Luang Prabang to Hanoi

A lot has happened since my last post. After Vang Vieng in Laos, I headed further north to Luang Prabang, a more laid back city, on the Mekong river. A less traveled destination on the backpacker trail. I traveled here with 3 people I met in Vang Vieng, Jarro, Jamie, and Martin, all from different countries but the best of times where had. There is not too much to do in the city except the local night market selling local crafts, and cheap food. I was here 3 days and 2 of the days I was sick so I didn’t do much.

On the way from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang
Martin, Jarro, Jamie in Luang Prabang
Boats on the Mekong river, Luang Prabang

Further north there is a small town called Nong Khiaw. My friend Martin that I met in Vang Vieng, and I decided to hitch hike the 93 miles to the small town, while Jamie and Jarro stayed back meeting us there the next day. It was a great experience and my first time hitchhiking. The idea of hitchhiking is foreign to the people of Laos, so when you wave them down, they just wave back like you are saying hi, but you eventually get picked up. Nong khiaw sits along the Mekong river and it is a nice little town, that looks like an old mining town, the houses have corrugated tin roofs and everything looks very rustic and abandoned. The further north you go in Asia the colder it gets, and I didn’t really pack for cold weather, at night it would get down to around 40 degrees. We stayed in Nong khiaw for 3 days, and on our second day, Jamie and Jarro joined us, and we rented motorbikes and explored the mountain villages, where the huts are made from woven bamboo. The villages are very rural but a lot of the huts have satellite dishes on top, it is a weird contrast.

Hitchhiking to Nong khiaw
Nong khiaw
Bridge over Mekong, Nong khiaw

On the way up to Nong khiaw, the road follows the Mekong river and we were able to see the effect of over consumption of power first hand, and how we don’t look at the environmental impacts we as humans have on this earth. The Xayaburi Dam can be seen being built in northern Laos. The Chinese company Xayaburi Power Company Limited, is currently finishing up building on the new damn. One of eight dams built on the Mekong River, known as the heart of SE Asia, feeding more than 60million people a year. The dam projects are posing huge concern for the environments and community’s 100s of miles down stream from where they are being built in northern SE Asia. Farmers and fisherman rely on the Mekong River and they have for 1000s of years. The dams are restricting flow of water causing fish populations to decrease and farmers suffering from droughts. When I was in Khon Kaen, Thailand I saw the direct impact of the Chinese dams first hand without realizing. Tula told me that it was a hard season, and farmers where struggling do to lack of water. The farmers depend on the nutrient filled water from the Mekong River and the dams are impacting farmers that live hundreds of miles away from the dams.

It is sad to see the impact humans have on this planet of ours, and it is hard to see a change ever happening. Every country is only worried about expanding and no one ever stops to look at the effects. The hydropower energy is green energy, but there are still impacts of this. I believe that instead of changing the environment to suit our lifestyles, we change our lifestyles to suit the environment.

The average American uses approximately 313 million Btu of energy, while the worldwide average per person is around 75 million Btu. If we all take a look into our own lives and consume less for the greater good of society, we could make the world a better place. But changing the world for better requires every individual to start making a change. Even I am guilty of this. It is not an easy thing to do, we are creatures of habit and unless we all take a step outside of the bubble we live in and realize the bigger picture it will never happen and we will all have to live on the moon in small shitty bubbles, maybe then we will realize the bubble we live in.

Xayaburi Dam being built on the Mekong River
Continue reading “Luang Prabang to Hanoi”

Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng, Laos, a small city surrounded by beautiful limestone mountains, where the nam song river flows and the tourists run wild. I was there for 6 days enjoying everything Vang Vieng had to offer. Tubing in the nam song river, climbing up mountains to view points, scooting around on motorbikes, meant for the street, on rocky dirt roads through small villages making our way to the 5 blue lagoons.

It has been awhile since my last post, and I hope you all forgive me for that, but the fact is, it is hard to think about taking pictures and write creative content, all while trying to “live in the moment” and experience everything through my eyes and not a camera. But sadly we live in a world where if there isn’t a picture it didn’t happen.

To describe SE Asia in a couple of paragraphs is like reading the prelude to a book. The prelude is just the author explaining what the book is about, but if you actually read the book, there is much more than just the prelude, so think of my writing as the prelude to a great book, but I am the only owner of the book in the entire world. I think everyone should have their own books written by themselves, no one else. For me my story has just began. I am 19 now, and every day that passes by, I learn more and more about myself, and the huge world we live in.

View from my hostel

I was fortunate enough to get a job serving breakfast in my last hostel, making $3 an hour, and free room and board. It was a good change, doing something productive. I met some very cool people in Vang Vieng, that I am now traveling with to Luang Prabang. That is the great thing about traveling is you meet amazing people and everyone has the same mindset.

