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Hey There Folks!

 

This will be our last trip post as we are leaving Thailand on New Years Day. We just spent the last week or so on the lovely island of Koh Chang with my family(Katie), sailing, swimming and eating delicious sea food. The island is the second largest in Thailand and covered mostly in dense, jungle clad mountains. One side is totally overrun by burnt northern tomato-baby European tourists. This is where Jack and I stayed for the first night, which was enough. With the fam we stayed over on the other side of the island which was mostly deserted except for a small fishing village and the resort that we stayed at. No beach at the place but we were able to take a little motor boat over to a small island with a private beach.

Funky little ghost resort on our beach island

Our Transport

Captian Jack

We also chartered a super nice sail boat over to a small cluster of islands for snorkeling. Skipper Jack steering the sailboatUnfortunately the reefs were dying so they weren’t super lively but we did see number of swordfish and lots of colorful stripey fish. I managed to get plenty of pictures of people on the boat but not the boat itself. We also are totally off our game with the food photography. We had fabulous crab, snapper, shrimp, squid and the best scallops ever. I wish we had had our wits about us and photographed them because they were truly beautiful.

I wish I could find all of the pictures. When I do I’ll make sure to post them.

Hello TempleNuteers!

Writing from Lopburi City, prime city of Lopburi Province in Central Thailand. Since we completed our ‘gringo trail’ loop through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia we have jigsawed across the southern part of the country, dropping in on various points of historical interest. Lopburi definitely ranks high on that ladder. Lopburi was (and is, ruins included) the home of a prominent Ayuthaya period palace (which I’m sitting across the street from.) The Old Town area is dotted with Sukhothai- and Ayuthaya-style temple ruins. Being as nuts for Temples as we are, we’ve spent the last couple days checking out the local sights, interspersed with healthy bouts of reading (I’m about to finish my second cheesy detective novel in 4 days). We locked in a good place to stay (with a laundry machine!) on the first night, and were also treated to the Lopburi weekly night market right outside our front door. We’ve also successfully charted the locations of the local Chiang Mai-style sausage vendor cart, so we can’t really think of any other items on our list to accomplish!

A note about the Chiang Mai sausage: it’s not really sausage, but mostly a minced blend of pork (moo, confusingly enough,  in Thai), rice, seasonings such as cilantro, baby celery leaves and white pepper, and red beans wrapped up neatly in a pork sausage casing. They’re quite delicious, 10 Baht (30 cents) a pop and I maintain a habit of at least one a day, if not 3, when I have a steady supply.

Enough about my gluttony.

Tomorrow we’re headed back southwards, towards Koh Chang, our rendezvous point with Katie’s family for Christmas. We’ve got to make a small stop along the way to grab some extra-special presents for all you kiddo’s back home.

Keeping it short because I need to meet up with Katie back at the guesthouse soon.

Our love and best wishes to you all.

Jack and Katie

Picture Time:

So, we finally got off our lazy behinds and left Kanchanaburi. It was a great vacation from our vacation, and we emerged from our riverside bungalow rejuvenated and ravenous.

Our first stop back on the road has been Korat, the capitol of Nakon Ratchasima province in North-Eastern Thailand. Korat itself is somewhat unremarkable, though it is nice to be off the tourist trail (Kanchanaburi is a big draw for touristas) and back into the Thai side of Thailand. The city is midsized, and the region is home to thriving handicraft trade/production centers specializing in silk and ceramics, and Khao Yai National Park, considered the prize gem of Thailand’s preserved wilds.

Unable to pass up that kind of reputation, we made the park our first port of call in this province.  It’s funny, because once you get this direction out of Bangkok, the English level drop off precipitously (its easy to forget not everyone speaks it in more touristed places), and you’re suddenly back on your feet, using every drop of Thai in you to get yourself to the bus station.  The reason that’s funny is because as soon as we got off the bus from Korat to Pak Chong, the ‘gateway’ city to the park, we were accosted by two 20-something American girls asking if we wanted to share a taxi to the park with them. Then a dude from Ohio with one of the biggest camera’s I’ve seen pops along and begins discussing sharing his friends car on the way into the park. Turns out that the weekend we decide to visit the park, Khao Yai is hosting a large music festival called Bonanza, or something like that. The ticket cost about $60, and not really being there for a festival we opted out and took the more traditional camping route.

