Archive for the ‘2007-10 to 12, South Aisia’ Category


Thursday, December 20th, 2007

The motor scooters in Vietnam were so amazingly plentiful, that it was simply a remarkable sight to watch a continuous wave of them driving in traffic. There seemed far fewer four wheeled vehicles here than anywhere else we had been, including Thailand and Laos. We at at one restaurant on the fourth floor balcony and looked out over a fairly major “X” shaped intersection, compounded by having a traffic circle off to one side of one of the arms, and by the middle section being elongated, (with only two lanes for about 50 meters, before splitting off again). It was a completely astounding sight to see, and we found it worthy of several minutes of videotape. There were so many near misses it seemed, but not a single accident. As a matter of fact, with traffic as amazingly crazy as it seemed all around here (less so in Laos, where there’s not quite as many vehicles as Thailand, Malaysia or Vietnam, and certainly less so than Singapore where everything is so strictly orderly), we only saw three accidents. One actually involved Luke and I in a taxi that was following WAY too close in Thailand. The bus in front of us came to a screeching halt, and a few seconds later so did we, barely a few decimeters from the bus I’m sure. Then, to add to our loudly screeching tires, the taxi behind us came to a stop only a few centimeters from us. As would be expected then, the car driver behind him wasn’t so quick on her brakes and caused a three vehicle domino collision. We barely felt it, since the sudden stop a few seconds earlier had been far more abrupt. Our driver however was very distraught, and got out in the center lane of four lanes of traffic whizzing by to check things out. I was worried about the delays and was looking to see if Luke and I could safely exit to the curb and flag down an alternate taxi. Not a chance! Inside the vehicle was by far the safest place for us! Our driver and the other, and the woman chattered for about ten minutes, and then he returned to the car. I insisted we get out immediately without paying when he said we were just going to stop off at the police station, (we were only six minutes away from the hotel after a half hour ride). He quickly radioed the other taxi driver and said he was gonna drop us off first and meet them at the police station to file a report. He was pretty upset, mainly at the woman because she had only caused just under CAN $1000 of damage to the two taxis, yet she was insisting on going through insurance. This created (as it does in Canada) mounds of paperwork and governmental red tape that no one else wanted to deal with. Our taxi only had a small dent in the bumper, and yet he was practically in tears regarding the damage to his baby. At least he looked after it I guess.

Claudette and Luke had also witnessed a motorbike getting hit by a taxi at slow speeds in Bangkok. It caused damage to his bike, but he got up immediately with barely a bruise by the looks of it. The third one we just barely saw in Vientiane, (the Capital city of Laos). It was at an intersection, and we were behind a bus and a couple other cars. A dump truck swerved abruptly to avoid crushing a crazy motorbike driver trying to scoot across in front, but miscalculating the speed of the dump truck. The truck swerved and rode up on a high median ripping apart it’s undercarriage as well as a fuel and hydraulic oil tank. The driver scurried out of the cab and away from the truck in a huge hurry, and went to check on the motorcyclist. When we finally got up to and through the intersection a few minutes later, the bike driver was being attended to and looked like he had some ripped clothing, road-rashed face, and a compound fracture of the lower leg. As we continued driving away we didn’t hear any explosions, so the dump truck’s ignition sources must have been turned off.

All in all though, I would still say that traffic in Latin America is slightly worse, in that there seemed to be way more disorderly conduct, and people constantly and very inconsiderately pushing there way in this way and that. Southeast Asia is still pretty wicked of course, just not quite as bad as what I remember from Latin America, and especially Peru. Our guide in Laos had disdainfully told us how all the nation’s roads had previously been filled with bicycles, but people started buying more and more scooters. Then the Chinese started making and selling really cheap scooters in Laos and sudden no one but kids under ten years old used scooters anymore.

Motor-scooter and motorbike drivers are simply suicidal, or they collectively have the combined fore thinking brain power of a pea. The cutting in and out of traffic, and speeding along in between lanes of cars, (while stopped at lights, or at 80KPH, it don’t matter!) is just nuts. I suppose such crazy behavior is offset lightly by the expanded awareness of the drivers, but they still make me shake my head in horrified wonderment. The car and truck driver’s inherently (generally) know and prepare for the crazy sudden turns and budding in front by the bikes, and drive accordingly. Most Westerners who get behind a wheel in Aisia or Latin America would be very likely to quickly wipe out several bikes since they would not be anticipating the two-wheeler movements without observing for awhile first. On the other hand, if a bike were to take up the center of a lane (as is propper and safe to do) most four wheel vehicle drivers would be cussing and swearing since the motor scooters are quite underpowered compared to even a four cylendar car or lorry.

Sadly, this myopically selfish viewpoint of cutting in wherever one can, generally seems to carry over into pedestrian traffic as well. None of the reading in various guidebooks prepared us for the disdainful stepping on our toes, pushing out of the way, budding in front of us, ect, that we constantly seem to be experiencing in Asia so far. China is supposed to be the worst even, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

The one cool thing about entering Laos was that the sides of the road that everyone drove on were switched again. This I had mentioned in a previous post I believe. It was still refreshing to see the steering wheels back on the left side of the vehicle again though. We all easily adapted to getting into mini vans on the right side again. This was short lived of course, only in Laos and Vietnam did vehicles use the “right” side of the road again. As soon as we hit Hong Kong, the grand old former British Colony, everything was switched back to the “wrong” side, and we kept going to the “incorrect side to get into taxi’s. That should be short lived again though, since as soon as we get to Beijing in a couple days it will be back to the left side with steering wheels, and to the right side of the road with vehicles themselves.

One other cool thing we’ve noticed in many Southeast Asia countries so far is an extra, smaller sized lanes on the “ditch” side of traffic. These are not wide enough (safely) for a car to travel, and are generally meant for animal carts, bicycles, motorbikes and pedestrians. In Thailand they are almost exclusively used by motor scooters. In Laos there weren’t many except in towns, and they were most often used for parking, or as motor scooter lanes when clear. In Vietnam we actually did see a couple ox-carts and bicyclists using them, even along the side of an 8 lane raised highway. That was certainly quite the contrast!


Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

Our flight leaving Laos to Vietnam was slightly delayed and we didn’t get in until later in the evening, almost bedtime. We explored a little bit before eating a late supper upstairs at this nice but very narrow little new boutique hotel.

(Mary Jo, Caleb or Connor, if you’re reading before getting to Hanoi on Dec 20 pay attention for some tips! And make sure to see the puppet show!)

Food near the hotel was difficult to find. We could go about 5 blocks one way (South I think it was, but the maps were not oriented to the “standard” North, so it’s difficult to be sure) near West Lake were a bunch, (as well as the nummiest chocolate/pastry shop I had encounered since Cusco in Peru!). Heading East from the hotel a few blocks took us through a major shopping district and various daily markets. A few blcks frther East was a much larger lake, some geat restaurants and the highlight of our trip to Vietnam, the wateer puppet how. I show preface such a grandioise comment with the explanation that we only had tyhe smallest amount of time in Hanoi and in fact all of Vietnam. We flew in late one afterrnoon, got to the hotel in Hanoi in time to have a meal, unpack a bit, walk up and down one road and then pretty much go to bed. With only one free day in the capital city before flying to Hong Kong we weren’t really sure what we would be able to accomplish.

The half day or full day city, countryside, or ocean bay tours all started no later than 8:00 AM! Not our cup of tea at the best of times. Never mind the extremely heavy emphasis towards Ho Chi Min! Good gawd! There was his mauseleum where the body is on display with twice yearly fesh changes of embalming fluid and skin moisturizer. After that was his statue (and park) errected (constructed) to celebrate his life, then there’s another Ho Chi Min monument to celebrate the commie victory in the war, the Ho Chi Min this, and the Ho Chi Min that… The current government is clearly hanging on to him as a strong focal point while letting go of most of his ideals. There was also a visit to “Lennin Park” (and statue) on a tour. We opted for none, and instead I wandered out mid morning and eventually worked my way to the water puppet show box office only able to get tickets for the 9:15 PM show! (There were five shows per day.) The puppets all had elongated horizontal sticks controlling them which were hidden by the water. There was a six piece band adjacent to the water stage as well that were excellent! The puppet show was in 11 stages, or scenes. There were obviously elaborate wires and trigger mechanisms threaded through the sticks and up into the puppets that controlled extra lateral movements, mouth, arms, tails and whatever other apendage individual puppets may have had. It started off with fire breating dragons, complete with lit up sparklers, coming up from under the water and completely captivated us for the rest of the show. (Except for Luke a bit who struggled heavily three-quarters the way through to keep his poor tired little eyes open.) I got some spectacular pictures and video throughout.

After that, we grabbed a taxi home to rest before heading to the airport first thing in the morning. Our hotel was very newly built, and very boutiqeish without being outrageously expensive. This was the last of our second GAP tour, and the booked accomodations were way more extravegant than we would have stayed when booking on our own. This hotel was very narrow, (along with most all buildings we saw in Hanoi) but was 11 stories tall. It only had six to three suites on each floor but was very nice. The restaurant at the top was also amazing, with corespondingly high prices. Gone were the days of ordering a full plate meal (from Thailand & Laos) for $3-$5. Instead we were back to paying $14 for a burger and upwards of $30 for a steak. The view was nice at least!

