So that’s that—another year done and dusted. 2017 ushered in some big life changes (like moving country, again), new challenges, and of course a bunch of wonderful travel experiences—too many to talk about in just one blog post.
Here are just a few of my travel and blog-related highlights for 2017, our second full year living and travelling outside of Australia. At the end of the post, you’ll get a little glimpse into my 2018 and what the new year holds.
‘Cambodia to Vietnam via the Caucasus’ pretty much sums up my year of travel. It was an unconventional route, but I’m so glad we opted to break up our time in Southeast Asia by spending a few months in a completely different part of the world. It was refreshing to say the least.
In sum, this year I travelled to six countries (including three new countries) on three continents, and managed to spend a decent chunk of time at home in Brisbane. Here are the highlights.
Saying goodbye to Phnom Penh
It’s crazy to think that this time last year I was riding my pushbike around the dusty streets of Phnom Penh. It feels like another lifetime ago. I spent Christmas 2016 at home in Brisbane before flying back to Cambodia on the last day of the year to wrap up my work contract. Ross was travelling with friends in Vietnam, so I rang in the new year in my preferred style: At home, in bed. The next day, some friends from Australia came to town and we visited a few of Phnom Penh’s tourist landmarks together. It was a nice way to cap off my year in Cambodia.
A quick trip home
At the end of February, we had a whirlwind trip to Brisbane. It was a good opportunity to catch up on life administration and binge on all the things I’d been missing in Cambodia—chocolate, cheese, wine, black tea. I had just enough time to switch out my luggage from a summer wardrobe to a winter one. We spent six days with family and then we were off again—this time to the extreme opposite side of the Asian continent.
Falling hard for Tbilisi
I knew I would love Tbilisi before I even set foot there. I had read enough to know it was my kind of place, so we set aside 30 days at the beginning of our three-month Caucasus trip just for Georgia’s capital. For the month of March, we made ourselves at home in a little Airbnb apartment in Tsereteli. Apart from day trips to Davit Gareja monastery and the old capital, Mtskheta, we stayed put in Tbilisi and got into a nice rhythm. It was really hard to tear ourselves away in the end and we vowed we would return for another long stay. Tbilisi hasn’t seen the last of us.
From Tbilisi, we boarded an overnight train to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Georgia had been on my mind for many, many months—but I had given little thought to Azerbaijan. It was great to feel the sense of wonder and discovery that comes with arriving in a totally unknown place again. Baku blew us away, and we ended up staying for longer than we had originally planned. Our trip hit a low in Quba, but we persevered and had a wonderful time in the little town of Sheki in Northern Azerbaijan. In the end, we ended up cutting our time in Azerbaijan short.
After passing back through Tbilisi, we caught another overnight train to Yerevan. Visiting Armenia and learning about the country’s history and heartache firsthand was nothing short of a life-changing travel experience. We were fortunate to be in Yerevan for Easter Sunday and Genocide Remembrance Day—both important days on the national calendar. Again, we ended up spending longer than planned in Yerevan—partly because we loved our Airbnb so much, and partly because we experienced our first serious illness on the road. We became well-acquainted with the Armenian healthcare system as a result (for the record, we were pretty impressed), but sadly had to skip a lot of the country. We managed to get to Tatev in the far south of Armenia, which was a highlight of the trip. Despite the temptation to continue on to Iran, we turned around and headed back north.
From Yerevan, we made our way back to Georgia and spent the entire month of May travelling from north to south, east to west—mostly by marshrutka (we did more than 25 rides in total). We hit 11 towns and cities before winding down with a few final days in Tbilisi. Georgia will forever hold a special place in my heart. I can’t wait to be back there.
In May, I received the happy news that I had a job waiting for me in Hanoi, Vietnam. But first, we flew back to Brisbane and spent three months at home—the longest amount of time we had spent in Australia since 2015. As well as catching up with family, I did a lot of writing and tied up various freelance projects.
Making a new home in Hanoi
We arrived in Hanoi at the end of August. It was my first time back in Vietnam since we first travelled to Southeast Asia in 2012. I had fond memories of Hanoi, but I quickly discovered the city has changed a lot in the intervening years. Making a home here is easy, and it hasn’t taken us long to get settled in. Work has been up and down, but I love the city and especially our apartment in Ngoc Ha, overlooking the Botanical Gardens and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It helps that we are surrounded by a pretty incredible network of friends and colleagues in Hanoi.
Travelling in Vietnam
Because my work has been quite intense, we haven’t seen too much of Vietnam outside of Hanoi (yet). Originally I wanted to re-visit some of the places we went in 2012 (Ha Long, Hoi An), but I think we will focus instead on some of the less-touristy destinations in the North and Central Vietnam. So far, we have made short trips to Ninh Binh, Hoa Binh, Hue, and Phong Nha, where we will see in 2018.
2017 was a huge year for Wander-Lush. Just shy of my two-year blogging anniversary, I made it to 100 posts and have built up an audience to the point where I get a steady number of page views each day. After the blog helped me score a few travel perks in Tbilisi, I started taking things a bit more seriously and created a Facebook Page and a MailChimp newsletter (you can sign up at the bottom of the page).
Outside of the blog and my usual freelance work, I also started writing for Intrepid. I had photo essays published on roam, Cartogramme and Passion Passport, and participated in a few collaborative blog posts. This is something I want to do a lot more of in 2018. One of my goals for 2017 was to improve my photography, and I feel like I’ve come a long way this year. I am happy with the overall quality of my photos now—it helped that I was able to upgrade my camera and lenses (thanks, parents, for the birthday and Christmas gifts!). In 2018, I want to focus more on technique and post-production.
Also this year, I made my first travel video in Ninh Binh. Video is something I’ve wanted to experiment with for a long time. The learning curve is steep, and it’s very humbling to be right back at the beginning of trying to learn a new skill. I hope to work with video more in 2018.
Our travel plans for 2018
And now the part you’ve been waiting for. We will be based in Hanoi for most of 2018, and I’m really excited about the travel plans we have so far.
We have a few international trips booked, including 10 days in Taiwan in early February and a week in Perak, Malaysia in April. Taiwan has been on the list for a while now, so it’ll be great to finally get to Taipei. We’ll also make use of the affordable flights and spend a few days in Hong Kong and Macau, probably in May.
In late February, my dad is visiting Vietnam so we’re planning to head up to Ha Giang in the far north. Ross’s parents arrive in March, and we’ll spend a few weekends with them closer to home in Pu Luong and Thai Nguyen. We’re planning to do more day and overnight trips around Hanoi (I have a list of about 40 to get through), including to Hai Phong, Mai Chau, Nam Dinh, Ninh Binh and Pleiku. What I’m most looking forward to is a big trip through the Mekong Delta, which we’re planning to do for my birthday in August.
After August, our travel plans are very much up in the air. We have an exciting opportunity to visit a new country (and a new continent) in November, and the epic Eastern Europe trip I’ve been planning since the start of 2016 might finally come to fruition. We’ll just have to wait and see how the rest of the year pans out.
As always, thank you for following along! See you in 2018.