Kuala Lumpur- A melting pot of culture

It’s funny, when we look back over the countries we’ve visited, the consistent feeling we’ve had in capital cities is we don’t really like them all that much. That feeling of ever so slight anxiety I recall from London commuting, constant sensory overload and claustrophobia on public transport feels like such a distant memory, until you enter a capital city. Bangkok is quite simply bat shit crazy, and cities like Delhi are just such an assault on the senses. The great thing about cities though sadly don’t outweigh the bad things from my perspective, but it’s always worth at least experiencing them for a couple of days just to get a feel for the place. So when we arrived to Malaysia at Kuala Lumpur, we weren’t particularly excited about the prospect of another mega city. I’d heard all the things about the airport being a total monster, but I hadn’t prepared for it clearly! 

KL airport is like no other airport in Asia I’ve seen. It’s a shiny glistening city, rammed full of commuters traveling all over the world, absolutely jam packed full of shops (there’s a mall comparable with a Westfield inside the airport), and more importantly, everything was just so damn easy! I remember on a connecting flight to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, we made our check in with 4 minutes to spare thanks to a shocking passport check process, but KL was totally the opposite experience. Everything from buying a local sim, to getting a taxi to the city was a total doddle! This ease of movement continued into the city too, where the metro is dead simple and studiously cheap! 

What definitely made things easier though was meeting a friend we made in Hanoi back in November. Cadmon happened to be flying to Hong Kong for a concert that same night so caught up with us at arrivals. After a quick hello and goodbye we were in a cab to the city, with a vague idea what we were doing, where we were going, and a plan to link up with Cadmon later in the week. 

We decided to stay in the Bukit Bintang district of the city and I’m so glad we did! This area was an easy walking distance from so many attractions and areas defined as ‘must see’ in KL, as well as hundreds of opportunities to sample the famous food of Malaysia (and particularly KL). The food here is a wonderful mix of Indian, Chinese, Thai and the home grown Malay, totally in line with the culture and population. I’ve never seen a place that is so multicultural but more importantly, beautifully integrated multiculturalism. I didn’t get any impression that there were issues with so many cultures living intertwined unlike sadly, we see all too often in the UK (especially if you read the daily mail). It really doesn’t matter where you are in KL you see examples of this; from the Indian/Asian fusion food on the streets, to the general feeling throughout the streets. We saw a mosque next to a Catholic Church, next to a Hindu temple on one street, turned a corner and you’d see a beautiful government building with Islamic architecture mixed with Colonial British influence, aided by a impeccably manicured cricket pitch and pavilion. It’s such a weird yet wonderful mix that you see throughout the city. 

The food is legendary in Malaysia and I can totally see why! Firstly, it’s everywhere you turn, and such a huge part of Malaysian culture. The streets have a constant aroma of Indian spices (it really made me feel like I was back in India), the constant percussive beat of wok’s making amazing stir fries, the smell of BBQ satay and fresh fish, and sadly durian. They bloody love durian here, and unfortunately it kind of smells like a mix of a bin that’s insides are rotting in direct sunlight, and vomit. Needless to say, we took full advantage of this wonderful culinary hybrid and ate our way around the city joyfully (but avoiding durian). If you come to KL, the tourist street food spot is called Jalan Alor and is well worth a look at night. I can’t comment on any restaurants (like proper restaurants, with napkins and silver polished cutlery etc) but I can say all of the street food restaurants (with plastic tables and chairs, plastic forks and plates, and fairly in/out service) were sublime! 

Like with any city, different districts have very different feels. We spent a day walking around the city (getting very weird looks from locals as most people don’t seem to walk around much due to the heat, which is pretty intense) just exploring the different areas. It’s incredible how much change there can be between Chinatown and little India, which are literally a ten minute walk apart. Chinatown obviously felt similar to many others all around the world, but with a market selling fake EVERYTHING that made me feel like I was back in Bangkok. A short trot down a busy road, and you enter little India, where buildings are painted with the most vibrant colours imaginable, statues of Ganesh and Brama are all over the place, the air is perfumed with Hindu incense, and the shops belt loud Bhangra music across the road like their having a decibel battle; just like being back in India, but with considerably less chaos. It was such a nice reminder of all the things I loved about India, with the subtle removal of the things I didn’t love so much! To follow this all up, we walked to the national mosque and surrounding areas. Sadly we couldn’t enter as we were here during Eid, but just being able to check out the mosque from afar was good enough. For the rest of the day, we explored the district around the mosque, housing a number of government buildings, the worlds largest outdoor bird sanctuary, a few more temples, a botanical gardens and a planetarium. What really astounded me was the cleanliness of this area. The pavements and roads were immaculate; so alien for most of what we’ve seen in other Asian capitals. Many of the buildings followed the architectural style of Islamic/colonial British we spotted earlier, and the area felt eerily quiet, mainly due to the Islamic celebrations. Combine all of these things and you could definitely question if you were still in Asia, all of this was just so alien to another places we’ve been! 

To finish off our day exploring we went to see the iconic Petronas Towers, the highest twin towers in the world. These buildings are absolutely stunning, I can see why they are so iconic now! At night, they illuminate and sparkle like diamonds, visible across the whole city. Underneath the towers is yet another monster shopping mall, leading outside to a beautifully landscaped garden and lake area. Walk through the other end of the mall and continue walking for ten or so minutes along the skywalk, and you enter time square, absolutely filled with designer stores ranging from Prada to Hugo Boss. This part of KL reminded me so much of the opulent areas of Dubai. This kind of over polished and shopping centric way of life is so far removed from my day to day it’s unbelievable: people were spending more on handbags and watches in the ten minutes I walked down that road than we’ve spent in a few months in Asia! Still, it’s nice to see how the other half live I suppose. I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb in my £2 singlet and grubby shorts though 🤣.  

As with any place you visit, it’s almost mandatory to visit the touristy stuff, especially as it’s free! I think it’s safe to say there’s not that much really historical stuff in KL apart from the Batu caves, so off we went to see them. Sadly from our perspective we both felt totally underwhelmed (sorry KL). Don’t get me wrong, the outside is pretty impressive, but the caves themselves and the temples inside just didn’t blow us away as much as expected, or anywhere near as much as some of the Hindu temples in India. I appreciate thisbprobably sounds very spoiled, but for us it’s the truth. There’s lots of work going on there now too, in an attempt to ‘jazz up’ the surrounding area which for us just felt fake too. But again, it’s one of those things you’ve got to do and we did it, and it was free, so nothing lost. 

As I mentioned earlier, we had agreed to link up with Cadmon again whilst in KL. We spent a quality day with him exploring the non tourist areas of KL. The day started off with a trip to a Chinese/Malay food market for breakfast, where we got to experience some PROPER local grub, costing all of about £2. We’ve definitely found here (as well as many other countries) the best trick in the book for saving money is to avoid restaurants and eat with the locals, and this summed it up beautifully! Ordering was a bit of a challenge as no signs were in English and many people surprisingly didn’t speak English (in Malaysia it seems like the vast majority do) but the battle was sooo worth it! Following this, Cadmon drove us out towards Cyberjaya to see some of the lesser known areas and buildings. We got to explore one of the biggest mosques out of central KL, and saw some stunning buildings including the presidential offices, a monsterous building that really stood out around the others in the area. I’m so glad we got to see these other areas that were so different from the main body of KL we’d witnessed thus far. After stopping for lunch to have one of my new favourites, vegetable pandan thali (and selection of vegetarian curries, dhal, breads and chutneys served on a banana leaf) and a cheeky beer whilst watching the lions, we finished off a cracking day with some real icing on the cake, a pint on a helipad at dusk! It’s not often you get do to something like this, and doing so in KL whilst overlooking the Petronas towers and KL Tower was simply awesome! I guess the company was okay too ☺️. 

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention we both got tattoos too! 

I’ve wanted a forearm piece for ages, but have been undecided on what for ages (as well as being fairly apprehensive about a visible piece day to day, but oh well). After a lot of searching, we found a tattoo studio very highly recommended (and with a huge portfolio of stunning inkwork) called bloody ink, situated a ten minute walk from our hotel in a small shopping mall. This mall was so different to the others in KL; feeling more like an old school bazaar, with stalls selling everything from cheap knock off goods to smartphones, tattoos to manicures. The mall still allows smoking inside, isn’t even remotely polished, and has a food court upstairs that I don’t think any other backpackers have ever entered, but that’s all part of the charm. Down one end of a small alley in said mall, are a number of tattoo stores; we definitely picked the best! 

I decided to get a piece to commemorate the memories and challenges of this trip. Hanzhi, my artist, was awesome at really taking on board what I was after, and after a bit of redesign work he produced this freehand!

I couldn’t be happier, the detail he’s managed to squeeze in is so much more than I ever expected, and he’s absolutely nailed the brief! To add to all this, I shared my new piece of ink of Reddit, and it totally exploded! At time of writing this has over 250000 views, nearly 300 comments and over 16000 upvotes, making it to the front page (in Reddit terms, this is a big deal). I’m just glad people like it! Kelly went for something totally different. She’s become obsessed with diving on this trip, and counts herself as a bit of a mermaid at the best of times (oh, and she loves Disney stuff), so got herself a constant reminder of her times under water and got a watercolour mermaid. After much deliberation on colour or not, and more importantly watercolour or not she went for it, and 3-4 hours later this was the outcome. I’m sure you’ll agree her artist Miiaow did a cracking job too! 

So that’s our time in KL done! I can definitely say this is my favourite capital in Asia thus far, and I’m actually looking forward to going back. Special thanks to Cadmon for being such an awesome tour guide and friend (and driver especially when you bolted us to our bus with minutes to spare). 

