Barcelona and Santorini- The month of Percival

I’ll be honest, my attempt to return to the UK failed MASSIVELY! Within about a week, I was out of the UK again in Barcelona, and a week later, off to Spain! All of this was fully planned in advance so we could be involved in the wedding of the Century (well, September at least).

I was honored to be asked to be Best man for Gary. Alongside Oli) the other best man), who was also traveling around Asia the past year, had the pleasure of organising the stag from across 3 different continents at one point. Somehow, we pulled this off. Gary and Kakie actually planned their wedding to work around our trip away! I will never be able to thank them enough for this.


So, a week after returning to the UK, I was back on a plane, this time to Barca! Somehow, we managed to keep this entirely secret from the groom, including who was actually coming along. In the end, there were 9 of us for the weekend, mostly from Uni, with Oli, Glen and Sam from other pastures joining too.IMG_8423
Obviously, what happens on a stag stays on a stag, so I can’t report all that much (although nothign was particularly cliche stag activity), but I will say this was like no other stag i’ve been on, and obviously, it was the best (as I played a part in organised it, I would say that).

The weekend consisted of Gary Flyboarding, a bubble football tournament, an absolutely quality craft beer tour, probably the best meal i’ve eaten since this past year, a night out at a Techno club, and plenty of exploring this stunning city.


There’s too much to mention here about Barca; it’s absolutely stunning and full of beautiful architecture, people, and food. I will 100% be coming back here to do some more exploring.


The next step was the wedding! Gary and Katie decided they didn’t want a UK wedding, so went for the obvious next choice, Santorini. I mean, they really didn’t do things by halves here! Santorini is world famous for one of the most beautiful wedding venues in the world: I can definitely see why! This island, once a bloody great active volcano that effectively blew itself up (romantic eh?) is world famous for it’s blue and white buildings off the edge of the steep cliff edges. But there’s so much more so Santorini than just wedding vibes though. The island has some beautiful hikes, like the one we did from Thira  Oia. You literally can’t get away from absolutely breathtaking views everywhere you look here, it’s actually ridiculous!

The wedding party was a small one, only super close family and friends. The Percival clan consisted of Gary’s brother, wife and 2 small kids, his mum, and her best mate, whilst the Ainsworths consisted of parents, sister, and brother in law. Mine and Oli’s respective other halves, Kelly and Fo, made up the final part of the Santorini crew, all sharing a flat together in amongst a villa overlooking the beautiful coast line,

So before the wedding itself, we had the best part of a week here to explore. Our days consisted of a fairly routine approach; wake up, go for a swim in the pool, do something awesome, go eat somewhere beautiful, have a few drinks on the balcony, and repeat: not going to turn my nose up at that! During that week, we undertook a monster hike half way across the caldera, a boat tour around the island, went to explore the ancient ruins, got to experience the local winery and craft brewers, and, oh yeah, witness one hell of a wedding!


The ceremony itself was absolutely breathtaking. This location is just stunning, the views continued to blow us all away, and the celebrations into the evening kept us all dancing all night long. Basically, it was all bloody awesome!

After a final week in the sun, it was time to ACTUALLY return home. This time, for the first time in a year, with no plans to fly anywhere else anytime soon. It’s a very weird feeling, knowing the life we’ve lived the past year is actually over. In a weeks time, i’ll be returning to work, and back to reality in a big way… Watch this space to see how I get on with that!


Bangkok and Dubai- The long road home

It was such an odd experience leaving the Philippines. We ended up spending our last day barely leaving our Hotel. Splashing out on a nicer place to crash didn’t quite go the way we planned; our hotel was decidedly average, and our aspirations for gourmet grub ended with a Jollibee (the local Filipino equivalent of Maccas basically). But never mind, you can’t win em all! The sad reality though, was this was the end of our trip, bar a couple of stops en route back to the UK. Our first, being Bangkok!IMG_7459

A great tip for those booking flights home. Fly back from an international hub, but look for layovers. By booking a flight with a long layover in Abu Dhabi, we actually managed to get flights from Thailand to the UK for about £380 each; almost unheard of, especially considering I regularly get flights to the UAE from the UK for about the same price. Planning this ahead, we felt we should probably have a few more days in Thailand as we bloody loved it so much last time around.

There was a little surprise to throw into the mix too. Tim and Steph were joining us for Kelly’s birthday! Somehow, we managed to keep this plan (that myself and the guys had planned months earlier) secret from Kel for months, so needless to say, she was rather shocked. For our final blast, we HAD to crash at Mad Monkey, meaning we’d stayed in all of their hostels over Asia. This old converted hotel had all the great vibes you’d expect from a Mad Monkey, with a cracking location to boot; just down the road from the legendary Khao San Road (but far enough away that you can actually sleep). Obviously, this meant our first night together ended up there, consuming god knows what out of buckets and having a little boogie on the streets.

The next few days consisted of doing the things we couldn’t do last time in BKK (New Years, just after the king died, when most things were simply closed).  Tim and Steph took us to some of the ‘local markets they explored last time they were here: these quickly jumped to the top of the list as some of the most awesome markets in all of Asia! When you avoid the traditional backpacker spots, you really can find some superb little gems; this being one of them!


The great thing about Bangkok, is there’s just so much going on! This boheamoth of a city literally has something new and awesome on every corner. We all spent a day just wandering around, exploring the wonders of the city around Khao San road, and stumbled across a number of hidden gems (mainly MuayThai related)



The next awesome thing about Bangkok is the food! Man, there’s just so much good food all around this wonderful country. After the Philippines, we were desperate for fruit, freshly cooked veggies and in general, the beautiful thai food. Seriously, we ate our way through our Bangkok explorations, and I don’t feel one bit guilty.


One thing  we were really gutted to not do was the floating market on our last trip here. As mentioned earlier, a huge amount of stuff just wasn’t running out of respect for the king. This time, we took full advantage. Hiring a private longtail, we took our time exploring the canals and the floating market. Whilst this is renowned as a bit of a tourist trap, it was still great to see this market in full swing.

Obviously, it was super sad to say goodbye to these guys, especially knowing this ACTUALLY was the last time we’d see them in Asia (we’ve said that before, about 5 times now I think), but with plans afoot to see them again in a year or so back in the UK, it’s certainly not goodbye, but see you soon.


