For most travellers, the thought of the inevitable return home sends instant shivers down fellow backpacker’s spines and the conversation is quickly diverted elsewhere. I was one of those who cringed at the thought of my travels coming to an end in 2007 after a six-month stint throughout NZ, Australia and Fiji. Perhaps age is starting to take its toll, or maybe it’s the difference between travelling in Southeast Asia as opposed to somewhere as modern as Australia, but this time around I could not be more thrilled at the thought of boarding a flight back to Vancouver in two weeks time.
Southeast Asia is not an easy place to be for six months, and even though we’ve had our fair share of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, we’ve also spent just as much time wishing we could put ourselves in a time capsule and transport home if only for a few days. For all readers of travel blogs and Facebook addicts who constantly see photos of friends in exotic locales, remember that this is just a glimpse of various moments, removed from context and offered as an imprint of the experience. Take the following story, for example.
In Laos we boarded a local bus taking us from Pakse to the 4000 Islands, a place known for its relaxing atmosphere and picturesque setting. The bus was filled with local people, and in the traditional Laos way we stopped at every opportunity to drop off individuals at their respective villages, and of course every chance to buy food from women tempting travellers with chicken on a stick. A local Laos person even offered us what looked like a clove of garlic at one point, but we respectively declined not knowing how our stomachs would react in ten hours time. Eventually we arrived at the port and hopped on a small boat to Don Khon where we would stay for the next few days, soaking in whatever treasures this leg of our journey could provide. I know if I were reading this anecdote while sitting at my desk in Toronto, chances are I would be hit with a pang of travel fever and curse my three-weeks of vacation limit instantly. Now try taking yourself out of the reader’s position and into the shoes of the main character.
Here’s that same story told from the eyes of the protagonist: me.
Prior to arriving in Pakse Kyle and I woke up at 6am in Kong Lor village to board the first of many buses on our way to the 4000 Islands. It was cold and wet, and since Southeast Asia is roasting 99% of the time we were not fully equipped for a drop in temperature below ten degrees. After changing buses twice (and for the most part not really knowing for sure if we were even going in the right direction), we finally arrived in Thakek to hop on the final bus down to Pakse. Stopping frequently is part of the ride in Laos, so after an hour of being on the road we pulled over for what we thought would be a twenty-minute pit stop. In true Laos fashion, we ended up parked in a lot for a good two hours, waiting for the bus to fill before continuing on. For someone like Kyle who has worked in the transportation industry for the last two years, the concept of sitting around for a full load is inefficient and backwards. According to him, “a sure way to lose money is to let your assets sit for long periods of time.” Combine these thoughts with constant hunger and only a packet of crackers to last until nightfall, and an adventurous journey soon turns sour.
Eventually the bus started moving again, and finally arrived in Thakek just after eight in the evening putting the grand total of travel hours up to fourteen. After a quick sleep that night in yet another random hostel, we hopped in a tuk-tuk to the bus station, expecting to board another bus down to the port for the 4000 Islands (according to Lonely Planet). We arrived at the station only to find out that the buses weren’t going that day, and instead the main mode of transportation was an oversized pickup truck with a half-covered back. With no other option, we loaded ourselves on and mentally prepared for the next leg of the journey. Puttering along with the wind blowing in from all directions, the truck proceeded to stop a total of twenty times over 150 kilometers, turning what should have been a two-hour journey into a four-hour endeavor. We finally arrived at the port, jumped on the nearest boat and after a total of travelling for almost a day and a half, arrived at our destination. The Mekong River, described in Lonely Planet as a perfect turquoise hue, was shit brown and filled with garbage, and the locals looked more pissed off than happy to see tourists. We stayed for a day then caught the next bus out to Thailand for Christmas.
The travel life in Southeast Asia is filled with moments like these. There have also been experiences such as climbing a volcano in Indonesia, swimming in crystal clear water in Thailand and visiting the world-renowned Angkor Wat in Cambodia. These are the times that make travelling worthwhile, but I will also remember how I contracted food poisoning while wandering the temples, the smell of sewage from certain beaches in Koh Phi Phi and the scams we had to endure while planning our mountain trek on Bali. The travelling lifestyle does not come without its pitfalls, and many people tend to idolize this form of living instead of accepting that being on the move has just as many cons as it does pros. I have already compared the positives and negatives of travelling in my three-month update, but here are a few more I-hope-to-God-I-never-forget points of appreciation for the settled life in Canada:
1) The joys of constant access to a hot shower
2) A high standard of customer service
3) Being able to drink tap water
4) A bathroom that has a clearly separate section between the toilet and shower
5) Living in a place that offers international food on par, if not better than the original
6) Eating without the constant fear of food poisoning
7) A closet
8) Knowing the cleanliness of your accommodation that night
9) The general cleanliness of Canada
10) Going to bed without worrying about cockroaches crawling on you in the middle of the night
11) Hanging out with friends I won’t be saying goodbye to within a few weeks
12) Spending time with family
13) The efficiency of most businesses/people/systems in Canada
14) Freedom of speech
15) The growth opportunities in terms of career/overall happiness in life people have access to in Canada
16) The pride many Canadians take in preserving the environment
17) Not always being in a constant state of sweatiness
18) The infrastructure of Canada
19) Efficient waste disposal services
21) Proper treatment to animals, and services that provide animals with a better life
22) Earning a paycheck
23) WiFi that doesn’t cut out every two seconds
24) Being able to watch YouTube videos in one go without waiting hours for it to load
25) Being slightly more confident that the food you ordered will look somewhat like the expectation set in your head
On a slightly different note, the thought of ending the travel life and setting up shop in Vancouver is a whole new form of adventure. Kyle has wanted to move to Vancouver ever since he first visited at the age of ten, and growing up in Langley always offered me a taste of the city, but I could never fully adopt the label of Vancouverite. Upon finishing high school my main priority was to move eastward for university for a change of scenery, and I’ve basically been in transit ever since: two years in Montreal, back to BC for the summers, over to England for a year on exchange with a month-long Euro-trip thrown in, back to Montreal for graduation and finally a move to Toronto to jump-start my career. This constant exposure to various parts of the world was exactly what I was looking for, but in Toronto I slowly started to crave the thought of moving to a place with the intention of staying for more than two years. Moving to London was on the table, and for a time it looked likely that we would soon head to the land of fish and chips and mushy peas. However, when we really began to examine this option we both agreed that we’d eventually want to move back to Canada, putting us in the exact same predicament we found ourselves in Toronto. The one place we both had family and could seriously stay for the long haul was Vancouver, so we started to save and agreed that one last hurrah in Southeast Asia before pursuing our careers was in order.
Vancouver has been a long time coming, and part of the reason I am so excited about returning home is the potential opportunities that await. Two years in Toronto has given me a few more skills to help me down the career path, and the thought of having local mountains at my doorstep for a quick day of skiing is something I will never overlook again. Granted, every time I look at the price of real estate I have to pick my jaw up off the floor, but other than that Vancouver is an amazing city (something that has been further reinforced from travel and living in various places around the world). There will be times when the cons of daily routine and being permanently in one place creep in, but when that does happen I’ll read this post for a reminder that even the life of travel also has its downsides. If that doesn’t work I’ll just eat at the dingiest restaurant I can find, induce myself with a bout of food poisoning, throw a few cockroaches in my room and finish the day off with the recording of a high-pitched voice yelling “You buy! You buy!”