Kuala Lumpur- A melting pot of culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indonesia- A culinary delight

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

Animal friendly feeding



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

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

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

Western creature comforts

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

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


The good old black stuff



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

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

What to look out for



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

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

Hunting out the good grub



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

Where’s good for what?

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



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

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

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

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

Ethical eating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And onto our next stop! The Lembongan islands.

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

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

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

ANYWAY, back to the real fun stuff. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🇮🇩❤️🇲🇾

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). 

East Coast Australia part 2- Brisbane to Cairns

Warning! This post contains loads of fun stuff that will almost certainly give you a huge sense of wanderlust!

Firstly, an apology. For those of you reading my posts chronologically, I am sorry this is being posted so close to my last blog. One of the main issues of being in a camper in Oz is you don’t always have access to the internet (a blessing in disguise I say!) For this reason I couldn’t upload any photos to the last blog, so had to wait. I actually posted that from Cairns the day before we flew to Indonesia! Whoops. Publishing blogs from my iPhone isn’t the quickest or easiest thing to do…

Looking back on our Sydney to Brisbane trip, it’s become more apparent to me that we got the most enjoyment out of the landscape and people rather than actually doing things. This is probably for the best; doing stuff in Australia aint cheap! Every day just driving, camping, and refuelling (both us and the van) we seemed to be absolutely burning through money! It’s a really hard thing to get my head around, especially when we’ve been able to live on so little in Asia! 

Neither Kelly or I had been further North than Sydney on previous trips to Oz, so were determined to make the most of this trip across Queensland. We discussed the things we really HAD to do in Oz, and agreed to take the plunge and just do it. More on those activities later.Whilst I say having all the fun in Australia is a costly exercise, if you look around you can definitely find some cheap things to do that are quite simply, amazing. For example, the following day we drove to Bundaberg, home of the famous (in Oz anyway) Rum. It makes perfect sense that Rum is made here, almost every road you drive along in Queensland is bloody cane fields! Seriously, it’s quite amazing how much cane is grown here. During this trip we’ve visited vineyards and wineries, and brewers, but never a rum distillery, so gave that a go. The first thing to say about the distillery is WOW, the smell of molasses around the whole site is as intoxicating as the pure alcohol permeating through the air! Bundy Rum is one of the only distillers that actually undertakes the whole process, from raw materials to bottling left in the world (apparently). Regardless, that was just a fun fact; the awesomeness came from the tour around the site, finishing off with a tasting of their top Rums (over $200 a bottle good). I must say, I do love a good Rum, and some of other more exquisite rum’s were top class, even winning worlds best Rum last year. The site itself was a great mix of historic and modern, with a really interesting museum on the history. Sadly no photos from this tour (they’ve had a couple of pretty catastrophic fires on site over their 170 year life, so no electronics allowed on the tour), but if you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a look. for $30 this wasn’t bank breaking, and well worth the money.

Beating that however, was our next couple of days in and around 1770 (yep, that’s the name of a place). After a bit of research looking for a place to stay, we discovered a kangaroo orphanage called Horizons Kangaroo Sanctuary, only a short drive from Agnes Waters. If I’d known about this sooner, I would have spent a whole day here. The sanctuary allowed camping on site, and obviously had hundreds of Kangaroos. Because the majority of these were orphans, they’d been hand reared since childhood (Joeyhood?) so were more than comfortable around humans. Seriously, this was probably one of the highlights of my time in Australia. We arrived at about 3pm, spent the whole afternoon feeding, petting, and generally chilling out with the Roo’s, and woke up the next morning to amazing views over the coastline, whilst having more Roo’s chilling out right next to the camper. Believe me when I say, it was really quite difficult leaving this place. I do need to say though, it’s really rather sad hearing about the Australian Governments approach to Kangaroos; allowing slaughter of thousands of kangaroos a year in each state! I get that from an agricultural perspective they can be seen as a pest, but seriously, it’s not like Aus is running out of space, and these amazing createures only live here! The more time I spend on the road, the more and more I hate humanity…..

ANYWAY

The whole reason we were traveling to this area was for surfing. I’ve never surfed, and never really had any huge desire to do so, but whilst being in oz I’ve become somewhat perplexed by it. We were told about the surf school in 1770 being very good, very cheap, and effectively the last place in Oz you can surf whilst heading north, as you start to enter croc territory! We booked onto the $17 lesson, taught by TBone from Reef2Beach surf school. After a quick tutorial on the sand, we hit the water. Another reason this area is great for beginners is the surf isn’t too monstrous. We were expecting 2 foot waves, but closer to the end of the day we were hitting 4ft waves (trust me, they seem much bigger when you’re trying to surf them!) I’m not sure Kelly really got into it, or ‘succeeded’ at surfing, but I bloody loved it, and didn’t totally suck! Within about an hour, and after changing for a bigger board, I’d finally managed to stand and ride a wave, and spent the next 2 hours attempting again, and again, and again. I was genuinely surprised how much I loved it, and can’t wait to get back out in the water over the rest of this trip! This’ll obviously be me in a few weeks 😉

 

Now, the real fun starts!

