An epic 2011

The last 18 months have been the best time of my life. EPIC. I’ve been a really lucky girl.

It all started when I was given the opportunity to travel to Amsterdam and Madrid for work in Spring 2010. My first time in Europe. I loved Amsterdam! Lovely weather, friendly people , great company (I was with 3 grown men, kinda weird but it turned out well), quirky discoveries and the chill factor around.

Then, we flew to Madrid to watch the UEFA Champions League Finals between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich. I’m not much of a football fan (yes, I know guys would kill to be there), but I must say that I did enjoy myself – the atmosphere, the constant singing and cheering by the fans and just being in Santiago Bernabéu Stadium itself; it was larger than life!

Right before the match in Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Madrid

The crew flew back to KL whilst I stayed back to travel on my own. I don’t know where I found the courage to do it, but I did! I went around Madrid for a couple of days visiting museums, ancient cities, parks and shopped till I dropped. One day, I planned to visit the museum, but when  I saw the whole street of clothing stores in Puerta de Sol, I decided to forego it and went crazy shopping. Hey, it’s Spain yo!

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

I loved, loved, loved Barcelona and everything Gaudi. If I was still a hungry art student, I wouldn’t have returned home :p I only had 2 full days to go around Barcelona, so I took the Barcelona Bus Turístic card which functioned as my “tour guide” and transportation system. It was so convenient and I managed to visit all the places I wanted to and gawk at all those awesome architecture, wide-eyed.

At the end of 2010, I left my job (which I loved dearly) to embark on my first-ever long-term travel.

First stop: We found ourselves in the University of Botswana, helping out at the World Universities Debating Championship for two weeks, before embarking on a 5-day safari tour in and around Okavango Delta. Driving around in a jeep looking for wild animals was definitely a thrilling experience.

Cape Point, Cape Town

Thereafter, we crossed over to  Johannesburg and then took a train to Cape Town. Johannesburg was an eye-opening trip, learning about its apartheid history while Cape Town was just breathtakingly scenic – saw the penguins in Simonstown, explored Cape Point, visited vineyards and drank wine in Stellenbosch.

We got home to celebrate Chinese New Year with our families and then took off on our Asia2011 trip where we traveled to Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and finally spent 6 months in China.

I wouldn’t go into too much details here as I believe each destination deserves its own write-up.

Boat ride on Inle Lake, Myanmar

I’m a nostalgic person, so Myanmar totally hit the right buttons when it came to old-school stuff. My family goes to a Buddhist centre whereby most of the monks come from Myanmar, so it was interesting to experience its origins. Most importantly, we got to spend time with the locals, understand their point-of-view about the situation of the country and how travelers like us can help them.

By now, everyone knows that we both love Vietnam. So, it is no surprise that we chose to spend an entire month exploring the whole country – from the North to the South. I celebrated my birthday in Hanoi (we had to perfectly time our trip for this) with Vietnamese spring rolls as my birthday cake – awesomesauce! We got to see the different parts of Vietnam, the beautiful people and of course, their mouth-watering food!

Orgasmic Bun Cha (grilled pork with noodles) in Hanoi

We had to cut our trip in Laos short as we had to head to China for a pre-arranged plan. Nevertheless, the time we spent along the Nam Our River was relaxation at its best.

Next, we spent a month in Yunnan whereby we cycled through grasslands; encountered wild yaks, horses, pigs & dogs, trekked through the mountains, saw lots of snow mountains, experienced the different types of minority cultures and lots of scenic spots (I absolutely love Yunnan and have been recommending to family & friends) before heading to Shenzhen to visit Ed’s granduncle in the village.

Then, we were in Shanghai gobbling down good ‘ol dumplings (I think I would’ve loved Shanghai more if I visited it in a different era coz the Shanghai-tang feel is just not there anymore). A few days later, we took the bullet train to Beijing to help out at the China National Debating Championship.

Cycling through the Napa Hai grasslands in Shangri-la, Yunnan. Wild yaks roaming behind me.

