Thailand Part 2

January 2018: I flew from Luang Prabang in Lao to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. The very last stop on my epic trip, before heading back to Bangkok and home to England.

As we skip through the small airport of Chiang Mai and out of the gates a ladyboy with a tuk-tuk cattily asks us if we want a ride into the centre; as if unaware of the cheap stereotypes that she is reinforcing. On the ride into town, billboards advertise 'special massages'; street vendors sell smoothies; tuk-tuk drivers loiture ominously on street corners; a plethora of sweet and savoury (and unsavoury) smells woft into my nostrils. The ladyboy strokes my leg and purrs 'welcome back sir! You've been sorely missed! Would you like a massage sir!' (This last thing may not have actually happened, but I don't let the truth get in the way of a good story). Hello Thailand my old friend!

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the ancient seat of the Lana empire, invade once by Burma and then by Siam, it was ingested into the Siamese empire, which later became Thailand, and there it remains to this day; but the otherness when compared with the rest of Thailand remains forever just under the surface. A sort of unofficial capital of the north, and the major centre of the backpacker scene in the North. The old town is set out in a perfect square, full of trendy bars, cafes and restaurants and ancient temples; surrounded by a crumbling red brick wall and a large moat. I check into the hostel on the edge of the old square, a sleepy and relaxing little place and set out to explore the town. As pretty as it is I am not really here to explore Chiang Mai, I intend to use it as a base for exploring the north of Thailand.

My trusty steed for the next week.

The next day I make arrangements to hire a motorbike, a slightly more powerful, and hence more expensive beast, but may well be needed to make it up these steep mountain roads. I set off into the sunset (in a metaphorical sense, actually it’s midday). The traditional rite of passage is to drive from Chiang Mai to the small town of Pai, but I want to make a little stop on route at the less visited Chiang Dao first.

Chiang Dao

The ride up to Chiang Dao is not particularly inspiring, a flat highway with three lanes of traffic. The road is not too busy and it’s a perfect ride to settle into this new, more powerful bike. The previous bikes I've ridden have a worrying tendency to start rattling at around 60-70 km/hour, but this little beast makes it up to 90 without too much trouble, yet I daren't push it further than that. The turning for Pai comes and goes, and I continue north. The last 20 km become much more interesting as the road narrows into a single lane and ascends into a cool forest. The smooth road begins to snake up the hill to Chiang Dao. I reach my guest house in good time, a beautiful wooden chalet with a balcony overlooking Thailand’s third highest peak: Doi Chiang Dao. This is one of the prettiest places I've stayed on this trip, and I immediately opt to stay one more night, my tight itinerary already ruined before I've really got going.

Chiang Dao
The view from the guest house in Chiang Dao, overlooking some of Thailand's highest peaks.

Two main attractions present themselves in this otherwise fairly sleepy town; the first and most obvious is the ascent of the 2,200 meter peak in the nearby national park. The other is a deep complex of caves fronted by a buddhist temple. It's far too late to tackle the ascent today, so I opt for the cave, which is handily just up the road from where I am staying. It's hardly worth mentioning a buddhist temple at this late juncture, as pretty as it is, but the cave is an interesting afternoon trip. A steep ascent and then an undignified scramble down and I find myself in a series of grand underground caverns. A little Thai woman offers to take me deeper into the unlit cave with a gas lantern, and we set off together. She knows just the few words of English that her job requires, such as 'watch your head', or 'careful spider', 'as big as your head!' and she is not lying; not one for the arachnophobes amongst us. It's a fun forty minute scramble on hands and knees culminating in a dark atmospheric cavern with a little reclining buddha; clearly a sight of religious importance as my guide gets down to her hands and knees and spends a silent minute of contemplation in front of our ubiquitous Indian friend.

There is nothing left to do but to lounge aimlessly in the sun and fill my belly with my exquisite Thai fare. I opt for a delicious, if excessively spicy, papaya salad with pork. The waiter grabs me by the shaking hands, and looks me in my watery eyes. 'Well done, I've never seen a farang finish that dish before'. I try to hide the pain that I'm clearly in. He laughs as I try to compose myself and hop back on my bike. As beautiful as the town is, it is not really a night time place, so I curl up with a book and have an early night, planning my 1000 meter ascent tomorrow. Most information recommends a guide and at least 2 days to tackle the walk, it's like they don't even know me!

