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

21 October 2021

Lungo il Mekong: Incontri e riscontri in Cambogia e Laos (2021) di Marco Carnovale

Un viaggio compiuto nel 2022, quando, a seguito di alcune disavventure professionali e sentimentali, decisi di cambiar vita. Un punto e a capo definitivo. Uno stacco sabbatico che diventa uno stile di vita.

Dallo splendore di Angkor alle tribù della giungla nel nord del Laos, un viaggio con veloci aliscafi, furgoni traballanti, esili piroghe e robusti scarponi. Un viaggio per assaporare, e non divorare, natura e cultura dei popoli di questo affascinante angolo del mondo, che risorge dopo aver subito innumerevoli conflitti.

L'autore ci conduce ai siti archeologici dell'UNESCO, si perde tra la gente del posto, mangia il loro cibo e dorme in improbabili villaggi che difficilmente vedono un volto straniero. Per diverse settimane scatta foto e prende appunti, sempre rispettoso delle usanze locali, tranne una volta, e paga il suo errore!

Il libro contiene oltre 25 fotografie, in bianco e nero nelle versioni cartacee e a colori nella versione kindle.

Acquistabile su tutti i siti Amazon.

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.

Different shades of dark green paint quick brush strokes down the uneven slopes. A few houses, sometimes on stilts, occasionally break our of the bush and suddenly come into view. On this stretch the river seems flat and quiet, no apparent current, no boulders to break its flow. Its dense clay-like water gently parts as we slide forward along the left bank.

After a good hour we reach the caves of Pak Ou, which are actually a bit disappointing. To my inexpert eye, the sculptures there are no match for what we have seen in Luang Prabang, there are too many people and too little space. When we leave the caves the boat takes a sharp turn to starboard and we leave the Mekong to begin our trip up its tributary, the Nam Ou. We are greeted by an immediate and drastic change of landscape. The Nam Ou’s river span is predictably much narrower than that of the Mekong, and the deep green of the jungle which framed our course until now is replaced by stark vertical rocky cliffs which drop several hundred meters straight down into the water, and mark the junction of the two rivers as a monumental post. The Nam Ou is perfectly flat and seemingly still here, as if frozen, with only a few minute ripples reflecting silvery shades and thus breaking the compact glossy brick-red coat of the surface.

Villages along the river

The village to which our skipper decided to take us, one a long series we meet as we motor up the river, is ready and set for the incoming tourists. Smiling ladies a their fighting stations (wooden tables on which their wares are displayed) politely invite us to examine various artifacts and cloths. I bought an opium pipe made of bone; I will never smoke it, I knew that, but the shape and engraving are endearing and I like the thought of giving a small incentive to honest artisans who use local raw materials and help preserve traditional skills. A few men are working with a scalpel, thy were trying to carve out a tree trunk to make a canoe, but their attitude made me think it was all staged for effect, they somehow do not look like carpenters or coopers.

A completely different story awaited us at another village a few kilometers upstream. This time we saw a few houses on stilts and asked the skipper to make a landing. The inhabitants were friendly and immediately welcomed us, but it was abundantly clear that they did not expect a visit that day! A few children approached and wanted to play, but most of the adults just kept going at their daily routines, weaving, washing, sawing bamboo. A couple of adolescents were curious to see through our telephoto lenses and had a ball when they did! Their interest turned into elation when I substituted a fish-eye lens (super wide angle) for the telephoto…

It’s lunch time and I am hoping for some local delicacy but at a food stall we see it’s all imported food, except Lao Beer (not even that!, bought by a Thai company). I am rather disappointed but there is no time to go and loo, around for anything else. It’s hot and we are thirsty and hungry!

Satellite dishes are ostentatiously visible on some of the roofs. A fellow traveler commented that this was really too bad, television would for ever spoil the gentle and innocent character of these peoples. They would be bombarded with useless commercials and will want things they do not need. They will see a distorted representation of reality outside their village. Children would spend hours sitting in front of their TV sets and stop socializing and playing outside. I could not disagree more. Even though I don’t watch TV personally, it seems to me that the information and education that an otherwise isolated population can receive throught the airwaves is priceless. Yes, it will change their lifestyle as it has changed ours. Not sure even about that, this generation is moving fast away from TV and toward the internet anyway. But how on earth can one wish these people did not have this channel of communication available to them is beyond me. Except the silly, selfish desire to preserve “genuine” populations, isolated from “contamination”, so as to be able to come here and photograph “real” Laos. Dumb!

