April 8, 2013

  • Yosemite et al. 2012


    My parents, brother Van, sister-in-law Konie, my friend Prapan, and I took off from Los Angeles at around 8:20 am via our rented GMC Yukon.  We were en route to Yosemite National Park for Van's birthday.  After a little while we first stopped at Fossil Falls.  We all walked a little down a path passing by several black rocks until we came across a large pile of black rocks ending in a tall cliff to the bottom.  Turns out all these black rocks resulted from a lava flow long ago.  In some places are light green plants growing amidst these black rocks.  They offer a stark colorful contrast for a most interesting view.  On the way back, not far from where we parked our vehicle is a mound called Red Hill.  From our vantage point, I thought it was manmade but Van told me it was natural.



    Mom and Dad


    Red Hill

    Fossil Falls

    Prapan pondering a leap of faith?


    Left: Mom  Right: Me with Prapan in the background

    Prapan, Van, and Konie in the distance

    We continued on.  Next near the town of Lone Pine we ventured onto the Whitney Portal and passed by some rock formations which frankly looked like somebody piled a bunch of rocks all around.  We came across a trail that will lead us to some arch at Alabama Hills.  My mom chose to remain in the car.  I guess she was tired from the walk at Fossil Falls.  Around the start of the trail Van pointed out Mt. Whitney to us in the distance.  Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States (i.e. not counting Hawaii and Alaska).  The peak is 14,505 feet high.  Near where we parked we saw an arch with an opening resembling the shape of a heart.  Fittingly it was called the Heart Arch.  We walked on and finally came across the arch.  Prapan climbed to the top of it.  Van took my dad's picture while I took candid shots from behind.

    Rocks behind Lone Pine

    Left: Trailhead    Right: Heart Arch

    Mount Whitney

    Left: Me Right: Konie

    Left: Me Right: Dad

    Dad at a small arch

    Alabama Hills Arch

    Van, Prapan, Dad...and Konie

    We drove up the mountains and had burgers for lunch at Whitney Store.  This is near the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney trail.  Van had conquered this daunting trail before.  We were surrounded by tall peaks and pine trees.  Burgers were quite good.  We then drove down and passed through Lone Pine.  It is very proud that a number of movies have been filmed here.  It's quite ideal for westerns.


    Left: Mount Whitney trailhead Right: Where we got our tasty burgers

    Near the Mount Whitney trailhead

    We continued on to Bishop.  There stopped at Eric Schat Bakkery.  Mom and Konie bought some tasty cakes and other confections there.

    We then stopped by Hot Creek.  From atop we could see steam rising from the hot springs below.  Van, Prapan, and I walked down and then alongside the creek.  The sulfur odor was quite apparent.  I walked ahead and wanted to go to as far as we were allowed to until I noticed some men and women nearby at the creek.  The women wore only towels and one man was also in a towel.  Obviously they were bathing in the hot springs.  To their right was a man drying himself who wasn't in a towel yet so yes, I saw a fully naked man from behind.  I was stunned at this sight and turned around.  Prapan was behind me and soon also caught this ghastly sight.  He too turned around and we all walked back.  Prapan was wondering why I didn't warn him since I saw him first.  I think I was still heebie jeebied from the sight myself.  When Konie wondered about us seeing a naked man, Prapan said that it's daytime but there's a full moon out.


    Hot Creek

    Prapan reeling from sight of naked man

    It is close to sundown.  We have reached the outskirts of Yosemite National Park.  Just the view around us while driving in was awesome.  Yosemite is full of towering peaks and other rock formations.  We stopped and took photos with Mt. Gibbs and Mt. Dana.

    With Mt. Gibbs and Mt. Dana

    We then drove on.  We finally got to our residence, Yosemite West Condominium, just before 9 pm.  For dinner we had steak, macaroni and cheese, and kabobs. We watched a little bit of The Avengers.  Soon everyone went to sleep.  Upstairs my parents shared one bed with Van and Konie in the other.  I slept on the couch and Prapan on the Lazy Boy.  Fortunately for Prapan, we had earplugs for him.  This is so he can sleep despite my sawing wood.


    Konie whipped up some bacon, eggs, and rice for breakfast.

    At 10:58 am we went to Glacier Point.  My folks, Prapan, and I had never been here.  I had never gotten such a close-up view of Half Dome.  Below is the Yosemite Valley.  Yosemite is one of the most visually breathtaking places I know.  Everywhere you turn is a majestic view.

    Half Dome with Cloud's Rest in the distance

    Yosemite Valley

    View from Glacier Point

    Soon after my folks and Konie returned to the residence.  Van, Prapan, and I began our hike via the Panorama Trail.  I begins as an inverted hike.  Van is an accomplished hiker.  Prapan is in great shape.  I am neither.  I needed an initial break to tape a couple of my toes.  We stopped from time to time to snap some photos.  


    Left: Taping the toes Right: The start of our hike

    Hiking at Yosemite

    As we proceeded, we saw Illiloutte Falls across the way.  Not much water at this time of year.  The trail then took us across the Merced River.  There wasn't much water there either so we were able to walk onto the big rocks on the riverbed.  


    Illiloutte Falls

    Merced River

    Danger sign

    On the Merced riverbed

    From the river are some switchbacks that scaled the opposing rise.  We stopped at one of the switchback turns to eat lunch.  Onwards we continued.  The trail took us behind Half Dome.  I had never seen the backside of Half Dome before.  It pretty much dominated the surrounding landscape.  As we ventured on, we also came across Liberty Cap.  We were also able to see Cloud's Rest and Nevada Falls.  Once again, Nevada Falls didn't have as much water as it could have.  We took the historic John Muir Trail to descend from this peak.  There was a lot of horse poop we needed to avoid on the way down.

    The hike continues towards the Yosemite Valley

    Half Dome and Liberty Cap

    Liberty Cap

    John Muir Trail to the Yosemite Valley

    One last rest

    Finally we reached the bottom and none too soon.  My right knee was killing me.  We took the shuttle to the Visitor Center.  There we rendezvoused with my folks and Konie.  We changed clothes then went to check out El Capitan before it got too dark.  El Capitan is probably one of the most scaled peaks period.

    Bridge over river at bottom of valley

    End of hike

    El Capitan

    That evening we had dinner at Mountain Room Restaurant.  I enjoyed a good, fairly large ribeye steak with a baked potato and veggies.  We all shared a creme brulee, sorbet, and mudpie.

    We then returned to our residence.  Today's hike covered over 10 miles.  For me, it's the most mileage I ever covered in a single hike.


    We departed from the Yosemite West Condos after a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and mashed potatoes.  On this cool morning we headed for the Mariposa Grove.  Before our scheduled tram tour, Prapan and I went to admire two sequoias near the entrance of the parking lot.  They are known as the Sentinel and Bigfoot.  Sequoias pretty much dwarf everything else around especially people.

    Ready to check out some trees

    Me and Prapan with Bigfoot

    Prapan and I with Sentinel

    With the time before the start of the tour approaching, we were wondering where my father was.  I tracked him down amidst an area with sparser trees.  He spotted a woodpecker and point it out to me.  I managed to snap a couple of pictures of our feathered friend.


    Our tram tour began at 11 am.  We wore headphones connected to an automated guide.  The tram route took us through this sequoia forest full of these giant trees.  The most notable ones all have names.  First one we was the Fallen Monarch.  It is a large tree now on it's side.  Then we came an impressive quartet called the Bachelor and Three Graces.  Other notable ones we passed by were the Mariposa Tree, Telescope Tree (one can see the sky from within), Columbia Tree (tallest in the Mariposa Grove), Fallen Giant (formerly for cars to drive through), Faithful Couple (joined), Massachusetts Tree (fallen with alienlike roots), and Clothespin Tree (can drive through).


    Fallen Monarch

    Bachelor and Three Graces

    Mariposa Tree

    Faithful Couple

    Massachusetts Tree

    Columbia Tree

    Telescope Tree (from inside you can see the sky yet it's still alive)

    Clothespin Tree

    The most dominating presence in the Mariposa Grove is the Grizzly Giant due to its size and uniquely menacing appearance especially due to the thick branches.  Nearby is the California Tree which is most noted because you can walk through it.

    Grizzly Giant

    California Tree

    We then left Yosemite National Park.  We went to Fresno for lunch at Dog House Grill.  It's a sports bar with some great tri-tip sandwiches.

    We returned to Los Angeles at around 8 pm.  On the way back we saw a cool plane overhead.  First we dropped off Prapan and then finally home after a long day.

    For me this was the very best trip I had ever taken to Yosemite to date.  Though I suffered, it's great to be able to hike one of the many legendary trails at Yosemite.  I got to see it from many different vantage points I hadn't seen before.  This was my first time at the Mariposa Grove and enjoyed every moment of it.

November 8, 2012

  • San Francisco 2012


    My friend Peter Dolch (I still call him Prapan) picked me up in our rented Ford Focus at around 8 am.  This is a trip I really looked forward to.  This is the first road trip with Prapan in a really long time.  Also I wanted redemption for the disappointing trip to San Francisco that I documented in my "Presidents Day 2012" blog.  We headed up the 101 en route to San Francisco.  His cousin Araya is getting married tomorrow.  It was a relaxing and cool drive up north.  We weren't in any rush.  We planned on having brunch in Santa Barbara.  In the course of our chatter we passed Santa Barbara.  Instead we stopped for brunch at Alphie's in Goleta.  Food was decent and I had my first linguica.  Service was a tad slow for our liking.

    Our ride

    I'm now at the wheel.  We are around Palo Alto when Prapan said we're stopping at a place beforehand and it's a surprise.  He navigated us somewhere when lo and behold we were at Google!  That's right, the Google headquarter!  We walked around Google and saw employees playing beach volleyball and some others with boxing gloves and sparring headgear on.  There was also a pool.  I basically followed Prapan wherever he wanted to go.  We didn't tour Google in depth but just walked around the general campus.  There are colorful bicycles all over the place.  Employees can use them to get around.  There are others running and getting exercise.  It'd be so cool to work in a place with this kind of environment.


    Left: The Driver  Right: The Navigator

    Left: Employees hard at work  Right: Bicycles for getting around


    Onward we ventured towards San Francisco.  We got there around 5 pm.  Through the advice of a fellow Yelper, Prapan directed us to Pizzeria Delfina.  It was pretty good.  The ingredients were fresh atop a thin crispy crust.  You could tell the sausage was homemade.  It was a downer when some sort of additional fee was added to our bill.  I don't recall what it was for.

    Yummy goodness

    Back in the car I asked Prapan if there was something he wanted to see here.  He mentioned The Embarcadero so that's where we went.  I managed to find parking not far from it.  We walked over there and check out Alcatraz Landing.  There we saw boats ready to lead tours to and around Alcatraz Island.  There was also a model of the island and its structures.

    Left: The Embarcadero  Right: Alcatraz Landing

    Model of Alcatraz Island

    Left: Prapan with the model  Right: Me with the real one in the background

    We then left the Embarcadero and walked all of Fisherman's Wharf.  We passed by one of my favorite places - Boudin.  It's a place I usually stop for clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.  Not this time though as we already had pizza. It was neat how they showcased some of their sourdough in the shape of things like an alligator.

    At Fisherman's Wharf

    Somebody's been here a bit too long

    From there we headed to Ghirardelli Square.  We perused the renowned chocolate shop for a bit.  Prapan then suggested getting ice cream from Swensen's.  I exclaimed,"Swensen's?"  Prapan replied,"Yeah.  You heard of it?"  I said,"Yeah.  I had it in Bangkok".  He was like "Bangkok?"

    Ghirardelli Square

    Swensen's is a widespread ice cream chain in Bangkok.  However it originated here in San Francisco.  Getting ice cream from the original Swensen's sounded great so I agreed.  Prapan saw that on his phone Swensen's was only a mile or so away.  However it was towards the top of Russian Hill via Hyde Street which is a steep climb.  I suggested taking a streetcar which would fulfill another traditional San Francisco visitor item.  However he was more into hoofing it so here we went.  I slowly scaled Hyde Street while Prapan jogged ahead.  When I wasn't too far from getting there I did notice famed Lombard Street to my left.  At the top we made it to Swensen's.  The original Swensen's as it turned out is a little corner ice cream shop.  The ones in Bangkok are large sit-down parlors.  We both enjoyed what we ordered.


    Must...get...ice cream!

    Original Swensen's Ice Cream

    Now it's time to get back to our car.  Remembering passing Lombard Street, I suggested to Prapan to walk down that street because it's also an attraction.  It advertises itself as the crookedest street in the world.  It is also gorgeously adorned with flowers and other flora.


    Lombard Street

    We then continued in the same direction since it should take us straight to the car.  The street took us to another climb.  This climb however ended at the Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill.  This landmark was erected for the beautification of the city.


    View from Telegraph Hill

    The Coit Tower

    After descending from Telegraph Hill, we kept hitting dead ends from several streets.  We kept trying different ones until we found one with a stairway that allowed us to descend to the ground.  From there it was not too long a walk until we got to our car.

    We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge en route to our motel in Rohnert Park.  At the motel we watched Nik Wallenda traverse Niagara Falls via high wire on TV.

    The Golden Gate Bridge


    Prapan couldn't sleep due to my snoring.  We still had a lot of time before having to take off for the wedding so he slept some more while he could since I'm now awake.  We grabbed breakfast at Black Bear Restaurant.  Food was all right and their portions were very, very generous.  It's enough to where you wouldn't need to eat your next meal.

    I drove giving Prapan a chance to catch some Z's.  It's about an hour and a half drive to the wedding.  We drove past some lakes.  When we got there around noon, we were early by over two hours.  It was 95 degrees F.  We got to chat a bit with Araya, the bride-to-be.  Being so early we decided to go elsewhere to kill time as there was nothing for us to do here.  First, we used the designated men's room which was a long walk on this farm from the wedding area.  Prapan faced a quandary as there was a frog on the toilet which caused considerable distress.

    Lakes en route to wedding

    We drove to nearby Lakeport.  We went to the banks of Clear Lake hoping for some relief from this heat but no can do.  It was still hot.  We snapped some photos of the lake and a nearby gazebo to kill time.



    It's now time for the wedding.  Guests have arrived.  It's 100 degrees.  When it was time to begin, the bride arrived to some country song as opposed to "Here Comes the Bride".  The ceremony was short and sweet.  The food was excellent especially the tri-tip.  There wasn't any dancing but lots of healthy conversation.  Prapan's cousin Tabitha Uy was having a heck of a lot of fun emceeing some games and stuff.

    Nice outdoor setting

    Great grub

    Yours truly

    Left: Prapan and cousin Tiffany  Right: Prapan and cousin Tabitha

    Left: Prapan and cousin Alisa  Right: Prapan and cousin Araya (the bride)

    We then headed back to Rohnert Park.  We arrived at CVS pharmacy but it was closed.  We were hoping to get some ear plugs for Prapan so he could sleep.  Oh well.  It's going to be another one of those nights.


    Once again Prapan couldn't get any sleep due to my sawing wood.  We checked out of our motel and headed for San Francisco.  Yelp! recommended a dim sum place called Good Luck Dim Sum.  It's a small place with a line that was continuously growing.  While in line Prapan got increasingly excited due to the rave reviews on Yelp!  Once we got our food we looked for a place to eat.  We wound up at a dog park at the top of a hill which overlooked the bay.  We sat on benches and feasted.  The har gow was excellent.  No soy sauce needed.  They also gave Prapan a hearty amount of porridge.  We also tried some shark fin dumplings.  It was all right.

    Left: Dim sum menu at Good Luck Dim Sum  Right: Some of Prapan's order

    Left: The staff and full menu  Right: New siu mai ready to sell

    The line at this place

    View from where we ate

    Next we visited my favorite place in San Francisco - The Palace of Fine Arts.  I always enjoyed its beauty and size.  Prapan took lots of photos and tried out his phone's panorama picture feature.  I think it turned out well.


    The Palace of Fine Arts

    During the time we had dim sum and were checking out the Palace of Fine Arts, I was hoping that the fog that engulfed the Golden Gate Bridge would die down.  We weren't so lucky.  We crossed the bridge after I missed the exit to the first viewing area.  I then parked in the next one on the other end of the bridge.  We waited and waited for about 20 minutes but the fog was unrelenting.  We snapped what we could.


    Golden Gate Bridge and surrounding area

    Next we ventured to Twin Peaks for what normally is one of if not the best view of San Francisco you can get.  There, the fog still continued to hinder what would have been that great view.  It was so damp that we threw on our jackets and hoods.  We gave it a chance but the fog kept rolling in like a machine was pumping it in.  On the way down was a bridge.  We stopped on it for a hope of a glimmer.  The fog sort of gave way for a very brief moment.  I told him to snap the photo because we may not get another chance.


    Best photo we could manage from below Twin Peaks

    It was a little after 1 pm.  After a brief discussion, we decided to head back.  During the drive, I decided to stop at Treasure Island.  From there we got some good pictures of San Francisco from across the bay.  At least we distanced ourselves from the fog.  Normally one could see the Golden Gate Bridge from there but that ominous fog wouldn't have any of that.


    View from Treasure Island

    We took the I-5 back.  It was going good for awhile.  I don't recall where we stopped for Carl's Jr. but was probably not too far south from the 46.  Once we continued, traffic hardly moved.  It was a torturous crawl as the I-5 was reduced to one lane for a 9-mile stretch (or if it's shorter, it sure felt that long).  When Prapan woke up, I told him we haven't really gone anywhere.  Stopping for Carl's Jr. turned out to be a most excellent decision.

    Finally we were past that point.  Leaving San Francisco at 2 pm I thought we had plenty of time to drive back to LA and beat the 10 pm deadline to return our rented Ford Focus.  I even thought we could perhaps grab a bite back in LA and then return the car.  Due to this delay we got to Thrifty Car Rental at 9:40 pm.

    This was a terrific trip.  I definitely got my redemption from the prior time in San Francisco.  We both had a real good time checking out the city.

April 29, 2012

  • A Week in Thailand 2012


    My mother, brother Van, sis-in-law Konie, and I took off from LAX via Thai Airways at 11:40 pm.  During this 17-hour flight, I tried to watch the first Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law.  However it was apparent I was sleepy since I kept conking out so I slept for the first 5 hours after enjoying a tasty beef bourguignon.  Afterwards I watched War Horse, Immortals, and Mission:Impossible Ghost Protocol.  I watched a good deal of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but didn't finish it because we landed.


    As usual, due to crossing the International Date Line, there was no April 20th for us.  We landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok at 6:35 am.  My mother was escorted just off the plane via wheelchair thanks to Konie's urging back at LAX.  It was a welcome relief for her.  My father and Aunt Ting picked us up.  Back at Aunt Ting's place we had a breakfast of rice soup, fried eggs, salted fish, and gourami.  While Van and Konie were out and about with Aunt Ting, I had lunch with my parents at Nai Ngieb Ban Suan.  I enjoyed rice with roasted pork ribs, tiny chicken wings, pork satay, and coconut milk custard.

    Later that evening we went to Wat Tadtong for the final night of prayer for my late grandmother.  We came to Thailand this time for my grandmother's funeral.  Lots of relatives were in attendance.  I sweated all day all night.  It was ~90 degrees Fahrenheit and humid.




    The family

    My parents, brother Van, and I with grandma

    Back at Aunt Ting's I was to sleep in her son Songfang's room.  I turned on the air conditioner and it felt good.  After awhile, it made a loud rattling noise as if things were caught in there.  I let it play out and then it was quiet.  While in bed, I don't wear glasses and with the lights out I couldn't see what was going on.  Once the noise was gone, I donned my glasses and on my way to the light switch I felt wet spots on the floor.  When I flipped the switch, the floor and table were covered with ice particles.  I wiped up everything.  So the AC spat out ice.  Hmm...


    It rained a little this morning.  I got up at around 6 am.  Once the rain subsided, it got hot in a hurry.  During breakfast I caught some of the Dallas Mavericks vs. Chicago Bulls game.  At 9 am I left with Aunt Ting and her friend Mai to Wat Tadtong to offer lunch to ten monks.  Once again lots of relatives were on hand.  There were lots of good eats.  Aunt Ting's favorite fried mussel man was on hand to do his thing.  As it turned out, looks like has has a new young disciple to do all the cooking these days.  Good stuff that I highly recommend if you never had some.  There as also an excellent palo, hor mok, and bua loy.  It was very hot again.  I'm thinking it's in the 100's.  Around 12:10 pm I came home with Songfang, Van, and Konie.  Did nothing then but bask in front of the air conditioner.

    Some of the flora at Wat Tadtong

    Main altar

    Left: Van and I chillin' in the hot sun Right: Fried mussels being cooked

    The wonderful food

    At 2:56 pm I returned to Wat Tadtong with Aunt Ting, Mai, cousin Thom, and someone named Lek.  There were lots of relatives and some old friends of my dad's.  We went to a designated area where we can burn things.  There we set a paper house and other stuff on fire.  They represent things we are wishing to send to grandma in her next life.

    Getting items ready for incinceration

    Left: Dad lights the flame Right: On their way to grandma

    There was a procession that wheeled grandma's casket around the main altar for three revolutions.  It was led by monks, then grandma, then the masses.  Van got to hold her picture while I took photos and videotaped.

    Grandma being wheeled around the altar

    Left: Mom walking as part of the procession behind the casket Right: Van holding grandma's picture towards the front of the procession

    Grandma was returned to a stand at the cremation altar.  Select individuals were called to be the first to place a monk's robe plus a small corsage-like thing consisting of a flower and incense beneath the casket.  Once done, the rest of the masses then ascended the altar and did the same.  Soon after everyone was done, grandma's casket was moved into the cremation chamber.  Once fire was lit, some of us wished her farewell and hoping the best in the next life.  When I came down I need some time to myself.  I just thought of all the wonderful times we had spent together and how thankful I am to be her grandson.


