buzz…chirp…whoo whoo…honk!

I’m sitting outside on the deck at Tim and Oi’s, my brother and sister in law’s home just outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’ve been thinking of what to write about in this latest blog post, my last one from SE Asia, and as soon as I stepped outside, the topic hit me. Sound!

the sound of ping pong, played by school kids at lunch recess in the hills outside Chiang Rai
the sound of ping pong, played by school kids at lunch recess in the hills outside Chiang Rai

Over the past three months, all of our senses have been woken up and challenged differently. We have seen places so beautiful that it makes you want to cry and seen things that are so sad, that you want to cry. We have tasted food that has turned our mouths on fire, and eaten food that makes us want for more. We have touched fern and palm leaves that are so enormous due to their happy growing conditions and had fish nibble on our fingers and toes. We have walked past the most fragrant “leelawadee” trees and verdant forests filling our noses with the most amazing scents, and walked past piles of rotting garbage that you have to hold your breath.

Interestingly however, I think the one sense that has been challenged and stimulated more is the sense of hearing. Each country, each city, each small village we have visited has had its own characteristic sound…making the soundtrack of our past 3 months.

As I sit here and type, I hear crickets chirping, I hear birds who whooing, I hear dogs barking. Every so often, I can hear the distant sound of voices. Early this morning, I was awakened by a loud gecko noise (Tim and Oi have a large resident gecko they have named Arnie). The sound is hard to describe, but it sounds as though someone has stepped on a dog’s chew toy. Just a little later, I could hear the monks at the nearby Buddhist temple calling out their morning prayers on the megaphone. Was that a cow mooing I heard just now?

One of the most interesting things about returning again to Thailand after spending 2 months in Cambodia and Vietnam is how quiet Thailand is compared to those 2 countries. I would have never said Thailand is quiet, had I not visited Cambodia or Vietnam.

In Cambodia, you are usually awoken to the sounds of the monks chanting and soon after, the honking of people traveling on their motorbikes and cars. Roosters would be crowing and chickens clucking. You hear conversations between people very clearly as nobody talks quietly, whether they are on the cell phones or having a conversation with a friend they are sitting right next to. The evenings are filled with the sounds of karaoke singing from bars that open early and stay open late into the night. To drown out the sound, we would fall asleep to the humming of our room AC or fan. Ear plugs were essential at times.

Vietnam was the noisiest country we visited. It was hilarious to be in a shopping mall, and hear music blaring from one shop almost competing with the music blaring from the shop right next door. When in the market, you have the frequent chatter of vendors calling out to you to buy their items, “Madame, you come look my shop, looking is free, you want to buy for your babies?” (referring to Jamey and Becca-this never amused them). When traveling by bus or train, we were always treated (not sure it was a treat) to cheesy Vietnamese music and music videos (for the duration of most trips). If anyone received a call on their cell, even if they were in the front of the bus and we were in the back, well it was like we were sitting right beside them. Trying to find a quiet coffee shop to do schoolwork was always a challenge due to overhead music, again cheesy vietnamese love songs. I think the funniest sound memory I have was when we stayed at Mina La Villa in Hoi An. Jamey and Becca and I were sitting outside doing school work and catching up with emails. It suddenly struck me that I was singing along to the song that we were hearing (in my best vietnamese!) simply because the owner had the song on repeat and we probably listened to it 10 or 15 times in a row (apparently it is a very popular song amongst the Vietnamese youth). And finally, the honking…oh the honking. Buses, cars, motorbikes, they all love to use their horns…

So now we are back in quiet Thailand, so to speak. With only 3 more days in SE Asia before we fly on to New Zealand, I realize I will miss this soundtrack, much like I will miss SE Asia. It was our first stop on this year long adventure and we have learned and grown and experienced so much. Our senses have been awakened by the beauty of this place and the people we have been fortunate to have met along the way.

Next stop, New Zealand!

Much love and singing and honking to you,

Nicola

Thailand round two…and reflections on 3 months in SE Asia

Playing in the south China Sea
Playing in the south China Sea

We are now back in Thailand for a few weeks before we fly to New Zealand. It is so interesting coming back after spending nearly 3 weeks in Cambodia, and almost 5 weeks in Vietnam. Coming back to Thailand, the place where we started our journey has really made me realize how different these three countries really are.

