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! 

🇮🇩❤️🇲🇾

Phnom Penh and Siem Reap – Do what you gotta do 

If you speak to anyone who’s been to Cambodia they will have done two things for sure; been to Phnom Penh to learn about the atrocities the country endured under the Khmer Rouge, and seen the temples of Angkor. After an amazing few days on a beach, we went back to Phnom Penh to visit S21 and the Killing Fields. We knew this part of the trip would be tough, and it definitely was,but you can’t go to a country like this and not learn what it’s been through. 

This is pretty hard to write, so probably read too. Warning for those of you easily upset.

A brief history lesson

For those that don’t know the history, after getting clobbered during the Vietnam war by US bombs, the Khmer Rouge were elected into power and immediately enforced atrocious social conditioning regulations nationally. Pol Pot, the leader of the party vowed to create a totally self sufficient nation, meaning Cambodia created all their own goods and produce. This included EVERYTHING in his eyes, like medicine and vehicles as well as food produce, which was never going to be possible. Pot ordered and forced (violently) all Cambodian residents living in cities to go and work on the fields in the rural areas of the country. The results were devastating as half the nation obviously didn’t know why they were doing! The country was immediately hit by famine, and thousands died from malnutrition and exhaustion (people were forced to work 20 hour days with almost no food).

This sounds bad, but it gets worse. 

It’s safe to say the Khmer Rouge drew its ideology from Marxism and the more extreme Maoism, but took things an extreme to say the least. The concept of creating the pure Cambodian culture stretched to pure xenophobia towards anyone not 100% Khmer, and resulted in widespread ethnic cleansing exercises. It didn’t end there though, Pot believed that the west influenced culture too much with education, medicine, culture, even religion, so simply banned it all. He wanted the nation to return to a agriculture based existence, replicating the life of the Angkor tribes still living in rural areas. Anyone who was educated, spoke another language, or even wore glasses was immediately sent to the farms to work, or to the prisons like s21 to avoid repercussions from family members, the whole family endured the same fate too. Prison camps like S21 (originally a school that was converted into the prison) would torture thousands of Cambodians to endure inconceivable levels of horrific torture and humiliation. The aim of this was to identify the believed spies for the FBI, KGB, MI6 and other nations secret services which obviously didn’t actually exist; yet more of the horrific propaganda spewed from the Pot regime. 

Pot declared the nation full of ‘Enemies’ of the nation who would be punished (tortured and killed). Anyone who had connections to the previous government, was educated, a ‘professional’, anyone not pure Cambodian, ‘economy saboteurs’ who didn’t buy into the new ideology didn’t stand a change, even just being perceived as being intellectual, cause having glasses means your clever innit.

The crimes against humanity committed in Cambodia resulted in a quarter of the nation being murdered. It’s quite rare to see anyone elderly here now, and the average age in Cambodia is one of the lowest across the globe. Research indicates that anything between 1-3 million people died during the Khmer Rouge rule.

S21 Prison


S21 is a prison that was discovered after the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia to remove the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979. There are only 8 people who are known to have made it out alive I believe. There have been hundreds of these camps discovered across the nation. What we heard, read and saw there was utterly harrowing. The museum is in tact as it was found. Over the 4 years the Khmer Rouge were in control, around 20000 people were imprisoned here, tortured, and murdered, and this was one of hundreds of prisons. It’s inconceivable to think this happened to recently, yet when we look around we see atrocities continuing all around the world to this day. It really made me take a step back and think about humanity and how shit we are in general.

Sorry, but it kinda gets worse again.  

The killing fields 


After nearing a pretty tough morning at s21 we head to the killing fields (Choeung Ek). This is exactly how it sounds: a field for mass murder. 

After prisoners confessed to treason (or whatever crime they were forced into confessing) at S21/similar they were bussed to killing fields, where they were murdered and thrown in mass graves. Bullets were scarce, so the killing was done with handheld weapons in the main. Horrifically, there was one mass grave just for women and children, where the kids were picked up by their feet and smashed into a tree head first before being flung on a pit with hundreds of other victims. This tree has been named the killing tree and is now covered in bracelets and gifts from those that visit. 

Towards the end of the rule, anything up to 300 people were sent to this field every day! Once you ended up here, you didn’t make it out again: your fate was sealed. Over 9000 bodies have been found across the vast array of mass graves at this site alone. Again, hundreds have been discovered across Cambodia. 

