Credit: Katherine Packer

2017 has been a trying year in many ways, and with the world seeming to fall apart at the seams, I decided that there was no time like the present to see some more of the beauty in our world. So I uprooted and went on a journey that took me to some incredible places. Here are my top 5 destinations from 2017.

Credit: Katherine Packer

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam is a truly magical place. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so it is carefully preserved to maintain its historical buildings. Hoi An was a major trading port from the 15th to the 19th century, and thanks to the careful preservation of the old buildings, you can take a journey into the past right here in this modern city. The preserved old town streets, which are free of cars, are lined with paper lanterns that light up each night, giving the whole town a festive atmosphere. Because it was a trading port you can see the influence of both Japan and China in the architecture and temples around the city. It is also home to a lively night market, and many renowned tailors, where you can get whole suits or dresses made in just a day or two for a fraction of the usual cost.

Credit: Katherine Packer

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

While I’m normally busy jetting off around the world to see things far from my own doorstep, I had the pleasure of spending a few months in Colorado and being reminded of all the beauty that we have right here at home. One of the best things about Denver is that almost no matter where you are, you can see a glimpse of the Rocky Mountains in the distance. Being among such a huge mountain range is dizzying—it’s impossible to even comprehend the scope of this massive range. A thing many Coloradans brag about frequently is how many “14ers” they’ve conquered; aka how many 14,000 mountains they’ve summited. My count when I left was solidly at zero, but hey, we’ve all got have to goals right?

Credit: Katherine Packer

Koh Tao, Thailand

This small island is slightly quieter than the neighboring Koh Pha Ngan, which is famous for its monthly full moon parties, but that’s kind of what I loved about it. Koh Tao has a compact little centre along Sairee Beach on one end of the island that has a lively nightlife and nightly fire shows along the beach (giving you a more relaxed beach party). Koh Tao is also known for great SCUBA diving and snorkeling. There are tons of great day trips on offer to take you around the island to different snorkelling spots. If you’re into a quieter vibe, the other side of the island is full of romantic resorts and quiet bungalows set on the cliffs looking out on the pristine turquoise waters. Koh Tao is a friendly little island where you can really feel at home— the ideal Thai island experience.

Ghent, Belgium

This small city in the Flanders region of Belgium is far less well known than the nearby Bruges, or the centre of the EU, Brussels, but it has a wonderful mix of everything that makes those cities so popular. It has a beautiful, but compact old town, mixed with a larger and quite functional modern portion of the city. Belgium is an interesting country to visit as well because it has a mixture of different cultures and languages. Ghent is in the in portion of the country that speaks Flemish, which is quite similar to the Dutch that is spoken in The Netherlands. And indeed they have a similar feel. Then just 30 minutes away you have Brussels where the main language is French and borrows a lot in the way of culture from France and the multicultural make up from being the seat of the EU. Ghent is a small, welcoming city that also has one of the best Christmas markets in Belgium.

Credit: Katherine Packer

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, which means “Temple City” is an incredible temple complex in Cambodia just outside of Siem Reap. There are 4 different temples in the complex with the most famous one (pictured above) being the namesake of the complex and the architectural style. These temples were mostly built in the 12th century, but were largely abandoned for hundreds of years until some French explorers happened upon them in the mid-19th century, when restoration on the temples began. They are massive, indescribable structures, that are intricately decorated with religious imagery and represent impressive paragons from the Khmer Empire, which was previously one of the most powerful Empires in the world. They stand in stark contrast to the Cambodia that most of us know today and provide a helpful reminder of the strange course history can take. It was truly humbling standing in these impressive halls—some of the largest religious monuments in the world.

It’s been a year of lows and highs, and I feel truly blessed that I got to expand my horizons even further and finally travel to South East Asia, somewhere that’s been on my list for ages (then again, pretty much everywhere in the world is on my list). I hope I have helped inspire you to add a few more places to your 2018 bucket list.