Saturday, April 13, 2013

Back Home

Hauling Adit's sulphur blocks on Ijen, Java. He made more $$ off me than those blocks.

Back in Canada after 4 months away, I have had time to recover and reflect on how the trip went. A couple of things really stick out:

- I still really love backpacking, staying in hostels
- I really enjoy having everything I need in a bag on my back
- I also really love seeing more of the world
- You meet a lot of people when you are travelling
- Backpacking beats me up
- The heat of SE Asia really beat me up

So, as I sit in my house, enjoying the 1/2 speed life I am living, I am still trying to figure out where I am headed. I had a 5 year plan that got me away from Dal and on the road. I am almost done the current 5 year plan (retire, travel as much as possible, downsize the house) and am close to having the gov't give me money just because I am of a certain age.

This trip had some surprises...for starters, I never made it to Vietnam...good excuse for another trip. I also did not make it to Myanmar, while it is stil in it's awakening state. This means that if and when I get there, it will be crawling with tourist and backpackers.

The heat was a major variable on this trip. Japan was just barely shorts weather and very enjoyable. Other than the $$$ to travel there, would love to spend a lot more time in Japan.

I absolutely loved my time in Indonesia. The heat was a factor, but I was still pretty tough back then and the social aspect was a lot of fun. Everybody sort of rolls the same direction thru Java, thru the same towns, so make friends that you keep hanging out with in new places. The topography of Java made me very happy. The people were the friendliest I have met anywhere.

Bali had originally been a big destination for me. My foot infection and the heat changed that to a stopover swimming, no surfing, no alcohol.

The heat hurt me a lot. I can handle cold much better than heat, so suffered more than your average East Coaster. I left Indonesia and headed to northern Thailand basically just to get a tad cooler.

Thailand was a lot of fun but is actually a party country where people show up for a few weeks of decadence. Fine if it's your vacation, tough if you are on a long-term trip. Very little exercise, mucho beer and late nights...This section of the trip took a lot out of me.

Laos and Cambodia were fun, but by then I knew my exit date out of Bangkok. I rushed them a bit, which is counter to how I like to travel. Something to keep in mind for the future.

I am still a bit beat up. When I am away, I call on all my reserves for stamina and my immune system does me proud. When I am back, I have to allow for those reserves to be built up again. $$$ is also a problem. It is always a problem for long-term travellers and is my biggest variable. The 5 requirements for long-term backpacking:

1. Health - if your health is not good, backpacking not on the list
2. Mobility - opens up so many opportunities for new experiences
3. Time - usually you have this, other factors are not going your way
4. Money - people with lots of money usually don't backpack long-term
5. Desire - not to be under-estimated. Discomfort is involved

As always the 2 overriding sensations of long-term backpacking are just how lucky you are at any given moment, and the sense of freedom that pervades everything you do. The freedom is as addictive as the actual travelling.

So what is next? Mixing either $$ work and/or volunteer work with some travelling, hopefully in the Fall of 2013. Next year I turn 60 and will pick off something from the bucket list. I know what I want to be doing for my birthday, the question is still...where?


Wednesday, January 30, 2013


The pic above is from Banlung, Cambodia. Anna is a close friend of my niece Becky. I met her in Victoria, B.C. back in 2007 and we have kept in touch. She writes a great blog: Anna's Triplog and takes some amazing photos. She works for CUSO in the local educational system. It was extremely cool to be in the same space again.


Up until this point in my trip, I have just been lolly-gagging about...going where and when I please for as long as i want. I enjoyed Indonesia so much that i could have easily spent another month or two there. After almost a month in Thailand...I can now see the end of the trip and a few things become apparent...I will not make it to Myanmar or Vietnam!!! the top two places on my list.

I find this funny.

Now I have an end-date and can see that i will hit a few places in Laos, then a few more in Cambodia and then home. With this in mind, I fly from Vientiane to Siem Reap for Angkor Wat...I enjoy this place a lot, the town, the surrounding villages, the liveliness, the temples, the Cambodians I meet.

From the airport, I take a hire a motorcycle to get me into town. Mao (my newest buddy below) upsells me to 3 days of a mix of moto and tuk-tuk. Mao has just gotten the moto but still has no helmet for his first job is to buy myself a helmet...which i later give to Mao..along with a 'contribution' that may help him buy the tuk-tuk we borrow for Day Two.

