With all this talk about ASEAN integration and the AEC (ASEAN Economic Community), you’d think that driving a Thai vehicle into Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar or Malaysia would be easy – but it isn’t. As we approached the Cambodia border down a narrow finger of Thai territory, we still weren’t sure if we had all the necessary documents. Google didn’t know. Lonely Planet’s “Thorn Tree” had more questions than answers. And even if we DID have everything, there was still no guarantee that Cambodian Customs & Immigration officials would let us drive our right hand-drive vehicle all the way to Sihanoukville without greasing a few palms.
If hundreds of people wearing lurid, ghoulish masks with schlongish noses and shaking giant wooden penises doesn’t sound like a family-friendly event to you, then you’re clearly not from my family AND you’re not getting an invite to my next party.
I’d been desperate to see the Phi Tha Kon (ผีตาโขน) “Ghost Mask” festival in the northern province of Loei since I arrived in Thailand. It’s not that difficult to get to: a 1-hr flight to Loei followed by 1.5-hr drive to Dan Sai Village. But work kept getting in the way of my vacation (something I plan to address). And it doesn’t help that the date for the festival is divined each year (sometime between March and July) by local mystics. This year, however, the penises were aligned and the festival weekend was wedged between business trips to England and Singapore.
There’s an old joke about Americans’ whirlwind tours of Europe:
Son: Where are we Dad?
Dad: (Consulting itinerary) Well it’s Tuesday, so this must be France.
It’s funny. But it’s not really a joke at all. With so few vacation days, Americans tend to overdo their schedules and under-do their understanding. As a nation, we’re terrible at geography and foreign languages (including, some might say, English). So I couldn’t help but chuckle at our upcoming European road-trip: five German-speaking countries in 10 days, with notable gaps in our language (neither of us sprechen deutsch) and route planning (how exactly would we cross the Dolomites)?
The path to Petra was lit by candles shrouded in simple paper bags. Their muted, flickering lights danced on the canyon walls. Above, the full moon glowed like a searchlight, bathing the rippled mountaintops in yellow light. As the canyon narrowed, the candlelight played on walls marbled in shades of brown, orange, pink and red. The wind came in soft, regular drafts, like the earth’s own breath. The ambiance was eerie, mysterious, and beautiful. We felt as if we were taking part in an occult ritual.