To the Other Side of the World

During my gap year after graduating, I decided to embark on my life long dream of travelling the Oceanic Islands of Australia and New Zealand, as well as visiting Thailand in Asia, for around 4 months, to experience the culture and scenery I had heard so much about.

My first stop was to Thailand.  This portion of the trip was culturally aimed, and I avoided the southern beaches packed full of students to instead explore the entire Northern area of the country in 2 weeks, with the same group of people.  My first stop was to Bangkok, a crazy and busy city packed full of tourists, if you found the right place.  Kho San road, known to be thetourist strip, full of bars selling beer for 20p and stalls of the same goods one after the other – “same same but different” – a very popular catchphrase from the Thai people.  After bartering passionately and snatching up some bargains and enjoying the local beer Singha and a pad thai – the most popular meal in Thailand – we met our group and explored the sights of city.  There were so many temples, with fantastic ornate gold decoration, and views of the city beyond your belief.  The main sight was Wat Pho, the largest Buddhist temple in the area and it was purely spectacular.  Here we saw the 30ft golden reclining Buddha statue, as well as many resident monks in their bright orange robes.

The Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho, Bangkok

Also in Bangkok we took a river boat trip to see the infamous floating markets; boats filled to the brim with produce and items to sell, such an amazing way to shop!  Also in Thailand we visited smaller towns in rural areas, such as Sukhothai and Lampang.  In Sukhothai we stayed at the most luxurious lodge of the trip, so remote, but with a pool, and beautiful rooms, where we all received traditional Thai massages, which sufficed to say were quite painful with someone standing on your back and pulling your limbs this way and that – felt good afterwards though! Whilst here we visited the national park and rode around of bikes, this was lots of fun with the group. We then travelled to Lampang which has to be the highlight of the entire trip, because we visited the elephant sanctuary.  There we fed, rode and played with elephants of all ages, rescued from logging plantations and poaching areas.  I donated money to the cause and in return received a painting of an elephant done by…an elephant! It was incredible, basic obviously, but having watched them actually do it, it was amazing!  I carried this around with me like the crown jewels for the next 4 months and now it proudly hangs on the wall in my room as a constant reminder of my incredible experience of such a magnificent animal. We then travelled up to Chang Rai – the Golden Triangle.  Here you can see Burma, Laos and Thailand all at the same time from across the great river, and also visit the famous Mae Sai markets for some delicious Thai delicacies, as well as the opium museum for the sad but still prevalent history of the entire area.  We did visit Laos briefly by boat over the river, only to find how much more poverished the area was, this was upsetting but moving as we marvelled at how happy and friendl

y the people are regardless of their misfortunes.  We then travelled down the Chang Mai, the biggest city with the biggest temples, it was sad to know our experience was coming to an end, but every second had been enjoyable and I had met some really great people.

The Singha Girls, Chang Mai

A 15hr overnight train back to Bangkok had to be one of the funniest experiences of my life, I’m pretty sure our carriage didn’t get a wink of sleep that night! Back in Bangkok we did a little more exploring, and decided to see Avatar in 3D, quite surreal with the kings speech at the beginning and having to stand up and pretend to sing along with everyone in the cinema, they do this every so often at the train stations and shopping centres too, very different from the UK that’s for sure!  Anyway overall it was a fantastic and vibrant cultural experience I will never forget, and it was worth every penny!

After Thailand we travelled to Australia, where we began at the top in Cairns, a tropical rainforest area as well as beach where you can visit the Great Barrier Reef.  This of course we did as soon as we arrived, and it was spectacular. The sky and water so blue and the sand so white, it was a magnificent boat trip.  Here I did find nemo a few times and even a ray shark – a mutant fish with a rays head and sharks body, harmless but terrifying!  We then began our tour on the Oz Experience, first stopping at a crocodile farm which was a surreal experience before arriving at Mission Beach, a quiet, remote place, but as it was my Birthday we partied hard on the cheap goon (boxes of wine for a £1) and I got to meet some hilarious people who ended up staying with me for half of the journey down south.  We then headed to Magnetic Island for more parties and meeting more people, but also island exploration where we rented Barbie cars and drove around discovering secret waterfalls and secluded beaches.

