CHIANG MAI, Thailand—So I’m back in Chiang Mai, the charming little town that anchors northern Thailand. From my last trip here in early September, I fell in love with the place, with its funky vibe, youthful energy and a preponderance of good food, Western hippies, yoga centers and the like. As I wrote at the time:
If there’s one city it reminds me of, it would be Berkeley in the Bay Area. A small, liberal town anchored by a college with a stunningly high population of aging Western hippies who just kind of washed up here. There’s a great local music scene, with the North Gate Jazz Co-Op leading the charge, and an old city laid out at the end of the 13th century in the center of town, laid out in a satisfying square and bound by a moat where locals still fish late at night.
This time, however, I’m making only a brief stopover. Tomorrow morning, I head further north, past Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong/Huay Xai, where I’ll catch a “slow boat” down the Mekong to Luang Prabang, the royal capital of the Kingdom of Laos until the communists swept through in 1975 and renamed the country the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. I confess, I know next to nothing about Laos, but everyone says the place is beautiful and laid back. I do know they make a tasty beer there, and that the country’s short name, “Lao PDR” generally means “Laos, Please Don’t Rush.”
From there, I’ll bus it to the sleepy riverside capital of Vientiane and eventually make my way to Hanoi. A motorcycle ride down the coast to Ho Chi Minh City and then over to Cambodia, and eventually back to Bangkok.
I’m greatly looking forward to Vietnam. I grew up hearing the names of places that now are within reach: Da Nang, Dien Ben Phu, the infamous Hanoi Hilton and Saigon. Until Afghanistan, it was my country’s darkest conflict, and it still resonates among Americans of a certain age today. Of course, from what I’ve read Vietnam is a bustling, busy place, eager for foreign—and especially American—investment and, all in all, a damn good time.
Cambodia, again, is a bit of a blank spot on the map. Short of Angkor Wat and the bloody history of the place, as related in “The Killing Fields,” I know next to nothing about it.
So, starting tomorrow morning, I’ll be on the road again for a while. Perhaps as long as the month of October. With luck, I’ll have some entertaining ordeals to relate… Suffering always makes for a good story.
Here’s a rough map of my proposed trip: