Thursday, May 13, 2004

May 13th, 2004 - Journey from Luang Prabang, Laos to Vientiane, Laos

Did you know that Laos is the most bombed country in the history of warfare. During the Vietnam war the U.S. flew up and down the Ho Chi Minh trail - which crossed into Laos - bombing both Vietnam and Laos. Aren't you proud to be an American :) Now with Afghanistan and Iraq it looks like we Americans can really pride ourselves at being exceptionally good at bombing the living s$%t out of the poorest countries in the world. What the hell is wrong with us??? If we are so tough let's go to war with a BIG country like China or North Korea - I mean we know North Korea has Nuclear Weapons - shouldnt we launch a "pre-emptive stike" against North Korea. Do we really want a "smoking gun" in the U.S. be a "nuclear mushroom cloud" delivered from Kin Il-
Jung? Come on America. Come on George W. Bush!!! Let's blow up North Korea!!!

These political comments are sarcastic.

Kerry 2004!!!

Also of note: The eastern portions of Laos are still littered with thousands of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) "left behind from nearly 100 years of warfare" - WW II, etc. There are about 130 casualties a year from these left over bombs. I wonder how many people a year have lost their limbs to these bombs that are hidden and scattered in the mountains and country side? Sad that a rich country like the U.S. doesnt do more to help the Lao people rid their country of all these bombs. Or maybe we left it all there for them as nice little X-mas presents? It looks like the U.S. and other powerful nations like to make a mess in other poor nations and leave it there. Didnt our mothers always tell us to clean up our messes?


Now back to our story :)

I bought a $16 U.S. ticket for a mini-bus (its really a van) to take me from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. Now, in Laos, $16 is a lot of money. My mini-bus was supposed to be air-conditioned as well. The staff at the travel agency in Luang Prabang explained to me that the journey to Vientiane would take about 7 hours.

Well, I can tell you that my journey to Vientiane did not take 7 hours. Instead it took nearly 12 hours. And I didnt arrive there in a mini-bus. Instead I arrived there on the top of a truck roof drying up from a rain storm that soaked me.

This is what happened . . .

I waited outside my Guest House from 8:50 to about 9:20 for my mini-van. Two girls from Israel who were also staying in my Guest House were also waiting for the mini-van. The mini-van arrived soon enough and in we went with our bags tied to the top of the van. The mini-bus was full - 11 people total including the driver. I was the only one in the mini-bus headed to Vientiane. The driver explained to me through a Thai girl who was translating for me that in Vang Vieng - where are the travelers in the mini-bus were headed - I would switch to another mini-bus headed to Vientiane.

The ride to Vang Vieng was full of constant twists and turns. I nearly became car-sick. We were driving through the high mountains of Northern Laos and it was beautiful. At times some the the views we had from our car window looked much like the mountains that I had seen near Cusco in Peru. The clouds were everywhere and many of them were floating nearly at the same altitude as our mini-bus. And we saw dark storm clouds headed our way and before we were stuck by the rain we could see the heavy fall of the rain shooting down between the valleys of the mountains. It was absolutely beautiful. In the seat behind me was an American from San Francisco. He had recently turned 50 and was traveling through Southeast Asia for 3 months. And he wasnt alone. He picked up a Thai girl - simply said, a prostitute - in Chiang Mai to accompany him for the duration of his travels. He was a very nice fellow. Much like any professional you would meet in any city in the States. Now I had a face to put with all the books and statistics I had read and am reading concerning the Sex Trade and Sex Tourism Industry in Southeast Asia. As I have mentioned before the majority of the men I saw in Thailand with Thai prostitutes were in their 40's and 50's. Most of these men are either single or have come out of their first or second divorce. And so they come to Thailand in search of some sense of companionship to fill the void that they may be feeling at their age. This man from San Francisco - Ill call him Mark. Was very nice. He could have been your uncle, or neighbor, or bar buddy. He was a business man, well-educated, professional, and well-informed of current events. I was happy to find that he was anti-Bush. We spent most of our time talking about U.S. politics and the state of things in California. The Thai woman he was with was perhaps my age or a bit older - late 20's. She was very nice and would translate for me when our Lao driver - who spoke Thai - needed to tell me something. She was poor. You could see that in the way she dressed and the way she kept her multi-colored nails. I tried to be as friendly as I could with her for I felt a bit sorry for her. But, here she was traveling with Mark and Im sure for her this was pleasant - perhaps an escape for a moment from her life as a prostitute in Chiang Mai. Here she was with Mark - who seemed to treat her very well. But, in a month or two Mark will leave her and return to the U.S. and back she will be in Chiang Mai looking for her next customer not knowing if he will treat her well, if he will abuse her, beat her, or give her an STD if she doesnt already have one. I should mention that the majority of the men who employ the services of Thai prostitutes are Thai men not farangs - foreign men. I am currently reading about this so I will share more of this information as I read more of it.

