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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…

Singapore $ting

After the bustling streets of Jakarta, we headed south to the lazy town of Bogor. We had planned to spend a few days in the mountains here, but on arrival we changed our minds. We found a nice hotel close to some great restaurants which also had a pool, so we decided to chill there for a few days. We actually realised that we had booked our flight to Singapore for the wrong day, so we didn’t really have time to do much else anyway.

Bogor itself has very little to do, and most people use it just to get to the mountains on the Puncak Pass. It does have a selection of really good restaurants though, still within our budget. We enjoyed local delicacies such as oxtail and bandrek, which is a ginger spiced tea-like drink.

Clarke Quay

Clarke Quay

Our next stop and our last country in South East Asia was Singapore, only a short flight from Jakarta. My first impression of Singapore was all good, and in the few days that we’ve been here I like it more and more. For a start it’s very clean compared to the rest of SE Asia. There are also lots of little things that make it stand out, such as pavements that you can actually walk on. It may sound a bit strange, but after eight months of walking on roads and weaving in between traffic, it’s a nice change.

One thing that we haven’t really enjoyed about Singapore is the costs. It’s a very expensive place to be, especially on a traveller’s budget. What makes it even more difficult is that there is so much to do here, so you have to pick and choose what to do and where to go. Beer averages about £6 per pint, and wine isn’t even worth considering at £50 for the cheapest bottle. Katy did get it into her head that she wanted to go to Universal Studios, but thankfully I talked her out of that.

Raffles courtyard

Raffles courtyard

Food here is actually quite cheap, and we’ve enjoyed some of our favourites since we’ve been here. We’ve had our chicken curry and naan fix in Little India, our pork and cabbage dumplings in China Town, and we even found a proper English chippy in Clarke Quay. We were tempted to buy a Singapore Sling in Raffles (it was invented here after all), but when we arrived and saw that it was £16 per cocktail, we settled for some pictures of the courtyard and gardens instead.

Accommodation here is also quite expensive, so for the first time on our trip we have had to stay in a dormitory. We’re sharing with six other people; three of whom seem to live at this hostel. It’s not too bad staying in a dorm, and potentially can be a great way to meet people. Unfortunately once someone has kept me up for most of the night snoring and then woken me up at 06:00am sorting out their carrier bag collection, my friendly nature seems to subside slightly.

Malaysian Tapir

Malaysian Tapir

One thing that we did do was go to Singapore Zoo; supposedly the best in the world. The main reason that I wanted to go there was to see the Malaysian Tapir, which is my favourite animal. I had hoped to see one in the wild in Taman Negara in Malaysia, but I didn’t realise how rare they were in the wild. So I got to see my Tapirs, and it made me very happy. We even got to see them swim, which I didn’t realise they could do. It is a great place to walk around and definitely worth the money.

We also had a day walking around Sentosa, which is an island just off of the city. This is where Universal Studios is, but also has other big names such as Café Del Mar to spend your money at. We just had a walk around the nature trail on the island and then along the beach. You could spend a lot of money here as there are loads of things to do. Unfortunately we had to walk past them all before we spent all of our money.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel Light Show

Marina Bay Sands Hotel Light Show

The best thing we did while in Singapore was spend the afternoon and evening in the Clarke Quay area. There are loads of riverside bars and restaurants, with live music and a great atmosphere. We managed to find a pub with a decent happy hour, and grabbed a pint of Stella for £5. As we walked up the river, we found that the Singapore Civilisation Museum had some live music outside. The music was great, and can only be described as Indian jazz (think The Cinematic Orchestra crossed with a Bollywood soundtrack). The museum had free entry for the evening so we had a look around, before heading to the most famous statue in Singapore, the Merlion. The hotel opposite has a light show every night, so we watched that before making our way back to the hostel, and our snoring roommates.

China Town

China Town

Today we have been out to the equivalent of Oxford Street, Orchard Road. Katy had spotted that there was a big weekend of sales. So the money we had saved by not doing certain things, she then spent in the shops on some more Katy treats. A new pair of jeans and three new tops later, we headed back to the hostel with our cup noodles as we now couldn’t afford dinner.

Tomorrow we have a very quiet day before we head to the airport for our flight to Tokyo on Monday morning. We had planned to stay an extra night at the hostel and get up early for our 07:00am flight, but we decided that it would be cheaper to just stay in the airport lounge for the night. Katy will be ok though, as she has her new pair of jeans to keep her warm as she sleeps on the floor.

