As this year comes to a close I can’t help but think back on all of the crazy adventures I’ve had. This time last year I was struggling with my teaching placement in the Chinese countryside, wondering if I would abandon my contract half-way through and go back to America. I was lonely, a little depressed and felt like I was wasting my time. I didn’t want to tell anyone back home how crappy I was feeling, so I made it look like I was having a great time in China, and mainly avoided chatting with my friends back home. The path I chose wasn’t the norm, and I felt an intense need to prove to everyone I made the right choice. Coming clean was admitting failure.
At the start of 2014 I realized I couldn’t leave my job for another job in China without my school being able to demand up to $8,000 USD from me (Which was my salary for the entire year), and I didn’t get the dream job I applied for back home. I wasn’t going to leave China without a job lined up, so I decided to stay. It was the best decision I could have made, and it completely turned my year around.
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In 2014 I decided to make my life in China work. I stopped feeling sorry for myself, and started enjoying my experience. I traveled more, explored my town and got to know my students better. I threw myself into my blog and turned my hobby blog into an actual website! It gave me a new sense of purpose, and something to do other than watch Netflix.
2014 was the year I decided to get my master’s degree… In China! It was a big decision, but I feel like it was the right choice for me. I’m so incredibly busy it’s insane, but I’m happy. I have tons of Chinese and foreign friends, two teaching jobs, a decently successful blog and a possible job prospect in Shanghai next year.
Last year I felt lost. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life and my time in China. One year later I feel more focused than ever, and I’m proud of myself for staying in China and turning it around.
2014: A Year of Adventure
2014 was a year of crazy travel adventures. I explored my home-base of China, and now I can officially say I’ve been pretty much everywhere there is to go in this vast country. From far-off trips to Harbin and Zhangjiajie, to weekend getaways in Wuzhen, Suzhou and Hangzhou, I finally crossed every item off my China bucket list. I also was able to travel to other countries in Asia, which made me more passionate about exploring the rest of Asia in 2015. I even tried solo travel for the first time, and now I’m hooked!
Here are my top adventures of 2014:
The New Year in Beijing
Beijing? Didn’t you study abroad there and live there for a few months after graduation? Yes. Yes I did. But a week in Beijing was my very first adventure of 2014, and was a big step towards breaking me out of my China funk. It was also officially my most spontaneous trip to date.
I discovered right before the New Year that I had five days off work. None of the rest of my friends in Ningbo had a break, and I had just finished recovering from a nasty bout of Christmas food poisoning that landed me in the hospital, so I wasn’t really planning on going anywhere.
However, when my friends living in Cangzhou told me they were heading to Beijing, I was very tempted. I thought about it for all of January 31st but I wasn’t convinced. A trip up to Beijing would be expensive, and I’ve already been there multiple times. I lived there twice! But after chatting with my parents, and receiving drunken New Years Eve prompting from my friends, I decided to go.
I left the New Years Eve party around 1am and woke up the next morning, packed my bags and headed to the train station. I booked a hostel on the train, and didn’t look back. It was a great decision and a much-needed trip. Both my friends had never been to Beijing before, so I got to show them around, which was really fun! I took them to the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, the Hutongs and shopping at the bargaining markets. We even spent an evening in my old neighborhood where we ate at my favorite restaurant and danced in my favorite bar.
This trip started 2014 off on the right foot, and I’m so thankful I took the leap and jumped on that train.
At the start of the Chinese New Year, a bunch of friends and I headed down to Vietnam, where we explored Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta. I absolutely loved Vietnam! Getting out of frigid and polluted China was just what I needed. Knowing me, I’m sure you can all guess my favorite part of Vietnam was the food! For that reason alone I need to go back.
I enjoyed a water puppet show, went on a free tour with local college students, drank weasel poop coffee, and went kayaking in Ha Long bay. I also got to explore the Hanoi Prison Museum and the Saigon War Remnants Museum, which both affected me deeply. It was an amazing trip, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Unfortunately, I feel like I just didn’t have enough time in Vietnam. There’s so much to do and see! I didn’t have a chance to visit Hoi An, Sapa or any of the beaches. Don’t worry Vietnam, I’ll be back again soon! I even have two extended layovers in Hanoi coming up, where I plan on eating all the food I can get my hands on.
A Quick Trip to Malaysia
After touring Vietnam, a few friends and I spent some time in Malaysia. My friends only booked two days (TWO DAYS?!) in Kuala Lumpur before heading home. I planned four days for myself, knowing I’d be upset if I didn’t have more time. This was my first time ever traveling solo outside of China, which made me a bit nervous. It ended up being a great test that pushed me to plan a solo trip later that summer.
