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!

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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! 

🇮🇩❤️🇲🇾

Gili Islands- Part of the furniture

What feels now like months ago (edit-it was months ago, it was back in December) we spent just short of a week on Koh Rong Samloem, staying at the best hostel in the world, Mad Monkey. This was our first proper taste of island life, and we bloody loved it! Our days consisted of pretty much nothing apart from cooking ourselves, swimming, partying, with a bit of naked bioluminescent swimming at midnight to tip off every awesome night we had there. We also met some of the most awesome people we’ve met on this trip so far. Some we’ve managed to link up with again, some were still in regular contact with, and some we plan to meet up with again in Europe sometime. We met a group of legends on the islands who booked a few days and stayed over three weeks. At this point I didn’t think we’d ever be in the same boat, but I was wrong. 

But Koh Rong Samloem was a full on party, we’ve totally fallen for the normal island life. Everything is just so much more chilled out than mainland life. Waking up to the sound of the sea pretty much every day, with days consisting of beach, swimming, and the simple things in life. I’ve lost count of how many islands we’ve been on now over this trip so far, but it’s got to be over a dozen. 
When we were planning Indonesia over a year ago, we knew we had to visit the Gili islands. This tiny trio of islands off the western coast of Lombok have gained the reputation of a must see destination, but not a real taste of true Indonesia (to be fair Bali isn’t exactly traditional itself either)! But the crystal clear water, opportunities for daily swims with turtles, and the positively laid back vibes were far too appealing, especially after our somewhat failed attempts around Bali earlier in the month. 
So we booked a boat, after quite a bit of deliberation and google searching, and off we went. For anyone considering Gili, I’d first say don’t worry too much about the boat journey. They are somewhat notorious as being a bit shit, with a number of boats breaking down and in more extreme cases, sinking! My one piece of advice would be to book with a bigger company, don’t risk a cheaper local boat. For one, they take about 5 hours rather than two on a bigger boat designed for large numbers of passengers. Our boat journey was smooth, not the most comfortable journey, but smooth, and we got there fine. Regardless of who you book with, you will be entering the vessel like this. 

We booked a nights accommodation on Gili T initially, with the intention of moving to another island for a few days, but once we arrived at cheeky monkey homestay we were made to feel so welcomed and at home, we decided to book another two nights immediately. We were greeted by Rudi, the new owner of the home stay, and immediately introduced to Sofia, his Finnish fiancé . These guys welcomed us with open arms and made us feel right at home. They also had such an abundance of knowledge about the islands and surrounding areas we honestly didn’t feel the need to look around anywhere else. The room we booked was just what was needed, with a private bathroom and good shower, a fan to give Anemoi a run for their money, breakfast included that consisted of fresh fruit, an omelette or pancakes, and at a super cheap price. To top it off each room has a hammock outside the room to complete the package, and they had the cutest cats I’ve ever encountered (they were basically dogs). What more could we ask for (maybe an infinity pool, but for about £8 a night on the Gili islands that’s pushing it a bit). 
The Gili islands each have a unique reputation. Gili T is known as the party island as is by far the most densely populated, Meno is a honeymoon island, and Air is a chill out island. We actually arrived to the islands during Ramadan, so the non stop parties ended by midnight every night (when all the bars closed). This had put others off we spoke to, but for us this was perfect. We certainly weren’t that up for nightly partying till 3am, we are old after all 😉. I think it’s safe to say that if you don’t want a constant party, this is easily avoidable. The bars are all along the port end of the coast, with most hostels and guest houses positioned more inland. We never had an issue with noise, apart from one night when our noisy German neighbours enjoyed peer pong a little too much, and returned as the bars closed to serenade us with terrible renditions of U2 songs. That we could live with.
Gili immediately had a huge appeal to us. There are no vehicles on Gili T, with the primary forms of transportation around the island consisting of horse and cart, bicycles, and if you’re super lazy, electric bikes. We never actually made use of any of these though, the island is only 7km in diameter, you can easily walk around it in two hours, I ran around it in 40mins, and obviously all the main stuff is an easy walk away from wherever you are. As with anywhere, the best way to see the off the beaten track stuff is via foot anyway! Also the welfare of these horses was somewhat questionable so didn’t want to encourage any poor treatment.  The island is riddled with amazing restaurants to please any western tourist, a plethora of high quality dive shops all charging the same price for open water certification, and thousands of people on tiny little stalls littering the beach selling everything from snorkel gear to magic mushrooms (they are totally legal here!!!!). We decided to pass on any hallucinogenic antics, and just enjoy the beach though. As with most places we found in Bali, the local Warungs and street food vendors offer the best array of grub too, so partaking in the offerings of the night market was a somewhat regular occurrence, costing on average about £4 for a feast for two. 

