Time Travel

Getting ready for the longest June 20 of my life:

Check into the airport in Sydney Australia at 8:45 a.m.
Depart: Sydney 10:45 AM 20 June
8 hour flight
Arrive: Manila 4:55 PM 20 June

Depart: Manila 7:00 PM 20 June
12 hour flight
Arrive: Vancouver Intl Arpt (YVR), 4:00 PM 20 June

Yes, that’s right: 20 hours in the air, plus 3 hours in Manila, and I get home  5 hours later in time for dinner!

I’ve been enjoying this blog but unfortunately I still haven’t caught up on all I wanted to write about the Asian adventure… so watch this space! I might be getting home, but it ain’t over 🙂 See you soon, Van-city! xo

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Don’t forget me when I’m gone…..

It is my final full day in Australia – what a weird feeling! It is truly hard to imagine being back in Vancouver after living here for so long. I am very excited to catch up with friends and family back home, but can’t say I won’t miss aspects of life down under. The weather is of course the hardest thing to leave!! Followed closely by family (the Sydney Crew, the Melbourne Gang, and the Perth Posse!) , beaches, pubs, jobs/wages/vacation time, Aussie-style sport (community-oriented and only at the weekend!), plus much more. But at least we’ve been able to save up some cash and have an amazing two-year adventure down under! It has been the trip of a lifetime and I don’t regret it at all.

We’ve been fitting in as much as we can into the final few days to ensure we go out with a bang! Family time has been a priority and we had some family sessions on the long weekend and again this weekend so that we can try to get our cousinly saturation happening – not possible! We hosted the Wood-ohs and Auntie Bridget for a lovely dinner… and I forgot to take a single snap! Silly girl. Luckily Michelle and her friend Mel came out this weekend and I remembered to take a shot or two. It was a fun night out in Newtown – the place to be!

After a night out

After a night out

Noooo!

Noooo!

Yesterday we spent hours packing – what a dull chore that is! We gave so many clothes to the op shop and still had so much stuff to contend with. Two boxes got shipped home today, plus there is all the luggage we are taking with us. Too bad Brian never needed to use those heavy tools we shipped here…. and are shipping home again.

Yesterday arvo I went for a final coastal walk from Coogee to Clovelly beaches. It was gorgeous but windy as! I was blessed with sun and a rainbow, so I was happy.

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Rainbow!

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Huge waves!

Huge waves!

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Last night we went for dinner to say goodbye to our housemates. We had drinks at the Newtown Social Club before heading to eat. We each indulged in a three-course meal at Soffritto and shared a few bottles of Sangiovese – it was such a nice night filled with delicious food. Our housemate Sarah only just got back from working overseas for two months, and it was Mike’s last night before heading back to work in Queensland. It was a nice send-off with our best housemates in Aus!

Today has gone by soooo quickly! We’ve been taking care of errands and chores and packing and organizing. Our big send off was this afternoon: We booked a table at Café Sydney in Customs House down at Circular Quay. We enjoyed some amazing food on the terrace while soaking in our final vista of Harbour Bridge and the views of Sydney. It was a deliciously decadent treat to say goodbye to this country.

View from our table...

View from our table…

Lookin' sharp!

Lookin’ sharp!

Hat to block the sun - I wanted to take it home!

Hat to block the sun – I wanted to take it home!

Tonight we are off to try our hand at pub trivia for the last time in Oz –hope we can do ourselves proud on our final attempt!

us!

us!

We fly out tomorrow morning, so just have to put the final bits and bobs away and get sorted before the taxi comes at 8:00 a.m.

EEK – Australia, we’ll miss you!! This video will be a good reminder and might help me cope…..

See you on the flip side!

Mwa! (A classic Newtown landmark)

Mwa! (A classic Newtown landmark)

Vivid Sydney Birthday Outing

Went out to the Opera Bar for Brian’s birthday the other night and were able to soak in the atmosphere of Vivid Sydney – a lights and arts festival in the city at the moment. While we didn’t take in any of the events or concerts, we did enjoy the various light displays around Circular Quay, as visible here! Enjoy these alternative views of Sydney’s iconic Opera House.

