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…
Midway through our night at Singapore airport, I decided that I am definitely too old to be sleeping on the floor…or trying to sleep as the case may be. There are worse airports to spend the night at, but that didn’t brighten my outlook or help my back the next morning. But as we sat on the flight to Tokyo, I was genuinely excited. It has been a while since I have felt like that when arriving somewhere, and Tokyo certainly didn’t disappoint.
The rail system is just ridiculous. It’s a vast sprawl of lines taking you to any crevice that you want to go within Tokyo and the surrounding areas. What it does mean is that there are always several ways to get to the same destination, so even getting on the wrong train isn’t the end of the world. Just looking at the map and trying to work out fares can be traumatic though, especially after a night lying on an airport floor followed by a seven hour flight.
It took us about two hours to get from the airport to the hotel, and it was a welcome sight when we finally found it. The room was small but very comfortable with everything we needed, with some added extras. The toilet had various contraptions attached that you wouldn’t get anywhere else in the world. I won’t go into details, but I can assure you that all were tested and I’m looking into getting them installed at home on our return to the UK.
That night as we slept, we were woken in a fairly strange way. At first I thought Katy was jumping on the bed, and it took us a while to understand what was going on. The whole room was shaking, with various items clattering to the floor. We were experiencing our first earthquake. It didn’t last too long, and almost immediately afterwards we were back asleep without a second thought; mainly due to lack of sleep. The next morning we checked the local news and confirmed that it was measured at 5.3 on the Richter Scale. There was no major damage or injuries, and although fairly common in Japan it was the first in Tokyo this year. It was a surreal experience which thankfully wasn’t too serious.
So we began to explore Tokyo and it really is a great city. It is by far the cleanest place I have ever been, and I don’t actually think I have seen one bit of rubbish on the floor all week. Although most people cannot speak English, everyone is very polite and respectful. The people we have spoken to are interested in what we are doing and where we are visiting, while recommending places for us to go. It’s a place that if you have the time and the money, you can do pretty much anything; and money is the operative word here. Tokyo is expensive.
Being on a traveller’s budget for the last eight months, we’ve gotten used to tightening our belts (unfortunately not literally) and finding ways to reduce costs. Nowhere has it been so important though. Beers average out at about £10 pint, although you can find it cheaper if you know where to go. Food can be tricky as most restaurants don’t have English menus, so trying to work out what things cost can be…err…tricky. Our room had a kettle, so we saved money by eating Ramen (or pot noodles). We did find something that we have had very little of in the past eight months, cheese and red wine. Both were cheap from the 7Eleven, and even though we sat in our small room drinking out of tumblers, it felt like a treat. And with a bottle of wine for £4, we treated ourselves several times throughout the week.
We have walked around most of the main districts of Tokyo this week, and a few places have stood out from the rest. Asakusa was probably our favourite area of the city, with a mix of very traditional buildings and ultra-modern. It has the oldest temple in Tokyo which was built in 628AD, and it’s just a lovely place to take in and watch people.
The best place in town for a night out has to be Roppongi, in Tokyo midtown. Here you can find any sort of bar for any budget. The bar that fitted in with our rather meagre budget was Gas Panic. It was recommended as one of the cheap trend bars of the moment, and was basically a hip-hop bar for young Japanese people looking for a good time. It did look like they were having a good time too. With cheap drinks and some great tunes blaring out of the sound-system, I thought it was a pretty good choice. That was until the DJ had a change of heart and began his Rihanna medley. As Katy took to the dance floor, I grabbed another beer.
After we were sufficiently lubricated we had planned to go out for a nice meal, but instead we had a McDonald’s and headed to a karaoke bar. We rented a private booth for an hour and we let rip. I’ve never heard such noises come out of Katy…luckily the booth was sound-proofed. We had a great time, and it is something that I think everyone who visits Tokyo should do during their time here.
We have also managed to squeeze in some really nice sushi meals while we’ve been here. It’s more expensive than I thought it would be, after all we are in the birthplace of sushi. The hardest thing is not to keep on taking more as they come around on the conveyor belt.
We’ve seen quite a lot of Tokyo in a week, but most of it has just been walking around the different areas of the city. We had a quick look at Tsukiji, the largest fish market in the world. We spent some time looking around some of the big arcades, and I couldn’t resist having a go on a few of the machines. Some of them actually look quite scary, and the locals definitely take their gaming seriously. In Ginza and Akihabara we had a look at some of the electronic gadgets, but there wasn’t really anything too cutting edge. I was picturing robots ice-skating or something like that, but unfortunately I was disappointed.
Today we went to Yoyogi Park in Shibuya to see if we could find the Harajuka girls. If you’ve not heard of them, they are basically teenage girls bedecked Japanese character outfits (such as Hello Kitty and Manga), goth makeup or punk kimono outfits. We had seen a few throughout the week, but this is the area that they congregate on the weekends. Well in fact we only saw about ten girls dressed up, and they weren’t too happy about getting their picture taken. It was great weather though, and an interesting walk through the park.
