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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…

Red Red Wine…

The Chile / Argentina border crossing was very simple and the most thorough we have come across. A customs officer took Sam’s bag and asked to take a look inside. He immediately found the frisbee and started asking us what it was for. Rather than try and explain in our broken Spanish, Sam demonstrated by throwing the frisbee to another officer who became very excited…surely they have seen a frisbee before? A quick game followed before we had to get back on the bus…funny.

So we were finally in Argentina and on our way to Mendoza. I couldn’t have been more excited. Since the day we left the UK I have been dreaming of rare steaks and amazing Malbec wines. We were actually both feeling a little worse for wear as we’d had a few too many the night before, so our first night in Mendoza was surprisingly a dry one.  We made up for it the next day by ordering the biggest steak we could find (and afford) accompanied by a bottle of their finest Malbec (within our budget). This was followed by a Cabernet Sauvignon dinner back at the hostel.

The next few days followed the same suit with the odd home cooked meal thrown in and occasional beer just to mix things up a little.

A popular thing to do here is biking around the vineyards, and our hostel offered us free bikes for a day if we booked for four nights…perfect. We’d heard a lot about a bike rental company called Mr Hugo, and I was really looking forward to a nice romantic bike ride through the Maipu wine region taking in the sites and sampling some of Mendoza’s best wines.  Instead we were faced with an 8km bike ride down a very busy main road taking in the dust from the trucks zooming past and freezing because we’d chosen the one day it wasn’t sunny!

Where to begin?

Where to begin?

We visited three vineyards, each very different. The first was a small and very old family run winery which produced only 40,000 bottles per year and only sold their wine in Argentina. It was a really interesting tour and their reserve Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon wines were delicious…a good start to the day. The next winery was a bit different, producing double the quantity as the first but we weren’t offered a tour. We each choose three wines to taste and rested our legs for an hour or two. The last winery was very modern looking offering a self-guided tour and was in an amazing setting; just a shame about the weather. Again, we each choose three wines to try and sat back and enjoyed the view. We ended the day in a beer garden and slowly made our way back to Mr Hugo’s trying our best to cycle in a straight line.

Wobbly cycling

Wobbly cycling

We decided to switch hostels after four days as our hostel was quite dull and expensive. So we moved to Hostel Lao and into a dorm room (more money for wine). After a reasonably heavy night with Ali and Matt (who we met in Chile) we decided that we had better try and have a dry day.  It was going really well until the hostel introduced ‘free wine night’ and as most of you will know I’ve never been one to turn down free wine.

I really wanted to experience the wines in as many different ways as possible. The bike day was great but I really wanted to experience the pairing of wines with food. I found a winery with great reviews offering a five course tasting menu with wines for about £60 a head…a bargain back in the UK but on our budget Sam took some persuading. I had also emailed a friend, Ben who works for a wine merchant called Jascot’s in the UK to see if he had any contacts over here. Anyway it couldn’t have worked out better. The day we were meant to go for our fancy lunch, our hostel was offering a BBQ with as much wine you could drink for about $20 and we received an email from Ben detailing our visit to the La Chamiza vineyard including a tour with their Agronomist and a tasting with lunch with their wine maker…result! So we quickly cancelled the booking with the other winery and joined in with the hostel BBQ.

The BBQ was amazing and included huge hunks of steak and pork, chorizo and blood sausage (surprisingly delicious) accompanied by copious amounts of red wine. It was a great day and a great way to meet everyone in the hostel.

In preparation for our visit to La Chamiza I managed to persuade Sam that I needed some shoes and possibly a new top (or two).  So that’s exactly what we did…shop! I managed to squeeze in two new nail varnishes and a pair of sunglasses too…hurrah! After the BBQ we decided that we’d have another attempt to have a dry day but it didn’t last long as the hostel owner Mike (from Derby) persuaded Sam to go out and buy some empanadas for us all and give him directions to the nearest wine shop…here we go again I thought.

Empanada party

Empanada party

Our day at La Chamiza was amazing. We were picked up from our hostel by Ramiro, our host for the day, and driven about 40 minutes out of town to one of their vineyards. We were met by their Agronomist who is basically a specialist in soil and looks after all the vines. We were shown around their premier vines…exclusively used for their top wine, Martin Alsina Malbec. Ramiro translated and told us about the growing process and the irrigation system which is a very organic irrigation system of using the water from the mountains.

La Chamiza Vineyard

La Chamiza Vineyard

We were then driven back to town for a tasting of their top end wines which included the Polo Professional wines, the Legend wine and finally the amazing Martin Alsina Malbec. We went to a restaurant called azafrán and were shown into their tasting room or wine library which was just beautiful and included ponchos in case it got too cold. We were greeted by their wine maker, Martin who guided us through each wine and provided us with tasting notes. Then a series of tapas style dishes were served which was the perfect accompaniment to the wines and made for a very relaxing tasting.

Tasting room at Azafrán

Tasting room at Azafrán

Not to go on too much about it but the Martin Alsina Malbec was possibly one of the best wines I have ever tasted (and I have tried a few). It has even won the ‘Best Malbec from Argentina’ award over the last few years so it’s a wine that they are deservedly very proud of and a wine I feel very privileged to have tried.

