January 28, 2017. Los Angeles to Siem Riep, Cambodia
At LAX. As I arrived at Los Angeles airport (LAX) for my flight on China Southern to Cambodia, I heard a noisy demonstration outside the Tom Bradley international terminal. Protesters were calling for an end to Trump’s ban on Muslims and others from entering the U.S., just announced that day. I joined the militant and spirited rally. Apparently JFK Airport in New York City was partially shut down by protests.
On the flight. As is my habit, I set my cellphone clock app for Cambodian time, and therefore was only one of a few on the entire plane who remained awake about eight hours, watching from a generous menu of movies like “Bridget Jones’ Child.” Then at the appropriate Cambodian hour, I tried to sleep but found myself no longer sleepy.
At some point we crossed the dateline and lost a day, so when we arrived it was already January 30. I guess I’ll never see January 29.
January 30, 2017. Day 1. Siem Riep, Cambodia
We had a three-hour layover at the airport in Xieng Khouang, China, then flew on into Siem Riep, Cambodia, and were met there by our tour guide, Som, from Saigon Tourist travel agency. Our entire trip was facilitated by Jane Hollinger, a friend of mine, and managed and guided by Saigon Tourist. We drove to the hotel in a van to check in. About half of our buses on this trip would have no seat belts; this was one of them. The hotel was elegant, as most of our hotels (four-star) would turn out to be. Most had a dining room for breakfast, a spacious lobby, and sometimes a gift shop.
My room was on the third floor, very comfortable, all the amenities. Wood floors and doors. (The hardest mattress I’ve ever slept on—I even did some pushups on it.) [Note: all the mattresses at the hotels we stayed in were extremely hard in Southeast Asia.] I experienced no jet lag.
Siem Riep is a tourist town. According to our guide, the most prevalent travelers there are South Koreans. The city looks very wealthy and lively with night life and markets. Of course, the non-tourist parts probably look quite different. Along the main road were lots of kiosks, but we didn’t visit the housing areas. After checking in, our guide Som and the bus driver, drove us to the ultra-modern and new Angkor Museum to see the “1000 Buddhas” gallery with many stone and metal sculptures of Hindu gods. Here we learned about the Naga. According to Wikileaks: “Naga is the Sanskrit and Pali word for a deity or being taking the form of a very great snake, specifically the king cobra, found in the Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.” The ones we saw in the sculptures were gigantic cobras that stood behind the Buddha to protect him. Nagas were ubiquitous throughout Southeast Asia.
The absolute best part of that day was the cruise down the Siem Riep River to see the houses on stilts lining the beach. The inhabitants were mainly fishermen and their families. We passed a Catholic Church and a school, also on stilts in the water. The river overflows in the rainy season—from about March through October. We ended up at an ample lake, which we were told looks like the ocean, during the rainy season.
We went into a large floating marketplace on the edge of the lake. I bought some long cotton pants with elephant print and elastic around the ankles. Very comfortable and light-weight.[In Buddhism the elephant is a symbol of mental strength. At the beginning of one’s practice the uncontrolled mind is symbolized by a gray elephant who can run wild any moment and destroy everything on his way. After practicing dharma and taming one’s mind, the mind which is now brought under control is symbolized by a white elephant strong and powerful, who can be directed wherever one wishes and destroy all the obstacles on his way. Source: http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-BH/bh117490.htm.%5D
We went to bed early, and I slept deeply. The hotel has Wi-Fi but, nevertheless, I wasn’t able to email or text. Intermittently it seemed to work, so I did finally succeed in texting some pictures to my son and friends.
January 1, 2017. Day 2. Siem Riep
Breakfast at the hotel. We set out for Angkor Thom, then Angkor Wat. Very impressive. [According to Wikipedia: “Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world, with the site measuring… 402 acres). It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple of god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.”]
Later, we lunched on the second floor of a restaurant under a roof with open walls. I had a delicious coconut shake.
Then we visited the temple I liked the most, the so far unrestored Ta Prohm. The jungle has been pushed back to make a wide path for tourists. The Ta Prohm temple consists of ruins caused to some extent by huge trees called “spung trees,” that have wrapped themselves around the stones and statues like a protector—or a monster. The tree trunks stretch outward from the ground in narrow strips, attaching to the rocks. This is a picture of a spung tree.
