From Australia to India, a recap of highlights and lowlights
08.21.2007 - 02.08.2008
Home! As they say, there is no place like home. But also, there is nothing like traveling the world and embarking on soo many adventures and having an experience of a lifetime!! It all almost feels like a dream, zip-zapping through country after country over such a short time (yes, I know 6 months may seem like a lot, but to fully explore a country, you really need years!). People always talk about culture shocks when you go abroad, but its actually more of a culture shock coming back home after being abroad for so long! Everything seems soo expensive ("this is a week's food and accomodations in India"), big, and ... organized and quiet.
The end of this trip has come, but I feel it is definitely a new beginning. A new beginning with starting my career, new friendships, new ideas to travel elsewhere (he he), and new insights to myself and the world!
Here's a map of my travels:
Soo, some have asked, and here it is! A grand finale of the bests, worsts, and everything in between of my travels:
The BEST big moments:
-Sydney Opera House
-Great Wall of China; Terracotta Soldiers of Xi'an
-Angkor Wat Temples, Cambodia
-Taj Mahal, India
-The Himalayas of Nepal
The BEST little moments:
-Driving along the windy roads of Queensland, Australia, from the beaches to the rainforst, and coming across everything from tea houses to fruit farms to cool wildlife (cassowary!).
-Pretty much everything about New Zealand, from glaciers to amazing lakes to fjords - its beauty is really breathtaking!
-Riding bikes around Bejing. Lounging around in Wudang Shan waiting for the rain to stop and playing cards and watching a repeat 80's Arnold Schwarzeneggar movie, Commando (which, oddly enough, I had come across several more times while traveling). Then, when the rain finally temporarily stopped, we jumped out and went for a walk and came across this beautiful ancient temple hiding in the midst (Dragon Cloud Temple) in the forest. I really thought, "this is China."
-Walking around the busy and lit-up streets of Hong Kong and catching the daily night light show at night
-Lounging around and being lazy in Laos, watching repeat Friends episodes and drinking Lao Beer.
-Getting that one day of sunshine in Vietnam and sunbatheing on the rooftop of our hotel.
-Having one amazing day after the other exploring the Angkor Wat temples. Started off with probably the best breakfest I've ever had to a full day of amazing sight-seeing to watching spectacular sunsets from the temples to finishing the day with delicious Cambodian food. Perfect!
-Beach hopping in Thailand and the big event of the day is deciding what kind of massage to get or to get a pineapple or banana shake. What can beat that?
-Sleeping with all our clothes in Nepal it was so cold and hiking to see an amazing sunset and sunrise overlooking the great Himalayan range.
-Going from being fearful and overwhelmed about India to loving the chaotism!
Also, seeing Bollywood movies in India is quite an experience!
-Enjoying the simple life and people of Sri Lanka. Going from the tea plantation to the hill country to the beach. Met great people, westeners and locals alike!
-The art of bargaining in each country. This is something that always takes a little time to figure out, yet its fun (although definitely tiring). In China you had to go down by at least 70-80% and then settle at something like 60-70%. Vietnam was a lot of fake acting (a loud gasp... you look like someone just told you that you lost a million dollars, they equally look as shocked... you feel like you are riping their hearts out and will send them to immediate poverty... yet you know they are overcharging you by at least 50%.... it goes on and on). In India you have to be quick-witted and really on your toes because the process goes by quickly and before you know it you "settle" and then almost immediately afterwards you realize "d'oh! I could have gone lower." Sri Lanka they do this "how much do YOU think its worth?" Uhhh.... what?
BEST food, in general:
-Indian! From the masalas to the paneers to the dosas, great variety!
-Thailand. Enough said. Mmmm.....
-Cambodian. Are there any Cambodian restaurants in Chicago? It was nice to try something new and different, and the Khmer amok's and curries were to die for!
-Chinese. When we could actually communicate what we wanted, it was awesome! A fave being a chicken peanut dish.
Which leads to....
Best local/traditional foods
-Egg tarts, Macau. This yummy egg custurd in a pastery shell. Soo fattening, but soo good!