The remainder of Tranquil Laos

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

The rest of Laos was very enjoyable. We started seeing the same other caucaision tourists at different temples and museums, and then again in the next day or two in different towns. It was as if there was a standard itinerary that all tour companies followed. The capital city of Laos, Vientien, has less people than Red Deer, at around 100,000. That province (one of seventeen provinces in Laos) has the highest population of all provinjces in the country at just barely over one million. I think that the total population of Laos is just around six million. WIth few people in the cities this means that there is an unnatural amount of rural population still living along waterways, in the abundant backcountry, and all stretched along the highways and roads. Urbanism has yet to explode here.

One very cool thing we saw throughout Laos (but no other Southeast Asian country, including our future visit to Vietnam) were the tractors. They were not traditional ride-em tractors as we are used to. Instead they are a direct replacement for oxen or water buffalo. I have a couple of pictures on our web gallery already. Essentially, they are a big engine, with a visible, open clurtch, on top of two larger, fat drive wheels. Extending out the back is a long arm with two handles that house the controls. Think of a large rotertiller with two big wheels at the front instead of the tines, and then extend the control handles to an overall length of about 2.5 meters. This allows the “driver” to still sit at the front of a wagon and hold the handles just as if he were almost still controlling water buffalo by reigns. We saw lots of these things plodding along the side of highways, or going through town. Most had families riding in the four-wheeled wagons, but some had huge piles of cargo. This could be crops, to huge bundles of bamboo or wood, or even furniature and other goods going to stiores to be sold. For crop work I suppose that the farmers would merely replace the wagon with wahtever field implement they needed at that time.

Our guide told us that several years ago the goveernment decided to subsidize these mechanical animal replacement beasts, and pretty much every one in the country jumped at the opportunity. Originally they just offered a little money for villiagers to help them build fences for their animals OR a little more money in exchange for the animals in order to get a tractor. Our guides strong impression was that the people thought that the building of fences (even with a little monetary help) was just WAY too much like work and they opted en mass to get modernized instead. I asked how these subsistence farmers (about half of the people that have these walk behind tractors) could possibly afford gas!!! The guide said that they just adapted and learned to make or grow more goods to buy fuel. He said that there are barely any beasts of burden in the country at all anymore. To partially substantiate this, none of the five of us saw an oxen or water buffalo anywhere along our route. This naturally leads me to be highly suspicious of restaurants that have water buffalo on their menue’s. I can only presume that they were really offering dog meat from the abundance of local strays…

In Vientien (the Capital City of Laos) we met and visited over two days with a family from Sydney, Australia. The two boys were almost exactly the same age as Alex and Luke and they had a blast visiting and swimming in the hotel pool. On the second day, us three parents even consented to the four kids having a “sleepover” in our kids room. Us adults also shared a few bottles of wine and many great stories during and after supper. The next morning we had a leisurely schedule of sleeping in and packing up before needing to leave just after lunch.

The night before we were to fly out, we went by ourselves to a Lao Traditional Dance show. It was pretty inexpensive and very cool. The restaurant at the hotel we stayed at in Phalong Pabang also had a nightly show of Lao Traditioanl dance, but it was free and slightly more ametuerish. Before going to the airport, we had time for one last tour about a half hour away to the “Buhddist Park”. It was really nice with all sorts of Buhda & friends statutes and sculptures in a grassy park area. At the opposite end from the parking lot was a restaurant beside the Mekong River overlooking Thailand on the other side. There was some sort of large (about three stories high) round concrete climbable sculpture with a wild concrete tree at the top that I took pics of Claudette, Alex & Luke on from below. We’ll get those uploaded to the gallery as soon as we find a computer with DVD to extract them from…


Saturday, December 15th, 2007

Malaysia and Singapore had been like a direct time warp to the 70’s! The Bee-Gee’s were fresh in my mind every night before going to bed, and I heard Barry Manilou’s MANDY more times in that past week than all of my previous life combined I’m pretty sure. Even greats like Chicago and ELO were wearing thin those days… and I really LOVE both of them!

Southern Thailand was seemingly slightly more modern. The North of Thailand had a lot of 80’s pop stuff though. Very weird…. (since not all of it was actually “good” 80’s music).

In Laos at the hotel rest. for breakfast every morning they played instrumentals (mostly pan flute) of old rock/pop songs. Imagine my divine prowdness when Luke and Alex were constantly recognizing the songs, (though not always the artist). The best moment came when after only about four seconds (or ten notes) Alex blurted out the name of the newly playing song and immediately after announced that it was by the Beatles! Luke was only a second behind her. It was especially pleasing to see another tourist a few tables away cock his eyebrows, slightly impressed by the musical prowess of my darling children.

In the more populated (and later visited) areas of Laos we began to hear much more local flavor of music rather than imported old Western stuff. This was nice, but we still didn’t buy any since the disks were pretty high priced (about $4-$5) for bootleg copies. I brought our entire MP3 music collection along on one 2.5″ portable drive. So in Hong Kong the kids and I are looking forward to buying newer, fancier and larger MP3 players for an abundance of musical choices.

Enjoyed Laos and very fast visit to Vietnam

Friday, December 14th, 2007

Hi all, I know I’m not as prolific a writer as Rick is but here goes anyway. I really enjoyed our time in Laos. The descriptions of the tour books is accurate when they describe the pace of life as slow. No one or thing moves fast, especially the transportation, but this was nice as we had a lot of time to watch the people and the countryside go by. Firstly I really enjoyed the 2 day slow boat ride down the Mekong river, the city of Luang Prabang, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, was nice with it’s very old temples, the king’s former palace, and the great waterfalls we saw just outside the city. The 5-6 hour drive to Vien Vieng was a little more stomach moving as we had to cross the top of several mountain ranges, back and forth around the corners (you get the picture I’m sure). But once in the valley near Vien Vieng and into the capital, Vientiane, it was much better. The hotels we’ve stayed at have been great. Our tour guide, Phanh, was really good as he had many stories to tell us as he had spent 12 years (11-23) as a novice monk.

At the hotel in Vientiane, Luke introduced himself to another family, mother, Mary Jo and 2 boys, Kaleb (13) and Conner (11) from Sydney, Australia. The kids had a blast together swimming in the hotel pool and we even let them have a sleepover, as all 4 kids stayed in Alex and Luke’s room for 1 night. Unfortunately they are also coming to Hanoi, and funny enough booked to stay at the same hotel as us but we leave a day before they arrive.

As it turned out with the tour package we booked, we are only staying 2 nights in Vietnam, and since we flew in late last night and have spent the morning on the internet I’m not sure we are going to get a chance to see a whole lot. We are planning to walk around the Old Quarter and take in a water puppetry show today, and then we are off for 4 nights in Hong Kong.

Have to run, take care for now. Claudette

First Impressions of Laos

Monday, December 10th, 2007

After a night at a small Inn in Chaing Khong right on the Mekong River we took a long tail boat Ferry ride accross to Laos. Communism is the rule of law here, and it was not overtly noticeable, (not like I expect it to be in China anyways…). People can easily go from one country to the next accross the river and walk right past (or around) the immigration office to spend as much time as they want doing whatever in the other country. The only (minimal) catch is that all hotels on both sides require registration of your passport and in Laos they also take careful note of your VISA number. The injustice of the VISA for us was extroirdinary and hurtful. Most all Aisian, European and South sea countries were charged US$30 for a tourist VISA. Americans are charged US$35, and Canadians are charged US$42. Ogh! the injustice… The first thing we noticed after clearing all that stuff up was a left hand side drive vehicle! Way cool! Back to the side we are used to from home, even though it took some getting used to again, getting into a vehicle from the opposite side as Australia, Singapore, Malaysia & Thailand.

On our first night in Laos, luke was playing with a pet monkey. It crawled on his head and the owner took it off. When it satrted climbing up Luke’s leg again, the owner pulled it’s tail to prevent uit from climbing up onto his head again. Not enjoying being pulled off, the monkey held on to Luke even more, and then eventually bit Luke’s leg to get a better grip. So, we added a new Top four list entry to account for all of these “encounter’s” we seem to be having. It is available from the links at the top left of any blog page, or directly from:

As soon as we got VISA’s and passports straightened out, we took a ride to a steel hull long boat on the Mekong River. We were going to another town, about 14 hours drive down the river. It was broken up into two days of travel on the boat by ourselves with four relaxing reclining chairs and amazing vies out the sides of the boat. Pictures of our boat (and some other larger tourist transport boats) probably won’t show up in the online gallery for a another week or two yet, once the camera DVD is finalized. It was quite nice and relaxing though at six hours one day, and eight hours the next. In between we stayed at a pretty delux hotel in the middle of freak’in no where.

Once we got to Luangprabang, (where we’re still at now) we did several tours of various temples which sadly being to blend together. The cool part of our tours here however is the guide. He grew up about a four hour drive from here in a small farming villiage, but left home at age 11 to join a temple as a buddist Monk Novice. Apparently the learning and lifestyle prospects in his villiage were pretty slim, so he decided to enter into the “novicehood”. It would typically take a boy about 20 years as a novice before becomming a monk. He spent his first six years here at a temple in Luangprabang, and then went to the capital city of Laos for another six years learning pretty decent English along the way. So, when we toured his old temple where he lived as a child (and another where he walked to school each day) the insights and stories were incredible and much more interesting than the standard tourist explanations given to everyone else. We had several others at different times leaning in to our small group of five to overhear his recollections before they were admonished by their own tour guides for falling behind.

