Wedding Reception


One of the Trang Cycling Club members had a small 240-person wedding reception on the beach outside of Trang this last Thursday.  Thai people get married on auspicious days that the monks divine.

IMG_1528 maxAbout 12 members cycled the 25 miles to the wedding and attended in full lycra garb.  We chose to drive the scooter over, like many, and stay less sweaty for the party.  The venue was idyllic and right out of the Thailand tourist resort brochures with pools, white sand beach location and all the amenities tourists clamor for.  If we hadn’t been recently to Myanmar this would have been the most “white” people we’d been around on our travels this year.  Total beach bikini scene right out of the movies. We couldn’t wait to get home and see what tariff was for nightly stays ($200 to $600).  Makes our $6 a night seem paltry.

IMG_1544This couple have been boyfriend and girlfriend for 21 years and finally decided to get married. He’s a distance cyclist who will be riding in the Audax 1200 Paris-Brest-Paris ride this September.  He’s completed his 200, 300, 400 and 600 km rides here in Thailand and now qualifies for the 1200 km.

IMG_1524Only family and very close friends attend the early morning wedding ceremony at their house (monk drops by to consecrate the union) and then they throw a big reception at a hall or resort.  This reception was a sit-down 11-course meal, served on a meter-wide lazy-susan placed in the center of 8′ circular banquet tables, menuthat takes much of the afternoon. We had a great time with our rowdy cycling friends.

Needless to say, most dishes were outstanding, only the final rice platter lacked for flavor.

Interesting to note, you don’t bring a present. Every guest (couple) received an invitation and into that envelope you place your tithing to the couple who come around each table to receive the gift and thank you with a small present (in this case commemorative candles).

Fun to be a part of this event.


Chinese New Year

In researching the percentage of Chinese demographic in Thailand I learned that it’s over 9 million or 14% of the population and up to 40% of the population can claim some level of ancestral heritage.  No wonder Chinese New Year is such a big deal here in Thailand. It was most apparent when you notice how many businesses are shuttered during the days just before and for the 3 “travel days” after the new year.  Chinese travel to see their parents and relatives generally where they were raised.

IMG_1458Trang’s Chinese New Year is the reason we got waylaid here five years ago, as we didn’t want to be traveling during this very busy internal migration, with buses, trains and hotels packed with locals, coming and going much like the American Thanksgiving holiday period.  So we stayed another week in our Trang hotel and that’s when we got hooked by the Trang Cycling Club and all it’s activities, friendly members and the local community.

IMG_1456It’s such a big deal here in Trang that they cordon off several major streets and intersections for the week with several massive concert stages and  blocks and blocks of food concessions, not to mention of the decorations most visible after dark.

We only enjoyed the melee one night, since the best entertainment tends to be well after our bedtime. The people-watching is even better than seeing IMG_1450families at the shopping centers, if only because they often dress up their youngest children in festive costumes, and to see entire families parading along enjoying various foods and delicacies is wonderful as well.  This year they allocated a 500-meter stretch of matching art show tents to all the Trang hotels and restaurants so that they might feature their cuisines.

IMG_1453IMG_1454Among the displays of Chinese cultural traditions are the food sculptures and banner calligraphy.  They have a large pavilion with as many as 8 old men brushing large gold characters of ancient proverbs on vivid red banners on demand, entirely gratis for the backed-up crowds of souvenir collectors.




Weaving at Inle Lake

IMG_1172 - Version 2IMG_1111Having visited a number of SE Asian weaving sites and villages, this was one of the most remarkable in production and craftsmanship.  Not only did they have the most weavers demonstrating in a single shop, but the variety of materials (silk, cotton and lotus), patterns and techniques were fun to see.

We ended up taking more video than still photos, so we’ll be eager to show the various flying shuttle looms in action.  We have never gotten our flying shuttle on the loom at home to operate as smoothly and effortlessly as on these primitive looms.  (It is alway interesting to see how similar our Swedish Glimakra is to these timeless, rudimentary looms.)  We even took one slow motion video of a man using two alternating shuttles on a flying mechanism, rotating the shuttles with each pick of the weft, quite a feat with the flying shuttles.  He was so quick it was hard to see in real time.