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…

Bringing the lava into Java

Before we left Kuta in Lombok, there was the small matter of the last game of the premiership season to take care of. Even in this tiny little village in the middle of nowhere, we managed to find somewhere with the game on. We were the only customers in the bar, but were joined by a small group of Indonesians who tended to cheer whichever team was winning. It was an interesting night, but ended on a negative note. Bolton were relegated, and $amir Na$ri lifted the premiership trophy.

We had a day to recover from the football before leaving Lombok for Java. We had found a flight that was as cheap as doing the trip by bus and boat, so after a short and painless trip we landed in Surabaya. This was just a brief stopping off point before we made our way to Cemoro Lawang, and Mount Bromo. Bromo is an active volcano, and one of three peaks rising from the Tengger caldera, a crater stretching 10km across. Bromo’s last major eruption was in January 2011, where huge ash clouds caused a 5km exclusion zone to be introduced in the area.

We were making our way towards the bus, before being accosted by a local tout. He offered to drive us to Cemoro Lawang, find us a cheap hotel and then take us to Bromo; all for a low price that we couldn’t quite believe. But we double checked and he assured us that the price was correct.

View of Bromo from our hotel

View of Bromo from our hotel

So we had been expecting a long uncomfortable journey on a hot, crowded bus and instead were treated to a private air-conditioned 4×4 with half of the journey time. He even took a detour so that he could take us somewhere nice to eat. Apparently the food at the airport isn’t good enough or cheap enough. The journey there took us through some spectacular sights while twisting around mountains. But as we climbed higher and higher up the mountain, our driver became stranger and stranger. I’m not sure if this was due to altitude sickness or whether he just had mental problems. He started to make racing car noises when going around corners, he tended to stick his hand out of the window every minute or so and most worryingly he started to speed up.

We did however manage to arrive in one piece, and as promised our driver found us a cheap homestay guesthouse with hot water and a great view of the mountains. But when we started to ask him about our trip to Bromo, he told us that we would need to book that through our hotel. So even though we had double checked and he’d assured us that this would be included, we then had to go and book another vehicle to take us to Bromo the next day (Note to self: If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is).

Sunrise over Bromo

Sunrise over Bromo

Cemoro Lawang is a sleepy little town with a few places to eat and drink, but with great views over the crater and the three peaks of Bromo, Kursi and Batok. One thing that was different here to the rest of Indonesia is the climate; it was very cold here, especially at night. We were prepared though, and we soon sat in the restaurant with five layers of clothing on eating Rawan, which is a thick beef soup; perfect for the occasion. As we had hot water in the room I was looking forward to a shower, but I was disappointed to find that we actually had no water at all. So after another night of brushing our teeth over a squat toilet we had an early night, as the next morning (if you can call it that) we had a 3am start.

Bromo from the viewing platform

Bromo from the viewing platform

After managing to drag ourselves out of bed, we made our way in the pitch black to our jeep. We were accompanied by two Indonesians and two Koreans for the bumpy journey across the crater towards a viewing platform on Gunung Penanjakan, a higher peak nearby. It was a steep climb up the mountain, and after 30 minutes or so we arrived at the top. Sipping some local Javanese coffee was perfect to both warm and wake us up, while we waited for the sun to rise. It was surprisingly busy at the viewing platform, but people soon started to file out after the sun was up.

Our jeep then took us to the base of Mount Bromo, back across the crater next to a Hindu temple. There are loads of people offering ponies to take you towards the top of Bromo, but somehow I managed to get Katy to walk it. So we started the climb up, and the higher it got the hotter it got. We had soon stripped off some of the five layers we had on before arriving at the top. It’s quite a short walk to be honest, but at that time of the morning it seemed longer.

Bromo steps

Bromo steps

The views from the top of Bromo were stunning with clouds covering some of the crater below and clear blue skies above. Big plumes of steam were rising from the bubbling volcano, while people threw in flowers as an offering to the volcano God. It was just nice to take a seat and take in the amazing views. This trip was quite expensive, but the scenery and views from the top definitely make it worth it.

After the short walk back down to the base of Bromo, our jeep took us back to our hotel for some breakfast. By 09:30 we were back on the road to Surabaya, where we spent most of the journey sleeping. Surabaya isn’t a very nice place, with very polluted and dirty streets and very little else. It’s a hard place to walk around as all of the roads in the city are four-lane carriageways. But walk around is what we did.

