When we set out on this trip we decided that our goal was to make our way from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Tokyo in Japan, via every country in between, without flying. Trains, buses and boats all the way. It was an ambitious task. One that would take us to many small towns and border regions that we would not otherwise see. It would also add an element of challenge as we would ultimately have to pass through some areas where few tourists go at all. There was just one problem. It takes a really really long time.
It would certainly be possible to do this a lot faster than we have. We could have immediately caught the train north from Kuala Lumpur through Bangkok then on to Chiang Mai. In less than a week we could have sped through Malaysia, clickety clacked the length of Thailand and found ourselves at the Laos border. But we don't really like to travel like that. We generally stay in each location for at least a week, sometimes several weeks. We also don't like travelling more than five hours at a time. That means short hops to nearby towns where we spend what many people seem to think is a ridiculous amount of time before again moving on. "You spent how long there? What did you do all day?" is something we've heard quite a few times.
Together, our no flying rule plus our fondness for travelling at a glacial pace means that Tokyo is still a long way away. After more than 8 months on the road we have made our way through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Vietnam was meant to be next. I say "meant to be" because there's been a change of plan. We've broken our no flying rule. Toto, we're not in Cambodia any more.
Other than the slow progress there are a few other reasons why we broke our no flying rule:
1) After thoroughly exploring four south east Asian countries things have started to get a bit... samey. Yes, there are differences and unique elements to each place. There are however a lot of similarities. Sweltering, bustling city streets, peaceful temples, and beautiful rice fields are great but we were ready for a bigger change than crossing from Cambodia to Vietnam was likely to offer.
2) The opportunity to do some house sitting came up. Like all long term travellers we know the value of a dollar and free accommodation is always nice. We've actually had a few offers but had to turn them down because of scheduling difficulties. It turns out that with us crawling along from town to town the chance of our schedule lining up with a potential hosts is close to zero.
3) Our desire to visit every country conflicts with our desire to not fly. In particular accessing Taiwan and the Philippines by sea seemed like it was going to be difficult. Especially if we were to avoid back tracking. Most likely, options would have become available but from where we're currently sitting, getting to Taiwan and the Philippines then on to another country looked like it was going to be a headache.
So if we're not in Cambodia any more then where are we? We're actually back in Malaysia. We flew here from Phnom Penh and spent a week in Kuala Lumpur sorting out visas for our house sitting destination. Which is, drum roll please, Taiwan! It's a relatively expensive country so the house sitting gig will really help financially. Also, it's one of our "hard to reach without flying" destinations so flying will make our lives much easier. And Vietnam? Vietnam is getting saved for later.
Our no flying rule started out as a way to challenge ourselves. It was a good decision but over time it has become a burden that wasn't really benefiting us. We're not climbing Everest here. We're travelling purely for our own pleasure and enjoyment so if something is interfering with that, it needs to go. We'll always prefer to travel overland but now its something we will evaluate case by case. We're both a little giddy with the possibilities.
Self imposed rules and challenges can be a great way to spur creativity and to take yourself out of your comfort zone. It is important to remember that they are ultimately just something you made up. If they start to negatively affect your life, it's time to reassess.