New Year’s Resolution: 17 Countries in 2017
One of our goals for 2017 is to travel to 17 countries, with 10 countries we’ve never traveled to before. Surprisingly – and contrary to our typical last minute planning – we have most of them mapped out already. Most notably, Diana will be traversing into unexplored territories in Southeast Asia, and Hope has successfully secured a summer internship in Berlin, one of our favorite cities in the world. We welcome any additional tips you may have in helping us reach our new year’s resolution of visiting 17 countries in 2017.
Our first upcoming international trip will be to Ireland in early March. Since Hope is in school until early May, she will be holding down the fort back at home while Diana explores Ireland and the UK (and subsequently Southeast Asia – see below). Ireland has always been at the top of our travel bucket list because of how beautiful the country’s landscape looks and how fun we think it would be to pub hop around Dublin with locals. It seems that every Irish person we’ve met on our travels has been extremely friendly, fun-loving, and easy-going, so we are excited to find our Irish friends in their natural habitat.
We’ll have three days in Ireland: one day in Dublin, and two days road tripping out west to the Cliffs of Moher, Galway, Doolin, etc. We’ll be spending the night in Doolin at the recommendation of a friend, so send any tips our way!
Unfortunately, Diana will only have one day in Edinburgh (we would love to visit the Scottish highlands someday!), but it is more than enough time for her to be very excited about exploring this new country. Similar to Ireland, we have been in awe at the beautiful landscape of Scotland and have heard nothing but good things about Edinburgh. We actually contemplated going to Edinburgh or Glasgow for a while and ultimately settled on Edinburgh as we were more interested in seeing the smaller, historic town than another large city (as we both live in the city).
A couple of things Diana is very excited about for this trip is her stay in the beautiful apartments of Old Town Chambers and having the opportunity to experience a Scotch Whisky tour, as she is a big fan of whisky.
Right after Diana returns from Ireland and the UK, she will be embarking on another, bigger trip to Southeast Asia and China for one month. Her trip will start in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and take her to Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China, where she will be visiting many of our relatives who live there. Diana will only have about one day in Kuala Lumpur and one day in Penang before moving on to Thailand. While we’ve heard mixed reviews about Kuala Lumpur, we have heard nothing but the highest accolades about Penang. We’re especially excited to explore the Georgetown area of Penang and discover the fun street art we’ve seen in photos.
Thailand will be one of the highlights of this trip for a few reasons. First, Diana has a few friends living in Bangkok that she is excited to see. One of those friends grew up in Bangkok, so she really knows the city like the back of her hand and will be able to act as a personal tour guide. The second is that Diana will be visiting an elephant sanctuary near Chiang Mai for her birthday on March 21. We both love elephants and feel very strongly toward protecting and preserving elephants. In particular, we hope to spread awareness of the inhumane practices toward elephants in Southeast Asia, which can be seen most prominently in the elephant tourism business. It seems that many tourists visit Thailand in hopes of having the opportunity to ride an elephant, but unfortunately what they don’t know is how much pain elephants must endure to arrive at a point where they will acquiesce to any orders and practices regarding elephant riding. These elephants have been beaten and tortured, even as babies, and completely stripped of their spirit. Another surprising fact is that elephants are not made to carry weight on their backs, despite their large size. In fact, the weight of even one human can hurt an elephant’s back.
Elephant sanctuaries provide a large area covered in natural forestry in which elephants are free to roam and are protected from outside dangers. Visitors can sign up to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary for a day or even overnight. Volunteers’ duties typically include feeding, bathing, and playing with the elephants, but no one is permitted to ride an elephant at any time. We haven’t yet decided on a particular elephant sanctuary yet, so if you have suggestions, throw them our way!
Myanmar is one of the destinations we’re most excited to explore, mainly because it isn’t a popular tourist destination yet. We’ll be flying into Yangon and somehow transporting ourselves to Inle Lake, Bagan, and ending in Mandalay, where we’ll be flying on to Luang Prabang, Laos. We must admit we don’t know very much about Myanmar yet (or Laos/Cambodia), so any tips you have would be great appreciated. We’ll have three days total in Myanmar.
Admittedly, we don’t know much about Laos or Cambodia either, and thus we’re not sure what to expect. We’ll be staying in Luang Prabang for two nights and are pretty stoked to be staying at this beautiful estate on the Mekong River. One would think that, after seeing waterfalls at every turn in Norway, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland, we would have tired of waterfalls by now, but we have every intention to chase more waterfalls in Laos – in particular the Kuang Si Falls.
We are a bit nervous to see what the crowds will be like at Angkor Wat, but that won’t stop us from going. Siem Reap seems to be filled with temples, and I’m glad we’ll be getting our fill of temples before moving on to Vietnam.
We’ll be spending almost a week in Vietnam and splitting our time between Ho Chih Minh City, Hanoi, and Halong Bay. If we had to pick one thing we’re most excited for in Vietnam, that would be the food. Pho is one of Diana’s favorite foods, and even thinking about the possibility of eating pho for every meal gets her excited. On top of that – to pay only $1 USD or less for a bowl of pho in Vietnam vs the hefty $10/bowl here really makes Vietnam sound too good to be true.
Food aside, we are also very excited to take a boat around the beautiful Halong Bay and take in the sights and smells of HCM.
