We’ve arrived in Thailand, and after spending a few days beaching (yes, I’m sure thats a word!), eating copious amounts of delicious Thai food and celebrating Alan’s birthday, we have arrived in our home for the next month. A home which is very, very far out of my comfort zone - Superpro Samui, a Muay Thai gym on the tropical island of Koh Samui.
We are just two days in and my body is screaming at me! Aches, pains, bruises and bleeding knuckles seem to be becoming the norm. Between training sessions, I’ll be working hard to update the blog with stories from our six-week journey through Malaysia and Singapore, along with my personal experiences, reflections and learnings from this upcoming month of intense Muay Thai training. Stay tuned!
However, today (Sunday) is our one day per week of no training, and I’m in the mood to write something a bit different. I’ve seen the ABC’s of travel floating around on some of my favourite travel blogs and thought I would join in with a little reminiscing on my own travel experiences. I hope you enjoy!
A / Age you went on your first international trip?
I am blessed with parents that love to travel, and had my first passport at the ripe age of three. I first went to Australia’s Sunshine Coast at that age, and Fiji when I was four, but because I was so young unfortunately I don’t have very many memories from these trips. When I was seven years old I was lucky enough to travel to Singapore and Malaysia on a family holiday - two countries I have spent time in again recently, and will be writing about soon!
B / Best foreign beer you’ve had and where?
My favourite beer of all time has to be Belgium's Leffe Blond, despite the fact that I haven't yet travelled to the country itself to drink it. I usually drink my beloved Leffe Blond at my local Belgian bar, accompanied by a compulsory pot of steaming mussels and fries.
Best foreign beer in the budget category has got to be Vietnam’s Bia Hoy (Fresh Beer). I recall evenings spent chugging multiple glasses of this delicious liquid in picturesque Hoi An a couple of years ago. At less than NZ 40c a glass, it can’t be beat!
C / Cuisine. Favourite?
You know what, I ask myself this question every single day, and my verdict is that its got to be a tie between Thai and Italian. I could possibly narrow it down even further and say its a tie between Pad Thai and Spaghetti Bolognese (how predictable am I!), but I won’t go quite that far. Do any other cuisines even come close to being as delicious?
D / Destinations. Favourite and least favourite? Why?
Favourite: Oh gosh, there are so many incredible places in this world, how am I going to choose? I’m yet to write about it on the blog, but I recently spent 9 blissful days in Malaysia’s beautiful Langkawi island, and I’m fairly certain it was paradise! Other frontrunners for the favourite destinations accolade are Ubud (Bali), Hoi An (Vietnam) and El Nido (Philippines).
Least Favourite: Surprisingly, I seem to be the type of person who likes the places others don’t, or at least find something to love about them. I’ve heard negative opinions on many, many places I’ve been, so often I’m naturally surprised when I get there and love it! Probably my least favourite destination I’ve visited recently would be Jakarta, we got ripped off by a taxi driver, had the smallest room possible, and didn’t have long enough there to figure out the city.
E / Event you’ve experienced abroad that made you say “WOW!”?
Hand’s down, my answer to this is the annual Uttarayan Kite Festival in Ahmedabad, in India’s state of Gujarat. I spent a week in Gujarat with my brother in January 2013 and we were fortunate enough to be in Ahmedabad over the time of Uttarayan. I wasn’t expecting much, but it turned out to be blow-my-mind incredible!
By day, the clear blue skies were filled with thousands upon thousands of colourful kites, the rooftops of every building as far as the eye could see brimming with smiling people. My brother and I were taken wonderful care of by a local couchsurfing host and were treated like royalty all day, hanging out on rooftops with his family and friends, indulging in Indian sweets and snacks, and being shown how to kite fight (i.e. cut other peoples kite strings with your own)! I wasn’t much good at that, though I did a splendid job of eating the aforementioned snacks.
My highlight of the whole festival was the evening on the second day, where everybody (and I mean everybody in this city of more than 3.5 million people!) released lanterns into the air. The sky was filled with hundreds of thousands of lanterns drifting up into the sky and flickering into the distance. It was probably the most spectacular sight I’ve ever seen.
F / Favourite mode of transportation?
The most fun I’ve ever had on public transport was riding on the roof of a jeepney in the Philippines. We rode the couple of hours from Sabang back to Puerto Princesa, on the island of Palawan. The only worry was that we had to be sure to duck our heads every time we saw power lines dangling from one side of the road to the other, to avoid any nasty accidents!
G / Greatest feeling while travelling?
