Drew Smith

Interested in International Security, Terrorism and Geopolitics. Constantly on the look out for my next travel adventure.

My top 15 Travelling Experiences

15.) Driving The Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia.

Kate and I had a wonderful day snaking along one of the most stunning and iconic roads in the world which was built by soldiers returning from World War One and is the largest war memorial in the world. I’ll never forget staving off a flock of parakeets who pestered us incessantly for our (superb) fish and chip lunch down in Lorne but the highlight of the day had to be seeing the lighthouse from Round the twist, obviously. The miles upon miles of breathtaking ocean views we were treated to come a close second though for sure.

Great Ocean Road

14.) Eating at a snake restaurant, Ha Noi, Vietnam.

According to Vietnamese tradition when you eat a snakes beating heart straight from its body you take on the snakes wisdom or power or something… I’m not entirely sure whether it was that or the copious amount of rice wine we washed the heart, and seven courses of snake cooked in various ways, down with but I sure did feel like a new man after this remarkable experience. BBQ snake ribs are excellent by the way.

13.) Strolling along The Highline, New York, USA.

I’m actually writing this blog sat in Central Park on the very last day of my trip. Yesterday my two good friends and I walked along the recently opened Highline boardwalk after dinner in Soho and it was just perfect. The local government was going to pull down this disused, elevated railway track in the centre of Manhattan before some bright spark noticed that all the grasses and flowers that had taken it over we’re actually quite nice and could be utilised as a public space. Instead of tearing it down the railway track has been transformed into a wonderful green sanctuary in the middle of one of the busiest cities on the planet. As you walk among the landscaped undergrowth you can really relax and get respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s also an amazing vantage point to people watch from as you look down at the New Yorkers going about their fast-paced lives down at street level below surrounded by soothing music and calming shrubbery. Well played New York, well played.

IMG_4936

12.) Dinner and Karaoke with a Kung Fu Master, Beijing, China.

Quite simply the best dinner party I’ve ever been to, and it was entirely in Mandarin! Being invited in as a complete stranger to have dinner with this remarkable family was one thing, but experiencing their customs and traditions, learning about their rich culture and seeing how every facet of their very being is being threatened by a rapidly modernising China was very, very special and immensely humbling.

I wrote about this experience in one of my first and favourite posts which I think is well worth a read if you have a few minutes. Check it out here: Dinner with a Kung Fu Master

IMG_0149

11.) Relaxing on The Gili islands, Indonesia.

I will let the picture of where we had breakfast every day do most of the talking. Kate and I found ourselves a little slice of heaven in Indonesia that was utterly perfect in every way. It felt a lot like being on honeymoon and in terms of paradise it would take some beating. Definitely one of my ‘happy places’.

Breakfast on the Gili's

10.) Watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat, Siam Reap, Cambodia.

Angkor Watt has to be, for me, the most stunning temple in South East Asia. Not only does it date back to the 15th century but it has a wonderfully rich history and cultural significance that is hard to match. Waking up at 04:30 and travelling to the temple complex to see the sunrise with hundreds of other tourists was well worth the effort.

Siam Reap (116)

9.) Boat Cruise around Ha Long Bay, Ha Noi, Vietnam.

The World Heritage Site of Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam is quite simply out of this world. I got in with a great group of English guys and the ten of us were on a boat of thirty young people that cruised around the bay, darting in and out of the beautiful limestone rocks protruding out of the water and drinking copious amounts of beer and rum. Some of the funniest moments in my entire trip were to follow as we stayed the night on a secluded private beach in the bay and played outrageous drinking games until the sun came up. I can’t recommend a three day boat tour of this magical place highly enough.

Ha Long Bay

8.) Jeep tour of the Salt Flats, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

Probably the most striking scenery I have ever encountered; from the bizarre bright white salty terrain stretching as far as the eye can see to the volcano’s dotted along seemingly every horizon and from the perfectly still, wonderfully coloured lagoons to the giant cactuses the altiplano region of Southern Bolivia is sensational to say the least. I spent three jam-packed days cruising around this huge remote expanse of national park in a Jeep which took us to natural hot springs, geysers, an eerie train cemetery and a hostel made entirely out of salt amongst other bizarre things. It also wins the award for worst nights sleep anywhere in the world (-20c). Incredible only begins to do this place justice, a real highlight of South America and as unmissable as it was unforgettable.

Salt Flats

7.) Visiting the home place of the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, India.

India has such a wonderfully unique, colourful culture that I believe everyone has to experience at least once in their lives. However it was actually the one place in India that doesn’t feel like India per se that made the biggest impression on me. Dharmsala is a town up in the foothills of the Himalayas where, since the 1950’s, the Tibetan Government in Exile, the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan refugees and monks have relocated to in an attempt to try and preserve Tibetan teachings and culture away from the cultural cleansing instigated in their homeland by the Chinese Government. The influx of Tibetan people and their culture has turned the town into a mini Tibet where you can buy amazing handicrafts, help monks practice their English and learn to make traditional Tibetan dumplings called momo’s which were DELICIOUS. Our three days there were so different to the rest of our time in India and this peaceful hilltop town is probably the most spiritual and culturally significant place I was fortunate enough to visit – a completely unique experience that I couldn’t have had anywhere else in the world, probably not even in (what is left of) Tibet.

Dharamsala

6.) Sailing from Colombia to Panama via the San Blas islands, Cartageña, Colombia.

