Better late than never, right? Everyone’s probably gotten their 2017 year in review posts out already. Meanwhile, I didn’t even realize January is almost over. Anyway, I’ve held this off long enough so let’s just cut to the chase.
10. Channeling my inner Indiana Jones at Angkor Archaeological Park
Ever since Indiana Jones and Lara Croft explored these ruins, I’ve been wanting to see them for myself. They did not disappoint. Angkor Wat was dope, as expected. However, I much more enjoyed exploring the lesser known ruins where the tourists were few and the undergrowth was aplenty. Felt like I was on my Tomb Raider ish when I was squeezing through tight cracks and brushing aside vegetation amidst the crumbling ruins. 10/10 would get attacked by mosquitoes again.
9. Watched A volcano freakin’ erupt 100 times
Acatenango was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. The hike was brutal, especially after getting crazy the night before and literally going straight from a rave to the hike without any sleep. They told me it couldn’t be done, but what up betches. The eruptions of Acatenango mixed with the clear starry night skies made for one of the most magical experiences ever. I don’t say magical very often, so I gotta say that this was really special. Every kid has had some sort of obsession with volcanoes at some point. Seeing one erupt in person after accomplishing arguably the hardest hike I’ve ever done at that point… magical.
8. Clueless in Cuba
Ever since Cuba was opened back up to travel by the Obama administration (miss you bby), I knew I had to make my way to Cuba sooner rather than later. Cuba was crazy, chaotic, and confusing. I couldn’t even begin to describe the struggles we had throughout. From the language barrier to the ultra-lax lifestyle that made things beyond difficult, we were clueless in Cuba.
The people of Cuba are something else, and they alone would’ve made my Cuba trip worth it. However, Havana was crazy cool. It was like stepping back into a time machine like everyone says. It was vibrant and colorful. Varadero felt like an old-timey beach town. Trinidad takes you even further back in time to the colonial period. Cuba was as chill as it gets. Life was just better there.
7. Spelunked some crazy caves in Phong Nha
Caves are cool and all but hardly do they ever live up to the hype. Phong Nha’s caves live up to the hype and way more. I’ve never seen such crazy shi in my life. Phong Nha’s definitely one of Vietnam’s up-and-coming destinations. They’re discovering more and more caves every year, including the recently discovered LARGEST CAVE IN THE FREAKIN’ WORLD. You’ll have to wait a few years before you can see that, though. The waitlist is almost two years long and the week-long excursions will run you close to $5,000.
6. Played with ducks and got bullied by children
You ever have one of those unexpectedly great days of traveling? I hopped off the bus at Phong Nha, thinking I was at Ninh Binh before realizing I hella missed my stop… by 8 hours. Sleep is a crazy thing. I had no idea what to do so I got a bike from a hostel and started riding around rural ‘Nam. Everywhere I went, little kids would chase my bike asking for high fives and yelling “HELLO!!!” at me.
That day’s activities included weird stuff that I never expected to be doing. Visiting a bar at a bomb crater, swimming with water buffalo, getting bullied by small Vietnamese girls, and throwing ducks into a pond for good luck are just normal everyday things, right? While those may not sound like a dream travel itinerary for most people, it taught me that you gotta make the most of every place you go. It was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had and I went into it expecting nothing. I had my first major travel mishap and turned it into one of my favorite days of the year.
5. Got lOsT iN tHe SaUcE at the Full Moon Party
This is the party of dreams. Thousands of people glowing in body paint dancing on the beach? Hell yeah. It stormed, I lost my friends for most of the night, and I was mostly sober yet I still had a bomb time. It was an unreal night and morning of partying until the sun came up. Sleeping the next two days was great, too. For anyone looking for a good party, the Full Moon Party is hard to top.
4. Reunited with my own kind at an elephant sanctuary
The entire time I was at the elephant sanctuary, I just kept wondering if this was a real day. Getting up close and personal with the elephants was as humbling of an experience as one could have. Bathing in the mud and then bathing in the waterfalls with them was as ~radical~ of an experience as one could have. If you go to Thailand, skip out on those elephant shows that exploit and abuse these creatures. It’s better to volunteer at a sanctuary for even a day just to have a more genuine experience with these big boyes.
3. Seeing snowy Banff for the first time
After hyping up Banff for who knows how long, our road trip was finally coming to its hyped-up conclusion. It was four days of driving through snowstorms and holing up in awful roadside hotels. Maybe we were exasperated after a long journey but seeing the Canadian Rockies peek out above the horizon for the first time was probably the giddiest I’ve been all year. The towering mountains surrounding Banff and the area are incredible. Seeing the whole fairy-tale town blanketed in snow was a pleasant change after sweating my ass off constantly in South East Asia and Central America for 8 months.
2. Took it slooooow in Bangkok
After running out of pages in my passport thanks to my rampage through South East Asia, I holed up in a little Cube in Bangkok and spent almost a month there. Although my first two runs in Bangkok were fun, I didn’t go beyond the typical backpacker fare. Once I realized how massive of a city Bangkok was, I started taking advantage of my time there. I started exploring like a local rather than a backpacker.
Bangkok ended up becoming one of my favorite cities, but more importantly, it taught me to look past surface level when it comes to traveling (and life in general). Coming back to the States after that ordeal in Bangkok, I started actively searching for things to do to make the most of my time wherever I was in the States. No matter where you are in the world, every city has a lot to offer if you just look. Bangkok was a ballin’ good time, but it taught me a lot more than I expected.
1. Celebrated my birthday in my home country
There’s no place like home. I was born in the Philippines and moved to the U.S. when I was 4. I’ve been back twice since then, but never as a tourist. It was always to visit family. When I decided I was going to go to South East Asia, I knew I couldn’t miss the Philippines. After touristing it up in Palawan, my friends and I flew to my hometown of Ibajay. I reunited with some family that I haven’t seen in a long time, partied Filipino-style, and ate well and slept well for the first time in what felt like months. One thing that sucks is missing home when you’re traveling, and itching to travel once you’re home. I got a little taste of both in the best country in the world.
Some highlights included feasting on Lechon, throwing back San Miguels with my dad and his friends, and introducing my German friend to a new passion, karaoke. We juiced the karaoke machine out of every song it had, belting out bangers until well past the last of the birthday guests have left. Oh yeah, I won the karaoke contest that night, clocking in at an impressive 93/100 rating and winning the grand prize of $100. Haters will say it was rigged. Nursing the hangover the next day in the cold springs was much-needed before moving onto the white sandy beaches of Boracay to laze the rest of our time in the Philippines away.
2017 was a damn good year.