Monday, October 27, 2014

first impressions

Cambodia opened to tourism in 2003.  In 2004 over one million tourists flooded its lands. Ten years later, the number has jumped to over four million per year. Despite the deluge of holiday-goers being so great in such a short period of time, the country has coped with it amazingly well. However, whether it be the landscape - which has suffered drastic changes ecologically and visually due to deforestation, the people who are funny and jovial yet at times overbearing, the history - from its ancient temple roots to more recent genocides, visitors either love it or hate it.

All of it intrigued me, and as I crossed the boarder into Cambodia, I entered wondering which category I'd fall into by the time I left.

Although, the light banter offered by the first locals I came across, welcoming me with greetings like "whazzup homeslice?" sure gave it a good start.

Monday, October 13, 2014

the perks of long term travel

Short term holidays require planning. Hotels, attractions, transport. Details worked out well before your first vacation day to ensure the least amount of stress and the maximum amount of enjoyment.
Half the travel excitement comes with the anticipation of it all.

A life of travel is different. Planning is confining. It shuts the doors to spontaneous experiences that could end up providing you with some of your favorite memories. A life of travel involves the exhaustive efforts of lugging your belongings around the city, town, or village you've just arrived in for as long as it takes for you to find decent, available accommodation. Planning is done on a bus, a train, or a plane en route to your destination. Whatever it is you find on Lonely Planet, Wikitravel, or word of mouth, that is.

There is something exhilarating about traveling without an agenda.  The freedom of it all.  Like the ability to decide late into the evening hours, on your way back to your room in Bangkok, despite your prior plans to head south, "Screw it. I'm tired of Thailand."

And just like that, at 6:30 the following morning, you're lugging your belongings to the nearest bus station.  Destination: Cambodia.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Red or Yellow

Before the recent coup d'etat, the tension in Thailand was rather palpable - in certain, specifically designated, areas. Protests, primarily peaceful (the number of fatalities can be counted on one hand), filled the business district of Bangkok. Tents began popping up, and soon lined street medians, sheltered by suspension walkways and Bangkok's Sky Train. Individuals were in it for the long haul. The entrepreneurs of the group began vending food and civil unrest souvenirs, largely equating to lighthearted political jabs written on T-shirts.

And the rest of the city's (nay, country's) tenants - both permanent and otherwise - took more thought into their wardrobe each day, mostly steering clear of anything red or yellow.

Thailand's most prominent political division is represented in color. The poorer class, consisting mostly of farmers, and a few wealthier left-wing activists -- each of whom are against dictatorship, don red.  Everyone else, yellow.

For years, individuals who now consider themselves Yellow Shirts controlled the country. The lower class community was left struggling and were without resources if an unforeseen incident occurred.

My hairstylist in Chiang Mai explained it in the following way.

"My father was a farmer. He was our family's sole breadwinner. We never had much money. And we always worried about illnesses. If he had gotten sick, we wouldn't have been able to pay the hospital fees. Instead we would have had to plead with a wealthy family for money. They would respond with one of two answers. One, that they would help us, but we would have to leverage our farm. The other answer would be no, that they wouldn't help. Either way, we'd lose our farm."

Then a man by the name of Thaksin Shinawatra was elected Prime Minister.  Initially, he was supported by the majority of the population. Soon after, tides began to shift. He appealed to the farmers, the Red Shirts, offering them an education and affordable health-care. No longer did families face the fear of losing their livelihood when health concerns came in to play.

The Yellow Shirts found a certain number of his policies to be corrupt, and in events which lead to a military coup, had Thaksin exiled from the country in 2006 - five years into his office. The title was eventually transferred to his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, whom many call "Thanksin's puppet".  Yet, it took a number of protests by Red Shirts, and a few lives lost, before the title was passed.

The most recent turn of events had the Yellow Shirts crying for a change. They wanted "Thanksin's puppet" out. Yingluck offered elections. Soon after, she retracted her offer. Enraged, the Yellow Shirts fled to the streets, filling it with the sound of voices seeking a change.

A change which came, with a coup d'etat.  And so the cycle continues....