Archive by Author

To Hold the Bones of the Dead

Current Location: Sihanoukville. Cambodia
Current  Weather: 88°F (feels like 95°F)
Days Gone: 124
Days Remaining:92

I really hate to gloss over the scuba diving in Nha Trang, the sand dunes of Mue Ne, and the electric chaos of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), but such is the way of blogging. I had an illness, anyway, in HCMC, which closely resembled a cold but that I’m sure was the result of bad quail eggs found in a few street-vendor steamed buns. Also, spending half a night sleeping on a wooden bench while waiting for the bus did not help my situation. At the end of this series of events I found myself crouch running the length of an American football field through the Cu Chi Tunnels with a stuffed up nose. My quadriceps still have not totally forgiven me for this sin. On the upside, I did manage to divert two separate but very organized attempts to rob me. After a bit of research, I have discovered these attempts were made by members of the Filipino Mafia. So that’s exciting.

I have since crossed my third land border into my fourth country: Cambodia. I spent a few nights in Phnom Penh, the capital, in a cheap room which undoubtedly used to be a kitchen.… Read More

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The Eye of the Storm

Current Location: Nha Trang, Vietnam
Current  Weather: 87
°F (feels like 101°F)
Days Gone: 115
Days Remaining: 101

I am now past the halfway point in this seven month journey. The halfway point, an instant in time like any other. Yet it is a time that begs the past to be weighed against the future, and all the while I sit in the present holding the scales. I’ve seen giant waterfalls and caves and mountains and beaches. I’ve been part of the street-side mayhem in capital cities and I’ve enjoyed the serenity of nowhere. I can flag down a local bus, barter in local currency, and eat elbow to elbow and knee to knee with locals despite having only a smile in common. I can sleep peacefully with a giant spider in the room. I can bathe in the rain. I have excreted sweat in a greater volume in the last hundred days that I have in my entire life. I have suffered swollen feet and bug bites and conjunctivitis. I have eaten a great quantity of bugs. But I have looked into the eyes and minds and hearts of countless individuals, and I have seen truths that press laughter or pain or hope or fear directly into my soul.… Read More

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A City in the Clouds

Current Location: Sapa, Vietnam
Current  Weather: 70
°F (feels like winter to me)
Days Gone: 101
Days Remaining: 115

Not until Sapa has an offer of, “hey mate, ya wanna grab a beer,” escalated into such an eventful and multicultural experience. I had arrived in a daze at sunrise after taking a night train to Lao Cai (on the Chinese border) and then a minibus onward, so I passed out immediately upon finding a bed. After sleeping into the afternoon, I wandered to the open window to discover that Sapa truly was a City in the Clouds. Mist shrouded mountains descended into green waves of rice paddies, with spots of clouds floating both above and below. I wandered the town for a while to get my bearings and was followed all the while by a persistent entourage of ethnic minorities attempting to sell me handicrafts. When I returned to my hotel (which luckily offered an affordable dorm room) I met a dread-locked hippie who had been living in Sapa for two months. He was just heading out for a drink and invited me to join him. I soon found myself in the company of a handful of other foreigners who had found themselves “stuck” in the wondrous mountain frontier.… Read More

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How to Stop Time in the 4,000 Islands

Current Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Current  Weather: 90
°F (feels like 107°F)
Days Gone: 92
Days Remaining: 124

I have great difficulty doing nothing for extended periods of time. That is, stretches of inactivity almost always leave me anxious and craving some sort of creative outlet or physical exertion. I attribute this to the passing of time, which I’ve always seen as incredibly valuable, something not to be “wasted.” The longer I idle, the need for movement increases exponentially. But I found a place where time stands still. I idled for a full week on Don Det, one of the 4,000 Islands in Southern Laos, and during that time I craved nothing. The following is a passage I wrote while still on the island, outside of time’s grasp; perhaps it will help to explain the phenomenon.

My time here is spent reading, or thinking, or eating, or speaking. We do not multitask. Every morning begins with the croaking guffaw of a rooster, the giggles of children, the thudding of boat engines crawling up and downstream, pushing canoes of people with destinations. We do not feel the pull of time. Our daily decision is what to eat. Everything else is determined by the weather.Read More

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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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How to Survive Bugs in Your Bed, Cereal

Current Location: Mae Sot, Thailand
Current  Weather: 82
°F (feels like 88°F) – Cool and fresh tonight thanks to recent rains!
Days Gone: 46
Days Remaining: 170

My first nights here I slept miraculously well, waking up refreshed just before the roosters began crowing. Last Friday, though, I was told my hostel room had been booked by another individual, and I was being kicked out. The hostel manager offered me a room in a separate building with a private bathroom for a cheaper price. The room looked fine, but the “pay-in-advance” request (and low initial price) was suspect. I soon discovered, through conversation with another traveler, that the room in question was home to a large family of bed bugs.

I moved to the guest house next door, where I found, much to my dismay, another room with a bug problem. Luckily, after mentioning this to the hostel owners, I was immediately moved to the master suite with air-conditioning for the night. This was mega luxurious and I slept fitfully in a queen size bed. The next night, I had moved back to the newly cleaned and supposedly debugged original room. At around 11 the bugs reappeared en masse.… Read More

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Monkopalypse Now

Current Location: Mae Sot, Thailand
Current  Weather: 91
°F (feels like 100°F)
Days Gone: 38
Days Remaining:178

The “bus station” in Ayutthaya is actually just an extra wide street that buses all happen to park on. There is no ticket stand or information booth or any apparent organization at all. Because most of the writing on the buses themselves is in Thai, finding one that said “Lopburi” proved impossible. So I questioned the nearest vendor by gesturing toward the buses and asking, “Lopburi?” He answered with, “Yes, Lopburi, green, green!” Armed with this new clue, I walked back among the buses searching for a green bus. Almost immediately I caught a glimpse of a green bus pulling away in between two other buses. Jogging along next to the green bus, I called up to the windows, “Lopburi?” A Thai woman seemed to nod so I jumped on just as the bus began picking up speed. I found a seat and asked a different Thai guy if this bus went to Lopburi. He nodded and said “Lopburi.” This is how I made it to the city of monkeys.

Immediately upon arrival a pedal-bike taxi fellow agreed to take me to the guesthouse I named for 20 baht.… Read More

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