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  • hardie karges 12:13 pm on October 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Phongsaly, Southeast Asia, 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 4:00 pm on January 7, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Southeast Asia   

    Jet Rag 


    Hardie Karges and Golden Buddha

    Asian jet lag is the worst, for an American, one day of travel and a week to recover, like the heroine hangover of a lost weekend.  That’s the nice thing about South America, little or no jet lag when it’s all over, at least as long as the continents stay in their current configurations.  You can go north and south all you want with little or no effect, except maybe a little Coriolis effect pulling you a bit to the right, like the brakes pulling to one side in my old pick-up.  Maybe that’s why Asia is so different, because it’s so far away from the seat of rationalism and so close to China.

    Like Mexico, ‘so far from God, so close to the United States’, Southeast Asia is ‘so far from Buddha, so close to China’.  For centuries everyone in Southeast Asia, all of them of near or distant Chinese origin, have been embracing other philosophies and life-ways besides the Chinese central dogma, about equally divided between Theravada Buddhism, Islam, and Communism, deriving from India, Arabia, and Europe.  This is not the crossroads of history, nor the world.  This is the detour, the long way home.  You could get lost here, but that’s maybe okay.  At least the women are beautiful.  If this is a dead end, then you could do worse.


  • hardie karges 12:35 am on May 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Southeast Asia, , train   

    Asian Swan Song: Stir-fried, Sweet and Sour, part II 

    Bangkok elevators

    Bangkok elevators

    …continued from previous Sub-title: Leaving Bangkok in the Broad Daylight (leaving the trash leaving the filth leaving the skyscrapers leaving the street-scrapers leaving the leaf-blowers leaving the elevators leaving the percolators leaving the bar-girls leaving the traffic snarls leaving the uncertainties leaving the eccentricities catching the wind catching the morning sun catching a second wind catching a train…

    The landscape is alternately hilly and swampy, populated and rural. There are rubber trees and palm, pineapples and mango—cash crops all. Rice is seen less down here in the south of Thailand. That’s mostly up north. That symbol of life and tradition is also a symbol of poverty. Nowadays cash is king; without it you’re resigned to a peasant’s life and existence. (More …)

    • Esther Fabbricante 12:54 am on May 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Your stamina and expertise are far beyond my comprehension – and how you put it all into words is remarkable.

  • hardie karges 2:37 pm on June 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Southeast Asia, ,   

    #RoiEt #Thailand: A Lake Sits in it, Collecting Tears… and Rainwater 

    Roi Et's Lake: Like a Rohrschach Test

    Roi Et’s Lake Phlan Chai: Like a Rohrschach Test

    Not so many cities have a lake sitting smack dab in the center of them, literally, so to find one, in my one-time sometime adopted ‘home’ is something special. The odd thing is that I knew none of that when I landed in Roi Et, itself somewhere smack in the center of Thailand’s vast little-traveled northeast ‘Isaan’ region. I’m here simply because it’s here, and I’m on a quest to see everything. I’ve seen the name on the map many times, but never stopped, maybe never even been through it, not sure. As for the surprise lake, well… you don’t expect me to read guide-books now, do you? Yeah, right…

    The place is a revelation. Not only is this a pleasant, attractive mid-sized Thai city in the heart of Thailand’s poorest most desolate region, but there are other surprises in store, too, like vegetarian restaurants—Thai food, of course—but more than I usually see, all without even trying. There’s even one in the produce market, which also doubles as a ‘night bazaar’, common in Thailand by now, thanks to Chiang Mai, but this is a new twist. Okay, so there’s always some joker wants to be Johnny Friggin’ English to come along and spoil my fantasy, but that comes with the turf. Welcome to Thailand…

    (More …)

  • hardie karges 12:58 pm on June 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Farang, , , , Southeast Asia, ,   

    #Kanchanaburi #Thailand: Reflections, Wrap-ups, End Games and Swan Songs 

    Author Hardie Karges reflected in mirrors

    Author Hardie Karges reflected in mirrors

    For the last month, after abruptly cutting a tour of Laos short, I’ve been “looking for Thailand,” so to speak, just as others before me have gone “looking for America,” making my (probably) last tour (maybe, that is), seeing if there’s anything I forgot, seeing if there’s anything I missed, seeing if there’s anything I should come back for, and eventually writing it all up—my ‘swan song’ so to speak, for a country I spent about a decade of my life in, depending on how you count.

    This is after more than six months of continuous travel, mostly elsewhere, no more than a week in any one place—a sort of ‘personal best’ for me in forty years of travel—and including seven countries (five of them new to me), but more time in India than any other one, and including such popular destinations as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    If the past month started slowly with a (literal) whistle-stop tour on the train down to south Thailand, then it has certainly picked up steam in the last 12 days, with 12 cities, 12 hotels (none over $20/nt, all with WiFi, none with reservations), all five regions of Thailand, and some 3000km/1800mi (all by land, most by 3rd class train).

