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…
We arrived in Rio de Janeiro excited but slightly apprehensive as it was our last stop before flying home. We didn’t get too much time to dwell on it though as when we walked into our hostel we bumped into some friends from Bolivia, Chris and Zoe. It was their last night travelling before their return to England, so we had a few caipirinhas with them before they left. Our hostel (Bossa in Rio) was really nice and had a great happy hour, so we quickly made some new friends while acclimatising to the sweltering hot weather.
We were in Rio for five days but had a lot to squeeze in during that time, so the next morning we were up early and headed to see one of the big attractions, Christ the Redeemer. We went with an Aussie couple called Nathan and Kate. Christ reminded us of Big Buddha in Hong Kong and although it’s a very impressive and symbolic sight, it was the views that won us over. As with all these sights, it was full of tourists but we managed to elbow some of them out of our way for some great shots of Rio.
The afternoon was spent wondering around Leblon and Ipanema, some of Rio’s more affluent neighbourhoods. We had planned to watch the sunset from Ipanema beach as apparently it is amazing but unfortunately after about half an hour of watching the beautiful people on the beach, the weather suddenly turned and huge rain clouds came over ahead. We ran for a bus in the pouring rain and made the most of our hostels happy hour instead.
The bad weather continued the next day so we took a walk to the Santa Teresa steps, beautifully tiled stairway by a Chilean artist. It was raining so we took a few pictures and had a quick lunch before heading out for the afternoon.
We had booked ourselves onto a favela tour with a tour group called ‘Don’t be a Gringo, be a Local’…quite apt. I was really looking forward to having a walk around a favela within the relative safety of a tour. We were taken to the biggest and most famous favela in South America called Rochina which houses over 69,000 people. We started at the top which provided amazing views over the whole favela and Rio and then slowly made our way down through the narrow lanes.
On our way down we were treated to some live Samba by some of the local kids. They were part of a Sunday school and had been encouraged to do something for money rather than just beg so they had put together a small band…if you can call it that…some old plastic tubs and saucepans. Some of the younger kids joined in and started dancing for us. It was all very sweet and obviously planned for our visit so we rewarded their efforts with a small donation.
The favela is like a city of its own, it has its own hospitals, schools, shops and even internet cafes. This particular favela has not been pacified yet but is starting to go through the process. Most of the favelas in Rio have now been pacified, which basically means that the drug lords have been kicked out and they are now run and supported by the police. Most favelas have seen massive improvements in terms of sanitation and some have cable cars or lifts being built (not for tourists but for the locals).
When we came out of a particular bad lane, having walked through sewage and god knows what else, we were greeted by four massive police men carrying machine guns…not a sight I expected but apparently all part of the pacification. Our guide told us that the majority of local people have welcomed the change and are working with the police to improve their living conditions. It was a truly interesting experience.
The Aussie couple we met, Kate and Nathan were great fun and one night Nathan let us into a big secret. He had arranged for Kate’s sister to fly into Rio and travel with them for three weeks and Kate had no idea. Alice was arriving during happy hour so we settled down for a few drinks and when she walked through the door, Kate’s face was a picture…what a brilliant surprise!
We celebrated Alice’s arrival by heading out to the infamous Lapa street party. The whole neighbourhood came alive with live music on the streets, cheap caipirinhas and an amazing atmosphere. We watched some of the locals strut their stuff and show off their samba skills and I decided to have a go. Well, I can tell you that samba is one of the hardest dances I have ever tried. It obviously has a rhythm but I couldn’t find it so I sort of jumped around on my feet trying to wiggle my bum at the same time…not a pretty sight according to Sam!
It was a great night and we managed to come home with our camera and wallet still intact. One of the couples we were with had their iPhone stolen from their pocket unfortunately, and it’s notorious for theft and muggings.
Feeling slightly worse for wear the next day we headed to Copacabana for a walk along the famous beach and possibly a dip in the sea. Unfortunately the weather didn’t co-operate so we settled some lunch followed by some Havaiana shopping much to Sam’s delight. We returned to Lapa later that night for some more samba and the strongest caipirinhas I have ever had. They were served in pint glasses and were very cheap.
Sunday was a bit of a wash-out unfortunately…two nights out on the trot were taking their toll so we had a lazy day in the hostel. By the evening we were feeling much better so a group of us headed out to a local restaurant which was recommended by our hostel; Bar Do Maneiro. It was a great little place which offered traditional Brazilian food at a reasonable price. We each shared some bean and meat stew, which we later found out was made with pigs ears, tails and other meat delights. It was delicious though and I am glad I didn’t really know what I was eating. We also ordered the fish stew which was delicious and we couldn’t resist ordering a plate of crackling…Mmm. It was a great last night for us.
We packed our bag for the very last time, careful to protect the three litres of cacacha we’re bringing back and headed out to our final tourist spot, Sugar Loaf Mountain. We had wanted to go up for sunset as the views over Rio looked incredible. Because of the changeable weather this wasn’t possible so we headed out around lunchtime and had a couple of hours soaking in the amazing views, even finding a couple of loungers to relax on. We also enjoyed watching the planes come in as they have to bank quite sharply over the water in order to land on the short runway of the local airport.
Although we had a lovely day, trying to get Sam to smile in any of the photos was hard work. He is definitely not looking forward to coming home so he was a bit miserable all day. I had fun though and even though I wish we could continue our travels together, I am excited to be coming home to see all my family and friends.
What a city and country to end our 15 months of travel…a definite must see for you all and one that we’ll be coming back to. We’re now at Frankfurt airport waiting for our flight to London and the only thing that is keeping us going (apart from a Starbucks coffee) is the thought of eating bratwurst and ordering some champagne!
Coming soon…the round-up of our trip