bamboo stakes, they used natural materials and scrap to defeat the world’s mightiest military forces. So it came time to go down into the tunnels. I am a bit claustrophobic, and I went down into the first tunnel, my heart started pounding. After everyone else came down the steps, I bounded back up into the sunlight, rather than go through a narrow chamber into another room and out. No thanks! No submarine trips either…

Maybe Communism Really Does Suck

The bureaucracy at the Viet Nam airport was excessive and seemed somehow communistic. I bet communists created paperwork empires. The military guys here look sort of out of it. I don’t really understand how the country is governed, but the impression of their uniforms and bases is dullness…

Cascading Motos

I was really proud of driving a motorbike in Phnom Phen, where people routinely drive on the wrong side of the road. You make left turns by veering into the oncoming lane, etc. Well, Bangkok was a whole other magnitude of complexity and speed, and Saigon takes the cake. I have stood or sat for hours here watching the dance of motos. You just can’t believe that it works., At every intersection there is a sea of motos, along with bikes and various motorcycle-propelled mini trucks. People weave in and out, cross into oncoming traffic, drive fast while very close together, and above all — cooperate in ways that westerners have a hard time fathoming. Each driver yields to all others. If you see that someone has a line (going in a purposeful direction), you let him take it. Driving is one thing, being a pedestrian is another. You think that when the light is green it’s safe to cross? Wrong! Most corners don’t have lights anyway, so you have to go out into the oncoming flow and move when you can and stand stock still when you have to wait. They will all go around you. And you have to be sure to look in the other direction once you’re close to the center of the road, so as to start dodging that flow. I nearly ate it today when I almost stepped in front of a cab.

Southeast Asia Is Hot Right Now

It’s an exciting place right now. Travelers are here with a sense of excitement. I like the fact that it’s Pacific Ocean people. I’m going to do a book called Southeast Asia in the 21st Century, with some kind of subtitle narrowing it down somewhat. It will be like Home Work, consisting of my photos and stories, plus input from seasoned travelers on their experiences in this part of the world. In a few years … I’m shooting tons of pix with my Canon 20D. Next trip I won’t bring along the wide angle and telephoto lenses — too heavy — the 28-135 mm handles most situations.

Taking Boy Out of Country

Jeez, I’m so ambivalent about cities. I find it imperative to walk around a fair amount, scoping things out, and therein lies a major problem: eating fossil fuel fumes. My body pulls me to get out to the country, but my head is fascinated with the richness and complexity of a dense population. It’s my 3rd day in Saigon and I’m tuning into it a bit better. I just sat at a corner cafe and had two Tiger beers and spring rolls and watched thousands of motorists and pedestrians go by, stayed about an hour. many of the motos had 3 people, a few with four, and I saw one fiver — man, woman, 3 kids. There are 8 million people in Saigon, 3 million motos, and one million bikes. The way it all works is staggering; it’s a complex dance. Then wandered around, found 2 kind of obscure alleys in the backpacker/internet area of Pham Ngo Lau road, nice little hotels, cool little restaurants. Then wanting coffee to write this email, found a great little cafe playing hip hop and had iced coffee. There are so many scenes in a city, it’s a matter of finding enough of them to spend time at (or in) so you can get inspired and/or recharge. Right now I’m loving the city, but it wasn’t so this (smoggy) afternoon.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Back from the Beach

It’s warm and balmy with breezes, am in an Internet cafe on busy street Saigon. I just got back from two days out at the beach — Mui Ne, a beachside destination 5 hours bus ride north from Saigon. After a week of Bangkok and Saigon I need lung cleansing. Mui Ne is a lot different from the idyllic picture in guide books. The actual Mui Ne is a pretty grotty town, lots of trash, dirty beach, pretty fishing boats … but south and north of there is a at least 10 miles of beaches, along which have been erected an amazing number of beachside resorts. The architecture is in many cases imaginative and tuned into local materials.

I ended up at a Japanese-style hotel, $27/night, second story room with tile floors and balcony looking out at beach. Slept with windows open to sound of crashing waves, with mosquito netting over bed.

The place next door is a kite-surfer mecca and in the afternoon winds they were flying all over the place. I went swimming, bodysurfed a bit, rolled around, felt good, washed city vibes away. While I was rolling around, I watched a kite-surfer take off — I was lying at water level — and it was like he stood up and walked on water. I rented a motorbike and drove around for two days scoping the place out and shooting pix — many of circular bamboo roofs, and of bamboo wizardry in general, and humble little buildings with character. Decided to come back to Saigon and will next go out tomorrow to see the Viet Cong tunnels, then the next day head to the Mekong Delta, to Phu Quoc Island, and then to a “silk village” in Chow Doc and from there upriver by boat to Phnom Phen. Much of this trailblazed by my friend and neighbor Allan Maxey.

I’m gearing up to buy silks. Tonight I bought 5 beautiful red and black cotton hats made by the Zao tribe, $2 each. I’m studying about the hill tribes. There are 10 main ones in Viet Nam.

A Few Notes from My Notebook

Viet Nam by Motorcycle: You can buy a Czech 350 cc (new) motorcycle in Viet Nam for less than $1,000. Check out or Cuong’s Adventure Biking Shop in Hanoi, 04-926-1534. Tour the country on your own. Would be great adventure for two people.

