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  • Writer's pictureRomy Jansen

It's a Wild Life! - Walks to remember

What an incredible Christmas it was! After two years away from our loved ones, our quick visit to the Netherlands was awesome. To spice things up, we decided to surprise Romy's parents by arriving on Christmas Day instead of two days later. Their expressions were absolutely priceless! And talk about another warm welcome—my sister greeted us with our two nieces, a massive "Welcome Home" balloon, and a stash of authentic Dutch Stroopwafels! Our day was nothing short of magical as we met our newest niece and cherished our time with our beloved 93-year-old granny. The following morning, Rob's mother was so sweet to pick us up to celebrate Christmas with his side of the family, where we were introduced to yet another new addition: a little nephew. From engaging conversations to genuine care, it felt incredibly heartwarming to be reunited with family after such an extended period of traveling. Afterward, we bunked with friends for the remaining days, diving into preparations for our next adventure—cleaning and fixing our gear, but most importantly, having some much-needed quality time with them. Although our visit was brief and most of the time we were feeling sick. We couldn't catch up with everyone, our time back home was great, and we're already counting down the days until our return in the summer! ;)

Picture this: walking a dirt road within a National Park in Thailand. Our senses were alive, scanning the surroundings for glimpses of avian beauty while enjoying the cool breeze. As we approached a bend in the path, the dense foliage ahead cast a shadow. Suddenly, our eyes fixated on what seemed like figures standing on the road, but it wasn't a person. It was a majestic Male Asian Elephant 🐘. Instinctively, Rob reached for the camera, quickly capturing the awe-inspiring moment. But where was the nearest towering tree for cover? Luckily only a few meters away from us! Taking refuge behind its sturdy trunk, we watched in silent admiration as the elephant came closer, then gracefully walked off onto a hidden trail, disappearing into the depths of the forest. We waited a bit longer, ears tuned for any signs of more elephants approaching, before continuing our walk to remember.

And this was not the only fantastic mammal encounter. We saw so many cool new species in Thailand. Flying Squirrels, two Bear species, Eden's whale and many different monkeys. And of course many new birds. In such a short time we encountered a lot and enjoyed the new continent.

Our first two weeks in Thailand proved to be a bit challenging, to be honest. We experienced a mild culture shock, perhaps intensified by our considerable jet lag. Adjusting to driving on the left side of the road, attempting to communicate in Spanish with Thai locals, longing for our trusty car Forrest, and seeking out non-spicy cuisine all required more energy than we had anticipated. Fortunately, we crossed paths with fellow bird enthusiasts who not only provided delightful company but also shared invaluable knowledge about Asian birds. Moreover, we found our way in the beautiful Thai National Parks, which offered camping grounds where we could set up our tent, small restaurants providing hot water for a comforting cup of (instant..) coffee, and scenic trails to explore. Occasionally, we treated ourselves to the comfort of a budget-friendly hotel room equipped with air conditioning and a hot shower for a mere €9. And after enduring long days of exploration, enjoying a relaxing one-hour massage for €8 proved to be a delightful luxury addition to our travels.

After our adventures in Thailand, we journeyed across the border to the capital of Laos, Vientiane. Upon arrival, we rented a car for four days to explore the birdlife along a mountain ridge. As we drove on the highway from the capital, we were surprised by the scarcity of avian sightings during the eight-hour drive, spotting only three birds—a Cattle Egret, a House Sparrow, and a Common Myna. We were shocked by the bad condition of the roads, with potholes deeper than a bathtub littering the main highway. Despite the rough journey, we thankfully reached our destination before nightfall. Having parted ways with our tent at the last camping site in Thailand to lighten our load, we were left with the choice of either sleeping in the car with a sleeping bag or seeking accommodation at the town's only guesthouse if there was still a room available. That's the thing about remote locations—information is scarce, and we only knew of the existence of one guesthouse, without contact details or additional information 😂. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the friendly owner who spoke limited English and offered us one of the ten available rooms, complete with a hot shower, for a total of just €4.50 per night. What a pleasant surprise! We ended up staying for three nights, affording us two full days to explore the mountainous terrain and seek out new bird species. As it is our custom in each new country, we play the game 'every bird is a new one in this country' —striving to observe and identify as many bird species as possible, old and new. While we enjoyed our time on this mountain, we also felt sad. Despite the presence of signs prohibiting hunting, our exploration led us to a very sad 'discovery'—a substantial heap of bird feathers at the end of a trail, made by hunters killing all the birds in their reach 😔

After our mountain escapades, we said goodbye to our rental car and continued our journey via local buses. Promptly at 8:00, we departed from the bus station, surprisingly on schedule. However, our first order of business was to make a pit stop at the gas station for refueling. Following that, the driver encountered an issue that needed attention, leaving us in the heat inside the bus as we waited to continue. We managed our expectations to aim for 'arriving to our next destination today', rather than the originally anticipated 15:00 arrival time. An hour later, the bus was fixed and we were on our way. Two hours later the bus stopped once again for further repairs. Meanwhile, locals onboard savored chicken legs seasoned with fragrant herbs and used the curtains to wipe their sweaty heads😅. Unfortunately, our bus couldn't continue. With the help of Google Translate we understood that another bus would pick us up to resume our journey. In the end, we reached our final destination at 17:00—tolerably late; just a two-hour delay 😅. Our plan included lodging at a lodge boasting stunning views of the karst mountains, with our primary aim being to spot the Laotian Langur, Laos' only endemic monkey species. Upon arrival, we decided to swiftly visit the viewpoint before sunset. To our delight, an employee greeted us with the words, "Look, monkeys!" It was undoubtedly one of the quickest observation of our primary target at any location during our travels. In the days that followed, we enjoyed the cute hobbit-like cabin, drunk cheap Lao beers from our little veranda and we walked the boardwalk amidst the karst mountains—another walk to remember :)


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