Dubai, UAE

The next leg of our journey home took us to the adult playground, Dubai! Now you’d think this would be a terrible place to stop at the end of a year away, it’s world-renowned for being bloody expensive, full of opulence and glamour, and basically, not very backpacker friendly. However, my family has been living in the UAE for the past 4-5 years, with my dad recently moving to Dubai, so we got to spend a few days in their company, for the first time in a year!


I don’t think my family was quite prepared for what they witnessed when we came through arrivals; both Kelly and I fully traveled up in our Alibaba pants and singlets, with me fully rocking the hobo hair. Oh well, gotta live up to the stereotype I guess!

After an afternoon sorting our lives out, washing EVERYTHING we owned, visiting my Dad at his new office, having our first family meal together for about 15months, the real fun and games started. Unbeknownst to us, but my family had planned a few bits and pieces for Kelly’s Birthday (she’s genuinely having the LONGEST birthday known now). The following evening, we all ventured to the world’s biggest inform theme park (I mean, of course, it’s the worlds biggest, we are in the UAE after all). IMG world of adventure is quite simply, outrageous! It really is a monster, filled with rides to suit all ages, with a number vermin on vomit inducing for those with a more sensitive disposition (namely, my mum). The absolute treat for me was the Marvel section, filled with rides from all their major comics. T’was certainly a giggle!


The following day, we all hit the slopes. Mum and Dad booked Kelly skiing lessons at Ski Dubai, the (again) worlds largest indoor ski slope. Now, if you think about this, it is utterly ridiculous; skiing in a mall, in a desert, when it’s punching above 45c outside. Oh well, we are in Dubai! What was truly ridiculous though was this is Kelly’s first experience on skis on snow!


Whilst Kel was having her lesson, my family and I hit the slopes for the first time together. I haven’t been skiing with them for well over 18 years and the last time we went my sister wasn’t even born! Somehow, I seemed to remember how to actually do it, with the fear of taking on the top slope dwindling after a few runs on the lower slaloms.

Sadly, all good things come to an end at some point. Our return to the UK was finally upon us. This really is it, the end of our trip across Asia. I’ll be writing another blog about our re-entry soon, but just to wet the appetite, this is what our first experience of the UK looked like… Definitely, something to get used to again I think!


Cebu- The end is nigh



It’s finally here. The end is truly here. After 320 odd days on the road we’re heading home (albeit slowly and dragged out) after this last leg of the journey. Obviously this meant we had to make sure we went out with a bang!

After the lengthy journey back to Cebu City from Malapascua, we jumped on another bus straight to Moalboal, a town on the west coast famous for canyoneering, the infamous sardine run, and awesome hiking across some pretty mind-blowing terrain. With our new travel buddy Sarah, we checked into quite possibly the weirdest hostel we’ve stayed at so far! Surrounded by odd statues of superheroes and steampunk style characters, and with absolutely no social life we ventured further to the coast and stayed at Chief Mao, a relatively new hostel with a great reputation. As soon as we arrived we were made to feel like part of the family, and immediately bonded with a bunch of the other guests. We were really fortunate to be staying alongside some bloody awesome people, all of whom got on with everyone else there.

After an evening getting to know everyone, the whole hostel signed up for a canyoneering trip early the next morning, so an early(ish) night was on the cards. The next day, we set off just before 9 to the falls on the back of a pickup and filling this hello kitty party bus (yep, it was as weird as it sounds).

To get right to the falls we had a motorbike ride to follow, and our first experience going 2up on a bike (so 3 people on one motorbike). The rest of the day was non stop laughs and excitement as we progressed through the valleys along a number of different cliff jumps. Starting off the group easy, we took on a poxy 3m jump, followed by a natural water slide which we all took on backwards.

Over the rest of the day the jumps grew, finishing with a 15m, jump into the famous Kassawan Falls.

Throughout the day, we’d had rain so the falls weren’t their normal crystal clear water, but the rain I think added to the whole experience (plus, it livened up some of the waterfalls which was a plus). Our whole group did all the jumps; something our guide was overjoyed about, and apparently is quite the rarity. The day overall was absolutely perfect, until the daredevil member of our group Jonny decided to smash his head on a rock after taking on a canyon swing. A quick and relatively painless (well, not painless for Jonny) trip to the local A+E, £2 worth of head shaving, Lidicane and sutures later, and we were back on the road back to the Hostel.

Needless to say, we were all pretty exhausted after the day we’d had, so spent the rest of the evening vegging around the hostel, sharing GoPro footage from the dozen or so cameras being operated by our group.

Our new found squad agreed the following day, we should all just hire bikes and ride out to the less well known parts of Cebu. Leaving about Midday, we set off about 20 miles South East inland, heading to sites like Osomena peak, relatively unknown waterfalls, and along some breathtaking coastline. Armed only with a bunch of downloaded Google Maps accounts, a member of the group who speaks Filipino (Jonny from the last paragraph), and a bunch of scooters,  we didn’t really know where we were going half the time. Once we turned off from the coastal road towards the ‘town’ (not really a town, but as close as you get to a large population in the Philippines without being a city I guess), we took on the advice of some locals, who inadvertently sent us on a total wild goose chase up and over a mountain, taking on some pretty ropey roads and terrains. We didn’t manage to find the final waterfall we initially set off to search out, but it didn’t matter. The rides and the views were so worth the effort, and having a good ol’ explore with our new group of buddies was as always, great. However, the weather took a turn yet again, resulting in us taking refuge under the canopy of a local shop. This continued for over an hour, but we didn’t give up. Setting off upstream on a short hike, wearing our helmets for rain cover, we continued until we found another ‘local waterfall’. Sadly, after the pretty treacherous hike down to the falls (the ladies decided rather sensibly to pass on this one) this was a total let down (I think we’d all been treated too well the day before with regards to waterfalls). Again though, it didn’t matter. Just being out on a bike exploring some truly picturesque landscapes and sights with great people made it all totally worth it.