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birthday boy at Opera Bar

birthday boy at Opera Bar

Chilling at Opera Bar

Chilling at Opera Bar

Crazy Opera House

Crazy Opera House

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Circular Quay

Circular Quay

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Customs House

Customs House

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Elephants – Part 1

There are many extremes and disparities in Asia. One thing that resonated on our trip was the plight of the Asian Elephant. These majestic elephants are ubiquitous in SE Asia as emblems, decoration, and branding to real-life symbols of days gone by, elegance, and power. From Chang beer to circus tricks, from wild elephants to rides through the jungle, these animals are everywhere.

Chang beer - size large

Chang beer – size large

The first time we saw elephants was in Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand. Brian and I were biking around this ancient city, stopping of at various ruins along the way. We stopped at the side of the road to snap a photo of a certain temple, and coming up the sidewalk was a massive elephant, dressed in red robes, with two tourists on its back. It was crazy to turn around and have an elephant walking down the sidewalk towards you, and to realize that you’d better move out of its way, and quick!

There's an elephant behind me! First spotting - Ayutthuya

There’s an elephant behind me! First spotting – Ayutthuya

There were quite a few elephants here doing a bit of a loop from a market area to the temple we were stopped at, and back. I had read that there was an elephant breeding program just outside of town, which was successfully bringing numbers back up. Supposedly, elephants here were treated well and worked with tourists offering rides on this route.

Ayutthuya

Ayutthuya

It was a holiday weekend while we were in Ayutthaya (the King’s Birthday) so when we found the “start” point of these elephant rides, we saw a ring in which there were many elephants. We caught the end of a “show,” where elephants were performing many tricks (i.e. balancing on one leg, standing on a stool, etc.). Being that this was our first encounter with elephants in Asia, it was captivating to watch, but I couldn’t help but think that it was a cruel thing to train elephants in such a way. They were also chained up within this ring. After the show, the elephants were available to pose for photos, and took payment with their trunks, before handing the bills over to their “owners”. There were baby elephants as well as grown ones, and it seemed particularly mean to have babies subjected to this sort of spectacle.

Sad circus tricks

Sad circus tricks

As we travelled around Asia, we continued to see elephants. The starkest contrast to the performing elephants in Ayutthaya was the sight of a wild bull elephant at our next destination – KhaoYai National Park in central Thailand. After a day of hiking and animal spotting, our guide got a call from one of his contacts that an elephant had been spotted on the other side of the park. We all loaded into our Sawngthaew (truck with benches in the back – more on these in the transportation post), and the driver embarked in the great elephant chase. The anticipation was exhilarating as we flew down the streets, stopping to check in with wildlife photographers and park rangers along the way. We made it to the scene, only to have the elephant retreat back into the jungle (probably due to all the trucks parked waiting to look at him). Patience was rewarded, however, as we hung around for another half-hour or so and the elephant came back out into the clearing to the salt lick. It was amazing! Words can’t describe how cool it was to see this giant animal in its natural setting, so unperturbed by our presence. We were all within our vehicle so as not to disturb him, but even still, there were a lot of people around. We could have watched him for hours! He was huge, and used his massive tusks to break up the soil and get to the salt. Very awesome moment, indeed!

Wild Chang

Wild Chang

The ruins of Angkor Thom were also host to elephant tours, in much the same was that they were used in Ayutthuya – elephants carried tourists around the ruins, wearing traditional ceremonial garb. Seeing them in the setting of the ruins sure made it easy to imagine we were centuries back in time.

Elephant Terrace - Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Elephant Terrace – Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Elephant Terrace - Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Elephant Terrace – Angkor Thom, Cambodia

But what is the story of these elephants and how did they get to where they now work in tourism? More on this, later!

THAI COOKING

Who doesn’t love Thai food? Brian and I are definitely fans so when we got to Chiang Mai, we knew we had to sign up for one of the city’s famous cooking schools.

After doing some research online and on the street, we decided on an organic farm cooking course that lasted the day.

We were picked up by Sawngthaew in the morning and then driven to a market where our instructor walked us through the essential ingredients of Thai cooking. We learned about rice, fish sauce, oyster sauce, palm sugar, chilli, and many other ingredients. It was fun to spend time in the market. We’d visited a few markets before and never failed to be impressed by the variety of fresh produce, the bright colours, and the interesting wet market full of many freshly butchered meats and freshly caught seafood. The markets are local and fresh, home to everything you need for Thai cooking.

rice - all sorts of rice

rice – all sorts of rice

Love Thai markets

Love Thai markets

Everything you need to stock your pantry

Everything you need to stock your pantry

After the shopping trip, we carried on into the countryside towards the organic farm that was hosting us for the day. Here we got to tour the garden in order to learn more about the specific ingredients that are used in cooking, what they look like, and how they differ from each other. It was a beautiful day, and lovely to walk through the grounds to orient ourselves with the produce.

