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  • hardie karges 10:42 am on November 21, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Laos, , , Mohan, , Tai, Thai, VPN,   

    Old China, Old Tai-land in Mengla, Xishuangbanna… 

    20181104_100110If I didn’t know better, I’d almost swear that on some cosmic drafting table in some corner of the universe there is a blueprint for the Tai diaspora out of China from a couple thousand years ago, or maybe outta’ North Vietnam in half that, in which the northern and southern flanks of this proto-Tai state are laid out on either side of what would become Laos like a mirror image of each other, in which the northern Tai towns of Jinghong (Chieng Rung), Mengla, and Mohan (Bor Han) would become Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Sai, respectively…

    And Lampang may even mirror Menghai, though I haven’t been there yet, so unsure. And the further irony is that both of these areas were indeed part of the same Kingdom, known as Lan Na, which ranged from one to the other, with parts of Laos and Burma added in for good measure, and to secure the Mekong, which ran between, and was apparently the geographical feature that linked them…

    So that as recently as 60-80 years ago, maybe even less, you could have convinced yourself that this area of Xishuangbanna/Sipsong (12) Pan Na was at least as much or more Tai-like in style and character than the predominant Chinese style of the country of which it was at least a nominal part…

    20181119_105845But that would be a hard statement to make now, as the majority Han Chinese have pretty much overwhelmed whatever it was that was here before. But I imagine it much resembled the Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai of the same era. And if it’s any consolation, it does resemble somewhat the modern versions of those same two cities, which have also changed much, of course, and these may even be nicer…

    So basically we’re talking about language, and the sharp reduction in use of the local Tai Lue dialect vis a vis Mandarin. And if it’s any consolation the local dialects in Thailand and Laos have suffered equally vis a vis the standard dialects there, both of which I know, fortunately, along with some northern Tai dialect, which is probably closest to the dialect here…

    And which I try out every chance I get, thanks to the predilection of the local Tai (Dai) women of wearing cool beautiful trad rags, so I can pick them out of the crowd, and racially profile them as potential Tai speakers, haha. Not that I’m on some holy quest to save Tai culture (I’m not Thai), but simply that there is a much better chance of having an actual conversation in Tai than Mandarin Chinese, and I could probably be fluent in 2-3 months if I could find a book to help, judging by my previous experience in Laos…

    20181117_112650And it will take me a cool year or two to become fluent in Mandarin, no matter how hard I try. So Mengla has been my makeshift home for the last three weeks, while I finish my current term for online studies, and plot my next move. Frankly I really don’t want to travel much in mainland China, due to the difficulties of indie travel there, here, mostly in the booking of rooms, but that is not so much of a problem here in Mengla. I’ve been at the same place for three weeks and never even registered!

    That would be unthinkable elsewhere, where foreigners are often not even allowed, especially in the cheaper digs, and always thoroughly registered, complete with color glossy photos or at least smart-phone pics. Remember that in case you need to ‘lay low’ somewhere sometime. But don’t expect a ‘travel vibe’ here, as I have yet to see another western soul the whole time. I’m sure Jinghong has more, but not much…

    The bloom is off the rose in China, and rightfully so, as it ain’t so cheap any more, and the hassles are endless. But that’s the deal. It keeps the riff-raff out. Fortunately in this neck of the woods cheapie hotels are ubiquitous and not hard to find, so kinda’ like the old days where you get off the bus and just start walking, Lonely Planet optional. Forget the booking sites, except for reference, or just to book the first night and then take it from there…

    20181116_201545People are friendly here, and that’s what is important for me, not some abstract considerations of tourist spectacles. There are still tribal people here and they fill the morning market, something hard to find elsewhere in Asia. Food is dirt-cheap, and the rooms are not too bad for the easy bucks. That is not always true elsewhere. This in fact is probably the cheap-room capital of China, so enjoy it while you can, because elsewhere is sure to be more dear.

    True, it’s mostly a nitty-gritty working-class town, with few spectacles to entertain, but it’s big enough to have two supermarkets, so you know what that means. And ‘Thai-style’ is little more than a design motif now, temple styles ubiquitous on buildings and houses now, where they were never intended. But people exer-dance in the parks at night, every night, and it’s only a matter of time before they drag me into it, haha…

    So if you want throngs of foreigners just like yourself, then Cambodia, Laos or Thailand is probably more your speed. But if you want to learn Chinese language, then this is not a bad place. You won’t have much choice, actually, if indeed you do come. Just remember that no social media nor anything Google will work here unless you have a VPN, something to consider B4 you cross the border. Did I mention that you’re only an hour from the Lao border here? So now you know…

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    • Esther S. Fabbricante 11:21 am on November 21, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      I don’t know how you do it!! Your stamina must be boundless.