To finish off our time in Moalboal, we had to take on the Sardine Run. This is a naturally occurring phenomena, which results in a shoal of millions of sardines circling just off the coast by the reef wall. I had heard a bunch about this, and had a preconceived idea of what it would be like, but all my preconceived ideas were totally wrong. This was way bigger, more immersive and in general awesome than i’d ever imagined! It’s quite hard to describe how massive this is, and how pathetic you feel when surrounded by them. The sardines seem to flow through the sea like one single organism, shifting around falling objects and people flawlessly. Watching this almost dance like activity through the sea was utterly mesmerising. I think we all could have spent all day in the sea with them, but sadly our plans were thwarted by a jellyfish tentacle rubbing itself up Kelly’s face (the little bugger, we were having so much fun)!

Before heading back to Cebu to take our flight (with a day or two in a swanky hotel before that), we took another couple of buses to a tiny fishing village called Oslob. This has gained quite a reputation over the years as a place you’re assured to see whale sharks. However, this is for a reason. As the decline in fishing began to have a major impact on the local economy, partly down to over fishing but also the whale sharks gobbling up all the surrounding krill, the local fisherman decided to make a career change and use the sharks. These guys are now fed, day in day out, attracting hundreds (if not thousands) of tourists. Because of this, the whale sharks that are found at Oslob have stopped migrating. Whilst they aren’t in captivity, can leave any time, and are free, this level of domestication and the impact that tourism has had on their migration left me with one hell of an ethical dilemma. Having said all that, getting to swim with so many massive creatures was absolutely mind-blowing. You can’t actually fathom the sheer size of these SMALL whale sharks until you’re in the water with them. On a couple of occasions, I honestly felt like I was about to be sucked up into their massive mouths as they gobble up all the plankton and krill on the waters surface.

For the first 15 minutes, we were lucky. We’d stayed at a hostel called Sharkeys, literally 30m from the starting point, meaning we were in the first boat and basically alone with the sharks. The latter half of our time in the water though, was almost ruined by dozens of boats arriving, bringing in hundreds of people. The sea quickly became dominated by clueless tourists donning their life jackets, oblivious to the impact of their splashing and shouting on the creatures and other tourists. Note to self guys, if you are going to do this, get there EARLY and try to get the first boat out!

The last few days of out time in the Philippines were certainly an emotional rollercoaster, but in such a good way. Finishing off this trip with a great bunch of people, doing amazing things and seeing the animals of the area really showing off was just the way I wanted to end this trip. After a pretty intense few days, we used our last day (Kelly’s actual birthday) to achieve very little! The majority of the day was spend vegging in bed watching TV (thanks to poor weather again sadly),but it didn’t matter. Just spending some quality time together was all we wanted. Cebu city isn’t the most exciting place in the world anyway!

Right, that’s it. A year on the road done! Now, time to head back to Bangkok for a few days, with a few surprises to throw in. Watch this space. 

Malapascua- An unexpected paradise

 When we planned the trip, we both picked a country that was totally OUR country to plan. Mine was india, and Kelly’s was the Philippines. As she’d also be celebrating her 30th here, we had to make sure she had something epic to celebrate! When we’ve talked with other divers and told them we’re heading here, literally all have said two places are essential to visit; Coron for shipwrecks and Malapascua for diving with Thresher Sharks. So after heading south to Cebu from the dark and dreary Boracay, we agreed to head north to Malpascua immediately. As ever In the Philippines, the journey there was fairly arduous and stressful journey. After a whole day traveling involving a bus, a plane, another bus, and 3 boats (each journey with additional taxes and hidden costs of course) we arrived to the tiny island! Immediately though, we knew we’d be happy here. 
Because Malapascua is a destination almost entirely for divers, many people don’t make the laborious journey. After all, there’s amazing beaches everywhere in this country! For this reason, and the fact it’s low season meant the whole island was super quiet! We ended up finding a place to stay right on the beach where we were the only guests right next door to the dive school we’d researched in advance, and immediately settled into the chilled atmosphere on the island after a quick walk around getting the lay of the land. The lay of the land was simple; a village in the centre of the island for the locals, stunning and relatively untouched beaches surrounding the outskirts, and a couple of restaurants along the beach front. We were greeted by the classic island ethos from the locals too; total chill and a general slower pace to life; totally up for that! Because it was just so quiet, it was complete and utter bliss! Spending a day on a beach was such a contrast to Boracay: almost no lookie lookie men trying to sell us stuff, zero noise pollution, and barely any boats revving engines apart from at key dive departures. Alongside this, there was almost no pollution in the sea or on the beaches; a nice change from what we’ve seen far too regularly on this trip. Doing nothing apart from read, snorkel and chill for our first day was just what the doctor ordered, especially when we discovered the next 4 days would involve 4am wake up calls for early morning dives! It also massively helped the weather was perfect throughout our time here, apart from late night and early morning storms. 

Here’s a video from one of my favourite travel bloggers showing how awesome this place is.

Malapascua is a very unique experience for divers. It’s famous primarily for the Thresher sharks, who travel daily to higher seas to be cleaned by smaller fish (known as a cleaning station). Thresher’s are normally deep sea sharks, so are rarely seen whilst diving. What makes these guys totally unique is their tail, which they use to whip their prey before eating them (they create an underwater sonic boom to knock other fish out: the only shark to do this). Thresher’s can really only be seen in a few places in the world, so this place is pretty special. 

To top this, you can dive through a tunnel that runs under an island, a drift dive, a muck dive, a coral wall and even a shipwreck, this really is a divers Mecca! Needless to say when planning this part of the Philippines, this was obviously the perfect spot for birthday celebrations. 

Kelly’s parents very kindly paid for a dive package for Kel, and Thresher Shark Divers (TSD, who we ended up booking with) very kindly gave Kel all her equipment for free as it was her birthday, saving us a good wedge of cash. The focus for the next few days was certainly more under water than on top, but unlike many dive excursions we’ve done, I was actually able to get involved, going out on the boats with the divers to the sites to have a cheeky snorkel. This was really nice as it meant I wasn’t totally excluded, and got to enjoy the beautiful trips across the pristine ocean. Obviously though, I avoided the dive trips before sunrise 🤣. 

On Kelly’s first day diving, the morning trip was to Gato island, a tiny lump of rock in the ocean that’s only inhabited by sea swallows. The real treat was 30m down though, with an underwater cave/tunnel surrounded by coral, and a coral garden that apparently turned into a drift dive. When she surfaced after both dives, Kel looked like an excited child, as she’d seen such a great abundance of coral and sea life, including sea horses, cuttlefish, sharks hiding under rocks, sea snakes and some really weird and unique crabs! 