This place was eye opening. From the pits dotted all over the site, to the bits of bone and clothing that still come up from the soil after rainy periods, to the Stupa in memory of those that died, which contains over 5000 skulls discovered so far at the site. I can only use the word harrowing again, it was eye opening, horrific, truly upsetting, and thought provoking.

What I think makes all this worse though, is the criminal charges against the leaders of the Khmer Rouge are STILL GOING ON! Pol Pot took exile in rural Cambodia near thailand until he died, and his cronies have either escaped through dementia, ended up in prison for the later parts of their life, or died themselves. I think to date, only a handful of the party leaders have been imprisoned and only ONE has accepted any remorse or responsibility. Along side this the Khmer Rouge had a seat on the UN throughout all of this, other nations played dumb and didn’t intervene, and some sources imply that countries like the UK And USA actively supported the Khmer Rouge! Even if this isn’t true, there’s not much evidence showing global intervention to stop anything! Seriously, WTF kind of world do we live in? Even writing this is making me hate waves of humanity. How the hell is stuff like this still going on daily across the globe.

Okay that was tough to write, but needed to be written.

So after a day of sadness in Phnom Penh we got a night bus to Siem Reap.

Siem reap- unleashing our inner Tomb Raider


After getting dropped off on the outskirts of the city before 5am, in the rain, with nowhere booked to stay, we weren’t really feeling a day walking around the temples, so spent the day researching the temples and planning our next two days, as well as exploring the city. Firstly, I need to say I really liked this place. The atmosphere is quality, and there’s so many things to do (including going to the cinema on a miserably rainy day, which I definitely did). I’d recommend staying around Pub St if you go as this is where all the action is. I ended up out with some guys from the island for a few bevvies and had a great night. Regardless, you don’t go to Siem Reap for a piss up, you go for the temples.

The Angkor temples are a UNESCO world heritage site; It’s actually the worlds biggest religious site covering a vast distance through forest and jungle land. You could probably spend a week here and barely scratch the surface. We spent two days exploring the main areas but definitely could have done way more. 

Now rather than talking about each temple individually, I just want to give an overview.

Firstly, each place seems like  a one of a kind. We probably visited 20 or so temples over the two days we explored I didn’t get temple fatigue for this reason. On day one we hired a scooter and drove around ourselves, starting at the other end of the main body of temples, and each one we saw was totally different from another. Our first two were either vast and in the middle of the jungle, or a floating temple on a tiny island, even getting to the temple was like nothing I’ve experienced before. You know those scenes in Harry Potter where the ghosts come out the water? This made me think of that!


The highlight of day one for me was the famous “tomb Raider” temple, Ta Phrom. I can see why this temple is so famous, it’s incredible! The whole temple has been taken back by the forest, with tree routes running through the whole thing, taking over vast areas of the site. I have never seen anything like this before, and probably never will again. Seriously, everywhere I looked I was mesmerised. It also made me think the earth always wins in some way… Words can’t really describe this, so just take a look for yourself; this was probably my favourite place over the whole two days.



On day two we decided to be lazy and get a driver. Doing things yourself is cool, but actually quite draining as I spent half my time trying to not tip the bike over on the slippery clay roads peppered with massive pot holes! We started the day with the most famous temple, Angkor Wat.


Again, I’m struggling to put an explanation of how amazing this place was into words. The building itself is huge and beautiful. I can only imagine what it would have looked like in its hay day. The truly amazing thing though is it was built in about 18 years, with rock taken from over 20 miles away. Comparatively when cathedrals were being built in Europe they took at least double this time to be constructed!

We were lucky enough to get up to the top of Angkor Wat; I think the fact it was raining helped us a lot.the views were outstanding but to be honest the higher parts of the temple were simply mesmerising! I also got a blessing from this monk; probably need a few more before I’m accepted into Nirvana!


After a good 2 hours at Angkor Wat we went full blown Lara Croft and went off finding our own temples. I think between us we’ve probably taken 1000 photos of all the temples we visited so theres way too many to put up here, but it was a great few hours seeing some of the lesser known temples buried more in the forestry.

To finish up, we visited Angkor Tom and the surrounding temples. Again, this is HUGE! Climbing up to the top of these was a battle as the steps are so steep, uneven and obviously rather rocky, but it felt like an achievement! Our favourite temple here was the Bayon temple, paying homage to shiva. Again, it’s vast, but the heads of Shiva are just everywhere and so many are so well restored or preserved. It’s a very spiritual place to be and even better place to finish up our trip. I can see why this has been dubbed one of the must see things across the globe. Lonely planet actually named it number one! 

