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Saturday, February 6, 2010

TOP TEN IN SOUTHEAST ASIA + SOUTH KOREA

Thus far, I've visited Seoul (Korea); Hanoi, Danang and Saigon (Vietnam); Siem Reap (Cambodia); and Chiang Mai and Bangkok (Thailand). The Top Ten, thus far:

1. The people of Vietnam and Cambodia like us...Americans. They don't trust the Chinese and Russians. I found the people of Cambodia to be nicer than Thais, but I heard that the citizens of Laos are even friendlier.

2. The World is improving and Hawaii is not. When was the last major development for Hawaii? In South Korea, from my blog of January 20:

"Universal Studios will build a $2.7 billion theme park in Gyeonggi Province (37 miles southwest of Seoul). Paramount Pictures and MGM will also construct resort parks in Incheon. Eight such Seoul developments are expected to be in operation by 2012, and fourteen when you count the rest of the country. They hope to attract lots of visitors from China and Japan. HAWAII, WHAT ARE WE DOING?"

China Beach, Vietnam: a 100 yard wide beach so long, if you start in Waikiki, you would need to walk to Wahiawa, all of 19 miles. Five equivalents of Mauna Kea Beach Hotel are in advanced stages of construction, with a casino and two golf courses. Hawaii is rapidly being surpassed by attractions just about everywhere. We need to get our act together!!! We won't, of course, until that mega-depression hits us when the price of oil skyrockets past $150/barrel. But, then, won't that be too late?

3. Temples...temples...temples. Angkor Wat is just one of 300 in Cambodia. My favorite was Angkor Thom, where Angelina Jolie's tree can be found. Nearly a thousand years ago, with one million people, this region had the highest world population. But the opulence of those Thai temples are incredible. You were not allowed to take a photo of the Emerald Buddha, so I did.

4. There are three million motorbikes in Saigon, and each is a lethal weapon. Noise is thus an irritant, because everyone needs to pop a horn just to let others know where they are. It is said that one should closely follow local residents walking across the street, maintaining the same speed, for these vehicles will carefully avoid you. Huh! There are more than a thousand traffic deaths every day, and 8,000 more motorbikes are registered daily.

5. As you drive around your home town, survey the number of stores selling only computers and accessories. Let's see, there is Best Buy...hmm. In a short cyclo ride through Hanoi, I counted more than a hundred such stores.

6. I can't believe I'm saying this, but go to the Chiang Dao Elephant Camp. I generally don't enjoy these things, but these animals can paint and the ride is adventuresome.

7. The Chinese Han strategy to take over southeast asia is dead, although that domino theory about the region going communistic (the weapon of mass destruction reason for the U.S. entering the Vietnam War) was mostly correct. It's still a toss-up, but there is as much chance for Southeast Asia to, over the next generation, casting aside communism for democracy and a free enterprise government system. This is not to say that Western China and Tibet are safe.

8. Green Enertopia Project is advancing in South Korea. As it will host three G-20 gatherings this year [Incheon (February), Busan (June), Gyeongju (November)], perhaps the concept could take hold. My stop in Seoul also allowed me to further the Blue Revolution through Johnny Walker Blue diplomacy.

9. I'm writing an article on "Massage in Southeast Asia." Not sure who would publish it, but the price ranged from $12/hour for an oil massage across the street from the Shangri-La in Bangkok, to $150/hour at the Chiang Mai Four Seasons, selected in 2007 by Conde Nast Traveler as the world's best spa. I was going to say that this is like Wine Spectator choosing a $100/bottle wine as #1, but in 2009, the best wine was a $27 Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon, and #2 from Spain was also $27/bottle. However, street prices for massage are much cheaper, but you worry a bit about many things. Incidentally, if you attempt to book a room at the Chiang Mai Four Seasons, the best price you will able to find is about $700/night for February 7.

10. In Vietnam and Cambodia, gasoline costs about $3.50/gallon and electricity around 5 cents/kWh. Thailand is also at $3.50/gallon or so, but electricity is a bit more than 10 cents/kWh. Hawaii pays $3.50/gallon for gasoline, but more than 20 cents/kWh for electricity. The national averages are: $2.68/gallon for regular and $2.94/gallon for premium, and about 12 cents/kWh for electricity.

My final meal in Thailand was at Kinsen in the Novotel Hotel, the only one attached to the Suvarnabhumi Airport. (I have a 7AM flight tomorrow morning.) I was not particularly hungry, for I had a late Kentucky Fried Chicken and Singha beer lunch, so it is particularly significant for me to say that this was the best Japanese dinner I've had in a long time. I ordered a teriyaki Hamachi Kama, which was perfectly prepared. The sashimi set was also fresh and tasty. Mr. Phuvanai was the perfect host and the ambience/decor was good. If you have an early departure from Bangkok, I would highly recommend staying at the Novotel and having dinner at Kinsen.



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