So tonight we are back in our room with a bottle of red wine, writing this blog. We fly to Ecuador tomorrow to start the second leg of our trip in South America. We have really enjoyed SE Asia, but we are definitely ready to move on now and experience different cultures and food. I will enjoy eating my bowl of noodles tonight, knowing it will be the last one for some time.
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…
After the bustling streets of Jakarta, we headed south to the lazy town of Bogor. We had planned to spend a few days in the mountains here, but on arrival we changed our minds. We found a nice hotel close to some great restaurants which also had a pool, so we decided to chill there for a few days. We actually realised that we had booked our flight to Singapore for the wrong day, so we didn’t really have time to do much else anyway.
Bogor itself has very little to do, and most people use it just to get to the mountains on the Puncak Pass. It does have a selection of really good restaurants though, still within our budget. We enjoyed local delicacies such as oxtail and bandrek, which is a ginger spiced tea-like drink.
Our next stop and our last country in South East Asia was Singapore, only a short flight from Jakarta. My first impression of Singapore was all good, and in the few days that we’ve been here I like it more and more. For a start it’s very clean compared to the rest of SE Asia. There are also lots of little things that make it stand out, such as pavements that you can actually walk on. It may sound a bit strange, but after eight months of walking on roads and weaving in between traffic, it’s a nice change.
One thing that we haven’t really enjoyed about Singapore is the costs. It’s a very expensive place to be, especially on a traveller’s budget. What makes it even more difficult is that there is so much to do here, so you have to pick and choose what to do and where to go. Beer averages about £6 per pint, and wine isn’t even worth considering at £50 for the cheapest bottle. Katy did get it into her head that she wanted to go to Universal Studios, but thankfully I talked her out of that.
Food here is actually quite cheap, and we’ve enjoyed some of our favourites since we’ve been here. We’ve had our chicken curry and naan fix in Little India, our pork and cabbage dumplings in China Town, and we even found a proper English chippy in Clarke Quay. We were tempted to buy a Singapore Sling in Raffles (it was invented here after all), but when we arrived and saw that it was £16 per cocktail, we settled for some pictures of the courtyard and gardens instead.
Accommodation here is also quite expensive, so for the first time on our trip we have had to stay in a dormitory. We’re sharing with six other people; three of whom seem to live at this hostel. It’s not too bad staying in a dorm, and potentially can be a great way to meet people. Unfortunately once someone has kept me up for most of the night snoring and then woken me up at 06:00am sorting out their carrier bag collection, my friendly nature seems to subside slightly.
One thing that we did do was go to Singapore Zoo; supposedly the best in the world. The main reason that I wanted to go there was to see the Malaysian Tapir, which is my favourite animal. I had hoped to see one in the wild in Taman Negara in Malaysia, but I didn’t realise how rare they were in the wild. So I got to see my Tapirs, and it made me very happy. We even got to see them swim, which I didn’t realise they could do. It is a great place to walk around and definitely worth the money.
We also had a day walking around Sentosa, which is an island just off of the city. This is where Universal Studios is, but also has other big names such as Café Del Mar to spend your money at. We just had a walk around the nature trail on the island and then along the beach. You could spend a lot of money here as there are loads of things to do. Unfortunately we had to walk past them all before we spent all of our money.
The best thing we did while in Singapore was spend the afternoon and evening in the Clarke Quay area. There are loads of riverside bars and restaurants, with live music and a great atmosphere. We managed to find a pub with a decent happy hour, and grabbed a pint of Stella for £5. As we walked up the river, we found that the Singapore Civilisation Museum had some live music outside. The music was great, and can only be described as Indian jazz (think The Cinematic Orchestra crossed with a Bollywood soundtrack). The museum had free entry for the evening so we had a look around, before heading to the most famous statue in Singapore, the Merlion. The hotel opposite has a light show every night, so we watched that before making our way back to the hostel, and our snoring roommates.
Today we have been out to the equivalent of Oxford Street, Orchard Road. Katy had spotted that there was a big weekend of sales. So the money we had saved by not doing certain things, she then spent in the shops on some more Katy treats. A new pair of jeans and three new tops later, we headed back to the hostel with our cup noodles as we now couldn’t afford dinner.
Tomorrow we have a very quiet day before we head to the airport for our flight to Tokyo on Monday morning. We had planned to stay an extra night at the hostel and get up early for our 07:00am flight, but we decided that it would be cheaper to just stay in the airport lounge for the night. Katy will be ok though, as she has her new pair of jeans to keep her warm as she sleeps on the floor.
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…
I’ve packed my bag, Katy’s packed her straighteners, and we’ve both packed in our jobs. It was obviously extremely difficult for us to tell our colleagues, and they’re jobs that we will both miss dearly.
Our first stop is Beijing, and the flights have been booked for the 22 September. Barring any visa problems, we should be out of our depth in no time.
With just three months to go before we depart on our travels, we thought it would be a good time to confirm details of our leaving drinks. Full details can be found on the ‘Leaving Drinks’ page of this blog, but you should have also received a calendar invite.
Make sure you keep the 10 September free. It would be great to see you all there, so just let us know if you can make it.
We’ll be updating the blog more often once we’re on our travels, but here’s something for a start. We’ll use this rather than sending out group emails, so make sure you subscribe by adding your email address on the top-right.
Sam and Katy