Claire : 18,60 €
Distance Walked: 348 km (only traveling, without sightseeing)
Nights Slept in Transports: 2
Expenditures (in euro)
Distances (in Km)
POSTS BY COUNTRY:
One month was spent in Thailand, the country of smile, a fact we confirmed as soon as we arrived there, from the slums along the riverside to the huge shopping malls of Bangkok city-center.
In the first day out of the capital we saw the biggest and very beautiful statue of Buddha, although the best of that short trip was the company of the lovely people who brought us there by car, feeding and refreshing us with drinks… as if we were they children.
It was worth to see the bridge over the river Kwai, … mostly for the river Kwai itself, which was to us more like a moving mirror reflecting pink sunrises.
We had the opportunity to see big lizards moving around, snakes fighting for survival (like hunting geckos and frogs), fat fish-cats overfed by locals, giant beetles and spiders scaring us. Still, the most frightening beings were the endless herds of tourists roaming in the streets and pubs of Thailand in the pursue of beer and “European food”. Ahh, and sticks attached on the mobile phones to get “selfie” pictures… lovely!
We played like monkeys in astonishing waterfalls of Erawan National Park and we felt great to be alive, became little by little part of the park’s fauna. Yes, from the expected single night camping in the park we went to four!
We have been chased by stressful dogs who don’t like foreigners’ smell, as well as by friendly people offering us at the least smiles.
We lived in a Buddhist temple for five days, working with the monks who were building elephant statues in real scale with concrete and metal. With so much food and drinks for free, and much more, it was rciaux du centre de Bangkok.
En sortant de la capitale nous avons vu la plus grande statue de Bouddha, vraiment belle, mais le meilleur de cette escapade fut sans doute la compagnie de ces gens adorables qui nous y ont emmené en voiture, et nous ont nourris et arrosés de boissons fraiches… comme si nous étions leurs enfants.
Le pont de la rivière Kwai a valu le détour… surtout pour la rivière Kwai, qui était comme un miroir mouvant reflétant de roses couchers de soleil.
Nous avons eu l’occasion d’avoir de gros lézards autour de nous, des serpents combattant pour leur survie (en chassant des geckos et des grenouilles par exemple), des poissons-chats bien portants, suralimentés par les locaux, des cafards et araignées géants qui nous ont effrayés. Mais les êtres les plus effrayants furent sans aucun doute les troupeaux de touristes sans fin errant dans les rues et les pubs de Thaïlande à la recherche de bière et de “European food”. Aah et ces fameux bâtons pour accrocher son téléphone et prendre des “selfies”…charmant.
Nous avons joué comme des singes dans les cascades à couper le souffle du parc national d’Erawan où l’on s’est senti si vivants, intégrant petit à petit la faune du parc. Et oui, la nuit de camping initialement prévue s’est vue quadruplée!
Nous avons été poursuivis par des chiens qui n’aiment pas l’odeur des étrangers, poursuivis aussi par des gens sympathiques voulant nous offrir au moins un sourire.
Nous sommes restés 5 jours dans un temple bouddhiste où nous avons vécu et travaillé avec les moines qui y construisaient des éléphants grandeur nature, de métal et de ciment. Avec tant de nourriture et de boisson offerts, et plus encore, ce fut loin d’une expérience de vie d’ascète.
Nous avons vu et fait bien d’autres choses (comme faire du stop dans des dizaines de pick ups), mais le sourire thaïlandais est surement le plus précieux trésor ici.
Claire Fighiera and Luís Garcia
Um mês passado na Tailândia, o país do sorriso, um facto que confirmámos desde o primeiro momento em que lá chegámos, dos bairros de lata à beira-rio até aos mega-shoppings do centro de Banguecoque.
No primeiro dia fora da capital visitámos a maior – e muitíssimo bela – estátua de Buda, embora o melhor desse pequeno passeio tenha sido a companhia dos amáveis locais que lá nos levaram de carro, enquanto nos davam de comer e nos refrescavam com bebidas… como se fôssemos crianças suas.
Valeu a pena ver a ponte sobre o rio Kwai, … sobretudo pelo o rio em si, o qual nos deslumbrou imenso com o seu espelho reflectindo nasceres-de-sol cor-de-rosa em movimento. Tivemos a oportunidade de ver grandes lagartos se passeando, cobras em plena luta pela sobrevivência (caçando sapos e gecos), gordos peixes-gato sobre-alimentados por locais, escaravelhos e aranhas gigantes nos assustando sem cessar. Ainda assim, os seres mais assustadores que encontrámos foram as manadas de turistas vagueando nas ruas e bares da Tailândia em busca perpétua de cerveja e “European food”. Ahh, e as varas presas aos telemóveis para se poder tirar “selfies”… adorável!
Brincámos feitos macacos em impressionantes cascatas do Parque Nacional de Erawan e sentimo-nos felicíssimos por estarmos vivos, tornando-nos pouco a pouco parte da fauna local. Ah sim, de uma única noite prevista, acabámos por ficar quatro!
Fomos perseguidos por “stressantes” cães que pelos vistos não gostam do cheiro de estrangeiros, assim como por amigáveis locais oferecendo-nos pelo menos sorrisos.
Vivemos num templo budista durante cinco dias, trabalhando com monges que construíam estátuas de elefantes à escala real, utilizando cimento para cobrir o esqueleto de ferro e rede metálica. Com tanta comida e bebida de graça, e muito mais, a nossa estadia no templo ficou bem longe de ser uma experiência ascética.
Fizemos e descobrimos muito mais coisas (como andar à boleia de dezenas de jipes), mas o Sorriso Tailandês será sem dúvida o maior tesouro que encontrámos neste país…
Claire Fighiera and Luís Garcia
After Thailand we went to Laos, a country of endless and high range mountains. High is also the price to pay to see them, very high indeed.
In Lao People’s Democratic Republic, every single thing has a price, even help. One of the proofs took place at the Vietnamese embassy of Vientiane, where the Laotian employee proposed us to “buy” the help of giving us the passports 1 hour before scheduled when he simply needed to open the drawer were it was saved and already with the Visas and stamps on it. We got many of those proposals on the road as well while hitchhiking, when the few cars who stopped would not drive a lot of kilometers without asking “how much to go further?”, no matter how rich or poor the drivers were.
Arriving in Vientiane, we were first shocked about the prices much higher than in Bangkok or Lisbon. Then, discovering how artificial the city is (brand new buildings, no history, bunch of offices representing all kind of relatively useful administrations, expensive goods and any service possible for tourists…), we thought the capital was an isolated case.
But when we moved from there, we realized that it would be hard to travel in a country where foreigners are charged with special price for any buyable thing (double, triple and much more), where there’s not a real economy and every single act of living (let’s say surviving) has a price. And since the tourists accept with pleasure to give money away for any reason, good or not, then any foreigner is considered as a walking ATM.
In our way, we learned that, in a country where the communist flag floats absolutely everywhere (we saw several thousands), the concept of private property reigns, and in this pseudo-communism, people ruthlessly refuse to give us basic needs that nobody ever refused in the neighbouring kingdom of Thailand or in any other capitalist country we visit in Europe or Asia. For instance, to refill our bottle of water under a burning sun while hitchhiking in a dusty road!Really, a foreigner simply can die on the roadside for a silly reason and no Laotian will react. I lie, sometimes they react ironically, making fun of our misery… so lovely this people, no doubt! Other common need, hot water to make a coffee or a soup when we were cold or hungry, forget about, nobody in Laos would give us even if they were about to throw it away.
We went to Vang Vieng to see the beautiful mountains around the immense valley, unaware that we were going into the viciousness of extreme tourism where you (foreigner) have to buy a ticket to cross a bridge walking (sold by a lazy bastard who lives next to the bridge and print faked tickets for stupid sheep-tourists always ready to give away money). If you don’t pay, you might find yourself physically attacked by a trio of Laotian monkeys (I mean persons) or, you walk 1 km to the next bridge (this one effectively private) made in bamboo and that ends 2 meters before the riverside, so you or your motorbike (no cars!) must enter the river! If you have a car, I advise to pass the first bridge in full speed and drive over those tickets sellers. Vang Vieng is also an artificially small city which only exist because lobotomized tourists come to get drunk while “tubbing” and be treated literally as cattle. Vang Vieng is that unexpected destination where you can buy train tickets in a country with no railways!!!
Nevertheless, we took a breath of freedom with a scooter, riding around the mountains that stretch to the sky with impressive shapes and getting away of the tourist cattle. Yes, there’s was no tourists in the wonderful mountains just 15 km away from Vang Vieng. In the villages between the mountains and Vang Vieng, even the children who genuinely played with us were asking for money at the moment of our depart! Thank you stupid tourists!
By chance, we found Chi Lao guesthouse where the Vietnamese owners, definitely the kindest people we had met so far, treated us with great respect and goodness, as special guests. During our stay there, we also came to knowHolger Eichinger, a German designer with plenty of great ideas, with a mind ready to open his eyes on many topics and a very good company to share an evening taking a drinking beer.
Tired of scams, ruthless Laotian people and given the impossibility to obtain honest real prices for the most basic needs of a traveller we decided to search for a refuge using the on-line platform Helpx which allows you to find a short period part-time in exchange of food and shelter. The yes came from Nathalie, a Canadian owner of a swimming pool (La Pistoche) in Luang Prabang who “needed some help” to do many things. Unfortunately, after 10 years living in Laos, Nathalie is not better than the locals. Besides enslaving the local workers paying them 0,30€/hour in a swimming pool/restaurant where a sandwich cost at the least 3€, she had no interest on her “exchange guests” (we) and was not thankful at all to the intensive bricolage we made in her business. The idea was stay at least 2 weeks to recover energy and save money… 1 week later we went away more tired and sleepy, once everyday spent there we were waking up before 7am with the music played at maximum volume in the speakers turned on by the Laotian workers! Hell on Earth!