A 45 minute sorngteaw ride down Th Thanarat takes you to the gate, but beyond that there isn’t much in the way of transportation if you’re not bringing your own. We paid our entrance fee (400 Baht for foreigners/40 Baht for Thai), and started walking into the park. On some level we realized that Khao Yai covers some 2,800 sq/km of jungle, but it didn’t really sink in at first and we merrily began what would have been a 14 km hike to the nearest campground. Fortunately we hadn’t gone 100 yards when a truck with 6 early-20’s Bangkokian guys in the back pulled up and a middle aged woman with great English incredulously asked if we needed a ride. We hopped in and 30 minutes of beautiful scenery (and one significant 4 km climb that would have killed us), and she dropped us neatly at the entrance to Lam Takong campground.

When we travel we often lose track of the days of the week, and this had happened until we walked into the campground and were greeted by a few hundred Thai families, off camping for the weekend (it was Friday evening). There was, thankfully, space, and still plenty of gear to rent (tent, mat, blankets), so we weren’t really put out. Our first night we only spotted two other farangs in the park, but we think they were French and they seemed very earnestly engaged with their pad thai so we let them be. Other than that we spent a very strangely isolated yet un-lonely couple of days.

We went hiking, and saw some really beautiful waterfalls, and I got a great sunburn on my dome. We almost saw some crocodiles but I think that once the trail began to be lined with “Beware of Crocodiles” signs we just ducked down our heads and booked it too hard to have any wildlife viewing encounters.Re: viewing wildlife, we spent one evening sitting on an overlook earnestly staring at a hillside, waiting for the reputed ‘millions of bats’ that it would disgorge at dusk as they went off in search of dinner. Only once the light had totally faded, and we had already seen some scattered bats about, did we give up and hitch back to the campsite. I guess you really need to have the mouth of the cave where the bats live in direct view in order to be able to appreciate their slightly creepy, swarming majesty. Kate and I are both convinced we’ve already seen great footage of the event on some nature documentary anyways, so bah humbug!

After our first good experience with hitchhiking in the park, we used it as our main mode of transportation. We must have stuck out pretty considerably, because we never had trouble getting a ride, and people would stop and ask us if we needed a ride even if we were taking an honest to goodness walk around. The family that took us back to our campsite from the bat-cave misadventure threw in a soda and plate of really dank grilled chicken as well. We felt horrible though, because they actually asked us if we’d like to join them for their evening sightseeing in the park-looking for elephants at salt licks and climbing up the highest peak for the view, but we were so bushed from a day’s hiking that we had to turn them down. A choice opportunity missed, we’re sure.

All in all it was a fantastic park-going experience, from the crocodiles to the family camping, Thai style (which is identical to how it’s done in the states except the campground doesn’t have individual sites, people just set up their camps in long, compacted rows similar to the camping field at a music festival, and party. Hearty.).

Now we’re recovering from a couple nights bumpy-lawn sleeping in Korat, contemplating our next move.

Love, best wishes,

Jack and Katie

Pam, our tent.

Katie's happy to be camping.

...and so is Jack.

Playing cards by candlelight.

Katie at some falls.

Jack. On the rocks.

Pretty waterfalls.

We were wary. Probably to the detriment of enjoying the scenery.

We went down this trail for about a kilometer before deciding it was waay too overgrown to proceed. Kate found a nice swing instead.

This is where we waited for the bats to emerge. We entertained ourselves with portraiture.

Monkeys raiding a pickup. Macaques, I believe.

Cute monkey.

That fine view. The clouds were stunning.

A nice Thai couple bequeathed us this massive candle when they saw our ornate setup. We played many hands of cards by its bountiful light.

Riding out of the park this morning.

And now for something completely different:

Celebrating Loi Kratong, November 21st.

Loi Kratong.

Three styles of architecture at the Royal Palace Temple, Bangkok.

And with architectural styles even closer together, the celebration hall at the Royal Palace Bangkok. We found the hybrid of Thai and European styles strikingly well done.

Kanchanaburi, revisted

I’ve decided that a new post is in order, despite the fact that I have little to write. We have spent the last two weeks in Kanchanaburi. Mostly we read, sometimes we skype, often we drink. We’ve recently taken to destroying the internet for everyone else by torrenting movies.

We’ve had the opportunity to read many excellent books, although unfortunately despite our great amount of time the book stores here carry mainly John Grisham and Jodi Picoult. We have discovered a wonderful writer named Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum.  He’s a professor of philosophy and semiotics and the University of Milan, and he has the rare gift of writing genuinely interesting and intellectually dense novels that are still exciting page-turners. I highly recommend looking them up.