    Songfang and P'Maew - two serious photographers

    Last moments before cremation

    That evening we had dinner at Honmono Sushi.  In attendance were Van, Konie, Aunt Ting, Mai, Thom, Paega, Songfang and his friend Pieak.  It was pretty good but pricey.

    Dinner at Honmono Sushi

    Monks in attendance of grandma's cremation included Venerable Settakit, Vichanao, Pramot, and Sombat whom I first met when I was a monk.


    It rained pretty heavily and for quite some time in the morning.  I awoke in the middle of the night in pain as I tweaked my lower back.  I tried feverishly to stretch it out but the pain wasn't completely gone.  I finally arose from bed at 7:25 am to find out that we were leaving in 5 minutes.  I quickly threw on whatever I could grab.  I went with my parents to Wat Tadtong.

    Once there along with some family members, the bony remains of grandma was laid out in a human form.  Each of us took a bottle of oil and sprinkled it from feet to head and then hand to head while wishing her the best in her new life.  My mom and Aunt Ting then tossed coins to the awaiting masses.  The leftover flowers in the receptacle that held the coins and flowers were then spread onto grandma's remains.  Finally all were wrapped up and placed into an urn.  A smaller portion was folded in a cloth and will be taken back to Aunt Ting's.

    Left: Grandma's remains Right: Grandma with coins and petals

    Left: Aunt Ting tossing coins to anxious mass Right: Grandma in a wrapped urn

    My parents, Thom, and I drove to Wat Panitaram in Chachoengsao.  I carried the urn with me.  I told grandma in my mind that this is our last road trip...that this time we're going home.  Chachoengsao is where my father's side of the family is from.  My grandma along with my dad and Aunt Ting lived here for many years.

    Though the rain has stopped since early morning, the remaining clouds did provide us a tad of relief i.e. the day was not as hot as it could have been.  I'm still sweating a storm but at least it's not scorching.

    At Wat Panitaram there were a good number of relatives present plus my father's old friends Somsit and Mayuri.  This temple is situated next to the Bangpakong River.  At the little dock nearby was a small boat with a long motor.  Besides the driver, only two persons could fit so it was decided it would be my father and Aunt Ting.  They boarded boat which took them towards the other bank.  Once in the middle of the water the boat stopped.  My father and aunt said a last blessing and then Aunt Ting lowered the urn into the river.  Grandma has returned home.

    Left: Pier at Wat Panitaram Right: Relatives, friends, and family near the pier at Wat Panitaram

    Dad and Aunt Ting taking grandma to the Bangpakong River.  She will be released here.

    After the boat brought them back, we all had lunch inside the conference room at the temple.  There were lots of dishes that came one after another...Chinese style.  What I recalled were roast duck, hoi jaw, three-flavored fish, a steamed fish (that had lots of bones), crab fried rice, fish maw soup, bua loy, some sort of seafood dish, and po taek (I think).  That steamed fish was nearly the end of me.  I didn't know initially how many little bones there were in the meat so when I swallowed it, a bone got lodged in my throat.  I could not force it out so I excused myself from the table and went to the men's room.  There I proceeded to vigorously reach down my throat to pull it out.  That was not fun.

    Left: lunch Right: Sleepy Songfang

    We then went to Pee Maew's place.  She has a collection of dhatus (a.k.a. Buddha relics) at her place.  It was quite impressive.  What I liked was that the room for the dhatus is air conditioned.  I stayed in the practically the whole time.

    P'Maew's collection of dhatus and Buddha statues

    The clouds have gone away.  There is no more shielding from the scorching sun.  My folks, Aunt Joon, and I then went to Wat Samanrattanaram.  Also there were Pee Jim, Pee Jam, and Pee Maew.  Pee Pod and Pee Pann came too in a separate vehicle.  This temple features large statues.  The first one is the largest statue of Rahula in Thailand.  Ancient Thais believed that the lunar eclipse is caused by Rahula swallowing the moon.  This statue features Rahula with the moon partially in its mouth.  Near Rahula was Indra riding a three-headed elephant.  Amidst Indian music in the background, we made our way to the largest Ganesha statue in the world.  The pedestal that Ganesha lies on is a store that pretty much sells anything and everything Ganesha.  It was nice and cool.  My mom doesn't fare well with high heat so she decided to stay here until we were finished.  Aunt Joon stayed with her.


    Largest Rahula statue in Thailand

    Inside the Ganesha shop

    Left: Ganesha and Guan Im Right: Outside of Ganesha shop which is the pedestal for Ganesha

    World's largest statue of Ganesha.  In front of it are people whispering their hopes and aspirations into giant rats' ears.

    My father manned the video camera while I took care of the digital camera.  Near Ganesha were rat statues.  People would whisper their desires in the ears of the rats and then placed or poured something onto it.  I don't know the real significance of the rats but have a theory.  I believe rats were the animal symbol of Shiva so asking one is like asking Shiva.

    We then walked over to a very large statue of Guam Im, a Chinese Bodhisattva.  The areas around it were still under construction so we didn't get too close to it.

    Guan Im

    My father and I then walked the opposite direction to a covered plaza that featured a large plate with a pretty large alms bowl in the middle.  According to the nearby sign, its the largest plate of mango and sticky rice in the world.  I guess it comes in handy for the mango festival.  Today it challenges people to toss coins into the alms bowl stating if you manage to get 3 in there then your wish will come true sooner than expected.  If you get 2 then it will come when expected.  If you get 1 then it will come later than expected.  If you don't make any, then it won't come true.  I didn't use any of my own coins.  I just grabbed any in the plate that's within reach and made 3 in 4 shots.

    The large plate

    We stopped by a nearby pavilion with 5 Buddha statues and a small Ganesha riding a large rat.  We got candles, incense, coins, and gold leaf and made an offering to each.  The candle we placed where designated.  The incense we lit and placed in a large incense urn.  We affixed gold leaf to each of the 5 Buddhas and placed 4 coins in each of the alms bowl next to each Buddha.  The Ganesha statue riding a giant ratis over 1,000 years old.

    Left: 5 Buddha statues Right: 1,000 year-old Ganesha riding a giant rat

    We walked back to the car.  The heat was really something.  I haven't sweated this heavily in a very long time.  Due to this my dad and I each got a home made coconut ice cream from a nearby vendor.  We also passed a "chick seer".  Basically there are cards holding your fortune.  A baby chicken would then pull a card with its beak and that's your fortune.  I didn't partake but it looks interesting and amusing.

    Baby chick fortune teller.  Do you believe?

    We left the temple.  En route back my mom wanted kanom pia so we stopped at a place called Tung Seng Jua.  My dad and I just bought beverages due to the heat.

    Finally we made it back to Aunt Ting's.  There my father, Thom, and I flipped though the TV channels and caught the exciting conclusions to Dante's Peak and Reign of Fire.

    In the evening for dinner we went to an Italian eatery called Bacco.  It's in the neighborhood where Dr. Uan and his parents stay.  They were present along with Mai, Thom, Van, Konie, Paega, and Songfang.  I had a minestrone, chicken involtino, and a popeye calzone (ham, spinach, mozzarella).  It was all pretty good.


    I woke up in the middle of the night with a pretty severe crimp on the right side of my neck.  I immediately replaced the pillow I was using with a flatter one.  This would be a pain that would bother me the rest of the day.  It rained again this morning.

    My parents, Van, and I went to Foodland Supermarket on Ladprao to meet with my mom's sisters Aunt Taew and Tim.  We had lunch at Took Lae Dee restaurant inside the market.  Afterwards mom shopped for some items.

    We came back to Aunt Ting's.  Konie was out and about with Aunt Ting.  Van took advantage of the swimming pool.  It's a great way to chill out from the hot days.  I deferred this time because I was headed out soon.

    At 4:55 pm Pee Pod's driver picked up my parents and me.  We headed for Chulalongkorn University to pick up Pee Pod who is a professor there.  We then went to a renowned open space called Sanamluang.  There we went to check out the Royal Crematorium set up there.  It was erected this time to cremate Princess Bejaratana Rajasuda, the only daughter of King Rama VI.  The cremation took place on April 9th.  However the crematorium was still there.

    Democracy Monument - passed by it along the way

    P'Pod, dad, mom, and I at Sanamluang

    It was nice to arrive in the late afternoon because there wasn't scorching sun anymore.  This crematorium (called Phra Main) is a great example of classical Thai architecture.  It was very ornate, tall, and pretty.  One one side of it was a beautiful array of flowers.  One the opposite end was a picture of the late princess with Wat Phra Kaew in the background.  There was a warm wind blowing about throughout our time there.  In the sky were several kites including a jula (known from Thai kite fights) and a large cobra kite.  When the sky darkened into night, all the kites but the cobra one had lights that lit up so they appeared as flickering light patterns in the night sky.

    Left: Giant cobra kite Right: Giant cobra kite with three lit jula kites

    Floral arrangement


    Phra Main

    Left: Mom with picture of the late Princess Bejaratana Rajasuda Right: P'Pod with the departed royal highness

    There was music playing throughout.  We first thought it was recorded music.  Once we made it all the way around Phra Main, we heard applause after a song was completed.  That's when we knew there was an actual orchestra and singer there.  We went to check it out.  My mother really enjoyed it.

    Live music and singer

    As usual my dad manned the video camera and I snapped photos.  All of us really enjoyed it due to the ornate beauty of Phra Main.  It was great that Pee Pod invited us to see it because a couple days later it was taken apart.  These royal crematoriums are only erected in time of need.

    We had dinner at S&P near the banks of the Chao Phraya River.  I enjoyed a kao soy with chicken leg.

    Once back at Aunt Ting's, I conked out in bed.


    For breakfast Konie made pad see ew for Van, me, and herself.

    At around 11:20 am Nu, a friend of Paega, picked up the three of us plus Paega for lunch.  It was a slow drive through the streets of Bangkok.  It also didn't help that Nu's air conditioner was either not-so-great or needed a freon refill.  It did allow us to catch up on old times.  Nu visited us back in the latter quarter of 2011.  Konie spent most of the time with her and I took her to Disneyland one day.

    We arrived at Siam Paragon which is a mall.  Inside we went to Four Seasons, a Chinese restaurant.  We had to wait a little bit before there was space.  During the wait, we saw my Aunt Tim just leaving and all were happily surprised to see one another.  Finally seated, we enjoyed roast duck, barbecue pork, tofu, fish, Peking duck, and fried squid with spicy salt.  Food was quite tasty.

    Lunch at Four Seasons with Paega, Nu, Konie, and Van

    Still at Siam Paragon we shopped at Gourmet Market as Konie needed to pick up some needed items.  I bought the same body wash for Songfang to replenish the bottle he had which I had nearly used up.  We then had dessert at Swensens, an ice cream place.  Konie, Nu, and Paega had what's called the mango sensation.  I had a banana float while Van enjoyed a sundae.  Simply put, Van and I followed wherever the girls wanted to go.

    Paega wanted us to try what she regards as the best fresh spring rolls in Thailand.  Due to this we stopped at the Bangkok Polo Club.  It was very good.  The girls also enjoyed some durian ice cream.  We returned to Aunt Ting's at 5:25 pm.

    An hour later Aunt Ting took my parents and I to dinner.  Van and Konie declined as they are still full.  Instead they took a dip in the pool which we are grateful Aunt Ting has because it's so hot here especially this time of the year.

    We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant called Boonpochana.  She wanted us to try it because she felt the fare may be a bit different from what we are accustomed to.  We had duck intestine, yum with tofu and thousand year-old eggs, fried rice, boiled chicken with lemon sauce, and sauteed beans.  The food was good.  The duck intestine was exquisite especially the broth it came it.


    I woke up in the middle of the night sweating.  It turned out the air conditioner died on me.  I moved to the room next to Songfang's.  The pad offered virtually no support so I'm essentially sleeping on the hard wooden floor.  Due to this my sleep was very inconsistent.  I awoke sore in many places.

    After breakfast Van and Konie went with Aunt Ting.  My folks and I went to visit Aunt Taew.  We dropped off some mangosteens that Uncle Piak dropped off for us.  All of us then went to lunch at one of the Kao Mun Gai (chicken and rice) places opened by noted Thai comedian Koh Tee.  It was a good meal as you get a good deal of food at an affordable price.  Kitchen area is visible to all as I can see that business is good.  There is nonstop chopping of chicken and putting it and rice in boxes as to-go orders never seem to end.  The eating area here is roomy and air conditioned.  I wanted to try this when I heard of it and wasn't disappointed.  I look forward to coming back the next time I come.

    Kho Kao Mun Gai

    In the afternoon Van and I swam from about 2 pm to 4 pm.  At 6 pm Pieak drove my folks and I to Hong Deng Long for another Chinese dinner.  Aunt Ting drove Van and Konie.  Paega and Dr. Uan drove themselves.  Songfang arrived when we were all pretty much done eating.  There was tasty fried shrimp, soups (egg drop, hot and sour, won ton), special half deep fried mini tsa chiu bao, sauteed beans, and much more.  It was scrumptious.

    Aunt Ting drove my folks and I back home.


    Top put on more sheets onto my sleeping pad for more cushion.  It's more bearable but still not as comfy as a futon.

    Konie went shopping with Aunt Ting.  My parents embarked to Wat Mahathat.  I decided to check out the new mall Terminal 21 and invited Van.

    Top dropped us off at Huamark station.  We took the Airport Link and connected with the Skytrain to Terminal 21.  This is not as big as the other Bangkok malls but was pretty neat in that each floor was was a different city.  They were Paris, Rome, London, Tokyo, Istanbul, and San Francisco.  Van had an iced coffee at an Auntie Anne's stand.  I had a very syrupy strawberry lemonade.

    Terminal 21

    On the London floor we hit the men's room.  It was quite neat as it was designed to resemble the London Underground, the famed subway there.

    San Francisco occupies two floors separated as Street and Pier.  It is the dining floors of this mall.  We saw a Yoshinoya and ate there.  The food is the same but everything is served in porcelain bowls, not Styrofoam boxes.

    Yoshinoya at Terminal 21

    Afterwards Van took me to Mango Tango for dessert.  I had a Mango Delight which is mango with mango ice cream smothered with mango sauce.  Van tried to pay with a 1,000 baht bill.  The cashier asked if he had something smaller.  He wound up paying with smaller bills.  However the cashier did not return the 1,000 baht bill.  Van asked for it back.  They swore they handed it to him.  We checked our pockets, money clips, and wallets.  Sure enough it wasn't there.  Van figure it's not worth it to make too big a deal of it because it's not enough money to fight over.  We were both upset.  We finished our dessert and walked out.  Van said that's the most expensive dessert ever.

    Elevated walkways

    BTS Skytrain

    He then asked what else I wanted to do.  I decided on checking out the Victory Monument to which there is a train stop so we once again boarded the BTS Skytrain.  From the elevated walkway that goes around the monument we were able to view and snap some photos.

    Victory Monument

    I don't know what the heck these guys are

    We then walked to the next station.  Along the way we passed by the Channel 5 TV station which belongs to the army.  There was a tank parked out in front of the gate.  We finally arrived at Sanam Pao station.  We took the train back to Huamark Station.  Van asked if I wanted to take a taxi or walk.  Despite the record heat I have no idea to this day why in the world I decided to hoof it back.  That was a bad idea.  I sweated nonstop as my gray shirt kept getting darker and darker as it got more drenched.  We stopped at Seven-Eleven for water.  Towards the last corner Van dumped the rest of his water on me.  Man, that felt good.

    At the Army-run Channel 5

    Hoofin' it in the hot sun

    We finally got back to Aunt Ting's.  Van immediately got into the pool.  I rested in front of an air conditioner for a while then joined him.  My goodness I'm overjoyed there is a swimming pool here.  Konie later joined us in the pool.  

    Tonight there will be a big dinner as relatives gather.  Uncle Piak was there first.  He chewed the fat with my folks.  Aunt Joon also came over.  Also present were Pee Pod, Pee Pann along with my friend Todd and his girl Ooh, Pieak, Nu, and Aunt Ting's friend Mai.  Konie's friends Nun, Oay, and Muay were there, too.  Jap and Jimmy, the singers I befriended the year before, were also present.  There was tons of food - satay, ribs, papaya salad, chicken wings, fudge-covered rice kristy treats,  cupcakes, ice cream with french toast, kai toon (steamed eggs with ground meat), spicy noodles, and much more.


    Left: Songfang, Paega, and Nu Right: Nu with her potent potable

    Left: Todd and Ooh Right: Jimmy, P'Pod, and mom

    Left: Nun, [I don't know}, Oay Right: Me with Jap and Jimmy

    Left: Dr. Uan digging in Right: Busy kitchen

    Satay and Konie's treats

    Later Pieak and Songfang went to watch "Cabin in the Woods".  I stayed to keep entertaining guests.  After midnight, once almost all were gone, I conked out.


    This is the first time since arriving in Bangkok that I actually slept throughout the night.  It's nice for this night but worrisome since later tonight I'll be flying back.  After breakfast I packed.

    We all joined Aunt Tim, Aunt Taew, and Konie's friends Nun and Oay for lunch at Chatuchak Cafe at the Centara Grand at Central Plaza Hotel.  It was an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Most of the food was Thai.  It was quite good.

    Lunch at Chatuchak Cafe at Centara Grand Hotel

    Artwork at the Centara Grand Hotel

    Aunt Taew and my parents

    That evening Van, Konie, Aunt Joon, and I took off on Thai Airways around 7:56 pm from Suvarnabhumi Airport.  I watched the conclusion of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  On this flight I would also watch The Artist and Quantum of Solace.  I watched most of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol before we landed.  I ate chicken palo with noodles and ravioli for my meals.  I actually slept a lot on this flight which was great.  It was indeed a very good flight.

    We arrived at LAX in the evening.  Van, Konie, and I then drove home.

    I will always miss my grandmother.  She lived a long, happy life.  I am privileged to know her like I do.

    Farewell grandma


February 27, 2012

  • Presidents' Day 2012


    My brother Van dropped my mom and I off at Thailand Plaza on Hollywood Boulevard at around 7:17 am.  At 7:30 am, a Fast Deer Charter bus picked us along with some others up.  Once again we are embarking on a vacation package from President Tours.

    While en route to Wat Thai of Los Angeles for the last pickup, tour leader Pichian Rojsiriwat handed out a croissant and a small bottle of water to everyone.  The croissant was light, buttery, and quite tasty.  At 8 am we arrived at Wat Thai.  It stopped for a little while here because most of the people on this tour boarded here plus Pichian allowed for people to use the restrooms.

    We arrived at Union Station at around 9 am.  Our train was scheduled to depart at 10:15 am so there was some time to kill.  I went around snapping some photos of Union Station.  We were happy to learn that my mom's friend Tassanee Nishimi and her husband George were also on this trip.

    Left: Tassanee Nishimi with mom in background.  Right: Me at fountain outside Union Station

    Union Station

    My mom bought a couple of little cakes from a magazine and newspaper shop inside Union Station.  Seeing that there was still time, I used the men's room and then dragged my mom to Famima!!  My mom regretted buying those cakes because the selection here was so much better including char siu bao that Van told me about.  I bought a corn dog for 99 cents.

    Close to departure time Pichian gathered everyone and took us out to the track.  It turned out that our train was delayed so we just waited until it arrived.  It finally did and we took off at 10:35 am aboard the Amtrak Coast Starlight Superliner.  As I got on board I saw in an adjacent room there were video games.

    Ordinarily this train would head up north via a track that would take us past coastal locales like Santa Barbara.  However, due to track improvement projects, this train would take a different route that cut through Saugus and Palmdale.  It ran along hillsides and snaked through the hills in those locales.  It did stop several times for passing freight trains.  I found that quite annoying.  It was quite rural in these hills.  The locals along the track would snap photos at our train.  It led me to believe that perhaps the Amtrak doesn't come through these parts very often.  Others would wave at us.  Some of us waved back though I'm not sure if they saw us.

    In order to save some money, my mom packed lunch and dinner for the two of us.  My mom had rice with Chinese sausage around 10 am.  At around 1 pm I ate a homemade hamburger.  She cooks a mean burger patty!

    My mom was already not too well before this day.  Some people wondered if she should have even come at all.  In the morning she was all right but now she's getting worse.  She is suffering from flu-like symptoms - body aches, sniffling, headaches, fevers.  She did not feel like going anywhere and tried to get some sleep.

    I went downstairs to kill time with some video games.  It turned out they did not work.  I put a quarter in and it came right out.  What a gip!

    Non-working video games on board

    The lounge car was pretty nice.  It offers bigger windows and windows along the top edges of the bogie allowing for a better viewing experience of the surroundings.  Downstairs was a little shop where you can purchase snacks and beverages.  I utilized this several times.

    Lounge car


    We passed by fields of small trees with many pink and white flowers.  They reminded me of cherry blossoms.  As for these, I am not sure what they are.  My guess is apricot.

    The skies began to darken.  We passed by several cattle ranches.  Later on a mysterious flock of black birds all took off together.  It looked a bit eerie.

    Around 7 pm I had another hamburger for dinner and spent most of the rest of the train ride killing time via listening to my iPod.

    At 8 pm our train stopped.  Then it began going backwards.  I along with many others wondered what was happening.  Turns out our train was on the wrong track.  It had to go back far enough where it could switch tracks and get onto the right one.  I was really wondering when we will ever get to Oakland.  I didn't see any way we were making it at the scheduled 9:15 pm arrival time.

