Benighted* readers, you have no doubt exulted in happiness at hearing this momentous news! Alternatively you couldn’t give a toss. I sit rather in the latter camp, ’tis but a date and who’s counting?

Bangkok. Once again I return to its clutches. It is the main travel hub of south-east Asia after all. And with some surprise I found I rather liked it second time around! Acclimatised both to the culture and heat allowed me to become familiar with the layout of the city, customs and transport network. I visited many sights – Jim Thompson’s House, Wat Pho, the Royal Palace, Sukhumvit, Chinatown, Siam Square and of course the mother of all markets, the Chatuchak weekend market. Rode the Skytrain, the Metro and conquered the use of the bus system, kind of. I stayed close to Khaosarn Rd in a place only advertised via word of mouth and only admitting people effectively vouched for by people who had stayed there before. Impossible to find if you don’t have exact directions (down an alley and down another alley and round another corner at a dead end with a discreet sign announcing its presence. This place was to become my home for five days.

My purpose for mentioning this is not to get you to ask me where it is, but rather to note the shadow world of long-term travellers. This species has effectively become more at home on the road rather than in any specific location and travel according to their resources, which often means cheaply in south-east Asia especially Indonesia and Thailand, and especially India. They travel in order to pursue knowledge such as local custom, languages, healing techniques, massage, music, yoga and meditation. If there were a place in NZ where this species gravitate towards, it is Golden Bay.  They travel according to the seasons thereby spending the best months where it is pleasant (the highlands of northern India are now coming into their prime). All in all some wonderful people and so nice not to need a lock on the bedroom door!

Memories. Some abiding memories of my first three months include:

Facing the demons and jumping off the rope swing in Vang Vieng, seeing people eating far too much happy pizza, the Russian guy all f*ckedup from a scooter crash and fixing himself up with cotton swabs and antiseptic cream ‘to save money’, Tristan almost getting clotheslined off his scooter by a ladyboy bar girl holding a whiskey bucket sign, a shark fin breaking the surface of the water just as we were about to get in to go snorkelling, the lights of the squid fishing fleet edging the entire horizon in High Bar, sleeping the night in Bom’s restaurant after losing the key to the room and failing to wake anyone, seeing Job2Do live playing Pink Floyd covers in the jungle at Half Moon festival, realising how far I’d come from my greenhorn days when on returning to Bangkok and seeing through the first three scams I was offered!, Tristan never actually using his fire pois, inquiring of a cute Irish girl as to her skill in building Molotov cocktails, wandering Angkor Wat on my own and finding a deserted temple to relax in, never having had to wake Tristan and task him with ‘getting out now’, struggling with using Lonely Planet vs. freewheeling it, entering our hotel lobby in Phnom Penh and seeing all the staff online surfing p*rn on the lobby computers, swimming in that lagoon high above the waterfall in Luang Prabang, that manic bus ride into Hanoi, meeting a fellow Aucklander in Sihanoukville there for the ladies (he goes every year…), asking the immigration official in Phuket whether he could use his discretion when he was fining us for overstaying whilst holding a cheeky banknote in my hand, watching an Australian disgracing himself in a ping pong show and his mate yelling aussie, aussie, aussie as he showed the room his tackle, being the only ones in our resort on Koh Lanta – creepy, patiently explaining the phrase ‘have a cup of concrete and harden the f*ck up to different nationalities while Tristan exclaims the impossibility of explaining such a complex saying cross-culture and of course  travelling with Tristan!

Nomadic vs. sedentary. I just finished Jules Verne’s Round the World in Eighty Days and this fascinating introduction to the book struck me. The writer refers to an intellectual study of travel writing called The Ethics of Travel by Syed Mansuruk Islam. Seeing as its just so damn relevant I shall reproduce some of it here.

Sedentary travellers … are not necessarily inactive but they concentrate so much upon reaching a pre-established destination that they entirely ignore the ground covered. Islam comments that ‘they might travel in the fastest possible vehicle and cover a thousand miles yet they remain where they are, because they are on a rigid line which keeps them grounded in the enclosure of their home’. Conversely, ‘nomadic’ travellers follow a ‘supple’ rather than a ‘rigid’ line, experience movement as a continuous shifting, a vivid and bumpy ride across boundaries and cultures which brings about what Islam calls ‘the openness of the encounter with the other and the process of becoming’.

The sedentary traveller is likely to cling to his prejudices and shun contact with the unfamiliar culture he had entered. Such is the sedentary traveller, a mere location-swapper whose cultural baggage insulates him from external influence: he never troubles to learn a foreign language and insists on dressing in his habitual garb. The nomadic traveller, on the other hand, relishes the nameless spaces** in between cities and especially the delays and detours which give rise to those unforeseen encounters, challenges and negotiations which are indeed the essential raw material of travel literature. The touristic ideal of ‘nothing going wrong’ – a prospect of travel so predictable that homecoming becomes its sole highpoint.

 Simple message really and a challenge to all those travelling to make the most of it! What it also means for me, is less reliance on the guidebook and more on intuition, asking questions of locals and plain getting lost more often!

*Applying to those in the cold and darkened isle of New Zealand.

** To be canvassed in a later post. Hat tip to Amy B!

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