As I write this, we are somewhere between Mae Sai and Chiang Mai, having just renewed our Thai visas at the Burmese border again. This time we took the “Green Bus” in much more comfort than the minivan two weeks ago, and without the enforced shopping stops. Wasting another day with a visa run when we have only 5 days left before we fly home to the U.S. seems a bit silly, but it saves us over $100 in overstay fines. At least this time we had long enough to sit down and have some tea-leaf salad for lunch.
It’s almost hard to believe that we left home 80 days ago. Time being relative, it feels both forever ago that we were relaxing in our daybed on Gili Air, and just recently that we took a longtail boat through a cave in Kong Lor. Our feet have touched the ground on 6 countries, and we have slept in 18 towns. We’ve seen and missed so much, barely scratching the surface of these places we’ve visited. One thing is for sure – we will be coming back to Southeast Asia.
With our trip winding down, knowing that a week from now we will have traded hot and humid for the cold and dry of New York in winter, I find myself reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future. I already know some of the things that I will miss when we leave, such as;
- Street food – The U.S. doesn’t know what it’s missing. There is so much more that could exist than hot dog carts and taco trucks. Whether koay teow in Penang, khao soi in Chiang Mai, or papaya salad in Thakhek, I will miss the plethora of food that can be found at simple street stalls.
- Freedom – For a country founded on the concept of freedom, the U.S. feels restrictive in some ways, going out of its way to protect people against themselves. Street food, open-back songtheaws, launching flaming paper lanterns into the sky, and playing with tigers are all things that one regulation or another wouldn’t allow.
- Cheap – Airfares aside, it is a financial win to be here over living in San Francisco where monthly expenses are in excess of $2000. Our average night’s lodging has been about $9. A cheap meal is less than $3, a splurge less than $20. We can rent a motorbike for $5/day, and a hired trip across town costs between $2 and $10.
- Unbridled Exploration – Every day offers an opportunity to experience a new facet of a foreign land, to connect with people who speak a foreign tongue, and to solve simple problems in entirely foreign contexts. Of course, one can discover new things in their own backyard as well, and therein lies the challenge when returning home with a fresh perspective.
For all of the excitement found in exploring new places, meeting fellow travelers, and appreciating a different way of living, there is plenty to look forward to in returning home;
- Family and friends – Unlike adventurers of even the recent past, we have managed to stay in contact with those we care about through Email, Facebook, Twitter, and Skype. In some sense, we have brought everyone along with us, which has helped sustain us during hard days. However, nothing virtual can replace hugs and laughter shared together.
- Home – By the time we return to Oakland just before New Years, it will have been four and a half months since we slept in our own bed with our three cats vying for space around us. It will also be nice to have a larger clothing selection than 4 pairs of underwear, 2 pairs of shorts, and 4 shirts.
- Cooking – Cheap street food has been great, but we miss going to the market and making our own food. Thankfully, we now have some new favorite dishes to try and recreate.
They say that all good things must come to an end. In so doing, they retain their specialness, set apart from the mundane and ordinary. Like night and day or good and evil, the normal and the exceptional serve to counterbalance one another, highlighting the inherent value of both.
When you travel, what differences do you appreciate? What comforts of home do you look forward to returning to?