The next day I take my bike as far as I can, still one thousand meters from the summit, my ears popping as my bike strains up the steep roads. I park up and begin my ascent. A guard stops me, saying that the climb is only permitted with a guide, and on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. He gives me more grief, perhaps wanting a bribe, but I simply look bewildered and ask if I can walk a little way up the path to have a look and he shrugs as if to give up and say 'not my problem'. It seems all laws can be circumnavigated in Thailand (except of course the one about insulting the king). And so I set off, it's already past ten with all these setbacks, so I must get going.

Hiking in Thailand is often an unpleasant experience owing to excessive heat and humidity, but the altitude and constant shade make this rather a pleasant santer. I scamper up the first forested pass making good progress. As the forest thins and the air clears the hike is rewarded with yet more stunning views. My appetite for this scenery can never be fully sated, but I can't stand and stare as I have to hurry to make it back in the daylight. The middle section is flatter and I make good progress. The vegetation is not quite tropical, but not quite like the green pines of Europe. The occasional flash of a brightly coloured bird reminds me that I am still in the tropics. Along the route I pass a number of locals with heavy home made packs, the weight of which is born on a strap around their heads. They look quite uncomfortable as I scamper past them; they are supplying the camp at the base of the summit where most people camp before they hit the top. No such luxury for me though, I only have one day to get there and back. My legs and lungs feel in good shape given that I have not had much exercise of late, and I make it to the summit in good time, evidently the first of the day and I'm rewarded by stunning 360 degree panoramas of the mountains around me. As I rest and enjoy the view and my picnic I am joined by a few more tourists and we chat for a while. I spend a good hour here before heading back down. Before I know it I am back at my bike, still well within the daylight and speeding home to rest my weary legs. I indulge in a big fat burger and chips before slipping into a comma for the rest of the evening; another great hike accomplished.


My next stop is Pai, a town famous amongst backpackers, but before I leave there is just time to dip into the hot springs on the road out of Chiang Dao. The setting is idyllic; naturally heated water pools in a series of increasingly hot containers, next to a cool mountain stream. I alternate between cold water and the piping hot, treating my poor muscles and while away a whole hour here in blissful serenity, the aches of yesterday melting away. I drag myself away and onto the road to Pai.

The drive to Pai has an almost legendary status amongst backpackers. I retrace my steps and then take the turning onto route 1095 towards Pai. The road ecompases 762 bends in the road (number 371 is my favourite) winding their way through idyllic green mountain landscapes; perfect to practise cornering on steep roads. There are a large number of farangs on motorbikes tackling this road, and although many people complain about Thai drivers, it is the tourists who have rented a motorbike (but probably shouldn't) who are the most hazardous. Still I make it to Pai in one exhilarated piece and check into my hostel. The hostel is just outside the small town of Pai, set in a wooden building overlooking the now dipping sun, glowing behind water buffalo grazing in the paddy fields below; an idyllic, but basic, place to spend the night. Just before the sun disappears I manage to muster the energy to clamber up to the top of Pai canyon and watch the sunset, and I'm glad I did. Pai canyon is a series of dusty yellow ridges of stone, cut into perilous walkways by wind and the feet of tourists. From here the rocks glow a beautiful warm yellow as the sun dips behind them. The experience seems to be a popular one, and many other tourists have the same idea. Although Pai is pretty I would argue that many of the surrounding towns are as pretty, however, this one is the one that has somewhat arbitrarily been designated as the young backpacker destination; tourists have a tendency to cluster and, being a contrarian, I endeavour to leave the town tomorrow morning, despite its relaxed vibe and beautiful setting.

The view of the setting sun over Pai Canyon.

In the evening I go to a bar and one of the Thai waitresses, Emily, engages me in a game of pool, she's worked in Europe and is a rare Thai who can speak English pretty fluently and we enjoy a few games and a beer together. She invites me to a party out in the sticks around Pai and she proudly tells me that the organisers have bribed the police so that more or less anything goes there. Not normally my kind of scene, but I'm determined to experience all sides of Thailand so I follow her to the field in the middle of nowhere. The party is actually fairly tame compared to what I had imagined, and we enjoy a few drinks together and watch the resident hippies swirl their fire pois.

