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!

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! 

🇮🇩❤️🇲🇾

New Zealand, North island: The land of the long white cloud ☁️ 🇳🇿 

This is a really tough blog to write, especially as I feel like we’ve seen and done so much in the past couple of weeks exploring the North island. New Zealand is a country I’ve always been fascinated by. I’m not really sure why to be honest, apart from I’ve always really liked the idea of going somewhere where you can ski in the morning and surf in the evening. Whilst New Zealand does offer this (you’re never further than 100km from the ocean here) it offers so much more; way more than I can cover in a single post. I’ll start by saying this: THIS COUNTRY IS AMAZING. 

We’ve been exploring in our trusty camper, who we’ve nicknamed Leroy (for no reason really, just because). Our trusty steed has been our accommodation, kitchen and home the past couple of weeks and he’s done us proud every step of the way. Whilst I’m somewhat biased clearly, I can’t really imagine exploring this awesome country any other way! It’s so nice having the freedom to literally park up or go anywhere as we please. What I can say straight away is I wish we had more time (and money) here; 40 days to do both islands clearly won’t be enough! 

New Zealand is so well known for its array of adrenaline fuelled activities, but I honestly think the thing I’ve enjoyed more is the landscape. This place is mesmerising at every turn! The mountain ranges that cover the majority of the country are absolutely breathtaking. At so many points I felt like I was in a country totally untouched by mankind, there really are so many points where all you can see is countryside, mountain range, beach or river. Both Kelly and I have had to rack our brains constantly to find a word to replace “wow” as we are both saying it way too much. Seriously, you cannot fathom the beauty of this place unless you see it with your own eyes. 

We had just over 2 weeks to see as much of the North Island as possible. Although NZ is minuscule in comparison to its big brother next door, driving around isn’t a quick exercise. The roads meander up, down and around and through the mountain ranges making 10km take 30 mins in some cases at a push. The roads are all maintained exceptionally well, but being in a converted VW van with an extra 200kg of worktop, kitchen and beds dumped in slowed us down somewhat. Regardless, driving around NZ is an experience in itself. These are by far the most enjoyable and visually pleasing roads I’ve ever driven hands down. If you ever asked me to drive a minimum of 4 hours a day anywhere else I’d tell you to do one! Here I’d go as far as saying it’s utterly enjoyable (apart from in Auckland, that just reminded me of my dreary daily commute up the a12 to work!). On one of our first days, we drove up and down a bunch of monsterous mountains, through a rainforest (where we stopped to see one of the oldest and biggest trees in NZ), across an old glacial flat, alongside rivers containing some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen, along the spine of a peninsula parallel to a beach spanning 90miles, and finishing up the day sleeping out overlooking a vineyards sloping farms. You just don’t get that anywhere else! We both said separely we feel like we’ve driven through about 5 different countries and two film sets in one day on more than one occasion! There are far too many photos to put up of the landscapes, but I’ll do my best. 

Anyway enough of the driving. This is what we’ve been up to the last 15 days. 

Auckland/Browns bay

We had a couple of mates to meet up with who are also traveling. They were staying with a mate who had co ownership of a bar in an Auckland suburb. Meeting up for a quick pint resulted in a night on the sauce indulging in some pretty fantastic food and spending more in one night than we did at any point in all of Asia; a good way to start NZ clearly! The following day we tested our freedom camping (free camping basically) and parked here, attempting to remove any hint of jet lag and just soaked in this for a view! 


The day after we explored the coastline with a rather hungover Oli, had a dip in the sea (slightly colder than Thailand) before starting our trip further up north towards 90 mile beach and the most northern point of the country. To break up the journey, we stayed at a brewery called Hallertau, a fantastic brewers with an equally good restaurant and bar. The next day, we endured the 6 or so hour to hit the cape, and stopped to see the biggest tree in NZ; this thing was HUGE at nearly 3m radius and 50m tall.


 We were fortunate enough to stay at a boutique vineyard overlooking the cape. We obviously had to enjoy a bottle of their vino and ended up chatting to the owner of the vineyard all night. Pretty awesome 😀. 

Cape Reinga/90 mile beach. 

90 mile beach isn’t actually 90 miles sadly; l have no idea why it’s called that. Regardless it’s pretty bloody long! In fact it’s the longest peninsula in NZ, and ends at cape Reinga, a sacred Maori area where it’s believed spirits of the dead sail off to the motherland (called Hawaiki). Cape Reinga is also the most northern point of New Zealand, there’s literally nothing out from the cape for thousand of miles, and we couldn’t have been much further away from the UK at this point. 

When we got to the cape, there was actually a traditional Maori funeral ceremony being held there. Obviously we didn’t get involved or watch/ film, but it was quite a sight to witness. One thing I love about the Maori culture is its connection to wildlife and nature, and this was even more apparent during the ceremony. 

