Monthly Archives: November 2015

Living the “high life” in Cambodia…

MARK: What sort of house do you live in? A mini mansion, a four bedroom box, a two up two down or perhaps an end of terrace?

All very nice.  But would you be in the market for a house built on tall wooden stilts?  Throw into the mix the fact that for half the year you come out of your front door and walk 10 metres down rickety steps to a mud road, with the village below.  And for the other six months, you literally step out of the door and on to your boat should you need to go to school, pop down to the local “shop” or go and see the mother-in-law.

Right up there as an experience

Right up there as an experience

Welcome to the town of Kampong Phlouk in western Cambodia, which literally sits in South East Asia’s largest freshwater lake, Tonle Sap.

I thought I’d seen most things on our month long trip around Indo-China. But oh, no!  Nothing like this!  What a truly fascinating, random place.

According to Wikipedia and I quote:  “The Tonle Sap Lake occupies a geological depression of the vast alluvial floodplain in the Lower Mekong Basin, which had been induced by the collision of the Indian Plate with the Eurasian Plate. The lake’s size, length and water volume varies considerably over the course of a year from an area of around 2,500 km2 (965 sq mi) and a length of 160 km (99 mi) at the end of the dry season in late April to an area of up to 16,000 km2 (6,178 sq mi) and a length of 250 km (160 mi) at the peak of the South-West monsoon’s precipitation culminate in September and early October”.

However there has been nowhere near the normal level of rain this year – the locals blaming climate change…. SOMETHING FOR THE WORLD LEADERS IN PARIS TO CONSIDER!

To get there, we initially travelled by small bus – more about that bus later!

An hour out of Siem Reap (home of the world famous Angkor Wat) we travelled through lush countryside before racing across very flat land, paddy fields everywhere.  Soon rice gave way to mango swamps.  Knarled trees and bushes rose snake-like from dark brown water on either side of our raised dirt track just a few feet above the water’s edge.  We bounced along, leaving a cloud of choking dust enveloping a poor motorbike behind us.

The road then abruptly stopped, replaced by a makeshift temporary quay with around fifty brightly coloured wooden boats all bobbing up and down.  Highway became waterway.  All change please!

Our unnamed boat, was built for about 20 people, wooden bench seats on both sides.  Pushed off from the bankside by a young boy aged about 8, we headed south along the river, electing to climb on the roof to get a panoramic view of the quickly changing landscape.

Casting off - he later gave Sarah a neck massage for £1 - smart boy!

Casting off – he later gave Sarah a neck massage for $1 – smart boy!

Round the next right-hand bend we saw our first building on stilts.  A “Gendamerie” – here, the local “cop shop”, 30 feet in the air.  Bizarre!

Cop shop in the sky

Cop shop in the sky

Around the next left bend it wasn’t the site, but the awful stench of rotting fish that assaulted our senses.  The source close by as two women emptied their nets of recently caught small wriggling fish into wicker baskets ready for manufacturing fish paste – a local speciality.

We were now in the outskirts of Kampong Plouk as the river widened a little more to reveal stilt city.  On both sides, were ramshackle houses with corrugated roofs perched precariously on large wooden logs and beams. Staircases ran down to the bottom level, where pigs grunted, chickens scratched around for seed and young children with very little on played hide and seek on the impacted mud and silt.

Stilt houses were everywhere, now running alongside the water/river just like a “normal street”. And it wasn’t just houses.  There was the local primary school high in the sky, the Catholic Church, Buddhist Monastery and food shop.  You WOOD NOT believe it. A town of 2000 people ingeniously living out of harms way.

Would love to live here

Would love to live here

The local school - a playground for only six a months a year

The local school – a playground for only six a months a year

Rush hour

Rush hour

CHECK OUT OUR GUIDE, CHAMS’ VIDEO BY CLICKING ON THE BELOW LINK AND SEE IF YOU CAN SPOT SARAH!

https://www.facebook.com/chamnan.chey/videos/10153704176360619/

After about ten minutes, the houses and work places began to thin out, replaced with deep jungle and mango swamps.  The feeling of isolation grew, just the sound of the old diesel engine and an occasional bright green parrot screeching over-head, with interesting river signs pinned to trees.

Slow down!

Slow down!

But where was the lake?  The answer soon became clear as a shimmering mass of water glistened a few hundred metres down-stream.  We’d made it to the edge of the lake proper.  Nothing now to see, just the horizon and a local fishing boat being visited by a mobile 7/11 mini-mart, another small boat, another enterprising young business lady.

Mobile 7 Eleven

Mobile 7 Eleven

Beautiful - next land, 100 miles away!

Beautiful – next land, 100 miles away!

Our boats engines were cut.  We drifted.  No sound, just that of lapping water.  It was beautiful.  The sun high and very hot.

But I was keen to explore on foot the town as I could not get my head around the fact that the main “High Street” which was presently 15m wide, had a few weeks before been under 10 metres of water. My wish was soon granted as we headed back, chill time over.  Walking on two four inch wide planks, we disembarked and immediately discovered a bank of car batteries underneath a wooden house.  So this is how they lit their houses.

A battery of batteries

A battery of batteries

Outside, the cool shade afforded by the wooden structure, a furnace of heat hit us.  It was close to 40C, ideal for drying the light orange freshwater shrimps that were laid out like a carpet – a smelly one at that.  Kids were playing everywhere, all spoke some English, even those who were just a few years old.  It was surreal. A fun experience.  I left thinking I could live here…

This should be 10 metres under water....

This should be 10 metres under water….

Really tasty freshwater shrimps drying on large mats

Really tasty freshwater shrimps drying on large mats

Back on the bus, time to relax – er no!

Just a couple of miles after boarding from the quay, we slowed down and stopped behind another bus.  The reason soon apparent. We were driving on a compacted mud road, which along this stretch was being widened by additional soil.  In the centre of the road was freshly tipped soil. To our left, a local lorry which had sunk in to the mango swamp and was now leaning at close to 45 degrees.

The road was blocked and remained so for about an hour, until a big yellow “digger/scraper thing” arrived managing to clear part of the road.  The bus in front made it through and sped off.  Our bus approached, did not quite get the line right and promptly began sinking/leaning at 35 degrees, the front right wheel caked deep in mud, stuck down to the axel.

We tried pushing.  That didn’t work.  Somebody found a spade and started to dig.  That didn’t work! So time to find some chains, which in another 30 minutes arrived.  Half an hour later, we were off.  In England, a major drama me thinks.  Here, it was just another typical day.  I like that.  Sequence of events below.

