I'm stuck in the Taipei airport for 8 hrs and lucky for me they have free Internet access. Anyway, I definitely have a million thoughts about my month in Southeast Asia so maybe this post will be better as a list.
1. The sex trade is alive and well in SE Asia. I thought that it would be obvious in only Thailand, but unfortunately the business has made its way to Cambodia and Laos too. Walking down the street, you literally see dozens of ugly old white men with little Asian women. I've been trying not to judge it, but it's honestly such a gross thing to witness. Actually, on my snorkel trip there was a 40-ish yr old Russian man with his Thai girlfriend who we pegged as around 15 yrs old. Sick. Thailand especially is a glutton's paradise. There is so much debauchery here of all sorts that it's become a haven for all kinds of party loving expats. As most of you know, partying is not the reason I travel, so it really puts me off to be in a place where the hedonism is so obvious. It doesn't seem like the government in Thailand will ever try to stop the sex trade as it's such a large money maker here. Ugh.
2. Things I've learned: Not to inhale around large baskets as most likely it's awful smelling trash; I've become a squatter toilet pro; Keeping toilet paper in my pockets is second nature; My fear of bugs has diminished after several large cockroach sightings and even one stuck in my toiletry kit; Oh my, I've become a haggling pro
3. Best meals: 1. Grilled Whole Fish from a stall on the banks of the Mekong in Vientiane, Laos: They literally stuff lemongrass in the mouth of the fish and marinate the skin in salt then grill the entire fish. So delicious! 2. Fish Amok in Cambodia: A Cambodian speciality. They bake local river fish in a banana leaf with a bunch of spices and it sort of tastes yellow curry-ish. I've developed a love for banana leaf packaging as well. Oh, for those going to Phnom Phen (I can finally spell the city name correctly now!) you must try a restaurant called Romdeng. It's run by a non-profit that employs and trains street kids. 3. Papaya Salad in Chiang Main, Thailand: I'll look up the place later, but it was a Lonely Planet recc. and was the best PS that I've ever had with lightly fried tofu... mmm. 4. Fruit Shake - everywhere! I've become an addict. 5. Beerlao, Laos: Not really a meal I suppose, but awesome, cheap beer. 6. Oh, and all of the street food here is genius. I fell in love with the chocolate waffle lady in Pai, Thailand, who makes hot choc. filled waffles on the spot. The street carts are really incredible and perhaps an idea to bring back to SF...?
4. Non-sequitor - Phnom Phen did grow on me the second time there. I learned that the best way to handle the city is to avoid being out during the peak heat hours and only stay away from you hotel respite for 2 hrs at at time. 2 hrs of using all of your energy to cross streets and dodge rogue traffic is definitely exhausting. The city does have a liveliness that is charming, and I guess from what I've heard, it's a quintessential bustling Asian city. I was def. ready to leave, but good experience.
5. This part of the world is cool in terms of "old culture" still being prevalent. I was told that most "modern" couples still visit a fortune teller before getting married in Cambodia to see if their relationship will work. The hill tribes are also still thriving in all countries. And, Laos is so charming because there's still an innocence of its "old ways" and a bit of naivety to the idea of capitalism. I've seen mountains, jungles, beaches, bustling cities, lots of rivers, and so much more which is awesome, in my opinion. Will I come back to this part of the world...? I do regret not seeing Northern Laos (there's supposedly some amazing National Park at the very top of Laos) and Southern Laos so I guess maybe I'd go back there, but I think I'm officially done with Cambodia and Thailand. The long bus rides are def. a challenge that you have be ready for in this region. Maybe Vietnam some other day, though after talking to so many travelers about their experiences there, Vietnam is no longer high on my list.
Alright, I think that's all for now. I caught my first stomach bug last night (just in time for my day of travel!) so need to go nurse that. It's not fun, but c'est la vie. And, I think it's awesome that I've eaten so much street food and this is the first sickness! I'm actually looking forward to being back in SF. This trip has felt satisfying. And, I'm looking forward to being out of the crazy heat! March is unbearably hot in Cambodia and parts of Thailand. And, the smoke from all the slash-and-burn farming that happens around this time of year in Northern Thailand sucked. Looking forward to some good, clean deep breaths of air :).