The next day, we had an epic drive to Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday islands. Half way through our 700km/ nearly 9 hour driving epic, we got a flat battery! What the hell are the chances of that (the chances are raised significantly if you leave the radio on when you stop for lunch, that’s for sure). After a 2 hour ‘change of plans’, and a new battery later, we made it to Airlie just before sunset. It’s a shame as we didn’t really get to explore the town properly, but by that point we were both exhausted so set in for the night. The following day, we set off on our trip with ZigZag Tours, which we later found out meant we were on the fastest boat out of Airlie! We opted for a day trip to Whitehaven beach rather than one of the epic sail boat adventures for two reasons; time and money. A sail trip will cost in excess of $300 per person, this cost $100! We started the trip cruising around the Whitsunday islands, before stopping at a couple of snorkel spots. Sadly the snorkel conditions really weren’t great, and you could really see the huge amount of damage the recent cyclone had done (another #fuckyoudebbie right there). The snorkelling was just an added bonus for us though. Whitehaven beach was next.

It may seem ridiculous doing a boat cruise just to get to a beach, but until you’ve been you can’t comment. Whitehaven is a bit of a geological anomaly: the sand is 98.9% pure silica! It’s so white it doesn’t get hot, you need to wear sunglasses because of the reflection from the sun, and you WILL burn whilst there. The sand was actually used to made the lens for the Hubble telescope, and can be used as an exfoliator on your skin.  This beach, is quite simply, spectacular. I’ve definitely lost count of how many beaches we’ve seen over the past 8 months, and so many of those have surpassed any expectations I had, but Whitehaven massively raised the bar yet again. I decided to go for a run along the 8km stretch of sand, which was an incredible experience. Once you head further up the beach you swap the other tourists, boats and helicopters for complete solitude. I was the only person on that stretch of beach for a good 40 minutes, and it was utter bliss! Needless to say, the water there is absolutely to die for as well; crystal clear blue and a wonderful temperature. Spending a couple of hours on this (and another) beach across the water simply wasn’t enough, I wish we had all day (although I DEFINITELY wouldn’t have escaped without becoming a lobster).

This would be a tough thing to beat. The following day, we undertook another epic drive all the way to Mission Beach, just south of Cairns.

And then I did this…

Yep, I fell out of a plane at 15000ft, landing on another outstanding beach…. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and after a failed attempt in New Zealand over the Fox Glacier (thanks to the weather; I didn’t wimp out) I decided to go big, and did the highest jump in Oz. This-Was-AMAZING! I’m so glad I got to do it finally, and would 100% do it again tomorrow! For anyone considering a skydive, just do it! I would highly recommend getting the video as well. Yes it’s expensive, but you WILL NOT remember it all once you’ve come down from the adrenaline rush. When can I do my next one???

That was going to be a tough one to beat that’s for sure!

So we went to the Great Barrier Reef for a day of Snorkelling.. That’ll do…

We booked with a tour operator who had exclusive rights to a couple of areas of the Outer Barrier Reef, far more secluded than many of the reef excursions you can do to closer reefs, apparently these slightly more untouched reefs are seriously impressive and well worth a look, so we took a punt. The tour group we went with from Cairns were great, but crazy for health and safety! We had to wear life jackets (never great for snorkelling) and we were only allowed 50m from the boat, before a man with a whistle started making noises at us. In typical Kelly fashion, she got excited and somewhat carried away, didn’t hear any whistes, and got chased around the reef by the captain of our vessel to bring her back closer.

Going to the reef was great, and I’m so glad we did it, but the group we were with were just a bit controlling. I can definitely see why, some of the other members of the tour clearly didn’t know what they were doing, or how to respect the coral, but for Kelly and I this was particularly frustrating. I can’t believe I’m saying this too, but the reefs we got to see in Fiji were actually way more impressive too! I know, we sound so spoiled. Regardless, I’ve been to the Great Barrier Reef!

To finish off the last leg of our trip, we kept heading north. After a stop off for 1 night in Cairns, we drove to the Daintree Rainforest, after a number of recommendations from fellow travellers and friends living in Oz. En route, we stopped for a couple of Crocodile tours, exploring both mangroves and the Daintree river. For $25 for both tours this was a total bargain! We did our tour with Crocodile Express, setting off from Daintree village initially. This was a great tour that’s for sure, but more importantly we got to learn so much about these fascinating creatures as well as spotting a bunch (and other pretty unique wildlife along the way). To add a little to the excitement, we even beached on the river bed for 5 minutes due to an unexpectedly low tide, that was a bit of a squeaky bum moment to say the least!

We decided to spend 2 days in the rainforest, camping just south of Cape Tribulation, pretty much the most northern part of the East Coast you can access without a 4×4 vehicle. We camped right by the beach, yet still in the rainforest. The whole area was totally stunning, and somewhat Jurassic. We were fortunate to be camping right next to Noah beach;  one of the nicest we’ve seen so far in Oz. To top this off, it was totally secluded, only really accessible to those camping at our site: no one was on the beach the whole time we were there, which was just bliss. So obviously I had to take advantage of the seclusion. Sadly, this far North going in the water at beaches like this is dicing with death, so we obviously decided against this. Regardless, the beaches, the rainforest, the views and the treks were so worth the drive, and being off grid a few days was a blessing as well! Just to add to this part of the journey, we spotted a family of Cassowaries too! These elusive and rare birds are not found anywhere else in Australia apart from Far North Queensland, and to see a family is a very rare site!

Keep going, not that much further to go….

So now, for the first time on this drive in Oz, we started heading South…

By chance, our buddies Tim and Steph (from previous blogs about India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Melbourne) were visiting Cairns for the weekend. We just can’t seem to stay away from these guys! We all stayed at Ellis Beach, just north of Cairns for one last night together. It really can’t be stressed enough how nice it is to see familiar faces on a trip like this, where you don’t have to do the standard commentary again, and again, and again (where have you been, how long you been on the road, etc etc etc), and with these guys it’s just all so easy. After another cracking evening, we agreed the best way to say our (potential) final goodbyes was watching the sun rise over the ocean, and it definitely delivered! Yet again, what a pleasure it was to spend time with them.