After an hour or so enjoying the sites of the cape we drove back down the beach to another astonishing site; sand dunes! Now I didn’t expect anything to match the dunes I’ve experienced in the UAE but these were damn impressive, especially when sandwiched between beautiful green mountain ranges and a stunning coastline stretching as far as you can see! This was definitely something that couldn’t be missed. Kelly and I obviously boarded down the dunes (I may have climbed the biggie too and jumped down that at full pelt). What a cracking thing to do, and the sites over the highest dune were something else! To finish up this end of the trip, we drove to another peninsula (Karikari) to ensure we were close to Waitangi for the national celebrations the following day. 



 Waitangi (Waitangi day)


We were really fortunate to be in Waitangi for Waitangi Day, a kiwi national holiday celebrating the birth of New Zealand following the signing of the treaty between the Brits and Maori. We were somewhat warned off experiencing this celebration at Waitangi as (according to locals) it’s rife with protest normally. To be honest if this was classified as protest I’d challenge the locals to go to any major city around the world and see what’s going on right now! Yes there was some obvious resentment to this new era of New Zealand but I’d hardly call anything protest! Overall, the day was filled with brilliant cultural experiences, including traditional song and dance, obviously the haka, and Maori tribes bringing the traditional boats (waka) into the shore. This was a great thing to witness and really gave us an insight into traditional Maori culture. Below are a few videos I captured of the activities. 

To finish off a cracking day out with even better weather, we drove further down the coast to a neighbouring town to experience some more history. We stumbled across the oldest British built stone building and an area that was once a Maori settlement, before settling in for the night ahead of another day of driving. 

Coromandel peninsula 

This peninsula is famous for the ocean drive and its stunning beaches. It certainly didn’t disappoint! We drove pretty much the east and west coast of the peninsula, only just missing the tip due to time constraints. Again the sights experienced on this drive were unforgettable. It was another classic of every turn we took we were blown away once again. 

Along the peninsula is a famous beach called hot water beach. This part of the north island is the start of the geothermal highway, where hot pools and geysers are pretty commonplace. On this beach, if you dig a hole, you’ll quickly burn your feet with super heated water! The common activity here is to dig a jacuzzi sized hole and mix sea water with the hot stuff to make a comfortable pool. Sadly this is only really possible at certain points during the day when the tide is right, and due to turning weather we got it wrong: instead we had to accept a casual burning of our feet in the rain. Regardless it was quite a thing to experience! To finish up a long day of driving we headed to cathedral cove, another must see piece of landscape, hoping to start the following day with a hike along the shore. Sadly, the weather turned on us again, so we got stuck in the camper enduring a thoroughly soggy evening. The weather stayed like this the majority of the following morning so we abandoned plans and got on the road again.  



Hamilton/Waitomo

Kelly had set a must see attraction at our next stop, the glow worm caves in Waitomo. 

En route, we stopped In a tiny city called Hamilton, mainly to get a feel for a generic kiwi city. As I said, this place is Tiny! By English standards it would be a small town, and definitely smaller than my home town of Colchester! Regardless, we had a nice wander around getting a feel for the place, which is soon to host a two week arts festival, something we’d both have loved to have experienced. After killing a couple of hours we drove straight to the caves. 

These historic caves are honestly like looking up at the stars, and are definitely a unique experience! The glow worms illuminate the caves with a wonderful blue/green Hue that covers the whole ceiling and obviously shine beautifully bright when in total darkness. We actually rode through the caves on a small man powered boat in complete silence which really added to the experience. Sadly no photos allowed in the caves but this is what it looked like. 

Cambridge 

Considering we both met, studied, worked and lived in Cambridge, we had to really! Cambridge (NZ) is actually the equine and cycling capital of NZ, and even has its own velodrome! We were here to meet Kelly’s old school friend Becks though, who emigrated a few years back and is now married with two kids. After a night camped by a picturesque lake we ventured back to Cambridge to meet her. 

It was great to find out more about life in NZ and in Cambridge, and to spend time with the wee family. We actually ended up having a night out on the town, enjoying far too many drinks at a cracking craft beer bar. Needless to say my head hurt somewhat the following day. Oh well, more fun to be had! 

Hobbiton

I’M GOING ON AN ADVENTURE!!

Now I’ve got that out my system



Time I got my geek on! Obviously if you’re in the north island you have to stop here. When the Hobbit trilogy was made, the entire set of hobbiton was permanently rebuilt to size. They’ve done such a great job making this set so lifelike, they even employ three full time gardeners to keep the place looking tidy, and growing the monster pumpkins like you see in the initial scenes of the first hobbit movie. 


