The Great Adventure – Freedom Bird V2.0

I’m history… I’m outta here. I’ve got the ruby slippers on… there’s no place like home… there’s no place like home. I’m going back to the land of round door knobs… the land of the big BX… For a year I’ve been singing “We gotta get outta this place… if it’s the last thing we ever do”, (by the Animals). It’s been a long grueling ordeal. I’m gettin’ on the Freedom Bird and I’m finally going home.

No… wait… that was V1.0. Just the same, I feel the same way this time. Last night I got into Bangkok early. I could have gone out on the town one more time, but I didn’t want to take even the slightest chance that I would miss the plane home. So, I just stayed in a “hotel” near the airport and waited for Freedom Bird V2.0. Even though I cut this trip short, I’m ready to go.

The first time I left Thailand I swore I would never be back. That time I was leaving nothing behind but blood, sweat, and tears. I had no reason to go back. Well… it took 40-odd years for me to change my mind so I’ve learned to never say never. And this time I’m still leaving nothing behind… except my wallet lying on the side of the road somewhere near Phitsanulok. So… I won’t say never this time. I’ll just say, maybe in another 40-odd years.

I am sorry I missed Laos. But not really as much as you might think. By the time I visited Nakhon Phanom I realized that what I had come to see didn’t exist any more. Somehow when the DeLorean got up to 88 MPH, the zillion GigaWat Flux Capacitor didn’t kick in just right. I wasn’t transported back to 1969. Instead, I was transported to the future… and the future is now. The place I knew… and hated… is long gone. So, I suspect that what I planned to see in Laos is long gone too.

I’ve had time to think about it. Maybe “long gone” is the way it should be. When we (the US) go into a place, we should do what we go there to do… then “get out of Dodge” and leave no trace that we were ever there. Still, in some ways I feel like there’s some hallowed ground that should somehow not be forgotten. Not only the Harley-Smith-Wolfe Amphitheater… but also the spot on the end of the runway where an A-26 aircraft crashed… killing the two pilots on board. I vaguely knew them both. And there should be something in remembrance of the Americans that gave their lives serving there. A monument… a memorial… a plaque or something. But I guess that’s not to be.

That’s the reason I have written my two books about the place, “Memories of Naked Fanny”, and “More Memories of Naked Fanny”. It has nothing to do with making any money or anything like that. (It’s a good thing.) I wrote them because I don’t want the time we spent there at that spot hogged out of the jungle to be forgotten and lost to history. In some small way I hope that my books will help someone in the future to know about us and what we tried to do there.

The other reason I don’t regret not going to Laos is that was going to be another 16 days on a ‘dirt-bike”. I’m still have a serious case of “monkey butt” and it’s been a couple of days since I was last riding. I don’t know what it would be like with that much more time in the saddle. I also wasn’t looking forward to the food I might end up eating. And as much as anything else, I had already kinda had enough… especially enough of the “rock-hard as the floor” beds. So even before I lost my wallet I was trying to figure out a way to drastically shorten my time in Laos. From what I’ve discovered, I’m not sure I missed anything that would still be there anyway. We’ll see how I feel some time down the road.

I know this… if I do ever decide to go to Laos, I will do it earlier in the year. Probably only a month or six weeks into the dry season. There would be less smoke, and it would be greener. I also wouldn’t ride a dirt bike to get to the main area where I was going. I could have it delivered to Thakhek saving me from getting some “monkey butt” on the ride to get there.

… I took a break from writing this to board the airplane. This picks it up from there…

It’s just after the Freedom Bird V2.0 lifted off and I’m reflecting back on this trip. The first time I was to Thailand it was clearly a “third world country”. Hummmm… I don’t know what that really means. And I don’t know what a “second world country” would be. So now, I don’t have a clue of what to make of Thailand. In a lot of ways it’s still a “third world” country. But then there’s cell-phone towers and WIFI all over the country. Everyone has a “smart” cell phone… or an iPad, tablet, or laptop of some kind. Sometimes they have all the above.

And the cars!… going down any road anywhere I went in there were new cars of all kinds… Hundais to Mercedes Benz. The cars and trucks driving around are all newer models. I rarely saw an older or rusty car.  I was amazed by the number of full sized pick-ups and SUVs of all sizes. No matter how small the village, there always seemed to be new cars parked there.

And the roads were all in good repair. I never saw a pot-hole the whole anywhere in Chiang Mai nor in the whole time I was in Thailand. While riding across the country the highways were nearly all four lane roads. Except in the “preserve” type areas, any place where the roads were two lane there was construction to widen the road. The roads were all in better repair than I would expect in California. Does that make California a third-world country?

Yet… there were always smells of sewers that would float through every place I went. One of the lingering impressions I had the first time I was there is how bad it smelled sometimes. I’m going to have that same lasting impression again.

In a lot of ways it’s the old habits of the people that die hard. While streets and everything were clean in the cities, the roadsides out across the country were littered with lots of trash. I saw one place in Chiang Mai where they appeared to be draining the dirty water from the laundry into the alley out back. (It was clearly soapy water.) The rivers and streams all appear to be polluted. The “moat” around the inner city of Chiang Mai is one good example… it’s poluted too.

So I just don’t know what to make of Thailand. There are a lot of ex-pats that live there today. But I don’t think it’s because it’s some kind of paradise. Indeed, to me it lacks most of the qualities of paradise. I was never really comfortable anywhere I went. The air was filled with smoke out in the country and in the big cities (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, or Udon Thani) have air pollution from all the vehicles.

It would be cheap to live in Thailand. It looks like you can rent an apartment for a couple hundred bucks a month. Labor is cheap… you could have a housekeeper if you wanted. Food is cheap… I never paid more than about $4.00 for a full “American” breakfast… two eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes and coffee. A big plate of Cow Pot with a bottle of Coke was about $2.00. So I suspect that you could retire in Thailand on a lot less than it would take in the US. Just the same, the standard of living wouldn’t be like it is in the US. Not for me, but you could live comfortably.

I’m really glad I went. Not so much because of anything I saw or did. Actually, there’s not much to see in the places I went. Sure… Bangkok and Chiang Mai are tourist attractions but to me they would only be worth a day or two each. That would never be worth all the flying time or expense. So I guess the biggest reason I’m glad is that I’ve put to rest 40+ years of growing curiosity about what has happened to the place. And as much as anything else I can just say to myself… I did it.

But I’m ready to be back home. And OMG… I’ve already missed episodes of “NCIS”!!!… not to mention “Bones” and “Castle”. And now as I’m winging my way home, I’ve already started dreamin’-n-schemin’ about the next great adventures. For now, I’ll just say they involve Las Vegas, Florida’s Emerald Coast, and certainly a Caribbean cruise or two…. Or three or four or five. And stay tuned for “The Naked Pirate”… “Naked in The Keys”… and Travels With a Naked Parrot.

 

The Great Adventure – Chiang Mai

I waited until I got to Chiang Mai the second time this trip before write anything about it. I wanted to see some of the rest of the country and have a little time to “digest” my time in the town. Besides, as it turned out, I spent as much time in Chiang Mai at the end of the Great Adventure as I did in the beginning.

For all intent and purposes, I didn’t have any transportation for the days I stayed in Chiang Mai. So, I did a series of walk-abouts. Altogether, I walked over 40 miles. (I “tracked” my walk-abouts with my GPS.)

I was staying at a place called the “Rider’s Corner”. A British Ex-Pat and his Thai wife own it. It’s kind of a “bikers” (motorcycle) hang-out. Don’t think of this as a “Hells Angles” kind of place. Instead, think of it as folks touring all over the region on motorcycles… everything from overgrown scooters to massive Harley’s… and everything in between.