Yesterday was King Bhumibol’s 83rd birthday, making him the longest serving monarch in history. We didn’t really go to any celebrations but watched the Bangkok festivities on TV.  It was also the last night of the River Kwai festival which has been going on the whole time we’ve been here. Its a celebration of the end of World War II that takes place at the base of the River Kwai Bridge. The second night we went to an interpretive light and sound show depicting the war. It was basically a lot of booms and explosions, fancy light work and badass fireworks. Unlike in the US they have no qualms about shooting off fireworks right over the audiences heads, which is great because having burning paper, ash and sparks landing on you really adds to the excitement of the thing.

We have really good access to the internet here so we are free to skype throughout most of the day. Since we can’t remember the password to our shared skype account, we are now using Jpmckeon as our username. We’re happy to talk always.

Bye Bye

Katie

The latest

Dear Loyal TempleNuts Readers,

Apologies for the extended hiatus from posting. Honestly, there hasn’t been much to report.

After losing out on the opportunity to go to India, the T-Nuts have had to undertake economic austerity measures so that we may continue to enjoy our time in Thailand in anticipation of the arrival of Katie’s family come Christmastime.

After leaving the farm we spent 3 nights in Bangkok with our new friends Teddi and Sydney from Orcas Island, Washington. Bangkok had a few highlights, including visiting the Royal Palace and bearing witness to the quite overwhelming megamalls that loom over downtown Bangkok.

One particular highlight was an evening spent dancing with some crazy Thai kids to a great cover band in a stylized underground brick bar, followed by a careening trip across late-night Bangkok to Wanawat’s pig-knuckle stand for some of the most supremely tender pork I have ever had the pleasure to bear witness too.

Unfortunately Bangkok is quite pricey, so we split pretty quick and have ducked for cover in nearby Kanchanaburi, the first town we stopped in in Thailand two months ago. It’s still the lazy river spot we remember, and we’re really enjoying sitting back daily with a big book and some thick Thai coffee, watching the Mae Nam Khwae flow by. If you remember (or don’t) Kanchanaburi is the sight of the famed ‘Bridge over the River Khwae’, and this week the province is celebrating the 65th anniversary of the end of WWII with a nightly festival and interpretive light and sound show of the effects of the war. The Thai put on a hell of a fireworks show, I’ll tell you what. They shoot them off so close to the crowd that halfway through you begin to get showered with glowing fragments of paper. It’s excellent.

Coming soon includes the King’s Birthday on December 5th, should be quite interesting to be around for that. Big parades etc.

We have the luxury of reliable and convenient internet access where we are staying, so please try to skype us, or drop us a line to set up a skype-date, if you are interested. We’re always happy to hear from everyone back home.

Due to our own incompetence, we can no longer access the McKavery account so please try us on my skype name: jpmckeon (original, right?)

We missed you all on Thanksgiving, we’re thankful for our loyal and loving readers, and for the future of long stories and conversations we’ll share catching up when we get back home.

Until our next post, or next email, we give our best to all of you.

Love,

Katie and Jack

(ahem, camera is dead right now and charging, the pictures should be up in not too long).

Daruma Farm, Bang Phra.

..and we’re back.

Fhew, what a week. We’re WWOOFing at Daruma Farm in Bang Phra, Thailand. It’s right outside of Si Racha, home of the famous hot sauce we love so much back home.

We got to the farm on November 6th and have had a pretty incredible 11 days thus far. Right now we’re here with about 7 other WWOOFers, and we live with a Thai family of 6. You can see the big house below.

The farm work is hard, but fun with good company. Daily activities include collecting eggs, picking up buffalo manure, clearing fields of the insane grass that grows during the recently ended wet season, prepping and planting a new garden, helping build a tea-house, delicious meals and dips in the pond after work. Some special jobs we’ve undertaken include digging up and transplanting whole trees (mangosteen and palms mostly), harvesting rice straw for mulch and throwing around the adorable little kids that live at the farm.

The other WWOOFers hail from Washington, Germany, Estonia, England (but a permanent mobile expat), France and Arizona. One incredible individual we’ve been able to work with is Elmer. He’s an 88 year old retired teamster and landscape gardener who brings lots of knowledge and an aesthetic flair to his gardening, with periodic breaks for some great stories dating all the way back to WWII.

