Beijing to Istanbul | 2014

In April 2014 I packed my bags and headed to China on my first long term adventure. I would spend the next year exploring many different countries and cultures.

Those adventures can be found here, on my old Tumblr page, and most of that page has been transcribed below.

I also created a short video based on the clips I had taken along the way:

January 1, 2014

I read a book called “The Art of Pilgrimage” by Phil Cousineau. It’s a book that I enjoyed immensely and I plan on taking it with me on my adventure and I will probably read it a few times. It is full of great travel quotes and advice for making traveling more sacred.

One of the tips in the book is to sketch as you travel. It doesn’t have to be anything of significance, but by sketching you are really looking at all the features and all the little details that you miss when you take a picture.

I plan on sketching on my upcoming journey but I haven’t really done it since school. I wanted to sketch a bit before I set off so I found this image of the Black Dragon Pool in Lijiang, Yunnan, China and decided to sketch it for practice, and this is how it turned out. I’m pleased for a first try, an learned a few things as well.

90 days until I leave for Beijing!

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January 10, 2014

Got my Vietnamese visa. Kinda screwed myself over with the dates, but I will make it work.

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January 25, 2014

You may be interested in what i’m taking on this trip. My good old 30L Gregory Z30 will be my main pack. It’s been to Egypt and Europe with me before, and the size is perfect. I see no reason to travel with a pack larger than 40L unless you are doing back country camping.

Essentials

  • Passport
  • Visas
  • Leg Wallet
  • Drivers License
  • Debit Card
  • Visa Card
  • Spare Passport Photo
  • Photocopies of all Documents
  • Cash
  • Insurance

Dopp Kit

  • Mirror
  • Eyeglasses & Case
  • Contact Solution
  • Contacts & Case
  • Lubricating Drops
  • Comb
  • Toothbrush & Cover
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Deodorant
  • Shampoo (Bottle & Sheets)
  • Soap (Bottle & Sheets)
  • Shaving Oil
  • Razor & Blades
  • Nail Clippers
  • Hair Pomade
  • Sunscreen
  • Toilet Paper
  • Towel
  • Lip Balm

Clothing (Includes what i’m wearing)

  • Gregory Z30 Pack (30L)
  • Utility Straps (x2)
  • Pack Raincover
  • Black Diamond BBEE Daypack (11L)
  • Large Packing Cube (3 shirts & 1x base layer)
  • Small Packing Cube (3x socks & 3x underwear)
  • Merrel Moab Gortex Hiking Shoes
  • Socks (x4)
  • Underwear (x4)
  • MEC Pants (x2)
  • Swim Shorts
  • Shirts (x4)
  • Light Fleece
  • Long Sleeve Base Layer
  • Rain Jacket
  • Sandals
  • Buff Scarf
  • Sunglasses

Medical Items

  • Band Aids
  • Polysporin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Moleskin
  • Imodium
  • Water Disinfectant tabs
  • Insect Repellant
  • Yellow Card
  • Gravol
  • Knee Brace
  • Tensor Bandage
  • Sudafed

Writing/Sketching

  • Journal & Pen
  • Notepad
  • Sketchpad & Pencil
  • The Art of Pilgrimage (Book)

Electronics

  • Kindle & Charger
  • Camera & Batteries & Charger & Cable
  • Larry Light LED
  • Headlamp
  • Spare AAA batteries
  • MP3 Player & Headphones & Charger
  • Travel Adapter
  • Cell Phone & Charger

Miscellaneous

  • Maps
  • Paracord
  • Duct Tape
  • Laundry Sheets
  • Postcards
  • Sleep Sheet
  • Ear Plugs
  • Spork
  • Plastic ZipLoc Bags
  • Watch
  • Compass
  • Nalgene Water Bottle & Sipper
  • Cable Lock

All this fits in my pack and weighs about 16lb. fully loaded. I use the Black Diamond 11L pack as my day pack, but may find something less obvious once on the road.

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January 25, 2014

The sketchbook i’m taking is a 9″x6″ pad that has 50 sheets of 80lb paper. It’s sturdy, so it won’t get all bent up in my pack. I’ve done these two sketches of Calgary to remind me of home while i’m away and to show to other people where I come from. The city scape was done from a photograph, the mountain range was done this morning overlooking the Glenmore Reservoir.

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January 29, 2014

I have come up with four main large scale adventures I would really like to accomplish during this trip. Each of these will take a couple weeks to a month or two to complete, but i’m looking forward to them all and am hoping it pans out so I do have at least the chance to attempt them.

  1. Hike to Everest Base Camp on the Nepalese side
  2. Travel the Silk Road from Xi’an to Kashgar, China and then cross the border into Kyrgyzstan
  3. Buy a bicycle in Hanoi, Vietnam and ride it south 2,000km to Ho Chi Minh City
  4. Cross an ocean on a Cargo Ship, possibly from India to Africa

The one major obstacle that could throw this off track is my Chinese visa. If I can only get a 3 month visa, then I may not be able to do the silk road adventure. if I can somehow manage a 1 year visa, I will make it happen.

My Vietnamese visa is only good for 2 months, so I need to make the bike trip happen pretty quick once in the country, as I anticipate it taking 30-40 days of continuous cycling without any rest or exploration days.

Hopefully this list will grow. If you have suggestions for any other adventures I should try, let me know!

February 8, 2014

So I think I have talked myself into doing the Cliffside Path on Mount Hua. From what I have read most people do this as a day trip from Xi’an and hike the way up and take a cable car down to make the bus, but that doesn’t sound like any fun to me. I would like to hike up the mountain, and sleep on top one of the peaks and climb to some of the other peaks as well and then hike back down.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Hua

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February 12, 2014

I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next year I wind up in a city where I hear this often. Taken in Cairo, Egypt in 2010.

More info here on Adhan:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adhan

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March 1, 2014

After a lot of research, document gathering and a few trips to the Chinese Visa Application Service Center, I was finally granted a Chinese visa.

From what I’ve been told, the Chinese consulate in Calgary has significantly limited the issuing of this type of tourist visa because of the length of time it is valid for. When I submitted my application, I was told not to get my hopes up.

When I picked my passport up a few days later, I was pleasantly surprised that they had issued me a visa valid for 1 year (until February 2015), with the ability to enter the country any number of times over the year. This gives me a lot of flexibility which is what I wanted. The maximum length of stay in China is 90 days.

There’s a month left until I leave and i’m continually changing my mind on the route I should take. Should I go South like originally planned, or West?

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March 27, 2014

I have been reading a few books about the Silk Road. One was “Weaving Threads: Travels on the Silk Road” by Nancy M. Hayes, who makes her home in Calgary now. Her journey took her from London to Pakistan but was cut short because of the Indo-Pakistan war in 1965.

The more research and reading I do, the further I want to go. I land in Beijing on April 2 with a flexible visa arrangement. At this point in time I have all but decided to head West into a China that is sparsely populated in comparison to the Eastern portion of the country.

I found the top image on a website providing organized tours from China to Turkey. That tour lasts 15 weeks and costs about $7,500 not including flights. I’m interested in the route the tour takes, but not the tour itself because all the little details the tour sorts out for you like visas, train and bus tickets and border crossings are the fun parts when you look back at the adventure. The uncertainty of the trip makes it exciting and memorable.

China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey. That’s the route. There are no wars in these countries, and they are all stable at the moment. Travelers from all over the world pass over these borders every day without issue. I am hoping this spring I will be able to traverse these unique and largely unknown countries dotted with cities that are vaguely familiar to our Western ear. Kashgar, Samarkand, Tashkent. These cities are thousands of years old and hold interesting tales from the centuries past for those who are willing to search them out.

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April 3, 2014

I’ve made it to Beijing and will be here for five nights. It’s fairly easy to navigate on the subway and there are definitely a lot of areas to explore. This is the view of the Forbidden Palace from Jingshan Park.I’ve made it to Beijing and will be here for five nights. It’s fairly easy to navigate on the subway and there are definitely a lot of areas to explore.

This is the view of the Forbidden Palace from Jingshan Park.

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April 6, 2014

Communications UpdateGetting stuff onto the internet has been a lot tougher than I expected. The only time I have access to the internet is when I am at the hostel. And even that is very sketchy. I have no computer with me so usually can only post from my phone which is not the easiest thing to do.

Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox and Snapchat do not work here, so the ways I can reach out are limited in some ways.

I’ve been posting some photos to Instagram, which does work, so I will try to configure it to post directly to tumblr as well so you can see those photos.

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April 7, 2014

Smoggy day in the big city. #beijingSmoggy day in the big city. #beijing

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April 7, 2014

Scorpions on a stick which are alive and kicking just before being dunked in hot dirty oil.

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April 7, 2014

Wangfujing

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April 7, 2014

On a lighter note, I have found Chinese tourists will take pictures of anything. Just charge a few Yuan (maybe 50) and let them go at it.

On the left people try to take peaceful pictures in the bushes while a million people walk by, and on the right 200 people take pictures of tulips. The pictures will turn out very nice I’m sure, but the reality of the surrounding in which the picture are taken is far from the serenity the final picture will portray. I find it a bit of an odd juxtaposition.

Chinese tourists remind me of the blog Kim Jong Il looks at things:

http://kimjongillookingatthings.tumblr.com

There are just so many people here, it makes it hard to enjoy the actual attraction. I’ve started to go for the people watching instead. And let me tell you, they will look at stuff with the best of them.

This past weekend was Qing Ming, or Tomb Sweeping Day. This holiday is to remember family members and it seems to have brought a lot of people in because it was just nuts here.

I went walking in some random neighbourhood this morning and found that to be much nicer than trying to shove your way though the masses looking at palaces.

On Tuesday I leave for Xi’an on a sleeper train so I will be saying goodbye to Beijing shortly.

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April 7, 2014

#beijing #china#beijing #china

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April 8, 2014

The only white person on the train to #Xi'an.The only white person on the train to #Xi’an.

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April 9, 2014

Xi'an in the morning sun. #nofilterXi’an in the morning sun. #nofilter

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April 10, 2014

Xi'an bīngmǎ yǒng. (at Terracotta Army)Xi’an bīngmǎ yǒng. (at Terracotta Army)

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April 10, 2014

These guys are completely reassembled. Only one warrior was found complete not being assembly. The rest are in different stages of ‘smashedapartness’These guys are completely reassembled. Only one warrior was found complete not being assembly. The rest are in different stages of ‘smashedapartness’

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April 10, 2014

Scorpions on a stick. Apparently a delicacy in Beijing, but not something most people from Beijing have eaten. It is more of a novelty.

The scorpions are dipped in hot oil and then seasoned. They are actually very good. If you can overcome the mental hump of the task, you will be surprised.

They are located in a very busy but small side street in Beijing called Wangfujing amongst the designer shopping stores.

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April 11, 2014

at Shaanxi History Museumat Shaanxi History Museum

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April 13, 2014

Sunrise on Mount Huashan. (at Huashan, Guangdong, China)Sunrise on Mount Huashan. (at Huashan, Guangdong, China)

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April 14, 2014

Plank walk just past the south peak summit of Mount Huashan at 2,154m above sea level. (at Mt. Huashan)Plank walk just past the south peak summit of Mount Huashan at 2,154m above sea level. (at Mt. Huashan)

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April 20, 2014

Temples and trees. #china (at Hangzhou, China)Temples and trees. #china (at Hangzhou, China)

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April 21, 2014

Street food in Hangzhou. The oysters are the size of my fist.

