vietnam in 2 weeks

Ah Vietnam. I spent the last 2 weeks of my 6 month adventure in this beautiful country, and as many people warned me, it wasn’t really enough time to see the whole country. Not the way I like to travel, anyway. Instead of trying to see everything, which would have meant rushing from place to place, I decided to pick a few places to really enjoy. And while I’ve heard amazing things about some of the places I skipped, I wouldn’t go back and change my itinerary at all.

ho chi minh city (fka saigon)

I began my trip on an overnight bus from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I spent just a couple days in HCMC. I really enjoyed just wandering around – there were a lot of beautiful colonial buildings (like the Opera House and Notre Dame Cathedral), mixed with modern skyscrapers (like the interestingly architected Bitexco Financial Tower with a protruding helipad which may or may not be in use*).

I spent one afternoon at the War Remnants Museum, which was pretty intense. The photography at the museum is particularly moving – they have one gallery filled entirely with photographs of agent orange victims. Another was devoted to American media coverage from the war, which is particularly interesting as it was really the first time citizens back home were offered a glimpse into the day to day realities of war, and many argue was instrumental in the US based movement opposing the war.

hoi an

After HCMC, I decided to skip the beaches in the south (mainly Na Trang and Mui Ne), instead flying all the way to Hoi An (Da Nang airport). And I loved it. I was so glad I had budgeted myself the extra time in Hoi An, because it was just my kind of place. I stayed at an amazing homestay (Little Leo), right in the middle of town, and a bike ride distance to the beach as well as the Old Quarter. I basically spent 5 days between lounging at the beach and swimming in the perfectly warm, calm ocean, and going for fittings at the tailor. Hoi An is most famous for tailoring in Vietnam, and so naturally there are about a thousand options to choose from. The ladies at Maya Tailor were super friendly, knowledgable about current trends as well as classic cuts, and best of all were not pushy at all when it came to making sales. I went in with the intent of getting one dress made and ended up with two and a blazer 🙂 But as I justified it to myself and others, if you’re going to spend $20 on a dress, you ought to give the whole $20 to the seamstress, rather than buying it at Forever 21 or equivalent (and the seamstress eventually seeing a fraction of your money).

There were also two great vegetarian friendly restaurants that I ate most of my meals at in Hoi An – Minh Hien which is all vegetarian, and Ho Lo Quan, which is family owned and run by the super friendly daughter of a Vegan (so she totally gets the sometimes “confusing” vegetarian requests, for example that fish sauce is not vegetarian).

sapa

In keeping with the theme of “after 6 months I am completely over 12+ hour night buses,” I flew from Da Nang to Hanoi to spend the last of my time in the north of Vietnam. When I arrived in Hanoi, I met three people in the lobby of my hostel – two who had just come from back from an overnight trek in Sapa, and one who I ended up going with to Sapa, to the same host family and guide, the next day! Trekking in Sapa, with our local guide “Mama Shu Shu,” and staying with her family, and their chickens and pigs and kitty and most importantly puppies (!) was one of the highlights (actually probably the highlight) of my time in Vietnam. The scenery, terraced rice fields on rolling hills, spotted with villages, was gorgeous. Staying in a quiet village, with a family, eating home cooked meals and drinking homemade rice wine every night, was an unforgettable experience, and one that was vastly different from my experiences in the rest of Vietnam. And it’s worth noting that there were people who complained of Sapa feeling overly touristy and inauthentic, but my experience was completely the opposite.

cat ba island & halong bay

After Sapa, and with just a few days left, I headed to Cat Ba island. I heard from several people that the way to see Halong Bay on a budget is to book your tour from Cat Ba, rather than a package tour from Hanoi (which is what the majority of travelers seem to do). The beaches were walking distance from town and very picturesque (cat co #2 was my favorite). The National Park in Cat Ba also has a short and not too difficult hike that leads up to a beautiful view point. I booked a day tour of Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Monkey island, which included kayaking, snorkeling, and repeatedly jumping off the side of the boat into the beautiful blue-green water. While the overnight cruises are pretty popular, I felt like one day was plenty.