In any case about 5 hours later we arrived in Vang Vieng which is really nothing of a town. All the buildings seemed again to have been built simply for the tourists. They were all Guest Houses and Travel Agencies and Restaurants. Most of the tourists that go to Vang Vieng go for the river rafting adventure fun to be had along the rivers there.

Well, we arrived and I didnt see any mini-bus for me to switch to. My driver looked a little worried but he continued on and dropped all the passengers off at their Guest Houses. I was the last one . . . the only one left. Then I saw Paul and then Tom and Sarah and Katie. I spoke to them very briefly for I had to go to the bus station area with my driver.

My bus driver told me to have a seat at the out-door bus station. I knew that something was wrong. On the way to Vang Vieng our mini-bus had a flat tire. We had to stop for about 20-30 minutes to change the tire. We stopped in a very remote local village. The children were all running around in filthy, filthy clothing if they weren't running around naked. But they all smiled and tried to approach us foreigners. But once anyone of us tried to approach them they quickly ran off. One girl in particular - she must have been 7 years old and she had an infant tied to her back - ran so far away that she was standing behind a house and peeking at us. Im sure we looked like aliens to them. I noticed that some of the girls would hit each other and an old man also hit one of the girls. I was taken aback by this. But, what was I to do. It seemed that they did this as if this as simply how they communicated.

Well, I believe that as a result of getting the flat tire - and arriving late in Vang Vieng - the mini-bus that I had paid for to take me to Vientiane simply left without me. It is times like this when I am really happy to be traveling alone for I simply go with the flow. Perhaps if I was with someone they would have gotten angry and started an argument with the driver that got me to Vang Vieng.

Well, the driver made arrangements for me to take a local truck to Vientiane. I hoped into the back of the truck with four other locals and away we went. There was a married Lao couple with their 3 year old boy. Their son was dressed in filthy clothes. God only knows when his clothes were last washed. But he carried on with little care. His parents fed him mango and lechee which he happily ate. As we drove sitting in the back of the truck which had two benches that we all sat on along the sides of the truck the mother of the boy became car-sick and began vomiting into the plastic bags that had carried the mangos she and her family had eaten. I offered her my bottled water but she did not want it. For the duration of the journey she would vomit from time to time. The odd thing was was that the people who sat in the back of the truck sat at a distance away from me. I felt weird - was there something wrong with me? And as we traveled we would pick up more locals but instead of coming into the back of the truck to sit they chose to stand at the back on a grill that they could place their feet on and hold on for dear life. About 2 to 3 hours later we arrived in Phon Hong. All of us had to get out of the truck for that was as far as the truck was going to go. One of the women in the truck asked me in Lao if I was going to Vientiane. I had no idea what the hell she was asking me at first but after her repeat Vientiane several times I guessed that she wanted to know if I was going there. I figured out that she was going there too. So we got out of the truck and waited for another truck headed for Vientianne. About 15 to 20 minutes later we found a truck that was headed to the capital. I threw my bag on the rook of the truck and stood at the back holding onto the truck from the back with several other men for the sitting area within the back of the truck was completely, completely packed! I thought that there was no way anymore people could fit in the truck but we carried on picking up more people until there were 8 men - including me - standing on the grill at the back of the truck holding on. I was worried that if the truck turned sharply or hit a bump that I would loose my grip and fall straight onto the pavement of the road. Luckily hanging on to the back of the truck was no bid deal. All the men around me chatted away but as soon as we saw storm clouds ahead of us we began to worry and then sort of laugh to ourselves that we were in for a fun and wet ride. I quickly pulled some plastic bags from a pocket in my backpack and covered my pouch that had my digital camera - I definitely didnt want that to get wet. Soon the storm clouds were over us and down came the ran. I held on and prayed a bit but I must confess that I did enjoy the challenge and the adventure of this trip. After we stopped for some gas we picked up more people! One individual was physically challenged and used a tricylce type of contraption to move from one place to the other. Some Lao men got onto the roof of the truck and helped lift the tricycle onto the roof. The Lao men then motioned for me to get onto the roof with them to make more room for them people who were getting on the truck. So from then on into Vientianne I road on the roof of a truck laughing at the fact that of all the things that had to be placed on the roof there was a tricycle. Now, here I knew that if this over-crowded truck flipped over I was surely going to either die, or lose a limbs or several limbs or crack my head open. I held on to the rails and simply enjoyed the adventure and the view of the electrical storm ahead of us that lit up the night sky with amazing flashes of lightening.

