Archive | July, 2010

How to Sleep on the Floor of a Bus

Current Location: Pakse, Laos
Current  Weather: 83
°F (feels like 90°F)
Days Gone: 78
Days Remaining: 138

My exit from Vientiane was far from graceful. During the three days I was there I managed to see every nook and cranny of the central city, including their Arc de Triomphe replica (still the tallest structure in the city) and Xieng Khuan (Spirit City), a park which is crammed with sculptures of Buddhist and Hindu deities and some weird shamanistic stuff as well. I also grabbed my Vietnam visa from the embassy, as Vietnam is the only Southeast Asian country that does not provide visas at the border. Punks. Because my 7 AM bus was canceled or full (difficult to discern with the language barrier) I was moved to the 7 PM V.I.P Sleeper Bus to Hanoi, which would drop me off in Lak Sao, one small city away from my goal of Ban Khoun Kham (my base camp to visit the epic Kong Lo Cave). As it turned out, the sleeper bus was also full, and I was given a dirty pillow and directed to a spot on the floor in the aisle. Let me clarify, a sleeper bus is a bus with three rows of beds.
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Fear and Loathing in Vang Vieng

Current Location: Vientiane, Laos
Current  Weather: 79
°F (feels like 85°F)
Days Gone: 70
Days Remaining: 146

Vang Vieng is, without a doubt, one of the strangest, most mystical cities I have ever visited. Equal parts decadence and depravity, Vang Vieng is a city that exists outside of the real world. It is Never Never Land. It is Paradise Found. It is Sodom and Gomorrah. I spent a week there. This is not a tale of cultural encounters, nor of Asian delicacies, nor of philanthropy. This is a tale of the raging Nam Song river, the makeshift bars that line it, and the drunken tourists who ride the current on inflatable tubes. Everything in Vang Vieng is backwards. The town, funded almost entirely by a tourism influx that began in the 1980’s, is mafia run. The tourists come for tubing. The mafia controls the tubes. This is a town where one can walk into a bar and buy narcotics off a menu. Yes, most bars (both on and off the river) offer a “special menu” (an actual laminated menu) off which one can choose to order his marijuana in a brownie, or her magic mushrooms in a milkshake.… Read More

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Spending a Cool Million on the Mekong

Current Location: Luang Prabang, Laos
Current  Weather: 93
°F (feels like 104°F)
Days Gone: 62
Days Remaining: 154

Chiang Mai fell away as each city often does when the time comes to move again. Sometimes it feels as if I am standing still and the locations are moving around me. This is the extent to which travel has become familiar. I’m not yet sure of the consequences of this phenomenon, or the persistence. Regardless, the world turned and I found myself on a long riverboat idling down the Mekong, bound for Pakbeng. I had crossed into Laos, finally entering the second country of this long journey after nearly two months in Thailand. Packbeng was simply an overnight stop, the halfway point on a two-day slow-boat journey to the town of Luang Prabang. The starting point of the whole venture, the border town of Huay Xai, actually turned out to be a legitimate place to spend time, primarily because I shared the Laos equivalent of a penthouse with three other travelers. Our giant rooftop terrace, though only four stories above the street, afforded us a view of the tiny city’s entirety, a flaming sunset, and the ever-moving Mekong.

A different boat was used on day two and it filled with passengers to maximum capacity, even by Asian standards, with a few dozen travelers still standing on the shore.… Read More

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Raw Mountain Vitality

Current Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Current  Weather: 95
°F (feels like 100°F)
Days Gone: 55
Days Remaining:161

I spent my last night in Mae Sot with new friends, enjoying a shared Seafood Hot Pot, cold beer, and eventually a bottle of Sangsom purchased from a (nearly) closed mini mart. For this reason, I did not take the 8:00 AM direct bus to Chiang Mai, but instead opted for a more reasonable departure time of 1:00 PM to Tak where I could catch a second bus onward to Chiang Mai. Walking to the bus station, after nearly two weeks in the same place, I felt once again the lightness that comes from carrying all my possessions on my back. Momentum works both ways; the longer one stays in a place the more difficult it can become to leave it behind. I had grown very comfortable in the tranquility that Mae Sot provided, but disturbing this pattern brought forth a new yet familiar energy. I was, once again, in motion.

Exiting Mae Sot was almost too easy; I glided through the checkpoints without a passport, and once without being questioned at all. Sometimes it is a great help to be the Farang with a beard.… Read More

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