On the drive to the farm, we were given a list of dishes to choose from which determined what we wanted to learn to cook. Brian and I were sure to each choose different dishes from each of the five categories to ensure we could learn as wide a repertoire as possible!

Getting ready to  make a green curry paste

Getting ready to make a green curry paste

Curry-pasting it up!

Curry-pasting it up!

We started by making our own curry pastes, then went on to soup, curries, stir-fry, appetizer, and dessert. I made green curry, coconut chicken soup, chicken basil stir fry, pad thai, and mango sticky rice. All the dishes were actually really fast and easy to make, and better yet – delicious! We were given recipe books to take home and have since made cashew chicken a few times – very tasty. Waiting to get home to our mortar and pestle to try out the curry pastes – we will see what we can do!

Tom Yum Soup - before

Tom Yum Soup – before

Tom Yum Soup - after

Tom Yum Soup – after

Coconut Chicken Soup - before

Coconut Chicken Soup – before

Coconut Chicken Soup - after

Coconut Chicken Soup – after

Whether or not we have lasting success, we had a fun day out on the farm!

fresh spring rolls

fresh spring rolls

Thai fast food

Thai fast food

Time flies when you’re having fun!

Here we are, T-22 days left in Australia! EEK! Where have the past two years gone!?!? And why do the days suddenly seem to pass so much faster than they did, say, when I was stuck on a farm!?! Ha ha. Working full-time, cooking meals, exercising, sleeping – it all takes up valuable time! That’s not to say we aren’t packing our days and weekends with lots of fun stuff. We just aren’t jetting off to New Zealand or Bali like I had hoped. Literally ran out of time. I guess we’ll just have to come back down to the bottom of the world again to do the things we missed the first time around!

So what have we been up to? We’ve been loving life in Sydney. Summer-style sunshine has extended almost all through autumn, which does so much to improve moods and encourage outdoor activity! It’s been getting cold in the mornings/nights and that makes us miss insulated Canadian houses, but the sunshine has been awesome. Had a few days of rain last week and our bodies went into shock! Hard to believe winter starts on Saturday (June 01).

Autumn leaves

Autumn leaves

Because of the sun, we’ve enjoyed lots of outdoor stuff: lounging in the Botanical Gardens, chilling at Sydney Park watching flights take off, hanging at Coogee Beach (less so now – too cold!), walking the coastal route from Coogee to Clovelly, visiting farmers’ markets, and strolling in our ‘hood. Love the Aussie sunshine!

Coogee to Clovelly walk

Coogee to Clovelly walk

We LOVE Newtown! It is such a quirky neighbourhood with tonnes of bars and restaurants to enjoy. We’ve taken to going out for a meal at the weekend and going for drinks midweek to ensure we get to try as many locales as we can. Delicious research! Had a particularly enjoyable Saturday night celebrating Brian’s birthday, hopping from bar to bar to check out a few places. Our house is awesome – probably the nicest place that Brian and I have lived in together. We love our massive kitchen and large closets! But the high ceilings and hardwood floors make the house cold in winter.

Sydney Harbour

Sydney Harbour

From a quaffing point of view, Sydney has been the best place to live. There seems to be a better culture of craft beer here than in the rest of Australia where bars like to provide 12 types of the same style beer on tap. Thanks – I don’t think you need to offer VB on three taps, people! Newtown pubs are very loyal to the local brewer Young Henry’s, which has a very good Real Ale. We went to the Union Pub around the corner from us twice last week – they have about 20 craft beers on tap! It is amazing and delicious! The Rocks-favourite Lord Nelson Brewery’s Three Sheets Ale can often be found, even at our local cinema. It is good (or bad?) – Brian and I have re-acquired our taste for beer now that we aren’t limited to drinking over-priced lager!

From a transportation point of view, Sydney sucks! The whole transportation system is not well-integrated. It is confusing to use, inefficient, chronically late, and just not adequate in relation to the city size. We live five kilometres from the CBD and can wait 30 minutes for a train to our nearest station. It is so annoying. All forms of transport require their own tickets, and if you change buses, you pay again. No comparison to Melbourne – we got spoiled there! Even Vancouver is better than Sydney, and that’s saying something!

