We celebrated New Years at the Singapore airport while standing in line at gate security. It's better than it seems: the best part about traveling on New Year's Eve is that entire planes fly unfilled, so we all had enough room to stretch out and get a good night's sleep on the 8 hour flight to Sydney. Staffan and I also took the time to reflect on 2013, extremely happy that so many of our wishes and resolutions had been fulfilled.
I have spent more time on Bali than any other surf destination, except for California. I came here several times in the 1990s, learned everything about the different breaks, and had some of the best waves of my life. I also ventured over to the neighboring islands Lombok and Sumbawa to find more waves with less people.
The days leading up to Christmas were filled with anticipation and excitement, as well it should be in a house with 4 and 5 year old believers. How would Santa find us? But the villa doesn't have a chimney! What if the reindeer land in the pool? We had equipped ourselves with multiple advent calendars on the iPads, force-feeding a daily dose of holiday classical music but also allowing for a daily game and virtual gift unwrapping to set the mood.
Bali is our vacation from our vacation. I was worried at first that a month on this small island could drive me insane, given that both Staffan and I have spent ample time here in the past and it should be obvious by now that we like to keep moving. But it is working out better than I could have imagined. We are staying mainly in villas with private pools, carefully selected based on proximity to renown surf spots.
The food in Laos and Cambodia was good, but it is not by chance that the cuisine of Thailand (and that of Vietnam) are much more famous. One reason is the variety—there are simply many more thai dishes composed of many more flavors than in Lao or Cambodian food.
Last night, I read The Velveteen Rabbit to the kids. It had particular impact since they each still have a dear stuffed animal to whom they cling at night or when upset. Woof is a white stuffed dog with sad, brown eyes who was given to Phineas by Mia, his paternal grandmother. Phineas caresses the tips of her clumped fur with his fingertips as he falls asleep. She is the first thing he reaches for when awaking from slumber, his small hands groping in the dark to strum the soft spot of fur left under her tail.
We were really looking forward to the food in Southeast Asia, especially after spending two weeks in Nepal, which is not exactly a place one visits for culinary reasons. Laos and Cambodia are squeezed between the two culinary powerhouses of the region—Thailand and Vietnam—but they actually have quite interesting cuisines of their own.
For what Vientiane lacked in quaintness, Luang Prabang made up for in droves. This entire little town, situated on a peninsula at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, is a UNESCO world heritage site. From the 14th to the 16th century, the peninsula of Luang Prabang was the capital of Lane Xane, the Kingdom of a Million Elephants. Its strategic position along the Silk Route is responsible for the wealth and influence it amassed. Much attention has been put into restoring the traditional wood and bamboo buildings that line the streets.
We tried to make Vientiane truly feel like home for Eilir's birthday. She had been waiting with such anticipation for her party, starting a countdown 27 days in advance, inquiring if she would have a jumpy house and if her friends would be there. When we explained that it would be a more intimate party of four, with just the family, she suggested we could perhaps invite the waiters from the hotel, or our porters and guides from the trek, but we explained that we had to carry on and would be in a new land.
I have to admit it, we find ourselves in Vientiane because I liked the sound of the name. I've toyed with coming here for years on weekenders from China, but always felt compelled to see more of China itself. The name Vientiane conjures up images of an old French protectorate, with long-tailed boats meandering up the Mekong river and dotted with golden temples.