Choose Your Own Adventure---No, Actually, Choose Mine

We spent a good part of yesterday picking up grapes with chopsticks. "I need to rehearse if I'm going to be doing this in public soon," said Sean. It turns out that remembering how to use chopsticks is not just like riding a bike; you really have to learn all over again, and then when the grapes start flying around all over the kitchen, you start wishing you were actually going to India, where it would be so much easier because you could eschew utensils entirely and just use your hand to ferry the food into your mouth, which is actually how I wish I could eat all the time, except the upper echelons of Charleston society rather frowned on it the one time I tried it with the pimiento cheese.

The real-deal, no-excuses, must-get-a-grip-and-also-a-visa trip planning has begun. We're set to leave Singapore on July 28th, flying to Hong Kong on a plane which I rather expect will be tied together with duct tape and rubber bands, judging by the price we're paying for the flight. After that, you know the itinerary: Hong Kong to Shanghai, Shanghai to Beijing, Beijing to Hanoi, a couple of weeks traveling by train down the coast of Vietnam to Saigon (my old neighbor in Charleston who was officially In The Shit became very angry with me when I called it Ho Chi Minh City), and then possibly a foray to the island of Phu Quoc, which my Bible Lonely Planet book describes as having "undeveloped white sand beaches running for miles, and hot springs tucked inside the last large stand of forest in southern Vietnam." (Are you jealous, people going to BlogHer, which begins on the day I leave for my travels, thus making it impossible for me to attend? Are you? Are you? Oh, really? Well, NOW YOU KNOW WHAT IT FEELS LIKE.)

It becomes complicated after leaving Vietnam---we take a six-hour bus journey to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, spend a few days there, then another six-hour bus journey to Siem Reap to explore Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. Then---how fun!---a five-hour bus journey on "the boulevard of broken backsides" (so called because of its terrible bumpiness), a brief stop in Poipet, "the cesspool of Cambodia," and a MOTORCYCLE TAXI (I think this will be my favorite part) across the border to Thailand, where we'll take yet another six-hour bus journey to Bangkok. After a week or so there---new opium pipes for everyone!---we'll make our way up to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, where every other traveler apart from me will go trekking in the hills, because I really do not "trek." (Don't you need special shoes for trekking? Well, I don't have those shoes. Ergo, no trekking. This has really been my philosophy in life---don't do the things for which you don't have the right shoes. Or, as Thoreau wisely admonished, "beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.") Instead, we will ride elephants, take Thai cooking courses, and possibly rent a beat-up old Jeep to make the steep and windy drive to "hippie Pai, a mountain paradise of easy living." Doesn't that sound nice? Then we'll fly back to Bangkok.

But now! There is a choice to make! And---since I am incapable of running my own life and invariably rely on the Internet to do it for me---you will help! Originally, we had decided to make our way from Bangkok back to Singapore, which would entail several weeks of buses, down through the long finger of Thailand and into Malaysia, passing through all the beach towns which would likely be overrun with white backpackers just like us, all trying to Find Themselves and not drink the water. So we've decided against this, and now we have two choices. Ask yourself, what would you do?

Choice A: Would you go to Myanmar (formerly Burma), flying in from Bangkok, and spending a few weeks exploring before flying back to Singapore? Myanmar has ancient temples and villages on stilts and lots and lots of monks and probably not too many backpackers. It is, however, ruled by the State Peace & Development Council, an oppressive military regime, and the jury is out as to whether one should actually be giving such a government one's tourist dollars, or whether, by visiting, one is actually supporting the local economy, as long as one doesn't stay in government-run hotels or eat in government-owned restaurants. My parents went to Myanmar last year and now my mother will NOT STOP TALKING about how amazing it is. Look, here is a picture she took to convince me:


But, however, it's not as simple as that. Because there is, of course:

Choice B: Would you go to India instead, flying back to Singapore from Bangkok for a few days of R&R before boarding a budget plane to Bangalore? This, I think, is the more expensive option, but it is also India, and I have wanted to go to India for as long as I can remember. Bangalore, apparently, is not particularly exciting---unless, of course, one is spoiling for a fight with the Microsoft customer service rep who kept you on hold for half an hour---but it's fairly easy to take another budget flight to Goa or Mumbai or somewhere rather more interesting once you're there. My mother, of course, has an opinion on India as well, having been there a year or two ago. She said, "The men! They pee everywhere! On busy streets! They'll be holding a briefcase in one hand and taking a leak against a wall with the other! I mean, really, I saw more willies in two weeks than I've seen in an entire lifetime!" Sadly, I have no photographic evidence of this. Which is maybe actually for the best.

