It’s not always the big landmarks you remember when you’re travelling. Often, it’s the little things — people you meet along the way, sights and smells of distant streets, encounters with the unexpected.
A fellow backpacker from France captured the feeling perfectly with a word from his home country: dépayser. Strictly speaking, it’s the act of getting out of one’s environment, or more broadly speaking, getting away from whatever’s familiar and comfortable.
Southeast Asia has offered a wealth of those opportunities.
Sometimes, it’s something small: the struggle of reading a menu and wondering what’s going to come with your meal. Other times, it’s a different experience altogether: wandering through a sea of bodies and merchandise at the night market; holding on for dear life in the back of a tuk-tuk swerving through rush hour; or navigating a scooter through narrow Thai streets with the tank on empty.
In the past week and a half, we’ve slept in shipping containers, huddled for shelter under a street vendor’s tiny awning, and survived a second encounter with bed bugs. We’ve also swum in the Andaman Sea, watched fire dancers light up Koh Phi Phi’s beach, and ferried through the heart of Bangkok.
We’ve taken planes, trains, boats, buses, and tuk-tuks. We’ve drunk from buckets, chomped down on insects, and forced down malaria pills.
I may have only learned the word yesterday, but I suspect I’m coming to understand its meaning well enough.
Tales from the road:
1. We finally rented scooters — what a blast! When you factor in how cheap it is to get around — with gas and the rental price coming to around 250 baht (or less than $10) for the day — it’s hard to turn back.
2. One thing I’ve learned about Warren: he squeezes toothpaste from the middle of the tube. All this time, I’ve been travelling with an animal.
3. The group has stretched to four. Our good friend, Scott, joined us on Koh Phi Phi and will be with us until the end. A bit about him: he’s a chef, so trying new kinds of cuisine is a big part of the trip for him. I’d say his stomach is learning the meaning of dépayser, too.
4. It’s remarkable how popular fighting is in Thailand. On any given day, you can count on a truck driving down the streets, announcing the latest Muay Thai bout over loudspeakers. We went to one in Krabi Town, and the place was packed — there were announcers, a television crew, and sponsors everywhere. That’s not the only kind of fighting with a following here: two days in a row, we passed by a group of men watching cockfighting on TV and placing bets with each other. Quite the sight.
5. One thing that’s impossible to describe is the sheer array of smells you encounter while wandering through any market in Thailand: fragrant flowers, spicy curries, fresh fish, and garbage, too. All compete for attention.
6. A word on pronunciation: the ‘ph’ sound in Thailand is pronounced the same as a ‘p’. Think Poo-kett (Phuket) and Koh Pee Pee (Koh Phi Phi).
Things I’ve seen:
1. More islands.
There’s plenty of them in Thailand’s Krabi Province — enough to spend weeks exploring them. After our time on Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi, we did a day trip from Krabi Town to Chicken Island, Turtle Island, and Railay. If you look at the former two, you’ll see how they earned their names.
2. Night markets.
A sure draw wherever we go in Southeast Asia, from Bangkok’s JJ Greens to Krabi Town’s night market. There’s just no comparison back home.
3. Busy streets.
Going from the calm of Krabi to the bustle of Bangkok has been quite the change of pace. It’s been exciting to explore the country’s capital and take in the energy of a city where eight million people live.
What I’ve been reading/listening to:
Stephen Chbosky – the perks of being a wallflower
The Streets – “Roof Of Your Car”
Bastille – “Pompeii”