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This is the end…

After over 70,000 blog views in 113 countries, visiting 21 countries over 15 months and quite a few memories along the way, the time has come and our travels have ended. We’ve now been back in London for about a month and we’re depressed, bemused and discombobulated. It’s cold…too cold…far too cold.

It’s hard to put into words how much fun we have had. It’s also hard to pick out specific highlights. Lots of people have already asked us ‘what’s your favourite country’, and it’s really difficult to choose one over another.

So we thought we would write a quick summary of everywhere we have been and talk about what we liked and didn’t like. So here goes…

Beijing Tapas

Beijing Tapas

01 – China

Our first stop and still one of our favourite countries, China was an amazing place to begin our trip. We found it an easy place to get around with a very good train network. The people can take some getting used to, especially the constant spitting and coughing but on the whole they were friendly and very interesting to watch. Probably the highlight of China was the food, specifically dumplings, hot and sour soup, Peking duck and schezuan food. The Drum and Gong on a tiny hutong in northern Beijing provided us with the best food of our whole trip, hands down.

Hong Kong Peak

Hong Kong Peak

02 – Hong Kong

In Hong Kong we were treated to some lavish accommodation and wild nights out courtesy of Dave, Shiona and friends. With Katy as my guide we squeezed a lot into our two weeks there. It’s probably not the most accessible place for a traveller due to the cost of everything, but we both really enjoyed our time there. Even though it is a fairly small space, there is so much to do there outside of Central. You definitely need to explore to get the best out of Hong Kong.

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay

03- Vietnam

Vietnam was by far the cheapest country we visited on our trip, and very easy to get around. Ha Long Bay was one of the highlights of our entire time away, and even though it is one of the ‘Wonders of the World’, it was peaceful and serene without hoards of people elbowing you out of the way. I was very ill in Saigon, and we had to miss out Hoi An and Huế due to flooding which was a shame. It was interesting to learn more about the ‘American War’ and visit the Cu Chi tunnels…especially when Katy got stuck in the hole.

Buddha heads, Bayon Temple

Buddha heads, Bayon Temple

04 – Cambodia

One of our favourite countries, and I’m still trying to persuade Katy to buy a hostel here. Hot, humid and packed with culture, great food and friendly people. The coast (if you avoid Sihanoukville) is idyllic and somewhere we would both love to visit again (to look for hostel locations). Bus journeys are an experience here, but we got what we paid for. We have mixed feelings over Angkor Wat, we loved climbing over all the ancient temples, playing with the local children and listening to them counting to 10 in about 5 different languages. It’s just a shame we couldn’t have had the place to ourselves for the day.

Road obstructions

Road obstructions

05 – Laos

Our most adventurous and unforgettable country of the trip saw us zip wiring through the jungle, tubing down rivers and motor biking for the very first time through the remote southern region. We had some travel partners in Seb and Sophie, who helped us see in the new year at a Laos bowling alley after bumping into them on a hellish bus journey. The transport and ‘Laos time’ was probably our biggest challenge but taught us how to be more patient. Our favourite Laos dish was the Laap, a spicy minced beef or lamb salad packed with fresh coriander and chilli…delicious. Laos is a fantastic country; cheap, beautiful and very friendly.

Bagan

Bagan

06 – Myanmar

Probably my favourite country of our trip, Myanmar is so different to everywhere else we visited. There is no western influence there at all, so no Coca Cola, Malboro etc…anywhere to be seen and that just added to it for me. It has a huge Indian influence, so eating biryani from a coconut leaf with your hands is all part of the experience. It’s a tiring place to travel around with a very bad and uncomfortable bus network, but it’s all worth the effort. Bagan is just the most amazing place I have ever been, and with so few tourists, visiting it almost feels like you have the place to yourself.

Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta

07 – Thailand

We spent just over 6 weeks in Thailand, 3 of which were spent on a beach on the beautiful island of Koh Lanta where we got to recharge our batteries. The food was a real highlight for us, especially the massaman, green and red curries. We liked the food so much that we took a second Thai cooking lessons whilst we were there. We learnt how to scuba dive which was amazing and also got to play with real life Tigers. Bangkok was hectic, expensive but great fun, especially when we met up with Dave and the HK football lads.

Petronas twin towers

Petronas twin towers

08 – Malaysia

Our highlight of Malaysia has to be the food. From the amazing tikkas and curries in Penang to the cream teas in the Cameron Highlands. We definitely indulged. The Grand Prix in Kuala Lumpur was a wash out but a great experience, and the music festival although fun was disappointing. We got to visit my Mum’s old school (now an army base) and found some photos of her in a local tea room. We didn’t have enough time in Malaysia which meant we missed the East coast…but there is always next time.

Central Mosque

Central Mosque

09 – Brunei

We had only two days in Brunei which to be honest was enough. Not a lot to do or see and it wasn’t helped that we couldn’t even have a drink to pass the time. We did however get see their National Park which involved a very funny boat ride in a coffin and a climb up on what can only be described as scaffolding to walk a series of bridges high above the trees…a fantastic sight but not very in keeping with the jungle. The food wasn’t very exciting which meant that we ordered in Pizza Hut on both nights we were there. Maybe the Sultan needs to invest a bit more into his restaurant scene.

El Nido sunset

El Nido sunset

10 – Philippines

With some of the best beaches and views I can remember, the Philippines will definitely be somewhere we will visit again. In fact we have already checked prices for 2014. EL Nido was simply stunning, and the diving in Malapascua out of this world. A definite highlight was diving with Thresher sharks and snorkeling with Whale sharks. The Philippines did see Katy have a mini breakdown though when she decided that she needed a holiday. It didn’t last long, especially once she had a beer in her hand and watched yet another amazing sunset.

Gili Air

Gili Air

11 – Indonesia

We have many highlights from Indonesia; the amazing diving, hunting for Komodo dragons in Flores, climbing the volcano Mt Bromo and relaxing on the beaches of the Gili islands. Bali was disappointing as it was far too touristy and Jakarta was just a massive concrete jungle. Some of the rooms we stayed in were basic to say the least, with sinks and throne toilets nowhere to be seen. It’s a big place and we barely touched the sides, so we’re definitely thinking of going back for another look some day.

Malaysian Tapir

Malaysian Tapir

12 – Singapore

Singapore was very expensive and saw us stay in our first dorm room of the trip. It’s a big city, pretty easy to get around but not really that much to see. We did venture to the zoo though where I got to see my favourite animal…a Malaysian tapir. Being on a budget we didn’t get to experience much of the glamorous side of Singapore and settled for street restaurants and the odd happy hour beer. It is a place that I could quite easily see us moving to, as there is a great expat community…and the weather is slightly better than the UK.

Sensoji Temple area, Asakusa

Sensoji Temple area, Asakusa

13 – Japan

So Japan beats Singapore hands down for being the most expensive country we visited…£12 for a pint of beer…enough said. The tube and rail network in Tokyo is immense and took some getting used to but we managed to take in most of the sights. The restaurant scene wasn’t that easy; secretive and expensive so we ate our fair share of pot noodles that week and of course squeezed in as much sushi as we could.

Sea lion

Sea lion

14 – Ecuador

Ecuador saw us swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos, climbing volcanoes, whale watching, learning Spanish (sort of) and watching a very uneventful European cup. We visited South America’s largest handicraft market which was the start of Katy’s alpaca addiction. We ate our fair share of almuerzos…a set 2 or 3 course lunch for $2-3 and tried our first of many empanadas. Our real low light of Ecuador was having our camera stolen on a bus near the Peru border.

Diving in Tayrona National Park

Diving in Tayrona National Park

15 – Colombia

Colombia was a nice surprise. We were expecting it to be bit dodgy but the people couldn’t have been friendlier and they couldn’t have put any more police on the streets if they tried. The big cities of Medillion and Bogota were average (we do tend to prefer places out of the city) but the real highlight for us was the Caribbean coast, particularly Cartagena and Tayrona National Park. We really enjoyed San Agustin where I rode a horse the first time and visited the ancient statues scattered across the countryside.

A room with a view

A room with a view

16 – Peru

Peru started badly with us getting mugged in Mancora. It took us a while to shake off the experience and probably ruined our time in Peru if we’re honest. It wasn’t all bad though as we enjoyed sand boarding in the desert, driving through the Andes, climbing Wanapicchu at the top of Machu Picchu. Our first half an hour on Machu Picchu was wonderfully quiet, serene and beautiful but it soon became overcrowded and just another disappointing tourist attraction. The food was pretty good and we became quite adventurous trying cuy (guinea pig), alpaca, Llama and ceviche.