Tomorrow we have a five hour (150km) bumpy bus ride to the next town on our tour stop. In the end we won’t be going through Vietnam much at all other than flying directly to Hanoi from Vientiane (the Laos capital city) and staying there for two nights before our Dec 16 scheduled flight to Hong Kong.

hopping along the ……

Monday, December 10th, 2007

bunny trail going to Laus and vietnam,china,india ,kenya,egypt,jordan too Italy,germany,france and U.K were gonna end up in canada Hhhhurray ya . anyway Dad said I had to a Blog so I came up with some things Like the song .(change of subject) We got into laus on december 6 (I,m not big on date,s so consder this lucky) we took a boat to a village/town where the chilldren had wooden tops that you needed string to wind up .the older chilldren were selling things to us. the next day we went to another village/town where all the chilldren where selling things there were many dogs one kept coming up to me so I desided to pet him he took tis as a conpelment and let me rub his stomache . we left shortly after. The money is interesting 5000 kip is 50 cents.
( what I think is amazing is that alex did not write this ) Missing you (espesialy my friends)

P.S notice I was Bitten By all the anamals (even the jellyfish dad forgot to put me on that)

P.S This is in top 4 Things

Laos (Le country de Francais thats not France)

Monday, December 10th, 2007

We are now in Laos (I was spelling it louse ) It’s really a nice place. 5000 kip ( kip is their currency) is about 50 cents. Here I’m a multi- billoinare :). I think I’m adding this to places I want to come back to. Now I really wish I was in Mary Poppins, (our Fort Smith skating carnival theme show). Oh well the carnaval might be better next year :). Miss you all!

Goodbye to Thailand.

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

For her last week with us we went to the North of Thailand with Grandma Vi. We flew up to a city cmalled Chaing Mei. We had planned on taking the train up and back with her, but it was a 14 hour trip for 12,500 baht (1,000 Baht = $30) for a first class sleeper bed, (two beds with it’s own cabin). Sadly, a sixty-five minute flight with a discount airline was only 17,500 Baht which made it far more worthwhile, but lacking in that cultural experience category. We made up for it by taking Grandma on a whitewater river rafting trip though! It was over two hours drive just to get to the start point, wheer we had lunch before launching down the river. It wasn’t near as hairy as the trip we took in Costa Rica, but still pretty good for Grandma’s first time EVER. (Never mind her general lifelong aversion to water.) We all got good and wet while having a fantastic time. This one didn’t have still camera pictures available, but they videotaped everyone who went rafting that day and sold the DVD for a very reasonable price (just under $10). Funny part is though, that we didn’t get the video that night or before we flew back to Bangkok the next morning. Instead, I went back to this hotel in a few days once we returned to Chaing Mai on our official GAP tour and picked up the DVD. I finally got a chance to watch it the next day and it was great! Fantastic video of the five of us in some tricky sections and going through chutes and over shelves. All were smailing and laughing throughout though, (even Grandma Vi).

The day previous to river rafting we had take a tour to the Thailand Elephant Conservation Center. There are several elephant camps with a 30-60 minute drive people can get to for a show and a ride for pretty cheap. We had read about the work of the Thai Government sponsored Conservation center though, and opted to pay a little more, (and drive a little further) to see it. They also had a hospital there which was sad and heartening to see at the same time. We were pretty sure that this was the place the Reader’s Digest featured Cowtown “Voluntouring” family had gone to. There was an option to stay there and learn about elephant training (in fact, you star in the shows!) and to care for the anuimals for one or three days. All meals and lodging are included for $80/day, which I thought was pretty reasonable considering the experience one would get. If I had known more beforehand I certainly would have arranged it for us all after Grandma left, (can you guys who know her imaging GV shovelling elephant poop, or riding one all by herself around the neck while it pulls logs and paints pictures in the show???). The show included showing different ways elphants pull, move & manipulate huge logs for the forestry industry, painting pictures with a watercolor brush, and doing various physical tricks, (such as walking along a 7m log as a balance beam, turning around on it and walking back!). We really enjoyed being there, except of course for learning about all of the injured elephants who have portions of their feet blown off by land mines from the war.

Once we returned to Bangkok, it was Grandma’s last night for shopping (like we could fit any more in her bags!!) and relaxing before the 26= hour journey home. Luke bag was just a little bit too small, so we packed all our stuff (inc. an abundance of heavy DVD’s) in Luke’s small MEC bag for Grandma to take back as her second piece of luggage. Then we stole Grandma’s MEC larger bag (the same as Claudette’s and mine) and bought her a cheap rolling duffel to get home with. We looked up Cathay Pacific’s luggage weight guidlines on the net and discovered that her two bags were more than double the allowable economy ticket weight. Very nervously we approached the desk and the ever so friendly agent just shuffeled the bags on through without a second glance! One obstacle down one to go… The only other concern we had was her getting the bags througfh customs in Vancouver. Luckily, she claimed $680 of the allowable $750 amount and the “nice little old (but semi spry) grandma” card palyed out well as she waltzed right on through with a few hundred pirated DVD’s and computer software worth about $30,000! (But “Shhhhhhhh”, don’t tell anyone.)

After she left we began our second GAP tour with an immediate upgrade in hotels from a $18/night ultra basic one that we were willing to pay for to a $150/night one with a huge pool, crisp nice sheets and gorgeous decor and furnishings. The internet prices also jumped from about 28 cents/hr to a little over $10.00/hour! Needless to say we checked e-mails and did picture backups down the street at $1/hour. The next day we spent wiuth a great tour guide going through various markets and sights of Bangkok. One of the coolest things was going through a six day a week morning wholesale flower market. The smells and colors were tremendous and beautiful! A few of these pictures are in our on-line gallery. We also toured some well irrigated farms between Bangkok and the Ocean (about a 12km streatch) and then flew to Chaing Mei again the next day. Back in the North we spent the afternoon touring some more Buddist Temples and sights before driving five hours the next day through the town of Chaing Rai and up to the tiown of Chaing Khong on the Meekong River, adjacent to the Laos border. There wasn’t much to see in this sleepy little villiage, but the kids and I found an internet place with blistering fast speeds that we hadn’t experienced for uploading pictures since Australia!

Missing home but Thailand’s great

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Hi everybody Just Thought I’d Let you Know that I am missing home but thailand is Great all though It pretty COLD +35 and it ain’t geten warmer Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Another thing please don’t remind me of Christmas it makes me sad : (

Allmost Vietnam: Airball Jungle Warefare

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Back at the end of Novemeber, (when we were still in Phuket) a bunch of staff from Phil’s company were planning a friendly airball game. Luckily I was invited along and graciously accepted. Airball is a less expensive alternative to paintball, (and the little solid plastic balls hurt less too!). There are some inherrant problems with airball comparred to paintball though. Mainly, bad players with a little bit of pain tollerance can cheat really easily. Over longer distances the smaller airballs lose quite a bit more of their velocity (and hence trajectory) over paintballs. Thus if you shoot an opponent at a distance of more than 15m they can easily shrug off the shot, bite their tongue from exclaiming out loud and tuck in behind cover a little more. This helps them pretend that they were never hit, and that the shot was really “close” and nothing more.

We arrived after a half hour drive to find about 5 Thai guys, 6 American and Canadian expats and 2 Thai kids (around 11) waiting to play. There were two fancy guns which could shoot incrediby rapidly and had accurate scopes attached. When any of us “new” guys tried to get those guns we were quickly told that they were privately owned by two of the guys and we could only use the heavy, slower (and way less “attractive”) rental guns. When it came time to dividing the teams, it somehow went with Thai versus Caucaision except for Phil. This made the teams rather uneven at 6 to 7 but they claimed the kids only counted as healf each. I should clarify here that the kids were in full body armour (heavy padding like an umpire wears) and looked VERY comfortable handling their weapons. I wondered if they slept with them perhaps….

So, here we were about to seemingly recreate the Vietnam war from the 1970’s. Complete with several big burly (or more easily targeted) beer bellied white guys all over or close to six feet high, and several little “Charlie’s” that were tiny, hard to track targets and could scramble around as quietly and as efffortlessly as the most deadly jungle cat. These enemies had guns though. Rapid fire, sleek, lightweight chinese manufactured guns… In the end we did fairly well. At the beginning of the first game Phil was duly sacrificed by his Charlie teammates. He suggested it was miscommunication afterwards, but they told him to go one way where three of us shot the snot out of him very quickly. Meanwhile his teammates all stealthily went the other way once we were all distraced with the high of our first kill. I didn’t make it to the end of that first game, but I was proud in getting a great surprise kill in before I was taken out later. We somehow won that first game and we started to consider that perhaps we had a chance. Then in the second game their overrall plan began to take hold. Our batteries that provided the “Oomph!” in the propulsion system were getting low. I had the key “lookout” position and my rental gun jammed at a very important moment. Naturally I was allowed to go off the course unharmed and perform any nessesary repairs. By the time I returned however our position was severely compromised by an influx of enemy sneaking up along the side that I was supposed to be protecting. We lost that next game, but still did incredibly well considering that our batteries barely seemed to be pushing those plastic beads out at all.

