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Published: November 4th 2009
School midterm break started the first week of October and what better time to get away and explore my neighborhood. Of course I consider all the countries surrounding Thailand to be part of that area. The history of Thailand cannot be understood unless one goes back centuries and learns a little about the power and influence of the Khmers.
We started our journey into southern Laos by bus from Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. The city of Pakse, Laos, borders the Mekong delta on its west and the Boloven Plateau to the east. The river is not at its best here but the mountains enjoy a lushness and beauty that compensates for the rivers drabness. There are hundreds of waterfalls of all heights and widths. Just when you thought you’ve seen the best, another flows out of the wilderness to take your breath away. Our next stop is Champasak, two hours bus ride south and on the opposite side of the Mekong, hence the need to take the ‘ferry’. Champasak is really just a quiet village with a few remnants of its French colonial days still intact. We stayed at a small guest house along the river for $2 per night, breakfast
included. It cost us $3 a day to rent a bike…go figure. It sits 6 kilometers from Wat Phu, the oldest historical site of worship in the republic, built sometime during the 11th - 13th centuries as a center for Hinduism by the ancient Khmer empire. Leaving Champasak, we continue yet further south to make our way to the ferry dock (I use that term loosely, very loosely) to take us to Don Det, one of the many islands sitting in this part of the river (Four Thousand Islands). We stay two nights before trekking back to Pakse and board a bus to Bangkok.
From Bangkok we decide to fly to Phnom Penh, Cambodia which has a long and in the recent past, troubled history. The majority of people are ethnic Khmer, their ancestors coming to Asia from India during the 1st century. At one time all the kingdoms combined to become the greatest empire in Southeast Asia. In many ways they were like the Romans, building networks of highways and other public works to connect their vast empire and keep it viable. Angkor Wat is proof of that building frenzy. Unfortunately, all great empires fall into decline and
Angkor began its decline around the 14th century. I won't go into its more modern history as it is suffice to say that this country has had more than its share of horrors and sorrow. A walk through the Killing Fields and a trip to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, hint at the macabre events during the latter part of the 1970's. Cambodia is probably one of the poorest countries I've yet traveled to and 50% of its population is under the age of 16. I really don't know what that will mean for its future. It does value its Khmer history and much work is going into saving and restoring its monuments with the help of many international NGO's. Peace Corps is in its second year there with about 50 volunteers scattered around the country.
I hope you've enjoyed some very brief insights on my travels and enjoy the pictures. I apologize for the number of pictures but when you consider the hundreds I've actually taken, these are just a few samples to awaken your curiosity and visit these amazing places either in person or by book. Until next time.....
Pop gan mia ka
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