We started our Southeast Asia journey with mixed emotions. We felt both excitement and anxiety for the unknown in terms of daily living conditions away from the familiar comforts of home. One main focus has been maintaining our good health. Both of us hit a snag towards the end of January, but we now head into February strong and geared for the charm and adventure of Cambodia and Vietnam!
One month of travel definitely feels more like 3 months. San Francisco and the holidays on the East Coast seem so long ago…. although it’s only been a month. We suppose that’s because each day is new and exciting and feels much longer than our average daily life in the States. The famous question we get every time we talk to family is “Do you think you’ll stay away for a full year?” The answer is “Yes”!!
Brett is still working mornings/evenings and managed several day meetings along our stays in Bangkok. Christie has been our “CPO” or Chief Planning Officer conducting endless research on where to go, where to stay, what to see, how to get there and how to avoid disaster. Documenting our adventures has been both challenging and inspiring. Challenges we’re not used to include poor internet access (if any at all), low bandwidth and 12-15 hour time differences with our friends & family. Other challenges have been learning how to quickly edit video and coordinate the distribution of content (e.g. photos, video, articles) across multiple channels. We’ve been carefully collaborating with each other in editing writings and figuring out how to streamline and improve our work so we can document all of our experiences. Another difficulty is finding enough time to properly participate in dialogue with our audience as they react to our experiences here in Southeast Asia. The CultureCats.com site is starting to show some life and we hope to soon have our first feature placement on a popular international Travel Blog site. Our goal is to achieve 100 followers by the end of February.
Boy is Thailand decades beyond its neighbors with tourism. We found some recent numbers and Thailand grew GDP by 7.8% in 2010 making it one of the fastest growing economies in Asia and the fastest growing economy in South East Asia. Thailand is now the second largest economy in SE Asia behind only Indonesia. As of 2008, more than 15 million tourists visited Thailand….. putting at 17th most visited country in the world. Unemployment is at 1% and Thailand serves as the anchor for neighbor countries like Burma. In particular, Bangkok is developing at a fierce pace. It is starting to feel less like Las Vegas and more like a mini New York with glitzy themed shopping malls and high-rise condominiums all over town. Bangkok now just needs real arts and cultural entertainment!
The Thai islands were just amazing for both relaxation and water sport. Not to mention sun gazing and night life if that’s your thing. We did think carefully about where to stay vs. where to day trip. Koh Lanta served as our Andaman Sea hub for the more touristy islands like Ko Phi Phi. There we celebrated Christie’s Birthday and found white-sanded paradise packed into a tiny hourglass floating over gorgeous blue waters behind monkey ridden cliffs. Snorkeling was our favorite activity as we ventured off to Ko Rok, Ko Tao, and Nangyuan Island. Food and accommodation did cost 2-3X what we’re used to in Bangkok…… plus day trips and transport can add up quickly if you are on a budget! It’s true that the Thai islands have become a huge tourist packed vacation hotspot. We didn’t find as many long term backpackers as there were weekly family vacationers from Europe. In general, there haven’t been many couples without children in our age range. Nevertheless, we were able to find some less traveled spots, especially when venturing off on a motorbike around Koh Lanta Island.
Bagan and Inle Lake made our Burma visit special. The military government definitely has tourism tightly knit from pricing to where you can and cannot go. To the point, it is very difficult to navigate comfortably on a budget. Everyone local is keen to squeeze your tourist dollar and even pick your pocket for USD bills to their liking. Prices have 2-3X since our Lonely Planet (2010) book was published. Other guests we spoke with said their tours were very nice, but they hadn’t encountered anywhere in SE Asia with such high prices and felt a bit trapped on a budget. This is all a result of the people’s necessity to seize the moment. The government provides little infrastructure and daily life is unimaginably hard.
The Burmese speak way better English than their Asian neighbors in Thailand. This could be due to their British colonial past, thirst for knowledge, recent tourism boom or probably all of the above. There was such a great buzz in the air as if big change is about to happen. Everyone seemed hard working and dedicated to furthering themselves. The country has such a rich history as a dominant force in the region. The Burmese are by far the most devoted to Buddhism of the people we’ve met on our journey. We believe the people will rise up to the challenge if given the opportunity of pure Democracy.
Bagan was magical just being amongst thousands of ancient Buddhist temples, free to roam the land. The family that hosted us at Inle Lake (Queen Inn) made us feel like royalty. They even gave us hand-knitted key chain gifts as we left town. Their home-cooked meals and glowing smiles resonated for days.
We read The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma during our visit to Myanmar. The author “Thant Myint-U” includes his own family’s history, writing about his grandfather, U Thant, who was U Nu’s right-hand man (1950’s) and secretary-general of the U.N. in the 1960s. Thant vividly describes the histories of Burmese dynasties from ancient times to the 18th century. He then narrates how, during the 19th century, the Burmese kingdom of Ava “Inwa” fought and lost a series of border wars with the British East India Company….. ending in Burma’s loss of independence. Considering the country’s longstanding global isolation in the context of its geographic and cultural singularity, he discusses 20th-century Burmese leaders such as Aung San, U Nu and Nobel Peace Prize–winning activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Thant does an amazing job explaining how Burma has come to the current 60 year old Civil War and we can hope for beyond the existing military government.
Friends on the Road:
The new friends you meet on the road help you cope with such an odd lifestyle. You are not doing it all alone.
In Chumphon, while waiting for our night train to Bangkok….. we met Jeff & Neda and spent the day roaming the Chumphon street markets. They are currently living in Bulgaria and traveling the world exploring their spirituality. Jeff is from Montgomery County, PA! Their website is http://www.fieldsofindulgence.com. We spent a full day with Alison at Inle Lake touring the floating villages and local markets by boat. Alison lives between Chiang Mai, Thailand & Mallorca, Spain. Her Thai massage site is http://www.thaimassagemallorca.com