We settled pretty quickly into island life, filling our days with reading, snorkelling and generally doing very little most of the time. My relaxing was somewhat scuppered by a couple on Lombok climbing Rinjani, but that’s a different story. 
One day, Kelly managed to get a free shore dive through one of the many dive companies, for the return of a beach clean. One thing that sadly became apparent to us upon arriving was the sheer amount of rubbish on these otherwise stunning beaches. Sadly, it seems that not all travellers give a shit about the environment, their surroundings, or the state of things for other travellers. Whilst Kelly was out picking litter off coral, I proceeded to run around the island collecting stuff where I could. When I returned to the dive site, I continued to collect 5 sand bags full of crap, mainly consisting of plastic bottles, cigarette packets, straws, nappies (fucking nappies, I mean, come on) and anything else I could lay my hands on. When everyone else emerged from the depths, we continued for another hour in the baking sunshine to collect a dozen bags of crap. Sadly this is a daily occurrence too, and upon the reef there’s even more. Seriously guys, if you travel anywhere, just pick up your crap, don’t use plastic bottles, don’t use straws, and maybe consider the environment. To add to our outrage about the state of the littering, we were invited to a showing of a documentary called plastic ocean. This clearly demonstrated the harsh reality of what we’ve done to the oceans, to islands, and to society now with our constant ingestion of toxic chemicals now leaching into water/food sources. I’d highly recommend hunting this down, and watching it, it was really rather shocking and has definitely changed our outlook on our use of plastic.
This whole environmental concern seems somewhat paradoxical it should be said: there are clearly many people on the island doing what they can to preserve the wildlife and reduce waste wherever possible. All is not lost. 

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Whilst we continued to pick up anything we could to clean the place up, we continued to empty the absolutely stunning white sandy beaches. North of the main strip, is an area called turtle point, and I can see why. We proceeded to spend most days there, as without fail we spotted a number of turtles each time we went out. This was just amazing, and getting to enjoy the company of such majestic animals was such an unforgettable moment (or series of moments I should say). We also frequented the Western side of the island, which is far more laid back and pebbled with the more opulent (and obviously expensive) resorts, but greeted us with one of the most breathtaking sunsets we’ve seen on the year so far. 
Oh, and they had swings in the sea, so that was cool!
Before we realised where we’d been, I’d climbed a volcano, gone from a slightly darkened skin tone to something resembling mahogany, and we’d stayed a week! Rudi and Sofia did a great job at keeping us there, we were just far too relaxed to even consider moving too far. We did manage a day exploring Gili Meno, which is well worth a day trip if you’re in the area. Definitely more chilled out, but some great snorkel spots and again an incredibly chilled atmosphere throughout. As soon as we threatened to leave the island, Rudi and Sofia insisted we have a dinner together, and Koman insisted I learn to cook Nasi Goreng for everyone (obviously I duly accepted this kind offer).  Then my mate Kaite arrived and immediately checked into the home stay too. Her and Kelly got on like an absolute house on fire, with a shared love of the ocean and exploration of beautiful places (and an equally twisted humour; didn’t see that coming.) Said dinner quickly amalgamated into a banquet for the whole home stay, with some local friends coming along to have a jam with us. The night was perfect, and polished off with an abundance of the locally produced rice wine. Now we’ve sampled plenty of local alcoholic delicacies on this trip, but this tipped us over the edge. It was quite simply sublime, like a slightly harsher sherry. Kelly with her super sweet tooth got properly into this, and full on suffered the next day, meaning we definitely couldn’t leave. 

Clever move guys….

