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Archive for December, 2018

As I mentioned in my birding post, we spent 30 days in Thailand. Well … I think it was 30 days … from 29 Nov to 29 December. That’s were we ran into a little problem with immigration on our exit … they counted from the 29th (including that day) … so … apparently … we stayed 31 days and our visa said 30 days. My mistake …

After we were in line for our exit stamp we received a little bit of a dressing down and lecture for staying “too long.” We had to go see the “big boss” but they kindly granted us a 1-day extension and allowed us to (sheepishly) depart. If only I had listened to Deb months earlier when she questioned my counting … haha. But back to biking!

When we entered Thailand from Laos I was coming down with a cold … and it jumped on me hard! I was down for the count for a couple of weeks. However, if you know me, I find it difficult to take the rest required to recover quickly. So we went on a couple of bike rides and I just kept prolonging my recovery. Regret it? Nope. I love biking, but it did keep us from doing some things the first 2 weeks in Thailand.

Our first riding was in Chiang Rai … see my previous post for that one! When we got to Chiang Mai we were in the Old Town at first but transferred out to The Opium Serviced Apartments for the final 26 days. The name is The Opium … it wasn’t “opium-serviced” … the apartment was serviced … hello. Haha.

We decided for the first week to try out the Apartment complex’s free bikes to see how they would work. Here’s a couple of photos of those wonderful contraptions.

I offered Deb the opportunity to take one bike and ride on the “back seat.” She said no.The basket came in very handy. One interesting note about these bikes … the brakes were set up UK-style … which means opposite of what I normally think — the right brake isn’t the rear … it’s the front. But, since these brakes didn’t really work, I was Ok!It only took a couple of times of nearly running into someone because I couldn’t stop for us to decide to find another biking solution. Let’s just say that we rode with them … and survived. Haha. We moved on to the bikes you can just rent with your phone. Here’s a couple of photos of those. Yeah … wasn’t really working for us either.

Obviously, these bikes are not built for tall people.

Not only were we finding it difficult to come up with a good bike solution, we were exploring the neighborhood and surrounding areas to find good riding locations. Where we were staying in the city was boxed in by the “Superhighway.” You couldn’t ride on it with your bike and there were only two places you could cross it … and those were extremely busy all the time. We eventually figured out you just had to go for it!

After about a week of this we decided we were ready for some mountain biking. So we signed up for a “Chiang Mai Mountain Biking company” tour.

What a great bunch of guys … the tour guides were excellent and good humored. Our MTB’ing trip was more a Downhill than a cross-country trip. They drove us up to 5,179 feet elevation, put us on hard tail bikes, and proceeded to lead us down the mountain. We climbed another 1,400 feet as well … so our total descent was about 5,100 feet … in about 15 miles … some of the grades were 20+% … rocks, roots, ruts, slick clay … let’s just say we kissed the ground when we made it to the bottom!

Here’s Deb descending one of the steep sections.I had to watch out for cross-bars … some of them were almost too low for me.We thoroughly enjoyed the scenery.We took the opportunity to stop and enjoy looking at the plantations.You can tell by Deb’s expression that this was a great section of trail. Haha.There’s our final destination down there … that lake!This was the sign at the top of the mountain.

We liked our guides and experience so much we decided to rent a couple of bikes from them for the next week. For $64 we obtained two hard-tail MTBs for our use for one week. Here’s a photo.

The shocks were shot, the gears kind of worked, and they were completely dirty … but at least we had new seats and new tires! They were such a step up from the other bikes that we felt like we were in bike heaven. We rode the heck out of those bikes … Three or four long rides out of the city really made for a great experience. There was a great bike trail to use … you just had to get to it. Here’s a video clip of us getting to the bike path. Waiting at traffic lights here is like 10 minutes of relaxing followed by 2 minutes of sheer terror … haha.

Once on the path, it was great riding outside the city.

The path on the left was one way … you rode back on the path on the right.Here’s the entrance to the main bike path.These elephants (and some pandas) were all along the trail.It was well marked and very smooth.Our bikes are taking a rest here.Here we are out in the country enjoying the weather.I’m sure this sign says “have fun” or something like that.The end of the trail! Haha. There was another path close by that we enjoyed as well.

