We’re now three months into our journey and about to leave Chiang Mai, our home for the past eight weeks, so I thought I’d put down in words my thoughts on our decision to sell everything and leave everyone behind to embark on this crazy nomadic adventure.
It hasn’t been all plain sailing, and if the truth be told, there’s been a few times when I’ve wanted to book the next flight home. Especially during our tumultuous volunteering experience in Cambodia. After all, who wouldn’t want to come home when everyone at the shared accommodation is going down with food poisoning and you get bitten by centipedes in the middle of the night? But two things kept me going.
Fear of failure
The first, and the lesser of the two, was I didn’t want to fail so horribly and publicly. There, I admit it, I do care what people think, even if it is only a tiny minuscule of caring at best. Imagine declaring to everyone you’re off on this big adventure for a few years, only to return a month or so later because you couldn’t get over the first hurdle. How pathetic would that have been?
Secondly, and far more importantly than my dented pride, is I know there is a big wide world out there and there’s so much to learn and experience. In just three months we’ve travelled virtually the length of Vietnam only to realise it’s slightly overrated; volunteered in Cambodia teaching English; visited the incredible Temples of Angkor; bumped into good friends by chance on the hectic streets of Bangkok; lived in beautiful Chiang Mai and taught English (for real this time) at various schools around the city; and learnt about the disgusting treatment of the Longneck villagers and domesticated riding elephants here in Thailand. Not a bad start really, and if we keep up this pace for a few years we’ll return home with a whole new perspective on the world and a lifetime worth of stories to tell.
I don’t know if it’s brought Sarah, Jack and I any closer, we were as close as you can be before we left anyway. Those kinds of things are hard to measure, but the difficulties of this kind of travel certainly haven’t torn us apart. I’ve been frustrated at times, an area of my personality I really need to work on, and we’ve had a few mild arguments. But we both get over them pretty quickly and move on, usually by me trying to avoid talking about why we were arguing while Sarah wants to dissect the cause of the issue and hug it out. After all, men are from Mars and women are from Venus, right?
Seeing Jack happy makes all the difference
However, the clear highlight for me (despite citing two others in the highlights section below), and Sarah will say the same thing I’m sure, is seeing Jack experience everything he has done already. He’s eaten amazing south-east Asian street food on a daily basis, had a centipede crawl through his hair in bed in Cambodia, kayaked on Halong Bay, thrown the mother of all hissy fits on the steps of Angkor Wat to the amusement of thousands of tourists (and on the streets of Hanoi as well), spent his second birthday at Chiang Mai Zoo, been hugged and kissed and fawned over by every Asian who has come his way, had his hair cut by a (gorgeous) transgender hairdresser, the list goes on. How many other two-year-olds have a CV like that? If he could formulate full sentences he’d probably say his highlight was buying a 5THB ($AU0.17) bag of pellets and feeding the birds at Nong Buak Hat Park here in Chiang Mai’s Old Town. He’s figured out if you throw food the birds will come, then he can run after them with a massive smile on his face. Or riding the yellow swing he thinks is his in the same park. That sort of stuff is priceless.
So what have I learnt about myself since leaving home? Not much really if I’m going to be honest, but I have had a few things reaffirmed. I get frustrated too easily, and that’s not a great trait to have when you’re visiting countries who don’t speak the same language, don’t enjoy the same freedoms, don’t have the same kind of wealth (i.e. health care, infrastructure, education, etc.), and can’t bloody drive to save themselves! I must give myself a small pat on the back though, my road rage is almost a thing of the past now. It has to be really, if I’d given a verbal serve to every idiot on the road here in Chiang Mai I’d have had an aneurysm by now. Seriously people, when the lights turn red, you don’t still have a 2-3 second window to get through the intersection! Same goes for those waiting for the lights to turn green, you don’t get to go 2-3 seconds before the little green light appears. Just a thought, especially when you’re riding scooters, probably without a helmet, and not modern cars with airbags all over the place.
