Saturday, 21 December 2013

Half Time Show

It's hard to believe that the half way point of my one year trip has come and gone.  I left Calgary on June 15th so December 21th is the 190th day I have been a traveller.  I'm marking the midpoint of my journey by leaving Asia and heading to Australia so it seems like a good time to reflect on my past 6 months in Asia.
Where did the time go?
Top Experiences (in no particular order):
* Trecking to summit of Mt. Rinjani, the second highest volcanic peak in Indonesia
* Rapelling down waterfalls and then enjoying a soak in a natural hot spring near Moalboal, Philippines
* Experiencing a 7.1 magnitude earthquake, 70km from the epicentre in Cebu City, Philippines
* Seeing cuttlefish mate and lay eggs at Secret Reef near Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
* Becoming part of the family at Blue Marlin Dive, Gili Trawangan and guiding certified divers on dives
* Scuba Diving with reef sharks and a rainbow of abundant reef fish in ripping current in Komodo National Park, near Flores, Indonesia
* Scuba Diving with Thresher sharks at Malepascua Island, Philippines
* Sleeping in a floating raft house and watching gibbons swinging and leaping in the trees between cave dives in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand 
* Snorkeling with Whale Sharks near Oslob, Philippines
* Sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia
* Sunset at Tonle Sap Lake and drifting through a fishing village near Siem Reap, Cambodia
* Sunrise yoga in Luang Prabang, Laos on a wooden platform overlooking the Nam Khan river
* Watching elephants play in the river at Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, Thailand
* Cycling around Hoi An, Vietnam from tailor to tailor getting a new wardrobe made
* Trecking through the mountains and rice terraces in Sapa, Vietnam
* Caving in knee deep mud in dark passages in Dark Cave in Phong Nha National Park in Vietnam.

What I have learned:
* Always carry tissues in Asia.
* Pack as light as you can.
I have not learned the pack light lesson and I hate every day I have to move frome one place to the next.

* Enjoy every hot shower, comfortable bed, duvet, good Internet connection, and airplane flight (there are worse ways to travel!)
* signs in Asia are hilarious... are restaurant menus

...and the funniest of all are bathroom signs

* If you are lonely while travelling, stay in a dorm, strike up a conversation with someone at a restaurant or on a bus or in your hotel lobby.  The world is full of strangers also looking to make a connection.  
* Don't stick with your first impressions of people.  I think most of us instinctively scan a group of people and decide in a second who we will dislike (weirdo, loudmouth, clique of girls, creepy dude etc.).  If you are able to get past the first impression and find out a little about who the people really are, you will find that your first impressions are rarely right.
* Don't ride elephants.
* Massage Therapists in Canada are prudes.  What? No breast, stomach, or upper inner thigh massage?  You aren't going to kneel on my hamstrings while you massage me?  You aren't going to have me sit cross legged while you climb onto me from behind to swing me around topless?  Bummer.  Seriously though, most Thai, Balinese, and other massages in Asia make me pretty uncomfortable.
* There are a disproportionately high number of "creepy uncles" in Vietnam.  These are older men, not threatening or dangerous...just creepy.  You can spot them by looking for men chuckling and looking at you, or they will be the one who gestures for you to sit next to them, puts a cigarette in your mouth and lights it (according to one girl I met), puts an arm around you, holds onto your upper arm while smiling at you, nodding enthusiastically, and giggling, starts a conversation by saying "I am so happy I saw you", kisses your hand, offers to give you a cup of tea in exchange for a kiss, rubs your leg, wants his picture taken with you, or otherwise invades your personal space in a harmless, but creepy way.
* Clean clothing is relative.
* People are generally good, kind, and helpful, not evil, treacherous, and scary.  As a traveller you constantly have to place your trust in strangers to not steal from you, rip you off, and even to take care of you; hotel and hostel staff, bus, tuk tuk, train, songthew, moto, xe om, and cyclo drivers, people you ask for help or directions, people around you, people on buses, planes, and trains, even street food vendors.  In 6 months of travelling I've only regretted placing my trust in someone once and I was ripped off for about $7 and she needed it more than me.  I've been blown away by the helpfulness and kindness of hotel and hostel staff, tour booking agents, other travellers, and local people who continue to amaze me as they bend over backwards to help an absolute stranger.  If you want to restore your faith in humanity, travel.
Cheers to people being good!
* Market and street food is delicious, safe, and cheap.
* Thailand decorates for Christmas and starts playing Christmas music in mid December...the Philippines start decorating in October!
Merry Christmas Bangkok