Kota, Jakarta

Kota, Jakarta

We had found out that it was a national holiday that weekend in Indonesia, and as usual that ruined our plans. We tend to make a habit of this, but this holiday wasn’t mentioned on any website or guidebook so it wasn’t entirely our fault. This did mean that our planned trip to Yogykarta had to be changed as every bus, train, flight and hotel we could find were fully booked. We only found this out after walking to every station, travel agent and internet café in the city. By the end of the day we had managed to book a cheap flight the following evening to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.

Katy’s brother Dave had put us in touch with an old friend of his who lived in Jakarta, and he kindly offered to let us stay at his home. So after a long day waiting for our flight in Surabaya (as there was very little else to do) we arrived in Jakarta. This is one big city. It’s very busy streets of shopping malls, fast food restaurant and endless traffic remind me of Kuala Lumpur, but just on a much bigger scale. That evening we settled into our luxury room with a great view overlooking the city, and got some tips of where to go and see.

We got up early and got a bus into the city and just walked around to see what we could find. Like many of the big cities in South East Asia, it’s not easy to walk around. Pavements don’t really exist, and those that do have huge cracks and holes in them. After a long day walking around, we headed back to the apartment for a night sat on the sofa watching TV; something you miss on your travels.

Cafe Batavia, Jakarta

Cafe Batavia, Jakarta

Yesterday we were treated to lunch and a guided tour of the city’s old quarter, Kota, by our host Andy. This area has loads of old Dutch colonial buildings left over from the 1600s. It’s very different from other areas of the city, and quite relaxing. We ended the tour with cocktails in the famous Café Batavia before heading back to the apartment for an afternoon nap. We had a big night ahead of us, with the Championship playoff final and the Champions League final.

We went out to a different area of Jakarta that was full of bars and clubs…and West Ham fans. It was very strange to see so many Indonesians supporting them, almost more than you would find in an East London pub. It was a great night where we met other expats and exchanged football banter. It was a late night as the football didn’t finish until about 04:30, so I’m writing this with a sore head and a cup of tea. This afternoon lazing by the pool seems like a good idea.

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…

A breath of fresh Air

Finally I had found my bit of luxury on Gili Air, a beautiful little island off the East coast of Lombok. Our bungalow was fantastic, just a stone’s throw away from the beach and a pool to use at our leisure…heaven and just what I needed. We had a very lazy few days most of which started with breakfast on the beach, followed by some swimming and ending with a few Bintangs and local seafood BBQ.

Gili Air

Gili Air

We had breakfast brought to our room on my birthday which was a real treat and then spent most of the day snorkelling where we saw lots of turtles and many fish. We had already decided to eat at what looked like the poshest place on the island, a restaurant called Scalliwags. After a few pre dinner cocktails, we headed to the restaurant where Sam had not only booked us a table right on the beach but had somehow organised for some flowers to be put on our table too, although they weren’t real but lovely all the same. I was really looking forward to having some wine but when I saw that a bottle of Jacob’s Creek was £35 (yes the Jacob’s Creek that you can buy for a fiver in Tesco) I just couldn’t bring myself to order any so I settled for a Mojito instead.

My birthday night

My birthday night

Of course it wasn’t just my birthday that day, Arsenal were playing too which meant that the laptop accompanied us to dinner… very romantic. Unfortunately it wasn’t a great result for Arsenal and the laptop was eventually packed away. Soon after, the heavens opened so we swiftly moved inside to take cover. Suddenly Happy Birthday was played and a cake (choc brownie) with a candle bought over to our table which was a lovely surprise. I think they were hoping that I would order a dessert but apparently Sam had told them that if I didn’t to bring something over anyway.  It was a great birthday with lots of lovely messages and emails received throughout the day…a birthday to remember for sure.

Our next stop was a place called Senggigi on the east coast of Lombok. We’d heard that it was a small town but quite lively and worth a visit. We had two nights here which were both spent in the Happy Café as there was a live band on each night and served pretty good sushi. There wasn’t much to do during the day so we had a wonder around, walked along the beach and booked our bus ticket to our next stop in Lombok.

