Bangkok – Civil Unrest and A Happy Ending

This post is catching up on the  Bangkok night walk-about along with some pics I took.

I remembered four things about Bangkok. It was hot & humid. There was a curious mix of opulent wealth right next to poverty. Traffic and taxi drivers were crazy. And there was an ummmmm… “interesting” red light district. I guess there’s a fifth thing… the smells.

Right off the bat when I got off the airplane the temp and humidity went up. It was was over 90 degrees F yesterday and the humidity was up there. At 11:00 P.M. when I got back from my “walk-about” last night my shirt was soaked.

They have a “sky train” in Bangkok. Walt Disney envisioned the skyway that would move people all around a city. In LA and most major US cities we are still to have anything like that. Bangkok has a very elaborate system.

I was going to take the “sky train” from the Airport to my hotel, but I was intimidated doing that carrying all the crapola I have with me. So I decided that a taxi would be the smart thing to do. I’m happy… and terrified to report that the traffic and crazy taxi drivers are worse than I ever imagined.

In Jamaica they tell you when you ride a bus or taxi that you are supposed to close your eyes and say “No Problem Mon” a lot. Well… in Bangkok it’s just YEOOOOOOO!!! Be sure to bring a change of underwear.

Traffic laws seem to be merely a suggestion, as are lanes and even the direction a lane is supposed to go. In Memories of Naked Fanny I mentioned getting on the Freedom Bird and out of Bangkok by the “hair on my chinny-chin-chin” as the result of a taxi ride. Riding in a taxi is no better today.

Everything else was the same… only more so. There was opulent wealth. I went for a walk down to the Sukhumvit Road. Sukhumvit Road an ordinary road… kind of like 5th  avenue. Except for the points where “alleys” go off to the sides you wouldn’t know about any of the “districts”. Several of these “alleys” are where the “night life is.. You wouldn’t even know which “alleys” (streets) to turn down except at the corner there would be bars  or massage parlors.

There were high end stores everywhere. Of course every kind of fast food place you would find in the US too. I must have counted at least two of nearly everything you might find “back home”. There seems to be a Starbucks on every corner here too. I couldn’t believe all the posh stores.

Then within yards of the posh stores there were beggars. Not right at the stores of course because I suspect that they keep the beggars away. About 150 yards from a Rolex store I saw a guy laying on his belly… almost face down on the sidewalk with a money plate in front of him that he jingled. As I passed by I saw he was missing half a leg. I have heard the cast system in India is like this… don’t know if it is true. There were also beggars including women and children that were living on the streets. I had never seen anything like this in Thailand before.

Now about that “red light district”… I just want to make it clear that I’m just your “cub reporter”. I felt it was my duty to go there so I could tell you about some of the most famous… and infamous areas in Bangkok. As in my “earlier life” I just went to visit but not partake in any of the “activities”.

The hotel I was staying at was within walking distance of most of the “districts” I wanted to go to. So, I went for a walk-about.

Most of the walk was through regular places. It was clear that this was an area where tourists abound. At times I saw more “western” people than “Asian”. I’m kinda guessing there were a lot of expats, but that’s only my supposition. There were a lot of tourists too. There was lots of regular stuff… stores, outdoor restaurants, and regular businesses and the like… along the way. In some ways it reminded me quite a bit of Manhattan in the areas around Time Square.

As I walked along I heard what seemed to be some kind of live entertainment. There was some singer and stuff like that. So I walked toward the stage area. Then just as I got there, the singer stopped. Some guy took the microphone and was saying something to the assembled crowd. Everytime he stopped talking the crowd would blow whistles and jeer.

Then I remembered reading a US State Department warning about “civil unrest” in Bangkok. I suddenly realized that I was right in the middle of a “political rally”. Needless to say I got out of there as quickly as I could. As I walked out I kinda “tail-gaited” a couple of western guys. I figured that if it looked like I was with them, I would have strength in numbers.

After we were clear of the demonstrations I discovered that the two guys were indeed Americans. I asked them if they were worried about walking through the rally. They said, “don’t worry… nothing will happen if you don’t join in”. Hummmm… I’m not sure about that, so I decided I wasn’t going back the same way.

I have to tell you that I really didn’t feel threatened in any way while I was near the demonstrations. Instead it was kind of like the “Occupy” demonstrations we had a little while back in the US. There were tent-cities and lots of cars just parked right on the “main-drag”… Sukhumvit Road. Anyway, I think the State Department may be overstating the case. But… I didn’t plan to go back and find out.

