I’ve been backpacking for exactly one month. Haley is gone (sad face) and I am currently alone in Bali for another few days before I fly to New Zealand. I’ve been adventuring around Bali and been given a lot of time with my thoughts. Since the Southeast Asia portion is over I thought I’d make a concluding post that displays no facts, just observations, from my point of view. No one use any of this information for school papers, it probably won’t make any sense. Although unlike other posts I am going to actually organize this one, maybe even with bold lettering and CAPS LOCK.
Why wouldn’t I start with the best part about this month? Going into it I didn’t think I’d be as excited as I was about all the food, which is really weird if you know anything about myself and family. We grew up with cosmo brownies, pasta, mac&cheese, frozen pizza, pork chops, and always, always ending the night with a gallon of ice cream, each. It was wonderful, we may all have intense sugar addictions, but so does everyone else in America so I’m okay with that. Point being, the McCloskey Cuisine was carbs and ice cream, nothing cultural and no spices added. The Southeast Asian cuisine is noodles and rice. Okay, so carbs and gluten, not that different.
Not being a huge rice fan, I always went for the fried noodle dishes. Each one was different in it’s own sauce and use of spices. I was nervous about dishes being too spicy as sometimes when I have too much ketchup I start to sweat. I was careful about it and walked away with a big victory. I stayed away from meat, only got chicken and seafood when it was in a visibly clean restaurant. I basically got a ton of seafood and veggie stir-fry. When entering or exiting a new country (which was every 2 days) we would always try the local dish, so during the in between time it would be yogurt/fruit/muesli for breakfast, fresh seasonal salad for lunch, and a noodle stir fry for dinner. To our surprise, and lack of historic colonization knowledge, the French were everywhere. We had no idea how much the French influenced and carved these countries. With that being said, you couldn’t go 2 blocks without seeing a baguette/croissant vendor. At last! I will get my bread fix! I’m SAVEDDDDD!
Favorite Food Country: Vietnam. Maybe because we spent the most time there, or maybe because their food is really darn good. I also began drinking coffee in Vietnam. This stemmed from having to wake up at 6am for the AFC Championship game and the only place to watch it was a local cafe. Nothing on the menu was in English so I just pointed at something. Out came a (very strong) drip coffee with sweetened condensed milk. It hyped me up and now I’m an addict, thanks a lot, Patriots. They also had a lot of great local healthy Juiceries, which is my favorite find.
Everywhere had great food, and to my surprise I didn’t cave on a Western option until essentially Singapore. I kept it local all the way through. I did not, however, order rice or noodles for breakfast like the locals, but that’s only because I’m thick headed and could not justify it.
I’d also like to note the Pad Thai in Thailand was not AMAZING like everyone thinks it would be. My thought is that it’s one of those completely Americanized dishes. Kind of like how America markets Fosters as an Australian Beer, when if you’ve ever been to Australia, not only is it near impossible to find, but they laugh at you when you ask for it. Big, whole-hearted judgmental laughter, you stupid, stupid, American.
As I’ve said before, the Cambodians are my favorite people. They are genuine, friendly, and give a smile whenever they can. They are welcoming and seem very happy to share their beautiful country with you. The kids are my favorite, never too shy to shout HELLO as you walk by. You can barter a bit here, but it’s so poor that it’s hard to knock them down, and you never feel good doing it (unless you KNOW you’re being scammed).
With Thailand being the hottest vacation destination, everyone seems to be in the tourism industry. Constantly trying to get your money, constantly trying to scam you. It’s the easiest country to barter in though, so that is a plus. You could cut their asking price in half easier than in Cambodia/Laos/Vietnam.
The Vietnamese gave off the best first impression. I think that’s due to luck with the hotel we booked. The staff was so unbelievably welcoming, accommodating, and adorable that we fell in love immediately. Stating that, after a full week in Vietnam we were running for the border. It was the most exhausting country with the haggling. You couldn’t walk 5 steps without a guy on the street saying “tuk tuk?” “hello lady, tuk tuk?” “where you go?” “motorbike?” By the end of the week I knew my fuse was severely shortened when I started to take it personal. Is it because I’m a GIRL that they think I can’t WALK anywhere by MYSELF? Am I not CAPABLE of getting around on my OWN?? hah! I continued to smile and say no, and then just ignored them by the end. If you want to walk in peace, don’t go to Vietnam. Even on the beach people were approaching you trying to sell you CD’s, Sunglasses, and Bananas…relentless. I had one lady in Hoi An grab my arm on the street, start schmoozing me, and drag me 1/2 mile to her Tailor shop and try to fit me for a dress. After giving it some thought, I told her I do not need a dress but thank you. She followed me out to the street yelling “okay okay I give it to you cheaper, CHEAPER!” I just lifted my head to the sky, accepted this was life, and smiled.
