A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about travel

Halfway There

Where we are, and where we're going


View Southeast Asia on noahv's travel map.

It's hard to believe that we're over half-way done with our epic year-long travel adventure. We spent so long conceptualizing, thinking about, and planning the trip that it was almost a bit of a surprise when we found ourselves actually on the road. After we got into our rhythm, we've been doing a pretty good job of traveling as a family. Keeping updated on the blog has been more of a challenge than we thought, but we've done a great job of really being in the moment.

We're currently working on a separate blog post about what we loved, learned, and were challenged by during the first 7 months of our travels. However, since there's so much to discuss and write about in that area, and it requires that we get the kids to sit down and actually think about it, that will have to be a separate blog post (although we already know some winners - like snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, trekking Torres del Paines in Patagonia, and visiting Machu Picchu in Perú are at the top of the list).

Our itinerary started to get fast and furious once we finished our month in Australia and flew to Singapore at the beginning of February. It's going to stay crazy for the next couple of months, until we get some stability when we reach Chiang Mai and volunteer at the Elephant Nature Park (and, if you're so inclined, you can donate to our ENP fund here - it would mean a lot). After Chiang Mai we have broad strokes for our remaining itinerary (Shanghai, Chen Du, and Beijing in China, then Trans-Mongolia Railroad from Beijing across Mongolia and Russia to Moscow and St. Petersburg before flying back to the States).

Here's the map:

As you can see, we've been using Singapore as our hub. Although it's been great for flights (most carriers operate out of here, and have good hub fares), it's not a cheap place to live. It's worked great for us because we have family here - win/win being able to see Anne's sister and her family, and to be able to stay in a place that's free and has great wifi! Thanks Helen and Tom!

Stop 1: Myanmar (aka. Burma)

Our first destination in SEAsia was a "new" one to many US travelers - Myanmar/Burma. We spent a wonderful 8 days here in mid-February with Helen and her daughters, and we loved it. The people were extremely nice, the architecture of the pagodas and temples were breathtaking, and it was great to travel in a country that still feels un-tainted by tourism (although it's coming - get there now before the tour-busses take over...) We booked through a tour package ourselves, which is pretty much needed at this time, although not our usual style. Since the tourism infrastructure isn't well built out, visitors would be well served with a company that will help with visas, internal flights, drivers, and hotel bookings (this one is especially important, since many popular locations don't have enough hotel space for visitors). This trip will get its own post soon, but here are some of our favorite pictures from the trip.
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Stop 2: Phuket, Thailand

We flew back to Singapore for a few days, and then the four of us headed up to Phuket, Thailand, for some time on the beach. We had found a cheap flight via SkyScanner, and spent some time looking around for cheap accommodations. Unfortunately, even in Thailand, cheap <> good, and it took a while before we found something that was a good value match for our budget. We ended up in Kata Beach, which turned out to be a lot nicer (in our opinion) than neighboring Karon Beach, and a LOT nicer that Patong (which just seemed crazy). In retrospect, we wish that we had been able to get over to Koh Tao (highly recommended by most people we spoke with), but we had a great time in Kata Beach.

We zipped around on a scooter:
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We spent a day on a boat, visiting Phang Nga Bay, kayaking through caves and goofing around at James Bond Island (wait till we tell you about the drunk Russians!):
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We had our feet nibbled on by doctor fish (the most INCREDIBLE feeling!):
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And basically enjoyed a couple of days just relaxing at the beach:
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Stop 3: Bali

Now we're back in Singapore, and Anne and I are getting ready for a couple of days away, in Bali, BY OURSELVES! You could call it a second honeymoon, but after spending 24x7 with all four of us together over the course of the last 7 months, we're just happy to have some time alone. A big THANK YOU to Helen for hanging out with Alex and Leah while we're gone.

Stop 4: Borneo

After Bali, we have a couple of more days in Singapore, and then we leave for good. Next stop, Kuching Malaysia, where we will be taking a page from our friends Tracey and Colin and staying in a longhouse in the Sarawak jungle. We think this is going to be a lot of fun, but we'll probably be looking forward to that hot shower afterwards...

Stop 5: Penang Malaysia

From Kuching we fly to Penang Malaysia, where we will spend some time exploring the area, and finding some adventures on our way. Nothing too planned here yet, so we're hoping we'll find something cool.