Then I made it. On the outskirts of the city we all got off the truck and took a 3 wheeled taxi into town. I was in a taxi with three other Lao women - one of home kept touching my leg - and another Lao man. Once inside town I got off and took another 3 wheeled taxi to Namphou Garden where I walked for a bit until I found a Guest House to stay in for the night.

And here I am . . . alive and well after my adventure in Vientianne :)

May 12th, 2004 - Luang Prabang, Laos and Kuang Si Falls

Again this morning I had breakfast at JOMA Cafe and after I ate I sat for about an hour or more reading my book, Night Market. I believe around 11 or so I left the Cafe and then went to an internet cafe to get this journal up to speed. I felt like venting about the situation in Iraq and so I wrote a bit about that. At 12:30 I met up with Katie and Sarah and their friend Paul and Tom. The five of us then went to Paul and Tom's Guesthouse and hopped onto a truck headed south of Luang Prabang to the Kuang Si Falls.

If you would like to cool of from the intense sun then I recommend the Kuang Si Falls. It is a wonderful multi-tiered water fall that anyone can swim in. And if you take the trekking path to the falls from where your hired truck drops you off you will find a small zoo of monkeys, cubby bears and adult bears, and a bangel tiger. You can make a donation to the zoo to help feed these wonderful and very cute animals. Katie, Sara, Tom, Paul, and I all jumped into one of the pools of the falls. The water was a bit cold but it was a great relief from the heat. It was truly wonderful. Something for honey-mooners.

The ride back into town provided more incredibly views of the surrounding mountains and unbelievable clouds. I took some more fantastic photo's of these mountainous clouds that will cause anyone to believe in the Kingdom of Heaven . . . no matter what your faith may be.

That night Katie, Sarah, Tom, Paul and I all met up for dinner. I really enjoyed their company. Katie and Sarah have been friends since the age of 11 and they met Tom and Paul when they were living in Sydney, Australia. Tom seemed to tease Katie and Sarah like an older brother. I enjoyed listening to the jokes they all made with eachother. It was a very pleasant night.

I should mention that Tom and Paul warned me that they have been giving off bad luck to fellow travelers they have come across. They had story after story of travelers they came across and the horrible things that happened to them as soon as they went off on their way . . .

This should lead in nicely to my adventure on the 13th of May :)

May 11th, 2004 - Luang Prabang, Laos

I had breakfast at JOMA Cafe. In interior and general feel of the cafe was one nearly reflective of StarBucks. After my battle with severe diarrhea in Myanmar I will probably stick to foods that remind me of home. Im believe I am done with trying the local dishes in local food stalls along the streets. As a result a cafe like JOMA stands out to me as a safe and familiar place for my stomach. The clientele of the JOMA Cafe is composed almost entirely of foreigners for they really are the only one's who could afford the food and drinks. It isn't expensive by any Western means but for the locals Im sure it is ridiculously expensive. I had a bagel with eggs and cheese, and a coffee. After reading my book entitled Night Market I decided not to waste more of the morning and left to explore the small town of Luang Prabang. Most of the time a traveler spends in Luang Prabang will be on Thanon Phothisalat - which is a street. I believe Thanon means street in Lao. Thanon Phothisalat is loaded with hotels, restaurants, and tourist agencies catering to foreigners. Also along this street you will find the Royal Palace which is now a museum. The Royal Family of Laos was forced to leave into the North of Laos in 1975 and from what I understand they were all killed. I believe that a few extended members of the family are still alive but they are living lives no different than the other lowland Lao people.

I entered the grounds of the Royal Palace and had a nice walk around the Palace/Museum itself for the Palace/Museum was actually closed. I arrived at 10:30; the exact time the Museum closes in the morning. There is a row of incredibly tall palm trees on the path leading up to the main entrance of the Palace/Museum. The Palace seems to have been constructed in a French Colonial style. There is a beautiful Wat temple on the grounds as well.

Just in front of the Royal Palace entrance is the entrance/path that leads up Phu Si Hill. Luang Prabang as a town has been built surrounding this hill. At the summit you will find a few small temples. The view is incredible for you can see the stretch of the town of Luang Prabang die off into forests of palm trees. There are magnificent mountains to the South and East and the sky is filled with clouds so large that the appear like mountains themselves. I have never seen a sky so magical as the skies that I have come across in Laos. The clouds are unlike anything you will ever see in your life. Many of my photo's are just beautiful in most part because of the incredible cloud formation that begin where the mountains end and continue up and up and up.

After I descended Phu Si I returned to Thanon Phothisalat and continued walking east toward the end of the peninsula where the Nan Khan River meets the Mekong River. All along Thanon Phothisalat there are Wat's that compared to the one's in Thailand are much smaller and a bit less impressive. There are plenty of young monks - all male - living and working in these Wat temples. Along the road I came across an elementary school. I arrived just as school had let out. Fathers sitting on their scooters waited for their children who ran at them with tremendous joy. Some of them would hop on the back of the scooter and fly off down the street with their fathers. Others were treated to drinks and treats that their father's would buy for them from local vendors.

The life in Luang Prabang is very quiet and peaceful. There are no arguments heard or the honks of cars for there are simply few cars to begin with. And there are no traffic lights at all within Luang Prabang. You will see women riding on their bikes or scooters steering with one hand and holding an umbrella in the other to block the afternoon sun. I must say that although the weather in Luang Prabang is a bit more pleasant than what I came across in Thailand for it is dry, the sun is much more intense. In the afternoon most locals stay in the shade of their homes and lay down on a mat on the first floor napping or looking out. The "middle=class" houses in Luang Prabang are usually two-storeys. The first floor can either be the living area or the living area/store area. As you walk down any street in Luang Prabang you can easily look into people's homes for their doors are wide open and see people lounging around. You make feel like you are intruding on their privacy with your eyes but do not worry. They simply could care less of what you see them doing in their own homes.

Also, what you may see are boys and or men playing checkers with bottle caps in the late afternoon into the late evening.

Once I got to the end of Thanon Phothisalat - which actually becomes Thanon Xieng-Thong - I walked down the steep of the hill a bit toward where the Nam Khan River meets the Mekong. I saw fishermen on their long boats and children - usually naked - playing in the cool river waters. I then went north along Thanon Khaem Khong and came across Wat Xieng Thong. I walked up the steps and quickly noticed a Lao woman looking through a Lonely Planet book. I was a bit curious about her but I continued and paid my ticket entrance and then went into the Wat. The same Lao woman I saw before entered the Wat and I - from the corner of my eye - watched her. She kneeled on her knees before the shrine dedicated to Buddha and prayed. I pretended to be interested in the designs on the walls. Once she stood up I approached her and asked where she was from. She explained that she was from France but that her parents were from Laos and Vietnam. We then began to talk and soon enough we agreed to have lunch together. Her name was Estelle and for the duration of the day she sort of served as my unofficial guide to Lao culture. For lunch she ordered for me a typical Lao salad with sticky rice and explained how to eat it in the traditional way. One my plate were three or four red peppers. I simply popped one into my mouth thinking I could brave the spicy pain. I soon regretted my gamble and found that the pepper was so strong that I began to tear and turn a bit red. I will never do that again.

From there I walked a bit with Estelle exploring Thanon Phothisalat. She then decided to rest in her hotel and we said our good-byes. Before we departed she informed me that at 4:00 that day all the monks in their Wat's would begin playing drum music to mark the phases of the moon. She told me that on the day of a quarter moon, half moon, three-quarter and full moon that the Wat's at 4:00 will perform their drum music.

I walked around a bit and cooled off in the shade provided by the trees along Thanon Lim Khong which is the road just along the Mekong. The winds gradually became strong and the sky dark. A storm looked like it was approaching. As I sat along the road a branch from a palm tree fell on me due to the strong blows of the wind. I then decided to keep walking and I walked south along Thanon Kitsalat which then turns into Thanon Sethathirat. I then went east and then north again and found the old iron bridge that I had crossed by three wheeled local taxi the day before from the speed boat pier. I decided to walk across it and took a few pictures on it. Again, as I said in my previous journal entry I felt like Indiana Jones crossing the bridge at the end of the Temple of Doom movie.