Vientiane, Laos

I was in Khon Kaen for 9 days learning about the life of being a rice farmer. After a 5 hours bus ride from Khon Kaen to the Thai-Lao Friendship bridge, and a mishap with my visa, I am in Laos. It is one of the poorest countries in SE Asia, and I have already learned a lot. I have been in Vientiane, the capitol of Laos, for 2 days and I will stay one more, then I will head 3 hours north to Vang Vieng in Laos. I will stay there for about a week then head further north to Luang Prabang. Vientiane is the smallest capitol in Asia, and it has French influence, in the architecture, because it once was a French protectorate, but gained independence in 1954. Laos is one of the last remaining Communist states in the world. There are communist flags everywhere.

Laos flag, and in the bottom left corner, you can kind of see the communist flag.
The Mekong river
A Buddhist temple

Today was not an easy day, not for the reasons you might be thinking, it was a hard day because I was faced with the reality of the negative impact war has. I went to the COPE center for rehabilitation, where they make prosthetic limbs for victims of accidental explosions from US bombs. During the Vietnam war, the US dropped 2 million tons of bombs on Laos from 1964 to 1973. More than 580,000 bombing missions were conducted on Laos. That is one bombing mission every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years in a row. The US never declared war on Laos, but merely used it to dispose of the unused bombs, that were never dropped on Vietnam, because it was unsafe to land with the bombs. After the war was over in 1975, 80 million unexploded bombs remained, waiting to take more innocent lives. Post war, more than 20,000 people where killed from UXOs and even today 100 people die annually from UXOs. It is sad to see that even though the US/ Vietnam war ended 44 years ago, the past is still haunting the lives of Laotians even today.

Prosthetic limbs
UXOs

Most of the people still affected today are the poorest villages in Laos, where farmers trying to grow crops to feed their families could suddenly have an arm blown off by a UXOS. I am sure I was the only American there today, and it felt weird seeing other people view the remains of what the US left behind. I felt guilt the rest of the day.

Sign made with prosthetic limbs

If you want more information visit http://copelaos.org/donate/. You can donate here and read more about what COPE does.

Other than this sad history lesson, Laos is treating me well.


In Laos there is a very strong Chinese influence, from high rise buildings being built, to the Chinese railway that is currently being built, that will eventually make its way to Singapore. One can only wonder why China is moving in and expanding in Laos, a country that would never win against the power of China.

A Chinese company moving forward with construction

NPR article on Chinese railway being built in Laos.

https://www.npr.org/2019/04/26/707091267/in-laos-a-chinese-funded-railway-sparks-hope-for-growth-and-fears-of-debt


A lady I got a pedicure from on the street.

Nang-Rua Village, Khon Kaen


These next couple of posts I am behind on, but these are by far the most humbling experiences I have had on this trip. I am now in Nang-Rua, Khon Kaen which is 300 miles away from Pattaya. After a 10 hour bus ride, that had the coldest AC, that I thought It would snow, a taxi ride, then finally getting picked up, after I thought I would have to sleep on a bench outside a police station, I arrived to the small village on the outskirts of Khon Kaen, a province of Thailand. Tula and Vien, co-own a small 2 acre rice farm, with another family here, and they are also have a small farm where there House sits. The area I am in, is away from all of the popular tourist destinations, so I am really experiencing Thailand for what it is, and not the facade that that the tourist areas pose. This is the most important thing I can do on this journey I am on. I feel very humble to be taken in as family and to be taught the ways of a simple farm life. My first day here, Tula showed me around the local village, introducing me to all of his friends. I met local farmers working on a rice farm near by, then we had fresh coconuts that he grows. I got to try raw sugar cane, it is super sweet. Tula showed me how all of the water reservoirs are dried up. He said that “they haven’t had a drought this bad in 40 years and that a lot of the farmers are struggling”, and farming is how most feed their families.

Tula showing me around
Local rice farmers
A resting hut, in a rice field
The signs of the drought
A farmer tending the drying rice
Every house has one of these trash cans made from recycled tires

There is a school right across the street, that has a football (soccer) field that all the local kids meet to play every afternoon. Everyday some of the kids come over and help Tula pick the Jazmine flowers to sell, then we all go and play some football. Tula used to coach football, and the kids call him teacher, but they are calling me teacher too, except they are all better at football then me, so they are the teachers, not just in football but how to be grateful for the things we have. When I was little, I was fortunate enough to have very nice cleats every year, and to play on green grass with nice goals, and these kids are so happy to be able to play every day without cleats, a dirt lot, and metal poles in the ground for goals.