The Rider's Corner has food, a bar, and rooms. It is right in the middle of "tourist central"

The Rider’s Corner has food, a bar, and rooms. It is right in the middle of “tourist central”

 

The center of Chiang Mai is surrounded by a square moat. This is “old” Chiang Mai. Each side of the moat is about one mile long. Rider’s Corner is on the north-east corner on the inside of the moat. The people there call it a moat but I would have called it just a fancy klong. I finally looked up the defination of “klong” and it means “canal”. But to those of us that were at NKP “back in the day”, a “klong” meant a ditch or something with water in it that was filled with ummmm…  nasty stuff. Even though the “moat” has been fitted with fancy sprinklers and fountains, if you look close, it is just a “klong”.

TheMoat

The "moat" runs all around the city center.

The “moat” runs all around the city center.

If you look in the foreground you will see that despite the fountains, this is just a "klong"

If you look in the foreground you will see that despite the fountains, this is just a “klong”

The area inside the most… and particularly the right side of the moat  (as shown on the google map) is tourist central. I could walk out of Rider’s Corner and find tons of stuff intended for the massive numbers of tourists.  Almost every business along that side is a tourist place. Along the mile there must be at least fifty little places that offer tours to all the wonders of the region. You can go see elephants, ziplines across the jungle and all kinds of adventures… all from the comfort of an air conditioned bus. Every morning there would be a precession of the huge tour buses along the street to pick up folks and every evening they would be back to drop them off.

There are also lots of little places to eat along the moat. There were several places that clearly catered to westerners. There was everything from a huge McDonalds to tiny three or four table places to get meat on a stick or Cow Pot. I ate Cow Pot for either lunch or dinner in five or six of the little places.

Lots of places cater to westerners. Every place to eat that I saw... western food or not... included English on all their menus

Lots of places cater to westerners. Every place to eat that I saw… western food or not… included English on all their menus.

I just had to eat here. The "cow pot" was very good. Aaaaarrrrrrgggggghhhhhh Notice in the left hand corner of the picture there is a place that does laundry for 30 baht (about a buck) for about 2.2 pounds.

I just had to eat here. The “cow pot” was very good. Aaaaarrrrrrgggggghhhhhh
Notice in the left hand corner of the picture there is a place that does laundry for 30 baht (about a buck) for about 2.2 pounds.

Scooters are the preferred mode of transportation. That’s not only for locals, but for tourists too. There are twenty or thirty places around the moat where you can rent a scooter or larger motorcycle. One place, “POP”, has at least ten places where you can rent everything from a 50cc scooter to a Kawasaki ER6N 650cc “sport bike”. I rented my bike from one of these places. The other transportation is by tuk-tuk and in a “pick-up bus”. I did see a couple of old style “bicycle” samlars but these were mostly for the tourists so they could take a ride around in a samlar… but they were not for real transportation.

There were always more scooters than anything else running around town.

There were always more scooters than anything else running around town.

This is one of the very few "old style" samlars I saw throughout Thailand.

This is one of the very few “old style” samlars I saw throughout Thailand.

Tuk-Tuks have now replaced all the old style samlars

Tuk-Tuks have now replaced all the old style samlars

There were lots of rental places where you can rent "big bikes" too. Mr. Mechanic has a mix of stuff up to 650cc Kawasakis

There were lots of rental places where you can rent “big bikes” too. Mr. Mechanic has a mix of stuff up to 650cc Kawasakis

There were scooter rentals all over. There must be at least 500 scooters for rent around the moat

There were scooter rentals all over. There must be at least 500 scooters for rent around the moat. This place rented cars too. The scooters go for about $10 per day.

 

The “pick-up bus” seems to be a cross between a taxi and a bus. They run around the mote to pick up and drop off folks. You just tell the driver where you want to go, climb in the back and then get out when you get to where you want to go. But they don’t just go around the moat. If you want to go someplace else like the airport, then tell the driver… be sure of the price… and he will take you there. He may pick-up and drop off others along the way. It seems the locals and tourists use these equally. I used one to go the airport on my way out of town.

Most of the "Pick-up buses" are newer trucks like this one. Just tell the driver where you want to go and jump in the back.

Most of the “Pick-up buses” are newer trucks like this one. Just tell the driver where you want to go and jump in the back.

Although I never intended to visit any of the temples (Wats) it’s almost impossible to go anywhere in town and not see them. And if you wanted, you could spend your entire time in Thailand just going to the zillions of wats. I don’t know how many there are in Chiang Mai alone, but I ran into seven or eight without even trying. So I suppose that no trip to Thailand and Chiang Mai would be complete without visiting at least one Wat.

The wats are very well kept, but notice the black stuff that stains the cement.

The wats are very well kept, but notice the black stuff that stains the cement.

Monks in their saffron robes going to work.

Monks in their saffron robes going to work.

Another wat inside the moat.

Another wat inside the moat.

This wat is inside the moat too.

This wat is inside the moat too.

A "small" offering

This is also a wat inside the moat.

This is also a wat inside the moat.

Although this looks a lot like the other wats if you look closely you will see that it is a different one.

Although this looks a lot like the other wats if you look closely you will see that it is a different one.

No matter where you went you came across a wat. This one was just outside the moat.

No matter where you went you came across a wat. This one was just outside the moat.

 

Chiang Mai has lots of street vendors. Most are selling food of some kind. Some are there all day long but especially in the late afternoon and evenings they set up their stands right in the street. Many are cooking the food right there and set up tables… sort of a portable restaurant. Lots of the local Thais seem to stop off and get “dinner”.

Street Vendors. Notice the Seven-Eleven... they are everywhere all over the country. A 16 ounce bottle of water costs 7 baht... about 23 cents.

Street Vendors. Notice the Seven-Eleven… they are everywhere all over the country. A 16 ounce bottle of water costs 7 baht… about 23 cents.

Street vendors seem to set up anywhere. If you want something, just park your car wherever handy and get what you want.

Street vendors seem to set up anywhere. If you want something, just park your car wherever handy and get what you want.

 

Walking around inside the moat there were some unusual sights. The pic below is of the old city wall. The wall originally was all around the inside of the moat. All that is left these days are a few places like in the pic. Notice the satellite dish on the building on the other side of the moat.

One of the places on the edge of the moat where you can see the ruins of the of the old city wall.

One of the places on the edge of the moat where you can see the ruins of the of the old city wall.

I'm not sure but I think the sign says this is a 2000 year old tree. What you see here are the roots of the tree. Note the little Buddha set up.

I’m not sure but I think the sign says this is a 2000 year old tree. What you see here are the roots of the tree. Note the little Buddha set up.

In this view you can see how the roots go up to the tree. My guess is that the earth was eroded away during the 2000 years. I am only guessing.

In this view you can see how the roots go up to the tree. My guess is that the earth was eroded away during the 2000 years. I am only guessing at this, but it is one of the weird things you can see on a Chiang Mai walk-about.

My last night in Chiang Mai I went down to what everyone seemed to call, “the bar district”. Now I don’t know for sure, but I think this was really the “red light district”. I don’t know for sure because I didn’t visit any of the establishments. But I did look in to several of the “bars” and they seemed to have far more “ladies” in them then men. And of course I think they were dressed “the part”.

However, it’s hard to tell about the ladies these days. I saw Western influence in the way the women dress all over town. So, a woman in 6” high heels may not be an indication of her professional. That said, as I walked by a number of “bars”, ladies in 6” high heels invited me to join them in the bar. Now as I look back I wish I had gone in… just to find out for sure of course… but as I said, I didn’t go in.

The most curious thing I saw in “the bar district” was sort of an outdoor massage parlor. This was right in the middle of the “district”. There were about fifteen or twenty loungers outside on the porch of a massage parlor. All of the loungers were filled with a mixture of men, women, westerners and Asians. If there had been an open spot I might have stopped in but since it was full, I just strolled on by. I still don’t know what to make of it.

