Just Back From: Southeast Asia

By Garrick Lee

During a recent two-week trip to Southeast Asia, I had the opportunity to travel to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. If you haven’t been before, Southeast Asia is a collection of beautiful, kind, and blissful countries that everyone needs to experience. All of the destinations were unique and a must-see, but below are highlights, insights, and tips from two of the cities I visited.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

  • What do you love most about this city?
    • Chiang Mai has such a variety of activities and neighborhoods—you will never get bored. There is the Old City, where travelers can explore temples, find local cuisine, and more. Then there is also Nimmanhaemin Road, which is a neighborhood that feels slightly hipster—full of boutique stores, coffee shops, and restaurants. Lastly, there are many pop-up night markets, and the daily Chiang Mai Night Bazaar which is a chance to mingle with locals and fellow travelers as you shop for souvenirs and try bites from the food carts.
  • Where would you take a first-timer in this city?
    • Any first-timer to Chiang Mai needs to sign up for a tour to visit Elephant Nature Park. About two hours outside of the city, this elephant sanctuary provides a safe haven for elephants, and allows visitors the opportunity to feed, bath, and walk next to these gentle giants.
  • What is one thing that a first-timer must do in this city?
    • In my perspective, the best introduction to any city or culture is through food. Chiang Mai offers many cooking classes—the best one that I found was Zaab-E-Lee Thai Cooking School. Participants get their own cooking stations so there is a lot of hands-on work, plus you get to pick your own menu of items, so you can learn how to cook the Thai dishes you enjoy the most.
  • What is your favorite dish from here, and where might we find it?
    • Khao Soi is the most famous dish in Northern Thailand. It is a rich, fragrant coconut curry-based broth with chicken and wavy egg noodles. There are many restaurants that sell this very popular dish, but one of the best is from Khao Soi Khun Yai in Old City.
  • Tell us about the locals.
    • Thailand is also known as “The Land of Smiles,” and Chiang Mai was certainly a reflection of that. All of the people I encountered were kind and smiled even bigger when you to greeted them with a bow and tried your best to pronounce “sah-wah-dee-khrap,” which is “hello” in Thai.
  • What are five words that describe this city?
    • Peaceful, authentic, ornate, delicious, and humble.
  • What was the best souvenir you took home from here?
    • Thailand does not have a shortage of beautiful art, especially at Chiang Mai’s Sunday Night Market, which is a large once-a-week market that takes over many of the streets in Old City. My favorite souvenir is a bright and colorful painting of two elephants.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

  • Tell us about the locals.
    • All of the locals we encountered were passionate about Cambodia, and any traveler could feel the love that they have for their country. You couldn’t help but feel that they wanted you to enjoy your travels and one day come back to visit again.
  • What are five words that describe this city?
    • Authentic, passionate, picturesque, historic, and vibrant.
  • What is the one experience that everyone must try?
    • In many of the tourist areas, travelers will be asked to sit down for a fish “massage.” People are invited to dip their feet into a tub of water, and have little fish come and clean their feet. Personally, I would never do this again since the feeling is quite ticklish, but for $1, everyone should give it a try!
  • Describe one local dish everyone must try.
    • One of the most popular dishes in Siem Reap is a dish called Fish Amok. Although there can be a variety of proteins used to make this dish, such as pork and chicken, fish is one of the more popular, especially with the locals. “Amok” is simply a word that refers to the process of steam cooking a curry in banana leaves, so the banana leaves not only enhance the dish, they seal in the flavor to really pack a punch.
  • What is the best thing you can do here for free?
    • One of the biggest attractions in Siem Reap is Angkor Wat, which is the largest religious monument in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. While it’s not free to enter Angkor Wat or the surrounding temples, the best free activity is to go to a nearby lake and watch the sunrise with Angkor Wat in the background. The only cost is that depending on the time of year, you have to wake up before the sun, which is as early as 4am.
  • Tell us about your favorite memory of this city.
    • Besides Angkor Wat, which is one of the highlights from Siem Reap, it was a thrill to hop into a tuk tuk, and take it to a nearby destination for a few dollars. Since it’s a little carriage hooked to a motorbike, it’s endearingly known as the best “full body massage” due to the bumpiness of the ride, and was made memorable by the many near death experiences as the driver would weave through traffic and dodge pedestrians. But not to worry—these drivers are experts and have been driving for years.
  • Name something in this city that you wish you had at home.
    • If there were half-hour foot and back massages for just $1 in New York City, I would get a massage every weekend. I truly wish there were $1 massages, especially in the winter time when it’s more enjoyable to stay indoors.
  • Where might we find you at 1am in this city?
    • At 1am in Siem Reap I would be exploring Pub Street, which is considered a “backpacker street” that has many restaurants and bars, and the opportunity to meet other travelers. After a full day of exploring and immersing yourself into as much culture as possible, it is nice to be able to exchange stories, discoveries, and begin planning your next adventure before your current one ends.

Source: FS – All – Hotels – News
Just Back From: Southeast Asia