Lorry carrying soil goes off the mud road trying to avoid the soil piles (centre)

Lorry carrying soil goes off the mud road trying to avoid the soil piles (centre)

Our bus trys to get through and gets stuck

Our bus trys to get through and gets stuck

Er, what do we do?

Er, what do we do? Colin giving advice (left)

Then a motorbike tuk tuk gets stuck going through the middle

Then a motorbike tuk tuk gets stuck going through the middle

Pushing doesn't work. Mark (in green) putting his back in to it

Pushing doesn’t work. Mark (in green) putting his back in to it

Man with digger thing and chain arrives

Man with digger thing and chain arrives and pulls bus out

and finally back on the bus

and finally back on the bus

So we are now in Bangok.  I write this blog from a boring little room, looking out of the window to a concrete wall ten feet away.  The high life long since gone. Our four week tour is now over.  A fantastic time, so many experiences.  We were fortunate to have a superb young guide called Cham who is loved by children everywhere he goes.

Cham and friends

Cham and friends…

Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.  Four fascinating countries, but if I was to pick one it would be Cambodia.  Why?  Superb scenery, amazing historical sites and even better people.  A country that was nearly wiped out a decade ago, now re-building.  Please do consider going in the future – it deserves all of our support.

A wonder of the World - Angkor Wat

A wonder of the World – Angkor Wat

Sarah at Dawn - Angkor Wat

Sarah at dawn – Angkor Wat

MB in reflective mood - Angkor Wat

MB in reflective mood – Angkor Wat

Now for some chill time.  After 13 weeks on the road, we are off for a break in southern Thailand and then Malaysia.

 

Categories: South East Asia Blog

VENEMOUS KHMER ROUGE’S WEB OF HORROR

MY THANKS TO CHRIS D AND CHRIS S FOR THEIR THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS WHICH HAVE GREATLY ASSISTED IN THE COMPILATION OF THIS BLOG, FOLLOWING A DAY WE WILL ALL NEVER EVER FORGET.

Chris D

Chris D

Chris S

Chris S

MARK: Daddy Longlegs – they give me the creeps!

They invade the shower at home and walk around the bathroom as if they own the place.  I know they can’t hurt me, but I always have to ask Sarah, to “shoo” the thing outside, or down the plug hole.  Joe’s the same – it must be something in the Bailey male genes.

You’d have thought then, that if somebody was to put a big, black hairy spider on my hand or worse still, on my head, I’d be bound to run a mile right?

WRONG!

This trip of ours is about discovery, understanding people from other countries, learning about their history and overcoming personal fears.  So when Mr Ran said “fancy holding Lulu”, I initially thought he was talking about his dog, not a six inch, fully grown Tarantula!  Another fear to banish, I had to do it.

Lulu going for a walk...

Lulu going for a walk…

... on me 'ead son!

… on me ‘ead son!

This “opportunity” came at the end of another emotion charged day. Mr Ran and his family had just finished serving us a Cambodian “family” dinner.  Our table of 16 (sadly Sarah stayed in bed at the hotel, still ill after five days), enjoyed beautifully cooked spring rolls, a delicious squid salad, freshly caught fish curry and flavoursome vegetable noodles.  And for desert, the freshest juiciest pineapple you have ever tasted!

Cham, our Cambodian Guide, who has been with us for nearly four weeks, had recommended we visit Mr Ran’s house.  So as a group, we piled on to four local tuk-tuks which can be best described as an articulated motor bike pulling a two wheeled chariot akin to Ben-Hur.  Bizarre, but it worked, except when going uphill…

"Tally Ho!"

“Tally Ho!”

Our $10 (USD) night out included the return Tuk-Tuk journey, dinner and a couple of drinks.  But as we learnt, Mr Ran did not pocket the profit.  This wonderful man, born in 1970 had lost both his parents and two brothers to the Khmer Rouge in the dark days between 1976 and 1979. He now lives in five rooms, with his wife’s extended family of 30, having taught himself English from listening to overseas tourists as he drove them on his motorbike around the streets of Phnom Penh.

Mr Ran and family

Mr Ran and family

After dinner, he recounted his sad story.  How he had survived with very little food during the Civil War – fried Tarantula’s providing a rare source of protein.  Now as a Tour Guide, he was giving something back using the profits from the Group Dinner to fund the hiring of two teachers twice a week, to teach the local children English.  The food we left (there was too much) was given by him to the local community, many of whom worked in the local “clothing sweat shops” where the Chinese factory owners pay around $2 for an eight hour shift. Made in China is now made in Cambodia… Don’t get me started on this particular subject.

This saintly man had us all enthralled as he talked quietly and calmly about his neighbours a couple of doors away who were active members of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot (his name means Political Potential)!  He told us he knew they were murderers and were directly responsible for some of the terrible crimes against humanity.

I felt sick!  Sick with anger.  These people were still walking the streets.  They were never brought to justice.  They were barbaric killers, who simply went back to “their day jobs” once Pol Pot’s regime was finally over-thrown.  They were living next door for God sake.

One of our Group, Chris D asked if he could “forgive” the murderers. Mr Ran answered with great honesty.  I paraphrase. “Forgiveness is the wrong word.  I accept what happened. If I kill him, then his children will kill my children.  What is the point? What would it achieve, there is no point….” Asked if he would invite his “neighbours” round for dinner, Mr Ran firmly said no, “but I would do business with them as we are stronger working together for the country”.

Mr Ran had the heart and the bravery to break the circle of revenge.  We toasted him with Tarantula Whiskey poured from what looked like an old Robinson Barley Water bottle, spiders floating in a grey murky liquid.

Ummmmm - Spider whiskey

Ummmmm – Spider Whiskey – check out Elliott’s face – (right)

How Mr Ran could in effect turn the other cheek, I don’t know…

Earlier in the day we had visited two of the main crime scenes of the Khmer Rouge.  Firstly Cheung Ek, known as the Killing Fields, some 15km from the centre of Phnom Penh and then on to the torture prison called locally S-21.  We heard how Cheung Ek was just one of 387 similar sites found in Cambodia – SO FAR.  Three million innocent babies, children, women, men brutally wiped from the face of the earth.

