Last September, I boarded a plane to Denmark. It was the start of a seven-month round-the-world adventure. Yesterday, at 10.05am, I landed at LAX. Man, this place is weird.
My adventure led me overland from Denmark to Norway, where I wild camped outside of Oslo, then watched sunset from the most epic ledge on earth while backpacking around a fjord.
Then in Iceland, I chased the northern lights, endured the most brutal daily camping conditions, and nearly died on a glacier.
A stopover in Italy had me hiking in the Dolomites and sneaking onto rooftops in Venezia.
Bangkok was my hub throughout travel in Southeast Asia; as such I spent a lot of time in Thailand. I climbed rocks and long boated around Krabi. Cliff jumped at an old quarry in Chiang Mai. And found a ton of waterfalls.
In Cambodia, I hammock camped on a white-sand, virgin beach -- the very definition of paradise.
Finally, I rode a $US450 motorcycle across Vietnam - exploring sand dunes, more waterfalls, and Hang En Cave (the world's third largest) along the way.
Before departing, I set a theme for my trip: Exploring the Unimaginable. And I most certainly did.
Have you enjoyed the photos from my journey? I've collected them in a 106-page photo book. Pick up a copy here.
Now I'm back in LA -- and man, this place is weird.
This is normal, non-rush hour traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
I moved to LA after graduating college and lived here for three years before taking off on my adventure around the globe. Traffic sucked, so I got a motorcycle for my daily commute from Downtown to Santa Monica.
Well now I'm back and hanging out at Wes's house in Hollywood -- where LA traffic is arguably some of the worst. And all I can think about is how calm it is here. Nobody really honks. There aren't 100 motorcycles racing through each intersection before red lights change to green. In fact, there aren't even really any motorcycles at all.
The Can Tho floating market is pretty "typical" for Vietnam.
While motorcycle touring in Vietnam, there was one particular instance where all I wanted was some ice cream. I had stopped for the night in a city that was not at all a tourist destination; I stayed near the city center.
After sitting in a tiny plastic chair on the footpath where I ate my dinner, I began my mission. Thirty minutes later, I finally found a tiny market that was still open and had a freezer. And more importantly, they had ice cream. My selection was limited to a single type of bar. At least it was cheap.
Anytime I got off the tourist track (which was more often than not), finding a particular item proved to be a challenge.
That's not the case however in the land of 24-hour supermarkets. Before Wes and I cooked steaks for dinner last night, we journeyed to Ralph's. Ralph's had everything. All in one place. And things were easy to find.
As usual, the self-checkout scanner said, "please see the attendant", but we didn't have to bargain for any of our prices. Shopping was easy.
This lunchtime feast cost me $US3.
Restaurants Are Expensive
For the first couple months of my adventure, I was in Europe. Europe was expensive; as such, I didn't eat out much. Once I got to Asia, however, I ate like a king.
My favourite restaurant in Pokhara, Nepal was a Turkish place called Merhaba. The environment was candlelit and cosy and I could order a massive plate of delicious food, and an entire pot of tea for less than $US4.
Restaurants here are expensive. $US11 for a sandwich with no sides or a drink seems to be the norm. I don't think I'll be eating out anytime soon, at least not if Wes isn't paying.
Street food is everywhere in Bangkok, Thailand.
Street Food Still Exists
For the last four months, street food has been a staple of my diet. It's delicious, cheap, and in Southeast Asia, it's everywhere. Only thing is your stomach may need some conditioning.
Well, we've got street food here in America too. It's called, "tacos." And they are just as delicious (and almost as cheap) as the Pad Thai in Thailand. I missed tacos so much; I plan to eat as many as I can while I'm still here.
In rural Cambodia, you'll be hard-pressed to find fuel pumps. Instead, gasoline is dispensed from a Johnny Walker Red Label bottle.
You Have to Pump Your Own Gas
I drove a good deal throughout Iceland, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam; not once did I have to pump my own gas. Full service fuel stations were the norm everywhere I went.
That's certainly not the case here, where you gotta pump your own damn gas. It's not that I mind pumping my own gas, it's just different.
A Monong ethnic minority family gathers around their stove, made from recycled landmines, in Vietnam.
First World Problems Aren't Real Problems
It might sound snobby, but it's true. Life is good here. Life is easy.
While hiking at 3962m in a remote section of the Himalayas in the dead of winter, I met a yak herder. He couldn't speak any English. In fact, he could barely speak at all. But it didn't take long for me to notice the big cut on his tan, leathery hands. Or that he wasn't wearing socks, despite the below-freezing temperatures.
So I got out my first-aid kit, disinfected his wound, and patched him up. Then I gave him my extra pair of wool socks so he could keep his feet warm. The man didn't know how to thank me, but I could see the gratefulness in his eyes.
Having a dead phone battery, running out of gas, or even losing my camera and computer doesn't really bother me anymore. Having those "problems" is just a reminder of how good I've got it.
"It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me." - Bruce Wayne
Nothing Has Changed
The craziest thing about returning to the States after being gone for a while is that nothing has really changed. Sure, the billboards are different. New buildings have popped up here and there. A new restaurant or two. But for all intents and purposes, it's the same.
Nothing has changed, but it feels so strange. I can't quite put my finger on it. Everything looks the same, but it feels different.
Nothing has changed, except me.
Pictures: Chris Brinlee Jr