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And so it ends...

A final farewell to South East Asia!

sunny

And so, as I sit for one final time in yet another crowded internet cafe, awaiting my flight back to the UK, idling away the hours until the time of my departure arises, the road now seemingly coming to an end, I reminisce on some of the highs and lows of the journey so far. With too many highlights to mention, I briefly summarise those that instantly spring to mind as I look back on the past 6 months of my life and make a few suggestions for future South East Asian travellers. Such as:

* Immersing yourself in the local culture and religion by joining a spiritual, full moon chanting ceremony in one of the 300 or more Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai - Thailand

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* Taking a slow boat ride down the scenic Nam Ou river amongst the impressive limestone cliffs and mountains of Nong Kiaw - Laos

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* Strolling through the charming, wat-filled streets, followed by a swim in the unbelievable turquoise waters of the Kuang Si waterfalls in Luang Prabang - Laos

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* Discovering remote, seldom seen river villages and friendly locals as you get lost up mountains, in fields and along rivers in and around the small town of Tadlo - Laos

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* Relaxing with an ice cold, cheap BeerLao, after a full day exploring in the sun, on the balcony of your own rickety wooden bungalow overlooking the river, followed by an all night local temple festival on the island of Don Det, 4000 Islands - Laos

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* Exploring the wonders of Angkor, from the hugely impressive Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, to the smaller, yet no less impressive, quieter ruins further afield near Siem Reap - Cambodia

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* Knowing the terror of stepping out in front of a million speeding motorbikes, firing machine guns and crawling the narrow claustrophobic tunnels of the Viet Cong, in and around the frantic streets of Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam

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* Entering the dreamlike world of a full moon party, where lights and vehicles are banned from the streets and a million multi-coloured candles are set adrift on the lazy flowing river in charm filled Hoi An - Vietnam

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* Sailing through the stunning landscape of jagged limestone karsks jutting up from the calm emerald waters, kayaking through small hidden passages and venturing into the cavernous interior of spectacular caves in Halong Bay - Vietnam

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* Partying long and hard with the locals and tourists alike during the crazy, water pistol fueled antics of a three day Thai New Year water festival in the streets of Bangkok - Thailand

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* Having your first experience snorkelling in the tropical waters, followed by a delicious (and cheap) seafood meal on the tranquil beaches, in front of a spectacular sunset on Koh Tao - Thailand

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* Seeing some of the world's most picture perfect beaches and islands, including "The Beach", on an all day boat cruise around the tropical paradise that is Koh Phi Phi - Thailand

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* Feeling all Robinson Crusoe as you lay in a hammock outside a creaky bamboo hut, listening to the soft lapping of waves and the tinkling of shells and coral on a deserted stretch of beach in Koh Lanta - Thailand

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* Jumping into deep water, mask and snorkel ready, to catch your first glimpse of the world's largest fish, as you swim alongside the silent and graceful whale sharks of Donsol - Philippines

* Becoming hugely popular with the friendly locals by being the only westerner in town during a straight six day tourist free visit to the islands of Samar and Layte - Philippines

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* Boarding a small rowing boat to enter the dark, bat filled underworld of the world's longest subterranean river just outside Puerto Princesa - Philippines

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* Snorkelling some of the best reefs, relaxing on the finest beaches, exploring the underwater sunken WWII Japanese navy wrecks, hand feeding giraffe, swimming in freshwater caves, hidden lagoons and crystal clear lakes, on boat trips around El Nido and Coron - Philippines

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* Watching the amazing spectacle of 3 million bats emerging from the entrance to the world's largest cave passage, flowing in a continuous, seemingly never ending ribbon across the twilight sky in Mulu National Park - Malaysian Borneo

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* Coming up close and personal with the "wild man of Borneo" as a giant mother orangutan and tiny cradled baby watch you from the forest before emerging just feet from where you stand in Semenggok National Park near Kuching - Malaysian Borneo

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* Trekking through the jungle, unguided, in search of cheeky macaques and elusive proboscis monkeys, as well as palm civets, flying lemur, wild pigs and venomous snakes in Bako National Park - Malaysian Borneo

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* Straddling the equator while surrounded by a hoard of screaming school children who look at you as if you're the strangest creature ever to set foot outside the realms of fairy tales and fantasies in Pontianak - Indonesian Borneo