For me, being on the boat was utter bliss. Taking a break from my book to soak in the scenery, I was totally blown away by the peacefulness surrounding me. There was literally nothing anywhere near us, and the sea was so flat it almost looked like a layer of glass coated it: Utter bliss. 

The next day the boat ran the divers out to Lapus Lapus island for a drift dive. Kel had never done a drift dive before, so she was super excited! It’s basically going down and watching the sea just shoot past you. From how she described it, there was so much going on she couldn’t keep up with everything, especially as the current was so strong. Looking at videos of other drift dives in the Philippines I can’t believe how quick the current throws divers! This video isn’t from our footage (that’s already backed up so can’t make a video that easy) but it gives you a good idea of what it’s like.  

On the third day, we both jumped on the boat and ventured to Calanggaman island, a tiny drop in the ocean pretty much untouched apart from a few temporary buildings. This whole area is a marine park so is beautifully kept, and you really can tell. Kelly did another dive, this time a wall dive. Again, she was blown away by the sealife on show, this time all Marco (teeny tiny stuff), from sea horses to nudibranchs surrounding coral in great condition. 

Following her first dive we spent a couple of hours on Kallanggaman, which was utter paradise. Again, low season really worked in our favour as there were only a handful of boats on the Island. The beaches were beautifully kept, I’d even go as far to say immaculate, whilst the sea was a stunning teal hue thanks to the shallow banks. This is the closest we’ve come for some time to being totally secluded, and surrounded by nothing but palm trees, coral, and not much else. 

The boat ride there and back was unbelievably relaxing too. Again, we were riding across a weirdly calm ocean with barely any waves or swell. I’d probably go as far as saying I’ve never seen such a calm ocean. 

On the final day, Kelly did the obligatory 4am wake up for the thresher dive just before we left and ventured back to mainland. Over the duration of the 5 days in Malapascua she did 4 early morning thresher dives (seeing them on three occasions), a drift dive, an under island tunnel, a coral wall, and a macro, all new experiences for her. It’s safe to say for a new (ish) diver this will be truly unforgettable, and I couldn’t imagine a better way for her to celebrate her 30th (30m under water away from me haha). Big thanks to Angie and Eugene for paying for her dives, a massive thanks to TSD for all their awesome help and support, and paying for her equipment! Even as someone who doesn’t dive, I absolutely loved it here. Finding such a chilled out spot that was constantly so beautiful was just what we needed after such shite weather up north. I’d 100% go back, and Kelly obviously would too. 

Philippines- What I wish i’d known before

The Philippines really feels like it’s not on the generic traveler itinerary for the masses. Unlike almost must/will do Asian destinations like Thailand, I rarely see fellow travellers posting much about this wonderful country. STA have only just added a tour package for here too, which means it’s likely to quickly become a popular destination for 18-35 year olds from Europe. For a country that is so beautiful and full of an abundance of unique activities this surely won’t last long! It still feels very untouched in contrast to others we’ve visited, for so many reasons that I’ll discuss in this post. 
I’ll start by saying I’m blown away by this country, in a similar way I was to India, but strangely opposite (I know that sounds meaningless but please read on). It’s a total fucking nightmare to travel around, the food is one dimensional and very un exciting in contrast to its local counterparts, and I feel like I’m getting constantly ripped off. But regardless of all of that, I’m totally in love. Seriously, wow. Two countries have blown me away in particular have blown me away for their beauty on this trip; Vietnam and New Zealand: The Philippines has a perfect amalgamation of both landscapes, exchanging the vast mountain regions of NZ for more volcanic formations, but it seems to be untouched apart from the odd town and bamboo hut.

With every positive though there’s a negative close by, and that’s why I’m writing this blog for those considering venturing here.

EDIT: I need to stress, after writing this I read this again and it seems super negative. Believe me This place is incredible and absolutely worth committing a big chunk of travel time to! It’s one of the few places on a year long trip I’m 100% coming back to because there’s so much to see and do! Don’t take take this post as a negative push, but it’s genuinely things I wish I’d known about before coming. Take the tips, plan ahead, and have one hell of a time

The travel

There’s no quick way to do anything here when it comes to travel. That’s just a fact. Even a bus journey to a nearby town can take hours longer than you expect! Getting to port Barton from Puerto Princessa was supposed to take 3 hours, but once we got stuck in the mud we took nearly 5. Main roads tend to be one lane, are nearly always in a state of disrepair, and expect random stops from police, livestock, or locals undertaking DIY roadworks.
Island hopping is inevitable here, with over 7000 islands making up the country. Obviously the two options are boat and plane, boat being cheaper and taking longer. Normally planes cost quite a bit, and nearly ALWAYS go via Manilla or Cebu as main ports. Planes are often delayed so the probability of missing a connecting flight are quite high if too close together. Fortunately check in processes are particularly relaxed here so you really don’t need long to get through security etc (we arrived 30 mins before our last flight with no issues at all). We discovered an airline called air Jean that can save time and money. Remember, air Asia and Cebu Pacific don’t fly from all airports; many journeys only go from the major airports. Air juan does the non traditional routes, and the tiny planes are a must do if you can, so I honestly highly recommend! Just remember, they all charge for baggage on top! 

Boats you need to think about too. The big boat journeys can be HOURS, and in some cases days long. During bad weather they are regularly cancelled, and even more regularly delayed! We found with many we just couldn’t justify time against cost so just got a flight. Also a REALLY important factor is boats don’t always run every day, and often run once or twice on a specific day. 
I’m all for finding a place when I arrive, but sometimes that’s a bad idea. Do some research on where you’re going, especially the smaller places. I’d suggest comparing agoda to Couchsurfing then marking some places of interest on google maps. You’ll often find more places that’ll pop up that aren’t on big sites, and almost certainly find more when you arrive. I am now of the mind that says book a place online for the night you arrive though, just to remove that stress after a long journey, even if it’s a bit more expensive. 
Finally, the cities are total pigs (for numerous reasons). We spent two hours in a taxi getting from Cebu airport to Cebu city, a mere 7km. Give yourself plenty of time to get around. Über and grab are good options for taxis in the major cities, and you can pay on card (a rarity here). 
1. For major journeys, don’t leave things till last minute. If you’re flying from Cebu or Manila out of the country, DO NOT assume a flight before that will get you there on time. Give yourself plenty of time to get to airports (think how long it should take, double it at least, especially during rush hour and key holidays or religious events). Get to the city the night before, it’ll save money and LOTS of stress

2. Plan your routes taking into consideration when boats run. I’ve met people who assumed they could just rock up to a boat port and get on one the same day, and got stuck in a town with nothing going on for 3 days! Don’t be stuck in the same situation, it properly sucked for them!

