Showing posts with label Laos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Laos. Show all posts

27 January 2021

Recensione: Mekong Story. Lungo il cuore d'acqua del Sud-Est asiatico (2006) di Massimo Morello,


Giornalista e viaggiatore, Massimo Morello presenta questo diario di viaggio nel Sud-Est asiatico lungo il Mekong: dal delta, sul Mar della Cina, sin quasi alle sorgenti, in un monastero buddhista nell'altopiano himalayano della remota regione del Qinghai. 

L'autore narra un percorso sul fiume e dintorni attraverso Vietnam, Cambogia, Thailandia, Birmania, Los, Cina e Tibet, tra foreste, montagne, paludi e valli incantate, piste polverose, sentieri di fango e superstrade, villaggi e metropoli, hotel di superlusso e locande malfamate. Un viaggio che l'autore ha compiuto da solo, in battello, bus, auto, a piedi, in un susseguirsi di avventure e disavventure che gli hanno permesso di osservare più da vicino quella che viene definita la nuova Asia.


Un viaggio di sei mesi lungo un fiume lunghissimo. Anzi un meta-viaggio, dato che il percorso Morello lo ha fatto a varie riprese. Osservatore informato, ci racconta le sue esperienze rendendole rilevanti ed interessanti perché ci aiutano a capire i paesi che visita. Un libro di viaggio ma anche di storia e di politica, di costume e di gastronomia. Un ottimo compagno per chi vuol viaggiare in quelle terre, o lungo quel fiume.

Leggi qui altre mie recensioni di libri sull'Indocina.

09 December 2011

Map Review: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Freytag & Berndt, ****

Explore Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia with this Freytag&Berndt road map. The best way to plan your trip, prepare your itinerary, and to travel independently in this part of Southeast Asia.

01 November 2002

Book review: Mother's Beloved (1999) by Outhine Bounyavong, *****


Outhine Bounyavong is one of the most prominent contemporary writers in Laos. His stories are animated with Laotian virtues of simplicity, compassion, respect for age, and other village mores; they breathe with a gentleness that is fresh and distinctive. Outhine is interested in his own memories, in how to behave with compassion, and in the chain of life among men and women that reaches into the earth.

Rather than writing through an ideological lens, Outhine focuses on the passions and foibles of ordinary people. Their good luck, disappointments, and plain but poignant conversations reveal the subtle textures of Lao culture. The tragedy of war and the threat of environmental degradation are themes woven into his stories.

This book presents fourteen of Outhine Bounyavong’s short stories in English translation alongside the Lao originals, marking his formal debut for an American audience. It is also the first collection of Lao short stories to be published in the English language. 


A unique collection to understand Lao culture. Oral history which would otherwise be lost can be preserved here. There is also a unseful introduction to contemporary Lao literature, and the role of writers during the various periods of monarchy, war and communism of the XX century.

See my other book reviews about Laos here in this blog.

14 October 2002

Book Review: One Foot in Laos (1999), by Dervla Murphy, ***


Dervla Murphy had planned to trek through the high mountains of Laos, far from the country's few motor roads, but she soon encountered complications. In Laos, however, the people compensated for all that went wrong. Murphy presents her glimpse of a unique culture in this account of her journey.

03 September 2002

Book Review: Meet the Akhas (1996) by Jim Goodman, ****

A comprehensive introduction to the Akha hill tribals of Northern Thailand and their way of life includes a language section to enable you to talk tom your hosts. The Akha of Thailand, as well as those of China, are the same ethnic group as those we met in Laos. Their history and culture do not follow the political borders of the map.

02 September 2002

Bibliography: Books on Cambodia and Laos


Morello, Massimo: "Mekong Story. Lungo il cuore d'Acqua del Sud-Est asiatico", (Milano, Touring Club Italiano, 2006)

Gargan, Edward A.: "The River's Tale: A year on the Mekong" (New York: Knopf, 2002). One year savoring the beauty of the river.

Goodman, Jim: "Meet the Akhas" (Bangkok, White Lotus, 1996). A detailed account of a little-known minority.

Swain, Jon: "River of Time" (London: Vintage, 1996). An account of the final years of the Vietnam war.

Road Map: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Freytag & Berndt.


Bizot, François: "The Gate". A French tells of his hair-raising experience among the Khmer Rouge and then in the French embassy, where hundreds had sought refuge.

Chandler, David: "Voices from S-21". The most detailed research into the main torture center of the Khmer Rouge, lots of direct testimonies from the victims.

Fröberg Idling, Peter: "Il sorriso di Pol Pot" (Milano: Iperborea, 2006) Un gruppo di svedesi ha il privilegio di visitare la Cambogia dei Khmer Rossi e ne torna entusiasta: non capivano o non vedevano?

