My 5 Most Memorable Travel Experiences Abroad
If you were to ask me what my worst travel experiences have been thus far, I would struggle to answer you. It’s not because my travels are perfect, they are not, it’s because I don’t think in terms of good and bad, I think in terms of crazy. If you ask me which experience was the funniest or the craziest, I would be able to answer, and probably laugh while doing so.
Over the last five years of travel I have had some fun experiences, and some crazy ones. I’ve pushed myself to step outside my comfort zone, and I am ashamed to admit that I threatened some massive guy’s life during Songkran when he shot me in the back with a water gun soaking my last clean dry outfit. That was the only time I was seriously pissed off while travelling.
TRAVELLING OVERLAND FROM BEIJING TO ULAAN BATAAR
Many of my crazier travel choices stem from something I’ve read. I’m usually open to just about anything, so when I read one could travel overland from Beijing to Ulaan Bataar without using the train, I was intrigued. I secured a Mongolian visa in Bangkok, then flew to Beijing where I hung out in my favourite hutong for a few days before boarding an overnight bus to Erenhot in Inner Mongolia.
The bus was packed with Chinese, Mongolians, a few backpackers, and so many bags, packages, and pieces of luggage that those of us using a bed on the floor had to crawl on top of the luggage and walk on it in order to get on and off the bus. It was the craziest bus I had ever been on.
We arrived in Erenhot at around 6am, and the border wasn’t scheduled to open for another 4-5 hours. I was placed in a pick-up truck, along with seven or eight more people (literally), then taken to a hotel where local youth negotiated the price of my room, then saw me to my door before heading to their own. The next day I took a taxi to a drop-off point near the border. I then paid a fee and waited to be placed in some stranger’s car that was driving over the border.
When a ride was found we quickly discovered that the backseat was too full, and I found myself in the front with half my arse hovering over the gear shift, and the other half sharing the passenger seat with the driver’s wife.
Passing through the Chinese border was easier than I thought, and when we arrived at the Mongolian border my ride promptly ditched me. Thankfully a Mongolian man and his family (wife and son) were kind enough to drive me the rest of the way through the Mongolian border and onto to the town of Zamyn Uude, where I would then take a Soviet era train the rest of the way to Ulaan Bataar.
TRAVELLING THROUGH INTERIOR MEXICO
Every time I hear someone talk about how much they love Mexico, and then find out they have only been to Cancun, I cringe. Cancun, while located in Mexico, is nothing like the actual country it calls home. Cancun is an Americanized version of Mexico, and nothing like the rest of the country.
I was blessed to have friends living in Bucerias, which is about 20 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, and after staying with them I decided to travel from Bucerias to Cancun by bus, by myself. It didn’t seem like a bad idea, and my safety was never a concern. I wanted to experience as much of Mexico as I could, so I travelled to Guadalajara, Morelia, Mexico City, Taxco, Oaxaca, San Cristobal, and Playa del Carmen. I stayed in hostels and boutique hotels, ate way too many tacos, and fell head-over-heels in love with Mexico.
A year later I returned to see my friends in Bucerias. This time I travelled through interior Mexico with my friend Christine, in her beat-up white Dodge Caravan. We stayed in Sayula, Guanajuato, Mexico City, San Cristobal, Tapachula, and Oaxaca. It wasn’t a perfect road trip. We had vehicle issues, and a run-in with a Mexican protest in the mountains, but despite both of those things we both grew to love Mexico even more.
HAVING JASMINE TEA IN XI’AN, CHINA
On my first visit to China I travelled by overnight train from Beijing to Xi’an, staying with a hip hostel called Backpax, which was run by a couple of Americans. During my time in the city I decided to wandering through the chaos of the Islamic quarter. The market was crowded and full of trinkets, and when I eventually arrived at the end instead of turning back, I began wandering down random tiny streets, eventually stumbling upon the entrance of the Great Mosque.
Markets and temples are two of my favourite sites to visit when travelling; both offering a view of local culture. I was alone, and wandering around the courtyard with my camera, eventually coming upon a group of locals.
“USA?” they asked
“No, Canada”, I smiled
“Canada?!” they chimed in.
For the next few minutes locals showed up, and all I heard was a lot of Mandarin and the word Canada. Soon I was invited to sit down with them, given a cup a jasmine tea, and steamed buns to snack on. I have no idea what they were saying. My tea was never empty, and I ate very slowly as the buns were quite filling. Truly one of my favourite days in China.
TRAVELLING OVERLAND IN AFRICA
When I was presented with the chance to travel overland from Kenya to Cape Town, I jumped with joy, it was a dream trip. And my first group tour. As a solo traveller I found it challenging to be around the same group of strangers for 19+ days (the trip was 2 tours combined and there were only five or six people who did the entire trip). Our itinerary was incredible; safaris in the Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti, Hwange, Etosha, village visits, epic sunsets.
I was rarely clean for longer than 6 hours at a time, it was Africa, there was a lot of dirt. I took cold showers everyday to cool down, and nearly froze my arse off in Hwange. I got calluses on my fingers from taking down our canvas tent each morning, and by the end of the 45 days I never wanted to see a canvas tent again. Ten days into the trip my DSLR was stolen, and I was stuck taking photos with an iPhone 4. I made friends, ate a lot of vegetables, got excited over a bag of Jelly Tots, got locked in a bathroom and had to yell to be rescued, was eaten alive by mosquitos at Victoria Falls, and had the best time.
MY FIRST TRIP TO BANGKOK
When I quit my full-time job as a retail manager to travel the world I bought a one-way plane ticket to Bangkok. I had heard from friends that Thailand was a great destination for backpackers; meaning it was cheap. So, Bangkok was the starting point of my long-term travel career.
I will always remember that first trip, walking out of the airport and being enveloped by the hot and humid night air, getting off at the wrong 7-eleven (nobody warns you that using 7-eleven as a destination marker in Thailand is a bad choice due to there being so many of them), and aimlessly wandering down streets at midnight, looking for my hostel. Thankfully an older local man found me and decided to lead me in the right direction!
Those first few days were HOT, and I couldn’t understand why the food was making me as hot, if not more so, inside as it was outside. Holy crap, why was it so hot!! Thankfully I adjusted quickly to the heat outside, and soon I was falling in love with Thailand, and Bangkok.
That was five years ago. I have since returned to Bangkok several times, and this fall I will be returning once again to rent an apartment and set-up a home base.