Twelve incredible months: 2012 in review
Just before Christmas last year, I sat down to write about the previous twelve months. It had been a mixed bag, largely spent working in Australia while dreaming of a different, happier life. My passport lay mostly gathering dust until November, when I finally took a determined step towards that life, ditched the cubicle and headed for Thailand armed only with a backpack and a plan.
As the new year lay stretched out before me, I was filled with excitement and hope for what lay ahead. So how did it go?
Honestly, even better than I could ever have hoped. This is story of my 2012.
The year started with a bang – literally and figuratively. After the noisy fireworks that heralded the start of 2012 in Chiang Mai had subsided, I launched a new web site with a friend and then had some crazy adventures on a scooter ride around the towns and landscapes of northern Thailand for a week.
Somewhere in the middle of all of that, I found time to formalise the end of my relationship with the corporate world, via a breakup letter that was one of the most enjoyable posts I’ve ever written.
After more than three months in Chiang Mai, by mid-February the time had finally come to leave. We didn’t go far, though, just heading south to the Thai islands.
The few days on Koh Chang were perfect, and while Phuket will never be somewhere I get excited by, I finally found a beach there that wasn’t entirely ruined by tourism.
Oh, and I finally got around to watching the backpacker documentary ‘A Map for Saturday’, loved it, and decided I’d probably end up just like one of the characters in a dorm room in Brussels…
March was spent between Thailand and Bali, with plenty of water-based activities in both countries. I enjoyed the best diving of my life during an incredible day near Koh Lanta, and learned how to surf (while looking like an idiot) in the tourist dump of Kuta Beach.
Sadly though, in between the cycling, surfing and paddling in Bali, I suffered a terrible loss. After many years and thousands of miles, my favourite travel shirt finally bit the dust outside a miserable Kuta guesthouse. I couldn’t let the occasion pass unnoticed…
As the rainy season approached and the temperatures got ever hotter, we made it a priority to be near water as much as possible in April. While two weeks on Phi Phi was far better than I could have expected, it was five days on the little-known island of Koh Yao Noi that stole the show. Far from the tourist crowds, it was the first place I’ve ever seriously considered keeping to myself and not writing about on the blog.
After being caught up in a tsunami scare in Phuket and enjoying the multi-day water fight that is Songkran in Chiang Mai, at the end of the month I forlornly bid farewell to South East Asia and boarded a plane to Melbourne. My body may have left Thailand, but my heart was definitely still there…
Returning to Melbourne was a struggle. The weather, the prices and the rules were all a rude shock after six months in SE Asia. Even a five year old’s birthday party seemed an almost insurmountable challenge.
Two weeks later, just as I was starting to get used to being back in Australia again, I flew all the way to the other side of the world. My low expectations of being back in Europe were quickly shattered, and I soon found myself loving being back in Spain and the Netherlands. Let it be said that my three nights in San Sebastian will not be the last time I visit that wonderful little city.
Oh, and I had one of my regular grumbles about people that keep making excuses not to travel.
My trip through Europe continued for the first half of June, starting with a wonderful few days catching up with some old travel buddies in a little village high in the hills above Italy’s Lake Como. My friends now own a little local restaurant there, and I was fed, watered and looked after so well by them that I had absolutely no desire to leave.
Leave I did, however, to reunite with Lauren and spend her birthday in Slovenia. Ljubljana quickly became my favourite small city in Europe, and an early-morning balloon ride over Lake Bled was one of the highlights of the year.
The second half of June was spent in the US, starting with a flight from from Vienna to Las Vegas for the first of two road trips in that enormous country. National Parks would feature highly over the next few weeks…
The road tripping continued in July, from Colorado to Oregon via as many national parks as we could find. While Yellowstone was the most famous, I think my favourite was Grand Teton – for the incredible hiking opportunities if nothing else.
Finishing the trip in time for my second World Domination Summit, I took a week to reacquaint myself with one of my favourite US cities. Portland, I’ll be back for much longer next year – and that’s a promise.
Heading back to Europe shortly afterwards, Lauren and I started a madcap dash through Central and Eastern parts of the continent that I’d never been to. I was impressed by Prague, if not its weather, and the ruin bars of Budapest made me fall for the Hungarian capital.
With our Eurail trip in full swing we were flying through the continent in August, visiting incredible places and wearing ourselves out in equal measure.
Bosnia, Croatia and Romania were all worth spending far more time in than we did, but it was the beauty of Bulgaria, coupled with an almost entirely cheese-based diet, that made it a surprising highlight of the trip.
We arrived exhaustedly in Istanbul at the end of Ramadan, and fell instantly, completely in love with its chaotic beauty. Inside a week it had become one of our favourite cities on the planet, the mix of people, food and history quite unlike anywhere I’ve ever been in my life. It’s no surprise that we just had to keep extending our stay in this wonderful metropolis.
After the frantic pace of the previous months, slow travel was the order of the day in September as we dawdled our way down the Turkish coast. ANZAC Cove tore at my heartstrings, and the ruined city of Ephesus was heaven to a history geek like me.
The travertine terraces of Pamukkale seemed like something from another world, but it was my time on a yacht with friends and family along the Mediterranean coast that was the best part of my time in Turkey.
Taking a two week break from blogging and the online world – and celebrating my birthday along the way – was just what the doctor ordered.
Sailing. It’s good for my soul. And my tan.
After another couple of weeks lazing around doing not much of anything in Turkey, the chilly evenings told us what we already knew: it was time to head back to SE Asia.
First stop: Bali, to hang out with my lovely sister and cousin. A lazy, sun-filled, fun-filled week bought back all of the things I love about this part of the world. From there, Cambodia beckoned – a few days in the dilapidated frenzy of Phnom Penh before heading for the coast.
Otres Beach in Sihanoukville is the one good thing about that seedy backpacker enclave, and our plans to spend only a night or two there quickly changed. Just another couple of days can’t hurt … right?
Eventually, ten days after arriving on Otres, we dragged ourselves a couple of hours down the coast to the faded colonial town of Kampot. It’s a lovely, chilled-out kind of a place, and we did little except eat delicious food and hang out beside the river. On the rare occasions that we mustered the energy to leave town, Kep and Bokor HIll Station made for enjoyable diversions.
When the visas ran out we headed for Thailand and the Yee Peng lantern release in Chiang Mai – undoubtedly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. Finally, as the month drew to an end, we boarded a flight to the seductive madness of Saigon.
Early November also marked the one year anniversary of both leaving Australia and meeting Lauren. Yes, this was easily the best year of my life.
Just as the year started with a scooter road trip, it ended the same way. After a few days gorging ourselves on wonderful street foot in Saigon, three of us mounted our motorbikes and set off for a ten day ride around the back roads of the Mekong Delta. Bad roads, rice paddies for miles and no other tourists, day after day after day. I’ll have a lot more to say about that trip in the new year, trust me.
Yet again when it came time to leave South East Asia, we had no desire to do so. Still, Australia beckoned, so leave we did. Things started out with driving for a week from Brisbane to Melbourne, where I now find myself writing this post while recovering from the excesses of a family Christmas.
So, all in all, it’s been a hell of a great year.
How was yours?
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