This year was filled with new travel experiences, inspiring the inception of this blog, so there is no better place than here to reflect on my top memories from around the world in 2019.
Over the past 12 months, Mr. Chuckles and I had the opportunity to embark on 4 trips, encompassing 3 continents, 5 countries, and 12 cities/towns. We had several notable moments throughout our travels, but I’ve narrowed them down to a top 10 list of the ones that stand out most in my mind.
10. Surviving 15+ hours on an economy class flight.
Not all memorable experiences are necessarily enjoyable, and this is one moment on the list where this applies.
Until this past year, the longest direct flight both Mr. Chuckles and I had been on was a brutal 13 hour trip to Seoul via the delightful (read: terribly uncomfortable) airline known as Air Canada. We surpassed this record in 2019 on our 15 hour 15 minute flight from Toronto to Hong Kong, en route to Bangkok. On the bright side, we travelled via Cathay Pacific which is far superior to every other airline I’ve ever flown with. We were lucky on our flight out of Toronto where we both managed to snag entire rows of seats to ourselves, so were able to semi-simulate a business class experience by stretching out for a decent sleep. We were not so fortunate on our return home, cramped on a full flight with crying babies and maximum seat recliners (I hate those people!). I’m not quite sure how we will tolerate our upcoming flight back to Southeast Asia next year; it’s probably best just not to think about it for now.
9. Swimming under a waterfall in Laos.
Once we landed in Southeast Asia, we embarked on a fantastic trip with a slew of great experiences. One of these was our visit to Kuang Si Waterfall just outside of Luang Prabang, Laos, where we had the chance to go for a much needed refreshing swim, on my birthday! Temperatures in Laos exceeded 40 degrees Celsius at that time of year, so we enthusiastically welcomed any opportunity to jump into a pool of cold water. The waterfalls are absolutely beautiful and I recommend this place as a must-see for anyone visiting Luang Prabang.
8. Cruising on a slow boat along the Mekong River.
We experienced multiple modes of transport during our trip through Thailand and Laos, the most serene of which was the long tail slow boat that took us from Chiang Khong, Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos. It sure beat the overnight sleeper train that we had been on a few days earlier. I really enjoyed this part of the trip, which allowed us to travel down the vast Mekong River past rolling hills, limestone karsts, and local villages.
During the cruise, we had one crazy night in the sleepy town of Pakbeng which I’ve promised to never document in writing 🤫, and a trip to the Pak Ou Caves filled with hundreds of Buddhist figures. What a journey!
7. Celebrating the new year in Laos and Thailand.
One of the upsides of visiting Laos and Thailand during the sweltering month of April was that it coincided with the new year in both countries, known as Pi Mai in Laos and Songkran in Thailand.
We were in Vientiane during Pi Mai, where we got our first taste of the customary streetside water fights that are part of their festivities. When we returned to Bangkok for our final day of the trip, we got right into the Songkran action on Silom Road where we were the target of many a Super Soaker. Joining in with the locals during their celebrations was a unique experience that Mr. Chuckles and I will always remember.
6. Visiting iconic landmarks in San Francisco, as seen on TV.
Much of my existing knowledge of San Francisco was gleaned from the screen. This iconic American city has been featured in countless Hollywood movies, including classics ranging from The Rock to Mrs. Doubtfire, and in television series like the favourite sitcom of my childhood, Full House.
This year, Mr. Chuckles and I finally had the chance to see the city in real life. We walked on the Golden Gate Bridge, hiked up Lombard Street, visited the Full House and Mrs. Doubtfire houses, and spent a day at the old Alcatraz prison – bringing to life all those images we’ve seen before. We ate a lot of sushi there, too.
5. Exploring the flora and fauna of the Amazon rainforest.
Our trip to the Amazon Basin of Peru was timely, as we travelled there around when news of the burning Amazon rainforest in Brazil were coming to light. We did our part in saving the rainforest by contributing to Amazonia Expeditions, a well-reputed and responsible organization that does a lot of good conservation work to preserve the biodiversity of this vital ecosystem. God only knows what will happen to the Amazon in the coming decades, so this trip may have truly been a once in a lifetime experience for us. Granted, we really struggled in the heat and humidity, so probably are not built to withstand repeated travel back to this part of the world. Nonetheless, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to go on this trip. We saw so much and also learned about ourselves, namely that we are meant to remain urban dwellers!
4. Seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World: Machu Picchu.
Mr. Chuckles and I had seen one of the Seven Wonders last year when we visited the Colosseum in Rome. This year, we checked another one off the list in Peru when we hiked the Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu. It looked just like the pictures but made even more awe-inspiring when we considered the history, including the fact that it was constructed by an ancient civilization with presumably no automated machinery. Plus, llamas.
3. Hanging out with elephants in Thailand.
Going back to our memories from Thailand, our time at Elephant Nature Park is definitely within the top 3 of my best travel moments in 2019. We planned this excursion independent from our packaged Intrepid tour and was the activity that we were most anticipating upon our arrival in Chiang Mai. We spent a full day at a small camp called Care for Elephants, where we fed, walked, and bathed a group of three senior Asian elephants that had been rescued from the tourism industry. This was followed by a visit to the main Elephant Nature Park located across the river, where we observed several of the sanctuary’s other 80 rescued elephants. Best day ever.
2. Travelling with old friends and meeting new ones.
Unless you’re going the solo route, an essential part of a positive travel experience is being with compatible travel companions. Mr. Chuckles is pretty good. He allows me to obsess over the minutiae of our daily itinerary, while he just goes along with whatever I plan. If only he would rate me 5 stars on TripAdvisor for being such a great guide. 😏
This year, we were able to travel with a couple of my old housemates from Vancouver when we were in Peru. The last time I had travelled with them was back in 2016 when we went to Spain together, so it was nice to catch up and check off some bucket list adventures together. We also made some new friends on our trips, while on our Intrepid tour and during some of our other organized day trips in Southeast Asia and Peru. Alongside interacting with locals, meeting other travellers is one of my favourite things about exploring the world. It’s a great opportunity to compare notes and make connections with people from potential future travel destinations!
1. Living out our foodie dreams around the world.
As you can tell from the recently added section of this blog, Mr. Chuckles’ Cooking Corner, we are major foodies. In fact, most of our travel plans are centred around coordinating our meals.
This year, we ate at two Michelin starred restaurants outside of North America. In Bangkok, we had an out of this world 25 course tasting menu dinner at Gaggan, which was ranked the top restaurant in Asia for several years running. It has since closed, so we will need to return to Japan for chef Gaggan Anand’s next venture. In Lima, we had lunch at Central Restaurante, another top notch tasting menu with the most creative plating that I’ve seen, inspired by the diverse ecosystems of Peru. We had been dreaming about eating at these restaurants since we had seen them featured in the Netflix special Chef’s Table, and they both exceeded our expectations.
I’ll wrap up this recap of 2019 with a quote from the late Anthony Bourdain, a much more eloquent writer than I am, and an inspiration for travellers and foodies everywhere.
Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you.Anthony Bourdain
Wishing you all a joyous holiday season and further happy travels in the New Year.