This post is dedicated to random, journal-like thoughts as we navigate our current adventure through India and Asia.
I just took a shower on a plane. Wow.
We’ve been up just over 24 hours. After a short flight from Seattle to Los Angeles, we’re now in the final couple of hours of our 16+ hour flight from Los Angeles to Dubai. We’re flying First Class on Emirates which, believe me, warrants (and will get!) a post of its own. As guys who like – who used to love – the flying part of travel. This part of this journey has been an ultimate treat. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time we looked forward to a component of travel this much. We’re happy to report, that the First Class experience on the A380 has exceeded our expectations. For starters, we have (what they call) a suite for just the two of us – complete with little doors that close. And there's a mod bar – two bars, actually – that we’ve enjoyed. And the much-hyped Emirates A380 shower spa experience. I don’t know that travel will ever be the same. And I don’t think either of us cares.
Currently in the small city that is the Dubai airport. We're on a long layover and could keep ourselves occupied here for quite a long time. Flying first class, we're lucky that we get to enjoy the associated lounge. Get this, it runs the length of the terminal. The lounge houses everything you could ask for – pretty much free (well, as "free" as something can be after you've paid a premium for your ticket).
We're taking full advantage of the champagne.
After another – much shorter – Emirates flight, we've arrived in Mumbai. Getting out of the airport and to our hotel was not the shit show we were expecting it to be (based on our experiences arriving in similar environments). As always, we hate to arrive in the dark. We're guys who like to immediately get the lay of the land. The plan is to get a good night's sleep in order to hit the city full-force tomorrow. We're going to jump right into the chaos. We've been mapping out a plan.
Jumping out of bed and racing to the window, I guess we're not totally surprised to see the smog hanging over Mumbai. Plus, despite good soundproofing, we can still hear the horns and traffic through our room's windows. We're going to figure out how to get ourselves into the heart of the city, as we want to experience the grit of Mumbai right away. Having read Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, we're eager to see what's under the shell of this place. We don't want to stick to only scrubbed, visitor-friendly experiences.
We always find that wandering around is a great starting point.
"How are you liking it?”
"I'm not sure yet,” I said to a new friend. "I do know that I was expecting it to be much more chaotic. It just doesn’t seem too bad.”
About two hours later, we found ourselves on a street so insane with activity that my foot was run over by a motorcycle. Luckily, I was able to get the rest of my body out of the way fast enough to avoid a worse situation.
And I thought Morocco was nuts.
Body intact, I had found the extreme mayhem that Mumbai is known for and that I was expecting. This behemoth city was, at that point, certainly delivering on the havoc front and on its promise to be the well-rounded "taste of India" that it advertises.
So, we’re still forming our opinions, but definitely have some initial, although cloudy, thoughts.
Sexy. That’s one word you see/hear thrown around a lot when researching Mumbai.
Honestly, we get it. While I think you expect heat when you get to this city of around 13 million, I don’t think you expect a distinctly tropical feel. On breezy, muggy nights spent navigating those aforementioned frantic streets, you see colorfully dressed women sitting effortlessly on the back of jossling motorcycles. Moreover, there’s a certain, undefinable order to the chaos that’s reigning supreme. It’s at once alarming and alluring. Even sexy.
You quickly learn that enjoying the vibe – er, surviving it – means giving in to the seemingly nonsensical flow. Despite the warnings sent by your thinking brain, you start walking in front of moving cars. You stop acting like a tinned sardine. For the first time in yor life, you feel more safe inside a taxi.
Looking into the eyes of Mumbaians for cues as you navigate your way, you see a part off-putting, part endearing ease emanating from them – a knowingness that all is just as it should be. Just when you think all the edges of the city are too sharp, you spot someone placidly staring at you from a few feet away. You make eye contact; they smile. You regain some confidence, thinking you just might live through it all.
Then a motorcycle runs over your foot.
31 January 2013
We came to India for the food.
India has delivered.
We are happy.
Mumbai has been a conflicting place for us. It'll probably take months to sort out our feelings. One moment we're enthralled, the next we're repulsed. I don't think we've had such a range of emotions any other place.