Laotians, very laid back. A lot of pushiness here as well, but not nearly as bad at Vietnam. Most shop owners were too busy taking naps in the middle of their stalls. The worst was at the market when everyone was selling the SAME thing and saw you looking around and pushing menu’s in your face. That was pretty intense, had to escape that area quickly before I got too frazzled.
Working in the service industry for most of my life, I think I have a good handle on what people want, and how they want to be treated. People like space, time, and efficiency. You do not get that in Southeast Asia. You walk into a store or restaurant and automatically have someone on your hip. They may or may not talk to you, but they are there, matching your every move. I’m the type to leave a store in the mall if I am greeted to aggressively. HELLO HOW ARE YOU WE HAVE A MILLION SALES GOING ON RIGHT NOW AND I AM GOING TO TELL YOU ABOUT ALL OF THEM REALLY QUICKLY WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT. I know this is their job, and they are being nice, but I gotta go.
Okay back to Southeast Asia, they are magnets and they do not leave you alone. In a restaurant they sit you, place the menu down, and say “what would you like to eat.” Hah! Do I look like a local? Do I look like I know what the heck I’m doing? I’m gonna need at least 10 minutes to look this over, and you want my order now?? Those are all thoughts in my head by the way, gosh I sound like such an outspoken ungrateful biatch in this post. I smile and say “ohhh more time please.” They are very friendly and nice, always smiling, so that helps. Also, they won’t give you the bill until you ask for it. This is a nice approach, but a foreign one for me. Working in a high volume, get ’em in, get ’em out restaurant I can’t afford to wait for them to ask for the bill. Nowhere is understaffed so you have a lot of people just standing around with the hands behind their back, waiting for the nod. This is super helpful because you can ask anybody anything, whether you are their customer or not. They can do it all.
Everyone who reads this blog knows I like to run. I had no intention of running in Southeast Asia because I thought it would be dangerous to go off alone. This was reasonable, I thought. The second morning of the trip I went out for a run in Bangkok. It was phenomenal. It’s very hard to run in these countries because of the traffic, narrow roads, congested sidewalks, sweltering heat, and uneven terrain, but I managed to get out about 5 days a week. I’d find parks or low traffic areas. I even went for a night run in Vietnam, talk about DANGEROUS! hah, not so much actually.
Okay, okay, so I have a large trust in humanity. I know there is bad people everywhere, and I’m not stupid about the places I run or explore on my own. Turns out, I have never felt in danger in Asia. Both Haley and I have felt very safe in every country we visited. We also met another solo female who has traveled the world and says she feels the safest in Asia. This worked out really well for Haley and I. Whenever we had a “free day” (days with no traveling, designed to explore the town/city) we would do our own thing in the morning. I’d go for a run to find a park and new areas, and she would go off and find the trendy streets and find the best place to get her coffee. We’d usually meet up midday and go on from there. It’s a routine we’re used to when traveling together in the States, and a routine that picked right back up (rather effortlessly) in these Southeast Asian countries.
Overall, the first month went, how do I say this, perfectly. We had I believe TWO rainy days. When we were in Northern Thailand/Laos/and Northern Vietnam we were not aware it was winter. It was perfect temperature during the day but rather cold in the mornings/nights, that was the only curve ball. We were able to book all the transportation we needed very easily. We took $10 buses, $30 trains, and $40 planes.
For the curious, between transportation, VISAS (about $45 for each country), and tours I spent $1,487 (including Singapore, excluding Bali). That includes the $555 flight from JFK to Bangkok. That number is on the higher end because of all the flights we took instead of 24 hour sleeper buses. It.was.worth.it. As I stated in my Singapore post our cost of accomodation was covered by renting out our Jackson Apartment. Food was super cheap, but we ate well and we ate often, so I have no dollar amount for that!
We spent no more than 3 nights at any one place, with the average being 2 nights. We loaded up our days with mostly independent exploring, and mixed in some guided tours. We ate the local food, drank the local beer, bought the local goods, and mingled with the local folks. We were upbeat, energized, healthy, and made the most of everyday. We went to bed at 9pm every night, asleep by 9:01, and up with the sun (well, sometimes). Aside from the constant pushiness in some areas, nothing seemed to bother us. If something went wrong, we laughed at it. If something went right, we marveled at it. Because how in the world, had everything gone so right? It was a month of unabated joy, it was a month of incessant learning, it was a month I’ll never forget.
“One life on this earth is all that we get. Whether it is enough or not enough. And the obvious conclusion would seem to be that at the very least we are fools if we do not live it as fully and bravely and beautifully as we can.” Frederick Douglas