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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…

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Chinese Leftovers

I am writing this on another train journey; this time a 20 hour trip from Shanghai to Shenzhen. It can seem quite romantic travelling on an overnight train speeding through the countryside. That is if you ignore the smell of fags, farting and spare rib noodles, with the occasional cough and spit to top things off. But that’s enough about Katy.  It has been a really easy and cheap(ish) way to get around China though, and the beds are comfortable enough if you are less than 5’9”.

Terracotta Warriors

Terracotta Warriors

So we spent some time in Xian and stayed in one of the world’s best hostels no less, the Seven Sages. It was ok, but we’ve stayed in better already in our trip. Xian is probably the most accessible city to walk around. It is surrounded by city walls of about a 10km perimeter, so you can never get too lost. We didn’t do too much in Xian other than to go and see the Terracotta Warriors. Big life-size pottery soldiers…what can you say? It was good to hear a bit of the history behind them as had no idea that they were so old. I did come out of there feeling a bit like Carl Pilkinton from an Idiot Abroad. Maybe it’s because when you go and see things like that, the thousands of tourists and commercial side of things takes something away from it. Or it could be that we’re very hard to please.

After four days we decided to move on and took another train to Shanghai. We were running out of time on our China visa, so we decided that this would be our last stop before heading to Hong Kong. It’s definitely a very different place to anywhere else we have been in China. Very westernised, with Prada, Louis Vuitton and McDonald’s on every corner. It is probably somewhere that we didn’t explore enough, as we both got a cold and decided to chill out at the hostel for a couple of days.

Something remarkable did happen while we were in Shanghai however, two things actually. Firstly Arsenal and Bolton both won the respective matches, which is a surprise this season. Secondly, Katy had her first day with no alcohol in the trip. We’re probably going to return to the UK in a year’s time alcoholics. But hopefully we should have a good tan to go with it, so I’m not too worried.

View from the Mao Tower

View from the Mao Tower

What little we did see, we decided to go the whole hog and become proper tourists; the type that I usually detest in London. We went on a Big Bus Tour (yes it was actually the Big Bus Tour). It went round the city dropping us off a various points. One of which was the Bund, which is basically a poor man’s Southbank. It’s a big walkway overlooking some of the finance district skyscrapers. Nice place to walk down in the sun before jumping back on the bus to head over to one of the Skyscrapers we were just looking at. We went to the observation deck of the Jan Mao Tower on the 88th floor. We got some cool pictures of the city lighting up just after sunset.

To get back into town our tour included what they called the tourist tunnel. It was basically an underground cable car with a light show going on within the tunnel. It was quite funny, but very tacky at the same time.

Someone we had met at a train station had recommended a restaurant in Shanghai, and we ate there twice. The food was really good both times, and very reasonable for the amount we bought. We could have fed 3-4 people each time comfortably, but we managed on our own. Maybe we will be coming back to the UK overweight alcoholics, with a good tan.

So now we are off to Hong Kong for 13days. That is if we work out how to get over the border from Shenzhen. We have heard rumours that you can just walk over the border and get on the Metro, but this hasn’t been confirmed. It’s now 7:00 in the morning, and our train should arrive in Shenzhen any minute. I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.

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…

Sichuan Province

After a successful China Air flight we arrived in Chengdu, central China in the Sichuan Province. Our first night was spent in the hostel bar where we teamed up with a couple from Canada and a Polish guy for the pub quiz. Unbelievably we won and it was free beers all round (nothing to do with the Canadian’s iPhone).

We had a couple of lazy days recovering from Beijing which was easy to do as the hostel was so nice and friendly. We went into Chengdu city centre one day but it was so busy we didn’t stay long. Another morning was spent at the local food markets which were fascinating if not a little bit worrying when I thought about all the local food I’d eaten and the likelihood it was from this very market.

We booked our trip to the Pandas for Wednesday which was great. The Pandas were very cute but we didn’t get to hug one as it was £100 each so we decided against it. I am trying to think of more to write about the Pandas but to be honest there isn’t much to say other than they are very cute but once you’ve seen one….you know what I mean.

We’d met a couple the night before from Melbourne who were on the same trip and in the evening we decided to eat local and find some dumplings. It seems dumplings are eaten for lunch rather than dinner so we ended up in a local street restaurant, lonely planet in hand. As soon as we stepped in, everyone stopped eating, laughed and stared at us which isn’t unusual. Most restaurants have picture menus which makes things easy but this menu wasn’t very clear so when chef was called over to take our order we tried using the lonely planet translation page to order but it didn’t seem to be working so we had to resort to using farm yard animal noises to order our dinner….very funny! Anyway we didn’t get what we thought we’d ordered but what we did get was very nice and we had a giggle with the chef at the end, trying to tell him that his food was delicious.

The next day, the four of us got up early for a 10 hour bus ride to Jiuzhaigou; still in the Sichuan Province where there is a stunning National Park with beautiful mountains and lakes (3500 metres above sea level).

We decided to book 2 nights last minute as it looked amazing. We were quite nervous about the bus but it was ok if you didn’t concentrate too hard on the quality of driving and overtaking on corners.  Also, the Chinese are prone to motion sickness so sick bags were handed out before we left and sick buckets positioned down the aisle…nice. The bus ride back to Chengdu was probably the worst, I just remember staring out the window and then suddenly going into a tunnel which had no lights, water gushing down from the roof and our driver decides to overtake. I heard myself say ‘you’ve got to be effing kidding’ and then held my breath until it was over.  Thank god for the iPod and kindle on these journeys!

