It’s nearing the end of the year and time for many people to reflect on the past year’s highs and lows. I’ve been doing a little bit of reminiscing myself and have found that, although the past year wasn’t packed full of travel, it definitely was full of adventure. The life of an expat is all about exploring a new world and embracing the adventures of daily life. However, when I did have the chance, I traveled. So here are my best travel stories of 2016 – and the worst!
The Best Travel Moments of 2016
Lunching with Kai in Ban Rak Thai
Chinese New Year was spent scootering through Northern Thailand with a return to one of my favorite villages – Ban Rak Thai. I had been there briefly in 2015 but my time was cut short due to scooter issues. The brief glimpse I had of this enchanting Chinese village on the Thai/Burma border was enough to know I HAD to return. My second visit was not a disappointment at all. The village is quiet, beautiful, and untouristy. I explored the town on my scooter and stumbled upon a nondescript building set on a hill overlooking the lake. It was surrounded by beautiful yellow-orange flowers and had an amazing view.
“Hello! Stop for some coffee!” a voice shouted to me.
I parked my scooter and approached the building, which turned out to be the village hospital. The voice belonged to the village’s nurse, Kai.
I sat down and he treated me to an impromptu lunch at his little plastic table in the driveway of the hospital. We sat there on a stunningly beautiful February day, enjoyed the view and talked about life in Ban Rak Thai.
Getting There: Located in northwestern Thailand along the Thai/Burma border, the easiest way is flying into Mae Hong Son and hiring a car from there. If you’re adventurous, fly into Chiang Mai and rent a scooter!
Where to Stay: Lee Wine Rak Thai Resort is the nicest hotel in town with incredible views of the lake. Expensive by Thai standards but well worth the splurge!
Exploring a secret Thai temple
Chiang Dao, Thailand is another untouristy village along the Mae Hong Son Loop and is famous for the Chiang Dao Caves. But beyond the caves, set along a small country road, lies an amazing temple – Wat Tham Pha Plong temple. Buddhist meditations line the pathway leading to the temple so climbing the 500 steps becomes a walking meditation and eases the pain! We arrived on a quiet Tuesday afternoon and found something amazing for Thailand temples – no other tourists! We were alone except for a couple of monks, and the view was breathtaking! Our timing was perfect too, as we witnessed the 3 pm ceremonial ringing of the gong. Tranquil, peaceful, quiet, meditative, mesmerizing. A secret temple and a favorite memory of 2016!
Getting There: Chiang Dao is located about 1 1/2 hours north of Chiang Mai. Follow signs to the famous Chiang Dao Caves and continue to the end of the road running past the caves to Wat Tham Pha Plong temple.
Where to stay: Chiang Dao Hut – an affordable option walking distance to the caves.
Mesmerizing Boracay sunsets
I wasn’t sure what to expect in the Philippines and honestly wasn’t that excited about it. But since the TBEX Conference was held in Manila, which is only two hours from my home in Taiwan, I figured it was a good reason to finally visit the neighboring country. What I found in the Philippines was an amazing country with so much to offer tourists and a place I’ll probably return to next year.
Before the conference, we spent a few days of R&R on the Philippine island of Boracay. This little gem is not undiscovered by tourists, but is popular and touristy for good reason – it’s stunningly beautiful! In the evenings, I found my perfect sunset spot – a red bean bag chair in front of a little Italian restaurant just down the beach from our hotel. I sipped my ice cold Red Horse beer, watched the sailboats cruising by, and relaxed. Very zen.
Getting There: From Manila, fly into either Kalibo or Caticlan and take the ferry from there to the island of Boracay.
Where to Stay: Boracay Beach Resort – great location near Station 3.
On the Philippine island of Negros are the ruins of a fascinating old sugar plantation home. The Ruins began as an elaborate and elegant mansion built by Filipino sugar baron, Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson, as a token of love for his beloved wife, Maria, who died while pregnant with their eleventh child. Don was heartbroken and depressed so he threw himself into the planning and construction of this beautiful mansion.
During World War II, the Japanese took over much of Negros and the house was burned by the US forces in order to prevent the Japanese from establishing a base there. Many years later, a descendant of Mr. Lacson won the plot of land in a lottery, cleaned up the mess, and opened it to tourists.
We arrived in the evening and it was truly enchanting. The house was softly lit and old music like “The Shadow of Your Smile” played, creating a dreamy atmosphere.
Getting There: From Manila, fly into Silay International Airport on the island of Negros Occidental.
Where to Stay: Go Hotels in Bacolod City offers a free shuttle to The Ruins.
Exploring aboriginal villages – Samu cafe
One warm summer day in late August, I ventured into the mountains of northwestern Taiwan with a few friends on another exploratory scooter trip. Our mission: find a cafe I had been to a few times before, located in an aboriginal town somewhere beyond the town of Beipu. We took the twisty mountain roads past Beipu Cold Springs, curved off toward Nanzhuang, hung a sharp left just after the 5K mark and followed the road along the ridge.
Finally, we arrived in the tiny village of Lian San and parked our scooters next to the fruit stand. As we walked into the cafe, we were warmly greeted by Samu, the owner. Foreigners are a rare sight in this Atayal aboriginal village and he treated us like royalty, serving delicious coffee drinks and offering complimentary appetizers. We hung out in his village for hours, enjoying the coffee and the view while chatting with Samu and other villagers.
The Worst Travel Moments of 2016
Frustrating NOK Air
Flying NOK Air from Bangkok to Taipei was one of the worst travel experiences in recent memory. We booked them for the low price but will never fly them again. After a wonderful two weeks in Thailand, the frustration of navigating the mystery of NOK Air’s rules and regulations made me wanna NOK myself in the head! After dealing with them, I needed another vacation – or a strong drink. But not a lime and mint daiquiri…
Bad Mint Daiquiris
The small town of Pai, located in northern Thailand, is one of my favorite spots in Thailand. Near the end of our scooter trip along the Mae Hong Son loop, we spent one night in this hip little village. We stopped for lunch at a popular restaurant and I ordered a refreshing lime and mint daiquiri. It was a hot day and the icy Daiquiri was refreshing, so I ordered another (they were small).
As I picked at my salad and sipped my second drink, something just didn’t feel right. My head started pounding and my stomach started flipping. Obviously, something was REALLY wrong. My friend ordered her dessert to go while I waited outside, sprawled on the curb with my pounding head resting in my lap. Suddenly, I realized I was NOT going to make it to our hotel with that salad still inside me. I considered hurling in the alley behind me but decided to use restaurant restroom. The poison mint was ejected from my body and I dragged myself back to my scooter. The entire night was spent curled up in the fetal position, hurling every last drop of the evil poison from my body.
The next morning we drove our scooters the final four hours along twisty mountain roads back to Chiang Mai. I limped into town, vowing that I’ll never, ever drink another lime and mint daiquiri!
The year will end in Bristol, England drinking champagne and toasting to the unknown adventures lying ahead in 2017! Cheers!
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