I've been traveling for almost four years now, and 2013 may have been my most significant year to date.
This year brought me to Asia for the first time in my life. It was a whirlwind of eye-opening cultural experiences that have changed the way I see the Western world. During my time in Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, I explored, relaxed, learned, laughed, ate, drank, jumped, and flew.
I also began Instagramming with hopeless abandon. These are some of my favorites!
Jinkang Tea Culture Street, Xi'an, China
At the end of 2012, I moved to central China to teach English for six months. I lived on the beautiful Jinkang Tea Culture Street, in a poor neighborhood in Xi'an, just east of the city. It was always beautifully decorated, though incredibly dirty, and some of my most memorable moments in China took place on this very road.
Tibetan Temple, Shangri La, China
Chinese New Year is in February, and during the holiday break I took off to explore the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan. Here, on the border of Tibet, lies Shangri La, a mystical mountain town set amongst the tundra. The temples here are colorful and unique, always adorned with prayer flags, seemingly overflowing from every edge.
Tiger Leaping Gorge, Lijiang, China
During my time in Southwest China, I spent three days trekking through the deepest river canyon in the world, Tiger Leaping Gorge. This photo was taken close to the end of the trek, looking back along the mountains from where I had just come.
The Great Wall of China, Beijing
May brought me to Beijing for the first time, where I went hiking on the Great Wall of China. This was especially meaningful for me, as my grandmother, a well-traveled individual, used to speak of China all the time. As I made my way across the Great Wall, I felt as though I was following in her footsteps.
Hammock Life, Koh Phangan, Thailand
Though touristy by nature, I fell in love with Thailand and its beaches. I spent five days lounging in hammocks on Koh Phangan, drinking beers on the beach and staying up until the early hours of the morning. In such seclusion, there's no reason to worry about anything else.
Khao Soi, Northern Thailand
Khao Soi immediately became a favorite dish of mine. In the north of Thailand, khao soi is a common noodle dish often found being served by street vendors. It is served with chicken or beef in a curry sauce made from coconut milk. It has pickled cabbage, shallots, lime and ground chili, then is topped with scallions and deep-fried crispy egg noodles. This savory meal was called for at least once a day.
Elephants, Chiang Mai, Thailand
In traveling through northern Thailand, I visited the Elephant Nature Park, an elephant reserve funded by the Save Elephant Foundation. They house and take care of abused Asian elephants who have been rescued from the tourism industry in Thailand. For more information, and to support them this year, please visit http://www.TravelBloggingCalendar.com, a grassroots travel blogger charity project raising money for the elephants.
Hot Air Ballooning, Vang Vieng, Laos
After an early night in Vang Vieng, I woke up at the crack of dawn (5:30am) to catch a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the mountains. It was cloudy the day before, and some of the haze still lingered. From 1.2km in the air, we glided over mountains and rice fields below as we watched the rest of the small town come to life.
4000 Islands, Laos
Small traditional villages, waterfalls and vast rice fields make this a unique and eye opening place to explore! In riding my bike through some of the villages located on the other side of this temple, one small boy of about six jumped on the back and I gave him a ride home as he was walking back from school. He clung to my shirt as all the other villages stared on in disbelief, wondering what this white man was doing!
It's the small moments.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
I had intended to watch the sunrise at the less touristy Angkor Thom, but a late start on the day (5:15am) meant I wouldn't make it in time. Instead, I sprawled out at Angkor Wat, avoided the throngs of tourists on the inside, and watched the sun come up over the temple. It cast a lovely color in the sky and a silhouetted reflection on the moat below.
The Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The royal residence of the king of Cambodia looks like something out of a fairy tale!
The Streets of Saigon, Vietnam
Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, is renowned as one of the most bustling places in the world. The streets are packed with motorbikes and the sidewalks are loaded with pedestrians. I captured this photo on Bui Vien Street in District 1.
Rice Paddies, Sapa, Vietnam
A two day trek through Northern Vietnam brought me through the rice paddies of Sapa. The day before it had been snowing–it was only the second snowfall in more than ten years! This day, the sun shone through, but the snow-capped mountains remained.
My hike through Sapa was the very last thing I did in Asia, before flying home to the United States. After a sunrise hike through the mountain villages, passing chickens, water buffalo, huts and streams, I looked down into the valley, drew a deep breath, and said goodbye to my beloved Asia.