Anyway we made it to the mountains in one piece and considerably colder, checked into the hostel and had an early night. We were up at 6am to start the day’s trek. The trail totals 32km in length and there was a bus to take you to different spots along the way so we decided to take the bus up to the very top and walk down. Everything we saw was just stunning from the snow-capped mountains, clear blue lakes and Tibetan villages and I think we took over 300 pictures that day. We also featured in a lot of the Chinese tourist’s photos and they were fascinated with us. A group of four girls grabbed Sam for a picture which was very funny, one even gabbed his bum. We have had that a lot though, not bum grabbing but pictures being taken of us. Some try and be sneaky and position themselves in front of us, some just ask and sit next to us. I am thinking of charging next time!

In total I think we walked about 17km that day which for me is pretty impressive. Back to the hostel for some food and a couple of beers and another early night as we were leaving the next day. A 20 hour round trip for one day but well worth it and glad we have got to see some of rural China.

I am writing this on a train from Chengdu to Xian and will post it when we arrive. We have hard sleeper tickets so are in a carriage full on bunk beds. Sam and I managed to get the middle bunks which means you can see out the window and nobody sits on your bed. The journey should take about 16 hours and we arrive in Chengdu around 5am tomorrow. Even now I am being stared at every time someone walks past. I just smile.

We plan to stay in Xian for 3 nights although we were just chatting to a Chinese couple from Xian and she said 3 days wasn’t enough to see Xian but it’s forecast rain for the whole week so we’ll see.

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…..

The National Anthem

Yesterday was national day in China. It’s a day to celebrate the formation of the People’s Republic of China back in 1949, and the people were definitely out in force.

Beijing was packed full of people making their way to Tiananmen Square for the festivities that evening. We had to leave Beijing before the final celebrations, but the day was stressful enough. Most roads were closed making it almost impossible to make your way to the square, and once we eventually did get there, there was nothing to see, and we swiftly left. We made our way to Starbucks for a Frappuccino to cool us down from the baking heat.

Our time in Beijing was enjoyable, but I think we were both ready to leave. Spending a week there was very tiring. That could have been to do with the amount of Tsingtao that we drank during the week, or the amount of dumplings that we ate each day. The dumplings have actually been our best find so far, and we’ve tried every variety that we could find.

Katy's Tiling Episode

Katy’s Tiling Episode

Beijing wasn’t without incident. On returning from one of my daily trips to get breakfast, I was greeted by a concerned Katy saying “I’ve had a nightmare”. On walking into our bathroom, I discovered that half of the wall tiles were smashed on the floor, and the toilet blocked. Being practical (yes, she can be sometimes), Katy thought she would get on with some washing while I was out. On attaching our cordless washing line to the wall, she brought half the wall down with it. Luckily no fees were incurred, even though we snapped the room card in half as well.

In our last days in Beijing we took a visit to the Great Wall and a day at the Summer Palace. The Great Wall was amazing, but quite hard work. We didn’t have the best day weather wise, but still had some great views. Katy almost died on the first stretch of our walk, before we were even on the wall, and it was definitely a test of our fitness.

I also had the experience of eating a scorpion from a hutong street seller. Katy wasn’t brave enough to try one, but it was quite a funny experience.

We’ve now arrived in Chengdu for 6 days, and we’re looking forward to chilling out for a bit. First impressions of the city are not at all what I imagined. I was picturing a small picturesque town with a village feel, with pandas roaming freely. Instead we were greeted with another sprawling industrial city with a love of neon. Our hostel here is great though, and we’re looking forward to part two of our adventure in China.

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…

Beijing or bust…

We had planned to post this message much earlier than this, but we’ve had various problems with the Internet. Mainly that our blogging site is blocked, along with Facebook and Twitter. I’ve now overcome the problem with some geeky giggery pockery, and set up a VPN. So we’re all systems go.

Well after what seemed like an eternity, we’ve finally done it and left for our travels. The journey over wasn’t without incident, but nothing worth getting stressed about. Or at least that’s what I told Katy. Just 12,000 km, a £17 round for a pint and a half of beer in Dubai, forgotton entry forms which meant we had to queue twice through immigration and a missed airport pick up.

Still we made it in one piece and are still talking to each other. That’s even after a 3-0 win for Arsenal against Bolton on Saturday, which we watched in Paddy O’Shea’s Irish pub. Yes we are in China.

Beijing Tapas

Beijing Tapas

I’m pleasantly surprised about how much I like Beijing; Katy isn’t so sure. The stories of how difficult it can be to get around are a bit over-hyped. Although we’ve already seen that it can be challenging speaking not Mandarin. Having to order food can be a bit of a lottery, but at least we may get to try food that we otherwise wouldn’t have.

We met up with Shiona’s friend Nick, and he was kind enough to take us out for our first taste of Peking Duck. We were very spoilt in a lovely restaurant and a nice bar afterwards. I’m not sure how often we will manage to eat in restaurants like that on our budget, but I’m sure Katy will give it a good go.It was good to talk to someone who lived locally, and was another opportunity for Katy to get her map out.

We’ve managed to get round some of the sites already. Tiananman Square and the Forbidden City was a never-ending walk of very similar buildings. Every China-man and his dog (literally) seemed to be in there on Sunday, and to be honest we were pleased to get out.

We must have walked almost half way round Beijing in the first couple of days, but we’ve now learnt the wonders of the subway, which is probably the best and easiest I have ever used.

We found out that next week is China’s national holiday, which meant that almost every single train in the land has been booked. We were planning on a train to Chengdu, but when we were told that we would have to have a standing ticket for a 32 hour journey, we decided to book a flight.

We’re off to see the Great Wall tomorrow, for a nice 10k walk in the sun. We’ve been preparing tonight by eating possibly the nicest chinese food we’ve ever had, and didn’t stop eating until we couldn’t move. I’m sure this beer will wash it down ok.

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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