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* Seeing a land before time as the sun slowly rises over the breathtaking landscape of Mount Bromo at sunrise, then descending into the poisonous, sulphurous bowels of Mount Ijen in Java - Indonesia

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* Suffering the four day, four night journey on an old wooden boat to see some of the most spectacular views, bathe in refreshing waterfalls, snorkel the vivid reefs and encounter the legendary Komodo Dragon on the islands of Komodo National Park - Indonesia

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* Getting all cultural as you attend traditional religious ceremonies, festivals, dances, museums and temples in the cultural heart of Bali that is Ubud - Indonesia

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* Finding the perfect beach to spend your last couple of days before returning home, as well as the opportunity to swim with reef sharks, giant parrot fish and graceful sea turtles in the turquoise paradise waters of the Perhentian Islands - Malaysia

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In addition to the many highs there were also a few lows, such as suffering food poisoning in Phang Nga - Thailand and still having to spend the whole day travelling on bumpy buses and rocky boats, or going for 64 hours without sleep on a two day boat journey from Indonesian Borneo to Java only to face a 4 hour bus ride and 3 hour search around the city for a hotel room that wasn't full. Thankfully these lows were few and far between, and almost non-existent when compared to the endless list of highs along the way. As well as the lows though, there were also plenty of near death experiences that any true travel adventure wouldn't be complete without. Such as:

* Getting caught across the face by low hanging electrical wires while on a 9 hour journey sitting on the roof of a bus in the Philippines

* Getting trapped on the jagged rocks under the powerful force of a large waterfall, unable to move until the wind changes direction in Laos

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* Ignoring the guide books and all recommended advice and warnings by trekking along rivers, across fields and up mountains, well off the beaten track and deep into the undergrowth, heedless of the very real danger from landmines in Laos

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* Getting attacked by crazy, drunken monkeys who scratch and bite, possibly infecting you with rabies or countless other foul diseases in Vietnam

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* Falling and slipping across the razor sharp rocks when entering the water to snorkel, slicing both hands and feet, although very nearly ending up completely diced in Thailand

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* Descending into an active volcano and being trapped by a thick fog of poisonous sulphur as you stumble breathlessly and blindly, unable to escape in Indonesia

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* Simply crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Phnom Pehn or Manila without getting hit by a dozen motorbikes, jeepneys, cars and speeding buses

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* And not forgetting the most unimpressive way to die while travelling, by having a coconut skim your head as it falls with an audible thump onto the ground, just inches from where you stand, from 50 feet in the air on almost any tropical island in South East Asia

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Death by coconut!

Not to mention the countless ways to die on public transport, from drivers who fall asleep at the wheel, speed around corners, up hills, through mountains, try and overtake at all the most inopportune moments, regardless of what's approaching, sit you on the top of the bus when there's no space on board and continue to drive like maniacs, trains that drop you off in the middle of the night between the busy lines, forcing you to clamber over them in the dark to the nearest platform, conductors who let you hang from the open door of a speeding bus despite the danger from oncoming trees and tunnels, buses with broken doors and rows of seats that aren't attached to the floor so slide uncontrollably towards them throughout the journey, jeepneys with exploding tyres that make you take cover as if you're being fired upon by terrorists, motorbike riders who fly around corners regardless of how precariously you're balanced on the back, heavy backpack swinging wildly from side to side, boats with no life jackets and leaky hulls that get stuck on coral reefs far out at sea in the middle of the night, or long boats that hit the rocks on shallow rivers and force you to get out in the fast flowing knee high waters to push, and then of course there are those drivers who are so bad at their jobs that they manage to crash into stationary walls just minutes after picking you up and claim it was the wall which came out of nowhere!

