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Willie Weir : December 11th, 2012

Photos of the Day — Dec 11


As we crossed the border into Cambodia, we made the decision to follow the Mekong as closely as we could heading south toward Phnom Penh. The main highway is a wide boring stretch that cyclists bitterly complain about.

But the alternate roads, or paths, or tracks don’t connect all the way down river. So we had to go multimodal, and hired a boat and driver to take us to Stung Treng. Since this stretch of river is just below the large waterfalls in Laos, there is little to no boat traffic. This is no easy stretch to navigate. The Mekong sprawls out, and you need to weave through the trees, snags, logs, and sand bars. Our father/son boat team did a marvelous job. -w

I took a ride to visit Mekong Blue, the Stung Treng Womens Development Center and silk weaving training facility and this is the greeting committee.
Heart-stopping beautiful children attend a little kindergarten onsite , while their mothers learn life skills that can help them break the cycle of poverty. The facility now engages enough women and earns enough money through the sale of goods to fund the school in the village for the older children too. Women come from all over the region and spend about 6 months learning the skills to be a weaver or specialize in silk washing or dying. It’s a rare facility that provides education and employment … and it all began with the desire to do something and a $500 loan. -k.

Willie Weir : December 10th, 2012

Photos of the Day — Dec 10

These babies are the reason you always, always check the area before sitting down. Weaver ants don’t officially “sting” you. They just bite you, and then spit formic acid into the bite. It hurts like hell. This photo was taken at Khone Phapheng, the largest waterfalls on the Mekong. A weaver ant dropped out of a tree, and promptly “bit and spit” Kat. My friends at Wikipedia tell me that colonies can have as many as a half a million workers. Picnickers beware! -w

We coaxed our homestay hosts to let us set up our tent in their yard rather than sleep in the room they have set aside for guests. For us, it’s cooler and better mosquito protection. For them, it’s a modern marvel. The family gathered to watch our house unfold and the kids pitched in immediately to help. Even with blow up thermarests, silk sheets and down sleeping bag, they thought we would be much more comfortable inside. Instead, it was a glorious night for stargazing through the tent mesh. And by morning, the down blanket was a delight. -k.

Willie Weir : December 9th, 2012

Photos of the Day–Dec 9

Another amazing sunrise on the Mekong. I really can’t get enough of this river. It was to be one of the most peaceful bodies of water on the planet. I got up and walked the 50 feet from our hotel room to the bank of the river as the glow and warmth of the sun began to heat of the day. We are staying in the same hotel on Don Khong island as we did seven years ago. The hotel added an outdoor eating deck. Some more hotels have sprung up. But everything else is pretty much the same.

There are large pylons being constructed just down river. Meaning a bridge is coming to Don Khong. That will surely change things. Not sure I’d want to stay here seven years from now. -w

This is a typical gas station with tapped 50 gallon drum of fuel, or you could get gas “to go” in plastic containers. Not so typical is the sexy calendar-girl posters decorating the shop. Raciest eye candy I’ve seen in Southeast Asia. -k.

Willie Weir : December 8th, 2012

Photos of the Day — Dec 8 — Two Views

The next morning we continued pedaling down the west bank of the Mekong. We startled several kids, not used to having “falangs” on their walking route. Some of them even ran away from us. It was a Saturday, so many families were hanging out together under their simple wooden homes, built on stilts

We passed a man, sitting on the bank, high above the Mekong, mending a fishing net. The early morning light was fabulous, so I turned around and pedaled back. I asked if I could take a photo, and positioned myself so I could capture his silhouette. Kat turned back as well, and snapped some photos of the same fisherman, with his face glowing in the morning light. Two different angles of the same moment in time. -w

Morning light bathes this fisherman as he weaves his net. His hands dance in a well-worn rhythm of his craft. There is a certain serenity to him as he performs his hook-loop-and-twist, loop-and twist. -k

Willie Weir : December 7th, 2012

Photos of the Day — Dec 7 — Cards & Great Route to School

“I call your bluff, sister.”
The game was so hot I doubt they registered I was there. All the better for a peek into what really happens Saturday morning in the back allies along the Mekong. -k.

Kat and I were pedaling down the west bank of the Mekong. The official road is further west, but a lane, and sometimes just a path, skirts the edge of the river. Our forward progress ended and we had to take a small boat across one of the Mekong’s many tributaries. It was just Kat and I, and a guy on a scooter, loaded on to this boat that was attached to a line across the river. A woman in the boat pulled us across.

We wondered just how many people you could get on to this little boat? We had our answer minutes later, as school got out and a flow of kids with their bikes arrived at our side of the river. The answer is 18 school kids and their bikes. The crossing itself took 90 seconds, with the landing and deboarding process taking up another 5 minutes. From a distance, the kids with their bikes looked like ants exiting a big leaf and working their way up the hill.

This has to be one of the coolest bike-to-school routes on the planet! Wouldn’t you agree?

Willie Weir : December 6th, 2012

Photos of the Day — Dec 6 — Wat Water

There used to be a road from Wat Phu all the way to the temple complex at Angkor Wat. But that was a long time ago. Few tourists get to this small site compared to the granddaddy, Angkor. But for what Wat Phu lacks in grandness, it makes up for in location and intimacy. The site isn’t officially open until 8:30am. So if you ride you bike there in the early morning light, and slip through the unlocked gate, you only have to share the site with locals setting up stuff to sell the tourists later in the morning.

