Life on the Road: Southeast Asia Edition

You know you’ve been traveling too long when:

-A rat runs through a restaurant, and you shrug and strut right up to the counter to place your order.

-You accidentally order liver soup and still eat it.

-You get overly excited when the shower is warm, and the wi-fi actually works.

-It’s no surprise when the straightforward train ticket you purchased has a two-hour-bus ride intermission.

-Seeing a family of four, sans helmets, on a scooter is no longer surprising.

-It’s a relief to find a running route that does not consist of five stray dogs chasing you.

-Toilet paper goes in the trash, and you flush the toilet with a bucket, duh.

-You’re really excited to see pizza on the menuq             aaaaaaaa (P.S. a cat just crawled onto my keyboard and I like her artistic contribution so I’m leaving it).

-Stray cats join you for all meals of the day.

-You come to expect a smoothie with fresh papaya, coconut, mango, and pineapple, every morning.

-Anything above $2 for a coffee is extortion.

-12 hour overnight bus rides are nice because you save on a hotel room.

-It’s like finding the holy grail when you find a bathroom with a western toilet and soap. Sigh.

-You build in ‘American Days’ where you go to the mall, grab a starbucks coffee, and go watch a movie.

-You don’t expect Skype calls to actually work.

We were pretty homesick around the holidays but had a lot of fun in Chiang Mai for a couple weeks, and then cheered ourselves up by booking with The Gibbon Experience- a ziplining/sleeping in treehouses excursion in the Laotian jungle! We leave tomorrow: 1/1/15. A good way to start out the year. Tonight we are staying at Daauw Homestay, in Huay Xai, Laos where all proceeds from the rooms, restaurant, and their crafts store go to local women. The Daauw home trains women to start their own rural homestays, and it’s also a place where rural villagers can stay, free of charge, while they bring family members here to the hospital.

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The shop at Daauw Homestay. Just up my alley.

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Some of the crafts. BTW if 10 of y’all want to buy one of these (I think they run from 8 to 15 Euros for pillowcase covers, handstitched by Hmong women) they will ship the box for free.

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View from the restaurant at Daauw Home

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Kitty

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Our bungalow

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Vacation from our Vacation

For anyone considering a trip like this, I wouldn’t recommend 14 countries in 7 months.  That’s bad planning on our part.  I know it sounds ridiculous since we are taking a year away from work (and even more ridiculous after Skyping with cousin Katie who had just worked a 4-day nursing shift), but we are exhausted.  I had read that this might happen and the best way to beat it is just to sit down somewhere for a week or more. So, where better to do this than an island off of Thailand’s east coast?

We spent two weeks on Koh Phangan recovering from a cold, swimming, sitting in the sun, exploring the island by motorbike,  and not unpacking and repacking our bags.

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hotel #1 on Koh Phangan: Beck’s

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Sunset from Beck’s

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Beach bar at Beck’s. Our bartender, Lek, won a big bartending competition while we were there!

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Amsterdam Bar

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Sunset view from Amsterdam Bar

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The three best friends that anyone could have

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Bottle Beach

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Beach pup at Bottle Beach

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Hotel #2: Milky Bay.

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Coconut at Milky Bay

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The most amazing meal: BBQ fish and prawns

A couple weeks later we are well rested and ready for more traveling! Bring on those 12 hour overnight bus rides!

Touring Taiwan, a.k.a. Why Can’t I Stop Eating?

Our timing in Taiwan was perfect, as we overlapped with my sister-in-law, Patty’s, parents! They so generously fetched us from the airport, hosted us for two nights, and took us on a whirlwind tour of Taipei including Taipei 101, a Gondola Ride, Memorial Hall Square, and a night market, before shuttling us to our train to get to Tainan for the wedding. They were so helpful translating for us and ordering meals; delicious food magically appeared before our eyes.

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Memorial Hall Square

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Cale, Julian, Kathy

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View from Taipei 101

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Ahhh yeah the birthplace of Din Tai Fung!

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Gondola Ride

Our arrival in Tainan was a huge highlight of our trip, mostly due to our amazing airbnb host, Shirley. She met us at the train station and walked us to the apartment (which is so helpful – we spend lots of time trying to figure out where our hotel is due to faulty GPS on my phone, and no physical maps to reference). She then took us out to an amazing lunch and again hosted dinner and drinks on the rooftop that night! She helped us throughout our trip, making sightseeing recommendations and helping us buy a bus ticket to our next destination. It’s hard to explain how amazing these kind acts make us feel. In a place where we cannot read a single street sign and have to walk down the street to understand that a shop is not actually a lunch spot, it’s actually a car mechanic. And it’s rare that someone speaks English. People like Shirley have really made this trip for us.

