Phnom Penh is where the Cambodians live, work, play and pray. Its attractions are low key, forming part of the fabric of local life. The city sits at the confluence of the three great rivers of Indochina—the Mekong, Tonle Sap and the Bassac—and is the country’s commercial and political capital. It is crowded, chaotic and most importantly necessary in order to understand the everyday real Cambodia.
Like Siem Reap and other towns in Cambodia, Phnom Penh too swarms with child beggars and amputated men and women trying to eek out a living from the country’s thriving tourism industry. After three decades of civil war, the country has only in the last 10 years opened its doors to the outside world with its sliver of calm and peace. All in all 539,000 tonnes of bombs have been dropped over the country and between four and six million land mines still dot the countryside. Huge billboards on the roads read, “Put down your weapons. We don’t need to fight anymore.” Continue reading →
Luang Prabang resonates with sacred chants and harmony. The various layers of life in this charming, medieval, religious town blend seamlessly into each other to create a complete whole. From the saffron robed monks going about their daily tasks to the local Lao whose lives revolve around the wats; from the night market which sells indigenous handicrafts to the thronging tourists, to the tourists themselves, mature and sensitive to the spirit of Luang Prabang. Nothing jars here. Nothing irks. Every aspect of this palm fringed, sleepy, former royal capital by the Mekong is in peace with itself. Continue reading →
Room with a view
Vang Vieng’s main claim to fame is the view from my hotel room. It is beautiful. The blue green karst hills towering over the Nam Song river is like a Chinese silk painting; the mountains most dramatic and spectacular at sunrise and sunset when the mist and blackness of the night lift to reveal nature in all its pristine beauty.
Vang Vieng’s other claim to fame is as a backpacker’s paradise. There are thousands of young Americans and Europeans whiling away their days here, floating endlessly in hollow tubes down the river and downing countless bottles of beer along the way. There are so many of them that they form their own little commune, watching reruns of ‘Friends’ at the restaurants, chatting on the internet, and partying late into the night, high on cheap whisky. It is not a pretty sight—a foreign self-absorbed world totally unconnected to Laos or the Lao people. But maybe I am just old fashioned in my ideas of travel … 🙂 Continue reading →