I A couple of pointers if you go manage to go:-

  • Book your own driver, it’s so much easier
  • Ask your driver about the routes and timings of the coaches. There are thousands of people doing these temples each day so if you get it wrong, you’ll be covered in tourists wearing silly hats, thats never good good for once in a lifetime photos.
  • Keep an eye on the weather. We didn’t get to do sunrise at Angkor Wat because it was overcast or cloudy each morning, fortunately we checked the weather so didn’t get up super early to be disappointed. 
  • Likewise if you go when it’s clear skies it’s gonna be HOT! You will get burned and will get dehydrated unless you properly hydrate yourself.
  • Be careful with where you eat. You will get stung in most places. Ask your driver for cheap place, we did this and had one of the best meals we had in Cambodia.
  • DO NOT buy things from kids. Child poverty and child labour are issues here and Cambodia are trying to do something about it especially around Ankor. Don’t encourage it!

So this is our last stop in Cambodia. It’s a magical county that should definitely be on your bucket list. Like India, we both endured a myriad of emotions as we travelled around but overall it’s a wonderful place. Next stop, Thailand for a week of frolicking around the north in the jungles, before celebrating xmas in the sun!

Coastal Cambodia- chasing sunsets and climbing mountains

So I’ve clearly been having too much fun, and I’m two posts behind. Sorry about that… 

We’re now back in Phnom Penh before heading to Siem Reap for Ankor Wat for a few days of pretending to be Indiana Jones….We decided to start our Cambodia adventures on the southern coastal stretch of the country. Initially, we had planned to cross the boarder to Cambodia via the Mekong delta, but plans changed thanks to some very accommodating friends, and we ended up crossing straight to the capital. After a great evening with UK buddies Steph and Tim that resulted in me losing my beer pong virginity (and winning I should add) we headed straight to Kep.
Now after speaking to a bunch of people about this choice of location, it’s made me realise that listening to others opinions isn’t always the best option. We both LOVED Kep, a very quiet and small fishing town made famous for its crab fishing. So many people said it was rubbish and only worth a short day trip, yet we spent 3 days there in the end. After arriving, we pretty much just stayed at our wonderful accommodation, treetop bungalows. We’d read great reviews about this place where you literally stayed in a pivate treehouse. Sadly, we discovered upon arrival we’d booked “the cheap huts” as they were called by the owner, so weren’t in a treehouse, but it was still awesome. We had our own bamboo hut with a great mosquito net and big bed, power, and a powerful fan for less than £7 a night, a pretty good price for Cambodia.
Treetop as a place to stay is awesome and just what we were looking for. Yes, we didn’t have the treetop bungalow due to budget, but everything else was wonderful. The complex is made up of the bungalows, a main building where you eat and socialise with other guests, and the whole site is absolutely riddled with fruit trees. During our stay here, we absolutely gorged on fruits growing on the site, including jackfruit, passion fruit, fresh green pepper, lime, and banana. We even helped the grandmother harvest passion fruit one morning: I’ve never eaten passion fruit straight from a tree (unsurprisingly) but I can recommend as its DAAAAAMN TASTY!

We decided to spend our first night exploring the crab markets so I could sample the speciality of black pepper crab. We’d been told the sailing club had great views, and we were told right! See for yourself….

Sadly by the time we ventured down to the sea front most of the market was closing up; you win some you lose some. However we dined at a sea front restaurant and the food was amazing! I was served I think 3 crabs in total for about £5, which by anyone’s standards is damn good! I must say though, trying to eat crab without the very western crab crackers we’re so used to isn’t the easiest thing to master without getting very messy. Following this, we headed back to the treehouse to soak in the sound of silence (the only sound we could hear were bugs from the surrounding jungles). 

The following day we decided to do a hike around the national park to save some cash. Cambodia has turned out to be SERIOUSLY expensive, especially in contrast to our planned budget. Cambodia primarily uses the dollar as its base currency, and since Brexit that’s been pretty shit in relation, we were not getting as much bang for our Buck as planned. THANKS BREXIT YOU SHIT!

I’ve digressed again, sorry…

We started by heading to Led Zep cafe at the bottom of the hill, recommended by Bub and Fran who did this trip a couple of years ago. Led Zep have set a bunch of hiking routes around the national park so we stopped to have a fresh lime juice and get some advice. The local lady who served us recommend a route through the jungle known as a “short cut” which we thought was a great idea….


