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The jet from Pnompenh to Bangkok was filled with as diverse a collection of Eastern and Western costumes and faces as a Singapore bazaar on a Saturday afternoon. The stewardess, her eyes the color of her Dior-blue Air France uniform, directed her special attention to the French priest who sat on the aisle beside me. "Mais, mon P�re" she said, "vous devriez passer une journ�e � Bangkok—c'est la Venise de l'Orient." In the strangeness of the East, the Western traveler looks constantly for the touchstone from the West.
The evening before, I sat on the edge of the terrace that surrounds the moat of Angkor Wat. The twilight glow painted dusty pink the pinecone-shaped towers of the ancient temple of the Khmers. From the DC-3 it had seemed a grand sand castle, beginning to crumble in a wave edge of jungle. A group of young monks came down the sandstone steps to the causeway, the crocus of their robes vivid in the fading light. An elephant and its mahout splashed and bathed in the cool waters, swallows skimmed over the lotus-filled pool, and a parrot shrieked in the banyan tree overhead.
The pleasures I took in that moment, 10,000 miles from home in the remoteness of the Cambodian jungle, were enhanced, not diminished, by the knowledge that across the road behind me lay the comforts of the Auberge des Temples. Its gravel drive, clipped lawns, bright mimosas and jalousied windows might have been transported intact from Juan-les-Pins. I would soon join the charming manager of the Auberge, Mme. Villet, for a Martini in its serene, tile-floored bar. And at dinner I would have a steak au poivre—the poivre the fresh, soft pepper of Cambodia—and a demi-Beaujolais.
In Bangkok I hired a canal taxi to take me up the murky klong (turn right at the Temple of the Dawn) to breakfast at Ethan Emery's place. Emery came out to Thailand to collect otters, leopards, scaly anteaters and slow lorises for the Cincinnati zoo three years ago after graduating from Harvard. He has stayed to open a restaurant beside one of the canals that form the streets of much of Bangkok. The restaurant is open from 7:30 to 10 in the mornings. Before you round the bend in the klong, you hear the hollow, mellow percussions of the gamelan orchestra, meant to lure tourists returning in water buses from the floating markets of Bangkok. On the teak deck of the restaurant, breakfast starts with "the best Bloody Mary in the South Pacific." On a buffet under fly-screening pyramids of wire mesh are mounds of fruit—mangosteens, pomelos, rambutans and papayas—which, for Bangkok, are not such exotic fare as the scrambled eggs, Danish bacon, toast and coffee that follow.
There is no place in Asia that does not have a Western veneer—no place, at least, at which a tourist is likely to call. The British and the French colonists brought such necessities as good whisky and Cognac, roast beef and souffl�s, horse racing and Gauloises. They have been assimilated—as readily and as thoroughly as the Raffles Hotel and the garden-city planning of Saigon and Pnompenh—into the character of the East that Kipling and Maugham romanticized.
However, in the matter of changing the face of Asia, the European colonials were only tinkers compared to the master mechanics of American tourism. The Americans may not stay as long, but they come in such numbers (200,000 this year) and leave so much money behind ($120 million this year) that the Orient is transforming itself to please them. The new Hongkong Hilton, tallest tower of steel and glass in the East, rising behind the Victorian Hong Kong Club, has outfitted a crew of ricksha boys in yellow mess jackets with the double H of its monogram in bold black on the back. They cart you to the Star Ferry free of charge. Across the way, in Kowloon tailor shops, catalogs from Brooks Brothers and Rogers Peet are offered to help the customer select the style of his suit. In Hakone beneath the cone of Fuji, Japan's first motor inn, the Ashinoko, overlooks a rolling golf course. Add a cactus or two and you could not tell it from Scottsdale. Even the futon bed on the floors of Japanese inns has been made extra-thick and extra-long, as comfortable as a Beautyrest; and there is a TV set, and often a telephone as well, in a wall niche alongside the painted scroll.
"The Orient without tears," one traveler called it as he gazed through the canted glass windows from the stage-set bar on the roof of the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong. Every new hotel in the East has its version of the Top of the Mark. Few have such a spectacular view as that of Hong Kong harbor. At night, when the fleet is in, the carriers light up like ornamental trees. Unblinking neon paves the water purple and pink, proclaiming HITACHI, SONY, FIAT and, with unconscious poetic aptness, the name of Hong Kong's largest Chinese life insurance society, WING ON LIFE.
Of course, that Orient-without-tears philosophy can and does go too far. Admittedly, it is difficult to get about in a land where the taxi driver does not speak English and the streets have no names—in Tokyo to this day there are taxi drivers who have never heard of the Imperial Hotel. But the fiction that it is impossible to travel without an English-speaking guide in a big American car is a deception perpetrated by the tour agencies of the East. Shed a big tear for the travelers who allow themselves to be shipped, like so much cauliflower under Pliofilm, from airport to air-conditioned hotel room, from sightseeing bus to nightclub; from homogenized restaurant to airport again, and on to the next capital. The tourist returns from that sort of expensive journey with little more to show for going halfway round the world than a copy of a Savile Row suit—or a beaded sweater to wow the girls at the bridge club—and a collection of slides to show where he went, often taken by someone else and purchased in the lobby of a hotel that looks comfortably like the lobby of a hundred hotels back home.
But for the traveler with enough adventure in his makeup to go guideless through the noisy bazaars of the East; to eat the salty coral of sea urchin, or the smoky pine mushroom, grilled on the blade of a hoe; to walk the long beaches of the Philippines in search of the tiger cowrie and the red moon shell—the Orient is today the most satisfying journey of all. Its diversities, entertainments and charms are indicated on the maps of southeast Asia and Japan on the next three pages. These are supplemented, beginning on page 91, with country-by-country travel facts designed to make a free and independent traveler of the most timid visitor to the not-so-inscrutable East.
AN OLYMPIC-YEAR GUIDE TO THE BEST OF THE ORIENT