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Saturday, June 18, 2011

US Navy in South China Sea Exercise with ASEAN

Chief Boatswain's Mate Foy Melendy checks to make sure a Singapore navy sailor's weapon is clear before starting a boarding exercise aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter (USCGC) Mellon (WHEC 717) during Southeast Asia Cooperation Against Terrorism (SEACAT) 2010. SEACAT is a weeklong, at-sea exercise designed to highlight the value of information sharing and multinational coordination. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David A. Brandenburg/Released)

WASHINGTON, June 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy has begun with its annual Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training SEACAT exercise.

The 2011 operation, which began Wednesday and runs through next Friday, is the 10th in the series of annual multilateral maritime operations. The Navy is operating in conjunction with ASEAN members the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, Radio Free Asia reported.

The geographical breadth of the operation is wide-ranging, including exercises in the Malacca Strait, Sulu and Celebes Seas.

More than 50,000 vessels ply the 621-mile Malacca Strait each year, carrying half of the world's oil shipments carried by sea.

The SEACAT operation is intended to enhance maritime information-sharing and the regional coordination of maritime security responses. During the exercise, the navies involved in SEACAT will undertake drills to include tracking maritime vessels as well as boarding of U.S. civilian shipping simulating international merchant vessels suspected of engaging in maritime terrorist related activities.

Philippines navy spokesman Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay said that the operation is intended to enhance interoperability among the participating navies.

The operation is occurring amid rising tensions in the South China Sea, where China's increasingly assertive behavior over territorial waters claims has raised concerns with the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, as well as non-ASEAN members Kampuchea and Taiwan.

The waters are essential for Chinese energy exports. A prominent Chinese shipping executive, speaking on background, said that by 2015 China will need nearly 150 Very Large Crude Carrier tankers to meet its energy needs.

VLCCs are the second-largest class of tankers, displacing 200,000-320,000 tons, and are capable of carrying 2 million barrels of oil.

Tankers are second only to pipelines in terms of efficiency and the efficiency of large volume transport means that importing oil by tanker adds only 2-3 U.S. cents per gallon to cost. Virtually all VLCCs carrying crude oil to China pass through Southeast Asian waters using the Malacca Strait.

SEACAT 2011 exercise director Filipino navy Capt. Sebastian Pan said of the maritime operation, "This activity will involve surface, air, and special operations units in the conduct of surveillance, tracking, and boarding of the COI from the different participating navies within their respective maritime territories."

The United States and Philippines will participate in joint naval exercises following SECAT until July 8 in the Sulu Sea, the eastern province of Palawan, which were planned before sovereignty disputes between the Philippines and China increased in the South China Sea.
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6 Asean states join call for peaceful resolution

By Pia Lee Brago

Manila, Philippines - Six Southeast Asian countries have joined the Philippines in calling for a peaceful resolution and the use of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in resolving disputes over some areas in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.

Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Singapore arrived at the consensus during the 21st Meeting of States Parties to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (SPLOS 21) from June 13 to 17 at the UN headquarters in New York.

The Philippine Permanent Mission to the UN in New York also voiced during the meeting the country’s rejection of the inclusion of areas within Philippine jurisdiction in the dispute.

The six countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) stressed the need to maintain peace and security in the region. ASEAN has 10 members. The three other member-countries are Brunei, Cambodia, and Myanmar (formerly Burma).

“The rule of law is the bedrock of peace, order and fairness in modern societies. The rise of a rules-based international system has been the great equalizer in global affairs,” a statement from the Philippine mission read.

“Respect and adherence to international law have preserved peace and resolved conflicts. International law has given equal voice to nations regardless of political, economic or military stature, banishing the unlawful use of sheer force,” it said.

A statement delivered by Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs Secretariat (CMOAS) Secretary-General Henry Bensurto, noted that “recent developments in the Recto bank have tended to broaden the concept of disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea to include even those waters and continental shelves that are clearly within the sovereignty and/or jurisdiction of the Philippines.”

“The Philippines firmly rejects any efforts in this regard. Such actions are inconsistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Bensurto said.

“We expect nothing less from our international partners,” he added.

