That’s all folks! Our 5 month / 22 week trip through Australia, Southeast Asia, and Japan is over! What a crazy, amazing, and fun experience it was. And that only gets us back to Canada (we’re currently touring around BC), not even back “home” to Toronto. We’re still on the road, and loving it.
But this seems like great time to take a moment, pause, and reflect on where we’ve gone, what we’ve done, and things we’ve seen.
Our Trip In Numbers
Following the format of our wrap-up post on Europe (which you can see here), a few statistics:
Countries visited: 8
Distance traveled: ~60,000km
Flights taken: 24
Buses endured: 23
Trains ridden: 19
Boats cruised: 17
Rental cars driven: 4
Scooters scooted: 4
Questionable tuk-tuks and taxis hailed: Countless
As it was before, it’s almost impossible to sum up such an awesome trip. But here’s our attempt.
This is always a tough one. Each country was beautiful, usually in different ways.
- Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay, Vietnam: Halong Bay is on every list of “must-see” places in Vietnam, and for good reason. However, that popularity means that it’s also crowded. A better option is to cruise Lan Ha Bay from Cat Ba island. All the same scenery, none of the crowds!
- Nong Khiaw, Laos: Most travelers head to Luang Prabang then head south to Vang Vieng. A better option is to head north to Nong Khiaw. While there is less of a party atmosphere (not what we’re traveling for anyway), the scenery and food make this an amazing place to relax for a few days.
- Koh Mak, Thailand: Island life in Thailand can’t be beat! Koh Mak was small enough that it was quiet and easy to explore. And the sunsets were spectacular!
Best Historical and Cultural Experiences
Exploring Australia and Asia is more than just sitting on beaches. There are many historical and cultural sites (and sights) to see. Some, like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, are well known and located dead centre on the tourist beaten path. Others are a little bit off that path, but well worth a visit and, in many cases, provide a more “authentic” local experience. Here are a few of our favourites:
- Sumo wrestling, Tokyo, Japan: Are there any more authentic, and typically Japanese, experiences than watching a sumo tournament? There are only 6 tournaments per year, and only half of those are in Tokyo. We were lucky enough to get tickets while we were there, and had a great time!
- Sukhothai National Historic Park, Thailand: With all of the temples we visited throughout southeast Asia, it’s difficult to choose only one as the “best”. The Sukhothai National Historic Park, a large area with several impressive temples, stands out in our mind. It has historical importance as an ancient Thai capital and yet is not overrun with tourists, unlike better known sites like Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Also, compared to Angkor Wat which costs US$40 for a day to visit, Sukhothai only costs about US$4.
- Hiroshima, Japan: We’re always interested in WWII history, so visiting the city of Hiroshima was a “must see” for us while in Japan. The museum, memorials and Atomic Bomb Dome were all very interesting to explore. What also impressed us was how busy and vibrant the entire city is, despite its devastating past.
- Hellfire Pass and the Death Railway, Thailand: Continuing the WWII theme, visiting Hellfire Pass and riding the Death Railway in Kanchanaburi Thailand was a sobering experience.
As you all know, food is very important to us when we travel. We don’t tend to go for high-end, fancy dining, especially when we’re traveling on a budget. We loved trying local street food throughout southeast Asia, and those were some of our best dining experiences.
- Thailand: We love Thai food back in Canada, so this wasn’t a surprise. It was fantastic getting freshly fried rice and noodles from street stalls all over the country. In particular, the Khao Soi in Chiang Mai was amazing. But you know what our real take-away was from Thailand? Mango! Fresh mango with sticky rice and fresh mango smoothies seriously rocked our worlds. Sometimes the simplest dishes are the best.
- Vietnam: Where do we even start? The Bahn Mi sandwiches in Hanoi are amazing. A good bowl of pho is a beautiful thing. The egg coffee was a revelation. Trevor is still dreaming of the Cao Lau in Hoi An. This was a surprise for us, but Vietnam actually nudges Thailand out of the top spot for “Best Food” in our minds.
Other countries that we thought might be at the top of the list, particularly Japan and Malaysia, were underwhelming. We love sushi, so were really looking forward to eating tons of it in Japan. Maybe we’re just not into “real” sushi and love our rolls too much. Much of the sushi we had in Japan was overly simple, and a bit boring. Thankfully, Japan isn’t a one-trick pony; we did enjoy some yummy ramen and udon noodles. Malaysia, especially the island of Penang, is known as a food Mecca. While we enjoyed the Indian cuisine that was widely available, the abundance of Chinese food wasn’t our favourite.
We love seeing local wildlife, and we made a point of seeing some animals during our travels.
- Borneo, Malaysia: Borneo is a fantastic place to see wildlife, whether you’re into monkeys, birds, bears, elephants, or even crocodiles. We spent two nights in a jungle lodge on the Kinabatangan River looking for monkeys, crocodiles and birds. Then we stayed in Sepilok to check out some orangutans and bears.