Gilboa, Amit: "Off the Rails in Phnom Penh", (Bangkok: Asia Books, 1998). Funny and not so funny anecdotes from the 1990s.

Sach, Anita: "Cambodia, Bradt Travel guide", (Bucks, England: Bradt, 2001). The best guidebook on Cambodia's culture.

Shawcross, William: "Sideshow: Nixon, Kissinger and the Destruction of Cambodia", (New York: Cooper Square, 2002).

Terzani, Tiziano: "Fantasmi: Dispacci dalla Cambogia". Raccolta di articoli del corrispondente tra la metà degli anni 70 e la metà degli anni 90 del XX secolo.  

Ung, Loung: "First they killed my father", (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 2001). The Khmer Rouge crimes as seen through the eyes of a child.


Bounyavong, Outhine: "Mother's beloved" (Seattle: U. of Washington, 1999). Translations of Laotian tales with a good introduction.

Murphy, Dervla: "One Foot in Laos", (London: John Murray, 1999).An unusual journey on foot by a seasoned super leftist writer.

Footprint Guide: Laos Handbook, 2000, 2nd Edition. This was, at the time of my travel, the best guidebook available on Laos, but make sure you get the latest edition.

29 August 2002

22. - 29 AUG: Exit Indochina

Monks alms procession

On my last day in Luang Prabang one of my goals was to be at sunrise on top of the Phousi mountain to take a few good dawn shots of the city and its surroundings. I had set the alarm clock for a quarter to five in the morning, but as it often happens to me when something important is at stake I woke up just a few minutes before it went off. How our internal clock can be so precise it is difficult for me to fathom. Be that as it may, I was immediately awake and fully alert. I was not tired, despite the early hour and the long transfers of the previous days. The sky was heavily clouded, not the best photo weather at all, to put it mildly. I realized there would be no chance for the Phousi I had been planning for, it will have to be on the next trip to Luang Prabang. I was disappointed, and the temptation to go back to sleep and wait for a civilized eight o’clock breakfast was a powerful one. However, I was up now and when I heard the irresistible call of the gong from the Wat Xieng Muang next door my mind was quickly made up and I decided to go look for the monks doing their begging rounds, a daily routine but always an intense moment to witness. In a minute I was out in the street and began looking around and listening...

28 August 2002

21. - 28 AUG: Luang namtha – Luang Prabang

Today long transfer to Luang Prabang.

Along the way a reminder of Europe: at a village that seems in pretty good shape we see a big sign with a faded blue flag and a circle of 12 stars of the European Union, which has funded development projects in the area.

The village allows us some interesting time travel. Houses made of wooden poles and mud, pigs and chicken roaming free. Many women around, young women most of whom carry a child on their back. Some older children play in the mud or in the watering tanks for the animals. They are all dressed in simple rags, and inevitably wear some jewels. Their exposed upper body and breasts reveal toned muscles and soft brown skin.

When we arrive at Luang Prabang we go to sleep at the same guesthouse as before, the French-speaking lady is waiting for us. Feels a bit like home after the adventure of the last few days.

27 August 2002

20. - 27 AUG: Muang Sing - Luang Namtha

Another town which was much destroyed by US bombing and has now found a new lease on life from tourism and trade with China – lots of advertising boards in Chinese here, and several hotels and restaurants are owned by Chinese interests; Chinese products, including food, is widely available. We are unmistakably very very close to China...

26 August 2002

19. - 26 AUG: Muang Sing market, trek in the jungle

Muang Sing market

Six o’clock in the morning and the market is already in full swing. Ladies from around the province are deployed to their negotiating positions behind tightly packed stands: fruits, vegetables, spices, sweets, the usual suspects as far as country markets go. But some not so usual foodstuffs did make me wonder what kind of recipes would be prepared that evening in some of Muang Sing’s homes: roasted and live beetles, whole raw pig heads, buckets of chicken paws…

25 August 2002

18. - 25 AUG: Udom Xai to Muang Sing

At dawn I get up and head to town. A pale almost-full moon is still high in the sky. The predictable trickle of monks drips down the one hundred or so irregular steps which lead to their dormitory at the top of the “that”, their rice baskets secured around their shoulders. Oudomxai is coming to life quickly and noisily. The market was already in full swing by the time I got there around half past six. Like the town it is part of, the market is a melting pot of cultures: Lao food is on offer side by side with Vietnamese and especially Chinese supplies. Not a few signs in fact are in Chinese. This is an important junction between the three countries, and after the end of the war it gradually came back to economic life.

