Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of the Best Travel Experiences of 2011

So the year is finally winding down. I can't really say that this year has not been good for travel. Because it has! It totally has. Probably, the most travel I have ever done in my life. I mean, I did decide to bite the bullet and go backpacking for six months. And I will say that it has been the best year ever. There, I said it. There were highs and lows, of course. But it's all good. It's all part of the adventure. I had the most rewarding experience, the most exhilarating, the most delicious, etc., etc.

As a way to commemorate all of them, and as my yearender of sorts, I decided to do my 12 best of the best travel experiences of 2011. Here we go.

1. Most Jampacked Trip

We only had four days to explore one of the biggest countries in the world, which happened to be one of the oldest civilizations in the world. So what are we to do? Jampack it all, tourist-style! In all four days, we covered two huge, and I mean, huge cities, three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, our first winter experience, a high-speed sleeper train experience and a super high-speed Maglev train experience. We went to China.

Great Wall, Mutianyu, China

(See more posts about China: China: Beijing, Forbidden City, China: Great Wall at Mutianyu)

2. Most Remote Virgin Beach I've Ever Set Foot on

It was mid-2011 and I found myself in a travel hiatus seeing as I was saving all my money for my big backpacking adventure happening late 2011. But that summer, I knew I had to see the beach again. I'm tropical folk. What are you gonna do? So I hitched on a beach trip a couple of friends were going on. It was a pretty remote island right along the typhoon alley of the Philippines. Pretty normal, right? I puked my guts out on the boat to get there. But it's alright. We had just arrived on probably the most isolated, most untouched piece of white-sand beach in the Philippines: the Calaguas Islands.

Calaguas, Camarines Norte

(See more posts about Calaguas: Camarines Norte: Calaguas Islands)

3. Most Delicious Meal Ever (Relatively)

We had been trekking in the Himalayas for about eight days then. We were on our way down the mountain and we knew we had enough of it. The same, smelly clothes. The uncomfortably cold climate. The hideous amount of layers you have to put on to be able to bear said cold climate (which made going to the toilet a pretty serious task, TMI). The same eggs for breakfast, garlic soup for lunch, and dal bhat rice for dinner. So at the end of our eighth day, I decided to splurge and had a plate of baked tuna pasta for dinner. Cost was a bit steep, yes. No oceans anywhere around here. But hey, it was the most delicious meal ever.

Best Tuna Pasta in Chomrong, Annapurna, Nepal

4. Best Free Show on This Side of the World

As a backpacker, one takes pride in seeking out the best travel experiences for the least cost. And wouldn't you know it? I had it in poshy, uber-clean Singapore. Head to the Marina Bay Sands at 8:30 p.m. or at 9:30 p.m. any day of the week, plop over at the boardwalk and be treated to the most amazing lights show ever. Best part, it's free!

Marina Bay Sands

(See more posts about Singapore: Night Life at the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Is People and the Food)

5. Funnest Weekend Getaway

One summer out-of-town getaway in Caliraya, Laguna with the people you have known for more than 12 years and a slip-n-slide down the side of a hill. Really, what more do you need in life?

Caliraya, Laguna

6. Best Twist of Fate

I am going to milk this coincidence for as long as I can. We missed our train to Jaisalmer, prompting us to book bus tickets to Dharamsala in India, where in a twist of fate, one of the most influential man in the world was also there giving a lecture that is open to the public. We saw the Dalai Lama. Big deal? Yeah, big deal!

Tibetan Museum, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

(See more posts about Dharamsala: Finding Tibet in Dharamsala, India, How to see the Dalai Lama)

7. Funnest Road Experience

At least three travel bloggers have recommended Pai. It's a hippie, quite touristy small town in mountainous Mae Hong Son province, northern Thailand. The combination of cool December breeze, mountains, valleys, hippies, I'm sold. A lot of farangs, I noticed. Farangs on motorcycles. Since I, too, was a farang, I rented a bike and explored the whole valley. It was super fun. Highly recommended activity!

Exploring Northern Thailand on a Motorbike

8. Best Place to Meet the Best Group of People

Okay. Two places. First, the rooftop of Nirvana Hostel in New Delhi, which by the way is also called Holy Cow Hostel. Too specific? Second, any mountain trail in Nepal. Too broad? In my travels through Asia, I noticed that I tended to get along better with the hippie, mellow type of backpackers, usually found in India, Nepal and China, than the beached-up, party people kind of backpackers, mainly concentrated in Southeast Asia. I'm generalizing, of course. But there you go.

Chomrong, Annapurna, Nepal

9. Best Night Market in Southeast Asia

I noticed that night markets are kind of a thing in this part of the world. Of all the night markets I have been to in Southeast Asia, the Sunday Night Market in Chiang Mai is the biggest, liveliest and yes, most delicious night market I have ever been to. It basically covers a huge part of the old town of Chiang Mai. It is touristy as hell, sure. But a lot of locals head there, too. A lot. It is still worth going though. The diversity of things you can get yourself there is amazing.

Chiang Mai Sunday Market

10. Most Exhilarating Experience of My Life

One friend tells me that bungy jumping is in the bucket list of almost everybody, as it should be. Free fall is perhaps the most exhilarating experience one can ever have. At least, I think so. If you get a chance to do it, don't think. Just do it.

Bungy in the Himalayas

(See post on the bungy jumping experience: Bungy in the Nepal Himalaya)

11. Most Beautiful Building in the World

That's a tall order, yes. But you know when you have seen famous landmarks in magazines, TV, postcards, etc. and then you get there, and you find yourself underwhelmed by it. The Taj Mahal is nothing like that. Nothing like that. It is beautiful in pictures and it's even more beautiful up-close. The Mughal Emperor that built it truly loved his late wife. And you will see it on every wall, spire, dome, frame and inscription of that white marble building, the most beautiful building I have ever laid my eyes on.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

12. Longest yet Most Rewarding Day of My Life

It was only the third day of our originally planned two-week trek to the Himalayas. So I was still adjusting to walking four to five hours a day with a 15-kilo pack strapped to my back. The thing is with the Annapurna Sanctuary trek, the trek that we did, is that the trail ascends and descends every so often on any given day. From one mountain, you go down to river, then up again to another mountain, then down again to another valley. Our third day was the toughest. Six hours of down, down, up, down, up, super up. Grueling is an understatement. The Himalayan panorama that greeted me at the end of that day though was exceptional. And I was to have more of it.

View from Chomrong, Annapurna Himal, Nepal

So yes, I have been busy traveling this year, acquiring all these amazing experiences, which I firmly believe anyone who want it bad enough can also have. I am in no way concluding all these experiences right now as 2011 comes to a close. I am, after all, just home for the holidays (and my birthday) on a sort of backpacking break. I still have the second half of my journey early next year. And who knows? I may just settle in some place new after. And that's another adventure I'm quite excited about. So here's to 2012. I know you will be as amazing, if not more amazing, than the year before you.

What are your best of the best travel experiences of 2011? Do share. I want ideas!

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