Stops 6, 7, 8, 9...

After Penang, we fly up to Bangkok Thailand for a couple of days in the city, then hop over to Siem Reap Cambodia to meet up with Helen, Isobel, and Evie for a week exploring Angkor Wat and surroundings. We say goodbye to Helen the second week of April, and then fly to Hoi An Vietnam, where we will spend the rest of April working our way up the coast to Hanoi, with a quick visit to Luang Prabang Laos, where we will fly from to Chiang Mai at the beginning of May. Yeah, we just covered another three countries in that last paragraph - we're working out the details now...

So, it's going to be a busy couple of months upcoming. Hopefully we'll be able to continue to post to the blog, but more likely will only be able to grab a couple of minutes of wifi to upload status and a picture or two to our Facebook page. Head over there and "Like" that page if you haven't already - that will be the best way to get updates from the road!

And away we go...

Posted by noahv 09:01 Archived in Singapore Tagged travel update Comments (3)

Cusco, Perú - Observations & Revelations

or, better write this stuff down before we forget it... by Anne & Noah (team effort)


View World Trip 2012 on noahv's travel map.

Since our last post on our initial observations from Peru, we've left Yanahuara in the Sacred Valley and settled into Cusco. To save you the hassle of pulling up the details, Cusco is the seventh largest city in Perú with a little over 400K people, well behind Lima's 9.5M. Better to think of it as the center of the Inca empire, and the hub for exploring the numerous Inca ruins in the area, including Machu Picchu.

But enough of the history lesson - here's what we've been doing and noticed in the 10 days that we've been in Cusco:

Adventurous Wandering

We spend a great deal of time unofficially lost. We must be getting the lay of the land a bit since Leah remarked gleefully just yesterday "hey, this is the street we were lost on before!" We are happy to wander as long as there is no exhaustion and starvation involved. So far we have had excellent luck stumbling upon cafes we like and we have explored parts of the city tourist feet rarely tread. Maps and guide books have not been especially helpful so far.

The Two Hour Lunch

Our host family provides breakfast and dinner while we are on our own for lunch. Turns out, lunch is a slow meal. We have waited at cafes for 45 plus minutes for sandwiches. We are cool with this now and don't expect prompt service. We come prepared with a deck of cards. Last week we decided to try a local Chinese Restaurant (Chifa) and were unnerved by the speed at which the food arrived. The kids talk about it like that lunch was some sort of circus act.

Connectivity

It is not as easy to be connected as we imagined. Access to the Internet is sketchy. We are lucky to have reasonable reliable service in our family stay (casa familia), but it's not unusual to see notices like this:
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Cafés and bars that advertise "free wi-fi" don't always deliver. We found it often takes 5 or more minutes for a single picture to upload -- so we are encouraged to be selective. Apple products are not mainstream - so we have to hope that our collection of ipod, ipad, and macbook air don't require parts or servicing. Skype is great but our contacts never seem to be online!!!

Peruvian Idyosycracies

  • Peruvians dress modestly, but advertising takes full advantage of "sex sells" - even for green tea:

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  • Wine is expensive, compared to beer and rum. S/25 (about $10) for a bottle of wine, compared to S/15 (~$4) for a bottle of ron (rum).
  • Cusco is a tourist-centered city, so restaurants are very split between tourist and local, with tourist places charging 3x + more than the local spots
  • Many restaurants have a printed menu, which is usually different from what the actual menu is. You also need to ask if there is a menu del dia (menu of the day - a choice of appetizer or soup, main course, and drink) - typically much less than a la carte off the menu.

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  • There are a ton of stray/loose/homeless dogs in the city (perros vagabundos), necessitating a certain amount of vigilance while walking down the sidewalk (and I don't just mean because they sleep there...)

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  • Typical toilets do not include toilet paper or toilet seats. And no, you still can't flush paper down the toilet.
  • Electricity and gasoline are very expensive (about $18/gal according to our highly scientific calculations), but labor is cheap.
  • We've gotten pretty good at understanding Spanish, but there are always a few signs that we just can't figure out. This one was alongside the walking path to Tambomachay (ruins just outside Cusco city).

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  • Brand names still make us laugh

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What We are Living Without -- and REALLY Miss!

