Ralph's Southeast Asia Adventure

By Ralph Monfort

For almost seven weeks in February and March 2006 I traveled through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. What follows are the pertinent parts of my travel journal for this trip. I have found that friends and family have enjoyed traveling vicariously with me through my journals. I hope this one tickles your imagination and gives you some appreciation for the lands and cultures of Southeast Asia. My trip this time naturally broke into five segments.

The five segments were preplanned, prepaid tours to:

  1. Kayak in Khao Sok National Park in Thailand
  2. Bike in Cambodia
  3. Trek in northern Thailand
  4. Bike in southern Laos and, after a bike trip in northern Laos was canceled at the last minute
  5. Roam on my own in northern Laos

Part One: Kayaking in Thailand

5 or maybe 6 Feb 06, Sunday/Monday, in flight to Tokyo, Japan. As per normal the night before a trip I did not sleep well. The alarm rang at 4:30 a.m. and Sheryl made good time to the airport. Check in was easy. I ended up with a stop in Seattle I had not expected. I thought my route was Denver to Tokyo to Bangkok. Ah, well. Right now I'm in flight to Tokyo after two movies and probably approaching the International Date Line, hence the confused date line above.
So far all the flights have gone without a hitch. I didn't even need to take off my sandals going through security. The weather has been great too, some cloud cover over the ocean and a little turbulence. Approaching Seattle we flew very near Mt. Rainier cloaked as it seemed in ermine. What a glorious sight! The hike up did not look so bad from the southeast side at this altitude. Flying over Seattle before doubling back to the airport was great viewing too. I was able to get window seats for all flights to Tokyo and it will be sunlight the whole way since we're paralleling the sun's daily route. The segment from Tokyo to Bangkok is much longer than I expected and most will be after dark unfortunately.

6 Feb 06, 3:30 p.m., Norita Airport in Tokyo, Japan
The first sign I saw at Norita Airport in Japan as we taxied down the runway was hand painted and read, "Down with Norita Airport" in English. The temperature was exactly at the freeze point and we had descended in snow flurries. The taxi was extremely long, surely the longest in my increasingly unreliable memory as we toured the various terminals longing for our berth. Would this have anything to do with that sign?

4:55 p.m., at the gate after a bit of confusion.
My flight was not listed on the big board. However, there are information personnel stationed at strategic spots at this airport and I was able to catch the shuttle bus to the right terminal in plenty of time. There I found ANA or Japan/Nippon Airways as near as I can reconstruct what the ticket agent said, the same ticket agent who explained, unnecessarily, that Nippon means Japan. The agent seemed disturbed that I did not have a Thai visa and that I was apparently staying in Thailand well over the month period when a visa is required. After explaining that I would only be in Thailand for a week or so at a time and would be traveling to other countries in between, she finally gave me a boarding pass. Then it was another long walk and an automatic shuttle ride to my gate. My plane was late arriving and then it is a seven hour, twenty minute flight to Bangkok, even longer than I had previously thought-my, SE Asia is a big place. This is going to be a very long day.
The Norita Airport is easy for an English speaker to navigate as I suspected it would be. I checked out the bathroom situation and found both western style johns and squat toilets. Otherwise, it was per normal except you push the sink's faucet lever down for water and up for off, but I've seen similar fixtures in the States.

7 Feb 06, Tuesday 7 a.m., Bangkok Airport waiting to fly to Phuket
After a little more than three and a half hours of hard sleep, I still feel a little punchy. The flight to Bangkok landed almost two hours late, and it was 2:15 a.m. before I finally got to bed. The flight was nearly full. I had the aisle seat in a two-person section. The young fellow next to me spoke no English and seemed new to air travel. He and most of the other people on the flight had no trouble sleeping though. I shut my eyes a couple times, but got no real sleep. My lack of interest in things electronic caught up with me as I took an extraordinarily long time to figure out how to play one of the several movies in English on my personal entertainment system thoughtfully provided by the airline. It was the two movies I had wanted to see that kept me sane as my situation was much less comfortable than my previous three flights. My seat mate tended to take up more than his share of the available leg room and I had a metal box (probably supporting the video electronics) where my right foot would have fitted so I could neither stretch out that leg nor stuff my knapsack under the seat. The situation was relieved also by a tasty meal of eel, rice and vegetables nicely prepared with an appetizer of sashemi no less. Then, late in the flight, the attendants handed out cups of Häagen Dazs mango-coconut cream & sorbet to those of us still sentient.
Having survived over twenty-four hours of airplane flights and airports, I still had to contend with the Bangkok Airport before getting myself a few hours of sleep. Getting through customs and passport check was a breeze, but finding my driver to the hotel took a bit of time. Finally, a request for a page announcement uncovered him and, after arming myself with 1,000 Thai baht (about $25) from an ATM, we started off. Unfortunately, my driver was either new to Bangkok cabbing or the hotel's location was obscure as our route was rather circuitous with several stops for directions and a cell phone call to his company before we found it. The shower felt great and the bed even better. I slept like a rock and awoke groggy. I will be returning to the same hotel in Bangkok four more times this trip as Bangkok is central to my current sojourn in SE Asia.
I gave myself two hours to get to the airport and checked in on the advice of the hotel clerk. As such I missed the hotel buffet breakfast and got to the gate with beaucoup time to spare. The freeway was empty and fast. My cabby charged me 500 baht, 100 baht more than the hotel clerk told me to expect. I tried bargaining, but failed. <I later discovered that there is a difference between metered cabs on a set rate per kilometer and unmetered cabs with fees based on mutual agreement; from then on I always asked for a metered cab and paid about half the price of that first cab ride.>