We signed up for another ride for Christmas Day with this tour company … however, we decided to do the country ride. So they loaded us up again and drove us out to the country. It was only Deb and I signed up for this tour so we had a nice private tour through the countryside. Our guide was great, the scenery was awesome and the weather perfect. Wow.

The light green “grass” on the right is a rice plant nursery … this will be transplanted in the fields later.Our final stop on the ride was along the Ping river … very lovely.Here’s a view toward the mountains with a “rice hay” building on the left.Deb had an opportunity to feel up some coffee beans.The end of our trip to the country!Our tour guide “A” was quite the cut up … worked great with us.Another view of the rice nursery.Looking south down the Ping river.We rode along the top of a lake dam during this nice long ride.We even made it to “Mile Marker 0.”

We reluctantly rode our rental bikes back to the shop for drop off as our adventure was coming to an end in Thailand. We thoroughly enjoyed riding in the area … I know if I hadn’t been sick for a couple of weeks we would have explored a lot more. As it was we ended up with a couple hundred miles, several thousand feet and two huge smiles! Success.

Stumblingpiper

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With a month in Thailand, we had plenty of opportunities to bird watch. We went on two organized tours … one to Doi Inthanon National Park (highest point in Thailand). The other one was around Chiang Mai (specifically to two locations: Huay Tung Tao lake and a small nature preserve southwest of Chiang Mai). Both were on the eastern slope of Doi Suthep. Apparently “Doi” means Mountain. These bird watching tours were different than other countries … we spent most of our time in the vehicle driving to see different birds on the side of the road … hence my position in this photo:

We saw approximately 70 different bird species on these two trips. Some of them were duplicates of birds we had already identified ourselves. Our final numbers in Thailand were 87 different species where 44 of those were new to us.

Thailand is a wonderful place for bird watching. There is quite a variety of habitats and these habitats attract many different birds.

Although not as prevalent as in Vietnam, the Thai people do net the birds around the rice fields. However, we found the bird life abundant in Thailand … even around our hotel. Here are a few photos of the birds around our hotel:

This is a Coppersmith Barbet … a beautiful bird easily identified by his call … and then you see him and it’s “Wow.” This is a scaly-breasted Munia … a seedeater … you can tell by the large bill.This is a black-collared Starling … a little noisy but lovely to observe.This is a Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker … this guy is noisy too!

Here are a few random shots of some of our other favorite birds.

I couldn’t pass up adding one more of the Coppersmith Barbet … beautiful.This is a Green Bee Eater.This is an Indian Roller … lovely sitting … fantastic colors when flying. This is a long-tailed shrike.Here’s another picture of the Indian Roller …and one of him in flight …A very cool bird … this small dove is called a Zebra (or Peaceful) Dove.This is a female Hill Blue Flycatcher.There were so many cool “junk birds” … this is a white-vented Myna.The Kingfisher’s colors were amazing … This is a White-throated Kingfisher.Another barbet …. this time the Lineated Barbet. They loved the fruit in this tree.We’ve had the fortune of seeing three owls on this trip … we saw this one in the day-time so I was able to get a nice picture. It is an Asian Barred Owlet. Although this is called the Common Kingfisher … it doesn’t look common to me.Another barbet … a blue-eared Barbet.Hanging out down near the stream, a White-capped Water Redstart. The velvet-fronted Nuthatch …

I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them. Haha.

Stumblingpiper

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We had another tour (this one of Chiang Mai and the surrounding area) scheduled for this, our last day with Audley Travels. We realized the night before that I was too sick to press on so we called the tour guide and cancelled the last day. We figured, since we were staying in Chiang Mai for the next month, we could see it on our own.

You could say we ran out of energy before we ran out of tours! Haha. It was a big trip … Audley Travels did a fantastic job of organizing this part of our adventure. We knew we didn’t have the energy to organize all of these activities … especially somewhere with 4 or 5 different languages and customs. We gave Audley our likes/dislikes and they tailored the trip perfectly. If we would change anything it might be to take another rest day in the middle … we only had one day off! Haha.

