Monday, March 26, 2007

Luang Prabang, Laos

What a calm, beautiful city. No power last night, so candles were everywhere, flickering light on the monastery roofs.

Getting here was rough, crammed like cattle with 100 other tourists on a slow boat from the Thai border. DO NOT take this boat if traveling from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, and if you do, come armed with sharp elbows and a good book and try to score a few feet of space near a window.

I had to write a letter of apology to Thai immigration before crossing the river to Laos. The border official at the crossing North of Anlong Veng, Cambodia took my Departure Card and kept my Arrival Card. I wrote the letter of apology in the form of a one page mystery story, paid 50 baht for postage, and was good to go.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Off to Laos...

I've only got a couple of weeks in Laos so will probably stick to the tourist trail this time around, crossing the border at Huay Xai, boating down to Luang Prabang and eventually continuing on to Vientiane. It's always a rush to enter a new country for the first time. Laos is a place I've been wanting to visit for years and I'm a bit baffled at why it's taken me so long. Stay tuned for notes from the road!


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Josh Kearns is Freakin' Awesome

The land Ryan owns in Northern Thailand is adjacent to an inspiring little community called Pun Pun. Each year Pun Pun hosts an internship on earthen building, organic farming and sustainability. One of the interns this year is a guy by the name of Josh Kearns, a renegade chemist and freelance ecological economist with a twangin' sense of humor.

Josh is, no joke, one of the most intelligent people I've had the privilege of meeting, and he's not shy about letting you know exactly what he thinks. He's a man on a mission, a one man dervish spitting out truth and bluegrass. Josh is Wal Mart's worst nightmare, and he can tell you exactly why Milton Friedman is full of shit.

Check out Josh's blog - He's a little more subdued online than in real life, but his blog reads smooth and is full of cracking photos.

I'll say it own more time - Josh Kearns is freakin' awesome.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

New Article! Cambodian Homecoming at the Common Language Project

It's been a month of mud and sky and vegetable gardens, with little time at Internet cafes. Some of the stories Ryan and I were working on in Cambodia are finally bearing fruit. Our piece about a Cambodian refugee returning home to his native village after 35 years in Providence, Rhode Island is featured at the Common Language Project. Click Here to read the piece and check out Ryan's terrific photos.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

5000 tiny roommates

Last night as I was laying down straw and blankets to make a bed on the earthen foundation of the hut Ryan and I are building I noticed that the ground was moving. Glistening. Crawling. I flicked on my headlamp and saw…

Termites. A whole termite metropolis, broad avenues of the shiny ant-like bugs, creeping across the packed dirt floor where I sleep.

Decision time. The mosquito net was already rigged up and I didn’t feel like taking it down and finding another flat piece of ground where I could make another bed. This wasn’t the first time termites had made an appearance – in the morning we would usually find them under the sleeping mats. Sometimes they even chewed holes in the mats during the night. But there is a difference between waking up to termites and going to sleep with termites.

What if they crawled into my ears? What if they ate through my shirt while I used it as a pillow?

The moon had not yet risen and the stars were bright and clear. The nights get cold this time of year in the North of Thailand and it does not rain.

I kicked at the termites for a few minutes, scraping up a dust cloud. Then I lay down on the mat, wrapped myself up in a big soft blanket, piled two more wool blankets on top of that and lay down with the bugs in the dirt. Once in a while I could feel them crawling up my legs, but it wasn’t long until I fell asleep and dreamed.

In the morning I woke up to bird song as the sun rose red over hazy mountains. Most of the termites had gone away.

Today Ryan and I are putting in a concrete foundation to keep the termites from burrowing up through the adobe walls and getting at the wooden window frames.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Pun Pun - Living the Good Life in Northen Thailand

I agree with George W. Bush about one thing - clearing brush is a good way to clear the mind. Cambodia is a tense place and travel is stressful. Writing also has its frustrations. Right now, it's balm for the soul to work with my hands in the dirt, to see the results of my labor in the land and feel it in my arms and back.

Four years ago Ryan bought a few acres on a hillside near a small village north of Chiang Mai. Back then, he owned a field. Now, he owns a forest. We're hacking brush and digging a foundation for his future house, Baan Thantawan, or Sunflower House.

Ryan's land is adjacent to a truly inspiring little community called Pun Pun, founded by a Thai farmer named Jo and his wife Peggy, a native Coloradan. Jo is Thailand's supreme authority on adobe consturction, which he first encountered in Taos, New Mexico. In only a few years Pun Pun has become a little village of beautiful adobe buildings, organic vegetable gardens, a library, a seed saving depot and a cafeteria where truly delicious meals are made three times a day.

This is a wonderful place and I don't want to leave. It's dry season now and farmers are burning their fields. A smoky haze covers the mountains and makes this little valley feel like a dream world. Each night Ryan and I sleep under a mosquito net on the land we're clearing and wake up to the blood-red rising sun at dawn. Tonight there will be a full moon.

Sign up over at if you haven't already and keep an eye out for articles and destination guides by yours truly. I hope everyone is well and happy.

Life is easy. Why do we make it hard?