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…
Our journey to Vientiane involved a night sleeper bus which took about 11 hours. The beds were actually supposed to be double beds, but they were actually barely the size of a single bed. I wouldn’t say that we got the best night’s sleep, but it was a fun way to travel. We were still travelling with Seb and Sophie, and after a long night and some much needed breakfast, it was up to the boys to find a room.
Although Vientiane is the capital of Laos, there is very little to do. It overlooks Thailand on the other side of the Mekong River, and we found a good spot to see the sunset and relax. The climate here was noticeably colder than Southern Laos, especially in the evening. As there was so little to do, and before we put on two stone from eating too much, we headed North-West to Vang Vieng.
Vang Vieng is a very different place to everywhere else we have been so far on our trip. It is famous for tubing, which involves floating down the Namsong River in an inner-tube, stopping at various bars along the way. Although this may sound fairly tranquil, in reality it is a very different thing.
There were five of us now as we had met up with Julianne, a Canadian girl we had met in 4000 Islands. Each bar entices you in by throwing ropes to you as you float past, and free shots of whiskey are almost compulsory as you walk in. It’s a really lively crowd of mostly very young people, dressed in either very little or fancy dress. It did make us feel slightly old, but I think we held our own.
In the entire day we must have floated a maximum of two hundred metres down the river. For the rest of the time we were busy drinking, dancing, zip-wiring into the river, some more drinking, then some more dancing…then we can’t remember too much. The plan to tube the 2km downriver to the drop-off point went out of the window. Katy and Julianne’s dancing alerted me that they may have had one too many whiskey buckets, so we headed back to town. Within ten minutes of getting back, Katy had passed out on the bed, giving me a night off and time to get some food.
The next day was pretty much written off after our previous day’s escapades. As we spent the whole day doing very little, we decided that we would go kayaking the next day. It was an early start, and first we headed about 18km out of the city to see some caves. The first (The Elephant Cave) was a bit of a disappointment to be honest, but when we arrived at the second cave we had a bit of a shock.
There was a tiny opening, and it was filled with water. We got in the freezing cold water with our tube, and squeezed into the small opening. The cave was pitch black other than our head torches that had been provided, and it was quite an eerie place. There were only four of us, and it was great not having to do it in a huge group. The cave went on for about 1km underground, and we were able to use ropes for most of the way to pull us along. The guide told us that the cave used to house thousands of bats, but there weren’t many left and most of the locals catch them to eat. Especially good on a BBQ apparently.
After a nice BBQ lunch (which hopefully wasn’t bat), we then headed downstream in our kayaks. After a few minutes of bickering, we quickly got into our stride and took in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains. In total it was about 10km, and the route happened to go through the tubing circuit. We decided that after all of our hard work, we would reward ourselves with a few beers at one of the bars before heading back to our hostel.
We spent a total five nights in Vang Vieng, and we did very little for the remaining days after kayaking. Katy got to do some of his customary shopping and map checking before we departed for our next stop, Luang Prabang. The bus there was a seven hour drive winding through some stunning mountains. Some of the corners were a bit too tight for my liking, but the bus driver didn’t seem too concerned. Apparently brakes are just for stopping. We’ve been here two nights so far, and it is a really beautiful city. There are loads of places to eat, drink and relax with views over the Mekong. It has a very French feel, with most of the guesthouses and restaurants having colonial designs.
As we have eaten very little Laos food since we’ve been here, we decided that we needed to make a bit of an effort. We found a restaurant that offered a sampling menu, where we could try all of the local delicacies. There were some quite strange bits in there, but nothing too out there.
Last night we went out to watch the Bolton vs. Man U game (which wasn’t the best), and then went to the only place in town open past 11:30pm…the bowling alley. It’s about 2km out of town, so eight of us piled into a tuk tuk. It was quite a funny night, and I managed to get a score of 137 which is unheard of. I think that’s the first time I’ve got over 100. It must be the Beer Lao.
We’ve decided that rather than get a 14 hour bus to our next stop, Huay Xai, we are going to get a two day slow boat down the Mekong via Pak Beng. That way we will get to see more of the country before we leave for Thailand in a week or so. In Huay Xai we are heading into the jungle to stay in a tree top hut and do some zip-lining. Hopefully we may get to see some gibbons and other wildlife, but we’ll have to see what happens.
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…
We had an early start on New Year’s Day, and after breakfast we were ready to set off on our tour of Southern Laos. As it was our first time on a bike, Katy and I rented small 100cc bikes, while Seb and Sophie had a bigger dirt-bike to share. We headed East out of Pakse towards Tad Lo, which is about 85km away. It’s a fairly simple trip on good roads with very little traffic.