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Shirley with dumplings!

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Park across the street from our awesome airbnb

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you can’t hide… This is an old Japanese fort in Tainan, now over-run by Banyan trees.

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So many scooters in Taiwan!

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A little temple in Tainan

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Confucious Temple in Tainan

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Street dumplings. These were $1

We stopped next in Taichung to meet up with a new friend, Alex, who we had randomly met at the hostel in Istanbul (he entered the common room and said “I heard someone is going to Taiwan! Let me give you suggestions!”). We met Alex and his sister at the Taichung night market and they took us to their favorite food stands. So tasty.

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Selfies at the night market

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More food please!

 

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Tasty Clams

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Night Market

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I had to try some of these. Pretty tasty!

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Sun Moon Lake- a day trip from Taichung. We rented bikes to ride around the lake.

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Sun Moon Lake

Our last stop was in Hualien, on the East side of Taiwan. We rented a scooter to check out Taroko Gorge and spent another day exploring Hualien by bike.

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A temple at Taroko Gorge

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I’m a poser. Cale drove and I just hung on.

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We escaped the crowds by hiking up to a temple. It was nice and peaceful up here. The sign said to ring the bell to calm the spirits.

What was a last minute decision to see a country that wasn’t necessarily in our plan turned into one of our favorites. The people in Taiwan were so friendly and helpful.  To give an example, I keep telling this story: we were lost in Taichung looking for our hostel. I was looking at my phone on the sidewalk, and Cale and I had our backpacks on. A guy in a scooter pulled up to say “do you need help? I speak English, I can help you.”  I handed him my phone so he could see on the map where we were trying to go…. without a care in the world. Seriously it wasn’t until later that I thought ‘wow, most other places I would have never even considered handing my phone to someone.’ He didn’t drive off with it or anything! He pointed us in the right direction, then scooted off into the sunset.  He had pulled over solely to help us- he hadn’t needed to stop for any other reason.

We have been in Thailand now since December 3rd! Off to meet an old friend from college that we haven’t seen in 2004… that happens to live in Bangkok. It’s such a small world!

True Love in Taiwan

Our journey takes us from Istanbul to Taiwan, for another wedding! Our friends Jason and Shiang Ping were having a reception in Tainan and we were invited… so how could we pass up the opportunity?

We were happy and honored to have been invited.  We also secretly liked having to buy a new outfit fit for a wedding!  When I asked Jason about dress code, he basically said “you should be fine, just no jeans.” Little did he know that the nicest outfit Cale had was quick dry pants from REI with dirty Nike sneakers… and the nicest outfit I had was a long skirt and collared shirt; Cale makes fun of me each time I wear it; he calls me his Hutterite wife.  So, our nicest clothes weren’t acceptable.  But we were, shall I say, over-eager to have an excuse to buy new clothes.

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Awww yeah, I got a new outfit!

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Him too!

The ceremony was so fun and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure it’s the closest I’ll ever get to an Oscar-like experience. There was a red carpet and everything!

Given, we couldn’t understand a word of what was happening but some nice folks at our table helped translate a couple things, and really the most important thing (aside from true love) was the food, which is a universal language.

There were 12 courses at this meal! We probably shouldn’t have eaten lunch but who am I kidding, we had room to try everything. Yes, I really took a photo of each dish, and yes, I’m really going to post them all here. It’s my blog, I do what I want.

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I missed the first appetizer. This is #2, a rice dumpling dish.

 

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Dishes 3 and 4: lobster and shark fin soup

 

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#5: Scallops and Clams, just clap your hands!

 

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#6: Grouper and Tofu

 

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#7 Abalone with mushrooms and pig’s sinew

 

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#8 Rice with meat and lotus seed

 

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#9 Chicken Soup!

 

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#10: Dim Sum Pastries

 

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#11: Cream with Honeydew

 

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#12: Fresh Fruit Platter

Shiang Ping had three different dress changes throughout the evening and I’m pretty sure her and Jason’s faces were frozen into smiles by the end of the event, from greeting almost 500 guests!

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Jason and Shiang Ping on the red carpet

 

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How cute are these kiddos?

 

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Stars of the show

We went home with big smiles and full bellies.

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