After that, we found ourselves on top of the roof of the world – Tibet! I still think about this every day. For me, the most unbelievable moment was standing at the base camp,  staring at  the North Face of Mount Everest. It was freezing cold and I was the only over-enthusiastic person who stood there watching the entire sunset! The next morning, we woke up for sunrise only to find it snowing. Again, I was the only crazy person hopping around outside. Totally enjoyed my time there and would definitely return.

Drowned amidst colourful prayer flags in Tibet

Ed flew to Vegas for a freelance stint while I volunteered for a month in Shangri-la teaching English. One of the most humble experiences of my life. Living like a local, making new friends everyday and brushing up on my Mandarin.

The other volunteers who became my family for 5 weeks in Shangri-la

In summer, I visited my godsister in Macau and was glad to be back in “civilization” where I can enjoy a good cuppa coffee and sandwiches. We hopped over to Hong Kong and guiltily, went berserk shopping! My godparents visited for a week and I ended up being their tour guide. Found myself to be doing a pretty good job – maybe I can take this up as a career 😀

Ed and I rejoined each other in blazing hot Beijing (horrendous!) and this was when the real adventure began. We traveled through the Silk Road and also saw us engaging in some off-the-beaten-track activities.

  • Xi’an: The Terracotta Wariors and lots of burial sites & tombstones; all those Chinese dramas I’ve been watching actually made sense now that I have seen the history for real
  • Sichuan: Chengdu – cute pandas!, the amazing Jiuzhaigou National Park, Dafo – the largest carved Buddha, red hot chilli peppers that numbed our tongues!
  • Gansu: Visited loads of Tibetan monasteries and a sky burial ground, went horse-riding for 3 days and lived with a nomadic family
  • Xinjiang: Mingled with the Muslim community, over-indulged on Hami Melons (commonly knowns as honeydew) and grapes, camel-trekked and stayed overnight in the Gobi Dessert, also visited some important landmarks that are featured in Journey to the West, spent quite some time browsing through the bazaars (though not as impressive as those in Turkey), were taken aback by the amazing carved-caves in Dunhuang, ate so much naan bread and barbequed lambs!
  • Hunan: Saw before our own eyes the real floating mountains of Pandora featured in Avatar, shopped and chilled-out at the ancient town of Feng Huang and finally did some last minute shopping in Guangzhou
Cyrstal clear water at Jiuzhaigou National Park due to its high concentration of calcium carbonate
She’ll be coming round the mountains when she comes… Langmusi, Gansu Province, China
Overdosed on lamb skewers in Xinjiang
Sunrise in Gobi Dessert
Camel-trekking. Awesome, but nerve-wrecking at first try.
The floating mountains of Pandora in real-life – The Zhangjiajie National Park in Hunan, China

So, there. 10 months of backpacking. Over in a blink of an eye.

10 days after we returned home, I started work. It was kinda bizarre! Morphing from a hobo into a working professional overnight. Still adapting!

Of course, I’ve learned a lot from this 10-month. It ain’t easy. There are lots of sacrifices to be made and it takes a whole damn lot of courage & bravery to overcome the fear.

But the one thing that stood out for me is: If you dare to dream… if you dare to take that first step, dreams do come true.

It’s all about taking action and not just thinking about it. We’re all so caught up in our everyday lives, blinded by little things that we fail to see the bigger picture – what makes us happy, what makes life worthwhile. It is about doing things for ourselves, not for others or not what people expect of you.

In fact, the success of this trip has given me even more encouragement and inspiration to pursue any of my dreams further because it has proven to me that I am capable of doing things beyond my imagination. Just suck it up and do it!

I’m ending 2011 knowing that my year has not been wasted (not a single second) and that 2012 will just get better.

Having said that, I have declared 2012 as Cuti-cuti Malaysia Year for me because everyone travels so much, but hardly find the time to get to know our own country. So, next year, it’s about exploring the backwaters of my homeland. I’ve got some pretty interesting plans lined-up; gotta do some training, save up and go for it!

Here’s wishing everyone A SPANKING NEW 2012 and time to make that change!

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