It’s quite ridiculous that all of this was done just to film for about ten seconds, but I’m glad they did. Visiting hobbiton was definitely a must do on the list, even if it was experienced slightly hungover 😵 


Rotorua 

The land of the geothermal wonders! Rotorua is famous for geothermal activity like acidic pools and geysers, traditional Maori activities, and fun stuff like Zorbing! It should also be famous for being the smelliest place on earth! Sadly we couldn’t afford to do all the fun (story of our life out here) but did we manage to experience the cultural wonders in the town. Bizarrely, an old friend from high school who now lives in Queenstown just happened to be sat at a bar on eat street with her family, so we agreed to do some stuff together the next day. We agreed to head to Te Puia, a sacred Maori site that is made up of geysers and a traditional Maori arts workshops. The stuff that is carved out of wood is pretty spectacular, and it’s great to see the art form kept alive by sites like this. The array of geysers are obviously very impressive too!


As we’ve obviously had far too many days doing far too many strenuous activities 😜 we booked into a geothermal spa just outside the town called Waikite valley (in our defence we only spent a night here as it was only $10 more than a normal paid camp site). What a cool thing to do though! There were 6 different pools all using the naturally heated (and cooled) mineral water. Out of the ground, the water is at boiling point so has to be naturally cooled via waterways etc. We spent a good few hours getting wrinkley the night we arrived and the next morning; bliss! 


The following day we had booked onto a Maori cultural evening with a company called Tamaki. From the moment we got on the bus to the site we were having a great time. Our bus driver was the most entertaining I’ve ever endured and had the whole bus in stitches! The rest of the evening consisted of experiencing a traditional welcome ceremony, learning to do the haka (badly ill admit), learning about traditional Maori dance, and enjoying a feast cooked in a traditional hangi (I am so building one of these when I grow up. Overall it was a brilliant evening that I’d highly recommend to anyone visiting rotorua 

 

Taupo

Sadly our time in Taupo was cut somewhat short thanks to another bout of bad weather. We were hoping to spend a couple of days here but we arrived to wet weather and only had one day of predicted clear skies the following day, so had to change our plans. regardless, taupo is a cool place. Lake Taupo was formed after a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago; its the size of Singapore! Seriously, you can’t fathom the size of this place. Whilst we didn’t really get to enjoy the area properly, it was great to experience the black sand beaches and strangely enough, the black swans and ducks! Bit weird…. en route to taupo we stopped off at a local recommendation, Hukka falls. This rapid area is flodded with hundreds of thousands of litres of water a minute thanks to a dam system further up stream. The water was a beautiful blue Hue and it’s really quite a sight! See for yourself below. 


Tongariro Alpine Crossing 

This is without a doubt the highlight of my time in New Zealand so far, and the reason why we had to abandon taupo. We’ve done some tough hikes to date on this trip, but this won the award for the steepest and generally most impressive! 

This hike was made globally famous (to those not into hiking) from the lord of the rings movies, as mount Doom and mordor scenes were filmed here. After getting agreement from Kelly to spend Valentine’s Day here (seems the perfect way to me) we spent the day hiking across some of the most unique and breathtaking landscapes in New Zealand. This was totally out of this world! At points we felt like we were on the surface of mars, at others we were in Australian bush, then quite simply stomping up an active volcano (or 3)! 14 miles, 1km of elevation, and 6.5 hours later we’d completed this epic hike and felt very proud of ourselves! Again, if you ever visit NZ, you HAVE TO DO THIS! 


Wellington 

After a full day of driving, we hit our final spot on the north island. This is by far the quietest capital city I’ve ever been to! Seriously, we drove in and didn’t even realise it! Regardless, Wellington is a really cool city. We spent an afternoon on the waterfront enjoying the local activities like open air salsa classes and very cool bars and restaurants. To be honest the waterfront itself, let alone the inner city is beautiful in itself and well worth an explore. It all hinted of a quiet waterfront area of London, but maybe 20 years ago. Either way, a very nice place to base ourselves for a couple days. I was lucky enough to meet up with two mates from the UK at different points. It’s such a nice experience; meeting up with people you haven’t seen for years on the other side of the globe. 


The museum in Wellington is another must visit site. I’d go as far as saying it’s probably the best free museum I’ve ever been to! On our first day in the city, we stopped into the ground floor to get a feel for the place, and saw some fantastic exhibitions all about the local and unique wildlife, flora and fauna, geology and landscapes. To top this off they’ve also got a real collossal squid on show, and a full exhibition on how they came to capture it (it was dead before capture, don’t worry). The following day we explored the incredibly harrowing and unique exhibition on the kiwi involvement in world war 1. This included some incredibly detailed models of those who fought that stood well over 10ft tall, alongside all the emotive displays about the atrocities that occurred. The whole museum was absolutely stunning; yet another must see. 