I then went to Wat Wisunalat and watched as a boy monk who sat at the top of a very, very tall palm tree cut something from it. Im actually not sure what he was doing up there. Then I began to hear drums - it was 4:00. I went toward where I heard the music and watched the monks perform. I loved it. And then I saw Estelle walking toward the monks. We continued our explorations of the town until about 6:00. I enjoyed her company very much. We took a break at JOMA Cafe and chatted more. I learned a bit about her life in Paris and what she does for a living.

Then we parted again and at 7:00 I met up with Sarah and Katie and two Americans that I saw back at Huay Xai. We found a restaurant to eat in and talked and talked and talked. I enjoyed the company of the two Americans, and Sarah and Katie so much. I hadnt laughed so much in so long. It was fantastic as well to be in the company of fellow Americans.

Later that night I sat with the two Americans I had met and a couple from Wales and we sat in a outdoor bar drinking and talking. I was very content and pleased.

Smiles from Luang Prabang,

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

May 12th, 2004

It is the common belief that if aliens from another galaxy were ever to make contact with human beings on Earth that they would surely be peaceful for if they had achieved the "high" technology to travel across the universe to reach our planet then they must be of a "higher" intelligence with beliefs allied to harmony, solidarity, peace/non-violence. Why do we even think this? It is foolish to abide by this logic. If aliens had achieved the technology to cross the great expanse of space to reach Earth it is my belief that they would see us Earthlings as primitive, crude, backwards and in need of being civilized by their standards of civilization and/or religion. Outer-space alien missionaries, adventurers, colonizers, and armies will flock upon our planet and colonize it; and they will kill, enslave, rape, pillage, and destroy anyone of us Earthlings who do not go along with their "higher" plan.

The West (the United States in particular and Western Europe and any First World nation) possesses a higher standard of living, technology, "a perfect God", and so forth. Does all of our technology truly refelct our "higher" intelligence? Not really. Are we any different from the Empires of the past? No. After being educated on the "evils" of warfare by our teachers, museums, movies, and books how many of us really stand up against the wars we wage abroad? Not many of us. The masses simply go along with the strong political power of their nation, and those of us that speak up against warfare find that we have been asked to leave from our jobs, that the television program that you produced has been taken off the air, that Disney will not distribute a certain left-wing documentary by Michael Moore, that you should be careful of what you write on the internet for your "freedom of speech" government is watching you.

How different are the American occupying forces in Iraq from the regime of Sadam Hussein? There is one major difference which I will discuss in just a moment. When we went into Iraq the U.S. prided itself in "freeing" the Iraqi people. Images of the dungeon chambers used by Sadam to torture fellow Iraqis were shown on T.V. as were interviews with Iraqi's who had suffered in those chambers. Now, we see that the U.S. military is no different in the treatment of Iraqi prisoners than the former Iraqi regime. Now Ive read in the papers that the images and stories we will soon hear about concerning the treatment of Iraqi prisoners will get worse, "rape and murder" is what is coming up next!

This is a very sad moment in U.S. history. Can we really parade our delluded image of a U.S. nation devoted to equality, peace, freedom, and democracy?

Although there are many of us Americans that are ashamed of these images that our national military has been torturing Iraqi prisoners we must also remember that in our nation no one is above the law. Not even our President. And that is something that we should be proud of. Those responsible for these crimes against the Iraqi prisoners will be brought to trial. Rumsfield may loose his job because of this - he should of lost it a long time ago along with George W. and Cheney and the whole administration as far as Im concerned - all Ive ever heard from them are lies, lies, and more lies. Although I am sure that the U.S. government and military will try to protect "certain" high officials that were and are directly responsible for the crimes against the Iraqi prisoners most - I hope - will not be able to escape the law.

These words are of my opinion. If I had the time I would properly research the news of recent weeks to formulate a more accurate view based upon hard facts. But, I am traveling and much of what I learn concerning current events is from quick glances through newspapers and This BLOG is simply a mental release at my disappointment with individuals within our U.S. military forces in Iraq. I dont expect anyone to agree with me. I simply ask that you respect my opinion - which will change over time - as I respect yours. I believe very much in the United States and I am looking forward, very much, to returning to my country after living in Asia for nearly 4 years to exerise my right to vote in our next national election and to work in my own way as a musician and writer in educating and entertaining people in my own country as well as outside of it.