We were fortunate to have an excellent local guide in Mr “Lucky”, whose family had also been affected by the Genocide.  He showed us the tree where babies skulls were crushed whilst their mother’s looked on. They were then raped and clubbed to death. We saw clothes from dead people on the ground, which Mr Lucky said “kept coming to the surface along with human bone every time it rained.”

Perhaps I should just let the photographs speak for themselves…

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The memorial stupha housing thousands of skulls and bones

The memorial stupha housing thousands of skulls and bones

The Killing Fields Memorial, complete with thousands of human skulls was one thing.  But in some respects worse was to follow, when we drove back to Phnom Penn to visit Tuol Sleng/S-21, the torture house and prison where many victims found themselves before being transported by truck to the Killing Fields.  Sixteen thousand were housed there, tortured and murdered by “brain washed” guards who were typically aged between 15-21!  Yes, you read right, just 15 to 21.

Amazingly I met Mr Bou Meng, one of two S-21 inmates still alive today, two of seven survivors from over 20,000 victims.

A brave, brave man

A brave, brave man

Mr Meng lost his wife, but survived because he was a wonderful artist. In the book – Justice for the Future – Not Just for the Victims by Huy Vannak – Mr Meng is quoted as saying “I am a victim of Pol Pot and I was able to survive because of pictures of Pol Pot…”

I bought his book and show shots below of his torture that he subsequently painted.  But look closely at the photograph of Pol Pot.  This is NOT a photograph of a photograph, but Mr Meng’s pen and ink painting.  His great skill kept him alive….

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Pol Pot

Pol Pot

Today Cambodia is a country in transition, but speak to people off the record and they are highly critical of their “elected” Government. From my understanding the last election was far from free.

In closing this post may I leave you with a little bit more food for thought as you eat your beans on toast or spider with chips this evening.  Would you be happy if the man who was your current Prime Minister and who had been in power for over 25 years just happened to be a former Khmer Rouge Commander?

The future - in his hands

The future – in his hands!

Categories: South East Asia Blog

Happiness is…. A packet of Imodium. Note: This blog contains some nasty stuff!

MARK: Eighty six days in, exactly a third of our trip completed, it had to happen!

Yes, that awful feeling when you know you’ve just seconds to get to the loo before a mass “evacuation” takes place.

Sarah last night (Sunday) started to feel hot and shivery.  So for the first time since we left the UK, we decided to stay in and not go out for dinner.  Both of us were sound asleep by 7.00pm.

This morning it certainly wasn’t GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!  Sarah no better and worse was to come….. CENSORED all to do with the loo – the Imodium packet was quickly opened.

It had to happen sooner or later....

It had to happen sooner or later….

A twenty four hour bug?  Something she had eaten?  Just simply knackered? Neither of us are sure, but the thought of a day trip down to the Mekong Delta by bus involving four hours travelling and then two boats and no guarantee of a loo was enough for us to bail out of what would have been another fascinating trip…

So a good time for me to think and to write, whilst Mrs B sleeps and hopefully gets better.  I really do hope she feels OK tomorrow as we have a 7 hour PUBLIC bus journey over the border from Vietnam in to Cambodia.  But tomorrow is another day.

Get better soon!

Get better soon!

I must admit, I thought we would have had to use the Imodium sooner, but am happy that we got this far.

Damn!  There it is again, that word, “happy”.

It’s a word that just keeps coming up on our travels.  I suppose I must blame Anne for making me think about happiness, after her interesting comment on the Cabbages and Condoms blog a few weeks ago.

https://masters20152016.com/2015/11/04/cabbages-and-condoms-its-all-about-the-feelings/#comments

Anne recommended a book she was reading at the time called 59 seconds – Think a little, Change a lot, by Richard Wiseman.  I have downloaded it whilst here in Vietnam and I have thoroughly enjoyed the read, particularly the early pages where Wiseman talks about how research shows that people who are the happiest are those that enjoy experiences rather than material goods.

And I suppose that is one of the key drivers of this 9 month voyage of discovery. It has always been a long held belief of mine that quick fix purchases rarely brings long term inner happiness.  Just ask a drug user snorting cocaine, a shopaholic buying another pair of shoes, when he/she already has 100 pairs or a quick sugar fix from a Mars Bar.  So why do I keep eating chocolate?

Looking back over the past week, glancing through some 900 photos I’ve taken, I have analysed what has made me happy.

First up, I wanted to say a few words about our wonderful guide Cham – Chamnan Chey.  Cham, 27, has lead us from Bangkok, through Laos, into Vietnam and will shortly take us overland to his homeland of Cambodia.  He is literally loved by all the children he meets, in what-ever country he visits.  His smiley cap and happy go-lucky personality, hides a lot of hardship in his early life.  As a young boy, he used to dig up with his friends unexploded bombs to sell them on to scrap dealers to make a few dollars for his family. He saw first-hand the terrible effects when things went wrong.  Before that, the three million countrymen who lost their lives in his country during the war.  The day to day struggle just to stay alive.  And yet he is happy.  He is happy with his lot and in the knowledge that in just over five weeks time he will be married.  A truly inspirational young man who has taught me much in the last 20 days.  And when I see him interact with children the way that he does, this has made me very happy.

“Same same – but different” Cham loves children – they love him

“Same same – but different” Cham loves children – they love him*

Smile please

Smile please

I never thought she would do it.  But she did!

I’m talking about Sarah abseiling three times in one day, culminating in a terrifying drop 220ft down into a black, dank limestone cave.  She had no idea what she was letting herself in for, but she had a go and conquered her fears.  I went first and was really glad to get to the bottom.  It was out of my comfort zone, but as it turned out, I was far more concerned about Sarah!  My heart started to race as she clearly lost her footing as she went over the edge.  But bit by bit she gained confidence and down she came.  Happiness is seeing your wife in one piece, despite the rope burn.

Light at the end

Light at the end

Slipping as she enters the cave...

Slipping as she enters the cave…

Half way down the 220ft drop

Half way down the 220ft drop

Safely down...

Safely down…

.... burns to prove it

…. burns to prove it

Vietnam, as Barry Sutlieff rightly said is a “beautiful country, with beautiful people”.  Just looking at the countryside as you pass by on a bus or train, you can’t fail to be happy.  And observing the locals as they go about their daily business also makes you realise you can be happy without very much.

Beauty all around

Beauty all around

Still my fav' shot

Still my fav’ shot

thoughtful and happy

thoughtful and happy

A family breakfast

A family breakfast

But the man that has made me begin to understand what happiness is all about is Mr Hai – or “Skinny Hi” as he is known – his name is Hai and he is tall and skinny and hence Skinny Hi.

