A Great Way To Learn About A Foreign Country You Are Visiting

Ozeki Super Market in Sendai, Japan

Whenever I travel to a foreign country, I make an effort to visit a grocery store, because I always learn so much about the local culture, foods, language and currency by doing so. I first did this sort of by accident when I visited Budapest Hungary in September of 2014, simply because I needed to purchase drinking water. When I walked into the small market which was across the road from my hotel, I was fascinated by the different local foods which were on display. I also enjoyed observing other patrons as they conversed with the grocery store clerk.

I didn’t get a chance to visit a grocery store while abroad until 2020, when I traveled to Japan, but I managed to visit numerous grocery stores all over the country, so I was able to observe differences between prefectures. I also rather quickly noticed that bottles of sake were much cheaper than what I have seen in the States, while fresh produce was almost prohibitively expensive. As an example, I saw 4000 ml bottles of sake (that’s more than a gallon!) for 2199 yen, which is about $16.50 USD now. I also saw a baby watermelon at a market in Sendai which cost almost $12 USD (1580 Yen). Here are some fun images from my mini field trip to Ozeki Super Market.

I continued my exploration of foreign countries via visits to grocery stores when I traveled to Portugal and Thailand on separate trips in 2022. While in Portugal, I had to fend for myself for six days as a solo traveler, so I interspersed a few restaurant meals in Vila Nova de Gaia with some home-cooked meals which I prepared in the flat I rented. Once in Lisbon, however, I had to confine my grocery shopping to items which didn’t have to be cooked or heated up. I was fortunate enough to find an incredible garlic and herb goat cheese (queijo de cabra atabafado con alho y ervas) which was absolutely delicious, so I had several salads featuring arugula, cucumber, and olive oil with that magical cheese crumbled in.

I also found some delicious branzino fillets and gernika peppers which I prepared a couple of times in the flat, and also found a delightful vinho verde which was a perfect accompaniment to my meals. Though the trek to and from the grocery store was punctuated by a one mile uphill walk to the market, and a return walk encumbered by the heavy grocery bags in my hands and also in my backpack, I happily did it three times during my stay in Vila Nova de Gaia. I did struggle with the Portuguese language while at the checkstand, but somehow survived the experience and actually enjoyed the adventure.

Agua con gas (sparkling water), roasted gernika peppers, baked branzino, arugula and goat cheese salad

When I went to Thailand with my cousin in September of last year, we were intent on finding grocery stores both in Chiang Mai and on Koh Samui so that we could purchase wine and snacks for our hotel suites. We were able to find two very well stocked markets in both regions, but since we had no access to microwaves or stoves, we couldn’t purchase food items which had to be cooked. I did, however, come up with an emergency meal idea while shopping for food on Koh Samui, in case we found ourselves trapped in our suite for whatever reason. As it turned out, one day presented itself with a heavy downpour, so we were indeed trapped inside our hotel room for a portion of the day. I grabbed the emergency meal items and put them together for a healthy meal, pictured below.

Cold tofu with cucumbers, soy sauce, and chili pepper flakes

After my experiences shopping in grocery stores while traveling abroad, I am firmly convinced that one’s travel experience can be greatly enhanced by going grocery shopping. It’s a fantastic way to learn a great deal about a foreign country.

Chaweng Noi Beach

Copyright: bloodua

Thailand is one of only three countries which I have visited more than once, and I will always carry a fondness for its culture, its food, and its incredibly gracious people. I visited Thailand a second time in September of 2022, and ended up staying in the same regions as I had in 2018: Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, and Bangkok. While on Koh Samui, I had a strong desire to go to the beach, but my cousin and I had only three days to fully explore the island, so I wasn’t sure if we could squeeze in a beach day. In addition, there was a bit of rain which, pun intended, put a damper on our beach plans for the first two days.

Then on our third and final full day on Samui, the weather cleared up, and we decided to spend the day at Chaweng Noi Beach, the beach which was a stone’s throw from the resort at which we were staying. We ended up ordering lunch right on the beach, and also managed to polish off a couple of bottles of wine over the course of several hours. When we felt ourselves overheating, we decided to go into the Gulf of Thailand’s waters, and were rewarded with crystal clear water which was the temperature of a perfect bath. We had also discovered that some previous hotel patrons had left two pool floats there for other patrons to use, so we grabbed them and went back into the water, atop which we floated for a good hour or more.

