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Heading into a new year, I thought it only right to look back at my top 5 travel destinations of 2019. If you’ve read my review of the year you’ll know I visited A LOT of places. Too many of these places were pretty amazing, so this list and it’s has been almost impossible to construct.
So in descending order…
5. Hanoi, Vietnam
I visited here twice this year and had a totally different experience each time. If I hadn’t have gone back a second time I don’t think this would have made the list. My first time here was in early May. I had only been away from home for a week. For anyone who’s been to Hanoi you will know it is totally crazy. I had a complete culture shock when I arrived and I was totally overwhelmed. Nonetheless I loved the authenticity of the place.
I returned to Hanoi almost three months later at the end July. This time I felt prepared and I loved it so much because of this. I felt a sense of somewhat ‘belonging’. I felt so out of my depth during my first visit, overcome with anxiety as to whether I could actually travel alone in Asia for 4 months. Coming back at a totally different stage of my trip gave me such a feeling of confidence and empowerment. I came to love the sheer craziness of the place and found beauty in the way all the chaos just seemed to work.
My favourite memories of Hanoi are the Train Street, Note Coffee and a Vietnamese cooking class. The Note Coffee is the most adorable cafe to try Vietnamese egg coffee in. With your drink you get a little post-it note to write on and add to the walls of millions of others. Train Street is another cool place to grab a drink – the train passes just inches away from you!
4. Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
Before I arrived at Khao Sok, I thought the south of Thailand was just island and beach hopping. I was more than pleasantly surprised to find this amazing national park slap bang in the middle. I spent 3 nights here overall. The first day was spent just wandering around near to the hostel. There were some amazing views across the park. Then on day 2 I headed out for an overnight trip to Cheown Lan Lake. The colour of the water here looked photoshopped! We went on a jungle trek, explored a cave, slept in floating bungalows at the side of the lake and went on morning and evening boat tours to see different animals in the jungle.
After my nights sleep in the bungalow, I went out on a kayak in the morning. The stillness and silence of the place, aside from the ‘whooping’ of gibbons in the jungle made me feel like I was in an episode of Planet Earth. I didn’t really think stuff like this was real. I thought it was all enhanced for TV, cinema and instagram. Turns out I was totally wrong and the world really is as beautiful as David Attenborough makes it out to be.
3. Lombok, Indonesia
The larger island of Lombok is one of the 17,000+ islands Indonesia has to offer. I think I loved it here so much because of it’s sheer contrast to it’s neighbour – Bali. If I haven’t already mentioned it enough times, Bali disappointed my with it’s lack of real culture and authenticity. Going over to Lombok I really felt as if it were like a preserved Bali. There was a lot more culture around and so many beautiful, natural landscapes that hadn’t just been created for tourism. It’s also home to the Gili Islands. I finally got to snorkel on Gili Air and saw some turtles!
Lombok is the perfect place to ride a scooter as the roads pretty straight, wide and quiet. There are plenty of beaches to see around the Kuta area so I really enjoyed riding a scooter around and beach hopping. I even took part in my first surfing lesson here! I also fell in love with Lombok as it is the home to the Mount Rinjani Volcano which I climbed and camped on (the best thing I did all year I reckon!). The island also boats amazing waterfalls, my favourites being Tiu Kelep, Sendang Gili (Senaru), Benang Stokel and Benang Kelambu (Senggigi).
2. Komodo National Park, Indonesia
I was fortunate enough to explore so much of this amazing place on the 4 day boat trip I did from Lombok over to the island of Flores. Initially I just though there was one Island called Komodo where the dragons were. Turns out I was very wrong. The three larger islands on the park are Komdo, Rinca and Padar. At Komdo and Rinca I saw a few Komodo dragons – they are so much bigger than I expected! I got up at 4:45am when we docked at Padar Island to see the sunrise and it was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen.
The beaches around Komodo were just incredible. Pink Beach blew my mind as I didn’t actually expect some of the grains of sand to be pink, I thought it was just a ruse! Kelor Island had the clearest and most beautiful water I’ve ever seen, and made for an excellent snorkelling spot. Although the boat trip itself was rather rocky at times, the amazing landscapes, paradyllic islands and mesmerising sunsets/rises I saw were something I didn’t think were real.
1. Hagiang Province, Vietnam
I feel like this was highly predictable given the amount I’ve banged on about the bloody motorbike loop I did here. But I just couldn’t not give it number 1 spot. The scenery was simply mind blowing and like nothing I think I’ll ever see again – unless I go back to do the loop once more that is! I think what also made this place stand out so much for me was that I had so much anticipation and anxiety about it all. In the days leading up to it I was just terrified and doubted my abilities to do it. And I think that’s what made the outcome so special and so rewarding.
Even though we got lost on one day, it ended up being the best thing that could’ve happened. We had a laugh about it and ended up at a home stay with the most generous and welcoming owners. They washed out muddy bikes and shoes for us, for free, without us even asking. They made us an amazing dinner that we ate with their family. And all they could only say in English ‘Hello’, ‘How are you?’, and ‘Are you a Manchester United fan?’. We spent the rest of the time communicating with google translate and drinking ‘happy water’ with them and it was just beautiful.
After spending just over a month of my whole trip in Vietnam, ending by spending my last few days in Hagiang was really the cherry on the cake of what came to be my favourite country. I don’t often have a hankering to go back and visit places I’ve already been to but without a doubt the north of Vietnam could have be back in a heartbeat.