Travel: more memorable moments of 2013

A second installment of the travel moments that have stuck in my head the most from last year. (Click photos to zoom.)

6. El Nido, the Philippines
04PhilippinesOn Snake Island

Our family trip to El Nido didn’t all go smoothly (I’m looking at you, box jellyfish; yeah, you who decided that my three-year-old daughter’s thigh was the perfect landing pad for your tentacles) but it’s hard to deny that this part of the Philippines is completely stunning. Takes a bit of getting to, but worth it. Snake Island isn’t named after snakes but after a spit of sand that snakes its way for 500 metres from the island to the mainland of Palawan. You take a boat here and then you just kind of laze about. Happy days.

7. Fukuura Island, Japan
On the shore of Matsushima Bay06Japan

Journeying through the area devastated by Japan’s 2011 tsunami is a disquieting thing. Personal snapshots of the destruction, already sepia-tinged as the years start to tick by, can be found sticky-taped to the front windows of businesses that were destroyed and have been rebuilt. The bridge in this photo was one of the few lucky structures in gorgeous Matsushima Bay not to have been washed away. It leads to a beautifully peaceful island of simple paths among towering pines.

8. Khao Yai, Thailand
07ThailandOn board the Eastern & Oriental Express

I won my first-ever lucky door prize in 2013: an all-expenses-paid trip aboard Asia’s version of the Orient Express. It included a couple of nights at the sublime Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok and three nights of black-tie shenanigans aboard the train. Took the missus along and we had a blast. We particularly enjoyed our half-day in the vineyards of Khao Yai in eastern Thailand. I don’t know the first thing about wine, but this stuff tasted pretty good for a place so far from Bordeaux or the Barossa.

9. Ladakh, India
09IndiaOn a ladder, scaling a palace wall

One of my favourite travel experiences to date: a week in Ladakh, a region in India’s far north. Known as “the land of high passes”, Ladakh is exactly that, but it’s also a place of plunging valleys filled with white-washed Buddhist monasteries (the area borders Tibet to the east and is an ancient Tibetan kingdom itself) and villages of mud-brick housing, interrupted by the occasional oasis of apricot and walnut trees. This photo shows me scaling one of the inner walls of Leh Palace, for no good reason.

10. Strait of Malacca, Southeast Asia
10StraitOfMalaccaOn the good ship Virgo

When, in the middle of 2013, the PSI (Pollution Standards Index) hit 400 and Singapore disappeared under a blanket of haze thanks to an outbreak of uncontrollable fires in Sumatra, I knew there were better places I could be. Thankfully I was able to wangle my way aboard a cruise ship that was heading up the Strait of Malacca to bluer skies. I’m not really a cruise kind of person – I get itchy feet for on-the-ground adventures – but this boat had plenty of bars and a giant waterslide, so no complaints from this landlubber.

I’ll end this roundup as I did last year’s, with a photo of my most memorable dish. It’s nothing as fancy as 2012’s cuisses de grenouilles in rural France – instead, just a simple Aussie breakfast (beautifully presented and very delicious) of grilled mushrooms, tomatoes and avo on toast. But it meant a lot because I ate it at the Beach Cafe in Byron Bay, during my first Christmas back home for five years. Table overlooking the beach, not a cloud in the sky, and a nice little swell starting to roll in. Perfect.


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