mastercopycat

Virtual meanderings

Thus spoke Issac: The words of the wise man

     There are those who want to know about a destination as much as possible before they visit it. Then there are others who prefer knowing very little in order to avoid bias and feel the place themselves. Then there is me, who cannot make my mind which way I want it. For this travel I decided to stick to the second approach. As there is not a clear-cut boundary between the two approaches, it seems to be more of a personal attitude. In the former case you tell yourself “I will learn as much as possible to avoid any problems”. In the latter case you say “I will deal with whatever happens on the spot, one way or another”.

     That just said, for my first days I did not think it wise to rely on the travel guidebooks candy – and I tried to get in touch with someone who lived in Bangkok (using the popular www.couchsurfing.org website). As I kept postponing this task to the last moment, I almost missed my chance – one never knows when and if the person you are trying to contact will answer. After losing three days on one attempt that did not work out, I made a second try just the day before I left for Istanbul.
This time it worked – and I got back an extensive answer from Isaac, an American PhD student living in Bangkok with his fiancée (also American). Luckily, I was able to read his message midway – at Abu Dhabi airport. Isaac happened to be in neighboring Laos, but was coming back to Bangkok today. I provide his email in full here, as it is a must-read (all credit goes to Isaac):

Great to hear from you. Thanks for the complements on the blog. I wish I had more time to add more content to it, but I’m busy with my thesis. We would love to meet up with you in Bangkok for dinner or a drink. We’re not hosting right now just because we’ve been so busy with school. As far as places to stay go, I don’t have any great advice since I live here so I never look for a place to stay. However, most of the budget stuff is located on Kao San Road. Kao San Road is famous or rather infamous for being one of the world’s most famous backpacker places. This offers a lot of convenience as far as food, alcohol, travel agents, and sights go, but it has also attracted a lot of scams, drunken backpackers, sex workers, and shops selling “Thai” souvenirs. Some love it, some hate it, personally I would only want to stay there for a few days. On the plus side, it’s easy to show up there and just walk into guest houses, look at a room and decide if you want it or not. Be wary of noise from the street though. I’ve heard that there are a few good hostels in the Silom area too. You can always find a CSer who is hosting as well. A week in Bangkok is a bit long in my opinion, but you’re right that it’s probably a good way to get over jet lag and culture shock. I think you can see and experience most of what Bangkok has to offer is two to three days, but that is just my opinion. If you only have two weeks though, I wouldn’t stay in Bangkok for a whole week. There are many other great places to go in Thailand.

If you stay in Kao San Road or go the sits in the old city (This is where Kao San Rd. is located) then watch out for scams. In particular, I would advise to never take tuk tuks (three wheeled open air taxis). They always try to over charge and they will take you to a shop (jewelry, suits, travel agent) instead of your destination. It’s the same price or cheaper to take a metered taxi.

Laos is great. I’m actually there right now, but I’ve only been to Vientiane. It’s far quieter than Bangkok. Also, the people are friendly and honest. There is a lot of natural beauty too.

Vietnam has a lot of nice things to do and it’s popular among backpackers. I’ve only been to Northern Vietnam. You should go to Sapa, but pay extra money to have a guide take you out of Sapa into the actual villages on an overnight walking trip. Don’t pay anyone to only take you to cat cat “village.” Hanoi is interesting and Ha Long Bay is not to be missed. I’ve heard good things about Hue too.

For Japan, you have to spend at least a few days in Tokyo. You should also go to Kyoto for a few days and probably Nara. Himeji Jo is great as well. Skip Osaka since it’s nothing after you’ve seen Tokyo. I’ve heard Hiroshima is good too. I also recommend Nagasaki, but it’s out of the way. Budget at least $100 dollars a day for Japan to be realistic. Be careful you have enough money for a visit to Japan last. It’s painfully expensive. I would recommend staying in a capsule hotel in Japan. There is a good one located in the Akihabara neighborhood (a geek’s paradise).

Korea is great. You have to see Seoul, especially the Kongbokgung (Palace). Cheongdokgung (palace) is also good. I also recommend walking along the Changichong (stream) for good people watching. For food eat Korean barbecue, bibim bob, bulgogi, kimbob, solentang, and anything else that looks interesting (You could try boshentang which is dog soup. It’s not too easy to find, but you can if you look and ask middle aged to older men where it can be found) Eat kimchi at every meal, you will be addicted by the time you leave. You also have to hike up a mountain in Korea. Go on a weekend day when a lot of Koreans are hiking too. They will probably give you food and alcohol (soju) at the top of the mountain. Also, try to make it up to the DMZ. Go on a USO tour. If you don’t go with the USO, then don’t take any DMZ tour that doesn’t take you to Panmunjom/Joint Security Area (JSA). You should also go to Gyongju (old Silla/Korea capital). Probably the most beautiful place in SK is Soraksan National Park near Sokcho. Busan has busy beaches, but the best beaches are on Jeju Island, but if you’ve been to Southeast Asia you will not be impressed. However, Jeju Island is quite fun and unique. I would recommend driving a scooter along the coast and across the island. You should hike up Halasan (mountain) and go to the tiny but great Udo (Island). Near Seoul is an island off the beaten path called Gangwado. It is a great cross section of Korea offering traditional food, lots of ginseng, mountains, temples, rice fields, and a mud flat beach. I would also recommend visiting public bath houses in Japan and Korea. You can actually sleep at them in Korea for about 7 dollars a night.

You’re phone won’t work in Thailand, but you can buy a sim card for 100 baht and top it up at any 7-11.

Finally, you have to go to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom outside Siam Reap in Cambodia.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.

    By the way, Issac has a personal blog that I highly recommend. His posts on Thailand in particular offer a lot of information and deep insight on things Thai (especially politics) which will help you get beyond the “Land of Smiles” level of knowledge. Check it out!

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4 responses to “Thus spoke Issac: The words of the wise man

  1. Pingback: Board games in downtown Bangkok « mastercopycat

  2. Pingback: Bangkok to Chiang Mai (and how I got ripped off nicely at the train station) « mastercopycat

  3. Pingback: Getting around in Bangkok « mastercopycat

  4. Pingback: Getting to China | A must-read « mastercopycat

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