So, which should it be, Burma or India? You decide, so I don't have to. And then let me know which shoes to bring.

Wood from sweetjuniper
Jul 10, 2006

um, I can't choose. I'm out of my league with your adventures, because I certainly never had the foresight to practice eating with chopsticks on grapes. You're already far more prepared than I could ever be, so I refuse to impose my uninformed judgment on you.

good luck, though. and yes, I'm jealous. blogher won't be nearly so cool.

Jul 10, 2006

Aircraft held together by DUCT TAPE are safe. I know this because the C-182 that took me to 10,000 feet today, twice mind you, had a door held together with and a whole interior made of DUCT TAPE. I think I even saw some RUBBER BANDS holding something together in there. Both times the plane flew, oh so slowly with 5 of us cramed in there, we jumped out, and the plane landed to do it again.

With all of the shady ground transportation it looks like you will be subjected to, I would forgo the Days-Of-The-Week knickers for a roll of good bailing wire and some duct tape. That would at least get me to BANGALORE where I'd beat that Windoze techie senseless with my Linux powered cell phone.

Jul 10, 2006

Even though Peter Garrett might berate you for "feed(ing) an economy with blood on its hands", I'd definitely vote for the Mountains of Burma.

Jul 10, 2006

India, hands down. Buy a copy of "A Son of the Circus" by John Irving and go to India. This is Ben's and my favorite Irving work, and contains the phrases "poultry of prey" and "c*nt of misery" (which he then shortens to C of M.) That book is all about India . . . . sort of. You'll see.

Before you depart, please ensure that sumptuous Sean has got my new blog up and running, because I will go mental (AGAIN) if he leaves me high and dry in the midst of this migrate. Sean: I am already telling people you are the next best thing to God. (Besides diet Pepsi, I mean.)

Jul 10, 2006

I would have to go with India. It seems the safer choice somehow (talk of oppressive military regimes scares the bejesus out of me). I'm a big chicken.

Also, I'm all for seeking evil ill-advised revenge against the person who kept you on hold and took 'Murican jobs (damn outsourcing!). Or for bad customer service. You choose.

Nothing But Bonfires
Jul 10, 2006

Well, thankfully I never HAVE been kept on hold by a Microsoft employee, because I'm one of those irritating members of the Cult of Apple -- you know, the people who say things like "oh I could NEVER go back" and whose boyfriends (nerd alert!) subscribe to Mac Addict magazine. So let's not let that factor into it. Plus, oppressive military regimes don't really bother me, having lived in the W-loving South for the last three and a half years. (Perhaps I should have prefaced that with a "tasteless joke alert!")

Jul 10, 2006

I'll preface this vote by saying: My travels have only included places like Australia and Finland, Costa Rica, etc - and have not (as yet) been to Asia. However...if I had the choice, I'd take India.

Jul 10, 2006

Actually, in Bangalore you could pick up a copy of the Bangalore Times, source of my friend's favourite drunken anecdote. Which is not so much an anecdote as the ever-slower repeating of the phrases "Bang galore times - BANG. GALORE. TIMES." and "D'ya get it??"

See? Exciting.

Jul 10, 2006

I'd go for Burma. I've been to India and I didn't enjoy it at all. Although a) you are not me and might love it and b) my husband was born in India and he has been back lots of times (though not in the last 14 years) and he loves it and is always trying to get me to agree to go back with him. His brother-in-law's father (following me?) was Viceroy of Burma during the war - he's died now but his wife has great stories of te place. I would worry about showing support for the government - but you might be able to do some good for the economy if you shop/eat/stay in well-thought-out places. And you might get to show some support for Ang San Sou Chi (spelt wrong I know) at the same time.

Jul 10, 2006

Myanmar - definitely. Everybody goes to India - but how many people go to Myanmar. You will seem way more impressive at dinner parties. ha ha;)
But seriously, i think that's the more unusual and exciting option.
But whatever you do - enjoy!!

