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Month 4 Roundup

January 8, 2014

IMG_4675_editDragon is going to bite Sergey so hard! in Kunming, China.


Days on the road: 121

Distance traveled: 3135.2 miles / 5045.62 km

by plane – 756.1 miles / 1216.9 km
by train – 2060.1 miles / 3315.44 km
by bus – 197.4 miles / 317.8 km
by boat – 81.3 miles / 131 km
by car – 13 miles / 21 km
by motorcycle – 27.3 miles / 44 km

Number of beds: 10

Countries visited: China, Thailand, Myanmar

IMG_4683_editSergey and a new friend eating most delicious sizzling steak and rice and sour in all of Guilin, China.

Items lost: 1

Jenia’s hat – it blew off during the boat trip from Ko Lanta to Phuket, Thailand.

Items ditched: 15

We said goodbye to our China guidebook, and Jenia got rid of her black dress – it does not hold up well to constant wear; Sergey parted with his jeans, which he wore to shreds (literary). We got rid of the daypack that we acquired in Japan, because the straps were coming loose and we found a better alternative. Jenia purchased sandals that didn’t work out.

We sent a lot of stuff home with Sergey’s parents – both acquired during the trip and a few cold weather items that initially made the trip: Jenia’s city walking shoes, two scarves, a pair of cashmere socks, Sergey’s cashmere sweater and flannel button down; Jenia also purchased a leather bag in Thailand that was shipped off.  A hardcover book that Sergey grabbed from Jenia’s grandmother’s house back in Russia, a tea pot purchased in Tibet, a plate from Japan.

Items acquired: 18

Way too many! We continue to shop – perhaps we’ve got some consumption issues to resolve? It’s kind of embarrassing to be putting out these stats out there. We did go to two countries where shopping can be considered part of the ‘experience’: China and Thailand. And we had to upgrade our wardrobe for summer weather (excuses, excuses).

Jenia purchased two tunics, a sarong, two dresses, two hats (one got lost), one pair of sandals, a pair of shorts, nail polish. Sergey purchased 4 t-shirts, shorts, replacement jeans. Collectively we also acquired a hammock and a new daypack.

Postcards sent: 0

IMG_5507_editCrossing the RR tracks somewhere in Myanmar.


_MG_9247_edit_MG_9341_editRiding the bus in Yangon, Myanmar — definitely not for the faint of heart, this guys in the doorway helps you get in while the bus slowdowns in traffic. Alternatively you can ride atop the truck, pretty common around Myanmar — this one is in Saigon. 

We took a major vacation from our travel this month. First Sergey’s parents came to visit us in Thailand for almost two weeks, and then we met up with a friend from DC on the island of Phuket, where we enjoyed fine resort living.  We also added on about a week of downtime in Bangkok, taking the time to catch up on emails, do a bit of blogging and freelance work, and plan our trip to Myanmar. All of this time off  was a wonderful break and also made us think about travel, vacations, and what we learned from this atypical month.

Until we left for this adventure – we didn’t really differentiate between travel (for pleasure, not work!) and vacation. In fact, we would use the two words interchangeably. But having briefly enjoyed two different vacations (with parents, then friends) – we noticed how different the two experiences really are.

_MG_8924_editSergey’s parents enjoying our adventure to the 4 Islands, sailing from Ko Lanta, Thailand.

To differentiate the two for our purposes here, let’s say that a vacation is a journey for a defined, shorter – weeks – period of time and the main purpose is to get away from the daily grind, relax, sometimes (depends on where you going) see something new; travel is a much longer, less defined journey stretching over many months. This boils down to the fact that on vacation there is less time, but more money to spend. Conversely travel allows for more time, but less money.

As a result of this money-time combination, vacation is a more ‘comfortable’ experience, while travel is more ‘local’ experience.  When you are on vacation, say in Thailand, you are much more likely to fly from Bangkok to your island destination, rather than take the overnight train. Flying maximizes both time (at the beach!) and comfort. But then you would never know that trains in Thailand are awesome fun time experience, with great dining car (like a beach bar, but on a train!) and have very comfortable sleeping bunks. Take the same choices in Myanmar – flying is certainly a much, much, much more comfortable option, but then you miss out on the once in a lifetime experience of waking up mid-air due to the twists and bumps of the British-era rail network. Plus there are the locals – from those riding the train, to those selling things on the train – an amazing bunch. And the views, don’t forget the views!

I am not convinced that we will always choose that overnight bus (or train) on our future travel-vacations, but I know that we will do so more than in the past.

Outside from choice of transport, there is food. After spending months eating from street stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants, we suddenly found ourselves eating at proper establishments three times a day. There were stand out meals for sure, but as a general rule, the fine restaurant food just wasn’t up to par! (Or maybe our taste buds have hanged and we crave a serving of greasy noodles with enough chili sauce to wipe out any thoughts besides those focused on the bowl sitting in front of you). We felt that the local food at restaurants has less flavor at best, is terribly westernized at worst; I am not even going to talk about ‘western’ food menu offerings. This probably holds more true for developing countries in Asia, than in say Europe, but still. Outside of a home cooked meal, your next best bet for the most authentic, tastiest food is probably from that lady on the corner with a grill cart.

Next time we are on vacation, we keep on eating like the locals. Although we look forward to resuming our habit of making multiple pit stops in cafes to refresh and reinforce our spirits that we can’t afford as much these days.

_MG_8917_editWho says paradise doesn’t exist? Welcome to Ko Ngai, Thailand.

Because of time constraints, vacation is more taxing than travel – there is much to see (all the palaces, temples and museums!) and do (snorkel, boat cruises), and eat in a finite amount of time. Travel allows a much more leisurely approach. On the downside, travel involves much more work – a lot of that leisurely downtime is spent thinking about whether we need a visa for the next country, where to obtain the visa if in fact we need it, how to get from place a to b, how to save money while crossing all these borders, and of course whether we are still on budget. Vacation is easy breezy, with logistics mostly figured out beforehand, there is plenty of time to take in the sights without worrying whether the $35 entrance fee (ahem, Emei shan) is going to break your budget for the day.

Jenia looks forward to daydreaming about exotic destinations at lunch, and taking the time to research about where to go, how to get there, what to see/do/experience in that place (much to Sergey’s chagrin). But perhaps we will take the leisurely approach once in a while on our vacations — who really cares if we see that museum (unless its Prado of course).

_MG_8928_editOur tour guide and captain for the 4 Islands tour. These guys were pretty awesome — and organized tour and all, we had a blast. ‘Follow me, follow me!’

Vacation allows to process experience more than travel, because there is no succession of new experiences one after the other. Go home, reflect, sort through pictures, continue to daydream about how good the food/culture/weather was. Travel in one region provides a much richer take on history and also a nice comparative perspective of today.  There were so many empires, trading routes, and wars shared by all these peoples and nations — its amazing to see how much they were all intertwined. We keep marveling at Mongolia – those fearsome horsemen got as far as the temples of Bagan, Myanmar! Its also quite surreal to see the level of economic development in a place like Thailand, which benefited from decades of million dollar investments by the US, and Myanmar, which was forced into decades of economic stagnation by its own government as well as international sanctions.

This one is a draw, we think. Either way, you win.

_MG_9178_editThe awe-inspiring Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

We have always recognized that we are very fortunate to be able to take the extended time off to explore the world. Now, we are even more appreciative of having the leisure of time, and a relatively constrained budget. We hope to take the lessons that we learned from our travel and apply them to our future (travel) vacations.

_MG_9294_editChauk Htat Gyi Reclining Buddah in Yangon, Myanmar.

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