I never thought I would have spent so much time and had the chance to visit 10 countries on this amazing continent. From the breathtaking Himalayas in Nepal to the powder filled mountains of Japan to the culture of Cambodia, Asia was breathtaking and I can't wait to keep adding to my country count on the continent.
One thing I didn’t realize about Bali is that it’s huge! I ended up booking lodging right on the beach in Kuta and every night got front row seats to some of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve seen. With the thin layer of water from the sea going out it creates a reflective layer that amplifies the color and highlights everything in a magenta cast. Between the surfers and the spectators that are out there it’s an amazing backdrop. I couldn’t take enough pictures.
Since I only had limited time and I wanted to see as much as I could, I started by going under the water and scuba diving out at Nusa. it was an awesome dive site with heaps of fish and beautiful coral. The next 2 days I wanted to cover a lot of ground so I hired a driver to take me around. We headed up from Kuta to the Kintamani Volcano and on the way stopped off at the Besakih Temple, which is the largest Hindu Temple in Bali and has several different levels that overlook the country side. It’s quite magnificent. Once we finally made it to the volcano, the clouds had lifted and I was able to eat lunch overlooking this massive mountain and lake. Talk about a view.
The next day I took the morning to explore Ubud, was a beautiful town so I can see how people would want to move there and make it their home…or second home. I even went to the monkey forest, played with the monkeys and had flash backs of Japan….but it was a lot warmer. To add to my animal fascination I had my driver take me to the Elephant Safari Park. I lucked out and one of the elephants had just had a baby about 3 months ago and he was out playing in the water when I got there. Talk about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!! (I kept wanting to call him Dumbo.) I could have spent all day playing with these massively beautiful animals, but we had to make it through the rice fields and to Tanah Lot in time for the sunset. I was fortunate to cover most of the fantastic island and highly recommend it!
I wish I had more time to explore more of Thailand, but with the little time I had, I really did enjoy Bangkok…other than the heat. It seriously was like entering an oven when you walked outside, but add in the humidity and it’s a recipe for a serious sweat fest. I braced for the hotness and made my way into the city.
My first stop was the water taxi up to the Grand Temple, which was pretty fantastic. Since it was about 120 degrees I was in shorts and a tank, which was not acceptable for entering the temple, so I had to “borrow” an ankle length sarong and put my sweater on, but the sweat was worth it. The temple was beautiful and filled with gold accents everywhere and was really magnificent.
From there I took to the streets for some of the best pad thai I’d ever eaten for less than a dollar. The street food in Bangkok was out of this world and so cheap! I loved it! Everything in Bangkok was such a deal, except my excursion to the floating market which through some miscommunication I ended up having to pay $200 for my own boat to tour the market. It did not make me the happiest, but the market it’s self was really cool and I was able to take some good shots there, so I can’t complain too much.
Overall, I enjoyed Bangkok, but coming from the remote nature of the Himalayas it was quite an adjustment to get back into city mode, but I’m glad I did.
I LOVED Cambodia. The amount of history, amazing temples and architecture were unlike anything I’ve seen before. And did I mention that it might be one of the most economical countries to go visit as well? (You can live like a king for about $10 a day!) I started in Phnom Phen and then took a bus up to Siem Reap. Once I got to Siem Reap I even had an added surprise which made the experience that much more exciting.
Phnom Phen was much more of an established city than I thought it would be. While I don’t remember seeing shopping malls, I did find plenty of pointy straw hats everywhere and lots of monks. The palace was a sight to behold. The detail in the structure and the beauty of the landscape of the gardens were magnificent. I ended up spending almost half a day wandering through there. I also stumbled on several temples and monasteries where I made friends with some monks.
After a few days in Phnom Phen I caught the $12 luxury bus with wi-fi and movies to Siem Reap to experience Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. I had researched and found that if you go to the temple entrance at 4pm or later, then you can get admittance into the park for the sunset as well as the following day. So of course there are about 100 people waiting to get their ticket for sunset. As I’m waiting to get mine, I look over to see an old Canadian friend that I had met 3 years ago in Honduras! It was kind of crazy, and made you realize just how small this world really is. We exchanged info and planned to meet up that night and the next day.
The next day rented bikes for about $2 and biked for about 8 hours and probably 50km around the temples. The area is huge and exudes history and beauty that make you feel as though time had stood still. I wish I would have had more time to spend exploring this wonder of an ancient city, but it just means I’ll have to come back….and who knows who I’ll run into next time.