-Sticky rice and curries, Laos
-Pho (noodle soup) and Naem Nuang of Vietnam. With Naem Nuang you make your own spring roll with this transparent rice paper and add think noodles, herbs, veggies, sauces, its delicious!
-Khmer curry, Cambodia. If you like coconut, you'll like most dishes in Cambodia. It has a nice influence of Thai food.
-Pad thai, green curry, massaman curry, tom yam soup - Thailand
-Momos in Nepal. Momos are kinda like pot stickers, with a little kick!
-Umm... everything vegetarian in India! Chana masala, dahls, nan, dosas, thali's, I could go on and on! And nothing like the masala teas, yummy!
-Rice hoppers, curd and honey, and wattalapan (steamed pudding with coconut milk, eggs, and jaggery) - Sri Lanka
BEST sunsets (a toughie!)
-Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng Temple, Cambodia. We underestimated the time to get to this particular temple, and so the sun was already beginning to set. We get there and it starts drizzling and as the temple happens to be perched on a hill in a foreste, we started running... and running (all right, we were a little out of shape at this point. I would say jogging more like it!), through the trees so it seemed that the sun was already set. So we thought we missed it but finally get to the top, huffing and puffing, at the most perfect time and just like that, the rain stopped and we were greeted with this spectacular sunset. It was almost surreal, especially rewarding after the battle to get there!
-Greymouth, NZ. We were returning from seeing awesome rocks and blow holes (that weren't blowing, by the way), and the sun over the sea was just setting to this amazing array of coloful orange colors! The driver/guide was racing to get the car back on time, but seeing how obsessed I was with trying to get a good picture while also trying to stay in my seat, kindly pulled over and we got some nice photo opps. THEN, he was soooooooooo sooooooooo nice and said "fine, let the car be late" and we raced to this peer to see the sun set just over the horizon. Sooo amazing and worth it! And these kiwis, soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo nice!!! By the way, NZ is appropriately called the Land of the White Cloud.
-Nagarkot, Nepal. What can beat seeing a sunrise and sunset overlooking the Himalayas?!
-Tangalla, Sri Lanka. Sitting on the beach. Sipping a cold Lion Lager. Enjoying the beach life. The sky turned every color possibly, but had these cool streaks of orange and blue. Beautiful.
My Most Favorite "Friends"
-Leeches in Sri Lanka. Lets just say feeling a cold slithery thing on your foot isn't the best. Luckily, twice, I got 'em (after shrieking like a baby) before it crawled up my leg to suck my blood. Ew!
-Cockroaches in China. One night I got up to go to the toilet in Hong Kong, and being that our room was 2X2ft and would wake up Char and Lauren, I didn't turn on the light. Next thing I know I hear a loud "crrrruuunnccchh" under my foot. THANK GAAWWWDDD I was wearing flip flops!
-Ants, centipedes, and beetles in Thailand. At one particular dumpy place in Koh Phangan, there were ants all around the walls literally over and all around my head. I moved the bed away, as well as myself, but of course they were still getting on the bed and I couldn't sleep because of the paranoia of feeling ants on me. Then even had all these strange dreams about ants being dinausar size and coming to get me. Weird, I know! Then this centipede that kept on finding its place in our room in Koh Phi Phi. Maybe we unintentionally made a nest for it?
-The cows roaming the streets in India. Watch your feet for stepping on dung!
-Started in Nepal, then India, and finally in Sri Lanka, I think I kind of developed a fear of monkeys! They are much more aggressive and creepy then the cutsie Curious George monkey that we know!
Lao Beer, NO QUESTION!
BEST Most-Anti-Climatic Moments:
-Wudang Shan, China. Climbing endless stairs in the rain, to more rain and more cold. We finally get on top after 3 hours of climbing, and there was absolutely NO visibility whatsoever. Zilch. I got on top, and with the more intense rain, cold, and wind, hardly even took the last step when I shouted to no one in particular (because you could hardly see anyone in front of you), "Thats it! I'm going down!"
-Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka. Yet another stair climb that this time began at 3:00AM, a 5,200 step climb to "spectacular sunset views" and "amazing shadow of this mountain over another one." Granted it was warmer, but of course when we got on top we were greeted with being literally inside a rain cloud. At least we got some nice views on the way down!
