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I will be VERY glad to get out of this city for once again I've been the victim of crime.  I just went out to my car (parked right in front of my apartment at the end of the sidewalk) to drive up and check my mail only to find the glove compartment open, it's contents strewn across the front seat, plus the rear seat-backs pulled out and everything that was in my trunk was all over the back seat.  The doors were all unlocked and I'm certain I locked the driver-side door when I returned from shopping last night (and I certainly wouldn't have unlocked the passenger door — the rear doors have "child-proof" locks).  Luckily, I don't keep anything of value in my car but I'll have to check in the morning (when I can see) to make sure none of the tools were taken from the trunk.

I have a good feeling that this was done by one of my neighbors; I've had problems with a couple of different tenants since they moved in last year and complained repeatedly to security and the landlords.  Strange that this occurred now rather than when I was gone for a month.  I certainly hope that whoever it was that broke into my car doesn't go after my apartment; I've already been down that road...

Part of the problem at this complex is that ever since they changed management a few years ago, the level of service has been on a steady decline.  I haven't seen a single security patrol since I've returned from Thailand, in fact.  I previously mentioned that the lights on the front of my building (and the neighboring one) no longer work; I tripped on a sidewalk step a couple of weeks ago and fell again at the same spot just a few nights ago.  Last week, the pipes in the bathroom above mine burst causing a bad leak in mine — they replaced a pipe upstairs but have yet to repair my bathroom ceiling despite repeated calls to maintenance (when I move out, they'll probably try to charge me for water damage since it's not listed on the move-in document...).  The list goes on and on...

This sort of personal violation really makes me upset and paranoid.  I can't wait until I start moving my stuff into storage (I've begun throwing things out and putting other things into banker boxes); although I haven't purchased my plane tickets yet, I plan to arrive in Phuket on April 10th — two months and two weeks to go...


I added a second Webshots account to store more photos (and this time I noticed that members are allowed a maximum of 3000 photos).  The new homepage is at , and the earlier photos are at

I still have many older photos from the UK and Asia trips of 2003, and going back to my first digital photos — taken at the Open House and Inaugural Weekend of Albuquerque's Isotopes Park, that I will eventually upload; I suppose I need to create another account for those now...

There are links between the two homepages for easy navigation.


I was working tonight at uploading photos I took in Bangkok when my Webshots software gave me another error message, "Cannot Upload Photo — Photo Capacity Reached."  Rather frustrating given the problems I've had recently in uploading photos.  Apparently, they cap accounts at 3000 photos.  Still, I really like Webshots so I'll probably just create another account so I can upload more; of course, I'll post the link here...

On a related note, I just ordered a bunch of prints of the Phuket photos to send to Tim (mostly shots of her and of the two of us) as well as one made into a calendar.  I rarely order prints anymore but it will be nice to have a few photos framed when they arrive.



Of the stack of books I purchased in Thailand earlier this month, the best so far is Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture by Philip Cornwel-Smith, photographs by John Goss.  This is a collection of essays with accompanying photos of all sorts of things that the Thai people take for granted but the farangs (foreigners) often ponder about.  I just began reading the book a couple of nights ago and have already learned why virtually every drink served in the Land Of Smiles contains salt (it's to rehydrate the body in the hot climate) and I've read about the drinks served at the food stalls in plastic bags (I had a Coke like this one day), about the unique Thai deserts (I had a tray of "mystery" deserts at the Baiyoke one night — I just knew many had sticky rice and bean paste in them and now I know I was right), and about the tiny tissues that pass for napkins at virtually every food stall or restaurant in Thailand.  The next chapter is about those insect "snacks" that Tim and her friends so enjoyed and which so grossed me out during our last night partying in Patong.

The book is so good that I'm thinking about purchasing a few extra copies for a couple of friends and family members as it seems to sum-up all I find fascinating about the country and it's people. does carry the book, for around $21, which is more than I paid for it at Asia Books on Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok (their website has it for $25.51, however, so who knows?).  At any rate, it would make a great birthday or Christmas gift — it's attractive hardcover makes it a good coffee table book and the format allows for browsing rather than reading it from cover to cover (although I'm reading it all the way through).

If you're interested, here are some (better) reviews of this remarkable book:

River Books (publisher of Very Thai)
Circle Of Asia
The Irrawaddy News Magazine (May 2005)


For once, the two teams I wanted to win the championship games actually won (well, I routinely root for whoever is playing against Denver).  It should be a great Super Bowl with Pittsburgh and Seattle.  Of the two, I hope the Seahawks win the big game.


I managed to upload a few more albums of my Thailand photos this afternoon.  Webshots is STILL experiencing server problems (which they promise will be fixed by Monday or Tuesday; they made the same promise last week, saying the problems would be solved by last Thursday or Friday...) so sometimes the photos disappear into space and I have to try again.  This is one reason that I'm not writing lengthy captions for most of the photos — it's just a drag to have to write them again if the upload doesn't work.  In a couple of cases, the photos uploaded okay but were completely mixed up on the website necessitating a lengthy reordering (I like my photos to be in chronological order at all times).

I am now ready to upload the photos I took on December 31st; I spent most of the day in the back of Lek & Silvio's Suzuki rental car being given an endless tour of southern Phuket beaches (after a while, they all began to look the same and still we stopped at every one despite my insistance that we didn't need to).  Most importantly, that night I was introduced to Tim and it was true love at first sight.  (Tim — pronounced "teem" — is merely her nickname; most Thai people go by a one-syllable nickname, often given at childbirth, and rarely give out their real name; Tim wrote down her full name for me in Thai — I keep forgetting to ask how to pronounce it as I've forgotten what she told me that week about it!)  However, I tried numerous times just now and the server "could not be contacted" (and the software told me my LAN/modem wasn't connected when it certainly was); I'll try again a bit later as I really want to share those first photos of Tim and I...



I've now uploaded the first nine photo albums from my Dec/Jan travels to Oregon and Thailand — complete through Christmas Eve.  But Webshots is still obviously having problems with their servers and it's very slow-going.  Often, the software can't connect to the server at all or, if it does, it will time out in the middle of an upload.  I'm sure they'll have the bugs worked out within a few more days, however.

The photo albums, as always, are in reverse chronological order (the most recent is at the top left of the page) and viewable at  I'm uploading ALL of the photos I took on this trip — the good, the bad, and the ugly — as it's easier to upload an entire folder than to check every single photo for focus, lighting, and composition.  The majority, however, are very good (in my humble opinion) and I'm happy to share them.  It's just requiring a bit more patience than usual to upload them right now — mai pen rai.



I was all ready to begin uploading the first of my Portland photos tonight but that will be delayed as Webshots is currently upgrading their servers.  As soon as they get the final kinks worked out (and I can access my account), I'll begin the uploads.  I'm really anxious to share these photos with friends and family.

I did finish backing-up all of the video I shot onto DVD-R — all five-and-a-half hours of it.  Frankly, I'm not sure how I'll edit this down into a watchable length as most of it is very high-quality and entertaining.  I didn't talk over very much video as I was shooting it (the exact opposite of the UK and Asia videos in 2003) and the sounds the mic captured are often as interesting (or more so) than the views.  A couple of friends have already requested the "uncut" version so I may just make one director's cut with multiple chapters.

With the DVD's, I also plan to include photo slideshows (now that I've mastered how to make good ones), complete with music.  The main problem with that is (for once), I didn't buy any local music while traveling.  (I did buy a karaoke VCD of 2005's "Best of Thailand", but there's only one really cheesy pop song on it that I'd consider using.)  I'll remedy that buy ordering a few CD's from an online Thai music retailer — one of the music they play during the Muay Thai boxing matches, one of traditional, and perhaps one pop CD (I really like some of the girl singers I saw on television); it's just that I really don't know what I'll be getting so some of the music may be useable, some not).  I really wish I knew the name of the song that Tim would often sing to me (we did look for it in one shop on Bangla Road but weren't successful).

Looks like I'm going to have a busy weekend...



The cold I got on Phuket mushroomed into the flu this weekend so I spent much of the last couple of days in bed asleep, alternating between trips to the bathroom and kitchen (for my medicine).  Oh, and talking to Tim on the cell who seemed genuinely concerned that I was still sick ("you eat lots of medicine", she kept asking me).

I'm feeling much better tonight and it seems I'm doomed to repeat my cycle of being awake all night long.  But I have begun some prep-work to prepare for my return to Thailand.  Mostly, that's been in the form of research:

1) Finding a good storage facility for my belongings — if I go to Thailand for an extended period of time, it makes sense to pay $100 or so (and probably a lot less than that) to store my stuff rather than pay rent/utilities on an apartment I'm not going to use.  There's a bunch of places here in Albuquerque, including a nice-looking one less than a mile from my home.  I'll make some phone calls tomorrow to find out what the fees are for the rental, shelving, packing materials, etc.

2) Airfare — the best price I've found so far is $748.50 roundtrip from Los Angeles to Bangkok on China Airlines (via Taipei), including all taxes, etc., which is good for departures in April and May and returns in July and August (the price goes up if I plug in a June departure).  I also looked into one-way fares and the lowest is $456.50 on China Airlines, again including all fees.  But if I booked a one-way ticket (I don't really want to be tied to a return date), I don't think I could satisfy the requirements to get a tourist visa unless I purchased a cheap flight to Cambodia or Laos from Bangkok (they really just want to see that you plan to exit Thailand on a given date).  If I purchased a round-trip ticket, how difficult would it be to change the return reservation?  I suppose I could use a travel agency in Patong to phone China Airlines, like I did to change my Nok Air reservation a few weeks ago but perhaps I would have to visit their office at the airport in Bangkok.

