Traveling from Cambodia to Vietnam by bus is like going from Three Oaks, Michigan directly to Times Square without everything between. The minibus is packed with a mix of foreigners with their legs crammed against the seats in front of them and locals. We pick up and drop off several people along the way as the bus swims through a sea of motorbikes like a shark through a school of minnows, honking the whole way.
Some of their faces show contempt or rage, others fear or an obvious resignation, while other faces are sadly innocent – a few even have smiles. I look at all the photographs they have of former prisoners at the Toul Sleng S21 Prison in Phnom Penh. Every photograph shows a little bit of humanity: the blind emotions of the children that were taken there, the rage of mothers that have just had their child taken from them, the dread of the old men that know they are doomed. All the heinous acts of torture and murder that were committed at this prison under the Khmer Rouge regime are documented.
I can think of no better place to show up starving, famished even, than Luang Prabang, Laos. I have been traveling all day, winding up and down green mountains past beautiful scenery, and I’m really hungry. Nighttime in Luang Prabang is a smorgasbord. There are sandwiches on baguettes (the French-colonial vibe), soups, and down an alley of barbeque and buffets one can find anything they desire (of Laotian/Asian cuisine) for less than US$2.
“YOU SEE BIRD” is printed (in English) on a sign next to Inle Lake where there is a bird sanctuary. I laugh to myself but I don’t think anyone else on the boat notices. The five of us have rented a long tail boat for the day, after negotiating with a man who approached us on the streets of Nuangshwe, Myanmar. Hailing from France (2), Australia, Austria, and the USA, we represent three continents as we are driven past fisherman in the middle of the lake, accompanied by tourist snapping photos. Of course, I take a photo, too.
The pre-colonial capital is overflowing with motorbikes, dust, and construction. The old palace, with its huge moat, sits monumental in the middle of a bustling and mostly monochrome cityscape. Temples and Pagodas stand out from the drab landscape. I find something about Mandalay charming. It’s dirty (though not like Yangon), noisy, and most of the buildings are hideous, but I like it.
I’ve just eaten some very tasty vegetarian Chinese buffet (that I would return to more than once while in Georgetown), and I’m walking around aimlessly. A couple of trishaw (bike taxi) drivers are seated on the sidewalk playing checkers with beer bottle caps. On the building across the street is a large mural of a trishaw driver lounging in his carriage, waiting for his next costumer.
The temperature in KL is already miserable by the time we leave at 8 in the morning. As we ascend through the lush hills, the outside temperature starts to resemble the air-conditioned tundra that is common in these types of buses. The mountains are covered in greenery and fog. When we step off the bus in Tanah Rata, it is refreshingly un-miserable.
Walking through a mall I realize that one has to walk through a mall to do pretty much anything in Singapore. Not that I mind, the malls all air-conditioned. It is a welcome respite from the harsh weather. One can rest assured that they are always in close range of a Starbucks.