People often ask us how we got started traveling and what advice we might have for others looking to do long term family travel. We were recently interviewed by Family Adventure Podcast and we touched on these common questions.

Our experiences in 2014 have been rewarding beyond our dreams. Taking the time to look back over all of our blog posts, Facebook posts, and photos has made it all seem even more unbelievable. It’s been a Year of Nomadic Family Travel and it’s hard to believe all that we’ve done and the amazing places that we’ve visited. We are truly grateful to have spent the year exploring and learning together, living abroad, and making friends.

There was so much to cover in our year-end review, that we felt that our recollections needed to be broken up into two parts for easier reading. If you haven’t read Part 1, which covers January – June, then you can find it here. Otherwise, read on as we cover our adventures from July – December.

In 2014 we set off on a Year of Nomadic Family Travel and it has been one of the best experiences in our lives. It was all about change, risk, adventure, and discovery. We took, what some would consider, a crazy leap of faith, and although we can’t say what the future holds, we wouldn’t change a thing. The experiences that we’ve had in the last year are more than most could hope for in a lifetime. We are amazed and so grateful when we look back on it all.

When you decide to travel long-term, many wonderful experiences lay before you, but you must also be willing to leave behind the comforts of home and loved ones. We enjoy seeing what everyone is up to on Facebook and scheduling calls with friends and family, but the absolute best treat is hosting friends while traveling abroad. We love it when people come to visit.

People choose to travel for a number of reasons, but it often includes a desire to expose oneself to new experiences and cultures. It gives us an opportunity to grow and learn. To us, it’s what makes travel such a rich and worthwhile venture. However, putting yourself in unfamiliar situations, where you don’t always know the language, can sometimes cause stress and frustration. In fact, travel challenges are guaranteed. How you handle that stress and frustration will determine your success as a traveler and the satisfaction you get from traveling.

Our third day in Angkor Archaeological Park, we are early to rise once again. Leaving the hotel with breakfast boxes in hand. We make the dusty, bumpy ride out to the park along back roads, entering the west gate, right next to Angkor Wat. Winding our way through the blissful, cool forest, the sun sprinkles us with its early morning glow. Ta Keo Temple, the sandstone temple-mountain, greets the morning sun as it’s done for almost 1100 years, since being started by Jayavarman V in 975.

After a magical visit to Banteay Srei, it’s difficult to write about Banteay Samre Temple. Not because it is any lesser, but because the earlier experience was so magical. We finally tore ourselves away from Banteay Srei as more people were showing up and the heat was steadily increasing. The tuk-tuk ride was welcome relief as we got to enjoy some more of the gorgeous countryside and some welcome early morning breeze. As we traversed the countryside, schoolyards were filling with playing children, while others walked or rode bikes along the road, all in their immaculate uniforms.

After an enjoyable day off from temple visits, we’re up early again – 4:30am – to visit Banteay Srei Temple, also known as the Lady Temple. After devouring the breakfast boxes that the hotel was kind enough to prepare for us, we are greeted by Mr. Sim’s big, bright smile in the early morning darkness. He’s been our tuk-tuk driver throughout our visit. It’s going to be a good day. We pull out of our quiet Siem Reap neighborhood and wind our way out of town, the dusty streets rolling out before us. Bleary-eyed as we bump along the potholed streets, we smile at each other. The morning coolness, the faintest hint of gray light on the Cambodian horizon, the smell of woodsmoke as breakfast kitchens awaken – it feels like a dream.

We only know we’ve arrived at Ta Prohm Temple, the next destination on our visit to the Angkor Archaeological Park, when we see the empty expanse of gravel out before us and realize that it is a parking lot – with no cars in it. Along one side are the usual vendor stalls with a few vendors milling about and a crowd of children playing. Mr. Sim, our tuk-tuk driver, points and tells us “go in through the east gate. I pick you up at the west”.

After our beautiful, early morning visit at Angkor Wat, we hopped into our tuk-tuk. Our driver, Mr. Sim, whisked us away to our next destination, Bayon Temple, before the bulk of tourists had emerged from their walk around Angkor Wat. We all had big grins on our faces as we drove through the Angkor forest, enjoying its coolness and the wind on our faces. Mr. Sim pulled over as we approached the south gate of Angkor Thom, allowing us to take a quick family picture.

When most people think of a tropical beach vacation in Southeast Asia, they generally think Thailand. More specifically, they think Phuket or its neighbor Krabi. To be sure, they are both drop-dead gorgeous, but they are also incredibly popular… and crowded. In fact, over 5.3 million tourists flock to Phuket each year. If you are looking to people-watch, party, or shop, then Phuket is a great choice. If you’re dreaming of a peaceful island getaway, then you may want to choose another destination. Why not consider Langkawi, Malaysia?

