Why must all great things come to an end?
Well, since being home ,the first question most people ask us is “what was your favourite place?” And as crazy as it sounds, we can’t pick one. Every country had something different and amazing to offer, and I think the order in which we experienced them influenced our opinion as well. I’m grateful for every experience, whether big or small, pleasant or painful, that we had – all moments have added up to form the total sum of one of the best six months in my life.
We started off on the beautiful islands of New Zealand. I will never forget how amazing it was to have finally made it. This was it – I had accomplished my dream that had been living inside me for years. Picking up Happy Diwali and driving off into the sunset was the most liberating experience I think I’ve ever had (and maybe will ever have): we had six full months of excitement and adventure in front of us. New Zealand is such a startlingly gorgeous and amazing country condensed into such a tiny package. Highlights definitely include discovering the amazingness of Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula, witnessing the natural hot springs of Rotorura, living on daily adrenaline rushes in Queenstown and taking in the glory that is Milford Sound.
Australia, as a whole, is definitely a top-pick for us. We saw so much of the country and had the most gorgeous weather pretty much all the time. Ozzies are some of the most hilarious and party-hard people we’ve ever met, and I think the country hurt our livers a bit, but we have nothing but good memories. What better place to ring in the New Year, but Sydney? That was amazing. Our Surfaris surf camp has definitely been one of the most amazing things we’ve done on this whole trip – surfing is an unbelievably complicated sport – but who can complain when they are out on the beach all day? Helping out with the turtle conservation project and touring the rum factory in Bundaberg was also amazing…but I think the biggest highlight for me was living on the Pro-Dive scuba boat and doing no less than 10 dives in three days, all un-supervised. Maybe it’s the Piscean in me, but I’m never happier than when I’m under the water, living like a fish.
Indonesia, I must admit, falls a bit low on our list. Bali was an interesting place due to both its Hindu and Buddhist roots, and the Gili Islands are truly stunning…but we both struggled a bit on Java. It was my first taste at being in a Muslim country (and the biggest Muslim country in the world, nonetheless) and although listening to the five Muslim prayers starting at 4 a.m was at first something exotic, it got a bit tiring after awhile. So did roasting in pants and a long-sleeved top, and generally not being
viewed overly positive as a western woman who was “provocatively” dressed (please note: I did try really hard to cover up in the heat but found it challenging). That said, Gunung Bromo at sunrise was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen and Prambanan and Borobudur are two of the most amazing religious sights I’ve ever seen (second only to the magnificent Angkor Wat).
Our four days spent in Singapore were a blast – as one lady we met put it “Singapore is what a city would look like if Walt Disney had colonized a country.” From its hundreds of malls to the surrealy beautiful and fake Sentosa Island, there isn’t a shortage of things to see or food to eat. The place is sparkling clean and really just doesn’t feel real. Singapore is a place I could live in in a heartbeat. It is the Oasis of Southeast Asia’s desert – every time we got sick of being in the third world, we’d joke about catching a quick flight to Singapore to have some Western comforts again. Just a great place.
Malaysia doesn’t rank overly high on my list, but we still appreciated many things about it. Kuala Lampur is a fascinating city and the Petronas Towers are truly a sight to appreciate. It was awesome having Leanne as our host (and so nice after three months on the road to actually talk to someone aside from “where are you from, what do you do, etc.). The Cameron Highlands are stunningly gorgeous and the food in Penang is out of this world. I often dream about the cool-cha indian pizza and roti chennai. My mouth is drooling as I write this….
And then there’s Thailand. We spent six entire weeks here and could easily double it. I don’t think another country will ever have such a close spot in my heart as Thailand does. If anyone can show me a more beautiful place on earth with crystal clear water and stunning limestone cliffs where you can stay on a hill overlooking it all for $20 a night – I will name my first born after you. The Thai people are lovely and the food is renound – any restaurant you go to, you will not be disappointed. I have a feeling we will be making many pilgrimages back to Thailand in our lifetime. The only downside to this country is the development – we’ve noticed a massive change since we were here in 2006 and it’s not for the best. There even seems to be a general almost-resentment in the people towards tourism. My advice is to get here fast before it gets any worse – I don’t think we will even recognize Thailand five years from now, which is a true shame.
I’m grateful for having been to Cambodia, but I don’t think I could go back unless it would be to contribute to their community through volunteering. I ended up feeling quite helpless a lot of the time and went home most nights with tears in my eyes. The people are truly amazing considering the abuse they have suffered through, and most seem genuinely happy to see Westerners. It was amazing that they were able to tell their stories so openly and with a genuine hope that the future brings something better. I wish we had gotten more off the beaten path than we did, but due to time constraints, it just wasn’t possible. The temples of Angkor are breathtaking and Siem Reap is an adorable little city. Bamboo Island located off Sihanoukville is what Thailand was likely like about 10 years ago and is pure un-adultered paradise.
Ranking right after Thailand for us is Vietnam. If it wasn’t for Thailand’s better food and slightly more spectacular beaches, Vietnam would likely rank number one for us. The people here are AMAZING – they are sweet and kind and although maybe a bit forward for Western standards, we loved it. It was the only country we actually made “Vietnamese” friends to keep in touch with
and where we actually seemed to travel, eat, and party in the same places as the locals. There wasn’t a hint of disdain for us (I am not even aware of a word to describe foreigners in Vietnamese, whereas in Lao and Thai, you hear the words “falang” and “farang” quite a bit – often while they would laugh at us for doing something seemingly wrong or embarrassing). The history is compelling and the sights are stunning – the Vietnamese coast line is simply gorgeous (specifically Halong Bay, Mui Ne and Nha Trang). Hoi An is a riot. We would come back to Vietnam again in a heart beat.
Little Laos is a very funny place. It seems to us it has undergone massive tourist development in the past few years and I am not sure it’s for the best. Places like Vang Vieng, which have developed solely to cater to drunk young “falang” trying to kill themselves down a river, while fun, are a bit sad. Luang Prabang is spectacular and has so much to offer – it is one of my favourite cities we have visited on this trip. The Lao people are so quiet and un-assuming, it was a large shift for us to have to go ask for things when we wanted them (like a tuk-tuk, or a menu, or anything, for that matter). Part of me wishes we could have come five years ago when tourism was just in its infancy and when hill tribes only saw tourists once a month or so. That said, it’s still a beautiful place and a country worth visiting.
Finally, Hong Kong is always a blast, with its crowded streets and consumerism begging you into the jewelry and electronic stores located everywhere you look. We had a blast shopping for my engagement ring, because every third store is a jewelry store and they treat you like absolutely royalty. “Oh sir, you need a diamond? Here is some Chinese tea, and let me show you this one, and that one”….all while wearing gloves and acting ever so formal. There are so many things to do here, like go up to the peak, visit the botannical gardens, take a tea appreciation class, head over to Stewart Beach or Repulse Bay…you could spend months in Hong Kong and never get bored!
So, I guess that all good things must come to an end so that more good things can happen. Although we were only gone six months, it feels like six years. I’ve learned so much about myself and the world that I feel like I’m almost a whole new person. I’m actually excited for the future and to get older, and now I realize that turning 30 is not the end of it all. Yes, we were usually the oldest people on a trip or a tour, but we saw plenty of people with little ones traveling all the same. I have a renewed excitement in my career, my relationship with Scott, and that there are so many more amazing things to come – as long as I’m willing and determined to make them happen.
So life, bring it on. I’m ready for the next great chapter in Scott and Kenna’s Excellent Adventure – whatever that may be!