The littlest Hobo
Once again 'The littlest hobo' shares some of the joy and excitement of hertravels in these beautiful, inspiring lands of South East Asia. However, no matter how many stories I tell or how descriptive my e.mails become, NEVER will I be able to express the awe, admiration, respect and love I feel for the wonderful people I have met along the way, nor how much happier and freeer I've become living a simple life without the materialism and consumerism of the Western world..... Cambodia is altogether 'different' in many ways, I have been here for 1 month already, but since last writing to many of you I stayed for a further 3 weeks in Laos. And so my story continues where I left you last..... Laos is a very special country, so beautiful, simple and welcoming. I doubt that there is any place quite like it in the world and the further South you go, the more chilled and serene it becomes. Trying to leave the capital city was a lesson in patience in itself, 4 hours I waited for a bus that was supposed to run every hour, meanwhile a veritable market constantly passed by, hawkers selling everything from vegetables, filled baguettes, toys, long-life batteries, chewing gum & books to live chickens - they are not at all pushy in Laos, just hopeful! Eventually i made it out into the countryside and took a scenic boat trip down the river to a rustic bamboo & thatch village nestled on a lush forested bend on the river. I stayed only a day or so then continued my journey South for 5 or 6 hours on a jam packed local bus (chickens, tractor tyres, mattress' & sacks of rice all come aboard). I didn't know it at the time but 1 night around a campfire in Tha Khaek was to alter the tempo of my travels for at least the next month or so - This is where I met Monique, from the Netherlands with an uncanny personality that I grew to adore and Susie, a colourful, vibrant Australian chick of similar hippyness to myself. Although we had only just met, Monique and I decided we would undertake a little adventure together and try to find a 7km cave in remote countryside by way of local transport - it didn't go quite as smoothly as we'd hoped but we had a huge amount of fun, returned only 1 day later than expected and sure met some lovely and unusual characters along the way - a long story for another time!! After scrubbing away the dust and grime of our out back trek, Monique and I headed South together and the next day Susie joined us in Pakse. Our little travelling bubble of friendship, fun and creativity was born. We became known as the 3 divas (although I never quite understood why?) Together we took a tour of the tea & coffee plantations of the Bolaven plateau & to a minority village full of free spirited kids, smiling women, lots of pigs and a serene atmosphere. We saw some impressive waterfalls on the way but none like Tad Lo, one of the most natural and beautiful places I have ever had the pleasure of sharing the simple lifestyle in We stayed a few days, living on the waterfall, playing and swimming with the local kids, meeting new friends and soaking up the colours and sounds of the countryside. Back in town, first Susie got sick, then Monique (we put it down to excessive relaxation but it was more likely dodgy food or ice) but after a few days we made the bumpy overcrowded trip in the back of a sangthaew (taxi truck) to the 4 Thousand Islands in the deep South. Here on Don Det we really made ourselves at home, total relaxation took on a new form. Monique was still too sick to go anywhere so we put our matress'on the double balcony & invited friends to stay, we slept in the hammocks after watching the moon rise over the river and would wake to a magnificent golden ball emerging from the water casting a shimmering panel of light on the gently flowing Mekong. We spent a week reading, eating, listening, dancing, singing, creating, playing and just being........Monique eventually got better when we found someone with a course of antibiotics in his backpack so we hire bicycles and explored the island a little too. My creative energy went into learning how to crochet and changing Susie's long straight hair into dreadlocks, which I am now totally jealous and proud of.... Eventually our visas ran out, we said goodbye to our Laos friends and left our little safe haven for a whole new experience in CAMBODIA........... Cambodians have weathered years of bloodshed, poverty and political instabilityyet somehow they have come through the expereince with their smiles intact. The food they eat is often unusual, immoral or just plain weird. They eatinsects, algae, offal, fish bladders and duck feotus, brew up brains, snack on spiders and peel live frogs to BBQ but apart from the absurdities the standard of food is really quite good. The women and children can often be seen going about their daily lives wearing patterned trousers and tops, in the West we call this style pyjamas and usually save them for bedtime but here they are stylish, matching and comfortable day wear - why not? On entering the country the differences were already apparent, the corrupt border officials tried to charge us $2 for a stamp in our passports but the rebel in me disputed the fee and all of a sudden there was no fee. ;o) The next obstacle was coming to grips with the transport system, fortunately for us we started on one of the worst roads in the country so everything after that was relatively smooth by comparison. Drivers in Cambodia have one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn, if there are any road rules no-one is following them. It is