Kerry 2004!!!

May 10th, 2004 - Chiang Khong, Thailand to Huay Xai, Laos to Luang Prabang, Laos

I left my hotel after having breakfast on the old wooden terrace of my Guest House that overlooked the Mekong River and Laos at 8 a.m. I took a Tuk Tuk to the Chiang Khong pier and handed over my passport to the Thai authorities to properly exit Thailand. Once I was done I along with Sarah and Katie - two British girls I had just met - walked down to the river and hoped on a very narrow boat to cross the Mekong over to the Lao side. On the Lao side I walked up to the Lao border patrol and filled out the paper work for my Lao visa. I handed over $30 U.S. dollars as well and in five minutes I had my Lao visa. Right in front of the boarder patrol office was a Lao money exchange office. I handed over 1,500 Thai baht and got over 360,000 Lao Kip. The teller handed over my very high stack of cash and all the foreigners around me could do nothing but laugh. It was funny to hand over such a small amount of Thai money and get so many bills back - no coins, there are no coinage in their currency system. After waiting for the other foreingers to get their visas and so forth we headed just a block into Huay Xai - the Lao town across the river from Chiang Khong in Thailand. Already, the difference between Thailand and Lao became apparent. Yuay Xai was tiny with only a few sparse locals walking along the streets. And it was quiet, nearly sleepy. There is no road between Yuay Xai and Luang Prabang - my destination for the day. As a result you must travel along the Mekhong by either slow boat or speed boat. I was not interested in the least in taking the slow boat for it takes two days to reach Luang Prabang. The speed boat takes only 7 hours.

So Katie, Sarah, and I along with a Japanese man who had volunteered in Iraq before and after the war, along with two other American men who had just finished college got into a jeep in Yuay Xai and made our journey to the speed boat pier. The speed boat is a very narrow boat that seats only six passengers and the pilot plus all our baggage. When we got into the boat we were all a bit shocked to see that the space we had to sit in was incredibly tiny. We had to sit with our knees tucked up right up to our chests. Before we knew it we were off speeding at unbelivable speeds on the Mekong. If a boat was coming toward us the waves it created would at times cause our speed boat to lift off its crests and back down on the water with a hard punch to out bottoms. When the river was devoid of ripples our speed boat would easily glide across the river - Im sure if the boat had wings we could have taken off and flown for several meters before gravity retook out boat. But, if there were ripples in the river the ride was a rough one as we continually bounced on the waters. About 2 to 3 hours later we stopped to rest be either relieving our bladders or having something to drink and eat at a pier that had locals gambling and foreigners resting who had either had come from down river or from up it. At around 2:00 we began our journey again but this time we had to switch boats - and the boat that would not complete our journey to Luang Prabang was even smaller in terms of the seats we had to sit in. We all complained to ourselves of how painful the rest of the journey would be.

An hour later we stopped at another pier/home to get some gas. In the middle of nowhere was this pier but there in this little thatched home on the Mekhong was a fine selection of soft drinks ranging from Pepsi to Coke to fanta. It seems that no matter where you go in the world - no matter how remote the location you are in - you will find someone ready to sell you either a Coke or a Pepsi.

Laos is nearly the same size as England but has only 8% of the population of England. Laos only has about 20 people for every sqaure mile. And the population is divided between those who live and survive along the Mekong and those who live in the highlands and hills. As we journeyed along the river I saw a small village here or there or simply a single thatched home in the middle of nowhere. There were jagged rocks piercing up above the river along the sides and cliffs of sand and beaches and palm trees and so forth all the way up the hills and mountains.

Laos is also the poorest nation in Southeast Asia. The average annual income is about $250 U.S. Which is not much at all but from what I have seen the people seem to be living well - meaning that they have enough for food, a home, and so forth. I have seen more severe poverty in South America than I have in any part of Southeast Asia that I have explored.