The family who lives here have made us incredibly welcome, and we’re having a great time getting to know them. The parents are Toon and Deng. Toon is Thai and comes from Supanburi near Ayutthaya, Deng is Lao from Chaiyapum in the North-East. Deng’s oldest daughter is Em (14), who daily works on her English and Thai-pop karaoke skills for our benefit, and plays a mean game of badminton. Toon and Deng’s two little ones are Dan (5 come December) and Ka Toon (2). Dan is almost entirely deaf, but possesses a remarkable visual memory and inquisitive mind, watching him problem-solve around the farmhouse is a pretty awe-inspiring activity. Ka Toon is an adorable little monster who loves her Soymilk and makes the creepiest Zombie impression you’ve ever seen.

Toon is the caretaker of the farm, and so helps us around the property on various tasks every day, in stone cold silence until the work day is over. He’s an interesting fellow who busts mad hip hop dance moves and sings and plays guitar (though we’ve yet to get him to perform).

Deng is the housekeeper at Vimaya Spa which is owned by Neil and Su, the farm owners. She also acts as foreman in the kitchen and gives us daily lessons in Thai cookery.

We have so many stories to tell, we don’t even know where to begin, and today is special because its our day off and we’ve got to head to the market to get some grilling meat for this evening.

We love you all, miss you dearly and can’t wait to tell you about our adventures in person. Until then, check out the pics below.

And in big news for a lot of you, we’ll be buying our plane tickets back tomorrow and our visa runs up January 4th, so it’ll be between New Years and then. See you soon!

Love

Jack and Katie

Jack Deng and Em

Katie and Ka Toon

Jack and Ja, Deng's older sister.

Dan (or Dun) looking skeptical. He actually took quite a few of these pictures. He figured out the camera himself in about 30 seconds. He is seriously quite brilliant.

Riste and Ja

The Big House. 3 floors, currently sleeping 14.

Day at the beach with Sid, Teddy, Belinda and Elise (fellow WWOOFers)

Action shot! Ripping apart galangal (Thai ginger) for transplanting.

With Molly the Water Buffalo. Molly is a chiller.

Burmese Python pulled out of one of the chicken coops. It got 5 chickens though, mostly chicks.

Garden we helped clear and plant.

Thomat (France) juggling. He teaches clowning and circus skills to kids.

View out the top floor at the catfish pond and the hills beyond. Theres a large agricultural university between the farm in front of us that you can't really see, but it's there.

Sydney and Nui approve of each other.

Toon and Marie

Daruma Farm WWOOFers endorse Chang beer. So does this crab.

Thats all folks. Best Wishes and stay tuned for more of the T-Nuts.

Sihanoukville

Hey Gang,

 

I am writing this from a bus back into Thailand. We have just stayed about four days in Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s only real beach town. We haven’t really been doing much but sitting on the beach and eating the best barbecue seafood ever.

Unfortunately the beaches are really small and the main one near our guesthouse is packed with bars and restaurants and people selling things, and we really only had one day of sunshine. For the last two months we’ve been sweating liters every day in the sweltering heat, supposedly during “monsoon” season. We finally get to the beach and its actually a little cold. It was okay though te water is super warm and pleasant and it was still beautifull. Every night we had barbecued fish and squid and was simply to die for. If you can find it I highly recommend picking up some barracuda.

On street vendors: We were constantly assaulted by people, mostly kids, selling us bracelets, fruit, pedicures and massages. One woman started pulling out my leg hair with tooth floss, apparently a multi-faceted tool when wielded properly. They are extremely crafty salespeople. Its a difficult situation to be in because if you are polite and say no thankyou, look anyone in the eye or act freindly they wont leave you alone. The only recourse is to be rudely silent which feels even worse. So far we have collected 5 bracelets, a wooden flute, a pendant and an unnecesary sandal repair.

We are on our way to Chonburi province were we will spend some time working on a farm, then we’ll see where to go from there. We will be difficult to reach for a while since we doubt the farm has wifi. Also we took pictures of all this stuff but we didn’t realize that the memory card wasn’t in the camera so..sorry

 

Ooh! In Phnom Pehn we bought a badmitton set! Its all the rage over here.

 

Adios

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Mack’s comment on the last post was quite funny. And yes, the scarcity of blog posts can be read that we are having a good time, but it also means we have been very, very busy.