Salt Flat Sunset

Salt Flat Sunset

17 – Bolivia

What a beautiful and extremely diverse country. We visited the highest city in the world, fished for piranhas and swam with pink dolphins in the Amazon, hunted for anacondas and capybaras in the jungle, rode horses across Bolivia’s wild-west and spent three days visiting the amazing salt flats. We had some of the best food in South America, especially the saltenas (empanadas) and enjoyed some very nice (and cheap) Bolivian red wine. The only downside was that we didn’t see a sloth.

View from Cerro Santa Lucía

View from Cerro Santa Lucía

18 – Chile

Arriving on a National holiday wasn’t the best start (you’d think we would have learnt by this point of the trip) and meant that we stayed in some very average hostels. Chile for us meant civilisation after being in basic Bolivia for a month so we took advantage of the wines (of course), being able to choose what and where to eat and paying for things with a credit card (a real novelty). We were there out of season so the snow had melted and the coast was just too cold.

Fitz Roy

Fitz Roy

19 – Argentina

What’s not to love about Argentina…amazing wines, steaks, beautiful scenery and the friendliest people we met in South America. A real highlight for us was of course the wines but Patagonia was simply stunning. Our walk across the Perito Mereno glazier was incredible and an experience we will never forget. Katy even enjoyed our trek to Fitz Roy. It’s another huge country with so much diversity. Patagonia although expensive was worth every penny. We had five weeks in Argentina, and that just wasn’t enough.

Just another beach

Just another beach

20 – Uruguay

Punta Del Diablo although out of season was a great place for us to chill out for a few days. We enjoyed walking in the national park and along the extremely long beaches (we won’t mention the cows as Katy is still having nightmares), some home cooked meals (not that we had a choice with all of the restaurants closed) and catching a little sun along the way. It was a place that I am glad we stopped in. We really enjoyed our time there, although I’m not sure we would go out of our way to visit there again.

Caipirinhas

Caipirinhas

21 – Brazil

As Brazil was our last stop, we treated ourselves to several nice hostels, meals and private transfers. The food was a real highlight, especially the rodizios (all you can eat meat buffets) and of course we drank our fair share of caipirinhas too. Florianopolis was beautiful and we really enjoyed chilling out there for a few days. Iguassu Falls was incredible and we especially enjoyed the Brazilian side. Rio was a great city to end our 15 months away and we celebrated with visits to the many sights including a very interesting Favella tour, a couple of Lapa street parties and of course many more caipirinhas along the way.


So there you have it. We want to thank everyone we met whilst away; you helped to make this an amazing trip for us and it wouldn’t have been the same without you. If any of you are ever in London, make sure you get in contact.

We also want to thank everyone at home for reading the blog and keeping up with our exploits. The blog has done really well with over 70,000 hits in over 115 countries. We even won a best photo of the week competition along the way.

World Blog Coverage

World Blog Coverage

So you don’t have to hear from us anymore. You’ll just have to buy us a drink when you next see us to welcome us home. I am still unemployed after all.

Until the next time…

4000 reasons to love Laos

We hope everyone had a lovely Christmas.

Cambodia Christmas Cheer

Cambodia Christmas Cheer

We had a brilliant Christmas Eve that included dancing on tables, face painting and lots of Santa hats. Needless to say it was quite a heavy one, so we didn’t feel that brilliant on Christmas day. We managed to get up for breakfast (still a little drunk I think) and then exchanged presents. I stuck to the budget and treated Sam to a new pair of swimming shorts and a Cambodia vest top (lucky boy) and Sam blew the budget and bought me a ring (not THE ring) which I had seen and liked a few days earlier.

We headed out to find some greasy food and had a pizza for our Christmas lunch which was delicious. After an afternoon nap and watching the Christmas Carol on TV we headed out into town to meet some friends we’d met the night before. After a few beers we decided to eat locally and had BBQ and fried rice as our Christmas dinner.

Boxing Day was mainly spent sleeping and packing for our trip to Laos the next day.

When we bought our ticket to Laos we were told that it was a VIP bus and would take 10 hours. Our friends Seb and Sophie were also heading to Laos that day but had booked a regular bus which apparently would take 12 hours. We were picked up at 5.30am and taken to our bus which was a small mini bus, not what I would call VIP but it was half empty so we managed to spread out a bit. About 3 hours in we got a flat tyre which was quickly fixed to be fair, but then the gear box broke so we were starting to think that the journey was going to be a bit of a nightmare. Somehow the driver got the bus back up and running but then suddenly told us to get off in this small town we were in as there was another bus coming to take us the rest of the way. By this point we were thinking that we were never going to make it to the border on time and worried because our Cambodian visa ran out that day. We were right.

