When I consciously pause and take time out of my daily routine to think about where we were this time last year during our travels, I’m amazed at how quickly time passes, and how scary that these precious memories will soon be years ago, rather than a year ago. If I rewind to two years before, we were in Lisbon on the 5th of March 2014 and almost midway into our 2 year travel plan. And Lisbon already feels like such a distant memory. Oh how fragile memories are and how unforgiving the ticking clock that accompanies it!
So this time last year we were in Myanmar, one of the last countries we visited before heading home to Sydney. I’ve compiled a bunch of my favourite photos from Myanmar. The top four were taken in Bagan and the last three were taken in and around Hpa An. I’d be honest and say that Myanmar isn’t on my favourite countries list, but it certainly deserved a visit, and we met enough interesting locals to help us remember this country. Because at the end of the day the scenery and sights will fade but the interactions and people are the ones that form the fragment of memories that linger on, hopefully beyond the years that will soon pass.
Taitung is a great city to explore on a bicycle. It is relatively flat, there are designated bike paths that take you through the city and there are many varied spots to explore that are within easy reach.
We started off at the old sugar factory that has been abandoned and is slowly being transformed into an art space with great potential. We enjoyed speeding down the vast empty spaces and discovered some really quirky cool spots for photos.
We continued along the designated bike path that was once a railway track, and it offered us a glimpse of locals’ backyards. We cycled past thriving vegetable patches and little backyard gardens. It was a very quaint little community with a bit of a Japanese feel to it.
The bike path then takes us through some streets and a park filled with hot air balloon lanterns, the mascot of Taitung (Taitung is famous for its annual hot air balloon festivals, hence the mini hot air balloon mascot).
The path continues onto the shore, and we find ourselves breathing in the salt-laden air of the beach. It was a good place to take a break, and there were several snack shops in the area selling local Taiwanese delicacies. I spotted a dilapidated white house that looked like a drawing from a children’s book and it left me wondering about its inhabitants.
The bike loop finishes in a large park which we spent several hours cycling around on a different day, and like so many other times before, we truly learnt and saw the city in so many ways that a tour bus or car cannot offer.
Hoi An charmed its way into my heart right from the beginning. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with this place even with my high expectations shaped from hearing all about this famous town. It is a busy little tailoring town located halfway between North and South Vietnam with bright yellow colonial architecture and colourful lanterns strung all along the narrow streets.The food is delicious as you’d expect in Vietnam, and the eager tailors can whip up a suit or dress for you in a day, or sew a new leather bag or pair of sandals if that’s what you fancied. We could wander the streets freely without worrying about bikes and cars because the streets are cordoned off for pedestrians. At night, the lanterns painted a romantic glow over the town. The river is lit up with candles carrying the wishes and hopes of tourists and locals alike. We spotted a few young couples in traditional garb posing for engagement photos. It was the perfect backdrop for blossoming love and it felt right for the mood we were in.
Waking up before dawn, we groggily made our way by foot to the boat dock. We passed red robed monks doing their usual rounds of alms-begging, rendering the morning an air of tranquility. Our boatman was ready to take us out to the lake and we settled into our hard seats, tucking our legs comfortably under thick blankets. The chilly morning breeze was tangible on our skin but that would soon change with the rising sun.
The lake grew wider as we went deeper, and mist blurred the horizon between lake and sky while mountains painted a faint backdrop and fishermen on boats dotted the foreground. Not just any odd fisherman, but ones that skilfully paddle with their leg while their hands are free to wrestle the interminable fishing nets. Their graceful silhouette was seared into my mind that very morning and I could not take my curious eyes off them. How did they master this skill that fishermen from other parts of the world don’t know of? How is it not more widespread? It seemed like a very clever way to fish.
As the mid-day heat started bearing down on our necks, we slowly approached the floating gardens and villages of Inle lake. We passed young ladies with tanaka-smeared faces maneuvering their boats around lush vegetation. While the men fished, the women harvested and pruned. It was a simple life living off the lake and passed down generation after generation.
Traffic on the lake started picking up as speedboats whirred past, transporting locals to other parts of the lake. But the fishermen were still hard at work using nets, cages and primal tools that have served mankind for centuries. We slowly made our way back to the boat dock, taking cover under our umbrella. We will soon be back in town, walking amongst other tourists back to our hotel rooms with precious pictures in our camera to remind us of our day out at the lake.
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’
Sunrise in Bagan, Myanmar, one of the very last places we visited.