Last week, my friend Lauren (aka my southeast Asia travel buddy) and I caught up over lunch. We first traveled abroad together in Africa in 2008 and then in southeast Asia in 2010. We threw out ideas for a future trip (maybe in 2012… see a pattern?) but mostly reminisced about ridiculous times and favorite places. I think for both of us, southeast Asia is a place we would love to return to at some point. So, what’s to love about southeast Asia?…..
Lauren and I largely stuck to street eats and local food joints. We could purchase pad thai on the streets of Bangkok for as little as $1, have a meal with meat for about $2, or dine in a restaurant on nicer food for less than $5. One of our favorite restaurants we ate at was in Dalat, Vietnam. Our guesthouse recommended it, and the place was packed full of locals.
In Hoi An, I tried the local specialty Cau Lao. This dish is made from a type of noodle only found in this area.
Breakfast was usually eggs, toast, and fruit, or banana pancakes. Banana pancakes is a general term for crepes, American-style pancakes, and some very interesting concoctions like the one you see below… I’m pretty sure it was fried. Lauren and I usually threw in a coconut smoothie or some other delightful drink. On occasion, we indulged in delicious oreo shakes.
The fruits in southeast Asia are out of this world- so many varieties of bananas that put ours in the US to shame. We loved the dragonfruit, rambutan, passion fruit, and one of my favorites, mangosteen. The super-bright green fruit in the second photo, while being extremely tasty, is still a mystery to me. Do you know what it is?
Bus transport in southeast Asia is like staying in a 5-star hotel. Well, okay not exactly. It may not always have air conditioning, and it may be crammed full of people who are hugging your legs or sitting on your lap. But if you’re taking a bus, they will usually come and pick you up at your door. Your guesthouse, regardless of how low-budget it may be, can book your tickets for you so you don’t have to seek out a bus station. The buses also run regularly here, unlike Africa. Sure, we may have dealt with 3 flats tires and one fire, but our buses always got us to our destinations in a timely manner.
As a bonus to bus travel, you never know what types of blankets or pillows they will offer you…
Lauren and I love train travel! And, we had plenty of opportunities to ride the train in southeast Asia. While the train wasn’t always on time, it was such a fun way to see the scenery and interact with locals. We always took 2nd or 3rd class, which meant no A/C and basic seating. On my train ride to reunite with Lauren in southern Thailand, I sat across from a local lady that tried to have many a Thai conversation with me. While I understood next to nothing, it was so thoughtful of her to look out for me. She offered me food anytime she purchased something from a vendor and made sure that I knew where the bathroom was on the train and informed me through miming that the train is stocked with its own toilet paper. These are the rides that make memories :)
Even the train has its moments, and on our way from Thailand to Cambodia, it broke down. We chalked it up as ‘part of the experience’.
While in Battambang, we got the opportunity to ride a bamboo train. I would say it’s Cambodia’s version of a roller coaster.
We also took plenty of boats while in southeast Asia. I can’t say they were all pleasant, but definitely an adventure at least! Our private ride on a slow boat in Laos was our favorite.
And probably the most risky of transports we took was the moped. I had taken moped taxis in Africa, but had never driven one myself… until I got to Vietnam. The initial ride was touch and go for us (Lauren, I can’t believe we survived without a scratch!)… we may have nearly run over some people, mopeds, and walls, but we did it!
It made me nervous when our motorbike taxis tried to navigate the streets, weaving in and out of traffic, while also talking on their cell phones. We just had to brace ourselves and hope for the best.
Other types of transport we took regularly were tuk-tuks and sawngthaews. However, we never got to ride on the, ummm…. well I would dub this the lawnmower-powered truck tractor. I’ve got to make it back for a ride on one of these sometime.
Enjoyed this recap? Wait until tomorrow when I show you the cute dogs and funny signage in southeast Asia.