Sensing the end….

Wow! Last night lying in bed, I realized I’m down to two weeks left in Southeast Asia. I actually started to cry! I’ve had an incredible time and certainly, it’s not over yet. Luckily, my foot is feeling better and I’m ready to take on Bangkok with a vengence!

While I’m killing some time waiting for my night train to Bangkok from Chiang Mai, I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on my journey so far. I’ve learned a lot – like for instance, that I love pineapple shakes! Why can’t I make these at home – you can bet, I’m gonna try! There’s a million things I could list that I’ve learned about myself and you can bet in the future, I will blog about that! But for now, I really want to focus on what I’ve seen and felt here in SE Asia.

Mostly, it’s been a roller coaster ride for the senses! Let me explain!

The smells here are amazing and yet, not always pleasant! One minute it’s the smell of all the beautiful flowers and greenery that grows here. Then it’s the myriad of foods they cook here – curries and noodles and chicken and pork. The smell of cinammon is often found here. And then, there’s the smell of the street – garbage rotting and the always present smell of sewer water. And let’s not forget the dreaded durian fruit. You simply cannot describe the smell. The best I can say is that it’s a combination of sweaty socks, armpits, and possibly a hit of pineapple thrown in. It’s horrible! And yet, these people love this fruit…I can not bring myself to get it into my mouth! Sorry!

One of my favorite photos!

From the hot, sandy beaches to the crumbled, torn-up sidewalks, experiencing SE Asia is a challenge to even the healthiest feet! The concrete in Bangkok goes on forever. But in Malaysia, it’s a miracle to walk down any sidewalk without falling in a hole or tripping on an uneven sidewalk. Penang is simply the worst – I could never look up when walking in Penang – I always had to look at the sidewalk! The holes and loose bricks and uneven walkways were a constant threat! And the feel of icy cold water everywhere during Songkran in Chiang Mai – wow! The winner though, hands down, is the feeling of motion here. The ferries, trains, buses and minivans are not for the faint of heart! Dramamine is my friend!!

The sounds of SE Asia are amazing. The sleek Skytrain of Bangkok is barely audible. But outside the Skytrain, the sounds of touts is never-ending. Someone is always selling something and farangs (foreigners) are always the target! In Koh Samui, the sale is about MA-SSAGE?????? That’s how the girls say it…with a long delay in both syllables and as if asking a question. In Kuala Lumpur, the horns and constant traffic are only matched in volume by the Call to Prayer broadcast over the speakers strategically placed all around town. The greatest sound…the quiet Kob Kun Kaa (thank you) spoken by a Thai with the little bow of the head and the prayer-like position of their hands!

Padthai, banana pancakes, fried bananas, mango sticky rice, and of course, my favorite…pineapple shakes! The taste buds are always on overload in SE Asia. There are many things I didn’t try because I don’t like spicy food. But the things I have tried that I like, I just can’t seem to get enough of them! Pineapple shakes are my absolute favorite – I think it’s because they are so light and yet, so sweet! Last night, I tried fried bananas and they are awesome. The chicken and pork satay is always good when walking around….nothing like eating meat off a stick! Even western food is interesting…..nothing tastes quite the same! In Penang, I tried the Nonya style of food – way to spicy for me…but certainly an adventure!

By far, the eyes have the most to absorb here although the nose is certainly the runner-up! I could never be here without a camera because describing the beauty amid all the chaos that is SE Asia would be impossible!  The magnificent skyline of Singapore seen from the Singapore Flyer, the beauty of the southern Thailand lagoons and limestone formations and white beaches with crystal clear water, the serene and surprising National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, the silent parade of monks walking through hectic and never-stopping traffic of Bangkok – none of these things can be described without photos!  And certainly, the people of Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, working, smiling, living life just like we do in America.

All of these things will soon be a distant memory for me. I’m so glad I have the photos to help remind me of the smell and feel and sounds and tastes of SE Asia now that it’s getting near the end. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too through what I’ve written about, but hey, I still have two weeks in Bangkok!!! Get ready for more!!

Cheri 🙂

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Some thoughts about travel….

Stacy, Jillian, Zamina, and Emily - 4 best roommates EVER!

