When I was a little girl, I used to sit in front of my parents’ TV for hours, singing along to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. “Bali Ha’i may call you, Any night, any day, In your heart, you’ll hear it call you: Come away…Come away.”
This siren song, while technically not about the idyllic Indonesian island of Bali, played in my mind long after the glow of the television screen had dimmed. And in my dreams, visions of rice terraces, palm trees and temples appeared–the waves washing over me.
I can’t believe I waited so long to go. Especially after living and traveling around Asia for five years. But, I’m happy to report that it was everything I hoped it would be–a week of sunshine and bliss.
Look at this place. Seriously. The white sand, the limestone cliffs, the turquoise water, the perfect mix of shade and sun.
Years ago, I interviewed a man named Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, a professor and the director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University. I was writing an article on Tampa Bay’s best beaches, and wanted to know how the man known as “Dr. Beach” chose his ten top American beaches each year. He went into specifics about beach conditions, sand softness and color, the presence of wildlife, the views, water temperature, safety. He actually had a list of 50 criterion.
You’ve seen it. Or, at least, you’ve heard of it. Playing on hostel screens all across Southeast Asia, the movie “The Beach,” starring Leonardo has been declared a “must-see” for all travel enthusiasts.
The premise is that a young American man with a longing for adventure arrives in Bangkok, Thailand. He walks through frenetic Kaosan Road, through the neon-lit streets, past drunken backpackers and street vendors. He’s yearning for something different. At his guesthouse he comes in contact with a mentally disturbed man who tells him of a secret paradise–a pristine island, hidden by limestone cliffs–hidden from tourists.
I recently returned from a week in Krabi, Thailand with my parents. I hadn’t seen them in eight months, and we decided a reunion at the beach was just what the doctor ordered.
I was of course responsible for choosing which island we would go to, since apparently being an expat in Asia makes me an expert on all Asian countries. And while it’s true that I have traveled quite a bit in the region, I’ve done it a little differently than my 65-year-old parents would want to (i.e. staying in non-air conditioned bungalows for $10 a night).
Where does the time go? Seriously.
I remember rolling my eyes when “old” people used to say this to me. And now, all of a sudden, I’m the old one saying this. (Well, not old, but “old-ish” according to my teenage students). It seems like overnight all of my friends got married and had babies, and my bedtime became something of an embarrassing topic of conversation. I’m also about to wrap up my fifth year teaching abroad. It just doesn’t make sense.
It’s winter. I get it. I should be posting pumpkin soup recipes and ideas for upcoming cookie exchanges. But fresh Vietnamese spring rolls sound so much better to me right now.
Lately I’ve had an overwhelming desire to travel. And I’m not talking about a week in the Caribbean or even two weeks in Europe. That’s not gonna cut it. I long for my backpacking days and fantasize about future expeditions: Hiking Machu Picchu, spending a month in an ashram in India, riding a camel through the Sahara. The list goes on.
Everyone’s eaten at Thai restaurants. There are Vietnamese places popping up all over. My old DC neighborhood even had a Malaysian eatery on the corner.
But what the heck is Laotian food?
I wondered the same thing before I visited Laos, the small country bordered by Thailand and Cambodia. And obviously this was the first question I asked once I got there.
The moment I returned to America I started receiving invites to parties and reunion requests. I responded by sending a mass email: “Let me sleep for five days, then the planning can commence.”
Exactly six days later, I had two of my best girlfriends over for dinner. And even though I wanted nothing to do with rice, noodles, or any other kind of Asian fare, I thought it’d be nice to cook some recipes I learned in Thailand.
Writing this from an Internet cafe in Saigon, Vietnam, my hands are still shaking, my neck tense from fear.
Anyone who knows me is well aware of my obsession with Anthony Bourdain. I’ve memorized every episode of No Reservations, feverishly flipped through each of his books, and am anxiously waiting for the day he discovers my blog and insists for me to be his younger, equally-as-charming co-host.
I can’t believe it’s been seven weeks since I set forth on this amazing journey. I’ve seen sights that have shocked me, things that have humbled me, and have done things that I will remember for the rest of my life. Southeast Asia is incredible.
I know what you’re thinking…ok, ok, Southeast Asia is great. Jennifer’s seen temples, ridden elephants, motorbiked through rice fields. But what about the food? Well, here’s a snippet of what I’ve been putting in my belly: