After a very weird night (jet lag) we finally started to explore Bangkok by day. Our prejudgments about this city had proven to be wrong and it wasn't all that bad. We tried out some local food and drinks. Our nose definitely had to get used to some of the odors and our body to the humid temperatures. After three days of wandering around and adapting to it all, it was time to explore the rest of Southeast Asia.
We made this journey by train, bus, boat, minivan, taxi, plane, scooter, bike, motorbike, horse and carriage and not to forget: our own feet. With these resources, we were transported to and from wonderful experiences. So after a ride in a shabby bus over winding roads we discovered the hippie village Pai, in the North of Thailand. We finally had the feeling that we could breathe again, after all the smog in the cities. The vibes felt good immediately: all peace and love. Proof of that: easy going people from all over the world, cozy streets that turned into an even cozier market in the evening, a nice place to sleep, a lovely coffee bar to have breakfast and finally less light pollution so we could see the stars again.
In Laos we discovered the secret behind good coffee. While driving around the Bolaven plateau with our scooter, we bumped into Jhai coffee house. Tyson, a young American guy started a coffee house there and works together with the local coffee farmers. When we stopped there, a fresh batch of coffee beans was just been delivered. We could see the roasting process and got served a nice cup of coffee from those freshly roasted and carefully chosen beans. Fruity and soft, our first “WOW”- moment while drinking coffee. Tyson also took the time to explain us the different roasting profiles. We learned that the coffee in Europe is mostly roasted too long to hide the bad quality. When he handed us a coffee cherry it tasted sweet and fruity and that can also be the taste of coffee. He also informed us that with the profit he makes with his little business he provides the local minorities with fresh drinkable water by installing water pumps in their villages. Noble man!
The coffee we encountered in Vietnam was quite another matter. Our taste buts didn't always agree and thought it was some kind of motor oil. Have to admit: it does keep you awake! On our “easy-ride” tour that we did there, we even drank weasel coffee.
Our personal guides taught us something about different plants, we tasted rice pancakes and saw how Vietnamese weddings look like (or better heard). For three days we drove through various landscapes: from sand dunes to mountainous regions to end on a beach. On a motorbike with the wind in our hair, that was a “first time” moment again and definitely worthwhile. Although our legs, bum and hips where really glad to get off the bike.
Those legs got some exercise again during the annual water festival (Thingyan) in Myanmar. This festival means the beginning of a new year for the people of Myanmar. During five to seven days everyone throws water to each other. You can imagine that this is a very welcome refreshment during the hottest period of the year. Although we did know about the existence of this festival, we didn't know when it would take place. So it was a nice surprise that we could experience this wonderful tradition.
And then there were the temples, which overwhelmed us country after country. Not strange for countries where Buddhism is all round. Sometimes we got “templed-out”, as people call it, but there were also times when they left a big impression. We think of two special experiences in particular: Bagan in Myanmar and the White Temple in Chang Rai – Thailand. With horse and carriage we explored Bagan with its thousands of temples. However, it was during the sunset on top of one of the temples with a view over the many stupas that we got silent. There was this special atmosphere which gave us goosebumps. In the north of Thailand we visited the White Temple in Chang Rai. This modern Buddhist temple shows us how mankind enslaves itself to many depraved things and circumstances. When watching the murals very consciously you start to feel really small as a person.
After telling about all the nice experiences we had, it sounds as if all is mere rosy while traveling. Nothing could be further from the truth. Besides the physical discomforts of extreme diarrhea, there are also some emotional challenges now and then. Especially when you learn about some degrading situations which take there toll even in the present. We got moved to tears by seeing the genocide that Pol Pot caused on his people. Visiting the Killings Fields, where these people got murdered, brings even more tears to your eyes and make you shiver. You can see this when walking the streets, there is a complete generation is missing.
In Laos we discovered the story about the Secret War. During the Vietnam War, the American jet fighters dropped tons of bombs in the border region with Laos. Most of the time there wasn't a real reason, just that the planes didn't have permission to return to their base with the ammunition. This has resulted in thousands of bombs still lying around, unexploded.
Daily people, many of which are children, discover these unexploded devices and make them detonate out of ignorance. Of course with all the unpleasant consequences.
And still the people there stay positive and forgiving. When talking with a Laotian we asked him about his feelings towards the Americans, but there was no hint of hatred in his voice. However, there are also less noble people in Asia, who don't have good intentions. But 90% of the time we met friendly and hospitable people. We stayed in a “home stay” a couple of times, let us call it the local B&B. We then always got spoiled with nice food and good cares. In Vietnam we spend three great days with an old lady and her daughters and granddaughter. When leaving we didn't even get the chance to pay for the ferry to the mainland. In Bagan the generosity even brought tears to our eyes. An old man invited us to his little bamboo house, where three generations lived under one roof. They served us an amazing dinner while not eating themselves and gave us different souvenirs, while not wanting anything in return. We even got a ride back to our hostel on the back of their scooters. All this just because we gave him a two euro coin for his collection of foreign money. Owning so little and wanting to give everything, while we have so much and couldn't offer anything in return. That was a heartbreaking moment.
Where they (and then especially the younger generation) look up to the western society, we just got more respect for their way of living. In our opinion, people in the western societies are more into an individualistic lifestyle. Saying “hello” to a stranger results a lot of times in a weird glance, while in Asia you receive an enthusiastic “hello” back. Solidarity is still alive there: a small talk here, a helping hand there. Of course we also realize that there are pro's and cons for everything. We don't want to glorify the Asian way of living and completely drag down the western habits, but it was nice to see that there is also another way. Caring and supporting other people, without wanting something in return. Maybe our western societies can still learn something from that.