A truly impressive man

A truly impressive man

Mr Hai was our guide on our visit to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels – a massive network of inter-connecting tunnels, near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War and were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for North Vietnamese fighters.

An Officer and translator for the Americans, Mr Hai fought with the South Vietnamese Army. He graphically described the missions he went on and brought tears to my eyes as he recounted two terrible events.

The first was where he was having a smoke with a fellow Vietnamese soldier on the banks of the Mekon.  One minute they were chatting, the next, his friend was dead, shot through the head by a sniper from the other side of the river.  The second horrific incident was about an American who he befriended called Mac.  They were on a combat mission deep in to enemy territory, chatting about Mac’s return home the following week to see his family, his Tour of Duty over.  He never made it.  Five minutes later, just 10 metres ahead of Mr Hai, he was shot and killed.  Mr Hai described how he closed Mac’s eyes and prayed for the dead man.

The Cu Chi Tunnels were akin to my visit to Auschwitz/Birkenau Concentration Camp in Poland. Death and destruction everywhere.  Giant craters where B52 bombs had fallen.  Gruesome man traps that killed and maimed.  And yet there were still far too many tourists that were happy to pay their $10 and go and fire an AK47.  The sound of gun-shots piercing the peace of the jungle.  Short memories some people – this a war memorial, not a theme park.

One of our group J, heads into the tunnel complex

One of our group “J”, heads into the tunnel complex…. Sarah and I crawled underground for 100 metres in temperatures exceeding 40C

 

A booby trap - the spikes were covered in faceas

A booby trap – the spikes were covered in faeces

But through it all Mr Hai, showed remarkable peace and serenity.  He was not angry.  He was just happy to be alive.  Happy that he had children and grandchildren.  Happy to see the sunrise each morning.

So what is happiness?

That quest to understand still continues for me.  But if I learnt anything over the past 7 days, I guess it’s all about leaving the proverbial baggage behind in one’s life, recognising what you have, appreciating the simple things and helping others along the way.  Oh and celebrating when Middlesbrough get promoted – I did say WHEN.

Jumping for joy (my Mum)

Jumping for joy (my Mum) *

Thanks to Chris Denby for the two photographs*

Categories: South East Asia Blog

VIETNAM: BOTTOM GEAR SPECIAL!

MARK: Sarah in black leathers! Hanging on to the back of a Kawasaki 250cc, or screaming along the streets of Frome in the middle of the night, astride a throbbing Honda. Hard to believe? Yeah, I found it hard to get my head around the first time I heard as well.  But that’s my racey wife for you, full of surprises.

Full of surprises - that's Sarah!

Ready for the off!

As for me, well I’ve been on the back of a bike just once before, back in 1981 and I vowed “never again” as I was scared witless on the outskirts of Darlington.  My then “landlord” owned a high powered yellow bike – I can’t remember the make of it.  One evening he persuaded me to join him “for a little trip”.  It started off OK as we headed down the bypass towards the A1(M).  And then OMG, he opened the throttle. I nearly fell off as we reached speeds well in excess of 100 mph, my knuckles white, my light blue drain pipe jeans soon brown with fear…

Fast forward to 2015 and beep beep, beep peep.

Welcome to Hanoi the capital city of Vietnam.  Scooters and motorbikes everywhere.  Very few cars on the road because of punitive Communist Government taxes, just a chaotic sea of motorised two wheelers everywhere. On the road, on the pavement, in the parks, everywhere!

Hanoi is a rapidly growing city. Motorbikes the main form of transport.  You take your life in your hands as you attempt, in small groups to cross pot-holed streets, always walking, never running. It’s great fun if you have the bottle.

According to official statistics, in 1996 there were only 4 million motorbikes in Vietnam.  But now, driven by rapid economic growth, there are that number alone in the capital and 39 million nationwide, meaning that most adults between 18 and 65 owns a motorbike.

It’s how everyone gets about. Even Top Gear was here!  Messrs Clarkson, Hammond and May bought three scooters and rode them 1,000 miles from Saigon in the south, via Hue to Hanoi.  We’ve had great fun watching the first episode – check out the link to YouTube below and see the ride along the stunning coast which we have just completed in reverse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1zfuBgCUqY

Nearly as beautiful as Whitby

Nearly as beautiful as Whitby – Lang Co Bay – fav’ of Yorkshire lad, Jeremy Clarkson

During our stay in Hanoi, we saw some amazing two wheels sights.  So, ladies and gentlemen I give you the Vietnamese Two Wheeler Awards 2015.

Most overloaded – five seconds after this shot was taken, the green bags fell off narrowly missing Sarah

Most overloaded – five seconds after this shot was taken, the green bags fell off narrowly missing Sarah (hidden)

Most vegetables carried

Most vegetables carried

Most people onboard – FOUR NOT THREE – can you see?

Most people onboard – FOUR NOT THREE – can you see?

Most hidden rider

Most hidden rider

Stupidist rider

Stupidist rider

Most pizzas

Most pizzas

The 16th November saw us leave Hanoi after returning direct from Harlong Bay(100 miles east).  We literally jumped straight on to the 13 hour overnight sleeper to Hue in central Vietnam.  First class sleeper bunks and first class little furry friends who had decided to hitch a lift to go and see their relatives 450 miles further south.

On arrival, Cham, our happy smiley “same same, but different” guide, suggested that the Group might like to take a “motor-bike trip” through the countryside, taking in Paddy Fields, a Buddhist Monastery for lunch, then on to Hue’s Citadel, Pergola and local market.  Much to the surprise of everybody, including me, Sarah’s hand was the first to rise to confirm she was up for the day long excursion. My hand stayed in my pocket for a while.  But with everybody else saying yes, including a 76 year old American called Elliott, I reluctantly agreed to go.

Tang, the Team Leader could see I was nervous and suggested I rode on the back of his Honda Scooter – hardly a powerful machine, but quick enough for me.  The brown crash helmet barely fitted my big head, looking like a round tin bowl on my weathered face, squeezing my cheeks so I looked like a Michelin Man.  And then we were off, weaving through the streets of Hue at speeds of up to 25mph, fifteen scooters and bikes in a snake formation heading for the Paddy fields, the wind blowing through what little hair I have left.

