Tag Archives: southeast asia
March 25, 2012

Thoughts on Singapore

While on the bus from Malaysia to Singapore, I reflected on all the Southeast Asian countries we’d traveled through.  Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, in that order.  I realized that (excepting a small backwards step to Cambodia) we had been easing ourselves back into the first world with every new country we visited.

Once I started to look for them, I found arguments to support this theory everywhere.  Bathrooms steadily improved, from bucket-flushing in Laos to modern toilets in Thailand and beyond.  Hotel keys changed from big, metal skeleton keys to RFID-enabled plastic cards.  Safe drinking water was more readily available; we could once again drink from the taps in our Singapore hotel.  Internet access speed increased and wifi hotspots, while more prevalent, were also more often locked down and monetized.  English in Laos was only found in hostels and travel agencies, but by the time we arrived in Kuala Lumpur it was the de facto standard.  In Singapore, we could watch the local news (a novelty for us!) because the major newspapers and television news broadcasts were all in English.

Perhaps the most obvious indication that we were climbing back up to U.S. standards was the lessening number of scooters on the road.  It was literally impossible to view any stretch of road in Vietnam, no matter how short, and not see a motorcycle somewhere.  There were fewer in Cambodia, fewer still in Thailand.  By the time we arrived in Singapore, it was almost all cars again.

Anyone who has traveled extensively knows that reverse culture shock is a very real thing.  Setting aside the psychological problems that some travelers cope with after being in a third-world country long enough (being unable to share experiences with friends and family because they’re don’t care about or, conversely, are jealous of them; difficulty readjusting to “the daily grind,” etc.), there are many surprises – some good, some bad – waiting for you when you return home.  Toilet paper in public restrooms.  Drivers sticking to their lanes.  People showing up to appointments on time.  Having to make hundreds of choices in a grocery store.  High prices.  The constant barrage of advertising.

Personally, I’ve noticed it always takes me at least a week to stop mentally preparing my approach to each and every person in public.  How do I translate my question into Spanish?  What gestures can I make if they don’t understand me?  Shut up, brain!  I’m back in the States!  I can just ask in English!


February 1, 2012

Thoughts on Thailand

Out of all the countries we visited on our trip around the world, Thailand was the one in which we spent the most time. 61 days, over two visits.  It has since gone down on our list of places we want to return to someday, but when we first arrived, we were not impressed.

We had been traveling fairly quickly ever since Africa and by October we were both ready for a break.  While we were still in Russia, we planned out the last three months of our trip.  In order to conserve money – we had just officially gone over our travel budget – we wanted to find a place to sit down and rest for a while.  I sent out a request on Facebook and Twitter and asked our friends and followers for their recommendations in Thailand.

We received a lot of good advice, but ultimately had a hard time taking advantage of it because we were set on a month-long rental.  We checked Craigslist and various vacation rental websites, but the vast majority of listings were only available in the largest cities or most touristy areas.  We debated traveling out to the remote islands until we found a place to our liking, but ultimately took the easy way out.  We spent just a couple days in Bangkok, recuperating from our jet lag, before flying to Phuket and following up on some leads there.

The first place we stopped was in party central, Patong.  I can’t even remember why we chose that town, because foam-party nightclubs, seedy massage parlors, and plentiful weed are not on our list of travel necessities.  Nevertheless, Oksana found us a cheap hotel away from the beach, and we stayed there a week.

Prices were low, as October is still officially the off-season.  And no wonder – it rained hard just about every day we were in Patong.  That didn’t bother me especially much because I had just come down with my first cold since leaving home almost a year and a half before.  For the next week, all I wanted to do was lie in bed and sleep.  Easier to do during the day – night were miserable… at least until I visited the pharmacist, a real life anime character, who prescribed me some heavy sleeping pills.

Unfortunately, just as I was about to get over my cold, Oksana picked it up.  Most of our month off was spent battling head and chest colds.

Eventually, we left the Starbucks and McDonald’s behind by moving just four kilometers down the island to Karon Beach.  The oceanfront was prettier, the tourists more family oriented, and both of those things suited us just fine.  For about $19 per night, we stayed in a huge hotel room, venturing out once a day to the pool or to place an order at the on-site restaurant.  We caught up on some internet stuff, rested our travel-worn feet, and worked on our tans.

Prices went up on November 1st with the official start of the high season, but we didn’t mind.  Our friends from Roam the Planet were due to arrive any day and, with our batteries recharged, we were ready to hit the road again.

Because of the record flooding that was going on in central Thailand during our stay, we didn’t get to see as much of the country as I’d hoped.  Most of the things I noticed about Thailand came from the few places we did spend some time: Bangkok, Phuket, the Phi Phi islands, Chiang Mai, and Koh Mak.


November 10, 2011

One Year Abroad

Last year, on November 10th, our flight from Miami to Quito kicked off our trip around the world.  Since then, we’ve traveled tens-of-thousands of miles across five continents, seen amazing sites, and met amazing people.  One year later, to the day, we’re still going strong.  We just arrived in a new city, Thailand’s Chiang Mai, and because of a fantastic coincidence, we happened to arrive during their Festival of Lights (Loi Krathong.)  We pretended the whole city was turning out to give us a huge anniversary party!

Originally, our year of travel was supposed to begin on July 1, 2010.  We’d budgeted $100/day for the entire year, setting aside a whopping $36,500 for our trip.  But we had setbacks and delays in the States which eventually delayed our trip by three months.  By the time November 10th rolled around, we had already been gone from home 140 days.  Assuming we’d stuck to our travel budget, that was $14,000 already spent.  We discussed it and made the tough decision to start again at zero – time-wise and money-wise – when we flew to Ecuador.

We did fairly well in South America (aside from spending too big a chunk on the Galapagos Islands), but Africa pitted our travel budget spreadsheet against us.  We regained some ground when we stayed with friends and family in Europe and Russia, saving on housing, but the transportation costs caught us again.  By September 12th, we had exhausted the $36,500 we’d set and realized that any remaining travel costs would be coming out of our savings.  We had fallen 58 day – almost two months – short of our goal.