Then it was on to the “districts”. One of the things I noted getting there was all the street vendors… or sidewalk vendors. If you look in a lot of the pics you will see them everywhere. They are selling everything from “meat on a stick” and fruit, to clothes, and lots of other stuff. These aren’t t-shirt or trinket vendors… just lots of little stands selling stuff. I thought this might be part of the poor folks I saw on the streets…until  I saw lots of vendors with the latest high end “smart” cell phones and iPhones. There must be something to be said for low overhead.

The districts… I was most disappointed by the massage parlors. They were everywhere but nothing like I remembered. The places I recall in Bangkok were kinda luxury places. They had huge picture windows with a bevy of lovely “massage therapists” you could choose from. You would pick the young lady of your choice from a number badge she wore. Then she would take you to a private room where you would bathe and have your tension relieved. Keep in mind these were not prostitutes… well, not exactly.

But to my surprise…  and horror… all of the places I saw were sorta like barber shops. Inside a rather plane looking store they had several recliners and people were getting their massage right there… in front of god and everybody. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to get my tension relieved there. Behind the “barber shop type” places they could have had larger areas with more “massage therapists”, but I didn’t go into any of them to ask. I will say that at almost every massage parlor I passed by, one of the “therapists” seemed to want me to get a massage.

The rest of the districts I went to were nothing like I remembered either. In the past, there were elaborate indoor bars with “stage shows” and lots of “ladies” that would offer to keep you company. This time I didn’t see any of those. Instead there were just a variety of bars. Almost all had a few areas to sit inside and lots of outside tables and stools. There were a lot more “ladies” in and around these bars than there were guys. Most of the guys were sitting with a lady.

The thing that surprised me the most is what appeared to be a lot of “street walkers” around the bars. In fact, there were a lot of folks just milling about. Now I don’t know what the “ladies” really did for a living, but they seemed to be a lot of them there.

I think there were a lot of Katoys there too. For those that don’t know, that’s a “Lady Boy”. They say you can tell a Katoy because they are the best looking “ladies” on the street… and by the huge Adams apple. I don’t know if any of that is true and I think Crocodile Dundee had the best method of knowing for sure.

It was getting late… at least for me. I figured that avoiding the demonstrations I had about an hour’s walk to get back to my hotel. As I got near the hotel I decided to avoid a couple of alleys I used as a short-cut early in the evening. This time I wanted to stick to the main-drags.

I got to within about a block of the hotel I was staying in… the Courtyard by Marriott. Then I heard a singer just down the street. I was in another area, but I realized I had walked into another political demonstration. But this time I just walked through while the guy was singing. This time I realized this was a demonstration but was too tired to turn around.

I probably should have turned around and found another way back to the hotel. And I was a little scared this time because it was much later at night. But… it all had a happy ending because I got back to the hotel without any problem.

Oh… what’s that you say? Did you think there would be some kind of other “happy ending’? I have no idea what you are talking about.

Oh yeah… that fifth thing I remembered about Bangkok… the smells. During the walk-about I encountered every kind of smell you can imagine. Sometimes it was good food, but mostly it was just P-U.

Click on the pics to get them full size

A very nice outdoor restaurant along  Sukhumvit Road
A very nice outdoor restaurant along Sukhumvit Road
This "Senior" gent is walking along with a nice younger girl... probably his "tealok"
This senior “western” gent is walking along with a nice younger lady… maybe his “tealok”. Again, the sidewalk is lined with vendors.
No caption needed
No caption needed
Ummmm... I wonder...
Ummmm… I wonder…
Alley (Soi) with "Nightlife"
Alley (Soi) with “Nightlife”. Notice all the street vendors along the side.
Down one of the "soi" streets.
Down one of the “soi” streets. I didn’t go any closer to see it… it was late and I was tired.
Horrendous traffic... 7-11s and massage parlors everywhere
Horrendous traffic… 7-11s and massage parlors everywhere
Alley (Soi) "Club" and "Bar"
Alley (Soi) “Clubs” & “Bars”. This was a dead end soi and it was ringed by bars… and lots of ladies.
Note the "ladies" in the background. I think the ones in the center are Katoys... LadyBoys
Note the “ladies” in the background. (look through the tuk-tuk.) I think the ones in the center are Katoys… LadyBoys… they were just to  good looking. I’ll never know… where’s Crocodile Dundee when you need him. 
Another book by Bob Dennard tells about his adventures on the high seas… ok that’s really cruise ships in the Caribbean –> Searching for Kokomo… Diary of a Madd Cruiser
Next -Back to NKP 

The Great Adventure – Day 1

Actually this should be part of Day O too since that was a couple of travel days and this was really just another travel day. But it was really a new day so I’ll continue on. I’ll probably break this into a few segments to keep it from getting too long like Day O (h) did. Tee-Hee… I hope I got ya singing Day-yay-yay-Oh one more time.