I’ve always thought it is better to be alone at a small site, than to be surrounded by the masses at a big one. Once the climb the many sets of stairs lined with giant blooming plumeria, you are rewarded with a view back toward the Mekong. Many of the Buddha statues are “dressed” in robes, so a flash of orange is the norm when you approach a temple opening.-w

Water is life, and the natural spring in the rock at the Wat Phu complex at Champasak has been venerated since the dawn of time. The spring was before Buddhism, before Hinduism, and dates back to a time when Animism was the belief of the day and pure water was considered sacred. I watched the local vendors fill their bottles for they day. They indicated to me that some drips were only good for bathing, others were for drinking. They had work to do and were quickly on their way, but once they filled their bottles, they made sure mine was properly placed to receive this holy gift. -k.

Willie Weir : December 5th, 2012

Photos of the Day — Dec 5

There is no shortage of children in Laos and we’ve grown accustomed to their “sabaidee” dance as we approach. They are usually all giggles and wiggles until you stop and they are face-to-face with a falang. I met these boys in the neighborhood wat (Buddhist temple) and they too were all giggles and smiles until the camera came out. Here they show their more demure side. -k.

Rental bikes wait to be ridden to Wat Phu in Champasak, Laos, from a guesthouse above the Mekong. We have our own bikes, so didn’t need to rent, but other travelers swear that the ride on these babies is pretty smooth. -w

Willie Weir : December 4th, 2012

Photos of the Day — Dec 4 — Free and Not so Easy


Free Wifi. Whether you pronounce it “why-fie” or “wee-fee”, you better have it if you run a guest house or coffee shop or bakery where the travel crowd/back packers roam. And forget about charging for it. That is so 2007. Wife is the new hot water. The new cable tv. The new essential amenity you need to survive and stay on Lonely Planets recommended list. This shot was taken in Pakse, Laos, but it could be just about anywhere. -w

Never far from this room this day, I had plenty of time to study the intricacies of Southeast Asian plumbing. Our room with private bathroom and hot water shower in Pakse, Laos is typical, although each bathroom has it’s own comical twists. In this room, the sink drains out the blue pipe onto the floor just in front of the small hole that serves as the global drain for gray water. The shower head dangling on the opposite wall and runs through a small electrical box just out of the picture, but it is key to getting a warm to hot shower. No separated shower stall, since you stand in front of the sink and toilet to enjoy the shower. It too drains out the small hole in the tile just in front of the toilet. Most toilets in hotels are western-style sit down jobbies and they are all accompanied by a bottom washer spray nozzle. There are no lesson plans on using this, but I suspect one should spray and then use the TP to blot dry, throwing the TP in a garbage bin. The bum-washer leaked like a sieve, so water from it constantly flowed down to that same small hole on the floor. The toilet itself is a “water saver 6”, meaning 6 litres, by the looks of it, to flush down the black water. Fortunately black water does not use the same small hole in the floor. Rubber thongs provided. -k.

Willie Weir : December 3rd, 2012

Photos of the Day — Dec 3 — Beans

As we pass through villages, roadside vending shacks line the road selling whatever produce is in season or whatever resource can be gathered. Sellers hang out all day watching life go by hoping to make a sale as they sit in the shade of their stall. Mostly it’s stalls of papaya right now, so this long-bean seller was the first I had seen. A plot of long-beans was planted along side the road and also a first for me to see them growing. The long-bean is one of my favorite vegetables and I’m so glad I can buy them at home in Seattle too. A meal cooked at home with them always brings back a little taste of Southeast Asia. -k

Maybe it is my tendency towards clutter that drives my admiration for Japanese rock gardens. The perfectly racked patterns of small smooth stones are soothing. This photo reminds me of those gardens. But those aren’t stones. Click on the image to get the bigger picture. This is the Dao coffee factory outside of Pakse, Laos. How big is it? Those tiny figures at the edges of the larger photo are people. That’s a lot of beans! -w

Willie Weir : December 2nd, 2012

Photos of the Day — Dec 2 — Big and Small

I love these gentle giants. We watched the elephants get their morning bath in the river followed by breakfast. The three elephants at Tadlo had distinct eating styles. One girl delicately twisted off one banana at a time and placed it just so in her mouth. Another took the whole bunch and shoveled it in her mouth letting the inedible stem sift out and fall to the ground. The third one placed her foot on the stem to hold it steady, then broke off a chunk with her trunk. The shoveler finished first, so the delicate eater turned away and the two nibblers continued on peacefully enjoying their meal. -k

Just like a camera with a wide angle to super zoom lens, so goes my own travel vision. Some days it is set firmly on wide angle, taking in everything in sight in one sweeping glance. And then, I dont’ know, the light changes, or something grabs my eye, and I’m in macro-mode. In this land of waterfalls, I’m surrounded by stunning landscapes, but today, the most beautiful thing I saw was an ant crawling on a large green leaf, backlit by the sun. -w