    Bridge over the River 'Kwai'

    Bridge over the River ‘Kwai’

    And in case you’re wondering, none of those places was Phuket, or Koh Samui, or Krabi, or any other tourist destination, just the opposite, in fact, places like Nakorn Sri Thammarat, Aranyaprathet, Roi Et, Khon Kaen, Phitsanulok, Phichit, and Lopburi. I look for places where I can be a person, not a Farang (Western foreigner). In fact (drum roll here, please): I saw only maybe a dozen other tourists the whole time, not bad, and no beaches, bitches, or booze, the things most people come to Thailand for, UNTIL…

    The last two stops, Bangkok and Kanchanaburi were the undoing of my little purist fantasy, full of tourists and ex-pats, too, back with a vengeance on their part and no small measure of repressed revenge on my own, the spreading colonization of the Kingdom beyond all reason, writing on the wall for years now, but I forgot to wear my glasses, so I know now that my time here is drawing short…

    In Bangkok it’s to be expected, of course, major world city with people from all over, but… Kanchanaburi? Sleepy little Kanchanaburi? Sure, there’s the River Kwai (sp), of course, but does that necessarily imply a cliched ‘entertainment’ strip with all that entails? It looks to be about half-and-half old fart expats and young backpackers, so plenty of blame to go around IMHO…

    Mixed messages at a Farang Bar

    Mixed messages at a Farang Bar

    I mean: I’m glad the local economy is good enough to support a Carabao concert at one of the local clubs, but there won’t be any Farangs there, just locals. And there’s a historic district in town, with appropriate documentation for antique houses, and a floating local entertainment district on pontoon ferries, but most foreigners will never see it from the bar stools in their own private little enclave.

    This bi-polarization of a city—and country—into locals and foreigners is not at all what I look for and no longer what I need from this Kingdom or any other. I need inclusion, not separation; information, not ignorance. What worked for me twenty years ago no longer works for me now. I’ve changed, and Thailand hasn’t, or only for the worse, I’m afraid. It’s time to move on, boo hoo. I’ll miss the coconut ice cream.

    I didn’t plan this final tour to coincide with my 60th birthday, but that’s the way it worked out, a time for new beginnings and end games. I think I’ve just graduated Thai school; that is: my graduate studies in Thai school. The new gap year is 60. I’ll expound on these themes later, my little swan song. This trip is almost over, just a quick stop over in Istanbul and a little side trip to Sarajevo. Huh? What? This is hypertravel, baby.

    • Esther Fabbricante 6:16 pm on June 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Wow! Brandon will never be the same when you get home. Horns and whistles!

    • Traveling Ted 8:07 pm on June 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Only 7 countries in 6 months? You are slipping. Going to have to rebrand as semi-spasmic travel if you keep this loafing pace up 🙂

    • hardie karges 2:05 am on June 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      hahaha= 555

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

    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: , , , Southeast Asia, 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.

    (More …)

    • 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 1:41 am on June 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Southeast Asia, , ,   

    #ThaiCoup #Thailand: It’s About Survival 

    Latest news out of Thailand is that the military curfew has been lifted in many of Thailand’s holiday locations, though the etymology of ‘holiday’ as a ‘holy day’ takes a severe beating here, as elsewhere, more like feast day, feasts of the flesh and other assorted entertainments, not the least of which is food, Thailand’s second most famous export…

    On a more practical level, that means the Full Moon Party at Koh Pha Ngan is back on for June 12, which means I have no interest in going any longer. A Full Moon Party under curfew sounded truly intriguing. I guess the military doesn’t want to disappoint thousands of gap-year backpackers under the influence of alcohol and psilocybin mushrooms. Hey, you gotta’ have priorities…

    (More …)

    • Esther Fabbricante 2:49 am on June 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      A different world. I have just returned from Jackson where I attended the commissioning of my granddaughter’s husband, Chandler Ragland, as a full-fledged Methodist minister and member of the United Methodist Conference.

  • hardie karges 12:32 pm on June 2, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: #ThaiCoup, , flashpacker, , , Southeast Asia,   

    #ThaiCoup Thai TV stations seem to be coming back on air one by one, after they’ve been ‘cleared’ by the junta I suppose. It’s nice to have Al-J and BBC back. But the one I just discovered is my favorite, what I call the ‘bullfight channel’, nothing but bulls fighting, no matadors no nothing just bulls no sh*t. Reminds me of a channel in Dublin 2003 nothing but a girl sleeping, real life, and real scenes around the house all live, no ads no sh*t. Now that’s reality TV! BTW the ‘bullfight channel’ also has cock fights and go-go dancers, in keeping with the theme, I suppose…

  • hardie karges 2:54 am on June 1, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Southeast Asia, ,   

    #Songkhla #Thailand Don’t know which was worse last night, listening to a Thai cover band (is there any other kind?) butchering lyrics to ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ or ‘Oye Como Va’, fact that 2 were back2back speaks volumes, at high volume, guess English lyrics were better, though a bit breathy and beachy that ‘ch’, no need to rhyme I guess, who knows the words to ‘Oye Como Va’ anyway? More than 10 of them: Oye como va mi ritmo bueno pa’ gozar, mulata (repeat ad infinitum), nice triple entendre, one can even rhyme in English, too: Hey, how’s it goin? my rhythm’s sure good for enjoyin’… (sexy milk chocolate babe, you, love the way you shake that thang…)

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