So after posting my review of 2016 a few days back, I’ve decided to also think about my 10 best travel moments of 2016. So here they are, in no particular order! See you in 2017
1. Making friends with a monkey #1 – Ouzoud Falls, Morocco
Morocco is a land of unique architecture, stunning natural beauty and sumptuous food. On a visit to the cascading waterfalls of Ouzoud, I also discovered that the country is home to endangered Barbary macaques, who were only too happy to climb all over me in search for food. This led to probably my favourite photo of 2016 – a special moment captured perfectly.
2. Hiking the ancient Nakasendo Way – Japan
Walking a part of a road built during the Edo period was one of the things I looked forward to most on my trip to Japan. As much as I loved exploring cool cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, I was super excited about heading away from the tourists and closer to nature. I wasn’t disappointed. Jagged mountains, valleys awash with autumn colours, post towns restored to their former glory and miles and miles of an ancient road cutting through it all.
3. Partying on a beach at the Sea Dance festival – Budva, Montenegro
It all started with a small boxout in a travel magazine – a promise of a smaller festival with a killer line-up on the sunny shores of the Adriatic. I’ve never been much of a festival person – all that mud that events in the UK are usually blessed with doesn’t appeal – but something made me want to experience this one. So in July I grabbed a friend, hopped on a plane and headed to Budva in Montenegro to dance the nights away in the sand while drinking out of paper cups. I am a festival convert now!
4. Spending the night in a Berber camp – Erg Chebbi, Morocco
Seeing the Sahara desert for the first time was incredible enough – spending a night inside a traditional Berber tent among its dunes was…just wow! We enjoyed a camel ride through the sands and a delicious Moroccan dinner. Yes, it’s pretty touristy but once you are in the middle of the desert, you simply won’t care. There are few things on this planet more beautiful than watching the sun set behind the horizon, bathing the desert around you in spectacular colours.
5. Celebrating King’s Day in style – Amsterdam, Netherlands
I timed my first ever visit to Amsterdam to coincide with Koningsdag, or King’s Day. The national holiday celebrates the birthday of King Willem-Alexander (it was previously called Koninginnedag, or Queen’s Day until Queen Beatrix abdicated) and is famous for nationwide parties, markets and oranjegekte (orange madness) with wearing of orange clothes, wigs and face paint practically a must! Amsterdam sees the biggest festivities, becoming one huge street party with concerts, food and a LOT of beer. I was lucky to enjoy the day with friends and had such a great time that we are all planning to come back for a future Koningsdag!
6. Adventurous hiking in Calanques National Park – France
I love being active on my trips and couldn’t wait to enjoy the warm October weather on a hike in the Calanques National Park. I didn’t bring any maps with me and was only armed with whatever info I could find on the Internet. Hiking past the calanques (inlets), with towering cliffs on one side and crystal clear water on the other, I reached the end of path. Not satisfied, I continued on, traversing sections using chains and metal ladders built into the rock to head to higher ground for some stunning views of the coast.
7. Meeting snow monkeys in the Atlas mountains – Morocco
I didn’t have to wait too long for my next encounter with Barbary macaques. On a winding drive through a blizzard (who knew there would be snow in Africa!) high in the mountains, we stopped to check out a group of monkeys trying to keep warm during the snow storm. The macaques are one of the few species that live in a cold climate and survive by eating berries, insects and even reptiles.
8. Cruising around Koh Chang Archipelago – Thailand
I was looking forward to doing some snorkelling around Koh Chang in February and booked a day cruise around the islands. While the snorkelling was great, it was the lying down on the sun deck with a cold beer in hand, watching the stunning scenery float by that made the trip unforgettable. I usually HATE sitting still but after a non-stop 10 days exploring Thailand, including cycling almost 200km, I guess I needed to relax!
9. Visiting the Fushimi Inari-taisha at sunrise – Kyoto, Japan
I hate crowds. Especially when I travel. I don’t want to share my experience with hundreds of other people, having to fight through a sea of selfie sticks. When it comes to some of the more popular landmarks, this can be difficult to avoid. My solution: get up early. I mean it: like REALLY early. I reached the stunning Fushimi Inari-taisha and its orange torii gates just before sunrise and pretty much had the place to myself. Do I enjoy getting up at the crack of dawn (or before it)? No, does anyone? Am I happy with the photos that I was to take sans people? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
10. Spending Chinese New Year in Bangkok – Thailand
Completely accidental, yet an amazing experience. I didn’t even KNOW I would be in Bangkok during Chinese New Year but I was and it was great fun. I observed locals making offerings to Buddha in local temples, watched traditional Lion Dance performances and filled myself with incredible food. The streets were adorned with banners and red lanterns while stalls sold beautiful decorations and gifts. Some of the best travel moments are completely spontaneous and this was one of them.
What were your best travel moments of 2016? Leave a comment below!