Summary: Chris and Nate move from San Francisco to Honolulu; Vacation to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Japan
Dates on this page
Yoga: standing warmup practice. Weight training: advanced one-legged push ups. Breakfast at home: organic lowfat vanilla yogurt, granola, fresh sliced organic banana; 12 ounces of orange juice. To work. Linkcheck. More SSL configuration with Servint. BMI website down, lots of followup with Julia M. Followup with Cindy about forthcoming HSPR edits. Lunch at La Boulange: wild mushroom macaroni and cheese (unevenly heated, peppery to the point of having a bite but not to the point you'd call it spicy), side salad (vinaigrette dressing almost untasteable), hot chocolate (clumpy). Everything tastes good and seems super fresh and is probably organic, but I'm not sure this meal is really worth $16. Spent several hours figuring out how to push live certain changes for Cindy but hold back others that have already been staged and prepared and which might overlap with those changes. Dinner at BIX with Nate, Chris, and Jen. Yoga: seated warmup practice, various other positions.
Chris and Nate move from San Francisco to Honolulu. (Their just-upgraded-to-first-class, one-way flight is today.) Breakfast at home: organic lowfat vanilla yogurt, granola, fresh sliced organic banana; 12 ounces of generic V8. To work. Followup with Lisa about a DVD drive order. Lots of followup on old requests. Lunch meeting: web communicators working group, chicken sandwich. Followup with Bill S about HSPR edits. Dinner at home: organic brown rice miso soup with seaweed and shredded carrot. I also made scalloped potatoes with cheddar cheese in the microwave. The recipe calls for a can of cream of mushroom soup, so I had my doubts before making it, but it turned out quite tasty.
Staff appreciation breakfast to go from the cafeteria. A bit of a zoo, but very friendly and welcoming. Unhooked UCSF email from Apple Mail at home because I was having repeated authentication problems caused by leaving Apple Mail at home open all the time. HSPR edits. 1-on-1 with Rodney. 1-on-1 with Cindy. Chatted with Cindy and Carol about HSPR edits. Reviewed Eric's work on The Kidney Project on Facebook—all good, just a few edits. Chatted with Rodney about the network closet in the IRC. Lunch at You See Sushi: futomaki lunch special, hot green tea. Continued work on SSL setup for online payment for PID registration, sent Shirin a final status report. Web edit: Reimbursement for Professional Meeting Registration Fees. Posted an updated winter electives schedule for Lucia. Calendar management. To home. Dinner at home: vegetable soup from a can, leftover scalloped potatoes. Dore Glow Party at Lookout. Encountered Alex, met Bernard and Greg. Late meal at Barracuda with Alex, Bernard, Greg; met Chris, Joel. Back to Lookout, then Badlands. Encountered Luke, met Katie, Bradley, El. Home. Shower, late meal: 2 hash browns, 1 pig link sausage (leftover from Sunday brunch), 2 organic eggs scrambled, 2 slices of wheat toast with butter.
Slept in. Brunch at home: potato omelet, hash browns, toast with butter. Altered clothes. House party at The Chateau. While I was there, I saw Galen, Lee, Steve, Scott, Andy, John B, Hing, Emery, Rayson. Picked up William at work. Dinner with William at Beretta (415-695-1199, 1199 Valencia Street, San Francisco, California, USA). Only a 3-minute wait for a 2-top at 9:20 PM. Me: pizza with 3 kinds of wild mushrooms, tap water; William: spicy marinara pizza with burrata and hot salami, lemonade, tap water. Very noisy and lively, delicious. The pizza is round with very thin crust, not soggy in the middle, excellent flavors, a nice balance of simple versus complex. Skipped dessert. $50 after an $8 tip. Our server's name is Scott. All service was very good, and the place seems to be run very well; very organized. Home. Watched The Blair Witch Project on Netflix DVD with William. It was suspenseful but not super scary to me, but I think in a theatre at a night showing it would probably be scarier.
Breakfast at home with William: egg nog pancakes, kona coffee. Dropped him off at work. Home. Lots of house chores. Watched Margaret Cho: Asssassin on Netflix instant watch while doing house chores. Organized paperwork for the forthcoming trip. Late lunch: tortelloni with meatless meatballs in arrabiata sauce. Late dinner at home: TJ's vegetable dumplings from frozen, hot water.
Breakfast: organic vanilla yogurt, granola, fresh diced organic gala apple. Encountered Tyler R and chatted briefly on the way in to work. Linkchecking. Responded to comments about our site's background image from Leslie W (turns out: NOP). BMI redirect work. HSPR edits with Carol, back to Cindy for review. Lunch: leftover tortelloni from yesterday. BMI redirect followup. Pushed HSPR and Cindy's reworked PharmD section live. Graduation filing updates for Cindy and Lucia. Made edits to the page I proposed describing how to use UCSF fonts using feedback from Nada S, pushed it live. To home. Dinner at home: TJ's vegetable dumplings from frozen, hot water. Snack: organic microwave popcorn.