View of our Riverside Hut in Vang Vieng

First, travels down Laos. We left Veng Viang at 1:30 pm local time and arrived in Siem Reap Cambodia 7 buses and 35 hours later. Bumping down the length of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was oh-so-fun, and the confusing layovers in Vientiane and Pakse just added to the pleasure.

Scrunched in to the technicolor rave night bus. Yee haw!

Getting across the Laos-Cambodia border was quite a riot though. First came the Laotian customs, $1 please for your exit stamp.

After a 5 minute walk through a sweltering No-Man’s Land of a border, we were greeted with the Cambodian Health Checkpoint, a plastic awning over a card table. Our temperature was taken ($1 please), and we filled out card with our names, addresses etc. that earned us a pamphlet warning us of the dire dangers of H1N1, but reassuring us that Cambodian Authorities had an apparatus in place to deal with any infections. At this point we were also made privvy to the greatest point of connection between Cambodia and California, that there are many Cambodians living in Long Beach and Sacramento. The woman who took our temperature has a nephew in the Marines in Iraq. That was an eye-opener.

Across the street was the Visa checkpoint, ($23 please). Here, we were almost scrutinized before receiving another awesome full-page visa sticker with all sorts of official looking seals and pseudo-communist grain sheaves adorning its edges. After receiving our visa we made our way another 50 feet to the Customs Hut ($1 please), where we were officially stamped in to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

We then had the pleasure of waiting about an hour and a half for some not-too bright Europeans (Spaniards mostly, I think), who failed to recognize that there would not be any ATM’s in the middle of the Cambodian jungle, and no, you cannot pay for a visa in Laotian Kip (despite this fact being constantly advertised on any bus line bearing you towards the border, in every guidebook and reiterated by the bus company upon your departure for the border). We think they were just ticked off that they had to pay in Amurrikan greenbacks and not their precious Euros (“You know, a Euro is worth more, they’d be making more money, I guess they’re just stupid…”).

After that pleasant layover we got on another, if possible- jankier- bus and began chugging our way across Cambodia. Literally. If you look at a map, we crossed the border at Trapaing Kreal, at the South-East corner of Laos, and then spent 10 hours driving to within 60 kilometers of Phnom Penh before heading north again to Siem Reap. Efficient.

Upside- we got to see quite a bit of Cambodia’s beautiful countryside, watch the new Karate Kid movie and get our first Cambodian scam out of the way. ($3 to upgrade to a nicer bus which never materialized, not too tragic).

We arrived in Siem Reap at about 12:30 am, pretty spaced out. Katie was waiting for me to get off the bus and yelled my name across the crowd, a cunning tuk-tuk driver identified who she was calling to, and accosted me by name at the back of the crowd while clamoring for my backpack. “Jack, Jack” he yelled with a welcoming smile as if I was a long-lost cousin. This is how we met Sam, Sam Sam the Tuk-Tuk man (we sing his praises in song), who has been more-or-less our personal tuk-tuk driver these last 3 days.

Sam Sam the Tuk Tuk Man in Action. The Cambodians seem to be bigger believers in helmets than the Laotians or Thais.

I’m running out of battery so I have to speed up the narrative at this point….

Next day, we wake up late (in a massive room, all the guesthouses here have at least 15 foot ceilings.) and spent the day wandering Siem Reap. This is a cool city. We’re in one of the poorest parts of Cambodia, but Siem Reap does a nice business acting as host city to the multitudes (and even though its the ‘height’ of the off-season, there really are multitudes) of tourists who fly in to the specially made airport to visit the wonderful, mind bogglingly large, legendary, boombastamitastic, ANGKOR WAT.

Bum bum baaaa!!!!

Fidel Castro finds the gates of Angkor pleasing.

Angkor Wat itself dates from the 13th century and the reign of King Jayavarman VII, but is part of an extended complex which contains temples and ruins from the 9th century to the 16th century.

Angkor Wat is the largest religious building on Earth. St. Peter’s? Check. Hagia Sophia? Check. Angkor beats them all. As such, its huge. The complex of Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat with sides something like 1.6 kilometers long. The gates are 30 meters tall and it acted as the religious center of the Angkor Thom, the city just a skip to the North, which housed a million people by 1200. (For reference, at this time London had less than 70 thousand).

Contemplating the sunset atop an Angkor temple.