hanoi 

My time in Hanoi was actually spread over 3 visits – when I first arrived, after Sapa, and again before flying out. Hanoi was just as busy as HCMC in terms of impossible-to-cross-the-street traffic, and in a lot of other ways pretty similar. On the weekends they close down the main streets to motor traffic, which makes for really fun night markets complete with live music, street performers, and of course cheap/delicious food and beer. While in Hanoi I ate at New Day restaurant several times (delicious!), tried egg coffee (really delicious), and visited the Citadel, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, St. Joseph Cathedral, the Temple of Literature, and the Women’s Museum. I also spent a lot of my free time journaling, people watching, and practicing English with the locals beside the small lake in Old Quarter. The lake seems to be the hang out spot for all ages, locals and tourists, whether you’re in the mood to exercise, meditate, or gossip. It was a pretty cool spot, and a reminder that even in the midst of noise and chaos and crowds, it’s always possible (and a universally good idea), to make time and space for yourself.

*One interesting tidbit I heard in passing is that the helipad on the Bitexco tower can’t be used because the force of the wind created by a helicopter would shatter the windows. I didn’t fact check this, but it’s a pretty funny possibility.

4 days in cambodia

I got a lot of negative (but also some positive) feedback when I mentioned to other travelers that I was thinking of flying into Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat, staying in Cambodia for a few days, and then making my way to Vietnam (where I’m ending my trip). After maybe a week of deliberation, which is actually a lot of thought compared with the spontaneous decision making that has ruled much of the last 6 months, I booked my flight from Yangon to Siem Reap, and one of the girls I’d been traveling around Myanmar with booked it as well!

We arrived in Siem Reap pretty exhausted and hung out at our hotel for the afternoon before grabbing dinner. The next day, we booked a taxi to take us to all of the major sights – Ankor Wat, Ankor Thom (and Bayon temple with all of the stone faces), Ta Prohm (where Tomb Raider was filmed), and the somewhat less well known Banteay Kdei. Angkor Wat was impressive, but very very crowded (even at sunrise!). I loved the countless serene faces of Bayon temple. My favorite was Ta Prohm (I’ve never actually seen the movie), because even though there were a lot of people, there was enough space that as I wandered through the crumbling structures, there were times I felt totally alone. It was big and complex enough to get a little lost in. The great thing (to me anyway) about Banteay Kdei, were the carefully placed  wooden support beams that in many places seemed to hold up the entire structure. It reminded me of the scene in the Jungle Book where Baloo and Bagheera go to rescue Mowgli from King Louie and his ape crew at the ancient ruins. A crazy chase breaks out, one thing leads to another, and the whole structure collapses because they knock over one little piece…anyway I could easily picture a similar catastrophe here.

angkor wat 

bayon temple (in angkor thom)

ta prohm 

banteay kdei (aka the jungle book ruins)

That night, we wandered around downtown Siem Reap – Pub Street (briefly, as neither of us was in the partying mood), the night market, and the royal gardens. I liked Siem Reap – it was lively and picturesque, with definite French colonial influence, and really easy to navigate on foot.

image

The next day, we hopped on a bus to Phnom Penh. Since we had enjoyed some of the beauty of Cambodia’s history, it felt necessary to also learn more about it’s horrible, recent past. In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge regime committed genocide, killing about one fourth of Cambodia’s then population, an estimated 1.5-3 million people. We first went to Tuol Sleng Prison Museum (the site of “S1” – a secret prison that the Khmer Rouge used to torture suspected enemies of the regime). The prison was haunting. The audio tour, narrated by a Cambodian and including many personal stories, is a must I think, as it adds life to the information presented, making it all the more real. The next day, we visited Choeung Ek Genocide Center, or “the Killing Fields.” Another very harrowing experience, the audio tour is completely necessary here. It was chilling to stand at a place where so many were violently and senselessly murdered.

