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2014: a year in review

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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.

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Nan Lian Garden, Hong Kong

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Chinese New Year decorations in Tai O fishing village, Lantau

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Bama surveys an empty beach at Tai Long Wan, Sai Kung

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.

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Tiwu Ata Mbupu, one of Kelimutu’s three crater lakes

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Daily life in the Ngadanese village of Bena

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Rice terraces at Kilolima, outside Ruteng

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Labuan Bajo: the end of the Trans-Flores Road

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! 

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Dutch cyclist at Pura Meduwe Karang, Bali

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A Balinese breakfast: nasi campur ikan (mixed rice and fish)

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Shophouses on Koon Seng Road, Singapore

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Nightfall at Marina Bay, Singapore

45 Comments Post a comment
  1. I was really lucky to be able to grab Tigerair Mandala’s really cheap return fares so I could fly nonstop to Hong Kong with ease. Unfortunately a few months later it went bankrupt.

    Had your mother not invited me to come to HK, I would have missed siu ap altogether! By now you already know that it was one of the highlights on that trip. 🙂 Many thanks for your offers, James, although I did envy you when you went on that surprise press trip to Sumba! 🙂 It is now gaining popularity among Indonesians, thanks to that new ‘silat’ movie which was filmed on the island.

    Selamat Tahun Baru!

    December 30, 2014
    • I’m glad you made the most of those cheap flights while they existed, Bama! It’s a shame the Jakarta-Taipei route on Garuda has now been dropped as well.

      We don’t often have siu ap at home, but while you were here we must have had it every other day! No need to thank me for Hong Kong and Singapore, it is always a pleasure to have you on board. 🙂 Hopefully we will visit Sumba in the not-too-distant future – this time I only experienced a small portion of the island.

      Makasih dan sampai tanggal sembilan Januari!

      December 31, 2014
  2. Wishing you a wonderful 2015 James!

    December 30, 2014
    • Thank you, Alison – I hope you and Don will both be injury-free this coming year!

      December 31, 2014
  3. I’m getting jealous (in a good way!) just looking at the pictures! 🙂 Have a Happy New Year, James!

    December 30, 2014
    • You too, Suze! I’m sure there will be some great trips in store for you. 🙂

      December 31, 2014
  4. Great stuff James. 2014 was a year full of exploration for you it seems. What exactly does 2015 hold for you, or are you not telling us yet? 😉 Have you ever thought about Papua New Guinea?

    December 30, 2014
    • Nicely spotted, Lee. That will all be revealed at a later date… maybe the end of January if things go to plan. 😉 Papua New Guinea is on my wish list, but I don’t have any immediate plans to visit just yet! I’m looking forward to see where you will go too – with all those posts on Asia I honestly thought you were based in Singapore!

      December 31, 2014
  5. A fabulous year overall that is going to be hard to beat. But I do hope 2015 surpasses all this and more! Happy travels James! So looking forward to meeting you guys here in Chennai 🙂

    December 30, 2014
    • I’m certain it will, Madhu – even now I’m finding it hard to contain the excitement. Bama has long dreamed of coming to India and we plan to be in Chennai for a few days in early November, rain or no rain. 🙂

      December 31, 2014
      • Not expecting rains in early Nov would be overly optimistic James!!! 😀 If you can push it by a few weeks, Dec would be far better.

        December 31, 2014
      • I did remember you mentioning the heavy rains in one of your posts… It’s still early days so we can easily change the dates. 🙂

        December 31, 2014
  6. What a fantastic year James with so many adventures! I love following you and Bama along. Keep the beautiful photos and stories coming!

    December 30, 2014
    • Thank you, Nicole! Wishing you many safe and happy travels in the coming year!

      December 31, 2014
  7. That is a great year of travel! Traveling across Flores was a special experience for us as well. I hope your 2015 travels are awesome.

    Thanks again for showing us Hong Kong! It really enhanced our experience. We had a great time in your city.

    December 30, 2014
    • You’re more than welcome, Jeff! It was a real pleasure to show you and Kristi around – and easily one of the best Saturdays I’ve had in a long time. Sorry about all the speedwalking and tired feet… I kept forgetting you guys were in flip flops and not proper walking shoes!