Our main reason for moving to Sydney has paid off – spending time with my lovely cousin Michelle and her family. We’ve even been able to spend some time with her brother Mark who lives up near Newcastle, and her mum aka Auntie Bridget. We try to harass the Wood-ohs every other weekend or so, and find plenty of excuses to chill and share some wine. It’s been fantastic to bond with my cuz, to get to know her hubby and boys, and to have family that can also be counted as friends in Sydney. We will definitely miss them when we go back to Vancouver… really need to find a cheaper and faster way to go back and forth between Australia and Canada! Trying to cram as many cousin sessions in as we can between now and June 20!

cool cousins

cool cousins and mulled wine

We’re getting excited about coming home – it will be so great to catch up with you all back in Canada! Going home to summer will be epic. Hope my wrist co-operates so I can get up to as many fun activities as possible. I am definitely fit for most activities, and am willing to see if I can’t quickly get back into stuff like biking and kayaking. Stand-up paddle, anyone?

Tiger balm and half-naked men…this is clean, I promise!

The smell of tiger balm in the air; bodies are crowded into seats to see the ring; suddenly the chatter is interrupted by a clarinet-type instrument, signalling the start of the matches.

Where am I? Inside a Muay Thai “stadium” in Chiang Mai, Thailand, ready to watch a night of fighting. While I am not traditionally a fan of watching sport fighting, seeing the event live was a different experience. The smell of tiger balm was intoxicating, the respect shown by the fighters to their opponents as well as to the sport itself added another interesting element, plus the atmosphere felt decidedly community-oriented, with a marked absence of UFC d-bags that you expect at events like this back home.

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We were able to reserve our seats when we bought the tickets – by going into the room and checking the vantage from the various tables before choosing one! The meant that we had pretty good sight lines and weren’t too far from the action.

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reserved seats

reserved seats

Introducing a night of fighting.....

Introducing a night of fighting…..

The night started off with junior fighters – young kids, actually – and each match went up in age/weight class. There was also a female fight, which was treated with as much respect as the male fights. There was a lot of pageantry involved, including the musical accompaniment (ongoing) and the bowing by the boxers to each corner of the ring. I particularly enjoyed the traditional music, especially as pop music has taken over so many sporting events back home. While I don’t bemoan its presence there, it is nice to see something traditional being upheld in Thailand.

The band plays on

The band plays on

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Ladies' match

Ladies’ match

action shot

action shot

There were two “headliner” fights. The first was very evenly matched, and as a result a little bit boring. The second went to the other extreme – it wasn’t even at all. One boxer was from Argentina and, while he may have matched the weight class of the local, he was built like a machine. It was an unfair match that was over in less than a minute. An anticlimactic end to the evening, but at least we were out earlier than anticipated and home before midnight – a perk when we had to be up early for our Thai cooking school day!

Argentian lookin good

Argentian lookin good

Thing of Beauty

While we spent a lot of time in the cities of SE Asia, we relished the experiences we had in the natural settings of the countries we visited. They provided some of the highlights, as they offered a respite from the hustle and bustle of city life and temple touring!

Our first stop into the jungle was a tour through Khao Yai National Park. We stayed at a lodge that provided guided tours, so were able to witness an evening bat migration as well as hike through the jungle, visit a waterfall,  and spot many wild animals such as great horn bills  macaques, scorpions, gibbons, a viper, deer, lizards, and even a wild elephant. It was an amazing couple days, a park that is huge and beautiful. It was so nice to be away from traditional sightseeing and getting some fresh air.

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Khao Yai National Park

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Khao Yai National Park – bats

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Khao Yai National Park – Great Horn Bill

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Khao Yai National Park

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Khao Yai National Park – scorpian

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Khao Yai National Park

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Khao Yai National Park

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Cambodia saw us visit a flooded forest and the largest lake in SE Asia – Tonle Sap – on a day out to a floating village.

Cambodia

Cambodia

Tonle Sap - Cambodia

Tonle Sap – Cambodia

We saw some beautiful scenery in Vietnam and regretted not doing an inland tour along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which is meant to be stunning, especially from the back of a motorbike. Limited time and a broken arm meant this wasn’t an option, but we did appreciate the scenery we witnessed en route and on a tour around Nha Trang.

near Nha Trang, Vietnam

near Nha Trang, Vietnam

We got a steadier dose of scenery on our overnight trip to Halong Bay aboard a Chinese Junk. It was unseasonably cold in Northern Vietnam while we were there, and especially so on the deck of a boat. But sailing (shall I say “cruising” as there was no wind for the sails) through the limestone karsts that emerged eerily out of the mist – it was a breathtaking sight!

