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!

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 1- Sydney to Brisbane

So far on this trip of a lifetime we’ve hired Campervans twice, once for 43 days to explore the whole of New Zealand, and once to get from Melbourne to Sydney. Van life may not be the most glamorous way to travel, but damn it’s fun! Without a doubt it’s my favourite method of getting around so far (maybe a close second actually to driving a TucTuc around India), mainly because of the freedom it gives you. When we were figuring out our method of getting up the east coast of oz, we debated between flights to key spots, getting the Greyhound bus the whole way, or a van. In the end the van won, purely because it gave us the freedom we have loved so much to properly explore the place we’re visiting.
For anyone considering a journey like the east coast of oz, you need to consider a few things. Firstly, are you happy being stuck on a bus for hours on end, with limited stops, and potentially being in very close proximity with people you just don’t like (we weren’t, i’m secretly a grumpy shit). Secondly, can you afford to hostel hop constantly and eat out for potentially every meal three times a day (we couldn’t really, and I love cooking so….). Finally, are you happy just seeing the key tourism spots, cities, or hubs? We weren’t; clearly 3 weeks of van life trumped all other options for us!

So off we set again, driving from Sydney to Cairns over 3 weeks, in our new steed, Deadrie. It would be an understatement to say she’s a little rough around the edges, has clearly been around the block a few times and kinda needs some TLC, but she has done us okay so far. We’ve spent the past 9 days getting to Brisbane, making the most of van life by stopping wherever the hell we wanted! This has mainly consisted of stopping at shed loads of Australia’s stunning beaches and exploring a great variety of the coastline and surrounding areas.

Our initial plan for this chunk consisted of driving immediately to Coffs Harbour, about 200mi up the coast. We should have known though, this would never happen. We had our last supper with Kelly’s parents at Hurricanes (an absolute MUST if you’re in NSW, genuinely some of the most amazing ribs we’ve ever eaten), meaning we had literally no chance of getting that far north. We made a last second decision to cut back to the Hunter Valley, purely because it was just so bloody beautiful the last time we were there! We just about made it before the kangaroo witching hour at dusk. Sadly our camping options are somewhat restricted in oz in contrast to the amazing array of options available in New Zealand, so we opted for the cheap option at a site on a racecourse. Typically, there was a circus in town the night we arrived, so we shared the site with some rather “interesting” neighbours. Regardless, we were in the Hunter Valley, it was beautiful, and got to experience some wonderful roads in and out. 

Over the next few days we aimed for Port Macquarie, another coastal town further north. Again, massively underestimating the drive, this took another two days rather than one. We don’t appear to have been very good as this estimated driving Malarkey so far… Alongside this, we took a couple of routes resulting in a two hour round trip to get back to the same spot, thanks to one way inlets, boats not running, and entire stupidity. Typical… alongside this we nearly ran out of fuel in the middle of nowhere after exploring some sand dunes on a historical aboriginal site, just to add to the fun.

When we FINALLY made it to port Macquarie though, we were greeted by an awesome beachside town, with plenty to do and see. One of the highlights of Port Mac was definitely the koala hospital, a voluntary organisation set up entirely to rescue and nurture injured koalas. Sadly these cute guys are getting to the point of severe endangerment now, all thanks to humans obviously (not helped by the fact they all have chlamydia though). The work they do is wonderful and you really got a sense of the cohesion of aim from the staff members volunteering there. 

Anyway….After Port Mac we continued our journey north. We are constantly on the hunt for free camp sites which often tend to lead us to some pretty weird places. Our next stop can only be described as a stereotypical hick town to be honest… we ended up pretty inland in the middle of nowhere, staying in the car park of a hotel. This hotel was literally the only sign of local economy for probably 15 miles in either direction, and was populated primarily by guests frequenting the establishment whilst donning their custom made bottle coolers, extreme mullets, and looks of bewilderment as we entered the bar for a schooner. Needless to say, we felt yet again like we were in a sketch from a league of gentlemen “you’re not from around here are you?”

This wasn’t the last time we’d feel like this on this leg of the journey. Another evening again, hunting our a low cost site (of which there are surprisingly few), we drove off track for an hour or so and ended up in a very different situation. This time, I was warned of the “feral” locals before they all arrived for the evening raffle (which we were welcome to join). Kelly with her pink hair got some interesting looks, and I got a full blown stare down from a couple who’d obviously never seen anyone like me before (and I thought I blended in okay here, but apparently not). To finish off the evenings entertainment the local village drunk (I think drunk, but might have been something else) made friends with me at the bar, just as Kelly abandoned me for the solitude of our camper just as I got a fresh beer. It probably goes without saying, but the conversation that came in tow wasn’t the greatest discussion of philosophical theories I’ve ever had the pleasure of partaking in…. The evening was topped off by witnessing a feral local battle to the drunken topple-over, over I believe who truly won the meat platter awarded in said raffle (with a bit of Trump politics thrown in). This was rather entertaining until it took a full on racist turn. I’d been told about the blatant racism which can be witnessed further afield in Oz but this was the first experience I’ve had of true racism in quite some time (probably the first time on this trip). Once the scrap was over, said rowdy feral locals stumbled into their cars and drove off (it appears drink driving isn’t a thing in feral land either). The weirdest thing is, all this end-of-night activity actually occurred about 8.30pm!!!! Ho Hum.

