182 days, 4,368 hours, 262,080 minutes… 6 months.
It’s hard to imagine that we’ve been on the road now for half a year. But 6 months ago today we started this journey. It seems like such a long time when we step back and look at the big picture, but at times it’s gone by quite quickly.
Three months ago I wrote about our 3-month travel-versary. In that time we had traveled through China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. We saw a heck of a lot of things, traveled on many overnight trains and buses, and solidified our travel style as a couple. We laid a solid foundation for keeping ourselves, our possessions, and our money safe, which has seen us through the subsequent 3 months without fail. And now 3 more months later, we’ve seen so much more, grown more and faced more challenges. But thankfully, there have been less overnight travels.
Month 4 saw us entering Thailand via the slow boat along the Mekong River. After spending almost a month in Laos relaxing and taking things slow, it was a nice change being in a more built-up country. We noticed an immediate difference: wide smoothly paved roads, more English, a lot more western influences, and cheap delicious street food! We had a great time staying a little over a week up in the north exploring Chiang Mai, spending a day at an elephant sanctuary, learning to cook Thai food, and doing a road trip of the Mae Hong Son Loop. It was a fantastic start to our time in Thailand and we were pumped for what the rest of our time in the country had in store.
We made our way down to Bangkok and were rather shocked at how great the city looked. For months, the city faced flooding that threatened the inner core prior to our arrival, but if we hadn’t known anything about the floods, we wouldn’t have known that the city had dealt with such a devastating force. It was business as usual when we arrived.
Next, we headed down to Koh Tao, an island on the eastern side of the peninsula where we learned to scuba dive. It was the highlight of Thailand, and practically the entire trip so far. We spent 3 ½ days learning on land and underwater all the skills we would require to have a safe and enjoyable dive. I was a bit nervous in the days leading up to our lessons, but once we got in the water all my worries vanished. I was enchanted with this newfound ability to explore the other 70% of our world.
After Koh Tao, we met up with our friends in Krabi and discovered that the city wasn’t as bad as other travelers had made it out to be. But after our friends left, we hit the lowest point in our trip.
We couldn’t have reached southern Thailand at a worse time. Two words: peak season. Our go-with-the-flow travel style and not booking too far in advance had come to bite us in the butt. Thousands of people had descended on southern Thailand for the holidays and resulted in us not being able to do all the things we wanted to, and spending a lot more money than we had originally budgeted out. Our poor planning, the large crowds, and not so enthusiastic Thai workers had us wanting to get out of Thailand as quick as possible. It was an unfortunate end to a country we had both been looking forward to so much.
From Thailand’s Koh Lipe island, we traveled by ferry to Malaysia and found ourselves on a duty free island paradise: Palau Langkawi. It was a change that we desperately needed and proved quite fruitful (and not just because we could drink for much cheaper). Suddenly we were surrounded by a much different culture. While most of our travels had us visiting countries that mainly practiced Buddhism, Malaysia was largely Muslim. Women wore headscarves, men wore full tunics, and the call to prayer could be heard multiple times throughout the day. It was a spiritual experience that made us feel far away from anything we’d known already.
From Penang, Malaysia, we took a quick trip over to Sumatra for a week. We saw the orangutans in Bukit Lawang and explored Danua Toba, the largest lake in Southeast Asia, learning about the old Batak people before returning back to Malaysia. We then spent time in the Cameron Highlands trekking to see the world’s largest flower, the rafflesia, being in awe of the remarkable tea plantations that seemed to stretch on for miles, and enjoying the much cooler temperatures the mountains brought on.
We wrapped up our time in Malaysia exploring the multi-layered city of Kuala Lumpur and ate our way through the historical gem of Melaka. Malaysia couldn’t have come at a better time for us. Our experience in the country was nothing short of fantastic. The food was spectacular, the transportation cheap and scam-free, and the people were warm and friendly. It was the first country where we felt like we could have stayed much longer. We originally had wanted to fly over to the Borneo side of Malaysia and hike Mount Kinabalu, but time and budget wouldn’t allow it. It just means we’ll have to come back!
We’ve picked up the pace a bit in the last 4 weeks. We spent 5 days in Singapore and realized that it is possible to do it on a budget while still enjoying your time. And even though there were a number of signs posted saying what you couldn’t do, it wasn’t the controlling, rule-heavy state we thought it’d be.
We then returned to Indonesia and flew over to Yogyakarta on Java and explored the city and the surrounding temples of Borobudur and Prembanan. After, we headed east across the island to Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park and came face to face with our first volcano, Mount Bromo. We even climbed the, now extinct, volcano and stared down into the belly of the crater.
We’re currently on Bali and enjoying every minute. We had originally wanted to rent a place for a month, but we started feeling the time crunch after spending longer amounts of time in Cambodia and Laos than we thought we would. So we decided to scale it back and stay for 2 weeks. But it’s still given us enough time to really sink our feet in and soak in the Balinese culture.
We put our scuba certifications to use once again and did two dives on the east coast of the island. Our first dive had us come face to face with the wreckage of the USS Liberty, sunk by the Japanese in 1943. It was an incredible dive with amazing visibility (clearness in the water). There was so much life living on and around the wreckage. Near the end of the dive we came across a large school of fish (around 1,000 fish) all swimming in a circle. It was like an underwater tornado of fish. We were able to swim right underneath the school. It was extraordinary! Our second dive took us a few meters down the shore to a coral garden where we were able to get a close up look at the smaller inhabitants of the ocean. We even had our first experience swimming with sharks!
We’ve been spending the past week in the cultural heart of Bali, Ubud. It’s the centre of Balinese arts, with a strong emphasis on maintaining the island’s culture. There’s so much creativity, hospitality, and amazing food crammed into one little area. We don’t want to leave!
When we set out on August 28th, 2011, we thought we’d be finished our travels by now, but we’re nowhere near finished just yet. In fact, we’ve still got about 2 months to go by our calculations. On Friday, we say goodbye to Southeast Asia and start our Australian adventure. We’ll spend 4 weeks road tripping the entire east coast, starting in Cairns and working our way down to Melbourne. Through relocation rentals, camping, cooking our own food, and staying with friends, we’re hoping to stretch the budget as much as possible. After Australia, we’ll spend 2 weeks exploring the South Island of New Zealand.
While the majority of our trip is complete, there’s still much more left to see and do. The biggest milestone, however, is we’ve finally booked our return flights home. Yes, there’s an “end date” to this journey. It was a rather momentous occasion booking those tickets and, thus, setting our return in stone. There were a few deep breaths and a couple of tears, but on a positive note, we’ve managed to squeeze 3 days in Hawaii before we make it back to Toronto. Woo!
Once again, we’d like to give you all a huge THANK YOU for your continued support, love, and overall interest in our posts. Just last week we had our biggest day yet, close to 1,000 visitors in a single day. Wow! We’re slowly moving on up and we couldn’t have done it without you.
We’ve created a Facebook page where we’ve started uploading more of our photos. So be sure to check it out and give us a “like”. And if you’ve got a twitter account, don’t forget to follow us @seeusoontravel.
Much love and thanks,
Arienne & Tristan