2010 was a great year for me as far as travel was concerned. Apart from living the entire year in Singapore – which definitely still feels like one like big trip – I took quite a few trips of varying lengths. I took three trips to Thailand and got to see Bangkok, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai, and Pai. I spent a week in Laos, with a brief pit stop in Kuala Lumpur. I also had quick trips to Melaka and Ubud (Bali).
As the year comes to a close, it’s time to wrap up 2010 with a countdown of my fifteen favorite moments in travel this past year. I’m not including things like “making new friends” or “hosting CouchSurfers,” because that usually comes with the territory anyway. Still, I’m sure you’ll notice that other the presence of other people still figures prominently in the memories on this list. Sometimes, what makes a trip special isn’t the destination, but the experience…
15. Taking the Sleeper Trains in Thailand
On my second (and longest) trip to Thailand this year, I made my itinerary a little more flexible by not locking in flights between cities. I ended up relying on second class sleeper trains, which were great. I didn’t have to worry about accommodation (as I was traveling overnight), and the sleepers were quite comfortable. However, the experience doesn’t quite hold a candle to…
14. Flying Business Class on Singapore Airlines
It happened by accident, and that’s a story for a future blog entry. Long story short, I ended up flying to and from Bangkok in business class on Singapore Airlines. It was the most opulent travel experience I have ever had, and I seriously doubt it will ever be repeated.
13. Checking Out the Markets in Thailand
Thailand is a great destination for shopping, and exploring the various markets was a little bit overhwelming at times. The Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok was overwhelmingly huge and had a lot of variety. The Night Market in Chiang Mai was charming, if a bit repetitive at times (though its proximity to a multitude of bars – including a Benelux bar – made it more interesting). The Night Street Market in Pai was wonderful; even if it was filled with souvenir shirts, there was a wide variety of designs, and it was tough to find two stalls selling the exact same merchandise.
12. Trekking at Campuhan Ridge in Ubud, Bali
I only spent a couple of days in Bali, and even then I stayed in Ubud, skipping the beaches and backpackers of Kuta. On my second day, I went on a little trekking trip to Campuhan Ridge with a couple of CouchSurfers (one of whom I was sharing a room with). It was a lot of fun, and the views were spectacular.
11. Chilling on the Beach in Koh Tao
After the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, I went with a friend-of-a-friend to Koh Tao (dubbed Detox Island by a fellow traveler). While my new friend was taking a diving course, I spent my days just chilling on the beach, reading a book, occassionally taking a dip into the sea. The simple life. The view was spectacular, too.
10. (Literally) Chilling in Pai
On my most recent trip to Thailand just a couple of weeks ago, I went with yet another friend to Pai up in the north. Temperatures dipped below 20 degrees Celsius, which was a lot cooler than what I was used to. My friend and I spent quite a bit of time relaxing, either hanging out at the many coffee shops or drinking beer by the river, and I was so cold that I had to buy a light jacket. (My friend already had a pullover.)
9. Cookery Class in Pai
Perhaps the biggest highlight of our trip to Pai was the cookery class we took. We took a class at A Taste of Pai, which was run by Pimpha. After a trip to the market, where we learned more about the different ingredients used in Thai cooking, we learned how to cook six different dishes. We ended the day feeling satisfied in more ways than one. Also, we took home a cookbook, which both of us had signed by Pimpha. (I’ve already tried cooking a Thai dish when I got back, and it went pretty well.)
8. Road Trip to Melaka
In mid-July, I was hosting a couple of CouchSurfing brothers from England for a second time. I hosted them back in June before they headed off to the Philippines, and came back to Singapore after that trip. On a whim, we decided to take a trip to Melaka. We used Singapore’s public transport to cross the border to Johor Bahru, and from JB’s Larkin Bus Terminal, we took a local bus taking us to Melaka. Melaka was a charming little town (with lots of nice heritage buildings), but the experience with my new friends made it even better,
7. ZoukOut 2010 in Singapore
It’s the biggest party in Singapore! As it was also its 10th incarnation, the event was made even bigger by the presence of DJ Tiesto and David Guetta. Advanced ticket sales were sold out, so I spent two and a half hours in line to get my ticket on the day itself. It was totally worth it. Despite the massive crowds at Siloso Beach, it was a lot of fun, and my new CouchSurfing friend and I stayed until the sun was up at 7am.
6. Full Moon Party in September in Koh Phangan
This is the party of parties. While ZoukOut was great, it still bore a bit of Singapore’s typical organization and “order” (not to mention its high costs). The Full Moon Party was another great beach party, and although there were no big name DJs, it was still great fun, maybe even more so than ZoukOut. The entrance fee (if you were unlucky enough to encounter it) was negligible, and the alcohol – Sangsom buckets, anyone? – was dirt cheap.
5. Snorkeling in Koh Tao
For shame: Despite living in the Philippines for 27 years, I had never gone snorkeling. This all changed when I went to Koh Tao. On our last day, my friend and I took a snorkeling trip around the island, hitting a handful of different spots along the way. It was a great experience, finally getting to see all the stuff underwater that I’ve only ever seen on National Geographic or Discovery Channel.
4. Eating Thai Food in Thailand
My formal introduction to the deliciousness that is Thai food came from Mark Wiens, AKA @migrationology and co-founder of the blog Eating Thai Food. On my first trip to Thailand, he took me to a roadside eatery in Bangkok for my first real taste of authentic Thai food. Despite the intense spiciness, I kept eating, and I was hooked. I went back for a second helping with Mark on my second trip to Bangkok, and on my own I discovered other foods; my favorite is probably still Kao Soi from Chiang Mai.
3. Youth Olympic Games 2010 in Singapore
I was lucky enough to be living in Singapore during the inaugural Youth Olympic Games held in August. I had the privilege of watching both the opening and closing ceremonies, and I watched quite a lot of events (tennis, basketball, field hockey, volleyball, and football). These were future star athletes in the making. I got to see some of the top Juniors tennis players (like Tiago Fernandes, Victor Baluda, Damir Dzumhur, and Oliver Golding). I watched as Singapore nabbed the bronze medal in Boys’ Football. I cheered hard for the Philippines in basketball. And I got to see a few gold medal ceremonies as well. Definitely something to remember.
2. PTT Thailand Open 2010 in Bangkok
This marked the first time I traveled anywhere specifically to watch a sporting event. The PTT Thailand Open is an ATP 250 event, which means it attracted some of the top players of the world, including Jurgen Melzer, Ernests Gulbis, Fernando Verdasco, and World Number One Rafael Nadal. As a huge tennis fan, it was a thrill to be watching professionals live on court. While I was sad not to see Rafael Nadal up close (he lost in the semis to eventual champion Guillermo Garcia-Lopez), I still got to see five days of great tennis. I even collected quite a few autographs, plus a photo with Swiss player Marco Chiudinelli.
1. Tubing and Partying in Vang Vieng
Tubing down the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng was such a highlight for me that I ended up staying in Vang Vieng a lot longer than I had intended. I made friends and shared a room with a guy I met on the bus, and together we went tubing for three consecutive days. It was a great experience, whether it was chilling by the river with a beer in hand, or going crazy with the other backpackers, swinging over the river or playing mud volleyball. It was just as good at night away from the river, hanging out and partying at the Bucket Bar, bookended by live matches of the World Cup. After half a year of work, it was nice to let go and let loose, and meet some interesting people along the way.