So as you can see, we’ve had a terrible time here so far! In all seriousness, I’m utterly blown away. I have full on caught the kiwi bug and can see why so many others do too! Even when hacking it down this place still seems to be somewhat stunning (I’m sure sun worshiper sweeney would disagree). I can’t wait to see what the South Island brings, as friends who have done it say it raises the bar yet again with natural beauty

Koh Tao- Into the flood

We’ve both been absolutely gagging for some beach bum vibes for a sustained period of time, and where better to achieve this than on Thailand’s picturesque south islands! Our first island experience began with Koh Tao, an island known primarily for its diving (especially for learning to dive), but also for being generally awesome. We were both so excited to be leaving crazy cities like Bangkok and living the chilled island life for a month. Sadly, the start of island life didn’t quite go to plan..
We’ve been really quite lucky over the past 100 or so days with weather. Yes, we’ve had a couple of overcast days (sometimes a blessing in disguise), and been caught in a couple of showers, but nothing I’d classify as severe or that requires a drastic change in our plans or routes. However, throughout our whole journey we’ve heard so many stories about freak weather in different countries. In Varanasi for example, the Ganges flooded higher than they ever have before, resulting in the Ganga Artii ceremony being held on a nearby roof for the first time ever, and in Phong Nha, the whole town was under water just days before we arrived. On this trip, I’ve really started to gain a much greater appreciation for climate and its volatility. In England, when 3mm of snow falls, everything goes to shit. On the other side of the world, when weather is bad, it gets REALLY bad!, and everyone just gets on with it. This storm though was an unrelenting monster!

We arrived on Koh Tao on the bumpiest and most vomit inducing boat trip I’ve ever experienced (we later found out the boat we were on is nicknamed the vomit comet by locals, as 60% of passengers spend the majority of the journey spewing constantly regardless of the waves). We have basically taken to ignoring weather forecasts in south east Asia as they have pretty much said rain would occur every day, even when there’s not a cloud in the sky. For this reason, we weren’t phased by the reports of a week of rain.Unbeknownst to us though, we had arrived on this beautiful island in the middle of the sea at the start of a freak storm that lasted days. I’ve seen reports from some sources that suggest it was actually a typhoon, and others suggesting it was the tail end of a monster storm that initially hit China. Either way, it was the worst storm to hit Koh Tao for over thirty years according to locals, and totally freak for this time of the year. The whole of Thailand was clobbered by this storm, but we were in the heart of it. Koh Tao, Phagnan and Samui were all in the centre and were the worst hit; apparently Samui even worse than us! I’ve genuinely never seen anything like it. 

On our third day on the island we moved to stay at the dive resort Where Kelly was doing her open water course, big blue diving. We were rather lucky to arrive just before the big rains really started, but even by that point the streets around the dive centre was underwater (waist deep). On day two of the storm, we couldn’t really leave big blue. The road to the main town was totally underwater, with all storm drains and sewers completely full and overloading the streets, the bridge by us had collapsed, the beach was a total mess due to intense flooding washing everything away from scooters to statues of the King. First, the power went off, then food rations came into place(the kitchen ran out of everything and couldn’t get supplies in), then water ran out, then beer! Because all diving was off due to the storm, 150 slightly drunk and hungry divers were stuck with no food and nothing to do. At this point we decided to brave it and get supplies! This walk should have literally taken 5 minutes, but the flooding was so severe it took more like 30. After two days of non stop rain, the majority of this end of Koh Tao was Still at least knee deep under water, with stupidly strong currents making even a simple task like walking a dangerous and challenging task!

The island genuinely looked like a war zone, with shops and restaurants totally destroyed, buildings and walkways literally washing away. As more and more restaurants and shops either flooded or ran out of produce, you could feel a slight sense of panic across many peoples faces. See for yourself!

The rain continued for another 3 days, but not quite as severe. Kelly was actually able to get out and do her 3 days of diving, although from what she said, the conditions were sadly pretty dire! On the plus side, diving anywhere else will seem like paradise now! Over those 3 days she fully embraced her inner mermaid, going out 4 times on her open water course. She loved it so much she also ended up doing her advanced qualification, which included a 30m dive, a shipwreck dive and a night dive. Over the 4 and a half days of diving, she clocked up 9 dives to various sites around the island. I suspect this will be something she does for life now, and definitely a lot more on this year abroad! I also kept myself occupied by helping with the island clean up, and giving Crossfit a go, which i actually really enjoyed, but damn it’s a hardcore workout! Thanks to KTC for getting me up to speed and back to lifting heavy things again!


