Jed Appelrouth

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South East Asia

Reflections on Southeast Asia:
Tuk-tuks, Thai massages and Obama promises

The Buddha meditates peacefully beneath the cover of a 7-headed dragon as orange-clad cell-phone monks whizz past on mopeds. Gnarled tree roots clutch the stone foundations of a 1,000 year-old temple as street-dogs dart between hurried tuk-tuks; a dancing, laughing lady raises her hands in celebration beneath a Laotian sky filled with fireworks and floating sky-lanterns.

During our journey we witnessed images of stillness and tranquility juxtaposed against the quickening backdrop of the modern world. We explored the cultural richness of older civilizations, negotiated the organized chaos of growing cities, and took some time to enjoy the simplicity and beauty of unspoiled nature.

I have developed the habit of recording my thoughts and impressions to save for later, when the strains of memory have attenuated and my mental images are no longer in Technicolor. For those of you who want to follow along, I hope you enjoy the journey.

The Journey Begins

My friend Andrew Daniels and I embarked on the long journey which took us to Detroit, Shanghai and Bangkok before we arrived in Siam Reap, Cambodia. By the skin of our teeth, we avoided the mayhem of the Detroit-bound underwear bomber, and our bags were unfortunately shanghaied in the Chinese baggage transfer; but we'd reunite with our things within several days of our arrival. In Siam Reap we passed through the H1N1 screening area where heat-sensitive cameras scanned our bodies to see if were toasty and flu-ridden. Luckily we came in at a cool 98.6. After procuring our visas and swearing we had not coughed in a week, we cleared the final administrative hurdle, hired a taxi and made our way into town.

My expectations for Cambodia were colored by images from National Geographic magazines from the 80s and 90s. I was a bit behind the times. Siam Reap now boasted a thriving tourist infrastructure. Giant hotels and storefronts were visible on almost every corner; new construction was everywhere. Echoes of the third world remained in the form of wandering dogs, piles of trash and smoke-spewing autos.

We wasted no time in hiring a car to take us to the temples. We purchased our 3-day Angkor Wat picture-ID badges and headed north. Our driver offered us the chance to get a bird's eye view of the great temple from a hot air balloon. For a slim $15, this sounded like a golden opportunity. It turned out the balloon was tethered to the ground and simply rose up and down like a giant elevator. But we did get a unique perspective, and I was able to try out my new zoom lens.

We made our way to the entrance of Angkor Wat, and I was taken aback by the scene. The last exposure I had to jungle "ruins" was when my sister and I spent a day in Tikal in Guatemala. We were almost alone in that temple complex and explored the Mayan temples in relative privacy. I had a romanticized notion of "seeing the ruins," but this conceit was quickly shattered by the reality of Angkor Wat. As we pulled up to the temple, we passed hundreds of tuk-tuks (moped carriages) and other tourist vehicles. As our car slowed to a stop, the local sales force roused. The instant we opened the car door, we were overwhelmed by diminutive Cambodian children pitching post-cards and guidebooks, water, bracelets and various accessories. We politely declined their offers and walked towards the temple. As we progressed, the prices kept dropping and the children's entreaties became more emotional and creative. "You don't like me?" "Mister, buy postcards for your wife. You don't have a wife, buy for your girlfriend. You don't have a girlfriend. If you buy, you will get a girlfriend." That was hysterical. I did appreciate the salesmanship!

We didn't spend long during our first pass at Angkor Wat, as we were planning to catch that evening's sunset atop the temple at Phnom Bakheng. Before we left Angkor Wat, however, we had the good fortune of snapping a few photographs of three Buddhist monks exiting the ancient temple. Their traditional orange robes offset the greenish tinged stone, giving our photographs the patented Buddhist pop.

When we arrived at Phnom Bakheng, we began the trek up the mountain, bypassing the tourist-laden elephants making a similar approach. We ascended the hill, accompanied by a soundtrack of surprisingly shrill cicadas, and when we arrived at the hilltop, we found the temple teeming with tourists. Struggling to find a tourist-free shot, I eventually abandoned my National Geographic ambitions and simply enjoyed the sunset, leaving the photography for another day.

That evening we decided to walk into town for dinner. Little did we know that in the evenings, the local villages burned all of their trash. Within 50 feet of leaving our hotel, my eyes were burning and my throat was extremely irritated. I didn't know if I could make it another 500 feet, much less 2km into town. But gradually we adjusted to the particulate-rich air. After this, we would travel into town by tuk-tuk.