So, that’s basically it! We spent our final day in Cairns (which I must say is a seriously cool city!) before getting a very late night flight to Bali. Looking back, this leg of the trip has been pretty epic! We’ve stayed at 2 vineyards, been to the theatre and the super rugby, explored 4 coastal cities and countless towns, enjoyed 100’s of beaches, been to a wedding show, bought a wedding dress (!!!), caught up with so many awesome people, kayaked with dolphins, hiked alongside Echidna’s, spent an morning and feeding Kangaroos, spotted wild Koalas and Cassowairies, snorkelled at the Great Barrier Reef, jumped out of a plane at 15000ft, run across Whitehaven Beach, gone for a naked stroll along a crocodile laden beach, been to a Rum distillery, spent 2 nights in a tropical rainforest, driven the whole of the East coast of Australia (over 5200km in total), and finished off watching the sun rise over the ocean with some great friends. This 2 months has gone so fast, and I’ve bloody loved it, but It’s time to get back to Asia, so we can stop haemorrhaging money!

Sydney- A Family Affair

After an awesome week in Melbourne with some great friends, we were off to see Kelly’s family in Sydney. They moved here about 9 years ago, and whist Kelly has seen them during that time, she hasn’t seen her mum in 3 years and her dad in 6, so this was a well deserved catch up to say the least!

But first, we had to get there….

We decided to sign up for relocation offers, which is exactly as it sounds, relocating a vehicle from one location to another. The basic premise is you pay next to nothing for the pleasure, and you’re given a time frame to drive from A to B. Simple right? Look what we ended up with! Ladies and gents, meet Bertha.

To say this vehicle was an upgrade to Leeroy, our home in New Zealand, would be a massive understatement! Bertha came equipped with a proper Inbuilt shower and toilet unit, a full size kitchen, enough space to sleep 6 people, the works! Apparently Bertha was the most expensive vehicle they had in the fleet, and would have retailer or over $200k brand new and well over $200 a day to lease. For this relocation, we paid $5 a day…

There are really two options when driving from Melbourne to Sydney, drive the short and dull inland road, or drive the considerably longer coastal road. We did the math, and worked out we should have plenty of time to drive the coastal route and still make it to the drop off on time. What’s the point in doing something like this if you don’t get to see any sites eh?

So off we set, on our 1500km journey, with effectively 3 days to do it in. 

Sadly, the weather wasn’t on our side. We spent the first day driving through some monsterous forestry and woodland areas, but also through one hell of a storm. The whole day was wet, miserable, and overcast! Because of this, we didn’t make it quite as far as expected, so ended up camping in the middle of one of said forests, only leaving the vehicle to turn on the gas, before hunkering down within Bertha. The following day we had agreed to make it to Jervis Bay, an area known around the world for having some of the whitest sand on the planet! Before we could dip our toes in the crystal clear water though, we had to drive the best part of 800km! So, we set off at 7am, and didn’t arrive until sunset. Fortunately, the weather was glorious most of the day, so we did get some pretty awesome views along the route. However, when we arrived, it became apparent our planned destination was going to cost around $90 to stay at, due to national holiday fees, said establishment being on a national park, and the size of Bertha, so we ventured further up the coast of the bay. Sadly this resulted in further rank weather setting in (and darkness, go figure), resulting in another let down! To make matters worse, we discovered that the shower was actually broken in Bertha (the sliding doors were totally knackered) and the cupboards containing ALL our stuff had jammed shut, and would simply not open! This may not seem like that big a deal, but when your whole life is in a bag, to say it’s a bit of a pain in the arse is a slight understatement!

The next morning was exactly the same; minging wet and cold, to the extent where we abandoned the planed beach walk, and continued our so far laborious journey to Sydney. The final leg should have been short and relatively easy drive up the coast. Somehow though, we only made it to the drop off point 10 minutes before the deadline at 3pm! Considering we pretty much only stopped for lunch this is still a total mystery to us.

But we made it! 1200km driven in 3 days, in about 22 hours of driving! Bertha, you were both great and a grumpy shit. Sadly we won’t be able to afford anything like that quality of vehicle again on the trip, but living the life of quasi-opulence for a few days was rather nice I guess.

So kids, lessons learned for this kind of trip like this. Check how long the route will take and add at least 20% on top, CHECK THE WEATHER before you set off, work out if you will actually get to stop anywhere en route, and figure out if you’ll actually save any cash doing it (we didn’t really). 

AANNNYWAY

The reason we did such an epic drive in such a short space to time, was so we could suprise Kelly’s parents. We had planned to arrive 3 days later, but Kelly had decided probably 7 months ago she wanted to suprise them. So after the dropping the vehicle off, we headed straght to the surgery where Angie (Kelly’s Mum) is a practice nurse. After contacting reception, getting the ladies on the desk in on the act, and basically booking a fake appointment, we eagery awaited her mum to enter the room. The reaction was absolutely textbook! The scream Angie let off was like a sonic boom, and must have scared the crap out of everyone else at the practice, but we did it! Following this, the suprise for Eugene (her Dad) followed, when we jumped through the front door of their flat. So the suprise worked; what a result! 