Suffering greatly from “jet lag”, I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep. My “internal clock” thought it was the afternoon. So I messed around for a couple of hours, showered, and got ready to go to the airport. This time it was for a domestic flight on “Air Asia” to Chieng Mai out of Dong Mueang airport. Traffic was not heavy and it took less than twenty minutes to get there. Of course the driver was going about 140 Km/h on the motorway. Yeoooowwww!!!.

The airport at Don Meaung had a vague familiarity. Of course it had become a big international airport since the last time I was here. I say “had become” because now it is not the main international airport for Bangkok. Instead domestic flights go in and out with only a few “international” flights to other nearby countries in the region.

Looking across the runway from the terminal I could see the old area where we used to go to get on the Freedom Bird. Although the facility has grown, I still recognized it. And on the flightline there were two “Goony Birds”. For those that don’t know what a “Goony Bird” is, it’s a C-47… also known as a DC-3. This is one of the earliest and most venerable commercial airplanes ever. It flew in various forms with the USAF Army Air Corps in WWII and with the United States Air Force through and past the “Second Indochino War”. A variant was of it was turned into the first “gunship” known as “Puff the Magic Dragon” or “Spooky”. It was feared by our enemy because it rained massive gunship power down on them. It was loved by our soldiers in the field because it drove off enemy troop closing in on them.

Hummmm… seems I got distracted. Sorry about that, but after all that’s the main reason for this trip… to visit the “then and now”. Anyway, I saw some C-130s parked over on the “other” flightline area. These were kind of a light grey so I suspect they belong to the Thai Air Force.

When I looked at the airport’s schedule board, I did see there are a few flights a day to Nakhon Phanom. When I looked I kinda closed my eyes and imagined that the board showed flights to “Naked Fanny”. Anyway, NokAir and Air Asia fly to Nakhon Phanom and both use variants of 737s. More about NokAir after I fly on one of their planes to Udorn in a few days.

My flight to Chiang Mai was uneventful. I did discover that Air Asia is one of those ultra-cheapo airlines that charges you for everything. I had my first “rude awakening” when I bought a “pint sized” bottle of water (about .3L) for about a buck (30 baht). That awakening was because the bottled water was made by Singha… the beer company!!!! Every GI that ever spent even just a day in this country knew what Singha Beer was. At the time it was about the only beer you could get “downtown”. (There was American beer on the base.) So imagine my surprise when I discovered Singha now bottles water. I did intend to have a bottle of Singha very early on during the adventure… I just didn’t think it would be water.

Chiang Mai is a world different than Bangkok. Although there are lots of multi-story buildings, the skyline is not filled with sky-scrapers like Bangkok. I’m staying at a place called “Rider’s Corner”. It’s kind of an expats hang-out for bike (motorcycle) riders. It’s owned by a British expat and they offer very reasonably priced food and cheap rooms. The food is a mixture of Thai and Western dishes and so far it’s been good. The room is pure Thai. More about the room in a my next posting.

A Taxi took me to Rider’s Corner from the airport for 120 Baht (a little less than $4.00). That’s the standard price for the taxi no matter how many people to “downtown”. As we drove there I could see that this is more what I remember a “big city” in Thailand looking like. Of course there was tons of traffic and a zillion scooters. I’m not exaggerating… a zillion. I counted them all. I’m pretty sure there are more scooters than cars.

Riders Corner is “inside the moat”. There’s a moat that surrounds the entire “old city. Of course the city is now far bigger than the stuff inside the moat, but I figured I should stay inside the moat… just because. Besides I figured I would meet some “bike” folks while I’m here. After I dropped off all my crapola in the room I got something to eat.

I had been waiting for this for many moons… a genuine plate of the famous Thai Chicken Kow Phad. (We always pronounced it Cow Pot but maybe that’s the dialect around NKP.) Cow Pot is kind of a rice stir fry but not like a stir fry. There is no way I can truly explain it. You just have to try it yourself.

So, the first thing I did was order a plate along with a bottle of Coke. Yeah… they still serve bottled Coke here. “Back in the Day” that would cost 35 Baht… or about $1.75. Today it cost 100 Baht… or about $3.20 at today’s exchange rate. Not bad for a lot of years inflation.

