Friday, April 20, 2012

Pi Mai Happenings

Richard and Brenda, friends from NZ, came to stay for the 3 days of the celebrations as part of their SE Asian holiday. As we don’t have a car we hired bikes for them and subjected them to tours around the city - and thankfully they lived to tell the tale.



Early morning was a good time to be out before the weather got too hot. So the pattern became, ride around the city see the monuments and temples, have lunch, return to the apartment for a swim and some inside time in the heat of the afternoon and in the evening eat.

Away from the parties, it was a celebratory atmosphere at the temples and monuments.

1st thing in the morning people tended to be sleeping off the excesses of the previous day. Children would start water throwing first and as the day progressed the volume of music steadily increased as did the number of locals dancing and drinking in the streets.

Wetting a Falang (foreigner) seemed to be the highlight of some people’s day, but it was all done in good fun. On bike we took a mixed approach of sometimes slowing down to allow people to more gently pour water on you (and quite often they would also offer you a glass of beer) or riding through and having water flung at you.

One of the nicer experiences occurred when Brenda & I were standing in the shade outside a temple waiting while the gents stood on the other side of the road in the glaring sun to put a bike chains back on one of their bikes.  Traditionally the Lao people wash the Buddhas with flower fronds -to make merit, get good luck etc.  Two older ladies came out of temple and quietly wished us both Happy New Year (Sabaidee Pi Mai) and poured a small amount of warm water, with yellow acacia petals still in the water, on each on our shoulders.  Very sweet, very gentle - very Lao!

bikes and temples_thumb[1]

Most restaurants were closed over the break and we had to resort to cooking at the apartment. One evening we decided to take a tuk-tuk to town to one of the tourist restaurants. When we stood at the main road corner a private van stopped for us and offered a paid ride (about $6NZD). This is the 1st time ever this has happened when we have been waiting and was the best thing that could have happened – we were enclosed instead of in the open sided tuk-tuk. The party was still all on and we would have been totally soaked, if not for the van.

Khop Chai Dieu_thumb[2]

We returned home by tuk-tuk, the party had settled down, but not stopped. We got 3/4 of the way home dry, but had to stop on red at the That Khao traffic lights, and of course received a big drenching.

Pi Mai Lao Holidays and Heat


Every year the 13th – 15th of April are the Lao New Year holiday.

Coming from a country where ‘official’ holidays are determined more than 10 days in advance we find the way people are advised which days will be taken-in-lieu unusual.  On the 5th of April the government issued a decree that Monday the 16th & Tue 17th, would be a holiday for government organisations as the celebration days fall on the weekend.

At the same time they also said Thursday the 12th could be used for well wishing ceremonies and effectively approved a day of office parties with lots of drinking and loud music.

Over this time everything shuts down.  Most shops and restaurants close as workers party or return to their families for celebrations.

The area around the bus station has been frenetic, with ever increasing numbers of Hyundai Starex Mini-vans transporting people from the villages to the city, and taking city dwellers back to their villages.  The roof-racks were packed to the gunnels with luggage and supplies and we hate to think how many sweaty bodies would be packed in each van.  Hundreds of extra buses were also put on to cope with travel demands


Over the weekend the mercury had a minimum of 24 degrees and a maximum of 37.  But when you check the heat index – the opposite of our wind-chill factor and a measure of how hot it feels to a human– the maximums were 48C at about 5pm each day!   I did a history search on the weather site and it is about 10 degrees hotter than the same time last year.

The temperature gauge in the pool has been at 35C in the last week – so the pool is almost body temperature and therefore not particularly refreshing.  You feel cooler as you exit from the pool than when you are in it.

Air-con on the other hand is blissful.  We are quite comfortable as sit in our air-conditioned apartment, sipping our Gin & Tonics, watching the guard/gate-keeper periodically shifting his position around the parking area, avoiding the path of the sun and trying to keep cool on these balmy days.

We are looking forward to some rain to knock the temperatures back a bit!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pi Mai Celebrations 2012

One of the biggest parties in the Buddhist Calendar in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, are the three days that mark the end of the old year, the day of no year and the day of the new year.  The 3 countries celebrate this on the 13th, 14th and 15th of April each year.

It is marked in a number of ways but the most obvious is by pouring water on people to bless them and wash away their sins.  As it is also the hottest time of year having water thrown at you is actually wonderful!

We had friends to stay over this time and we need to write up that fun experience but the videos we took over the break are too good not to share…

No kiwi adults were hurt in the making of this video, however the state of their reputations as mature adults, may be in question.

Pi Mai 2012

on youtube Pi Mai 2012

And as I heard the song Dynamite, by Taio Cruz, at least 30 times each day it seemed fitting pop it into places on the video soundtrack.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Practice for Pi Mai Lao (Lao New Year)

In anticipation of the 3 day holiday coming up 13-15th April Andrew has already begun target practice with his new water pistol.

Exhibit A:

Firstly comment should be made about hair.  The only comment that can be made is I don’t believe this is his best look!

This however, is the face of a grown man who came across two small children playing in their paddling pool, while riding his bike through a side-street in the centre of town.  He proceeded to pull out his water pistol and wet the said small children and their father.   He actually left the house with two 'loaded' water pistols hidden in his fabric shopping bag, just in case such an opportunity should present itself.

Admittedly everyone thought it was great fun.  The comment when we sat down for a drink was “they didn’t expect a falang (foreigner) to be prepared already”

Also note the ‘official’ Pi Mai t-shirt.  This was his shirt from last year with a few holes where he got caught in a bush and with various small colour stains on it from the coloured water bombs thrown last year.  Today it is only 30% soaked from the encounter with 2 4 year olds and their papa.

