The Best of the Voyage (Part 3: Facts and Cities)

Part 1: Hostels (August 29)
Part 2: Bars and Restaurants (August 30)
Part 3: Facts and Cities (August 31)
Part 4: Lessons (September 1)
Part 5: Useful Things to Pack (September 2)
Part 6: Things I Wish I’d Done (September 3)
Part 7: Memories, Stories, and Wisdom (September 4)

Luang Prabang, Laos - Monk Procession during Sabaidee Peemai

Luang Prabang, Laos – Monk Procession during Sabaidee Peemai

8 Favorite Cities

  1. Chiang Mai, Thailand – Thriving live jazz and blues scene, huge street markets, world-famous food, and beautiful architecture. Only a few miles from the city centre: serene mountains, waterfalls, golden Buddhist temples, Hmong villages, and the Royal Palace.
  2. Koh Tao, Thailand – Island paradise and a diver’s dream. Favorite island of the whole Voyage. Super chill vibe with world-class coral reefs drawing a big aquatic fan base. Clean, uncrowded, and reasonably priced, with gorgeous sunsets and awesome bar-restaurants on Sairee Beach.
  3. Berlin, Germany – Sprawling with recent political history, super artsy, well-organized with a terrific city-wide bike system and extremely useful rail system. Interesting things to be found literally everywhere, and fascinating museums and public art. Crazy nightlife and funky people.
  4. Luang Prabang, Laos – Potentially biased as I experienced Lao New Year here, but honestly one of the most elegant and serene cities I visited. Exceptionally friendly people, amazing food, fantastic Buddhist temples, and a shopper’s paradise of a Night Market. Tons of cute restaurants and bars, with a very mellow, but lively, atmosphere.
  5. New York City, US – Speaks for itself. Tons of things to do, see, hear, experience. Rooftop garden parties and eclectic mix of people, random pop-up art shows and tastefully decorated public space. Incredible 24/7 rail system and Central Park! Everything, everywhere, here.
  6. Granada, Spain – Sleepy town with delicious tapas bars, overflowing with street art (predominantly from El Niño), featuring a classy blend of Muslim and Christian artistic design. Friendly people despite the flood of annual Alhambra visitors, very lounge-y atmosphere.
  7. Hyderabad, India – Family. Delicious food, amazing artwork, spectacular bazaars. Fascinating study of Muslim and Hindu relationships. Politically interesting as it’s a conflict zone between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Excellent example of a busy, multicultural Indian city.
  8. London, England – Despite the gloom, quite lovely in the summer, with tons of markets, shops, and museums to peruse at your leisure. Small bike-able city, with unique neighborhoods and a great deal of green space and large parks. Extremely multicultural and cultured.

    Hyderabad, India - Chowmalla Palace

    Hyderabad, India – Chowmahalla Palace

7 Interesting Facts

  1. According to some Indian traditions, you are a “sibling” to the children of the relative who shares the same gender as the parent that connects you. For example, my mom’s sister’s and my father’s brother’s children are my “brothers” and “sisters.” In some parts of the country, it is permissible to marry the children of your mother’s brother, or your father’s sister, though this is not very common in metropolitan regions.
  2. Speaking of siblings, tortellini has a twin: tortelloni! The difference between those two words are subtle, but the spelling helps one remember – tortellini is smaller, and traditionally stuffed with meat or cheese, whereas tortelloni is the fat sibling, about 2.5 times larger, and oftentimes stuffed with veggies. Leave it to the Italians to clarify the slight differences in pasta size!
  3. In Lao, there is no concept of “your” or “my” meal – food is brought to the center of the table and everyone digs into whatever they’d like. I read on a sign outside of Lao Lao Gardens that there is no differentiation between the words for “your” and “mine,” explaining the communal nature of Lao culture, but I haven’t yet been able to find any information on the internet to confirm this (beyond this one blog post, which actually includes the direct quote from the restaurant!). If you know anything more about this, please let me know!

    Chiang Mai, Thailand

    Chiang Mai, Thailand

  4. Southeast Asia (“same same”) and India share many similarities beyond membership to Asia, general climate, and brown people. Buddhism, the predominant religion of much of SEA, is an offshoot of Hinduism, the predominant religion of India. But how did Buddhism spread to a region closer to China than India? Though Chinese influences are strong in the northern regions (northern Thailand, Laos, etc), ancient and long-established Indian trade routes allowed the culture to gradually grow strong holds in western SEA, ultimately leading to an adoption of Indian holidays, style of dress, and types of food. Climate obviously plays a role in terms of material – both for clothes and food – but the Buddhist influence allowed a greater bond than geography alone would provide. Moreover, the term “Siamese” – used sometimes to describe Thai people (not cats or people attached at birth) – might have originally derived from a Sanskrit phrase that meant “dark brown.” Sanskrit inscriptions, both ancient Hindu and Buddhist, have been found all over Thailand.
  5. On an absolutely sombre note: the Khmer Rouge regime, reigning over Cambodia (then known as Kampuchea) from 1975 until 1979, killed arguably 20% of the country’s population through executives, starvation, labor camps, and denial of basic medical and preventative measures. Exact numbers are unknown – studies have estimated between 1.4 – 3 million people were massacred under this regime. Undeniably, the regime and its fallout had massive implications for the war-torn region (like Laos, oftentimes the victim of crossfire in the Vietnam – or American – War). For a chilling account of life during the Khmer Rouge genocide, I’d suggest “First They Killed My Father” before visiting Cambodia.

    Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

    Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

  6. Another formerly war-torn region, Croatia, has thankfully had a much speedier recovery. Retaining much of its natural beauty, Croatia has attracted thousands of tourists to its crystal-clear coasts and its pristine national parks. English-speakers will be amused to note that the seemingly violent word in English – “slap” – actually means “waterfall” in Croatia, and the country is absolutely flooded with them. Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of the most spectacular natural sights in the world, is home to hundreds. But beautiful as it might seen, Plitvice served as the earliest battlegrounds in the Croatian independence struggle from Yugoslavia, and many of the original hotels and restaurants were destroyed in the ensuing war between the Serbs, the Croats, and the Bosnians.
  7. In Perugia, Italy, an extensive aqueduct system – completed in 1278 – brought water to the city from the springs of Paciano, five miles away. A major feat of engineering at the time, these aqueducts also served as refrigeration, as the thick stone insulated the waterways. They now serve as beautiful cobble-stoned walkways and create windy “highways,” but you can still feel the arctic chill when standing near the gated openings to the below-ground network.

    Perugia, Italy - Aqueduct turned Walkway

    Perugia, Italy – Aqueduct turned Walkway