Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Travel Link-Up: The Scents of South East Asia


I remember the first time I smelled frangipani. John and I were in Sri Lanka and the expansive lawn that stretched out before us at The River House in Balapitiya was littered with frangipani petals. It was a magical, sensory delight for both the eyes and the nose. Prior to that, I'd only sniffed at an overpowering, sickly scent that came out of a bottle of lotion at the Bath and Body Works in our local mall.

This connection fascinated me: here was this flower, featured on the other side of the world, whose scent we attempted to bottle and slather all over ourselves without having ever smelled the real thing. How crazy is that?

And so, more than any snapshot or climate or plate that's placed in front of me - it's a singular scent that brings me right back to my travels in one of my favorite regions of the world: South East Asia.

In Vietnam, it was the heaps of lush green vegetables piled on top of each other that I caught a whiff of as I walked past the market in Hoi An - fresh coriander was abundant in every dish we ordered. The lettuce was a verdant green that was nonexistent in our limp, packaged supermarket varieties back in the UK. 


At night, restaurants would offer a citronella candle (or two, or three) to place by my ankles after I explained my extreme sensitivity to mosquito bites (they can swell up to the size of a basketball on my thigh in a matter of minutes if I don't take a Benadryl right away). So, the scent of citronella lingers in my mind, reminscent of balmy evenings eating dinner by the ocean, listening to the waves lap on the shore as we enjoyed noodles by candlelight.


It's always the scent of lemongrass that I associate with Thailand. Simply washing my hands with lemongrass-scented soap in some restaurant's basement restroom will instantly transport me back to memories of sandy massages on the beach, snorkelling and kayaking off Koh Phangan, and eating my fill of pad thai every single night.

In Singapore, I smelled the smokey, fragrant scent of the satay stalls outside Lau Pa Sat hawker center before I saw them. Even though John and I had already tried about five different dishes each (after only landing at the airport 20 minutes before), we sat down for a skewer or two of satay, washed down with a good glug of beer.


It was messy, greasy, delicious fun. And even though that photo above isn't one of my best pictures ever, it perfectly encapsulates that carefree evening - that feeling of having no responsibilities or cares or worries in the world, because we were too busy discovering something new. The smoke from the grill got in my hair and my clothes, but I didn't care. It felt like everyone was out for a gigantic street party barbecue - the air was still warm and damp with moisture.

And finally, there is a special scent that I can't describe - but I smell it as soon as I step out of Hong Kong airport and the familiarity hits me like a freight train. It's something to do with the air and the traffic and ... another element that I can't quite pinpoint. But sometimes I'll be walking down a random street in central London and say aloud, "It smells like Hong Kong here!"

What's a scent that reminds you of a specific place or time? Let me know in the comments!

This month's Travel Link-Up series is hosted by Angie, Emma, Jessi, and Sus. Head over to their blogs to read more hilarious, beautiful, and inspiring travel content!
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24 comments

  1. South East Asia is certainly a beautiful melange of smells. Can't wait to smell Hong Kong again and see what you mean!

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    1. I'm definitely going to ask you about that when you're back - maybe I'm imagining it!

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  2. You've nailed those wonderful Asian smells - lemongrass, citronella, coriander and satay sauce for me too. The food is so amazing out there that the thought of eating those delicious dishes in such wonderful places is making my mouth water. You've made me long to be back on Koh Phangan.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Clare! I'd love to be back on that island right now ...!

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  3. Absolutely know what you mean about the smoke from the grill getting into your hair and not caring! Eating street food in South East Asia is definitely something I miss the most :) X

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    1. Oh man, it was the best! I think that was the best "foodie" trip I've ever taken. The variety of food in Singapore is phenomenal! Thanks for stopping by to read, Alexandra! x

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  4. I want to jump on a plane right now, and blame you entirely xx

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    1. Bahaha - I just want to go back to all these places, RIGHT NOW! xx

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  5. as soon as i land in india, i am hit with a (good) smell that is a mix of the traffic, air, heat, food, people, cows (yup), and earth... and it is not a bad one, but a comforting one. it only can be described by those who have spent time there.. it is a smell that makes you feel like home. "It smells like india!" is a wonderful scent to me... wish they sold that in a candle!

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    1. Ah, so you know exactly what I mean about Hong Kong! Someone really needs to bottle that up in a candle. I really want to experience that smell of India sometime (soon???)!

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  6. Gorgeous! I could almost smell the scents through these photos. SE Asia really does have some beautiful scents :)

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    1. Thank you, Marcella! I love those scents.

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  7. What a beautiful post! frangipani will always remind me of our honeymoon in Hawaii. I cannot get over how fragrant and gorgeous they are. xoxo, nano

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    1. Thank you, Nano! I am dying to go to Hawaii and regret not going there sooner when I lived in Washington and was so much closer than I am now! I bet you had a beautiful honeymoon there.

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  8. Your description of the smells of South East Asia is spot on. Wonderful, thanks for taking me back. If I get a whiff of cumin, I am transported to the weekly Muslim Market in Shanghai. Stalls selling spices, meat, clothes and foods...including the amazing cumin covered lamb kebabs....aahhh!

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  9. So I've only spent a brief spell in Bangkok/Siem Reap but your words brought a lot of memories back for me! So thank you :) the food there was definitely some of the best I've ever had, and I love holiday evenings where everything is carefree, nothing matters, you can just sit and enjoy good food in pleasant weather. Hmm, I wonder how much flights are going for...

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    1. How cool, Rachel! We were only in Bangkok for a day or two, but the smells there were wonderful (and not so wonderful) as well! I totally know what you mean about holiday evenings. Aren't they special? Even though I'm leaving for France tomorrow, I want to book my next vacay to SE Asia NOW!

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  10. Wonderful - I feel like you have transported me back! Beautiful post :)

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    1. Thank you, Jessi! It was a fun topic to write about.

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  11. LAU PA SAT!!!! Take me back!
    And omg, I love the smell of frangipani! =)

    Honey x The Girl Next Shore

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    1. Lau Pa Sat is the best - I wanted to take my parents back there too, as they'd love it! Really similar to the hawker centres in Vancouver. x

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  12. Hong Kong definitely has its own distinct scent, you're not imagining it! I can really imagine those gorgeous scents, and they're making me hungry! Lovely sensory post :-)

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    1. Glad you know what I mean, Sophie! Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

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