I enjoyed the six others on the trip. We (except one woman, a friend of mine) are all friends of our trip facilitator Jane, whom I met in my writing group. The group is congenial. We are all progressives so we have much in common, especially around our views of President Trump’s policies. To the right is a photo of the women on the trip. There were five women and two men.
We drove back to the hotel for a few hours’ rest. On the way we stopped at an upscale art gallery with some lovely teak statues, jewelry, knickknacks. I would have loved to purchase one of the teak statues. Just a passing fancy. (It was $950 including shipping.)
At the hotel I showered and repacked, which I had to do every evening for about five days until I finally got myself organized.
Dinner was provided at a huge restaurant with rows of tables and a stage, where we saw some Cambodian performers dancing“Apsara,” an ancient dance going back to the 12th century. According to Khmer mythology, Apsara is performed by nymphs in heaven.
Back at the hotel I asked at the front desk for someone to get my TV remote to work. A young clerk came back to the room with me and he was eager to talk so we conversed for a few minutes. According to the clerk, he’s a freshman college student, studying English literature, law, and public administration. When he was young, his parents were taken away by the Khmer Rouge and put to work in the fields and later killed by bombs of the Khmer Rouge, he said. His brothers are also gone—one killed by the Khmer Rouge, the other disappeared.
He said the government is corrupt, and he would like to get in there and change things. He makes $90 a month working at our hotel—not enough to live on. So he works another job part-time. He maintained that you have to pay the corrupt government a lot of money to get your legal license so he may not be able to become a lawyer.
After the clerk left, I watched television in English. I switched between BBC, Al Jazeera, CBS, CNN, Deutsche Welle (DW), and RT. At this and most of our hotels, there were quite a few channels in English and others with English subtitles.
February 1, 2017. Day 3. Siem Reap to Phnom Penh
We took the bus to the airport in Siem Riep and flew to Phnom Penh. I sat next to a man who is a lawyer for the government. He told me that he earns quite a bit of money—for example, for a lecture he can earn $30. And if he gives three lectures a day, he does very well. I was telling him what our guide had told us about a teacher making $300 or $400 a month. He said that if the wife also works, it comes to a lot more money. He said that a lot of people make money by buying property and building on it, and renting the houses they build. He admitted that he himself did that. I can’t remember what he said about corruption in the government, but our two guides told us there was a lot of corruption. Working for the government, the man on the airplane probably has a different point of view.
Our two guides here in Cambodia have made negative comments about the Vietnamese–for one thing because the Vietnamese occupied Cambodia over the years. I believe the guides said that other countries, such as Japan and China, had concessions to mine and develop in Cambodia, in exchange for helping build infrastructure. But one guide showed us how after only several years, the road we were on had deteriorated. They both implied that bribes were given to the government, which kept the money in exchange for these concessions. The president of Cambodia has been in office for many years and will probably be there for life. The guides said that the elections were rigged, despite their monitoring by the United Nations and other countries.
[According to Wikipedia: “Hun Sen is the Prime Minister of Cambodia. He has served as Prime Minister since 1985, making him the longest serving head of government of Cambodia, and one of the longest serving leaders in the world. Born Hun Bunal, he changed his name to Hun Sen in 1972 two years after joining the Khmer Rouge.
“Hun Sen was 32 years old when he became prime minister, making him at that time the world’s youngest head of government. He has been described as a ‘wily operator who destroys his political opponents’, or as a dictator who has assumed authoritarian power in Cambodia using violence, intimidation and corruption to maintain his power base. Hun Sen has accumulated highly centralized power in Cambodia, including a personal guard said to have capabilities rivalling those of the country’s regular army. The former Khmer Rouge commander has consolidated his grip on power through a web of patronage and military force’.”]
After lunch at the hotel, we visited the Khmer Rouge museum. We walked from room to room through the school that had been converted into the prison. We saw the cells and some of the torture implements. On the walls were hundreds of individual small photos of the shackled victims, who had been interrogated, tortured, put to work in the fields, and/or assassinated. There were children, girls, women, and mostly men. I took lots of pictures, and these will tell the story better than this journal can. There was also a place for meditating after seeing all this, called the Lotus room.
