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Living abroad and the illusion of endless fun

I’ve done it, my friends and family are probably doing it as you read this.

It’s easy to see pictures posted on Facebook or blogs and be insanely jealous of all the fun that someone is having without really thinking that those pictures were one or two  nights out of the past month. It happens when you haven’t seen someone in a while, are just meeting someone new, or if it’s someone that you just aren’t that close with anymore but keep on your friends list so that you can stalk their lives. (We all have at least one, don’t even try to lie about it)

Most of the time, it’s a complete illusion. That’s not the way most people live their lives, through endless nights out and planning the next destination.

Well, it’s certainly not me. Most of the time I’m quite a homebody. Since I moved into my house, I’ve had at least two full weekends in where I may have texted people and made half-hearted plans to go out that ended up with me being lazy around the house and doing laundry. Like I mentioned previously, my life has settled into a routine.

I enjoy cooking, and reading and finding useless shit on the internet. I’m not going to post about countless nights spent in wearing sweats, eating pistachios and scrolling down endless Pinterest pages  (my pinterest!).

To be honest, my life outside of work resembles very closely what my life would be like outside of work at home but with slight differences:

I come home
eat dinner
browse the internet for things I missed during the day (sadly, not a lot).
sometimes head out to meet friends (but lets be honest, the only time I really make an effort is for market dinner on Wednesday nights.)
sometimes have a nap
browse the interwebs some more for silly things, projects I’ll never make, things that make me laugh, or music videos that I feel the need to play for my roommate.

That’s it folks; Monday to Friday in a nutshell. Yes, my weekends are sometimes, but not always, something to be desired. Honestly though, the Toronto Islands are a nicer destination than the closest beach to Lop Buri. :/

Sometimes I feel like most peoples concept of a travel blog is to catalog the wonderful things that they’re doing abroad and the cultural differences that they notice. But for me it’s also to come to terms with the fact I am away and have assimilated to those cultural differences and am still living my day to day life, little things that are all part of long-term travel.

You’re allowed to be jealous (a bit) but remember that despite seeing cool things and experiencing random moments, life goes on.

Excuses, excuses:

I’ve been slacking a little bit on the blog front.

I could come up with a bunch of excuses like I’ve been really busy taking on a full course load, I’ve been adjusting to the ex-pat life, I don’t have any inspiration, my camera’s broken, or I’ve simply been partying too much on the weekends to devote serious time to my blog.

Take whichever excuse you will, but to be honest the real reason that I’ve been slacking is that I’ve gotten so used to the lifestyle here that it’s no longer new and exciting. This is one of the reasons that I couldn’t keep up a blog at home; things don’t seem interesting enough to write about. Who wants to hear that I ate kapow moo for dinner, again? It’s finding inspiration in the things that become normal that becomes more of a struggle.

I don’t know if this is the best excuse, it is certainly the saddest, but the reality is that once I get into a groove and live day in and day out teaching and sleeping and eating and repeat, the days start to blend into each other.

Until I realize it’s been two months since I’ve even thought about writing.

In those two months, I’ve been back to Koh Samet, been to Hua Hin, played paintball in Bangkok, learned to ride a motorcycle and could be moving already.

So the basic point I’m trying to make is that I’ll be better from here on out.

Starting now. I’ve obviously got a few topics to get me started.

 

Vang Vieng… Again

I knew I’d be back. There is just something about Vang Vieng that makes me simultaneously love it and hate it. I hate the cult-like way that all the kids (and I mean anywhere from 18 to 25 here) sit and watch friends during the days. Zoned out to oblivion from whatever “happy” thing they ate or drank. I both love and hate the multitude of free buckets. I hate the way the shirtless, paint covered; shoeless, drunken kids coming back from tubing behave.

I love the chilled out vibe, and I love the view.

The last one always seems to win out. It seriously is the most gorgeous view, and the riverside restaurants are working hard to capitalize on that fact. Low tables made for lounging for hours overlooking the river and with a wide open view that never ceases to take my breath away.

The first time that I was in Vang Vieng, all I wanted to do was sit and stare, breath the air, drink fruit shakes and eat giant chicken baguette sandwiches. This time, however, I decided to take in what the town is known for: tubing down the river.

The tubing itself isn’t the focus, however, drinking while you’re doing it is. Where the tuk-tuk dropped us and our tubes off, there was a bar with quite an enticing offer to get us started. Once we got to the river, we were greeted by a free shot and someone to wrap a bracelet around our wrist.

Even trying to ignore the bars and tube down the river is next to impossible; there are people whose main job is to throw a rope with a weighted water bottle out to you to pull you in. It’s way too easy to get roped in (see what I did there?) to visiting the many bars along the river. Once you abandon your tube and climb the ladder, each bar has a dance floor, a restaurant for food and a little something extra. Whether it’s a rope swing, a high platform, a trapeze, giant slide or inflatable launching pad there is enough to distract you from the goal of getting your tube (and refund) back before six.

Unfortunately we spent too much time at the beginning relaxing by the water and drinking beers to actually visit all of the bars and attractions. Simply floating down the river became impossible and we had to peddle ourselves toward the end, trying not to get raped by rocks as the water became gradually shallower.

