The End(ish)

In four hours, we will board a Qatar Airlines flight bound (eventually, 30 hours later) for home. Whoa. It feels like time has flown, like nine-months has passed in ninety days. But at the same time, when we think about landing in Nairobi back in August, it seems like years have passed since we began our journey.

It took us months to get ready for this trip. There was money to be saved. Jobs to quit. Families and friends to hug. Houses to pack. Blogs to set up. Equipment to buy. Bags to pack. Downsizing from our everyday life to two carry-on bags and two day-packs and (temporarily) cutting ties took time. Today, it took us all of two hours to pack everything we own and say our goodbyes.

A few months ago, we started to recognize that this day would come, but didn't know how we'd feel about it. Would we be sad? Not ready? Terrified of the real world? Excited? Satisfied?

Now that the end is near (or here) and cannot be denied any longer, we're a little mix of everything. Mostly, we're excited. To see family and friends again. To start the next journey, wherever that might be. We feel really good about how we've spent our time and can honestly say we have no regrets (but if we had a money tree and a teleporter, we'd be more than tempted to keep traveling).

The hardest thing is knowing what a rare opportunity this is, being able to completely check out of our "real" lives, put everything we own in a box and get to know the world without two-week time limits or competing priorities. This could and might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But we hope not. Our goal for rejoining reality is to find a balance between reestablishing roots and leaving room for exploration. It's the dream, but now that we have a taste, it feels achievable on some level. We've always been travel junkies, but this experience has put a new emphasis on quality over quantity.

Even though we are out of time, we are rich in experiences that will last us a lifetime... or at least until the next trip.

See you State-side!


Hanoi to Saigon in 14 Days

When you're traveling on a budget, buses are simply a fact of life. They are the cheapest way to get from point A to point B, so when you have limited money and flexible time, you find yourself on them more often than you might like. This was never more true for us than in Vietnam. After burning a week in and around Hanoi, we headed south, giving ourselves fourteen days to make it from the country's northern capital to Saigon and onwards into Cambodia.


Leg #1: Halong City to Ninh Binh / Bus Type: Minibus / Duration: 6 hours
Our lucky day in the sun at Halong was the last we'd see for awhile. We left the bay area along with two other couples from the "junk" trip and headed to our next destination, Ninh Binh, in the rain. Ninh Binh isn't really known for much aside from its outdoor activities (it's the "Halong Bay of the mainland"), and with the bad weather making even being outside less than ideal, there wasn't much we could do. So, we holed up in our hotel room, which was mercifully nice enough to spend a whole day in, watched episodes of the "Wire" and worked on the blog. We only braved the rain (and the cold, I should mention) for food - a delicious duck meal that we got to enjoy in the company of the restaurant's owner. The "excitement" of the trip came when we thought Brendan's shoes were stolen after someone persuaded him to remove them in the restaurant (very common at homes and businesses in SE Asia) only to disappear out the door with them without a word. Thankfully, the shoes were returned about 30 minutes later, squeaky clean and with a price tag for the unsolicited shine. With nothing keeping us, we headed out of town that night for Hue on our first Vietnamese sleeper bus.

Leg #2: Nihn Bihn to Hue / Bus Type: Overnight Sleeper / Duration: 13 hours
The Vietnamese sleeper bus is one of the more comfortable ways to travel in SE Asia. It's not perfect - for example, the sleeper seats were built for tiny Asians and are a bit small for us larger and longer Westerners - but it beats sitting up for cross-country trips any day. Our guesthouse manager in Ninh Binh actually lied to the bus company - telling them that we were old and decrepit - to score us some of the best seats (bottom row, front of the bus). We hobbled a bit getting up the steps for good measure and settled in for the ride to Hue. Hue was a huge surprise for us. We had not even planned on visiting the old Imperial capital, but were convinced by a fellow traveler to check it out. It ended up being one of our favorite stops in Vietnam. First of all, we stayed in a wonderfully friendly and quirky guesthouse (Hue Nino) that immediately felt like family. We spent our first afternoon with one of the girls who worked there, pedaling furiously on bicycles after her motorbike while she shared some of the secret spots of "her city" with us. To see the popular stuff, we hired motorbikes (with drivers, we're still a bit timid of driving scooters and the Vietnamese traffic is, as explained, crazy). The rain let up just enough for us to enjoy a few days outside and we successfully sought out a good bottle of wine and strong Internet signal for Christmas Skype-ing with family. All-in-all, Hue was an unexpected treat.

Leg #3: Hue to Hoi An / Bus Type: Regular Sitting / Duration: 5 hours
Hoi An is the crown-jewel of the Vietnamese coast. It's a picturesque colonial town, UNESCO World Heritage Site and beach resort all in one, making it one of the most popular destinations in the country - and we were there during the single-most popular week of the year. The crowds and rain may have dampened the experience a bit, but we definitely could see what all the fuss is about. There is just something about Hoi An that makes you like it - it's very charming. Brendan got to see a bit more of the "real Hoi An" while he was strengthening his already growing skills during a half-day photography course. We snuck in some beach time between the frequent showers, but were starting to feel the effects of the rain. We searched for sun online and hopped the first bus possible to find it.