During this leg of the trip, we stopped off at as many of Australia’s beaches as possible, and I must say, I can definitely see what the fuss is about. East coast beaches in Oz have consistently been pretty fabulous; long stretches of sand both along the coast and towards the sea, impeccably clean, and great facilities. It’s a real shame that camping is prohibited at most otherwise we’d have a consistent spot outside all of them up the whole east coast. Ive managed to get a few good runs in along the beaches en route which has been great! My barefoot skills have definitely dwindled somewhat though; the exfoliation from the sand on my feet has made them as soft as baby’s bums after months of toughening them up from rebelling against shoes almost permanently!

Around 1500km north of Sydney, we reached the legendary town of Byron Bay. I can definitely see why this place is so popular; it oozes chilled hippy beach vibe from every pore. We ended up spending a few days here but could have easily made that weeks if we had the time! The weather wasn’t really on our side most of the time, but we got to enjoy sunsets over the beach, some great views across the bay, and the absolute highlight was the sea kayaking expedition we did! We spent a good 3 hours out on the water with our group, and got to see a pod of dolphins surfing the waves just ahead of us. Sadly I didn’t get any great photos of this (this is the best I got) but what a great thing to experience! We can also now both say we kayaked around the most eastern point of Australia. I think it’s safe to say we didn’t really want to leave Byron, but we booked heaps of fun stuff for the next leg of our trip, and there was plenty more to see further north! 

We were also really fortunate to catch up with some mates we made in Vietnam, who lived in Brisbane. We met Gemma and Eric whilst out on our boat tour of Ha Long Bay, and instantly hit it off. I think Kelly and Gemma bonded strongly over their mutual dislike for the drunken northerner we had to endure on our boat. Gemma very kindly offered to house us whilst we were in Brisbane, and was an awesome tour guide too! We spent 3 days with these guys exploring the local area. The outskirts of Brisbane are pretty beautiful, you definitely don’t feel like you’re so close to a city! The city itself is tiny in comparison to others we have seen. Although we didn’t get to go in and explore the city Eric (our trusty chauffeur) gave us a quick drive through. After a day of exploring the surrounding areas, another day trying to explore the Tamborine Mountains (loads of roads and trails were still closed following the onslaught of Cyclone Debbie, donning the phrase #fuckyoudebbie for the rest of the trip), an evening playing drinking games, hours playing with their new pup Nala, walking between islands at low tide and cooking copious amounts of grub on the barbie we’d probably overstayed our welcome so continues north again. Guys it was great to see you both again, and we have to return the favour when you head to Blighty! To add to our Brisbane experience we also linked up with Kelly’s old school friend from Ireland, Marie, and her adorable family. It’s always nice to see how people live in areas we’re visiting, and this was no exception. I could definitely see myself living in a Brisbane suburb after the last few days around here.

So there you have it, over 2500km later we are only half way up the east coast! The next ten days we will be heading to Cairns, with a quick stop off en route to explore the Whitsundays, jump out of a plane at 15000ft, snorkel around the barrier reef and spend a day in a rainforest. No biggie 😳

Koh Tao- Into the flood

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

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

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

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

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


Now, time for a rant…

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


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

ANYWAY…

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

Phnom Penh and Siem Reap – Do what you gotta do 

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

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

A brief history lesson

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

This sounds bad, but it gets worse. 

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

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

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

S21 Prison


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

Sorry, but it kinda gets worse again.  

The killing fields 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Siem reap- unleashing our inner Tomb Raider


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

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

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

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


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



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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Coastal Cambodia- chasing sunsets and climbing mountains

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve digressed again, sorry…

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


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

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

DON’T WORRY MUMS WE ARE BOTH FINE!!!

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

Phong Nha to Hỏi An- SameSame but different

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NO CHICKENS WERE HARMED DURING MY TRIP HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Bombay- A Tale of Three Cities 

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

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

Versova and the other suburbs

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

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

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

Central Bombay and Elephanta Island

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

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

ANYWAY….

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

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

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

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


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

Dhravi slums

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Kerala- Exploring Gods Country

Exec summary: Kerala is cool, the backwaters are a must do, Indian hospitals are really good, we don’t like rabid dogs, and everywhere is different.