Let the tasting commence

Let the tasting commence

We have had an amazing week in Mendoza but it’s time to move on and give my liver a rest so tonight we head South towards Bariloche on what I hope will be our last overnight bus of this trip.

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…

Wine(ding) our way through Chile

The flight to Santiago although late, passed without incident. We had arranged an airport pick-up from our hostel, and it felt like a very civilised way to travel. A hell of a lot better than the alternative of a twenty four hour bus journey anyway. Santiago is a very European looking city, and after a few days in the most basic of accommodation in Bolivia, it was nice to get some home comforts back.

View from Cerro Santa Lucía

View from Cerro Santa Lucía

We spent our days exploring the city, and taking in as many free attractions as we could. It’s an expensive place to be, so reigning in Katy’s spending habits was taking more effort than usual. We saved money by cooking more of our own meals (well Katy more than me), and sticking to a few wines at the hostel rather than beers at a bar. The wine here is cheap. For £3 you can get a good bottle of red or white, and this is actually becoming quite dangerous. I’ve drunk more wine in the last two months than ever, and with Argentina coming next I don’t see that slowing down.

After a few days we decided to head to Valparaiso on the coast for some sun. It’s only about two hours away from Santiago, and very close to the beach town of Viña del Mar. Our plans were slightly thwarted though as on arrival the temperature dropped, and we were left with a very overcast looking coastline. So instead we got comfortable in our warm room, with some home cooked meals and some more Chilean wine.

Main Square Valparaiso

Main Square Valparaiso

As the weather didn’t get any better over the next couple of days, we decided that we had to explore, bad weather or not. Someone had recommended a free walking tour, so we thought it might be a good way to get to know the city. Valparaiso was once a major port and one of the richest cities in South America, before the Panama Canal opened. Since then it has fallen on bad times, and so there are many amazing colonial buildings which have been left to rot.

Funiculars

Funiculars

Most of the houses are built into the surrounding very steep hills. Instead of struggling to walk up and down these hills every day, they built funiculars, or cliff railways. There are not many that are still running in the city, but it is still a preferred way of getting up the hills.

The other thing that Valparaiso is famous for is the street art, or graffiti. It is so common there that people actually pay artists to paint the front of their houses. There is an unwritten rule that you cannot tag over someone else’s art. Therefore getting your house painted prevents any other unwanted graffiti. It makes Valparaiso a very colourful place, and there are some amazing pieces around the city.

Taking street art to the next step

Taking street art to the next step

While we were there we also visited Viña del Mar. It is only ten minutes away by metro, and is a nice beach town. You can see how this place gets packed in the summer, but with the weather being cold and overcast it was practically a ghost town. There are lots of nice looking bars and restaurants, all of which looked out of our price range. Instead we headed back to Valparaiso for dinner in a traditional restaurant that had been recommended to us. We had a great night with a local band playing old school Chilean songs. We were the only gringos in the place, so we got a few strange looks, but everyone was very welcoming. Katy managed to start flirting with a fireman, and after paying for a raffle ticket, she even got to wear his hat.

Where's the fire

Where’s the fire

It was typical that on the day that we decided to return to Santiago the weather picked up and the sun was shining. We checked into a different hostel that was cheaper and which offered free breakfast and dinner. It wasn’t the nicest place, but for the price we had a bargain.

Our Chilean friends that we met in San Pedro De Attacama, Francisco and Penelope, had invited us to their house, so we headed over there for Sunday lunch. We had a really good afternoon, with a few glasses of wine and some great food. I was surprised when Katy (who isn’t exactly a dog lover) fell in love with their toy poodle, Pasha. She even threatened to kidnap her, but that may have been the wine talking.

Chilean friends

Chilean friends

Before we left Chile, Katy said that it was imperative that we visit at least one vineyard, so that’s exactly what we did. It was actually quite expensive, but who am I to argue with a girl with a wine craving. We had a private car to take us one hour out of town to visit the Undurraga Vineyard.

Undurraga Vineyard

Undurraga Vineyard

We were taking the tour with Louise from Australia, who had just arrived at our hostel. The grounds were really nice, and luckily the sun had come out which made a big difference. Our guide explained the whole wine making process and the differences between the different grapes.

Almost ready for drinking

Almost ready for drinking

We spent an hour being shown around the site, including the cellars and the fermenting areas. We finished with a small tasting of four wines. The servings were conservative (in my opinion) but it was good to taste different varieties. The big let-down was the fact that there was no wine bar on site, and no food served with the wine…maybe a good thing considering our shrinking budget.

More barrels

More barrels

To make up for this, we decided to go for a local Chilean drink in the centre of Santiago. A Terremoto (or earthquake) is a combination of fermented homemade white wine, grenadine and pineapple ice cream. It sounds a bit strange, but people don’t really drink this for its taste. It’s called an ‘earthquake’ as it leaves your legs shaking afterwards. Katy and I had already tried one of these previously in the same bar, and it was as local as they come. It’s called La Piojera and I would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Santiago.

Terremoto

Terremoto

We were the only gringos in there, and we were treated to some special attention. We even had the local musicians serenading the girls…it must be the blonde hair. It was a great end to our time in Chile, and a day that I’m sure we may regret tomorrow morning when we get our early bus to Argentina.

The centre of attention

The centre of attention

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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