When you travel, you experience, in a very practical way, the act of rebirth. You confront new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don’t even understand the language the people speak. So you are like a child just out of the womb. You begin to attach much more importance to the things around you because your survival depends on them. You begin to be more accessible to others because they may be able to help you in difficult situations. And you accept any small favor from the gods with great delight, as if it were an episode you would remember for the rest of your life.”  Paulo Coelho   The Pilgramage.

I just finished reading this book and was struck by many of the passages and so, I’ll be using them for the next few blogs. The book is basically about one man’s journey on the Camino de Santiago of course, but many of the passages reflect my own thoughts about travel and at times, about life in general.

How often I’ve had the same thought but could never, ever express it as eloquently as Mr. Coehlo does in his book. It’s amazing how I’ve become attached to my backpack and the things I have with me now. Yes, most everything can be easily replaced while travelling, but it’s really more a matter of keeping close to those things that are mine from home. I have a little cross with me that my Aunt Sandie made…I like knowing that it’s in my bag, along with a few other special items. But I am especially careful about those things that provide me with security while traveling – my passport, money, bank cards, etc. They ensure me that I will always have a way to head home if I need to or provide me with shelter and food in the event of an emergency! A simple moneybelt becomes a security blanket!

I’ve found too, that I am more open to speaking with others. It’s necessary for survival for all travelers! We learn from each other – which hostels to stay in, which to avoid, how to get the bus from here to there, etc. And we are a comfort to one another when we need to be. When I was in Melaka, Malaysia and Sonia arrived from Penang, she was crying and upset about her journey on the bus. Just a few words from me and we were soon out walking at the night market and enjoying dinner together. I’m sure I will need that shoulder one day too and I have no doubt that someone will be ready to comfort me. It’s just the way it happens.

When I got here to Krabi, Thailand, I was hot and tired and frustrated from the mini-van ride which quite honestly, just about made me puke. It was an awful journey. On top of all of that, I found out the only bunks left were the top ones! Truthfully, I felt like that was going to be my moment. But unbelieveably, the girls I’m sharing a room with offered to trade…several of them! And so, the gods offered up this little favor in the form of wonderful roommates! And yes, it IS an episode I will remember for the rest of my life. To Zamina, thanks for trading bunks…you are a sweetheart. And to Stacy, Jillian, and Emily…..you are absolutely the most wonderful roommates….you all make me smile!

What great gals to be around!

Travelling truly is like a rebirth. I’ve forgotten over the years how wonderful people can be. It’s as if I’m looking at all the world through new (and wishfully younger) eyes!

Thank you letter to Kuala Lumpur!

KLCC Tower

Aquil - My Favorite Bartender!

My dear KL,

Wow! Where do I start? You had me fooled big-time. I didn’t like you even one little bit at first, but you grew on me! So much so, that I returned to you for a few extra nights. I’m not going to say a final good-bye simply because you are so easy for me, I’m likely to return even on this trip!

First off, I must say a huge thanks to the folks at Reggae Mansion Kuala Lumpur! Every day, I watched the reception desk employees greeting everyone as they were coming and going. They also said things like “have a great day”, “enjoy your trip”, “see you soon”, etc. Right from the start, they embraced me and made me feel welcome. But I must say, I truly had the best fun ever with the bar/restaurant staff – they were fabulous. Aquil kept me supplied with the vodka/cranberry, but more importantly, he made great conversation. He has the most wonderful smile and laugh! To Aquil, Freddy, E, and Alf….thank you for taking me in and showing me a good time. And okay, thanks for laughing at me while I was learning how to use the chopsticks! It made me feel like a part of a “family”. You were all wonderful. Thank you!

The National Mosque – you surprised me! I was not feeling like, as an American, I really wanted to acknowledge your existence. But instead, I felt a calm and a true sense that your religion is not so different from ours. Every day the call to prayer is sent out and followers come to express their love for the world. What a mess to your image a few idiots have done. I found your people to be helpful, caring, and considerate. Thank you!