Of course, I'll use Nok Air for my flight from Bangkok to Phuket.  The low airfare outweighs the probability of flight delays (I don't mind spending a few extra hours in an airport, to tell the truth).  In fact, I just noticed that you can upgrade to first class on any of their flights for an additional 500 baht (that's $12); I suppose they actually serve you drinks in first class.  A first-class ticket from BKK to HKT with all the fees and taxes runs a bit over $58.

3) Once I book my airfare, I can then apply for a Thai tourist visa.  These are good for 60 days on a single entry and you can renew them for an additional 30 days at an Immigration office in Thailand.  Double-entry visas are also available — when your 30-day extension is about to expire, just cross into Cambodia, Burma, or Malaysia for an afternoon and upon return to Thailand your second 60 days kicks in (to which you can get another 30-day extension).  However, you can't legally be employed under the tourist visa.  My current thinking is that I can apply for a TESL course on Phuket and if I get an English-teaching job after graduating, I can have the potential employer file the paperwork for me to get a Work Permit and Non-Immigrant Visa.  More research to do on this front...

4) Finding a place to stay for two months or more — there are plenty of budget places in Patong and next time I'd like to stay within walking distance of the beach and Bangla Road.  I've found many choices in this area for between 400 and 700 baht per night ($10-$18) that include air-conditioning, en-suite bathroom, etc.  Most state that they offer discounts "long-term" stays (ranging from 14 to 60 days and over) but don't say how much that discount is (I saw one website that mentioned 10%).  There was one place (Paradizo Guesthouse) that mentioned a low-season special (April through November) of 5,500 baht ($140) per month for an air-conditioned room and free laundry; that seems too low to be good so I've posted some questions in an online forum to see if anyone recommends this place.  I've also found several apartment listings running between 10,000 and 15,000 baht ($250-380) per month, including electricity and twice-per-week cleaning but most of these seem to be too far from the center of town to walk easily.  This isn't really much of a problem; I just want to save on taxi/tuk-tuk/motorbike charges as they do tend to add up...

5) I've also done some research on the easiest and less expensive way to get from Phuket to Lamphun to see where Tim grew up, etc.  We could fly up but I'd rather see the country from the ground.  Phuket doesn't (yet) have a railroad connection so we would have to take a bus to Surat Thani (a cost of no more than 280 baht, or about $7) and from there take the train north to Bangkok and then on to Chiang Mai.  A second-class air-conditioned sleeping berth for the first leg costs 598-668 baht ($15-17) each way, depending on if you want an upper or lower berth (upper is less expensive and good for protecting small valuables), the various trains (express, rapid, etc.) all seem to be overnight trips of around 12 hours.  From Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the same grade costs roughly the same and most are also overnight/12-hour trips (although there are a couple of morning departures — 6:20 and 8:30 a.m. — as well as two trains leaving at 2:30 in the afternoon which don't arrive until 5:30 the following morning).  If we were to take a train that arrives from Surat Thani at 6 or so in the morning, we would have time to catch the 8:30 in Bangkok, which arrives in Chiang Mai at 7:45 that evening if not delayed making it much more convenient for checking into a hotel there; otherwise, we would have to figure out where to stash our bags in Chiang Mai for six hours or so before we could check into a hotel.  We would probably have to take a taxi or tuk-tuk from Chiang Mai to Lamphun; my research hasn't gotten me that far yet.

And that's really where I'm at right now.  I've found out a lot of information tonight.  The next step really is to start packing up my belongings.  I also plan to try and sell a lot of things on eBay.  Once I begin that process, the rest will fall into line.  As I clear out the clutter within my apartment (either through putting it into storage, throwing it away, or making some money by selling it), I'll be able to more easily organize the other preperations I need to make.  A big part of that is learning even more Thai — not only to speak it but to try and make sense of the alphabet as well; the grammar should be fairly easy to conquer.

I haven't had any second thoughts about my plans to return to Thailand so soon.  A big motivator are the daily phone calls with Tim.  Just hearing her giggle as I speak Thai to her is enough to make me want to hop on a plane tomorrow.  During one recent call, she told me that she was learning to make Western sandwiches, even hamburgers, just for me.  I told her that I missed her watching her put together Thai meals at the street carts — she would put the spices in separate dishes and then feed me the chicken, prawns, and seafood (all except squid which I didn't like the look of) out of her collection of bowls.  I have no idea what the names of most of what we ate were, but most were various styles of soup with all manner of meats and vegetables thrown in.  I did develop a strong fondness for coconut soup with chicken, however, made "Tim-style."

Tomorrow should be a big day (IF I wake up at a decent hour as I plan to (finally) pick up my mail at the post office and start uploading all of those photos I took.  I have the screensaver on my computer set to display them and I've been amazed at how good many of the photos are when seen on a large screen (and also disappointed that some favorites are actually rather blurry).  I'll also stop by Staples and get some bankers boxes to begin the process of packing my papers, etc.



It figures...  I travel halfway around the world, spend a month walking along streets that aren't in the best repair weaving among huge crowds and street stalls while avoiding touts trying to sell me suits and massages as well as dodging all manner of motorized vehicles, only to have a bad fall just steps outside my front door.  I was returning to my car to bring in another load of groceries (I had about eight large bags) when I tripped on an upward step in the dark.  Apparently, the outside lights on the buildings either are being turned on later at night or aren't working at all.  I have bloody scrapes on both knees (despite wearing jeans) as well as various knuckles on both hands.  Much more painful than my Thai sun- and motorcycle burns ever were.  Oh well, mai pen rai.

This afternoon was actually the first time I've left the apartment since returning home late Wednesday night (it's now Saturday).  I'd planned to pick up my mail at the Post Office but found out they now close at 3p.m. on Saturdays (they used to stay open until six); I was about 90 minutes too late.  So I ventured to Target instead, intending to buy a better (i.e., warmer) coat but they had nothing except for ugly fake leather ones.  I purchased some storage containers instead to begin sorting the items I'd like to keep and begin throwing out or selling the other junk.  I also purchased a warm blanket for my bed because I've been absolutely freezing the past couple of days and don't want to remove anything off of the guest room bed.

Finally, I went to the grocery store.  Almost everything is on the healthy side — plenty of fruit (I found some "fresh" mango and pineapple), salad fixin's, and juices.  I even purchased some soy milk, although I doubt it will be as good as the unpasteurized milk in a glass bottle that I fell in love with in Bangkok.  I was really missing the grocery aisles at Big C!  Anyway, I think I bought enough groceries to last an entire month (I usually buy a week at a time; my total was $106 and change; I NEVER spend that much on groceries all at once).  I didn't have my frequent shopper card with me but the cashier knows me so gave me the discounts anyway for a $23 savings.

I've slowly been organizing my trip records — both blogs are now completely updated (although I still have several entries on TravelBlog that I want to attach photos and I've begun making a DVD backup of my video.  I've finished with the first two plus hours of video and early this morning I got to the New Year's Eve footage which I shot very soon after first meeting Tim.  Silvio, Lek, me and Tim, and several other friends were celebrating by drinking in front of the hotel.  The video footage is rather dark but it's nice to hear Tim's voice so early in the relationship.  Later, I'll pick up work with the sea canoe tour we took on January 2nd.  I haven't yet found much footage that I'd like to edit out as it's all very interesting (I've finally learned to not narrate while I'm filming and to film in very short — 30 seconds or so — segments at a time), capturing the sounds as well as the sights of my adventures.

I'm holding off uploading photos until I retrieve my mail.  I'd mailed home a package from Portland that includes at least two CD's of photos including the SantaCon festivities.  I'll need to upload those first to keep everything in proper order.  That gives me another day in which to finish renaming the photos with the date and time taken (my old camera did that automatically, this one gives a number to each photo) — a long process when there's over 3000 photos, most of which I think are very good and worth sharing.

Tim and my phone calls are beginning to get longer as I learn more Thai and she learns more English.  This morning, we talked for almost an hour (she called my home using a calling card so it was very inexpensive — a two-hour card to call the U.S.A. costs just under $5 in Patong) and it was our best talk yet.  I'm getting very good at pronouncing Thai correctly (still have problems with some of the tones, however) as she understood almost everything I said without my having to repeat it.  I've been writing down appropriate phrases found within my four Thai/English books but am starting to retain more and more in my memory.  And when she responds in Thai, I can usually decipher what she's saying.  I was trying to get her to speak more English this morning, but she was so thrilled with my Thai that she kept urging me to speak Thai and would often laugh with delight at my apparent success.  When I visit her again, I'd like to take her on a tour or two in Bangkok after our journey to Chiang Mai and Lamphun as she's never spent much time in the city.  She's trying to talk me into coming back for her birthday in mid-April but I doubt if I can manage that; it would be nice, though as the Thai people really know how to throw a birthday party.

I did do a bit of price research — Thai Airways has a non-stop from LAX to Bangkok that would cost as little as $1110 including taxes and fees but I wouldn't want to spend 18 hours on the same plane without stopping.  But that price is around $500 less than I spent on airfare for my entire December/January trip, including the Albuquerque to Portland segments.  A round-trip to LAX on Southwest or America West would cost an additional $220 or so.  But I also found a China Airlines flight from L.A. with a 2-hour stop in Taipei on Expedia for as little as $748 including all taxes and fees so that makes a return trip even more attractive.  Particularly since next time I could probably find a small apartment to rent for 10,000 baht per month on a three-month rental — that's about $255!

I also need to start restoring my financial records into my Money program; I accessed two of my bank websites this morning (I had to call customer service for one in order to get my log-in information) and transferred some funds to the account I use to pay bills with (I get a much better interest rate on the non-local account).

