For some travel bugs, having a pre-arranged tour can have the opposite effect: it limits the spectrum of travel options, confined only by the itinerary arranged for you and your pace can only be as fast as your fellow travelers in the tour. Adventure awaits outside these itineraries, so you ended up getting bored of the usual travel schedule, wishing u could break away from the group and start your own string of discoveries.
I started travelling since 2007 in Egypt, and going from point A to B has since become a conscious undertaking to make it more interesting: to deviate from the usual travel path and aim for those hidden roads leading to gems of discoveries, giving me more feelings of awe.
So far, since then, though I have not traveled as extensively, I have done these 7 awesome unconventional, out of the box travels (These are travels not done by conventional ways. By conventional ways, I mean by taking the commercial airlines and be picked up from the airport and taken directly to the hotel you booked, doing the city tour then go back to the hotel) In each of the destinations, there were moments of discoveries made, different routes taken, a specific travel objective done accomplishing a theme, different travel perspectives were born and to follow paths to awesome adventure travels that may never be repeated again:
1. FOLLOW THE HOLY FAMILY’S JOURNEY INTO EGYPT:
We know about the Bible story of Jesus Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, and the Massacre of the Innocents by order of the vile King Herod; Mama Mary and St Joseph safely took baby Jesus into Egypt to escape the persecution. After the brief mention of their plight to Egypt by the Bible nothing more has been said about that part of their lives in the Land of Pyramids. Modern Egypt is a Muslim country, but 9% of its citizens are Coptic Christians. Christianity here was introduced in the 1st century AD. Coptic referred to the ancient language of which Egyptian Christianity was founded on. They venerated the places the Holy Family took refuge in, building churches in every town they visited. And so when I worked in Egypt back in 2007, together with the Filipinos who became my second family away from home, we made Pilgrimage to every Coptic Churches built upon the land where the Holy Family tarried, some in underground rivers, some in natural caves, some in the desert wasteland, some along the Nile River, thousands of miles away from the Nile Delta (as far away from King Herod I must say), from Alexandria by the Mediterranean coast to as far down south as Asyut.
Why this is Awesome:
By mention of Egypt we think of it as the cradle of civilization, famous for its pyramids and the longest river on Earth, the Nile. While there are lots of points of interest due to its historical relevance, what stuck to my heart during my 1 year stay is the significant change it did to my life, as it was my first time away from my family. To combat homesickness, I formed a special friendship with the Filipinos I work with, and we made it our routine to strengthen our faith by doing visita iglesia (church visits) to places dedicated to the Holy Family and had become our personal Pilgrimage to relive how it was during the era of the infant Jesus by following their movement during their exile in a foreign land, much like what we felt being away from our families. The simplicity of all locations (a church in a cave, a church standing in the middle of a wasteland in the Saharan desert, a church in an underground cavern where a brook springs forth, a hanging church among others) is awe-inspiring and attracts throngs of pilgrims year round. This is one of the awesome adventure travels you can do to lift up your spirit.
Among the Coptic Churches we visited:
- Church of the Floating Bible (Maadi)- the place where the Holy Family started their trip to Upper Egypt by boat;
- The Convent of the Holy Virgin (Asyut)- a quarry cave, overlooking the valley of Durunka, where the Holy Family has stayed before taking a boat north;
- The Holy Family Church (Abu Serga in Old Cairo)- the spot where the Holy Family rested at the end of their journey into Egypt
How I got around:
While some churches are within Cairo and its environs and are accessible by public transport, we joined the Christian missionaries convoy (like St Joseph’s Parish in Zamalek, Cairo) some of them Filipino priests and nuns living in Egypt, for out of Cairo pilgrimages.