Panning for Gold in Suptiem

After one sharp bend of the river out skipper steers abruptly to starboard and makes landfall on a small island of mud. In the distance further upstream we can make out people crouching by the waterfront but it is not clear what they are up to. We are told we can not really make a landfall closer and after we are all on the island the skipper uses the boats plank to bridge the mud island with the mainland and we start walking toward the crouching people.

As it turns out they were all women, many with their children playing around, but no men in sight. The women had big pans in their hands and they are panning for gold! One proudly shows us a tiny gold leaf she has found earlier in the morning. Most are panning the river water, and about one hundred of them work side by side along the beach. Some dig into the mud a few meters inland, and go carefully through the mud in search of glittering stuff. It was noon and the tropical sun, having finally broken through the cloud cover after several days, was shining with all its might, its hot rays hitting me heavily on the head. The Mekong displayed its usual brick-red intensity, the same color as the muddy river banks, the sky was a cloudless postcard blue and the deep green jungle thoroughly covered the steep mountainsides all around. Everything in sight was either blue, green or brick-red, nature looks so simple, so perfectly assembled. After several days of sailing up the river we had gained altitude, and the air began to feel thinner.

Leaving the ladies to their work we walked up a slippery mud path toward the village itself. Perhaps they did actually find lots of gold here, because Suptiem was evidently a richer, cleaner village than any other we have seen so far. The houses on stilts were neat and proper, built on a perfectly straight line along both sides of a main street. Some embryonic urban planning must have gone into the layout of Suptiem. A shining polished communal water pump (hand powered, alas, no generators!) stood by the road side, and people took turns at showering and filling up bottles for their homes. Curious children, as always, came around asking for pens; they looked quite healthy and clean. Some older ladies intervened and tried to sell their pretty embroidery.

As we continued our course Northward, the boat’s tack became uneven. Until now the skipper had kept a steady course and speed, but now he had to carefully negotiate his way among treacherous sandbanks and all kinds of floating debris. Sudden cross currents forced him to zigzag in an apparently haphazard way to port or starboard; one minute we could almost tough the vegetation on the right bank, the next we were headed straight toward a inlet on the left bank. The skipper’s assistant made me come down from the roof structure where I had climbed in search for better angles for my pictures: must lower the boat’s center of gravity to make it more stable during the sudden turns... safety first!

As the cruising hours gently went by, the dark green of the jungle all around gradually turned darker and darker. The silvery ripples on the brick-clay river surface turned blue. At dusk, it all quickly took on a light gray patina, which then turned into dark gray. The last pirogues still in the water hurriedly made for home, and the last few children interrupted their frolics in the water and disappeared behind the bush. We were obviously late, the boat should have reached Nong Khiaw by now, but the town is nowhere to be seen. At one point the large suspended bridge of Muang Ngoy appeared before us. A modern structure, if a bit run down, aesthetically out of context in the otherwise bucolic surroundings, but obviously a great bonus in terms of both time and safety for those who use it. From the bridge, we were told, it was another hour to our final destination.

At the tropics the sun sets quickly. For another thirty minutes or so, the large white clouds which had gathered above held on to a sliver of dim sunlight which reflected down from their Western rims. Then, inevitably, the clouds’ countours became one with the black sky. The moon had not risen over the mountains yet and all of a sudden it was pitch black all around: water, jungle, boat, even ourselves, everything was ink black. At one point, suddenly, the weather deteriorated dramatically and a thunderstorm announced itself with a series of loud roars as a strange hot lateral wind began to pick up and hit the boat from starboard. It blew a pungent sand. The thick downpour delivered the first chill I experienced since arriving in South East Asia, it felt strange after weeks of uninterrupted heat. We all pulled out sweaters, wind-breakers, anoraks, whatever we had (and thought we would never need) and the skipper ordered the plastic curtains which were rolled up all around the roof to be released and made fast down onto the boat’s sides to partially protect us from rain and spray, which made the wind-carried dust stick to our skin. Luckily all photographic equipment has long been stored away for the day.