After the ordeal Kelly and I had experienced at the end of our North Indian adventures, we were looking forward to exploring the South more than ever! Everything I’ve read over the pre-travel period made Kerala (and the rest of the south) sound like a totally different experience to anything in the North of India: to be honest, everything I read was right! Over a week we managed to explore Trivandum, Alleppey and Kerala, 3 of the major points of interest in this absolutely vast state, yet we still managed to miss so much. Probably should have planned longer in India methinks….
Kerala is a rather unique area of India; the Portuguese colonised the area hundreds of years back alongside Goa, and many parts of Kerala were key trade routes for the Chinese, British, Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish, and you can really tell in so many areas! The architecture around is again, totally different to what we’ve seen before, and again is really beautiful. But what I found more varied from the other areas we’ve been are the people. Literally everyone I met and spoke to was lovely, accommodating, thoughtful and welcoming. Kelly and I have spent the last three weeks getting some rather interesting looks in some areas, and whilst this still continued to a point it was far less threatening, and instead of pointing or giggling the kids tended to actually talk to us! Kerala on the whole is also a much more Christian and Catholic area than the more traditional Hindu population of the north , with quirkily designed churches all over the place. Just like in Varanasi you can really feel the impact that religion has on the whole area, and in a really good way.
Another big change is the climate. It is humid AF down here! The climate is much more akin to that of a tropical island, and it really shows, with a fantastic array of fruit trees growing all over the place, and palm trees everywhere you look! I think this is a key reason why I loved Kerala so much to be honest; everything felt so much more chilled (apart from the climate obviously) and the general scenery was so much greener and vibrant than other places we’ve visited, a total paradigm shift you may say.
Each area of Kerala was totally different from the other, so I’m going to write about each one separately.

Trivandum

Trivandum is the capital city of Kerala. It’s known more by backpackers as a port of call rather than a must see destination. We flew into Trivandum straight from Delhi, where we were greeted by our latest Couchsurfing host, Rahul.
I got chatting to Rahul via CS months ago as we were both new to it, and had a shared love of music and some very specific musicians (i.e. Guthrie Govan). From the moment he picked us up I felt like I was linking up with a friend I hadn’t seen for years. He took us straight to coconut stall to try tender coconut (TOTALLY different from the coconut you’ll eat in the UK, the flesh is more slimy with a texture like squid). The coconut was so fresh from the tree the liquid inside was still warm! Following this we went to a toddy shop to try the local Keralan booze, a coconut beer (toddy). Kelly and I both surprisingly really liked this; It’s somewhere in between a beer and cider coconut drink which is made from the sap of the coconut tree (not the fruit as many people think). 
The Keralan government are trying to curtail the rampant alcoholism that is found across Kerala so have actually closed most bars and a huge proportion of toddy shops so I was really privileged to get to try this. After this we went to explore the local and famous Kollam beach, which was absolutely stunning, I’ve never seen waves like it!  


Following this we went back to his to meet his family, sample some more local food including tapioca which was different but damn tasty, before heading out for dinner. Unfortunately I started to feel unwell again so couldn’t really eat, but I’m informed the food was awesome.
Sadly that night both Kelly and I took a turn for the worse and ended up barely sleeping. The next morning we were due to go and explore the city very early but we had to bail. Rahul persuaded us that we should go to hospital due to the duration of our illness. At this point I had images of spending days in a squalid cess pit of a hospital and getting sicker rather than better, but this couldn’t have been further from the truth!

Rahul kindly drove us to the hospital, where we registered and had seen a doctor within 90mins. He diagnosed us with a parasite called Giardiasis; nasty little fecker! Within another 90 mins we were both hooked up to an IV and being pumped with fluids to combat our severe dehydration. Two hours later we were out, armed with a barrage of powerful antibiotics and other drugs to kill this pesky bug once and for all. The experience at this hospital was outstanding from start to finish and I can’t thank Rahul enough for all his help. The whole trip also cost us about £30 so didn’t cripple the budget (well, it didn’t help it that’s for sure)! We weren’t feeling 100% still so went back to the house and basically went to bed: another day ruined 😦
The following day we braved the outdoors and ventured out to finally see the sites around the city. We started by going to Poonar beach which was stunning. I even got involved helping the locals pull in the MAHOOOOOOOOSIVE fishing nets, NOT an easy thing to do with the fierce strength of the tide there. The beach was impressively clean and sat next to mangroves and a small estuary, both riddled with a gorgeous array of wildlife and in particular birds. Following this we ventured north to the wildlife sanctuary, about a 70km drive. Unfortunately when we arrived the centre was closed (you learn to get used to the random closing times and days here) so we just enjoyed the tranquil scenery of rolling mountains and forest land. We did manage to get a boat around the sanctuary (based on an island to stop the big cats escaping) but sadly managed to see absolutely nothing! Regardless it was a lovely day out and Rahul again earned legendary status.
Now the big thing for me was the food I ate that day. I was absolutely desperate to eat proper Keralan cuisine so Rahul took us to his favourite place. I ordered a vegetable thali and the classic Keralan fish masala cooked in a pandan leaf (called Meen Pollichathu). It goes without saying really, this is by far the best thing I’ve eaten in India so far! The closest recipe I’ve found is here, and I WILL be making this back in the UK in a years time alongside all the recipes I got from Rahuls mum (friends, be expected to be my test dummies for weeks)!

