Cebu- The end is nigh

 

 

It’s finally here. The end is truly here. After 320 odd days on the road we’re heading home (albeit slowly and dragged out) after this last leg of the journey. Obviously this meant we had to make sure we went out with a bang!

After the lengthy journey back to Cebu City from Malapascua, we jumped on another bus straight to Moalboal, a town on the west coast famous for canyoneering, the infamous sardine run, and awesome hiking across some pretty mind-blowing terrain. With our new travel buddy Sarah, we checked into quite possibly the weirdest hostel we’ve stayed at so far! Surrounded by odd statues of superheroes and steampunk style characters, and with absolutely no social life we ventured further to the coast and stayed at Chief Mao, a relatively new hostel with a great reputation. As soon as we arrived we were made to feel like part of the family, and immediately bonded with a bunch of the other guests. We were really fortunate to be staying alongside some bloody awesome people, all of whom got on with everyone else there.

After an evening getting to know everyone, the whole hostel signed up for a canyoneering trip early the next morning, so an early(ish) night was on the cards. The next day, we set off just before 9 to the falls on the back of a pickup and filling this hello kitty party bus (yep, it was as weird as it sounds).

To get right to the falls we had a motorbike ride to follow, and our first experience going 2up on a bike (so 3 people on one motorbike). The rest of the day was non stop laughs and excitement as we progressed through the valleys along a number of different cliff jumps. Starting off the group easy, we took on a poxy 3m jump, followed by a natural water slide which we all took on backwards.

Over the rest of the day the jumps grew, finishing with a 15m, jump into the famous Kassawan Falls.

Throughout the day, we’d had rain so the falls weren’t their normal crystal clear water, but the rain I think added to the whole experience (plus, it livened up some of the waterfalls which was a plus). Our whole group did all the jumps; something our guide was overjoyed about, and apparently is quite the rarity. The day overall was absolutely perfect, until the daredevil member of our group Jonny decided to smash his head on a rock after taking on a canyon swing. A quick and relatively painless (well, not painless for Jonny) trip to the local A+E, £2 worth of head shaving, Lidicane and sutures later, and we were back on the road back to the Hostel.

Needless to say, we were all pretty exhausted after the day we’d had, so spent the rest of the evening vegging around the hostel, sharing GoPro footage from the dozen or so cameras being operated by our group.

Our new found squad agreed the following day, we should all just hire bikes and ride out to the less well known parts of Cebu. Leaving about Midday, we set off about 20 miles South East inland, heading to sites like Osomena peak, relatively unknown waterfalls, and along some breathtaking coastline. Armed only with a bunch of downloaded Google Maps accounts, a member of the group who speaks Filipino (Jonny from the last paragraph), and a bunch of scooters,  we didn’t really know where we were going half the time. Once we turned off from the coastal road towards the ‘town’ (not really a town, but as close as you get to a large population in the Philippines without being a city I guess), we took on the advice of some locals, who inadvertently sent us on a total wild goose chase up and over a mountain, taking on some pretty ropey roads and terrains. We didn’t manage to find the final waterfall we initially set off to search out, but it didn’t matter. The rides and the views were so worth the effort, and having a good ol’ explore with our new group of buddies was as always, great. However, the weather took a turn yet again, resulting in us taking refuge under the canopy of a local shop. This continued for over an hour, but we didn’t give up. Setting off upstream on a short hike, wearing our helmets for rain cover, we continued until we found another ‘local waterfall’. Sadly, after the pretty treacherous hike down to the falls (the ladies decided rather sensibly to pass on this one) this was a total let down (I think we’d all been treated too well the day before with regards to waterfalls). Again though, it didn’t matter. Just being out on a bike exploring some truly picturesque landscapes and sights with great people made it all totally worth it.