The thing that strikes me the greatest is how deeply respectful Thai people are of their beloved King, one another and Buddha. Their king, Bhumibol Aduljadej passed away one month ago after serving the Thai people as their king for 7 decades. The country is in mourning, evidenced by the black and white clothes the majority of Thai people are now wearing. In every town that we have traveled through, there are large billboards with the King’s photos, as well as black and white ribbons adorning the school fences and district buildings.  It is said that the official mourning period will be for one year. Although it feels as though Thai businesses are running as usual, I certainly feel its citizens are less jubilant than they had been when we visited Thailand in August.

While Buddhism is practiced in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, it is the Thai people that strike me as the most observant. Beautiful “wats” (Buddhist temples) and pagodas can be found in all three countries, it is in Thailand that I have witnessed more worshipping. Vietnam had an “anything goes or almost hedonistic” sort of vibe to it, and the pagodas in Cambodia were not nearly as polished, enormous or well kept as in Thailand.

I have loved observing how the natives of these three countries interact with one another. Children in Thailand are taught from an early age to respect their elders. It is apparent even when they are addressing Evan and I, despite us not being Thai. Children are raised alongside their siblings, at their parent’s shops, guesthouses, and restaurants. We have been served our menus, plates of food and even beer by children as young as 4 years old at times in all 3 countries. This isn’t a reflection on poor child labor laws, more so it reflects the culture and community in which these children grow up. Parents are always close by, but are also always working, whether it is cooking, cleaning, running a guesthouse, or selling food at the market. Daycare centers are few and far between, found mostly in the bigger cities. Grandparents are usually found in the shops as well, living alongside their adult children. I love this sense of community and multigenerational families. It is something that many of us living in North America, far from our families of origin, miss out on. (mom, I know, it was mine and Evan’s choice to move to Idaho!)

 

I asked Jamey and Becca today which of the three countries has been their favorite. Jamey has enjoyed Thailand the most because of Pad Thai and feels that Thai people stare the least (if you read my last post, you’ll see that this has really bothered him). Becca loved Thailand and Cambodia the most because of the food, and the friendliness of the people. It is hard for me to say which place has been my favorite as there have been wonderful and tough times in all 3 countries. I have loved the kindness of the Thai people, its beautiful scenery, and the safety of road travel.  Vietnam surprised me with its gorgeous and varied scenery, great food with a french influence, and we were lucky to meet many kind fellow travelers in Vietnam. The loud honking in Vietnam drove us all crazy! I loved the Cambodian people and admired their resilience and Angkor Wat was incredible. Traveling by bus in Cambodia however, not my favorite.

Each country so very different from its neighbor.

I’ve attached some photos from our last few weeks in Vietnam with this post. We traveled from the southern end of Vietnam up to the northern capital Hanoi. We motorbiked around Cat Ba Island (even I rode my own motorbike!), we cruised around Ha Long Bay, we spent time in the South China Sea in Danang. We toured ancient “imperial cities” in Hue, we traveled by train alot and loved the energy and excitement of Hanoi. In the spirit of complete honesty, we also had our trying times…but looking back on the photos, it is the memories of the places we visited that brings me joy. Hopefully Jamey and Becca and Evan feel the same.

Enjoy. Thanks for reading and again thanks for the comments, it is so so very good to hear from our friends and family. It fills us up.

Hey guys, it’s Becca here!!!

This is me at Ha Long bay on our tour boat in Vietnam.
This is me at Ha Long bay on our tour boat in Vietnam.

 

Hello, I had a great time in Vietnam. We were there for about five weeks. I was surprised at how many people spoke English there, also in Cambodia. It wasn’t the best English but it was enough to be able to understand. The last place we were in was Hanoi, Vietnam. We took a 1 hr and a 1/2 plane trip back to Bangkok, Thailand, from there we rented a car from the airport and drove to a town called Ayutthaya and got a hotel called “Good morning”. This afternoon we rode around some ruins and while we were crossing the road I fell off my my bike and cut my elbow in the process. It started stinging after I fell. A nice man saw what happened, ran across the road and said that he had some iodine and cotton to help clean the cut. I have had a good time on this trip. I miss you guys. Good Bye

Rebecca

“If it were easy, everyone would do it…”

Exploring around the Citadel in Hue, Vietnam
Exploring around the Citadel in Hue, Vietnam

It’s been nearly two weeks since I last did a blog update. We have continued to cover a lot of ground here in Vietnam, but the reason for my lack of posts is due to me being in a little bit of a funk.

