SE Asia: abridged version

For everyone’s sake I will not post the thousands of photographs we snapped or the hundreds of short stories and musings I scribbled down in my ratty notebook during our four-month stint in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Too much. Way too much.

Here are a few highlights instead:

hkAbove is the scene as we departed Thailand and crossed over into Laos. Border crossings proved to be the most stressful events of the entire trip.

(Think long lines, police corruption, and foreign currency)

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These were taken by the riverside in Luang Prabang, Laos. A striking town of European-influenced architecture, food, and craft. The hazy sky is the result of slash & burn farming. (cough cough, literally)

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We walked and we biked. We sat and we pondered. We spoke broken Laotian and befriended strangers. We spent a good amount of time in this little village. The side streets were filled with irresistible domestic scenes – laundry hung out to dry, culinary endeavors set out to cool, small shrines of candles and birdhouse sized temples, animals foraging for food – these things that I find so beautiful.

We couldn’t take a boat to our next destination. The river just wasn’t having it.

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Hop into a tuk-tuk for a short ride from town and you will find yourself here:

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Night markets are glorious places to be – most are tailored to suit tourists’ tastes, take that as you will. Fresh (sometimes unidentifiable) food, handicrafts, and local music. One of my favorite night markets was in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand where we celebrated my 25th birthday with Pad Thai, Archa beer, and watched a father/son guitar performance. This was followed up by a woman lip-synching to various American show tunes. Turned out to be a very beautiful man in a stunning pink number. I read a quote about the ladyboy phenomenon (theorizing that the visibly high incidence of cross-dressing is simply the ‘land of smiles’ allowing more flowers to blossom) in a book called Very Thai. If you’re curious about Thai pop culture, this is a must-read.

Staring at stone carvings and drifting through ancient spaces, we punctuated the days spent at Angkor Wat with street vendor food and quests to find our ride amid the sea of tuk-tuk drivers at each stop. We experienced oppressive heat in this wondrous (though, surprisingly, I believe it’s not officially a “wonder of the world” for those of us keeping track) place with a heavy past.

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I think this is what all of us tourists looked like too.

There was an absolutely astonishing amount of stone strewn about the various Wats – waiting to be organized, fit back together, and re-stacked. The construction crews ran around the place just as frantically as all of the camera-toting tourists.

If I turn my back, I inevitably find Graham making friends. This is one of my favorite things about him – he gets along with just about everyone and has an uncanny ability to make you feel comfortable. This time he attracted a small crowd as he accepted the tic-tac-toe challenge from a young girl selling postcards.

The homes and ‘backyard gardens’ in this floating village on the way to Battambang, Cambodia were like nothing else.

The local convenience store and it’s active caretakers.

Buildings along the river ranged from well-maintained structures like this…

… to basic shelters assembled along garbage-strewn riverbanks.

The Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok on our way south for some beach time.

After a week or so on Ko Kood we ambled down the well-worn path to the island darlings Ko Tao and Ko Pha-Ngan. (Skipping Ko Samui) We were rewarded with clear water to float the afternoon heat away in, peaceful bungalows to escape the party crowd, and my first SCUBA diving experience.

This is where we pulled up to find our bungalow on the southernmost tip of Ko Tao – it was virtually abandoned save a friendly German family and the Thai folk who live there and run the place.

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One of many reptilian beings to surprise me throughout our travels.

Swimming and reading. Snorkeling and swinging. Eating and drinking. Writing and hiking. And then we found a hill-top bar with a pool table (watched over by a pleasant-natured lab and his often-absent owner) and our daily ritual was complete. It was impossibly quiet here.

Less than ten dollars a night. No lie. And on Ko Pha-Ngan no less. A few days after the Full Moon Party (which is great for some but makes me shudder) all of the crazies had abandoned ship, leaving a peaceful place for us to find.

While waiting the proper half hour after meals before soaking in the ocean again.

The boat-less fishermen, knee-deep that far out when we strolled down the wooden boardwalk that clung to the rocks on our way off the island.

The sandy remnants of crabs’ efforts on the beaches bordering Ko Lanta. We put in our final beach time after enjoying Krabi and Trang and before making the trek back up to Bangkok for our departure.

Low Tide

High Tide

And this was the scene in Bangkok as we said farewell to the so-called Land of Smiles – you can read about it here, among many other places, if you wish. I’m still digesting all that we saw and experienced in these places and I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to do so – both to have gone in the first place and to be back home safe & sound.

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