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Vang Vieng - Laos

That pretty much sums up Vang Vieng for me so far - chill...

It's a small town along the Nam Song river, and a central stop-off point for travelers in Laos. People come here for the landscape, the river activities (notably 'tubing'), caving, rock climbing and partying. I missed out on the partying last night as I was relaxing and fell asleep early (getting old I guess...).
In Laos people get up early, and by 6am everyone's up and about. I finally managed to get up early enough to see the sunrise but unfortunately the photos didn't turn out well - but here is one I took of the place I'm staying at, my chalet is the one to the right :-)

Nice eh? 8-) It's a place called 'The Other Side' - you get to it across a bouncy footbridge over the river. At first I was pleased to get the place right in front, but last night realised that it also meant getting all the noise from people in the restaurant area. etc. Lesson learnt...

Here's Vang Vieng in the morning, with some kids on the left preparing to cycle to school.

On the second day of walking I saw lots of kids going to school - the older ones on bikes, and the smaller ones crammed into a songtheaw.

Laos by foot

Laos by foot is lovely but, well... a lot harder than I thought!! Not to be done without good training! The first day, after 19 km I realised I was going to have to be flexible with my planning :-)

So, for the last three days I combined walking and 'songtheaw' (i.e. local pickup truck with seats in the back). I'm in Vang Vieng now for a couple of days of relaxing, and then on to Luang Prabang. I will try to do a bit more walking but not so much unfortunately. One reason: running out of time already; second reason - blisters!

The landscape I walked along was mostly flat riceland, lots of small villages separated by rice fields and the occasional temple. On the first day I was lucky to be able to have a nap in the grounds of a temple by a river - very nice and quiet :-)

There are chickens, ducks, cows, goats and buffaloes all over. This one didn't seem to like me taking a photo very much

People are very easy-going, and I had no hassles at all. Even the dogs are mostly friendly! I got curious looks and many 'Sabaidee!', and a few offers of a lift but was otherwise left alone to my own sweaty self... or maybe that's why they left me alone! I was sweating a lot, drinking 4-5 litres a day and still feeling myself overheating sometimes. Good thing I had rehydration salts, and there were many places along the way where I could rest a moment in the shade and refill my water.

Food was easy to get, but not very varied. Basically, I had 'phoe' all the time - good but I was happy to have something else last evening.

More to follow.

First days in Laos - Vientiane

Well, Vientiane is very nice - a smallish town which is easy to walk around, with easygoing people and no hassles. I haven't got time to write much, but here are a few photos.

Last night there was a Chinese opera playing by the river

Walking around I came across this sign and shrine (?) which I found kind of nice

I met some guys and we finished the night at the bowling alley, which is the only place that stays open after midnight, apart from the clubs maybe. It serves beer too which is an attraction, and we had a lot of those yesterday :-) There was a reminder of Laos' status as a socialist state

Today we took a walk to Pha That Luang - an important national monument and a venerated stupa

there was some work being done, perhaps because of the upcoming That Luang festival

and here's me (just to prove I'm here), with my new hat :-)

Tomorrow I start my walking! To be honest I feel a little scared, but that's normal. It's an early night tonight, and I want to get going by 6am tomorrow. Will update again as soon as I can.

He who would travel happily must travel light

It’s a quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (the guy who wrote ‘The Little Prince’, amongst other things). I guess it applies directly to the size of the pack you carry on your back, but in a more philosophical sense perhaps it means that you should also let go of the 'baggage' you carry in your mind and heart, and be prepared to open up to new experiences if you want to enjoy them...

I’m off to Laos in six hours!! Finally got packed and got everything ready

This is everything laid out

Close up of the ‘essential travelling kit’ and all the little extras you may need

Then everything parcelled into bags: it’s good to compartmentalise things – easier for unpacking and repacking when you move around a lot, and plastic bags stop things from getting wet.

And then everything into my trusty rucksack that went hitchhiking around Europe with me, and to my trip around SEAsia in 1997. One trick to travel light is simple – have a small bag so you’re forced to bring less :-) This bag is 30 litres volume – basically I have five days worth of clothes, and minimal everything else (e.g. a hand-towel instead of a large one).

I have a slightly ambitious plan, for the first 5-6 days, I want to walk from Viang Chan (Vientiane) to Muang Vangviang – using the older national road that goes via Ban Tha Ngon. It's a total of about 160km; I’ll probably cheat a little and take a bus out of the city some distance, then try to walk the rest.

Google Map looks very bare, but I have quite a detailed map from the Rough Guide (the best I found), and there are a number of villages and small towns on the way.

I’ll be updating as often as I can on the way, but now I’d better get to bed!

Blogging and Defamation - Part II

I've been meaning to do this for more than a week now, but have been pretty busy (some previous thoughts here).

The KL Bar Council's Information Technology Committee has planned a series of forums on IT related issues, and this was the first one on "Blogging and Defamation". It started on time (unusually) and the panellists were three long-standing bloggers - Nizam Bashir, Foong Cheng Loong and Jeff Ooi.

The Chair of the Committee stareted by explaining that defamation was
'a statement calculated to injure another person or reduce willingness of others to associate with said person'
There is also civil and criminal defamation - which may be based on the same definition, but the criminal one can land you in jail for two years. He pointed out that there is NO special protection for bloggers, and even criticising someone's char kuey teow in Jalan Alor can be considered defamatory. By the way - 'slander' is oral, and 'defamation' is written - I think they have the same potential liabilities though.

Nizam Bashir (sorry no photo) gave a detailed presentation on the legal history and other facts about defamation and blogging. He pointed out the constitutional 'right to freedom of speech and expression', but there are provisos that limit this right in relation to security, contempt of court, 'morality' [not sure what this was exactly], defamation, incitement of an offence; and also relating to (Bumiputra, I suppose) privileges, religion, and the rulers.

Defences that can be used are:
• Truth: (if it's the truth it's not defamation, I suppose)
• 'Legal, social or moral duty' to say something to a particular person (e.g. a teacher telling a parent their child is no good at school). As relates to blogs, you could have a password protected post for particular person
• Expressing an opinion: the facts must be reasonably accurate and in the public interest - based on the concept of "fair comment"

He said that the key issue was where to place the boundaries to free speech. He said that Malaysians should be able to speak about some of the topics placed 'off-limits' - "we are made of sterner stuff". He also said that one of the consequences of the recent legal actions initiated against bloggers was a chilling effect on the freedom of speech; more people may want to stay anonymous - which affects the credibility of blogs; and overall more problems than solutions is the general result.

bar council malaysia blogs law Foong Cheng Leong
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