Well the initial adventure (the planned one at least) is over…As we have landed back in a country with no ties and a world of opportunities ahead of us…as such the adventure will continue. We will keep the BLOG going and will continue to push the boundaries of exploration but perhaps in a more localized manner…So before the Australian leg of our adventure begins it is timely to assess what we have achieved over the last little bit.
So here goes…
We left Australia on 13 October 2013 and returned on 20 December 2014…that is a 433 day Asian odyssey that saw us hit some spectacular highlights and tick off so many bucket list items that it was not funny. Some of these “Bucket List” items were the obvious ones that we all know about or have heard of like climbing Mount Everest, the Taj Mahal or walking the Great Wall of China. Others were ones that the travel channel or documentary watchers may have seen and added. And some were 100% unknown to us but in hindsight these things truly were that special. And there were others that we knew nothing about but have since learned of and now have extended our own lists.
In total we technically visited 13 different countries…I say this because I remain jaded that Taiwan, Tibet and Hong Kong all just count as China. Further to this, while we zigzagged the India-Nepal border popping in and out numerous times, we cannot in all honesty claim Nepal…as much as I may want to. We spent the night in 121 different cities while day tripping, transiting and sight seeing a great number of others. The countries and locations were:
Thailand – Bangkok and Phuket
Cambodia – Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Pursat and Battambang,
Laos – Vientiane, Luang Prabang
Myanmar – Bago, Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay
Malaysia – Kota Kinabalu, Sepilok, Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, Manana, Penang and Georgetown
Brunei Darussalam – Bandar Seri Begawan
Vietnam – Danang, Hoi An, Hanoi, Cat Ba Island, Halong Bay, Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), Phu Quoc and Can Tho
Sri Lanka – Mirissa, Galle, Colombo, Kandy, Polonnaruwa, Pinnawala and Sigiriya
South Korea – Seoul and the DMZ
China – Beijing, Shanhaiguan, Harbin, Dalian, Dandong, Jinan, TaiShan, Qingdao, Pingyao, MianShan, WuTaiShan, Taiyuan, Datong, Hohhot, Yinchuan, Dunhuang, Jiayuguan, Lanzhou, Xining, Xiahe, Mount Everest, Lhasa, Shigatse, Kashgar, Urumqi, Jiuzhaigou, Chengdu, Guiyang, Anshun, Dali, Shangri-La, LiJiang, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Kunming, Guangzhou, Yangshou, Guilin, Wuhan, Chongqing and Xian.
Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek
Philippines – Manila and Taal volcano
India – New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Mumbai (Bombay),Goa, Mangalore, Fort Cochin, Alleppy, Thiruvananthapuram, Kanyakumari, Pondicherry, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Metupalaiyam, Ooty, Kolkata (Calcutta), Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad, Hampi, Aurungabad, Bagdogra, Siliguri, Darjeeling, Varanasi, Amritsar and Shimla.
We explored the natural wonders of Asia, saw architectural marvels, ornately carved churches, mosques and temples, checked out exotic landscapes, vibrant cultures, gastronomical delights, languages spoken, experienced fairs and festivals and generally immersed ourselves in a world of different cultures. We stopped in on traditional tourist spots as well as off the beaten path gems (and duds). We experienced both the best and the worst of humanity…often within minutes of each other.
Some of the trips to countries were merely teasers for future travel while others were fully fledged explorations of the countries visited. Some were so fantastical that we were left needing and craving more…whilst others were more than enough. As a general rule it must be said…the traditional tourist destinations were by far our least favourite spots. They tended to be trashy, commercialised, more expensive than everywhere else, painful, full of really pushy touts and generally just unpleasant to be in.
China was the place that we spent the most time, with about 215 days in China all up. Believe it or not…this was not enough. China is like Australia…it is huge and each region is unique. So while we saw more of China than most Chinese will ever see…we were still left wanting more and ruing the fact that we had run out of time and money.
It became clear very early on that my wife had developed a train obsession and loved almost all things train related. As such we did innumerable train journeys…especially if there was something a little unusual or quirky about the trip. So we rode the worlds fastest train (the Maglev in Shanghai which hit 433kph), we rode the worlds highest train (through the Himalayas which includes the Tanggula which at 5,072 m (16,640 feet) is the world’s highest railway station) and we rode some of the famous railways of the world (both steam and other). We hit the rail bridge over the river Quai, the destroyed train bridge between China and North Korea and the shot up train in the demilitarised zone between north and South Korea.
