As the 6th anniversary of my departure from Ireland approaches, I’ve been looking back over the past 6 years, the places I’ve been to and the experiences I’ve had. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I LOVE to travel, in fact if someone would just pay me to travel the world, I’d be a very happy woman! I’m always planning our next trip (much to the dismay of our bank accounts!), and dreaming about where we should go next, and after all, why not? I’m pretty sure that no one ever uttered the words “why did I take all those amazing trips and see all those amazing places” on their death-bed, after all life is for living! I think a quote that sums up travelling perfectly is “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” – wonderful and expresses my feelings on travel perfectly. So during all this reminiscing I decided to blog about the top 10 travel moments I have had – here it goes!
10. The DMZ – Korea
Korea had to appear on this list in some shape or form as it’s the first place that I lived in aside from Ireland and will forever hold a special place in my heart for that reason. Korea is an amazing, often forgotten country in Asia, full of history, full of rich culture, full of amazing experiences and full of craziness!! While there, I visited the DMZ, or the Korean Demilitarized Zone which is the buffer zone between North and South Korea. As we all know, North Korea is one of the most secluded, secretive nations in the world, so the DMZ is as close as many of us will ever get. Despite its name, it’s actually the most heavily militarized border in the world and visiting it is quite surreal. You can see North Korea when you’re at the border, but they are very strict on you taking pictures. I remember when we were there we saw the two famous flags of the so-called “flagpole war” between both nations. South Korea erected a giant flagpole flying the South Korean flag and North Korea responded by building an even bigger flagpole and hanging their flag from it. When you’re at the DMZ you also get to go into some of the incursion tunnels. The South Koreans have found 4 tunnels (the most recent one being discovered in the 90’s) dug across the DMZ and leading into South Korea, towards Seoul. It’s widely believed these tunnels were built by the North Koreans to launch a surprise attack on South Korea, however, North Korea have never admitted to this. Overall, it’s a strange and interesting place to visit, even just for the glimpse into the elusive North Korea.
9. Elephant Orphanage – Sri Lanka
While we were in Sri Lanka in 2013, we visited an elephant orphanage in Pinnawala. The orphanage was first established to provide care for abandoned baby elephants found in the wild. There are also elephants there who have been injured, one of the elephants that we saw had lost part of one of her front legs from a land mine. Facilities such as this are always called into question but from what we saw the elephants are taken care of, and they have a very large area of land to roam around on. We got up close to some of the baby elephants but my favourite part was when they brought the elephants to bathe in a nearby river. They ushered all the elephants out of the orphanage and walked them through the streets of the nearby village and to the river where they then spent the next hour or so washing and splashing about in the river. It was amazing to watch so many of these huge animals walking through the streets and then having such fun in the water, I loved it!
8. Whale watching – Kaikoura New Zealand
While in New Zealand in 2011 we went whale watching in Kaikoura on the South island and it is an experience that I will never forget. The sea was so rough that day that there was a question on whether or not the tour would actually go ahead, but it did thankfully. Neither myself or Phil took any sea sickness tablets as either of us had ever been sea-sick before, however, that was a terrible decision on my part. The tour was largely made up of Japanese tourists, who at first were loving the big waves and the choppy seas but very quickly their “ooooohs and aaaahhhs” turned to moans and groans. A lot of people were vomiting and at this point I was feeling ill myself so others vomiting wasn’t helping. By the time we got out to the area where the whales were, I was feeling so sick that I told Phil I didn’t even care if we saw any whales. However, went I went out on deck and saw a whale breaching, it was all worth it! The moment when they dive under and the tail flips up above the water is just beautiful and it’s something that I would love to witness again sometime (preferably without the preceding sea sickness!)
