2015 was another year of unforgettable experiences. From Southeast Asia to the Arctic, it brought me to some places I definitely didn’t plan and taught me a lot. Full of spontaneity, new and old places, great friends and food. I really can’t ask for much more!
I started the year out by returning to Vietnam. That’s already a win. I absolutely love this country and the cuisine that comes with it. This being my second trip here, it was filled with some new experiences as well as familiar ones. I trekked the rice paddies of Sapa, discovered Mai Chau and rediscovered Hue, but what sticks out above all in Vietnam is crossing the Hai Van Pass solo. I’ve ridden a few times but was by no means a pro. Leaving from Hue on my own was a whole new feeling of freedom. I cruised at my own pace, stopping at my leisure to take in the countless breathtaking vistas along the way. I went for a joy ride in Danang inevitably getting lost and pulled in to Hoi An as the sun was setting. This journey was etched into my mind merely from the bus ride I took a few years back, but now it was permanently engraved.
Around the one year mark of being on the road, I wanted a slight break. Not go home, that’s crazy talk, but a rest from moving around constantly. I just wanted to sit still for a few weeks, maybe meander down to the beach if the motivation sparked, but ultimately do nothing. I ended up in Koh Rong to get right. Not only was this island a paradise with some of the whitest sand I’ve seen, so fine it squeaks underfoot, it was a community of like-minded individuals that made forgetting the mainland possible. Lounging for 3 weeks put me back on an even keel and even though I was ready to set back out again getting on that boat to leave was far from easy. I kept looking back like something was forgotten, but it was just a piece of me I left.
Not having direct travel plans is the best way to travel. I was kind of sitting in limbo, waiting on a response for a few things before making my next move. I had time to kill, and a couple friends who wanted to go to Myanmar. Next thing I knew my passport was being processed in Bangkok for a visa. I arrived barefoot and ready to take on a country in 12 days. I was excited to see the contrast between its bordering countries, India and Thailand (unfortunately have not yet made it to China). Apart from tasting a new cuisine I knew absolutely nothing about, riding e-bikes around the temples of Bagan was awe-inspiring. The sunrise temporarily turning the land to gold, glimmering off the ancient pagodas as hot air balloons rose in the air. Putting along dusty roads and exploring pagodas completely to myself was by far the highlight.
Of the last two years, I’ve spent more time in Thailand than anywhere else so quite a bit of the country is familiar to me. I love this country and like Vietnam simply being here is a high point. This year I had two new experiences in Thailand which I would say are tied for first. Attaining my open water diving license on Koh Tao was phenomenal. An introduction into the underwater world is something I’d dreamed of and now was reality. This was like that first shot to veins, I was addicted.
Right alongside this was the Songkran festival. Another spur of the moment decision to extend my visa. I didn’t want to miss this, I mean who would? The world’s largest, country wide, weeklong water fight. An absolute intense week in both Chiang Mai and Kanchanaburi. Day after day, everyone from child to adult, local to traveler joined the onslaught of super soakers and buckets of ice water. A festival worth traveling for and in my case sticking around a little longer for.
As much as I was dreading coming back to Canada initially, it was beneficial for me. It allowed me to unwind, recharge before becoming numb in a sense. It is always good to take a break sometimes, reflect on everything and start fresh again. I mean as long as it’s temporary. BUT, ultimately the only reason I returned when I did was to go into the Arctic Circle. Simply the experience as a whole was unforgettable and something I never even really considered before the job opportunity landed at my feet. Between kayaking with narwhal, beluga and icebergs, observing polar bears, snowmobiling across the icy tundra and everything else in between, it is safe to say the whole month was simple extraordinary.
The last two years have brought so much positive change in my life. My views on how I see the world, life, myself and the millions around me has forever been altered. The friends I’ve met along the way, the food I’ve eaten and the hurdles cleared have all left their mark. Some on my mind, some inked on to my body. I have some plans for 2016, but who knows where it will take me.