WHAT SHE FORGOT TO MENTION WAS THIS ROUTE INCLUDED ABOUT 600ft ELEVATION, NEAR DEATH CLIFF EDGES AND UNMARKED ROUTES DIRECT THROUGH A JUNGLE!

Seriously, this was an experience and a half. There were honestly points where if we mis-stepped, we would have fallen down a mountain (The photo doesn’t do this statement justice. You’ll have to trust me). 

DON’T WORRY MUMS WE ARE BOTH FINE!!!

However that wasn’t the end of the fun. Once we reached the summit, we realised we had to take the “tough” route down to avoid increasing our distance way more than we wanted. After already sweating out half our bodyweight in about 2 hours this seemed sensible. This route was called the ‘jungle route’, and had a bunch of signs saying this route was only for ‘experienced walkers’. I’m still waiting to find out what an ‘experienced walker’ is to be honest, because what we endured can’t be described as walking! 

We decided to go for it to avoid adding the best park of 10k to our hike, and quickly realised he signs underestimated the route.These photos don’t do this justice in the slightest. We literally spent the next  hour abseiling down a dried up waterfall, trying really hard to not slip on a loose rock and let go of loosely tied ropes. Now, for those of you who know me, you know i like a challenge and like an adventure, but this was pushing things a bit. There were a number of times I honestly thought if something happened to us, we’d be in a right pickle as we had no guide, and didn’t see anyone else on that route since we started. Obviously we made it, and it was an amazing experience and achievement, but it was squeaky bum time for lots of it!


Over the duration of the day, we hiked for over 12 miles around the national park, along the coast, and back to the bungalow, over a duration of 5 hours. I can’t stress enough, in 30+ heat this was TOUGH, but bloody great fun to do together. 


As we felt we earned it we endured a happy hour on the coast to celebrate survival, and we’re greeted with views like this. I’d say it was all worth it…


And this ladies and gents, is why we packed in adult life!!!!

The next day we headed to Kampot where we spent a couple of days exploring the town. It ended up being quite an admin driven, yet social, and booze fuelled couple of days (yes I appreciate those don’t all work well together). We stayed in a great hostel (Monkey Republic) with great people, and ended up partying both nights we were there with new and old friends. This is why it’s so good to stay at hostels here, the social aspect is amazing and you learn loads from others experiences! We decided at this point to head to Koh Rong, two islands off the coast of Sihanoukville. Koh Rong and its neighbouring island Koh Rong Samloem are known as being similar to Thai islands 20 years ago (before they got super built up) so we thought we had to experience this. All I’ll say now is it was so good, I’m writing a separate post about this (COMING SOON!). Kampot was cool, and I don’t feel we made full use of it, but we enjoyed the general vibe and the views. 

After two days in Kampot enjoying the coastal town life we headed to Sihanoukville for one night, which again turned into a party (we’re not good at not socialising clearly). Staying at the Big Easy on the main road heading to the beach resulted in meeting more people we’d end up on the island, as well as people we’d met in Vietnam totally by chance. In our defence we did head to the beach when it immediately started raining so we went back to get some grub and bumped into all the people’s. 
Sihanoukville didn’t really do it for me to be honest. If you love getting utterly wasted and taking hallucinogens this might do it for you, but I’m not feeling that kinda vibe. The town felt disjointed, and totally overrun with tourism, taking away from the heart of the town. This is actually something I’d say about all of Cambodia sadly. The contrast between Vietnam and Cambodia tourism is huge, with Cambodia smacking you in the face with tourist prices, promotions, and offerings. It’s actually a real shame as I feel like we’re missing the real Khmer Cambodia. Considering everything this country has been through though, I can’t say I’m totally shocked tourism has become so important so quickly to support local economies. Sadly so much of the local cultures, traditions and religions were wiped out by the Khmer Rouge that it seems like those holes are now filled with tourism. 
One night in Snook was definitely enough, and I was super ready for a few days doing nothing on a beach completely off the grid! 

