I kicked off 2017 with a road trip around Japan as the year quickly turned into a whirlwind of adventure here on Live, Travel, Teach. Sometimes I can’t believe half of what I did was actually real, but somehow it was. I pulled off an 8-month farewell tour of Asia including in two more epic road trips, trekking in the Himalayas, hugging a baby elephant and even staring down a wild tiger. But, before I could embark on that adventure of a lifetime I had to leave Seoul, South Korea, my wonderful home of nearly 4 years.
Live Travel Teach – The Best of 2017
Most of my time in Korea was spent teaching 4th grade at Younghoon Elementary School, hiking Korean mountains with Seoul Hiking Group or exploring the country with Bangawoyo Tours. Over the years I’d made countless friends had my own little Korean family who was as sad to see me go as I was to say goodbye. But with a looming adventure pulling me forward I navigated those teary goodbyes, sold or donated almost everything I owned, packed 1 backpack and shipped 5 boxes to my parents back in the United States.
When it finally came time to kick off my trip and board the plane I only had a rough idea of where I’d be in 6 months time and never would have guessed I’d be writing this from Alaska! The open-ended journey kick-started with a quick hop over to Beijing where I day hiked the Great Wall of China and met up with an old friend. My Chinese visa only allowed me to stay for 72 hours so I quickly boarded a plane bound for New Delhi, India where I was excited to join the most colorful festival in the world, Holi!
After dancing in the streets with cows, colors, and strangers I visited the Taj Mahal before exploring Rajasthan and meeting my Rickshaw Run team in Jaisalmer. The 6 of us jumped into two glorified lawnmowers and drove nearly 3000km across India.
This two-week road trip could have been the only thing I did all year and my adventure bug might have been satisfied but for 2017 was this was just the beginning! Our grueling trip was full of its own crazy adventures and we took some well earned R&R in southern India before deciding to head to Periyar Tiger Reserve and track a herd of wild elephants!
My flight to Kathmandu was at the end of April and my brother, Ben, eagerly awaited me there. We hadn’t seen each other in 15 months and would depart the next morning for the Annapurna Circuit, a 2-week trek covering 160km in the Nepali Himalayas! Ben is also an avid photographer and together we snapped my very first star-trails photo!
As we hiked past the Annapurna massifs the air grew thin and hard to breathe, yet each step brought another stunning view. We learned that Nepal has a special meaning of “flat” which our guide, Thakur, admitted should be “a little bit up, a little bit down.” Even with all those “flat” days we still had plenty of climbing days before arriving at a staggering 17,769 feet (5,416m) above sea level at the Thorong La pass.
Along the way we stayed in tiny mountain villages and got to see a few fluffy critters. We got lucky enough to see a herd of bharal (blue sheep) and I even took a selfie with a yak! The landscapes on the roof of the world were breathtaking as long as the weather cooperated.
Halfway through the trek, we met a true Himalayan blizzard head-on. We got snowed in at Manang for an extra day but used that to make sure my minor altitude sickness dissipated before we headed onwards for some crazy cliffs and icy trails. When we were almost across the pass, I made the mistake of looking down and froze in fear. All that I could think of was that if I slipped on this narrow trail my fate was certain. My brother and our guide coaxed me onwards as my shaky legs slowly started working again. Before I knew it we’d made it to the top and were heading back down to the valley on the other side.
My plan was to leave immediately after the hike, Ben had to return to Alaska anyway and I wanted to take a bus back to India and then Myanmar. But, Nepal has its own amazing brand of travel bug and it bit me hard! Some hikers on the circuit mentioned that they’d seen wild tigers in the lowland jungles of the Terai and soon found myself on an 18-hour bus to Bardia National Park. One week of exploring these wildlife-filled forests wasn’t enough so I ended up staying for a full month.
I trekked through the jungle countless times seeing over a dozen rhinos, a handful of bull elephants and even a wild tiger. Somehow the adventure continued as I hugged a baby elephant and climbed up a waterfall to stay in a few remote villages. We took a raft home but that story will get posted soon so you better subscribe by email to make sure you don’t miss it! All good things come to an end plus, I had a sneaky feeling I’d be coming back to this wildlife paradise and decided that a meditation retreat at Kopan Monastery was the perfect reason to return to Kathmandu.
Want to join Mike for an adventure in Nepal? I’m organizing an expedition to search for wild tigers with Wild Trak Adventures for March 2018 and we’ve got 3 spots left!
This week of meditation and reflection was accompanied by a host of new friends, feelings, and ambitions. I developed a new vision for the blog and meditating on things like compassion or even death certainly changed the way I view the world. I also made up my mind to create new adventures that you can join me on and the first one is coming up in March of 2018. Click the link above for more information.
I got a call from my parents a few days later and made the decision to meet them in Alaska when they were visiting my brother for my mom’s birthday. My brother and I spoke a little bit about the idea of me coming to live with him in Alaska but this was the first time I thought it might actually happen. But I’m getting ahead of myself and wouldn’t want to leave out another crazy road trip, this time by motorbike across Vietnam!
I flew from Nepal to Vietnam where Ronda met me in Ho Chi Minh City. We spent about a week shopping for a motorcycle which we would buy, trade in for a different one, then have a minor accident and ship 2 bags north before finally hiring a guide. Dung, our guide, turned out to be a great friend and invaluable asset as he carried our main backpack and translated for us on this 2000km journey across Vietnam.
If you’re planning an adventure like driving across Vietnam on a motorcycle then I highly recommend getting travel insurance. We used World Nomads and it was quick and affordable. You’ll get an instant quote and can have travel insurance starting asap!
The drive took us to amazing temples, villages, waterfalls, beaches, caves, and islands eating local delicacies and a few oddities. All of the wonderful landscapes were balanced out by monsoon rains, jungle illnesses and trucks barreling down the highway, literally full of squealing pigs. The adventure took us into jungles, rice fields and the most picturesque landscapes I could have dreamed up. The one below is my new favorite spot in the world, click on the photo to read more about Ban Gioc Waterfall in Northern Vietnam.
Just two Asian adventures remained before it was tim to fly across the Pacific. I co-hosted a Vietnamese TV show with Ronda where they followed us around Cat Ba Island with a half dozen cameras. 3 days of filming boiled down to one 26 minute episode that you can watch in the link above.
Up next was a long layover in Seoul where I got to have one last taste of my favorite Korean dishes and, most importantly, see some of my Korean family one more time before jumping on the plane to Alaska. I said goodbye to my friends, my home, and my love but I had family waiting for me on the other side of the Pacific.
My parents and brother met me at Anchorage airport to welcome me home. I didn’t know how long I’d stay in Alaska yet but just the fact that I would be on US soil meant I was home. Reverse culture shock threw my emotions into a turmoil but luckily it most often made me laugh at the absurd situations I got myself into, like forgetting I had to put the car in Park and thinking I was locked in the car for 10 minutes!
Halloween was my first American holiday and since my brother was out of town and I didn’t have any friends yet (or a costume) I sat at home and watched a movie. Eventually, I crawled out of my Asian shell and these oddities began to feel normal again. We went on a few hikes and I tried out more astralphotography as I realized the journey was officially over, I was staying Alaska.
My parents flew back to the east coast as I embraced Alaska, the last frontier as I bought a car, changed my address, got an Alaskan driver’s license and started working again. We squeezed in a few fall glacier hikes before the snow began to pile up and worked on the blog as much as possible.
9 countries, 3 epic road trips, 2 new wonders of the world & 1 move across the world and countless other adventures filled my 2017 to the brim!
Comment below and tell me your favorite one of my adventures or all about yours.
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