2013: A Year of Travel

I can’t believe that it’s the end of the year already. In just a couple of days, 2013 will come to an end and a new year will begin, bringing with it a whole new set of challenges and experiences. It is at this time of the year that we all tend to look back and reflect on how our year has been and how we hope to make the next year even better. For me, 2013 was one of the best years of my life. I spent most of the year out on the road, seeing the world with the company of my lovely wife and doing all of the things that I love to do.

I don’t usually do these sort of round up posts, but because 2013 has been my greatest travel year so far, I think that I need to honour it in some way; So today I would like to look back on the year and highlight some of my favourite travel experiences of 2013.

2013 started off in a very hectic fashion. Over the Christmas period we were still working our jobs in Brisbane, but at the same time having to sell most of our household possessions to move out of our house by the start of January. It was stressful, far too rushed and I have no idea how we even did it; but somehow we did, and within the first week of the year we had packed up our camper van (which we had only just gotten roadworthy the day before), and camped in a camping spot about an hour’s drive out of Brisbane.

Camping at Canungra, Australia

Camping at Canungra

Although we had our huge trip for the year all planned out, the universe had seemed to be against us. A lot of things went wrong, we had to hand out money left right and center for a lot of unexpected things, and so I had to keep working for the next two months. But it wasn’t all bad. We were living out of our campervan in some beautiful places south of Brisbane, and on my days off we would head off to other lovely places such as Inskip Peninsula and Flanagan’s Reserve.

When it got to the end of February we had finally had enough and I handed in my resignation. Two weeks later we were finally off on our Great Australian Road trip from Brisbane to Perth.

The Great Australian Road Trip

For six weeks we travelled down through New South Wales and Victoria, across South Australia and the bottom of Western Australia to finally end up in Perth. Along the way we saw some amazing sights and camped in some amazing places. Experiences that come to mind include Lake Liddell and the Hunter Valley, visiting the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, driving through the high country of Victoria, exploring the beauty of the Great Ocean Road, wine tasting in the Barossa Valley, camping at Point Lowley in South Australia, driving across the seemingly endless Nullarbor Plain and camping at the unbelievably beautiful Munglinup Beach in Western Australia.

Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road, Australia

The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road

I just loved the freedom of being on the road with our own wheels and having the ability to just pull up anywhere that we wanted.

When we finally got to Perth, we spent the next few weeks catching up with my family and preparing for our next big adventure.

Six months in Southeast Asia

When we flew out of Perth on the 9th of May, we had no idea just how amazing the next six months would be. After a long layover in Singapore, we landed in Hanoi, Vietnam to begin the longest adventure of our lives, with nothing but our backpacks and a little bit of money in the bank.

Vietnam

Our Vietnamese Visas lasted for a month, and we were going to make sure to use all of that time in the country. We started off by exploring the bustling Old Quarter of Hanoi in the North of Vietnam before heading to Cat Ba Island to cruise around the stunning limestone karsts of Halong Bay and Han La Bay.

Hopping on the train in Hanoi, we then travelled down the coast to Hue – the former capital of Vietnam – where we explored the culture and history of the country by visiting the citadel and tombs of the Emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty.

Street in Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An

Next was the historic trading port of Hoi An, where old crumbling Chinese shop fronts and narrow streets lead onto a beautiful water front, and silk lanterns light the streets at night. We visited the ancient Champa ruins of My Son before heading to Nha Trang – Vietnam’s premier beach destination – and then up to the cooler temperatures of Dalat in the Central Highlands.

Our journey through Vietnam finished with a few days in the hectic and bustling Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and a three day trip through the Mekong Delta.

Cambodia

Our journey in Vietnam ended at Chau Doc where we hopped on a boat and made our way up the Mekong River to the Cambodian border. From the border, we took a bus to Cambodia’s capital – Phnom Penh. It was here that we began learning about the history and people of Cambodia, visiting the Royal Palace and the very sombre and heartbreaking experience of visiting the Cheoung Ek Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Prison – a sombre reminder of the horror of the Khmer Rouge genocide in the late 70’s.

By the time we left Phnom Penh, we had already fallen in love with the Cambodian people, and I already knew that I was going to love the country. We headed south to the laid back town of Kampot where a scooter ride to Kep turned out to be a ride through a monsoonal storm. The bad weather followed us to the popular beach town of Sihanoukville, so we had to change plans and make our way back to Phnom Penh and then onto Siem Reap.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat just before sunrise

For the next week, our time was dedicated to exploring the amazing Temples of Angkor, which of course included a dawn visit to Angkor Wat.

Our journey from Siem Reap took us to Battambang where we were too sick to really do anything, before heading to the North East of the country to stay for a couple of days in the sleepy Mekong city of Kampong Cham.

The final days of our month in Cambodia were spent at Kratie – a quiet little town on the Mekong River – where we got a taste of rural Cambodia on Koh Trong and visited the rare Irrawaddy Dolphins at Kampi.

Laos

We were sad to leave Cambodia, but I was excited to go back to Laos and show Veronika some of my favourite spots, and also discover some new ones. Our border crossing was pretty straight forward, and we ended up in the town of Ban Nakasang on the Mekong River, where we caught a boat to Don Khone, one of the 4000 Islands that make up Si Phan Don. This was a time of exploration by day and relaxing in the hammock of our bungalow in the afternoon, with a couple of cold beers at night.