Now, time for a rant…

I’m writing this as I’m watching an episode of black mirror I think. Oh wait, this shit is REAL???? Yes, I’m obviously talking about Trump being elected….
The reason I’m even mentioning this, is because of his stance on climate makes my blood boil (to be honest his stance on everything does). Being stuck in freak weather like this really made me think about the impact climate change is having. I’ve always had an interest in sustainability and climate change and have been lucky to work with the Global Sustainability Institute at my university on a bunch of projects so have been fortunate to see some cutting edge research on the matter. I’ve also spent a fair amount of long bus rides watching and reading more about the impact were having. But Koh Tao was the first time I ever actually experienced a literal shit storm, and seen the massive impact climate change can have on societies. I am at a total loss that anyone can be a climate change denier, it’s bloody obvious we are destroying this planet, and fast.
AND THE USA HAS JUST ELECTED SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T BELIEVE IN THE IMPACT TO THE MOST POWERFUL JOB IN THE WORLD!!!!
I mean seriously, this is actually Black Mirror isn’t it?
I’ve found this whole election both fascinating and terrifying. Terrifying for so many reasons though. Like so many people, I’m at a complete loss as to how such a total fuckwit like Trump can become president, but add on top of that the scandals with Russia, basically every thing he’s ever put on Twitter, every other scandal that comes out during this time, and the fact Clinton actually got more votes and still didn’t win makes me question the the legitimacy of the whole electoral system in the states (as well as the sanity of huge waves of the USA populous). The real problem for me though, is how widespread the impact of Trump is going to be. Trump has basically said he wants to ramp up the use of fossil fuels to make America great again, but this will impact us all, for a country that’s already one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse emissions and generally cocking up our planet, this is not cool! I honestly have no idea how anyone can actually deny climate change…


Seeing all this first hand is honestly terrifying, and unless we do something to combat this change, you’ll all be experiencing similar at some point I’m sure. I would encourage you to watch two documentaries, Al Gores “an inconvenient truth” and Leo De Caprio’s “before the flood” that both do fantastic jobs at showing the real world impacts we are enduring. Being stuck on Koh Tao during such a terrifying storm really bought climate change to life for me, and it’s something I’ll never forget. We all need to do our bits to fight our self inflicted impending doom, before we see some truly disastrous changes happening to our world. I just hope Trump can’t fuck things up too much for us all..

ANYWAY…

So I’ve pretty much described the 5 or so days of Armageddon that we experienced, but after the storm, it was like being on a different island. It was quite incredible seeing how quickly the island recovered to be honest. Within a few days the water had nearly all subsided, the countless rubbish pick up missions had tidied the areas, and building had started to repair the really badly damaged areas. When the sun came out, I honestly could have cried, and when the beaches were good enough to lie on, I was utterly overjoyed. We were lucky to catch up with Matt and Charlie (who shall be known forevermore as the beautiful people), a couple we met in Varanasi who are both dive masters thanks to Big Blue, so enjoyed the good weather with them on a couple of days and evenings, but we basically reverted back to being proper sun worshippers for the next five days, driving around the island hunting out the best beaches (and sneaking into private resorts to borrow a bit of VIP experience for a day). When Koh Tao isn’t being clobbered by a typhoon, it really is bloody beautiful! I can definitely see why it’s such a popular place to visit, even if you take diving out of the equation. Sadly for health reasons I’ve been told I can NEVER dive, but I still manage to have a great time. We ended up staying for ten days in the end, the longest we’ve stayed anywhere on this trip, and after ten days we really didn’t want to leave! Big thanks to the Big Blue staff for being awesome, and especially to Alex for being a superb diving instructor, also thanks to Gaz at KTC for introducing me to Crossfit, something I’ve wanted to try for ages.

Pai and Bangkok- it’s not all glitter and rainbows!

I’ve had a few comments from people on this blog and other forms of social media that we are absolutely living the dream on this trip. In the main this is absolutely true. We’ve done things we’d never have dreamed of, and experienced things I’d never have expected to see, but it’s not all fun and games. The 14 hour bus journeys, unexpected things that occur,constant hassle from touts and taxi drivers, illness, trying to find a hostel at 4am after barely sleeping a wink all night, and spending an hour looking for a place to eat that’s just that little bit cheaper than the last. These are all trivial issues I realise, but after a while the build up can be incredibly monotonous.

Then there’s the situation we landed ourselves in recently, where being meticulously organised months back came to bite us in the arse. I call this place Pai.
After an unforgettable time in Chiang Mai and surrounding jungles we decided we needed to go see Pai; it’s somewhere literally everyone who has been said you have to go, so we went for it. The notorious journey to Pai spans about 180km from Chiang Mai but contains about 760 sharp turns around mountainous roads, where coming face to face with a Lorry on the wrong side of the road is commonplace. It notorious for giving those with the most iron of guts some pretty hardcore travel sickness, and certainly succeeded for the Chinese ladies sat next to us! 