Plus, sometime in the next several days I plan to begin catching up with e-mail.  I received one from my friend Stian in Norway today — and also from bass player Rich Ruth of The Rainmakers, whom I haven't talked to since probably June 23, 1990, at their farewell show in Columbia, Missouri (Bob Walkenhorst had contacted him requesting some material to use in the reissue of the Balls album, and once he found the boxes of Rainmakers memorabilia and tapes thought to contact me to see if I'd like them for the "archives").  I definitely want to send a long reply to both of those!

But tonight I just want to relax away from the computer, watch some t.v. and perhaps begin looking at the vast amount of reading material that I brought home with me.  I really need to get back onto a "normal" sleeping schedule as I'm still on Thai time (it helps out so I call Tim at times that are convenient for her).  But, I've had that sort of schedule off-and-on for years now, sleeping during the days and staying up at night so it's not so different now.



My last two full days in Bangkok were definitely the most activity-filled of the entire trip.  I had booked full-day tours through my hotel for 1000 baht (approx. $25) each and definitely got my money's worth...

Monday morning (January 9), my guide picked me up at 6:20a.m. in the 18th floor lobby of Baiyoke Sky Hotel and escorted me to the minivan downstairs.  We then went to pick up six more passengers at the China Palace Hotel in Chinatown.  I was trying to remember a few phrases of Chinese when the guide was inside retrieving them but they all turned out to be from near Sydney, Australia, and were the first native-English speakers I'd encountered in quite some time.  There was an older couple and then a family with two children of approximately 10 years of age.  They were all extremely friendly which made the day's trip that much more enjoyable.

The minivan headed westward through the already crowded streets of Bangkok and once we crossed the Chao Phraya River we traveled for a ways on the city's ring road before meeting up with Highway 4 (Thailand's longest road).  The skyscrapers and swarms of people gradually gave way to rows of smaller buildings and open spaces with a variety of beautiful tropical trees (mosly coconut palms).  The large number of car dealerships west of the city soon turned to nurseries selling all sorts of exotic plants.  As we got further into the country, it seemed that the predominant shops along the road were selling spirit houses and other front-lawn items (such as huge statues of animals including roosters, deer, and bunny rabbits — just what I always wanted, a 6-foot gopher sitting in front of my home).

The trip to Kanchanaburi took about two hours and I was very surprised by the size of the town when we arrived.  Looking at maps back home, it seemed to me that it would be a sleepy little river village but in reality it's a thriving metropolis with a large city hall and school not to mention heavy traffic along the highway.  If I'd followed my original plan of taking a bus or train to Kanchanaburi and staying at a guesthouse, I'm certain I would have become totally lost.

Our first stop was the JEATH War Museum which stands for the names of the six countries involved:  Japan, England, Australia, Thailand, and Holland.  I guess America is also included in the "A" part as there were definitely American POW's here as well (I had wondered why there wasn't any Americans in the several huge cemetaries here and found out at this museum that their bodies had all been flown back to the States for burial after the war).  The main part of the museum is a collection of photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, and other documents in a bamboo hut similar to those used as living quarters for the POW's while they were building the Death Railway through Thailand to Burma).  You're not allowed to take photographs inside this hut (I snapped a few anyway, particularly of the "No Photographs" sign) but there really isn't that much to see.  Most of our group were disappointed in the quality of the museum but I found the toned-down nature of it fit the subject matter.  Some of the photographs really are rather graphic as the Japanese didn't object to pictures being taken early in the war.

At the museum, there are also some artifacts used by the POW's such as pistols, knives, helmets, water canteens, etc. (primarily towards the front entrance and in another small open-sided hut across from the main souvenir stand).  There's also a large bomb that was dropped in the last bombing raid to destroy the bridge over the River Kwai.

The so-called Death Railway was built to carry Japanese supplies between Thailand and Burma and is 415 kilometers long.  Construction began in September 1942 by approximately 30,000 prisoners of war and more than 200,000 impressed laborers from India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, and Thailand.  Of these, more than 16,000 POW's and 100,000 impressed laborers died from disease, starvation, and "accidents".  It had been predicted that the railway would take five years to complete but the Japanese army forced the prisoners to complete it in only sixteen months.  Construction was completed on December 25, 1943.

We then visited Kanchanaburi War Cemetery where about 7,000 Australian and British POW's are buried.  It's a beautifully maintained and landscaped area just opposite of the town's main railroad station.

Our next stop was the bridge over the River Kwai itself.  The famous David Lean movie, based on the book by Pierre Boule, took many liberties with the story of the "real" bridge.  In fact, no bridge crossed the Khawae Noi but the railway followed the eastern bank of this river towards the Burmese border.  After the movie was released, tourists began coming to Thailand in increasing numbers to search for "the bridge" so the Thai authorities changed the name of the river crossed by the only remaining prisoner of war-built bridge.  The River Maeklaung became the River Kwai; even in this simple move there was a problem in that there already was a River Kwai so the Thai authorities, again with their perfectly acceptible logic, overcame this by having two River Kwais — one a large river and one a small river.  Thus, the bridge spans the River Kwai Yai (large) and the remaining section of railway runs along the eastern bank of the River Kwai Noi (small).

When the Japanese realized that the Allies could bomb the railway from airbases in India, they knew that the eight steel bridges would be primary targets.  To provide an alternate crossing of the River Maeklaung, should the steel bridge be damaged or destroyed, the Japanese rebuilt the wooden bridge that had originally been used to carry construction traffic across the river.  The first air raid here was by the U.S. Army Air Force's 9th and 493rd Squadrons on November 29, 1944, causing some damage to the steel bridge but sadly a bomb fell into the POW camp and killed a large number of prisoners.  Further raids produced little damage to the steel bridge but the wooden one was destroyed in February 1945.  A bombing attack on June 24, 1945, by the Royal Air Force finally destroyed three spans of the steel bridge and breached the constantly-repaired wooded bridge in two places.  Despite the attacks, the Japanese managed to keep the railway operational until the end of the war.

After the war, the Allies sold the railway to the Thai government and in January 1947 the Minister of Communications set out to inspect the line.  Ignoring all advice from the Railway Authorities, the group proceeded northward until their trolly rounded a bend and crashed into a ravine where a trestle bridge had once stood.  The Minister died soon after and this ended the use of the "Death Railway" until the Railway Department reopened the line from Nong Pladuk to Nam Tok in 1956.  This section, of 130 kilometers, remains in service to this day.

The bridge itself is rather small with alternating rounded and squared span supports.  It's also very narrow.   We walked across — the best way is to stay on the center track although when someone passes you coming from the opposite direction, it's polite to step onto one of the parallel wood boards on either side of the track and lean over a bit so the person can pass easily (being careful as a misplaced foot will land you in the river below).  For the most part, most of the tourists understood this but you occassionally got some oaf who would just barrel his way past you (I'm sorry, but these were almost exclusively Germans or Scandinavians — I've formed new opinions on this trip about the rudeness of tourists from these sections of Europe that exceed that of even the French).  I was run-into from behind by one German fellow as I stood on the narrow board taking a photograph; several of my Australian tour-mates came to my rescue but the German fellow didn't even mutter an "I'm sorry" or even any kind of acknowledgement.

Well, the area around the bridge is very scenic with several floating restaurants below and long-tail boats puttering through the river.  I walked all the way to the far bank but didn't descend to the usual collection of food and souvenir stalls.  I made it back to the eastern bank just in time to catch our train, the highlight of the trip.  We made a 90-minute journey on the old third-class train to a small village about halfway up the line to Nam Tok and Hellfire Pass.  The wooden carriage had definitely seen better days but the dilapitated condition actually added to the trip.  I sat on a bench who's seat-board was held up by only two nails; it felt like it was going to fall to the floor with each lurch and bump of the train.  The window had no class, having long since been broken, and the cars were very crowded with tourists at the beginning of the trip.  With each additional stop (I stopped counting at ten), more locals boarded the train including several troops of Boy and Girl Scouts at one of the last stations (they stood packed like cattle in the narrow center aisle).  The scenery for most of the trip was rather flat, with the mountains in the distance, but the last several miles followed the river and was extremely scenic.

Our lunch was at the Pimpaya Restaurant, an open-air place in the small village where we stopped (we were shown the location on a map back in Kanchanaburi but I can't find the name on any of the maps I have).  It was buffet-style and included some Western foods (including terrible "American fried rice") in addition to the usual Thai selections.  My favorite "new" food was the fried banana...  After lunch, we once again boarded our minivan for the long trip back to Bangkok, where we arrived around 4:30 in the afternoon.

After a quick shower (and a phone call to Tim, very inexpensive while I'm still in Thailand), I decided to go up to the 84th floor Revolving Sky Deck to watch the sunset.  It was spectacular and I shot a few photos and some video.  I had thought about walking back to Central World Plaza and enjoying the outdoor market there but was fairly bushed by that time.  Instead, I set out to find a place I could buy a new suitcase among the nearby garment stalls (once again, I'd purchased too many things I wanted to take home).  I didn't have to go as far as I thought I'd have to — only a few hundred yards into the maze.  I looked at ten or so bags before I settled on one I deemed "perfect" which also happened to be the most expensive of the lot (600 baht, or $14.50).  Carting that back to my hotel was also easier than expected as I've mastered the Thai style of gracefully moving through the mass of people and vehicles.  I spent an hour or so repacking my clothes and souvenirs, leaving out what I planned to use Tuesday and Wednesday, ordering room service (a grilled chicken ceasar salad and selection of tropical fruits) before going to bed fairly early.