Our final hotel was an oasis in the Old Town … very quiet and it allowed me to rest for the next day and a half. Day 37 begins the second part of the adventure — where we go it alone! Thanks again, Audley, for a great trip …

Stumblingpiper

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I woke up today definitely not feeling well. We knew we had a transfer from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai so we decided to tell the tour guide that we wanted to not make any stops and we would rest in the van … it was not to be! As with most of our tours on this trip, if we tried to make a slight adjustment we always had a problem with communication. I’m not sure why, but it was difficult to adjust stuff.

Just a note about our hotel in Chiang Rai … it was beautiful. So many of the places were short stops … this was one of them. We knew this would be a whirlwind trip, but we could definitely have stayed here a few more days to explore the facilities and the area.

Without the energy to convince the guide we didn’t want to tour anything we went for a tour anyway! Haha. We drove for about an hour and made the obligatory pit stop … I am 55 you know. We stopped at some “Hot Springs.” This reminded me of some of the roadside stops in the states … people make something out of concrete and call it a tourist attraction. We did have a great cup of coffee as we stared at the tourists dipping their feet in the “healing waters.” You could also get a “fish massage” here … you take off your shoes, put your feet in the water, and the little fish eat the dead skin off your feet. Ummm. No thanks. Haha.

We continued the journey and were soon driving up a winding mountain road that we didn’t think was wide enough for one car let alone two. Up and up we went to the village of Mae Kam Pong.

Here we stopped for lunch at a local house … truly, someone’s home. We sat on the porch and had lunch. Then we took a hike … I think we hiked for a couple of hours …

We picked up a local guide (and the dog came with us too). She was very pleasant and knew all the good trails.

There were some huge trees along the way …We saw some great birds too … This is a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch.There were some big bugs too! This is the largest pill bug I’ve ever seen.Really was a pleasant hike.

It was beautiful countryside and their were plenty of coffee shops … we bought a bag of coffee beans here. We hiked up to the waterfall and then back down to the vehicle.

We only caught some of the animals, so we are ok!

The weather was lovely … it is quite the tourist destination. We made it back to the van and continued on into Chiang Mai. We arrived at our hotel, the Tamarind Village, pretty tired and ready for some down time!

We are almost finished with the organized portion of our Southern Swing.

Stumblingpiper

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We arrived late in the evening from our river cruise. We settled into our room and had dinner at the hotel–it was kind of funny … we decided to eat at the Italian Restaurant … and it was great! We really enjoyed our dinner.

On Day 34 we had a big bike ride … I was a little under the weather but we went anyway. We woke up early and did a little bird-watching in the morning before the tour guide picked us up.

Amon from Chiang Rai Bicycle Tours was fantastic! We were picked up in what I like to call the Prison Transfer Truck … the tour operators and drivers ride up front in air-conditioned comfort while the guests bounce around in the back. lol. We drove for what seemed like 30 minutes and arrived at the shop to be fitted on our bikes.

We had really nice bicycles (hardtails, I do miss the full-suspension!) After a couple of adjustments, off we rode! These were the best bikes (well-equipped, well-maintained) we’ve had on our tour. This family-owned business just celebrated 10 years in operation.

We were touring around the backroads (dirt and otherwise). It was just a pleasant ride around the countryside.

We saw several different plantations/farms. There were rubber trees galore — you can see them collecting the “latex” on this tree.

Here is a field of pineapple plants. You can see a pineapple in the lower right portion of the photo.We took some side trails, unpaved, and paved roads.

Actually, we had a set time to be somewhere (the elephant sanctuary … more on that below) and we asked Amon for extra mileage–so off we went! We were really riding hard and fast in some sections. I had a slight mishap along the way — fortunately, only my shirt and pride were injured! :0)

We were on our way to the first destination in the tour … the White Temple. When you see the photos of it you think: “Wow! This is amazing.”

