Thursday, December 21, 2006

WSJ on Microsoft Vista Requirements

Memory: Microsoft suggests 512 megabytes of memory, or RAM, for stripped-down Vista, and it will probably recommend one gigabyte of memory for full Vista. But based on experience with the company's guidelines, I strongly suggest doubling those amounts. Even on a cheap machine, I'd get one gigabyte of memory, and if you want to run Vista with all its features, I suggest two gigabytes.

Video: Stripped-down Vista can run on any graphics hardware that can support what's called SVGA, or a resolution of 800 by 600. The hardware should also support a Microsoft technology called DirectX 9. This includes many integrated graphics systems, which do away with a separate video card in favor of graphics chips bolted to the mother board.

Full Vista will be best with a separate, or "discrete," graphics card that has at least 128 megabytes of dedicated video memory. These cards also need support for DirectX 9. In addition, however, they must also support Microsoft software called "WDDM" and "Pixel Shader 2." If your eyes are rolling right now, don't fret. Microsoft officials say nearly all discrete graphics cards on the market today meet these specs, as will the latest integrated graphics systems, such as Intel chip sets labeled 945 or higher.

Processor: For stripped-down Vista, a processor running at 800 megahertz or faster should be sufficient, according to Microsoft. For full Vista, the speed rises to one gigahertz. I'd edge higher if your budget allows, but you don't need the fastest processor.

Hard disk: Disk storage is already copious enough for Vista, and buying large amounts is cheap. For stripped-down Vista, I'd go for at least 60 gigabytes of hard-disk space. For full Vista, I'd boost that to 160 gigabytes, to accommodate lots of music and video.
--Mossberg, 13 Apr 06

Meebo Icons

If you have a picture that you’ve created that’s 96×96 pixels, and you would like it to potentially be one of the default buddy icons in meebo, send it to

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Hong Kong Automated Passenger Clearance

Since 16 December 2004, the Immigration Department has introduced the automated passenger clearance system (e-channels) to members of the public. Currently, Hong Kong permanent residents (except those under the age of 11) or Hong Kong residents holding Document of Identity for Visa Purposes (DI) can use their smart identity cards to perform self-service immigration clearance. Since 12 September 2006, e-Channel service has been extended to people who have the right to land or are on unconditional stay in Hong Kong, and non-permanent residents who have been issued with a notification label. Meanwhile, please note that Hong Kong residents must bring along with them their valid travel documents when travelling.

To enter the e-channel is simple. People just have to insert their smart identity cards with the side bearing the arrow and chip into the card reader. The system will take a while to perform mutual authentication with the smart identity card key. People can enter the e-channel when the gate doors open. After entering the e-channel, people just need to place their thumbs flat on the centre of scanners. After fingerprint verification they can leave the e-channel.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Halfway to Hawaii Time Calculation

"I've always come within a minute of the half-way point on the Hawaii game. I ignore everything except flight plan time and the time we took off. We have pretty sophisticated flight planning software used by Dispatch, and the flight plan time already takes all of the other variables into account.

From experience, I know that we generally run about 2-5 minutes ahead of flight plan (although we can certainly be behind), so I subtract out a couple of minutes and divide by half, guessing a number for the seconds. I've never been very far off."
--Mark Rogers

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

SOX Revisions in Prospect

The Securities and Exchange Commission conceded earlier this year that the provision [Section 404] wasn't working as intended. In May, it said it would rework the rule so that companies -- and their auditors -- aren't engaging in "overly conservative" audits and are instead focused on areas that present a risk to the company and its investors. The agency also said it hoped to tailor the rule to companies of all sizes, so that small businesses, in particular, weren't overburdened.

The SEC says it will unveil its changes next month. The agency, along with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, the auditing industry's overseer, said it will propose a revision to the auditing standard known as AS2 that auditors follow when testing management's assessment of company controls.

SEC Chairman Christopher Cox wrote to the oversight board this week, urging it to include in its changes some of the recommendations made by the SEC's small-business advisory group, including one that the auditing rule be adapted to companies based on their size. In his Nov. 6 letter, Mr. Cox said the SEC agreed that the standard needed to be focused on matters that are material, or relevant, to a company's financial results.

It isn't clear how far the SEC might be willing to go in making it easier and less costly for businesses to comply with Section 404. And some observers are skeptical that the problems can be fixed.

"This may be a bell that can't be un-rung," says Joe Grundfest, a former SEC commissioner and co-director of the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University. "The audit firms have already incorporated a lot of the inefficient 404 process into their integrated audits, and once audit firms have processes in place, it's very hard to persuade them to back off and ease up on those processes."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


David Carnoy, CNET:
we agree with the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), a group that consults for home-theater manufacturers and trains professional video calibrators, when it says that the most important aspect of picture quality is contrast ratio, the second-most important is color saturation, and the third is color accuracy. Though resolution may be the most talked-about spec these days, it comes in fourth on the ISF list,

TrixBox - VoIP Asterix PBX

The asterisk-based solution, TrixBox, enables the home or small business user to quickly set up a VOIP Asterisk PBX. A web GUI makes configuration and operation easy. We also provide an xPL (home automation) interface for easy interaction with other devices in the home.

Mobile phone roaming opinion

Extracted from a post on the FlyerTalk Travel Technology forum:
I have a Nokia E61 sect-band (800/900/1800/1900/2100mhz) phone with wifi. On the wifi side, I signed up for a free account with which has free calls to the US until the end of the year. Where I am on wifi, I'll call free. Where I am off wifi, I can pretty much roam anywhere. Underneath the dashes is a solution I am using when I am in Europe or most of Asia. I originally posted it to a different thread so it might seem a little non-responsive.


I have skimmed through the past eleven pages of the forum post, but if I am hitting things previously covered please excuse me. I travel a great deal and just wanted to share my solutions.

I have a Cingular with their Global Blackberry plan which gives me unlimited Blackberry data access all around the world. I also pay Cingular $2.99 a month for a feature called fast forward which gives me unlimited domestic call forwarding. When I jump on a plane, I literally forward my calls just before the cabin doors shut.

When I get on a European bound plane, I pack a second phone which is basic quad band unlocked phone. I have a Riiing SIM like the prior posters. I purchased for $1 a month a US 800 number from that forwards to my Riiing SIM at US$0.14 a minute. I also normally use their callback service. I trigger their callback service using my Cingular phone. This permits me to make outgoing calls to the States at $0.14 a minute.

Something prior posters have not focused on is the cost of voicemail when abroad. There is a little covered “gotcha” here. When you are standing in Europe and miss a call or are on the phone, the call gets routed back to the US on a conditional call divert. This means that you are billed for a call to Europe and back again or double the roaming rates. Most people don’t want to turn off their voicemail which means that the carrier charges you at least double for these calls. When I was in Africa, I once got nailed with $15 voicemails -- $5 to call Africa, $5 to forward the call back to the States, and $5 to retrieve the message. I was hit with these charges even when my phone was shut off because I had registered on the Tanzania network and carriers generally hold on to your registration.

Riiing coupled with callbackworld has changed my roaming rates hugely. I used to buy prepaid SIMs for the major countries I visited. I found that despite the slight inconvenience of the callback, this approach is worth it.

I also use a Nokia E61 (not an E62) as my Blackberry (connect) device. It has built in wifi and a voip client. Where I am in a wifi zone, I can make free calls. It is also possible to receive free calls, but that requires more tinkering if you want to always be reached at one number.

By the way, checkout It is a forum which specializes in roaming on the cheap. Prepaidgsm was favorably cited in a recent EU report criticizing the rates charged for international roaming.
--Dubai Stu

Friday, November 10, 2006

CNET: Top 6 phones for business users

» What are the top 6 phones for business users? | The Mobile Gadgeteer | " the editors posted their Top 6 phones for business users. The top 6 candidates are the Palm Treo 700p, Cingular 8525, T-Mobile Dash, Nextel i930 by Motorola, Sprint PPC-6700, and the Nokia E62."

Duracell all charged up to juice the Nano | CRAVE : The CNET Gadget Blog

Duracell all charged up to juice the Nano | CRAVE : The CNET Gadget Blog: "The company says PowerFM is the only iPod accessory that will provide extra juice for your iPod, allow you to transmit your tunes to any FM radio, and protect your Nano with the included silicone case (it fits over both the accessory and your Nano). According to the manufacturer, it 'more than doubles' the run-time of the Nano. Unfortunately, it only fits first-generation Nanos.

Duracell's triple-threat accessory is supposed to be a bargain at $79.99, but when you figure that the silicone case probably costs about 50 cents to make, we think $50 is what the thing should cost"

Review: Linksys CIT310 Phone for Yahoo Messenger

Review: Linksys CIT310 Phone for Yahoo Messenger: "This dual-mode cordless phone provides Yahoo! Messenger fans with the ability to make free PC-to-PC calls to other Yahoo! Messenger users, low-cost PSTN dialing when subscribing to Yahoo! Phone Out (PC-to-Phone calling) service, as well as inbound dialing for a monthly fee of around $2.49/month. Add in the fact that this is a multi-handset DECT phone with excellent standby & talk time (better than WiFi) plus you can connect it to your home PSTN -- then certainly the Linksys CIT310 is a tempting home phone system replacement.

Inevitably, the comparisons will be made with similar dual-mode Skype phone products such as the RTX DualPhone, Linksys CIT300, and others. Skype certainly is the top dog in consumer VoIP, however there are millions of Yahoo Messenger IM users that could be converted to VoIP. This phone bundles some cool Yahoo-specific features (weather, local listings), but really if Yahoo wants to take on the top dog Skype in VoIP, then Yahoo needs to add their strength - namely IM into the CIT310's feature-set. Without it, users may decide to go with a Skype phone simply because of Skype's dominance in VoIP even if Yahoo's CIT310 has equal if not better voice quality and even a few extra features thrown in. "

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Cloudveil :: Neve Pullover

Cloudveil :: Neve Pullover: "Polartec Thermal Pro® fabric traps heat, dries quickly and presents a distinguished impression in mixed company. Power Stretch® binding trues the fit, while a pullover style reflects a purist approach to morning layering. A deep reverso zip and a single chest pocket add an extra element of good alpine style."

HTC Hermes TyTN - Cingular 8525

>Cingular MediaRoom - News Releases: "first UMTS/HSDPA-enabled PDA in North America -- the Cingular 8525 Pocket PC"

HTC Hermes / HTC TyTN / O2 XDA trion / T-Mobile MDA Vario II / Vodafone 1605 VPA Compact III / Orange SPV M3100 / Dopod CHT 9000 / Dopod 838 Pro / hTc Z / Qtek 9600 / iMate JasJam / Cingular 8525 / Swissom XPA v1605 / SoftBank X01HT / UTStarcom 6800 / Vodafone PDA 1605

"Cingular's UMTS/HSDPA-enabled BroadbandConnect service is based on the global standard and natural 3G evolutionary path for GSM providers. BroadbandConnect is currently available in the U.S. in 134 markets (with populations of more than 100,000 surrounding more than 50 major metropolitan cities. The company said it will continue to expand coverage to additional markets in and around major metropolitan cities in the coming months. Internationally, there are currently 142 UMTS networks in 61 countries and 72 HSDPA networks.

BroadbandConnect provides average downlink data speeds between 400-700Kbps (kilobits per second) with bursts to more than a Mbps (megabit per second) and uplink speeds to 384Kbps. When traveling outside the BroadbandConnect coverage area, the Cingular 8525 seamlessly enables service on Cingular's EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution) network, available in more than 13,000 cities and towns and in areas along more than 40,000 miles of highways."