Luckily we made it back just in time to get our deposit back, went out for dinner and then made our way down to the bars by the river for our free buckets. It ended up being a dangerous day / night.

The next day, despite hangovers from hell, we went exploring the caves in the area surrounding the town. While we were disappointed with the first, and closer one, the second one we went to had a lagoon in it ready for swimming. However, by the time we got there it was so dark there was no light coming in through the roof of the cave and we were scared of snakes and other critters in the water, so opted out of swimming.

I don’t know if I’ll make that crazy trek into Vang Vieng again, so I’m glad that I was able to experience it twice, in two very different ways and with two very different people.

Bus travel in Laos = a death wish

In the process of obtaining my B-Visa, I had to make the trek into Laos to go to the Thai Embassy. So after me and another teacher, Raiyna, got our passports back, we decided that we would stay an extra few days and head to Vang Vieng since we had some time before school training starts.

Somehow, we got dropped of at the public bus station, so ended up taking one of the local buses into Vang Vieng. The bus itself was the oldest I’ve seen on the road and was completely rammed full of people, filling every seat and even on the platform at the front that I thought was for luggage. While we waited, people climbed on top of the bus to rope their luggage and shopping onto the top, throwing bags from the ground to whoever’s job it was to tie everything down.

After finally getting going did we fully realize the shape the bus was in. Every time it would stop, it would chug and shake and rattle to get going again. Having a comfortable, air conditioned bus to compare it to from the first time I made the trek with Melisa, I was laughing hysterically at the state of the bus and at us for being the crazy farang on it. We swore that it wouldn’t make it, but it was at least amusing to all the village kids that we passed who laughed at us and the bus as it tried to start up again. Stalling and shaking and generally making a gigantic amount of noise.

After chugging up the steep inclines where I swore we were going to roll backwards, and down steep hills where I was only praying that we didn’t fly off the cliff taking the turn at the bottom, we finally got to Vang Vieng. I grabbed my bags, admired the imprints of my fingers on the seat in front of me from gripping and praying that we would make it and jumped off the bus.

The only ride that I have to compare to the terrifying Laos roads would be the pick-up truck drive on Koh Phangan in the rain. Even in a mini-van (or maybe especially in a mini-van because they’re driving faster) I feel like I can see my life flashing before my eyes. There are no rules on Laos roads, passing happens on corners, hills, between two other cars if there’s room (or even if there isn’t: they’ll make room). Making it even more ridiculous are the abundance of cows, water buffalo, goats and kids that you have to avoid while plummeting down the road.

It makes all other travel seem like a piece of cake. I’m looking forward to a relaxing train ride to Chiang Mai for Songkran (Thailand New Years) in a couple days, despite being stuck in a metal box it won’t feel like traveling after the 30+ hours I’ve spent in buses in the past week.

The “I’ll be back” feeling

Something weird happened to me while I was traveling around Laos and Vietnam with Melisa, and even when I was in Chiang Mai with everyone else. I wasn’t concerned about buying a bunch of mementos, of taking a million pictures or fitting in as much as humanly possible. I had this crazy feeling that I would be back and that I would be able to do my shopping at another time that it made more sense to keep my load light for the time being. The only thing I bought from each place, was a postcard or two to send home to loved ones.

I fell in love with Laos. Looking at photos of Melisa’s return to build a school outside of Luang Prabang made me realize just how much we both fell in love with it. There are so many parts of it that are seriously untouched, hill tribes living with the bare minimum to survive, electricity being a relatively new concept, and the pace of life being so quiet that the entire country shuts down almost as soon as the sun sets. I love the pace of life here in Thailand, but the pace in Laos is turned down about 5 notches. But I don’t know if I could live there for that very reason. I’m a city girl, through and through, and I need streetlights and late nights. But I will be back. Maybe even for the chance to ride down the river on an inner tube and the view of the mountains in Vang Vieng.

I hated Vietnam at the time, but know that if I go back when everything is actually open and the country is its vibrant self I might feel differently. I hated Bangkok, but what I’ve realized is that I really hated the drunken, partying foreigners on Khao San. I might also feel differently seeing other parts of the city, although I think that once I’ve experienced the small town life here, it’s doubtful that I would fall in love with it.

The other thing I realized while at the Luang Prabang night market was that the trinkets sold at the markets are the same all over the place, and finding something specific to that culture takes a little more searching and knowing about the culture instead of just searching for something that “looks cool;” those can be found anywhere.

Setting up for the daily Luang Prabang night market

That reason alone made me not want to buy anything until I was sure that it accurately reflected the culture and wasn’t some cheap little trinket that was mass produced in China or some sweat shop. If I wanted stuff like that, I could head down to Chinatown and buy them by the armload.

It was another reason that I loved the Chiang Mai Sunday market, those were all local artisans selling their own handmade goods. It was like the Thai version of a one-of-a-kind show, but on the street, and with lots of amazing food. If I end up working anywhere near Chiang Mai, I can guarantee that I will be there every Sunday evening doing a weekly splurge.

While here in Ban Phe, on Monday and Thursday they have night markets and on those nights it’s routine to go and wander and buy market dinner. The first real local market that I’ve come across, it’s aimed not at tourists, but for the locals in Ban Phe to stock up on vegetables, snacks and used (or sometimes new) clothes.