Another year of travel is coming to a close, but before we get to it, I would like to share a feel good holiday story with you guys.
A few days ago we had a very special guest come by the house for dinner. Her name is Dina, she is 21 years old, she is doing an internship at the very posh Four Seasons Hotel at The Surfside Club, about 30 miles from where we are staying in Davie, Florida.
What makes this so special, is that we met Dina in the little town of Ubud, on the island of Bali in Indonesia just a few months ago.
If you have ever been to that part of the world, you probably know that if you spend more than a few weeks you will most likely be adopted by a Balinese family. Since we spent over 4 months, it’s exactly what happened to us.
I was standing on a tiny street in front of our villa, waiting for a friend, when a nice lady came out of her warung (small restaurant serving local food) asking me if I needed a driver because her husband happened to be a very good one. I didn’t need one at that instant but the following week we had plans to visit Northern Bali. I got her info and said I would be in touch.
After a quick check with our host, I contacted Madi to book his services.
That’s how Madi became our trusted go to guy, driving us all over Bali. We traveled from North to South, and to the ferries on the East that would take us to the islands. No matter where we wanted to go he was always available, on time, and carrying his welcoming smile. He drove a small older van, when we went up steep hills he was so apologetic about having to turn off the AC to muster enough power to make it up the hill, lol.
There was something special about Madi, he was a very gentle, soft spoken, discrete and one of the most calm person I’ve ever met and as a driver, a u-turn in heavy traffic was no sweat off his back. His car radio didn’t work to well but he always had soft jazz music coming out of his portable speaker. His English was not fluent but we had no problem understating each other.
After a few trips he invited us to meet his family during a very special holiday in the Balinese culture, Galungan and Kuningan, kind of like Christmas in the western world. Joe was not feeling good after a case of Bali Belly (food poisoning) so I showed up alone at their warung. To my surprise Madi’s wife, Kadek, had gotten me a kebaya, traditional Balinese clothing, for me to wear to the temple and to participate in a prayer ceremony. The kebaya was for me to keep. I had been admiring these beautiful sarongs and blouses worn by the ladies in town, it was such a honor to wear one myself.
On that unforgettable day I also met Madi’s daughters Ana and Dina, learned that Madi was an artist, saw some of his beautiful paintings on display in their tiny restaurant and got to know a little bit more about this kind and nurturing family.
Turns out that Dina was in hospitality school and had plans to apply for an internship opportunity in the US. Since I worked for Hilton for 13 years, I offered to help her prepare for her interview. A few weeks later when she got her questionnaire, I spent an afternoon going over it with her. She was applying for a position in the food and beverage department, I told her to put the emphasis on her experience helping in her mother’s restaurant to differentiate herself from her schoolmates, who all had the same level of education.
Out of a few hundred applicants only a few were going to make the cut.
This opportunity was to have a great impact not only on her, but also on her family, as it carries a much deeper meaning of what it is to honor the Balinese culture.
As time went by, we became friends, not only was he driving us around but their restaurant became one of Joe’s favorite places to hangout. He was eating at Kadek’s warung almost every night. She made us Jamu Juice every morning, an amazing immune booster and she would share with us all the traditions passed on from generations. They also invited us to visit other temples and sites around Bali.
Joe was always rallying new friends to the restaurant to bring them more business because after two years of covid, life was very hard for so many families whose livelihood depended on tourism.
After leaving Bali we kept in touch and were overjoyed when we learned that Dina had been selected for the internship in Florida.
For these parents to know that their daughter was going to have us nearby, was such a relief. They thought that meeting us that day, on that tiny street in Ubud, was nothing short of a miracle!
Little did they know that the privilege was all ours.
Being able to help and play a small part in the lives of such kind, generous, humble and accepting people has been such a joy and a wonderful learning experience.
That’s one of the many reasons why our traveling lifestyle fills us with such happiness and why we will continue for as long as we can.
On the day that Dina arrived at the house in Florida, at the sight of us, she was emotionally overwhelmed. I imagine it was a little bit like coming home after being away from her family for over a month. All I could do was take her in my arms and comfort her, not without shedding a few tears of my own.
We spent a lovely evening together. Dina brought gifts for everyone, Balinese coffee for Joe, my favorite peanut sauce made by her mom, and even gifts for our grandchildren.
Even though it was only 5:00 am in Bali we video called her parents to thank them for all the gifts and tell them that their daughter was ok.
After warming your hearts, and remembering the spirit of the season, now let me take you through our 2022 most memorable moments.
2022 in review
If the highlights of 2020 and 2021 were more about discovering and traveling through Europe and spending a considerable amount of time in muslim countries like Turkey, Egypt and Morocco, 2022 was all about Asia and learning about the Buddhist and Hindu cultures.
In this post you will read about the 7 countries we visited in 2022 with some of our favorite photos and what we have planned for 2023.
Hope you enjoy …
January to April 2022
Thailand was one of the very few countries in Asia that was open for tourism, the price to pay to get in was tons of paperwork and restrictions but we didn’t care and in hindsight I think it made our five month stay in Thailand even better. Pre covid, many travelers avoided Thailand because of overtourism to the point that popular sites like Maya Bay, made famous by the movie The Beach, had been closed for several years.
For us Thailand turned out to be a wonderful discovery and a place we would consider returning for an extended period of time.
The beauty and diversity of the country from the tropical islands of the South to the mountains and valleys of the North, easy access to a world class city like Bangkok, low cost of living, affordable and excellent healthcare, amazing food and most of all welcoming people. What’s not to like?