Mary Dawn
Jul 10, 2006

Burma...but punjabi willies does sound intriguing.

NOT! (but if you do go to India, please take pictures of businessmen peeing at the busstop, Pleaaaaaaaase)

Jul 10, 2006

I think it's pretty clear - look at how excited you get talking about India. You've wanted to go there forever? How many more chances will you get?

India is my vote!

But I do also think that you should get some trekking shoes. You really never know when you might have to trek - it's unpredictable like that...

Jul 10, 2006

even though I've never heard of a lot of these places before I read your blog post (except India of course.. who hasn't heard of India?), i have to vote for Burma. that phot is amazing, and if it's even half that spectacular in person, you just can't miss it.

Jul 10, 2006

My vote - India. Your fingers will finally un-cramp from the chopsticks and you sounded so excited when you wrote about it. Besides - you could take pictures of strange men peeing with a briefcase. I think that you have an obligation to do that for your loyal readers! Whatever your destination, have a great time.

Jul 10, 2006

The photo, it's convincing. I would consider Myanmar especially if you are weary of the bus-riding and need a little rest. I have a feeling India will triumph in your trip; besides, it will SUCH good blog fodder.

I say, next year? They move BlogHer to Myanmar. Just to make things complicated. And interesting.

Jul 10, 2006

I say go to Burma.

That way, you can go back to India in a couple years, and you can take a jaunt for a week (or lifetime) in the Maldives and really, if you're going to go as far as India, you *might as well* go to the Maldives, too.

Photographic evidence:
1.; AND

Jul 10, 2006

I am very jealous of your travels... but I also understand the difficulties of planning. My boyfriend and I are trying to plan a week-long vacation to Seattle and Portland, and we can't decide on ANYTHING. How long should we stay in each place? Should we fly in and out of the same city, thus wasting a day traveling, but taking advantage of cheaper round-trip flights? Should we rent a car and drive to Mount Ranier, or just take the train between the two? Ugh.

I vote for Burma. I think India might need a whole trip of its own... and Burma just sounds so...exotic. But, you know what else springs to mind? That Brokedown Palace movie where Clare Danes gets thrown in prison. Hopefully traveling with a guy as cute as Sean will help you resist the temptation to unknowingly traffic drugs for charming strangers.

Jul 10, 2006

Wow. The itinery sounds, um, okay. Yeah, you know, fine. Adequate. Passable, even.

(in other words, holy mother fuck. Awesome).

I have to say, I might vote India. Myanmar does look totally amazing, but the whole Aung San Suu Kyi thing is kind of a deal breaker. India! the Food! the Sights! the Strange Willies! (er.)

Jul 10, 2006

I was in India last summer for six weeks (backpacked for two, in Mumbai for four with a long weekend in Goa). I really enjoyed it, but it's not an easy country. The peeing (which I saw, but not tons, and seriously there is so much animal effluvia in the streets that it doesn't matter) isn't the major issue. Men *grab*; even when I was walking with a male friend, they would just reach out and grope. And *everyone* is out to get your cash. On the other hand, Burma might be the same way, so (shrug).

A summary blogpost (with links to muuuuchhh lonnnngger entries):

Either trip itinerary sounds awesome. Enjoy!

Jul 10, 2006

I've been to both India and Myanmar. Both are obviously incredible places to visit. However, based on the time you're going, I'd recommend Myanmar. In August, India's heat is absolutely stifling. You know how when you're in HK during a humid heat wave and you feel like you're in a swamp pit and you can't stop sweating? India in August is like that also but with dust and insects to increase your discomfort.

Also, when you're coming down the coast in Vietnam, consider stopping in Halong Bay and spending a night or two on one of the houseboats. It's truly breathtaking.

Safe travels, Holly!

Jul 10, 2006

I'm shocked that I'm the first person to mention this.

You should go to Burma. So it would be like a Misson of Burma. Heh.

God, I'm such a dork.

Jul 10, 2006

Ooooo, I vote for Myanmar. Based solely on the fact that I love Burmese food and had it on Friday night. Also, India is probably dirty. But I don't really know that, having not been there.