IMG_1100When we entered this 2-story stilted workshop above the Inle Lake waterways, the first thing we were shown the process of extracting yarn from lotus stems.  At a low wooden table ladies were pulling 20″ strands from the stems and rolling with a flat-palm motion to combine the gossamer strands that don’t even show up in a photograph into visible yarn.  Later one lotus scarf jumped into our purchase pile and will be winging its way home to Durango with us, we couldn’t pass up such a unique fabric.


What was so fun was being able to stand over the various weavers’ shoulders on our self-guided tour thru their airy 2nd-floor workroom which had probably 15-20 looms.  Each of these looms was loaded with much longer warps than we usually attempt on our Glimakra; pictured here was one of the grand old ladies measuring a 24-strand multi-colored warp that could have been 40-meters long.  We saw ladies using spinning wheels to load bobbins for weaving the warp; we didn’t see any local spinning of yarn other than rolling the lotus.  The retail shelves were filled with locally handwoven textiles in Inle Lake traditional patterns, Shan district traditional patterns, and other decorative weaves.

IMG_1169In the same village we visited one of the purely tourist-y demonstrations: in the front of that IMG_1173stilted shop were 5 transplanted long-neck indigenous women wearing their coiled golden necklaces.  They had several 8″ and 9″ tall necklaces for demonstration purposes, weighing 8 kilos of coiled metal.  Three ladies were weaving on backstrap looms.  The two older women were clearly live mannequins sitting stoically, employed for photo opportunities for tourists. (See top photo)


IMG_1177Last stop was at the silversmiths  It was most fascinating to see the silver smiths working, one pounding out a 9″ flat disk to be later shaped into a mug-sized bowl, and the other operating his torch.  The fine gassed blowtorch was a foot-powered bellows vaporizing gasoline from a pint-sized antique cylinder.  This particular craftsman was working on very minute silver coils which he was shaping to later cut and form into IMG_1183links for a silver chain necklace or bracelet, or to coil around a piece of jade or other jewel.  In that second-story rickety workshop and sales area they had more silver jewelry inside of wobbly glass showcases than you might see in an American mall jewelry store.  Fun to see the intricate work and craftsmanship but we are more partial to our local silversmith and jeweler Carol Martin.


Shrine Dance – video test

On a ride last Saturday I got ahead of my group and stumbled across a Southern Thailand IMG_1369traditional dance being performed at a hilltop shrine.  As is common on most “passes” (high points) on mountain roads the Thai people erect elaborate shrines to Buddha.  It’s mandatory to honk when passing and some people stop to leave “tribute” in the form of flower wreathes, soda pop with a straw, burn an incense stick or light a reel of firecrackers.


As I crested the hill I could hear drums and chanting at the shrine, so I dismounted and climbed up to see what was going on at the normally dormant site.  Evidently a family was celebrating or invoking merit by having a troupe perform and lavishing an entire roasted pig to the alter.  Here is just a short clip of this lengthy performance with many different characters.  (appears to take a minute or more to load the buffer).

IMG_1372I could only stay for 15 minutes but got served a cold beverage while I filmed from ringside.  Fascinating slice of life along the road.

The road less traveled

IMG_0949There must be several hundred bicycles to rent in Nyaungshwe, most of them Chinese cruiser bikes with a tractor saddle and a basket up front.  The going rate is $1.50 a day, and the most recommended tour, besides riding around town, is to go west to the hot springs.  As it was Sunday when we decided to ride, we figured the Hot Springs might be more crowed than usual, if not primarily with foreigners, which we were seeing too many all ready.  We had seen a couple of mountain bikes advertised and happen to run across the back street house on our wandering several days earlier, so we opted for the high priced models at $10 a day.

