No matter how amazing, outrageous or downright bizarre, the most memorable travel experiences have one thing in common: they’re spontaneous. Being endlessly surprised by the unexpected is the sweetest of cherries atop the already darn delicious cake that is travel.
Often, the most unforgettable experiences that you find yourself shaking your head at in retrospect and excitedly sharing with anyone who’ll listen are not the huge, world-famous sights but the small moments of things you could never, ever imagine happening at home. In light of encouraging everyone to get out on the proverbial road, here are a couple of my fondest, strangest travel memories.
Although Japanese culture is one of the most widely known and respected Asian cultures in the wider world, a holiday there will prove that you can get culture shock no matter how well you think you know a place. On my Japan ski holiday, my group and I settled for a traditional ryokan, a Japanese B&B where you sleep on a traditional futon mattress on the ground. It was a lovely, peaceful place and we enjoyed the cultural experience of rebelling against something we all take for granted in the Western world – sleeping on a bed.
What we were not expecting was the, er, communal baths. At first pleased by the fluffy robe and slippers we were presented with, the gift of the wicker basket was slightly more puzzling. Meaning it involved naked strangers bathing, soaking and washing together… naked. Oh, except for the wash cloth strategically draped over their heads like a funny cloth hat. Culture shock with a naked twist.
Sri Lankan street life
A single week in Sri Lanka could easily fill an entire book with these sorts of moments, so I’ll recount one of the most basic yet memorable.
Driving in Sri Lanka is never dull; although it should be added that for most vehicles on the road, driving is only a third priority at best, after honking and overtaking. It’s somewhat like a video game, in fact, dodging fearless dog, cow and human pedestrians. Meanwhile, ‘Lanka Ashok Leyland’ buses bearing brazen metallic colours own the road, and do they know it – typically admitting and ejecting passengers from a side door without actually stopping, sometimes hardly slowing.
On top of that, the stunning and ever-changing scenery makes concentrating on the vaguely festive activity of driving even more of a challenge. Jungles to farmland, tea plantations to mountain ranges pass by in quick succession. The only thing guaranteed throughout the country is a rich and colourful range of temples, mosques, ancient sights and street food stalls offering delicious local fare – spiced mangoes, anyone?
Thai tuk tuk ride
Along with muay thai, elephants, and mouthwatering pad thai, tuk tuks are somewhat of a symbol of Thailand. Though I’d been warned by guidebooks and expat friends alike to expect to be ripped off – not to mention a hair-raising rush this side of unpleasant – I gave into the temptation. When a bright pink tuk tuk pulled up beside me outside the Grand Palace complex, its driver asking if I wanted a ride, I knew I’d regret it if I declined.
This is inner city travelling at its most extreme – virtually open to the elements, rather rattly and with questionable driving skills. For the record, I was ripped off (though it was still remarkably cheap in comparison to the transport options back home!) and cajoled into visiting a silk store. Still, the ride was worth it. I’d say not for the faint-hearted but, in some ways, I think it’s especially for the faint-hearted. Participating in such a ride was a memory I was never going to forget. If I ever visited again I would certainly have no trouble doing this type of activity again as you can find tuk tuk rides in every city. Bangkok in particular is famous for this extreme type of transportation. If you want to try out this crazy excursion then search online for the best deals possible. Sometimes when you book your Bangkok hotel you can find specials that offer discounts on these types of activities.
Author bio: Maria Lucia is a psychology student and avid traveller from East London.