Yoga: standing warmup practice, beginner 1 practice. Biked to work for the first time ever. I didn't buy a monthly pass this month because of my forthcoming trip to Asia, so I saved $4 by biking instead of taking Muni. On the way another bicyclist chatted with me for a few blocks about a Brompton bicycle he had purchased (but was not riding). SCWG meeting. More STP edits. Kiosk work: posted one new announcement, followed up with Ann regarding a previous announcement. Linkchecking. Met with Eric to review things he should know during the week I'm gone. Lunch from Panda Express: honey walnut shrimp, hot and sour soup, half fried rice, half chow mein. My fortune: You will soon receive help from an unexpected source. Online PID registration edits: added autoreply email, still awaiting expected turnaround time from Shirin. Small web edit for the placement interviews for grads page. Reposted sample only PDFs for our last cycle's supp app. Showed off the bike to Joel, Sammie, and Shirin; Joel rode it in the hallway a bit. Biked home. William met me at home. Dinner with William at Tortas Los Picudos: grilled Mexican sandwich with fish, strawberry mint agua fresca for me; super chicken burrito, Mexican Coke for William. UCSF Shopping Spree at Sports Basement. We were supposed to receive 15% off but when I got home I realized that I was given only 10% off by mistake. Started getting a sore throat today.
The sore throat I started getting yesterday was a little worse this morning, so I called in sick. While checking Twitter this morning I came across a tweet from John B: "Watching the Falcon 9/Dragon launch countdown!" I didn't know what this was, but I searched in Google and within about 10 seconds and about 3 clicks I was watching the same thing—a spacecraft launch. Coincidentally when I loaded the webcast there was T-17 seconds for the launch, and I caught it just in time. Google's search results page automatically displayed live tweets of the event, and I was able to learn more about the project, also within a few seconds and a few clicks. It was exciting to watch the event live and observe the stage separations. Breakfast at home: egg and hash brown sandwich. Called Sports Basement and got my 5% off back. Implemented the image blink fix for LLGH. Applied my National Bike Registry sticker to my bike. Ebay seller vitocompanies2010 is uncommunicative, atypically so for ebay sellers, in my experience. I sent vitocompanies2010 a message with questions 4 days ago and have heard no response. vitocompanies2010 currently has a positive feedback score of 88.9% which is low compared to most sellers on ebay I see, so I won't be doing business with vitocompanies2010 even though it has items in which I'm interested. Late lunch: TJ's organic vegetarian chili (too spicy but I ate it anyway) with sesame blue corn tortilla chips. Left feedback for Gap Adventures: [There doesn't seem to be a way to provide feedback on the entire booking experience rather than specifically on this CEO, so I will provide that here. 1. Use "passengers" instead of "pax"—I didn't know what pax meant and it was confusing to me. 2. When I log into my account on the website I expect to be able to see the status and full details of any booking. It's very frustrating to place a booking or a hold on a booking and then not be able to see these details even when I have created an account. 3. The entire user experience for booking needs a lot of work. The website could do a lot better of a job stepping people through the many steps needed to be all set up for a trip. The website should show in 1 place the statuses of everything: flight options, insurance, additional accommodations, airport-to-hotel transfers, medical approvals for travel, etc. This keeps both you and me organized and informed. 4. Why must I print out vouchers? Why can't you be paperless in this regard? It seems silly in 2010 that my entire trip rests on my possession of a sheet of paper. Why can't you let me upload medical approvals to my account in your website? 5. The worst part of this experience for me was that the airfare needed to be purchased separately. I know you offer airfare options, but when I looked at fares through your site they were not competitive, so I purchased flights separately, but then my booking was placed on hold for about a week while my medical approval was processed, and I worried every day and night during this time that I'd be stuck with $2000 worth of flights and lose my Gap Adventures booking. It might be a nicer experience to tell people to get the medical approval taken care of first since it might take some time.] Dinner at home: vegetable noodle soup from a can with wheat thins, hot water. Caught up on failblog, read wins.failblog.org for the first time. Where did the time go? Late meal: organic mac and cheese with tuna from a can. Watched part of Infernal Affairs on Netflix DVD. Dessert: one tutti frutti Jelly Belly.
Called in sick again today. Breakfast at home: organic vanilla yogurt with granola and fresh diced organic gala apple. Lunch: leftover mac and cheese. Did some packing. Early dinner at Cha Ya with Patrick. Ran errands in the Castro: Walgreens. Met with William for a late meal, went to Firewood.
