Monk statues perfectly aligned in front of a monastery in Hpa An, Myanmar
The most fascinating aspect of travel is the people. Being able to observe the locals in their element is what sustains our interest in long term travel, as opposed to the big sights and wonders which wear thin after a while. If I had to pick one culture of people that stood out to us it would have to be the Tibetans.
Tibetan faces were some of the most exotic we had ever come across. The men were rugged, flamboyant, well built and embodied the ‘Eastern Cowboy’ persona which took us by surprise. We had imagined pious and meek stereotypes which were not untrue, but we hadn’t expect to see a lot more diversity in this race. The women were beautiful with their rosy cheeks and exuded elegance in their traditional garment and cowboy hat. And then there were the monks, who stood out in their red robes in contrast to their humbled posture and demeanor. It was hard not to be captivated by this race of people.
While we were drawn to their faces at first sight, we were held amazed by their deep devotion to their religion. It was not an uncommon sight to see Tibetans repeatedly prostrate themselves in prayer at holy sites or circumambulate in meditation around temples, some interspersing with full body prostrations every 3rd step along the way. It certainly taught me a thing or two about devotion despite our vastly different faiths.
Tibetans are not without their flaws, as I found them to have a lower standard of hygiene which could be a result of the tough environment, conflicting history and slow development especially outside the capital city. Nonetheless their resilience in surviving such harsh living conditions particularly the farmers and nomadic tribes is something many other cultures can learn from.
Two years ago we sold almost all our belongings, packed up our modest home and left Sydney for an adventure of a lifetime. It wasn’t a decision made overnight. It was calculated, planned and executed over the course of at least 3 years, leading up to the day we left Sydney. Many believed in us, but some gave up on us long before we came home. We traveled to amazing places we used to only dream of going, experienced so many highs and a fair share of lows in our journey and met so many interesting people, some we plan on keeping as lifelong friends. We started off together, eager and came home together, stronger.
We have been back in Sydney for almost 2 months now. Life has caught up with us again, and we are back in the mundane routine of work, commuting, bills and society. In short, we are back to being “busy”.
It is incredibly difficult to summarise my thoughts and feelings about our entire travel experience in one post. I have drafted this blog post a hundred times over in my head and none felt ‘final’. I have come to learn that there can’t be one, as I am still reaping from my travels long after it’s over. I will have the rest of my life to regurgitate the memories, stories and faces, slowly digest them and find strength, meaning and purpose from these moments for my present and future.
But for now, I am contented. I am still young, but I feel filled like an old lady who has seen and done much.
“A long life is not a question of years. A man without memories might reach the age of a hundred and feel that his life had been a very brief one” – Graham Greene from ‘Travels with my aunt’
In the space of 72 hours I came face to face with whale sharks in Churaumi Aquarium, learned about the Ryukyu Kingdom in a visit to Shurijo Castle, feasted on fresh sashimi and combed the shopping street of Kokusai Dori. Okinawa may not be on the top of most visitors’ to do list in Japan, but it was refreshing to see a laid back Japanese city that traces its roots back to the dynasties of China. It had a distinct culinary flavour and an island vibe that you’d expect, but not lacking in the eccentricities and quirks unique to Japanese culture which most travelers are fond of (the ubiquitous vending machines, ‘chirping’ pedestrian traffic light crossings, heated toilet seats and so on).
Early this year we road tripped around Ireland to see more of its countryside and natural scenery rather than city hop via public transport. It was one of the best decisions we made to rent a car and use an old fashioned road map to guide us. The road trip turned out to be so rewarding. We covered so much ground in 5 days and it cost us next to nothing! I highly recommend hiring a car to see the real beauty of Ireland. The roads are incredibly easy to navigate (we didn’t need a GPS!), the locals are the friendliest and so helpful and it helped shelter us from the often rainy and windy weather!