6:30 p.m., Khao Sok National Park, Thailand.
I'm bushed-no political statement intended. I'm hoping to survive supper before I crash. The flight to Phuket was full, but not unpleasantly so. I read through an English-language Thai newspaper to get a feel for the news they cover, the slant, and the opinion page. Strangely, the comics and puzzles were identical to ours except Blondie, Charlie Brown, and Calvin all had black hair and mildly slanted eyes…no, no, no, that will not do-it has all the hallmarks of a racial slur. My god, if I become even more exhausted I might begin to draw Allah attributing to him comic remarks bringing down an almost certain death sentence upon my head. But I digress…
The breakfast on the flight was much appreciated. My ankles had gotten ravaged by tiny mosquitoes while waiting in the Bangkok Airport where they drifted in through the constantly opening and closing sliding glass doors to the runway. After slathering them with bug dope, I decided to start taking my malaria pills even though I had read that Phuket does not have this particular problem and all I had to take the pill with was a bite-sized Snickers so the plane food went down well. In addition to orange juice and a sort of mild mystery meat on a bun, I had a small salad of sliced carrots, a tiny leave of lettuce and pickled ginger, the kind you get as a side with sushi. It had shown up as a condiment on the plane meal last night to Bangkok too. I find that I enjoy it very much in these different settings. If these recipe discoveries continue at the current pace on this trip, I could compile a cookbook of pickled ginger helper for all of my friends.
The flight was otherwise uneventful and I had a bit less trouble finding my greeters this time though it still took a couple of searches. They were two, Moo (a nickname, the spelling of which I'm unsure) who is the wife of Dave, the American expat who runs the kayak tour and, Ian who is a Welsh expat working part time for Dave. Ian served twelve years in the RAF before exiting and working until retirement primarily in Malaysia and Thailand. I quickly found out that he is assisting Moo on this particular trip with me their only client. I had expected to join a small group, but this could be sweet especially since Ian and I hit it off immediately and Moo is a kind hearted soul though the language barrier could be a minor problem. I speak no Thai and her accent is sometimes a bit thick. Nevertheless, the start of this tour looked promising from the get go.
The ride north from Phuket Airport was pleasant as Ian and I talked about a variety of topics. I found talking to someone with several years experience in Thailand to be interesting and helpful. We stopped for lunch at a roadside café/gas station. I had a nice pork curry over rice and Thai iced tea, a favorite drink for many years, which tasted great. Although Ian told me ice cubes are normally made with purified water, crushed ice can be suspect, but he thought it was okay here.
Khao Sok National Park is two and half hours north and a bit east of Phuket. The part of the park we're in is really just a massive reservoir, but that doesn't do it justice. Those parts of land remaining above water are weird limestone karsts covered with foliage identical to what we saw….

