I could give a complete run-down of all the details of my Thailand / Cambodia trip, but I’ve seen enough travel blogs to know that such a post would be boring. Instead, I’ll give a brief overview of Southeast Asia and then give the highlights of my itinerary.
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Southeast Asia consists of the stuff east of India and south of China. It can be conveniently divided into two parts: the islands — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, East Timor, and Singapore — and the mainland — Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. I don’t know nothin’ about the islands, so I’ll stick to talking about the mainland (though I don’t know much about that either).
Languages: Burmese is related to Tibetan, and ultimately to Chinese. Thai and Laotian are both members of the Tai language family, and are to some extent mutually intelligible. Vietnamese and Cambodian both belong to the Austro-Asiatic language family. Cambodian is by far the ugliest language I have ever heard. It has a very harsh start-stop pattern, with the result that all conversations between Cambodians sound like they are taking place over a bad cell connection. I didn’t hear all that much Thai, since everyone involved in tourism in Thailand speaks an unrefined but surprisingly fluent sort of English. This includes the young children who try to sell knick-knacks on the street. This showed me that I really need to step up my English-teaching game, since even the teenagers at my school can barely speak English. This may be because there’s no urgency for them to learn, whereas the Thais’ livelihoods depend on it.
Alphabets: The Burmese, Thai, and Cambodian scripts (yes, each country has its own script) are not alphabets; rather, they are abugidas, meaning that vowels are mostly indicated by diacritic markings on the consonants (alphabets like Greek mark vowels explicitly; abjads like Arabic and Hebrew mostly don’t mark them; and syllabaries like Japanese combine vowels and consonants into unique letters). They are distantly related to the scripts of India. I have no idea how to read any of them.
Khmer is the Cambodian word for Cambodian. “Khmer Rouge” just means “Red Cambodian,” but it sounds more exotic.
Vietnamese used to use a modified version of Chinese, but since French colonial times they have used the Latin alphabet.
Religion: Most people in mainland Southeast Asia are Buddhists, but in Vietnam they are Mahayana (the Buddhism of China, etc) and in the other countries they are Therevada (what used to be the Buddhism of India). This is because Vietnamese culture is mostly spillover from China, and Thai, Cambodian, and Burmese culture is mostly spillover from India (as we saw, their writing systems are evidence of this). In Cambodia, many of the old Angkor temples were originally dedicated to Vishnu, but were later converted to Buddhist temples.
History: I don’t know much that you don’t already know or can’t look up yourself.
Enough of that. Here’s where I went:
1) Flew from Tbilisi to Doha, Qatar (judging by what I could see from the window, a very ugly place), and then to Bangkok;
2) Immediately took a long, filthy train ride to Cambodia;
3) Spent a day looking at the Angkor temples, including the Indiana Jones-looking Ta Prahm;
Ta Prohm has been reclaimed by gigantic trees. I bet some people stupidly take this to be evidence of the futility of man’s labors.
4) Immediately took a long bus ride back to Bangkok;
5) Spent a few days screwing around in Bangkok;
6) Took a long bus ride down to the beach (Phuket and Ko Phi Phi);
7) Spent about a week screwing around on and by the beach;
8) Went back to Bangkok and took the same route back to Tbilisi.
The whole trip was about two weeks. Lots of fun, but very tiring.
I should add that on three of our four flights, we were on planes which gave each person their own personal TV screen. This may not be new to others, but it was new to me, and I was amazed.
This meant that instead of being bored, I was able to watch: The Day of the Jackal, The French Connection, the first third of The Dark Knight, The Bourne Supremacy, the intro of The Bourne Identity, and maybe eight Simpsons episodes. If I ever go to that part of the world again, I’m definitely flying Qatar Airways.
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