Friday, February 29, 2008

I love technology

We are in Muang Sing, Laos, a tiny town 10km fom the Chinese border.
There are no internet cafes here, but our China Mobile phone started
working! This entry is posted from our Nokia N800 using our cellphone
as a modem via Bluetooth.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Our Canon Powershot S70 ... (updated)

... has become a paperweight. The lens barrel started to have trouble retracting and I got the dreaded E18 error code. After several days of intermittent troubles, it finally stopped working at all.

There were only 4 brands/models of compact digital camera available in Luang Prabang - all overpriced. So after some online research, we bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LS70. Ho hum. No wide angle as we were used to, so it has taken a while to get familiar with it.

Laos - A lot of tourists

Chinese New Year has come and gone. There are still a lot of tourists in Laos. In Luang Prabrang, a UNESCO World Heritage site, arguably one of the best preserved historic cities in SE Asia, tourists easily outnumber locals. During the morning alms collection, there are more tourists photographing than monks with alms bowls. I know we are subtracting from the experience by being there ourselves. LP has long been on my list of places to be. It is a little underwhelming, but I could not say that I am disappointed.

Monks receiving alms.
Luang Prabang, Laos

Now we have gone up the Nam Oo, a tributary of the Mekong, to a tiny village called Nong Khiaw. Again tourists almost outnumber locals here. It is easy to see why people are attracted to this place, the scenery is awesome.

Nong Khiaw: Our bungalow on the far right.
View from Bridge - Nong Khiaw, Laos

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Who one travels with

John and I are very proud of ourselves that we have been getting along
together very well so far. It has taken us a lot of practice, but now
we make a good team. We have noticed in Laos that there are many solo
travelers, maybe as many as a quarter of all travelers. It is
certainly doable, especially in Laos. I still think it's more fun to
be on a team. On the other hand, all the Chinese travelers seem to
be in big packs. We have seen several car clubs with caravans as
large as 20 cars, and coming from as far as Suzhou. I cannot imagine
traveling for so long in a big group either.

We are paying for CNY

Knowing that Chinese New Year would be a busy season for Chinese to
travel, we stayed in Shanghai for the past two CNY's, and enjoyed the
tranquility during the exodus. It did not occur to us that CNY travel
woes would catch us in the back waters of northern Laos. We spent the
first five days of the New Year in Vang Vieng which was once a small
farming village. It seemed like Kao San Road in the mountains by the
river. We met a guy there who got a week off for CNY from his
English-teaching job in Malaysia! Not to mention all the people who
have driven in cars from China! We arrived in Luang Prabang on the
12th and that found rooms are tight and prices high.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year!!!

Here in Vientiane, the local Chinese are marking the new year with offerings to the ancestors - food, paper money, incense, candles - and Lion Dances to drive away evil spirits. But no fireworks. One family had a whole roasted pig set out on the sidewalk in front of their small store.

Yesterday, we spent an hour at the largest Chinese temple watching the young men and boys practice their lion dancing, martial arts routines, drumming, and flag bearing. This morning, they all piled into three large trucks and are going around to businesses and temples to perform the rituals.

The.local Vietnamese are also celebrating Tet, their Lunar New Year.

Burma Books

While in Burma we both enjoyed reading Burmese Days  by George Orwell, a novel that takes place in 1930's Burma. A pretty good story and many observations that are still true today.

John also read Last and First in Burma (1941 - 1948) by Maurice Collis, a fascinating history of "how we lost Burma", and "how the Burmese got it back¨. The bulk of the book covers events from Dec 7, 1941 to the British retreat in May 1942. 

Monday, February 04, 2008

Vientiane is hopping...

... with tourists. In the last 24 hours we have seen more independent travelers than we saw in the whole of Myanmar in four weeks. John exclaimed, “there are more tourists here than in Rome!”

We had a such a hard time finding a room that last night we took the last available room (without a bathroom and up 3 flights of stairs) at the Orchid Guesthouse, just 3 minutes ahead of another couple from the same flight.

After looking at over a dozen places this morning, we now have a nice home at the RV Riverine with bathroom en suite, Wi-Fi, and breakfast buffet. Yes!!!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

photos from myanmar

I've started a set of photos from Mandalay, Myanmar:

Bad timing, as usual

We seem to have started travelling when the dollar is at the lowest ever. It went down close to 10% against the Burmese kyat just during the four weeks we were there.

Ground transportation seems to be up by as much as 100% from three years ago when the LP guidebook was researched.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Surfing in the free world

We are transitting in the Bangkok Airport, enjoying the free Wifi signal here, participating in the modern world.

Guacamole in Burma (UPDATE with photo)

An unexpected culinary highlight in Burma has been Guacamole. Avocados can be seen in the markets everywhere. They are a size between California and Florida avocados. I have no idea how Burmese eat them, but we had guacamole in tourist restaurants 5-6 times. Yumm.... I can eat it everyday.

Guacamole, Poppadoms, and Tomato Soup  - Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

Burma to Lao

We will be flying from Yangon to Vientiane via Bangkok on Feb 3rd,
which is the last day for our Burmese visa. We are expecting to get a
30-day visa for Laos. This will put us back in China no later than
Mar 4th.

Weather watching in Yangon

It's hot (90F/30C) during the day, and cool (AC does not seem to come on) at night here. We had a day of showers yesterday here. We have been watching the storms and travel nightmares in China on CNN Asia, NHK International (Japan), and Phoenix (Hongkong). We hope our friends and family won't be too adversely affected.

Visa woes

We were outraged to find at the Chinese Embassy in Yangon that a visa
now costs $130. It was $100 only a couple of weeks ago. We are
beginning to consider skipping China for our trans-Eurasia trip next

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

From Aguascalientes, there is a very convenient direct flight to Cancun.  Since the wedding is at a private beach south of Playa del Carmen,...