The next challenges
Next stop for us is India, and this will be another test of my ability to keep my frustrations under control, probably more so than anywhere else I’ve been so far. We’re only there for two weeks, so it’s back to being a crazy tourist buzzing about like the Roadrunner, before heading to Abu Dhabi to settle down again for a few months if we can find a bit of work (if you have any contacts there feel free to let us know in the comments section below). I must admit I’m looking forward to getting to the UAE. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in Asia, and will no doubt return many times over the ensuing years, but I’m in need of a few creature comforts I’m accustomed to in Australia like watching cable TV in English (especially sport from home), footpaths that are fit for walking on, and home cooked meals. On the flip side life is about to get a lot more expensive. Luckily Sarah has a friend who we’ll be staying with for a while in Abu Dhabi until we get on our feet. But we need to find full-time jobs quickly otherwise we’ll be heading into Europe to find the work we’ll need to keep this adventure alive much earlier than we’d anticipated.
Here’s a couple of my highlights and lowlights from our trip so far…
Without a shadow of a doubt our day spent riding pushbikes around the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia. Despite the nightmare start with Jack having a meltdown right on the front steps of Angkor Wat (he was very tired), it was an amazing experience to be inside buildings overrun by nature of such historical significance. The most incredible part was the fact most of the time we were either by ourselves in the various temple ruins we visited, or three of only a handful of people. Even riding around the vast complex between the ruins was a joy as we rode for long periods without another vehicle in sight. An amazing day and I would return in a heartbeat.
Our eight week stay in Chiang Mai has been a real thrill for me. It’s been the first of hopefully many places where we stay for an extended period of time. This is the reason why we sold everything and went on this adventure. We want to get to know a place, get involved in the community and discover what makes it tick. What we’re trying to avoid, for the most part, is swooping into a destination like crazy people, visiting every tourist site we can in just a few days, before leaving and wondering whether we’d even been there. What we’ve discovered about Chiang Mai is how laid back life can be, how inexpensive life should be, and how there are more important things in life than owning the biggest house in the street.
The rubbish floating around in Halong Bay was a major disappointment. I may be a hard marker, but I was expecting more given it’s one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Perhaps I’d built it up into something unrealistic and so the reality was always going to let me down. But as Sarah, Jack and I kayaked around Halong Bay, the amount of rubbish thrown into the water by the people living in the floating villages in the bays of some of the islands was, to put it mildly, fucking disgusting. I don’t know if the people simply don’t care enough, or the rubbish collection system is inadequate, or whatever the problem might be, but have some pride in your home. After all, hundreds of thousands of tourists are visiting every year, so how about you make an effort!
Our first volunteering experience left a bitter taste in our mouths. While in Cambodia we wanted to give some of our time and effort, even for just a few weeks, to help out a charitable organisation in some way. We came across a group of schools just outside Siem Reap that needed English teachers to educate the children who attend. The children are from poor villages in the area, and through the generosity of volunteers and donations, don’t pay anything to go. When the guys who ran the organisation found out I was a primary school teacher many moons ago, they decided to lump me with the impossible task of creating the school curriculum in the 2-3 weeks we were going to stay. It takes qualified professionals a lot longer than that, especially when there are virtually no resources and the volunteers are backpackers with big hearts but no teaching qualifications or experience. But I accepted the challenge and got stuck in. Unfortunately we were isolated from the other volunteers as the main home didn’t have enough room for us, so we were billeted out to the school’s tuk tuk driver. In theory this was ok, but when your transport to and from the main home and the school would rather party than perform the duties he’s paid for, life becomes difficult when you’re also responsible for a two year old!
I think I’ll leave it there for now, until I stay up into the early hours of the morning in three months time to write my six-month review, but I will leave you with this. I had reservations about doing what we did – selling all of our possessions, quitting jobs, selling our tiny home-based business, taking Jack away from his grandparents during his early years, leaving friends and family behind, the list goes on. Even though it was my idea, which Sarah bought into right from the moment I raised the possibility, I still have my doubts about whether we did the right thing. They’re only small doubts, and 90% of me is absolutely positive we did the right thing. After all, when I return home I’ll be in my mid-forties probably, without a possession to my name apart from the contents of my backpack and a couple of boxes at my dad’s house. I also won’t have a job, and we’ll still have two mortgages to service where the rental income doesn’t cover the repayments. Scary thoughts, but maybe the 10% doubt nagging away in the back of my mind will be down to 5%, or 1%, or if I’m lucky, gone completely. Only time (and travel) will tell…