The yo-yo is coiling back up the string, returning to the hand that spun it out so long ago.
For non-nomadic travelers, every trip is a loop. Whether by motorcycle, car or plane, you always go back to the place you started. Just like a yo-yo, what goes out, must come back in again.
Because we're storing bikes in Croatia and Thailand, we now have places where we know we'll have to return. So now we've gotten little bit of that yo-yo mentality. Different if we had stored cellos in different places. Then we would have the Yo-Yo-Ma mentality...
(Cello, is it me you're looking for?)
That start/end point is now in sight. It's been over ten long months since we left and Chiang Mai is now only a handful of days away.
It's looking like an oasis of rest in this desert of fatigue that we've been crawling through.
We're reversing our route out of Cambodia, so back to that funky motel
that we staged at the day before crossing over
The O'Smach border post, the same one we crossed to get into Cambodia, falls behind us without incident.
After worrying so much about customs, corrupt border officials, etc. the whole thing turned out to be so anti-climactic.
In the morning, before we embark on this final leg, I replace the fuses on our bikes to re-enable the daylight running lights, the reverse of what I did before we entered Cambodia and that sense of unwinding returns.
The mood today is a quiet weariness. We pack in relative silence with the end of our long travels within sight. We should be in Chiang Mai within two sleeps.
It's comforting to be back in Thailand after two weeks in Cambodia. Although it's not as exotic and alluring, there's a certain familiarity to all the 7-11s, PTT gas stations, smiling Sawadee-kahs, driving on the left once again, etc. Also, the food is a lot better. I remember the first thing we did yesterday upon crossing the border was to find a food stall and order our favorites, Pad Thai, Pad See-Ew...
Lanna temples, lit up at night in Kohn Kaen
It's a long day's ride to the city of Kohn Kaen. The last time we were here, we stayed a bit outside of the city. Now, we find a place right in town.
Gotta change *some* things up a bit!
The new king's face is adorned on shrines everywhere in Thailand
Christmas tree in the lobby of our hotel
Because we've been in Kohn Kaen before, we know all the good places to eat!
Aside from the peppercorn crab in Kep, Cambodian food was unremarkable. There are a lot more tastier options in Thailand, and we've really missed the good food here!
BMW riders can be such snobs! :D I think there was a Thai Big Bike club staying at the same hotel we were in. They brought their own signs...
In hot climates, you put a piece of cardboard or cloth over the seat otherwise it's baked buns when you hop back on your bike after it's been sitting in the sun for hours! The nicer hotels will sometimes do this for you.
Another long riding day brings us back within Chiang Mai city limits. However, we're not exactly home just yet. Because it's Christmastime, the apartment that we usually rent has jacked up it's rate by over double, so we've temporarily found a cheaper place outside of the city. We've booked our favorite apartment for the New Year when the prices are more reasonable.
Yes, sometimes things *are* expensive in Thailand... Especially when the rich farangs descend into town for their winter vacations!
Damn farangs, ruining it for the rest of us.
The neighbourhood where we're staying in
Our temporary digs
We're booked in this place for about a week, about 10 minutes ride away from the centre of town. It's nice and comfortable but I feel like we're refugees or something, counting down the days till we're able to settle into our long-term apartment rental. I just want to unpack everything right now, park the bikes and not worry about moving for a very long time. And it would be nice to be able to walk everywhere again, instead of having to ride into town whenever we want to eat or go shopping.
Still... we're in Chiang Mai. After ten months of non-stop travel, we're finally back where we started and again, that anti-climactic feeling clings to me. Like getting walked over the plate instead of dramatically sliding safely into home after a sacrificial fly. I don't know anything about football. Did I say that right?
More delicious Thai food
All across the city, we see these baby elephant statues, painted in different colours
They're a part of an art project called the Elephant Parade. It's the world's largest collection of painted baby elephants. 89 of these statues are stationed all around the city. In addition, hand-crafted replicas and other merchandise are offered for sale, a portion of the proceeds going to elephant sanctuaries and other conservation efforts. This exhibition has traveled all around the world. In total, 1350 artists from all over have painted 1500 elephants, raising millions of dollars for Asian elephants!
Baby elephants have a special place in Neda's heart.
Did I mention the food choices in Thailand are excellent? Big Burger Time!
Big burgers have a special place in my stomach...
Neda finally has time to work on her cross-stitching. She's almost finished her latest project!
Although we are tired of riding, we aren't tired of talking about it, or meeting other motorcycle travelers!
There's a motorcycle bar in town, and every year they host an evening get-together inviting overland bikers to talk about two-wheeled travel. We volunteered to do a presentation!
We got a chance to share our experiences with a slide show of our pictures running in the background
Sometimes while you're in the middle of a long journey, bogged down in the mundane: the visas, the vehicle import permits, the language difficulties, the fatigue of it all, etc. you lose sight of the larger picture. Stepping back and talking about why we did this trip, the preparation, our state of mind when we first started -- it really brought back the joy and wonder of it all.
It was very enjoyable for us, and I think it rubbed off on the audience as well - there were many enthusiastic questions after, as there always are.
Looks like Neda is doing Karaoke! "Near... faaaaaar... whereever you aaaaaare...!"
It was a great evening getting to meet other motorcycle travelers. However, there were more ex-pat locals than foreigners. Thailand has recently instituted a rule where foreign vehicles now require a permit and a hired Thai guide to escort them through the country. I've heard these rules were put into effect specifically to curb the influx of careless Chinese drivers, who have caused several high-profile accidents in the country.
Unfortunately, these rules have also affected overland travelers. Previous annual meetings here used to boast a much larger attendance of foreign bikers passing through. Not this year though. One of the organizers told me this would be the last annual meeting of its kind. Sad.
I think for some overlanders, it's a very romantic notion to travel with the same vehicle all over the world. But in retrospect, it was a very good decision for us to buy motorcycles in Thailand, instead of riding or shipping our bikes in.
We've gained trouble-free access to and from many SE Asian countries without requiring permits or carnets, but most importantly, we're able to stay as long as our visas allow us to, and not be constrained by a vehicle permit. And the new rules only allow for a 30-day vehicle permit in Thailand. 30 days! I can't even imagine that! We've been here close to a year in total with our Thai bikes!!!
Hey, look who also showed up in Chiang Mai! Our fellow nomadic friends, Yaw and Hélène!
We missed them the last time they flew through Bangkok, but now we've got a chance to hang out with them in Thailand! They're in town for a month doing that digital nomad thing, so we've got a social circle once again!
Yaw and Hélène have the distinction of being a couple of only a handful of people that we've met up with during this journey on three or more continents: We first met them in Seattle, then Marseille, and now Thailand! I love our little network of world travelers!
"Let's do lunch in New Zealand next month!" So awesome...!
Celebrating the new year in Chiang Mai with good friends and great local music!
We are also moving into our apartment this week. That frenetic pace of constant travel, packing and unpacking, being in unfamiliar surroundings, having to hunt and scrounge for food and shelter, it's finally over!
Is that a good thing? It feels like it.