Thailand added to the previous list:
I'm simply amazed how easy it is to find an Internet connection pretty
much anywhere--from mountain passes in Vietnam to temples at Angkor
Wat, the cellular data networks are alive and well. Pair that with
Google's street-level maps of everything and real time triangulation,
and we were often directing our drivers to our destination. Would not
have been possible not so long ago. Of course...
Loser: Thailand, specifically Bangkok. Slow data rates, dropped
connections, or nothing at all. I'm writing this offline.
Everyone feels like they're on the move, that life is better than it
was even a few years ago, and there's nowhere to go but up.
Winner: Despite Vietnam's rapid rise and rabid soccer fans, it's
India. They know they're the only ones who can take on China, and
they're determined to win.
Sometimes you play the game well, even if you know you can't win.
Winner: Cambodia. Everyone's an entreprenuer, from the young guys
setting up boutique hotels to the tuk-tuk drivers who will drive you
anywhere, ask if they should wait for you, provide you a list of
options of things to do next, and check to see if they should pick you
up tomorrow. This went on without exception. It's also the only place
we heard, "thank you for visiting our country; please tell your
friends back home to visit." And you should.
Since there's always a place to stay, it's more about what you like:
Mexico: fabulous art deco constructions in el DF, quaint rooms
surrounding private gardens and patios elsewhere.
India: grand, colonial, marblized establishments are the way to go.
Vietnam: Hanoi was our favorite--spacious, modern and in the middle of
Cambodia: all were nice, from the hipster Kool Hotel in Siem Reap to
PP's colonial Pavilion and ultra-modern Blue Lime.
Thailand: still working on getting it together in Chiang Mai, but
we've learned to splurge for the last one on any trip, and Bangkok's
Presidential Palace is the way to go for luxury at still reasonable
Being a guy, I just stand and deliver, so this has never really been a
big deal for me. Thus, I'll let Karen take over:
In terms of plumbing, Mexico and Soueast Asia are quite similar. The
plumbing systems are old and as a result you'll often find
wastebaskets near the toilet for depositing tissue. Southeast Asia has
often represented a particular challenge because of the traditional
Asian-style "squatty-potty." Not very user friendly for Westerners...
Another one for Karen as it makes me jittery:
Starbucks, in its continued quest for world domination, has
infultrated Mexico and Southeast Asia. We've seen Starbucks in
Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. Thankfully, both Mexico and Thailand
maintain vibrant independent coffee cultures. Thailand wins hands down
though. The Thais love their coffee, and good espresso can be found
everywhere--which is fabulous for the caffeine addicted!
Even if it applies only to metropolitan areas, there's a range from
nothing at all to world-class subways.
Winner: Mexico City. Among the best anywhere.
Bangkok is the only place I've ever been where the taxi drivers
habitually take you where they want to go, and not where you want to
go. I was about to punch someone.
Ended up in the Bangkok mega mall yesterday, one of the largest in
Asia. America--land of merchandising and consumption--has nothing on
Dad asked in the comments of the last comparison why, after all the
food posts, we hadn't included it as a category. Good question. But we
still had two countries to go, and the Academy Awards never announces
Best Picture first. So, without further ado...
Food, real food, from modern and sophisticated to the last-meal
variety your mom and grandma made, can be found everywhere.
Huitlacoche enchiladas and epazote-queso fresco sandwiches in Oaxaca,
murgh makhani and samosas in Bangalore, bun bo hue and butabara in
Saigon, fish amok and pandanas tea in Siem Reap, and miang kum and tom
yum soup in Chiang Mai--all are exquisite, and for any foodie reason
enough to travel. But there is a clear winner:
Flavors, balance, presentation, ingredients, freshness, invention,
simplicity, variety--it goes on and on. In fact, it's the only place
I've ever been where I didn't start jonesing for a BLT or a benedict.
I could eat there, happily, forever.
So there you have it. Now get out and go somewhere.