As I sit here in the peace and quiet of my hotel room on my first solo trip, I can’t help but reflect on this past year and the amazing places and adventures I have had the opportunity to indulge in. I have to remind myself that I also created these opportunities, this new lifestyle for myself, it was not just thrown in my lap. I feel so proud of what I have accomplished this year and also feel very blessed for another year of life and honored to have met such special people to share it with.
The first place outside of China that I had the chance to visit was Phuket, Thailand. It was a quick two day trip but incredible nonetheless. I got to enjoy it with two of my wonderful friends that were visiting from the states, Nikki and Jon, and my awesome roommate Merium. We relaxed on the beach, road in the tricked out tuk tuks, wandered an incredible night market and the infamous Bangla road in Patong Phuket. With a quick flight just a little over two hours from Chengdu, its totally worth a quick getaway.
Thailand is one place I will go back to sooner rather than later, though the experience was wonderful, there is so much more I look forward to seeing in the near future. I have heard wonderful things about Chiang Mai in the north, as well as the other beautiful islands around the south.
The Great Wall of China was a must visit for me while living in China. I knew I wanted to go to Beijing and I was thrilled when my lovely roommate invited me to enjoy it with her and her parents that were visiting from Texas. The company was outstanding and so were the sites. I was really blown away by Beijing and the historical landmarks that we got to see. Sometimes I like to get away from all the “touristy” things when visiting another country, however, in Beijing its a must. We stayed near Tiananmen square and toured the forbidden palace. The size and history this place holds is mind blowing. The summer palace is equally if not more grand and beautiful. The best for last was saved as we visited the Great Wall of China on our last day there. We went to the Great Wall section of Mutianyu which entailed a ski lift up and toboggan down, which was even more fun than it sounds. Pictures do not do it justice, there is something so magical about experiencing the The Great Wall of China in person. The massive size and length that you can see go on what seems like forever on top of a huge mountain makes you wonder how these people in ancient times managed to build this amazing structure.
Vietnam holds a very special place in my heart and with all the places I have gone since I am still drawn back to its rich culture, sites, smells, sounds and food. I first visited Vietnam back in March of 2015 when I did a volunteer trip there for a few weeks, it was there that sparked my desire to travel more, to what eventually lead me to getting my TEFL and taking the job and moving to China.
In January 2017 I was able to take another Epic journey to Vietnam, but this time with the company of some of my favorite people and an even bigger adventure into more parts of the beautiful country. The trip started in Hanoi, the capital, staying in the color and excitement of the Old Quarter. This is where I previously stayed in Vietnam as well. Again I was thrilled to experience the majestic Ha Long Bay a couple hours east of Hanoi. As no surprise, my friends were just as enthused by the amazing natural beauty that it holds. Next we took a 16 hour train ride south, headed for central Vietnam. The train ride in itself was an adventure. Luckily we booked a soft sleeper in cart 12, however not knowing what expect we didn't pack food and had to venture our way to cart 1 all the way at the beginning of the train. The train is in no way smooth, its old and rickety and full of culture. As we worked our way up the train you could tell the price of seats went down and down. Hidden in doorways between people were sprawled out sleeping in corners, closets, people were singing karaoke on personal karaoke mikes with speakers in the hallway. It was truly a feast for the eyes and it made that long walk very exciting. We finally made it to the food cart were we were met with stares from everywhere as I don't think they get much foreigners up there and a bowl of what was called pho but really was just some instant noodles. Regardless, we were happy and enjoyed the laughs, smiles and food in our bellies. The next morning we woke and soon arrived at our destination of Da Nang, a coastal city, historically as a french colonial port and population of roughly 1 million. We spent a couple days here and enjoyed the beaches, seafood, giant lady buddha, dragon bridge and exploring a bit of the city. Next we moved just 30 minutes south to the city of Hoi An, known for its colorful lanterns and various architectural influences. This may be my favorite city I have seen so far in Vietnam. The colors that filled the streets, the smiling faces, rice paddies, tailor shops and small village feel all contributed to its appeal. After a few exciting days we made way back to the capital city of Hanoi by another long train ride, topped off with some more shopping the old quarter before we headed back to China.
The next adventure was one I had planned to take since I first arrived to China. I was not sure exactly were it would be to, but I wanted an epic and memorable journey as a cheers to turning 30. Bali, Indonesia ended up being the destination of choice. Bali is somewhere that many people dream of and coming from China it was an easy and affordable decision to make as the right trip. I enjoyed the week with my friend and roommate along with her friend from the states. We stayed in a lovely balinese style house we found on Airbnb with a relaxing pool, in walking distance to Sanur beach. Sanur was a quiet beach town in comparison to other areas of the island but thats why I chose it. Experiencing relaxation and the culture were first on my list rather than just the party scene. We had the pleasure of hiring a driver for our adventures around the island and he also became our friend who we learned about the Balinese culture from. His name was Ketut, he was so kind and always smiling, a prime example of the lovely Balinese people. We got to see several beaches around the island, a monkey forest, rice terraces, hindu temples, a Batik factory, traditional show and so much more. There are many things I would like to back and do there such as see more of Ubud, the central part of the island filled with rice fields, bohemian shops and backpackers, as well as hop over to the Gili islands. However, I wouldn't change once second of the trip we had, though if I could have stopped that 6.4 earthquake that woke us up on the final day I would have. Mt. Batur was the highlight of these trip. Mt. Babur is one of two active volcanos on the island of Bali, Mt. Agung being the second. They are both in view from many parts of the island and a stunning site. We choice to do the early morning trek up Mt. Batur to see the sunrise. I was surprised to see so many people take on this early morning challenge as well. A guide is required and you start your day at 2:00 as first you must drive to the base of the volcano. The hike up took a few hours. I did not expect a walk in the part but it was much more intense than I expected but made the accomplishment that much better. The walk was completely in the dark up steep slopes having to carefully watch your step by flashlight through the rocky paths covered in slippery volcanic rock. We made it to the very top and saw the breathtaking view of the colorful sky and what seemed like the rest of the island in the distance. It was an unforgettable experience. The hike down was even more of a challenge on the slick rocks as I fell too many times to count, but the view was ever so worth it. Bali and Indonesia, I hope to see more of you again one day.
As I stated earlier I am currently in the midst of another destination as I right this. This time I am basking in the glory of Langkawi, Malaysia. This trip was not as planned or thought out as the rest and something I decided to do as a treat to myself. I had some more vacation time to use up before the end of my first teaching contact. I used first half of that time to finish up my finals for my masters degree. I had some days left over and I decided why not use that to go somewhere. None of my friends had the time off, so I chose to go somewhere alone. After some research and the desire to see another country I settled on Malaysia. I knew I wanted to experience ultimate relaxation and somewhere breathtakingly beautiful and thats what brought me to Langkawi. It is an archipelago off the coast of Malaysia. It is home to stunning beaches and the first Geoopark of Southeast Asia. I chose to stay at a nice resort with beautiful beach front on the northern part of the island, on Tanjung Rhu beach. I have not been disappointed. Traveling alone can be lonely but not in a sad way. I believe you should never stop yourself from going somewhere or experiencing something you want to, even if you don't have anyone to go with. Ultimately it also helps you grow.
You don't have to be rich or wait until retirement to see the world. It is possible to make it happen for yourself if you want it bad enough. I didn't know I could until I started believing I could and made it happen. I can’t wait for the next adventures and experiences that lie ahead. Never stop exploring.