Note: I had intended to do mini-recaps for each country we visited in SE Asia, and then tie it all up with one big, pretty SE Asia recap bow, but the country-specific recaps turned out to be quite in-depth, so I’ll keep this one short too.
Wow, where to even begin? Well, if the measure of an experience is what you are left with after it is over, let’s examine what gifts traveling in SE Asia bestowed upon us, shall we? An intense love for swimming in the ocean. Consciousness, complexity, and compassion. A new pair of flip-flops. The most amazing thing I have ever seen. An unforgettable birthday experience. The ability to peel and eat a bamboo shoot. New friends. And perhaps most telling: the desire to travel to more undeveloped countries (seriously, there are changes a’coming to our travel itinerary…stay tuned). New Zealand and Australia were amazing experiences in their own right, but it was only through our travels in SE Asia that our Internal Normality Indicators (INI) were recalibrated: a family of 5 on a single motorbike? No problem. People walking their pet elephants on the street? OK. Children who just barely learned to walk trying to sell you tourist trinkets? I don’t like it but I understand it. Congealed pig’s blood cakes? Yes. These are things that you just won’t encounter in the Western world, either because they aren’t necessary or because we have other options. And that’s why we travel, right? To challenge our familiar; to make sure our understanding is always growing wider and not narrower; to hit that INI reset button.
Days spent here: 59
Pre Rup at sunset. The Temples of Angkor, Siem Reap.
Places we would like to visit next time: Southern Laos, Myanmar/Burma, Indonesia
Average daily expenditures: US$80
Prices: The word is out…SE Asia is no longer the super-cheap destination it once was. Don’t get us wrong—it’s still very affordable, but we were expecting to spend about US$50 per day (between the two of us) and we ended up at US$80 per day. We still don’t understand how we managed to do this…our typical accommodation cost about US$15 per night and our meals averaged between US$2-10 (for the two of us). We moved around quite a bit so perhaps all the transportation costs hurt our bottom line more than we expected.
Guide books: We’ve already mentioned how indispensable Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring is to traveling in SE Asia…but it can be quite thin if you want to get off the beaten path. Here’s one way to remedy the situation: there are lots of copy books for sale in SE Asia (basically, a printer just Xeroxes a book and binds it). The copies are typically of very poor quality (it will be difficult to read the maps), but they are cheap (between US$2-5). You can buy these copy books to supplement the info in your original copy of Southeast Asia on a Shoestring. Not that we would ever buy pirated books. No sir.
Internet: Coming from Australia, where we had to spend the better part of the afternoon at the public library if we wanted a wireless connection, we were shocked by how widely available wireless access was in SE Asia. In many countries, guest houses and restaurants have wireless, but access is password locked. Here’s a hint: try “123456790.” Seriously, we were able to access at least 10 wireless connections using this password. Let us know if you want to hire us as hackers when we get back to the States, we obviously have very advanced technological skills that cannot be replicated by mere mortals.
Children: It’s not just us, because we heard it from many other travelers: the kids in SE Asia with break your heart. Even if you are a card-carrying member of the Anti-Breeder Association of Steel-Hearted Non-Procreators, these kids will get to you. And there are a lot of them! In Vietnam, something like 75% of its population is under the age of 30 (that may not be the exact figure, but it’s ridiculously high like that).
Little Laotian troublemakers.
The deal with TP: Remember how I complained that Khao San guesthouses did not provide TP in their rooms? Well, we figured out why: most people in SE Asia don’t use it. Now before you get all grossed out, here’s the deal: next to every toilet, there is a hand-held spray nozzle. SE Asians use this to clean themselves instead of toilet paper. Not to get into too many details, but we learned to really prefer this method too (though we didn’t eschew TP altogether). It is much more hygienic than just using TP. Jeremy swears that he is building a bidet into the next house we live in.
In case you’re confused as to the specifics of using one of these hoses, our guest house in Chiang Mai posted a rather humorous but helpful sign on the bathroom wall:
Also, note that you should carry toilet tissue with you at all times since most public restrooms do not provide it.
In short: Just go.