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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Our trip to Myanmar was only for ten days, so you would have thought that we would have planned exactly what we were doing to do before arriving. Instead we arrived at Yangon airport with a Lonely Planet book we had bought the day before and not yet looked at, no hostel or guesthouse booked, no local money and no idea where we should be headed. We just arrived with our visa and some crisp dollar bills, and hoped for the best.
After the ride into town in possibly one of the oldest taxis I have ever seen, I left Katy in a street bar with a fellow traveller while I went to find somewhere to stay. After quite a while of searching around town and finding everything was fully booked, I finally found us a room about 10 meters away from where I left Katy. The room was basic (at best) with a shared bathroom that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since it was fitted, but we were relieved to find somewhere.
When Katy went to pay for her drink, we were told that they didn’t accept dollars, so we had to find somewhere to change money. I was directed to a guy drinking whiskey a few tables back from us. He told me to follow him, and ten minutes later down some dark alley, he welcomed me into his house. Up three flights of stairs and I was suddenly sat in his living room with his whole family watching me. Not long after I was back in the alley with a huge wad of kyat in my pocket.
After paying for the drink and dumping the bags in the room, we had a bit of time to walk around the city and take in the sights. It’s a very different place to anywhere we’ve been so far. It’s got a huge Indian and Bangladeshi influence and men in longyi (sarong like skirt) and women and kids wearing thanaka (traditional white make-up) can be seen everywhere. Betel is nuts wrapped in a leaf eaten in a similar way to chewing tobacco, and is also very common. People chewing betel smile at you with their blood-red teeth, before spitting a mouthful of red liquid on the floor in front of you.
After some lovely Indian food from a little shack, we headed back to our damp smelly room. We thought it was about time we did some planning.
The next morning we got our bus ticket sorted for later that day, and changed some more money. We only had a few hours before we had to leave Yangon, so we went straight to the main attraction, the Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s a pretty impressive place where all locals are supposed to visit at least once in their life. After plenty of photos and Katy getting chatted up by a monk (no really), we headed back into town for some of the famous Nilar biryani.
Kalaw and Inle Lake
Our next stop was Kalaw, and the bus we had to get had the convenient arrival time of 3am. Its high altitude meant it was freezing cold, but thankfully a guesthouse had sent someone to the bus stop in case somebody hadn’t booked anywhere, which of course we hadn’t.
Normally people trek from here to Inle Lake, but we didn’t have time. So we had a relaxing day walking around the old British Civil Servant holiday resort. We spent the evening in a tiny local bar. It looked like we were the first foreigners ever to have walked in there, but they were very welcoming. They gave us some of their bar snacks, which was basically a very tasty ginger salad, and toasted us with some local rum, which of course we were obliged to drink.
The next day we got an early two-hour bus to Inle Lake. We only had a day at the lake, so we headed straight out onto a boat trip. The lake itself is huge and surrounded by stilt-house villages and floating gardens. Various tribes live on the lake and we got to see their communities and how they live off the lake.
We were taken around various shops where they basically sell tat to tourists. Anything from silk scarves to bamboo umbrellas could be found, and of course Katy couldn’t resist and paid over the odds for a longyi which she will probably never wear.
Katy also got to see a long-neck tribe which she was quite excited about, as we didn’t get to see any on our travels so far. We also saw the local cigars being made. I had previously sampled one that Alex brought me back from Myanmar last year, and they are made with tobacco leaves, star anise, tamarind and banana.
We finished the day sunburnt and tired, and had an early night before our 3:30am alarm call the next morning.
Nyuang U and Bagan
We had to get a local bus to Nyuang U, and this was probably our worst bus journey of our travels so far. We were the only foreigners on the bus, so we were getting looks from every angle. The seats weren’t big enough for both of us to fit on, so we had to take it in turns to perch on the edge of the seat. There was no air-conditioning and the roads were bumpy and windy.
All of this (or at least some of it) was made up for by the stunning scenery out of the window. We started on roads winding their way through mountain villages. This soon changed to palm tree forests and then to almost desert like plains. It made the eight hour uncomfortable journey slightly easier.
Bagan has over 4000 temples squeezed into a 25 square-mile area, which dates back to the 12th Century. People in the area still get around using a horse and cart, or an ox and cart, but we decided to hire bikes and cycle our way around.
It was quite easy to get lost down some of the dirt roads as the map we had was pretty poor; even with Katy’s amazing navigational instincts.
