And just like that the year is on its side, ready to roll over and it is time to reflect and page through the highlights of 2015.
This year has been one incredible journey. It’s impossible to use any other word than “journey” to describe 2015; there have been multiple pit stops, a lot of unplanned destinations, numerous unforeseen detours and out-of-the-blue opportunities. I learnt a lesson or two, met a few like-minded souls and discovered new heights.
The year 2015 had one unstoppable wandering spirit which forced me to change a flight, deliberately miss another flight and to get on 22 other flights (16 of which were international). The nomadic nature of the year had me sleeping in 63 different beds across seven countries. The sense of adventure led me to mountains, festivals, islands, sunsets and strange food.
2015. One. Incredible. Journey.
To put my gratitude into words won’t do any justice to how much I appreciate all the people who have crossed my path, the friends who pushed me, the family who supported me, the detours which led me astray, the opportunities that coincided with my dreams and the universe who had a hand in every highlight of 2015.
So without getting too sentimental, here are the highlights of 2015, a handful of the year’s most memorable experiences.
Highlights of 2015
January: Gamcheon Village
I can’t believe I waited so long before I dropped by Gamcheon Cultural Village in Busan. This village was once home to refugees who fled to the area in and around Busan during the Korean War. Poverty was a widespread phenomena among the humble homes before this village was turned into a creative community and tourist attraction in 2009.
The blog post about Gamcheon Cultural Village will come in 2016, pinky promise with a side of art. I also visited the Jagalchi Fish Market; have a look at this video to see all the weird creatures I found at the market.
February: Coffeecation in Seoul
Yes, I did it. I actually went on a coffeecation. No temples, no attractions, no fuss. Just caffeine. I went to Seoul in search of some of the best coffee and the quirkiest themed cafes.
February: Street Art in Hongdae, Seoul
I found a lot of coffee shops in the streets of Hongdae and took regular caffeine breaks (actual breaks from the caffeine) in Hongdae where I found thought-provoking street art. Something changed in me after the graffiti of Hongdae, I fell in love with the art of street art.
March: Holi Festival in Nepal
The Holi Festival has been a dream for a long time and when I booked my ticket in June 2014 to Nepal for March 2015 I had no idea until late 2014 that I would be there during the Holi Festival. The Holi Festival turned out to be the most colourful day of my life, ever. I will never forget the joyous Nepalese as they said “happy Holi” while adding another layer of paint to my face.
Read more about my take on and tips for the Holi Festival in Nepal. You can also read about my First Impressions of Nepal, the #30daysforNepal Instaproject, an experience Making Momos (a traditional Nepalese dish) with a local family, First Thoughts after the earthquake and the Horac Orphanage.
March: Trekking in Nepal
I considered and reconsidered whether or not I should do a trek in Nepal. Hundreds of “what ifs” spun around in my head until I just told myself, “screw it and do it”. I found an incredible female trekking guide online, met her two days before the trek, packed my bags, borrowed a walking stick and off I went. The trek only consisted of ups and downs (I swear there is no flat surface in Nepal) but I was rewarded with endless views of the Himalaya mountains. I would go back and do a trek like this again in a heartbeat, any day, any time.
The Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek ranks as one of my Top 3 travel experiences. Read more about my time on the Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek as well as the post about the Tips, Costs and Details of the Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek.
April: Malaysia Simply Asia
Malaysia is a destination that had me reaching for my shoes to explore the diversity of its streets. I immediately felt at home after arriving in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia was like an Asian South Africa; a boiling hot pot of different cultures, different religions, different races and different languages. I went from Kuala Lumpur to Penang to Cameron Highlands to a tiny dot of an island on the map, Pulau Pangkor, to Melaka and back to Kuala Lumpur.
Melaka was by far my favourite place in Malaysia…difficult to believe since I’ve only blogged about Wheelers’ Coffee in Penang and the Street Art of Penang. Pinky promise with a side of Petronas that I’ll catch up with the rest in 2016!
