A Collection of Thoughts: Southeast Asia

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.

Touch his tusks it's lucky...okay!

Touch his tusks it’s lucky…okay!

FOOD

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.

Breakfast

Breakfast

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!

Lunch

Lunch

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.

Dinner (I think I need more food)

Dinner (I think I need more food)

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.

Siphon Coffee in Hoi An, Vietnam

Siphon Coffee in Hoi An, Vietnam

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.

PEOPLE

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).

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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.

Thai Baby

Thai Baby

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.

King of Cambodia

King of Cambodia

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.

SERVICE

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.

Happiness in .50 cent beers

Happiness in .50 cent beers

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.

RUNNING/SAFETY

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.

Playing around with my Monkii Bars!

Playing around with my Monkii Bars!

Thai guy working out those legs

Thai guy working out those legs

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.

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RANDOM ROUND-UP

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.

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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!

Cool British dude

Cool British dude

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.

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“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

Siem Reap — Angkor Wat Temples & Bike Rides

We arrive in Siem Reap at 8pm Saturday night after another joyous and bumpy 7-hour bus trip. This one was EXTRA bumpy and it’s probably because there was no bathroom on board and although I’ve been purposely not drinking much water, I had to go. Boy, did I have to pee. I survive, and we are greeted at Ta Som Guesthouse with the guy (who I’m pretty sure thought we were Australian because he kept making Australian jokes and laughing at himself) making us welcome drinks! Papaya-banana-mango smoothies, mmm. We were staying 3 nights so were jazzed with the welcome party. We stayed on the 4th floor (no elevators anywhere, and we always seem to be on the top floor, am I complaining?) in room 134. Room 134 on the 4th floor, made me chuckle.

Walked to a side street and got some easy cheap dinner. The owner, a Cambodian named Paulie, was doing trick shots on the pool table while we ate. After kicking Haley’s butt in Connect 4 (okay fine I only won once), we played a few games with Paulie and an Aussie named Luke. I suck at pool, like, really bad. Luckily, I was on Luke’s team and he was good, and also really laid back so he didn’t mind. His Australian electrician license expired so he’s been backpacking for over a year, not working, just traveling and kicking it, that’s what I like to see!

Ta Prohm, where Tomb Raider was filmed! Angelina? Is that you?

Ta Prohm, where Tomb Raider was filmed! Angelina? Is that you?

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

We spent the following day exploring the Temples of Angkor Wat. A friend I studied with in Australia (2009) recently backpacked Southeast Asia with her husband and recommended the Tuk Tuk driver they had. His name is Meas and he brought us ice cold water and a friendly smile. He drove us around to each of the temples and was very reliable. Thanks for the hook-up Britt! Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world (or at least that’s what my postcards say) and it’s unbelievable. IT’S HUGE. The amount of detail, meaning, storylines, and labor that went into building all of these temples leaves you mind-blown. Meas took us first to Angkor Wat (the biggest, and best in my opinion) then to The Bayon, and ending with Ta Prohm a.k.a the TOMB RAIDER TEMPLE. Add in a few smaller ones along the way, a lunch with smoked fish that makes your stomach turn, 90+ degree sun, the steepest stairs in the world, and by 2PM you’re ready to call it quits. We both aren’t reallyyyyyy Temple people, but both really enjoyed Angkor Wat. A lot of people do 2-3 day tours of these temples, but 6 hours was good enough for us! hah!

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat

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As if I didn’t get enough cardio and sun, I went for an afternoon run. I felt like a pile, but pretty good by the end of it. Because of how dehydrated I’ve been I was craving a beer, and nothing else. I wanted to see Pub Street anyways so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was 5pm so I looked at Google maps briefly and walked in it’s direction. I was in Julie-land and overshot the street by 10 minutes, laughed, and turned around. Once on the street it didn’t look as touristy as everyone said it was, I also didn’t recognize any of the bars I heard about. Turns out, I was on Khmer Pub Street, the street with a bunch of run-down local bars. It was deserted. I laughed again and got a Tuk Tuk and said I need to go to Pub Street! and he was like okay 2 dollars! and I was like fineeeeeeeee. Got to Pub Street and told Halez just to look for me on one of the outdoor patios when she was done with her afternoon frolic. Sat next to 3 other guys (swiss, irish, british) and chatted it up. We all drank .50cent drafts and shared stories and laughs. Ended up getting dinner with them at a super local spot right around the corner with no inside, no bathroom, and best yet, no name. There was one guy in charge of making everyone’s food and he looked about 20 years old, and he did it in the middle of the restaurant. The food was incredible, cheap (1.50), and we ended up sitting next to 4 South-African sisters who ditched their husbands and kids for a 2 week Cambodian vacation, they were grrrreeattttt.