IMG_1285Our route was to go east around the lake and see how far we got and since it was and all day adventure having gears and an adjustable seat post seems like a priority.  As it was we rode about 70 km down and back on one side of the lake, and after about the first 4 k’s we virtually had the road to ourselves.


Everything to the east of the lake was agricultural and primarily cane in the dry hills and rice and vegetables down in he low lands at lake level.

One thing that we didn’t appreciate in all of Myanmar is the smoke filled air. In Yangon is was very bad and up north with the dry season just starting all the farmers are burning whatever has dried out.

IMG_1288Add to the agricultural waste, the proliferation of wood stoves, sugar cane plants – large and small – the skies continually smoke filled unless there was a strong wind.  Never-the-less it was really interesting to see all the country folk going about tending their fields, hauling cane on ox carts to the processing plants.  We even saw a volley ball net strung above a field of drying cane husks.


The net is barely visible in the photo to the left, and we later learned that one of the national sports is a form of whiffle-ball-type volley ball played with feet, knees and heads called chinlone.  In Thailand they use a hanging basket 6 meters in the air and try and put a tradition soccerball high up into the net like a hack-sack game played with feet, knees and heads.

IMG_1298One of the most remarkable things was seeing a “chip-and-seal” crew enlarging and resurfacing the single paved road.  After digging up the shoulder and place a meter-wide hot oilof papaya-sized stones in they come back with a single layer of golfball-sized stones that are laid in place by eight girls with rubber trays of the stones (12 to 15 stones at a time).  Once the smaller stones are in place a steamroller crushes them to the size of pea gravel and then two team of two boys carry hot oil from a roadside trench and ladel over the crushed stones between steamroller trips. The finished product looks very similar to our more high tech less labor intensive methods. When there are no minimum wage levels like Myanmar the day labor rate hovers just above $2 a day and that why all the projects seem to be done by hand.

decampQuite accidentally we stumbled upon the break-down of the rotating 5-day market that sets up in the five alternating lake-side communities.  An entire market place is transported each day to the various appointed site.  Most items are shuffled from boat to market stall in baskets suspended on bamboo poles. We’re numb when it comes to looking  at market marketstalls except when it’s fresh foods. It was with particular interest that we got to see them decamping entire market place into a hundred longtail boats.  It puts into perspective how th Swiss lords travelled daily between their castles.  With enough people you can move an enormous amount of goods from cart to castle or in this case boat to market.  I guess the closest thing we have to this phenomena is flea markets or  closer to our life river rafting.

IMG_1324Lunch in one of the remaining open restaurants was surprising in two aspects first they had a bilingual menu (Burmese and English ) with no prices so I suspect price varies on the clientele and second the servings were labourer-sized with soup side dish of fresh tomatoes.  On the way home we stopped for a beverage and were severed complimentary oranges.
IMG_1294We definitely travelled back a ways in time when we got off the beaten path. with ox carts, kids rolling dead motor cycle tires with a stick, and road gangs of young women. We managed the entire day without seeing and foreigners until we got close to town.
By the way, all those new Bianchi’s came across the boarder from Thailand and were very sweet rides. I checked out the Thai price once I got home and they can be had for $400 in Trang.



Inle Lake

IMG_1014We met someone at the airport at Heho (town above the lake) who said Inle Lake was the highlight of his trip to SE Asia.  And incidentally while we were in Inle Lake we met 3 IMG_1083different people who not only knew Durango but one Italian who had owned a restaurant in Aspen, a young traveller who had lived in Telluride, and English ladies who had skied at Purgatory.  Living in Trang, southern Thailand, we really don’t see many Westerners and if we do they are usually just waiting for the next train coming and going from the Andaman coast and the island resorts.  And we understand seeing the throngs of IMG_1059traveling tourists at the Bangkok airports, but we were still further overwhelmed by the number of tourists occupying the village Nyaungshwe at the headwaters of Inle Lake.  We asked a local how many tourists a day come to town and he estimated 100-200, but upon departure we saw no less than 8 airliners on the tarmac, with many more scheduled, so we estimate close to 1,000 or more tourists arriving daily, easily matching the local population.

