If there are roughly 7.4 billion people on this planet, you’re bound to get along with at least one of them.
True, some people may not click with you or the people you do meet you may never see ever again but the ones that do make your experience a whole lot better. When I was in venice, I met a girl from Canada who, I can now say, is a really good friend of mine. We went on to Florence and even Rome together until I dropped her off at the train station on the day she had to fly home. Now we message each other at least once a day, telling each other about our parallel lives.
In Vietnam we, also, met a guy (good old Seb from Oxford) who had already spent 3 weeks travelling from the south, Ho Chi Minh, to the north, Hanoi, which is where we’d seen him. Our whole group got on so well with him that he was convinced to spend another 3 weeks travelling back down south with us. Some people may say that’s stupid. I say thats a good friendship made!
I also met someone in Madrid, from Adelaide, who I met up with, again, in Rome and spent a lovely two days with having the most refreshing conversations I’d had in a while. I’d say I’m quite a versatile human being; I get along with most people but, even if you don’t, the range of different people I met was enough to suit my whole Facebook friends list.
It is fact that almost every person I’ve met has offered a bed to me if I ever come to their country. I met the most Italian girl you can imagine, in Bali, and when I mentioned that I was visiting her home town, Rome, she instantly invited me to stay the whole time I was there. I didn’t just endure a week of free accommodation, but a good friend to spend time with, the best local gelato in town, the prettiest but not tourist-ridden spots and a fair few near-to-death drives through the centre (Italians drive like maniacs incase you didn’t know). I’d also never thought about going to Canada but, now, having made such good friends with a Canadian and having heard about all these beautiful places and things to do, there’s no way anyone’s going to stop me.
Trying the local cuisine has got to be one of the most interesting things I’ve done; if not for the food, try it for the experience. Specifically, in Bangkok, on the infamous Khao San road, there are old women who push trollies and carry trays around all night long, waiting for their next victim. Yes, victim. These trollies are filled with crickets, cockroaches, spiders, snails, scorpions and any living bug you can think of. I, of course, was not going to leave Bangkok not having tried one of these specimens. Weirdly, I found eating a scorpion wasn’t that bad. I know everyone says anything they try tastes like chicken but, this scorpion seriously did taste like chicken… and salt.
In Vietnam, although a £2 dominoes pizza and drink deal might come into sight and tempt you every now and then, do not give in. There is always a little family-run street food stall just around the corner for less money and a heck of a lot better.
We were in Hanoi for one of my best friend’s birthday’s, on the first night of Vietnam so we headed out to find ourselves a nice place among all the stalls marked with plastic chairs and tables which were just as low. All the tables were very long which helped our group of 8! We walked about 10 minutes before we found a restaurant where they stuck two pots at each end of the table and filled it with seafood, noodles, meat and spring rolls, all at different times, which we could cook ourselves. We all agreed that it was one of the best meals and experiences we’d had. It also helped that they had a little dog who constantly had his little tongue flopped out the side of his mouth.
Another restaurant we visited in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was one called Haven. Appropriately named for a restaurant that takes orphans living on the streets and teaches them how to cook and wait on customers so they can have a career and not have to live on the streets all their lives. The money is put aside, in a separate bank account, and awaits the end of their training so they can spend it on building up their own business or any way it can be used to benefit them in the long term. The food was to die for as well, if I had to recommend one restaurant to go to, in Cambodia, it would have to be Haven.
I’d have to say the best thing about travelling is the culture you can immerse yourself into.
We met the kindest old man in the Balinese rice paddies, in Ubud; probably between 60 and 70 years old. When someone in our group asked for a coconut, we were not expecting him to go round the back of his hut and climb up a coconut tree hanging roughly 50 metres above the rice paddies. He, then, serenaded us with his DIY handcrafted recorder and was smiling and laughing, along with his wife, as we communicated as much as we could.
In Thailand, on Koh Phi Phi, we fortunately got caught in the middle of Songkran, otherwise known as Thai new year. Even more commonly known as that event in Thailand where you are constantly, for one, being sprayed with water or having a bucket of water tipped over you, secondly, having clay and powder chucked at, your face primarily but also, the rest of your body and lastly, holding a water gun twice the size of you, for 3 days straight. I remember the first morning, just wanting to walk 20 metres down the street to get some water, and walking into the shop completely dripping. Definitely, something I will never forget or regret.
Vietnam, I think, is one of the most diverse countries I visited, due to every region being so different to the next. In the north we visited Sapa, a massive mountainous area of 6383.9 kilometres squared entirely covered in rice fields. The views were unreal but also were the lives of the villagers that lived there. We stayed with an 18 year old girl who was 3 years married and pregnant. her lifestyle was shockingly different to ours and had us all thinking about our lives for the 30km walk through mud, rocks, and a god-awfully close thunderstorm that we had ahead of us.
Nearer the south of Vietnam, we stayed in a small fishing town, mostly made up of sand dunes. We decided one afternoon we’d spend relaxing on the beach, sometimes needed when constantly travelling. Although, we did not expect to see two dogs on a surfboard, that’s for sure! I instantly ran into the water introducing myself to Tom (the owner) and his two companions, Nemo and Daisy, who spend every day learning how to surf and picking up the insane amount of litter piled up on the 12km stretch of beach. An inspirational trio to all.
Upon entering Cambodia you can really tell that the civil war only ended 37 years ago. Every city is very run down which does make the country oddly beautiful but also makes us see, for ourselves, how war creates chaos. We went to the killing fields and s21 museum where you can see the prison where hundreds of people were kept and the bloodstains, on the floor, of almost all these people, a tree that was used to kill babies by smashing their heads against it, rooms with metal beds that were left in the exact position they were found. I was so full of emotion, I couldn’t keep myself up by the last couple of hours – I’ve never felt so strongly about something I have nothing to do with. This is a primary example of how the culture really consumes you and, to me, thats a big part of travelling. It sounds horrendous but it’s honestly a must-do when in Phnom Penh.
As a soon-to-be university student, studying Spanish and Italian, the culture of these two countries affect me slightly more. Florence was the city, out of all the cities I visited, in which I made the most friends. Every night we’d drank some wine and 20 of us up hundreds of steps to Piazzale Michelangelo where a traditional Italian folk band would play every night. On the last night, we all danced and joined in the culture, and knowing the band quite well after visiting them 3 nights in a row they encouraged me to sing with them in a song I’d requested. It was probably the most freeing experience I had, which is what Spanish and Italian culture does to me; everyone deserves to find a culture that they enjoy that much.
Almost all of the experiences I had, I can safely say, would never have happened without the opportunity to go travelling. A few of the many examples are diving in the Great Barrier Reef, shooting a gun at the Cuchi tunnels, riding motorcycles through Hai Van Pass, having monkeys climb all over me in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, skydiving in Sydney, surfing in Kuta, Sandboarding and riding quad bikes through the sand dunes in Mui Ne, exploring mud caves in Phong Nha, randomly spotting whale sharks in Krabi, cliff jumping in Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon, chasing waterfalls throughout Asia and watching an extensive amount of beautiful sunsets to last you a lifetime.
Fact: Travelling is good for you.
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