Friday, May 9, 2014

Post-Sabbatical Highlights From Each Country - What a Trip!

While I sip on a dirty martini in downtown Montreal because United cancelled my connecting flight to Newark, compensating me with a 'Quality' Hotel in the middle of nowhere and 3 $8 coupons that can only be used at the airport in 1 sitting at either Starbucks, Burger King or a diner, I reflected on my trip, thinking I should come up with highlights from each country. 
Thank you United for giving me this reflection time.

During my Sabbatical in 2014, i was in:
* America for 13 days, 
* South East Asia for 66 days, 
* Sub-Indian Continent for 32 days, 
* Europe for 5 days 
* Canada for .5 days. 

I read 15 books. I filled up 4 journals. I ate simple, but mouth-watering food. I laughed. I engaged with locals and travelers. I savored alone time. I puked 13 times. I experienced generosity. I star-gazed. I admired temples. I witnessed new cultures. I hiked through the mountains. I relaxed on beaches. I found my zen.  

My Highlights

   SOUTHERN VIETNAM: Jan 5 - Jan 7
Cities: Hi Cho Minh, Can Tho, Chau Doc

Food: Ho Chi Minh street food tour with Back of the Bike Tours. Nothing like arriving to a city and heading straight to the streets for some of the best food of my 4 month trip. (Blog Post)
CAMBODIA: Jan 8 - Jan 20
Cities: Kep, Kampot, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap

Food: $3-7 Kampot black pepper crabs & street vendors selling gluten-free coconut rice flour waffles
 PeopleI visited Doris Dillon School in Kampot Province giving them books & supplies. (Blog Post)
Culture: Watching the Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple and Exploring the surrounding Angkor complex from dawn to dusk. (Blog Post)

Activity70km Round-trip bike ride to Banteay Srei, pink sandstone temple, stopping at street vendors to try the 'best noodle soup' in Cambodia and steamed rice wrapped bananas (Blog Post)

Favorite Experience
My impromptu overnight stay on Rabbit Island involved laughing with local kids as they curiously and creatively played with my camera, watching the sunset from a hammock, helping a villager pick up leaves with a stick...(Blog Post)

NORTHERN LAOS: Jan 21 - Feb 2
Cities: Luang Prabang, Luang Namtha, Nong Khiaw

                                         Food:  Coconut milk rice flour pancake

Activity: Rope swing into crystal blue waterfall pools

Culture: Morning fresh fish and vegetable markets 

Favorite Experience3 day, 2 night hike with Tiger Trails. No electricity. No running water. No electronics. A lot of sticky rice, communal dinners, roaming animals, pick-up soccer games & rodent eating. (Blog Post)

Cities: Sapa, Hanoi

FoodSelf-guided Hanoi street food crawl (Blog Post), trying Pho, Xoi xeo, Vietnamese coffee, Banh cuon, bun cha, bun ca & che. All super delicious. No! I didn't get food poisoning from street food!

Favorite ExperienceSpending time with Jenny and her daughters in Hanoi, who I met on the train, after they took care of me, helping me recover from my nasty food poisoning at a restaurant in Sapa. (Blog Post)
Myanamar (Burma): Feb 11 - Feb 27
Cities: Yangon, Bagan, Heho (Inle Lake), Thandwe (Ngapali Beach), Mawlymine, Hpa'an

Food: Morning street food breakfast of fish mohinga

Culture: Exploring the temples of Myanmar on old school bikes without all the tourists - like the overcrowded Angkor complex in Cambodia. (Blog Post)

Activity: Biking, boat riding and wine drinking with Alberto in Inle Lake (Blog Post)

Favorite: Hiking up Mt Zwegabin, meeting monks and other locals along the way with my new travel buddies, Melissa and Cassie. (Blog Post)
Bhutan: Feb 28 - Mar 8
Cities: Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Gantey (8 day tour with Smile Bhutan)

Food: I was not in love with the Bhutan cuisine, but the Chili Cheese dish was my favorite.

Activity: Hiking to Tiger's Nest, a temple that dates back to the 7th century built into the side of the mountain. It's no wonder why it's selected as the Bhutan guidebook covers. (Blog Post)

Favorite Experience: Staying at the farm house of the sister-in-law of our driver, cozying up on mattresses on the floor with Katie & Jill in the prayer room. I woke up to the 1st snow of the season, which I played in with the daughter of our host. (Blog Posts - Day 58 and Day 59)

Nepal: March 9 - April 1

Cities: Kathmandu (Patan, Pashupati, Boudhanath, Swaya), Everest Range, Bhaktapur, Nagarkot

Food - Fresh & thick yogurt in Bhaktapur (Juju Dhau / King Curd)

Culture - Massive white Stupas with gold gilded tops, contrasting against the blue sky, and surrounded by reverent Buddhists...and monkeys.

People - Hardworking porters (and Yaks) climb the mountain carrying hiker's backpacks, supplies to the teahouses and gear for the big expeditions to the top of Everest.
In memory of the 4/18/2014 tragedy where 16 porters died in a deadly avalanche on Mt. Everest.

Activity - 18 day hike with no technology, freezing cold nights, a lot of dal baht, stunning landscapes and serene surroundings. The top challenge was crossing the steep and icy Chola mountain pass.
Favorite Experience - Reaching the top of Kalapathar (5550 meters) & my tears of joy overlooking the stunning view of the Everest range. Mt. Everest (8850 meters) is the dark mountain peak behind me and due to perspective it looks shorter than the snow capped mountain (Lhotse) on the right!
Thailand: April 2 - April 13
Island: Ko Pagnan (Blog Post

Food: Fresh Coconuts

People: Awesome crew of people hanging out at the Sanctuary

Activity: Lounging around the sanctuary reading books, getting massages, staring memorized at the blue waters & reaching zen...

Favorite Experience: Waking up 11 mornings in a row to magical & peaceful sunrises. The cicadas would start chirping in unison every morning at 5:58am for a solid 15 minutes or more. (And No, these photos are not enhanced).

SO, that's it. Time sure flies, but what a trip. My parting words are:

"If it excites you & scares the crap out of you at the same time, it probably means you should do it!"

NEXT STOP: 1 week in California, 48 hours in London and 48 hours in Paris.