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Round the world +10: My top experiences

Round the world trip

Just over 10 years ago I set off on a round-the-world trip that really started off my love of travel, and I’ve not stopped wanting to see the world since. Over 16 months I travelled through India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Australia. I travelled by plane, train, bus, boat, tuk tuk, motorbike and rickshaw. I slept in hostels, beach huts, boats, trains, tents and swags. I saw some of the world’s most famous sights, from the Taj Mahal and Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Mekong Delta and Uluru. But some of my favourite memories weren’t the big-name sights but the less-expected experiences where the combination of people and places made them unforgettable. Here are some of my top moments from the trip.

Celebrating Khmer New Year at Angkor Wat

New Year in Cambodia is one of the biggest events of the year… as well as the messiest. People across the country head home for three days of celebrations. The first day is for spring cleaning, the second is for making offerings, then it descends into chaos on the third day. We’d just arrived in Siem Reap to spend a few days at  Angkor Wat, and emerged into a city-wide party. As we walked along the streets we ran a gauntlet of flour bombs and water pistols, ducking into the Angkor What? bar to escape another soaking. We ended up meeting a great group of people, singing and dancing into the night and even picking up a few Khmer dance moves (our attempt to return the favour and teach them some ‘English dancing’ ended up with us dredging up some primary school country dancing steps). Come 3am, we decided it was too late to go to sleep, so headed straight out to watch the sun come up over Angkor’s temples.

Celebrating Cambodian New Year in Siem Reap

Hiding out from the flour and water attacks in the Angkor What? bar in Siem Reap

Cruising through the islands of Halong Bay

As two geography graduates, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the amazing geology of Halong Bay in northern Vietnam up close. Its name means ‘bay of descending dragons’, with the rocks that protrude from the water looking like spikes on a dragon’s back. There are nearly 2000 limestone islands dotted among the emerald waters, and the best way to see them is on a boat trip. So we splashed out for an overnight trip on a beautiful traditional wooden junk boat. We sailed between towering rocks, past floating villages to secluded beaches and climbed up to viewpoints for panoramic views across the bay. Then as the sun went down, we anchored in a deserted cove and our group of 10 gathered on deck to watch the light fade with a beer and a plate of fresh seafood, all lit by candlelight – a perfect evening.

Sailing around Halong Bay in Vietnam

Some of the peculiar karst limestone rock formations of Halong Bay

Shipwrecks, sharks and ouzo on Fraser Island

The self-drive trip around Fraser Island is one of the classic backpacker experiences on Australia’s east coast. Over 120km long, Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island, with rainforest and freshwater lakes among the dunes. The usual way to see it is in groups – you’re kitted out with a 4WD and tent, made to watch a video about the dangers of dingoes, then left to explore. You do take your chance on who you get paired up with though, but we lucked out with Anglo-German Group C. There are no roads on the island, only sand tracks, so we drove along the beach, stopping to see the Maheno shipwreck, to swim in icy-cold Lake McKenzie and to spot sharks from the top of Indian Head. The Brits did the driving, the Germans supplied the ouzo, and we laughed our way around the island – all without seeing a single dingo.

Fraser Island in Australia

‘Group C’ on our chaotic trip around Fraser Island

A wilderness kayak adventure on the Ord River

A three-day kayaking trip well away from civilisation, without a bed or even a proper toilet – not the sort of thing I’d ever expected to see myself get talked into, let alone being the one to suggest it. But for some reason the trip down the Ord River drew me in and turned out to be one of my favourite Australian experiences. We set off in Canadian kayaks loaded up with food, bedding and a map, all secured in waterproof drums. The water is so clear you can drink it straight out of the river, and if you get too hot you can just jump in (though getting back in was a bit more of a challenge..). We barely saw another person except a daily boatload of day-trippers who took photos of us intrepid explorers! At night we stopped in a wilderness campsite with just a composting toilet and fire pit and slept under the stars (and a mosquito net for me due to my spider phobia). At the end of day three we arrived back in Kununurra with aching limbs and suntans, where a hot shower, a glass of wine and a real bed never felt so good.