Leg #4: Hoi An to Mui Ne / Bus Type: Overnight Sleeper / Duration: 18 hours
Mui Ne is known more for its activities in the water than it's beach (which is somewhat non-existent). It's one of the best spots in the world for wind-surfing and kite-boarding, bringing talent from all around the world to enjoy the perfect conditions. Even though we planned to keep our feet firmly on the sand, Mui Ne was just what we needed. There was sun, seafood, a few sights and not much else. Total relaxation. Maybe a bit too much, because when New Year's Eve came around, we got all dressed up with high hopes of saying goodbye to an amazing 2012 and ushering in an exciting 2013 in style, only to fall asleep fifteen minutes before the countdown. R & R accomplished; epic New Year's celebration failed.

Leg #5: Mui Ne to Saigon / Bus Type: Regular Sitting / Duration: 5 hours
Saigon, as mentioned in our last post, was one of our favorite cities in Vietnam. It's big and noisy, but the energy is contagious and the people watching is top-notch. It's also home to the War Remnants Museum, which made for an intense day. It's difficult to witness tragedy of any sort, but even harder when the place you call home is directly involved. B and I had a quiet walk home and then a night full of conversation about war, motivations, and America's role, outlook and reputation in the world, then and now. If we get brave, we'll post more of those thoughts later.

Leg #6: Saigon to Sihanouksville (Cambodia) / Bus Type: Overnight Cambodian Sleeper / Duration: 18 hours
Our introduction to Cambodia was a bit rough, thanks to the Cambodian sleeper and it's unique design choices. The seats are two to a side with no separation, meaning if you're traveling alone, you better hope your neighbor is normal, small and smells nice. It was a good thing that B and I like to cuddle because the "bed-chairs" are made to fit one thirteen-year-old. Not a comfortable ride, but it got us safely across the border - with no bag search of any kind, I might add - and delivered us in one piece to the Cambodian coast.

All said and done, including the trek and trip to Halong, we were on buses for a grand total of 70+ hours, accounting for nearly one-seventh of our time in Vietnam. They say the journey is the destination, but I don't think they've ever tried to do Hanoi to Saigon in 14 days.

Another Month, Another Visa!

Two months ago, we landed in Bangkok for the first time, introducing not only a second continent but also the second half of our 7½-month, once-in-a-lifetime trip. Mixed with the excitement of new adventures was a small but persistent voice constantly reminding us that we were on the back half of our journey. Where had the time gone? Were we ready for the real world? Did we make the most out of our time? Would we have regrets? Were there still things to do/see/eat? The simple reality that we won’t be able to do this again in the foreseeable (if ever) future came crashing in… hard.

So, we did what most mature, logical adults would do. We bickered. We got annoyed. We fought over small stuff that didn't matter or have anything to do with the trip or going home. And then, when we were almost at our wits end with each other, we talked. We gained a bit of perspective and understanding from each other and we started working on ways to satisfy the idealist in me (let's travel forever) and the realist in Brendan (that’d be nice, but how).

In the end, we figured out a way to stretch our existing budget to give us some breathing room for the places we still wanted to visit (Cambodia, Southern Thailand and Indonesia) and add in a new destination. Win-win-win!


Waiting in line at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok to pick up our visas. We applied in-person two days earlier - the whole process was pretty smooth.

We're official! B definitely lit the fire under the whole Burma trip and I'm so glad he did. We're lucky to be able to see it now while it's still changing and finding its way.

Dollar, dollar bills, yo! Burma has no ATMs and only accepts pristine US dollar bills. We scoured Bangkok today in search of crisp greenbacks and a little protection for the road... Can't be a baller without the Power Ranger pencil box / money holder.

Note: It's funny how a little can go a long way... Since officially extending the trip, we have gone from fear of the real world to being genuinely excited about going home. We can't wait to see our families and friends and are looking forward to starting a new adventure stateside.

Christmas just isn't the same without you

It's Christmas morning here in Hue, Vietnam and over the last few days, Brendan and I have realized one thing. For us, Christmas is not Christmas without family.

Christmas is surprisingly everywhere around us here in SE Asia. Storefronts and guesthouses are decorated, there are lights all around the streets, all the restaurants are playing Christmas tunes, we heard Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas" coming out of a bar last night (I made Brendan stand and wait until the whole song was over while I danced around and sang) and we even saw three or four Santas wondering around town spreading Christmas cheer. But, it still doesn't feel like Christmas.

Because for us, Christmas is about family. It's about putting the angel on top of the tree, or snow shoeing out to cut one down. It's about Christmas Eve lasagna and prime rib. It's about sleeping in the same room with your sisters to wait for Santa or waking up with your brother to catch the first lift of the day. It's about the excitement of having someone open your gift and about trying your best (and failing) to hide your expression when you open something that misses the mark ;). It's about laughing until you cry and hearing stories you've heard a hundred times before. And it's about simply being together with the people you love most.

We spent some time this morning just looking through the blog and talking about all of the amazing experiences we've had this year and can't believe this is our life right now. What a different year it's been. We are so lucky to be doing what we're doing. And to be doing it together. But, we miss our families and our friends and just wanted to say that today is not the same without you.

We love you. Merry Christmas.