 We ended up staying twelve days in the end, far more than we had planned, but when you find a place you like so much, why move? The rest of our time consisted of very much the same, with the added extension of beer pong on more than one occasion with Katie and Sofia (let’s just say it was a draw in the end). 
Oh I can’t forget to mention Katie getting serenaded/wooed by the local dude missing his front teeth with a surprisingly good singing voice albeit a bit touchy. I don’t think he succeeded

Basically, what I’m trying to say is, this island is cool, very cool. The people we stayed with made us feel like family, we didn’t want to leave, and loved every minute (apart from the hangovers, definitely didn’t enjoy the hangovers). So whilst this wasn’t a super party fortnight, we got it just right. With the perfect mix of beach life, good people, great music, familiar faces, new friends, Bintang, and time in the ocean we’d well and truly recharged our batteries
Sadly, we had to leave eventually. After 12 days we decided to head to Nusa Lembongan for more of the same. We left cheeky monkey with some lifelong friends, an invite to an upcoming wedding in Lombok, a darker skin colour, some incredible memories swimming with turtles, and our faces on the newly created wall of fame for their longest staying guests at the home stay. If you guys are reading this, thanks for so much awesomeness, and making Gili unforgettable, and making it feel like a home away from home (and accepting us as part of the furniture). 

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

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

Ao Nang

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

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

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

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

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

Koh Lanta

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

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

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

Koh PhiPhi 

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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!

Saigon- A home away from home

When you go traveling like we are (i.e. living out of a backpack with a seriously small budget), it’s very easy to forget about the normal things you get so used to in your previous life. You quickly forget about simple things like having your own shower, getting washing done, being able to cook your own meal, drive yourself around,  and even just watching a bit of TV or using a Laptop are all the things that are so normal back home and missed whilst on the road. That’s not been an issue at all so far to be fair, but when you return to this kind of lifestyle you quickly remember what you’ve been missing!

On our final leg in Vietnam, we finished up in Saigon (now known as Ho Chi Minh). We were very fortunate to be staying with some old family friends from the UK, the Kelly’s. The family (Charlie and Janette, Blair and Cameron) moved here around 4 years ago when Charlie got a new job with a Vietnamese firm as their Director for the Vietnam office . They live in a wonderful compound in District 2; about 20 mins on a scooter from the famous backpacker area in the central District 1 of Saigon. Blair and Cameron are both still at school/college, but have been a joy to hang around with at the house in the evenings. They also have two awesome little dogs, Frankie and Pickle who managed to fill our doggy quotas very nicely!


Being at the Kelly’s and living with a familiar family has been the reboot we both needed! Having those creature comforts like a kitchen, a pool, and our own bathroom has been SUCH a nice treat, and company has been fantastic! We’ve been out for dinner with Janette (known by the Easties as JK) and Charlie a couple of times, as well as a family BBQ by the pool one evening: what a fab way to recharge after the non stop madness of Vietnam for a month. The Kelly’s were very kind and lent us their scooter for the time there as well, so we had free reign of the city when we needed. Honestly, if you guys are reading this, we can’t thank you enough for your amazing hospitality and making us feel so at home! We owe you BIG TIME!!!!

We stayed here for about 5 days, and head onto Cambodia next. On our first day here, Charlie drove me around his district to see the sights around the local district. This place is really cool, there’s a very strong arty feel around the whole area, mixed nicely with some very trendy restaurants and bars dotted along the river. D2 is clearly more geared for the more Western audience, with craft beer bars, artisan deli’s and a flood of shops selling American/British produce dotted all over the place, some very snazzy restaurants alongside the more traditional street food vendors you see all over the country.

D2 is TOTALLY different to anywhere else we’ve stayed in Vietnam. The Kelly’s live on a compound that is actually quiet at night to start with! The area is lovely and has everything you’d need surrounding you within 500metres at the most. I’ve also seen more 4×4 cars around here than in all of Vietnam for sure. Whilst it’s not a traditional backpacker spot, it’s been great to see stuff beyond the status quo for backpackers, there is actually so much to see here! We were able to eat at some quality restaurants, including a Thai street food place that needs a special mention. This was easily the best thai food i’ve ever eaten, the restaurant was hidden down a small alleyway and as you can see, it’s designed to look like a street food market (it reminded me quite a lot of the Street Feast pop ups in London to be honest). If you haven’t been to one of those, I wrote a blog about that too! 

When venturing into D1 for a couple of days to do the sights, we also discovered the Bến Thành Market and the new addition of the street food market. If you are in Saigon, you HAVE to stop over at both of these. Seriously, the market itself is crazy, and the new street food market adjacent to the old market is absolutely fantastic, with a great array of goodies to sample. HIGHLY recommended for some cheap grub and even cheaper clothes (if you’re good at haggling).

