When we left the UK I had planned the first six months of our travels. We knew where we were going and when. I had most of the accommodation booked and felt really relaxed and excited about the places we were headed to (Canada, North America, South America and Australia). We wanted to spend most of the second half of our trip in Asia. I’ve travelled to Asia quite a few times, mostly with work but also on several holidays with Keith when we first met. What I had never done was really ‘travelled’. My experiences had been largely the same; Met at the airport, driven to a hotel and either looked after by a colleague or client when on business, or choosing to hang out in fairly sanitised and ‘easy’ places (ie those that felt quite like home) when on holiday. So when I began to plan our time in Asia, the truth is that whilst I was absolutely sure I wanted to explore this part of the world with the kids, at the same time I remember feeling a little uneasy and nervous.
I have recently tried to return to what was in my mind’s-eye at that time, to remember what I was uneasy about. I think it was a combination of things; I was nervous about the intense heat, getting sick, struggling to find plenty of food that we’d all enjoy, the fact that we are on a budget, so accommodation being a bit rubbish, the girls being kidnapped (yep I distinctly remember worrying about that!?!) and just that it might be, well…all a bit hard.
In October, two months into our travels, we altered our plans. It was after a particularly crap couple of days in Brazil, when I was really questioning if I was cut out for this travelling lark, also partly in response to my uneasy feelings and the fact that at the time Lola had been feeling homesick and struggling to settle. Keith and I decided that four months in Asia at the end of our year might be a too long and we shortened it by six weeks, replacing it with some ‘decompression time’ in Ibiza (which is a bit like a second home for us), before returning home in July.
This new plan also ticked an important box for me, as it would enable us to immerse ourselves in Spanish and take some lessons. We involved Lola in creating this new plan and almost as soon as we’d made the necessary changes to our flights something shifted in her, she relaxed and it felt right for everyone. I don’t regret our change of plan, however, the last couple of months in South East Asia has left me wanting so much more and has been completely different to I imagined.
We arrived in Singapore in early March and spent the weekend with some of my colleagues. We have since travelled to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia (all of which we’d never been to before) and for the last four weeks we’ve been in Thailand. I have absolutely loved it all! These two months have felt as though we are really ‘travelling’. We have moved from place to place, learning about new cultures and languages, visiting historical, religious & scenic sites, taking cookery classes, art classes, yoga classes, having tons of massages and enjoying all that these fabulous countries have to offer by way of hospitality, food, landscapes, wildlife, adventure and transport!
I know it’s a cliché but every single place we’ve visited, we’ve been welcomed with huge smiles and treated as honoured guests. I was nervous about our schedule, as we were cramming a lot in but it’s been absolutely fine. Getting from A to B is so easy. We’ve taken short flights to move from country to country, including some tiny planes with airlines I’ve never heard of, but at £35 a flight and being the fastest mode of travel, it has made the most sense for us. Some of the best fun we’ve had has been travelling in the variety of tuk tuks, pick up trucks, cyclos and other random vehicles, the like of which I never properly experienced on my previous travels.
We’ve stayed in a couple of dives and some beautiful places. It has been hot and humid but we’ve all adjusted. (Here in Chiang Mai, the temperature has reached 39 degrees and whilst it is hot – we are all coping fine.) We have eaten until we can’t eat any more and the girls have made Keith and I grin with delight when we watch them tucking into street food, a spicy curry, or a pad thai, asking for chopsticks in place of the forks they’ve been given or just tucking into a huge bowl of salad (they never did that before we left!) Lola even tried one of the local ‘snacks’ at the night market the other evening…a fried cricket.
The absolute highlights for me have been Luang Prabang in Laos (somewhere I’d barely heard of before we left), Siem Reap in Cambodia for the opportunity to wander through the incredible Angkor temples, Krabi in Thailand with its stunning island scenery and I think now topping the list – Chiang Mai – Thailand’s second city and northern capital which has so much to offer. The way we are travelling has offered us the opportunity to really feel like we’re experiencing each country. What I mean is, I’ve felt the difference between Vietnam and Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. We’ve noticed some of the differences in culture and as I look back now, I have a different sensual memory of each place.
We’re wandering through the streets on foot and mostly staying in small guest-houses with just a few members of staff, who we get to know. The room we had in Luang Prabang opened up onto the street – this meant sitting outside on a chair, I could watch as Willow played in the street with the chickens from across the road and chatted to the young Laos teenagers who were hanging around outside the English Language school next door. It was brilliant.
We’re eating in local restaurants, rather than sticking to those with western looking menus (although when we’ve fancied a European coffee, pizza or in Krabi – amazing steak, we’ve been easily able to find those too). In my previous travels to Asia, I don’t think I consciously noticed the differences between each country I was in. I don’t remember visiting many cultural sites or eating in local restaurants. I find myself feeling a bit sad about the missed opportunities in my ‘pre-family/adult-only’ holidays, sleep walking through different countries with my senses mostly dulled, but I guess now is my time and I think the way we will travel in the future will never be the same as before.
We arrived in South East Asia seven weeks ago today and it has flown by. I am already dreaming of return trips to my favourite places (night-market shopping trip to Luang Prabang or elephants and yoga in Chiang Mai anyone?) as well as forming a long list of new places I want to visit. We leave next week for Nepal, India and Sri Lanka – no doubt very different again and I can’t wait.