2. SERENADED BY THE SERENE SHORES OF SONGKHLA, THAILAND:
For my first trip to Thailand back in 2010, instead of choosing bustling Bangkok where all the touristic action is (but relatively far), or the white beach of Phuket which can really get crowded (and costly), I opted for the more serene, unknown city of Songkla, near the Malaysian border. With only 3 days to spare, with not enough money and a relaxation badly needed, I searched for a vacation spot nearer Kuala Lumpur (where I worked for 2 years) and there it was Songkhla, waiting for me. Located along the Gulf of Thailand coast and near the isthmus of Songkhla Lake, it is a fishing town. The beaches of Samila and Son Awn makes it ‘the great city on two seas’. It is interesting to note also that this was where the Imperial Japanese army landed during WWII, invading Thailand hours before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I had no slightest idea what to see in Songkhla, so when I got there I was in for an awesome vacation when I got to know the city only then and there.
Related Article: List of the Best Backpackers Hostels in Thailand
Why is it Awesome:
The town/city of Songkla is a great place to bask in the warm sun, white sands, green parks and interesting history and folklore. It was a part of the Old Malay Kingdom until the 18th century, and a former trading port for Indian, Persian, Arab merchants, so you will see reminders of those pasts. I stayed in the Samila Beach Hotel & Resort by the beach where the mermaid of Songkla statue is, a popular photo spot for tourists. I had a great view of the sea, as well as of the folks doing their tai chi and morning walks by the sea; a nice peaceful beach to stroll along, it was all about serenity being there. While there, I discovered a quest to engage myself in: finding the 3 parts of the Great Serpent Nag scattered throughout town. Nag is a mythical creature symbolizing fertility and the divine creation of water. The head (representing the intelligence and wisdom of the Songkla people) is found in the north part of Samila beach facing the port, the navel or belly (the riches of the city) is found inland by the road leading to the Tang Kuan Hill and lastly the tail (the charisma and strength of the community) found further down south of the beach. This quest had engaged me much to seek other adventure travels in this city. There is also the legend of the dog, the cat and the rat who drowned in the sea: the dog became the Tang Kuan Hill, the cat and rat became the Koh Maowe and Koh Nu- Cat and Rat Islands off the Samila shore. Statues of the cat and rat stand in the park facing their namesake islands.
How I got around:
From Hat Yai Airport, my point of entry, there are minivans bound to Songkhla via the Hat Yai town center for about 20 baht. The quest for the Great Serpent Nag was done by foot, discovering interesting tidbits about Songkla as I strolled around, through pine tree-shaded parks and path. Colorful sculptures accentuate the walkways of these parks. From Songkla back to Hat Yai Airport, minivans are available, but when I got to Hat Yai town there was no minivan to take me to the airport and for fear of missing my flight back to KL, I had no other option but to ride a motorcycle, it got me faster to the airport for an extra fee but I got on my flight on time. Riding like the wind on the expressway, how cool was that?
3. CROSSING THE JOHOR BAHRU (MALAYSIA)-SINGAPORE CONNECTION:
I frequented Singapore while I was living in Petaling Jaya, near KL, for 2 years, and the fastest way of course is by plane. Just embark and disembark from airport to airport and you are there in the Lion City under an hour, but the down side of this is: Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and the budget airport LCCT are well outside the KL city proper, about 45 minutes by bus, not to mention the early hours you need to be in the airport before check-in. So you need more or less the same hours as taking the bus from KL to Singapore to get you there, around 4-6 hours. On the plus side of taking the road to Singapore, buses are conveniently found within KL city proper and needs only 30 minutes before embarking, not to mention the fares being cheaper. Trains to and from Singapore are another option, although you add 2 hours travel (though I haven’t tried by railway yet). But either by bus or by train, you enter Singapore through Johor Bahru (JB), the last city at the tip of peninsular Malaysia, either via the Johor-Singapore Causeway (completed in 1924) and the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link (completed in 1998) connecting both cities across the Straits of Johor. (When I was in Malaysia in 2008-2010, Legoland Malaysia was still being built around that time and was opened to the public 2012).
Why this is Awesome?