I’m sure there are a lot of people who would say I didn’t do Cambodia justice only visiting for 4 days. But I’m glad I had the opportunity to see what I did. The temple complexes of Angkor Wat (and surrounding) were amazing to see. Cambodia’s history is filled with both beauty and horror, and I think that with anywhere you travel, it’s important to seek out both to even begin to understand or truly experience a place.

inle: a day on the lake & a beautiful winery

My last stop in Myanmar (before heading back to the airport in Yangon) was Inle Lake, and it was unlike anywhere I’ve seen. The lake is massive, and scattered with entire stilted villages and markets. Fishermen dot the lake, maneuvering an oar with one leg while balancing with the other, arms preoccupied with various types of nets. I spent a full day out in a 5 person boat with some people from the hostel, visiting weaving factories, a blacksmith, and markets. We stopped for lunch at a friendly family’s house. It was delicious. After applying thanaka on our faces, we went for a canoe ride, luckily with a local woman to help steer us and keep us from tipping over. We all got to try rolling a traditional banana leaf cigar. We walked across a mini u-bein bridge. It was a fun, exhausting day. But well worth it, even if just for the sake of admiring these quaint floating villages.

The town we stayed in was called Nyaung Shwe, and is home to Red Mountain Winery – probably the best wine I’ve had in the last 5 months. They offer a tasting of 4 wines for about $5, as well as tasty food and dessert. Not to mention amazing views for sunset. I went twice.

The town itself is somewhat touristy, with travel agents on every corner and lots of western food places. But it’s cute, and easy to get around on bicycle. The real attraction is the lake, and as with most things in Myanmar, making it out for sunrise is definitely worth it 🙂

biking in mandalay, trekking in hsipaw & the train ride in between

A lot of travelers I’ve met in Myanmar skip Mandalay. Maybe because it’s just another city – more modern, less authentic. But I loved it. Yes, it’s got a definite (small) city feel to it – traffic, stop lights, crowds. But away from the main roads, I found Mandalay to be a quaint little town. And there’s a lot to do and see within the city, as well as in the surrounding area.

Day one in Mandalay my friend and I rented bicycles and cycled around west Mandalay for several hours. We passed colonial buildings, and got lost in busy alleyways. When we called “mingalaba!” to the people we passed, they grinned and called it back cheerfully. We passed small factories producing odd-smelling who knows what. We passed a guy getting tattooed in the traditional tapping method, nonchalantly smoking a cigarette as if nothing was happening. We wandered through a flower market. That afternoon we hired a taxi to the top of Mandalay hill for an amazing sunset and chats with monks. Day two we hired motorbike taxis to U-Bein Bridge for sunrise, and to Inwa (or Ava), an old capital of Myamar, where we wandered around small villages and buildings from the 1800s, including an impressive watch tower (the last remains of a palace). We really felt the off-season struggle for locals who aren’t getting as much business this time of year. There were probably a hundred horse-drawn carriages all parked along the sides of the dirt roads. Several drivers offered us rides at “discounts!” and one especially optimistic woman followed us for a good 20 minutes, despite our insisting that we wanted to walk. Inwa is huge, though, and we would have seen much more if we weren’t on foot. Our drivers also took us over the Inwa bridge and to the top of Saiging Hill, a beautiful cluster of pagodas atop hills (although less impressive after visiting Bagan). We watched sunset from the roof of our hostel, and it was beautiful. If you hadn’t picked up on this yet, I’m obsessed with the way the sun sets and rises over Myanmar ❤ .