Tuesday morning, I was once again waiting in my lobby at a very early hour with my guide coming for me at 6:30.  Going downstairs, I was expecting another minivan but this time I was brought to a large motorcoach bus.  I was the first one there and we waited for minivans to bring the other passengers from their various hotels.  My eventual tour-mates this time included mostly Europeans of the rude tourist variety (the Danish sitting across from me and behind me were particularly offensive), although I later became friendly with two girls from London who were sitting in the back of the bus and also with a British fellow and his wife who were currently living in German (and agreed with our opinions of German and Scandinavian tourists, shared with the girls).  The tour guide was a very short woman who spoke relatively good English (better than my guides of the previous two days) but accented every fifth or so word with "Ka" ("yes") that soon became comical.  The British girls and I later began referring to her as "Speedy Gonzales" as well as she would practically run us through our various stops and if you paused to take a quick photo, she would quickly leave you in her dust.

In fact, we visited so many places during the day that we often didn't know exactly where we were.  Most of the time, we were in the provinces of Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkram, and Ratchaburi — southwest of Bangkok.  After some time on the highway, we began to parallel the Gulf of Siam and there were many salt farms on the sides of the road.  The salt harvesting had been disrupted a few times over the past month or so because of the prolonged rainy season; once it rains, they have to start the process all over again because the temperature cools down too much.  Our first stop was somewhere west of these farms at a coconut plantation where they would climb the trees to get the coconuts, scrape out the meat inside and then boil it to the consistency of molasses.  They then made it into various candies which were very delicious.  My biggest regret of this trip is that I was too busy taking photos and didn't buy a bag of this candy.

We then drove to Damnoen Saduak, a city of khlongs (canals), where we boarded a long-tail boat for our journey to the floating markets.  We navigated through these canals for 20 minutes or so, passing many houses built on stilts with their boats stored underneath.  I began to wonder if the market was closed because we didn't see more than a dozen people.  However, the main market was at the end of our journey.  We exited the boats and found ourselves in the thick of it — dozens of items for sell (fruits, all manner of foods and clothing, etc.) both in the canoes being paddled through the market and all along the shore bordering two large covered buildings full of even more stalls.  If you walked along the concrete walkways above the klongs, there were still people with items for sell sitting on tall stilts who would retrieve your money and send your purchases over the gap on long poles.  It was all very colorful and energetic.

There's only one exit out of this market area to the bus parking area and this narrow corridor is filled with even more stalls and the most agressive sellers.  I'd almost made it entirely out of this without buying anything before a very pretty girl stepped in front of me holding a box of Tiger Balm.  I made my usual hand gesture of "no thanks" and started to go past her when she suddenly began massaging my temples and forehead, freezing me in my tracks.  She then massaged my neck, back, arms, and legs — rubbing the Tiger Balm into my skin.  It was the best I'd felt since hugging Tim back at the Phuket airport.  I paid her 600 baht (less than $15) for four jars of Tiger Balm and the refreshing massage.  I guess that then made me an "easy target" because I was almost immediately "attacked" by three small children trying to sell me books of postcards (two practically rode on my legs as I was trying to walk the remaining distance to my bus).  The only way I got rid of them was to walk behind a bus that was backing up; they thought that we were going to get crushed so they ran away from the bus as I narrowly dodged it (my Thai walking skills being useful in avoiding getting hit by vehicles as well).

Next stop was the Thai Handicraft Center Company where dozens of people were carving ornate teak sculptures, wall decorations, furniture, etc.  It was interesting watching the artisans at work but the ultimate goal of this visit was that they wanted you to buy something really expensive (they would ship to your home no matter where that may be).  All the prices here were in U.S. dollars and nothing was cheap (I noticed one small table for $9,500 — not sure if that included the chairs as well — and a cool wooden sculpture/painting with frame for just under $20,000).  Thankfully, we didn't stay here more than 20 minutes or so.

We then made our way to Nakhon Pathom, the oldest city in Thailand and home to Phra Pathom Chedi (originally built by Theravada Buddhists of Dvaravati in the early sixth century).   The present-day bell-shaped structure was constructed over the original chedi in the early 11th century by the Khmer king Suriyavarman of Angkor, creating the world's tallest Buddhist monument at 127 meters high.  The site around the temple offers numerous photo opportunities and the British girls and I were becoming increasingly frustrated by how fast our tour guide was rushing through.  We decided to take our time getting the shots we wanted and so received some icy looks from the Europeans when we finally reboarded the bus (most of these tourists spent most of their time at any stop standing around smoking instead of looking around anyway).

Lunch was next on the agenda.  This was to be at the 70-acre botanical park of the Rose Garden Resort.  Lying on the banks of the Ta Chine River, there's a number of huge restaurants here, along with posh accomodations, a highly regarded golf course, shooting range, etc.  We had lunch in a large banquet hall; the buffet had well over a hundred different items and was the most varied of my entire trip.  What I appreciated was that every item had a name card so I could finally find out what I'd been eating.  I got some very nice roast ham, a variety of other foods (the salad I made was especially nice), and really loaded up at the fruit tables.  I already miss the wonderful pineapple (sapparot in Thai) and watermelon.  I'm not too crazy about the mangosteens but the Tiger fruit is something I plan to seek out at our world market in Albuquerque.

After lunch, we had some free time for photographs (finally) before the start of the Thai Village cultural show.  The auditorium was designed like a typical village with a central floor area in front of the stage serving as the village square.  The show featured traditions, customs, dances, and other entertainment (such as Muay Thai boxing and sword fighting) from all over Thailand — all accompanied by wonderful traditional Thai music.  My favorite part (after the short boxing match) was the post-wedding celebration with a combination of four dances from each of the main regions of Thailand, particularly the Bamboo Dance from the northeastern region.  The finale was a flag dance where everyone was carrying national flags of all nations (the girl carrying the U.S. flag was usually towards the back or the far side from where I was so I couldn't get a good picture of her).

Following the cultural show, we went outside to watch a short but entertaining elephant show (which I filmed but didn't photograph, unfortunately).  I did get my photograph sitting on one of the elephants' knees and followed that with a short ride on one around the pavilion (cost was 20 baht for a photo and 50 baht for a ride).  I was last one back on the bus for our two-hour journey back to Baiyoke Sky Hotel (where the other tour participants would once again be picked up by their hotel minivans).  I spent the time talking to the two British girls who were leaving the following day to spend a week on Phuket.  I gave them some advice about where the best shopping was, how much was too much to spent for a tuk-tuk, tours they should check out, etc.  As we arrived at Baiyoke, they were very impressed that I was staying there and decided they wanted to watch the sunset from the rooftop so I showed them which elevators to take (a total of three from the ground, plus a flight a stairs from the 83rd to the 84th floor).

So, how to spend my last evening in Thailand?  The only thing remaining on my list of things to do was to get a traditional Thai massage so I headed to the SkyTrain station and took it to Nana, knowing the prices were less expensive there (1000 baht for a two-hour massage, compared to over 2000 at the hotel).  Again, I got turned around outside the station and walked down the wrong side of Sukhumvit Road than I thought I was on.  I had been wondering if they changed which side to have street stalls on from night to night when I finally found a landmark I recognized from my previous visit.  Anyway, I found a good massage parlor around Soi 8, I believe, and then had my body twisted into a pretzel for much of the next couple of hours.  The girl was a tiny little thing and spoke almost no English but the massage did seem to relax me and I gave her a 1000-baht tip (mainly because I didn't want to exchange too much Thai money at the airport the following morning).  I even took a taxi back to Baiyoke (which was 300 baht) where I did some last-minute packing and spent the next several hours watching television.  I already miss those Thai commercials...

I didn't sleep much that night because I needed to check out of the hotel at 4:30.  That was relatively easy — I handed the cashier my keycard (her name was Miss Titiporn — that name would get ridicule in the U.S. but is quite common in Thailand) and she scanned it for a list of my extra charges (only $10 for the six phone calls I'd made to Tim from the bathroom phone).  Since I'd prepaid for the stay back in October that was all that was billed to my credit card.

The taxi driver actually came early and I nodded off during the drive to the airport.  He didn't speak any English but handed his hand out for a tip at the end of the drive (it was a free transfer through the hotel) so I gave him my last three hundred baht bills (I had hidden a 500-baht note in my wallet for the departure tax).  I soon found out that he'd dropped me off at Terminal 2 instead of Terminal 1 but it wasn't that long of a walk inside.  The check-in counter at Royal Thai wasn't yet very crowded so I made my way to the front within about 20 minutes.  They checked my two bags all the way through to Portland (although I was later to find out that I had to retrieve them in Vancouver, go through Customs, and then re-check them).  Since I didn't have any more Thai money, I decided to go straight to the gate rather than getting some breakfast so I paid my departure tax with the stashed bill and entered "Duty Free Land" once again.  I paused to browse at the branch of Asia Books and immediately saw a good book on the tsunami (I'd been looking for one since Phuket) so I charged that and another book about living in Thailand (I'm thinking about it).

For once, my gate (32) was at the very front of the concourse instead of being the farthest away.   I walked around a bit before settling down to sit the remaining two-and-a-half hours until departure time.  I did call my sister and then tried to change my America West reservation for the Portland to Albuquerque (via Phoenix) leg.  This was my tightest connection of the entire trip and I was worried that I wouldn't have enough time to go through Customs (I didn't know at this point that I'd do that in Vancouver), get my bags from baggage claim, and check in.  The agent on the phone told me that 70 minutes would be more than enough time and, besides, the alternate flight connections I'd found through their website "didn't exist" (I checked when I got home and they most certainly do fly that route at that time).

