We have to confess, after living some time in Southeast Asia, it is difficult not to developed a soft spot for the Mekong river. Its opaque brown waters, flowing through the mist, its riverbanks filled with dense jungle… You may remember iconic movies such as Apocalypse Now, and the journey into the heart of Indochine looking for Captain Kurtz!
Moreover, being such a long river crossing so many countries, there are countless places to visit, cultures to discover, experiences to have.
This is kind of a homage to the Mekong, its power and influence on the lives of millions of people in Asia.
Mekong while passing on Isaan province, on northeast of Thailand.
A Thai fisherman that lived and worked all his life on the Mekong.
The art of fishing!
It flows through six different countries, for more than 4350 kms. Starting in China, it goes through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and ends up in a delta in Vietnam. It has the world’s largest freshwater fisheries and, with 800 different native species, the richest biodiversity in the world following the Amazon river.
A country such as Laos, with its untouched nature in so many places, is a great introduction to the river, with many little villages in smaller rivers connecting to the Mekong. There you can observe the traditional lifestyle of people living there for generations and generations, mainly fishing or rice farming with the irrigation water also coming from the river. And in the South of Laos, in a place that is famously called Si Phan Don or 4000 Thousand Islands, you will be able to find really relaxing places to spend some days on a cheap bungalow, reading a book, visiting incredible waterfalls such as Khone Phapheng waterfall, engaging yourself in water sports or simply swimming and watching beautiful sunrises.
Public park on the side of Mekong, in Vientiane, the Laotian capital.
Sunset on South Laos.
A market on the riverbank of the Mekong, in Laos.
In Thailand you can find the river in the north, near Laos border. The main province the river crosses is Isaan, a very beautiful and not very touristy area. It is a rural area, focused on agriculture, with genuine and honest people, little villages, happy lifestyle and a lot of smiles in the faces you will see on the streets. One of the main attractions is Chiang Khan, probably the cutest village in the world! Mainly a couple of streets where cars aren’t allowed, filled on both sides with pretty wooden houses and little coffeeshops. Also do not forget a very relaxing promenade along the Mekong with ridiculously beautiful sunsets on the Laotian side.
Other man fishing on the Mekong during sunset.
Rice fields with irrigation from the Mekong river.
After these two countries the river continues to Cambodia, where interacts closely with the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, one of the most varied ecosystems in the world. Tonlé Sap lake is a biosphere reserve with an ecological status from UNESCO! Three million people live around its banks and depend on it for livelihood: the lake provides more than half of the fish consumed in the entire country. It is also a crucial breeding site for a lot of the species that cross the Mekong river.
Besides the houses on stilts around the lake, a vibrant community lives literally on it, on floating villages. Fishermen catch fishes with cone-shaped nets from their floating houses. This represents such a strong part on the national culture that even the currency is called riel, after a common small carp they usually catch and eat.
The difference in the water level between rainy and dry season on Tonlé Sap lake in Cambodia.
And not only its people but also a diverse ecosystem lives on the lake’s basin. Over 300 species of fresh water fishes, reptiles, 100 varieties of water birds and around 200 plants, all depending on the natural cycles of rising and falling waters. A good news is that it is very close to Siem Reap! If you are visiting Angkor Wat, it’s really worth it to spend a couple of days here. You can choose for instance Kampong Khleang, one of the most interesting floating villages in the lake.
A Cambodian local who works in boat tours with tourists.
Besides the functional part of it, this lake and the Mekong are interdependent. In fact, during rainy season, it’s the river’s water that fills the lake to a volume up to 80 km3. On the other side, during dry season, the water flows from the lake on the Mekong, bringing Tonlé Sap close to one km3. There is a difference of 10 meters in the water level between the two seasons!
It’s so important for the culture that there is an old Khmer saying, associating the changes in the water level to the impermanent and interdependent character of everything. “When the water rises, the fish eats the ant; when the water recedes the ant eats the fish.”
The Mekong delta on south Vietnam.
