Southeast Asia 2
January 2001

 

Comrades:

Leaving Phnom Pehn, about two weeks ago, Robyn and I headed up the seldom-traveled Mekong towards the supposedly closed Cambodia/Laos border. Getting to the border required two days travel on crowded pickup trucks over useless road. The road was reckoned to be one of the 'least secure' in Cambodia, and seemed to have an unusual amount of random people walking around with automatic weapons, but we arrived at the end of the road without incident. Half way up, at the city of Karatie, we enjoyed a few hours on a canoe in the river in the midst of a rare local species of river dolphins.

From the last town in Cambodia, we took a two hour motorized canoe ride to the border. I thought that getting through the 'closed border' (locals only) would require an unusual amount of finesse and a delicate bribe. As I sat in a chair in a small shack on a small island in the middle of the Mekong with a big, surly, greasy looking immigration chief sitting on my right (blocking my view of the unlocked rack of rifles) I was looking at my toes and trying to be obsequious as I refused to pay his illegal fee. Meanwhile, on my left (to my alarm) my indignant wife stood towering over the immigration chief with a finger in his face telling him in no uncertain terms about what she thought of his excessive bribe. I thought - ' this is not what I had in mind '. This guy did not look like he was used to assertive females. I felt for him. In any case, we got through.

In southern Laos, we stayed a couple days on the biggest of 'the four thousand islands' and spent a day biking the island. Further north we explored the quiet but impressive temple of Champasak. After two days of travel, we arrived in the sleepy capital of Vientiane, which at only 100,000 people is sleepy indeed. There, we were able to spend a lot of time wandering around the wats(temples), admiring the French colonial architecture and apreciating the riverside atmosphere. Another couple days brought us to the drop dead beautiful town of Vang Vieng, half way up to the northern border and in the center of some beautiful karst mountains. In this backpacker haven, we wandered around several local caves, enjoyed the cool waters of an aqua blue swimming hole, explored a Hmong Village and spent a day tubing down the local river watching the locals go on about their chores on the riverbanks.

Currently, we are in the traditional capital of Luang Prabang. We decided to celebrate our 6th anniversary by staying in the best hotel in town, which is the renovated residence of the former Queen. The hotel restaurant was also meant to be excellent (chef is the daughter of the last king's chef), so we had dinner there as well. Although the proper atmosphere did not lend itself to Robyn giving me 'real time tips', later she suggested these - 1) after you finish a plate, don't put it to the side, put your elbows on the table and stare at your empty place setting while waiting for the next course to arrive and 2) don't pick up and hold your French onion soup bowl on an angle near your mouth while shoveling the goodies with your spoon hand.

Next we head through a couple small towns on our way into China, where we hope to set ourselves up for Chinese New Years on January 24th. If we haven't responded to an email you've sent, it's because the Internet connections are mind numbingly slow - we'll have a better one when we get home in a few weeks.

Laos Party Cell
Keir and Robyn.

Only pickup trucks can navigate most of Cambodia's 'highways'. Our pickup truck (above), to the last town in Cambodia, broke down frequently.
The Laos immigration shack at the border.
The scenery at Vang Vieng.
Hmong children are curious about the pictures in our book.

Created: February 4, 2001
Maintainer: Keir Paesel