Some of these journeys were truly memorable possibly the greatest for me was the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. This was a 5 hour (50km) journey in a steam powered, rack and pin train through the blue mountains of India. The train stopped at tiny little stations to refill with water and when the mountains got too steep the rack and pin would kick in and literally crank the train up the hill. As it turns out this also happened to be my mother’s mode of transport to get to and from school as a teenager.
Another of the major highlights was the Sri Lankan rail journey between Colombo and Galle. Three hours of cruising along in air conditioned comfort parallel to the ocean was simply stunning.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is a toy train that snakes its way through the Himalayan mountains as the train criss-crosses the road and runs through the heart of the towns. The train goes so close to the town buildings that you could honestly steal from the shops by merely reaching out the window and taking things off the shelves as the train goes by.
Myanmar gets the title for the worst trains in the world. The train started with an insect and arachnid riddled upper class sleeper cabin and got much worse once the wheels started to move. The train bumps, jumps and rattles its way through some beautiful countryside but will leave you beaten, bruised and bloodied.
Along the journey we encountered any number of animals (at least partially due to my mini obsession with visiting zoos). We went to many different zoos in many different cities and had massively different experiences in each one. The positive experiences saw us marvelling at pandas in Chongqing and Chengdu and the negative ones saw Indian patrons abusing animals and huge tigers in tiny concrete cages. We got to see a range of animals that we had not seen before both within the zoo setting and generally wandering about in our travels.
We saw cobras in baskets being charmed by tourist hungry Indians, panda babies, rhinos, elephants, hippos, giraffes, all manner of birdlife, yaks, more monkeys than you could poke a stick at, crocodiles, orang-utans in the wild on Borneo, lions, tigers, fat bottomed sheep, incredible convoys of ducks and the usual zoo type fare.
Not only did we get to see the animals but on occasions we got to ride on them too.
If you can imagine it we used it…almost. We used just about every type of transport available to man. From hauling along at 433kph on the maglev train to putting along on steam locomotives, to riding elephants through the Laos jungle, rubber duckies along the waters off Borneo, Junks in Halong Bay in Vietnam, tuk tuks almost everywhere, camels through the Indian desert, longboats through Thailand’s canals and along the floating markets of the Mekong, rickshaws, trishaws, trams, motorbikes, jeepneys, horse carts, camel carts, ute backs, bamboo rafts and bamboo railways and every now and then we even rode in a car or flew in a plane.
Lets not be silly here…the food was spectacular. We had the amazing opportunity to travel through some of the culinary centres of the world and sampled the local fare every chance we got. The key meals throughout were meat on a stick and curry… whether it was Indian, Sri Lankan, Thai, Laotian, Cambodian or Malaysian…curries were a staple. And for all the differences between them…they were magnificent…all of them.
China did not have a curry equivalent (that we found)…but we did have smorgasbords full of fantastic meals all the way throughout. Each region was different and this variety just ramped up the experience. For the ultimate foodie paradise then Penang is my choice…it has the best of all things…Tibet is by far the worst…serving up a terrible mix of yak jerky, two minute noodles and hot water.
Obviously the bucket list items were highlights…the great wall, Angkor Wat, the Terracotta warriors, Mount Everest, the hanging monastery, cruising Halong Bay etc…but there were so many more. They were the unknown (to us) gems such as Jiuzhaigou (China’s blue lakes) and panda breeding centres…further to that there were the human interactions and the unexpected artistic elements that we saw along the way. I cannot fully explain the joy we felt when we walked around the corner in Datong and saw the large naked fat man hanging from the wall of the city.
The other of the great pleasures was catching up with our friends along the way…walking the great wall of China with my cousin, going to the Hong Kong Rugby 7’s with best friends from school or catching up with Canberra friends in Hong Kong, Cambodia and Thailand. Experiencing things with the wife was great…but sharing them with friends is even sweeter.
The journey for us is continuing…but the next little bit will be here in Australia…so I hope you maintain interest and follow along the rest of the way…