As with any air travels, the hassle of airport transfer can be an inconvenience. As an alternative, taking the express bus to and from Singapore can be cost-saving, and buses are already stationed well within the KL city center (as opposed to the airports located far from the city limits). There is also something more interesting to experience on land than by being airborne. Aside for the nice sceneries of the countryside you’ll be seeing, roads are well-paved so travel is generally smooth. Bus coaches offer full reclining chairs and air conditioning, so if you prefer sleeping throughout the trip, you’d be comfortably arriving in JB in no time at all. But if you are kept awake by the sceneries, you can also connect with the free wifi most buses have to keep your time occupied. You can go directly to Singapore, or stay in JB for a day or two as an option. Compared to its more vibrant and glitzy sister, the Lion City, do not be put off by the laid-back atmosphere of JB. Though it is better known as an industrial city more than a travel destination, JB is beginning to spice-up and entice tourists to its shopping complexes and offer of wide variety of dining experiences. In addition to historical and modern landmarks (mosques, museums, art & heritage galleries, botanical garden among others), the completion of Legoland Malaysia, has made this city a popular attraction to tourists. But crossing Johor Bahru-Singapore Causeway (or the Second Link) and going through the immigration process by having your passport stamped is a delightful experience on its own, validating that you are a brave traveler open to alternative routes and awesome adventure travels.
How I got around:
KL buses may directly take you to Singapore, or arrive at JB Larkin Terminal. From Larkin, choose from the Causeway Buses (CW1 to 6) and the Singapore-Johore Express for faster time or the SBS Transit and SMRT (which are non-express) to get you across the Causeway (One-way costs around RM1.90 or S$1.50). Entering into Singapore, the Causeway divides into 4 lanes (2 for cars, a 3rd for buses, and a 4th for trucks). Passengers of all buses are obligated to alight at the checkpoint. Make sure you have your bus ticket and most importantly you passport with you. Remember who your fellow passengers are and the bus you are riding in. The driver will drop off the passengers at a designated area, then from there on you will go through immigration by foot (the driver will be subjected to inspection as well, but in a different lane) The immigration/custom complex is large, and you’d be taking stairs/escalator on and off, so make sure you keep up with your fellow passengers and follow the throngs so you won’t get lost. Fill in the necessary immigration card and present to the officer together with your passport. Be ready to answer any questions honestly, just like anyone going through immigration. This could be nerve-wracking especially for first timers but as long as you have the adequate supporting documents, you’ll breeze right through in a jiffy. The bus you rode in would be waiting for his passengers in a designated area. From here you’d be entering Singapore through Woodlands. Travelling by public-bus service across the causeway takes about 30 to 45 minutes. Traffic jams may prolong this especially at peak hours. Similarly you’d go through the same process through the Second Link, but enter Singapore through Tuas.
4. THE SEGUE TO KOTA-KINABALU, MALAYSIA:
As the capital of Sabah, Malaysia, the city of Kota Kinabalu has a distinct rustic appeal than its more urbanized peninsular counterpart Kuala Lumpur. Its charms are apparent due to its proximity to Mount Kinabalu from where it got its name, to the rainforest of Borneo, to the patches of mangroves along the water-front, to the sea on its west and to islands known for pleasurable diving activities. During the 2 years I stayed in KL, I was fortunate to visit this other side of Malaysia, and I fell in love with KK as soon as I set foot on its heavenly grounds. The gateway to Sabah, tenderly called the Land Below the Wind, due to the fact that typhoons do not pass here, KK offers a relaxing calm amidst the tensions that could arise from the more volatile neighboring seas (piracy, insurgency, territorial disputes).
