Thoughts on Solo Travel

“Where from?” the lady asks, trotting along to keep up with me. I can only see her eyes. She’s wearing trainers, trousers, a hoodie with the hood up and the sleeves stretched down over her hands, a floral face mask like a surgical mask, and a large conical straw hat on top of her hood….

Hanoi Howl

(Never speak to me of the sleeper bus.) I arrived in Hanoi at the worst possible time, late at night in the middle of the Full Moon celebrations. My taxi got as far as Hoan Kiem Lake, which was a miracle in itself, then became hopelessly enmeshed in a loud chaotic crush of people and…

Café Crawl

From the moment I first walked around Luang Prabang I felt at home. It was familiar to me, as though I’d lived there for years. I suppose this was down to the familiar French influence on the architecture, with elegant shuttered villas lining the quiet streets, tucked in between the gold-leaf temples and lush banana…

The Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

Once upon a time some intrepid travellers ventured on to the slow, low-slung, heavy cargo boats that furrow their way through the dun-coloured waters of the Mekong in northern Laos. What a voyage that must have been, chugging along to Luang Prabang, squashed on to wooden benches among sacks of rice and livestock. Inevitably, word…

Almsgiving Misgivings in Luang Prabang

One of the most famous things to do in Luang Prabang is to watch the daily almsgiving ceremony at dawn, in which lines of monks walk down the street to receive offerings of food from locals sitting on low stools or kneeling on the pavement. Tourists are asked not to give alms unless it is…

Unexploded Paradise

When I arrived in Luang Prabang it was still sizzling after a visit from Barack Obama, who flash-fried the town with his presence only hours before my own unremarkable arrival. During his visit Obama gave a speech in which he acknowledged the US’s secret war in Laos and its ongoing legacy of UXO, the unexploded ordnance…

Bread & Breath

“Meditation is bread.” At first my heat-saturated brain groped for the metaphor. Meditation as nourishment for the mind. Then I frowned. “Do you mean breath?” The novice monk nodded. “Yes, bread. Controlling monkey mind, always trying to have, always wants. Just focus on bread.” Then, of course, I became headily aware of my own breath….