The next few days were spent with Angie and Eugene. We didn’t really do much, but that was great! After the best part of 6 years, there was obivously a lot to catch up on, and just spending time with each other was more important than being active. Kelly’s parents were very sweet, and had the Xmas tree up waiting for us, as we hadn’t really celebrated Xmas whilst in Thailand. To top this off, because we had arrived for Easter weekend (apparently, I had no idea of this) we had a combined Xmas/Easter lunch, and an Easter egg hunt (which I must say, Kelly took FAR too seriously). A great weekend all round really (with a little too much over indulgence on food, drink, and chocolates)…

A week of celebrations

We had quite a bit to celebrate whilst being here though. Kelly’s parents had recently renewed their vows, we hadn’t seen them since getting engaged (now over a year ago, how time flies when you’re having fun), my 30th/Kelly’s 30th (in August), and her parents 60th birthdays which sadly we’d miss. Because of this, we decided to book a few days away in the Hunter Valley, which is only about a 3 hour drive from the city.

Wow, what a stunning place! We booked into Hunter Valley Resort after finding a Groupon deal (another tip for Aus; abuse Groupon!) for a night of accommodation and a few activities. We all enjoyed the obligatory wine tasting when staying at a vineyward, learning about the vines and the history of the vineyard/surrounding area, and had some great food alongside the wonderful vino. The night we arrived, we were advised to go for a short walk away from the vineyard, as it was very common to see Kangaroos at dusk. I’m so glad we listened! Less than 1km from our accomodation was a huge group of Roo’s, all quietly hopping around rummaging for food. I said that whilst in Oz, I was adamant I’d catch them in the wild, and now I can tick that box! 

After a couple of days of over-indulgence (again), we headed back to Sydney to continue our antics. 

Kelly and I are massive Rugby fans. We were lucky enough to be at the local Super Rugby derby whilst in Dunedin, New Zealand, and as there was a match on in Sydney whilst we were there, we felt this was too good an opportunity to miss. It’s safe to say, Angie and Eugene are some of the least sports orientated people I know, and between them probably couldn’t differenciate between a ruck and a maul, try and conversion, but regardless we dragged them along as well. After an enjoyable journey to the ground with Kelly perfecting her ‘idiots guide to egg ball chasing’ we had an enjoyable match. 

To makes things even better, we met up with an old mate from uni who we haven’t seen in over 7 years! For those of you who remember Spock from Ruskin days, you’ll be glad to know he’s not changed THAT much since uni days.What was somewhat suprising though is Angie and Eugene seemed to not only enjoy the match, but actually GOT IT as well! 10 points to Kelly for exceptional describing clearly.

As mentioned earlier, Kelly and I got engaged just over year ago. Because we’ve been on the road for over 7 months now, it’s undertandable to say we’ve put wedding plans on the back burner (they never really even made it onto the burner but..) until we get home. Regardless, we wanted Angie and Eugene to have some level of involvement in the process, so booked onto the Sydney Bridal exhibition the day after arriving home from the Valley. Now, my plan was to let Kelly and Angie go off and look at dresses, whilst myself and Eugene looked at wedding cars, sound systems, and venues, but this failed completely. We spent the whole day at the show, because there was just so much to see! We even got the floodgates to open from both parents when discussing venues in Bali (seriously, there’s some stunners there that are so much cheaper than UK venues). We hadn’t planned on spending the whole day, as Kelly and I were off to the City for a night of partying with Tim and Steph, to celebrate her 30th, but we did..

We may have been a tad late for them, but this didn’t matter too much. After one of the best meals i’ve had since leaving the UK at Big Poppas in central Sydney, we spent the night partying, enjoying high class tequila with Moet chasers (yep, this is now a thing), dancing in birdcages in Gay bars, and embracing our inner youth through pillow fights and jumping on the bed till 5am back at their hotel. Needless to say, we did the 30th right, and definitly paid for it the next day. I’ve also 100% confirmed I no longer want to wear jeans or shoes. Yet again, Tim and Steph, you guys are amazing! Thanks for another amazing night, and another monster hangover.

To finish off the week of fun and frollics, we met up with Kelly’s cousins who again, we haven’t seen for 6 years! Last time we were in Sydney, we took the boys Matt and Ryan to the Ashes, but they were just kids! This time, Lauren is 19 and working full time, Matt was about to take his driving test, and Ryan was in his mid teens, and gearing up to take his GCSE equivalent! As ever, it was lovely seeing them again, and for the Sweeney’s it was a very rare occasssion having all the family (or nearly all the family) together. Annoyingly, we got so caught up in conversation we didn’t get a photo (sorry Tricia). These separate photos will have to do though. 

At this point, I thought the week of family fun was over, but Kelly and Angie had different ideas. They’d arranged to go wedding dress ‘trying’ for a day. This obviously is a proper right of passage for mother and daughter, but as we live the other side of the world this was one of the only opportunities for this to happen. However, what I didn’t expect was for them to BUY a dress! Obviously I know nothing of the details of said dress, but I do know lots of tears were shed, and regardless ofthe number of dresses tried on, this was ‘the one’. Guess we should probably start planning the actual wedding now that a dress is bought!

Fun with old friends

It feels like we have managed to meet up with people in the majority of places we’ve been, but Australia has raised the bar on this yet again, and Sydney was certainly no exception. We’ve literally dedicated a week to meeting up with people! It seems like the majority of Ireland emigrated to Oz about 6 years ago, so Kel has a few mates out here, as do I. On Anzac Day, we met up with (another) Kelly, one of her oldest friends from school. We were quickly given an introduction into an Australian past time, 2up. It’s literally a coin toss on steroids (+alcohol) that people bet on. I managed to win $20 over the duration of the day, so I was happy. Apparently it gets so heated, this game is illegal every other day apart from Anzac. We were given a tour of Bondi, and the lovely Watsons Bay, which i’d highly recommend visiting if you get the chance whilst in Sydney. 