also considered 'normal' to fill a regular sized car with at least 6 passengers + the driver, I have seen many more than that squished inside plus some on the roof and bonnet! Buses, trucks, boats - whatever, the more people the better regardless of safety. Having said that, everybody seems to get to where they are going but comfort doesn't enter into it. We have learned our lessons well and on longer journeys we now exchange cash for comfort by paying for a whole car between 4 of us and insisting on seat numbers when buying bus tickets to avoid sitting on a child's plastic chair, someones knee, the roof or a crate of livestock. Our first stop was Kratie, a nice riverside town where we hired motodrivers to take us through the countryside to where the little endangered 'Irrawaddy' dolphins play in the Mekong. Onwards to Siem Reap, home of the majestic Angkor Wat, flash glitzy western restaurants and bars, street kids, beggars (mostly landmine/war victims with missing limbs). The extremes of poverty and wealth. What can you do when the pleading eyes and hands of hungry children tear strips from you soul? Money can create a cycle of dependency on tourists generosity. I take a trip to the market, $0.30cents (20p) buys a big bunch of bananas that bring immediate if only temporary relief from the misery. Sparing some time to play a game, tell a story, teach some English numbers or colours seems to be the most effective distraction and many smiles can be shared with the smallest of effort. Angkor Wat - the worlds largest religious building is more than just a temple. We were there as the sun rose and lit up this symmetrical, architectural wonder, it's impressive reflection shimmered on the lake and the energy surrounding it brings and indescribable feeling of spirituality and peace. There are many temples of Angkor, we spent hours marvelling at the surreal splendor of the Bayon with it's 216 coldly smiling stone faces staring peacefully at the forest amongst Gothic towers and stairways. We lost ourselves in Ta Prohm which has been abandoned to the elements, over-run by nature and it's crumbling towers and walls embraced by vast root systems and towering trees. Our tuk-tuk driver rallied us between the many different temples, thier beauty inspiring the photographer in me. We spent a few days around Siem Reap doing the touristy thing of visiting the Artisans workshop, silk farm, war museum and strolling the markets. Still enjoying the friendship and fun, dancing and singing, playing games and sharing stories. With enough road travel already, we opted to take the 4 hour boat trip to our next destination - Battambang, legend to be one of the most scenic journeys through Cambodia, passing through protected wetlands and narrow waterways. The journey to the boat is a story all of it's own with Susie and I choosing the roof of the minibus but this e.mail is whey too long already. We cruised the water world of floating villages and riverside communities, waving at the smiling kids as we passed. 4 hours turned into 5 then 6 as we ran aground often in the low water, 8 hours has passed by the time we got off our uncomfortable overcrowded vessel only to be hoarded by persistent guesthouse touts. All part of the adventure some would say... The very next afternoon we sharp shifted to Phnom Pehn, the capital city and found a comfortable oasis within the city, a travellers community around the lake. From here we visited the killing fields, S21 prison, National museum and learned more about the horrific atrocities this wonderful country suffered in the hands of the Khmer Rouge. This was the saddest of all my days in Cambodia, very much outside the colourful bubble of loveliness that I am privileged to currently occupy.... We spent some time on the white sandy beaches of the South, getting to know the local kids and organising a successful birthday party for the lovely lady we were staying with. Our journey continued to Kampot, a cute, non touristy riverside town where a chance meeting created a volunteer teaching job for me. Hurrah! lovely people who are thrilled that I want to return there and stay for a month. We also explored the abandoned colonial ruins of spooky Bokor hill station and had another vehicle breakdown on the way but soon had to go back to the city, our lovely friend Susie had to catch her flight back to Australia. Monique and I had a week or so left together so we left the lowlands behind with a trip into the hills of Mondulkiri province (the wild East) where we discovered a new Eco-venture in the form of 'Nature Lodge' - hydro electricity, living space built in and around the trees, clean air, space to breathe and be.... The perfect place to write this mamoth story and get my brain into gear for the forthcoming month teaching English in the South, only to be distracted by the local community stopping by at irregular intervals, other travellers sharing their tales, helping with the new building projects and even fighting a bush fire to save the buildings from flames. I seem to have been blabbering on for quite some time now, if you have some time to take a look, hopefully my photographs will put it all into focus for you and you'll have some idea of my amazing journey through this fascinating land full of wonderful smiling people. Personal replies will be afforded to any of you who care to share a piece of your life, dreams or thoughts with me, so until then or next time. ************************************************ It's good to have a somewhere to journey towards but it's the journey that matters in the end....