An Overdue Adventure

26 Jun

With a one way ticket in our hands and a 60 litre backpack each, we set off on the 9th of January this year, in search of adventure. The self-proclaimed ‘Queen of Procrastination’, I have been guilty of being more of a ‘say-er’ than a ‘do-er’ for the last, well, 26 years (my whole life). After a lot of talk, I finally decided that now was the time to actually go and see some of the world for myself. Asia has always been a continent that fascinates me. With its alien culture, beautiful scenery and buzzing cities, it is somewhere that I have always dreamt of visiting and travelling round. Luckily John, my boyfriend, was also of this mindset and so we set off together, in discovery of beautiful Indochina. This trip has, so far, only touched on Asia as a whole but in the last 5 months we have travelled to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam. We have now both found jobs as English teachers and ‘settled’ into Hanoi life, for the time being anyway.

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This trip has been a truly amazing experience. Each day, I look around and feel slightly overwhelmed that we are on the other side of the world, with only each other and a few basic personal possessions. It feels great. It is liberating and exciting and, at times, very scary. (As someone who usually needs a new outfit for every night out, I can’t believe that I have gotten by with only 5 dresses to circulate for the last 5 months.)

From the moment we arrived at our first stop, Bangkok, I was smitten. The city is a living, breathing hot-pot fusion of culture, temples, excitement, exotic lady boys and unfamiliar pursuits. And it really only is a very brief introduction to the delights that the region has to offer. From lounging on the paradisal white sand beaches to motorbiking through the rugged countryside while taking in the breathtaking mountain views, it has been fantastic. I can’t say the trip hasn’t had its ups and downs, however. Asia is a tough and tiring place to be at times. Coming from the West, we are used to everything being so easy. If we want to buy something, we just look at the price tag and then go and buy it. No questions asked; no arguing, no difficulty. If we want to get somewhere, we go. There is an effective public transport system and things are actually signposted. In SE Asia, simple tasks such as buying a banana or trying to get a taxi can be impossibly challenging at times.

Our local shop - no price tags here!

Our local shop – no price tags here!

On more than several occasions, ourselves and fellow travellers have been overheard trying to lighten the atmosphere of a difficult encounter by rolling out the classic line, ‘it’s all part of the experience…’ At the time, this serves as no compensation but these words are completely true. Each day has been different and exciting, meaning we are constantly making new memories. (I would happily erase the memory of our brief visit to a Cambodian hospital where there was the waxy, grey dead body of a man casually lying in the front reception but that’s another story…)

The trip has been eventful but in general everything has run smoothly. This is quite an accolade for a pair of people who, combined, probably lose more sets of keys, phones and bankcards in a year than the whole of Glasgow. We have encountered first hand some of the scams that we read about before we came away. We have both been violently sick for days at a time. I was the victim of an attempted bag theft. But there have been no major disasters, as of yet, and for us that really is quite an achievement!

We have had our fair share of good and bad accommodation. There have been a few pleasant surprises where a room has cost us 3 pounds each and we have arrived to it being clean (a LOT less common than you might think), with a western toilet, washed towels, air con and complimentary water(!). We have, however, also experienced some definite… ‘sub-standard’ accommodation. OK… We’ve stayed in a few absolute shit holes, complete with bed bugs and mosquito infiltration camps. In one particularly lovely guest house in Laos, there were no windowpanes on the window. What’s the big deal, you are thinking? No big deal. Well, apart from the sweltering heat but we can handle that. Until the charming landlord starts burning piles of rotten food and toxic plastic right outside the window at 4am. Then it becomes a huge problem! We checked out first thing. But the beauty of Laos (and its neighbouring countries) is that if you are in need of night in a nice bed and are willing to pay a bit more, 8 or 9 pounds each can buy you a fairly luxurious hostel experience. (As you can tell, our perceptions of what is expensive have been somewhat skewed over the course of this trip!)

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The travel itself has been mixed. We have made some interesting journeys, from the surprisingly lovely sleeper train we took from Bangkok to Surat Thani in Thailand, to the absolutely hellish night bus going from Sihanoukville to Siem Riep in Cambodia. This was truly awful. The fact that we were six hours late wasn’t the issue – it was more the Cambodian family sitting on our knees, the lack of air con and the screechy Asian ‘comedy’ sketch show blaring in our faces the whole night that made it particularly unpleasant. Not to mention some of the gruesome toilet stops we made along the way… There are just no words.

One thing this trip has never been is boring. I have written a separate entry on the top 10 highlights of our journey so far and so I won’t go in to too much detail here but from elephant treks to all night jungle parties, South East Asia is just fantastic. If you haven’t yet visited, you should.

So, here we are, living and teaching English in Hanoi. Sometimes I forget how amazing what we are doing really is. It is easy to get used to your surroundings and not take the time to appreciate what is happening. But this is real and it is happening. And it feels good.

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“I know these will all be stories someday. But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening, I am here… And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.”

Stephen Chobsky, Perks of Being a Wallflower.

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