Nothing But Bonfires
Jul 10, 2006

Actually, I think it's ME who is the dork, as I had no idea who Mission of Burma were.

But yes, that seems like a good enough reason to go.

Jul 10, 2006

My husband and I spent about five days in Goa last May. It was the breath of fresh air after four weeks of rather trying (yet exceptional) times in India. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

PS. I took a similar trip five years ago, from Hanoi to Bangkok. Have you looked into taking the ‘speed boat’ from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap? You’ll want to do anything you can to take a break from the bus… I remember the trip from Saigon to Phnom Penh was MUCH WORSE than the bus from Siem Reap to Bangkok but maybe I’ve mixed the trips up in my memory.

Jul 10, 2006

Um, India.

And rain boots (for all the pee, that is).

I CAN'T WAIT to read about your guys are lucky ducks.

Jul 10, 2006

Oh, try to pick some up for your trip! They are an amazing band! I just saw them in concert at an art museum.

The new album is Obliterati, and from one geek to another, I strongly suggest it.

Where ever you end up, have fun!

Jul 10, 2006

Burma. And get some Merrill Jungle Mocs.

Next year? BlogHer. And some snazzy strappy sandals.

Jul 10, 2006

I vote for India. A bit safer than Burma, and amazing sights to see and culture to experience. :)

debra silverman
Jul 10, 2006

Choose Burma even though the politics are deplorable. Decide that you are educating yourselves. I've been to both places -- both totally amazing -- but India needs a few months. I was there for four and it wasn't nearly enough. It took at least three weeks to get used to being mobbed everywhere. That said, you can't really go wrong; it's a lovely dilemma. Enjoy!

Jul 10, 2006

De-lurking to say Myanmar! I think you're idea of going there while trying to support the local tourist economy and not the oppressive regime is a cool idea. 'Cause the locals are just tryinng to live their lives. I think you should do India next time and not in August when the heat/bugs/swamp-sweat will suffocate you.

Jul 10, 2006

Sounds like you are more keen on India than Burma....but I agree with those who say that India probably needs more time. And the heat? That is a a big factor.

Plus I've just finished reading 2 books set in Myanmar/Burma and it sounds gorgeous. So I vote Burma this time.

Also, listening to your delightful mummy sounds like a good idea - she'll be the one flying into rescue you from aforementioned military regime....

Jul 10, 2006

I say Burma- who needs safety? And you'll come back with beautiful stories to tell that will get out the word that this country needs to be freed.

Jul 10, 2006

Listen to your mother. That's always the best way (hear that kids?). Also, I'm pretty sure you don't own any shoes that should have to traipse through pee, show some respect for your footwear.

Jul 10, 2006

Oh my God I typed "you're" instead of "your." And I misspelled "trying" Please shoot me now.

MJ (the other one)
Jul 10, 2006

As a longtime armchair traveller who has longed to go to India, I vote for Myanmar. Why? Because I said so (as I tell my children). Seriously though because it's different. Not like India is like my little corner of the world, but because I seem to know tons of people who've gone to India recently and I'm always drawn a little more to the exotic. Does that make any sense?

It's a very tough choice becuase neither one of them is wrong. Just different.

As for shoes, I'm so the wrong person to ask that. There was a day before children when I had attractive shoes. Alas no more. I'd say sandals. And, ummm, trekking shoes.

Jul 10, 2006

my vote is for burma over india. one of my friends just got back from india and all she could talk about were the disgusting smells.

Jul 10, 2006

It makes me so sad to read people who say to not go to places because everyone else is going there or it smells bad.

I say go with whichever place allows you more time in the country, less time traveling at 35K feet.

Burma is beautiful, but so is India... maybe you should just go to Indonesia instead. :)

Serenity Now
Jul 10, 2006

I vote for A because I can't get past that photo. So, um, where was the second place? Because really, that photo...

Jul 11, 2006

First of all - BURMA! Why? Because that scenery outweighs men peeing ANYWHERE!

Also? I am overwhelmed with your itinerary and I'm not even going!

Can you tell me what type of accommodation you'll have while there?

How long are you going for and even though I probably read in your archives (I've read all archives), I forget --- how did you save for this trip?

How did you decide on this itinerary - in other words did you use word of mouth from people who have visited before? Travel Agent, etc.?


