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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!