The Cow Pot filled the plate and was very good. If you eat all they serve you certainly won’t go away hungry. It wasn’t quite the same as I remember eating at NKP. Maybe it was that little dish of fiery hot spiced sauce it was served with at NKP. That little dish had all kinds of ground up little things floating in it… all different colors of little things. When we poured that stuff on the Cow Pot, the spices and peppers mostly destroyed our taste buds. Perhaps the staff here thought I wouldn’t be able to stand the “hot stuff”… and perhaps they are right, but I’m going to ask about it next time anyway.

This post brought to you by “More Memories of Naked Fanny“.

Next installment… Bangkok walk-about.

The Great Adventure – Day O (h)

This segment is brought to you by “Memories of Naked Fanny”.  Yes… yes, that’s a shameless plug for my book. But it really is because of that book that I’m making this trip. The seed of wanting to go back and to see the Ho Chi Minh trail for myself was planted as soon as I started writing that book. Buy the book if you want to find out how this all started. It’s about the year that I spent at Naked Fanny. You can get it at amazon.com in either Kindle format or as a hard-cover print book.

Those of you that have followed me on my Caribbean cruises know that I use the play on words “Day O“ for the first part of the cruise where you are on the ship for less than a full day. The “play” is that I want to get everyone singing the “Banana Boat Song”… you know, Day Oh… Day-yay-yay-yay oh”. Okay.. I couldn’t resist it here, so everyone, all together, sing it.

But this isn’t to the Caribbean so I’m just indulging myself calling this “Day Oh”. And this Day 0 will take a lot more than one full day. I’m sitting in the LAX airport writing this and I’m facing another 30+ hours before I get to Bangkok. The first flight segment is to Hong Kong… 14 ½ hours of flying time. Then 7 hours of layover in Hong Kong and finally on to Bangkok.

So this section will probably be a collection of ramblings about things as I go along. The first rambling is about the USO at LAX. It is called the Bob Hope USO. (That’s where I’m actually sitting and writing this first part.) I’ve never been in here before… nor any other airport USO before. I can say only good things about what’s going on here.

There is a lounge with couches, television showing ESPNSportsCenter, several computers for use and of course, wifi. There’s also a “boat load” of food. Cookies, crackers, chips, sweets, sandwiches, fruit and more stuff that I don’t know about. There’s even some stuff you can microwave for a hot meal. All of this stuff is free for our troops.

More importantly I’ve been watching the staff that greets every person that walks in. They always have a smile on their face, and a kind welcoming for everyone that is here. I just can’t say enough stuff about all they are doing. The next time you see a request for a donation to the USO, I hope you help.

Of course the name of this place has special meaning to a lot of ex-GIs… “The Bob Hope USO”. For most of his life, if our troops were in harms way, Bob Hope went to where the GIs were. He brought them a tiny bit of home at Christmas time no matter where they were. From WWII to the first “Gulf War” he was there… there was Hope.

We all appreciated what he did and the Christmases at home he gave up supporting the troops… even when supporting the troops wasn’t the popular thing to do. For me and the millions that were sent to the Second Indochina War, it was almost a right of passage to be able to say you saw Bob Hope. Today when I think about Bob Hope entertaining the throngs that assembled to watch his show at Naked Fanny, a tear comes to my eye.

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** You may be wondering why I’m referring to the “Second Indochina War”… or even what the hell I’m talking about. It means what most people in the United States call the “Vietnam War”. But calling it the “Vietnam War” is woefully wrong. The war also involved “The Secret War” in Laos and the war in Cambodia.  The “Secret War” started in 1959… before Vietnam, and continued for months after the part in Vietnam ended. Action in Cambodia continued after Vietnam ended too. But none of these were separate actions. All were intertwined together and the Communist forces considered it all as one in their fight against us. So the war was truly the “Second Indochina War” and most of the rest of the world calls it just that.

Although I’m calling this the “Return to Naked Fanny” because I am going to go back to “Naked Fanny” (and other U.S. Air Bases that were built during the war), more than anything else I’m going to the areas of the Secret War… to areas of Laos… areas of the most bombed country on earth. For one year I was part of that bombing and the country is still scared from all the bombs dropped. I’ve studied it, I’ve researched it, and I’ve even written about it. Now I want to see it for myself.

Finally… I’m at the gate for Cathy Pacific for the first leg of the flight to Bangkok… to Hong Kong. It’s already been a long day and I’m just warming up. I got up at about 7:00 this morning. I wanted to sleep in, but I was a bit like a kid on Christmas. I couldn’t sleep and woke up ready to start the adventure.