The food has been a consistently positive strand during our visit; it's been our anchor. We've tried lots and lots of street foods and quite a few more traditional preparations. Aside from having breakfasts that are way too spicy for breakfast, we've had very few clunkers. Here's a shot of probably our favorite experiment so far. It's called sev puri.
We own the fact that we have only this shitty picture. It shows how excited we were to dig in.
What you see is a plate full of puri (fried crisps) topped with a concoction of potato, onion, tamarind, garlic, and citrus. It's then topped with sev (crunchy noodles). Were it in season, mango would adorn the top. Too bad we missed that.
There’s a tall, gray, imposing wall that borders the pool at our hotel. It’s an employee’s job, we’ve learned, to walk the perimeter of that wall, clapping in order to keep Mumbai’s bird population from disturbing poolside guests.
Directly on the other side of that wall is a slum. And I mean directly on the other side of that wall.
The first time we – despite warnings from the hotel – went outside and around to the other side of the wall. We saw a woman giving outdoor showers with clay colored water and a beat up rag.
Such is the mental and emotional conflict brought on by Mumbai.
You can visit, and stay quite well, and eat fantastic food, and see only one side of things. This other side is there, though. If you’re paying attention at all, it’s quite obviously all around you. So sleeping on feather pillows, staying at a place in which we have to go through security to enter, lounging by a pool... It all feels kind of sick. We’ve been in this kind of “haves / have nots” environment before – many times, actually. Something about this place, though, makes that gap particularly real.
We went on a big walk the other day. Apparently, walking around this away-from-the-center part of town is not a Trip Advisor "must-do," because we were the only white people we saw (we kind of wanted it that way). We ended up heading to a beach about four miles away from our starting point. While we felt unusually safe the entire, people-dense way, the inhumane living conditions assaulted us at every turn. For example, this waterway was so litter strewn and polluted that it sort of fizzed as we stood there taking pictures.
Way too in our heads for a safe walk back, we grabbed a cab home from the beach. We overpaid (times 10) and were attacked my hungry, trapped mosquitos the moment we jumped in. Having a second look at everything we’d just walked past, we could only shake our heads in sadness.
We’re lucky that we can escape the sadness.
We were out by the refreshing pool within 15 minutes of being back in our gated hotel.
Dozing off, I heard the guy clapping the birds away.
I closed my eyes tightly.
I almost wish we were the kind of people who didn't think about what was on the other side of that wall.
We've moved on to Thailand.
First off, it's hotter than hell in Bangkok. The heat is getting in the way of our moving as fast as we can in order to hit as many food stops as possible. Boo!
Also, there's a little something you may have heard of called the #BangkokProtests going on right now. That, too, is getting in the way of our overeatting.
Well, it is... but, truthfully, we don't mind.
There's nothing – nothing – we enjoy more when traveling than seeing how a city moves. We can do nothing major during a visit, but, if we can successfully tap into the vibe of a place, we call it a success.
So, being here during the unrest is really quite an honor. We've spent hours (respectfully and safely) roaming around the different rally/protest sites. We're still figuring it all out, but we can tell you with 100% certainty that you are not getting the entire story on the news. Although we know there have been some bothersome moments, we've witnessed nothing but calm, determined activism. Honestly, most people sit down.
Which brings me right back to that damn heat. We're not going to let it (or the protests) get in the way of our eating large quantities of this country's memorable food.
It's just gonna take a little longer to get where we're going.
We were oddly (and overly) amused by that fact that we got to watch the Seahawks kick ass at 6:30 a.m. in Bangkok. We thought it was so cool that it was early morning and that we were watching football. In bed. In fantastic light. In our matching Emirates pajamas.
Cue the camera.
Despite the early morning, we still managed to rally in order to enjoy a full day out in Bangkok. We have a limited amount of time during which to enjoy Thai food at it's source. We won't waste it.
If you thought we could be happier, you're wrong!
We are in food heaven.
Here are a few shots of some of our favorite eats in Thailand. From street food to air conditioned dining, we've done it all.
Although we still love Bangkok, it has certainly grown up a lot since we were last here. Let's just say that It feels a little less "differentiated" than it used to.
Sadly, one thing that hasn't changed (and has gotten worse?) is the prostitution situation. It's awful and so many lives are at risk.