The next day I feel exhausted and wake up far too late to do the drive to the next town that I want to visit, so I decide to stay one more day and spend a bit more time in Pai; the town is growing on me. Unluckily almost everything, bar a few very upscale hotels, are fully booked; I casually mention this to Emily and she offers to let me stay at her place. Her wages from Europe have allowed her to build a large wooden house out in the countryside, and yet again I have somewhere idyllic to stay, and this time completely for free, and with free Thai food, tour guiding and slightly overbearing mothering. By chance a couple of other guys from England are also stuck for a place to stay and are a friend of a friend of Emily's, so we all bunk down together and share a fun day and a half together, getting on well. We visit a small chinese village, populated by refugees from the Chinese civil war. It's slightly artificially touristy now, but fun nonetheless and comes with some great tea and chinese food, we visit a small waterfall, not impressive in its own right, but a great lazy place to spend the day, and in the evening enjoy some shopping and dining in the local markets where the people of the ethnic minorities of the north, including a fair few muslim refugees from Myanmar, come to sell their wares to tourists. The next day the English guys and Emily try to convince me to stay. I'm having a great time here, but I have mixed feelings about Pai; its beautiful and relaxed, but it seems at the same time overwhelmed by young tourists, and a little engineered. Part of me wants to spend the rest of my trip here chilling out and giving the finger to any real sightseeing, but I think that ultimately I would regret it, so, unsentimentally, I get on my bike and head along the road to Mae Hong Son.

Mae Hong Son

The beautiful curving road to Pai continues further to the east in the same dramatic fashion, ending in the sleepy town of Mae Hong Son. After the first major viewpoint, the stream of farangs ends and the road becomes a lot more peaceful; this is one of the best drives of the whole trip. It takes a while to complete the 110 km as the views are stunning, and admiring them whilst maintaining speed on these windy roads is not advised, so frequent stops are a necessity. I make it to the town of Mae Hong Son safely and in good time, however. Mae Hong Son is a sleepy town in a beautiful rural setting, close to the Burmese border. Most tourists don't make it this far; there are a trickle of them but of a more sedate nature to those in Pai. There are no real hostels here, so I go for a beautiful homestay with three rooms in an old house made of teak. Before the sun sets I climb to the top of the local hill with a pagoda on the top, some form of procession is going on here, yet once again I am oblivious to its meaning and watch bemused from the sidelines. The views from the top of the hill are beautiful, composed of an unbroken rolling green, and the air is cooler and fresher than the oppressive heat and humidity of the south. I could get used to this place, and once again I opt to stay for two nights, where I had meant to stay for one. After some serious grazing at the local night market, where I discover and fall in love with deep fried quails eggs, I head to bed.

Mae Hong Son
The view over the sleepy town of Mae Hong Son.
There is not much to do in the town itself, but the surroundings offer at least a full day of exploration, so I set off early, once again on my bike, to explore my surroundings. My first stop is a small village to the east, famous as the temporary home of the Karen. The karen are an ethnic group from Burma, who live in the region of Karen. They have tried, unsuccessfully to break away from Burma/Myanmar on several occasions, and as a result, or cause, they have been badly treated in Myanmar. Now many of them live in refugee camps just over the border in Thailand. It is possible to visit some of the villages in which they live, although there is some controversy here, as many claim they are simply herded out of their camps to pretend villages in order to sell stuff to tourists. However, I do some research and the village I visit seems to be the real deal as far as I can tell. I drive the bike through empty countryside until I reach the outskirts of the village, where the road deteriorates to a shoddy dirt path, over which my bike, and I, struggle. The final section involves crossing a shallow stream with my bike, this mini-adventure makes the destination even more evocative and exhotic. A small karen woman beckons me to park my bike and starts to show me around the village. Clearly this is set up for tourists to some extent, but the people here seem happy enough on the surface of things, and thankfully I am the only tourist, which gives me a sense of being an adventurer again, a feeling I had so often in central asia, but far less so here. Karen women are famous for their long necks. From an early age girls of certain Karen tribes wear golden coils around their necks, rather than actually elongating the vertebrae in their necks they actually depress their collar bones, giving the appearance of unnaturally long necks. It's not actually damaging to the health of the women, and contrary to certain myths, they are able to take off the coils whenever they feel like it. Nonetheless, it does seem like a clear example of the trend of many societies to subject women to uncomfortable lives in order to make them appear beautiful to men.

The approach to the Karen village over a watery pass.

As I wander round this basic wooden village, buying souvenirs out of a feeling of obligation rather than want, I can't help but suddenly feel out of place. What am I doing here? I am not invited, and I have no real purpose or business here except to gawp at these freakish human beings and to sheepishly ask if I can take their picture. They treat me warmly, and some even speak a little English. After seeing a mug with the proud slogan 'I heart Jesus' I get chatting to a young woman, it seems she is a christian, no doubt a convert from the English missionaries who came to Burman along with the colonists. 'You are my brother!' she repeats many times. She has a mysterious exoticness to her, and almost a classical beauty; that is until she opens her mouth; not yet 28 she has perhaps 3 or 4 blackened teeth remaining in her wide mouth.