Jul 11, 2006

Have you read The Piano Tuner? OK, so it may be the Burma of long ago, but that's my vote for you.

Thespian Libby
Jul 11, 2006


Jul 11, 2006

The Burma vs. India debate continues….
Agree with Metrodad on the heat, there is no possible way that you could be in the North of India with this kind of heat and then of course there are the monsoons – July/August in Bombay/Goa or basically the middle part of India is monsoon season. Bombay has just had flash floods (thankfully not on the scale as last year) but immense rain nevertheless. I went to Goa in August few years ago and my entire family fell sick – not that we could have done anything since it rained THE ENTIRE TIME. So I would say that this is a time to avoid going to India because you just wont be able to enjoy it. Suggested season to go would be during October/November. Bombay & Goa are perfect at Christmas and New Year’s time, in fact you should definitely try and be in Goa for New Year’s.

And (I love starting sentences with And) …and if you want to see India properly, you’ll have to plan it like you have done the rest of your trip in Asia, because the country is massive and each region different from the other that it would equate to going to 10 different countries.

I’ve never been to Burma but I think it would be a nice short break after your awesome itinerary and much more relaxed.

Hope this has helped ...somewhat :)

Jul 11, 2006

india gets my vote so i can live vicariously through your stories and photos

Jul 11, 2006

I meant to add - if you can and haven't already - read The Glass Palace. it's about Myanmar and is fabulous...

Jul 11, 2006

Burma. You can go to India any time. Plus, I'd think you'd want to hit the highlights in India and not just one place. Plus, I've always been intrigued by Burma, Nepal, and Tibet and I don't see myself getting over there for another 20 years or so.

Jul 11, 2006

Burma! Having been to most of those places as a 'white backpacker' (damn, 6 years ago already) I can tell you that your mother is right! As always probably, if she's anything like mine.

By the way, did you see CNN today? Several train explosions in India. That should make your decision easier.

Just don't wear Crocs, whatever route you decide on. They might be comfortable, but you'll look like a duck.

Jul 11, 2006

A friend at work is in Vietnam adopting a child and mentioned the random peeing all over the place as well. And the battle it will be to get the child to wear underwear. But that in neither here nor there. You will probably see plenty of random penis anywhere you go.

I say Burma because of the weather. Although, you are in Singapore now and that ain't no picnic.

And the next time you quit your job to travel 'round the world you can hit India.

Jul 11, 2006

Stay the hell out of India this time out. I've not heard if train bombs in Burma.

I know, India's a big country, but still.

Jul 12, 2006

Hi Holly... Leigh here from Charleston. (I love your blog ...and as it goes I found it through a series of other blogs!) I have actually traveled a good bit in SE Asia and India but have never been to Burma. My pick for you would be to go to Burma as you never know when they're going to close up the border again, bomb more temples or otherwise prevent you from going in the future. But go to India too! It deserves it's own trip and since it's so big, it's easy to spend a month in India and barely scrape the surface.

Jul 12, 2006

India! But forget Goa, fly into Trivandrum and go to Kovalam. Great beach town, relatively quiet, not a lot of tourists. Then if you get a chance... go up to Alleppey and take a few days on a houseboat in the backwaters. It's fabulous! You'll see a lot of little villages and will float by the ashram for Amma (the guru that hugs people)... the whole trip is pretty amazing - Kerala is a great state in India to visit. Can you tell I had a great time when I went?

Jul 13, 2006

Myanmar. Seriously, how many people can say that they've been there? India's awesome (good conversation topic, too), but my vote's for the more "exotic". Have fun!

Jul 17, 2006

Definitely choice A! Go to Myanmar!
I haven't been to either but I heard a lot of bad things about India and nothing about Myanmar actually. But I am sure it is a lot more pleasent to travel there then in India.

Jul 18, 2006

Oo, deffo myanmar. Sounds more exciting, weather, india will tempt you back no doubt.

Now the important business: don't bother with giant trekking boots or whatever - how many times will you really wear them? But you'll regret having to carry the heavy, bulky monstrosities EVERY DAY. Reef flipflops'll take you anywhere - I've climbed a mountain in them. Although regretted that, actually...

Have a fantastic adventure xx