Morning procession of monks receiving alms
Morning procession of monks receiving alms

Thailand and Laos… though divided by the border, culturally they are very similar. Countries where Buddhist monks have high social ranks and are well respected. People’s lives take place around their temples. People are friendly, food is tasty and not yet developed to cater for mass tourism. Perfect for a traveller who walks everywhere to see, hear and smell the lives of people.

I needed to go somewhere. My visa status in Singapore requires that I should not stay for more than 30 days. I went to Malaysia a few times, to catch my friend in KL and also to just renew visa another month by taking a local bus to JB, the town just across the border from Singapore. But this time, I wanted to go somewhere new. Last month I went to Hanoi, which gave me a chance to dust off the Nikon D70s and capture the lives in town. Encouraged by that experience, I went though Lonely Planet guidebooks at The Borders bookshop.

My friend once recommended The Phillipines. It may be a bit hot, though. It seems like one of those culturally rich destination which is under valued by travellers and tourists. I am not keen on big cities. Something raw and hopefully some place I get to step into the local neighborhood and see their lives with my own eyes. Burma (Myammer) was really tempting; but as I opened the Lonely Planet, the editor gave me some thoughts. Aung San Suu Kyi once said that her country was not ready to accept visitors. Following the confusion of current regime not allowing legitimate elected party to run the nation. Visiting that country now is interpreted as the support for that ill-natured regime. She also mentioned, according to the guidebook’s editor, that the country really needs money that visitors bring and spend; and editor recommends that we conscious travellers should try our hardest to spend money on non-government entities – hotels, buses, restaurant, etc. to maximise the amount falling in to the local people’s hands rather than exploited by the regime. 2 days out of the expected departure date, I was not ready to do the homework necessary to execute it. And I decided to give it a miss for now. Then I came across Thailand. Not the Phuket and Bangkok Thailand but temples and ruins. Ayutthaya seems interesting, though it sounds like a lot of cultural heritage had been destroyed when the Burmese (of that era) invated the land. Kinda remind me of how the Christians destroyed the ancient images in Egyptian ruins.

When I looked at Ayutthaya on the map, I realised how close Laos is. Train connection may be open now. Even if it is not well suited to my schedule, there is a bridge across the Mekong to enter the other Buddha’s rich rice making nation. I went back to the bookshop and purchased another (not particularly cheap) Lonely Planet guidebook, this time for Laos.