Long Neck Chick
A beautiful Karen woman posing with her neck coil and a stoic face.
Despite the slightly artificial air to this experience it feels like a profoundly interesting experience to meet these aesthetically radically different human beings and yet to feel a simple connection with them and the warmth they have shown me.

Ban Rak Thai
The reservoir at the edge of Thailand in Ban Rak Thai.
Back on my bike and I'm ascending quickly into the mountains and to the far north of Thailand, upto the very border with Myanmar and to the town of Ban Rak Thai. This is another Chinese village, but a more authentic one than the tourist trap near Pai, populated by the descendants of the fleeing nationlists. Defeated by Mao and the communists they fled first to Burma, and then to the northernmost pinnacle of Thailand, where they still live, unable or unwilling to return, but retaining their chineseness despite many of them never having set foot in China. The town is at the end of a mountain road; most towns of any note are built in valleys or next to rivers, but this one seems to be built at the very pinnacle of the hill at the end of a road to nowhere, as if to say do not bother us, our worlds do not need to overlap. As my ears pop at the steep ascent the woods give way to tea plantations. The town itself is picturesquely situated around a reservoir on which there are many little tea shops and restaurants serving the trickle of tourists who make this journey. I pig out on some delicious chinese food and some exquisitely delicate fresh Chinese tea and sit and basque in the cool mountain air by the side of the lake with a book. It is more the novelty of this town, populated with chinese refugees from Myanmar, than sights themselves that brings the curious traveler here, but well worth the long ride up the hill. Out of curiosity I continue up the road to the very top of the hill, where there is a military outpost. The revving of my bike seems to rouse the sole teenage soldier here, dosing with his hand on his rifle in a hammock under the sun. 'You can't go further' he says, smiling and stroking his gun. 'But if you climb to the top of that bunker you can get a view of Myanmar'. I'm taken aback both by his casual friendlyness and his command of English in this most backwater of places, but I do as he suggests without question. I can indeed see over to Myanmar and the rolling hills and a small village theirin. They don't look noticeably different from the Thai hills on the other side, but there is the knowledge that they are indeed hills of another country; a country that I regretfully will not visit on this trip. Instead Myanmar must be confined to the list of almost made its, along with Iran, Armenia, Belarus and Tajikistan. Maybe next time Burma. Back down the long hill, quick stop at another waterfall and back to my guest house just in time to consume my own body weight in deep fried quails eggs.

The poorly guarded border to Myanmar, the village pictured is in Myanmar.

Mai Chaem

Another early start on my bike. The traditional route is to continue south from here to the town of Mae Sariang, and then tack east back to Chiang Mai, but I opt to take the back route and overnight in a small village called Mae Chaem, the main reason for this is that it lies under the shadow of Thailand's tallest mountains: Doi Inathon. The first 60km I power through with speed, after which I take the fork onto the back route to Mae Chaem. The route that has up to now been spectacular becomes, at this point, down right mesmerising. Every sharp hairpin bend begs to be stopped at and snapped in detail, but progress must be made, and the road must comand one's full attention. So many of the views that would otherwise merit half an hour of staring are passed over in concentrated silence. The roads are empty and this is one of the best days riding I have ever done; truly hooked. The shadow of Doi Inathon looms large before you are even halfway to its base, poking its head from out from behind a corner and then hiding again. The mountain has steep sides but then flattens out towards its shallow top, and sits fairly lonely amongst its much more diminutive peers. The ride is over before I know it and I check into a campsite with pre-pitched tents under the shadow of the peak. The campsite is idyllic in the extreme, and one of the nicest places I've stayed here amongst extremely tough competition. I arrive just in time to cool myself in the crystal clear waters of a nearby spring and content myself for the rest of the day dozing and reading a book in the sunshine. My hosts invite me to share their dinner with them, without charge, as I am the only guest. The friendly bunch speak only a little English, but I am able to ascertain that one of them co-owns the place with her french husband. He's in France and she doesn't know if he is coming back, she confides. As the evening wears on she gets drunker and more desperate, hiding what I sense is a deep sadness with a drunken silliness. We pass the evening trying to teach me Thai, to my hosts’ amusement. In my beer induced haze I feel like I am making progress at this tricky tonal language, my hosts indicating that I am getting the tones right, perhaps rather charitably. We all have a good laugh before heading to bed.

