Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Goodbye 2012: My Year in Travel

I've been reading a lot of really great year-in-review travel posts over the past few weeks so I've been inspired to write one of my own. While I haven't logged even a fraction of the distance traveled, hours on trains and buses, time in airports and in the air, or number of cities and countries visited by others, I'm still pretty excited about that fact I got to travel this year and about all of the great things I got to see and experience, so I felt like it would be fun to take a look back. Here we go!

By the numbers
4000 Islands, Laos
  • Number of countries visited: 5
  • Number of airports involved: 11
  • Hostel, hotel or guesthouse beds slept in: 20
  • Longest flight: 16 hours, Toronto to Tokyo
  • Shortest flight: 45 minutes, Phuket to Bangkok
  • Longest train ride: 7 and half hours, Ayutthaya to Khon Kaen
  • Worst travel moment: Going from Kratie to Phnom Penh in a bursting-at-the-seams mini bus with a travel partner who had food poisoning.
  • Best travel moment: There are two. Lounging by the Mekong in lazy but lovely 4000 Islands, Laos and deciding on a whim to make Cambodia part of our travels.
  • Travel regret: Not getting to the north of either Laos or Thailand, which meant missing Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang.
  • Place I would absolutely go back to: Cambodia
  • Weirdest travel moment: Being on a hike in Laos and having locals want to get their picture taken with us.

The route
Bayon temple, Angkor Thom
Bangkok -- Ayutthaya -- Khon Kaen -- Nong Khai -- Vientiane -- Tha Kek -- Pakse -- 4000 Islands-- Kratie -- Phnom Penh -- Siem Reap -- Bangkok -- Phuket -- Ko Phi Phi -- Ko Lanta -- Khao Lak -- Khao Sok National Park -- Bangkok -- Toronto

We left for Bangkok February 3rd and after a few layover in Tokyo arrived in Bangkok around 10 p.m. and started our two month adventure. We stayed in Bangkok for five days, the first three of which involved a lot of mental breakdown due to jet lag. There were tears, there were fights and then once the jet lag wore off, we were normal people again. We moved every three to five days and packed a ton of travel into two months but every bus, train, plane or ferry ride was worth it. 

A few other 2012 travels
I also had the chance to get some sun this fall and spend four days on Providenciales, Turks and Caicos in early October and then another four days on Curacao in early November. One of my travel goals to is to visit as many islands in the Caribbean as possible and so far I'm up to seven.

2013 travel
We are planning another two month trip this winter, to Singapore and Malaysia, with a potential visit to Indonesia. No flights are booked yet, but we're aiming to leave the first week of February! I'll keep you posted on the plans.

What was your year in travel like? Where are you going next?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Turks and Caicos in Pictures

I got a chance to escape to Turks and Caicos for four days in mid-October and spent the majority of my time on gorgeous (and long) Grace Bay Beach on Providenciales, which stretches on for an amazing 12 miles. Since I love beach walking this was perfect for me (minus the sunburn). Photos from of my epic oceanfront wanders are below.

Out of my way, birdies!

Love that turquoise hue beyond the sand

Keep walking...and walking
Yup, I want to go back. I'm sure you can see why.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Travel Wish List for 2013

I was recently inspired by this great post wherein Mrs. O Around the World shares her 2013 travel wish list (Santa, are you listening... er reading?) So here is my "I need to go to there" list for the New Year and beyond, in no particular order. Parts two through 200 to come.

1. Malaysia
Image courtesy SM Jet
Malaysia is my alternate plan if we don't end up going to India  this winter, which at this point, likely will not. I love the idea of loads of street food, colonial architecture, beaches, green space, jungle and a melange of cultures. I especially want to spend lots of time in Penang, Melaka, Langkawi and of course, KL, not to mention Malaysian Borneo (hello, orangutans and jungle treks).

2. Singapore
Image courtesy Dominic Wee
I think it makes sense, wanting to go to Singapore while at the same time hankering for a taste of Malaysia. I've been looking into airfare and from Toronto, flights to Singapore seem quite a bit cheaper than they are to KL. But flight prices aside, I have become pretty fascinated by this well-ordered, glimmering city-state. I love the idea of checking out the many hawker centers, meandering through Little India and Chinatown, escaping the city with a wander through the Singapore Botanic Gardens (which are supposed to be quite lovely), and doing lots and lots of (window) shopping.

3. Vietnam
Image courtesy Timo Balk
Two months in SE Asia was not enough to squeeze in Vietnam. I would have liked to go for longer in order to include several spots here, but it was not to be. So now I've been left wanting. There was a lot of preliminary talk about going to Vietnam this winter (pre-India talk) so it's still on "the list" and still in the running for a sooner rather than later trip. I want to see Ha Long Bay, I want to check out Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. I want to see for myself where I fall amidst the myriad love-hate opinions of other travelers who have been here. Seriously, from what I've read, you either love it... or not.

4. Morocco
Image courtesy M.E. Jones
I have been wanting to go to Morocco since around 2006, when I became obsessed with signing up for a G Adventure tour there. I ended up in Paris for a summer instead (which was amazing), but I still have a lingering lust on for Morocco. Fez, Marrakech, Essaouira (which my mom fell in love with in the 60s) -- bring it on, I want to see it all. But it's winter there when my boyfriend and I travel so it hasn't yet fit in with the "we want to be warm while it's cold here" criteria.

5. Panama
Image courtesy Joy
As one of the only countries in Central America I have yet to visit, Panama has been high on my must-visit list for a few years. We were contemplating a trip there last year, but chose Thailand instead. But there's something about Panama that pulls me in. I want to wander aimlessly through Casco Viejo, check out the Canal (natch), get closer to nature in various national parks and of course, do some beach hopping. 