Now Dubai is a city of money. The sheer magnitude of…well…everything, is ridiculous. I ended up getting on the hop on/off bus (great way to see the city and get around) and it seemed like every description included the words “world record” “millions/billions of dollars” and “first/only”. It is a city that has built its reputation on being the best, and they have done a kick ass job at it. Where else in the world can you go skiing in the morning (in a mall) and the take on the sand dunes in a 4x4 in the afternoon? There is just so much to do, and a very interesting combination of old markets and traditions combined with state of the art new world buildings and features. The sheer amount of malls in this city is incredible. It really is a shopping mecca that goes unrivaled.
The level of creativity in their mecca of money is pretty incredible as well. I learned that they are in the process of building a beach the will have air conditioning built under the sand to keep you cool while you bask in the sun. That is CRAZY! They area also building the tallest building to rotate at a 90 degree spin. That is pretty epic if you ask me.
I did thoroughly enjoy my time in Dubai and the people were so nice and accommodating. It truly was a different world where pretty much anything you can think of can become a reality.
I had 4 days to take in this city, but what I didn’t realize is the beauty and history of the islands surrounding the city of Hong Kong. I spent most my time trekking around them.
I started out going to Lamma Island. It was a short ferry ride over to the island, which was filled with luscious greenery, beautiful flowers, epic cliffs into the sea and white sandy beaches. I spent the better part of 3 hours making my way around the island along the path from one small fishing village to the next and taking in the remarkable landscape in between. I felt like I was on my one private tour of the old Hong Kong, like a city untouched by industry. I even got to see the infamous pink dolphins! It was not anything of what I expecting to find visiting the Hong Kong I imagined.
The following day I made it to the “Big Buddha” on Lantau Island. I took the gondola over the rainforest and beautiful canals before making my way to the Po Lin Monastery. This was a little more what I was expecting with an influx of people and tourists, but it didn’t deter from the beauty of the Buddha and surrounding temples. There was an air of history and religious sprit that left you with a sense of calm amongst the crowds. My final stop was up the cable car for a glorious night view of the cityscape, which was pretty breathtaking.
My final day in Hong Kong was spent wondering the city and I have to say that although it was bustling, Hong Kong is a beautiful city, and I understand why it’s such an international business and tourist destination.
Prior to February 2013 I had no idea skiing in Japan was something people do, but now I realize it’s what everyone SHOULD do! I met up with 6 hot shot skiers and got serious in Niseko and Hokkado with 7 FEET of powder (or JAPOW as it is better known), miles of untouched backcountry and constant faceshots that chilled our plastered smiles. As if that wasn't enough I made my way to Hakuba for some of the greatest views ever...and did I mention the Snow Monkeys! Japan was more than I ever thought possible!
Our journey started in Asahidake where we loaded 5 times our combined weight in stuff into our awesome 4x4 Subaru SUV, squeezed all 5 of us in on top of everything and took off for Niseko. We definitely put the 4WD to the test on our 3 hour trek with snowflakes the size of quarters falling from the sky...this will be the constant theme to our 6 days in Niseko. Over the next few days we took the hill by storm having practically an entire mountain with the lightest, fluffiest thigh high powder all to ourselves, all day long. Once the day on the hill ended that meant it was time for an onsen and a beer. For those of you not familiar with the glory that is an onsen, it's a natural hot spring that soothes and relieves sore muscles. Perfect after skiing all day!
After leaving Niseko, we made our way through Sapporo and just happened to be there during the ice sculpture festival. We ate some amazing ramen, enjoyed the snow art, said farewell to our friends and then hopped on a plane to Tokyo. We didn't stay there long before jumping on a few trains to make our way out to Hakuba and Nagano. The snow wasn't quite as powerlicious as it was in Niseko, but the views from the mountain were incomparable! It was 360 degrees of mountain beauty at its finest. And to switch things up a little bit, we spent a day going to see the snow monkeys up in the Jigokudani Monkey Park about an hour from Nagano which proved to be one of my highlights of the trip.
I have to say knowing nothing about the Japanese culture before traveling there, I left wanting to go back and experience more. Japan is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve seen, inside and out. The people and the culture bring the country to life in a way that is filled with happiness, beauty and courtesy. I’ll definitely be heading back for more...oh yeah and the powder is pretty awesome too!
Nepal will forever hold a special place in my heart. I laughed till my sides hurt, hiked till my legs ached and left a better person from this experience having shared it with such wonderful people.