We also got to frequent her 30th birthday in central Sydney, which came rather close to being a very long and heavy night (as I understand, this is pretty commonplace when Kelly McD is involved), but we managed to escape around 1am. We met some awesome people, and Kelly had told all her mates about her oldest school friend making an appearance, which was lovely and super welcoming. 

To add to the Irish caucus, we spent an evening with Niamh (pronounced more like neeve), another school friend from the land of the spud huggers. We spent the evening touring the Rocks, and Circular Quay, enjoying the famous sights of Sydney. Kelly and I last saw Naimh in 2005, so as you can imagine, we had a huge amount to catch up on! 

Next it was my turn to see old faces! We linked up with Lou, a (sort of) colleague from Uni days. Lou used to work for the Students’ Union when I worked for the Uni, but she was also my running buddy and (gossip fiend) whilst we worked at the same time. We had a great day at Manly doing a coastal walk, and met up again to go for a run (and gossip obviously), for old times sake.

Finally, meeting up with Spock on numerous occassions. Spock went off the radar somewhat when he moved over here, but we’ve stayed in touch from time to time via email etc. But catching up with him was literally like jumping back in time, absolutely nothing had changed, and we were all more than happy chatting utter shite like we used to all night long. We eneded up meeting up about 4 times, and finally got to meet his wonderful lady Sam. If you guys are reading this, thanks so much for such great evenings and even better company. Spock, she’s a keeper, take good care of her! It’s great to see you both doing so well and loving life so much.

So there we have it; 3 weeks in Sydney. It’s been so nice being with the inlaws, I have no idea how they put up with me for 3 weeks, but we all survived! Angie and Eugene, thanks for having us and thanks for everything you’ve done for us whilst we’ve been here. 

Now, we have another 3 weeks to explore the rest of the east coast in a camper again! If anyone has any must see places on the east coast to Cairns, let us know!

Melbourne- Getting by with a little help from my friends 

“Here’s to tall ships. Here’s to small ships. Here’s to all the ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are friendships so here’s to you and me.” Irish proverb

One of my favourite things about travelling is the people, without a doubt. We’ve met some absolutely awesome people in every country who have inspired us, guided us, supported us, excited us, made us laugh, made us cry, and generally made our trip so unforgettable. Many of the people we’ve met we probably won’t see again, but we now have friends on all continents, so who knows, our paths may cross again. People say the world is a small place, and we’ve realised how true this is on so many occasions! I’ve bumped into an old school friend by chance at a bar in New Zealand, met a couple from Colchester in Vietnam, who’s parents live in the village next to mine, and a guy from Cambridge who worked with two of our closest friends, on a tiny island in Fiji! Seriously, what are the chances? We’ve obviously made some great friends for life too, who we will be seeing without question again (yes Mat and Sofi, this does mean a trip to Chile), but it’s always so sad saying goodbye to the people you just gel with, especially as someone is always moving on in this nomadic lifestyle.

But conversely, perhaps one of the best things is meeting up with old friends; reuniting with people from the old days or those you simply haven’t seen for too long. We’ve been so lucky so far to travel alongside old friends for much of the trip, and when we arrived to Australia the only real plan we had was to meet up with these people!

We arrived into Australia in Melbourne at the ungodly hour of 2am. After a night slumming it in a cheap ass hostel (still £40, that would have got us 5* in Asia😡) we got in touch with Tim and Steph. We’ve met up with these guys in 80% of the counties we’ve frequented, and by chance they have based themselves in Melbourne! Tim is now working for Rome2Rio and Steph was about to start a consultancy role in the city. These guys were yet again absolute legends. We arrived at their place to be greeted with a table laid for a roast dinner (our first in over six months!), and the offer for us to stay with them! We’ve done quite a bit of travel with these guys so we get on really well. It’s so nice to have some normality restored In a new city, but also to hang out with familiar faces again! The building they lived in also had a gym and a pool, which we took full advantage of! Every time we meet up though, we seem to end up getting shit faced, and this was no shift from the status quo. After a beautiful roast lamb (cooked on the barbie of course), we got the Lonely Planet tour of the city from our local guides, before heading to the cider and wine festival on the river! I mean, what are the chances this would be on whilst we arrive! The city at night is just as beautiful as parts of London with back alley streets similar to Brighton. The word “artisan” springs to mind at nearly every turn down these lanes, with hipster coffee and brioche burgers lining most stores. The thing that Melbourne is really famous for though is the fantastic array of street art that’s literally everywhere to see. Seriously, we’ve seen some pretty impressive stuff so far on this trip, but the street art we saw in Melbourne took gold, silver and bronze! What’s really cool is there are some streets that apparently evolve monthly with new works; id love to see this in action!

We had a week planned for Melbourne, and lots to see! We spent our time exploring the cities suburbs, back alleys and main sights. This is definitely a nice city to just wander around. There’s a really interesting mix of old school buildings clearly from Victorian rule, modern high rise buildings and old school shop fronts. There’s obviously a massive foodie culture here too (which makes me very happy) with huge Greek and Chinese quarters offering a wonderful variety of treats, as well as one of the best food markets I’ve ever been to. The street art again was out on full show for us, and is even more impressive during the day! Alleys like this attract hoards of millennials to get that perfect Instagram photo, but I just wanted to snap the art. 

We hadn’t realised, but the Melbourne comedy festival was on when we arrived! Hundreds of venues offered tons of comedians over two weeks, we had far too much to choose from! We ended up meeting one of the comedians, a guy called Jeeves Verma who was bloody hilarious! His whole sketch was based around his life growing up in an Indian family, which really reminded us of our time in India staying with families in Jaipur and Bombay. We could have spent hundreds of dollars on tickets for shows as there was just so much on!