8 Feb 06, Wednesday 5:25 a.m., Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
I was literally drifting off in the middle of a sentence last night so I just put the journal aside and slept. I'll pick up right where I left off. …to what we saw in the Gulf of Thailand on my Odyssey bike trip in 2003. Evidently some of these are the highest cliff faces in Thailand and they indeed tower over you. Except where relatively recent sloughing action has bared clean rock, the karsts are completely covered in vegetation including full sized trees that have somehow gotten purchase on the nearly vertical slopes. Sometimes between mounds you see narrow gaps where one might climb to the top through rugged terrain. It makes you wonder what manner of animals you might find in these nearly inaccessible places.
Arriving at the park's entrance station, a small kiosk at the water's edge staffed by a couple of ladies, we signed in, loaded our luggage into the waiting longtail (a long, narrow boat powered by a two-stroke motor with a long propeller shaft very common throughout SE Asia) and headed out onto the reservoir. We were fortunate as our engine had a muffler to make the 45 minute ride a bit more comfortable. Although the sky was mostly cloudy we still appreciated the mesh canopy covering the midsection of the boat. The ride also provided its own breeze so we were quite comfortable as we ogled the majestic karsts on every side. Whenever I am at a reservoir I can't help but wonder what it was like before it was flooded. In this case, "wild" came immediately to mind, the kind of wild you think of with the word "primeval".
During the ride we saw only a few other longtails and occasionally a small group of huts in an accessible area, but mostly the scenery was water and those green karsts. Our place of residence for the next three nights is very basic. A landing platform with tables under an awning, a small building housing the kitchen, and eight bungalows where the guests stay and which are connected to the main platform via a walkway. The platform, buildings, and walkways are all made of bamboo and other local wood and are floating on bundles of bamboo poles on the reservoir itself. I dove under my hut and could not see bottom so the drop-off from shore is rather rapid. To complete the complex there are two small huts on shore containing basic johns (our pedestal type which you flush by pouring a ladle of water into it) and showers and a couple of larger buildings on shore that I did not visit, but assumed were where the staff was housed. Overall, the structures were of very basic design, like you might find in a traditional village many years ago.
The walkways have large bamboo poles in bundles beneath with some local wood about an inch thick lying crosswise on the bamboo. Then split bamboo slats are nailed down the center to walk upon. My hut has a door at either end, one window which opens to the lake with a nice porch from which you can dive right into the water. One large window, no glass, opens lakeward also. With everything open a nice breeze flows through. Last night I slept with both the window and door to the lake wide open. Inside are two mattress pallets, very firm, covered with a cotton sheet. A mosquito net can be draped over the pallets making a nice, secure sleeping space. I had never used a net before, and I rather liked it. It hangs at a height of about three feet above the mattress and tucks beneath it so it doesn't impede movement though it does cut down a bit on air flow. Other than a piece of small rope across one corner of the hut for a cloths line, the hut is otherwise empty. Moo told me this operation is run by the Thai park service as is everything else within the park.
When we first arrived, a little past noon, I immediately took advantage of the water access and swam my normal workout. It felt great. There was not much to see, a few drowned trees and some very small fish amongst some water growth gone wild. Next, we boarded our kayaks and did a two and a half hour nature paddle. Moo was our leader as Ian has not been here before and is in "learn" mode. Our basic plan each time was to follow the shoreline stopping often to scan the thick foliage for any signs of movement or sound. Moo was particularly interested in finding monkeys and would sit for long periods scanning the trees with her binoculars at promising locations.
We stopped at several locations where monkeys were feeding, but the leaves were so thick that I got only occasional glimpses of them. I didn't have much luck in the bird department that first time either. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and toward the end of our paddle found I was nodding off in my kayak if we stopped for very long. Shortly before we turned around with the sun low on the horizon, we hit the jackpot, a troop of dusky langurs, good-sized monkeys, was on the move. We caught solid glimpses as they traversed their leafy trail. Then, right at a point where a break in the hill to the west allowed the sun through like a stage spotlight, the monkey's path had a long gap that could be continued only by a prodigious leap. We watched as langur after langur leapt out across the expanse clutching, just in time, a thin branch that danced and bucked under their weight. A couple of females in particular captured our attention as the yellowish bulge at their stomachs turned out to be their young clinging on for all they were worth. The spotlight of the sun added to the dramatic effect and we paddled back to base camp well content with our expedition.
Supper was modest but filling, a mild chicken and eggplant curry (not our big purple eggplant, but its golf ball-sized green cousin), a dish of greens and chicken, a good-sized fish nicely grilled, and fruit for dessert which was sliced pineapple and watermelon with lam yai, a thin-skinned fruit that you peel, extract the largish central seed and then eat the slightly sweet, translucent fruit. It reminded me of the Chinese fruit we called dragon's eye on the Odyssey trip and was probably a variant of it.
I turned in right after supper and, falling asleep as I wrote, put pad and pen aside and slept the sleep of the dead beginning about 8:30 p.m. I awoke once at around 11:50 p.m. when the others turned in and the electric generator shut off for the night, but then remembered no more until 3:35 a.m. when I got up to pee. It was very dark with a sky full of bright stars. The jungle was full of night insect songs. In the bathroom I saw a footlong gecko, the largest I've ever seen. Before I slept I heard a loud two-note call that I assumed to be a night bird, "HUH-oh, HUH-oh" repeated at short intervals. In the morning Moo told me it was the call of that large gecko. The temperature was perfect for sleeping. I slept uncovered until early morning when I pulled the light blanket provided over me.
Our plan for the day was to rise at 6 a.m. while still dark (we are just above the equator where the day and night are of about equal length all year long), drink our tea, coffee or hot chocolate, and be on the water by 6:30 a.m. This we did and paddled another two and a half hours looking for wildlife. We did see a few more birds and saw a squirrel feeding high in a tree. We heard monkeys but didn't see any on this paddle. Far off in the jungle we could hear the weird call of the gibbon, that long-limbed acrobat often seen in zoos. I'd love to see them in the wild. Home again to a late breakfast of pineapple pancakes and now it's nap time. We leave for a waterfall hike at 12:30 p.m.