So it’s big, and it takes at least 3 days to see the big stuff. Which includes at least 10 temple complexes, numerous mebons (lake-sized artificial reservoirs with their own accompanying temple complexes), Royal Temples, kilometers-long terraces and miscellaneous rock piles. A fun fact to keep in mind as one wanders through these massive structures is that the remaining buildings are exclusively religious in nature. They were built to house icons of various members of the Hindu pantheon, no monks, kings or anybody. Only Gods ( and later Buddhas), were considered worthy of living in stone structures, so the entire city that house those one million people, and even the palaces, were all wood and as such have left barely a trace other than the remnants of some truly massive pillars that once were part of one of any number of palaces.

This is a small side building consistently referred to as a 'library', though it was nothing of the sort. It was just a small side temple with its own deity.

It takes a while to drink it all in.

Our first day we went with our big-man Sam. Sam took us on what is called the “Grande Tour”, a 35 kilometer loop that hits Angkor Wat proper, Preah Khan (“sacred sword”-commemorates a big battle) two mebons and two smaller temples.

The second day we opted out of the tuk-tuk and did the “Petite tour” (thank you French colonialism…) on bicycles. This included the central state temple of Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom (the famous temple that looks like its being eaten by trees), the Royal temple, and the Elephant and ‘Leper King’ terraces.

The unconquerable jungle.

These temples were houses for Gods, not places for congregations to worship. As such some of them are quite oddly designed from a mortal's perspective.

On the third day we got back on board with Sam for the 16 kilometer journey away from Siem Reap (I probably should have mentioned that Angkor Wat is 6 k away from Siem Reap) to whats known as the Rolous Complex, which is a set of three main temples and their accompanying mebons that were the first structures built in the area, dedicated around 802 CE.

The pointing man approves of the Strangler Fig.

Books have been written about Angkor (and I read one, does it show?) that can tell you much more than this scant overview. But being such an impressive sight I thought it really worthwhile to try and communicate some of the downright jaw-dropping majesty that we’ve been tramping through these past few days.

As a last note on Angkor- the site is often discussed as having been ‘discovered’. This is, pardon, patently bullshit. The Khmer never ‘forgot’ about Angkor, and Angkor Wat itself has been in continual habitation and use for the past 800 years. People still live there. It doesn’t appear that they’re allowed to engage in much agriculture anymore and most seem to make a living selling paintings, rubbings, bamboo flutes and postcards to tourists. The capitol of Kampuchea was moved to Phnom Penh in the 16th century because it was better situated next to the river for trade with the Siamese capitol of Ayutthaya. We visited the Ayutthaya ruins earlier in our trip and now understand why they were consistently referred to as ‘Angkor style’, really cheap knockoffs. (No offense Thailand, your ruins are beautiful). Interestingly, the French imperial archaeologists stumbling upon Angkor may have been one of the worst things that ever happened to the place, because immediately thereafter Western antique dealers began indiscriminately lopping off the best surviving statues and bas-reliefs, and selling them to punks like W.R. Hearst.

Troop of children from one of the small villages dotted around the Angkor complex. Not a bad place to run amok if you ask me.

One of Vishnu's avatars kicking some tail.

Altar in Angkor Wat. Still functioning after 800 years.

Tower face of Avalokiteshvara, Buddha of Compassion. Interestingly, all these faces bear a striking resemblance to that of King Jayavarman VII himself....

Cambodia, even in the short time we’ve been here, has proven itself to be the most historically alive nation we’ve seen thus far. Despite the wonders of Angkor, Cambodia is widely known for a darker, more sinister history, one that unfortunately lives larger in living memory than the wonders of Angkor- the legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Katie exploring a Russian tank from the Cambodian Civil War at the War Museum.

From 1975/6 until 1979, the Khmer Rouge managed to murder 1.7 million Cambodians, roughly a quarter of the then 7 million people living in Cambodia.

It’s very difficult for me to write about in any way that would do the Khmer people’s plight justice, but two stories must suffice.

