That’s right. It’s been over a year now (nearly 15 months to be precise) since I strapped on a backpack and left the UK. What a year it’s been! I left expecting to be away for 9 months and to end up in America. As life always goes, things changed and I’m now living in one of the most beautiful countries in the world (New Zealand) with not much of a plan anymore and it feels pretty good. To commemorate a year of living the dream I’m going to do a ‘Top 20’ (in no particular order) of my trip so far. It started off as a ‘Top 10’… it was hard to shortlist!
1. Yi Peng Lantern Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Four magical days in which the energy and excitement of the city completely enthralled Katie and I.
Thousands of lanterns were released into the sky representing hopes, wishes and prayers. The river was ablaze with floating candles and fireworks went off all around us. The excitement in our stomachs was akin to being a kid at Christmas.
2. An invitation for food, Banaue, Philippines.
After a long day trekking to the rice terraces of Batad from Banaue in Northern Luzon in the Philippines up potentially the steepest track I have yet encountered, being invited to our guide’s house for dinner was completely humbling. Kenneth, our guide cooked us fish from the river in Banaue and rice from the terraces down the road. Sitting with his brother and nephews to eat was a really enjoyable and memorable evening
3. Sleeping in the jungle, Chi Phat, Cambodia.
Having trekked 16 km with heavy packs deep into the Cambodian jungle (read; cutting a path through mosquito-ridden bush), it was bliss to sleep far from civilization listening to the sounds of the jungle around and the river over the cliff under the starriest night sky I have ever seen.
That sky made my jaw drop in amazement.
4. New Year’s Eve, Sydney, Australia.
New Year’s Eve is a pretty big deal in Sydney due to the amazing fireworks that are let off at midnight to welcome in the New Year. They actually let them off prior to midnight as well so you get a pretty good show over a few hours.
We sat on a hill drinking (in a permitted drinking zone; normally drinking in public is illegal in Australia), talking and waiting for the fireworks. They were not a disappointment.
5. Beach life, Otres Beach, Cambodia.
Spending 2 weeks chilling out on the beach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia was just a really relaxed time for me, reading, eating and swimming. It sounds silly but sometimes when you’re constantly on the go actually travelling you need a break from constant activity and uprooting your life every few days. Hanging out at Otres and seeing the totally awesome houses being built in a village nearby was just what I needed.
6. The hospital cave, Cat Ba Island, Vietnam.
Having rented mopeds to tour Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, our group decided to visit the hospital cave we saw on the map. It took us a while to find it and 2 moped breakdowns but once there I was fascinated. The ingenuity of it’s whole design astounded me – especially the pool built specially as an escape route. This was an excellent travel ‘stumble upon’.
7. Cycling to spooky caves, Vang Vieng, Laos.
Renting a bone-jangling bike to visit some local caves was a simple and cheap ($1) experience but also once of my favourites. It just goes to show travel doesn’t have to be expensive to be enjoyable. Riding past cows, local children and not much else along the way was great, if bum-numbing.
8. Dolphin watching, Bay of Islands, New Zealand.
Seeing wild dolphins swim by our boat in the Bay of Islands was beautiful. Watching them willingly come up and play next to the boat was so great. I would have swam with them but it was a little cold! In a location like Paihia it just couldn’t get much prettier visually.
9. Experiencing new food, the World.
Ha, I didn’t know what to put as a location for this so it’s just going to be ‘the world’ as a general. From sticky rice in Laos to chicken adobo in the Philippines, I’ve tasted food I could never have dreamed would be so good! Learning to cook Khmer food in Cambodia was a real highlight of my time in Battambang and my fish amok wasn’t too bad (it didn’t kill me). I’ve found a new favourite food whilst away – I would happily eat Thai Massaman curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the rest of my life.
10. Waterfalls, the World.
As a water fiend (I spent a good 5 hours jumping in the lagoon in Luang Probang), seeing unbelievable waterfalls has been great for me. The best (so far) have been;
11. Living in the coolest city, Melbourne, Australia.
Living in Melbourne was so freaking cool. There’s always something to do, free festivals, interesting people to look at (plenty of hipster ‘taches on Brunswick St), an excellent public transport system, a diverse community, awesome shops, fantastic food and all a stone’s throw from the beach. I worked as a Milkman there and lived in a sweet flat then a brilliantly quirky, eccentric hostel. I ❤ Melbourne.
12. Cycling Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Hiring bikes to cycle the massive area that the temples of Siem Reap covers was a great idea. It meant we had the freedom to roam the temples all day and not have a tuk tuk driver have to wait on us. Watching Angkor Wat rise out of the morning mist was awe-inspiring and running around Ta Prohm pretending to be Lara Croft was just pure fun!
13. Learning to surf, Phillip Island/Avoca Beach, Australia.
When I say ‘learning to surf’, I don’t mean I’m not very good at it but I can get up on a board and stay up for about 5 seconds. It’s a massive improvement, trust me. This is in my top 20 because I really enjoyed surfing with friends and getting battered by the waves. Water baby for life!
14. Pai, Thailand.
Sometimes places that you’ve never been to before can just instantly feel like home. Pai is that place for me even though it’s massively different to life at home. It got under my skin like an addiction and keeps drawing me back. I visited there 3 times over the past year and don’t regret it one bit. It’s a magical place for me, full of good memories.
15. Hanging out with elephants, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Katie and I had a day during Yi Peng light festival hanging out with elephants bathing them, riding them and learning how to care for them. We were already buzzing from the festival so imagine our delight at getting to play with these gorgeous creatures for a whole day. Unforgettable.
16. Waiheke Island, New Zealand.
A short ferry ride from Auckland CBD is Waiheke Island. It’s covered in beaches, vineyards and farmland and makes you feel like you’re further from the city than you are. With a helpful information booth, we found walks of all ranges across the island and had a great day ‘tramping’ as they call it in NZ along the coastal path. My favourite part of Auckland.
17. Motorbike road trip, Hue to Hoi An, Vietnam.
Renting bikes and having our luggage sent on was a far more preferable alternative to catching the bus down the coast of Vietnam. It meant we could stop whenever we wanted to look at views and had the wind in our faces instead of dodgy Vietnamese pop music blasted at us. Despite running out of fuel, nearly crashing in Da Nang and being utterly exhausted by the end of the day, we all made it to Hoi An to be reunited with our backpacks!
18. Kayaking the Yarra River, Melbourne, Australia.
As a birthday surprise for Martin, I booked moonlight kayaking on the Yarra River in Melbourne. The river runs under some pretty cool bridges (I love a good bridge), through Melbourne CBD and our tour ended at the Crown Casino with fireballs illuminating the river. Seeing our favourite city at night from the water was something a little different.
19. Snorkeling, Bacuit Archipelago, Philippines.
Snorkeling in the Philippines puts a lot of Southeast Asian snorkeling to shame. The waters are unbelievably clear so your underwater vision is extremely far. Playing with the fish for a good two hours at a time was a dreamy day. The beaches were what most people would think of when they hear the word ‘paradise’.
20. Getting the travel bug.
Yep. I’ve been well and truly bitten. I want to go everywhere.