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Published: December 30th 2017
With sights like the Taj Mahal, India was my favourite country.
789 days. That's two years, one month and twenty-eight days during which I was on one continuous journey, the longest stop of which was a mere 36 days. My adventure took me 83,161km, through approximately 231 towns, settlements, villages and cities in 53 different countries. It was, without any literal exaggeration, the journey of a lifetime.
Back in Bali, the journey had now come down to the last flight. Well, three technically; Air Asia may have been the cheapest way to get back to Auckland but it meant flying away from my final destination for three hours to Kuala Lumpur before catching flights to first the Gold Coast, and then finally to Auckland.
I thought maybe that I'd have a lot of emotions and feelings running through me as I boarded my last flight; that as I waited to board flights a final three times in twenty-four hours, that I might reflect on everything I've seen, everything I've done, everything I now am.
I didn't, because I was in pain. Literal
I had seven hours to kill in KLIA2 and based on my previous visit to this airport, I was expecting it to be a pretty uncomfortable and
Scenes like this from Havana make Cuba my second-favourite country of the trip.
uninteresting experience. Therefore I was surprised to discover that what was the old low cost carrier hub was now a gleaming new airport with plenty of places to sit down and relax, with plenty of shops and restaurants. As is my wont, I would normally have done a bit of exploring to kill the time but my left kidney was still sore and the only way I could relieve the pain was to simply sit down. Thank God, KLIA2 had free wifi.
I did have to fight through the pain barrier however, to go get something to eat before boarding, at the impressively-choiced food court. I settled for an old Malaysian favourite; chicken rice
Sitting down is the only thing you can do on planes so getting back to Auckland was painless apart from having to declare items to one of the most stringent - if not the
most stringent - customs checks in the world.
In that jet-lagged, zoned out state you are always in after a long flight, it felt a little surreal to finally be home again. To see my father again in a place that has changed a bit since I left two and a
Japan is the country I want to revisit the most. This is the famous floating torii in Miyajima.
half years ago, but is still essentially the same. To be back in the house I grew up in, to sleep again in the same room I slept in twenty years earlier as a teenager.
The overwhelming emotion I felt on arriving back however, was relief. It was finally over. All the inconveniences and hardships were done.
The pain in my back had now almost gone and my surroundings automatically caused me to reminisce; thus I thought that now would be a good time to look back and reflect on the last 789 days.
This has never been and was never intended to be a journey of self-discovery, which is why I was always irritated by talk of me doing this to "find myself". The goal was simply to explore and discover, to visit and experience all these places that I had always heard about growing up. I've always been keen on geography and about knowing where things and places are and as I got older, I just felt a need to go to all these places, almost with a sense of duty.
I've also always felt a duty to summarise in some way, any long trip
This view overlooking Interlaken was free, but was very much the exception - Switzerland was the most expensive country I visited.
that I have done; and this is the longest. It is difficult to sum up everything
I have seen and done and to be completely honest, I do get a bit sick of having to answer so many questions about my adventures.
Questions such as;
"What is your favourite country?"
"What is the craziest thing you did?"
"What is the coolest thing you saw?"
"What places do you recommend visiting?"
To help me answer these questions and to help me summarise a trip, I have always come up with post-trip lists. I have in fact, already done this for this trip, with a summary entry for Latin America
and most recently, Asia
But now, it is time for the list of lists; the ultimate list. So without any further ado, here are my favourites from 789 days on the road; Top 5 Favourite Cities 5) Kolkata, India
- I have a soft spot for Kolkata; it has such a different vibe to other Indian cities. The poverty there is heart-wrenching, but it also has some of the best food in the country and has a really awesome time warp feel to it. 4) Mumbai, India
- While Delhi may
My favourite city.
be India's capital, Mumbai is the country's financial powerhouse that has a vibrancy like no other place in India. 3) Marseille, France
- Marseille has a lot going for it and has well and truly shrugged off its rough reputation with its revamped downtown area, seaside location, beautiful old neighbourhoods and terrific public transport. 2) Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica
- I've been to a few tropical seaside paradises but this is the only place on the entire trip where I felt that I never wanted to leave. There was no place all trip where I felt more comfortable than I did in Puerto Viejo, with its great sunsets, friendly people, awesome parties and all-round chilled out vibe. 1) Havana, Cuba
- La Habana, te amo.