- Chiang Mai, Thailand: Christine’s bucket list definitely included seeing an elephant up close. Many elephant camps in Thailand mistreat their animals (never ride an elephant!), so we were careful to pick an ethical elephant sanctuary.
- Australia: Everything in Australia might kill you! We luckily didn’t see any sharks, poisonous snakes, or deadly spiders (that we know of), but we saw plenty of kangaroos, a few crocodiles, and even some koalas!
- Surin Islands, Thailand: We went snorkeling or diving in several locations on this trip. The Surin Islands, about 2-3 hrs by boat away from Khao Lak, had some of the best snorkeling we’ve ever done. Much better than our experience at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
We’re not big city people. But on this trip, a few cities surprised us.
- Bangkok, Thailand: We loved Bangkok. Yes, it’s busy, loud, and crazy. However, it’s also filled with interesting neighbourhoods, great riverfront areas, plenty of beautiful temples, and AMAZING street food! We’ve heard that street food stalls are being outlawed in Bangkok later this year. Sad!
- Hanoi, Vietnam: Hanoi was fun to explore. But who are we kidding? We loved Hanoi because of the food! Bahn mi, pho, egg coffee…amazing! Besides that, there are plenty of interesting sites to visit, such as the Ho Chi Minh complex and the Hanoi Hilton former POW prison. It’s also a great jumping off point to visit the hill town of Sapa and take a cruise on Halong and Lan Ha bays.
- Adelaide, Australia: When we mentioned to some people (including Aussies) that we planned a few days in Adelaide, the common response was “Why?”. While most visitors to Australia make sure they have enough time in Sydney, and maybe Melbourne, Adelaide remains a hidden gem. It makes a great destination at the end of the Great Ocean Road, and is the starting/ending point for The Ghan train trip through the outback. Plus, and most importantly for us, it’s surrounded by the best wineries in Australia. The city itself is very walkable, laid back, and not too crowded. It’s a great place to sit on a patio and enjoy some of that local wine.
We can’t have a post on our highlights of Australia and Asia and not talk about the beaches. There were so many amazing places to sit in the sand and just enjoy the sun. Here are some of our favourite spots.
- Khao Lak, Thailand: Most travelers to this part of the world head to Phuket and the popular islands of Koh Phi Phi or Koh Lanta. Instead, we headed north along the coast to Khao Lak for some quieter (and cheaper) beach time. The beaches were beautiful and uncrowded and the water was calm and warm. What more do you need in life?
- Langkawi, Malaysia: Langkawi, an island off the west coast of mainland Malaysia, has amazing beaches. While the beaches were beautiful, they were also surprisingly empty.
So you know where is not on this list? Australia. While the stretches of sand looked great, and the weather was obviously hot, most of the beaches were unswimmable. Sometimes it was due to rip tides, other times due to deadly jellyfish or thousands of “blue bottles”. We were surprised that the lifeguard patrolled areas were often only very small parts of the beaches, and were therefore very crowded. In the entire country, we only went swimming at a beach once.
Where Would We Go Back To?
That’s the ultimate question, isn’t it? The real gauge of which countries we loved exploring versus which we thought were overrated? Granted, in some cases, we have loved a country but have checked off most of the things we wanted to see (i.e. Poland, during our previous trip). However, on this trip, it is pretty clear in our minds which countries we’d love to spend more time exploring.
- Vietnam: We’ve mentioned it a few times, but we loved Vietnam. We’d heard very mixed reviews before our trip, so debated a lot about how much time to spend there. In the end, we spent 3 weeks but could have easily spent more time. It’s a big enough country that even in 3 weeks we had to skip a few things, so there is plenty for us to go back to see. And, as we mentioned above, the food was fantastic! We’d go back just for more of the food.
- Thailand: Thailand is so big and diverse that it was impossible to see everything we wanted to see in one month. We could easily go back and spend a few more days on a beach, a few more days exploring Bangkok, then tour the countryside around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Maybe one day…
Not on our list are Australia and Malaysia. While we’d love to see Tasmania and haven’t explored the west coast, Australia overall felt a bit overrated. Maybe our expectations were too high. We had a good time, but as a travel destination Australia just doesn’t represent as good value as countries in southeast Asia.
Malaysia was interesting, with some nice beaches and good places to see wildlife. We just never felt as comfortable there as we did in other countries. Our accommodations were more rustic, we didn’t enjoy the food as much, locals were not as friendly, and many of the towns and cities felt very run down.
So What Next?
That’s the real question. We’ve been on the road for most of the past year, rarely staying in one place for more than a few days. We’ve visited so many interesting places and seen so many amazing things.
We’re back in Canada for the summer, but South America is up next, right? We’re not sure yet. It’ll be nice to grow some roots (at least temporarily). We both miss having some routine in our lives and have a few hobbies that we really can’t keep up on the road. The plan is to use our time in Canada this summer to work on a few entrepreneurial ventures we have in mind, and explore a few places where we might want to make a new base. But who knows, in a few months, that wanderlust might return. If that happens, all bets are off!