3. The ‘tourism tax’ as I’ve come to call it is rife here. You’ll pay airport taxes, boat taxes, marine mark taxes, little boat taxes, the works. We honestly paid 4 additional Charges just to get to one island, after our initial plans, bus, and boat journeys. Just expect this, often this is somewhat regulated (apparently) but if not, it’s how people make a living. The extra 40 pesos you may pay for small boat to the shore may buy a local dinner. Also don’t expect the locals to pay the same! Don’t be afraid to challenge or just refuse additional charges though that our obviously additions. 

4. Two common forms of travel are jeepneys and trikes (effectively a custom built metal box stuck to a 125cc bike). They are both fine but uncomfortable. If you’re tall or of a larger build, you’ll be uncomfortable for sure. I’ve hit my head a lot and I’m 5’10. I’d suggest you avoid for long journeys.  

5. Roads are bad in some places. When I say bad, I mean non existent. Scooter hire is a great way to get around but if you aren’t experienced on one, just hire transport to take you somewhere. 

6. If you like to just rock up to a place and find somewhere to stay, do that, but at least book a place to stay the first night. I’m so done with spending two hours going to every place on an island trying to get a good deal when I’m hot, sweaty, and have a 15kg bag on!

7. Many places have Zero Internet. At best, it’s LTE (4G) but it’s patchy. Without a doubt, GLOBE have the best coverage here. Don’t rely on hostel or hotel wifi either, they are often glorified hotspots with daily data limits and a restriction on how many customers can connect at once, so expect regular throttling of connections. Avoid the stress, get a GLOBE sim, top up every few days from a local shop (by far the cheapest way to do it here) and don’t rely on anything that requires Internet (like topping up cash cards or booking essential flights) wherever you go. 

The weather

We arrived in typhoon season; definitely  the worth time to come here so I admit I’m coming from a biased situation. Sadly this is just the way our trip panned out. It was either come here then, or not at all. Whilst we’ve not been slammed by a typhoon we easily could have!
The weather here regardless of time of the year can change in seconds. It’s HOT, and the sun will spank you! Seriously dudes, it’s gonna burn you here. The humidity is intense and when it rains, it really rains! Be prepared for four seasons in a day if out of peak season in particular. 
These variable and adverse weather conditions can really impact plans quickly. Flights and boats are regularly cancelled, black outs are common, especially on the smaller islands. 

Many places primarily rely on generators on islands. 4G is patchy outside of the cities and non existent in some places like El Nido. Be prepared for the worst if you’re here in low season. 

With all this though, when the weather is good, it’s incredible. I think low season is worth the punt. 

1. Pack an umbrella, and ideally a good strong one

2. Have a contingency if you can’t get to your next destination. Again, don’t rely on a connecting journey to get you to a major flight on the same day (I can’t stress this enough). 

3. Download a GOOD weather app or two. I have been keeping an eye on the Philippines meteorological website daily alongside a great app called weather radar, that shows the weather patterns too. Rely on this rather than your in phone weather app. I also downloaded an app for wind and tidal conditions just to be sure. 

4. Download Twitter and follow Filipino news companies like CNN Philippines. These have been invaluable for me in keeping updates coming in on typhoons. Reddit was also very useful. 

5. Expect days and days of rain in low season particularly in the north Luzon areas. Plan ahead and either stay in a place that you don’t mind being stuck in, or be prepared with a stack of movies or to shows downloaded on Netflix. I booked into a party hostel with a pool in Boracay (mad monkey) for just this reason and it stopped me going insane (beer pong really helped). 

6. Roads flood, and so do the sewers in towns and cities ! Unless you enjoy standing barefoot in stagnant shit filled water maybe pack appropriate footwear!

7. Power outs happen. Have a BIG power bank (like 10000mAh at least) to charge your stuff. 

The food

I’m a massive foodie, there’s no doubt about that. Half our trip was planned around food, but not in the Philippines. 
Food here is 90% meat based. If you are a veggie, you’re going to struggle. If you’re vegan, you’re basically screwed (I met a vegan who had lived in pot noodles minus the noodles for 5 weeks, needless to say she wasn’t in a great way). Fruit will be your friend, if you can find a variety. Mainly, mangoes, pineapple, banana and coconut grow here, so I was very happy. Just consider the seasons of course. 
Sing said that even as a carnivore, I struggled here. The nose to tail cooking here will turn many travellers stomachs, especially if like me you accidentally munch on an inconspicuous meat skewer and discover mid bite it’s intestine on a stick! Also, they love the fat! Normally this wouldn’t put me off, but when you order a dish that ends up being 90% pork fat you may feel short changed (note: Sisig, a popular Filipino dish. It’s very tasty though). 
If, like me, you try to eat local food most of the time, be prepared for the cantina approach that’s common here. Most of the places we went pre cook all their food in the early morning, and you just rock up, ask for a plate, and get it. This often means you’ll be eating meat that’s been sat in 30+ heat most of the day. If you have a sensitive disposition you may wish to avoid this. Likewise, be prepared for very random cuts of meat.
On islands food can be stark and expensive especially in very touristy areas, expect a very high markup on grub, like 3-4 times the local prices, especially on western food. 
Be careful with water too, many places don’t have drinkable water. Fortunately cases of water bottles being re filled with bad water here are rare. 
1. Be prepared for a meat heavy diet! Also don’t be afraid to eat stuff you wouldn’t normally eat. Unless you primarily eat fruit and only drink bottled water, it’s unlikely you’ll be keeping at bikini body long!

