Last November I went to Thailand and Cambodia. Before this trip I had traveled around Europe a lot but had never been to Asia. After a long flight we landed in Bangkok. From very first stepping into the streets it of Bangkok it was very much a violent jolt of the city. It is like an assault on all your senses. Relentless activity, traffic jams, you stumble across lively markets with bottle upon bottle of fish sauce, heaped mangoes and fresh pineapples. The distinctive smell of Bangkok is hard to describe but it is like a mixture of warming spices, kaffir leaves, lemongrass and dirt to be honest. I had expected to hate Bangkok but I found I couldn’t formulate an opinion at first. I was transfixed by the place but I did not love it or hate. It is a place of contrast, which made it interesting and somewhat undefinable, which I grew to love.
The contrast was everywhere. Pristine hotels next to the red light streets. Leaving the most beautiful Skybar and then trying not to tread on the dead rat on the pavement below. Sailing the muddy Chao Phraya river and admiring the dramatic temples whilst seeing the dilapidated houses ready to fall and join the ebb of the river. The biggest contrast was the temperament of the people and general calm and gentleness of them, against the constant energy and noise of the city. However, saying this, I would feel safe and then there were a few times I realized how close we always were to a darker side of all this serenity. There were a few situations we ended up in which could have ended very differently.
After the chaos of Bangkok we flew to Siem Reap in Cambodia to explore the temples of Angkor Watt. Cambodia was hot, dusty and surprisingly less developed than I expected. This is just my ignorance, but it was a bit of a shock. The temples were brooding, crumbling, grand scale structures with powerful symbolism, some almost swallowed by the jungle trees. It felt sacred and ancient and more than anything just so far away from home and the present day. The food in Cambodia I found even nicer than in Thailand. It was a fusion of Thai, the native Khmer and French echoing the days of the French colonization.
In Cambodia there was still a dark shadow from the days the country was under Pol Pot. We pasted a few killing fields but did not want to visit. The fresh shoots of recovery are emerging all over the area. The Temples seem to have been rediscovered and brought fresh life and focus to the place. It was interesting as in Siem Reap I found the best photography gallery I have ever been to. The photographer is called John McDermott and this is his work: http://www.asiaphotos.net/ It is everything I consider beautiful photography to be. Not pretentious, no clever stylistic name but just really aesthetically beautiful imagery.
After Cambodia we flew back to Thailand and traveled around Phuket and some of the near Islands. The place had a different rhythm and beat again. This time one of holistic hedonism and gorgeous tropical sultriness. The beaches were beautiful and the sea was so warm and soothing. We took a boat to the islands of Phi Phi, which were amazing and traveled to quite a few beaches on Phuket. We also took a cookery lesson and I am not sure how many bowls of Thai chicken soup I have made since returning.
I cannot wait to go back to South East Asia. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone. The thing that was the most striking to me is how people there interact differently, they seem to keep their emotions perfectly in check, maintaining composure and harmony all the time. It is very cliche but there really is a sense of serenity over there. We are so uptight in England in comparison!