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Hello all,

It’s time for another rousing update from Rog and Jen, your intrepid
traveling friends/family.

Since the last virtual tour of our (mis)deeds, we’re come a long way
baby. (Ad slogan of major tobacco brand intentionally stolen). Here
is the synopsis:

1) Luxuriating in Laos with a lotta Buddhas, and Rog was sick
2) One hairy border crossing from Laos into even hairier Cambodia,
and Rog was sick
3) A week in Cambodia, and guess what? Rog was sick!
4) Back to Bangkok, and Rog is ok so far!
5) Next steps

1) Luxuriating in Laos with a lotta Buddhas, and Rog was sick

From our plane ride from the Plain of Jars to Vientiene, we could see
hundreds of bomb craters pockmarking the forests and rice paddies.
We spent several days in Vientiene, the capital, so that Roger could
recuperate from a yet-to-be-convincingly-diagnosed mystery illness.
While there we visited the enigmatic Buddha Park. Several years ago
an eccentric westerner started a large collection of Buddhist and
Hindu deity statues, which he then assembled in a park-like setting
along the Mekong. We have seen lots of Buddhas, but never so many in
one place. It was fun to climb around this surreal collection that
included a massive, four-story human soul among the other oddities.

We headed north from Vientiene to Veng Vieng, a relaxing river town
nestled in a valley of soaring karst mountains. We checked out many
limestone caves, which were beautiful and were home to local
residents during American bombing raids. One we visited housed over
2,000 people at one time, who worked their fields at night and hid
and slept in the caves by day. Our guide was a lot of fun and we
taught him a lot of American slang over Indian dinner ?a first for
him. It still amazes us that the Lao people do not hold a grudge
against Americans for our undeclared war on them, especially since so
many people still are injured by unexploded ordinance.

After Vang Vieng, we hustled due south to Pakse, near the Thai
border. We intended to check out some pre-Angkor ruins in the area,
but Roger’s mystery illness flared up again, he got feverish and we
paid a visit to a local hospital. Whew! Thanks to a guy who spoke no
English, but happily guided us around the substantial complex, Rog
managed to get a blood test that showed at the very least that he did
not have malaria. Yah! Jen watched like a hawk to make sure that
all needles were new and clean, but we cannot say as much for the
rest of the facilities. We left the under-funded facility about $6
lighter, but with no more knowledge about what his affliction was.

We decided to hang out in the Four Thousand Island area of the
Mekong, near the Cambodia border, so that Roger could once again
recuperate and spend four days relaxing in bamboo huts with all-
important hammocks. We also did a quick side trip to see an awesome
waterfall and the Irriwaddy river dolphins.

2) One hairy border crossing from Laos into even hairier Cambodia,
and Rog was sick

After many conflicting stories about whether the Lao-Cambodian border
was open to foreigners, we decided to go for it, along with three
other travelers. On the Lao side we avoided a deal with a sketchy
border guard with gold teeth dressed in pajamas, who zoomed around on
his moto, as if he owned the place. After negotiations with the
commander of the Cambodian border station, clad in only a towel with
gut hanging over, ten dollars each won us our prized passport stamp!
He would not let Rog take his picture with his uniform hanging on the
wall alongside a couple semi-automatic weapons. Too scandalous or
was he too modest? You decide. In retrospect, we can say with some
certainty that that border is not officially open, but we did manage
to cross, thanks to the almighty dollar. Thankfully, there was a
huge truck loaded with cabbage and comfy bags of cement (ha!) that we
managed to hitch a ride with to the first town along the dustiest,
bumpiest poor excuse for a road.

3) A week in Cambodia, and guess what? Rog was sick!

A couple boat rides later, we found ourselves in Phnom Penh. Despite
stories about it being a somewhat lawless city, we found it to be a
fairly nice city, with broad boulevards and nice people. The tourist
industry is definitely beginning to boom there, with people hassling
you for a taxi/moto ride, trying to take you to their guesthouse, or
selling you some brick-a-brack. Touting is an ever present practice
throughout Southeast Asia in touristy towns, but it was especially
aggressive in Cambodia and one gets physically grabbed in an attempt
to “lure” you to their guesthouse or use their services. Not a very
convincing way to get our business!

We were only in Phnom Penh for a very short time, but while there, we
visited the grim S-21 Genocide Museum. S-21 was a former school that
the Khmer Rouge took over and used as an internment and prison and
torture center for political prisoners and foreigners prior to
shuttling them to the Killing Fields to dispose of them. Some 8,500
people went through this prison of which only 7 survived and the
place still had the makeshift cells and rudimentary torture devices
in place. It was an especially powerful experience for us because
these atrocities occurred during our lifetimes, not some distant
cultural memory of a bygone world war.

Of course, Cambodia is not only known for the Khmer Rouge’s
atrocities, but also the early Khmer’s amazing architectural
accomplishments at Angkor. Getting there from Phnom Penh took us
about ten hours at a crawl through 200 miles of dust, with seven of
us cramped into a pickup truck cab. Thankfully, Angkor was well
worth the hassles of touts and all the hellish road trips.