This museum was so tragic and moving, especially the pictures of the children. Everyone should see their faces.
We had to drive a long way through the streets to get to this museum, almost colliding with hundreds of scooters. There is no consideration for pedestrians, no crosswalks, no traffic lights or stop signs. Colorful buildings, a lot of construction, masses of electrical and phone wire tangles above the streets from building to building. Rush hour. Scooters or bicycles everywhere. One evening we were crossing the street and I crossed a little later than the others. About ten scooters and cars and tuk tuks came towards me and around me like waves. You have to keep walking. One second pause and they drive right around you, within inches. In fact, you can touch them. They brush your clothes, they are so close.
Dinner was at a lovely restaurant. We were entertained by a man on a xylophone-like instrument. The music was atonal. There were two Ansara dancers—excellent! Hand and finger movement so flexible.
The pumpkin soup was the best I had yet. I also drank a Cambodian beer and a raspberry shake, and had a mozzarella and tomato salad. (The latter Western fare I just couldn’t resist.)
We returned to the hotel and watched a little news in English in our rooms. All about Trump. The acting attorney general refused to accept his ban on people entering from the seven countries, so he fired her. California declared it wouldn’t comply with attacks on immigrants. A California federal judge declared the ban illegal. On the trip we were preoccupied with Trump.
The hotel lobby was beautiful, but my room, although attractive, had some plumbing problems. I slept well, however.
[Notes on hotels: Some differences from American hotels: Tissues are small and thin. There is a digital door card, which you place in a slot when you enter; this turns on the electricity. There are no washcloths. Usually there is good lighting. The beds were all hard, but I got used to them. Probably better for the back.]
February 2. Day 4. Phnom Penh to Chau Doc to Can Tho
We took a boat down the Mekong River and visited a silk farm in Koh Dach, Cambodia. Silk worms are farmed. We saw the procedure from beginning to end. We saw the worms, which were then hung from trees to build cocoons. The worms were fed by mulberry tree leaves. Apparently, a cocoon can make a string of silk 100 metes long! Then we saw women weavers at wooden looms. At the gift store, I bought a lovely silk shawl with an elephant pattern.
We continued on the boat to Can Tho from Phnom Penh. It was a long day but especially the last stretch was moving to me. I sat outside in the open breeze and thought about how I could never have imagined myself being here on this boat on the Mekong.
February 3, 2017. Day 5. CanTho to Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon, as many Vietnamese still say)
Today we drove many miles to get to Ho Chi Minh City. It is interesting driving through the towns. One town runs into another, with no break – evidence of the urbanization of the villages and countrysides, occurring all over the world as people flee the countryside to seek work in the overcrowded cities. Traffic jams are caused by the hundreds of scooters carrying kids and their parents. There are one to four people on each scooter. Often there are babies and small toddlers. Many faces were masked to protect them from fumes. Adults are required to wear helmets, but children apparently aren’t. Our guide said that they don’t make helmets that small, hard to believe.
The motorcycles weaved in and out around our bus. It’s amazing that we didn’t see any accidents. On this bus in Vietnam, we had seat belts. On the sides of the roads were many kiosks and some buildings. Some of the farms had graves with headstones of the relatives on the property, making it difficult for their children to ever sell it. Which is what their parents want, apparently.
February 4, 2017. Day 6. Saturday. Ho Chi Minh City
On this excursion we found out a lot about the incredible resourcefulness and cleverness of the NLF (or Vietcong, as the Vietnamese called them, at least to us). We visited the tunnels used by the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong during the war. The creativity of these resistance fighters is remarkable. They dug holes to hide and live in during the war. The tunnels had kitchens, and the Vietcong had devised clever ways to get the smoke to go sideways instead of up. We got to go down through one narrow entrance and walk through the tunnel into the kitchen. I had to duck my head. The tunnels sometimes had three levels.
We have “over 100,000 vets,” our guide Tran told us. There were landmines on the border between Cambodia and Vietnam. Tran had a loud voice, was authoritative and knowledgeable. We had a discussion with him on the bus about Cambodia and Vietnam, as the Cambodians had expressed dislike of the Vietnamese due to colonization, etc.