One more day with the bike and I rise early in order to tackle Thailand's highest peak: Doi Inthanon. At just under 3,000 meters it sits somewhere between Scotland and Switzerland in the scale stakes. It is not one of the world's great peaks, and it is possible to ride almost to the top, which is what I do. Half way up I am rewarded with stretching views back over towards Chiang Mai. The morning mist dancing on the small peaks stretching out into the distance sends a shiver down my spine. The final section is as steep as my little bike can possibly handle, full on the throttle I creep forwards at 30 km/h. The thick forest and the gentle slope at the very top mean that there is no real view from the peak, it is more one of those 'do it because it is there' sights. Just time to snap a pic at the anti-climatic sign proclaiming that you are as high as you can be in Thailand. Down the ear poppingly steep slope to the base of the valley and before I know it I am having lunch back in Chiang Mai, exhausted but truly exhilarated. This is the way to travel, and the whole 7 day loop one of the highlights of my trip to Asia.

I meet up with a German girl I met in Luang Prabang and we compare notes of our time in northern Thailand; she is just getting going and continuing to Myanmar. My time as a traveller is, for now at least, almost over. I must alas go back to Bangkok, the trip almost at an end.

Yet more Bangkok

I opt again for the 50 minute flight over the 14 hour train ride, clearly my gluteny for punishment finally sated. The pore-clogging stifling humidity of Bangkok chokes me as soon as I get off the plane, and I know after seeing the north, that I could never live in a place like this. My physical discomfort is mitigated somewhat by seeing my little Thai lady-friend, Jane, once again. We head out for delicious street food, knowing that we are in for a treat as the que is long and exclusively Thai. An absurd wait of 40 minutes has us salivating, and we were not disappointed with mountains of dripping pork, dipped in a paste of spicy fermented fish sauce, tastier than it sounds, I assure you. I find myself yet again on Khao San road, feeling now almost like a homecoming after such a long time, back in Bangkok, where my southeast Asian odyssey began. I didn't come back here, however, to while away my last days on Khao San road. Early the next morning me and Jane head out to the island of Koh Kood, to spend the end of my trip in style, in one of Thailand's most beautiful and secluded little islands.

Koh Kood

Koh kood is a small island in the east of Thailand which has resisted the big development of the other Thai islands; it has no real bars or party scene, and as a consequence it's popular mostly with families and couples. Our bus picks us up outside our hotel and takes us east to Trat. Most people get off to go to the much bigger party island of Koh Chang, and only us and one other person continue to the smaller island: a good sign. We transfer to a smaller open air bus that whisks us to the speed boat. Another small bus takes us to the door of our hotel: door to door service.

Most of the accommodation on the island is centred around posh beach resorts, but if you are willing to stay just away from the beach, and rent a scooter to get around, then you get some good value digs, which is what we did. Our accomodation is a tent in an old ladies garden; more like a gazebo, with an aircon unit backing onto a permanent shower block. A good middle ground between charm and luxury and away from the russian mafia in the upmarket resorts. Unlike in other parts of the country the state has stood firm against big corporations and all the beaches, even if they house a resort, are public access.

We arrive just in time to see the sun set over our nearest beach and a quaint little wooden peer, having the place almost to ourselves. A quick bite to eat and bed.

The next day we set off on our bike towards the south end of the island, but the heavens open and we spend the morning hopping from coffee shop to coffee shop, each time the rain stops we try to continue, only to get drenched again. Towards midday we reach the south end of the island to our destinations. A sort of wooden shanty town built into the bay, peopled by a community of fishers, and treat ourselves to the most delicious seafood I have ever eaten. The weather improves dramatically, and we spend the rest of the day hopping between white sandy beaches and swimming underneath the little waterfalls that dot the island.

The rest of our four days are spent in this manner. Lying on some white sand for a while, swim in the sea, more delicious seafood, snorkelling, renting a canoe and so on, our sense of time altered in this little oasis of carm from the clamour of Bangkok, but before we know it our time is up, and Jane must go back to work, and the bus picks us up and whisks us back to Bangkok.

