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…
Madness, is the first word that springs to mind when thinking of Hanoi. I thought we were lucky to arrive in tact from the cab journey from the airport to our hostel, and that was in a big 4×4. On getting out of the cab and having cross the road, I thought our luck could change.
There are literally thousands of bikes everywhere. They go in every direction possible, including pavements and roads and the direction of traffic doesn’t seem to matter. Well we made it across the road to check into our hostel, dump our bags and head into town.
Hanoi wasn’t really what we expected, as we thought it would be more built up than it was. It wasn’t a bad thing, but we didn’t think there was a great amount to do in Hanoi other than wonder around the city.
One thing that we did find that was a highlight of Hanoi was Bia Hoi. This is a local home brew rice beer made by various bars in the Old Town. It costs 25p, and is definitely worth a try. It only lasts about a day before turning, so they only make it in small amounts. It basically means that you have to get to the bars before they run out for the day.
Another thing that I got roped in to was going to see the Vietnamese water puppets. The fact that it only cost about £1 each was the only reason I let Katy talk me into it. It was probably something that we should have seen, so there is a positive there. But to honest, it was probably only worth the £1 we paid. It’s very traditional for this region apparently, so that was our cultural input for the month.
To escape the busy city we decided to take a three day trip to Ha Long Bay. This area has around 2000 islands and some very stunning views. We spent the first on the boat, before getting time to do some canoeing and swimming. We had a really nice seafood dinner on the boat from the locals days catch, and this was supposed to be followed by a night of karaoke. However as most of our groups were more interested in drinking on the sun deck, we left the singing to the crew, which they seemed quite happy about.
The next day the boat dropped us off on Cat Ba Island, where we went to take a look at some of the caves that the Vietcong used during the ‘American War’. It was quite a network of tunnels, that included a cinema and a swimming pool.
After this we took our first bit of exercise of the trip, a 5km bike ride through the mountains. That probably makes it sound more difficult than it was, but I can live with that. Besides Katy made it look more difficult than it was.
We then spent the night in a eco lodge in the middle of a national park. It was very quiet other than the cows and geckos, and good to relax for the night. While we were there, we found out that the next two places that we were planning to visit, Hue and Hoi An, were flooded. It all looked quite serious as 88 people had died. However when we returned to Hanoi the next day, our hostel were adamant that we should still get the bus to Hue, and that no refund would be offered. Now call me picky, but I’d rather not spend hours in huge traffic jams waiting to get into a city that in under one meter of river water.
After much arguing, we decided to give up. As the entire area was flooded we had to get a flight to our next stop, Nha Trang. The flight was booked for 7am the next morning, so we decided to drown our sorrows. We went out with some people that we had met on the Ha Long Bay trip, and all of us (due to the unexpectedly good weather) went out with an amazing set of panda eyes.
We got back to the hotel at 12:30am and leaving enough time for about 3 hours sleep. Lets just say that we weren’t looking too perky at the airport that morning.
We’ve spent the last few days in Nha Trang enjoying the beach and good weather. There are a few islands in the area that we could have gone to visit, but we decided against it to just chill out on the beach. We’re moving onto Mui Ne next, which is another beach resort 5 hours south of here. Hopefully moving south will bring more sun.
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…
It’s been two weeks since the last post, and that’s been a very busy and drunken two weeks in Hong Kong. Writing this post on the flight over to Hanoi, my body is craving water, fruit and sleep. None of which I am likely to see any time soon. In fact the first beer of the day has already been consumed.
As Katy had previously lived in Hong Kong for two years back in 1995, she decided to take on the role of tour operator and guide. We began with a night staying at the infamous Chung King mansions. Katy really didn’t want to stay here, but we got our dates wrong for leaving China, and didn’t really have much choice. To be fair to Katy, it was probably the smallest room I have ever stayed in. But it was clean and safe (other than the lifts) and that is the main thing. The next day we checked into our hotel which was lovely.
We spent the first night floating between Tsim-Sha-Tsui in Kowloon and Lan Kwai Fong in Central. It took a bit of getting used to how much more expensive Hong Kong is compared to China. We went from paying about £1 for a pint of beer in Shanghai to about £6 for a pint in Hong Kong. We very quickly learnt to exploit the happy hours. It didn’t take us long however to find a good dumpling restaurant which was cheap and cheerful, but did the job.
The Hadcroft Holidays tour then took us to the peak where we got some amazing views over Hong Kong. We took a walk around the peak, and then headed back to Kowloon to take a look at some of the markets. When I say some of the markets, I mean all of them. We did the Bird Market, the Flower Market, the Goldfish Market, the Woman’s Market, the Jade Market, the Temple Night Market. It’s not exactly my idea of fun, walking around trying to stop Katy from spending all of our money on fake tat, but it did work up an appetite for a beer or two that night.
The next day we went to Lantau to see Big Buddha. We got the ferry there, which was about an hour from central. Katy has fond memories of Big Buddha as her dad used to ask for some luck with the Bolton results. Only time will tell if climbing those steps makes any difference to Bolton this season. While on Lantau we also went to see a little fishing village called Tai O, which was very different to other parts of Hong Kong. We then got the cable car home which was quite cool.
We found out that it was the last night of the racing season, so we decided to head over to Happy Valley race course for a night out. It cost about £1 to get into the general enclosure, and it was a really good atmosphere. We came out just about even for the night thanks to my winning bet, so it was a good night.
Dave and Shiona arrived soon after for a week in Hong Kong. I thought that their arrival would make for some more sensible nights out. How wrong could I have been? We started with a night at the Hong Kong cricket club, where we had a nice meal and among other things witnessed Arsenal beat Chelsea 5-3. We then descended into Wanchai for more drinks at Dusk Till Dawn. The next morning we were all feeling a bit delicate, and not really in the mood to continue drinking. So the Champagne brunch that had been arranged didn’t really appeal. A few plates of food and a glass or two of Champagne changed that very quickly, so we then made our way to Kowloon cricket club to watch the Cricket Sixes. This format is basically 6 overs with 6 per team on a smaller pitch. Everyone has to bat and bowl (except the wicket keeper), and it’s quite exciting as they basically just whack it out of the ground every second ball. The final was England vs Pakistan, and Pakistan won after hitting 177 and bowling England out for about 140.
The following day we decided to give our bodies a bit of a rest and took a trip to Lantau Island for lunch. We sat and had a Thai lunch on a really nice beach, enjoying the sun and relaxing. That was until Katy and I were attacked by wasps, causing me to knock over a beer which landed on top of our new camera, face down in the sand. It’s a good job that we’re not travelling on a budget as we’re now on camera number two after failing to get it working again.
We decided to get over the pain of this by drinking some more. We returned to the Hong Kong Jockey Club at Happy Valley race course the next day and enjoyed an all-inclusive day for the Melbourne Cup. With free wine and champagne flowing all day, we soon forgot that we even had a camera, never mind had broken it. After several lost bets and several bottles of wine, we decided to head to Soho for a night cap.
As Katy, Dave and Shiona knew various people in Hong Kong, a night was arranged where everyone could come and meet. This again was in Soho, and again was a very drunken night. When shots are being bought at 8pm, it’s a good indication that you may lose a large chunk of the following day. And the following day when Dave asked if he came home with us gives you an idea of how the night turned out.
So we’re now on our way to Hanoi for some recuperation. Although we both really enjoyed Hong Kong, we ready for a change and looking forward to seeing another country.
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…