We visited the War Remnants Museum, which had pictures of the torture implements and victims at a torture center by the French, I believe. Outside there was a display of the actual large vehicles used by the American such as jeeps, tanks, bulldozers, helicopters, and planes.
Then we went upstairs to a beautiful exhibit about international photographers during the war. Pictures of them and their war photographs were displayed, enlarged, up on the wall. Then smaller prints with captions and other information in Vietnamese and English sat on a counter below. The brief information on each gave a good overview of various aspects of the war.
On the drive home we visited the “Notre Dame” Cathedral, built by the French, and the Municipal Post Office, which looked like Union Station in Los Angeles.
Here in Ho Chi Minh City, we are staying in the most expensive district, according to our guide. We ate dinner at the Rex Hotel, which had been used by foreign correspondents during the Vietnam War, or American War, as the Vietnamese call it. The waiter showed us photos on his smart phone of the hotel the way it was back in those days. Now it is very elegant and pricey. We sat on the roof and bought drinks, which cost about $10 each–a lot of money for Vietnam. We had cocktails, wine, and beer. We didn’t eat much—that was our supper. (Sic of the people in my group like to drink a lot. I do too but had trouble keeping up with them.)
I have ordered a watermelon milkshake and a coconut milk shake so far. They are delicious!
There were some sprinkles and a lot of overcast sky today. The first two days it was very warm and humid. [Note: The rest of the trip consisted of comfortable weather. Some days we were even cold. We lucked out with the weather!]
February 5, 2017. Day 7. Ho Chi Minh City to Hue.
Breakfast at the hotels is ample. It involves soups, pho, yogurt, bread, all kinds of snacks with meat and without. There is fresh fruit, such as watermelon. There is an area where they cook eggs to order. Another counter has coffee and tea. (No decaf anywhere, though.)
Arrived in Hue by plane from Ho Chi Minh City. We met our new guide named Tuong. He’s very young, personable, speaks good English but doesn’t understand a lot.
At a supermarket I bought a watch for seven dollars—which is 140,000 dong (20,000 Vietnamese dong = $1)—because the hotel rooms don’t have clocks, and I don’t want to have to look at my cell phone all the time to see the time. Cambodia accepted American money to pay for everything, but Vietnam only accepts dongs, except in the most expensive tourist hotels or restaurants.
Crossing the street was a harrowing experience. Cars here don’t stop for pedestrians, either. They just drive around them. Or they come at them as though they’re going to hit them.
We had lunch at a lovely place that served beautiful food sculptures of ducks and peacocks, I believe. I ordered egg rolls that came on toothpicks stuffed into a pineapple shell with incense burning inside the shell.
February 6, 2017. Monday. Day 8. Hue.
So far the gut bugs have left me alone.
Took a ride in the boat down the so-called “Perfume” River (Huong River) today. Saw beautiful mountains in the distance. We visited the mausoleum of one of the emperors, and another temple.
Jan and I had a foot massage in the hotel for half an hour, and after that I ran for half an hour on the treadmill in the hotel gym.
February 7, 2017, Tuesday. Day 9. Hue to Ha Noi.
We transferred to the airport for the flight to Hanoi. We visited the Museum of Ethnology.
Some statistics on Vietnam:
- 90 million people live in Vietnam.
- 90% of them are Buddhist, at least in north Vietnam.
- Their form of Buddhism comes from India and Japan.
- After the American War, there were 30 million people.
- About 4 1/2 million people lost their lives in the American War.
- 7 million people live in Hanoi.
- There are 5 million scooters in Hanoi.
- There are 48 million scooters in Vietnam.
- In the entire world there are 200 million scooters.
- The biggest investors in Vietnam our first Japan second South Korea third China.
- The Red River runs from southwestern China to the Gulf of Tonkin. It is winding and has freighters and surrounds Hanoi.
- Thank you is “cam ure.”
- Hello is “xin chao.”
- There are 53 minorities in Vietnam.
- In Indochina there were three countries. The capital was Hanoi. Indochina was divided up by the French.
- There are 2 million Hmong. They are also to be found in the United States, France, Myanmar, etc. They originally came from China.
- Some of the other minorities are Thai or Tay (no relationship to Thailand), Tho, Mon-Khmers, Viet (King) majority.
- Before the 1990s, 90% of Vietnamese were farmers. Today only 68%.