April/May: The Big Five in Kruger National Park
One of the things on my 30 Things Before 30 List was to have another road trip with my parents. Road trips with them are the best; they turn a normal 3-hour drive into a 12-hour drive and always manage to find undiscovered roads. So when they made a suggestion to pick me up from Johannesburg’s airport and have a little road trip through Kruger National Park, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Clarens and Addo National Park, I said: HELL YES!
June: Karoo Road Trip
I took a winter road trip with a dear friend through parts of the Karoo that I haven’t been to in a really really long time. I got a new appreciation for the Karoo and its warm, kind-hearted people, its unspoilt stretches of nothing, its night sky and its history.
Read more about the start of the trip and the first stop, Steytlerville, Willowmore with its funky coffee shop (Sophie’s Choice), Uniondale and its oldest guesthouse, the beautiful Mooiplaas Guesthouse in Oudsthoorn, the rich history of The Old Trading Post and things to do in Wilderness.
June: Cape Town
Cape Town is always a highlight and always a good idea. Even though my time was short in Cape Town I managed to catch up with a few good old friends, walk through the colourful Bo-Kaap and stare at the mountain way too often.
Read more about the 7 Reasons to visit the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town.
Bloemfontein was my home for four years during my time as a student and I returned (after six years) to visit one of my oldest friends for a few days.
Read more about the funkiest coffee shop in Bloemfontein, Iewers Nice.
Ahh Johannesburg, dear old Jozi. I spent two months on a project in a city I once despised and fell head over heels in love with the place. Johannesburg was never part of the plan and it was the main reason why I had to change the date of my flight back to Asia. Johannesburg is also the reason why I visited Cape Town and Bloemfontein and all the highlights of 2015 that follow after this highlight happened because I said “yes” to Johannesburg. The universe is a force to be reckoned with.
September: Port Elizabeth
If there is one place I will visit over and over again in Port Elizabeth it is the Donkin Reserve. I don’t know if it is the view, the mosaic, the history or the love story embedded in the history but my feet always find a way to the hill overlooking Algoa Bay.
The first national Instameet was held in September in the middle of the Karoo in the historic town, Graaff-Reinet. What an experience to rub smart phone shoulders with friends, fellow bloggers and some of South Africa’s top Instagramers.
September: #MeetSouthAfrica Road Trip
When you get an e-mail inviting you on a #MeetSouthAfrica road trip with a few other bloggers you change plans, drop everything and say HELL YES! The #MeetSouthAfrica road trip took us, a crew of 10 people, through the small towns of South Africa (via eight provinces) to meet South Africa through the dirt roads, the views, the sunsets, the people and the stories. It started with a long drive from Johannesburg to the Instameet in Graaff-Reinet, continued to Nieu-Bethesda, Bethulie, Clarens, Dullstroom, Roossenekal, Ermelo, the Panorama Route to Polokwane, Maropeng and it ended back in Johannesburg at the airport where it all started.
Read the start of it, Letters to Graaff-Reinet, my experience revisiting Nieu-Bethesda (Did she lose her charm?), the Dullstroom Bird of Prey Centre experience and a little summary of the trip, How do you #MeetSouthAfrica?
The other #MeetSouthAfrica troopers were: Kenny, the human Googlemaster, Jimmy the driver, Dale the fixer, Lloyd the video magician, Andy the Insta-Jack-of-all-trades, Di the Roaming Giraffe, Rose the Travel Bug, Iga the energetic soul from Eager Journeys and Heather, from 2summers, the one who is North American by passport but South African by heart.
Two days after the end of the #MeetSouthAfrica road trip I left for Singapore – the extremely modern, expensive Singapore. I approached Singapore with a lot of caution because it’s so damn expensive but I found hope and comfort in the Little India district with all its colours, curries and culture.
Blog posts about Little India in Singapore and my visit to the themed cafe, Kombi Rocks, will be up in 2016. Pinky promise with a Singapore Sling on the side.
October: TBEX Conference
The highlights of the TBEX Conference (a conference all about travel blogging) was attending the sessions of Scott Eddy (Why conversations are the most important metric in travel), Don George (The art of storytelling) and Lola Åkerström (Improving your travel portraits) as well as the closing keynote by Jodi Ettenberg (Why travel blogging needs more storytelling).
