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…
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Until the next time…