Well folks, we are officially home (for a while) after a successful Phase Two of our world travels: six months in Asia! It was a crazy/exciting/breathtaking/adventure filled/at times scary/thrilling blur (as is somewhat evident from the approximately 500 photos I selected in the below slideshow as a “few” of my favorites).
Let’s take a look at the stats:
Countries Visited: 15 (Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Singapore, Brunei, Philippines, Nepal, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, China).
Continents Visited: Asia and a teeny tiny bit of Europe with our visit to Istanbul.
Time Away: 5 months 22 days (Dec 3 – May 25).
Number of Border Crossings: 20 (re-entered a few countries like Malaysia (4 times), Thailand (2 times), and Uzbekistan (2 times)).
Most Epic Border Crossing(s): All of them to/from Uzbekistan… I think Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan was a record 9 passports checks and about 2 hours, including an approximately 1 mile walk through the desert no-mans land. The worst, though, was Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan given the character of the border patrolmen. Highest, longest and most beautiful was Kyrgyzstan to China through the Torugart Pass at about 12,000 feet and something like 70km between the border and the final border check in China. Thankfully we didn’t have to walk this one. ;)
Number of Flights Taken: 31.
Helicopter Rides: 1 (From Namche Bazaar to Kathmandu).
Miles flown: 35,822.
Longest Amount of Time Spent in One Country: Had Jenni not gotten sick in Malaysian Borneo it would have been a tie between India and the Philippines at 25 nights, but as a result of having to cut down our visit to the Philippines and extend our stay in Malaysia, it ended up being Malaysia at a total of 32 nights.
Shortest Amount of Time Spent in One Country: Brunei (1 night).
Locations We Laid Our Weary Heads to Rest: 78. Is it clear now why we’re so sick of packing (and unpacking) our bags!?!
Number of Cities/Towns/Villages Stayed In: 63 (Hong Kong; Negombo, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Kandy, Adam’s Peak, and Mirissa, Sri Lanka; Kochi, Thuravoor, Munnar, Madurai, Mumbai, Agra, Delhi, and Varanasi, India; Railay, Koh Lipe, and Chiang Mai, Thailand; Langkawi, Penang, Kuching, Lemanak, Kota Kinabalu, Kota Kinabalu National Park, Tuaran, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientienne, Laos; Singapore; Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei; Sabang, Port Barton, El Nido, and Coron, Philippines; Kathmandu, Phakding, Namche Bazaar, Dhole, Macchermo, Gokyo, Thangnag, Dzongla, Lobuche, Gorak Shep, and Pheriche, Nepal; Istanbul, Turkey; Tashkent, Khiva, Bukhara, Aidarkul Yurt Village, and Samarkand, Uzbekistan; Darvaza and Ashgabat, Turkmenistan; Bishkek, Karakol, Bokonbayevo, Temir-Kanat, Kochkor, and Naryn, Kyrgyzstan; Kashgar, Xian, and Beijing, China).
Richest Country Visited (Highest GDP Per Capita): Singapore.
Poorest Country Visited (Lowest GDP Per Capita): Nepal.
Highest Elevation Reached: 18,200 feet (5,545 meters) at the summit of Kala Phatthar on our trek to Everest Base Camp.
Award for Country with Most Frustrating Visa Application Process: Uzbekistan. It also took the cake for worst border crossing experiences, so if you visit be prepared for loads o’ border shenanigans.
Award for Overall Most Frustrating Travel Experience: India. The ‘Stans probably take second place.
Number of Boat Rides Taken: 46.
Cheapest Accommodation: BeeBee Guesthouse in Vang Vieng, Laos at $15 a night for the deluxe room.
Best View from a Room: White Beach in Port Barton, Philippines.
Best View From a Room On a Budget: BeeBee Guesthouse in Vang Vieng, Laos.
Craziest Accommodation: Camping alongside a giant burning gas crater in the middle of the Turkmenistan desert.
Coolest In Theory, Not Actuality Accommodation: The Tubotel (hotel rooms built out of concrete pipes) in Langkawi, Malaysia.
Best Accommodation: While we often joke that our hotel – er – hospital in Borneo was fabulous with its bedside bell service, I think our one big splurge (post-hospital release) had to have been the best on this journey. Shangri-La Rasa Ria was a wonderful place to recuperate.
Most Relaxing Spot: Sleeping on a punted boat in the Kerala backwaters.
Times Jenni Faced Her Fears: *Note that we did not say “tackled” her fears or even “handled her fears well.”* Too many to count! Fear of heights faced on numerous occasions, perhaps most notably on the aerial tram in Langkawi, trekking in Nepal (especially the Hillary Bridge and crossing the Cho-La Pass), the treetop canopy walk we crossed in Borneo… The arachnophobia was brought to light in far too many hairy spider situations. Honorable mentions: tarantula like things on our Lao hill trek and the giant spiders in the outhouses at the Iban longhouse (and a special shout-out to Eric for protecting me from them!). Luckily she was spared from some of her more obscure fears like water slides and catching frisbees.
