Tomorrow I leave on my midwinter break, this time to Southeast Asia once again. Last year I spent a month in Bali, and loved every minute of it (except perhaps the case of Bali Belly that I contracted on my final day there, putting my presence on the return flight in peril). That trip also offered the side benefit of taking me away from Japan in time to miss the Tohoku earthquake and ensuing tsunami. In any event, that part of the world really appeals to me: great beaches; a welcome warm break from the chilly Tokyo weather; friendly people; bargain-basement prices. What’s not to like?
Last year, I had a beachfront hotel room in a small family-run place in Nusa Lembongan, a small island off the coast of Bali. It had an attached restaurant and an infinity pool just steps from the beach. This place ran about $15 a night. I was talking with Marie, a Danish girl I met poolside, and asked her how she liked the place. She considered my question for a moment, and then replied “It’s quite nice, but a bit pricey, don’t you think?” Intrigued, I asked her where she had found cheaper digs, certainly not in Denmark! She laughed and replied that places along the beach in Thailand and Cambodia were sometimes $8 or $10 a night for perfectly pleasant accommodations, albeit perhaps a bit off the beaten path. She really liked the food as well, and mentioned a couple of hotels where a fine tropical breakfast of fresh fruit and homemade breads could be had for less than $1.
Then over the Christmas holidays my friend Elias went to Thailand and Cambodia, and sent back atmospheric reports of sunrise at Angkor Wat, and tiny floating fishing villages along the Mekong. I was hooked, so to speak, and tomorrow begins the “reeling in” process. I will fly into Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, and likely stay in the city for a few days to have a look around and decompress after the long flight. Then, depending on my mood, I will either head for Ko Phuket, a small island off the coast of Thailand, in the turquoise Andaman sea; or, I may choose the road less traveled, and take a short flight to Rangoon, Burma (aka Myanmar), and from there make my way by steamer and ferry up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay and Pegan. Burma may be the last country in the world without a McDonald’s, and that can’t last long; I’d quite like to visit a place that has been that much unmarked by “progress”.
Also on the (very loose) itinerary are side trips to the aforementioned Angkor Wat, and probably into Laos as well. I have it on good authority that the Laotian capital, Vientiane, is one of the great secret finds of Southeast Asia, and I want to find out just why that is. I have gotten Lonely Planet guidebooks for the countries in question, and I will peruse them on my new Kindle (arigato, BookPage!), along with the books I have lined up for my next month’s Whodunit column in BookPage.
Sayonara for now!