As I sit in Santiago airport, awaiting my connecting flight down to Patagonia to start my five month trip through the Americas, I’m reminiscing on the many adventures I had during 2017, mostly thanks to my job as a travel expert at STA Travel.
I visited 8 countries across 3 continents, with 4 different tour companies and made life long memories, all whilst working full time!
I did a lot more of Asia than I ever have before, which brought a whole new and unique cultural perspective. I also touched down on the South American continent for the first time which just sparked my interest to return this year.
I had so many amazing experiences, and I’d like to share my 17 favourite moments from 2017. Here’s to hundreds more travel experiences in 2018.
17. Gawking at the Shanghai skyline
The futuristic skyline of Shanghai was like looking out over a new world. With the worlds second tallest building; the Shanghai Tower and the unique shape of the Oriental Pearl Tower becoming even more magical at night with the pretty dancing light show. Read about my favourite things to see in Shanghai.
16. Gazing at the Chinese countryside in Yangshuo, China
I could stare at this view all day. The jutting mountains rising out of the ground around the town of Yangshuo just made every turn look like it came straight out of a postcard (or a Yuan bill, as Yangshuo is proudly seen on the 20 Yuan note).
15. Kayaking through Vang Vieng, Laos
Another breathtakingly beautiful location with towering hills. Kayaking down the Nam Song river and tubing through caves was a definite highlight of my Asian Adventure Contiki trip.
14. Being enchanted by the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
I couldn’t get enough of these faux mega trees, especially at night when they lit up in magical colours. In fact I loved them so much I think I went there 3 times in 2 days. I was also lucky enough to be in Singapore during the 5th birthday celebration for Gardens by the Bay, so I got to watch a special light and sound show which made it all the more exciting.
13. Getting a bamboo tattoo in Pai, Thailand
Pai was really beautiful and I fell head over heels for it instantaneously. A quiet backpacker friendly town with the best local food markets I have ever been to and with Pai being famous for bamboo tattoos, I just had to tick it off my bucket list here. I got “be happy” or “a life full of happiness” in Thai on my arm, a mantra to always do what makes me happy and I thought the land of smiles was the perfect place to get it.
12. Drinking bubble tea at Victoria Peak, Hong Kong
I have dreamed about the incredible views of Hong Kong’s skyline since I first fell in love with traveling and it was even more incredible than I’d hoped. And what could make that experience even better? Drinking a delicious bubble tea whilst I’m at it, my new favourite drink with my new favourite view!
11. Falling in love with pandas in Chengdu
I knew they would be cute, but really the cuteness was unbearable… see what I did there? Heading to the Panda Base during feeding time in the morning is essential so you get to see them at their most active, with the cubs rolling around wrestling and the older pandas still eating whilst laying down. If that’s their most active, then as you can image, for the rest of the day they just sleep. My spirit animal.
10. Relaxing on Isla Grande, Brazil
Brazil had some of the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen and most of these can be found on Isla Grande. We came here to relax after the Carnival festivities in Rio and it was a nice relief. The mountainous island hosts no cars or any kind of vehicle, so you need to hop around to the pristine beaches by boat. Perfection.
9. Bathing and feeding elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Elephants are such beautiful creatures and I was so happy to be able to enjoy their company in this way as opposed to riding them. Not only was it more humane but it was a lot more fun for both the elephants and us! We fed them, got photos with them posing and then bathed them. The elephants loved every minute of it, as did the owners and helpers and we loved splashing around with them even more.
8. Sand boarding in Jericoacoara, Brazil
The rolling sand dunes of Northern Brazil were so unique and beautiful. From the enchanting white sand and blue lakes of Lençóis Maranhenses to the surf town of Jericoacoara, there was a lot of sand and a lot of dune buggy rides. So many activities but sand boarding into the blue pools of water was a definite highlight.
7. Sleeping in an overwater bungalow in Kanchanaburi, Thailand
During our Asian Adventure Contiki, our overnight stay in the middle of the Thai jungle was a welcome change away from the busy streets of Bangkok. Sleeping on a floating, wooden river raft hotel with no electricity and the soothing sounds of the wilderness was a dream come true I never knew I had.
6. Seeing Luang Prabang waterfalls in Laos
I am a sucker for anything nature provides that is colourful and contains water and Luang Prabang had colour, vibrance and beauty in spades. The main waterfall at the top was the highlight with it’s cascading sky high falls splashing into bright blue pools below. That then ripples into waterfall after waterfall into a seemingly endless supply of crystal clear watering holes. Magical.
5. Walking the Great Wall of China
My 4th New Wonder of the World did not disappoint. I got to experience the wall in rain and shine and check out two very different sections of the wall. The Badaling section was very overcrowded with tourists, being the closest and most accessible part to Beijing. Head to the much quieter Mityuni section if your travel plans allow.
4. Exploring the temples at Angkor Watt, Cambodia
This incredible complex was a lot of fun to explore and the history behind the temples are fascinating. But being the largest religious monument in the world at 162 hectares, it was almost too much. I definitely need to get back there to explore some more!
3. Sleeping in hammocks in the Amazon jungle, Brazil
I have wanted to visit the Amazon since learning about it in school and it was so surreal to be there in real life. We stayed deep in the Amazon jungle (our trip details here), with a local family who ran the lodge where we were based. We were non stop exploring, fishing for piranhas, caiman spotting, jungle trekking and spotting the pink river dolphins who always seemed to hang out right by our lodge. One night we actually slept in the middle of the jungle in hammocks where we all pitched in to set up camp and ate a fire cooked meal. Truly an unforgettable experience.
2. Dancing at Tomorrowland, Belgium
Thanks to Busabout, I got to party at my favourite music festival and had the absolute best time of my life. This festival never ceases to amaze me with the warm hearted people, incredible line up and fairytale-esque set up.
1.Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
2017 was a year full of some incredible parties it seems, and nothing quite compares to Carnival in Brazil! Everyone in Brazil takes the whole week off to immerse themselves in the celebrations and Brazilians sure know how to party! From the crazy bloco’s which popped up in a new street every hour to the extravagant carnival parades in the Sambadrome, it was definitely a unique experience I will cherish forever (and hope to attend again one day).
What were some incredible things you got up to in 2017? What awaits you in 2018? Right now, my flight to Punta Arenas awaits me… gotta run!