The problem is that it’s now nearly 23:00. That’s 11 PM for most of you. And the next segment is a long, long flight. I’ve just finished a frozen concoction to help me hang on. Ok… it wasn’t frozen but it was a Margarita and I told the bartender to make it a double because I hope I can get at least a little sleep on the way to Hong Kong. It was not a very good Margarita, but he didn’t skimp on the Te-Kill-Ya so I’m already not feeling any pain.

If you’ve read my “cruise musings” you know that I usually have something to say about “well endowed” women… or other comments that are totally inappropriate for a man of my age… you know, thirty something. Well… you see, I’m not going to make those comments here. I have a significant other that has entered my life and… ummmm…. well…. Oh Hell! I’m going to make those comments anyway. Hey, I’m just a guy. And to paraphrase the very funny words of Bill Engvall, “If I saw a shiny new Ferrari come around the corner, I would certainly look. It doesn’t mean I will ever drive a Ferrari, but I’m going to look!

It’s almost time to board now. They have brought in a wheelbarrow to get me on the airplane after two of these double Margaritas, so I’ll stop for now. More as the adventure progresses.

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Streched 8’s and 7’s

Finally… I’m on board the aircraft. The Margaritas have worn off a little bit. It’s always a zoo boarding. The last time I was flying in this direction it was on an old “stretched DC-8. It didn’t have the range to fly all the way, so the first stop was in Alaska… then Okinawa and a stop in Japan and finally on to Bangkok.

This airplane is a far cry from the stretched DC-8. It’s an almost new Boeing 777 ER. The ER stands for “ExtraRange”. It has got all the new stuff… in seat entertainment system, USB port, power ports and a host of other stuff I haven’t figured out yet. Also, unlike some of the El Cheapo U.S. Airlines, they provide pillows, blankets and free headsets. These aren’t the junk ear buds the US airlines sell for a few bucks… these are over the ear headsets.

Of course there are a zillion people on board and I’m flying “cattle car class”. I feel almost as cramped as I did flying that old Flying Tiger Airlines DC-8 chartered by the government to take us all to the “fun zone”. As I began boarding I had the same kind of feel I had all those years ago… excitement… looking forward to the adventure, but also with a little bit of the fear of what may lie ahead.

A little fear because I’m going off into the jungle by myself… into a place where most captured Americans were simply shot. Unlike North Vietnam, Laos took very few prisoners. Of the hundreds of pilots that were known alive on the ground after they bailed out in Laos, only a handful were returned as POWs from North Vietnam. There was never a POW release from Laos.

Also, back then it was forbidden for any of to go “sight seeing” across the Mekong river into Laos. The town of Thakhek is directly across the river from Nakhon Phanom. “The word” at the time was that Thakhek was a R&R center for the Pathet Lao soldiers… if you went across the river, you would never come back. I don’t know if any of that was true… and of course the war is long over. But I still am a little apprehensive about going there. And I intend to spend at least one night in Thakhek.

Any similarity to the feeling I had boarding that “stretched DC-8” flight ended when a couple of the babies on board began screaming. Looking around the airplane there’s the variety of different folks flying to the Orient… business people, families, and people of all ages… and a variety of nationalities. There may not be any military types on board except for me… and I don’t suppose I count. I’m just a tourist now.

Thank goodness for the Bose noise canceling headphones and an iPod. The headsets they supply are just fine for most circumstances, but these Bose are great. I put them on… cranked up the volume just a tad and the crying babies disappeared. I could have plugged into the aircraft’s music, but there’s just something about having your own tunes on an iPod. As I sit here pounding away on my lap-top it really is clear that traveling to far away lands these days is a far cry from what it was the first time I was on my way to Naked Fanny.

As I was flying along I want to start posting stuff, but I discovered that there is no wifi onboard. I’m really quite surprised since there seems to be everything else. Oh the horror of it all! So I guess the Day Oh posting will just continue to grow… more later.

Time Warp

I have no idea what time it is where I am… nor any idea where I am except somewhere over the Pacific.  It’s still dark out. It’s all quite disorienting as far as time goes. I know it’s early in the afternoon back in Los Angeles ‘cause I haven’t changed my watch yet. “Day oh” has turned into “Day oh my god this day is long”. And I’m pretty sure it’s another day since we have crossed the international date line. Since this trip is kind of a time warp back in time anyway, I guess for now time doesn’t matter.

