It is kind of crazy for me to fathom than 2017 is indeed coming to a close and in less than 48 hours, 2018 is taking over. I definitely deliberated quite a while before even starting this post. Even taking time to read through my year in review for 2016, split into 2 parts even! (Part One / Part Two). It left me feeling in a puddle of fuzzy emotions and I thought it’d be fitting to do one for 2017 as well.
As cliche as it sounds, 2017 is one of the best years of my life (if not the best). I’ve learnt so much, grown even more as a person. Learnt so many life lessons, experienced them first hand, acknowledged my own privilege, heritage and even become a champion for Asian voices within the travel community. I’ve also returned home to Singapore after 2 continuous years on the road. Life is seemingly the same, yet so so so different. I’ll probably write more on this in another post as this one will probably be more that just bedtime reading (;
I spent Christmas and New Year’s both in Medellin, Colombia. That’s how much I love the country. I made life long friends there! Hung out with more Asians than I have in the past 6 months before. In January I also decided that my time in South America was coming to a close. I’ve seen almost all that I wanted to see in South America. Sure, there are there few things that I would absolutely go back for (Cano Cristales, The Galapagos, Easter Island, Patagonia (yes, again!). But I needed a change.
South America will always have my heart. Hearing the Spanish language spoken will always catch my attention. But I was ready to go home. Or so I thought.
Booked my ticket back to the USA for one last hurrah before the next leg back to Singapore.
Decided I would give Ecuador a shot and headed West bit by bit. From the beautiful Salento to highly misunderstood Cali, and on a super long onward commute to Quito via Ipiales.
Explored Quito, Banos and Quilatoa in Ecuador with a new found friend for the next 10 days. It is crazy how souls can align across different continents to bring about ridiculously memorable travel experiences. But that was what Ecuador was for me. I may not have the most photos during my time there (because even my phone camera – the Xiao mi backup I carry had died on me) but those memories will probably last a lifetime.
Back in the USA! It was such a blast seeing friends I’ve met from my first week of travels in Turkey, to old friends way back in the day, to new friends whom I just parted ways with in South America.
My time in the USA was meant to be a last hurrah, so I split them between all the places I love. California and New York City. But somehow I caught wind of a whirlwind trip to Africa. WHAT?
This caught me pretty off guard as I was quite certain I was headed home after I had enough of NYC or the Californian coast. I did what I do best, check the bank account and did a few quick flight searches. And booked a flight to Cape Town, South Africa.
Travelling to Africa was one of the best (and most challenging) decisions of 2017.
Had my first taste of Africa by road tripping South Africa for 2 weeks. Later learnt that South Africa is pretty much – Africa lite (; From Cape Town to the Garden Route to a multiple day Safari drive in Kruger National Park. It was beyond stunning! The 2 weeks we spent road tripping definitely piqued my interest in the rest of the continent and it was the start of the next 2 months there. There was also a short stint in Lesotho and Swaziland (2 tiny countries completely landlocked by South Africa), one of which did not even require an entry/exit stamp.
The first week of March was spent in the most beautiful AirBNB ever. There was plenty of planning, relaxing, writing, cooking and watching of movies.
Then it was off to Namibia, for yet another road trip around the country! Namibia is definitely one of my top African countries to visit (and return to). I would go back with a 4×4, take more camping gear and do everything over again slowly. It was that memorable. From sand dunes to sunsets to wildlife, Namibia absolutely does not disappoint. We also bought full camping gear and it was the start of our camping adventures across Africa.
We then took the the first cross-country bus ride (20h) from Namibia to Livingstone, Zambia. Saw the famed Victoria Falls. Crossed over to the Zimbabwean side of the falls (because obviously I can’t see one side without the other). Headed across to Chobe National Reserve, Botswana. Had to skip out on the Okavango Delta in Botswana as it was almost impossible to find public transport to take us there that did not make me want to hurl. Of course, there was always the option of taking a flight over but it did not make sense to my wallet, nor am I a Kardashian.
There was also the Epic Meltdown of 2017 which happened in Botswana as well – but that is another story to come.
Malawi was up next! 3 long flight transfers later, I was in Lilongwe, Malawi. Picked up the car rental from Patrick (our car guy) and realized that Malawi does not do credit cards. Least to say, withdrawing a huge chunk of change (enough for the car rental and expenses for the week) after dark was not the most fun thing to do.
