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NABEEL FARAH

Thailand, Korea, Japan

Bangkok Thailand
Lonely planet put it best when it called Khao San Road  “the quintessential backpacker ghetto”. Pulsating beats of  eurotrash techno anthems blare all night through the paper thin graffiti covered walls of the  tiny one roomed guesthouses spanning the long avenue. Backpackers from around the world coalesce here relaxing in lively sidewalk cafes sipping Beer Chang or Thai Red Bull while peering at the  pad thai stands, pirated cd shops, and tiny carts where fried insects and grub worms make a popular yet strange delicacy. Yes backpackers from all reaches of the globe with festive spirits and lofty dreams, ah to be amongst my people!

 

I had been to Bangkok a couple years ago and the place is every bit as vibrant  as I remember it. One can hardly walk a block without running into one of the ubiquitous  wat temples teaming with yellow gowned monks. The muddy tumultuous waters of the Mae Nam Chao Phraya river cut a wide path  through central Bangkok. The city exists in an eclectic  dichotomy of modern day skyscrapers and randomly located posh hotels nestled amongst ancient temples and weathered wooden shacks.  The river is best traversed by traveling as the locals do  on one of the huge  and noisy barges that function effectively as water taxis. Smaller canals meander off the main river winding past aging stilted teak houses and lesser temples.

 

 

Japan

Essentially it was an oversized plastic box measuring approximately  6 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet. This would be my home in Japan for two days. Yes the notorious “capsule hotel”, a coffin-like abode to lay your head, but relatively speaking not a bad deal in Japan  for USD 20 per night (the “hotel” comes complete with a small TV and radio inside). Osaka is Japan’s second most populous city but feels more Japanese than Tokyo, as there are fewer international types here. The city is massive and sprawling but very navigable with  the dead on time efficiency of its subway system and extensive train network. The city turns lively at night. The Dotombori district lies near a small river by the same name and glows bright as a  flood of quirky neon signs lights the night. Osaka is know for its squid rolls, which while not bad I ate mostly sushi while I was there. Japan is not without its peculiarities, in fact it is precisely these peculiarities which give the place a certain comedic charm.  Japan is a land where taxi drivers wear three piece suits and white gloves, young and old alike sit mesmerized gambling in smoky pachinko parlors, and seafood restaurants advertise with massive animatronic crabs complete with giant snapping pinchers 

 

Kyoto

Kyoto is one of those rare cities that lends itself to dreams. The numerous temples in Kyoto nearly overwhelm the visitor with peacefulness and serenity. Small gold pagodas seemingly float on water still as ice. Water flows down bamboo pipes across small twisting pine trees and placid Zen rock gardens. Geisha houses had there heyday in pre-war Kyoto. The old quarter still exists today with small wooden houses with bamboo facades sitting in front of  diminutive canals.

 

Korea

12 million people go about life within the dense confines of Seoul  amongst industrial bridges , high rise apartments, Olympic stadiums, and scenic parks . Part of the excitement of Seoul was figuring out how the bus system worked as I found myself on more than one occasion nowhere near where I had intended to go. When I did make it to my intended destinations the city was electric  with outdoor markets and busy pedestrian malls as  people spilled out of densely packed boutiques and stores like ants. The best part of Seoul is the shear abundance of street food. Seoul is a city replete with richly historical castles constructed by dynasties long ago and exquisite shrines. The Hongdae distinct caters mostly to students and is awash with bars, clubs, and artsy street vendors.

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kyoto.jpg
Golden shrine in Kyoto, Japan (click to enlarge)

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Monk at Wat Arun in Bangkok, Thailand (click to enlarge)

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Seoul, Korea at night

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