spent last night with some friends looking for a spooky time (should be easy in phnom penh you say!) but the heart of darkness bar, rumored to be something very spooky was not at all spooky. the bathroom, usually spooky in asia, wasn't spooky either.

we ate tapas at a restaurant that trains homeless kids to be chefs and waiters, etc. tapas in cambodia make the world feel like a small place.

the king turned 81 yesterday. the king likes to make movies starring...the king. so, i thought the fireworks in honor of .... the king, would be really spectacular. they might have been but we were slow and left when they started, cruising 3 poeple to a scooter through insane traffic (no stoplights) down to the mekong, and missed them. but found a good place to sit and watch the craziness.

today, i am off to cambodia's southern coast to chill on the beach and hopefully find a halloween party of some kind!!


hello! greetings from sunny phnom penh! this computer is so slow i can't even see the letters as i write. so i am going to blindly do it with ewrrors and all.
spent the last five days in the cambodian countryside, which is similar to the laotian countryside, only the jungle is dense and the roads are BAD. when i say roads, i mean deep, wet, clay. like 2-3 feet deep weel well tracks in some places.

the town of ban lung is accessible only from one road leading to/from the boarder town of strung treng. once at that town, you get to ban lung by taxi if you are lucky enough to find 6 other people to cram in or you can do what i did which is hop on a pick-up with 18 others and all their stuff for the 4 hour drive. this was definately a feat of amazing packing. 4 people in the front seat, 4 people in the back pick-up cab seat, and ten of us in the back, along with 5 large bags of rice, 3 large boxes, many boxes of beer 4 large bags and a couple kids on top for good measure. it was pretty funny to me at first and then i was soon glad i didn't have to rely on this kind of public transport!
the town of ban lung, itself, consists of one wide and very dusty road with a market, some homes some guest-houses, and not much more. but, the scenery (and the adventure) are worth the drive, and the views of the countryside are spectacular. rolling hills, rice, jungle, farms, cashew trees, rivers, streams, lakes, mountains and indiginous villages surround the town and are accessible only by motorbike. when the road gets really crazy, there is a new path that veers off into the jungle then meets back up with the road down when its "good" again. 35km=2hours by cambodian road. and this area is considered good!
on part of one drive we visited a small gem mining town. i pictured it would be something like the gold mines i had seen in the west or just a huge area of hillside cut away somewhere... but it was totally different. a cambodian gem mine (for red and blue rubies) consists of a 15m deep hole in the ground, barely wide enough to fit one man. the weird thing is that these are scatterred all over the village and the jungle, and they don't seem to be filled after use. so our motorbike path would zoom right along 15m deep holes and children play near these holes in the village. but children here play with knives, so i guess this isn't really a concern... anyway, the hole is dug, a man goes in, a bucket is lowered and the dirt is piled up outside the hole. then this dirt is sifted in a homemade water hole using a bamboo basket, similar to the way gold is washed/panned. out come rubies! they found at least 20 while i was standing there and tossed them into a coke can to bring to ban lung and sell for $1-$100/ stone. the biggest was about the size of the opening of the coke can, which seems to me a very large ruby. but they are probably only getting $100 for a really nice one of those. still i think this is a lot for cambodian standards, but even so, the village looked like every other and not any richer for the mines.
oh, ban lung also has and airport. when you want to fly, you go put your name on a list and wait until there is enough people to fill the plane. in the meantime the "runway" is the best street in town and full of cars and bikes. before the plane is going to land, a pickup will drive down the runway and signal for everyone to clear the area for a few minutes. the plane lands on the dirt runway in a cloud of dust and then all the people again flood the area with bikes and cars. crazy. i decided to fly south because overland would take 2-3days and involve that pick-up again then 8-10hours by boat and staying overnight in some boring places and about $30... the plane is $55 and takes 45minutes. even though it is in an aging chinese (or russian)plane, it was just fine!
phnom penh, rumored to be a "shifty" place is actually muich cleaner and nicer than bangkok, larger than vientienne, but also, if you start to get into the craziness much more interesting. especially cool is the market with all types of fish, fish-heads, clams, oysters, lobster, squid, dried things, unidentifiable meat substances (which we lovingly call UMS's), semi-explosive hot peppers, crazy spiky fruit, and many other bowls of unidentifiable living things (ULT's) poking out their respective tentacles to grab you as you walk by. then you pass the very large and tinted "dream hotel" wiuth "dream massage" (no question about that one) but we had to check it out anyway. nothing to see but a dark lobby and the lingering odor of pot. dinner at the corner place where we get "what they are having" because they don't speak english. i end up with noodles that look like 3" worms and some hot soymilk. i am told that the orange sauce is good, so i put someon and the red sauce, too. yum!

