Kuala Lumpur- A melting pot of culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indonesia- A culinary delight

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

Animal friendly feeding



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

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

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

Western creature comforts

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

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


The good old black stuff



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

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

What to look out for



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

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

Hunting out the good grub



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

Where’s good for what?

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



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

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

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

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

Ethical eating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And onto our next stop! The Lembongan islands.

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

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

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

ANYWAY, back to the real fun stuff. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🇮🇩❤️🇲🇾

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.

Koh Rong Samloem- One More Night

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

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

What’s in the bag?

It seems like a must do; you start a blog about travelling and writing a post about whats in the bag has to be done.

It’s now 43 hours until we are on our plane, and still definitely doesn’t feel real! We’ve both been so busy with last minute packing up (the house, not the bags) we’ve and saying goodbyes to old friends we’ve barely had a chance to stop and think! Only yesterday when I did round 1 and 2 of operation ‘get all my stuff for a year in a bag’ did it actually start to become a thing.

So. The important stuff…

Everyone I’ve spoken to strongly advised investing in good bags, so we both went for Osprey bags. Mine is 65l Aether and Kelly’s is 55l Arial, although she’s probably wishing she had a bigger one now! I’m so glad we listened because these bags are super comfortable and really sit nicely on our backs, even when full! I’ve also got a daypack for tech stuff to take on the plane, and obviously for day to day use

We (strangely enough) did quite a bit of research on what others recommend to take or use whilst away for a year. So here’s a list of the things that i’d also recommend. Don’t worry, this won’t be a post about EVERYTHING I am taking, just the useful stuff that you may not have thought of.

The general stuff

  • Packing cubes are a MUST! I can’t imagine not taking these backpacking. Just get some
  • Comfy flip flops. I foolishly bought some off Amazon that were rubbish and immediately gave myself blisters. I got these Teva flip flops later on as the brand was highly recommended, and I must say they are super comfy. It’s really worth spending more on these (and other shoes) as, well, you’re gonna be wearing them all the time!
  • GOOD trail shoes! Quite a lot of people swear by wearing hiking boots etc, but I can’t imagine anything worse, so went for some strong grip trail running shoes. I bought some Innov8 trail shoes as my OCR buddies raved about them. The idea is that these will cover general walking/hiking, but also running as they are super lightweight
  • Sandals. I wasn’t feeling buying sandals initially but actually, they are seriously comfy and more supportive than flip flops. Again, Teva are recommended, obviously wearing these with socks is NOT recommended

 

The Tech

So I was always going to take quite a bit of stuff, but i’ve tried to pull back a bit for this trip.what kind of digital nomad would I be if I didn’t include a section on tech!?

  • GoPro Hero 4 Black. Obviously an essential for underwater filming and just general filming. I’ve also got a bunch of attachments (remote, battery extender, etc) as well as a floating selfie stick, buoyancy aid and gorillapod 
  • Kindle, for all those long ass train journeys! This was a hand me down but does the job for sure. Kelly has a new PaperWhite which is so much nicer, but I wasn’t going to spend more on something I may not use.
  • iPad for everything else
  • iPhone for photography and day to day stuff (and staying in contact obviously for all family and friends reading this).
  • Garmin Fenix 2 multisport watch, for tracking activities (and to tell the time). I had this anyway and would have upgraded to a new Fenix 3 HR but Kelly would have KILLED ME!
  • Anker Power Charger. This was a present and is AWESOME! IT should charge all my stuff, but my phone about 6 times off one charge.
  • A wireless hard drive for backup and streaming of movies

And… A BOOK! To write in and everything! Joking apart this will be my recipe/scrap book for the trip.

Other things i’d recommend

  • Sleeping bag liner. You never know what you’ll be sleeping on/in. These have come recommended by people on so many blogs i’ve read
  • Travel pillow. We both got one that converts from a neck pillow to a normal pillow too
  • A LIFESTRAW! This was a must for us, especially considering some of the places we are going. Whilst it’s expensive it’s definitely worth it
  • Snorkel gear. We’ve looked into this and it can be a costly thing to hire. We purchased some gear on a recent holiday and thought it would be a good thing to take!
  • Get stuff that come with cases just in case. For example hard cases for things like sunglasses. For me with all the moving about we will be doing it’s not worth the risk of breaking valuable stuff on transit 
  • Sealable bags for keeping important stuff waterproof
  • Get an “airporter” for your bag. Convayerbelts at airports love to munch the dangly bits of backpacks.
  • Try and avoid taking random crap. I have a “thing” packing cube for odd bits but I’ve actually culled so much stuff out of it, although it may not look that way…


And to summarise some of the things others have said to us, and we’re definitely doing