Here’s a quick recap of our road trip:
After spending a few obligatory sightseeing days in Dublin, our first stop was Killarney National Park.
Killarney National Park was one of my favourite parts of the trip with its many lakes and tufts of grass floating by the lake shore resembling hair balls. There were also really lush parts close to the Torc waterfall that looked like leprechaun hiding spots with dense moss covered rocks and trees. It felt very ‘Irish’ ;)
The next day we drove to the Gap of Dunloe which was easily the best part of the trip.
The Gap of Dunloe is a photographer’s heaven. We were there in the early part of the day when the light was best, but the rocky terrain, shimmering lakes, empty winding roads and curious sheep made it all the more photogenic.
From there we continued on to the Dingle Peninsular and saw magnificent cliffs and drop offs amidst the rough Atlantic sea.
On the third day we drove to the Cliffs of Moher and saw the most stunning coastal scenery of Ireland. We felt very tiny amongst these spectacular cliffs and it gave me jelly knees as we walked along parts of it.
We continued driving towards Galway, our pit stop for the day. The next morning we made our way to Connemara National Park and did a short hike while the weather held up for us.
A road trip around Ireland is incomplete without seeing at least one castle, and Ballynahinch Castle impressed us with its grandiose architecture. We also saw plenty of sheep along the way, some marked very colourfully as if they have been paintball targeted.
On our last day we made our way north to Belfast and it was interesting to see speed limits and signs change from kilometers to miles. I’ll save Belfast for another post in the future, but for now road tripping around Ireland remains one of our fondest travel memories so far.
Exploring a new place on two wheels can be very rewarding. I’m not much of a cyclist but I’ve discovered the immense pleasure of cycling leisurely along a flat road with the wind in your face and an endless view to die for. It makes the uphill slog and leg exercise worthwhile.
Here are my six best cycling experiences, accumulated from our travels around Europe and Asia, and in no particular order.
Lucca is a beautiful medieval city in Tuscany with intact city walls that circle the old town. Cycling the city walls is a perfect way to get to know the charming old town. My favourite bits are exploring the old town through the many narrow back lanes and hopping on and off our bikes for a quick gelato break. Oh, and the bikes we hired were so cute I wish I could take them home with me!
Yangshuo is famous for its distinct limestone karst terrain that covers a huge area best explored by bicycle. We would wake up very early in the mornings and cycle to neighbouring villages, passing rice paddies and locals going about their daily lives. In the afternoon as it got hotter we would retreat back to our rooms and venture out again in the evenings to explore other areas. It was so simple and idyllic that it became a routine for us during our time there.
Exploring the Loire Valley of France was a challenging 4 day adventure of cycling from one chateau to another with one too many wrong turns, uphills and glorious sunflower fields to distract us. Of course, we could have easily visited all four castles by train or car but the satisfaction and pride from completing 160km for a newbie cyclist like myself is something worth boasting about ;)
Bled is such an underrated place that I wish more people would know about. Cycling around the most exquisite turquoise waters of Lake Bled was the highlight of our time in Slovenia. Your eyes are constantly drawn to the stunning lake which occasionally throws you off your cycling course! We could stop any time at our whim and fancy, take a few pictures and have a sandwich by the lake with our feet dangling over the waters and ducks waiting to catch any bits of our crumbs.
Paris remains one of my favourite cities in the world and when it’s not freezing cold, cycling on the busy streets, by the Seine or along Canal St Martin is an amazing way to soak in the city. Chic cafes and stylish Parisians line the sidewalks and you get a glimpse of La Tour Eiffel every now and then. The velib system is also easy to use and so cheap to get around town.
Cycling amongst blooming tulip fields in Holland in search of more blooming tulip fields felt like a kid unwrapping presents on Christmas morning. We would be cycling along a stretch of striking red tulips and then spot a streak of purple tulips ahead that we would race down the flat road to get to that field. It was a fun experience of finding tulip field after tulip field, with each discovery getting better and better.