Jen spent three days visiting over a dozen temples in a huge complex
known as Angkor, which is named after the most famous temple, Angkor
Wat. Some temples were massive, others small but with intricate
carvings. Without exception, they were all impressive. One of my
(Jen’s) favorite temple experiences was at Ta Phrom in the eerie
breaking light of early morning, where I had the entire temple to
myself. The temple has been left mostly unrestored with huge banyon
trees growing around the stones and through the corridors. Strangler
fig vines are twisted around toppled arches and doorways. I felt
like one of the first explorers coming upon this incredibly wondrous
yet spooky place. No wonder the movie Tomb Raider was filmed there!

Due to all of our misadventures on the road, Rog fell ill once again
after reaching Angkor. So while Jen tooled around 1000-year-old
temples, Rog lay in bed sick. On one of Jen’s trips back to the
guesthouse to check in on him, Rog had a 104-degree fever. YIKES! We
quickly took him to the nearest clinic for yet another blood test.
This clinic was even less promising than the one in Laos, and once
again Rog tested negative for malaria. The doctor said that he
thought it was salmonella and wanted to keep Rog overnight. Neither
of us was too keen on that idea, given the accomodations. Instead,
armed with rehydration salts, Cipro and Tylenol, we returned to the
guesthouse to get to work on the sick-o. By the next afternoon, Rog
was able to make a brief sunset visit to Angkor Wat, which of course,
was lovely. On Jen’s last day of visiting the temples, she led Rog
on a “best-of-Angkor” tour during the early morning hours while it
was still cool. It was really magical to finally see some of these
temples together!

4) Back to Bangkok, and Rog is ok so far!

The trip back to Bangkok from Cambodia was another test for our
tooshes, but we made it in one piece. We were lucky to have had an
extra day in Cambodia so that Rog could continue to recuperate before
the 10-hour trip. It was strange to return to Bangkok for the fourth
time and sort of feel like we were going home since it’s the only
place we’ve gone multiple times. We had a great final evening with
new friends Kate and David, and took off for Hong Kong the next
morning.

5) Next steps

So here we are in Kowloon, the mainland side of Hong Kong. It’s
incredibly dense and vibrant, with sidewalks packed with people and
hotel rooms the size of half a peanut. It’s also amazingly expensive
by our travel budget standards: prices are similar to the U.S.
Tomorrow we meet up with a traveller we met back at the Akha village
in Thailand. And then on the following day, we’re off to INDIA!!
Woah. We can’t even imagine what India is going to be like.
Certainly it will be an assault on every sense and sensibility.
We’ve been checking the news and travel advisories and we’ll be sure
to steer way clear of northwestern India. We’re really looking
forward to attending the Sustainability Summit in New Delhi, part of
the prep talks for the Earth Summit in Cape Town this September.

We love you all and will send our next update soon!

Hugs,
Jen and Rog


Hey all,

Greetings from Laos – the land of rice, smoke and 3 a.m. rooster crowing
contests. Aside from some sleep deprivation and all the smoke from
ubiquitous slash and burn agriculture and trash incineration, it has been a
calming respite from the busy-ness of more westernized Thailand. And, well,
we really like sticky rice.

We’ve come to really enjoy lots of character building experiences from
touring in a communist country that was practically bombed to smithereens by
the United States in an unofficial CIA run war in the early 70’s. (Really!
Laos has the distinction of being the most bombed country in the world. Go
Team USA!)

The benefits of Lao travel have included:
* learning to be laid back in the face of an unpredictable bus “system” (see
the random meandering 21-hour bus ride in the freezing cold below);
* gaining patience – each day we congratulate ourselves for not having
throttled any roosters;
* wonderful spiritual explorations (Please God, don’t let that pothole eat
our bus!).

In all seriousness, we really are loving Laos, most of the time. =) We are
now in Ventienne, the capital, after having tooled around quite a chunk of
northern Laos. Here’s a summary of what this update includes:

1) Christmas in Thailand and on to Laos
2) Lao Hospitality
3) 21-hour bus ride
4) jars and other random items on the plains of eastern Lao

1) Thailand to Laos

We spent Christmas in Chiang Khong, Thailand across from Laos on the Mekong
River. We found Bamboo Guesthouse to be a great haven – who can go wrong
with thatch huts overlooking a mammoth river? We basically hung out, did
yoga on the boardwalk, read our books, ate well, played games and enjoyed a
very peaceful Christmas day, reveling in each other’s company. The day
after Christmas, we crossed the Mekong over to Laos and boarded a cargo boat
along with another two dozen or so foreigners. We couldn’t figure out why
we were sitting on top of crates of empty Beer Lao bottles in a huge boat
with about four windows, when empty passenger boats with real seat benches
were cruising down the river at the same time! We managed to grab two
coveted spots on the front deck of the boat and enjoyed a beautiful day’s
ride down the Mekong. The Mekong lazily meanders through beautiful country,
most of which looks like secondary growth forest. We saw water buffalo and
lots of villagers planting gardens in the silty riverbanks.