We were also super lucky to end up seeing the Book of Mormon whilst we were here. The two of us and Steph entered into a lottery to get half price tickets. Sadly we didn’t win but Steph kindly donated hers to us as she’s seen it already. Wow, I had heard it was a funny show, but we were in absolute stitches from start to finish! We ended up with front row centre seats too, so I got to perv with all the musical equipment under the stage too! Seriously, if you aren’t easily offended, go see this show immediately! 

Our whole time in Melbourne wasn’t a cultural furore, we did some boring stuff too! One of our favourite ways to experience a city is to just wander around. Melbourne is perfect for this with a huge variety of districts each with their own flair. We spent a day chilling at Brighton Beach with Steph enjoying the vibrant (and sometimes eccentric) beach huts, before walking to St Kilda, another beach side district. The walk itself was absolutely lovely and it was great to see the Australian outdoor ethos so alive, with so many people out and about running, cycling, roller skating, or chasing their dogs; definitely a place I could see myself enjoying more. We even managed to spot a pod of dolphins as we walked along the coast. We also spent a day enjoying the botanical gardens with a picnic by the river. The punting on offer was somewhat unexpected and obviously reminded us of Cambridge, but we avoided this due to the excessive cost! The gardens themselves are stunning and vast! We spent a good 4 hours exploring the different parts of them and enjoying the natural flora and fauna. It’s so nice to be somewhere so peaceful whilst being so close to the city. 

I started this blog by talking about meeting up with old friends. We weren’t done with just Tim and Steph that’s for sure! We spent the evening before the comedy show with our old uni friend Izzy. She’s been on the move for the best part of 4 years now. Her travel photos were one of my main points of inspiration for this trip and definitely gave us a few must see spots on the route. Izzy has been Melbourne for the past 6 months and is working as a video producer. She took us to a very quirky bar hidden down a dark alley behind some bins. Without her I definitely wouldn’t have known it was there! This place felt like walking straight back to Dalston, where you get cocktails served in vintage tea pots, the the music is all played from a gramophone, and beard oil and tattoo sleeves are more commonplace than anything else. We spent the whole evening until the show just chatting about our trips and Uni times. It’s great to reflect on all the amazing things we’ve done with a fellow traveler, as you can easily forget all the mini things that can easily make an adventure.

I can’t mention Izzy without mentioning her epic adventure doing rural work for her 3 months. Most people just end up picking fruit; that sort of thing. Izzy made a snap decision to book a one way flight to Sydney after breaking up with her long term boyfriend, to work as a cowgirl at a massive cattle farm! The stories she was telling us were mystifying, terrifying, and upsetting at times, but wow what an adventure! She ended up being at the ranch for 6 months, and by the sounds of it would go back in a heartbeat! Seriously mate, if you’re reading this, sell your story and make a movie!

We also ended up meeting up with Jennifer, a family friend of Kelly’s. These guys haven’t actually seen each other for 17 years, but it was like they saw each other yesterday! That’s when you know you’ve got a good friend, regardless of how long you’ve not seen each other it’s just like old times. We ended up being out until about 2am with them at a local club (well, sort of club) in a suburb outside the city centre. Jen, it was lovely to meet you, and we may well take you up on that offer of the South of France! 

To finish off our time in South Australia, we headed out to the Yarra Valley to meet up with an old school friend Rachel. Rach and I have a number of mutual friends, we’ve worked at the same restaurants, and went to the same school, but didn’t really become that close until a couple of years back. We ended up spending a day kayaking 8 miles, dragging a boat across a field, running away from cows, and sliding down reservoirs. Yes, this sounds ridiculous, and it definitely was!

Rachel has been living in the Yarra Valley for a few years now, and has made quite a name for herself at the Cherry Orchard she works for as marketing director. Since being there, she’s introduced a number of awesome cherry drinks including a knockout cider, a damn tasty cherry Weiss beer, and a couple of super healthy cherry drinks. This has sent her all across Australia and even across Asia selling her products. Anyway….

We spent a day exploring the cherry farms and learning about how it all works, followed by a cheeky tour of a local vineyard Rachel also works at. The Yarra valley is synonymous with excellent wines, and I can see how it’s gained this reputation! All the wines, from Shiraz to Chardonnay were sublime! It’s a good thing I don’t live here as I’d become a full blown wino! I must say though, the views across the valley are truly stunning! Sadly, the weather was against us for the duration of the time we were there, so we just HAD to stay in, sample more local wines, eat awesome food (thanks Rach) and chat utter bollocks for hours on end. To be honest, it was just what we needed, and really felt like home! Rach, it was awesome to catch up after so long of talking about it. It was great to finally meet Alex too, he’s alright I suppose 😉. 

So as you can see, our time in Melbourne was absolutely fuelled by friends. It was such a joy to see so many familiar faces. As ever Tim and Steph properly sorted us out and were outstanding hosts. We can’t thank you enough for your hospitality yet again! You guys really are legends and have become such a key part to so many memories on this year away. Also thanks for the extreme workouts in the gym, I think Kelly has only just stopped aching!

Steph, this is my new motto for fitness now!
Melbourne, you’re bloody awesome! I loved the chilled out vibe, the architecture, the food, the coffee, the beer, the teams, and definitely the culture. If the rest of Oz is like this the next few weeks are going to be a treat!

So now onto our next part of our trip, a drive up the coastal road to Sydney, all 1500km of it! Friends, say hello to BERTHA!!