We arrived at the tourist district in the center of Siam Reap and found ourselves magically transported back to the US. Americans abounded, the signage was exclusively in English and all the prices were in US dollars, the preferred currency for transactions in Cambodia. We found a restaurant where we knew we could trust the ice-cubes, the Red Piano, the establishment where the cast of Laura-Croft Tomb Raider had eaten for months while filming, apparently without incident.

During dinner we enjoyed watching all the action around us. рLadies" of the evening (often with Adamуs apples bigger than mine) cruised the streets, and pimps aggressively sought out interested patrons. Enterprising shop owners went to great lengths to separate tourists from their Dollars, Bhat or Euros. The gimmick of the hour was the fish-foot massage. Tourists would pay $3 for 20 minutes of dangling their feet into a tank full of nibbling little fishes. If you've ever dangled your feet in lake Lanier, you know the tiny popping feeling of little fish puckers suctioning your feet and toes. Several of the customers were howling with ticklish delight, and many a tourist took a moment to capture this authentic Cambodian experience on camera. As we ate dinner we were entertained by the soundtrack of American hits with an emphasis on Phil Collin's catalog.

Cambodia Day 2

During our second day in Siam Reap we explored the heart of the Angkor temple region. Our driver conveyed many interesting tidbits of Cambodian trivia. He told us of the absolute corruption of the ruling communist party and the farcical nature of their рelections.с We inquired about the incredible profusion of 1990уs Toyota Camry's on the road, in some places making up over 90% of all cars. Our guide explained that with its reliability and fuel economy, the Camry had become very popular, and now spare Camry parts are so abundant that itуs cheaper to repair a Camry than any other car. So everyone simply drives a Camry. As a proud 1998 Camry owner myself, I felt completely at home.

As we drove, we passed numerous wedding ceremonies where traditional music blasted from powerful speakers. After the rice harvest, people finally had the time and money to tie the knot. Our driver commented that the country was seeing a groundswell of conversions from Buddhism to Christianity, driven primarily by the exorbitant cost of throwing a Buddhist wedding. Christian weddings, in their simplicity, offered Cambodians a way to marry without depleting their entire life savings. Theologians and aspiring proselytizers take note!

Religious transitions were nothing new to the region. For centuries, the great struggles between Hinduism and Buddhism were carried out in the temples. Followers of both sides would smash each other's statues, replacing Buddhist iconography with that of Hinduism and vice versa. Hindu Lingams and Yonis were replaced with meditating Buddhas, which were subsequently decapitated. The modern replacement parts stuck out like sore thumbs against the weathered 1000-year-old stones.

We visited numerous temples within the Khmer temple complex. All of these temples had been built between 802 and 1220 AD when the Khmer reigned, and new temples were built almost yearly to commemorate the gods and deify the current Khmer rulers. Many of the 300+ temples had fallen into disrepair, overrun by the jungle, but one by one, the temples were being reclaimed. Our guide explained why many of the towers, Stupas, were unfinished. Apparently the Khmer were highly superstitious, and if lightning ever struck a Stupa during construction, it was a sign of ill-favor of the gods; thereafter the builders had to permanently abandon construction on that particular tower.

We visited four of the most prominent temples in the region- Ta Prohm with its massive trees; The Bayon Temple of Angkor Thom with its 54 towers and 216 tranquil faces; the more secluded temple of Preah Kahn; and the giant pagoda temple of Angkor Watt. I was in awe of the trees of Ta Prohm and felt like I was in some fairy tale when we explored the 1,000 year old ruins of Preah Kahn, wondering what we would see at every turn. There was certainly an element of magic to this place.

Cambodia Day 3

For our final day in Cambodia we hired a guide to take us to the more distant temples of Beng Mealea and Banteay Srei. During the hour-long drive to Beng Mealea we saw the non-touristy side of Cambodia. One farm after the other, off the grid, rooftops made of palm fronds and grass or occasionally corrugated steel. Naked toddlers scampering about. Motorcycles refueling at the side of the road, purchasing Johnny Walker bottles filled with petrol. Our guide told us that until 1997 we could never have made this particular trip. The Khmer Rouge rebels were still too powerful and tourism was limited to Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm. But now the rebels have been defeated, and the majority of landmines have been removed. We actually passed a land-mine removal facility en route to our destination.