In the city we found Ilaria, the Italian girl we met at Kaochee Temple in Thailand the previous month. Not alone anymore, she was travelling with 3 other Italian girls she found on her way. We enjoyed lively talks with those real travellers, who bravely hit the road with no fear but a great enthusiasm. With a lot of adventures to tell, they count on their luck and positive energy, and it works. We will probably meet again, as they are also moving towards Vietnam.
In Luang Prabang we also met Camille from France but born in Haiti, who gets to know everybody in every place he goes. He wished to explore South East Asia as a traveller but had troubles to find his way and didn’t know how to start it. So when we escaped from the ungrateful money machine which was La Pistoche, still at Luang Prabang, we told him to come with us. The day after he was waiting for us at the bus station and we became a trio of travellers since then.
The week after we stayed in Oudom Xai in a whorehouse-guesthouse waiting to solve Camille’s visa problems to Vietnam. There we rested a lot, took the best pictures in Laos (album) and made friendship with the prostitutes very excited to have a potential black guest (they didn’t after all).
We had 1 single normal travelling day and night in Laos. It happened after leaving Oudom Xai, when we went to loose ourselves in the deep countryside far from the main road. In Ban Kat, we found genuine human beings like we usually find anywhere while travelling, a group of farmers who offered us dinner, shower and a place to sleep in their modest home, with all the simplicity. That was all we needed and we were happy to prove that it is possible to feel human in Laos…
But that pleasant trip didn’t last long and we soon returned into the merciless venality that rules in Laos. To disgust us definitely from this country we had to run away from robbers who convinced the police that we were the dishonest ones. People who wanted to earn a lot of money in a very short period of time and thought they would manage to do so with us.
To make it short, the 2nd ride of the day drove us for free 8 km. In the village we stopped the driver asked in Laotian if we would accept to pay 3.000 kip per person to make the remaining 15 km to our destination. Also in Laotian language we say yes and asked 3 times if we was sure about the 3 THOUSAND! Yes we answered 3 times. We thought “ok, its 0,30€ each, its symbolic, to share the fuel bill”. We usually don’t pay while hitchhiked but be accept given the small price and the sympathy of the truck driver. When we arrived in Muang La, our destination, the truck driver and friends asked us 300.000 kip, 30€!!! 10€ each! Normal in Laos. We offered 10.000, more than the original 3×3000 kip, they refused to take it. So we left them and walk away. At the first stop we took out our big machetes and started to walk again towards the river. While we were swimming, a group of people surrounded Camille in the riverside. A Laotian calling himself policeman was rudely asking for the money and for our passports. Unable to prove he was a policeman (he isn’t, just a relative of the truck driver), we shout at all of them aggressively, threatening them with violence. Shocked, they didn’t move an inch for a while and we went away. Already on the main road where we wanted to restart hitchhiking just to get away of the cursed village, we went to find military police waiting with us with kalashnikovs and a truck. They wanted to take us to the police station, the last thing one should accept in a similar situation. Again, we aggressively refused, called them “mafia gangsters” and walked away overpassing the barriers they made on the road with their cars. Yes, we shouldn’t talk this way with authority, it’s a suicidal behaviour almost everywhere, but not in Laos. And we knew it! In Laos, in order to get ourselves free of all kind of heartless Laotians, we always talked aggressively. Sometimes doesn’t work, we need the next step, to really be aggressive. Anyway, we would go taken by forced or surely not go to de police station. So we didn’t, turn our backs and kept walk on the road, unable to hitchhike or even take a bus, once the military and the friends of the truck driver stopped all the cars and buses forbidding them to stop to take us. We walked 3km, always shouting on the military “go away, leave us alone”, but they didn’t. They never get closer with their truck but also never stop chasing us advancing smoothly. Surreal situation! Exhausted, stressed, thirsty and burning under the sun with our big bags we gave up and stop to refresh ourselves in the river. 2 civil policeman came to ask our passports. They look all papers inside Camille passport and not a single second on the pages of our identifications. We ran away to stop short after with one more barrier, no more military police but again civil police and the friends of the truck driver. For more than 1 hour we tried our best to make them understand that they should arrest the truck driver and friends and NOT us. But, what to do they were Laotian to, meaning brainless. Only wanted to talk about the payment. The story ended when we finally managed to convince 1 of the police man that, in Laos, 200 km bus costs 6 euro so, 15 km ride can’t cost 10 euro, specially when it was not a bus or taxi, just a truck driven by a person who accepted to takes us with him on his predicted journey to Muang La. After this astonished enlightenment for a Laotian person, we took the bags and walk way for good… uhhhh!
Hundreds of situations, mostly insignificant, some serious, occured while staying in Laos, this “communism” where nothing is “public”, “in common”, and where nobody take cares of something or somebody for free, in a “socialist” way… They are awful to us foreigners, but not better to themselves. Last example: in the last place visited in Laos, Muand Khua, in a cyber-cafe, we asked the employee if she could talk English. She said no arrogantly and went away, literally turn her back to us. Conclusion: she lost clients who were ready to pay for internet and who would try to communicate in Laotian after the “no” to English. The day after, passing by, we saw her talking in good English with 2 clients that also ran away short after… This IS Laos for us…
We understand it better when we learned that Laos is the 3rd heroin producer in the world , and constate that, yes, besides the poverty that exists in there, Laos it’s a mafia country, and the tourist contribute a lot to it… ah, if we had space to tell you the rest…
Claire Fighiera & Luís Garcia
Après la Thaïlande nous sommes allés au Laos, pays aux chaînes de hautes montagnes sans fin. Haut est aussi le prix à payer pour les voir, très haut.
En République Démocratique du Peuple Laotien, absolument tout a un prix, même de l’aide. Nous en avons eu une des illustrations à l’ambassade vietnamienne de Vientiane, où l’employé laotien nous a proposé d’ « acheter » de l’aide pour nous donner nos passeports une heure avant l’heure convenue, alors qu’il avait seulement besoin d’ouvrir le tiroir où ils se trouvaient avec les visas et tampons imprimés. Nous aussi avons eu de nombreuses propositions comme celle-ci sur la route en faisant du stop, lorsque le peu de voitures à s’arrêter ne roulerait pas beaucoup de kilomètres sans demander « combien pour aller plus loin ? », peu importe que le conducteur soit riche ou pauvre.
En arrivant à Vientiane nous avons d’abord été choqués par les prix beaucoup plus élevés qu’à Bangkok ou Lisbonne. Puis, découvrant à quelle point la ville est artificielle, (bâtiments tout neufs, aucune trace d’histoire, des tas de bureaux représentant des administrations en tout genre relativement utiles, n’importe quel bien ou service cher pour touristes…), nous avons pensé que c’était un cas isolé.
Mais en quittant la ville nous nous sommes rendu compte qu’il allait être difficile de voyager dans un pays où l’on fixe des prix spéciaux pour les étrangers pour n’importe quoi (double ou triple de son prix réel, voire beaucoup plus), alors qu’il n’y a pas d’économie réelle, et que chaque acte de la vie (ou de la survie) courante a un prix. Et vu que les touristes acceptent avec plaisir de donner de l’argent pour quelque raison, bonne ou mauvaise, tout étranger est alors considéré comme un distributeur ambulant.
Nous avons appris à notre manière que, dans un pays où le drapeau communiste flotte absolument partout (nous en avons vu plusieurs milliers), le concept de propriété privée est roi. Et dans ce pseudo-communisme, des gens ont inflexiblement refusé de nous donner des choses basiques que personne ne nous a jamais refusées dans le royaume de Thaïlande voisin, ou dans quelque autre pays capitaliste en Europe ou en Asie. Par exemple, remplir notre bouteille d’eau sous un soleil ardent, faisant du stop sur une route poussiéreuse. Apparemment un étranger peut mourir au bord de la route, qu’un laotien ne réagirait pas ! Pas tout à fait, parfois ils réagissent ironiquement se moquant de notre infortune… vraiment quel peuple charmant ! Même chose pour de l’eau chaude nous permettant de préparer du café ou des soupes quand il fait froid ou qu’on a faim, n’y pensez même pas, personne n’en donnerait même si ils étaient sur le point d’en jeter par terre.
Nous sommes allés à Vang Vieng, voir les montagnes grandioses des immenses vallées, ignorant que nous entrions le vice du tourisme extrémiste, où vous (étranger) devez acheter un ticket (vendu par des idiots oisifs vivant à côté du pont qui impriment de faux tickets pour les moutons touristes toujours prêts à gaspiller de l’argent). Si vous ne payez pas, vous pourriez vous trouver attaqué physiquement par ce trio de primates, ou vous pouvez marcher 1km jusqu’au pont suivant (celui-ci effectivement privé) construit en bambou, finissant 2 mètres avant le bord de la rivière, donc vous ou votre moto (pas de voiture) devez enter dans la rivière ! Si vous êtes en voiture, je vous conseille de passer le 1er pont à toute vitesse et de rouler sur ces vendeurs de tickets. Vang Vieng est aussi une petite ville artificielle, dont l’existence est uniquement due à des touristes lobotomisés venant se soûler en faisant le « tubbing » et se faire littéralement traiter comme un troupeau. Vang Vieng est cette destination inattendue où vous pouvez acheter des billets de train dans un pays sans voies ferrées !!!
Malgré tout nous avons respiré un peu de liberté avec un scooter, conduisant autour des montagnes qui s’étirent jusqu’au ciel avec d’impressionnantes formes, et s’éloignant des troupeaux de touristes. Et oui, il n’y a plus de touristes dans ces merveilleuses montagnes, juste à 15km de Vang Vieng. Dans les villages entre les montagnes et Vang Vieng, même les enfants avec qui on a joué comme des fous nous ont demandé de l’argent quand on les quittait. Merci stupides touristes !
