We have been back from Southeast Asia for a while now but the not wholly linear nature of this blog means there are always loose ends to tie up and stories still to tell before we decided when to draw a line and wrap things up for this trip.
While our online blogging persona is quite small compared to other travel bloggers – there are few pictures of us here – it is lagging behind and suggesting last week we were volunteering in Thailand when our real selves are in fact seeing out the end of winter in Turkey.
While we will still look back from time to time (we’ve posts about volunteering with elephants in Thailand, and traipsing around Singapore and London still to be written, for instance) we are increasingly looking forward to new projects and catching up on all the jobs that fall behind when we’ve been away. It’s time to begin drawing the chapter of our Southeast Asian trip to a close.
This wasn’t a trip like the others we have taken. Where in the past we have circumnavigated the world and made our way slowly home to Turkey via a succession of Middle Eastern countries this trip was more about getting to know one town, one country. But, while we did make a home for a short time in Chiang Mai, there was also plenty of time for travelling around in Thailand and visiting neighbouring countries.
People who travel are often accused of escaping, of running away from something and, for us, in this case this was true. We were fleeing winter. And while winter in Turkey doesn’t have the vehemence of northern Europe it is cold enough that we wanted nothing to do with it last year.
So we boarded a plane and waved goodbye to Istanbul and its snow (I always love leaving when it is snowy) and landed in Bangkok where our packing better suited the temperature. Our plan was only to stay away until spring – or maybe summer when Didim is a perfectly nice place to be – but winter back home passed into spring, then summer and we ended up arriving back home for the following winter anyway.
But we don’t mind. We have had a good run and can’t complain. We experienced and visited numerous wonderful things and places, the following of which have made it onto our highlights reel.
Though I did that man thing and refused to ask directions when there were perfectly good signs to follow (who knew there were two Sultanahmet districts in Istanbul?) leading to a five hour plod through the snow in clothes packed for the tropics, it was nevertheless good to revisit one of our favourite cities. Istanbul allowed us to get our travel heads on, metamorphosing in the warm cocoon of our hotel (the highly recommended I’zaz Loft Apartments) from our home selves into our backpacker alter egos.
The first time we landed in Bangkok we did so on Chinese New Year and, without a place to stay, spent the night rescuing shoeless, drugged robbery victims and trying to catch a nap here and there in bars and late night eateries. When we did finally get a bed for the night it was in small, poky rooms in and around the Khao San Road area. This time we sought accommodation in different areas of Bangkok and from these bases felt we got to know the city much better beyond the tourist sites.
We barely remember our visit to Chiang Mai last time we were there in 2003. Ten years later we got to know the city fairly well, spending around four months in a daily routine of plodding away on a laptop keyboard and smoothie drinking. Still only paddling in the shallow waters of expat life we nonetheless felt we were experiencing the rhythms of our own part of town outside of the moat and I wouldn’t be surprised if we return again one day – possibly quite soon – to do the Chiang Mai thing again.
I can’t tell you how much I love Songkran. It is my all time favourite festival in the whole wide world. Where and when else can you squint streams of ice cold water in the face of old ladies and dunk small children in ice water without getting an ASBO. While the mass water fight on the streets is immense fun small details like the amusement of popping down to the supermarket, where all the customers have water guns slung over the shoulder, also stick in the memory.
Meeting up with my sister
I’m glad to see my younger sister also has the travel bug. Living in Turkey we don’t see our families too often and were pleased when we caught up for a couple of days in Chiang Mai during her own travels around Australia and Southeast Asia.
Lisu Lodge and Khum Lanna Tour
We didn’t actually do a great deal of what you would call actual ‘travel’ during our time in Chiang Mai and were fine with that. But when the chance arose for a bit of adventure we took it. The Lisu Lodge and Khum Lanna tour is billed as soft adventure and rural tourism, cramming in, among other things, ox cart rides, white water rafting, cycling and cooking classes.
If our time in Chiang Mai was the living abroad part of this trip then Myanmar was the travel bit and the place that sealed the deal when we were deciding which part of the world we wanted to visit next. We formed an early attachment to the country in Yangon, with its colonial buildings and astonishing Shwedagon Pagoda and loved Inle Lake and Bagan. If the country wasn’t so expensive compared to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos we would happily visit again but next time would get off the beaten track a little more.
Another thing we noticed was other travellers talked to us far more in Burma than in Thailand. Whether this was because everyone was excited to be visiting somewhere new, that the country required more effort and swapping of advice, or that internet connections were more sporadic, we found it far easier to engage with other backpackers than a lot of other places in Southeast Asia.
Laos is a thoroughly likable country and it was good to be back again. Last time we journeyed down the Mekong to Luang Prabang, in the north, but on this occasion we explored the south. Again the Mekong was in almost constant attendance and the provided the perfect backdrop for lazying around in a hammock – which was pretty much all we did for most of the month.
Volunteering in Thailand
Though Deirdre was afraid every animal was going to eat her (including the chickens) I loved volunteering with the Safari Park Volunteer Initiative near Kanchanaburi. From the absurdity of taking lions and tigers for a walk to playing dodge with Chutney the gibbon, before giving the little guy a backrub, I might have spent more time in a 9 to 5 job if it was like this. Our feelings towards the Erawan Elephant Nature Park were a little more mixed but the time spent around the elephants wasn’t wasted.
Disclaimer: Though the agreed advertising period has expired and the accommodation options listed here are now simply recommendations, it would be remiss of us if we did not tell you that we found out how good they are by dint of trading our advertising in exchange for staying with them.