When we arrived at Beng Mealea, the jungle temple, we were escorted about by guides who made sure we did not hurt ourselves as we scrambled over piles of fallen stones. The jungle had reclaimed this temple and it remained largely overgrown. This far from the Angkor complex, there were comparatively few tourists. After an hour under the jungle canopy we drove towards Banteay Srei, stopping for lunch at a local Cambodian dive. We indulged in traditional Cambodian cuisine and found ourselves watching Brendan Fraser deliver lines in Cambodian in a comically overdubbed George of the Jungle.

After viewing the intricate sandstone carvings of Banteay Srei, we returned to Siam Reap.

Our driver asked us if we wanted to see the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge. The famous landmark memorializing the 3 million killed during Pol Pot's 1975-1979 reign of terror was outside of Phnom Penh. But a local group of monks gathered bones from the fields of Siam Reap where some 50,000-100,000 innocents had been slaughtered, creating a memorial Stupa filled with unidentified human remains.

After visiting the memorial, we continued south to our final destination in Cambodia, the lake village. South of Siam Reap, refugees had created a floating village that moved with the tides. The village had floating stores, schools, and churches. During the tour, our boat was boarded by an enterprising team of beverage salesmen: that was a high point, a bit of swashbuckling adventure. Before concluding the tour, our boat guide insisted that we see a local fish farm (read 5 catfish in a trash-filled receptacle) and a gator farm (20 gators lying in a pile). We returned to our Camry where our driver handed us each a cold Angkor beer to celebrate the end of a good day.

Before we left town we had our first massage of the trip at our hotel. My masseuse was a deceptively small, yet powerful Cambodian woman, who could have made a living on the UFC circuit. She asked me if I wanted it рstrong.с Like any red blooded American male, former wrestler, of course I told her I wanted it "strong." Who did she think she was dealing with? So she proceed to hit me, kick me, drop the elbow, jump on me, until, she saw me wincing in pain. She laughed, "You, no strong. Okay medium." Things proceeded more pleasantly thereafter.

For our final meal we tuk-tuked into town and found our favorite tourist alley. We ordered a hot pot and grill where we cooked up beef, alligator, noodles, veggies, soup and rice. It was a nice final taste of Cambodia.

Luang Prabang, Laos: Luxuriate in the Taste of Culture

We rode propeller planes from Siam Reap into Vientiane where we stopped for a quick lunch and then took our final flight into the mountainous village of Luang Prabang. We rode to our hotel where we met Grace Wang, my friend from Penn who I had not seen in over 8 years. She would join Andrew and me during our travels through Laos.

After dinner we walked around the city, taking in its magic and Asian-French flavor. It was a bit like stepping into a dream. While Siam Reap was harsher, edgier, and grittier, Luang Prabang was friendlier, warmer and more welcoming. Its many charms had won Luang Prabang status as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but as it continued to cater to the increasing influx of tourists, and locals turned their ponds into guesthouses, the city was on the verge of losing this coveted designation.

We walked through the city under the illumination of hundreds of lanterns. We traversed the market, as merchants sat with their wares arrayed before them, smiling and friendly, never soliciting in an aggressive fashion. Getting by in the city was so easy and everything was so profoundly affordable. $.60 fruit shake, $1.10 crepe, $4.00 massage, $3.50 dinner including drinks. Who needs Europe? This place is 1/5 the price! We ran into a couple who found it cheaper to continue traveling through Laos than return to their home in Australia.

During our first full day in LP we negotiated for a boat ride up the Mekong to visit the Pak Ou caves and Whiskeytown. The libations of Whiskeytown left a bit to be desired, but the caves delivered with their vast assortment of miniature Buddhas. We returned to LP to grab a lunch of tamarind juice; lemongrass, mango, lime, and banana fruit shakes; bamboo shoots, rice noodles and veggie soup; and sticky rice. All for the price of a Big Mac! This was living.

To catch the sunset, we climbed the 328 steps to the top of Mount Phousi where we joined the crush of tourists. The view was surprisingly smoky, and from such heights we could see numerous fires burning around the edges of the city. Though it was hazy, we enjoyed the sunset. As it grew dark, we descended the hill, grabbed a drink, had another $4 massage, and found a riverside restaurant for dinner. With midnight rapidly approaching, we began to walk towards the city center to partake of the New Year's Eve festivities. As we neared the town center, a constellation I had never seen before was glowing in the night sky. The stars were surprisingly bright, and they were shimmering. Wait- they were moving. Suddenly we realized those weren't stars at all, but sky lanterns, Khom Fai. We stopped for a moment to take in the image. It was gorgeous. I felt for a moment like my nephews must feel when they see something new for the first time. Complete wonderment. We stared as the flaming luminaries rose gracefully above the city, constellating and reconstellating.