Travelling creates so many great feelings that is is very difficult to narrow it down to just one! Possibly my favourite feeling would be that anticipation of exploring when I very first arrive somewhere new - I like to get my bearings as quickly as I possibly can. The feeling of arriving somewhere new is made 10x better when you check into your accommodation and realise its much nicer than you were expecting! That makes for one happy Christie.
H / Hottest place you’ve ever travelled to?
Arizona, USA - it was 110 degrees fahrenheit in the shade (more than 43 celsius!). In fact that whole holiday was hot! When we were kids, my brother and I had the extraordinary fortune of winning a family trip from little New Zealand to Disneyland, California. My parents had the foresight to extend our holiday and we spent a phenomenal couple of weeks road-tripping around USA’s South-western states. I recall it being so hot at Disneyland there were multiple visitors fainting!
I / Incredible service you’ve experienced and where?
While in Costa Rica, we stayed for a few nights in a guesthouse in Heredia, within the country’s Central Valley. Their service was fantastic, collecting us from the airport late at night, dropping us off in the early hours of the morning, helping us to organise transport, serving tasty breakfasts every morning, the list goes on. The best part was that everything was always with a friendly, genuine smile. The guesthouse was Vista Los Volcanes and I’d highly recommend it. I don’t think incredible service has to be restricted to 5-star hotels!
J / Journey that took the longest?
New Zealand is a long way from anywhere, so most journeys tend to take a long time! By air, my longest journey would be from my hometown of Nelson, New Zealand, to Madrid, Spain. Two places that are on the exact opposite side of the world to each other, and I did the whole journey in one go - as a solo 17-year-old, might I add! Nelson - Auckland - Singapore - Frankfurt - Madrid —> the journey took 36 hours if I remember correctly.
By land, my longest journey would be the series of busses I recently took in Indonesia between Lovina, Bali and Yogyakarta, Java. I blogged about that mega-journey here!
K / Keepsake from your travels?
I don’t buy a lot when I’m travelling. I prefer to spend my money on experiences and take photos as my keepsakes. Especially when I’m travelling long-term, like I am currently, I don’t want to carry anything extra on my back that I don’t need!
L / Let-down sight. Where and why?
I have no regrets from any of my travels - ever, but possibly my best answer for this question is India’s majestic Taj Mahal. Don’t get me wrong, the Taj Mahal itself was not a let-down, in fact it was more beautiful in real life than I could have ever imagined! The let down was the weather - it was so foggy that we could barely see a couple of metres in front of us, let alone the Taj Mahal itself. It was such a disappointment to leave Agra without truly seeing the Taj in all its glory. Luckily, I had a few days on my own in Delhi a few days later, so I took another trip back to see it, with more luck that time - phew!
M / Moment where you fell in love with travelling?
I don’t think I ever had a choice about whether or not I would love travelling, I’m positive its an inherited trait! Both of my parents love travelling the world, as did both sets of their parents. I'm sure I fell in love with travelling before I even knew what it was, as a kid I loved poring through photo albums and hearing mum and dad tell stories of their travels.
Though, its safe to say that if I hadn’t already, I definitely picked up the travel bug when I travelled to Singapore and Malaysia at the age of seven. It was my first foray into Asia, into eating restaurant food other than chicken nuggets and chips, into an unknown language and my first memories of learning about a lifestyle so different from my life back home.
N / Nicest hotel you’ve ever stayed in?
Last year one of my best friends and I had a girls’ long weekend away together in Auckland and stayed at The Langham, one of Auckland’s fanciest hotels, for four glorious nights! We splurged on the buffet breakfast, eating ourselves silly with something like four courses each, and spent much of our days lazing beside the rooftop pool and enjoying the spa’s facilities. It was a total dream and while I don’t tend to travel at that expense when I’m travelling internationally, The Langham was absolutely worth every penny!
O / Obsession. What are you obsessed with taking photos of while travelling?
I’m a pretty amateur photographer, and sometimes I’m too lazy to lug my camera around with me. But, when I do bring it I tend to snap photos of everything and anything! I’m currently working on trying to take more photos that tell a story and capture moments - rather than just the standard tourist shots, i.e. Alan in front of this, me in front of that.
P / Passport stamps. How many and from where?
I think I’m currently on my fifth passport, though only from old ones expiring, not from filling the entire passport up! My current passport has stamps from Costa Rica, USA, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Thailand (twice), Indonesia, Malaysia (twice) and Singapore.
It also has an Australia stamp that has been stamped over with a bold “Stamped in error”! Fortunately that is not as exciting/scary as it sounds, we simply had some incorrect transit instructions when we checked right through in Dallas, so had to rewind our way back through security in Brisbane. Oops!