We insisted on charging up the batteries after that in preparation for the second game. Then we enacted our sure-fire stategy. It wasn’t so sure faire we quickly discovered. This is where the rampant cheating came to light in our minds. We had two guys surrounded o twosides and were firing like cazywith no apparent effect. He just didn’t flinch and adjusted his body so that he was just barely protected a little more. We could see each other shooting at him abrely 4m away but he was just taking the shots and pretending he wasn’t hit. (I made a point of lookig at his back when he changed shirts at the end of the games and he was riddled with welts. That gave us a minimal smug satisfaction…)

Thailand – last day for me in Paradise

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

This trip has been fantastic – it’s over all too quickly. We lucked out on the beaches of Phuket – not at all crowded where we were staying and it’s awesome how many fantastic eating places there were right on the beach. The swimming was second to none. After Phuket we went to Phi Phi Island and that was an experience in itself – absolutey no vehicles – just bicycles and carts with very narrow roadways and a b-zillion little shops every which way – I only wish I had more room in my luggage to do the shopping that I would like. Rick will probably post a picture of one of the carts when he gets a chance. The hotels don’t even lock up their front when they all go home for the evening. This is where we went snorkeling – actually it was in the same bay where “The Beach” was filmed – that was a lot of fun even though I was very nervous – but of course, it turned out to be not as scary as I had imagined – it’s all in the mind. We then moved on the Chiang Mai – from here we went to an Elephant Conservation Centre and they put on quite a good show – we also went on an elephant ride – that was an experience that I’ll always remember. The next day we went whitewater rafting – of course I didn’t want to go because I was totally PETRIFIED but anything to please my grandchildren. Luke reminded me how his dad had to force him the first time they went so, in his way (he said) he was forcing me. Once I got over the initial shock, it was quite a lot of fun!!! We’re in Bangkok now – the last leg of my journey. I can’t even imagine the word “snow” but sooner or later reality will set in.

FOUR MONTHS DOWN!!! – Enjoyed Phuket

Friday, November 30th, 2007

The island was very wonderful for a vacation spot. Maybe even to live there! (Guess we’ll see about that one). There were some relaxing places as well as an abundance of much busier beaches & towns. Most of the island is populated, certainly around the ocean touching circumfrance and along all major transportation corridors. There were some pretty exclusive resorts here too. The young Spanish couple living adjacent to the house we rented both worked at very nice resorts. One had individual two story buildings, on stilts, overlooking the ocean for each guest! Oh yeah, and each villia had there own private pool also overlooking the ocean. I have a powerpoint presentation that I will try and upload with a link for anyone who wants to download it and eat their heart out. It is a fairly large file, since the pics are all high resolution. For a few months or so, I have a seperate gallery with a few pictures of the house we stayed at adjacent to Phil & Joy’s in Phuket. There is a neighboring house, just about finished being built, that is very similar in style and is for sale. This new place includes it’s own pool rather than sharing one pool among four homes as the one we stayed in did. The gallery is at:

One night while staying at the house, a bunch of staff from Phil’s company were planning a friendly airball game. Luckily I was invited along and happily accepted. The story on that evening is written as a seperate BLOG post in early December. All in all we had a great time and are VERY thankful for Phil and Joy taking us in (so to speak) and helping out so much with stuff. Joy also helped to arrange for Alex and Luke to attend a day of school with Josh and Kyla at the Thai English public school they attend. They had a great day there, and Luke later met a “classmate” on Phi Phi Don Island where her parents owned a diving company.

To say that our “Trip of A Lifetime!” seems to be gathering great speed and going by very quickly is a huge understatement!!! Grandma Vi is almost due to go home already too, and her three weeks has similarly gone by incredibly quickly. Our original plane tickets were only booked to getting out of China. The ticket stopped in Bangkok though, so we have yet to get some flights arranged onward to Delhi in India. We had originally planned for six weeks throughout India after two weeks in China. We added on four days to the end of China though, and are thinking of lopping off another five or so days from the other end of India to spend five extra days (than the originally planned two weeks) in Kenya nd Tanzinia. That leaves India with just barely four weeks now. This is significant simply because I am almost tempted to spend another week in Thailand when we pass through after China. Claudette probably won’t let that one fly though…

Ella Etty Eather enjoys…

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

eating elephants from earth. That is a poem I made. Any ways :). We went elephant riding! It was lots of fun. Me grandma vi and Mom had to have one And dad and Luke got the other one. Ours was 26 years old!!!!! I can’t remember her (his?) name though. I’m glad we went to a conservation center, not a camp! We heard lots of bad things about the camps. We got to see a little show, then go for a ride, then we went to see the baby elephants. They we’re sooooooooooo cute! We got to feed the moms to,(we also got to feed the elelphants at the show, I forgot about that.) After seeing the babys we went to an elephant hospital. Between 2000 and 2004 there was approximatly 254 sick elephants there. We did a little shopping at the market then came home.

Also we just went for our second white water rafting rafting! I think I preferred the other time but this one was still fun. It is grandma Vi’s first time. Some how she always seemed to get splashed the most :). We just came from Cheing-Mei and now we are in Bangkok.
Nothing else has really happened. Bye bye!

Having a great time in Thailand!

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Well we arrived in Chiang Mai 2 days ago, after spending 3 days in Ko Phi Phi.

In Ko Phi Phi we spent one morning snorkeling around Ko Phi Phi Ley, which was spectacular. The coral wasn’t as great as the Great Barrier Reef but the fish were way more plentiful and varied. On the downside though, there were a lot of (non-stinging) jellyfish and (stinging) sea lice which freaked Alex out so she really didn’t like it. I think Grandma Vi enjoyed herself even though it had been 30 years she she last went snorkeling.

Last night we went to the Night Bazaar which was like shopping overload, imagine blocks of vendors set up on the sidewalks with hundreds of people trying to get through on a 1 – 2 foot wide sidewalk…. We tried to control ourselves as Grandma Vi already has a full suitcase to take back for us.

Today we went to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center so as to get in our obligatory elephant show and ride. We had decided that we wanted to go there as they are known for their conservation efforts and all funds they raise from admissions goes to the Elephant Hospital on-site. In the end I think the kids really appreciated what the animals can do, and we also got to see a couple of baby elephants.

Tomorrow we are off white-water rafting, I’m not sure how Rick convinced Grandma Vi to go but I’m sure it will be a riot.

The Gods smile down on us.

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Our hotel was fully booked from today and we had to leave. Luckily we found even nicer digs! Story below…


Upon entering Thailand we went first to Krabbi, only a few hundred KM North of the Border with Malaysia. Krabbi was OK, we were a bit confused as to all the fuss of the travel books. The beach is about a half hour drive from town, but there are an abundance of tours to all sorts of islands and spectacular sights available. After asking around to other travelers, the lure of Krabbie would merely seem to be slightly cheaper accommodation and food prices with the inconvenience of traveling a bit more back and forth to the beach. It had a small market, and lots of GREAT! Inexpensive food so we enjoyed it for a couple of days. Alex got her hair done in a whole bunch of mini braids. This took two and a half people almost three full hours to accomplish! She loves it now, keeping her hair long, but not getting so sweaty and hot in the often muggy weather.

After Krabbi we chartered a large van to take us to Phuket for a week or two. Grandma Vi would be joining us here after a couple days. Claudette found a hotel on the web somehow that had two rooms available. These were pretty basic rooms, with a washroom and a large ceiling fan for about $30/night. These rooms sure smelled musty and possibly mildewy though, so people wouldn’t want to stay there more than a week or so… This place had only 14 of these fan rooms open, but they were constructing another 50 or so units on the same property, (right beside our rooms, from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM each day!). There were already 15 or so of these newer rooms (post Tsunami) open, but they cost a minimum of $16/night! We were here to save lots of money, not just a tiny bit. These other rooms had beautiful marble throughout, as well as air conditioning and king sized beds. A couple of them also had private hot tubs for only $165/night.

We had originally only booked for two nights in case it was a dump and we wanted to go elsewhere. This beach we were at was amazingly gorgeous, and very deserted generally. I walked a kilometer or two in both directions and there was nothing better for the same or cheaper money. The problem came though when we went to extend our booking and found out that all but one of the cheap rooms were booked for the next two weeks! So, Claudette and I ended up in a room with two single beds and the kids and Grandma Vi got a king sized bed altogether in another old room that was being renovated, (but that they opened up just for us at $60/night cause it was old but had air conditioning). After Grandma Vi arrived we did lots of relaxing, a fair amount of eating, uploading pics of GV relaxing for all her co-workers to see and some Blog posts (including the invention of Pete’s Blog, linkable from the upper left hand corner of this page). Luke made friends one day with a couple year younger boy who was Canadian and living here with his family. They had even just moved here from Oilberta! They didn’t make it back to the beach for a couple of days, and Claudette got a chance to meet the parents briefly. Close to our last scheduled day there, she gave Phil and Joy a call to try and arrange supper together some evening. This worked out wonderfully and we all had a great time catching up. He was a pilot and their kids attended a Thai public school (with an English program) rather that the English International school that is private. Better yet, they lived in a spectacular! House barely a seven minute walk to the beach, with three bedrooms, stunning marble floors and a shared swimming pool among four homes!!! Now the best news; one of these homes was empty and due for new tenants in another month so they arranged through the landlord for us to stay in it for a week, for the same price we got one two person fan room at the current hotel. Needless to say we jumped at it and decided to stay for an extra week.