Drove our little 1997 Toyota Starlet across the country to Cape Mac Clear which was a little slice of heaven! The fish curry was to die for. On the way back, had our first proper police ‘bribery’ at a random police stop in which we settled with cookies. Yes, a half opened pack of cookies to be exact.
Tanzania next! We then headed over to Zanzibar where we explored Stonetown and then Paje. Zanzibar is as beautiful as honeymooners make it out to be, and then some. I will always remember the watermelon-date juice from Lukmann’s in Stonetown. As well as running through a torrential downpour in Stonetown holding street BBQ in one hand, phones in plastic bags in the other.
Dropped 800 USD on a 5 day adventure on an African Safari. And 800 USD is cheap. #notevenkidding But it was the best experience of 2017. Hands down. If you know me in real life, you will know that I have this thing for animals. I will stop to pet dogs, cuddle cats and watch cute animal videos to no end, especially the Battle of Kruger which I’ve seen a million times. We saw everything from the Big 5 to a leopard hunt to witnessing 2 Cape buffaloes wander into our campsite over dinner! It was insane and I left the Serengeti with the biggest smile on my face.
Crossed into Kenya and took yet another patience testing bus ride (20h est) from Nairobi, Kenya to Kigali, Rwanda. This is not your typical bus ride. The bus does not have a/c, closed windows, or even allocated seating. It’s a riot.
Arrive in Kigali safely one day before I turn 28. Celebrated my 28th birthday in Kigali, in a beautiful hotel overlooking the city. Not before struggling up the hill (2km) with about 15kg on my back, only to arrive and realise they have pick up service from the bus station. LOL. Had the best Chinese food in months for my birthday dinner as well. I don’t usually crave Asian food but this one really hit the spot.
April was definitely a big month!
Explored more of Rwanda, their beautiful rolling hills, well paved roads and major disdain for plastic bags. It was then off to Uganda to see those Gorillas and Chimpanzees. Headed off to Kampala to witness how crazy the traffic can be. Endured many a matatu ride in and around town.
This was also the month I sat down and decided KoalaTravelstheWorld could be more than just a collection of personal stories. I revamped the site, added a bunch of new posts, wrote out a massive Travel Resources page and got serious about my writing. It was a busy month on the writing front but I found myself enjoying it so much it was slightly ridiculous.
My time in Africa was coming to a close. The next adventure was on the horizon but there were still a few places to check out around Uganda and Kenya. From the Nile River in Jinja, to the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, it was a great way to round off 100 days in Africa. I left with my heart full, my body tired and my mind churning. On one hand I had my fill of Africa and the challenges of travelling around the continent, on the other hand, there was still so much yet to be explored. Ethiopia, Madagascar etc…For now though, I was content. And I was also very much looking forward to reuniting with my Swiss friends, and not needing to look out for my bag, phone and over my shoulders every 2 seconds!
Nairobi > Oman > Switzerland
SWITZERLAND! WHAT?! What was I even doing here. I was supposed to be home 3 months ago but here I am, in Europe, Switzerland no less. Arriving in Switzerland from Africa was such a culture shock. I spent a good part of 3 days going around exclaiming ‘I can’t believe it!’, taking deep breaths and looking at buses and cars from the window of my friend’s place. #truth
While enjoying some first world luxuries, taking the SBB trains around Switzerland. I explored Zurich and Basel, did a bunch of hiking in a bid to try and get some fitness back! Koala Travels the World got to work with a few tourism boards in each Swiss cantons and it was such an incredible experience.
There may or may not have been a trip into France for groceries and my introduction to the amazing store that is Decathlon.
Lausanne was next where I hung out in the city for just over a week and got our fill of hills and a great calf workout. We also carted backpacks full of groceries from Germany over to Lausanne (yes Switzerland is that expensive! eek)
Took my first Bla Bla Car over to France to visit my dear friend and hiking buddy from the Torres del Paine, Chile! Days were filled with Apertivs, cheese and swimming in the lake.
Which took us to the start of the Epic European Summer Road Trip (France to Croatia). We went from Lake Como, Italy, to epic hiking trails in Cortina D’Ampezzo in the Italian Dolomites. If there is one place I can return to with a snap of my fingers, this would be it. 4 days there just wasn’t enough.
Hopping over to Slovenia, we were instantly blown away by the gorgeous gorges (pun fully intended) and century old castles.
Of course we couldn’t miss Croatia and the much hyped Plitvice National Parks. To be honest, it didn’t really live up to expectations, and neither did Krka National Park. Plus the expensive park fees left us a little annoyed with the whole experience. But fret not, onto the next location, Split and Dubrovnik.
We had a huge day in Dubrovnik, living out my Game of Thrones fantasies, walking atop the walled city, riding high above in the cable cars. Even going out onto the water looking back on the beautiful city from the nearby island. I think we clocked more than 20k steps that day, easily.
Bosnia had us calling next, where the famous bridge of Mostar, and the icecream, was unforgettable.
Then it was back into Slovenia, where we promptly got stopped by the po-police for not having a vignete, 150 Euro fine on the spot was extremely painful (and extremely uncalled for, especially since we were not even trying to get away with not paying the toll) but Lake Bled soon calmed our annoyed and frazzled nerves.
Our last stop was in Hallstatt and Salzburg in Austria, before a homecoming in Freiburg, Germany. We were home! While I haven’t explored much of Germany (and everyone else seems to have), I did spend a good amount of time in Freiburg with my dear host and friend, Lora!
Spain was next which was a trying time escaping the Barcelona bombings (the day it happened) on a road trip to Granada via Alicante and Valencia.
And last, but definitely not least, I arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, but not before getting into one of the biggest travel boo-boos in 2 years. Getting my bags stuck in an overnight locker as I watched my 50 Euro overnight bus roll away, and there was absolutely nothing I could do. Definitely a story for a post in itself!
There was a lot of nata (egg-tart) eating when I got to Portugal, where I really fell in love with the city. It was kinda crazy that I had a flight home booked. It was a surprise though for my family. Took a quick flight up to Porto and came back to Lisbon to say my last goodbyes to Europe. Fittingly, it was also the 89th day of the 90 days of my Schengen visa.
It was home time.
After 2 years.
So. Many. Emotions.
Them. Feels. Really.
Honestly this month feels like a blur. From fighting (and then losing) to jet-lag, to packing and rearranging my room (which has pretty much become a storage unit lol) to eating home cooked food again. There was also me, battling indigestion and falling sick (of course). It was the weirdest thing not being able to stomach my favourite Hokkien Mee, black carrot cake, mee pok dry fish ball noodles and laksa. WHY? Because of how oily everything is and how pampered my stomach was to fresh summer produce in Europe. Eeeeeee. It took a good two weeks to clear up, which wasn’t fun at all!
There was the returning-from-2-years-away fanfare for a month (which was pretty nice) but some days all I wanted to do was hibernate and sleep. Travel depression was real. I felt like I couldn’t relate, couldn’t connect with anything that was familiar to me. So I returned to what I loved best – writing about it.
Was when I decided to snap out of my reflective funk / jetlag excuses and went on a work fam trip to The Philippines for TripZilla. Delicious food, a super fun M’sian fam on my first trip to the Philippines – I could not ask for more.
Then there was ITB Asia 2017, my first travel trade show / conference. Going there as accredited media was fun, but a whole lot of stress and intimidating moments as well. Definitely looking forward to 2018’s!
I also released My Epic Travel Video, summarizing the highlights of my 2 years on the road in 200 seconds.
Flew off immediately after to Lake Toba on fam trip #2 and had some lowkey relaxation there while stuffing myself with local Indonesian delights. Did a bunch of media interviews and collaborations, met some of the travel blogging community in Singapore which was so nice!
November went back into figuring out what was going to happen in 2018, creating the travel group I’ve always wanted to be a part of – Asians Abroad. It was also a month of doing a few other things that I have can’t really mention right now but stay tuned to the first quarter of 2018! I also wrote one of the most widely circulated posts of 2018 about Instagram
Possibly my favourite month of every year. It was a month of hanging out with my nearest and dearest. A month of getting fit (again), a month of learning new habits and creating new traditions. A month of reflection and gratefulness. Although I did not publish that many articles on Koala Travels the World, somehow my readership and following still grew significantly. I am thankful for the my fans and friends that have always supported me, got my back in everything I do, laughed through the hate comments with me, and journeyed with me through it all. Be it from my 1st reader to those who just discovered my sassy tales online – I am thankful for every single one of you. Icing on the cake of news that I’ve received literally hours ago was being named:
#1 Travel Blog in Singapore by Tripzilla.
Here’s to an even more crazy 2018 fam! Tell me what you want to see more of and I’ll make magic happen just for you. xx