This post was originally made as an internal list for me, Sigil, Kelly, and Chailsea. We had dreams about all going on a trip for a few months together – as I’m sure every group of friends in their early 20s all do. But then, you know, life happened and I moved to Antarctica, Chailsea began plans to move to the Philippines to open an Tanzanian coffee shop, Kelly went back to grad school to finish her social work degree, and Sigil decided she was going to move to Norway (ps aren’t my friends freaking cool?)
Everything we listed was supposed to be a guideline more than a set itinerary. We planned on getting there and playing it by ear. After all, we were taking Kelly and Chailsea and if there are any two people more destined to meet some amazing locals and change the trajectory of our trip, it’s those ladies.
It was, at the time, my ultimate Asia backpacking trip for about 6 months and about $6,000. Take this list with a pile of salt, not just one grain. I wrote the list in 2016 and the political climate of some of these countries (looking at you, south Myanmar) has changed and would make me change up this list some. I’m going to leave the years and dates on our list because some of the special events we had planned were specific to those dates too.
I’ve also changed in the four years since I wrote this list. My priorities in travel have changed. If I were to plan this trip all over again I’m sure there are many things I’d do differently. So keep that in mind while perusing my old list.
I thought I’d share our list all the same in case it benefits any of you and because I want to delete the other blog. And heck, maybe someday we’ll all get to take this trip together.
Click that “Read More” thing below to see the list.
(post image source)
- Take MegaBus to Chicago, Illinois ($1-$10)
- Plan for two meals in Chicago ($30)
- Flight from Chicago, Illinois to Auckland, New Zealand ($1115) (2019 note – I think at some point I changed to start in New Zealand, not Australia because Huda moved back to the US, hence the flight here reflecting that)
- Because so many people backpack this region, there are buses anywhere you want to go
- for a 5-6 hour journey expect to spend $5-8 and $10-15 for an overnight trip
- Bangkok a public bus costs 10 cents of $1 in a train
- Singapore train system starts at $1
- Taxis and tuk-tuks quote you a price, haggle down to half that
- For flights check Air Asia and Tiger Airways
Australia 6-7 days – Dec 27 – Jan 1
- Explore Sydney
- Great Barrier Reef at Cairns
- Kuranda Rain Forest Village
- New Years Eve in Sydney Harbor
Some of the more expensive places we want to spend less time in. One such place is Australia. I’d really like to kick off our trip in the land down under and thus see the New Years’ Eve celebrations from Sydney Harbour. I have a cousin in Sydney so I’ll contact her and see if we can stay the week with her.
Day One – Arrival in Sydney
Check into your hotel and spend whatever time you have upon arrival recovering from the almost-guaranteed jet lag. If you arrive in the morning and have a full day ahead of you, try to stay up. Hit the nearest cafe for a shot of caffeine to keep you going. Head to Circular Quay, and from there, get a fantastic view of Sydney Harbour Bridge before strolling to the Sydney Opera House and soaking up some history at The Rocks. If you have time, take the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly beach and round off a fairly easy day with fish and chips. Then head to bed for some much-needed sleep.
Day Two – Cairns, Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef
Take the earliest flight you can from Sydney to Cairns—flight time is 3 hours—and check into a hotel in the city, which on such a tight schedule will make getting to the major attractions quicker and easier than staying on the out-of-town northern beaches. Explore the city a little and see some wildlife—including a massive saltwater crocodile—in the bizarre setting of the Cairns Wildlife Dome, atop the Hotel Sofitel Reef Casino. You will have the rest of the day to head out to visit the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. If you are not going to the Red Centre, this is a great place to learn about Aboriginal culture and life, albeit in a theme-park kind of way. You could spend several hours here, or save the visit for the evening, when Tjapukai by Night tours offer a different look at traditional ceremonies, including dinner and a fire-and-water outdoor show.