Now onto Penang to explore some street art and to eat our way across it!

Indonesia- A culinary delight

For anyone who knows Kelly and I, you’ll know we’re massive foodies. We actually planned a huge proportion of this year away based around having a culinary oddesey, and we definitely haven’t been disappointed that’s for sure. We spent nearly six weeks in India eating pretty much entirely street food or home cooked meals, ate our body weight in Banh Mi across all of Vietnam, seriously over indulged on incredible curries in Thailand, and and helped prepare the local delicacies of Kava and Lovo on a tiny island with the villagers in Fiji,to name but a few. Cambodian cuisine was a bit of a let down really, but other than that we’ve been truly blown away by the quality of everything we’ve got to sample, and we’ve certainly been adventurous! I must say, New Zealand was also a big surprise for us. Obviously nowhere near as exciting or spicy as the cuisine in Asia, but the quality of produce and food, and the beer was so high it was impossible to have a bad meal!
Having said all that, Indonesia definitely needs a special mention (or its own blog, which is why you’re here). We didn’t expect a great deal I think it’s safe to say, apart from the obvious dishes like Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice), but there were so many special dishes we discovered we were literally in heaven! This post is based more around advice for fellow woodies exploring Indonesia, so you can get he most out of your food discovery there!

Animal friendly feeding



The first thing to say, is the vegetarian and vegan options on Bali and the surrounding areas are out of this world! Similar to India, the primarily Hindu population on Bali are mainly vegetarian. Mix that with the hippie-chic yoga/surf culture at runs through the veins of the island basically mean on every street, there is somewhere preparing something wonderful and bursting with flavour. The Indonesians love their chilli, and a theirs pack a punch, so take care if you aren’t a fan of hot food, but there are so many traditional dishes that don’t even register on the Scoville scale you shouldn’t really have to worry so much. You’ll be given the opportunity to cover your food in sambal if you like your food spicy. Every place you go will have their own recipe, just watch out as some are seriously hot! 

We spent the first week on Bali basically eating pure vegetarian and vegan meals in an attempt to save some cash, but if you look around and find the good local Warungs (traditional local restaurants) you can find some great deals and certainly find some great grub! If you’re after local food, this is definitely my best recommendation; only eat at the Warungs, and check the menu first. Many places charge tax and service on top of the advertised costs, meaning in some cases you can pay up to 20% on top of the bill! We got caught out by this a couple of times, but you tend to see increased costs like that at the more opulent restaurant or hotel. Just avoid them, the local food is so good, you shouldn’t pay more just to get a nice place and shiny cutlery! 

I’d 100% recommend sampling Tempe, a sort of coarse tofu alternative. If cooked right, it’s bloody lovely. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, but I’ll certainly be looking out for it from now on. 

Western creature comforts

 
If however you aren’t that adventurous with trying new grub, the more western offerings around Bali vary from pretty dire attempts at pizza and pasta, burgers and shnitzel (for all the Aussies obviously) to some absolutely sublime eateries who deliver some outrageously good grub, ranging from super food salads, beautiful home baked breads, avocado and feta on EVERYTHING and some proper good smoothies to accompany. Without question, I’d highly recommend eating around the Canggu area, north of the super touristy (and a bit shit) Kuta, ever so popular with the Aussies again. We stayed here for about 4 days before flying to Malaysia, and didn’t have a bad meal.

 But you find places like this all over Bali and to a point, the island of Gili and Lembongan. Whilst they may not exist in abundance, they are out there, and if you’re lucky enough to find them you won’t be disappointed!


The good old black stuff



Obviously Indonesia is known for its amazing coffee, which is best known to come from the Java region, but hunt out some small coffee houses and you’ll be hard pushed to not find some artisan brewer with a direct relationship with some small plantation somewhere else in Indonesia. I’d highly recommend sampling the Bali coffee, served in the traditional style with the thick grains stuck to the bottom of the cup (remember this before you neck the whole cup), it’s about 10000 (about 60p) rupiah per cup at most places, so way cheaper than an Americano, but still damn tasty. However, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a proper maestro of coffee production and preparation. We were so lucky to discover a small shop called Tales of Coffee right next to our last hotel. This place had only been open four days when we first dropped in, and Kobe, the young Belgian owner was a true master of coffee and chocolate. I’d go as far as comparing him to a molecular gastonomist of coffee and chocolate. We only found this place by chance, when Kelly had a hankering for a hot chocolate, and we ended up back there every day after at least once. Without question, this place made the best hot chocolate we’ve had since leaving the UK, and I’d probably say it’s up there as one of the best I’ve ever had! I sampled a number of coffees, but the best was definitely using beans grown on mount Rinjani, and prepares using the v60 method of slow drip, with meticulous care and attention being paid to the amount of coffee used, the speed of pour, the amount of water soaking the grains, and the final amount of coffee in the pot. Seriously, this attention to detail was definitely worth it, the coffee was some of the best I’ve ever had. Whilst chilling out at this coffee house, Kobe told us how he ended up opening the store. During his travels three years earlier, he fell in love with Indonesia mainly drawn for his love of good coffee, so spent the next six months trying to hunt out a local grower and the best beans. Following a huge effort, he found his array of growers, set up collaborations and business deals, and began to market the product with impeccable delivery, sound business strategy and a solid marketing concept. A couple of years later the company had enough capital to open its first shop, designed entirely by him, decorated with locally sourced woods and products, and covered head to toe in beautiful design and stories of the growers and the origins of their coffee and chocolate. It really was rather inspiring to see a guy so young following his passion and taking the plunge into entrepreneurialism in a foreign land like Indonesia: to do it so successfully is a pure testament to his efforts and love for high quality products. 

This is just one of many stories I could tell like this though. It’s clear many foreigners have decided to do the same in Bali; setting up restaurants and cafes that reflect their personal values, and enable them to live the lives they want to live, whilst delivering quality to the locals and guests of the area. Again this was so good to see, and meant we got to enjoy so many great meals and gear so many stories of how these establishments came to fruition. 

What to look out for



Okay so you get the idea; there’s some damn good grub out there. But as I mentioned earlier the local food varies way more than the well known Nasi Goreng, which is probably one of more boring (albeit filling) dishes you’ll end up eating. There are so many dishes that need a special mention.

Nasi Campur: A great thali like dish often served vegetarian. This normally consists of about 5-6 small dishes. Most Warungs will offer Tempe in Kekap Manis (Indonesian sweet soy, bloody delicious), Urap Urap (steamed green beans served with grated coconut, crispy onion and beansprouts), Perkedel Jagung (spiced corn fritters), rice and sambal. Every warung will have a slight variance on what’s on offer, what’s in season, and what animal or fish they got in that day, so definitely something to eat again and again.
Soto Ayam: a spicy chicken soup served with noodles and egg. Again is can vary quite a bit, but is normally full with flavours of Kaffir, Lemongrass, garlic and chilli, and will have a lovely dark yellow colour from the ladles of turmeric added. You don’t see this everywhere so if you spot on a menu, get involved!
Bakso: Another broth based dish, this contains beef meatballs, and normally served willed with crispy wontons, egg, beansprouts and bok Choy (if you’re lucky). You’ll see street vendors all over Indonesia selling this for super cheap (£1 a bowl or there abouts) and you’re expected to season as you please with Kekap manis and chilli sauce. Get involved. It’s delicious!
Nasi Lamak: A coconut curry in essence, but normally served on/in pandan leaf. Apparently this is a poplar Malay dish but it’s definitely made a mark here!
Babi Guling: an absolute must if you’re a carnivore. Essentially this is BBQ suckling pig served with a sambal. It’s very simple, but bloody delicious! The meat is marinaded and cooked whole over coals forever. We tried this at a few places and there’s definitely some clear variance, but pretty consistently it was amazing!
Beef rendang: Well, not much needs to be said about this, apart from it MUST be eaten! Rendang is a slow cooked beef curry stewed in coconut milk and filled with an amazing array of spices. This is probably one of my favourite dishes of all time, so I ate my fair share in Indonesia. This really is a must eat meal here, make sure you eat lots of it!
Meat on a stick: Does as it says on the tin. Across all of Indonesia you’ll see tiny stalls cooking tiny skewers of various meats under coals, normally accompanied by a fan to keep the coals roaring. They are sold in bunches of ten normally, and served as spicy as you like (spicy normally means they are dipped in a home made sambal). Just be careful with what you order, there’s been reports recently of some places in Bali serving dog and disguising as other meats, and I ordered some chicken ones that consisted of, let’s just say, less desirable cuts 🤔. Most places serve sate of some kind, but if you spot sate posut BUY IT IMMEDIATELY! Posut is minced beef and coconut, and was just stunning. Sadly, the best places are nearly always off the beaten track, so speak to a local at your home stay about getting the good stuff.

Hunting out the good grub



As I just mentioned, some of e best grub was carefully hidden from tourists, sold down a tiny alley from somewhere definitely not resembling a restaurant. This is pretty common, so make use of the guys you’re staying with to find the hidden gems. 
A simple litmus test anywhere you go though should be the clientele. If a place is empty, there’s probably a reason for it. Nearly every home stay you’ll see will also be a restaurant, tour guide, booking agent, masseuse, and seller of shit touristy stuff, so probably don’t do all things well. The best meals we had were often small Warungs with a few locals sat around chatting and munching. Likewise, if you see groups of expats (for example, the guys working at dive shops) that’s normally a good indicator of good local restaurants. 
And finally, if you want good western or fusion food, or something more polished, I can’t recommend anywhere higher than Canguu, there’s just so much choice and so many quality places to eat, drink, and chill.

Where’s good for what?