Bangkok one last time

My final destination, and it feels like the trip is almost over, we treat ourselves to 3 nights in a nice hotel and take it easy, for once not staying in Khao-San road. I'm reunited with the big backpack of winter clothes that I left in Bangkok and get ready to make my way back home. We fill our last few nights perusing the night markets and bars around us. As luck would have it there is a lunar eclipse on our final night in Bangkok and we sit in the park and watch the heavenly spectacle in peace, not daring to talk about what the future may hold. For one last treat we head to one of Bangkok's many sky bars, built on the 32 second floor. The stylish bar is a far cry from the grime of Khaosan road. We sip our gin and tonics overlooking Bangkok's surprisingly glitzy skyline.

Before I know it I'm heading through the early morning to Bangkok's airport, over Myanmar, India, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey and Europe and back home to the brisk fresh February air of London. It feels like I have been away from an age, but it's good to be back England my old friend.

As a wise man once said: "And the end of the exploring is to return to where it all began, and to know the place for the very first time."

Me in Bangkok
Pretentiously reflecting on my trip from the skyroof bar in Bangkok; the final night of my trip.


On the bus home I reflect on my 7 month journey and what I have done and seen...

I've partied till the sun came up in beautiful Tallinn. I've canoed through the bogs of Soomaa and explored the rural idyll of tiny baltic islands atop a bicycle; wondered medieval, art-decoux and communist architecture in the charming Riga; fine dined in Krakow and swum in blue azure lakes in the polish summer. I've toured the divey bars with locals from Lviv, witnessed the isane folly of man at Chernobyl, and stood in Maiden square in Kiev where the Ukrainian revolution began. I've cycled through the south of Ukraine and seen an entrenched rural poverty that I had thought extinct in Europe. I've seen painted monasteries in Suceava, and snow capped mountains in Maramures. I've travelled by train through Transylvania and partied in the trendy neighbourhoods of Istanbul. I've seen the beautiful blue marble of dervish tombs in Konya, and the surreal rock formations of Cappadocia. I've ridden the train to the very eastern edge of Anatolia and wandered lonely through the deserted streets of Armenian Ani. I've crossed by foot in Georgia, and hiked through Svaneti and bunked with Georgian dairy farmers. I've paid homage at the tomb of the great Georgian dictator: uncle Joe, seen the ancient underground cities at Varzia and drunk wine in Tbilisi, dined on fine breads in Azerbaijan and dipped my toe into mud volcanoes under the shadow of vast oil fields. I've shopped, open mouthed, in Chorso bazar, Uzbekistan. I've seen the triumvirate of silk road cities in central asia: Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. I've taught English in Kyrgyzstan, and hiked, exhausted to high alpine lakes in the Tian Shan mountains. I've bathed with the hairy slavic men of Bishkek, watched the ballet in Tashkent, and seen the first snowfall in Kazakhstan. I've partied and loved in Bangkok, ridden the death train in Kanchanaburi and swum in azure waterfalls at Erawan. I've witnessed the sleaze of Pattaya first hand, and the high culture of Ayutthaya. I've ridden pillion through the Khao Yai national park; cycled past french colonial architecture and rural villages in Batambang, Cambodia. I've spent days exploring crumbling Khmer architecture at Angkor wat, and seen the evidence of Khmer rouge atrocities in Phnom Penh. I've driven a motorbike to hill tops near Kampot, to ruined french cathedrals and stunning vistas of the gulf of Thailand. I've swum with plankton and lazed on stunning white sand beaches in Koh Rong. I've braved the motorbike clogged streets of Saigon, and driven through strawberry fields in Dalat; walked the quiet lantern lit alleys of Hoi-an and eaten street food in Hanoi. I've been rowed through the carsts of Ninh-Binh by barefoot ladies in bamboo boats. I've completed the extreme northern motorbike route in Vietnam and cruised through Halong bay. In luang Prabang I've motorbiked to southeast Asia’s prettiest waterfall and swam in a pool of cold water at the top. I've completed the 1894 curves of the Chiang Mai - Mae Hong Son route, climbed Thailand's 3rd and 1st highest mountains, seen the long neck chicks and the chinese nationalist refugees near to the Burmese border. I've snorkeled near the white sands of Koh Kood, and drunk Gin and Tonic on the 32nd floor in downtown Bangkok and survived it all to tell the tale.

And I am home, both happy and sad at the same time, I feel like I know my home more than when I left, to travel is to gain a perspective on what is special and unusual, what is good and what is bad about your own home. For all that we complain this is a great place to live and have been born. I'm ready to continue my life and to find the next adventure, where to next? I hear Iran is nice this time of year...