tomorrow i will hire a motorcycle to take me to the killing fields (the place where the khmer rouge took their own people to be tortured and killed) then the royal palace and museum... something like that. but the driver already has a plan for me he says. i think i only have time for two days here if i want to see elephants play soccer in thailand. and do all the other cambodia things. but this city is strangely and darkly enticing, so we'll see. have a couple buddies who are a funny group and very excited about the city so its rubbing off on me.

probably i will have internet for the next week at least! and its only 50 cents/hour!


sorry for the lack of blog, my BLOGGY fans. there has been expensive e-mail or none since getting to southern laos/cambodia. that's right! i made it to cambodia.

spent the last few days in 4000 islands an area in southern laos where the mekong is 40km wide and filled with islands. met some people, hiked a little bit spent many hours on boats. arrived in cambodia today to the local boat mafia. you get your passport checked at the lao boarder, cross the river to the cambodian side and go through immigration on that side then jump back in the boat to go to the first major boarder town. but the boats are owned by "rich men" who pay the laotian government to allow them to collect "comission" from tourists using their boats (the only boats). so they charge $50 to cross the river and go 1/2 hour south. luckily there were 4 of us to split the charges. tomorrow i will try to go east to a remote area with a volcanic lake. there may not be anywhere to e-mail until i reach phnompenh (in a week) so don't worry if there are no blogs!!
haven't seen the irrawaddy dolphins yet but i'm still hoping to see them!
ok, this is pricey, so that's all for now!!!


found carolyn!
i've been walking walking walking today, exploring vientiane.


got a hold of carolyn! flying to vientiane this afternoon via the less-than reputable lao aviation. 40 minutes, $40. (vs the 10-12 hour bus ride for $4.)

will be there until the 20th, when i fly south to Pakse (1 1/2 hour, $67 vs. 2 horrible-road days on the bus). in cambodia by the 24th then no e-mail for a while (costs $24/hour until i reach phnom penh).
laos is beatuiful. standing on a bridge with a night breeze with mountains draped in mist sudden quiet by 10pm and the town wakes at the first rooster call, 4:30 am. at this point, competing roosters, morning chores, and boats make earplugs necessary. but getting up for a few minutes to watch the sunrise is preferrable.

haven't really been out of the tourist circuit yet, but this village was close. to get there, travel 6-9 hours by bus (depending on how many stops for how many people) followed by 1 hour by boat. took a long walk down paths used by singing school kids, 1 1/2 hours each way, rivers, rain, waterbuffalo, leeches and rice. found another village (even this one has 1 guest house!). small flower gardens are built in old bomb casings built in Dewey, CA, USA. posters show what not to do: no building fires near exposed bombs. kids should show parents bombs found in the forrest. parents should get the man in the blue uniform.

the family who owned our guesthouse lived in caves for 10 years (along with everyone else who is still alive) durring the war. they came out at night to fish in the dark (and gather food). for 10 years. now there are unexploded bombs everywhere. not as many land mines as cambodia, but kids are often killed by these bombs. a guy i talked to played with one as a kid then his friend played with it and it blew up.

people are poor. everyone wants to learn english, which seems to be the most popular ticket out. in 10 years 90% of the educated country will be educated soley in english=tourism. no one wants to study science, social work, math, medicine, art... what will happen when the only industry of the educated = tourism? a boy can get a higher education for $10/month but the family can't afford it. i don't think school loans exist. guesthouses are the moneymakers but even a family with 5 bungalos overlooking the river can't afford $10/month.