  • The people we love
  • Our dog Zillah, but we are glad she's being loved by her foster family in Seattle
  • Sriracha sauce -- we HAVE scoured the markets to no avail!
  • Showers with more hot water and fewer electrical currents
  • Room temperature to mean warm, and not "barely above freezing"

Our Favorite Things About Perú (specifically Cusco) So Far

  • Peruvians have been friendly, patient, and kind - They are OK with our "learners Spanish".
  • Children and Families are treasured here, so traveling with ours gives us an immediate starting point for conversation and shared experiences.
  • The Food is Delicious!
  • Ease and Economy of Transportation - a 20-30 min taxi ride costs about $1 for the 4 of us and busses are about 40 cents. Our 2 hour long bus ride from Urubamba to Cusco was a mere $1 each.
  • Peru is a deeply spiritual, traditional, and culturally rich place. We have been moved by the intensity with which Peruvians embrace their history and national identity. They seem to live it.
  • There are llamas here!!!

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What We Have Learned About Ourselves

  • We get stared at all the time. At first this was really unnerving. Then, it became only mostly unnerving. It still feels a bit weird. Probably because we're tall and white. Or perhaps because Leah has BIG BLUE EYES. Guess we should get used to it...I don't think SEAsia or China are going to be much different. We are learning to live with the fact that we will stick out as we travel for the next year.
  • Leah can make friends with anyone (especially little girls and animals).

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  • We make a thousand mistakes a day - the key seems to be staying positive and patient. As a family we've been trying to exist in the new normal of 24/7 togetherness.

So far, we love it. It's not easy, being somewhere that is different from what we're used to, and where we are (quite obviously) the "foreigners". Although we're learning - the language, the city, the culture - we're still the strangers in town. However, we're doing it, and we're doing it as a team.

Posted by noahv 18:41 Archived in Peru Tagged children travel peru spanish cusco observations Comments (2)

Victoria Victory!

Initial steps on the path to being an international traveling family

Canada_Bear.jpgIt's been a while since we returned from our trip to Victoria, and I wanted to answer the pressing question - "did we get arrested at the border trying to smuggle in a Chilean exchange student?"

In short, no. Thanks to all of Anne's pre-work at the consulate, the border crossings in both directions went very smoothly. Lesson learned to put in the time to figure out what paperwork you need for travelling, and persevere through the red tape...

Other lessons learned:

  • Speaking calmly and smiling is your best bet for smooth experiences with Border and Customs Control officers
  • Keep ALL your documents, and keep it all handy (e.g. keep your Victoria Clipper boarding pass for parking garage discount)
  • You can usually count on your fellow traveller - don't be afraid to ask
  • Don't be afraid to say "I don't know" to the kids
  • Don't be afraid to say "Let's try it" with the kids
  • Take a chance - you might like it (like Leah with the zip lines at WildPlay - she was totally scared of the unknown; but once known, she wanted to do more MORE MORE)
  • Carry paper copies of bus schedule, a good map, etc -- you can't count on wi-fi or GPS to work.
  • Talk to the locals, get suggestions, set out without specific agenda . . . you will find the best adventures that way.
  • Kids are driven by food. The smell of popcorn, the sight of a Starbucks -- leads to the immediate need to purchase! There's always a delicate balancing act between packing food and hoping to find en-route.

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Challenges:

  • From the kids: "it's nice to travel, but I'm really looking forward to going 'home'" -- what if "going home" is over a year away?
  • Packing: we still packed big bags for 3 days... but, we were able to carry it all. Re-emphasized that carry-on luggage is the way to go (we got to get off the Clipper first while the people with checked bags waited...)
  • Being there on time: as hard as we tried, we were pretty late getting to the boat to depart Seattle. However, we did get lucky with our "special room" on the Clipper to Victoria (primarily because we were late - and that the Clipper crew took pity on us)

Overall, a great trip. The city of Victoria is a fun place to spend a long weekend. We loved Roger's Chocolate, Miniature World (as cheesy as it sounds), walking through the Fairmont Empress, having lunch at the Parliament building, visiting the Royal BC Museum, seeing Sammy the Seal at Fisherman's Wharf, and swimming in the pool at our Worldmark hotel.

We're looking forward to going back to Victoria soon!
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Posted by noahv 10:44 Archived in Canada Tagged travel planning lessons Comments (2)

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