After a pit stop about 15km in, we’d arranged with Seb and Sophie that we would meet them at Tad Lo, as they were more likely to get there first. We set off first, expecting to see them fly past us at any minute. An hour later there was no sign of them, and we were unsure of whether to turn back and look for them or carry on. We decided that it was probably best to carry on and get to the guest house in Tad Lo where we had arranged to meet.
The ride on the way was really good, and we passed through loads of small Lao villages. There were very few road signs, so we kept an eye on how many kilometres we had travelled so far so we would know when we were there. Anyway after 90km, there was still no sign of Tad Lo, so we thought we had gone past it. We back-tracked about 15km to have another look. At this point there was still no sign of Seb and Sophie, and we began to have visions of us stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no way to contact them.
We eventually found someone who spoke a little English, and we were told that Tad Lo was 20km back in the direction we had just come from. So we turned around and started again. It turns out that the turning for Tad Lo was about 5km from where we had originally turned around in the first place, but we were pleased to find it. Tad Lo itself was a very small village next to a waterfall, and when eventually found the guest house there was no sign of them there, and the owner said there were no English couples that had arrived recently. We were worried that something had happened to them. Ten minutes later they turned up though.
When we had left them their bike hadn’t started, so they were stranded in a tiny village. The locals sat them down, gave them food and beer while someone had a look at the bike. After an hour they found out that it was simple a switch at the top of the bike that needed to be pressed, and they were back on their way.
After a trip to see another waterfall in Tad Lo in the afternoon, we headed to a local restaurant that is famed for its good food at cheap prices. The owner (Mama Pap) told us that she was having problems with one of her guests; an Italian guy who was refusing to pay his bill. Katy and Sophie agreed to try and broker a deal. After an hour of negotiating, he agreed a price that both he and Mama Pap were happy with, and we headed to bed in our very rickety bungalow.
The next morning we set off to a small town called Sekong, South of Tad Lo. About an hour into our journey, Katy pulled over with a puncture. We were in the middle of nowhere, with only very remote villages around us. A group of locals quickly joined us on the side of the road, but nobody spoke a word of English. Thankfully we found a local family that could change the inner-tube for us just five minutes down the road. We pushed the bike up to their house, and sat there for an hour or so while he repaired the tyre. We had no idea how much it would cost us, but we were shocked when we came to pay and it only cost about $2.
So we were back on the road to Sekong. It didn’t take us long to get there, but when we arrived we found that there was virtually nothing there. According to our guide book, this is one of the most remote parts of Laos, and that was fairly obvious to us. There were no other tourists to be seen, and most locals looked at us as if we were from Mars. Food was very basic with very few English menus, so we had to go with whatever we were given. While we were eating lunch, we were surrounded by various animals just wandering around, including pigs, chickens, cats and dogs. It was quite a site, and we turned around to see a chicken stood on Katy’s bike seat taking a poo. To say Katy wasn’t pleased is an understatement. We went to see more waterfalls that afternoon, before having an early night.
The next morning we got an early start, as we were headed to the most difficult part of our trip. So far all the roads had been tarmacked (to a certain degree), making it a fairly easy ride. That days trip involved heading to Paksong through the Bolaven Plateau (a national park) on a 90km strip of dirt track. We didn’t really know what to expect, but when we got to the track we were slightly worried. It took us an hour to do about 17km, with the roads proving almost impossible for our little scooters. So we took a stop at a couple of waterfalls to have a bit of a break from the bumpy road.
When we got back on the road we found that the track improved, and we made up some time quite quickly. There was virtually nothing on the way except beautiful views all around us. We were thankful to find a tiny little shop where we could buy some lunch (if you can call it that). We were treated to some stale coconut biscuits and water. By this point we were covered in dust and dirt from the road, and the locals were looking at us as if we were mad. We’d only seen one other foreigner driving across the plateau, so it’s obviously a fairly un-travelled route.
After several kilometres of huge dust clouds and precarious gravel causing the back of our bikes to swing out, we made it to Paksong. There was very little there, and we were only 50km from Pakse, so we decided to carry on.
In all we travelled about 400km in three days, and it was an amazing experience. I think we were all glad to get off the bikes and give our bums a rest though. When we got back last night, we treated ourselves to a hot shower and nice curry. It was great to see parts of Laos that a lot of tourists don’t get to see, and we were pleased to arrive back safely. Tonight we’re heading North to Vientienne where we plan to spend a couple of days.
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…
We hope everyone had a lovely Christmas.