As we approached, the lights grew larger. We watched teams of people lighting the lanterns and sending them aloft. We looked up to see the concentric rings of fire and light: a sea of burning, yellow-ringed jellyfish shifting on the currents of rising air. The peacefulness of the sky and moon. The joyful dancing below. Music filled the square. We grabbed a couple of BeerLao for a midnight toast. The countdown began and ended with raucous shouts of "Happy new year!" As we toasted, the festivities heightened. Sparklers, roman candles, and a questionably safe firework show erupted only feet from where we stood. We moved to the center of a giant party with a Laotian rock band and danced with foreigners and locals. One diminutive Asian woman who must have been in her late her 70s was shaking it down, laughing and smiling and reveling in the joy of the moment. I'll never forget that old dancing lady in her Burgundy dress with her outstretched hands, white hair flying and contagiously full smile. She was having more fun than any of us, and we couldn't help but join in! Grace was in love and wanted to move here. Truly this was a special place.

After a wonderful night we would spend the next day on a tour of the local Kouang Si Waterfalls. Our international minivan boasted Greek, Japanese, and Korean tourist and a Hmong driver all communicating in English. The falls were beautiful. Afterwards we spent an hour at a Hmong village watching some very cute children running around chasing chickens. They were loving it! That evening we watched a dance performance at the Royal Palace. The dancers acted out a scene from the Ramayana, and I enjoyed watching Hanuman, my favorite monkey, in action. We dined at the Elephant, one of the finer restaurant in LP, and sampled many Laotian delicacies.

In the morning we awoke to witness the ritual of alms giving. It was beautiful to watch the local adults and children supporting the monks and offering food and money to fill their bowls.

Our next stop was Nong Khiaw. a tiny village several hours north of the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers. We took a tuk-tuk to the departure point, and on the way we realized that the majority of tuk-tuks had mud flaps with pictures of Rambo-Sly Stallone- holding an RPG. That was a bit surreal! At the tourist depot we loaded into our minivan that was clearly not built for westerners. We scrunched in, knees jammed against the seats in front of us. Among the group we spoke with a British-American couple on a 1-year Asian trek. They told us Myanmar (Burma) was the best destination for relative seclusion and gorgeous temples. During the 3-hour drive to NK, Grace and I sat in the backseat, and with each bump in the road, we were launched towards the ceiling, and I nearly smacked my head. We could only laugh at our situation. We plugged in the iphone and had a nice soundtrack to speed the hours along. The stunning scenery and layers of mountains made for a beautiful visual backdrop.

When we arrived in NK we dropped our bags in our $9.50/night room and met up with a globetrotting couple from New Zealand and Britain, Ray and Vanessa. They opted to keep traveling in this inexpensive country rather than return home to pay rent. A geologist (mineral extraction expert) turned astrologer, Ray expressed his views that SE Asia has turned for the worse, and the unspoiled beauty was no more. I remember his exclamation, "Thailand is ruined." He told us of the time he spent at Angkor Wat in the 80s when there were all of 5 tourists in the whole complex, with sporadic gunfire in the distance. After an interesting conversation and an unsuccessful attempt to hire a boat for a sunset tour, we took a short hike up the riverside of the Nam Ou.

The following morning we took a brief walk away from the village towards the caves where locals had hidden during the relentless US bombings of the Vietnam war and the Pathet Lao had set up shop during the Laotian civil war. We saw new concrete homes being constructed, replacing the traditional wooden structures. Blue Laotian flags and flags bearing the red-yellow hammer and sickle flew from most of the houses and storefronts. Women were rhythmically beating the highly nutritive river moss into thin green sheets, seasoning them and leaving them to dry in the sun. A gang of boys saw us and requested, "Kip?" AKA "Can you cough up some Kip (the Laotian currency)? We responded with an immediate "Se Ba Di," the go-to greeting. At the cave, two young boys unlocked the gates for us and let us wander around.

Grace was staying on in NK, but it was time for Andrew and I to return to LP. Ray had advised that we take the 6-hour scenic boat ride back rather than the minivan. But he urged us to get there early to secure a seat in the front of the boat, away from the noisy engine. We had good intentions, but our breakfast was delivered at a leisurely Laotian pace, and we ended up the last on the boat, stuck in the back. Luckily Andrew and I both had ipods and earbuds, which helped soften the roar of the engine.