Why it is Awesome:
Not the usual destination, KK may not be included in an itinerary because of its out of way location. Airline traffic is not as heavy as that going to Singapore, or KL or Bangkok, or even Bali, so this could only mean that you’d be having KK and all its indulges all to yourself (yey!). As soon as you land at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport, you’d be breathing in the soothing breeze from the sea, mountain and forests. It is the gateway to everything divine. The revered Mount Kinabalu, one of the top summits in Southeast Asia and a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE is a sanctuary for trekking, hiking and nature immersion. (As of this time Mt Kinabalu is temporarily closed due to the devastation left by the June 5, 2015 earthquake). Wildlife and nature guided tours are available to see the critically endangered orangutans and volunteer for their protection, as well as for forest conservation projects. The islands along the west coast have more than just white beaches: they are also great for snorkeling, diving and kayaking, truly a haven made for the water-adventure seekers. But KK itself is more than just a transit point for all these adventures; the city center gives you more reasons to stick around. Imbibe in its historic past as a British trading outpost and as a war-front during WWII. And if you like seafood, this is the place to satisfy your hunger. Diverse gastronomic delights await you in hawker centers and night markets. Be the guest in the Kadazandusun indigenous communities, where they entertain you while feasting on their traditional delicacies and oblige you to join in their singkil-like dancing and hunting skills (you gonna blow a dart through a traditional long pipe to pop out a balloon high in a pole). And when you’ve done everything and exhausted from these undertakings, the beach front is the best place for rejuvenation as you watch the play of colors of setting sun. Such adventure travels will reinvigorate your travel goals.
How I got around:
KK is a walkable city and most destinations are within walking distance. Doing the 2-hour Heritage Walk should be a pleasurable stroll, so unravel KK’s rich history by going on foot along its streets. The vintage North Borneo Railway caters for a leisure tour into its bygone days. Ferries and motorboats take you island-hopping. Alternatively, there are buses, minibuses and vans to take for out-of-city destinations. More international flights are now connecting through Kota Kinabalu International Airport; and KKIA is a few minute drive away from the city center, so easy accessibility is now a plus point for this laid-back destination.
5. MYSTIC SONAULI CROSSING OF NEPAL AND INDIA:
My travel to Nepal and India back in 2010 has got to be the most mystical one I have done yet. While there are lots of beautiful stories about Nepal (specifically Kathmandu) and India (we went to New Delhi, Agra and Mumbai) to tell, our transit from Kathmandu to New Delhi is the defining moment of that trip. And as you might have guessed, yes! I didn’t take the easy flight from Kathmandu to get to India’s capital! It’s a 9-hour road trip from Nepal’s capital city descending towards the border, then by overnight train to New Delhi. Together with a friend, I survived this route mesmerized by the beauty, the reverence and the dangers hiding behind its mystic aura.
Why this is Awesome:
Just to give you an idea of the elevation Nepal has, it is famous for Mt. Everest, Earth’s highest peak, and is commonly divided into 3 geographical areas: the north mountain region (the Great Himalayan Range), the middle hill region (the Lower Himalayan Range) and the lowland plain (bordering India), and are intersected from north to south by the Himalayan river systems. The Indian subcontinent plate collided with the Eurasian plate creating the Himalayas, and continues to move north producing tremors (the cause of the recent Nepal Earthquake). The difference in elevation of these regions produce distinct biomes in each. All these are worth mentioning because the descent from Kathmandu which is situated in the hill region, down to the lowlands, gives the spectacular landscapes and sceneries, which made the road trip really awesome. From coniferous forests to the tropical savanna, through picturesque rural towns and villages, following the surging flow of the mighty Himalayan rivers to feed the plains of Nepal and India, it was just too beautiful to describe, and at the time of the monsoon season and the probability of a tremor, we were at the mercy of Nature, that being there was surreal as well. We made stops along the route to stretch, to eat in a rural setting and to just admire the surroundings. Nepal, too, is considered the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, in Lumbini, which was declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site due to its cultural importance. Passing through this pilgrimage site en route to Sonauli at the Indian border add spirituality to this road trip. To be able to pass here as one of your once in a lifetime adventure travels is what your soul will surely remember.