Kayaking on the Ord River in Kununurra, Western Australia

Kayaking down the Ord River in north-western Australia

Discovering the secrets of south Western Australia

Australia’s east coast tends to get all the attention – and the visitors. It might have the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays, Fraser Island, Byron Bay and Sydney, but there’s a whole other side to Australia… literally in this case. After taking the train across the Nullarbor Plain from Adelaide to Kalgoorlie, I met up with my sister to travel south around the coast of Western Australia on our way to Perth. Our first stop was Esperance, where I found some of the most perfect empty beaches I’d ever seen in Cape Le Grand National Park, complete with white sand and turquoise sea. From there the discoveries kept on coming – towering karri forests in Pemberton, huge caves in Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, wineries and surfing in Margaret River. Every day we found something fantastic to see and do, which made me wonder why this part of the country wasn’t so well known, but feel glad to have it to ourselves.

Exploring Cape Le Grand National Park, Wester Australia

On a jeep tour around Esperance with some of Cape Le Grand’s spectacular beaches behind us

So there you have it – some of the best experiences from my round-the-world trip. They were tough to choose, and I’m almost tempted to go back and change them already. Maybe New Year’s Eve in Sydney Harbour should’ve been on there, or sailing around the Whitsundays, or learning to cook Thai food in Chiang Mai? But long-term travels aren’t all gorgeous locations and fantastic experiences. So in the interests of fairness (and because disasters are usually the most interesting bits), later this week I’ll share my top misadventures on the road. But while we’re on the positives, what’s your top travel experience?

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30 Comments Post a comment
  1. I take it there were no crocs in the Ord, you are much braver than me!

    March 18, 2013
    • I did check the crocodile situation very carefully before I signed up! Apparently there were a few small freshwater ones but they’re not the ones you need to watch out for, the saltwater ones are the ones that’ll have your arm off.

      March 18, 2013
  2. actsofrebellion #

    i also got to celebrate the khmer new year in cambodia! it was so neat being able to take in another cultures tradition.

    March 18, 2013
    • It’s an amazing party isn’t it! I hear Songkran in Thailand is very similar so may have to try and do that one next time.

      March 18, 2013
  3. It’s lovely to see South West Australia finally getting the place it deserves in a “top moments” list. I spent part of my gap year exploring Western and a little bit of Central Australia and couldn’t have fonder memories of the place. I also fell in love with fish and chips on Cottesloe Beach, Sunday afternoons in Fremantle and Kings Park, Perth.

    Beautiful.

    Lovely post Lucy.

    March 18, 2013
    • Thanks, it really was one of my favourite regions, though I’ve not written about it much due to my rubbish pre-digital photos! I have family in Perth though so hopefully can get back out there sometime. Loved Fremantle too, had a few good afternoons in the Little Creatures Brewery there.

      March 18, 2013
  4. Wow Lucy! These all look fabulous – I’ve yet to visit Australia and when I do it’ll have to start with the East Coast as I have family and friends there but I’d love to incorporate the West Coast, and NZ!

    March 18, 2013
    • It’s such a big place it’s hard to see everything! I was there for 11 months and still missed out Tasmania and New Zealand that time, all good excuses for a return trip though.

      March 18, 2013
  5. It makes me happy that I haven’t done any of these, so I still have it all to look forward to. Australia is my next adventure, so I hope I get the chance to do some proper exploring!

    March 18, 2013
    • Sure you will love it! It’s good that you can get a two-year visa now, when I did it it was only for one, which sounds like ages but there’s so much to see it just flew by.

      March 18, 2013
  6. This is fantastic! I was in the midst of my RTW adventure when I had to take a hiatus after getting an emergency appendectomy in Panama. All healed up now and ready to get back out there! Do you have any posts about financing your trip?

