Tempus fugit, where has the time gone? It feels to me that my second trip to Hong Kong was just a month ago. But the truth is it was back in late January, the first of a series of trips this year. Quitting my old job in December 2014 and not starting a new one until March this year only meant one thing: time to hit the road again.
James’ mother was very kind to invite me to spend two weeks in Hong Kong just in the time for the Chinese New Year celebration. From the impressive fireworks show at Victoria Harbor, to excursions to Hong Kong’s secluded white sand beaches and great hiking trails, to a remote heritage trail near the border with China dotted with beautiful ancestral halls, to villages scattered along the Outlying Islands, it was truly a two-week trip well spent. Having a local to take me around also meant a broader exposure to local culinary delights. Siu ap (roast duck), har gau (shrimp dumpling) and pineapple bun were just what my body needed in the middle of Hong Kong’s crisp and cool winter days – even colder than Sochi when the 2014 Winter Olympics were held.
Contrary to my previous job which provided me a lot of opportunities to travel frequently both for business and leisure, now my business trips are much subdued with only two trips until the end of this year. Each has its own pros and cons, however, and for my current job the pros outweigh the cons by far.
Nevertheless I still managed to sneak in two trips with my perennial travel buddy, James, to Flores in Indonesia and some smaller islands nearby in June and to James’ birthplace, Singapore, in September.
Flores blew our minds away. Its rugged mountainous terrain where active volcanoes bring fertility to the island is home to a multitude of cultures. The Catholic-majority island is where, according to our driver at that time, more than 60 dialects are spoken among only around 2 million inhabitants and where ancient animist traditions blend with religions brought by European traders, creating a cultural landscape that is both peculiar and intriguing. Three-colored volcanic lakes, spider web rice fields, volcanoes with near-perfect pointed cones, world-class snorkeling sites and islands filled with the world’s largest lizards were the reasons why it was so hard for us to leave this corner of Indonesia.
We made a brief stay in Bali afterwards for a little rejuvenation and to pay some of the places we loved on the island a second visit. However the timing was not ideal as it was the peak season when the island saw its annual surge of tourist numbers flocking to its most well-known sites. Fortunately we decided to go all the way to the north where tourists were almost non-existent and the temples were by and large deserted.
In September I couldn’t resist James’ offer to explore Singapore and see how much the city had changed since my first trip four years earlier. I took the opportunity to delve deeper into the city’s history, colonial heritage and cultural fusion created by the Peranakans. Singapore’s success in preserving grand colonial edifices while at the same time rapidly building ultra-modern structures not only is very impressive but also sets a standard for other Southeast Asian cities in conserving their colonial heritage. And when it comes to food, the Peranakans have successfully created a wide array of dishes mixing Chinese, Malay and Indian influences, making Singapore a hot spot for gastronomic adventurers.
Towards the end of the year it becomes apparent how 2014 has been a year of islands for me with Hong Kong, Flores, Bali and Singapore on the list. Great travel experiences often come from low expectations, exactly how I felt when I saw Hong Kong’s unspoiled stretches of powdery beaches framed by pristine hills and tall peaks. Also when I entered the unexpectedly stunning Cloud Forest at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, a state-of-the-art recreation of a montane forest with refreshing waterfalls and highland blooms all under a futuristic, glass dome. But sometimes great expectation leads up to great satisfaction as what Flores provided us.
Again, I would love to thank you all dear readers who have been following my journey and leaving such kind and encouraging comments on 43 posts that I have published throughout the year. 2015 will be quite a different year in terms of my travels, and I’m both excited and nervous for it. More details will be revealed in the upcoming months.
Happy New Year, safe travels, stay healthy and may 2015 bring more happiness to you and your loved ones!