There was no other city on the entire trip that left me as jaw-dropped as Havana did. It is simply a place like no other, with brilliant colour, amazing architecture and a vibrant yet friendly atmosphere. The chipped paint, the old cars and the nature of life there also gives you a surreal trip back in time, a truly unique, exotic, experience. Top 5 Sights 5) Zhangjiajie, China
- I've not seen towers of rock soar
The most impressive sight of the entire trip.
into the sky in such otherworldly fashion like I did in Zhangjiajie; perhaps why Zhangjiajie is the inspiration behind the planet of Pandora in the film Avatar. 4) Paradise Cave, Vietnam
- Photos just don't do justice to height, width and depth of the biggest cave I have ever seen. 3) Great Wall Of China, China
- One of mankind's greatest feats of engineering, the Great Wall is quite rightly one of the New Seven Wonders Of The World. If you can find a deserted stretch of the wall, a sunny day and some good friends, it is also one of the most unique hiking experiences you'll ever have too. 2) Uyuni Salt Flats & Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve of Andean Fauna, Bolivia
- The landscapes on show at the Uyuni Salt Flats but perhaps even more so in the adjacent national reserve, are as beautiful as they are surreal. 1) Iguazu Falls, Argentina/Brazil
- No other sight on the whole trip has left as much of an impression as Iguazu Falls did, with its awesome power, sheer volume and spectacular size. An absolute must-visit. Top 5 Beaches
There are few things in the world I enjoy more than simply chilling at a beach, which is why I visited so many and why I
Maya Bay, Thailand
The best beach of the entire trip.
have become really fussy about them. In my summary entry on Latin America, I specified the aesthetic and practical criteria that must be fulfilled to qualify as a Derek-approved beach and here the best ones I visited on my journey around the world; 5) La Piscina, Colombia
- literally "The Pool" in Spanish, a reef 100m from the shore ensures that this is perhaps one of the best natural swimming pools you'll ever visit. 4) Cayo Zapatilla, Panama
- a beach on which all your deserted island fantasies can come true. 3) Rovinia Beach, Greece
- I don't mind a pebble beach, especially if it has water as cool and clear as Corfu's Rovinia Beach. 2) Varadero, Cuba
- Varadero's soft white sand stretches for 20km meaning there are plenty of places to find your own secluded spot. 1) Maya Bay, Thailand
- there was no beach with as stunning an aesthetic setting as Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Lee. No wonder it was chosen as the eponymous setting for the 2000 Di Caprio film, The Beach. Top 5 Favourite Countries 5) Colombia
- I really enjoyed my time in Colombia, which I was highly anticipating visiting before getting there. It did not
My fifth favourite country of the trip, which had the friendliest people in South America. This is a fruit seller in Cartagena.
let me down. There is a good variety of things to see and do there, it is well setup for backpackers and the place is fun! The country isn't (yet) overrun by tourists (apart from Cartagena) and Colombia has the friendliest people in South America. 4) Japan
- There really is just no place on Earth like Japan and there really is just no place on Earth where even the most mundane details of life are so entertainingly fascinating. 3) Brazil
- There just isn't a place in the world with a vibe as effortlessly relaxed and exotic, chilled yet energetic, as there is in Brazil. Throw in its friendly people, its fair share of blockbuster sights and blockbuster beaches and you have one of the most alluring countries in the world. 2) Cuba
- I had a real love/hate relationship with Cuba but it ultimately won my heart. There is beauty throughout the country whether it be the architecture in Havana, the mogotes
of Vinales, the crystal clear water of the Bahia de Cochinos, the music of Santiago or the friendliness of folks everywhere. Visiting Cuba is like going back in time - a little strange and a little
This is the main flagpole of Brazil's capital, Brasilia. I unfortunately couldn't get a shot of the flag flowing in the breeze because there was none. Anyway, Brazil was my third-favourite country of the trip.