The next morning we woke up at 3am to catch the (11 hour) train from Mandalay to Hsipaw. The train ride is especially well known between Pyin-oo-lwin and Hsipaw for the Gokteik bridge (terrifyingly high above a valley). Trains are my favorite mode of transport and I thoroughly enjoyed daydreaming and gazing out the window at the rolling hills, bright blue sky and beautiful clouds, small villages, and the enthusiastically waving children along the tracks.  I also ventured to try some of the food that women sold us through the windows at train stops – my favorite was a pancake type of thing, with bits of coconut cooked into it. Yum.

One common complaint from other travelers in Myanmar is how much time is spent on buses between destinations. And it’s true, the roads are bumpy and windy, the buses are slow. Overnight travel is efficiency wise the best way to get around, but it’s pretty rough. Personally, I ultimately preferred daytime travel. The scenery never got old, and I’m a pretty happy daydreamer. And I can easily say that the train ride to Hsipaw was not only my favorite travel day in Myanmar, it was one of my favorite days period.

When we arrived in Hsipaw, at Mr. Charles hotel (the only hostel type accommodation that I know of in Hsipaw), we booked a 2 day/1 night trek for the following day, and then went for an amazing banana-coconut-oreo at Mr. Shake. Yum yum.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather for our trek, it sprinkled for about 45 seconds on day one, but otherwise we had partly cloudy skies. It was of course hot and humid too, but by now that’s just normal to me. The trek was moderately difficult, the first day we trekked for about 6 hours with some decent uphills. The scenery was beautiful and green, with long stretches of corn and tea fields (and the occasional cluster of sunflowers). We stopped in a Shan village for a tea and snack break, and then stayed at a homestay in Pankam Village for the night. The meals they prepared for us were the best 2 I’ve had in all of Myanmar. All of the ingredients were freshly picked and concocted into amazing salads, soups, and vegetable dishes (all vegetarian!). That night we watched how they steam and then hand grid tea leaves every day. We ended our second day (a bit shorter, but still not easy!) with Shan noodles and a pretty waterfall. The amazing food, the friendly people, and the playful, excited children made the whole experience wonderful.

I didn’t do the more popular trek between Kalow and Inle Lake (3 days), and heard different responses regarding “which trek is better?” from people who did both. I can only guess that they’re both amazing. Even though this experience was all planned out by a guide and paid for as a package, it felt authentic. It didn’t feel like a staged village, or host family, or like the food was made specially for us (as opposed to what they would eat themselves), and the kids seemed 100% just curious and excited to play with us. This trek is definitely one of my favorite memories from Myanmar.

scooting around bagan

From Yangon, I took the night bus to Bagan, and arrived at Ostello Bello hostel at about 4am. The hostel was amazing, one of my favorites over the last 5 months. They had beds on the roof for all of us night busers to relax. And that evening they offered a relatively inexpensive sunset boat ride.

The hostel was great for making friends, and by the second day I had found a great group to explore Bagan with. Attempting (and failing) to successfully get around in Thailand via scooter, I was nervous when I got to Bagan and it became clear that e-bikes (electric scooters, which are lighter and slower than regular scooters) were by far the best way to see the vast, temple-filled landscape. My first day I chickened out and hopped on the back of an Italian’s e-bike (total generalization but I thought he’d probably be a good scooter driver). But after the first day I decided to be brave and try again. I kept my scooter on the lowest gear (with a max speed of 35 km per hour), and luckily was with a group of friends who were nice enough to go slow with me 🙂 And success! Scooting around really is the best way to go, and while the hostel offered almost daily tours of the temples, it was fun to just get a little lost on the winding dirt roads, wandering into empty pagodas and laughing with new friends. And it’s tough in the moment, but waking up at 4am to make it out for sunrise is 100% worth it!

As a half-day trip, we took a van taxi out to Mt Popa, a temple/monastery perched atop a tall, flat hill. The climb up was a lot easier than expected (20 minutes compared with the 45 we’d been told), and the view from the top seemed endless. A highlight (for me anyway), were the monkeys – they were everywhere, and not shy about stealing anything and everything from you! We decided that sunset from Mt Popa Resort, on an adjacent hill with views of Mt Popa, would be better for sunset, and we definitely made the right choice!