Breakfast at home: 2-egg sandwich. To work. Followup with Valerie S about Servint and the BAA that EIS needs. Hid graduation filing pages for Cindy. Timesheet activities. Sent the latest version of the STP to Cindy. Tried to install PGP but came across a warning that said it was unsupported with NTFS and Win XP in Boot Camp, asked Sarah M for advice. Announced a new computer support option. Lunch: leftover mac and cheese. Coded the 2011-2012 academic calendar for Cindy, sent it to her for review. Partially coded a new news story for the current students page. 10 messages in my inbox. Snack from Panda Express: 2 vegetable spring rolls. My fortune: You will do well to expand your horizons. To home.
Breakfast at home: 2-egg sandwich. Got extra passport photos from The UPS Store in West Portal. Loaded my transit Clipper Card with money. It would not accept my UCSF pretax card as either a credit card or debit card, so I used my own credit card instead. Lunch to go from Out the Door: rice with organic tofu and vegetables, steamed veggie bun, iced tea. Ate lunch at the safe bicycling class provided by sfbike.org, Bert Hill teaching. The class started late and was rushed at the end, but it was free and Bert was extremely knowledgable. I got lots of excellent advice and tips on urban bicycling. Some things I learned: security cables are ineffective, skewer locks are effective, small u-locks are effective, when parking your bike in a public rack avoid large public racks such as near the Metreon, when turning keep your outside leg low and your inside leg high with respect to pedal position. I need to buy a bell, mirror, and skewer locks. I didn't know what sharrows were before this class. You can find good bike safety videos on YouTube by Chris Quint (carrigan88). Holiday party at Ted and Emery's. I went early to help set up then got dinner at Basil Thai: Monk's Delight with brown rice, black tea, shrimp chips, water. Returned to the party. Met or encountered Aaron, Corey, Doug Coker, Doug, Dustin, Chris N, Katie, Ramy, Doug, Jeff, Andrew, Nate, David Bowden, Bill T, John B, Andrew C. Home. Did more packing. To bed late.
Breakfast at home: 2-egg sandwich with grated cheddar cheese. Finished packing. Drew and Romy arrived to take me to the airport. I gave them a dozen eggs. They were amazed at how little I packed—one backpack and one carry-on-sized bag, neither was full. We drove to SFO, they dropped me off. Japan Airlines San Francisco to Haneda, scheduled flight time 11 hours 30 minutes. For some reason I had thought I was flying in to Narita and did not realize I was flying into Haneda until January 11. Declined the offered $250 upgrade to economy premium. Snack at SFO at Amora: tuna sandwich, sparkling mineral water, about $11. Flight amenities: multilingual on-demand video, audio channels, video games, personal 7-inch displays built in to each seat. I watched Inception, Despicable Me. Couldn't get past the first 2 minutes or so of Sorcerer's Apprentice—too cheesy. Dinner was served once we got to cruising altitude. Hot towel service preceded. Choice of vegetable curry (a little spicy, she said when I asked) or egg noodles with chicken and vegetables, I chose the latter. Side salad with bacon bits and croutons. Side of cold noodle salad. Dinner roll with butter. Dessert: small fruit bread. Can of Asahi (no extra charge!). After dinner: bottled water. Removed my contact lenses in the bathroom. Napped. Watched the "sun" rise—that trick they do of gradually increasing the cabin brightness to simulate a sunrise. Breakfast (or is this brunch?): penne with salmon, nonfat strawberry yogurt, side of green salad with lowfat ranch dressing, dinner roll with butter, tomato juice. Read about Japan on the display. Am interested in learning more about kaiseki ryori which I've never had before. The airline food seems much healthier than I find on airlines and trains when I travel in the United States. Silverware, not plasticware. I forgot to mention: no charge for headphones. The seat seemed like it was heated and I couldn't find a way to turn it off so I was slightly too warm for the entire flight. Tokyo Haneda International Airport, 2-hour layover. Walked a bit through the terminal and browsed in some of the shops. Most of them were a who's who of high-end designers and were uninteresting to me. The terminal was unusually humid for an air-conditioned environment. Rested. Boarded Japan Airlines from Narita (Tokyo) to Bangkok.
Meal on the plane: fruit pastry, hot green tea, water, tomato juice. Watched Salt, liked it. Rested. Couldn't sleep.
