It’s that time of year again! I am sitting down to ‘travel’ recap 2022, including where we went, what we did, and some highlights of the year. I also talk about some of the travel plans that I have for the first half of 2023.
January: Costa Rica – 3 weeks
In January 2022, the corona epidemic was still in full swing and a number of countries still faced strict entry rules or travel bans. Costa Rica was one of the countries with good entry rules for vaccinated travelers. The best part was that you didn’t have to take a PCR test 24 hours before your flight and you could travel into the country with only a covid vaccination. Besides the flexible covid entry rules, costa rica is of course a great country to visit. The choice was quickly made! Together with a friend we booked the tickets and our 3-week backpacking trip started.
The trip began in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. Here we stayed only 1 night and the next day we traveled from San Jose on to La Fortuna. La Fortuna is a small town northwest of San Jose and is known as the gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park, consisting of 2 volcanoes. The town is full of trendy hangouts and is known for its amazing nature. We visited Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges park, where we walked across hanging bridges and spotted lots of wildlife including spider monkeys, fruit bats, brown and yellow eyelash vipers, howler monkeys, and lots of little birds. Outside the park we also saw a sloth with her baby, which was very nice to see. We also hiked to La Fortuna Waterfall, participated in a night tour, relaxed in hot springs, participated in an incredible night tour and tubed on the Arenal River.
From La Fortuna we traveled on to Santa Elena, a small town located a few kilometers north from the breathtaking Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. There are several free things to do in Santa Elena; we explored murals, hiked to The Ficus la Raiz, watched the sunset at Mirador Valle Escondido Preserve, participated in another night tour and ziplined for 1 day. The zip lining experience consisted of 10 ziplines, 1 suspension bridge, 1 small drop steeply down and 1 Tarzan swing at 40 meters height. The ziplining above the rainforest (cloud forest) was a fantastic experience!
From Santa Elena we traveled on to Jaco, where we hiked to the ruins of el Jaco. While traveling to Jaco, we stopped at the famous crocodile river (the Tarcoles River). The number of American crocodiles in this river is simply astounding. So many, in fact, that this river is considered the river with the largest population of crocodiles in the world. And these guys are huge.
The next stop was Manuel Antonio. This is a village located on the ocean off the central Pacific coast. It is a popular place for tourists looking for sun and beach. There is also a fantastic national park. In the national park, we walked to Playa Espadilla Sur and saw pelicans and crabs, walked via the Sloth Trail to Playa Manuel Antonio, hiked to a viewpoint and visited playa Gemelas. Along the way we spotted coati, agouti, crabs and lots of lizards.
After Manueal Antonio, we continued our travels to Uvita, a small town known as the Costa Ballena (Whale Coast). In Uvita was a good place to see humpback whales in the wild. In Uvita, we enjoyed lying on the beach and took a boat tour to see whales in the wild. We saw a mother and baby whale from a distance. This was very cool.
The last destination of the backpacking trip was Dominical, a real backpacker’s mini village with a hippie vibe. From Dominical we took a day trip to Poza Azul Waterfall, Playa Dominicalito, Playa Hermosa, and the stunning Nauyaca Waterfalls. Furthermore, Dominical was an ideal location for surfing!
April: Porto, Portugal – 3 days
In April 2022, Tamara visited Porto for 3 days. She devoted the first day exploring the Portuguese center. She walked across the Dom Luís I Bridge, visited The Livraria Lello (a spectacular bookstore), climbed the Torre dos Clérigos and walked along the quay of Porto. The evening was a great timing to do a port tasting at Cálem in Vila Nova de Gaia. This is highly recommended if you visit porto! There are so many things to see and do in Porto, Portugal!
The next day, Tamara took the train to the Douro Valley. This is THE valley where the most delicious port of Porto is made. Here she tasted port at Quinta do Bomfim and after that she had dinner at a Portuguese restaurant.
The last day was all about visiting various cozy wine bars and trying a port here and there.
May: Iceland – 1 week
In May it was time to explore Iceland again! This time the trip was all about exploring the south of Iceland.
First, Tamara drove from Keflavík to Hveragerdi which gave her a beautiful first impression of Iceland. The next day she drove towards Skaftafell, where she visited the Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls. The Seljalandsfoss was really fun to visit, because you can walk behind the waterfall. Very cool! She also visited Fjaðrárgljúfur (a gorge).
The next day Tamara had a glacier hike planned at Skaftafell! After some instructions and getting dressed, Tamara set off, accompanied by a guide. First, she stretched over lava rock and then with crampons over the ice and glaciers. It was truly a special experience and she saw so many beautiful views!