2. If you like spicy, come prepared with chilli sauce. The Chilis can be hot here, but they often come whole on the side. I haven’t found a spicy meal here. 

3. If you aren’t adventurous with food, stick to fruits. Veg is somewhat limited here especially with local food. Fish and pork are very common. 

4. Bring a water filter like a life straw. In some places like El Nido I wouldn’t even trust that. Our hostel told us to brush our teeth with bottled water. Those I know who didn’t were wiped out with turbo shits for days. 

5. Give it a go! If in doubt, stick with the widely available western foods! 

6. As with anywhere in the world, follow the locals. They know the good local spots.

The culture 
Filipino people are amazing! But many are poor, like really poor. The poverty divide is evident everywhere here that’s for sure.  I’ve seen places that look like they blow away if I farted in their general direction that house a large family. 

They will try and rip you off because western tourists  are obviously seen as rich. Regardless they are wonderful people, just expect this, haggle a bit, but expect it to happen. You’ll get a feel for prices of things if you ask around. 
Drugs are a NO. I haven’t been on the hunt on this trip at all, but here it’s seriously a place to avoid them, and if you’ve come from places like Thailand it’s literally light years away. Smoking a joint can result in some serious issues, including death (no joke guys, just don’t take the risk). If you want more info just google Philippines and drugs, it’s pretty shocking!
Don’t get in a fight with locals. This goes without saying anywhere, but I met a British lad who had too much booze in Boracay, got lary with a local and got a proper beating. Apparently there’s been reports of locals beating lary foreigners with belts in gangs! Just don’t be a dick, simple really. 
Hospitals are rare on the islands, if they are there at all. If you have medical issues come prepared! Access to medication can be scarce! Diving is popular here, and things like decompression sickness do occur, you really don’t want to spend two days on a boat getting to a decompression chamber now do you? Again plan your diving and trips accordingly. 
Health and safely here lacks somewhat. Whilst boat journeys will probably make you wear life jackets to please coastguards, on tiny boats they’ll pile them high and totally to capacity. The last journey I had on a tiny row boat (with a motor) there were ten of us, a scooter, all our stuff and the captain. Just be prepared. You’ll also probably have to sign your life away to do many activities that attract many people here (from diving to cliff jumping, to swimming with whale sharks). 
In the past it’s been well documented hat you can haggle hotel prices down by 30-50%. Being here now I’d argue this isn’t true, and locals are wise to this. Many places we’ve been don’t budge or try to rip you off initially! Just don’t expect a super cheap trip if you come in low season. 
ATM and access to cash can be challenging. If a place takes card, they’ll inevitably charge 5% minimum. Many places don’t have ATM, and I’ve had real issues with my international bank cards not being accepted at many ATM. In one case I had to rock up to a tiny island with less than £100 for two people for 5 days! If in a city, withdraw as much cash as you’ll possibly need! Maybes before setting off consider getting different cards that offer different exchange rates and transaction charges too, just so y can play the financial system. I recommend Recolut and Monzo for UK travellers. 

The places to visit
With 7000 islands here, there’s simply too much to do. Many people come here for short trips rather than spending months here, so you need to think abut the places to visit carefully normally. I wish I had more knowledge about what’s around before we booked flights!
But consider the ethics of activities you do. For example in Oslob you can snorkel with whale sharks. What isn’t widely publicised is you can do this here because they’re fed, so don’t migrate! This isn’t natural activity and if you are an ethical tourist should be avoided. 
If you dive, you’re laughing here basically. Coron has some of the best shipwrecks to dive in the world, and in abundance! Likewise malapascua is like a divers Mecca! We’re here now, and I must say even though I don’t dive it’s the most stunning place we’ve been to date in this country (although it’s a total faff to get here). And that’s just two of literally hundreds of amazing spots!

Siargao is THE place for surfing hands down. It’s up there as having some of the best breaks in the world, but also caters year around to beginners and intermediate surfers too. Again, a faff to get to (plane and boat at best from Cebu, two planes and boat at best from Manila) but it totally sounds worth it.

Cebu is just another city really, but the island itself has an abundance of activities on it, from snorkelling with millions of sardines, to stunning landscapes, swimming with whale sharks to island hopping, so it’s a good base in general. Manila on the other hand, doesn’t. 
The weather in general seems better in the south. If I had a choice I’d fly into Cebu next time 100%. 
South Mindanao is currently a NO GO for foreigners. The U.K. Foreign office have placed this on a black list of Places to go due to terror activity. Keep an eye on local consulate websites before you book flights to find out what’s going on.
Weather dependent, some areas may also be no go areas. We planned to spend a week in north Luzon when we arrived, but everything we wanted to do was pretty much impossible because of landslides caused by bad and very wet weather. 

If I could start again…
My route would be something like this (for 3-4 weeks) in low season. 
Land in Cebu, stay a night, do day trips to oslob, moalboal, and Bohol (for a few days)

Take a bus to Maya, a boat to Malasapcua. Dive till you can no longer dive anymore, then chill on the stunning white sandy beaches and enjoy the diverse snorkelling and village life). Dive with TSD and eat at Oscars (best Filipino food I’ve had here hands down

Fly from Cebu to Siargao for a week of surfing. Even if you don’t surf apparently it’s stunning. I’m absolutely gutted we didn’t get here and would have sacrificed all of the north to go. 

Head back to Cebu, then fly to Puerta Princessa. Go to the prison, then bus it to port Barton. Chill there a few days, before heading to El Nido. A day of island hopping there, then either to Coron for diving or bypass and head to Manila for a night before flying out. 

After all of this, still can’t wait to return!

Palawan- When it rains it pours. 

It feels very odd writing this blog knowing this is the last country I’ll be writing about. At the start of a year traveling I had no idea how quickly it would all seem to go, and how I’d feel at this stage. It’s safe to say the prospect of returning to the UK in less than a month is an incredibly daunting one! Adding to the uncertainty was our final stop, the Philippines. 

