A portion of Uluru viewed from the base walk
Of course the main draw of central Australia is Uluru – one of the largest bornhardt formations in the world and a sacred site for the local aboriginal people. I decided to do a 10-day group tour from Alice Springs to visit Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon, Devils Marbles, Katherine Gorge, Mary River, Kakadu NP, and Litchfield NP, finally ending in Darwin in plenty of time to begin my new job. While I would have loved to do this trip on my own as a massive road trip, after adding up all the costs I just couldn’t justify it – it would have been nearly triple the price to do it alone. Of course there are benefits to the tour – being able to sleep during long drives, not worrying about getting lost or finding an appropriate place to sleep, etc., but I definitely realized that my personality and travel style does not lend itself well to being in such close quarters with so many strangers for such a long time. It was a massive relief to be done with the tour and back in a private bedroom, despite how beautiful and exciting everything I saw was.
Anyway, the first stop on this 10-day tour was the magnificent Uluru. We did a little bit of walking around the base (of course we did not climb up it) and heard creation stories about different features on the rock.
A view of the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road
Near the top of every Australia to-do list is a road trip on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, and it was one of the very first touristy things I did when I arrived. I rented a car with an Australian friend I’d met in Bolivia, and we headed out from Melbourne through Lorne to Apollo Bay, taking a detour to Cape Otway and spending some time in Port Campbell, before getting to Warrnambool and heading back – all in 48 hours. It was a whirlwind, but we saw some beautiful sights along the way, including some wild koalas!. Unfortunately it was too cold to go swimming in May, but we spent some time walking on the beach anyway.
I loved learning about the history of the area – from indigenous tribes and William Buckley to shipwrecks and lighthouses. I learned that the first American vessel to sink in WWII sunk right off of Cape Otway, something I’ll keep in my back pocket in case I’m ever on Jeopardy!
Additionally, there are several great hiking spots along the road, for short walks or longer ones that apparently can take several days. We did a few short walks, but realized at the end of the day that it had added up to quite a trek!
A view of the cliffs over Chiew Lan Lake
I spent a few days in the beautiful area of Khao Sok, hiking in the national park and taking an overnight tour to Chiew Lan Lake. Despite being a fairly popular destination in southern Thailand, both the park and lake are secluded and relatively untouched. I saw a lot of flying lizards, monkeys, and more geckos than I could count!
A Buddha statue at Sunrise at Wat Mahathat at Sukhothai Historical Park
On my way down to the Gulf of Thailand to do some scuba diving, I stopped off at Sukhothai to see the 13th-century ruins of the Sukhothai kingdom. Somewhat similar to Angkor Wat, but much smaller, the ruins are easily accessible by bicycle and entrance costs just a few dollars. Sunrise at the temples was particularly striking and worth waking up early for.
In addition to the temples, I had a lovely time staying at Sila Resort, a nice hostel in New Sukhothai. I’d highly recommend it!
Watching the balloons taking off from up close
On my final day in Cappadocia I woke up early once again, this time to watch the hot air balloons from the ground and do a hike in Love Valley before my noon bus to Ankara. It was great to get a last view of the incredible scenery. I was sad to leave the area, as I definitely only scratched the surface of things to see and explore there. Alas, my flight to Hong Kong awaited me and it was time to move on from Turkey!
Watching the sunrise over Cappadocia from a hot air balloon!
I’d heard so many amazing things about the Cappadocia region of Turkey and I was so excited to finally get there! I debated doing a hot air balloon ride, as it’s never really been a huge interest of mine and it’s pretty pricey at a minimum of $120 for the most budget ride. I finally decided, though, that if I’m ever going to go up in a hot air balloon it might as well be in the so-called hot air ballooning capital of the world, and a couple hundred dollars is worth the experience.
Once I made the decision to do it, I then had to choose from among the few dozen companies catering to tourists in Goreme. I had heard Butterfly Balloons, Sultan Balloons and Royal Balloons were good companies, but I decided to price check at a few different agencies before deciding. I happened to wander into an Atlas Balloons agent, who was also selling rides with Turkiye Balloons. I was convinced to go with the latter, more expensive ride (at 140 euro) because I was impressed with the pilots’ minimum 1500 hours experience each, and also the fact that they are a new company so their balloons are in top shape.