Day #5 05.01.16

Today was a fairly chilled day. I spent a lot of time by the sea just sitting and thinking (forgot to take my kindle with me) on the rocks, and then on the beach. Then I got restless and went for a long walk along the beach. The beaches are so pretty here in SA, and I never get tired at looking at them. And I love the sound of waves. That’s the only thing Cheltenham is missing; a beach. Would love it.

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I’m still here.

Just in case you were wondering. Yep, still here, just not had much internet. I’ve been in New Zealand about 5 and a half weeks now, and most of that has been on a road trip around the South Island. I’ve been spending a few weeks camping in remote spots, climbing mountains, getting drunk, eating Ferburgers, walking in the rainforest, being hungover, watching stars, driving a ute with my favourite tunes blasting out, making friends, making jewellery, enjoying a cuddle or two, playing sticks and stones, getting sprayed by waterfalls, cruising with dolphins, watching seal pups play in the river, sitting on the beach, seeing a glacier up close and getting soaked in the rain.

It’s been a blast, but there’s still a few days left of my road trip. I’ll blog in more detail when I get a bit of downtime, but in the meantime, here’s a few photos. I have many, many more where they come from. Seriously. I have about 3 million photos of mountains, lakes and streams.

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Great Ocean Road.

Talking about Great Things, I nearly forgot to blog about the Great Ocean Road. Near Melbourne, it’s a 150 mile stretch of road to the West of Melbourne. It was built by returned soldiers and dedicated to soldiers killed in World War 1, making it the world’s largest war memorial. It’s also incredibly scenic, which is probably the main reason why people go.

There’s loads of different ways you can visit. Hire a car or a campervan, Camp along the way. Stay at hostels, B&B’s or hotels. Drive it all in one day, just stopping off every now and then, or take your time. Or take a tour. Do a google search and there’s millions of tour companies offering trips. I decided to take a two day tour with a company that my friend Moz went with about a year ago. They do the road back to front compare to a lot of tour groups, so they don’t hit all the spots at the same time as millions of other buses. Perfect for me, who’s not a huge fan of organised tours or being herded along like a sheep.

There’s not a huge amount to say about the GOR. It’s one of those things you have to do. It’s beautifully, stunningly scenic, and filled with wildlife. I saw kolas, emu’s, echidnas and roos in the wild, as well as all the funky birds in Oz (you know, the ones with the cool hairdos). If you’ve ever driven Chapman’s Peak Drive in South Africa, it reminded me of that (CPD is classed as one of the most scenic drives in the world, and I was lucky enough to do it back in 2011).

Rock formations, amazing beaches, rainforest, wildlife, the lighthouse from ‘Round the Twist’; it was all there. I think photos can show more than I can try to explain.

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Great things.

Over the time I’ve been away I’ve been pondering the things that I think are great about travelling.

The main one is time. Having loads of it. It’s not until I started travelling that I realised how much time is taken up by work, having a house and other general life stuff. Although, I’m a person that generally likes to be busy. It’s not that I can’t be (remember my 10 day silent retreat in India?) but it’s just how I like my life. So, when you have all the time in the world, sometimes it’s hard to fill it, or feel guilty at just having so much time to relax. But, it’s something I know is precious, and I know I’m lucky to have the chance to experience it, so I’m making the most of it while I have it.

Then of course there’s the obvious. No having to work! No having to get up at a certain time every day and put on those clothes that define you as being part of the corporate rat race. No having to deal with office life, politics or just the mundane day-to-day. No bits of challenging stuff to think about or have to deal with and no stuff to get stressed over. OK, granted, travel brings it’s own challenges and stresses but, well, they just don’t feel like work. Oh, and yes, no work does also mean no money but can’t have one without the other…!

So no work generally means no routine, as I guess so much of daily life is structured around work. What time you get up, what time you have your lunch, what time you go home etc. Travelling means you can pretty much do what you want when you want. All the time. Maybe not when there is a bus/plane/rickshaw to catch, or an event to go see though 😉

One of the best things for me is to not have an alarm clock. I can probably count on one hand (OK, maybe two) the amount of times I’ve had to set my alarm. The rest of the time, I just wake up when I wake up. Do not underestimate how great this is. It means that generally, even if I’ve had a crappy nights sleep (which, is most nights – I can’t actually remember the last night that I slept the whole way through without waking up) I wake up feeling quite refreshed, and don’t really get that mega-tired feeling during the day. Must be because I don’t wake up during a deep sleep cycle. And of course hand in hand with this is the fact that when travelling, you can always have an afternoon nap if you want (circumstances permitting). Not that I do very often, but every now and then, usually after either a night out or a particularly shit nights sleep.