Continuing to the south of Cambodia, passing by Phnom Penh, the river finally arrives to its last country, with its delta in the south of Vietnam. In the delta, a vast triangular plain of 55.000 km2, live 18 million people, supported by the river for fish and rice cultivation. The delta is the most productive region in the entire country: 2.6 million for agriculture and rice yield representing around 55% of the national production, besides around 58% of the fishery output. Along with the fishing boats, the scenery is composed by floating houses focused on aquaculture (representing 2/3 of Vietnamese fisheries), crucial for the local population.
And, of course, its natural beauty makes this area one of the most visited of the country by tourists. The town of Bên Tre, with canals and boat tours along the delta’s farms, is one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam.
The beautiful canals on the riverbank of the Mekong, in Bên Tre, Vietnam.
It’s definetely worth it to take some months and follow the Mekong river along the Southeast Asian countries it crosses. You will be definetely inspired by natural beauty, culture and intense relationship between the locals and its rhythm.
Check Camboticket website for cheap tickets to many of this places! Like Paksé and 4000 Islands in Laos, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh or Kratie in Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.Read more
While traveling there’s always a communication barrier emerging from the language and cultural differences. But even if the culture is something that takes a while to emerge into and fully understand, learning the language is always a great way to get out of our comfort zone and connect with the locals. And at the same time exercise our brain as well! Have a look on this very basic introduction guide to Thai language…
Just a little bit of context: Thai, as any other Asian language, has in its structure the way the social hierarchy and social relationships work. This can be seen in the way people address each other, and even the way they create sentences. You have the street language when people are speaking with friends or for everyday interactions with others, and there is a different more sophisticated one for when they are writing. There is an informal way to speak and a polite one. Talking with family or friends and with a monk are two different things!
Nevertheless, it’s a complex language composed by 44 consonants and 33 vowels, being tonal like Chinese languages or Vietnamese – meaning that when you speak the same word with a different tone it can mean a totally different thing! But don’t be discouraged by this, at least the basic Thai is not so hard to learn, and it’s a great way to put a smile on a local’s face when you are talking to him or her. Thai people always love to hear a foreigner (or how they call us, farang) making an effort to try to speak their language! So here it goes some of the most basic words for you to start practicing for your trip to Thailand:
Hello – Sawadee kap/kaa
Goodbye – lacoon
Thank you – kopun kap/kaa
You’re welcome – Indii
How are you? – sabadee mai?
I’m good! – sabadee
Sorry/excuse me – koh tot
How much is it? – Khii?
It’s expensive! – kot peng!
What? – alainaa?
Toilet – hung naam
What’s your name? – khun chue arai?
My name is… – hom/chan chue…
Nice to meet you – indii ti dai rudza
I don’t understand – mao khao jai
I don’t know – mai saap
Yes – chai
No – mai chai
Just a quick side note: ‘mai’ is the negation that you can put before any word to negate it, but it can also be used in the end of a phrase to make it a question. Example: far is ‘klai’, close (so, same as not far) is ‘mai klai’, and the question ‘is it far?’ can be said as ‘klai mai’.
I – phom/chan (for a man/for a woman)
You – khun
This/that – anii/anaa
Here/there – tinii/tanaa
Okay – do kloung
Good – dimai
Big – iai
A lot – kot/maa
Small/a little bit – nique noi
Beautiful – suai
Interesting – naa son jai
Happy – mii khwaam suk
Delicious – alloy maa
And of course, the fundamental… Cheers – chong kheo
Another expression that’s quite useful is ‘mai pen rai’, which means ‘no problem’ or ‘all is good’.
Or another good one, always nice to say after saying goodbye to someone you like: Good luck to you – chokdee
Also bear in mind that you can always finalize a phrase with ‘kap’ or ‘kaa’ (depending if you are a man or a woman) to show respect to the other person, something highly value in Thai society.
And some random verbs:
Have – mi
Can – dai (you can use it after other verb to say you can do that)
Buy – sou
Go – pai
Speak – phuud
Help – tchuai
Understand – khao jai
And the very cliché thing, learning the numbers!