The speed boat landing in Luang Prabang is several kilometers from the center of town. When we arrived at the pier I was surprised that it was simply a tiny bamboo pier with nude children swimming all around it. There was a staircase leading up the hill from the pier. I couldnt believe that we had arrived in Luang Prabang. It seemd as if we had arrived literally in no where special at all. After we grabbed our bags and ascended the steps we were approached by touts trying to influence us to go to the Guest House that they were recommending us. After agreeing to take a look at one of the Guest Houses we got onto a small truck and bargained the driver down from 600 baht for all 6 of us to 300 baht. We were still ripped up but what difference does it make to a traveling foreinger. We drove and began to see the town of Luang Prabang slowly making its appearance to us. We had to cross an old iron bridge that appeared like the bridge that was used at the end of the movie, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Luang Prabang as a town is small!!! I believe that the smallest town in Montana is bigger than Luang Prabang. You can see all that a traveler needs to see in Luang Prabang in an afternoon by foot. I had the constant feeling that I was in small town in a small island in the Carribean. The whole down is blessed by scores of cocconut palm trees and old French colonial buildings. It is a quiet, safe, and pleasant town. Unfortunately Luang Prabang is being run over by tourists. At night it seems like the locals retire to their homes and the foreigners parade about in search of a restaurant or bar that caters specifically to tourists. One friend that I met here said that he was a bit baffled that at night it seemed like the "tourists outnumbered the locals 2 to 1."

This is a bit upsetting to find that the "isolated" nation of Laos is really not so isolated anymore. Tourists are taking over causing towns like Luang Prabang to be heavily dependent on the tourists for their economy. As I learned from Estelle - a French woman with Lao and Vietenamese roots - that the number of Americans traveling to Laos has decreased tremendously after September 11th causing the amount of money to be made from American toursits to go down significantly for the locals dependent on them for business. This is what my concern for Lao towns like Luang Prabang. It is a dangerous thing to be so heavily dependent on tourists for their economy for if there is another September 11th scare they will suffer tremendously in the decrease of tourists that frequent their nation.

All right . . . I must go . . . I will write more soon,


Sunday, May 09, 2004

May 9th, 2004

I woke up at 6 a.m. and left my hotel at 7 and got on a bus headed to Chiang Khong at 8. A six hour bus ride later I am here in Chiang Khong.

Chiang Khong is a sleepy little town right on the Mekong river. This is the first time in my life to see the Mekong. And right across the river is Laos. My guest house room looks right over the river and straight on to Laos. Tomorrow morning I will cross over into Laos and take a speed boat to Luang Prabang.

There is one road that cuts through Chiang Khong and after checking into my guest house I walked up and down it finding only a few more guest houses and out door restaurants offering Thai to Mexican food while also offering to show movies in the evening. There is simply nothing much to do here so I guess Ill end up in one of these restaurants tonight and watch a movie or two before going to bed.

That is all for now,

May 8th, 2004

After I bought my bus ticket to Chiang Khong and having breakfast (pancakes, toast, and tea) I returned to Ban Rom Sai ( for my third and final day.

I spent most of the day with Surachai (10 years old), Nat (11 years old), and Pond (10 years old). They are the three oldest boys at Ban Rom Sai. We spent most of the afternoon with Nanako who is the art teacher at Ban Rom Sai. The art room is on the second floor of a wooden building built on high stilts. The first floor is all in the open air and is where the staff at Ban Rom Sai work on dying the Thai style clothing that they make by hand and sell to raise funds for Ban Rom Sai. Nanako's room is on the second floor and just in front of her door is a low table and shelves of art supplies as well as a sink. The boys wanted to work with paper clay and I watched them mold their clay into the shapes of various animals. I believe Surachai made an airplane from the paper clay and it sparked my creativity to begin work on making an aircraft carrier for the plane. With the help of the boys we all began cutting up cardboard and forming them into boxes that we painted and put together to make the aircraft carrier. Surachai and Pond also made a few more paper clay airplanes to complete our decoration of the aircraft carrier. After that Surachai decided to grab some paint markers and began tattooing my arm with a very colorful design of a ships' anchor. I returned the deed when he was done by painting his bicep with a smiley face and a skull. I painted a few other designs on his forearm but Surachai later washed it off out of fear from the Thai staff scolding him.

Gen, who is six years old, also came up to do some art with Nanako. He is the weakest child at Ban Rom Sai. He has skinny arms and legs and coughs from time to time. But, Nanako told me that he has been getting gradually stronger. She explained that he has been having difficulty adjusting to the medicine he has been taking and that he needs to change his prescription soon. They have no records of the medication he took before he came into the care of Ban Rom Sai and so it is feared that the medication he is currently on was possibly the same medication that he took before he came to Ban Rom Sai. Ban Rom Sai receive their medication from the Thai government for free but this causes a problem. The paperwork done to change prescriptions for the children takes months and months. As a result a child like Gen must suffer as all the bureaucratic steps are followed. This type of situation is frustrating for the Ban Rom Sai staff for they are at the mercy of the civil servants who process this paper work. They feel helpless in their ability to alleviate the children from their suffering since they simply have to wait and wait for the government to finally okay the change in prescription and to provide it for them.