I also got to meet the beautiful soul, Jean, from the Traveling Honeybird, someone I’ve been talking to for ages via Twitter. I met two other lovely South Africans, Dawn, The Incidental Tourist, and Allison, the Cape Town Diva and a few more travellers and bloggers who have a special place in my heart: Andrea (Wandering iPhone), Divya (Bleh Loves Food), Roxanne (The Tiny Taster) and the Indonesian Duo from Indohoy.
I spent almost one month in Thailand but it was not nearly enough to get a full Thai taste…even a month in Bangkok alone won’t be enough. Regardless of how much time I spent in Thailand (and the fact that I didn’t visit a single beach) the experience went beyond my Thai-expectations. I experienced Rush Hour Traffic in Bangkok from a tuk-tuk, visited the bizarre themed restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms, went to Chiang Rai and got blind by The White Temple’s Reflections, stayed over at the luxurious Panviman Chiang Mai Spa Resort, visited Ayutthaya by train and ended back in Bangkok for one last stroll through the Chatuchak Weekend Market.
Read about my time as a caffeine thief when I stole a cup of coffee from Mr. Star Bung, the Temple Cats of Thailand, the Street Art of Thailand, the temples I enjoyed the most and a bit of Temple Etiquette.
November: Pohang, Homigot Sunrise
The Homigot was one of the first places I visited when I arrived in Korea in 2009 but I’ve never seen it at its best: sunrise. One early morning a good friend (who understands my love for timelapses) threw me in the car with a few snacks and coffee (bless her caffeinated soul) to experience the sunrise on the most eastern point of Korea (also known as the tail of the tiger due to the shape of Korea). The sky was dull, grey and overcast when we first arrived but it turned into the most phenomenal display of sunrise colours.
The video and blog post about the visit to the Homigot and Guryongpo, the Japanese street, will be posted in 2016…pinky promise with a side of Kimchi.
I also returned to South Korea to pick up dear old Koos the bicycle, to have caffeine dates with another soul mate and to eat a lot hotteok (a Korean steet food snack). The sad reality is that this was probably my last visit to South Korea (for now…because let’s be honest, I’ll always keep that door open).
In Nepal I met my travelling soul mate, Hippy (how can you not love someone with that name?); together we made momos, celebrated Holi and got scammed by two kids. With a little bit of Googling I found super cheap tickets to Taiwan from Korea and also realised that flying from Taiwan (via Hong Kong) to South Africa is much cheaper than flying from most other Asian destinations. After few e-mails here and there, an invitation letter and a passport sent to the Taiwanese embassy in Seoul I got a visa, an expensive visa.
The highlight of my trip to Taiwan was not the Taipei 101 or the food or some kind of cultural thing, no. The highlight of my trip to Taiwan was visiting Modern Toilet, a toilet themed restaurant where you eat out of toilet bowls, drink out of urinals and get a swirl of chocolate ice cream poo as dessert.
Blog posts about Taipei will be posted in January…pinky promise with a side of modern poo.
Blog Post Pinky Promise Update: Ximending in Taipei – Explore it in Your Own Way.
December: Turning 30 in Addo National Park
I chose to celebrate my 30th year on earth with some of my favourite people: the elephants of Addo National Park. The day was like any other day in Addo, magical!
I’m saying goodbye to 2015 at Gamtoos, a little hidden treasure of peace, quiet, the best sunsets and unspoilt beaches with almost no one in sight. And even though I’m spending most of my days in front of the laptop to catch up on all those pinky promises mentioned, the atmosphere is like a tranquiliser, darting me every now and then with a shot of serenity.
And that was 2015.
I lived out of suitcases and bags for most of the year and I won’t change a thing. It was a year where everything happened, a year where nothing stood still and a year where something led to another thing.
I raise my cup of coffee (because coffee tastes way better than champagne) to 2016, a year unfamiliar, a year with new discoveries and a year where I will pack out my bags and call South Africa home once again.
I raise my cup of coffee to you, may 2016 blow your mind, may your curiosity to explore lead you to new discoveries and may your feet take you to the destination of your heart. May your caffeine be strong, may your journey be long and may your detours be the right kind of wrong.