Holy Pink Plastic Penguins Bangkok!
* I am not as flexible in a deep squat position as most Asians.  At the risk of TMI (too much information) I have been fortunate enough to find western toilets most places I've been so I've only had to do a number two twice in 6 months on a squat toilet.  I don't know how they do it...especially the elderly.
* Internet plans are dirt cheap in Asia.  In most countries, if you have an unlocked smartphone you can get  a SIM card and 5GB (basically unlimited Internet) for 30 days for less than $10.

Things I've "checked off" my list of things to do:
Way to go Tiger!
* Scuba Certifications: PADI Divemaster, TDI Nitrox, TDI Advanced Nitrox and Decompression Theory, TDI Cavern and TDI Introduction to Cave, over 200 dives logged since I began the trip
* Countries Visited: Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and I got very close to the Chinese border when I was in Northern Vietnam and very close to the Myanmar border when I volunteered in Western Thailand.
* Languages: this is a bit of a joke but while in each country I was at least able to say "hello", "thank you" and in a couple countries I got as far as counting and/or a handful of other useful phrases.
* Hiking: trecking to the summit of Indonesia's second highest peak, Mt. Rinjani on Lombok, hiking up rapids and rapelling down waterfalls near Moalboal, Philippines, trecking to a remote village homestay in Sapa (northern Vietnam), and trecking in northwest Thailand watching elephants forage near the Myanmar border.

* Items Lost: my travel pillow which I left on the bus from Chumphon to Bangkok (sniff), one travel towel went missing at Blue Marlin Dive, Gili Trawangan in Indonesia, one drawstring nylon bag which was my laundry bag for nearly 6 months didn't return from the laundry in Hanoi.  My iPhone, Visa, Bank card, a little cash, the amazing lip balm Jodie gave me, and my little travel purse...I left all these things in the purse hanging off the back of a chair at Blue Marlin so I say lost them, although technically they were stolen.  My hairbrush...dammit, that just happened last night!
hmmmm....I wonder if I will reunite with all my lost things in heaven?

* Things I packed but have never used: UV Water purifier, water purification tabs, bed bug detection traps, ipad speaker (I gave that away), most medications
* Things I packed but rarely use: DVD drive, clothesline, socks, shoes, sleeping bag liner, multitool
* Things I packed that I use relentlessly (AKA "The Essentials"): Ipad with SIM slot, compression bags for packing clothing, capris pants, black long sleeve sweater, flip flops, dry bag, small day backpack, headlamp, swimwear, travel towel, sarong, scarf, rain jacket for my backpack.

I have mixed feelings about leaving Asia and heading to Australia.  I'm very excited to dig in and see extended family for Christmas and New Years and to see some more friends and family afterwards as I couch surf my way around Australia.  I'm ready for a homey break from travelling.  I am sad to leave Asia behind since I had such a great time travelling here and yet there is so much I didn't have a chance to see.  I will have to return to see more of Laos, Cambodia, Northern Thailand, Indonesia (Bali, Suluwesi, Java, Flores, Sumatra), Malaysia (I didn't even make it to Malaysia this time besides a two hour stop at the Kuala Lumpur airport!), and I need to get to Raja Ampat at some point in the future to scuba dive.

Goodbye for now Asia, I will miss your beautiful islands, spectacular marine life, banana Nutella pancakes, street meat, waterfalls, low-cost accommodations, friendly people, and smiles.  I will return.  G'day Australia!
off to other places.


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