26 days   summer 03


I don’t really know why it’s years that the idea of hanging out in Indochina buzzes in my mind; attracted by this cluster of nations so known as stages of some past human madness (from the ‘65-’73 war to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge), on the opposite so few mentioned in their actual situation.
At the beginning I was mainly focused on Vietnam and Cambodia, but then, for several reasons, despite already handing an expensive Vietnamese visa, I swapped the Hochi Min country with the earth of the elephant: Laos.
To fly to Bangkok rather than directly to my goals was the only way to save bunches of euros and if you add  I had to wait the Laotian visa for 5 days in the north of Thailand you figure out why part of my travel passed through the former country.



I prepared this trip for months before leaving: first of all reading pages and pages of funny reports to plan my itinerary and at the end I completely changed my way following my instinct and some funny fellows known on the road (thanks Leigh, thanks Enn). But this is the fun of travelling… "Travellers don’t know where they are going, while tourist don’t know where they have been"
Moreover I straived to carry just the indispensable stuff on my shoulders encompassing gears for my daily fight against supposed mosquito swarms. But evidently they were on holiday somewhere else and, as every travel (maybe even more than others), I utilised just a part of my 19 Kg bag….. this freaks my out every time I come back!!!!! (equipment tips)
I’ve promised myself next travel just two pairs of slip and a toothbrush (I’ll borrow the paste) in a plastic bag ;-))



Landed in Bangkok, still jetlagged and already sweat soaked, I jumped on a unexpected deluxe train heading to the north. The next morning I was in the exotic and touristy Chiang Mai where I spent some relaxant days waiting for my Lao visa and getting my feet massaged. My passport wandered through Thailand for four days before coming back to his fu**ing worried daddy in Huay Xai (the Lao border) at 7 am brought by a moped-boy coming from "whoknowswhere". Right here I crossed the Mekong river getting in Laos and experiencing a 30 years gap of development in 500 meters of water. No more roads here in Laos, in particular in the rainy season! That’s why I had to get packed for two days in a crowded (and touristy) slow boat to reach Luang Prabang. But I had fun, especially because most of the guys on the boat where travellers plenty of interesting stories experienced around the world. And what about the nice village of Pakbeng where the boat stops for the night?
No way to describe the charming Luang Prabang and the sublime noodle soups I had for breakfast, lunch and dinner.(read how I manage to cry eating a noodle soup!) Definitely it’s not the most off-of-the-beaten-track place I’ve ever seen, it’s really worthwhile though! I think it’s here I had my best days during this travel. In fact I knew Leigh (canadian no-fear guy) and Enn (dutch tough girl) who I travelled with for the next two weeks. Me and Leigh tasted every sort of thing was sold as food: the "snake juice" and even the unchewingable fried hen legs; but the point is that we appreciated most of them…. uhm… left alone the stinky dried rats; frankly I felt to throw up just glancing (and smelling) at them (read the funny story). The three of us decided to get to north to the Muang Ngoi Neua village where we sweated for some days, tubing down the river, swinging on the hammocks and watching the village kids playing,… I mean such things like hunting 3 m long water snakes ;-)). Then back to the civilisation, namely to the "built just for tourist" Vang Vieng and the nice Vientane. And south again till the four thousand island arcipelago at the border between Cambodia and Laos, where we settled down on an island for a bunch of days.
Here my travel fellows got caught by the idleness of sucking coconuts and drinking Lao Lao whisky laying down on a hammock overlooking the Mekong. If I had time… I’d be still there.. but Cambodia was waiting for me (bye bye dudes, I’ll miss you). It has been an hassle to cross the border (read!!) and I immediately experienced how these two countries differ.
Cambodia few years ago came out from a 30 years war, and this obviously cannot be devoid of consequences: while Laotians are far far more laid-back and smiling, in Cambodian I felt a kind of melancholy. It took one day to get to Stung Treng by a kind of wooden boat floating on the Mekong and this was definitely an off-of-the-beaten-track leg. I got well impressed by this colonial town far from everywhere, where I knew my first cambodian friend who took me to know his mother in the darkness of his "hut"(read). Then another day to Kompong Cham, still sailing, but now on the roof of a fast steel boat... no way, the first steel boat I’ve seen in the last 20 days!!
And finally one day more through the dusty bumpy roads of the flat Cambodia to get to the famous Siem Reap, where I stopped some days enjoying the eases to be in so a touristy place.
Then again on the road for the last bumpy hours before reaching the Thai border, where a four lane highway takes you to the crazy Bangkok, where I spent three days sweating and sorting out images, thoughts and memories crowding my mind.