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April 25, 2014

There is an old civilian airbase turned People’s Liberation Army Air Force Base called Hangzhou Jianqiao Airport very close to where I am in Hangzhou. Over the past five days, I’ve probably seen and heard close to 100 sorties flown overhead. If you...There is an old civilian airbase turned People’s Liberation Army Air Force Base called Hangzhou Jianqiao Airport very close to where I am in Hangzhou. Over the past five days, I’ve probably seen and heard close to 100 sorties flown overhead.

If you don’t like living near airports, don’t live in Hangzhou.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangzhou_Jianqiao_Airport

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April 26, 2014

The children of China defeating U.S. imperialism. Propaganda poster circa 1960’s. (at Propaganda Poster Art Center)The children of China defeating U.S. imperialism. Propaganda poster circa 1960’s. (at Propaganda Poster Art Center)

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April 26, 2014

#hangzhou (at Hangzhou / China)#hangzhou (at Hangzhou / China)

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April 27, 2014

Old and new. #shanghai (at Bund, Shanghai)Old and new. #shanghai (at Bund, Shanghai)

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May 3, 2014

#stalagmites and #stalactites (at Wulingyuan, Hunan, China)#stalagmites and #stalactites (at Wulingyuan, Hunan, China)

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May 3, 2014

at Baofeng Lakeat Baofeng Lake

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May 4, 2014

The most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. #zhangjiajie (at Zhangjiajie Wulingyuan Scenic Spot 武陵源)The most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. #zhangjiajie (at Zhangjiajie Wulingyuan Scenic Spot 武陵源)

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May 4, 2014

The land before time #zhangjiajie #china (at Zhangjiajie Wulingyuan Scenic Spot 武陵源)The land before time #zhangjiajie #china (at Zhangjiajie Wulingyuan Scenic Spot 武陵源)

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May 6, 2014

34 days laterI’m over a month into this trip and have really said little about it. Let me tell you where I have been.

I arrived in Beijing from Vancouver on April 2 which was actually sort of a bad time to arrive due to a national holiday Qingming Festival, referred to in English as “Tomb Sweeping”. It’s not really a festival, rather it is a time when everyone comes home to visit the family graves and lay flowers and be with family to remember the decreased. This means that Beijing becomes even more crowded than normal.

It was overwhelming for me at first. Getting onto the metro was a chore with so many people and all of the tourist attractions were packed. I started to go to these places to people watch instead of going to see the attraction. There was just no point.

I will say that the Great Wall is something that needs to be seen to be believed. It is incredible. I took a trip to a less crowded part of the wall called Mutianyu and it was completely worth it. Contemplating how they built this thing on the ridgeline of a mountain while you walk along it is something I will remember for a long time.

After Beijing I took a sleeper train to Xi’an. This was my first real experience with the Chinese national railway system and I have been impressed. You can travel in relative luxury or you can travel with the peasants. I mostly have opted for the latter as it is less expensive, I have time to spare and I enjoy it. (As I write his I am on the last legs of a 20 hour journey from Changsha to Chengdu.) The trains are on time with one exception I may tell you about later and the population base is there to make this a viable transportation option for the country.

Once arriving in Xi’an I visited the Terracotta Warriors (Bing Ma Yong in Chinese). They have three pits that they have begun to excavate and it was said that they will not be completed for another 40 years. Also, they do not know how many additional pits there are and they are waiting for more advanced technology to come around before they extract some of the better preserved artifacts. Once the paint on the warriors contacts the air, it oxidises and flakes off. Currently they believe there are about 8,000 warriors.

The other highlight of Xi’an wasn’t in the city, but about an hour away in the mountains of Huashan. I spent two days on this mountain reaching all five peaks ranging from 1,600m to 2,400m as well as the sunrise and doing the plank walk I posted the picture of previously.

On the way up the mountain I befriended some Chinese students. They wanted to take pictures with me and even though we didn’t speak a common language, over the two days they became my friends. When we got back to Xi’an they took me out for dinner. People are curious why you are here and they also want to show your Chinese hospitality, especially the younger generation that had been exposed to the west on the internet and television.

Next stop was Wuhan where I spent a few days reading and writing as it rained a lot. Wuhan doesn’t have the kind of attractions the other Chinese cities do, so it’s not vital to travel here. However, you can get a picture of just how big the Yangtze river is. It is incredible, it has to be four times the size of a swollen bow river, maybe more.

After this I turned east toward the ocean to visit Hangzhou and Shanghai, two beautiful cities, however, atypical of China, Shanghai especially.

There isn’t much to Shanghai. It’s massive. The metro system is incredible and it is apartment block after apartment block of living space. The river separates the city’s financial district (Pearl Tower and the buildings with all the lights) and the Bund (old town, built by colonisers in the early 20th century). It’s a picturesque city landscape but there is not much substance there anymore. China wants you to know the Bund is Chinese now not British and they do this by smearing the Chinese flag on every peak of every building along the Bund.

I turned inland toward Changsha and took a bus to Zhangjiajie where I spent a few days admiring the beautiful mountain pillars, exploring caves and cruising a very touristy lake.

So that has been a month of travel in China. There is a ton to this county. You could spend years exploring it. It is truly massive and every time I get on a train I am reminded of how long it takes to get anywhere. Currently I’m on the way to Chengdu and after this I expect to turn north west where the real trip will begin. Getting out of the massive cities in the east is what I’m looking forward to and see the changes that heading west brings.

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May 7, 2014

Here are some things I have noticed about China while I’ve been here that may or may not be interesting to you: •there isn’t any milk, only simulated fruit milk •driving is crazy because there are some rules to follow, but after a month I still don’t...Here are some things I have noticed about China while I’ve been here that may or may not be interesting to you:

•there isn’t any milk, only simulated fruit milk

•driving is crazy because there are some rules to follow, but after a month I still don’t know what the rules are which makes it really difficult. In Cairo for example, there are zero rules which makes it really easy to cross the road. You just go, but here you can’t always do that and I don’t really know why.

•there are electric scooters everywhere and I am going to get hit by one for sure because you can’t hear them. They honk, but everyone honks all the time so you sort of block it out after a while.

•diapers are expensive so parents will just cut the crotch out of the kids pants so they can do their business wherever they are.

•everyone here is on their phone 24\7 so they carry around spare battery chargers with them.

•each city or province has its own style of street food. In one particular city you will see the same food over again, but as soon as you go to another city, the food has changed.

•they have recycle and trash bins but they go into the same garbage so it doesn’t matter which one you put your plastic bottle into. It’s an illusion. (Much of China is an illusion including the majestic waterfalls they place at the entrance to mountain parks, which they don’t even try to hide.)

•ladders are made of bamboo, so is scaffolding (it seems extremely strong) brooms are made of branches from trees. I was wondering if you get hired as a sweeping person, is your first job to build your own broom or is there someone who makes all the brooms out of trees?

•Chinese tourists really like organised tours. They can turn any quiet peaceful park into a feedback filled cesspool of noise. I really can not understand why you need a tour group to visit a lake.

•on that note you can always tell Korean tourists from Chinese tourists. Chinese west the same clothes no matter what they are doing. If they are welding, sanding, working at a restaurant they all wear business casual all the time. Koreans on a tour group look like they are about to summit Mount Everest. Chinese do not own any athletic clothing whatsoever. If they want to play badminton in the park they will wear their dress pants and collared shirt.

•most stores and restaurants turn their lights of during the day to conserve power.

•in Shanghai you will see western children with their Chinese nannies everywhere

•police don’t walk the beat in China. I haven’t seen one policeman take one step other than when they are beating people to arrest them. They all hang out in Van Wilder type golf carts and sleep. By the way, when the police are beating someone here, no one records it with their cell phone. The Communist party probably would not like that very much.

•subway systems here are state of the art and incredibly easy to use. Cities in Canada should be looking to China on how to develop their transit systems.

•every day you will hear the “ice cream man song” but much to my dismay, it’s not the ice cream man, rather it’s the street sweepers that play music here. They water the streets every day.

•Chinese are obsessed with showing that they are not farmers or peasants. They do this by growing their finger nails to extremely gross lengths and by carrying umbrellas in the sun as to keep their skin from turning dark. It is absurd.

•shoes are not part of the uniform in China. Evidently, they give you the pants and shirt and hat but you get to choose your own shoes. I’ve seen full army uniforms with bright blue Nike high tops.

•plenty of taxis in China Mayor Nenshi…

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May 7, 2014

Anshun Bridge, Chengdu, Sichuan, China. (at Chengdu, Sichuan)Anshun Bridge, Chengdu, Sichuan, China. (at Chengdu, Sichuan)

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May 9, 2014

Convinced these are really lazy children in panda suits. Or midgets. Could be midgets. (at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding)Convinced these are really lazy children in panda suits. Or midgets. Could be midgets. (at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding)

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May 11, 2014

The before and after of the rabbit head I ate today. Eyeballs, brains and tongue included, it is a delicacy in Sichuan province.

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May 12, 2014

Chinese water calligraphy. A poem? Lyrics? Vanishing protest? (at People’s Park - Chengdu)Chinese water calligraphy. A poem? Lyrics? Vanishing protest? (at People’s Park – Chengdu)

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May 12, 2014

How high can we go? (at Lazybones Hostel, Chengdu)How high can we go? (at Lazybones Hostel, Chengdu)

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May 15, 2014

China’s biggest Flames fan. (at Mount Emei)China’s biggest Flames fan. (at Mount Emei)

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May 15, 2014

The top of Mount Emei. At 3,099m (10,167 ft) I have broken the 3K plateau for the first time. #hiking #china (at Mount Emei)The top of Mount Emei. At 3,099m (10,167 ft) I have broken the 3K plateau for the first time. #hiking #china (at Mount Emei)

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May 15, 2014

A very large Buddha. (at Leshan, China)A very large Buddha. (at Leshan, China)

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May 17, 2014

The next move

Right now I’m in Yunnan, which I was not expecting to be when I was planning the trip at this point.

My first iteration of the plan was to spend a month traveling south in China, cross the border to Myanmar (Burma) spend a month there and then spend June and July cycling in Vietnam.

I plied for and received my Vietnamese visa in Canada because you can apply 6 months in advance. Then I changed my plan to go west along the silk road instead. I thought I would end up not using my Vietnamese visa and would reapply when I knew for sure I would be traveling there.

Since it has taken me two months to travel through China, and I’m basically at the border with Vietnam, it makes sense for me to actually use the visa I paid for and have in my passport.

So at the beginning if June I will now (likely) take a bus to the border town of Hekou, cross the border on foot, and then get a train to Hanoi.

I’ll stay in Hanoi for a week or so, buy a used bike, buy any necessary gear and then hit the road south.

Vietnam is so density populated that you do not need to worry about camping with a tent. You just space your stops out at guest houses along the way.