  • Pack, pack, and repack! Seriously, be prepared to CULL clothes. We’ve probably done 3 rounds of repacking to remove stuff each time. DO IT!
  • Start early. I have mates who left this kinda thing till the last minute. I DO NOT recommend that!
  • Seriously, invest in a good bag. It’ll save your back
  • Really think about the climate you’re in. Do you really need to take 4 pairs of swim shorts if you’re trekking in a jungle for months? I’ve had to be really quite vicious with the tops I’m taking because of this, so no skinny fit polo shirts!
  • Be a little prepared for unexpected weather. I’m going to be chasing sun for a year but still taking a hoodie, fleece and waterproof coat. 
  • Keep your stuff to a minimum. I admit I’ve failed at this but remember you’re carrying all your stuff on your back!

So there you have it. My life for a year. I’ve got the weight down on the main bag to 13kg which is enirely manageable. I’m just glad i was hitting the gym lots before this trip really started to become reality!

 

A week of goodbyes

It’s all starting to get real now….

In less than two weeks, I will be out of every form of comfort zone i’ve ever known, thrown in the deep end of backpacking with the onslaught of India. I’m obviously excited, but seem to mix that with bouts of sheer panic due to the great unknown.

This week has definitely been a week of goodbyes. 4 leaving events in 7 days between the two of us. So many people have turned out so far and we’ve still got 2 more to go! This post is dedicated to all the legendary people who took the time to come out and send us off in style.

We threw a leaving party on Saturday in my village, and expected about 20 people to turn up. Over the duration of the day I think we had closer to 40, including some of my old housemates I haven’t seen for over 5 years. It was actually the first time our whole Uni house had been together since 2011, which was amazing!  It’s quite reassuring to know that even after so long, you can still just chat like you saw them yesterday. We had two groups of Uni mates rock up and join us, local mates, and family. It was actually the first time my two cousins (from other ends of the family) had met each other; crazy! Kelly had all her bridesmaids in a room together too, so overall it was a rather special day. I had so much fun I didn’t even take any photos! A BIG shout out needs to go out to Kelly who made this into a surprise 30th birthday party (I turn 30 in Vietnam so would’t see any of my mates or family). I cannot begin to thank her enough. Not only did I not have a clue this was happening, but she obviously went to a great deal of effort to keep it a secret. Kelly, you are my rock, and you bloody rock! Thankyou xx

Last night, I had my leaving drinks with my Cambridge colleagues. So many amazing colleagues came out to say goodbye, and so many had really kind words to say. It’s still not really sank in that i’m not going to see so many of them for over a year. I am so lucky to work with such an incredible and passionate bunch of colleagues, and so many will be missed (fortunately, the ones that didn’t turn up were the ones that won’t be missed too much)! About 40 people turned up over the evening, and those that were in for the long haul certainly looked like they were enjoying themselves (not sure how much they enjoyed life today though).

Tomorrow is Kelly’s last day at work, and has a leaving lunch with about 40 colleagues. Thursday is my last day, and i’m having my Chelmsford leaving drinks (my base campus). I said goodbye to my manager today, and some colleagues I work very close with. I still don’t feel like this is real…

As I come to my last day of working for a year, I’ve found myself reflecting on all the amazing things that me and my team have achieved over the past few years, and all the stuff that’s happened at ARU since I was SU President. The University is literally nothing like the place I turned up to in 2005. Literally everything is better, from the teaching to the student experience. There’s so much i’m so proud of I would literally need it’s own post just to cover it all. Don’t worry, I won’t be writing that one just yet 🙂

To finish, I just want to say thank you again to my colleagues and friends who joined me on Saturday, or Monday, or Thursday. I’ve been humbled by the turnout and the love that’s been shared over the last week. I care so much about so many of you, and can’t tell you how much i’ll miss you (well, some of you). You know who you are! There will be so many days whilst away when I will be thinking and missing you all i’m sure, but right now I just want to get this week out of the way, so I can relax (sorta) and start thinking about the next year of madness.

So with that, Matt OUT (no, i’m not comparing myself to Obama, it just seemed like a nice way to end it).

vf_obama_out_slider_5142-jpeg_north_371x201_white

Bengal Diner Colchester. One hell of a curry house

Ahead of the big trip, my best buddies thought we’d meet up to discuss future business ventures. Fortunately enough, we all fancied a curry, so headed to the newest curry house around, Bengal Diner, just outside of Colchester.

Colchester has been starved of a good curry house for quite some time. I’m sure you’ll agree this is absolute sacrilege for any town. Sadly, when my favourite curry house in Colchester started using Cheddar as their paneer I gave up all hope, until now.

