2011 so far…

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After seeing the sights and apparently, getting a little grumpy, in Siem Reap, I headed back to Bangkok for the holidays.

I was warned that the Christmas week is a time where EVERYONE is on holiday. Places are packed prices are high and touristing is generally no fun.

So Boaz and Stacy were very kind to have me for the holidays and hunker down in a nice apartment, with a bouncy mattress, hot showers where the water comes out over your head and a kitchen without dirt and flies. Pure luxury.

Christmas day was happily spent doing not a lot. We spent the afternoon at a Swiss restaurant with a bunch of other expats and had a lovely meal; one of those 7 course-you’re full by 3 deals. Good food and good company.

And for the rest of the week, I didn’t really do a damn thing. I walked a lot with my iPod, listening to my books and lectures, gaining knowledge and ignoring the touts at the same time. I wanted to just hang out in the nice apartment while I could, not knowing when I would next have such things. I read, I got new music, ripped DVDs, sent useless stuff back home. My hosts went away for New Years, so I stayed to cat sit for them.

Then it was time to go. My hosts were moving back to the US and the movers were coming to pack the house.

Took the night train to Laos. Not much to see as it left at 8pm and arrived at 8am. I learned that I don’t sleep well on trains either but whatever. It’s a cheap and easy way to get places. Did the border crossing with a bunch of other travelers and piled in a tuk into Vientane.

Everyone I talked to said that Laos was a calm and relaxing place. And they were right. Vientane is right at the border of Thailand and Laos, stretched along the wide Mekong river. Under French control for 100 years or so, it has a nice east/west blend. Lao people and food of course, with temples and Buddhist monks in their distinct orange garb. But interspersed with French architecture and cafes and baguettes (uh oh).

It’s a small town for a capital:only 200,000 or so. No traffic jams, lots of trees, the tuk drivers only ask once, if at all. Conversely, there is not a lot do to there, so I spent 3 days chilling out, working on my Adobe writing and debating between Vang Viene and Luang Prabang as my next stop. Vang Viene: known as a backpackers haven (haven often an synonym for nightmare, depending on your goals.) with the main attraction being tube rides down the Mekong, bobbing into any number of bars for cheap beers and joints. Stories abound of drunken tourists getting into mishaps on the river, without the facility to control their vessel properly. That plus corrupt cops shaking down tourist and every bar/cafe blaring DVDs oF ‘Friends’ and the choice was easy: off to Luang Prabang.

Against my traveler’s street cred, I flew. I bought a ticket that morning and was on the plane 2 hours later. $80 for a 50 minute flight beat out 12-14 hours on a bus. I missed a lot of scenery, but I can still use my back and butt.

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Luang Prabang is in the north/middle of the country. It’s a World Heritage site, nestled within green mountains, with the main part of town on a promontory created by the confluence of the Mekong (it’s a big river!) and the Nah Kang river. This is a more sophisticated tourist haven. Heavy French influence gives the town a nice charm, the people are nice, there are many things to do and see in the surrounds. It’s a place you immediately like and I suspect many people stay longer than expected…like me.

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My first couple of days I had a cold, so I didn’t do much other than blow my nose and sleep.

I went to a restaurant called Dyen Sabai, which was recommended to me by Adrien. He took over for me as the helper at Sunshine Cafe in Cambodia. He did some good work there and said I should stop by.

So I did. I met Nathalie, the owner and we and she said I should come by the next day to discuss being a helper. And as it happens, Adrien was there as well, visiting again before continuing his travels. So we had a nice little reunion, swapping stories and getting the lowdown on the new place.

I have been a helper here for 10 days so far. Fixing things, painting the pool and now, doing my first brick work. I am building a bigger, better bar at the restaurant. If I saved my back on the plane, I am breaking it now! But it’s a good and needed workout and I get to learn a new thing.

I will likely be here another two weeks. My visa expires on Feb. 11 and we will see if I leave then or stay longer.

As is becoming the habit, I will have a full report of the trials and tribulations of my stay when I move on.

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