This is the route we planned to take around the world. It doesn’t include every stop we made, but most of them are shown. The colors of the route represent the mode of transportation. Most of the routes in red were planned far in advance so we had fixed dates where we knew we needed to be.
Our Overland Legs
We couldn’t backtrack all of our surface routes to return to where we landed. Most of our flights were one-way or open-jawed, with many of our long-haul routes between continents using air miles awards. Where possible and to see the most of a continent, we would travel overland using rail or car.
Overland in Southeast Asia included rail travel from Singapore to Chiang Mai, and originally Chiang Mai to Mandalay, but the Myanmar border was said to be sketchy so we went safely by air. And finally a multi-modal trip inside Myanmar, from Mandalay to Bagan by boat down the Irrawaddy River, and from Bagan to Yangon by bus. In China, we traveled by train from Shanghai to Lhasa on the train from hell, and car and train from Northern India to Mumbai.
My first visit to trek in the Himalayas was back in 2000. I spent 13 days hiking from Lukla to Gokyo Ri and back. It was and continues to be one of the most unique experiences in the world. The first time was challenging even though I had just finished summiting Mt. Rainer twice earlier that year and was in great shape. The years and mileage to this body certainly didn’t make this current trip any easier.
The best time of the year to visit is in April/May or October/November. Skies are generally clear during these times, but you might find more crowds. Because of the weather, those attempting to summit Mt. Everest usually go during these times as well, however, there’s no guarantee that conditions won’t drastically change. Spring or fall seasons are usually cold, often dipping below freezing. Since we had been traveling for 4 months already and had 11 more months to go, our clothing choices were limited and we relied on layering to help regulate our body heat—a wicking layer of synthetic or thin wool, an insulating layer of 800 fill-power down jacket, and an outer shell of PacLite GoreTex. By using a combination of these layers, we stayed fairly comfortable during our trek. Continue reading
Initially, I wasn’t going to write about our trekking experience in Nepal. I wasn’t happy about many aspects of our porter, but I was willing to chalk it up to the luck of the draw when hiring a someone without references upon landing in Lukla. That is until our porter, Karma Sherpa, sent Sheri a particularly nasty message on Facebook. It was difficult to understand because his English is atrocious, but we managed to get the gist of it. In it he makes some reference to the Japanese trekker who died just days after we started our trek, further saying that the Japanese and Chinese are not strong and that Sherpas in the mountains are strong. He goes on to say he doesn’t like Chinese or Japanese and he didn’t think we were good tourists because he says we didn’t tip him. He also included a graphic of a person with a fish head which is a derogatory depiction for Japanese, because they eat a lot of fish. In response to his rather racist message to us, I’m posting his Facebook page and photo here so that others don’t make the mistake of hiring him upon arrival to Lukla. Continue reading
It seemed innocent enough—two monks talking and laughing with an Asian foreigner, asking questions in broken English about me and the U.S. However, the tone quickly changed as they exchanged some furtive glances and motioned for me to follow them. We found ourselves in a side street off the main road through Lhasa, sitting on some steps in front of what appeared to be an older abandoned residence constructed in the Tibetan style. Satisfied with my answers about the U.S. and that I wasn’t a Chinese spy, they proceeded to ask me about news of the Dalai Lama. Since I hadn’t been keeping up on his whereabouts, I told them he had written some books while in exile in India and then reached into my daypack and pulled out photos of him. Their smiles quickly changed as they looked around wondering if they might be watched, slipped the photos into their burgundy robes, and thanked me profusely. One of the monks reached into his man-purse and offered me a blessing wrapped in a prayer flag. Accepting with both hands, I bowed slightly out of respect. He saw the journal I was holding, pulled out a pen and motioned to see it. Handing it to him, he wrote a street address in both Chinese and English. I wrote my email address on another slip of paper and gave it to him. We never contacted each other again even though I considered it many times. I snapped a picture of the two of them, exchanged goodbyes, and went our separate directions. The entire interaction took less than 15 minutes, but the experience still stays with me nearly 16 years later. That was Tibet in 2000, decades after the Chinese occupation, but before the revolts in 2009. Some things such as the spying on the Tibetan people haven’t changed. Many other aspects have changed dramatically. Continue reading
On our RTW trip, whenever we go somewhere I’ve been already, it’s tough not to make comparisons of how places are today versus the last time I was there. In most locations, I’m surprised that things haven’t changed much. I had optimistically thought that 16 years of progress would alter most places for the better. Such was my hope for Indonesia.
I went to Indonesia about 16 years ago to visit my friend, Don. It was an unforgettable experience, mostly for all the wrong reasons. I came down with a bad case of dysentery from some bad food I had in Jakarta and spent a couple days between the bed and toilet at Don’s parent’s home. Even with such wonderful memories, I still decided that Indonesia was worth a repeat visit. However, I didn’t want a repeat of what happen to me to happen again with Sheri during this visit so we took the usual precautions to avoid stomach problems. Continue reading
Halong Bay, on the Vietnam coast, is a popular tourist destination. Perhaps a bit too popular. The distinctive limestone island formations have made it a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World. All this attention has made it more popular than ever. The bay has nearly 2,000 small islands, or more correctly, islets. Some are large enough to have inhabitants, but most are too small, too steep, and too overgrown to easily live on them. There are many islets with small beaches on them. Some have caverns formed over 20 million years of geological evolution, hot wet climate, and slow erosion and tectonic processes. Continue reading
This large lake is a prominent feature on maps of Cambodia. Its water levels and volume change dramatically from the wet to dry seasons, filled and drained by the ebb and flow of the Tonle Sap River and its confluence with the mighty Mekong. The size of the lake swells to nearly 5 times its dry season size during the rainy season. We went here based on the recommendation of our AirBNB host, Thony, and it’s unique ecosystem and water culture were a complete surprise to Sheri and me. The lake is only 15 km. from Siem Reap, but the roads are only partially paved and took 45 minutes to get there in our tuk-tuk. Our driver brought us to a harbor late in the afternoon where we bought our $20 tickets per person and proceeded to our boat. We later found out that this price is negotiable depending on the boat operator. The boat launch reminded me of our trip up the Little Yangtze River in China; lots of boats trying to dock somewhere that could barely accommodate them all. Continue reading
Cambodia was our first destination in Southeast Asia. At the time, when I made the flight arrangements, I didn’t see any compelling reason to go to Phnom Penh. I figured we would see more than enough temples throughout Asia and the experience would be similar to Siem Reap, the town closest to the Angkor complex of temples. We only scheduled two nights and three days for Cambodia, and in hindsight, we could easily have afforded to stay longer. Cambodia was probably the least expensive place we have visited so far in Southeast Asia. Tourist who used to flock to Thailand for the travel bargains are now going to Cambodia instead. For me, it seems to offer more of the underdeveloped rural experience than some of the more modern Asian countries.
After reading horror stories about people crossing the border from Thailand, we decided to fly directly to Siem Reap. And although flying into the major airports allows you the convenience of getting a visa upon arrival, we opted to get our visa online while we were in Australia. We waited until just 4 days before our scheduled arrival to get our visa, but they were very fast processing it, so I had it within 2 days of applying for it. Although they are fast, I don’t recommend waiting until the last minute. We printed two copies as instructed and when we arrived, having our visas beforehand saved us from waiting in a long queue to get one on arrival. Continue reading