Merv! Retired cop from Northern Ireland with a passion for beer and fannypacks

Merv! Retired cop from Northern Ireland with a passion for beer and fannypacks

Party Time

Party Time

The next day we rented bikes and rode through dirt-road villages along the river. Our destination was Tonle Sap Lake, but when we got close the guard wouldn’t let us in! hah! Riding through the villages was really fun because all the kids we passed said “Hello!” every.single.one. They meant it too, they were so friendly. It was a SCORCHER. Rode past beautiful fields and villages, stopped for a shade break and rode back. We stopped at a Hammock Bar and I got a smoothie. Hung out on the hammock, journaled, read, swayed, and then realizing (rather abruptly) that the smoothie was a straight laxative, went running to the bathroom. Showered and rested up out of the sun for an hour and grabbed some dinner and the best Gelato I have ever had. Made with only Palm Sugar, Fruit, and Water, I got the Venezuelan Chocolate and it was such a surprise because I don’t even like chocolate ice cream (sorry dad). But THIS, oh my, THIS was something to be sad about when gone.

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Chillin'

Chillin’

After a nice morning run I laid in the Royal Gardens to do some planks and push-ups. Two girls came over and sat down next to me. They were very shy and didn’t know much English, but were in school and learning it. They kept giggling and would ask me questions with what words they knew. I tried to get them to do some push-ups but they just laughed like I was crazy! I asked them a lot of questions but they didn’t understand any. We took a few selfies, we listened to my beats, and shared a lot of laughs (even though we both didn’t know what we were laughing about). The Cambodian kids are my favorite part about Cambodia. The landscape is beautiful (very green), the culture is interesting, but the kids of Cambodia have been my favorite. There is also so much support here for them. A ton of restaurants and trade shops in Siem Reap are Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), which help support and train the kids of Cambodia. A lot of the proceeds go to schools, and a lot of them offer apprenticeships and training programs with valuable work experience. We have not seen anything with this type of frequency in the other cities we visited (and we’d know, we do a lotttt of restaurant hopping), so it was nice to end our trip in Southeast Asia on a positive note. I’m aware that’s just one part of Cambodia, and there is a lot of poverty throughout the Kingdom, but knowing there are bright spots in places makes me very hopeful.

When there was a silence I found myself filling it with don't stop studying! study! study! study! because they knew what that word meant. They were the best.

When there was a silence I found myself filling it with don’t stop studying! study! study! study! because they knew what that word meant. They were the best.

Same Same, But Different — Laos

You see a lot of shirts, shops, even restaurants being called “Same Same but Different,” and through some heavy research from my partner in crime (she asked somebody) we found out it’s just a jab at all the designs and services here. Everything is practically all the same, but you know, different. So now they sell tees and tanks that say ‘Same Same But Different’ and I came very close to buying one.

Short but steep stair climb up Mt. Phousi for a good, but touristy, sunset

Short but steep stair climb up Mt. Phousi for a good, but touristy, sunset

The tents all set up for the Night Market, and of course one of the many Temples

The tents all set up for the Night Market, and of course one of the many Temples

We spent 3 nights in Luang Prabang, a northern city in Laos (pronounced without the ‘S’, by most locals). We had a very nice flight over from Thailand and an even nicer welcome into Laos. Paid $45 for a Visa and the lines were short and the process quick. Everything seemed to fall into place very nicely, and that’s how the entire stay in Laos went. Magical, really. The main accommodations in Luang Prabang are guesthouses. There are several on each side street along the Mekong River. We stayed at Pakam Guesthouse in a comfortable room and called it home base for the next 3 days. Did I mention they had free bananas? And guys out front who always wanted you to drink beer with them? And they did my laundry for a dollar and then hung my underwear in the middle of the street? So lovely, all of it.

