There’s an irony in that now that we live on the road and are constantly traveling, we spend more time back home in California than I ever have. Eight years of living in NYC meant coming home for a week or two a couple of times a year, and between holidays, family, and friends, it seemed like there was never enough time to do much of anything else besides make the rounds. Now that we are based back in California between travels – despite the non-stop editing schedule, it feels like this is the first time I’ve really explored around this state. From San Diego to the Coachella Valley, it feels like it’s practically the first time I’m seeing most of these places. When Brandon and I first started dating, we drove out to Palm Springs fro a couple of nights and had been wanting to return out to the desert ever since – finally this month we made it happen.
First we took some time to check out Joshua Tree, Desert X, and the famous Superbloom; and then stopped by the Westin Mission Hills for a couple of days of sun and swimming – and my first time ever on a golf course!
I LOVE camping. My father was a very serious backpacker for many decades – I remember as a kid him going on 2 week, 100-mile expeditions in big hiking boots and the shortest of shorts and coming back tan and strong, and with no toenails – and he was already into his 40’s at this point. I think he only ever quit because as they aged, none of his friends were able to do it with him anymore. While I never got the chance to go on a backpacking trek – something I have always wanted to try, but I don’t know if I can be that low maintenance – from the time I was tiny, he took me camping. And (if you couldn’t gather from the above) we’re not talking RV camping with a bed and a generator and a TV, we rarely ever even went to actual campsites with actual bathrooms. We would pull up beside a lake somewhere in Northern California, hang our food from the trees (in case of bears), shower in the river, catch fish and eat them for dinner every night – and I always loved it. Although on my own, I have stuck to campgrounds with some running water, I have kept the skills I learned as a little girl – how to build a proper campfire, and how to to pee outside in any condition.
The chance to spend a night camping while we were trekking across Sri Lanka was an experience I jumped at. All of the classics – the hiking, the campfire, the food over an open flame, the lanterns, combined with traditional Sri Lankan feasts and a new way to experience them made for the most amazing combination. And there is something so comforting and that makes you feel so connected to the world when you have these shared experiences and nostalgias with people from a completely different culture in a completely different part of the world. Despite being 10,000 miles away – some of the people we met grew up camping just exactly the same as I did. Despite the earth being so large, traveling can make it feel so small.
The Maldives had been my biggest dream destination for a long time – the white sand, the perfect tropical beaches, the tiny islands you could walk around in just a few minutes – and the crystal water. I have been diving most of my life – my dad had been a huge Scuba diver since the 1970’s, and I got my certification at summer camp when I was 14. I took underwater photography classes in High School, and would dive with a huge underwater 35mm camera – something I think about a lot when we pull out our underwater housing (which is still just as big, but with a lot more features). However, I never got to dive anywhere tropical, and spent most of my underwater time on Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles.
Finally getting into the water in the Maldives was something I feel like I had been waiting for forever – the warmth and clarity and untouched perfection. Truly the dreamiest underwater world I have ever seen.
One of our first stops back in October was Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam (fun fact, the only place in Vietnam you can visit as an American without buying the $135 Visa.) We spent our first few days on the North of the island at Bamboo Cottages, fighting through the rainy season. We had heard how tropical and wonderful Phu Quoc could be, but October is not the ideal time to see it. For our last couple of days on the island we moved to Famiana Resort, and then a miracle happened – the skies opened up, the water cleared overnight, and we found ourselves on a vibrant tropical island – it was incredible how much the view changed overnight!
It’s hard to fully describe Angkor Wat, a site so grand that entire city of Siem Reap was built around it. A labyrinth of ancient temples built nearly 1,000 years ago, and the largest religious site in the world – it is the icon against which all others are measured. The complex feels truly endless, you could keep going and going forever and never reach an end – until the endless heat mixed with the mandatory dress code limits runs through all of the energy you have to give, and by the afternoon the only thing you’re dreaming of is jumping into a pool. However, the site offers multi-day tickets – I gladly would have gone back and run through more temples a second day if we had had the time.
After nearly 2 months of travel, we headed out to Hanoi, Vietnam in December to meet up with Paradise Vietnam and make a new film with them. Halong Bay is one of the most amazing places we have seen so far, and we had such an amazing time on this journey through the North of such a beautiful country.
Ha Long Bay is a wonderland, like nowhere else in the world. The limestone islands are similar to the ones we saw in Thailand and the ones we hope to see in The Philippines – but they are endless. The scene goes on for miles and miles – in a way you can’t fathom from the ground, even with the drone up thousands of feet, you can’t reach the end of these islands. The waters are glassy and calm and a dark jewel green – and the way the low sun reflects off of it, is just a little different than any place we had ever seen.
At the very end of our journey criss-crossing South East Asia, we flew into Hanoi and took the trek out here to see this wonder of the world, and experience incredibly worth the drive. We spent a couple of nights aboard a wooden cruise ship with Paradise Vietnam – an ultra-luxury experience all in itself.
Thailand was not on our itinerary for our fall tour through South East Asia. We had been already been to the most remote Thai islands we could find last Christmas, and we just had so many places we wanted to see that we thought we would just fly right over it – from Cambodia right down to Malaysia. But as unscheduled travel tends to happen, we ended up with a free week after high-tailing it out of Indonesia as quick as we could (a story for another time.) After landing in the Kuala Lumpur airport with no plan to continue on before our flight to Sri Lanka the following week, we found a corner, some wifi, and looked for the cheapest direct flight anywhere – and found Phuket. In our previous trips to Thailand, we had always avoided Phuket – the island just seemed like it would be too crowded, too developed, and too bro-ed out, but for a $50 flight, we decided to give it a week.
And DAMN. Phuket was much more charming than I expected – we found a cute little hotel with a southwestern flair on Karon beach and spent a few days here, before heading out to Koh Phi Phi Don. I had huge mixed feelings about going here – the photos always looks so beautiful, but it was the one place that everyone seemed to go to in Thailand. But from the second our ferry took off, I was hooked at staring at the island formations in the distance. The further out we got, the clearer and clearer the water became. I knew I had to spend every moment we possibly could in that water. Our first day on the island, we went down to the dock to find a man with a boat, which was about the easiest transaction I’ve ever had in my life. $40 for a half-day tour, including snorkels.
Amy and I passed through Colombo for a couple of nights before heading down south, and stayed at the ZMAX Fairway Hotel in the center of Colombo. The hotel is settled in the charming heart of the city, right next to an old Dutch Hospital that has been converted into an eclectic mall of shops, restaurants, a spa and a pub. A lot of Colombo-natives that we’ve met in the last few months have mentioned Dutch Hospital as one of their favorite places to check out in the city. We were situated in the heart of many medieval architectural sites in the Fort district and a walk away from the charming boardwalk along Galle Face Beach. While we’re both subscribers to beaches > cities as travel destinations, it is always an experience to stop through and experience the Capital City of a country to see how it is developed into it’s own unique identity in the world. Much like Bangkok or Saigon, Colombo is a mix of new infrastructure and shiny towers while still being a developing nation, and with a lot of life on the streets. But the colonial influence from the Dutch and British is very strong in the architecture here – with stone walls everywhere and English-style manors in the neighborhood.