TO TRAVEL FROM BANGKOK TO SINGAPORE is to experience the development of civilization in slow-motion. You start off in the Wild West of Southeast Asia, where you can purchase a dildo and a person on whom to use it on the same city block, and then move south down the narrow length of Thailand to find the country’s calmer side, in cities like Nakhon Si Thammarat, where “The Land of Smiles” feels for the first time an appropriate moniker, and hawkers’ eyes don’t follow you as greedily as they did in the capital.
Then down to Malaysia, another step up the first-world ladder, where George Town invites travellers with Muslim modesty, cleaner bathrooms and less raucously spicy food. Late night bottles of Chang beer and cheap pad thai are swapped for breakfasts of teh tarik and banana rotti. Farther down lies the megapolis Kuala Lumpur, with its emblematic Petronas Towers, and then Melaka, so anesthetized for tourists that one can’t help but wonder what existed in the shops along Jonker Street before the smartphone accessory stores moved in.
Finally, Singapore. Among the world’s swankiest countries, the city-state gives you everything Malaysia offered, only more expensive. Suddenly, the world is clean again. People speak English. The government has invested in museums, public libraries, cultural restoration and education. It is a harsh reminder that your wallet’s run dry, and it’s time to go home.
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