 

This outdoor massage was right in the middle of "the bar district"

This outdoor massage was right in the middle of “the bar district”

 

I ended up spending a total of six nights in Chiang Mai. I don’t think I ever need to go back.

Next – Freedom Bird

The Great Adventure – Across Thailand in Pics (part 2)

Part two of the pics from the great adventure across Thailand.

Each segment shown in the map took a long day’s ride… about 7 hours A <-> B… about 9 hours B<->C and about 6 hours C<->D. That’s a lot of “seat” time.

Google Map view of my trip across Thailand

Google Map view of my trip across Thailand

There were lots of interesting sights along the way. One of the things I noticed as I rode across the country is that the limit of how high you can stack the back of your pick-up only depends on how high your step latter is.

They stack stuff on the back of pick-ups as high as their scaffolding will allow. As I rode across the country side I don't think I saw a single overpass that would limit the height.

They stack stuff on the back of pick-ups as high as their scaffolding will allow. As I rode across the country side I don’t think I saw a single overpass that would limit the height.

This is some kind of plantation. This was taken late in the dry season so notice how brown and dried everything is I tried to translate the sign but

This is some kind of plantation. This was taken late in the dry season so notice how brown and dried everything is. I tried to translate the sign but no luck.

I came across this prison...

I came across this prison…

I certainly don't want to end up in a Thai prison... it was really an ugly looking place. I suppose that's how prisons should be.

I certainly don’t want to end up in a Thai prison… it was really an ugly looking place. I suppose that’s how prisons should be.

Every sorta large town I went to seemed to have a Chevy dealer. This one was in the town of “Nong Bua Lam Phu”, about 50 kilometers south-west of Udorn.

I found this dealer on the main road as I made my way to Udorn

I found this dealer on the main road as I made my way to Udorn

Another shot of the Chevy dealer.

Another shot of the Chevy dealer.

Udorn (Udon Thani) is a huge town. I didn’t have much time to look around but I rode right through the middle of town to get to the “Udorn” Air Base. The gate is in the middle of the town. While I got ready to take pics outside the “front gate” four Harrier jet aircraft took off. I was too “slow on the draw” to get any pics of them.

This is where I stayed in Udorn. It's full name is "The Englishmen's Retreat". It had the best (softest) bed of anywhere I stayed in Thailand. It had a full western breakfast too... for about $3.00. Cost for the room... about $12.00

This is where I stayed in Udorn. It’s full name is “The Englishmen’s Retreat”. It had the best (softest) bed of anywhere I stayed in Thailand. The bed was still “firm” but not as much so as everywhere else. It had a full western breakfast too… for about $3.00. Cost for the room… about $12.00

One of the "round-abouts" in downtown Udorn.

One of the “round-abouts” in downtown Udorn.

Another of the Udorn round-abouts. This is the road toward the Air Base main gate.

Another of the Udorn round-abouts. This is the road toward the Air Base main gate.

This is a third round-about in downtown Udorn. It is about 1/2 mile from the Air Base gate.

This is a third round-about in downtown Udorn. It is about 1/2 mile from the Air Base gate.

This is the main gate to the Udorn Air Base. The base shares the runway and stuff with the international airport but the airport has a different entrance.

This is the main gate to the Udorn Air Base. The base shares the runway and stuff with the international airport but the airport has a different entrance.

A close-up of the AT-28 at the gate... the only hint of the base's former life.

A close-up of the AT-28 at the gate… the only hint of the base’s former life.

This mustang was parked outside the base... about 1/2 block from the main gate.

This Mustang was parked outside the base… about 1/2 block from the main gate. The fence behind the Mustang is the fence of Udorn Air Base.

 

All across the country you still see lots of “Water Buffalo”. They are so ubiquitous that I always thought to myself, I’ll get some pics later. As you pass through the smaller towns out in the countryside, there will be water buffalo grazing along the side of the road. At first I worried that they would wonder into the road, but I discovered that they were always at the end of a rope “staked” to the ground. In the end I almost didn’t get any pics of these creatures. This is the only one that I took as I was leaving Nakhon Phanom.

A water buffalo grazing along side of the road.

A water buffalo grazing along side of the road.

 

I’ve posted pics of Nakhon Phanom in several of the earlier posts, but somehow missed getting this one. It is a view toward Thakhek, Laos across the Mekong River at night. It’s a shame I didn’t make it there. Oh well… maybe I’ll just have to make that another “great adventure”.

A night time look across the Mekong river to the city of Thakhek, Laos. This pic was taken from a restaurant on the bank of the Mekong in Naknon Phanom.

A night time look across the Mekong river to the city of Thakhek, Laos. This pic was taken from a restaurant on the bank of the Mekong in Naknon Phanom.

 

Although there are only about 1000 elephants in Thailand, they are still a big part of the culture. On the way back to Chiang Mai I saw sort of a temple to elephants and an elephant “hospital”.

Elephant Temple

Literally thousands of elephant figurines.

Literally thousands of elephant figurines.

Even more figurines...

Even more figurines…

... Large statues of elephants too.

… Large statues of elephants too.

Buddette Elephant close up Colorful  elephants

This is an elephant hospital and conservatory. It is in the mountains a short way out of Chiang Mai.

This is an elephant hospital and conservatory. It is in the mountains a short way out of Chiang Mai.

 

Next post – Chiang Mai

The Great Adventure – Across Thailand in Pics (part 1)

 

These pics were taken as I rode across Thailand from Chiang Mai to Nakhon Phanom (AKA NKP -> AKA “Naked Fanny”) and back. Each way I stopped in Phitsanuluk and Udorn (Udon Thani). The total trip was nearly 2000 kilometers. I’ve tried to include a variety of stuff I saw that I have not already posted. Click on the pics for full size.

Google Map view of my trip across Thailand

Google Map view of my trip across Thailand

Traveling across Thailand for most people is in modern… and super modern tour buses.

I saw this kind of tour bus all over Thailand

I saw this kind of tour bus all over Thailand

Another double decker tour bus

Another double decker tour bus

Traveling across Thailand… Kokoman style

Touring Thailand... Kokomoman style.

Touring Thailand… Kokomoman style.

Traveling across Thailand Kokoman style

Traveling across Thailand Kokoman style

I discovered that you would never go hungry no matter what happened… well, as long as you had money. My travel was always along principal roads so no matter where I was it wasn’t very far to roadside stands. The stands sold all kinds of fresh food… meat on a stick… and a variety of goods. There was some unusual stuff too.

Sign at a roadside stop. "est" is a Thai version of Coke. It tastes almost exactly the same... nothing like Pepsi.

Sign at a roadside stop. “est” is a Thai version of Coke. It tastes almost exactly the same… nothing like Pepsi.

Roadside vendors. They had all kinds of food... everything from cooked stuff to fresh fruit and vegies.

Roadside vendors. They had all kinds of food… everything from cooked stuff to fresh fruit and vegies.

If you look very carefully you can just make out that there are roosters inside each of the wicker baskets. I don't know if they were for rent or for sale.

If you look very carefully you can just make out that there are roosters inside each of the wicker baskets. I don’t know if they were for rent or for sale.

I found the most unusual stuff along the way. If you need an wooden/wicker elephant, horse or giraffe I know where to get them. Just what everyone needs

I found the most unusual stuff along the way. If you need an wooden/wicker elephant, horse or giraffe I know where to get them. Just what everyone needs

I ran across “bikers” throughout the country. No matter what, they all seemed friendly and had a smile for someone else on a bike. And even if we didn’t speak the same language, we all spoke a little “bike”. In all cases they had a wave and a “thumbs up”.

This guy was proud to show off his bike.

This guy was proud to show off his bike.

These were part of a group I saw at a gas stop.