Ignoring regional variance here, and talking entirely from my own experience (so definitely not an exhaustive list), but here’s my recommendations for where to go for what.



Nasi Campur: Le Kan in Canguu. This was a perfectly crafted and delivered rendition of this super popular dish. Whilst it was more expensive than we’d pay previously (89k for one big portion with meat) it was light years ahead of other versions we’d had previously. Just be prepared to add about 18% onto the bill for service and tax.
Nasi Lamak: Head to Uluwatu and check out any of the places near Single Fin (a top spot for surfers). There’s loads of places offering great food for good prices.
Vegan grub: Canguu and Ubud are filled with high quality places serving only vegan food. Specifically though I’d recommend Biah Biah in Ubud (a very cheap but excellent place only serving traditional Balinese food in tapas style tiny dishes. You can get a good feed for about £4 easily. Also worth a special mention is the Eco Cafe on Nusa Lembongan. You pay a bit more, but this place really cares about the world. They don’t use any palm oil or products with MSG, Source all their produce from local growers, and only buy rice from a plantation where the staff are paid a good wage and take a cut of profits. They also don’t use any plastic and give discounts on food if you drop off plastic bottles for recycling. 
Rendang: There’s only one place to mention here; Bernadettes in Ubud. This is specially mentioned in lonely planet apparently, and for good reason. They triple cook their rendang and stew in coconut milk for 24 hours. It’s out of this world! There’s no point in eating rendang anywhere else after going here, it’s THAT good!
Babi Guleng: Again, there’s only one contender here. Ibu Oka in Ubud now have three sights because they are that good, but we were recommended to drive out to no3 by locals we chatted with. The opening hours vary daily (basically when it’s gone it’s gone), and it’s kinda tough to find (it’s down a tiny alley but covered in pig statues), but if you go for an early lunch there you won’t be disappointed. 

 Coffee: You’ll probably know this one already if you’ve got this far, but for me, Tales in Canguu is the clear winner for excellent coffee and even better hot chocolate, but also because I really bought into the values of Kobe’s approach to his company, and wanted to support him as much as possible. Rinjani coffee is a real world player in my eyes now!

Meat on a stick: This is almost impossible to recommend, and I couldn’t tell you where to actually go to get it! But the best we had was on Gili T by a mile. I went off cycling with one of the guys working at Cheeky Monkey Homestay to get it, and it was amazing! Just take my earlier advice and speak with locals to find the hidden secrets.

Healthy grub: Betelnut cafe in Canguu (again, I know) delivered some sublime food and smoothies, all delivered to a super high standard and damn tasty. I highly recommend the sustainable fish curry. This varies day to day dependent on the catch but is damn tasty!

Ethical eating

Indonesia is pretty well known for its palm oil growing on Borneo. If you don’t know how much damage this growing is doing, watch this.

 It’s damn hard to avoid palm oil in food anywhere in the world, it’s literally in everything from toothpaste to crisps, but we are trying to avoid it from now on. I had no idea the sagas this is doing to Borneo but also the environment in general. 

Also, lots of places use sauces laden with MSG, which I would recommend avoiding wherever possible, it’s horrible stuff for your body! Places cut corners to save money, and the life of many of the animals served in your meals is probably pretty questionable. If you want to consider ethical consumption, obviously eat predominantly vegan or at least vegetarian, but also search out the places that actively promote their corporate social responsibility. There are so many you’re bound to find somewhere good to eat!

Finally, and I only mention this because you’ll see it everywhere, but I’d recommend avoiding Lawak coffee. This is super famous in Indonesia but particularly in Bali. Driving back from Batur we stopped at a plantation growing teas and coffee, but also producing Lawak coffee. For those that don’t know, this is weasel coffee. The wealals are fed the coffee beans in their husks, and the undigested remains are made into coffee. Unfortunately though, these little guys are almost certainly mistreated 90% of the time. 

We were fortunate to stop at a place that really cared for the weasels, but I still didn’t want to enourage the production so didn’t buy any. I must say, it smelled amazing though. 

So there you go! An unexpected culinary delight found in Indonesia. For any foodie, this is now a firm recommendation for a visit from me! I’m sure the grub on Java and other parts of this vast country are just as good too, so don’t go just on my experience and recommendations. 

Lembongan islands and Bali part two- Above and below the ocean

And onto our next stop! The Lembongan islands.

Nusa Lembongan, Ceningan, and Penida are another tiny cluster of islands, but this time off the coast of Bali. Unlike the Gili islands, these don’t come with the precursor of parties, honeymooning or chilling, but as synonymous with activities more based in the sea. Kelly has got seriously into her diving on this trip, and I’ve discovered a new found love for surfing and snorkelling, so this next leg was always destined to consist mainly of these activites. Our trip to these islands was primarily based around not being on the islands, but loving the time we could spend in the ocean. Also, these islands are primarily Hindu, so we swapped the Muslim culture for a deeper Hindu vibe which is all so everpresent here. 

Lembongan is mainly known for its unique encounters with manta rays and the fairly secretive Mola Mola fish, a deep sea fish that only really comes higher up to the surface for cleaning (I think). Sadly, we arrived just before the Mola Mola season, but regardless there was plenty for us to enjoy! After a day of recuperation from travel, we spent a day exploring the first island, Nusa Lembongan, is a really interesting split of hustle and bustle of busy tourism based strip, deeply entrenched mangrove forest, and desolate, somewhat untouched landscape. It’s so small, we managed to drive round and explore the majority of the island in about two hours, checking out all the local dive shops, potential places to stay, and other activities available. During our ride around, we stumbled across an area known as devils tear which was certainly rather lively, but just around the corner we found these natural infinity pools with almost no other tourists around! 

The island itself is as mentioned already, tiny, but has so much character. It’s very easy to get lost in the outskirts and forget this is one of the most popular destinations in Indonesia for tourists. Sadly though, the island is surrounded by these weird party pontoons, offering water slides, banana boat rides, jet skiing and I’m guessing all day drinking, catering mainly to the Chinese caucus of guests. However, once you look past this, there is so much character on the island you can almost ignore all of this. Lembongan and its neighbour, Ceningan, are actually joined by the iconic yellow bridge. After we’d explored Lembongan, we rode across the rickety yellow bridge for another exploration session. Now Ceningan is definitely an Instagrammers dream, absolutely covered in super trendy beach bars and clubs, covered with the iconic beach swings, trendy beach hut style accommodation painted in bright colours, and surrounded by pretty epic coastal scenery. After a fairly arduous drive across some pretty horrific roads (if you can call them that), we stopped at a couple of spots for a bite to eat, a freshen up with some wonderful fruit tea, and some chill time enjoying some stunning cliff top views. Whilst Cenningan is definitely a less touristy and arguably less maintained island, it certainly has its own charm. We explored the lot (well, the lot that’s accessible by bike across the shocking roads that still exist) in about 2 hours as well, so it’s easily doable in a day. 

ANYWAY, back to the real fun stuff. 

We managed to get arguably the best price for our next few days worth of activities; bonus! This is definitely the best approach for Indonesia; book a place for a night, hunt out the local deals, barter to your hearts content, then settle for the best deal you can get, and enjoy! We decided to book onto a number of trips over the coming days. Kelly went to do the must do dives around the island, whilst I made use of the beginner level surf opportunities and opted for a snorkelling session with a local guide. Now, for anyone coming to these islands, I highly recommend a proper shop around for such activities. We found the cheapest place for diving was called dive concept diving. For two dives around the main manta points, we paid 800000 rupiah, which comes in at about £55, at least a tenner cheaper than most places we found. Watch out for hidden charges, as many places charge extra for heading to manta point (arguably THE place for manta spotting, just off the coast of Nusa Penida) as well as equipment hire. Dive concept didn’t charge for equipment hire,and 150000 rupiah for manta point, so was definitely a good deal! For my surfing, I found this awesome local dude Called Nicky, based in a tiny hut just off the main beach where you will probably land. He charged about 50% what others were attempting to charge, and so ended up paying about £15 for a private two hour surf with tutorial, and around £9 for a three hour snorkelling marathon. I was so happy to book with this guy, I got so much for my money and he was super friendly and jovial throughout. My surfing session was simply perfect. Great waves, just off the coast of the island, with constant support from Nicky offering me 1-2-1 advice. Unlike other surfs I’ve done, it felt like the waves were non stop and relentless, without the constant struggle of swimming back to a good break point. For two hours, I endured 5-6ft waves breaking beautifully across a shallow reef, about 3m below the water level. Sadly this obviously meant on the couple of occasions i wiped out, I did cut my feet up a bit, but regardless this was a quality day on the waves, and way more than I could have initially hoped for. I didn’t get any footage here as I was busy surfing, but here’s some footage of lacerations break, where I spent most of my time surfing 

Whilst I was doing this, Kelly was 30m under the waves, enjoying her time with the majestic mantas. I wish we had more footage of these guys, they really are incredible creatures. Kelly spotted half a dozen across her two dives, and came back utterly mesmerised by them. Obviously, I’m gutted I couldn’t join her but I’m so glad she got to experience them in there natural habitat.

From what we learned on the island, some mantas can reach a wingspan of up to 8m, far bigger than I could have ever comprehended! I think it’s safe to say Kelly didn’t spot any quite this big, but regardless this was definitely a once in a lifetime moment she will never forget, and is definitely a tick off on the list of seeing some pretty incredible sea life! 