-Fraser Island, Australia. Fraser Island is this cool island that is made of sand and has more sand than the Sahara dessert!
It was only anti-climatic because it literally rained all 2 days of this safari and we couldn't do some stuff. It was still amazing, but if I had to hear one more time, "well, normally if it weren't raining you would see this and that....". We did see a dingo though and the group was nice! And this cool colored sand hill.
-Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand. Deciding to do a full-day climb up a glacier because of the more spectacular views, Lauren and I geared up and set off. No surprise as it has been raining before, that it only picked up while we were hiking. We were SOAKING to the bone wet, and as luck would have it, the 1/2 way, 1/2 day point was no different than being near the top. It actually rained non-stop all 3 days we were there. Bummer. It was still amazing though, even squeezing through these narrow passages:
Still managed a smile at the top!
-Lipton's Seat, Sri Lanka. Hmm... can you guess? A hike up a hill to.... no visibility and rain! Do you see a theme here?
-Long Beach, Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. Rated as one of the top 10 beaches in the world, this beach is truly beautiful with the soft white fine sand and the water so clear and blue.
-Whitsunday Islands, Aerlie Beach, Australia. Can I say paradise? Actually rated as one of the top 3 beaches in the world, it was almost a dream. Saw a dolphin swimming along, the sand uber fine and white, and the water was the clearest aqua color ever.
-Leela Beach, Koh Phangan, Thailand. We stayed at a great hotel here and had this nice beach to look at!
-Tangalle, Sri Lanka. This is more so because of the atmosphere. It is sooo soo quiet and peaceful there. You could literally be the only one on the beach steps away from your hotel, paying a measely $5. Nice!
-Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia. A nice long stretch of beach where you can hang out at a nice beachside cafe and watch the surfers have fun!
-Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. Similar as Bondi with it being a surfers beach, but much more quiet and peaceful. Beautiful sunsets!
-Goa, Palolem Beach, India. Its lively, yet relaxing!
-Being in a country with an escalating civil war - Sri Lanka. The military look like they are 13 years old and wander around carrying these machine guns with their finger on the trigger. Don't make any sudden movements!
-Bungee jumping! Not only once, but twice! 1st was the infamous Nevis Bungee jump off a highwire, 134 m (440ft).
. An awesome exhilarating experience.
2nd was in Macau off a tower, 233m (764 ft).
Almost was a 3rd time in Nepal, but I got worried I was becoming a bungy junkie. :-)
-Eating dog in China. Yes, dog.
When in China, do as the Chinese do? It was cross-section slices and served cold. A bit savory, but.... dog!That, and there were many times that, for lack of communication, we literally had to point to something and hope for the best. Or do an impression of a chicken with our arms and make sure to show that we wanted just chicken, NOT chicken feet. Who knows what we ate (I try not to think about it) most of the time! I'm still curious what we ate in Chongqing when we had a hot-pot (which originated as stewed intestines) and Lauren picked something that looked edible enough. It was either that or sheep's brains.
-The cave in Van Vieng, Laos, that we not only had to wade through dark murky water, but also had to walk on a slippery wall with jagged edges... with flip-flops... in the dark. I don't count the tiny candles we had "to see." I almost felt lucky that afterwards I got this mysterious foot pain for 24 hours that went from hot and burning to sharp pain from left to right.
The BEST Nice hotels/guesthouses... and then the WORST:
Niiiiice... for the luxury:
- 1. CoCo Hut, Koh Phangan, Thailand. Absolutely worth the mega upgrade we gave ourselves to pay for it (about a week's worth of accomodation for one night, but we needed it after almost a couple of weeks worth of horrible accomodations). A shower that you didn't need to sit on the toilet, tiled floors you could walk barefoot on, a soft bed and pillows, A/C, a TV and even a computer in our room, a balcony overlooking the sea, and great customer service with SUPER friendly reception/staff that you could literally snap your fingers and someone would be there to help you. The great beach and the great massage... it was hard to leave!