“In situations where disputes on maritime claims exist, UNCLOS provides clues as well as answers by which such maritime disputes could be addressed,” he said.

He also urged all parties to the ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea to faithfully abide by the provisions in the declaration, particularly on the need to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”

“The Declaration of Conduct expresses in a concrete way our collective goal for rules-based action by all concerned parties,” he added.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario met Friday with the nine ambassadors and charges d’affaires of ASEAN member-states and briefed them on Philippine perspectives on recent developments in the West Philippine Sea.

No cause for upset
A “rules-based” multilateral approach to resolving disputes over some areas in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea should not upset China considering its own commitment to shun confrontation, Malacañang said yesterday.

“Our policy is to really have a rules-based, a multilateral approach to the settlement of the dispute. What we advocate is to actually for us to arrive at a peaceful resolution. We should really exhaust all diplomatic means,” deputy Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte said over state-run radio dzRB.

Valte said international laws like UNCLOS should be the basis for settling the territorial dispute.

“Our statements have always been very clear,” Valte said.

She also welcomed Australia’s call on parties involved in the territorial spat to adherence to international laws like UNCLOS.

Australia voiced its position through its top ministers in a joint statement with Philippine officials in the 3rd Philippine-Australia Ministerial Meeting in Canberra last Thursday.

On Friday, the Philippines called on ASEAN member-states to take a common stand on developments in the West Philippine Sea.

Also last Friday, President Aquino insisted that the country won’t be bullied by China in a territorial spat over the Spratly Islands and that Beijing should stop intruding into Philippine waters.

Aquino also told AP that a government-backed mission to scout the West Philippine Sea for oil and gas had turned up “very good” prospects, though he declined to elaborate. He said the Philippines reserved the right to explore its waters despite China’s rival claims.

China, which claims the Spratlys and all other waters in the South China Sea, last week demanded that its southern neighbors halt any oil exploration there without Beijing’s permission. Chinese Ambassador Liu Jianchao said, however, that China was open to joint exploration with other countries.

“We will not be pushed around because we are a tiny state compared with theirs,” Aquino said.

“We think we have very solid grounds to say ‘do not intrude into our territory’ and that is not a source of dispute or should not be a source of dispute,” the President said.

“We will continue with dialogues, but I think, for our internal affairs, we don’t have to ask anybody else’s permission,” he added.

Singapore encounter
One of the three US Navy warships participating in this year’s joint naval exercises called Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2011 in the waters of Palawan is now in Singapore where Haixun-31, China’s largest maritime patrol vessel, is also set to drop anchor.

Guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon is now moored at the Changi Naval Base.

Changi Naval Base is now the center of the ongoing US-led naval exercises dubbed SEACAT (Southeast Asian Cooperation Afloat Training). The navies of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei are joining the naval maneuver.

“The exercise is led by the US Navy and is centered this year in Changi, where the exercise’s command and control center is located,” Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay said.

It’s not clear if the US Navy destroyer is also taking part in SEACAT.

“Well, I could just surmise that there are lots of eavesdropping, surveillance and counter-surveillance activities now going on,” said a military official, who declined to be named. The CARAT exercise is set on June 28 to July 8.

At Fort Del Pilar in Baguio City, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Oban said the military is prepared to deal with threats to the country’s sovereignty but expressed hopes diplomacy would prevail.

The vast South China Sea and West Philippine Sea form one of Asia’s most politically sensitive regions, with China, Vietnam and the Philippines trading diplomatic barbs recently over overlapping territorial claims. Vietnam’s navy conducted live-fire exercises Monday after accusing Chinese boats of disrupting oil and gas exploration in its waters.

The Aquino administration already has protested at least six incidents involving alleged Chinese intrusion into waters within the Philippines 320-kilometer exclusive economic zone that is covered by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In February, Manila accused Chinese naval ships of harassing an exploration ship near Reed Bank, an area 80 miles or 130 kilometers west of Palawan.

Liu said last week that China was exercising its sovereign rights over all of the South China Sea.

“The overall strategy, we’re not going to engage in an arms race with them. We are not going to escalate the tensions there but we do have to protect our rights,” Aquino said.