Par hasard, nous avons trouvé Chi Lao guesthouse où les propriétaires vietnamiens, certainement les meilleures personnes rencontrées jusqu’ici, nous ont traités avec une grande bonté et un grand respect, comme des invités de marque. Durant notre séjour là-bas, nous avons également rencontré Holger Eichinger, un designer allemand plein de très bonnes idées, à l’esprit prêt à s’ouvrir sur de nombreux sujets, et une excellente compagnie pour passer une bonne soirée en buvant des bières.
Fatigués des arnaques, des laotiens sans pitié et étant donnée l’impossibilité d’obtenir des prix vrais et honnêtes pour les besoins les plus basiques d’un voyageur, nous avons décidé de chercher refuge en utilisant la plateforme internet HelpX qui permet de trouver de petits travails à temps partiel partout dans le monde, en échange de nourriture et d’un logement. La réponse positive est venue de Nathalie, une canadienne propriétaire d’une piscine (La Pistoche) à Luang Prabang, qui avait « besoin d’aide » pour s’occuper de nombreuses tâches. Malheureusement après 10 ans passés au Laos, Nathalie ne vaut pas mieux que les locaux. En plus d’asservir des travailleurs locaux en les payant 0,30€ de l’heure dans une piscine/restaurant où un sandwich coûte minimum 3€, elle n’a eu aucun intérêt pour ses « hôtes d’exchange » (nous), et n’a pas exprimé l’once d’un remerciement pour le bricolage intensif que nous avons effectué dans son commerce. L’idée initiale était d’y rester 2 semaines, récupérer de l’énergie et économiser de l’argent… 1 semaine plus tard nous sommes partis plus fatigués qu’à l’arrivée, puisque chaque jour, entre autre, nous nous faisions réveiller avant 7h, de la musique sortant des enceintes au volume au maximum par les employés laotiens. L’enfer sur terre !
Dans la ville nous avons retrouvé Ilaria, une italienne rencontrée au temple Kaochee en Thaïlande le mois précédent. Désormais accompagnée, elle voyageait alors avec 3 autres italiennes trouvées en route. Nous avons eu le plaisir de discussions animées avec ces vraies voyageuses, qui prennent la route courageusement et sans peur, mais avec un grand enthousiasme. Avec de nombreuses histoires à raconter, elles comptent sur leur chance et leur énergie positive, et ça marche.
A Luang Prabang nous avons aussi rencontré Camille de France, né à Haïti, qui finit toujours par connaître tout le monde partout où il va. Il voulait explorer l’Asie du Sud Est comme voyageur mais n’arrivait pas à trouver sa route et à savoir par où commencer. Alors quand nous nous sommes échappés de cette machine à fric qu’est la Pistoche, toujours à Luang Prabang, nous lui avons dit de venir avec nous. Le lendemain il nous attendait à la gare routière et depuis nous sommes devenus un trio de voyageurs.
La semaine d’après nous sommes restés à Oudom Xai dans un « bordel-chambre d’hôtes » en attendant de résoudre les problèmes de visa de Camille pour le Vietnam. Là nous nous sommes reposés, avons pris les meilleures photos du Laos, et avons sympathisé avec les prostituées, très excitées d’avoir un potentiel client noir (qu’elles n’ont finalement pas eu).
Nous avons eu un seul jour et une seule nuit de voyage normal au Laos. C’est arrivé après avoir quitté Oudom Xai, en nous perdant dans la campagne profonde, loin de la route principale. A Ban kat nous avons trouvé d’authentiques êtres humains comme partout en voyageant, un groupe de paysans qui nous ont offert le dîner, une douche et un endroit pour dormir dans leur modeste maison, en toute simplicité. C’était tout ce qui nous fallait et nous étions heureux d’avoir la preuve qu’il est possible de se sentir humain au Laos. ..
Mais ce plaisant moment n’a pas duré longtemps et nous sommes vite retournés à la vénalité sans merci qui règne au Laos. Pour nous dégoûter définitivement de ce pays nous avons dû fuir des voleurs qui avaient réussi à convaincre la police que c’était nous les malhonnêtes. Des gens qui voulaient gagner beaucoup d’argent en un temps minimum et ont pensé qu’ils pourraient y arriver avec nous.
Pour expliquer, la 2e voiture qui nous a pris en stop nous a conduits 8 km gratuitement. Puis nous nous sommes arrêtés dans un village où le conducteur nous a demandé en laotien de payer 3000 kips par personne pour les 15km qui restaient pour rejoindre notre destination. Nous lui répondons oui en laotien et reconfirmons 3 fois le chiffre de 3000 en laotien. Il répond oui en laotien. Nous pensons (ça va, 0,30€ cts chacun, un prix symbolique pour partager les frais d’essence). Nous ne payons pas en général pour faire du stop, mais nous avons accepté, vu le prix ridicule et la sympathie du conducteur. Arrivés à Muang La, notre destination, le conducteur et ses amis nous réclament 300000 kips, 30€ !!! 10€ chacun ! Normal au Laos. Nous offrons 10000, plus que les 3×3000 kips initiaux, ils refusent. Donc nous les laissons et partons. Au 1er arrêt nous sortons les machettes et reprenons notre marche vers la rivière. Alors que nous nageons, un groupe encercle Camille resté au bord. Un laotien menaçant d’appeler la police réclame sévèrement l’argent et nos passeports. Probablement un proche du conducteur, nous lui crions dessus et le menaçons. Choqué, il ne bouge plus d’un pouce pendant que nous partons. A peine rendus sur la route principale où nous voulons recommencer le stop pour quitter cette ville maudite, nous allons à la rencontre de la police militaire armée qui nous attend dans un camion. Ils veulent nous emmener au poste de police, dernière chose à accepter dans cette situation. Nous refusons avec véhémence, et passons la barrière qu’ils avaient formée sur la route avec leurs voitures. Oui, c’est un comportement suicidaire de traiter les autorités de cette manière presque partout, mais pas au Laos. Et nous l’avions deviné ! Au Laos, pour se débarrasser de malotru en tout genre, nous avons pris l’habitude d’être agressifs. Quand ce n’est pas suffisant il faut passer à l’étape suivante : devenir vraiment agressif. Nous leur tournons donc le dos et continuons à marcher, impossible de faire du stop ou de prendre un bus puisque la police et l’ami du chauffeur arrêtent toutes les voitures et leur interdisent de nous prendre. Nous marchons 3km avec eux toujours derrière nous et nous leur crions « allez-vous-en, laissez-nous », mais ils continuent. Epuisés, stressés et cuisant de chaleur nous allons nous rafraîchir à la rivière. 1policier en uniforme et 1 en civil viennent nous demander nos passeports. Ils regardent avec attention un par un tous les papiers se trouvant dans le passeport de Camille et pas une seconde la page d’identité. Nous partons pour trouver un peu plus loin pas la police militaire mais la police civile et l’ami du chauffeur. Pendant plus d’une heure nous essayons de leur faire comprendre qu’ils devraient arrêter le chauffeur et son ami mais PAS NOUS. Mais comment faire avec ces gens décervelés ? L’histoire se termina seulement lorsque nous avons réussi à convaincre 1 policier que, au Laos, 200km en bus coûtent 6€ , donc 15km ne peuvent en aucun cas coûter 10€, surtout si ce n’est ni un bus ni un taxi, juste un camion conduit par une personne qui a accepté de nous prendre sur son trajet prévu pour Muang La. Après cet époustouflant éclair de lucidité pour un laotien, nous avons pris nos sacs et nous sommes éloignés pour un grand ouffffff !
Des dizaines de situations de ce genre, la plupart insignifiantes, ont eu lieu au Laos, the pays « communiste » où rien n’est « public », « en commun », et où on ne s’occupe de rien ni de personne gratuitement, d’une manière socialiste… Ils sont horribles avec nous les étrangers, et pas mieux pour eux-mêmes. Voilà c’est ça le Laos pour nous…. Nous avons mieux compris quand nous avons appris que le Laos est le 3e producteur mondial d’héroïne, et constaté que, oui, en plus de la pauvreté qui existe au Laos, c’est un pays de mafia, et les touristes y contribuent beaucoup…ah et si nous avions le temps d’en dire plus…
Claire Fighiera and Luís Garcia
Depois da Tailândia fomos para o Laos, um país de altíssimas e intermináveis cadeias montanhosas. Alto foi também o preço a pagar para as poder ver, muitíssimo alto, sem dúvida.
Na República Popular Democrática do Laos, tudo e qualquer coisa tem um preço, até mesmo ajuda. Um bom exemplo foi o caso que se passou na Embaixado do Vietname em Vientiane, onde um funcionário laociano nos propôs que “comprássemos-lhe“ a ajuda de nos dar de volta os nossos passaportes uma hora antes do estabelecido quando este apenas precisava de abrir uma gaveta e de lá tirar os passaportes já prontos com vistos e carimbos. Recebemos muitas propostas do género pelo caminho, inclusive enquanto fazíamos boleia, quando os pouquíssimos condutores que paravam não andariam mais que meia-dúzia de quilómetros sem nos perguntar “quanto pagas para andar mais ? “, por muito ricos ou muito pobres que fossem !
À chegada a Vientiane, o que primeiro nos chocou foram os preços, muito mais altos que em Banguecoque ou Lisboa. Depois, descobrindo pouco a pouco o quão artificial é a cidade (prédios acabados de construir, nada de histórico, um monte de edifícios para um sem-número de mais ou menos úteis repartições públicas, produtos caríssimos e todos os serviços possíveis e imaginários para turistas…), pensámos ainda assim que a capital fosse um caso isolado.