Phong Nha to Hỏi An- SameSame but different

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NO CHICKENS WERE HARMED DURING MY TRIP HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

​ Varanasi- An atheist abroad

Okay so the title may be misleading, I’m basically atheist, but I don’t tend to define as atheist as I’m not that clear cut for me. I believe that science can explain way more than religion can, as has been proven time and time again from my perspective. I believe religion has many benefits to society, but sadly from my perspective these are generally overshadowed by the turmoil that surround most, especially with regards to the wars and attacks we seem to witness daily across the globe now. I would never go as far as saying these things wouldn’t happen if religion wasn’t a thing, but I do believe we’d be in a very different world and sadly in some ways,coffee the better. For me, religions set clear principles and values that when adhered to (to a point) can shape a fantastic society, and a happy community, and improve societies. Obviously, though, there’s a flip side to that as well.
I’ve always been interested in theology, but not really studied it in great detail. Coming from an atheist family, but marrying an Irish Catholic girl and my family moving to. country in the Middle East my exposure to Islam and Catholicism has increased exponentially over the years. Plus, I’m now very much at that age where I’m spending more in time in churches for weddings and christenings, and sadly far too often, funerals, so the impact religion has become more commonplace in my life.
“Why the bloody hell are you chatting about religion Matt, this is a travel blog!?”
For those that don’t know, Varanasi is the most holy city in all of India. It’s history dates back thousands of years, and millions of Hindus make a pilgrimage to the holy city every year. Hindus believe that if you are cremated and released into the Ganges River (River Ganga) you will break the cycle of reincarnation and go straight to Nirvana (minus Cobain obviously😬). For this reason there are hundreds of cremations every day at a number of burning ghats, which I’ll talk more about later.img_8261
The city isn’t just Hindu though, across the skyline of the cityscape you see the minarets at mosques dotted all over the place, and hear the choir of the call to prayer. Alongside this, a scattering of beautiful Buddhist temples. Around our hotel in the old town, we could see at least 5 mosques, and had at least 5 Buddhist and Hindu temples within our immediate vicinity (as the crow flies, it probably would have taken hours to find them on the narrow backstreets of the old town). Because of this, Varanasi has an amazing aura around it, with so many people visiting to follow emir believes alone. As you can imagine, this brings with it a true melting pot of cultures and experiences. At one time, I was walking to see the Hindi Ganges ceremony while hearing the Islamic evening call to prayer whilst walking past coach loads of Buddhist monks who were arriving for a Buddhist festival. You wouldn’t see that at the Vatican!
The city itself is amazing, truly amazing. It’s so unbelievably different from Kolkata, with car horns and traffic jams replaced with rickshaws and cows. Yep, cows. The Hindu faith regards cows as holy creatures, so they are everywhere! The labrynth-like experience of the back streets around the old town is made even more ingesting by dodging cows, cow shit, stray dogs, uneven stones for the walkways, and locals on their motorbikes. That in itself is an experience, especially when you see a couple s having an argument! Whilst the are beggars and people trying to flog you stuff everywhere, the poverty on the streets is nothing like what I saw in Kolkata. I must say these street sellers week utterly relentless, and by the end of my 4 days there I was getting rather pissed off with a few of them repeatedly trying to sell me some cheap crap or give me a hand massage. Seriously, these guys will try anything, t always use he standard chat up line of “where are you from?”
For me Varanasi is about the sights and spirituality, the spirituality being the things that’s totally alien to me

The Ghats

The ghats offer a myriad of services, but basically, they are stairs to the Ganges. There are a number of ghats in Varanasi (83 in total I believe), the most famous are the Assi Ghat (where the river Assi meets the Ganges), Dashashwamedh (where the wonderful Ganja Artii celebration is held every evening) and the Manikarnika Ghat, where the cremation ceremonies are undertaken, about 400 each day.img_4080
Each Ghat obviously offers its own experience, but my favourite had to be Dashashwamedh with the ceremonies. Every night, people gather to watch the prayers to the river Ganja, thanking it for its good givings and bringing life to the people of India. It’s without a doubt the most wonderful religious activities I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, and we were very fortunate to be there with about 10000 other guests on Ghandis birthday, and to top it off we were speaking with a Krishna throughout the before and during the ceremony about everything from Hinduism to world economics (and more importantly, the false economies and impact of gentrification on modern day society), global warming, and India on the whole. This Krishna completely went against the stereotypical “religious guy” image, and reminded me a lot of the chaplains from my old stomping ground, Anglia Ruskin (big up Nigel and Tony, you guys rock).img_8117
Many people I’ve met have talked about the burning ghats no sadly most of the focus tends to go to the smell. To be honest this didn’t bother me, but seeing the whole process was quite overwhelming and emotional, from preparing and washing the bodies, preparing the fire, placing the bodies, covering with more wood, and finally taking the ashes to the river. Even though I had no idea who was being cremated the openness was obviously alien to me, but the wealth of emotions around the area were very powerful. It’s just such a shame there are still people exploiting the ceremony by trying to catch out unaware tourists (take note people, if someone says to you they are asking for donations for the hospice, they aren’t, they are lying).

