We travel to make new memories: to try new cuisines; to meet new people; to experience something different. Here are my own top 10 travel experiences…
My Top 10 Travel Experiences (2018 Edition)
In the wake of my last article, which was all about my top 10 favourite countries, I’ve been reminiscing over all of the individual experiences which travel has bestowed upon me. One thing led to another and I couldn’t help but make a list (my inner geek loves a good list). Travelling has given me some of my most cherished memories and it makes me very grateful to have been able to share these experiences with great friends; both new and old alike. It will also be interesting to see how this list develops and changes from year to year. Here’s my top 10 (as at the end of 2018), in reverse order…
10. A Private Island in Paradise
Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to have a private island to myself (and a group of friends). But in 2017, that’s exactly what happened. A few kilometres off the eastern coast of Bintan Island (Indonesia) lies Pulau Pangkil, a small island paradise. For three days and two nights I was lucky enough to be part of a group who had this private paradise all to ourselves. The days were spent lazily swimming or canoeing in the waters around the island. Only coming ashore to relax on the beach and top up our tans. In the evenings we would sit out on the beach, cold beers in hand, to watch the sun descend below the horizon.
9. Learning to Scuba Dive in Thailand
I really enjoyed learning to scuba dive. It’s an immersive experience, which offers the ability to explore an environment that we can only normally catch fleeting glimpses of. In 2016 I learned to scuba dive, as so many people have, in Thailand. The Gulf of Thailand has warm clear waters and an abundance of marine life which makes Thailand the perfect place to learn. It felt strange to be so many metres beneath the surface, knowing that so much water was above me. In the depths I explored underwater rock formations, counted coral and watched fish dart around busily overhead. It was an awesome experience and I would certainly like to do more scuba diving in the future. Only next time I’ll make sure that I have an underwater camera!
8. Seeing Niagara from the sky
The year was 2016 and I’d ventured over to Toronto with a group of high school friends for a wedding. We spent one of the days in full tourist mode and just had to see the famous Niagara Falls. It ended up being one of the best day excursions I’ve ever been on. On the way to the falls we stopped off at the picturesque town Niagara-on-the-Lake, saw the world’s smallest chapel and enjoyed some wine tasting. All of this was backdropped with laughter, as days with old friends often are.
The highlight, undoubtedly, was being given the chance to see the falls from a bird’s perspective. The old me might have passed on the opportunity – “but will it be worth $90?” Thankfully I was fresh in my ‘say yes more’ phase. An arial perspective allows you to really appreciate the sheer scale of the falls: the horseshoe bend alone sees more than 600,000 gallons of water crashing over each second. In the middle, the raging foam creates a swirling mist which hangs above the water. Later we would ride the Maid of the Mist to the foot of the falls. But for now, all I could do was gawp and snap away.
7. Visiting Singapore for the first time
2015 was a special year: I took my first tentative steps outside of my comfort zone (the US and Europe) and headed over to South East Asia. My first stop was the island city state of Singapore, where two university friends were living. As with any first love, Singapore holds a special place in my heart.
Singapore sank its seductive claws into me and, in truth, it has never let go (I went back in 2016 and 2017 and may well return in 2019). Something about the city resonates with me. It is a vibrant meting pot of cultures. The food scene is special – Singapore gave me my first taste of sushi, dumplings at Din Tai Fung, and pure joy at the hawker centres (try the dark variety of carrot cake, it’s delicious). Then there’s the architecture – from the futuristic lines of the Marina Bay Sands to the rainbow facades on Koon Seng Road. Singapore is also clean and green. Make sure you check out the world famous Gardens by the Bay and the towering super tree grove!
But what made Singapore so special was the opportunity to catch up with my university pals. Experiences shared with close friends are the best kind of experiences.
6. The most spectacular sunset in Essaouira
Sunsets are one of my favourite things to photograph. Watching the sky change through a kaleidoscope of pink and purple hues is extremely calming. The most fabulous sunset I have ever witnessed was in Essaouira, the chilled out port city on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.
Late one afternoon I decided to take a stroll down the beach. It was low season and I had a vast stretch of the sandy shore to myself. As luck would have it, sunset coincided with low tide. The receding tide left a giant mirror of wet sand, which reflected the glorious sunset. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!
5. Mountain Biking down Death Road
Yungas Road, known more colloquially as Death Road, has become a very popular attraction for adrenaline seekers visiting Bolivia. The idea of jumping on a mountain bike and hurtling down this 61km stretch of road attracts thousands of thrill seekers every year.
