Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Bangkok

There is the tourist Chinatown in Bangkok, and the Chinatown where people actually live and work. Machine parts seem to be an especially big thing, making parts of the place look like a huge junkyard. But there are 200-year old mansions too.

Downtown, the Saffron Sky Garden bar, built into a big cutout of the Tai Wah skyscraper is a nice place to conclude the day, and this trip. Bangkok is a curious mixture of ultra-modern and deeply traditional.




Sunday, April 1, 2018

Capsule Thailand

Muang born is a large park on the Gulf of Thailand, two hours south of Bangkok. The Park is shaped like Thailand, and it contains some 120 temples and monuments brought here, or rebuilt here, from all over Thailand, all in a beautiful park with lots of waterways. They even have a proper floating village with boats. If you don't have time to explore Thailand, here is the primer. It's really well done.

And the best is, they have a complete reproduction of Preah Vihar, the temple I missed in the Khao Phra Wihan park near Ubon, although at a reduced size. That temple is huge, far bigger than the few roofs and gates visible in Khao Phra Wihan!




Saturday, March 31, 2018

More Ubon

Khao Phra Wihan is not all Ubon has to offer. There is a large number of temples in or near the city, and since it's so remote, I was the only visitor in those I went to. Temples that serve as monasteries are always a collection of shining golden shrines and utilitarian buildings where the monks live, learn, and do their laundry. At Wat Tung Si they have an 250-year old wooden pagoda that served as a library for scriptures, and was therefore set on stilts in an artificial pond. A monk opened some shrines for me. (They always see me coming because I am so much taller than everyone else.) Saw a few monk spray painting a statue.

10km from Ubon is a bend in the river Mun that forms a long beach. There are two dozen restaurants side by side, each with a long pier out over the river, with floating thatched huts on both sides. A little like on the Mekong rapids, except no hammocks. No English spoken, for lunch we agreed on "fye lye" (fried rice). A tasty fish sauce and a bucket of ice came with the meal.


Border temple

Khao Phra Wihan is a national park two hours south of Ubon Ratchathani. It sits on a 500m cliff, nearly vertical, with stunning views of Thailand and nearby Cambodia. But they made a mistake when documenting the border between Thailand and Cambodia, so the park is on the Thai side but the important Preah Vihar temple in it ended up in Cambodia. The two countries actually went to war over that a while ago.

It's peaceful now but access to the temple is forbidden. That part of the park is filled with soldiers, sandbagged guard posts, and endless spools of razor wire. But even without access to Preah Vihar it's a beautiful park.




Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ubon

On the road almost all day: boat off the island, minibus to Paksé, the nearest city to the north, goodbye to the Mekong, and a real bus across the border to Ubon Ratchathani in northeastern Thailand. Fourth country on this trip.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

More Mekong

Having an excellent time here on the islands so I decided to stay longer. Only the village on the northern end of Don Det I don't like - no longer the backpacker haven I knew, and slowly on its way to tourist overload like Vang Vieng in the north. Who travels to a remote place in a remote country like Laos, and then eats burgers or happy pizza?




Monday, March 26, 2018

Mekong islands

Well, things change. The small group of simple huts on Don Det has been replaced with a dense cluster of hostels, hotels, and restaurants, some with pools, all with electricity and hot showers. I had a pineapple shake in the exact spot where my old hut once stood. Now it's a bar and they are adding another row of bungalows next to it. The shoreline is completely packed.

But I am staying on Don Khon, the next island to the south. It's exactly as quiet as Don Det was in 2009, except considerably more upmarket. Don Khon is also where all the sights of the island are, especially the Mekong Falls. Enormous amounts of water rushes down in numerous cascades on both sides of the island. The bigger one of the two is the one on the west. The old trails are gone, and they have built observation platforms - and are charging admission! Well, the thatched huts further down with pads and hammocks are worth the price, a nice place to relax and watch the foaming water.



Sunday, March 25, 2018

Laos

Following the Mekong upstream first passes Stung Treng, a small town on the Cambodian side, with the usual covered and open market. Last chance to spend Cambodian riel on fresh mangoes. From there it's not far to the Laotian border, and the 4000 Islands, my destination.

Way down this blog you'll find my report on Don Det, one of the larger of the supposedly 4000 islands in the middle of the Mekong river. Don Det had a small backpacker village, without an electricity grid but a great mellow Lao vibe. This time I wanted to visit Don Khon, the next island to the south of Don Det.

Regrettably the incredibly crowded bus was late and there were no more boats to Don Khon; I barely managed to catch the last one to Don Det. So there I was, after dark, on the wrong island, as always without a reservation. But over the years I have come to appreciate that any problem can be solved easily by throwing money at it. So I found someone with a motorcycle who took me to the old French bridge between the two islands that I remembered, and got myself a kind of stationary houseboat on the river. It not only has electricity, but Wifi, air conditioning, a minibar, big glass doors with a sunset view, my own terrace, and a shared pool. Not bad. I'll see tomorrow what happened to the backpacker vibe.


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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Kratie

Kratie isn't far from Kampong Cham but traveling there is slow because of road construction. Lost two hours because one truck died and another slid into a ditch right next to each other. This being southeast Asia, everyone patiently waited with a smile.

Kratie is on the Mekong, near some rapids. They turned them into a fun park, with many extremely long platforms built over the river, each with hundreds of hammocks and a few mobile kitchens. You lie in a hammock and watch the river rush past you.

It's also one of the best places to see Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins, which are critically endangered. It's been estimated that there are only 75 left in northern Cambodia. I was lucky to see a group of four, although they didn't jump out of the water the way they do on the travel ads.


Friday, March 23, 2018

Kampong Cham

Longest bamboo bridge I have ever seen, it spans an arm of the Mekong to reach a kind of party island in the river. People love blinking color LEDs. But there are also serene Buddhist and Khmer temples, a short tuk-tuk ride away.




Thursday, March 22, 2018

Inland

Time to find my flip flops and leave the beaches. Feels odd having to wear shoes again. I am heading north now, to rejoin the Mekong river. First to Phnom Penh, the capital, then to Kampot Chan, which offers temples and a quiet countryside. Phnom Penh is anything but quiet, many more cars on the streets since I was here last time.

Not sure about Internet from now on. In fact once I reach the Mekong islands in Laos I am not sure about electricity!


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Life on the beach

Diving on Koh Rong Samloem is better than in Phu Quoc - much better visibility, more colorful corals, and a lot more and bigger fish.

Went swimming in the bay late at night. They have a kind of plankton here that fluoresces when stirred. The night was completely dark, there is no light pollution here and no moon in the sky, so every swimming stroke creates a bright trail of glowing bubbles. Very cool. I suppose the plankton thinks it's cool too or they wouldn't do it; the light attracts squid that feed on plankton.



Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Koh Rong Samloem

Cambodia's beach capital is Sihanoukville, a thoroughly boring city with a filthy beach. I could probably have found a place without garbage floating on the water further south but decided to leave asap to the islands.

There are two of those clise to Sihanoukville: Koh Rong, the party island, and Koh Rong Samloem, the peaceful one. Got myself a beach hut on the latter, and continued to do not very much at all. Good to be in bathing trunks and barefoot all day.