I took a bunch of pics of the amazing house we stayed in as well as the deck area, BBQ, massage bed (they book to have them done at home once a week) and the pool. There were three other units almost finished being built in the same complex that were for sale. These all had their own private (un-shared) pools though, and are only priced at CAN$245,000. My mind was clicking away, working out how many other families we would want to buy with at 30, 40 & 50 thousand dollars each. The trouble is that most friends or family that we would trust enough to buy in with, are people that we’d want to go at the same time with. I mentioned this to a few friends with keen interest, but Claudette quickly smashed me back into reality, saying that we wouldn’t be able to continue our trip past Christmas, flights are $2,000 each from Edm, and take a little over 24 hours with layovers each way. Thus the idea has slightly waned… (Certainly NOT died…)


Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Although I was extremely nervous (probably just the anticipation) I had a very uneventful flight. Everything happened exactly on schedule. I met a few people on the flights (I didn’t even chatter too much, LOL). Cathay Pacific is second to none – definitely the way to go. I thought Vancouver Airport was huge and it really is but Hong Kong’s is even larger. I actually didn’t leave the Security areas at either airport to make things easier for myself and I’m really glad I didn’t. I’m in Phuket and it is fabulous and from what I’ve heard the rest of Thailand is totally a magnificant place – can’t wait to see more of it.
Our hotel is pretty basic but just across the street from the grand Pacific Ocean and the water is fabulous as is the weather.
Hi to everyone and I’ll write again in a few of days after we get to our next town/hotel/or whatever???


Thursday, November 15th, 2007

NOTE: spelling errors abound in this post since there’s no firefox 2 browser or word processor to check in. Sorry!

Even though we actually had a well trained and registered massage therapist in Fort Smith for a few years, I had never gone to one before this trip. Even at Daivik a girl from Yellowknife would fly in for a week or two at a time and offer evening bookings for anyone who could afford her. This all changed in the last month of course…

I woke up one morning in our little Toyota camper van with a pretty good knott in one muscle next to my shoulder blade. This was at about the end of our second last week in Oz, and it got progressively (and uncomfortably!) worse over the next two days. I managed to find a massage place open on Sunday’s (it was a Saturday when I realized that walking hunched over in a very slow and decrepid manner was not a long term option) in Mooloolaba and booked the soonest appointment I could get. She was a fair sized girl. I’d booked in for an hour. The first seven to nine minutes were spent talking about the main problem, reviewing (quite extensively!) my health and body status questionaire, and generally sorting out what I needed. Then the pain! Oh, the sweet pain… I knew it was all for a VERY worthwhile result, but Man! did this girl (all 240 pounds or so of her) ever have some strength and Ooomph! in her. I didn’t call her off once, (sure came close twice though) and she worked out tense stuff I didn’t know I had.

My proudest moment came near the end when she casually commented on how much I had taken. “Most Aussie guys are absolute whimps, and will call me off after only a bit of pressure. It’s very frustrating when if they’d just take it a little more, I know that I get get them all sorted out in one or two visits, rather than a string of eight or ten visits over two or three months. I’d rather help them more efefctively and work myself out of some work. You have taken more than any of my customers in at least five years!” Whew, so I was tougher than most Aussie business executives who could actually afford such regular treatment, hardly something to be extroirdinarily prowd of…

The weirdest part was that she seemed to focus slightly more on my oposite shoulder muscle that I had mentioned to her. When I brought this up (casually of course) she insisted that it was in much worse shape, and liable to “go” at any time. Confused I just accepted this. I had gained instant respect for her earlier though when she quickly identified that I had had a shoulder seperation on my left side over 10 years ago (it was 20) and she quite accurately described the scope of severity. She had used her elbows and massive forearms quite a bit throughout, and near the end, those rounded blunt objects of death midway in her arm found their way into my thighs to some nerve I had never heard of before. (Leesa-Maree told me but I’ve erased that “full-on” experience from my memory.) Once again she kept going longer and longer, and I refused to say “STOP! No more please!!!” until she saw the tear starting to form in my eyes and gently let up. The second one on my right side was absolutely worse cause I knew what was coming this time. Like the dreaded spanking that a child doesn’t get right away, (he gets to think about it and dwell on the scope of severity for a few hours first) I almost cried knowing the excruciating torture I was about to endure… Sure enough she held this one longer! Truely a sadist (in such a good, well meaning way of course) I suffered gleefully at her hands knowing (in my heart at least) that it was all working towards a tremendous benefit (me joining the last fourty thousand generations of mankind in walking upright). At the end, as I was getting dressed, I asked her how many marriage proposals she received from first time paitients. She had an instant reaction of slight panic, until she saw my laughing eyes. Then I further commented that I had to get my wife a year off of work and send her to massage school for a couple semesters. She then gave me a couple addresses of two on the East Coast of Oz, but I reluctantly (and very sadly) threw them into a rubish bin outside knowing Claudette would never have the slightest interest in such a thing as a “more than a five minute massage” never mind actually having to go to school for it.

After that first time I was naturally hooked. The difficulty was in how to absorb the astonishing (yet VERY worthwhile) $75/hour fees. Luckily we are travelling, and economically repressed areas represent a repreive from said “Western” styleized fees. At the entry to Malaysia, when we were killing several hours at a huge shopping mall until our train left for KL I had my second massage. They had nine chairs lined up for doing pedicures and foot massages, but only one body massuse. I had to wait three hours from my enquiry time until there was a free booking. He was a little 145 (or so) pound guy, and I was the last hour of a twelve hour shift for him. It too felt really great, especially since he did my feet quite thoroughly first. The hour long combined back, arm and foot massage worked out to be about CAN $23. I even snuck Luke into the chair for five minutes of a back rub since he was sore after wandering around town for several hours too. This little guys pushed, massaged and bent my muscles very effectively (and wonderfully) for 46 minutes before he stopped and said I was done. I looked at my watch wondering about the remaining eight minutes that I had pre-paid for. He just sat there looking quite exhausted himself saying in very broken English while looking at his hands, that “there’s nothing left, I am out of power”. I let him off (“white devil” that I am) since he had very reluctantly fit Luke into my time. Not to mention I guess that he had done a pretty effective overall job, (with the exception of bending my RSI entranced thumbs back way too far). Claudette continually declines my offers (and strong recamendations!) for a massage herself. I will keep offering just to ensure she doesn’t have amunition to consider me too much of a selfish bastard spending the family money on such luxury.

My third massage was last night. Ummmmm, the memories come flooding back. There are quite a number of massage places on either side of the beach road, and we are in a VERY uncrowded area of Phuket. Many of these are just open air places with basic beds or even mats on the floor. On the inland side of the beach road there are a half dozen or so in buildings with actual walls. I had heard of the “special” massages available in Thailand from many people back home, and from other travelers we’ve met along the way. An English guy we met here (Dan) had told us about a busier area they had been to last week where there was a huge string of massage parlors along the roads. In this, the much more populated area, the signs were actually labeled occaisionally (every forth or fifth one he said) with “No Sex” for the parlors where the girls were gaurenteed NOT to hassel you at the end of the main one.

I went to check e-mail and type in the start of a BLOG post last night, but was actively canvased (being late at night) to come in for a cheap massage at various places along the way. I started thinking how nice such a gentle rubdown would be after a long day (it was almost 10:00 PM, and all other family members were in bed). I headed to the little sideroad that the internet cafe was on. This also had a pathway to a tremendously nice (and crazily expensive!) resort. I figured that the more reputable places would be adjacent to this resort’s beach entry path, and picked one there. The prices seemed amazingly reasonable (if not downright bloody cheap!). A twenty minute foot massage was (all prices converted to CAN $) $4.50; a half hour back rub $6; a sports massage (meaning vigerous?) was $10; an all over 60 minute body massage was $9; and an all over 60 minute “oil” body massage was $12. I opted for the 60 minute oil one, and then sent me to the open air roof with a little 120 pount thai lady who knew very little english. She gave me a 65 minute wonderful workover everywhere but “there”… (thank gawd!) and I felt compelled to still tip her another 100 Baht (equivelent of $3, since the original massage price was only 400 baht! or $12).

Most bizzarely though, on my way back to the hotel I was canvassed again. Here I was still outrageously reeking of linament oil, and with my skin all glistening, and she wanted to offer me a massage??? I kindly explained that I had only just had one and began walking away. She called me back suggesting that I might need a “special” massage now. I then realized that she must have seen me come out of the “reputable” place and figured I was disappointed or something??? So, mildly curious (nothing more than curiosity, HONEST!) I asked how much. She asked how much would I pay. I was growing impatient and wanted to go, so I exasperatedly replied that I had no idea since I’d NEVER had one before and was just curious, but really wanted to go to my hotel and get to bed. After more talking among the two girls, the English speaking one replied that a “specail” massage would be 1000 baht. She asked more in a negotiating tone of voice expecting me to come back lower I guess. Naturally I said thanks, bid them a good night and ended up somehow at Les & Tina’s room (Dan’s In-laws) swapping stories over a beer for another hour. I have no idea what “special” is: being full on, or just a hand; don’t care either… But I know there are many readers who would be “curious” to know the price. So it’s 1000 baht, or CAN $30 and is most likely negotiable down from there…

Grandma Vi is gonna get one (or more if she gets hooked like me!) tomorrow at the reputable place. Just for fun I might send her to other place and tell her to ask for “special”. But, knowing Grandma Vi, she would be slightly suspicious of my wry smile, and then Claudette would spill the beans. I’m sure that the massage girls would just laugh at her anyways… At least, I hope so! (Eeeeeewwwwwweeeeee!!!!!!)

