Looking Back on a Year of Unforgettable Memories
Spending a year traveling the world has been the most incredible experience. It’s been an educational, eye-opening, and life-changing adventure we never could have imagined. We are beyond grateful for being able to experience and learn as much as we did in one year – meeting with family and friends across the globe, forming new travel friendships, and sampling some pretty amazing food!
Here is a summary and nifty route map of our year of travels starting from when we left in August of 2015 (warning, long post! 🙂).
Peru, Chile, Argentina
We started off our travels in South America, where we hit the ground running with amazing adventures like sandboarding and dunebuggying in Huacachina and exploring the breathtaking Machu Picchu. After getting our fill of ceviche in Lima, and hopping in our first collectivo in Ollantaytambo, we got friendly with some alpacas in Cusco. From there, we headed to Chile where we enjoyed the colorful neighborhood and street art of Valparaiso and fresh seafood of Santiago. We crossed through the Andes to Argentina where we filled up on wine and steak, and had a somewhat sketchy blue dollar exchange experience!
Croatia & Slovenia
We left the winter of South America to the catch the tail end of the European summer season of beautiful Croatia. We spent the whole month of September in Croatia and started off touring the gorgeous national parks of Plitvice and Krka, had our first taste of Cevapi in Zagreb, and got our fill of truffle dishes in the Istria region. We even managed to squeeze in a day trip to Ljubljana, Slovenia to celebrate our wedding anniversary. From there, we visited the beautiful islands of Split, Hvar, and Brac, and finished off our time in Croatia with a delicious food tour and unofficial Game of Thrones tour in Dubrovnik and Lokrum Island!
Italy & Spain
We spent 3 weeks in Italy starting off exploring the ancient city of Pompeii and ate slices of pizza in the birthplace of pizza, Naples. We learned that Italians really say “Mama Mia!” while swerving along the Amalfi Coast in a bus and made our way to Vatican City and Rome, where we couldn’t get over the epic buildings, incredible artwork, and finally tasted real gelato! From there, we made our way to the peaceful town of Assisi, then to Florence where we ate and shopped, visited the black and white columns of Siena Cathedral, and hiked the beautiful towns of Cinque Terre. We stayed in the heart of the world’s oldest shopping mall in Milan, and attended the World Expo. We finished off our time in Italy in the romantic cities of Lake Como and Venice eating at cicchetti bars and listening to live classical music.
We made our way to Spain where we marveled at the incredible works of Guadi and La Sagrada Familia, learned how to make Paella, and ate our fill of tapas while in Barcelona. We frolicked in the perfectly manicured gardens of the Alhambra, visited the official residence of the Royal Family at the Alcazar in Seville, and made a day trip to Cordoba to visit the Mezquita. We learned about the historical importance of Jamon, and finished off our time in Spain experiencing the nightlife of Madrid on Halloween night.
Portugal, Morocco, & Turkey
We got to slow down a bit in Portugal and hung out in Lisbon where we learned about the inspiration for Harry Potter and tried their famous cherry liquor, Ginjinha. We were happily surprised at all the deliciously affordable seafood and pasteis de nata available, and navigated the hidden passageways of the castles and mansions of Sintra.
From our relaxed time in Portugal, we went straight into the madness of Marrakesh in Morocco. We continued our unofficial Game of Thrones tour and went on an unforgettable desert trek where we rode camels and slept under the stars in the Merzouga Desert. We took a break from the chaos (and several tajine dishes) in the seaside town of Essouira, where we picked out our own seafood and dined like locals in an alleyway.
Next up, we made our way to Turkey, where we floated above Cappadocia in a hot air balloon, explored the historical sights of Goreme, and navigated the underground city of Derinkuuyu. We managed to avoid cutting up our feet on the travertine pools of Pamukkale, and spent Thanksgiving touring the historical ruins of Selcuk. While in Istanbul, we visited various sites like the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, and Blue Mosque and devoured kebabs, mussels, and baklava. We had a traditional Turkish breakfast and took the Bosphorus cruise between the European and Asian side of Turkey and got scrubbed down at a Hammam spa.
Qatar, Cambodia, & Vietnam
We redeemed our points and flew business on an A330 where we had an extended layover at the newest and nicest airport we’d ever visited in Doha, Qatar and visited the new swanky shopping areas and old markets of the Souq Waqif. We hopped on a bus to Cambodia, where we sat on mats on the floor in the humid heat to eat the food from the night market of Phnom Penh, learned about the atrocities of the Cambodian genocide at the Tuol Sleng Museum, and visited the Central Market. We took a cooking class and discovered the yummy peppers of Kampot. We finally got up the courage to rent a motorbike and rode around the National Park and local fishing villages of Kep. While in Battambang, we volunteered in a classroom, developed a daily avocado shake addiction, and had a National Geographic moment watching swarms of bats exit a cave at sunset. We finished up our time in Siem Reap exploring the various temples of Angkor Wat and learned you’ll never need to look very far for a Tuk Tuk around Pub street.
