As you probably already know, 2015 ended a few days back and the world stepped into 2016. Most travel blogs at this time write about their travels during the last one year and share their future travel plans.
For me however, 2015 was extra special. Five years ago, I packed my bags and went for my first solo backpacking trip. Five years and a dozen or so countries later, I feel just as excited to head out on my own and explore. As they say, when the travel bug bites, you stay infected forever. In this post I look back not only on my travels of 2015 but of the last five years.
For a guy who loves to travel, countries do not matter. Travel does. However, somewhere along the way, you realize some of these countries have created a special place for themselves in your heart. It is not that you like the other countries less, it is just that you like some countries a little bit more.
With that said, here are my favourite countries from the last five years.
Back in 2011, I traveled to Cambodia and it was one of the most memorable places I have been to. I remember Cambodia not just because of Angkor Wat but because of its people. They are the nicest, most genuine and the friendliest people around.
I remember after my visit to the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum, my tuk tuk driver told me the heart breaking story of how some of his family members lost their lives in concentration camps during the Khmer Rouge. Maybe it was the way he opened up to me, a complete stranger, or the way he held back tears, or maybe it was the pain in his voice and his kind smile, his story made me realise the cruelties our kind is capable of.
Despite its painful past, Cambodia stands as a testament to our ability, as humans, to forgive, forget and move on.
Every year for the last five years, I have visited Thailand, sometimes more than once. And after every visit it has left me wanting for more. From the beaches in the south to the hills in the north, from noodle soups to pungent durians, from delicious Chang Beer to equally delicious Singha, Thailand is amazing in every way imaginable and it has something in it for everyone.
While in Thailand, it is very easy to stick to the beach side shacks and bars and frequent the tourist landmarks, but over the years, I have had the opportunities to step out of the popular places and go a bit more local. Last year, I had the privilege of staying at a homestay in Chiang Mai and though it was a little away from the city centre, it gave me the chance to experience the simple life that most Thais lead. I woke up to the sound of rooster crowing in the morning, watched elders of the family perform quiet prayers during the day, and went for long walks to the local market in the evening.
In short, Thailand rocks.
When I booked my tickets for South Korea, I did not know what to expect. Hell, I did not even know how to correctly pronounce Seoul (“Suh-ol”). Within the first few days, I was totally overwhelmed by its uniqueness. They had communal bathhouses where people showered and bathed together. Every dish they served seemed to come from a part of an animal’s body that I was not used to eating. They had cats and dogs roaming around in cafes and people actually paid to play around with them.
And I loved it. It was all so different.
Ofcourse there were the grand palaces, war museums and the DMZ. (Roaming around Gangnam was quite awesome too)
And the Soju was exceptionally good.
Jeju Island is probably the prettiest place I have been to. I hiked along the Olle trails and saw waterfalls, beautiful landscapes and beaches. I loved the markets of Korea. There were always teeming with people and had interesting things on sale. You could walk around for hours and not get bored.
And the people, though a bit shy, were really friendly and helpful. They always flashed the biggest smiles.
I always wanted to visit Egypt, so when I finally managed to travel there I was super psyched. Seeing the Pyramids, sailing on the Nile, exploring Alexandria, riding a camel, visiting the Valley of the Kings were all things that I cherish till this day. It wasn’t the easiest of trips as it involved a lot of haggling and bargaining with vendors and shopkeepers, add to that some security concerns and the heat of Upper Egypt, but it was totally worth it. There is so much about the trip that I still have not been able to share on the blog, and I intend to do that sometime in the future.
But the one thing that most bloggers miss when writing about Egypt, is the people. To an outsider, relying completely on what is being shown on the news channels and written about in the papers, Egypt (and most of the Middle East) may seem like one of those places which is constantly in a state of war. Sometimes it seems all we see on TV about the region are protests and terror attacks.
As far as Egypt is concerned, these media agencies couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, there are protests from time to time, but it is a perfectly safe place to visit. Trust me, odds of you getting hurt in a traffic accident is more than that of in a terror attack. (Granted, Egyptians are probably the worst drivers in the world but still.. you get the point.)
What I loved the most about the country is how easy going it was. Travelling around Cairo, you would see people just hanging around in roadside coffee houses, smoking hukkahs, chatting or staring blankly at traffic. When you ask someone for directions, they would answer with the minutest of details and then after a couple of minutes, would end up offering to take you there themselves.
They are never in a hurry! And they love to talk!
And I loved talking to them.
If you have been watching Donald Trump’s idiotic interviews on American new channels, you would think China is evil. People complain about how they manipulate their currency and how substandard their products are.
They are friends with Pakistan and seem to be encroaching on our territory every time we look the other way. I will not be surprised if, after America, they are voted to be the most hated country in the world.
As a traveler though, China is a gold mine. I loved watching the glitzy Bund, eating delicious sheep meat in Muslim Street, and exploring the palaces and gardens of the Forbidden City. I walked up the Great Wall till my legs couldn’t carry me any further. I stood face to face with thousands of terracotta warriors. I wandered around Tiananmen Square and saw an embalmed Mao resting in his mammoth mausoleum.
I freaking loved China!
Though these were my favourites, I loved all the places I have visited and will be more than happy to visit them again. They are all awesome in their own ways. Ofcourse, there were some places which didn’t quite click with me, like Kuala Lumpur (Plastic!), Vientiane (Boring!), Colombo (Meh.) but all in all, last five years have been pretty great.
As far as the blog is concerned, last year I finally managed to redesign the blog and while the new look was nice, it came with its share of problems. It started breaking down a lot and for the most part, I was clueless as to why it did. Thankfully, the service providers, the experts of YouTube, online forums, and my friend (I’m looking at you Partho) came to my rescue and resuscitated the blog back to life.
Also a big thank you to all the readers and social media followers. Old and new. Young and Younger.
One of the apps on my dashboard keeps telling me that a few hundred of you visit the blog every day. Cheers to that! (If that’s true). Curse that stupid app (If it’s not).
For the year ahead, I could promise that I would update the blog more regularly now, but one of my New Year resolution is to lie less. But I would try to update it regularly. There are so many stories that I would like to share here before I forget them.
That’s it for today. Have a great year ahead. Goodbye 2015. Bring it on, 2016.