All smiles over subpar Margaritas. Bangkok.
Ariel at Utopia, an unbelievable bar.  Luang Prabang, Laos.

Ariel on our hotel balcony. Vientiane, Laos.

Map consultation. Luang Prabang, Laos.

Crumbling French colonial. Vientiane, Laos.

Drinks at Tiger Hut. Ko Chang, Thailand.

Public bus. Bangkok. (Courtesy of Chao)

Laotian hotpot/grill. Vang Vieng, Laos.

Chao at Buddha park. Outside Vientiane, Laos.

Finished papaya salad. Ko Chang, Thailand.

Hammock outside of our hut. Vang Vieng, Laos.

A slightly sturdier hut with drying clothes. Ko Chang, Thailand.

Marketplace in Luang Prabang.  (Chad, you'd love this.)

View of northern Laos from the bus. (Courtesy of Chao.)

Street food, Bangkok.  (Squid tom yum and crab cake with fried basil. YUM!)

Ariel and I looking tanned.  Bangkok.

And so...

Beijing is bone-chillingly cold and it snowed recently, ending over 100 days with no precipitation.  (True desert!)  This is markedly different with every single destination in Southeast Asia, which is where Beijingers with know-how, creativity and cash flock during Spring Festival rather than taking filthy trains to grey cities.

Our particular dash from winter was far more relaxed and vacation-y than the last trip to Malaysia and Indonesia, which had some hair raising moments.  This is probably because Thailand and Laos are positively loaded with tourism and can feel very "Australian Spring Break."

THAILAND is not exactly how I remembered it; last time I was there Bangkok was full of passionate protesters.  It's still a love-hate place; messy, absolutely trashy tourists, culturally obtuse and congested beyond belief, but so dedicated to spectacular street food that it's all forgivable.  Thailand is good with chill-on-the-beach tourism and offers the best values in Asia.  People are accessible and friendly.  We went to Ko Chang, an island half a day away from the capital with laughably beautiful beaches and palm thatched huts by the side of the ocean.  Fried fish and beer.  Absolutely perfect.

LAOS was new to everyone, and was not quite what I expected.  It felt more like an Asia escape rather than what it actually is, which is one of the continent's poorest and most corrupt countries. (And Communist to boot.)  Since the tourist scene is so clearly defined, you feel quite separate from the locals.  Foreigners fall in love with the country, and the bars and restaurants of the nicest areas are staffed by European owners serving clever cocktails and Laotian inspired dishes for very low prices.  Culturally, it's like a Thai village, with some strong similarities in language and food.  Laotians are far more conservative and quiet than Thai, and tend to ignore rather than pester.

Also, check out Ariel on Facebook for better photos!

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