GV: our first visitor from home

Monday, November 12th, 2007

A wonderful (and faithful) blog reader suggested that: “We could start a new game called “where is Grandma Vi”” Well… neat idea, but that’s a little ahead of the game. She’s probably over the Pacific right now, about an hour or two your side of Hawii still. She doesn’t land here for another 15.5 hours! Since there’s no doubt that she’ll be plenty tired, we’re planning very little for her first afternoon and evening here. After that though, it’ll be GANGBUSTERS crazy busy! We have tonnes of stuff planned: like relaxing on the beach, relaxing by the pool, relaxing at the beach front restraunts for three meals a day, and then occaisional leisurely strolls down the beach once we build up our strength. Agh……..

Actually, we have two “busy” activities planned while she’s here with us in Phuket. One is an evening spectacular buffet and elephant (50 of ’em doing stuff) and acrobatics show. The other is an all day (8:00 – 5:00) guided slew of activities including: whitewater rafting, (YES! we’ll post the pics of her screaming) an elephant ride through the jungle, an ox cart ride, posing on a water buffalo, 4×4 backcountry tour and swimming in a warm jungle waterfall pool. Their websites are: and

After Phuket we have no idea specifically where we are going. We just plan on heading North up the coast to Bangkok and then Cheng Mei and seeing what happens?

I wonder if my Mom took one of her computers over to grandma’s house so she can still read the blog postings and see the pics? Maybe someone else is printing ’em off for Grandma, Idaknow…

We still have plenty of itinerary left for anyone else who wants to meet up somewhere… Start planning.


Saturday, November 10th, 2007

Telephones & telecommunications the world over (so far) are an interesting thing. In Central and South America, everyone had cell phones. Not just one per household even, I mean almost all individual family members over 16 it seemed. The best part for us was that the internet WIFI VOIP phone worked in many many places, so we made many fun calls to various family and friends that were dirt cheap and quite a reasonable quality (considering!!!). Thanks gawd for Robert & Leesa’s home internet connection for making calls while we were there. Other than that, I only found one place with an open connection fast enough for us to use in a little strip mall a few weeks into our travels there.

The best way to communicate we’ve found, is by gmail chat. It is an instant messaging (IM) piece built directly into their online webmail page. No extra chat software need be downloaded and installed (like MSN, yahoo chat, ect) since the google chat works directly from a browser window after logging into a free Gmail acount. Quick & easy! And you can see people logged in and start chatting immediately! For anyone who wants to sign up (or has an account already) go to: and our user name is

As cool as the WIFI internet phone was, it proved to be pretty much useless in Australia as I mentioned above. At least we used it quite a bit in South & Central America before I lost the darn thing in Singapore. Instead, in Malaysia we bought a new cell phone. While this is something I always believed (and said occasionally to some people) I would avoid, it just proved to be absolutely invaluable while traveling. Throughout practically the whole East coast of Australia that we traveled, public payphones were few and far between. Most campgrounds had one, but they were a pain to use! They were often vandalized and required specific coins (which we didn’t have eight of to call around to different campgrounds or tour operators to check availability and pricing) or not giving change for the larger coins that we did have an abundance of. It was also incredibly useful to be able to make calls while driving to make arrangements for a couple of days ahead, but during business hours.

In Australia I bought the cheapest, most basic phone (Vodaphone) that I could find (for about CAN$50) to use there. The rates were OK, mostly about AUS $0.30 per minute (I think?) to call around within the same State, and AUS $1.50/min to Canada. I had planned on using the WIFI phone throughout Asia and didn’t worry about getting a more versatile cell phone. That turned out to be a huge mistake of course, since the Vodaphone was VERY expensive per minute to use in Asian countries, and (EVEN WORSE!) it didn’t work like they said it would in Singapore and Thailand. That’s a $50 credit I will likely NEVER see again from Vodaphone. Worse yet, their customer service numbers can’t be reached from any phone so far here, so I can’t even demand a refund… Live and learn.

After the vodaphone hassle, I did some quick self education on cell phones and bought the cheapest tri-mode one I could get in KL. It was only about CAN $110 and included tonnes of fancy options! Somehow I restrained myself from getting the Nokia E90 messaging phone (about CAN $1,200 in Malaysia) which was about the coolest thing ever! All phones over here have removable SIM card for changing providers (and as a result, phone numbers) in different countries that you travel to. This is incredibly uncommon in North American cell phone models. We seem to get completely screwed by the providers there! (And I haven’t even talked about rates yet!) The versatility of giving the consumer choice with changeable SIM cards is such a fantastic idea, yet we don’t even know about it or consider it. We just eat up the crap and garbage that the huge money making cell phone corporations feed us. Most phones here don’t seem to have nasty, locked in, incredibly expensive plans either. They are mostly all pay as you go with incredibly friendly and adaptable plans and rates. Even in Australia the pay-as-you-go plans were nice. The vodaphone let us pay $29 for $139 of credit that expired in thirty days, (but could not be used to call from other countries). For $30 we got $60 of credit that expired in 90 days (and could “supposedly” be used overseas). Or for $50 it was $100 of credit for 90 days. In Malaysia & Thailand the rates are even better! While the vodaphone was “locked” and couldn’t use other SIM cards, these phones here (in Asia) are completely open to change around cards at the wonderful whim of the owner. A SIM card here (so far in Singapore, Malaysia & Thailand) costs between CAN $8 and $15 which usually includes about $2 to $3 of “starter” credit. After that, “top up” cards can be bought for $3 to $10. These allow the user to just enter an unlocking code and “poof” more calls.

In Malaysia the local calls were very cheap, and even calls to Canada we calculated out to be about 30 cents! (Yes, Canadian cents!) Thus, we were making calls to Canada like crazy at the train station trying to use up our $15 balance. Even after three long calls, we still have a $9 credit on that SIM card that doesn’t expire for another two months. Way cool!

In Thailand, the calls to Canada seem marginally more so far (about CAN $0.33 per minute) but local calls are also so quick and easy! The one bad (sorta) thing about the Malaysian SIM card we bought was that text message sending capabilities (plain or multimedia SMS) required a separate VISA registration and charges, whereas the Vodaphone in Australia was just AUS $0.50 per 160 character message sent. I haven’t looked into yet for Thailand since we only just got here yesterday afternoon, and picked up the new SIM then.

So, sadly a tri-mode cell phone is something we would probably consider a necessity for traveling on your own (not an organized tour), when traveling for more than two months or so. I have no idea what we’ll do with the phone once we get home since we really have no use for one in Fort Smith, (never mind the fact that Northwestel only has analog service!). I’m not even sure if we can get a “Mobility” SIM card in Canada?!?! The cheapest tri-mode phone that I could buy in KL has a video/still camera, push to talk, and all kinds of other features. We might sell it (privately or pawn shop? who knows?) or I might just keep it for when the travel bug hits again!

For anyone who wants to send us an SMS (since we rarely have the phone turned on to receive calls) the number is:

Although someone told me that the “zero” preceeding the area code is only used when dialing within Thailand. If this is true then the number will be:


Friday, November 9th, 2007

Was one of the most pleasantly surprising countries we have visited so far. The lodging was slightly less expensive (perhaps about 75%) than the same type of room in North America, but the food was quite a bit cheaper, (and Nummy!). Malaysia is a remarkably progressive country. There were certainly some poorer areas, but they were seemingly much fewer than in the other countries of the Southeast Asia region. The larger portion of the population are Muslim, but there are also very significant portions of forth, fifth and sixth generation Chinese and Indians.

I mentioned in a previous post comment that the later two seem to feel significantly discriminated against for government jobs, holding office, getting post secondary student financial awards (even though their proportion of higher academic achievement is significantly greater) and other such things. Once again, this is merely the strong perception of most residents we spoke with and not a result of our own observations (which were not exposed enough to said areas to draw a relevant conclusion. The one thing that we did notice was that a highly dsiportionate amount of the shopkeepers and restaurant owners (and workers) were Indian and Chinese.

Market prices here were generally OK. Services and food were distinctly less expensive (20-50% of the full cost) of North America. Goods however varied. We bought a (cheap) short “D” handled spade at a hardware store for CAN $2.30 that would have cost at least $15 (or more like $20 if not on sale) in Edmonton. We also bought a couple of plastic buckets (about 3L and 8L) for just under and just over CAN $1. Computer software, audio CD’s and all DVD movies are astoundingly cheap, but presumably that’s because they are all pirated. Electronic hardware on the other hand is barely less than what we would pay in Edmonton. Maybe about 85-90% of the sale prices at home for brand name TV’s, computers, portable audio players and game consoles. There were some audio systems (and an awesome looking DJ system Robert!) for phenomenal prices (maybe 15-25% of Canadian & Aussie prices) but they were names I’ve never heard of and were likely of very dubious quality.