    At long last we finally arrived in Oakland at 10:35 pm.  There was a chilly breeze blowing onto us as we walked to our bus.  Some guy was begging for money there.  After riding in a train (or any vehicle) for 12 hours, I'm not in the mood to do anything let alone hand out money to someone who'd probably use it for booze, or drugs, or whatever.

    We arrive in Oakland

    At 11:35 pm we arrived at Days Hotel, our residence for the next two nights.  Outside our window we could see Oracle Arena and the O.co Coliseum nearby.  Oracle Arena is the home court of the NBA's Golden State Warriors.  O.co Coliseum is the home stadium of the NFL's Oakland Raiders and Major League Baseball's Oakland Athletics.

    O.co Coliseum - Home of the NFL's Oakland Raiders and MLB's Oakland Athletics

    Oracle Arena - Home of the NBA's Golden State Warriors

    My mother was miserable.  She said that if feels like this tomorrow morning, she'll just stay at the hotel.


    We woke up at 6 am.  My mom felt good enough to join the rest of us for today's excursion.  At 7 am we had "breakfast" at Charlie Chan Cafe which is a part of this hotel.  I saw the name and thought "Is this for real?"  I put breakfast in quotes because all they had were not-so-great danishes, cereal (corn flakes or Froot Loops), and do-it-yourself waffles.  There were only two waffle makers.  For a tour of 40 that's leaving in a half hour, who had the time?  The two words I would describe this breakfast are uninspiring and unfulfilling.

    Our ride and residence for the weekend

    Our "breakfast" place


    At 7:30 am we took off from our hotel en route to Leggett.  This was to be about a 3-hour drive.  I fell in and out of sleep as I was trying to admire the lush, green scenery outside.  Northern California is pretty green.  At around 9:15 am the bus stopped at McDonald's in Healdsburg, I think, for 20 minutes.  This is for people to use the restroom.  I not only did that but also had a sausage McMuffin with egg (my favorite breakfast sandwich), hash browns, and better orange juice than at the Charlie Chan Cafe.  Now I'm satisfied.

    We continued on.  We drove past colorful vineyards and hills adorned with various kinds of trees.  As we drove into Leggett, there were scenic hills and valleys covered with more trees and a bright sunny blue sky.  The weather was cool and absolutely ideal.  Then suddenly it got dark.  We had just driven into the redwood forest.  The sun now had difficulty penetrating all the way through due to the sheer height of the redwoods.

    Golden vineyards

    Shortly afterwards we arrived at Underwood Park which is the home of Judith Underwood.  This is a private park that has redwoods but the star attraction is one particular tree called the Chandelier Tree.  This 2400 year-old tree is the largest tree on the estate, so large that the bottom was hollowed out so a car can drive through it.  Our bus was way too big so we were let off to walk around and do whatever for an hour or so.

    It was pretty neat seeing how large and tall this tree is.  I took several photos while my mom used the restroom.  I snapped some photos of George and Tassanee, too.  My mom later emerged and we had our picture taken with the tree.

    George and Tassanee at Chandelier Tree

    Mom and I

    There are constant visitors to this park.  A car would occasionally appear.  All wanted to drive through the opening of the Chandelier Tree.  As a Mercedes convertible drove through, I took a picture to show it can be done.

    Coming through

    The Chandelier Tree

    Most of the people just hung around the Chandelier Tree.  Others perused the gift shop.  I decided to back track where our bus came in and found a little trail that led past a lot of redwoods.  I decided to walk through and loved it.  I felt like I was in the presence of giants.  The combination of seeing these tall trees plus the cool air and forest surroundings provided a bliss and majesty I rarely experience.  I think I was the only one to explore this much of this park.

    Photos from around a path I found

    Left: George and Tassanee Right: yours truly

    Left: bird I saw nearby.  Right: mom

    We left Underwood Park at around 12:30 pm.  At 1:35 pm we arrived in a small town called Willits.  Most of us had lunch at the Willits Chinese Buffet.  It was your typical Chinese buffet.  As I was eating I also saw that the Miami Heat were killing the Orlando Magic on TV.  I also learned that Linsanity continued as Jeremy Lin scored 28 points and dished out 14 assists as the New York Knicks defeated the Dallas Mavericks. 104-97.  With some time before departing, we went the the McDonald's nearby.  My mom used the restroom as she is once again not well.  I bought a sweet tea.  Man, I got a lot more tea than I thought I'd get for a dollar.  It was very tasty, too.

    Scenic view outside our bus around Leggett

    Our lunching place

    Willits, CA

    We headed back to San Francisco.  Pichian played some games and had some people sing to entertain and kill time during this trek.  My mom wanted me to sing but I did not feel like it.  I wanted to sleep.  After all the games and singers were done, Pichian put on the Beatles' greatest hits.  Due to that, there was no need for my iPod.  You can't go wrong with the Beatles.  When were around Sausalito, we hit very heavy traffic.  Our bus crawled the rest of the way as the Golden Gate Bridge came into view.  I kept snapping photos of the bridge and Alcatraz Island which I could see to my left.  Eventually our bus crawled onto the bridge and over it.

    Left: Alcatraz Island Right: San Francisco

    Golden Gate Bridge

    Shortly after we crossed the bridge we passed by my favorite place in San Francisco, the Palace of Fine Arts.  I snapped whatever pictures I could.

    Palace of Fine Arts

    One definitely knows they are in San Francisco just from the buildings.  Mostly the architecture is Victorian which features windows that jut out in half-hexagons.  Some are more rounded.  With a bunch of these in a row plus the different colors of the buildings makes this city one of the prettiest.  San Francisco also has many steep hills.

    San Francisco

    We passed by a street car.  I haven't figured out all the settings to this somewhat new camera we are using so while we were in motion it was hard to snap a good photo.  It's why so many of my pictures are so blurry.

    We were supposed to visit Chinatown for an hour.  Perhaps we can get dinner or something.  It was between 5 pm and 6 pm.  However due to the traffic, we were unable to park the bus so Chinatown was scrapped from the itinerary. 

    An entrance to Chinatown

    Our bus then proceeded through the financial district and eventually got onto the Bay Bridge.  Pichian decided to park the bus at Treasure Island.  It is situated in the bay between San Francisco and Oakland and offers a pretty view of San Francisco and the connecting Bay Bridge.  To the right in the distance is the Golden Gate Bridge.  My mom has had it and wanted nothing more than returning to the hotel.  I got off and snapped photos despite the cold winds.

    Left: Tassanee Right: Golden Gate Bridge

    Left: me with San Francisco and Bay Bridge in the background Right: San Francisco

    View from Treasure Island

    Bridge to Oakland

    We crossed over into Oakland and the bus dropped most people at the Denny's near the hotel.  My mom and I plus a few others decided to skip Denny's and returned to the Days Hotel.  My mom got in bed right away.  I just relaxed in my bed and watched a very entertaining game between the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder.  It went into overtime and the Thunder won behind Kevin Durant's career high 51 points and Russell Westbrook's 40 points.

    I then had dinner at Charlie Chan Cafe.  I had kung pao chicken with steamed rice and a cheesecake.  The kung pao chicken was a tad mild flavor-wise.  However the texture was great - not dry and not overcooked.  It was soft and tender and good to chew on.  It's nice that dinner was way better than "breakfast"

    I dropped seven quarters into a vending machine for a bottle of water and returned to my room.  I did want to walk over to O.co Coliseum and Oracle Arena to take some photos up close but chose to stay with my ailing mom.  I was glad to visit Underwood Park and see the Chandelier Tree.  However I was hoping for more.  I am hoping that tomorrow will be a more productive day.  I ended the night by watching "War of the Worlds" on TNT.


    I got up around 5:50 am.  We packed and went down for "breakfast".  My mom had a danish.  I had a small bowl of corn flakes.  Whoopee!!

    At 7 am we are now aboard our bus.  Shortly we departed.

    It was a cool, overcast day in San Francisco.  We arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge and Pichian gave us an hour and ten minutes here.  My mom, not feeling well, stayed on the bus.  I went out and snapped photos and had others take pictures of me.  Seeing there was time, I decided to get on the bridge.  This is when I realized that all the times I had been to San Francisco I had never walked onto the bridge.  I was on board a car crossing it but never walking onto it so this was going to be special.

    Left: facts Right: cable

    Me with the Golden Gate Bridge

    As I walked onto it I saw a fort below that I had never noticed before.  I wondered if it was the Presidio.  I came to learn that it was called Fort Point.  On the bridge I snapped photos of Alcatraz, San Francisco, the bridge itself, and the Pacific Ocean.  I told myself that I was actually here walking on the Golden Gate Bridge.  A couple of women on our tour walked back past me and said they went halfway.  I thought it would be a good idea to do the same.

    Fort Point

    Left: San Francisco Right: Alcatraz Island

    I'm on the Golden Gate Bridge!

    I got to midway between the first tower and the midpoint of the bridge when I saw a rain cloud in the distance plus I needed to use the restroom so I turned back.  As I hurriedly walked back, I would notice a sprinkle here and there.  I definitely didn't want to be stuck on a bridge in a rainstorm so I quickened my pace.

    Due to the number of suicides via jumping off this bridge, I did notice signs and a phone one can call for crisis counseling.  It was trippy but sad.

    I got to a restroom but it was closed for morning cleaning.  Seeing no other restroom around, I poked my head in and saw nobody inside.  I then walked to the urinal to take care of business.

    The bus then left and it turned out we're leaving San Francisco.  That did not sit well with me.  Other than one end of the Golden Gate Bridge, I did not set one foot in San Francisco this entire trip.  It was still the morning and I felt there was plenty of time to still see something.  I didn't care what it was but at least something.

    Telegraph Hill with Coit Tower atop

    A couple hours later we stopped somewhere for 20 minutes so people can use the restroom at Carl's Jr.  There were too many people there so I walked across the street to Jack-in-the-Box.  I also bought mini-pancakes.

    The rest of the way back to Los Angeles Pichian shows a DVD of a Thai TV show called Khun Phra Chuay.  It's a variety show featuring various talented acts but one that is pretty popular is an old Thai musical style called Choy.  It's like an ancient Thai rap that's set to a beat but is intended to be funny.  I got to admit, it was pretty funny and got people on the bus laughing.

    At 11:35 am we stopped at Villa Lago for lunch.  The bus stopped at Burger King.  I had a big fish while my mom had some sort of chicken sandwich.  With 20 minutes left my mom suggested I use the restroom.  I thought it was a good idea so I did.

    At Tejon Ranch we stopped at Petro one last time before the last jaunt to Los Angeles.  I used the restroom and bought a chocolate shake at Wendy's.

    We got to Thailand Plaza at 5 pm.  My sister-in-law Konie picked us up.

    This trip did not turn out as I had hoped.  I am disappointed by President Tours for not dropping us off in San Francisco at all.  I enjoy train rides as much as the next person but this ride to Oakland was entirely too long.  I liked Underwood Park but thought we were going to Redwood National Park which is bigger and more spectacular.  Due to that, my expectations were sky high.  The only true positive I took from this trip was that I had enough points on one of my credit cards to cover it.

September 27, 2011

  • Thailand 2011


    At LAX my mother, Uncle Ton, and I ate some leftover Chicken McNuggets and fries we brought from home.  I also added a nacho chili cheese dog from Pink's for dinner.  My mother and uncle split a 2-item combo from Panda Express.  I enjoyed a grape and strawberry Crush to wash all of that down.

    We boarded a 11:30 pm Thai Airways flight en route to Bangkok, Thailand.  My mother and I flew premium economy.  Uncle Ton got an upgrade to business class.  This flight was far from full.  There were only 12 people in our section so we really spread ourselves out.  I occupied an entire aisle section which made it more comfortable.  Our first meal was chicken panang.  I then got some shut eye.

    Six hours later I awoke and watched Limitless.  Next I tried to watch Kung Fu Panda 2 but fell in and out of sleep due to fatigue.  I then watched Sucker Punch.  After shrimp fried rice for my second meal, I played some Metroid II and Mario Tennis Academy.  I foregone the third meal because I was starting to feel a bit nauseous.



    Due to crossing the International Date Line, there is no August 25th.  We arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok at 5:30 am which was an hour ahead of schedule.  My dad picked us up.  On, Uncle Ton's brother-in-law, picked up Uncle Ton.  My dad drove us to Aunt Ting's.  We had a breakfast of rice soup with fried fish.  I then visited my grandmother.  I learned her new personal caretaker is Jai.  My grandmother does not remember much, not even me.  A year ago I was the only thing she remembered vividly.  That's OK.  For all she has done for me, that I will never forget and will eternally be grateful.

    My folks and I had lunch at Nai Ngiab Bahn Suan.  It took awhile to find it due to some bad information but eventually we got there.  I had some smothered noodles (guai tiaw rod), pork satay, and tiny chicken wings.  My folks had boat noodle soup (guai tiaw reua).  Towards the end of our meal it rained hard.

    We then went to Aunt Taew's.  She is my mother's eldest sister.  Also there were Uncle Ton and Aunt Tim, my mom's  younger sister.  We all caught up on old times and such.  By 5 pm I felt incredibly drowsy as the jet lag had hit.

    We had dinner at Ruean Punya.  It rained really heavily that night along with flashes of lighting and thunder claps.  We enjoyed some haw mok, crab fried rice, fried fish cakes, fried shrimp cakes, three-flavored fish, and mango with sweet rice.  Due to the jet lag, I literally fell asleep in my seat at the restaurant.  We waited for the rain to subside before leaving.

    All in all it wasn't that bad weatherwise in that it was mostly overcast.  It was still humid as heck and there were spotty showers all day.


    I had some rice and steak for breakfast.  Later for lunch my father and I walked to a nearby eatery on Ramkamhaeng.  I had duck noodles and rice chapo.  On the way back we bought some fried bananas and quail egg treats from a curbside vendor.  Both were really good.

    That evening we attended the last night of funeral prayer for my late Uncle Singto.  The reason we all came to Thailand this time is to pay our respects to Uncle Singto.  The prayer was held at Wat Tadtong.  First I saw Uncle Ton and Aunt Taew.  Also there was Grandpa Toon who I have not seen in years.  Because Uncle Singto was a top exec at Honda, there were lots of Honda folks in attendance.  There is an aisle leading to the salas where the prayer took place.  Honda folks lined both sides of the aisle and greeted everybody who came.  Aunt Ting and her daughter Paega came a bit later.  Aunt Tim, Uncle Singto's widow, was busy meeting and greeting the various guests.

    Top left: Uncle Singto. Top right: Aunt Tim with mom, Aunt Ting, and Paega. Middle left: Uncle Singto's coffin. Middle right: Picture of Uncle Singto's book. Bottom left: mom, Aunt Ting, and Paega. Bottom right: Dad, Grandpa Toon, Uncle Ton, Aunt Taew

    Grandpa Toon, Uncle Ton, my dad, and my mom in front of Uncle Singto

    We had dinner at Took Lae Dee restaurant which is inside of Foodland Supermarket.


    At 6 am my dad went to pick up my brother Van and his wife Konie at the airport.  Once they arrived, soon afterwards a rented Urvan picked up my mom, Van, Konie, and me to Wat Tadtong.  This morning we went to make offerings to the monks there.

    Top left: Van and Konie. Top right: mom and Uncle Ton. Bottom left: monk giving sermon. Bottom right: mom and Uncle Ton and monks in the background

    Aunt Ting came a bit later.  She took Van and Konie somewhere.  My mom and I had lunch at Wat Tadtong.  We enjoyed some good homemade coconut ice cream.

    After lunch, we came back to Aunt Ting's.  Earlier that morning we learned that my dad's only remaining half-sister passed away.  My father went to Chachoengsao upon hearing this.

    In the afternoon after the Urvan picked up Aunt Taew, it came to pick up mom, Van, Konie, and me.  We arrived at Wat Tadtong at ~3 pm.  There were hundreds in attendance.  There were also cameras from Channel 7 and Grand Prix Channel.  I had to find spots to photograph while avoiding them plus other picture takers.  At 3:30 pm the coffin holding Uncle Singto lead a ceremonial procession that went around the cremation altar for 3 revolutions.  Afterwards it was placed upstairs near the cremation chamber.  Nearby were pictures of Uncle Singto and his book.  Aunt Tim,  Uncle Ton, and VIP's and Honda executives were the ones to place monk robes and flowers beneath the coffin.  Then all in attendance had their opportunity to place a corsage-like thing consisting of a flower and candle beneath the coffin.  When coming down the stairs, a bag with three books were passed out to everyone.  Once everyone was done, soon Uncle Singto was cremated.  My father, Aunt Ting, and Dr. Uan made it in time.

    Wat Tadtong

    Left: Van and Konie.  Right: right to left - Van, Uncle Ton, mom, Aunt Taew

    Floral arrangement

    Left to right: Aunt Tim, Aunt Taew, mom, Uncle Ton

    Left: Honda dignitaries.  Right: Mom and Dad

    Flowery things and monk robes to be placed at coffin by select people

    Left: an inkling of the multitude that attended.  Right: a couple of celebrities

    Left: Aunt Koi, Grandma Paw, Aunt Taew, mom.  Right: Aunt Koi

    Left: Grandma Paw.  Right: a rare photo of me

    Left: mom.  Right: mom, Dr. Uan, Van, Konie

    Aunt Tim, Van, and Konie

    Some of the masses in attendance

    Uncle Singto 

    Afterwards the Urvan dropped Van, Konie, my folks, and I off at Aunt Ting's.  Then it dropped off Aunt Taew and lastly Uncle Ton.  Van and Konie were tired from getting no sleep on the long flight, severe jet lag, and the oppressive heat and humidity of Bangkok.  Admittedly I was drained, too.  It was really humid.  Also it's not fun for Van and I to wear black suits in Bangkok.

    Top made dinner.  This night concluded with heavy rainfall amidst a thunderstorm.


    The same Urvan from yesterday picked us up at ~8:10 am.  It took my mom, dad, Van, Konie, and I to Sattaheeb.  En route, when we got close, the driver asked for directions many times from several locals until we finally located the pier.  When we got there, there was no sunshine.  It sprinkled amidst muggy, overcast skies.  It was also quite breezy.  Our boat had not arrived yet so we killed some time.  I ate a bag of Snack Jack and washed it down with an orange Fanta.  Honda's contingent were already there and some killed the time via cards.

    Left: Honda contingent killing time via playing cards.  Right: Pier at Sattaheeb

    Van and Konie

    Because Uncle Singto worked with Honda's motorcycle division, the Honda contingent lined up some motorcycles on the pier and posed with them with Uncle Singto's picture in the middle.  It made a most interesting picture.

    Finally the boat arrived.  It could accommodate ~60 people.  While most people descended down some stairs to board the boat from the bottom where they were supposed to, my dad and I hopped the upper level's barrier.  I think it was actually easier this way.  The boat took us out to sea to a section where we would be shielded from the wind via some islands.  At that point the captain began the ritual.  There was lots of prayer and ritual.  Just when I thought it was going to be done, there was more prayer and ritual.  It kept going on and on and on.  Considering how much there was, I thought this captain should have been wearing a monk's robe.  Egad!  I was videotaping at the front of the boat.  Due to the length of this ongoing ritual and the boat constantly swaying from the waves, a couple people quietly snuck to the front where I was and commented in Thai "I'm getting sick.  I can't take this much longer."  I told them to look at something far from us.

    All aboard

    FINALLY the ritual was done.  Uncle Singto's ashes were floated out to sea along with flower petals.  The boat made 3 revolutions around where the ashes were released.  It was our final farewell to our beloved uncle.  We then headed back to shore.

    Farewell Uncle Singto


    Back to shore

    We had lunch in Sattaheeb not too far from the pier.  It was an outdoor eatery that was very close to the water.  There was plenty of food.  Afterwards, I walked around and snapped some photos.  It was a very attractive eatery location.

    Our lunch spot

    While everyone headed back to Bangkok, my father felt that since we were passing Pattaya that we should visit the Santuary of Truth.  He thought it would be something we would all enjoy.  Personally I had never heard of it so did not know what to expect.  It was my mom, dad, Uncle Ton, Van, Konie, and I.

    Once our van arrived, I beheld a tall, large wooden temple-like structure that simply blew my mind.  I was awestruck at the size and how everything from the walls, poles, roofs, and doors was so ornately crafted.  We took a guided tour.  Our guide is both informative and funny.  I came to learn that this was a completely wooden structure that has been under construction for the last 30 years.  It is still unfinished and will take another estimated 20 years until completion.  Regardless, what is there so far has been simply awe-inspiring.  Due to it being under construction, we had to wear hard hats before entering.  The architecture combines imagery from several religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, and Brahmin beliefs.  The inside is as impressive as the outside.  There is so much detail in everything.  This is one of the most magnificent structures I have ever beheld.  I would love to come back to see it once it is complete.

    Sanctuary of Truth: the outside

    Sanctuary of Truth: the inside

    On the way back to Bangkok, our driver was driving very fast.  Bridges in Thailand are not smooth.  When you get on a bridge and get off, it is typically a hump with bumps you will feel.  Construction of these are pretty shoddy.  Due to that, it would be best to slow down a tad so to not go airborne or at least have a smoother ride.  Not our driver though.  Every bridge we crossed was like KITT from "Knight Rider" after hitting Turbo Boost.  Uncle Ton was terrified.  After we got to Aunt Ting's, Na Ton told him off and refused to ride with him any further.

    For dinner at Aunt Ting's, it was a night of trying some western delicacies.  Paega and Dr. Uan were present along with their friends First and Note.


