Asia: the miracle of bus travel in a foreign land

Purchasing a ticket for inter-city bus travel in Asia can feel a lot like throwing yourself at the mercy of a petulant god.

When purchasing a ticket, the newbie traveler will ask about the basics: “Will there be a bathroom on the bus?” and “At what time will we arrive?”. The savvy traveler knows what nuisances await and asks: “Will we need to change buses?” and “Will there be any food/bathroom breaks?”. The seasoned traveler doesn’t bother asking questions at all. They know that a petulant god has whims and needs beyond reasonable expectations.


Sometimes a bus station is just a street corner.

Once you’ve purchased your ticket, you may be delighted to find that your bus takes two hours longer than expected to actually hit the road cause it’s arranged door to door service for locals, you may find that your tourist only bus careens through small villages with someone hanging out the open door loudly advertising hop-on, hop-off services for locals or you may find that your overnight bus drops you off at what doesn’t really look like your destination at 4am. In most countries your assigned seat means nothing – it’s usually more of a free for all. Once you’ve purchased your ticket, you are at the mercy of someone else’s whims and timetable. Keep in mind when booking that your local travel agent may have limited information to work with and he knows that it doesn’t really matter what he promises – he’ll never see you again anyway! When thinking of the pick-ups, transfers, rest stops, wait times, flat tires, checkpoints and language barriers, I sometimes marvel that both I and my luggage have arrived on time to our expected destination.


Nepal buses have exciting features such as ABS, individual seats and non-stop music! I didn't see any fridge or martinis.

Although I have had some very interesting experiences on buses, it’s not all bad. I’ve learned that each country has a certain level of consistency. Once I’ve got a taste for a country, I can figure out what contingency planning is required for each ride. Most importantly I’ve learned to be prepared and then let go. Ride the wave of uncertainty and remember the most important rule of the road: take advantage of every bathroom break!


Overnight bus sleeper seats in Vietnam.

Here’s some highlights of my experience by country in South East Asia.

Thailand: luck of the draw- some fancy double decker buses and some sketchy old ones

Malaysia: luxury! Seats like lazy boy recliners and seats are only three across so single travelers aren’t nuzzling elbows with strangers

Cambodia: typically old buses and booking a VIP bus doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get one

Vietnam: an impressive breed of sleeper buses where each person gets an individual leather pod seat that reclines quite far but not quite flat (see picture)

Myanmar: bad, often windy roads, older buses, nothing special for overnight and at times, driving that makes me prefer blissful ignorance to windows (except for the beautiful scenery, of course)

Foodie acceptance: eating my way around the world

After my recent time in Malaysia was largely spent tracking down recommended eateries from travel food blogs, I finally looked up the definition of foodie (courtesy of wikipedia):

Foodie: A foodie is a gourmet, or a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and alcoholic beverages. A foodie seeks new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating out of convenience or hunger.

Nothing here about being pretentious. Good. I guess it’s time to admit that I’m a foodie.


My skewer selection for peanut satay in Melacca.

Back in Toronto, I didn’t eat out very often, but I did enjoy the thrill of finding delicious, mouthwatering food in local restaurants. I also loved living beside St Lawrence market in downtown Toronto – recently named the best food market in the world by National Geographic. They have an amazing selection of meats, seafood, cheeses and produce not to mention fast food from a wide variety of nationalities that keeps me coming back for more.


Roast duck, sweet potato balls, and peanut coated sweets from Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur.

Some of my favorite Toronto restaurants are Le Petit Dejeuner or Bonjour Brioche for brunch, Pizzeria Lebretto or Big Smoke for lunches, and Patria or Guu for dinner. I recommend the airy Belgian waffles at Le Petit Dejeuner, the rare roast beef sandwich at Bonjour Brioche, the anchovy and buffalo mozzarella pizza at Pizzeria Lebretto and the classic cheeseburger at Big Smoke. Patria and Guu are Spanish and Japanese tapas places respectfully and I recommend trying everything. When at work, I would always put the extra time in to walk to my favorite lunch spots and wait in their long lines cause it made my days that much brighter. One of my most memorable food experiences in Toronto was at The Black Hoof where I ate whole octopus, bone marrow, horse heart, horse tongue, and calf’s brains all in one sitting! That meal also introduced me to a delicious grapefruit, whiskey cocktail with salted rim. I prefer my whiskey neat now but that cocktail was the beginning of developing my love for it.


Lychee, ice and black jelly dessert at a Hawker stand in Singapore.

Great food has become a large part of my travels. Although I still enjoy visiting places like Cuba which have bad food reputations, I do love finding a country with local foods that really tickle my palette. In my quest for trying new and exotic things I’ve eaten horse’s heart, calf’s brains, lamb brains, whole octopus and squid, bone marrow, ox tongue, bison burgers, sheep’s cheese, a cricket (yes, just one), century egg, balut, cheese-flavored ice cream, whole fried fish, raw sea urchin, tripe (pictured above with the satay), black pudding, blood pudding and so much more.


Myanmar pork sichet from YKKO in Yangon

In my recent travels, I was thrilled by the tangine dishes in Morocco, the stuffed falafel in Jordan, the street food (chaat) in Pakistan and India, the laksa in Singapore, the coconut jam toast and iced coffee in Malaysia, the avocado and bean salads and sichet in Myanmar and pretty much every local Thai dish. I’m on a constant search for good avocado juice wherever it’s available (for me that’s milk free and not too sweet). I’m heading to Vietnam soon and I can’t wait to try all the food – I’ve heard such good things!


Chilled coconut on the beach in Koh Phangan!

Any tips on what foods I should try next? I’m heading to Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and New Zealand in the coming months.

[Side notes:
Balut is a cooked, fertilized duck egg – the egg contains a duck fetus. It’s common in Vietnam and the Philippines and prepared slightly differently in both places. I had it in the Philippines thanks to some coworkers who were keen that I try it.

The menu at The Black Hoof has changed since I’ve been. It has a tendency to change.]