Then, when you are there, you realize this is the biggest tourist attraction in Chiang Rai — the artist started building it in the 90’s and they are still adding to the complex. It was like Disney-Buddha-land … nothing serene and inviting about this temple. We were there with a thousand other tourists with megaphones … “Keep Moving.” We told our tour guide we didn’t have to walk through and no need to buy tickets — we’d just look at it from the outside and would love to continue riding. He didn’t understand but after some prompting said ok. Actually, it was quite the art display–if you are there, you might as well stop by and check it out.

There were several of these art displays on the property. We were on the “evil” side so many of the statues were creatures and demons. They even had a statue of the Alien from Alien. I should have taken a photo of that one. From this side, you are supposed to pass through to enlightenment … we were already there so we didn’t have to go through. Haha.

We stopped for a quick lunch and then took another short loop ride and showed up at the Elephant Sanctuary. We said goodbye to Amon (and our sweet bikes) and were escorted into the facility.

I’m not sure what to say about the Elephant Sanctuary … this place had 6 elephants. They are trying to take “domestic” elephants and teach them how to be in the wild again … but most of the elephants are there on loan … so if the owner wants them back, they just say “give me my elephant back.” They have tourists come and you can go into the area with the elephants. They don’t want you to get close or bother the elephants — you can just walk into the area with the guide. We said, Ok, we aren’t interested in going in with the elephants anyway. They were happy with this. We stayed around for about an hour and then requested a ride back to our hotel. They obliged us by ordering a taxi and off we went. I don’t know what we expected but at least we saw some elephants. It was still like going to a zoo … the place is about 40 acres. Oh well … cool. 🙂

It was nice to have our binoculars … they have come in useful on this trip even when we aren’t bird watching.The elephant is such a majestic creature … we did love seeing them.And then you realize the Western World has such an influence …This elephant had a rider because it was brand new to the facility … it needed the comfort of human interaction … they work hard on weaning them off human contact.

Back at the hotel … both of us feeling a little tired and I am down with a cold … we went for Italian again. Haha. On to the next day!

Stumblingpiper

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Sorry for the delay in this post … We finished up our time in Luang Prabang and were up early (again) to head down to our “cruise ship” for the next leg of our journey … steaming up the Mekong to Thailand.

We were a little sad to leave … the setting was great, the massages awesome, and we realized we needed more time in a couple of locations.

After a major effort at settling the bill for a bag of peanuts (from our room “bar”) we were on our way to the boat! When we showed up at the boat, we thought maybe we were really early since there wasn’t anyone there … lo and behold, there were only going to be 4 of us on this cruise up the river, and the boat normally holds about 32 people.

Apparently, because we were cruising “up” the river there were fewer passengers. So off we went with 4 guests and 6 crew members … cruising in style! They had a cool map on board that showed where we were heading up the river.

Our first stop on the river was at the caves of Pak Ong … cave of 1,000 Buddhas. Kind of an interesting stop, but really seemed more like a tourist trap. The most informative thing here was to see the flood water line on the cave wall … wow! They had some big floods here. We did see what we think is the tiniest Buddha in the world, though!

Here’s that tiny Buddha!

We continued up the river with stunning scenery.

As we were cruising up the river I noticed the moon setting …The Chinese are building a new railroad from China to Luang Prabang, Laos.

Then we made another stop at a Village to see the villagers at work. What this really meant was to be followed around by a young girl trying to sell us a knitted bracelet … she followed us the whole time. Then we had to walk through the array of ladies sitting and weaving cloth showing us all the beautiful scarves they had made. Since we had received scarves as gifts from our last guide in Cambodia it was difficult to walk through without even considering to purchase something. We finally bought one and were happy to be back on the boat. This was a mixed village — the government had moved a hill tribe to live with the local tribe … could be the reason we stopped … to help the local economy. The four of us didn’t help it that much. Our guide did mention that some of the scarves were actually made in China … they were the cheaper ones. I did see the ugliest lion statue in the world but also (maybe) the most beautiful chicken.

Here’s Deb walking up the steep bank to visit the village. It would be difficult for an older person or someone with physical mobility issues to go to this village.Not a monkey … a lion.Definitely a rooster!

The cruise up the river was awesome … so peaceful, the crew excellent, our guide providing just the ride amount of information. We saw an array of folks along the river … animal life too.

