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Southwest Trip 2011 Day 3

Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde & Four Corners

sunny 40 °F

We get up at 7am and head for the BF room. The Super 8 really puts out a good spread. Waffles, hot & cold cereal, fruit, toast, bagels, donuts, hot & cold beverages. I choose waffles, fruit, hot choc. We take a few bananas for lunch and off we go. Bernalillo is north of Albuquerque and perfect if you are heading for Chaco Canyon (CC). A hour or so up 550 and you turn onto a dirt road at the CC sign. We get to CC by 10am, pay the $8 fee then hit the bathroom. Very basic facilities at CC. They are using a trailer because they are building a new visitors center. We were the first ones to arrive according to the ranger. Chris has been here before but not in the winter. It is cool & windy, but at least it is sunny and not really a bad day. CC is basically a loop and we head out. The best place to stop IMO is the Pueblo Bonito/Chetro Ketl lot. We grab our cameras and walk the entire loop. Some of CC is in decent condition, but most of the buildings are in pretty sad shape. You can see where the buildings were, but most are now just low walls. All the ceilings fall in over time. After over an hour of walking, my knee hurts and we have enough photos of CC. & the petroglyphs. We retrace our way onto the dirt road heading for 550.

After leaving Chaco Canyon, we head north on US 550 to Durango. We gas up in Durango and head west on 160 for Mesa Verde National Park (MVNP). As the road climbs, we start to get light snow. MVNP is open all year, but not many attractions are open during the winter. We hit the entrance fee booth, pay our $8 and talk to the ranger. They are offering ranger led tours of Spruce Tree House at 3:00pm he tells us. If we push hard we could make it. Did not happen. It is 21 miles at 35mph to Spruce Tree House. There is road repair going on and we wait for 15 minutes while they hold up traffic. We look at the map and decide to do the Chapin Mesa loop before the Museum. It is snowing hard now, cold and windy. Really unpleasant to get out of the car. We do snap a few photos of cliff dwellings across the valley from the observation pull outs. That will have to do it for us this time as it is getting dark by the time we leave MVNP. I visited MVNP many years ago during the summer and will visit it again when it is warmer. MVNP is worth a day of your time IMO.

After leaving MVNP, we head west on 160 for Cortez. Before we get to Cortez, the snow has stopped and it is OK again. We both want to visit Four Corners (FC). This is the only place in the US that 4 states have a common border. Utah, Colorado, New Mexico & Arizona all meet at FC. In all my years traveling around the west, I have never stopped to visit FC. We get there at 5:15pm and are in for a rude shock. The gates are closed and 'No Trespassing' signs are everywhere. It seems the Navaho Nation have taken control over FC. Years ago a friend of mine slept with his head in AZ and his body in NM. Not anymore. The Navaho control access to FC and now charge an entrance fee of $5. Chris and I try to find a motel not too far from FC so we can come back in the morning. No luck. The closest place is Cortez and that is the wrong way for us. We decide to motor on to Kayenta AZ. Smack dab inside the Navaho Nation, Kayenta is the only town around with any size at all. We gas up and start looking for a room. It won't take long as there are only 3 places to stay in Kayenta. We price each one and it is going to be the most expensive room of the trip. The Wetherill Inn gets our business as it is $76 for 2, taxes included. It includes WiFi and BF. Both others are closer to $100 when taxes are included. Chris and I book a room and head out for something to eat. Kayenta has a few selections, but we vote for Subway. A $5 foot long and that will do for tonight. We go back to our room, shower, some photo editing, TV, and bed by 10pm.

Posted by vegasmike6 12:34 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes Comments (0)

Southwest Trip 2011 Day 2

Day Two; Carlsbad Caverns

sunny 45 °F

We are up at 7am and head for the office. With a cheap room you get a cheap breakfast (BF). Cold cereal, fruit, juice, hot chocolate/coffee. I have cereal and grab some bananas for a snack before we head for Carlsbad Caverns (CCs). We take 380 to Roswell, home of a famous UFO sighting. Or alleged sighting. Most Americans know the story of Roswell, but perhaps our foreign TP members do not. We are not interested in the UFO stuff and head south on 285. After hitting the city of Carlsbad, we take 62/180 south to CCs.