We have traveled now for nearly 3 months. Hard to believe, and yet when the kids and I look over the maps they have drawn of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam I am amazed at how much we have seen and experienced. But 3 months 24 hours a day, 7 days a week all together can be challenging. I am hoping it’s just part of the culture shock that comes with being in SE Asia and that perhaps this adventure will be easier once we get to New Zealand.

It was my naive hope that Jamey and Becca would love all the aspects of travel that Evan and I love…seeing new sights, trying different foods, meeting people from different cultures. I was expecting that they would love home schooling and all the extra attention they would get from us when they were struggling with something. I was thinking that they would love this time away from school and that they would become the best of friends as they only have one another to experience this trip with (in addition to Evan and I). I was thinking I was going to become this totally relaxed mama who ambles easily down the road without a care or worry in my heart with two content and curious kids, all the while discussing humanity…

Reality is somewhat different however and I am admitting that it seems a year of travel with kids is not for the faint of heart. They miss their friends (a lot), they really miss being in school (a lot) and apparently when I am teaching Jamey his math, he tells me that my voice sounds like it’s my “your in trouble Jamey voice”. They complain about having to do so much math and reading (even though in reality it is much less than if they were in school). They get tired easily when we are out sight seeing, but seem to have insane amounts of energy when we are staying in a hotel room. They have been willing to try different foods, but if we were to ask what they want to eat, it’s usually “burgers and fries”, sometimes a challenge to find in SE Asia…They fight with each other ( a lot!). They are bored (a lot!). Jamey cannot stand the locals staring at him. Becca gets very sore feet quite easily it seems. I worry that they will get run over by all these motorbikes and I often find myself not walking blissfully down streets, more like in the backseat of taxis keeping them from touching each other…and the only bit of space I can find some days is when I lock myself in the bathroom for some “me” time.

Do I have super selfish,ungrateful kids who don’t realize just how lucky they are to be on this experience??

No, I realize I just have kids, regular kids, who like and miss their friends, love their home, enjoy being in school and miss having a regular life. I have kids that can be ungrateful and irritable, as can I as well. These are the kids I have and love. So my challenge now is to accept my reality and come to terms with the fact that my naive desires for what Jamey and Becca may get out of this trip, may not be entirely realized.  I will take it one day at a time. Sometimes even one hour at a time.

Perhaps it is enough that they are willing to get out of bed everyday and eat three meals a day in a different country, walk down really crazy busy streets without getting run over by motorbikes, and still do their homework without too much complaining. Every moment we are out of the hotel their senses are being hit with different sounds, different smells, different sights. I understand that their brains process all of this stimuli very differently than my adult brain does. I’m hoping that this adventure is just giving them a taste of the wonders of the outside world so that perhaps when they are older this adventure may settle in with them.

3 months in…appropriate that I am just figuring this all out now. We got so used to our routine back home and this world travel is so very very different for all of us, compared to that life we lived. In all the family travel blogs I have been reading, I haven’t come across posts similar to this one. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who has felt this way while traveling long term with kids. My sister finished off an email to me saying, “if it were easy, all of us would be doing it…”. Exactly sis, words I needed to hear.

Thanks for listening, I needed to just get that off my chest. I am still so grateful for this opportunity to travel but I just needed to share some honest thoughts. And don’t get me wrong, it isn’t tough all the time. It’s actually pretty good (a lot) of the time. I have been amazed and proud of their resilience.

Next post will be filled with tales of our last 2 weeks in Vietnam and our first week back in Thailand. We leave Vietnam tomorrow after visiting 5 weeks. Bon Voyage Vietnam, what a strange and wonderful stay we have had here.

Evening swim on Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
Evening swim on Cat Ba Island, Vietnam