GSSFAQ - Google Spreadsheets FAQ

GSSFAQ - Google Spreadsheets FAQ : "unofficial Google Spreadsheets frequently asked questions site"
Display day of week
=CHOOSE(WEEKDAY(A1), "Sunday","Monday","Tuesday","Wednesday","Thursday","Friday","Saturday","Sunday")

Monday, October 30, 2006

Case of Bad Spyware Infestation

Security - Free Software Downloads and Software Reviews - "I thought about reformatting, but the couple couldn't afford to erase the sensitive information they had on their clients. They had never even made a backup. The situation was getting pretty sticky at this point--antivirus programs were not even installing from a disk. I somehow managed to get my hands on CWShredder and HijackThis and started aiming at those pesky things. CWShredder removed 16 variations of the Cool Web Search Trojan, about 60 files total. HijackThis appeared to remove more of the spyware, but the files kept regenerating. I rebooted and managed to get Ad Aware SE installed, a minor miracle."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Motorola KRZR K1 mobile phone

• Ultra-slim form factor
• Hi-quality imaging via 2MP digital camera with 8x digital zoom, and image editing
• Premium video capabilities: video capture and playback MPEG4 (15 fps CIF); audio/video streaming (3GPP)***; video progressive download***; record up to 25 minutes of video on embedded memory
• Integrated Stereo Bluetooth wireless technology connectivity for hands-free convenience**
• Enhanced phonebook with new contact fields: URL, IM, Postal Address, Birthday, and other information
• MicroSD slot for optional upgradeable memory
• EDGE for high speed data access (class 12)
• Rich, pre-loaded J2ME games, screen savers
• Downloadable themes, ringer tones, images, animations***
• Midi, MP3, AAC, AAC+ enhanced music player for listening to your favorite music on-the-go
• PIM functionality with Picture Caller ID***
• Voice memo, enhanced predictive text and enhanced voice recognition for easy, hands-free connectivity"

Sony Ericsson Stereo Bluetooth Headset HBH-DS970

Overview - - Mobile phone - Sony Ericsson Stereo Bluetooth™ Headset HBH-DS970 -
"Turn your mobile phone into a true music player by wirelessly playing tunes through your cordless Stereo Bluetooth™ Headset HBH-DS970. Not only will your music be streamed in superb quality sound to your headphones, but when a call comes in, after a quick glance at the display hanging around your neck, the music mutes and you can use the buttons on the earpiece to take or reject the call."

Profiles required in remote device/phone:
BT handsfree or BT headset
BT advanced audio distribution
BT audio/video remote control profile


Nokia N73 phone

Mobile Phones - Nokia N73: "Nokia N73 3.0mp Camera Quadband GSM Phone"
quadband GSM; candy bar; 3.2MP camera; Symbian S60; Bluetooth 2.0; office apps; USB 2.0; miniSD; MP3/WMA

Friday, October 27, 2006

Web 2.0 Tools and School

Back to School with the Class of Web 2.0: Part 1: "three parts to the “Back to School with the Class of Web 2.0″ series: part one covering tools; part two covering office applications; and in part three, real cases of Web 2.0 used in classrooms around the world."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Friday, October 13, 2006

Belkin TuneStage II: Play iPod thru home stereo

Play Your iPod® Through Your Home-Entertainment System with the Belkin TuneStage® II for iPod: "October 11, 2006 - The Belkin TuneStage II for iPod turns your iPod into the ultimate remote control so you can play the music from your iPod through your home stereo wirelessly via Bluetooth technology. Navigate your playlists, search for artists or individual songs, and adjust the volume—all through the iPod click wheel, from over 30 feet away. With a transmitter connected to your iPod and a receiver wired to your system...
  • Features Bluetooth v2.0 with EDR [(Enhanced Data Rate), offering three times the bandwidth of conventional Bluetooth protocols] for superior performance
  • Transmits from up to 33 ft. away
  • Provides up to 7 hours of playtime on a fully charged iPod
  • Features iPod charging capability via USB, with included cable"

Friday, October 06, 2006

Implement WPA2-Personal wireless security on a Windows XP SP2-based computer

Implement WPA2-Personal wireless security on a Windows XP SP2-based computer: "I've been running the DWL-3200AP in WPA2-PSK mode on my network, and it has been performing well. While you won't find this particular access point on the shelves in retail outlets, stores such as Circuit City are distributing them by mail order from their Web sites. If you're running a home office or are a high-end residential user, I recommend this access point because it has a 'guest mode' that employs wireless virtual LAN (VLAN) technology. With this technology, you can set up a separate, non-encrypted service set identifier (SSID) on the same device that is totally isolated from your own network."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

United Airlines Operational Upgrades: Gate Agent's Perspective

This Flyertalk post talks about how operational upgrades are granted at the gate.

Status and fare paid are key when there's time to do it by policy.
technorati tags:

Friday, September 29, 2006

New York: JFK to city without Airtrain

MTA Q10 bus connects with A and E subway lines. Leaves from JFK Terminal 4. Approximate travel time: 34 minutes to A; 44 minutes to E. 24 hour service. 10-15 minutes headway during weekdays; somewhat less frequest on weekends.

If payment is by Metrocard, free transfer to subway.
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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tony Wheeler's List of Interesting Hotels, 3 Oct 05

  • Hotel Bougainvillier, Phnom Penh, Cambodia – US$49. Right on the waterfront
  • Hengshan Moller Villa, Shanghai, China – US$93. The eccentric building which fronts the hotel was the home of a pre-WW II Swedish businessman and although the new block is nondescript and the service is haphazard the location is good, there’s free broadband internet and the prices are reasonable.
Also, kinda pricey for my taste in Ubud:
Komaneka Suites & Komaneka Resort, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia – US$200. Komaneka Suites overlooks a valley just outside the artist village of Ubud while Komaneka Resort is right on the Monkey Forest Road in the village. The more expensive rooms even have their own plunge pools, they’re both delightful.
technorati tags: | | | |

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Less Visited Khymer Temples, Part 3 of 3

3 April 06 -- Monday
Nang Rong, Thailand (South Isaan)

(Ok, after a l-o-n-g break, I'll finish up the Thai temples part of this report and do the remaining trip segments, overland to and through Cambodia and back to Bangkok, piecemeal.)

Current location: Honey Inn , 8/1 Soi Sri Koon, Nang Rong, Buriram, 31110 Thailand; (mail checked once per week); Telephone: 0-4462-2825 (+66 44 622 825 int'l)
Mobile: 0-1075-9972 (+66 1 075 9972 int'l); Lat 14.629/Lon 102.799

Agenda for today:

  • visit Phnom Rung, as well as the nearby Muang Tam, Khymer temple sites
  • decide whether to leave Nang Rong on an afternoon bus for Khorat/Phimai or stay another night.

In talking to the expat Canadian and German fellow guests last night, I got their thoughts on traveling out to Phnom Rung and the nearby Muang Tam temple sites. One had gone that day by a combination of bus and mototaxi; the other by hired mototaxi. There was a third option of hiring a moto from the guesthouse and driving out to the sites myself.

The bus/mototaxi combination seemed ok, but time consuming. And, frankly, after spending what seemed like half my life on the bus yesterday coming from Kantaralak, spending a lot of time that day on local buses and, of course, waiting for local buses at the roadside bus shelters in the April heat, didn't appeal to me all that much.

The idea of hiring a mototaxi with driver sounded ok, as I had done in Kantaralok to get to Preah Vihear, but, if it seemed reasonable to navigate to the sites myself, well, why bother with the extra overhead of a driver? Hiring the mototaxi/driver in Kantaralak worked out ok, but, having seen how riding was done in the more rural parts of Thailand, it didn't seem all that daunting to ride there myself. After all, I didn't kill myself when I hired the moto in Lao and facilities here in Nang Rong were much better. (For instance, there was a hospital just a block away. I guess I'm trying to provide some of the "traveler tradeoffs" I weigh when on the road.)

Ok, Thailand is "drive on the left," which didn't thrill me, but, while there was traffic, it wasn't all that bad. The larger vehicles didn't seem to actively try to nail you as you drove and, once outside the more built up areas, traffic dwindled to nothing.

It turned out that, in addition to the map in the pages of Lonely Planet Thailand that I had brought, the guesthouse manager, Mrs. Phanna, had a strip map showing the route. Thailand highway signage is pretty good, with highway numbers clearly marked, so I didn't have a lot of concerns about getting lost. The best plan, then, seemed to be to hire a moto from the guesthouse (B250/day, including helmet, but gas extra).

Mrs. Phanna, whipped up breakfast including eggs, which I generally never eat unless it seems to be expected of me, as here; endless toast and jam; a basket of peel-it-yourself mango, and as much coffee as you could drink. B40. It was quite nice sitting at the dining table without feeling extremely pressed to link up with a driver and get going. Based on the previous two days experiences, I had already missed the best light, which was at dawn when the sites weren't open anyway, so I might as well cool it a bit and get going when things felt right. I wasn't going to be that late anyway out to the sites and, if it was roasting by the time I returned, well, that's life. I filled up my water bottle from the cooler (free water from the cooler, or you could get bottles), got my day pack, and I was ready to head out.

There were several motos to choose from, all of which seemed to have working brakes, so I took the one with the most gas (checked visually). I managed not to make a repeat performance of my incompetence in Pakxe, Lao in getting the moto started, once I got some assistance in finding the choke. The road in the immediate area of the guesthouse was pretty quiet, so I had a minute to get oriented, make adjustments, and work out the bugs before I got to the main road. At the main road, after turning left, east, the strategy was pretty simple--hug the shoulder and maneuver carefully around large objects, such as local buses.

After leaving the main part of town behind, just a couple of km, I was heading east on Highway 24, which, though a main east-west artery in this part of Thailand, wasn't all that heavily traveled. Just right for a marginally competent moto rider. After perhaps 12km, I saw signs for my next turn, onto Highway 2117 at the village of Ta Ko, and turned right, south, at a traffic light. Exactly at the intersection it got a bit busy with buses arriving, loading, and departing near the intersection, but after that it became quieter than Highway 24. Around 5km on 2117, I came to a well marked T-junction where I turned left, east, onto Highway 2221, marked on the guesthouse map as the village of Don Nong Nee.

Another 5km or so, past a Thai military Airborne training site, the road to Phnom Rung continues up a hill. After a couple of km one comes to a couple of back gates to the site, spaced about a km apart, but don't stop at these. A bit further and there is a large developed area, a bit obscured, on the right and a smaller one on the left. If you continue on 100m or so , you come to the entrance for the parking area on the right. There are the usual vendors, though much more geared for local Thai people than foreigners. I parked among a bunch of other motos and, after a couple of moments thought, left my helmet on the moto, as others had done.

Phnom Rung
There's a small visitor center with an interesting model showing both Phnom Rung and the nearby Muang Tam sites. Ye Olde Ticket Booth was a bit beyond. I didn't write down the price, but the guidebook says B40, which sounds about right. Same price for Thai people and foreigners, I believe.

Once again I'll take some of the details of the description of the site from Michael Freeman's book A Guide to Khmer Temples in Thailand and Laos. The site is located atop a 383m inactive volcano, 190km to the west of Preah Vihear. The site has been extensively restored and has much less of the tumbled down effect of the usual Khymer sites. The site is oriented east-west, with the entrance at the east.

At the modern entrance to Phnom Rung is a cross shaped terrace measuring 40m north-south and 30m east-west. This is followed by a 160m causeway paved in pock-marked, laterite stone.

At the end of the first causeway is a terrace with naga, serpent, balustrades. From here a staircase leads to the sanctuary. At the top of the stairs is a terrace with four artificial ponds. There is a second naga bridge on this terrace. I wouldn't have known it except for the description in Freeman's book, but a very interesting feature of the balustrades is that the naga at the ends are actually being disgorged by a makara, a marine monster. The body of the makara then forms the remaining part of the body of the balustrade.

The terrace leads to the eastern gopura, or entry tower, which in turn leads to a series of doorways through the enclosure to the sanctuary. There are elaborate carvings on the pediments and lintels. It really helps to have a guidebook that describes the details (plug for Freeman's book or equivalent.) The sanctuary has a magnificent tower with elaborate carvings. For those who have seen the towers in poor, eroded condition at Angkor, it's revealing to see the decorative details of the Phnom Rung tower.

After a couple of hours I left Phnom Rung and headed to Muang Tam, the "Lower City," which is about 8km away. One leaves Phnom Rung the opposite direction from arrival, turning right from the parking lot and heading down the hill, hoping that the brakes were in good shape. After 3km, turn right following the sign for Muang Tam, which is 5km further on, south of a large 1150m x 400m baray, basin. Parking is across the road at the visitor center where there are also some vendor booths, toilet, and a restaurant.

I went to the ticket booth across the road, B40, I believe, and talked for a minute to the ticket vendor and some Thai police that were hanging around the booth eating some typical, unidentifiable Thai sweet snack, which they offered me (and which I took). Then, somewhat to my surprise, the police officer in charge of the small detail wanted to sit in the shade and talk a bit. It turned out that they were traffic officers. He offered me another snack and asked me how I got out there. Well, here I am with no driver's license, on a moto from the guesthouse thinking, what should I say. So, I told him I came out on a moto, which surprised him. He told me to watch out because there were a lot of accidents on motos, etc. etc. I assured him I was careful, etc. etc. We sat there and ate snacks and talked about nothing for a while. His English was a lot better than my Thai, but eventually things wound down and I excused myself to see the temple. Nice guys.

Muang Tam Temple

Muang Tam, which, like Phnom Rung, has been restored, is a very unlike other Khymer sites. It has an outer enclosure with four gopura, entry towers, at north, south, east, and west. Inside the outer enclosure are four L-shaped ponds surrounding an inner enclosure. Within the inner enclosure are five brick towers, arranged in a front row of three and a back row of two. Also within the inner enclosure are two "libraries."