Meal on the plane. Arrived at Bangkok. The transfer I had arranged with Gap Adventures did not work out, and I could not figure out how to use the payphones, so I took a taxi instead. He charged me 500 baht. Checked in to the hotel but had to wait a while because I arrived too early. The hotel is called Hotel De Moc or Hotel De' Moc or Hotel De'Moc or Hotel Dé Moc (+66 2 282 2831, 78 Prajatipatai Road, Pra-Nakorn, Bangkok, 10200). Breakfast buffet in the restaurant adjacent to the hotel lobby. Sat in the lounge and browsed the web after getting the wireless credentials. During the beginning of my trip I used UCSF VPN with iOS 4, but this became too cumbersome or unreliable and later on in the trip I used internet wherever a hotel provided it with password protection. I avoided only completely public wireless networks. Got into my room, settled in. Fumigated clothes with permethrin. Later on in the trip I realized that this was not really necessary for where I was traveling and for the time of year. I encountered very few mosquitos and had only 3 bites the whole trip. Hotel De Moc has a tailor onsite, so I decided to just go with him for the suits I wanted made. His name is G-Wan, and he speaks English very well. It's worth the convenience to simply walk downstairs and not have to leave the air-conditioned building. After setting up an order for 2 suits I walked over to Khaosan Road. The hotel had a complimentary tuktuk, but it was only a 15-minute walk. I walked the main street of Khaosan and lots of other neighboring streets, ended up eating at a place that had disappointing food. Walked back to the hotel. More clothes fumigation. The balcony of my room had a very convenient clothes drying rack built into the wall which made the permethrin treatments much easier. Cool shower. Nap. Took a taxi. The driver could not find my destination but I was probably given incorrect instructions anyhow. Ate at Restaurant Suda which was closing earlier than the stated time in a guide in which I had found its listing but they let me eat anyway: fried rice with vegetables and tofu, water. I took the Sky Train to Sala Daeng. The train was pretty easy to use and looked brand new. Danced at DJ Station, a gay club. It was packed. 3 floors, but people mostly used the first 2. There are lots of steps that are not clearly marked, so it's really easy to trip all over the club, especially for drunk people. Music was a mix of pop, anthems, hip hop, and mashups. Think Badlands crossed with Industry. There were video screens, but disappointingly they only occasionally showed the video of the audio that was playing and even then not necessarily in sync with the music. I occasionally saw the INPUT display notice on the screen when the VJ/DJ switched inputs, laughed at that. Taxi home, about 100 baht. He had trouble twice trying to find the hotel.
Bangkok. Slept in. Just before it closed I caught the breakfast buffet that is included with my room. I realized that I had forgotten to obtain my Vietnam visa before leaving the United States, so I took care of that this morning with the very helpful onsite travel agents. Fumigated more clothes. Got today's internet password. Each day my room fee includes 3 hours of wireless internet usage. You can pay for more but you have to check in with the front desk. Caught up on messages. Got advice about wearing long pants versus shorts from G-Wan. Looked for the vegetarian restaurant he recommended. I found it, but it was closed with no hours posted. Bought money at K-Bank. Ate pad thai with tofu, shrimp, and egg from a street vendor. A little too greasy but otherwise perfect. Also got a veggie egg roll. She charged me 80 baht (about 2.70 USD). Drank bottled water I brought along. Browsed street vendors looking for long pants that were lighter weight than the jeans and track pants I had brought. Found and bought some fisherman's pants that I liked for 150 baht (about 5 USD). Wandered the streets more. I prefer the smaller streets where the locals are not as anxious about catering to tourists as on the larger roads. I first realized yesterday that the GPS on my iPhone 3 GS provides my current location even without wifi or cellular connections—cool! Bought coffee ice cream which was disappointing. Back to the hotel via a shortcut I discovered. Washed new pants, set them out to dry. Shower. Checked in with G-Wan but my suits are not ready yet. Checked messages, rested. Yoga: standing warmup practice. Weight training: advanced one-legged push ups. Today I didn't apply insect repellant and although I didn't get mosquito bites I seemed to be bothered by a lot more flies than yesterday when I did apply repellant.