Nice new Visitors Center at CCs, $6 to enter the caverns. Chris has been to CCs many years ago and says it is better to walk down to the Big Room. OK, off we go. It is all paved and in great condition, but pretty difficult if you have mobility issues. It is about 1 mile(1.6km) to the Big Room, dropping 750 feet(235 meters). My knee holds up, but I am starting to limp by the time we make the Big Room loop. There is a short-cut to the elevators about half way along the loop and we vote to leave the cavern. We have enough photos of all the cave features. After a elevator ride to the top, we leave CCs. There are plenty of yuccas at this elevation and we stop for a few photos. Chris decides to go back to Albuquerque via El Paso. Not the best choice as it the longer route. Once we make it to Albuquerque we hit another Denny's for dinner. They have a decent menu at decent prices, no surprises when you dine at Denny's. We drive north of the city to look for a room and choose Bernalillo. It is right at the junction at I-25 & 550, the road to Chaco Canyon. We price several motels and tell the desk clerk at the Super 8 that we can stay at Motel 6 for $50 including tax. She plays with the computer and offers us an AARP rate of $53 including taxes, includes BF. Since I see they have a waffle maker, so we vote to stay at the Super 8. We unpack, shower, a bit of photo editing, TV, bed at 10pm. That ends day 2 of our SW trip.

Posted by vegasmike6 10:11 Archived in USA Tagged cave Comments (0)

Southwest Trip 2011 Day 1

Day One: Bridge, Meteor Crater, Petrified Forest

sunny 40 °F

One of my friends is back from Thailand and suggests a 4-5 day trip around the SW to hit Indian areas and National Parks. Since it is his idea, we use Chris's Mercedes SLS. It only seats 2 and has a small trunk, but I would rather put 2K miles (3.2K km) on his car than mine. I will pack light and get used to a small car. We pick Jan 17 as our start day.


I drive to Chris's house at 6:30am, leave my car in his garage and off we go. We stop at the new Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge for some photos. The official name is: The Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. I was lucky enough to walk over the bridge on Oct. 16th, the only day pedestrians will ever be allowed to walk in the travel lanes of the new bridge. I have plenty of dam and bridge pictures, but Chris did not. After about an hour walking to the bridge and stopping on the AZ side for photos, we headed off on US93 for Kingman. Onto I-40 and head for Flagstaff. We stop for petrol and a snack and off we go to tour Meteor Crater (MC). It was only $9 to enter because the restrooms were out of order. Normally it is $15. They had a hard freeze a few days before and the toilets were still not working. I am a bit ambivalent about MC. It is just a huge hole in the ground and worth perhaps a half hour. Will never go again, but maybe if you are in the area and want to see a big hole in the ground, it might be worth your time/money. We tour the exhibits, get our photos and back on the road.


Next up is Holbrook AZ. It is on historic Route 66 and worth a quick look. I took a few photos of an old motel and we turn off onto highway 180. There are plenty of petrified wood (PW) shops along the way to the Petrified Forest National Park (PFNP). We pick the largest store, buy a piece of PW, photos and enter the PFNP. Free admission today because it is MLK Day. We stop at the Visitor Center (VC) and chat with the ladies at the desk. If you are pressed for time, this is the one stop to make. There are plenty of PW behind the VC and it is very accessible. There is still snow on the ground 2 weeks after the last storm. We get our photos and head towards the north entrance & I-40. I think we should of taken the hike to Long Logs, but after 30 shots of PW, we had enough. Back onto I-40 and now we are just trying to get as close to Carlsbad Caverns National Park (CCNP) as we can today.

