Archive for ‘Asia’

Si Phan Don: Laos’ land of lotus eaters is 4,000 islands of bliss on the mighty Mekong

I’m sitting on my bungalow’s terrace staring out at the Mekong River. Birds are singing. A lone motor boat slowly buzzes by, its motor more soothing than irritating. Even the lone crowing rooster doesn’t feel so annoying here. Across the water is a long string of palm trees, standing sentry to one of the most soothing corners of Southeast Asia. I’m on Don Det, one of the islands of Si Phan Don. That’s Lao for “4,000 Islands,” a name I didn’t doubt the moment my motor boat maneuvered around dozens of them to arrive here.
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Trekking in Laos: It’s where the Himalayas end and life for the Akha tribe begins

You don’t realize how long a country like Laos is until you go its northern border. Laos is 1,280 miles long. I went from sweltering along a river in Central Laos to freezing my membranes off in the Lao mountains. I sat in my crude hotel room in this quiet, mountain town of 15,000 about 10 miles from the Chinese border. Phongsali is the jump off point for some of the best trekking in Southeast Asia. It felt like it. I sat on the hard bed in my black turtleneck and khakis, very thankful I brought a stocking cap. I’d need it all the next day when I’d try to stay warm in an Akha family’s bamboo shelter.
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An interview with a monk: My time becomes spiritual in Laos’ Buddhism capital

I could hear rhythmic chanting inside, beautiful chanting by young voices. I peered through the narrow windows and could see the temple filled with saffron-robed monks. I stood and listened for a bit then went around to the entrance. About 30 of them, mostly teen-agers, kneeled in front of a huge golden Buddha.
The chanting ended and the monks filed out silently. One came out alone. He was young, thin with a round, kind face.
“Nice singing,” said one of the two other men observing.
“It wasn’t singing,” the young monk said in near perfect English, almost scolding. “It’s chanting. Singing is something else.”
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Vang Vieng: Laos’ one-time party center no longer “Death in Paradise,” thanks to crackdown

In 2011, Vang Vieng’s small hospital recorded 27 deaths in the river. This does not include unreported deaths or people dying after getting emergency transported to Vientiane, the capital. Keep in mind, the Nam Song is not the Colorado. It has no rapids. The Nam Song (“song” means “river” in Lao) is as peaceful as a Swiss summer. The only white water that was ever on the river was the beer foam that splayed a one-kilometer swath from all the bars that lined the banks.
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Laos: My 100th country is slowly emerging from its poverty-stricken communist cocoon

“Why Laos?” I always like that response. It means no one knows anything about it. It’s the capital of one of the few communist countries left in the world. It has emerged from a past so provincial it hardly had any street lights in 1998. The government, following China’s lead, opened its arms to tourism and limited free enterprise in the 1990s under a reform called the New Economic Mechanism. The number of tourists jumped from 14,400 in 1990 to 4.68 million in 2015.
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Bangkok: After 30-year absence, tastes remain the same in Sodom & Gomorrah East

Welcome to the land that morality forget. Bangkok is where visions are blurred, not only through the haze of too many Singha beers but the vast tolerance of a Buddhist culture and tourist industry run amok. It’s where a he is a she and a she can do things I didn’t learn on the streets of Eugene, Ore. When I started traveling in 1978, Bangkok became my gateway to the extremes of Asia travel. It guided me through an education that hardened me on my way to visit 100 countries.
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The City of Dreams Manila is helping elevate Filipino food to a new audience

… since the opening of the City of Dreams in December 2014 by the famous Melco Crown Group, authentic and contemporary Filipino food has been given a new platform whereby international travelers will be able to sample the best Filipino dishes in the five-star casino resort.
The casino and resort is a multi-purpose site, which has gained worldwide acclaim for its variety of live entertainment, huge gaming floors that even include and the aforementioned slew of popular high-end Filipino restaurants. The City of Dreams is also full of retail shops and purpose built concert halls.
But, for us foodies, it’s the restaurants that prick our ears.
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Taj Mahal is the beautiful face of India but so are ugly Indian trains

It was due to one of the Seven Wonders of the World living up to its billing as the most beautiful building on earth. Eiffel Tower? Take a bow. Ever since I saw you stand over Paris like a Rockette on stage when I was a 22-year-old backpacker, you’ve been my No. 1 gal. Not now. Not after walking through a giant red sandstone gate which perfectly frames the Taj Mahal. It’s true, really. Every hardened traveler who treats crowds like immigration officials say pictures don’t do the “Taj” justice. It’s exactly as wide as it is tall, 55 meters x 55 meters. The four corner minarets make it look like a four-poster bed, providing a romantic image for a building built on love.
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Birthday in Delhi means new friends and victory in Indian rum pong

My hotel is in Old Delhi which shouldn’t be confused with New Delhi which is the administrative and government center the British built in the early 1900s. New Delhi is lined with white, ornate architecture, huge official-looking buildings where long ago the Indians moved out numerous statues of British dignitaries. Old Delhi is lined with grime, dust, cheap retail stores, construction, wild probably rabid dogs, crazy drivers and cheap hotels you can’t tell from scruffy garages.

My hotel was an absolute mystery to my baffled cab driver. He asked directions about six times, from auto rickshaw drivers who pointed him in opposite directions to vendors selling dodgy samosas from filthy street stalls. After 30 minutes going up and down the same dirty street, screeching past rickshaws and terrified dogs, we finally found C-Spot Hotel. It’s a single door under a vertical sign which could’ve said the Bates Motel and I wouldn’t have cared.
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Periyar Tigre Reserve light on tigers but big on bliss

We walked into the slightly dense forest and the guide pointed out something in the mud. They were paw prints, big paw prints. “Tiger,” he said. They were from four days ago. Not far away were huge round blocks imprinted in the mud. They were elephant prints from about the same time. A male and a female. They were all heading out of the forest toward the lake we were skirting across.
A few feet later he pointed out a bison skull hanging from a tree trunk. A tiger had killed it four years ago at the same spot where we were standing. Knowing tigers don’t like noise, I was wondering if anyone in our group had an AC-DC tape.
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