Then she drove from Höfn all the way back to the area of the golden circle. Along the way, she stopped for a boat trip on Lake Iceberg (jökulsárlon). Using a zodiac, she took off and went past icebergs and seals. This was so much fun! After arriving in Fludir, she paid another visit to a Secret Lagoon, just something she was really looking forward to: relaxing in a hot spring.
The last day she visited the Gulfoss (waterfall), saw the Geysir (hot spring), walked around the Kerid (crater) and visited Thingvellir National Park.
June: Andalusia, Spain – 9 days
In June, Tamara took a road trip through Andalusia, Spain. When she picked up the rental car, the first thing she did was drive to the center of Malaga. Here she had a nice walk around, visited the Picasso Museum, went out for dinner and climbed a hill to see the sunset.
The next day she drove on to Cordoba. On the way, she stopped at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, a protected natural area which is a breeding ground for flamingos. She spotted many flamingos and other bird species. It was very beautiful and above all very peaceful! Cordoba is known for its many patios and purple colored trees. At some patios you can take a look for free and at others you need a ticket. She visited the Roman bridge, the famous Mezquita, a cathedral/mosque that is part of the UNESCO list and the Alcazar of the Christian Monarchs, a palace from the 14th century. The palace consists nowadays mostly of ruins with beautiful gardens where you can enjoy a peaceful walk. Definitely worth a visit!
Then she drove on to Seville. Here she visited the Plaza de España and wow, what a beautiful place this was! A beautiful building with nice details and also a nice square and park around it. Then it was time for a boat trip! From Torre del Oro the boat trip began. She was for about an hour on the water and passed Jack Sparrow’s ship. Seville is a tremendously beautiful city and can definitely not be seen completely in one day.
From Carmona, she drove on to Arcos de la Frontera and stopped at Doñana National Park, a national park with a bird-rich area and therefore the perfect place to spot birds. It was very peaceful!
After Hacienda, the best part of the road trip began! The ride began in a hilly landscape and the more she drove west, the more mountainous it became. It was beautiful! Tamara visited a white village called Zahara de la Sierra, located by a lake. And what a beautiful place it was! It was very photogenic! After this village she drove on to Ronda, a well-known town in Andalusia and not without reason, because this town was also very beautiful!
The last full day in Spain, she had scheduled the Torcal de Antequera, a national park full of limestone formations. This was incredibly beautiful and definitely recommended to visit!
September and October: Thailand – 2 months
2022 Was the year my world trip began, more accurately my Southeast Asia trip. Together with my partner, the journey began in Thailand.
The first few days we wandered through local and far too crowded markets, visited beautiful temples, ate local Thai food, got caught in a tourist scam and fled several times from the heat or heavy rain and thunderstorms. We saw countless golden Buddha statues of all sizes, got lost in Chinatown, saw monitor lizards in Lumphini park, walked through many shopping malls and enjoyed the view of the capital from one of the skyscrapers. From the 55th floor saw the illuminated Bangkok with a thunderstorm in the background. Gorgeous! Of course we also visited Wat Pho and saw the 46-meter-long reclining Buddha.
After Bangkok, we spent 4 nights in Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ayutthaya is the ancient Thai capital and one of the most impressive ruined cities in Asia. In Ayutthaya, we rented a bicycle for 2 days and explored the town by bike. We saw several ruins; Wat Chai Watthanaram, Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Phra Ram and Wat Ratchaburana. These were not shiny temples like in Bangkok, but beautiful historical ruins. The ruins were all really impressive to see. It was cool to see how nature has taken over the structures in recent years.
After Ayutthaya, we took the night train from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is the capital of the Thai province of Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand and the second largest city in Thailand. We rented a scooter and drove to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. This was a fun route through nature and the view was really great. We also did a cooking class and took a day tour to Doi Inthanon National Park, one of the most popular national parks in Thailand. It is famous for its waterfalls, remote villages, viewpoints and year-round cold weather at higher elevations. We extended our tourist visa in Chiang Mai, so we could stay another 30 days in Thailand.
The next destination in Thailand was Pai, which is called “Thai island in the mountains” because of its chill and laid back vibe. You can get to Pai in two ways: by minivan and by cab. Either way, the drive takes 3 to 4 hours and there is no escaping the 762 hairpin turns. In a minivan, we braved the hairpin turns. In Pai, we hiked to a waterfall, saw the sunset at the Big Buddha, visited the Pai Canyon twice, walked across the memorial bridge, saw the sunset at Yum Lai Viewpoint and ate a delicious cheese board. Pai Canyon was fantastic to see. The canyon is a picturesque ravine with narrow, winding hiking trails with great views.
