I love e-mail. It occasionally takes me a few days to respond, mostly because my inbox seems to explode in waves, but I love waking up to a bunch of unread messages from family and friends. And since I’ve been asked a few of the same questions over and over (y’all were REALLY concerned about the spider), I thought I’d summarize some of my answers here.
How well can you get around with English?
English is pretty widely spoken, and it’s the common language among travelers from all over the globe. I have yet to encounter a traveler I couldn’t communicate with on some level. I haven’t been anywhere that is completely unaccustomed to tourists, so I’ve never felt truly at loose ends without local language skills. I have, however, had some frustrating moments when I’ve wanted to shout ISN’T THERE ANYONE HERE WHO SPEAKS ENGLISH?!? This happens mostly when I’m really hungry and really tired and really lost.
Related, though, knowing a few words in Khmer or Thai, even if it’s just enough to make people do a double take and/or laugh, goes a long way.
What did the spider taste like?
Well, I probably don’t need to eat another spider ever again. It wasn’t revolting, but it wasn’t pleasant. I don’t have much to compare it to, but I suppose it tasted about like you’d expect a tarantula to taste, plus some oil and crunch. But now I can add spiders to the list of crazy things I’ve eaten. When in Cambodia.
What do you miss most about home?
I’d say the ease of doing things. I miss knowing how to get places without having to read a map or ask six different people for help. I enjoy the challenge and excitement of never having a routine, but sometimes I wake up and would rather not get out of bed and face having to make so many decisions. Everyone needs the occasional day on the couch with a Law&Order SVU marathon, right?
I also miss having control over my food intake. I’ve had a lot of great meals, but I’m not able to cook or know what exactly it is that I’m eating. I would very much like a giant plate of vegetables NOT fried or covered in salt and a very cold DDP with ice.
Finally, I miss being able to shower barefoot.
How’s the weather?
Oppressively hot. Next question.
What has been your favorite place and/or experience so far?
I think any traveler will tell you that this is the hardest question in the world to answer. Each country — each day — is different, so it’s not easy to pick a favorite in any category. But I’ll try. Cambodia is far and away my favorite country, though I imagine that Burma will usurp that title in a few days. My favorite single place is a tie between Battambang (Cambodia) and Cameron Highlands (Malaysia) — not for any particular reason or event or major sightseeing adventure, but because I just enjoyed being in both and certainly could have stayed longer. My best single day was my moto/beach adventure in Penang, mostly just because I kept looking around and thinking that life just couldn’t get any better than it was in that moment. And my favorite “experience” is a toss-up between climbing on Koh Yao Noi, watching muy Thai in Bangkok, and maybe the slow boat on Tonle Sap. But it’s all so good!
What about your least favorite?
I was not a fan of Sihanoukville in Cambodia. At all. It was disgusting, and I wanted to leave as soon as I arrived. I also did not enjoy Kuala Lumpur, but under different circumstances I might have reacted more favorably.
Can you exercise?
Can versus do are two different questions. Yes, I can, though cities lack traffic lights and crosswalks, and I feel like I risk my life with every outing. It’s hard, even in smaller towns, to find places to run uninterrupted. I’ve also had very few days on which I could take my time getting up and moving due to the heat, an early bus ticket, or plans that would force me to run at 6am. So I haven’t been good about working out, and that, coupled with the oppressive temperatures and humidity, has resulted in a pretty significant loss in fitness. Oh well.
What are the hostels like?
With few exceptions, I’ve had great experiences with accommodation. I’ve chosen to stay in dorms where possible because it’s cheaper and easier to meet people, and each time I’ve had a private room I’ve longed for a bunk bed surrounded by 20 other travelers. I loved living alone back home, so this is weird. I’ve only stayed in two truly awful places (not coincidentally, in the two cities I really hated). Asia is a pretty good example of “you get what you pay for,” though it’s a bit relative based on the overall cost of living in each country. I had a fantastic $3 bungalow in Mondulkiri and a really shitty $25 hotel room in Kuala Lumpur. Booking ahead has really helped because the options for quality hostels are greater a day or two in advance than when you get off a bus at 5pm and are tired and hungry and hoping that there’s a free bed in the first place you look.
Are you spending about what you expected to?
I never really set a strict budget for my trip, though I had vague notions of averaging $30 a day. That seems to be the magic number in SE Asia — it’s possible to do it for less if you are really careful, and it’s certainly easy to spend much more — and what I thought would allow me to travel for three months and not go totally broke. I’m keeping very careful track of my expenses, and so far my spending is not too far off. I averaged about $44 per day in Singapore but was around $31 in Malaysia and probably close to or less than that in Cambodia. I haven’t added up Thailand yet, but I’m guessing it was more than $30 simply because accommodation and activities on the islands are expensive. Climbing alone was nearly $70. But I have to remind myself that while it’s good to be careful with my money, I also shouldn’t miss out on awesome experiences just to save a few bucks.
How were the elephants?
More questions? E-mail me or leave a comment.