Rough Guide have updated their phrasebooks, and now they’ve each got a free audio download so you can practise with words and phrases recorded by native speakers. Hooray!
The audio files work best when you’ve got a phrasebook in front of you, so Rough Guide probably aren’t losing much business by giving away the audio files.


…is where I am. I’m visiting my brother who moved to Berkshire a few weeks ago, and I’ve (tragically) snuck time online to do some work, and check out what’s on at the fair at Highclere Castle we were thinking of visiting tomorrow.
Their website promises ‘two days of world-class clay shooting and gundog action’, including the Lurcher Display Team and the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club and some gundog scurries, whatever they are!
And if you don’t like dogs or clay pigeon shooting, there’s ferret racing, stick makers and ‘bodgers’. Of course we can’t resist all that and we’ll be there tomorrow, rain, drizzle, hail or mist.

I really liked this description of the difference between gay and homosexual from
“However, there is a difference between being homosexual and gay. As you say yourself, you’re “not straight”…but you’re not gay. Yet.
‘Homosexual’ is a hard-wired hormonal tendency to be turned on by your own sex and not the opposite sex.
‘Gay’, however is not (just) about sexuality, it’s about identity. It’s an achievement, not a predisposition. It’s a label homosexual men initially chose for themselves and it’s still an identity you have to choose – or refuse – to embrace. That’s the stage you’re stuck at right now.
Because gay is a social identity, people piece it together out of a string of stereotypes. That can feel oppressive. Will I have to be camp? Will I have to like Eurovision/give a flying f*** about Big Brother/get a tattoo/take ecstasy/take it up the bum?
The answer to all those is NO, not unless you want to.
More importantly, there are questions about giving up things too. Will I lose my family’s love? My circle of friends? Being a dad? Getting married?
The answer here is also NO, not necessarily – but that yes, being gay may make some of these things harder to achieve.”
And also, Moldovan gays defy pride ban
“It also contravenes a recent decision by the Moldovan Supreme Court, which robustly defends the right of all Moldovan citizens, including LGBT people, to freedom of expression, assembly and peaceful protest.

The mayor’s [Ken Livingstone] statement was in response to the municipal authorities of Chisinau banning an event planned by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organisation GenderDoc-M for 27 April as part of the 6th Moldovan LGBT Pride festival.”
I wish I’d known closer to the time, I would have sent an email in support.

Life in Laos…

BBC: In pictures: Life in rural Laos
It explains a lot of what we saw as we travelled around – cows or buffalo grazing on scraps of grass in what looked rice paddies. It was ‘burning season’ while we were there and it was amazing to see how much land was being cleared, particularly on the trip over the mountains from Luang Prabang to Vang Viang, and on down to Vientiane. I couldn’t see how much was being cleared in the south because it was dark. I really don’t understand why the government lets people clear land they won’t be able to irrigate, and I worry that they’ll lose their top soil in floods and dust storms once they’ve cleared the trees and destroyed the infrastructure of the soil. I guess sometimes you can only go for short-term solutions, but it was kinda heart breaking.