We’ve been flying for about 12 hours… had a meal… a snack… and I tried, mostly unsuccefully, to get a little sleep. The food was just okay, but it sure beats the three pretzels and seventeen peanuts that you get on U.S Carriers. Perhaps the US carriers do feed you on the ultra long flights, but certainly not on trans-continental flights. Cathy Pacific even gives you all the wine, beer and booze you want for the price of the ticket.

As I write this they have been bringing up the lights in the cabin. Time to “wakie-wakie”. Except that I was already awake. (duh). I think they are getting ready to serve another meal. So I’ll stop here and continue on when I get to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong

I’ve got about six hours to kill in the Hong Kong airport. At least now I know what time it is… about 9:30 A.M…. and it’s the 18th. So I know I’ve lost a day to the international dateline, and another day traveling. Considering how long I’ve been “on the road”, I feel pretty good.

I expected the Hong Kong airport to have all the modern stuff it has. I expected the McDonalds… the high end duty free shops like Gucci, Ralph Loren,  Coach, Prada, Rolex and dozens of others… and I suppose that I should have expected the Starbucks. What I didn’t expect was the Victoria’s Secret. So… right now I’m writing you in between bites of a Big Mac… sipping on a Starbucks Grande Americana… and watching the lovelies go in and out of Victoria’s Secret. Hey… I’m just a guy.

I had hoped to see at least a little bit of Hong Kong while I was here. If nothing else I wanted to see it from the air as we landed or took off. But it doesn’t look like any of that is going to happen. There has been a heavy marine layer… or sort of a fog that has covered the place since we landed. Airplanes are still coming and going, but visibility is quite low. In the couple of hours that I’ve been here it doesn’t seem to be getting much better.

That’s all for now… time to just sit out the wait,

Freedom Bird… in reverse.

Finally I’m on the aircraft that is going to take me to Bangkok. It is approaching 45 years ago when I got on the “Freedom Bird” that was taking me FROM Bangkok… back to “the world”… back to the land of the big BX… back to the land of round door knobs. More importantly the Freedom Bird was taking me away from what I consider the worst year of my life. It’s funny that now I consider it to also be one of the finest years of my life.

You can probably figure out all of the GI slang like “back in the world”. There are a few more that now are not politically correct. But the slang doesn’t matter. What it meant is that I was going home. When I got on that Freedom Bird I didn’t think I would ever be going back again. For many years, I didn’t even consider it. It’s only been in the last few years that I even started thinking about it. I left nothing there and I didn’t need to go back and get it.

But something “tweaked” me when I was writing “More Memories of Naked Fanny”. It took nearly three years to write it and during that time sort of a “return fever” started to bubble. As you already know, about a year ago the fever was in full pitch.

And now… they’ve closed the door of the “Reverse Freedom Bird”. I’ll be powering down for the take-off and then the long awaited adventure begins. I’m going to call this an end to “Day O” and I’ll post this as soon as I can after I get to Bangkok.

NEXT

Planning part III – Tools

When I ever use the word “tools” I feel like I should do my best Tim Allen imitation and growl, “rawwww, rawwww, rawwww”. But I won’t. A few months ago I figured that I should write down a list of all the stuff I would need or want to take with me. Even after months of planning the list is still growing.

One of the things I stay worried about is problems with the “dirt-bike” somewhere along the way. For a small portion of my life I worked as a motorcycle mechanic. At one point I even owned a small repair ship. So I have the skills to fix almost anything that goes wrong. I figured that some kind of a set of tools were in order. But since tools are heavy, I didn’t want to take too much.

Tire irons along with spare tubes and a tube patch kit were the first thing on the list. A flat tire can make almost impossible to ride out in the boonies. And continuing to ride on a flat tire can ruin the wheel/rim and then you are really screwed. So… the ability to fix a flat is essential.

Next is a pair of Vice Grips. They can clamp onto almost every nut and bolt on a bike. And with a swift kick they can loosen even the tightest of nuts. Vice grips can also be clamped on to serve as shift levers or even handlebar levers if they get broken off.

A small set of wrenches ranging from 8mm to 19mm covers almost every size on modern Japanese motor-bikes. That’s only ten wrenches. I’m also taking a multi-size spoke wrench. Riding with loose spokes is a sure recipe for disaster.

Not exactly a tool, but essential for riding in the boonies is two part epoxy and super-glue. These can be used to patch up a lot of stuff. My favorite epoxy is JB Weld. Over the years I have patched and plugged almost everything metal with JB Weld. One last tube is some hi-temp silicon seal. This stuff can be used instead of just about any gasket. For all of this stuff I bought a “fanny pack”. Yeah… a fanny pack… “corny” these days, but it fits the bill just right for carrying the tools.

