Travel Stories Week 9
What's your favourite place you have visited?
This is such a hard question to answer, and one I get asked more than any other. After visiting 46 countries across six continents I have seen many amazing places, but nothing quite compares with Patagonia.
We did the four-day W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park on the Chilean side of Patagonia, and it was magical. On most hiking trails, you toil for hours or even days to reach a big pay-off at the end, usually a spectacular panorama from a summit. But on the W Trek, the scenery was unrelenting every step of the way. We only had to look up to see glassy-blue lakes, diamond-white glaciers, formidable mountain peaks – it was like a fantasy world. No pictures do it justice.
On the Argentina side, we loved staying in Ushuaia. The world’s southernmost city, it has a fascinating history to complement its picturesque surroundings. As a focal point of Cape Horn exploration in days gone by, it is a treasure trove for stories of adventure and discovery. Of course, as the gateway to Tierra del Fuego National Park, there are also some great hiking spots nearby as well.
What’s the best thing you have seen while travelling?
My instinctive response to this would be to trawl through my memory bank of the great spectacles of the world, and I have been lucky enough to see quite a few. Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, Milford Sound and Halong Bay all spring to mind. But there is something very simple I saw one day in Laos that touched me in a deeper way than any of these great phenomena.
It was my 35th birthday. In the sleepy city of Luang Prabang, we spent the afternoon in an outdoor bar that looked over the Mekong River. On the far bank, we were captivated by a group of children that were playing in the water. They were skinny, barely dressed and covered in mud. But they looked like the happiest children I had ever seen in my life. They swam, laughed and splashed with inexorable joy for hours and hours.
Laos is probably the poorest country we have visited, and these children and their families most likely had nothing in terms of material possessions. But they were enjoying life in a way I have never seen in the western world. It was an amazing – and humbling – sight to behold.
What’s your best travel story?
We recently returned to the UK from a year of travel, and being adventurous types we got into our fair share of pickles. We were caught in a tropical storm in Bali, hiked to over 5,000m with a hangover in Bolivia, woken at 2am by a warning siren in New Zealand, robbed in Buenos Aires, and came off a moped in Thailand. Right near the end of our trip, we had an experience in Cambodia that perhaps eclipsed them all, and in a good way.
We always knew we were going to visit Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument and one of humanity’s greatest architectural achievements. What we didn’t realise, however, is that our visit would coincide with the Khmer New Year.
We arrived in Siem Reap on Friday 13th April, the eve of the three-day celebrations. During Khmer New Year, Cambodians vacate towns and cities and flock to the rural communities of their families, and sites of religious significance. Over a million people converge on Siem Reap, and we found ourselves surrounded by a carnival atmosphere.
We stayed for the duration of the celebrations, spending the days roaming the incredible complex of temples, their grandeur heightened by the significance of the occasion. At night, we went out and embraced the festivity. It was chaos! The tradition of water-fighting that has gained infamy in Thailand had made its way across the border, and we found ourselves getting stuck in and soaking. This was anything but a tourist-fest, though; there was barely a westerner in sight. We were welcomed spiritedly by the locals for an unforgettable experience.
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