During the 6-hour boat trip we saw many beautiful vistas. We watched children playing at the edge of the river, families farming and hundreds of people gathering the highly nutritive moss that was a dietary staple. Transport boats and fishing boats traversed the river. We saw families of wild boar running riverside, as well as cows, water buffalo, and trained elephants. At one point we had to exit the boat to make it over a very shallow patch. In the dry season, it does become more challenging, but we made it back with only one scrape on the bottom of the boat.

Once we were back in LP I had my first ever foot massage. It was relaxing and only once did I jump when the massage artist jabbed one of my pressure points with a chopstick. We grabbed a final meal of soup, fruit shakes, tea and Beerlao and called it a night.

Thailand

We began our Thai journey in the northern city of Chang Mai, home to 1.5 million people, what seemed like several hundred thousand dogs, and at least 50,000 pictures of the King on billboards and various other fixtures. In Thailand, it's good to be the king!

It's a bit trickier being a dog, but the dogs certainly make an impression. Most of the them are coated in a thin layer of street-grime, giving them a distinctive sheen. They are bolder than any other dogs I've ever come across. Many exhibit a shocking lack of fear. One of them was catching a nap 6 feet from the curb, in the middle of the street, taking up half the lane during rush hour. Cars and bikes were maneuvering around the beast, drivers cursing as they passed. We watched another dog saunter boldly through a maze of moving cars, unfazed by the danger around him, stop to pee on a tire and amble off into the distance.

We spent the first day going to the various temples in the historic city center. We found a tailor to make Andrew's custom-fitted suits, grabbed our first official Thai massages (where the masseuse ran her hand over my arm in disbelief at the how much body hair I bring to the massage table) and went to the night market to check out the wares. Knock off watches, purses, shirts, DVDs: most anything could be had for a price. For the first time we heard the famed "same, same, but different," as a vendor explained the differences between two watches: "same, same but very different."

In the morning we found a driver to take us to the great mountain of Chang Mai, Doi Suthep. From a scenic viewpoint atop the mountain, we were floored by the amount of pollution in the city; we could barely make out the city below, given the thick layer of haze. Atop the mountain we banged the gongs and rang the bells of the temple, spent time photographing a beautiful Hmong village garden and visited the gardens of the royal Bhubing palace. That evening we grabbed dinner at a local restaurant with a live band and heard most of the Beatles catalog delivered with a twist of Thai. We walked to the student market where I tried to negotiate, but the woman looked at me like I was daft. In the tourist market you need to negotiate everything down by 50% to arrive at a fair price, but in the local's market, the prices are firm. I went shopping for t-shirts, but found it challenging to find anything my size, as most locals are considerably smaller than us Americans.

The second day we joined an organized tour to Doi Intanon National Park, which boasts the highest mountain in Thailand and numerous waterfalls. Our driver was hilarious. Surprisingly he had been a monk for over 10 years, whereas most Buddhist males from Thailand experience monkhood for 3-4 months before returning to the general population. Our driver showed us the highest point in the country, from which the US launched its air raids against Vietnam. He brought us to the giant Stupas of the King and Queen where we learned about the story of the Buddha's life. Our driver also explained the political battles of Thailand between the red shirts and the yellow shirts and the blue shirts who really supported the yellow shirts. It all sounded very primary. Our guide explained why people love the king, one of the better kings of recent memory, with his royal project to help the nation's farmers become more independent and grow more food for Thailand. Our guide led us on 2-hour hike down by the waterfalls, through the rice fields and coffee plants into a Karen village for some freshly picked, roasted and ground coffee.

We drove back into Chang Mai for the two major fights of the evening. The first fight pitted Andrew and I against 2 bowls of spicy Thom Yum soup. Spicy Thai soup puts spicy in a whole new category. Liquid fire. It burned and kept on burning. Ice- water- rice- we couldn't extinguish the fire. Thoroughly vanquished, we left our bowls of soup largely untouched on the table. We headed to the fighting arena to watch 8 matches of Muay Thai kickboxing. We had planned on buying tickets for a Tuesday match at a smaller venue, but our hotel concierge told us that the Tuesday match was pure theater. The Wednesday fights would be real fights, but not as high profile as the Friday- Saturday matches.

