It’s traditional in the UK to look back at the year as we approach New Year.
Newspaper columns and TV shows are filled with endless lists – the top ten films, the top ten shows, the top ten albums.
I thought I’d do similar here as people regularly ask me what has been the ‘best bit’ about travelling. This isn’t easy to answer because I’ve been to such different places for different reasons.
So, here is my top ten on the travelling adventure so far and it wasn’t easy to select them. In four months I have seen so many beautiful places, experienced life long wishes and ended up visiting, taking part in and doing so many activities that I hadn’t anticipated.
I can’t imagine what this list will look like in another eight months.
No. 10 Taking it easy in Trang An
I could have chosen so many places of natural beauty… the rice fields of Southern China, Ha Long Bay (which I had wanted to see ever since a certain Bond movie) and then there is the incredible New Zealand scenery – alternatively walking through ‘Jurassic Park’ and Middle-Earth.
Trang An, just outside Ninh Binh in Vietnam took my breath away. I’d read about it. I’d seen pictures but nothing prepared me for what I saw when I arrived.
This was the view from my hostel and if that doesn’t convince, check this post.
No. 9 Rotorua and the Thermal Village
Whakarewarewa, on the outskirts of Rotorua is a living Maori village and built on thermal springs.
I have never been anywhere at all like this. I’ve been to Iceland and I’ve seen geysers but seeing a village built on springs and thermal pools, for me was a completely unique experience.
No. 8: Visiting the Terracotta Warriors
This was bucket list stuff.
I’ve always wanted to see the Terracotta Army ever since hearing about how they had been discovered. The idea that they had been forgotten about and rediscovered captured my imagination.
Seeing them was astounding.
Learning about the painstaking care, that is spent in restoring each and every soldier, was breathtaking and finding out there are thousands waiting to be uncovered once technology has improved was just incredible.
And yet this is only number 8 in the list.
No. 7: Afternoon tea in Moscow
Deciding which afternoon tea to include in this list was tricky. These have been a key part of my travel plans but which one?
It had to be the Russian one. It was so different, in terms of courses and types of food to the others that I had to choose this one.
Plus, it also set the tone for future over-ordering… the next most noteworthy being my misadventures with crispy duck in Beijing.
Honestly, I’m not sure how I manage to mess up something as simple as ordering food.
No. 6: Visiting Hoi An
I have to confess, I think No 6 is cheating because this combines a number of experiences but they all joined forces to make Hoi An so utterly memorable.
The picture above was taken during the Full Moon Festival, the actual one – not the one that happens every day. It rained torrential and the streets were much quieter than usual.
I would go back to Hoi An tomorrow.
No. 5: Hiking the Tongariro Crossing
This was epic.
I mentioned earlier that walking in New Zealand is like walking through very different movie sets. Climbing the Tongariro to cross the volcanoes was setting foot on another planet.
It was a challenging hike and rather scary as we reached the summit with the wind threatening to blow us away, but so worth it – for the view and the feeling of achievement once I’d completed it was incredible.
The soak in the spa afterwards helped too.
No. 4: Travelling on the Trans Siberian Railway
Another life long dream this one and I spent several weeks crossing Russia and Mongolia – not all of them spent on a train.
No 4 is for the 48 hours I spent travelling with three women from Tyumen to Irkutsk. We couldn’t speak each other’s language but by the time I got off the train, it was hugs all around.
It was the friendship that made this such an incredible experience and I’m still in touch with one of the women thanks to Instagram. Words aren’t always necessary.
No. 3: Seeing the Hong Kong Protests for myself and talking to the people involved
The protests are still ongoing.
Meeting and talking to the people involved was important and this experience is Number 3, not because of any ‘Dark Tourism’ fetish but because what is happening in Hong Kong is important.
It’s not only the students and young people who are protesting. It’s all ages. The older people were also participating in the protest I observed.
And I’ve also talked to several people since leaving Hong Kong. They are scared.
One woman and I discovered, while talking in Vietnam, that we had witnessed the same protest events. She had helped clean the Mosque on Nathan Road after the police hosed it with blue dye.
She talked about seeing the Police “hurting and harming our children” and the importance of bearing witness to the brutality of Police actions.
She attends every protest. She changed her holiday dates to ensure she could vote in the Hong Kong local elections – participating in every democratic opportunity is vital, she told me.
I met another woman from Taiwan who isn’t sure about returning to either Hong Kong or Taiwan. She fears that Taiwan will soon face the same pressure from China that Hong Kong is experiencing.
She talked about people from Taiwan going missing when they visit China – around 80 in the last year. She talked about this not being taken seriously in Taiwan and her fears for the future. Similar to those of young people in Hong Kong.
What really struck me while I was there was the level of hope that the world would intervene and support Hong Kong. Many of the protesters carried international flags.
No. 2: Visiting the World’s Biggest Statue of Ghengis Khan
My decision to go to Ulaanbaatar was pretty much a direct result of learning about the existence of this.
Seeing this after spending time in Ulaanbaatar’s museums and learning about Ghengis Khan was incredible. Yes, I’d seen photos of the statue and I knew the scale but nothing prepared me for actually standing there and gazing up at it.
No. 1: Riding a toboggan down the Great Wall of China
I rode a toboggan down the hill from the top of the Great Wall of China.
I tobogganed down the Great Wall of China.
I am still wildly excited about this.
I’m also entertained by the fact that it’s the Great Wall of China, a world heritage site, one of the most remarkable historic and geographical man made sights on the planet… and you can go sledging.
Excuse me while I chuckle.
A mind-blowing experience.
So that’s it, my Top Ten… so far. I’ve been incredibly lucky. Taking this time out is a real luxury.