We arrived in a place called Stung Treng at about 5.30pm roughly 60km from the Laos border and told that we would not be going any further as the border was shut. After a few harsh words we were told simply to go and  find ourselves a guest house and meet the guy at 8am the next day. We were stranded in the middle of nowhere. We found a cheap guesthouse, had some noodle soup for dinner and went to bed. Actually I went to bed leaving Sam watching the Arsenal game which was on TV in our room (glad I didn’t stay up).

The next day at 8am we met the driver who piled us into his minivan, literally drove round the corner and said he was picking up 2 more people at 8.30am so we had to wait. After about 40 minutes of not moving anywhere we were told to get on another bus which would take us to the border. At this point we were also told that there was no use in complaining as this was very normal for Cambodia and Laos and that nothing would ever be done as they simply didn’t care. At least they were honest. Anyway this bus didn’t leave until 9.30am so we had literally gone 50m in about 1 ½ hours. Finally we were on the move when the driver decided he needed petrol and then we had to stop to pick some more people up (we hadn’t even left the town at this point and it was 10am). We had to laugh though, especially when we saw that it was Seb and Sophie that we were picking up. They’d had the same nightmare trip, and they hadn’t arrived until 9.30pm the previous evening.

Finally we made it to the border, paid over the odds for the visa plus a $5 fine for over staying on our visa, but we were on our way to the 4000 islands; our first stop in Laos.

Don Det, 4000 Islands

Don Det, 4000 Islands

As the name suggests there are literally 4000 islands, and we were headed to Don Det, one of the larger islands. After a short boat ride across the river we landed and decided that the boys should go and look for a suitable guesthouse while Sophie and I sat and had a drink. The rest of the day was spent wandering around the island and finding a suitable spot for some sunset beers.

The following day we hired bikes and cycled to the south side of the island and onto another island called Dong Khong where there was a waterfall, some beaches and dolphins. The waterfall was pretty impressive and apparently the locals believe it’s full of dead spirits. We wondered past the waterfall and found a lovely beach with VERY hot sand and cooled off with a dip in the river. We then decided to look for the dolphins at a different part of the island.

We came across another beautiful beach with a couple of small restaurant shacks and saw that they offered boat trips down the river where they guaranteed a sighting of the famous river dolphins. We landed at a small island in the middle of the river where we were told to get off and look for dolphins. We did see some but they were too far away for any pictures but the boat ride alone was worth the trip. We cycled back before sunset and finished the day with a curry and some beers.

Katy's scooter lesson

Katy’s scooter lesson

All four of us checked out the next day and headed to Pakse, the next big town in southern Laos. Seb and Sophie had planned a three day trip across southern Laos on a motor bike which sounded pretty cool, so we thought we’d tag along for the ride. So today we have hired a bike as a practice run and have slowly gained some confidence first on a dirt track and then on the roads. Sam was a little wobbly to start off with but seems to have got the hang of it now. We’re going to get our own bikes as I don’t think either of us will be very good passengers!

Helmets will be worn, and we’ll be in no rush to get around the Southern Loop.

Tonight is NYE and we’ve found a bowling alley by the river, so that’s the plan. It won’t be a late one as everything closes at 11am here, so we’ll probably see in the New Year on our hotel balcony, listen to some Whitney Houston (as we did last night at Seb’s request) and grab an early night.

We’ll probably be off line for a few days as I doubt there will be much Wi-Fi, so we hope you all have a good night tonight and Happy New Year!

As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:

Until 2012…

Christmas…Wat Christmas?

Battambang is a small city with not a huge amount to do, other than sit in one of the bars or cafés and watch the world go by. We walked around the town in about half an hour, which gives you an idea of the size of the place. As usual Katy found a market to drag me around, where they had everything ranging from ivory ornaments and t-shirts, to saucepans and motorcycle parts. There was even a beauty salon in the middle of it, but even after offering to pay for Katy to get her hair cut, she wasn’t tempted for some reason.

What it did have in abundance were chemists and walk in hospitals, offering everything from rectal probes to blood tests. Not something that we were in need of at the time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a concentration of chemists before, so the locals are either very ill or hypercondriacs.