There are many beautiful Chinese temples in Penang. They tend to be a mix of both Taoist and Buddhist religions. As such it is not surprising to see images of Taoist deities alongside the Bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism, all within the same temple. Many temples were erected and are maintained by Chinese family clans that immigrated to Penang.

They are beautiful to look at and we love to slip in for a quick visit as we are passing by. Here are a few that we enjoyed.

We arrived in Penang, Malaysia just in time for the George Town Heritage Celebration, which is geared toward honoring the unique multicultural charms of this heritage rich city. This years event was themed “Living Legacies”. A number of events, open houses, displays, and markets were set up to showcase traditional cuisine and crafts that have been lovingly practiced and passed down through generations.

Malaysian Batik, and batik in general, is a textile art and craft with ancient origins. Designs are created on cloth by first applying wax and then fabric dyes. There is some debate about the exact origins of batik, but it can be traced back at least 1,500 years to Egypt and the Middle East. Samples have also been found in Turkey, India, China, Japan and West Africa from past centuries. Some of the most well-known batik traditions are to be found in Malaysia and Indonesia.

When we were planning to set off on our year-long travel adventure, we knew that we were going to take a lot of photos. We debated whether or not to purchase a “real” digital camera or simply rely on our iPhones. With our limited luggage space and tight budget to consider, we decided to stick with the iPhones and purchase a few accessories to maximize their usability. We are four months into our trip we’ve learned a bit of “iPhoneography” and we have no regrets.

Each morning, just before dawn, I hear the day’s first Adhan calling George Town’s Muslims to prayer. It’s coming from the nearby Kapitan Keling Mosque, the oldest in Penang. As I’m waking, the lyrical and hauntingly beautiful sound reminds me  that I’m in Malaysia, where Islam is the official religion. Not being Muslim or from a place where the call to prayer is commonly heard, it seems equally exotic and comforting. It’s easy to be enchanted by it.

George Town is the capital of the island and state of Penang, on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. One of the most charming features of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is its well-preserved colonial core that boasts many restored shophouses dating from as early as the 19th century.

These lovely, often colorful, old buildings line most streets, creating a wonderful Old World character to the city. You will definitely find a mix of old and new, refurbished and diamonds in the rough. Here are a few of our favorites.

Our guide at the Tropical Spice Garden stops along the path to pick and crush a leaf. He hands it to us with a friendly challenge, “Can you name it?”. We breathe in the unmistakable sweet-spicy fragrance that we associate with the Thanksgiving desserts of our childhood. “Clove”, we respond confidently. “Very good”, says our guide. He points out the unopened flower buds on the tree and explains that those will become the dried, nail-shaped, spice that we see in the spice aisle at the grocery store.

When we were visiting friends in Ho Chi Minh City, we asked them to take us somewhere that our 8-year-old could run around and play outside. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we figured that we’d be happy with any open greenspace that had shade. We were very pleasantly surprised when we arrived at Van Thanh Park. It was huge, with over 13 acres of land and 6 acres of water. It’s a wonderfully green, tranquil, and well-designed space with plenty to keep both kids and adults entertained.

When we travel, we prefer to stay in vacation rentals whenever possible. It’s just more comfortable, it’s a better deal than a hotel, and it makes you feel like a “temporary local”. So, not surprisingly, we ended up renting an apartment in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).

We found an apartment on Airbnb and rented from a great guy named Tram for our 6 night stay. 

VietnameseBBQ_4Some of our friends in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) took us to 5KU Station for Vietnamese BBQ. It’s a popular open-air restaurant filled mostly with locals, but there were a few tourists and expatriates there as well. Our table included all of the above.

The menu included both BBQ and hotpots. It was reasonably priced and varied. Tons of options from safe to adventurous. Diners have the option to cook their own or let the kitchen do it for them. I thought it would be fun to do it ourselves, so we opted to have the small clay pot grill brought to our table. This small table-top grill was filled with very hot coals, the real thing not charcoal, and then topped with a removable metal rack.

When we were visiting Ho Chi Minh City, some of our local friends took us to visit the Thien Hau Pagoda in Chinatown.

Also known as Chua Ba, this beautiful and popular Saigon pagoda was built by the Chinese in the early 19th century and dedicated to Thien Hau, goddess of the sea and protector of sailors. It is believed that Thien Hau can travel over the oceans on a mat and ride the clouds to save people in trouble on the high seas.