Bangkok. Woke around 3:30 AM local time, couldn't sleep. Got out of bed around 5:00 AM. Applied Deet to the new pants. Prepared some outgoing email messages offline on the iPhone. Breakfast buffet in the hotel. I wanted to shop in department stores today but they didn't open until 10 so I had a few hours to kill. Hotel De Moc offers a free bicycle rental but when I asked if it was a good idea to ride a bike around Dusit Zoo and the neighboring park I was told it was too far and that there was too much traffic. I was more worried about a traffic accident than the distance, and I decided against the bike and took a taxi instead. I asked the front desk to ask the driver to drop me at the northeast corner of Ratchawithi Road and Sawankhalok Road but after they discussed this I was told it would be better for me to be dropped by the King Rama V statue. Off we went. At the statue I got out and found the statue and saw the Vimanvrek Mansion from a distance. I walked over to the park area I had found on my map but soon learned that it was walled and protected by a moat and armed security. Narrow sidewalks bordered by lots of street traffic made it the opposite of the quiet, pleasant experience I was seeking, so I found an available taxi and took it to Siam, arriving about 9, one hour before shops opened. When they opened I ate pineapple fried rice and drank iced lemongrass tea from the food court. Shopped, bought nothing. It was interesting to see clothing styles I don't normally see, but prices were not much different from department store prices in San Francisco, and I still had lots of trouble finding clothes in my size. I found G2000 and was excited because I had heard about it before (I think from Travis) as being a place where I might find clothes that fit me, but it was disappointing in both sizes and styles. There were modest sales in most stores (such as 20% off) but not many people shopping despite the Christmas season. I shopped at Siam Paragon, Siam Center, and MBK. At MBK I stopped for a meal at a restaurant with an all-you-can-eat rice noodles bar with various sauces and toppings for about 2 USD. The iced lemon tea here has a taste that is different than what Americans call iced tea. Not bad, just unusual and definitely not what an American would expect. Taxi back to the hotel. Shower. Checked in with G-Wan, did my fittings, he made adjustments. We agreed to meet for dinner after I asked him about nearby restaurants. Nap. G-Wan took me to a small restaurant a few minutes' walk away. He didn't eat much. We ordered steamed lemon prawns and steamed rice, mixed vegetables. Afterwards he gave me a tour of his nearby sewing factory and picked up some orders. There were perhaps several dozen people, about a third of them still working and 10 and 11 PM. Each person was an expert at one very specific task such as sleeves, buttonholing and buttons, designing and patterning, and so forth. After some convincing, I accompanied G-Wan on a short scooter ride to another nearby factory site where he picked up an additional order. Returned to the first site then back to the hotel. He dropped off his orders at the office. I went to bed.
Bangkok. Breakfast buffet in the hotel. Checked in with G-Wan, agreed to have another 2 pairs of pants made. We discussed ties and he took additional measurements. Taxi to the nearest Sky Train, which was Phaya Thai. Had difficulty finding Face Restaurant. Lunch: garlic naan, prawns with saffron and cashews, cucumber raita, steamed rice, thai iced tea, still bottled water. This was the best meal I have had in Bangkok—also the most expensive, at nearly 50 USD. Sky Train to Lumpini Park, walked in the park. This was the quiet urban park experience I was seeking yesterday, and it made me very happy. In the park a large fair was taking place: Green Fair '10. Vendors displayed lots of things that were organic, fair trade, ecofriendly, etc. I bought some small gifts and took photos. Spent some time looking for jojoba oil, on which I was running low, but no one had it—mostly lots of coconut oil instead. One vendor had t-shirts and polos made entirely of bamboo! Walked to Babylon Sauna Barracks. This is by far the nicest bathhouse to which I have been. It was very difficult to find by foot—best to arrive by taxi. They discourage arriving by tuk tuk—too noisy. I enjoyed a quick shower, a dip in the pool, did a workout in the gym, had dinner: carrot and crab soup, secretly spicy basil and garlic spaghetti, red wine—very good, beautifully presented, service was just okay. I was surprised when everything closed around 10:30 PM or 11:00 PM. Taxi home—again the taxi driver had trouble finding the hotel even with the instruction card provided by the hotel.
Bangkok. Breakfast buffet in the hotel. Began taking antimalarial medicine. Checked in with G-Wan, did more fittings and adjustments. Got a Thai massage from the hotel's onsite service—90 minutes for about 20 USD including tip. Sunbathed poolside with a mango smoothie from one of the onsite restaurants. Shower. Watched the last 12 minutes of Journey to the Center of the Eearth again on a TV channel called Max. Prepared for the tour meeting at 6 PM. Met with the group. Tour leader is Richard from Australia. 5 others on the tour: Dave and Jan from Vancouver, B.C., Anna from Australia, Manuela from Switzerland, Lee from Toronto. After an introduction and some paperwork Richard took us to a restaurant along Khao San Road for dinner. Afterwards we walked the road a bit. Richard, Dave, and Jan returned to the hotel. Anna, Manuela, Lee, and I went to a restaurant and club called Lava for a drink. Anna met some friends and stayed behind. Lee, Manuela, and I walked back to the hotel. Bed.