These were part of a group I saw at a gas stop.

Who would expect to fine these in Thailand. These were support vehicles for a group of bikers.

Who would expect to fine these in Thailand. These were support vehicles for a group of bikers.

In the industrial town of Phitsanuluk, I stayed at a place called the “Orchid Hotel”. It was hard to find because of no English on the sign. While it wasn’t a 5 star hotel, it was well kept and cheap. It was only about $16 per night including breakfast. Well… the breakfast was either a Thai breakfast or coffee and toast. I opted for coffee and toast.

The sign out front made it a little difficult to find the place. Does that look like an orchid to you?

The sign out front made it a little difficult to find the place. Does that look like an orchid to you?

The front entrance to the Orchid Hotel.

The front entrance to the Orchid Hotel.

This was a smoking area in the garden on the grounds of the Orchid Hotel.

This was a smoking area in the garden on the grounds of the Orchid Hotel.

A larger view of the garden on the grounds of the Orchid Hotel

A larger view of the garden on the grounds of the Orchid Hotel

Another area of the garden at the Orchid Hotel

Another area of the garden at the Orchid Hotel

 

The room at the Orchid Hotel was typical of all the places I stayed in Thailand… adequate with rock hard bed. Throughout Thailand the bathrooms included a “western” style toilet with the shower close by. When you take a shower, you can’t help but get the whole bathroom wet. Just be careful of the TP.

This was typical of all of the rooms I stayed in traveling across the country-side... nothing fancy, but clean.

This was typical of all of the rooms I stayed in traveling across the country-side… nothing fancy, but clean.

Every place I stayed had a king sized bed... a king sized rock hard bed.

Every place I stayed had a king sized bed… a king sized rock hard bed.

The first evening I got to Phitsanuluk, there was a great big event right across from the hotel complete with loud music and fireworks. It kept me awake for a while but I was so tired I ended up sleeping through it all. The next morning I took some pics from my balcony.

This shot of the fireworks was taken from the balcony of my room at the Orchid Hotel.

This shot of the fireworks was taken from the balcony of my room at the Orchid Hotel.

Note the commercial buildings in the background.

Note the commercial buildings in the background.

Thailand is still a blend of the old and new. Notice the satellite antenna a little below the center of the pic.

Thailand is still a blend of the old and new. Notice the satellite antenna a little below the center of the pic.

Down the road that runs out in front of the Orchid Hotel

Down the road that runs out in front of the Orchid Hotel

This is the building right next to the Orchid hotel. I don't know what causes it but most of the concrete throughout Thailand gets this black looking stuff even if it is fairly new.

This is the building right next to the Orchid hotel. I don’t know what causes it but most of the concrete throughout Thailand gets this black looking stuff even if it is fairly new. You can see in the background that this is an industrial area.

Available from Amazon.com

Available from Amazon.com

NEXT – Part 2 of “Across Thailand in Pics” next.

The Great Adventure – Monkey Butt

The trip on the motorcycle (dirt-bike) to NKP and took a lot longer riding than I figured. Even on what were to be the long days, my original plan was to only ride about five hours at most… at worst not more than about 275 miles a day. Well, my first day out… about  220 miles, took nearly 7 hours. I found out later that the bike I was riding had about a 12% speedometer error. So, I was going a lot slower than I thought. Even so, I felt the speed was about right for the bike. I didn’t want to push the machinery too hard least I get stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Add to that that the dirt-bike I had rented had a small fuel tank… about 1 ½ gallons. That meant, to be on the safe side, I had to stop about every 60-70 miles for fuel. That’s pretty good fuel economy, but I seemed to be spending as much time stopping for fuel as I was going down the road.

After the first couple of days of this I was actually looking forward to the each fuel stop. About the longest I could sit on that bike was 60 miles at a time. Toward the end of the seven days, I even had to take a break in between fuel stops.

That’s where the Monkey Butt comes in. Most of you may have already guessed what that is… but I need to explain it a little. I’ve “stolen” the term from one of the originators and first editor of “Dirt Bike Magazine”, Rick Siemen… aka “Super Hunky”. Rick used to write a very funny column called “From the Saddle” in the magazine. I enjoyed his stuff a lot and “Super Hunky” was one of the big reasons I got hooked on riding & racing dirt bikes.

Super Hunky wrote a book about his days in the Dirt Bike magazine business called “Monkey Butt”. (A funny and interesting book. www.superhunky.com) In the beginning of the book Super Hunky gave this definition:

“Monkey Butt – mon-kee butt – A condition wherein a person has been riding a dirt bike so long his ass starts to look like the monkeys and baboons in a zoo. Coloration is reddish or purple and the area looks inflamed. The condition is self induced and is improved with a few days abstention from the activity of dirt bike riding. No known cure exists for the malady.”

(I almost included a pic of a baboon’s back-side but I thought better of it.)

My original plan was to ride to all but one of the air bases that the U.S. operated from during the Second Indochina War. But after two days of hard riding, I started to realize I couldn’t ride to each base in the early part of the day and explore in the afternoon. It was just taking too long. I planned that the first base would be Udorn. I intended to explore there on the afternoon of the second day out. But because of how long it was taking me to get from place to place, I didn’t get to Udorn until barely before dark. I was exhausted and didn’t have any time left to figure out where the base was/had been. (By the way… don’t look for Udorn on a map… it doesn’t exist. The town is “Udon Thani”)

The next day it was on to NKP. My original plan was to be there before noon and I didn’t make it to the town till about 4:30 P.M… and the Monkey Butt was coming on. So I decided that instead of spending all my time riding hard between all the bases, I would just go back to Chiang Mai and take my time getting there. I would stop and take pics of stuff along the way back that I didn’t stop for getting to NKP.

If I had it all to do again, I would not rent a “bike” to go across Thailand on. Maybe I would rent a car and maybe not. Driving a bike or a car is crazy. The rules of the road are mere suggestions. For instance, I’m sure the law reads:

 “Don’t go the wrong way down a road… unless you want to”.

I don’t know how many times… literally  thousands… a scooter or car would be coming down the road right at me in my lane. The rule of the road seems to be that the biggest vehicle wins… the rest should get out of the way. YEOOOWWWWWWWW!!!!

The same kind of thing goes for passing. The law must read:

“On a two lane road don’t pass when there’s oncoming traffic… unless you are bigger.”

Cars and trucks pull out to pass any time they see a motorcycle coming. I guess they figure they are bigger and you should get out of the way if you want to live. YEOOOOOWWWWWWW!!!

So here I am… going down the road… in my lane and someone is driving toward me…  in my lane!!! Then a truck pulls out to pass someone going slow in the other lane … coming at me!!! So there in front of me… on the two lane road I’m driving on… there are three vehicles coming at me spread out across the road. And I’m going at them at something around 50 MPH. YEOOOWWWWW!!! And this happened at least six million times every day. YEOOOOWWWWW!!!

However, it was interesting going across the country. I was able to see stuff most tourists will never see… like the temple of the reclining Buddhette. Ok… I don’t really know the real name of the temple, but that’s what I called it to myself. Then I decided that since I think Buddha is a male, it should be called the temple of the cross dressing Buddha.

Buddadette or cross dressing Buddha... you decide.

Buddadette or cross dressing Buddha… you decide.

Quite often right out in the middle of nowhere there would be some kind of a Wat (temple). Some of them were amazing. The photo below doesn’t do it justice because of the smoke that filled the country, but the “wat on the hillside” didn’t seem to have much else around it.

The middle of nowhere Wat

The middle of nowhere Wat

I rode through an elephant reserve. It was up in the mountains and was kind of a “neat” area to ride in. There were lots of unique road signs including one (in English) that said, “Beware of the Elephant”. There were numerous warnings of elephant crossings. I never saw any elephants.