When we lined up to board the plane (an aging 747-400), I regonized a voice behind me and was pleased to see Richard — a nice fellow I'd talked to (along with several other Americans) at the Vancouver airport back in December.  We had the exact same flights all the way back to Portland (so I knew I had someone to help if Tokyo was as confusing again).  Unfortunately, we couldn't sit together on the flights but at least we'd have someone to talk to during the layovers.  On this first 8-hour flight, I had a window seat.  The middle seat was occupied by a very large Filipina lady who never quite got the concept that my seat was my little bit of space and I was constantly leaning against the window as she read the newspaper or ate to avoid any further unwanted contact.  She was also bothering the young Thai woman in the aisle seat who complained but couldn't be moved because there were no other seats.  The Filipina wouldn't move so I could go to the restroom or stretch my legs so it was a very long flight for me (the Thai woman spent much of the time either in the bathroom or walking the aisles so she wouldn't be hit by elbows).  The food wasn't even that great on that flight, which is unusual for Royal Thai.

We finally arrived at Tokyo's Narita Airport, greeted by freezing cold temperatures in the jetway (I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, my coat being stuffed into my checked bags) but at least this time I knew where the Air Canada check-in counter was.  I ran into Richard again after getting off the shuttle bus to the main building.  The girl at the counter was training another girl so the process took an excrutiating long time, almost an hour with only a half-dozen other people in front of us at the beginning of it.  We weren't too worried about it because we had three hours to kill before the plane left anyway.  This was where I found out I would have to retrieve my bags in Vancouver but I still didn't know that U.S. Customs was there as well.  Back on the shuttle train to our gate and Richard and I spent the next couple of hours telling each other of our adventures over the past three weeks.

I had wisely requested an aisle seat for the Air Canada flight.  The 777 had a 2-4-2 configuration and I sat next to a young woman from Taiwan.  She spoke very good English but couldn't decipher the Customs form so I helped her out with that.  She was very polite the entire time and even gave me a brief neck massage towards the end of the flight.  Probably the most pleasant seat-mate I've ever had on a flight.  The food on this flight was again rather bland, with very odd combinations.  I don't even remember what the dinner was, but the breakfast choice was either an omlet or a "Japanese breakfast".  I opted for the omlet which was more like rubber than food with some sort of dark-colored goo inside (it looked like jelly but certainly didn't taste like it); the omlet tray also had pees and corn inside of it with something resembling petrified sausage and uncooked pieces of potato.  At least this was served with some fruit yogurt so something was edible if not very filling.  The movie choices were just as bad — "Sky High" about some kids with super-hero parents, followed by "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" which is great for home-viewing but terrible for on a plane's center-aisle screen (I fell asleep halfway through the first movie and woke up during the final gun battle of "Sundance" so I missed it anyway).

After deplaning in Vancouver (again, very cold), we followed the signs with the American flags for U.S.-bound connections.  At the top of a bank of stairs and escalators, our arrival cards were checked and passports glanced at by a very nice Canadian man who told us we'd probably need the entire four-hour layover to make it through Customs because they only had two agents working.  We then went downstairs where the line quickly backed-up, going back up the stairs.  In line waiting for passport control we could see the baggage carousel through a glass wall and I anxiously watched for my luggage, hoping the bag with the souvenirs at least made it this far.  We waited in that slow line for almost an hour, towards the end of which I finally sighted my suitcases.

Finally, it was my turn at the entry counter.  I greeted the agent with a cheerful "Good Morning" which received a sour grunt.  He grabbed my passport out of my hand, leafed through the visa pages, and practically yelled, "Why so many trips to Asia?" "Tourism," I answered to which he said, "Nothing to see," and asked me why I had checked two bags.  "Souvenirs — cheap t-shirts, books, that sort of thing."  Then he seemed pissed-off that my name came up twice on his computer, once as "Mark" and once as "Mark Joseph" (the passport includes my middle name but I certainly don't use it when purchasing airline tickets or making hotel reservations — does anybody?).  He told me, "Sit over there" (I hadn't seen anybody else sit in those seats in the hour I'd been waiting) and "leave your passport here". After a few minutes, he motioned me back over, and wrote a big "C" on my Customs form (I thought this meant "cleared" but I suppose it stood for "check" as the next station directed me to a separate room).  He said, "Get your bags and follow the signs."  I did and went to the next station where they directed me to a person who would check my bags.  He had me place the bags on the conveyer and then opened everything, starting with the overpacked bag with my dirty clothes, coat, and empty backpack.  I was struggling to repack and close that suitcase the entire time he was going through my souvenir bag and camera bag (not to mention opening the duty-free bag of books I hadn't even opened since Bangkok).  He asked me "Why would you want to go to Thailand?" and I told him the beautiful beaches, low prices, and friendly people (stressing friendly).  He then allowed me to put my bags back on the cart and directed me up to the last security screen where I would re-check my bags.  This was run by the TSA and they once again wanted to open my camera bag (which had been taped by Customs as "cleared" just moments before).  When I pointed out that U.S. Customs had just checked everything over, the agent got in my face and said "Well, it wasn't checked by me!"

This probably all wouldn't have bothered me so much if I hadn't spent the previous 20 hours or so on planes with a minimal amount of sleep both before or during, but all of this hassle was definitely wearing on me at this time.  Particularly since the Immigration agents, etc. at all the previous stops had always been so kind, courteous, and helpful and would never risk offending a traveler.  It seemed to me that the image Customs and the TSA were projecting in Vancouver was "Welcome Back to the U.S.A., where we can't understand why anybody would want to go anywhere else and we know we're better than all others and can be rude to you because you can't do anything about it...all in the name of 'Homeland Security'".  Talking to Richard and various other passengers afterwards, they all felt the same way (even though most of them weren't subjected to the additional screening I was).  Last night, I even looked up Vancouver on an online site that reviews airports and most of the comments going back over a year talked about how rude the Customs and TSA agents are there.  It's nice to know that it's not only me.

But I certainly didn't let it spoil my trip in any way, having already adopted the Thai phrase of "Mai pen rai" as my own personal motto and attitude.  In fact, I found it rather entertaining and amusing as well as being a test of how much punishment I could take without becoming visibly upset.  We had a good time while waiting for the next plane coming up with alternate sarcastic remarks to the agents' questions — things you'd never want to actually say to them but would be fun if you really could.

The next flight was on a tiny Dash-8 turboprop run by Jazz Air.  I sat in seat number 1 on the right side of the plane, the first time I've ever sat in the front row of a commercial flight.  It was definitely freezing on that plane and I spent most of the hour-long ordeal either shivering or nodding forward as I dozed off from time to time.  Upon landing in Portland, we had to walk across the runway and then along an outdoor corridor under an awning before reaching the terminal (I wish I had retrieved my coat during the Customs inspection in Vancouver but had deemed it too wrinkled at the time).  I made my way down to baggage claim and my suitcases were the first off of the plane; I didn't have any change so had to use my credit card to charge the $3 fee for the SmartCart (I miss the free ones in Asia) and then took the elevator back up to the check-in counters.

At America West, I presented my itinerary print-out and was told my flight had been delayed and she would put me on a flight on Southwest Airlines but I had to hurry because that flight left at 4:40 (it was probably about 4:10 at that point).  She gave me a voucher and I ran down to the Southwest counter (at almost the opposite end of the wide hall).  The agent there knew nothing about the other flight being delayed and so walked back up to America West to ask about it (as precious time ticked away).  She came back and gave me a ticket but told me I had to check in at the gate after I took my luggage over to be x-rayed.  I presented my bags to the TSA agent there who was upset with me that they were locked (the Customs agent in Vancouver had snapped the lock shut when he was done and I was running around so much in Portland I hadn't thought to unlock them).  She told me to wait at the end of the x-ray tube.  I did and nobody paid any attention to me.  I saw one of my bags come out and it was whisked away on a cart but I waited to see the other bag.  Finally, an agent told me I was done there and I said I didn't see my second bag come out.  He just said "It's probably stuck and will come out eventually" (not very encouraging for it to make the tight connection) but I decided to run up to the gate.  I had to go through security again where I was flagged for a "random check"; I explained that my plane was about to take off and the agent said, "Oh, we'll finish just as quickly as we can."  Well, he took his own sweet time checking through my camera bag (third time within less than three hours) with it's "checked and clear" stickers from two different Vancouver agents.  He even opened up the camcorder, rewound the videotape, and watched part of it!  He looked at the last few photos on my digital camera and asked me who someone was in a picture (just a person selling things at the floating market, but really none of his business).  When he was done, I asked what time it was and he said "4:35" — five minutes to run past 16 gates before the plane left.  When I got around gate C-8, I could here my name being called over the PA that I needed to get to the gate immediately for an on-time departure.  I was out-of-breath and felt like my heart was going to explode by the time I finally got to the gate.  They checked me in, gave me my boarding pass, and ushered me onto the jetway (closing the door behind me); I had to run down the jetway as well so the plane could push back and finally arrived soaked and panting.  No sooner had I given my card to the flight attendent did she close the door and the plane began backing up.

It took me a few minutes to recover.  Luckily, it wasn't a very crowded flight so I had a row to myself.  I dozed off for a while and woke up when we were landing.  We were in Reno, Nevada, and I was momentarily afraid I'd jumped on the wrong plane in Portland as I'd been told this one was going to Las Vegas.  I was assured that they were stopping briefly before continuing on to Vegas and I made a few calls while sitting on the plane, watching them clean the plane and load on more passengers.  It was another hour flight to Las Vegas and then a three-hour layover until the flight to Albuquerque.  I didn't even get anything to drink or any peanuts on the previous two flights (probably came by when I happened to be asleep) and was desperately starving by now (the last time I'd eaten was a partial breakfast on Air Canada before landing in Vancouver).  I found an ATM but couldn't figure out how to put my card into this machine (there was some sort of sleeve on the front that you had to place your card on top of or something); I spent a few minutes trying to figure it out before giving up.