    Van, Konie, my mom, and I went to Suvarnabhumi Airport.  We had breakfast at McDonald's.  I had a double sausage and egg McMuffin.  My mom instead had ramen at another eatery in the food court.

    We took off via Air Asia at 11:20 am en route to Chiangmai.  It was a short but memorable flight.  This Air Asia flight has cute flight attendants and one smoking hot one.  She should be in magazines or on TV or the silver screen.  I should have snapped a photo or two of her.

    Konie's aunt Lek picked us up at the airport via her pickup truck.  We checked into the Shangri-La Hotel.  This place was fabulous.  Great view of the rest of the hotel.  Luxurious bathroom.  Air conditioning!  Man, I could have slept here joyfully for the rest of this trip.

    View from our room at the Shangri-La

    Room at the Shangri-La

    A little later on Lek picked us up and took us to Central Airport Plaza Mall.  Inside we had lunch at MK Restaurant.  This is a widespread chain serving Thai suki.  Afterwards my mom bought some new shoes because hers had a broken string and was coming apart.

    Van and Konie wanted to go to Tiger Kingdom so Tiger Kingdom it is.  The appeal here is that visitors get to be inside enclosures with real live tigers.  We are always accompanied by a caretaker at Tiger Kingdom to ensure our safety.  We first went to see the big tigers.  My mom was the first to rub her hand on a tiger lying on its side.  She was apprehensive at first but finally did so.  Konie went next, then me, and finally Van.  Admittedly I was a bit nervous considering this powerful creature can kill me in an instant.  I then got descended onto my knees and slowly and gently placed my hands on the tiger's side.  Its fur is so soft and very smooth to the touch.  For my mom, this first tiger was enough.  Van, Konie, and I went to see the other 2 big tigers in this enclosure.  I kept videotaping but was wary every time one started to move towards me.  We got some decent photos.

    Next up the three of us went to the baby tiger enclosure.  We had to change out of our shoes and wear the sandals they provided to enter this enclosure.  This one had the most people since most people are drawn to cute little tigers, though personally I preferred my time with the big ones.  Konie went first.  She petted a little tiger and even fed it via baby bottle.  I was next and lastly Van.

    It was hot.  After our time with the tigers, we reconvened with my mom and Lek.  My mom had bought some cold beverages.  While drinking it, I watched some people dipping their feet into fish tanks.  These little fish would nibble away at the dead skin and other stuff on your feet and in essence a pedicure.  I kind of thought about that but in the end deferred.

    Examples I pulled from the internet

    In the evening, we walked to a roadside stand that sells rotee.  Van tells me that every time they come to Chiangmai Konie always frequents it.  We then rode in the back of a rot krapong (covered mini-pickup) back to the Shangri-La Hotel.  We had dinner at a restaurant inside called Kad Kafe.  It was a buffet.  I had an assortment of things including some red curry.  My sausage pizza wasn't what I expected as the sausages were actually hot dog wieners.  The cheese was good though.

    One thing about Chiangmai that I noticed quickly.  It wasn't as congested as Bangkok.  Still hot and humid.


    In the morning my mom and I snapped some photos of the Shangri-La.  

    The Shangri-La Hotel

    All of us then took a taxi to the airport.  There we had breakfast at Burger King.  It was pretty pricey there.  At 9:50 am we took a flight aboard Nok Air to Mae Hong Son, a city near the Burmese border.  The flight was only 30 minutes aboard this propeller-powered plane.  When I got off the plane, it was really hot.

    Mom with cutouts at Chiangmai International Airport

    Our ride to Mae Hong Son

    A gentleman named Ma picked us up.  My mom wanted to eat so Ma took us to Kaimook Restaurant.  I ate hoi jaw.  Afterwards Ma took us sightseeing.  First he took us to a temple called Wat Jongkam.  It is a pretty temple and very representative of Burmese-style stupas.  Van and I snapped photos quickly because the sun was scorching.  This is the hottest we felt in Thailand on this trip.  Being out in the sun and in the shade felt like a 20 degree difference.  In the background we could see another temple, Wat Phrataddoigongmu atop a hill.  All of us but Konie had been there before.

    Wat Jongkam

    Ma took us up the hill to Wat Phrataddoigongmu next.  As our vehicle ascended the hill, I noticed the sunlight decreasing.  Once we were up there, it was completely overcast.  My mom was tired so she stayed in the car.  Van, Konie, and I went to check out Wat Phrataddoigongmu.  It began to rain lightly.  From here we could see the view below including Wat Jongkam and the lake across from it.  This is my third time here but the most in depth I had spent here.  I allowed me to more closely appreciate the beauty of this temple.

    View from Wat Phrataddoigongmu

    Wat Phrataddoigongmu

    Ma next took us to Fish Cave.  Once got there, it was raining cats and dogs.  Van and I have seen the Fish Cave but not Konie.  While in this torrent Van asked if it was a long walk to the Fish Cave.  I said half a kilometer which is considerable in this rainstorm.  We then returned to the car figuring perhaps some other time.

    We finally arrived at Wat Pa Tum Wua Forest Monastery.  We were greeted by Abbot Venerable Luang Ta Saiyud.  We talked to him and he gave us a Phra Sungkajai charm.  I thought about checking out the premises but did not as it poured again and again and again.  It rained all day all night.

    Van about to snap picture of Venerable Luang Ta Saiyud, Konie, and mom

    Wat Pa Tum Wua

    Van and I stayed at one kuti and my mom and Konie in a separate kuti.  Being a kuti, there is no television, chairs, nor beds.  We were provided with sleeping pads.  Van covered his with his handy portable mosquito net.  I got to admit...a mosquito net is a person's best friend in this part of the world.  There's nothing like peace of mind when sleeping.  For a forest monastery we had electricity and hot water.  That is more than most can expect.  Unfortunately there was a period when power went out.  It meant Van took a cold shower.

    We had dinner at 5:30 pm.  The diet here is vegetarian though it's one of the best vegetarian food I've had - tasty and spicy.  The drawback is the dining hall is open air.  Being in a mountainous jungle, the place is full of mosquitoes.  Van and I got bitten numerous times while eating.  When washing the dishes I noticed a couple more bites on my face and head.

    Left: my stuff inside our kuti.  Right: Van's mosquito net

    All this rain made everything cooler but extra humid.  Van and I turned on fans to cool things down once power returned.  Van hit the sack first.  I had my laptop with me but with no internet, I just played Monopoly and Scrabble against the computer.


    After breakfast Ma will take us sightseeing around Mae Hong Son.  My mom decided to remain at Wat Pa Tum Wua.  It will give her a chance to rest physically and mentally.  Since Van and Konie will not be back here, they bade Luang Ta Saiyud farewell for they will not see him again on this outing.  First Ma drove us through a village called Banh Rung Arun.  He explained that this is a village established by immigrant Chinese people.  When driving through, it did look like we were in China.

    Entranceway to Bahn Rung Arun

    Then Ma drove though us back to Fish Cave.  It was no longer raining but the entire place was still drenched from the rain the night before.  We watched our footing on the muddy path to the Fish Cave so not to slip.  At the Fish Cave there is a subterranean river where all the pluang hin fish are.  They are of decent size and there is an abundance of them.  There was still lots of wetness dripping from the trees and rocks from the rains.  I had to be extra careful filming and photographing to avoid the cameras getting wet.  Van and Konie bought some food to feed the fish.  When they tossed some into the cave, lots of fish came up.  This was when they were most visible for photos.

    Van and Konie feeding the fish

    The fish

    On the way back to the car we had to cross a bridge.  There so many ants on it and a nearby sign.

    Bridge to Fish Cave


    We then went to another village called Bahn Ruk Thai.  It was established by immigrant Yunan Chinese people.  Once again it looked like we were in China.  Normally there would be more tourists but it's the rainy season and after heavy rains, there was nobody.

    Bahn Ruk Thai

    Ma then took us to Phasuea Waterfall.  It was quite a sight to see.  I'm guessing with the heavy rainfall last night, it added to how much water there was.  It roared with white fury.  I definitely enjoyed seeing this.

    Phasuea Waterfall

    We returned to Mae Hong Son and had lunch at Fern Restaurant.  The food was very good.  We had banana leaf-wrapped fried chicken, salted chicken, egg rolls, chicken and mushroom tom yum, sauteed vegetables, and rice cakes with a tasty dip.  It was a large restaurant.  Ma said that when tour buses come to Mae Hong Son, they tend to come there.  We dropped off Van and Konie at Fern Resort, their residence for the night.

    Ma ran some errands in Mae Hong Son and then returned to Wat Pa Tum Wua.  Since it wasn't raining, I wanted to check out the Ox Cave.  However my mom wanted me to walk with her.  She met up with the cooks and other people at this retreat.  They walked to the vegetable garden.  I reluctantly walked with them and snapped photos.  We then walked to another section of the monastery grounds where there were other kutis.  Soon after it rained again.  I was very upset because I wanted to go to the Ox Cave.  I don't give a damn about vegetables!

    Wat Pa Tum Wua

    Mom with chef and other meditation attendees

    Vegetable garden

    Wat Pa Tum Wua

    I sat with my mom at the outer patio of her kuti to avoid the rain and just tried to cool off.  I showed her photos of Fish Cave, Phaseua Falls, and Bahn Ruk Thai.

    During dinner my legs were ransacked again by mosquitoes.  It was then back to my kuti for more Monopoly and Scrabble.


    On this morning after the rain subsided to a light sprinkle I located Luang Ta Saiyud and asked him permission to peruse the Ox Cave.  After he gave me permission, I hurriedly scaled the path leading first to the Meditation Cave.  Due to the humidity, once I was there I was covered in sweat.  This cave is not for lay people.  I stuck my head in and saw a monk in sitting meditation.  Here sitting meditation goes on 24 hours a day.  The monks take turns.  I then went to Ox Cave and snapped whatever photos I could.  I then hurried back to get things ready.  We bade farewell to Luang Ta Saiyud.  At 9:13 am Ma picked up my mother and I.  Luang Ta wasn't as available as he usually was because throughout our stay there was lots of construction going on which he was overseeing.  They are preparing the monastery for a visit from members of the Royal Family in a month or so.

    Mom with chef and other meditation attendees after last meal at Wat Pa Tum Wua

    Left: Meditation cave Right: Way to Ox Cave

    Ox Cave imagery

    Bamboo around pathway between Ox Cave and Meditation Cave

    Lotus Pool

    We arrived at the airport a little after 10 AM and met up with Van and Konie.  We thanked Ma for all he has done for us.  I gave him 1,000 bahts as a show of gratitude.

    We took off via the Nok Air propeller plane from Mae Hong Son and arrived in Chiangmai at around 11:30 am.  Lek picked us up once again.  She drove us to a Tesco Lotus.  There we had lunch at the food court.

    Later we went to an old style market called Waroros.  Konie and my mom were shopping for stuff.  Van and I found this place to be congested, stuffy, and hot.  I had to pay to use the john (though it's only 3 bahts).

    Waroros Market


    Van and Aunt Lek

    Later on we stopped at another marketplace.  Here Van and I stayed in the car.  We were not interested in shopping and had enough of the heat.

    Once done, Lek took us to Wat Pa-Ngiu.  Only my mother and I went to see sightsee this temple.  Van and Konie declined.  I don't really blame them.  The heat was getting unbearable.  This temple features a lying Buddha statue of which the robe consists of thousands of satangs (coins).  I couldn't tell from afar but when I came up close, it was quite apparent.  Aunt Lek said she saw a featurette once on TV about this.

    Mom scaling steps to check out Buddha statue at Wat Pa-Ngiu

    Buddha robe up close.  It consists of coins

    We stopped at Lek's place.  There we repacked my travel bag to fit all the stuff my mom bought.  Konie went to peruse her family's house next door.  It didn't take us long to organize everything.  There was time to spare before our flight.  Lek and her husband Pong were watching something on TV that I initially thought was "Anaconda".  It turned out, it was a Thai movie featuring a giant snake called "Boa: Giant Snake".  The snakes in this flick were so huge, one of them took down an airborne helicopter!

    We bade Lek and Pong farewell.  Lek dropped us off at Chiangmai International Airport.  It was a 7:55 pm flight via Air Asia.  We arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok at around 9 pm.  Sadly that smoking hot flight attendant wasn't on this flight.  However, most of the ones there were still pretty cute.

    Van and Konie wanted to ride the Airport Link high-speed train back as an experience.  My mom had it with trains and the likes so we just caught a cab back.


    My mom, Aunt Tim, Uncle Ton, Aunt Taew, and I went to Uncle Paiboon's place.  Another relative, Oat, joined us as well.  It's very rare for my mom and her siblings to all be together at the same time.  Due to this, Uncle Paiboon felt it was an ideal time to have a reunion.

    At his place he showed us a family tree of my mom's family.  He took quite some time to piece it together.  It was a wonderful things to see who is who and so forth.  His son Tong was there, too.

    There was plenty of good food.  What I recalled were miang, rice cakes with dip, little fried chicken wings, sae ua, rodchong, and duck noodles.


    Everyone chewed the fat for a long while.  Can't blame them due to the rarity of everyone being here.  Oat showed me his iPad.  I got to play Angry Birds for the very first time.  Later on we took a group photo since who knows if this reunion will ever happen again.


    We dropped Aunt Taew.  At her place we all quickly changed into funeral attire.  We then headed to Chachoengsao for Wat Panitaram.  This is the funeral for Jae Sup, my father's last-remaining half-sister.  There were lots of relatives present from my father's side of the family.  The entire altar was full of people.  We arrived in the middle of proceedings.  Everyone had a chance to lay a flower in a tray.  They will be taken to the coffin during cremation.  As people exited the altar, everyone was given an umbrella.

    Snapshots from Jae Sup funeral

    Left: Aunt Ting Right: Mom and dad and Uncle Tienchai

    After the cremation, we returned to Bangkok to pickup Grandpa Toon.  On the way there, I thought to myself that on this trip to Thailand we had already attended two funerals and hopefully this will be the last.  Once we picked up Grandpa Toon we then went to an excellent eatery called Niranam.  The food here is absolutely wonderful.  We had crab, shrimp, au suan, and deep water pomfret.  By the way, it began to rain again.

    When we returned to Aunt Ting's, the soi where it is located was flooded.  Fortunately Top opened the gate so we could pull the van up the driveway where it was dryer.


    My parents, Aunt Ting, Keng, and I returned to Chachoengsao to have lunch with some family.  We were invited by Uncle Putt who paid for everything.  The restaurant is Bahn Loong Yen which is situated on the banks of the Bangpakong River.  It's owned by a member of my father's side of the family and is next door to the house where my father grew up.  Van and Konie were picked up by Konie's friend Nun.  They would join us later.

    Bahn Loong Yen

    Mom next to Bangpakong River

    Left: Just caught  Right: another view of the river

    If you love seafood, this is a feast to die for.  It is stuff that's fresh from the river.  When we got there, a woman emerged from a small boat with a net full of crabs.  They were still kicking.  We had meaty fish, fried fish, seared shrimp, meaty crabs, and another fish dish.  I ate a lot, even for my standards.  It was so good!  Present were Uncle Putt, Aunt Pojana, Uncle Tienchai, Uncle Piak, and 2 other relatives Eed and Orawan.  Aunt Ting had to return to Bangkok to teach so she left before us with Keng, Van, Konie, and Nun.  The rest of us just kept talking and eating.

    Top left: fried fish and plate of crab in background.  Top right: seared shrimp.  Bottom left: another fish.  Bottom right: very meaty fish

    Once done we returned to Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok to see Uncle Ton off as he will return to the States.  Aunt Tim and her friend Tut joined us there via the Airport Link train.  Uncle On was the one who drove Uncle Ton at the airport.  I saw that he was wearing one of my old Hawaiian shirts.  I'm glad it fits him.  Sadly I've outgrown it.

    Afterwards we had dinner at Nai Ngiab.  Then it began to rain.  We dropped Aunt Tim and Tut at the Huamark train station.  We then returned to Aunt Ting's.  Later Van came back during the torrent.


    I essentially did nothing on this day.  Admittedly I was tired of always being on the move so it's nice to just stay put for once.  I spent some time with my grandmother.  I also killed time via facebook.  On this idle day I slept a bit more.

    At night Aunt Ting treated us to dinner at Mugendai Sushi and Tempura Bar.  Present were my parents, Van, Konie, Paega, Dr. Uan, Keng, and his friend Pieak.  Konie had her hair done so came with a new do.  She got considerable praise.  This place had terrific sushi but man, it was expensive!  Aunt Ting treated.  Once again, I'm stuffed.

    Dr. Uan invited whoever was interested to hang out with him and Paega at a bar called Scirocco.  Van and Konie went.  I declined because I felt I needed time to pack for the next day.


    Van and Konie were invited to join First for some dim sum.  I wouldn't see them for the next couple days.  The three of them went with Paega to Phuket.

    It turned out my parents, grandma, and her personal nurse Jai wouldn't actually leave until 10:30 am.  They headed for Aunt Ting's house in Khao Yai.

    I went with Aunt Ting at 1 pm.  In retrospect, especially seeing how late I left, I regret not going to Scirocco.  I should have just ordered my usual fruit juice and water and spend some time with Paega and Dr. Uan whom I don't see everyday being half a world apart and all.  That night I asked myself how and why did I become such a stick-in-the mud.

    A few hours later we arrived at Aunt Ting's place at Khao Yai in Wood Park.  This home was initially built for grandma to live in but she preferred being in Bangkok.  The last time we brought her here, it seemed like her memory was better and she was stronger.  Due to this, I wanted to bring her out here again.

    Mom and dad at Aunt Ting's place in Wood Park

    At around 5 pm my dad, Jai, and I took my grandma walking around Wood Park.  We took turns pushing the wheelchair around.  In the distance we saw some rain clouds.  My dad and I thought it would take about 20 minutes before the rain would get to us and thought that's ample time to get back.  However, 7 minutes later it got dark real quick and we were in the middle of a heavy rainstorm.  We tried to rush back but took a wrong turn.  My dad off his shirt and we used it to shield grandma from the rain.  Later he would put his shirt back on and I would use my shirt to cover her.  We finally came across a home with a canopy where two golf carts and a vespa were parked beneath.  We went under the canopy to get out of the rain.  We made some calls to arrange a ride back.  Several minutes later a gentleman named Sayon, the overseer of Wood Park, picked us up with his golf cart and drove us back to Aunt Ting's.

    It was good to be dry.  We were all worried about grandma.  However, for her age she's pretty resilient.  That night we just had some dinner and watched Thailand beat Oman 3-0 in World Cup qualifying.


    We waited for grandma to wake up from her post-breakfast nap.  Once she did, we all went to Khao Yai National Park.  Upon entering the park we went to ask permission from the park's spiritual guardian to tour the grounds.  To do so we chanted and lit five incense.

    Going to ask for permission to tour Khaoyai National Park

    Figurines at this place

    First stop was a viewing point.  It overlooked a valley with green hills in the distance completely covered with vegetation.

    Left to right: me, dad, grandma, Aunt Ting, and mom

    Dad, Jai, grandma, Aunt Ting, mom at first viewing point

    Onward we went.  We had to dodge several monkeys on the road.  When we got to the visitor area, there were three deer to our right.  We slowed and snapped some photos.



    Afterwards we went to Haew Suwat Waterfall.  It began to rain.  We chose to wait it out because the reason we came was because of grandma.  My dad and I agreed that we should wait out the rain because for grandma there may not be a next time.  At around 2:15 pm when the rain turned to a light sprinkle, we felt there would be no better window so out we came.  We trudged grandma in her wheelchair down a slope and over several tree roots and rocks.  Finally we got to the viewing area.  For her it was the first time she had seen a waterfall in a very long time.  Most of the time these days she just sleeps.  While beholding this waterfall, she uttered "Waterfall!" in Thai with considerable excitement.  She pulled at the guard rail at the edge of the viewing area to get a closer look.  At times she looked like she wanted to get up from the wheelchair to view the falls.  We were happy for her.

    The top of Haew Suwat Waterfall.  Jai checks it out

    Haew Suwat Waterfall

    At viewing area for Haew Suwat Waterfall

    At 3:15pm we dropped grandma and Jai off at the residence.  Aunt Ting and I went to Krua Khao Yai to order food.  As I was perusing the menu, Aunt Ting was walking back from the restroom when her feet slipped on the wet ground and fell.  I heard a shriek to my left and saw her on the ground.  I, along with everyone else at the eatery, rushed towards her.  She was in considerable pain as she hit her left arm very abruptly and her head against the concrete.  Initially she feared her arm was broken but after laying in place for an extended moment, she slowly got up.  My folks arrived shortly afterwards.  She washed off a wound on her left elbow.  There we ate ham, chinese flower buds, hoy jaw, curry and rice balls, and mushrooms.

    I parents and I then went to Bahn Raitawsee in Pakchong while Aunt Ting sought medical attention.  Our trek was ultimately fruitless because nobody was at home.  This place is a Buddhist meditation retreat where my mom was seeking a tape or CD on meditation.

    On the way back to Wood Park my mom bought guava and bajang.  My dad bought khao larm.

    At the residence, grandma was quite strong.  She walked via walker from the bedroom to the balcony on her own.  When Jai came to assist her, she waved her off.  She did not want the wheelchair.  I found this very inspiring.


    A while later Aunt Ting returned.  Nothing was broken but the doctor put her arm in a sling as a precaution.

    That night I had Mama and khao larm for dinner.


    Aunt Ting and I took grandma walking around Wood Park for a bit.  We turned back while grandma wanted to see more.  I think she enjoyed seeing new surroundings.

    After breakfast we returned to Bangkok.  All rode in one car and my dad and I in Paega's Mini Cooper.  My dad forgot his watch and necklace so we drove back to Wood Park just before we got on the highway towards Bangkok.