After the arts and crafts I went to the pool and watched Nat and Pond swim with the Japanese staff. They were working on several different swimming strokes.

From then on I played super kung-fu fighter with the younger boys. They had various weapons (toys) and attacked me - the Evil Giant. My secret fighting ability was the paralyzing finger attack to the under arm of the boys - the most ticklish area of the human body. It was fun to grab them and tickle them until they were laughing so hard that they could no longer breath. I remember that my father used to do that to me when I was young and how painful but fun it was to be tickled under the arm - right in the arm pit.

Soon enough it was dinner time - 5:30 - and I sat down with the infants and youngest children to encourage them to eat, eat, eat. I spoiled a few of the kids by spoon feeding them and making dog garble garble noises as they bit down on their spoon and chewed their food. I was most impressed with the youngest child at Ban Rom Sai. He is maybe two-and-a-half to three years old and there he was with his spoon in hand feeding himself rice and bits of chicken. He was so, so, so young. I thought that someone would help him eat but no, he was completely independent, determined, and able to eat by himself. I took several pictures of him. He was my little champion.

I then had some fruits with the boys and then sat out on a porch with Asama and a few of the girls. Asama is 20 years old but does not have the HIV virus. Technically she is apart of the Thai staff at Ban Rom Sai. She is an orphan. And she is beautiful. Because she was too old for the previous orphanage that she was in she was then adopted into Ban Rom Sai to help care for the kids and serve the girls as an older sister. The girls sat out on the porch with Asama and talked their gossip as they complimented each other on the gorgeous hair cuts the all got in town earlier that day. When I pulled my camera out the girls quickly posed for me and pointed to their hair reminding me that they had had their cut and stylized.

Soon it was nearly bed time and the children and to have their shower and dress into their pajamas. Surachai, Nat, and Pond all called to me to wait near their rooms as they finished their showers and exercises. They wanted me to tattoo more paintings onto their arms. I decided to join them in their nightly exercise routine which consisted of meditation, breathing exercises, and stretching exercises.

Nat really serves Ban Rom Sai as an older brother for all the boys. Who always looks out for them and disciplines them. In one case one of the younger boys threw a stick into the air and it fell back on his head. The boy began crying and pouting. I ran up to him to see what was wrong but Nat told me not to help him. He explained to me what the boy had done and that he had to learn from his mistake to not do such a thing again. I was immediately impressed with Nat.

One boy I must tell you about is Muu. The first time I met him he was busy peeling cucumbers in the kitchen. Nanako explained to me that he loves to cook. As a result I decided to call him "The Chef". The kitchen staff does not ask him for his help. He simply appears in the kitchen and helps out in anyway he can. The funny thing is is that he loves to eat dry ramen noodles. Not the type of snack you would expect "The Chef" to eat.

After Nat, Surachai, and Pond finished their exercises we all went to the art room and I tattooed their arms. Nat, wanted me to paint "I Love You" on his right arm and a flower on his left. I also painted the Yin/Yang Chinese design on both his ankles. On Surachai's left arm I painted another skull and on Pond's arm I painted a skull and spiderman's head. Then the boys led me to the TV room to watch Treasure Island with all the other children.

I had only watched about 10 minutes of the movie before one of the Japanese staff approached me and told me that they could drive me back into town.

This month two of the Japanese staff will have their birthday and so that night all the Japanese staff and a few of the Thai staff were going into town to celebrate. They invited me to join them and together we all sat around a large table eating, drinking, talking, and laughing.

The Ban Rom Sai then went to Kareoke after dinner but I departed for I had to get up early the next morning to grab a bus to Chiang Khong.

I will miss the kids and the staff at Ban Rom Sai very much. They are all so amazing and so full of life. I will hold them all in my thoughts for the rest of my travels and I will work hard when I return to the U.S. to create the English website for them and to promote their cause throughout North America and Europe.

If you haven't already please have a look at their Japanese website at

With Love,