The deal is...if he gets the tuk-tuk..he has to put a sign on it that says..."SPONSORED IN PART BY BRUCE FROM CANADA". Less than one hour after landing in Siem Reap..I have been to the ATM to get US $$, got my dorm room at the hostel and am at Angkor Wat...a place i visit every day for 3 days. Cool


After Siem Reap. I take a 2 day bus to visit Anna. I have done many hours of bussing in SE Asia. It is hard work. The little mini-van that does the last 8 hours crams 21 people into a space that might usually hold 12. Alwys fun. I rest a day in Cratie, which really has nothing going for it, even with the Mekong running alongside the town. You take the cell phone stores, hair salons and shoe stores and moto stores out of got nothin' left

We do get to a nice temple and the freshwater dolphins (left of photo frame with the boat). Notice the oil-can that the accolytes are supposedly praying to...cracks me up.

Banlung is a nice town. I get in a haircut, some swimming and a good 10 km walk...mucho locals to say hi to...friendly place. I get to see Anna for a few days and we catch up on things over food and a few drinks. She lives on a lake (pics below) that have little restaurants along the water's you can sit and watch the sunset while schmoozing. Very enjoyable.


This town is a lot of fun. The Tonle Sap and Mekong converge here, there is aerobics on the waterfront every evening, bustling markets and a decent nightlife along the Riverside. My enjoyment is tempered the fact that I am back in high heat/humidity land after a fair bit of time in northern Thailand, Laos, Cambodia. I find the heat difficult.

My newest buddy is Vana and he takes me around town, to the Killing Fields and the airport when i go. So nice to be able to buy a SIM card and cheap air/internet access when travelling. Allows me to contact locals, read my Gmail/Facebook anywhere and use Google Maps to find stuff when walking. Too bad North America is so far behind the times. In Laos I paid $4 for a week of NY, they want a pre-paid first month ($50) and a startup fee ($30)

The Killings Fields are tough. I love how they present the site and the information and am very glad that i went. The reality is still quite mind-boggling. About 1/3 of the population of 8 million killed from 1975-1979. I saw the movie when it came out years ago and look forward to seeing it again.

I don't do a lot of reading ahead of my travels, but i do a lot after. So easy to take in information once you have visited a place.

I tried to ignore Floating Markets, but with a day to fill in Bangkok, i end up at one that is very touristic. We only have ourselves to blame, showing up in all these poorer countries with our fistfuls of cash and lack of restraint.


First time in Bangkok, I still have lots of jam left and it is as crazy as you want to be. I enjoyed myself a lot. Now, I am on my way back to NYC and Halifax and definitely a tad burnt out. I get in my shopping, am on the river a few times and then it is a 30 hour (20 air, 10 ground) odyssey back to NY.

Peace out.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Year's and Mekong Slow Boat


Once again, I am shocked that New Year's was but 10 days ago. Moving towns and countries opens you to lots of new memories and experiences. Ran into Aaron today, last saw him in Pai, 21 days ago. Another lifetime! Took a bit to cipher who he was, since he, Slim, Dani and Phil had headed to southern Thailand, while I headed north...mostly to stay cooler...20C in the mornings and evenings is just such a pleasure even if the days climb into the 30's.

My stay in Chiang Mai was the longest in any hostel ever. It included Xmas and New Year's with some breaks for the trip to Pai and the 3 day jungle trek. I was trying to do some Wwoofing in Thailand, but had no luck with the few local farms, mostly setup as guest houses, not farms. Instead, I opted to do a few days volunteer work for the hostel's owner (Noom). The picture may not look like much but involved a fair bit of labour to redo the surface of the driveway and include some bamboo edging

Noom organizes a lot of social stuff for the hostel, and we hit a BBQ buffet (like big group meals in Korea) that could feed at least 500-600 people. Amazing. For New Year's, there was a gift exchange, then dinner at a restaurant and then downtown for the midnight fireworks along the canal. With all the people linings the canals and the fire kites in the hundreds and about 40 minutes of ongoing planned and locally set off really was a magnificent sight and a cool memory


In order to keep the cool mornings, decided to stay north and head to Laos. This involved a bus to the border, night over, then a morning spent getting across the Mekong River and dealing with the hassles of a land border. It was mild chaos all around. The best part was the list of rules of things not to do, including no sleeping with Laos women...unless you are married to them...the usual possible death sentence for drug use...blah blah blah. Too funny...altho friends did get nailed with some consumables in a Laos town and paid a heft $600 US to get their passports back. Not funny.

The long boat was a lot of fun, the scenery gorgeous. Lots of little villages along the way. At times, low mountains on both sides, speedboats zipping by at a furious rate...the drivers with serious helmets, the passengers...maybe helmets, maybe not.

The first nite, we do a stopover in a little built up village (Pak Bang) and find some great food and the one and only late night bar. The boat finishes in Luang Prabang...which is a crossover of Pai and Chiang Mai (lots of ex-pats and a very busy riverside restaurant and bar scene.