    Last look of Aunt Ting's place at Wood Park

    Once we got everything, we were finally on our way.  We stopped by Suwan Sweet Corn to get some delicious corn juice.  However they were sold out.  Instead we got some corn.  I bought a corn ice cream which I ate on the way back.  It was pretty good.

    Left: my corn ice cream.  Right: giant corn at entrance of Suwan Farm's Sweet Corn

    About two hours and fifteen minutes later we arrived at Aunt Ting's place in Bangkok.  We didn't do much at all the rest of the day.


    I woke up in time to watch the opening game of the 2011-2012 NFL season between the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers.  It was a fabulous game with the Packers winning 42-34 after their defense made a goal line stand at the last second.  I then took a dip in the pool for about an hour.  I was quite weary afterwards.

    I then spent some more time with grandma.

    That evening my friend Todd Nontavarnit dropped by with his girlfriend Ooh.  For about an hour we chewed the fat and caught up on some old times.  I gave him something his mother entrusted us to give to him.  Afterwards, they left for dinner.

    At around 11pm, Jimmy picked me up in a taxi.  He was one of the Suntharaporn singers I guided around Disneyland last year when they came to perform in LA.  He said we are meeting up with other singers Jap, Pahn, and Sun at a bar in Silom where they are celebrating one of Sun's friend's birthdays.

    Once there I was cordially greeted by Jap, Pahn, and Sun.  They were happy to see me.   I gave them all Oscar statuettes with the engraving "Best Musician".  They were all pretty stoked.

    This place was small but had lots of energy.  The singers that were on stage were all quite good.  Also there was another singer named Yui and another friend of theirs.  I looked around the place and wondered, "Hmm...there are plenty of guys here but where are the girls [other than the ones at our table]?"

    That's when I realized...


    I got back to Aunt Ting's at 3 am.  Fortunately Dr. Uan was still up to open the door.

    After waking up my mom and I went to Siam Paragon, a new mall in Bangkok.  We met with Aunt Tim.  After she took care of some personal matters at the bank, we ate at the food court.  I then bought key chains and refrigerator magnets as souvenirs to give to folks in my department.  Afterwards we took the train to Huamark station.

    My father picked us up.  Once back at Aunt Ting's, we quickly changed into formal wear.  That evening my parents and I went to the Thailand Cultural Centre to attend "Swan Lake on Ice".  Aunt Ting really wanted us to watch it.  It's basically Tchaikovsky's renowned ballet "Swan Lake" but instead of the performers being ballet dancers, they were figure skaters.  There was an ice rink on the stage.  

    We had a little time before it began so we had some rice and curry.

    It was a good show though personally I felt sleepy.  It was more due to sleeping late the night before as opposed to the show itself.  Since photography of the show was not allowed, I do not have any pictures of the performance.  In the background was the familiar music to "Swan Lake".  The encore was quite exciting as all the performers displayed their very best stuff on stage at the same time.

    Swan Lake on Ice at the Thailand Cultural Centre

    When we left the Thailand Cultural Centre, surprise surprise...it was raining.


    My mom and I had lunch with Aunt Tim and Aunt Taew at Foodland Supermarket.  Later on while everyone shopped I bought some kanomkrok, my favorite Thai dessert.

    We returned to Aunt Ting's.  Van and Konie returned from Phuket.  Konie started making lemon cake for tonight's birthday celebration for my mom and I.  The housekeepers, Aunt Ting, and pretty much all the women were busy in the kitchen getting food ready.  This night we were going to have an overabundance of food to devour.

    That evening we had a real good turnout.  Present were Aunt Ting, Paega and Dr. Uan, my folks, Van and Konie, her friends Nun, Muay, and Oay, relatives Pann, Pod, Jim, Jam and the rest of their families plus my friends Todd, Jap, and Sun.  There was more food than I can recall.  What I do remember is the pork satay, catfish with turmeric, kanomjeen, and Konie's delicious lemon cake.  There was a lot more food than that.  Jap and Sun are Suntharaporn singers.  It turns out that housekeeper Ann and Top's daughter Wanjan are fans so they got their pictures taken with them.  Many people who came also went to visit grandma in the guesthouse she stays in.  All were happy to see her.  My grandma also likes being around people.  Aunts Ting and Tim both gave me money.

    Getting food ready for tonight's feast


    Left: me with Pee Pann, Jap, and Sun.  Right: Jap and Sun

    Left: Ann, Wanjan, and Top with Sun and Jap.  Right: Ann with Sun and Jap

    Left: present for mom.  Right: Fruit

    Afterwards Sun and Jap took me to karaoke.  Todd initially drove us to his residence which is not far from the karaoke place.  Jap, Sun, and I then caught a cab from there on.  Jimmy and Pahn joined us later after they were done from a singing gig.  They looked worn out from the concert.  A friend of Sun also joined us.  As it turned out, I did most of the singing.  The others were impressed.  I came home at around 2:15 am.


    This was a lazy day.  There was nothing to do so I wanted to take the Airport Link to Suvarnabhumi Airport just to check it out and find a shot glass that someone in LA requested.  This rail line was not yet open the last time I was in Bangkok.  My dad came with me, too.  We found it so incredibly convenient to have a train that leads in and out of the airport.  We didn't ride the super fast express line that Van and Konie did a several days back.  We couldn't find a shot glass so we went back.  I actually wanted to ride to a noted mall Maboonkrong (MBK) but my dad wanted to go back home so we did.


    I first watched the latter part of the New England Patriots' 38-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins.  I then watched the first half of the Oakland Raiders vs. Denver Broncos.  Oakland took a 16-3 halftime lead on Sebastian Janikowski's record-tying 63 yard field goal to end the first half.

    Aunt Ting dropped my folks and I off Huamark station.  We rode the trains to MBK.  I found a place that sold shot glasses and got a deal for two of them.  That completes all the things I had intended to obtain on this trip.  We then had lunch at the food court.  I had chicken with yellow rice (khao mok gai) and coconut ice cream.

    Huamark Train Station

    View from station

    Mom and dad

    After all that walking my mom's feet have had it so we took a cab back.  While in line waiting for a cab, a tourist ahead of us was confusing the attendant.  When asked where he was headed, he kept saying "Pattaya" which is a separate city.  My dad and I then asked him where he wanted to go.  When he said it's a train station that leads to the airport, we figured out he meant "Payatai".  We clarified it to the attendant so all was good.

    Tuk tuk

    Back at Aunt Ting's, I was happy to learn the Raiders had opened the season with a 23-20 victory.  Van, Konie, Dr. Uan, and Paega returned from Hua Hin.  Spent most of this day replying to Facebook birthday wishes.


    On this day my dad went to play a round of golf.  Fortunately it did not rain this day.  I took a dip in the pool.  My mom and I then took a cab to Aunt Tim's.  My mom was sick.  In truth, she never should have come.  We ate at Jiang.  We had sui mai, har gow, fish dumplings, and shrimp won tons.  We then hung out at her place for awhile.  We headed back at around 4:30 pm.

    Back at Aunt Ting's, I spent time with grandma and Jai.  They were watching the TNT TV show "Leverage".

    At 6:30 pm I went with Aunt Ting to JW Marriott's Tsu Restaurant Buffet.  Other attendees were Van, Konie, Keng, Paega, and Dr. Uan.  There was lots of good food and a good variety.  It was pretty fancy as there was a station where foie gras was being cooked on the spot.  Keng really likes foie gras.

    After dinner, while waiting for our car, Van and I felt it was extremely humid this day.  After all this time we never got used to it.

    Back at Aunt Ting's, the air conditioner in my mom's room was busted.  She was then moved to Kongpat's art studio which has a working AC.


    Aunt Ting dropped Van, Konie, and I at Huamark station.  It would be the last time she would see me this time so we bade each other farewell.  I thanked her for everything.  We took the trains to Central Chitlom.  We joined my folks and Aunts Taew and Tim at The Terrace.  It's an eatery there.  I had beef kao soy and shrimp cakes.  

    Lunch at The Terrace with folks, Van and Konie, and Aunts Taew and Tim

    My dad and I took the train back to Aunt Ting's to pack while my mom went shopping with her sisters.  It turned out I couldn't find my keys which royally infuriated me considering the number of times I had traveled I had never misplaced my keys.  I then borrowed my mom's.

    I gave Top 2,000 bahts.  I gave Ann and Jai 500 bahts each.  It's a small token of appreciation for all they have done for me during my stay.

    I went to the guesthouse to spend some time with my grandma one last time.  When it was time to go, the last thing I told her was that I'll see her next time.

    My parents and Aunt Tim drove me to Suvarnabhumi Airport.  After checking in my luggage, we ate at Tate Cafe.  It was a very pricey fried spring rolls and chicken satay we had.

    My Thai Airways flight took of at 7:30 pm.  On board I watched X-Men: First Class.  Then I fell in and out of sleep during Hanna.  I then watched Sucker Punch, paused it and slept for about six hours, then finished it.  Then I killed time with Red Riding Hood and Thor.  My first meal was chicken with rice (kao mun gai).  The second meal was noodles with barbecue pork.

    The flight arrived at LAX around 8:38 pm which was an hour ahead of time.  It allowed me to really take my time making my way to customs, using the restroom, and getting my bags.

    My friend Prapan picked me up.  We ate at El Puerte Escondido for some good Mexican food.  Got home that night at 11:45 pm.

    All in all this was one of the lengthiest stints I had ever spent in Thailand.  It was nice to get a chance to relax and take my mind off or work for a stretch.  I also told myself that since this stint and the last one to Thailand were for funerals that hopefully the next time I come here it will not be for a funeral.

    It turns out that will not be the case.  Though I told my grandma that I'll see her next time, there will not be one in this lifetime.  On October 6th, my grandmother passed away.  She just turned 94 less than a week beforehand.  I knew this day would come but never knew how I would deal with it.  As it turned out I did not cope with it well at all.  This was the most difficult thing I ever experienced.  Besides crying several times throughout the day I felt cold, alone, worthless, and that my soul was ripped out of me.  As I am writing this, it's been two months since that fateful day and I still am tearing up.  The next time I return to Thailand will be for her cremation.  They say that time heals all wounds.  For me, I will need a whole lot of time.  At least I know that she is in a better place.  Hopefully she, Jae Sup, and Uncle Singto are doing well in their new place.

December 7, 2010

  • Felicity and Sedona 2010

    November 26 - THE CENTER OF THE WORLD

    At 6 am a tour bus picked up my mom, dad, and I in front of Thai Patio Restaurant in Hollywood.  We have once again embarked on a tour package of President Tours.  On board, tour leader Pichian Rojsiriwat handed out water and muffins to everyone.  I was pretty grateful to have something to eat though I typically don't eat breakfast.  After the bus picked up some more people at Wat Thai of Los Angeles, we headed to Union Station.  We found out that our friends Tassanee and her husband George were also going on this tour.

    Mom and Dad at Union Station

    Our ride

    It was pretty chilly still since it was early morning.  At Union Station we just rested, used the restroom, and bought a couple bottles of water.  It's been a while since I had been here.  Looks like they added some shops like Wetzel's Pretzels.  I bought a garlic one for my mom.

    At 8:30 am, we boarded the Amtrak Surfliner.  It was pretty tall as it had an upper and lower level.  One bogie was reserved just for our tour group.  We headed for San Diego.  This is a ride I am familiar with from my time as a UC San Diego student.  I would take the train to come home on long weekends and at the ends of quarters.  I would also take the train to go back go school.

    Mom, Dad, and our train.

    The train made several stops.  The ones I recalled are Fullerton, Anaheim (at Edison Field), Santa Ana, Irvine, San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, Oceanside, Solana Beach, and finally San Diego.  The route after departing from San Juan Capistrano is gorgeous as the track runs near the Pacific Ocean.  There was an ocean view from here pretty much all the way to San Diego.

    Left: our train car and tour leader Pichian Rojsiriwat.  Right: Mom very comfy in her seat

    We arrived in San Diego at 11:30 am.  At the station, the conductor thanked our tour group and wished us a pleasant stay in San Diego.  The bus that dropped us off at Union Station was there ready for us to board and continue our adventure.  Sure we could have ridden the bus here but part of this tour is to ride the Amtrak and enjoy the beautiful ocean view.  Besides, it's so much more comfortable to ride the train than a bus.

    Mom at San Diego Amtrak station

    About a couple hours later the bus stopped at a Carl's Jr. in El Centro.  I enjoyed my Western Bacon Six Dollar Burger.  My father had a chicken teriyaki burger.  My mom was sick for days and had not recovered.  She did not feel like eating so only drank a bottle of Vitamin Water.

    Onwards we went.  There were sand dunes everywhere.  Amidst these sand dunes were lots of people on ATV's, Quadrunners, and dune buggies going up and down and swerving every which way.  I'll admit.  It looked like fun.

    A couple hours later from El Centro, we arrived at a strange place in Felicity, CA.  Basically in the middle of the desert, this place has a free standing spiral staircase leading to nowhere, some small houses here and there, granite slabs laid out with things etched into them, a statue of an arm with a pointed finger jutting out of a rock, a lone church sitting on top of a sand dune-like hill, and a small pyramid surrounded by cement and grass.  I was thinking "What is this place?"  I thought it was some sort of new age, cosmic hippie commune or something.  I came to discover that place is called the Museum of History in Granite.  I still was unsure though with the spiral staircase, the church on a mound, and the pyramid.

    The staircase, as it turned out, was originally from the Eiffel Tower.  It was brought here for display since this is a museum.  I would post it on this blog except I took the picture with the camera on end (i.e. a vertical shot).  Unfortunately in xanga I cannot rotate my photos so I can't upload it without the picture on its side.  You can check see this (and much more) on my facebook photos for Felicity and Sedona.  

    I came to learn that the many granites slab have etched into them information and pictures pertaining to history.  Now I understand.  This is a history museum where the information and exhibits are all etched into the smoothed granite slabs.  It is still unfinished.  I'm thinking maybe in a year or so it will be.  There are a wide range of subjects - from Korean War memoriam, to the birth of religions, to the history of California, Arizona, and the United States, various empires, and much more.  It's pretty interesting though we were not here nearly long enough to be able to really take in all this stuff.

    History on various things etched into granite slabs; thus, the Museum of History in Granite

    It was sunny but chilly as a cold wind kept blowing.  It was to where my father and a few others went back to the bus to grab their jackets.

    I went to the rock with the arm sticking out of it.  It has a pointed finger.  At first I thought it was some sort of weird modern art.  Then beneath the arms I saw some Roman numerals which led me to believe it's a sundial.  I'm still uncertain though.


    As for the pyramid, it is said that it housed "The Official Center of the World".  It made me skeptical since to me the center of the world was the earth's core.  I came to learn that all this was the brainchild of Felicity mayor Jacques-Andre Istel.  He had Imperial County legally recognize this spot on his property as "The Official Center of the World".  It is based off the children's story Coe: The Good Dragon at the Center of the World by H.E. Jai.  The town of Felicity was named after his wife Felicia Lee.  Basically, all this was the vision of the eccentric  Jacques-Andre Istel.  I guess if you can make yourself the mayor of a place and name it after your wife, kudos to you.  My mother and I (like most on this tour) took turns standing on The Official Center of the World" and made a wish.  Hey, it couldn't hurt.

    Left: Pyramid housing the "Official Center of the World".  Right: "The Official Center of the World"

    At the top of the mound was The Church on the Hill at Felicity.  It was small and had no one in there, as far as I could see.  However, I could also tell that it was tended to due to how clean it was.  Behind the church was a little cemetery.  From this church I could see the granite slabs laid out and the pyramid in the distance.

    The Church on the Hill at Felicity

    View of the granite slabs from the Church on the Hill at Felicity

    We took off and made our way to Yuma, Arizona.  I found Yuma to be a very small town with seemingly only two main streets.  We all went inside a shop called Basket Creations and More.  Though they sold all sorts of collectible souvenirs (e.g. shirts, keychains, mugs, hats, etc.) the main reason we came were for medjool dates.  Our tour group purchased many boxes of dates.  They were pretty big and sweet.  My father and I tried a date shake.  It was very tasty.

    Big, tasty dates

    Left: evidence that I was in Yuma.  Right: where we got those dates

    In Yuma, we had dinner at Eat Asian Super Buffet.  The food is typical Ameri-Chinese.  Their garlic toast was really good.  My mom was still not feeling well and did not eat anything.

    Our dinner place for the night

    At ~8:20 pm, we arrived at our hotel.  It's the Best Western Coronado in Yuma.  The owners were very thrilled that our tour group stayed at their establishment.  It turned out the wife of the owner's son is Thai.  She came to greet us all.  As a show of appreciation, each room got two complimentary bottles of water.  That night we watched the Clippers lose to the Phoenix Suns.  They made a run late in the game but it wasn't enough.

    This was how a couple of towels were when we arrived in our room

    November 27 - SEDONA

    We were supposed to leave for breakfast at 6:30 am.  However, a couple of people were really late.  Tour leader Pichian Rojsiriwat had to track them down.  We finally departed at 6:47 am.  Turns out we had breakfast across the street at Yuma Landing which is part of the Best Western.  Nearby Yuma Landing is the statue of Robert G. Fowler.  It commemorates the location of the first flight to land in Arizona.

    I love this vintage sign

    Statue of Robert G. Fowler

    Our breakfast place

    We then took departed for the main attraction on this trip - Sedona.  Pichian played "Viva Las Vegas" on the DVD player.  He's a big Elvis Presley fan.  After watching it, I had a couple of observations.  One, Ann-Margret was quite the hottie, and two, this movie is so cheesy.  That's my two cents.

    Dad and I at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere

    We drove past Glendale where to our right we saw University of Phoenix Stadium.  It is one of the most state-of-the-art stadiums in the world.  Though being a dome, the field is real grass which can slide outside the confines of the dome to receive sunlight.  It is the home of the Arizona Cardinals and hosts the Fiesta Bowl annually.

    University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ

    Around noon we arrived at Sedona.  It is noted for its red rock formations.  We stopped at a place where one has a great view of two of Sedona's noted formations.  One is called Bell Rock due to its similarity to a bell.  Across from it is the Courthouse.  My father checked it out but my mom stayed in the bus.  She was still not feeling well.

    Dad with The Courthouse

    Me and Bell Rock

    Surrounding area

    Bell Rock and the Courthouse

    Later we arrived at downtown Sedona where the tour was split into two groups.  The front half of the bus will board a Sedona trolley which will take them to the Chapel of the Holy Cross at 2:30 pm.  We were in the back half so the trolley will take us up at 3 pm.  I think we got the better time because it gave us more time to find something to eat.  We went to eat at Orchards which serves American and Mexican food.  My mom, still not well, only had a salad.  It also gave us a chance to use the restroom without having to rush.  Behind some lodgings, my father and I gazed upon other rock formations and saw ones such as Giant's Thumb, Camel's Head, and Snoopy Rock.

    Left: Giant's Thumb.  Right: Camel's Head and Snoopy Rock

    Come 3 pm, my dad and I boarded the trolley.  My mom did not.  She just wanted to relax as she is still reeling from her ailment.  On the way the the chapel, the trolley went a little around downtown Sedona as the driver also served as tour guide describing various things from the history to Sedona, noted rock formations, and points of interest.  We also went through a Mexican-styled section called Tlaquepaque.  Somebody from here once went to Mexico and visited Tlaquepaque, an art colony if I'm not mistaken.  He was so captivated by it, he tried to recreate it in Sedona.  This is a center for shopping, dining, and the arts.  He also mentioned it being a popular place for people to get married.  As he mentioned it, we saw a bride and groom getting their pictures taken.

    The trolley that took us to and from the Chapel of the Holy Cross

    At the Chapel of the Holy Cross, we got a great view of the surrounding red rocks.  Not too far from us were rock formations known as "Madonna and Child" and "The Nuns".  We saw Bell Rock and the Courthouse in the distance.  I often argued that there is nothing more beautiful than nature and Sedona supports my case.  At 4 pm, we returned to downtown Sedona.

    The two on the right are The Nuns.  The one to the left of them are Madonna and Child


    Chapel of the Holy Cross

    At 5 pm, we left Sedona for Phoenix.  We had dinner at China Harvest Buffet.  My mom finally ate something which is a good sign.  We then checked into Comfort Inn.  The staff there greeted us and laid out complimentary cookies and punch.  That was really sweet of them.

    November 28 - HOMEWARD BOUND

    At 6:30 am we ate an uninspiring breakfast at the Comfort Inn.  There was instant oatmeal, boiled eggs, cereal, and toaster waffles with butter and jelly.  I get the feeling breakfast is not normally offered at this establishment.  The room we ate at did not look like a dining hall but more like an open room one can use for various things like meetings.  It was all makeshift.  Due to that, I should be grateful that they did offer breakfast for us because I'm guessing this is not the norm.  What is good though is that my mom looks a whole lot better.  I think eating dinner last night did wonders.  She finally looked alive.

    At 7:30 am we took off from Phoenix.  About two hours later we arrived in Blythe, CA for a brief restroom break.  It was a sunny but cold day as a chilly breeze blew about.  Pichian put a Korean drama (Winter Ballad) in the DVD player.  This would play until we got back to Los Angeles.

    We continued on to Cabazon.  The bus first stopped at Desert Hills Premium Outlets for those who wanted to shop.  Then it dropped the rest of us off at Morongo Casino.  We had lunch at Bamboo.  It's an Asian eatery.  Food was decent and the portions were very generous.  My mom then hit the penny slots as usual.  She lost $5.  My father and I were at the craps table.  It wasn't too friendly plus they didn't even use dice.  Instead it was two decks of cards that are supposed to represent dice.  We lost $60.  We would have blew another $20 except we got lucky.  Point was 8, we had some money on Hard 8, and it came.  The streak continues.  We just cannot win at Morongo.