We decide to stop in Socorro NM. We fill up with gas and decide to eat at Denny's. I have eggs/pancakes, Chris goes for a burger. Across the street is a Rodeway Inn Motel. We saw some signs on our drive through Socorro for $33 rooms. I tell the guy at the desk this and we start negotiating. They are far from full and it is 9:30pm. Good time to bargain. All motels add about $10 for second person then add the taxes. We agree that $45 with all taxes included plus breakfast is fair. Pay cash and head for the room. Chris has a laptop and starts editing his photos. I get a shower, some TV, read, time for bed. Day one of our swing through the SW is over.

Posted by vegasmike6 16:46 Archived in USA Tagged road trip Comments (0)

Day Tripping Koh Larn

sunny 87 °F


I wanted to visit Koh Larn (KL) while I was in Pattaya. It had been a few years since I was on KL, so I allowed one day for the trip. My friend Mike drove me over to the pier after we had been up at Buddha Hill. I wanted to check on departure times. Plan A was to meet Mike the next day at 9:00am and spend the day on KL. He called later in the day and told me he had a chance to play golf with a buddy from BKK and would pass on KL. OK, I would go alone.

I got up at 8:00am, got myself together and rode my motorbike over to Bali Hai pier. Once there, I looked for a legal parking spot. Pay attention if you ride a rental bike to the pier. There are areas that are marked tow-away zones. They mean it. A police truck does check and they will lift your bike into the truck bed. Off they go and now you get to pay a 500 baht fine to get your bike back.

I had misread the sign the previous day. There are several options on getting to KL. I had looked at the fast ferry times and not the slow ferry. I wanted to pay 40 baht r/t, not 150 baht r/t. But, I saw the fast ferry left at 9:30am, and the slow ferry at 10:00. The trip takes about 30 minutes on the fast ferry, slow ferry takes 45 minutes. Then the lady selling tickets makes her pitch. If you take the slow ferry, you get off at the Naban Pier on KL and get on a song-taow, or baht bus. Fares range from 30 to 50 baht each way to the beaches. If you want to go to Twaen or Samae beach, you are going to pay 100 baht in song-taow fares. Add the 40 baht for the ferry and it is real close to what the fast ferry charges. Plus you get more beach time with the fast ferry. I am convinced, I pay my 150 baht and walk to the ferry. It leaves on time and off we go to KL. A few fast boats roar by us, but that option makes no sense IMO. It costs roughly 2,000 baht r/t for the fast boats and you save maybe 15 minutes travel time. Even with a party of 8, that is 250 baht each. Since most of us don't travel in a group of 8, we can dismiss the fast boat option. Here is a sad story of what can happen to Pattaya tourists using the fast boats.

I have time to read a bit and take some photos of both Pattaya and KL. We go around the SE corner of KL and pass Tonglang Beach. Looks pretty good, but our boat stops at Twaen Beach. Once stopped, a long-tail boat comes alongside and people start lining up to transfer. I hang back to take photos, I am in no hurry. You are going to be on the beach until at least 3:00pm. That is when the first fast ferry returns to Pattaya. You are going to get at least 4 hours of beach time when you daytrip KL. I can take about 30 minutes of sun, so I will be hiding most of the day. I get on the second transfer boat and we head for Twaen Beach. The long-tailed boat stops in about knee deep water and you jump off. This can be a little tricky. I leave my day bag on the boat and jump. Then retrieve my bag. The water is warm and clear, exactly why tourists go over to KL. I wade ashore and try to decide what set of umbrellas to choose. The prices are the same, but I want fewer bodies around. Of course the ones closest to the drop off area fill up first. I walked down the beach until I find a concessionaire that has only a few customers. I pick a beach bed and settle in. A guy comes by and asks if I want anything. I order a cold water and they run a tab. I read my book until it is too hot and head for the water. It really is idyllic. Warm, clear water, gentle waves, sandy bottom. I swim a bit and return to the shade. This is repeated for several hours. Walk to the water, swim, hide in the shade. The swimming area is protected from the jet skiis and boats with rope & buoys. By 2:00 I am hungry and walk to the small tables behind the umbrellas. Each beach concessionaire offers food/drink as well as beach beds. You can eat at your bed or at a table. I choose the tables and order. I see omelette & rice is an OK price. Yes, it is more than many small restaurants in Pattaya, but I still get a meal for 60 baht. Since I am in the shade, I eat & read my book until I see it is almost time for the 3:00 boat back to Pattaya. Now it is time to settle up. My tab is 150 baht for food, water, and the beach bed. Not bad for a day on a nice beach with lunch. You can take a towel, hit the sand, take your own food/drink and not spend anything. Not for me, but I guess you could if you are running short of baht.