Day Three – A Day Trip to the Reef
Day trips to the Great Barrier Reef leave from the Reef Fleet Terminal. The trip to the outer reef takes about 2 hours, and once there, you will spend your day on a pontoon with about 300 people. Experienced divers may prefer to take a day trip with one of several dive charter companies that take smaller groups and visit two or three reefs. The pontoons of the big operators also offer the chance to take a scenic flight—a truly spectacular experience. Divers must spend another 24 hours in Cairns before flying. If you are content to snorkel, ride the glass-bottom boats, and soak up the sun, you will be able to fly the next day. After returning to Cairns, take a stroll along the Esplanade and eat at one of the busy cafes and restaurants that line the strip.
Day Four – Kuranda, a Rainforest Village
Waiting out the day after diving (you can’t fly for 24 hours after you’ve been on a dive) can give you a chance to discover another aspect of Australia—its rainforests. Take a trip to the mountain village of Kuranda aboard the steam train along the Kuranda Scenic Railway, past waterfalls, and gorges. In Kuranda, explore the markets and the nature parks and maybe take a Kuranda Riverboat Tour, which runs about 45 minutes. Return on the Skyrail cableway, which carries you over the rainforest (you can get to ground level at a couple of stations on the way) to the edge of Cairns. The views are sensational. This is a big day out!
Day Five Cairns to Sydney
In the morning, head to the airport for your flight to Sydney. Unless you are lucky enough to have an international flight directly out of Cairns, you will spend most of your last day in Australia returning to Sydney. With the time you have left in Sydney, treat yourself to dinner at a restaurant overlooking the harbor, with its bridge and Opera House illuminated. It’s a sight you’ll carry home with you.
Day Six – Explore Sydney
Start with a ride to the top of the Sydney Tower to experience Sydney’s highest open-air attraction, Skywalk, a breathtaking 260 m (853 ft.) above Sydney. Harnessed onto a moving, glass-floored viewing platform that extends out over the edge of the tower, you can view all of Sydney’s landmarks, including the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour, and even the Blue Mountains beyond. Don’t worry, it’s not actually as scary as it sounds. For an introduction to Australia’s wildlife, head to Taronga Zoo or the Sydney Aquarium. If you have time to spare, another great choice is Featherdale Wildlife Park, but keep in mind it’s about an hour and a half from the city center. If you enjoy museums, put the Australian Museum, the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour, and the interactive Powerhouse Museum on your list for the day. For an insight into Sydney’s beginnings as a convict settlement, visit the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, a convict-built prison. Finish off your day with a twilight (or later on weekends)BridgeClimb up the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Day Seven – Fly to New Zealand
New Zealand 6 days – Jan 2-7
- Waitomo glowing caves
- Mt. Doom hike
- Take a ferry to Waiheke (vineyards, sandy white beaches, quirky galleries) or to Rangitoto (volcano, walking tracks)
- Head to Matamata, home of Hobbiton. Spend the night in Hamilton.
- Whale watching in Kaikoura
- Lake Tekapo during the blooming lupins season
- Underground rafting in Punakaiki
- Arrive in Auckland, New Zealand
- Taxi to accommodation
- Couchsurf in Auckland (Anna’s LARPer home or Tamara’s Tugboat?)
- Rest evening or explore Auckland
Day Three – 30 December 2016
- Travel to Matamata, New Zealand in the morning ($1 with InterCity if booked in advance)
- Tour of Hobbiton, New Zealand (3-4 hours, $80)
- Explore Matamata and surrounding area
- Couchsurf in Matamata
Day Four – 31 December 2016
The Waitomo Valley is home to a Middle-earth filming location as well as a myriad of underground caves, all twinking with glow worms. Either return to Hamilton for the night or stay in Waitomo.
Hairy Feet Waitomo – The looming cliffs, unusual limestone rock formations and prehistoric forest at Mangaotaki Rocks formed the perfect backdrop for Middle-earth. The locations of Staddles Farm and Trollshaw Forest were filmed here, with shots including The Company arriving at a destroyed farmhouse, the exit from Troll Hoarde Cave, the Gundabad Wargs and Orcs attack and Gandalf bestowing Sting on Bilbo. Head to Hairy Feet Waitomo for a guided tour of these fascinating locations.