    March 18, 2013
    • Oh no, what a nightmare! I had a few mishaps (coming up on Friday’s post) but luckily nothing bad enough that I had to go home. I did see a lot but not sure my financial planning was the best example, as after spending my savings in the end I decided just to see as much as I could and pay off my debts when I got home. Australia was a lot cheaper then so I earnt so much more back home and paid it off within a year – it’s a bit of a risky technique though and not sure I’d do it again!

      March 18, 2013
    • Thanks for the tips, Lucy! I started off by sailing in Mexico and crewed for a skipper there. We had a great deal where any time spent as crew, he paid, so that worked out really well cost wise. Panama was much more expensive because they use USD, and I was traveling with a friend for the first couple weeks who was on vacation, so we went to nicer restaurants, flew instead of taking the bus, etc. I actually just found this contest and entered: http://www.mydestination.com/users/rtwadventurer/bbb#.UUdMhVtT0S8 which is perfect! It would allow me to travel and to have money at the end to create my start up to connect people with living their dreams. The top 5 entries with the most votes automatically makes it to the finals, so if you have time, could you vote for me?

      Whether I win this or not (::crossing fingers::), this is my biggest dream, and I’ll find a way, just like you did! 🙂

      Look forward to reading more about your adventures, and thanks for the inspiration!

      March 18, 2013
    • Great prize – best of luck with the competition!

      March 18, 2013
    • Thank you! 🙂

      March 19, 2013
  7. Halong Bay is the one that calls to me, Lucy, and definitely the Whitsundays and Sydney. Got the honeymoon sorted yet?

    March 18, 2013
    • Halong Bay was just lovely – I remember seeing Suzanne’s post where she did it in a bit more style too! Honeymoon planning is in the pipeline, though the big Belize trip is going to have to wait a few months as the weather’s not so good in September, so there’ll be a mini-honeymoon first (any excuse!).

      March 18, 2013
    • Sounds good to me. Make the most!

      March 18, 2013
  8. Ha Long Bay is pretty magical. Did you get to do any kayaking there? We went into some tunnels and caves that led to cliff-enclosed lagoons. That is one place I’d like to return to for sure.

    March 18, 2013
    • Kayaking Halong Bay sounds great, unfortunately we didn’t get chance to try it out there, I think when I go back I’d spend a few days staying out in the islands and do it all a bit slower, but there’s always so much to see!

      March 19, 2013
  9. Sounds like you had an awesome time on this trip!

    Im so glad you liked WA. We are from there but moved to QLD about 9 years ago. And as much as we love QLD we will always have a soft spot for WA 🙂

    Halong Bay is high on our list and we should be getting there late this year. Im so excited. Ive heard so many good things from other travelers about it! I love the photo you have of it – beautiful!

    March 19, 2013
    • I have some great memories of WA, though there are some good ones of Queensland too! Hope to make it back to Australia sometime in the next few years and revisit a few favourite places as well as seeing some new ones.
      Have a fantastic time in Halong Bay, wish I’d’ve had by DSLR camera then, all the photos I have are on from an old compact film camera!

      March 19, 2013
  10. You definitely had some incredible experiences, I haven’t been yet to any of these places but they all look incredible especially Halong Bay which is definitely on my list.

    March 19, 2013
    • Halong Bay was such a stunning landscape, and amazing that people live out on the floating villages in the bay. Hope you manage to make it out there sometime soon!

      March 19, 2013
  11. Looks absolutely amazing, can’t wait to go globe trotting myself!

    March 24, 2013
    • Thanks, some really good memories! Happy travelling to you too.

      March 24, 2013
  12. Wow it all sounds amazing! Your kayaking trip sure sounds like an adventure. I would love to go to Angkor Wat. I did a sailing/diving trip at the Whitsunday islands, and sky diving over the great barrier reef, those are probably my top travel experiences from Australia, miss it there!

    April 2, 2013
    • I loved the Whitsundays sailing trip too, some beautiful beaches and sunsets on deck. I did want to do a skydive but funds didn’t stretch that far – maybe one for the next Australia trip!

      April 2, 2013

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