when they ask where my husband is, i tell people i am single. the looks in their eyes change. i imagine they are thinking of me marrying their son. they don't care about the others but they want me to stay longer. they tell me they like me and i am beautiful. i am aware that by marriage i could indirectly pull an entire family out of poverty. i have power by birth that i wish i didn't have. i want to be on equal footing so communication doesn't have another meaning. i imagine the marriage scenario. would we have to live together? how many years would we lie to the government before we were off the hook? would the family do if they suddenly came into more money? would they move to the city? would they be happier? would they share it with the village? would they make the best guesthouse on the block? would they create a tiny tourist empire? would they buy a buffalo? its time to get on the boat to leave. the mother tells me there is no boat for me, stay one more night. we laugh because the boat is here. they tell me to please come back next time i am in town!


change of plans. in case you are looking for me i am taking a boat north to nong kiaw for a night or 2. probably no e-mail for a few days because there's no electricity there. i will need to buy a flashlight very soon!

my day... taught a monk how to play guitar. climbed a small mountain. bought a boat ticket. ate. read.


regarding fauna.
1. i tasted, more than tasted, actually, a giant garami. this is a fish i had in my fishtank as a kid, but a mini version. this giant garami was about a foot long, fried and very tasty, even for a vegetarian.
2. i like chickens
3. asia harbors LARGE insects
4. except the ants which are tiny but will arrive when the food does, just like california. then they bite you when you aren't looking.
5. there is a moth in the jungle that will give you skin ulcers on your legs
6. a fellow traveler saw the rare irawadi dolphins just last week
7. sometimes there are toads in the shower
8. sometimes there are chickens on the table


i am in a better mood, but kind of an uninspired blogger today.

for the next few days i live at an intersection of two rivers in lovely luong probang, a french-colonial town in northern laos. the architecture is mostly french and of that time period (except the much older wats), so that gives the town a very unusual feel. the town itself is a boom town for tourism since the road from the capital was completed (with in the last 2 years) and so, will probably change very quickly. at the monent, though, it is very charming and relaxed.

i think tonite is the first night of the river boat festival (although it might be tomorrow- i have to figure it out). everyone all over town is building quick little boats (i don't think they have to carry people, just candles) out of bamboo, palm and flowers. they will be lit and floated down the river. by the way, this is the festival that i thought i was missing but it happens all along the mekong river.

also by the way the mekong river is HUGE. i have heard it is the second largest river in the world, running through china, burma, laos, thailand, cambodia and ending at the mekong delta in vietnam.

if you like details (like i do) this is a really good website showing maps and some information on politics, uses, population, agreements, etc. regarding the mekong. http://www.thewaterpage.com/mekong_river.htm
if you click on the map, you can even see where i am... check out the little finger that the mekong makes in northern laos. that's me!

actually that makes me think i should find you a real map so you know where i am... http://www.map.freegk.com/laos/laos.php

this is a little slow to load but you can see where i am (luongprobong). you can also follow THE PLAN:
will get to vientienne (bus or air) to visit carolyn (my aunt).
later fly from vientienne to pakxe then follow the mekong down into cambodia, looking for the rare, irawadi dolphin, some islands, some fun.
make my way to angkor wat, probably via phnom penh, boat up the river to siam reep (the best way to get around in cambodia sounds like river/boat when ever possible or air)
make my way to surin, thailand for elephants playing soccer.
go to bangkok, fly to hanoi

ok, i said i was uninspired but i guess i had a lot to say!

point of interest about drugs in laos: there are lots of drugs in laos. they are officially illegal but everyone tries to sell you opium and weed. there are opium dens, bars where all drinks and food are "happy"=made with cannibus (although i haven't seen any yet, they are here). cambodia is rumored to have even more. most food there is made with cannibus for flavoring and there is no choice either way.

off to find some boats or monks or something.


i'm in a bad mood today. no blog for you. poo poo.