frustrating - but a truly unparalleled experience. 1) India
- With India, you really have to brace yourself before going there. You will see things. But if you are able to accept the country as it is and are able to see past the dirtiness, the poverty and the overpopulation, you will discover that India is perhaps the most diverse country in the world. Every part of the India is different to the other and the place is a true melting pot of languages, ethnicity, food and religion and you will see a diversity of colour, culture and landscapes unmatched throughout the entire world. The old adage is true that once you have travelled India, then you can travel anywhere; but it will be the most rewarding country you will ever visit. Top 5 Hostels 5) Tribee Kinh, Hoi An, Vietnam
- This was the best hostel I stayed at in Asia with a really social vibe that centred around its bar and nightly free activities. It was also cheap and the dorms themselves were also nice and modern. 4) Hostel Majdas, Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
- Bosnia might well be the most hospitable country in Europe and Mostar
The location of Hostel Pirate, my favourite hostel ever.
its most hospitable city. Every hostel there is rated at least 9.5/10 and Hostel Majdas was no exception. It felt like a shared house of young travellers as opposed to a hostel and the showers were among the best I've ever seen. 3) Tetris Container Hostel, Foz do Iguacu, Brazil
- This hostel scores points for being built out of old shipping containers but also for its excellent bar, swimming pool and social vibe. I made a lot of friends here! 2) Community Hostel, Quito, Ecuador
- Food prepared by professional chefs, super clean facilities and comfy beds can take a hostel a long way but it is the fostering of a social atmosphere that sets one apart and Community Hostel definitely did that with its shared dining area and daily/nightly activities. 1) Hostel Pirate, Ulcinj, Montenegro
- There is no other hostel that has managed to keep a place in my heart like Hostel Pirate. I wasn't even planning on staying in Ulcinj but Hostel Pirate's ratings changed my mind; and the hype is justified. The dorms, the building itself and the facilities are nothing special but the place had an atmosphere more akin to a group of friends
The Japanese are the fourth friendliest people I encountered on my trip. This is Shibuya Center-gai in Tokyo.
sharing a holiday house rather than a hostel and this atmosphere is created thanks to the efforts of the owner Dijana, who goes out of her way to get everyone talking to each other either through beer, activities or a game of cards. I ended up spending a week there, where I chilled, had loads of laughs, had loads of alcohol, had loads of fun and made friends for life; and I'd go back in a heartbeat. I could've stayed here forever. Top 5 Friendliest People 5) Thailand
- I found most locals in Thailand to be really friendly, helpful and polite despite the barrages of tourists that constantly visit the country. 4) Japan
- The Japanese are impossibly polite and service is usually flawless. If I didn't know about the concept of tatamae,
then I would think that the Japanese are the friendliest folk in the world. 3) Colombia
- More than anywhere else in South America, I felt like I could walk up to anyone on the street and ask for help or have a conversation. The willingness for people here to go out of their way to help you will always stay with me. 2) Cuba
As well as some impressive sights such as Shwedagon Paya in Yangon, Myanmar also has the friendliest people in the world.
- There are a few unscrupulous locals looking to rip you off but I found most people in Cuba to be warm and genuine. Spanish-speaking ability helps and in this case most locals are very kind, are interested in foreigners and are willing to strike up conversations - something that just doesn't really happen anymore in many countries. 1) Myanmar
- The award for the world's kindest souls would surely have to go to the Burmese, where nothing is too much trouble and everything is done with a smile. The Burmese are the friendliest people I have ever encountered. Top 5 Beautiful Spots 5) Yangshuo, China
- The proliferation of majestic karsts in the countryside around Yangshuo are the big attraction here and cycling or scootering in and around them was perhaps the most enjoyable thing I did in China. 4) Cartagena, Colombia
- This walled city of colourful, colonial architecture is the most beautiful city in South America. 3) Fenghuang, China
- Lit up at night, this ancient Chinese town of your dreams is a truly magical sight to behold. 2) Corfu, Greece
- For me, you can't beat summer Mediterranean charm and Corfu is a gorgeous gem.