 

 

wandering in yangon

I arrived in Yangon by train just as the sun was beginning to set; the transition from grassy fields and wooden huts to multi-story housing buildings and chain-link fences seemed to happen in a matter of seconds. But I love cities just as much as I love the country, and the pink-yellow-orange sunset, as I walked from the train station was just as beautiful over the city skyline as it was over green hills.

I spent just 2 days in Yangon. The first morning I walked around the city, an interesting mix of new and old – colonial era buildings, the modern city hall, and in the middle of an always crowded round-a-bout, a flashy pagoda (Sule Pagoda) with signs for astrologers and other random businesses all around the outside. I ate street food and walked through Bogyoke Market. And yes, I went into the fancy and new looking mall (Parkson), mostly to escape the heat for a little while 😉 Later in the afternoon I grabbed a taxi to Shwedagon Pagoda. It was packed with people, tourists both from Myanmar and foreign, but also with many locals. I was stopped by several people – old and young, mostly monks – who just wanted to chat with me to practice their English. Everyone asked where I’m from, and exclaimed with huge grins “Obama!” It was nice to wander and people-watch. I did a few laps just observing. I made a stop at the Sunday corner (because I was born on a Sunday, which matters a lot here apparently), and watched as other Sunday ladies, and one young boy, poured water over the Buddha statue’s head, waved incense, and offered flowers. I stayed for sunset, and watched as they lit up the temple with lights shining on the gold against the darkening sky. After the pagoda, I went for Indian food and a lassi at Nilar Biryani (which was amazing!).

The next day, I took the ferry across the Yangon River to Dala. It was a rainy day, and we hired a taxi to drive us around the quaint villages, as well as to the snake temple – which is exactly what it sounds like, a temple filled with snakes!

Yangon was an interesting mix of a modern feeling city, with people in traditional dress (longyis), and thanaka (off-white paste made from tree bark that all children, most women, and even many men wear as a natural sunscreen). It was both old and new, traditional and modern, and felt at the same time authentic and tourist-friendly.

why you should travel overland into myanmar if at all possible.

After an overly touristy 3 weeks in Thailand, I was so excited for Myanmar. Everyone talks about how off the beaten path it is, how different it is from the rest of Southeast Asia (which is basically overrun with partying backpackers), and how you just have to go soon before its “ruined.” I thought about flying into Yangon, but 5 months deep into traveling, I was a.) confident in my ability to navigate the potentially confusing and long journey, and b.) unwilling to pay a whopping $180 just for the sake of convenience. My journey began on a bus in Chiang Mai at 8:00am. I arrived in Mae Sot at around 3:30, took a taxi to the border, walked across, and rode with a taxi driver who was driving home to Hpa-An for the night, and a local girl we picked up in a village about 45 minutes into the journey. The sunset was unbelievably colorful as we wound through the bright green hills, spotted with small roadside huts and longyi-clad locals. I arrived at a Guesthouse that my taxi driver picked for me based on my only requirement of “cheap,” at around 8:00pm.

At one point I thought I might go from Chiang Mai all the way to Yangon in one go, and I am so glad I didn’t. The journey to Yangon was amazing in itself.

I spent the next day in Hpa-An with a motorcycle taxi I hired for the day. He took me on a full day tour of caves, temples, and swimming holes. Ya-The Bien and Sadan Caves go all the way through to amazing views, and after the long walk through Sadan you can pay for a small boat to take you back to the front (which is an experience in itself and so worth it!). Kaw Goon Cave isn’t spectacular, but there is a small pagoda you can hike up lots and lots of stairs to for great views. My driver also took me through several small villages, to a monastery for lunch (right by the Kyauk Ka Lat pagoda, which sits in the middle of a lake), and took me to see fabric being hand woven on old fashioned looms. I skipped climbing up Mount Zwegabin (a half-day activity at least, although many people even spend the night in the monastery at the top), but Lumbini park at its entrance is filled with over 1,100 Buddha statues and it’s a beautiful sight in itself. I was so glad I hired “Mr. John” (probably not his real name). I couldn’t have seen nearly as much on my own. Plus, aside from 3 other tourists in my guesthouse, he was the only person I met who spoke English.

