The Bartender – Kanchanaburi, Thailand

I’m in Burlington, Vermont. In a couple of days, a very close friend of mine gets married to a lovely girl. I approve, not that it should matter if I didn’t.

Anyway, that’s completely irrelevent to this post. Before landing in New York City, I spent a month back in Thailand, a land previously very close to my heart (7 months, straight out of high school, will do that to a person). There have been other returns to Thailand, and specifically Bangkok, where I was based in 2006. However I found this trip to leave a different impression. Things changed, for the country, sure, but mostly in myself. My values and beliefs no longer seem compatible with the lifestyle found in Bangkok, Thailand. Also relatively irrelevant to this post.

Now, relevantly. I had to get out of Bangkok. Bangkok had always been the one city I always claimed I could move back to in an instant, if I was offered a job there… but this visit proved completely different. I wasn’t enjoying my time there, I felt stagnant, and uninspired in the capital, so I left. I found myself in Kanchanaburi and made some friends. One of whom was Jeejee, the bartender at one of the 10 baht shot bars. 10 baht is roughly 30 cents. We spoke, became friends, and through her and the other friends I made, I broke my 2 weeks of sobriety at that same 10 baht bar. The bargain was too good to refuse. And she and her bar made a nice subject to shoot.

So, this is Jeejee.

 

I’ve had a few beers tonight. It’s a reunion of old friends, deal with it.

Battling Travel Burnout in Bangkok

“If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please” – Epictetus.

I’m here in Bangkok, Thailand. A city I have, many times, said I could gladly move back to in a heartbeat. But, this time it’s different. There’s a multitude of possible explanations for this feeling, but regardless of the reason, the end-product is the same. I’m uninspired, unenergetic, and uninterested. I know there’s a multitude of interesting destinations within easy reach, yet I simply don’t have the desire to go.

I know I’m not the only long-term traveller who has experienced this feeling. I also know that most of my family and friends won’t understand this, and certainly won’t sypathise. They would all be of the opinion that: I’m travelling, and have been. virtually carefree, for the last 2 years, while they have been back home, working and what-not, so what right do I have to feel flat about it? In truth, the only people who could truly relate to this concept of travel burnout are those who have done something similar. There’s stories scattered around the internet, touching on this issue, but they’re all self-help articles on “How To Avoid Travel Burnout” and similar, all stating basically the same obvious tips.

I have my suspicions on what has caused this fatigue. The obvious cause is that I have been doing this for 2 years. That’s 2 years of consistent exposure to interesting situations, cool people, and beautiful sights. It takes a lot to take my breath away now. Extended long term travel has made me a little jaded, and I think I need to either revitalise that interest, or take a break and find a real routine for a while. My visit home no doubt had a role in this also. I was reminded of the comforts of family, and my brother, and the prospect of having a job to go to, and actually making some money, the chance to get back in shape, learn boxing, set up a makeshift photo studio. I want to put time into really developing my photography, and that would be easier if I was stationary. Don’t get me wrong, I would probably get over the stagnancy after 6 months or so, then be on the road again, with a fresh, open mind once more.

More immediately, after spending the last 6 months in Kenya, and exploring snippets of East Africa, Thailand is lacking impact. In a few ways, it feels like a G-rated version of East Africa (apart from the sex tourism). Flame me all you want for this comment, but this is my opinion. After East Africa, Thailand, specifically Bangkok is just too easy, there’s too much technology, too little to get me out of my comfort zone, too familiar even, considering the cumulative total of 9 months I have spent here, over 3 separate trips. But these are just excuses to justify this mood.

It seems contradictory then, that I’m very eager to get to the U.S.A. But I’m excited for my birthday in New York City. I’m excited for my mate’s wedding in Vermont. I’m excited, yet skeptical, about my required $17/day budget, but I’m excited for my intended hitch-hiking  trip across the country from New York, to Big Sur, CA, where I will be meeting up Wawi, the girl most responsible for Kenya having such an impact on me. I’m very excited for that.

But that’s the future, and this is now. I feel I should do something drastic, to really change it up, and shock myself out of this burnout state. Maybe I’ll leave behind the laptop, and go to Songkhla Buri (on the border with Myanmar) for a week, to disconnect from everything. Maybe no internet or phone will let me just experience the moment, and appreciate it. Or maybe I just go laze around an island.

I wonder if this has anything to do with my self-imposed alcohol ban. Coming up on 7 days without a drink now…

The Road So Far. Part 1.

Styled in the form of a montage of events and photos of the travels thus far, I have decided it necessary to briefly recount the previous 8 months of my travels. Much like the “Previously on:” montage employed by certain TV series (think Heroes, or Supernatural). So, let’s see how it goes.Previously: I graduated uni in June 2010. B. of Science (Biological Science). Useful huh. To celebrate, I went to New Zealand for a 18 day snowboarding trip.

Shameless Self-Promotion. Remarks, Queenstown. Taken by my lil brother

Franz Josef Glacier, South Island, NZ

After a brief return to Australia to swap the snowboard bag for the backpack, I left for Kuala Lumpur, in the company of a good mate, Matt, who was heading to Spain for a teaching job. After 2 consecutive overnight trains, I was in Bangkok, and parted ways with Dave, another mate I met up with in KL. After an admitted excess of eating and drinking over the weekend, to celebrate my birthday (courtesy of an old friend from my Thailand teaching days in ’06), I pushed on through Thailand to Cambodia. My goal: Saigon, Vietnam.