A group of us wait for the transfer boat in knee deep water. Even I can get up and on the transfer boat, but older or less agile visitors may want to use the slow ferry. They use the Naban Pier, so it is easier to get on/off the boat. We motor out to the ferry and head off once all are onboard. I take a few more photos and relax on the way back to Pattaya. About 35 minutes later we are back at Bali Hai pier. My motorbike is still there and I head for my room. Even by myself, it was a very enjoyable day on a beautiful beach. Give it a try when you hit Pattaya.


Posted by vegasmike6 21:30 Archived in Thailand Tagged tourist_sites Comments (3)

From Sihanoukville to Pattaya

Trying to get to Pattaya on public transport

sunny 87 °F


I bought my bus ticket to Koh Kong the day I got to S'ville. Paid $10 and should of done a bit more looking around. There are several companies in the parking lot/bus station in S'ville. I should have looked the companies over better and picked a better bus. The company I picked used crap buses, my bad.

Photos of a finished bridge, Gordon's Restaurant, my S'ville-Pattaya bus above.

In the morning I said goodbye to Gordon and his wife, walked over to the parking lot and got on the bus. I should of bought some bread beforehand. I could not find any readily available in the parking lot. We left almost on time, 7:30am, and had a short trip. I figured as much, most on the bus were going to Phnom Penh. At the Sre Ambol junction, we are kicked off. We wait 45 minutes before the bus from PP arrives. Several of us farangs walked to a nearby restaurant/store and ordered a meal. I stuck with rice and also bought some baguettes. When the bus arrived we were herded on to an already full bus. The 3 of us got the worse seats on the bus. The very last row, bench seat rather than individual. We don't go far before we stop and everybody has to get off. The bridges are up, but they don't allow traffic to use them yet. This is great, pick up your luggage, walk in the hot sun across the finished bridge and board another bus. There are two companies playing this hopscotch game and the other company has a much newer bus. I regret not checking out the companies better when in S'ville.

I first went over the Koh Kong to Sre Ambol road back in 2000. The Thai Army got the contract to cut the road through the Cardamom mountains. KK to Sre Ambol via road was a real adventure back then. Dusty when dry, a nightmare of mud during rainy season. It could take 8 hours or 14, depended on the ferry timing and how bad the mud was that day. Back then you used a share taxi, usually a Toyota Camry. For 600 baht, you shared a seat, 4 in the rear or 3 in the front with the driver. For most westerners, this is not enough space. Everyone was happy to stop so we could get out and stretch/smoke. There were no bridges up and there are 4 rivers to cross. That means you wait your turn to board the 4 ferries. The smokers and those who need to stretch were happy for the break, those in a hurry, not so much. This was not a fun journey before the road was paved.