Scariest Experience: Toss up between Jenni contracting meningitis in Borneo and getting cursed out publicly by an angry anti-American Kyrgyz in the Osh airport.
Best Sunsets: The amazing beach sunsets at Rasa Ria, Borneo and Railay, Thailand. Of course our spot in Port Barton, Philippines. The illuminated skyline of Istanbul, Turkey is pretty tough to beat. A hilltop view of the big ball drop in Luang Prabang, Laos. Pretty consistent was Langkawi, Malaysia. El Nido, Philippines had some lovely island views to ogle at while the sky changed. And the relaxation couldn’t be topped while watching the sunsets in the backwaters of Kerala, India. Runners up include: Vang Vieng, Laos and Munnar, India.
Best Sunrises: Is it really possible to beat a sunrise that comes up from behind the world’s tallest peak? If any sunrise could come close to topping that one on the peak of Kala Patthar, Nepal, it was Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka, another mountain top reward. Varanasi, India proved to be some stiff competition as well.
Money Spent on Bottled Water: Lots.
Weirdest Teeth Brushing Companions: A pig, a duck, a puppy and a village boy in Lao hill country. But best views while brushing our teeth were definitely while trekking in Nepal (great teeth brushing view shots in here and here)!
Accidents: A few fender benders in India (unavoidable in the traffic), 1 (totally avoidable) fender bender in Kyrgyzstan, 1 flat tire on the road in Kyrgyzstan.
Number of times we got food poisoning: Trust me, you don’t want to know. Honorable mention to the time we were both sick in Kathmandu.
Average Rate of Showers Per Week: Let’s just say it’s not quite 7.
Number of Books Read: Alan: 18. Jenni: 26.
Number of Haircuts: Alan: 2. Jenni: 0.
Items Lost: Narrowly avoided having our pocket knife confiscated by security in Laos (major props to the security guards who let us retrieve our checked baggage to save the knife); Alan lost and later retrieved his hat and gloves from a bus in China; and we lost our snack collection, a pair of iPhone headphones and Alan’s backpack got some holes in it by some hungry rats in our room in Sabang, Philippines. And we intentionally ditched a number of items deemed unnecessary along the way. So, all in all, we did much better on this leg of the trip!
Friends Visited (e.g. people we knew before the trip): 4. 1 friend (whom we met in the Galapagos Islands) now living in Hong Kong, 1 college friend of Jenni’s living in Delhi, India, and 1 college friend (who normally resides in Japan) and 1 former colleague of Alan’s while we were visiting Singapore.
Most Random Encounter: College friend of Alan’s in Kuching, Borneo.
Friends Made: Lots! We met people from all over the world. A few Americans, a handful of Canadians, some Aussies, lots of Brits, possibly even more Germans, even a couple that originally hail from Kazakhstan and Romania and now reside in Hong Kong and that we bumped into in the Philippines. Not to mention the many locals along the way!
Most Outlandish Character Met: Budong, our thirsty boatman at the Iban Longhouse. Our driver there, Paul, was pretty awesome too (ba-na-na-na!). Come to think of it, our driver (and world’s hippest grandpa) in Turkmenistan was also pretty cool. And who could forget the bong-smoking Lao man who randomly started following us on our Lao trek.
Place Where We Felt the Least Safe: Kyrgyzstan takes the cake, with Osh being the worst (angry anti-American ranter), and Bishkek the second.
Serious Injuries: 0.
Infectious Diseases Contracted: 1 (yuck, meningitis). Though it’s possibly 2 if we’re counting Alan’s mysterious armpit disease (lucky for our friends and family this has been cured).
Places Visited That Locals Called the “8th” Wonder of the World: More than 5.
Number of Times We Drove Ourselves: Once (in Langkawi)!
Mosquito Bites: Millions.
Favorite Night: Ooh-ha-ing with the Iban!!!
Favorite Day: Our first day at White Beach, celebrating with rum and cokes and the most perfect view.
Favorite New Songs Discovered: Cham Cham. Honorable mention to the Bollywood hit, Whistle Baja (actually discovered from an MTV type show playing while we were in Kathmandu). Also to Wind of Change by the Scorpions, which seemed to be a weirdly recurring theme throughout the trip, most notably when our guide in Turkmenistan told us it’s one of his favorites.
Biggest Surprise: Country: China (not saying it was our favorite country, but it most exceeded our expectations). City: Penang, Malaysia (super enjoyable experience in this city that we’d heard mixed reviews on, we wished we stayed longer).
Biggest Letdown: Country: Brunei (we may be biased since Jenni was suffering from what turned out to be meningitis during our visit, but… there’s not all that much to do there. And this feeling despite that we had two royal sightings whilst visiting). City: Langkawi (I mean, it’s cool, but definitely an underwhelming beach destination when you’re coming from the Thai Islands!).