Having never really been on a sail boat, signing up to spend five days confined within a 47 foot yacht with eleven other people was always going to be a gamble… but what an experience! We cruised out into the open sea where a highlight was being greeted by a school of playful dolphins all the while completely surrounded by ocean from horizon to horizon. Sailing along the coast of Panama in and out of the archipelago de San Blas was incredible as these tiny desert islands were just about as picture perfect as it is possible to imagine. If our engine had worked a little better this would be higher up the list, as after all you can’t really get much more perfect than BBQing and drinking rum around a camp fire on a secluded desert island in the middle of the Caribbean now can you?

San Blas Islands

5.) Visiting The Taj Mahal, Agra, India.

The ultimate symbol of love, it was built by a Mughal Emperor to commemorate his third wife Mumtaz Mahal and completed in 1653. This stunning white marble building has really stood the test of time, as magnificent and imposing as it was always intended to be still to this day and in remarkable condition. Shah Jahan intended to build another Taj on the opposite side of the river, made this time in black marble for when he died. However such an exuberant project (which the foundations had been laid out for) caused the ire of his more fiscally prudent son who decided to overthrow his father before he could spend any more ridiculous sums of money on another fanciful project – but what a shame! The Taj Mahal was incredible, so imagine what it would have been like if the other half of the project had been realised. Rightfully one of the most famous buildings in the world.

Taj Mahal

4.) Walking The Great Wall, near Beijing, China.

Quite simply the most incredible man made structure I have ever seen. It may not actually be visible from space but at certain points, especially where it stretches along the horizon in both ways as far as the eye can see, I was left awe-struck by its sheer size and phenomenal design. An incredible day out made all the better by fantastic hospitality from the one and only Adam Cogan, together we must have had our photos taken with 50 different Chinese families who genuinely seemed to be taking more interest in the two handsome white men than the ‘wonder of the world’ they had come to see. I won’t lie – we loved it.

Great Wall of China

3.) Mountain Biking down Death Road, La Paz, Bolivia.

The best value for money experience (arguably) you will find anywhere! For a mere £40 a group of us cycled 63km down one of the most iconic, dangerous and breathtaking roads in the world. Beginning under snow capped peaks up at 4700m above sea level and finishing down in the humid jungle, we descended 3000m in altitude on a road that had been blasted out of the side of a mountain with dynamite and whose other side was a sheer drop down to certain death for its entirety. It’s not just that the road is dangerous, the views and scenery are absolutely ridiculous and what with it being mostly downhill it is not so strenuous that you can’t enjoy them. This is an absolute must do for anyone heading to South America and something I will never, ever forget.

Death Road 06.04 (25)

2.) Motor biking around the Central Vietnamese Highlands, Vietnam.

When an old Vietnamese war veteran with a few teeth missing approached me in the street I was dubious to say the least, but it turned out he would be one of the hidden gems of my entire travels. Mr Sinh drove me up into the Vietnamese highlands and away from the beaten travel path that hugs the coastline. We would see the “real Vietnam” as he affectionately called it which turned out to be a brilliant combination of stunning landscapes, traditional Vietnamese culture and demonstrations of how things like silk and rubber are produced Vietnamese-style! It was the best insight into South East Asian culture I could have possibly asked for and I enjoyed absolutely every second of it almost as much as I enjoyed every mouthful of delicious phở (traditional Vietnamese noodle soup).

Easy Riding

1.) Trekking to Machu Picchu, near Cusco, Peru.

Sometimes when you look forward to something for so long and really build it up in your head it can ultimately prove underwhelming or disappointing. Machu Picchu was not one of those times, and actually it was even better than I had ever imagined – which is strange considering I had been looking forward to going for literally years.

Having ticked off the number one thing on my bucket list I can go into my professional life without it nagging at me. What a remarkable, magical place which I feel very lucky to have been able to trek to and finally experience. I wrote a whole piece on my visit to this iconic Inca site which again is one of my favourite pieces I have written and well worth a read.

http://drewsmithuk.net/2013/04/23/the-lares-trek-to-machu-picchu/

Machu Picchu

Yes, I have been a very lucky boy and the last sixteen months have been the best time of my life. I may now not have any savings, or a car (which I sold), but seeing the world was absolutely worth it and I couldn’t possibly think of a better way to have spent my time or money. In amongst a lot of highs and a small amount of lows I have grown as a person and learned a hell of a lot about the world and different cultures, which for me personally has been the most valuable aspect of it. I wrote this blog to keep track of what I got up to and to share with friends, but now that it’s all said and done I hope too that it will inspire others to bite the bullet and travel themselves too. There is always a reason not to go, but once you have caught the travel bug like everyone else I’ve met you will never want to stop exploring and living out of a backpack I absolutely promise you.

Hopefully I have managed to be entertaining and informative and would like to think I’m a good example that you don’t have to wait for your best mate to be available to go travelling (for example) or be limited by doing what other people want. I have travelled across nine countries by myself and have met so many great people along the way, and so can anyone which is the absolute magic of travelling. If anyone ever wants any advice or recommendations on where to go then please message me on Facebook. I love being able to help as it makes all my own memories flood back which I enjoy immensely.

Thanks for reading, I never expected this to get thousands of hits so it has been even more fun writing it knowing that it has gone to such a wide audience. If you are ever, like I  often am, overcome by a feeling of wanderlust and want to know whether I think you should act on it my answer will always be a resounding “YES” because after all:

Travelling is the only thing we spend money on that makes us richer.

Drew

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One comment on “My top 15 Travelling Experiences

  1. Vratani and Brendan
    July 28, 2013

    WELL we will miss your blogs and glimpses into different worlds. I hope that you continue with journalism as you have a gift.
    Lots of love
    Vratani and Co

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