Processed with Snapseed.
Processed with Snapseed.
We spent our time at Assi Ghat watching the sun rise. We only just made it, t seeing the sun rise over the Ganges was beautiful, and following that was a fantastic yoga and meditation session run by a Krishna, definitely something I won’t forget any time soon!

I started this blog by talking about my position with religion. I can say hand on heart that Varanasi was the most spiritual place I’ve ever been. Whilst it hasn’t made me flick any internal light switches to on, it has definitely grown my interest in Hinduism, and question many of the priorities in my own life. How long that will last I don’t know but Varanasi will always hold a close place in my heart.

Two final shout outs to finish this post. The manager at our Guest House, Sanjeev, was an absolute legend. If you ever visit this wonderful city (and you should) I can’t recommend the Shivakashi guesthouse high enough. Sanjeev went out of his way on so many occasions to help us out. He got us train tickets, gave plenty of local advice on where to eat and go, and had I spoken to him sooner, would have even got us a boat ride down the Ganges, stopping us from getting ripped off! Sanjeev, if you are reading this, you truly are a legend and thank you for your help on manning our trip so special.img_8265
The final shout out goes to Matt and Charlie, a wonderful couple I met in the French bakery. We ended up chatting for about two hours about the world (they’ve been travelling a while chasing the best dove locations around Asia), and met up today as well over Lassi. We will hopefully meet up in Jaipur too if things work out. It was so nice to meet such a lovely couple who seemed to share a scary number of experiences, both whilst on the road and back home.
Sorry this is such a monster post. If you’ve made It to the end, CONGRATULATIONS! I’m sorry this is such a long one, but Varanasi really struck a chord with me, and I hope I’ve done it justice relaying that. I’m also writing this whilst on a 14 hour train journey and it’s only 9pm locally so I’m nowhere near sleepy yet! I’ll try and write something more succinct on our next stop, Agra.

Bombay- A Tale of Three Cities 

I don’t know why, but I’ve been fascinated with Bombay (or Mumbai by its new, second name) for some time. A big part of the research for this trip revolved around YouTube videos and blog posts from fellow backpackers, and it seems that Bombay is a place you either love or hate, very much like Delhi (or marmite obviously). After watching a number of cookery shows from Rick Stein and Gordon Ramsay on touring India, it seemed like the natural place to finish, and after FINALLY finishing Shantaram after over a year of trying to find the time to finish it, that sealed the deal. What made the end to our India trip that bit sweeter was that we’d be there for Diwali and the start of the Hindu new year as well. Only one word can summarise this succinctly enough; AWESOME!

Our experience of Bombay has been fantastic, but the three main areas we’ve seen have been totally different and need special mentions, hence the title of this blog.

Versova and the other suburbs

We decided months back to book an Airbnb as we suspected it would be insanely busy at all hotels due to Diwali. We were very fortunate to stay with a guy called Baljit and his parents in an area called Versova, north of the main body of Bombay. Versova is the main suburb where Bollywood stars and staff from the film industry reside, so the level of affluence is en par with parts of London. When trying to compare, it probably rivals areas like Chelsea or Knightsbridge. This was obviously a very nice experience, as we were staying in a gated complex, in an open and quiet (by Indian standards) area, with a fantastic array of bars, cafes and boutique restaurants, and literally a stones throw from Versova beach. Whilst this beach didn’t rival the beauty of those we frequented in the South (this one also had a small slum, a sewer/dirty river feeding into the sea and a hefty amount of rubbish across the beach), it was still a lovely place to walk for a couple of hours near sunset.

As we were staying in this area, we were fortunate enough to see it in all its guises. One thing that really was apparent for me in Bombay was the change in the city from day to night, it really is the city that never sleeps. What starts the day as a placid and calm district turns into a bustling, lively and exciting area by night. We spent one evening just scoping out the local bars and venues for a cheeky beer, another dodging fireworks and bangers whilst admiring the beautiful light displays erected for Diwali, and another learning about the Sikh culture and visiting a local temple with Baljit and his mother. We even got given local clothing to borrow so we fitted in with  activities (codeword forndidnt stick out like a tourist as much). 