Bangkok. Breakfast buffet in the hotel. Checked out of the hotel. Checked in with G-Wan, said I would stop by again in the afternoon. Richard took us by taxi to a long tail boat. We toured Chao Praya River for about 45 minutes then visited Wat Po, a temple with famous standing and reclining Buddhas. We split up for free time. The group lost Anna in the temple. Dave, Jan, Lee, and I walked to the Grand Palace with no intention to enter. Discovered it was closed anyway. A local talked to us, giving us unsolicited suggestions to local attractions. We got into a taxi but the driver didn't know how to get to our hotel even with the hotel's instruction card. The second taxi was successful. Dave, Jan, Lee, and I took the hotel's free tuk tuk to Khao San Road. Ate a meal, shopped, walked back to the hotel. At the hotel I visited one last time with G-Wan. He will mail the finished clothes back so that I don't have to carry them around. Rested in the lobby. We drive to the train station and board an overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Dinner on the train at our seats followed by drinks in the dining car with the group. To bed. Just before bed when returning from the restroom I am accidentally locked out of our sleeping car for about 20 minutes. Sleep. Woke around 2 to go to the bathroom again, slept well until morning.
On the train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Breakfast with Lee on the train at our seats. We arrive in Chiang Mai. Taxi van to Mandala House. We arrive before check-in time. I have breakfast with the group (a 2nd breakfast for me and Lee). Afterwards my room is not yet ready still so I use the wireless internet with my iPhone to check email and Facebook and post some photos. Wireless internet is not entirely reliable here. When it works it is decent. After about an hour I still don't have a room, so I put on some bug spray and go exploring, wandering through streets in the Old City. This part of Chiang Mai is largely motorbike rentals, laundry, massage, eateries, and gifts. At noon I met Manuela, Lee, and Anna at Tha Pae Gate. We ate lunch together at a nearby restaurant. Afterwards we split up. I walked to City Park which was disappointing then took a tuk tuk back to the hotel and settled in my room for a shower and rest. At 4 PM the group took a taxi van to visit Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep with a local guide. We arrived shortly before sunset, walked through the temple, observed the sunset over the city, and endured a brief, warm rain shower just before the evening chanting began. Taxi van back to town, got dropped off at the Night Bazaar, ate dinner at Sweet Rain with the group. Back to the hotel. Another shower. Weight training: advanced push ups, reverse leg lifts. Packed.
Chiang Mai. Breakfast at the hotel: yogurt with diced fresh local fruits and granola, orange juice, tea. Back to the room to apply sunscreen and ultrathon. Our tour group did a 30-kilometer bicycle ride in urban and non-urban areas of Chiang Mai. Our tour guide was named Rit. Experiencing the area by bicycle is more intimate than by car, tuk tuk, or motorcycle, and you cover a lot more ground than you can on foot. I now want to seek out bicycle tours everywhere I go on vacation. Hotel. Quick shower, checked out. Private van from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong. Along the way we watched Couples Retreat and Alice in Wonderland on DVD. We also stopped at a temple for rest, restrooms, drinks, and snacks. Snack: 3 hot buns. Checked in to our hotel along the Mekong River. Rested. Dinner with the group. Dave shared some scotch whiskey he had purchased. Chatted with our server Ray a bit. After dinner I showered. Tonight I used the mosquito net which I probably didn't need but I brought it all this way so I might as well try it out. Packed.
Chiang Mai. Tuk tuk with the group to the border-crossing station. Crossed the Mekong River to Laos. Visa paperwork. Tuk tuk to the wharf. Boarded a long tail boat, began traveling downstream. Stopped at a small Laotian village, observed how they live. Back on the boat. Nap. Lunch on the boat. Nap. Arrived in Pakbeng, it is customary to pay young boys about 8000 kip to carry bags up the hill to the hotel. Checked in. The group walked up the hill to explore Ban Pakbeng. Dinner with the group at an Indian and Lao restaurant. Back to the hotel. Anna, Manuela, Lee, Richard, and I sat on the hotel's patio discussing philosophy and relationships. Clouds repeatedly revealed and hid the full moon on this warm night with essentially no breeze. I started getting a mild sore throat this evening.
Ban Pakbeng. Yoga: standing warmup practice. Breakfast at the hotel. Back on the long tail boat. Played a card game called Quy or Tien Lien with the group. Lunch on the boat. Stopped at the Pak Ou Caves. Arrived in Luang Prabang. Checked in to Villa Tavandeng. Shower. Walked through the night market, had a Lao dinner at a local home. It started with a little ceremony in which strands of cotton were tied around our wrists for good luck. This was my favorite meal so far on this trip because it seemed very authentic, was very delicious, and also provided sufficient vegetarian options. (I tried 2 of the meat dishes anyway, and they were tasty.) Afterwards I was too tired to stroll the night market more or see the town's nightlife, and I returned to the hotel.