No entanto, quando começámos a nos afastar de Vientiane, percebemos que seria de todo impossível viajar num país onde aos estrangeiros cobra-se sempre preços especiais para tudo o que possa ser comprado (o dobro do preço, o triplo e muito mais), onde não existe uma economia real e no qual cada insignificante acto de vida (ou melhor, de sobrevivência) tem um preço. E mais, uma vez que os turistas aceitam com todo o prazer dar dinheiro de mão beijada por toda e qualquer razão (por mais absurda que seja), um estrangeiro é pura simplesmente visto como sendo um multibanco ambulante.
À nossa maneira aprendemos que, num país no qual a bandeira comunista ondeia literalmente em todo o lado (vimos milhares delas), o conceito de propriedade privada reina acima de tudo. E mais, que neste pseudo-comunismo, as gentes impiedosamente recusam nos dar bens de primeira necessidade que nunca ninguém antes nos recusou no país vizinho da Tailândia ou em qualquer outro país capitalista por nós visitado na Europa ou na Ásia. Por exemplo, encher uma garrafa com água sob um sol escaldante enquanto pedíamos boleia à beira de uma estrada cheia de pó ! A sério, um estrangeiro poderia morrer à beira da estrada por um motivo ridículo que por certo nenhum laociano reagiria. Bom, minto, por vezes reagiam ironicamente, fazendo troça da nossa miserável condição… que adorável este povo! Outra necessidade básica, água quente para preparar um café ou uma sopa chinesa quando tínhamos frio ou fome, para esquecer, ninguém no Laos daria. Preferem mandar fora !
Fomos para Vang Vieng com o objectivo de ver as belíssimas montanhas que rodeiam o imenso vale, desprevenidos do facto que estaríamos a entrar no mais conspurcado e extremo ambiente turístico onde uma pessoa (estrangeira), imagine-se, tem de pagar para passar uma ponte pública a pé (o bilhete falso é imprimido por um cabrão aldrabão laociano que vive ao lado da ponte e que depois os vende às manadas de turistas ovelhescos, seres sempre prontos a mandar dinheiro fora). Se uma pessoa decidir passar sem pagar, o mais certo é encontrar-se de seguida à bulha com três macacos laocianos (pessoas, queríamos nós dizer) ou, andar 1 km até à próxima ponte (esta sim privada) feita em bambú e que termina dentro de água a 2 metros da margem, daí que um pessoa ou a sua mota terão que entrar na água (carros não passam )! Para quem tenha uma viatura de 4 rodas, aconselhamos que passe na ponte anterior à velocidade máxima possível e que passe por cima desses bandidos vendedores de bilhetes falsos. Vang Vieng é ainda uma pequena e muito artificial cidade cuja razão de existência reside no facto de multidões de turistas lobotimizados virem embebedar-se à grande para de seguida fazerem “tubbing » e serem literalmente tratados como gado. Van Vieng é ainda esse inesperado destino turístico no qual se podem comprar bilhetes de comboio para viajar no país que não tem linhas de comboio.
Ainda assim, tivemos pro lá um momento de liberdade quando alugámos uma scooter e fomos andar às voltas sem destino pelas montanhas que se estendem pelos céus com impressionantes formas, aproveitnando deste modo para nos afastármo-nos do gado turista. E sim, não havia um único turista naquelas maravilhosas montanhas a apenas 15 km de Vang Vieng. Numa das aldeias entre as montanhas e Vang Vieng, até as crianças com que genuinamente brincámos na água vieram no fim nos pedir dinheiro! Ahhh, obrigado raio de turistas obtusos!
Por sorte encontrámos a pousada ChiLao Gueshouse onde os donos vietnamitas, sem dúvida as mais gentis pessoas que havíamos encontrado até então no país, nos trataram com imenso respeito e muita bondade, como se fossemos convidados especiais. Durante a nossa estadia na pousada tivemos a oportunidade de conhecer Holger Eichinger, um designer alemão com uma mente repleta de boas ideias e de espírito pronto a abrir os olhos sobre diveros temas. Sem dúvida uma excelente companhia para passar um serão conversando e bebendo cerveja fresquinha.
Cansados de esquemas, impiedosos laocianos e dada a impossibilidade de obter preços honestos e reais na compra das mais básicas necessidades de um viajante, decidimos procurar refúgio usando a plataforma online Helpx, a qual permite encontrar part-times de curto prazo em troca de comida e casa. O sim veio de Nathalia, uma canadiana dona de uma piscina (La Pistoche) em Luang Prabang e que aparentemente “precisava de ajuda “ de vários tipos. Infelizmente, após 10 anos vivendo no Laos, Nathalie não é em nada melhor que os locais. Além de escravizar trabalhadores locais pagando-lhes 0,30€/hora numa piscina/restaurante onde uma sanduiche custo pelo menos 3€, Nathalie não mostrou interesse algum nos seus “trabalhadores de intercâmbio“ (nós) e mostrou-se incrivelmente ingrata para com o intenso trabalho de reparação e bricolage que efectuámos no seu estabelecimento. O plano era de ficar pelo menos 2 semanas para recarregar baterias epoupar dinheiro… 1 semana depois partimos ainda mais cansados e sonolentos, uma vez que todos os dias éramos acordados antes das 7 da manhã pela música em volume máximo que saía do sistema de som do estabelecimento, ligado pelos embecis dos funcionários laocianos. Inferno na terra!
Em Luang Prabang reencontrámos Ilaria, a viajante italiana que conheceramos no Templo de Kaochee um mês antes na Tailândia. Ao contrário de antes, deixara de viajar só e andava agora na companhia de outras 3 viajantes italianas que encontrou por acaso. Com elas passámos uns bons momentos conversando, felizes por conviver com viajantes verdadeiras que sempre com bravura e muito entusiasmo se fazem à estrada. Já com muitas aventuras para contar, estas viajantes contam sobretudo com a boa sorte e com a sua perseverança, e pelos vistos funciona bem assim a viagem. Possivelmente havemos de nos encontrar de novo, uma vez que quer nós quer elas têm como próximo destino o Vietname.
Ainda em Luang Prabang travámos conhecimento com Camille, um francês nascido no Haiti, que aparentemente conhecia todos os estrangeiros que passavam em qualquer lugar que fossemos. Camille sonhava de explorar o sudoeste asiático enquanto viajante mas não tinha noção de como fazê-lo e por onde começar. Daí que, ainda em Luang Prabang, como fugimos da ingrata máquina de fazer dinheiro chamada La Pistoche, convidámo-lo a partir conosco. No dia seguinte lá estava ele à nossa espera na estação de autocarro, momento a partir do qual passámos a constituir um trio de viajantes.
A semana seguinte passámo-la em Oudom Xai numa pousada/casa-de-alterne esperando que Camille resolvesse os seus problemas com o visto para o Vietname. Aqui descansámos imenso, tirámos as melhores fotos no Laos (albúm) e fizémos amizade com as prostitutas excitadíssimas por ter um potencial cliente negro chamado Camille (não tiveram sucesso, apesar da insistência).
Após Oudom Xai experenciámos o único dia de genuína viagem no Laos, quando saímos da dita cidade e nos fomos perder no interior profundo, longe da Estrada principal. Em Ban Kat fomos encontrar genuínos seres-humanos como por hábito acontece em qualquer lugar que viajemos, um grupo de agricultores que nos ofereceram jantar, duche e um lugar para dormir numa das suas modestas casas, com toda a simplicidade do mundo. Isto era tudo o que precisávamos e mais, ficámos muito felizes por constatar que, apesar de tudo, é possível se sentir humano no Laos…
Para mal dos nossos pecados a experiência de viajem agradável não durou muito e pouco depois estávamos de volta à impiedosa venalidade que reina no Laos. Para definitivamente nos enojar deste país, tivemos que andar a fugir de ladrões que convenceram a polícia que erámos nós e não eles os desonestos. Gente que queria ganhar uma imensa quantidade de dinheiro num curtíssimo período de tempo e que pensara que poderiam fazê-lo conosco.
