If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now you probably know that we took 22 months off our careers and lives in Sydney to travel Europe and Asia. While I’ve summarised our travels around Europe in two parts; here and here, I haven’t got around to reflecting on the Asian leg of our travels until now.
We kicked off Asia in the summer of 2014 in Hangzhou at the east coast of China and were instantly taken by the romantic beauty of Xī Hú or West Lake.
After Hangzhou we detoured inland to climb Huangshan mountain in the region of Anhui, China. It was our first eye opening experience navigating the massive crowds of China which we soon became experts at. The well preserved ancient towns of Hongcun and Xidi proved to be enjoyable side trips in this region.
We then headed back to the east coast with a short stopover in Nanjing to visit the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall before spending a few days in the canal city of Suzhou where we met the most wonderful airbnb hosts.
Our next destination was Shanghai which we’ve experienced before in winter but being back the second time round in summer did not stop us from tasting piping hot ‘xiao long baos’ or soup dumplings.
We boarded the comfortable high speed train that transported us from Shanghai to Beijing in 5 hours and were lucky to see the Great Wall of China twice, once in a remote part of the wall called Huanghuacheng where we saw a grand total of only 10 people which is incredibly rare in tourist sights around China.
From Beijing we flew to Seoul, South Korea to celebrate my milestone birthday of turning 30 where I underwent a full makeover with the best plastic surgeon in Seoul. No, not really though I probably could have given the reputation of plastic surgeries in Seoul and if I were willing to give up my travels then, but I did get a distant glimpse of North Korea from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between both countries.
After a refreshing week in Seoul we were raring to return to China and our next stop was Kunming in Yunnan where we visited the famous stone forest or Shilin.
Dali, the hippy backpacker haven of Yunnan was an interesting stopover for a day but we were keen to move north to Lijiang to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
We were unlucky with the weather during our 3 day hike in Tiger Leaping Gorge but we lucked out in the friendship department, meeting fellow hikers who fast became firm friends.
Returning to Lijiang after our hike, we rested and explored the surrounding countryside of Baisha by bicycle and were treated to breathtaking views of this region.
Shangrila, a bus ride away from Lijiang was our gateway to the Tibetan region of Sichuan. We tasted our first yak meat burger and enjoyed watching locals dance in the main town square every evening.
From Shangrila we took a grueling 13 hour bus ride to the town of Daocheng in Sichuan, which we based ourselves from to explore Yading, the supposed ‘Shangri-La’ or paradise from the novel Lost Horizon. While I’m not sure we found paradise in that sense, Yading certainly blew us away with its beauty even as we struggled to catch our breath at the high altitude we were in.
Our next stop in the Tibetan region of Sichuan was Litang where we witnessed a sky burial, something that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
We made our way further north by bus to Kangding, another Tibetan city in Sichuan where we chatted at length to a monk in a fast food restaurant before landing ourselves in the capital of Sichuan to visit some adorable pandas.
From Chengdu we flew to Guilin in the region of Guangxi and found ourselves amongst hundreds of giant limestone karsts. Yangshuo and Xingping, small towns within short distances of Guilin were my absolute favourite parts of China.
A side trip to visit the Dragon’s Backbone rice terraces in Guangxi solidified China as one of the most naturally stunning countries we’ve ever been to. We had never seen so much extremes in beauty in one country in the space of such a short time.
We flew across the country again to Xi’an to see the famed terracotta warriors before boarding a 32 hour train ride to the roof of the world, Tibet.
Lhasa was a real feast for our senses with Tibetan locals prostrating around religious sites and temples with such fervent devotion.
After spending a few days in Lhasa we began our journey towards Everest Base Camp, the closest we’ll ever set foot to Mount Everest.
We camped overnight in yak tents at Everest Base Camp and visited the highest post office in the world.
We continued on the Friendship Highway towards the land border between Tibet and Nepal the following day and reached Zhangmu, our final stop in China. We crossed over by foot the next morning into Kodari the border town on the Nepal side and had to trek through a landslide and endure a long rickety bus ride into Kathmandu, a real test of our travel limits.
We spent more than a week in Kathmandu and had the opportunity to witness and partake in some local festivities with a Nepali family.
From Kathmandu we made side trips to Nagarkot and Bhaktapur to see mountain views and ancient cities that have sadly since been destroyed in the recent earthquake.
Chitwan was our next stop and we went on an elephant safari to look for the one horned rhino.
From Chitwan we made our way to Pokhara, our base for nearly two weeks while we hiked the popular Poon Hill trail. Our trek of 4 days 3 nights started off easy but we were soaked to the bone the very next day from a cyclone that had hit the region.
Thankfully on the day we hiked up the very top of Poon Hill the sky cleared and we had the most magnificent sunrise over the the Annapurna mountain ranges.
We nursed our sore muscles back in Pokhara for a few days before taking a bus ride back to Kathmandu to catch our next flight to Delhi, India.
We celebrated Diwali with some very close friends we had planned on meeting up for months and joined in on their family’s lavish Indian wedding celebrations. There was so much dancing, music and noise over the entire one week celebration.
While in Delhi I was not going to miss the chance to see one of the seven wonders of the world, so we made a side trip to Agra and laid eyes on quite possibly the most beautiful man made architecture I have ever seen, the Taj Mahal.
After India, we spent a month in Taipei, Taiwan living as locals and explored the many night markets that Taipei is known for. We also made side trips to Yehliu Geopark, Jiufen, Hualien and Taitung.
While in Taipei I couldn’t resist the chance to visit the neighbouring Japanese islands of Okinawa. Getting up close with whale sharks in the largest man made tank in Churaumi Aquarium was the highlight of my short trip to Okinawa.
We celebrated new year’s eve in Taipei and left a piece of our heart behind in Taiwan as we flew to Chiang Mai, Thailand to begin the South East Asian leg of our travels, which I’ll save for my next summary post.