We decided to book into Circus hostel which is literally as it sounds; a hostel that is pretty much a circus! This place had some of the most beautiful views I saw in Pai, overlooking the main town and surrounding mountains, with an infinity pool on the crest of the hill, and hundreds of circus goodies to try your hand at. I made most use of the slack line with a bit of juggling in between to keep me entertained. We were staying in another very simple bamboo hut which totally did the job, I’m actually thinking I’m going to need to build one when back on English soil purely for nostalgic reasons! After a quick play around with the Goodies at the hostel we ventured into the town to explore the famous night market. Similar to Chiang Mai, this was a unique market not selling quite as much crap as were used to selling, but this market took over the WHOLE town! We probably spent three hours exploring what was going on! That evening I enjoyed some awesome fire acts from the longer staying residents of the hostel. I didn’t even know you could do fire rings!!The following day we went to explore the outer parts of Pai in the more rural areas, when we really fell in love with the place. The whole atmosphere in Pai is so relaxed and friendly, we just wanted to stay longer, not to mention its surrounded by absolutely gorgeous landscapes! 


This is where planning in advance really stung us. We had booked our transport to Bangkok and booked a hotel well in advance to avoid being caught out over New Years. After two days in Pai we decided we wanted to spend a week there, including over New Years. However upon investigation we realised we couldn’t reorganise our bus without effectively voiding the tickets, and couldn’t cancel the hotel without incurring a charge. In total, we would have lost about £80, an expense we simply couldn’t afford or justify sadly. So with that, we waved goodbye to Pai after just two days, we got back on the bus to Chiang Mai, and got a sleeper VIP bus to Bangkok. 

First thing to say here is Thai VIP buses aren’t so VIP…. You spend about 12 hours trying to find legroom in front of your quasi reclined seat; the lights come on at random times throughout the night, and you’ll stop for dinner at around 1.30am. Lovely stuff! Just be aware there is no vip to this trip! If you want a bed, make use of trains!

When we arrived in Bangkok we stayed a ten minute walk from the famous Khaosan road, a notorious backpacker road filled with street food, bars having decibel wars all night long, ladyboys and forceful touts pushing you to go to a ping pong show. After reading other blog posts about the dark side of the sex tourism industry in Thailand this didn’t really appeal to us at all, and to our surprise we barely saw any evidence of these shows anywhere: maybe the tides are turning, or maybe we just weren’t looking hard enough (if at all). 

Either way, we spent NYE on Khaosan road and surrounding areas, which was crazy to say the least! Tens of thousands of people roamed the streets looking for a party. We didn’t even go into a bar that night because it was so busy on the roads we didn’t need to! It was cool being there, but not the NYE I would have liked in Thailand really. Man I wish we could have stayed in Pai!

The next few days were spent exploring Bangkok, but again were unsuccessful in the main, apart from exploring the famous temples which were very cool! Apart from this,  the city was a total ghost town! I’m not sure if over here things just stay closed longer (like until the 3/4th jan after the new year celebrations) but we literally walked one day for 5k to see nothing open;very surreal. The whole of Thailand is still in mourning for the King too, and I suspect this too had a part to play in the slightly toned down celebrations (including no fireworks in the capital)! We didn’t know this but the king was actually lying in state whilst we were there. We saw tens of thousands of people queueing for hours to pay their respects all wearing black; a very surreal experience. 

I appreciate this is a fairly dull and miserable post so far. We did actually enjoy ourselves in Bangkok! The NYE celebrations may not have been what we hoped for but we still had a great night, and seeing the temples around the palace areas of the city were very impressive; it’s just a shame we couldn’t have stayed in Pai. You live and learn I guess. 

The unexpected continues sadly. I’m currently writing this from Koh Tao island, south of Bangkok and on the East coast of Thailand. It’s a beautiful island known for stunning beaches and some pretty amazing diving! Sadly since the moment we arrived the island has been battered by one hell of a storm that’s destroyed the island! I’ll write another post about this later in the week, but here’s a sneak peak of what we’ve endured here. 


So again, I appreciate this all probably seems trivial in contrast to normal life, but it’s not all shiny happy fun times whilst backpacking. Still, better than working I’m sure!

Chiang Mai- A very different Xmas

We’ve had a very weird bunch of emotions seeing you all gearing up for xmas around the world. Normally the routine is the same year in year out; go buy a tree, spend a day decorating the house, work xmas parties, getting the family together for a massive gorge on wonderful over indulgent grub followed by a food coma, maybe a few very lavish drinks (maybe even too many of these) and the mandatory dog walk around the village. For me and many of you I’m sure, xmas is all about the family and spending quality time together. Both mine and Kelly’s family live overseas and She’s not spent xmas with all her family for six years now, and because we were planning this trip we couldn’t afford to travel to the Emirates to see my family last year, so spent it at home in Essex together with her brother and partner (who were travelling Europe and happened to be in the UK at the time). It was really nice to take charge on all the xmas preparation, but it’s just not the same without all the family together.

