“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.” My dear friend Danny Giger lived his life by this phrase; to say he always lived every day to its fullest is an understatement. After Danny passed away in December of 2018, our memories of his love for his family and friends, zest for life and sense of adventure inspired my three best girl friends and I to embark on a month-long journey of backpacking through Asia.

Thai Market

We began our journey in Bangkok, Thailand, where we rode in “tuk tuks,” or taxi bikes, through the hustle and bustle of the busy city and enjoyed some of the best street food I have ever had. Immediately, I was stunned at how genuine the country and people were. On every corner waited an array of different booths with people selling all sorts of items, from jewelry, to clothing, to Thai cuisine. Markets took over the streets on Saturday and Sunday nights and lit up the nightlife with beauty and culture, offering all kinds of food, gifts, clothing, bags, glasses, pieces of art and souvenirs. It was truly magical how the culture of each city was able to light up the streets.

Chiang Mai, Street Art and Decoration

After a few days in Bangkok, we traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we attended cooking classes at the Thai Farm Cooking School. We picked our own ingredients from the farmland and the market and learned how to make five different authentic Thai dishes. The following day, we traveled an hour into the jungle to the Into The Wild Elephant Camp, an elephant sanctuary which protects and cares for elephants and ensures they do not suffer abuse. It was important to us to find an ethical elephant sanctuary, because many are tourist attractions and abuse the animals. Doing your research ensures your money supports a good cause. We were able to feed the elephants, give them mud baths, and play in the wild with them. Our next stop was in Chiang Rai, a city in Northern Thailand known for its historic and beautiful temples. We visited the Blue Temple, known in Thailand as Wat Rong Suea Ten, and the White Temple, known as Wat Rong Khun, and we learned the history and storyline behind these stunning landmarks.

Into The Wild Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Blue Temple, Wat Rong Suea Ten, Chiang Rai, Thailand,

After Chiang Rai, we flew to Hanoi, Vietnam. Hanoi was nothing like I expected; it was extremely industrial, and the streets and architecture resembled Paris in many ways, a characteristic left over from the original French colonists.  The sidewalks were lined with bakeries, restaurants and shops, and outside of them were little tables and chairs, which stood only a foot off the ground and less than a foot wide. Our first morning in Vietnam, we tried the famous Vietnamese egg drop coffee, a delicious local treat made by beating an egg yolk with sweetened condensed milk and combining it with strong black coffee. Coffee is something of a specialty in Vietnam, something I wasn’t aware of before visiting, but after being there I can see why. Every cup I had in Vietnam was absolutely amazing. After our coffee, we visited the historic Hanoi Opera House, a stunning architectural landmark which dates from the early 1900s, and then walked over to the Hoan Kiem Lake, a huge lake surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers where street artists would come to paint or draw. We had lunch at the famous Bún Chả Hương Liên restaurant, where President Obama ate with Anthony Bourdain in 2016. There were pictures of him all over the walls, and even a combo dish named after President Obama! This five story, family-run restaurant was so busy, but so delicious. The pho was pho-nominal!

Hanoi Opera House, Vietnam

After three nights at our Airbnb in the heart of Hanoi, we moved to the Central Backpackers Hostel, where many travelers in their early and mid twenties were also staying. This hostel was in Old Quarter, which was more touristy than the location of our Airbnb, an authentic apartment in Hanoi. We ate delicious Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, and organized our Ha Long Bay boat tour through the hostel for the next day. Ha Long Bay boat tours offers both day and overnight trips, but we opted for just the day tour. Ha Long Bay was absolutely beautiful and offers many different activities as well as its rich historic background. The next stop on our backpacking journey was the Philippines, but before we left, we stopped for one more bowl of pho at Pho Ten, an absolutely delicious pho restaurant I definitely recommend.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam Boat Tour

When we landed in Manila, Philippines, we were greeted by the tall skyscrapers, blue skies, and green palm trees which filled the city. Like Hanoi, Manila was teeming with industry, high-end restaurants and delicious food and drink. After a couple of nights in Manila spent touring the city and learning about the history of the country at the museums, we flew to Panglao, Bohol, an island in the Philippines. We stayed at an Airbnb on a beautiful secluded beach, which gave us lots of privacy, and the owner rented us mopeds to get around the island. The kindness of the Filipino people was truly remarkable, and the beautiful mountains overlooking the beach and shorelines continued to amaze me more each day. We biked around Bohol for a few days, discovering new beaches and beautiful waterfalls, and enjoying delicious traditional meals, such as adobo and garlic rice.

Bohol, Philippines, View From Airbnb

The following day, we woke up around 5:30 am, and took a two hour ferry to a remote island where we went diving with whale sharks. They were about the size of three school buses put together, but were truly gentle giants. I think they were so big they did not even realize we were there! The experience was truly magical. When you face your fears and try something new and adventurous, you can discover your strengths and your power to persevere. Daring to be adventurous can be so rewarding!

Swimming with Whale Sharks, Philippines

The following day, we took a different ferry to the island of Siquijor, which is known for its glamping, beautiful beaches and waterfalls. Glamping, or glamorous camping, consists of decorated and furnished tents that you can rent and stay in. We spent a few amazing days exploring the beaches, waterfalls, and incredible nature Siquijor had to offer. Our next stop was in Lapu-Lapu, where we stayed at the luxurious Bluewater Maribago Beach Resort to treat ourselves before our long journey back to the states. The Bluewater Maribago Beach Resort is quite large, with  beautiful suites and pools. They offered different themed buffets every night and an all you can eat buffet each morning. It was a marvelous and luxurious end to a beautiful trip. Each experience on my backpacking through Asia journey exceeded all my expectations. In my upcoming series, I will be detailing my travels, adventures, and experiences and how we lived like Dan, while exploring the beautiful and vibrant cultures in each of the countries I visited.Bohol, Philippines, Sign