We are 3 months into our trip, officially more than half way! We leave Asia tonight and make our way to Australia and thought that an overview of our experience in Asia would be a good idea.
Biggest challenges: Our biggest challenge was the Monastery volunteering. Both getting used to the very basic conditions that were there, and coming up with a plan to improve the lives of the kids, teachers, and volunteers.
Scariest Moments: Driving on the roads and being passengers in buses/cars/tuk tuks on the very poorly constructed roads with the crazy drivers. There have been multiple times on the roads where I thought there was a very good chance that we would die. They drive in the middle of the roads around tight corners on winding dirt roads on the edge of cliffs with no guard rails. We just had to keep reminding ourselves “they drive these everyday, it’s okay” close our eyes, and hope that we made it there safely. (In case you think we’re exaggerating how dangerous the traffic system is in Southeast Asia, do some more reading here to convince yourself: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0386111218300748 – it’s a serious issue and Thailand ranks second in moralities which makes sense to us as their roads have all been recently paved so speeds have dramatically increased. The other countries have such poor roads that getting above 60km/h is seldom possible.
Happiest Moments: We’ve had a lot of happy moments this trip. Some were simple like a plane taking off after being delayed, or getting to bed after a long day of travel. Others were more unique, like talking with some local kids with Google translate, or being high-fived after teaching a fun English class, or getting a girl the medical treatment she needed. Unexpected things like seeing hot air balloons after we thought they weren’t coming, or seeing someone we knew in a completely random place. Crossing things off the bucket list, finding some new delicious food, or finding something that tasted like home.
Most Annoying things:
– No toilet paper in bathrooms and just generally disgusting toilets. Some squat toilets, some western, no toilet paper, no soap. If there was both toilet paper and soap you would go tell other people to use the “really good” toilet. Showers that don’t have shower stalls and get the bathroom floor drenched and turn it into a mini bathtub that stays wet for hours and hours.
-Pollution: Smog is in every city, and you can see the dense grey as you fly into it. You can never escape the smell of motorbike fumes. Our throats are consistently sore or irritated, and we have chronic coughs.
– Chinese tourists. They really are bad. Pushy, rude, loud, and disrespectful in their giant tour buses with huge hats and cameras. Everyone in this region (including non-Chinese tourists) shares a disdain for main landers. You hear it constantly and start recognizing mainlanders and trying to avoid them. Massive groups of them will swarm luggage dispensers, push through lines, scream right into your ear, squat, hork, spit, stare at you, and generally treat you as “less than”. In Cambodia we witnessed a mainlander climbing on top of a sacred temple stones to take a picture while a guide yelled at him to get down. Totally unfazed he continued doing what he wanted and the guide turned to the group and said: “100 percent a Chinese”. A Vietnamese lady explained it to us as: “The Chinese have been making the world’s products for the last two decades and now they feel like they’re entitled to it. Like they own the world or something.”. At all the hipster hostels you see a Mark Twain quote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”, scribbled on the walls. Sorry hipster dude, this isn’t always the case.
Most surprising things:
-Thailand has AMAZING movie theatres. You can rent couches and it’s cheap. The sound and picture is great and the caramel popcorn tastes homemade. They also make you stand before the movie starts to play a few minute video homage to the King.
-We really still can’t get over how polite and quiet Japan is.
-How easily you adapt to your surroundings and crazy things just become normal
Best food: Our favourite dishes of the trip were:
Japan: fresh sushi from fish market and Ramen
Vietnam: Bun Cha and Egg Coffee
Thailand: Massaman Curry and coconut ice cream
Worst Food: Myanmar’s food was pretty basic, especially at the monastery. We survived on rice and bland curries for 2 weeks ( though we went into town a few times for some real food).
Nicest People: Myanmar’s people seemed to be the most genuine and happy to see and speak with you. They never tried to scam you, and were genuinely interested in speaking to you and having you around. Northern Vietnam was similar. Japan’s people were the most polite by far, but not the warmest.
What’s it really like travelling for so long?: It has it’s good and it’s bad. Photos always depict the easy and beautiful parts of traveling, but behind the scenes there is endless planning, plans that go awry, scams, tears, meltdowns, and homesickness. It’s difficult being away from people we love for so long, and hard to keep in touch because of the time difference. We can get annoyed at each other (spending almost every hour together for 3 months can do that) and we get tired or traveling. Somethings that should be exciting to see are not, some we don’t even bother going to because we know we won’t care that much about them. The novelty of seeing new things wears off, and you just want to watch a movie and eat some normal food. Don’t get me wrong, we still are excited about some things and are wanting to see more, but it’s very different than a 2 week trip.
What we miss most about Canada/home (besides people):
Alayna: Normal bathrooms and desserts that aren’t made of rice or tapioca.
Mark: Systems that work. People not doing crappy work (often not their fault as they haven’t been trained properly) like not putting toilet wax rings on properly, electrical messiness, poorly built things, laziness about how things are done. They need to watch Mike Holmes: do it right the first time, people! Ok, I’m done now.
What we’ve learned so far:
We have learned a great deal over the past few months. About places, cultures, history and deeper things like what people need to be happy and how to try and implement that into our lives back home. One major difference that we’ve noticed is social circles and togetherness. It is a common theme in Asia to have whole extended families living together, going out and doing activities and supporting each other. This is both out of economical need and culture. In Canada this is very limited, it’s more of a “every man for themselves” attitude and privacy is paramount. Probably the best is somewhere in the middle. We’ve also realized how much work/careers take over our lives and can become everything. We understand work is needed for income, stability, and personal growth and education, but there definitely needs to be a balance between working on a career and working on yourself.
What are our next plans?:
We head to the East Coast of Australia tonight! We will drive the coast from Brisbane to Sydney, head to Tasmania for a week, and then spend some time in Melbourne with Mark’s sister. From there we fly to the South Island in New Zealand and we roadtrip around New Zealand for approximately a month. We plan to be home in early to mid March.