I think the intent is "Watch out for Elephants"

I think the intent is “Watch out for Elephants”… but perhaps they charge after Americans on dirt-bikes.

Earlier I mentioned the smoke. The Thais seemed to be burning stuff all over the country. There is a little bit of burning of farm fields, but mostly it seems that they are clearing brush, small trees and then burning it. It seemed the farther east I went the worse it got. Or maybe it was just that it was starting to get to me. By the time I got to the Laotian border it was at it’s worst. And across in Laos the smoke seemed even thicker.

That’s part of the penalty I paid for coming late in the dry season. On one hand I didn’t want to get rained on while riding a bike across the country side… especially during the off road riding I planed for Laos. But this late in the dry season is when they do their burning. My plan worked… there was not a drop of rain during the whole time I was in Thailand.

Of course if you read my last post you already know that I lost my wallet somewhere in the middle of Thailand and I’ve cut my trip short. But it may be just as well. With another 16 days of off-road riding, I might not ever recover from my Monkey Butt.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Laos was having read about the rescues and especially a really good book that tells of time at NKP was written by Bill “Bags” Bagwell, “Plagued by Good Luck“. Bags was an A-1 pilot with the 1st Air Commando Squadron. The book tells of how he got from Memphis as a boy, through his carrier in the USAF including being shot down over Laos… twice. I planned to go to the places to see what it was like out there all alone in the Laotian Jungle. I still want to do that.

NEXT  – Across Thailand in pics.

The Great Adventure – HELP!!!! Send Money!

Have you ever gotten one of those emails that says something like:

“Help. I’m in a far off land… I don’t speak the language… I have lost my wallet… and I don’t even have fuel money to get back to my base. Can you help me?”

Of course we have all learned that these are scams… someone trying to take advantage of our good nature. We simply click on “trash” for those emails. But have you ever thought about what you would do if that happened to you?

I was on my way back to Chiang Mai. It was my 6th day on the road. I was tired and wanted a couple of days to give riding a rest. I had pre-booked and paid for a room in a town called Phitsanulok… about 350 kilometers south of Chiang Mai. After nearly nine hours on the road I checked into the room. I was exhausted, and hungry. So I got ready to go get something to eat.

I reached for my jacket with my wallet in it… my wallet with all my cash, credit, and ATM cards… all my US ID. I keep it in a zippered pocket when I’m riding so I can get to it easily when paying for gas. I have done this for many, many years. Yeah, you guessed it. The zipper was open and the wallet was gone.

Panic immediately set in. I dumped everything I had out on the bed. I went through it all… several times. I scurried around my path in and around where I had been when I was checking in. No luck. Then panic really set in when I realized my wallet was somewhere between the last fuel stop and the hotel… 135 kilometers.

Before I left for this adventure I contacted some ex-pats living in this part of the word and asked how well I could get by using credit cards or ATMs. The answer was that although in the large cities I could use my ATM to get money, the real answer I got was “Cash is King” except in the big cities. So I had a fair amount of cash with me. Although it did hurt to loose all the cash I had… not an insignificant amount… my immediate problem was buying fuel. The bike only had a couple of liters of fuel left in it. I didn’t have enough money to buy fuel to go anywhere. And with my ATM cards lost, I couldn’t do anything to get any cash at all.

Well… fortunately I had booked a place with WIFI. At least I could get on line and try to find help. I immediately began sending out those, “Help… I’m stranded in a far off land” emails. The one contact I had here in Thailand sent me back an email that said my email had been hacked. When I later talked to him, he said he simply deleted any of the additional emails I sent him.

Fortunately my kids recognized enough of what I put in the email to them that it just might be me. One of my daughters sent me back an email and asked me to tell her what her youngest son’s favorite toy is. I had the right answer. I have to find some way to thank my grandson for having such a self entertaining personality. Nathan buddy… you saved my bacon.

My daughter was able to wire me enough cash through Western Union to get back to Chiang Mai. Western Union is another of those scam artists favorite ways to get your money, but I do have to say it was great. My daughter also said Western Union contacted her with three different emails to be sure she knew the person she was sending money to. She sent me a small amount as a test case. We didn’t want to loose too much money if it went down a rabbit hole.

So… the next morning I went to a local bank and convinced the teller there to take the copy of my passport and my international drivers permit for identification. You see… to rent the bike, I had to leave my passport as deposit and just carry a copy. More about this in a minute. I was not in “tourist country” this time so they were not accustomed to people that didn’t speak much Thai. But between my hand signals and the teller’s limited English we were able to communicate enough. After a bit I was able to get the money, went back to the room, got my stuff and I was on my way back to Chiang Mai.

I had more money wired to me in Chaing Mai. I had to go to four places till I found one that would give me the money without an original passport. So the lesson is, don’t go anywhere without your passport. I’m told that leaving your passport for security when renting any vehicle in Thailand is standard stuff. The alternative is to leave a huge deposit approaching the value of the vehicle… thousands of dollars. No matter what, if I ever do something like this again, I’m not going to leave my passport. If I have to, I’ll get a duplicate… or get one from the ConchRepublic (check it out… you can get one.) Or… I’ll just get some shady character to make me up a phony passport. But I’m not ever again traveling without the original in my posession.

So after I recovered from the immediate problem of no wallet, I had to figure out what to do next. With only a little money and no way of getting more except for continuing to “hit up” my kids, the prospect of going to Laos for the next three weeks wasn’t nearly as “inviting” as it had been a couple of weeks before.

I had prepared for every contingency. I had food, tools, camping gear, water purification stuff… and a partridge in a pear tree. But what I had not prepared for was having no access to any of my funds. I always figured that if I ran out of money, I had back-up funds in the bank at home. But now I had canceled all my cards and there was no way of getting to the bucks… especially somewhere in the middle of Laos

Part of my planning was that no matter what, I could walk far enough to get to a town big enough to have an ATM. I had contingencies for everything. No matter what, I had a plan so that I could recover. The one thing I couldn’t recover from in Laos is running out of money. If that happened I was faced with the prospect of having to camp in the jungle, learn Lao, and eat bugs for the rest of my life.

As part of getting my vaccinations through the military for travel to far off lands, I was also given a briefing on what to expect in the areas I was planning to go to. A Colonel briefed me and he asked if I considered this “High Adventure – High Risk”. I told him that it was indeed High Adventure but because I controlled the risk, at most this was medium risk.

I consider myself a resourceful person. I have traveled all over the world. I have managed to go on my own in most countries of Western Europe, England, and a lot of the Caribbean. I rarely go on an organized tour or with a group. I like to explore on my own. I have always found ways to prevail no matter what happened… but never without access of some kind to cash. After giving it consideration, I decided I didn’t want this to turn into High Risk… so I “pulled the plug”. I decided to call off the rest of the “Great Adventure”.

A few hours later… and thanks to another daughter’s American Express card, I changed and re-booked my flights outta here. Now I’ve got a couple of days to hang out in Chiang Mai before my flight home.

NEXT – Monkey Butt

Holy Smoke – Part 3

(It has been an “adventurous” few days since I wrote this. I waited to post it until I could get back to good internet so I could post all the pics. I’ll tell you about the “adventurous days” in the next post in another day or so.)

Today I went back out to the base. I wanted to go look around and see what the place was like today… what has happened after all these years. I knew that some guys had been back and the jungle was encroaching back into the areas they walked around in a few years ago. But I had no idea what I would find.

Before I went back out to the base, I headed north of town toward the “Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge”… the bridge across the Mekong river that connects Thailand to Laos. If there had been such a thing forty five years ago, we would probably have bombed it. Across that river in Laos is where all the “bad guys” hung out. Today, countries in the region have banded together kinda like the European Union. The bridge, along with several other bridges to Laos, is just one of the outcomes of the Asian Union.