Along with Hvar, Korcula was the most beautiful spot I visited on the entire trip.
With sheer cliffs, golden beaches and pristine water, it is a tourist mecca for a reason. 1) Hvar & Korcula, Croatia
- The description for Corfu above applies to these two Croatian islands as well - with the addition of the old towns and forts which look like they've come straight out of a medieval film set, like say, Game Of Thrones... Top 5 Cuisines 5) Vietnamese
- Vietnamese flavours are more subtle compared to many other Asian cuisines and although staples such as pho
and banh mi
are famous essentials, there are also some delicious specialities such as bun cha
and banh uot thit nuong
that are just as delicious. 4) Thai
- Thai food is quite rightly, one of the world's favourite cuisines with staples such as pad thai
and Thai curries. Thai stir fries, mango sticky rice and Thai ice milk teas should also be added to the list of the world's favourite Thai foods. 3) Japanese
- Any cuisine worth its salt should have a wide variety of specialities and from sushi
, and from mochi
, Japanese food sure has that. And all of it is
The best I tasted.
good. 2) French
- From cheese, to wine, to bread, to pate
, to saucisson
, to entrecote
, to escargot
, to ile flottante
, to regional specialities such as cuisine lyonnais
, French will always be my favourite European cuisine. 1) Indian
- One might get sick of eating the same kind of food every day for three months, but while I was in India, that was exactly what I did. Not only was it the most affordable option to eat local but the food was just delicious. Indian food also has that variety I have talked about above; from the richer, heartier curries of the north, to the lighter, spicier curries of the south; from the sweet, tangy curries of the west, to Mumbai chaats
such as vada pav
; from the sweet treats of melayo
, to the everyday chai
; Indian cuisine is as diverse as its cultures, colours, languages and landscapes. But the best thing about Indian food is that it never compromises anything for flavour, which has sort of spoiled food in other countries for me now because everything else is bland in comparison! Top 10 Best Experiences 10) Cycling down Bolivia's "Death Road"
- They don't call it the "Death
Mostar, Bosnia & Herzgovina
My tour of Mostar and the surrounding area was the best experience I had on the entire trip, after visiting meeting relatives I had never met before in China.
Road" for nothing. 9) Smoking cigars, drinking beers and listening to salsa, while riding along the Malecon in a classic cadillac
- This was about as Cuban an experience as you could get - we just needed to be drinking rum instead of beers! 8) Letting off dynamite inside a dodgy mine in Potosi
- Fourteen people die every month in the Cerro Rico mine and in truth we probably shouldn't even be allowed to go inside it to witness the hardships and suffering of those who work the mine...but...we got to let off explosives in there, which was both thrilling and awesome. 7) Hiking towards Everest Base Camp
- This was the hardest hike I have ever had to do; seven days straight of walking, mostly up. But it was probably also the most rewarding, especially when I saw the tallest mountain in the world. 6) Chilling with Komodo dragons and snorkelling with manta rays in Indonesia
- Getting up close and personal with both these majestic beasts was both a nervy and amazing experience. 5) Trekking to Machu Picchu
- The trek was more fun than hard but the reward of Machu Picchu at the end was the real highlight. 4) My tour of the salt flats and a national reserve in Bolivia
- Seeing the surreal landscapes on this tour was amazing but it was the company of good friends made on the road that made it extra special. 3) Hiking up an active volcano in Guatemala
- This was one of the hardest hikes
My Relatives In Guangdong
Visiting my ancestral village in China, connecting with my heritage and meeting family I had never met before, was the best experience of the entire trip.