Luang Prabang. Part of our group rose early to watch the monk procession. I slept in and skipped the monks. Minivan to Joma Bakery Cafe where I picked up 2 bagels with cream cheese and we met the rest of our group. Minivan to a drop-off point. Just before we got there, our minivan accidentally ran over a dog. We hiked for about 3 hours to Kuang Sii Falls, stopped for photos and a dip in the beautiful, milky-light-blue waters. Lunch at one of the restaurants at the falls parking lot. I also got a mango-pineapple smoothie—yum! One-hour drive back to the hotel. Rested, showered, cleaned my shoes somewhat from all the mud that had caked onto them. Took some ibuprofen to alleviate a headache. Sore throat today is no worse than yesterday. Yoga: standing warmup practice. Wandered down the street. Encountered a scene that brought a wide smile to my face. A dozen young local boys were breakdancing on hard mats laid out next to a house. Old-school breakbeats played and they took turns or danced in pairs—they were really good. I watched a few minutes before returning to the hotel. The tour group gathered and we booked our elephant tour then walked to a restaurant overlooking the Nam Khan River, ate Lao-style bbq hotpot. Secret Santa gift exchange. La and a friend of La and Richard's joined us for the meal. We wore Santa hats that Manuela had found for about 50 cents USD each. Jan and Dave returned to the hotel. The rest of us went to Utopia for drinks. The space is great—tropical setting with a sand courtyard and fire pits. The DJ tonight is from Berlin. He played lounge and techno. We and others requested other kinds of music but that was all he played so we left for The Hive. The dance floor was empty but the music was good (Firework by Katy Perry as we entered) and immediately after Manuela and I started dancing the dance floor filled. I met Hector and Ramin from Bangkok. The mixing was non-existent—the DJ was clearly a novice. But we were able to request songs and hear them immediately—it was like having a personal dance floor. We danced for about an hour and then Manuela negotiated a tuk tuk for the short ride back to the hotel. Others I met today: Andreas (dark hair), Christian (blond).
Luang Prabang. Walked to Joma Bakery Cafe, got a turkey dinner sandwich and small chai tea latte to go, returned to the hotel and ate ith wile awaiting the elephant tour. We drove about an hour in the bed of small pickup with a tuk tuk shell on top. I had forgotten my earplugs. We walked to a long speed boat and rode that for a few minutes downstream to where the elephants were. Jan and Dave rode one elephant, Manuela and I rode another. This ride had a park bench on top with a wooden bar as a kind of seat belt. We alighted. There was a delay of some sort before we could continue the rest of the tour package, so we walked and photographed Tad Sae Falls and chatted with some guys from Denmark whom we had seen the night before at The Hive. Our tour guide sped things up for us and removed the delay. Jan and Dave bathed the elephants while Manuela and I watched and photographed. Our tour package was supposed to include feeding the elephants, but for some reason we didn't, but we didn't care by that point. It was enough for me to see other people feeding them. Lunch: included with the package. We ate next to the dock. Motorboat ride, pickup tuk tuk back to the hotel. Rested. Left the hotel about 2 PM, walked along the perimeter of the peninsula. Stopped at Joma Bakery Cafe, encountered Manuela, joined her while she drank a (green tea shake?) and I ate a slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream and drank a cappuccino freeze. Manuela went on her way. I strolled the night market already starting to set up then hiked the stairway to That Phousi and watched the sun set with about 100 other people. Strolled the market more. Met Manuela, Lee, and Anna at the start of the market. Dinner at Pizza Luang Prabang, of which neither Manuala nor I will have good memories. Tuk tuk to the hotel. Rested. Tuk tuk to The Hive with Lee and Anna. Encountered Hector and Ramin (from Iran), met Omel from Israel and Chelsea from California. At the bar we saw 3 guys in full Santa suits. The club closed at 11 PM. Afterwards the others wanted to go to another club, but we declined, will maybe meet in Vang Viang, our next stop.
Luang Prabang. Breakfast at the hotel. We drive about 7 hours through windy mountain roads from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng. It's common for people to get carsick on this drive, but I didn't have any problems and slept through most of it. For lunch we stopped at Phoukhoun Phiengfa which has a stunning panoramic view of the karst landscape. In Vang Vieng after we checked in to our hotel I walked the streets a bit and rested in my room. Dinner at an Irish pub: British fish and chips—really good after almost all of my meals on this trip being rice or noodles with vegetables and shrimp. Afterwards Dave and Jan returned to the hotel and the rest of us encountered Ramin and Hector. All of us crossed the river to some bars, had some drinks, and danced on wooden platforms next to a large bonfire. There was no DJ—Hector found out the sound system was some pro mixing equipment and a Windows laptop running Windows Media Player. After about an hour we tired of this place, walked to QBar, and hung out there for about another hour. I left then, tired.