Muay Thai fighting had much more locking up and throwing- wrestling- than I anticipated. It was all about balance and the reach of the fighters. Before the fight the fighters would do something of a "dance" in the ring to honor their teachers. And when the match started, the music began: a drummer and a lively horn player would play and modulate the pace as the rounds neared completion. In the final round, the tempo and volume of the music would really pick up. The locals were having all the fun, yelling and screaming with the landing of each blow; the westerners with their ring-side seats were much more subdued. The local fighters were very scrappy. And the 40kg fighters were the scrappiest by far. These kids must have been 15 at the oldest and they came out swinging. 40kg of TNT, cannons blazing and fists and legs flying. It was a very entertaining evening.

Bangkok

Our final destination was Bangkok. Our goals were modest. We had already eaten Pad Thai, watched Muay Thai boxing and had a Thai massage; all that was left was to drink one Thai Iced tea and one Muay Thai cocktail, which we accomplished during one of our culinary breaks. We decided to walk around Bangkok for our first day. As we walked, locals flashed us pictures of semi-clothed or naked women offering us "happy hour" and "massage." The traffic was almost incessant even at off-hours. The heat was oppressive, and my eyes burned on account of the pollution. Going forward, we'd stick with taxis and tuk-tuks.

There was an interesting racket among the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers. The tailors paid the drivers, giving them free gas, if they delivered tourists to their doors. One tuk-tuk driver told us that we could go anywhere in the city for 10 Bhat, 30 cents, if we agreed to stop in and talk to the tailors for 5 minutes. We walked inside the store and for 10 minutes, Harry, the Indian tailor, harassed us with the hard sell. His 300 factory workers were ready to crank out tailored suits for us. We pushed back that we needed to shop around, and this clearly upset him. "How can you come into my store and not buy anything?" I said we needed to make sure the price was the best. He asked me to promise him before I left his store that if I found a better price, I'd let him match it. He asked me for an "Obama" promise. "Will you give me an Obama promise?" How bizarre! What did that even mean? I had no intention of buying a suit in Thailand, but I willingly gave the tailor my Obama promise. (I hope he's not entitled to my first born or anything of the sort!)

We explored the famous temples of Bangkok, the temple of the Emerald Buddha, the temple of the Reclining Buddha (purportedly sponsored by Craftmatic adjustable beds), the Royal Palace and my favorite, Wat Arun, which was radiant at sunset. The stairs were quite steep, but that was part of the excitement. After 15 days on the road, it was admittedly growing harder to stay excited by the prospect of another temple crowded with tourists. The temples were beautiful, built with incredible attention to detail, but we were becoming saturated.

We both found ourselves craving home, so that night we dined at a German brew pub and ate burgers and fries. As we waited to meet up with Achuan, one of Andrew's Penn friends from Thailand, we observed the evening's commerce taking place outside on the street. Quick transactions. Negotiations and Love songs. We watched as dozens of older white males walked arm-in-arm with younger, beautiful Thai females. It was telling that the numerous 7-11s (wildly popular in Thailand) offered a wide variety of condoms as soon as you walked into the stores. Clearly we were in Bangkok, the sex-tourism capital of the world.

Achuwan and his girlfriend arrived in their car and took us to a trendy wine bar on the 37th floor of a high-rise. The views of the city were beautiful. The next night we'd meet up with one of Andrew's former Suntrust coworkers and grab drinks and desserts in one of the luxury malls of Bangkok. By day Bangkok was tough, but Bangkok at night was growing on me. And spending time with locals took a lot of the edge off, and took us away from the standard tourist haunts.

After 16 days, we were down to our last Bhat and our trip had come to a close. We got a few hours sleep, caught the 5:45 AM flight to Tokyo, grabbed a bowl of noodles and Japanese confections in the Tokyo airport and travelled the remaining 13 hours back to Atlanta.

The trip was an adventure. I was amazed that we were able book the whole thing from Atlanta and then travel effortlessly throughout Southeast Asia without knowing a word of Cambodian, Lao or Thai. Without a travel agent, without an interpreter, we were able to visit 3 countries on the other side of the world and return home In 16 days, never deviating from our language and rarely from our own currency. I tried to imagine how difficult this journey would have been 20, 50, 100 years ago. For better or for worse, we've exported our culture and language across the globe, and technology continues to make world travel easier and easier. Roy, our astrologer friend, was upset by this development. But I'd rather embrace the possibilities that have opened up. The world is so accessible, and the next adventure is around the corner. I'll keep you posted. And if you've made it all the way, thanks for reading!

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