Last stop in Asia


ban-bangkok-traffic.jpg Back to Bangkok from Cambodia, we are now bidding farewell to the Mekong region and getting ready for our middle-eastern experience. Both of us had visited the region a few times before so we were in familiar territory. We were both a little acquainted with the culture, the customs, the cuisine and we both knew how to avoid tourist traps – at least most of them. It is so pleasant and easy to travel here. People are so friendly. But we had not planned to stay here for this long.

Initially, we just thought we would simply recharge our batteries somewhere on one of the numerous islands of the Andaman Sea. But as usual, lured by a couple of exotic photos from travel books, we couldn’t help but explore further. We also returned to places we had previously visited and possibly to see them with a different eye. Comparing with our past travel experiences was certainly interesting.

We found that Bangkok to be a much more modern and developed city than it was only just a few years ago. Tuk tuks have been slowly replaced by Japanese cars, and the dire poverty is certainly not as apparent as it once was. It seems that the seediest aspects of prostitution have receded to make place for more respectable businesses. So we have neglected temples and floating markets this time for contemporary arts galleries displaying the works of the creative young Thai artists and hip restaurants.

Laos has changed significantly also, and at greater pace it seems. Not so long ago, only a handful of places were accessible to tourists who did not want to share their seat with animal farms in the bus or travel with their pockets full of cash. Nowadays, VIP buses can take you almost anywhere and ATMs can be found in most cities; it certainly looks like the country managed to earn its place on most travellers’ itinerary. Vientiane, the capital, is as sleepy as ever; but the growing expat population has left its mark from high speed internet cafe lounges to fancy restaurants.

Restricted by flight availability, our stay in Cambodia was very short and we have seen very little outside Angkor and the mushroom tourist city of Siem Reap which can only give its visitors a distorted view of the country. But everyone agrees that it is changing fast also; hopefully for the better.

China never stopped booming but as usual it showed itself under a mixed light. From the hip shops and art galleries of Kunming to the smoothly run guesthouses and restaurants of Dali and Lijiang, we have found a country where the young aspire to modernity and a higher standard of living than the previous generation. This is a place where it is common to find teenagers wearing traditional ethnic clothing mixed with the hippest fashion whilst chatting with their friends on the latest mobile phone technology. Touristy areas are now mostly catered for Chinese people, showing that there are an ever growing number of locals with spare cash. China is developing fast.

But, we have also noted the flip side especially for those who are not part of the “New China”. There were more beggars than during my previous visits. Concrete is slowly swallowing the villages and grossly polluting factories encircle cities. We have also read that prostitution and human trafficking are on the rise. Looking at the ubiquitous “hair-dressers” and corner sex shops, it seems that the oldest occupation in the world is still going to be the only avenue for a large part of the female population in a country where the one-child policy has left an abnormal number of males.

And unfortunately, the Party is still as present as ever controlling the media, censoring the Internet, distorting history and information, breaking contracts with foreigners who established themselves too successfully, repressing its own people whenever it needs to reassert its power. All these aspects remind us that China is not a democracy. This is the main difference with India – for all its faults, India managed to remain a democracy practically since it gained independence. With the Beijing Olympics coming this summer, the spotlight will be on China; and as many newspapers and NGO said “the world is watching”.

Tomorrow, we will wake up in Amman, Jordan.

10 Responses to “Last stop in Asia”

  1. 1 walter Posted April 2nd, 2008 - 18:03

    Hello, young trendy couple! How are you, switching from Chinese despotic days to the 1001 nights of Amman?? Scary to see how we can so easily go from one culture to another without transition. Looking forward to hearing your middle-east impressions. It is a pleasure to read your well documented notes, in a fresh and alive style. Take care. Walter.

  2. 2 christophe Posted April 4th, 2008 - 23:11

    Hi Walter, we are currently enjoying the great atmosphere of the cafes in the old city of Damascus amidst the nargileh smokers. People are very friendly so far. We’ve had the most interesting conversation with some locals yesterday who reminded us that Syria is not so different from China in many ways… Will keep you posted. Best of luck in Bombay!

  3. 3 Richard Posted April 6th, 2008 - 19:25

    Ah, ah! Syria…Of course, you figured it out.
    We talked about Jordan at the farewell party and I forgot about Syria being so close (in fact all neighbouring countries are close).
    You guys just don’t need advises: you find the best ways by yourselves!

