When you travel you see and learn a lot. Everyone travels in their own way just like we did. Some prefer to stay in a 5-euro-per-night hostel, but we prefer to stay in a private room. Some take an old scooter in Thailand (small engine) and ride the Mae Hong Song loop, we prefer a 650 cc engine. One goes right, the other left… That’s how you create the most incredible travel experiences.
We traveled together for 1.5 years in 2016, 2017, and 2018 and did everything together (including being sick together), but we still experienced it differently. What she found very special, I found okay, or vice versa of course. I liked this part of the country and she liked the other part. That’s why we share our most incredible travel experiences with you.
Kenji’s Top 3
1. Mae Hong Song loop
As a motorcyclist, it is very nice that motorcycles are available everywhere in Asia. The first time we were on an Asian scooter (which is basically a motorcycle) was in Kanchanaburi. That took some getting used to because normally I’m used to a heavy, 1100 cc engine, and now I was riding a scooter with a small 100 cc engine. But after some getting used to it, it went well. It is amazing to have so much freedom. No problems with buses, trains, taxis… Just follow your own path.
In Chiang Mai, I heard about the Mae Hong Song loop. A large loop in the north of Thailand, with Mae Hong Song in the middle. A route that is used by many locals, but also by tourists. We figured it out, calculated the costs (gasp), and started looking for transportation. Just like throughout Thailand, you can rent scooters in Chiang Mai everywhere. We already knew that some parts of the route would be steep, so with such a small scooter, we would never get there. Plus, we also had to pack a lot of gear for our 10-day adventure.
Via Google, we ended up at Pop Car Rent, a fairly large business on the edge of the center of Chiang Mai. I will never forget the eccentric owner. As soon as he realized that I have experience riding a motorcycle, he went straight to the newer, better engines. A big advantage was that we didn’t need to leave behind a passport or something like that. We were able to pay a deposit and that was it. We received the deposit back after 10 days without any problems.
It was 10 days of fun! Views I had never seen before, the nicest villages, people, food, drinks, valleys, and landscapes. We were (very) cold and (very) hot. A lot of tourists think you have to race down a mountain as quickly as possible, but I enjoyed the view and the freedom more. It has become the most beautiful ride of my life. Just a pity for those tourists who climbed up with such a small scooter.
As far as I’m concerned, this is my number 1 of the most incredible travel experiences from backpacking the world in 2016-2018.
2. Diving in Bali
When we left the Netherlands we had no idea what we were going to do. I also didn’t know that I would be 20 meters below sea level. In Malaysia, it actually started to itch a bit. I heard that you can dive in the Perhentian Islands. So I did some research, but everything was booked, and expensive, and we ran out of time. Our visa was about to expire and it was also time to go to Indonesia. After all, we had been in Malaysia for almost five months.
Finally, I found a nice dive site in Bali, in a small town called Amed. I emailed several diving schools, but Amed White Sand Divers came out on top. When we arrived in Amed someone from the diving school came by to see if it was a good fit. It was a short conversation, but it all went well (can I swim, do I have physical problems, what do you expect from it… that kind of thing).
The first day was a fun dive. Without too much information – except for a small lesson ‘101 ways to die under water – we went into the water. I think we went up to 10 meters. But breathing underwater for the first time is so special. Everything is slower, you fly, and the fish are also less afraid of you. We swam around, did some small exercises, and went back. The first time was 30 minutes. I had no idea how to behave underwater, so all the movements made me lose a lot more oxygen than with experience.
The following days it was theory and practice underwater. It got better and better and in the end, we managed to keep it up for 1.5 hours. The last dive was to a wreck. This would also be the exam dive. The depth that is then measured will be the depth that will appear on your certificate. With a little effort, I got to 20 meters.
It’s a very special experience. It’s a completely different world. The colors are different, the sound, the fish, the speed, and the movements. That’s why this is my number 2 of the most incredible travel experiences from backpacking the world in 2016-2018.
3. Road Trip!
To travel is to move. Whether by bus, plane, or boat. You are constantly on your way to the next location, which is not bad at all. But it is even better to have your own transport. Since we would also be in the USA for a while we came up with the idea of doing a road trip. The route would go from Los Angeles through the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe bend, Las Vegas, Yosemite Park, and San Francisco back to Los Angeles. A 2-week route.
We rented a car in Los Angeles through Alamo, a Honda Elegance. Great car, spacious, luxurious, and very clean. We loved the car and the scenery of the West Coast. We saw everything pass by; cacti, route 66, sand, mountains, huge long trains, large groups of motorcyclists, and diners.