Another took is a “Leatherman”… this is the Swiss Army Knife of tools. It has screw-drivers, pliers, files, and of course knives. A letterman is small and compact with a zillion uses. I’m also taking a folding saw. If I have to cut my way through the jungle or… build a fire, the saw will come in handy. Modern survivalist saws fold up to about the size of the old wooden rulers grade schools used to have.

The list goes on… cigarette lighters, parachute cord, and fishing line. Cigarette lighters are obvious. The parachute cord can be used for anything from hanging a hammock to a tow rope. The stuff is really strong (550 pounds) and unbelievably small. Our soldiers today braid parachute cord and wear it around their wrist as a bracelet… although a tough guy bracelet. One wide “bracelet” will have about 18 feet of the cord, and I’ll be wearing one on each wrist.

The fishing line is not what you really think it’s for. Thirty pound strength mono-filament fishing line is incredibly strong, light weight and small. One spool takes up very little room, but a few wraps around something… then covering it with some duct tape will hold almost anything  together.

And of course as I just mentioned… duct tape. That miracle stuff that has been used on everything from heating ducts (duh) to 200 MPH race cars. I won’t even begin to list the uses for duct tape because I don’t have that much time before… the end of the world. I’m sure you have used it in ways I haven’t thought of.

Next installment… the trip really begins.

Bob

Planning part II – Walking out of the Jungle

I’m really worried about getting stranded out in the boonies. I’m renting a dirt bike that has probably been thrashed and bashed. So I have planned for the worst case. I figure I should be prepared to walk out of the jungle if I have to.

In early June, 1964 Chuck Klusmann was shot down on a reconnaissance mission over the Plane de Jares (Plane of Jars… or just PDJ that I will talk about later on.) He was taken prisoner by the Pathet Lao. Another pilot, Deter Dengler was shot down and also captured by the Pathet Lao. Both Klusmann and Dengler were able to escape and survived their time in the jungle… just barely. They were two of only a handful of Americans that were able to “walk out” of the jungle. You can find out more on these guys in “More Memories of Naked Fanny” (Another shameless plug.)

Anyway… I figure I should be prepared to walk out. I have the advantage of plenty of advanced preparation not to mention that no one will be chasing or trying to kill me… I hope. So if I have to walk out, I want to be ready.

The first thing is water to drink. This is not just in case I have to walk out, but for everyday stuff too. There is plenty of pure bottled water in Laos these days but I don’t want to have to carry several days worth in my back-pack. So the first thing is some kind of device to get clean water. Modern survivalist stuff for water abounds. After a quick trip to “Dicks sporting goods” I was set with a ultra small water purifying guizmo and tablets to kill all the bad stuff in the water.

Bugs and leaches were big problems for Dengler and Klusmann. They had to hide out in rivers and streams… I won’t have to do that. And I’m carrying a couple of spray cans of Deep Woods Off. I’ll bathe in that stuff every morning to keep all the things that bite off of me.

Next would be food. Again modern stuff comes in here. I ordered a 12 pack of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). These are a far cry from the old “C-rations” or “K-rations” that our military had to endure “back in the day”. Today’s MREs even come with a chemical heater that you put water in to get a hot meal. If you eat everything in the pack, each meal is packed with about a day’s calories. You could gain weight eating three squares a day with these. I’m also carrying 15 sports “energy bars”. Mostly these are for my sweet-tooth. They are chocolate/peanut-butter.

Since I don’t speak a word of Laotian, having all this food with me is also good insurance if whatever I order in eating places all turns out to be “patoooooie”. The last time I was in that part of the world, I ate a lot of patoooie. Usually it had green and brown things floating in it. One of the “dishes” that everyone ate at one time or another was, “Monkey Balls soup”. Now I don’t know what those little balls in the soup were… and I don’t want to know. But at least I’ll have a chocolate/peanut-butter bar to get rid of any bad taste.

Then there’s camping in the jungle. If I didn’t have to be prepared to walk out of the jungle, I probably would just spend every night in a B&B or guest-house. But since I have to be prepared I will spend at least a couple of nights out there on purpose. Well… we’ll see. It’s easy to say that sitting here in a nice comfy place. It could be entirely different when it comes right down to it. But I do have to be prepared in case I have too.