After my long day in Hpa-An, I hopped on a bus to Kyaitko. The next morning I took a truck taxi (a pickup truck with benches in the back that they fill with people) up to Kyaikhteeyoe and the Golden Rock. The ride up to the rock was like a roller coaster. They crammed about 30 of us into the back of an open semi truck and sped up a winding mountain road for about 40 minutes, stopping at villages and monasteries along the way. Unfortunately by the time we got to the top the clouds had rolled in, so what was probably spectacular views below the seemingly floating gold rock was just grey. Still a fun day activity.

I took a 6 hour train from Kaitko to Yangon the following day, and enjoyed amazing views of people, animals, and villages propped upon stilts (to protect against flooding) out the window, and ladies selling all sorts of food from trays balanced on their heads inside the train. I arrived in Yangon just  in time for yet another amazing sunset.

As authentic as Myanmar feels compared with a lot of other countries, there’s still a definite “route” that most people take, and traveling overland forces you off of that, offering a bit of an (almost) local experience. It’s worth noting, however, that many of the border crossings into Myanmar are closed to tourists, and you do need to have your visa in your passport already, so make sure you do your research before heading to the border 🙂

 

thailand: the north (chiang mai, chiang rai, pai)

While the north of Thailand has a distinct tourist feel, as well as a well-worn path that most people stick to, I liked the vibe much more than on the islands. There’s less of the family vacation, pre-packaged feel. There’s also a definitive ex-pat community. It gives places Iike Chiang Mai a really cool, relaxed feel. Had I gone off of the easy route, I might have had a more “authentic” Thai feel to my trip, but I didn’t. The path of least resistance is not always the best, just one of the many lessons of traveling I’ve learned in the past 5 months. In any case, I really enjoyed my time in the north. I spent most of my time in Chiang Mai, where I tried out several different yoga studios, night markets, and green curries (my favorites were Yoga Tree for asanas and Yoga Kukaan for meditation; Ploen Ruedee, near Anusarn Market; and the place right next to Coincidence Hostel for the best green curry I had in all of Thailand). I also went “cliff” jumping (I was too scared to jump off the really high ones!) at Grand Canyon, and to the hilltop temple, Wat Phra That Doi Kham, for awesome views of the city.

I took a day trip to Chiang Rai to see the white temples (beautiful, but soooo touristy!), and the golden triangle to see the intersection of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand, where Opium was once traded. Also so so touristy, but hey, now I can say I’ve been to Laos 🙂

Pai was gorgeous. I stayed only one night and missed some apparently beautiful waterfalls. But after 3 weeks in Thailand (and like so many other unfortunate backpackers all over Thailand, a very minor motorbike accident) I was so ready to leave. And so excited for my next stop – Myanmar…and spoiler, Myanmar is (so far anyway), everything it’s cracked up to be and more. More on that soon 🙂

chiang mai 

chiang rai & golden triangle 

pai 

thailand: the islands

After a few days in Bangkok, I was ready to get back to the beach. My first stop was Koh Tao, the island known for scuba diving. From Bangkok to Koh Tao I took an “overnight train” (by overnight train I of course mean, I was on a train from 5pm until 2am, waited at the train station until about 5am, rode a bus from the train station to the ferry dock, and then finally, at around 11am, arrived on Koh Tao). The long and pretty much sleepless overnight journey could not stifle my excitement for diving, though. I stayed at Sairee Beach, which offers lots of nightlife and really the only backpacker scene, but unfortunately not much else. After breakfast at the beach, I spotted Roctopus dive shop (which I had already read good things about online). A few days later I had 5 dives under my belt and my open water certification! After the initially very weird sensation of breathing cold, dry air under the warm, tropical water, I was hooked.