      December 31, 2014
  8. Sounds like an amazing year, James. Whenever I travel to Indonesia in the future I will ask you and Bama for tips and advices. What a nice surprise that you were invited for a press trip to Indonesia, what a fantastic way to end the year. Pretty much the same happened to me: in November I got the chance for a trip to Vietnam on top of my journeys to Dubai, Beijing and along the Silk Road of China.

    I am looking forward to follow you along in 2015 as well. Happy new year and more amazing travels.

    December 30, 2014
    • The Indonesia press trip really came out of nowhere… sometimes I still can’t believe it actually happened! Thanks for the wishes, Vanessa – I’m looking forward to seeing more of your accounts and photos from the Silk Road. 2015 will be another big adventure and I hope you can move to Beijing as planned!

      December 31, 2014
  9. So many beautiful places, so many experiences, memories…. Amazing year ! And I hope that your 2015 year will be also (or more) full of positive and wonderful adventures ! 🙂

    December 31, 2014
    • Thanks very much! It has been an eventful year for sure. 🙂

      December 31, 2014
  10. natculturalmagpie #

    They all look like amazing places to visit. I’ll have to visit Indonesia

    December 31, 2014
    • You must – I don’t know how Indonesia is still so underrated, especially compared to neighbours like Malaysia and Thailand!

      December 31, 2014
  11. Great photos of a wonderful year. Have a great New Year with lots of travel.

    December 31, 2014
    • Thanks Debra. I’m sure 2015 will bring you some unforgettable trips!

      December 31, 2014
  12. travelguided #

    Absolutely beautiful pictures and amazing experiences. I wish all the best for you this coming year!!

    January 1, 2015
    • And to you as well – I hope 2015 takes you closer to your dreams!

      January 1, 2015
  13. Happy new year, James! Wishing you a great & wonderful trip this year, including meeting me, hahaha 😉

    January 1, 2015
    • Iya, selamat tahun baru juga, Badai! Hopefully that will come to pass. 😉

      January 1, 2015
  14. AJ #

    Wow! What a year of wonderful and exciting journey it was.. I would love to go to those places someday..

    Way to go! Keep it up! 🙂

    January 1, 2015
    • Thanks AJ – I’m sure you will get there in the near future! 🙂

      January 1, 2015
      • AJ #

        Thanks.. 🙂

        January 2, 2015
  15. meharbharatiya #

    Wow! Everything looks so amazing! I love to travel also. The terrace farming photo is especially beautiful..

    January 4, 2015
    • Actually, that area of Indonesia had the most gorgeous rice terraces I’d ever seen.

      January 4, 2015
      • meharbharatiya #

        Have you seen the terrace farming in Machu Picchu (Andes Mtns) that the Incans constructed? They are also gorgeous!

        January 6, 2015
      • I haven’t been to South America yet, but hopefully someday! Machu Picchu already looks incredible in photos.

        January 6, 2015
  16. Wow! What an amazing year. I hope 2015 is even better for you!

    January 4, 2015
    • Thanks Laura – I wish you the same!

      January 4, 2015
  17. boolaurene #

    Oh your blog is so inspiring to me! I’m so intrigued to explore the reaches of Bali and Indonesia and other far fetched places!

    January 17, 2015
    • Hopefully you’ll get there soon! And thank you for the kind words.

      January 17, 2015
  18. What a fantastic year…and have enjoyed your travels via Bama’s blog which I have enjoyed much in ’14, so now very nice to have your blog to enjoy in ’15. Cheers!

    January 19, 2015
    • Yes it was very memorable indeed! Thanks for following, Randall – Bama has mentioned you several times on our recent trips. 🙂

      January 20, 2015
      • One day, perhaps we can all meet up on an epic photo shoot 🙂 Cheers!

        January 20, 2015
  19. I spent 3 weeks in Bali (Candidasa, Ubud, and Munduk) and still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this beautiful island with its complex cultures. I hope I’ll get a chance to return – it is half way across the world from where I live close to the East coast of the US, so the trip alone is very long and tedious. But so worth it once I got there..

    January 19, 2015
    • Bali is such an enchanting place, so long as you avoid the south! You made such a good choice with those three areas. I loved both Candidasa and Ubud and passed through Munduk the last time I went. Even after four trips to the island, I can say the same thing about barely scratching the surface…

      January 20, 2015

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