We had a brilliant Christmas Eve that included dancing on tables, face painting and lots of Santa hats. Needless to say it was quite a heavy one, so we didn’t feel that brilliant on Christmas day. We managed to get up for breakfast (still a little drunk I think) and then exchanged presents. I stuck to the budget and treated Sam to a new pair of swimming shorts and a Cambodia vest top (lucky boy) and Sam blew the budget and bought me a ring (not THE ring) which I had seen and liked a few days earlier.
We headed out to find some greasy food and had a pizza for our Christmas lunch which was delicious. After an afternoon nap and watching the Christmas Carol on TV we headed out into town to meet some friends we’d met the night before. After a few beers we decided to eat locally and had BBQ and fried rice as our Christmas dinner.
Boxing Day was mainly spent sleeping and packing for our trip to Laos the next day.
When we bought our ticket to Laos we were told that it was a VIP bus and would take 10 hours. Our friends Seb and Sophie were also heading to Laos that day but had booked a regular bus which apparently would take 12 hours. We were picked up at 5.30am and taken to our bus which was a small mini bus, not what I would call VIP but it was half empty so we managed to spread out a bit. About 3 hours in we got a flat tyre which was quickly fixed to be fair, but then the gear box broke so we were starting to think that the journey was going to be a bit of a nightmare. Somehow the driver got the bus back up and running but then suddenly told us to get off in this small town we were in as there was another bus coming to take us the rest of the way. By this point we were thinking that we were never going to make it to the border on time and worried because our Cambodian visa ran out that day. We were right.
We arrived in a place called Stung Treng at about 5.30pm roughly 60km from the Laos border and told that we would not be going any further as the border was shut. After a few harsh words we were told simply to go and find ourselves a guest house and meet the guy at 8am the next day. We were stranded in the middle of nowhere. We found a cheap guesthouse, had some noodle soup for dinner and went to bed. Actually I went to bed leaving Sam watching the Arsenal game which was on TV in our room (glad I didn’t stay up).
The next day at 8am we met the driver who piled us into his minivan, literally drove round the corner and said he was picking up 2 more people at 8.30am so we had to wait. After about 40 minutes of not moving anywhere we were told to get on another bus which would take us to the border. At this point we were also told that there was no use in complaining as this was very normal for Cambodia and Laos and that nothing would ever be done as they simply didn’t care. At least they were honest. Anyway this bus didn’t leave until 9.30am so we had literally gone 50m in about 1 ½ hours. Finally we were on the move when the driver decided he needed petrol and then we had to stop to pick some more people up (we hadn’t even left the town at this point and it was 10am). We had to laugh though, especially when we saw that it was Seb and Sophie that we were picking up. They’d had the same nightmare trip, and they hadn’t arrived until 9.30pm the previous evening.
Finally we made it to the border, paid over the odds for the visa plus a $5 fine for over staying on our visa, but we were on our way to the 4000 islands; our first stop in Laos.
As the name suggests there are literally 4000 islands, and we were headed to Don Det, one of the larger islands. After a short boat ride across the river we landed and decided that the boys should go and look for a suitable guesthouse while Sophie and I sat and had a drink. The rest of the day was spent wandering around the island and finding a suitable spot for some sunset beers.
The following day we hired bikes and cycled to the south side of the island and onto another island called Dong Khong where there was a waterfall, some beaches and dolphins. The waterfall was pretty impressive and apparently the locals believe it’s full of dead spirits. We wondered past the waterfall and found a lovely beach with VERY hot sand and cooled off with a dip in the river. We then decided to look for the dolphins at a different part of the island.
We came across another beautiful beach with a couple of small restaurant shacks and saw that they offered boat trips down the river where they guaranteed a sighting of the famous river dolphins. We landed at a small island in the middle of the river where we were told to get off and look for dolphins. We did see some but they were too far away for any pictures but the boat ride alone was worth the trip. We cycled back before sunset and finished the day with a curry and some beers.
All four of us checked out the next day and headed to Pakse, the next big town in southern Laos. Seb and Sophie had planned a three day trip across southern Laos on a motor bike which sounded pretty cool, so we thought we’d tag along for the ride. So today we have hired a bike as a practice run and have slowly gained some confidence first on a dirt track and then on the roads. Sam was a little wobbly to start off with but seems to have got the hang of it now. We’re going to get our own bikes as I don’t think either of us will be very good passengers!
Helmets will be worn, and we’ll be in no rush to get around the Southern Loop.
Tonight is NYE and we’ve found a bowling alley by the river, so that’s the plan. It won’t be a late one as everything closes at 11am here, so we’ll probably see in the New Year on our hotel balcony, listen to some Whitney Houston (as we did last night at Seb’s request) and grab an early night.
We’ll probably be off line for a few days as I doubt there will be much Wi-Fi, so we hope you all have a good night tonight and Happy New Year!
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