Looking back on our trip is an adventure unto itself as it provides me a rapidfire onslaught of memories and emotions. We had such a variety of experiences this past 14 months, how do I begin to summarize it all? Fortunately, we have done a couple summary posts already. Therefore, I’m going to pick up where we left off. Here is a selection of favorite memories from the last part of our trip, Cambodia through to Hong Kong:
- Squeezing fresh coconuts for milk and adding it to my fish curry in ultra laid back Battambang
- That first bite of banh mi in Saigon – crispy, crunchy, sour, sweet, creamy, savory goodness
- Being invited by locals for watermelon and rice liquor next to Pongour Waterfall near Dalat
- Chilling on the deck of our boat with Julia and Jonathan in Halong Bay
- Observing a simpler way of life in the jungle villages of Luang Namtha
- Being served delicious stewed pork by a street vendor in a cowboy hat in Chiang Mai
- Sampling Yunnan’s famous mushrooms in steamed bun form at the early morning market in Kunming
- Getting up close and personal with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the intense rapids at its base within Tiger Leaping Gorge
- Devouring dumplings then getting a taste of Tibetan spirituality at Ganden Sumtseling Gompa monastery in Zhongdian
- Trying to get my head around the incredible rice terraces of Yuanyang while making new friends Michael and Albert
- Eating the infamous black stinky tofu of Changsha and actually enjoying it
- Dipping fresh tofu in a bubbling red hot pot while sitting in a converted bomb shelter in Chongqing
- Hanging out in the convivial tea houses of Sichuan
- Finding my food mecca in Chengdu – mapo tofu, gong bao chicken, twice cooked pork, fish fragrant eggplant how I miss you so
- Absorbing the vivacious energy of Hong Kong in its streets, dim sum halls, hidden bars and Michelin starred hole in the walls
Many of my memories have to do with food because I don’t eat to live, I live to eat. Throughout our travels I was struck by how much difference it made to eat a cuisine in the place it had originated. And it’s not just because things taste fresher. It is a about the environment and the people too. Take dosa for example. I had eaten dosa, the Indian roll stuffed with potatoes and veggies and served with daal and chutney dipping sauces, in Berkeley. But it wasn’t until I was in India – eating my dosa at breakfast on a metal plate with a metal cup of chai tea, breathing in the thick humid air, watching other groups chatting happily in their sing song accent – that I really got it. Dosa is filling but not heavy. Basically, it is a damn good way to start the day. In each country, I learned more about foods that I thought I had known with the result being that I now have a greater appreciation for these cuisines.
Of course, travel is about more than food. Travel changes you but not necessarily in a dramatic way. I had experiences that caused me to do some thinking, yes, but no light bulb epiphanies that changed my life. When confronted with so many new or unique experiences each day it’s hard to gauge change within yourself. Perhaps a better way to put it is a better sense of self. Because the saying is true – “wherever you go, there you are.”
And we went a lot of places. Over the past 14 months I have ridden high speed trains, a 27 hour sleeper bus, overnight ferries, small vans overburdened with 22 people, and what I like to call the rickshaw roller coaster. Powered by my own two feet I weaved through traffic packed streets on a bicycle and walked 500 mile across Spain. My career is in transportation and I can’t help but feel that these experiences brought greater insight to my work.
To remember all these places, experiences and transport modes gives me an immense sense of gratitude. I know how fortunate I am for the health and resources to do this trip. As a woman, I’m also grateful for the fact that I was born in the West. Sexism is alive and well in the USA but I’m happy we got past the women as second class citizens thing. Not so in many other parts of the world. It was annoying to see groups of men and women working in China because often the men were sitting around while the women were shoveling or raking or doing whatever job had to be done. Of course in Turkey there is gender separation as a result of religious norms, though as a tourist I personally did not feel any discrimination. The country we visited where I felt it most was India. The culture is positively obsessed with gender and the idea that men absolutely can’t control themselves in the presence of a woman. Women must cover, must hide away, must have their own train car in order to not be groped. It wasn’t until I arrived in Thailand just after India that I realized how oppressing it all was. I could finally wear a tank top to deal with the heat and nobody looked twice! There were more women walking the sidewalks, women riding scooters, women sitting next to the men they didn’t know on transit (gasp!) and life went on. I do hope that India finds a better balance of equality in the years that come.
Given my tales of culture shock and exhausting bus rides, it’s no wonder people often ask if I’m tired of travel. I think I surprise them when I say not really. If someone offered me a ticket to Italy leaving tomorrow, I wouldn’t hesitate to pack my bags.
That said, I am excited to resume some of my hobbies that I haven’t been able to do because of my travels. Cooking and having my own kitchen is a big one. I’m looking forward to have those lazy Sundays when I get to dedicate my day to making a delicious bolognaise. Also, learning about some many cultural histories has me thinking about my own familial one. I’ve always wanted to make a family tree and now I’m more inspired than ever.
Therefore, we are now in the process of settling down. At least for a short while. The big question is where. Part of the impetus of this trip was an was a desire to move from the San Francisco area, where we had spent nearly 10 years. We are looking for a new place to call home. Our main desire is a big city that supports our lifestyle of exploring by foot and eating good food. Will it be New York? London? Hong Kong? I wish I knew! But the main determinant will be where we can land jobs.
In the immediate future, there is our wedding to plan which is both exciting and anxiety-inducing. Meanwhile, we will be posting on some of our local travels to see friends and family as well as advice on how to plan your own trip.
But just because we are staying in one place doesn’t mean I can’t already plan my future travel adventures. Taking a year off just opens your eyes to more places to visit and explore.
My dad asked me where would I return of all the international places I’d been this year, which is much better than asking what my favorite place is (impossible to answer!). For some places, one visit is enough. But it’s the ones that call you back that indicate that there’s something special there. Here is a list of places I would return (* means I visited pre-blog):
- The Camino
- Greek islands
- Istanbul, Turkey
- Southern Vietnam
- Thailand beaches
- Hong Kong
- Anywhere in Europe*
And then of course there are the places you hear about and see tantalizing pictures of. A list of countries I have never been but want to explore:
- New Zealand
- Western China
- The “stans” in Central Asia
- Northern Brazil
- Southern Argentina
It’s time for us to put down some roots and have a bit more routine in our life. But wherever we end up one thing is for sure. A map will be posted on the wall. Pins will be pushed in to the countries we’ve been to, the ones we need to go back to, and the ones we’ve yet to explore. It will serve as a reminder of fortunate we are to have seen all that have as well as an indicator that the next adventure just around the corner.
But this is not the end! Stay tuned for Nathan’s thoughts on the trip coming up next.