Hundreds of mini-vans are taking loads of people either out of the city or into the city as people return home for the celebrations.  Our neighbours have been testing their sound systems for the last four nights with some loud music.  Daily temperatures are rising and tomorrow is the last day of work for most office workers.

Things can only ramp up from here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Phnom Penh: Palaces, Prisons, & Markets

A trip to the palace and the silver pagoda was on our list of things to do.  In many ways the architecture and feels is similar to that of the Palace in Bangkok but only a limited number of areas were open to the public. 
We headed to the famous silver pagoda with it’s floor tiled in 5 tonnes of silver. Most of the floor was covered to protect it from the mass of tourists passing through, but some were uncovered and on display.

From there it was to an entirely more sober institution.  Tuol Sleng Museum or Security Prison 21 (S-21).
This was once a local high school, but in the three years 1975-1978 it was a detention and torture center.  Actual numbers are not known but it is estimated over 17,000 people passed through here; deemed as traitors to the communist Khmer Rouge regime.

We made a decision we wanted to come here as it was such an integral part of the recent bloody history of this country.  While we both knew some of the stories about this period of Cambodian history the pictures of victims en-masse, torture cells and translated confessions, in what should have been a place of learning, made some of it a little more concrete.


Perhaps one of the most subtly poignant images was in one of the converted classrooms: an original school black board was still there, along with the 1x2 metre brick cells


People were visibly moved by this place and visitor books were obvious in most rooms as an opportunity for many people to verbalise their feelings about what they had seen.  Others had had a much more visceral feeling when looking at those displays that had pictures of the members of the Pol Pot regime -  not one those displays had not been defaced.  Defacement was not done in a superficial graffiti manner, but in a pure outpouring of hate. This was not a nice place.

We visited the Russian Market, but having seen more markets in the last 18 months than we have had lamb dinners, it was a pretty cursory visit.  We were surprised at it’s size – we knew it was big, but it was bigger than expected.

The one thing that was new for us was the multitude of stalls selling engine parts and acting as small mechanical workshops – that was something we have not seen anywhere else.


Having enjoyed Amok in Siem Reap so much there was a quest to explore the Amok variations in PP.
Our 1st evening’s meal at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club was average and their Amok not worth mentioning again.

Day 2 had us out pounding the pavement.  We stopped for an excellent macaroon and lime drink at The Shop on street 240, before picking Anise for lunch.  Basically we had walked far enough, we were hungry and in need of a drink.

The Amok was lovely.  As was the rest of the food.
A return to the hotel, a rest and a swim in the it was back down to the waterfront for more happy hour drinks and dinner.  One thing you get used to is the children trying to sell you books or DVDs.  It doesn’t matter if you said no 5 minutes earlier, you still might want to buy a book this time.

Dinner at one of the street side restaurants.  2nd lovely Amok for the day.  What we learned today was that the PP style was more solid ‘baked custard-like’ in texture than that which had been consumed in Siem Reap

Final day and we leave mid-afternoon so there is one more meal of Amok to be tried.  And we left the best for last.  Frizz’s proclaims itself as having the best Amok in town and we had to agree.  That said the version we had in Siem Reap remains the absolute favourite – the Amok to which other Amoks are compared to in our books


Meanwhile, other people went about their daily lives.  We did see a lot of food on wheels of some form or another.

meals on wheels

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Phnom Penh - getting to know you

In many ways Phnom Penh is rather like Vientiane. Both are relatively quiet & laid back towns (by Asian standards), both are on the riverside and neither has a wealth of tourist attractions.  But that said, we really enjoyed our time in PP.

After checking into the hotel we decided to walk down to the waterfront and have a drink at the Foreign Correspondent's Club. Having a happy hour drink at the FCC is just one of those things you do.  The three storey bar with it’s open air spaces seems older than it actually is.  It was opened in 1993 and from the FCC website was this quote
“when The "F" first opened its doors, the bar gave shelter from the gritty and tense streets of the capital, where an uneasy peace was just taking hold. Writers and their sources traded secrets in the shadows. Diplomats drank their per diems, swapped social strategies and spilled their martinis”
We stayed on for a pretty average meal.

The next day we embarked on the walking tour mapped in the Lonely Planet.  It was an excellent way to see the inner city with it’s wide streets and plenty of French colonial buildings


Past the railway station which is no longer used.  Asian Development Bank (ADB) & Ausaid are involved in a rail rehabilitation project, but as of late March 2012 the Australians look like they might be pulling out.
Through the Psar Thmei, the central market.  Built by the French in an Art Deco style it’s large dome creates natural air air-conditioning.  Even though it was sweltering outside, it was really cool inside (and really yellow). 


Down a number of streets, all specialising in something.  One had carvers, carving statues, ornaments and official signage


PP has it’s Independence Monument.  Modelled on the central tower from Angkor Wat, this marks the 1953 independence from France.


We didn’t cross the round about to where the monument sits in the middle.  As few road crossings as possible are the order of the day.  Traffic has no obvious rules and while vehicles & bikes travel relatively slowly there is chaos and numerous traffic jams. Other city working on more vehicles than the roads are built to handle.

Below is just one of the many we encountered on tuk-tuk rides.  This included a large cargo of toilet bowls being towed by a motorbike.  Every one just creeps through until a gap is made or found.


Just a small example of local car pooling  and reducing traffic on the roads :-)