-Ban's Diving Resort in Kao Tao, Thailand: A nice clean bungalow perched on a hill, a bedroom and living room, TV with DVD, great views from balcony - great for lounging and relaxing.
-Hotel Guia, Macau - another upgrade for us to enjoy comfortable beds, clean rooms, a nice view of the city.
Niiiiiice... for the atmosphere or other:
-Bush Gardens, Aerlie Beach, Australia - fun hostel and I became BFF with the fun staff there.
-Xi'an's Shiyuan's Hostel, China - a great hostel atmosphere with things like dumpling parties and other communal activities. It had a nice loungy and homey common area to eat, drink, and meet people.
-Kingfisher, Tangalle, Sri Lanka - When its just you and a few other people as guests, you definitely get VIP treatment! I.e. having a coconut drink fresh from the tree delivered to you as you sunbathe on practically a private beach to yourself, steps away from the beach for $5, by the way. Great people and friends there.
-Goverdhan Tourist Complex in Fatehpur Sikr, India. The staff was soooo polite and nice that you almost felt like hugging them and telling them its okay when they "disturbed" you to ask you a simple question. Soo nice!
The Not-so-nice, worst accomodations (and actually, there was so many, this was more of a tough decision! haha!)
-Leela Beach Hotel, Koh Phangan, Thailand - refer to ant story in "my favorite friends" above. That and the "bathroom" was practically outside, there was no sink, and you could share shampoo with the neighbor next door as well as join their conversation the walls were so thin.
-Hotel Namaskar (Main Bazaar), Delhi, India. For some odd reason, I ended up staying there a 2nd time and for some reason the dumpy room didn't bother me as much. But the public urinals and small ally to get there did, as well as the garbage and cow manuer you constantly had to avoid stepping on. Can't decide what was worse, the smell or the filth? Hmm....
-Green House, Dalhousie (Adam's Peak), Sri Lanka. I really don't think they ever changed the sheets. Or ever cleaned anything, for that matter. Gross.
-P.P. Long Beach Beach, Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. It was dark and really mildewy. And everytime it rained we got water in the room and random bugs. Oh, and then ants invaded our precious jar of (expensive) nutella and we had to through it out. Hmph. NOT happy about that.
Best Starry Night
-Himalayas, Nagarkot, Nepal
-Makarora, New Zealand
-Tengalle and Mirissa, Sri Lanka
-CoCo Hut, Koh Phangan, Thailand. Thai massage by the beach as the sun was setting. Got cracked and stretched and maneuvered in ways I didn't think my body could move. Hurt, but felt great afterwards.
-Bangkok, Thailand. Another good Thai massage.
-Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. A nice sunset cocunut oil massage on a beautiful beach. Almost could fall asleep except for the that mosquito that was eating my arm.
(by the way, any massage in Thailand is about $5-$7).
-Luang Prabang, Laos. After a couple of months backpacking and traveling, this was our first "we deserve a little luxury" massage. It had an awesome ambiance and I finally got that big knot on my left trap to go away.
.... and the weirdest:
-Ayurvedic massages, Mombay and Goa. In Mombay it was at a stinky gym, umm... a lot of rubbing with vegetable oil (seriously), more rubbing, and lets just say I almost felt violated. Then in Goa, once again, one really shouldn't have qualms about their body because it was borderline inappropriate. So when I got to Sri Lanka and was asked if I wanted an ayurvedic massage, I quickly answered, "no thanks!"
- By the way, all of these massages were around $5-$8
-Doing a live-abroad scuba diving trip on the Great Barrier Reef. Awesome!
-Skiing in New Zealand (Mount Cardrona);
Tranzalpine Express from Christchurch to Greymouth - stunningly beautiful.
Admiring the beauty of the country:
-Kayaking in Laos and then stopping for Lao Beer.
-Boat ride on the Mekong Delta, Vietnam
-Trekking in Nepal (it was a short but good one!)
-A 10-day Vipassana meditation course in India. Probably the hardest thing both mentally and physically (yes, even over marathons and triathlons!) I've ever done. Intense, but sooo worth it!