3:20 p.m. The hike up the waterfall was nice. It was odd being in a jungle without insects bothering you. I didn't get a single bite though Ian carried a leech back in his shoe. We took one of the longtails to the trailhead and the young Thai pilot was also our guide up the trail (now three to one in favor of the guides). It was a mildly strenuous hike along and sometimes in the shallow stream of water flowing down the hill. In the wet season I suspect it is a veritable cataract, but now it's just a pleasant stream. We did some birding along the way. I saw some movement a couple of times but our quarry was elusive. Our guide had keen eyes and Moo got a good look at what sounded like a pretty bird from her description. I did see some type of squirrel or other tree dwelling mammal with light colored back stripes coming down a tree, but I could not find it in Moo's animal book. Coming down we heard some gibbons calling in the distance again.
When we returned we had lunch. I really didn't need it and don't know if I'll be hungry for any supper. We're resting again until 4:30 p.m. when we'll go back out in the kayaks. However, the wind has come up and the lake is choppy. My bungalow feels like a moored boat rocking and rolling. I don't know how the kayaking will go in this water. Even if we see anything, we will be bouncing so much our binoculars might be useless.

8:30 p.m. Wrong again. It was a bit choppy heading out, but we immediately ducked behind the point where we are staying into a small bay I didn't know was there. There, completely sheltered from the wind, we had good luck seeing a variety of birds, none of which were positively identified when we returned and scanned Moo's Thai bird books, a large lizard on a branch, and more dusky langurs. As afternoon turned to dusk we paddled back and I got a shortened swim in before it got too dark. Supper tonight was plentiful with a variety of dishes, some very tasty and some just okay. Ian and I talked awhile before I turned in to work on my journal. Good thing too as I'm fading fast.
Oh, I wanted to mention that Moo remarked at supper she used to eat her food very, very hot and spicy until her eyesight began failing. Her doctor told her to cut back on the spices or her vision would suffer more. I have never heard of such a thing.
By the way, we currently have the whole floating hut operation to ourselves. There was another couple here for a day yesterday, but they've left. I get the impression this place doesn't get very busy.