Freedom and flexibility. When you travel you have it in spades. Especially when travelling alone. If I want to do something, I do it. If I want to change my plans, I do it. If I want to spend all day surfing the internet eating peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon then I can do it.*

Doing/seeing/experiencing Cool Stuff. Well, goes without saying really. And by this I mean generally everything. The sights, the people and the little things. Pretty much everything is Cool Stuff when you’re travelling. You have time to really see and experience it all. So, from the big sights like the Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal, to the people watching in a coffee shop in suburban Melbourne. Or the cooking with a local family in India, and experiencing life with a local family in rural Zambia.

The people. I can’t not mention the people, because that’s made a lot of my trip. All the people I’ve met along the way. From the brief encounters to the friendships made, they’re all great. Even just people watching. Watching how they interact with each other, watching how real life is lived right in front of your eyes. I think I’m a naturally chatty people person, so for me it’s been awesome to meet all these wonderful people and see what life is like in so many different places. It’s opened up my mind and I’ve seen how other people live, which has inspired me and made me think about how I want to live my life. And yes, it’s not quite the same as before.

And last for now, but not least, there’s the education. I’ve learnt so much in these last 9 months than I have over god knows how many years before. About so many different things. About history, war, culture, religion, countries and people. About myself, who I am, how I deal with things and how I view life. I’ve learnt about life and living in general, sport, nature, children, kindness and generosity.  Whoever said that travel was the best life education was spot on. At least for me. I could never have learnt these things from books or TV or the internet.

There’s probably loads more great things, in fact I know there is, but these the main ones on my mind right now. I really didn’t know what to expect when I started my trip. I’d read travel blogs, and read posts similar to what I’ve just written, but it’s hard to relate if you hadn’t done it yourself. And now I have. And now I agree. But everyone will be different.

And yes, of course there are downsides to travel. It can be stressful and a hassle. Busy and exhausting. Hot and grubby. There are times when I miss home, friends and family. But they’re few and far between. The great things rule above all.

I wouldn’t change this experience for the world. I can safely say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve only got a couple of months left now, and I’m going to make the most of it. Make the most of all these great things.

But one last thing. By writing all the above, I don’t mean that there aren’t great things about not travelling. Life, however it is lived, is by it’s very nature, great. So, when I get back and settle in one place once again, I still will have a life filled with Great Things. They might not be the same, but I know that however I live my life, it will be awesome. Because I will make it so.

 

 

*Not that this actually happened, oh no

Goodbye Thailand.

Chiang Mai was the last place we stayed in Thailand. It’s not the last place we visited, that was Chiang Khong, but as we were only there 1/2 hour before we crossed the river and the border to Laos it’s not really worth mentioning.

We were in Chiang Mai for about 5 days. It’s Thailand’s second biggest city and a popular place on the tourist trail, with umpteen million things to do, although most of these are extremely expensive for what they are, and compared to the price of other things in Thailand/Asia. First things first, the day we got there we had a wander around. This is customary for me and Nick now. Find somewhere to stay, dump the bags then go for a walk to figure out where we are and where the nearest facilities* are. We did this in style in Chiang Mai. We found a little guesthouse which was basic but clean and functional and in a great location for the cheapest price yet (around £2 per person per night). Just round the corner in a quiet soi was a bar with prime seats outside and 7/11 priced beer where we sat in the late afternoon sun people watching, putting the world to rights and chilling out with a beer or four. Or five. After a few we thought we’d best go get some food, and decided to be Westerners for the night and headed to Mike’s Burger Bar, a roadside burger joint with pricey burgers, good music, weird posters and smiley staff. Now, it might have been the beers, or the fact I’ve not had a burger in months but it was the BEST BURGER AND CHIPS IN THE WORLD. Fact. What we should have done then is stop drinking. But we didn’t, we went back and had more beers. Not before I had (apparently, I can’t quite remember the night from this bit onwards) stopped at a street stall, picked up a fedora hat and pretended to be Michael Jackson. And also told Nick that I didn’t need ANY help from ANY man to cross the road. And talked rubbish to some people from Ireland. Oooops. It was a tremaze night though, much fun and worth the fuzzy feeling the next day.

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Inside the city walls, Chiang Mai is very traveller orientated, with lots of little quiet soi’s full of guesthouses, restaurants, bars and massage places. Very much traveller-town, however it doesn’t feel anything like Khao San Road. It’s very villagey, with no loud music or partying, just a very laid back relaxed atmosphere. We both liked it straight away, and enjoyed a few days of wandering around, finding street places to eat and having a few drinks in the late afternoon sun at our newly found local bar. We spent one day walking the perimeter of the city walls (it’s about 4 miles in total, 1 mile each side), another day having a picnic in the park and another hiring bikes to have a bit of an explore out of town (we ended up in the University area, getting down with all the trendy youths. Chiang Mai is also a surprisingly dirty city – I ended up caked in grime and grit after a day riding round through the traffic. Nice.).

