Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Final Thoughts on our Asian Trip

Our trip through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and India was a great experience. With taking a "Gap Year" common in the UK, Richard felt like he had passed up every opportunity, and with American vacation standards, I never thought longer term travel would be possible. It is such a backpacker cliche to say any amount of time is not long enough, but it's true. Even in 10 weeks (5x what most Americans get per year), we still only caught glimpses. But they were beautiful and humbling and amazing and interesting and...

Here are the flotsam and jetsam thoughts:

Everyday Exotic Creatures

- In Siem Reap, it was great to glance out of your tuk-tuk and see a troop of monkeys in the forest bordering the road. A family also hung out around the roof of our hotel in Agra, and Rich only just missed getting the perfect shot of a monkey framed by the Taj Mahal.

- Even after a week at Elephant Nature Park, one never got tired of the occasional realization of "hey, that's an elephant standing right there" as you go about the more banal activities of life, say, waiting in line for breakfast.

- Throughout our trip, Pepper-like dogs hounded us - sorry, cheap pun. It would not be an exaggeration to say we saw at least one of her twins everyday in India! We decided either a) our girl was sending out her doppelgangers to check up on us or b) the more mongrel the population, the more common are brown dogs with white markings.

The Obligatory Toilet Commentary

I was surprised and very grateful for the prevalence of Western-style commodes in the places we visited. With proper prior planning, squatter use was kept to a minimum. Sometimes, you could even find the perfect trifecta of toilets: Western-style, toilet paper, and soap! If not, arming yourself with a bathroom bag (basic model: toilet paper + hand sanitizer, or the deluxe model: + immodium + cipro) is essential for peace of mind.

Rugrats, i.e. Traveling with Young Children in Developing Countries

Yes, it is true that most Asians, with our love of family, may enjoy meeting and playing with your child. This aspect of the cultures does not grant you freedom to indulge your flaky parenting style and get some free babysitting out of unsuspecting, probably underpaid and overworked hotel employees. A particularly heinous example of this we observed in an Aussie couple with their 4-year-old daughter in our homestay in Vietnam. While Mum was off on a trek, Dad decided to wander off to do some photography, calling over his shoulder, "Dakota, just hang out with them for a while. I'll be back later!" We looked around and to our horror, "them" was the four of us backpackers who were just finishing breakfast. Now, being decent human beings instead of, say, the secret axe-murderers and child molesters we could have been, we had just been thrust into babysitting a tot we only met the night before... instead of also being allowed to enjoy our own vacations. Dakota's precocious Shirley Temple charm already was wearing thin with her habits of sucking on a dirty comb and sticking her snotty fingers in the communal serving dishes. With parents like those, I suppose consideration of others was pretty low on her list of lessons to learn.

Photography (Other People's)

Sometimes photography can be an antisocial behavior like smoking. At the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, we were jostled constantly by amateurs who felt a giant lens attachment on their SLR camera entitled them to front and center seating. Nevermind that we all had arrived 4 hours before the event to get those seats! One woman even had the gall to cast dirty looks at anyone who jostled her tripod in the crammed standing room only section.

Expenses for Curious Minds Who Want to Know

The whole thing cost us about 12000 USD. Almost half of that were flights, many bought not far in advance of the departure. Hopefully, some of you can see this number and be inspired to go on your own great adventure.


Thanks to our families for being supportive and not freaking out too much. May I suggest less Andrew Zimmerman for next time? Special thanks to Mom and Dad for watching Pepper and my sister for watching - and not touching- the bank (just kidding, Ate!). Special thanks to Mum and Michael for the great shower, sleep, and steak and kidney pie (!) layover and Dad for bringing us back to Heathrow by dawn.

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