So after a pretty epic morning of surfing, I went back out on the ocean for the afternoon to get my own taste of the local offerings under the water. Sadly, I didn’t get to see ant mantas, even though Nicky diligently hunted for them off the coast of Penida, but we did explore 5 spots around the three islands, enjoying coastal mangrove spots, shallow coral, deep ocean, and some amazing fish highways. Now, it surprises me still to say this, but I honestly think the reefs we got to explore were probably the best I’ve seen in the 9 months we’ve been away! Seriously, these reefs were incredible; far better than what we saw off the barrier reef in Australia, and probably en par if not better than the exceptional reefs we saw in Fiji! I was quite simply shocked by this, especially following the poor quality reefs we experienced at the Gili islands, clearly seriously damaged by such a high level of tourism. The array of soft and hard coral, and the colours I saw were spectacular, and im so glad I got experience it. If I could, I would have stayed another week just to spend more time in the sea, and sure Kelly would agree!
Our time on Lembongan was short lived, we only stayed for a few days, in an attempt to see a bit more of Bali. To finish off our trip to these islands, we spent a day exploring Nusa Penida. Although this island is by far the biggest of the three, it’s also by far the most desolate, under developed and un-touristy of the three islands, which I’ve gotta say was a nice change from the norm of the past couple of weeks. Regardless, what it lacked in tourism it certainly didn’t lack in character and beauty. We decided to head to a coastal area I’d discovered on other blogs about Indonesia, but with no maps or data, and paths that once resembled roads, getting there was a challenge! Now we’ve ridden some pretty horrific roads during our time away, but the roads on Penida probably took gold, silver and bronze. Once you’re off the beaten track and away from the port, you’re quickly greeted with what sort of resembles a gravel path, made up primarily of huge boulders dotted all over the place, pot holes baby elephants would get stuck in, and cliff edges right on the edge of the roads. They were certainly a challenge to ride, but that’s all part of the fun I guess. Getting tor the spot we’d aimed for though, made it totally worth the effort…

  • After a long two hour drive, we got back to the only properly populated part of the island, and spent the rest of the day exploring the coastal northern strip. This is just what I imagine Bali must have been been like before Australian tourism dominated so much of it; tiny bamboo shacks covering the coast line, covering the sea with fishing lines and traps, barely any Warungs or signs of civilisation apart from the odd new development obviously gearing up for the hoards of tourists that will soon discover this wonderful chilled out place, and by chance, we discovered a tiny turtle sanctuary! Obviously we had to stop to check it out. Whilst this place looked run down, the work they did was fantastic. Run by locals, they buy the eggs off fisherman who’d usually sell them to hoards of Chinese tourists for lunch, hatch them, and release into the wild once they are ready. This sanctuary relied entirely on volunteers, And I was very happy to hear they had loads of westerners dedicating weeks to supporting these creatures. We were lucky enough to see a bunch that had only hatched a few days earlier, definitely the smallest turtles I’ve seen to date. 

Traveling has made me realise the polarising impact tourism can have on a place. When you compare Lembongan to Penida, you quickly realise how quickly tourism can totally dominate an area. Lembongan was great, but it’s safe to say it was nearly totally saturated by crappy western restaurants offering sub par attempts at western food, crappy home stays charging way too much for very little (we couldn’t get a place for less than £12 a night, and we had a crap fan, a shower than consisted of a hose out the wall, and plenty of rust covering everything it could in the bathroom), which was fine for us, but we certainly felt we were paying over what we should have. Compared to Penida which still relied mainly on the locals trade and consisted of family run businesses, full on eating off the land, and untouched beauty. Sadly I definitely could see the impact of tourism taking over here too, and I reckon in 5 years it will be unrecognisable. I’m just glad we got to experience it as it is now. 

Having said all that, we were both sad to leave these islandsWhilst the tourism traps have their downfalls, there’s something to be said about some level of home comfort that comes with western tourism. Arriving back on Bali, we went straight to Canggu, another area close to the heavily Australian influenced Kuta and Seminyak, but with less posh hotels, swanky bars and beaches filled with broken plastic day beds. Now this place is cool! Imagine the awesomeness and laid back atmosphere of Asia with the hipster chic bars and restaurants of east London. What I really loved about this area was the array of small independent shops and restaurants, offering superbly produced menus of local and western food or boutique products all heavily stylised and polished to an incredibly high standard. Over the next four days we frequented a number of these establishments, and I must say we didn’t have a bad meal once! In particular, Deus Ex Machina may actually be the coolest place I’ve ever been to, and Old Mans Restaurant was a cracking spot for a cheeky Bintang or some Sangria. I’ll probably write a blog about the food and drink scene here as it was so good and so unexpected. 

To add to that, the surfing on the coast was brilliant, albeit probably a bit too strong for me. I spent two days out on the surf, loving every minute, but didn’t catch as many waves as on Lembongan (but definitely got my fill of wipeouts, crashes with other surfers, and a couple of wounds from crashing into said boarders). Regardless, it was again bloody fun. Again no footage of this as I was too busy focusing on not crashing out, but someone else has done some great work with a drone for me!

I definitely think I’ve found a new thing I love! 🏄 🌊 🤘

We’ve managed to find so many cool places here I could easily get stuck here for longer, but sadly we fly tomorrow to Malaysia! Indonesia in a pretty amazing country; I wish we had the chance to see more of it, and we will definitely come back for holidays, hopefully with a bit more cash! 

Right, off for one final surf before we fly. See you soon Indonesia, you will be missed! 

🇮🇩❤️🇲🇾

NZ South Island: The Land of Exponential Beauty 

Nearly everyone I spoke to said “Just you wait”. To be honest I didn’t believe it. I was so blown away by the landscapes and scenery of the north island as well as everything else going on there, I simply couldn’t fathom anything more spectacular. 
I was wrong. I should have waited. I was blown away once more. Then again, and again, and again. 


When you hit the South Island, you’re greeted by a Jurassic park like experience almost immediately, sailing through what feels like an archipelago of ancient spiky islands jutting out the sea. Hats off to the captain of the massive transport ship, the route through the sea to Picton around these islands looks tightly squeezed, and requires pinpoint accuracy I’m sure, and is made even more fun when the weather isn’t on your side (as it wasn’t when we sailed). 

As with many places, New Zealand feels like a totally different place when the weather is bad, but here it seems almost multiplied. The place is so beautiful in the sun, but can seriously feel like a moment from a horror film when it’s bad, especially when tackling the windy dark roads (throw in a couple of sharp cliff edge drops around the mountains too and you’re definitely in a horror movie)! That’s what we endured the night we arrived in an attempt to make it to Nelson straight away off the boat, but due to conditions we had to opt for parking up at a rugby field instead. Unfortunately this end of the world feeling occurred a few times, the weather wasn’t always on our side, resulting in cancelled sky dives, and poor skies meaning star gazing in the dark sky reserve wasn’t possible 😡

The Towns and Cities 

One thing I didn’t expect here was how the towns and cities varied so much, and I definitely didn’t expect the huge level of Scottish influence into everything. This is far more commonplace down south towards Dunedin, but certainly permeates through most places we stopped. Nelson was a great place to start our southern adventure, a small town with a big attitude, we spent the morning enjoying the wonderful Saturday market, stocking up on all the seasonal produce we could before heading out to explore. As the craft beer capital of the island, this wasn’t particularly onerous 😜. The thing that got me about Nelson was the architecture; this was one thing we’d really have to get used to though. The whole town felt like something out of an American movie from the 50s purely down to the design of the town. Not only does it utilise a grid system and the buildings all follow that old school design, but it’s SO QUIET! I have been shocked in New Zealand how quiet the roads seem, but in cities it’s exactly the same. To put into context, I live near a town in the UK called Colchester and a little village called Dedham. Dedham is a tourist trap in the summer, and has genuinely taken me longer to drive through than it has some cities here! This has been a real surprise and treat for me, as the areas we’ve visited still feel totally alive, just without the stress of congestion. Keyword=BLISS!

Oh yeah, I discovered this guy too. Check out Evolving  Rhythms. This guy makes some beautiful music!

Whilst I say there’s primarily a strong Scottish influence here around the more built up areas, I must stress each area has a very distinct look and feel. Dunedin for example, was uber Scottish! This University city felt like driving into Edinburgh with the somewhat gothic buildings, the names of the streets, and the ever so slightly Scottish sounding locals (I later found out Dunedin is the only area in NZ with accent variance apparently). The BEST thing abot Dunedin though is the rugby. We managed to get to a super rugby match, a pretty special battle between the local Highlanders and the arch Christchurch rivals, the Crusaders. The match was one of the best I’ve seen live without a shadow of a doubt. The pace of play was staggering, as was the general quality of play. To top it off, we ended up with the match ball, which we had to sneakily stash away when exiting the stadium 🙄. 

ANYWAY….

Conversely, places like Greymouth on the West coast, or Invercargill on the South coast both oozed industrial; because of this they seemed quite harsh and cold. As with many places around the globe, the demise of fossil fuel industries often leaves places feeling somewhat stagnated. This is certainly the impression I got of these two towns, and in others that once thrived from gold mining it honestly felt like time just stopped (a prime example being Arrowtown, near Queenstown). Nothing seemed to be going on, or really on offer. The “hub” that’s so commonplace around Western towns didn’t seem to exist so we never really found the soul of these places. In invercargill, we both felt like outsiders in a very ‘interesting’ community, so immediately left. It definitely felt a little bit like this…

Thankfully, not everywhere was like this. You couldn’t be further from our invercargill experience when you hit Queenstown, obviously renowned for being a place to do ridiculous things like bungee jump and skydive, but there’s so much more to it than that. The area itself is truly stunning! Sat on a massive (and I mean massive) lake, the area feels like a beachside community where everyone is out to have the time of their lives. What I really loved about this city were the views of the mountains and the drives around the area (oh and Fergburger). Yes, there was loads of fun things to do, but for me the scenery was the true winner. We were very lucky to stay with an old friend from back home, his family and housemates, which gave us a good taste of life here. Something sadly I picked up on rather quickly we’re the strains people we’re under due to the ever so apparent gentrification of the area. As demand for property continues to increase, as does the price, those who live and work in queenstown (probably on minimum wage) are slowly priced out of the area. Without this huge workforce powering the machine that is queenstown tourism I’m not sure the whole system will function (and there ain’t exactly much around that’s for sure)! Only time will tell, but I expect the bubble will burst soon enough. 

To be honest there are places of equal beauty that are very much up and coming near Queenstown, for example, Wanaka. If you ever get a chance to visit this area, Wanaka should be a must see. It’s a beautiful and modern lakeside town, with a great atmosphere and generally a very cool vibe. We were sadly only here for a day but were lucky enough to stay on a vineyard, who i have to say made the best Pinot noir I had in New Zealand! Highly recommend a stop off here if you get he chance. 

Our whole New Zealand experience was pebbled with experienced like this. There are too many places to mention for sure, and you don’t travel to New Zealand for the towns and cities; as the title suggests, you travel here for the sights. 

The Landscapes 


It’s safe to say I’ve found myself saying wow more than ever. The title of this blog isn’t an exaggeration, there have honestly been times where I’m stunned by what’s in front of me, we’ve turned a corner, and I’m stunned even more! You just can’t fathom what you’re seeing here unless you’ve experienced it yourself. The South Island in particular is covered with these gargantuan mountain ranges that tower above you on both sides. What makes it even more impressive though is how rural everything still is. The South Island is vast, you can easily drive for a few hours and not see another living soul (apart from livestock obviously). There were genuinely areas where I don’t think I saw a house for 100k, and our tom tom was saying things like “in 255km, turn right”. Perhaps what’s even more impressive is it’s been preserved so nicely, and the shared values of conservation run through the entire kiwi culture. Because of this, everything is kept beautiful! 

As with the north island, my experience of New Zealand has shown me many new natural wonders. The big thing in the north was the geothermal activity, but down south it was the mountain ranges and glaciers and fjords that took your breath away. This place really is such a unique wonder; we literally went from exploring Milford sound in all its beauty on one day, and no more than 5 days later we were seeing the glaciers of Franz Josef and Fox.

One thing that really is quite distressing though is the amount of receding that’s occurred over the past 50 or so years, yet another example of the devastation we’re enforcing on this planet. A week later, we were at the base of mount cook, the highest point in New Zealand seeing more glaciers, including areas breaking off and running down the glacial river;so sad.  

As with anything really, there’s always got to be a negative. New Zealand is obviously no stranger to seismic activity, as has been clearly evidenced by some pretty monstrous earthquakes over the past decade. Kelly and I decided we needed to see the damage done and support the impacted communities so decided to finish up our trip by visiting Kaikoura before heading to Christchurch. Unfortunately, the main road running from the north of the island is still closed after the last major earthquake, and from the south was also closed thanks to a pretty major rock slide! This meant we had a 10 hour drive via the ‘inland road’, which was also pretty badly damaged in November. The windy, narrow, and barely paved road was certainly an experience, but we got to see some pretty awesome views we’d have otherwise missed. Arriving in kaikoura was quite a shock, with many shops, restaurants and hotels still closed due to structural damage. The town is effectively cut off right now from the rest of New Zealand, but the perseverance of the locals is inspiring! They all seemed to keep such an upbeat attitude to everything, with no outlook other than to dog it out and move on. 

The same can definitely be said for Christchurch. The aftermath of the 2011 earthquake that caused so much destruction is still more than apparent; half the city is still a building site! I had totally underestimated how much damage had been done, and was genuinely shocked when we arrived to see the hundreds of cranes, traffic cones and workers in fluorescent jackets and hard hats. 185 people died in that quake, and the reach of the damage seemed to touch everyone we spoke too. Yet still everyone was upbeat, positive, friendly and loving life. The city itself is super quirky, with street art covering what felt like every wall, and a number of very stylish boutique establishments selling everything from art to ice cream. It also still contains an old school tram, that even has a touring restaurant running in the evenings! The whole place was super cool: even down to crossing the road, which offered games of pong against the opposing side of the road, or the massive NES style game just on the road being projected onto a building opposite. Seriously, this game was cool! I can definitely see why people like Christchurch so much. 

Perhaps one thing that I slightly underestimated though was the variety of unique wildlife i’d be seeing whilst on the South Island. 

The Wildlife

Most people immediately think of the kiwi when you mention New Zealand, and understandably so, as it is the national icon after all! Sadly we were only able to see one in captivity, and it did a great job of hiding too! However, New Zealand has so much to offer in terms of wildlife you’d be pushed to see anywhere else! For example en route to Milford sound, we spotted a number of Kea, the worlds only alpine parrot, casually hassling tourists and nibbling the plastic off passers bags and cars. These birds look pretty average until they spread their wings, when you suddenly see a beautiful array of colours on display. These guys were super playful and a real sight to watch. Combine this with the huge numbers of hawks and eagles you see flying around and your in an ornithologists dream land! Note, I didnNOT take the photo below!For birds though, this is by no means the pinnacle. On the south coast in the land that time forgot known as the Catlins, we stopped off at the Royal Albatross sanctuary. These air monsters are basically dinosaurs I’m sure, with a wingspan on average of around 10ft! The royals are picky buggers, only frequenting the Southern Hemisphere; New Zealand and Patagonia are the most southern points bar the Antarctic, so they are pretty happy here! 

Just because I haven’t talked about birds enough, I need to mention the penguins. The teeny tiny blue penguins enjoy many of the coastal areas of the South Island. We managed to spot them both at Abel Tasman national park and Kaikoura. We ended up rescuing a baby blue in kaikoura, who was casually enjoying his first moult (so couldn’t go in the sea) when he was hassled by incoming tide (and shitty tourists trying to get a selfie or sixty). We ended up calling the Department of Conservation who came along and moved him to a safe space. Apparently they get super stressed if they are hassled so we may have saved the little guys life! Conservation points for the win!!! On the same day we also spotted a couple of fur seals chilling on the rocks just off the coast. I was probably 10ft from one, which was a pretty awesome experience! 

Finally, crossing to the sea is probably one of the greatest experiences I’ve had with animals ever, and beating a day with Asian elephants is going to be a tough one to beat! We decided we had to book onto a whale watching tour as Kaikoura is synonymous with seeing sperm whales. After a couple of failed attempts getting out on the boat, on our last day there we managed to both secure a place. Normally on a tour, you’re lucky to spot a couple on a two hour cruise. Not only did we spot two within about fifteen minutes, but they put on quite the show for us! We had a good 20 minuted of them coming up for air and generally messing around, which is fairly uncommon for sperm whales. Then the real fun started! About 30 minutes in our whale spotters on the boat saw a blue whale, an incredibly rare sight apparently. Heading over to get sight of them up close, we discovered there was not just one, but a small pod! We have no idea why, but they were quite happy just chilling in pretty much the same spot, rolling around, swimming upside down, the works. To spot one is rare enough, but to see 3 for such a good amount of time is almost unheard of, to the point where two of the staff on board were brought to tears as they’d never seen anything like this! Honestly, just being around such mammoth and rare creatures was an experience enough, but to have them around us for so long was unforgettable.

 https://youtu.be/Ti-q13j-dWc

I always knew I’d love this country, but what was delivered was so much more than I could have ever imagined. Without a doubt this is the most stunning country I’ve ever been to, one that kept giving and giving, and somewhere that will always be close to my heart (and my arm now, whoops). Thanks to New Zealand, I’ve swum in crystal clear glacial rivers, sat in geothermal hot pools, climbed a volcano, hiked to glaciers, seen royal albatross, fur seals, blue penguins, sperm whales and blue whales in their natural habitat, been to hobbiton, seen a live super rugby match, slept at a vineyard, seen the Milky Way countless times, sand boarded down a desert, and so much more. I definitely won’t forget this place anytime soon. 

Seeing this place in a campervan was such a joy and definitely recommended to anyone, and after 7000km driven we still feel like there was so much more to see. Oh well, I guess we’ll have to come back! 😜

Krabi, Koh Lanta and PhiPhi- A final bit of Island hopping

It seems like ages ago that we were on mainland Thailand. After about ten days in total on Koh Tao we had to head back to the mainland to cross to the western Islands. Loads of people who’ve previously ventured to Thailand recommended the Krabi province as a must visit destination. We’d already eyed up a couple of spots we really wanted to visit and had some mates in a similar area, so decided to head to a coastal town called Ao Nang. 

Ao Nang

Imagine Blackpool in Thailand, with less coin machines and no jetty. Ao nang was a real tourist spot, and to be honest I’m not 100% sure why. Ao nang was far from the beauty of other parts of Thailand we’d seen, and totally strewn with shops selling knock off clothing and electronics, average restaurants either selling overpriced local food or feeble attempts at foreign cuisine. You can always tell a tourist spot when the menus are in 5 languages. This was clearly a spot for baby booming brits to come and drink cheap booze and burn, and by the looks of it, half of Russia too! 

We seemed to bring the bad weather with us; our mates who’d been in ao nang for a couple of days had no rain at all: the day we arrived it hacked it down! This basically meant we spent the first night sat in a pub for a few hours with Tim and Steph (quickly becoming our go to travel couple to link up with), followed by a few more bars and a copious amount of beer. This seems to be a trend with these two… 

There’s not a great deal to say about ao nang sadly; we used it more as a port to hop to other wonderful places. On one day however, the four of us went on a trek to Hang Nak, a famous spot known for some pretty stunning sights. After a tough 2 hour trek up some interesting terrain we made it to the summit, and wow, it was so worth it. You could see miles and miles of glorious landscapes, see for yourself!! I could have spent hours here just soaking in the views, but would have been very burned for sure (it was a seriously toasty day)! After 4 hours, about 2000ft elevation we were back on the bikes exploring the surrounding areas. It goes without saying, if you’re in Ao Nang, get out and explore rather than sitting on the beach or sitting in bars! 