I went shopping for compact, lightweight camping stuff. I have a hammock/mosquito net combination that crams down into a little bag about the size of a coffee can. And I found a sleeping bag good down to 32 degrees (F) that is only a little bigger. It will be “winter” when I’m there so the temps could get all the way down to about 18 degrees C at night… or about 65 degrees F. Lastly I’ve got a “rain fly” that folds up to about the size of a folded twin size sheet. The rain fly amounts to a 7’ x 10’ diamond shaped tarp you suspend above the hammock to keep the rain off. Without the rain there wouldn’t be the lush, triple canopy jungle.

I should say a few words about that “lush, triple canopy jungle”. During the Second Indochina War, it was that jungle that made cover for the communist forces moving men, munitions and supplies down the Ho Chi Minh trail to the Viet Cong (and North Vietnamese soldiers) in South Vietnam… bullets and rockets to attack our boys with.

When I was there the first time, our job was to use “air power” to bomb and straiff “the trail” to stop all those bullets and rockets from getting to the south… from being used against our boys.  Though I have researched and written about that triple canopy jungle, now I’m going to see it for myself. I want to really understand why we couldn’t stop the flow of ammunition to “the South”.

I figure with all this “camping stuff”… my GPS device… my SPOT messenger and a partridge in a pear tree I’ll be able to walk out of just about anywhere if I am forced to; including a triple canopy jungle.

Next installment… all the rest of the “crapola”.

Bob

Planning the Adventure – Electronic Stuff for the Wired World

Those of you that have read “Searching for Kokomo – Diary of a Madd Cruiser” (shameless plug for my book) know that I pack almost everything I own to go on a one week cruise… pants for every occasion, shorts for every occasion… swim suits for every occasion, and a t-shirt for every day. Oh… and bright red-blue-green shirts with parrots all over for each day. Complete with my SCUBA gear, I have two huge suit cases right at the 50 pound airline limit. And that doesn’t include the two carry-ons with electronic stuff for every occasion as well as anything else I don’t want to leave home without.

But you see, this trip is going to be different. There’s no way I can carry those 50 pound suit cases on the back of a “dirt bike” as I ride through the jungles of Southeast Asia. So I’ve had to rethink everything.

Now you may be thinking that I would take as little as possible. I could wash cloths and bath in the rivers and streams of the jungle. And to some extent that’s true. But I’ll be traveling alone, so I also have to cover every contingency possible. So like my cruise planning, I simply have to carry everything with me.

I hear you… “News Flash – Foolish guy goes into jungle never to be heard from again.” Well that worries me too. So I have purchased a “SPOT”. This is a small electronic guizmo that has satellite communications. Every so often it sends out an “I’m OK” message along with your GPS co-ordinates. I haven’t figured all it out yet but you can follow my progress on Facebook (I think) as well as Google Earth (I think).

Then the SPOT has two buttons. One is the “send help – but I’m ok” button for break-downs and the like. This will notify my family and the people I’m renting the “dirt-bikes” from that there’s a non-emergency type problem. The second button is an “SOS” button that notifies the nearest authority there is an emergency situation. In each case the SPOT sends your GPS location. Don’t leave home without it… or in this case, don’t go into the jungle without it.

The next piece of electronics is of course a cell phone. I am told that I will be amazed where I well get coverage. Almost every “village” and even some places in the jungle have coverage. I purchased a “world wide” phone when I was in Korea a couple of years ago, so the place I’m renting the “dirt bike” from is going to give me a “sim card” for it in case I need to can contact them.

The next piece of essential equipment is a GPS receiver. This is not like the GPS you have in your car that gives you turn-by-turn directions on how to get to “Wally-World”. This is a high end device with topographical maps. Plus, I have purchased a particular map with directions on how to get to the Ho Chi Minh Trail truck-stop and cave hide-out. This is not turn-by-turn directions like in your car. Rather it shows where the paths and trails are. I’ve even purchased satellite overlays for detailed images. There’s no way I would go off into the boonies without this.

Of course I can’t go anywhere without a camera. I’m going to take my waterproof SCUBA camera. It’s small, and if I get caught out in a massive rain storm… known to happen in Southeast Asia… then it won’t get ruined.

The last piece of electronics is my iPad & keyboard for it. I could never go all that time without my internet fix. Most nights I will be making it to guest-houses or B&Bs and I’m told that many of them have wireless internet.

Wireless internet in Laos!!!! When I conjure up an image of the region in my mind, I usually think of something like MASH 4077. You know… old women taking their ox-cart full of laundry down to the river to do the wash. I don’t know how much of that image is left, but we’ll see.

Bob