Memorable Dishes/Meals: The thali plate in Madurai, India, everything on the boat in the Kerala backwaters, and paratha EVERYWHERE in India!!! (but a special mention of the mint paratha we tried in Mumbai), the string hoppers for breakfast in Mirissa, Sri Lanka, all things street food in Chiang Mai, Thailand (street sushi, cold noodles, fried chicken and of course mango with sticky rice sticking out the most), pancakes in Railay, Thailand, everything in Istanbul (but highlights included a home cooked meal at Jenni’s aunt’s home and the iskender at Kebapçı İskender), and of course the time we found saltines in the Philippines. The food scene in Penang, Malaysia deserves a shout out as well.
Strangest Foods Consumed: Clearly Alan is the more adventurous eater because he tried: chicken feet and chicken ass in Borneo, balut (a hard boiled fertilized duck egg… in other words: duck fetus) in the Philippines, buffalo blood in Laos, and horse meat in Uzbekistan. We both (and Ron!) tried camel’s milk in Turkmenistan. And Jenni got guilted into eating buffalo skin in Laos.
Most Beautiful Spot: The islands and lagoons in Coron, Philippines.
Best Holiday Experience: Christmas in Munnar, India.
Worst Holiday Experience: New Years in Agra, India.
Favorite Word Discovered: Neekodee (means “whatever” in the Iban dialect).
Things Most Missed While Away: Toilets with a flushing mechanism, seat and/or toilet paper; paved roads; our electric toothbrushes (and brushing with tap water!); iced coffee; Mexican food; buffalo wings (with blue cheese, obvi); Maine lobstah; bagels; free bread baskets; a general respect for traffic laws; good internet; not having to pay for public restrooms (that have no flushing mechanism, seat and/or toilet paper); and of course friends and family!
Weird Habits Acquired: Carrying toilet paper with me everywhere in constant fear of lack of access to adequate facilities.
Coolest Animal Sighting: There were so many, it’s really hard to pick a favorite… Highlights include: the proboscis monkeys and the pit viper snake at Bako National Park in Borneo, the orangutans in Borneo, the monitor lizards and the water snake spotted in an underwater cave in Sabang, Philippines, the animal markets in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan and Kashgar, China, the child on a donkey and the man on a horse with a puppy in a satchel at Djety Oguz in Kyrgyzstan, the puppies and monkeys (and feeding elephants!) in Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle, mountain goats and marmots while hiking in Kyrgyzstan, the rabbit-hunting eagle in Kyrgyzstan, the sweater-wearing goats and other animals keeping warm in the ashes in Varanasi, India (and the cavial at the local zoo!), the kingfishers and lizards in the Kerala backwaters, the monkey pool in Kathmandu, the yaks and the tahrs and crazy birds in the Himalayas, the mudskippers (and the cat cafe!) in Penang, Malaysia.
Best Snorkeling: The house reef at Balinsasayaw Resort in Coron, Philippines.
Neatest Spot Discovered on a Stranger’s Recommendation: Shipton’s Arch, outside of Kashgar, China. And we didn’t end up going, but the overwater cabins in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand sound awesome, and it’s now on our list.
Stray Dogs Jenni Pet: Countless.
Place More Developed Than Expected: Borneo (and this was much appreciated when we discovered that the development extended to their first rate hospitals. Shout out to KPJ Medical and the awesome staff that treated Jenni!).
Place Less Developed Than Expected: Philippines.
Country Most Run Like A Business: Singapore.
Country Least Run Like A Business: Uzbekistan.
Countries Visited Where Jenni Got Shamed For Her Lack of Knowledge of the Turkish Language: 5 (Turkey (obvi), Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and even China!).
Times We Regretted Quitting Our Jobs to See the World: A big. fat. zero.
Update re Jenni & Alan see the world: We recently booked our departure tickets for the last leg of our journey: Europe and Africa! We depart LA for Dublin, Ireland on July 22. Our tentative plan is to visit Ireland, England and Scotland for late July and August. We will be in Amsterdam August 30-September 2. From there we meet up with Kenny and fly to Italy, where we will explore Rome and the wine and food country for a couple weeks before the two of us head to Cassis, France for Ms. Pickett’s wedding! With a brief TBD spot for our second anniversary on the way, we’ll make our way up to Munich where we’re meeting a friend for Oktoberfest (woot! woot!). We’ll check out Berlin for a few days as well, then we have a week or so up in the air. Thinking maybe Prague? Budapest? In October we’ll head to Africa, where our plan is to do some combination of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, potentially also Kenya. If you have any thoughts or advice, please come with it!
In the meantime, we’ve been busy catching up with friends in Cali, visiting family on the East Coast, attending a couple weddings in California, and eating lots of our old favorite foods. We’ll be hopping around the US until late July, including making a brief stop to check out Paso Robles for the first time (so get at us with any vineyard recs!). We’ll give you a brief update on all things America before we head out for our third and “final” phase! Thanks for reading, friends.