The ponds are a very attractive, defining feature of the temple, adding to an air of serenity, though the site is quite close to modern dwellings. At the time of my visit there were, perhaps, five other people at the site, a nice contrast to the hordes at Angkor sites or even the lesser crowds I encountered that morning at Phnom Rung.

After leaving the temple I walked back across the street to look for some lunch. There's an ok outdoor restaurant with the usual Thai selections and, I believe, an English menu. In any event, ordering was no big deal. For B77 I had shrimp with mixed veg, rice, and bottled water. Somewhat amusingly, or alarmingly, depending on your perspective in this time of concerns about avian flu, were the number of chickens, along with a few ducks, that were running around the area. At one point a customer who went to the cashier to pick up some take out grabbed a chicken that was in his way and tossed it to the side.

To return to Nang Rong from Muang Tam, one could retrace the way to Phnom Rung and then along Highways 2221 and 2117 to 24, or take Highway 2075 west to Lahan Sai and then Highway 348 north to Nang Rong at the 24/348 junction. I decided to take the brute force approach of retracing my steps, which I thought might also allow me to better understand the back gates to Phnom Rung. It was a pleasant, straightforward ride.

I had plenty of gas and decided to wait until I got to Nang Rong proper before filling it up. Once off Highway 2221 and heading north on Highway 2117 traffic came to a standstill as some sort of village celebration in a parade of pickup trucks came south with people waving and singing. The nice thing about riding a moto is that you can take your time and just stop and enjoy the scene.

Back on Highway 24 and in Nang Rong I pulled into a gas station. Once again, as in Lao, it was full service with two attendants helping me. I checked the gas and found, to my surprise, that I didn't really need any. Though the gauge showed about 2/3 full, it seemed about 3/4 full, plenty in that heat. So, once again, I guess the gas gauge was broken. I decided to tell Mrs Phanna, the guesthouse manager, and offer to settle up when I paid my bill. I got back to the guesthouse in about one hour from Muang Tam.

By the time I got back, I wasn't ready to hop on another bus to Khorat/Phimai, so I decided to stay another night in Nang Rong.

That night the expat Canadian and German guys and I were joined at dinner by a middle aged French couple as well as a German girl and her companion. Once again the dinner was great, especially for B100, with 4 or 5 courses.

After dinner the plan was to walk up to the 7/11 on the main road for some ice cream with the Canadian and German guys. After a while, including checking email at the local LAN gaming/cheap high speed Internet place, I ended up back at the guesthouse, helped myself to some beer from the refrigerator, read for a while, and zonked out.

So ends the tale of traveling to see the less visited Khymer temples in Laos and Thailand. I didn't make it to Phimai on this trip, which was a major omission. The rest of the trip was travel to Siem Reap overland, then to Snookyville by way of Phnom Penh; by boat, truck, and minibus to Trat; and bus to Bangkok. I'll cover those segments separately.
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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Thailand tightens visa rules for US long term "tourists"

Thailand tightens visa rules for tourists to cut illegal workers - "From October [2006], tourists from the designated countries [41 countries including Australia, the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the US],can still enter Thailand without visas and stay for up to 30 days, but their entry stamps will be renewable twice at most for a maximum stay of 90 days.

Tourists who stayed for 90 days must leave the kingdom for at least 90 days before being permitted to re-enter Thailand..."

Doesn't affect me, but lots of long term expats will have a big problem.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Crack the case and upgrade a laptop to 802.11 abg

How to upgrade a laptop to 802.11 abg for $30 by ZDNet's George Ou -- Learn how to upgrade your laptop internal wireless adapter to support 802.11 b/g and 802.11a for $30. No need for expensive and bulky Cardbus adapters that ruin the form of your laptop. Follow this step-by-step guide to install your own Intel2915ABG 802.11 a/b/g adapter."

One problem is that IBM apparently blocks use of non-IBM cards. The article gives a software workaround.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Thai Lao Border Crossings Added

The usual not quite informative announcement about additional ways to cross between Thailand and Lao:
MCOT : TNA English News :: "LAOS, Aug 26 (TNA) - Thailand and ... (Lao PDR) have agreed ... to upgrade a temporary border crossing point in Thailand's northern Uttaradit Province to permanent status, as well as to open two temporary border points in the country's northeastern region a bid to boost blateral tourism.
Under the agreement, both sides will upgrade the temporary border crossing in Uttaradit's Baan Kok District to permanent status.

Two more border crossing points in the northeastern provinces of Nakhon Phanom and Amnat Charoen will also be opened."

What's needed are details about:
  • the exact places one might cross
  • whether Lao visa on arrival will be available for non-Thai.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A9 Search Hosed?

For about the last 20 hours (?), search using A9 yields a nice diagnostic message like this:

There are no web results for this query.

We'll see if submitting feedback does any good (or if it's just me). For now, back to Google.

Edited to add: ok, now back to normal.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Pre-Pasted Disposable Toothbrushes

Here's a dentist oriented site with prepasted toothbrushes.

Figure $.15/each including shipping and tax. Minimum lot is 144, though.

Sri Lanka Airport Transport (Transfer)

Airport transport between the CMB airport to Colombo can be arranged in advance to try to avoid the arrival area chaos.

Airport Express (PVT) LTD.
+94 11 555-5050 or 011 555-5050 in Sri Lanka
R2000/per person, one way, (though this should be verified).
(Skype call to SL is US.148/minute)

This recommendation is based on a ride from Colombo to CMD in Nov 03. Service availablility and rate checked by phone Aug 06.
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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Vietnam Telecomm Investment in Cambodia

A report titled A new way of development of Vietnamese telecom enterprises discusses Vietnamese investment in telecomm in Cambodia:
"The military-run telecom corporation, Viettel, is applying to the Ministry of Planning and Investment for a licence to invest US $1 million in a project in Cambodia. If approved, this will be the first project invested abroad in the telecom service field by a domestic company, opening a new way of development for Vietnamese telecom businesses. ...

Viettel plans to provide VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) telephone services throughout Cambodia. To begin with, in April, Viettel established Viettel Cambodia Pte Ltd headquartered in Phnom Penh to seek the Cambodia telecom market.

Viettel also plans to supply mobile phone and internet services in Cambodia and Laos and co-ordinated with Cambodian partners to install two international on-land optic cable networks to Cambodia."

It would be interesting to know the routes of the fiber optic cable and whether it will be installed in trenches or aerially on power poles and transmission towers.
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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Extreme Sports Camcorder with Wireless Lens -- Samsung SC-X210WL

Samsung has annnounced a hands free camcorder with an outboard, wireless lens, the: SC-X210WL/XAA: "sports camcorder with wireless lens
Here's the feature set:
--ultra-compact camcorder
--wireless weather resistant external clip-on auxiliary lens for hands-free operation up to 15 feet away from base
--1GB of built-in memory lets you record up to 34 minutes of high quality MPEG4 --SD/MMC slot
--2' LCD screen
--10x optical/100x digital zoom,
--680K pixel CCD
--electronic image stabilization
--MP3/webcam/voice recorder/data storage.

Available in September, 2006 for US$680. Samsung hosts a site to view and post videos.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Vietnam Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)

"Liquid" in the Flyertalk forums reports FYI - Location of Vietnamese Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar: "...the Embassy of Vietnam in Yangon, Myanmar has moved. The address is:

70-72 Thanlwin Road
Bahan Township
Yangon, Myanmar
Tel: 511305"

Current as of July, 2006.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Second Thai-Lao bridge to be opened in December, 2006

The People's Daily reports, from a Xinhua source: People's Daily Online -- Second Thai-Lao bridge to be opened in December:
"The second bridge linking Thailand and Laos across the Mekong River will be opened in December, Laos' Radio Vientiane announced on Friday.

Construction on the bridge, linking Mukdaharn province in northeastern Thailand to Laos' southern province Suvannakhet, began in December 2003, and will be completed by this December, the radio reported.

The project, which costs about 69 million U.S. dollars, was partly financed by the Japanese government and half by the Lao government.

It will be the second bridge to link Thailand and Laos across the Mekong River, which is the common border of the two countries.

The first Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge was completed with Australian assistance in the early 1990s, linking the Lao capital Vientiane with Nong Khai province in northeastern Thailand."
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Friday, June 30, 2006

Quy Nhon, Vietnam - Vientiane/Pakxe, Laos Direct Bus

Nhan Dan-Travel reports 30 June 06: "The Binh Dinh [Vietnam] Trade and Transportation Joint- Stock Company (VATACO) will open a 600 kilometre-long bus route from Binh Dinh province to Pakse of Laos on July 4.

update: Buses will depart from Quy Nhon city in Binh Dinh province every Monday and Thursday and from Pakse city in Champassak province every Wednesday and Saturday.

They go through Pleiku city (Gia Lai province), Kontum province, Bo Y border gate, and Lao provinces of Attapu, Sekong and Champasak. It takes 12 hours and the fare costs US $16 (160,000 KIP).
Besides, the Ministry of Transport and Communications has also allowed the Quy Nhon-Vientiane 1,300 kilometre-long bus route to start operation. There will be eight trips a month at the one way fare of VND 390, 000 for one person.

The bus routes target 1,500 people, who are working in Laos and 500 Laotian students in Quy Nhon. ..."
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Schedule & Fares for China-Tibet Rail Link

China Daily reports 27 June 06:
"...fares and schedules for the Qinghai-Tibet Railway were unveiled yesterday the service begins on July 1 and it will take 48 hours and a minimum of 389 yuan (US$49) by hard seat to get to Lhasa from Beijing.

A hard sleeper (bottom berth) will cost 813 yuan (US$102), and a soft sleeper (bottom berth) 1,262 yuan (US$158). The most expensive ticket is priced at about half the fare of an air ticket, 2,540 yuan (US$318).

Trains will run between Lhasa and cities in three directions Beijing, Chengdu/Chongqing and Xining/Lanzhou...

The train from Beijing to Lhasa, T27, will leave Beijing's Western Railway Station at 9:30 pm, and arrive in Lhasa at 8:58 pm on the third day, taking 47 hours and 28 minutes.

The train from Lhasa to Beijing, T28, will leave at 8 am and arrive at 8 am of the third day, taking exactly 48 hours.

The ministry did not say whether trains would run daily.

The trains will stop at six stations: Shijiazhuang in Hebei Province, Xi'an in Shaanxi Province, Lanzhou in Gansu Province, Xining and Golmud in Qinghai Province and Nagqu in Tibet Autonomous Region.

Passengers can get on the train at any of the six cities along the 4,064-kilometre rail line of which 1,110 kilometres is new track, mostly at least 4,000 metres above sea level.

Trains will also link Lhasa to Chongqing and Chengdu in Southwest China; and Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province; and Xining in Qinghai Province in Northwest China."
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Vietnam, Cambodia sign agreement on Highway 78

Viet Nam News reports 29 June 06: "Viet Nam and Cambodia agreed to working conditions for the construction of a section of Highway 78 from Ban Lung to O Yadav in the Ratanakiri Province of Cambodia...

The two sides worked on the upgrade of Highway 78 and on the construction of Long Binh-Chrey Thom bridge, which will link Viet Nam’s southern An Giang province with Cambodia’s Kandal province.

Discussions also focused on the implementation of the Agreement on Land Transport signed by the two governments in October 2005, including opening four border gates to traffic between the two countries."
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Lao Airlines Adds Flights to Cambodia

People's Daily Online reports 29 June 06:
Lao Airlines...will offer two additional flights per week starting in October from Phnom Penh via Pakse, Laos, to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. [The] company plans to fly daily from Siem Reap via Pakse to Vientiane.

Laos Airline previously flew three times a week from Vientiane to Siem Reap during the dry season. The airline started flights to Cambodia in 2001.
Cambodia's tourism industry developed rapidly in recent years. In 1999, Cambodia welcomed 367,734 tourists, but the number rose to 1,421,000 in 2005. Tourist arrivals have increased by 286.41 percent.
Source: Xinhua
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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Attopeu, Laos -- Bo Y, Vietnam Road Completed

Nhan Dan ---Business reports 6 June 06: "Road 18B from Laos' southern Attopeu city to the Vietnam-Laos border, built at a cost of US $48 million in soft loans provided by the Vietnamese Government to the Lao Government, was inaugurated on June 5.

At the inaugural ceremony held in Attopeu city of the Lao southern province of the same name, the 111km-long road linking Attopeu city and Bo Y border gate in the Vietnamese province of Kon Tum was handed over to Laos and opened to traffic by the project contractor, the Vietnamese Construction Joint Venture Corporation 18 (CEI-18).

