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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…

Food glorious food

Just before we left Thailand, we witnessed one of the best North London derby games I have ever seen. Even Gareth Bale’s customary theatrics (article on why Gareth Bale dives) didn’t manage to do them much good. A great way to end our time in Thailand.

The journey into Malaysia was a collection of trips on various different vehicles, all of them as uncomfortable as the last. The usual promise of a VIP express trip of four hours turned out to be much longer. We left Koh Lanta at 8am and finally arrived in Langkawi around 6pm. As soon as we walked through customs at the port, we were greeted with shops selling Cadbury’s chocolate and cheap booze. It almost felt like home.

Langkawi is a duty-free island and with Malaysia being a predominantly Muslim country, this was the place to buy (or drink) cheaply. After checking into our hostel, we ventured out to find somewhere cheap to eat. We were surrounded by big resorts with lots of European tourists, so it was very different to where we had been so far.

The next day we took a walk into town to take a look around. Almost all the shops, bars and cafes were closed during the day, so after getting caught in the rain we headed back to our room. Being in the tropics we knew that the odd rain shower was likely, but even the locals were surprised by how much it was raining. But in between the showers the 35 degree sun-dried things out pretty quickly.

Pantai Cenang beach, Langkawi

Pantai Cenang beach, Langkawi

That night we went for a few drinks in the hostel and got chatting to an American couple. They told us about a bar that was open until midnight (which is very rare), so we decided to tag along. It was quite a cool place right on the beach, with fire jugglers and chilled music. The night came to an abrupt end when the bar suddenly shut because they heard that the police were on their way. In Langkawi you need a license to sell spirits, which the bar didn’t have.  So we ended the night back in our hostel playing drinking games.

Overall Langkawi wasn’t one of our favourite places. Although drinks were slightly cheaper (£2 for a large bottle), food and accommodation were quite expensive. It was also very touristy, and full of tacky souvenir shops selling ‘Tre Bon’ sunglasses.

The next day we got a short flight to Penang. It was actually cheaper to fly than it was to get the ferry, so we thought we would treat ourselves to a flight which we’ve tried to avoid so far. When we were about the depart Katy wasn’t best pleased to find out that it was a twin propeller plane, but the flight went without incident and we arrived 30 minutes later.

On the bus into Georgetown (Penang’s UNESCO World Heritage City), we met an older English couple (Lee and Sally) who were also travelling around Malaysia. After hearing where we were heading to next, they very kindly offered us a lift to Ipoh, not far from our next stop. So we exchanged contact details and arranged to meet on Sunday.

We didn’t have a room booked when we arrived, so after some time walking through some more torrential rain, we found a cheap room above a mini-market. This room wasn’t the best, and most evenings we had to clear the room of cockroaches before going to bed.

Mmmmmm

Mmmmmm

The best thing about Penang and what it is famous for is the food. We were staying in Little India, and there were Nasi Kandar restaurants everywhere. We were in food heaven, and we tried most things from the menus. Chicken tikka, roti canai, butter chicken, tandoori biryani and murtabak to name a few. With most meals we were having freshly pressed apple juice, which was amazing. A big meal for the both of us was coming to about £5, and was some of the best Indian food we’ve ever had.

The next few days the weather was much better, and we spent our time walking around the city. Unfortunately for me, Katy found a big shopping mall and decided to buy more clothes. Penang is a really interesting place, with a mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay mosques, temples and churches. We are pretty templed out now, so we didn’t really venture into any though.

While walking around the city we found out that there was a music festival coming up in KL. We checked online and there were still tickets left, and it happened to be on a weekend that we were due to be there. We got quite excited as it will be our first gig of 2012, apart from having to listen to SE Asian karaoke. For those interested the line-up includes Chemical Brothers, The Wombats, Hercules and Love Affair, Chase and Status, Pendulum plus loads more.

Chinese temple in Penang

Chinese temple in Penang

To add to our good news, we found out that our friends Lucy and Tom and their two girls Ella and Georgia are going to be in Borneo when we are there. We’ve changed our travel plans to make sure that we have a few days with them, and it will be great to catch up with some friends from back home.

Just before we left Penang we also witnessed a Bolton win, which lifted them out of the relegation zone, so Katy was happy. Although we didn’t do a huge amount there, we really enjoyed Penang. The food was amazing and it was a nice place to chill out for a few days.