The economy seems very robust, both in the larger and smaller cities. The most significant thing that we noticed though was the strong proliferation of English everywhere. All the street and store signs were in two (or occasionally three) languages. English was generally spoken practically everywhere we went including the somewhat remote back alley eateries that all the locals (and us stark white Canadians) would go to. We “sorta” noticed this a bit while we were there, but admittedly (now) took it quite a bit for granted as well. The wake up call came as soon as we entered Thailand and English was immediately barely spoken or understood right from the street vendor, to snack bar cashier to train ticket window. Clearly the Malaysians have very strongly assertive English schooling in their model public school system right from an early age. All in all we were pretty impressed with Malaysia as a very economically advanced country. While we saw the destitute shanty towns on the edges of town, the majority of the population was well educated and quite progressive. This point is extra funny of course when I reflect on the opinions of most Singaporeans (sp?) about Malaysia. They were like the embarrassed upper class cousins, when Malaysia is really quite middle class compared to other far less developed countries in the region. One last example: Shopping malls in Malaysia were for practically everyone except for the poorest of citizens. Department stores and larger malls in Thailand (so far) would seem to be targeted mainly only for tourists and the very few richer people of the upper class.

So, while not quite as “cheap” as we perhaps expected, Malaysia was a very enjoyable touring experience for the nine or so days we spent there. I certainly learned much more about it than I knew beforehand. That’s to be expected of course, but most other countries (ie: Thailand or China) we here about considerably more in the media or from friends. One last forecast for KL: I expect them to build an even larger tower than Dubai, to reclaim the title, by 2020. That may sound like quite a ways off, but in the timeframe of planning and actually constructing such a monstrosity, that is very quick indeed. And as much as we enjoyed Malaysia, thank gawd (for our budget) that we’re now in Thailand where hotel rooms are $25 per night instead of $85 (or $115 in KL).


Thursday, November 8th, 2007



Experienced an earthquake
Missing Fort Smith:(
Rafting on rapids
Missing Fort Smith:(
Learnd spanish
Missing Fort Smith:(
Made lots of new friends(not just humans)
Missing Fort Smith:(
Went to Poas volcano
Missing Fort Smith:(


Went to an area where an Earthquake/tsuami hit
Missing Fort Smith:(
Did and explored many areas of Machu Pichu
Missing Fort Smith:(
Went to my first hot springs
Missing Fort Smith:(


Did a five day tour of galapagos islands,
and saw many strange and new animals,plants and stuff
Missing Fort Smith:(
Went to the Equater (which was totally awesome!!!)
Missing Fort Smith:(

4.USA (only for a day in between flights)

First time in Las Angalas
Missing Fort Smith:(
Sat around and was bored for the whole day
Missing Fort Smith:(


Sydney Aquarium
Missing Fort Smith:(
Sydney Opera house tour
Missing Fort Smith:(
Sydney haurbor bridge climb
Missing Fort Smith:(
Made new friends (and stayed with one family)
Missing Fort Smith:(
Took surfing lesson
Missing Fort Smith:(
Saw first Kangaroo
Missing Fort Smith:(
Went to first caves
Missing Fort Smith:(
Went to town of 1170 and rode in a LARC
Missing Fort Smith:(
Went snorkling (and diving but only Alex and dad did that) on the GREAT BARROIR REEF!
Missing Fort Smith:(
Australia zoo (home of the crodile hunter)
Missing Fort Smith:(


Went to the Wild Wild Wet (waterpark)
Missing Fort Smith:(
Went to Escape (theme park)


Climbed Menara tower in KL (we actually took the elavater)(it doesn’t beet the CNtower)
Missing Fort Smith:(
Took the elavater up the Petronas twin towers up to a sky bridge
Missing Fort Smith:(
Took a tour of Penang Island (thats where we are, its kinda a state)
Missing Fort Smith:(


made a new friend
Missing Fort Smith:(
Grandma got here
Missing Fort Smith:(
saved a friend after he fell in a pool(he was 4 and the pool was over my head)
Missing Fort Smith:(
went on another rafting tour
Missing Fort Smith:(
Grandma Left here
Missing Fort Smith:(
started tour to laos
Missing Fort Smith:(


Went on boat tour



So as you can see in each and every country I have been missing Fort Smith, and all you guys!



Top 4 Lists, News & Reference Pages

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Claudette brought over the “Top Four” lists from her “Claudette” blog to the main blog. It is something that we will update and change as we continue to travel. The link is reachable from any reading blog page at the upper left hand corner, underneith the “home” link.

Also, just to break things up a bit, I made a seperate page for NEWS items that we might have missed normally. A few of you who requested it I have upgraded to “Editor” status to be able to add to this timeline list. Anyone else who wants to add things from their neck of the woods on occaision need only send me an e-mail ( rick (at) jamesworld dot ca ) or write a quick comment requesting to get access to edit this page. It can be reached from any blog page in the upper left hand corner, under the “Home” link, labeled “WORLD NEWS”.

Simply click on the “WORLD NEWS” link, and then click on the “edit” link in the lower right area of the page (after the last current entry) and add a date and the news brief. I put a few things there already that people have mentioned in the comments, but anyone who’s registered should feel free to add more. (ie: Leesa or Robert: we’ll be expecting federal election results please… 🙂 )

I realize that we could also read a newspaper (on-line or otherwise) much more thoroughly and regularly than we already do, but internet time just goes so fast, and time in general to spend on this versus relaxing seems sparse for some reason???

Lastly, Claudette and I have been periodically quizzing the kids on all sorts of things that come up as a semi-academic review of things we’ve done, places we’ve been or questions that somehow arise. Some things that I will ask again they have put in a REFERENCE PAGE, also linked from the upper left corner of readable blog pages.

Bragging rights ! (aka new stuff I’ve done)

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

I so get them!!! what have I done:
I touched a Boa Constrictor!
(and this other really freaky green poisonus snake)
Gone scuba diving!
Kuddled with a koala (I misspelt that by aciddent by the way)
Gone parasailing(It was totally awesome!)
done zipling(don’t worry I know thats not a word!)
been to Machu Pichu
climbed a really tall tower in the amazon jungle
(thats all I can think of for now, I had lots but the message deleted itself (Ididn’t do it)

Stuff I still gotta do:
Go horse back riding (PLEASE DADDY!)
have a snake on my shoulders.
climb the Eifel (Eifal? Eifil?) Tower

thats all for now, expect this blog to be edited.


Claudette’s view on Singapore and Malaysia so far…

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Well, it’s just barely been a week since we’ve left Australia, and I must admit I really miss the familiar and the annonymity. So far we stick out like tourists even more so than I felt in South America. It’s a bit eerie to be watched everywhere we go.

We have kept to most of the big shopping centers and attractions, although we did venture out to Chinatown while we were in Singapore. It’s pretty much just like the movies with small 4′ x 8′ kiosk selling everything and anything. Yesterday we picked up a couple of watches for ourselves. Rick bought a Rolex off the street and I picked up a “Guess” watch from a kiosk for the equivalent of about $3 Canadian.

In Singapore we did mostly family stuff with going to the water park and theme park, while in Malyasia we have done more sightseeing. The hotel we ended up picking is fantastic as it is walking distance to most attractions and the KL Monorail is right beside it. Tomorrow we are off to the island of Penang, so we will be doing more relaxing on the beach.

Rick’s already nagging me to start thinking about contributing some writing to the family Christmas letter, Ugh… I can’t believe how quickly time is flying by.

THREE MONTHS DOWN – Entering Malaysia to “KL”

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

EVERYONE here (and even in Fort Smith, just ask your friendly neighborhood reporter) calls their capital city, “KL” with affectioate reverence.

We arrived in Johur Bahru a little after lunch on Tuesday and weren’t due to leave for Kuala Lumpor (KL) until almost midnight. Thus we had several hours with nothing to do but go shopping!!! Luckily this city on the edge of the border with Singapore had some pretty impressive shopping options. The mall we hit had five floors up, a ground floor, and one basement floor. The ground floors are considered G here, and the first floor is pically the second story up. Thus, in our current hotel, while the elevator says floor nineteen, we are actually up on the twentieth story. This mall was huge! It seemed to stretch back into far corners that were not even fathomable from the central court. There were numerous electronic stores offering all sorts of camera equipment, personal audio players, ten tonnes of cell phones, computer gear, console & portable gaming, and of course all kinds of software… And what prices!!! Unbelievable they were… $5000 plus AutoCAD for only $3, and the latest $80 computer games for $5. All vendors assured me that they were perfectly legal legitimate copies, and so I indulged with a few titles that would be handy later once we bought a computer.

We also are fortunate that I had alreaady hacked our two PSP’s with an open version of the operating system. There were tonnes of PSP games for sale as playable image files on large sized DVD as well as UMD’s. The image files allow the games to be played directly from the flash card instead of having to carry the PSP designed UMD around, and having to physically swap them out. Most outlets also sell already hacked PSP consoles for the same equivelent price as what they are sold for in Canada ($200).

Our train ride was not quite as we expected since all of the first class bed suites were sold out. Thus we were stuck with second class beds down a long hallway. It was an OK experience and interesting to experience at least once we figured. The price of the First Class cabins are so disgustingly cheap that they are easily worthwhile though. The second shock came today when we tried to book first class bed cabins to the next town (7 hrs) near Penang and were told that all were long since booked. Even worse though was the fact that the second class lower beds (down the long hall with individual curtains) were booked as well. The upper bunks are slightly less money, but we would have to load our suitcases up there as well as us two Forty year old’s having to clamber up there!

