With the year nearly over and almost a year of traveling behind me, here are my “bests” of the year that was.
Best Day: Venturing through the Green Canyon in Pangandaran on the southern coast of West Java with a great bunch of mates including Chris “Card” Andrade, Djoeke “The Duke” Van Dijk, Teatske “T-Dog” Van Dijk, Rosey “Awesome” Gurr, Justine “Plain Yoghurt” McIlhargey and more. This is a hidden gem of a place in that it is only briefly discussed in Lonely Planet and doesn’t even rate a mention in Rough Guide. That despite a trip to the Green Canyon involving a serene long-boat ride through some of Java’s best remaining jungle, jumping from great heights into rock pools below and picture-perfect free-falling mini-waterfalls throughout the canyon.
|Lynn Canyon, North Vancouver.
Best Scare: Also a non-man-made phenomenon involving water and jumping, this time jumping close to 10 metres into the chilly waters of Lynn Canyon in North Vancouver. There are dozens of jumps to be done but the terrifying highlight is a natural waterslide which spits you out and chucks you off a ledge into the pool below.
Best Celebrity Encounter: Meeting Cliff Richard and Hank Marvin outside the Hyatt Hotel in Auckland at 2am. Top buddy Jen Bainbridge and myself had gone to the concert, met Bruce Welch and Brian Bennet of the Shadows backstage, but not Cliff or Hank. So off we went to karaoke right next to the Hyatt and my old apartment. An hour later while walking Jen to a waiting taxi at the Hyatt, who should pull up but Cliff and Hank! We chatted for several minutes, posed for photos and denied we’d been hiding in the bushes waiting for them.
Best Unique Experience: Exploring the massive abandoned Bokor Palace near Kampot in Cambodia. Built in the 1920s by the French on top of a cliff 1000 metres above dense jungle that spreads before you out to the sea, this felt like we were diving the Titanic. The “palace” was really a six-star hotel built by the French elite to escape the heat from sea level. After decades of war and the ravages of a damp, tropical climate, the structure is falling apart, is being reclaimed by the jungle and is drenched in moss. When the fog races up from the sea, the place can be genuinely scary. To see all the grand rooms (each one different) and to find all the ball rooms, look-outs, old spa facilities etc, the palace is best explored over a couple of days with a night spent at the ranger’s station for a highly negotiable fee.
|Bokor Palace, Cambodia.
Best Karaoke Moment: As with all years, there were many triumphant karaoke moments, though none more-so than winning $500 in a karaoke competition in Vancouver. Whether the draw was rigged or not, whether it was my use of baritone, tenor and falsetto all in the one song (Papa Was A Rolling Stone) – who knows? All I know is that the celebration when my name was called out was epic – thanks to all the fine Vancouver folks.
Best Looking Town: Luang Prabang in Laos is quite possibly the most beautiful town or city in all of South East Asia. The whole town is a World Heritage site which thankfully preserves all the charming French architecture. Set in lush jungle covered hills, bisected by the mighty Mekong River, dotted by golden temples and full of the coolest bars, cafes, bookshops and guesthouses in Asia.
Best Beach: Maybe Koh Phi Phi and Maya Bay have slightly whiter sand (not to mention Whitehaven Beach here in the Whitsundays), but with those mind-blowing limestone peaks rising out of the water, the crescent of the main beach, the fact there are actually four beaches, a small village, dense jungle and its only accessible by boat despite being attached to the mainland make Railay near Ao Nang in Krabi, Thailand my best beach of 2010.
|Railay, Krabi, Thailand.
Best Snorkeling: As it has been the last three years, it’s still hard to beat Tioman Island on the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia.
Best Museum: Any music fan has to make it to the Experience Music Project in Seattle. When we went in late July there was an exhibition of many of the costumes worn by Diana Ross and the Supremes, you could create your own band and simulate a concert in front of thousands of fans and hear interviews on the finer points of music history from the likes of Nile Rodgers and Quincy Jones. Very cool.
Best Hotel: The Elephant Terrace in Siem Reap
is so over the top luxurious, so astoundingly kitsch, so hilariously busy in its decor that it had to cost a fortune to stay at. A deep roof-top pool surrounded by a suitably extravagant garden, waterfalls in every bedroom, bridges over ponds within each bedroom, the best breakfast in Siem Reap and all for $55 US per night.
Best Laugh: Watching Club Med set designer Glenn Davis do his nightly thank-you dance after the shows at the resort on Lindeman Island in the Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia – look out for his website glennsdance.blogspot.com launching early in 2011.
So there you have it, my “bests” of 2010. Hope you had a good year, I know it was tough for a lot of people in New Zealand with the Christchurch earthquake, the Pike River mining disaster, shocking weather and the aftermath of the recession, but next year will be good! As for life here in Queensland, the number plates still say “The Sunshine State” but the flood waters are as bad as they’ve been for 50 years in some parts. Where I am is wet but not to such a worrying extent and today there is blue sky at last. Let’s hope for a grand (and dry) 2011 – happy new years’, all the very best.