7. Seeing the Kumari – Kathmandu, Nepal
Nepal would appear on this list, regardless of the Kumari as it’s just such a great and interesting place. We were only there for a long weekend, but it’s a place that I would love to visit again, perhaps do the trek to Everest Base Camp! Kathmandu is beautiful, full of gorgeous temples and little random bars in people’s houses which we discovered and tested courtesy of my brother Gavin! The Nepalese people are also very nice and kind people even though they have very little themselves. While we were there we went to Kumari Ghar – a palace at the centre of the city where the Kumari lives. The Kumari is a pre-pubescent girl believed to be a living goddess. The girl must go through vigorous tests to prove that she is the next Kumari, including spending a night alone in a room with the severed heads of slaughtered goats and buffaloes without showing fear. Once she becomes the Kumari she remains as so until she menstrates or bleeds for any other reason. When she is Kumari she only leaves her palace a few times a year and her feet are never allowed to touch the ground. She also only gets to see her family a few times a year. At the palace in Kathmandu, you stand in the courtyard and wait to see if the Kumari will make an appearance, under no circumstances are you allowed to take pictures of her. When we were there she appeared at the window briefly and I was shocked at how young she was. Her hair was in a knot on top of her head and she wore heavy make up. If she looks down at you it’s said to be good luck. I found the whole experience fascinating but unfortunately I don’t think she looked at me and passed on any luck!
6. Travelling around South island New Zealand in a camper van
This just had to make it onto my list of my top 10 travel moments. In 2011, myself and Phil spent 7 weeks travelling around New Zealand, and half of that time was spent travelling around in a camper van and it was brilliant! We loved every minute of it! The freedom you have when you are travelling a country on your own terms, not worrying about booking transit in advance, or sticking to timetables of buses or trains, is amazing. We traveled where we wanted, when we wanted and we stayed for as long as we wanted. At times we thought we would only spend a few hours in a place but then we loved it so we would stay overnight, and it was great to have the choice to do that without worrying about booking accommodation. We were there during the Rugby World Cup so accommodation was hard to come by – and expensive. Part of the beauty of it was that we had no plans, it was just us, the camper van and our Lonely Planet book. We saw most of the South island in that camper van, we randomly parked up in places at night (we had a bathroom on board so in that case you are allowed “freedom camp” in some places), we went to campsites to charge up every few nights, and we cooked in the camper van every single day! It was fantastic and I couldn’t recommend it enough. If you ever have the chance to explore a country by camper van – DO IT!
5. White water rafting – Rotorua, New Zealand
One of the best travel experiences I have had was white water rafting. If you are a thrill seeker, you have to try this. We did it in Rotorua on the South island in Kaituna River. We had been out the night before, celebrating my birthday, and I remember we were feeling somewhat delicate as we arrived at the river. However, hitting that freezing cold water was enough to knock the hangovers out of us! There are three waterfalls that you raft down on the river, and numerous rapids and it is a huge adrenaline rush! The final waterfall is a massive 7 metre drop, which is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. Beforehand, you are warned that when you go over the edge of the 7 metre waterfall it’s a 50/50 chance of whether or not the raft flips. The guides warn that if the raft flips and you fall into the waterfall you should just curl up and you will float to the top, you are NOT to try to swim or struggle as you are basically falling into a massive washing machine and struggling will make things worse. Now if impending doom isn’t enough to sober you up, then nothing is! I remember as we approached the edge of the waterfall, I was absolutely terrified and excited at the same time. My heart was beating out of my chest and then in a split second down we went and guess what -we didn’t flip. Whew, exhilarating stuff.
Manta Ray with mouth opened – Ghetty Images
4. Snorkelling with Manta Rays – Fiji
This is something that I will never forget for as long as I live. We were on this tiny island in Fiji, with no electricity. It was about 6am in the morning, and all of a sudden there was shouting and an excited knock on the door of our beach hut. We had just arrived on the island the morning before and it was the guy who brought us over on the boat. “Get up” he yelled, “the Manta Rays are out, we have to move quickly” ,myself and Phil jumped up like wild-fire, threw on our swim wear and ran outside and into the boat, a few short minutes later we were out in the ocean looking for the Manta Rays. Phil spotted one first and then we were all in that area of the water looking for them. Now, if you have never seen a Manta Ray, they are HUGE. I didn’t realize this until we were in the water with them. I think maybe I was confusing them with their smaller cousins, sting rays. They can also open their mouths up really wide, like, I mean seriously wide. At one point one of them was swimming up towards the surface, towards me, with its mouth wide opened and I thought it was going to eat me! Needless to say it didn’t, they are indifferent to humans and didn’t seem to mind us snorkelling with them at all. They are very serene and graceful in their movements and beautiful to watch in their natural habitat.