Finally, I arrived in Albuquerque, picked up my bags, and waited outside in frigid 30-degree temperatures for a few minutes (my coat was still in my bag) before hailing a taxi.  The driver wasn't talkative at all and I soon gave up trying to make conversation; he seemed mad that I didn't leave him a tip but I think he overcharged me ($60 from the airport to my house? I don't think so...) and he made no attempt to help me with my bags.

I desperately want to be back in Thailand already.  I miss it terribly — Tim is there; plus there is so much more there I want to see and do.  Everybody I met on this trip (apart from my return to North America) was beyond friendly and the prices are so low there.  I could live comfortably for less than $400 per month there, compared to quadruple that here.  And the weather agrees with me so much more than the cold.

I talked to Tim early Thursday when I got home and again this morning and we talked about when I could return.  She really has the potential to be a real girlfriend rather than just a female friend/companion whom I see only occassionally.  On my next visit, she wants to show me the part of Thailand she comes from — the village of Lamphun which was founded in A.D. 660 and was once the capital of an independent Mon kingdom called Haripunchai until its conquest in 1281.  It's very close to Chiang Mai, a city where many people have recommended that I visit.  She would like to bring her best friends, Laa and Juum, along as well but she also says we can go alone if I want.  "Up to you," I told her — our usual phrase for whatever we do, kind of our personal "mai pen rai."  The next time I visit, I think it could be as long as three months (a single-entry tourist visa is good for 60 days and you can easily get a 30-day extension).  It's so tempting to look into English-teaching jobs there and I could actually take the TESL or Cambridge courses right on Phuket (one school even has a branch in Patong which would be VERY convenient).

During my flights, I began to wonder how difficult it would be to put ALL of my possessions into storage somewhere and then go back to Thailand.  Returning home to the chaos of stuff crowding my home, I began to think about how life would be so much easier if I didn't own all of this crap.  I don't need thousands of CD's, DVD's, books, electronic equipment, etc., etc. to be happy.  I just need to be in a place where I feel comfortable.  And I certainly felt more comfortable in Thailand, particularly Phuket, than I've felt in a considerable amount of time.  I have friends there now — good friends — whom I can talk to, whom I can learn new things with and teach new things to (not just language).  It's so inexpensive and that certainly helps.  I'm not worried about money, but it would be nice to be somewhere where less money actually goes much further.

So, my heart and mind are still in Thailand and I hope these feelings don't fade.  Don't be surprised if I'm back there much sooner than expected...



I arrived back in Albuquerque late last night, having endured five flights (six stops) in 30 hours — all of it January 11th because of the International Date Line.  I left Bangkok at 8:45 in the morning local time (30 minutes late) on Royal Thai Airways, changed to Air Canada in Tokyo, went through U.S. Customs at Vancouver before changing to a Jazz flight to Portland, was switched from America West to Southwest Airlines in the Rose City which took me to Albuquerque via Reno and a plane-change in Las Vegas, stepping off the last plane at 11:45p.m. Albuquerque time.  I'm pooped!

I did begin to write an update of my last two or three days while at the Bangkok airport and had planned to write more during the layovers in Tokyo and Vancouver (3 and 4 hours, respectively), but I ran into one of the guys I'd met back in Vancouver on the way out.  By amazing coincidence, he had the exact same flights I did all the way to Oregon so we spent the downtime in the airports recounting our adventures of the last few weeks to each other (he spent much of his time in Cambodia and only a week or so in Bangkok and Kanchanaburi).

I'm still sorting through all of my laundry and unpacking my souvenirs, etc.  I had planned to begin uploading my photos last night but that was delayed by a major failure of my hard drive.  I lost all of my data (including photos from previous trips, 100 gigibytes or so of downloaded music, and — worse of all — my financial records in my Money program so it will be difficult to figure out my total finances for last year now, not to mention I no longer have any of my website bookmarks so I have A LOT of work ahead of me!)...

I think tomorrow I'll work on a proper update to the blog — the last several days of the trip were the most activity-filled of the entire vacation and I would like to get the details written before the memories fade.  Then I will begin working with the photos; I'll need to transfer them from the CD's I had burned while on the road (12 total) and then rename the photos by date and time (I remembered to set the clock on the camera to local time) before I upload them.  This all, of course, is in addition to re-entering info into Money, restoring bookmarks by memory, plus going to the post office and the grocery store (the only thing edible in my house right now is a box of Wheat Thins and a couple of boxes of "instant" Thai noodles).  Oh, yes.  I'll also begin transferring the five-and-half hours of video I shot to DVD — a full backup first for me and then various edited versions for friends and relatives.  And, most importantly, give Tim a call in Phuket to let her know I made it back safely...



It was a very long day and I need to get up early tomorrow for the River Kwai trip so I won't write much tonight other than the briefest details. I'll fill those in at a later time.

The morning was spent touring the Royal Palace - I've never seen so much gold in my life! We returned at noon and I had my "welcome drink" at the Lobby Bar - it was just watermelon juice and Sprite. I then went up to the revolving observation deck on the 84th floor and took some photos.

After that, I went in search of a shop to transfer another full memory card to CD, having to make my way through the blocks of garment wholesalers. I stumbled across Pranthip Computer Mall - seven floors of computer, electronics, and DVD wholesalers with dirt-cheap prices. Definitely the place to buy anything you want if you're a techno-nerd. While there, I had a root beer float at A&W.

I eventually made my way to Central World Plaza which is a massive shopping mall; I didn't buy anything except a "Full Monty" (everygthing but the kitchen sink) fruit smoothie at a stand.

By this time, I realized that I'd never make it back to Baiyoke in time to go on the dinner cruise so I decided to take the Skytrain to Sukhumvit Road in order to check out the nightlife. I walked into Nana Plaza but was intimidated by all the girls trying to grope me so I left. By accident, I discovered Asia Books and then made the mistake of entering. I ended up buying four books about living in Thailand.

I took the Skytrain back to Chit Lom station, took some photos at a roadside shrine before the smoke depm the joss sticks began making my eyes water. I walked up to Big-C where I bought some bottles of milk to drink in my room and finally came the rest of the way to the hotel by tuk-tuk. I arrived at 10:30 only to find I'd just barely missed a call from Tim. I called her back on the bathroom phone as that's the only one that works good here.

That reminds me - my cellular service hadd been erratic in here. When I try to send an e-mail, it keeps resending if the signal gets dropped while it's sending. But all the resends seem to have gone through. It's very noticeable as my emails to this blog are all accepted and I probably have some multiple entries which I'll need to fix very soon.

Well, it's now 12:30 and my pick-up time for tomorrow's tour is 6:20. I think I'd better try and sleep now...

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It looks like I won't have much free time here in Bangkok because I booked several tours. My first is of the Royal Palace tomorrow morning at 7:30 and then I£ taking a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya River. On Monday, I spend the full day in Kanchananaburi at the famous bridge over the River Kwai. And my last day here will be spent on a full-day excursion that includes a visit to the floating market, an elephant ride, Muay Thai boxing, and several other things I've forgotten.

This schedule doesn't allow much extra time for shopping but I'll have to find some time for a trip to the post office to mail some of my souvenirs home. The hotel's business center offers mailing/postage services; perhaps they can handle a parcel.

After booking my tours (which cost a total of 5300 baht, or around $130), I returned to my room and ordered dinner from room service. I had a prawn cocktail (the cocktail sauce turned out to be thousand island dressing), the Baiyoke Sky club sandwich (toasted bread with roast chicken, bacon, tomatoes, fried egg, and lettuce) which came with cole slaw and potato chips, and a selection of Thai mini desserts. I was full by the time I got to the dessert but I tried a few anyway. I couldn't identify what any of them were (I think one had a base of sticky rice and another tasted like refried beans with very spicy seasoning); I only liked the taste of one. It was a huge meal and came to less than 400 baht (about $11), including tax and room service surcharge. The nice thing is that you pay right away rather than trying to keep track of extra charges on your hotel bill. It came with real linen - a vast improvement over the thin tissues everywhere you go on Phuket.

Well, la ti savaat (goodnight). It's off to bed so I can get a good night's sleep; I plan to get my free breakfasty before my morning tour.

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That's the best way to describe Baiyoke Sky Hotel. I'm on the 68th floor (rooms only go to floor 74; restaurants and other facilities occupy the upper floors with observation decks on the 77th and 84th floors - the latter is an outdoor revolving one). The room is extremely luxurious with a huge bathroom, a separate office area, a dining alcove, dessing area, and two windows overlooking Bangkok far below. I'm wearing a really cool Baiyoke bathrobe as I type this.

My room is so high that my cellular service is very intermittent, however (Tim and I tried to call each other several times but after the signal kept dropping, I finally called her successfully from the bathroom phone - the bedroom phone had interference). Riding in the second elevator from the 18th floor lobby, my ears pop from the change in altitude.

Upon checking in, the receptionist gave me coupons for a free welcome drink in the lobby bar and for a free buffet breakfast in the 76th floor dining room for each day I'm staying. There's a swimming pool and sauna on the 20th floor, a full business center with broadband (not sure if the Internet service is free, but I plan to check it out), a full range of shops, even an on-site hospital. In a little while, I plan to go down for my welcome drink and book a sightseeing tour for tomorrow.