Picking flowers before football

Today Tula took me to go see my first temple. It was sitting on top of a mountain over looking all of Khon Kaen. There was groups of school kids running around the inside of the temple, going to each Buddha and praying, Tula taught me how to properly pray. When all the school kids where leaving there was a wild boar that everyone was excited about. On our way back we got kaw lam, which is sticky sweet rice, with taro, stuffed into a piece of bamboo and cooked over a fire, very tasty.

The Buddha
Tula looking serious
View from temple
One of the schools at the temple
Kaw lam

Tomorrow Tula said that it is time to harvest the rice fields, so that will be a cool experience. Yesterday he showed me the process of getting the rice we eat, from start to finish. First you have to plow the fields, plant the rice, wait for it to grow, then hand pick it, or use a tractor, most pick it by hand, then wait three days for it to air dry, then take it to a very old machine that they have in town, that takes all the husks off each piece of rice, then it is ready to be sold or eaten. I am very appreciative of everything Tula has done for me so far, and showed me, this will be an unforgettable experience.

The rice drys for 3 days
Machine that takes the husks off the rice grains

Today we stopped by another local school and I got to take pictures with some of the classes. Probably shouldn’t be distracting them from an education, but Tula thought a photo would be more important. Lol

At school, religion is taught as well

On a side note, the villages have problems with mosquitoes, so the government provides a service to help keep the mosquitoes at bay, by gassing out each house, once a week, with a leaf blower contraption that blows out a toxic cloud of smoke, that makes the house smell for a few hours. The good thing is, that is when we go and play football!

No more mosquitoes!

Till next time, Cheers!

Pattaya

I am a few days behind on my blog. After the Khoa San Road, I was staying with my dads friend Dave in Pattaya. I was there for 3 days. Pattaya is similar to Bangkok in many ways, but it is a smaller city so there was less people. It is located in the Golf of Thailand, so I got to enjoy some much missed ocean time. Pattaya is known for a street called Walking Street, filled with bars and night clubs. One night I saw a Thai cover band play classic rock songs all night, that sounded pretty good! One thing I wish we had at home is the Baht bus or a songthaew, for 10 Baht or 33¢ you can hop and ride that sucker till it turns around, which is about a 4 mile trip.

“Songthaew” or Baht Bus

The second day in Pattaya, I met with Allison from England, and we explored more of the city. We got some good Thai food for lunch, hung out by the pool and made fun of all the tourists, which we consider different than backpackers (which is what we are), went for a swim in the bath tub warm ocean.

Living it up!
Walking Street, Pattaya
Sunset at Sky Beach Condominiums, Pattaya

Off the coast about 2 miles is an island called Koh Larn. The island is only about 3 miles across and has one small village on it. I got to spend a whole day there, with a girl I met named April, she was from Canada and was the same age as me. We rented a motor scooter there and drove around small cobblestone roads, finding private beaches and eating good food. The entire day only cost us $15, for everything. It was cool to experience my first island, and also it was a good change from being in only big cities. The island reminded me of Hawaii. On one beach we went to, on all the trees where rocks tied to branches and also water bottles, so we added to the collection. From Pattaya, I took a bus to Khon Kaen, in northern Thailand, where I am now, writing this sitting in a shack overlooking what once was a lake, that is now dried up.

Red buoy we swam to on Koh Larn, Pattaya
Top of highest hill on Koh Larn, Pattaya
Fellow “Farang” on Koh Larn
You don’t see these in California!

The Khaosan Road, a Metaphor for Life

As I write this I am on a bus going to Pattaya where I will be for around 3 days. The Khaosan Road is a famous road in Bangkok Thailand, if you have seen the movie The Beach, with Leonardo DiCaprio, then that is the Khaosan road in all of its glory, but if you haven’t seen that movie (highly recommend), then all you need to know is that the Khaosan is a place you only need to see one time. Filled with tourists, lady boy bars, and people trying to sell you shitty quality suits, it is truly a spectacular sight and place to see, only once.

Just like in the movie The Beach, backpackers start at the Khaosan and make their way to what they hope to find is a hidden paradise, a private island, with no one else except a select few. I guess that is what we are all chasing, whether in Thailand or back home in the states. Only 5 days in Thailand and I’ve learned so much, about other cultures and how other people have the same problems in daily life, politics, and even the struggle of always wanting more. But if you can learn something from other cultures is how to adapt to what you have, and to live a simple life. In Thailand the minimum wage is about 85 cents an hour, and in California it is $12.25 an hour, so one hour of work is the same as 12 hours of work in Thailand. By looking at the numbers that looks like you couldn’t even live off of that amount of money, but everything is relative. The Thai people eat out everyday, have tuk tuk drivers take them where ever they want to go, and they have more free time to spend with family and enjoy the little things in life. Now take a look at your life back in the US, in two weeks you make more than most family’s make in an entire year, but if you wanted to eat out everyday and have a personal driver take you around, you would be considered wealthy, by those standards, but unfortunately most of us are not. So you have to think that if you could adapt to the lower standards, then you would be able to expect less and experience more. It has been an eye opening experience so far. This is just what I’ve observed and wanted to share with others. I think that if we would be able to escape the bubble we live in, in the US, that we would be able to learn from other cultures instead of wanting to push them away. Change is not easy, but humans greatest skill is to adapt to our surroundings. I want everyone to take a look at how they live there own life, and think how you could live a simpler life.