 I also need to give a shout out to Pasteur Street Brewery. I discovered this craft beer in Hanoi at the start of the trip, but it was sadly rather expensive in relation to our budget so didn’t get to enjoy it too many times on the trip. Kelly agreed that I should go and have a wee sample though whilst in it’s hometown, so we went to it’s bar. I can honestly say that some of their beers rival some of my favourites from around the world. I would HIGHLY recommend the coconut porter, the nitro porter, and the jasmine IPA, all of which were top class! There bar is again hidden down a tiny alleyway and can’t really be seen from the road, but it’s worth finding if you’re into craft beer, and Western food.
A lot of the activity in Saigon that’s a ‘must see’ is kind of based around the wars the country has endured. Over 2 days we visited the American War Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels. Needless to say, after the war museum, a beer or two was needed! It’s quite amazing how little we are taught about the atrocities that took place during the war. I knew it was pretty brutal, but had no idea about the level of chemical warfare that took place. If you don’t either, just have a Google about Agent Orange, an awful herbicide the Americans peppered all across the place, causing huge devastation at the time, but also continues to cause a number of genetic mutations in newborns. You can really see the impact around the country of Agent Orange, it really was a horrific thing to unleash on the country. I appreciate the museum is clearly one sided and somewhat propaganda fuelled, but the atrocities that occurred from both sides were truly appalling. I can’t imagine anything worse than what went on in the war. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t take any pictures there; it was bloody horrific and out of respect I didn’t think taking photos was the done thing.

We also spent a day at the Cu Chi Tunnels. Whilst this has been jazzed up for tourists, it’s a very good way to get a feel for the way things were during the war, and how the Viet Kong outsmarted the American Army. The Viet Kong basically built tunnels across the whole area, covering over 200km of underground tunnels. These tunnels were used to transport people and goods, but also keep people hidden during the war. The fact that people lived in these tiny tunnels up to 3 floors down is actually incredible. We both had a go clambering through the ‘touristy’ tunnels (slightly expanded for the slightly larger Western tourists). We endured the 60m route underground, that went down 3 floors underground. Now, i’m not someone who gets freaked out by small spaces, but this was something else. Firstly, it was BLOODY hot and humid, it was absolutely tiny (especially with a bag on my back), and super dark. Someone in front of Kel starting freaking out, which didn’t help things. Needless to say, the thought of getting stuck down there, not being able to turn or move past anyone isn’t that appealing!!! Whilst this was a bit touristy and at points felt a bit fake, it’s definitely something I’m glad I saw. I can’t understand though after seeing everything we did, people had the urge to shoot the bloody great guns that are there as more as an attraction; definitely not my cup of tea!

On our final day in Saigon, we took the scooter and rode across to the Mekong, as we didn’t have time to do a proper tour around the area. After a 30minute drive to the river, we boarded the boat to cross over. Unfortunately at this point, Kelly managed to burn herself really badly on a neighbouring motorbike that certainly put a dampener on things. We spent the next 2 hours riding into the delta, but didn’t get very far as we attempted to find something to cover and clean her leg with. We fortunately found a local doctor from the help of a lovely local lady, so decided to ride back to central Saigon along the back roads; again an experience in itself!

Whilst our trip to Saigon was made super special by the Kelly’s, the city itself is pretty awesome. I could definitely see myself living somewhere like this; it’s all so chilled and generally a nice place to be. The roads are f****** crazy though, you honestly can’t fathom how mental they are until you see them!

I think it’s safe to say, this will not be the last time we will be in Vietnam. I know I said i’d fallen in love with India previously, but this is another level. Vietnam has been such a nice (and EASY) change to the total madness we had in India! The people have been fantastic from start to finish, and so helpful at every occasion, the food has been out of this world, and the things we’ve seen I will never forget. I WILL be back one day for sure, and now definitely have the urge to buy a bike and ride from Hanoi to Saigion (Gary, Bub, and Sam, take note. I’m not letting this one go)!

Next stop, CAMBODIA! We start in Phnom Penh before moving South to Kampot and Kep and Sihanoukville. We’re going to spend a couple of nights on one of the Koh Rong islands to have a touch of beachy life again, before heading up to Siam Reap to experience Ankor Wat (well that’s the plan so far anyway). Now I just need to source some dollars!