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This is our seventh time reflecting on a set of 100 days of constant travel. After 700 days, it seems silly to refer to this major life event as a trip, really. This truly is a lifestyle, even if we gave it all up tomorrow – which we absolutely have no plans to do.
And yet, these past 100 days have been some of the most vibrant, intense, emotionally charged days yet. This period of time has been spent immersed entirely in South East Asia, wrapped up in all of the chaos, glamor, spice, color, ups, downs, shocks and peace that co-exist in this part of the world.
Countless wow moments
700 days ago, we would most likely have imagined that climbing into a cage of four two-hundred pound tigers or bathing massive elephants in a river would be a major event in any 100-day period, but this experience was just one of a handful of moments that really got our adrenaline pumping in these last 100 days. Thaipusam, the Hindu festival based on self-mutilation as devotion to the gods, although no threat to us, was equally intense. (watch our video in Penang, Malaysia here).
The anguish caused by learning about the wrath the Khmer Rouge unleashed on the people of Cambodia was the most shocking of all. We knew so little about Pol Pot’s maniacal genocide here in Cambodia before arriving but it will be a lifetime before we forget witnessing the sight of 9,000 skulls and discarded clothes of thousands of slaughtered Cambodians at the Killing Fields, the images at Tuol Sleng, the former school turned torture prison in Phnom Penh, or being shown around the ‘Killing Caves’ near Battambang.
Heartwarming moments through Housesitting
We’ll be talking in much more detail about our passion for housesitting in the coming months, but the course of our journey has been re-directed now several times due to the location of our housesits. At the start of these last 100 days we were on our way to a housesit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, to care for ZZ, a rather complicated cat belonging to a Canadian ex-pat couple. What we didn’t know is that during that housesit, we would secure our next one – right back in Chiang Mai a month later. This time we cared for Fred, a selectively sweet (he hates men!) little dog, a housesitting gig we found through our favorite housesitting website Housecarers.com.
Why go back to Chiang Mai? A life of constant moving on can mean a lot of saying goodbye and a limited number of deep friendships. Housesitting has been such a major boost to our morale as it (usually) gives us a cat or a dog to cuddle with and a couch to cuddle up on, a kitchen to make comfort food and try out new recipes. Housesitting allows us time and space to get to the business of our businesses. In short, during these housesits, we tend to get sh*t done!
Ultimate sophistication, absolute destitution
These last 100 days have taught us a great many lessons. Another is that almost nowhere in the world is quite like this region when it comes to the lifestyle contrasts. Sometimes, we take in these contrasts on a macro-level – on a long bus ride through Thailand, for example, starting in the sophisticated city of Chiang Mai in the north, passing through chains of small villages that time has forgotten. In bigger cities like Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, these contrasts can be seen on a micro-level, within the frame of one simple photograph. Here, mega-malls tower over slums, Gucci and Prada can be found as easily as third-hand television remote controls for sale in the market.
Despite these contrasts, Thailand and Malaysia are very developed in comparison to Cambodia, where we end these 100 days. We are still trying to come to terms with what happened here, and the incredible survival of the Khmer people after the Pol Pot regime. So while a 150km bus journey takes five hours on spottily paved roads, it is amazing at how far Cambodia seems to have come since over one quarter of the population was brutally slaughtered 30-odd years ago. Of course, what this means is that, unlike Malaysia or Thailand, overland travel in Cambodia is an entirely different experience.
One aspect of travel in South East Asia in general that is fascinating to us is the developed presence of quality domestic air travel options. In Central America we would have never considered flying between countries, let along within the same country, but here in South East Asia, flights join train travel and buses as viable transportation options.
And yet while crossing borders at 30,000 feet is a breeze, we still enjoyed the land border crossing from Thailand to Cambodia the most. It was a grueling 22 hour transportation night/day from Chiang Mai to Battambang, we successfully avoided the dreaded Thai-Cambodian border scam. After 700 days we realize that we still enjoy the nitty-gritty as much as anything else, and that the journey is really more important than the destination.
Eating in South East Asia
There are plenty aspects of travel we adore – people-watching, absorbing customs, scoping out great hotels. But if we are truly honest, the food has fueled much of our passions in the last 100 days. Put simply – South East Asia has been a vegetarian’s foodie paradise.
We are spoiled for choice here. New spices, flavors, colors, textures are constantly on our tongues, along with western food as good as at home. We drink coconut water and eat rice every day – and never tire of this. While we expected Chiang Mai’s veggie options to trump all other food experiences in the last period of time, we have eaten incredibly well in Cambodia and Malaysia as well. Read our Tops and Flops for details on our delicious food options.
We have to admit something: Initially part of the purpose of ‘the trip’ was to discover a place in the world to settle down in, to find our own personal paradise. 700 days in and we still have yet to find the perfect place, but we now know that we can rule out South East Asia. No matter where we go, we are truly Latin at heart. Looking back at our favorite places of all time, we continue to highlight Mexico, Italy, Paris, Lisbon as influenced by a spicy Latin mentality that resonates with our hearts. We feel pretty good about the fact that we still have all of South America left to discover (not that we have any idea when we’ll ever end up there!)
What the future holds
Inspired by all of our bellies’ content, we have finally made the decision to visit India. We will start slowly with the sub-continent, spending just five weeks in the southern state of Kerala before flying back to the States for a wedding and a housesit. We could have gone to Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Burma…all countries that sit ever higher on our list of dream destinations, but we are ready and willing to get our first taste of India now. In fact, we can hardly wait. So, after a short stint in one of the world’s most modern cities – Singapore, we will finally make our way to India.