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!