Cambodia, Kampuchea, Pol Pot, Khmer Rouge.... all these names echo fears and sadness in those who know the Cambodian thirty years long civil war. Now the war is over, but the present is inevitably son of the past and as result Cambodia still shows his deep wounds. Neither Laos is a develop country but when I entered Cambodia I immediately noticed a general different mood. The calm and kindness were the same characterising the whole Indochina, but I felt a kind melancholy and a hidden anger in the people, being aware of a bad past and an uncertain future: not so many smiles handing you your fried chicken, just bought at the stall, compared to the ones you received in Laos or Thailand. The roads and the means of transport are the worse you can find in Asia and the UXOs (unexploded ordains) are still spread in many areas. In addition the country is governed by the vietnamese party (CPP (07/2003) that exploit the resources and threat the Cambodian confidence. But for a traveller, not for a tourist scared by the bumpy roads, Cambodia is charming. No pushy or dodgey people, no real hassles crossing the country; on the opposite it has been a great chance of understanding an important part of the world’s history and its consequences.
I still remember how fun it has been driving a crap moped in the night in Stung Treng searching a stall for a noodle soup, or floating on the slow and endless Mekong in one of the wildest part of the country sit a kind of big trunk called "boat".
I think in Cambodia, unlike Laos or Thailand what really pays you off is what you understand of the country more than what you see, and if you're eager of it than get there, despite the hot, the humidity and the pouring daily rain typical of the wet season (June-August).
If you're heading just to Siem Reap, you'll see a cute town (I liked it, maybe just cause I finally rested there) and awesome temples, but Siem Reap is not representative of Cambodia, you must be aware of it!
Cambodia is fast changing and, for a traveller, not to the wrong way…




Funny stories







It’s called Poipet. If you pass through there for sure you won’t forget this name.I mean one of the two border points between Thailand and Cambodia opened to foreigners.
I got there from the town of Siem Reap in Cambodia. It took me several days to reach Siem Reap from the Lao border, I mean spending days sweating on a kind of wooden raft, then toasted on the roof of a steel boat and finally packed in a 30 people van jumping and jolting on bumpy strips of earth called roads. Lonely Planet warns you about your freaking out moving in Khmer land, so you cannot complain saying; "if I had known… " since you knew. That’s way I was just patience and tried to enjoy everything,: people, landscape, town, cows, rice… hence time flew till the moment I realised in few hours my ass would have had peace.
This happened to me in Siem Reap thinking that in 8 hours I’d have reached Poipet, the border with Thailand. Those hours turned out endless and the bumpiest of ever; the average speed was at most 20 km/h and in addition the rusty old "bus" punctured. I still remember the driver getting on asking about volunteers who help fixing the tyre (and melting under the hot sun). Of course I dodged.
Finally we approached the border. One km before it the bus stopped and the drivers shouting to beware of thieves dropped us off. What I particularly remember is the dust, lifting from the semi unpaved road, clouding everything and the people pushing overloaded rusty trailers. I got my passport stamped and I started walking towards the Thai border stared by dodgey people doing nothing but standing there. While walking I saw a huge brand new glass-aluminium structure, it was a casino and then the Thai flags. The road became paved and the dusty disappeared. Just besides the border a clean polished market and same sparkling air conditioned vans ready to leave to Bangkok instead of the Cambodian rusty old bus.
Air condition… yeah it was three weeks I was longing for it!! Just I got on the van a man brought me same bottled water and a sandwich included in the travel fare. I was astonished. Five hundred meters from the border a four lane highway took me in Bangkok in four hours covered at 120 km/h.
This huge gap between Thailand and Cambodia once again shows how the political stability determines the development or the destruction of a country more than its resources or its geographical position.