Following this we went for dinner and had probably the best butter chicken and mutton Bhuna I’ve ever had which was a great way to finish off a great day.
Versova and the surrounding areas were such a change from what I expected of Mumbai. Everything I’ve read and seen describes this place as wall to wall noise, smell and general madness, but this in the main was totally the opposite. Maybe we are just becoming more accustomed to the general carnage of India? Either way, we really lucked out staying in such a great place and with such a great family, who welcomed us so warmly and made us really feel at home and part of the community. If you guys are reading this, thanks for making our time in Bombay so wonderful! 

Central Bombay and Elephanta Island

We decided to try and squeeze the majority of the ‘sites’ into one packed day during our stay. To be honest, I’ve started to realise quite quickly on this trip that so many ‘must see’ sites or attractions aren’t actually that must see; I think I just hate tourist traps to be honest. I think both Kelly and I agree that some of the best things we’ve seen or done have been unexpected, and normally just happen because we are walking around and somewhat off the beaten track. Anyway, I digress…

We started the day off by heading to Leopolds cafe, a critical place in the book Shantaram. For many of you going to a cafe probably seems like a very strange place to head to, but for me this had to be visited. Shantaram for those of you who don’t know is the story of a man named Lin who escaped prison in Australia and ended up living in the slums of Mumbai where he becomes the slum doctor, gets involved with the mafia and ends up in jail again for months to name but a few critical points. The story spans everything from love, war, crime, philosophy, pain and passion over about 1200 pages. To be honest if you like reading and haven’t read this, just read it. I’m barely scratching the surface of describing it and it’s multiple layers. One thing I will say is it’s not really known if this is fiction or non fiction, but I believe it’s non fiction with an embezzled plot. To be honest everything I said earlier about tourist traps is kind of what I felt at Leopolds. The place was full of westerners and the prices were inflated easily by 200% on any other local establishment. Kelly and I shared a meal and went on our way. I’m still really glad we went but wouldn’t describe it as a must see place.

ANYWAY….

Following this we made our way to the Gateway of India via the Taj Mahal Hotel and a number of other historical buildings we Brits stuck all over the place. If it wasn’t for the palm trees all around, so much of this part of Bombay could easily be mistaken for central London, the architecture is so similar from Victorian age buildings in central. 

On this walk to the jetty, we walked through the Oval park, which was absolutely riddled with cricket matches. I’ve never seen anything like it! There must have been 30 matches being played on what I’d classify as a normal size pitch, I have absolutely no idea how the different teams kept track of their team mates, balls, the score, and those other important things for a match. To be honest it was wonderful to see and experience, and I can see why India are so good at cricket now! This photo doesn’t adequately show how busy it was sadly but believe me, it was heaving!

Once we made it to Gateway to India, we boarded a boat to Elephanta island. The island is an hour boat ride from the jetty, and contains almost untouched forest areas and some historical caves with monuments carved straight into the stone. This was such a wonderful change from the city madness, as the whole area felt fairly untouched and tranquil. Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely rammed, full of people selling cheap crap to tourists, and people taking selfies in the most obscure of places, but looking past all that (as you need to do across India) it was a very special place. I Also managed to get a bit of OCR practice in on the tress at the top of the hill we trekked; the locals were fascinated! 

But seriously, the selfie thing here is crazy! We’ve been asked well over 100 times for bloody selfies on this trip. We’ve seen people having almost full blown photo shoots for selfies, it’s a little ridiculous to be honest. I had enough at Elephanta and just started photobombing people, and taking photos of people posing for photos. Here’s a small sample of said snaps…


For the evening, we decided to go on a street food spree. We’ve heard so much about the street food in Mumbai but hadn’t had many opportunities to tuck in, so we really went for it. We walked from the gateway to an area regarded as the street food Mecca of Mumbai, Mohammad Ali Road. Whilst on the 5k stomp past the famous CST station (which is absolutely stunning for the record) we tucked into some PROPER tandoori chicken in a roti, some Vada Pav (regarded as the Bombay burger, even though it’s basically potato cake in a bun). By the time we were done at Mohammad Ali road, we’d tucked into an array of Indian sweets, snacks, and small meals, all of which was superb and seldom seen in the UK (yes I got recipes where I could). Because we decided to do this on Diwali, the walk again involved dodging some very interesting and explosive banger and firework displays on the narrow streets. Health and safety well and truly went out the window! As you can imagine though, this really made whole experience of being in in the thick of it come to life.