We did get to see a lot of temples, although it didn’t feel quite as special as Angkor Wat. It is quite an amazing sight to see all of the temples from a high vantage point. We went to one of the bigger temples for sunset, which had a big terrace viewing platform. It took us a long time to find as this was advertised as the more adventurous option, but it was worth the trip.
After all of the effort to get there, Katy wanted to leave before the actual sun had set so we could avoid the crowds and get back to our guesthouse before dark. Ten minutes after leaving and taking a wrong turn down a dirt track, Katy got a flat tyre. This does seem to be a running theme with Katy and bikes. So there we were in the middle of nowhere, in the pitch black with no idea of where to go.
After Katy stopped crying, out of nowhere (literally) a local man appeared. He spoke no English, but was pointing us in the right direction. Katy showed him that she had a puncture, and the next thing you know he’s run off into the dark. A minute later he returns with a full puncture repair kit and a bowl of water. I gave him our torch, and he was away. It did take him a while, but he did manage to fix it for us. What we would have done had he not turned up is anyone’s guess, so we were very grateful.
When we did eventually get back and had showered, it was just in time to watch the Arsenal vs. Blackburn game. I’d found a local tea-house that was showing the game, but instead Katy decided that we should go for dinner. Luckily I didn’t miss a high scoring game (Arsenal 7 – 1 Blackburn), or one of Arsenal’s best performances of the season. To be fair we did catch the last 15 minutes and Henry’s goal.
The next day we could barely sit on our bikes as our bums were so sore. So we decided to give the temples a miss and just stay in Nyuang U. We went to visit a factory that makes Pon-Yay-Gyi, which is supposedly Myanmar’s version of Marmite. It was a bit of a random thing to do, and nobody at the place spoke any English. They showed us around, and we think we saw how it was made (out of bean-curd). Most of the people looked at us as if we were mad, but it was quite a funny thing to do. We came out with a little sample, although after tasting it I don’t think I’d want it on my toast.
The bus to Mandalay wasn’t the best, and we were relieved to arrive and be shoved in the back of a pick-up truck for our 45 minute ride into town. After booking our bus back down to Yangon and a quick bite to eat, we had an early night.
The next day to Katy’s delight we went for a walk around the Mandalay Palace and Fort, which is about 10km of very dull walkways overlooking a moat. We refused to pay the $10 to get into the fort, and hoped that there would be some interesting stuff outside the fort, but there really wasn’t.
I was quite shocked when Katy suggested that we climb Mandalay Hill for some views over the city. She wasn’t so happy when she was asked to take her shoes off before we started the climb. After quite a few days of walking around temples and pagodas with no shoes on, our feet are in a bit of a state. Katy says that she is in need of a pedicure, but she says that most weeks to be honest.
Anyway after about 40 minutes of walking up stairs we got to the peak for some nice views over the city. The locals seemed pleased to see us doing the climb, and most of them said hello and asked where we were from. We found out that last year only 250,000 tourists came here, which is tiny in comparison to it neighbour Thailand who had 14 Million tourists.
We decided to end the day with a few beers before dinner, but ended up getting a free dinner thrown in. They gave us peanuts, and every time we finished them they brought some more. Anyway after about ten bowls of nuts, we decided that we didn’t need a big dinner. Instead Katy sent me on the back of a moto to get some samosas. The ride to get there cost four times the price of the samosas, but they were the best in Mandalay apparently.
On our last day in Mandalay, Katy decided that we should go shopping. She had seen a shopping centre as we drove into the city, and thought she may be able to pick up some bargains. I wouldn’t really call it a shopping centre. It was more like a bunch of market stalls that smelt of urine under a part built office block. Thankfully we didn’t stay in there too long.
We ended the day at the U Bein Bridge for sunset. It is the world’s largest teak bridge, and one of the main tourist attractions in Myanmar. It was quite busy, but there were some great views. We walked across one way, and then got a boat back. It was a nice way to end our stay in Myanmar; just a shame that this was followed by an overnight bus journey to Yangon before getting a flight at 08:30 in the morning. We’re currently sat in the airport waiting to board, with only about an hours sleep.
Overall Myanmar has been a great place to visit. We have rushed around the country a bit, so we’ve not had much time to relax here. Katy hasn’t enjoyed it as much as I have, but we’re both really glad we came. The people are so friendly here, with most people keen to say hello and practice their English. We’re looking forward to getting back to Thailand now though. We’ve got a busy weekend in Bangkok with Katy’s brother Dave, before heading south for some beach time.
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Until the next time…