Five reasons to travel

Since I’ve met Kelly, I’ve been travelling. Before I met Kelly, I had no interest in seeing the world. Well, it’s not that I had no interest; I’d always wanted to see Japan and Iceland, but there never seemed any urgency. Friends would go off on their obligatory world travel trip before (or during, or after) Uni, but not me. In hindsight it’s funny because one of the few things that’s stuck in my mind from my TAFE days was a lecturer telling me “there is no money better spent than on travel.” And she really meant it.

This is not a 180-degree-turn story. I still don’t want to travel as much as I should. I think with more traveling experience I gain more travelling desire, but there are still times when Kelly’s forcing twisting my arm to go somewhere new. Although she doesn’t need to twist too hard anymore.

As you can imagine — with Kuala Lumpur as our base — Asia is the hot travel destination for us. We’ve been to a few nearby countries (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, Bali, as well as parts of Malaysia: Pankour, Lankawi, and Melaka) and are currently considering a two-week trip around China in October. Either that or France to visit some friends. It’s so cheap (and close) to fly to these places from KL it’s silly not to go as much as we can.

Anyways, when I think about the travelling I’ve done, and the photos we’ve taken, it all kind of gets lost in the haze that is my memory (and possibly why I’ve re-taken to photography the last few years). But if I’m honest with myself, there are only a handful of moments (so far) which sum up the joy of travelling for me. These are moments that I want to pay for and experience again in my lifetime, moments in which time just melts away, moments which make me believe there is no money better spent than on travel.

Here are five such I’d-kill-to-experience-this-again moments, in no particular order.

Swimming pool, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Our first visit to Cambodia, no long before we’d moved to Malaysia. Our good friend Claire had been living in Siem Reap for a while, doing inspirational work with neglected children. This was the first time I’d experienced real humidity, and on a day-long exploration of the surrounding Wats on US$1 hire bikes, I was overcome by what I believe to be heat exhaustion. I’d never experienced anything like it before. I couldn’t even think straight — and I knew it — but could do nothing about it. Scary shit.

That, as you can imagine, was not one of the top-five travel moments.

We’d booked our stay at The Golden Banana1, a small but idyllic B&B right in the middle of Siem Reap. One particular evening it was growing dark and Kelly, Claire, Chantelle and I had been swimming in the small but palm tree-surrounded pool, drinking deliciously fresh US$4 mojitos for the past couple hours.

As the evening grew darker, Kelly and Chantelle left the pool to get ready for going out, and Claire was talking to a local guy by the side of the pool. I was left in the water, floating on my back staring up through the palm frons into the deep blue-grey cloudy sky. My ears were submerged and I could head Claire’s distinctive laugh though the rippling water. As I lay there the sky was flashing with constant lighting, but no sound. Just the light — flash, flash, flash — and muffled and distorted laughter. I was tipsy and weightless. I remember thinking: if I was struck by lighting died right now, I’d die happy.

I wasn’t struck by lightning, and I’m still alive, but I knew I’d never forget that moment.

Bike ride, Mikołajki, Poland

In mid 2010, only weeks after we’d arrived in KL, we took a three week trip to my homeland of Poland. My cousin Michał was getting married and the whole family was heading over from Australia and Germany to witness and partake in the celebrations. Our trip toured the main cities of Poland; Kraków, Warsaw, and ending in Gdańsk, but we also visiting some lesser known, off-the-beaten-track parts. One such part was Mikołajki, in the ‘lakes district’ of Poland.

Mikołajki was the last stop before heading north to Gdańsk, where we’d spend a week with my family and celebrate the wedding. Up until that point, we’d been having average luck weather-wise, with the worst flooding in Poland in over 100 years2. Awesome timing. In Warsaw, we literally watched the Wisła river swell up and over large bridges in three days. It was amazing but unnerving. We had to re-route some travel plans due to the flooding.

In stark contrast, the four days we had in Mikołajki were absolutely perfect weather-wise. We spent the time on boats, drinking beer, and eating great food. We stayed at a small summer house on a large lake. After a couple of breakfasts the owner asked us what we had planned for the day. We told him of our desire to hire some bikes and explore the town and surrounding country side. Immediately he told us of some bikes he had in the shed and gave us a map of a bike trail he enthusiastically recommended. We agreed to do the ride and by the time we were ready to go, he’d pulled the bikes out, cleaned them off, oiled them, and tightened all bits that needed tightening.

And off we went.

You know how in the movies, you see a couple go for a walk in some beautiful sunny field surrounded but miles of bright green grass, butterflies, birds, and silence? Those scenes to which the whole movie builds up? Where the guy finally gets the girl because the surrounds are so flippin’ romantic? Well, that’s where we found ourselves. It. Was. Amazing! It was sunny, but still cool; the track we rode along gently undulated with no difficult parts; and we could see and hear storks, bees, rabbits, swallows, foxes, and a bunch of other animals going about their daily business. I can’t do it justice with words, or even pictures. It was simply perfect.

Morskie Oko, Tatra mountains, Poland

On the same trip, just after watching the Wisła swell six meters in as many days, we caught a bus to Zakopane, on the east side of Poland. This is a ski town, at the foot of mountains impressive mountains shared with Slovakia. During the off-season, it is a hub for mountain walkers and climbers.