I've ever done but getting within 200m of a crater spewing out lava is something I will never forget. 2) Bata's tour of Mostar and Herzegovina
- It's not always about the adventure - sometimes, gaining a true understanding and insight into the lives and society of the locals and in turn learning lessons about life itself, are the most rewarding experiences you can have on the road. 1) Meeting relatives in my ancestral village in Guangdong, China
- Connecting with my heritage was the most personal experience I had on the entire trip and the one that has meant the most to me. I'll never forget the warmth and generosity with which I was received by relatives that I had never met before. This was the most special experience of my entire trip. Top 5 Cheapest Countries 5) Thailand 4) Ukraine 3) Nepal 2) Vietnam 1) India Most Expensive Countries
Europe is the most dear continent on which to travel, Asia the cheapest, and Latin America is in between. Which makes it even more surprising that Ukraine is the fourth-cheapest country I visited. In terms of the most expensive places, they are all in Europe; Switzerland is horrendously expensive, as is Liechtenstein and France, Italy and Austria are only slightly
The second-cheapest country I visited. These are the rice terraces outside of Sapa.
better. Costa Rica was by far the most expensive country in Latin America followed probably by Panama. Japan was the most expensive country in Asia and along with Hong Kong and Macau are probably the only places in Asia more expensive than the majority of Latin America. Top 5 Countries I Most Want To Revisit
The countries on this list are on it not necessarily because I really like them, but because they are the places with which I have the most unfinished business and that I will have to go back to resolve; 5) Mexico
- I only did the very south of the country and will have to go back one day to explore more of it, especially Palenque, Oaxaca and Mexico City. 4) Costa Rica
- I missed a few things here because I simply couldn't afford to go and do them, such as Manuel Antonio National Park, Tortuguero and some of the Pacific Beaches. I'll also have to go back for another visit to Puerto Viejo. 3) Greece
- I have already seen a lot of Greece but there is still so much more I want to see in what is one of my favourite
I probably love the country more than its capital, which is why it is the country I want to revisit the most after Japan.
European countries; I have to go back to Corfu one day to do some more exploration and I'd love to visit the island of Lefkada too. I'd also like to tour the Peloponnese and it's many ancient ruins. 2) Brazil
- Not only is Brazil one of my favourite countries, there is still much left for me to explore there; Salvador and the beaches in Bahia are definitely on the hit-list as is a tour through the Amazon! 1) Japan
- There is no country which I have more unfinished business with than Japan. I missed out on seeing, doing and eating so many things there, mainly because I couldn't afford it. Therefore, it is my top priority country in terms of making a return. The list of things I want to experience there is seemingly endless; eating kaiseki
and wagyu beef
; watching some sumo wrestling; seeing a kabuki
show; seeing a geisha
perform; whizzing around the streets of Tokyo in a Mario kart; actually seeing Mt Fuji close up this time; enjoying a show/meal at the Robot Restaurant and the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Tokyo; actually seeing the Tokyo sky tree; visiting an onsen
; staying at a ryokan
Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
The coastal town of Puerto Viejo is my second-favourite place in the world.
the Meiji-jinja shrine, Tokyo National Museum and the Tokyo Bay area in Tokyo. I'll have to make sure I have a lot more money before I go back!
While the trip was never about looking for myself, no-one ever goes travelling for two years without the experience changing them in some way and I am no different. I am definitely not the same person who boarded that plane in Barcelona bound for Sao Paulo seven hundred and eighty nine days ago
For a start I had a lot more energy back then! I'm not sure I'd be able to party and drink like I did in Buenos Aires
I'd say I'm definitely a more confident person now - not that I wasn't before, but after everything that I've seen and experienced, I feel that nothing really fazes me anymore. Nothing ever really goes according to plan when you're travelling and you often find yourself having to think on your feet to solve problems and resolve situations - and you have to do it while making your way through foreign, unfamiliar and challenging environments. I almost feel like you could throw me into any situation right now and I'd be able to calmly get through it. I feel like I have become much more laid-back and relaxed about things as a result
Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve of Andean Fauna, Bolivia
Scenery like this made this national reserve - along with the adjacent Uyuni Salt Flats - the second most impressive sight I saw.
too; shit can happen, but if you stay calm and think things through then more often than not, things will work out in the end. Make sure you always have a Plan B though!