There were so many fishing nets lining the banks … I’m surprised there’s any fish left in the river!We saw the two kinds of water buffalo … pink and black. Haha.Oh, we also saw plenty of goats!This was a farmer working in his field. Can you see him?How about now?Wow … my camera has quite the zoom! 🙂I guess this boat is waiting for the next river flood.All of the villages had these boats moored nearby. Many of them were vendors looking for wares to sell in Luang Prabang or elsewhere along the river.

We arrived just as the sun was setting at our overnight destination, Pak Beng. We stayed at the Luang Say Lodge … wow! The views were great, the lodge was rustic but beautiful. The food was excellent, the staff very attentive … of course there were only the 4 of us at the lodge at this time!

Several of our rooms had mosquito nets … and we definitely used them … made it difficult for the old guy to get up and go to the bathroom at night! Haha. I was only tangled up once or twice. Two tables for two at the lodge.We closed out the evening with this stunning view up the river.Oh … and closed it out with a drink using the local whiskey … it was very good.

We were up early again for the last portion of our cruise … as a group we told the tour guide we didn’t want to stop at any more villages … so he said ok and we spent the rest of the day cruising up to Thailand. More spectacular views and just a peaceful day. The only dark spot was that I developed a cold sometime that day and it stuck with me for a while.

Although we didn’t see many birds in Laos, the ones we saw were pretty nice!Here’s Deb coming down to the boat launch in the morning.

We made it up to Huay Xai, Laos, disembarked for a short van ride to the border crossing … we easily cleared customs and were made promptly by our next guide to Chiang Rai. He (and the driver) were really pleasant and our transfer to the hotel went well … he even stopped at the 7-11 so I could pick up some medicine. These 7-11 are all over the place! Reminds me of Texas in the 70s. Haha. It would have been nice to see some of the scenery — since it was around sunset when we started the drive, we just relaxed in the van all the way to the hotel.

Tomorrow is a new adventure!

Stumblingpiper

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I didn’t have any bird-watching goals for Laos … thank goodness! Although we spent four or five days in Laos (including a couple on the Mekong River), it was slim pickings to see any birds, let alone new ones. We only saw 18 different birds in Laos … 8 new ones. However, I will say, of the 8 new ones we saw, two or three were rare … so that was nice!

Here are a few pictures of them.

This is a grey-headed Lapwing.This is the White-throated Kingfisher.This is the River Lapwing, becoming more rare along the Mekong.This is a common Sandpiper.This bird looks like a swallow, but it is a Small Pratincole, also becoming more rare. This is a yellow-browed warbler.This is a Plumbeous Water Redstart … a female. I have a picture of the male (when I post the Thailand birds). A lovely little bird.

Enjoy!

Stumblingpiper

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As we’ve worked our way around SE Asia I’ve been keeping track of my birds (as you know). I had specific goals for each country … for Vietnam it was 70 new birds (we saw 99!). For Cambodia it was 30 new birds. I knew it would be tough because we would be sharing the same birds with Vietnam. I scaled it back and I’m glad I did … we saw a total of 60 different kinds of birds in Cambodia but only 28 new ones.

However, they were all really nice birds! Here are a few of our favorite ones from around Angkor Wat … The Tonle Sap post has the other birds.

Here is the Hill Myna … a beautiful bird.These are red-breasted parakeets … the male has the orange beak and the female has the blue-black beak. This is the Alexandrine parakeet … notice the yellowish undertail.This is the Blue Rock Thrush … the patterns on its feathers were amazing. Beautiful.Here’s another few pictures of the Red-breasted parakeet. Finally, this is the Ashy Drongo … we saw several kinds of Drongos in Vietnam … we saw this guy for the first time in Cambodia. Notice the long, fork tail.

They were beautiful birds in Cambodia … and they were more numerous than in Vietnam. On to Laos!