    We finally arrived in Los Angeles at ~5:30 pm where Van picked us up.  Didn't realize it was so chilly in Los Angeles.  It was colder that any place we had visited on this trip.

    As usual, I had a good time.  Sedona is beautiful yet mystical.  I can understand why folks would come here for new age purposes.  I would highly recommend anyone who hasn't come here to check it out.  I think we all came to these places at the right time when it is not scorching hot.  Otherwise, this trip might be unbearable.

    Last look at Sedona

October 18, 2010

  • Thailand 9/8-10 - 9/16/10

    WARNING: This trip is all family-oriented; thus, there is no sightseeing on this trip so this could be one of my more blander travel tales.


    September 9 - THE FLIGHT


    My brother Van and sis-in-law Konie dropped my mother and I off at LAX at around 8pm.  We had time before our flight so we grabbed some dinner at the airport.  My mother had udon from Hamada Orient Express.  I enjoyed a nacho chili cheese dog from Pink's.

    My nacho chili cheese dog from Pink's.  Tasty!

    Our Thai Airways flight took off at 11:20 pm.  The plane accelerated for takeoff but before going airborne suddenly decelerated.  The captain was not satisfied with something so the plane did a loop somewhere for some precautions.  There were three vehicles nearby.  I feared we had to come off the plane.  It turned out we did not have to.  A few minutes later we took off.

    My mother and I sat in Premium Economy class.  It's not as nice as business class but the seats were larger and more comfy than standard economy class.  The flight was only half full so I moved to an open section where there was nobody next to me.  This way my mom can also have maximum elbow room.

    Three meals were served.  However I only ate the first one.  I am still traumatized from a past flight where I lost my lunch several times on a plane.  During the other meals I just slept through them.

    On board I watched The Last Airbender and Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time.  I also played some no limit hold 'em.  Busted out the first two times but finally won on the third try.  I managed to successfully call the system's bluff.


    September 10 - ARRIVAL

    Due to crossing the International Date Line, we skipped the 9th of September and went straight to the 10th.  We arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand at 5:20 am.  I was quickly reminded that it is currently monsoon season.  It rained heavily.  My father came to pick us up.  We arrived at Aunt Ting's place at around 8 am.

    There is no itinerary today so I just rested today as I tried to quickly adjust myself to Thailand time.  There is lots to do tomorrow.  Besides, it literally rained all day all night so it was best to just relax here.

    While I vegetated, my mom and dad went to visit her eldest sister Aunt Taew and a monk, Venerable Luang Ta Saiyud.  Luang Ta Saiyud is the abbot of Wat Pa Tum Wua located in Mae Hong Son.  He happened to be in Bangkok so my mother definitely took this opportunity to see him.

    In trying to stay awake, I played Wii Sports and Mario Kart.  That did help but once I returned to my room, I fell in and out of sleep.  One of the housekeepers, Pom, was nice enough to bring me dinner to my room.  It was rice with little fried chicken wings.  It was good.  However, I passed out once I was done.  When I came to, there were ants all over the leftover chicken bones.  I cleaned up the area real quick but was embarrassed at not being more responsible.  It's also a quick reminder that in a tropical country insects and other creatures are aplenty.

    September 11 - ORDINATION

    The reason we are here in Thailand is for the funeral services of Uncle Lek (Wanich Jarungidanan), Aunt Ting's husband.  He passed away about a hundred days ago.  Due to this, one of their sons, Kongpat, is going to be a monk for a short time for his father.  Today at 10 am we arrived at Wat Tadtong for his ordination.

    Uncle Lek's casket - beautifully painted by his son Kongpat

    The first order of business is shaving his head.  All of us took turns snipping off some hair as we say a blessing to him.  A good number of relatives were present.

    Taking turns cutting Kongpat's hair

    After his head was shaved, Kongpat put on a white robe.  At this point he is a nahk (pre-monk).  There would then be a procession held around the main altar for three revolutions.  Fortunately any rain was very scant and relatively insignificant.  Once done, Kongpat ascended the steps of the main altar and tossed money to the masses below.

    Nahk Kongpat bowing to his mother

    Inside was the ordination.  At the middle of the ritual, Kongpat then donned the orange robe of a Theravada Buddhist monk.  

    Mom and Dad with Venerable Kongpat

    Aunt Ting and her son Songfang with Venerable Kongpat

    At 4:10 pm we returned to Aunt Ting's place to rest up a little bit.

    At 5:55 pm we returned to Wat Tadtong for a final night of sermon and prayer.  More relatives came to this than the ordination.  There were also some special attendees, most notably former Prime Minister Chuan Leegpai.

    Aunt Ting and family with dignitaries

    Former Prime Minister Chuan Leegpai

    That night I had dinner with Aunt Ting's other son Songfang (Keng), her daughter Paega, Paega's husband Dr. Uan, our relative Thom, and their friends at Akiyoshi, a shabu shabu restaurant.  It was very good.

    September 12 - CREMATION OF UNCLE LEK

    This morning Van and Konie arrived.  Konie began unpacking right away.  Both were still weary from the flight.

    Konie and Van

    On the way to Wat Tadtong, there were lots of scattered showers.  To our good fortune, the temple was bone dry.  After 2 pm we were back at Wat Tadtong for prayer and the eventual cremation of Uncle Lek.  There were lots of people there.

    Left: Van with Aa Mam and Aa Yong.  Middle: Konie with friends Aom (left) and Nun (right).  Right: Dr. Uan with his mother

    Left: Dad, Mom, Wanjan, and Pom (head turned).  Middle: Pee Pod and colleague.  Right: Konie's friends Oay and Muai

    Left: Wanjan and Top.  Middle: Me with mom and Nun.  Right: Pee Gook and Pee Koi

    Part of the masses who attended.  The funeral books were page-turners.

    Like tradition, a funeral procession led by the coffin followed by everybody else traveled around the main altar three times.  I think we were real lucky that it wasn't raining and the sun never broke through.

    Four salas (covered pavilion) had to be used to house everyone.  Thank goodness they were air conditioned.  Wearing a black suit in Bangkok is not at all comfortable.

    Uncle Lek was a very influential person with Grammy Entertainment.  Due to this, there were lots of entertainers including Bird McIntyre, Thailand's greatest pop legend.  However, the most notable attendee was Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (known as Pra Tep).  She is the second daughter of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.  She is Thailand's Princess Royal.

    In anticipation of her arrival, a carpet was laid out and affixed to the ground leading from the coffin of Uncle Lek which sat atop the stairs of the cremation chamber and into one of the salas where a chair is placed specifically for her.  Another carpet branched from this one and led to where her car would park.  She would step out of the car and right onto the carpet.  Also officials from the palace instructed Aunt Ting, Keng, Paega, and Dr. Uan on proper conduct and procedure.

    Carpet for Her Royal Highness to walk upon

    Where Her Royal Highness will be seated

    There was a band playing music on the side.  It consisted of traditional Thai instruments as Grammy entertainers took turns on the microphone.

    Finally at 5 pm, Her Royal Highness arrived.  She was accompanied by a man holding a purple umbrella to shield her from potential sun and rain.  We all had to stand up.  She walked first to the coffin of Uncle Lek.  Then she descended down the stairs and walked to her designated seat inside of the sala across the way.

    Afterwards, all of the guests were able to go up to the coffin and place a flowery thing (sort of like a small corsage) underneath the coffin.  Once we descended to the bottom of the stairs, the men bowed and the women curtsied to the Princess.

    After talking a little bit to Aunt Ting, her kids, and Dr. Uan, Her Royal Highness departed.  We all stood and watched her motorcade take off.

    People then had one last chance to see the coffin before it entered the cremation chamber.  Aunt Ting was the first up there then down the stairs.  Once she came down she broke down in tears.  Various relatives around, including my parents, came to console her.  She told my dad that he [Uncle Lek] is really gone.  It was hard to watch.  I felt bad for her.  After a chance to compose herself, Aunt Ting was able to once again talk to guests and relatives as if nothing had happened.  I think she has remarkable character and inner strength.

    Left: Mom.  Middle: Pee Pod with Venerable Kongpat and colleague.  Right: L to R Pee Pod, Pee Pann, me, Venerable Kongpat, dad, mom

    Last group shots

    Once guests have departed, I had dinner with my mom and dad at Took Lae Dee, a restaurant inside Foodland Supermarket.  Van and Konie went to eat with Aunt Ting.

    September 13 - TO THE SEA

    At 6:30 am a multi-seated van picked us up.  On board were my mom, dad, Keng, and the housekeepers Top, Pom, and Nuan.  We headed to Wat Tadtong to pick up Venerable Kongpat.  It was then we realized we left without Thom.  It was so ironic since he woke people up so we would be on time.  Thom made his way to Wat Tadtong via cab.  We went to Wat Tadtong to collect the remains of Uncle Lek.  They were stored in two urns, one big one small.  Then we made offerings to the monks.

    Uncle Lek's remains...

    some of it placed in this water-soluble urn

    The small one is to keep.  The big one to be placed in the sea.

    Our van, now including Thom, Van, and Konie, made its way to Sattaheeb.  Others made it there in their own vehicles.  We got there around 11 am.  There we boarded a boat which took us out to sea.  On board we had a last round of prayer.  Then the big urn was brought to the back of the boat.  It was placed into the water.  Since the urn was water soluble, it dissolved leaving Uncle Lek's remains to spread along with flower petals which were tossed into the water by family and relatives.  The boat made three revolutions around Uncle Lek.  Finally we departed and headed back to shore.  It was overcast all day.  However it was still humid as heck.  Strangely there was no wind evidenced by the flag on the boat remaining motionless.

    Van looking for that perfect shot

    Left: Boat that took us out to sea.  Right: Dad and Van continue to film and snap photos, respectively.

    Remnant flower petals which were tossed into the sea with Uncle Lek's remains

    Venerable Kongpat, me, Top, and Pom

    We enjoyed a lunch buffet at the Samosorn Sunyabat.


    Afterwards we departed.  We stopped somewhere to do a little shopping.  Unfortunately I was asleep so was unaware where I was.  A lot of people got kao lahm (sticky rice and coconut juice cooked inside a bamboo shoot).  I asked one of the shopkeepers to use the restroom.  I then bought something as a show of gratitude.

    Left: Kao lahm.  Right: Konie and Wanjan looking for stuff to buy

    Once home, I visited my grandmother.  Later Van and then Konie came, too.  Grandma was in good spirits.  Her caretaker, Mai, left for Nakhon Panom.  She will be back in 3 days.

    Grandma and Mai

    That evening Keng drove Van, Konie, and I to Isao Japanese fusion restaurant.  There we joined Aunt Ting, Thom, her friend Mai, and her son for dinner.  We enjoyed a lot of tasty sushi, especially Thom and myself because we're hearty eaters.  I actually believe that Thom would kick my butt in an eating contest.  We both recalled years ago when we went with Aunt Ting to Krabi when we tore through shrimp after shrimp.

    Once we got home, it rained heavily.

    September 14 - CHILLIN' WITH VAN AND KONIE

    Van, Konie, and I took the train to join her friends Nun and Aom for lunch at Maboonkrong food court.  After lunch, Konie bought personalized stickers.  We just walked around while the stickers were being prepared.  We then also made our way to other malls Siam Center and Siam Paragon.  We took the train and cab back to Aunt Ting's.

    Konie made cupcakes and buffalo wings to add to the night's dinner.  That was about it for this day.

    September 15 - GOOD EATS

    My parents, Van, and I went to Chachoengsao for lunch at Man U Fishing and Homestay.  We were invited by Uncle Piak who attended Uncle Lek's funeral services.  This place was named after the English soccer club Manchester United since the owner is a big fan.  Our table is on board a raft which is situated on the banks of the Bangpakong River.  Oh my goodness!  This was one of the greatest seafood delights I ever enjoyed.  All of the things we ate are indigenous creatures to this river.  We ate large shrimps, big crab claws, fried fish, and other great stuff.  We ate a lot.  Everything was so tasty.  Konie didn't join us as she was out with friends.

    Left: Family in Chachoengsao dining at Man U Fishing and Homestay.  Right: Van and I enjoying our meal

    Left: Mom enjoying her meal  Right: A great place for seafood.  Quaint, oddly named, but oh so good


    Giant shrimp legs

    Yum, a salad with onions, cashews, herbs, and other goodies

    Bodacious prawns

    Fried fish

    Sweet sugar-soaked fruit of some sort of indigenous plant

    We ate on a raft on the banks of the Bangpakong River

    Once home, Konie made grilled cheese sandwiches for the housekeepers.  They really enjoyed it.

    We had dinner at Kao Tom Buffet located inside Chaophraya Park Hotel.  It's a buffet that includes do-it-yourself rice soup.  My mom's sisters, Aunt Taew and Aunt Tim, were also there.  Also there was Uncle Singto, Aunt Tim's husband.  Food was good.  What I really enjoyed was the rotee.  Always a tasty treat!

    September 16 - RAINY DAY

    We were back at Wat Tadtong.  We made offerings, including food, to the monks.  It was Venerable Kongpat's last meal as a monk.  Outside the sala were a noodle cook and a fried mussel cook.  Soon afterwards, Kongpat ended his stint as a monk.

    Left: Fried mussels with eggs.  Right: Noodle woman

    Left: Venerable Kongpat offering food to fellow monks.  Center: Me and Konie.  Right: Top, Konie, and Aunt Ting

    I then went with Van and Konie to Big C Supercenter.  We shopped a bit.  Then we got some ice cream at Swensens.  It rained very heavily on the way home.  The wipers wiped away a lot of water with each swipe. The rain that collected on the overpasses came over the sides like waterfalls.  We had to drive through a couple of these.  It was quite a sight to see.

    I just chilled out the rest of the night.

    September 17 - BIRTHDAYS

    My mom and I took the trains to Silom Complex, a mall.  There we met with Aunt Tim.  My mom and her went to Rajdamri Optical because my mom wants new glasses.  Later they went to Srima gold dealers.  Meanwhile I killed time by walking around PowerBuy (it's like Best Buy) and playing video games.  We then had lunch at Black Canyon Coffee.

    We then went to Home Fresh Market at another mall called simply "The Mall".  They picked up a few things.

    At 7 pm at Aunt Ting's we had a birthday celebration for my mom and I.  Her birthday is tomorrow and mine was on the 13th.  This was Konie's brainchild.  Besides my parents, Van, Konie, and Aunt Ting, present were my mom's sisters Aunt Taew and Aunt Tim, Pee Pod, Pee Pann, Konie's friends Nun, Muai, and Oay), my old friend Todd Nontavarnit, and Suntharaporn singers Pahn, Jap, and Jimmy.  Jimmy joined us later because he had to work late.  Todd is a son of my mom's best friend.  I befriended the singers when they were on tour in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.  I had the pleasure of being their guide to Disneyland on 7/30/10.  Kongpat and Songfang were there briefly.

    Left: Aunt Tim and Aunt Taew.  Right: Pee Pann and my dad

    Left: Me behind Jimmy, Jap, and Pahn.  Right: Muai and Nun

    Left: Konie, Oay, and Van  Right: Better picture of Jap and Pahn

    Did I mention there was lots of food?  Aunt Ting is to the left.

    There was lots of food that evening.  What I could recall included chicken and pork satay, kanomjeen with green curry, papaya salad, roasted chicken, catfish, fried pork, and noodle-wrapped Chinese sausage.  After dinner, Konie unveiled a cake she had baked for my mother and I.  After singing "Happy Birthday", Pahn and Jap sang a Thai birthday song for us.  That's when my dad discovered how good they sang.  Konie's cake was good.  Jimmy particularly enjoyed it.

    Birthday cake via Konie

    Aunt Ting gave my mom a pearl necklace.  The singers gave me a picture frame filled with pictures of our time at Disneyland.  I thought that was very sweet of them.

    Aunt Ting presenting my mom with a pearl necklace

    My father opened a bottle of wine and kept refilling glasses again and again and again...you get the idea.  At 10 pm, Jap took a cab home.  Most of the others took off at 11 pm.  Only Pahn, Jimmy, and Todd remained.  Later a soldier friend of Pahn, Ter, showed up.  They finally left a little after midnight.  Pahn and Jimmy wished I would stay longer since my flight was tomorrow.  I wished I could have stayed longer, too.

    I had a great time.  Konie deserves major props for putting this together,

    September 17 - THE FLIGHT HOME

    All I did was pack my bags and killed time until it was time to take off for home.  I was still beaming from the wonderful birthday last night.  I logged onto facebook via Kongpat's computer.  I was able to chat with Jimmy.  He informed me that after they left, Todd took him, Pahn, and Ter to a bar to drink some more.  He got home at 4 am and was still hungover.  It's unfortunate but he'll live.

    Van, Konie, and I took off around 7:30 pm on Thai Airways.  On board I watched the remade "The Karate Kid" with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan.  I also saw "Green Zone" starring Matt Damon.  Thankfully I was able to fall asleep for stretches making this flight seem considerably shorter.

    We touchdowned at LAX at around 7:00 pm.  However it took forever to get our bags from the baggage claim carousel.  Also Van and Konie were randomly searched.  Finally we were out of LAX and made our way home.  I smiled as I immersed myself with the cool air of Los Angeles.

    It was nice as always to see my grandmother.  Though her memory isn't what it was, I for one will never forget all she has done for me as I was growing up.  It was strange to be in Aunt Ting's place without Uncle Lek around.  We will all miss him.  It is always great to see relatives like Aunt Taew, Aunt Tim, Pee Pann, Pee Pod, and others.  Seeing Todd and Konie's friends is also something I enjoyed.  I was very happy to see Pahn, Jimmy, and Jap again.  We had a terrific time at Disneyland.  I wished the other two singers, Mean and Sun, could have come, too.

    Hard to say when I'll be back in Thailand.  Money's kind of tight these days.  Next time I should hope for a longer stay plus some sightseeing.  This time was purely for Uncle Lek.

    Farewell Uncle Lek.  Rest in peace.

September 21, 2010

  • Las Vegas 2010


    My brother Van and his wife Konie dropped my mother and I off at Union Station just before 6:30 pm.  There, we took the Flyaway bus to LAX.  After checking in our bags, we had McDonald's for dinner.  Not long afterwards we discovered that our 9:20 pm flight was delayed until 10:05 pm.  On board Southwest Airlines, as we closed in on Las Vegas, the captain announced on the PA system "Good evening.  This is your captain.  We are 15 minutes away from Las Vegas.  The temperature there is a cool 97 degrees".  I was appalled.  It was almost 11 pm and it's that hot.  I could only imagine that the days must be scorching hot.

    We landed at McCarron Airport in Las Vegas at 11 pm.  Our relative Noi and her friend JC picked us up.  They dropped us off at the Imperial Palace, our residence for the next 4 nights.

    My mom had eaten very little that day for she was not feeling well all day.  She wanted some food so we went to Ginseng 3, an eatery inside the Imperial Palace, for a late meal.  It is primarily a 24-hour Korean restaurant that also served Japanese and Chinese food.  She had  a tofu soup and ate as much as she could bear.  It was quite good.  I was full from McDonald's so I only had a California roll.  We finally slept at 2:40 am.  That was possible because we were tired so it didn't matter that the Carnaval Bar below was blasting loud hip hop until 4 am.

    View from our room with dreaded Carnaval Bar tent below


    We had breakfast at the Emperor's Buffet here at the Imperial Palace.  It's only $12.99 per head for brunch.  We then walked over to nearby Harrahs.  My mother played her usual favorites - penny slots.  I hopped onto a 3-card Poker table.  I had no luck at all and lost $120.  I then tried my hand at roulette.  That was better as I won $65.  While my mom kept at the slots, I went to the Palazzo to inquire about tickets for Jersey Boys.

    Yours truly and my mom with The Mirage across the street from us

    After a while, we returned to our room.  I needed to get ready to attend a wedding which is the primary reason I came to Las Vegas this time.  Noi picked me up at 2 pm and dropped me off at the Chapel of the Flowers.  It turned out I was still very early so I decided to walk around and snap some photos. of this place.  It was scorching hot, well into triple digits.  It was a quaint but charming place not far from Stratosphere.  After finishing a bottle of water, I just found a shady spot to kill time.  I saw the groom, Arthur Van Lerberg, arrive with people in his party.  I got to talk to them including his father, a minister, who will conduct the wedding.  Arthur used to be a co-worker.  Not long afterwards, two of my current co-workers (Maria Gaytan and David Barajas) arrived.

    The Chapel of the Flowers

    Left to right: Me, Arthur Van Lerberg, Maria Gaytan, David Barajas

    Almost time to start

    The wedding took place at 3:30 pm.  It was our first Vegas wedding.  It was held inside the Victorian Chapel there.  I was thankful because it was indoors.  Maria was very excited about the wedding.  The whole thing was short, to the point, and sweet.

    Inside the Victorian Chapel

    The wedding bands

    We then headed to Palms for dinner at the Bistro Buffet.  Towards the tail end of eating, I saw someone who looked just like Willie Nelson.  It turns out he was part of the upcoming entertainment.

    David and Maria at Bistro Buffet inside Palms

    Tamara and Arthur

    We then headed to a room on the 28th floor here at Palms Place where Arthur and his bride Tamara have a room.  The rest of the festivities took place here.  There was the first dance and the father-daughter dance.  There was also the traditional cake cutting.  During the garter toss, David was just walking about when the garter hit him so he wound up with it.  As for the bouquet toss, I was trying to position myself to take some pictures when bouquet hit my chest and fell next to Maria.  Yep, Maria wound up with the bouquet.  Way to go, NGI!