3. Varanasi – India
This unique place definitely deserves its place on the list and I think I have probably mentioned it in previous blogs but it’s a place that made a lasting impression on me. Varanasi is one of the holiest cities in India because it sits on the Ganges. Hindus believe if their ashes are thrown into the Ganges it will end the cycle of reincarnation, and therefore, many Hindus make the trip to Varanasi when they are nearing death. Varanasi is a city full of winding, narrow passages, which you can easily get lost in and although it’s hustling with people and life, it has an eery feeling of death. This due to the burning ghats that are down at the river. The city has numerous ghats, many used for bathing and others used for the puja ceremonies, but there also several burning ghats which operate 24/7. The burning ghats are where the dead are burned before they are placed in the river. These bodies are cremated right there in front of your eyes, in public and it’s an assault on the senses when you first witness it. The dead bodies are carried through the narrow alleyways of the city on wooden stretchers and are first doused in the Ganges before being cremated. You are free to watch the cremation but photography is strictly forbidden. There is a little stall near the main burning ghat where locals sit around drinking chai, as we sat there sipping our chai, watching the “bonfires”, it was easy to forget that it was human bodies that were being burned in front of our eyes. These burning ghats lead to the eery feeling that haunts Varanasi, especially at night. It is a deeply spiritual place and probably the most interesting place I’ve ever visited in my life.
2. Ranthambore – India
India makes the list again, this time at number 2. This time for the safari that we did in Ranthambore National Park. Again, I have probably mentioned this experience before, but it was a truly amazing and unforgettable moment. We had 2 safaris planned during our 3 days there and knew that the elusive tiger is what everyone wants to see in Ranthambore. Speaking to other tourists at our hotel, we learned that some had done 3, 4 and 5 safaris in the hope of spotting a tiger, but to no avail so we weren’t counting on seeing any tigers either. We went out on our first safari, luckily we were in a small jeep so there were only 6 of us in all, along with the driver and a guide, others did the safari in these big trucks called canters that held about 20 people. Somehow, we got lucky on our first safari and not only saw a tiger but got within mere feet of it. It was a terrifying and exhilarating for those few minutes to be face to face with this beautiful beast. Our driver stopped the jeep and turned off the engine and we all just sat there in awe as the tiger walked slowly alongside us. I think I was holding my breath for most of it because I was so terrified that the tiger was going to decide that we looked tasty, luckily that didn’t happen. There was a moment when the tiger walked in front of the jeep and crossed over and when she was on the other side she stopped and turned her head and looked directly at us. It sent shivers down my spine, but somehow, Phil managed to get that shot on camera. It’s probably my favourite picture that we have ever taken.
1. Skydiving – Queenstown, New Zealand
And in at number 1…………….. it’s skydiving, and it’s New Zealand. Anyone who knows me knows that New Zealand is my favourite country that I have ever visited (so far!) and I cannot say enough good things about it. Couple this with a thrill seeking adventure, and of course it was going to be number 1 on this list!! As you may have guessed from number 5 on the list, I’m a fan of adrenaline rushes and skydiving was one that was on my list for a long time so when we planned to go to New Zealand I knew that’s where I would get it ticked off! We did our skydive in one of the most scenic places in the world and surprisingly on the way up I wasn’t really nervous, Phil was more nervous than me. However, Phil jumped out the door of the plane before I did and when I saw him disappearing out the door, suddenly I was verrrry nervous. When you are sitting there on the ledge of the plane, half out the door, it is simply terrifying, but then, before you know it you are free-falling and it’s the greatest feeling it the world. It’s such a rush, for those 45 seconds you are plummeting towards earth and it feels amazing. Then all of a sudden, the parachute is out and you’re no longer plummeting but you are gently floating. That’s when you can really look around and enjoy the beauty of the place you are falling towards, in our case we were surrounding by snow-capped mountains and beautiful landscape, it really couldn’t have been any better.
So that’s it, my top 10 travel moments as of 2016. Hopefully I have many more travel moments to come. Until next time 🙂