After Pai, our next destination was Chiang Dao, a small village above Chiang Mai which is skipped by most tourists. There you can find the third highest mountain in Thailand, a national park, some waterfalls and a famous cave. So again, lots of nature. In Chiang Dao we visited a beautiful waterfall, some hot springs, a cave and some more temples. Chiang Dao was a wonderfully quiet and local place.
The last destination the north of Thailand was Chiang Rai. This town is known for a white and blue temple and as a stopover for travelers who want to continue from Thailand towards Laos. Exactly what we did. We visited the amazing blue temple, saw the mega-tourist-puller-temple (the white one), climbed to a mega Buddha statue, saw a Tokeh Gecko for the first time, tried a grilled sandwich with whipped cream and Oreo (local specialty haha), walked through a mega night market with lots of food, went to a cat cafe and ate at a mall where my partner accidentally ordered chicken anus on a stick.
We then stayed in Luang Prabang, a small town in Laos on the Mekong River. Here we saw several temples, laid by the pool, worked some days, visited a museum and ate a delicious hotpot. We also ate a lot of crazy breakfasts again (look at that sausage!) and a lot of local food. Laos was once a colony of France and you can still see many French aspects in the architecture and food. They have delicious croissants and stick buns here!
Luang Prabang is also home to the Kuang Si waterfalls, which are among one of the most beautiful in Laos! In the green, lush rainforest, the water falls down in different levels. The blue-green colored water was great for taking a refreshing dip and photographing!
Then we stayed a few days in Nong Khiaw, a small village on the Nam Ou River. It is mostly known for its tranquility and beautiful karst mountains that you can climb. We had a hotel by the river with a great view! In Nong Khiaw we mostly relaxed a lot by the water, ate good food and climbed a viewpoint. This was a great adventure and absolutely worth it! We left around 8 a.m. and after 1.5 hours of hiking we had reached the top with a beautiful view of the clouds. When the clouds cleared we had a great view of the mountains, the village and the river.
A shuttle then took us back to Luang Prabang and from there we took a high-speed train to Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng is a small town north of Vientiane (capital of Laos), on the Nam Song River in Laos. It is surrounded by limestone mountains and caves. It is known for tipsy tubing, hot air balloon rides and for partying (3 things we don’t like to do haha). Instead of tipsy tubing, we went down the river one afternoon by kayak. This was a lot of fun! Besides kayaking, we visited another Blue lagoon. This lagoon was indeed blue and also very clear. There were very large fish swimming in it, but that didn’t stop us from cooling off in the water.
The last week in Laos we stayed in the capital, Vientiane. Here we worked for a few days, went to the cinema, visited a monument, relaxed in a traditional herbal sauna, did some aerobics with the locals and enjoyed a massage.
December: Vietnam – 1 month
In December, Northern Vietnam was on the schedule! The trip started in Hanoi where I met up with a friend and together we tried delicious local dishes such as pho, banh mi, egg coffee (cà phê trúng) and Bún chả. We also visited an art museum, the Hanoi train track, Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum and saw the Long Bien Bridge.
After Hanoi, we traveled on to Ninh Binh by train, which is often described as the Halong Bay on land (read: high limestone mountains rising from rice fields and surrounded by rivers). It is a UNESCO protected site and is located about 100 km south of Hanoi. The first day we rented a bicycle and biked to the Bich Dong Pagoda and Tam Coc Lake. The other days we climbed the Hang Mua Viewpoint, took a boat ride in Trang An, explored downtown Tam Coc and worked for a few days.
From Ninh Binh we took an overnight bus to Sapa and then spent the night in Ta Van, a small village next to Sapa. Ta Van is the perfect place to unwind. The village is surrounded by beautiful rice paddies on hillsides and narrow dirt roads with colorful flowers on both sides. In Ta Van we attended a Batik workshop and did a trekking. We also stayed a few days in Sapa to explore the center and rice fields.
We had planned to travel on to the Ha Giang loop after Sapa, but found the weather too cold and foggy. Therefore, we decided to travel back to Hanoi and spend some days in Cat Ba, an island located south of Hanoi. Cat Ba has a bay with 400 mountains and offers boat trips to Ha Long Bay. The first few days we explored the beaches and took a boat trip to explore Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay. We kayaked around the limestone mountains, saw a floating fishing lake, swam to secluded beaches and saw monkeys on monkey island. We watched the sunset several times, visited a fort and climbed a viewpoint in Cat Ba national park. It really was a fantastic island.
Meanwhile, we are back in Bangkok, Thailand where we celebrated Christmas. We will also stay here for New Year’s Eve. In January we will travel back to Vietnam to travel from central Vietnam to southern Vietnam. 2023 Promises to be another great year of traveling!
Girlswanderlust’s travel plan for 2023
Below you can find a short overview of my travel plan for the first half of 2023: