What’s it like to be traveling again?

September 21, 2011

We’re excited and happy to be traveling again, but as with any major life change, there is some trepidation as we adjust to our new routine.  After the demands of preparing for this trip (in parallel with us both completing in Ironman Canada at the end of August) followed by the inevitable last-minute rush, it’s great to finally be on the road.

It was terrific to be met at the airport in Vienna by our friends Sue and Martin, then whisked off to a nearby campground for a delicious meal and far too much to drink for a couple of dehydrated, jet-lagged travelers.

Sue on Martin on train in Vienna
The best photo I have of Martin!

 

In some ways, it’s a relief from the demands of being at home (as many ‘demands’ as people without jobs have, yet which somehow still constantly exceed our expectations).  Instead of our ‘at home’ to-do list, we now have a ‘traveling’ to-do list.  But, they say a change is as good
as a rest…

We now have a very different routine, which is inevitably some subset and combination of:

  1. get up, put away the bed and bedding, personal hygiene, get dressed
  2. prepare, eat, and clean up breakfast
  3. prepare the RV for travel
  4. navigate and drive
  5. visit sights or attractions
  6. do activities (like walking, running, cycling, hiking, etc.)
  7. prepare, eat, and clean up lunch (often a picnic)
  8. find a place to camp
  9. shop for food
  10. drink alcohol
  11. prepare, eat, and clean up dinner
  12. read and write
  13. take care of personal business (e.g. banking)
  14. plan our next day

Not that we’re complaining.  I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. We consider ourselves very fortunate to be doing what we’re doing and where we’re doing it.  This is the opportunity of a lifetime.  We’re very grateful and full of anticipation.

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Signoff

December 24, 2009

Looking back on our trip, some things seem surreal. Did we really do that? We’re already starting to forget some of the details of the things we experienced. We’re glad that we have many photos, a journal, and this blog to help us remember.

People we meet ask us, “What was your favourite country”? We find this impossible to answer. Rather than a particular country, it’s been more about the individual experiences that we’ve had and the people that we’ve met. We started to compile a highlight list, but the first cut had over fifty items on it! Trimming it down to a top ten list would be very difficult.

This is the first time we’ve written a blog, and it’s been great. It was more work than we expected, but definitely worth the effort. We thought that it would be a way for family and friends to stay connected with us, and it has been that. It has also been a terrific way for us to stay connected with you. We’ve been able to share our experiences, thoughts, and emotions and get feedback as we go. It’s like you’ve come along on the trip with us. This has been a great comfort at times, especially for Diane. It’s ironic that while we’ve been travelling we’ve had more interaction with some people (generally those who don’t live near Vancouver) than we would probably have had if we’d been at home. We’d like to keep up these communications when we get home.

We’ve met many people while traveling. In a few cases, this has developed into friendships. We hope to maintain and enhance these going forward, rather than see them fade over time. We will do our best to not let the pressures of day-to-day life get in the way.

We are planning to do some presentations about our trip. We have lots of stories and photos that we’d like to share, many of which didn’t make it into the blog. We’ll be sure to let you all know when and where.

Looking back, Diane was surprised how many times she’s voluntarily done things that were beyond her comfort zone (canyoneering in Petra, rock climbing in Wadi Rum, tracking black rhino on foot in Zimbabwe, riding motorcycles in the Himalaya, spelunking in Laos, etc.) For a while she kept asking, “How did I get myself into this, again?” In these situations the expression “Bloody Hell” unconsciously become a new part of her vocabulary. Does she regret having done them? No. But would she do them again if she had the chance? Probably. In fact, Diane has already said that she’d be open to doing another trip like this in the future.

People are already asking, “What are you going to do next?” We have ideas, but no specific plans yet. We came home with a to-do list of over 100 items, which includes both the urgent things necessary to move forward with our lives, as well as making decisions about our future. We definitely want to travel again – South America, Central America, Europe, Australia, Canada and The United States. So many amazing places and so little time.

Travelling has been an education. We learned about the world, humanity, culture, religion, relationships, and most importantly, about ourselves. There is much more to see and experience, and we still have a lot to learn.

We feel truly fortunate to have had this opportunity. Thank you for all your emails and comments along with way. Sharing our journey with you made it even more rewarding.

