Today, RIGHT NOW, was supposed to be the start of my Great Southeast Asian Tour. For those of you not in the know, I finished up work here in Singapore yesterday and am taking three weeks to travel around SEA before returning to the US. I literally have spent months planning this trip and have been looking forward to it immensely. Out of my three weeks, I had planned to spend a week in Thailand, a week in Laos, and a week in Burma* (see end of post). In Thailand, I wanted to visit Bangkok and then Chiang Mai in the north before moving on to Laos. Bangkok went out the window about last weekend due to the continuing violence there. I revised my travel schedule to include a quick transit out of Bangkok without ever coming close to the city center, and stays in Chiang Mai and Chaing Rai (another city in the north). Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse yesterday afternoon. Although the Red Shirt leaders surrendered to the police and asked the protesters to go home, rioting and looting broke out in central Bangkok. Even worse, riots also broke out in several cities in the north/northeast of Thailand, including Chiang Mai. About half the country is currently under curfew (8 PM - 6 AM until Saturday) and most of the banks and stores in the bigger cities are closed. So, 24 hours before I was supposed to be leaving Singapore for Bangkok, I decided to scratch that part of my trip. Hours of internet searches and about $300 extra later, I now have a revised itinerary that includes KL and Hanoi, and then continues on to Laos and Burma as planned. However, I'm still really incredibly upset that I'm missing out on seeing Thailand, not to mention the extra money I had to spend. I'm still planning to fly through Bangkok on my way to Burma in two weeks from now, and I'm hoping that the city will have calmed down by then. If you want to follow the news in Bangkok, some good (read: not sensationalized or over-simplified) sources are the Bangkok Post for pure news, and Bangkok Pundit for analysis.
So, now for the revised schedule for the Great SEA Tour:
Train to KL from Singapore (this is the main part I'm unhappy about. I don't like KL. It's just like Singapore, only dirtier)
Hanoi (thank you, Vietnamese government, for giving me a visa in less than a day!)
Luang Prabang, Laos
Transit through Bangkok airport (hopefully the airport stays OK)
Back to Rangoon
Fly back to Singapore via Bangkok (again, fingers crossed)
Aaaaand, then I fly home on June 11th!
For the geography challenged among you (no judgment, I'm definitely geography challenged), I've created a little map of my journey. For bonus points, I put the land travel legs (bus/train) in blue and the air travel legs in red. Mandalay, Burma, isn't marked on the map, so it's location is a bit approximate (again, geography challenged here).
There probably won't be a lot of entries in the next few weeks until I make it home to the US, so please be patient with me until then!
*Here's the [star] about Burma. Most people have probably heard about Burma and about Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the most vocal Burmese democracy advocate and gets quite a bit of coverage in the foreign press. She has asked people to avoid traveling to Burma because she believes that it gives tacit approval of the dictatorial military government. However, what the foreign press fails to convey is that Aung San Suu Kyi is not the only democracy advocate in Burma. Many Burmese actively encourage tourists to come to Burma, because the presence of foreign observers limits the human rights offenses that can be committed by the government (at least in plain sight). Additionally, even though the Burmese government does benefit somewhat from my $30 visa fee, there are many many other Burmese people (guesthouse owners, taxi drivers, food sellers, tour guides) that are going to benefit much more from the money that I pay them directly. I'll probably write a lot more on this issue later after my trip, but for I'll just say that I've done massive amounts of research about how to travel ethically in Burma, and I'm confident in my ability to do so.