  • hardie karges 12:02 pm on October 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: akha, , , Huay Xai, Laos, , , Mekong River, Muang Sing, Tai Dam, , Vang Vieng, ,   

    Time-Travel: A Tale of Two Towns in the Laotian Outback… 

    20181017_083902
    At age 64, and after 155 countries and more than forty years of travel, it’s all time-travel now, going back to see something I once saw before, and seeing all the changes that time has wrought, rather than seeing it all virgin-like for the first time, a gap-year giggly-mouthed googly-eyed greenhorn, that prototypical wide-mouth chin-dropping awe that inspires sales of toothpaste and fashion, featuring credit cards and deodorant, dreams of midnights and long flights, and carrying prophylactics, just in case…

    But it’s all different now. What was once exotic is now just chaotic, and International Standard Pidgin English ensures that you’re not likely to miss a meal, unless you really want to. Hard-core travel cowboys consume geography like chocolate cake on Sunday, apps logging miles and journals logging impressions, with an index, a table of contents, and an itinerary to be followed, while professional travel bloggers merely follow the guidelines of their sponsors… (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 12:13 pm on October 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Laos, , Phongsaly, , Udom Xai, Vietnam   

    Phongsaly, Laos: at the end of a long lonely road… 

    20181006_061252It may or may not be the ‘end of the earth’, but it definitely qualifies as the outback of Southeast Asia, for whatever that’s worth, probably not much, so long as China keeps encroaching, as it surely will, not so long ago Vietnam probably the greater transgressor, with its oversized population, locked into such a narrow sliver of prime southeast Asian coastline, and punctuated by rivers, this the only country in the world, that I know of, that is self-defined by its water, i.e. ‘nuoc Vietnam‘, Viet-water, as opposed to Thai-land, Ire-land, Green-land, or Switzer-land, for example (if you’re familiar with Vietnamese fish-sauce, nuoc mam, then you might recognize that same word nuoc)…

    But that’s Vietnam, and this is Laos, though you might not know it at the crossroads town of Udom Xai, a town of literally no more than a few tens of thousands, but with buses heading to all the four corners, i.e. China, Vietnam, and Thailand, every neighboring state except Burma, aka Myanmar, and locals can even go from Phongsaly to Luang Namtha, one part of Laos to another, via China, would that this option were only open to foreigners, and you might have a resuscitation of the backpacker market in this region… (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 11:51 pm on June 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Laos, , , ,   

    Baby, you can drive my tuk-tuk… 

    Homemade tuk-tuk in Phichit, Thailand

    Homemade tuk-tuk in Phichit, Thailand

    Three-wheeled ‘tuk-tuks’ are more than a mode of transportation in SE Asia. They’re part of the culture. Most often found in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, not only do they provide cheap and reliable transportation–usually–but they also tend to liven up the urban landscape a bit. They are more flexible than auto taxis yet more stable than the motorcycle ones (NEVER!). More than that, sometimes they can even approach the level of an indigenous folk art, not unlike motorcycle choppers in the US and elsewhere. Now if only we could get them to charge uniformly reasonable fares. Maybe it’s time to install meters? They have them on tuk-tuks in India BTW… (Then there are tuk-tuks that are total pimp-mobiles, taking any and all ad money from the highest bidders, like those in Phitsanulok, Thailand)

     
  • hardie karges 2:06 pm on June 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Laos, , taxi, , ,   

    Escape from #Laos, Stuck in #Thailand… 

    Travel by tuk-tuk in Asia

    Travel by tuk-tuk in Asia

    Our trip’s taken a bit of an ugly turn, what with increasing hassles with transport, taxis and tuk-tuks (see previous post). Call me a whiny backpacker if you want, but it’s bad enough that we’ve already dropped Savannakhet from the itinerary—just to mitigate those extra hassles—and I’m double-checking future hotel bookings to see if the locations are walkable from the bus stations. It’s more than can be explained away by the $5/gallon petrol cost, too, so taints the entire perception of the country.

    Let’s put it this way: taxis here like to charge by the passenger—even on a private run. That’s BS. That’s not communism (Laos is a Communist country); that’s retail, dahling. Being a backpacker (wearing a backpack, that is) was always as much about avoiding high-price city taxis as seeking countryside trails, after all. Just for the record, I do not wear my backpack fully square on both shoulders, but rather slung off one side with a flair for fashion.  But the current problems run deeper.