Waitomo Caves – Forty-five minutes away from this filming location lies the Waitomo Caves, a fascinating labyrinth of underground sinkholes, caves, and rivers all beneath rolling green farmland. Take a walking or boat tour, try black water rafting or zip-line through the darkness.
- Take a bus to Waitomo ($70)
- Hostel at YHA Waitomo ($20)
- Watch Lord of the Rings
Day Five – 1 January 2016
- Tubing in the Waitomo Caves ($90)
- Travel to Tongariro National Park ($XXX)
- Stay in Hotel Package, Includes: ($134)
- Breakfast x2
- Deluxe packed lunch for the hike
- Shuttle to the mountain and pick up after
- Hot spats
- Dinner on hike day
Day Six – 2 January 2017
- 10-hour hike – Tongariro Crossing and a side trip to summit Ngauruhoe at Tongario National Park (AKA. Mordor), climbing to the top of Mt. Doom means a 2-hour hike up. Bring gloves and hiking poles.
- Stay in Hotel Package
Day Seven – 3 January 2017
- Travel to Auckland ($5)
- Fight to Jakarta, Indonesia ($XXX)
Indonesia 10 days – Jan 8-17
Indonesia $8-10 USD for housing, private room with A/C are around $15-20
- Jakarta with Sam’s family
Philippines 10 days – Jan 18 – 28
- Chailsea’s family
Japan 9 days – Jan 29 – Feb 6
- Cherry Blossom Festival in Okinawa
- Setsubun Matsuri Fire Festival in Kyoto
- Tokyo shopping
China 17 days – Feb 7-23
- Beijing Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, Great Wall, Hutong, Olympic Stadiums
- Xi’an, Terracotta Army, Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Shaanxi Museum, Silk Road, City Wall, Shadow Theatre
- Lhasa (Tibet), Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Street
- Yomdrak Lake, Palgor Chorten
- Shigatse, Tashilunpo Monastery
- Chengdu, Panda Breeding, Wu Hou Temple, Di Fu Thatched Cottage, Jinli Old Street
- Guilin, Reed Flute Cave, Flubo Hill, Elephant Trunk Hill
- Li River Cruise, Yangshuo
- Hong Kong, Victoria Peak, Aberdeen, Repulse Bay
China’s one of the few countries on the list I’d rather actually have a rigged itinerary for and not just wander around on our own.
I found a tour group that leads a 17-day tour that seems pretty freaking awesome. Better yet, it leaves from Beijing and returns to Hong Kong which means we could take a flight over from Tokyo and then Beijing down south. It fits really well with the rest of our itinerary. Plus, this tour group will customize ANY tour to fit what your group wants to do. I told them we want our time in Lhasa to line up with the butter lamp festival and include that. Note all the text below is copied and pasted from their website. It’s not my original content.
DAY 1: Arrive in Beijing
Your guide will be waiting for you at the airport, ready to take you to the hotel in a private car.
DAY 2: Beijing: Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven
Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square have been at the center of historical events throughout centuries; they have an air of grandeur and larger than human scale proportions to impress even though emperors no longer rule the land.
Temple of Heaven was in its time just as important a place; the sacrifices for good harvest were performed here in ceremonies that no ordinary person was allowed to see. Now the surrounding park is free to locals who come here to do their morning exercises.
DAY 3: Beijing: Great Wall
The Great Wall is an exciting experience, and on the Mutianyu section, you can enjoy it in peace, as it is much less crowded than Badaling. This area was strategically very important and therefore has the most watchtowers. A cable car to the top can be followed by a toboggan ride down, or if you wish you can go back on a chair lift.
Tasting the world-famous Beijing Roast Duck is one of the essential experiences, so we have booked you a table in one of the best restaurants Hepingmen Quanjude Restaurant, known for its outstanding quality.
DAY 4: Beijing: Hutong Tour, Exterior visit of Beijing Olympic Stadiums, Flight to Xi’an
The Beijing Hutongs are known for their old-world charm: the courtyard houses lining the tree-lined alleyways and communities going back centuries. We take you to visit a local family, to hear about their life here.
The Beijing Olympic Stadiums, affectionately known as Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, are the new additions to grand architecture. The surrounding park, as well as the exterior of these marvelous creations, is quite the end to time in Beijing.
In the afternoon your guide will take you to the airport to catch a plane to Xi’an.
DAY 5: Xi’an: Terracotta Army, Big Wild Goose Pagoda
The Terracotta Warriors and Horses must be one of the most famous sights in the world, and for good reason: these intricately detailed statues are a rich insight into life and warfare over two thousand years ago.
Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a charming 7th-century structure added to along the years but maintaining its status as the landmark of old Xi’an.
DAY 6: Xi’an: Shaanxi History Museum, Muslim Quarters, Xi’an City Wall, Shadow Theater
Shaanxi History Museum has a comprehensive collection of artifacts explaining how this cradle of culture developed throughout centuries. Muslim Quarters gives an insight into the inheritance of the ancient Silk Road, bringing influences from afar. One of the ancient remains is a bluestone pavement, worn by countless footsteps.
Xi’an City Wall offers a chance to sightsee on a bicycle in comfort; the wall is so smooth and wide that it is a pleasure to do the whole 14km round trip. Shadow Theater in Gao’s Courtyard, a former residence of an eminent Ming-Dynasty official, is an enchanting experience of a traditional art form combined with ancient surroundings.
DAY 7: Flight to Lhasa
Your guide will take you to the airport and makes sure everything goes smoothly on your transfer to Lhasa.
DAY 8: Lhasa: Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Street
Potala Palace dominates the cityscape in Lhasa, the white and red palace buildings towering at the end of the famous pilgrim steps. Each visit has to be finished within an hour to give all the pilgrims a chance to get in.
Jokhang Temple is also a center of pilgrimage, and the surrounding Barkhor Street is used as a path to walk along while spinning the prayer wheels, as well as being a place to buy offerings and incense among other more earthly goods. It is a wonderful place to people watch; locals in their colorful traditional outfits are fascinating to see.
DAY 9: Drive to Shigatse, Yomdrok Lake, Palgor Chorten
This is where having your own driver and guide really comes to its own: this morning you will travel to see the Yomdrok Lake, a stunning alpine lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains, and you can stop the journey at any point to enjoy the views.
The Palgor Chorten, or Palco Monastery, clings to the mountainside as if to protect its greatest structure, an exceptional quality Stupa, a holy circular structure designed to hold relics. By the evening you will arrive in Shigatse, a center of Buddhism.
DAY 10: Shigatse: Tashilunpo Monastery, Drive to Lhasa
Tashilunpo Monastery is the seat of the Panchen Lama, second highest in the ranking after Dalai Lama. The buildings painted white and red in the style of Potala Palace are filled with grand statues and murals.
In the afternoon your driver takes you back to Lhasa.
DAY 11: Flight to Chengdu
Today is dedicated to flight to Chengdu, home of the Pandas.
DAY 12: Chengdu: Panda Breeding and Research Center, Wu Hou Temple
Panda Breeding and Research Center is where these delightful creatures are protected and successfully nurtured little pandas fill the nursery. There is a donation program that allows you take pictures withholding a panda one minute by donating RMB 2,000 Yuan (for reference only). Only 20 tourists are allowed to hold pandas a day. If you want to hold a panda, please tell your travel advisor or tour guide in advance because you must book it at least one week in advance. This program is subject to the availability of pandas on that day. Please bring enough RMB cash as payment by credit card is not accepted there.
Wu Hou Temple is more than a temple: it has charming gardens filled with ancient cypresses shading the winding pathways.
DAY 13: Chengdu: Du Fu Thatched Cottage, Jinli Old Street, Flight to Guilin
Du Fu Thatched Cottage is famous because China’s greatest poet lived there in ancient times; it has a lovely shady garden with ponds and lilies. Jinli Old Street gives you a chance to look at some of the local handicrafts in ancient surroundings before heading to the airport with your guide to fly to Guilin.