The construction of the project, including three major bridges and 16 small and medium bridges, began in December 2001 and was completed on April 15, 2006."
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Cambodia Rebuilding Sihanoukville and Kratie Airports

The Standard - China's Business Newspaper reports 13 June 06:
"Cambodia has approved plans for an international airport in the coastal city of Sihanoukville, hoping that rebuilding the facility will boost tourism.

Soy Sokhan, an undersecretary of state for civil aviation, said a rebuilt airport would be able to take direct flights from neighboring countries, allowing visitors to head for the country's beaches and have a quick link to the Angkor temple town of Siem Reap.

Like many of Cambodia's smaller airports that were once part of an extensive domestic network, the facility in Sihanoukville, 230 kilometers southwest of Phnom Penh, is closed.

The government hopes to reopen it to domestic flights by the end of the year and later introduce international routes, said Soy Sokhan.

There are also plans to reopen the airport in the northeastern town of Kratie, near a stretch of the Mekong river home to endangered Irrawaddy dolphins that Cambodia hopes to preserve as a tourist attraction."

Southeast Asia Road and Rail Construction

Xinhua - English reports 10 June 2006: "China, the Laos and Thailand have agreed to build a 1,818 km international highway which will start from Kunming, capital of Yunnan, and end at Bangkok of Thailand.

And construction has completed on 60 percent of this international highway's Chinese section that starts from Kunming and stops at Mohan, an important trade port on the Sino-Laotian border. The remainder of the section will be finished by late 2007.

The Chinese parts of two more highways connecting Kunming to Hanoi of Vietnam and to Yangon of Myanmar will be finished by late 2007 and will be upgraded to freeways in 2010.

[Pan Pearl River Delta Region] PPRDR highway network can be expanded into ASEAN via the three main international highways: the Sino-Myanmar highway (Yangon-Mandalay-Kunming), the Thailand-the Laos-China highway, and the Sino-Vietnamese highway (Hai Phone-Hanoi-Kunming), according to Xu Rongkai, governor of Yunnan.

In the meantime, China is also stepping up construction of a railway scheme that link up China and ASEAN via Yunnan.

A feasibility study has completed for construction of the China section of the proposed Pan-Asian Railway that will run from Singapore, through Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar before reaching China's Yunnan Province.

The new 340-km railway section will connect Dali, a well-known scenic site in Yunnan Province, southwest China, to Ruili, another Yunnan town on the Sino-Myanmar border.

The feasibility study calls for a construction budget for Dali-Ruili railway section of 10 billion yuan (about 1.23 billion U.S. dollars), said Bai Enpei, secretary of Yunnan Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China. He said construction work on the section could begin soon.

The proposed 2,600 km-long Pan-Asian Railway will start in Singapore, pass through Kuala Lumpua in Malaysia, Thailand's capital Bangkok, Yangon in Myanmar, and terminate in Kunming, capital of Yunnan.

Highways linking up Nanning, capital of Guangxi, Yunnan's close neighbor, to Guangxi's land border ports and seaports with Vietnam have also been under swift construction."

Presumably the Lao portions of the links would have to be sponsored from a foreign donor.

Monday, June 26, 2006

String Theory in Physics: Ideas and Frameworks; Predictions and Consequences

Sharon Begley in her Science Journal column in the Wall Street Journal, 23 Jun 06, writes that physics string theory is an "idea or framework" rather than a theory composed of a "concise solvable equations describing the behavior of the physical world." So, presumably a framework might consist of ideas or theories or both. (I suppose these comments may be less on what was said than on how it was said. I'm certainly not able to comment authoritatively on the details of string theory validation.)

It's not clear that a theory necessarily consists of concise equations, though I suppose one would expect the minimum set of necessary and sufficient factors to be used in the mathematical descriptors, the equations, of a compact theory. A complete, though noisy, theory might have extraneous descriptors, not necessarily apparent at the early stages of the theory's validation. What if the results of a theory could be validated though, for some reason, some of the equations weren't compact or concise? Would the theory be invalid or just inelegant?

Also, "solvable equations" as a criterion leads one to ask at what point the equations must be solvable to be valid parts of the theory. Should the criterion be solved rather than solvable? If the equations can be shown to be solvable, but aren't solved, how can one be sure of the results, especially as applied to the physical world, where validating experiments may be difficult or impossible given a current state of technology (or ever). Of course, I'm to lazy to look into the details of theory theory to validate these ideas.

Ms. Begley also says, in describing a success of string theory that seemingly describes correctly the number of quarks and leptons found in nature, "is less a prediction of string theory than a consequence."

It's really unclear how the result of a theoretical prediction is different than a theoretical consequence. Or, coupling this with the thought earlier, how a result of a prediction consistent with a framework is different than a consequence of the set of ideas in a framework. Regardless of whether the predictor of the result is a theory or a framework, there seems to be no difference between a result or a consequence, unless there's some jargon usage I'm missing. (Of course, there's a trivial difference in meaning between a consequence and a prediction, but I can't think that's what's meant.)

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Mobile Subscribers in Laos

In a news release 20 Jun 06 announcing a contract to improve GSM mobile phone coverage in central Laos, Ericsson said there are about 561,000 mobile subscribers in Laos today, equivalent to 9% of the population.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

All mobile phones in Thailand to have 10-digit numbers in September, 2006

MCOT : TNA English News :: "BANGKOK, June 16 (TNA) - Holders of all mobile phones in Thailand will have their numbers adjusted to become 10-digit ones in September, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) announced here on Friday.

An NTC expert, Mr. Direk Charoenphol, told TNA that NTC had ordered all service providers to turn all domestic mobile phones, both previously and newly registered, to be the 10-digit phones from September 1, 2006.

'Under the plan, which will result in sufficient numbers to be offered to increasing mobile phone holders over the next 30 years, the number '8' will be added after '0' of each number,' he noted.

'This means that the existing number, '09-1234567', for example, will become '089-1234567' then', he revealed.

All local moblie phone service providers will launch the 10-digit phone service on a trial basis in July."

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Less Visited Khymer Temples, Part 2

2 April 06 -- Sunday
Kantharalak, Thailand to Preah Vihear temple to Nang Rong, Thailand (South Isaan region)

Today the agenda was to
  • take a motorcycle taxi from Kantharalak to Preah Vihear temple, just over the Thai-Cambodian border,
  • return to Kantharalak,
  • take a bus west, either to Nang Rong, the accommodation base for Phnom Rung temple, or all the way to Khorat to stage for Phimai.
To Preah Vihear temple
So, up at 6:10AM, trying to get an early start on the day. The lighting at Wat Phu during my visit from 10AM-12M had been pretty poor for photos. I had this fantasy that if I could get to Preah Vihear around 8AM I'd get better lighting.

The first thing to do was get an idea if the hotel could arrange transport, preferably motorcycle taxi, to Preah Vihear and return, with a couple of hours waiting time, without the hotel adding too much overhead cost. I considered doing the arrangements on my own, but I wasn't sure where the motorcycle taxi guys hung out and I didn't want to waste a lot of time tracking them down. The guidebook showed that they were supposed to be just across the street, but, if they were there, I sure didn't see them when I went to look. I asked the hotel clerk how much a mototaxi would be to Prasat Khao Phra Wihan (Thai people have their own name for Preah Viher) and she said B400. The guidebook said to expect about B250 for the 35km journey and the guidebook had been low for the cost on all of the bus rides so far, so B400 didn't seem too outrageous. I agreed, again without negotiating, which was probably a mistake.

The next thing was to get some breakfast. Somewhat surprisingly for Thailand, there weren't any street food carts or restaurants that were open in the immediate area of the hotel. Normally you can just put your hand out anywhere there are more than two or three people gathered in Thailand and someone will put a bowl of noodles or a couple of sticks of satay in it. With a little exploring it was clear why there weren't any food stalls right by the hotel. The morning market, with plenty of food opportunities, was in full swing just across the road and maybe 2 minutes walk.

The market had a full array of both grocery type items for locals to take home as well as prepared food and drinks. For B15 I got a pretty good imitation of coffee with milk and some Thai donuts filled with something not quite sweet that was pretty good. I sat down at the drink stall and watched the market activities for a while. I was the only obvious foreigner there, but no one seemed especially astonished that I was hanging around.

I went back to the hotel and checked out, leaving my bag with the clerk, and took just my day pack, as I had on the trip to Wat Phu. The moto guy was ready, so I climbed on and we took off. The road south, Highway 221, was good and sealed the entire way, with good signage. As we rode along I could see that people were assembling in their villages to vote. There were lines of 10-15 people in several villages, which to me showed more interest than I had been led to believe. The current government (before it fell into its present disarray) has a lot of support, I understand, in the rural areas, so maybe that explains it.

After a pleasant ride, we arrived at the ticket booth for the national park. Entrance fee: B200. My understanding is that the gate opens at 8AM, though we were there somewhat later. We headed up a fairly steep road and arrived at the Visitor Center around 8:45AM. On the way up the hill, still well within Thailand, there were areas just off the road that were cordoned off with warnings about land mines. After he stopped, the driver indicated that I should walk along the road and that he would wait there.

I walked along the sealed road, passing a Thai Army encampment, and was hailed by Yet Another Ticket Booth clerk and charged B5. The road was marked as a helo landing zone, suitable for several troop carrier helos. After a 5 minute walk down the road, the road ends and you're at a rock surface. There are a couple of obvious paths that bear to the right. The path that goes generally straight at first before veering somewhat to the right is a better path to follow. When I was there, there were other people coming and going, which made taking the correct path pretty simple. Also, some Khymer kids came along, hoping to be employed as guides, and they were helpful in leading the way.

After a couple of minutes, you come to a gate with some steps down, which I guess all there is of the formal border. Another minute and you come to a desk where the Cambodian Border Police will charge you $5 (try to have exact change). No one cares on either the Thai or Cambodian side about passport or visa, at least here. You don't get stamped out of Thailand or stamped into Cambodia. Presumably if you made your way down to the plain from the temple, you'd get challenged since it isn't a legal border crossing.

Preah Vihear Temple
Michael Freeman in A Guide to Khmer Temples in Thailand and Laos says that Preah Vihear occupies probably the most magnificent site of any Khmer temple and its hard to disagree with his assessment. I want to credit Freeman's book for details I mention here about placement, size, and configuration.

The temple is laid out on a north-south axis, extending approximately 800m. From the entrance to the highest point there is approximately a 120m elevation rise. By comparison, Wat Phu's highest terrace is approximately 30m above the lower level. There's no large water basin, or baray, at the entrance, such as Wat Phu.

The first staircase is 162 steps, which ends in a 30m long platform flanked by two very large naga, serpents. There's nothing delicate about these naga. They are very impressive, though the carving is less detailed than those at other sites such as Phnom Rung.

One then comes to the first of five gopura, or entry towers. Each leads by a combination of causeway and steps to the next, ending at the central sanctuary. The central sanctuary is perched on top of a cliff that allows somewhat obscured, but impressive, views of the plain below.

The modern military associations of the site are evident everywhere. There's a rusting artillery piece, a bunker, and evidence on the temple stones of bullet or shell impacts.

Simply put, Preah Vihear is definitely worth the trouble to get there, though it's pretty easy coming from the Thai side once you're in the general area. I understand the road coming from the Cambodian side is steep and difficult. One account with photos is at An advantage to visiting from the Cambodian side is that you can be there at dawn. Even at 9AM the light wasn't very good for photos.

I paid the kids who were guiding me around the site B100. I felt ok with this amount, which may be too little for some and too much for others. There are lots of vendors selling the usual t-shirts, drinks, and tourist junk. Some photos are hard to line up because of the vendor tables, but they generally don't chase you around.

I went back to the visitor center parking lot, told my driver to wait a bit more, and went up some nearby wooden steps. There are a couple of viewing platforms at the edge of the cliff, which were used when access to the temple was restricted. In addition, one can go down some steps and see some figures carved in bas relief. From one of the platforms one may observe, but not more closely approach, two small shrines that are unlike anything found at other Khymer sites. Except for their being unique in style, they seem unremarkable.

The visitor center wasn't that great so I just gave it a glance. There a decent restroom next door.

Return to Kantharalak and then to Nang Rong
It took about 40 minutes to return to Kantaralak. I picked up my bag at the hotel and had the moto guy drop me off at the bus station.

About this time I decided to go as far as Nang Rong to visit the Phnom Rung site. Once there I could go further west to Phimai or south to cross into Cambodia. There was one remaining bus that day to Nang Rong. So I bought a ticket, B130, and looked around for some lunch. Like most Thai bus stations there were several small restaurants and food stands around. I wanted a sit down place since I had to wait for about 40 minutes. I got directed to a place that offered stir fried veg and ordered that plus rice and a Coke, B60. I had a phone number for a guesthouse in Nang Rong, called it, and booked a room for the night.

