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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…

Monkeying around in Borneo

On our last night in KL we got caught in a torrential down pour which supposedly got rid of the mosquitoes. Wrong. After an uncomfortable night’s sleep due to the heat, I woke up with about 50 mosquito bites on each leg so I wasn’t feeling very peachy. Still we were on our way to Borneo so things weren’t all that bad.

Kuching sunset

Kuching sunset

We got a nice surprise in Kuching when we checked into our hostel. It was basically a three bedroom apartment with a lounge and kitchen. We had booked a private room (the other two being dorm rooms) and found that we were the only ones staying there, so for three nights we had a sofa to lounge around on, a small kitchen to chill out in and for the first time in six months it felt a little like home. All for just £9 per night.

Kuching is a small city in the Sarawak province of Borneo and we were surprised at how modern it was. We had a walk around the centre and along the river front where we witnessed some really weird storm clouds. We were about to go on a boat trip down the river before it absolutely chucked it down. Instead we sheltered in a nearby café and enjoyed some iced coffees whilst deciding what to do with our two days. We decided on Bako National Park and the Semenggoh Orang-utan sanctuary.

Proboscis monkey

Proboscis monkey

So the next day we made our way to Bako National Park. After a later than planned start we found the bus we needed and were eventually on our way at 10am. The bus took about an hour followed by a twenty minute hair raising boat trip to the entrance of the park. We registered at the main office (in case you get lost) and then saw a Proboscis monkey hanging around in a tree. For those who don’t know, the Proboscis monkey has a big nose and I think they’re pretty cool, although Sam thinks I look like one; RUDE!

We then started on the Lintang Trail which was 6km and would apparently take 3.5 hours to complete. We were immediately taken aback by the beauty of the rain forest with the trail mainly being roots and climbs over fallen trees. It was nice to feel like you were actually trekking through the jungle rather than walking on manmade trails. After a steep climb and scorching midday heat, we were pleased to find some flatter terrain and cool breezes near the top. I think I even jokingly said ‘I wish it would rain’. Not a joking matter it turns out.

A bit wet

A bit wet

The heavens opened and we got absolutely soaked, the trails turned into rivers and we still had about 4km to go. At first I didn’t find it very funny until suddenly out of nowhere a man wearing only his white see-through Y- fronts came passed and mumbled something about it being very wet. I wish we had had the camera ready as it would have made a brilliant photo but none the less it cheered me up. Once I had got over being wet I enjoyed the rest of the walk.

We made it back in time for a quick drink and a walk down the beach before catching the boat back to the bus. And whilst we sat on the air conditioned bus absolutely soaked and freezing cold, the semi naked man had got into his nice dry clothes and looked very smug about it. Who had the last laugh there then? We ended the day with pot noodles laid out on the sofa whilst we watched a film.

The next day we were up and ready to go by 7am as we needed to catch an early bus to the Orang-utans so as not to miss their feeding time. We’d been told to get there early before all the big tour buses and to stay on after the tour buses had gone for a chance to see Richie, the big alpha male.

Richie, the alpha male

Richie, the alpha-male

Just hanging around

Just hanging around

When we arrived, Richie was already out eating a ton of bananas but we were told he wasn’t in a very good mood, so we had to hang back until it was safe to go closer. We probably saw about twenty orang-utans that morning swinging from the trees, playing and eating their breakfast. It was an amazing experience to see them up close and I think we took about 300 pictures in the end.

We were back into town in time for lunch where we enjoyed some delicious Kolo mee (BBQ pork and noodles) and dumplings from the local Chinese food stalls. As it was our four year anniversary we treated ourselves to a local speciality, layer cake and enjoyed a large slice of blueberry and chocolate cake with a mug of coffee. I would have preferred a bottle of red wine but Sam said we couldn’t afford it L

The next day we left Kuching and took a flight to Kota Kinabalu in the Sabah province of Borneo. We hadn’t originally planned to spend any time here but this is where my friend Lucy and family are staying so we squeezed in a couple of days to see them. We’d always planned to go into Brunei and found cheap flights from KK, so after one night there we met Lucy for a quick cup of tea before heading off to Brunei.

 Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

I didn’t know what to expect from Brunei. We’d heard mixed reviews about the place and a lot of people had said there wasn’t much to see, so we were a bit apprehensive and worried if two nights was going to be too long. The first thing we had to do was find a hostel, as we’d looked online but they all seemed so expensive so we decided to chance it and just turn up. Unfortunately Brunei is not the sort of place where you should just turn up as there are very few hotels to choose from (especially in our budget). We managed to find a travel agent at the airport who was able to help us with a couple of options and call through for availability. After a 1km trek down the highway we found the bus stop and we were on our way into Bandar Seri.

We eventually booked into KH Soon rest house which was a bit of a dump but the cheapest we could find (£22 per night). The first thing that struck us about Brunei is how clean and quiet it was. We had a walk around, watched the sun set over the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and enjoyed a take away pizza whilst watching a film on the laptop. There is a serious lack of entertainment mainly due to the fact that it’s a dry country so the usual bars and cafes don’t exist.

Ulu Temburong National Park

Ulu Temburong National Park

The next day we went to Brunei’s Ulu Temburong National Park and the only way to get there was by boat which was a trip in itself. The boat (locally known as a flying coffin) took us along winding rivers and rapids with amazing rainforest views. We finally ended up at the National Park’s entrance, registered and began the steep climb of roughly 2000 steps up to the canopy walkway.The walk itself wasn’t actually too bad (a sign I am getting fitter maybe) and the canopy wasn’t quite what we expected. I think we both thought of a rope type bridge through the forest but instead we were faced with purpose built scaffolding structure which consisted of ten towers with bridges linking them. Not quite in keeping with the beautiful rainforest but the views from the top made it all seem worthwhile. Although I am not sure they were meant to lean as much they did in the wind, and the spirit levels on the top were a bit of a worry. After we had finished our walk along the tree tops we were taken to see a waterfall with the promise of a swim but when we got there it was barely deep enough to paddle.

Kota Kinabalu seafood court

Kota Kinabalu seafood court

We flew back to Kota Kinabalu the next day and had arranged to meet Lucy and co in the local seafood food court for dinner. The kids (and Tom) were fascinated by all the fish in the tanks including eels, prawns and crabs and then we had the difficult decision of what to eat.  In the end we had a kilo of prawns in soy and garlic sauce (delicious), chilli seawater crab, soft-shell crab, steamed red snapper, Singapore noodles and fried rice. Far too much food for all of us but we just about managed.

The next day we had arranged to meet them all on an island nearby for a day of sunbathing and snorkelling. They were going from their hotel in the marina and we took the budget route on a public boat. It was a great day even though Sam got a little burnt (he’ll never learn) and the kids had a great time swimming and snorkelling in the sea.

Mamutik Island

Mamutik Island

We waved them all off on their boat around 4pm and waited for our lift back to the mainland when the heavens opened. At first it wasn’t too bad but about five minutes into the trip we couldn’t see further than about 1m so we had no idea of where land was and the rain was so heavy and sharp that I started to get a little bit worried. To make matters worse, we had a crazy boat driver driving really fast into the storm whilst shouting random things and his friend practicing what looked like Tai Chi on the back. I couldn’t even see at this point as there was just too much rain and I had visions of the boat getting lost at sea. All Sam could do was just laugh uncontrollably.  We finally saw land and I began to breathe again…disaster averted.

After saying goodbye to Lucy and everyone this morning we had a brief flight to Clark Airport in the Philippines. We now have a five hour wait in probably one of the worst airports we’ve been to before we fly to Cebu. Borneo is definitely somewhere that we would like to come back to, and we feel that we didn’t have enough time here. It’s somewhere we would highly recommend, especially the West coast.

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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