To finish off our time in Moalboal, we had to take on the Sardine Run. This is a naturally occurring phenomena, which results in a shoal of millions of sardines circling just off the coast by the reef wall. I had heard a bunch about this, and had a preconceived idea of what it would be like, but all my preconceived ideas were totally wrong. This was way bigger, more immersive and in general awesome than i’d ever imagined! It’s quite hard to describe how massive this is, and how pathetic you feel when surrounded by them. The sardines seem to flow through the sea like one single organism, shifting around falling objects and people flawlessly. Watching this almost dance like activity through the sea was utterly mesmerising. I think we all could have spent all day in the sea with them, but sadly our plans were thwarted by a jellyfish tentacle rubbing itself up Kelly’s face (the little bugger, we were having so much fun)!

Before heading back to Cebu to take our flight (with a day or two in a swanky hotel before that), we took another couple of buses to a tiny fishing village called Oslob. This has gained quite a reputation over the years as a place you’re assured to see whale sharks. However, this is for a reason. As the decline in fishing began to have a major impact on the local economy, partly down to over fishing but also the whale sharks gobbling up all the surrounding krill, the local fisherman decided to make a career change and use the sharks. These guys are now fed, day in day out, attracting hundreds (if not thousands) of tourists. Because of this, the whale sharks that are found at Oslob have stopped migrating. Whilst they aren’t in captivity, can leave any time, and are free, this level of domestication and the impact that tourism has had on their migration left me with one hell of an ethical dilemma. Having said all that, getting to swim with so many massive creatures was absolutely mind-blowing. You can’t actually fathom the sheer size of these SMALL whale sharks until you’re in the water with them. On a couple of occasions, I honestly felt like I was about to be sucked up into their massive mouths as they gobble up all the plankton and krill on the waters surface.

For the first 15 minutes, we were lucky. We’d stayed at a hostel called Sharkeys, literally 30m from the starting point, meaning we were in the first boat and basically alone with the sharks. The latter half of our time in the water though, was almost ruined by dozens of boats arriving, bringing in hundreds of people. The sea quickly became dominated by clueless tourists donning their life jackets, oblivious to the impact of their splashing and shouting on the creatures and other tourists. Note to self guys, if you are going to do this, get there EARLY and try to get the first boat out!

The last few days of out time in the Philippines were certainly an emotional rollercoaster, but in such a good way. Finishing off this trip with a great bunch of people, doing amazing things and seeing the animals of the area really showing off was just the way I wanted to end this trip. After a pretty intense few days, we used our last day (Kelly’s actual birthday) to achieve very little! The majority of the day was spend vegging in bed watching TV (thanks to poor weather again sadly),but it didn’t matter. Just spending some quality time together was all we wanted. Cebu city isn’t the most exciting place in the world anyway!

Right, that’s it. A year on the road done! Now, time to head back to Bangkok for a few days, with a few surprises to throw in. Watch this space. 

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Koh Rong Samloem- One More Night

Kelly and I agreed we’ve been travelling really hard recently and really deserved a nice beach break. Before the onslaught of ‘oh piss off Matt’ messages from my friends and colleagues start flying in (how is work actually?) this is full on sarcasm, but we really wanted some time doing nothing.

The problem with truly doing nothing is it can require some planning in a brain like mine! If I am going to truly achieve or do nothing, I needed to do this to the max! Koh Rong Samloem therefore was on the cards.
Just off the coast of mainland Cambodia there’s a bunch of islands being dubbed as modern day Thai island (from bout 20 years ago, when tourism didn’t overrun everywhere). From what we’ve heard and read, there are stretches where these islands are effectively untouched, with beautiful stretches of white sandy beaches, perfectly clear teal sea, and in the evening, bio-luminescent plankton. Sounds like heaven right? We thought so! We decided to opt for Samloem, the smaller of the two islands as this is still slightly less developed and less touristy.
Sadly it seems like 99% of the backpacker friendly establishments on this island haven’t exactly nailed the hospitality thing, so we decided to book with the 1% that appeared to get this right, Mad Monkey. All the others offered horror stories of rats munching through bags, terrible inattentive staff or food poisoning laden grub. Lovely!
Mad monkey run hostels in 3 other locations in Cambodia, and one in the Philippines, all of which have been awesome that we’ve seen so far. Mad Monkey Koh Rong was literally the only venue we found that had consistently awesome views. Yes it was more than we hoped to spend per night, but let’s be honest, staying on a deserted island resort with all of the above for less than £20 a night for two people isn’t really shit is it? What really nailed it for me is their strong ethos of helping the communities they work with. I really like it when a CSR stance for a company isn’t just a tokenistic corporate move but part of the culture, and I could really see the positive impact these guys were having, especially on Koh Rong Samloem.
We got picked up in Sihanoukville and taken to the only main port on the island, before jumping on a smaller boat to take us to the hostel. From the second we arrived we knew we were in for a treat! As soon as we stepped into those clear waters we knew we were onto a winner.
 