This year though, we spent Xmas in Chiang Mai, a northern Thailand city, surrounded by glorious mountain ranges. We actually arrived in Thailand on the 19th, following a rather touch and go transfer from Siem reap to Bangkok and a flight to Chiang Mai that we ended up nearly missing due to the visa check. We both agreed at the start of our planning that we needed to do some epic things around Xmas to keep our minds off being away from family and that we did! 

We started our time in Chiang Mai with a very chilled out couple of days, getting the lay of the land of the small city and he central old quarter, starting off with visiting the Sunday night market. Now if you’ve been anywhere in South East Asia, you’ll think you’ve seen markets; they are all pretty similar. The standard wall to wall stalls selling beer singlets, coconut bowls, street food to satisfy the masses, and everyone offering a “special price only for you” on everything. I’ve got to say though, this market was really different. We didn’t get hassled once to buy anything, the stuff covering the streets really seemed to be locally produced and good quality, even the clothing, which had a traditional Karen influence (Karen people aren’t Thai, but live in the mountains off the standard grid of main Thailand). The food obviously is amazing. Cambodian cuisine really bored me to be honest, and tasted like dull Thai influenced food with no chilli, but this street food really smacked in the face of Thai spicy (not something to be messed with)! Because were travelling for so long we seldom buy anything, but experiencing the markets is an important part of the places were visiting, so has to be done!

The next day we took a walking tour by ourselves of the temples. There are literally hundreds of them! Thailand is 95% Buddhist so they do temples in a big way. I know it sounds awful, but after two days exploring the Angkor temples we felt somewhat underwhelmed. I don’t want to do a disservice to the the beauty of these temples but after that it’s tough to appreciate them in all their glory. Still, worth seeing them. Kelly learned to make bracelets and necklaces whilst on the island in Cambodia and really wanted to make stuff on this trip, so we spent the afternoon exploring the haberdasher markets for materials, followed by a tour of the artistic markets. I must say, the artwork we saw being produce was truly stunning; if we can, I’ll definitely be coming back here just to stock up on art (once were proper grown ups and own our own house obviously)! That evening, we discovered a quality street food market that reminded me of the street feast setups in London (but with much better food). This was a great place to spend the evening; embracing the local cuisine but delivered to a higher standard than that you simply find on the streets or small cafes and restaurants. To top it off, there are loads of really excellent musicians playing covers of western artists, which were top quality. If you’re in Chiang Mai at any point, I really recommend visiting the Ploen Ruedee Night Market.

To really kick off the days running up to xmas day, we totally filled our days with fun: Had to be done really

Cookery school

I love to cook, and I really love to cook Asian food. I’ve been reluctant to do cookery classes so far on our trip because to be honest, they’ve been really generic. I do not want to pay to be shown how to make bloody spring rolls! Thailand was always going to be the place where we did a class. We decided to book onto a course with Basil cookery school. There are again hundreds of cookery schools in Chiang Mai, but this was a great price, and included a great array of dishes to please any foodie! Our coach, Pim, was so bubbly and had a cracking wit and sense of humour. To top this off she could COOK!

We started the day buying our produce from a local market then spent the day cooking everything from curry to pad Thai, stir fries to salads. Kelly and I strategically planned our dishes so she did the stuff we love to cook, and I focussed on the new stuff that was mainly seafood. It was all so good and was some of he best food I’ve made of this style. I’ll definitely be making my own coconut milk from now on!

Jungle trekking around Chiang Mai 

Before we set off to India, we agreed we wanted to do a jungle trek. We found an eco tour run by Pooh Eco Tours that sounded right up our street, so booked on about nine months ago. I am so glad we did!

We spent 3 days with 6 others and our guide Ropuu. Day one started with a ride in the back of a Hilux to our starting point, followed by a trek around some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. Ropuu, a traditional Karen tribesman who moved to Chiang Mai to earn some cash, was absolutely fantastic at showing us all the traditional, weird and wonderful things you find in the jungle, including what they eat (basically anything that moves). Now I’m all for trying new things, but when he started munching baby spiders after he shoved his hand in a nest was one step too far for me. Day one ended with an epic hike up a mountain to arrive at the Karen village we’d be staying at.

We spent the night with the villagers, preparing a wonderful dinner made up of local produce and the herbs we had foraged on route. Perhaps the best part of the night though was the sky. I’ve never seen the moon or stars so clearly; words really can’t describe how clear it was and how mesmerised we all were. Regardless of this, we were all in bed by 9pm ahead of a hectic second day.

