Across Asia in 5 Weeks

Our head photographer, Raja, took off with his wife Rachel for a tour of Asia. His itinerary left us all speechless – is it really possible to hit that many places that look like something out of a movie? Apparently it is. Read on below for a photo tour of his adventure.

PT. 1: JAPAN

 

The first stop on our trip was Tokyo, Japan which was a very drastic change of pace to that of Maui and we hit the ground running. Tokyo is a city of paradoxes: crowded and chaotic yet organized, conservative and conformist yet fashion-forward, traditional and historic yet innovative. We were lucky to arrive just as sakura, cherry blossom season, was starting. Japan is the only island nation which has four seasons and to arrive right as spring had sprung was ideal. Dots of pink and white colored the otherwise gray and stark city skyline. From Tokyo we traveled south to Kyoto and stayed in a traditional ryokan or Japanese inn and lounged in kimonos at hot springs after long days of temple exploring. After five days we had to move on to the next leg of our journey but we will definitely be back to explore more of Japan.

PT. 2: THAILAND

From Kyoto, we traveled to Chiang Mai, an old city nestled in the mountainous jungles of northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is home to hundreds of elaborate and ornate Buddhist Temples, including the famous Doi Suthep (Golden Temple). We spent the first few days in Maetang district, a place where there are more elephants than tribes people and were lucky to spend some time interacting with these majestic creatures. We then traveled into the heart of Old Chiang Mai city where Songkran festivities were just beginning. Most Southeast Asian countries celebrate the Lunar New Year by “cleansing” their homes and each other in a three day jovial water fight. Everyone from tourists to Buddhist monks indulge in these water dousing festivities and no place, not even temples, are exempt. We were soaking wet for three days straight and hadn’t felt that sense of childlike joy since we were young. Songrak Festival is epic and should definitely be on every explorers bucket list.

PT. 3: CAMBODIA

Our next stop was a highly anticipated one. We traveled to Siem Riep to explore the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. Nestled in the middle of the Cambodian jungle with wild monkeys all around this Wonder of the World was originally built as a Hindu temple for Vishnu, but eventually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century. We spent 3 days getting lost in this expansive maze of temples. This holy site cannot be described in words, you just have to make the pilgrimage to see it yourself. In the evenings, we meandered through the crowded night markets and ate more than our fair share of Khmer cuisine. One evening we talked story with the patron of the inn we were staying in who shared his dinner of beetles and crocodile eggs with us. In perfect English, he told us about the heartbreaks and atrocities the Khmer people have gone through, yet they remain happy and grateful each day of their life. Traveling to Cambodia was a very humbling experience that will not soon be forgotten.

PT. 4: BALI

By the time we got to Bali we had been on our trip for nearly a month and were ready for some R&R. Bali is the perfect place for this! Incredibly inexpensive four star hotels, delicious cuisine and fresh juices and a unique culture make this island perfect for someone who doesn’t have time to need a vacation from their vacation. Hyper-westernized? Yes. Still really enjoyable? That can’t be denied. There were no waves the week we went, so we opted to cruise up to Ubud, a city nestled among jungles and rice fields. This posh little town in the north of Bali is laid back, artsy and great if you are wanting to do yoga or meditation between site-seeing. One day we asked our local guide, Awan, to take us north to Jatiluwih Rice Terraces and were stoked to be the only people there when we arrived. This place was so picturesque, imagine a sea of green as far as the eye can with faint outlines of volcanoes on the horizon. After 5 days here, we felt ready to journey to our final destination, the culmination of our entire journey: Raja Ampat, a small archipelago of the coast of West Papua New Guinea.

 

PT. 5: Raja Ampat

Traveling to this remote diving mecca was a journey in itself. Two flights, a car ride, and a four hour boat ride later, we arrived in paradise. We stayed on Misool Island at an eco-resort, which is part of the Coral Triangle and is considered to be one of the most biodiverse and healthiest reefs left on the planet.

This island was once a shark finning camp, and later was transformed into a no-take zone, where fishing is not allowed. for 500 square miles.

During our week there we spent more time in the ocean than on land. We swam with reef sharks, went free diving with 15 ft wide oceanic mantas, and explored the vibrant living reefs and ecosystem surrounding the islands. We kayaked to deserted beaches and took day trips to see some ancient petroglyphs, idyllic karst formations jutting out of the turquoise waters and had picnics on uninhabited white sand beaches.

Our time in West Papua New Guinea was nothing short of magical and surreal…but all good things must come to an end.  Feeling fortunate for the experiences we had just had, yet longing for more, we began our 55+ hour trip home feeling changed and grateful. Our journey through SE Asia made us realize even more that our Earth is an incredible place worthy of our protection and respect. We can’t wait to get out there again soon and continue exploring!

For more photos and adventures follow @rajailiya and @rachelvinatieri