We were welcomed by Vinnie, an American member of staff who helped carry our stuff in and gave us an overview of the island in wonderful comedic fashion. He had an amazing ability to memorise everyone’s names and nationalities almost immediately and remember them for the duration too. Now that’s customer service! He filled us In basics, no WIFI on site, no cash on site (everything is over a tab based system), what happens when of importance (like happy hour and boats on/off the resort) the resort dogs and where to find what. We then checked into our open air dorm which overlooked the beach as well. I was somewhat apprehensive about this at first, but it was awesome, and great to be woken up by the sunrise every morning.
Immediately I realised this place was geared up for simplicity and enjoyment, but more importantly socialisation. We were also introduced by Vinnie to a very special group of guests who had been at the resort for a total of two and a half weeks! One of them, Sahrah, had achieved the legendary accolade of Queen Klang (a 6% lager they sell on site). She drank 42 cans in one day to take the title, that also awarded her a pretty awesome crown made of Klang cans.
 The day we arrived they were due to leave, but quickly decided to stay just one more night. They actually stayed two more after that, something I noticed many people doing over our stay. This quickly became a slogan for the days we were there (it’s also probably how they ended up staying so long)!
We spent the ride to the island chatting with a bunch of fellow guests who we almost immediately bonded with and spent the first day and evening with, but to be honest I felt anyone else in the main social area was there to meet people, and was easy to talk to. I can’t stress enough the impact no wifi had on this. No one had their phones stuck to their faces so was fully engrossed in having a laugh, getting to know people, or playing games. It’s a real shame we live in a society now where this isn’t the norm! I know this sounds horribly cliche but it really felt like the longer staying guests had formed small families. This was especially the case for the two weekers, who were now affectionately called the furniture by staff, and had formed a title of ‘the cool club’ as well as family roles for each other like mother, father, weird uncle, you get the idea. This title suited them big time, they were all bloody awesome and we spent all of our last day with them in the end.
The day’s consisted of very little; Wake up overlooking the sea, head to the bar to share a breakfast and get a quick swim in before food was served (which was also fantastic for the record), head for a lie on the beach armed only with a towel and a kindle (maybe some suncream and a GoPro too), have a little nap on the beach, swim to a hammock partially submerged in the sea, have a little nap again, move to the swing in the sea, back to the beach, maybe get some snacks or a beer from the bar, repeat this three times before sunset, then the fun really starts! Hours of great food, games, a bit of alcohol consumption, some of the best fire poi I’ve ever seen, finally ending with a swim in bio-luminescent plankton at midnight (sometimes nude, you only live once). Perfect concoction for a good night when you consider where you are? I think so! This was a really cool experience and like swimming in silver.
