SE Asia


What to do if you’re attacked by monkeys …

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Lisa at peace statue in Malmo, Sweden

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A former Laotian General, Vang Pao, accused of being the ringleader in a plot to overthrow the Laos government, has been freed on bail in the US.

A magistrate ordered General Vang be released on a $1.5 million bond.

He and 10 other defendants are accused of plotting to spend millions of dollars on weapons to topple the government in the capital, Vientiane.

Read story here …

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s constitutional judges acquitted the Democrat Party on three of four charges that could see it disbanded and their leaders banned from politics.

After more than three hours of summing up the cases against the Democrats and the party of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the judges said the Democrats were not guilty of slandering Thaksin during an election campaign last year.

They also acquitted the Democrats, which boycotted the election, of bribing people to accuse Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party of hiring them to run, thus validating a poll requiring a sole candidate to get 20 percent of the vote.

HUAY NAM KHAO, Thailand — When Lao Teng and his wife, members of Laos’ ethnic Hmong minority, fled their homeland last June, they had hoped that they could leave their fear of persecution behind.

Harsh reality quickly set in when they were arrested for illegal entry into Thailand upon their arrival at Huay Nam Khao, where about 8,000 other Hmong refugees have been living in limbo, wondering if their future holds a forced return to Laos.

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“There is no glory for a lazy person however good looking”

“Clean, clear, calm: These are the characteristics of a noble person”

apothegms in tree garden of Chiang Mai’s Wat Phra Singh

It’s all about getting there. The road from the Thailand border to Siem Reap, the Cambodian town nearest Angkor Wat, potentially one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, is notorious, excruciating, some say deliberately neglected, something like driving on the moon, or in some corners of Detroit. Only it goes on for an interminable 150 kilometers.

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I’d love to bore you with the details but my page-and-a-half of notes from the journey look like they were written in Sanskrit. By a kindergartener. Using his toes. As I mentioned in this highly amusing account.

Angkor Wat is a catch-all to describe what is actually dozens of religious, administrative and otherwise buildings of the ancient Khmer Empire. There are some great condos for visiting nobles as well. The ruins date from the 9th to the 12th century and range from huge “temple mountains” like this

 

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to out-of-the-way, nearly forgotten, jungle-eaten temples like this

 

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They are one and all amazing, from the awesome sight of Angkor Wat itself to the meditative quietude (dude) of places like Ta Keo, Ta Som, Banteay Samre, Pre Rup, Preah Khan.

 

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Banteay Kdei, with its giant spung trees growing into the rock walls, and the Bayon in Angkor Thom, with its serene colossi looking in every direction, are must-sees.

 

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We spent three days, dawn to dusk, exploring: peeking into antechambers, clambering around on sunbaked walls, suffering vertigo on slick stairways to the top of imposing temple pyramids looming over dense jungle. Meandering over foot-polished flagstones in a forgotten corner of the woods: having our fortune told by guardians of headless Buddhas: resting with a water bottle in the shade of a chieuteal tree, watching the birds. Standing silently by silent sentinels of lions, elephants, nagas (seven-headed serpents) in the sun. Fun.

 

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The stonework is detailed by incomparable craft: The nagas lining dikes and balustrades everywhere: every panel, stele, column adorned with devatas, female divinities, apsara, dancing nymphs, elephants and lions, Shiva, Vishnu, Buddha. Because Angkor belonged to both major religions amid periodic upheavals it feels layered, one mosaic outdoing the next or being outdone.

 

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And the lintels! Oh, the lintels!

 

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For your trip to Angkor, learn more here. For more background on the history, see this. The best plan is to take three days, hire a tuk-tuk driver – agree on payment beforehand – and explore at your leisure. These are end-days for the tourist season: the weather has taken a turn for the humid. So maybe rates will be down too.

Whatever the season, sunset on Phnom Bakheng, the highest eminence for many miles, is a must.

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Sunrise at Angkor Wat — where you’ll hear the light-switch effect of the sun on the locusts — is likewise essential.

 

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Angkor Thom is one of the most spectacular compounds: those giant faces are unforgettable. Try to see them in the afternoon for the best light.

 

 

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Banteay Srey, some 37 kilometers from Siem Reap, is also worth a look if you have the time. Or even if you don’t.

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If you can still walk try to see some of Siem Reap as well. It has a decent couple of downtown lanes that boast a little regular nightlife. Angkor What? is a great bar. We stayed at the Two Dragons Guest House, run by an expat American: affordable, quality place to stay and eat. Khmer Family Restaurant makes great traditional Khmer amok; Khmer Kitchen, where Mick Jagger has been rumored to repast, was also very tasty. The riverfront has been landscaped recently and brightens up at night with string lights and lampposts.

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Street view from Angkor What?

Cambodia is a country where people still pull over to the side of the road, unfold a blanket under a tree and have a picnic. Cambodians, like Lao, are gregarious people. Also like Laos, Cambodia has borne the brunt of too many regional and international conflicts over several decades, and the scars are still visible – in the country’s pitiful infrastructure, and in its many land-mine victims, some of whom you will encounter at Angkor. At several points on our tour we were serenaded by bands made up of land-mine victims. Throughout Cambodia the memories of Pol Pot and the Killing Fields are still fresh.

 

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But Cambodians have a lot to be proud of – their national personality, their diverse countryside, their reviving cities. And foremost, the rich cultural legacy of Angkor. It’s a beautiful country filled with beautiful people and we hope to return.

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We return to Bangkok. The road is no better on the way out. We leave for India. Goodbye Cambodia.

 

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Goodbye Southeast Asia.

 

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Hello Subcontinent!

 

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It’s been said (by whom I don’t know) that for travelers Thailand is like kindergarten and India is like grad school. If so Vietnam must be junior high. So why worry about the little things, like finding good places to eat? Here’s a quick list of the great places in Hanoi we recommend travelers check out:

@ Highway 4 – Rice wines get their proper showcase here, with everything from fruity to herbal to floral, and of course the ever-popular snake, scorpion and silkworm selections. And the catfish rolls are phenomenal.

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Marc and Malcolm at Hwy 4

^ Tamarind Café – Lonely Planet has done a lot for this place. Tamarind (they have a sister restaurant in Bangkok) has great breakfasts, and a terrific all-vegetarian menu, but don’t book your tour here – you can do just as well or better for half the price.

# Cha Ca La Vong – It says something about a cuisine that they named a whole street after it. This place serves one dish: fish sautéed in butter with greens. Trust us, it’s all you need. Cha Ca La Vong has been around for 100 years and with this taste they’ll be around 100 more – if the rickety wooden stairs hold up …

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What you get at Cha Ca. It’s what you need

~ Mao’s Red Lounge – Sweet atmosphere, hip clientele. Of course: we went there: must be the Place To Be.

= Red Beer – One of the many new brew pubs in Hanoi, this place has a terrific — you guessed it — red beer and a passable lager, and decent pub food. The atmosphere is very “American brew pub”: the perfect place to go after dinner at Highway 4, which happens to be right next door.

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* Bia Hoi Corner – Bia Hoi means “fresh beer,” and it’s available all over the city. But in the Old Quarter there’s an intersection with Bia Hoi places on all four corners: a famous place, easy to find. Plop yourself down on a lawn chair in the street, hand over 2,000 dong and you’re set. The going exchange rate is 16,000 dong to the dollar: eight glasses of keg beer for a buck: cheaper than water.

+ Whole Earth Restaurant – Best way to break your fast in the Old Quarter, for a pittance. Get the omelet with baguette. Lots of vegetarian options.

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