Despite all of this however I still somehow managed to survive to tell the tale and look to all the places that due to time constraints and money were not possible to visit on this occasion, giving me plenty of reasons to face death and dangerous driving once again on a return journey sometime in the future. Such as:

* Trekking in the mountainous, picturesque rice terraces of North Luzon and relaxing on the stunning, countless beaches of the Visayas in the Philippines

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North Luzon rice terraces

* Exploring the less travelled regions of Sulawesi, Sumatra, Flores, Papua and West Timor, as well as delving deep into the jungle of Kalimantan in Indonesia

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Remote Papua

* Visiting remote hill tribe villages in Northern Thailand, Laos and Vietnam

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Hill tribes - Thailand

* Relaxing on the isolated and serene beaches of Koh Turatao National Park in Thailand

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Koh Turatao National Park

* Biting the bullet and paying 75 pounds for one night in a dorm room to climb Mount Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo

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Mount Kinabalu

* Trekking to the heart of the peninsular to explore the jungle in Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia

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Taman Negara - Malaysia

* And finally, for experience sake only, seeing what all the hype and fuss is about by joining the drunken tourist masses in Vang Vieng - Laos, Sihanoukville - Cambodia, Gili Islands - Indonesia and Koh Phangan's famous full moon party - Thailand

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Koh Phangan's infamous full moon parties

Unfortunately all of these journeys and possible future blog entries will have to wait until a future date as time begins to tick and the hour of my departure soon approaches. Looking back, if there was any advice I could impart to fellow travellers it would be this:

* Pack light - there's nothing worse than being forced to carry around a heavy backpack full of clothes you'll never wear and yet feel unable to throw away.

* Always ask the price of services, transport and even food or drink, as prices always tend to be much higher when you have no option but to pay for them.

* Invest in a good guide book with maps, or try to acquire a map of the town you're travelling to before arriving, so that you can orientate yourself and avoid that all too common look of a startled new arrival, prime target for any local looking to make a quick and easy buck.

* Be aware that people will try to rip you off but don't let it consume you with doubts as quite often locals really do want to help and are more honest and friendly than many people you'd meet back home.

* Always carry a spare toilet roll with you as many of the more remote places and villages visited have toilet facilities which leave a lot to be desired.

* And finally, learn to love local transport, for while it's slower, noisier, dirtier, hotter and far more crowded than tourist transport, it's also a lot cheaper and far more exciting, bringing you closer to the locals, their way of life, and giving you the opportunity to meet some fascinating people along the way.

In fact, my only regret, looking back on the last 6 months of travel, and possibly the only thing I would choose to change were I able to relive the experience all over again, is the apprehension and suspicion which followed me around for the first couple of months, forcing me to decline any offer to be shown around town, taken back to someone's house, introduced to their family, or shown into the local community. While at the time I believed that everyone offering something for free was trying to scam me and that inevitably these offers would lead to trouble and expense, I now wonder at the opportunities missed which could well have been genuine. I'm just glad that I overcame this apprehension, leading to some of the most interesting experiences of my entire journey.

And so, after 6 long months passing by in the blink of an eye, 9 countries of differing cultures, religions and landscapes, over 40,000km travelled in varying degrees of comfort and safety, 3500 photos (800 of which lost to a thieving Filipino, or more likely simply stuck down the back of a minivan seat due to bad luck and carelessness), a long list of people, both local and foreign, met for the briefest of times yet still able to call friend, and an almost endless set of memories to last a lifetime, the journey, as with all journeys, must come to an end.

The apt words of Douglas Adams, used in the title of this blog, "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be" proved to be true throughout much of my journey, although I find it strange that the final destination should end up being the same as the origin. Then again, as I said in my very first blog:

"I truly believe that travelling is more about the journey than the destination. Lao Tzu, a Chinese Philosopher once said “a good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving”. It is for this reason I have with me: 1 passport, 1 return ticket, a handful of baht, no set plans, and 6 months of endless opportunities."

How true these words proved to be, and how long ago they seem to have been written. If only I could have imagined the sights and experiences awaiting me, when I was still a naive inexperienced traveller setting out on the fist step of a 6 month adventure, I would hardly have believed it myslef.

And so, the time has finally come, and as I prepare to log off for one last time, I thank you all for reading, hoping you enjoyed the journey, and I come to say my final farewell to Bangkok and a truly amazing 6 months in South East Asia. So, with nothing more to say, it's finally farewell!

And so the journey ends...

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Well, not quite. You don't really think I would end it like that do you? As I've always said, "life is the journey," not just 6 months travelling around South East Asia. There's a whole world out there to explore and I for one intend to do my best to see as much of it as I can. As far as I'm concerned, this is no ending, I'm just getting started. So I leave no endings, I make no farewells, and with a smile I simply say, "until next time!"

It's all about the journey...

Posted by Dan Smith 00:48 Archived in Thailand

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