Speaking of bags, we saw another caucasian couple (much younger of course, and no kids) travelling with just a small, carry-on size, hard sided suitcase and a small rucksack each. The contents of these four bags combined would probably have easily fit into Alex’s suitcase I think. Both Claudette and I stared at them in open mouthed wonderment, admiration and not a little jealousy. Clearly they had no electronics, (with associated chargers and converters), mosquito nets, and sleeping bags for hostels, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

The hotel we ended up booking in KL was quite a bit nicer than we could afford, but we didn’t really make arrangements before arriving. The Concord is walking distance to all the major sights right downtown though. It also has very good rates for an upper class type business hotel. We’re paying CAN $100 per night for a very large room on the top floor with a king sized bed (and cots) and it was highly recamended in the Aisia Frommer’s book we have. Hopefully we’ll make up for this higher price in Thailand. Food prices here are quite reasonable though. Rotten Ronnie’s today cost us CAN $15 for lunch and desert for four. Plus it helps a bit that a huge breakfast every morning is included with our room price.

Our first day we went to the KL tower, a single structure similar to (and slightly smaller than) the CN tower for cityscape viewing. It offered a spectacular view all around and we could easily see all of the Petronas twin towers several blocks away. he smog here was noticeable at that height, but we could easily see about 8 km, before it started to become pretty hazy at +10 km. We went yesterday to the twin towers for the free tour of the linking bridge, but the available tickets for the day were sold out long before lunchtime apparently. So, after breakfast today we went right to the ticket booth at the site and only goy 5:15 PM tickets! When we finally made it up the view and feeling was very cool. The “Eye of Malaysia” ferris wheel was a tiny dot in the distance and we quickly realized that it wasn’t worth going to after being in both tall KL landmarks. The Petronas twins are named for the Government owned Multinational oil and gas corporation which operates in Malaysia. Sadly this means that when I would say Pet-ron-as thinking it was some exotic Malay word, I was completely wrong. Turns out that it is Pet-ro-nas, simply derrived from “petrol” like seemingly all other aspects of our world these days.

Compared to the Malaysia & London tourist ferris Wheels, the “Eye of Singapore” was huge though, and sadly wasn’t opened yet when we passed by there. It is larger than London’s and is slated to be open in mid 2000. The KL Tower is the currenty the third tallest tower in the world, after the CN tower in Toronta and one in China. The display downstairs had a very nice gallery and displays on all of the worlds 20 tallest towers. The Petronas twin towers were actually the tallest buildings in the world for several years until Taipe 101 opened a few years back. Now, those crazy, “money growing out of their ears” guys in Dubai are building the hugest of all! It will be open in about 20 months I think I read, and once finished will not only be the tallest building, it will exceed the CN tower as the tallest tower, and also will take the coup de grace over some (unmanned) TV tower in the midwest States somewhere as the tallest manmade structure on the EARTH! While the Taipae building is 101 stories, the Dubai one is about 160!!! These guys don’t want anyone breaking their record anytime soon it would seem.

We killed the day waiting for our free bridge tour with some other errands and attractions. The best was a 30 minute demonstration of Malaysian dancing put on at the Tourism Information center halfway between the twin towers and our hotel. A dozen men and women in extravagantly colorful outfits (which changed multiple times throught) gave wonderful displays of various regional dances. Most were all very lively and upbeat, and Luke even joined them for one dance when audience members were invited up. Sadly, his extreme caucasionness came through loud and clear as they tried to teach him the steps to the national dance in under 300 seconds. At the end the MC invited audience members to come up on stage for pictures with the troup, and said that she would give “The Foreigners” the first opportunity. I nodded yes, and she invited us up immediately. So, I stood up and strted going to the end of the isle only to find that Claudette was sitting there calmly waiting for all the other foreigners to go up first. When I pointed out that we were the only “whity’s” among a packed gallery of about 100 school kids, and other Asian (Chinese, Indians, etc) tourists. She and the kids joined me after Claudette stood up and looked around at the rest of the crowd.

We have to stay one extra day in order to catch the Saturday train to Butterworth (near Penang). Saturday is the only day that there is a daytime train sceduled. Then we plan on spending almost a week luxuriating on the beaches in Penang before heading accross the border to Thailand. We have amost confirmed our GAP tour from Northern Thailand, through Laos and ending in Hanoi on our flight date. We (half of us anyways) just thought it would be easier than stumbling along in a country which isn’t quite touristy and organized with that focus yet.


Sunday, October 28th, 2007

What a huge city/country…

After an eight hour flight (I was expecting something much shorter from my memory of looking at the globe) we arrived to full darkness at 2:00 AM. Speaking of globes… before we left I aked Leesa-Maree to borrow one from school and bring it home to show everyone Canada versus Australia. She managed to find a little tiny one (about 10cm in diameter) that showed political boundaries from a few years ago and had a couple towns marked. Funny enough though, the ONLY town marked in the Northwest Territories was PINE POINT! Very odd of course, since Pine Point has not existed as a town for probably around twenty years! It was a mine town, and one the mine was closed all houses, buildings, power poles were removed when the mine shut down.

Singapore was quite an interesting visit for the few days we were there. Our plane arrived an hour later than scheduled which meant we arrived at the hotel about 1:00 AM! Yes, we were all tired and cranky. The plane was quite nice though… It was a boeing 777 with all the fix’ins. 10 seats accross a row and a fully customizable entertainment console in every seatback. This one was even better that the 747’s though because we could play networked games (checkers, backgammon ect) with each other. Plus these phones could call other passengers, dialled by seat number. What a great way for singles to meet up to possibly join the “MH club”.

The taxi (or “taksi” as they spell it here) system was pretty cool in that everyone lined up at a booth inside and prepaid the fare to whatever part of town you wanted to travel to.Very efficient and saves negotiating with (and/or getting screwed by) the individual drivers. The first thought as we emerged from the aic conditioned terminal building was dealing with the overwhelming heat and humidity. We all agreed that it was just as bad or even worse than Figi. Our second vivid impression of Singapore was while driving from the airport was watching a cab just ahead of us in the adjacent lane at a stoplight. A rear door causually opened and an early 20’s guy began expelling the contents of his stomache on to the pavement. Now, as one might imagine, we were not a little stunned to witness this after hearing so much about spitting in public and posession of gum being illegal in Singapore. Thus we were slightly relived to see that perhaps they weren’t quite as stringent a society as travel reports (both published and verbally from others) had led us to believe.

Our hotel was actually a large hostel complex with larger patio areas in front of each single story, “condo” style unit. There were many people milling around even in the wee hours when we were walking to our room. This unfiled fact would come to haunt us the next night. To check in we were actually dropped off at the wrong part of the resort. The driver had dropped us off at the slightly) nicer part of the resort complex. The night desk clerk there called the other officeo get an electric cart to pick us up.

We slept in the next day, and wandered a few blocks away to semi shopping complex called “Downtown East” for some 11:00 AM fast food breakfast. With a variety of western franchises and some local ones we chose an elaborate buffet place to pig out at. After walking back through to the main complex we decided to hit the waterpark there. It was smaller scale with a slant towards younger families. They did have two water slides which were rather tame with gentle curves compared to West Ed. This place did have a huge tube (8 passengers!) river ride which we had to force Luke to go on and all enjoyed a couple times together. The wave pool was very small, (even slightly smaller than the Millwoods pool) but right beside it was a two person tube half pipe. This was VERY cool! Alex went with me the first time and she was too speechless with fright to even scream!!! Somehow, (under deep coercion and trading a variety of privelidges) I even concvinced Claudette to go with me. Alex forgot to warn her mother NOT to go down first (with her back to the downhill slope and looking up at me) and all Claudette said she saw was my bulk blocking out the sun and sky above her as we went hurtling down at about a 75 degree slope. It is rather difficult to explain but I will try and find a website link.

That night the neighbors partied until a little after 4:00 AM. Worse was the fact that we had an adjoining door though which all noise easily flowed (in fact it semmed as though it might have been amplified!). My loving supportive wife refused to allow me to ask them to tone it down a bit or to even phone the front desk. We asked around the next morning and quickly realized that since most homes here were very small that this was a cheap way for friends and/or family groups to get together for a party. The room next door to us was completely vacant (and unslept in by the looks of it through the open curtains) so everyone just took a cab home when the party wound down. During the day as we had walked through, there were very large groups BBQing with charcoal in front of rooms which we knew could only sleep 4. Now we know better! It also probably didn’t help that we were booked in there during a weekend, never mind the fact that it was a long weekend!

Since we had originally only booked for two nights, when we decided to stay a third night we had to change rooms. Also in this area was a small amusment park called escape. It also had most rides for slightly younger families. Claudette stayed in the room to do some more relaxing while Alex, Luke and I went in the rain to check it out on Sunday night. Most rides were closed during the rain but we went inside to wait anyways. The kids went through the haunted house a few times while I threw some cash away at the typical midway games. I tried one however where I won on the first try (MR2, or about CAN $0.62) of rolling balls down into slots to accumulate a small or large number, but not the range inbetween. Cleary the gods were smiling on me and I scored a huge purple Snuffelupagus. The kids were impressed by it, but insisted on calling it just a plain old elephant. I think it had big sweet droopy eyes just like Snuffy though. Since it was much too large to take with us, I gave it away to the lifegaurd at the pool as we went to check out.

We booked ourselves a mid afternoon train trip to the main Malaysian city (Johor Bahru) just on the other side of the border. This took one hour, and to save a huge amount of money we had to buy tickets to the rest of the way to Kuala Lumpor from within Malaysia. Unfortunately all the first class sleeper cabins were booked, so we were stuck with the second class sleeper hallway. It’s difficult to describe but I shot a few pictures. The carriage is lined with top and bottom bunks with individual curtains.