Whenever I return to Thailand, and specifically find myself on Koh Samui, I plan to visit Chaweng Noi Beach to experience the same perfect beach day that I had been so fortunate to have experienced in 2022.

Magical Thailand

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Copyright : pakhnyushchyy

Last November I traveled to Thailand with an open mind and no set itinerary, and I fell in love with the country. From the island vibes of Koh Samui, to the many temples scattered throughout Chiang Mai, to the metropolitan atmosphere of Bangkok, Thailand far exceeded my expectations.

There was so much to do and see that the ten days which were earmarked for the trip weren’t nearly enough. Yet my friend Sasha and I were ambitious enough to travel to areas in north, south, and central Thailand, and we noticed differences between the areas.

If you like the idea of being on an island, then you might want to consider island hopping, but make sure that you designate most or all of the trip for the islands instead of trying to conquer areas on the mainland as well. Consider visiting Koh Samui, Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Chang, Phuket, Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Kood, etc.

Here’s a link to an article which describes the Thai islands in a bit more detail: https://www.roughguides.com/article/best-thailand-islands/

When we were on Koh Samui, we drove around the island (which took all of an hour), which was a bit of a challenge since Thai residents drive on the left side of the road, and the traffic is rather haphazard. We spent time on the beach, indulged in fresh seafood, got massages, and relaxed.

After four nights on Koh Samui, it was off to Chiang Mai, where we visited a number of Buddhist temples. As someone who identifies as a Buddhist, I immensely enjoyed honoring the Thai temples and praying to Buddha. Evidently there are over 300 Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai. A word of warning though: Do NOT wear anything with Buddha’s image, such as a t-shirt. Thai people take honoring Buddha very seriously, and if you are seen using Buddha’s image as decoration, you could be arrested and thrown in jail!

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Copyright : Sutichak Yachiangkham

While in Chiang Mai, we also spent a half day at Kanta Elephant Sanctuary, where we fed and bathed the elephants. It was a tremendous experience and one which I highly recommend. Another activity which we found ourselves doing quite a bit of was shopping, which was surprising since shopping isn’t exactly one of my favorite activities. However, it is quite an experience to visit the night markets, not just for the souvenirs, but also for the sensory experience. The sounds, the sights, the aromas of Chiang Mai will surround you in such a way that you won’t mind so much that you are sweating through your clothing in the sweltering humidity and heat.

Last stop was Bangkok, where we spent two nights (“two nights in Bangkok”…I know, it’s supposed to be one night…) consuming fantastic food, visiting more temples, the Golden Palace, and getting fantastic massages at Perception Blind Massage. During the earlier part of our Thailand trip, we had made the mistake of going to two different massage places (one right on the beach while in Koh Samui, and the other in Chiang Mai) which were cheaper, but the masseuses were of questionable skill, and the massages were NOT good. But Perception Blind Massage in Bangkok (800 baht for 60 minutes, which is about $28) and Natural Wing Spa on Koh Samui were exceptional and well worth the extra expense.

A Thailand vacation is very reasonable on the pocketbook, so you will be able to explore the country in many different ways without breaking the bank. Typical dishes in most restaurants run around 50 to 80 baht ($1.70 to $2.70 right now), and a GOOD massage will run about 800 baht ($27). Hotels are also very reasonably priced, with a 5 star hotel in Bangkok averaging about $90 per night.

A Beach Inspired Haven

I’ve had a fixation with beach-themed bathrooms for over a decade now, and love using shells and beach-themed d├ęcor as fun accents to remind me of the ocean and the beach. When I moved to a new residence this past January, I decided to really have fun with the beach theme, and I took it to the extreme.

One of the features I have displayed in my bathroom is a collection of clear containers which hold sand and shells from different beaches I have visited.  Included in this collection are sand and shell samples from Hawaii, Costa Rica, Bali, Thailand and the Maldives.  Whenever I look at my collection, I am transported back to those magical destinations which captured my heart and spirit.

Whenever I feel like escaping to an island getaway, but I am stuck in Los Angeles, I’ll take a bubble bath while surrounded by my sand and shell collection, lit candles, and starfish lights.  It’s a wonderful way for me to recharge and to surround myself with reminders of my favorite terrain.  I also love the fact that I finally have a full bathtub in my bathroom after 20 years of having shower stalls.  Whenever my schedule allows, I try to take a relaxing bath, which beats taking a quick shower any day.