After a couple of hours of visiting the rice museum and various other sites, we arrived at a Monastery for lunch, with Monks all around us riding scooters as if they belonged to some strange religious “Hell’s” chapter.  But boy could those boys cook. A great vegetarian lunch, concluding with delicious pieces of Dragon fruit.

Highway to Heaven - Monkey business

Highway to Heaven – Monkey business

Tummies full, we headed off again, through the dusty streets, the sun high in the sky, the temperature well into the 90s.  It was a lovely trip and then BANG. Historical reality struck once more.

Tang, made a swift right turn and we were suddenly riding down small dirt tracks through a forest.  We really needed trial bikes, not scooters.  Tree roots everywhere, steep hills which the old Honda barely managed to get up.  After a few minutes all became clear.  Two war bunkers which looked like large “Pill Boxes”, on the highest point, overlooking the sweet sounding, but anything but, Perfume River and the City of Hue.

Off piste

Off piste

Silence!

The history lesson unfolded in front of eyes and through Tang’s broken but understandable English.

During the Vietnam War, Hue’s central location – near the border between the North and South – put it in a really vulnerable position. In the Tet Offensive, during the Battle of Hue, the city suffered considerable damage and terrible atrocities, due to a combination of the American bombing of historic buildings held by the North Vietnamese, and the subsequent massacre committed by the communist forces. It was one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War, beginning on January 31 1968, and lasting 26 days. During the following years, dozens of mass graves were discovered in and around Hue. Thousands of victims were found bound, tortured and clubbed to death.

The scenery was beautiful and it was hard to believe what had happened as we all looked on.

Hard pill to swallow

Hard pill to swallow

It was somewhat ironic, but entirely appropriate when we returned back to our hotel via a Graveyard, before re-joining the hurly-burly of modern day Hue. The traffic on the main bridge, a carpet of scooters as people travelled home at the end of a long day.

Dead end?

Dead end?

Rush hour

Rush hour in Hue

But I want to leave on a positive note and again a brief story about motorbikes.

Yesterday (Wednesday) we arrived in the beautiful, laid back city of Hoi Ann – where the Top Gear Boys had their suits tailor-made during their trip through Vietnam.  Sarah was helping Ann and Chris buy new business suits .  So I decided to go and get my hair cut.  I asked a man, using sign language if he knew a barber.  He beckoned me on to the back of his bike and we sped off, through the market, chickens running for their lives.  Five minutes later and we arrived at Mr Thang’s the Barber.  He understood what I wanted, but then decided to give me a cut-throat razor wet shave, ear wax, nose/ear/eyebrow trim and head massage.  It was called a head service and cost a mere £4.50.  I gave him a tip of 50p and he seemed very happy, so much so, he went to his garage, got his bike out and drove me back to Sarah, over two miles away in the city centre.  Brilliant service and proof, if proof were needed that bikers are wheely wheely nice people.

Don't laugh Dave Parker

Don’t laugh Dave Parker

 

 

Categories: South East Asia Blog

Exploitation or Salvation? The jury’s still out on this one…

MARK: Bump bump, bumpity bump.  Close to seven hours in the back of our Laos mini-van.  Windows wobbling, stomachs shaking, scenery stunning.

We’d completed nearly 300km, through beautiful mountainous countryside.  The “highway” was a winding road, full of potholes.   Members of the group were feeling distinctly ill as motion sickness threated.

But this marathon journey did have an upside.  The view from the toilet at the lunch stop was superb and arguably had the most picturesque location for a washbasin anywhere in the World. Appropriate captions welcomed!

Loo with a view

Loo with a view

Washroom to remember – can you think of a better caption?

Washroom to remember – can you think of a better caption?

At 4.35pm, a 5km sign for the village of Ban Na Douang came in to view and the road to our overnight homestay suddenly got a whole lot worse, as tarmac was replaced by mud.  Chickens, pigs and dogs wandered everywhere, chased by young children.

With a jolt the van finally stopped, the door opened and our air conditioned bubble was quickly burst by a wave of steamy heat.  The temperature outside close to 35C.

I didn’t know what to expect.  Sarah and I, together with the rest of the group were staying overnight with Laos families to experience “life with the locals”.  But I’d read media reports in the past of how this sort of exercise can be staged managed by Tour Companies. How local people were often exploited with somebody, somewhere making a lot of money.  So straight away my cynical head was on as we were introduced to our host for the night – a middle aged “smiley” lady called Song Ting, who spoke no English.

Song Ting and Sarah in front of the family photo montage

Song Ting and Sarah in front of the family photo montage – note the local skirt (shorts underneath)

We trotted off behind her to our homestay, a short 5 minute walk along the dusty main street.

Rush hour 1

Rush hour 1

Rush hour 2. They learn to drive much earlier than the UK...

Rush hour 2. They learn to drive much earlier than the UK…

Shoes off, we were invited inside…

Outside Song Ting's house

Outside Song Ting’s house

A large, tiled communal room greeted us.  In one corner a couple of seats positioned in front of a large, old fashioned TV – their son, adorned with a football shirt from some minor German Division III League side, watching what appeared to be an American movie.

Dragged the poor boy away from the telly so I could take this shot

Dragged the poor boy away from the telly so I could take this shot

Our bedroom was in the corner, the door creaked open and inside three single beds, each with mosquito net, together with a wardrobe, a fan and a single light.  The Ritz it was not. Through the small 3 foot barred glassless window, a small fire could be seen.  Next door neighbours were having a bonfire and our room was directly down-wind.  The kids started waving and smiling. The smoke now a minor inconvenience.

Next door neighbours - if I had Phil Whitby's air gun, the rooster would be no more!

Next door neighbours – if I had Phil Whitby’s air gun, the rooster would be no more!

Further investigation of the house revealed a motorbike parked in one room, a few further doors we could not see behind and a bathroom consisting of a non-flush western style toilet and a small shower that pumped out cold water – this better than most houses.  We unpacked quickly and headed back to the Village Chief’s house, ready to undertake a walk around the village.  Before we started, I had a quick word with a couple of people from the Laos National Tourist Board who happened to be “in town” conducting a reccie, prior to a major Travel Writer/Travel Journalist familiarisation trip the next day.   I was told by one official that this was a “model homestay project” in Laos and they were hoping for positive international press coverage.

A village walk for our group started as the sun began to set.  Sweat dripped down the inside of our shirts.

We came across a lady aged 96 making sticky rice, another woman selling green chilli peppers at $1 a kilo, and kids running around carrying water.  Men gazed from the inside of simple wooden and breeze block houses, their white eyes shining through the fading light.

