Love it or hate it, 2016 is definitely a year to remember. It was when I felt the wind getting knocked out of myself, as it seemed that one by one, the world seemed to veto the principles I thought were universal. It was the year when I realized, more than ever, that there is much to the world that I have yet to know, more perspectives that I have yet to comprehend, more life experiences that I have yet to open my heart to.
It was also yet another year that bestowed me with so many unforgettable new experiences, which only adds on to my already overflowing wanderlust. Here, in chronological order, I share my top 12 travel memories from 2016, as well as the lessons I took away from each one. I always treat each trip as though it was a learning assignment, and I’d like to think that each lecture has contributed to make me a better person to face 2017. So, let’s take a trip through time, shall we?
1. Watching House of Dancing Water in Macau
- Why It’s Unforgettable: Think Cirque de Soleil crossed with the Olympics. It was simply witnessing insane athletic prowess, stunt after stunt by superhuman beings. This phrase gets thrown a lot, but believe me when I say it’s a MUST-SEE.
- Top Takeaway: Superhumans are among us. If you find what you’re good at, you may be one too.
2. Making the challenging (but worth it!) sojourn to Siargao, Philippines
- Why It’s Unforgettable: Siargao is a stunning but elusive island for many, as the journey going there is infamous for being a pain (or a wallet-drainer, either is still not ideal). It turned out all I needed was a bit more breathing time for this getaway, and a soul sister that was as thirsty for new sights as I were. Siargao’s raw and unpretentious natural beauty is a generous reward for those who just go for it.
- Top Takeaway: Feats are only impossible until you accomplish them.
3. Strolling in Hoi An, Vietnam
- Why It’s Unforgettable: When I think of Vietnam, I can’t help but recall the whir and absolute terror of motorcycles flying by from every direction. There was none of that though in the pedestrian-only streets of Hoi An Ancient Town. A well-preserved heritage area, the town takes you back to a bustling trading post, where your chief concern would be where to get your next coffee or bowl of Cao Lau. The real stunner is at night, where lanterns illuminate the entire town, and every corner, doorway and balcony is absolutely photogenic.
- Top Takeaway: There are multiple facets to the personality of a country, or of people, for that matter. Strive to look for beauty.
4. Biking in Bagan, Myanmar
- Why It’s Unforgettable: Myanmar was the first new country that I’ve visited for 2016, and it didn’t disappoint. I believe it was also the first solo trip I’ve taken again in quite a while. Although I missed hot air balloon season, I did grab this opportunity of independence to try my hand at driving a scooter. After nearly killing myself several times, I thought for the better and swapped the scooter for a good old, dependable bicycle. With the wind in my hair, fresh air in my lungs, I couldn’t be happier.
- Top Takeaway: Analog rocks.
5. Watching Book of Mormon at the West End, London
- Why It’s Unforgettable: INSANELY. FUNNY. Now get out there and watch it!
- Top Takeaway: There will always be people funnier, brighter and more talented than you, that are also willing to share their gifts with you. Ain’t the world grand?!
6. Exploring Edinburgh, Scotland and attending the BEST. WEDDING. EVER.
- Why It’s Unforgettable: When my friends and I realized that I will be in the vicinity of the UK when one of my old high school classmates will be tying the knot in Scotland, we quickly reshuffled plans and voila, it was an impromptu reunion in gorgeous Edinburgh! The lovely couple also planned a day trip around the outskirts of the city, and I never thought that one day I would actually be stepping into Rosslyn Chapel. The dreamiest part, however, was the actual wedding, which will spoil every other wedding for me from now on. It was small and intimate, and held in an actual Scottish castle. When the vows came, a freaking owl flew from the back of the chapel to the altar, bringing the couple their wedding rings. How’s that for memorable?
- Top Takeaway: Sometimes, it will be all about the sights. If you’re really lucky, the magic of travel will be all about the people.
7. Lazing away in a picnic under a tree in Provence, France
- Why It’s Unforgettable: The purple fields were each and every bit as captivating as they said. Literal busy bees were abundant around the bushes, but that wasn’t enough to stop me from running up and down the rows with glee. As the fields were vast and many, you didn’t have to elbow your way through a throng of fellow tourists to enjoy the sights. In fact, we drove and drove, hopping from one charming town to the next, until we found the perfect meadow with the perfect solitary tree for the perfect private picnic. Still makes me wistfully sigh every time.
- Top Takeaway: Some magical things last for only a season, or for only a specific time and place. It’s all the more important to chase these beauties for as long we as we still can.
8. Getting my mind blown by a plate of mussels in Girona, Spain
- Why It’s Unforgettable: We stopped over at Girona just out of pure circumstance, and once we got there, we almost never wanted to leave. With its labyrinth of walls and gardens, Girona could be very persuasive, I tell you. It is also shameful that as Game of Thrones fans, we did not realize that so many scenes for Westeros and Bravos were shot there! The real kicker was sitting down in a small unassuming restaurant, just around the corner from our hotel, and being served with the most delectable plate of mussels that I still dream of up to now.
- Top Takeaway: Sometimes, plans fall through because fate has something even better in store for you.
9. Being stunned and amazed by Kotor, Montenegro
- Why It’s Unforgettable: Breathtaking fjords. Glistening beaches. A dreamy Old Town — fortress, mountains and all. I dare you not to fall in love with Kotor.
- Top Takeaway: Never stop asking, “What’s over there?”
10. Yaya’s first visit to Singapore
- Why It’s Unforgettable: Yaya has been our housekeeper ever since I was an infant, and I have nothing but fond memories of her teaching me my prayers, helping me with homework, and chasing me all over the house with food. She is quite the “wind beneath my wings” (incidentally, she is also one of the reasons why I know so many karaoke songs). Taking her on her first trip abroad ever is one of the least things that I could do for everything that I owe her.
- Top Takeaway: Giving is one of the most rewarding things that one could ever do for oneself.
11. Seeing Chinatown, Philippines with fresh new eyes
- Why It’s Unforgettable: My partner has been complaining that I only take him to the “nice” parts of Manila (ie. only BGC), so on our last trip to the Philippines, I finally gave in. With help from my friends and family, we put together a walking food trip around Binondo, the world’s oldest Chinatown. My old memories of the Quiapo/Recto/Binondo area were ones where I wore my tattiest clothes and took extra care to scatter my money in different pockets, as to discourage pickpockets. I’m happy that our sojourn there let me see Binondo in a new light — not just as the pier area where you simply get the cheapest wares, but as a haven of some of the tastiest delights I’ve ever had in the city.
- Top Takeaway: Challenge your assumptions; don’t hesitate to take a second look.
12. Uprooting my stable existence in Singapore, to move to Germany (!)
- Why It’s Unforgettable: It’s been on the table for quite a while, and finally, I have done it. As much as I enjoyed seven amazing years in the one-of-a-kind city-state of Singapore, there is still this itchy feeling that I can’t dismiss which tells me to move on, that what I have now is still not quite all that life has in store for me, and that I should put my big girl pants on to bravely start on a new chapter of my life.
- Top Takeaway: It is quite scary (and perhaps a bit foolish) to throw caution to the wind, but sometimes you have to take a leap, to start over, to journey far in order to meet yourself. Wish me luck!
What are your favorite travel memories from 2016? What are you looking forward to trying in 2017? Please do share them in the comments below! Wishing everyone an amazing and joy-filled 2017!