I was doing so well at being a simple girl with simple needs for so many months. And then I
got to Hong Kong (I partially blame the hospitality of Suzanne and Daniel while I was out
there who got me used to the idea of having two maids, a driver and a cell phone).
Things changed a bit when I flew off to Singapore and there would be no bed. There would
be nobody to do my laundry. There would be no kitchen to have a meal in while watching
television and reading the paper. Heck, there wasn't even a hotel…
I figured it was pointless to get a hotel room considering I got in so late and was leaving so
early for Siam Reap. I consulted a website (rightfully called ' www.sleepinginairports.net')
before coming out and saw that the Singapore airport got stellar reports as far as being an
airport to sleep in. There was a 24-hour Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf that would be my home for
the night. Unlike many other patrons, I stayed awake (probably more out of being wary of
somebody taking my stuff) as they were sleeping. In a coffee shop. A bit ironic, huh???
By the time I arrived in Cambodia, I re-experienced culture shock. I had gotten used to the
developed world by spending the previous couple weeks in Hong Kong, Shanghai and
Back to the simple life of jumping on the back of motorcycles (which I have now mastered
with such ease that I don't even need to use any hands to hold on)…
It was confirmed at the Phnom Penh airport that I had seemed to have done a 180 from the
beginning of my trip. I exceeded the baggage allotment…by eight kilos. What happened to
the girl who had an 11-kilo bag? What happened to the girl who never really bought much
in the places that she visited? What happened to the girl who really only found it necessary
to have the simple, necessary things with her?
That girl disappeared the moment she arrived in Asia.
Luckily my sister met me in Thailand and she took home a bag's worth of stuff for me. That
was great. Great until I arrived in Vietnam and saw how much shopping there was to do
there. This brought about a purchase of another suitcase which my friend Ari has ever-so-
kindly told me she would bring back to San Francisco with her (as she is meeting me in
Sydney). It was nice that that problem was solved (except this time around, I was ten kilos
over for my flight from Vietnam).
Since I only spent a week in Cambodia (in both Siem Reap – which was a great city with the
even greater Angkor – and Phnom Penh – a city that surprisingly grew on me), I am going
to talk more about Thailand and Vietnam.
While I enjoyed Thailand, I loooooooooooved Vietnam!
I spent my entire time in Thailand with my sister who met me in Bangkok. It was great
watching the reaction of somebody who had never been in Asia before as I was at the point
where I was taking everything for granted – from the temples to the village life that takes
place outside of major cities. It was especially cute to see how excited she got the first time
she saw a cow in the street.
As I said, I enjoyed my time in Thailand but it didn't do anything to blow me away. Sad but
Things I can say about Thailand…
- I love Thai food. I really do. But I think some restaurants have it out for foreigners by
attempting to burn off every last taste bud in their mouths. There was one meal in
particular where both my mouth and my sister's mouth were on fire and there was no
putting it out.
- Ahhh, the prostitution. You can't really blame the girls as that is the life they were
brought/forced into. And to be honest, it is almost humorous watching them (as we
did when we walked down ' Cowboy Street' – yes, it is really called that). The cringe-
worthy part of the whole scene is seeing the Westerners who are patrons of these 12-
year old looking girls. Sick. Just plain sick. The majority of them are in the 40-60 year
old demographic wearing some sort of t-shirt with a slogan. Basically, these guys
looked quite reminiscent of what we picture when we hear ' Middle America' (I know
my sister is going to be on my case for this judgment call). The only thing that really
made sense was why they would need to come to Thailand for some action – most
female Americans wouldn't touch these guys with a ten-foot pole.
- The Thai culture is as polite as it gets where people place their hands together and bow
their head when you come into contact with them. It is extremely beautiful.
- Temples and Buddhas galore.
- While Thailand isn't expensive next to America, it is expensive next to the other
countries in South-East Asia.
- Bangkok did have some of the nicest shopping malls that I have seen thus far.