Aside from diving, I participated in the infamous Koh Tao Pub Crawl, watched new friends dominate the fire limbo at Lotus Bar (noooo thank you for me!), and snorkeled at both Ao Leuk (highly recommend)*, and Shark Point (where I saw hardly anything, except mean black fish who chase you away from their dead coral and occasionally bite you 😦 ). Koh Tao also has amazing street food – everything from pad thai, omelet sandwiches, crepes, and fruit shakes, all for well under 100 baht, or about $3 US.

After several days on Koh Tao, I went west to Koh Phi Phi, which many argue is the most beautiful/picturesque of the islands. This might be true, but for me it was mostly rainy (monsoon season), and definitely overcrowded. I did 3 more dives (basically going underwater to escape the hordes of people above), including one night dive. I’ve done night snorkeling, and at the age of 13 decided that bioluminescent plankton is one of the coolest species on earth. In addition to the plankton (which seriously if you haven’t experienced, you must)**, I also was deep enough to see fish in various sleep-like states, including little nemos (clown fish), hovering lazily in their anemones 🙂 The unexpected highlight? A squid eating a small silver fish! Weirdly really beautiful…ah the circle of life.

Also on Phi Phi, I enjoyed intense and impressive fire shows at the beach (nightly!). Unfortunately due to bad weather, we weren’t able to see Maya Bay (“the beach” from the Leo movie), but a boat cruise around the islands was still a fun, if pricey day adventure.

After almost 2 weeks on the islands, it was time to go. This picture probably sums up how the islands (and actually all of Thailand), felt to me better than any…(just hoardes and hoardes of tourists!)

DCIM100GOPRO

*sadly my GoPro was dead for Ao Leuk, because the coral was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and there were more species of beautiful, colorful fish than I could keep track of

**swimming with bioluminescent plankton at night is what I imagine being a fairy is like – with each movement twinkly pixie dust explodes gently around you ❤

i <3 bangkok

Being in Bangkok confirmed something that I’ve known about myself for quite a while now – I love a good city. I love the crowds, the noise, the lights, the colors. I love the fast pace. I love the diversity – of people, food, experiences. I love the buildings, the skyline. I love the accessibility. The ability, by foot or train, to easily reach world class healthcare (or world class shopping). I’ve spent most of the last 4 months in rural Asia, in places so vastly different from this (and from where I came from). It’s been eye opening and deeply meaningful. The chance to really experience (and live in), worlds so different from my own. To meet people whose lives are so foreign to me (and mine to them). It’s given me perspective I just didn’t have before. But being in Bangkok reminded me of my life back home. The modern city, freckled with old temples and glittering shopping malls, is truly special. And I spent a refreshing few days soaking in all of the luxuries of the city.

So what did I actually do in Bangkok? I stayed near Khao San Road (very touristy, “bro” area). A foot massage costs less than $5, so naturally I had one every day. I shopped at MBK and Siam Center, and enjoyed pad thai, smoothies, and fresh coconuts from street carts. I rode the sky train as much as possible, and loved it for its cleanliness, speed, and clear maps and directions. I visited a few wats (Buddhist temples) – Wat Pho (home of the giant, golden reclining Buddha), Wat Arun (temple of the dawn, unfortunately under lots of construction), and my favorite, Wat Saket (temple of the golden mount, a hike up lots of steps with amazing views of the city). I rode a 3 Bhat (about 9 cents) water taxi across the Chao Phraya River, again with pretty awesome views. I danced in a huge crowd of strangers on Khao San Road, which offers a nightly, all night party that fills the bars and floods the street with carefree travelers. A lot of people skip Bangkok (or just spend a night pre or post flight), but I loved my time there, and would happily have stayed much much longer.