The first is our visit to the War Museum. Before spending our first evening watching the sunset from a hilltop temple in Angkor, we ‘stopped by’ the War Museum to catch up on some recent history. We were totally unprepared for Tom, our guide, and his headlong rush through the history of Cambodia, 1960-1999, focusing on the years 1970-79. Tom has one arm. In 1979/80 he was 15 years old living with his family of 6 in the Cambodian countryside, at a time when the nation was trying to return to normalcy despite the fact that the Khmer Rouge were fighting the Vietnamese and Thai armies on the Western border. In order to make some more money that his meager smallholding of rice paddies could provide, Tom’s father gathered and disarmed land mines, taking the valuable fuses, metals and TNT out of them and selling them. Tom’s father believed that his traditional Khmer tattoos would protect him from the mines. They didn’t. One night a mine his father was disarming detonated, instantly killing Toms mother, father, two sisters, one brother and taking off Tom’s left arm and filling his stomach with shrapnel. In the absence of any kind of medical care, Tom retreated to a nearby group of monks who had recently come above-ground following the abdication of the anti-clerical Khmer Rouge regime, who put him in the hands of a local ‘doctor’ who managed to save Tom’s life by taking off the gangrenous stump of his arm, but could not protect him against the soon-to-come ravages of tetanus wrought by the shrapnel in his torso.

16, roughly patched up and without a family in a war torn country, Tom hit the road, soon meeting a Christian church group who became his new family. Tom now speaks excellent English (thanks to a missionary school and a teacher from Denver, CO), is employed as a guide at the museum and has a full belly, something that he didn’t have for over 7 years under the Khmer Rouge and after. He calls himself a Buddhist and a Christian and is, if I might add, a mighty strong shot of reality. At the end of his tour the two of us could only gasp and say thank you. Needless to say the sunset trip had a bit of a pall cast over it.

American Howitzer left behind after the Vietnam War and then used in the Cambodian Civil War. All of the weapons used in the war, and the bullets, uniforms, mines and money, were supplied by either the Russo-Chinese or the Franco-American forces. There was nothing Cold about this War.

Second story.

The next night we attended a documentary on the Khmer Rouge regime that shows every night in the local Night Market. We were the only people there. The documentary was pretty disjointed, a breakneck 41 minutes that shifted between English, French and Khmer and had a narrative that was, to say the least, hard to follow. When we emerged, the one thing we could agree upon was that we needed a beer, and found our way to a bar some 25 feet away. Our waitress, Hani, had seen us exit the theater, and when we sat down came right on up and started talking.

“What did you think of the movie?”

“…uh, it was, interesting, very sad…”

“Interesting? It was terrible.”

“Yes, yes, terrible…”

“I don’t like the Khmer Rouge”

“Neither do we.”

“They killed my father and two brothers, I don’t like the Khmer Rouge.”

Hani then went on to tell us the story of her mother and father, forced to marry by the Khmer Rouge, and of how the Khmer Rouge then ended up killing her father and two of her brothers. Hani was born in 1980, a year after the Khmer Rouge regime ended, and she spent the rest of the evening popping by to fill us in on more details of her life, life in Cambodia in general, and life as a 1st grade teacher. (A cocktail waitress by night, Hani teaches 1st grade 6 days a week at a village school some 25 kilometers outside of Siem Reap).

What struck us (at least me) the most was how completely unprompted Hani came over and was so open in sharing her family’s story, and her story with us. It is obviously a story that needs to be told, and she fortunately has the wherewithal to tell it.

Later in the evening the material became lighter; she told us about the first time she took an escalator, the trials of commanding a room full of 45 1st graders, and we all sang “The Wheels on the Bus” together (Hani feels that song reflects her life, rolling along between teaching and cocktailing, continually rolling and rolling and rolling). Meeting Hani was an amazing experience, but people like her and Tom drive home like a silver stake through the face how the people of Cambodia are really survivors of a genocide, a Holocaust, and it gives you pause as you munch away at your delicious Fish Amok (steamed in banana leaf, a Khmer specialty).

As always, with love and fond thoughts,

Jack & Katie

Greetings from Vang Vieng Laos.

 

After four extremely lazy days in Luang Prabang, we took a somewhat stomach-harrowing ride across the windy mountain paths down to the small riverside village of Vang Vieng. Its overcrowded with backpackers but set in the most beautiful countryside we’ve seen yet. People come here to spend the day tubing down the river, the shore of which is dotted with bars selling BeerLao and drug stuffed pizza. Laos has the death penalty for drug possession yet the bar we went to last night has opium tea, mushroom pizzas and joints on the menu. Its very confusing. We came here to inquire about a woofing spot near the capital of Vientiane, but apparently its not the right season yet. No running water, no electricity, laboring in the rice fields and cooking over a fire. Sounds awesome right? We were really excited but hopefully we’ll be able to do something similar back up in Northern Thailand.