One of the main reasons we stayed here was to get to Railey, an area actually on the mainland but only accessible by boat known for its stunning beaches and chilled atmosphere, but more importantly for me, CLIMBING!! We actually ended up spending a couple of days on separate occasions here because it was so nice, one day being beach bums and another scaling rocks. Railay is known for Phranang beach, more than anything for its limestone rock formations jutting out of the sea. Oh, and it’s cave filled with penis statues!! Sadly the day we were exploring this area we were hammered by some long lasting rain clouds. We obviously got drenched but our photos were a bit dull too. 

Sadly because of Kelly’s wrist following a car accident she had to skip the morning of climbing. I booked a morning with real rocks climbing school who I’d definitely recommend. They provided all the kit as you’d expect but the quality of the instructors was exceptional! We spent 4 hours on the rocks, scaling everything up to 50m walls. Sadly, my climbing skills aren’t quite up to that, so I didn’t manage to scale anything near that height, but had a great day trying real walls. This is definitely something I’d have another go at! A word of warning for others thinking of rock climbing, it is NOT the same as an indoor wall, but much harder!!

Koh Lanta

For Tim’s birthday, he decided he fancied Koh Lanta, a larger island on the south west coast. Koh Lanta is known for its super chilled atmosphere which sounded perfect and for what we all fancied after a couple of days with crap weather. After a 4 hour journey in a very cramped bus, we finally arrived at Pitt Bungalows, our home for the next few days. If you ever go to Koh Lanta I really rate this place. You get a private bamboo bungalow with a private bathroom, fridge and wifi, but also you get a scooter included too! The restaurant on site is also very good and very well priced, and you’re right next to the western beach. For us it was absolutely perfect, and even better at £12 a night! Tim and Steph ended up staying over a week longer than us it was that good! 

Koh Lanta was never intended to be a time for doing loads; we planned to have a relaxing time on the island. For Tim’s birthday we spent the whole day cooking ourselves on the beach, enjoying the beautiful 30c water and good company. We ended the night with a campfire on the beach, playing guitar and having a good ol’ sing song. Sadly the next day, Tim got ill/nasty hangover so we did literally nothing, which was great! The following few days consisted of touring the island exploring the various beaches and sights around the island, including an animal sanctuary, where we wanted to adopt all the dogs obviously, and a trip to the national park where we got plenty of enjoyment out of a monkey stealing Coke from a Chinese lady. We ended up staying on Koh Lanta for 6 days in the end. The company obviously helped a lot, but the island itself was just so relaxing and laid back. I’d definitely head back there in a heartbeat! 

Our time in Thailand was quickly coming to an end though, with only a couple of days left. We had one more “must see stop” to squeeze in though. 

Koh PhiPhi 

Phiphi is actually two tiny islands in between mainland and Phuket. It was nearly wiped out after the 2008 Asian tsunami, and apparently everything we saw there was newly built since then. Leg island was really made famous by “The Beach” movie from the late 90’s, even though maya bay (the famous scene) actually had limestone rocks superimposed in for the famous scene (fun fact there for you)! 

Every summer literally tens of thousands of people flock to this island just to get a snap on that beach. I genuinely have no idea why people go to so much effort! The islands longboat drivers charge an in-exorbitant amount for a short boat ride, as do the tours! Kelly really wanted to see it, but everything I’d read suggested unless you paid about £50 for a private boat and set off at 6am, or spent over £100 to stay on a boat overnight, you’d be sharing the beach with thousands of people all huddled like penguins on an iceberg; I didn’t fancy that! Instead we looked for alternative ways to see it. 

We opted for a day out snorkelling. As I can’t dive I’ve never been able to experience anything like diving, and PhiPhi is renowned for having some incredible sealife and crystal clear waters. They weren’t lying that’s for sure! We spent a whole day out on a longboat with some awesome people, exploring various coves and areas of PhiPhi Leh (where that beach is). We saw so much sea life, was more than we could have hoped for! I was fortunate enough to snorkel alongside a sea turtle, as well as baby black tip reef sharks, kelly spotted a whole pack of black tips just as we were finishing up, and things like lion fish, oh and of course, Nemo! The coral there is like nothing I’ve ever seen before too (sadly lots by the coast at Koh Tao was dead). We couldn’t have asked for a better day out, it was literally everything we hoped for. And we got to see the anticlimactic maya bay (so glad we didn’t endure the ballache of a boat tour for that). Seriously, if you want to see maya bay, but don’t want to be surrounded by thousands of others do what we did! Thanks again PhiPhi adventures for an unforgettable trip. After two days on phiphi we headed to our final destination, Phuket. Everyone we have spoken to said Phuket was a place to be avoided, so we agreed to spend as little time as possible there. Unfortunately, for the first time in all of south east Asia, kelly and I both got ill from something we ate on phiphi. Feeling sorry for ourselves we decided to splash out on a PROPER hotel, the first time we’ve done this since setting off over four months ago. By splashing out, I mean spending £20 on a room with Ac and a hot shower, not exactly 5* luxury!  

So now we’re in New Zealand! Reflecting on our time in Asia has been really satisfying to be honest. We had the most awesome time overall! For both of us, Vietnam was our favourite country for sure; it’s just so chilled out, the food is SO GOOD, and the whole experience was simply wonderful. However Thailand was a close second. It’s a real shame we had such bad weather for south Thailand (unprecedented for this time of the year). I’ll definitely be heading back again though, thats for sure! 

Asia, you’ve been great, but it’s time for some western living. I’ve wanted to visit New Zealand all my life, so I’m VERY excited about the next five weeks exploring it in a camper van! 

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!

Hanoi and Ha Long Bay- Seeing in my 30’s in style

So I’m going to start by saying this, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with Vietnam, and I’ve only been here a week! 

When we planned to come through South East Asia, I saw Vietnam more as a country that I really had to see, rather than having a huge urge to see, but as soon as we had our first night walking around the old quarter I knew straight away I would have a wonderful time here.

Hanoi itself is a really exciting city. We were staying in the old quarter, which is absolutely buzzing with life, with thousands of scooters, and amazing smells of street food. The city has a really cool vibe, it’s obvious why it’s such a backpacker spot. The nightlife is vibrant and chaotic at the same time, but everyone is out to have great time. But what I really loved about Hanoi was the way it transformed when the sun went down, with huge areas of the city becoming totally pedestrianised, transforming into beautiful walking routes, buzzing night markets and fantastic street food quarters. I should say now that over the whole time in Hanoi, we only ate street food, and all of it was outstanding!

What really helped is we booked the most awesome hostel that needs a special shout out. Nexy is a really unique and modern hostel, we were staying in a 14bed dorm that would never normally be my idea of fun, but the dorms don’t feel that big and offer loads of privacy. The hostel has a cafe, games room, mini cinema, awesome wifi, and is in the perfect location for backpackers to explore the old quarter (which is basically a right of passage for anyone stopping in Hanoi). What’s even better is they helped us out so much with booking onward travel, and offered loads of tours to all the big local sights, and more importantly the beds are SUPER comfy!. This is all good, but it was a very reasonable price too! This place is wholy recommended for anyone coming to Hanoi on a budget.9a6e1310-c607-4f72-b68b-07284a55f2b8

The Food

Vietnamese food is one of those cuisines that is not widely available in the UK (except for London) and when recreated by take aways is often done really badly. I was absolutely craving fresh fruit and vegetables after India; even though we were basically vegetarian for huge portions of our India trip, the vast majority of street food was deep fried, consisted mainly of potato and onion, and we couldn’t really eat the fruits because of the water situation (something we were strongly advised to be vigilant about). Immediately after getting to our hostel, we both went out of a food hunt. We joined my mates Tim and Steph (two mates from the UK also on a year away) and their two buddies for some Pho and Bun Cha; obvious choices to start with. The first thing that we get wrong in the UK is the sheer level of fresh herbs we add to such dishes. In Vietnam the pho busts at the seams with fresh herbs, which totally transforms the dish. Another regular Vietnamese addition is the sides of pickled sweet garlic and fiery red Chilis. I really like this as it totally enables everyone to tailor everything they eat to their own liking; it’s the small things that make the big difference.4c53724b-a0c0-435e-aca9-9fa8efa6c684
Over the duration of our time in Hanoi we ate our way around the city, trying anything we could find. The food here is all super fresh, superbly spiced and flavoured, and unbelievably tasty. It also helps because we were only eating street food, you can add super cheap to the list too (everything was at least half the price of an equivalent dish in a restaurant). We found that we were really struggling to identify many dishes though, because of the language barrier. In India we could kind of get by because of the level of English influence around, but it was way more challenging in Vietnam. For this reason we booked on a street food tour to gain a better understanding. I’m so glad we did, as we ate some outstanding food that we probably would have never tried if just on our own sampling things. Here’s a little break down of the stuff we munched.

Bun Cha. Fish sauce and hot water based noodle soup (green papaya and honey for sweetness). Herbs used are mint and marjoram with minced pork patties.
Nom that bo kho (dried beef salad)- Green papaya shredded. Pork shrimp and mushroom dumpling. Dressing is fish sauce lime sugar water

Banh Cuon Nong- Soft rice paper dumplings with mushroom pork and shrimp. Crispy onions on top

Pho xao- Thick noddles with soy etc

Banh mi- French baguettes with BBQ roast pork, pate, cucumber, carrot, green papaya and chill sauce

And this was just a snippet! I hadn’t realised how much Vietnamese food relied on marjoram and fish sauce, beyond the obvious mint array of herbs.
Overall, the food has blown me away. This kind of cuisine is did initially something I’ll be doing way more of back home!