You’ve probably seen in the news that this country is being rocked by some rather challenging times. The new president is taking an incredibly tough line on drugs, basically legalising murder of dealers and even casual users, whilst terrorism appears to be shaking the Southern islands, to the point where the foreign office has put a red flag on travel to this part of the country entirely (voiding all travel insurance in the process, thanks for that). Just to add to the fun, we’d be visiting during typhoon season! As ever though, the media have massively inflated the seriousness of the situation, and actually across the northern areas of the county there’s very little to worry about right now. At the 11th hour, we booked flights from KL to Manila to get the most of our final country on this trip. Both Kelly and I were determined to go out with a bang, and the Philippines has been a top country on this list for a few years now! 
Arriving in Manila late at night resulted in writing the majority of the next day off apart from a quick trip out to explore the surround area. Whilst Manila felt similar to other major cities across Asia, traffic here is another level of bad. Reports that it could take us up to three hours to get to the airport from the hostel areas (about 6mi from the Area we were staying weren’t even remotely exaggerated. I’ve never seen anything like it! Anyway, sadly there wasn’t much to see in the local area until the evening, when the city totally transforms: Not necessarily in a good way though. The area we were staying in appeared to be rather popular for, let’s just say, rather large white men looking for young Filipino ladies. Roads were littered with prostitutes, strip joints, massage parlours (I’m guessing with a happy ending), jelly wrestling bars, and even a midget wrestling club. Basically everything you can possibly imagine to objectify women; great…. 

Because of this, and the perceived lack of entertainment or activity in the city, we quickly booked flights outta there to Puerto Princessa, the capital of Palawan.
Our time on Palawan was always going to require a lot of moving around. This massive island has so many spots that many deem as ‘must see’ we’d have to spend a few days at each spot before moving on, and that’s just what we did! After a couple of days exploring the surrounding areas and beaches around PP, we moved straight onto an area rather new to the travel scene, Port Barton. 
Port Barton is a tiny fishing village on a peninsula on the north east coastline. It’s well known for being a true Filipino village, still hanging onto its traditional roots. The beach is clean and well maintained, apart from being covered with fishing boats obviously. The journey here is definitely one to be called ‘challenging’. The road to port Barton is basically non existent at points, and because we’re in the wet season , huge stretches are mud baths. Inevitably, our minivan packed with bags of flour and backpacks got stuck in the mud for about an hour, resulting in me getting down and dirty trying to push it out of the quagmire, followed quickly by helping the next two vans that also got stuck. This was all part of the fun though, and paired with the absolutely stunning views on the drive, it was quite the experience overall. 

Upon arrival in the village, we quickly found accommodation right on the beach for about £7 a night. Regardless how much you spend here, you’re going to get something far from opulence; the village only gets power for six hours a day, and because the roads in and out are poor, the delivery of goods for hotels or homestays are scarce. This really didn’t matter though, our last intention was to be stuck inside for the few days we were here. Exploring this tiny village takes no time really, but we still spent a good half a day checking out the area. The real attraction of port Barton is the simplicity of life here. Vast areas of the village are agricultural, hosting cattle and other livestock, chickens and patchy areas of growing fruit. There’s very little machinery used on the land, and most rely on water buffalo to turn fields used for rice production. 

The way of life here is very simple and that’s the attraction of coming. Most inhabitants still live in bamboo huts, with the whole family living in one room, sleeping on the floor, with very few material possessions. Walking through one area of the village could be confused with a slum in India (apart from more bamboo), but just like in India, everyone was very happy! The locals were somewhat bemused by a couple of white faces walking through this area though, clearly it doesn’t happen very often!

Sadly though, we were greeted with a day of pretty heavy rainfall. Attempting to save a bit of cash, we hired a kayak to do our own version of island hopping, and as soon as we handed over cash, the heavens opened out of nowhere, meaning we were grounded. Once his calmed down we got onto the water quickly, and headed out of the bay, only to be chased by super strong winds, massive dark angry clouds. That’s one thing about the Philippines in this season in particular, it’s unpredictable! Trying to kayak back to land in those winds was definitely a challenge! The poor weather mixed with an area with one dirt road and no power basically resulted in us sitting on the balcony of our hut for half a day, watching the storms roll in. Once this cleared though, we did manage to get out to enjoy the last bits of the sun on a truly glorious beach, followed by an evening with friends at a reggae bar on the beach. I even got up and played the cajon and bongo with the local musicians. 

Sadly our time in port Barton was short lived. Conscious of our limited amount of time in this country, and 7108 islands (ish) to explore, we kept heading north to el nido. 
Another ‘must see’ in Palawan, El Nido is famous for its huge limestone cliffs and islands, long stretches of beaches, and wonderful sunsets. Again, the weather wasn’t really on our side; half of el nido was flooded resulting in the below average drainage systems overflowing down many streets. Fortubately  our hostel stayed dry.   The centre of el nido is a bit shit at the best of times but this just took the biscuit really! Upon arrival and a quick walk around the town we realised the best stuff to see here was on the outskirts of the town. Our first day consisted of heading to Las Cabanas, a small beach just outside the town. We timed it just right, catching our first glimpse of sun since getting to the Philippines, as well as getting there for low tide enabling us to walk to another island just off the coast! The islands here are all limestone formations so offer some stunning sights, covered with vibrant flora and fauna. 

After checking out a local hostel a bunch of our fellow Palawan buddies we’re staying it, we got to experience the change in El Nido at night. Let’s just say it’s rather lively. 

The following day we were once again blessed with good weather, so took a chance, hired a bike, and rode out of the town to Nacpan. We’d been told this beach was worth the drive, although at the current time the road was rather challenging to ride. People weren’t lying; the yet again non-existent road was more akin to a muddy bog that anything that resembled a road. Fortunately this isn’t the first time we’ve dealt with such conditions on a bike, so eventually made it through the 4-5km of thick mud riding (not always with Kelly on the back of the bike though). It was so worth it though! Nacpan is only just really getting popular with tourists. Adding low season to the mix resulted in us effectively having the beach to ourselves. Quite uniquely, nacpan has a dual beach on either side of a bay, tipped with a small collection of islands crying out for a paradise island development (someone’s already bought the land, I checked). After a couple of hours chilling (and surprisingly, burning) we got back on the bike, took on the mud again, and rode around the surrounding areas. 