Earlier today, I checked out of Ebina House (ironically, more expensive by about $15 than Baiyoke, for which I'm paying a little over $50 per night). My shuttle dropped me off at the airport around noon and I went up to the 4th floor of the international terminal for lunch at Burger King; I'd been craving a cheeseburger all night). I then walked over to the domestic terminal where I found my driver waiting for me. The drive to Baiyoke took less time than expected because of relatively light traffic for once so my room wasn't ready when I checked in. Once I found out how to get to the room, I set out in search of a pharmacy.

Baiyoke Sky Hotel is located in the heart of the Pratunam garment district and the streets and sois are filled with clothes wholesalers and boy much else. I finally located a pharmacy where I purchased some cough medicine (a result of too-cold air conditioning at night and sweating under the sun during the days) and then stopped in a shop where I purchased four really nice tropical shirts (with pockets - important to me) for 480 baht (a little less than $12). I also stumbled across a 7-Eleven where I purchased several bottles of soft drinks, two packages of Mentos, some rice crackers, a glossy travel magazine, and a DVD all for the sum of 606 baht (less than $15). One of the things I love about Thailand are the cheap prices.

When I finally got a good call through to Tim, she was hanging out with Juum who helped out with a bit of translation on both ends. Once again, it was wonderful hearing her voice, particularly her infectious laugh. The way she says "Mark" in that sing-song speech rhythm the Thai people use isn't bad either...

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Having spent almost every minute of the last week together, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that Tim wanted to go to the airport to see me off today. We became very attached to each other in such a short time and she cried last night when we began talking about how long it would be before I could return. Today, I was the one who began tearing up in the taxi the closer we got to the airport. She stayed with me in the terminal until I went through the last security checkpoint before my gate (I waited until the flight was called before going through). Our farewell felt like a scene out of a romantic movie and I don't remember ever feeling happier and sadder at the same time.

As Tim's English improved each day (and I became better at finding the right Thai phrases in my book), I began to learn more about this remarkable woman. She's 35 years old and originally from Lampoon in northern Thailand (near Chiang Mai). She was living in Patong last year and lost her family, her home, and many friends in the tsunami. I get the impression she was injured herself as well but she's very reluctant to talk about it at all. Sometimes, she'll be laughing one moment and the next a sad look will come over her and she'll say that she's all alone, that she lost everything when the tsunami came.

She now lives in a ramshackle tiny apartment in Katu which she shares with a lady-boy named Laa and a lesbian bartender named Juum, for which they pay 3000 baht (approx. $75) per month in rent. Tim works as a street vendor; she has one of those motorbikes with a gas burner on a sidecar to cook with. She specializes in frying fish. In addition to her roommates, Tim seems to have some good friends among Patong's street vendor community - people that look after her and were very happy to see her spending time with me.

In fact, we hung out with Laa and Juum last night in Patong - starting out in Juum's bar which is owned by an Englishman named Dave (we talked quite a bit as it had been a while since I'd talked to anyone who's native language is English; he told me what is needed to set up work in Thailand and said if I ever need any help here to give him a call). We had a big spread of Thai food to eat, including a number of very unappetizing-looking insects. I was especially grossed-out by the giant cicadas everyone was enjoying.

We then made our way to Bangla Road, where I met even more of Tim's friends. At one point, we were in a lady-boy bar and when they saw me taking a few photos of our little group they asked if I would take photos of them. Okay - it's very impolite in Thailand to refuse such a request - and suddenly they began flashing their fake boobs as I snapped the pictures. My favorite part of the night was at a different place when Tim began dancing on the bar.

Earlier in the day, we'd gone shopping at Big-C in Phuket Town. I'd been under the impression that this was going to be a fancy shopping mall but it turned out to be very similar to a Wal-Mart, right down to the smocks worn by the employees. They had some great prices (especially on electronic items), but I didn't buy anything for myself. I bought Tim a couple of English-language books which was kind of an involved process as the cashier removed price stickers and put plastic sleeves on the books. We had lunch in the food court where you first had to purchase payment coupons to pay for your meal. Then, it turns out that the drink stalls only accept cash! I had some kind of chicken on top of rice and chilies with some seafood soup and a pineapple shake.

Tim is a big fan of karaoke and loves to sing so we spent some time in a karaoke booth (I didn't attempt to sing). She also bought some karaoke VCD's which cost less than $2 each as well as a microphone with transmitter for about $15 and later plugged into the sound systems at a couple of the Patong bars so she could sing to me.

We also spent quite a bit of time hanging out at my hotel. Lek began charging us for things that had previously been complimentary (such as water and coffee - I paid for the breakfast-included deal when I booked the room; in fact, she tried to charge me 2500 baht for the hotel taxi even though airport transfer is included in the room price - Silvio stepped in on that one). Anyway, Tim let loose with a barrage of Thai when Lek complained I hadn't left a daily tip for her sister for cleaning the room (she actually hadn't cleaned it for several days and when she did it was never that great; also, it took four days of reminders and receiving different excuses each time to get my laundry back - I had to buy new shirts just so I could wear something clean). I think Tim let Lek know the quality of service was lacking and that any tips earned would be paid at the end of my stay; Lek avoided us after that.

We played quite a bit of pool and I've gotten much better. Today, I alternated between playing Tim and Juum (she and Laa had come down to my hotel to see me off as well), with most of the games being very close matches. Tim and I played one final game about an hour before my taxi was scheduled to arrive and I finally won!

Yesterday afternoon, we walked down the hill into Kamala so I could print my new airline reservation at an Internet cafe. We ended up having dinner at a Muslim roadside stand with me braving an ever-increasing level of spiceiness. When we began walking back, that's when we decided to take a tuk-tuk into Patong to celebrate my last night on Phuket. We came upon the beach right at sunset and I attempted a few more photos (all of my sunset photos here have been taken from moving tuk-tuk's; next time I'm here, I need to make an effort to view one from a beach or overlook).

My flight to Bangkok was fairly uneventful; this plane was only 45 minutes or so late. We did hit some turbulance on our final approach and it felt like we were on a bucking bronco for a few minutes (many of the people behind me laughed and cheered each time we made a severe up-and-down and sideways jump while I gripped the armrests and stared nervously out the window. This time, I found the air-conditioned causeway that connects the domestic and international terminals so I pushed my luggage cart along that corridor rather than braving the taxi touts outside.

I thought about sleeping in the airport since my reservation at Baiyoke Sky Hotel isn't until tomorrow. I tried to call Tim but got what I assumed was her voicemail (it was in Thai) and left a message. I walked around the mezzanine level for an hour or so; it had largely been under construction when I was here in 2003 and now has a large variety of restaurants and shops. I had a peanut buster parfait at Dairy Queen and decided to book a room at Ebina House; they charged me 400 baht less than last time but the room is rather dingy. Oh, well. I just wanted to get a good night's sleep and take a shower before checking into the fancy hotel. I'm already worrying about wearing t-shirts and shorts there, however.

As I was writing this entry, Tim called. I was surprised at how much I loved hearing her voice again after such a short time. We managed an almost 20-minute conversation, alternating between English and Thai (I fumbled to get my 'Thai For Travellers' book out of my bag; my pronunciation is getting better as Tim understood most of what I was trying to tell her).

Tomorrow, I'll go back to the airport and get my transfer to Baiyoke Sky Hotel. I'm sure they'll have a travel agent so I'll book a guided tour or two rather than make my own way to various sites. I'm kind of worn out from hustle-and-bustle and would rather not work so hard to get around Bangkok.

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The past several nights, I've been awaken in the middle of the night by something large hitting the sliding glass doors to my hotel room. Tonight, I stepped outside to investigate and was almost hit by the largest cicada I've ever seen! It was almost as big as a hummingbird and twice as erratic, flitting back and forth between the left-on porch light and my door. Mystery solved...

The light also attracted a few other exotic creatures such as a giant lizard. A good reason to stay inside at night as I'm not a fan of creepy-crawlies unless they're at a considerable distance...

One can buy a second-hand Phuket-style tuk-tuk for around 2000 baht ($50): they're made by Diahatsu. If I could figure out how to ship one home, I'd be very tempted. I think it would make for a unique way to drive around Albuquerque or Portland...

I really love the ice-cold wet towels you are given before meals in most restaurants and on airplanes in this part of the world. Other warm locations should adopt this little service tradition...

It's difficult to get totally "comfortable" here; I'm either too hot or too cold. At night, I constantly alternate between turning the air conditioning (which is on the Arctic side of freezing) off and on. As soon as I go outside, my shirt and pants (usually just swimming trunks) are soaked to my skin - I don't even notice that anymore. Even if you go into an air-conditioned shop or restaurant, you never totally cool down. You do get used to it...

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I don't have time for a long blog entry tonight. I'm exhausted after a very long "half-day" tour which ran from 11:30 this morning until after eight tonight (including a lengthy motorcoach ride each way).

The sea kayak trip was all it was advertised to be and more. The only small disasoopintment was that by the time we got to Monkey Cave, it was too dark to see any of the gibbons that inhabit the caverns. (In fact, it was almost too dark to even see the rock-carved steps so it was difficult to explore much further than the reclining Buddha without risking a misstep into a bottomless pit or something; I spent most of my time ducking from the bats flying about. We also had to wait out a downpour in the cave before sprinting back to the bus.)

My favorite part of the day was probably paddling through the sea caves and laying in the bottom of the kayak to avoid cracking my skull open on a stalactite. James Bond Island was very scenic and I also enjoyed wandering around the Muslim fishing village, although I couldn't shake the persistent little bugger who was trying to sell me a book of postcards. While there, I had my photo taken with two different monkeys, one of whom started squeezing my nose just as Tim snapped the picture.