Vang Vieng. Coughed up phlegm. Decided to skip today's planned bicycle ride and just rest. Sunbathed in the grassy area on the hotel grounds by the river. Internetted at the restaurant. Walked with Anna to find some lunch but she left to return to the guest house before we had decided on a place. I ate again at The Rising Sun: veggie burger, lemonade. The veggie burger was surprisingly good. Lemonade (aka lemon juice) was way too sweet, so I ordered cold bottled water and diluted it. More sunbathing. Still coughing up phlegm but less than this morning. Internetted at the guest house restaurant. Rested. Walked around town and witnessed what I think was a funeral procession. Dinner at Inthira Hotel: rice noodle salad, ginger-lemongrass soda—a relaxing, pleasant experience, very different than seemingly every other restaurant in Vang Vieng. To bed early.
Vang Vieng. Woke early, internetted, packed. Breakfast in the guest house restaurant. Minivan to Vientiane, Laos. Lunch at Khop Chai Deu with the group. Someone at the far end of our table ordered a large plate of bugs. After it arrived a few of our party tried one and didn't touch the rest. Afterwards we split up. I checked out nearby bakeries—JoMa is my favorite. At the Scandinavian bakery only a few items looked good, the rest just okay. I visited Wat Sisaket then walked along the Mekong River, ending up at JoMa where I had an iced coffee and a scoop of chocolate ice cream—both perfectly delicious. Lee and Anna stopped in. I chatted with them a bit before returning to the hotel for a quick shower. Dinner with the group at La Gondola. I had penne with smoked salmon. On the walk back to the hotel I stopped to watch a really good guitar player sing mostly Western classic rock favorites as part of the Vientiane 2011 new year countdown celebration in the city center.
Vientiane. Breakfast in the hotel. Walked to Talat Sao, checked out the 1st floor of shops, not very interesting. Walked to JoMa Bakery Cafe, got a veggie pizza slice and large chai latte to go. The pizza crust is thicker than I like, not enough tomato sauce. But the veggies are fresh and overall it's excellent food quality. Back to the hotel to quickly eat and pack. The group minivans to the airport. Traffic is unexpectedly light and we arrive much sooner than necessary. Flight to Hanoi is uneventful. In-flight meal is a warm ham and cheese bun and a small, sweet muffin cake with a (raisin?) on top. Minivan to Nhat Tien Hotel, check in. I get room 504. Richard walks us to the Old Quarters and Hoàn Kiêm Lake. Several in our group make some travel arrangements. We dine at Quán Bia Minh, and when the food arrives I have 2 orders of watermelon juice, special fresh spring rolls with pork and shrimp, and bun bo. The shrimp is dried rather than fresh, but dishes are delivered much faster than we have seen in Laos and Thailand. Afterwards we got drinks at the cigarette-smoky Dragonfly Bar (15 Hang Buom, Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi) then walked back to the hotel.
Hanoi. Breakfast in the hotel: Vietnamese noodle soup with pork. Got one of the hotel staff to resolve some problems with my room. Explored the Old Quarter, including Hoan Kiem Lake and The Huc Bridge. Lunch at Cafe 38 Rainbow (37 Hàng Hành). Saw the Water Puppets show. Met Richard's new tour group at Quán Bia Minh. Met Carl, Dominique, Damian (aka Damo), Ray, Ruth, Christina. There were others in the group but I did not meet them. Walked back to the hotel.
Hanoi. Slept in. Packed. Walked to Quán An Ngon (18 Phan Bôi Châu). Lunch: pomelo juice, (bubble tea?), watermelon juice, macaroni with minced beef, roll-your-own fresh spring rolls. Right afterwards I realized that I forgot to take my antimalarial meds at the meal. Got a green apple tea at Highlands Coffee, took the meds. Walked around. Ended up back at ?. Dinner at Six on Sixteen (16 Bao Khanh Street): darjeeling tea, hot water. I ordered vegetarian rolls and a veggie burger. The veggie rolls took 30 minutes to arrive. They were delicious but fell apart too easily. After another 15 minutes the burger still did not arrive, so I canceled the order. Shortly thereafter I heard the manager screaming at people in the kitchen—bad feng shui for someplace that looks like it is supposed to have good feng shui. Caught a taxi back to the hotel. Missed sharing an airport taxi with Manuela by 10 minutes. Arrived at the airport at 2200 for a 2350 flight. I forgot to stuff the straps on my checked bag into itself—I hope it is not a problem. (It turned out to not be a problem.) Fly to Narita where the temperature is about 15 degrees cooler. Here is where I will begin to lose track of which day is which. I leave Hanoi at 2355 on December 31 and arrive in Tokyo at 0645 on January 1.