How I got around:
There are buses and vans available from Kathmandu to Sonauli at the Indian border. Passing through ravines and rough roads, I felt it was relatively safe taking this route as we made it in one piece, though a little tired from sitting for long hours in the van, so stopping to stretch out from time to time is recommended. Going to India by this route, you must have visa to pass, while entering Nepal from India, there is Visa on Arrival (15 days for US$25 at that time). Under no pretext linger in Sonauli as soon as your passport is stamped, as there are shady people around, so exercise precaution, refrain from dealing with them, not even to exchange money for Indian Rupee (have some money exchanged prior to leaving Kathmandu). Board the bus for Gorakhpur where you’d take the train to New Delhi. Purchase only the train ticket once you are in the station.
6. ROUNDING UP THE BEST OF WEST EUROPE ROUND-ABOUT:
Once I had my Schengen Visa approved (with the help of my younger sister Mina who lives in the Netherlands), I had planned the perfect vacation for my first time in Europe and in time for my sister’s birthday last June 2015. For 2 weeks, my itinerary covered Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland and Germany, at a rate of 1 city a day. I meant this trip to be a loop starting in Amsterdam and ending in Amsterdam. In the first part of my trip, Mina and her fiancée showed me around the Netherlands, taking me to Amsterdam, Volendam (a quaint fishing village where we dressed up as fishing folks), Kinderdijk (where the Windermills are), Scheviningen (the windy sea-side resort), Leidschendam (where they live) and Den Haag (the seat of Government). Then a day trip to Brussels, then onwards to Asselborn in Luxembourg where we stayed overnight in a picturesque villa-hotel, then Luxembourg City the next day. Our road trip continued to Versailles to see the palace of Loius XIV, then a visit to our Aunt in Paris for two days. After Paris I had to travel on my own to complete the second half of this trip. I visited a friend in Biel/Bienne, in Switzerland, where I stayed for 2 days. Bienne, overlooking Lake Biel, is known for its watch-making precision and Swiss-made watches like Rolex. I made a side-trip to Bern (famous for its Bears), exploring the historic old town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From there I moved up north to Frankfurt, which is the commerce and financial capital of Germany and a cultural centre due to its density of museums and educational institutions. The next day I made my way back to Amsterdam to complete the loop and catch my flight back to Suriname.
Why this is Awesome:
Firstly, this is awesome as it was my first time to explore Europe and to see my sister after a long time and to celebrate her birthday with me. Secondly, it marks my first solo travel longer than 24 hours, after my sister and I parted in Paris, during the second half of my trip. And it was amusing as a solo-traveler to make blunders along the way, like failing to change station in Switzerland, making an unintended stop in Lausanne down south (which was also good to experience, as I had glimpses of the Swiss countryside), instead of directly to Biel. And re-routing to Frankfurt after failing to secure a train to Rome (which was my original plan). In Frankfurt, I almost did not find a hotel to stay overnight since it was during a festival and it was a chance to explore the city by foot, learning some insights here and there and finding pleasant discoveries along the way (good thing I traveled light). Almost perfect adventure travels done with efficient trains loop you back to your momentum.
How I got around:
For the first half, I was conveniently accompanied by my sister and brother-in-law, driving with their car up until Paris. From there on I traveled solo by train from city to city until I completed my loop back to Amsterdam. That is one of the goodness of travelling within Europe, transfer from city to city is smooth, from one country to the other, as they are interconnected by efficient railway systems. Departure is always one time so make sure to be in the designated platform indicated in your ticket itinerary minutes before the train’s departure. Always keep your tickets for the train conductors to check. For major cities there are tours via hop-on, hop-off buses to see the highlights of the cities, for minimal fees inclusive of maps and ear-phones to listen to the audio guided tour. European cities are also pedestrian friendly, so a leisurely stroll around is far from worrisome. Metros are also convenient to beat traffic, so you may need to purchase a pass, like the Paris Ticket Mobilis (unlimited use day ticket/pass for zones selected) instead of buying the single use ticket.
7. AMAZED BY THE AMAZON BY AIR, LAND AND WATER:
Currently, I am working within the Amazon Jungle, in Djoemoe, at the heart of Suriname. You can imagine how it’s like living out here, and being stripped of bare necessities is what jungle life is all about. You need not worry about your stay in the jungle though: for tourists, there are resorts scattered within the forest, mostly along the river, catering to a decent to comfortable stay while embarking on a raw adventure, offering activities like wildlife watching, trekking, hiking, white river rafting, and swimming in pristine waterfalls and rapids. Most villages have shops selling common goods, as well as local crafts and delicacies. Tour operators in Paramaribo arrange for these exciting trip deep into the jungle.
