by Elaine Weeks
on the road from the airport to our hotel,
curious monkeys scamper out of our taxi’s way
old women bathe naked in streams by the road
while costumed giants parade and glittering men and
women hoist golden parasols and streamers
elderly Balinese men in traditional dress – bits of rice stuck
to foreheads, cheeks, throats – climb onto our taxi
and pretend we are not there
whiz past limey green rice paddies and temples with menacing stone
statues wearing black and white checkered skirts
motor bikes loaded with families of four dart in and out
while horse drawn taxis plod along the edge
and women in borderline sexy traditional garb bearing
impossibly arranged towers of fruit and rice cakes on their heads
are temple bound
This is Bali.
Global Backpacking Journey, November 1986: Destination Ubud, Bali
Aboard the 5 1/2 hour flight from Melbourne, Australia to Bali, Indonesia, fellow passengers included young rowdy Aussie students whose main pre-occupation was to drink as much beer as humanly possible. Unable to avoid their ever louder conversations, Chris and I learned they were headed en masse to Bali’s famed Kuta Beach.
Continuing along the south coast of Cambodia, we took a mercifully short journey from Kampot, Cambodia to Kep. Although we enjoyed Kampot’s faded charms, it was dreadfully hot so staying at The Columns Hotel, despite its restored colonial beauty and comfortable up-to-date rooms, was a bit of a drag since it lacked one vital ingredient: a pool!
Our minibus, which picked us up right at our hotel and then spent an hour hunting down other travellers before departing Kampot, bounced over a largely unpaved dusty red trail through countless sad villages whose trees and huts were covered in road dust to eventually deposit us within 2o kms of the Vietnam border at Kep, a small town revered for its crab shacks (really more like wooden restaurants) hanging over the Gulf of Thailand. Our minibus carried us up a hill to our resort, The Kep Lodge, which was set a good piece from the main road and nestled against a protected jungle (at least for now in the land where corruption is the number one industry!)
Once an independent traveler plugs into the coconut telegraph, certain places pop up with amazing regularity. Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia has emerged as one of those hot spots so we landed knowing it would likely have many amenities travellers love- mainly a wide selection of places to stay and eat.
Named after their beloved King Sihanouk who passed away in October and was coincidentally cremated in an elaborate ceremony while we were in Cambodia, Sinville as it is called was developed as the major port for the country in the 1990s. With its lax visa regulations, Cambodia has become a haven for expats who are escaping from Thailand as that country tightens its rules for foreigners who wish long-term stays. In fact a good proportion of the operators of restos and hotels in Sinville are escapees from sleezy pattaya in Thailand- or so we were told.
Jan. 18 – Jan. 25, 2013
masked policeman controls traffic during a typical afternoon in Chaing Mai
After a mellow and spiritually uplifting couple of days in the nearly 800-year-old city of old Sukhothai, arriving in Chiang Mai was a bit of a shock. While we were certainly aware things had changed since our memorable first visit in 1989, when we had traveled here from Bangkok (a slow, hot, long train ride) with Chris’s mom Ange, merely travelling the short distance from the train station to our hotel revealed how incredibly busy the city had become. No longer a peaceful haven from loud, busy, polluted Bangkok, it seemed that “progress” and tourism had turned this northern hill tribe centre into a smaller version of the capital.
close call on our train from Sukhathai
Our spirits sank, especially as the nearly 10-hour train ride here from Sukhathai had exactly been a picnic: cramped, slow, dirty, cock roach invested, and it even caught on fire about an hour and a half outside of Chiang Mai! Fortunately, no one was hurt and there was no structural damage as the fire started underneath the carriage of one of the cars. No bus or other alternative transport was provided; we were all loaded back on and the train carried on.