Tappia Falls, Batad

Memories from 15 Months of Travel

We’ve been back in the UK for over a month now and after an incredible homecoming we’ve settled back into life here more easily than I ever imagined we would. As I write this we’re sat at the kitchen table in someone else’s beautiful South-London home while their cute five-month-old miniature schnauzer mills around our feet. We’re house and pet sitting for the first time in our favourite city and even though it’s raining outside, life in London is undeniably great.

The Thames, London Eye & Westminster

Back in London after 15 months!

As the weeks back home have worn on though, I’ve found my thoughts often return to the journey we’ve just taken and I’m beginning to grasp just how precious those initial 15 months of travel were to me. Although our next adventure – working and living in Vietnam – glimmers on the near-distant horizon, I sometimes can’t help but feel nostalgic for the trip we’ve just finished. Never again will we leave home as the inexperienced and naïve travellers we were all those months ago. We’ll never feel the same intense fear, uncertainty, exhilarating freedom or joy as we did in that first magical phase of our travels, especially during that initial, unforgettable month in New Zealand.

Last week, after a day spent working on a TEFL course at my parents’ house I became distracted looking through photos and videos of our trip. I was mesmerised by the images, some of which stirred vivid memories while others felt like scenes from another faraway, fantastical life. I opened my journal and scanned through to the entry I’d written a year ago to that day. We’d been in Borneo, camping out in the middle of the jungle, to be exact.

Boo in Crystal Palace Park

Pet sitting Boo the puppy in London

I remember writing that entry by candlelight as darkness fell in a heavy blanket studded with silver-white stars; the never-ending roar of the river and the sounds of chirping geckos, crickets and unidentifiable rustlings in the undergrowth almost deafening in their chorus. The journal entry ends only to begin again an hour or so later after a bat inexplicably crash-landed on our makeshift bed. Travel – there’s nothing like it. It’s only just sinking in how much we’ve seen and experienced since we left the UK last year and how much we’ve changed and grown through travelling.

My Favourite Memories from 15 Months of Travel

Since we arrived home people have periodically asked us what our favourite country or travel experience was and it’s a hard question to answer. Our journey as a whole has been so intense and transformative that it’s difficult to pin-point favourite moments, however I do find that there are some memories I particularly cherish from our travels to date – here they are.

Volunteering in the Philippines

I can scarcely find the words to explain how deeply humbled and inspired I was by the people I met while volunteering in Tacloban City in Leyte. When Typhoon Yolanda struck Tacloban last November, it killed up to 10,000 people and damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the city’s buildings; we were stunned by the extreme devastation and poverty we encountered while we helped clean-up the wreckage. Despite all they’d been through I was amazed by the resilience and strength of the people in Tacloban and the warmth and kindness they showed us. We’ll never forget our time in Tacloban and would love to do some more disaster relief work in the future; you can read more about our volunteering experience here.

Me With Children in Tacloban, the Philippines

Me with the children of Tacloban City, the Philippines

Celebrating Songkran in Thailand

Celebrating Songkran, the Thai New Year water festival in Chiang Mai, is perhaps my happiest memory of our entire trip. During the week-long giant water fight I was constantly soaked to the skin but my face ached from smiling and laughing and we felt so welcomed and included by the Thai people. Every day we headed out into the streets of Chiang Mai, armed with water pistols to soak in the carnival atmosphere, have fierce water fights and get drenched with icy pails of water, as you can see from this post and video. Songkran marked the end of our time in Thailand, the country we spent nearly a third of our trip in and the place we came to think of as our Asian home.

Amy Celebrating Songkran 2014 in Chiang Mai

Celebrating Songkran in Chiang Mai

Visiting the Cambodian Killing Fields

Our trip to the Killing Fields and S-21 prison in Cambodia was one of the hardest we took but it was also one of the most valuable. Travelling in Asia taught me so much about war and the damage it can cause. Although the scars of conflict are visible throughout many of the countries we visited, particularly Vietnam and Laos, they were most heartbreakingly apparent in Cambodia. Visiting the places where thousands of people were mindlessly slaughtered and seeing photographs of their faces really brought home to me the realities of war and genocide (as much as is possible given my privileged life). As in Tacloban, despite their hardships, Cambodians are unbelievably resilient and kind. I often think of the people I met there, particularly the young girl in the pink hoody who encapsulated all the things I love about Cambodia.

Visiting the Killing Fields in Cambodia

Reflecting at the Killing Fields in Cambodia

Volunteering at the Dog Rescue Project

How do you beat waking up surrounded by misty northern-Thai mountains while elephants wander just metres from where you sit eating breakfast? During a day-trip to the Elephant Nature Park we spotted a poster recruiting for volunteers to help out with their Dog Rescue Project and we leapt at the chance. As well as living in the beautiful park surroundings we got to walk, feed and play with hordes of rescue dogs and make a small difference to their lives. Sadly we didn’t have time to revisit the project again but we hope to volunteer there when we return to Thailand one day; you can read more about our volunteering experience at the Dog Rescue Project here.