The history and culture

We all know some of the history, but I’d be lying if I said I had a clue about so much of it, which we came to learn about during our stay in Hanoi, a city that’s been riddled with war and destruction over the centuries.

 
On our second day we decided to go and explore the old prison, following recommendations from a few mates. Over the years the prison was used to secure everyone from political protesters to prisoners of war, dependent on when, what was happening at the time, and who was in power. As you would expect the stories we read and the conditions that we saw were quite shocking, but interestingly when the museum moved onto cover the POW imprisonment during the Vietnam war (known as the American war over here) the emphasis shifted more to showing the quality of care American forces were given. One thing that has jumped out at me is the shift in emphasis on war reporting when you’re looking from the “other side”, it’s not bad and I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s propaganda, but it’s certainly made me more aware of reading the content from our own reports. img_9262
This country has had such a turbulent power struggle even without the well known wars, it’s really quite amazing the Vietnamese people are still so awesome! It seems that the old leader, Ho Chi Minh has a large amount to do with this.
Ho Chi Minh, or Uncle Ho as he’s known here, seems to have almost deity like status here. Just like we saw in India, his face was all over the place as much as Sheva was in Varanasi. He saw in the independence of Vietnam, the north/south battles, and ruled through a number of other periods of turmoil. When he died in 1969, the country went into a state of mourning only rivalled by the recent death of the King of Thailand! It seems that without his leadership, this wonderful country would be a very different place! We were fortunate to visit the royal palace in Hanoi where he lived, but he wanted to retain a simple way of living, so actually had a smaller property within the grounds of the palace. It seems that this simplistic but comfortable way of living is something again that has definitely rubbed off on the nation.


The city itself has so much beautiful history around, covering influence from China and France in the main. We spent a few hours touring the literary museum one day, and you could have thought you’d crossed into China because of the architecture, then you turn a corner to see the grand stately home like mansion buildings with a clear French influence. Running through the streets in the old quarter, houses and cafes have balconies and shutters you’d traditionally see throughout Paris, and in Some areas you could almost be walking down a street in Lyon!

To top this all off, Hanoi is a very cultural place, with art playing a huge part on the way of life, even the bin men have their own theme tune (no joke, they had a theme song that was played whilst collecting rubbish). To add to this, a clear French fashion influence and a pretty wonderful array of street performers makes Hanoi one of my top stops on this trip so far. However I knew that was likely to change; for my 30th birthday we had booked a 3 day, 2 night trip to Ha Long Bay, something that was destined to blow the bucket list out the water entirely!

Ha Long Bay

I seriously have no idea where to begin with this….

Ha long bay (meaning descending dragon ) is such a magical place, and I’ve never seen landscapes like it anywhere else in the world. To call it a bay is an understatement, it’s more of an archipelago of 2000+ limestone islands bursting out of the sea, absolutely covered in greenery and teaming with wildlife. I saw more birds of prey on this trip than I think I have in the rest of my life combined!img_9377

We booked on a trip months ago called Imperial Classic Cruise, which comprised of a night staying on the boat with kayaking and swimming galore, followed by another day and night on a private island, followed by another day on the boat with a cooking class. This operator picked us up from the hostel, and dropped us back so it was seriously stress free.img_9408

The boat itself was cool! We had a great upstairs balcony to chill out on, a private room with AC, food supplied (which was also good) and a great bunch of staff and some guests we really got on well with. We started the trip with a 90minute cruise through the bay getting a feel for the landscape. Honestly, it’s beautiful. I have taken far too many photos because everywhere you turn it looks different. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park for that whole 90 minutes. We were also given the opportunity to go kayaking for around 90minutes, setting off from a local floating fishermans hut (pretty cool). For me this was amazing, as we were able to really explore by ourselves and at points felt like we were the only people in the area.

After a bit of boat jumping we settled down to a pretty heavy night of unplanned boozing, drinking games, karaoke and general noise making with the other guests. We only went to bed when we cleared them out of beer and some guests started falling over.

On my birthday we set off around 8am to the surprising caves, a collection of caves only discovered in the last century. They are called surprising cave because the first cave is small, but the ones after come as quite a surprise. They are HUUUUUUUGE! The way it’s lit as well is pretty awesome, and something I’d recommend going to see. Sadly I think every tour operator in the bay seems to take people there is was absolutely saturated with other bodies… For me what made this little expedition though was the views over the bay. Take a look for yourself!img_9416

After this we boarded a smaller boat to head to our island break at sandy beach resort. The boat itself was rubbish and falling to bits, but it didn’t matter once we arrived at the island.

I actually couldn’t believe we were staying here. The resort consisted of about 20huts over the sea, with a central area for food and drinks. We were totally enclosed by the limestone cliffs which made it feel even more secluded. We spent the afternoon kayaking around the bay in the more choppy water, swimming and generally doing very little except standing in disbelief of where we were. This place was far from 5* luxury but it so didn’t matter, we had a wonderful time with awesome people and really didn’t want to leave.

Our final day consisted almost entirely of travel back to Hanoi, with a pretty average cookery class thrown in (making spring rolls hardly counts as a cooking class I feel). Sadly the rest of the day we spent on a bus, or doing life admin, but that’s the fun of backpacking!

I can safely say I love this place. Both Hanoi and Ha Long blew me away. If they aren’t on your travel lists, they bloody should be! We’re now heading onto a place called Dong Hoi to explore the Phong Nha national park, and the worlds largest caves for a few days before we explore the wonderful area of Hue and Hoi an. We will be taking our first sleeper bus tonight which will be an experience in itself I feel!

Goa- Failing at doing nothing

I’ll get straight to the point. After spending the Best part of a month travelling the North of India with a dabble of the South, our primary aim for Goa was to achieve as little as possible. For those of you that know me well though, I’m not very good at doing nothing…

Goa is a funny place, where you can literally go from a beach paradise to a psy trance and neon fuelled rave within about a 10minute walk down the beach. Dependent on what part of Goa you stay in though, you can also have either/or if you read up on what’s going on. Either way, it’s the smallest state by a Country mile, the wealthiest, and the most relaxed on alcohol taxation, horray! After a bit of research (and somewhat governed by pre booked train tickets to Goa) we decided to rent an apartment in North Goa in an area called Vagator. 

From what we read up about Goa, the North has a little bit more life to it, and the South is pure chill. Because we were hitting Goa in the shoulder season (so half the bars and restaurants aren’t open or even built), we thought we should probably explore the north where there’s likely to be a little more going on. This was probably a very sensible recommendation from Kelly as I probably would have lost my shit in the south doing absolutely nothing for a week… Vagator is a short drive down the coast from Anjuna, a popular stop for party goers and is synonymous for its beautiful coastline. We ended up hiring an Airbnb as we’d managed to save a bit of our budget in Kerala not getting a massive houseboat. It was so nice to have our own place for the best part of a week!

So, before we could achieve nothing, we needed to scope out the surrounding area. We ended up hiring a scooter for 3 days which was AWESOME! The public transport in Goa isn’t as good as other areas we’ve been, and to be honest having the freedom to just go for a ride was rather refreshing. DON’T WORRY PARENTS, WE BOTH WORE HELMETS! 

See! Helmets!

We spent day 1 driving around Vagator, Anjuna, and Chapora, checking out the sights, beaches, bars, and hopefully party venues. We kinda lucked out to be honest, our local beach (a very casual ten minute stroll from our apartment) was beautiful, and at low tide opened up to uncover some really secluded areas of coastline that made you think you had the whole place to yourself! 



Alongside this, we discovered a quality venue called Curlies on a private beach between at the end of Anjuna. We ended up falling in love with this place a little as it literally offered everything we wanted, so went back probably 4 times over the week! 


We again lucked out; a five minute stroll in the same direction to the local beach was a bar called mango tree, that sold a decent array of cocktails and large kingfisher for 120INR (so all of a quid, dependent on how the Brexit barometer is swinging). 

All in all, a good find. As you can see, day one consisted of a distinct lack of doing nothing..

Day 2 of doing nothing consisted of riding to the local city called Panjim. This was kinda my fault as I got a little excited when filling up the bike and ended up filling it completely! Our first day of driving around used a grand total of about £1 of fuel so we still had a full tank left which I was reluctant to just donate to someone else.  

What I quickly realised is when people said Goa moves slow, they meant in every way! Yes, the whole attitude is very chilled, but it took us an hour to drive 20km; when you’re riding on roads they are riddled without holes, there are large chunks of dirt tracks, and obviously, the roads are very busy Around the city. I must say, riding into a city in India on a moped is an experience Kelly and I won’t forget anytime soon. 

We spent the day exploring the old quarter of Panjim; renowned for its Portuguese architecture and traditional vibes, alongside it’s strongly Christian heritage. I must say, it didn’t disappoint. This part of Goa really stood out as feeling different to everywhere else we’d seen. The whole area could have been in Portugal to be honest: the architecture really did make it stand out. I was determined to find the perfect vindaloo (I’ll write a separate blog about this), and the quest started at a wonderful hotel in the old quarter called Hotel Venite. I was somewhat apprehensive as this was highly recommend by lonely planet which sadly has let me down on other occasions, but this place absolutely delivered! If you’re in Panjim, just find it and go, you won’t be disappointed. Kelly and I both had traditional Goan meals and didn’t leave a drop on our plates.

