2014: a year in review
Looking back on the past 12 months of travel, the feeling I get is one of thankfulness. It has been chock-full with experiences and memories that will stay with me for a very long time.
At the beginning of the year my mother asked, “Why don’t you invite Bama to Hong Kong for Chinese New Year?” I had told her he was in between jobs, and it turned out that last-minute flights on Tigerair were very cheap. Having my usual travel buddy in town for two weeks was the perfect excuse to revisit some of my favourite parts of Hong Kong, not least the beaches of Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung. There was also time to go places I had never been, from the semi-abandoned village of Lai Chi Wo, near the border with Mainland China, to the ancestral halls along the Ping Shan Heritage Trail.
Since late 2012 I have developed a real soft spot for Indonesia, and I now try to return at least once, if not twice, a year. Those who know me in person recognise it as an obsession; I often think of moving there permanently in the future.
Inspired by Lydia’s own journey several years ago, Bama and I met up again in June for an overland trip along the Trans-Flores Highway. From a show-stopping sunrise over the crater lakes of Kelimutu, to encounters with two village chiefs, to our first sight of a manta in the waters of Komodo National Park, Flores was an absolute dream.
We stopped over in Bali on the way back, but it was a shock to the system. Traffic snarls and heaving crowds signaled that it was peak season, and much to my disappointment, Ubud felt very different to the place I fell in love with last December. The one redeeming aspect was a half-day jaunt up north to see three unusual temples near the town of Singaraja.
With Bama’s extra time off, we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to take a day trip from Jakarta to Bandung, visiting its art deco landmarks and dropping by Bama’s alma mater, Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB). Known as ‘the MIT of Indonesia’, its location beside the city zoo has given students another nickname for their campus: ‘Institut Tetangga Binatang’ – Animal Neighbour Institute.
In August, I finally returned to Singapore, where I was born, some 17 years after my last trip there with family. Bama joined me for a long weekend spent wandering its historical neighbourhoods and museums, while sampling the cross-cultural flavours of Peranakan cuisine.
Singapore was intended to mark the end of my travels this year, but as the previous two posts will tell you, I was in for a major surprise last month. Just five days before departure, a friend invited me on a press trip to Indonesia to review two five-star resorts. In Bali, I was awed by the sleek, modernist design of Alila Villas Uluwatu. For a former architect-in-training it was pure indulgence to take in the framed views, intricate details and clever visual effects of the reflecting pools.
On the island of Sumba, I found my favourite resort in the world. Nihiwatu is luxurious but beautifully raw; the kind of place where guests walk around barefoot and exchange stories over a mojito or rum-spiked young coconut. Adventure seekers can have their fill of watersports, horse-riding, hikes through the jungle to a secret waterfall… if I ever get married and go on a honeymoon, this is where it will be!
As for the year to come, Bama and I have some great trips lined up, and from the way things are looking they will challenge us both in a big way. Thank you for reading and tagging along on my journeys this year – may you have a happy, healthy and adventurous 2015! ◊