9 Feb 06, Thursday 10:30 a.m., Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
I slept soundly again last night after turning in early. The wind had died down around dusk so the lake calmed down and the hut wasn't moving like it was during my afternoon nap. We got going just before sunrise and paddled across a stretch of the lake to a small inlet. We spent the next couple hours mostly within sight of our camp across the lake. Each inlet we visit has its own charms. They remind me of a huge cinema screen that curves around your moving seat. The hills go steeply up from the shore. From the large variety of trees, bushes, and vines, I suspect this environment is healthy. They form a vertical, green screen upon which whatever drama is to come will be presented. The players most fun to watch are the monkeys if you're lucky enough to spot them. You will hear them first, rustling through the greenery or perhaps vocalizing. Then you will see branches and leaves moving violently back and forth, evidence of a monkey on the move. Sometimes this is the whole show and no amount of binocular viewing will allow you to pierce the screen to see what takes place beyond. Sometimes, however, you are lucky and the players come out into the open to take a bow.
This morning we were treated to a particularly large screen with multiple, simultaneous dramas taking place upon it. The players were white-handed gibbons and dusky langurs. For probably forty-five minutes we watched consecutive acts of branch thrashing. Maybe only a dozen times did we actually sight our quarry. Mostly these were fleeting glimpses, but I did get to see a gibbon in the classic full body hang down portrait you often see with gibbons. Another time I got a closer look full in the face of a gibbon almost at eye level. The langurs were mostly high up making a racket in a large dry fern tree, but we did get a nice look at a couple quietly feeding on a branch. The show is often over before you know it. All of a sudden you realize you've not heard any branch thrashing in awhile, no credits, no bows, just silence and so you paddle to your next venue.
In another cove we were treated again to a gibbon howl session. A group just at the top of the hill started the chorus. We all scanned the area with our binoculars but could see no sign of them although they sounded very close. Soon other groups from all around started up. The call and response went on for half an hour, better than a concert in an auditorium in my opinion.
Both Ian and Moo are good at spotting wildlife. Moo knows something about what she has seen before but neither is a particularly knowledgeable naturalist. This is a bit of a shame as we've seen quite a few birds we've not bee able to identify with the bird books Moo has. Many of them I suspect are common and would be no-brainers for someone even moderately knowledgeable. Given time I suspect both could become aces themselves as they both have the persistence and patience for wildlife viewing in abundance.
I've enjoyed meeting the strangler fig again. This killer begins as a small vine climbing to the top of a tall tree. As it grows it winds around its host, eventually killing it. We walked through one yesterday on our waterfall walk. Only a bit of the skeleton of its victim could be seen in the folds of the now very thick tendrils. When the host finally rots away, the fig tree, by this time robust and self-sufficient, remains in place often in weird, snaky configurations.

4 p.m. After breakfast of pineapple pancake and a short nap, I swam around the tip of our peninsula to the cove we kayaked to late yesterday afternoon when it was so windy. Just as I started back I heard the whoosh of powerful wings and looked up to see my first hornbill fly over. It was followed by a second one a minute later. These are large, heavy birds that need powerful wing strokes to keep them aloft. You can't mistake the sound of their flight.
I also heard rustling at the base of a large tree encumbered by a strangler fig. I swam close to shore and watched for a bit. I was rewarded with a dusky langur climbing up one of the fig tendrils. I hooted a few times and heard an explosion of sound in the undergrowth followed by several more langurs heading up into the big tree. I'm not sure what I said, but I suspect it resembled their alarm call.
I got back to camp in time to don my hiking shoes for another outing. This time we piled into a longtail and sped across a new portion of the lake to a jungle at the base of a tall karst. Our goal was to hike part way up the karst to a vantage point that promised a good view of the area. I can now attest that a karst is just as rugged up close as they appear from a distance. The first three quarters of the hike was through thick jungle on trails that I would rate "not bad" to "good". But then we hit the karst proper and the real climb began. There appears to be almost no erosion on this rock. You had to watch every step because the rock had jagged edges and very uneven surfaces. A slip could mean a sliced hand or leg. We, my three guides and I, cautiously made our way to the vantage point. It was indeed a spectacular view. We could see almost all the way to our small camp. The haze of the thick atmosphere added to the exotic scene laid out before us.
Surprisingly, we met a tourist group coming down as we went up. It was the first farangs (Thai for foreigner) I had seen since I arrived at the park. I also caught a glimpse of two black hornbills and heard another fly over, hidden by the jungle canopy. We also spotted a stiff, mottled green lizard climbing a tree. Its colors perfectly blend in with a lichen covered tree. When we arrived at camp in mid afternoon we had our usual late lunch and a rest before our late afternoon kayak trip.
Our late afternoon paddle is always the most pleasant because we're out as the sun sets and evening advances, always the most peaceful time of day when living in the open. Today we saw a troop of dusky langurs on the move again with some nice jumps in the mix. They were traveling among the trees atop a narrow ridge running the length of the peninsula our huts are on. Therefore the trees and langurs were highlighted against the sky instead of being lost in a background of green as they have often been. Even when they were at rest we could see them clearly silhouetted. Ian saw an animal he can't identify in the book. I tried to help, but he wasn't able to give me many clues. Based on what he told me I'd guess some sort of civet.
When we returned I jumped into the lake in lieu of a shower before supper. Tomorrow we can sleep in a bit, have breakfast and then pull the kayaks by longtail to a high karst cliff where we paddle awhile. From there we'll return to the huts for lunch, pack, longtail to our van and drive back to Phuket Town where I spend the night.
Oh, I keep meaning to mention that the new water shoes I bought for six bucks before the trip have worked great both on the kayak and on the waterfall trek. I should get some good use from them. Also, I saw the staff washing the dishes directly in the lake. I suspect this and other practices will have to halt before much longer. The staff also has the right to gather whatever is edible as part of their larder: fruit, vegetables, etc. They can also fish although tourists are not allowed to do this.