  4. 4 kate Posted April 6th, 2008 - 22:30

    heya richard –

    yes, christophe and i have discovered the joys of border hopping… we just had to restrain ourselves from also popping into the tantalising-close beirut… and then perhaps heading onwards to istanbul… and then maybe overland to… bucharest…?

    it’s a good thing we have a ticket with a time limit and a rapidly-thinning wallet, otherwise we could have stretched this travelling-caper out for years…!

    anyway, please enjoy a hot shower for us…!
    kate xx

  5. 5 Andrew Posted April 7th, 2008 - 6:43


    Sounds like your have a wonderful time!!!
    So while your taking some happy snaps in Jordan just think of Saki and I having a Caffe Latte down at the beach.

    hear from you soon


  6. 6 kate Posted April 14th, 2008 - 23:55

    andrew… matey – i’m in your territory!

    we’ve been doing some exploring lately of the ancient wonders of egypt and i’m trying to recall your stories from the ‘discovery channel’ to supplement our wanderings through the ‘pyramids of giza’ and ‘the valley of the kings’… aaaah – the joys of foxtel!
    (they’re not too flash with their exhibition technique round these parts – some of the labels almost seem older than the exhibits… i think even a dot matrix printer would seem cutting edge in the realms of the cairo museum…)

    …and i must admit that the ancient art that we learnt most about during our trip to the pyramids, was not in relation to the hieroglyphs as anticipated, but the age-old practice of ‘bakseesh’… seems to have stood the test of time fairly well…

    nonetheless – we were pretty impressed with the sights in the valley of the kings and the temple of karnak, not to mention the booty of that tutankhamen – quite spectacular (though for a bloke he had quite a jewellery collection…)

    anyway – glad to hear you two slackers are enjoying some kwality time at the beach together with your decaf, soy, mochaccinos… keep up the good work..!

    kate xx

  7. 7 Richard Lebreton Posted May 5th, 2008 - 12:57

    I kind of ask the question as we, followers of your adventures, didn’t get comments yet about the last month.
    I have checked the pictures, though. Aqaba even looks good when you guys photograph the place. Yes, looking at the sea creatures seemed to me the only worthwhile thing to do down there.
    And Amman… I think you got it with the urban madness. The sky. The buildings. The cranes. I though when I was there that the best present I could offer to one of the lovely inhabitants down there would be a tree.
    Funny, because of you, I feel like going back. Maybe because it feels so good to be in place where nobody knows you. L’enfer, c’est les autres then when nobody knows you and nobody cares, like in those cities, maybe the other is gone. Hell is gone and freedom is where you stand. It is also a way to escape from the ones you love. They take some of the freedom, too.
    It feels so good to be lost…

  8. 8 Andrew Posted May 6th, 2008 - 15:17


    How are ya luv!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Its good to hear egypt impressed, but what’s happened to the photos? i’m sure all the “Kate&Chris Take a Trip” groupies are hanging out for your latest installment of unbelievable photos.

    By the way, who the hell is the photographer? the pic’s are amazing and give an excelent “vibe” (shake of the head, shake of the head) of the areas your visiting. Or are you you guys just opening the local national geographc and scaning in the best photos.

    now back to my bruch and cafe lattes with Saki.


  9. 9 rocky Posted May 14th, 2008 - 5:35

    Hey Chris & kate
    I’ve lost your e-mail addresses….
    How are you doing? Are you in Africa now? And when are you planning to come to europe? I hope we can meet up somewhere in france or belgium…
    i’m back in the ordinary life, working and planning on the next trip! Probably to Jordan this summer… let me know how that was for you..
    keep it jazzy!
    rocky (your himalayan hiking buddy)

  10. 10 Richard Lebreton Posted May 18th, 2008 - 3:34

    Just checked the pictures of the Wadi Rum. I advise mates and family to have a look at the pictures as I couldn’t really describe the place when I got back from Jordan. You have captured a lot of it. I suppose it is too hard to capture the silence or the sound of the wind, the inner peace you feel(especially after days in Amman!).
    Have you guys ever though about going to Yemen? That’s a place for you! Only saw Sana’a and I had never seen such a beautifull town center.
    Continuez a nous faire voyager.

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