We made our way to Vietnam (Minh’s homeland!) where we learned to trust drivers to weave around us while we crossed the street slowly, but steadily. We navigated Ben Thanh Market, the Cu Chi Tunnels, and rang in the New Year in a sea of motorbikes and a rave in the park in Ho Chi Minh City.
We spent 6 weeks in Vietnam, where riding a motorbike became our main mode of transportation, and we discovered the local culinary specialties and dialects/accents of each region. We shopped for fruit on a boat at the floating markets of Can Tho, traversed the Crazy House and sipped fresh coffee from the plantations in Dalat, and discovered the beach town of Nha Trang is a Russian tourist destination. We visited the Imperial City and tombs in Hue and ate lots of Bun Bo. We paid a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s masoleum and discovered the Northern specialties of Hanoi – egg coffee, Bun Cha, and Cha Ca. We kayaked along the gorgeous backdrop of Halong Bay, took a rowboat through the grottoes of Trang An, and had lunch in a stilt house of a clam farmer in Nam Dinh.
Vietnam, Hong Kong, & China
We rang in Tet (our second new year) to the sounds of Xuân Đã Về playing at every corner in the charming town of Hoi An, where we couldn’t get enough of familiar dishes like Cao Lau, Thit Nuong, and Mi Quang. Minh got some suits made and we rode our bikes through the neighboring rice paddies and vegetable farms. Topping off our time in Vietnam was to Minh’s hometown of Da Nang where we motorbiked over the insanely cool Dragon Bridge, hiked up an overcrowded viewpoint at Marble Mountain, volunteered at an English language cafe, and picked out fresh seafood from a local market.
The next stop was to Hong Kong (Tiff’s motherland!) where we excitedly ate dim sum, sang karaoke, and attended a wedding. We explored Tiff’s parent’s old stomping grounds, survived the sensory overload of sights, smells, and shopping galore in Shenzhen, and gained a new found respect for Bruce Lee. We then went on a guided tour to Guangdong and Giangmen, China where we gained insight on family history, ate a lot of traditional food, and relaxed in hot springs.
Myanmar & Thailand
We started off the “banana pancake” trail of hot and humid Southeast Asia for the next 3 months in Myanmar. We learned of the imposed “foreigner fee” and failed at adapting to walking barefoot on hot surfaces when we visited the reclining Buddha and Shwegadon Pagoda in Yangon. We made our way to Bagan where we rode an electric bike catching the sunrises and sunsets from a few of the thousands of historical temples and even played with a sun bear cub who was rescued from the wild. We visited a local market and learned to make various dishes like tea leaf and pennywort salad. Minh added a gold flake to the Mahamuni Buddha and we visited the longest wooden teak bridge in Mandalay. From there, we took one of the craziest mini bus rides to Inle Lake where we decided not to hop into the loud tourist boats and instead rode our bikes around the area.
Thailand was the country we spent the longest time in (2 months). We frequented the amazing food courts at the various shopping malls of Bangkok and took a food tour in Chinatown. We also stayed in the dorms of the Safari Park in Kanchanburi for a week, (during the hottest time of year), where we volunteered to care for and play with various animals including giraffes, zebras, monkeys, elephants, and of course – wild cats!
We headed to the beach town of Hua Hin, then to Chiang Rai to visit the unique White and Black Temples. We attended a Dub festival in the hippie town of Pai and trekked the beautiful Pai Canyon. From there, we rang in Songkran (our third New Year celebration!) in an epic water fight in Chiang Mai, learned that cooking Thai food is a lot of work, and had to bribe a cop for having 3 people (foreigners) on a motorbike. We checked out the nightlife of Patong while in Phuket, and explored the stunning but tourist filled Phi Phi Islands. We ate lots of street food in Koh Samui, and made our way to Koh Tao where we made fresh ceviche from Minh’s catch of the day off a small fishing boat. We also finally took the plunge (literally!) and got PADI certified and discovered a whole new underwater world!
