Just as I did with South America, here’s a quick roundup of my favorite food-related experiences in Southeast Asia. In terms of food and beverage (as well as many other things), these two months were quite different than the previous two – entirely different styles and flavors, different traditions surrounding food, and different attitudes and behaviors on our part. For instance, by this point in our travels we became far more comfortable with eating street food, which was much more abundant in Southeast Asia than in South America. At the beginning of South America I was generally fairly wary, unsure of how to tell what would be safe. By the time we got to Southeast Asia those feelings were long gone, and I happily and readily dug into anything and everything we saw on the street that looked delicious. More often than not we’d sit down at a place based on the signage, hold up two fingers (“two orders, please”), and eat whatever they brought out. It was definitely to our benefit, since a lot of the non-street food we had was incredibly mediocre. (I’m sure if we had gone to fancier places, there would have been some pretty great stuff.) We also discovered some of our most favorite dishes this way.
After Cambodia, we spent almost three weeks – nearly half our time in Asia – in Vietnam, starting from the south in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon and working our way north along the coast to Hanoi. Neither of us would hesitate to say it has been our favorite place of the last four months of travel (of the last eight, it’s competing neck-and-neck with the Canadian Rockies). Across the country people were friendly, travel was easy, and it was easy to relax and enjoy our time in lovely places.
And then, there’s the food. We’re both big fans of Vietnamese food back in the states, so we were particularly looking forward to our time eating our way through the country, south to north. We were not disappointed.
I’ve always said that if I were forced to eat one type of food all the time it would definitely be Mexican food, but I’m honestly not so sure of that anymore. Vietnamese food is the absolutely perfect combination of deep, complex flavors and simple, fresh ingredients, combined in millions of different ways to achieve entirely different things. The number of amazing and amazingly different things they can create with even just a few ingredients is incredible. It can be possible that something made of just broth, rice noodles, and mint leaves can taste like the best thing you’ve ever had, and that’s the sort of simple magic I can get behind.
It struck me the other day that I haven’t really been writing much lately. Here, or elsewhere. For the first four months or so of our travels I kept writing fairly often, but since we’ve been more aggressively abroad (as opposed to being in Canada or traipsing around the US), time has taken on kind of a different nature. It’s a little hard to explain, since I’m used to fitting my daily life somewhere on a spectrum between “time filled up” and “time not filled up,” either end of which manifests itself as “SO BUSY SO BUSY” or “SO LAZY SO LAZY,” respectively. But now that spectrum doesn’t really seem applicable, since I look back on the past few months and feel like it’s been both busy and relaxed, two states of being that have always been fairly mutually exclusive in my life. For the past four months, our time has been filled enough that I haven’t had many chances to sit and write, though it’s not like each day we have an agenda brimming with things to do and see. Most days we have a decent amount of downtime, but usually I can’t bring myself to do anything more taxing than listening to music, staring out the window, reading a book, or just sitting around with a cold beer or a heavily limed gin and tonic and talking about what comes next, or not talking at all.
After our week in Dhaka, we blew through Bangkok again and headed into Cambodia via a van – shuttle – bus – taxi – tuktuk combination. We started with three hot, sweaty, dusty days in Siem Reap, biking, wandering, and climbing around the temples of Angkor Wat, then headed south to Battambang, what felt like a smallish town but is in fact the country’s second biggest city. After that, we slowed down for four days in Phnom Penh before heading into Vietnam, where we are now (I ate bahn mi three times yesterday, friends. It was glorious.)
After two weeks in Bali, we spent a very quick two days in Bangkok before flying to Dhaka, Bangladesh, to visit a good friend of ours who works at the US Embassy there.
There’s so much to say about Dhaka that I’m not really sure where to start. It’s not the sort of place we would have put on our itinerary if we hadn’t had a friend to stay with and show us the ropes, and that’s exactly why we went. We had an amazing time – a once-in-a-lifetime sort of experience, actually – but it was certainly not an easy place to travel. We had it about as easy as humanly possible, with a lovely big apartment to stay in and a kitchen in which to cook with items bought from the American Commissary and a constant source of distilled (i.e. safe to drink) water, a driver to bring us where we wanted to go, a ready-made social group of our friend’s lovely colleagues, and a friend to bring us to great restaurants (more on that later) and recommend places to go and things to see. Without all of that, Dhaka would have been much more difficult. Read more