Your humble bloggers,
Diane and Patrick King


Observations about Vietnam

December 14, 2009
  • The government here is communist (or heavily socialist), but the economic system is capitalist.
  • Vietnam has been repelling invaders for the last two thousand years — the Khmers, Chinese, French, and most recently the Americans. They are fiercely proud of this fact.
  • Vietnam is one of the largest rice exporters in the world, which is amazing considering the amount of rice that they consume locally. Sometimes it seems that everything here is made of rice.
  • The Vietnamese love their soups, especially Pho, which is usually eaten for breakfast.
  • Coffee is very popular here, especially iced coffee. Vietnamese coffee is prepared using a simple drip device above the cup and is usually very strong and served with condensed milk.
  • A lot of women in Vietnam wear the traditional conical hat woven out of natural materials. They wear a scarf across their chin to hold it on.
  • They play a lot of easy listening music and ‘musak’ here. As we write this, we’re listening to instrumental versions of ‘Love is a Many Splendored Thing’ and ‘Feelings’
  • There are more motor scooters in Vietnam than anywhere else we’ve seen. Especially in Hanoi, where crossing the street requires one to just wade out into the sea of scooters, trusting that they will swerve to avoid you.
  • In Vietnam, traffic priority is based on vehicle size – perhaps not from a legal perspective, but certainly from a practical one. Larger vehicles have (or take) the right of way. For example, a larger vehicle will pass using the oncoming lane even if a smaller vehicle is coming in the opposite direction. The smaller vehicle will be forced to give way, which usually means running up on the shoulder. As the smallest vehicles, motorbikes get no respect. They spend most of their time driving on the shoulder and being ready to drive into the weeds if necessary.
  • The Vietnamese love little dogs. They are everywhere. They also eat dogs. We wonder how they decide which ones to love and which ones to eat. Perhaps they do both (love first, eat later).
  • Motor scooter taxis (called ‘xe om’ in Vietnamese) are common here. Diane and I both rode on the back of the same tiny scooter (with a driver) in Hanoi.
  • Ho Chi Minh, the man who led the fight for Vietnam’s independence from France and the war against the Americans, is revered here. Many people have his picture in their homes. His embalmed body is on display in Hanoi (against his wishes), just like the other two in the holy trinity of communism — Stalin in Moscow and Mao Tse Tung in Beijing. Uncle Ho’s body is transported to Russia for a couple of months each year for touchups (the guy has been dead for 30 years and he still takes an annual vacation!)
  • We met a Danish man here who is married to a Vietnamese woman and living in Denmark. He said that the Vietnamese are a ‘cruel people’ both in their treatment of animals and one another. We haven’t experienced these ourselves. An Australian living here said that the Vietnamese can be cold, but once you become their friend, they treat you like family.
  • Vietnam may have the cheapest beer in the world. On the street corner in Hanoi you can drink ‘bia hoi’ (draft beer) for 3000 Dong per glass (about 15 cents Canadian). At six for dollar, we can have a wild evening for just two dollars!
  • The Vietnamese eat dog, turtles, and fertilized duck eggs in various stages of development. We sat in a bar and watched, and smelled, a woman consume three of these eggs by breaking off the top and eating the contents with a tiny spoon and salt. The developing duck is clearly visible inside, and it’s the luck of the draw whether you get an early one (soft and squishy) or a late one (meaty and crunchy).

Observations about Cambodia

December 14, 2009

Here are some things that we’ve noticed about Camdodia:

  • Cambodia is officially a democracy, but the Cambodian People’s Party seems to control the place. They have signs up in every village and then win every election.
  • Much of the country is flat. It is covered with rice patties as far as you can see.
  • The food is very good. Our favourites are ‘amok’ – fish cooked with coconut milk and lemon grass in a banana leaf, and especially ‘lop lak’ – beef with lemon pepper sauce.
  • Cambodian food is generally not spicy, unlike its neighbouring countries, but you can add chili sauce or raw chilies at the table.
  • People eat using a spoon with the fork only to help maneuver food onto the spoon. Chopsticks aren’t common.
  • The Cambodian currency is the ‘riel’, with about 3500r to the Canadian dollar. US dollars are also widely used here. Many tourist attraction and hotel prices are quoted in US dollars but they will accept either currency. Change less than one dollar US is given in riel.
  • Tuk-tuks in Cambodia, rather than being an integrated 3-whelled vehicle, are a 2-wheeled cart pulled by a 100 cc motor scooter with driver. They are very comfortable (lots of leg room) and have better views than the tuk-tuks we’ve experienced anywhere else.