There is a culture of bicycle riding in Vietnam so any repairs can be done immediately. Just hitch a ride on a passing truck to the next town.

After getting to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) I’ll book it out of Vietnam back to Kunming and continue on my silk road trek toward Turkey.

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May 19, 2014

I wanted to upload some stuff prior to my update about going to Vietnam but is seems to have been lost in the series of tubes somewhere in the internets.

The picture on the left is in Kunming. You will notice two things.

1) no one is during on the bench in the sun

2) there is done blue sky here

Both of these things are great. The first because that means there is always a place for me to sit as I do not shun the sun like so many Chinese, and the second because pollution is bad m’kay?

The picture on the right is Chengdu. It would be a clear blue dart like Kunming if not for pollution.

Everything you’ve heard about pollution being bad in China is true. The most visible being the air quality.

The time I spent in Beijing was not too bad until the final two days I was there. I was glad to be leaving because of it. I anticipated Beijing being bad, but thought the rest of the country would be ok but I was wrong. Shanghai, Changsha and Chengdu are all also heavily polluted.

Imagine a forest fire haze in the sky every day. When the sun sets, it turns red. If you look 50 yards along the horizon you can see the haze. In Chengdu it was especially bad at night.

It was announced that the government was going to move 1,800 polluting companies out of Beijing to another part of the country to combat the pollution problem there, but the problem extends much further than Beijing and relocating companies doesn’t seem like giving the problem to me.

In any event, I’m happy to be out of the eastern part of China where the problem seems to be.

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May 20, 2014

The beginning of a very long 7 hour, 20km hike in Dali, Yunnan. Got 5 mangos for less than $2 at the end though! (at Dali, Yunnan, China)The beginning of a very long 7 hour, 20km hike in Dali, Yunnan. Got 5 mangos for less than $2 at the end though! (at Dali, Yunnan, China)

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May 24, 2014

at 三亞灣at 三亞灣

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May 29, 2014

at 海南島三亞市at 海南島三亞市

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May 31, 2014

Nothing wrong with a little bong hit on the train to Hanoi… Until 30 minutes later when he threw up into a 5 gallon pail of various drinks some poor guy was trying to sell. (at Hanoi, Vietnam)Nothing wrong with a little bong hit on the train to Hanoi… Until 30 minutes later when he threw up into a 5 gallon pail of various drinks some poor guy was trying to sell. (at Hanoi, Vietnam)

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June 1, 2014

The new whip. 1992 Schwinn Impact PRO!!!! 22 years old and way better than any new Chinese bike you can buy on the street. It’s gonna take my butt at the way to Saigon! (at Hanoi, Vietnam)The new whip. 1992 Schwinn Impact PRO!!!! 22 years old and way better than any new Chinese bike you can buy on the street. It’s gonna take my butt at the way to Saigon! (at Hanoi, Vietnam)

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June 3, 2014

It is so flipin hot here, I’m not sure how to cope completely. I think it’s actually the humidity that is the problem. Two steps outside and I sweat like crazy. I changed my shirt three times yesterday. If you sit in a cafe in the shade, it’s ok, but...It is so flipin hot here, I’m not sure how to cope completely.

I think it’s actually the humidity that is the problem. Two steps outside and I sweat like crazy. I changed my shirt three times yesterday.

If you sit in a cafe in the shade, it’s ok, but as soon as you start to move, it’s like taking a shower. There’s no way to avoid it unless you don’t move at all.

I don’t know if I can complain about Calgary winters after experiencing this. From where I sit right now, I think I prefer the winter. Maybe if you ask me that when its -30 in Calgary I will say I prefer Vietnam weather.

Maybe if I could walk sound without a shirt all day it would be ok, but Hanoi isn’t a beach, people actually have to live and work here in these conditions. And it’s not even that bad right now apparently.

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June 3, 2014

The CycleI’m nearly ready to leave Hanoi on my bike. I had to purchase a few additional things for the trip:

– Road map of Vietnam
-Multitool with pliers
-Sport sandals (mine are the thong style that are not very comfortable to rid in and riding in hiking boots are out of the question)
-Yoke to strap my rucksack to (found a piece of ½” plywood on the side of the road
-Bungee cords to strap the yoke and ruck down
– Saddle bags to carry food and water (will hang from the yoke, still need to find these)
-Helmet (riding in hanoi is nuts, Saigon is worse from what I hear but I between should be ok. My eyes hurt from darting around so much. I’ve never used m pereferial vision so much. )
-Lubricating oil and rag for chain maintenance
-Two water bottles
-Rain poncho because I’m expecting some huge downpours
-Bike lock
Tomorrow I am going to prefit everything on the bike and make sure everything is good to go. If so I will leave first thing Thursday morning.
Also my phone is broken and not repairable and same goes for my camera. So yeah…
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June 3, 2014

I haven’t seen much here in Hanoi because I’ve been so preoccupied with getting myself ready to bike to Siagon. However, one think I’ve made time to do every day is visit some of the many thousands of coffee shops that like the twisting streets of the old quarter.

The architecture here is so different from China, It is quite amazing. The train I took from the border with China to Hanoi was built during the 1930’s by the French. The influences are obviously European colonialism and cafes are a large part of that.
Cafes don’t serve food, but they specialize in different types of Vietnamese coffee, smoothies and tea.
The pictures show one hot coffee made with egg whites. The other is a cold coffee made with yoghurt. Both are unbelievably good.
Search out a Vietnamese coffee shop if you can find one where you are and try some of what they offer. You won’t be disappointed.
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June 5, 2014

Ho Chi Minh Highway KM 1 for me. I did 91km from Hanoi to Yen Thuy today. Didn’t realize I colour coordinated the bungee straps with my stylish saddle bags until posting this picture. Please believe me. (at Yên Thủy)Ho Chi Minh Highway KM 1 for me. I did 91km from Hanoi to Yen Thuy today.

Didn’t realize I colour coordinated the bungee straps with my stylish saddle bags until posting this picture. Please believe me. (at Yên Thủy)

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June 5, 2014

There was a massive thunderstorm in Hanoi last night. I’ve never seen rain quite like that. I was worried waking up this morning that it would still be raining, and it was, but thankfully it tailed off at about 9am.

I was apprehensive about leaving if it was raining. I had enough to worry about. Traffic in Hanoi and how to navigate my way out. How I was going to do with such a large (for me, not for the Vietnamese) pack hanging off the back of my bike and where I was going to find food or a place to sleep.

My pack is about 12kg, I had 6L of water plus some emergency food, so I probably have 20kg of weight on the back of the bike. It is heavy. The kickstand no longer supports the weight of the bike with my pack on it. So that is issue number one. I just have to lean it against something or lay it down.

Issue two was that my feet wouldn’t clear the saddle bags on the rotation of the pedals. I stopped and used some rope to tie the bags back a bit and that had seemed to work so far. The saddle bags carry my water that come in 1.5L bottles (Im carrying four at the moment) and the food. All the rest of my gear is what I took with me on the trip and is strapped down to the rear rack.

Riding with 20kg on the back was a little scary at first. It throws the whole balance of the bike out. I could feel my agility slip away. I could no longer really dart out of the way of an oncoming motorcycle (because it’s driving on the wrong side of the road). I had to she down and really think about and concentrate on what I was doing.

Once it if Hanoi things became easier. Traffic thinned out, I was able to get the bike going pretty fast and got to knock out some kms.

I was planning on stopping 50km from Hanoi before the Ho Chi Minh Highway, but the hotel in that town was very expensive, so I decided to continue on.

Road conditions are good for the most part, however I’m glad to have the mountain bike and not the road bike the guy was trying to sell me. Roads can go from two lane paved to mud and dirt pretty fast.

I doubt I will see this again on the HCMH since I’m on the higher traffic portion now.

91km from Hanoi was my first stop on my first day. All in all things went well. No rain, didn’t dump the bike, ate dinnrr and have a place to sleep. Can’t complain about that.

I’ll stick on the HCMH for the next little while I think and update when I can.

Jeff

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June 6, 2014

Some of the view from the HCMH. #vietnam (at Cam Thủy)Some of the view from the HCMH. #vietnam (at Cam Thủy)

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June 8, 2014

Fishing boats on the river Lam. #vietnam (at Anh Sơn - Nghệ An)Fishing boats on the river Lam. #vietnam (at Anh Sơn – Nghệ An)

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June 9, 2014

The locals taking my bike for a spin #vietnam (at Thanh Mai -Thanh Chương -Nghệ An)The locals taking my bike for a spin #vietnam (at Thanh Mai -Thanh Chương -Nghệ An)

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June 11, 2014

June 11, 2014

So it’s been seven days of riding and I’ve covered 563km for an average of 80km per day. My longest day has been 97km and shortest was 53km when it was really windy.

This is going to be a jumble of unorganized thoughts:

There’s not a ton to see in the north central part of the country. The provinces are sparsely populated and they are some of the poorest in the country.

Riding on the Ho Chi Minh Highway had been great. The traffic is not bad here, the asphalt is in good condition and people are friendly.

I’ve seen only two other foreign cyclists since starting. They were from France and Spain. They started in France and went to Istanbul then shipped their bikes to Singapore and went north from there where I ran into them.

I’ve seen three pair of foreign kids on motorcycle doing the top gear run. I thought I’d see a lot more.

Top Gear, fyi, is a popular British motoring program and they did an episode where they bought motorcycles and rode them through Vietnam.

Today was the first day of rain. It sucked. In the north it would rain at night but not during the day. The weather is always extreme it seems. Wind, rain, searing sun. I’ve riden in temperatures nearing 40°C.
Vietnamese people have to be done of the friendliest on earth. I probably say hello 100 Times a day in response to people. Kids run to the roadside to wave. People smile and nod and have extremely welcoming. I was a bit concerned leaving Hanoi for the country side, but those concerns were unfounded.

I’ve drank rice wine, beer, tea and water with the locals on their dime.
Guest housescan be a bit tough to come by on the route I chose, but I’ve made it ok and managed a place to sleep every night, even if one didn’t have any running water, toilet, mattress. At least it was shelter from the creepy crawlers out there.

I eat pho every day because it’s the only thing I can sort of pronounce (Foo). I’ve been ordering it for a week and people are still correcting me. Vietnamese seems to be much harder than Chinese. There are no menus here, you just need to know what you want. And I have no idea what I want. Most of the places I eat at are shacks on the side of the road. The HCMH is lined with them.
The past two days I’ve done some mega climbing into the mountains. If you look at the HCMH on Google maps you should be able to see all the switchbacks 400km south of Hanoi. For that reason I’m going to take the easier road. Carrying 20kg of gear up a mountain is not that much fun.

Where I am the HCMH splits into two roads. I am taking the road closer to the coast. Im assuming the road that stays inland goes through more mountains.

Im something like 1,100km from HCMC which I could do in 15 days at my pace now, but u will likely go along the coast and stop in a few places along the way. Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An and Nha Trang, so will likely take longer to get to the end of this journey.

