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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Bangers to Goldie Chinese Visa, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

In a few hours, we will be departing Bangkok for Australia, arriving four months to the day from our wedding. Our Chinese visas remain unstamped in our passports. Nepal and India remain unvisited. But as the cliche goes, they’ll still be there for our next trip.

Our journey across Asia started as a bit of a passport-stamp collecting exercise. As a kid, I stared at maps and atlases imagining what was there. Years before starting this trip, I got a poster-sized map of Asia and told myself that after I finished the PhD, I’d go see it all, even if I had to go it alone.

Then some things happened. I didn’t have to go it alone. Instead, I got married, to a supercool chick who was not only willing to follow me far outside her comfort zone, but who was nearly as excited about it all as I was. The post-PhD trip turned into a combined post-PhD trip and honeymoon as we travelled through Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma and Laos. Traveling together has taught us a lot about each other and provided plenty of bonding experiences. Not to mention anecdotes we can annoy our friends with by repeating ad nauseum for years to come.

So even though our Asian adventures ended a mere 40km from the Chinese border, and no, I didn’t get to try the Vang Vieng “space pizza”, ride an elephant or go trekking in the Himalayas, it’s hard to be too disappointed. What Janelle and I gained is on a whole other level from collecting photos and passport stamps, even if we will jump at the chance to show off our Republic of the Union of Myanmar visas.

And you know, we did get to see and do some pretty awesome shit.

(Anyway, I’ve got a journal full of notes and a couple of memory cards worth of photos to go through when we get to Aus/Canada, so rest assured, you haven’t heard the last of our trip just yet.)

Back to English-Speaking Lands (+Australia)

Lao Bus Station, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

So once again, a Laotian journey is cut short by unexpected events. Though last time it was due to a dark-alley fracas in Luang Prabang, this time it’s due to much happier circumstances.

After spending three days at the spectacular Rai Saeng Arun farm/resort on the Thai side of the Mekong river, we hired a songthiew to take us to the Thai-Laos border crossing at Chiang Khong, hopped aboard a fishtail boat acting as a ferry across the Mighty Mekong and entered Laos. A four-hour bus ride down winding mountain roads was directed by a driver who apparently learned to drive the rickety Chinese bus by watching motorcycle racing videos. He actually had an assistant who handled the constant gear changes so he could keep both hands on the steering wheel. It was nerve-wracking, but we made it.

Which is good, for not only the numerous obvious reasons, but also for the email waiting for us when we were able to connect in Luang Namtha. We were on the guesthouse verandah chatting with some Germans who had been on the bus with us when Janelle looked up wide-eyed from her iPod Touch. “Passport request!” She couldn’t believe it. I wondered what the big deal was. Surely this was just another of the series of interminable steps in processing her immigration application.

But no, this was actually the last of the interminable steps! And really shockingly fast, too. Instead of our expected issuing date around August, we now have less than two weeks to get J’s passport to the Sydney office. So that means that instead of crossing the northern border into China tomorrow as planned, we will be headed back the way we came, overland through northern Thailand to make a flight from Bangkok to the Gold Coast in a few days. We’re going to Australia! Soon! And then my wife will be joining me in Canada!

We’ll spend a little time in Australia to do the immigration stuff, pack up Jan’s gear and send it to Canada, and then we will be returning to Vancouver, a more travelled, more married, more legally-permitted-to-live-in-Canada couple.

Soi Bar in Chiang Mai

Soi Bar in Chiang Mai, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Ah, Chiang Mai. I’m not even sure how many days we’ve been here, but it’s been a while. We’d been talking about finding a place to hang out and relax for a while, and it seems we’ve found it. The old city at the heart of Chiang Mai is full of temples and surrounded by the remnants of the old city walls and moat. The eastern section of the old city doubles as the tourist quarter, and this is where we have spent most of our time. It’s run through with leafy lanes, called sois (pronounced ‘soys’) meandering between guesthouses, coffee shops, bars and restaurants. ‘Walking the sois’ has actually become a favourite pastime of ours, as they often provide a surprise. Such as the cute cocktail bar set up by a local family, with two tiny flower-painted tables and a few teak chairs atop a metre-wide wooden deck in front of their home. Or being startled by the otherworldly screech of a lone goose patrolling another home’s front yard, neck outstretched, wings spread (we think it actually is a ‘guard goose’—for reals!). The sois have become a real form of cheap entertainment for us. An ancient Buddhist temple seems to exist on every corner, and saffron-robed monks rub elbows with tourists at the night markets. It’s nothing like the noise, speed and intensity of Bangkok.

It’s been nice to stop and catch our breath, read a book or two, play some scrabble, and get to know a place. We have favorite restaurants (Prego, and the noodle soup stand by Wawee Coffee), coffee shops (MoRooms) and bars (UN Irish Pub) that we return to. In fact, we’ve become regulars at the UN, thanks to Canucks games on delay and Thursday night trivia. Not to mention the inexpensive Sang Som sets: a bottle of Thai rum, two frosty old-school bottles of coke and a bucket of ice, all for about $8. Just don’t drink the whole thing before the first round of trivia.

It hasn’t been perfect, though. Food poisoning finally got us. Well, one of us. A street food dinner at the night market took Janelle out for a couple of unhappy days and nights. For those keeping track at home, Janelle has, since we started traveling, had a root canal, been dragged behind a motorcycle by thieves, subsequently re-injured her arm ziplining, and now, the food poisoning. I, on the other hand, got a sore tummy from eating too much fruit, but I’ll be okay.

Aside from that, though, it’s been pretty good. We got our Chinese visas this morning, and spent the afternoon sketching out the route we’ll take to get there, hopping through towns in northeast Thailand and northern Laos en route to Yunnan province.