Finally the bus showed up. Uh-oh. It was a through bus from Ubon to Khorat. And it was the last bus of the day. And it was a weekend day. And the bus was packed. At first, as I saw the masses pressing forward to get on, I didn't realize it was totally jammed. Then the penny dropped and I realized that my luck in getting seats on buses had ended. Well, I got some space standing up in the aisle and settled in for however long it took for people to get off to free up a seat. Maybe it wouldn't be too long. Except as we drove along, though the bus was jammed, the driver picked up even more people. And no one got off. Well, it was the last bus of the day, so I guess I see his point.

I got a chance to do some character development standing there in the aisle as the bus rolled along. One hour. Two hours. You get the picture. A few people did get off along the way, but not enough to reduce the sardine in a can effect. After a while it was a bit funny and I decided that I was going to insist the Thai Army guys on the bus sit down before I took a seat. Luckily there was a fan just about next to me since it was, guess what, boiling outside.

Four hours of standing up later, around 6PM, we pulled into the Nang Rong bus station. Of course it was raining. I could walk or take a moto or a real taxi. I decided to wait around for a while to see if the weather cleared. I got a Pepsi, B15, and had a humorous discussion with the drink vendor about what the word for "straw" was in Thai and in English. In the end, when the rain didn't stop, I capitulated and took a real taxi. B50. Big deal.

I got dropped off at the guesthouse I had heard about, the Honey Inn, which was pretty centrally located in Nang Rong, but enough off the main road that it had the potential of being quiet. I decided to spring for the air con room (B350, breakfast B50 extra). It was pretty nice with ensuite bathroom and western toilet.

Now, I am here to testify that my stay at the Honey Inn in Nang Rong, Thailand was one of my best hotel/motel/guesthouse stays ever. Sorry, Conrads in HKG, SIN, and BKK. Sorry, anyplace in Europe or North America. Well, there's a place that was about this good in Puerto Natales, Chile, but it burnt down. Anyway, the lady who ran the place is like your favorite aunt that is glad to see you, wants to make everything work out, but never bosses you around.

You want your laundry done? No problem. You want dinner? B100 additional for 4-5 courses of great Thai food. You want a beer? Grab one from the fridge (B45, settle up later on the honor system). You want a motobike? No problem, B250/day + gas.

I sat down at the dining room table that was set up outside the kitchen, had a beer, and looked through my guidebook. First a Canadian expat guy and, later, a German expat guy sat down and we talked about this and that. Both had been to the Plain of Jars in Lao, which was on my to-do list for a follow-on trip. Each was more or less on a visa run and had come to Nang Rong to check out the Phnom Rung site.

A couple of relatives of the manager came by to help with dinner. The son-in-law had run a Thai restaurant in Sacramento and had returned to Thailand to set up a restaurant. One of the expats and I had dinner at the guesthouse. It was great. After dinner we went looking for the other guy who had wanted dinner at a place on the main road. We had a couple of Beer Leo there, I found a LAN gaming place with very high speed network access, and after sending the usual, "Here I am in Asia," email, it was time to get some sleep.
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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Less Visited Khymer Temples, Part 1

With a bit less than two weeks available, I blitzed solo through Northeastern Thailand, South Lao, and Cambodia trying to visit Khymer temples somewhat off the main tourist track.

29-30 March 2006

I started with my usual SFO-NRT-BKK sequence on United. The upgrade from Y to C had cleared NRT-BKK 10 days or so before departure, which was a big surprise to me since I’ve generally found the NRT-BKK segment tougher to clear than SFO-NRT. The SFO-NRT upgrade had cleared 3 days before departure. The flights were uneventful, with less than a one hour layover at NRT. Around 18 hours elapsed time from the takeoff roll at SFO, I lined up at Bangkok immigration with the rest of the sheep to get my photo taken. Then on to one of the exchange counters, with a rate of somewhat less than B40 to USD $1.

Then exit right to find the Quality Suites representative to get a ride on the hotel shuttle. (Hotel booked through Asiatravel. Unfortunately the cheapo pre-paid rates seem to have been discontinued and it’s now pay at the hotel.) Somewhat surprisingly the rep wasn’t around, but one of the helpful uniformed guys hanging around pointed out that the van was outside. So after a while I went and sat in the van, which of course delayed the whole process since the rep apparently was looking for me inside. The lesson learned is to cool it inside until the rep shows, while keeping an eye on the van.

So, 10 minutes or so after the van leaves we pull into the Quality Suites by Laksi Plaza for my umpteenth visit. At the reception desk I am “upgraded.” Since the room is on the West side, away from the runways, I am happy. Ok, the room does have a separate shower tiled in some-kinda-stone, so I guess it’s a mild upgrade. I dumped my things and went downstairs. I noticed that the restaurant/karaoke bar was dark, which was too bad since I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to a beer after arriving while listening to some badly sung Thai songs. Anyway, I cruised around the corner to the Family Mart and picked up a DTAC SIM with international capabilities for B199 with B50 call credit for my unlocked phone. I resisted loading up on Thai snacks, went back to my room narrowing avoiding getting nailed by a speeding moto as my welcome to amazing Thailand, tried out my new Thai phone number calling home, and conked out around 1AM.

31 March 06

Up for a 5AM hotel shuttle ride to the Bangkok domestic terminal for a 6:30AM flight on Thai to Ubon Ratchathani. It was too early for breakfast at the hotel, which was included in my rate, too bad. The shuttle left right on time, stopping first at the International terminal to drop off a couple on their way to Beijing on Sri Lankan Air.

Well, the van dumped me off at domestic and I entered the usual scrum of people traveling with their entire household belongings. The self serve check in kiosks were only for people with carry on bags and, while I was traveling pretty light, I hate dragging a bag into the fast food restaurant, which is built for teeny tiny people.

I lined up at the Thai Air Star Alliance Gold counter only to find that two guys with the world’s most complex transaction were queued at the counter. The agent handling them was talking on the phone, always a bad sign. The other lines were even longer, so I just waited. In the fullness of time their issue was resolved and they left, presumably to go irritate someone else. The Thai check in agents were nice, as always, and confirmed that I was to get a window seat on the right (so I could see the Thai Cambodia border area as we flew East) and a nice fruit plate as specified in my Thai profile so I could avoid the sandwich Thai serves for breakfast with some weird, anonymous filling. I had bought the e-ticket in the US online for US$60 or so, complying with Thai’s irritating rule that you have to buy at least 3 days in advance. The Thai website was mostly unresponsive for days just before the deadline to buy the ticket, so I was lucky to score it. I see that the miles and segment from this trip didn’t hit my United account and, come to think of it, I don’t think my frequent flyer number was on the boarding pass. A loose end.

Off to the terminal’s Thai cuisine fast food restaurant. Another B199 later I had my Bird Flu special of chicken and noodles with kai lan and Coke. Nothing tastes better at 5:30, especially with plenty of hot sauce. I see that there are a couple of coffee options now past security in the gate area, which is an improvement.

The 1 hour flight to Ubon on a 737 was full, with pax loaded by a bus from the terminal, and uneventful. I got the fruit plate as well as something close to coffee, which was the envy of my row as my seatmates turned over their “meal” in their hands, looking vainly for signs of food. At Ubon we went down the stairs. As usual for upcountry Thai airports like Ubon we were the only commercial plane on the ramp. My bag came out pretty quickly and then it was time to find the reputed Thai shuttle to downtown. Well, the shuttle had been discontinued and, apparently, there’s no public transport to/from the Ubon airport into downtown, so I paid B70 for a taxi to the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) office. I got there in less than 10 minutes and waited for them to open at 8:30.

The TAT representative was very helpful and told me that, if I planned to go to Wat Phu in Laos, I should use the international bus to Pakxe, Laos, which went directly from the Ubon bus terminal. Also, the best way from where I was to the Ubon bus terminal was by city bus. He gave me a map of Ubon, showing the bus routes, as well as two maps of Northeast Thailand, one in English and one in Thai. The two maps almost matched, so not quite as good as a single bilingual map, but probably ok.

The Ubon city bus stop was just a block East and a bit North, on Luang road. It wasn’t that different than a stop one might find in a major US city, with a few seats and a sun/rain shelter, though there was no signage that said anything about buses serving the stop. After a couple of minutes it dawned on me, contrary to guidebook information, that the “buses” were really pickup trucks, painted in the color of the route they served, with (sometimes) a large Romanized number of the route displayed in front.

After a few minutes a number 3, Pink bus, showed up and I flagged it down. The Ubon map I had been given at the TAT office was bilingual, so I pointed at the bus terminal designation and asked if the bus went there. It did and I piled in the back. (Ubon buses are pay on exit.) After about 15 total minutes, we arrived at the fairly large bus terminal. Eight baht to the driver, a nod of thanks on both sides, and into the terminal.

Immediately in front of me was the sign “International Bus Thai—Lao,” with the schedule. With my unerring sense of direction I went to the wrong counter and was directed to the first counter on the left on the main entry aisle. It took a couple of minutes, my passport, and B200 to get a ticket with an assigned seat on the 9:30AM bus. I found that the bus was to leave from stand 1, first on the right as one continues down the main aisle toward the bus stands.

At this point I was interested in: putting my carryon sized backpack/suitcase into the bus luggage compartment; getting to the toilet, thereby hoping to avoid the dreaded Asian bus toilet; finding a bilingual “PN” Northeastern Thailand regional map; and getting something to eat. It was a bit too early to get rid of my backpack, it seemed. Toward the back of the terminal was a not-too-bad toilet, B3. This being Thailand, a bit further back yet was street food paradise, with the usual Thai selections. None looked that good at 9AM and I ended up with some drinks and some rolls. None of the stands seemed to have PN maps, though the selections of video games, magazines, and so on were pretty extensive.

Around 9:20AM I turned up at the bus and got my backpack underneath. The bus only had about 15 people on it, so assigned seating wasn’t going to matter and I tried to get a decent seat that wasn’t going to be in the sun as we headed East.

The road is sealed and in good shape the whole way and about 11AM we arrived at the Chong Mek border crossing point. There’s a lot of construction on the Thai side, though it didn’t seem to disrupt traffic. Clearly the border crossing is being upgraded to accommodate more commercial traffic. A Thai immigration agent got on the bus and told us that we would all need to get off and go to the immigration office to get stamped out. This took about 15 minutes. We then all got back on the bus and the bus moved about 100 meters forward into Laos, where it stopped again.

Everyone got off the bus and people sorted out their visa on arrival and immigration. I handed in a passport photo, one of a 20 or so I had printed at home on crappy Xerox type paper; two US$20, expecting $10 change; and the Lao visa form through a window to official #1. The other pax had the usual border crossing problems. For instance, one guy had no US dollars for a visa, only Euros and Thai baht, as well as no photo.

Inside, official #1 passed my passport to couldn’t-be-more-uninterested official #2, who passed it to even more uninterested official #3. Eventually my passport with Lao visa stamped in, taking up the usual whole page, and $10 change emerged. I then headed around the building’s corner to the immigration Arrival window. I got stamped in, paid a B20 entry fee, and I was ready to get back on the bus.

It was pretty clear that we were going to be delayed as the others sorted themselves out, so I wandered around the building a bit. I don’t bother changing money into Lao kip anymore since I once got a wad of kip about as big as a brick and everyone accepts US$ and Thai baht at an ok conversion. US$1 = Kip10,000, which is pretty easy to remember or things are priced in US dollars or baht anyway. I generally take a lot of US$20s, 5s, and 1s in good condition with me, so I was pretty set. There was a free, not too bad toilet at the back of the building. One of the urinals more or less drained onto the floor because of the great plumbing job, welcoming you to Lao PDR.

Eventually everyone got stamped in, including the guy with no dollars and no photo. Apparently all it took was an additional fee (surprise) and he got his visa. He also had absolutely no cash now in any currency and was counting on finding an ATM once in Pakxe. I wasn’t too confident about this, but he seemed to think he had been told it was possible. My guess is he may have been able to get a cash advance. I didn’t run into him again, so who knows. The whole border process took about 45 minutes. It probably could have been done in 30 if there had been fewer complications. Keep in mind this was for a bus with only around 15 pax. You’re more or less at the mercy of the people you’re with. I did see a couple of Western backpackers at the border; presumably doing the trip in stages. It actually costs just about the same on the bus as the much longer elapsed time journey from Pakxe in pickups, or tuk tuks or share taxis, so I’m not sure there’s a point in the old method of doing the Ubon-Pakxe journey by stages anymore now that the international bus is available. Of course, the backpackers’ route may have been different.

