My adventure is now more than half-complete – South-East Asia is in the can! I’m not so sharp at times and only came to the realization that I could in fact also shoot video about a week ago – so below I’ve included some (poorly edited) highlights. Tomorrow I begin my 17 hours worth of flights and layovers to head to London, so I’m going to be offline for a few days getting settled, getting over jet lag, and seeing family and friends! So until then…
Best Country – It’s hard to play favourites, as each country offered a completely different experience. However, for overall charm, ambience and fond memories (even with the great malaria medication-induced stomach meltdown of 2011 AND my debit card not working), it has to be Laos. Lovely Laos, I already miss you and your warm sunshine.
Best Accommodations – Prum Bayon Hotel, Siem Reap, Cambodia. We were spoiled rotten at this hotel. Gorgeous pool and lounge area, huge rooms (all to myself, sans Joanne), French toast for breakfast…great way to end the trip.
Best Eats – Tough call. For all the fried rice and bland tofu I consumed, occasionally there were gems scattered in there. The home-cooked meal we had in Luang Prabang, Laos was delicious. But at Chamkar Vegetarian Restaurant in Siem Reap I had fresh spring rolls and a pumpkin curry that I’m still daydreaming about. And my last accommodation, the Secret Garden Resort in Chiang Mai, had amazing dinners – spicy coconut soups and curries that helped clear my sinuses in seconds flat.
Best Almost-Freebies – Bike rentals. For the equivalent of $1 or $2 a day, renting a bike was a fantastic way to see the towns and surrounding countryside in a whole new way. Pay the extra dollar for a bike with suspension (and gears, if available) – trust me on this one.
Best Experience for the Money – Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Expensive, but for a great cause and something I will never forget – especially getting a smooch from a cheeky young elephant!
Most Pleasant Surprise – Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. For a city that size, with five million motorbikes, it was surprisingly organized and (relatively) easy to get around. Relative in comparison to Hanoi.
Favourite Local Snack – Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk!
Favourite City – Luang Prabang for its night market, variety of sights to check out, and that home-cooked meal. Siem Reap for Angkor Wat, tug-of-war contests in the streets, and locals who envied my pale complexion. Words that will never be uttered to me again.
Worst Accommodations – Chiang Khong, Thailand. I don’t even know what the name of this place was, but it was straight out of a horror flick giving the Bates Motel a run for its money in terms of creepiness. Throw in a dark, freezing cold nighttime arrival, a pretty convincing “ladyboy” host, squat toilets and bad karaoke that went late into the night (plus Joanne snoring and hogging the blankets of the bed we essentially shared) and you have one night I hope to one day forget.
Worst Eats – Vietnam. While I did have two good meals, for me to call food bland…it must be bland. And just fried rice in general everywhere. It was a struggle being vegetarian and staying that way in each country, which really surprised me as I thought there’d be more meat-free options. Good luck to you if you’re vegan – short of hopping back into the kitchen, I don’t see how one could sustain that lifestyle without bringing their own eats.
Worst Experience for the Money – The unexpected tipping for EVERYTHING on my group tour. I understand local guides but tipping for a bus driver who drove us from town A to town B got a little excessive (and expensive) after four weeks. Should I start tipping pilots when I fly?
Worst Experience in General – Feeling like a jerk in Cambodia when confronted by beggers every five seconds. Go to the bathroom, have eight children following you begging you to help send them to school by buying bananas. Try to walk into your hotel, have six men ask if you need a tuk-tuk. Attempt to eat dinner in a restaurant, have several families wander in individually to stare at you with big eyes as you eat, while they tell you that they’re hungry.
Worst Surprise – A tie between my debit card not working at any ATMs in Laos, despite being assured it would. Thankfully, I carried emergency cash (always, always have back-up cash), had friends willing to lend me cash and was sick as a dog and therefore didn’t spend much money. And rooming with a 75-year-old woman who was NOT hip and cool like Betty White.
Something I Wish I’d Done Differently – My tailoring fiasco in Hoi An, Vietnam. I should have brought photos, I should NOT have had boots made which I’m now lugging around with me, and I probably shouldn’t have gotten a silk leopard print potato sack!
And now for the highlights!