IMG_1074The military regime of Myanmar opened the gates to tourism and commerce 3 years ago and the country is struggling to keep up with the influx of visitors (can’t imagine what is going to happen to Cuba).  It’s surprising that the country has been able to scale up airlines, hotels and tourist accommodations to this scale.  (Or maybe not surprising, since IMG_1207the airlines and resorts are reportedly owned by the friends of the regime.)  We appreciated the fact that they had basic broadband even though at evenings and mornings the bandwidth was untenable, for example we were never able to book a hotel at Inle Lake because in a half-day of trying the various websites never loaded.

IMG_0996Fortunately the airport taxi driver IMG_1215dropped us off in front of the boat ramp at a new small hotel (13 rooms) with one vacancy.  We soon found that Myanmar was at least two or three times as expensive as Thailand, not just because we were staying in hotels or flying, but almost across the board.  Hard to understand because the day labor wage is $6/day in Myanmar as compared to $10/day in Thailand.

Since we bypassed the Bagan temples, we planned to spend 4 days in Inle Lake.  Our 2 main highlights were an all-day boat ride on the lake and a bicycle ride along the lake.  IMG_1022Without a doubt the Inle Lake boat ride was worth the entire trip into Myanmar.  The narrow 45′ modified long-tail wooden boats powered by one-lung Chinese diesel motors IMG_1144were the primary and ubiquitous transport over the entire 13X6-km lake for tourists and locals alike.  The adventure starts dock-side negotiating a boat and fare, however thanks to Lonely Planet and consulting other tourists it is easy to know the going rate.  Our lady boat owner insisted on only 4 per boat, and $5/head, an unbelievable value, we realized, once we were half-way thru the trip.

IMG_1019The driver who spoke minimal English went out of his way to point out, slow down, allow for photos, and take us to the places seemed less travelled since there were probably thousands of tourists in hundreds of boats on the 44-square-mile lake.  Right off the bat there are several enterprising men dressed in fisherman costume on their 12′ wooden fishing boats, poised to demonstrate leg rowing which is a wonder I can’t wait to see McKenney or Joe or Al try once I show them the videos.

IMG_1241This blog is too short to cover all the sights: fisherman, floating gardens tended by farmers in boats, villages on stilts over the lake, temples, handicraft workers.  It was a full day, until sunset.  We’ll feature weaving and silversmithing in the next blog.


We felt it’s time to expand our Southeast Asia experiences by adding Myanmar to the list since it shares a border and millennia of history with Thailand.  And being somewhat reactionary to the trend of changing country names with new regimes, I have more commonly referred to Myanmar as Burma, but we IMG_0908 - Version 2were chagrined to learn that the Bama people came to the region in the 9th century and called themselves Mranma and the r sounds like y in later dialects.  That kingdom was destroyed by the British in the 19th century and was replaced by Burma which only referred to the main tribe of Myanmar’s multicultural population.  So how far should you go back, my prejudice was with the current regime and maybe Myanmar refers to all the tribes still constituting the “Republic of Myanmar”.


We chose to fly in and around the country, which is a precedent (I hope we don’t make a habit of it – you miss too much of the country and it’s people), because we really only wanted to be away 10 days from Trang, getting back before the Chinese New Year and we had to stage the trip exactly at the half-way point so as not to impact our two 60-days visas for Thailand.

IMG_0920The first thing we noticed on arrival was that the traffic drives on the right (as we do in the States), but the vehicles, 99% of them, are right-hand drive (only a few ancient trucks and a couple of NGO vehicles with left-hand steering).  You can imagine how hard this is for traffic that has a propensity for passing when the driver has to lean to the left or ask the passenger if it is clear to pass.  I think they IMG_0922compensate for this handicap by honking.  Stanna tells me that they still don’t honk as much as India, but most of the horns are anemic from overuse.  We tried to deduce where the vehicles came from, saw some from India and they share a common border, but we were told there is no legal land crossing so they must arrive by ship, as do vehicles from Japan.

