AFTERWORD: Costs, Random Thoughts and Outtakes
Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
71Trip End Apr 22, 2005
At one point in one of my travelogues I referred to keeping a diary of what I'd spent when I thought I was being overcharged for a cup of coffee. A friend asked me, "You didn't really write everything down did you?" Actually I did write everything down and I mean everything. If I gave five cents to a beggar I wrote it down and I did not leave anything out nor did I ever forget. It had become such a habit that when I returned home it felt odd not to be jotting down my expenses.
My proposed daily budget including everything except airfare was set at $50 and with very little scrimping I was able to come under budget at $43.16. With the exception of airfare, hotels were my main expense and on Internet connections alone I spent $359.25 not including the shakes, Fantas and cocktails I guzzled while typing these entries. In some places like Lao souvenirs (statues and textiles) made up a large portion of my daily budget and in Cairo I went crazy for caftans but for nine of them I didn't even break twenty dollars.
My airfare budget was separate at $1,400 allotted for single one-way tickets purchased on the spur of the moment (2 days to one week in advance) and I came under that, as well at $1273.50 (flights are listed separately below). My open-jaw ticket from New York to Bangkok then Prague to New York was also separate and that ticket on British Airways was $905.
All hotels had air conditioning and private bath; a few had televisions and some included breakfast, which I've noted with an asterisk. I generally booked each hotel a few days prior via the Internet and a few times I phoned ahead to confirm. I winged it only a handful of times though I certainly prefer and highly recommended pre-booking accomodations.
Below is a random sampling of what I spent in each country. All prices listed are in US dollars.
Visa = Free
Hotel in Bangkok = (Suk 11) 11.00*
Hotel in Chaing Mai = (Lai Thai) 16.50
Large Bottle of Water = .12
Gin and Tonic = 2.25
Lychee Fanta = .37
Lunch (pad thai, Fanta, tip) = 2.00
Dinner @ Gallery 11 in Bangkok (phad prik khing [with prawns], coconut rice, small water, 2 gin and tonics, plus tip) = 8.00
Dinner from Street Vendor in Chaing Mai (chicken with green curry sauce, eggplant and rice) = .62
BTS Skytrain = .75
One Hour Foot Massage with Tip = 8.50
Banana Pancake = .62
Dairy Queen Hot Fudge Sundae = .62
All Day Cooking Class at Baan Thai = 20.00 (Episode # 32)
Elephant Trekking, River Rafting, Orchid/Butterfly Farm, "hilltribe"
plus Lunch = 20.00 (Episode # 31)
Newsweek Magazine = 3.12
The Economist Magazine = 3.50
Maugham's "Gentleman in the Parlour" (paperback) = 7.00
Total Averaged Daily Budget Came to $38.38
Visa = 20.00
Hotel in Phnom Penh = (River Star Hotel) = 20.00
Hotel in Siem Reap = (Ivy Guesthouse) = 15.00
Large Bottle of Water = .50
Gin and Tonic = 1.50
Croissant, Jam and Coffee = 1.80
Shoeshine = .50
Lychee Fanta = .50
Pringles = 2.00
Dinner (amok fish [local specialty cooked in coconut], rice, two cocktails, tip) = 5.71