The battle for ownership of the potentially oil-rich Spratly Islands has settled into an uneasy standoff since the last fighting, involving China and Vietnam, that killed more than 70 Vietnamese sailors in 1988.

In 2002, the 10-member ASEAN and China signed a non-binding accord that calls for maintaining the status quo. China wants to engage claimants individually - against the wishes of countries like the Philippines that want to negotiate as a bloc.

Complicating the issue is the role the United States wants to play in resolving the dispute. It is a key Philippine defense treaty partner, which means that in case of a Chinese attack it is obligated to come to aid the Philippines.

US Ambassador Harry Thomas said last week that Washington would stand by the Philippines.

On Friday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland voiced US concerns about rising tensions in the South China Sea, and called for multilateral negotiations to settle disputes.

“We call on all parties to find a venue where we can have a collaborative negotiated resolution to these issues,” she told a news conference in Washington, without elaborating on who the parties would be.

The UK-based Forum Energy PLC, which has a contract with the government to explore the Reed Bank, has announced that it has completed seismic tests in the area and will process the data to identify the best location for drilling appraisal wells.

Forum Energy Robin Nicholson said in a statement in March that his company is looking forward “to making further investments into the project.”

The company said that in 2006, a seismic survey in an area in the Reed Bank indicated it contained 3.4 trillion cubic feet of gas. - With Aurea Calica, Jaime Laude, Artemio Dumlao, AP
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Tensions Brew in Southeast Asia

Part of an escalating trend of tension and mistrust between the Asian nations of China and Vietnam, on Thursday China is reported to have sent its largest patrol ship, the Haixun-31, into waters currently disputed by Vietnamese sovereignty. This Chinese military action, which could be seen as a move meant to intimidate and "bully" the Vietnamese government, was greeted with increased military drills in the area as well as a declaration that military conscription will commence in response to the current threat. Tensions between the two nations are at an all time high; for some the threat of war is extremely real. A storm is brewing in the South China Sea, and should it not be controlled, the entire region may be engulfed.
The main dispute between the two nations focuses on the subject of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea; this resource-rich archipelago has been a subject of tension and controversy for many years. Actual conflict occurred in 1988 when China sunk three Vietnamese vessels around the Spratly region. In 1991, China laid out an official claim to the chain of islands; however, that claim has been disputed by Vietnam and has never been accepted by the UN and the greater international community. As of now, China has no more right to the islands as anybody else. Rather, China is deciding to flex its military muscles with increased military activity in this disputed and tense area.
Thursday's events, including the sighting of the Chinese vessel in the disputed waters and the swift denouncement from the Vietnamese government, illustrate how tensions between the two nations are a high point for the last twenty years, possibly for all time. However, considering China to be the only aggressor does not address the root of the problem. Contributing to the tensions of the region is "...Vietnam’s staging of a live-fire exercise in the area and China’s denouncement of it." Therefore, through Vietnam's military exercises, as well as the announcement of a new military draft, it is apparent that Vietnam is not apathetically standing back while China claims disputed territory; Vietnam is actively opposing the Chinese and appears to be readying itself for a potential military conflict.
However, besides the obvious economic benefits of gaining control of the Spratly Islands, China's motives in its inflammation of the Vietnam situation appear to be obscure. Simply, China may be attempting to exert its power and influence in the region; it may feel that by using imperialist tactics and military force to intimidate other nations, it could be able to dominate them both economically and politically. However, the question of why remains.

A possible answer to that question could lie in the politics of Hu Jintao. The current Chinese President, Jintao will not return to power following an election in 2012. Before he leaves office, Jinatao may attempt to take a firm stand against its regional rival Vietnam and the interests of America and the West. By annexing the Spratly Islands, Chinese nationalism could be aroused and could therefore lend popular support to whichever candidate is best associated with the idea of military action. Therefore, both the old government and the new potential candidates would see the Spratly issue as a possible poll-booster; success would provide the incumbent with support and a legacy following exit from office, while a candidate that supports Chinese nationalistic ideals would garner a great deal of popular support among the Chinese people (see Obama, Barack, and bin Laden, Osama).