The second most noticeable change from Thailand was that both the men and women of Myanmar wear their traditional clothing, albeit the men wear a Western dress shirt with the longyi skirt.  It was easy to be noticed as a foreigner not just because of our white faces but because of IMG_0929our shorts & capris when everyone else was wearing long skirts.  This is probably a good place for a brief rant on the average Western millennial traveler wearing their beach-appropriate and sloppy clothing reminiscent of the viral Walmart photos on the internet.  “Being yourself” at the beach or at a recreation area is probably acceptable but it makes us feel conservative when we see these folks in the airport or walking around the central city.  And we should mention that, other than at our hotel, we only saw about a dozen foreign tourists walking around in Yangon, while our second stop at Inle Lake was Tourist Central.

IMG_0970We chose to walk around Yangon, a city of 5 million (which didn’t feel like that many people), just so we could see how people live, peer into shops, and see the basic culture without having a windshield or glass between us and the locals.  We noted right away the prevalence of pedestals with several water jugs just along the streets.  After a lot of guessing Stanna finally lifted the lid to learn that they were water stops for people who need to quench their thirst along their walk.  Lots of street vendors & small shaded alley markets with what seemed to be a lot more colorful vegetables and flowers (and we later leaned the flowers are imported from China).

IMG_0909TG got busted for wearing long shorts halfway into the most famous shrine in Yangon, Shwedagon Pagoda, known for having 27 metric tons of gold leaf in its upper chedi dome (our Thai friends say it is the gold stolen from Thailand), along with thousands of diamonds and other jewels at the pinnacle 325′ up. Yangon as well as the entire Burmese country is well known for its temples, chedi and higher percentage of the population who are monks and nuns.  Although we were quickly reminded that after a while all the glitter begins to look the same to us.  So rather than go to the famous plain of pagodas at Bagan in the dry country, we went to see Inle Lake, which will be our next post.

Fascinating how thing are done in countries where labor is so cheap. They hand dig trenches and use bricks 5 courses thick to make storm sewers.  And a wood carver was crafting ornate window shutters with only one chisel and mallet on the city side walk. Or farmers hand watering a field with matching watering cans.


Ayutthaya Waypost

On our way to Burma (Myanmar) for our visa dance, that interlude travelers to Thailand are obligated to do every thirty or sixty days depending on your original entry allowance. We have two sixty day visas for Thailand so only have to boogie once over the boarder. On account of never having visited Thailand’s neighbor to the West, we’ve chosen a vacation from our vacation on the road to Mandalay.

Burma’s visa requirements are more onerous than Thailand, so we needed to go into Bangkok to get our passports pre-stamped with entry visas before the journey. In the photo above you can see about a quarter of those waiting just to get in the door of the visa section of the Myanmar embassy. Surprisingly they processed well over 400 applications in the 3 hour window. This is the most farangs (tourists) we’ve been around since arriving two months ago at the airport. Always a very interesting melange of people, quite an assembly of characters tilted more toward millennials in beach-wear. Senior citizens or even the middle-aged were by far the minority. Of course, what those tourists probably did was have their passports processed by the numerous agents with handfuls and briefcases full of applications standing adjacent to us.


Three hours later we could return and claim, with all 400 or more of those same travelers, our passports with that full page stamp permitting entry anytime in the next 28 days. We managed to get in just over 17 km of urban hiking that day between all the trip to and from the embassy.

The oven pictured above was just one of the street-side images we saw during our short day in Bangkok. According to Mike Taylor this is the way bread is cooked in Iran filled with goat cheese and onions and dipped in yogurt. We should have stopped.


Since we learned Ayutthaya is only a short train ride outside of Bangkok we always overnight in this ancient capital of Siam. After a rest and a couple of evening street vendor wok-fried omelettes at our favorite sidewalk restaurant, we’re now ready for a quick reconnoiter of Thailand’s neighbor.