- We saw videos of the mother gods, who are Buddhist,–the sky, the mountains, the earth and water.
- The museum had many displays behind glass and videos of the different nationalities and the dances of the mother gods or mediums and their veneration by the people.
We had lunch next to the museum, where I had a delicious banana shake.
In the afternoon we visited the so-called Hanoi Hilton, the prison in Hanoi where Americans were held. Most of them were pilots whose planes were shot down. John McCain was imprisoned here during the war. Kerry also stayed here in 1968 for three months. When he returned he protested the prison.
In 1995 Clinton imposed an embargo against Vietnam. When Obama came into office, he finally ended the embargo(after 20 years!). The Vietnamese can now buy weapons from all over, said our guide proudly. Great!
In the war 58,000 American GIs and 4 million Vietnamese died. In 1968 there were 500,000 GIs in Vietnam. Hanoi was the capital of French Indochina. From 1858 to 1945 the French were in Vietnam. They left as a result of the Geneva Convention but returned in 1954.
In the Hanoi Hilton according to the photos and captions, 65 to 72 U.S. pilots were held. According to the museum, they were well-treated within the prison. Pictures were displayed of GIs playing pool, ping-pong, etc., although they were probably posed. In 1973 there was a prisoner exchange.
February 8, 2017. Day 10. Hanoi
Today we visited the Women’s Museum. Many women were imprisoned and died during the American War, even those under 18. They are called Heroic Women, and there are many portraits and a mosaic on the walls. One survivor today makes organic tea. Women had to carry 30 kg of rice on their shoulders and to give birth in tunnels. There were also pictures of women goddesses and mediums dancing.
We went through large limestone caves. It was beautiful. Two people to a boat. It was a two-hour drive to the boat, past many rice fields and palaces (so-called) of richer people. We passed cows and steers one of which walked slowly across the street in front of our van.
February 9, 2017. Day 11. Hanoi to Halong Bay
This morning we left the hotel at 7:45 to travel two hours to Ha Long Bay. We transferred to a junk and checked into our rooms. We have outside rooms, very comfortable and elegant, as all our hotels have been. Lunch was served on board the boat, which drifted between the limestone “islands” which make up the bay. I sat up on deck, so peaceful and quiet. Then we took a boat to a rowboat, which took us to Fisherman’s Village, then to a beach, and finally back to the junk, where I sat on deck and watched the islands, then had happy hour with Pat and Preston. We stayed overnight on the junk.
After tea and pastries on the boat (they even offered Tai Chi at 7:30, which was too early for me), we cruised to a beautiful bay. The limestone formations are absolutely spectacular. We had lunch on the boat before checking out late morning. We motored back to the harbor and climbed into the bus back to Hanoi. We arrived about 5pm in Hanoi.
Money: 8000 Kip = $1.00
February 11, 2017. Day 13. Hanoi to Vientiane, Laos.
The next morning we flew to Vientiane in Laos and saw still more temples, statues of Buddha, and stupas (dome-shaped structures erected as Buddhist shrines).
February 12, 2017. Day 14. Vientiane to Xiengkhuang (Plain of Jars)
Before our departure, Maya and Jan and I walked through a large interesting native market; i.e., not catering to tourists so more authentic. We saw live tiny frogs in a big basket and live chickens tied by the neck onto a bicycle.
About noon we took a 30-minute flight from a small, easy-to-access plane terminal, with just one gate. We arrived in a place called Xieng Khuang. At every terminal upon our arrival, we meet our new guide, who is standing at the exit with a sign that says “Jane Hallinger group.”
From here we drove to the Plain of Jars, an archaeological site heavily bombed during the war. We entered a museum with pictures of the area and of the craters and of some of the injured people. There still remain thousands of unexploded ordinance (UXO) in the ground that causes severe risk of injury or death. The Laotians call them “bombies.” We went into one of the large caves used by the people for shelter during the bombing of Laos. People lived here. There was a hole at the top of the cave for ventilation. This cave was finally bombed and people lost their shelter there.
We also saw some of the craters. Then we walked out onto the plain and say the huge jars, many of them broken, probably through the bombing. The bombies have been cleared in the areas that the tourists walk in (thank Buddha).