The church of immaculate conception. The main church in the old quarter
The walls and flooring was completely made from seashells to Hotel Venite. Absolutely beautiful
Not an example of stunning architecture, but somewhat ironic?

 

The rest of the day was spent driving along the coastline to Aguada, another coastal area with a coastal fort. To be honest, I would have  been happy riding along the coastal roads all day; the sights were truly stunning.

Again, another failure at doing nothing.

Day 3 we decided to actually do nothing, including spending money! We went to the local beach and just read, all day, achieving nothing apart from reducing the impact of my terrible tank top tan lines. Work in progress…



 We went out for lunch and dinner again furthering our quest to find the perfect vindaloo. Unfortunately my attempt this day resulted in a perfect example of how NOT to make one. Can’t win them all I guess…

Day 4 We really achieved nothing. Sadly Kelly and I got ill again, and spent the day in bed trying to not feel sorry for ourselves. I blame the vindaloo from the day before 😭

Fortunately on day 5 we were feeling human again!

We decided to hire a bike again, and went to Curlies early. By about 11 we were both on the beach, Kindles in hand, listening to the sea. Bliss! The reason we loved this place so much is it offered everything. All day long they played chilled Hed Kandi style chillout tunes, with awesome and friendly staff, great food, a great array of drinks, and all enclosed in a very cool venue with stuff to keep everyone happy: add a private beach to that and we were laughing!


We ended up staying there till about 930pm as we thought there was a Psy Trance night on (plus I’ve wanted to see the sunset over the ocean this whole trip). Apparently we were wrong sadly; as everyone lines up for Diwali the party for the week was shifted to the following night when we’d be on a sleeper train to Bombay. Neither of us were amused, but as we still didn’t feel 100% we got over this quickly.

To finish off our Goan experience we spent the last day at our local beach just taking in the sights before heading off on our sleeper to Bombay. It was such a lovely beach it felt like a great way to end our beach bum life for a bit…


I really wish we had booked two weeks in Goa to be honest. The beauty of the beaches was astounding, and the relaxed atmosphere was a breath of fresh air for us both, but we just want a little bit more. Even though we failed at achieving nothing the whole time, we got the level about right to manage my sanity levels. Obviously being sick in the middle didn’t help, but you can’t win them all….

I’m almost certain India is out to break us!

Now, our final stop in India is in Bombay (Mumbai). We’ve booked to stay with a family in Versova beach to get a proper experience of Diwali, which starts tomorrow. If we make it out of here alive, we leave India on the 2nd and head to Vietnam. I’ll be writing about Diwali on the plane I’m sure, but also a separate blog about India overall. It’s such a magical place I kinda want to reflect on it in its entirety.

Kolkata; a smack in the face on all senses and emotions

Well we did it! We finally took the plunge and got on the plane to Kolkata; a place that literally couldn’t be further from anything we know or have experienced before. To be honest, the moment we arrived at our hotel (not really a hotel to be honest, more of an inn and barely able to be called that), I was utterly terrified, and had one of those “oh god, what the hell have we done?” moments. After about 15 hours of travelling, we arrived at our inn after the cabbie took us to some random area of the city, to a room with no AC, no windows, barely any light, and a very unwelcoming check in to the place we’d be staying. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect; we’d ended up booking a bed in the centre of the residential district; a very dark, grotty and overcrowded neighbourhood made up of a labarynth of alleys and passages. 

The first day, I think it’s safe to say Kelly and I were somewhat nervous to go out and explore, but the sheer heat of our room drove us out, and I’m so glad it did! Kolkata genuinely has been a smack in the face, mixing all the emotions you can fathom into a melting pot and boiling over until dry, but we knew it would be. Seeing so many people sleeping on the roadside, in particular, children, is very hard to see on arrival, as well as all the stray dogs and puppies, and knowing you can’t really help or change the situation can be hard to deal with. But that’s life here and it’s very much the norm. It didn’t stop us wanting to take all the children and dogs home with us though 

I’m writing this on a sleeper train to Varanasi which I’m sure will do exactly the same. Never has the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” rung any truer to me.
I’m going to try and summarise my thoughts in Kolkata in sections that I feel make sense, rather than just a brain fart of conscious thought, so bare with me.

The place 

Let’s be clear here,  India ain’t the tidiest place in the world, and Kolkata certainly isn’t! Everywhere you look there is so much rubbish and mess around you are literally wading through it at points, particularly around markets, but at the same time people were always sweeping up the streets even when it seemed futile.  It was great to see people taking pride even when they had nothing. I literally saw buildings made out of tyres,  bamboo, and propped up with plastic mounds. The amazing thing about the city though, is every night you see the majority get cleared away by the residents. It’s incredible to see what you’ve seen so many times on TV, people collecting all the plastic and metal off streets and selling for recycling, just to raise a few rupees. It’s actually quite amazing to see how much can be done with so little. 


The city itself is absolute carnage I’m not going to lie. As I expected from many Indian cities, it’s horribly overcrowded and noisy. When people say India is a melting pot of smells, they aren’t lying. There is a constant cocophony of smells from cooking food, tabacco (and as much hash), urine, spices, rotting food and burning out motors (a combination of types, clutch, and diesel smoke), all made more pleasant by the heat and humidity. I only really found the rotting smell offensive, and after eating some fruit I bought from a street vendor, I can tell where the smell originates from. I’d like to think I’m fairly open to foods, but eating over ripe and verging on rotten papaya won’t ever make it to the top of my list I can confirm that!


The architecture is fascinating across the city. You can really tell that British colonial rule played a huge part in the design of the area and the influence over so many areas. The fascinating thing out around the city is the mash of classic British design, with to be honest a total mess of building designs, many that  aren’t even remotely attractive. One thing I didn’t notice in Kolkata was any new buildings that looked even a little exciting. Shame really.


We were fortunate to see most of the sites in our 3 days here. We walked over 18miles in two days alone exploring the areas around Victoria park and the Eden Gardens, New Market and Park Street, eating all the street food along the way (see next section) and even managed to to get tickets to the Indios New Zealand 2nd test (for all of a quid a ticket. Bonus!). 



Whilst Kolkata isn’t known necessarily for its sights and attractions, it does have some amazing things to see and some lovely areas. The real thing though, is the food!

The food

Now for any of you who know me, you’ll know I LOVE food, experimenting with new food, and learning new techniques. For me, this was half the reason for starting out trip where we did. Kolkata is known as the Western Bengali capital of street food, and it certainly didn’t disappoint! We literally tried everything we could get our hands on. The majority of the street food was vegetarian and it was without a doubt the most flavoursome and colourful vegetarian food I’ve ever eaten, whilst actually being rather simple. I tried to get recipes along the way but it was rather challenging with the language barrier in most places. What I can say though is the food makes full use of mustard oil (and PROPER mustard oil, not like the limp crap we get in the UK), with citrus used to marinade everything (the local citrus fruit is a perfect mix between lemon and lime), and regardless of the lack of food safety, of health and hygiene regulations, the food on the streets is outstanding. We were living off street food for about £4 a day and nothing was short of excellent. My top food was an egg Kati Roll, a roti heated on a solid top with an egg scrambled on top. Chicken Tikka with fresh onion, chilli and sauce is then fried off and rolled like a burrito; delicious! Definitely something I’ll be playing around with at home in a years time. 


I have missed fruit though. Every time I tried to eat any it was either tasting vile from being close to rotten, or I’ve had to avoid because everything is covered in flies. Everything I wanted to eat fell into these categories and I’m doing my best to avoid Delhi belly so had to give fruits a miss. 

Basically, street food was amazing, and  a great start to what I expected of PROPER Indian cuisine.

The people 

There are many things that can be said here. To keep it simple though, I met some absolutely amazing people and some total arse holes. It was tough to remember some things that so many people had said to me about the culture, namely 

  1. People will stare
  2. They’ll stare a bit more 
  3. They’ll probably try and rip you off
  4. You’ll hear yes a lot when actually they don’t have a clue what you’re saying
  5. You’ll find the blatant poverty around difficult to deal with 

All of these things happened on at least one occasion..

Kelly had a particularly hard time as she currently has pink hair! I don’t think we ever got further than 100m without some kind of comment either directly or indirectly, and  EVERYONE WAS STARING AT US, ALL THE TIME or asking to take photos with us, we were at times like celebrities. In the four days we were in Kolkata, I think I only saw about 5 other white westerners, so it’s fair to say we were the minority, and seeing someone with pink hair certainly isn’t commonplace!


But when we met decent people, they were truly awesome! From the 80 year old at the station today helping reassure us about our tickets and bought us chai even though he could barely speak English, to the Chelsea fan who helped us look for alternative trains at the station, to the wonderful family we sat next to on the sleeper train who fed us. A special shout out goes to Shekhar who we met on couchsurfing, who took us out for dinner and drinks: he was overwhelmingly hospitable and later drove us around the city giving us our own private tour! This kind of genuine hospitality for no personal gain is so alien in England and no natural here, it really makes you think. To all of those I’ve met on this trip so far, thank you.

Like a duck to water

I am writing this whilst on a sleeper train to Varanasi, after a particularly hectic day trying to find an alternative train (first one was delayed by TEN HOURS). This trip has already been a huge eye opener and to be frank, a smack in the face (hence the title), but we’ve got on with it well. Kelly in particular hasn’t let anything phase her at all, and is actually trying to talk me away from taking the opulent route on anything we do (like staying in the station for 15hours to avoid paying a tenner for a hotel, f*** that). Now we have 3-4 days in the holy city over Ghandhi’s birthday, which should be quite amazing.  This part of the trip will be equally as difficult though, with the city renowned for its public cremations and poverty. We shall see how we cope!