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

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Halong Bay

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Halong Bay

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Halong Bay

Laos was a sight for sore eyes after the hecticness of Vietnam. We spent a few days in Vang Vieng, literally chilling by the river all day. It reminded me a lot of being up at my aunt and uncle’s cabin in Harrison. The mountains were gorgeous, and the river was soothing to watch. The sun was shining, and we just sat out reading, playing crib, eating, and drinking beer. We spent a few hours one day in an inner tube we’d hired. The hire company took us a few kilometres up river in a sawngthaew. We got into our tubes and spent the next few hours floating in the current back to the guest house. The river was very low, so it was calm and slow. Sometimes we had to lift up our bums so as not to get stuck! The government closed down all the riverside bars, so there were no crazy drunks to contend with, making it a very calm and relaxing experience.

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Vang Vieng – Nam Song River

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Vang Vieng – Nam Song River

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Vang Vieng – Nam Song River

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Vang Vieng – Nam Song River inner tubes

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Vang Vieng sunset

The bus route from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang passed through some stunning mountainside scenery. We were lucky to stop along the way for lunch so that we could take some photos, since the ones through the bus window were less than ideal!

roadside stop, Laos

roadside stop, Laos

The Mekong River runs through Luang Prabang, and provides some beautiful vistas. Laos has so many scenic spots where one can just relax and feel at peace with the view. It is a stark contrast to the truth in many of these natural settings – the tonnes of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from the Secret War – the war on Laos during the Vietnam War. This was something we knew nothing about before coming to Laos and visiting COPE – an organization that provides prosthetics for those in need. We learned so much during our visit to their UXO centre, and found what we learned incredibly moving and shocking.

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cool flower – Luang Prabang

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Sunset on the Mekong – Luang Prabang

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Sunset on the Mekong – Luang Prabang

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river trip- Luang Prabang

Trekking in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand allowed us to visit some more countryside. We were able to climb a mountain with the help of an elephant, though we did hike the final peak on our own. We hiked through farmland and rice fields, as well as along a creek in the jungle. We swam in a waterfall and our guides cooked lunch IN bamboo on an open fire. It was amazing!!

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trekking – Chiang Rai

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trekking – Chiang Rai

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trekking – Chiang Rai

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trekking – Chiang Rai

Our last natural habitat to visit was the beaches of Thailand. After a lot of sightseeing, cities, ruins, and temples, we were happy to veg out on the beaches of Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi, and Krabi. They were stunning! Being the beach baby that I am, I was in heaven. The long beaches of Koh Samui were crowded but gorgeous. Koh Phi Phi was touristic but lovely. There were many beaches to choose from, and hikes to explore the different sides of the island. We even got up early to climb to the island’s peak and watch sunrise. Unfortunately, the sun rose at an odd angle, making it hard to see! But the view from the top was stunning.

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Koh Samui

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Sunrise – Koh Phi Phi

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Koh Phi Phi and Krabi are known for their stunning limestone karsts and they didn’t disappoint. Krabi is known for its rock-climbing potential, and while ole-one-arm here couldn’t participate, the scenery did not let me down. To top it off, the water was clear and warm and home to many fish! Our snorkel trip from Phi Phi exposed us to many fish, and even a reef shark! And a wild monkey stole my mango smoothie on a beach of Raileh! Being by the beach was a beautiful way to end our two-month sojourn in SE Asia.

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Koh Phi Phi

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Koh Phi Phi – “The Beach” beach

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I love the beach – Krabi

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sneaky monkey – Krabi

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nice shot, tripod! Krabi

Surgery in a foreign country – cross that off the bucket list! *or* So THAT’S why you buy travel insurance!

Riding in the back of a tuk-tuk (aka a carriage attached to a motorbike by a hitch), holding my unnaturally crooked wrist in a tight grip, bumping along uneven pavement and gravel roads to get to the hospital – yes, this is the reality of an injury in the developing world!

Due to the wonderful world of Facebook, I am sure most of you know that I broke my arm during my backpacking adventure in Asia. But due to my lack of a computer and internet access while away (and a preference to see the sights rather than be online), you might be wondering, “What exactly happened!?!?!” Well, it’s story time on the old blogeroo, with a steady dose of “what not to do while sightseeing!” (sorry, this one’s a bit long!)