Cheers!

One night in Bangkok

One night in Bangkok, by Murray Head, the name of a pop song in the 80s, is a funny song, but it is also a very accurate description of what Bangkok is really like. One cannot begin to imagine the peaceful chaos that is Bangkok, Thailand. Right away I knew what I had in store when the guy across from me, on the plane to Thailand, tried smoking a cigarette twice before finally getting yelled at by the Flight attendant. Finally after 14 hours of being in an airplane, we landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport. As I stepped through the doors of the airport, a wave of smelly, hot, moist air hit me in the face welcoming me to the first leg of my trip. It was 12:30am as I was dropped off at my hotel room near the airport. Day 1 complete.

Wanderlust hostel, Bangkok

Day 2 started off a little different, I was not as dazed and confused as the previous night, so it all felt real, my dream was a reality, I actually made it. I took a Grab car (same thing as uber in the states, but way cheaper), to my next hostel, near the famous Khoasan road. Right away I met 2 German girls that were also 18 so we spent the day getting food and exploring the city. Easy is an understatement when it comes to finding your way around in Thailand, it is a Disneyland for backpackers and travelers, everything is cheap and accessible. Tuk Tuks are the best and cheapest way to get around, the lines in the streets are invisible to everyone, everyone moves in a fluid motion almost like water. It’s peaceful chaos. There must be thousands of different smells that you come across while walking around the city, no matter what city you are in, but in Bangkok, there are three main smells that I will never forget, moth balls, sewage while walking over sewer grates, and the smell of oil frying food. Mix all three of those together and you have a very nice combo. One thing I will never be able to get used to again when I’m back home, is spending a lot of money on food. The best pad Thai I’ve ever had cost me $1.40.

The Khoasan road

As I write this it is 10am on Friday. I have one more night in Bangkok then I am headed to Pattaya, south of Bangkok. I am going to try and post about once a week. So far this city has taken me in with open arms and I’m excited to see what is in store for me.

German girls, I’m bad with names

The Road Unknown

The road unknown is a metaphor for life and how everything down the road is unknown and uncertain. It also is the path that is not known or foreign to ones memory. It is also the name of my blog.

This is my first blog post i’ve ever written. If you are reading this you probably know my plans for the next few months, but if you do not, My name is Clay and I am 18 years old and I am taking time before I head to college to travel around South East Asia for what I am planning is 5 months. I honestly have never done anything like this before, but I am excited to get out of my comfort zone and experience the world! Writing makes me feel exposed to the world, naked almost. It feels as though someone is peering into my head and closely examining my every thought. So this is not going to be easy for me but it will be liberating.

I believe that is where the fun is though, putting yourself in the unknown, winging it and hoping for the best. So far it hasn’t let me down, so hopefully my luck does’t run out when i’m in a third world country. As I write this I have 24 days until I leave and it still doesn’t even feel like a reality. I still feel as though it is just a crazy idea that I had one day. 

I am flying out of LAX and I have a stop in Beijing, China for a few hours, then to Bangkok Thailand. I will be in Thailand for 30 days. For 3 days I will be in Bangkok staying near the Khao San Road, a famous backpacking hub and a place where most people starting their trip begin at. From Bangkok a 7 hour bus will take me to northern Thailand where I will be staying with Tula and his wife Vien, helping out on their jasmine farm. From there I will head to Cambodia, to go temple hoping. Next Vietnam, where I will meet my parents and spend Christmas with them for a week then I am on my own again. From Vietnam to Malaysia by boat, then the Beautiful Islands of Indonesia working my way to Bali finding surf. Then From Indo I will try to make it to the Philippines if I have enough money, ending my journey and flying home out of Manila if I make it to the Philippines, or Singapore, Malaysia if I don’t.

This trip will hopefully teach me to live simply. To live simply is easier said than done. I don’t know how hard will be to only having everything I own stuffed into a 25L backpack, but I will find out!

I only bought a one way ticket there and I am going to let the rest happen along the way. I thank everyone that has taken the time to read this post and hopefully more, and all the support I have received so far.

Cheers!