Stumblingpiper

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On our 30th day in SE Asia we went for a bike ride! Our guide picked us up at the hotel and took us over to their shop to pick up our bikes. I probably should have had another cup of coffee before we started … we just picked out a couple of bikes, hopped on, and away we went with our guide. I never thought to check and see if he might have spare tubes, tools, or any other item we might need should there be a problem out in the middle of nowhere. Just in case you were wondering … we didn’t have any. Lol. I do carry extra medical supplies, etc … but in this instance, we should have had some extra tools.

The bikes were nice … Giant Talons. They even were about the right size. This picture is from the ferry going across the Mekong River. We started our ride on the other side, made our way through the countryside, and then came back across on another (smaller) ferry. From there we rode the main “highway” back to town.

We shared the first ferry with a couple of cars, scooters, walkers, and even a rooster.

We made our way up the hill from the ferry and took a turn in the small town and were on the dirt roads through the country.

There was some traffic kicking up a little dust/dirt but wasn’t too bad. The traffic kind of tapered off when we arrived at the first small village — this place had about 50 families living there. Mostly farmers. We took a break here for our guide to stretch his legs.

He was having difficulty with the ride due to an old soccer injury. I wasn’t sure he would make it back to town, but he really stuck with it! We were trying to decide what to do — turn around and head back or keep going. He thought it would be easier to keep going (fewer hills). Didn’t really work out that way … haha.

Definitely not fewer hills … plus we had a couple of river crossings too.

We walked across the first one and decided to ride the next two — that’s what we were there for anyway!

After the first river crossing, my seat decided to relax. What I mean by that, it decided to tilt back and enjoy the ride. That really wasn’t great for me, but since we didn’t have any tools, I ended up riding standing up a lot the rest of the way back to town. Might as well get some more exercise! Haha.

Here we are on the second (slightly smaller) ferry.

We climbed up another hill from the ferry before continuing on… We passed a few interesting things on the way to town … blue and pink elephants — an inflatable man … and we rode with the scooters across the old “French” bridge back into town.

We capped it off with a lunch at the same restaurant Obama had some coconut milk. What is it with taking tourists to these places?

Oh well, it was a beautiful view down to the river …. great time!

Stumblingpiper

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The adventures just keep coming on this trip! We had the opportunity to fly Laos Airlines on this leg … we showed up early to the airport and I asked for exit row seats. The young man said he gave them to us, I thanked him, and then didn’t look at the boarding pass again until we were at the gate. When we got to the gate I realized we were seated in Row 1. Haha. That’s exit row … however, when I looked out at the aircraft, I noticed it was a two-engine propeller plane. When we went to board everyone entered from the rear of the aircraft — so, although we had the front seats, we were actually at the “back” of the aircraft–pretty funny. Oh, and here’s a shot of my nice snack on-board.

It worked out, the wait through customs was not long and we were soon on our way to the hotel. I know you can’t tell by the picture below, but we were headed in the right direction!

We had another early start the next day–our guide wanted us to climb up to the temple in the center of town early to avoid the crowds … it was a great decision.

If I remember correctly, there were around 360 steps to get to the top of the mountain.

It was a beautiful walk up and the views were great. When we were at the top, we noticed one of the vendors was selling little birds in a cage for you to release (for luck they said). It seemed really sad … we couldn’t decide if we wanted to release some or if we were making it worse for the birds by participating. In the end we decided to release some … they were just some cute little birds. Oh well …

Here is one of the release videos … the little guys weren’t that successful in launching themselves! 🙂Here’s one of my little birds after release … I’m not sure he looks that happy. Lol.

We toured a couple of more temples…so many and so much glitz! These were some of the more brilliant, glittering temples we had seen.

This Buddha is made from Jade.

Our tour originally was to visit the weaving villages, but as you may have surmised in your reading of my blog, we don’t like visiting the village people. So, we opted to visit a waterfall instead … it was a beautiful locale and was an awesome finish for the day.

We topped this awesome day with a nice Laos food option: Mexican. Haha. We found this place on Google maps and walked over for a change of food pace. A couple of margaritas and a plate of fajitas later and we were happy. There was a nice Australian lady running this local restaurant. There were also 5 people there besides us–three ladies from Arnprior (Ontario) and two from Quebec!

The next post will be about some bike riding!

Stumblingpiper

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