- I originally thought the 'Golden Triangle' in the north was called that because of it
being some beautiful area or an area linking a few beautiful sights. I came to learn that
opium was quite the crop over there back in the day and opium is also known as 'black
gold'. Hence, the 'Golden Triangle' that linked Laos, Myanmar (formerly Burma) and
Thailand. This was where the drug crossed the borders. We even visited the Opium
Museum. Who knew I would be learning so much about heroin on this trip (as this
was coupled with having just finished the book 'Shantaram' and learning about the
effects of detoxing from heroin)? Ahhh, I am such a well-rounded individual these
- We saw just how multi-faceted elephants are. We saw them play musical instruments,
dance (complete with swinging their trunks around) and paint pictures of flowers. If I
didn't see it with my own eyes, I probably wouldn't have believed it.
- Thailand is an excellent place to go for health care and dental care. I was told about
this before arriving so I booked an appointment at one of the hospitals in Bangkok for
the heck of it. It felt like being in a nice hotel – everything from the lobby to the
Starbuck's on the premises. And I also received a stellar teeth cleaning from a
transsexual Thai guy/girl in Chiang Mai.
- Thai massages are wonderful. Well, unless you have one where it seems like they are
intent on making you four inches taller by the time you leave. Personally, I think my
joints like being in their sockets. One of my masseuse's apparently did not agree.
- There was a monk meditating behind glass in one of the temples we went to in Chiang
Mai. He was totally in a trance. I went up really close to him with my sister. She was
trying to tell me he wasn't alive since he wasn't blinking. I assured her that Buddhist
monks have special skills where if they tell themselves not to do something, they don't
do it. I told her he was focused on ignoring the outside world. She wasn't convinced; I
was. She walked away and then had me come with her to the back. There were pictures
of the monk on the wall…in the exact same sitting position. Turns out he was
embalmed that way. In the end, I can now say I saw a dead monk meditating.
And now for Vietnam…
- Words really can't express how much I loved this country. It was instantaneous from
the moment I arrived in Hanoi. The triangular hats. All of the motorbikes zooming by.
The architecture – much of which reminded me of the French Quarter in New
Orleans. Every single thing I saw was worthy of being a picture.
- The food. Oh, the excellent food! Everything was so fresh and even though I love spicy
food, it was nice to not live in fear when ordering a dish (like I sometimes did in
- All of the cities oozed with character and charm. Bustling Saigon with its boutiques,
rooftop bars and wonderful restaurants. Hanoi with the charming Old Quarter. Hoi An
which was sooo picturesque. Hue which was still so traditional and not as tourist-
oriented. And of course Halong Bay where there are so many limestone islands that
their shadows completely overlap each other in the distance.
- There were cooking schools galore. Such a great way to try to relive the Vietnamese
food when I get home.
- If anybody has any Project Runway aspirations or wants to give their personal
clothing designs a go, Hoi An is the place. I even 'sketched' a dress that I wanted to
have made (sadly, I don't think I will ever be a Project Runway top contestant as my
sketching abilities caused the woman at the tailor shop to laugh at me). I left Hoi An
with two suits, two dresses and a wool coat for $170. I am already aching to go back for
more. Now when I see clothes in windows I don't think 'Oh, I want to buy that.' I think
'Hmmm, I should take a picture of this and bring it to the tailor shop on Le Loi in Hoi
- It is nice that the Vietnamese don't hold any grudges against American tourists. This
was the first country where I have paused for a second or two when they asked what
country I was from. The War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City brought it to my attention
just how horrible the atrocities were that the Americans inflicted on these people.
Actually, you can even say how horrible the atrocities 'are' as there is now a generation
that has been affected by being born to people who came into contact with Agent
Orange. The term 'a picture is worth a thousand words' is all that can be said from the
photographs that were displayed at this museum.
And now for the spas of South-East Asia…
It all started in Cambodia where I was intrigued by the sound of a 'Massage by the Blind'.
There was something in me that wanted to give this a shot. I went to inquire. A big, blind
man came down the stairs with no shirt on and his man-boobs jiggling away. He told me it
wasn't air-conditioned and the thought of his sweaty body near me scared me. I am sure
that it comes as no surprise that I headed to a place where massages were given by a person
who wasn't blind.