2) Lao hospitality
After our first day of river travel, we happily boarded our “bus,” or
rather, pick-up truck with two benches in back, and headed for Muang Houn.
During one of many pit stops, we were invited into a local villager’s home
to enjoy a glass of water and take a look at his tree house. Rog had his
first chance to speak some French, as the villager spoke a bit of French but
no English.

After four tire-changes, one patch job and a pump-up, we arrived in the
small town of Muang Houn in time to catch the end of the local high school
soccer match. We were the only foreign folks there, and were at least half
as interesting to the crowd as the soccer game was. At the end of the game,
a young man by the name of Amphay approached us and asked if he could
practice speaking English with us. He ended up inviting us to dinner at his
house (a thatch hut with dirt floors), where we spent a lovely evening
eating, talking and singing. His mother prepared a meal much like what we
ate in the Akha village in Thailand – sticky rice, boiled mustard greens,
chile sauce and boiled sweet potatoes. Amphay had taught himself English,
and was basically acting as the town’s English teacher. We were pretty
impressed considering his limited access to English language resources. We
had such a nice evening that we sent him a Lao-English dictionary and
English language tapes which we found here in Ventienne. After dinner, the
three of us headed over to a local festival where we were able to do a
little swing dancing! The Lao girls literally squealed when we started our
jig!

Our next major stop was Luang Prabang, a lovely town on the Mekong River,
which still retains a lot of French colonial flair. Many ex-pats have set
up cafes, bakeries and restaurants which make it a very nice place to stay
for several days. We arrived in time for New Year’s celebrations, and
debated about going to one of several backpacker parties. Instead, we ended
up at an unassuming restaurant intending to eat a yummy meal and perhaps
have a Beer Lao (good stuff!). While waiting for our food, we heard an
Elvis tune on the small stereo and decided to swing dance quietly in our
corner. Ready for any excuse to get the party going, a Lao man at the next
table saw us, jumped up, scooted all the tables out of the way and started
whooping along with the music. We danced another Elvis hit, and then the
music abruptly changed to techno and several more Lao hit the makeshift
dancefloor. Soon the Johnny Walker was flowing freely, and after several
forced shots, Rog and I were literally dodging around the dancefloor to
avoid having to take another drink! We had a ball be-boppin’ with the
mostly-Lao crowd – it was a very memorable way to ring in the new year!

3) Overnight bus ride from hell
After five or so days kicking it in Luang Prabang, feasting on both Lao and
European food (Swedish cinnamon rolls to die for!), we decided to move on.
We ran into a guy we’d met on the beaches of Thailand, and headed east along
with him and five Brits. We set out on a supposed 12-hour journey to
Phonsavan, the jumping off point to see mammoth stone jars that litter the
plains of the eastern province of XiengZhoun. We had no idea what we were
getting into! Instead of 12 hours, the trip turned into a miserably long
21-hour journey that had us shivering through the cold wee hours of the
night, bumping along on a pot-holed mountain road. At what seemed like the
tenth tire change, Rog pulled our luggage off the top of the bus so we could
put on practically all our clothes and hand out extra socks, etc. to our
fellow travellers – ten foreigners with no clue! The bus finally arrived at
4:30 am in Phonsavon, where no guesthouses were open. We slept till about 6
am on the dusty floor of the bus, until we managed to get into a guesthouse.
Needless to say the ten of us were a sight to behold – very sleepy, dusty,
travel-weary ‘farang’ (foreigners)! Oh, did we forget the best part? Jen
was sick about 15 hours of the ride with our favorite friend Montezuma’s
Revenge.

4) Big stone jars, dude!
Thankfully, the Plain of Jars was well worth the trip, and Rog managed to
wait to get sick until the last site we visited on our day-long tour of the
plain. The jars are astoundingly large, and completely inexplicable. No
one knows why they are there, nor how they got there, since the rock that
they’re made from is not indigenous to the region. The area also boasts an
amazing legacy of the U.S. war on communism in Southeast Asia, and there are
cluster bomb craters literally everywhere. Our hotel had made use of many
of the old bomb casings for decorative purposes. Imagine lovely flower
planters and fireplaces made from deactivated ordinance! Unfortunately,
thousands of unlucky Lao farmers and children continue to encounter
undetonated cluster bombs and hundreds are seriously maimed or killed every
year. It was amazing to us how kind, open and generous the Lao people have
been toward us, considering the manipulation and havoc the United States
wreaked on this country back in the 60s and 70s.

All for now. Hope everyone had fun, safe new year’s celebrations. We’ve
been thinking about ya! Please let us know how you’re doing!

Lots of hugs,
Jen and Rog

Rog and Jen’s travels – some old stuff, some new stuff

This blog has a collection of the travel update emails that Jen and Rog compiled during our 2001-2002 round the world trip. We're off to do a bit more trekking around, and thought it would be nice import those old emails. Enjoy!

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