Just like any backpacker hostel, there’s a good craic in the evenings: mad monkeys didn’t disappoint either. The place was filled with things to do with people from simple card games to drinking games, a sack toss equivalent to beer pong onto the nations leaderboard for challenge shots (a specific set of shots to get you higher on the leaderboard. Each nation decided a nickname for their nation before aiming to be supreme champions for that month). When we arrived the Dutch (kindly nicknamed as Swaffelen, just google it) were smashing the board and continued to do so (mainly down to Nicole who I’d imagine is reading this if back on mainland by the time I post). Brexit were in a close second as we tend to be with drinking based activities throughout SE Asia. This became quite a competition as nations quickly formed mini drinking factions to get to the top. No one unswallefed the swaffelers though. I know it sounds like a proper piss up, but I’d be doing the place massive disservice by advertising it that way. If people didn’t want that kind of vibe, they could have a good time anyway, and that really added to it. I think I only met 4 people who didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves from our dorm, but they were miserable bastards from the first moment! It’s a rare occasion where you can safely say 90% of people at a party are having a good time, but I’d say that’s an accurate representation of mad monkey to be honest.
Every day was the same; Repeat the above described routine but throw in the departures and new arrivals three times over the day. This became the only way we could tell the time apart from looking at the sun, which again was seriously nice. Any normal requirements from day to day life totally went out the window, and that alone made this part of the trip worth every penny!
After 3 days of partying and chilling to the max, we got on the 4pm boat back to mainland. We all thought we were on the dull as dishwater speed boat back, but apparently that had oversold so we were out on the party boat (filled with miserable looking families who clearly didn’t want to party). About 30 mins before we docked though, everything changed… The boat actually turned into a foam party! Needless to say we made the most of it!
I mentioned the people were key to this weekend, so I need to give a shout out to some folk who made it for me.
The staff, especially Vinnie, Dan Nicole and Lucas (even with food poisoning) were amazing. From the moment we arrived you made us all feel at home. Thanks guys!
The TCC. Living legends of the resort welcomed us like family. Thanks for making our last night and day in particular such a laugh, and the journey back to mainland such an experience. Sarha, Aline, Monique and Dylan, see you in Siem Reap! I look forward to seeing the family tattoos.
The Brazilians, Augusto and Raphael. We arrived on the island with them after meeting the night before in Sihanoukville. You guys had us in stitches from the moment we arrived. I was so sad to see you go before us!
The Swaffelers, especially Nicole and Koen and Laurens, who certainly propped up the score board a bit (and the bar top at times, looking at you Koen).
The young ones, Jess and Henry. These awesome Aussie cousins managed to single handedly wipe out half the island with their joints, but still somehow partied hard! I put this down to being 12 years my junior obviously….
Ciera, Mara and Molly, the birthday girls! These guys were on the boat with us to the island, somehow smashed a bottle of prosecco without actually touching it (literally split the bottle down the seam) but kept me very entertained for hours. Molly, get in touch about India anytime!
Finally the house doggies! Otis (Scooby Doo), Lola and Oyster were pretty awesome pooches that just topped it all off. What else do you need on an island already covered with good people, food and drinks, and amazing beaches?
I’d go as far as saying this was one of the best bits of the trip so far. Going off the grid was such a nice break from, to be honest, absolutely everything! Having everyone on the same page too really was so good and I’d go back right now if I had the chance. This will certainly be a tough one to beat, and I’ll never forget out time here. Mad Monkey management, if you’re reading this, you’re nailing it. Keep it up. I’ve stayed at hostels over 3 countries across 11 weeks so far, and you’re the best by a mile. Give all your staff a pat on the back too! Keep it up, and I hope to see more from you across Asia and the South Pacific!