Thailand & Malaysia
Southern Thailand is where we experienced some of the most amazing beaches and sunsets. We ate our first actual banana pancake on the banana pancake trail in Ao Nang, got a flat tire on our motorbike in the rain, and visited an animal rescue in Koh Lanta. We also learned that traveling in low season is a bad idea, as what should have been an easy boat ride turned out to be the longest transit day ever to Koh Lipe. We ended our time in Thailand in the most beautiful white sand and bright blue waters of Koh Lipe and even swam amid the glowing Plankton at night!
We crossed into Malaysia by speedboat and stocked up on duty-free alcohol & chocolate and chased the last of the gorgeous beach life in Langkawi. We made our way into what has become one our favorite cities of awesomely yummy cheap eats, charming street art, and historical architecture – Penang. We learned a lot about the history of the diverse mix of Hakka, Chinese, & Malay in the historical town of Ipoh. We were pleasantly surprised at the luxuriously affordable movie theaters in Kuala Lumpur, where we also indulged in Curry Mee on Petaling street, and watched monkeys swing down from trees at Batu caves. Lastly, we finished off our time in Melaka where we enjoyed the famous chicken and rice ball at Jonker Street.
Singapore & Japan
We took a bus and crossed the border into the extremely clean and modern city of Singapore where we explored the traffic-less city by bike, caught the night time show at the Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands, and couldn’t bear the humidity and heat while at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. We also visited countless hawker stalls searching for the best Prawn Mee and Hainan Chicken.
Our next country was back to one of our favorites – Japan. We enjoyed fresh sashimi from Omicho Market, and frolicked in the impeccable Japanese garden of Kenrokuen in Kanazawa. We walked the temple-laden Higashiyama Trail and indulged in melt-in-your-mouth Hida beef in Takayama, then took a factory tour of the Toyota Assembly Plant. We headed to Osaka where we discovered our favorite sushi joint and learned the catchy cheers during a baseball game. From there, we temple’d ourselves out in Kyoto, visited the ruins of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima, and enjoyed the Onsens and Kaiseki meal in Okayama. We made our way north to Sapporo where we had Hokkaido milk ice cream, drank lots of booze at the Nikko Whiskey Distillery and Sapporo Beer Museum, then pranced around the lavender fields in Furano and picture perfect Biei. From Sapporo, the trains came to a halt and we ended up having to sleep in a Shinkansen for a night! After 3 weeks exploring all around, we finally reached Tokyo where we ate our all-time favorite burger from Blacows and got the last of our sushi fix in before heading to our next country.
Indonesia & Taiwan
We returned to Southeast Asia and hopped back onto a motorbike to visit Saraswati Temple, avoided getting jumped by the monkeys at the Sacred Monkey Forest, and hiked the famous Tegalalang rice terraces while in Ubud, Bali. We splurged on a swanky private villa in Seminyak, failed at catching a nice sunset at Tanah Lot amid hundreds of tourists, and braved an 8 foot drop while river rafting at Telaga Waja. We indulged in massages and chilled out at a beach club in Canggu before heading to the stunning island of Gili Trawangan, where we snorkeled with sea turtles and felt like a kid again riding swings along the beach. We finished off our time in Indonesia getting our Advanced Open Water certification where we got to explore even deeper and saw an amazing shipwreck and more underwater wildlife!
We flew to Taiwan (where the heat and humidity was the worst by far!) where we indulged in plenty of night market food, visited the “secret” Starbucks in Taipei 101, took the Hello Kitty train to Hualien, and hiked the stunning Toroko Gorge in the rain.
Taiwan, Japan, & Korea
In Alishan, we walked along hundreds of sacred 3,000 year old trees then continued our food tour by visiting the largest night market, FengJia in Taichung. To top off our time in Taiwan, we suffered through the relentless sun and heat at Yehliu Geopark, and ate even more food at even more night markets.
We flew to South Korea where we stepped into North Korean territory at the DMZ, then traveled back in time to the traditional Bukchon village, and had our fill of fried chicken and BBQ in Seoul. The historical town of Gyeongju and beach town of Busan was a welcome change from the busy cities, but we quickly learned not speaking Korean or having someone to show us around made it the most difficult country for us to travel around in.
We made a last minute decision to fly back to Japan and ate beside the locals at Yatai stalls along the river, had the best Hakata ramen, and sushi’d ourselves out one last time with an elaborate stairway of sashimi in Fukuoka.
We returned to Seoul where we stocked up on snacks at Lotte Mart, navigated through the vendors of Myeongdong, then flew back home where we finally used our Global Entry pass at LAX!
Our year of travel flew by before we knew it, and there is still so much left for us to explore! This may be the end of our Round-The-World trip, but it is definitely not the end of our travels. Thank you so much for the overwhelming support and following along on our journey!