Returning home from my trip has been easy. Again, I cannot stress how lucky I consider myself to have been able to undertake such an adventure, yet be happy to return home.

What was the best thing about traveling? The worst? These two questions are fired every time somebody asks me about the trip. My answer has been consistent: the best part of the trip was meeting numerous amazing people, and the worst part was having to leave them.

As the military service creeps up on me, I leave this blog and thank you dear readers. Most of all, I thank the great people I met who made this trip incredible. As-salamu alaykum my friends, we will meet again. Over and out.

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As is custom with all good things, my travels have to come to an end. For now. My last days in the UK were spent catching up with friends, nothing out of the ordinary, trying to find cheap things to do such as the Natural History Museum. I have noticed that even after my return to Europe, I have unconsciously tried to bargain prices or get “good price” on goods or food, yet to no avail.

The flight back to Finland from London passed very pleasantly, although going home finally hit there too. Although I have seen a lot of incredible scenery, I was amazed by the beautiful view from the plane. The northern sun does not set in the summer, and was just skimming the horizon, painting the sky blood-orange red and amber. The wind sketched ripply patterns on the mirror-smooth surfaces of lakes, while my mind reminisced.

The luxury of warm water still has not worn off. The silence of the Finnish countryside night feels eerie, yet peaceful at the same time. The lack of sweat in a static state is nice. The sauna/lake combination is invincible. The presence of squash courts for quotidian use has not lost its novelty yet. Crossing empty streets feels strange. Speaking Finnish will take some getting used to.

My statistics (both qualitative and quantitative) after the trip are (for those metrically challenged, you can convert metric measurements to imperial here):
Height: 179cm (was 179cm)
Weight: 65kg (was 65kg)
Eye color: blue (was blue)
Hair color: blond (was blond)
Current physical nuisances: none (was irritated lower back)
Average meals per day: 2-5 (was 3-4)
Average bowel movements per day: 1-3 (was 2-3)
Average cups of coffee per day: 0-3 (was a solid 3)

Surprisingly little has changed. I have noticed a few behavioral changes. I find myself trying to eavesdrop on people who look oriental to determine what language they are speaking, hoping to catch a few words I recognize. I find myself wanting to throw around random phrases in Malay/Indonesian (such as “hati-hati”) or Thai (such as “mai pen rai”). Although it is really relaxing to blend in without attracting undeserved attention, I do miss it slightly. I find myself automatically walking in shade, zigzagging down streets although the sun does not scorch here in the north the same way it does in the tropics, probably looking like a fool. Mai pen rai.

I feel like I’ve already written the last word of my travel chapter, although theoretically I am still traveling since London is no longer my hometown. Nevertheless, Europe still feels familiar, ordinary, and I feel like I’m at home already. Most of all, it is strange to speak the language of the country fluently. As such, although I have seen and done a lot here, none of it feels extraordinary enough to be mentioned. That is not to say that London is an ordinary city; quite the contrary.

London has a lot to offer, on both the budget and extensive fronts. On the expensive side, the museums, exhibits and concerts the city has to offer are of elite standards. On the cheap side, just strolling around any part of the city like Chelsea or Kensington stubbornly on a hostel-hunt or just relaxing in one of the numerous parks of the city is fascinating.

I spent my first four nights in London at a friend’s house. Howard, and old university friend and ex-housemate, had kindly driven down from Manchester to meet up and we stayed at his flat, saw other university friends, and just had a great time catching up.

Yesterday, I moved out of Howard’s place as he had to go back to Manchester, and decided to find a cheap place in the area I was going to meet a few volleyball friends in the evening. The area around Notting Hill Gate did not have much to offer, but I was determined and stubborn to find something within my budget. I would settle for anything for £20 a night. It was just not going to happen; the cheapest bed I could find was £50 a night.

I finally gave up, and widened my territory to include Bayswater, an area I had visited with a friend when I was seventeen years old. It was strange to see the same hostels, in the same conditions. Having matured, however, I was not intimidated like I had been the previous time. Settling for the cheapest option, a bed in a 6-person dorm for £15, about 40 meters from Hyde Park, I was somewhat in shock about the price. I have definitely not missed UK prices.

Being back in the UK has been great. Seeing my family after two months of being separated was as good as ever, and the occasion even better: my sister’s first graduation. The Cambridge bubble, as they call it, shelters its students from the realities of the outside world, and a lot of students graduating are frightened of the working world, where they will have to break through the bubble and face the problems of “lay” people: finding work. I highly enjoyed my days in the bubble, spending time with my sister, seeing my family again, getting to play squash for the first time in over a month, and oddly enough, eating pub grub.

