We’ve been back in the UK for over a month now and after an incredible homecoming we’ve settled back into life here more easily than I ever imagined we would. As I write this we’re sat at the kitchen table in someone else’s beautiful South-London home while their cute five-month-old miniature schnauzer mills around our feet. We’re house and pet sitting for the first time in our favourite city and even though it’s raining outside, life in London is undeniably great.
As the weeks back home have worn on though, I’ve found my thoughts often return to the journey we’ve just taken and I’m beginning to grasp just how precious those initial 15 months of travel were to me. Although our next adventure – working and living in Vietnam – glimmers on the near-distant horizon, I sometimes can’t help but feel nostalgic for the trip we’ve just finished. Never again will we leave home as the inexperienced and naïve travellers we were all those months ago. We’ll never feel the same intense fear, uncertainty, exhilarating freedom or joy as we did in that first magical phase of our travels, especially during that initial, unforgettable month in New Zealand.
Last week, after a day spent working on a TEFL course at my parents’ house I became distracted looking through photos and videos of our trip. I was mesmerised by the images, some of which stirred vivid memories while others felt like scenes from another faraway, fantastical life. I opened my journal and scanned through to the entry I’d written a year ago to that day. We’d been in Borneo, camping out in the middle of the jungle, to be exact.
I remember writing that entry by candlelight as darkness fell in a heavy blanket studded with silver-white stars; the never-ending roar of the river and the sounds of chirping geckos, crickets and unidentifiable rustlings in the undergrowth almost deafening in their chorus. The journal entry ends only to begin again an hour or so later after a bat inexplicably crash-landed on our makeshift bed. Travel – there’s nothing like it. It’s only just sinking in how much we’ve seen and experienced since we left the UK last year and how much we’ve changed and grown through travelling.
My Favourite Memories from 15 Months of Travel
Since we arrived home people have periodically asked us what our favourite country or travel experience was and it’s a hard question to answer. Our journey as a whole has been so intense and transformative that it’s difficult to pin-point favourite moments, however I do find that there are some memories I particularly cherish from our travels to date – here they are.
Volunteering in the Philippines
I can scarcely find the words to explain how deeply humbled and inspired I was by the people I met while volunteering in Tacloban City in Leyte. When Typhoon Yolanda struck Tacloban last November, it killed up to 10,000 people and damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the city’s buildings; we were stunned by the extreme devastation and poverty we encountered while we helped clean-up the wreckage. Despite all they’d been through I was amazed by the resilience and strength of the people in Tacloban and the warmth and kindness they showed us. We’ll never forget our time in Tacloban and would love to do some more disaster relief work in the future; you can read more about our volunteering experience here.
Celebrating Songkran in Thailand
Celebrating Songkran, the Thai New Year water festival in Chiang Mai, is perhaps my happiest memory of our entire trip. During the week-long giant water fight I was constantly soaked to the skin but my face ached from smiling and laughing and we felt so welcomed and included by the Thai people. Every day we headed out into the streets of Chiang Mai, armed with water pistols to soak in the carnival atmosphere, have fierce water fights and get drenched with icy pails of water, as you can see from this post and video. Songkran marked the end of our time in Thailand, the country we spent nearly a third of our trip in and the place we came to think of as our Asian home.
Visiting the Cambodian Killing Fields
Our trip to the Killing Fields and S-21 prison in Cambodia was one of the hardest we took but it was also one of the most valuable. Travelling in Asia taught me so much about war and the damage it can cause. Although the scars of conflict are visible throughout many of the countries we visited, particularly Vietnam and Laos, they were most heartbreakingly apparent in Cambodia. Visiting the places where thousands of people were mindlessly slaughtered and seeing photographs of their faces really brought home to me the realities of war and genocide (as much as is possible given my privileged life). As in Tacloban, despite their hardships, Cambodians are unbelievably resilient and kind. I often think of the people I met there, particularly the young girl in the pink hoody who encapsulated all the things I love about Cambodia.
Volunteering at the Dog Rescue Project
How do you beat waking up surrounded by misty northern-Thai mountains while elephants wander just metres from where you sit eating breakfast? During a day-trip to the Elephant Nature Park we spotted a poster recruiting for volunteers to help out with their Dog Rescue Project and we leapt at the chance. As well as living in the beautiful park surroundings we got to walk, feed and play with hordes of rescue dogs and make a small difference to their lives. Sadly we didn’t have time to revisit the project again but we hope to volunteer there when we return to Thailand one day; you can read more about our volunteering experience at the Dog Rescue Project here.
Skydiving in New Zealand
My skydiving experience stands out mainly because of the extreme fear I had to conquer in order to get in that plane knowing I’d have to fall back down to earth. As terrifying as it was, the mental challenge came to symbolise the process of leaving to travel; the fear and anticipation of the build-up, the terror of teetering on the edge of the unknown before plunging into an exhilarating journey. One of the goals I had before we set out on our travels was that I wanted to challenge myself to do things I never would back home – skydiving is the perfect example of this resolution and I’m proud to say I went through with it and have the photos and video to prove it!
Sleeping in the Jungles of Borneo
I’ve already mentioned this adventure in the opening paragraphs but aside from how obviously amazing being in Borneo was, the journey into the jungle is what really makes this trip memorable. You can read the full story here, but the short version is that we ignored the advice of locals to make a journey by hook or by crook out to a barely-visited area of Maylasian Borneo; along the way we encountered kind helpers, were invited to stay in a traditional longhouse and were taken into the jungle in a longboat by our local guides. It was a true, off the beaten track adventure and we learnt that if you’re determined enough you can make any journey – one bus, taxi or longboat at a time.
Hiking the Batad Rice Terraces
I considered putting every single experience we had in the Philippines on this list – it was without a doubt my favourite country and we completely fell for its people, spirit and wild energy, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that we found travelling there incredibly challenging and frustrating at times. What’s most staggering about the Philippines is how picturesque it is; particularly the mountain provinces which are littered with rarely-frequented UNESCO-rated rice terraces. Our journey from Banaue to Batad was hard but the actual trek over the terraces was the toughest but most spectacular and worthwhile I’ve ever done; you can read all about my experience here. Did I mention that the Philippines is the most beautiful country in the world?
Meeting the Burmese People
Unlike the Philippines, Burma wasn’t one of our favourite countries but I treasure the time we spent there because of the people we met. I’ve already dedicated a whole post to recounting the kindness of the Burmese; to mention just a few there was Htun, who befriended and spent hours showing us around Yangon, the smiling woman who gave us fruit at the train station and the groups of girls who excitedly asked me to pose for photos with them. Burma is proof that the people really do make the places.
What are your favourite travel memories?