Sticky, sticky, very sticky

Sticky, sticky, very sticky – this lady is 96!

Just $1

Just $1

Round the corner a group of children aged between 7 and 13 were playing football on the scrubland in front of the school. Time for the “Allstars” to take them on.   Brendan a 6ft 4in US basket-ball player in defence, Robbie left back and Chris from Wales playing a central midfield role.  Chris Number 2 played at right back, whilst James made a few tasty challenges on a couple of ten year olds. I ran around a lot, ineffectively, before nearly dying of a heart attack.  We won 2-1, but it was close, with sport yet again proving to be a universal language.

Vive la France - the Primary School

Vive la France – the Primary School

We only played for 15 minutes, but my “Jungle” North Face shirt had turned from light brown to dark brown.  You could ring it out, it was that wet from sweat.  Even a large bottle of Laos beer failed to quench my thirst as we headed off for dinner in a large room.  This just did not seem right.  We ate by ourselves, no locals in sight.  Not what I had bargained for as I looked up and saw a poster of what appeared to be the Laos Communist Party, hanging on the wall by two bits of yellowing Sellotape.

The meal was simple but pleasant as the sound of children playing outside could clearly be heard. The decibel level increased and as soon as we had finished, just before 7.45pm we headed out of the communal room, to an area of grass where over 100 children were running around.  They were here to dance, show us how to dance and then dance with us.  Everything from traditional local music to Gangnam Style.  We all took part, the kids loved it, their Mothers (only one man) looking on.  After about 45 minutes we were shattered and soaked, the mosquitos having a field day biting my sweaty calves.  The kids then quietly made a circle and we handed out books and pens – a small gesture to the village of our gratitude for their hospitality.

Strictly Come Dancing Laos Style

Strictly Come Dancing Laos Style

It was time for bed as the villagers, we were told, were often up and about at 5.00am, so we made our way back to our homestay, opened the front door only to be greeted by a man wearing greeny coloured underpants (and not much else) reclining on the couch. Sarah beat a hasty retreat to our bedroom and safety, jumping underneath her mossy net. Lights out.

It was time for bed as the villagers, we were told, were often up and about at 5.00am, so we made our way back to our homestay, opened the front door only to be greeted by a man wearing greeny coloured underpants (and not much else) reclining on the couch. Sarah beat a hasty retreat to our bedroom and safety, jumping underneath her mossy net. Lights out.

Sarah safe from the man with green underpants - but not from mosquitoes

Sarah safe from the man with the green underpants – but not from mosquitoes

Next morning the rooster woke us up every hour from about 2.00am, there was something seriously wrong with his alarm clock.  At 6.00am we got up, showered and then said our goodbyes to Song Ting, writing in her Visitors Book before we left.

Breakfast was again in the communal room – bread, eggs and coffee – the staple tourist diet in Laos.

By 7.30am our bags were packed and on the mini-bus for the short transfer in to the town of Vang Vieng our next overnight stay.

It was then that various questions came to mind.

  • Why didn’t we eat with the local people in their houses?
  • Why wasn’t there more local interaction with the families?
  • Did the locals mind having tourists around?
  • Did the children really enjoy dancing with a lot of sweaty travellers?
  • Were the local people paid a fair amount for our accommodation?
  • Was this just some huge intrusive exercise for the benefit of “experience thirsty” western tourists?
  • Was somebody, somewhere other than the locals making a lot of money?

I put these and other questions to our local Guide who went someway to reassuring my concerns.  He said it was work in progress regarding increased interaction with families and having the opportunity to eat in smaller groups at individual host accommodation.  The locals didn’t mind the tourists as they had seen improvements to their village and increased income which they were very happy with, bearing in mind that field workers only earn $2/3 a day!  The children liked the tourists and were particularly keen to play with smart phones and tablets! He went on to say that there was open dialogue between the Village Chief and the local company who had set up the homestay programme, which in turn was contracted by our tour operator.  This was open and positive and had created a waiting list of local house owners wanting to be part of the Homestay Programme, although they were only going to increase the number to 12 (from 10) to safeguard getting too big.

But, as I write this blog on another bumpy, noisy bus heading to the capital of Laos – Vientiane – the jury is still out as far as I am concerned.  Time will tell.

In the meantime, as we leave today for Hanoi (Vietnam), Laos has to go down as the most picturesque and beautiful country we have ever visited.  So we leave you on a positive note and some postcard images. Do consider going soon if you want to see Laos in all its finery before being overrun by tourists.  As for the Homestay project, well I need to check back again in a couple of years.  The Jury is still out!

Postcard from Laos 1

Postcard from Laos 1

Postcard from Laos 2

Postcard from Laos 2

THE END

THE END

Categories: South East Asia Blog

BEAUTY AND THE BOMB

MARK AND SARAH:  A big thank you to the many people who kindly commented on our last blog Cabbages and Condoms. According to the online stats and the feedback we have received it was by far the most “well received” blog to date.  It was written during a bit of a low period, but thanks to you, our spirits are now fully restored and we’re back in serious traveller mode.  Talking of back, Sarah’s is much better (thanks Mags) and now, all’s well with our World.

Thanks for all your kind words!

Thanks for all your kind words!

But a few days ago it was a slightly different story…

MARK: The overnight sleeper train chugged along at just over 50mph, swaying from side to side.  Bangkok was now three hours behind us, Chiang Mai in northern Thailand ten hours ahead. The £4.50 bargain alarm clock bought from Tesco’s showed it was 10.00pm on Monday 2nd November 2015.

The journey was uneventful.  A means of transport.   The toilets were clean, they didn’t smell of wee.  The food served wasn’t bad – a bit bland.  The bunk beds were clean and relatively comfortable.  A cockroach made an appearance, but it was bored and decided pretty quickly to go back to its hole not to be seen again.  Demi was pleased! There was no real excitement.  It was all a bit flat really.

The word flat aptly sums up our two days in Bangkok.  We probably should have spent just one night there – like the song said!  Flat I guess because we’d been there before and we both realised why we rarely go back to the same place twice.  Seen it done it and then move on to somewhere new as boredom soon sets in.  This the mantra that best works for us.  Deviate and it doesn’t seem to work.

Sadly, things excitement wise didn’t improve much next day in Chiang Mai, the back-packers Mecca, 500 miles north of the capital.