-Hiking the beautiful hill country in Sri Lanka
If I were to go back anywhere of all those countries, where would be my top picks?
- Not in any particular order*
-India - Its so big and there is sooo sooo much to see. From the north to the south, from the east to west, each state is so different than the next - language, culture, food.
-Australia/NZ - Amazing amazing countries! Sooo beautiful and again, so much to see and do. Perfect for anyone that is active and that likes to do things amongst stunning nature.
-Nepal - we got a taste of it, but I would loooooooooooooooove one day to come back and do a 7-10+ day trek. Anyone interested?
Best comfort foods
-Nutella, peanut butter, Hawaiian pizza, ginger cookies
Couldn't have lived without...
-Anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, my cocoon sleeper sheet with pillowcase, fabreeze, a lightweight rain jacket (sooo came in handy), sleeping pills (am I addicted now?), ipod, shower flip flops, suduku and books (for swaps) for entertainment, chain and locks, comfortable walking shoes
Wish I had...
-Better earphones! I went through 3 pairs! More fabreeze, more toothbrush covers, and more $$ so that I could have traveled longer, ha ha.
Eat, Prey, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert); Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini); Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides); Girl from the Picture (Denise Chong); Honeymoon with my Brother (Franz Wisner); 2X John Grishman books and 1X Mary Higgins Clark book for easy beach reads; Freakonomics (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner); The Village in the Jungle (Leonard Woolf and Nick Smith)
NO WAY! I don't regret not a single thing. Yes, there are things I would have done differently, but thats what makes the experience what it is. Even the "bad" moments weren't that bad and were quickly followed by something good or you appreciate the next thing more.
What I learned from traveling
-Do it! Instead of saying, "I wish I can... I want to..." DO IT! Obligations and responsibilities will always be there, but life passes by quicker than you think and traveling is such a rewarding and humbling experience. By the time you really "have time to go," it may be too late. Pictures are pictures and words are words, but seeing something with your own eyes is something else. When I first saw the great Himalayan range, I got goosebumps and was just in awe. I really wanted to transport everyone I know to see it with their own eyes. Amazing.
-Planning and too much of it often leads to disappointment. This trip, more than any other one I've taken, really was "go with the flow." Changed plans daily, got ideas from other people, and it worked out great!
-I feel soooo much more appreciative of what I have and who I have in my life. We all take soo much for granted and its not until you see the poverty or how little people have, and yet are still happy, that you realize that!
-Patience. Its something that I admit to lacking sometimes, but you learn to gain it. Like in Sri Lanka you literally have to wait at least one hour to get your food. But whats the hurry? In Laos everything just moves at a slow pace and takes forever. Again, will there really be that much of a difference in your life by waiting an extra 10-15 minutes? It'll happen when it happens. And with bargaining in all of Asia, if you rush, you lose. With that, the longer I spent 'on-the-go' the less I felt I stressed about silly stuff (things being late, etc). Definitely good to be easy-going and have an open mind, and traveling helps with that, for sure!
-Its okay to splurge every now and then. Backpacking is hard work and so is traveling. Having little rewards for yourself every now and then, whether it be a nicer room or a more expensive dinner, is needed and totally worth it!
-Poverty doesn't necessarily have to mean unhappiness. I saw soo many kids that literally have nothing, yet smile and laugh and play for hours over something as simple as a little rubber tire with a rope. Which leads to my every-growing observation that kids in 3rd world countries really are soo much more behaved! They may not know what is all out there, but they are at least happy with what they have!
-I guess its the society we live in, but routines can be boring! I learned to like waking up and each day being so so different than the day before, and each day being a new adventure.
-Per Vipassana, attachment leads to cravings which lead to misery. Simple, yet so so true.
-The more I travel, the more I want to travel and see more! Got great new ideas from fellow travelers that I met. So those of you that are still traveling, keep me udpated!
-What comes around goes around. Ahhh... good 'ol karma.
Welp folks, its been fun! Sooo many memories, good fun, and an experience of a lifetime. Thanks for allowing me to share all my memories and experiences with you! And thanks to the ever loyal readers! I appreciate it!
See you out there!
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- Mark Twain