10 Feb 06, Friday 1:30 p.m., waiting to leave for Phuket Town
I awoke at 4 a.m. and could not sleep so I added some to my journal and completed a crossword puzzle before doing my morning stretching exercises and swimming a mile before breakfast at 7 a.m. We towed the kayaks via longtail to a large karst face and kayaked awhile. We saw eleven great hornbills all fly off from the same spot and had a great view of a pair in a tree - - magnificent birds! We even saw this last pair click bills after landing. We also saw my first long-tailed macaques and some more dusky langurs. I got a good look at a mother with her bright yellowish blond infant which makes quite a contrast in the sun. We've just had lunch and are waiting to leave for Phuket Town. I'll read a bit, swim a bit and pack in the mean time.

9:10 p.m., Phuket Town. The trip to Phuket Town was a bit anticlimactic. The sky had been cloudy all day and had even dropped a few splashes of rain on us while kayaking. It continued cloudy and once up to speed in the longtail, the wind was actually brisk so that the spray was not pleasant. We did pass through some fabulous karst canyons where the now dead river once ran. I again wondered what it was like before the flood.
It began raining in earnest just before we docked and continued for awhile on the road. Moo was on her cell phone much of the way and has the annoying habit of many cell phone users of talking very loudly on the cell. She heads back to the bungalows tomorrow with another couple of clients and seemed very distracted. We let her out first and she didn't even say good-bye.
There was a bit of drama at my hotel - it was not the one on my voucher or itinerary. It seems there had been a change, but I had a new voucher and a new itinerary for the Cambodian bike trip at the desk. Our driver called Anh, the trip coordinator from Phnom Penh I had worked with pre-trip, and she gave me the reason for the change, but I didn't understand it with all the noise in the background.
I decided not to go out for supper as I was not very hungry. I did eat a chocolate heart Sheryl had slipped into my bag for Valentine's Day before I left on the trip. Tomorrow I get breakfast at the hotel, then a driver takes me to the airport for the flight back to Bangkok where I spend a night before the Cambodian bike trip.

11 Feb 06, Saturday 10:10 a.m., Phuket airport waiting for Bangkok flight
A couple of observations on driving to the airport: 1) aggressive drivers in Thailand, including all of those I've driven with since my arrival, tend to straddle the lane line on multi-lane roads until they must make a decision. On two lane roads they spend a lot of time straddling the center line; 2) we were following a van with five CDs spaced evenly across the bottom of the rear window. When I pointed this out to my driver, he remarked that they reflected headlights at night making the car easier to see - what an interesting idea.
Breakfast at the hotel was typical Thai. The buffet had fried rice, rice noodles, a rice soup, fried eggs, and toast plus a variety of spicy condiments. I skipped the eggs, but everything else was very tasty. Afterwards I took a short stroll through Phuket Town before my flight.

11:15 p.m., Bangkok. The plane ride was pleasant. I asked for and got a window seat. The view was mostly clouds but there were breaks at take-off and landing for interesting viewing. They had complimentary newspapers in Thai and English with interesting news and puzzles to keep me occupied throughout most of the flight. Then there was a box lunch of a tasty shrimp salad, mango-orange juice, a small creampuff and tea - it hit the spot.
Upon landing I waited awhile for a metered cab and ended up paying almost half the cost of the taxi to the airport from the same hotel before my Phuket flight. Those unmetered cabs are a rip-off to uninitiated tourists. My theory is that cab drivers are always the first to turn tourists from clients to prey. They often get first shot at new, flight-groggy arrivals at the airport and rake them unmercifully. Also a rip-off is the hotel's internet. They charge 120 baht (about $3) per half hour. After a bit searching I found an internet café just down the street with a high-speed data link for 15 baht per half hour or one-eighth the cost! After checking my e-mail I returned to my room until supper. I crossed a skywalk across the very busy street from my hotel to Lumpini Park and wandered the night market looking for a nice restaurant. I tried a soup of chicken in a coconut sauce that turned out to be very sour and shook up my insides a bit. Then it was back to my hotel to watch an HBO movie and read. Tomorrow my itinerary states I meet my bike group and get transported to the Cambodian border by bus, but it didn't state the time so I will hit the breakfast buffet when it opens and keep my eyes open. Everything has gone like clockwork so far and I suspect this will too.

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