Back from Bangkok

January 27, 2013, 11:03 AM UTC

Samsung’s Bac Ninh plant. Click for video.

— A huge Samsung factory in Bac Ninh, Vietnam, about 45 minutes north of Hanoi. Our guide claimed it was the largest smartphone factory in the world, but that couldn’t be confirmed. Perhaps he was combining the output of this plant with the new handset factory Samsung is building an hour away in Thai Nguyen.

— A smaller iPhone factory – Foxconn’s – about an hour down the road.

iPads make weird cameras

— A lot of iPads being used — awkwardly — as cameras, mostly in the ubiquitous Buddhist temples, which in Thailand were usually freshly painted and which were crumbling charmingly in Cambodia.

— Loads of iPhones, but mostly in the hands of tourists. In fact, the iPhone was the most popular phone – by far —  of the tourist class. One Swedish family we met used them as baby monitors.

— A lot of Nokia and Samsung feature phones, mostly in the hands of locals. Two of our guides carried iPhones, but only one actually used his as a phone (battery life too short, he complained).

What else we did…

Floating village, with cell tower, in Tonle Sap.

— Visited a lake – Tonlé Sap — on which 10% of Cambodia’s population lives in utter poverty (but decent cellular coverage) in floating houses that move with the shoreline as the area covered by the lake grows five-fold during the rainy season. Video: Cambodia’s great lake. 

— Took a two-day boat trip down the Mekong from northern Thailand to lovely Luang Prabang, Laos. Videos: A slow boat down the Mekong and The monks of Luang Prabang.

— Had audiences with a couple of practicing shamans – one Hmong, one Lahu – who wisely avoid giving marital advice and send their seriously ill supplicants to the hospital.

— Fed and washed some savagely abused elephants (some blinded by nail-studded prods, some with broken backs, one that stepped on a landmine). Video: A day at the elephant sanctuary.

Where the bombs fell in Laos.

— Saw the effects of the ordnance dumped on Laos – where the U.S. dropped more bombs than all the combatants in World War II. The rice paddies are still littered with unexploded cluster bombs designed to look like fruit.

— Visited Ho Chi Minh (well-preserved despite his express wish to be cremated), photographed a guillotine at the “Hanoi Hilton” prison and learned how to cross Hanoi’s traffic-clogged streets without getting run over (the trick is to just keep walking). Video: How to cross the street in Hanoi.

— Learned how to make spring rolls and harvest rice.

— Ate deep-fried crickets and frogs. Were also offered some rat-on-a-stick shish kabobs. Those we did not eat.

— Read two first-rate books on Indochina: Norman Lewis’ Dragon Apparent and Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. Spotted several travelers reading paperback copies of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs.

— Missed another $110 drop in Apple’s (AAPL) share price in the four weeks we were away. When the company reported its Q1 2013 earnings, an island in the Andaman Sea was a pretty good place to be. Video: Leaving Koh Ngai.

Koh Ngai, Thailand. Photo: Mary Elmer-DeWitt

Next week: San Francisco for Asymconf and Macworld.