Michael Sullivan

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In Indonesia, one of the countries in Southeast Asia hardest hit by the coronavirus, some residents are refusing to allow COVID-19 dead to be buried in their communities, despite government assurances that doing so is safe.

Vietnam shares a border with China, yet it has reported no deaths from COVID-19 and just 268 confirmed cases, when other Southeast Asian nations are reporting thousands.

Experts say experience dealing with prior pandemics, early implementation of aggressive social distancing policies, strong action from political leaders and the muscle of a one-party authoritarian state have helped Vietnam.

On a March morning at the Maetaeng Elephant Park in Thailand's northern Chiang Mai province, the elephants and their handlers, called mahouts, were entertaining visitors with tricks. Elephants painted pictures with their trunks and deftly back-kicked soccer balls into a net.

Maetaeng is one of the biggest wildlife camps in the north, with 85 elephants. They are also available for guests to ride or go trekking with in the surrounding hills.

Online child sexual abuse is rising as countries close schools and impose various levels of lockdown to contain the new coronavirus pandemic, children's rights advocates in Southeast Asia warn.

Three Southeast Asian nations — Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar — are using fears over the coronavirus to double down on repressive measures aimed at silencing critics or opponents.

In Thailand, general-turned-prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha declared a state of emergency on March 26, granting him broad powers to protect the "safety of the people." It allows him to confine people to their homes, prohibits public assembly and includes additional powers of arrest and search and seizure.

Malaysia has the largest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia with more than 2,900 and counting. This week, Malaysia's government also had a serious public relations issue after an ill-conceived plan went online.

Pepper is believed to originate from southern India. But some chefs, including the late Anthony Bourdain and the Michelin-starred French chef Olivier Roellinger, have been drawn to pepper produced in Cambodia, specifically in the province of Kampot. That's where a near-ideal combination of sea, soil and climate produces a very aromatic, nuanced — and expensive — spice.

Some 60 million people rely on Southeast Asia's Mekong River for their sustenance. But the Mekong is under threat.

While China is building dams that sharply reduce the water flow and sediment downstream, other countries along the river share some of the blame.

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So is Myanmar conducting a genocidal campaign against Rohingya Muslims?

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Southeast Asia's largest lake is under threat, and with it, an entire ecosystem. Dams, overfishing and this year, drought, have brought the Cambodian lake to what may be a breaking point. Michael Sullivan reports.

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In the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, where the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers meet, workers are putting the final touches on the grandstand for Bon Om Touk, the annual water festival which begins this weekend. It's a huge party—the country pretty much shuts down for the three-day holiday, with dragon boat races and plenty of drink and dance.

It's a celebration of the water's bounty. This year, though, there will be less to celebrate.

There's food that's old. There's food that has gone bad. And then there's soup that has been simmering for 45 years.

In Bangkok, customers can't get enough of the latter at Wattana Panich, a noodle soup joint in the trendy Ekkamai neighborhood, where third-generation owner Nattapong Kaweeantawong wants to clear up what he thinks is a popular misconception about his beef soup.

Pinyo Pukpinyo, 50, remembers the first time he was sent to remove a snake from someone's house. It was a 14 1/2-ft. python, high up in the rafters waiting for its prey 16 years ago.

"There were four of us, and I was really scared," he says. "We didn't have any experience, but we wrestled him down and got the hoop around his neck" — a kind of snare — "but he was very strong. And after we put him in the sack, we had to remove the hoop from his head, and that's the dangerous part, because at any time he's ready to bite you."

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South Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world. But that level of connectivity is a double-edged sword in a society that some experts say is becoming increasingly addicted to the Internet and where 95% of adults own a smartphone.

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It's early Friday evening, at a small municipal stadium in Bangkok. The sun is going fast, but the rally for the pro-military Palang Pracharath party is just getting started.

Candidate Watchara Kannika is on the stage, warning would-be voters to keep out the "liars" and vote for "the truth." That truth, he says, is the country's coup-leader-turned prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, who toppled an elected government five years ago.

How's this for adventure tourism? A close encounter with a 10-foot long lizard with razor-sharp teeth and a venomous bite from a mouth swimming in noxious bacteria.

A couple in Hanoi is watching the summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week with particular interest.

The husband, from Vietnam, and the wife, from North Korea, had to overcome enormous obstacles to be together. Their love was forbidden for decades by authorities on both sides. But eventually, they triumphed.

Both North Korea and Vietnam are one-party Communist states that have fought bitter wars against the U.S. But unlike North Korea, Vietnam normalized relations with the U.S. and has grown and prospered — something North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will see firsthand this week while he's in Hanoi for his second summit meeting with President Trump. The U.S. and many in Vietnam hope Kim will also see Vietnam's experience as a model for his own country.

Sriracha sauce. It's everywhere. Even beer and donuts. The fiery chili paste concocted by Vietnamese-American immigrant David Tran has conquered the American market and imagination in the past decade.

But the original Sriracha is actually Thai — and comes from the seaside city of Si Racha, where most residents haven't even heard of the U.S. brand, which is now being exported to Thailand.

Last winter, when Chung Soo-young saw a man rushing out of the women's restroom at a chain coffee shop in downtown Seoul, the first thing she did was to scan all stalls in search of a hidden camera. Like many other South Korean women, Chung, 26, constantly worries that she could be secretly filmed in private moments. Her fear spiked, she says, when she saw the intruder and "realized I can actually be a victim."

Chinese tourists account for more visitors to Thailand — and much of Southeast Asia — than from any other country.

The Thai village of Sob Ruak, at the heart of the Golden Triangle region where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet, is no exception. Tour buses routinely disgorge thousands of Chinese tourists to buy trinkets, snap selfies and tour the nearby Hall of Opium Museum. And it's not just tourists coming from China.

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Today a group of South Koreans boarded a bus and traveled to North Korea for reunions with relatives who became separated before and during the Korean War. NPR's Michael Sullivan joins us from Seoul. Hi, Michael.

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