Month: March 2013

How The Locals Do Things

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Jaa and Kelvin kept us well-entertained by taking us to eat at local restaurants, plunking us into local waterfalls, and visiting Jaa’s rubber tree farm. The next day, we went on a full-day excursion to the coast, local style. Here’s how you do it: Start with dim sum for breakfast at the tour company headquarters….

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The World Decides To Amaze Us Even More

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Jaa’s hometown of Trang is only a couple of hours by public bus from Railay. Her family still has a house in town, where we stayed for a few days to visit her rubber plantation and explore some of the nearby beaches. Karel was keen on finding a music jam. We succeeded when we found…

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The World Amazes Me

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Kelvin joined us, on break from his job in Perth at Curtin University, and we set plans in motion for a trip to the legendary beaches of southern Thailand. Jaa made the arrangements for our flight to Krabi, with transfer by bus and boat to a resort at Railay West Beach. The beaches of Railay…

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A Vacation From The Vacation

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After nearly three months of travel, it’s time for a little break. My body seems to agree. I hadn’t gotten back to 100% after my brief episode with the flu. The moment I lowered my defenses, I had a minor relapse. Nothing like the first time, just a little tiredness and a special request from…

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Same Same – And Yet, So Different

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When you shop at the markets and decide to make a purchase, the vendor will often whip out a packaged version of the product, untouched and ready to go. “Same same,” they assure you, pointing from the sample you were holding to the proferred package. The wise buyer should verify this before handing over any…

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The Golden Land

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About a thousand years ago, Cambodia was rich and powerful. During the Khmer dynasty, the kings built fantastic complexes of temples and cities, including the crowning glory, Angkor Wat. We were told by our guide that the old name for the country literally meant Land of Gold, so named because the sands and rivers contained…

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Anything That Moves

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For our bus ride to Siem Reap, we were entertained by the many ways that Cambodians get themselves and their stuff from place to place. The highway was a decent road with light traffic, by Indochina standards. Besides the usual motorbikes, bicycles, tuk-tuks, cars belonging to government employees, small trucks, and tourist vans, we encountered…

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Land Of Orphans

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Karel and I elected not to visit the infamous killing fields or prisons of Cambodia, but the aftermath of this horrible period was all around us. Many of the adults we saw working in the shops, hotels, and restaurants were orphans. They grew up, not only without parents, but without teachers. They were deprived of…

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Charlie Chaplin And The Ninjas

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It was a long ride from Saigon to Phnom Penh, but the public bus was reasonably comfortable and we were entertained by a couple of Charlie Chaplin movies (The Kid and The Great Dictator), followed by the outrageously violent Ninja Assassin (think Kill Bill with a bad plot, overdubbed by a single, female voice in…

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The Conveyer Belt

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For our last day in Vietnam, we made a short journey to the town of My Tho, on the wide and muddy Mekong Delta. There, we boarded a longtail boat and visited a floating market, got off to see a fruit orchard where we sampled the produce while enjoying a performance of Vietnamese folk music,…

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Bienvenue

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Saigon is a lot like a modern American city. The bikers and drivers seemed more aggressive there, so we really had to be on our toes on the streets and sidewalks. And it was hot, unbelievably hot. The scheduled activities were focused around the history of the American War. Karel and I opted out. We…

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The Good Times Briefly Come To A Screeching Halt

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I was drifting off to sleep after our busy day when my body starting sending signals that something was amiss. I spent the rest of the night making frequent trips to the bathroom, sweating, shivering, tossing, and turning, and feeling miserable. The worst was over by daybreak, but I still had a fever and spent…

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Happy Buddha

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Hoi An straddles a navigable river near the coast of the South China Sea. Its location made it an important stop on the Sea Silk Route, but long before that it was a prominent player in the spice trade. It has had many names and been inhabited by different people over its long history of…

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Beauty, Peace, and Joy

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Ha Long Bay was magical. The air was clearer once we left the busy port area. Our junk, although not much to look at from the outside, was gorgeously appointed inside. The food was delicious, the presentation was spectacular. Loan continued to endear herself to the group with her stories and even singing. I went…

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Being flexible

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I had a version of Southeast Asia in my imagination. It was based on books and movies and travel journals and postcards. It wasn’t a perfect world; there was war, and poverty, and dictatorship. But it was beautiful and human, life was artful, and it was completely different from, and even immune to, the ways…

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Getting Better With Chopsticks

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Today a lime seed fell into my fruit shake, where it threatened to clog my straw and cause all sorts of trouble. Without even thinking about it, before it sank below the foamy froth at the top, I plucked out the slippery little bugger with my chopsticks. I’ve never had an easy time with crowds,…

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The Cult Of The God-King

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Old ways die hard, especially when they once represented life and death. It was a long walk to the mausoleum, but we went through a district of embassies and officials, so the sidewalks were passable and traffic was more orderly (although that’s not saying much). Ho Chi Minh is revered in Vietnam in almost the…

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The Old Quarter In The Modern Era

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Nothing we’ve done, nowhere we’ve seen, has prepared us for the streets of Hanoi. Our hotel was in the Old Quarter, a district of narrow streets and turn-of-the-century French architecture, absolutely jammed with people and motorcycles. Our bus was too big to navigate the few blocks to the hotel, so our luggage was crammed into…

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The French Connection

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(Karel was taking a couple of days off from photography, so we don’t have much visual material to post for this entry. The cover image of this post was taken at the village homestay and is not related to today’s story. Don’t worry, though, the avalanche will resume shortly.) The capital city of Vientiane is…

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Rest In Peace, Dear Maya

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As many of you know, our kitty Maya passed away. Maya gave us (and many others) lots of love – she was the sweetest cat that we ever knew. We are very grateful that during her last weeks she was surrounded by friends and family that gave her lots of love and attention. Maya, we’ll…

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The Wealth of Nations

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In the morning, Joan brought me over to meet her host family, so I could watch the mother working at her loom. The father, meanwhile, was cutting tobacco up for drying. It was interesting to see them at work and get a sense of how they produced goods for the local markets. It was a…

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The Village Dance

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From bottomlands as flat and green as a lake, the mountains soar skyward all around us, improbably high and straight-sided. With the smoke of burning rice paddies drifting between them, they look like the crumbling teeth of fallen dragons. After climbing and descending a few mountain passes, we leave this stunning scenery behind us and…

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