Fiji 🇫🇯- Just what the doctor ordered

A massive Bula from Fiji! Welcome home, as the island villagers say upon arrival ❤️


I can’t believe we’ve been here the full three weeks already, and I really can’t believe I’m writing this on the 6 month anniversary of being on the road! It’s scary how quickly it’s all gone, but reflecting on everything we’ve done makes both of us regret absolutely nothing, and the sacrifices we’ve made to do it. No regrets may be my new life motto now 👍🏼

Our time in Fiji seems to have flown way faster than any other country, and I’m really not sure why as we’ve probably done less than anywhere else! Seriously, between us we’ve probably clocked up a good 100 hours in hammocks, read more than a dozen books between us, and napped more than we have ever napped before. But then again, that’s somewhat expected here! I’m somewhat doing a disservice to our level of activity to be honest. We’ve spent hours snorkelling in the open ocean around some beautiful reefs, kelly has been diving a couple of times, I’ve done a few hikes,been out fishing (or attempting to) and when bored run around some islands (it’s way less impressive than it sounds, some islands took four minutes max to run all the way around). 

Beachcomber, one of the islands we stayed on

I think it’s safe to say our first impressions weren’t what we expected. As we stepped out of the airport we both agreed we felt the same as exiting the kerala airport in India! First, the humidity and heat was a full on smack in the face, but what we hadn’t realised was the large Indian population of Fiji. Further history reading made us realise the brits shipped thousands of Indian workers over here when Fiji was colonised. The Indian culture really runs through mainland Fiji especially to this day, with loads of food stalls selling Chana and various daal dishes, lots of roti and chappati, rice served with EVERYTHING!, and a good deal of communication through intricate head wobbles. Strangely, the food also has a huge amount of Chinese influence, with soy and noodles as commonplace elements of a dish: Definitely wasn’t expecting this!

We were really fortunate to stay with a lady called Dee, originally from northern island but living in Fiji for over 15 years. We met her on Couchsurfing, and she helped us book all our island hopping for the whole trip (she basically planned our lives for three weeks to be honest). It turns out she’s basically running a travel agency and knows about half of the tiny Fijian population. Whilst staying at hers, we met Andy and Katie, two British lodgers who are both dive masters (Kelly obviously picked their brains on everything diving in Fiji), Will, and Weiss; two Fijians who did a bunch of fire shows across the islands. We actually ended up seeing Weiss perform on one of the islands completely by surprise! Staying here gave us a really great insight into where to go and what to do, but also a good opportunity to fully adjust to the legendary FIJI TIME (basically everyone is so chilled out things are highly likely to not run on time: this is definitely a thing). 

Thanks to the travel ninja skills of Dee, we managed to book 12 nights on 4 islands spanning the Yasawas and Manamuca islands, with all food, accommodation and boat transfers for a fraction of the cost of the main travel company, the Fiji Experience. They seem to have the monopoly here on island hopping and tour operations, but by utilising locals, liaising direct with villages and hostels, and, well, knowing the right people we had our trip sorted! If you ever end up in Fiji definitely get in touch with her on Facebook (Travelicious Fiji) or on couchsurfing (Dee Fiji Islands). 

Fiji works quite differently to other places we’ve been. Because the islands rely almost entirely on produce that’s imported and then shipped from the mainland, EVERYTHING is expensive! Be prepared to pay a lot for your meals (which at many islands come from compulsory meal packages that can cost $100 a day each). We even paid $60 for sun screen at one point, which is what we paid for both of us to go on two snorkelling trips! People seem to think Fiji is cheap for some reason. It’s not, simple as. You will end up paying for most stuff up front, but cash is the only source of payment on many of the islands we stayed at for extra activities and drinks (obviously the majority run off grid, utilising generators and photovoltaics connected to gargantuan car batteries dotted across the villages). Obviously, most have no phone signal and absolutely have no wifi and probably no power throughout the day, oh and there aren’t any roads, cars, or means of transport apart from boat, snorkel, or walk. This is exactly what we wanted though! After 40 odd days driving the mammoth routes of New Zealand we really just wanted a break. I’ve said this before, traveling is far from constant relaxation! 

The four islands we visited spanned the whole length of the Fijian archipelago. There’s 333 islands that make up Fiji though, so it’s safe to say we barely scratched the surface. Many of these islands are uninhabited , or are private resorts. You can see why this is such a honeymoon destination, some of these resorts looked like utter paradise, but for $4000 a night you’d bloody hope it would be paradise (for info, our 12 days averaged £120 a day for transport, food, and board for he two of us). We took the advice of Dee and stuck to 4 only, as many of the islands are pretty similar. This is broadly true, the beaches are all beautiful and offer some of the most amazing reefs we’ve ever seen, the accommodation and food are broadly speaking of the same quality, and generally what’s on offer is similar (sampling the Fijian drink Kava, watching fire shows, traditional dance shows, that kinda thing), but what really makes each place different are the locals. I was told the Fijian people were super friendly but didn’t expect this! They are SUUUUPER FRIENDLY! At points on some islands walking through villages, we were saying Bula to every person in the village nearly! They will genuinely do anything to help you out, without a question asked at any point. It’s really lovely to experience, a whole nation of massive smiles and general joy. Tie this with the constant sound of reggae blasting from most places you go, it’s literally impossible to not be chilled out and happy! 

We started our island hopping adventure at Mana Lagoon on Mana island, a small hostel with about 30 beds, a long stretch of beach, and not much else. Regardless of this, we still reckon this was our favourite stop. It’s amazing what an impact the people can have on your experience. We were really lucky to meet a bunch of people we just jelled with immediately. Jason and Tessa, a couple from west of London, started their time traveling in India about a week before us, and appeared to have been about a week ahead of our route the whole way to Fiji! Sadly we parted ways on Mana, but got to enjoy lots of snorkelling, Kava drinking and story swapping. Guys, we will be linking up in London for sure! 