Em poucas palavras, o incidente passou-se assim : a 2ª boleia do dia avançou-nos 8 km. Na aldeia onde parámos o condutor perguntou-nos em laociano se nós aceitaríamos pagar 3.000 kip por pessoa em troca dos 15 km de boleia até ao nosso destino (coincidente com o dele). Também em laociano dissemos que sim e perguntámos 3 vezes se tinha a certeza acerca dos 3 MIL ! Três vezes respondeu que sim. Nós pensámos “tudo bem, 0,30€ a cada é um preço simbólico, para ajudar a pagar o combustível. Por norma não pagamos quando fazemos boleia mas neste caso aceitámos dado o valor diminuto e a simpatia do condutor. Quando chegámos a Muang La, o nosso destino, o condutor e amigos pediram-nos não 3.000 kip mas sim 300.000! 100.000 cada, ou seja, 10€!!! Situação banal no Laos. Oferecemos 10.000, mais que o original 3×3000 kip, mas o condutor recusou. Daí que lhes tenhamos virado as costas e partido sem mais palavras. No primeiro sítio que encontrámos para parar tirámos as nossas catanas das malas e caminhámos em direcção ao rio que passa na cidade. Enquanto nadávamos, um grupo de pessoas rodeou Camille que estava sentado à beira-rio. Um laociano que se apresentava como sendo polícia muito rudemente pediu-nos o dinheiro e os passaportes. Incapaz de provar que era polícia (e não era de facto, apenas um parente do condutor), gritámos bruta e ostensivamente a todos eles, ameaçando-os de usar violência se não partissem. Chocados, não mecheram um milimetro sequer durante uns momentos, depois partiram. A caminho da estrada principal onde planeávamos recomeçar a boleia só para sair daquela maldita aldeia, fomos encontrar num cruzamento polícia militar esperando-nos com kalashnikovs e um camião. Queriam nos levar para uma esquadra, a última coisa que uma pessoa poderia aceitar em tal circunstância. Uma vez mais recusámos agressivamente, chamando-os de “gangsters mafiosos “ e decidimos ultrapassar a barreira de veículos na estrada caminhando entre estes. Sim, nós não deveríamos falar desta maneira para as autoridades, seria um comportamento suícida em qualquer outra parte do planeta, mas não no Laos. E nós sabíamo-lo bem! No Laos, de forma libertármo-nos de todo o género de laociano desumano, sempre tivemos que falar com agressividade. Por vezes não funciona e uma pessoa vê-se obrigada a pessar ao nível seguinte: ser agressivo. De qualquer maneira, ou éramos levados à força pela polícia até à esquadra ou jamais lá iriamos. E portanto não fomos pelos nossos pés, virámos-lhe as costas e continuámos a caminhar, impossibilitados de fazer boleia ou apanhar um autocarro uma vez que a barreira de carros da polícia e dos amigos do condutor paravam toda a gente avisando-os para não nos levarem. Caminhámos 3 km, gritando constantemente aos militares “vão se embora, deixem-nos em paz“, mas estes não faziam caso. Nunca se aproximaram muito de nos com o seu camião mas também nunca pararam de nos perseguir. Que situação surreal! Exaustos, stressados, cheios de sede e queimando sob o sol com as nossas pesadas malas às costas desistimos e parámos para nos refrescármos à beira de um rio. 2 polícias civis vieram ter conosco de scooter e pediram-nos os passaportes. Olharam para todos os papelinhos sem valor dentro do passaporte de Camille e não deitaram olho nem por um segundo às páginas com as nossas identificações e com os vistos para o Laos! Trogloditas! Abandonámo-os sem dizer nada e caminhámos de nova na estrada principal. 200 metros depois fomos encontrar uma nova barreira para nós, desta vez apenas com polícias civis acompanhados pelos parentes e amigos do maldito condutor. Durante mais de uma hora fizémos o nosso melhor para fazer os polícias entenderem que deveriam prender o condutor e NÃO nós. Mas fazer o quê, eles também eram laocianos, ou seja, descerebrados. Apenas queriam falar do raio do pagamento. A estória acabou quando por fim conseguimos convencer o polícia menos deficiente mental que, no Laos, 200 km de autocarro custam 6 euros, logo 15 km de boleia não podem custar 10 euros, sobretudo quando não se tratava de um autocarro ou taxi fazendo o percurso de propósito para nós, mas sim uma simples carinha de caixa aberta conduzindo por um local que aceitou nos levar com ele até ao seu destino previsto: Muang La. Depois deste espantosa iluminação na mente de uma pessoa laociana, pegámos nas malas e voltámos à estrada em paz, sem ninguém a perseguir-nos… ufffff!
Centenas de situações negativas, na sua maior parte insignificantes, outras bem mais sérias, tiveram lugar no Laos enquanto por lá andámos, nesse país “comunista“ onde nada é “público “, “em comum“, e onde ninguém toma conta de nada nem de ninguém de graça, de uma forma “socialista“… Os laocianos são horríveis para com os estrangeiros, mas não são muito melhores entre eles e para eles próprios. Ultimo exemplo: no último lugar que visitámos no Laos, Muang Khua, num cyber-café, perguntámos à pessoa de serviço se falava inglês. De forma arrogante e bruta disse que não e virou-nos literalmente as costas. Conclusão: perdeu clientes que estavam prontos para pagar pelo sseu serviço de internet e que de certo teríam tentado comunicar-lhe em laociano depois do “no“ em relação ao inglês. No dia seguinte, quando passávamos por acaso na mesma rua, ouvimo-la a falar em bom inglês com 2 clientes que ainda assim também lhe fugiram segundos depois. Isto o Laos na nossa opinião…
Tudo isto percebemos nós melhor agora que descobrimos que o Laos é o 3º maior produtor de heroína do mundo, e também depois de constatar que, sim, apesar da grande pobreza que se encontra um pouco por todo o o país, o Laos é Um País de Mafiosos, e sem dúvida que os turistas contribuem imenso para tal… sabemos do que falamos… ah, se tivéssemos tempo para lhes contar o imenso resto…
Claire Fighiera & Luís Garcia
Very relieved to leave Laos, where we fels like “prisoners” for 1 month (as our visa to Vietnam started only at the very end of our 1 month Laos visa), still with Camille, we took a bus to leave that damned country and enter Vietnam. Few days before we got some warnings from a Turkish guy, a traveler in the same spirit like us, deeply humanist (including whe traveling) and who gets very angry in front of kinds of social injustice. Among other things, we warned about the limitless insistence Vietnamese people could have to make you buy something, that made us definitely decide not to go in places we heard so much about, like Halong or Sapa.
So we took a bus to cross the border. Arriving at the Vietnamese border control, the welcoming was quite “Laotian style”: Arriving at the passport checking office, everybody from the bus was hustling us to pass first. When we finally gave our passports to the policemen, they put it in a corner, handled first the Vietnamese passports, then all the Laotian passports, and when only ours were remaining from that last pile, he started to take care of the newest pile. If we would not yell at them rudely telling to stamp our “white people” passports, we would maybe have waited there until the office closure.
Entering Dien Bien Phu, our first step in Vietnam, we met the Vietnamese chaotic urban environment: busy traffic everywhere, motorbikes spinning in all directions, plenty of shops and people in the streets… When our bus entered the bus station, cattle of taxi drivers ran directly to it and their hand were entering the window holding business taxi cards, as starving crowd fight to catch a box of humanitary help containing food.
The first main important difference with Laos was undoubtedly the FOOD: we could find food in the street, with variety, with real prices, what a relief, we wouldn’t starve anymore! (In Laos we could only buy noodle soup or sticky rice, those sold at absurd prices) Dien Bien Phu is a big city but with pleasant places, and people there where quite welcoming. There we found the wonderful Vietnamese coffee, speciality of the country (2nd largest producer in the world). Soon after we discovered another traditional adicting thing: the water pipe men use to smoke tobacco. We can find it in a bucket in front of almost all cafes and food shops, available for anyone who want to use it, and sometime there is even a tobacco box on the table. We visited there our first street market, where we saw Vietnamese eat an incredibly big variety of products, even some that we wouldn’t dare to try!
We left Dien Bien Phu to go to a small city we knew nothing about, only that it was in the mountains and rice fields’ area. On our arrival in Tuan Giao, people were very curious about us, not used to see foreigners, moreover a black man. That is the situation we are usually looking for. But it got more interesting when we went out from the city to enter the close countryside village, with real countryside workers and houses. Some villagers warmly invited us to their homes after Camille helped them to carry big bags, and humbly offered us hot water. Then when we walked in the village, everybody was warmly greeting and smiling at us. We understood that we would easily find a place to put the tent. We asked another woman who invited us to enter her home after we gave some help, and asked her to set the tent below her home (since every house are on stilts), and she accepted. The travel way we love was now taking place, helping the woman to prepare food, playing with her little playful girl, meeting the family, everything was perfect. It lasted until a strange man comes and starts to tell us about hotel, insisting a lot. The woman became worry, her husband stopped talking, and the atmosphere became uncomfortable, so we left. We don’t understand Viet but we understood very well that she was telling us “I am so sorry; this is not my fault, please come later to eat…” following us keeping talking while we were folding the tent. After that a very nice man invited us as well to his home to drink tea, and found a public house for us to set the tent. Unfortunately the police came and made it impossible for us to sleep there. We left the village with a very contradictory feeling that those people are good but so much submitted to the authorities that it’s bad: they cannot make a decision for themselves, not even for helping a foreigner.
When we moved forward, we played and sympathized with people from the “ethnic villages” as the guide books like to call them: people from different ethnic group and customs, we could see it by the wide variety of different traditional hats for instance. Instead of paying to enter some of those places, as some tourists do in North Vietnam, we played and exchanged with kids and women we met on the road. Amazed to meet us (big success for Camille), some old women stopped to stare at us, and touch our hair and skin, and it has been a real exchange as they allowed us to make the same to them, they were even laughing. One of those invited us to follow her and enter her home. Real countryside home again: only made with thin wood, with almost nothing inside but 2 or 3 rooms in line separated with a wall, 1 table and a few chairs and a fireplace. The people inside, probably her relatives, didn’t have anything to offer us but hot water, and they expressed a great pleasure to do so, very grateful that we were visiting them, so we were. There we met also the exotic mountains of Vietnam, as we imagined them, and walked around the infinite rice fields as we see on postcards. In the evening we spent in Son La, we had one more example of authentic and true hospitality: as we knock the door of a poor house to ask for hot water, a woman came out and told us to enter without even seeing our faces. She and her husband made us sit inside, and offered us to share dinner and sake with them in an incredible natural and simple way, and without asking any questions.