On the way to the bridge I came across a new looking church. In the “olden days” if you went along the river a couple of clicks north of town you would see an old “bombed out” tower. It was kind of a church spire but I never knew what it really was. And, I never thought it was really “bombed out”. I thought it was just derelict and the top had caved in. It turns out that it really was “bombed out”. Today a new church has been built on the spot. A plaque across the road says the old tower was damaged as “part of the Vietnam War”. (I find it strange they didn’t call it either the “American war” as the Vietnamese now call it, or the Second Indochina War.)

This tells about the old church that was bombed out during the "Vietnam" war.

This tells about the old church that was bombed out during the “Vietnam” war.

The new church as it is today.

The new church as it is today.

I went to the Friendship bridge mainly for curiosity and just to take pictures. I would have crossed it if I could have, but for some strange reason they won’t let motorcycles cross most of the “Friendship” bridges. I’m told motorcycle crossings are “hit or miss” depending on who is manning the crossing on a particular day. I knew this to start with and didn’t even get the necessary paperwork to take the rental motorcycle into Laos. 

This is the entrance and customs area to the "Thai-Lao" Friendship Bridge.

This is the entrance and customs area to the “Thai-Lao” Friendship Bridge.

The bridge across to Laos.

The bridge across to Laos.

After seeing the bridge and taking the pics, I headed out to the base.

Holy Smoke! There is nothing left of the base as I knew it. On one side of the main road is the Airport and the old flightline. Except that the flightline really isn’t there any more. The runway and taxiway we built are still there. The airport terminal is new. I don’t know what used to be where it sits. And there is a control tower, but I don’t think it is the same as when I was there. After that, the flightline isn’t there.

There’s a parking area out in front of the terminal. If you look left or right from the terminal, all of the flightline is gone. The PSP parking areas… the areas where there were airplanes of the 56th Air Commando Wing as far as you could see… are all gone. The PSP has been ripped up and now there’s nothing but scrub where all that flightline used to be.

I wanted to walk around in the places where A-26s, A-1s, Goony Birds, and Stingers were parked a long time ago. But I couldn’t get to any of those areas. The whole of what used to be the flightline is fenced off. I couldn’t even get much of a pic. And the jungle has grown back everywhere else. Between the fence and the old flightline areas the jungle has taken everything back. I know there are some claims of Agent Orange being in the area, but I saw no evidence anywhere around the perimeter of the flightline where I went. Keep in mind I did not ride around the whole perimeter, but everywhere I went, the jungle is thriving.

 This pic shows what used to be a flightline full of aircraft. Today it is only scrub.

Nothing is left of the Flightline.

Nothing is left of the Flightline.

This pic is of the old flightline next to the new commercial terminal. If I didn’t know it I would never know that the 56th Air Commando Wing ever had a single airplane parked here… let alone hundreds.

This is what used to be the flightline on the right side of today's terminal.

This is what used to be the flightline on the right side of today’s terminal.

Today's control tower

Today’s control tower

To the other side of the main road… where all the hooches and places that made up the rest of the base were… there is almost nothing. That is nothing except jungle.

I wanted to go back to my old haunts to see what was left… the chow hall, mail room, and of course the Airman’s club. Even though we worked 12 hours (or more) a day, six or seven days a week, I always managed to spend a few hours in the Airman’s club almost every day of the exactly 365 days of my tour.

I also wanted to go back to the place where the Harley-Smith-Wolfe amphitheater was. It was named after three FAC (Forward Air Controller) pilots that were shot down and died while flying combat missions over the Ho Chi Minh trail. The stories about these three pilots are in “More Memories of Naked Fanny“. Over the years the Harley-Smith-Wolfe amphitheater was the place where tens of thousands of servicemen saw the annual Bob Hope Christmas show. 

I’m sure that anyone that ever saw the Bob Hope show at NKP can still close their eyes and see Hope along with some “hot chick” up on that stage. There were other activities at the amphitheater too… commanders-call and the like. I also took Karate lessons there for a while. The place, because of it’s name sakes, and the Bob Hope performances was almost hallowed ground to me. So, it was a quest to find the amphiteater… or at least what was left.

When I first got to the base way back when, almost none of the roads were paved. Some of the roads really weren’t roads at all… just paths to get from place to place. But during my year the base continued to grow and the roads were being paved. It wasn’t long after I left that all the roads were paved. But today, even though the asphalt still remains, the jungle is taking it all back. 

This road is  being taken back. In the distance the road is almost impassable.

This road is being taken back. In the distance the road is almost impassable.

If you turn off the main road and head into the base area, you instantly encounter the jungle. There are even some places where roads intersect the main road that you can hardly tell the roads exist. I have looked at old base maps, but today once you are off the main road you can’t tell anything about where you are. 

This road was washed out, but I was able to cross... carefully...  on the motorcycle .

This road was washed out, but I was able to cross… carefully… on the motorcycle . The jungle has almost completely taken this one back.

This used to be a road but the jungle has almost completely taken it back. It was impassable on the dirt-bike.

This used to be a road but the jungle has almost completely taken it back. It was impassable on the dirt-bike.

Another road washed out... I didn't try to cross this one discretion being the better part of valor.

Another road washed out… I didn’t try to cross this one discretion being the better part of valor.

Every building, everything made out of wood, steel, copper or any other metal is gone. There are a few places where you stumble upon concrete rubble. The Thais (or the US) stripped everything. Concrete bridges that were built where roads crossed drainage ditches have been busted up to salvage the corrugated steel pipe that used to be encased in the concrete.

The only thing left are some large black-top pads where buildings used to be. I was on a motorcycle trying to find my way around all the roads. But instead of roads they are now mostly paths sometimes barely wide enough to get the motorcycle through. And sometimes I couldn’t get through at all and had to double back. In a few cases the drainage ditches… without the crossing “bridge” had completely washed away the road.

All of the landmarks are gone. So once I went down any road… make that down a path… it was impossible to tell where I was. It was all just jungle to either side with an occasional blacktop pad next to the “path”. So I decided I would use my GPS tracker to try to map out all the paths. That way I could use that “map” to find the places I wanted to get to.

When I say “black-top”, I don’t really know what it was. It may have been laterite or asphalt. Since I don’t know what the laterite that was used all over the base really looks like, I’m just calling the large rectangles “blacktop” pads.

Based on the GPS location, I think the “blacktop pad” in the pic below is where the service station used to be. It makes sense because underground stuff has been dug up. But I can’t be sure because there is nothing else around but jungle.

Probably the pad where service station used to be.

Probably the pad where service station used to be.

I figured that if I could have figured out where I was, I could have identified what used to sit on some of the black-top pads. So I spent about four hours just trying to drive around all the roads (paths). A lot of the time I would have been completely lost if it were not for my GPS. In the end I was able to map out almost the entire area. But along toward the end, it was all just the same… just jungle with nothing I recognized. I’m sure I passed by all of those old haunts, but there was nothing left of anything… no way I could tell what had been there.

The one thing I did find was the old CE complex… at least that’s what I think it was. The only thing left is a huge three foot think concrete slab with ramps that delivery trucks could use. (The ramps are and GPS location are what make me think it was the CE complex.) The CE complex was right there on the main road, but except for the concrete slab and a blacktop pad behind it, there was nothing left.

This was the CE complex... I think. It was along the main road.

This was the CE complex… I think. It was along the main road.

I took pictures with my GPS device that geo-tagged all of the pictures. My map along with all the pics at the proper locations can be posted to Google Maps. When I get “back in the world” I’ll get that posted for all to see. In the mean time, here are a few pics of the “base”. 

The pic below is of a huge black-top pad that was surrounded by jungle. It was to the “left” off any of the commonly available maps of the base so I have no idea what was there. Note that the jungle is just starting to grow through this pad. You can clearly see this pad on Google Earth. It’s the biggest pad in the “main base area”.