Beach in Kuta Lombok

Beach in Kuta Lombok

We’re now in Kuta Lombok (not to be confused with Kuta Bali) and it’s a very quiet and relaxed town. We came here really because we needed a few cheap days and figured it was easy to keep it cheap just lazing on the beach. It also means that we’re back to cold shower and mosquito nets. Well we’re three days into our five night stay and it’s been overcast and rained a lot so we’ve had no lazy days on the beach so far. I know you’ll probably have no sympathy for us considering all its done is rain in the UK for the past few weeks. We did manage to take a bike (scooter) out yesterday and explore some nearby beaches and villages.

Kuta attracts a lot of surfers so we headed out towards one of the surfer beaches to watch them, which involved a few steep hills and plenty of pot holes. Anyway we didn’t make it as half way up one particularly steep hill, we started to slide backwards. I was shouting at Sam saying ‘what are you doing…brake’ and he was shouting that he was, but we kept on sliding backwards and were eventually rescued by a bush. The result, a small cut on my foot and Sam has a burn blister on his leg but no damage to the bike. I think we’ll just give the surfers a miss. On route to one of the beaches we managed to take a wrong turn and ended up on a rickety old bridge. It probably wasn’t meant for driving a bike over but we persevered and managed to avoid the nails sticking out and various wood slats missing to find that at the end we couldn’t get off. We noticed some locals laughing at us who eventually came to our rescue and practically had to lift the bike off for us. So all in all not a successful day on the scooter.

A bridge made for walking, not scooters

A bridge made for walking, not scooters

On our first night here we found ourselves in a place called the Full Moon Café as they offered free WIFI. We were having a drink and checking emails etc…when one of the barmen came and asked if we could help him set up a Facebook account. So Sam got to work and helped him out. We took his photo for his profile picture and by this point all the staff were gathered around our tiny laptop fascinated by what Sam was doing. They had their own laptop but needed help setting up the accounts. At one point when we had finished, we noticed them all gathered around their laptop laughing and Sam even joked that they were probably hacking into our accounts. Well they weren’t thank god and when Sam went over to have a look, one of the guys was filling out the security question about ‘who is your favourite author’…his answer was ‘chicken’. Lost in translation I think but it was very funny.

We’ve had company for most of our meals here…young children selling bracelets who just won’t take no for an answer.  It’s all very sad really especially when you see their mothers standing watching and encouraging them. If it was just one or two I might be tempted to buy a bracelet from them but there are too many. Cambodia was the same unfortunately.

We’ve just moved hotels yesterday as we’ve managed to find a cheaper room with a pool which is nice but it’s still raining so whether we get to use it remains to be seen.

Its Sunday now and its still raining but more importantly its the big day…last game of the season. We’ve checked out various bars and it looks like we’ll be subjected to either of the Manchester games but we’ll have the laptop to check other scores. I have a horrible feeling in my gut but all I can do now is wait for a miracle.

#COYW and #COYG

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….

A fish called wonder

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.

Surfers on Kuta beach

Surfers on Kuta beach

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.

Labuan Bajo town

Labuan Bajo town

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.

Komodo National Park

Komodo National Park

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.

Komodo dragons

Komodo dragons

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.

Komodo dragon

Komodo dragon

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…

In ‘Nido’ of a holiday

We’ve been travelling seven months now, and one thing we have learnt is that it’s tiring. I remember when we first left England and were in Beijing, we met someone who had been travelling for about six months. They were cutting their trip short because they were too tired. At the time I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing, but now I appreciate it a bit more. The constant moving, the endless search for cheap but acceptable rooms, the long and uncomfortable bus journeys all add to it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for sympathy, and I wouldn’t change anything about our trip. It’s just been a learning experience.

What’s made me talk about it this week was a moment Katy had as we walked to a beach called Corong-Corong. After breaking her beloved flip-flops and having to walk bare-foot across rocks, she exclaimed “Sam, I’ve had enough of beaches and being hot. I just want some home comforts, like air-con and a swimming pool.” I did point out to her that we have neither air-con nor a swimming pool at home, but it didn’t seem to help the situation.

Corong-Corong Beach

Corong-Corong Beach

The Philippines has been a hard place to get around; probably the hardest out of all the countries we have visited. It’s something I didn’t really expect as I thought countries like Laos and Cambodia would be more difficult, but it was quite the opposite. Anyway, this is what I think led to Katy’s mini meltdown. To be fair it didn’t last for long, as after a long walk in the blistering heat we eventually got to the amazing beach that is Corong-Corong. We spent the afternoon relaxing in hammocks, swimming in the crystal clear sea and playing frisbee on the on the white sandy beaches. Then we watched the sun set whilst enjoying a few beers with fellow travellers.