Phong Nha to Hỏi An- SameSame but different

SameSame but different- A phrase used across Vietnam by those selling stuff. Definitely made us chuckle on many occasions.


Firstly, an apology. This is a somewhat delayed post. We’re now in Hoi An and left Phong Nha probably a week ago. We had non stop activities there and getting to Hue took it out of us (more on that later), and to be honest we’ve been having too much fun so haven’t had time to write anything. But I won’t apologise for having too much fun, that’s kinda the idea of giving up on adulting for a year!
Following the amazing days we had in Hanoi and Ha Long, we caught a sleeper bus to Phong Nha, an area that’s only really been on the map for backpackers the last few years. About 6 years ago, the worlds largest cave was discovered here, bringing thousands of avid cavers to this place. Because of that, it’s now a must stop place. The waiting list to explore this cave properly is going into 2018, costs about $2000 and lasts a minimum of two days. Needless to say we didn’t explore this place but there was plenty to keep us occupied.

Phong Nha is a pretty awesome place to be honest. I can see why so many people come here. It’s totally different from anywhere we’d seen in Vietnam, or have still seen to date. Totally in the middle of nowhere, in a super rural area, it was a really nice change from the hustle and bustle of city life. We stayed at probably one of the most lively and generally awesome hostels called Easy Tiger, which I can’t recommend any higher. With a great bar, about 200 other people staying, a pool (!!!!!), live sports on almost non stop (got to watch McGregor smash his fight with 40 other hostel goers at a non God awful time, bonus!),amazing staff, live music almost every night (that was good I should add), decent food and awesome dorms, this would be a tough one to beat. Also, they sold cider which kept Kelly very happy (especially on the 2nd to last  night when she embraced all the cider).

We decided to stay for 3 nights as I’d heard so many people say they wish they spent longer, and I’m so glad we did! This place certainly kept us occupied without feeling like we crammed stuff in every day. After a long and rank journey on a sleeper bus (imagine sitting in a dentist chair for 9 hours whilst on a bus, that’s basically what we did) we arrived around 5am, couldn’t check in, so slept in the bar for a couple of hours. We were given a talk about the local area by Mark, an Aussie member of staff who arrived here 3 years ago for a holiday and just never left! He walked us through things to do and see, and what was really awesome is he was telling us how to save money! This was such a nice change from the normal money grabbing lifestyle we’d become accustomed to, so was greatly appreciated. He also gave us an overview of the history of the area that got absolutely clobbered during the American war. It’s crazy to think what this country has endured over the years, and continues to experience, from the left over bombs covering the land (the are shit loads, and people still set them off every week!!!!!). Phong Nha is badly affected by flooding, and a week earlier half the hostel was under water, the impact we could still see quite clearly. Fortunately by the time we arrived the water had subsided somewhat,but how people live through this so regularly continues to astound me.

We decided to pay a driver for a day with a couple we met, Sam and Charlie, who turned out to live in Colchester too, and Henry from London, who was I guess secretly an evil genius (engineering genius from Oxford Uni; we stayed up all night chatting about the world, it was awesome)! It’s amazing how you can be half way around the globe and meet people from so close to home. We started the day by going to the Dark Cave, known for its mud baths. The day started with a zip line to the cave, followed by a swim through the cave.

We were really lucky to do this as the cave was closed a day before because the water was so high. Normally you don’t have to swim the 1/2km in put it that way!

After an hour we made it to the mud pools, which were AWESOME! I’d missed my favourite OCR back in the UK, Nuclear Races, so getting my mud fix was just what I needed! 

After that we swam back out, and kayaked back to the starting point. This was all a bit expensive by Vietnamese standards (1/4 million VND, or about £9) but well worth it. Following this, we got in our car and went to paradise cave. Now I’m hardly a geology geek, but this was something else! After a hike for an hour we reached the cave and spent the next hour walking through a MAHOOOSIVE labyrinth of caves like nothing I’ve seen before. Seriously, it was awesome. Pictures can’t do it justice, but it was breathtaking. That night, we stayed up boozing in the hostel with our new friends and more we made there.

Day 2 consisted of hiring a scooter and exploring the more local sights. To start this section, I’ve NEVER ridden roads like this! Because of the flooding the pre existing roads were quagmire like paths that required some serious attention, especially with such precious cargo on the back.

We stopped at the duck stop first; a small duck farm a local guy started up. He fed us up on guava and peanuts that came from his land, both were delicious! I can highly recommend eating peanuts with peppercorn now too!

I’ve had a few comments from friends about the welfare of the ducks following a video I uploaded. Fair point, but I can say these ducks were LOVED by the owner. The duck tossing thing is probably questionable, so I apologise for that.

Following the duck stop we endured a 40 minute ride across the quagmire roads to the Pub with Cold Beer. Yes, this is literally a must do in Phong Nha, a Pub with Cold Beer…….

