2015 happened and like every year before it I look back on it now and see only a blur.
All of the joy and excitement and pleasure of one of the best years of my life (so far) has dissipated into the ether. It’s over and the only proof I’ve got that it happened at all are a few photographs which are themselves just bytes of invisible data and a trinket or two that will dissolve into nothingness in a landfill at some point in the future.
Proof or no proof I have memories – random moments that are seared into my brain and will stay there, I hope, for a very long time – and also something that’s harder to describe, a sort of experiential aftertaste, a happiness residue left over from really, really good times and I think I’ve got just enough of it to see me through a grey January in the UK.
The best way to cultivate this rapidly dissolving happy travel aftertaste is to write about the things that created it in the first place, so it is with purely selfish motives that I now present my ‘best travel times of 2015’ and throw in my ‘big plans for 2016’.
Chuc Mung Nam Moi, Tet in Hanoi, Vietnam (February 2015)
It’s so bizarre that this was only 11 months ago. Vietnamese New Year 2015 happened on the 19th February at which time I was in Hanoi. I wrote all about this experience here but I will just say it was the best New Year I’ve ever had.
Riding on Two Wheels with Mr Top from Hue to Hoi An, Vietnam (March 2015)
While this was one of the toughest experiences I had in Vietnam it was also one of the most rewarding. Mr Top is a legend and spending two days on the back of his motorbike, riding through the central Vietnamese jungle in the heaviest rain I’ve ever felt drum down onto my skull, was an experience I’ll never forget. I wrote about it here.
Feeling Tiny in Puong Cave, Vietnam (March 2015)
Meeting four truly lovely people at a homestay during our short stay at Ba Be National Park in Northern Vietnam helped to make the whole weekend enjoyable but the unexpected treat of a solitary afternoon spent in the magnificent Puong Cave really took the biscuit. The experience of being alone in that cave was just so incredibly awe-inspiring and I clumsily tried to describe it here.
Turning Thirty in Taman Negara in Malaysia (September 2015)
I turned thirty in the Malaysian Rainforest with only Shaun (love of life) and Craig (brother and best friend) in tow. It was magic. Read more here.
Hong Kong for Halloween (October 2015)
Ocean Park is Hong Kong’s version of Alton Towers but being Asian it’s infinitely more bizarre and fun. It seemed like a good idea to go a theme park for Halloween but little did we know that when Hong Kong does scary, it does like, actually scary. I’m writing something about my experience of an ‘attraction’ that forced the participant to experience their own death, funeral, cremation and seven levels of Chinese hell but can’t progress with it until I’m over the P.T.S.D I have from taking part. At least the night terrors have almost stopped.
Cruising Through the Taroko Gorge in Hualian, Taiwan (October 2015)
Taiwan is quite possibly my favourite country and one of the places we’ve visited that I would love to go back to right now. I had many, many amazing times in Taiwan but one that sticks out in my mind was our trip to Hualian where we rented a car, illegally, with no more than a cash payment of around £30 and a photocopied UK driving license, and drove from the town of Hualian through the Taroko Gorge and along Highway 9 to the Qingshui cliffs. So intensely beautiful. Post with lots of pictures on its way.
Spirited Away in Jiufen, Taiwan (October 2015)
Any Miyazaki fans out there are about to feel some envy. On a day trip from the city of Tainan in Taiwan I visited a small hillside village called Jiufen that is the actual real-life inspiration for Miyazaki’s 2001 masterpiece, Spirited Away. The teashop is there, the narrow alleyways selling snacks, the view of the sea and, at night, red Chinese lanterns illuminating the entire hillside.
Fulfilling a Lifelong Ambition at Angkor Wat (November 2015)
I’ve wanted to see Angkor Wat for as long as I can remember. We had planned to go in June 2015 but health problems forced me to return to the UK between June and September so I was thrilled to be able to get there at the end of this trip and finally walk amongst the ruins. It was as spectacular and magical as you can imagine and no, tourism has not spoiled it. Angkor Wat is one of the most awe-inspiring ancient wonders of the world, it is completely unique, is a moving symbol of Cambodian spiritual identity and has been on the earth nearly 1,000 years longer than the selfie stick.
Big Plans for 2016
So, 2016 is here and contrary to my usual approach to life which is to wing it and hope for the best I have actual plans. Did you know that you can only apply for a working visa to Canada until the age of thirty? No, neither did I until a few months before my thirtieth birthday. Shaun and I had talked about living in Canada a few times following a two-week holiday in 2014 where we drove around British Columbia and got a taste of the good life, which funnily enough tasted like beer and maple syrup, but weren’t doing anything to make it a reality. Long story short we applied for visas and they came through a few weeks ago. We can live and work in Canada for two years starting from whenever we activate our visas. Excitement.
Prior to the beginning of our Canadian adventure I’d like to do a bit more travelling. If money grew on trees our year would begin like this:
- A few weeks in Cuba. With the US trade embargo recently lifted we decided that now is the time to experience Cuba before it goes through a major transformation. Flights are pricey though.
- A month or two in Mexico. Mexico has been high on my travel wish list for a long time but stories from a close friend of mine’s recent trip to the land of many tortillas has definitely bumped it up the list. I think it’s fairly cheap so we could stick to a tight budget.
- A US west-coast road trip. Here is where a lottery-win would come in handy. In my dreams I’d like to rent a campervan of some description and spend the summer doing a long west coast road trip with a detour inland to Utah to visit a beloved friend I haven’t seen for too long. Being a hippy is more expensive than you’d think though and turning up in Canada empty-handed is not advisable. Couch-surfing? I don’t know. Maybe I should think about getting a job.
- CANADA! – We have little to no plans as yet in terms of where we want to be, what kind of work we want to find or when we’ll be coming back to the UK but Canada is happening and I feel sick with excitement every time I think about it. To be in Toronto during the film festival would be a dream, Niagara Falls is a must and I’d like to live in Quebec for a while to become fluent in French but other than that I just want to see as much of that gorgeous hunk of land as possible.
So that’s it. Wish me luck and leave a comment with your 2016 travel plans.