Afterwards we sat in the basement of the museum and watched a very powerful film in English about the bombing of Laos by the United States and about the way that outsiders, especially one woman from Scandinavia, and the Laotian people are working together to solve this problem. A program of childhood education, utilizing puppets, has been established about the dangers of the ordinance. It was suggested that the United States, who is responsible, should provide a type of Marshall plan for Laos, the poorest country in Indochina.
The movie explained some of the reasons for the bombing of Laos. More tons of bombs were dropped there than in the entire World War II. First, the Ho Chi Minh Trail passed along the border of Laos. Second, the U.S. wanted to attack the Laotian Communists. And third, if the pilots hadn’t dropped all their load onto Vietnam, they would fly over Laos and randomly drop ordinance because it was dangerous to land their planes back in Thailand or wherever while carrying these bombs.
It seems that Laos was treated with disdain in general by many countries for years. It was seen as a backwater, and humans were discounted. To see what the United States did to that country by secretly bombing them more than any other country including those in World War II, and then to see the United States paying only a pittance towards defusing the bombies or helping the country recover economically, is enraging.
February 13, 2017. Day 15. Xieng Khaung, Laos to Luang Prabang, Laos
We spent the night in Xieng Khaung, Laos, and then took a 265 km and 7-hour drive from XK to Luang Prabang. On the way we drove up a mountain past forests and communities of native villagers. We exited the van at a Hmong village and took pictures of the villagers and listened to our guide tell us about them. The people were very agreeable to our taking pictures of them. Even the women bathing at a waterfall said it was OK. (Of course, they had shorts and tops on.)
According to our guide, people in the village do not go to school because there is no school nearby. They start work when they are about seven years old. It is an agricultural society, there is one rice harvest a year because the area doesn’t have as much rain as other areas. The houses here are mainly thatched huts, some stone or wood, built precariously on the sides of steep hills. The scenery was spectacular.
The house we entered had only one room with a fire pit on the floor for cooking, and one bed where a baby and a woman were sleeping. There was a long bench against a wall. I saw no running water, no stove, no fridge. I can’t imagine living like that, but I’m not clear that this was their only living space because my pictures seem to show more extensive rooms.
The guide said that the Hmong people are polygamists and are allowed to have up to seven wives. But that makes no sense—how could there possibly be enough women for each man to have two or more each? Also, where would they all sleep? Where would all their kids sleep? When I asked the guide about it, he said that the Hmong have many more girls than boys. Well, I sure don’t believe that. The ratio worldwide is about the same, as far as I know, with 51% girls to 49% boys. It was hard to take the guide seriously sometimes.
The guide was joking around with the owner of the house about the polygamy. They said Laotian women didn’t make as much noise during sex, compared to American women (at which point he briefly imitated an “American woman” having an orgasm). It was funny but also kind of disgusting, and totally unbelievable.
The people are mainly rice growers and rice eaters, along with game they catch. They have hunting dogs. They don’t eat many veggies, the guide said, but I am guessing that they grow fruit and veggies in their yards or in vacant areas between houses.
We drove past a lot of villages. Some of the houses were made out of cement, or had cement foundations, some were made out of wood, and some out of thatch.
The day was slightly overcast. Driving down the mountain we saw a beautiful sunset.
I enjoyed this drive, despite its length, because I was immersed in the mountains and could see the homes of the native peoples. Some of the villages had children with backpacks and school uniforms.
(Maya a few days later met two male Hmong students and had a conversation with them. They were studying English in Luang Prabang and preparing to be tour guides. One was named “Year” (spelled differently, of course) and has family in Fresno.)
We arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos around 7:30, a nine-hour trip when you factor in meals and stops. We were exhausted. The rest had dinner and went right up to bed. I didn’t have dinner because my cold is so bad, but later I got so hungry that I went downstairs. Unfortunately, the dining room was closed and there were no vending machines. With much difficulty, the front-desk clerk figured out what “snack” meant, after having me write it down and then looking it up in his dictionary. Then he asked me, “Like papaya?” I nodded yes and a little while later a large plate of all kinds of fruit was brought to my door. Jackfruit, papaya, apples, pineapple, and banana.
February 14, 2017. Day 16. Luang Prabang, Laos
After breakfast I decided not to go on the tour of various temples and the national Museum with artifacts from the Lao culture. My cold was so bad that I just wanted to stay in and sleep. Also, I was satiated with temples. After sleeping most of the morning and part of the afternoon, I went out for a walk by myself. I told myself that wherever I turned left, I would turn right on the way back, and vice versa. I wandered into a large market, catering only to tourists. I asked the young saleswoman for a banana. She passed two of them over the counter and with a charming smile said, “For you it costs nothing.” I protested but she insisted. I’m not sure what that was about, but I felt honored.
Of course I got lost anyway. I kept telling myself that it was an adventure, even though anxiety persisted in asserting herself. But I was right, it did become an adventure: I saw a Social Security office and poked my head in. There was a large room with several desks. The one in the middle was staffed by a Laotian man in his 30s, maybe. I poked my head in, and he said to enter, but I saw flip-flops and other footwear lined up on the steps. So I asked if I should take my shoes off, too, but he said no.
He spoke passable English and he spent time drawing me a map of how to return to my hotel. I was confused but set out anyway.
Just then the Laotian clerk came up to me on his scooter and asked me if I’d like a ride to my hotel! So I climbed on, held on to his waist, and away we rode.
I am moved to tears by how nice Laotians are. Laos, one of the poorest countries in the world, was welcoming and kind to Americans, even though we bombed them to hell and left them with a deadly legacy of unexploded ordinance.
Many of the hotels have had CNN, DW (deutsche Welle), Al Jazeera, RT, and others in English. So most of us have enjoyed watching these channels and finding out what president Trump is up to now. I also enjoy finding out about what’s going on in the rest of the world through these channels.
February 15, 2017. Day 17. Luang Prabang to Bangkok, Thailand.
We flew into Bangkok, after going through security and customs. I had googled the night before about hospitals in Bangkok because I wanted to see if I had an infection and needed antibiotics. I found one hospital that seemed outstanding. It was called Bumrungrad International Hospital. I called them before leaving the hotel in Luang Prabang and made an appointment for 5 pm.
Maya offered to accompany me and I didn’t protest. Upon arrival in Bangkok, we went to the gate where the free! shuttle bus leaves the airport for the hospital, which is about an hour ride away, depending on traffic. We rode through the city and its snarly traffic, past skyscrapers. It was reminiscent of downtown Los Angeles, except for the many scooters.
We finally entered the huge modern hospital and went to register on the second floor, before proceeding up to the third floor. There I had to wait about fifteen minutes before Dr. Nut could see me. (I’m relieved his name wasn’t Dr. Quack.) He was young and very professional. After examining me, he diagnosed an infection and prescribed antibiotics.
I asked Dr. Nut where to go to pick up the meds, and he said it’s not done like in the U.S. No, they bring them to you, he said. So we sat for a few minutes in the waiting room until they called me to the desk to dispense them–antibiotics and a number of over-the-counter drugs for relief of symptoms. The nurse explained the use of each one. Then I paid the fee: only $120 for everything—the exam and all those meds. I thought that was pretty inexpensive.
Maya and I had dinner at the hospital and then got a taxi back to the hotel.
February 16, 2017. Day 18. Bangkok to Los Angeles.
At the airport the next day, after a wait-over at Xieng Khouang, China again, we boarded our China Southern airplane. I wanted to stay awake to avoid jet lag. Maya sat next to me. I didn’t want to talk much because I didn’t want to give her my infection. I wore a cloth mask much of the time by now; I felt like a native. So Maya and I watched five movies in a row. Every one of them was good! They were:
“The Whole Truth” (American) about an American defense lawyer.
“Ki and Ka” (Indian) about gender roles in marriage. Musical.
“Fortune Favors the Brave” (German) about two Vietnamese immigrant kids and a German kid who gets to know them.
“Macho Man” (German) about a social misfit who falls for a Turkish woman.
“C.R.A.Z.Y.” (French/Canadian) about an estranged gay man who returns home to his family to tell them he’s dying.
It was a wonderful trip—fun and educational and moving. I’m so glad I went to Southeast Asia. It has enriched my life so much, and now I have the travel bug. Can’t wait for my next trip. Actually, I’m not waiting. I’m off to Costa Rica in April!