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June 12, 2014

Tomorrow, I enter the jungle… (at Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park)Tomorrow, I enter the jungle… (at Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park)

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June 14, 2014

Caving in Vietnam (at Tu Lan Caves System)Caving in Vietnam (at Tu Lan Caves System)

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June 15, 2014

Over 550 km in 8 days of cycling on the Ho Chi Minh Highway and 645km from Hanoi in that time. I’m moving toward Highway 1 now to get to Huê, so no more HCMH! #cycling #vietnam #travel (at Kiến Giang)Over 550 km in 8 days of cycling on the Ho Chi Minh Highway and 645km from Hanoi in that time. I’m moving toward Highway 1 now to get to Huê, so no more HCMH! #cycling #vietnam #travel (at Kiến Giang)

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June 17, 2014

The flag of Vietnam in the former DMZ on the 17th parallel demarcation line that seperated North from South for 22 years. #vietnam #DMZ (at Đông Hà City)The flag of Vietnam in the former DMZ on the 17th parallel demarcation line that seperated North from South for 22 years. #vietnam #DMZ (at Đông Hà City)

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June 19, 2014

Bullet hole riddled archway. #vietnam #hue (at Imperial Citadel, Hue)Bullet hole riddled archway. #vietnam #hue (at Imperial Citadel, Hue)

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June 22, 2014

At the moment I’m in Đà Nẵng, about 900km from Ha Nội. I’ve spent the past four cycling days on Highway 1, which has been a bit of a challenge. It’s noisy, there’s a ton of traffic, there is usually a very strong headwind and there’s not much to look at. I very much prefer the HCMH.

I’m on the coast because there is quite a bit to see here. Đổng Hà, Huê, Đà Nẵng and Hội An are all within a couple hundred kilometres of each other.

To get from Huê to Đà Nẵng, there are for mountain passes you need to cross. The first three, coming north to south are dèo Mũi Né, dèo Phước Tượng and dèo Phú Gia which are all relatively easy.

The fourth is the famous dèo Hài Vân, or Ocean Cloud Pass. It’s 21 km long and give great views of the beach town Lăng Cô on the north side of the pass and Đà Nẵng on the south.

The ride was a difficult one. The grade was not that steep, only about 8° from the signage, but it took me about 1 hour and 45 minutes to traverse the north side to the peak of the pass. I left the town of Lăng Cô at 7am so I was climbing by 7:30am or so to beat some of the midday heat. Not that it cools of really. At night it’s still 30°C.

There is a tunnel that runs through the mountain that most people take now. The pass is generally used as a nice scenic drive, and it didn’t dissapoint.

At the top of the pass there is a shanty town selling drinks and trinkets. When a foreigner arrives at the top they are aggressively pursued to buy a drink or souvenir.

In the northern half of the country, I wasn’t hassled at all, even in Ha Nội really. Here in the south i’m noticing a lot more people speaking English.

The pass would be a great trip on a motorcycle. It’s a little exhausting on a bicycle. Going south to north is the way to go, opposite of the way I went. The views are much better on the north side.

I will spend a couple days in Đà Nẵng and Hội An and then continue the trek to Saigon. The roadside markers indicate less than 1,000km now if I stick along highway 1. I may go back to the HCMH to avoid the traffic and wind and noise, but I will have to deal with huge mountain passes which doesn’t really make it any easier for me. I will have to make a decision soon on which way to go.

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June 22, 2014

Just examining some cave rock thingies… No big deal #vietnam #tulan #cavingJust examining some cave rock thingies… No big deal #vietnam #tulan #caving

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June 23, 2014

Came out to a completely flat rear tire this morning. Luckily I am in the city. 20m down the road there is a motorcycle repair shop. $0.50 and 10 minutes later, ready to go. He didn’t even have to take the wheel or fender off.Came out to a completely flat rear tire this morning. Luckily I am in the city. 20m down the road there is a motorcycle repair shop. $0.50 and 10 minutes later, ready to go. He didn’t even have to take the wheel or fender off.

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June 27, 2014

Run to the hills. Back to the Ho Chi Minh Highway. #Vietnam #cycling (at Kham Duc, Vietnam)Run to the hills. Back to the Ho Chi Minh Highway. #Vietnam #cycling (at Kham Duc, Vietnam)

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June 30, 2014

Since the Hải Vân pass, I spent a little bit if time on the central coast. Dà Nẵng is a city that most everyone skips, but I was able to find as Dragon Bridge and a roller rink. Dà Nẵng is Vietnam’s third largest city, and it is actually a pretty cool place to visit.

After that I went to Hội An, just 30km down the highway. Here the only thing to do is buy custom tailored clothing or go to the beach. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, but no one cares about that. People come here to get slave clothing. I say that because they will make you whatever you want (suits, skirts, blouses, socks, shoes, belts, pants, bags, shirts etc.) in 24 hours. Im sure there is a massive sweat shop just outside of town.

I got six casual shirts made and sent home.

I think I’ve mentioned before that the coastal highway 1 is noisy, dirty, dangerous, windy and just plain ugly. There is nothing to take photos of, nothing to say ‘wow’ to. Because of that I decided to move back to the Ho Chi Minh Highway in the mountains. It didn’t have any of those issues. But it does have hills.

From Hội An I cycled 112km in one day into the mountains on highway 14E. This was the worst day of cycling by far. Until the next day. I could only cycle 60km from Khâm Đưc to Đắk Glei. It was all uphill all day long. I think it took me 7 hours of riding to cover that ground. And some of it wasn’t even riding. I had to dismount and walk the bike in certain places. The mountain was beating me.

Silver lining was that when i arrived at Đắk Glei, it was inhabited by the nicest people I’ve ever met.

The ride since Đắk Glei had been much better and filled with many ‘wow’ moments as I come around corners to marvel at the mountain views.

At the moment I’m in Kon Tum. The roads leading to this place do not exist. They seem to be replacing the surface leaving just a rocky, muddy mess that wreaked havoc on my bike today. I had a big gash in my rear tire and the tube was pictured in multiple places. I was still about 12km from Kon Tum at this point but I spotted a ‘Honda’ shop. Are guys fix motorbikes. Since 90% of the bikes here are Honda’s, you can understand why they have big Honda signs out front.

We noticed right away the tire was gone and the tube. I suggested that he drive me on his motorbike into town to get a new tire and tube and then come back and replace them, which we did. All fixed in about an hour, but it did cost a bit of cash, 300,000VND (about $15, which is huge sum of money here.)
Food has changed from Pho to Com (rice) so my first at the moment usually consists of rice and pork. But it’s tasty at least.
In the next few days i will cut back to the coast so I can hit Nha Trang south and come around to Saigon.

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July 1, 2014

My first room with a view. Downtown Pleiku, Vietnam. (at Pleiku)My first room with a view. Downtown Pleiku, Vietnam. (at Pleiku)

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July 4, 2014

Tp. Ho Chi Minh, almost there! (at Tuy Hòa)Tp. Ho Chi Minh, almost there! (at Tuy Hòa)

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July 6, 2014

30th floor sea view, Nha Trang (at Best Western Premier Havana Nha Trang Hotel)30th floor sea view, Nha Trang (at Best Western Premier Havana Nha Trang Hotel)

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July 13, 2014
S Á I G Ó N 2,000km, 29 cycle days, 150L of water, 45 Red Bulls, a lot of rice, 2 flat tires, 1 crash. #satisfaction #missionaccomplished #vietnam #cycling (at Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)S Á I G Ó N
2,000km, 29 cycle days, 150L of water, 45 Red Bulls, a lot of rice, 2 flat tires, 1 crash.
#satisfaction #missionaccomplished #vietnam #cycling (at Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

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July 16, 2014

Maybe this is why the power goes out occasionally #vietnam (at Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)Maybe this is why the power goes out occasionally #vietnam (at Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

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July 16, 2014

29 days of cycling to get to Saigon. It was a great trip and one that i am so glad to have accomplished, but I’m happy I don’t have to do it again, for a while at least.

I think I could see myself doing more tours in the future, as this was a ton of fun.

I like looking at the map every day to figure out my route and how far i could make it. In a lot of areas I had to be careful and stop early or keep going late in order to get to a guest house for the night, but it always worked out.

Vietnamese people are very friendly and welcoming, especially inland, which is the part of the trip I enjoyed the most even though it was the toughest.

My visa expires on July 29, so I have to be out of Vietnam by then. Then the next adventure can begin.

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July 19, 2014

The Land Mass Between China, Russia and Europe That Nobody Knows Anything About   That’s where I’m headed next. Those bunch of countries that end in “Stan”, except for the Afghan one. I’ll leave that one out. I’ve spent the last three days behind a...

The Land Mass Between China, Russia and Europe That Nobody Knows Anything About

That’s where I’m headed next. Those bunch of countries that end in “Stan”, except for the Afghan one. I’ll leave that one out.

I’ve spent the last three days behind a computer and notepad figuring out what I need to get organised to get into these countries. It’s been a nightmare.

Go on Google Maps and look at the borders of the countries in Central Asia. They are crazy. So crazy in fact, I have to apply for a double entry visa for Uzbekistan, because to get to Tajikistan in less than a week, you need to. A former British ambassador to Uzbekistan called the borders a “jigsaw cut by a one-armed alcoholic”. Stalin was the alcoholic, by the way.

I’ve got a lot of overland travel to do on this one. The bike trip is over and i’m looking for the next challenge. I will fly out of Vietnam, back to Chengdu, because I really don’t fancy a 4 day overland trip to get back there.

Once back in China i’ll be able to take the train west, all the way to Kashgar and then cross into Kyrgyzstan.

After Kyrgyzstan it’ll be Uzbekistan > Tajikistan > Uzbekistan (again) > Turkmenistan > across the Caspian Sea on a ferry > Azerbaijan > Armenia > Georgia > Turkey. You can play connect the dots on the map above.

Iran was originally on my list, but i’m not even going to try. Harper recalled the Canadian Ambassador a couple years ago, so there are no friendly diplomatic feelings between our two countries at the moment. Applying is a waste of time.

I wanted to spend some time in Turkey, but it’ll be November by the time I get there, so we’ll have to see. I might come running back to SE Asia at that point. I’m sensitive to temperatures below 20C now.

So that’s how the next 3.5 months is shaping up.

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July 26, 2014

Someone had mentioned to me it was the Vietnamese rainy season…Someone had mentioned to me it was the Vietnamese rainy season…

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July 28, 2014

Return to the country without sunshine. #china #chengdu (at Chengdu, Sichuan)Return to the country without sunshine. #china #chengdu (at Chengdu, Sichuan)

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July 29, 2014

Today my 6,661km adventure to Istanbul starts.

Today my 6,661km adventure to Istanbul starts.

