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.