The set-up
So, on our final day in Siem Reap, Brian and I woke up at 4:00 a.m. in order to pack our bags and check out of our hotel before getting picked up by our tuk-tuk drive Kat in the cold dark morning to drive to Angkor Wat for sunrise. We spent hours watching the sun come up then toured the temple before grabbing some breakfast and coffee.

Sky starting to brighten but stars still out

Sky starting to brighten but stars still out

Sun up at Angkor Wat

Sun up at Angkor Wat

Inside Angkor

Inside Angkor

The rest of the morning was spent at the walled city of Angkor Thom, getting photos at the South Gate; admiring the many faces of the Bayon; climbing the puzzle of the Baphuon (the temple archaeologists painstakingly took apart for restoration, only to have their records and plans for reassembly destroyed by the Khmer Rouge); walking along the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King; all before stopping for a late lunch. It was a hot, long day and by lunch we were glad the day was coming to an end after one final stop at the mystical Ta Prohm – a beautiful temple that had been left as it was found by explorers: covered in growth, hidden by jungle, overgrown with trees, etc. From what we’d heard, this was many people’s favourite temple to visit because of the peace and wonder that its organic setting bestowed.

The accident
As we were leaving through the East Gate of Angkor Thom towards Ta Prohm, our tuk-tuk driver asked if we wanted to stop for photos. This gate is not as well-preserved as the South Gate, so there are fewer people here snapping photos. All the statues along the bridge’s edge have been decapitated. So Kat says, “Lots of tourists like to pose behind these statues. Do you want me to take your photo there?”

last photo before the accident!

last photo before the accident!

We hesitated, as I had already posed with the statues at the South Gate. But this time, we could BOTH get in the shot, so we decided to go for it. We tried one side of the bridge, but it was a bit awkward so we didn’t want to risk it. We tried the other side of the bridge… and apparently IT was a bit awkward, too, because I slipped and fell onto the grass below.

Call it shock, but when I landed on the grass below (3 – 4 metres below), my first concern was my passport left up in the tuk-tuk. My second concern was trying to alleviate Brian’s concern, as he was obviously very worried and upset. I didn’t feel any pain at this point, and just was worried about how to get back up to our stuff. I held on to my very crooked wrist, not fully comprehending it, just knowing that I needed to hold it for support. I didn’t even realize that I’d cut my lip and that it was bleeding. “Do you think it’s broken?” I asked. Brian looked at the hand that was definitely not at a normal angle to the arm. “Um, yes!”

The first-response
Brian wanted to call for an ambulance, but being Cambodia, Kat assured us that the best plan was to drive to the international hospital ourselves. So we loaded back into the tuk-tuk, and Kat drove as fast and carefully as he could through the crowded and decidedly unsmooth roads of Angkor and Siem Reap. Pretty soon, the adrenaline started wearing off and the pain set in. My arm was in agony!

Forty-five minutes later, we arrived at the International Hospital. Really, it was more like a large clinic. The staff were very nice and quickly got me sorted out. They gave me painkillers, which appeared to do nothing, took x-rays, cleaned me up, and sutured my lip. Ouch. They used local anaesthetic, but a couple stitches went through where the numbing hadn’t reached!

The result of the x-ray was that there was indeed a fracture – a “fracture of the left distal radius and distal ulna with dorsal displacement of the distal fragments” – and that I required surgery as soon as possible. There was no surgeon available at this hospital, so the doctor advised me to decide where to go for the surgery – Phnom Penh, Bangkok, or back home. They sent me home with a slab cast for support and the advice to have the surgery as soon as I could.

Brian had been running around getting in touch with travel insurance, cancelling our bus tickets for the evening, booking an extra night at our hotel, etc. All that we read in our travel book advised us to seek medical care in Bangkok (and definitely NOT in Cambodia), so it was time to book flights and get going. I had a fitful sleep with a lot of pain, but was grateful that everything was being taken care of so quickly and that my injuries were not worse.

Flying to Bangkok - Prop style!

Flying to Bangkok – Prop style!

The surgery
We arrived in Bangkok the next afternoon and went to stay with the AirBnB hosts that we’d stayed with during our previous stay in Bangkok a few weeks previously. Once they picked us up and we dropped off our things, Brian and I headed to Bumrungrad International Hospital, which both the Lonely Planet guidebook and our hosts recommended. We thought that we’d just have to register and that the surgery would be booked for the next day, as it was already getting late.