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August 1, 2014

Blue sky in one of China’s most polluted cities! (at Lanzhou City)Blue sky in one of China’s most polluted cities! (at Lanzhou City)

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August 3, 2014

Take a 14 hour train ride west and end up in a completely different place. Gobi Desert. #china #gobi #yadan (at Gobi Desert)Take a 14 hour train ride west and end up in a completely different place. Gobi Desert. #china #gobi #yadan (at Gobi Desert)

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August 3, 2014

Gobi Desert, Yandan Landforms, NW of the Yumenguan Pass,180km from Dunhuang, Gansu province, China (at Gobi Desert)Gobi Desert, Yandan Landforms, NW of the Yumenguan Pass,180km from Dunhuang, Gansu province, China (at Gobi Desert)

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August 6, 2014

Just look at all these amazingly ancient silk road buildings in the ancient town of Urumqi which hasn’t been affected by Chinese intervention at all! (at Urumqi China)Just look at all these amazingly ancient silk road buildings in the ancient town of Urumqi which hasn’t been affected by Chinese intervention at all! (at Urumqi China)

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August 7, 2014

Urumqi, Xinjiang, ChinaUrumqi, Xinjiang, China

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August 7, 2014

Urumqi Grand Bazzar. Sponsored by Carrefor.Urumqi Grand Bazzar. Sponsored by Carrefor.

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August 9, 2014

Id Kah Mosque, built in 1442. The largest mosque in China, it can hold up to 20,000 worshippers. #kashgar #china (at Id Kah Mosque)Id Kah Mosque, built in 1442. The largest mosque in China, it can hold up to 20,000 worshippers. #kashgar #china (at Id Kah Mosque)

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August 10, 2014

Tian Shan mountain range somewhere between Urumqi and Kashgar

Tian Shan mountain range somewhere between Urumqi and Kashgar

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August 11, 2014

Atushi Tian Men (at Atushih, Xinjiang, China)Atushi Tian Men (at Atushih, Xinjiang, China)

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August 12, 2014

#Kyrgyzstan (at Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek.)#Kyrgyzstan (at Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek.)

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August 15, 2014

Кыргызская Республика

Since I went back to China on July 29, I raced across the country to get to the north western corner so I could cross into Kyrgyzstan. I flew from Saigon back to Chengdu, which is sort of where I had left off in China, and I didn’t want to spend four days traveling north overland back to Chengdu, since I did it going south. Once was enough.

From Chengdu, I bought a 22.5 hour train ride to Lanzhou, Gansu. From Lanzhou I went to DunHuang, Gansu on a 14 hour ride, where I was able to visit the Mogao Caves, odd desert formations, massive sand dunes, and part of the Great Wall that is 2,000 years old.

From there it was a 10 hour ride to the Police State of Urumqi. Urumqi is a city divided. A minority of the population is Uyghur, and a majority Han Chinese. There is a definite tension between the two peoples. The Chinese government keeps pushing Chinese out west to stake their claim on the land that they have typically owned for thousands of years, but has been populated by a different enthinc group. Military and police are on every corner in full riot gear. Military patrol up and down the sidewalks in groups of six as a show of force. Metal detectors are a part of every day life as you are required to go through them to enter city parks, KFC, the shopping malls and bag searches are common. I had never seen any of this in any other Chinese city.

That being said, I doubt any of this does anything to thwart potential attacks. Chinese police, military and security are so completley undisciplined, uninterested and unintimidating that these measures really do not matter to someone determined to undermine them. Urumqi was not the city I was expecting it to be.

From Urumqi I was able to get a 25 hour train to the ancient city of Kashgar. Here, 80 or 90% of the population is Uyghur. There is no tension and there are no police checkpoints or metal detectors. It feels like an ancient city, not a Chinese city of concrete highrises and massive boulevards.

Unfortunatley, there is not much ancient history left in Kashgar. It is all crumbling away as the Chinese governments bulldozes blocks and replaces them with new “old” buildings. But Kashgar still feels like the city you would expect to find here.

71.5 hours of train travel west of Chengdu, I was ready to cross into Kyrgyzstan. I was able to arrange a car with a couple of other tourists to cross the Torugart pass. It takes about 2 hours to reach the summit of the pass from Kashgar on nice new paved Chinese roads, save for the last 30km of terrible potholes and gravel that probably ended up being 60km since the driver was swerving so much to aviod them.

10 seperate passport checks later, we were through Chinese customs, and the multiple security checkpoints and then dropped off at the top of the 3,752m pass, where we crossed over the fence to the Kyrgyzstan side and got in another car all the way to Narin, Kyrgyzstan, another 2 hours.

After arriving in Narin, I spotted some friends from Kashgar, and we were able to wrangle up another car to take us all the way to Bishkek. Five hours later we were there.

In two weeks I’ve traveled about 3,000km overland consuming about 80 hours. Since being in Bishkek, I’ve been preoccupied with sorting my Central Asian visas out. Many embassies are here, so it is the perfect place to do so. On Thursday I was able to obtain my Uzbekistan visa for the month of September, and just today (Friday, Aug 15) I dropped off my application for Tajikistan. I will be able to pick up that visa on Tuesday (Aug 19). Once that is taken care of, I can leave Bishkek and explore more of Kyrgyzstan. I hope to do some multi day treks through some of the mountains here before departing for Uzbekistan.

Everything is well with me and my plan to traverse this piece of earth to Turkey seems to be taking shape. I should be in Turkey by November!

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August 15, 2014

#Bishkek (at Ala Too Square)#Bishkek (at Ala Too Square)

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August 16, 2014

Mr. Lenin (at The Old Square Bishkek)Mr. Lenin (at The Old Square Bishkek)

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August 17, 2014

#hiking (at Kashka-Suu)#hiking (at Kashka-Suu)

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August 18, 2014

#sovietstyle (at White House)#sovietstyle (at White House)

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August 21, 2014
Ottawa - 12,013km 42°29'44.5Ottawa – 12,013km
42°29’44.5″ N
078°23’55.1″ E
1,760m Elevation
Karakol, Kyrgyzstan
(at г. Каракол)

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August 22, 2014

Wasn’t sure I could fit three days worth of trekking gear, food and water in my 30L pack, but somehow I did. Ready for the mountains! #trekking #karakol #Kyrgyzstan #altynarashan (at г. Каракол)Wasn’t sure I could fit three days worth of trekking gear, food and water in my 30L pack, but somehow I did. Ready for the mountains! #trekking #karakol #Kyrgyzstan #altynarashan (at г. Каракол)

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August 25, 2014

Summiting a 3,800m pass in the Terimtor mountains. Alakjol Lake in the background is at 3,532m. Nearly eight hours of trekking to ascend from 2,358m to 3,800m. (at Altyn Arashan)Summiting a 3,800m pass in the Terimtor mountains. Alakjol Lake in the background is at 3,532m. Nearly eight hours of trekking to ascend from 2,358m to 3,800m. (at Altyn Arashan)

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September 2, 2014

Sorry for the lack of updates but I’ve had real problems with the internet and the tumblr app here.

After two weeks, five visits to the Tajik embassy in Bishkek and hours of wasted time, I finally have a Tajik visa. This means I’m not confined to Bishkek any longer and can move on to a different part of the country until I go to Uzbekistan on September 4th.

I competed a three day trek in Karakol while I was waiting which was incredibly difficult. I climbed up to 3,800m and then began the long descent. The second day of the trek was about ten hours of hiking with compete camping gear.

Right now I’m in Osh, Kyrgyzstan and will look around here until I can cross the border on the fourth.

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September 3, 2014

Kyrgyzstan Independence Day celebration, August 31, 2014 (at Oşh Kırgızistan)Kyrgyzstan Independence Day celebration, August 31, 2014 (at Oşh Kırgızistan)

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September 4, 2014

Moving day in #Uzbekistan (at Тошкент)Moving day in #Uzbekistan (at Тошкент)

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September 5, 2014

Dolla bills y'all. Stacks and stacks of 1000 Som notes. This is less than $90. People in Uzbekistan carry bags with them full of cash to pay for everyday items. All the ATM’s are empty and you have to exchange USD for Som on the black market....Dolla bills y’all. Stacks and stacks of 1000 Som notes. This is less than $90. People in Uzbekistan carry bags with them full of cash to pay for everyday items. All the ATM’s are empty and you have to exchange USD for Som on the black market. #inflation (at Тошкент)

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September 5, 2014

Sticking Around Tashkent

Well I made it to Uzbekistan. Osh is only 15 minutes from the border, but getting into the country is a bit of an adventure. They are extremely thorough and search every bag and make you show them all the medication you’re taking into the country. I only have Tylenol with me so it wasn’t an issue, but others are travelling with prescription medications or high altitude pills and such and I have heard they will confiscate certain drugs in order to sell them on the black market. I didn’t witness any of this on my border crossing.

Another foreigner I travelled with had a laptop and they spent 20 minutes looking through all his pictures from the past 10 months before they would let him continue.

I took a shared taxi from the border to Tashkent which took about 5.5 hours. Through the Fergana valley, which has been the scene of some extreme violence in the past 10 years, there are acres upon acres of cotton fields which will be ready to pick in October and November. Apparently, it’s harder to get a bus during this time as the government “reassigns” them from transporting people to transporting cotton.

I arrived Thursday night with the plan to go to the Turkmenistan embassy first thing Friday to apply for me Visa. It is the last one I need to be free of the hassle of Central Asia bureaucracy as I received my electronic visa for Azerbaijan this morning. That plan fell through when I visited the embassy and was told they were closed until Monday. So I have to wait around here again (reminiscent of Bishkek) until the embassy opens and I can submit my papers. It will take at least one week for them to process the visa, more likely two. I will probably leave the city and come back to collect the visa. Hopefully in a few weeks I will be able to concentrate on travelling and less on paperwork.

It’s about $20 per night here, which is the most expensive I’ve experiences since I left home. There is an official rate of $1USD = 2,300 Som, and a black market rate of $1USD = ~3,000 Som. So if you exchange your dollars on the black market, you will be much better off. Walking through the Bazaar, people will come up to you asking to change money for you. The hostel also does it. It is all completely illegal, but the government overvalues the currency so much, it doesn’t’t make sense to exchange money legally here. The result is huge stacks of bills. The largest common bill is 1,000 Som, meaning you need to carry 3 bills to make $1USD. If you are out for the day, you might want to carry $20-$30 with you for lunch and other things. That means you need to carry 60-90 bills in your pocket. If you want to make a large purchase like a train ticket, you need a backpack full of money.

One thing you should do is a Google image search for “Tashkent Metro”. I’m not allowed to take pictures in the Metro so I won’t be able to post any of my own, but it’s really something that you need to see. The underground stations were built as bomb shelters, and each station is different in their design and how they are decorated. They have a definite steampunk vibe to them, a 1930’s art deco feel that is really a change from the sterile Chinese metro stations I’m used to.

It’s still warm here, About 30C during the day but it’s cooling off at night which is nice.

My Tajikistan visa starts on September 17th, so I will be hanging around Uzbekistan until then before going to Tajikistan for a couple of weeks since I’m in the area. I’ll then come back into Uzbekistan and visit the historical sites of Samarkand, Bukhara and Nukus before crossing into Turkmenistan in early October as long as I can get my visa!

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September 7, 2014

Finds in Tashkent. Postcard of Moscow from 1932 and a original hand drawing.Finds in Tashkent. Postcard of Moscow from 1932 and a original hand drawing.

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September 10, 2014

S A M A R K A N D (at Registan)S A M A R K A N D (at Registan)

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September 15, 2014

#Uzbekistan (at Bukhara City)#Uzbekistan (at Bukhara City)

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September 16, 2014

at Old Bukharaat Old Bukhara

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September 18, 2014

Just a quick update to let you know i’m in Dushanbe, Tajikistan now. I left Uzbekistan on the 17th, but will be back in UZ before I have to cross the border to Turkmenistan on the 2nd of October. The lack of updates are due to the fact i’ve been really busy, a little sick (everyone seems to get sick in UZ) and haven’t had a stable internet connection since I don’t know when.