We also met Lilly, another veteran traveler who had the most incredible travel stories to tell. Genuinely, I was in awe of some of the stuff she got up to! She finished her PADI on the island, and Kel went diving with her one day where they spotted a bunch of sharks and a couple of turtles. I’m glad to say I also got to experience these awesome creatures whilst out snorkelling. We also met a bunch of Canadian ladies who were such a joy to hang out with (and a completely bat shit crazy Canadian who spent the duration of her stay waking up the whole dorm, preaching about how amazing Trump and Jesus are, and generally pissing everyone off whilst hanging out the end of a bottle of red (the less we say about her the better). Overall, we found a great bunch of people to hang out with and enjoy sights like this!


Mana was the cheapest place we went, so we took advantage of this! Kel got a dive in, we both went to cloud 9, a floating bar in the middle of the ocean, snorkelled around an island that’s just sand (with some spectacular reef edges surrounding), jewellery making from coconuts, crab racing, more Kava drinking, and generally chilling on the beach. Like in Cambodia, the only real way we could tell the time was based on boats arriving, feeding time, and if the sun was out or not. 

The locals at Mana were awesome. Because we stayed with Dee we felt like mini celebrities, many of the guys stay at her place when back on the mainland, and we later found out she used to manage the place! We were made to feel like family the four days we were there, and felt really sad to leave. 

Our next stop was a total shift from what we’d experienced at Mana. We arrived at Beachcomber island feeling like we’d truly hit paradise! This resort catered to everyone from the budget backpacker looking for a dorm to luxury bure dwellers. The island was tiny, I managed to run around it in a couple of minutes. We stayed in a 80+bed dorm which was actually great (The fact it was basically empty the night we arrived helped I guess). Over the two nights here we again met some amazing people who we’d end up seeing on other islands we hopped to. Beachcomber was much more of a party island, with happy hours which seemed never ending, a huge bar, and a generally party driven atmosphere. This was probably the nicest place we’ve stayed in the six months we’ve been away, but I couldn’t hack it for many more days, I’m too old for the continuous 2am finishes and heavily booze fuelled nights. Clearly I’m just getting old 😩


The snorkelling here was bloody brilliant too! 

Our third island Waya Lailai involved staying within a Fijian village. Whilst we weren’t in a homestay we definitely felt like a full part of the village. We didn’t do much here, because the beach was so nice! Most days consisted of trying to find the-optimum-position-in-the-optimum hammock-for-tanning-and-kindle-perusing, or a cheeky game of 7s with the locals. Needless to say, I was shite in comparison to the locals! I can definitely see why they are consistently one of the best 7s nations. One of the absolute highlights of this island (and of Fiji in its entirety) was the summit hike I did. Unlike the nicely paved hiking in New Zealand, this was more in line with Cambodian hikes: so challenging terrain! Coming back down in the dark wasn’t exactly easy either, but it was so worth it. Check out these views!!!
Our final Island was a good 5 hours from mainland Fiji by boat at the top of the Yasawa islands. We stayed at Nabua Lodge, and were pleasantly surprised to find we had a private bungalow that actually accommodated four people! To top this off, we genuinely had a bathroom in a wardrobe (yeah seriously! Kelly full on lost her shit when she found the gateway to toilet based Narnia). Without a doubt, Nabua offered the best reef snorkelling we did on the whole trip (and probably rivalling any we’ve done anywhere upon further reflection). To top this off, it was by far the cheapest AND had a shipwreck as an added bonus! It was so good, we ended up doing it twice, to the amazement of the locals 😜. Seriously, the array of tropical fish, sharks, turtles, and coral was mesmerising. Nabua really looked after us, with cheap as chips massages, great food and enteratinment. It was so good we ended up extending our stay another day to ensure we got to sample traditional Lovo, which we actually helped prepare; it was definitely worth it! If you’re ever traveling Fiji, Nabua is an absolute must for any budget backpacker. Sunsets here aren’t shit either!!

I can’t really fault any of the resorts or hostels we stayed at. Yes, this wasn’t filled with Fijian opulence you see promoted as iddilic honeymoon destinations, but for what we needed, each one ticked all the boxes and so many more. 

After heading back to mainland, we decided we hadn’t had quite enough of beach life, so headed down the coast to beach house, a top surfer spot on the southern coast. This Aussie owned hostel was absolutely awesome, and fully geared for entertaining a wide array of guests. Sadly we weren’t blessed with great weather, so my shark snorkelling got called off, but Kelly managed to get out to do a once in a lifetime dive with bull sharks; no cage included! These 4-5m monsters of the sea are closer to tiger and great whites than the friendly reef sharks we’ve spent time with so far. By far the most adrenaline fuelled dive she’s ever done, but without a doubt the best! I just wish I could have done it too. I also managed to squeeze in a jungle hike and read another book or two, so all is well! 


So there you have it. 3 weeks in Fiji done. I said it earlier, but it really was just what the doctor ordered. I feel so disgustingly chilled now the concept of having to go back to proper backpacking again (like constantly wearing my backpack) is hugely unappealing at this point. I’m sure we will get over that fairly soon though. Our next stop is Melbourne, then up the east coast.

Massive thanks to Dee for all her help, Will, Weiss and Tika for the Kava and fire dancing, and to all the wonderful people we met along the way! Hopefully our paths will cross again xx

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!