After some x-rays and a lot of waiting around, it was decided that I could have surgery that evening since I hadn’t eaten dinner so had an empty stomach. The surgery was booked for 11:30 p.m. or so. There was a lot more waiting around but eventually I was wheeled up to the anaesthesiologist and then into surgery. Apparently it went well and a plate was installed to put my bones back together.

My cool plate - at the 10 week x-ray

My cool plate – at the 10 week x-ray

I had to stay in the hospital for three days while the wound drained and my pain subsided. It wasn’t exactly exciting but it was probably the poshest accommodation I stayed in during our whole Asian adventure! I had a private room with a couch (aka Brian’s bed), a kitchenette, a large flat-screen TV with tonnes of on-demand movies, and a big window. The best part was that my insurance company had affiliation with the hospital so that they were able to pay for the charges directly, rather than me having to pay first and be reimbursed later. That was sure a ($10,000) relief!

The repercussions
So, the big decision after the surgery was, “What does this injury mean for our trip?” We considered the possibility of heading back to Australia, but really didn’t see the advantage of this. For one, our trip would be cut short and we wouldn’t see the places we’d wanted to visit. In addition, I wouldn’t really be able to work, so we’d be stuck in an expensive country unable to earn enough to really enjoy it. No, it seemed best to resume travelling. The surgeon gave me the go-ahead to do pretty much anything as long as it didn’t involve any load-bearing on my arm. We were good to go. We booked flights to Ho Chi Minh City for a few days later so that we could get back to our planned itinerary.

The injury didn’t have too many negative effects on the trip, although it did limit some of the activities we’d wanted to do. We could no longer hire bicycles to tour around various sites, but were happy that we’d been able to do this in Ayutthuya and Angkor before the injury. Kayaking in Halong Bay and the Thai islands was no longer viable, nor was motorcycle riding, zip-lining, or scuba diving.

We didn’t let it interfere too much, however, and I still managed to ride elephants, hike, swim, snorkel, and more. The biggest challenge was for Brian to help me get around (i.e. climb up onto a middle-level bed in a sleeper train with one arm) and to carry my big backpack for me. His concern for my well-being resulted in his carrying my bag for longer than probably necessary, but at least he got a good workout! I had a crooked smile and less-than-elegant dinner manners as my lip healed, but that happened pretty fast.

I should mention that wearing a sling was an obvious conversation starter and made it easy to chat with other travellers as well as locals. Often locals with zero English would see my arm and want to know what happened. They would point to their arm or mine and I’d understand the question. I would try to explain using body language, usually two fingers walking on my palm and then falling off. This usually resulted in a lot of laughter from the local person, as if falling off something is the most hilarious thing! Quite a few amusing encounters happened this way, let me tell you.

Hiking in Vietnam 10 days post accident

Hiking in Vietnam 10 days post accident

Elephant riding in Laos

Elephant riding in Laos

Cooking class in Chiang Mai

Cooking class in Chiang Mai

Hiking in Chaing Rai

Hiking in Chiang Rai

Wound looking good after almost 1 month

Wound looking good after almost 1 month

In terms of follow-up treatment, I had to have the wound checked after 2 weeks in Hanoi, as well as x-rays done at 4, 8, and 12 weeks. Due to travelling and so on, I ended up having one done at 5 weeks (in Bangkok with the surgeon) and one at 10 weeks (in Australia). The surgeon was happy with the alignment and healing when he saw me in Bangkok, and gave me the okay to lose the (now stinky) slab cast and just use a wrist support when necessary.

One-armed elephant feeding near Chiang Mai

One-armed elephant feeding near Chiang Mai

My x-ray and check up in Bangkok at 5 weeks meant an upgrade out of cast and into an easily removable brace.....

My x-ray and check up  at 5 weeks meant no more cast – perfect timing as I headed to Koh Samui the next day…

....just in time for essentials at the beach! (me floating and reading in the ocean near Krabi)

….so my time in the Thai islands wasn’t wasted on land! (me floating and reading in the ocean near Krabi)

Now
So here I am, almost five months since the accident. Everything must be back to normal, right? WRONG! I’ve got a big scar that for some reason has healed in a 3D fashion. I’ve started physio to improve my range of motion, but the exercises cause a lot of achy-ness. I’ve lost a lot of upper-body strength, and am limited in the exercises I can do because of the stiffness and pain. The lack of strength interferes with simple things like carrying groceries home.