I’m having problems uploading photos as well, so that’s why that has kind of stopped, and central Asia is not the best place to troubleshoot these problems, so I may have to go back to the future and post pictures at a later date instead of in “real time”.

Dushanbe is full of delapidated, yet expensive Soviet hotels. That’s basically all you need to know.

My plan was to do the Pamir highway from Dushanbe to Khorog to Mugrab and to Osh, but that doesn’t seem like it will work out in my favour, so I may head back to UZ early to wait it out in Khiva/Urgench/Nukus area where I cross the border. Nothing has seemed to really go right with Tajikistan.

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September 19, 2014

Dushanbe’s large phallic thingie… #Tajikistan (at Rudaki Park)Dushanbe’s large phallic thingie… #Tajikistan (at Rudaki Park)

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September 23, 2014

I’m back in central Uzbekistan after my side trip to Dushanbe. Tomorrow morning i’m leaving for Khiva, about a 5 hour drive north east of Bukhara. I’ll stick around for a few days before heading up to Nukus, another 1.5 hours away. I would like to get a trip to the Aral sea in, but it may not be possible, i’ll have to see if I can arange that once I get to Nukus.

On October 2, i’ll be leaving Uzbekistan behind and crossing the border into the secretive Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan isn’t really known for their tourism, most people pass through on a 5 day transit visa. They are told not to go to the capital, Ashgabat, or anywhere else, just go from your border entry point to your exit point and get out.

I am doing an actual 8 day guided tour, so I can actually see some things in Turkmenistan. In addition, I felt it was a good idea because I have to catch the ferry from Turkmenibashi to Baku, Azerbaijan across the caspian sea. If I show up on the 4th or 5th day of my 5 day transit visa, and there is no ferry that day, I could be in big trouble. Having a 16 day tourist visa allows me to “camp” in Turkmenibashi until the ferry arrives without worry.

People in Turkmenistan get their electricity for their house and fuel for their car completely free of charge. The only thing they had to trade for this was their freedom. Apparently, the rooms in the higher end hotels across the country are all bugged with listening devices, and the number of total tourists in 2012 is well under 10,000. There were only 531 American tourists, so I must be in a group of only a handful of Canadian tourists to visit.

By October 8 or 9 I should be in Azerbaijan, ready to explore the Caucasus.

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September 25, 2014

at Itchan Kala, Khivaat Itchan Kala, Khiva

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September 26, 2014

at Хиваat Хива

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September 30, 2014

Catching a few fish on the Aral Sea. #UzbekistanCatching a few fish on the Aral Sea. #Uzbekistan

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October 1, 2014

This may be my last entry for some time as I don’t expect to have very much access to the internet in Turkmenistan. On Thursday October 2, I will cross into the strange land and discover what I hope to be some amazing sights.

I will be able to visit the Darvaza gas craters, otherwise known as the door to hell. The soviets found has reserves in the Turkmenistan desert by accident. They didn’t think there was much so they set it alight in order to burn the gas off, and it’s been burning ever since.

I’ll also have the opportunity to visit the ancient city of Mary and explore the strange capital of Ashgabat before taking a ferry across the Caspian sea to Baku.

That’s all in the future, but over the past few days I travelled to the Aral sea to experience what was one the fourth largest seas on earth, but has now been relegated to obscurity whilst putting thousands out of work and poisoning thousands more in Karakalpakstan autonomous region.

The city of Moynak was a fishing village which produced 20 million cans of fish a day during its height. Now it’s 150km from the nearest water source. Most have left, the city is a desolate, semi ghost town with high unemployment and the highest rate of birth defects in the region.

The soviets in the sixties decided cotton production was vital, so they diverted an enormous amount of water to irrigation. The canals they made were not waterproofed meaning a lot of the water was lost to seepage inefficiencies and evaporation.

They increased cotton production, but at the expense of the Aral sea. The result of this is a massive reduction of volume and physical size of the sea over the past twenty years.

Salt left behind on the sand whips up in storms and spreads toxic chemicals around the world. The climate has also changed, the summers hotter and dryer while the winters are colder.

It’s an 800km round trip by 4×4 to get to the current coast from Nukus over the sea bed. We camped on a extremely windy and cold steppe a few hundred Metres from the water.

It’s likely that the sea won’t be around for much longer so, ignoring the extreme wind and cold, two of us decided to go for a swim. It’s salty enough to support my entire body weight. After warming up, we headed back to Nukus, an experience not to be forgotten.

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October 1, 2014

Journey to the Aral sea

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October 1, 2014

Khiva, Uzbekistan

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October 1, 2014

Snapshot of Dushanbe, Tajikistan

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October 1, 2014

Bukhara and surrounding area

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October 1, 2014

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

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October 1, 2014

I’ve put up some photos from the last month in Uzbekistan since I have some decent internet in Nukus of all places. Off to Turkmenistan tomorrow, probably won’t post much until I reach Baku.

If you scroll down past the pictures, you’ll find a text entry about Turkmenistan and the Aral sea trip I just got back from!

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October 3, 2014

A sneak peak at the #Darvaza gas crater, the most surreal place I’ve ever been. You’re gonna have to wait until I’m out of #Turkmenistan though because there’s not much WiFi here! (at Türkmenistan Aşkabat)A sneak peak at the #Darvaza gas crater, the most surreal place I’ve ever been. You’re gonna have to wait until I’m out of #Turkmenistan though because there’s not much WiFi here! (at Türkmenistan Aşkabat)

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October 12, 2014
“How long does the cargo ferry from Turkmenbashi to Baku take?” “12 hours.” …80 hours later (at Old City (Baku))“How long does the cargo ferry from Turkmenbashi to Baku take?”
“12 hours.”
…80 hours later (at Old City (Baku))

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October 12, 2014

Gotta pay for those shiny buildings somehow. (at Baku, Azerbaijan)Gotta pay for those shiny buildings somehow. (at Baku, Azerbaijan)

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October 13, 2014

Here’s an extremely illegal photo of the presidential palace in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. I was ushered out of this area shortly after by military police. There are whole city blocks full of white marble government buildings where no civilians can go...Here’s an extremely illegal photo of the presidential palace in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. I was ushered out of this area shortly after by military police. There are whole city blocks full of white marble government buildings where no civilians can go and six lane boulevards where no traffic can pass.

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October 14, 2014

The road to Darvaza

In the centre of Turkmenistan in the Karakum desert (Black sand desert) is the Darvaza gas crater that was set alight by the Russians 42 years ago to burn off what they thought was a small deposit of gas.

It is quite a sight to see, especially at night. Approaching the crater you see an orange glow coming from the ground. Next comes the sound, aptly enough like the sound of a blow torch, then the smell of gas like camping fuel. Finally as you approach the edge of the crater you will see what looks like the rocks and dirt on fire. It is extremely surreal and very odd.

Apparently since they have started drilling nearby, the pressure has decreased and therefore the flames are not as large as they once were.

Also, I should mention the crater was named after the nearby town of Darvaza. Unfortunately a few years ago the president of Turkmenistan stopped in the town and didn’t like it so much so he forcibly removed the townspeople and bulldozed it completely, ala Genghis Khan. It no longer exists on any maps and there is no existing signage to indicate the former town.

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October 14, 2014

The City of White Marble

Ashgabat is the capital of Turkmenistan and definitely the only other thing to see in Turkmenistan after the gas crater. The government has spent all of its oil money on massive marble government buildings instead of investing it in anything worthwhile like education or hospitals. However, it does make for an unreal city scape.

The street lights are made of stainless steel and have the eight sided star design of Turkmenistan’s national symbol. Everywhere you look you can see this symbol.

Ashgabat had endless green parks, however those near government buildings can not be used by anyone. Pictures of these buildings are strictly forbidden. Military police guard every ministry building while local police are on every corner to issue driving infractions and check documents at random.

Turkmenistan is a complete authoritarian police state where you need to keep your head down while walking around. Apparently most high end hotel suites are bugged with listening devices as are coffee shops and anywhere foreigners meet. CCTV cameras keep tabs on everything.

If you can get over these small details, Ashgabat is actually a really nice place to live. A lot of things are actually subsidised and gasoline is only $0.20/L.

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October 14, 2014

The road from Ashgabat to Turkmenbashi takes about eight hours. Turkmenbashi is Turkmenistan’s main port city connecting it to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan for passengers.

I spent eighty hours on the ship because Baku has a new port, however, it only contains one birth for ships to dock at meaning the queue is three days long.

By the way the Caspian sea is a complete environmental disaster, full of drilling rigs and ships, but also containing a thick layer of sludge especially around Baku.

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October 14, 2014

Finally arriving in Baku I found it to be very European in style, but culturally still very eastern. A definite change from the stans, however still a police state as government buildings are all guarded, searches are commonplace, photographs of certain buildings restricted and I have to be registered with the local police in each new city I go to. Even visiting the base of the world’s second tallest flagpole is fenced off.

Because of their oil revenues, prices for everyday things are basically the same as western Europe or Calgary. It is an expensive city full of BMWs Mercedes’s and designer brand names everywhere.

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October 18, 2014

Happy autumn from the Caucasus Mountains near Lahic, Azerbaijan.Happy autumn from the Caucasus Mountains near Lahic, Azerbaijan.

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October 18, 2014

I stayed with a local family in Lahic and the man on the left is one of nicest people I’ve ever met. I have no idea who the guy on the right is. A local who wanted to be in the photo I suppose. #azerbaijanI stayed with a local family in Lahic and the man on the left is one of nicest people I’ve ever met. I have no idea who the guy on the right is. A local who wanted to be in the photo I suppose. #azerbaijan

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October 19, 2014

Lucky you geting to see my mug two days in a row. Hanging out with the local kids at the bazaar. I bought a toque. It’s getting chilly. #azerbaijan (at Şeki)Lucky you geting to see my mug two days in a row. Hanging out with the local kids at the bazaar. I bought a toque. It’s getting chilly. #azerbaijan (at Şeki)

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October 19, 2014

Postcards

If you’d like a postcard from wherever I happen to be, send an email to trudel@gmail.com, whoever you are.

I’ve sent at least one postcard to everyone who gave me their address for before leaving. If you haven’t received one from me, let me know and I’ll send you another.

They are usually sold in sets of ten here so I always have a stack!

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October 20, 2014

Could you imagine if you went to Folk Fest and there was a patriotic picture of Stephen Harper in the background?Could you imagine if you went to Folk Fest and there was a patriotic picture of Stephen Harper in the background?

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October 20, 2014

Photos from Lahic, and Seki, Azerbaijan. Tomorrow, I’m going to try to make it to Tbilisi, Georgia which I’m excited about because it’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time and i’ve only heard good things recently from people on the road. Probably wouldn’t have been a good place to visit 10, 20 or 25 years ago though.

