I saw one of the most amazing sunrises while at 38,000ft flying over the South China Sea on my flight from Singapore to Tokyo. The long trip back home gave me time to reflect on all of the places I visited and all of the wonderful memories that I have from my journey. Here are a few over my parting thoughts about the places I have visited.
HONG KONG: My first destination. Everything was so new and exciting, but yet the familiarity of being in a westernized city remained. I remember how amazing it was to step into a Buddhist temple for the first time and being overcome by the powerful smell of burning incense. One of my favorite spots here was sitting sitting up on "The Peak" at night and watching the techicolor skyline of the buildings below. It was in Hong Kong where I was introduced to driving on the left hand side of the road...something that I never got quite used even though I encountered it again in other places (this concept also applies for stairs and escalators, in case you are naive like me). Hong Kong will be remembered for the place where I enjoyed by first "real" Chinese meal.
VIETNAM: I remember how much of a shock it was to fly from Hong Kong to Hanoi. There may have been a fleeting moment where I wondered what the heck I was doing here, but luckily that quickly passed. Vietnam was definitely the highlight of my trip. Life here was so different from anything that I have experienced and I loved it all. This was a country that I had only seen in war movies and I really did not know what to expect as an American travelling here. What I found was a warm and friendly people who look more to the future then to dwell in the past and I was greeted with open arms throughout my stay. It felt like an honor to be here. I won't forget the curious H'Mong children peeking through our window early one morning while we were trekking through the hillside. I was mesmerized by the beauty of the countryside here...all the shades of green from the rice paddies and fields. Eating was always a pleasure here not only because the food was delicious but because it was always eaten family style with plenty of time to just sit and relax with friends reminiscing over the day's experiences. I loved the quaintness of Hoi An, the seclusion and beauty of Whale Island and even the chaos of Hanoi and Saigon. Most of all, it was the people of Vietnam that we met that ultimately made this my favorite place.
CAMBODIA: This was definitely the most adventurous part of the trip in terms of travelling with its dirt roads and too shallow lake. The thing I will remember the most are the personal accounts about the recent tragic history here...everyone had their own story of friends and family lost during the Khmer Rouge control. This was a country of many contrasts. On one end, you had the splendor and luxury of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh as well as the magnificence of Angkor Wat. On the other hand, you see the overwhelming poverty that still remains here. Overall, I found the Cambodian people to be strong, resilient, and extremely warm and welcoming. Tourism will continue to grow here and hopefully will help their economy. Angkor Wat was by far the highlight of the trip. Words or photos cannot describe the beauty and power of this place.
THAILAND: I feel as though I need to come back and visit Thailand again as I did not get nearly enough time here. The Grand Palace in Bangkok was stunning with its vivid colors and golden buildings. I remeber being blown away by the size of the Reclining Buddha at the Wat Pho Temple and was amazed the sheer number of temples and their size and detail. I will remeber getting absolutely soaked by laughing children during Songkran in the town of Satun. The highlight of Thailand was by far the beaches in the Krabi province. Just incredible! Seeing the ravages of December's tsunami here was sombering, but you could see the determination to continue to rebuild here. It is a place that I defintely would like to return to.
MALAYSIA: I loved how this country was made up of so many cultures, many which have blended together. Since the majority of people here were Muslim, there were new things to learn and experience after visiting predominately Buddhist nations. I enjoyed hearing the call to prayer from the mosques each day. Probably one of the most unforgetable experiences here was taking part in the Indian New Year celebration while in the Cameron Highlands. Kuala Lumpur was a beautfil city to visit, perhaps one of my favorites. The Petronas Towers are a sight to see, although I found them to be an erie reminder of the World Trade Center despite their much different appearance. This was defintely a country that had a rich cultural history that seems to remain despite the fact that Malaysia is running head first into the world competitive markets.
SINGAPORE: The end of the line before going home and probably the most westernized place that we visited. A beautfully clean and impressive city that is very easy to get around. It reminded me alot of Hong Kong. I will remember our first night out here eating an amazing dinner with friends and drinking Singapore Slings at Raffles Hotel. It was a nice place to end what has been nothing short of a trip of a lifetime.