Mode of Travel

I am — at practically 70 years of age — on the backpacker circuit. For one thing, in any town in the world, the internet cafes are populated by backpackers. You forget how big backpacking is in much of the world; it’s practically non-existent in the U.S. When you’re on the road, that’s who you’ll find online — 20-year-old backpackers. Some of the travelers look really great. Like healthy young Californians, adapted to customs and dress, spreading good vibes. So I ride busses and prefer the backpacker route much of the time, instead of sterile tour trips. However, I stay in nice hotels, mainly in the $20 range. The kids are spending $6 a night.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Bangkok Update

Khao San Road, Backpacker Central of Bangkok goes from deserted/misty/dead at sunrise to bustling people-and-merchandise-packed nuthouse by afternoon. The stuff for sale is mostly cheap shit and the street is not the most pleasant. BUT, if you go down to the northwest end of the road, cross the street, take a right and another right at the first street and that is Soi Ram Buttri. It is leafy and quiet because the monastery and its greenery are all along one side of the road. There are some good places to eat here, an oasis. There’s a cafe I like, it’s a large high-ceilinged old colonial-feeling room with fans revolving, with tables on the road and I get iced coffee and watch the very colorful parade of characters go by.

This morning I got a pint of fresh squeezed sweet orange juice for 30 cents and then these little street-made delicate pastries, 30 cents for 10 of them, they were made by dropping spoonfuls of warm coconut pudding into hot fat, I just cannot describe how good they were. There is the most wonderful food everywhere on the streets. Thin strips of grilled beef or chicken, fried fish, corn on cob, papaya salad, 1,000 soup shops, noodles, sticky rice.

Down on the corner are posted maybe 50 notices of persons missing from the Tsunami. Many photos, mug shots of people who disappeared. There’s one sheet with pics of tattoos, photographed on unidentified bodies. Pic of 63-year-old American,“If you have seen our father, please contact…” “David Baumgarten, 11 years old.” “Please help us find little Ragnar, along with pic of one-year old.” As of January 18 there were 4,548 people still missing…

Last night I got drawn into a bar by some good rock and roll. Thai guys doing covers. “You don’t know what it’s like…” “You’re always on my mind…” Chuck Berry. The music was a little crude but they had the spirit nailed. A 60s-year-old gringo came up and did a killer job on “Hound Dog.” The band did a great “Full Moon on the Rise” — they were channeling Credence … everyone in the room was having fun…

Tuning In to Big City

I walked down Khao San Road a few hours before sunrise and it looked so bleak. Pungent smells. The energy was gone from the day. My hotel, The Buddy Lodge is great. About $40 per night. Tile floors in lobby, polished wood floors in room, cool roof pool. Showered and rested and then got out to see the city come to life with sunrise. Walking around in a big city can suck if you can’t figure how to get off fume-clogged streets. I never did figure that out in Athens, just couldn't get very far on foot. So this morning, I wandered down Khao San (noted for the backpackers that hang out here — there are hundreds). It’s a phenomenon we don't have in America. People of all ages (but mostly young) carrying their luggage balanced on their backs. Got out on busy exhausty boulevard for too long before ducking into a narrow alley. About 7 AM and here was the coffee man. Sat down and had iced cappucino and carefully worked out some routes in the city from the Lonely Planet Bangkok book and a big city map. It really helps and I don’t worry about looking like a tourist, so I plot stuff I’m going to see and then venture forth.

It was quiet in the alley, and women were setting up kitchens, starting the soup for the day. People started moving, manuevering tables and chairs and setting up for biz, and it made me finally feel at home. it was nice in this alley, the coffee was good, the soup smelled good, there were no gringos. Bingo, I was in! The city felt good. The same thing happened to me in Phnom Penh last spring. As the day wore on I wondered the streets and alleys, canvassing for an internet cafe. meal options, and general orientation. Beautiful food is everywhere. I had a half a papaya from a vendor to start the day with some friendly enzymes. Then found a great airy veranda-type restaurant with high ceilings and spinning fans (no stinkin’ air conditioning) and had pork soup with clear rice noodles, delicious!

Right now I haven’t slept in about 30 hours, and I’ll stay awake until tonight to get on the local cycle. In solo traveling mode you can move very fast. I’m gonna go out now (noon Tuesday Jan 17 on Khao San Road, Bangkok …) and get a tuk-tuk and head for the Monk’s Village, where they have Buddhist amulets, and to Wat Ratchanatdathen a ferry somewhere

Monday, January 17, 2005

Bangkok Ho!

Got to SFO airport four hours early and even so had to stand in check-in line 45 min. I like SF International, it’s usually got great art, and spiffy Italian-designed cappuccino kiosks. Big change this time, no check-in baggage. Using GoLite ultra-light pack, am heavier than I’d like to be (most of it in books and camera stuff) but it's so much less stressful to walk off the plane with all you need, rather than sweat out the carousel. Along with the GoLite backpack, I’ve got a great day pack from Rick Steves that folds up next to nothing but can accommodate a fair amount of stuff when you go out in cities.

Four-hour holdup in Tokyo. 21 hours until I rode in exhaust-filled cab and got into Bangkok at 5 AM. The indignity of flying. Crammed into this impossibly small space, I wish I could go into suspended animation for 8 hoursAt Tokyo airport I rented a little 10 × 12' or so room with shower for about $15 and showered and slept for a few hours. Civilized! Mellow looking people on flight. Young, old; Anglos, Japanese, Indians; 7' basketball player, very cool young Japanese guy, moved like warrior, long black ponytail; Japanese girl in black cowboy hat and cowboy boots, she looked good!