China could also be using this military challenge to taunt or test the will of the UN and America in the face of Chinese aggression. Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation stated: “This may well be a test. To see - ok- we’ve had these summits, we’ve said that we want better relations: Are you going to jeopardize that promise of better relations now by interacting on behalf of the Southeast Asians or with the Southeast Asians over issues the Chinese feel is their territorial rights." Similar to the situation in the Middle East, many wonder whether the US would attempt to maintain its image as a protector of democracy and the oppressed even if such actions cost America diplomatic relations with an important power. America may not take military action against Syria in order not to anger Iran; similarly, the US may not attempt to help Vietnam for risk of alienating the powerful Chinese government. China may hope that the US responds passively to the recent events; should America do otherwise, China would see the fragility of the alliance and could possibly cut diplomatic ties.

China and Vietnam have a history of disputes, especially over the debated waters near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China may have many motivations for provoking the Vietnamese into preparing for war; however, the fact remains that tensions are only going to increase over the next few days and weeks between the two countries. China is widely acknowledged as a superpower; in terms of military force Vietnam would be no match. Therefore, the US, UN, and NATO must watch the situation closely and attempt to use verbal condemnations to solve the problem peacefully. Should a war break out and any power allies with China, a world war could be on the horizon. Therefore, the option for all involved is for China to cease its aggression and for diplomacy to return before this Asian Cold War spirals out of control.
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BHS grads now in Cambodia to serve, teach

BOUNTIFUL —Less than a week after completing one chapter of their lives, Max and Carly Poth have begun another.

The 18-year-old twins graduated from Bountiful High on June 3 and on June 9, left for Peak Sneng, Cambodia, where they will be building an orphanage, starting a school and a gardening project, organizing softball and soccer games and teaching.

The two have been training for a year to make the trip with Youthlinc, an international humanitarian service program.
To be accepted to the program, it was necessary to find 1,000 sponsors, provide six letters of recommendation, write an essay, raise $2,800 and collect bags of school and medical supplies. In addition, Carly promoted a concert at This is the Place Heritage Park to raise money for the children of Peak Sneng.

The organization also encouraged them to provide 80 hours of service during the year. Carly helped tutor reading skills at Oak Hills Elementary and Max, who earned his Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) from DATC at the same time as he graduated, assisted at Bountiful High and South Davis Community Hospital.

Together, their group of 17 students involved in the travel raised over $10,000 for the children of Peak Sneng.

Max is the team leader and Carly is the lead photographer.

Through the year, they have been preparing to teach women’s health, hygiene and AIDS-prevention classes, start a micro-enterprise project, teach at the local school and train the local medical staff. They also plan to assist with a micro-enterprise project and build a village gardening project.

Ben Wilson, a graduate of the University of Utah who now lives in Siem Reap, 30 minutes away, will mentor the group.

After their return, both will be attending Westminster College with four-year scholarships, according to their mother, Jacki Lindsey.
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Puma blames long hours for Cambodia plant fainting

PHNOM PENH — German sportswear giant Puma said long working hours and health and safety breaches were to blame for a mass fainting at one of its suppliers in Cambodia in April.

An independent investigation found that a failure to follow the company's labour standards caused 101 employees to become unwell at the Huey Chuen factory in Phnom Penh on April 9 and 10, Puma said in a statement dated June 16 and seen by AFP on Saturday.

"The breaches of these standards include excessive hours of work as well as multiple occupational health and safety violations," it said, without detailing the nature of the violations.

Puma said it took the findings "very seriously" and promised to educate workers and supervisors about improving working conditions at the factory, which makes footwear for the brand.

While rare, mass faintings occasionally happen in Cambodian garment factories and are often blamed on employees' poor health and bad ventilation in the workplace.

Earlier this week, more than 200 workers needed medical treatment after falling ill at a textile factory in Phnom Penh.

The garment industry is a key source of foreign income for Cambodia and employs more than 300,000 workers, mostly women.
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Backpackers 'wing it' on a bigger budget

In the 21st century, iPods, laptops make Asian trek easier

By Edward Yatscoff, Edmonton Journal

Flashpacker (def): Flashpacking is a new trend among travellers who share the backpacking ethos. Someone, usually in their mid-20s to early 30s, who travels like a backpacker but has more disposal income; also uses electronics on the road i.e. iPod or laptop; expects better accommodation and more amenities; seeks to explore the world but not give up comforts. Flashpacking is backpacking for the 21st century.

