24.08.2012 15 °C
Sitting here at the kitchen table, the rain drizzling outside and dusk slowly falling. It's a world away from where we've been. It seems so quiet here compared to South East Asia. We've been home since Monday afternoon - that's a full four days - two of which I've spent at work.
When I last wrote we were on Koh Kood Island, a lovely little quiet (and I mean quiet) spot. From there we travelled on to Bangkok and stayed a couple of nights in a nice little hostel just off Sukhumvit. It was called Suk 11 and was right across the road from the hotel we stayed in at the beginning of our trip. We actually ate in the Suk 11 restaurant a couple of times back in June and on one occasion Caroline went in to check the hostel out. It's a busy spot but was perfect for us. They had the very hard to find six bed dorm room which we only came across a couple of times on our travels.
We spent the last couple of days in Bangkok out at the Chatchuchak Market. It's a ridiculuously busy spot with a vast array of market stalls. There truly is something for everyone at this market. You name it, you'll find it there - if you look hard enough that is. We also went to the MBK Market but it was a truly awful place, a discount shopping mall selling knock-off gooods of all varieties. It was that awful I had to buy myself a pair of Beats by Dre headphones for €6. They're most likely of very dubious origin but what do you expect for that price?
Arriving late Sunday night at the Suvarnabhumi Airport we headed for the British Airways check-in desk. We were due to fly Bangkok - Heathrow - Dublin but things don't always go quite as planned. They had overbooked the flight by 15 and were looking for volunteers to fly by an alternative route. In the end we volunteered and flew home with Thai Airways via Zurich to Dublin. We were suitably reimbursed by the nice BA check-in chap for our troubles and as it turns out Thai Air are really nice to fly with. It was a super flight to Zurich - Paddy slept for about seven hours and I drank a fair bit of their Rum and Cola and watched Cool Hand Luke. We tooled around Zurich airport for a couple of hours and were back in Dublin last Monday morning only twenty minutes later than originally planned. Alls well that ends well.
I mentioned the quiet already. We walked thorugh the Phoenix Park on Monday afternoon and I just couldn't get over how quiet things were. The amount of space and lack of noise was a world apart from most of the last 2 and a half months on the road. You get used to hearing roosters in the morning, dogs fighting with eachother, the sound of the insects in the trees, the lizards on the walls of your room, the frog underneath the house, boat engines, thunder, motorbikes, loud music, drunk backpackers, the sound of your children snoring, the waves lapping on the shore - there's always something going on. When we walked back into the house on Monday it was all a bit of a dream. We were back. No two ways about it - we're back. Ireland is not Laos. It is not Cambodia. It is quiet.
It's really like we never left. After weeks of living from a bag, ordering food to eat, paying someone to do the laundry or transporting us places - it all stops. Everything reverts back to the way it was all too suddenly. On Tuesday morning the first thing I did was put fuel in the car and go to the supermarket. From Bangkok to the banal in two days. Its a difficult feeling to explain. I know that I'm glad to be home and that the rest of the family are also glad to be back - but its not easy to elucidate exactly what I'm feeling on my return.
It's all a bit too recent to get nostalgic about so maybe it would be better for me to give a quick overview of each country to remind myself what I think I might be missing
Thailand - the bookend to the start and end of our journey. Bangkok is wonderful and weird in equal measures. Chaing Mai was a really nice place and Chaing Rai was a very pleasant surprise. Really sorry we missed out on the Black Temple when we were there. Down south I was really impressed with Trat. It's a lovely little town with an amazing food market and some fine shophouses in the couple of streets named the Old City. Koh Kood Island was a really nice place to spend the penultimate stop on our journey. It was very much low-season there but I think I prefer it that way. It was a great place to chill out for a while.
Laos - From top to bottom its a wonderful country. We hit gold at our first Laos destination - Luang Nam Tha was a brilliant start to the Laos chapter. Really nice guesthouse (Zuela) , nice bunch of travellers, super scenery - it has it all. From there we went up to Phongsali - a bit of a kip in a wonderful setting. Spectacular scenery and views of China and Vietnam from the mountaintop. Heading down the Nam Ou River we stopped at Mouang Khoua and Nang Khiaw - both lovely spots, the former a bit livelier than the latter. Over to Luang Prabang - a World Heritage Site but a little too picture postcard perfect and chi-chi for Laos if you ask me. We stopped off in Vang Vieng and what a place. Limestone craziness and lagoon magic lies just outside the town. Vientiane was a non-event and looks like it will be for a while. The highlight of the trip, Konglor Cave, on the road to Thakek. Awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping stuff. On from Thakek to Champasak on the banks of the Mekong. Nice place if a little too quiet. Its close to our second world heritage of the trip - Wat Phou - a nice little taster for what was to come later. We ended Laos with a few days on the 4000 Islands where another highlight was the massive Khone Falls - one of the better waterfalls on the trip - but the dolphins were a little underwhelming by the same token. .
Cambodia - First stop Kratie. Our first taste of Cambodian electrical blackouts but also the lovely Koh Trong island. Over eastward to Sen Monorom for some elephant fun before heading back west to Phnom Penh. The fascinating Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields will live long in the memory. Got templed out of it at our third world heritage site, Angkor Wat. I was so glad to see them but too much of a good thing is hard for anyone. Battambang in western Cambodia was a really amazing place - bamboo trains, circus schools, Joe's birthday - great memories. Floating villages in Kampong Chhnang - voyeurism in the extreme but you've got to do it. Kampot had cheap margaritas and a cool looking jail and market. Sihanoukville is a necessary evil if you want to get to the islands. Koh Rong was a great success - empty beaches and more cheap margaritas. Koh Kong was a nice way to end the time in Cambodge - it truly is the most stunning part of an otherwise mostly flat country.
Ireland - Damp. Cold. Back to work. No more shorts or flip-flops for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless we're home annd it feels good to be home. I look around and I see that I really need to start throwing out a lot of stuff. It was wonderful way to spend a few months outside of the daily ritual - a chance to see that you don't actually need most of the things that you accumulate over time. Its actually pretty easy to live from a bag, not working on the same principles of time that apply at home, eating out, going to bed at nine o'clock. It turns out that its pretty easy to break habits when you're faced with different situations. It also turns out that its very easy to slide back into those habits when you return home. That's life.
Thanks for having us back.