Image courtesy A C
5. Hong Kong
I'm not sure where my fascination with Hong Kong began, but I have been developing a serious travel crush on this seemingly well-ordered yet always buzzing hub filled with shopping, people, chaos, and a multitude of things to see and do. We very nearly built in a 4-day layover in Hong Kong on the way back from Thailand but ultimately decided against it. But still, I remain fascinated. Maybe this year..

So, where do you want to go in 2013? Tell me things!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Curacao in Pictures

I recently spent four days on Curacao, an island in the southwestern Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela. What to expect: Tropical flavour with a European twist, lovely people, vibrant downtown area and beautiful beaches. Post with words to follow soon. But in the meantime, enjoy the images.

Willemstad, Curacao's colorful capital

Time to snag a beach chair
Colourful wall art in Willemstad

Blue Curacao liqueur factory

Curacao from above

Thursday, December 6, 2012

My First Love: Central America

As much as I have a huge crush on travel and as much as I love traveling and all it has to offer, I haven't been to very many places. My first two defining travel experiences consisted of a summer in London when I was 17 and a summer in Paris 10 years later. And then I went to Central America.

Oh hi, Belize
Caye Caulker, Belize
My boyfriend and I had talked on and off about travel for years -- vaguely and with no real solid goals in mind. It was more of a, " Hey, we should go to here" kind of thing rather than a, "Let's save  up and book a ticket to this place" kind of thing. And then he went to Nicaragua with a friend for two weeks and loved it. The next year we decided it was time to take a trip together and we chose Belize. It was close(ish), it was warm and there would be no language barrier. So we booked -- and I loved it.

Oh hi, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
After Belize we decided to continue our foray into Central America and I was OK with that. Flights were relatively cheap, accommodation was affordable, it was easy to get around and so far, I had enjoyed what the region had to offer. Guatemala was no exception and I again, fell in love (longer, region-specific blog posts coming!)

Oh hi, El Salvador
Santa Ana, El Salvador
Could we end up with good travel luck three times in a row? Oh yes we could! El Salvador was a dream. I loved it more than Belize and more than what I saw of Guatemala (which was not enough. It's a huge country), but El Salvador packs  a big punch for such a small country. Beaches? check. City life? Check. Good food? Sure. Hiking, jungle, natural beauty? Yup, you know it. So yes, I continued to fall hard for Central America.

Do we stay or do we go?
Last year, when discussing where we would go (if anywhere), my first thought was to go back to Central America. We were unsure whether we could afford a trip and I originally suggested that rather than going further afield, we stick with what we know and love -- Central America, and in this case, Costa Rica and Panama. But, we ended up ultimately deciding on SE Asia. 

Now what?
This winter we've set our travel sights on India (unless I chicken out). Two (or more) months in that part of the world would be an amazing (and huge) challenge for both of us and something we've been talking about for a while. But I still feel the pull of Central America. I've never been to Costa Rica or Panama and the pull to check them out is pretty strong. But would it be a challenge? Does travel have to be a challenge? Would it be "enough"? I don't know. I want to figure it out soon since we'd be leaving early February and right now, I'm still in a state of travel confusion.

Do you have a place that pulls you back over and over?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pushing Up Against Travel Fears

Not walking the walk
I talk a big game. Like I can pack up on a whim and go anywhere. Except when it comes down to it (i.e. actually booking a trip) I don't think I can. Sure, I go places, I've been places, but there are certain places that fascinate me and terrify me all at once. It's these places that sneakily coax out that fear that I like to ignore and pretend doesn't exist (me, scared to travel? Never). But oh, it's there.

Notes on India
India has been on my mind for about a year, edging its way into my brain while I was in Thailand, eking out a spot high on the next-trip list by the time I was back at home. Full-blown obsession hit in late summer and I was utterly smitten with the idea of India as my next destination. My enthusiasm, like a cloud of travel trivia and tidbits about this country I needed to visit, swirled around me and eventually enveloped my boyfriend, who pledged his allegiance to this mystical country that would be where we spent part of the winter. 

Stalled and at a stalemate
But now that winter is here, I've stalled out. I've let the guidebooks collect dust (and overdue library fines), I've stopped spouting trivia and I've (gasp) found myself searching out alternative trip ideas. We haven't talked about vaccinations, flights or even a time-frame, and I still continue to linger over every other place but India when I read travel blogs and daydream about where to go next. It's not because I've simply decided to go someplace else (which would be totally fine). It's because I'm scared. There, I said it. I'm scared to go to India.

The fear factor
I'm scared of the pollution, the poverty, the culture shock, the potential for gastrointestinal distress. I'm scared of having to take overnight trains (I have seriously never done this. Shocking, I know). I'm scared of trying to book trains in advance and not being able to get where I want to be, and I'm even scared of not being able to find reliable Internet (something I would need since I would be working on the move). So in short, I am a big ball of travel fear right now. Sigh. 

Moving forward (or just somewhere else)
If we're going to go to India for two months this winter we're going to have to put some plans in place. Soon. We need those vaccinations, we need to book a flight and come up with a rough itinerary. I need to pay those overdue fines on all those India books. But I'm still feeling really unsure, like I'm pushing up against something I'm not sure how to move past or over. I want to go, but I've also been put in my place by this fear and I need to figure out a way to work through it (which really comes down to booking that flight).

Have you ever dealt with travel fear? How did you deal with it?

Images courtesy stock.xchnge, Tarun Ghosh