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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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