At this point we were cruising full speed ahead into a Conradian darkness on our pretty solid but light-less and radio-less, not to speak of GPS-less, radar-less, horn-less and everything-else-less boat. I was not sure we had life vests on board but what I knew for sure was that, even if we did, in an emergency we would never have been able to find them and put them on. Even if we had put them on, what would have happened once we had been at the current’s mercy is anyone’s guess. That by that hour there was obviously no traffic at all on the river did not make me feel much safer. Nevertheless, it was somehow exhilarating to be there! We did not speak much at all, but deep inside I was excited. How did the skipper continue both to avoid treacherous submerged boulders and to tame the tricky currents without seeing a thing was a mystery to me; that we did not hit a major invisible floating obstacle, like a log, the kind you can hardly see even in broad daylight was, I am sure, sheer luck! Another hour or so later we finally got a glimpse, out in the distance, of the barely visible neon lights of what by then I wanted to believe was Nong Khiaw, our destination. Which it was!

Nong Khiaw (Muang Ngoi)

When we got there, the docking station was packed solid with various boats, and we must make landfall a bit further on, under a steep muddy incline just under the verandah of a guesthouse. The boat’s wooden plank was laid as usual and Barbara and I walked onto the mud looking for shelter for the night. We climbed up the embankment and were met the owner of the guesthouse above, no problems, there were double rooms available at Kip 10,000 (one dollar) per night. Again while all my friends carry their back-packs some boy comes down to the pier and takes my suitcase for me, and earns a little tip for carrying it up the embankment to the room!

Half an hour later we were around the dining table of the guesthouse’s verandah, overlooking the river – though there was not much to overlook as it was still pitch black all around. The wind and rain had stopped, however, and it was pleasant to taste different kinds of river fish with sticky rice for dinner. A few hammocks provided an ideal setting for after dinner conversations al fresco. As announced by a notice on the wall, at about 10:00 o’clock the generator became silent and all lights went out. The erratic nature of power supply was a recurring theme in our conversations.

Power to the people?

It is amazing how so many villages around Laos, even small towns, only have sporadic and unreliable access to electricity. Often the only source of power are small diesel powered generators, with the obvious inconvenience of noise and air pollution that they produce. The reason why this is amazing is that Laos is a major producer, and exporter, of hydroelectric power. The government exports electricity, most of it to Thailand, to raise cash, but it does not yet think it necessary to provide it to its own people. In the mid-nineties a fierce debate began over whether or not additional hydroelectric capacity should be built. Opinions were as divided among the Laotians as they wre, and still are, among foreigners, interest groups and environmental organizations. Again the divide between eternal romantics and modernizers became apparent. The former see hydroelectric power as a mortal threat to the environment as well as to the traditional way of life of many hill tribes who must be resettled to make room for the new dam’s reservoir. The latter see new hydropower capacity as a clean source of renewable energy, indipensable for the economic development of the region and a precious source of foreign currency from power hungry Thailand and, increasingly, Viet Nam. No one is really pushing for additional fossil fuel power generation, so the real issue at stake is whether or not Laotian villages and towns need a reliable source of electricity.

The answer is not an economic but rather a political one. Eternal romantics believe that rural communities, and certainly all hill tribes, can live very well thank you very much the way they have lived for centuries, i.e. without electricity. (And of course without TV!) They see the arrival of electricity as a curse which changes – for the worse – their traditional way of life, creating unnecessary demand for electric tools and appliances an making it possible for hordes of tourists to invade. Modernizers, for their part, consider the need for electricity as a self-evident truth, indispensable to raise the standard of living, and argue not over whether, but over how to best provide for it.

Later at night a brilliant full moon rose high in the sky. It highlighted the contours of a few small clouds and cast a pale light over the blacked-out village. Tall palm tree silhouettes stood still behind the rooftops. There is nothing whatsoever one could possible do in the village, so I retired to my room. The manager gave us each one candle to get around in the night; come to think of it a dozen candles lying on the floor of wood and rattan constructions was a pretty serious fire hazard, but I persuaded myself that was just my prejudiced Western mindset, pulled out my diary and jotted down a few notes until all of a sudden the day’s fatigue set in and I collapsed for what I naively looked forward to be a good long night’s sleep.

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...