Many people have been asking me why I like traveling so much and how can I spend more than six months on the road without getting bored? It’s like asking people where are they going? Answering those questions can be really difficult. I don’t know why I am traveling but I can tell you a story that has nothing to do with this instead.
Back in the day I bought Jack Kerouac‘s “On The Road” book in Lisbon. That must have been almost 15 years ago when I was just starting my ramblings around. His book is indeed inspirational for any traveler wannabe but somehow I managed to lose the book before I finished it. I found it again few years ago when I was moving and decided to finish it when I am ready to retire from traveling. All I can say is, I am not ready to hang up my highway shoes just yet so Kerouac has to wait.
I have seen a lot since my last blog post. Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand have been all great and surprisingly different. I was expecting them to be quite the same but I couldn’t have been more wrong. They are all different and all great destinations in their own right. Just try to stay away from the beaten path and avoid backpackers (visiting off season will help) and you will enjoy these countries even more.
I wish all students, staff members and alumni a great Gala Dinner on Friday. I wish I could be there. Enjoy – it’s definitely going to be great! As per previous times my post format is the same. Hope you enjoy this blog entry and do ask questions and comment if you feel like it! Do check out the photos as well.
1. Being a millionaire in Laos
One can be a millionaire in Laos quite easily as one million kip equals roughly €90. That aside, you do feel like a millionaire there even if you don’t have that much money. It is a million miles away from the bustle and hustle of Bangkok, Hanoi and other big cities, people are super friendly, its cities are full of beautiful French colonial houses and the food is fantastic. Oh, and their music is really good, too! What else could one wish for? I could imagine myself settling down in Laos for a longer period of time.
2. Halong Bay, Vietnam
Halong Bay in North East Vietnam is a visual paradise. In my book (opinion) the amount of photos taken in one place correlates with the beauty and I can tell I took some 600 photos during two days there. The bay is dotted with hundreds of limestone karsts, all different shapes and sizes and what could be a better way to experience them than cruise around leisurely among them. It had been raining quite a lot but as soon as I got to Halong bay the weather was superb! Check out the James Bond in “Tomorrow Never Dies” if you don’t believe me.
3. South East Asian customer service
I might be easily impressed by good service as I come from Finland (well, Finnish customer service isn’t THAT bad once you get used to people who are not smiling!). However, of all the places I have visited I might rate South East Asia as the friendliest in terms of customer service. No matter where you go, you are greeted as a long lost friend; not only first time you check in but every single time you walk past them. Ok, there are touts and some individuals you want to avoid but that’s the case everywhere. People are very friendly everywhere in the region but North Vietnam and Cambodia might get the top place on the podium.
4. Experiencing DMZ
I am a history buff. I think it’s fascinating. It might be unusual that pacifist like me would be so interested in the history of the Vietnam War, but I am. I blame popular culture, movies and music at least partly. Think of great movies like Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket or Platoon, and music – as Ricky Gervais put it – the Vietnam War had the best soundtrack. Being there and not visiting these sites would be a crime! I visited Demilitarized Zone and some of the most important war sites with Mr. Vinh who was a Vietnam War veteran himself. Hearing stories from someone who experienced the war himself was definitely one of the highlights for me.
5. Thai food
I love South East Asian food. Every country has their own specialties but Thailand might be my favourite. It seems that every region in Thailand has their own specialty and no matter where and what I have eaten, I have always enjoyed it a lot. Seafood is especially great.
1. Taxi drivers
Based on my extensive studies on taxi drivers around the world I have concluded that they are not from this planet. Have you ever heard of an honest taxi driver? I didn’t think so. From Hanoi to Buenos Aires, from Sevilla to Zagreb, they are con artists in highest form. It becomes obvious quite soon that your hotel has not burned down, his taxi meter indeed works despite what the driver says and your destination is not 15 kilometers away but 1,5km instead. What’s the best thing to do, to avoid getting hassled? Start walking.
2. Looking like a drug addict
I have been approached by many shady looking characters lately offering me drugs, magic mushrooms and other kind of ways to get ones head messed up. Of course it has happened elsewhere, too but not to this extent. The way I see it there are two possibilities – either difficult economic times have hit those drug dealers as well and they are desperately seeking new clientele or I need a hair cut and a shave. I would put my money on the latter. I do like getting high but do not need any substances to do that.
3. My own attitude
Yep, I need to change my attitude. Ever since Sri Lanka I have been approached by hundreds of people and even though most of them have an agenda to separate me from my money (with poor results, luckily) there are few real people among them as well. My first reaction to anyone who talks to me is to get rid of him as soon as possible and most of the time that is exactly what should be done. However, it does hamper socializing with people who truly want to get to know you. Let’s hope I get back to being me soon!
4. Death Penalty
I think death penalty is barbaric, cruel and morally wrong under any situation. It saddens me that Thailand, Laos and Vietnam are still using capital punishment. Cambodia wins this bunch hands down – it abolished death penalty in 1989. It’s not only the locals who might be murdered -A British woman was sentenced to death by firing squad in Laos a few years ago for drug trafficking but her sentence was changed to life after she got pregnant in prison (mothers cannot be executed according to their law). How she managed to get pregnant is another story entirely. Let’s hope that the tide is turning and the death penalty will be abolished for good.
5. Celine Dion
Oh my goodness. What is going on here? Since when Celine Dion became so popular in South East Asia? She’s everywhere! Restaurants, mobile phone ring tones, buses – everywhere! It’s not only Celine herself but they play instrumental versions of My Heart Will Go On (on loop that goes on forever) and also different artists covering her songs. I might have just got diabetes.
Did you know…?
Have you heard of Khmer Rouge or Pol Pot? If not you have been sleeping in history lessons. Khmer Rouge (Red Cambodians) was the ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. They might have committed one of the most horrible mass killings since World War II and they were one of the most lethal regimes of 20th century. Some estimate that 2,5 million people lost their lives during Pol Pot regime. There are almost 10 000 human skulls on display in Cheoung Ek killing fields close to capital Phnom Penh, collected from mass graves.
Vietnam war/American war in Vietnam
History of Vietnam (or American war in Vietnam as some Vietnamese call it) is too long to be written here so check it yourself. It lasted from 1955 until 1975. During the American involvement it has been estimated that one to three million Vietnamese died. The war had an impact on Cambodia and Laos as well and it still destroys lives. Unexploded ordnance, mines and Agent Orange chemicals kill and mutilate people even today.
One should be careful what they say about the King in Thailand or otherwise they might get into trouble or even sent to jail. Some foreign citizens have been jailed even for minor things like posting a link on his blog to a book (allegedly critical) about king. It can be a bit confusing to some foreigners but Thailand national anthem and movie clip about the King is played in cinemas before the actual movie starts. People are directed to stand up and pay their respect to the King.
Angkor temples, Cambodia
Temples of Angkor have been said to be the largest single religious site in the world by far. There are hundreds of temples scattered around a big area, magnificent Angkor Wat being the highlight of the area. Temples don’t get any better than Angkor!
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