It was a great day that was finished with another Katy treat. We had pizza and white wine for dinner. This may not sound like much of a treat, but wine is something that we really can’t afford on our budget, and pizza is…well pizza. It was more like a shot of wine than a glass to be honest, but it was nice to have a change.

We decided to change rooms as after having no electricity on the first night, we then had no water on the second night. So after a few hours walking around and checking prices, we settled for the Nido Bay Inn; slightly more expensive, but with hot water and WIFI. El Nido itself only has power between 14:00 and 06:00, which takes a bit of getting used to. It can make the morning quite hot in the room when there is no fan blowing. But it’s the price you pay for staying somewhere like this.

Taking the plunge

Taking the plunge

After spending a couple of days doing very little, we booked two more dives. We were the only people on the boat other than the dive master and the captain, and we headed off to the island of Miniloc. It was a beautiful day, and we were really looking forward to our first fun dive, with no tests, skills or exercises to do. We didn’t even have to set up our equipment, so we just sat back and relaxed as we headed to the first dive site on South Miniloc.

The first dive was almost like diving in an aquarium, with thousands of different types of fish everywhere. We saw enormous schools of yellow snapper and jack fish, some massive puffer fish along with countless others that we didn’t know. It was a great dive, and very different from our last dive in Malapascua with the sharks.

We got back on the boat and had a break, with coffee and cake served by the captain. We talked about what we had seen and enjoyed the sun before heading to our next dive site, Twin Rocks. This was a very different dive from the first one, but one that made Katy very happy. We saw our first turtles here, and they were huge. We had been hoping to see some for a while now, and they are so nice to watch under the water. We also saw some sting rays and other fish, but the turtles were the main attraction. It was another great afternoon diving, which only makes us want to do it more. It’s very addictive, but sadly the one thing stopping us from doing it more is the cost. It’s very cheap to dive here in the Philippines (£18 per dive including all equipment and boat etc), but that can quickly eat into a budget.

Our deserted island

Our deserted island

For the next few days we did very little other than a bit of exploring. We walked around the coast to see what beaches there were on offer. They were quite nice, and deserted, but not a touch on Corong-Corong. So we decided that we would explore some of the islands by kayak to see what we could find.

The last time we went kayaking (in Vang Vieng, Laos), we spent the first ten minutes bickering about getting in rhythm and who should steer. It wasn’t any different this time either, but once we got going it was ok.

We didn’t really know where we should head to first, so we chose a beach that was just in sight on an island called Cadlao. We were quite relieved to get there as it was hot and tiring, and we cooled off in the sea to relieve our slowly fatiguing limbs. I even managed to find and open a fresh coconut for Katy to drink.

Frisbo

Frisbo

Once we got some of our energy back, we continued on around the island, until we found a nicer beach. Again it was quite hard work getting around there with the currents (and Katy’s steering), but once we did it was worth it. It was a lovely beach that was totally deserted. We spent a few hours there, and literally didn’t see another soul. This is how I pictured the Philippines before we arrived here, and it was great.

The area actually reminded me a bit of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, with its limestone cliffs strutting out from the water. The big difference here is the beaches. Beaches like the one we found are common, and it’s easy to find your own private beach for the afternoon if you venture out by boat or kayak.  There are over 7000 islands in the Philippines, with over 1500 just off Palawan.

It's hard work taking pictures

It's hard work taking pictures

For the last couple of days we have done very little, again. Tomorrow morning we leave on a rather epic journey to get to Bali. First we have a five-hour journey to Puerto Princesa and then after a couple of hours break we have a flight from Puerto Princesa to Manila.

We have about four hours to amuse ourselves in Manila airport before another flight to Singapore that gets in at about 01:00. We then have six hours waiting at Singapore for our flight to Bali. It will be quite a testing day I’m guessing, but we should be used to them by now.

El Nido sunset

El Nido sunset

The Philippines has been a combination of ups and downs. Very bad travel days combined with amazing diving, beaches and surroundings. Overall I think it is worth the effort because there is nowhere we’ve been so far that has had the wow factor that we’ve found here. Hopefully Indonesia will give it a good shot.

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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