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Inglorious Travels Posts

The unrepeatable adventures of two foreigners down the Nam Ou river (Phongsali to Muang Khua)

I had a pretty vague idea about where we were and an even vaguer idea about how we could get out of there. It was midday on a Sunday; I was sitting on a plastic chair in a small shaded area in a desolate village market; I needed to go to the bathroom, I was hungry, and the heat was intense. Almost no locals were around. A few meters from me, D., the Australian I…

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Endless road to Phongsali

In retrospect, my decision to travel to Phongsali, one of the northernmost towns in Laos, was a highly masochistic tribute to the saying “The journey is the destination.”  Unlike Thailand, Laos is somewhat in the early stages of tourism, the infrastructure is still being built or expanded, and, as a result, visitors are mostly sticking to the same routes. Guide books funnel tourists coming into Laos from Chiang Khong in Thailand down the Mekong: an…

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Goodbye Thailand

The two months covered by my Thai visa were coming to an end. However, I wasn’t ready to leave Thailand. And so, a couple of days before my visa expired, I was in Chiang Khong, one of the Thai-Lao border towns on the Mekong, completely in denial of the fact that I had to leave.  The days I spent in Chiang Khong melted into one. I stretched time for as long as my visa was…

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All the world’s a night market (Chiang Rai)

It was 6:00 p.m., still light out and the Saturday Walking Street, one of Chiang Rai’s most popular night markets, was barely getting started. Hawkers were setting up their stalls and only a few visitors were walking around, slightly confused, as if witnessing a dress rehearsal. Suddenly, ceremonial music blasted from unseen loudspeakers. Everyone froze in their tracks, stood up straight and stopped whatever they were doing at the time. Not a single movement. The…

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The one-week detour (Chiang Dao, Thaton, Mae Salong)

In my final weeks in Thailand I made mandatory stops in several large towns representative of the northern provinces. As I’ve written elsewhere, cities require a special energy to explore, so whenever I had the chance I shifted gears by stopping in small, unassuming places. It was this kind of settlements, which could be explored in 1-2 days’ time until I had the feeling that I could hold them in my hand, that had helped…

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Do you cave? (Pang Mapha)

I was late at the caving game: I was already 22 when I walked into my first cave. Several others followed soon and, since this first encounter, caves have been at the top of my list wherever I traveled. My fascination with them comes from what is most likely their mighty effect on any human visitor: I enter caves as matter-of-fact spaces, fully aware of the straightforward natural processes that have shaped them over eons,…

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Behind the mask (Mae Sariang)

Travel is not just about elevated emotional states, which you collect and then coat with an even more uplifting layer until given the occasion to tell these stories, excitedly and without pausing to breathe, to someone back home. Travel is also about a lot of in-betweenness and empty moments: time spent waiting in bus stops, train stations, and on the couches of guest houses; time spent finding your way; time spent yearning for something –…

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1219 (Umphang)

“Songthaew” is a word I couldn’t once say right during my two months in Thailand. The first syllable, ‘song’, was intuitive and at the same time suggestive of the second part, ‘thaew’, a tonal roller-coaster with far more vowels than one might think. It is a vital word to know in certain areas in Northern Thailand, where this repurposed pickup truck with two plain benches covered by a tarp is the only means of public…

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