I enjoyed Luang Prabang a lot. It is on a nice part of the Mekong and I like towns that the river plays a major part in (not true for Vientiane, the capital, where I am right now). There was a great night market that had a funky food street with big buffet tables...$1 to fill a plate..same same for a big BeerLao. There were some cool bars including the very chill Utopia.

Notice the kids playing in the boat below. Parents are up the hill about 50 meters, no helmets, no life jackets..just playing in their 'yard'.

The sunset pic is from the temple that dominates the center of town (Chomsi) and is a big hit every night.

You meet a lot of people travelling (hostels, boat tours, jungle treks, long-run buses, bars, etc). While this makes for a very social SE Asia, with the cheap prices, warm weather and tons of backpackers...this means a lot more partying. I will have to go a a diet and exercise regime as soon as I get back (likely before Super Bowl).

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Singapore, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pai

WHAT THE??? Have been a tad too busy the past few weeks. Now in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand and going to take a few days to rest , both mentally and physically. Did NOT go out last night and went for a run early this morning, trying to reset my clock a little. The old city of Chiang Mai is surrounded by and old wall and canal that makes for an 8 km run. It is hot here during the day, but the humidity is low and the mornings, evenings are cool (ie: no A/C running in the hostel dorms, which makes me happy...hate A/C, would rather be hot).

I am here because Indonesia got to effing hot/humid for me. Thought i was doing OK after 3 weeks, but after a month, I was starting to crack up. Was looking online for cheap flights north, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan....settled on northern Thailand and it has been a real treat.


You never know when you will like a big city. Al ot of it depends on what you were doing in the week or so before. After scurrying out of Bali with my tail between my legs, it was a lot of fun to be in a big, modern city. A tad pricey till you find the local food-markets, but English Premier soccer on in every bar, lots of night markets and great food. Not to mention hot showers, sit-down loos and fast internet.

I was in a good hostel (5footway on Pagoda st in Chinatown), hit a few museums, learned the subway system well, made it to the world-class zoo (open-concept, very few fences/cages/pacing) and botanical gardens and generally enjoyed myself.


In order to move around SouthEast Asia, you will end up in big, hot cities. Was pleasantly surprised by Bangkok. I fly home out of there in February and am looking forward to going back. Was in a great hostel (WE Bangkok off Silom Rd). What makes this city for me is the river (Chao Phraya) and all the traffic and cheap ferries on it. There is also a light rail system, so you can get about pretty good. Taxis are dirt cheap but the traffic snarl is deadly. I do a lot of walking.

The hostel has a front porch, right on the street where everyone hangs out for a beer after a day of sight-seeing (Wat Arun, Gold Buddah, Reclining Buddah, KhaoSan Rd). Next thing you know, you are off for some excellent street food or Soi Cowboy ping-pong shows or Thai kick-boxing or the bars on KhaoSan Rd. It is a busy town.

I take a Thai cooking class because the food here is so amazing. It was a lot of fun and the food I made turned out way better than usual. Can't wait to try and duplicate some of the dishes back in Canada.


I was so happy to get to Chiang Mai, as the the temperature in the mornings and evenings is high teens, low 20's. I am so happy. You get up here in northern Thailand and everyone says that you MUST go to Pai, which i do and have a lot of fun. I hook up with a 'croo of Brits (Slim, Aaron, Danielle, Phil) and an Aussie (Claire) who have been a group for a few countries/months.

We party for 2 days and then the rest of the group splits up for a week or so. We consume whatever Pai has to offer. There are hundreds of ex-pats in this town, just chilling out and enjoying the very relaxed vibe in this special place. Even the street-hawkers are chill which is a pleasant break.

CHIANG MAI - Jungle Trek

I have been using Chiang Mai as a base for the last week or so, with a few days spent in Pai and another few on a jungle trek. There is enough stuff to do here (lions, elephants, hill-tribes, long-neck tribes, white-water rafting, ziplining) I did a 3 day jungle trek that included most of this and cost a whopping $60 that covered food, guides, accommodations. The expensive part is the nightlife. Beer costs about $1-$2 and there are mucho bars and live music in this town. Easy to get caught up in all the hoopla.

CHIANG MAI - Christmas

Christmas Eve was a tad rowdy. Noom put on a big BBQ and then we all headed downtown for some bar-hopping and live music. It was a late night out, but dovetailed nicely into Christmas Day afternoon at a local lake.

I got to try Dancing Shrimp (the pic up above, movie below) Up to you to figure out why the dish is called that.

Bruce eats Dancing Shrimp - Chiang Mai