To Asia, With Love (and Other Emotions)

Shelley with Ultadanga kids

My time in Asia challenged me, rewarded me, made my heart ache and churned out a stronger person. I learned more in the last 11 months than I have in the last 11 years, and that’s no hyperbole. I became more familiar with the world and with myself. As it turns out, I’m a nomadic homebody. My style is to hunker down in a city and get the lay of the land instead of moving every three days. Maybe when in a state of constant change, it’s comforting to know where you can go for a reliable bowl of pho or a cup of REAL coffee.

Surprisingly I did make it to 12 countries (if you count Tibet and Hong Kong as separate from mainland China, which I do). I’ve had 7 telephone numbers, taken 13 flights, crossed 2 borders overland, added 31 stamps to my passport, secured 10 visas and spent about $24,000. Below is a snapshot of my feelings about each country: what I liked, what I didn’t and how I sum them each up. India is longer than the rest because I spent the most time there and it had such a profound effect. Ladies and gentlemen, I present my view of Asia in 2,000 words or less… Continue reading

Food and Friends in Bangkok

“Where are you from?”

During my week in Bangkok sans Stacey, I thought I would be looking for ways to spend my days. Aside from a few errands (Burmese Embassy, US Embassy, laundry), I figured they would be comprised of a lot of downtime and solo dining. Turns out, just when you think you’re alone in Bangkok… you’re not. It’s the traveler’s crossroads with people passing through en route to other South East Asian countries, getting visas, or staying for an extended period of time because Thailand is one of the few countries in the region that doesn’t require a visa. It’s easy to come in and out, meet people, eat delicious food and be on your way (or not). There are also a ton of expats, and some I pegged as travelers had actually been working there for many years. What surprised me most was how friendly people were- both locals and farong (foreigners). I’d be sitting in a bar or restaurant and someone would strike up a conversation. Some only lasted as long as I was sitting at X place, but a few extended beyond that. There was the Greek guy on holiday from his job as a bush pilot in South Sudan (fascinating), the Princeton grad students on fellowship and the English teacher who had been living in Bangkok for more than 15 years.

Burmese Embassy

Line of people picking up their Burmese visa

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Beef and Beaches- Hello,Thailand

Wat Arun

Wat Arun on Chao Phraya River

When I found Stacey at the Bangkok airport (she had flown in from LA), she was sitting outside a Burger King. We screamed, hugged and said our hellos as my eye wandered over to the Whopper menu. It’s amazing how much you crave something when you can’t have it. “Do you mind?” I asked her. “Of course not,” she replied and I quickly got in line to order the #1: a Whopper with cheese, fries and Coke Zero. I can’t even begin to explain how good it tasted. I was home again, even though fast food isn’t a regular occurrence in my life. The spectacle of me gobbling the burger and fries was over quickly and we made our way out of the airport, but not before stopping at an ATM to get cash. I didn’t check the exchange rate before leaving, but usually ATMs will give you options for different amounts to withdraw, which serve as a good guide. The max at the ATM was 30,000 baht, so I thought I was safe choosing 20,000. Turns out, that was over $600! Who accidentally withdraws $600 from an ATM and doesn’t realize it for two days? Me, apparently. Continue reading