We kept our way south, avoiding crowded-touristic-hell places, and ended up in Hoa Bin. We were well received by people in a restaurant, very enthusiastic to have us as customer. They brought us extra food during the dinner, which we refused wondering if it was not a scheme to steal us moneu. But no, all this was for free, and they were glad to offer it. We spent some time having fun with them and, as we were going out, 2 young German girls stopped us in the street. As they were very surprised to see us in this city when we arrived, they went to look for us to share with us the big house they live in. Indeed, when we told them we were looking for a space to put the tent, they proposed us very spontaneously to come their home. Those 2 brave girls are making a real volunteering (not that kind of volunteering tourists like to make in South East Asia, pay to work 2 weeks and teach English to children, then go away relieved believing theyfulfilled their generous mission), work in a center for disabled people. Already here since 5 months, they are very well adapted, speak with everybody with their great Vietnamese skills, and drive the scooter in the busy traffic without any problem. It was fantastic to meet such young girls (18 & 19 years old) without any fear or prejudice about anything or anyone, curiosity, and such adaptability skills. They lent us a scooter and they drove us in the heights of Hoa Bin where we had great walks. We told them a lot about our trips, and they taught us about Vietnamese society and language. When we went away follow our way south, Camille left us, willing to go to Hanoi that “he read so much about” (although he didn’t know it was the capital…). Our next stop was in the small town of Mieu Mon, surrounded by mountains with extravagant shapes. There, we met some workers who invited us to seat and drink tea, very strong green tea served in mini cups, as Vietnamese people like it. This day, we discovered a tradition we had always wondered about: they made us try that nut people use to chew that makes their teeth become red. They cut it, roll it in a leave with some limestone that looks like glue, and when you are not used to it, it makes you very hot and “high”. It’s told this nut (English name areca nut) makes people stay awake when they have long working days and, originally, people did use it to take care of their teeth. In there we started to see a lot of people driving motorbikes with cage behind containing every type of animal, but very tight. People there apparently don’t care a lot about animal conditions, since they are for eating (we also saw many dogs). The morning after our camping night in a field, we were woken up by police. The land’s owner called them when he saw the tent, instead of coming and talk to us. We left yelling at the police once more, who was checking all the pges of our passports (making us waiting forever) instead of checking correctly our identities and Vietnam visa.
At the same time, hitchhiking was working quite well. We made a short stop in Yen Truong, and ate in the dirtiest place we found so far, but we would find a lot more later on. In the street restaurants in Vietnam, people throw on the floor everything that is not to eat: dirty napkins, bones, toothpicks, rests of food… even when there is rubbish bins. So if you come to eat after lunch time, the floor is absolutely disgusting, and when the owner comes and clean your tables with a towel black with dirt… enjoy your meal! With such a big population who don’t care about cleanness, that makes Vietnam the dirtiest country we visited so far in this trip.
As we didn’t expect, at wintertime the weather was cold indeed. So we decided to quickly move forward to the coast, Dong Hoi, where it was still cold, but the powerful high waves of South China Sea, at that moment, looked like the Atlantic in the worst winter possible. In that strange off-season atmosphere, we had the privilege to camp on the beach infrastructures, just for ourselves.
Another privilege was to camp on an island in Quan Hau, with only a few fishermen, enough far away to not complain about our fire camp.
We slept in another ghost-tourist city, Qua Viet, where the few people remaining in the touristic seaside barracks would almost fight with each other to have us as customers, the only ones, or should I say, to rip us off. Although we were the only tourists there, the contact with locals was not nice at all. Sometimes saying hello, but in our backs laughing ironically just after our passage, or staring at us without moving or smiling, as if they were watching wild animals. We didn’t know how to behave, so first we did not say anything. But the most frightening thing was when we started to tell them to go away because they were just staying for to long and to close staring at us, not letting us hitchhike properly. Not only they didn’t go away, but the more we were showing our discontentment, and even threaten them, the more they were laughing. We could be as rude and aggressive as possible, even hustle them and showing them the machete, they didn’t stop laughing! We got very confused after this because we would never imagine before someone who would keep on laughing in front of a knife hold by a very angry face. What a madness, late in the day, strong wind, cold and threats of raining and we lost in a countryside where instead of get some locals’ help, we found ourselves in the need of attacking locals! unbelievable! Hopefully, before get dark, we got a ride from 2 canadians amazed to pick up us in such unexpected place!
The next days hitchhiking was not working too badly, mostly thanks to the truck drivers, the ones who better understood us in the country. Without asking question, they just had the willing to help, several offered food, water or cigarettes, and stopped wherever we wanted.
One of them brought us to Hue. Because of the heavy rain and cold weather we didn’t visit much of the city, and the main activity was coffee tasting, undoubtedly for us the best thing to do in Vietnam. Every coffee lover should come and try the local Robusta variety. Filtered in an aluminum cup, it falls drop by drop to give a very thick liquid, “coffee nectar”, generally served with ice and sugar, and always with another glass of tea (hot or ice cold).
We have to talk about the stations ticket offices, one of the things that made us really nervous in Vietnam, and Hue’s train station was not an exception. If you want to buy a bus or train ticket in Vietnam, you have to get yourself ready for war. First, it’s as if you didn’t exist: everybody passes in front of you, even if you waited you turn politely. Then, not only the employees, who speak good English, don’t want to answer your questions, but when you know which trip you want, they often don’t want to sell you a ticket! Either information or sell, they send you to the teller next door, when you just waited 15 min (at least).
The next well-deserved train brought us to Danang, big city mostly used as a transit city by tourists between Hue and Hoi An. There, Van Anh from couchsurfing was waiting for us. We stayed 2 days in her interesting popular neighborhood, made of a lot of small and narrow streets where one can easily get lost, as in a medina. We enjoyed walking among the great city illuminations and observe the absurdities of Vietnamese traffic (when we talk about traffic in Vietnam it’s mostly about motorbikes, there are very few cars). We confirmed that people DON’T PAY ATTENTION ON THE ROAD. They always cross the road and enter it by the opposite side, without watching around, sometimes they are focused on something happening on the side walk while driving (many times towards us), and don’t care about the road. We don’t count the number of “almost-accidents” we’ve seen, avoided at the last moment, but we saw a lot of motorbikes fallen on the floor. The very surprising and incomprehensible thing is that we never saw anyone getting upset about the other drivers’ irresponsibility, stupidity, unconsciousness, however that should be called. That leads us one more time to wonder about how those people care about their physical integrity!
With our host, Van Anh, we observed and confirmed the “Vietnamese syndrome”: even though she speaks good English, she did absolutely not pay attention on what we were saying to her (like people on the road). For instance she was asking a question and then she was shaking her head at the answer but make the same question few minutes later, or even sending a SMS while we answer her. As it happened so many times with several people we can say that this behavior is typically Vietnamese.
The other “syndrome” which consists in staring at us for a long time without saying anything, is blatant when we take a train: there, not only we had the attention of the whole wagon focused on us, but people were even standing up to have a better view on what we were doing.
After Danang, it was a happiness to arrive in Tuy Hoa, as it was SUNNY and WARM! We took the first bath and sunbath that we had waited for a long time… on an empty beach. The city was pleasant, the people nice, it was a delightful feeling. And we met an Australian woman with the same feeling. In fact it was an interesting meeting, because this woman, who is around 60 years old, is a nomad like us: before she left Australia she sold everything she had: home, car, furniture, and she is now enjoying life in Asia, and as she says, her home is now everywhere. At night we camped in a park that could be really nice if it was not full of rubbish: here the couples come to spend a “romantic moment”, eat there, and… leave all the packaging and rests of food in the grass.
The same problem ruined our next stop on the coast. Explanation: when you look at the touristic map of Vietnam, you can only see few spots of “beach” on the coast, which is absurd, with a 3400km coastline, beach is everywhere, we thought. We only understood “the few beaches on the map” when we arrived in Van Gia: there, between the sea and the people leaving on the beach, it’s a giant sea of garbage. We were shocked to find this in a modern country, with big and clean city so close (where wifi internet connections can be used for free virtually everywhere). But people are living in it, children play with the garbage, and even walking in it was disgusting us. We took another ride in another seaside city, not very confident that it would be different, and… besides the rudeness of people, it was the same: idyllic palm trees beach ruined by tons of trash. Disappointed and disgusted, we went to Nha Trang, a big Russian Seaside resort but at least we would be able to go to a clean beach and rest a little (at the end we would not enjoy the beach so much as the bad weather caught us up). We found there a cheap guesthouse owned by a woman always tired, always lying on the entrance sofa. There we spent the New Year’s Eve, which was quite a short party since all the cafés we tried to enter after 10 o’clock were kicking us out. And we were quite surprised about it because Vietnamese people usually like to make noise, but apparently only in the morning. By the way, there was not one morning when we were not awakened by loud music, people yelling, even coming to knock the tent, city speakers, police… But this never last after 9 am, and later on it looks like everybody goes back to sleep. Strange traditions…
In Vietnam there is one phenomenon that shocked us and made us wander a lot, and we saw the most of it in Nha Trang: American flags. We started to see a lot of them on American-style trucks, probably sold or given by US, and thought maybe they didn’t remove them. But then we started to see them everywhere: on people’s helmets, motorbikes, t-shirts, bags, shoes, shop signs, masks people use when they go out or on the road, hats, flip flops, even on a girl’s nails!!! Someimes, next to the US flag you can read “USA”, “America” or even… “US Army”!!! Once we asked a woman who spoke in a good English about this, she told us it’s just fashion. But even if those people don’t realize this is a US flag, with all the bad things that have been made in Vietnam… She said they don’t have such a bad feeling about it. That let us desperately confused. So, apparently not only they don’t have bad feeling about US military invasion, but actually they love US simbols, fast food and goods. For istance, we found in Ho chi Minh a restaurant very “in” called Texas where they proudly serve “imported US beef”. And it’s not all, since 2008 Vietnam makes part of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a kind of extended NAFTA on the way to invade and destroy again Vietnam (among others), this time not militarely but economically…
From Nha Trang we went straight to Ho Chi Minh city. There we found the next level of road traffic madness: several lines of motorbikes are made and unmade on each side of the road, people ride on both sides, motorbikes ride on the sidewalk at high speed… and yes, there’s no space neither conditions to walk. We got scared and felt unsafe so often while walking in the street, that was a tought decisio to leave the hostel. Later, while reading about Vietnam, we discovered that in average 1 person per day die in traffic accidents in Ho Chi Minh city.