Yesterday I made my way into London to see old friends from university. Some SEA influence was clear to see, as I was finding it hard to judge time. “I’ll be there in 30 minutes” turned out to be two hours. The usual weekend closures on the London Underground for engineering works did not really help.

After having dropped off my stuff at Howard’s house (an old university friend and ex-housemate), we spent some time catching up and I then headed to Camden (an area in London) around 3pm to meet some more friends for food and drinks. Camden was followed by greyhound racing, in “true” British tradition.

Luck was with me at the tracks. Although Finland is big on horse-races, I have never followed, let alone understood, any of it. I can only assume greyhound racing to be the same. When you enter, you are supplied with a booklet of statistics, which looks more like gibberish than anything else. There are 11 races, and 6 dogs for each race. For each dog in each race, the statistics for the past 6 races are provided. I gave myself a £10 budget for betting, just to experience the adrenaline of watching the dogs. After losing my first fiver only barely, I decided to opt out. “I’m out. But I’d bet that number 5 will win the next one. If he does, I won’t be happy.” As Sod’s law would have it, number 5 won the next race, and the odds had even been good. Annoyed, I decided to place my remaining £5 on a dog with awesome statistics and unbelievably high odds for the next race.

My bet placed, the dogs approached their start cages, and to my dismay I realized that I had read the statistics for the wrong race. My money was on a “bitch that isn’t in her best shape”. I remained optimistic, however. Heart beating, eyes peeled for the apparition of the “rabbit”, I held by breath. As the cages opened, my bitch was fourth. Round the first bend, still fourth. Then, out of nowhere, she started gaining on the leader, overtaking the third, and then the second. Coming into the final bend, she was head-to-head with the leader. Fifty-fifty chance, “come oooonnn, turn on the turboooo.” Maybe she heard me and obeyed. Maybe she farted for some extra momentum. Who knows, and who cares. All that matters is that in the final 10 meters or so, she did overtake the leader, winning me £30. Karma maybe? I doubt it, but I’m not complaining. After subtracting transportation and entrance fees, I was £15 up. A good yield for standing around 20 minutes and shouting at dogs.

After having covered over 12,000 km in the past 72 hours, I now find myself in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Great Britain, waiting for my sister to wake up, myself still in the stupor of either sleep or a travel-hangover. Everything seems oddly familiar, yet equally as strange. Toilet bowls instead of squatting toilets, and toilet paper instead of a bucket of water. Hot and cold water (although from two different taps, just to make life a bit more difficult). Moderate climate. Sleeping with covers without sweating. My mind is still processing everything I’ve experienced, and I cannot help but feel like I am the luckiest person in the world.

The trip has taken me from one great experience to another. From eating street food in Vietnam to enjoying a cup of coffee at the most prestigious cafe in Jakarta. From meditating in Bangkok to laughing at drunken antics in Vang Vieng. From coaching squash in Malaysia to learning to cook Vietnamese food in Hoi An. From admiring the beauty and simplicity of mosques in Indonesia to joking about stealing Lao babies in Luang Prabang. From diving into student life in Yogyakarta and Malang to living as a “reporter” in Jakarta. I am truly speechless. Every now and then I have flashbacks and cannot help but smile and laugh to myself.

As much as I enjoy being with family and friends back home, I foresee a lot more traveling in days to come. As I have told many people, this trip was merely scouting the area to see what places I liked. The problem is that I really loved every place I visited. I will be back. “Mas bule kembali lagi.”

Although at the start of my trip I was traveling alone, not for one second have I felt lonely. This can be accredited to all the great people I met. Looking back, I think the longest time I spent alone was 14 hours on the plane trip back to London. A big thank you for all the people I met, you are all greatly missed, and will not be forgotten.

I think I will go have tea and biscuits now.

Luck was with me on the 24 hour trip from Hoi An to Saigon. Sleeper buses in Vietnam are pretty comfortable, but aren’t designed for people over 1m tall, resulting in cramped foot-space for single beds. The back of the bus, however, has 5 beds, side-by-side to create a big sleeping surface. For some reason the last row of beds is not very popular due to the high likelihood of sleeping with strangers, but on empty bus-rides, the extra space is heavenly. In fact, the trip to Saigon was mostly spent sprawled out over two or three beds, dazing in and out of sleep.