Except for our ages -my wife Gloria and I are in our late 50s -this description probably applies to us. Our long-awaited trip after retiring, intended to flee a good chunk of winter, finally came down to deciding where to go. Picking the brains of recent travellers and doing plenty of online research, we concluded Southeast Asia was our best bet.

People our age consider "winging it" through five countries an example of adventure travel. After a 32-year career with Edmonton Fire Rescue, I didn't want extreme adventure. Gloria would take it in small doses.

Everyone asked if we would be on a tour. Tours are expensive and too regimented for us. They do have advantages, but being on a leash doesn't appeal to us. Finding a piece of paradise and having to abandon it in an hour can be very disappointing.

Winging it has plenty of logistic challenges and self-reliance is paramount. Our have-to stops were a few UNESCO World Heritage sites including Angkor Wat, Halong Bay and China's Great Wall. Our lazy, unstructured itinerary left plenty of time at each and in between.

Most challenging was packing efficiently. With only one medium suitcase each, we fretted over what, or what not, to take. That turned out to be a total time waster.

Clothes are everywhere and cheap in the markets in Cambodia and Vietnam. International companies have large factories there and the irregulars/seconds are dumped locally. They'll also tailor any type of outfit and ship it home for you. For $110 you can get you a made-to-order silk suit in one day.

Usually when we travel, we book ahead only for the first night or two of accommodation. If we like a place, we'll stay -if not, we saddle up. Hotel photos can be very creative.

We took a laptop and it was invaluable: for banking; as an alarm clock; checking e-mail and weather; searching for accommodation and sights; updating ourselves on travel warnings and scams; and as a telephone to talk, using Skype, with our children regularly. We also bought landline time from Skype.

Many eateries, cafés, and just about all hotels/guest houses have free Wi-Fi; sometimes with a shared computer in the lobby. Dedicated Internet places offer Skype, photocopying, printing and CD burning. Bank account passwords and passport copies were uploaded to a server and saved in an e-mail. Internet maps provided locations of train and bus stations. If we got lost, we'd simply hop in a cab.

Only two types of plug-in converters were necessary for China, Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Both had two cylindrical prongs, with one device smaller than the other. As they say in Southeast Asia: "same, same, but different."

English books can be found in scattered bookstores or hotel book swaps. Books take up space so an e-book reader was the way to go. It's small and can download stories in seconds with a decent Wi-Fi signal.

We got our first entry visa online direct from the Cambodian embassy. The remainder were applied for on the fly at foreign embassies. It's cheaper and faster -except for China; the slowest at four days. They squeeze time-constrained tourists by steering them to an "express" option at double the cost.

Avoid visa-on-arrival letters. Pay close attention to visa time limits as some begin upon entry and others begin as soon as you receive them. The bar code on our Cambodian entry visa didn't print out at home and caused some concern at the Phnom Penh airport. But they love tourists there and let me use their immigration computer. ASEAN countries are presently ironing out a unified "one visa."

Do bring duct tape, laundry bar soap and a length of clothesline to hang out wet clothing, although your laundry can be done for a dollar or two per kilogram.

We took U.S. cash and Amex traveller's cheques, which are useless to a thief. It's a chore trying to cash them, however, because it requires a passport. We kept our passports and cash bagged in small packets and carried them with us most of the time. Other times we stowed valuables in a vault in the room or at the hotel desk, wrapped in a bag and duct-taped.

My debit card wouldn't fit into a few ATMs in Vietnam and Cambodia, while others accepted it; however, you get a better rate for U.S. cash. Visa is not widely accepted at smaller hotels, so booking online as you go works well.

Don't worry about being homeless for a night as there are more hotels off the grid than on. The more you venture farther away from touristy areas, the more you'll need local currency.

Our budget was $50 to $60 per day or under $2,000 per month (food and accommodation with some transportation). We based it on $20 to $30 hotel rooms, with a flush toilet, private washroom, and pool. For the most part we stayed within the budget; often below it.