  • Some Cambodians appear resentful of their more prosperous neighbours Thailand and Vietnam. This may be rooted in history, as these regions have been fighting for thousands of years.
  • The official state religion of Cambodia is Buddhism, but for much of its history it was Hindu or Brahmist. The famous Angkor Wat temple is a Hindu temple.
  • Cambodia was a French colony from 1884 to the 1950’s. At that time the Cambodian King left the country and refused to return until the French left, which they did due to international pressure.
  • From 1974 to 1979 Cambodia was the site of a terrible genocide orchestrated by a group called the Khmer Rouge. During this period the country was called ‘Kampuchea’, and it widely recognized by foreign governments despite the atrocities committed here.
  • Anti-personnel mines (land mines) and UXO (UneXploded Ordinance, like bombs, mortar shells, grenades, etc.) are still common in Cambodia. There are estimated to be between 3 and 6 million land mines left in the country, most of which are unmarked. Many civilians are injured each year by land mines. Tourists are advised to stick to roads and marked trails only.

Observations about Laos

November 27, 2009
  • Laos is a communist country, but like most communist countries today, capitalism is alive and well. Communist flags fly from the front of many buildings.
  • The major tourist locations are quite developed, providing most of the services of Thailand.
  • There are far more tourists in the northern part of Laos than we ever would have imagined.
  • Luang Prabang is full of expensive guest houses and older tourists on packaged holidays.
  • Most travelers stick to the north, often as a side trip to Thailand.
  • Laotian people are lovely – mild mannered, even tempered, and quick to smile and laugh. When Patrick asked for a discount on a hotel room recently the woman looked at the floor at said, “My boss would get mad at me”.
  • Laos is a bit more expensive than Thailand. The currency is the ‘Kip’, with 7,500 Kip per Canadian dollar. We changed about $300 US recently and received 2.5 million Kip! A nice meal for two costs about 50,000 Kip ($7 Canadian). Large ‘BeerLao’ (650 ml) costs $1.5 Canadian.
  • Good food is plentiful. The staple here is sticky rice, which is eaten by rolling a small ball with the right hand and dipping it into the sauces of your dishes. Noodles, curries, and barbeque are common. No part of the animal is wasted. Would you prefer the ‘tripe on a stick’ or a ‘chicken head to go’?
  • It isn’t as warm here as we expected. Cooler than Northern Thailand. Last night we actually used sheets!

Spelunking

November 27, 2009

We rented a scooter and headed north out of the popular backpacker hangout of Vang Vieng in Laos. Thirteen kilometers later, after passing through several poor villages, we turned off onto a dirt road. We were following the hand drawn map provided by the young woman who had rented us the scooter, sans insurance or helmets. After about 800 meters of red dirt road punctuated by mud puddles we arrived at the bank of the Nam Song River. Here we found a man willing to watch our scooter for 5,000 Kip (under a dollar). This wasn’t really necessary, but we felt it a wise investment at that point, thinking that paying money might avoid an unfortunate ‘accident’ from befalling our only transport home. Diane thought it was a ‘parking fee’, but there was no shortage of space to park along the river bank, so it seemed more like a protection racket to Patrick, who begrudgingly paid the fee. We crossed the river on a small bridge covered in woven mats.

Using the bridge cost us 5000 Kip each (death by a thousand cuts!), but one used to have to pay a boatman before the bridge was built, and the return trip across the bridge was included.

We arrived in a small village, home of Tham Sang. ‘The Elephant Cave’ is in a small rock outcropping at the end of the village. There is a large Buddha statue inside and a rock formation that really looks like the front of an elephant, tusks and all.

We walked on, picking our way through the rice paddies and following trails through the jungle, heading in a generally north westerly direction, looking for another cave called Tham Hoi. We started following some locals that we thought might be going in that direction, but they stopped and sent us back. Tham Hoi is a long thin cave that goes three kilometers underground to a lake. It has a generally level floor of mud, not smelly, but slippery in places. It didn’t have the smell of bat guano which is now familiar to us. The interior of the cave was filled with stalactites and stalagmites, and many formations that looked like melting candle wax. The cave is completely dark once you progress away from the entrance and we were all alone. We went in a few hundred meters using our headlamps before Diane decided that it was time to turn around.


Nearby Tham Loup is a cave reached by climbing up the lower reaches of the cliff then descending some wooden stairs into a cavern in the darkness. There were two guided groups deeper in the cave which we could sense from their distant voices and lights. At the rear of the initial cavern it was possible to climb through some tight squeezes to another cavern behind. Diane was a bit freaked out because this cave had a slippery floor with occasional jagged holes waiting to swallow us up. Tham Loup was very pretty inside, but had sustained some damage from previous visitors. We followed the faint lights and voices of the other groups, but we struggled to keep up. Patrick was concerned we’d get lost and Diane was just about to panic. Fortunately the rear chamber had another exit that looped back to the first cavern, and we found our way out unscathed.