The weather started to get better in Zakopane, in that we had a couple days without constant rain. On one of those days we headed towards Morskie Oko (Marine Eye); a popular tourist spot a very long walk (or a shorter horse-cart ride) into the Tatra National Park. Morskie Oko itself is a pristine lake surrounded on all sides by steep and then-still-snow-capped mountains. Here’s a picture of what I’m talking about. Amazing, no?

As awesome as this was, it was not my moment. The walk up to Morskie Oko contained my moment. As we made our way through a steep, pine tree-dense valley, we walked into somewhat of a clearing, which for the first time presented us with a 360-degree views of the Tatra mountains. Mind you, we weren’t looking at the mountains, we were in the middle of the mountains. And I felt it. The air was nippy, it was silent, and I couldn’t take it in properly. I mean, I kept turning around to see more of the mountains, and then I’d turn again to see the bit just behind me, and then again… It was all-encompassing. It was humbling.

My eyeballs were blown, and my mind was blown, but I still whipped out the camera to capture some video. I think I was trying to prove to myself that it was real. Or hoping to prove to others back home it was. Of course, the resulting video was pathetic in comparison (but watch for the disappearing wife trick ;)

I’d love to go back right to this spot and experience it again. I must.

High five, Luang Prabag, Laos

Our recent trip to Laos had us stay in a picturesque riverside town called Luang Prabang. During our stay, Kelly and I wanted to ride up to Kuang Xi waterfall on some bikes; about 29kms one way. It was a pretty good ride actually, the highlights being each time we rode through a small village and waved at the local kids.

Coming into one such village, and pedalling up a slight incline, we saw a kid caning down the hill. He was maybe 12 years old. I wished I had an extra hand so I could’ve operated my camera whilst riding. Not to worry though, because as he came towards us I saw he had a massive Lao grin and he held his hand out ready for an on-the-move high five! Immediately, as if by muscle memory, I stuck my hand out as well, ready for the slapping of palms…

Smack!

…and a few seconds later a second smack! of Kelly’s hand behind me.

A local kid, dealing directly in the currency of high fives. Gold.

Castleton, Derbyshire, England.

My first trip abroad as an adult was to the UK. Kelly’s good friend Justine had moved back to England with her man Mark. It had been a year or so since they’d moved and the news came they were birthing3 a boy. Kelly wanted to visit, but I had no such want. Looking back I’m not really sure why I resisted; but I resisted enough for Kelly to offer to pay for my airfare to get me to go. And, flippin’ hell, I was so glad she did.

England was a revelation. Not in the sense that it was in itself so amazing, but that I was in another country and things felt different. It was winter, and the air was crisp. I noticed it straight away: I’d never breathed air as cold as this in my life, and that was the amazing part. (We also had eight days out of nine with blue skies and sunshine, which I learned later was ridiculously lucky for London (or most places) in winter).

We stayed in London for nine days, then spent a week driving up to Scotland to stay with my cousin Ag and her (then) boyfriend Neil4. Driving yourself is a great way to get around because you can stop wherever and whenever you want. One such place, was Castleton.

Castleton is a small country town surrounded by big green farms and bluestone fences. It has its own castle, and many freshwater streams run though it. It was cold, pretty wet, and English. It looked like a town Tim Burton may have created as a set for one of his films. Rustic. Quaint, Authentic.

It had a disproportionate number of pubs, and residents brewed their own own ales which were of particular interest to this story (and me). You see, at this stage in my life I was only getting into drinking beer. Previously, I drank wine (and vodka — I’m Polish). Coming to the UK I decided to keep a diary of all the locally-brewed beers and ales I encountered and scoring them from 1 to 10. I recall the only beer/ale to score a 10 on our trip was one they served in Castleton. I needed a second pint to ensure there wasn’t a factor such as dehydration or extreme thirst swaying the score. Fortunately, there wasn’t. Unfortunately, I lost the diary not long after we returned to Oz so I can’t remember the name of it :(

The combination of my first real trip abroad plus all the things (I thought) I’d want in a town and community when I retire made visiting Castleton one of my favourite travel moments.

Epilogue

I know what you’re thinking: “you went to Japan a couple years back and it was already on your hit list, where is the definitive Japanese moment?” I can’t answer that really. Japan was something else entirely. So overwhelming that it’s impossible to take in on a two-week trip. Japan left me with a desire to stay for at least 12 months. In Kyoto. If this ever happens, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of moments to write about.

Also, Kelly and I spent a some time in New Zealand’s south island. This was incredible. Milford Sound was spectacular and is worth a mention for sure. I just can’t recall a specific moment at the time of this blog post. I’m sure there was one; perhaps many. I know it’s where I first clapped eyes on the infamous yellow leather belt.

Epi-epilogue

Two things are left on my do-do list of travel5: Go to Iceland, and see the Aurora Borealis (or Northern Lights). I might be able to kill both birds with one stone. Here’s hoping.

  1. It was only towards the end of our trip did I realise (or I was told) the name is a no-so-subtle reference to being a gay-friendly hotel. Up until that point, I just thought it was an awesome kooky name.
  2. It has been described as the worst natural disaster in Poland’s history.
  3. I love that word.
  4. They are now married, and have also birthed a child.
  5. Other things will be added over time no doubt.