Volunteering at the Dog Rescue Project in Thailand

Volunteering at the Dog Rescue Project

Skydiving in New Zealand

My skydiving experience stands out mainly because of the extreme fear I had to conquer in order to get in that plane knowing I’d have to fall back down to earth. As terrifying as it was, the mental challenge came to symbolise the process of leaving to travel; the fear and anticipation of the build-up, the terror of teetering on the edge of the unknown before plunging into an exhilarating journey. One of the goals I had before we set out on our travels was that I wanted to challenge myself to do things I never would back home – skydiving is the perfect example of this resolution and I’m proud to say I went through with it and have the photos and video to prove it!

Before My Abel Tasman Skydive

Just before my skydive in New Zealand

Sleeping in the Jungles of Borneo

I’ve already mentioned this adventure in the opening paragraphs but aside from how obviously amazing being in Borneo was, the journey into the jungle is what really makes this trip memorable. You can read the full story here, but the short version is that we ignored the advice of locals to make a journey by hook or by crook out to a barely-visited area of Maylasian Borneo; along the way we encountered kind helpers, were invited to stay in a traditional longhouse and were taken into the jungle in a longboat by our local guides. It was a true, off the beaten track adventure and we learnt that if you’re determined enough you can make any journey – one bus, taxi or longboat at a time.

Shim Chen, Sri Aman, Malaysia

Me and Shim Chen, who helped us make the journey into the jungle

Hiking the Batad Rice Terraces

I considered putting every single experience we had in the Philippines on this list – it was without a doubt my favourite country and we completely fell for its people, spirit and wild energy, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that we found travelling there incredibly challenging and frustrating at times. What’s most staggering about the Philippines is how picturesque it is; particularly the mountain provinces which are littered with rarely-frequented UNESCO-rated rice terraces. Our journey from Banaue to Batad was hard but the actual trek  over the terraces was the toughest but most spectacular and worthwhile I’ve ever done; you can read all about my experience here. Did I mention that the Philippines is the most beautiful country in the world?

Tappia Falls, Batad

Half way through our Batad hike at Tappia Falls

Meeting the Burmese People

Unlike the Philippines, Burma wasn’t one of our favourite countries but I treasure the time we spent there because of the people we met. I’ve already dedicated a whole post to recounting the kindness of the Burmese; to mention just a few there was Htun, who befriended and spent hours showing us around Yangon, the smiling woman who gave us fruit at the train station and the groups of girls who excitedly asked me to pose for photos with them. Burma is proof that the people really do make the places.

Me with Kids in Burma

Posing with a Burmese family

What are your favourite travel memories?

  • Ash
    Posted at 17:05h, 11 July Reply

    I just found your blog, and of course, I’ve fallen in love with it! So inspiring to see all that you give back to society in terms of volunteering when you’re traveling. I just started writing about my own travels a couple months ago and would be honored if you took a look at it and left your thoughts/comments!

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:14h, 12 July Reply

      Thanks Ash! We didn’t spend much time volunteering on this trip but it was enough to make us want to do more in the future. I will definitely take a look at your blog 🙂

  • Patti
    Posted at 20:44h, 11 July Reply

    What a wonderful collection of memories, Amy, and I can imagine how much you learned not only about the world around us, but about traveling itself. I bet when you leave again for Vietnam, you will leave with a completely different perspective and a wealth of new travel wisdom. I look forward to following the journey.

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:15h, 12 July Reply

      I agree Patti, I think we will have a completely different perspective on travel when we head back to Vietnam – we’re glad to have you following our journey 🙂

  • Kerri
    Posted at 02:31h, 12 July Reply

    Love, Love, love this post! I so enjoyed reading about some of your favorite moments. It looks like an amazing journey that will forever change how you think about things.

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:16h, 12 July Reply

      Thanks Kerri! The last 15 months have been the most incredible of my life and I hope to carry on travelling to have more amazing experiences.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 14:34h, 14 July Reply

    What an incredible 15 months you had—most people wouldn’t even do a handful of these in an entire lifetime! Your journey has been so filled with awesome moments, I totally forgot about the skydiving (if you can believe it!).

    Songkran was one of my favorite moments out of 23 months of travel… it’s a really fantastic festival, isn’t it?

    • Amy
      Posted at 20:34h, 14 July Reply

      Songkran is so awesome; I wish I could go every year! New Zealand feels like so long ago to me too, it makes me wonder where we’ll be and what we’ll have done in another 15 month’s time!

  • Tiana
    Posted at 06:47h, 19 July Reply

    Great post! Sounds like you had an amazing 15 months. And what a precious dog!

    • Andrew
      Posted at 11:08h, 20 July Reply

      Thanks Tiana, it was amazing, and that dog is seriously cute, it’s really made us think about getting one ourselves in the future! 🙂

  • romeo
    Posted at 23:07h, 22 August Reply

    wow must have been one crazy adventure!

    While most people won’t get to see all these places in lifetime, you guys cranked it out in 15 months!

    I especially liked that you went to the philippines to volunteer.

    You guys have intensely wow-ed me!

    Pura vida!


    • Amy
      Posted at 04:50h, 23 August Reply

      Hi Romeo, thanks for commenting. Our first 15-month adventure was incredible and we especially loved our time volunteering in the Philippines. We’re now just beginning our next adventure living and working in Hanoi for nine months and I hope it turns out to be just as amazing!

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