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    • Esther Fabbricante 3:01 pm on June 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Oh, my – so exhausting to even read about the hassle of your trip.

  • hardie karges 12:40 pm on May 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Laos, , ,   

    #Takhaek #Laos: Lazy River, Sleepy City 

    Takhek, Laos PDR: Sleepy City

    Takhek, Laos PDR: Sleepy City

     

    It’s a long way—and a tough road—from Xam Neua, near the Vietnamese border, to Phonsavan, Xieng Khoang, on the Plain of Jars, to Takhek on the Mekong River rim, even with an overnight break, down down down through bush and brush, savannah and chaparral, zigs and zags, at times the road degenerating into nothingness, but still much better than previous, with reports of deplorability, like that road back in Bokeo, back there back then, 1997 or so I believe, in the back of a truck, sending me airborne at the slightest drop of an overloaded wheel into mire and muck, at times having to drag the whole darn thing through football fields of impossibility… (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 11:22 pm on May 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Laos, Sam Neua   

    #XamNeua #Laos: Houses without Windows, Homes with Looms 

    Sam Neua sunrise

    Sam Neua sunrise

    The road winds mountainous and cliff-hanging, serpentine and riverine, casuarina and date palms, causality and circumstance, borderline tropical crossing the twentieth parallel on the road to Hanoi, multiple shades of green featuring an insect symphony soundtrack, measuring the kilometrage in butt bumps, every other house with a loom warped and ready, part of every woman’s day as surely as the family motorcycle’s maintenance is a part of every man’s, wood-axe at the ready to secure firewood, timber and lumber, preempting the Chinese invasion of the forests as a source of fiber in the diet for consumption…

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    • Esther Fabbricante 2:03 am on May 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I am still having computer problems and was unable to read your complete post. I hope I can catch up soon.
      Exciting happenings here with family – graduations, luncheons, visits, parties, you name it.

  • hardie karges 1:33 pm on May 14, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Laos, , Xieng Khoang   

    #XiengKhoang #Laos: Plain of Jars… and Bomb Craters 

    Temple at old Xieng Khoang (Meuang Khoun), Laos

    Temple at old Xieng Khoang (Meuang Khoun), Laos

    Phonsavan is something like the Laotian wild west, born from the ashes of the Vietnam (American) War, the Indochinese (French) War and (Chinese and Japanese) WWII, long before the wars of WWW (dot.com). This town is brand new, replacing the ‘real’ (old) Xieng Khoang, down the road a bit, forty klicks and forty years away, bombed to Hell and back by Americans with more bombs than brains, sons of guns and possessed of riches, dogs of war and sons of… capitalists… (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 12:40 pm on May 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Laos,   

    #LuangPrabang #Laos: Land of a Thousand Temples 

    Xieng Thong Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

    Xieng Thong Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

     

    No, really, Luang Prabang has something like thirty-two temples, down from a number over twice that much at its high point in the 1800’s, plenty I reckon considering the city only has some 20-50,000 residents in the first place, on a good day, in the busy season, depending on how you count, but not counting the many tourists who swell numbers significantly, many of them neighboring Thais and Vietnamese, and more than a few backpackers who call the place home for a few days or a few weeks, or even a few months, subject to a sliding scale of definitions, returns and allowances… (More …)

     
    • EstherFabbricante 1:46 pm on May 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Your latest post is so interesting and well written – when do you sleep? I tried to send you a post at the end of this, but it wouldn’t go through, so I sent it to myself and will forward it to you later.   Esther

  • hardie karges 10:28 am on May 6, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Laos,   

    #Vientiane #Laos PDR (Please Don’t Rush) 

    Sllepy Sunday in Vientiane

    Sleepy Sunday in Vientiane

    If Laos is a ramshackle village, then Viangchan (Vientiane) is its ramshackle capital. Only problem is that it ain’t so ramshackle any more. First the backpackers discovered it, then the developers moved in. There goes the neighborhood. Too bad backpackers don’t get stipends from their development initiatives and their ballsy forays into the mystic, to make up for the general derision with which they are treated in the countries they’ve helped bring into the golden age of mass tourism, like Thailand across the river, awash in tourism and prostitution and consumerist friendsy…

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    • Traveling Ted 3:20 pm on May 7, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Interesting to see how travel destinations change over a period of time. I hope to make it to Laos for the first time like Elizabeth.

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