We have long accepted that a gap year to Australia is having its moment... skydiving selfies, scuba diving with jaws, dancing dingo’s and Bondi specials are splattered over everyone’s feeds and the Aussie tourist board is congratulating themselves with a cold tinny.
Even we have embraced the love for the big island and have put together a ready-made road trip up the East coast for those who don't want to travel alone or contemplate the hassle of the Aussie bus. See you there, we're onside, it’s great fun…
But, right now, I am interested in what happens after your travels in Australia have come to an end. What next? As far as I can see you basically have 2 choices - fly straight home or take your time and explore the best of the East – which I can tell you will give your gap year some real x-factor, especially if you hop back through some off grid places that will blow your mind.
Here are some little gems to consider…
Hop 1: Ticao Island – The Philippines
Flight: Australia –> Manila –> internal flight to Luzon, boat to Ticao
Did you know there are 7,107 islands in The Philippines… all stunning, all welcoming, all offering something different, so hard to narrow it down or know where to start.
Luzon, Siargoa, Palawan and are all pretty good but trust us nothing beats Ticao…you can only get to it by motorized boat from Luzon and here you’ll find the coolest community ever - totally subsistent and oblivious to the outside world. A scuba school has based itself here to take advantage of the surrounding reef and migratory marine life and in return help the community with their development plans assisted by overseas volunteers who live amougst the community for a full-on cultural immersion. Building, teaching and scuba diving is all part of a typical day here. It gets our vote.
Hop 2: Sabah - Borneo
Flight: Manila -> Kota Kinabalu
Just so we are all clear…this part of Borneo is so much more than machete wielding jungle, having said that 'Our Girl' has put the glamour back into jungle khakis.
To start – let talk about the orangutans…utterly gorgeous and currently under threat as their jungle home is being torn down to plant more palm oil…really who uses that stuff? Anyway, you need to have this life affirming moment by seeing these big orange guys in all their glory before it’s too late. I’m not joking, it won’t be long until they are part of history.
Then you have to summit Mount Kinabalu, one of the highest peaks in Southeast Asia – a proper challenge, but not a technical climb, so all can do it… but I promise (without sounding weird) it will be a spiritual one. Sunrise over the jungle canopy, seeing the curve of the earth…awesome.
Then, as a treat, to rest your legs you can go try out the bio-luminosity at Kudat – one of the best beaches in Borneo…magical.
Hop 3: Tana Toraja Highlands - Sulawezi
Flight: Kota Kinbalu -> Manado
A google map might be required for this one…it's the eleventh-largest island in the world, nestled in between Borneo and the Maluku Islands and looks like an octopus…found it?
Now you really can spend weeks here as you go up and down the arms but please don't miss the Tana Toraja Highlands to see the ancient sites of the Torajan people which have remained unchanged for nearly a hundred years and the famous hanging burial sites of Sulawesi as well as huge green paddy fields full of buffalo, cave graves and traditional Tongkonan houses with their upward-sloping roofs. It is totally out there and this is way off the tourist trail, you won’t be bumping into your Aussie mates here.
If time, nip up to the Bunaken Marine Reserve which is amazing for snorkelling and scuba-diving. From here it is super easy to day-trip to the reefs or stay on the islands. Utter heaven.
Hop 4: Mondulkuri, Cambodia
Flight: Kota Kinbalu -> Hong Kong -> Siem Reap, bus down to Mondulkuri
Sometimes in life you come across those “good people” who travel – see something that they know is wrong, then stick about to make it better. Indeed, that is the case with Jack and Jemma who started the Elephant Valley Project on the Vietnam boarder. Here they rehabilitate the abused gentle grey giants, letting them live out the rest of their days in peace away from poaching threats. It is not only a stunning place but one where your help would be greatly received to help the team feed, wash and protect these iconic animals. Nothing quite beats getting up close to these magnificent beasts. Once in a life time treat.
The Slow Route Home
I could go on for ever with my list of Asian highlights but this should be enough to get you started and to think out of the box - trust me there is more to life than a full moon party in Thailand or yoga retreat in Bali. After your gap year in Australia, (in fact, have a read about the pro's and cons of a gap year in Australia), you will need a bit of off grid culture to get wash away the tinnies and barbie! Off beat Asia will be the one you talk about for years to come. Trust me I still bore my family with my lost days in Sulawesi. Let me know if I can help in anyway.
on 28 / 06 / 2018