I absolutely loved Kuala Lumpur. The food, the fresh air, the Batu Caves, the temples, the markets… I can go on and on! I also enjoyed the mixture of cultures in the city: Hindu, Muslim and Chinese. I even celebrated the Chinese New Year at a Chinese Confucian temple, where we saw a lion dance and an acrobatics show!
After my friends left, I did a quick day trip to Melaka, and I really wished I had more time! A day trip was not enough at all. I barely got to see Chinatown and didn’t even touch the Dutch area. I’ll definitely be back to Malaysia to explore more of Melaka and other areas like Borneo.
The Harbin Ice Festival
During my Chinese New Year break, a few friends and I headed up to Harbin for the Ice Festival. The Harbin Ice and Snow festival is famous all over the world. It’s absolutely stunning, especially at night when the colorful lights inside the ice light up the towering structures. It’s like visiting a whole city made of ice!
We also explored massive snow sculptures, rode in jeeps next to Siberian tigers, ate a lot of Russian food and slid down an ice slide! Harbin also has the cheapest KTV I’ve ever seen in my life, and I enjoyed my last night belting out my favorite songs with three British guys I met in my hostel.
Harbin was also the coldest place I’ve ever been in my entire life. I wore 3 pairs of pants, 2 thick socks, Ugg boots, two shirts, 3 sweaters, 2 scarves, a coat, gloves and a hat and I still thought I was going to die. I even got teeth freezes from breathing the air! It didn’t stop the Chinese tourists from enjoying ice cream outside though.
Hiking Zhangjiajie, the “Avatar Mountains”
Zhangjiajie has been on my China bucket list since day one. The inspiration behind many Pinterest travel boards, Zhangjiajie’s mountains served as inspiration for the floating mountains in James Cameron’s Avatar. A quick trip to these mountains will immediately make it clear why so many people travel to remote Hunan province to see them. It was an incredible 3 days of hiking that left me sore for almost a week.
The best part of the trip was that my sorority “little sister” came all the way from America to hike these mountains with me. It was a great bonding experience and she is officially the first person to ever visit me from America (it only took two years…)
Solo Adventure in Taiwan
Where to even start… Basically Taiwan is the most amazing country I’ve ever been to and I want to move there for the rest of my life. Sound Dramatic? Take a visit and see for yourself.
I started in Taipei, where I relaxed in sulfur hot springs and explored awesome night markets. Then I took the train down to Tainan, where I saw stunning temples and ate the most amazing food. I then headed to the east coast city of Taitung, where I attempted to learn to surf, and took a ferry to Lanyu, a traditional aboriginal island. Finally, I hopped up to Hualien where I hiked the Taroko Gorge and went river tracing. I spent almost three weeks traveling solo in Taiwan and it was not enough time!!
Tawian is beautiful, extremely safe (especially for female travelers), and full of the nicest people you will ever meet in your life. I did so many things I never thought I’d do. I took surfing lessons, tried stinky tofu for the first time, hitchhiked twice, and rented a motorbike to explore an aboriginal island on my own.
This trip has made me more confident in myself and has inspired me to travel solo much more this upcoming year!
For more photos and videos of the adventures above, check out my video Adventure Awaits, which I made for Ameson Year in China’s annual video competition. I got second place and put the prize money towards my trip to Zhangjiajie!
Future Adventures in 2015
So what’s next for my adventures around Asia? Well, later this month I’ll be spending two weeks solo in Cambodia and Laos. I want to see Angkor Wat at sunrise, explore Cambodia’s darker history at the killing fields, have a river tubing adventure and relax on some incredible beaches. This adventure will also be my first trip without a plan. I’ll have a general idea of what I want to do, but I’ll be arriving in Cambodia with nothing booked besides one or two nights in my arrival city. It’ll be a challenge, but I’m also excited for the freedom and flexibility this trip will give me!
In February I’ll be off to Thailand where I’ll spend three weeks exploring this vast country. I plan on wandering Bangkok’s markets, touring temples, playing with Elephants at Elephant Nature Park, and learning to scuba dive. I will also be eating everything I can get my hands on, so expect some travel foodie blog posts as well.
Finally, I’ve been talking with Clear Sky Treks about a possible trekking adventure in Nepal! They have many different trekking tours that range from 8-20 days, as well as cultural tours around Nepal. They even have multiple Everest trekking tours. How cool is that!! I’m hoping I can negotiate with my university for some time off this spring, otherwise I may have to wait until the summer.
As I say a big zaijian (goodbye) to 2014, I can’t wait for the adventures 2015 has in store. I’m looking forward to bigger and better trips, tasty food, more solo travel, and of course, more writing. My blogging resolution is to post at least twice a week, so feel free to harass me on Facebook if I’m not keeping my promise.
Now it’s your turn! What are your travel plans for this upcoming year? Inspire us all with your amazing future adventures.