After a tough long day I reached by boat Stung Treng in Cambodia from the four thousands islands in Laos. I liked this town settled in the far north of the country and characterised by a kind of "former colonialism" style unknown to any town in Laos. After having found a guesthouse, frankly more similar to a prison, I asked to a cambodian guy, who previously helped me at the border, to take me for a trip in the town letting me to drive. Even if a little bit worried at the end he agreed. Useless to say there were no street lights and any kind of rules in the traffic, but fortunately cars are quite rare in Cambodia, especially in Stung Treng, hence at worse you crash against a cow or another moped.
After having wandered for a while he asked me if I wanted to visit his family. I immediately accepted, he didn’t know I travel longing such kind of experiences. My friend insisted a lot about the fact that his family was poor, so I wasn’t surprised when we turned in a small muddy street where there were just bamboo houses in the complete darkness and, even if I couldn’t see them, I heard some kids playing around us. My friend hold my hand and led me towards his house while calling his mama. Then an old woman, followed by a group of curious kids, came out. Although she had a candle I couldn’t see that much about the silent kids peering at me and the ambient I was. Anyway I sat and my friend began explaining her about me. She was so curious about my life: if I was married, what I did in my country… then my friend told me his mother had a special favour to ask me: she was eager to touch my blond hairs. Her hands were trembling while she was slowly passing the candle near my face and respectfully brushing my hairs like I'd do for something whose materia I don't know. All the situation was so unreal that I really felt to be in another world.








Most of the tips suggested here are somehow connected with the fact I travelled in the wet season (may-august), when the daily thunderstorm and the humid hot your inseparable travelmates



As very travel I strived to tuck in my backpack only the essential, but travelling I realised how many useless stuffs I brought. Consider it was so hot that I never need something heavier than a light sweater for the flight. In addition you can have one kilos laundry for 1$ in most of the guesthouses. And finally you can buy extremely cheap clothes everywhere. Isn't it enough??


Depite I met many traveller walking everywhere with the flip flop, I don't raccomend you to do it. Even they can be convenient for the hot, leeches and all the dead or alive insects on your way will stick to your feet. One the other hand I recognised my trekking shoes were too heavy. The best is to use some sport shoes bringing a pair of flip flop.


Almost every day usually in the late afternoon it rained heavily. Hence don't forget a small umbrella and a waterproof wrap.


Just God knows how much I sweated! In the day and in the night expect to be always soaked. There's not so much you can do with the clothes, but if you organised your activities in the early morning (before 10.00 am) and in the late afternoon (after 16.30) maybe you'll survived;-)
Further the best is to get a dorm in a basement, they were the fresher place I had been!


In most of the places there're only generators working few hours. So don't forget a flash lamp and some candles to read in the night swinging on the hammock


Travelling I met other travellers who got a kind a boring eye infection. Especially a girl I met while I was on a boat to Muang Noi really seem to suffer. If you are sensitive to such things bring some medicine


Siem Reap


Angorwat is a vast area of forest (the perimeter of the main circuit is 20 km) 10 km from Siem Reap where many wats (=temples) are spread. Some are huge and well maintained and reachable by a paved road, others , my favourites, are ruins hidden and submerged by the wildlife. There are some other temples 30 km far away from the main ones, but I didn't get till there. I reached Siem Reap as last leg of my travel through Indochina after having heard for one month people describing the beauty of the Angkor temples. Definitely they are awesome, but one day and half for me was more than enough to visit them. Then I was fed up since this area is so different from the rest of Cambodia and I wasn't used to the boring people yelling me: "Misteeeeerrrrr, buy a coca pleeeeease!!!". The hundredth time I heard it I was freaking out! ;-) But anyway everybody is nice and not so pushy, at least compared to Africa.
Obviously it's the most touristy place you can find in the khmer land if you go there you must expect it.
The funny thing was hanging out in the area by moped taken by a Cambodian guy, who waited sleeping on the hammock while I was visiting the temple. After having visited a bunch of temples, it was so hot that I stopped staying for two hours with him swinging on the hammocks, sucking a coconut and playing with the kids.
Being in Siem Reap don't miss the chance to visit the floating Vietnamese village. I didn't have great expectations before getting there, but I found interesting to see hundreds of not so big house-boats where families with a lot of kids, grandma and grandpa manage to live. And what about the palafitte unstablely loaded on trucks? They move them to follow the seasonal water level that, depending on the period, shows or covers a several km road.

When you get in Siem Reap you'll pass through the worse place you can find in the whole Cambodia. It's called Poipet: good luck!