Five Sense Tour of Southeast Asia
At the turn of the millenium, I was lucky enough to spend several months travelling around Southeast Asia. It was fantastic, and I’d love to do it all again, albeit in a better class of boarding establishment in the less well-travelled areas. One hotel in Phnom Penh sounded as though someone was dragging chains through the corridors in the early hours. I locked my door pretty tight, I can tell you! Even with this and other incidents along the path, the sights and sounds and other happenings combined to make it an altogether unforgettable experience.
The food was generally great. The swallowed bugs not so! These latter are always a potential hazard when necessarily travelling on the roofs of boats or on the backs of taxi-scooters. There was just one rogue meal, which laid me low for luckily only one day, but I won’t dwell on that one.
I’m one of the lucky ones who loves spice and can cope with it. Maybe not as well as I think I can (I’m pretty sure this is normal - if slightly stupid), but I’m willing to pay the consequences either way. I say lucky, as you’re never quite sure what you’re going to have to tackle. Sometimes you get a tasty dish. Sometimes you also get to lose your palette. It’s a bit of a lottery. This is far more appealing than the food that moves in Myanmar though. Just a heads up there if you’re planning a trip out that way.
The smells were always interesting, Hong Kong especially. There’s always a smell in Hong Kong. Most of the time it’s just there - in your nostrils - smelling of Hong Kong. Every now and again the aroma changes subtly, and you think “mmm, that’s lovely,” only to be replaced by something much less appealing a moment later! Usually though it’s the food that wins through, which is always a bonus.
I remember most vividly the sense that I was going to lose every meal I’d eaten for the past week when I was disembarking from a boat at a local river fishing village. There were dead fish squashed into the mud around the landing platform. Goodness knows how long they’d been there, but yoinks they stunk!!
The best smell for me though is the jungle just after the sky’s dumped millions of gallons of rain in the space of five minutes. It smells like everything’s just been washed and is currently being steam cleaned. There’s even steam everywhere to add to the effect.
that you’re after, it’s the place to be. It’s great fun, and whenever I visit the city I spend every night at the night market, but it pales into insignificance next to my favourite market - the jade market. This place is full of trinkets of all ages and is really friendly. Some are new and some are proper vintage, but all are just a haggle away.
The sights are obviously a major part of the experience. From the vibrant colours of the jungle to the imposing grandeur and diversity of the many temples, palaces and statues that liberally dot the landscape. Make sure your knees are in good serviceable order if you plan to visit the Angkor Wat area, as the temples there were built for the gods, and the steps are sized accordingly. Great big strides are required, and a day out ends up being pretty tiring, but definitely worth it. I was really pleased to see that some new Khmer inspired garden statues and ornaments are being listed on the Slate & Rose website this month. It might take me right back there if I get some for my garden.
The visual stimuli is at a maximum if you take a walk through the seemingly endless markets in Kowloon, which are dedicated to specific themes; flowers, fish, birds, poultry (dead birds), vegetables, electronics, clothes, etc. And as the sun goes down, it’s all change when the night market kicks in. This nocturnal event is a vibrant affair. It’s not the place to be if you want your branded items to be produced by the actual branding company, but if it’s bargains and quirky gifts you want it's the place to be.
It’s always fun to be in a foreign city. The noise tends to be different to the ones we’re used to at home. Singapore has a more refined audio track compared to Bangkok. Perhaps it’s down to the traffic being of a less hybrid nature in the Thai capital. The languages of Southeast Asia tend to be quick and melodic, horns constantly blair out and there always seems to be someone shouting to promote their wares. My favourite noodle bar had a waiter who constantly sang local pop hits as he worked, swooping in to serve and take empties. I wonder if he’s still there after fifteen years?
I know it’s not Southeast Asia, but I visited Australia and New Zealand for the first time during this trip, and the sounds of these places surprised me when I first got there, as they really are the same as those heard in the background of antipodean soap operas. I always subconsciously imagined that they were added on as extra effects for some reason. It’s quite surreal for the northern hemispherians amongst us anyway. A little like the noise that the jungle makes, which is weird and exciting both at the same time. It’s like being in a different world. Which I suppose is the case really.
There was a moment when I was walking towards the edge of a particularly high and precipitous drop when I felt I might be able to just reach out and touch the sky. No, I wasn’t drunk, and I hadn’t been sampling anything any stronger either. It was just that there was nothing to see beyond the edge due to the jungle below being so flat. The actual curvature of the Earth took care of the rest. Obviously the vista opened up to show thousands of square miles of tree canopy once I got to the edge. It was absolutely incredible and really humbling. Then it became rather scary so near to the potential deadly drop, so I backed up pretty sharpish.
Another thing I thought I might be able to touch in the jungle were the butterflies. These incredibly colourful, and sometimes enormous creatures always seemed to be out of arm's reach. The big, fat, hairy caterpillars were much easier to catch, but I’m afraid I shied away from picking them up on squeamish grounds. We’ve got some lovely butterfly garden wall art on the site at the moment. It came in at the same time as the statues that I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, however we don’t have any big, fat, hairy caterpillars. We’ll consider any requests though.
The apsaras merit a mention. These are the exquisite dancing nymph statues and carved images that adorn the walls of the temples. I was surprised how warm one of these was when I touched it. Less so when I realised that the ones indoors were cooler and it was the sun that had heated that one up! There was something quite magical about the feel of the sun-warmed ones though. Maybe it was the thought that they’d been carved over a thousand years ago and still have an astonishing sharpness of definition considering the amount of batteringly heavy rain that falls on them every afternoon. The rain that immediately drenches you through before the sun steam dries you, only to be damp with sweat again within a few minutes. You get used to it!
I’m quite surprised that I’ve written this without mentioning my favourite place in Southeast Asia. I’ve travelled in the region several times and always manage to factor in a visit. I might write about this at a later date, but for now, I’d love to know if you have a favourite place in that area. Or anywhere else for that matter. It’s always good to find out about interesting new spots in the world. Gets me itchy! Now where are those travel brochures?