The building Bengal Diner is housed in has had a number of businesses occupying over the years, from a straight up pub to a Mexican cantina, all of which have sadly failed within the dreaded 6 month period of opening. BD seems to be going strong though. I’ve been in before to pick up a take away and on many occasions i’ve had conversations with other collectors about how there’s nowhere good to eat INSIDE Colchester now, and this place does very well, and more importantly CONSISTENTLY well.

So, me and my buddies sat down over a pint of Bangla beer and perused the menu. So lets start with the beer…

It’s such a nice change from the traditional Cobra/Kingfisher array you see at any curry house. Bangla is a lager, but a really nice fruity lager, that goes excellently with curry. It isn’t that far off the generic lagers you see anywhere, but it’s a nice change.

Now onto the main discussion point, what we ate!

The array at BD is impressive. The expected curries are there but there’s also a nice array of specialities you don’t see everywhere, including a number of Keralan inspired dishes (I say inspired because they aren’t authentic, and they openly admit this). However every dish i’ve ordered at BD in the past has been a delight.

We all agreed we’d go starters and mains, and a couple of sides. To start, we had the classics to really test the water; prawn puri (times two, because why not), a Nagris Kebab (effectively a spiced lamb mince dish wrapped in an omelette) and a Shami Kebab. Now, a tell tale sign of a crap curry house is when everything tastes very similar. The ‘base curry’ is the same across the board, and everything has similar spicing. BD was not doing this clearly. The puri was beautifully cooked in the tandoor, and the prawn itself was delicately spiced with a lovely lemon kick at the end. Likewise with the lamb dishes; very similar but also very different. These definitely set the night going in the right direction.

Now with mains. I came to the realisation that every time I come here, I get the same thing (my classic for judging a curry house), a Dhansak. I love Dhansak because of the complexity of flavour and texture; literally every curry house you go to will do it differently, but all should be spicy (heat), with a decent tamarind sour kick, a nice thick gravy from the vegetable and daal base, and tandoor cooked meats. So I ordered different tonight, and went for a King prawn Jalfrezi. We all agreed to share everything, and had a Chicken Tikka Dhansak (I managed to persuade someone else to eat that, so I win), a South Indian Garlic Lamb, and a Zinga Delight (no idea what that is, but who cares). As sides, we had fried Okra, Saag Paneer, and Tarka Daal (another classic test of a good house).

IMG_7663

Lets just start by saying everything was superb. I genuinely couldn’t fault anything except how the prawns in the Jalfrezi were cooked. Everything tasted sublime, and like it had truly been made with love. My winner of the night was definitely the south indian garlic, which is like no traditional Bangladeshi curry you’ll normally see or eat around the UK.

So, we were happy. Very very happy. And even with a stonking bill (we drank far too much beer) we were still happy. It’s fantastic to see such a great curry house around this area again, and i’m so happy to see it on my doorstep. It was also great to see it so busy (i.e. absolutely packed) at 8pm; i’m so happy others are starting to see how good this place is.

I look forward to returning after my time in India with a greater knowledge of PROPER curry, so I can critique again then.

If you want to see for yourself, here’s there website, and here’s their Tripadvisor page. Obviously it’s worth avoiding the music nights which don’t appear to go down too well….

Thinking about the important stuff

So one of the things that became really apparent during this planning session, was to define what was really important to the two of us. We’ve both been rather fortunate and seen some amazing parts of the world. My Family moved to the UAE in 2013, and Kelly’s parents moved to Australia in 2009, so we’ve had a few holidays overseas to see them all. But on the flip side of the places we’ve seen, we’ve realised what we really aren’t bothered about doing or seeing.

IMG_5093

Kelly and I live a nice life. Not opulent, excessive or anything like that, but we live in the countryside surrounded by beautiful scenery and amazing landscapes, which we both adore, so that was really important to us. When researching places to visit, we really considered the type of outdoor activity we’d want to do, things we’d want to see, and most importantly, the experiences we’d want to remember for the rest of our lives. This didn’t just lead us to specific countries, but regions and activities in countries.

IMG_5372

One thing that really was a deciding factor for both of us was food. WE LOVE FOOD! I spent my teenage years working at some phenomenal restaurants around the Essex/Suffolk boarder, which completely changed my outlook on food and drink. Kelly fortunately likes the stuff I cook and experiment with. Food has always been a factor for us when going overseas on previous trips, and normally tends to be a thing we really talk about whilst chatting to mates upon our return.

IMG_3816

For this trip, we’ve genuinely had half of it guided by the wonderful Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Oddssey (absolutely amazing book, but also a great TV show). In fact, this show was probably one of the critical things that made us take the plunge and start planning a trip!  Because of this, we decided to take the plunge and start with India, an area of the world i’ve always wanted to visit, and I can’t WAIT!

So that was the start of our planning: deciding what kind of place we wanted to see. Then we went on to proper planning!