We got back on the bus and rolled into the pretty new Pakxe international bus station, off Highway 13, about 12:30, 3 hours after leaving Ubon. As usual, each of the pax got swamped by drivers of one kind of vehicle or another. I stupidly over paid B50 for a ride to the Pakxe Hotel, which looked pretty good from a couple of guidebooks in terms of location and “Mekong view,” in a tuk-tuk. The ride took about 10 minutes.

Well, the prices at the Pakxe Hotel had gone way up since the guidebook had been written. The more affordable “view” room overlooked rooftops more than the Mekong, so I got my bag and walked around the corner to the Hotel Salachampa, a converted colonial villa. The manager said they had rooms for US10 in the building in the courtyard. The Lonely Planet guidebook said that better rooms, though $15, were in the main building, so I asked to see one of those. The manager showed me an ok room on the ground floor, but I asked if anything was available on the 1st floor. The manager clearly thought I was nuts, but he showed me a great room, #6, with high ceilings and wood floors and a pretty good view of the Pakxe street life. The bathroom was fine, with a Western toilet and hot water shower. Air con and TV. No breakfast included, but otherwise I was totally set.

I decided to scout around the area of the hotel and to get some lunch. A recommended restaurant, Xuan Mai, was on a corner, across the street. I looked at the menu and plopped down in some outside seating, since the bugs weren’t bad. I ordered up some chicken fǒe, the Lao version of chicken soup, and a pineapple shake, deciding to chance the ice. This came to Kip15,000, or US1.50. Although I had a lot of drinks with ice in Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia this trip, I didn’t have any problems, which leads me to think that ice problems may be largely a thing of the past.

Off to @d@m’s Internet on Highway 13, a 15 minute walk, for 30 minutes using the Internet that cost $.60 for a pretty fast connection. It’s always surprising to me how good the Internet connections are in Laos, even in more rural areas, such as Vang Vieng, North of Vientiane. As I was finishing, and on cue, the afternoon rain began, so I sloshed next door to the Kemany restaurant and had some coffee to fight off the jet lag. $.50.

The rain stopped in an hour or so and I went walking around Pakxe a while, taking the odd photo, and trying to get oriented. The big decision was how to get to Wat Phu. I asked a tuk tuk driver near my hotel. He wanted $30!, claiming gas was expensive, it was a long way, and so on. The alternatives seemed to be:

  • going with a tour such as the one run by the Sabaidy 2 guesthouse on Street 24. (Actually, mentioning the street names, except for Highway 13, may not be all that useful except for spotting on a map since there aren’t any evident street signs.)

  • taking a tuk-tuk

  • renting a moto (100-125cc small motorcycle).

The Sabaidy 2 guesthouse was close by, so I walked over and asked about the possibility of a tour to Wat Phu for the next morning. The tour needed a minimum number of people to go and I was the only one so far that had expressed an interest. The guesthouse manager thought it wasn’t likely that the tour was going to happen for the next day. Instead, he suggested renting a moto for $8/day, including insurance. Driving a moto in Lao, insurance or not, wasn’t my idea of the most fun I could have. The visions of SE Asia traffic accidents, traveling alone, and imagining the type of local medical care available all made it seem like not the best idea. The cost was certainly attractive though. I decided to come back fairly early the next morning and see if the tour was going to happen and decide then.

I walked around central Pakxe for the rest of the afternoon and watched the sunset and what was happening on the Se Don river at the (naturally) Sedone River guesthouse.

The next thing to do was organize dinner, so I walked along Highway 13 and found an ok Indian place, Nazim’s. I over ordered and got enough food for 3. Cost: $4. Pakxe isn’t the most happening place on the planet for nightlife, so eventually I went back to my hotel to read and watch football games at 3AM.

Let me backtrack a bit and say a few words about what the goals of the trip were and how my plans had evolved. It may make the blitz city and country hopping of the trip seem more reasonable. Also, my sense is that this sort of trip is rather different than what people here end up doing when they come to Asia and it may make this alternative way of traveling in Asia more approachable. Or, I suppose, it may clarify for some why they’d never in a million years want to do anything remotely like this.

I’ve done a fair amount of overland travel in SE Asia of the Lonely Planet type for some time. In the last few years I’ve been using, somewhat in preference to Lonely Planet, South-East Asia, The Graphic Guide by Mark Elliott, Trailblazer Publications, UK, 2003, ISBN: 1873756674. This book lays out, in line drawing format, the overland routes one can take throughout much of SE Asia, as well as providing practical tips on cheapo lodging, how to decode signs in Yet Another Non Roman Letter script, food, and even where to swan in and score happy hour drinks at places like the Strand Hotel’s bar in Rangoon.

My original concept for this specific trip and what I ended up doing were quite different. I’d been in touch with a Khymer friend of mine in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the accommodation base for Angkor, and we’d been hatching various crackpot money making schemes—a hobby for me, but real life for him. So, I definitely wanted to stop off in Siem Reap. However, I definitely did not want to fly into Siem Reap, even if I had to go overland like a Cambodian pig lying crosswise on the back of a moto, since I object to the air cartel and the exorbitant airport fees. I also wanted to visit a couple of beaches in southern Cambodia before the rest of the world got there.

So my initial planning was to start in Bangkok, then take a bus from the Ekamai, Eastern bus terminal to Trad, located 5 hours to the Southeast. Then take a 1.5 hour minibus to the Hat Lek border point and cross into Cambodia, getting a visa on arrival. From there I would take the boat 4 hours from Koh Kong to Sihanoukville.

If Snookyville, the first more of less developed beach opportunity, was decent, I’d stay there a bit. From Snookyville then take a share taxi to Kampot, staying at least overnight to visit to Bokor and Kep. Then go from Kampot to Phnom Penh by way of Takeo with some side trips to minor temples. After that figure out what to do and where to go while wandering around Phnom Penh, seeing if it still was as dissolute as I remembered. Some of this planned itinerary was sparked by watching the movie City of Ghosts, set in Phnom Penh, Kep, and the Bokor hill station. I’d recommend this movie at least for the taste of Phnom Penh that it gives, though the music is also pretty good, including a cover of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now sung in Khymer.

So I got the air ticket for SFO-BKK-SFO, departing 29 Mar 06 and returning 10 Apr 06. Somewhere along the way the book A Guide to Khmer Temples In Thailand and Laos by Michael Freeman, River Books, Bangkok, 1996, ISBN: 0834804506, surfaced. I’ve been sporadically using this to try to figure out how to get to Preah Vihear, a large temple site on the Cambodia/Thai border.

To make the trip more interesting, I also wanted to try to leave or arrive in Siem Reap not overland through Poipet on Highway 6, but overland through one of the northern border crossings. Crossing in the north seemed feasible, if not necessarily straightforward, after reading through the various traveler websites such as and

But it’s helpful to start with some specific target sites in mind that you then link with non-killer overland travel. That way you’re actually going somewhere instead of having the journey be the destination. (Leaving out all discussion of travel philosophy.)

Freeman’s Guide lists several not to be missed temples, “worth a special journey,” as the saying goes. It turns out that, in addition to Preah Vihear, there were four other sites in Lao and northeast Thailand, each roughly one day from the other going east to west. They are Wat Phu, near Pakxe, in Lao; Preah Vihear, near Kantharalak, Thailand, just across the border in Cambodia; Phnom Rung, near Nang Rong, in Thailand; and Phimai, near Korat, also in Thailand.

The problem was that Phimai was fairly out of the way north if I wanted to get to Siem Reap without a lot of backtracking. Also, traveling overland in Lao can be a bit wearing (and I didn’t know the details about the Ubon-Pakxe international bus, though I had seen a publicity blurb about it some months ago). So it seemed to make sense to do the long reach first and go from Bangkok to Wat Phu in Lao and, from there, work back west, at least to Preah Vihear, which was somewhat close to a couple of the northern Cambodia border crossings.

If these crossings seemed infeasible given my time constraints, I could head east to Phnom Rung and, possibly Phimai, then go south and cross into Cambodia at Toilet, I mean, Poipet. I had heard that the Thai government had been making Thai-Cambodia border crossings less straightforward in order to discourage Thai travelers from visiting the Cambodian border casinos. The word was that even the relatively simple border crossing at Poipet (if you don’t count hordes of beggars, amputees, and general chaos) was a lot harder since the Thai government had sacked the head of Thai immigration and had generally made it a pain to cross. If you have lots of time to kill, like a lot of backpackers, it’s not an issue, but I didn’t have the time to burn (but I still wasn’t going to fly in to Siem Reap, thank you very much). Just to alleviate any suspense, all my border crossings were fairly painless, without undue delay.

The added attraction of targeting Wat Phu, Preah Viehar, and Phnom Rung was that, as Freeman’s Guide nicely shows, each of these is laid out axially. This is quite unlike the temples in the Angkor complex. Well, except, in a sense, Angkor Wat if one’s view is focused just on the journey from the entrance to the central sanctuary. So, for Angkor Wat, one first crosses the moat on the first causeway, and then walks along the second causeway, traveling to the inner temple while leaving the material world behind. These linear temples offer a similar experience. One starts out on a lower level and ascends stairs and traverses causeways, from terrace to terrace, towards progressively higher sanctuaries, ascending to heaven. Well, that’s the concept, anyway.

So, the first step, which I’ve described previously, was to get from Bangkok to Pakxe.

1 Apr 06

So, now it’s the next morning in Pakxe, Lao PDR. I had the usual non-restful night’s sleep, which allowed me to get up to date on Thai soap operas on TV as well as a certain amount of football. Just after dawn I looked out the window and saw monks processing around Pakxe, getting food offerings from the townspeople. This was far different, more authentic, I guess, than the Luang Prabang monk procession, where the monks will wait, patiently queued up, until the tour buses show up.

The Restaurant Sedone, on a corner past the Pakxe Hotel, around 5 minutes walk, opened pretty early and supposedly had a decent breakfast. I was the only customer and got a reasonable resemblance of breakfast for $1.50 or so. For calibration, this restaurant offered sticky rice for $.30, Lao sausage for $1.50, coffee for $.30, and BeerLao (not sure of the size) for $.80. The person helping me was nice and the food was ok. I made some trip notes while eating and tried to think if I wanted to buy the Beerlao 2006 calendar that was on the wall. Well, it was too big and really would have been dumb to buy. I really like the Beerlao stuff like bottle openers and such, however, so I offered the waitress $1 for a genuine, official Beerlao napkin holder (no bargaining. I probably could have got it for $.50.) She actually put it in a plastic bag, which probably made it seem less likely that I had just plain stolen it.

Back to the hotel and I checked out. The manager let me store my bag, basically by putting it on the floor next to the reception desk. I had the usual second thoughts about security, but, well, what are you going to do.

I walked over to the Sabaidy 2 guesthouse and got there somewhat before 8. As predicted yesterday, there wasn’t going to be a tour to Wat Phu today, so I could either get a tuk-tuk; take a tour from some place else, assuming I could find someplace that was running a tour; or rent a moto. I had scoped out the moto rental scene and the Sabaidy 2 rate of $8/day with insurance was better than other places. And, well, I was there already.

I was a bit concerned about navigating to Wat Phu. The front line manager at the guesthouse assured me it was no big deal. 32km of sealed road through rural Lao. What’s the problem? I must have come across as pretty skittish so the manager brought out the owner who spoke excellent English. He gave me a map helpfully annotated with the road signs, in English, I should look for and told me the price of the ferry across the Mekong. He left. Well, let’s do it. I signed a lease, as the document had it, and was given a helmet. No, no one asked for a driver’s license. I did have to leave my passport. (I should have brought an expired passport just for this purpose.)

One of the guesthouse staff brought a decent looking moto into the guesthouse courtyard and we looked it over. Ok, the brakes worked. It had gas. I was supposed to bring it back full of gas. Of course, I had absolutely no idea how one gets gas in Lao, though I had seen gas stations. I tried to ask if I could just bring the stupid moto back and pay them extra for the gas. I never take this option at car rental counters, but it seemed like a good idea at the time for this situation. Let’s just say that I didn’t get the point across with the owner (and his excellent English) gone, so I was committed to getting the gas.

Now the fun really began since I couldn’t start the stupid thing. Or, actually, I could start it, with the kick starter (no electric starter), but I wasn’t used to a motorbike without a clutch, so I kept killing the engine when I put it in 1st gear. At first the guy helping me thought it was amusing. After a couple of tries, he clearly thought I was hopelessly incompetent. I thought so, too. Eventually I got the moto out on the road and practiced starting, stopping, turning—the usual kiddie level driving tasks. I felt exceptionally dumb and was quite glad that I was doing this solo without someone on the back of the moto.