We made our visa at Cambodian embassy and got it in the same day, very efficiently. While waiting the visa we made a walking tour around the city center. We rarely saw so much luxury concentrated in such big proportions. All the most famous luxury brands are gathered there (Versace, Dolce Gabbana, Louis Vuitton…) and luxury hotels everywhere. And all around, all the cafés and restaurants have signs written in English, showing extremely expensive prices (and imagine, the majority of clients are not foreigners but Vietnamese elite who pays for a coffee 3, 4 times more tham what a middle-class citizen pays for a decent meal!). It’s quite a good thing that most of people still call the city Saigon, because Ho Chi Minh would roll in his grave if he would visit the city today!
Claire Fighiera & Luís Garcia
Claire Fighiera and Luís Garcia
Claire Fighiera & Luís Garcia
We have to admit that we had prejudices about Cambodia: very poor country, with a lot of foreign people and organizations with different types of activities. Indeed, the arrival in Cambodia was impressive: as soon as you cross the border from Vietnam, a road full of gigantic casinos appears, with the hotels going along with them. In the last Vietnamese city before the border, a girl told us the story of the border city’s bridge: in the evening people come sometimes from Cambodia, desperate of having lost everything in the casino, and they jump from the bridge. So we walked all the way along those “deadly” casinos, very surprised to see suddenly all this luxury entering one of the poorest countries in the world.
First we decided to stop in Svai Rieng, first “big” city after the border. First we felt relieved about the quietness, being finally out of the urban chaos of Ho Chi Minh and other major Vietnamese cities. The place was pleasant. The people, not used to see foreigners, were quite welcoming. In the evening we went to find a temple that is always a safe place to put a tent. There were a lot of young men, most of them not monks, who helped us. While talking with them we discovered that those young men were students, and as male students they can get free accommodation and food in temples during their studies, give only a small help in exchange. We spent the evening talking with one of them, an English student, while many students and monks stayed staring at us waiting pacientely for the translations.
We left Svai Rieng in the direction to Phnom Penh. Like the day before, several people stopped next to us when hitchhiking , but all wanted money to give us a ride. And not simbolic prices to help pay the fuel, no, always regular taxis fares. After a long time waiting and refusing paid rides, we asked one (real taxi) the price to Phnom Penh and we found out that it was the same as the bus (5$). So we accepted. Then we waited, waited stopped, waited going around the city inside the taxi… and of course the driver didn’t explain anything about what we were waiting for. He was trying to fulfill the car. One hour later, with the car full and no more space for bags in the backside (the bags were already hiper compacted), the driver tryed to put 2 more huge bags where there was not a single milimeter left empty! Seriously! Solution: to put our two bags over the 2 f us, we that took the taxi in first place! Ahhh, we were tired of bullshit, we left the car and waited for a bus on the road.
Phnom Penh is far from being similar with Ho Chi Minh, in terms of proportions, but the traffic is equally dangerous, as people there don’t take in consideration the possibility of somebody crossing a street walking while they drive.
Another surprise was that everybody, when talking about prices, were talking mainly in Dollar. When asked for the price of a meal or any small thing, it was minimum 1 $. We started to joke with people that “here is not Washington or New York, it is Cambodia!”, but that remark was meaningless because the people here use American dollars indeed. They have it in the wallet, in the supermarkets, and if you pay in dollar they give the change in reals (Cambodian money) back, or the opposite. You can really use them the same way. Mmmh…that made us quite suspicious about the economic decisions in this country. And in fact we found weird economic facts in Cambodia related with the dollar very easy to confirm. Every single day at about the same 2 moments of the day, the exchanges rates between Dollar and Riel have a strange huge rise and fall… think about what one can do if knows that and IF has very large ammount of money…
In Phnom Penh everything to visit must be paid. And for the goods, there are prices for the foreigners in the center and touristic zones, althought you can easily find the real prices if you walk 10 min away from the city center . It’s hard to bargain, and people are tough to make good deal (for both sides).
A very bad aspect of Phom Penh are the people working in jobs related with tourism. They are usually rude, greed and unsocial. For instance, in the guesthouse we stayed, it was a scandal each time we were warming our water (with their gas). Or, when we went once to take cold water from the water dispenser at the guesthouse entrance, the owner ran to us yelling: “it’s for my family!!”… we had no words to reply, just too absurd situation!
There, we identified what would often happen to us later on, something we decide to call the “Cambodian syndrome“: when you ask for an indication to someone (“can you please tell me where can I find this thing or that place?), Cambodian people answered with a vague hand gesture which doesn’t help you at all. Then you have to risk a very improbable exploration in the direction the “helper” moved his hand, to then go back and be “annoying” asking again to show or explain better. For instance, in the temple we slept, the young English speaker proposed us 3 different place to sleep by pointing to 3 different directions in the full darkness!!! Come on, then what? One of the options was to sleep at his room, so couldn’t he lead us there and show the building and HIS room! No way, in all situations you must follow vague tips to find you don’t know what located you don’t no where…
Once you entered a touristic place or city in Cambodia, forget about visiting small places: either the bus station only sells tickets to touristic destinations or there is no bus station at all, only private touristic agencies. If you are not Cambodian, forget about bus tickets to small non touristic destinations. As if it was not enough, hitchhiking was not working, so we didn’t have many choices to move around the country. We decided to see the coast and bought a ticket to Kep. A very good surprise was waiting for us: a huge coast and very few people, the sea was ours! First bath in the Gulf of Thailand, warm water, sun, nobody around, it was perfect. But when we started to walk to the “center”, we felt like in a ghost city: very few locals in the street, a lot of abandoned buildings… Actually this feeling was quite coherent with the history of Kep: after having been a preferred destination for the French colons’ elite, it became then a main entertainment and holyday headquarter for Cambodian high rulers. When the Khmers Rouge came to power they destroyed the major part of this bourgeoisie’s settlement. Nowadays some touristic infrastructures, sometimes very luxurious, are confusedly scattered all along the coast, and on the seashore tenths and tenths of little beach barracks are planted, ready to rent for ghosts customers who never come (and by the way, the mountains of rubbish spread by locals in the coastline also don’t help attracting the few visitors passing by). No, ALL the customers stay at 1 beach, the one clean with sand. Just a small beach with all the tourists and everything the tourist needs: guesthouses, hotels, restaurant, and tourism agencies. This very concentrated area IS actually Kep, and you cannot avoid this place since you need at least to eat. The consequence of such a small place is that a very few shops get the monopole of the business, since they are the only ones, and the result is that you have to deal with very annoyed workers who make you feel like you are disturbing them when you ask for something, and moreover you have to pay literraly a fortune just to eat a portion of rice or buy something very basic at the grocery. What a trap we were in! Anyway we enjoyed the white sand beach, and had a magnificent light show during the sunset, which Kep is so famous for, and we understood why.
We thought about visiting a national park, but while researching about it, we learnt that those around were either partially destroyed by casinos and hotels, or destroyed by big companies who got contract to deforest a part of it and build over (See article : http://www.travelfish.org/board/post/cambodia/25378_botum-sakor-national-park-destroyed).
Although we had not yet visited much in Cambodia, we felt it was not a country for travelling, only for tourism, like Laos, or worst. And as for us spending time in buses and guesthouses is boring and expensive, we knew we wouldn’t spend a long time in Cambodia. We went to Kampot, where supposedly comes from the famous Kampt Pepper. We saw that “everybody” goes to Kampot, only because everybody MUST go to Kampot, because in Kampot some people started to create everything a tourist need (bar, cafés, restaurants, motorbikes and car rental…) and it worked well. No trace of pepper in the town or in the fields arund, only in very expensive restaurant meals… What a disapointment…
For us the best in Kampot is definitely the Russian’s burger barrack. In a small corner of the town, a Russian opened a very small outdoor space where he cooks very delicious and incredibly cheap burgers and coffee. This place is like a parallel dimension: always playing good music, nice atmosphere, it seems anybody who sit there is in a relax and spiritual state of mind, and each time we went there, we met an interesting person whith whom we had an interesting (even philosophical) conversation!
The guest house we stayed was quite another atmosphere: as it was not only a (cheap) guesthouse but also a (very expensive) bar and restaurant. The owner were focusing on the “expensive” customers, and if an unsatisfied “cheap” customer has the bad idea to come complain about the loud music avoiding him to sleep at 3 in the morning, he can “shut the fuck up” and “get lost”, as the manager exactly told us in this situation. Consequently we left this stupid city where most of the tourists have no other occupation than staying inside of the café or guesthouse to drinking, getting wasted and spending time doing literally nothing with their fellow westerners. Disgusting world in there!
After having left Laos and Vietnam with a great pleasure, and disappointed one more time with the 8 days spent in a Cambodia where to be a traveler is no longer possible, we didn’t have another wish than going back to Thailand, the land of smiles and simpathy. And so we did.
Claire Fighiera & Luís Garcia
Claire Fighiera and Luís Garcia
Claire Fighiera & Luís Garcia
As soon as we crossed the Cambodia-Thailand border, we felt like coming back to reality: just after the border we found a market with friendly people, normal products, standard prices. And hitchhiking, aaah: the second car stopped, and brought us to Klong Yai, where we were planning to camp. A small fishermen town, where people looked at us with discretion and smiles, that was it, we came back to Thailand! Everything was calm and quiet in that small paradisaical port, where we watched big birds flying above the fishermen’s small colored boats sailing over a magic sunset light.
