Reflections of a wanderluster...

Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
Trip End Jan 01, 2014

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Monday, May 14, 2012

The train journey was every bit as horrific as we had imagined.  We drained the last of our Laos vodka, together with some unbranded sleeping tablets (or so we were told when buying from a confused, and exceptionally young, pharmacist), in the vain hope of finding peace.  This worked to a degree, as at least when sleep did come it was deep, but I must have nodded off and woken up at least 40 times during the 12 hour journey.  The bright lights in the carriage were never turned off and it was very confusing to wake up in a train car containing only two other farangs (tourists) and otherwise exclusively natives.  Progress became incredibly slow when we reached central Bangkok but the effect of the madness that is Thailand’s capital at rush hour (which never actually seems to end) was diminished from the experience of our arrival in February, primarily because we have since seen the incomparable frenzy that is traffic in Hanoi…

Once we reached the central train station we were told that we needed to catch the underground and then sky train to Victory Monument, where we could pick up an onward bus to Pattaya.  This was a simple enough process and by 10am we were heading southbound out of Bangkok towards Pattaya in a minibus, together with a few Thais and two grey haired westerners with their 20-something Thai partners.  Those girls surely earn their money…

The effect of Pattaya on the senses was also many shades less than it had been when we first arrived and we felt like confident old hands as we asked for our minibus to drop us off on the main strip - the six lanes of Sukhumvit Road.  We hopped on a shared bus, with several giggling schoolgirls, for twenty minutes before sorting out motorbike taxis to take us back to Luton Town.  With our wheelie suitcase balancing between me and my young rider - helmet neither offered nor requested - and trying desperately to cling onto the handle under my bum as we hurtled through bumpy roads.  At this point I wished I knew the Thai for “We’re really not in a hurry” as it would be a huge shame to perish so close to base camp after seven weeks of travelling, but happily we arrived safe and sound - feeling like conquering heroes - in the familiar surrounds of Luton Town compound.  We were soon brought back down to earth by mundane questions about practical matters, such as dirty washing and food requirements (universal favourite topics of mothers worldwide).  It did however feel blissful to have a hot, powerful shower and the prospect of not unpacking and packing our two bags for at least a few weeks.  Home, wherever in the world and however temporary such place may be, truly is sweet…

Laying on the sun bed in 40 degree heat, it was time to reflect on the previous few weeks and any life lessons learnt:

1.    Be prepared - this is the antithesis of the motto by which I have lived my life (see the nine  marathon challenge/coast to coast trench foot tales for illustration of this) but it really does     make sense when travelling to mildly dangerous countries.  Our decision to take no malaria     tablets, or any form of tablets, with us did not prove fatal, but was probably a little bit stupid.      It also helps to know exchange rates before arriving at any border, where there are plenty of     people around who make a living from parting you from the proceeds of yours…

2.    The League of Nations - one can learn something of the state of the world economy by     travelling.  Aside from the obvious indicators of exchange rates, there is the composition of the travelling fraternity, which reveals much about the financial health of nations.  Whilst four     years ago when I travelled, Europeans abounded and one was never more than three feet away from an Irishman, this time there were a huge number of Australians, Chinese and Russian     travellers, speaking something of the tilt in the balance of world fortunes, which I suspect will     continue for the foreseeable future.  In addition, much of the investment in these relatively     poor nations is coming from China and Russia, who seem to be buying up the developing     world piece by piece…

3.    Stereotypes - I appreciate that I have made a few generalisations about various nationalities  over the past few weeks but still think one should try and meet every individual with an open mind, putting aside any preconceptions and who knows, maybe one day I will meet a Russian who can smile; a Frenchman without an unfounded superiority complex; a Brit who is not moaning (myself included) and a Vietnamese who is not trying to take my money…(I     shudder to think what they about me!)

4.    Photographs - it is nearly impossible to take a photograph of any world heritage site without such picture featuring a Japanese tourist also taking a picture of the same thing.  These people  will point their cameras at almost anything, including all floors, all walls, their food (even the     most unremarkable meal), and any picture of themselves will feature a V-sign or other “crazy”     gesture

5.    Travel snobs - most conversations with other travellers along the way tend naturally to focus on travel tales.  Whilst some try and help others with hints and tips, others lean towards thinly    veiled boasting and trying to outdo others with experiences.  I guess it is part of human nature    to be competitive but whilst I found this a disgusting but inevitable part of life in corporate     Britain, it is all the more distasteful in paradise.  Example:

    Traveller 1 - “I did this cool trek with a few people in Northern Laos, and ended up spending a     couple of days living with a hill tribe”
    Traveller 2 - “That’s nothing, I walked alone bare foot for two years in Nepal and discovered a     new race of people; taught them how to speak English and they built a golden sculpture of     me…”    

    Conclusion = you can take an arsehole out of their natural habitat, but you can’t take the     arsehole out of an arsehole…

6.    You get what you pay for - a lot of our gripes at shocking journeys or hotel experiences are  completely our own fault as they resulted from our (my) seeking the absolute bottom price for     everything (“The Disaster at Halong Bay” is outside this category) and if one is prepared to     pay a bit extra (20 dollars for a hotel room), most of these problems will never be encountered

7.    Count your blessings - seeing people living in 2012 without clean running water, education for the kids and generally in conditions that we in developed Europe have taken for granted for     decades is humbling, especially when it is often the poorest people in these nations that will be most hospitable and will happily feed and water a foreign visitor and refuse any compensation     for their efforts.  But for a less fortunate role of the dice/deal of the cards and it could have     been me or you…

8.    Keep Smiling - there are times when the patience of a saint would be tested in SE Asia, but when dealing with natives the best results tend to come when “negotiating/arguing” with a     smile.  In fact, I suspect this is an approach which works best wherever one is in the world     (although if you smile too much at work, people may think you’re simple)

The overall message is that travelling is an unbelievably rewarding experience, with the main/only downside being that one can end it with depression and incurable wanderlust.  If you have the time, do it - worry later about the money.  As for me and Shelley, we must now accept that it’s time to return to the “real world” of jobs, bills and stress.  As my father told me, “Life isn’t supposed to be all fun”; true, but I’ve concluded that the more of mine that can be, the better, even if that does come at the price of children who may resent inheriting travel debts rather than heirlooms…
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