You also get a lot of hassle when you're travelling, particularly from people trying to take you for a ride. So much exposure to this has left me quite cynical and suspicious about anyone offering me anything as a result. I have little time now for anyone who looks like they'll waste it and the best way to deal with such people is to be firm and direct with them. So I'm probably a bit less patient with anyone who seems like they're mucking me around - I don't put up with a lot of shit these days.
Meeting and conversing with new people is also second nature to me now - travelling alone means that you have to be a much more social creature. I'm definitely not shy about much these days. I've also become very good at communicating with people who don't share a language with me. It's all in the hands.
More than anything however, I feel I have matured immensely. The
My favourite dessert of what was my second favourite cuisine of the trip; French.
more people you meet, the more your perspective broadens, especially when the people you are meeting are from all over the world. You realise that there are myriad ways of doing things and that there is always something useful to learn from others. You suddenly start seeing things from many different points of views.
You learn never to brush two people with the same brush; something that many media outlets unfortunately do with whole swathes of the world population. I've learnt never to make sweeping generalisations about things or people because as I have often discovered, not every situation or every person is in fact, the same.
You also learn that things are often sensationalised; yes, El Salvador and Honduras have the worst and second-worst murder rates in the world respectively but tourists are almost never killed in what is mainly gang-related violence; French people are always said to be rude but if you ask for things nicely and don't be a loud dick - or even better, try a few words in French with them - then you'll find that you'll get a much friendlier reception; yes, a British couple were murdered in Thailand but don't forget about the
Location of Community Hostel, my second favourite hostel of the entire trip.
thousands upon thousands of visitors to the country who just so happened to survive their holidays there. Basically, if you want to be safe on the road, then take precautions, use your common sense and don't do anything naive or stupid. Don't take travel advice from those who haven't been there.
Most importantly however, I learned that the vast majority of people - regardless of creed or religion - are inherently good people who just want to get on with their lives peacefully, unlike what a lot of media will have you believe. This will sound cheesy, like a something a wealthy teenager might say after their gap year volunteering in Africa, but it holds true; we all bleed the same. Which is why I hate those that who seek to divide society and the world for their own financial, ideological or political gain.
How do I feel about this whole trip? I'm glad and I'm proud to have done it and have no regrets about any of it, but I am also glad that it is over. I am relieved
that it is over. Looking back, my energy and enthusiasm definitely got less and less as the trip
This island on the Ionian Sea is the second most beautiful spot I visited on the entire trip.
went on, perhaps explaining why I have much fonder memories of my time in Latin America.
Perhaps surprisingly I feel hardly any emotions about the trip right now; it was an amazing and unforgettable phase of my life but it is over now and I am looking forward. Perhaps with more time I will feel more about it.
What are my plans now? Well, first I will spend some much needed time with my family and the friends I left behind to go on this trip and then I will have to make some money somehow! Which means finding a job for the first time in over three years. After a while, I started missing my old life; earning money, spending it with (relative) abandon, living in my own place, playing and watching football every week, having a routine, going to gigs, catching up with friends. So I want to get back to that for a couple of years.
But it won't be in New Zealand; I'm not ready to settle down yet and I'm excited about trying my hand living in another European city. I've always fancied living in Berlin...
I have now visited 88 sovereign states
My second favourite beach of the entire trip.
in this world and am aiming to get to 100 one day, so there is still a bit of life in this blog yet. Where will I be writing from? No idea. When will I be writing again? Not for a looooooong time
For now, it is time to finally close this chapter. Thanks so much for reading and following my adventure, this blog in many ways was what kept me sane. Until next time, take care and safe travels.
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