The real travel started again. We were going on the road and stopping pickups very easily, traveling in the backside. They were stopping very easily and even understanding what we were doing. From those days, we could go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted, as free as the wind, everything was easy, thanks to the lovely and easy going Thai people.
While we were trying to avoid the sprawling Bangkok, we had to stay in a big industrial area where we had some troubles to get out. When we asked a shop owner for some information about bus stations, he took us in his car, and, very spontaneously, brought us until the next city we wanted to go, Samut Sakhon, some 65km far from his shop. That very genuine generosity impulse deeply touched us because, besides the willing to make something good for us, he was really worrying about our well-being, asking questions as: did you have breakfast? Do you want to go to toilet? We never noticed such concern in any paying transport in Laos, Vietnam or Cambodia, not making more than their “sheeping”.
In that second trip in Thailand, we were following the shore of the Gulf of Thailand, determined to stop and discover many beaches on the way. No rubbish fulfilling the beach like in Vietnam, neither insanely high prices avoiding us to stay around like in Cambodia: we could finally enjoy again.
We cursed the many travelers-tourists we met, who told us they didn’t like Thailand that much because it is “too touristic”. Ow, apparently they prefer an “alternative” Laos or Cambodia where you cannot put one foot outside a touristic destination, and where you are getting scammed all the time… While in Thailand, not only somebody can go wherever he wants, by hitchhiking or transportation with local price, but there is everything a traveler can desire: smiles, delicious food, mix of modernity and tradition, magnificent monument scattered all along the road…
We found on the road a very small village lost in time and in the marshes’ salt that surrounds it. Those infinite salt marshes hosts a huge variety of birds, whose elegant flights gives an idyllic charm to the landscape. We were discovering another Thailand, far from the beaches of Phuket. Beaches are there, good ones, in very nice cities, with normal life taking place, as in Chao Sam Ran. And the funny thing is that, in spite of this, the foreign tourists prefer concentrate themselves all in the same place, like in Hua Hin, where you can hardly find a place in the sand to put a toe.
On the way to Prachuap Khiri Khan, still at the backside of the pickups, we were delighting by the view of the rocky monsters which stands everywhere on the road. Not really mountains but rather giant blocks of rock, that would make dream any climber. The stay in Prachuap Khiri Khan was a special stop: this city is a place where many foreigners live for a while: from 1 week to several months per year. It’s a quiet and pleasant place, with a lot to see around, rather cheap (for a place with many foreigners), the locals are extremely friendly, and there is a peaceful atmosphere that probably brings those short or long term immigrants to stay. There is the mythical “monkey hill” inhabited by numerous monkeys that reigns on the hill. Up there we Met Sofia and Adam, a great meeting from this travel, because as we shared the same view on the world, then we could already guess each other’s opinion about so many subjects, so we philosophized about the world, and about life as old friends. That was a very short meeting. And the stay in Prachuap Khri Khan was too short as well. With the unexpected conversation that was happening all the time with different people (both with local and foreigners), we lost the track of time, and we really felt we would like to stay more.
But the next stop didn’t make us regret to leave a place we liked: when we arrived in Huay Yang national park, we told ourselves that we had won the jackpot! In the middle of grandiose trees which were forming an idyllic scenery, it was like a five star camping: very modern and clean bathrooms just next to the camping site that was at the edge of the park entrance, a restaurant few meters nearby that cooks delicious food (and sell it at normal street prices!!!), electric plugs, internet connection, and an incredibly kind staff working there, good to us as if they were serving customers. We had just found our paradise, wandering every day in the giant trees and waterfalls, and when we wanted to have a walk or buy things from outside we always found somebody to give us a ride. We spent 5 days in this paradise and we shouldn’t leave that early, but as our VISAs were finishing, we had to go back to the road.
We arrived in Ranong, border city with Myanmar, where we could renew our visa. It’s a big city with a lot of Burmese people, of course, and a lot of foreigners as well, who come for the same as us, or who stay there for quite a long time. We don’t understand well why, because the city is not very pleasant, full of monkey-business that you can feel even if you don’t see it, with many mafia-looking guys with suspect attitude. That was the 1st impression, we didn’t get to know the city very well as it was not very inviting, and we had to cross the border afterall!
The border-crossing from Ranong (Thailand) to Kaw Thaung (Myanmar) is a bit confusing:
Very stressed guys want to put you in a hurry inside a small boat, to cross the piece of Sea that separate the very South of Myanmar and Thailand. You pay the trip but don’t expect any ticket. During the trip, you MUST wear the life jacket, which is completely torn and useless, but the boat’s owner could get troubles with the border police if you don’t wear it. Then the boat stops at several islands, for register the boat’s papers, Thais and Burmese passports, foreigners’ passports, one task per stop, whatever…
At the exit of the boat, you have to register to the immigration office, where employees effectively give you a stamp. Then you can only travel within a 24km distance, and you must advice the immigration office if you take any transportation. This is much better than 4 years ago, when Luís came for the 1st time, and couldn’t cross the boundary of 5km around. The situation there is much better as well. The restoration of diplomatic relations with USA probably has a big role in those changings (http://thediplomat.com/2012/01/u-s-restores-burma-ties/) . In 2011, the city was absolutely miserable and the people very poor, but the prices insanely high …..(Luis comment)
Now, some cafés were opened and everyday people were drinking and eating there, several shops were opened as well, which were not there before. Prices are still very high, but normal life is taking place. A lot of people came from the rest of the region, among them a lot of Indians, and maybe Bengalis. It’s hard to imagine how they live, mixed with the local Burmese and Thai, Buddhists and Muslims. They were probably already from Burma, as a lot of Indians were brought during the English colonial period. But all of them seem to live quite well with each other, at least ostensibly. That leads to a very busy cultural everyday life: mosques’ “Allah Akhbar” mixed with the Buddhist temples transmitted in speakers. The Burmese still dress with their traditional skirts for example, while the Malay Muslims or Thai Muslims wear their traditional Islamic clothes. The Indian influence came until the Burmese’s kitchens, since they prepare samosas and chai exactly as Indians do, but that culinary influence stops at the border, and didn’t get through the very strong Thai cultural identity. A visit in Kaw Thaung is a very good answer to those concerning of “losing their identity due to the cultural mix”.
The people’s conditions in the city improved significantly compared with 4 years ago, but if you go to the beach, in the fishermen neighborhood, nothing has changed, except maybe the height of the rubbish mountains in front of people’s homes, the amount of garbage and broken glass spread on the beach, where people has to cross to reach their boats, and where children play.
Kaw Thaung is like a parallel world, a chaos just few kilometers far from the wealthy Thailand. It’s hard to stay here for a long time because it’s oppressive (and still very expensive, excepted cigarettes that are sold 0,25€ a pack). Nonetheless, we marveled at the magic light of the sunset at the water’s edge, where painted trees and stones make everything look like “a beautiful world”. At this time, a lot of people walk quietly like us, friends talking and (of course taking selfies, that new worldwide spread disease), wandering families, couples… Peacefulness surrounds this time, at this place, and one can even feel slightly dizzy from the heaviness of the air, those prayers that come from everywhere, that light that makes you confused about what time of the day is it.
Anyway when we came back from Myanmar the day after, we tried to escape Ranong quite fast, as it doesn’t look a very good spot to put the tent. So we decided to leave the oppressive big city for a piece of nature, and went to another National park nearby: Ngao National Park. Not much water there during the dry season, but a flourishing and exuberant nature that offered us new shapes and species that we hadn’t seen so far in this trip.
After few days spent in the nature, we started to see mosques appearing on the road, we were entering southern border provinces, which had been part of Malay Sultanates that reigned until the end of 19th century, and mostly populated by “Malay Muslims”.
We tried to enter an unusual small Muslim village, but as the stormy weather didn’t let us go anywhere, we went straight to Songhkla, next big city. We heard quite a lot of commentaries warning against this region of Thailand, where, in the last decade, around 5 thousands people were killed in a context of punctual insurgences from the Muslim population, mostly due to police violence inflicted to them. In fact, the “Malay Muslims” have the right to practice their religion freely, but it’s not easy to be culturally different in an ultra-nationalist country. When people revolt, it is never easy to explain with few words. Here is an article that made a good synthesis:
At the end the region is not dangerous as people could think, but the military pressure is very shocking: militaries are absolutely everywhere, at the entrances and exits of every city, occupying posts control with good military equipment and big machine guns. In some part, they intensify the control so much that the cars have to slow down in order to cross a control post each 3 km, which is quite oppressive (for the car as well). And the silly thing is that they don’t control anything, when they saw us (in the pickups we hitchhiked) they never asked the driver to stop and control our passports, for example.
We felt like entering a completely different country, first because they were speaking another language (apparently Jawi language http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelantan-Pattani_Malay), even if everybody understood basic Thai, as they must go to Thai school. In Pattani, capital of the very important previous sultanate, both Chinese and Muslim cultures live together. For lonely planet there was nothing to see, but for us there was a very charming old city that taught us a lot about the city’s history.
It has been another country as well because we couldn’t understand each other with people, like in the rest of Thailand, and this is not a question of language. People were staring at us as if they were looking at wild animals, like in Vietnam, without greeting. And they were reacting very strange when we asked something to them. For example when we asked a basic question in Thai, as usual, they were not only not answering but roared with laughter…
Political tensions didn’t have anything to do with the fact that we extremely disliked that part of the country and quickly left it. Imagine when, in a very quiet village at the border with Malaysia, we were not able to sleep because young people were throwing stones at our tent as a game (and nobody tell them to stop), this is not an invitation to stay! Bye South Thailand! No, we will not come back anymore. Until the next time, for the rest of Thailand, our dear and loved Thailand!
Claire Fighiera & Luís Garcia
Claire Fighiera and Luís Garcia
Claire Fighiera & Luís Garcia