1 – nueng, 2 – song, 3 – saam, 4 – sii, 5 – haa, 6 – hok, 7 – jet, 8 – paet, 9 – kao, 10 – sip, 100 – nueng roi, 1000 – nueng phan
In terms of grammar, Thai is actually not so difficult. There are no plurals or gender in words, and you don’t need to conjugate verbs. The most common way to create a sentence is subject+verb+object, and then you can add different words before or after specific parts of the sentence to apply past, future, negation, etc. Some example of phrase:
Literally ‘I go market’ – ‘phnom/chan ti talad’ (phnom/chan – I depending if you are a man or woman, ti – verb to go, talad – noun for market)
Hence, we hope this introduction guide helped to clarify and push you to learn some words of Thai language before you visit this beautiful country and connect with its smiley local people!Read more
Photography is often a great map of our traveling, helping us to pay attention to what we see around us. Of course we are not talking about selfies or just pictures of monuments, but using the camera to navigate the streets is an excellent way to feel more connected to the street life of any Asian town.
A great place to do this is Bangkok, with its vibrant colors and fast pace of living, the beauty of the Thais and the contrasts between modern and traditional. So pick up your camera and go out discover the streets!
Explore the markets and other crowded places, especially the ones with no tourists. Talk to locals or, if communication is a barrier, just smile in order to connect and take a photo of them.
Focus on contrasts, which are usually interesting for pictures. The big and the small, the new and the old, the beautiful and the ugly.
Go closer. Don’t rely always on zoom, move yourself in search of a good shot. It also makes you get out of your comfort zone and get more intimate with others.
Find connections in what you see. Take pictures that can make a story in the viewer’s mind.
Search for the weird. Take photos of unusual things instead of the common ones: everyone already has a photo of that beautiful beach or that gorgeous sunset.
Look for little expressions of creativity. A big city like Bangkok is full of expressivity, little pieces of beauty where some unknown person decided to paint or draw or do anything else in order to break the grayness and anonymity of the urban landscape.
For the same reason, keep your eyes open for little things that often people place on the street. Small shrines and objects of worship, something to beautify the street or even humble pieces of art!
Focus on the natural expressions. Those right moments where you can eternalize a brief gesture or facial expression, a candid portrait of real life as it is.
Go to the smallest streets, explore the darkest alleys and corners. Don’t stick to the main avenues, usually the places that are more controlled and less filled with life.
Work on your compositions. For example, experiment with juxtaposing different elements such as people, objects, architecture, etc.
Find situations where something is a little bit surreal, objects in places they don’t belong or people doing things they aren’t suppose to.
Search for what is natural. People posing it’s boring, go for more natural looking portraits of everyday life.
Last but not least, don’t be afraid to experiment with light or take imperfect photos since a photo doesn’t need to strictly represent reality. Use it for painting your own subjective version of what you see around you.
And, most of all, have fun with your photography journeys through the city of Bangkok and its street life. We are sure you will make a great travel album out of it!Read more
You like to visit Bangkok and experiment the city’s vibrant nightlife but you are starting to get a bit tired of the typical tourist bars in Khao San road? We totally understand you and have the perfect solution for it… here are some ideas of where to go within the many alternative places to go out and experience a different vibe of Bangkok nightlife!Read more
Being such a long journey, and with so many rumours of being a bumpy and troubled one (especially while crossing the border), going from Cambodia to Thailand by bus can be an itchy experience. How surprised were we to actually go through it without any hassles and in a quite comfortable way! This is our experience of travelling with Nattakan bus from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, a company that provides a direct journey without having to change transport on the border.
A modern and comfy bus for a more than twelve hours trip can be a way better option than traveling by minivan.
