“Pow!” A roasting chestnut exploded right as I walked by, throwing white bits of shredded nut skyward. Startled, I stumbled back in astonishment, my mind spinning in an attempt to comprehend what had just happened. Dusting myself off, my face reddened as I hurried on along my way, noting to myself that a walk down the street in Bangkok, the colorful capital of the Kingdom of Thailand can be quite the experience, and one that on occasion requires quick reflexes to dodge the occasional errant flying foodstuffs.
My travels around the world have taken me to the capital of the “Land of Smiles” twice already, once in January 2011 and again in January 2013, and each time I was blown away by this thriving metropolis.
Let me tell you thing…exploring Bangkok is not necessarily for the faint-hearted. It can get very hot and humid in the city notorious as the setting for ‘Hangover 2.’ The cacophony of noises, sights, and smells can overwhelm many, and the city is as more crowded than most westerners will be used to. But for those like myself seeking adventure, this is one of the world’s greatest cities to do it in, and Bangkok does not disappoint in terms of experiences. So, without further ado, here is my own personal list of the top seven experiences that must be had in Bangkok!
Occasionally in my travels I stumble upon one of those rare places in the world where time slows down, colors sharpen, and I become vividly aware of the interconnectedness of myself with the world around me. Perched above the banks of the Mekong River in a remote northern village of Laos, watching the flaming orb of the setting sun reflected off a golden Buddhist stupa, I became acutely aware that this was one of those moments. All was good in the world, and a warm feeling of calmness drifted over me.
Here, surrounded by curious teenage monks emblazoned in burnt orange robes, I took stock of my life, my family, and humanity. The bothersome minutia that typically flits about annoyingly now faded away into obscurity and I was left with a simple feeling of bliss. By the end of my trip here to Northern Laos, I had been an honored guest in a Laotian wedding, sampled some exquisitely sublime food, and cleared my mind in one of the most relaxing places I have visited to date.
A lot has been written about how the country of Burma (officially known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar or just Myanmar) is the next tourist hot spot. But despite the recent thawing of relations between the military government and western nations, it can still be a challenge to arrange for a tourist visa, and many embassies such as the one in Washington DC are overwhelmed with applications and can take months to process.
The reality is that it is possible for citizens of most Western countries to get into Burma without obtaining a visa in advance, and it can be done at land border crossings. My good friend Joel Oleson and I tested out this process in January 2013 while we were in Northern Thailand, and found it to be relatively easy.
Let me start by telling you how incredibly liberating it is to risk life and limb and ride on the back of a Songthaew. If you aren’t familiar with this Southeast-Asian invention, imagine a pickup truck fitted with two bench seats with a welded frame loosely fitted over the truck bed.
Now slap a platform on the back and you’ve got an excellent place to hang onto for dear life as your driver whips around the roads and hills of Northern Thailand. I flew around Chiang Rai Province in the hills of Northern Thailand in January, 2013 with my good friend and travel companion Joel Oleson. We were here in between speaking engagements and used Chiang Rai as a launching-off point for getting around to the countries of Burma (Myamnar) and Laos, which I will cover in two separate blog posts. What I discovered was that this side of Thailand was filled with amazing people, fantastic food, and, of course, some mind-blowing transportation options.
An incomprehensible speech in an exotic language…a stern glance, and the high priest thrust his blade into the fire in front of me. I had stumbled upon a full-blown Armenian pagan ceremony in the oldest intact Pagan temple in the world, the Garni temple, just outside of Yerevan, Armenia. Here, amidst the ghosts of pagans past, I witnessed a full blown pagan ceremony unfold before my eyes. Not some half-baked Disneyfied version setup solely for the tourists, mind you, but a real ceremony by the descendants of ancient pagans. They were gathered here in a 2000 year old temple to perform a rite of passage for one of their members who was entering into the Armenian military.
What is it about the crossroads of the world that I find so fascinating? Perhaps it’s the rich history, the battlefields of past dynasties, or the allure of the trade routes that pass through them. But more than anything, I think it comes down to the blend of cultures one finds in these areas. Because of the constant movement of people, goods, and ideas in these areas, one finds a dazzling blend of different art, foods, religions, and languages. The Caucasus most definitely qualifies as this type of environment, as it historically sits on the crossroads between powerful empires, and has been continuously influenced by them over the centuries. Subsequently, it has been a fascinating area of the world for me to explore and once I had the opportunity to visit this are of the world in November of 2012, I took it.
The country of Cambodia is a vast and mystical place, with literally thousands of historical sights and places to visit. A large concentration of these famous temples and ancient cities can be found in the Angkor region, near the city of Siem Reap. I visited this area in January 2011 on a stopover immediately following a business trip to Vietnam and explored the area in as much depth as I could in the short time I had.
The sights I visited in Cambodia were so numerous and so picturesque that I made the decision to break this blog entry into two posts. The first post detailed my visit to the temples in the Angkor region, including the famous Angkor Wat temple complex. This second post covers some of the temples further afield, as well as my visit to Tonlé Sap lake to visit a floating village.
As I discussed in my earlier post, these temples and city complexes were constructed around a thousand years ago during the Khmer Empire, and rivaled other famous architecture forms of the time in terms of beauty and balance. After visiting the temples in the Angkor region on the first part of my trip, I headed further east of Siem Reap to visit two particularly interesting temples, Banteay Srei and Beng Melea.