24 August 2002

17. - 24 AUG: Muang Khua to Udom Xai

Departure after the usual banana pancakes for breakfasts, I am getting a bit tired of them but heck... It is not without some apprehension that we started our drive from Muang Khua toward the Oudomxai province. We had been warned of landslides, uncertain how long it would take or even whether we would make it at all. We had also been assured that work was in progress to clear the roads, but somehow that did not quite sound as reassuring as we would have wished. So we are off, no choice now...

23 August 2002

16. - 23 AUG: From Nong Kiaw to Muang Khua by slow boat

At the crack of dawn a madly crowing rooster woke everyone up. He must have been worried that if we had overslept we would have missed the beautiful early morning colors. Thanks to the cock’s zeal we could finally enjoy, over breakfast, the verandah’s river view we had only been able to imagine the previous evening.

22 August 2002

15. - 22 AUG: Luang Prabang - Nong Kiaw (Muang Ngoy): against the current on a slow boat on the Nam Ou river

On a slow motor pirogue up the Mekong

Again up at dawn, at 7:00am we were at the Luang Prabang ferry harbor on the Mekong, just a five minute walk from our guesthouse. We load up and we are off. As we leave the last houses of Luang Prabang behind us, our slow boat begins to claw its way against the slow current of the Mekong. Soon, there is only virgin jungle all around us, and the impenetrable vegetation tumbles down decisively into the water from steep cliffs.

21 August 2002

14. - 21 AUG: Luang Prabang by bike, traditional dances, local music

Full day around town by bike. It is a pleasant and easy town to savor at leisure. Some traditional Lao houses on stilts still stand in the historical center. Just before sunset I walk up the steps of the hill of Phou Si monastery, from which one can enjoy a spectacular view over the whole valley and the Mekong.

20 August 2002

13. - 20 AUG: Luang Prabang

All day around town, each on his own. I start wondering around and love to get lost... Breakfast at the same Scandinavian bakery I had seen in Vientiane! Globalization...

I start my classic tourist rounds at the Royal Palace museum. This was the seat of the monarchy when Luang Prabang was the capital of Laos at different times in its history. One curious exhibit here is a piece of moon rock, taken by one of the Apollo missions and donated by the USA. At the time of my visit the many gifts received from abroad were categorized as coming from “socialist” or “capitalist” countries!

Later on I get into a silversmith shop and can photographs some artisans at work. There is actually some interesting local manufacturing here, silk, wood carvings, jewellery.

The rest of the day we spend with Roberto working to plan our upcoming trip to the hill tribes in the North. Because of the difficulty in road transportation during the rainy season dìwe decide to give up Pongsaly and head straight north along the Mekong and the Nam Ou riveers, and then due west by bus toward Muang Sing.

19 August 2002

12. - 19 AUG: Vientiane to Luang Prabang

Wake up early for a walk around the capital town, nothing much really to write home about. Amazing to see rich Thailand across the river from Vientiane. Breakfast at Scandinavian Bakery near the waterfront. Sweden has been a long time friend and donor to Laos, maybe this is why? Or perhaps there are enough Swedish NGOs here that some entrepreneurial local decided to make money catering for them? After cappuccino and croissant we are off to the airport...

18 August 2002

11. - 18 AUG: Pakse to Vientiane

Early rise and uneventful flight to Vientiane, the rather plain looking capital. We check in our hotel and take a walk around the city. A wine shop just a couple of doors from my hotel is perhaps one of the single most surprising sites in Laos. It is a gently air-conditioned, softly lit shop, with a very pretty multilingual Lao lady working at the counter and eager to step up and explain the most detailed nuances about French wines. In a way this shop is a cultural shock, given the context in which it is located. However, come to think of it, it is a shock only inasmuch as I assume that in poor Laos there would be no chance of finding a good shop with excellent wines. Worse, if I subconsciously assumed that no one could possible want this expensive wine in a 300-dollar-a-year salary population. In fact, it should be quite normal for a capital city, albeit of a small country, to have at least one good wine shop, should it not? Not everyone in a poor if the country is poor, of course, and in a capital city there are the embassies, foreign visitors, etc. all of whom can afford expensive wines and as far as the the Lao state is concerned this activity of course generates a revenue in the form of income and excise taxes from the sales, plus a few jobs in commerce, distribution, etc.

17 August 2002

10. - 17 AUG: Muang Khong to Pakse

Pakse is really nothing to write home about, but an unavoidable hub to get to Northern Laos. One afternoon Renata and I were walking around looking for an internet café withouth much success, when we walked by the main temple. We went in and see that all is quiet but something is in the making, the young monks and novices are scurrying to and from in the courtyard, and after a few minutes a gong goes off. I ran to the guesthouse, only a few hundred meters away, and I was soon back with my personal photographic arsenal.

By this time all monks were assembled for the evening prayers and as soon as everyone was seated they began their cavernous deep singing of Buddhist mantras. It’s a moving atmosphere...