Showing posts from 2009

Capsizing On the Mekong, Luang Prabang, Dec 21-28, 2009

For those Laos purists who are scoffing at us for barely having left Luang Prabang, let us reassure you we did venture out into the stunning countryside for day trips. This included day treks, river cruising, kayaking and a disappointing elephant 'trek'. Tours in Asia rarely live up to their billing. Customer safety and satisfaction don't always seem as important as cranking out bodies.

With the elephants, we sensed they weren't especially well treated---it seemed like monotonous pony riding for them. But neither of us had done it before. We have few pictures of it because we tipped over in our kayak on the Mekong River, losing a minor fortune in clothing, stashed cash, sandals, misc. Our fault for not storing everything in the dry bag, but the river had been serene until an unforeseen series of eddys. Of course our guide was nowhere to be seen. Another kayak attempted a rescue but they too tanked. We learned that this is a common occurence among tourists. We were given…

Monk Watch 2009, Luang Prabang, Laos Dec 21-28, 2009

For backpacking adventure types, Laos is the holy grail. Within that you have Luang Prabang, the UNESCO-ed historic capital of Laos, Land of A Million Elephants (now down to 2000 in the wild). It all sounds remote, exotic and largely removed from western trappings. But to say Luang Prabang represents Laos is like saying New York is the US, or Toronto is Canada.

Then you realize you are in one of the most devastatingly beautiful settings and delicious places in Asia, if not the world. It's almost impossible to not be seduced by the allure and serenity of this tranquil setting.

But the monks could be no more pious and sanctimonious than their western brethren. They aren't Dali Lama wannabees by and large. I've seen them smoke, chew gum, yak away on cellphones and overload motorbikes. They enter and leave the community at will, sometimes after months, or years, preparing for life. Some stay forever. Some move on to day jobs if they're lucky to get one.

We used up our enti…

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Dec 15-21, 2009

We expect Siem Reap to be a bigger dump than Phnom Penh. Again Cambodia surpises us. It's buffed clean and built up with western money, largley because of the magnetic pull of Angkor Wat. It's compact and navigatable, loads of amenities (eg 2hr oil massage with mini facial for $16--sheer heaven) and is so easy that we extend our stay by 3 nights. Trish absoutely fell in love with this magical ancient city, with its tree lined streets and all the jungly crumbly ruins.

The many temples are the world's largest religious complex, twice the size of Manhattan --spread over miles and miles of flat plain and thick jungle. Construction started around the 11th century by King Suryavarman as an ode to Vishnu. Most tourists hire tuk tuk drivers for days to take them around. But it cannot be adequately described in pictures or words. It stokes the imagination, enthralling you with its grandeur yet also humbles your soul like no other natural or man made sight or place we have seen. The…

A Man For All Countries--Phnom Penh, Dec 12-15, 2009

PhnomPenh, Cambodia - Dec 12-15, 2009

First impressions of PhnomPenh aren't great. We arrive at night, our hotel pick up isn't there, the tuktuk drivers swarm us like piranhas, putrid smelling garbage and litter dominate the streets like no other Asian city we've seen, and one of the hardest things to deal with appears---child beggars and street vendors. Wayne also hadn't told me Cambodia has the highest HIV rates in Asia, and the street scene can be particularly edgy.

But with no expectations, and me out of gas and already scraping rock bottom with travel fatigue, hidden gems appear. The people. They are warm, courteous and humble. After weeks of never feeling we were on solid ground dealing with some of the locals in Vietnam, our warning light suddenly shuts itself off.

Wayne blends in like a chameleon. In China he was mistaken for a local, often with mixed blessings. In Vietnam he was taken to be my guide. So he learned numbers, and how to say, 'how much' and &…