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Visas, Last Minute Preparations, and Snow

Looking out into the snow falling peacefully outside my condo window, it's easy to forget the weather is wreaking havoc with my final week in the US for awhile...  from screwing with my ability to get a new passport (mine expires in October, which means all my visas will be wiped out when I renew - I was hoping to get a new passport before all the Asia visas) to getting in the way of seeing some of my friends and preventing me from getting some of the gear I still want.

On the plus side, my MEGA To Do List is full of check marks, meaning I am effectively ready to leave.  From paying my taxes to auto payment and taking care of my motorcycle, the only important things I have left to do are purchase travel insurance (will be done shortly) and buy an e-book reader (not likely with the city shut down).

A quick review of the plan:

Saturday 2/13 @ 6AM - DC to Siem Reap Cambodia, arriving Sunday @ 8:30 (via Vietnam).  I am expecting to stay in the Earthwalkers guesthouse and spend the week mostly exploring the Angkor.

Cambodia Tip:   Thanks to Jeff Boulier I found out you can apply for an "e-visa" for Cambodia on-line.  This is a remarkably easy process that allows you to pay the fees and deal with the photo and documentation stuff ahead of time and bypass the whole visa process on-site when you arrive.  Since I will be getting in fairly late in the evening it's nice to know I won't have to wait in a multi-hour line for my visa at Siem Reap.

Monday 2/22 - Siem Reap to Phuket, Thailand.  In Thailand I will be staying and training at Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket.  I did a lot of research to pick this gym over some of the other options, with the main reason being that they have very good beginner classes and a good focus on training westerners.  I know in some ways this might seem to defeat the purpose of going to Thailand to train, but the fact is I'm doing it to work on my fitness, challenge myself physically and mentally, and really enjoy the experience - not to actually train to fight.  Then again, if you watch some of the videos of the western fighters they train fighting in Thailand, you will see that the place is no joke - they are training legit fighters with some serious skills.  It will be an honor to train with these people.

Thailand is the one country I decided not to get a visa for ahead of time, which imposes some interesting restrictions.  I will have to go through the visa process in Phuket and will be limited to a 30 day stay, but my trip should clock in at about 28 calendar days so that's perfect.  If I decide to go back later in the year, I can actually get a letter of invitation from Tiger Muay Thai (or another gym) and get a special visa for up to a year.

Tuesday 3/23 - Phuket to Kochi, India. This is a brutal day of flights, for those of us who only ever see Asia on a distorted map in the US it's so easy to forget how massive these countries are.  The total miles of the flight here from Phuket to Kochi rivals the miles of flying from the US to Cambodia.  After a couple days to unwind and prepare, it's off for the 2010 Spring Rickshaw Run.  My plan is to take advantage of the extra time allowed and spend a good three weeks to complete it, including a stop by Chennai to meet many of my ex-coworkers from CSS.

India has some pretty strict and somewhat annoying policies on visas for Americans, the worst of which is that once you exit the country you can't return for two months - this means visiting Nepal on the Rickshaw Run isn't possible for me (though I may visit afterward).  To get the visa you have to go through a contracting service in DC whose office is in Georgetown and is a good mile from the metro, making it a super pain to get to - yesterday I dropped my stuff off in the morning for expedited documentation and thankfully it was completed on time.  The bad thing is that they said I could pick it up between 5:30 and 6:30PM, yet when I got there at 5:34PM (an hour of walking and metro'ing) they had closed early!  They are now closed today and probably tomorrow but supposedly will open on Friday - I sure hope I can get my paperwork then!

Sometime in late April...  The plan right now is to meet friends in Amsterdam for Queen's Day (April 30), which means probably spending around April 27 to May 3 in Amsterdam, maybe with some additional time floating around Europe.  That leaves me with about a week and a half of flex time between ending the Rickshaw Run and heading for Amsterdam, I'm still looking at options but I think Nepal seems the best bet.

After all this I should be back in the States sometime in late May.  Working out the post-May details still (depends on my grand jury duty on June 5), but I'm considering going back to Thailand as well as spending a month exploring Alaska in late July / early August.  I'm also very interested in the Summit for Someone charity organization and may try to pull off one of those.  Then we'll be getting into spring when Antarctica opens back up again...  who knows, maybe I won't be looking for another job until next year.  ;)


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