The journey starts at 6 AM so better to arrive at least half hour before to the departure point. In this case we went to Rithy Mony Bus Station on street 102, quite near to Wat Phnom, the Night Market and the beautiful old colonial building that now functions as the main post office of Phnom Penh. There weren’t so many travellers so the bus left on time and the smooth ride and the conditions of the bus itself were more than an invitation to spend most of the journey sleeping. The seats are wide and soft, with a lot of space for legs and with the possibility of changing the inclination to almost becoming beds. The staff, even if not speaking much English, were helpful and provided a small box with a wet towel, a bottle of water, a packet of juice and a small cake (in the street of the bus station you also can find a couple of noodle soup restaurants, in case you want to eat your breakfast before getting into the bus). Anyway, next stop is already on the border so better to eat and sleep, Thailand is awaiting us!
What a sleeping beauty nest!
In case you need to use the toilet there’s actually one on the bus, so no time to waste, very soon we will arrive to the border. The journey was really smooth, despite the typical bumpiness of Cambodian roads, so a long nap was actually not a difficult thing to achieve. As soon as we arrive to the border the staff asked us to leave to take care of the visa, not before giving some name cards to hang on the neck in order to identify us on the border and let people now we belong to the same bus after taking care of the paperwork. The first step is the Cambodian immigration office on the right of the road, where they will give you the stamp out of the country. From there you just have to walk straight through a kind of white tunnel, as shown below…
… then cross a sort of gate imitating Angkor Wat style…
… and arrive to the Thai side where you will find a building on the left of the road to take care of the visa on arrival. Depending on your country of origin you can get from fifteen days to several months free of charge, and depending on your luck and the amount of people in line, the process can be quite straightforward. We end up not spending more than fifteen minutes waiting in line, then a quick two or three minutes process with the immigration officer before getting out of the building and seeing one member of the Nattakan staff waiting to lead us back to the bus.
After waiting for everyone else to arrive to the bus as well, we drove for a couple of kilometres where we stopped again and the staff gave us a box of fried rice and more bottles of water. Then straight again to Bangkok with no more stops, reaching there a few minutes later than 6 PM. The place of arrival was Mo Chit Bus Terminal, quite a central hub in terms of transportation to the rest of the city: there’s a BTS station nearby (the Bangkokian fancy skytrain!), plenty of buses and also lot of cabs available (make sure you take one that follows the taxi meter otherwise you will probably be ripped off!). If you are going to Khao San Road you actually have free bus from the station, ask in the information office for the bus numbers.
The return journey was pretty much the same, starting on Mo Chit at 5 AM and arriving Phnom Penh between 5 and 6 PM. Again quite smooth and with no troubles at the border.
On the Thai side…
… and on the Cambodian side.
The only care you need to have is, while there, not paying attention to random guys trying to convince you there is some kind of problem regarding the visa and that they have the solution for you (of course, they always have). If they start the conversation asking you some kind of payment don’t believe them, even if they are from the police (actually, especially if they are from the police). With us, we had the funny situation of a Cambodian police officer randomly asking on the street for 300 bahts to get us the visa (it’s mandatory, he said!) and with us insisting we don’t want and that we prefer to go to the immigration office itself, he ended up saying it was just to facilitate the process and get us the visa faster, for us not having to wait in line… no thank you! (There was almost no one in line at the moment, by the way). So be always aware, only believe in people inside the immigration offices themselves, both on the Thai and on the Cambodian side, no matter what uniform some random dude appears to you on the street.
And after that, just enjoy the ride through the sleepy Cambodian landscapes…
In case you are planning to go from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, or the other way around, Nattakan is an interesting choice to explore, with a high level of comfort and with the advantage of not having to change bus on the border – it’s direct from one capital to another in just around twelve hours. Have a look on Camboticket website for this or other options of traveling between the two cities and enjoy your trip!Read more
Southeast Asia is filled with beautiful temples, with their intricate carved or painted walls, shiny golden stupas and delicate architecture. But after visiting one after another, you may start to feel you want something new for a change. Why not visiting the unique one million bottle temple in Thailand? It’s a temple entirely made of bottles of beer and other drinks, that a group of creative thai monks made near Si Saket, on Isaan province near the border with Cambodia. Read the guide to finding different temples in Cambodia and Thailand!Read more