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How glad am I that I started taking yoga classes in Korea BEFORE
spending 6 hours crammed into a 1 foot square of hard board speed boat
on the Mekong River in Laos?  I can't even begin to tell you!  In the
middle of your chuckles and head shaking I see the double take - you did
read that correctly.  Laos.  After just 2 short days I've already fled
Thailand and am happily camped out in the jungles of Laos for the

I didn't come here directly.  Caught the evening bus from Bangkok to Mae
Sot - a small town on the Burma border in the west of Thailand.  Got
stopped by immigration at 4am, just as I was entering town - friendly
enough folk to me, though I wouldn't have wanted to be one of the
"unpapered" people who were taken off the bus (for armed detention and
eventually return to the Burma police, my friend tells me).  Otherwise
the trip was smooth and uneventful.  The hill country there is
spectacular - more stars than I've ever seen in one place, giving the
jungle and deep valleys a silvery sheen.  By the time I got off my
motorcycle taxi (brrr!) in front of my friend's guesthouse, the locals
were already beginning to lay out their wares for the morning market.

Border towns everywhere are edgy places, but this one more than most. 
For those of you unfamiliar with the situation in Burma, the area just
on the other side of the border from Mae Sot is one of the focal points
of fighting in the country - the local minority group (the Karen people)
have been clashing with gov't troops for something like 50 years and are
being systematically exterminated.  Under the gov't "4 cuts" program,
the military tries to destroy their access to food, finance, recruits
and, um, something else important.  By burning their villages,
destroying their crops, killing their workers and children, raping their
women (trying to "breed out" the race)...the stories are unbelievably
brutal and are ongoing today.  I had a vague idea that things were bad
there, but had no idea the extent to which these things are still
happening.  For all that humans can be so good, our capacity for
atrocity (both committing and surviving) is stunning.  

In Mae Sot, I got to stay the night in a Karen town, on a plywood bed
(no matress) usually inhabited by a young Burmese girl (away for
christmas break).  Cooking on the gas stove in the open, with fresh
vegetables and herbs bought at the local market, catching up with my
friend and (hard as it was) watching video documentaries about the
situation in Burma - so great!  A place I would like to go back to. 
Other highlights -traditional Burmese breakfast noodles (Kao Soi),
riding Sarah's old bicycle double out of town to where she lives, and
catching a motorcycle taxi (both of us, on 1!) to the bus station in the

I had planned to stay on a bit longer at Mae Sot, but on the road plans
change quickly.  So barely 25 hours after arriving I found myself
boarding an early bus for Chiang Mai and Thailand's norther border.  Sun
rise and sun set from the narrow seat of a government bus!  There are
many worse ways to spend a day than watching some of the planet's most
beautiful countryside scroll past your window!  In Chiang Mai I was
helped out (making bus connections) by a big Aussie man and his
motorcycle.  By late evening I was perched on a gorgeous wooden balcony
overlooking the Mekong River, enjoying a great meal and gazing across
the water to the sparse lights of Laos on the other side.  Morning found
me sporting ear plugs and a crash helmet on the opposite bank, wondering
how good an idea the fast boat really was (great fun!!!), and sunset on
my 4th day of travel found me pulling into Luang Prabang, tired but

Today has been a quiet day - catching up on my journal, reacquainting
myself with this town I love so much, waiting for my friend Erik to
arrive with his family later this afternoon.  I am looking forward to
spending a few quiet days here before heading back to Bangkok and my
flight to India.

I hope this finds you all well - enjoying the christmas excitement (if
you celebrate it), or whatever other happenings there are.  Much love to
you all!  Roberta