Once we got to Saigon, we encountered heavy rain, as in flash-flood heavy rain. The streets quickly turned into rivers, and as cars, trucks, and most incredibly motorbikes waded through fast-flowing knee-deep streams of brown muck with amazing grace.

Saigon was not what I expected in the same way that Bangkok surprised me. I was expecting to find the crumbling remnants of an old commercial powerhouse of South Vietnam, distraught and destroyed by the Communist policies enforced from 1975, but instead I found a bustling and seemingly booming city center. I only had one night to explore with a Couchsurfer, not even close to enough to appreciate what the city has to offer, let alone get a feel for what local life is like there.

After a quick city tour on motorbikes, Cyle and I retired as I had an early morning the next day. Our bedtime was delayed when we arrived to the hotel to find the staff sitting on the front porch drinking banana rice liquor and enjoying dried octopus with chili sauce. An invitation could not be declined, and we sat there talking to them for a while. Saigon in terms of freedom of speech appears to be a little more relaxed than Hanoi. I would guess that most people in the south of Vietnam still resent the Communist Party for devolving them. One of the members, an ex-tour guide, was ardently opposed to the current government, and did fear to be taken into custody or interrogation for speaking too sincerely in the wrong crowds.

Despite being a long day so far, I really feel accomplished. I managed to meet up with Jimmy, my host in Melaka, at the airport as he was going to Bangkok today. The encounter was short but sweet, and I wish him the best of luck. While waiting for him, I went for lunch, and due to a shortage of tables, a Malaysian man sat at the same table. We started talking, and in the end he offered me lunch, which at airport prices was expensive for Malaysian prices. Free food is always a good thing.

Again, my initial plans were ruined, or better, improved, by spontaneous stops on the trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City to catch my flight to Kuala Lumpur, my last stop in Asia before touching down in Europe. I was convinced by Cyle, Charlotte and Karen to visit them in Hoi An, a dreamy riverside town close to the sea, before overtaking them on the race to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Initially I had only planned to stay for a couple hours, say goodbye, and continue my journey, but Hoi An captured me with its friendly people, great weather and beautiful and (relatively) quiet streets.

Hoi An is the Luang Prabang of Viet Nam, and was placed on the international map by being declared a World Heritage site in 1999. The town is overpopulated with taylors and art stores, and at times it seems that finding anything else (such as a little shop for water) is harder than it deserves to be. Nevertheless, the people are extremely friendly, and respect personal space (for the most part).

The trip to the town featured searing heat on a 4 hour bus ride. Our bus wasn’t exactly designed to cope with mountainous terrain, and air-conditioning and acceleration seemed to be mutually exclusive. We finally arrived in Hoi An, and the bus stopped at a hotel about 100 meters away from where I was meant to be meeting Cyle, Charlotte and Karen. After a little disagreement with a random scooter-taxi driver who didn’t let us off the bus and insisted we go to the “office” where the last stop was, I had no other options but to comply. Annoyed that we weren’t let out earlier, I decided to spend no more money on transportation and walked a couple kilometers with my bags just out of principle (and a little spite).

When we arrived, we undertook a quick cooking course at a local restaurant. Three hours or so passed, as we happily chopped, fried, ate, tasted, boiled, ground, photographed and enjoyed the heat of the kitchen in full swing. The end result was well worth the work: a beast of a feast consisting of wantons, spring rolls, noodles, claypot aubergine, lemongrass shrimp and saffron fish wrapped in banana leaf. Success.

I ended up staying in Hoi An for a night instead of just stopping off in transit, a choice I do not regret. Relaxing on the beach and strolling around town, along with being a fashion advisor (yes, me) occupied my time here. I did however encounter the biggest disappontment of the trip so far. I had been looking forward to finally using my hammock on the beach, strung in the shade between two palm trees, and Hoi An’s beach was the perfect place to do so, had it not been for a single significant shortcoming. The hammock that I had bought back in Finland was actually slightly defective. My so-called “hammock” was just a rectangular sheet of textile used for parachutes, with no mechanism for hanging the two ends up. Truth be told, I could have hung it up with a little effort and creativity, but the disappointment was so destructive that we just used it as a picnic sheet instead.

The next 23 hours will be spent on a bus. Luckily it will be a “sleeper” bus where the beds decline to about 30 degrees. Next stop is Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City. If I stop at an interim waypoint, the repercussions will be missing my flight to Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, hence missing my flight to Europe the following day.