One of the greatest benefits of having a whole year to travel, is that we have the flexibility to fly on the cheapest dates and can take the opportunity to spend a few days in cities that would normally just be quick airport layovers en route to our final destination. There’s been a few of these stops so far on our trip. Some were planned, some were not. I didn’t spend enough time in each of these places to give a really thorough description, so thought I’d group them all into one post and share some photos.
Did I mention we spent Christmas in Taipei on our way from Japan to Vietnam? Well, we did and it was AWESOME. I can’t wait to go back and see more of Taiwan. I’ll admit, the holiday vibes were definitely lacking, which – as a lover of all things Christmas – bummed me out a bit, but I got over it as soon as we hit the night market and started eating ALL THE THINGS: Red bean and sesame pancakes, melt-in-your-mouth mochi balls, oyster vermicelli soup (way better than it sounds), just to name a few.
The best part though, was hanging out with Mike’s classmate from Seoul, Bong-Nim, and his family who live in Taipei. They took us out for dinner and mango shaved ice (something apparently only tourists eat) and were the kindest, most welcoming hosts we could have asked for. If they are the typical personality for people who live in Taipei then it is almost certainly the friendliest city in the world.
This was our only stop in Thailand, which I insisted on because I REALLY wanted to hang out with some elephants. It was totally inefficient with out itinerary, but some things are worth going out of your way for and to me, elephants are one of those things. The day we spent at the Elephant Freedom Sanctuary was probably one of the highlights of our entire trip for me so far. Feeding and bathing the baby elephants was so magical and left a smile on my face for days afterward. Even now looking through these photos makes my heart feel so full!
The park formerly offered elephant rides, but had been converted to a sanctuary by Elephant Nature Park as part of their Saddle Off! project, an initiative to help care for elephants that have endured the horrific taming process required to prepare them for a burdensome life of giving rides to tourists all day long. If riding an elephant (even without a saddle) is still on your bucket list, consider reading this.
Despite our poor accommodation choice at a hotel that gave us a weird glimpse into what retired expat life in Thailand looks like for middle-aged white guys, Chiang Mai itself was delightful with its temple-lined streets and fantastic night markets. After spending so much time in Vietnam, it felt almost a little too comfortable with locals who all speak English and so much Western influence, but we still enjoyed our time there.
Our journey to Australia started out a little rocky when we went to check into our flight at the Chiang Mai airport. The woman at the counter said, “Can I see your visas?”. We looked at her blankly and said “Uhhh, we need visas for Australia?”. The thing about unplanned stops like our two days in Melbourne is that well, you don’t really plan for them. We’d done our visa research for the countries we’d initially planned to visit long ago, and then as super lucky Canadians who assume we can travel anywhere we want to (especially in the Commonwealth), we never thought about it again. Whoops!
Luckily, Mike always insists that we get to the airport super early and Australia has an online visa application process that usually provides instant approval via email. I was approved immediately, however, Mike’s visa was one of a small number of applications that is not approved right away, for whatever reason. After 30 (rather panic-induced) minutes waiting for Mike’s approval email to come through, we could finally check in to our Melbourne flight and counted our lucky stars that we got away with travel visa negligence!
Even though the visa was an expensive hassle for only two days in a country, Melbourne was totally worth it. A couple from Sydney who we met in Vietnam looked seriously appalled when we told them we’d chosen to stop over in Melbourne instead of their hometown, but I still stand by the choice. With an abundance of hip neighbourhoods, immaculately maintained parks and what locals insists is “the world’s best coffee”, it was definitely a worthwhile stop.
Oh man, I’d forgotten how much I love New York. As soon as you step off the plane the city’s crazy energy just pulses right through you. Where else can you walk down the street and see an 80-year-old woman in sky-high blue suede pumps, a hipster enthusiastically enjoying a solo dance party, and a homeless guy in a Santa suit (in April) – all in the span of like 10 minutes?
We only had two days to explore the city with a tiny dorm-sized hotel room in Brooklyn as our base, but we made the most of it! One of the main reasons for the stop was to get our Korean food fix in this magnificent city with the second largest Korean population outside of Korea (after Los Angeles). Oh and so we could go to Shake Shack too, obviously.
During our one full day in the city, we woke up to perfect blue skies and lovely Spring sunshine so we walked and walked until our feet could walk no more! We took advantage of the amazing free NYC audio tours through the Detour app and walked the Brooklyn Bridge with Ken Burns (award-winning documentarian) and strolled through Central Park with Adrian Benepe (former park commissioner). It was such a beautiful way to spend the day and see the city in an inexpensive, informative way.
To top off an epic two days, Mike bumped into Ted Leo (maybe his favourite musician ever, second only to Bruce Springsteen) who was also staying our hotel as we were checking out. Only in New York.