Friendship Festival, Battambang

Friendship Festival, Battambang

We went to a Cambodian festival which was just outside the city while we were there, and let’s just say that it wasn’t Glastonbury. We were told that it started at 3pm, so we decided to arrive at around 4pm to give it time to get going. When we did arrive, there were only about 4 other people there and the bands were just doing sound checks. On the bright side there was no queue for the beers, so we just sat and watched a Cambodian reggae band get ready for their set at 1am.

There was a VIP bar that overlooked the main stage which was only $1 entry, so we decided to take a look. Annoyingly we weren’t allowed to take our beers up with us, and inside they only sold Champagne and wine for $5 each. When you compare that to $0.50 a beer, we decided to go and get another beer and sit on the grass. It did eventually get busier, and we were treated to Cambodia’s version of Michael Buble, which I have to say was pretty awful.

The place was filled with kids and policeman with body armour and guns, which seemed a bit of a strange mix. There was a lunar eclipse that night, which I think was the first that we’ve ever seen. Although it wasn’t the best festival, we had a good time, and it was a non-profit event with all proceeds going to the local kids.

The next day we got a bus to Siem Reap, which took about 6 hours. The hostel we checked into was quite a nice place (or so we thought). It was right next to the main street (Pub Street) where there are loads of bars, restaurants and shops.

As we were only due to be in Siem Reap for four days, we booked our trip to Angkor Wat for the next morning. It was a 4am start to get there for the sunrise, and as I’m sure you can image, we weren’t looking our best that morning. So we were thrilled to find out that they needed to take a picture of us to print on the ticket before entering the temple complex. Although mine didn’t look great, Katy looked like someone on Britain’s most wanted.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

For those of you that don’t know, Angkor Wat itself is an early 12th Century temple that is a three tiered pyramid with five lotus towers about 65 meters tall. It is surrounded by over 50 other temples of varying size and importance. Angkor was the capital of the Khmer empire between the 9th and 12th centuries. History lesson over…

At sunrise we were there with 1000’s of other tourists fighting to get a decent spot to take pictures. Katy had a Chinese woman in-between hers legs at one point, and a rude Italian woman almost pushed me into the lake to try and get in front of me. We quickly escaped Angkor Wat, and went to another temple which was deserted.

To say that the place is big is an understatement, and it’s an amazing place to be. It was over 30 degrees that day, so we were glad that we had hired a tuk tuk to take us around. We were considering taking bikes, but I think with the early start and the weather, we wouldn’t have got too far.

Buddha heads, Bayon Temple

Buddha heads, Bayon Temple

We were there for about 14 hours that day and saw over 20 temples; taking almost 500 pictures in the process. We were quite surprised that you were actually allowed to climb all over the temples, as most of them are in ruins. Katy also bought a rubbing from one of the temples for $7, before we saw someone else selling the same one for $1. Nothing like a good bit of haggling. As beautiful as the place is, it is marred slightly by the amount of people there. For sunset we had to stand in a queue for 30 minutes to get into the last temple, and there were hundreds behind us that were not so lucky. After a very long day we had a few well-earned beers in the evening before going to bed and looking forward to a lie-in in the morning.

We were woken at 7;15am by a jackhammer directly above our bedroom in the hostel. Building works were taking place in the hostel, and we were told that it was to continue for another two weeks. As we had decided that we wanted to stay in Siem Reap for Christmas, we decided to check-out. We treated ourselves and moved into a nice hotel, with a pool.

Since then we’ve been chilling out for a week, sunbathing, eating and drinking. We’ve thrown in the odd bike ride in the country to try and burn some calories, but to be honest it’d been nice to do nothing. We’ve really enjoyed our time here as it’s quite a lively city, with so much to choose from in terms of food, shops and nightlife

Christmas here is pretty much non-existent, which is quite refreshing for a change. We were chatting to a local guy who asked what Christmas was. After explaining as best we could, he then asked “so are you going to it then?” That sums it up really. We went to a bar called the FCC to try and book Christmas dinner, but then found out that it was $55 each. We settled for a couple of gin and tonics before leaving. The token Irish bar is offering a turkey dinner, but it may end up being a local curry and beer.

Merry Christmas from Cambodia

Merry Christmas from Cambodia

So it’s Christmas Eve, we’ve got our santa hats on and we’re ready to party. We’re off for a nice meal tonight in a place called The Sugar Palm, which is supposed to be the best Khmer restaurant in town. We want to wish everyone a Happy Christmas. We’re heading to Southern Laos on the 27 December, so we’ll be in touch in the New Year.

As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:

Until the next time…

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