Sneaker Pimps. Chinatown market, KL. Minolta SRT-100b, Fuji 400

Sihanoukville saw me continually forget to apply sunscreen. Kampot was quiet, with apparently world-quality pepper, but allowed an opportunity to explore the Bokor Hill Station (definately worth exploring if you get the chance). Unfortunately, Bokor also delivered a heavy blow to my camera gear, after a misplaced step ended with both film and digital landing in almost 2 inches of dirty mossy water. In hindsight, the heavy winds at the Mui Ne sand dunes weren’t overly helpful either.

Inside the Hotel, Bokor Hill Station

After that unfortunate event, it was through Phnom Penh, then along an alternate border crossing into the Mekong, recommended by a British fellow I met leaving Sihanoukville. He spoke of a short bus trip, followed relaxing boat ride down the river to the Vietnamese border, and onward to Chau Doc.

The reality was a short-ish bus ride (despite a late start, thanks to the night before) ending in a departure from the bus as the only white person in site at the “port”, then an assurance that no more boats were running that late in the day (It was lunch time). Solution? A 60 minute moto  taxi to the border, through dirt roads under HEAVY construction, past villages and villagers that made it obvious I wasn’t taking the same path as the other tourists who planned this route (and no doubt succeeded in taking the boat). After stamping through the border, I found out that apparently, no busses ran from there to Chau Doc, especially at 4pm. Another 45 minute moto taxi saw my arrival at a seedy looking hotel. Sure, it wasn’t the relaxing boat ride I was expecting, but when you are riding on the back of a little scooter along horrible dirt roads in a remote corner of Cambodia, with your backpack balanced between the drivers legs, it’s actually damn fun.

Still, it was nice to be in Vietnam. Can Tho.

After a brief stint through the Mekong, I had arrived in Ho Chi Minh City. It was time for my big plan to start. The one I was looking forward most to. The one which my father and brother were both quick to dismiss as foolish, or a deathwish, or… well, basically, they weren’t overly supportive, or confident in my abilities.

I bought a motorbike. A beautiful motorbike. A CHEAP motorbike. A Minsk, 125, single piston. Matt black. Built in Belarus. Nothing like a communist bike, to ride through a communist country (Never mind the climate difference. Yes, she did overheat)

No speedo, no tacko, no fuel gauge (pfft),

No keystart

No blinkers (Noone uses them anyway, I was assured)

No horn. This one worried me.

The kickstart had snapped off, and been welded back on.

The headlight was good for about 10 metres.

Svetlana. My holiday romance

I named her Svetlana. She was my baby. She smoked and drank like a Russian, that much was true. She was temperamental, she took a lot to get started, she was oily. The truth is, I have never before, and never since, felt as free as I did when I was on top of her.

Svetlana and I rode through Vietnam, from HCMC to Hanoi, over the period of about 3 weeks. The most amazing ride, for me, was heading from Buon Ma Thout to Nha Trang. There was a solid 40km section of windy mountain descent, full of beautifully smooth roads, no traffic, and amazing corners, along with a beautiful view. It was so good, I rode back up there two days later. Yes, she had a handful of mechanical issues during our time together. The electric box died, but I had a spare. During one of the storms I rode through, water got through her air filter to the carby, and fouled the petrol. She overheated a few times. She “ran out” of petrol. Well, she didn’t “Run Out”, she just started to run low, but in the central highlands, the hills pushed the petrol to the front/back of the tank… away from the petrol hose, so that litre of petrol still remaining didn’t matter. She didn’t run empty though. I’m not that careless.

Hoi An Old Town. Minolta SRT-100b, Fuji 400

For anyone wondering, I bought her from a man named Kevin Raven, who has a bit of a business selling bikes to people like me, and he operates out of HCMC. I personally had a great experience dealing with him, and he was extremely helpful. He was in touch a few times to see how the trip was going and everything. Unfortunately, I can’t find his contact details anymore, so I can’t pass them on.  But if you are curious about doing a similar trip, stay away from Hwy 1. Get into the hills, past Dalat, along the Ho Chi Minh Highway. Seriously the most amazing roads to ride. Hwy 1 has nothing on them. Except the Hai Van Pass. I will accept you riding Hoi An to Hue for the Hai Van Pass.

Unfortunately, I recognised that my relationship with Svet was purely a holiday romance. I had fantasized about shipping her back to Australia, and having a life together, but I realised it was foolish. So, after leaving it too late to sell her on for a reasonable price, I left her with an orphanage on the outskirts of Hanoi. I hope she was looked after.

Hai Van Pass, Vietnam. The boring part. I wasn't stopping for photos on the good part.

After Hanoi (And a brief sortie to Halong Bay, following the surprise arrival of my father in Hanoi), I flew to BKK, then was straight on an overnight train to Malaysia. After a plate of Pad Ka Pow. I love Pad Ka Pow.

So ended the South East Asia leg of my trip. From there, I had to return to Australia for what was, at the time, an important Med School interview, then I was back off, destination London.