Many young backpackers stay at $3-a-night-and-up guest houses. If you choose to live large, a budget of $60 to $100 per day will certainly do it.

Cabs and tuk-tuks (motorcycles pulling a four-seater cart) in Asia are cheap transport. Hiring one for the day is worthwhile, but you'll have to be a savvy negotiator. It helps to look at a city map before you arrive anywhere.

In Kep, we got off the bus and were solicited by a tuk-tuk driver, who gave us a strange look when we told him our hotel name. His colleagues snickered, making us suspicious that something was up. He quickly took our dollar and drove us to our hotel -around the corner.

Don't buy tours or tickets on the street. Hotels and guest houses, along with travel agents, are your best option for travel/tour tickets as they'll save you time and legwork -and you'll have someone to yell at if your trip goes sour.

In Cambodia, if you book a room ahead, someone will meet you at the bus station holding up a VIP sign with your misspelled name. It's hilarious.

Vietnamese National Railways filled up faster than we expected. Rail car seating is a maze of options: hard seats, soft seats, suites, first class, A/C, sleepers, slow vs. fast trains, etc. Call in the travel agent on that one.

In Cambodia, use the Mekong Express: good Japanese buses, a stewardess, free pastries, moist towelettes, karaoke-style music videos, and employees who gleefully wave as you leave the terminal. A competitor bus company we used once broke down, requiring us to stand in the heat for an hour. But that's Asia. Everyone accepts these things. Perseverance is compulsory here.

Do not take the "sleeper" buses in Vietnam: late-night music, crazy wild driving, horrible roads, no shock absorbers, and still-warm blankets from the last passengers.

English is prevalent in many places in varying degrees. Not as much in China. Expect to occasionally pantomime what you need, and carry a "quick guide" of words in the local language. The locals appreciated our attempts to communicate. Hello, goodbye and thank you saw us through.

Checking English-language websites of local newspapers kept us apprised of events and weather. While in Asia, 12 people drowned when a tour boat sank in Halong Bay and the tsunami hit Japan. It made us wary of the cheapest tours.

We spent a lot of time cruising riversides and seashores. It seems that even the poorest towns in Asia have improved theirs, turning them into vibrant gathering places.

Booking transport and rooms too far ahead resulted in us missing a few events. But that's winging it. Do research on local festivals and events, and try to time your trip to them.

Our biggest decision was where and what to eat and discussing options for our next move. Cambodian, Lao and Vietnamese menus are similar, hence, "same, same, but different." Patrons can linger at eateries for long periods as the owners like having bodies at tables to attract passersby.

Fruit here is plentiful and cheap and we ate it for nearly all our lunches. Bring a thin cutting board and sharp knife. Although we ate some street-food, we didn't get sick, crediting a combination of Dukoral medication, food wariness, chilies and luck. No salads, uncooked meals, smoothies with crushed ice, or ice cube drinks. Definitely no tap water. After eating at one busy place we happened to see the dishwashing area and figured we'd be laid up. People told us if that we happened to get seriously hurt or sick, go directly to Thailand -do not pass go.

Five countries were a bit much as the many currency conversions and languages overlapped in our heads and at times became confusing. We should have spent more time on the Cambodian coast and less in northern Vietnam as somewhat cooler temps there in February and March surprised us.

At no time did we feel threatened or unsafe. Locals were accommodating and friendly and older people are generally accorded more respect. We underestimated the trek on the Janshanling section of the Great Wall. It was a tough haul, but we did it.

The sights, sounds and smells in Southeast Asia can almost be overwhelming, akin to being dropped onto another planet. Riding in an open tuk-tuk is almost magical. Pungent frangipani scents mix with exhaust, charcoal cooking fires, incense and the odd whiff of fish and sewage. It's a heady mix.

Small children and extended families create lively street scenes and are present in almost every business. Their world is public and much work is still done on the sidewalks: moto repair to haircuts to barbecuing entire hogs.

The really good news was that beer is still a buck, and even cheaper some places. Deja vus all over again. The bad news is coming home and having to cook again. There were a lot more people there our age and older winging it. All it takes is a bit more effort.

Here are some helpful websites if you are planning a trip to Southeast Asia:,,,, and Foreign Affairs Canada at
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