Our early morning arrival coincided with a timely and somewhat “spooky” FACEBOOK Messenger note from John Hodson, Reading Supporter and International Swedish Bank Manager.

“I wondered whether you might get to a point where you got almost de-sensitised to new sights and sounds because you had seen just so many new things?”

At that precise moment the answer was probably yes.  The Chiang Mai market was ok, the park quite nice.  The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple was interesting enough, but again it was all a bit samey.  If you’ve seen one temple, you haven’t quite seen them all but…. Sorry Barry!

A rare peak at some Monks

A rare peak at some Monks

So 30 hours later we were glad to move on again, having wondered if we should have been to the Lady Boy show, or learnt what some “ladies” do with ping-pong balls at one of the more seedier night clubs.  Perhaps this would have spiced things up a bit.

Heading 200 miles further north, in two brand new Toyota mini-busses we travelled to the “Golden Triangle” where Thailand borders Mynamur (Burma) and Laos.  Along the way we stopped at Wat Rong Khun a mind blowing white and silver temple that appears from distance to be made of porcelain.  On closer examination, you see that it is made out of whitewash and reflective chips of mirror.  Still impressive. In my Trip Advisor report I described it as Disneyland meeting Buddhaland, and indeed most reviews tend to agree that it is magnificent piece of art with religious connotations.  I half expected Snow White to appear and walk down the main steps.  She didn’t and we continued our journey to Chiang Khong, the light fast disappearing with another stunning sunset visible through the dirty windows.

Buddhaland meets Disneyland. Snow White, where are you?

Buddhaland meets Disneyland. Snow White, where are you?

And then suddenly at dinner that night, like a switch, the buzz and excitement came flooding back.  The Group we are travelling with began to gel.  I took part in “who can eat the hottest chilli dish” with Robby a lawyer from New York.

“I wouldn’t want to talk to you for four hours sober” – One of Robbie’s more interesting one liners…

“I wouldn’t want to talk to you for four hours sober” – One of Robby’s more interesting one liners…

Meanwhile the mossies began to bite as we sat high above the Mekong River, with Laos just 500 yards away across the fast flowing moonlight water. With anticipation and excitement, we retired to our jungle lodge bedroom with the thought that tomorrow we would cross the border.

First light and Laos, a new country.  A new visa and a new passport stamp to add to our growing collection.  “Welcome to Laos Mr Mark St John” the border guard said.  I hadn’t the heart to tell him St. John was my middle name.  We were here and I had my Visa!  Mist was rising from the valley floor in the early morning sun, the now 300 yard wide Mekong the only thing to divide Thailand from Laos.

A quick transfer in an old van, eight of us in the back and luggage on the roof hanging on with no straps.

And then wow the River.  Clean air.  Stunning beauty.  Jagged limestone cliffs.  Bright green jungle and vegetation all around.  Our boat a three metre wide, 25 metre long, former cargo/fishing vessel that had been decked out with teak tables and what appeared to be seats taken from the inside of a Mitsubishi Shogun.  This our new home (during the day) for 48 hours as we were to travel along the snaking Mekong, through stunning gorges, to Luang Prabang the UNESCO protected home of 4,000 Buddhas, 250km downstream.

Stunning beauty

Stunning beauty

4,000 Buddhas in a limestone cave

4,000 Buddhas in a limestone cave

Beauty all around

Beauty all around

Laos, a landlocked country* (can you name the five countries that borders Laos – see end of blog for answer) is simply stunning in terms of scenery.  Our leisurely voyage, a cross between sailing down the Nile, the Yangtze and the Rhine whilst floating through a Caribbean island landscape of lush palms, banana plantations and dark green vines that twist and seem to strangle dapple green trees.

Four hours in and the front of the boat was beached on beautiful sand near the inside of a wide meander.  It was our chance to see first-hand a remote jungle village. The village people (no pun intended China Group) had little money except one house that strangely sported a big sat’ dish.  The rest, built on stilts, were basic with largely dried mud floors.  But, the children smiled.  They were loved and cared for.  They were clearly happy.  We were happy.

Popper round to watch Arsenal play Tottenham

Popped round to watch Arsenal play Tottenham

Built on stilts so no rats get in

Built on stilts so no rats get in

Back on the boat and a couple of cool cans of Laos beer went down all too easily. As 6.00pm approached the sun disappeared behind the mountains as our group of 15 arrived at the Mekong Jungle Lodge for our overnight stay.  Memorable views in the evening and then again next morning as elephants bathed on the far banks of the river.  Could this be Paradise?

Husband and wife team

Husband and wife team

... and in the evening - view from our window

… and in the evening – view from our window

.... and in the morning...

…. and in the morning…

Then bang.  My mind switched as I read an online article.

I knew the people of Laos were “victims” of the Vietnam War which ended 40 years ago.  But I didn’t fully realise what that still meant in 2015.

This country of beauty has the distinction of being the world’s most heavily bombed nation. During the War, over half a million American bombing missions dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance on this small country. That’s the equivalent of one planeload every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years.

B-52 over Laos

B-52 over Laos

Terrible stats, but worse still was the fact that most of the ordnance were anti-personnel cluster bombs, with each cluster shell containing hundreds of individual bomblets, about the size of a tennis ball. Thirty percent of these shells DIDN’T detonate! That’s estimated to be some 288 million cluster munitions plus 75 million unexploded bombs which presently sit across 18 Laotian provinces. They pose a real threat to children, who think the bombs are toys…

In the last ten years only 1 million bombs have been destroyed with over 20,000 deaths and serious injuries since the end of the war.

Brendan, a really nice American guy on our tour commented that it wasn’t America’s finest hour.

Indiscriminate bombing that killed thousands and still does to this day.  What a legacy.

I could go on…. I won’t because this trip is about the here and now.  But, digging a little deeper beneath the surface reveals what travel for me is all about.  A random mix of history, geography and biology – ‘A’ Level text now finally coming alive and real. A unique experience.  In this particular case a heady cocktail of beauty and the bomb literally living side by side.

As we continue or journey through Indo-China, this will doubtless be a recurring theme in Vietnam and Cambodia. History from my lifetime which I sadly remember.

But for now I want to remember the beauty.  Flat no more, Laos has indelibly burnt itself in to our memory.

PLEASE CLICK ON LINK BELOW TO SEE VIDEO

*OF COURSE YOU KNEW – LAOS is bordered by China, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.  Give yourself five house points if you got all five countries.