ok! here i am in laos! (the boring update blog)

i met a buddy in nong khai, went to that amazing sculpture garden (definately a highlight of the trip) and headed off over the mekong river to vientienne, laos. everyone on both sides of the nong khai are getting ready and pumped up for a big festival culminating in mysterious fireballs floating in the river. this also co-incides withthe end of the rice harvest, the fireworks, long-boat races (like dragon boats) and a week of carnival-type atmosphere on the riverfront. unfortunately, the timing is a little off for me and i am going to miss the fireballs, which i am very curious about.

there are a few possible fireball causes that i have heard: the giant river serpant breathing fire... a natural phemonon of some sort... or some scientist's official ruling that someone in laos puts them in the river (but no one believes this one). i like that no one really knows for sure and its been happenning for many years.

vientienne is very nice for a city, meaning its managable size, some beautiful architecture, the air is good, good food, a river view. my friend, scott, and i rented a motorbike and went to check out this herbal sauna we heard about in a forrest wat. even though i didn't picture wanting to get any hotter, the sauna was fabulous. the smell of the herbs was amazing, they served medicinal tea and gave hour thai/lao massages, all for $2.50. it cured my itchy hands and made us both feel extremely relaxed. it was one of those days where you are constantly thinking, "where am i, again?".

next morning, we hopped a bus up north to vang vieng, a small eco-touristy town in the mountains litterred with caves, kayacks, inner-tubes, treks, bikes, scooters, goats, chickens, farms, a river and not too many tourists (luckily). i will go to start work on the farm this afternoon which includes farmwork (obviously) and teaching english to the local villagers. the farm itself is only 5km out of town, so i should be able to get back and forth to do some e-mails pretty frequently.

ok, that's all for now!!


an example of an uneventful day travelling:

woke up this morning and drank ginger tea with alan (the guy who runs the guesthouse in ban chiang). i learned that the fireworks are because its "the season". traditionally at the end of the rice harvest, all the poeple who have been living in the paddies for 4 months come home and all of the monks who have stayed inside come out into the streets while fireworks are shot off to ward off the evil spirits. at the moment everyone is just warming up and shooting some off every night.

unimportant interlude ---> i ask if his dog ever gets sick from all the strays around and we begin talking about his dog. i learned that he (the dog) has a girlfriend next door that he really likes but he (the dog) is small and she always picks the bigger dogs when it comes to mating season and he has to just watch his lady-friend with other bigger dogs. now his dog just hangs out with humans and not with the other dogs, so there's a broken heart but no diseases.

back to the story---> i left at 7:40 in hope of catching the 7:55 mini-bus (a pick up with seats in the back) out of town back to udon thani then onto nong khai. so i said my goodbyes and walked down to the museum where the bus dropped me off two days before.

i forgot to mention that this whole time i am the only falong (white person) in town so my day to day activities, including my 6-mile walk to the nature reserve was watched with a lot of curiousity. usually i just smile and then the people watching me smile as if we both know that i am very weird but friendly.

today while i sat waiting for the bus, the local women paving the street stopped work to stare at the falong with the big blue bag on the side of the road on saturday (the day with no bus). smile. smile. ok, back to work. a woman selling clothes came to talk to me. actually she shook my hand and said hello then went back to her shop. in a few minutes another woman came up to me. smiles.
me: "sawatdee kaa".
her: "kaa".
and asked where i was from.
"america!! i love america"
"have you been there?"
"no money!"
her: "where is your husband?"
me: "i don't have a husband"
(she is very excited at this)
she says "oh lady!!!"
i tell her "i'm free!" (she's still very excited)
i tell her my age, she tells me hers. i tell her she looks much younger. we laugh. she tells me the bus maybe isn't coming because its saturday. but a tuk-tuk driver appears (the only one in the town i think) and she bargins a good rate for me to get to the highway where i can catch a real bus. i hop in and go with him to the highway where he points out the bus stop on the other side of the road. i think he is staying to make sure i catch it but it comes with in 30 seconds and he yells and i wave at the bus. i get on. put my bag in the pile of bags in the back and sit down.

the bus plays loud thai pop music and for the 100th time i wish i had a tape recorder. this would make a great soundtrack for the up and coming movie of my trip which i have been playing in my head. i decide what i would include and how i would edit in this music. i'm the only falong on the bus. people like to look at me. i smile. smiles back. i really dig the music even though its LOUD.

