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…
To say our journey to Bali was hideous is an understatement. Katy managed to squeeze in a couple of hours sleep at Singapore airport while I watched the Barcelona vs Chelsea game in a 24 hour café. We arrived at Denpasar after 30 hours of travelling, shattered and somewhat unprepared.
I’m not sure whether we’ve become more blasé about things since we left, but we arrived at immigration with no money to pay the $50 visa fee. There were no ATMs before the immigration counter, so we were a bit worried. We managed to persuade them to let me through to use the ATMs on the other side if they held onto my passport. This sounded fine until on my return to pick up my passport, it had gone. After not sleeping for 30 hours, you could say that my sense of humour had failed me. As the immigration officer laughed about it and sent his friend off to try to find it, all I could do was wait and hope. Katy was still on the other side of immigration wondering what was going on. It was a stressful 15 minutes, but thankfully the passport turned up. We paid the visa fee and grabbed a cab to our hostel.
We were staying in Kuta which is supposed to be the lively area of Bali, but all we wanted to do was have a shower, grab some food and have an early night. The next day whilst exploring all of the tiny back-streets selling a multitude of tat, we booked a flight to Labuan Bajo for the next day.
We had an early start the next day, and after a short flight we arrived at probably the most basic airport I will ever see. Labuan Bajo town is a quiet street with a few places to eat and drink, but the main reason that people come here is for Komodo National Park. We were only here for four days, so we had quite a lot to squeeze in during that time. We checked into a guesthouse recommended by our friends Alex and Emma. I think Katy had been hoping for a bit of luxury, with swimming pools and air-conditioning mentioned beforehand. Instead we got a fan room with a squat toilet and no sink so you had to brush your teeth over the toilet. It was however half the price of everywhere else, it was clean and it came with breakfast.
We spent the afternoon looking around for deals for our dive the next day, and once that was sorted we had a look around the town before getting an early night. The next day we left town at 06:45 on a small boat with four other people, and headed to Komodo National Park. It was a two-hour ride to the park, so we just soaked up the morning sun and took in the amazing scenery around us. The first dive site we went to was Castle Rock just North of Komodo, and had been recommended by several people.
The dive itself was amazing, and definitely the best we have done so far. We saw sleeping white-tipped sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, turtles and a huge amount of very big fish. It was a drift dive, and was actually quite hard work. There was a really strong current, so we had to be careful not to get carried away into the ‘cauldron’ which dropped off as far as the eye could see.
After an hour break, we headed off to the next dive site, Crystal Rock for our second dive. This was another great dive where was saw baby white-tipped sharks, napoleon wrasse, a big school of giant travelli, but the highlight of the dive was watching an eagle ray doing somersaults right in front of us. Even the dive master who has done thousands of dives said she’d never seen anything like it. After lunch we started to make our way back to Labuan Bajo. We had a choice to have a third dive, but our budget wouldn’t stretch to that. So instead we went snorkelling and topped up our tans on the boat. On the way back, we were followed into town by a group of dolphins, with the sun setting in the background. It was a brilliant day, and although it was expensive it was definitely worth the money.
After a day recovering from diving, we had another trip to Rinca to see the Komodo Dragons. It was another early start and another two-hour boat trip. This time we were the only people on the boat, so we had plenty of room to spread out and relax. The weather was great, and we were greeted at the island by our dragon ranger, Nana. He was a native of the island and was very knowledgeable about the dragons. We walked for about an hour before seeing our first dragon who was sat protecting her nest. After a few photos we continued on to the base where there were about eight dragons just chilling out by the kitchens so we took loads of photos and just sat and watched them for a while.
On the way back to the boat the heavens opened and we got soaked (seems to be a running theme on all our treks so far). Once on the boat, the Captain did his best to keep ahead of the storm and we stopped off for some snorkelling but soon had to get back on the boat as the rain had caught up with us. We then moved onto another spot for more snorkelling (still raining) and at first we thought we would just give it a miss but then we saw baby black tip sharks swimming close to the shore so we got in to take a closer a look. I’m glad we did as the corals and fish were great and swimming so closely to the baby sharks was amazing. We were very wet and freezing by the time we got back to the hotel, nothing that a nice warm shower could have sorted out…shame that wasn’t an option.
The next day we caught our flight back to Bali and spent the afternoon shopping around for our next dive trip and watching the surfers whilst the sun set. We knew we wanted to dive in Tulamben as we’d be told about an amazing wreck dive there. Liberty wreck is an American cargo ship which was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942. It sank on the sand floor at a depth of 5m and it slopes down to about 35m. As it’s so close to the shore, we did a beach entry to the wreck. It was our first wreck dive so we were really excited. After two and a half hours we finally arrived, and we weren’t the only ones. There must have been about 50 people there. We did two dives and both were great as we got to explore the outside and the inside of the wreck. The fish life wasn’t as exciting as previous dives but having to swim through small holes and into the actual wreck made up for it.
Yesterday we enjoyed some delicious local food and had an early night in preparation for our 6am pick. Today we arrived in the Gili islands on Gili Air for Katy’s birthday weekend and we plan on staying there for about four nights but I guess that will depend on how many Katy treats there are. We’ve checked into a very nice beach bungalow; a birthday present to Katy from our friend Samantha (thank you very much). We have nothing planned other than sunning ourselves and maybe a few cocktails.
We’re struggling to upload images due to a very slow internet connection, but as always all of our images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:
Until the next time…