DAY 14: Guilin: Li River Cruise
Li River and its magnificent mountain landscape have been the inspiration for generations of artists, and it is just as enchanting as they portray it, with water buffaloes wading in the water and farmers following close behind. Yangshuo is the final destination; you will have an evening in this lively little town.
DAY 15: Guilin: Reed Flute Cave, Fubo Hill, Elephant Trunk Hill, Flight to Hong Kong
After returning to Guilin you will see some of the natural wonders it has to offer, all created by the limestone mountains: Reed Flute Cave, Fubo Hill, and Elephant Trunk Hill. Your guide will then take you to the airport for your flight onwards to Hong Kong.
DAY 16: Hong Kong: Tour of Victoria Peak, Aberdeen, Repulse Bay
The guide will pick you up at your hotel and take you to see the best Hong Kong Island has to offer, starting with Victoria Peak, the best vantage point of the harbor. Peak Tram is a charming way to get up the hillside, it is over a hundred year old transport system but still very effective. Aberdeen Harbor on the south side of the island is a haven of old fishing junks where many people live full time, accessible with a sampan (water taxi). Repulse Bay ends the half-day tour; this beach is by some very exclusive residential areas, but accessible for all.
DAY 17: Depart Hong Kong
If your flight leaves later in the day, just inform your travel advisor, and we will pick you up at a time suitable for you.
Vietnam 19 days – Feb 24 – March 14
Vietnam $5-8 USD for housing. Southeast Asia street food is usually around $1.50 with Singapore street food about $3
- Perfume Pagoda (Huong Tich) Festival
- International Women’s Day
- Ho Chi Minh
Cambodia 14 days – Mar 15 – 28
Dorms and Hostels in Cambodia and Laos are about $2-5 USD per night
- Siem Reap
- Angkor Wat Temples
Laos 13 days – Mar 29 – April 10
- Boun Pha Vet Festival
- Boun Pi Mai Festival
Thailand 15 days (Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Krabi Islands) – April 11 – 15
In Thailand expect to pay $6-13 USD for housing
- Chiang Mai, Songkran Water Festival, Elephants (make reservations for ENP way in advance)
- Pattaya’s Songkran
- Southern Islands i.e. Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao
Myanmar/Burma 23 days (Yagoon, Bago, Pathein, Bengal Coast) – April 16 – May 18
The below text is copied from online resources and may or may not contain citations because I’m collecting from so many places at once. There is very slow groud-transport so do not expect to get anywhere fast.
- Bengal Coast
Yangon – Day One
Don’t plan anything and roam the streets to get a feel for the place. Check out downtown, Sule Pagoda, Chinatown, and the old Strand Road and waterfront area. Several outfits offer Rangoon River sunset boat tours so head down to the jetty to sound them out. On Fridays, the historic Strand Hotel does an all-evening half-price happy hour. Sip on a G & T on the same bar stool that Somerset Maugham or George Orwell did. Dinner in a Chinatown pavement cafe at 19th Street is a good way to finish your day.
A great way to see the rear views of downtown and chat with friendly locals is to take a ride on the Circle Train. The trains leave hourly from Central Station and take around three hours to do a round trip. If you are pressed for time, you can get out at the halfway point. Otherwise, a late morning train will take you up to lunch, after which you could stroll through the picturesque Kandawgyi Gardens. Around the corner is Shwedagon. Head there for dusk to soak in the view, then take a short taxi ride to the excellent Feel Restaurant.
You still have the Scott Market, National Museum and countless pagodas to take in. Don’t miss the first two and see where your temple inclinations lead you otherwise. A sundowner at one of the rooftop bars may be a good way to end the day. Try the upmarket Sakura Tower or head to Asia Plaza Hotel’s top floor if you’re not worried about decor or service but want a great and unobstructed view. For dinner or drinks, head down to 50th Street Bar to see how the expat community spend their evenings.