Three Day Pass to Angkor Wat = 40.00
All-Day Hired Tuk-Tuk = 10.00
Swain's "River of Time" (authentic paperpack --not bootleg) = 5.00
The Economist Magazine = 5.00
Total Averaged Daily Budget Came to $53.94
Visa = 40.00 (actual cost 30.00)
Hotel in Vientiane = 15.00
Hotel in Luang Prabang = (Mano Guesthouse) 10.00
Large Bottle of Water = .20
Gin and Tonic = 2.50
Watermelon Fanta = .60
Scandinavian Pastry = .80
Fresh Baguette with Jam and Large Coffee = .70
Bottle of Black Sticky Rice Wine = 1.50
Dinner (minced chicken with mint and hot peppers, rice, one cocktail,
Tee-Shit with Lao Alphabet Printed on the Front = 1.80
Airport Departure Tax = 10.00
Total Averaged Daily Budget Came to $48.05
Visa = 52.50 (one day rush service through travel agent)
Hotel in Mandalay = (Royal Guesthouse) 5.00*
Hotel in Bagan = (Eden II) 8.00*
Hotel in Inle Lake = (Four Sisters) 7.50*
Hotel in Rangoon = (Panorama) 13.50*
Large Bottle of Water = .17
Lemon Sparkling (delicious local carbonated beverage) = .17
Bananna Split @ Nylon Ice Cream in Mandalay = 1.16
Bottle of Mandalay Gin = .93
Chocolate Cupcake = .11
Bag of Boiled Peanuts = .11
Breakfast in Rangoon (cup of coffee, cup of tea, 4 curry puffs, 2 coconut puffs) = .48
All-Day Horse and Buggy Ride in Bagan = 2.90
Shwedegon Pagoda Entrance = 5.00
Total Averaged Daily Budget Came to $31.21
Visa = 100.00
Hotel in Dhaka (Hotel al Farouk) = 9.16
Large Bottle of Water = .16
Breakfast (coffee, three pieces of naan bread with vegetable curries, plus tip) = .30
Lunch (Sprite and five pastries) = .92
Local English Language Newspaper = .16
One Hour Rickshaw Ride = .66
Long White Cotton Punjapi Shirt = 5.00
Total Averaged Daily Budget Came to $20.19
Visa = 10.00
Hotel in Amman (Palace Hotel) = 14.28
Hotel in Wadi Musa [Petra] (Petra Gate) = 8.57*
Large Bottle of Water = .35
Breakfast (coffee, boiled egg, pita bread, cheese, jam) = 2.14
Lunch (falafel sandwich, tea, plus tip) = .42
Dinner (local specialty: mensaf [lamb stewed in spiced yogurt, with roasted peanuts served over pita and rice] plus coffee) = 5.00
Two Day Pass to Petra = 37.14
Bag Lunch Provided by Petra Gate Hotel (fruit, pita, cheese, egg, jam, candy bar) = 3.57
Wadi Rum Desert Trip (all-day jeep transportation, tea, dinner, breakfast plus one night's accommodation in Bedouin tent) = 28.57
Red and White Checkered Keyfieh (traditional Jordanian scarf)= 4.00
Express Ferry from Aqaba, Jordan to Dahab, Egypt = 36.00
Total Averaged Daily Budget Came to $54.74
Visa = 10.
Hotel in Dahab (Deep Blue Hotel) = 6.92
Hotel in Cairo (Hotel Lotus) = 15.57*
Hotel in Luxor (Happy Land) = 7.78*
Large Bottle of Water = 34
Breakfast (double Turkish coffee, pita, cheese, jam, plus tip) = 1.38
Lunch (chicken shwarma sandwich, rice pudding, small water) = .95
Double Turkish Coffee = .15
Shoeshine = .34
Subway = .12
Can of Mountain Dew = .32
Two Pieces of Baklava = .25
Baksheesh to the Maid Solely So She'd Leave Me Alone = .51
Taxi from Cairo City Center to Pyramids = 1.73
Taxi from Cairo City Center to Pyramids = 1.73 (Don't make me say it again! WHAT?! NOW SHUT UP!! ARE YOU PEOPLE TRYING TO KILL ME?? I HATE YOUR GUTS!!!)