This was a huge blacktop pad. I don't know what it used to be.

This was a huge blacktop pad. I don’t know what it used to be.

Late in the afternoon, I gave up on discovering anything else except that I was determined to find the Harley-Smith-Wolfe amphitheater.

Harley-Smith-Wolfe Amphitheater.  USAF Photo

Harley-Smith-Wolfe Amphitheater. You can tell this is post July 1968 because the wing had been changed from an “Air Commando Wing” to a “Special Operations Wing”
USAF Photo

By this time I had a clear GPS map and I knew where it was… where it should be. I rode my “bike” as far into the jungle as I could. Then I parked it and started trying to walk the area.

I walked all around, but couldn’t find a hint of what used to be there. Using GPS I got to the area the amphitheater had to have been. I found a few old stumps of huge four foot diameter trees that had been cut down long ago.  They were cut off at a foot or so above the ground. I’m pretty sure I had found the place… the hallowed ground.

With the slope of the terrain… with the general lay of the land, and less dense jungle, I was pretty sure this was it. I was able to close my eyes… I could see the stage 75 yards away with Bob Hope on it.

Bob Hope entertaining the troops at NKP, circa 1968. Photo curtsey of then SGT William Paddock, 56th SPS

Bob Hope entertaining the troops at NKP, circa 1968.
Photo curtsey of then SGT William Paddock, 56th SPS

But when I opened my eyes it was all gone. There was simply nothing of it left. Except for the stumps, I couldn’t find a single hint that anything other than jungle had ever been there. Now, many years of growth have taken over the ground. It won’t be long before no one knows that the place is hallowed ground.

The pics below may have been of the place where the Harley-Smith-Wolfe amphitheater used to be. With nothing to mark the place I couldn’t tell for sure. I used my GPS to get to where I thought it should be. The first pic shows the stump where the jungle had been cleared long ago. The jungle is taking it all back.

The jungle at this spot was once cleared...

The jungle at this spot was once cleared…

This is the “hallowed ground”… at least I think the amphitheater was at the back part of this picture. To take the picture I was standing about half way down where the benches used to be. Now you can’t tell it was ever there.

The Harley-Smith-Wolfe amphitheater used to be at the back part of this pic... I thinkj.

The Harley-Smith-Wolfe amphitheater used to be at the back part of this pic… I think.

It’s a good thing I had my GPS with me. If not, I might still be wandering around in the jungle trying to find where I parked my bike. No… I wasn’t lost. I knew the direction to the main road and could get back there. But the jungle had kinda swallowed the bike. As I back-tracked my path using the GPS, I had to get with about 50 feet of it to see the red and white Honda.

I jumped on the bike, headed back out and got on the main road. As I was headed down that road one last time… the road to town that I had traveled many times before… I realize that “Naked Fanny” is gone. The base that was home to the 56th Air Commando Wing… the base that was home to thousands of servicemen for a year (or more)… the base that held hundreds of combat aircraft and launched tens of thousands of combat sorties… the base the we all knew as NKP… sometimes we knew as “Naked Fanny” simply no longer exists. It’s not even a ghost town. It has vanished from the face of the earth. Holy Smoke!

NEXT

Holy Smoke – Part 2

(I wrote this while sitting in the 777 Hometel in beautiful downtown NKP. It had internet but was too slow to post anything with pics. So it had to wait till I got back to some place with good internet.)

When I wrote “Memories of Naked Fanny” I went through all my old pics I took when I was first there. So I have lots to remember what the place looked like. As I mentioned in the last post, nothing looked familiar. So,or samlaw the whole time I was there.

I found lots of stuff, but there is simply no hint of the town’s former life. One of the surprising things is that I didn’t see a single samlaw… Holy smoke!  For those that don’t know, a samlaw the is kind of a rickshaw with a bicycle on the front. We used samlaws for our transportation all over town. Today it’s only “Tuk-Tuks” for getting around.

A row of Tuk-Tuks sitting out in front of the hospital... yeah hospital. There's not a samlaw in sight.

A row of Tuk-Tuks sitting out in front of the hospital… yeah hospital. There’s not a samlaw in sight.

There was no sign of the “Turkish Bath” massage parlor… the Princess bar… the Civilized hotel…  and Johnny’s Bungalow… all gone! Actually those places being gone really isn’t a big surprise. Without the GIs to support them they would have all gone out of business. I’m sure the “hostesses” and people that worked in those places left long ago for Bangkok. What is the surprise is that the town has changed so much I can’t even find the places where those places used to be.

 Listen to me… I’m talking like its yesterday. The people that worked in those places are now “middle aged” people… just like me. And their grand-children probably own the stores, shops, and big businesses that now make up this town. 

As part of my walk-about I went back down to the blocks where the “old town” used to be. I found a lot of restaurants – cafes – bars, but nothing like it used to be. There were food places all over… mostly little hole in the wall places where you could order “monkey balls and soup”. They also had take-out soup… soup with floating things in it hanging in clear plastic bags… their “to go” specials.

There were also several places that had some kind of live entertainment. I wasn’t out late, so I’m not sure of all the goings-on later in the evening. These places were a little bit “up-scale”. I don’t mean they were “posh” by any means. They were outside places with maybe a table cloth and some flowers on the table. A pic is worth a thousand words…

This is one of the more "upscale" restaurants in town. Note the outside seating for evening dining.

This is one of the more “upscale” restaurants in town. Note the outside seating for evening dining.

My favorite place to eat was the “outdoor restaurant” right behind Uncle Ho’s tower. It was a round place and had a red tile roof. The building is still there and can be seen in almost every pic of the tower. However the “outdoor restaurant” has been long boarded up.

I also ran into a “night market”. Night markets seem prevalent all over Thailand these days. I have seen one in every town I’ve been in at night. Vendors for everything from “meat on a stick” to socks & shoes come out and set up in the street. Last night when I walked through I was the only Fharang there. Oh I almost forgot… one vendor was selling roasted pigs heads… whole heads. Just the thing for the family gathering.

The night market in downtown Nakhon Phanom. There were at least 100 scooters parked there.

The night market in downtown Nakhon Phanom. There were at least 100 scooters parked there.

 So guys, the places we all knew are gone. No more “Shindig” (my favorite)… no more “New Johnny’s” (my other favorite.) No more bungalows on stilts where a guy could stop in on a hot afternoon and have a cold drink… and find some company on the sofa. Gone is the village of NKP. In it’s place is a new city, Nakhon Phanom… Holy Smoke!

Here are a some more pics that didn’t fit in anywhere in the “story”. This first one is of the “Baht Bus” in downtown Nakhon Phanom. It’s a far cry from what we used to ride to town.

"Baht Bus" in downtown Nakhon Phanom

“Baht Bus” in downtown Nakhon Phanom

 

This is of the Duck Pub. It looks like it is a new place. I didn’t go there at night so it was closed when I took this picture.

This place is called the Duck Pub.

This place is called the Duck Pub.

 

Uncle Ho’s Clock tower at night. They light it up with flood lights that change color. It’s really kinda pretty if you like that sort of stuff.

Uncle Ho's Clock tower at night.

Uncle Ho’s Clock tower at night.

 

The karst mountains in Laos across the Mekong. This is one of those places that every GI that’s been there will recognize. At least the mountains have not changed. You can see from this picture just how smokey it was… caugh, caugh.

Smokey view of the karst across the Mekong in River.

Smokey view of the karst across the Mekong in River.

 

Everybody remembers seeing the Thai PT boats in the river near Monty’s Ice Cream Parlor. I looked and did not see them nor any other Navy boat in the water. This was the only PT boat I could find.