The next morning we met up with Lee and Sally for our trip to the Cameron highlands. Although they were supposed to drop us off in Ipoh, after a missed turning due to Katy’s navigational skills, we were treated to a lift all the way to Tanah Rata, where we were staying. Cameron Highlands is 2000 metres above sea level, and produces 90% of the fruit and vegetables for the entire of Malaysia and Singapore. It is also famous for producing tea, after William Cameron suggested the idea whilst surveying the area in 1885.

The journey to the Highlands took us along a stunning mountain road cutting through thick jungle. As we got closer to where we were staying, there were huge areas covered by market gardens producing virtually every fruit and vegetable you can think of. It was also accompanied by various very tacky stalls full of Chinese tourists buying strawberry earmuffs and other hideous souvenirs.

Slim School - 1962 (Third from the left)

Slim School - 1962 (Third from the left)

After saying goodbye to Lee and Sally, we checked into our hostel and had a look around the town. I was particularly interested in this area as my mum and auntie went to school here in the 1960s; SLIM School. I had been in contact with an old pupil who now runs a website for the school with various old pictures. The first little café we went into for a drink also had some pictures on the wall, with newspaper articles of when the school was opened.

The town itself was very small and quiet, with just a few places along the main street to eat and drink. It’s much cooler than the rest of Malaysia, and it was quite nice to get a break from the heat. As we were only there for two nights, we decided to book ourselves onto a tour the next day.

Tea plantations

Tea plantations

We started (don’t laugh) at a butterfly farm, where we saw…butterflies.  Then we headed to the hills to see the huge tea plantations. These went on as far as the eye could see, with some great views over the valleys. After that we headed even higher to a viewing platform at 6666ft above sea level for some even better views of the mountains. In this area we were also taken into the ‘Mossy Forest’ which is apparently what the backdrop to Avatar was based on. Although that could have been our tour-guide embellishing to divert for the fact that we were stood in a boggy forest with mud all over our clothes.

The Mossy Forest

The Mossy Forest

After making it back to the 4×4, thankfully without losing any footwear, we were then taken to a bee farm. At this point we had slightly lost interest in being herded around with 200 other tourists, so we decided to just watch from the balcony whilst having a drink.

The tour ended with a customary trip to a strawberry farm. Maybe it’s just because I’m English and was brought up in the country (ooh-aagh), but the thought of visiting a strawberry farm didn’t really excite me. You can’t even pick your own strawberries there, so I didn’t really see the point. We did enjoy a very nice fresh strawberry milkshake though, while others looked on in amazement at the strawberries growing.

We ended the tour by being dropped off at a Buddhist temple about 9km from our town. We had decided that we wanted to do some trekking through the jungle, and one of the trails started at the back of the temple. The night before our hostel owner had warned us that this trail was a bit ‘adventurous’, but as our new year’s resolution was to be more adventurous, we ignored his advice. We were joined by a couple from Cambridge that we had met on the tour, Justin and Heather.

Jungle trekking

Jungle trekking

The first path was only 2km, but it was through some of the thickest jungle you could imagine. It was also raining quite heavily by this point, and some of the climbs were steep to say the least. But after a couple of hours we came out of the other side, happy to be out of the jungle.

On the walk back down to the road, we saw the school that my mum and auntie attended when they lived in Malaya. It is now a Malaysian Special Forces army camp. They weren’t too impressed when we walked up to the camp and started taking pictures, but I’m glad we got to see it.

We rewarded ourselves for our trekking with cream teas at a local farm shop. I don’t think tea and scones have ever tasted so good. This revived us enough for the walk back to our town, and a much-needed shower.

Melaka river view

Melaka river view

The next day we got a bus to Melaka via KL, where we are now. It took us about eight hours to get here, but it was a comfortable journey with some nice sights along the way. Since we’ve been in Melaka we’ve not done a huge amount. It’s another UNESCO World Heritage City, and is a pretty place, with buildings inherited from the Portuguese, Dutch and British rule. Most things close very early at night, so we were a bit caught out last night and barely managed to get any dinner.

Today Katy has dragged me around the shops for most of the day. We did manage to find a great place to eat again today though. We had some really nice Chinese noodle soup for lunch and another great Indian meal for dinner.

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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