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October 25, 2014

Rock ‘n roll in the streets of Tbilisi. The sound of freedom. #Georgia (at Rustaveli)

Rock ‘n roll in the streets of Tbilisi. The sound of freedom. #Georgia (at Rustaveli)

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October 28, 2014

Tbilisi

I’ve spent the past week in Tbilisi, Georgia, resting in a really nice city and hostel. It’s also been abnormally cold here, miserable rain and about five degrees, so that type of weather doesn’t lend itself well to anything.

Soon I’ll be heading south to Armenia to visit for a week or two and then I’ll probably be back in Georgia before crossing to Turkey.

Coming to Georgia was like a breath of fresh air. They only checked my passport once to stamp it upon entering the country and it took about thirty seconds to get in. I had been used to hour long border waits with 10 passport checks and checkpoints to go through. It’s the first non military dictatorship i’ve been in since Kyrgyzstan in August! It’s much nicer this way. Tbilisi is also a really beautiful city with a great music and cultural scene, something dictatorships tend to lack.

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October 30, 2014

Having to much of a good time in Tbilisi, I can’t seem to leave (at Tbilisi Old City)Having to much of a good time in Tbilisi, I can’t seem to leave (at Tbilisi Old City)

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November 4, 2014

A snowy #Khertvisi fortress upon a hill on the way to #Vardzia. #Georgia #snow #cold #wheresthesun (at დაბა ხარაგაული)A snowy #Khertvisi fortress upon a hill on the way to #Vardzia. #Georgia #snow #cold #wheresthesun (at დაბა ხარაგაული)

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November 5, 2014

For 50 Terri (33¢) you have the chance to “claw” a stuffed animal or a pack of smokes. Make your choice! #Georgia #smokes #letsgo (at Kutaisi Centre)For 50 Terri (33¢) you have the chance to “claw” a stuffed animal or a pack of smokes. Make your choice! #Georgia #smokes #letsgo (at Kutaisi Centre)

Winning a pack of smokes in Georgia.

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November 6, 2014

Wandering the stone paved streets of #Mestia at dusk. #georgia (at Svaneti, Mestia)Wandering the stone paved streets of #Mestia at dusk. #georgia (at Svaneti, Mestia)

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November 6, 2014

Svan towers dot the landscape in #Mestia. The towers were a defensive fortification to protect families from invaders and also used as a signaling beacon to warn others. #georgiaSvan towers dot the landscape in #Mestia. The towers were a defensive fortification to protect families from invaders and also used as a signaling beacon to warn others. #georgia

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November 8, 2014

#Rugby night in #Georgia (at Tbilisi, Georgia)#Rugby night in #Georgia (at Tbilisi, Georgia)

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November 9, 2014

One last photo from #Mestia, the #Chaladi Glacier.

One last photo from #Mestia, the #Chaladi Glacier.

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November 9, 2014

Tbilisi, Borjomi, Kazbegi, Vardzia and Mestia, Georgia.

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November 13, 2014

Alaverdi copper mine, #Alaverdi, #Armenia. Once the largest mine in the Soviet Union, built by the Greeks in the 18th century, now a shadow of its former self.Alaverdi copper mine, #Alaverdi, #Armenia. Once the largest mine in the Soviet Union, built by the Greeks in the 18th

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November 14, 2014

#Hitching in #Armenia. (at Dilijan)#Hitching in #Armenia. (at Dilijan)

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November 17, 2014

A rainy day in #Yerevan (at Republic Square, Yerevan)

A rainy day in #Yerevan (at Republic Square, Yerevan)

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November 19, 2014

Cracked front view. On the road to #Goris #Armenia. #Hitching and #Hootie (at Goris)Cracked front view. On the road to #Goris #Armenia. #Hitching and #Hootie (at Goris)

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November 20, 2014

#Tatev monastery, built in the 8th century, situated overlooking the massive gorge of the Vorotan River. #Armenia (at Tatev monastery)#Tatev monastery, built in the 8th century, situated overlooking the massive gorge of the Vorotan River. #Armenia (at Tatev monastery)

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November 20, 2014

Backstreets of #Goris #Armenia. If you like Ladas, Armenia is the place to be. (at Goris)Backstreets of #Goris #Armenia. If you like Ladas, Armenia is the place to be. (at Goris)

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November 21, 2014

Laundry day in #Stepanakert, #Nagorro-Karabak. The country that isn’t actually country.Laundry day in #Stepanakert, #Nagorro-Karabak. The country that isn’t actually country.

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November 23, 2014

Bombed out Soviet building. A result of the #Karabakh war. (at Shushi)Bombed out Soviet building. A result of the #Karabakh war. (at Shushi)

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November 23, 2014

It’s been nearly two weeks in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and it is a bit of a different world down here compared to Georgia.

I hitchhiked with a friend from Tbilisi to the Armenian border. The guy who picked us up was Armenian and he was buying prescription drugs in Tbilisi and shuttling them back to Yerevan to sell them for profit. About 30km from the border he had to stop the van so he could hide the drugs in the 10kg of mandarin oranges he bought.

Entering Armenia it looks competent different from Georgia. It’s much more Soviet, much more run down and contains many more Ladas.

It took us about an hour to get a ride from the border to the next town of Alaverdi.

Alaverdi is a run down Soviet mining town. Most people have left and I’m glad I got to see this side of an Armenian town since most people just go to Yerevan, the capital and back to Tbilisi.

Yerevan is a pretty grey capital. This time of year, the low season, a lot of things are closed, and even in a city of a million, it can be hard to find a cup of Joe. However, it’s a normal capital city. It’s liveable, clean (for the most part) and has everything you need.

That being said, Yerevan is not my favourite place, I much prefer Tbilisi, but there are some great works of public art and in the summertime it would probably be a great place.

From Yerevan I headed south to Goris. There’s the beautiful Tatev monastery to see as well as a cave town that was populated until the 1950’s.

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November 23, 2014

Getting to Stepanakert is only really possible from Goris. Stepanakert is the capital of the de facto independent republic of Nagorno-Karabakh recognised only by Armenia.

The physical land of Nagorno-Karabakh legally belongs to Azerbaijan, but due to a bloody conflict in the early 1990’s after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, NK, with the help of Armenia, were able to drive Azerbaijan out.

The tensions here go back centuries, but the current animosities can be attributed to none other than Josef Stalin.

If you would like to read about the history of the area, you can find it in the following link since it is far too complicated for me to explain here.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagorno-Karabakh

Regardless of the previous conflicts, all I can tell you is of my own experiences here. I have found the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to be some of the friendlies people I have come across. They are extremely proud and are very enthusiastic to see tourists. There is very little English spoken here, but I feel very welcome from the locals. It’s been a really great place to visit.

I did a day trip 10km south of Stepanakert to a town called Shushi, that was particularly hard hit by the war. The town was captured by the Azeris and used as a launching point for rockets to rain down on Stepanakert and other surrounding villages. Portions of Shushi still lie in ruins, and it is an eerie and depressing place to be.

Soon I’ll be heading back to Tbilisi (my only way out) so I can move on to Turkey (I’m really late).

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November 24, 2014

A shepherd and his cafe. #lada #nivaA shepherd and his cafe. #lada #niva

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November 27, 2014

Tbilisi’s Bridge of Peace connecting old town to new. (at The Bridge of Peace)Tbilisi’s Bridge of Peace connecting old town to new. (at The Bridge of Peace)

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December 3, 2014

Monument of mutilated men, in remembrance of the South Ossetia war with Russia in 2008. #Gori #Georgia (at Gori, Georgia)Monument of mutilated men, in remembrance of the South Ossetia war with Russia in 2008. #Gori #Georgia (at Gori, Georgia)

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December 4, 2014

Chacha, Georgian brandy, certainly makes you dance. #tbilisi (at Tbilisi Old City)Chacha, Georgian brandy, certainly makes you dance. #tbilisi (at Tbilisi Old City)

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December 4, 2014

As I prepare to depart #Georgia, I leave one of my best buddies behind, Zura. Thanks so much my friend. (at Riffer Bar)As I prepare to depart #Georgia, I leave one of my best buddies behind, Zura. Thanks so much my friend. (at Riffer Bar)

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December 8, 2014

Finally in Turkey, I took a marshutka from Batumi to Trabzon yesterday. I’m always amazed at how much changes when you cross a simple arbitrary land border. People, culture, styles, food, cars, streets, stores… It’s a completely different world every time.

The weather is much better here. It’s about 15C in Trabzon but I will be going south tomorrow. I will be gong through the mountains so it looks like it will get cold rainy for me before I emerge closer to the Mediterranean. My plan is to hit Adana province as recommended to me by a Turk I met in Ashgabat, then north to Kayseri province and Cappadocia before hitting Ankara.

So far the Turkish people have been very welcoming and interested in what I’m doing here. They are friendly and willing to help and are excited to use their English skills.

December 10, 2014

Sunset over Giresun, Turkey on the Black Sea coast. (at Giresun)Sunset over Giresun, Turkey on the Black Sea coast. (at Giresun)

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December 12, 2014

Hitchin a ride in a big rig with my main man Ahmet somewhere between Kavak and Merzifon, Turkey (at Çorum)Hitchin a ride in a big rig with my main man Ahmet somewhere between Kavak and Merzifon, Turkey (at Çorum)

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December 15, 2014

The interior of the magnificent #Kocatepe mosque in central #Ankara, the most beautiful mosque I’ve ever been in. #turkey (at Kocatepe Mosque)The interior of the magnificent #Kocatepe mosque in central #Ankara, the most beautiful mosque I’ve ever been in. #turkey (at Kocatepe Mosque)

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December 20, 2014

A lone hot air balloon at sunset over #Cappadoccia, #Turkey (at Cappadoccia, Turkey)

A lone hot air balloon at sunset over #Cappadoccia, #Turkey (at Cappadoccia, Turkey)

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December 22, 2014

Monday night… nice evening for some horse races. Apparently I was the first foreigner these guys had ever seen in this particular establishment. #first #Turkey #adana (at Çukurova, Adana)Monday night… nice evening for some horse races. Apparently I was the first foreigner these guys had ever seen in this particular establishment. #first #Turkey #adana (at Çukurova, Adana)

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December 26, 2014

#Antalya, #Turkey#Antalya, #Turkey

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December 27, 2014

I’ve been in Turkey for nearly three weeks now. My journey has taken me through the eastern black sea coast, down into central Anatolia, and now to the Mediterranean coast.

Turkey has one timezone, therefore it’s dark at 4pm in the east. This is my only gripe about the east however, as the people there were warm and welcoming, though the cities and towns are lacking that special something.

Heading south at Samsun, I entered into Turkey’s deepfreeze zone. I spent six days in Ankara with an American friend I had made in Tbilisi. Ankara is a large, bland city with a beautiful mosque. That’s about it.

The rock formations at Cappadocia are as amazing as everyone says. There are a lot of different hiking trails you can do to experience the area firsthand.

By this point I was freezing so I visited a Turkish friend in Adana, on the Mediterranean, who I had met in Turkmenistan. He welcomed me into his home along with his parents. He was my tour guide for two great days in Adana.

I braced for the cold and headed back inland to Konya to visit the museum and tomb of the famous poet Rumi. 18 hours later I was heading back to the Mediterranean to Antalya to spend Christmas day in some sunshine.