I’m not going to lie, as we initially made our way onto the old part of the road, I questioned my decision. The first couple of kilometers were nerve-racking – full of tight hairpins, with danger seemingly lurking around every turn. The ‘road’ was little more than a dirt track, snaking its way along the contours of the mountains. Its gravelly surface was slick from the morning mist and fog and at the road’s edge was a sheer drop of more than 1,000 feet to the valley floor below. I could feel my jackhammer-like pulse reverberating through my body.
The further we rode, the more confident I became, and Death Road became so much fun! The trail took us beneath cascading waterfalls and splashing through streams. The growing confidence spread through the group. Soon we were flying down the steep inclines, racing towards the finish line. It was, without doubt, one of the most memorable and exhilarating days of my life.
4. Taking a Tuscan road trip
What can I say about the Italian countryside which hasn’t been said before? Probably not a lot. It’s just ridiculously beautiful. In 2016 my friend Lucy and I drove through the Chianti region, from Florence to Siena to Pisa, with stop offs at a number of the tiny towns which dot the Italian countryside. It was spectacular – winding roads through vineyards and sun-kissed fields, ancient hill towns, mountain ranges on the horizon. And, of course, as much gelato as I could manage.
My personal Tuscan highlight was Siena, which fuses the show-stopping nature of Florence (with its beautiful Cathedral and the Piazza del Campo) with the quaint, medieval style passages and alleyways usually found in the smaller towns and villages. We also treated ourselves to a wonderfully indulgent amount of beef in the form of a perfectly rare Florentine steak at Osteria Enoteca Sotto Le Fonti. Bellissimo!
3. Angkor Wat at sunrise
I’ll never forget seeking out my first ancient wonder. We awoke at some ungodly hour in the pitch black night. Fighting through our yawns we prepared to make the pilgrimage. I remember catching my first glimpse of the monumental temple complex just as the dawn was breaking.
We made our way, excitedly, across Angkor Wat’s surrounding moat and through the main gateway, passing the north library and excitedly heading towards the Terrace of Honour. There, at the bank of the Northern reflecting pool we waited. The sky began to change – First a burning orange, which faded to yellow and then deepened into blue, as the sun welcomed in a new day. In front of us stood the unmistakeable silhouette of Angkor Wat, mirrored spectacularly in the still waters of the reflecting pool.
2. Witnessing the awesome spectacle of the Uyuni Salt Flats
The landscapes of Bolivia, high up on the Altiplano, are some of the most jaw-droppingly awe inspiring sights on the planet. Here you will find volcanoes, ice-capped mountains, bellowing geysers, bubbling hot springs, blood red lakes and a train graveyard. There is one sight, however, which sits above all others…
The Salar de Uyuni is one of the most remarkable vistas on the planet. I’ve never seen anything like it. The thick crust of salt, covering some 10,500km² is all that remains of an ancient salt lake, long since evaporated by the unrelenting Andean sun. The salar’s flat, tessellated, glistening white surface stretches to the horizon in every direction. To the eyes, it appears to be infinite in its scale. I’d wanted to see the Salar with my own eyes for a couple of years and I was overwhelmed by the staggering scale of it. If there’s one place on this planet to make you feel tiny, it’s the Salar de Uyuni.
1. Gazing upon Machu Picchu in the early evening light
And Peru steals the show with a magnificent double. In addition to taking the top spot in the list of my list of favourite countries, it has also given me my most treasured travel experience (so far).
The day began too early – it was 3:00am when my alarm jolted me awake. We sleepwalked down to our pickup point and, after a snoozy stint in a minibus, we boarded the iconic blue carriages of the Inca Rail. A couple of coffees later I was raring to go, excited for the trek which lay ahead of us. After eight hours of walking through the thick jungle we reached the Sun Gate. Here I had my first glimpse of the legendary Inca city, which looked tiny in the distance. The light was harsh and the view hazy. I prayed that I would not be disappointed.
We walked for a few kilometres more, as our path snaked its way down to the old city gates. It was late in the afternoon when we finally the reward for a long day of trekking. There, right in front of us was Machu Picchu. It sits perched on an impossibly steep mountain side, itself surrounded by jutting peaks and under the watchful gaze of Huayna Picchu. Photographs do not and cannot do this place justice – to see Machu Picchu through your own eyes is the only way to truly appreciate its majestic beauty. By late afternoon, the majority of day trippers had already departed and we had the sight to ourselves. From our lofty vantage point, we watched on as the sun, barely hanging above the mountainous surrounds, cast long shadows over the grass and ancient stones.
What are your favourite travel experiences? Let me know in the comments below…