The Quilotoa Loop is a multi-day trek through the Ecuadorian Andes, culminating at the incredible crater of Quilotoa Lake. There is no need to book an expensive tour as this trek can be done cheaply and easily by using this detailed planning guide.
The noise of the jungle is deafening, but some calls are so strange, so unique that they stand tall amongst the crowded reverberation of insects and animals. This we determined when the startling song of the oropendola lured us from sleep deep in Ecuadorian Amazonia. The mating call, best described as an electronic interpretation of a surfacing water bubble echoing in a cave, was alone worth the trip to this remote rainforest. But this bird barely scratched the surface of wonders in this remote forest.
You get used to seeing sombrero topped men draped in colorful woolen ponchos on the streets of Jardín. They are typically relaxing on a corner sipping a locally grown coffee and enjoying a few hours away from the farm. We spent several days in this mountain village during our month in Colombia, and it was amongst our favorite places to visit in the country.
Walking into the best food market in Colombia is an experience all on its own. Tucked deep inside a temporary storage yard, the dozens of garage stall kitchens would be all but invisible if it weren’t for the half dozen ladies waving their menus at each passerby. Entering the makeshift food court without one of these kitchen owners alongside means an almost guaranteed squabble as to who claims the newest customer. The small concrete courtyard is filled with plastic tables and surrounded by mini restaurants, each identifiable solely by their stall number. We had followed a young lady to stall 92, and were now being served a bubbling cauldron brimming with cazuela del marisco. Resembling a thick seafood étouffée, this dish displays the Afro-Colombian influences which make up the rich culture in this port city. This was like discovering New Orleans without the spice or the price.
When we arrived in Japan on a balmy summer day, we were prepared to step into a quirky futuristic wonderland, where cartoon characters roam the street, social order is near perfection, space age trains run faster than a speeding bullet, and temples are made from sushi. Fortunately for us, the country we uncovered was exactly nearly what we had been dreaming of. The following seven reasons capture why travel in this fantasy world is so special.
“The road to peace, from the beginning of the fire started.” The sign was trying to tell us something, but exactly what was up for debate. We could narrow it down to either instructions, directions, prohibitions, or perhaps an ancient Chinese proverb. Regardless of its message, it was hilarious. Chinglish signs like these are all over China and made travel in this misunderstood country, well, still misunderstood.
The Great Wall snaked ahead as far as we could see, following the most difficult path across mountains with impossibly steep ridge lines. We were trekking atop 2,200 years of history, where numerous dynasties defended the borders of modern day China. Many phases eventually left almost 10,000 kilometers crossing the country. It was built to stop invasion from barbarian nomads, and close to 500,000 people had died during its construction. The very wall that had faced the Mongols now made our trail through wild North China.
The sword arced methodically, shining brightly in the morning light. People were all around, paying little attention as she swung the meter long blade on the sidewalk with unwavering concentration. This was not a show, this was just another day on the streets in China.
The Yangtze River raged beneath us, but the sheer depth of the canyon silenced the churning rapids at our vantage in the cliffs above. Trekking through Tiger Leaping Gorge kept us on the literal edge. With towering mountains plunging almost 4,000 meters directly into the waters below, a thin path snaking around the rock face provided the only path forward.
We stood high in the mountains of Southern China, surrounded by some of the world’s most incredible rice terraces. These paddies had been built over 600 years earlier and continued to be farmed to this day. We had the perfect view as the mist rolled across the valley below, making the water in the fields shimmer in the golden light. These were the famous Longi Rice Terraces, and we had traveled halfway around the globe for this sight. After stops in Hong Kong and Yangshuo, our trip in China was off to a fantastic start.
It didn’t take long for us to dislike Vietnam. Well, not at the very beginning. We had been warned about Hanoi from countless travelers. It was going to be too busy, loud, in your face. We had low expectations, but ended up finding it enjoyable. It was afterwards, when heading south that we encountered the worst type of welcome we have received anywhere in the world. But when we were ready to give up on Vietnam, we looked a little deeper and found a country with much to love.
We rode in the bed of a pickup through Northern Laos. Music echoed between buildings, punctuated with noises of partygoers. The streets were flooded, both with people and with the water being flung, sprayed and shot at anyone in range. The whole country had broken out in a giant water fight in celebration of Laos New Year, and we had nothing to protect against the onslaught.
We were paddling down the Mekong in Eastern Cambodia, over 250 kilometers from the nearest major city. The water on which we rode had originated in China’s Tibetan Plateau, and would eventually empty into the ocean below Vietnam after meandering through six countries. With the exception of a few fisherman and small stilted house villages, there wasn’t much out here. The air was quiet save for the sounds of dolphins surfacing for breath around the kayaks. This was the Southeast Asia we had been expecting.
The laidback riverside town of Kampot in southern Cambodia is the perfect place to unwind after a long trip in Asia. It has international influences which add to the charm, while still maintaining its authentic culture. This affordable area and surroundings have plenty of things to do and a diverse selection of restaurants. We found Kampot to be one of the best places in Cambodia, and the type of town you won’t want to leave.
Imagine what you would think if a group of people, sharing no common culture, language or appearance, showed up in your neighborhood and started pointing at your house and photographing your children. Maybe they are arriving at your home in London, Melbourne, or Dallas and this is a bus full of Chinese, Iranians … or Cambodians. How would you react? How would they be greeted by the residents? It sounds weird when you think about it, but many of us do exactly that when we travel. The truth is that most people greet us with open arms and a genuine smile, and hopefully we would offer that same welcome if roles were reversed. There are few countries where this level of warmth and hospitality is more apparent than in Cambodia.
Thailand, one of the most visited countries in Southeast Asia, has a charm that draws people from all corners of the globe. The food is famous worldwide and the country conjures images of mystical temples, jungles and stunning beaches. But even with its relatively small size, there is plenty to do and see, making it difficult to narrow down which places to explore. This post shares the 9 areas we visited during our peak season month in Thailand, and includes plenty of pictures to inspire your own trip.