The last PT boat in Nakhon Phanom

The last PT boat in Nakhon Phanom

 

I sure do wish I had obtained the scooter franchise when I was there. There are about 65 million people in Thailand… and 66 million scooters. This is the Honda/Yamaha dealer in Nakhon Phanom.

Honda and Yamaha dealer in Nakhon Phanom

Honda and Yamaha dealer in Nakhon Phanom

 

Hummmmm… high performance tires in NKP. Who would have ever believed it…

High performance tires... in NKP

High performance tires… in NKP

There is now a big hospital in Nakhon Phanom. This is the main building. But the complex has three more buildings and each of them are almost as big as this one… Holy Smoke!!!!

The main building... one of four in the Nakhon Phanom hospital complex.

The main building… one of four in the Nakhon Phanom hospital complex.

 

Next installment… Part 3 – The Base

Holy Smoke!!! – Part 1

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This post is mostly directed toward a “Band of Brothers”. I am proud to be able to say that I am one of them.  I don’t use the term “Band of Brothers” lightly. These are guys that stood tall for their country when it wasn’t the popular thing to do.   I am referring to the members of the Royal Order of the Naked Fanny. They came to this place that got the GI nick-name “Naked Fanny” and were prepared to do whatever their country asked them to do. Some of them died doing it.

When they came home they did not have a welcoming public. Most took off their uniforms as soon as they got off the airplane so as not to encounter a hostile public. Wether or not you agree with the politics or reasons behind them, these guys deserved better. They did what was asked of them. So I ask you that the next time you see someone displaying the Vietnam Campaign medal… go to them, shake their hand, and thank them for their service. That’s long over due.

Welcome home brothers.

Vietnam Service ribbon.

        Vietnam Service ribbon.

Now… about that “Holy Smoke”.

For nearly forty years I had no desire to go back to “Naked Fanny”. But I wanted to keep what I knew of the place from being completely lost when I croak. So I wrote “Memories of Naked Fanny” so that maybe what we did there wouldn’t be lost to history. Little did I know then that it would start the spark that led me to riding a motorcycle across the country side in Southeast Asia.  I never expected what I found when I got back to “Naked Fanny”.

As I rode my dirt-bike (motorcycle) into Nakhon Phanom…  aka NKP… aka Naked Fanny, I kept saying to myself, “Holy Smoke”. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

The road I was riding into town on was a four lane road. Holy Smoke, this used to be a dirt road leading to town. Many of us nearly died going down that dirt road on the “Baht Bus” to town… at least “nearly died” is how we now tell the stories. I almost didn’t recognize the place except that I saw a sign that pointed to an “airport”. After I passed it I suddenly realized that the “Airport” was probably what I had known as the Air Base.

This used to be a narrow dirt road that led to town. Now... Holy Smoke

This used to be a narrow dirt road that led to town. Now… Holy Smoke

I slammed on the brakes, and turned around to check it out. Well guys… after I headed down the road to the “Airport” I recognized it as the entrance to the base. Except no gate guards wearing a helmet and armed with an M-16. Just a withering road leading toward the “Airport”. But there was nothing else there. No buildings, no Thai restaurant, no Thai HQ.  Other than the vague familiarity of that road, I would have had no idea of where I was. I even had to check my GPS device to be sure. HOLY SMOKE!!!

The road leading into the "base"

The road leading into the “base”

It was nearly 4:30 in the afternoon, so after just a short look around at the base… I should say a look around trying to find something of the base, I headed on in to town.I don’t really know what I expected. NKP and the town had been an “outpost” back when I was here the first time. Everything was very rural and I always had the feeling that the town was many times it’s normal size because of the American presence. I figured that after the U.S. pull-out the town had returned to being a small village with lots of rice paddies, and water buffalo roaming the fields.

Then I rode by the Chevrolet  dealership… as big as almost any in the U.S… Holy Smoke. And of course where there’s a Chevrolet dealership, there’s a Ford dealership… Holy Smoke. Mazda, Toyota, Honda, and  Isuzu  all have large dealerships along the road to town… Holy Smoke.

Ford Dealer

Ford Dealer

Isuzu Dealer

Isuzu Dealer

Mitsubishi Dealer

Mitsubishi Dealer

Chevy Dealer

Chevy Dealer

And then the town… Holy Smoke. I expected a little village. I found a town the size of Albuquerque. I don’t know if it’s really that big, but I didn’t recognize a thing. About ten “clicks” from the Mekong river it was a well built up area. Back in the day nothing was here. There were several stop lights getting down to the river. I truly recognized nothing.

I keep going toward the river… at least I thought I was pointed to the river. Finally I indeed got to the river. But I still had no idea where I was. Holy Smoke! I wanted to find the Ho Chi Minh clock tower because… well because I wanted to find he tower… but because I’m staying at a hotel near there. The only way I could figure out how to find the tower was to use my GPS device.

CLICK ON HERE TO SEE A FULL SIZED PIC OF UNCLE HO'S TOWER. Everyone that ever went to NKP has a pic like this, It has been spruced up but otherwise unchanged.

CLICK ON HERE TO SEE A FULL SIZED PIC OF UNCLE HO’S TOWER.
Everyone that ever went to NKP has a pic like this, It has been spruced up but otherwise unchanged.

 

Finally, I found the tower… something I recognized. But as I turned away from the river back into town, again there was nothing I recognized. A couple of days ago I was asked to take pics of some of the old GI hang-outs. These were places guys could get a Singha beer, some rot-gut Mekong whisky, and ummmmm…. female companionship.

Well guys, I did a walk-about looking to find them. They don’t exist. Almost nothing of the town we knew that exists. Gone are all the “bungalows”… Johnny’s is gone… the Civilized is gone… all of it is gone. In it’s place is a typical Thai city with almost no vestiges of he old places.  Guys… you would never know this was NKP.  Holy Smoke!

Downtown... not like any downtown we ever knew.

Downtown… not like any downtown we ever knew.

Typical downtown street

Typical downtown street

The town now has streetlights everywhere... and this is typical of the buildings

The town now has streetlights everywhere… and this is typical of the buildings

The one exception is right by the river near the Ho Chi Minh clock tower… the area where Monty’s Ice Cream parlor used to be. Monty’s was a hang out that every GI that went to town knows well. As we all know Monty’s is long gone. (I cried when I heard this.) But take heart. There are now a few similar restaurants and bars opened up right there along the river. They have some seating out back on the “porch” overlooking the river.

Many of us sat in the old Monty’s having a Singha, an ice cream, and watching air strikes in the war over in Laos. So for old time sake I figured that I should go into one of he new places. I say “new” but it’s still the same old building with a “new” business. Also, I should say “new to me” business. I’m sure most have been here for years. 

Looking down the street back toward the tower. This is  where Monty's used

Looking down the street back toward the tower. This is where Monty’s used to be. If you look closely at the scooter, this woman is demonstrating the proper method of taking your kid along.

Anyway I went into a restaurant to get something to eat… Cow Pot for old time sake. The owner of the restaurant greeted me right out front and said that they only serve Fharang food. (Fharang = Foreigner) I almost didn’t go in, but I decided that I would try it just the same. So here I was… in a restaurant overlooking the Mekong… a lot like Monty’s… and I had Spaghetti with meat sauce.  And the Spaghetti was very, very good. It turns out that the owner, a woman named  Kaewnipon Kaewconthai, has studied at a prestigious culinary school and worked in Texas.  Holy Smoke!

By the way… if you ever come to see the place for yourself I highly recommend her restaurant. It’s the last place on the right (river side) as you walk away from the Ho Chi Minh clock tower. The name of the place is, Khan Knew Steak Corner. And yes, they have steaks… Holy Smoke! 

The riverside places. The one on the end is the restaurant where I had spaghetti.

The riverside places. The one on the end is the restaurant where I had spaghetti.

 

Next – Holly Smoke, Part 2