Q / Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where?
Not an attraction so much as a quirky experience, when I was in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, a couple of years ago, one night we had a few drinks and hit up one of the local clubs, Tiki Bar. Being just about the only foreigners there, we were called up to dance on stage (to Gangam Style, of course!) multiple times throughout the night, we were bought a bucket of beers by an old dude who claimed to be the town’s Mayor, and later were invited backstage for a ‘meet and greet’ with the band!
R / Really frightening. One place you’ve visited where you felt unsafe or uneasy?
Despite feeling safe the majority of my two months in India last year, there were a couple of unfortunate exceptions. One uneasy moment happened to be at the Kite Market, the night before Uttarayan (Gujarat’s annual Kite Festival I mentioned earlier). This was the most chocca-block market I have ever seen, and there were very few females. Gujarat is not a heavily-touristed state either, so to be foreign and to be female is apparently quite a sight at the Kite Market. I was there with a couchsurfing group made up of a few girls and a few guys, so the guys of our group sort of surrounded us to keep us safe from inevitable gropes and stares. Lets just say a few prying hands still managed to slip through and attempted boob/bum grabs. It wasn’t my favourite experience.
S / Splurge. Something you have no problem spending money on while travelling?
As a general rule, I’m happy to splurge on memorable and/or once in a lifetime experiences. I value experiences more than things and have no problem spending a few extra dollars on something that I’m going to remember forever!
Uh, apparently I also don’t mind splurging on bowls of pasta, either.
T / Touristy thing you’ve done?
Despite preferring to call myself a traveller, rather than a tourist, I have done plenty of ‘touristy’ things everywhere I’ve been, and will continue to do so!
U / Unforgettable travel memory?
Oh, so many! One particular memory that sparks in my mind is a few years ago when Mum, Dad and I travelled to Japan to visit my brother who was living and studying in Tokyo at the time. We spent a white Christmas (which is very unusual for us in New Zealand as Christmas for us falls at the height of summer!) in Nagano and when we sat down in a restaurant to have lunch on Christmas Day, Mum pulled out four Christmas crackers from her handbag. We sat their happily munching away on our soba noodles, wearing our colourful paper crowns, sharing the silly christmas cracker jokes. Later that day we purchased a “Christmas cake” which, rather than your typical dense fruitcake, turned out to be a heavily frosted chocolate sponge cake. A deliciously non-traditional family Christmas!
V / Visas. How many and for where?
I’ve had tourist visas for Vietnam, India (twice), Thailand (twice, I’m currently on my second 60-day visa) and a transit visa for the US when I spent a few days in Dallas en route to Costa Rica in May - I think thats all? I’m too lazy to grab my passport and check. We Kiwi’s are very lucky that we don’t need pre-organised visas for many countries.
When we head to Bangkok in a month or so I have to get a tourist visa for China, here's hoping that isn’t going to be too difficult!
W / Wine. Best glass while travelling?
My love for wine is another trait that I’m sure is genetic, which is currently a problem for me since I am travelling through Asia, the land of cheap beer! Luckily I also love beer, right?
While in France with my family a few years back, I took a tour of the Mumm Champagne factory, which ended with some tastings. Surely nothing beats drinking champagne, in Champagne itself!
But of course, I have to be a little bias and mention my favourite wine in the whole world - Neudorf Maggie’s Block Pinot Gris. Grown on my parents’ section just outside of Nelson, New Zealand and named after my mum!
X / eXcellent view and where from?
Though I could think of hundreds, the first excellent view that sprang to mind is this one from the other day, in Langkawi, Malaysia. We took the cable car to one of Langkawi's popular viewing platforms, where we lucked out with a magnificent day (sometimes it can be a little cloudy). I love this view towards Thailand’s islands. Seriously, have you ever seen sea and sky so blue? It looks like they are just about merging into one!
Y / Years spent travelling?
Honestly, I think this question is silly. Travelling is not a competition! In my opinion it is not important how long you have been travelling for, the important thing is that if travel makes you happy - do it!
Z / Zealous sports fans and where?
I’ve never seen anything like Auckland’s Queen Street after the All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup in 2011. At the time I was living in Auckland, in a small inner-city apartment across the road from The Cloud, which was where much of the action was at. We had a whole lot of friends over to watch the final and like much of the rest of Auckland, ran out onto the streets after the AB’s won, jumping for joy and hugging everyone around us. I’m not even a very big rugby fan, but the patriotism took over that night - it was awesome!
I'd love to know your ABCs of travel - share them with me in the comments below!