I'm starting to get really annoyed with Lek. She's been angry with Silvio for the past couple of days and has been taking it out on various guests. Yesterday, one of the Canadians took a bathroom towel to the beach. She tried to charge him 1000 baht (about $25) to have it cleaned; when he refused to pay it, she called the police ("friends of mine," she must have repeated twenty times). Tonight, it was my turn as she tried to charge me for a bill I already paid as well as for a dinner I never ordered (twenty minutes before she had put a plate of spaghetti in front of Silvio and I saying she'd made too much and I could have it at "no charge"). When I tried to explain this and produced a bill for the earlier-paid bill, she began screaming in front of the other guests that I was calling her a liar and a thief. I finally just paid it to avoid further conflict but Lek kept harping on it all, despite everyone else trying to explain to her that I was right and she was mistaken!
. Also, she never gave me my change from the 500 baht note I handed her even though I kept telling her how much she owed me. The worse thing is she doesn't actually work at the hotel - she's just here helping out Silvio while on holiday. Well, what can I do? I'll just stick it out until Friday and hope she finds a new target.

Tomorrow, I plan to transfer some more photos to CD, finally get to the post office (which has been closed since last Friday for New Year's), and run some other errands in town. And, I'll try to book an elephant safari as well.

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The budget airline I'd booked my return to northern Thailand mysteriously cancelled all of it's flights from Phuket this week effectively stranding hundreds of passengers in paradise. I've booked a flight on a different airline but the earliest I'll be able to leave is early in the evening this coming Friday, which will cause me to cancel my plans for the River Kwai area and crossing into Burma. It's no problem because I'm enjoying myself here in Kamala and I didn't have anything booked until my scheduled return to Bangkok on January 7th. Now, I'll just get back to that city a day early which will give me a bit of time to get oriented before checking into the "cool" hotel.

On New Year's Eve, I was introduced to a very nice woman named Tim who has since become my constant companion. She's teaching me Thai and I'm teaching her English. I think she's a better student than I! We've been hanging out a lot and did some clothes shopping today - it's easier to buy new ones sometimes than to wear stinky shirts or keep doing laundry every other day. And I've been getting quite the education on Thai food, paricularly the street-stall variety. Tomorrow, we're kayaking to the sea caves of Phang Nga, which includes a visit to Monkey Cave (Suwankuha Temple), James Bond Island (where parts of several of the movies were filmed), and the Muslim fishing village of See Koh Panyi.

More later...

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Instead of my annual New Year's Eve tradition of taking stock of my life and resolving to do things differently in the coming year, I'd like to start 2006 (or, 2549 by the Thai calendar) by expressing a few wishes.

Personally, I feel I have a great amount of happiness and good fortune - enough to keep me satisfied at any rate. I do believe that each person has the means to control their own destiny and that the various obstacles to finding the path to your own contentment can be conquered once you realize that there is no need to let anything wear you down. There will always be things that you have no control over; it's the attitude you approach these difficulties with that determines how you make it through. For some people, it's their faith in a higher being that gets them through. It's different for everyone and largely determined by how you were brought up and how you sift through your external influences.

The Thai people have an expression which is used at any sign of misunderstanding or difficulty. "Mai pen rai", loosely meaning "no problem", "never mind" or "it can't be helped" is the verbal equivalent of an open-handed shoulder shrug which has it's base in the Buddhist notion of karma. I think this has been the philosophy I've slowly been moving towards for the past couple of years or so. I've been trying to let problems - big or small - just roll off my back because, in the long run, they really don't matter. And it certainly makes me feel good when I can get to the other side of a difficulty with success and happiness.

Now that I've tried to explain my world-view, perhaps these wishes I have for the New Year will resonate differently:

I wish NOTHING for myself directly. I wish that there be fewer deaths among the world population in 2006 - less natural events such as tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc taking lives; less acts of war, torture, crimes, etc resulting in needless deaths; I wish for a contiuation of the efforts begun last year through the One Campaign, the G8, and Make Poverty History to rid the world of hunger through poverty; I'd like to see greater communication and cooperation among peoples of differing ethnic, religious, and national backgrounds; in short, I'd like to see everyone just get along and accept each other as a fellow human being instead of getting upset over differnces of opinion.

That's not too much to wish for, is it?

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It's approaching six in the evening on New Year's Eve here in LOS (Land Of Smiles), as the expatriates call Thailand. Although I've had several invitations to join parties in some of the nearby resort hotels (including one on the 26th floor of the Royal Paradise), I think I'll just go to Patong around ten o'clock and check out the scene along Bangla Road and the various sois, maybe view the fireworks at midnight on the beach.

The past couple of days have again been full of activities - mainly shopping yesterday and a tour of virtually the entire island of Phuket today. I also (finally) saw my first Thai elephants a short while ago, just walking down the road.

After breakfast Friday morning, Lek's nephew took me down to Kamala on his motorbike (my first ride on one for a few days as I've been wary since my burns). I spent a couple of hours at an Internet cafe, getting caught up on news in the real world - the most significant of which was the fact that Marillion have set the dates for the next fan weekend (February 2-5, 2007, in Center Parcs, Holland). That will be my next major trip, I believe, combined with visits to friends in Norway, the Czech Republic, and probably Italy. Of course, there will also be a return visit to Thailand somewhere in the future as well (only Phuket Island next time).

I then took a tuk-tuk to Patong where the first order of business was to get some lunch. I'd had my eye on a bakery & restaurant on Bangla Road called The Green Turtle so this is where I ended up. I had a large sirloin steak in an awesome gravy, served with a green salad and soup, along with french fries and native vegetables, a pineapple shake (more of a blended smoothie than anything resembling a milkshake), and a Singha beer - all for the princely sum of 665 baht (approx. $16.20), by far the most extravagent meal I've had yet in Thailand.

It was also nice just sitting on the restaurant patio watching the many different kinds of people walk by. After some time, I began walking again myself but with a purpose - I wanted to find a Hard Rock Cafe hat. That goal was soon satisfied, along with a generic Phuket cap, and I also bought another Harley Davidson shirt and one that said "I don't need a massage, suit or tuk-tuk, Thank you very much" in both Thai and English.

Speaking of which, it seems like after you've walked by the same tout a couple of times they start to recognize you and you don't get bothered nearly as much. Or, maybe I'm starting to look more like a native. I don't miss the Armani suit guys (almost exclusively from India) trying to shake my hand with their usual catchphrase, "Very happy to meet you, boss. Where you from?" I do, however, miss the beautiful women stroking my arm as I walk past - "Massage, sir?" in that sing-song accent of theirs which invariably makes the word "massage" seem like it has three syllables. It's a very seductive sound, one I've been trying to capture on film for days to no avail.

Of course, to hear more massage girls beckoning me all I have to do is walk down a street or soi where I'm not yet recognized. I have yet to partake in a Thai massage; perhaps I'll save that for one of the last days in Bangkok. That way, I can be fully refreshed for the long flights home.

My last stop before returning to Kamala was a mini-mart where I purchased a few bottles of water and some Thai snacks (some very strange candy and a bag which I thought was potato chips but which turned out to be some sort of prawn-flavored cracker). Oh, yes. I did buy a stack of postcards and stamps. I spent a couple hours last night writing out the postcard messages and carted them all over the place today without finding a box to mail them in.

Today was the last day Lek and Silvio had their rental car (a ramshackle Suzuki hatchback) and they planned to drive to Phuket Town to buy a new car. They asked if I wanted to go with them and I jumped at the chance. What followed was a full-day circuit of mosth of the island with many stops along the way including Surin Beach, the Laguna Phuket Resort at Le Phang Bay, several car dealerships in Phuket Town (most were closed for the holiday), a journey to the end of Phuket Road with photo ops of the harbor and on a bridge over Khlong Bang Yai, a visit to the temple complex of Wat Chalong (my favorite stop), the fish and other sea creature stalls at Rawai Beach, and high lookouts over Laem Prom Thep (the southernmost tip of Phuket) and Kata Noi Bay. It was a wonderful day - all for the price of the benzine the car used (500 baht, $12.15). I shot some interesting video out of the windows of the car (might be interesting with a Thai music soundtrack) and took some of the be!
st photos of my trip so far at the temple.

Lek wanted to arrange a sea canoe trip for me tomorrow, but I didn't want to spend my last day on Phuket on a full-day tour. I do need to save some activities for my next visit! I do get a bit tired of all the different beaches - they are ALL extremely scenic - and it becomes a challenge to come up with creative ways to photograph each new one. But every once in a while, I take a photo that I think is good enough to make a print or a poster to sell. And I never get tired of traveling on the local roads watching all the shops and homes go by with the endless variety of people and vehicles.

I've become a fan of Thai television commercials. Thai women are among the most beautiful in the world and the commercials feature the cream of this already bountiful crop. Most of the time, I have no idea what product they are trying to sell me but it doesn't matter because a beautiful woman is trying to sell it to me. I wish I could record some to show at home - might make a good addition to the DVD I plan to produce of this trip.

As far as television is concerned, I've watched a bit the past couple of evenings. The hotel receives nine stations via satellite - three Thai channels (all of which seem to have more soap operas than any other type of programs except, possibly, news shows), a couple in Italian, one from Afghanistan (!) called Kurd Sat which has an entertaining New Year's program on right now, a French station which always shows odd game and variety shows, a German network which has a half-hour of news in English each evening, and an english-language religious channel.

It's a quarter after seven now. I think I'll take a nap for a couple hours before going back into Patong to celebrate New Year's Eve. That will also allow enough time to recharge my camera batteries.

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