And to the kids who came to Reggae Mansion and included me in their conversations and partying, thank you! You helped me to feel young and taught me so much about what to look for in Thailand. Mostly, you impressed me. Who would think that with all that partying, you still made time to respect KL. You got early (I think sometimes because you never went to sleep!!) to get free tickets into the Petronas Towers. You hustled over to Chinatown for cheap eats and climbed the 274 stairs at Batu Cave. You recognized the importance of your journeys. Many times I saw you writing in journals and skyping back home with family members. You spoke with pride about where you came from, what you studied or will study in school, and always encouraged me to continue my travels. Thank you!

So, KL I guess in closing I just want to say a huge thank you to you for reassuring me in so many ways, that I made the right decision to come and see you! You can be sure I will be back!

Love,

Cheri

Thank you letter to Melaka, Malaysia

Dearest Melaka,

It will be difficult for me to find the words to thank you for your hospitality without shedding a few tears. Leaving was painful even though I was looking forward to seeing Kuala Lumpur again.

How strange was it that once again, I came to you and thought – wow, this place is not going to be good to me? Instead, on the very first night you embraced me! You provided Yong, the owner of the Bucket Bar, and his friend Johnnie from Denmark. Within hours, I was in a nice clean guesthouse with my own room and air-conditioning! Every night I spent in the bar with you Yong was fantastic. You introduced me to your employee Rosie and she shared her evening meal with me every night so I could taste the cooking first hand! I know after our conversations about Las Vegas and how they run the bars there, you will take the information and grow your business! I can’t wait to see Bucket Bar Kuala Lumpur and Bucket Bar Singapore, etc. Go for it buddy…..and thank you!

Melaka, every day as I walked around town, you kept me entertained with the guys on their trishaws. How they made me laugh! Totally decorated with flowers and lights, the trishaws sat in the main square just waiting to cruise around town. And the guys that peddled them just made me smile. Their choice of music was so cool – everything from Dean Martin to Rhianna to Usher to Perry Como. It was hilarious. Even when I had to consistently tell them no thank you, the drivers always gave back a big (sometimes toothless) smile and “welcome”….instead of you’re welcome. Still makes me smile to think of them! Thank you!

William, you run a lovely guesthouse. I will always remember hearing you call the cat – One-One!! What a funny name for a cat! And why is it you think you will ever have that cat trained to come whenever you call him for food? “One-One food” is a phrase I won’t soon forget! And thank you for your daughter who so graciously provided me with a bucket, soap, and hangars so I could do some laundry instead of taking it out to be done – what a sweetheart! Thank you!

To the nice gentleman at the riverside cafe where I ate frequently, thank you for just letting me sit there and write in my journal! You always left me alone and just came around now and then to see if I needed anything. Your quiet, calm demeanor always made me feel like I was on a vacation from travelling! Thanks too for asking me if I wanted my noodles spicy or not – you must have read it on my face! Or perhaps you heard the noises from my stomach that were probably sending out the vibe of…please, please, please, don’t put anything else spicy in me!! Regardless, I appreciated your thoughtfulness in asking first! Thank you!

Sonia, you showed up in Melaka on my last night there. Oh how I wish I could have spent more time with you! You were such a pleasure to meet! I enjoyed walking around the night market with you and enjoying some native Nyona food! And how can I ever thank you for all the tips regarding my travel in Thailand and the islands especially? I learned so much from you in those few hours! I was surprised that, after us hitting our beds at 2am, you still got up early and walked me to the bus stop! How sweet that was of you! I’m so glad I have your contact information so I can see you when I am in Spain! It will be fantastic to see your home city of Barcelona through your eyes! Thank you!

Walmart Twins!

To the lady that was wearing the same Walmart t-shirt as me in Melaka, I hope your stay in Melaka was as wonderful as mine! Wasn’t that hysterical? Miles away from our country, a chance meeting and we’re both wearing the same shirt!! It just goes to show how small the world is! But I enjoyed our chat and will remember our meeting fondly! Thank you!

Melaka, it was a pleasure to meet you! I look forward to returning some day. I mean, I really must simply to enjoy your beautiful sea breezes, check on my friends William and Yong, and to see if One-One truly will come when called! Thank you again for the lovely time – you will not be forgotten!

Cheri