One night we had a traditional Thai massage, which wasn’t anything like any massage I’d had before. Nothing like my sports massages, or oil-based relaxing massages. Nope, this one involved being pulled, stretched, punched, kicked, squeezed as well as knelt and walked on by a Thai lady, with my clothes on. It was relaxing, in a strange way, and afterwards I felt very chilled out. We didn’t do much afterwards, apart from loll around.

On the Sunday night there was a HUGE market where one of the main roads in the old city turned into a walking street where every handicraft under the sun was for sale, as well as all the Wat courtyards being turned into food courts. That night was Snack Night, a night to try lots of different little snacks rather than a full meal. Like omlettes cooked in a banana leaf, or a spicy sausage on a stick, or a little pile of noodles in a leaf, or BBQ chicken wings. Or a bag of insects. That one was Nicks. Although I did try a worm. After freaking out a bit that I thought one was still alive in the bag, and then picking up a worm, squishing it in my fingers and squeaking and dropping it. You know when, before I left to come away, I smugly said “When I go to Asia and see insects on sticks I’ll definitely try one, oh yes I will.”. Yeah. Now I’ve seen them, it’s not going to happen. Can’t do it. The worm was bad enough. Although, it was surprisingly tasty. But. I couldn’t get over the fact it was a worm.

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There was one odd thing that happened while we were walking down the street. Ever been offered a turtle/tortoise for sale by a random man that walks past you in the street? I have. No idea why he was carrying it, whether it was alive or dead, or why he thought I might want it. It’s about as random as the time me and The Marine had gone to Ilkley for the weekend and this eccentric old lady practically spat the words “Stop!..<pause>..Being so..<pause>..intelligent. And..<pause>..Fit!” at us. Weird.

I think I might have decided on my next tattoo. Well, it’s actually going to be an extension of the one I already have on my right wrist. But, I’m keeping the idea until the end of my travels, as I’m sure I’ll get more ideas over the next few months too. It did take a bit of restraint not to go and get one done in Chiang Mai. I need to be 100% sure. And I think what I end up having will actually be a few things, some of which I don’t know yet. So I’ve got to be patient.

Chiang Mai was lovely, but as the days went on it was apparent there was less and less to do, unless you had loads of money to spend. A lot of the activities on offer didn’t really appeal to me, and I think we both felt we were probably there about a day too long. Having said that, it was a nice place to spend a few days chilling out, we ate some good food and did a fair bit of walking and biking. We got a bit of culture by visiting a few temples, and we got out of Traveller Town by walking into the outside areas on the last day. This included Seedy Street where there were many bars, full of young pretty Thai girls, to go to, including one called ‘Foxy Ladys a-go-go’. I’m sure you can work out what type of bar that was. And the tuk tuk drivers ask the men if they want to be taken to have a Good Time.

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The alarm was set for 5 am to catch a 6 hour Green Bus to Chiang Kong (the Thailand/Laos border). Heading out of the guesthouse at 5:35am the heavens decided to open. It hadn’t rained for about 4 days, it had been bright hot sunshine. Hmm. It wasn’t looking good, especially as we’d been told the tuk tuks didn’t start until 6am, so our default option was to be to head down the road towards the bus station, looking out for tuk tuks as we went. However, Travellers Serendipitous Luck occurred. Don’t know what this is? It’s when you’re in the right place and the right time. Speak to any traveller and you’ll find it’s probably happened at least once. This time, I had just stepped out of the guesthouse onto the street and what should be coming up the soi but a tuk tuk, it’s lights shining in the rainy darkness like rays from heaven! If there had been sound effects, it would have been a heavenly ‘aaaaaahhhhh’ sung by angels. Price bartered down (of course: standard practice), we got in and escaped getting a good soaking. This is Important when a) you have a 6 hour bus journey on a cold air conditioned bus b) when you don’t have many clothes and you have to dry them and c) you don’t want wet clothes in your backpack. They make everything else wet and smell like wet dog.

Looking forlornly out of the window at our last glimpses of Thailand, we waved a reluctant good bye and crossed the river in Chiang Khong to Houxay to start our adventure in Laos.

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Goodbye Thailand, you were home for a month and a half and I could have stayed longer. I loved your food, it was truly some of the best, cheapest and tastiest around. I tried new things, and enjoyed all of it. Your people are some of the most friendliest, happiest, smiliest and most helpful people I have met. I never heard a raised voice or an argument. No road rage or beeping horns. Everyone I smiled at smiled back. Everyone I said hello to smiled and said hello back. People would go out of their way to help, even when they weren’t asked. I never once felt pressured to buy something, or to have a tuk tuk ride. I never felt like people were only talking to me to get my money. Your landscape and scenery was beautiful and interesting, and all so different. You’ve got a history I enjoyed finding out about. I thought you were a place that I wasn’t fussed about visiting.

You changed my mind. I’ll see you again someday.

*bars with cheap beers