Why this is Awesome:
The Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest on Earth, lying in the largest drainage basin where the Amazon River and its tributaries flow. It is the richest, most biodiversified biome in the world, containing more than one-third of all species of plants and animals, more than that found in Asia and Africa. Living out here among the wildlife puts me in perspective that I am just a speck within the immensity of this living environment. In every twist and turn of its rivers, in its thickets and foliage, I now more often come face to face with its unique flora and fauna which I only got to read and study as a Biology Major back in my university days. The Amazon, too, is closely tied with the colonial history of Suriname, where plantations were started along its outskirts, and where the African slaves, to break free from oppression, ventured deep into its jungles infested with deadly insects carrying malaria, leishmania parasites, and other tropical diseases, and dangerous wildlife, to lead the free life among their families and clans, establishing isolated communities far away from the cruelty of their colonial masters. But cruelty of the jungle was no match for these resilient people: they were able to tame the jungle and adapted well within its harsh environment. Slavery was long abolished but these communities persist up to these days. Part of my job is to do medical missions to these people living within the forest, among them the indigenous Amerindians who made the Amazon their home for centuries. Malaria has already been significantly controlled in Suriname, as well as the other tropical diseases. The Central Suriname Nature Reserve has been designated a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE for its unspoiled forests and biodiversity. Adventure also awaits for me as I explore its rivers, falls, mountains, deep into the woods. It’s a cultural, anthropological, ecological, medical, spiritual and nature immersion connected by 3 routes of adventure travels.
Follow more about Dr Miguel’s journey in Suriname on his Instagram account.
How I got around:
By air: Chartered Cessna planes are arranged by the Foundation I work with to take me the villages, as well as back to Paramaribo, which is about an hour one way. Seeing the man-made Blommestein Lake and the sprawling green, and following the twisting rivers from above is absolutely breathtaking. There are also relatively cheaper small commercial planes available like Gum Air and Blue Wing.
By land: there are times when planes are not available, so travel is done by land. There are minibuses, vans and public cars waiting in downtown Paramaribo to take you to the binnenland (interior). The roads and generally paved so travel is smooth and relatively comfortable and travel could take 3-4 hours. The roads go through forested areas and sparsely populated villages, so there may be chances of encounter with wildlife.
By river: this by far the most exciting way to see the forest and reach the villages, but is the longest and can be tiring. At times, there is a need to transfer boats in parts where there are falls and rock formations, and involve wading on creeks and rapids and walking on riverbeds, especially during the dry season when the river is low. But if you are up to an adventure this won’t even matter.
For most tourists, arranging a vacation, booking flights and hotels should be hassle free and done with order in mind, and once they arrive in their destination, the itinerary is followed without any deviation as much as possible to the travel plans. This is done so to avoid headaches arising from accommodation and tour concerns, or could be due to the constraints of a limited duration of stay, or for having a tight budget, or maybe because it’s a group tour and having many companions, especially with kids in tow, thinking of everyone’s safety will be one of your main concerns as well.
But as a traveler you need to keep your options open. From highly urbanized cities to rural villages, from modern airports to shady border checkpoints, from city landscapes to natural vistas, from night outs to spiritual introspection, no matter what you travel goals are, always keep in mind to be ready for the unexpected, to have back-up plans, be cautious of your surroundings and always exercise precautions, respect the culture of your host country, but most importantly enjoy every moment, for you may never pass that way again, and the next time will be another route to get you home.
About the Writer:
Miguel Rogali is a community doctor working in the binnenland (interior) of Suriname, within the Amazon Jungle. When not travelling and during his off duties, he does artworks and writes prose and poetry.
Follow on Twitter: @survivormate
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