Dhravi slums

Before visiting the slums, I had a feeling this place was going to be riddled with crime, and poverty, and I’d see people living miserable lives and living in some absolutely appalling conditions. I was expecting to find my experience quite challenging and rather emotional. I think this is in part fuelled by things like Slumdog Millionaire, and the imagery the media use to paint such a picture and tell such a story to be honest, because boy was I wrong!

Dharavi slum is the largest in Bombay (and in Aisa to be fair), with over 1 million people living in an area half the size of Central Park in NYC. The unofficial number of people living here is likely to be much higher though. The slum basically has a population density about 20 times larger than the rest of the city, and average salary for those in the slums is less than £2 a day.


We went on a tour around the slums with a company called Reality Tours, a fantastic company who run a community outreach centre to educate those living in the slums. 80% of their profits go into this centre, and they run sessions on everything from computer use to basic numeracy/literacy qualifications that are endorsed by the British Council, but even sessions on personal hygiene, LGBT rights, elocution and CV writing/interview techniques amongst other things. They do some fantastic work and I’d really recommend checking them out if you are venturing to India at any point. 

We started the tour by exploring the commercial areas, that included the plastic recycling zones, pottery makers and leather workers. About 80% of the recycling for all of Bombay is done in the slum, and the majority of this is plastic. As you can imagine, the working conditions are not great, there’s no health and safety, and the smell of chemicals fills the air to an acrid level, but this is just the norm so everyone gets on with it. In a strange way it was really nice to see the end of the line, as we’ve seen so many people collecting plastic on the streets and now we have seen what happens to it. One thing that really amazes me about this whole process was the array of stages and ways the locals worked in challenging conditions and without all the modern technology we would be used to in the UK. Likewise with the pottery and leather workers, the work is undertaken using machinery, but due to cost and space restrictions many tasks are done by hoards of people. 

One thing that really jumped out at me about the commercial district is how much stuff you see on the streets clearly come from the slums. We saw Breads and cakes being made and packaged for large companies to be sold all over India, we saw leather bags being made for some very well known top name brands, all the crap that’s sold on the streets for ten times the actual cost, beautiful fabrics and saris, the list goes on. It’s a real shame though that none of this is promoted as coming from this area, probably because of the false perceptions  from the general public, just like my initial misconceptions! Likewise, it’s really obvious you shouldn’t buy any of that crap off the streets as regardless of your quality of bartering, you’re still getting ripped off.

Following this, we made it through to the residential districts down the labyrinth like alleys. Now this was exactly as I expected! You had to have your wits about you, as there was no lighting, low ceilings or awnings, broken pavement, open sewers, and trailing electrical cables daisy chaining over your heads in some crazy tangled mess. However, the living areas felt totally different. Unlike my belief that we’d be surrounded by horrific poverty, the area was alive with life. People took great pride in their homes, which were beautiful colours and had amazing street art on the sides of buildings. We saw children dressed up in beautiful outfits for the holy celebrations, more kids playing cricket in the streets (I may have got involved again), and you rally got the sense of a wonderfully close knit community all around you. The area, albeit a slum, actually reminded me of the area we stayed in Kolkata, just with corrugated iron houses.

The thing that really hit home with me, was how wrong I had got it. I reckon I saw less poverty, rubbish and general harshness in the slum than I have in any city in India so far! Come to think of it, I didn’t see a single person begging for the first time in India! Honestly, it was wonderful, and once I had realised my understanding of the slum was totally wrong I felt so comfortable being here. I felt so honoured to have met the amazing people, to see what I’d seen and to get involved in local activity in and around the slums; definitely the most eye opening thing we have done and something I can’t recommend highly enough. The slums are an organic and evolving city within a city, just go with an open mind and be prepared to be amazed.


Sorry, I’ve done it again. I’ve written far too much, but there’s so much to say about this city. I appreciate that being here over Diwali may have enhanced my experience somewhat, but I will go as far to say I bloody love it here! This city is so different to all the others we’ve visited over the last 5 weeks, but with subtle similarities in pockets. There’s so much going on that with every turn down an alley you get a different experience.

This is the last place we visit in India. It’s been a magical time to say the least. I’ll be reflecting on the trip whilst we are en route to Hanoi and will probably write an overview of the whole journey so far. Needless to say, I’ve fallen in love with India a little bit, and WILL be back to explore some more!