I somehow got out to Highway 13 and stopped at the, no kidding, traffic light. You drive on the right side in Lao, so I made a left turn and somehow got into an ok place in the traffic flow. I thought as long as I didn’t have to stop, turn, avoid something smaller than me, and not get nailed by something larger, I’d be ok. Warning: this is not necessarily the best mindset when driving.

Of course, before long I had to stop and, then, of course, start off in 1st gear. Somehow enough reptile memory had kicked in by this time that I was minimally ok with this elementary task. I stayed in an ok part of the traffic flow, avoiding pedestrians and other vehicles and actually starting getting comfortable. Well, overconfident would be a better term, I suppose.

Right about then it started to rain. Great. Luckily it was a passing shower rather than a SE Asia downpour, such as yesterday afternoon, so I just plugged along. Along the way on Highway 13 I passed the Champasak Historical Heritage museum, which had been recommended, as well as the Champasak Palace hotel, also recommended. The Champasak Palace hotel, though quite a bit out of the center, looked nice. Certainly it was big enough. I had this fantasy of stopping by both of these places on the way back, assuming I hadn’t become roadkill earlier.

After motoring along a while, getting a few stares, since I was clearly, even with the helmet, not a local, I started to get worried that I had missed the first turnoff, which was claimed to be at KM 8. Ok, I wasn’t going all that fast at this point, but since I was passing the occasional local on their own moto, so I wasn’t too much slower than the traffic flow. Just when I was starting to think I had missed the turnoff, there it was. Talk about relief. I can’t lay my hands on the map, but I’m pretty sure after turning I was continuing on Highway 13. It was a lot less heavily traveled than closer to town, though, so that was some relief. Rain showers were intermittent, but nothing really too bad.

I was looking out for gas stations and tried to see how people handled refueling. Just to get over this bit of suspense, there are real gas stations in Lao, as well as the stands in the more rural parts that will slurp you some gas. You just pull up and the “service station attendant” (remember those?) puts the gas in. Paying is, uhh, interesting. I found having them write down how much I owed worked pretty well, which is one reason why I carry a note pad and pen all the time. I had plenty of gas, according to the gas gauge, which agreed with my visual inspection, so thought I’d fill it up on the way back. I kept an eye out for gas stations, though, since I wasn’t sure how much gas the moto would use.

So, I’m going along at a pretty good clip, getting waves and smiles occasionally. Some surprised glances occasionally. (I saw no other Westerners on motos the whole day, so that sort of diverting sight may be still somewhat unusual in the area, though Pakxe is the second largest city in Lao with, I believe, 70,000 residents.) After 20+ km I come to the next turn, a right that’s marked with a sign saying, helpfully, Wat Phu. This side road is sealed, too, which is a blessing and somewhat surprising if you’ve traveled overland in Lao or Cambodia, where side roads tend to be fairly terrible. But this was a nice road, with just the occasional rough spots, even less traveled than the last, except for the occasional pickup going about a zillion km/hour, though they were nice about giving plenty of room.

So I’m pretty (over)confident about this time and I see that there’s a settlement up ahead. At the settlement, which is on the bank of the Mekong, the sealed road gives out and become not only the pot holed dirt road I had hoped to avoid, but it’s pretty sandy (not the best for traction or stability, if you’re not familiar with 2 wheeled vehicles) and it descends pretty steeply down to the ferry at the river. Ok, “descends pretty steeply” is a relative term, but the thought did cross my mind how stupid the situation would be if I really screwed up and dumped the bike in the river.

Now, you have to understand that a Mekong river ferry in Lao isn’t the most sophisticated water craft on the planet. It’s basically a couple of hulls with boards bridging the hulls. The larger ones, such as I was aiming for, carried vehicles, but the transition between “road” and ramp wasn’t the smoothest one might imagine. I ended up getting on the ferry without making a complete fool of myself and without running into anyone or anything else, which was pretty unbelievable at the time. The usual vendors wanted to sell drinks or Unidentified Food Objects (UFOs). And, as I had been told, the fare was $.50. Change is made, but have small bills.

The ferry departed when full. Luckily it was almost full when I got on, so it was only a couple of minutes before departure. The ride across the Mekong took around 15 minutes and was thoroughly pleasant. After my rather rough arrival on the ferry I had some concerns about getting off and getting up the road on the other side. As we approached the opposite bank I could see that the incline wasn’t too bad and the road surface, while dirt and bumpy didn’t seem fatally awful. As we arrived and the boatmen let the ramp down I could see that the road surface had some sand, but not a lot. So, after the passengers on foot got off and the ramp was fully lowered, I motored off the ferry and up to the where the sealed road began without making a complete fool of myself.

A tour van without any evident tourists aboard had zoomed off in front of me, so I had the idea I could try to follow it, since it may have been going toward Wat Phu. After a couple of minutes the road came to a T junction. From the guesthouse map I knew I had to turn left, south, at some point, and this seemed to be a main road. The van then turned left, so I did, too. Following this road was very pleasant. The day was beginning to really warm up (April is the hot season) and I was glad to be getting a relatively early start. In retrospect I should have left even earlier since the morning light is much better for photos.

After another 10-15 minutes of riding, during which I passed two gas stations, which I noted for the return, I arrived at a turn off that veered a bit to the right that was signed as the way to the temple complex. In just another couple of minutes, at 10AM, I arrived at the entrance where I was charged $3 for admission. Freeman’s guide says that there is a charge for cameras, but no one asked me. So, the Wat Phu site is about 1.5 hours one way from central Pakxe.

The Wat Phu complex extends for approximately 1.5km including the artificial water basin, the baray, at its base. It’s in an exceptional setting, located at the base of a 1400m mountain with a natural monolith at the top, forming what must have been thought to be a natural linga—an important feature in Khymer religious tradition. In the morning the mountain was shrouded in cloud. By midday on the day of my visit, the clouds had dissipated.

One first comes to the Middle baray, which is still filled with water. I initially misjudged the size of the site and parked my moto at the eastern end of the baray and started walking around the baray, heading generally to the west. After a couple of minutes it became clear that the best thing to do was to get back on the moto and ride counter-clockwise on the baray’s perimeter road to the west end. To give you an idea of the scale, the baray’s size is given as 600m east-west and 200m north-south. There is parking for cars and motos near the ticket checking booth as well as a restaurant at the west end of the baray. Once your ticket is checked at the desk, you may proceed either along a path straight ahead from the desk that parallels the 250m causeway or walk to the causeway itself and walk along its border. At the time of my visit, one couldn’t walk on the causeway itself since it was being restored.

Continuing on and bearing generally west, one next comes to two large buildings, one on either side of the causeway. Each has galleries that enclose a large courtyard. At the time of my visit the buildings were posted for no entry, though a few local kids were wandering around in them. The stairs off the causeway for each building as well as doorways and lintels were in severe disrepair, not much different than the sandstone blocks tumbled all over the place in sites like Angkor’s Preah Khan off the main passage.

Next one comes to a flight of stairs with frangipani trees on both sides. When I visited the trees were in bloom, which was quite nice. There are a succession of inclined causeways and staircases ending at a natural terrace about 30m above the lowest level. On this highest terrace is the main sanctuary as well as the sacred spring, some interesting carvings on some of the larger fallen rocks from the cliff face, and an active Buddhist wat (and some pretty passive vendors). The sanctuary is relatively unimposing in size compared to some of the Angkor sites. The water from the sacred spring is being channeled into a pretty ugly culvert/plastic pipe plumbing of modern construction. One of the carvings on a fallen stone is quite fascinating. It’s a stone with a deep carving of a man sized crocodile like animal, just the right size for human sacrifice. Michael Freeman in his guidebook mentions that Chinese visitors described such a ceremony in the 6th century.

On a clear day it’s claimed that one can see the Mekong in the distance from the upper terrace, but I couldn’t make it out on my visit. There are several shady spots on the upper terrace and it’s a good place to rest before heading down. Of course, it’s easy to get a drink from one of the vendors. It was pretty crowded up there with, perhaps, 8 Western tourists, total, being guided. It was quite a difference from the hordes visiting Angkor Wat..

Close to the site entrance is a decent museum with nicely displayed artifacts with English labeling. No photos allowed in the museum.

How does Wat Phu compare to any of the Angkor sites? It’s very different. My summary would be that it’s well worth the effort to get there. The setting is really quite nice, especially with the frangipani trees in bloom, which is apparently from February to June. When the clouds over the neighboring mountain clear, it’s quite majestic when viewed from the lower levels. Ascending the stairs, steep and tricky like the Angkor sites, one does get the feeling of passage from the material world. (You have to ignore the vendors luring you back, of course.)

Let me stray again from the ever so riveting, “There I Wuz,” account and give the high level summary of what happened. I’ll backfill later. There’s some hope I’ll actually crank out the whole story since my stupid passport is off getting more pages and it is now apparently a long term guest of the US Postal and Storage Service.

While on the Ubon-Pakxe bus I had considered just blowing the whole planned itinerary of visiting temples in favor of going south in Lao from Pakxe and crossing into Cambodia at the Veun Kham, Lao/Stung Treng, Cambodia border crossing. It was claimed to be authorized, but not quite legal, in the way that warms the traveller’s heart. However, I’ve been trying to get to Preah Vihear for so long that putting it off yet again wasn’t that compelling. These are the kinds of decisions that are best worked through over a lot of generally aimless conversation and good natured argument. Since I had only myself to argue with though, the opposing arguments to dump the temple itinerary were pretty lame as I worked them through on the way back to Pakxe from Wat Phu.

So, that meant I would get on the afternoon bus to Ubon and then catch the next bus to Kantharalak in Thailand, which was the accommodations base for Preah Vihear. So, the rest of the trip was then pretty much determined, except for the issue of whether to include Phimai.

In any event, to summarize of the rest of the trip, I got back to Pakxe and caught the 3:30 bus to Ubon. From Ubon I caught the bus to Kantharalak and arrived there after dark in the rain. I took an overpriced moto taxi to the Kantharalak Palace hotel where I got a decent room and had a great, inexpensive dinner across the street.

The next morning I got a moto taxi to Preah Vihear and the site was every bit as good as I had heard. I left about 11:30 and got back to the Kantharalak bus station in time for lunch and the last bus of the day to Nang Rong, the accommodation base for Phnom Rung. Uh-oh, this was a through bus from Ubon to Khorat. It was packed. So, I had the chance to build up karma by standing for the entire trip of 3 ¾ hours. All right, not every aspect of travel is total ecstasy.

At Nang Rong it was, surprise, raining, so I took a taxi to the Honey Inn guesthouse. My stay there was one of the highlights of the trip and I ended up staying two nights. More about this place later. The next morning I rented a moto from the guesthouse for B250 and went to Phnom Rung and the nearby Muang Tam. Both sites were really interesting and well worth the trip. I had lunch out by Muang Tam while watching various avian critters wander about, giving one pause about how bird flu would be handled in the provinces, regardless of what propaganda one reads in the press.

After two nights in Nang Rong I took an early bus, having learned my lesson about taking late buses, south to Aranyaprathet to cross the border into Cambodia at Poipet (visa on arrival). On the way to Poipet I linked up with a couple and we took a share taxi to Siem Reap, accommodation base for the Angkor sites, where I ended up staying three days, which was longer than I had anticipated.

Siem Reap has transmogrified over the years into something pretty stinky though there some remnants of pre-Sofitel here and there. I stayed in a guesthouse on a remaining dirt road run by the guy who runs the Tales of Asia web site, ate at Soupdragon, rode around on a moto driven by my friend, and even managed a day out at the temples.

From Siem Reap I took a morning bus to Phnom Penh that arrived, just my luck, too late for the last bus to Snookyville. Since I stayed too long in Siem Reap, mostly because of sloth, I couldn’t really afford the time to stay overnight in PP, so I got a share taxi to Snookyville. The ride turned out to be one of the highlights of my travels, ever. More on that later.

We got to Snookyville around 8PM and I found a great guesthouse, the Apsara, just a block or so from Ochheuteal beach, where I stayed for the night. The boat to Koh Kong and the border wasn’t until 12, so I had a fair amount of time to get breakfast, explore the beach, and swim in some of the warmest water I’ve ever been in.

The boat to Koh Kong took 4 hours. After the first hour or so I got tired of being inside and reading, so I decided to get toasted to a crisp on the roof. (Ok, I had sunscreen, so I only got cooked medium rare.) We went north along miles and miles of undeveloped coastline with (what looked like) white sand beaches.

At Koh Kong I took a share-truck to the border where, after screwing around for ½ hour at Cambodian immigration, I walked across the border and reentered Thailand. I easily missed the obvious car park where the minibuses to Trat were parked, but after a couple of minutes walking in the rain, I found them. The minibus leaves when full and it took about 1 ½ hours to get to Trat, where I got off at the market.