Traveling during Covid, made it easy to visit popular sites, without a need for advance reservations, deals on pretty much everything including lodging, tours, restaurants, ferries, scooter rentals and most of all, no crowds…
The Thai government even came up with the Covid visa extension making it a breeze to extend our original 60 day visa without having to leave the country.
We spent the majority of our time in the Land of Smiles in the South where an endless amount of magical tropical islands are located.
After four months of island life we headed to the mainland to visit Khao Sok National Park, then North to Chang Mai for the Tai New Year in April and ended our time with a week in Bangkok.
We made so many friends while living on the islands that we didn’t see the time go by. Most of them were long term travelers like us or expats. It was nice to forge new friendships knowing that we could make plans for outings and dinners.
I don’t think we ever had such a busy social calendar.
May to August 2022
From Thailand our next destination was Indonesia. When the rainy season starts in Thailand it coincides with the beginning of the dry season in Indonesia so it was perfect for us. We don’t mind shoulder seasons but the monsoon season in SE Asia is no joke.
We were surprised to learn that Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country just behind the United States with 275 million people! It is also the largest archipelago in the world with no less than 17,500 islands.
Indonesia is home to over a 100 active volcanos and one of only two countries where you can observe wild orangutans. Click here to read our amazing experience with the Orangutans on the island of Borneo.
We spent most of our time in the Province of Bali which includes the island of Bali and a few smaller neighboring islands. The Island of the Gods as it’s known because of it’s omnipresent Hindu culture, gives Bali a very distinct appeal since the rest of Indonesia is Muslim.
Balinese culture is very special wether it’s through its architecture, the decor with the colorful umbrellas, temples where beautiful men and women dressed in traditional clothing bring daily offerings of flowers and incense, the carved wooden furniture and colorful art, you can’t help but fall in love with everything Balinese.
Just like Thailand, Bali has been criticized for overtourism, but since we were there when the island just reopened its borders to travelers, we didn’t experience the big crowds it was known for before the pandemic.
We stayed in 12 different locations throughout Indonesia, including a house and pet sitting in Canggu, spending the longest time in Ubud known as the cultural and spiritual center of Bali. Another highlight was island hoping in search of Orangutans, Komodo dragons, idyllic small islands for scuba diving and snorkeling with turtles and Manta rays.
Just like Thailand, Indonesia is definitely a country we would visit again. There is so much to discover … The natural beauty of Indonesia and the level of kindness we experienced with the Indonesian people is really a step above all the other countries we’ve visited so far.
After four months, we thought about extending our visa but Joe’s left hip was starting to bother him and I wanted to see my family in Canada so we decided to move on but not without making a few stops along the way.
The capital city of Kuala Lumpur is just a short flight from Bali and contrary to neighboring Singapore it is very affordable. Malaysia is known for being a big melting pot of cultures and religions. The majority practice Islam 60% followed by Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism. There is 3 major ethnic groups: Malays, Chinese and Indians.
Many retirees from Europe, the US and Canada have made Malaysia their home. It provides quality universal healthcare for its citizens and legal residents. The general state of their infrastructures also impressed us during our short stay.
We were pleasantly surprised by Kuala Lumpur aka KL with its modern buildings like the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, mega shopping centers, efficient public transportation system, an interesting old town and the crazy amount of food options. we only spent a few days but we could see ourselves coming back to Malaysia …
From Kuala Lumpur we took a long but comfortable bus ride to Singapore. It was supposed to be a 7 hour ride but turned into 9 hours because we had to wait an extra 2 hours at the border when our bus driver left us behind along with four other passengers.
Singapore officially the Republic of Singapore is a sovereign island country and a city with the 3rd highest population density in the world with no less than 4 official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil.
We’re glad we got the opportunity to see it but Singapore is not a place we would rush to come back to, mostly because of how expensive it is. Nonetheless we had fun walking along the water front and getting lost in Chinatown and little India.
We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have the city’s famous cocktail where it was concocted more than 107 years ago! Cheers!
A trip to Southeast Asia is not complete without seeing the temples of Angkor Wat in the town of Siem Reap, it’s the largest religious monument in the world! It takes days to visit and a guide is necessary to understand a bit of the history behind each temple.
Siem Reap itself is also a cute town with lots of cafés, beautiful parks, entertainment, local markets, museums, nearby elephant sanctuary and day trips to National Parks and fishing villages. We really enjoyed our stay but the heat and humidity were starting to get to us! After 5 nights we hoped on a bus for the Capital.
We spent our last days in Asia in the Capital City of Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is located on the banks of the mighty Mekong river, it has transformed itself in a very short period of time, shining along side the hip capitals of the region and left behind the horrors of the recent war and revolution.
We found a beautiful hotel in the city center with the coolest rooftop pool and restaurant for only $35/night including a lavish breakfast. From there we visited the popular sites and the heart wrenching killing fields and genocide museum.
We thought we would explore more of Cambodia and Vietnam but got tired of always being hot and sweaty, suddenly the thought of spending the fall in Canada felt very appealing!
That’s the beauty of our lifestyle, we always have many options to choose from and the freedom to go where ever feels right.
A few days later we embarked on a 44 hour trip back to Canada!
September, October 2022
The last time I visited my family and friends in Canada was in September 2018, needless to say that it was long overdue, I couldn’t wait to see everybody.
Thankfully my brother André and his wife Carolyn offered us a comfortable room in their beautiful home in Gatineau, Quebec as a base for two months while we visited other family members and friends.
I was able to spend quality time with everyone in their day to day lives. We enjoyed countless dinners and laughed more then we have in a very long time, we met my sister’s new man, I saw my aging aunt and godfather but most of all long chats with my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews.