It was getting dark and there was no one else in sight. I was walking alone on the Olle trail, with sky touching trees on both sides of the mountainous road. Up above, there were dark clouds and the orange hue of the evening sun. The cold evening breezes, the eerie silence combined with the scary long shadows of the trees were making me crave for my nice warm hostel bed. I really wanted to be back there, with a big bowl of noodle soup in my hand and a nice warm blanket wrapped around me. But there I was, in the middle of no where walking alone on the quiet winding road that seemed to go on forever.
Thankfully, after walking along that road for another twenty minutes, I came across a small shop manned by a lanky toothless man. He told me that I was way off. When I showed him the map and asked him where I was, he pointed to a location that was almost 5 kilometers south of where I thought I was. Thankfully, he had a phone and he called me a cab. While we waited, he offered me a glass of water and we talked about Bombay. His friendliness did not come as a surprise, however. I had learned that Koreans are reserved, but if you interact with them, you will realise that they are extremely friendly. Almost as friendly as Cambodians and drunk Punjabis.
This was Jeju Island, one of the natural wonders of the world. Being here will not only make you realise how beautiful nature is, but also how scary it is when it is dark and cold, especially when you have sub par map reading skills and prone to getting lost. But seriously speaking, Jeju Island was one of the most beautiful places I have been to and I still find myself day dreaming about it when I am stuck in traffic and involuntarily inhaling toxic fumes.
And then, in October I visited Ha Long Bay and my perception of what beauty is totally changed. Caves, islets, beaches, and ofcourse water. Water as far as your eyes can see. Ha Long Bay really makes you realise how big our world is and how small we actually are. We kayaked around caves that were filled with bats and mangrove trees, saw monkeys monkeying around, heard bird calls, and fed fishes. Every night, after an elaborate cruise dinner, I would find a quiet corner on the boat and watch the stars twinkle and hear the rhythmic sound of the waves. I cannot express in words how relaxing it was.
Ofcourse, every now and then, I would start to feel lucky and try my hand at squid fishing. We would sit for hours, waiting for something to latch on to the hook. I never caught anything but once I did manage to seriously hurt a jelly fish. Lets just say there is now a jelly fish in Ha Long Bay sporting a big hole in its body. Being so far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday city life was something I really enjoyed.
Speaking of city life, how can I forget Hanoi, a place where I recently turned a year older. And what an amazing day it was. Roaming around the streets, dodging two wheelers that were darting around in all directions, eating amazing street food, and making new friends in a roadside bar really made Hanoi my new favourite city. I just cannot wait to go back there and see the rest of Vietnam.
Another place worth mentioning in the list of my favourite cities is Seoul. There are two sides to Seoul. One is the cultural and historical side, which consists of the grand palaces, hanok villages and war museums. The other is the youthful side, which is a lot more fun. Quirky coffee houses, street markets, clubs, shopping malls, jimijillbangs and ofcourse, soju.
I loved Seoul.
There is a reason why I have not yet written about Busan. I had a great time there, but I actually did not do anything special, except maybe visiting the Jagalchi fish market and the Beomasa Temple. What I did do there was make a few friends at my hostel, laze around at the beach and fall asleep in the middle of a baseball game at the Sajik Stadium thanks to a beer overdose. Rest assured that Busan is not at all as boring as I make it sound. It was just that I was tired of walking the Olle trails and a bit sad that I was leaving South Korea in a few days.
And then there is the old faithful, Bangkok. I have been visiting Bangkok every year over the last three years, sometimes more than once, and it has never disappointed me. I still love it as much as I did the first time I went there. What has changed is the fact that I have ran out of new places to visit in the city, atleast places that excite me. So I did what any jackass would do in this kind of a situation. I went there again this year and revisited all my favourite sights of the city again. I climbed the steep stairs of Wat Arun, ate delicious food in Chinatown, people watched in Khao San Road, ate sticky brown rice with coconut milk at the Siam Paragon Food Hall, roamed around Wat Pho, shopped a day away at Chatuchak Market and stayed at my favourite hostel, Lub D Bangkok. I loved it so much that I am already planning my next Thailand trip.
And this time I’m getting a tattoo.
The boots did travel quite a bit this year within the boundaries of India as well. From spending a rainy week in Hyderabad to splashing around the holy waters of Haridwar, we had a lot of fun. I finally saw the famous Char Minar, and ate biryanis to my heart’s content. Then we visited Jama Masjid in Delhi and ate Chicken Jahangiri at Karim’s. We finished off this years eating spree with a healthy dose of Tibetan food at Delhi’s Majnu Ka Tila.
People have been asking me lately why the blog or its Facebook page and Twitter account are not being updated regularly. We failed to deliver this Christmas and this New Year’s Post is also a few days late. It seems that my time at Small City is drawing to a close and I have been a bit busy relocating. (So, no more high speed internet!)
It is quite likely that our special series “Life In A Small City” will be concluding very soon and it will be replaced by a new series that will follow my life and misadventures in a different city. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
What does 2014 has in store?
I have no clue, but like 2013 I hope it will be full of awesome experiences like the Ha Long Bay Cruise, and with super awkward culture shock moments like being naked with others in a Jimijillbang.
Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year!