*This is my first time having a guest poster. I hope you enjoy this since she is one of my best friends from Chennai and she is a fabulous writer!*
|Tara being robbed by a monkey in Cambodia. This really did happen.|
Allow me to introduce myself - my name is Tara, I am 24 years old, I am a "teacher", I currently reside in the hot, sticky and exuberant city of Bangkok, Thailand, and I am very honored to be Unsettled TCK's newest contributor! Although I am not so sure how well I can define myself as a Third Culture Kid (I have lived in my motherland for much of my life, after all), I do know that I haven't led the most sedentary of lifestyles either...
For some background, I was born in New Delhi, India (speaking of hot and sticky!), I was raised in Montreal, Canada and I split my teenage years between Hyderabad, India, Chennai, India and - of all places - Freehold, New Jersey. I returned to Canada to attend university and commenced my first 'real world' job in Toronto, Ontario. After two years of working, I found myself growing restless and unsatisfied with my routine. I decided to take a sabbatical from my job to pursue my dream of backpacking through South East Asia, and I signed up for an organized travel/volunteer excursion called Operation Groundswell which took me to Thailand and Cambodia. Two months, two countries, eleven cities, one hill tribe village, one tropical island, 15 bus rides and countless epic experiences later, and I realized that I wasn't quite ready to call it a day and head back home.
|Elephant sanctuary that we volunteered at as a part of Operation Groundswell.|
To be completely honest, I didn't even know which of my various 'homes' I even wanted to return to in the first place! Besides, home is where the heart is right? Well my heart had been stolen by South East Asia, and I knew deep down that I had no intentions of leaving. So here I am, living the expat life once again, loving every minute of it, and always so eager to plan my next weekend excursion!
For now, here are a few things I have picked up along the road through South East Asia that I would like to share with you:
1. Be smart, be safe - dress appropriately.
Although most parts of South East Asia are relatively safe and tourist-friendly, there are certain cultural differences that we as foreigners must remain mindful of. In my experience as a female traveler, one of the most important factors to be considered is attire (as Cecilia has addressed many times on this blog). The vast majority of temples in South East Asia require women to dress modestly, covering their shoulders and keeping skirts/pants below the knees. I have seen many female travelers arrive at temples and shrines wearing short shorts and tank tops only to be asked to change or be turned away at the door. Temples aside, don’t forget that, the more skin you show, the more attention you're likely to attract – and I don’t mean this in a good way. That being said, you certainly do not have to travel the region wearing a mumu and covering yourself from head to toe - most places are quite liberal and you will have plenty of opportunities to look cute! Just be sure to do your research for your own safety, your own piece of mind and your own opportunity to be culturally sensitive. If nothing else, carry a T-shirt (shawls and scarves don’t always cut it when it comes to covering your shoulders) and/or a pair of longer pants in your day pack just in case. When in doubt, stay on the conservative side.
|Loose clothing is a must!|
2. Eat Local.
Even though it took you a while to acclimatize yourself to all the rice and spice, the second you step off that plane and arrive back home, believe me you’ll be craving it all over again. The culinary fare in this part of the world is simply to die for: you can seriously find any and every flavor to appease any and every palate, whether you like it sweet, spicy or savory. I have met a number of individuals who admit that when they first arrived here, they stuck to Western food, only to find themselves eating pad thai and massaman curry for every meal by the end of their trips. So make sure you get your fill – there’s literally something for everyone!
|Pad Thai cooked by meee!|
3. Watch out for simians! (See above picture)
Monkeys are @$$holes. They may be all cute and cuddly, but don’t you trust them for a minute. I have been robbed and accosted by monkeys on not one but two separate occasions in my life and I have nothing but distaste for the furry bastards. Not to mention, monkey adversity runs in my family – as a child, my father was attacked by an enraged monkey and had to get a number of stitches in his back, while my uncle was actually slapped across the face by a monkey in a park (okay fine, fine, in both incidents the monkeys were definitely provoked). Anyway, my point is, keep the interaction with wild monkeys to a minimum, make sure you don’t eat food around them and for god sakes, DO NOT feed them! That being said, monkeys in South East Asia really do not pose a real threat to tourists, and I am only writing this out of bitterness. If anyone finds a purple scarf draped around a monkey at Angkor Wat, please give me a call, because that scarf belongs to me.
|Beautiful scarf prior to monkey mugging.|
|My sole protection from monkeys.|
4. Keep a travel journal.
A picture is worth a thousand words. But how can a picture capture yourpersonal experience and your unique travel story when every other tourist around you is snapping the exact same thing and posting it onto the internet? What separates the picture you took from the postcard hanging in the souvenir shop (I am excluding my own pictures from this, as my camera of choice is generally of the crappy disposable variety – I’d pick the postcard over my pics any day LOL). That’s why I am convinced that writing is such an imperative part of travel – it transcends the boundaries of the photograph. Not only does it allow you to remember the smallest of details from your excursions when they are over, but it also forces you to consider your experiences on a deeper, more personal level, both during your journey and after. I myself completely failed at keeping a journal of my Thailand/ Cambodia trip and it's something I truly regret. One of the girls I traveled with faithfully kept a journal throughout everything and I really wish I had followed her example! Don’t make my mistake – explore your inner creativity and write write write!
|Gorgeous temples in heightened color|
|Sunrise at Angkor Wat|
5. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
Yes, it’s hot in South East Asia. Yes, it’s overcrowded. Yes, there are lots of bugs. Yes, it smells like BO/piss sometimes (ok fine, most times). But let me tell you something, this region is one of a kind. There is a certain charm about spending 12 hours on a rickety bus as you venture from place to place (unless of course, you are hungover for any these 12 hours – in that case, it won’t be charming at all. Plan your drinking nights accordingly!) Instead of focusing on the crying baby, the lack of leg room, the broken A/C, or the karaoke show obnoxiously blaring at 2am while you are trying to sleep, remember that this is real life that you are experiencing. The average Cambodian lives on less than $5 a day and if you have come to South East Asia to truly absorb the local color, I highly doubt that you’re down to be ferried around in a private VIP bus. The bus ride that you’re on may be far from comfortable, but this is real life and here you are, living it to the max. So like I said, sit back, and enjoy that bumpy ride -– and I mean this beyond just public transport!
|Sweaty, sticky, and loving every minute.|