When speaking with friends and clients prior to and over the holidays, we reminisced in 2023 and exchanged plans for 2024. In our discussions, my recent Asian trip came up and I was encouraged to share so that others might gain insights into other cultures, or provide ideas into their own travel plans. Adventure travel has been an important component in my life for a number of years and on reflection, I must say, I have been fortunate enough to experience some truly amazing adventures. Whenever I embark on a trip, I always go with the mindset of being a traveller, not a tourist. I’m not a big New Years resolution person, but I am a diligent goal setter and one of my goals was to travel to southeast Asia. Sayra and I researched different countries and decided on Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore. We launched off in early November.
Our adventure encompassed the vibrant landscapes of Tokyo, Hanoi, Sapa, Ho Chi Minh City, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Singapore, and a unique stop in Narita, Japan.
Tokyo, a metropolis blending tradition and modernity, set the first stage for our journey. I found it amazing that ONE city, within a country that has a land mass of roughly 4% of Canada, has a similar population (37 million). We toured through the heart of the city, immersing ourselves in the diversity of the architecture. It was astounding to me how clean the city was. I purchased a coffee and walked over five blocks and could not find a garbage container. It appears everyone looks after their own garbage.
On our second day we visited Narita, with its own distinct historic charm, and had a unique culinary encounter. At first, I wasn’t sure what was being served at this restaurant as I watched a live eel being “prepped” for serving (which we had served over a bowl of rice). From farm to table in about 20 minutes took on a new meaning for me. It was a testament to the intricacies of Japanese cuisine and their commitment to freshness.
We then travelled to Vietnam, landed in the capital, Hanoi. Navigating the Old Quarter’s labyrinthine streets, the outdoor markets, street restaurants and the city’s history were amazing. The pinnacle of our adventure expedition awaited in Sapa. We took an overnight train from Hanoi and arrived in Sapa. I would relate Sapa to “Banff.” It is a tourist town nestled within a mountain range. It was here that we set off on our 2.5-day hike to conquer the formidable Mt. Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest peak. The trek to the summit, known as the “Roof of Indochina,” was definitely another test of endurance rewarded by panoramic views of terraced fields and misty, tree-covered peaks. At the peak was the Amitabha Buddha statue, which is cast in bronze stands 21.5m tall and is cast of over 50 tons of copper . The statue is covered entirely with thousands of 5mm thick copper moulded sheets and was handcrafted right at the top of Fansipan.
The rugged beauty of Sapa further unfolded as I enjoyed an afternoon of biking through lush countryside and engaging with local communities.
We flew down to Ho Chi Minh City, where we were told the population was 9.5 million people with 12.5 million scooters. It was a cosmopolitan city of organized traffic chaos, accident and road rage-free, somehow moving in a unified fashion with traffic lights providing an option to follow. Venturing outside Ho Chi Minh City, we delved into the historical significance of the Cu Chi Tunnels. Used during the Vietnam War, these intricate passages showcased the resilience and resourcefulness of the Vietnamese people. Crawling through the narrow tunnels left us in awe of what these individuals endured and the indomitable human spirit in the face of adversity.
Next, we flew to Chiang Mai, the jewel of Northern Thailand, beckoned with a rich history and thrilling adventures. There are over 300 temples, including Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang, and we delved into the city’s cultural legacy. We stayed in The Old City, which is surrounded by ancient walls and moats, with hidden alleys and vibrant markets. A little more adrenaline outdoor activities dominated our stay with white-water rafting, ATV excursions and mountain biking. We also toured an elephant sanctuary and sat ringside at a Muay Thai match.
From Chiang Mai we travelled to Bangkok. I never knew or appreciated the fact that Bangkok was a river city with ultra modern architecture contrasted against historic temples thousands of years old. One evening we enjoyed a celebration dinner cruise along the Chao Phraya River with celebratory fireworks filling the sky.
Finally, Singapore, with its modern marvels and diverse attractions, provided a fitting conclusion to our journey. Gardens by the Bay’s futuristic landscape and the iconic Marina Bay Sands left an indelible mark on our memories.
In this odyssey, cultural immersion seamlessly blended with outdoor escapades, and unexpected culinary experiences added a unique flavor to our adventure. From the summit of Mt. Fansipan to the historical depths of the Cu Chi Tunnels and the unexpected culinary detour in Narita, each destination contributed to a narrative of discovery and appreciation for Southeast Asia. It definitely was a trip that blended tradition, adventure, and culinary exploration, which has created great memories forever.