Back in London

I’m back in London… arrived late last night (including one hour standing in the queue at Immigration, thank you UK) and back in the office today. Everything seems slightly surreal but my first meeting isn’t until 2pm so in the meantime I’m catching up on email (work and I guess some personal at lunch), RSS feeds, mailing lists, etc. I’ll save the forums for later.
Everything seems so green in London now! The trees are suddenly covered in new leaves and the shrubs have started flowering… After a lovely walk through the park, the bus ride to work was uneventful, no shrunken-headed cross-dressing Laotian variety shows blasting from the TV while I’m trying to sleep.
The weather seems nice and cool after Vientiane/Paxse, where it was 37-41 over the past few days. No more $1 meals – it’s going to be strange cooking for myself again, I’ll have to think of exciting treats I’ve missed while away. I think I’ll go on a mission for some nice cheese tonight because I dreamt about it one night I was away. Surprisingly, I’m not sick of noodles though I never want to see that funny textured protein stuff Thai Airlines serve in the veggie meals ever again.
So, some rambling thoughts for a quick catch-up… the second kayaking trip didn’t go quite as planned because there was a really strong wind blowing up the river. We battled it for a few hours then gave up, deflated the kayaks and got a boat down the Mekong to Don Deng. Crashed out for a while then watched the sun set over the mountains behind Champassak. The next day we got a longtail ferry (not a fairy) with the bikes across the river to Champassak and cycled to Wat Phou.
Champassak is meant to be the next backpacker town, but I hope it doesn’t go the same way as Vang Viang. Vang Viang left me quite depressed about the impact of travel – apparently it only took a few years for the whole town to change into some kind of backpacker hell. The main tourist street of Luang Prabang was a bit like a mini Khao San Road, which was weird because the food was much better (and cheaper) at the restaurants along the river. I guess there’s no reason I should expect every backpacker to resist the call of food and TV from home in the interests of avoiding negative impact on the towns they visit, but it’s a shame because it makes travelling seem like a destructive act.
Wat Phou was amazing. There was no-one else there when we got to the first palaces, and it was so peaceful and beautiful. It’s hard to believe it was all hidden in the jungle for so long. The new-ish museum was quite good, with panels explaining who the different deities were and what they meant, so that you had some context for what you would see on the site. After the crowds at Angkor Wat, the quiet and the chance to look around without battling through masses of people was particularly special.
Vientiane seemed chaotic and bustling after Paxse, which was amusing because it seemed so quiet and small when I first arrived. It was really hot so we didn’t race around, but it’s not like you have to rush around to see everything anyway.

Back in Vientiene.

We wanted to break up the journey back from Vang Viang and stopping in Vientiene was an easy way to do it. It’s lovely and quiet after Vang Viang. Saw the museum today, full of propaganda about the colonialist French and imperialist Americans.
Luang Prabang was very, very wet because the New Year celebrations just went on and on. We saw the procession of the buddha down to the temple where it’s washed for the year to come and did some shopping (no jewellry box yet, Min).
We got a bus down to Vang Viang. I had a headache almost non-stop for two days, which pretty much sums up Vang Viang – it’s really noisy, and full of TV bars, full English breakfasts and just all the worst parts of backpacker places. We went kayaking for a day, and that was ace fun. We passed the jumping places, and each did a jump. I was sh!t scared but I’m glad I made myself do it. Very tiny rapids, probably just as well because I realised it’s actually twenty years since I went river kayaking.
We’ve booked a trip to go kayaking and cycling from Pakse, with an overnight stay on an island village with no electricity, with a visit to Wat Phou and hopefully it’ll be really fun. We’re getting the overnight bus to Pakse tonight, then going to find a guest house to dump our bags and head out to the Tad Fan waterfall. There’s another waterfall called Tad Lo, and we’ve had too much fun making bad puns with the name.

Happy New Year!

It’s the first day of official New Year’s celebrations in Louang Prabang, though the party started a few days ago. Stayed two nights at the nicest hotel I’ve ever been too, it was almost too tempting to stay in instead of seeing the sights.
Have been completely soaked and smeared with black powder by people in the street; I think it’s going to get more beery and lairy tomorrow. Today is the last day of the old year, tomorrow doesn’t really exist and the next day is the first day of the new year. I’ve only been away for a few days and I’ve already lost track of time.
Might go to the waterfalls tomorrow morning, then hopefully we’ll catch the procession down to the river to wash the buddha and visit some wats in the afternoon.
It’s been quite cloudy, today is really muggy so it’s almost a relief to get soaked.

Is Vientiane the Canberra of Laos?

I arrived this morning, and slept most of the day. The time difference is only six hours so I’m hoping to avoid really bad jetlag, though I’ll try and stay up to 1am tonight to reset my body clock. I didn’t sleep much on the flight from London and didn’t sleep enough before I left London so hopefully that will help.
So far I’ve met some random people, including a guy who was just in Uzbekistan (working) and a guy who used to work in the newsagents down the road from Mum and Dad’s. I’ve had French buckwheat crepes, a giant rum ball at the Scandinavian Bakery and a beer Lao. There aren’t loads of tourists around but I’m about to go to a bar that’s full of them to read my book and work out an itinerary.
In some ways I suspect Vientiane is the Canberra of Laos but it’s nice to have time to relax before we start travelling and being proper tourists. It’s going to be a mild 28 degrees tomorrow. There might be thunderstorms when we fly into Louang Prabang, which could be interesting. It’s going to be New Year’s on Friday through Monday. I wonder how throwing water on people works if it’s already raining?