Entrance to Pyramids of Giza = 6.92
Sound and Light Show at the Pyramids = 10.38
Two Glasses of Red Wine at the Sound and Light Show = 8.65
Being Irritated Beyond Your Wildest Imaginings = 2 years off your life
Valium (generic, packet of 12) = .13
Gin and Tonic = 2.71
Razorblade = .05
Total Averaged Daily Budget Came to $37.28, Plus Five Temper Tantrums, Three Heart Palpitations and Two Crying Jags
Prague, Czech Republic
Visa = N/A
Hotel (Miss Sophie's) = 52.00
Small Bottle of Orange-Flavored Water = .59
Glass of Absinthe = 3.41
Breakfast (cappuccino and two slices of medovnic cake) = 4.05
Snack (sausage and roll) = 2.56
Lunch (sliced beef with gravy, potato dumplings, sauerkraut, two glasses of wine, plus tip) = 13.67
Metro = .51
Entrance to Prague Castle = 9.40
Camera Fee (Enjoy the photos -- YOU'RE WELCOME!) = 1.28
Concert (plus nap) = 12.82
Communist Museum = 7.69
Mucha Museum = 5.12
Kafka's "The Trial" (paperback) = 10.59
Total Averaged Daily Budget Came to $89.21
Bangkok > Phnom Penh (President Airlines) = 87.50
Luang Prabang > Chiang Mai (Thai Airways) = 88.00
Chaing Mai > Mandalay (Mandalay Air) = 88.00
Heho (Inle Lake) > Rangoon (Mandalay Air) = 95.00
Rangoon > Dhaka (Biman Air) = 136.00
Dhaka > Amman (Gulf Air) = 389.00
Cairo > Prague (Czech Air) = 390.00
PART II (Questions and Answers)
Did you travel with a backpack or a suitcase? I hate your guts. Do I look like I own a damn backpack? No. I do not nor have I ever owned a backpack and as a matter of fact I hate them. I traveled with a wheeled hard case carry-on suitcase and it made traveling a dream. It goes over cobblestones, I yank it over curbs and even in the dessert I turned in on the smooth side and dragged it smoothly across the sand. For my day bag I traded off between my Manhattan Portage messenger bag and my monk's bag I bought in Lao and both were perfect. I only used my money belt underneath my clothes while traveling on buses and trains.
Did you ever feel unsafe? Yes. The flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh was a white-knuckler and I was terrified and almost puked. With the exception of crossing the street in Phnom Penh, Chiang Mai, Rangoon and Cairo I never felt endangered and even then Saigon is worse in some respects. Insofar as being a victim of a crime I never once felt threatened even roaming down dark streets around Midnight but then again I was normally too drunk to notice.
What was your favourite place? It's a toss up really between Cambodia, Lao and Burma. As trite as it sounds there's a piece of me that will always long for Indochine; I felt very comfortable and invigorated there.
What was the most amazing thing you saw? The Shwedegon Pagoda in Burma and the temples of Angkor in Cambodia. Nothing however will ever beat seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time in 1999.
What was the most disappointing? Bar none, without hesitation there is no contest for this one at all and I don't even have to think about it. The Pyramids of Giza are without a doubt the most disappointing historical site I have ever seen in any of my journeys. To add insult to injury my experience there was so hideous and so destroyed by the Egyptians that I feel dirty when I see them even on television. My only bad experiences this entire trip were in Giza, which was hideous beyond description.
Who were the nicest people? Bangladesh and again this is seriously no contest whatsoever. I've never been so bowled over by the generosity and kindness off a people in my life. Jordan surprisingly comes in at second place and they have without a doubt the friendliest policemen. Jordan is the only country I visited where people stopped me on the street and said, "Welcome!" Tied for second place are the wonderful people of Burma with whom I came to feel a kinship.
Who were the most irritating people? Oh come on! Haven't you been paying attention? Out of 26 countries Egypt wins by a landslide. It's astonishing just how horrid MOST of them really are. That said however I did meet some lovely Egyptians who should be beating the asses of the ones who are destroying the image of their country and many people's vacations.
You really hated Egypt, didn't you? Surprisingly, no. I hated the touts, I hated being bothered constantly but once I acquired the skills to keep them at bay I enjoyed Cairo. Once you've learned a skill or trade or a new language you cannot wait to employ it and each time you're successful it gives you the confidence to delve further -- dealing with the Cairenes is very much a learned skill. The touts got used to seeing me and I got used to swatting them away and not treating them like human beings -- it's the only thing that works. Ironically towards the end when I'd see the same touts playing their trade with unsuspecting victims on Talaat Harb I actually pitied them and would smile and wave and some seemed ashamed. I hated much of Egypt but I loved much of it, as well. I would return as a pit stop on my next journey to the Middle East if for no other reason than to visit Ruth at the Lotus Hotel and for an afternoon of vintage caftan shopping in Islamic Cairo, which was an area of town that I truly loved.
Why do you still call Myanmar "Burma" and Yangon "Rangoon"? First of all let's get one thing straight, if I wrote Yangon and Myanmar you would have no idea what continent or even hemisphere I was talking about. Secondly, while I do not care for the sound of "Myanmar" I loathe the sound of "Yangon". Most importantly however I have a legitimate reason for referring to the country and its capital my their previous names. My bottom line is this: Aung San Suu Kyi whose party won by over 80% of the vote and then was placed under house arrest by the military dictatorship even though she won the Nobel Peace Prize still refers to the capital and country as Rangoon, Burma respectively. There's another reason that I call it Rangoon and Burma and that is because you are most certainly not the boss of me.