Day 2 started early thanks to the rooster under our hut deciding we had to wake at 330am, (at least we got to see the sunrise I guess) but was followed by a wicked breakfast and with even more beautiful landscapes, followed by some pretty treacherous declines for about two hours. We were jointed by a few of the tribesmen, and the cutest little puppy, who stayed with us for the next two days (Kelly was very happy about this). Climbing up a mountain is tough, but climbing down through the jungle is arguably more difficult! Like our hike in Kep, really were many points I thought if we slipped, we’d have a real problem. Fortunately the tribesmen who joined us made us all bamboo walking sticks which literally saved us! After about 4 hours we finally reached the bottom alongside a lovely waterfall, which we obviously took full advantage of! An hour later trekking through the river, we reached our stop for the night, a bamboo hut. We spent the next two hours making plates, cutlery, and cups out of locally cut bamboo, and prepping another cracking dinner of yellow curry, sweet and sour veg and bamboo steamed rice. This was amazing for me, as everything we made ourselves and cooked in bamboo. It will never cease to amaze me how much you can do with bamboo, it’s such a versatile natural resource in total abundance in Thailand!

Our final day was again, stunning landscapes galore! The first two hours involved crossing rivers, climbing up waterfalls, through caves lit only by bamboo torches, rice paddies and land used for raising cattle. We finished the day with a seriously epic climb up another mountain that was seriously tough! Kelly was a machine, especially considering she was ill for the whole trip! Over the 3 days we trekked for 13 hours, 15 miles, 1km up and about 900m down. It was bloody difficult, but my god was it amazing! 

Seriously, I can’t recommend this tour group higher. We had an unforgettable three days and because of the group size it was such a good price!

Xmas day with elephants

When you come to Thailand, you’ll see thousands of elephant tours. We did loads of research into a tour, because so many mistreat the elephants. Contrary to the believes of many, riding elephants is not good! DO NOT DO IT! Elephants are not built to withhold weight on their spines, and this does serious damage. Also the process for training elephants to do such things is known as “the crush” involves some horrendous activity literally designed to break their spirit. If you want to learn more watch this video (trigger warning, it’s not nice). So many places that offer rides keep the elephants chained as well as generally treating them badly, we were determined to avoid this at all costs!

We booked with elephant jungle sanctuary, a group who only run eithical days with elephants. There’s no riding them, painting them (yep, this is a thing) or anything that causes these fabulous animals distress, you literally feed them, bath them, feed them some more and just enjoy being with them. I later found out that these elephants actually roam the jungles, and just know to come for food around 10am. Whilst this domestication isn’t perfect I appreciate, only 20% of the elephants in south east Asia are truly wild; a shocking statistic!

Wow though, these guys were incredible. I know they are big but when you’re right next to them they are so much bigger than I appreciated, even the babies! I unfortunately had a close call with one when it decided to charge at me as I was the only person in the mud bath. Obviously this wasn’t the animal being mean, but wanting to play, but it was a close call, and bloody scary! Again, I really recommend doing something like this. It’s not the cheapest day, but feeding these guys costs $20 a day EACH so I had no issue paying for this day. Yet again, something I’ll never forget.

Xmas day in the sun

We were really fortunate to meet some quality people at our hostel who we immediately gelled with, so went out for a traditional Xmas lunch of curry on Xmas day. I think it’s safe to say our 2am finish the night before meant we were all quite happy to have a slower day than usual! Whilst spending part of the day with these awesome people was great, and I’m so grateful to meet them, it’s not the same. We definitely didn’t feel like it was Christmas. 

However, in traditional (or nor ) Xmas fashion, Kelly and I went to get inked! I’ve always loved tattoos, especially when done well. This trip has shown me how beautiful some tattoos can be, so I decided I wanted one for sure! My family and I have talked about a family tattoo for ages, so this had to symbolise something about them, but I also wanted something about my game changing time in Asia, and to symbolise travel.

Kelly got two, cause you know, she’s greedy and stuff. One like me was to symbolise family and our time in Asia, but the other is to symbolise life. She’s had a disgustingly tough few years, with family death all over the globe, family emigration and general separation, a pretty nasty car crash and a bunch of other things.and this symbolises a new chapter of NO WORRIES! Also if you know her, she’s a Disney obsessive, so it had to be Disney related really.

So as you can see, a pretty average and generic Christmas for us! All jokes aside, this is not one we will forget soon! We’re now in Pai, north of Chiang Mai, to have a few days embracing our inner hippie. Sadly due to the new ink we can’t make the most of our infinity pool overlooking the mountains, but it’s a very cool place none the less. We’re literally staying at a circus with some seriously talented people. I’m working on my slack line. 

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!

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!