    First dance as Cab Calloway and Elvis Presley look on

    Ol' Blue Eyes wishing our newlyweds the best as Willie Nelson looks on

    Tamara and Maria

    We were entertained by five celebrity impersonators: Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Willie Nelson, and Cab Calloway.  They were all really good and it was a lot of fun.  Cab Calloway also sang at the wedding.

    Maria and David with Willie Nelson

    Judy Garland takes the mic

    Where else can you find Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, and Willie Nelson in the same room?

    From the 28th floor we had a great view of The Strip.  It was the best view I ever had of Las Vegas.  Festivities continued when my mom called about the sink being clogged in our room so I asked David and Maria to drop me off at the Imperial Palace with great reluctance.  I wanted to stay with the party.  I wished Arthur and Tamara the best.

    View from 28th floor of Palms Place

    Yours truly

    When I got there, the water had receded so I figured all was good.  Shortly my mom went to sleep.  I then went to the Karaoke Club here at the hotel.  I entertained the masses with "I Ran" by A Flock of Seagulls and "Always and Forever" by Heatwave.  There were lots of great singers at the Karaoke Club.  Basically any guest that's a karaoke enthusiast would come here so most of the singers are going to be good.

    At the Imperial Palace casino there is an area where the dealers are dressed as singers called Dealertainers.  From time to time they would sing for everyone.  The Dealertainers I could recall were Elvis, Michael Jackson, Avril Lavigne, Garth Brooks, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and the Blues Brothers.  I sat down at a 3-card poker table dealt by Garth Brooks.  He then retired for the night and Avril Lavigne took over.  She was really cute.  However I had no luck nor restraint at the table so I blew $150.  I went to sleep at 3:10 am very upset at myself.


    My mom wanted to eat at Noodle Asia, a restaurant inside The Venetian.  When we got there, it wasn't open yet so my mom waited.  I hopped over to a craps table.  I made $38!  I also purchased Jersey Boys tickets for tonight at 9:30 pm.  The food was good.  We enjoyed our pineapple seafood fried rice and Buddha feast pan fried noodles.

    Yours truly with Indiana Jones                              Mom with Whoopi Goldberg

    Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum at The Venetian

    At the Venetian, my mom played more slots and I played more craps.  We had a hot shooter at our table.  Since he wore a Lakers T-shirt, he was simply known as Lakers man.  Everything he tossed was gold.  I made $88!  That made me feel a whole lot better.

    Me at Grand Canal Shops at The Venetian                                    Me at waterfall at The Palazzo

    We then took a cab to the CityCenter.  It was very big and beautiful in a modern way.  Part of it had the neatest marble floor.  It was parquet.  I always found its architecture interesting for it had an industrial look as opposed to the neon glitz of downtown or the classic style of the larger Strip hotels.


    First we went to Aria hotel and resort.  My mom hit the slots again.  I instead walked around to check out this place.

    Inside the Aria.  Me with bust of Elvis Presley                                        Me near eateries at the Aria

    I found a free monorail within the CityCenter so decided to ride it.  It stopped at Crystals.  I didn't know what this was so I got off to see.  Turns out Crystals is a mall.  It looks pretty nice.

    Crystals mall at CityCenter

    I got on board the monorail again and this time it stopped at a spot where I could either go to Vdara Hotel and Spa or the Bellagio.  I checked out both.  Vdara is different in that it doesn't seem to have a casino within.  At the Bellagio, I headed to the Conservatory where the theme of this garden this time contains giant bugs and garden accessories.

    Lobby of Vdara Hotel and Spa

    Conservatory at the Bellagio

    I took the monorail back to Aria to rendezvous with my mom.  We took a cab back to our hotel.

    At 5 pm, Noi and JC picked us up.  We went to dinner at Archi's Thai Kitchen.  We enjoyed mussaman curry with chicken, stuffed chicken wings, panang, spicy fish, and seafood yum.

    Afterwards Noi and JC dropped us off at the hotel at 7:20 pm.  There we got ready for the show.

    Mom at Palazzo

    Due to my mom's weariness and inability to walk for long stretches, we took a cab to the Venetian to watch Jersey Boys.  It was a great show.  Travis Cloer, who portrayed Frankie Valli, is a terrific singer with a great voice.  My mother also enjoyed it immensely.

    Me and my mom outside Jersey Boys Theatre after watching the show

    Back at our hotel we sat down at the Big Wheel.  My mom invested $4 and made $25.  That was a nice way to end a fabulous day.


    We had brunch at Flavors Buffet at Harrahs.  It was pretty good with good variety.  Afterwards it was more slots and craps.  All the shooters including myself were ice cold.  I lost almost all of my money and had to go to the ATM.

    My mom wanted to check out Rio so we took a shuttle from Harrahs there.  Once there, it was just another casino.  Nothing special except the incredibly long line for their buffet.  I proceeded to lose a little more money at 3-card poker and craps.  We soon returned to our room.

    Noi and JC picked us up for dinner at Kung Fu Thai-Chinese Restaurant.  It was established in 1973.  We met the owner who said she called it Kung Fu due to the popularity of Bruce Lee back then.  We enjoyed our combination fried rice, papaya salad, and pork shoulder yum.  The food was good.  My mom said that this place maintains the food the way it is meant to be as opposed to Westernizing it to accommodate Americans.

    Mom and JC                                                         Left to right: mom, JC, Noi, and me

    Kung Fu Thai Chinese Restaurant

    That night I returned to the Karaoke Club where I sang "Every Breath You Take" by Police, "Into the Night" by Benny Mardones, and "Open Arms" by Journey.  The words for "Into the Night" flew too fast in comparison to the music.  However, I know the song pretty well so I sang without the words.  I wished a happy birthday to a young man who was there celebrating with his friends.  He interviewed me as part of his Vegas birthday experience.  He also enjoyed my "Open Arms".

    That was a lot of fun.  So how did I end this night?  I lost more money at craps.


    We checked out of our hotel.  However, our flight is in the evening so we left our bags at the bell desk.

    Mom and I at MGM Grand

    We took the monorail from our hotel to MGM Grand.  We had brunch at the food court.  My mom had McDonald's and I had Nathan's Hot Dogs.  We then walked to Excalibur where we took a tram to Mandalay Bay.  There had to have been over a thousand people trying to get inside the Events Center there.  

    The masses trying to get in

    Spanish language TV doing some special

    Mom is comfortably seated inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center

    We were all in attendance of dress rehearsal for Miss Universe 2010 which is to take place later tonight.  The first people who got inside were my mom's friend Richard Vasquez and his contingent.  We got pretty good seats - just a few rows from the stage.

    Hosts Bret Michaels and Natalie Morales

    Then the contestants took the stage all dressed in short dresses and sleeveless blouses.  We also saw hosts Bret Michaels and Natalie Morales.  

    Taking the stage

    Also in attendance was Donald Trump who owns the Miss Universe Organization.  Also present for this rehearsal was John Legend and the Roots Band.  They are to perform "Save Room" in this pageant.  

    Donald Trump                                                               John Legend

    The contestants also came out in swimsuits and later in evening gowns.  The cast and musicians from Cirque du Soleil's Viva Elvis (currently showing at Aria) were also there.

    Watching this dress rehearsal was like watching the actual thing.  There was the intro, then top 15, top 10, and top 5.  

    2009 Miss Universe Stefania Fernandez

    Left to right: Brazil, USA, Korea, Greece, Trinidad & Tobago

    The people cheered their contestant like a sports team.  Most of the cheers were for Miss Mexico.  People brought flags, too.  Ones that were evident were Mexico, Venezuela, and Argentina.  There was also a sizable Philippine contingent.  My mom kept telling me to snap photos of Miss Thailand.  However, most of the time she was on the opposite side of the stage.

    On the left is Miss Thailand Fonthip Watcharatrakul.  She would eventually become the first contestant to win Best National Costume and Miss Photogenic in the same pageant.

    This was a lot cooler than I thought.  My mom was very happy to have attended this.


    Excited crowd

    For the rest of my photos of the 2010 Miss Universe dress rehearsal, just go to my Facebook photo album.

    We had a snack at Luxor.  We then went to Excalibur.  Outside, we took some pictures of New York New York which was across the street.  We then took a cab back to our hotel.

    Me inside Luxor


    New York New York

    We had dinner again at Kung Fu Restaurant with Noi and JC.  Afterwards they dropped us off at McCarran Airport.  There, I won $5 at a Star Wars slot.  Though it doesn't make up for my total losses, it felt good to leave on a winning note.  

    Slots at McCarran Airport

    We arrived at LAX around 10:15 pm where we were picked up by Van and Konie.

    I was happy to return to the cool air of Los Angeles.  It was just too hot in Las Vegas.  I was very happy for Arthur and Tamara.  I thoroughly enjoyed Jersey Boys and the dress rehearsal for Miss Universe 2010.  I am however disappointed at how much money I blew in the casinos.

May 23, 2010

  • Excerpts of Thailand Trip 2/19/10 - 3/5/10

    Thailand 2/19/10 - 3/5/10


    February 19 – THE FLIGHT


    On this rainy night my mom and I checked in our bags at LAX at 7:15 pm.  We found out that our flight, originally scheduled at 9:30 pm, was delayed until 1:15 am.  Due to this, we had dinner with my brother Van and his wife Konie at Britt’s BBQ in El Segundo.  The food was good as we watched Olympic curling on TV between Canada and Denmark.  I had a quarter chicken and 3 baby back ribs.


    Back at LAX, at 12:30 am, we learned that our flight was further delayed.  We finally departed at 2 am.  The nice things about Premium Economy at Thai Airways are the fast check-ins, bigger seats, and personal screens for entertainment.


    February 21 – THE ARRIVAL


    Due to crossing the International Date Line, we never experienced February 20th.  This was a 17-hour flight.  I fell in and out of sleep.  Any sleep I can get on an airplane I greatly appreciate.


    Then I spent most of my time playing games – Asteroids, Sudoku, Hangman Jr.  Due to how long the flight was, I made it a mission to beat Super Mario Bros.  With unlimited continues, it was my chance because I’m not good at this classic game.  After 4 hours, I was getting a bit weary.  However, I’m already at world 7 so might as well finish it off.  It took forever to pass world 8-1.  It took as long to pass worlds 8-2 and 8-3.  Now I’m on world 8-4, the last one in the game.  As I traversed my way through Bowser’s castle, all of a sudden I couldn’t move.  I asked the flight attendant what happened and if there was a way to continue without starting over because to this point I have been playing for 5-6 hours.  She said there was no way other than rebooting.  I felt robbed to have spent that much time and effort only to be denied by a glitch.  I was too physically and mentally drained to start over considering how long it took me to get to this point so perhaps next time.


    Lastly I watched Law Abiding Citizen starring Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler.  It was pretty good but a tad gruesome.


    We arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok at 10 am.  My father and his sister, Aunt Ting picked us up.  We stopped off at an eatery for noodles.  The portions were really small.  They also had little satay and really small chicken wings.


    Later Ting’s son (thus my cousin) Kongpat dropped my mom, dad, and I at Aunt Taew’s.  Aunt Taew is my mom’s eldest sister.  Aunt Tim, my mom’s younger sister, also joined us.  We dropped off gifts.  They showed us pictures of Lin Ping, the giant panda China lent to the Chiangmai Zoo.  We enjoyed the pastries Aunt Tim brought over from Kanom Fashion Bakery.  It was very good and reminded me of Porto’s.  There were meat pies, sausages in a blanket, and egg tarts.




    By this time the jetlag had really set in.  I was tremendously drowsy but resisted going to sleep.


    We had dinner at Took Lae Dee, an eatery inside Foodland Supermarket.


    February 22 – BIRTHDAY


    I slept from 8 pm to 1 am.  I then slept from 2 am to 4 am.  At 5 am, I couldn’t fall asleep anymore.  I just played Wii Sports until breakfast time.


    Afterwards my parents and I took a cab to Wat Wachirayanwong.  It’s Aunt Tim’s birthday so we came here to offer food to the monks and receive prayer and blessing.  Aunt Taew was there, too.



    Wat Wachirayanwong



    Mom and Aunt Tim



    This Buddhist temple is very organized.  The staff has good timing in when to do this or that.  Whoever runs this temple has really thought everything out well.  There were 9 monks present.





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    Dad and yours truly



    Mom and Aunt Taew

    We had lunch at Rabiangthong, a buffet inside Narai Hotel.  Most of the food, as expected, is Thai.  It made me think how nice it would be to have Thai buffets in Los Angeles.  Maybe there are some that I simply don’t know about.





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    Rabiangthong Buffet



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    Narai Hotel


    My mom went with Aunt Tim to get a new pair of glasses.  My dad and I returned to Aunt Ting’s.  Aunt  Taew was dropped off at the veterinarian to see the progress of one of her sick cats.


    I played more Wii Sports for hours.  It resulted in my right arm getting a tad sore.


    My primary reason for coming to Thailand these days is to visit my grandmother.  Though her memory is deteriorating each day, she still remembers me.  She probably remembers me clearer than anyone else.  It’s just great to see her considering she has been part of my life for just as long as I have been alive.


    We had chicken and rice for dinner.  I went to sleep at 9 pm.


    February 24 – LAZY DAY


    I went with my parents to take care of some more stuff.  We had lunch at Silom Complex.  I had pad thai and fried mussels along with a watermelon slushie.


    From Silom Complex, we took an elevated train and boarded a taxi afterwards.







      IMG_0474  IMG_0476  IMG_0479  

    On board the train

    In the late afternoon, Mai (my grandma’s personal nurse) and I walked her around the area.  My grandmother was in a wheelchair and we took turns pushing it around.


    That evening I played Mario Kart for hours.  In the meantime I was bitten multiple times by mosquitoes.


    February 25 – ANOTHER LAZY DAY


    This morning I worked on planning MetroRacers, my version of CBS’ The Amazing Race as a new activity for some friends.


    Aunt Ting’s place is full of animals.  I went around and snapped some photos.




    Unofficial alarm clock and insect controller






    The great voice impersonator



    What’s up doc?










    My mom went to the hospital about her arm.  While she was being tended to, my father and I visited Mother Siri, a renowned meditation teacher.  She is over 90 years old and has been hospitalized here for the last two years.  We donated 2 packs of diapers to her.


    We then had lunch at Emporium, one of Bangkok’s newer shopping malls.  I had fried chicken and rice.


    We went to Chatri’s residence.  It was located in Parkway Chalet, a pretty, gated community.  We’re there to meet with his wife.  She’s a seer and my mom is into those.  Because of the number of people waiting to see her, my father and I waited a long time.  The wait was long enough for us to watch Wall-E from beginning to end.


    In the afternoon I took a dip in Aunt Ting’s swimming pool.  Since I cannot get water in my ears, I wore ear plugs and only swam via dog paddle.  It’s very tiring compared to the traditional forms (freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, never could do the breaststroke).  As I was swimming, Mai brought grandma to poolside.  I stopped swimming at sundown because the mosquitoes would start to emerge.


    IMG_0613  IMG_0614  

    Swimming pool at Aunt Ting’s.


    After dinner, it was more Wii Sports.  What can I say?  I love Wii Sports.






    Mom and neighbor’s mango tree

    At 7 AM, an Urvan we rented came to pick us up.  Aunt Tim is also in the van.  We headed north to Singburi.  Once there, we visited Wat Ampawan, a Buddhist temple.  This is where the nationally-renowned monk, Luang Paw Jaran is the abbot.  My parents have the highest respect for Luang Paw Jaran after listening to his tapes describing some of his life experiences.  He is the reason so many people visit this temple.



    Yes, it’s McDonald’s


    A loyal regular at this temple, Muai, took us to see Luang Paw Jaran.  This is a rare opportunity because not many people are allowed inside his monastery.  We understand that he does speak much so just to be able to see and bow before him was more than good enough.



    Luang Paw Jaran



    Bell tower at Wat Ampawan

    This temple is full of plants, especially potted ones.  There are also many trees and running among them are these squirrels I have not seen before.  They are black with white undersides.








    IMG_0495  IMG_0504





    Dad at Wat Ampawan



    Aunt Tim and mom at Wat Ampawan

    We came to have lunch at a restaurant called Rampeung (which happens to be the name of the owner).  However, the owner hadn’t arrived yet.  We killed time by checking out an outdoor market selling various things like fruits, fish, nuts, clothing, and vegetables.


    IMG_0512  IMG_0513  IMG_0514  IMG_0515  

    Street market

    At last the owner arrived so it’s lunchtime.  They specialize in fish.  My father said that Singburi is known for their fish because it borders the Jao Praya River.  The food was very good.  We had snakehead fish with cashews.  The fish was sweet and crunchy.  Another dish we enjoyed was black pepper fish.  The fish cakes and stew were also very tasty.




    Next we visited another temple, Wat Chaiyo.  It is most noted for a very large sitting Buddha statue inside a very tall altar.



    Me and Buddha statue at Wat Chaiyo



    Mom and Buddha statue at Wat Chaiyo

    Also here is a large statue of Luang Paw To, one of the most respected monks in Thailand.  He had passed away a very long time ago.



    Dad and Luang Paw To

    A last altar here housed a dhatu.  Dhatus are crystallized remains of an arahanta (one bound for Nirvana).



    The dhatu is enclosed in the little stupa-like thing inside this glass and gold housing

    This temple borders the Jao Praya River.  Despite that, it was very hot here.  I couldn’t wait to get back inside the van.



    Dad next to Jao Praya River



    Me and a bodhi tree

    We got back to Aunt Ting’s at around 3:30 pm.  I discovered a new mosquito bite on my left elbow.  I always get bitten while using a computer or playing the Wii.


    All in all, I was happy to have done some sightseeing.  Up to this point, it had been all family time.




    Mom and I had lunch with Aunts Taew and Tim at One Rachada.  It’s a Thai buffet inside Royal Mercure Fortune Hotel located on Phra Ram 9 Road.  It was pretty good.  I was stuffed.



    Aunt Tim, mom, and Aunt Taew

    Aunt Taew went home.  The rest of us took a subway to Asok.  We then took the BTS (elevated train) to Chitlom.  There was a mall called Central.  While my mom and Aunt Tim were browsing around, I went my own separate path looking at other things.  I did enjoy reading an issue of The Simpsons comic book.






    Elevated train, the BTS

    After finishing my reading, I went back to look for my mom and aunt.  However, I didn’t have the cell phone with me and so we were all looking for each other.  I had customer service make an announcement twice but to no avail.  Finally I asked to call my sister-in-law’s friend Nun.  I told Nun to call my mom and tell her to come to the top floor.


    We ate a little more at Central’s food court.  Afterwards, we went our separate ways.


    My parents and I had dinner with Nun that evening.  Before we went, I took her to visit my grandma.  My grandmother didn’t remember her.  Nun was happy to have seen her.  Nun stayed with Van and Konie for a year before returning to Bangkok.  We went to a nearby place called Mod Dang (translates to Red Ant).  It is a large restaurant…very fancy with a nearby stage and karaoke area.  The music was very loud.  At least the good food compensated for that distraction.  There was fried fish with fish sauce, papaya salad with puffy fried shrimp, seared shrimps with tamarind, and cha-om (acacia) stew.  My father liked the shrimp dishes.  My mom enjoyed everything.  It was great seeing Nun again.  She is a well-mannered, pleasant woman.



    Mom, Nun, Dad, and I

    Later that evening, I charged my camera battery.  Kong and Keng had friends over (Piak and Wis).  Tomorrow, These two and Keng would embark on a little road trip to Aunt Ting’s house in Khao Yai.  Wis is an expert at the game Batman: Arkham Asylum.  He knew where to go and what to do.  It was like watching a movie.




    At 8:45 am, we rented the same Urvan and driver to take us on our new outing.  Aunt Tim and Uncle Singto came in the Urvan to pick up my parents, myself, and the maid’s daughter Wanjan.  We headed for the resort city of Hua Hin which is south of Bangkok.



    Mom enjoying her fresh coconut

    Once there, we first visited Wat Huaimongkol.  It features a very large statue of Luang Pu Tuad, another one of Thailand’s most revered monks from the past.  Man, it was very hot and humid today.  It made my mom, Aunt Tim, and Uncle Singto retreat to a shaded area.



    Aunt Tim and Uncle Singto at Luang Pu Tuad statue







    My father, Wanjan, and I did the sightseeing.  We took walked around and took photos.  Behind the statue is a lagoon and shaded resting area.  There was also a little manmade waterfall that leads to a little pond with fish in it including a gar.   This temple is surrounded with pretty vegetation.

    IMG_0573 IMG_0580 IMG_0579 IMG_0581 IMG_0582






    We had lunch at Krua Ganika.  Every dish they have here is a chicken dish.  My father thinks their fried chicken would smash KFC into oblivion.  I wouldn’t go that far but it was good.  It’s different from the fried chicken in the US because it’s very lightly battered.  It’s light, crispy, and salty and juicy inside.  Other dishes we ate were kanomjeen with kiaw wan curry, pad grapow, larb, and three-flavored chicken.  Food was excellent.



    Lunch at Krua Ganika

    We then hit the beach.  There are lots of foreigners here.  The beach here borders the Gulf of Thailand.  The best thing is that there is a perpetual, never-ending breeze.  Also the overcast prevented the sun from being too strong.  That made this day bearable.  My parents, aunt, and uncle relaxed on patio chairs underneath umbrellas.