Categories: South East Asia Blog

Cabbages and Condoms – it’s all about the feelings!

Feelings!  What do you think of when you hear that word?

Andy Williams crooning in 1975?  Does it make you think of pain, for example when you slip a disk or break an arm? Or what about sad, mad or glad feelings?

It’s an interesting word and one that Sarah and I have talked about a lot over the past two or three days.

It all started when I looked at Sarah’s face a couple of days ago, whilst waiting in Hong Kong Airport’s ultra-new Departure Lounge on our way to Bangkok. I knew there was something wrong.  Clearly she was still in pain from having slipped her disk, but there was a look which told me something else was on her mind.

It was a different face from the one I’d seen for the past three weeks in China.

If there is one brilliant thing I’ve learnt travelling with Mrs Bailey over the past 9 weeks, it is re -discovering what I found so endearing about her nearly 30 years ago when we first met.  Sarah is a very funny, charismatic person, who brightens up a room simply by being there.  She gets on well with everyone, is always positive and is a real nice person to have around.

Sarah enjoying her Yangtze cruise with Linda and Jan (right)

Sarah enjoying her Yangtze cruise with Linda and Jan (right)

smiley smiley Mrs Smiley

smiley smiley Mrs Smiley at the Panda Park

I have to confess that these qualities I’d taken for granted.  My selfish, work-focussed little World, has meant for the past few years I have been looking too far in the past searching for answers, or trying to work out what the future might hold rather than concentrating on the here and now and what I actually have.  The vogue world today is “mindfulness” and there’s a lot to be said for it.

Living in the moment with the Buddha

Living in the moment with the Buddha

“I feel really sad that we are leaving this tour group” Sarah said quietly, looking down at her shoes.  “What do you mean?” was my quick, staccato, Alpha male response. “They were really nice people.  Linda and Court are lovely, Mags is such a laugh.  The Aussie girls are so much fun…..” She then went through the Group one by one highlighting individual positive traits.

MASTERS with their warriors

MASTERS with their warriors

Probably the best guide we have ever come across – take a bow Carina from G Adventures

Probably the best guide we have ever come across – take a bow Carina from G Adventures

It was clear that there was now a void as we both watched the giant Emirates A380 pull up at the stand, ready to disgorge 600 punters and pick up 600 more, for our next two and a half hours flight down to Thailand.

But there was also something else bothering Sarah.  Yes, we were leaving behind some great people, however a wider train of thought was clearly in her mind.

The last time we’d been at this exact Departure Lounge was six years ago with our son Joe who was 17 at the time.  Just like then, we’d been heading down to Bangkok.  But “little” Joe wasn’t there this time.  He was back at home and as all Mum’s do, they worry and care about their son/daughter no matter what age they are.  We both talked about our last ever family holiday to Thailand which had been a really good one with lots of stand-out moments. Joe was “mistaken” numerous times for Prince Harry (the ginger connection), the celebration (after down-loading online) of his A/S Level Grade ‘A’ in Geography at the interestingly named Cabbages and Condoms restaurant.  How we travelled deep into the jungle on the Burmese border re-tracing the upper reaches of the historic World War II Railway along the River Kwai heading for “Hell Fire Pass”.  Good times and past times.

Joe - remember the reclining Buddha?

Joe – remember the reclining Buddha?

But what was he doing now?  Was he ok?  How was his work going?  Was the house still standing?  Had the cleaning been done?  How was Ella…? How was he getting on with Jack? It was a brain in overdrive mode, reminiscent of when you wake up in the black, early hours of a new morning, mind whirling.

Lads (Joe right –Jack left)

Lads (Joe left – Jack right)

Certainly our travelling to-date has given us many highs.  But there are lows as well.  And two months into our RTW trip and with just under a quarter of our trip completed, this was one of those low times – perhaps more for Sarah in this instance rather than me, but I understood fully where she was coming from.  You do miss people. The constant travelling gives you plenty of time to think and the space afforded makes you realise what you value.  Feelings and senses are heightened.  The powerful cocktail of smell, sound, taste and sight are vivid and tangible. You think in a different way. You react in different ways.

“…and in the morning, we will remember....

“…and in the morning, we will remember….”

This trip is so unlike any traditional two week holiday we’d ever taken before.  That might sound a rather stupid and obvious thing to say.  But you don’t have this “winding down” and “winding up” feeling as you literally count the days before you return to the reality of work.  Here in Chiang Mai (north Thailand), neither of us had a clue what day of the week it was today.  We had forgotten it was November.  Temperatures of 34C and blue skies fool you in terms of dates, times and seasons.

Mr James Duckworth recently sent us a very kind email with an update on his news.  It was a very good read.  I always think that if I can “hear” the person through the words they write, then they have a mastery of English.  James, I hear you.  One of the questions Mr D posed was: “I am curious to know how easily you have adapted to an itinerant (meant in the best possible way) lifestyle which is such a huge difference to the day to day work lifestyle that you had before. Do you worry about things or do you just worry about different things?” 

My abbreviated response was:  “For the first time in my life, I am worry and stress free.  A big thing for me.  I do get stressed when the laptop throws a wobbly because our life is on it, but that is all.  I live for the moment and never get that Sunday night feeling anymore.  Successive Monday’s have seen us flying over Everest, walking on the Great Wall and seeing the Teracotta Warriors, which is so weird.  Yesterday (Monday) we were listening to Radio 2 via the laptop and heard the travel reports about queues on the M3….  The average length of stay is two nights so you are always on the go and it can therefore be tiring but you soon adapt.  I don’t care what happens when we come back, where we will be or what we will do…”

Essentially it is all about this feeling of freedom and gratefulness.  You quickly realise that there are so many people worse off than you.  When you see a family living on a hard shoulder of a motorway, a man with no arms and legs. A person that has never ventured more than 100 miles from home.  It can blow your mind, if you let it, or it can have a positive effect as you accept and realise.  I hope the latter continues to happen.

I have re-read and re-written this blog a number of times.  It has not been an easy one to write.  But I needed to write it.  The fact that it does not flow quite how I would like it to flow, please forgive me.  The switches of tense and style are not great.  But ultimately it is about getting across how we both feel about this “thing” we are doing.  The sights and the people and what we are doing is one thing.  The changes to us as people is quite another.  So this an open letter from the heart rather than the head.  I hope it conveys more than just a review of “another” tourist site.

Categories: South East Asia Blog

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