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  • Writer's pictureSarah Tannas

Searching for Italy in Southeast Asia


The name itself is exciting, glamorous…indicating the exotic. Its actual meaning is “muddy river.” And muddy it is, a typical jungle river. Most people recognize the iconic gleaming Petronas Towers that stamp the city’s skyline.

I’m more convinced than ever there are two kinds of travelers—the adventure seekers and the let-me-see-something-new-but-keep-me-comfortable travelers. I am the latter. And my second trip to Southeast Asia took me out of my comfort zone. The twenty-one plus hours in a plane combined with a complete contrast in food, culture, and the unbearable heat left me reeling. But waiting for me in KL was my son, his wife, and my grandson.

Compared with the cities in Europe, Asian cities are a marvel of modern architecture. The malls are showstoppers. The food courts simmer with aromas unfamiliar to me. This trip was different though, filled with adventure and some unique surprises. On a previous trip, I experienced the famous “fish spa reflexology.” And I wanted to do it again since it’s unavilable here. I couldn’t wait to drop my feet in the water and let the fish eat away. At first, the tickling was unbearable. I pulled my feet out of the water, plunged them back in, the fish swarmed me, I screamed. No, I wasn’t in the Amazon River with flesh-eating piranha, but in a relaxing haven, soothing music in the background. For my second experience, I went for both types of fish…the tiny ones that tickled and ate away. They swarmed the bottom of my feet as though they hadn’t had a meal in weeks. I sucked in a breath, then relaxed knowing the results would produce feet as soft and smooth as a baby’s bottom. Looking cautiously at the other pond with fish about six inches long, I scooted over and made the plunge. These didn’t tickle but felt more like a tough scrub brush as they finished off the dead skin the little ones had left behind. A bit creepy. The coup de grace…the reflexology and massage. I left with skin so soft and body so relaxed, I couldn’t wait to come back for more. But alas, in Southeast Asia, there are diseases common to the tropics. My son lives in a high rise with slews of expats and a large toddler population. Toddlers pass on strong germs, infections, and viruses. My grandson came down with hand, foot, and mouth disease the second day I was there. But not to worry my son assures me. Adults rarely get this. Sadly, quicker than I could hug my blister-covered grandson, my feet, etc. broke out in little tiny dots. I did what any adult would do. I cried and panicked, called home and begged for the prayers of my friends and family. After two hours of hysteria, I settled down and accepted my fate. Determined not to let it spoil my trip, I put on a happy face and went about enjoying the next two weeks. There was no treatment, it was contagious, and I just kept quiet along with the fam and pretended nothing was wrong. My son took me to Chaing Mai, Thailand. I had heard, of course, about the mosquitoes there carrying Dengue fever. In addition to my current ailment, fear of the annoying mosquitoes, and trying to quell the uneasiness about the current “sweep” of Dengue in Asia, I arrived in Thailand optimistic, sort of. Our beautiful boutique hotel, PING NAKARA, sat in the middle of the city, a white colonial style haven. The Thai people constantly bowed and did everything to please. But those pesky disease ridden flying bugs were thick as thieves. I put patches on my clothing front, back, on the sheets, sprayed enough citronella to keep them away as well as the entire population of Thailand. And escaped getting a bite for five days. I reeked of citronella and no one wanted to get near me, including the mosquitoes. The final straw for me was the intense heat and humidity. My vanity was assaulted from the second day as I watched my carefully applied makeup slither off my face onto the pavement. I gave up in total defeat wearing not a drop of face paint the entire three weeks. I’d never see these people again. Still, it bothered me. I’m also catching on to the fact that the hotter the climate, the spicier the food. Even when they assured me all spice had been kept out, my sensitive tongue (covered with tiny blisters) rebelled. Eating was a challenge. I discovered Chinese food in the States really isn’t Chinese at all. But I tried everything. And I have to say the presentation of food is an art form. And on the last evening in Chang Mai, Thailand, I discovered heaven. The hotel had recommended an Italian Restaurant within five minutes walk from our hotel. The outside gave me pause. But the minute I walked in the door, Italy greeted me. Ah…the aromas, the sauces, the jolly Roman Chef with a smile as wide as the Colosseum greeted me. I was home. The interior of the restaurant was plush and elegant, reminjding me of many great restaurants in Rome. And the food was fabulous. “PICCOLA ROMA” PALACE lived up to its name. There was no Asian fusion here. No tweaking of the pure Roman food. It is so wonderful, I am giving you the address and phone number. 144 Charoenprathet Road., A. Muang, Chiang Mai, Thailand 053 820297 -9, 271256 And if you are in the area, the email address is: The Ping Nakara website: I found the food and service at this hotel so incredible, I didn’t wish to leave the premises. Just the tea service was worth the visit. And the massages available were amazing. Happy Traveling!

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