The Grand Canyon is something you have to see for yourself. It’s hard to imagine how big it is and how small you feel when you’re there. The same also applies to the Horseshoe bend. Las Vegas was fun too, but probably more fun if we had more money. We did have a very nice birthday. Yosemite Park was also great to drive through. In the morning we drove in the heat and 2 hours later we drove through the snow. A very special environment. Unfortunately, we had to skip San Francisco because of the forest fires, but we had a few nice, but quiet, days in Santa Cruz.
Before I went to the US, I had a completely different image of America and the Americans. But this road trip has changed that a lot. I would like to do it again, but a different route.
Rieneke’s Top 3
1. Mulu National Park
Malaysia is a country that really surprised me. The beautiful nature, the friendly people, and the delicious food. After some research on the internet, we found Mulu National Park. And although the Pinnacle tour was too hard for my knees, there was reason enough to go there.
Like Taman Negara, Mulu National Park is a rainforest. With a tiny plane, you fly over the woods until you land in the middle of the national park. You immediately notice that it is much more humid and warmer than in other parts of Malaysia. Everywhere you look you see huge green plants and trees. We stayed just outside the park in a hut where there was no electricity during the day. That was quite a challenge with the temperature rising considerably. Fortunately, we could cool down in the evening and at night.
On the days that we were here, we visited two caves, we saw a real bat exodus, we got wet to the bone, we walked high between the tops of the trees and we saw very scary insects. We left the park the way we came and enjoyed all the beauty that Mulu National Park has to offer one more time high in the sky.
2. Trans Mongolian Railway
A long cherished dream of mine has been fulfilled during our first world trip. In fact, we’ve built our journey around it. When we were busy with our plans and where we wanted to go, this was the first thing I shouted out: Let’s start with the Trans Mongolian Railway! Due to the bureaucracy and all the visas you need, this was the only part of our route that we had completely planned at home with some help from a travel agency, specializing in the Trans Mongolian Railway and Transiberia Railway.
After a few days in Moscow, the great adventure began. There were ladies neatly in uniform directing everyone in the right direction. We installed ourselves in the compartment where we spent the next four days. We got to know our travel companions as best as we could and that’s how we figured out that we got the first meal for free. The days were all about relaxing, playing games, listening to music, looking outside, socializing, walking through the train, and getting to know the many Russian delicacies at all equally beautiful and special train stations.
After a short stop in Irkutsk, we continued to Mongolia. We got used to living on the train and have found a rhythm. Before we knew it we were in Ulaanbaatar where we left the train to spend a few days in a real yurt. This experience was fantastic and puts Mongolia on our list to explore further. The train continued to China where we were thrown into the deep in Datong and ended up in a completely different world. They didn’t speak English, we couldn’t get money anywhere and our first hotel was so dirty that we hardly dared to sleep there. The last part of the train ride took us to Beijing and showed us how beautiful nature in China is.
While it’s not technically a highlight, I’ll use my third option in the top three for the animal section. All over the world, we have seen so many beautiful and fun animals, something that makes me very happy every time.
The first highlight in this list is the pandas in Chengdu. We visited the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. I could have spent a few more days here. We left extra early so that we were there around feeding time. In all kinds of different enclosures, we saw big pandas, little pandas, red pandas, baby pandas, brother-sister pandas, and more pandas. And one is even cuter than the other. If I could I would have brought one!
In Kuala Lumpur, we visited the Bird Park. The large aviary where you can walk around freely and where the birds walk around and over you is something you will never forget.
And of course, the elephants in Udawalawe (Sri Lanka) cannot be missed. Although this safari goes down in the books as the peacock safari, we were still happy to see an elephant herd up close toward the end. Very special to see how the little elephants were protected by the rest of the herd.
In Australia, we were quickly done with Melbourne. The big cities are nice for a day but then nature calls. So we rented a car and drove to Phillip Island to attend the Penguin Parade. Although we were treated to heavy showers while waiting, the journey of the penguins from the sea back to the mainland was more than worth it.
Share your most incredible travel experiences with us
There you have it! Our personal top 3 of the most incredible travel experiences while backpacking the world. Of course, there are way more countries, activities, and whatnot we loved, but these are the ones on the top of our list.
We love to learn more about your most incredible travel experiences! Feel free to share them with us in the comments below this blog. Let’s create a travel bucket list together for everyone who is still on the verge of going backpacking or traveling the world.
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