From Si Phan Don it was a long journey of short stops through Southern Laos, staying for a couple of nights in the sleepy Mekong towns of Pakse and Savannakhet before taking a ten hour bus ride to the capital city – Vientiane – where we had to stay for a few days to get our Thai visas.

Rural Road in Vang Vieng, Laos

Rural road near Vang Vieng

From Vientiane we made our way north to some of my favourite places. First was the picturesque backpacker town of Vang Vieng where we cycled through the beautiful countryside during the day and relaxed in the riverside restaurants at night. Next was Luang Prabang – the cultural heart of Laos. We spent a week here just wandering around one of my favourite cities in Asia.

With our visas running out, it was then time to start making our way to Thailand by taking the two day slow boat journey up the Mekong River.

Thailand

We had originally planned to travel a lot in Thailand on this trip, revisiting places we had liked before and discovering new ones, but after three months of constant travel, we were pretty worn out and our money was getting a bit low; so after spending a few days in Chiang Rai, we headed to the popular city of Chiang Mai where we rented a little apartment for the next two months.

Fruit Shake Stand in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Street food stalls in Chiang Mai

It was amazing to actually live in a foreign city – even if only for a short time. We found ourselves becoming regulars at certain restaurants, blending in with the locals at the markets and meeting some amazing people. When that two months came to an end, we found that we had absolutely fallen in love with Chiang Mai. We were sad to leave, but our visas were running out, and it was time to get on with our journey.

We took the first flight of our trip since landing in Hanoi from Chiang Mai to Hat Yai in the very south of Thailand, where we caught the train into Malaysia.

Malaysia

We only had two weeks to spend in Malaysia before needing to be in Bangkok, so we weren’t going to see a lot of the country. We started off in Penang – the food capital of Malaysia. Although Penang is a huge island to explore, we stuck to the main city of George Town where we explored the sights and ate some of the most amazing food that I have ever tasted.

Chinatown in Penang, Malaysia

Chinatown, Penang

From Penang we headed up to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands, where the temperatures rarely rise above 22 degrees Celsius. We hiked through mossy rain forests and visited one of the magnificent tea plantations that are common in the area.

Our time in Malaysia finished in the very modern capital city of Kuala Lumpur where we stayed in Chinatown, ate some amazing food, visited the Petronas Towers and the spectacular Hindu temple at the Batu Caves.

Bangkok, Thailand

We spent the last three weeks of our Southeast Asia trip in one of our favourite cities in the world – Bangkok. The capital of Thailand never fails to impress, and we got to experience it all with family who came to meet us for our last two weeks. We revisited all of our favourite sites, shopped til we dropped and ate as much Thai food as we could.

Buddha statues Wat Pho

Wat Pho, Bangkok

Back to Perth, Australia

After a long layover in Singapore – where we spent the night – we caught our flight back to Perth in Australia, where our year of travel has come to an end.

After being on the road for so long, I have to say that I am having trouble fitting back into normality back here in Australia. I guess it is one of those things that will take some time.

I’m unsure what 2014 holds for me, but there is certainly one thing that I can say about 2013 – it was an amazing year for me. Let’s hope that 2014 turns out to be another great year.

Cycling on Koh Trong, Cambodia

Cycling on Koh Trong, Cambodia

Thank you all for following me on my travels and reading my stories. There are still a lot of stories to write, a lot of photos to share and a lot of travel tips that I have to help you plan your own trips to these places.

I hope you all have a very happy new year. Cheers!

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11 comments… add one
  • A big year!

  • Zara @ Backpack ME Dec 29, 2013

    What a great year!
    Wishing 2014 is at least this good, or even better! 🙂

    • Dean Wickham Jan 25, 2014

      Thank you Zara. It was a great year. I will certainly try to make 2014 another one. Happy New Year!

  • Dan Jan 4, 2014

    What an awesome year! Here’s hoping you can continue your adventures this year.

    • Dean Wickham Jan 25, 2014

      Hey Dan. It was a great year. I don’t think I’ll top it this year, but I’ll definitely try to make it another good one 🙂

  • Helen Magner Jan 8, 2014

    Hi Dean
    I started reading your blog at the beginning of last year just as you were starting out from Brisbane. At the time I was planning to start me own travel blog and I like the look of yours. You gave me ideas about how I wanted mine to appear though I could never quite achieve it. Since then I’ve been travel and writing and continuing to read your adventures along the way. I have been to Thailand but still have the other south-East Asian countries ahead of me. (I prefer to think like that rather than”I’ve never been”) it’s amazing what you have seen on such a limited budget. Such budget restrictions I don’t aspire to. The joys of being young eh? You will have those memories and the great blog record all your life. Well done!

    • Dean Wickham Jan 25, 2014

      Hi Helen. Thanks so much for reading my blog all of this time. I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed reading about my adventures. As far as the budget travel goes, Southeast Asia is an easy place to do it, even if you have a family. You’ll get there one day 🙂 How are your own adventures going?

  • Cam Jan 30, 2014

    Looks like you had one for the ages! Well done

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