Now the road is completely paved, bridges are up, but not ready for traffic. The bus people tell me that in a few months the bridges will be used and cut still more time off the trip. They should be open when you read this. I went over in April, it is now June and hopefully you can go all the way to KK w/o walking over a finished bridge with your luggage. We got into Koh Kong around 1:30, not bad, but will be faster now. There is the usual rugby scrum of motodops and taxi drivers ready to take you over the Hun Sen Bridge to the Thai border. They ask for 100 baht, which is ridiculous for a 10 minute ride, I walk away and one guy follows me ask asks, "what you pay?" I offer $2.00 and he agrees. Off we go, I pay the bridge toll in riel, 2,000 if I remember right and hit the Cambodian Immigration office. It goes pretty fast and I start walking no man's land into Thailand. The Cambodian Custom guys can and do check bags, but I had 2 small bags and they did not look at either one. On the Thai side, I fill out the form and get the free 30 day entry permit. The van to Trat now loads very close to the border. You used to walk over to a hotel parking lot and wait for the van to leave. There was a scheduled departure time, but that seems to have changed as well. A small cheer went up when I told the Thai driver I wanted to go to Trat. I really want to go all the way to Pattaya, but unless there are at least 4 or 5 to split the tab, it is too expensive. The other farangs tell me that they have been waiting over an hour. They will not leave until there is a full van. I have a bite to eat and wait with the others. Lucky for us, a few more come over and we now have enough. I should of had a conference with the other farangs and got everyone to agreed to pay more to leave NOW! It would have only been 50 baht more per person to leave 30 minutes sooner. The Thais are focused on money, that is just the way it is. Once we have the required 10 passengers, we pay the 110 baht and off we go to Trat. But, we stop in Hat Lek first to pick up a Thai lady. Now that we are completely full, we proceed to Trat. Years ago, the bus station and van pick up area were on a street in downtown Trat. Now they have built a real bus station on the outskirts of the city. We arrive in Trat at 3:30pm and get out of the van. The usual swarm of Thais asking: "where you go?". Some of us were staying in Trat, some heading for Koh Chang, some BKK and a few for Pattaya. Everyone tells me that the last bus to Pattaya has left already. This is true, I found this out years ago. You have to hit Trat by 3:00 to get a direct bus to Pattaya. But, you can still get there, it just takes a bit longer. I had time for a bite to eat, had my rice & fried egg at the bus station food court, not bad and a bargain at 35 baht. On the 4:00pm to Chanthaburi, 52 baht. Got off just in time to catch the next bus to Rayong, 70 baht. Same drill, into Rayong and jump on a bus going by Pattaya, 60 baht. With the new tollways being built, many buses no longer use Sukhumvit, making it more difficult to use this route.

My bus stops at Pattaya Tai (south) and I know my way from here. There are moto taxi guys just about everywhere and one yells at me. A farang walking with luggage is a bit of a tip off. I have an old address card for La Chiquita GH, just off Soi Buakhao. He knows the area of course and off we go. A quick 50 baht fare and I get off at my GH. I used to stay with my friends at Sutus Court, also on Soi Buakhao. But, it has just gotten too popular and expensive for me anymore. Most of their rooms are taken by longstay guys and they seldom have a vacant room. Certainly not at 9:00 at night. I started staying at La Chiquita back in 03 and now use it as my spot in Pattaya. The rates have gone up from 06, but what hasn't? I did barter for a weekly rate and did get a bit off. I paid 3,000 baht for 7 nights. Daily rate is now 450 baht, not out of line for a secure room with a/c, cable TV, hot water, lockbox. What I like about this place is that they have hasps on the door. This way you can use your own padlock to lock the door. Room keys are a joke. There is also a lockbox in the room that you program yourself. I don't use that because they also have gym lockers in the hall. You use your own lock on this as well. I can leave my important things in the locker: passport, airline ticket, money, camera, etc. All in all, La Chiquita gives you good value for your money. There is a bar downstairs, pool table and darts for those interested. There is rock music playing most of the time, but once in your room with the a/c on, you cannot hear it. I always ask for a room facing the rear of the building. I don't want a view and I don't want to be facing the street. I want quiet and secure. La Chiquita GH provides both for a reasonable price.

I left Sihanoukville at 7:30am and got to my room in Pattaya at 9:00pm. A long day to be sure, but better than past trips. Back in 2001, I left Phnom Penh at 6:30am in a share taxi and did not arrive in Pattaya until 11:30pm. That was one long and tiring day. With the bridges open, you should be able to leave either PP or S'ville in Cambodia and arrive in either BKK or Pattaya by 6:00pm. Total cost for transport: S'ville to La Chiquita GH was $20. Not bad in 2008 prices.

Photos below are from the 2000 S'ville-KK trip.

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Posted by vegasmike6 21:19 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

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