after and hour we arrive at the exact bus station i need to be at to catch my next bus. i pay to use the toilet, buy a ticket, figure i have 45 minutes and go across the street to eat pad thai breakfast. the music here is louder! i realize its a cafe/kareoke place. i realize that all around the bus station are cafe/karoeke places and they are all as loud as they go because they have to try to drown all the other places out. loud.

i catch the bus which costs about $0.75 to go to nong khai. got to nong khai 1 hour later. caught a tuk-tuk for $1.25 to go the 2 miles to my guesthouse. made it by 1pm no sweat!

tomorrow morning i plan to rent a motorbike to see a local sculpture garden. apparently, it was created by a guy who was walking through the jungle one day when he fell into a hole/cave and onto the lap of a hermit. the hermit taught him all about buddhism and the underworld and he stayed and lived with the hermit for many years. when he emerged, he started making sculptures out of cement which represent hindu and buddhist dieties. its a place where local people come to meditate, although not a wat. its run by volunteers who really liked the guy and the place. they also mummified his body and its there under glass for all to see (creepy?). i also hear there is another garden on the laos side that the local people cheerfully call "hell". maybe i will check out hell on monday.

if you are bored and you would like a multi-media persentation about the sculpture garden:

tomorrow afternoon laos!

also they can't put photos on cd here, so unfortunately you will all have to wait for more pictures... these will be really good, too.

by the way i am in an internet cafe which is also a japanese book store and they are playing that eminem song with the dido sample. i've heard more eminem here than any other musician.


after a 7 hour train, i arrived in udon thani yesterday morning, again with bug bites from the sleeper car. i thought i had wised up when i applied insect repellant before getting on the trin, but after washing my hands on the train they were fresh meat for the little bugs. i am guessing it might be bed bugs and i am guessing that i am allergic. it seems to be the same thing that bit my foot the last time, only this time, instead of 2 bites there are about 20 on each hand. my little paws are poofy and so itchy they burn. even my super hydrocortisone doesn't effect it, nor does benedryl, aloe, or the local thai stuff (yellow goo in an unlabelled jar). so, i'll just wait.

first thing to worry about was looking for a hotel. tuk-tuks are always at the train stations waiting to take you where ever you want to go. whether or not they actually know what you are talking about, they say yes and start driving. then they stop and ask directions, find out your hotel doesn't exist anymore and we go down the list of other hotels i picked. one after the other i checked them out. they were all in some way really gross, and i began thinking, "this is asia, what do i expect?". but really i didn't want to stay in any of the hotels i saw and so, decided to head off to another small town 55km west and try my luck at the only guesthouse there.

now, i mostly like the lonely planet, but when they describe things as "friendly" and "clean" these things are reletive. relatively clean and relatively friendly. the guesthouse in this small town i was going to was described as "well manicured" and "partly wood", but i thought i would try it anyway. as it turns out, this is the most beautiful place i have stayed so far! the town itself (ban chiang) is very cute, has 6 restaurants, 1 doctor, 1 internet place, 1 barber, local handicrafts people (mostly making the pottery that this area is famous for), a museum, an archeological dig site, a few wats and a nature preserve (and for some reason they shoot off fireworks every night).

of course i checked out the archeological site and its really quite extensive. apparently a travelling harvard student litterally tripped over some pots sticking out of the ground and told the right people who came and discovered that there was a huge burial site bating back to 5,000 -10,000 BC full of pots, human bones, and many metal objects like bracelets, spearheads, etc. the town of ban chaing has been made famous by this site, which disproved the theory that the ancient people here had just purchased metal objects from others, because they knew nothing themselves. instead, there is proof that the local people themselves discovered complex systems of melting and casting and creating brass alloys out of 2-3 metals which all melt at different temperatures and made all of the objects themselves. also a unique local style of ceramics were discovered and now pots are made in this old style sold here.

i would actually like to stay in this town longer, but my visa is out in 2 days, so i will be making a run for the boarder (3 hours away) tomorrow morining.