We made our way from Thailand to Cambodia with relative ease. We were again reminded why we’re happy to be traveling while we are 100% able-bodied.
With increased security and “travel theater” (as we call it), getting from point A to point B can be challenging even for the healthy. Early airport arrivals, getting bused to/from your plane, visa nonsense – it can all be incredibly maddening.
Siem Reap is a dusty, muggy place where the air hangs thick and heavy. That – along with locals’ peaceful, almost indifferent vibe – creates a slow cadence that’s easy to sink into. (Or maybe I am just saying that because we were in India not long ago.)
Either way, good thing we had stamina in extra supply upon arriving. Although it’s a pretty chill place compared to where we’ve been, you still have to bring your A game (and patience). Despite the fact that we had read / heard about it, we found ourselves aghast at the number of tourists. Clearly, it’s taking its toll on the area, and we, as tourists as well, are part of the problem.
After getting our tickets to hit all of the temples, we got our attitudes in check. Beyond the crippling number of visitors, we were also going to be dealing with some intense heat (for two mild-weather-loving guys). Someone told us that the hot season is just starting its march to an April/May climax.
Hotter than this?
We can’t imagine.
Monsoon season, with its even muggier days?
Impossible to comprehend.
Glad we’re here in early February.
Blocking out the heat and the people, we were sort of able to find our groove. Tuk tuk-ing from temple to temple, we could imagine what it looked like in an earlier time. The magic of this place became evident.
As hoped for, we’re having great luck with the food here in Cambodia. Although not as “easy” as Thai food – they like a lot of fish and a lot of bugs, we don’t – our best meals here have topped those we’ve had during visits to Thailand.
The biggest surprise? Khmer red curry. Expecting something distinctly Indian and overly spicy, we were wrong. Rather, we found something full of flavor – despite the red, think coconut and lemongrass – and a hint of sweetness.
So we’ve had lots of delicious, inexpensive chow. This meal of cambodia noodles, fried ginger and pork, morning glory and peppers, rice, and beer was $8.
This is what we came for.
Cambodia is delivering.
We took a taxi from Siem Reap to Phnom Phen. They operate with a bit of a do-you-want-to-get-there-fast-or-do-you-want-to-be-safe attitude. Unless you say otherwise, they auto-select speed over safety.
While we were happy to see the countryside (as envisioned), we were too scared to look up to really enjoy the journey.
I guess that’s part of the experience, right?
It’s exactly what it was supposed to be; the terrifying drive it was supposed to be.
We've done a fair amount of bitching about the heat. In truth, we've got it pretty good.
We've been busy with work all along this journey, so we've carved out chunks of time to bust things out – usually in the shade, sometimes with drinks in hand.
Not too shabby.
Hello from Ho Chi Minh City!
I don't know why, but we weren't expecting such a modern city. Although, popping over from Cambodia, we're just happy to see sidewalks again. Whatever the case, we're impressed so far.
Look how put together this place is.
Having been here a couple days, I can tell you already that there will be no shortage of food stories coming from us while here.
Right now, our only question is weather or not Vietnamese will eclipse Thai as our favorite. Time to continue our testing!
On the road a few weeks now, we can confirm that if you are going to do a food-oriented travel adventure, this is the slice of the world to hit. We've done a lot of gobbling and have had very few clunkers.
And no major stomach problems so far. That's saying a lot, as we've been quite adventurous.
What's causing us more problems is this:
Not the stuff that looks like watered down scotch on the rocks (that's the tea that they pour freely here in Saigon). Rather, the Vietnamese coffee you see on the right. That java is strong. And yummy. With sweetened condensed milk, how can it not be.
Here are a few shots of some of the food we've been enjoying. As we are lucky enough to have locals showing us the way, we don't know what the hell anything is. We're just eating.
As is obvious from this Instagram shot of us gleefully sucking down strawberry/sugarcane juice, we're loving every second.
Before logging off, I'll leave you with a link to our new post sharing more of the details of our Emirates first class experience.
We had to make this whole swing through India / SE Asia a lot shorter than we would have liked. Bolting off to make the start of a conference in San Francisco, we hung out on the other side of the Pacific as long as we possibly could.
All in all, this journey was a huge success. Our primary goal was to devour outstanding food.