Ever since the United States opened up its borders to Cuba last year, Diana has been itching to visit. A trip to Cuba may not sound like a big deal to you if you’re from Canada or elsewhere in the world, but for Americans this is monumental. Today, for an American to travel to Cuba, he or she must fall into one of 12 categories listed and explained on the OFAC website and may not travel there simply for vacation. What this means practically is that American travelers to Cuba may not stay at a beach resort the entire time and lay out on the beach and sip on cocktails by the pool all day, although it is unclear how harshly these requirements are actually enforced.
From everything we’ve heard, Cuba is a country that still appears to exist in the 1960s, with its old cars, old buildings, and traditional ways of life. We will be staying in casas particulares (homestays) and are very excited to meet the local people and take in the local customs there.
Slovenia is a country that has recently risen to the top of our bucket list, with the recent trend of “glamping.” Diana has driven through Slovenia before on her way from Serbia to Croatia but hardly gave it a passing thought until we started seeing photos of Slovenia’s beautiful landscape and thus popularity as a “glampsite” among young travelers who are not quite full on backpackers but not 5 star luxury resort stayers either.
We’re hoping to tack this trip onto our trip to Munich for Oktoberfest in September, so we won’t be going for a while but would still love to hear any recommendations you have for places to visit within Slovenia, where to stay, and other must-sees and must-dos.
In addition to the above, we’ll be re-visiting the following countries…
As you may know from reading some of our other posts, our parents live in Toronto, Canada, and Hope lived there from grades 8-12 and calls herself a Torontonian, so Canada is near and dear to our hearts. We typically visit Toronto every couple of months, and I’m sure this year will be no different.
One destination within Canada that has very recently risen to the top of our bucket list is Yellow Knife. Our parents just took a trip there last week and had a blast dog sledding, living in teepees, and seeing the northern lights. It looks absolutely gorgeous.
Diana will be re-visiting the land of fire and ice, one of our top obsessions, in early March on her way to Ireland and the UK. We went to Iceland back in November 2015 and were blown away by its natural beauty. There were miles and miles of nothingness – but it was the most beautiful nothingness we had ever seen. This time, we are excited about a couple of things in particular: first, that we will have the opportunity to snorkel Silfra with Scuba Iceland. Silfra is a fissure in Thingvellir where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, and the Silfra fissure is considered one of the best freshwater snorkeling spots in the world. The other thing we’re very excited about for this trip is the opportunity to take a food tour around Reykjavik with Wake Up Reykjavik. This will be a great way for us to revisit some of the most popular sites in Reykjavik as well as taste more of its authentic food. Stay tuned for photos and stories on how cold the water is and how delicious the food is!
We’ll be in Paris for just one day on our way to Ireland and the UK in early March. We scored an awesome deal through Icelandair where we got a roundtrip ticket to Paris with a free 2-day stopover in Iceland for only $400 USD. Since we’ve been to Paris a few times already, we wanted to spend the majority of our time exploring Ireland and the UK, so we’ll only be spending one night in Paris. We’re hoping to explore some new neighborhoods and revisit some of our favorite sites, like Canal St. Martin, Jardin de Luxembourg, and weirdly the Pere Lachaise cemetery.
London is another quick one day stop on our UK/Ireland trip in early March. Similar to Paris, it’s a city we’ve been to several times but look forward to going back as there are still so many little neighborhoods we haven’t had a chance to explore yet. In particular, we’d love to check out Camden Market on this trip. Let us know if there are any other hidden gems in London you’d recommend seeing.
We are also looking forward to staying in a prison cell at a hostel in King’s Cross called Clink78, set in an old courthouse where The Clash once stood trial. How fitting that a couple of lawyers will be spending the night at an old courthouse in a prison cell.
15. Hong Kong
We visited Hong Kong in August 2013 and absolutely loved it. Compared to mainland China, Hong Kong is much less of a cultural shock. There are endless shops, restaurants, people, and lights in Hong Kong, and it is really a fun atmosphere. We’ll be back in Hong Kong for a day on our way from Vietnam to China, and we’re looking forward to eating lots of dim sum and exploring more of the nightlife there.
Most of our family lives in China, so we’ve been visiting regularly since we were kids. It’s perplexing when people say they like or dislike China based on one trip to a major city because China is huge and has so many different sides to it. It’s hard to believe that the bustling, smog-filled cities of Beijing and Shanghai are part of the same country as the serene rivers of Guilin or the minority-dominated mountains of Kunming. China has also been an interesting place to visit regularly over the last 25 years or so because of how quickly the country is developing and how noticeable these developments are even after only a few years. Since I haven’t been back to China since August 2013, I am really looking forward to seeing how the country has changed in the last four years. We will have almost an entire week in China and will be based in Jiangsu province (near Shanghai) where our family resides, but would love to hear your recommendations for other cities to visit.
As mentioned above, Hope has secured a summer internship at a startup company in Berlin and is very excited to gain some real life experience while living in one of the coolest cities in the world. Hope’s internship lasts two months, and she plans to spend the remaining two months of summer vacation traveling. Our plan is for Diana to visit while Hope is living in Berlin, and the two of us will embark on a train trip around northern Germany, exploring cities such as Dresden, Leipzig, Weimar, Frankfurt, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Lubeck, and Rugen. Then in the fall, we plan to return to Germany, but this time to southern Germany, and attend Oktoberfest and explore some nearby countries such as Slovenia.
Do you have an advice for the destinations listed above? What are your travel goals for 2017? Which countries made your 2017 travel list? Let us know in the comments below!
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