Cities, Countries, and Culture: 2016 in a Nutshell Part 1

It’s 2017, so I am now forced to look back and assess what I have accomplished in 365 days. To be honest, there wasn’t much that I have done, except travel and lose weight during the first half of the year. My graduate school continues to be on a downward spiral for reasons that deserve an entirely different post. But, I explored so many new places, gained new friends, and challenged myself mentally, physically, and emotionally. I guess it is not so bad after all.

Looking back, my 2016 would have been perfect had I made significant progress in my academics or had I not lost one of my most beloved German Shepherds. But, looking at the bright side, I would say that this was a pretty good year for me. It’s not perfect, but it is way better than the previous years. In fact, let me just categorically say that this is one of the best years I’ve had – and that’s saying a lot if you know how depressed I was in the last few years or if you know pessimistic I am about basically everything.
This year, I traveled and I traveled and I traveled. The best part about all these travels was that they were mostly new places. Rarely do I feel genuine happiness, but these travel experiences taught me that I am at my happiest when I explore nature, when I’m away from the hustle and bustle of the city life, and when I’m away from all the stresses of being an adult. I’ve shared some of my best travel photos in my Instagram account, and I’ve posted some reviews here in my blog. But I’d like to share some of my other personal favorite photos that have not previously been posted.

I’ve been to Singapore many times already, but this year was the longest I’ve stayed in the country. I stayed for three weeks! There were also other firsts during my stay here – I jogged in the city, I finally visited USS (I only had 2-3 rides, and they were all kiddie rides!), and I spent most of my days in the library. Singapore is quite expensive for me, but I love the local food (laksa is love), and I especially love the public transportation and National Library. I don’t mind staying for long periods here if I get to stay at the library on most days.

Penang, Malaysia is undoubtedly in my list of favorite places. It’s right up there with Mt. Kinabalu in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. I visited Penang for my 31st birthday, vowing that I will make the most out of celebration because 2015 was a bust. Penang did not disappoint. I was very fortunate to have arrived during the last weekend of the Georgetown Festival, so all tours were practically free. My only expenses were food and accommodation. The town is small, which means you can reach all the sites within the UNESCO Heritage Site by walking for 10-15 minutes, tops. The food is perfect. Penang has the best char keow teow and iced coffee. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Penang is also home to the Ghost Museum. People who have asked me about the museum were so amazed I wasn’t scared, but really, there’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s a museum of horror creatures, it’s all! If you’re a horror buff like me, this is the place to be. The entrance only costs 35RM, so it’s not a lot. When I was paying, the crew was teasing me about visiting solo and scaring me. Ha, little do they know that I live for things like this. I enjoyed so much that it took me around 2 hours because I had photos with each character, and I read every detail they had on the Asian horror characters. Given the chance, I would definitely go back if just to explore the culinary highlights of the city.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is also a city I’ve already visited in the past, but this time, I promised myself I would finally go to see Batu Caves – and I did! Batu Caves wasn’t even the highlight of my stay – the Dark Cave was. The cave lives up to its name because we only had torches that we could use in brief periods of time. There were moments we were completely enveloped in darkness. It was scary, yet it was also magical because you get to experience how the animals thrive in places like this. Nature truly is beautiful.

 

As I have previously mentioned, Mt. Kinabalu is one of my most favorite places in Southeast Asia. I trekked Mt. Kinabalu back in 2010 with my girlfriend, but we didn’t get the chance to explore other areas of the park. So that was my goal when I came back last November. It was an impromptu travel because I chanced upon a seat sale, so I decided to book a flight to Kota Kinabalu for the following month – 6 days without luggage. Guess what? I can do it after all! While in Kota Kinabalu, I also visited the Mari Mari and Monsopiad Cultural Village Tours. These are two different tours. Mari Mari Cultural Village features several indigenous tribes and their cultures, and there were also performances for the tour. It is an interactive tour because visitors get to literally taste food and drinks of the Dusun, Rungus, Lundayeh, Badjao, and Murut. On the other hand, I went to see the Monsopiad Cultural Village Tour. When I arrived, I waited for around two hours, and the tour never opened. Needless to say, I took pictures despite signs telling me not to do so. The day before I left, I took a two-hour bus ride to the Kinabalu National Park. Unfortunately, it was raining, and I arrived after lunch, so I was only able to explore the shortest trail, the Bundu Tuhan Trail. It took me around 45minutes to complete because the area was muddy. I only saw one hiker who was on the way book. It is a haunting experience to hike on your own with only nature surrounding you, yet it is empowering and relaxing at the same time. I would like to do it again.

So, I began this two-part post with my international travels, highlighting my favorite parts. But, I do plan to blog about my experiences in each of my travels to give you a better idea of what to expect. On my next post, I will share my local travels, all of which are just as beautiful as the countries I visited.

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