But since I started physio last month, things have progressed a lot. The range of motion has improved exponentially and I am getting stronger. It will be a long time before I’m strong enough to get back into Crossfit, but it is good to have goals to aspire to!

Really though, I have come so far and can do so much with my arm now that was beyond imagination only a short time ago. I have come a long way, and need to remind myself that I am lucky that my injuries weren’t far worse! And my wicked plate means that I have a tough left hook should I ever need to engage in some self-defence!!

Yea me! I could barely even make a fist a few months ago!

Yea me! I could barely even make a fist a few months ago!

Motorin’

Traffic in Asia is like nothing that a person born in Canada has ever seen. We think the Aussies are bad drivers – when we got to Asia, it was sensory overload! The sheer volume seems much higher than what we are used to seeing on the road. The main difference is the proliferation of motorbikes and scooters. Everyone is on them. This changes the nature of traffic compared to a car-based culture, as scooters can fit in beside each other. People go any which way, but at least there is signalling – by honking horns and hand signals. Because this type of transport is so common, drivers seem more aware of motorbike traffic than they are at home.

In Bangkok, there are scooter taxis. The drivers where orange vests – you just flag one down and hop on the back. Often I would see a woman in business attire hailing a ride to work. Of course, there are no helmet laws, so it is easy to hop on and off the back of a bike.

You can see whole families on a scooter – two parents and three kids! This was common in Cambodia, probably in part to it being a smaller town/rural setting. Often a person will be riding with one kid in front of them and one holding on behind. The kids think nothing of it and can often be seen having a snooze! A funny sight near Angkor Wat was three monks in their orange robes clinging onto one scooter.

Face masks in Saigon

Face masks in Saigon

Because of the pollution and dust, many people where face masks if they are riding scooters. These can be simple cotton affairs or fancier decorated designs with stylised fashion for easier breathe-ability.

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tuk-tuk Laos

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tuk-tuk Laos

All these scooters and bikes can also be found connected to a tuk-tuk – which differs in each country. A tuk-tuk, for the uninitiated, is a type of auto-rickshaw – a carriage of sorts pulled by some type of bike. The designs vary: in Cambodia, the carriages are attached to the scooter by a hitch, where in Thailand and Laos the tuk-tuk is one unit. In Vietnam, the rickshaw is not an auto. There they have cyclos – a seat carriage attached to a bicycle where someone will pedal you around to your destination.

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Siem Reap – Cambodia

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Tuk-Tuk – Siem Reap – Cambodia

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inside a Tuk-Tuk – Siem Reap – Cambodia

There are also a lot of regular bicycles to be found swerving in and out of traffic, laden with wares for the market, or sometimes pushing a food stall.

view from the Tuk-Tuk - Siem Reap - Cambodia

view from the Tuk-Tuk – Siem Reap – Cambodia

Common as a form of taxi in Thailand and Laos is the Sawngthaew, a pick-up truck that’s been outfitted with two benches in the back and then covered with a roof and plastic sheeting to keep the weather out of the sides. Sawngthaew literally means two rows or two benches in the Thai language. They are less haphazard than this description sounds, and are a decent way to get somewhere at a cheaper rate.

Sawngthaew flying past in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sawngthaew flying past in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The most insane country for traffic was Vietnam. The sheer number of scooters in Saigon was staggering. While scooters would crowd forward at the stop line at red lights everywhere; in Saigon, the density was unbelievable. Coming back from a tour during rush hour, we saw the lane in the opposing direction absolutely chock-a-block full at a red light. It was wall-to-wall scooters for at least a kilometre – it was insane!!

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Hanoi, Vietnam

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Saigon

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Saigon

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Saigon

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Saigon

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Saigon

The traffic culture didn’t get left behind when we finished our trip in the Thai islands. There the vehicle of choice is longtail boat. While these boats are a great way to get around and a legitimate way to earn a living for the locals, the number of them is distracting to say the least. Their motors can be heard running all day at many of the beaches, which surely has an environmental impact, too. But the noise of the longtails is contrasted with the joy of having many of these islands car/scooter/vehicle free on the streets – you win some, you lose some!

taxi service - koh phi phi

taxi service – koh phi phi

longtail boat - Koh Phi Phi - Thailand

longtail boat – Koh Phi Phi – Thailand

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