Did you ever get sick? No. There were I believe three days in total when I felt a bit under the weather but I never got sick. While I was careful about what I ate I still enjoyed what I wanted from chicken to ice cream and even ice cubes in cocktails in nicer restaurants. My travel doctor will scream when I tell her this but the rule of thumb is this: If they're serving mostly round-eyes chances are you're safe but you should still use caution. Chipped ice in Asia should generally be avoided as this comes from unfiltered tap water and is generally not safe however round ice is generally thought to be safe because it was made for consumption. If the town where you're staying lost electricity for more than a few hours it's best to stay clear of fish and ice cream for a few days afterward and go vegetarian for a while just to be careful.
Which country had the best food? Worst? I love Thai food and I love Thai food even more in Thailand where the flavors are more bold and complex and when there's a spicy sign next to a dish they're not playing around. I found a dish in Cambodia I loved called "amok fish" that was sometimes served cooked in a banana leaf but I preferred it when cooked in a coconut - it was excellent and I ate it twice a day. In Lao I loved a dish similar to Northern Thai cooking that was a ground chicken dish called "larb" (which is a very amusing name when said monotone like a robot repeatedly -try it). Burmese food is hit or miss and mostly I found it unctuous and bland but once we stumbled upon the regional cuisine from the Shan State we discovered edible dishes. Bangladeshi food is similar to Indian food without the complexities and is more or less poor man's Indian food and I don't even know what the hell that means frankly. Jordanian food is delicious as is Egyptian food, which is basically Middle Eastern food with subtle differences except for the incredible Bedouin lamb specialty "mensef". Czech food is peasant food with lots of bread dumplings and while I enjoy that sort of things in small doses I found it uninspiring except for that "medovnik" cake that I gorged myself on shamelessly.
You were always eating something and you ate a lot of cake and ice cream and pastries. I'm just wondering if you could pass a spoon of sugar without scratching someone's eyes out for it? You are really hateful you know that? That was really unnecessary.
You sure love to drink a lot don't you? Wow, you are really judgmental. No wonder everybody hates you and laughs about you behind your back. You are really cruel. Next question.
Did you wear that same damn white shirt every day? My God you are full of hate. That is so unattractive. You know what? Hate makes people really, really ugly. I'll have you know I had 4 of those shirts. Wow, that was mean.
How were you treated as an American? Very well and oddly enough I was singled out and warmly welcomed because I am an American in Jordan. That said however 98% of the people I met (both locals and travelers) do not only dislike the current American administration but I'd say that roughly 70% of them despise our government vehemently. Mercifully for Americans, most people can make the distinction between the country and the countrymen.
Did anybody donate any money to your travel fund? By God not enough! You are very selfish - no wonder you don't have any real friends. You are really cheap you know that? God hates cheapskates. He really does - he hates your guts for not giving me any money.
You always have such a cheerful, upbeat, positive attitude - how do you do it? Do you crap sunshine and candy canes? To answer your first question, I don't know how I do it considering the bullshit I have to put up with on a daily basis from greedy jackasses like yourself. And yes as a matter of fact I do crap sunshine, candy canes and occasionally a baker's dozen of Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts. I have also been known to crap fully lit menorahs and once I crapped those golden plates from the Book of Mormon.
Where are you going next and when? I don't know. I do know that I have an important birthday coming up in late November and I'm thinking about possibly Mexico City or maybe Argentina or Peru. Regardless I think I'll start learning Spanish, rebuild my now hilarious double-digit savings account and decide later.
What are you doing with all of these writings? I have been encouraged by fellow writers who are very successful and whose opinions I highly value to turn these episodes into a book. I am currently working on revising it and putting it into manuscript form and washing away the typos and inserting transitions, etc. and then I will find an agent. I am not however sanitizing it or altering the feel or voice in the least. There are many possibilities and it will become what it wants to become in time. Many of you, friends, family and strangers have written words of kindness and praise and I sincerely appreciate the encouragement.
And in the words of the jive-talkin', pimp limpin' street urchin from Mandalay Yo, I see ya on the flip-side, knowhatI'msayin'? Right ON!
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