End of Backpacking

Aug 2013 — Deep skies are ceiling Paris, merry tourists from around the world are discovering the Europe’s top holiday destination. Looking people sunbathing at the parks of Louvre and river banks of Seine, its hard to remember to the chilling and muddy weathers of my previous visit in Dec 2011. Back then I was stopping while on transit to India, little knowing what was still ahead. Now am having similar stopover here, for a second journey to Thailand.

My three year long university of life is over now, and backpack will be used as a storage in the basement instead lugging stuff around. In a few weeks am beginning to work in Chiangmai, North Thailand, and live with girl am very fond of. The journey has teach me a lot about world, people, myself. It has given time to reflect past occurrences of life. Things that seemed to be so important before the journey, does so little today. Resignation from egoistic aspirations and material things, over simple (and cheesy) 🙂 things in life that are the best. Love, friendship, spontaneous smile on strangers face, health, funny joke, Tom Yam soup, good book… Am humble of having had the opportunity: 10 month round the world trip, winter in India and then another in Southeast Asia + many places in between. It hasn’t been continuous fireworks and “a blast”, but often rough road as well. Moments of loneliness. Desperation of arriving late to some mega city without any idea where to head next. Helplessness of watching relatives getting older and weaker. Nagging feeling how my savings will outlast the travel. I was never so seriously ill or had accident that would have required visit to doctor. Never threatened with violence anywhere, but was robbed once while sleeping (lost old travel computer and phone). My credit card was duplicated once and was used to steal little money. All in all, with these dues I paid, many things could have gone much worse so have to be thankful.

Notre Dame.

Am not resigning my little blog though, there are still plenty of unedited photos and stories to be added. And who knows, perhaps journey can continue in some form, some day. One thing that hasn’t changed (read: still haven’t learned anything). Just like last time, am lugging hefty SLR + lenses in the long boulevards of Paris. Pain in my shoulders has been a true French deja vu! @ Paris

Aug 2013 — Rain season is washing over Thailand, and many Thai’s are worried if rivers stay inside their normal channels. Massive floods two years ago halted factories in Bangkok, and are still in good memory. My travel bags are unpacked and things sorted out now. Its hard to comprehend not having to wake up anymore in the middle of the night, and lug all my worldly possessions on my back to some train station or bus terminal… looking after bullying stray dogs or drunks on the way. But with all its hurdles, backpacking can be so addictive experience that some fell for it rest of their lives. My trip has had permanent effect on me. Even if not going on road anymore, will be a backpacker by heart forever. @ Chiangmai


Third Christmas on Road

Two years ago I was freezing in Osaka Japan. Year ago awing the magnificent Taj Mahal in Agra India and now wandering the old city of Chiang Mai, North Thailand.

December 2010 — Merry Christmas from Osaka, Japan!

Heavy rain clouds are swaying over city as am doing my first wanderings near hotel in Tennoji area. Weather in coast has been little warmer than in Kyoto. Train took about an hour, all the way through urban sea of buildings, roads, bridges etc. The second most populated metropolitan area of Japan.

Was bit surprised how well one can manage with English here, compared what the reputation is (hard). All larger street names and metro lines are small printed in English, as well as restaurant menus, adds, slogans, brands.. People often speak least word or two. European like division younger generations being more fluent speakers than older ones does not seem to exist.

Watching people at street, shops etc. people feel a bit reserved, compared to, say, spontaneous and always laughing Africans. Its hard to get smiles back on the street. But once contact is made, and “ice broken”, Japanese do not hide their curiosity. And after knowing even better, not their feelings either. Code of hospitality and manners are also quite unique and bit funny for stranger. When passing by street construction for instance, there is usually one worker, an older man in his blue working clothes and a helmet, guiding pedestrians very politely, nodding, smiling and waving to the safe passage. Even if there is no car coming either direction! @ Osaka

December 2011 — Merry Christmas from Agra! Am stucked, it seems, to city of Taj Mahal. Trains are packed this time of year, and trying get next train to Mumbai, am only on waiting list at number 26th. Indian railway booking on small stations is ordeal of unique kind. Usually booking window has half circle of travel agent guys overtaking everybody else, coming and going, talking each other and phone, arguing and yelling with the booking officer behind the window. Behind this half circle is normal queue of other people, hoping some miracle of getting their turn with ticket buying. To avoid the hassle, one can buy tickets in advance from big stations like Delhi. Or pay some extra (though not what they ask at first) for travel agent to buy ticket either from net or the station. Takes bit of practice, but after a while, using trains in India is no issue at all.

Went to see today Taj Mahal. What a breath taking sight! Of course not only foreign travelers want to see Taj, but Indians from all around the big country as well. Inside the mausoleum where Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal are resting, queues and rushing was just crazy. But marble jewel of Taj Mahal still took breath away from this visitor! I tried to schedule visit at sunset for the best light, and it worked. Cloudless evening sky was giving beautiful orange and purple hues to white marbled buildings. That was the Christmas this year for me. Wonder how it will be in 2012, hopefully with friends and family, with nice ham and other Christmas delicacies. @ Agra

December 2012 — Missing traditional Christmas foods and seeing relatives, but other than that not much. Definitely not the weather! My Thai visa is almost over, so walked to bus station and bought ticket to Laos border. Tomorrow, not a single regular bus. So am going 26th and visa ends 27th. Bus should arrive to border little before it closes at afternoon, so lets see what happens. Busses can go all the way to Luang Prabang, but decided to be bit adventurous and take a boat on Mekong river from border to city, slow one, two days on river. Thats the plan at least!

Been enjoying my time here in Chiang Mai, visiting water falls, parks on the hills covered by lush forests and saw also fascinating old ruins of Wiang Kum Kam where Lanna king first found the capital for his kingdom, some 800 years ago. Location wasn’t very very good one. After 15 years from of its founding, flooding river buried it to thick mud. So city was rebuilt to current place. Pretty expensive and laborious trial and error for ancient city planners! What todo this Christmas here? Probably go see new Hobbit movie with a friend. Christmas dinner will be big bowl of steaming hot delicious Thai pork noodle soup, very spicy! Merry Christmas! @ Chiang Mai

Backpacker Ghettos or Meccas

Its either, depending your preferences. I love them! Three best ones I have visited are Big Bazaar Road in New Delhi, Khao San Road in Bangkok and Thamel in Kathmandu. My first visit was in the last one, arrived Kathmandu at night and got taxi to hostel through sleeping, dark city at early morning hours. Next day after sleeping jet-lag off, I walked into a noisy chaos of people, animals, scooters, cars all blended to one living mass on narrow and dirty roads. I got complete culture shock, never ever experienced anything like that! Honestly felt like running back in, hide from it!

While Thamel is whole area of old town, two others are streets, spreading to side streets and neighborhood. All have multitude of street shops, hawkers of varying degree of pushiness and skills of convincing you buy their product. Hostels are plenty but don’t expect to find Hilton and likes from among them! Cockroaches, rats and other funny pets are part of the bunch. So how can anyone willingly stay in such places, like them? For me its the Asian atmosphere, mix of cultures and races, total world apartness from sterile and over planned West, multitude of photo opportunities. Most interesting people, other backpackers you can find from there. All the life and creatures passing in front of your very eyes, its mind-bogling! Thats why. @ Bangkok.