NO CHICKENS WERE HARMED DURING MY TRIP HERE

We were greeted with rice wine and welcomed to join a group traveling on the Buffalo Run (a pre-organised tour lasting a week doing the route we plagiarised massively, saving about $400 each)! The guys we met were AWESOME, and we have seen them at every other stop purely by chance (including today whilst just casually walking down a beach in Hoi An). We ended up having a cracking night with them back at the hostel that night, when ‘Cidergate’ occurred. I spent the night playing Cahon with the band which I loved (my hands definitely didn’t though)! I’m really glad to say we will probably link up with a few of these guys whilst away and back home again; another beauty of backpacking!

That’s definitely one of the best things about traveling, the people you meet all with knowledge, stories, and shared aims. I want to give a couple of shout outs to people we met actually. Firstly to Tim, an Aussie who’s bought a bike and ridden from basically Cambodia. He told me a story about his experience in Malaysia that ill never forget (and he definitely won’t).

Tim decided to hike up a mountain with two Italian dudes he had just met to avoid paying for a guide. Starting late in the day, they reached the peak around sunset; never a wise move! On the way back, relying on the awesome power of an iPhone torch, they heard a massive ROAR. They turned around, and saw a tiger looking at them! Obviously shitting themselves, they continued to walk back to civilisation, but quickly discovered this bloody tiger was blocking their way back. They ended up having to sleep In the jungle, through a monsoon, to avoid becoming tiger grub. Apparently they all said if they survived they’d get tattoos. Needless to say they did, and the tattoo is hardly the only lasting memory I’m sure!

Secondly, on the last night, I met two young guys traveling with their family. These two brothers were 15 and 16; their dad had been made redundant from YouTube in California and they decided to pack up and see the world. They’d been traveling about 6 months already and had about another 6 to go. Chatting all evening with them and the owners of the hostel made me realise how amazing traveling is. These guys had some inspiring heads on them, and really had a great appreciation of how lucky they were, but what the world had to offer. I can’t find their blog right now, but will post in the future for sure.

Following this we headed to Hue, on a 5 hour dentist chair bus journey again at a wonderful time of 4:30am. The bus was late, so we waited outside for 2 hours and obviously arrived late. Sadly the highly rated guesthouse we stayed at was actually a bit shit, with moldy walls and a very noisy bird waking me up at 3am consistently, which I think tarnished my view of Hue a bit. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool, but nothing on Hanoi! We spent the first day exploring the city and then hopped on a local bus out to Thuan An beach. We were pretty much the only people on it. Then we walked the 4km to the Beach Bar for some less than average grub where we bumped into the Buffalo crew yet again. The town was cool, but super touristy, with a street solely known as backpacker street. The second day revolved almost entirely around the imperial city though, which was breathtaking. I said I wasn’t going to write about the architecture in this post, but I have to for this. The imperial city oozes the Chinese Influence I expected to see here. It’s a truly stunning area that I highly recommend! Just don’t spend all day with no water exploring it, the prices inside are astronomical!

I was quite happy to leave Hue to be honest, it just didn’t do it for me. We decided to book drivers to take us along the Hai Van pass to Hoi An, made famous by our wonderful export, TOP GEAR! Whilst it may not sound like much, riding this road was one of the best things we’ve done so far I’d say. We rode with Lindsay, a Canadian who has been on the road for two years now. She was awesome and more than happy to let me ride her bike on loads of the journey (I wish I hadn’t got a driver now). By a country mile these were the best sights I’ve ever seen or ridden on. After a full day of riding, experiencing waterfalls, historic cemeteries that put ours to shame, and landscapes like nothing I’ve ever seen, we reached Hoi An, which is where I end this post. Words don’t describe it well, check it out yourself (or if you aren’t coming here anytime soon, watch my video below). I’ll end up writing a blog about editing on the move ưith below par equipment to be honest, as this was a challenge to say the least!


Basically, again, Vietnam is quality, and I can’t recommend coming here highly enough. The Hai Van pass is definitely a must, and thanks so much to Matt and Charlie (a couple we met in Varanasi) for saying I had to do it! That’s gonna be a tough one to beat.

We’re now on day 2 of Hoi An, here for two more days before another 16hour onslaught of the bumpy dentist chair. I can get over that though, everything else so makes up for it!