Rahul absolutely made this trip. When we felt like shite, he was supportive and helpful. We spent hours talking about the world, the local area, and even more time discussing and sharing music. He’s shown me a whole new world of Indian fusion music that I can’t wait to explore more. Rahul, there’s always a bed at my place for you in the UK, and get your arse to Canada and live the dream!

Alleppey

One word….. BACKWATERS!!!
Upon arriving at our beachside hostel we booked onto a day exploring the backwaters, an apparent must see and India top thing to do. We’d budgeted to book a private boat and an overnight stay, but following conversations with other backpackers we decided to book a day trip on a canoe manned by a local villager, and I am SO GLAD WE LISTENED! We had initially planned to spend a day bartering with every houseboat owner for the best price, but obviously didn’t need to do this, so we went for a walk along the beautiful stretch of beach bordered by coconut trees and not a high-rise hotel in sight. A close encounter with some aggressive dogs soon brought us back to reality with a bang though, so people still be careful around the local wildlife when travelling. 
Sadly, the backwater trips are now so world renowned the market has become utterly saturated by bloody great houseboats all choking diesel fumes into the streams, and the average price has skyrocketed to astronomical levels that only westerners can afford. Regardless of the personal ethics I felt around this, exploring the tiny alleys on a canoe I helped paddle, with some awesome people, was a day I’ll never forget. More importantly we managed to get down the narrow avenues in the backwaters to really see the sites and also managed a quick pit stop for fresh coconut and pineapple and another toddy shop. Again, we got to experience some fantastic local food (cooked by our captains wonderfully hospitable wife) and overall had a wonderful day. If you ever go to India, just do one of these trips!
Perhaps what made this day even better were the awesome people in our hostel. We formed a big group and went out for dinner, and spent the rest of the evening just chatting. I’m hoping they are all reading this, and if you are, I feel honoured to have met you all and made such great memories. Good luck on your adventures and I hope our paths cross again.

Kochin

Our final stop in Kerala, Kochin (Cochi) is a city renowned for its bazaars, love of art, Portuguese architecture and historical Chinese fishing nets. Like many other Keralan cities, Kochin was built on trade with other nations, and this is wholly apparent today. From the other side of the beach is a bloody great port still pulling in goods from across the world. Whilst this killed the beauty somewhat is was Interesting to see that the history lived on somewhat.
Perhaps the best bits for me of Kochin were the unexpected bits. For example we got soaked in a monsoon tail end storm on our first night, which I actually really enjoyed! To escape the rain we ran into a Tibetan restaurant which turned out to be outstanding! Our hostel Namasthe (Fort Cochin) was the best I’ve stayed in by far so far in India and the bazaars were actually nice to walk around without getting aggressively hassled. We may have even bought some jewellery each (i bought a silver bangle for me, and an anklet for Kelly, so we’re both proper Indian travel hipsters now)! 
On our last few hours in Kochin, we went on an exploration of the old trade alleys and the Jewish quarters. Seeing the classic areas of a city away from tourist traps is one of my favourite things to do, and this didn’t disappoint. The trade of spices, teas, oils and art is still lively around the city, and it’s really great to see. 

A final goodbye to a dear old friend.

Sadly, we ended our Kerala trip with some bad news. Buster, my furry buddy since 2000 had to be put to sleep today. As my mum so eloquently put it, “His farts smelled like mustard gas and there’s not a door frame in the house that doesn’t bare his scars, but he was an absolute legend and we loved him”. Buster was a one in a million dog, and everyone who met him loved him. He’s had a great life and an even better innings. Sleep well buddy! Give them rabbits in the sky some shit, and say hi to Penny, Jazz, and Milly for us xxx

So now, we travel to Goa to chill the f*** out! Because we saved the best part of £200 not booking a houseboat (yep, TWO HUNDRED POUNDS) we’ve decided to get an Airbnb for the week in an awesome part of the state and really close to the beach. I’m not going to lie, be expecting lots of pics of beautiful beaches, and a blog post next week detailing the big pile of nothing that I hopefully end up (not) doing. #sorrynotsorry