Mini Bananas, I was never able to stop until I had 4 in a row...I do believe they are glad I'm gone

Mini Bananas, I was never able to stop until I had 4 in a row…I do believe they are glad I’m gone

If I'm gonna drink beer, it better be a BeerLao

If I’m gonna drink beer, it better be a BeerLao

Laos has a heavy French influence so when we heard that we both got very, very excited. I got super excited for the good bread, and Haley got super excited for the good pastries. During our time we both really loved a place called the Pilgrim cafe. They use filtered water for all their meals and triple wash their fruits and vegetables. Their menu was yummy and the staff friendly, it was definitely the favorite. There was a few good bars, a lot of great bakeries, and a lot of great cafes. FRUIT JUICES were everywhere, just a huge list of fruits and they make you a smoothie for about 2 bucks. My main fruits on this trip have been Coconut, Mango, and Banana. Those 3 fruits have brought me so much joy in so many different forms that yes, they deserve to be capitalized and made into proper nouns. But the big news was that I gave dragonfruit a try and I really liked it. That’s it, that’s my dragonfruit story. Not good enough to be dubbed a proper noun. Moral of the paragraph was that the food was very good in Laos. One night at the market I got a streetfood buffet for $1 and it was marvelous. It was a bit sketchy looking, but had a lot of people in line and sitting at the picnic tables eating it all, so I joined the party. PLUS, look away if you can’t handle talk about bodily functions, I haven’t been pooping, like, at all. Strange don’t you think? Everyone comes to Southeast Asia expecting to poop their brains out at least a few times due to bad water or shotty streetfood, but me? Nope, nothin’. My body just loves this cuisine so much it’s holding on to it for what seems like eternity. Can’t blame it though, the food has been the focus of most days (duh) (okay all days) and has been so magnificent I’d want to keep it for as long as possible too.

Smoked Coconut Juice! Always been a dream

Smoked Coconut Juice! Always been a dream

Street Food!

Street Food!

Dragonfruit! Oh, excuse me, dragonfruit. I just get so excited

Dragonfruit! Oh, excuse me, dragonfruit. I just get so excited

Kuang Si Falls was nothing short of spectacular. We took a Tuk Tuk up to the park (a 3-wheeled shanty looking metal vehicle that is as smooth as your crunchy peanut butter), about an hour drive. We were rattling and rolling up those hills. Those drivers hustle so hard for your money but you can talk them down to half the price they originally give you. Haggling is a huge part of this whole experience. It was much easier in Thailand, but I find it much more difficult in Laos. I’m really bad at it to begin with because I understand the money goes such a long way for them, so I usually just cave, if I even have the guts to haggle at all. But in Laos, with it being one of the most bombed and poorest countries, it’s hard to barter a few cents and dollars, even if they ARE being sneaky about it. The Laotians are also less in your face about everything. In Thailand and now in Vietnam people are constantly yelling at you “boat trip!??” “tuk tuk?!?” “sandwich?!?” “you eat here (shoves menu in your hand)” but in Laos it was way more conservative. Not everyone, but most people. People just lay around and eat and nap. I walked in an outdoor little convenience mart and thought I was alone until I saw an old lady roll over under some blankets in the middle of her shop. She didn’t get up, mind you, she just simply rolled over for comfort.

Happiness

Happiness

Rich Turquoise Swimming Pools

Rich Turquoise Swimming Pools

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There is so much to be learned from our time in Laos. The culture is so rich. All businesses must shut down by 11:30 (Gov’t Regulation) because the Monks have very early mornings. There is no partying, no loud noises, no touching the monks (shet), dress conservatively, ask before taking photos, and most places like you to take your shoes off before going inside. A major lesson I’ve been learning, and relearning for several years now is how to slow down. I can be an extremist most of the time, and growing up in New York there always seems to be an undying “go go go” inside of me. I find myself “striding it out” when I have absolutely nowhere to be, and then getting upset if someone cuts in front of me. Part of it is having a really competitive personality, part of it is growing up in a very large immediate and extended family, and part of it is again, growing up in the “gotta go” culture. I went to college in upstate NY, which was the first phase in slowing down. I did a season volunteering for trail crew in the wilderness regions of the Pacific Northwest, which was the second (most learned) phase in slowing down. I did a season leading Europeans back and forth across the country in a big white van, which was a MAJOR step back in the slowing down process, hah!…and finally, I moved to Wyoming, where I’ve had a 2-year introductory (although most days advanced) course to the benefits of a permanently slowed down life. Savor each bite, soak up the wildflowers, hold the door open for each and every person, get lost in nature, smile at the sky, complain about nothing, and live with gratitude and grace. Laos has reminded me to again always be present, to fully be with the people around me, and to extend all¬†positive feelings. I am blessed.

A super small wine bar we popped in because it just looked, right. The bartender slid over a huge box full of quotes with no introduction, bliss.

A super small wine bar we popped in because it just looked, right. The bartender slid over a huge box full of quotes with no introduction, perfection.