 

Our time in Luang Prabang was nice, though extremely relaxed. The pace of life is so slow in this country that its impossible to do anything. Its like they put opium in the food. We did manage to get out to a waterfall, which was beautiful and very refreshing

One of the swimming pools at the waterfall. This was the first not brown water we've seen yet!

Jack at the waterfall

We also visited some cool temples and had more of that Lao barbecue I told you about.

This is a Lao barbecue in all its glory. Note the giant piece of lard at the top.

An interesting note about Laos: the CIA dropped thousands and thousands of bombs here in the 1970’s. A lot of them are still here. Bomb, shells and guns are in many restaurants and bars used as decoration. Its a little shocking to see.

This is at a rather chic bar. I'm quite sure they're real.

This was on temple grounds

Our next post will probably be from the Thousand Islands, which is a collection of river islands in the Mekong. So until then, farewell.

 

Katie

(more pictures below)

Hey all, thanks for all your comments and birthday wishes. We spent Jack’s 23rd birthday floating down the Mekong River in a cramped wooden boat. It had its ups and downs.

Today is the first day in four we haven’t spent entirely on our butts which is quite a relief. The bus trip from Chiang Mai to the border town of Chiang Kong was uneventful and long with a five hour delay. Once we got to though we made a grand culinary discovery: an all you can eat buffet of do it yourself barbecue. Apparently its a big thing in Laos. Anyway basically you have tabletop grill in the middle of the table with coals in the bottom and a sloped metal top that has two chunks of lard on it and a moat around the side. You get you raw meat, marinade and noodles from the buffet (pork, chicken, beef, liver, heart…the usual), and cook it all yourself in the lard that is slowly dripping down the metal top. It was amazing. We failed to get pictures but we’ll make up for that tonight when we do it again.

The next day we boarded a long narrow boat with horribly uncomfortable wooden seats and about 70 of our best friends. It overcrowded with backpackers who took up the seats while all of the Lao and Thai people had to sit on the floor. We’ve had a number of these experiences so far and their always really uncomfortable, however we don’t really have a choice as the decisions to vastly privilege whitey over the locals are made by locals.

folks on the boat

Katie and Jack on the boat

After about six hours we stopped for the night in Pak Beng at a really nice hotel, probably the nicest we’ve been so far and for the same price. We even had a real mattress. We dined right on the river and it was indescribably beautiful. I wish we were better at photography because we really didn’t do it justice with these photos.

morning mist rolling in over the hills

The next day we did the same thing except it was nine hours. It was a hard day. The people in front of us were incredibly annoying and we couldn’t get away from them. I think a lot of people on the backpacker circuit just come here to party because they seem totally ignorant about the places they are or have been. We’re trying to get away from that scene.

We arrived yesterday evening in Luang Prabang, the cultural capital of Laos, which is the most picturesque place we’ve been. Partially its the setting and partially its French colonial influence. You can see it everywhere: the crumbling villas, the wine, in the food. Its hard to tell what is really Laotian and what is an effect of French rule.

Last night we had a birthday dinner at a real restaurant and had super good Indian food. For dessert we both had the Dream Cup, a scoop of chocolate ice cream floating in a pond of Johnnie Walker Black. It was good.

We’ll probably stay here for a few more nights and then on to Vien Viang where we hope to hook up with a farm to WWOOFat. Hopefully that goes through though we don’t really have any conformation yet.

Bye!

Katie


Limestone edifice over the Mekong

Pictures from Pai and our last few days in Thailand:

 

It's hard to see but opposite the fighting roosters and opium fan, yes, thats a crossbow. Handily hung above our bed. Mosquitoes are a real problem here, but the Thai are suitable armed.

Ah, Thailand's two great contributions to society immortalized in our guesthouse. Two fighting cocks rampant, proudly astride a beautiful fan decorated with....opium poppies? Oh yes.

This farangs happy to be back on a bicycle. About 5 minutes later he popped a flat and became considerably less jolly.

Larissa and Katie biking back from the hot springs.

The swimming pool at the hotsprings resort. biggest hot tub ever, and surprisingly pleasant despite the heat.

View from our Golden Hut in Pai. Not too shabby. By the way, those huts across the river are called the Indiana Village.

Katie next to the steaming pools.

Ollifants Frodo! No one's ever going to believe us back home... (typical roadside sight)

I believe the expression on Katie's face demonstrates the seriousness of the heat out there.