It was only 5 minutes or so to the guesthouse I had in mind, the Garden Home, where I got an ok room for the night. Then, back to the market for dinner.

Pickup truck to the bus station the next morning, after breakfast at the Pop guesthouse restaurant, and off on the 5 hour trip to Bangkok. The bus stopped at the Eastern, Ekamai, bus terminal, which is right next to the Ekamai BTS station.

Off to the Holiday Mansion hotel on Wireless road, about 2 minutes from the Ploenchit BTS station. Although I had arranged a cheapo single room through Asia Travel, I got upgraded to a suite, which was quite nice given that the hotel has seen better days.

Up for the early morning flight from BKK and, wonder of wonders, I found an honest taxi driver who used the meter to the airport. This positive, totally unexpected gift capped a great trip.

Now that the summary is done, I’ll get back to the blow by blow.

1 Apr 06 – Continued

So far I had hopped by air from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani. Then by aircon bus from Ubon to Pakxe, Lao. And, last, I went by selfdrive motorbike from Pakxe to the Wat Phu temple site.

While riding back through the town of Champasak, which abuts Wat Phu, I came across several Western tourists on bicycle presumably going either to Wat Phu or returning from it. I suppose they were staying at guesthouses in town. Champasak is strung out for several km along the road that borders the Mekong on the west side. I see that one guidebook says that Champasak proper is 4km north of the temple site, but that must be just the formal city limits, since there were dwellings and shops all along the road to Wat Phu and continuing past the Wat Phu turn off. A bicycle would be a good option if it weren’t essentially frying hot outside, which it was at the time I started off to return to Pakxe, around 12 noon.

As I rode back, I ran through some trip planning considerations. Now that I had visited Wat Phu, I was anxious to get going west, though this would mean I would spend just one night in Lao on this trip. Not the best use of a $30, 15 day visa, to be sure.

Many of the people I had talked to on the Ubon-Pakxe bus the previous day were heading down to Si Phan Don, the Four Thousand Islands. There aren’t any special sights down there, except, perhaps, the river dolphins, but lots of budget travelers use the 4,000 Islands as a place to just plain hang out. I couldn’t do it this trip, because of the other temple sites I wanted to visit, but it certainly was attractive after blitzing without significant downtime to this point.

I should mention that I was also missing one of the minor Khymer temples in the area, Houay Tom or Huei Thamo. It's on the other side of the Mekong from Wat Phu and can be reached by boat from Champasak or Pakxe. This site is reported to be unrestored and overgrown, but in a nice setting. This temple is also reported to have an unusual carved linga with four large faces at its tip. I'm guessing, however, that this artifact has been snarfed up by either the government or thieves. A quick search doesn't confirm this one way or the other.

The ride back to Pakxe was uneventful enough. I seemed to have plenty of gas. The rain had stopped and I didn't expect the afternoon downpour until around 3PM. I was hungry, but I decided to get back to Pakxe before having lunch. I was frankly concerned about having some sort of moto problem and being stuck. Riding a moto around rural Lao makes you keep thinking about exactly what you would do if the moto broke down. It’s not like you can call AAA for emergency road rescue. The brute force approach, of course, would be to flag down a pickup and pay for a ride, moto and all, back to the guesthouse where I had rented the moto.

I was thinking of getting gas at one of the two stations before the ferry since they seemed less busy than those in the more densely populated areas. If I needed extra time to figure out how to actually get the gas into the moto, presumably one of the more rural stations would be less frenetic, though somehow “frenetic” and “Lao” don’t really belong in the same sentence, since most of the country seems to be in a deep slumber. Just as I got to the first station a couple of trucks were pulling in, so I passed by. After riding a while more I guessed I must have been distracted when passing the other station, because I never did see it. The gas gauge read fine, so I wasn’t all that concerned.

Then I noticed that the gas gauge was reading fine because it hadn’t budged since I left in the morning. The stupid gauge must have been broken. I stopped and checked the gas level in the tank visually and I apparently had enough to continue on without backtracking to the last gas station I passed. I’d get gas at the next reasonable opportunity, though. I couldn’t remember exactly where the gas was on the other side of the Mekong, but I was hoping it wouldn’t be too far.

The next concern was taking the correct side road to the ferry. While there were signs for Wat Phu on the way from Pakxe, there weren’t any signs showing the way to Pakxe that I saw while on the way back. I began to wish I had brought a GPS or a long string instead of relying on memory. Well, from the main road, at Ban Phabin village, to the ferry landing was just a couple of minutes, so the worst that could happen was that I would have to backtrack and try another likely side road. As it turned out, a familiar looking T junction was the right one and I got to the ferry landing ok.

At the road above the ferry landing I got a signal from someone under a tent at the side of the road to come ahead, so I made my way down the dirt road and got onto the ferry ok. It was empty except for me, so I figured on a wait. Then I found out why it was empty—I was on the wrong ferry. The next ferry to go and being loaded was downriver 50m to the south. I had driven straight ahead instead of looking to see if there was another possible ferry. Dumb.

Not quite as dumb, though, as trying to traverse what was essentially sand to get to the right ferry. I should have gone all the way up and come down the road instead of slipping and sliding in the sand on the incline of the hill to get to the other ferry. I somehow didn’t dump the bike and finally got on the right ferry.

A fairly large, heavily laden truck was the last vehicle to get on. I guess the boards forming the deck were more sturdy than they appeared. The truck was enough to fill the ferry and we departed for the other side. For some reason the fare this direction was $.80.

At the other side of the Mekong I drove off and up the dirt road and got stuck behind some large trucks that were maneuvering on the inclined part of the dirt road. At this point I had become pretty comfortable with the moto, so I just crept along until I could pass and then zorched off on what's shown on the map as Highway 140 to the village of Ban Muang at the Highway 13 junction.

Back on the main road, Highway 13, I saw a rural type gas station before long, the kind that's just a roadside stand with some gas in jars with a rubber hose for gravity dispensing, and decided just to wait for a station with pumps. A station with pumps turned up in another couple of km. I got gas for $1.60 from the very helpful and friendly attendants, no self-serve here, and felt pretty good about the whole trip so far. I don't think I paid the foreigner price for the gas, but I have no idea how the pricing worked, so who knows.

Traffic picked up as I got closer to Pakxe and the sky started looking pretty threatening. There's no law that says that the afternoon downpour waits until 3PM and I was hungry, so I decided to give the museum and the Champasak Palace hotel both a miss. After about 1.5 hours I got back to the guesthouse and dropped off the moto. For $.50 the guesthouse let me take a shower in the shared bathrooms in the back, which were reasonably clean. The shower was a real pleasure since it had been actively hot for quite a while.

I walked back to the Xuan Mai restaurant, since I had left my bag at my hotel just across the street, and tried another bowl of soup since I had had such a good meal the previous day. Soup + Pepsi $1.50. Today they must have had a different cook or something, since it was edible, but not much more. Some travelers from Singapore were at the next table and they had some questions that I was able to answer based on my vast knowledge of Pakxe. Well, they were pretty simple questions. A tuk-tuk guy tried to get them interested in taking a tour around town, but they had other plans. Since the tuk-tuk guy was right there, I asked about getting a ride to the bus station.

Well, he knew the border station at Chong Mek, an intermediate destination of the international bus, and he knew the concept of bus station, but with my best phrasebook Lao, I couldn't get across the idea of the bus station for the international bus on Highway 13. The station seemed pretty new with parts still under construction, so I assume he wasn't that familiar with it. I got him to walk with me across the street to my hotel, where I explained where I wanted to go to the manager, whose English was very good. Even then it took a couple of minutes for the driver to understand that, no, I didn't want to go to Chong Mek, just to the bus station. We settled on $1 for the ride. I had zero confidence in the driver finding the bus station by himself, but, since I had passed a big sign for the station on Highway 13 earlier that day, I was pretty confident that we could get there with some appropriate pointing and grunting on my part.

So, we're driving down Highway 13 about 5 minutes from the station, as far as I can judge, when there's a loud BANG from underneath the tuk-tuk and we lose power. Of course we're in a busy, for Pakxe, traffic circle at the time. The driver makes it to the side of the road and looks underneath. He makes some mysterious adjustment and, surprisingly, before long he gets the tuk-tuk on the road again. We continue driving down Highway 13 and I see the sign for the bus terminal turnoff. Of course, even after pointing it out, the driver misses it (it's in English and Lao). He does a U-turn and makes the turnoff. We arrive, once again thwarting the travel demons, and I pay him off, glad that I had allowed extra time to get back here. As I walk away I see the driver rooting around underneath the tuk-tuk again.

The Pakxe bus terminal is much less busy than the one in Ubon, but I understand there are several in Pakxe serving different areas. This one may only serve the buses to Vientiane and Ubon. I pay B200 and provide my passport. I'm given a ticket and my passport back in a couple of minutes and I'm set. It's around 3PM and, sure enough, the afternoon rain starts. At this bus station there isn't any evident food, though there is a toilet.

Right at 3:20 we pile on the bus for the trip to Ubon. Once again, there are only about 15 passengers, allowing easy seating selection out of the sun. We grind along to the border, pass through in about 30 minutes in a reverse of what I had done the previous day, without the visa processing, and we pull into Ubon bus station around 6:30PM, again about 3 hours transit time.

The bus to Kantaralak, accommodation base for Preah Vihear, the next temple I want to visit, was a 1.5 hour journey for B40. I have an ok seat near the front and can watch the Thai music videos, which I find fun and diverting. It starts to rain as darkness falls. We stop from time to time, at first fairly often while still in Ubon and its immediate outskirts, then less frequently. The bus fills up and there's some standing in the aisle.

I'm estimating that we are getting close to Kantaralak and I start wondering if I should get off before the bus station to avoid backtracking to the hotel area. Ideally I'd like to get off at the market and then I'd be only a block or so from the hotel I want to try--another guidebook special. We drive along and people start getting off in twos and threes. We're definitely in Kantharalak now and I'm trying to figure out where the market is among the shops that are still open in the dark. It's about 8:30PM, so many shops are closed. The guidebook shows that the bus will turn right just past the market, so that's a brute force clue, if it's accurate. A couple of people get off at a cluster of shops that could be the market. Or, it might be just a cluster of shops. A minute later we turn right and I start to move to the front of the bus. A bit later some other people want to get off, basically in the middle of nowhere, but on a main road and I decide to get off, too. It probably would be easier to get a ride from the bus station, but where I wanted to go didn't look that far a walk from where I was getting off. The bus assistant gets me my bag from underneath and I start walking back toward the market area. Of course it's raining.

I cross a wide street and try to walk under some cover to stay out of the rain. A bunch of motorcycle taxi guys are playing cards or the equivalent along the road and one of them hails me. I get across that I want to go to the Kantaralak Palace hotel. The moto guy says B100. It's raining about medium heavy. I'm beat and I agree without negotiating, overpaying again. It's probably really a B40 ride, maybe B50 for a foreigner, maybe less.

The Kantaralak Palace hotel is more of a motel than a traditional hotel. It has exterior access to rooms, at least the block where I get a decent room for B400, aircon, no breakfast, ensuite bathroom with squat toilet, TV. And, yes, from what I could tell, it didn't appear to be a short time hotel. After getting settled I head out for dinner. Conveniently just across the street is a noname restaurant. With a combination of pointing, English, Thai, and some smiling I get prawn soup, chicken with kailan, rice, and a big Beer Chang. B180 for the whole thing. This takes some of the sting out of the cost of the mototaxi ride.

After dinner I go back to the hotel and call home with my mobile phone with the Thai DTAC SIM and sleep as well as I can. Of course, there's always football at 3AM and Thai soap operas to watch, even here in the sticks of Thailand.


Thailand telephone country code: +66. For international calls to Thailand or Lao, delete leading zero from number

Lao PDR telephone country code: +856.

TAT Northeastern office : Region 2
Areas of Responsibility : Ubon Ratchthani, Amnat Charoen, Si Sa Ket and Yasothon
264/1 Khaunthani Rd., Amphoe Muang, Ubon Ratchathani 34000
Tel. 045 243770, 250714
Fax. 045 243771
E-mail Address :

Hotel Salachampa
Tel: 031 212 273
Fax: 031 212 646

Bilingual maps, Thai/English: Before leaving the US I had read on the Golden Triangle Rider site,, that the best maps for navigating Thai roads in the area bordering Cambodia were the so-called “PN” maps. These maps turned out not to be easily available in the US, but I had thought that they would be readily found once I was in Thailand. (I should have printed out the name and description of the PN maps while still in the US and then, once at the TAT office, asked the TAT representative to write down the information about the map in Thai, so I could try to get them at a Thai bookstore.) As it turned out, I only found the maps on my last full trip day, while in Bangkok.

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