Head East Day Four
Heading east takes you to Bago and the Golden Rock. Take the 08:00 train to Bago, where you could do worse than head to the Bago Star Hotel at Kyaikpun Pagoda Road and ask them to find you a bicycle to rent. From Bago, a southbound bus trip plus a short moto-taxi ride will take you to “base camp” at the foot of Kyaiktiyo or the Golden Rock. An overnight stay allows you to take in both sunset and dawn at the Rock, but make sure you book ahead as accommodation is limited.
Spend a leisurely morning taking in the views, take a walk down the mountain, wander around the market at the foot of the hill for lunch then grab any Rangoon-bound bus. Allow four hours back to Rangoon
Catch up on any last-minute shopping or visit any sites you missed earlier. If you’re feeling energetic, take a local ferry from opposite the Strand to Dala Village.
Head West Day Seven
Take the local bus to Pathein. It’s a rough road so allow three to four hours to get there. Pathein is worth the journey as it’s great, super friendly and untouristy. Check out the market, after which ensconce yourself in a waterfront cafe and watch the riverside hustle and bustle. Check our accommodation suggestion
Continue west for another hour or two and you’ll hit the bay of Bengal Coast at either Ngwe Saungor Chaung Tha beach. It’s a toss-up between the two and your selection will depend upon budget and room availability.
Depending upon departure time, you can either head back in the afternoon of day six or morning of day seven. While it may not look far on the map, the road is awful and bus connections may require a change in Pathein so check beforehand!
Bangladesh 5 days – May 18 – 23
Nepal 17 days (Kathmandu, Mt. Everest) – May 24 – June 9
- Nagarkot – observation tower to see the sunrise over Everest
- Thamel – backpacker adventurous paradise (visit SAMS bar)
- Kathmandu – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathmandu
- Sirutar – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sirutar
- Monkey Temple – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swayambhunath
- Nagarkot – http://wikitravel.org/en/Nagarkot
- Thamel – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thamel
- Patan – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patan,_Lalitpur
- Everest Flight – http://www.buddhaair.com/
- Hotel option – http://www.tibetholidayinn.com/
Russia 18 days (Moscow, Saint Petersburg) – June 10 – 27
- Moscow, Russia Day
- International Film Festival
- Usadba Jazz Festival
- Saint Petersburg
- White Nights/Scarlet Sails Festival
- The Hermitage
- Lake Baikal
A large part of any culture is what they choose to celebrate. I’d love to make it a goal to visit, participate in, and document the most popular celebrations around the world.
The below list is a selection of cool things that we could do. It’s not meant to be all-inclusive nor a checklist. However, these things don’t fall during the time we’re planning to be gone.
- Diwali Festival of Lights (October/November)
- Boryeong Mud Festival (Mid July)
- Monkey Buffet Festival, Lopburi, end of November
- Obon Festival, August, floating lanterns
- Upacara Kasodo, mid-August monthly ritual
And then? South America? Europe?
- Take a tour of Patagonia
- Visit Easter Island
- Carnival in Rio de Janeiro (before Lent, Winter/Spring)
- Attend a soccer game
- Visit the Amazon river
- The Festival of the Sun, late June
- Machu Picchu
- Take a canopy tour (zip line?) of the rain forest
- Attend Oktoberfest in Munich, September
- Queen’s Day late April, close down Amsterdam to party
- Cooper Hill’s Cheese Rolling Festival in Glouchester (May)
- Glastonbury Music Festival, last weekend of June
- Reading and Leeds music festivals for Enter Shikari specifically
- Up Helly Aa Fire Festival in Lerwick, Scotland (last Tuesday in January)
- Kiruna Snow Festival in the Torne River Valley
- Ice Hotel
- See the Northern Lights
- Dog Sled tour
- The Battle of the Oranges (giant food fight)
- Carnevale in Venice (Feb/Mar)
- View Venice on foot
- La Fallas in Valencia (March), cross between Disney World and the apocalypse
- La Tomatina in Buñol (a massive tomato food fight last Wednesday in August
- Grape Throwing Festival, Mallorca, Spain (last weekend of September)
- With a day trip over to Morocco?
- Ride a camel to see the sunrise over the Giza pyramids
- Visit Rome