Our final cave, Tham Nam, known as ‘The Water Cave’, was about half a kilometer away and was a bit of a surprise. It has a wide, low opening with a tributary of the Nam Song running from it. For a small fee we rented inner tubes and waterproof headlamps from a young woman who lived nearby. Each headlamp looked like a torture device, with a large, heavy battery worn on a string around the neck, and wires running up to the light attached to the head with a tatty old bit of elastic. The batteries had exposed contacts with bare wires twisted around them, which was disconcerting because they lay balanced on our chests as we pulled ourselves on the tubes through the low entrance and into the darkness.

We made progress against the current by going hand-over-hand on a rope. The cave was about fifteen meters across and one meter high, cut from the rock by the water over the eons. Diane led the way as we tugged ourselves upstream and into the unknown.

Eventually Diane reached the end of the rope. We thought perhaps that we’d missed something, but found that the water was now shallow enough to walk. The cave roof was not high enough to stand so we splashed upstream bent over at the waist.


We found a small piece of dry ground to leave our tubes on, hoping that they wouldn’t wash away before we returned, which would result in a rather scary swim. The roof gradually lowered to the level of the water, and the river rushed from under the wall, so we turned around. On the return journey we just floated downstream, waiting for the sunlit opening to appear. Diane thought that she’d be most freaked by this cave, but it was the one that she enjoyed the most.

Overall, we had a very enjoyable day. Diane recently said that we haven’t had as much ‘adventure’ on our trip recently. Her comfort zone must surely have expanded on this trip if this isn’t exciting enough for her! Perhaps she just recovers quicker.


First Impressions of Bangkok

November 10, 2009

Bangkok is a very different place than when Patrick traveled here twenty years ago, and very different than the other large cities we’ve been to on our travels.

  • The city is very modern looking. There are a lot of sky scrapers. The shopping area looks like a futuristic version of Epcot Center. Overall the city looks more developed and modern than Vancouver, London, or New York.
  • Public transit is excellent. There is a Skytrain which is wider, nicer, and more elevated than the one in Vancouver. Overhead walkways are common at major intersections (like on the Las Vegas strip). There is a large, modern subway, efficient buses, and a high-speed water taxi on the river.
  • The city is very clean compared to those in Africa and India.
  • For the most part, drivers follow the traffic rules and signals.
  • There are street food stalls almost everywhere serving cheap and delicious food. We’ve only eaten in a restaurant a couple of times. Soups, noodles, curries, vegetarian dishes, and bar-b-qued chicken and duck are common.
  • There are a couple of bars located on the roofs of skyscrapers, something not found elsewhere due to the obvious safety issues.
  • You can buy fried insects on the street including larvae, crickets, grass hoppers, and scorpions.
  • Many sidewalks are lined with street vendors. Common items are food, clothing, and jewelry. You can still buy pirated CDs and DVDs, and copies of designer clothes and watches. You can also have music and movies loaded onto your iPod.
  • You can buy brass knuckles, switchblades, throwing stars, and tasers on the street, all of which are illegal Canada.
  • You can also buy Viagra and Cialis on the street, which may or may not be real.
  • Vendors are polite and not pushy. Negotiating is a friendly process.
  • You can get a fish pedicure here. For a few dollars you soak your feet in a tank of small ‘doctor fish’ from Japan that eat the dead skin from your feet.
  • We ate bird’s nest soup in Chinatown. This is a gelatinous ‘noodle’ soup made from the boiled nests of sea birds. The nests are made from bird saliva and are harvested by men who climb high in seaside caves.
  • Beer is sold almost everywhere, even at street stalls. It isn’t clear if premises need to be licensed.
  • Foreign fast food is commonly available including McDonalds, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut, and Swenson’s ice cream parlours. McDonald’s serves beef (unlike India) and hot pies, but instead of apple they are filled with broccoli or corn.
  • Coffee shops, including Starbucks, are common, contributing significantly to Diane’s enjoyment of the city.
  • There are 7-Elevens everywhere. Apparently there are almost 4000 throughout Thailand, and they sell cheap beer!
  • There are large, modern shopping malls filled with international stores, luxury products, and luxury prices.
  • It is still common to see foreign men of all ages with beautiful, young Thai women (some of whom are also men). Some foreign men retire here for this reason.
  • There is a visible police presence, especially in tourist areas. They appear to here to assist and protect the tourists, rather than extort them as in many other countries.