From this point I had about 12 more treatments of all different kinds while I was in this part
of the world. Everything from massages (Thai, Khmer, Vietnamese, hot stone,
aromatherapy, etc.) to a facial to manis and pedis. I took advantage of the extremely low
prices out here to give my entire body some TLC. Maybe I went a bit overboard. But to be
able to say that all of these treatments (most of them at nice spas) cost me a total of $175 is
quite incredible. And it was totally a cultural experience – come on…a 'Thai' massage in
Thailand, a 'Khmer' massage in Cambodia, a 'Vietnamese' massage in Vietnam. The things
I do in the name of culture. It all comes down to me being such a selfless person…
• People pick their noses a lot out here. Whether it was a security worker at the airport,
a guy digging as he spoke with his friend while walking down the street or a member of the
orchestra of the Water Puppets show who I guess was killing some time before it was time
for him to play his instrument…these people just pick away.
• I have bought everything from a quartz bowl when I was in Myanmar to a large vase in
Thailand to an opium pipe in the Laos island I went to (because let's face it…who doesn't
need an opium pipe?) to the lacquerware I bought in Vietnam to the wooden tribal figure I
bought in Northern Thailand. My sister has informed me that my future home is going to
look like a Cost Plus. I couldn't even laugh as there was so much truth in this.
• I love reading international newspapers. The Singapore paper brought something to
light. Despite what people think, America is helping bring Iraq together. The Shi'ites think
America is screwing up Iraq. The Sunnis agree and also think America is screwing up Iraq.
They are now agreeing about something. I think this is progress with the Sunni/Shi'ite
• Oh, how I am going to miss my Asian fruits!
• It almost hurts me to watch how people in Asia squat on the streets for indefinite
amounts of time. I think 15 seconds is my limit as blood circulation completely stops after
• I am absolutely in love with taking motorbikes. In fact, I used them for everything in
my last two days in Vietnam because I was so sad that my days of hopping on-board were
going to be officially over once I leave Asia. My sister even told me that when the Amazing
Race was in Vietnam they banned people from using motorbikes to get around as they were
too dangerous. What??? They have people jump off cliffs, jump out of planes and drive
their own 4WD vehicles in sand dunes in the Middle East desert…but they won't let them
hop on the back of a motorbike???
• Everybody seems to excel at one thing in life. Some excel in a sport. Others excel in
cooking. Some excel in the arts. And many excel in figuring out people's taxes. It has come
to light in South-East Asia what I excel at: crossing streets in developing countries. I am
quite amazing at this, if I do say so myself. I am thinking about conducting courses in this
for scared travelers.
My time in Asia has been wrapped up with a 3-day stay in Singapore. In certain ways, this is
so fitting. There was 'Arab Street' where I could pay homage to my time back in that part of
the world – everything from the food to the mosques. There was 'Little India' where I was
re-acquainted with Bollywood CDs and Hindu temples. And then there was Chinatown
which was lined with shop after shop of Chinese snack foods and Chinese souvenir items.
The actual countries were nowhere near as spotless as they are portrayed out here. I
actually almost felt like I was in an Epcot Center version of Asia. I am still not convinced
that Walt Disney didn't have some part in the planning of this city.
It is officially time for me to say 'good-bye' to all things Asian before I leave for Australia…
Good-bye cheap hotel rooms. Good-bye cheap massages. Good-bye cheap meals at
excellent restaurants. Good-bye motorbikes, rickshaws and cyclos. Good-bye great food.
Good-bye (and Good Riddance!) overnight bus rides. And, last but not least, good-bye to
the Asian Grand Poobah – Buddha!
I am already excited to plan another Asian adventure. I am currently taking applications for
Tour de Asia 2008. The prerequisites are that you need to like to shop, get clothes made,
eat and get spa treatments. And, more importantly, there has to be the desire to do all of
these things in excess!!!
Happy Holidays (extremely weird-feeling to be saying this as I am in such a tropical climate