Friday, April 27, 2012

Over the Border and Back

On Wednesday, Eric and I did a visa run to get new Thai visas, allowing us to spend fifteen more days in the country.  Border runs are normal part of life to people traveling long-term, and this was my first.  It was certainly... an experience.

We woke up early to catch our 7:30 AM bus out of Bangkok.  As we grabbed some orange juice and a snack on our way to the travel agency where we'd booked our tickets, I marveled at how different the city seemed at that hour.  The market stalls were just setting up.  There were coffee vendors all over, coffee vendors who apparently disappear by the time I show my face on the streets on any given day. 

After checking in at the travel agency, Eric and I began the waiting that would define our day.  A man came and walked us down the street to a different spot, where we waited for a minibus to drive us to Poipet, the border town.  Eventually the bus and other passengers arrived, and we all headed into the Bangkok traffic around 8:30.  After two half-hour stops for gas and snacks at 7-11, we eventually made it to the border just after 1:00.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bangkok's Street Food

I had heard stories about Bangkok's street food before I arrived.  My parents had recorded a few travel channel shows for me, one of which was primarily devoted to fried insects.  (I haven't tried any yet.  One woman who sells them charges 10 baht per photo of her cart.  Savvy business move on her part!)  Bugs aside, I have been overwhelmed by the variety and quality of the street food in this city.  Here are a few things I've seen and tasted:

Keeping busy while waiting for dinner

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Pad Thai and Songkran in Bangkok

Eric and I arrived in Bangkok a few nights ago, just before the Thai New Year.  So far this massive city has been full of good food and surprises.  After the ten hour bus trip from Siem Reap, I was worn out and ready for some food that didn't come from a gas station 7-11.  Pad Thai from a street vendor was the perfect dinner and a tasty introduction to Bangkok.  Delicious!

Pad Thai with chicken and egg cost 40 baht, about $1.30.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Searching for Authenticity

Several years ago I read an article in the Boston Globe travel section called "True Blarney" by writer Kirsten Giebutowski.  She had visited Ireland and expressed frustration at not being able to find an authentic part of the country.  "[S]omehow every cup of tea I had," she writes, "every scone, fish-and-chips meal, and Guinness, however pleasant, seemed a cliche."  Her one souvenir was a small rock she found on a walk through County Clare.  This rock allowed her to feel connected to the Irish landscape — the one part of the country she felt wasn't trying to live up to the images tourists wanted.

My attitude toward Giebutowski’s article hasn’t changed significantly since 2006.  I still think that when you are clearly not local, the people who live in the places you visit will treat you as a tourist.  They may play up the parts of their area or culture they think are most attractive to foreigners.  If you are in Ireland, they may rave about Guinness.  In France, they may serve you expensive coffees while pointing you towards the Eiffel Tower.  (For my favorite heartbreaking story of searching for authenticity in France, watch the “14th Arrondissement” film of Paris Je t’aime.)  In Cambodia, they may offer to drive you to the Killing Fields (that offer got unsettling real fast).  It will be more of a challenge to seek out an authentic-feeling experience because you are clearly not local.  This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and it shouldn’t necessarily cheapen the experiences you do have. 

Two of many market stalls selling similar dresses.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Learning on the Road

After ten days in Siem Reap, I'm starting to get used to a few new aspects of life and I'm learning where I need to adjust.  It's still a bit difficult to condense my thoughts into a coherent post, so I hope that a list might help!
From the temple where they filmed Tomb Raider
I think the tree is winning.
1. I need to get better at pool.

Nearly every bar I've been to in Siem Reap has a pool table.  Even a quieter restaurant down the street from our guest house, with an entrance covered in leaves and a side path to two peaceful hammocks, has a pool table.  On our first night going out in Siem Reap, we started at the Sunset Bar above our hostel.  Eric and I each grabbed a beer and joined the group sitting around the pool table.  I met some great Europeans and learned that the pool skills I thought I'd developed in high school with occasional half-days spent at Diesel had not existed then and certainly do not exist now.