We had a pretty incredible year in 2016, the best yet if I may say so myself. From living in New Zealand to Backpacking Asia, to drinking steins at Oktoberfest and bringing in the New Year in Edinburgh. It’s made choosing our favourite moments quite difficult, but we did it and here they are!
One of the most surreal experiences during our travels was when we were in New Zealand. We were staying on The Rock, a car ferry turned live aboard boat YHA Hostel in Paihia, a small seaside town in the northern tip of the North Island. The boat/hostel took us around the Bay of Islands where we were able to fish, night kayak to see phosphoresence, and do a small hike on one of the islands. It was this Island where a pod of four wild dolphins turned up and started playing and jumping right in front of the boat! What most people pay for on a separate tour, we got for free! We were able to be in the water with them for over an hour, watching them jump and play and swim around just feet in front of us! It’s hard to put into words just how awesome it was and how surreal it felt. These dolphins just turned up, out of the blue, wild and free. How rare is that?!
Now this was one of those Once in a Lifetime sort of things. The tour company is The Gibbon Experience and they’ve organised a tour where you live in the Laos jungle for 3 days, zip lining tree top to tree top and sleeping in tree houses! The treehouses are built 30-40 meters high up in the trees of the Nam Kan National Park, outside of Huay Xai, Laos. The other coolest part? Other than zipping around between treehouses? Are the Gibbons. We woke up to their calls every morning and even saw some the morning of our last day. Gibbons are quite rare to see in the wild so it was such an experience being able to watch and listen to them. Read more about our time with The Gibbon Experience here.
Nothing says summer like a British Music Festival. It was muddy, it was rainy, it was dirty, it was awesome. Good Charlotte played and my inner 13 year old self was, as the English would say, Buzzin’. And for the first time in a long time we got to spend a weekend camping with friends from home. One of the down sides of travelling so much is being away from friends and family, so it was nice to spend quality time with some of our favourite people.
Great beer, great food, great people. Oktoberfest was a big check off of our Bucket List and doing it with Contiki made it all the more memorable. We had such a great group and everything was organised for us. This was a welcomed change as we normally do everything ourselves, i.e. booking tours, hotels/hostels, transport, etc. Overall it was definitely the experience of a lifetime.
Gili Trawangan, or Gili T, is easily our favourite place out of everywhere we’ve been. We’ve been twice over the last couple years and would go back in a heartbeat. The diving there is unreal; so much sea life and clear waters that are so warm you don’t require much more than a 3mm short wet suit, if that at all. The island is so small you could walk around it in about four hours, there are no cars, only push bikes, the odd motor bike, and horse drawn carts. It will forever be our happy place.
It’s safe to say our biggest hobby together is Scuba Diving, so it’s no surprise it makes it onto our list twice. Seeing a manta ray for the first time was hands down one of the best things to happen thus far. I still get incredibly excited when I talk about it. We were just coming up from a dive, doing our 3 minute safety stop at 5m, when it just came out of the blue, literally! It was absolutely incredible. Read more about our time diving around the Similan Islands here.
This was a dream come true for me (Bry). Seeing elephants was something I’ve wanted to do ever since I can remember. However, I knew I didn’t want to be one of those tourists that condone elephant riding, so volunteering with rescued working elephants was the only way to go. The time we spent with these beautiful creatures was something we will never forget.
Another massive Bucket List item checked off. Watching the sun come up over the temple was amazing but we’ll never forget the moment we were walking through the main gates of Angkor Wat, it was totally surreal. We grew up seeing photos and hearing about this place and then, to actually be seeing it in real life, was just crazy!
I never expected the landscape in Laos to leave me in such Awe. Laos’ limestone mountains, lush jungle and hidden waterfalls are greatly under-estimated and shadowed by its partying stigma among backpackers. While most backpackers are probably too intoxicated during their float down the Nam Song River to notice the picturesque and total Instagram worthy backdrop, we were not. I remember one of the girls we were with repeatedly saying “Wow, this is amazing, is anyone taking a picture”, “This is just so amazing … has anyone taken a picture”, “I can’t get enough of this view, can someone take a picture”. Needless to say, with me being the only one with a waterproof phone case (thank god for LifeProof), I ended up with an abundance of photos from that day. Although none of them did that view any justice.
This was a special stop for Stray, (a hop-on hop-off style bus tour) that is not open to the public. We learnt so much about Maouri culture here; we listened to them tell stories and sing and dance and Will was even taught the Haka. I (Bry) come from a country where our Aboriginals are very over looked and repressed, so it was great to see Aboriginals from a totally different country stand so strong in who they are. It was definitely an experience that made New Zealand all the more special for us.
Because of it’s proximity to the International Date Line, East Cape is the first place in the world to see the sun rise on a new day. As soon as we found this out we knew we couldn’t leave New Zealand without being the first in the world to watch the sunrise. So we drove all the way to the most Eastern point of New Zealand, woke up at stupid-o-clock, found a spot by the sea, set up our camp chairs and watched the sky turn from black to vibrants shades of pink, orange and purple. It was the most colourful sunrise we’d ever seen.
Once again, this was another check off the Bucket List. We had talked about travelling S.E.Asia pretty much since the day we met and being in Thailand for Songkran was really high on our list. Songkran is Thai New Year and is celebrated on April 13th every year, although the festival it’s self is usually celebrated from April 14th-15th and sometimes longer depending which city you’re in. We were in Phuket which is known to have one of the bigger celebrations in Thailand, next to Chiang Mai and Bangkok. The festival is literally one big water fight, and everyone participates, kids, adults, even little old ladies chuck water at you and you chuck water at them! Oh, and the fire trucks drive around spray water on everyone. It’s amazing, everyone is happy and celebrating. Needless to say we were soaked for about three days but it’s something you’ve got to do while you’re in Thailand, you’ll never experience anything like it anywhere else.
Partying till the sun comes up at the biggest beach party in the world? How could we leave that off our list! Cheap booze, fire ropes, the beach/ocean at your feet, black lights and neon paint make for one hell of a party. It just happened to be our last week in South East Asia when we went so it made for the perfect end to our trip. We partied till dawn, then sat and watched the sun come up over the ocean, definitely something we’ll never forget.