I am running late doing a round-up of 2015 because we were traveling through the New Year, but I have so enjoyed reading other blogger’s roundups that I decided I had to join in. The Best 9 on Instagram has also been really fun. I have loved seeing all the Best 9 posts in my Instagram feed. I feel like I get to see a happy slice of the IGer’s life, as well as get to know a little more about the individual all in one capture. The Instagram Best 9 are based on number of likes and my Best 9 happens to include photos from two places we did not visit in 2015: Hong Kong’s Giant Buddha (top right) and the South Gate of Ankor Thom (center row, right). These two photos are from our 2014 travels and I posted each as part of an Instagram challenge I was participating in, but I’m happy to see that Asia travel is well-received.
My top 9 photos on Instagram include 3 photos from our trip to Indonesia: the rice terraces leading to Selogriyo temple (top left), Borobudur temple (top center), and Prambanan (middle of the grid). Both of my homes are represented in my Best 9: Singapore’s Buddha Tooth Temple (center row, left) and the Pasadena City Hall (bottom row, left) and the elephant seals along Highway 1 (bottom row, center) represent California. I also love that there is a random chicken biriyani (bottom left) in my best 9, especially since I am pretty sure that is from a little stall a few blocks from our flat in Singapore.
I think my Instagram Best 9 definitely gives a good snapshot of our life and year, but there was so much more to 2015 for us. 2015 was absolutely one of the best years of my life, and I think a lot of that was due to our travels and a lot of it was due to this blog. This is just a small personal blog, but I think the act of reliving the trips through organizing the photos and my thoughts on our journeys helps emphasize a feeling of gratefulness for how calm and fulfilling my life has become in recent years. ‘Twas not always so and while I still have a lot to work on, I’ve come a long way in improving both my life and my outlook on life in the past few years. Here are some more highlights from 2015:
We began 2015 in Hoi An, a perfect place to ring in the new year in our opinion. If you want to celebrate the New Year with locals, this is the place. Every month on the 14th day of the Lunar Calendar, there is a Lantern Festival in Hoi An with games, lanterns and performances. Many of these activities are also available on New Year’s Eve in Hoi An. There are plenty of bars and dance parties along the river and a very low key fireworks show. Hoi An is said to have the best food in Vietnam, and even going in with high expectations, we were impressed.
While in Vietnam, we also visited the UNESCO World Heritage site, My Son Sanctuary, temple ruins from the Champa Kingdom, dating from the 7th to the 13th centuries (first row, left). Next we rode over the Hai Van Pass to Hue, stopping at the peaceful Marble Mountain along the way (top row, center). It is possible to visit Marble Mountain from Hoi An or DaNang as a half-day trip without driving over the Hai Van Pass, and I recommend visiting, especially if you enjoy caves. The drive through Hai Van Pass is scenic, but we found the view from the train just as interesting and much cheaper than going by car (we did both). We spent the next few days in Hue, the historic seat of the Nguyen Dynasty, the last family to rule Vietnam. Highlights include historic Thien Mu Pagoda (top row, right); the tombs of the Nguyen emperors (bottom row, left), each one unique and showcasing the personality of the ruler; and the walled Imperial City of Hue. I found Hue to be a charming and unique city and well worth a visit as well.
We’ve taken a number of weekend trips to Kuala Lumpur since I moved to Singapore, and it’s a place we will always return to. In 2015 we finally visited the must-see Batu Caves. I think this Hindu temple and surrounding caves is one of the highlights of KL, a city with no shortage of interesting things to do and see. In 2016 I hope to return to KL, but I also hope to visit at least one other city or island in Malaysia. It’s right next door and there’s so much good stuff there. Unfortunately, I find it a bit expensive getting to some of the popular cities. We’ve been keeping our eyes open for deals and will continue to do so.
A fascinating mix of East and West, Macau is more than just casinos. We loved visiting the Historic Centre and learning how the Portuguese and Chinese communities worked together to build up Macau, now a part of China. The cross-cultural city has strong religious roots in both the Catholic and Buddhist traditions, leading to a diverse array of religious buildings. On the secular side of things, you can view administrative buildings done with traditional Portuguese architecture and styling, Chinese mansions, and buildings formerly used for defense. There are over 25 buildings in the Historic Centre that, together, form a UNESCO site. I highly recommend adding Macau to your itinerary if you are visiting Hong Kong or Guangdong.
We traveled to Borobudur in Central Java, Indonesia, during Waisak (Vesak), the birth, death, and enlightenment day of the Buddha. I think it would have been a special trip for us no matter when we visited, but celebrating Waisak with locals at Borobudur temple was one of the best experiences of our lives. We also saw the sun rise at Borobudur; hiked through the rice terraces to a tiny hilltop temple; visited the Prambanan complex, a temple with joint Hindu and Buddhist influences; and toured the Sultan’s Palace and Water Palace in Yogyakarta. This trip was amazing and I encourage everyone to visit Borobudur and Prambanan.
I fulfilled a lifelong dream to visit Tokyo and I feel this trip was the first of many. I still think about our time in Tokyo every day. I was going through a bit of a turning point in my life during that time. Actually the whole year had been leading up to that point, and I’m not ready to write about it yet, but it was a difficult thing, and just spending the week in a new and exciting environment really helped me get through it. Every minute in Tokyo is a new and wonderful experience and just hanging out in this magnificent city was rejuvenating.
California and Bangkok
We ended our year by visiting my home in California and taking a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, starting with an overnight in San Francisco and traveling past crashing waves and surfing sea lions in Pacific Grove, bridges and waterfalls in Big Sur, Hearst Castle and elephant seals in San Simeon, and the charming Danish town of Solvang. Next we stopped in Bangkok for a week on our way back to Singapore. We visited the glittering newer temples of Bangkok and the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya, spending the last day of 2015 touring the latter. It was such a great year. Here’s hoping 2016 will be just as good!