I had booked this with Sunrise Adventure Trek and Expedition because it was such a deal. Turns out everyone else on this excursion did the same thing putting me in a 15 person group with people who lived as close to me as Sacramento to across the world in Melbourne, Australia, but somehow we were all connected. We started off in Kathmandu for 2 nights and made our way through the city and chapels. Taking in the organized chaos that the city had to offer was a mixture of craziness and awe. The way they make their way through the traffic with what seems like little, to no rules combining bikes, scooters, cars, buses, trucks animals, and pretty much anything else you can imagine on pot-holed roads, was jaw dropping that an accident didn’t occur every minute. Once we made our way out of Katmandu and on a flight to Annapurna, things slowed down to a much more welcoming pace.
This tour was equipped with our amazing guides Suresh and Ram, about 7 singing, instrument playing Sherpas to carry all our stuff and thoroughly entertain us, and 15 of us taking on the trek. It was such an amazing experience. The hiking was “Nepalie Flat” which means “a little up, a little down” and the scenery was out of this world. Every day it felt like we were in a different climate. One day it would be like a dry mountainous range that was so cold it was practically snowing, and the next would be like you were going through the rain forest in shorts and a tank top. And there were baby animals everywhere! We were kind of obsessed with them. Between baby goats, lambs, chicks, calves and puppies it was like a petting zoo. The children too, were just precious! I just loved the whole environment that Nepal exuded.
My time in Nepal was one of those experiences that made me realize just what a beautiful world we live in. Between the people and overall epic nature of the trek it could be one of my favorite places so far. One might even call it Yaktastic!
How to you describe Russia? It’s like being in a fairytale. The structures look as though they were the inspiration for every Disney princess’s castle. It’s also cold in Russia….very cold, and I was only there in November! (I can’t imagine what it’s like in February) But it’s not easy to get to Russia. I had to go through the Russian Embassy prior to my leaving the US back in July and fill out about 20 pages of forms, have my passport taken for a week and get my official tourist visa for $175 to visit for 4 days, so I had to make the most of it.
I took off for 2 days in St Petersburg, before heading to Moscow for my remaining 2 days. It was a last minute decision to book to St Petersburg and I’m really glad I went. It was incredible. I just couldn’t get over the architecture. Every 10th building seemed to be modeled after Candyland and it just made the city pop with color and vibrance.
On my last day in St Petersburg it started to snow on my walk home and it was so magical. Winter is my favorite season and to be able to see my first snow in November made me a little home sick….and the snow followed me to Moscow. When I got up to walk around the city center the next day there was about 6 inches of snow that had accumulated throughout the night. I layered up in everything I brought with me and headed out to brave the storm. As miserable as the weather was, (we are talking bone chilling cold with wet sleet coming from the dark sky) the fresh layer of snow on the fairytale buildings made me feel like I was walking through a storybook. It was magic.
The architecture and overall feel of Russia so far in my travels has gone unrivaled. It’s unlike any place I could have imagined and I’m so glad I got to experience it.
Vietnam was the only place on my list that I had a few reservations about going to see. Since my father was drafted into the war in the 60’s I’ve had my own preconceived notions about how I was going to interpret this country, but I tried hard to keep an open mind.
I started my travels to Vietnam in Ho Chi Mehn City, formally Saigon. The city itself was an interesting balance of a third world country and metropolis. On one corner you would have heaps of poor people with food stands selling fruit or noodles for less than a dollar, and on the next corner there would be a huge shopping mall hosting anything from Guess to Gucci. It was a little ironic. The main form of transport, like most of South East Asia, is scooter…and they are everywhere going in every direction. I took my chances walking since most of the historical points of interest to see were within walking distance of the other, which led me to the war museum.
I have to say the hardest place to see for me was the war museum. Knowing that my dad was forced into taking place in the Vietnam War to help this country, the museum was incredibly negative to the American and Australian soldiers. It was a little hard to handle, especially since their main form of currency was the US dollar…which I also found a little ironic. After spending 3 days in Ho Chi Mehn it was time for a beach vacation, so I made my way north to Na Trang.
Once I stepped off the plane in Na Trang, I felt like I had left Vietnam and had been transported to Little Russia. Almost every person there was Caucasian and most spoke Russian or English, it was definitely a different atmosphere from Ho Chi Mehn…and the beach was awesome! I ended up going scuba diving and meeting up with another American girl who was traveling and all of her friends she had met along the way. Na Trang ended up being a much need beach getaway and I can see why the Russians have made it their vacation hot spot as well.
Overall Vietnam was an interesting culture and country, and I’m glad I made it there.