      IMG_0602 IMG_0603


    Wanjan and I walked around.  We walked out on a rocky outcropping that extended into the ocean.  Wanjan’s sandal strap came loose and she couldn’t fix it.  I found a plastic rope.  I told Wanjan to tie it to the strap and loop it through the sole and pull it through.  It was tougher than it looked so I tried my hand.  It took a great deal of strength before I succeeded.







    This beach is attractive because of the rocky peaks nearby.  The beach itself was lined with umbrellas and patio chairs everywhere.  On the water were swimmers, waders, jet skis, and a couple of paraskiers.  It felt good to soak my feet in the water.





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    Wanjan...how typical

    We returned to Bangkok.  There we picked up Aunt Taew and went to dinner at Reuan Punya.  There we ate fried fish with fish sauce, hor mok, garlic nam, shrimp cakes and pork rad na.  We finished off with mango and sweet rice and some vegetables for dessert.  There were lots of mosquitoes in this eatery.  That’s because there is lots of water around.  On TV was my mom’s favorite Korean drama Princess Ja Myung.




    My mother went to the doctor because of nagging eyes and arm.  My father accompanied her.


    At 2 pm, Aunt Ting treated me to lunch at Ajisen Restaurant.  It’s a Japanese place known for ramen.  I had ramen, gyoza, ice cream, and sweet iced green tea.


    She then went shopping for ingredients for tonight’s burger night.  One thing I found interesting was how small the shopping cart was.  I’m used to the big ones in the US.



    Aunt Ting and her little shopping cart


    I didn’t stay for burger night though it was good.  At 6 pm, I was picked up by my friend Todd Nontavarnit and his girlfriend May.  Before departing, they greeted everyone.  Everyone knows Todd because he is my mother’s best friend’s son.


    Todd and May took me to dinner at Ko Kun.  They served strips of sirloin, chicken, beef,  and bacon which we cook ourselves on a little flat iron cooker.  We ate it with glutinous rice.  It was very tasty.  I treated.


    IMG_0619 Cooking our meat at Ko Kun

    Later we met up with a childhood friend of Todd’s.  We went to blu O karaoke and sang for 3 hours.


    IMG_0622 IMG_0623

    Left: Todd and I figuring out what to sing.  Right: May and Todd




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    May and Todd

    It’s always good to see Todd and May.  It’s too bad we live half a world away.




    We took care of business pertaining to Aunt Taew’s home and the citizenship card from 9 am to 12 pm.


    At 1:20 pm my parents, grandmother, Mai, Aunt Ting, and I took off for Aunt Ting’s place in Khao Yai.  It’s in a gated community called Wood Park.



    Portrait of Aunt Ting



    Me at Aunt Ting’s house in Khao Yai



    IMG_0636 IMG_0639 Dad


    Aunt Ting constructed this home intending for my grandmother to live here.  The weather in Khao Yai is more pleasant than Bangkok.  It is not humid and the nights are nice and cool.  However, my grandmother was content staying in Bangkok with Aunt Ting so this is more like a nice vacation home for people to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.



    Mom, dad, and grandma

    In the late afternoon, my father, Mai, and I took my grandmother walking around Wood Park.  We took turns pushing the wheelchair.  A lot of Wood Park is still undeveloped.  Basically they sell lots of land for people to build houses.  Many of the roads here are lined with pretty flowers with colors ranging from yellow to red to magenta and purple.  Some are white.  It makes them pretty.  We finally made it back just a little after nightfall.



    Dad, grandma, and Mai



    Me, grandma, and Mai

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    For dinner, Aunt Ting took us to Krua Khao Yai.  We had ham, fried eggs, mushrooms, and sautéed lily buds.  Everything was delicious.



    Mom, dad, and Aunt Ting just chillin’

    Here at Khao Yai, my grandmother seemed stronger.  Even her memory was better.  She exhibited glimpses of her old self.  It’s like her brain awoke.  That was great to see and brought back many fond memories.





    Mai  and grandma

    We were visited by my mom’s old friend Pong and her adopted daughter Rabbit.  They took my parents and me to lunch at Bahn Mai Chai Nam.  The eating area is scenic as it lies above a creek.  This area, in general, is a mountainous jungle.  It is noisy, however, with the nonstop sounds of the cicadas.



    Dad, mom, Pong, and Rabbit

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    Later we went to Pong’s place located at Puripimarn.  It is nice and quiet as it sits atop a peak.  Pong’s husband, Mandy Goldman, had passed away a little while back.  Though he is gone, it’s nice that Rabbit is around so Pong wouldn’t be alone.


    It turned out that my father did not pack enough shirts for this trip to Khao Yai.  We were going to head to a Tesco Lotus to get another shirt for him.  However, he and Mandy were the same size so Pong gave him one of Mandy’s old shirts.


    We then returned to our residence.  Aunt Ting toured Wood Park with my mom and Mai via driving.






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    At 3:30 pm, an Urvan picked up Aunt Ting and my mom to take them back to Bangkok.


    My grandmother was asleep.  Once she woke up, my dad, Mai, and I took her to Wat Srimalaisongdham.  It is a temple we saw from our residence from a distance on a hill.  It was intriguing to us so we wanted to check it out.  However, once there, there was no way to get a wheelchair up to the mountaintop altar so we left.



    Wat Srimalaisongdham from Aunt Ting’s place


    We then went to Khao Yai National Park.  We arrived at the first viewing point.  However Mai was not well as she got carsick.  We continued on to the visitor center but before we got there Mai lost her lunch.




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    Viewing point, Khao Yai National Park

    Along the way we also saw some monkeys.  One of them came to the car.  My father told all of us to close the windows in fear one might jump in.



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    My father and I booked a night safari for tonight at 8 pm.  On the way back, Mai regurgitated two more times.



    More monkeys

    We stopped at Krua Khao Yai to pick up some food for dinner.  We got ham, lily buds, and mushrooms.


    Once back at the residence, Mai threw up again.


    My father and I quickly ate and then returned to Khao Yai National Park. 

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    We’re here for a night safari.  We would ride in the back of a pickup truck as it traverses a trail through the jungles here.  A girl in the back of the truck would shine a spotlight in search of animals.  She’s the niece of the driver.  We got to see lots of deer, a couple barking deer, and a civet. 



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    Later on the trek, the pickup saw another pickup stop at a hillside as the spotlighter/guide suspected they saw elephants.  We then got close and true enough; there was a mother elephant and two offspring.  We were told to keep one hand on the railings.  If an elephant charges the truck, it’s going to have to take off quickly.  Fortunately it did not.





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    Back at the house, my father spotted a last piece of wildlife as it climbed our window from the outside.  He told me I can still photograph it if I went now.  I grabbed the camera and snapped this gem.



    Just 15 minutes can save you 15%.  Yes, it’s a gecko.








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    Last looks at Wood Park


    We left Khao Yai at 11:21 pm.  Two hours later we arrived at Aunt Ting’s in Bangkok.  While walking around the area between the pool and kitchen, I broke a floorboard.  I’m just too heavy for it.  I believe my brother’s friend Kenny also broke one a couple years ago.  He is a big guy.


    Back at Aunt Ting’s, I packed my bags for tomorrow’s flight.





    Maids Pom and Top

    I went with my parents, Aunt Taew, and Aunt Tim to take care of my matters pertaining to property.  That lasted from 10 am to about 2:30 pm.  Then I got stuff ready for the flight.


    I arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport at 4:50 pm with my folks.  We ate at S&P.  I enjoyed my gyoza, har gow, sui mai, and bread topped with minced pork.




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    Suvarnabhumi Airport

    The flight took off at 7:40 pm.  It lasted 14 hours.  On board, I ate Cup O’Noodle in place of the meal.  I also watched The Blind Side and Surrogates.  I actually fell asleep for about 8 hours so it made this flight feel much shorter.  It was the best flight I ever had.  I credit it to the larger Premium Economy seat.



    My ride



    The hearty traveler

    I arrived at LAX at around 7:20 pm.  I took a Flyaway bus to Union Station where my brother picked me up.  I finally got home at around 9 pm.  It is always refreshing to drench myself in the cool dry air of LA after being in a place as hot and humid as Thailand.


    I really enjoyed my trip.  I got a good balance between sightseeing and visiting relatives.  It is always great to see my grandmother.



January 19, 2010

  • Little Christmas Trip 2009

    Little Christmas Trip 2009

     December 25 – LAKE HAVASU AND LAS VEGAS

    My parents and I were of the understanding that the bus was going to pick us up at Thailand Plaza at 7:30 AM.  At 6:30 AM, President Tours tour leader Pichian Rojsiriwat called saying that the bus is already waiting.  We were stunned.  We really rushed to get there as soon as possible.

    Obviously we were the last people to board.  I did not look at anyone’s face simply from embarrassment.  My father wasn’t thrilled either.

    Our bus stopped briefly in Barstow.  Then it forged on to Lake Havasu City, Arizona.  We got there at 12:30 PM.  We stopped at China Buffet for lunch.  It’s a typical Ameri-Chinese buffet.  From the restaurant we could see London Bridge, the reason we are here in Lake Havasu.


    Statue the plaque above was referring to

    Soon afterwards we went to admire London Bridge.  This was the original London Bridge that spanned the Thames River in London.  It was sold to Lake Havasu City.  Each stone was transported and put together here spanning Lake Havasu.


    My father and London Bridge 

    Yours truly with London Bridge in the background

    Like our last two trips, my father manned the camcorder and I the digital camera.  While were taking pictures and finding different angles, my mother found comfort in the ladies room.  There are lots of ducks here.  Since this is Christmas Day, most of the shops were closed.  The weather was a nice day in the lower 60’s.



    Dad and London Bridge 

    London Bridge

    My father and I also walked across London Bridge.  It was very blustery.  We then walked back to rendezvous with my mom.  I handed her the camera because it’s my turn to use the lavatory.


    On the way to walk on London Bridge

    Dad filming away

    Views of Lake Havasu from London Bridge

    London Bridge is an actively used road.  Cars cross it all the time.

    While walking under a tree, some pigeon got me with its dropping.  That’s just great especially since I was wearing a maize-colored shirt.

    Mom and Dad

    Before we departed from London Bridge, we did notice many bird nests nestled into the ridge along the underside of the bridge.  These are also fairly common on the underside of freeways.


    See the litle bird's nests along the bridge?

    At 2:45 PM, we left Lake Havasu.  We arrived in Las Vegas in the late afternoon and unloaded our stuff at our residence for the next couple nights…Casino Royale.  It is an old, small, four-story hotel/casino located on The Strip between Harrah's and The Venetian.

    Casino Royale, our abode for the next couple nights


    We crossed the street to The Mirage.  First, I purchased two tickets for Terry Fator.  My father and I thought he was great when he won America’s Got Talent a couple years back.  We all then went to Cravings, the buffet at The Mirage.  However, the line was insanely long.  My mom then suggested The Buffet at Wynn.  We went there but they weren’t letting anyone in since it was so packed.  My mom suggested that I show the girl working there my Wynn Red Card.  I didn’t think it would have mattered so I deferred to my mom’s chagrin.  In retrospect, I should have done so since the worst that could happen would be them telling me it wouldn’t have mattered. 

    We walked back to Casino Royale.  Inside there was an Outback Steakhouse so that was where we had dinner.  We were glad that the wait was short.  My mom was exhausted from all the walking.  It felt so good to get the first morsels from the Bloomin’ Onion down our bellies.


    Mom and Dad at Outback Steakhouse inside Casino Royale

    Later my mom played some penny slots.  I tried my hand at Three Card Poker as my dad watched.  My high cards were consistently being beaten by pairs or better kickers.  I couldn’t hit a straight or flush to save my life and wound up losing $115. 

    My dad returned to my mom who was still spinning away.  I went to a roulette table and put my remaining $5 dollar chip on an intersection between 5, 6, 8, and 9.  I hit it; thus, won $40.  I should have taken the money and left but instead sat down, kept playing, and blew it all.  In retrospect, it would have felt better to have recouped some of my losses.

    My folks have since returned to the room.  I decided to try my hand at craps.  As it turned out, I broke even.

    Inside Casino Royale elevator.  Look at how old this is.  I haven't seen this in ages.


    I woke up around 2 AM because it was so hot in our hotel room.  It was hard to sleep plus I was sweating.  As it turned out, the heater was on in the building.  In this place, if the heater is on, the air conditioner not only is inoperable but if one turns it on; it will make the place hotter.  We had no choice but to open the windows to cool the room down.  It worked though we could clearly hear the sounds of glass bottles being dumped constantly into a dumpster.

    We got a very early wake up call.  At 5:25 AM, all of us walked from Casino Royale to Harrah’s.  In the back of Harrah’s we boarded a shuttle bus.  We stopped at a checkpoint.  Once authorities cleared us, we crossed over Hoover Dam.  Once you cross Hoover Dam from Nevada, you’re now in Arizona.  The shuttle then stopped for just 15 minutes so we can take pictures.  My father and I did but my mom deferred.  It was due to the very cold morning air.


    Hoover Dam


    Later the bus took us to a bus depot in the middle of the desert.  Along the way we saw a many Joshua trees.  We also passed through several Joshua tree forests.  Some were quite tall.

    Joshua trees


    We then boarded another bus which dropped us off at Hualapai terminal.  This place is where buses, planes, and helicopters take people to admire the West Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We took the bus route.

    Sightseeing helicopter

    At 12:30 PM we arrived at a stop in the West Rim called Eagle Point.  It is called this because there is a formation in the canyon that looks like an eagle with its wings spread out.  The main attraction here is the Skywalk.  This is the renowned half-circle walkway that extends out over the canyon cliff.  What makes this Skywalk potential hair-raising is that the walkway floor is made of glass.  Due to that, you can see the canyon floor 4,000 feet below.

    Eagle Point

    Before getting to the walkway, security had us hand over all devices with photographic capabilities.  We left the camera and video camera with my mom.  I handed over my cell phone and iPod.  Then, we walked through a metal detector.  Sadly, it meant that I won’t have any pictures to show you.  Next, we had to slip shoe covers over our shoes.  I believe it’s to prevent scratching of the walkway.  Finally, it’s time.  Admittedly I do have a slight fear of heights.  It’s not bad enough to keep me from flying or going on roller coasters.  However, it’s enough to sometimes give me a bit of hesitation.  My shoe covers are on and now it’s time to get out there.  I walked out onto an opaque portion of the walkway.  I then took a couple of steps forward, took a deep breath, and then slowly stared down.  It is so trippy.  I could see my feet standing on seemingly nothing and then the canyon floor below.  I laughed in wonder and amazement and told myself, “Wow!  This is awesome!”  I kept walking and staring down as my feet “floated” over the canyon floor.  A guy with a camera asked if I wanted a picture.  I asked him how much it was.  When he said $30, I declined.  I then gazed at Eagle Point.  It’s a majestic view.  My father on the Skywalk let out a nervous laugh.  Like most people, they retreated to the edges which are opaque.  Some people from our tour group were telling others “Don’t look down!”  I’m walking in the clear center and called out to them to join me.  I told one of them to come out to the clear part because I’m much heavier than them and it’s supporting me.  They wouldn’t dare.  The boldest person was this little girl.  She was jumping around on the clear section and then lay down on it nearly spread eagle.  She was having a great time.

    The Skywalk

    We then had lunch at the Skywalk Café.  I ate an uninspired beef stew with rice.  This was ideal to the other Asian visitors because it fit the bill for them.  I just didn’t think it tasted very good.  They loved it because it had rice, cooked Asian style, and hot.  It was a chilly day in the upper 30’s.

    My dad and I continued to photograph the canyon and Eagle Point.  We could see the Colorado River from a distance.  The striking thing is that there are no barrier or safety restraints of any kind at the edge of the cliff we were on.  It means we are to venture at our own risk.  If we got too close to the edge and fell, too bad.  This is because these lands are not governed by the United States.  They belong to the Hualapai Nation.  It’s on their reservation.

    The view at and around Eagle Point

    The tour bus picked us up at 1:45 PM.  On the bus, the driver gave us a background and history of the place.  Our next and final stop is at Guano Point.  He asked the people in the bus if we knew what guano was.  I correctly answered “Bat Poop”.  The driver then continued to illustrate that where we were going was called Guano Point because there was an operation that harvested guano to sell.  He mentioned that there were three main uses for guano and had us guess.  Most people guessed the most obvious one first - fertilizer.  The driver then asked what else.  I answered “gunpowder” which is correct.  Then he asked for the third application.  I didn’t know and neither did anyone else.  The driver said that guano used to be an ingredient in cosmetics but not anymore.

    Finally we were there.  My mom stayed at the eating area outside of Guano Café.  My father walked out towards Guano Point.  We got on top of a rock and had a great view of the canyon here and the river below. 

    Guano Point

    We then walked out further and saw the abandoned guano mining tower.  The view is terrific here.  It’s not as colorful or renowned as the South Rim but just seeing this entire area one knows immediately that they’re at the Grand Canyon.  We could see helicopters flying about.  What a great way it must be to view the canyon.

    Guano Point

    Back at Guano Café I could see many crows hanging about.  I believe they eat whatever scraps remained from the guests’ food.

    Mom and someone on our tour

    Sounds scrumptuous


    Scavenging crows

    We then rode the bus back to Hualapai terminal.  There, my dad and I saw a roadrunner.  It was only three yards away from me.  As I was pulling out my camera, it ran away.  Such a fast little sucker.  Then another bus took us to the depot.  The Harrah’s shuttle then picked us up.  We were moving pretty well until we got close to Hoover Dam.  Then it was a slow crawl.  I figured it was the checkpoint and I was right.  I fought off boredom with my iPod.  I’m so grateful to have that thing.

    Mom and dad in bus

    We got past the checkpoint but the drive was still at a snail’s pace.  I was starting to worry if my father and I will make the Terry Fator show in time.  I thought about what to do - from having to eat something quick and go or trying to get my money back if we’re too late.  I had all these scenarios planned out whatever it happened to be.

    Suddenly, once as crossed over Hoover Dam, we were moving again.  All of us in the bus applauded.  We were happy to be mobile again after crawling for two hours.

    We got back to Harrah’s.  After a brisk walk back to our room at Casino Royale, we unloaded all the unnecessary items and went to the nearby McDonald’s.  At least there we can grab a quick meal.  Then we went to The Mirage.  My mom headed to the penny slots as my father and I went inside the Terry Fator Theater.

    If you don’t know, Terry Fator was the winner of the second America’s Got Talent.  He is a ventriloquist who does voice impersonations and is a terrific singer.  His act features his puppets “singing”.  The eerie thing is that his singing without moving his lips sounds better than a lot of people trying to sing normally.

    During the pre-show there is a pretty entertaining DJ who dances really well.  He did what he called the history of dance.

    Now the main event has begun.  It’s Terry Fator.  It was a great show.  Not only did he amaze us with his ventriloquism and singing but the show was also very funny.  It was also cool that he allowed us to take pictures and shoot videos.

    Terry Fator and Winslow the Impersonating Turtle

    My father and I had a great time.  It was well worth it to see this man do his thing.  I called my mom and rendezvoused with her.  It turned out she made over $80 from the slots.  We were happy for her.  She then treated us all to Cravings, the buffet at The Mirage.

    Back at Casino Royale, my mom and dad were tired so they retired to our room.  I wasn’t tired yet so I played craps.  I invested $25.  My father gave me another $25 so I had $50 to play craps.  I had a great time as we had some hot rollers.  Unfortunately I wasn’t one of them.  In the end, I wound up making $30 profit.  I gave half to my dad.


    We woke up and made our way downstairs to find breakfast.  Once there, someone on our tour bus called us over for a free breakfast.  It turned out that somebody on our tour won a lot of dough from blackjack.

    At Casino Royale, normally folks don’t play with too much money.  He, on the other hand, played $200 per hand.  On the first night he won ~$4800.  Last night he won ~$1800.  Casino Royale rewarded him with $300 worth of complimentary meals at the Denny’s inside the casino so he's treating everyone.  We were all really happy for him and grateful for his generosity.  However, he didn’t look too good.  Due to his drowsy appearance and hard-to-understand speech, I think he played all night and didn’t sleep a wink.  At least he won and is generous.

    At 8:30 AM, we left Las Vegas.  At 9:30 AM, we arrived at Primm.  The bus dropped us off at the Fashion Outlet mall.  Most people walked around shopping.  Some ate at the food court.  Others just relaxed.  Lucky blackjack man slept on the bus.  My father and I decided to play some more craps.  The Fashion Outlet is connected to Primm Valley Resort.  The craps table was nearby.  It was a fun way to kill time.  In the end, we made a $17 profit.  That was satisfying.

    Mom and her friend Tassanee

    Dad with Terrible's off road race on display at Primm Valley Resort

    Check out the engine on this race boat

    At 11:30 AM, we left Primm and headed for Barstow.  There were many yucca plants along the route.

    At 1:40 PM, we had a brief lunch at McDonald’s in Barstow.  This would be our last stop before making our way to Los Angeles.  I fell in and out of sleep.  As it turned out, the bus made fabulous time by taking a route other than the I-15 and arrived in Los Angeles at around 4:30 PM.

    I had a good time on this trip.  Though this is my third time to Lake Havasu and seeing London Bridge, it’s the first time with my dad and to me that’s pretty special.  The Skywalk was so trippy that you have to see it for yourself.  Walking on a glass walkway with the canyon floor 4,000 feet down was potential hair-raising.  I put my faith in the architect and engineer.  West Rim is pretty attractive especially the breathtaking Eagle Point.  Terry Fator is a show everyone’s got to see especially if you can appreciate real talent.  Now I understand why people have such a fun time playing craps.  It’s a blast.  Just gamble responsibly as always.  Lastly, it was great to go somewhere with both my mom and dad.