Barbie Cars, Magnetic Island, Oz

Next stop, Airlie Beach, a beautiful beach town for relaxing, and from here we sailed around the Whitsunday Islands on a pirate ship for 3 days.  We dived in the coral reef and snorkelled too, took walks over the deserted islands and had the most incredible food you could ever imagine!  After this amazing experience we did something quite different.  We visited a cattle ranch a lot further in land, and learnt to crack whips, ride bulls (mechanical of course) and horse rode around the ranch herding the goats over 100s of km, shouting at the top of our lungs at the randy goats that kept running off into ravines!  After this was back to the beach, Rainbow beach to be precise, where we met some old friends and made some new.  From here I went to Fraser Island, an island purely of sand and Dingo’s.  Next stop was Noosa, to visit Steve Irwins Australia zoo – fun but mainly crocodiles.  Then on to Brisbane, the 1stbig city we’d visited with more than 2 storey buildings.  Here of course we shopped and explored, but mostly prepared for our next activity which was surfing at ‘Spot X’ – a secret location just for the Oz Experience where they teach you to surf like a pro.  Sufficed to say I was not a pro, unless you count surfing on your knees, still a lot of fun though.  We did also stop at Byron Bay but the poor weather made the exciting experience of staying in tepees in a hippy run hostel, more inappropriate than fun.  Then finally we reached Sydney, an awesome city with so much to do! We did the harbour bridge climb, with harnesses and a guide, such an adrenaline filled experience, expensive though!  Also visited Bondi beach, which was absolutely packed with people, but as luxurious as its made out to be on TV.  We did go on a tour of the Blue Mountains, which we ended up not seeing as the weather was so foggy, but the hiking was still fun through the rainforests.  Here I actually bumped into a friend from Uni – what a small world! That evening we met up with two Australian girls we met on the Thailand tour and they treated us to dinner in the chocolate restaurant; chocolate waffles for starters and chocolate pizza for dinner – perfecto!!

Chocolate Pizza, Sydney, Oz

Then it was a 3 day trip to Melbourne stopping off in Canberra, a ski resort and Wilson’s Promontory (the most southern tip of Oz).  Melbourne was great fun; we stayed with family of a friend and had gorgeous weather.  We drove along the Great Ocean Road and chilled at the beach.  We even walked around the grand prix track that would hold the race the following week.  In the evening we went to out door cinema showing, drinking wine and sitting on bean bags, it was so much fun.  The following day we went up the eureka tower (the highest in Oz) and then visited the Neighbours set, such a great way to end!

When we arrived in New Zealand I did miss our big group of friends, but was excited for the new travels ahead, so we tried to get on the Kiwi Experience as quick as possible, Auckland was pretty dull.  First stop was Hot Water beach, where the volcanic activity below meant that when you dug holes in the sand, hot water would rise up = a bath!  Then we went on to Rotorua, the volcanic sulphur made the place smell of eggs, but with St Paddys day and meeting lots of new people it became a great place.  We went luging, in a kind of go-kart but purely down hill, scary but great fun.  Then in the evening we went to cultural Moari village where they cooked real Moari food and put on a traditional show of their cultural lifestyle, very entertaining.  Next we drove to Waitamo for some black water rafting.  A massive network of caves/tunnels down there and attired in a freezing cold wet suit and a rubber ring you make your way around in the pitch black, it was awesome!!  Taupo was another fun stop, with the Lake as big as Singapore.  From here we went on a 2hr walk to see Mt doom and some of the set of Lord of the Rings – spectacular!

Walking to Mount Doom, LoTR, NZ

We then travelled to River Valley, a secluded lodge with stunning scenery (the bedroom being just 25 mattress on the floor), and here I experienced white water rafting, where I fell out so many times that I’m surprised I’m alive to tell the tale. It was the most exhilarating 3hrs of my life! and definitely my favourite place so far.  Wellington was a windy place where I went on a Lord of the Rings Tour, potentially sad but I’m a big fan.  Then from here we got the ferry over the south island.  Some people we left behind but some people we got to know even more, it is never a dull moment on the bus.  We did speed dating helping you get to know everyone and fancy dress stops for a night out at the Poo Pub, where the oldest publican of 87 still runs his pub.  It was hilarious there, especially the brewery stop before hand, which I’m not sure was supposed to be part of the itinerary.

The Kiwi Experience Bus

Next stop was the Franz Josef glacier, where we got a helicopter up to the top and dug tunnels and walked around abseiling down small ice cliffs, with jaw dropping views.  Then on to Wanaka for puzzling world, a strange illusions museum that definitely did puzzle.  After this was Queenstown, essentially a blur drinking in the evening and sleeping most of the day, we did visit Milford sound but was so foggy it ruined the view.  The best discovery was that of Fergburgers, the most delicious things you will ever eat and I had one every night I was there!  After such a crazy experience it very much calmed down, we visited Kaikoura where I went whale watching and dolphin swimming, perhaps the best animal encounters of my life.  We travelled all the way back up the bay of islands above the North Island, stopping off in Rotorua again for a spa day in the mud pools and hot springs, and then onto Auckland for an authentic Kiwi rugby match and reunions with old Aussie friends.  New Zealand was the best place I had ever visited by far, so much fun, such great atmosphere and the most spectacular scenery and locations you could ever imagine.  I will definitely return!

Overall it was great to meet people from all over the world and in turn I kept many good friends from the experience.  Although it indeed did cost a lot of money, I have absolutely no regrets, so if you are thinking about it, don’t hesitate just do it!

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About wilsoemi

A 1st Class Biological Sciences graduate, with a Masters degree in Conservation Biology. Dedicated to nature and conservation, with over three years voluntary experience in environmental and conservation charities and NGO's. Currently working for the World Society for the Protection of Animals and volunteering for London Wildlife Trust.
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