I expect to be in Istanbul within the next two weeks and then I will be heading back to SE Asia… because I’m cold and I can.

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December 27, 2014

Greece for a day. Kastellorizo (Meis in Turkish) is an island 2km off the coast of Kaş, Turkey (at Kastellorizo, Greece)Greece for a day. Kastellorizo (Meis in Turkish) is an island 2km off the coast of Kaş, Turkey (at Kastellorizo, Greece)

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December 29, 2014

#Bodrum #allmysocksarewet #Turkey (at Bodrum, Muğla)#Bodrum #allmysocksarewet #Turkey (at Bodrum, Muğla)

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December 31, 2014

Happy 2015 from the Library of #Celsus in #Ephesus, competed in 135 AD. (at Izmir/Selcuk-Efes)Happy 2015 from the Library of #Celsus in #Ephesus, competed in 135 AD. (at Izmir/Selcuk-Efes)

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January 3, 2015

Wanna take a guess at what the white stuff is?Wanna take a guess at what the white stuff is?

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January 4, 2015

160 days ago (July 28, 2014) I set off from Chengdu, China with the goal of reaching Istanbul, Turkey overland. Today, I finally reached Istanbul. Along the way I met a ton of really wonderful and inspiring people with a lot of exciting goals...160 days ago (July 28, 2014) I set off from Chengdu, China with the goal of reaching Istanbul, Turkey overland. Today, I finally reached Istanbul. Along the way I met a ton of really wonderful and inspiring people with a lot of exciting goals themselves and created new friendships all over the world. This journey took me through some crazy places and it was great to meet some equally crazy people along the way! To all of our next adventures.

I’m pretty sure photos of yourself in front of stuff is gonna be huge in 2015, so here’s one of me in front of the Blue (Sultanahmet) Mosque in Istanbul. #selfpicture #Turkey #overland (at Sultanahmet Camii)

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January 6, 2015

Fisherman line the #Galata bridge on my last snowy day in #Istanbul. #itsbeenaslice (at Galata Bridge)Fisherman line the #Galata bridge on my last snowy day in #Istanbul. #itsbeenaslice (at Galata Bridge)

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January 7, 2015

So I left Istanbul this afternoon and arrived in Amman, Jordan to more snow. Snow… in the Levant. Not exactly what I was expecting. Locals are starring out the windows, don’t think they get to see it too often. Here’s hoping it’s not snowing in...So I left Istanbul this afternoon and arrived in Amman, Jordan to more snow.

Snow… in the Levant. Not exactly what I was expecting. Locals are starring out the windows, don’t think they get to see it too often.

Here’s hoping it’s not snowing in Bangkok.

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January 9, 2015

Made it to Bangkok. It’s warm, no snow, good food. I’m happy.

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January 10, 2015

Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand.Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand.

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January 12, 2015

Tourists… #peaceinthemiddleeast #thailand (at Khao Yai National Park - Greenleaf Guesthouse & Tour)Tourists… #peaceinthemiddleeast #thailand (at Khao Yai National Park – Greenleaf Guesthouse & Tour)

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January 12, 2015

Got a new camera and can import some much nicer photos now. This is Thailand.

The bird in the trees is a hornbill. The photo is taken with my camera phone through a high powered scope. Same for the photo of the gibbon.

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January 12, 2015

Just caught a glimpse of an elephant two separate occasions from a fair distance. These photos are cropped so that’s the reason for their reduced quality. The lens on the camera is a 16-50mm so I don’t get much zoom out of it.

They apparently have to eat 150kg per day and sleep standing up.

These photos are from Khao Yai national park about 200km NE of Bangkok.

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January 14, 2015

The world famous Thai smile. Phimai, Thailand, January 14, 2014. ———- Now that I have a camera that I can use to upload directly to the blog, there will be some content that you can only find here, so stay tuned!The world famous Thai smile. Phimai, Thailand, January 14, 2014.

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January 15, 2015

Night market craziness in Phimai, where you can try a million different Thai foods. #yummy #thailandNight market craziness in Phimai, where you can try a million different Thai foods. #yummy #thailand

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January 15, 2015

Banyan tree in Phimai, Thailand, January 15, 2015Banyan tree in Phimai, Thailand, January 15, 2015

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January 16, 2015

Prasat Hin Phimai, constructed in the 12th century, a Khmer Empire religious sanctuary. Phimai, Thailand, January 15, 2015.Prasat Hin Phimai, constructed in the 12th century, a Khmer Empire religious sanctuary. Phimai, Thailand, January 15, 2015.

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January 16, 2015

Night market in Phimai, Thailand. January 15, 2015.Night market in Phimai, Thailand. January 15, 2015.

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January 17, 2015

Khao Yai National Park and Phimai, Thailand.

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January 23, 2015

Bayon temple in the Angkor Thom complex outside of Siem Reap, #Cambodia (at Bayon Temple)Bayon temple in the Angkor Thom complex outside of Siem Reap, #Cambodia (at Bayon Temple)

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January 26, 2015

I’m out of Thailand and into Cambodia and the differences are drastic. Thailand seems to be booming in so many areas while Cambodia deals with the poorest of the poor. Cambodia is definitely the last developed country I have visited on this trip. The contrast between western wealth and Cambodian poverty is striking. However, you won’t see it in photos here, these photos are all about temples around the Angkor Wat area. A magnificent testament to Khmer architecture. But, as of now, I’m templed out.

Currently in Phnom Penh after spending three days in Siem Reap, the base for tourists to explore Angkor. Will be here for a bit to show down relax and explore the many things the city has to offer.

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January 26, 2015

Obligatory photo of Angkor WatObligatory photo of Angkor Wat

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January 26, 2015

I would be remiss if I did not speak of the genocidal horrors that took place in Cambodia only 35 years prior to today.

The following account is a little graphic and may be hard to read.

I won’t go into the details of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, I think most people know the name and a quick Google search can bring you up to speed. What I will talk about is two locations in Phnom Penh that help convey the atrocities.

The first picture is of a former school, Tuol Sleng, that was transformed into a prison, codenamed S-21 that had up to 20,000 people pass through its gates in the late 70’s. Of the 20,000 people, only seven survived.

This was the only photo I took as I thought it would be disrespectful to take photos of prison cells and torture chambers where so many died.

Cambodians mostly were brought here on suspicion of stealing, and other similar crimes, but many were accused of working for the CIA or KGB. Of course most were completely innocent of any crimes at all but we’re tortured until they gave a false list of names of friends and family who were also engaged in espionage activities against the state.

There were many such camps across the country, nearly ¼ of all cambodians were executed in search of the perfect society.

More information on S-21 is available here:

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuol_Sleng_Genocide_Museum

After interment, many were brought to a former Chinese burial site 15km south of Phnom Penh. They were told they were being relocated to a home with their family.

Once the truck stopped, they were one by one taken to a pit to be bludgeoned to death with hammers, steel rods, shovels or any other suitable tools (bullets were too expensive), all the while patriotic music rang throughout the forest to muffle the screams of the dying.

It wasn’t until the Vietnamese “liberators” found the mass grave sites that the world became aware of the atrocities committed here.

The second picture shows a tree where teeth and flesh were embedded when the site was found. It was later realised that this tree was used to kill babies and children before they were thrown into a pit.

The area is referred to add the killing fields. More info here:

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_Fields

Pol Pot remained in charge of the country until 1997. His Khmer Rouge government was even recognised by the UN and many western governments even after the genocide had been uncovered. He died in 1998. Four high level members of his government were only just imprisoned in 2007, over 30 years later.

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February 4, 2015

Fishing village on Koh Rong island, Cambodia.Fishing village on Koh Rong island, Cambodia.

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February 4, 2015

Couple more bags should do it. #CambodiaCouple more bags should do it. #Cambodia

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February 5, 2015

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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February 5, 2015

You haven’t heard a lot from me lately, but I’m still kicking around Cambodia. After I left Phnom Penh I headed south to Sihanoukville and then onto the island of Koh Rong where I spent four days. Got to do some jungle trekking and some beach time as well.

I’m now in Kep where I’m going to devote some time to reviewing my 10 month journey so far, compiling my relatively extensive notes and getting some bigger elements down on paper for my own personal satisfaction I suppose.

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February 5, 2015

Koh Rong island, Cambodia

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February 20, 2015

I’m back in Thailand after spending a month in Cambodia. Now that i’m back here, I really do miss Cambodia. It’s a country full of poverty and problems, but it is extremely interesting. It’s a place that has a soul and you can see it everywhere you look and everywhere you go. It’s a unique place, and one of the few countries I would actually try to revisit in the future.

I generally don’t like to go back to a country once I’ve had my fill, there’s so much more of the world to explore and so little time, but Cambodia has something about it that I can’t quite put my finger on.

Phnom Penh is just a crazy city. It takes a lot out of you. It is a mess of colourful people, Tuk Tuks, noise, pollution and garbage, sex, drugs, alcohol. It certainly has a seedy underbelly, but perhaps that adds to the feeling of the city.

It’s not a place for everyone, and I don’t think I could spend an extended amount of time there. I was struggling after being on the road for 10 months. I think you either need to grow up in that environment and know nothing else, or be fully charged and prepared to face it head on, which I am not at this point in time.

I’ll round out the month in Thailand and then head to Australia to meet one of my best friends who is moving there from Calgary. Then, during the third week of March I’ll be home!

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February 25, 2015

Don’t mean to make you envious, but here’s my forecast for the next few days.

Don’t mean to make you envious, but here’s my forecast for the next few days.

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February 25, 2015

My neighbours are having a bonfire. #thailand #phimai (at Moon River Hom Stay)

My neighbours are having a bonfire. #thailand #phimai (at Moon River Hom Stay)

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February 27, 2015
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March 4, 2015

#weirdo #myfriendmatwithonet @matglessing (at Manly Beach)#weirdo #myfriendmatwithonet @matglessing (at Manly Beach)

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March 10, 2015

My friend Mat (who just moved from Calgary to Sydney) and I flew to Cairns, Queensland to pick up a camper van and drive it all the way back to Sydney, New South Wales. It is about a 2,600km drive along the eastern coast of Australia. Were nearly back in Sydney now and it’s been a great trip.

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March 10, 2015

When you’ve got an itch, ya just gotta scratch it. #kangaroo #australia #itchy #scratchy (at Trial Bay, South West Rocks)When you’ve got an itch, ya just gotta scratch it. #kangaroo #australia #itchy #scratchy (at Trial Bay, South West Rocks)

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March 12, 2015

A ringtailed possum decided to come for a visit #australia (at Manly Beach)

A ringtailed possum decided to come for a visit #australia (at Manly Beach)

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March 15, 2015

Scenes from around Sydney

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March 22, 2015

My Return

On Wednesday, March 18 I arrived back in Calgary after nearly a year on the road.An absolutely incredible experience I will never forget. This blog will likely go dormant for a while so I can get myself organised in Calgary. Once I feel up to the task, I’ll be sorting through the thousands of photos i’ve taken over the past year and willpost selected photos along with the background story. There’s a lot more of the adventure to tell!

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