Now I know I’ve said this before, but the Philippines may actually have jumped to the top of the list for beautiful landscapes. Honestly, Kelly and I had no idea it would be like this! Because so much of the land is effectively undeveloped, and the volcanic soil is so rich with nutrients, everything is so green and so beautiful! Driving for probably an hour involved multiple stops for photos, because just like New Zealand, every corner resulted in another stunning view. This experience has continued across Palawan and I suspect the rest of this country. To finish off the day, we parked up at Lio beach, a resort currently in development. Whilst the shops and suites didn’t have much going on, this beach was something else. We were the only people there, it was immaculately clean, and felt like we’d somehow discovered an untouched spot of paradise. When this resort is finished it’ll clearly be stunning, and probably outrageously expensive, but definitely one to keep an eye on. Our day of beach hopping made us both realise coming to the Philippines was definitely the right decision, even with the bad weather most of the time. 

Next on our list in Palawan was Coron, one of the top dive sites in the world. There are about a dozen WWII Japanese boats sunk around the island, resulting in some very unique and spooky dives. Kel spent a day underwater exploring three of the wrecks. From what I gather, it was some of the most chalennging yet rewarding dives she’s ever done. Sadly no photos (she was paying more attention on not touching that wreck) but here’s a glimpse of someone else’s experience. 

We spent a few days in coron and had to finish it off with island hopping! Whilst El Nido is more famous for the tours, Coron are just as good, with more shipwrecks you can freedive to, and it’s Cheaper! Setting off at 830am, we immediately entered the world of intense rain. On the open seas this was somewhat daunting, especially as we had a whole day on the sea! Our first stop was a lagoon surrounded by sharp limestone cliff edges. We had to swim through an underwater entrance to get into it, while the now torrential rain continued to batter us, but that just added to the experience. Just to add a bit more fun, this lagoon had a unique thermocline experience (layers of water at different temperatures) and once the sun eventually came out, the water was crystal clear! What a great start to the day! 

Over the rest of the day, we stopped at a small island and reef; a sunken ship, a tiny beach surrounded by cliffs for a spot of lunch, another even more impressive lagoon and a marine park for some seriously impressive corals! This day turned out to be so much better than I could have hoped for. We were fortunate to have some great people on the boat with us too so had a good day all round. 

Our final stop in (sort of) Palawan was boracay. Known for its long and beautifully white beaches boracay has become very famous over the past few years, also now meaning it’s super touristy. It’s become rather well known as a party island like Ibiza too, just without the super clubs. Regardless we agreed to take a punt on it to see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Boracay though was how we’d get there!

Somehow, this was cheaper than an airasia flight, which would have involved a huge amount of transport back to a main airport. Instead we flew this 12 seater plane for less than an hour, cruising at a low altitude so we could see all the islands. I never want to travel anywhere else in a different way now. 

When we arrived at Boracay we realised rather quickly the damage that tourism has done to this Island. The general infrastructure across the whole island just can’t cope, pure and simple. We were greeted by rains (of course we were), resulting in floods down many roads, and unfortunately resulting in overflowing drains around our hostel too. Lovely! For the next 4 days the rains barely ceased, and we only had a glimpse of blue skies for a few hours on our last full day. Fortunately though, we’d booked ourselves into stay at Mad Monkey in Boracay, meaning we were Guaranteed to have a good time with a great bunch of people. We’ve stayed at all the mad monkeys in Cambodia and without a doubt they are the best hostels I’ve stayed hands down, so more out of loyalty we stayed here than anything. This hostel follows the same suit as the others; good food, great Staff, a great party atmosphere with loads of social activities, a pool, and top quality dorms. Really we couldn’t ask for much more from this place (apart from great weather). The only caveat to all this, is mad monkey is definitely a PARTY hostel! The day we arrived most guests were on the twice weekly booze cruise. When they returned, the pool turned into what can only be described as an episode of love island (I assume this is what it’s like), with the cliche drunk British lads behaving like total tools. This was easily avoidable however, as we ventured away from the hostel to explore. This was our game plan the next few days; get out and explore ourselves after all, we couldn’t come all this way just to stay in the hostel! 

Our first full day in Boracay we set out to discover the famous white beach, stretching almost the whole length of the island. Straight away again, the tourism trap commeth! Lookie-lookie men (and children sadly) almost immediately surrounded us selling us everything from boat rides to outrageously priced kite surfing lessons, fake pearls to ray bans. The beach is covered in rubbish and wash up from the sea, as well as thousands of tourists all seeming to be attempting to snorkel in water that’s churned up from the swell. We later found out Boracay is a hugely popular destination for tourists from Taiwan and South Korea all year around, and more recently tourists have come in low season after a bargain, however the local economy has reacted to this and effectively kept prices at high season levels all year round. Finally, the resorts all erect horrific windbreakers in front of their beachfront entrances. 

I can say now if that was low season, I dread to think what high is like. Sadly, it was chokingly busy: You couldn’t really escape the carnage of white beach without local knowledge! On our final day, we took a trike to a beach further north and far away from the tourism strips, resulting in a great day out not surrounded by hundreds of clueless tourists. Again, this was short lived though, as the mother of all storms set in just hours after we found solitude, resulting in us taking refuge again, back in the confines of our hostel. 

Unfortunately, Boracay was a real let down for me. If it wasn’t for Mad Monkey I think it’s safe to say we’d have been rather miserable. Regardless of the weather, for me what was really sad was the evident destruction over investment in tourism can do to a place. A few years back, Boracay was voted one of the top islands in the world to visit. Now, there’s no escape from the carnage that comes from hyper-investment, literally shit running down the streets, a beach in a total state and very apparent damage to the ecology of the area thanks to humans (yet again; plastic and people are ruining everything). 

So after two weeks of rain, we’ve cut our losses and venture further south towards Cebu. The weather is consistently better down here. Let’s just hope it plays ball! 

Cameron Highlands- The hills are alive

In a complete paradigm shift from the island life on the Perhentians, we headed back to mainland, and caught a bus to the famous Cameron Highlands. Situated about 1000m about sea level, the Cameron Highlands have become a must see stop off in Malaysia, made famous by the hectares of tea plantations and strawberry farms covering almost every inch of land. Unlike the rest of Malaysia, which seems to have 3 main weather cycles (hot/really f***** hot/hot and wet) the highlands are well known for having an average temperature about 10c lower than the rest of Malaysia; hence why it’s growing 80% of the fruit consumed across the country (and the tea, obviously).  By pure chance, we ended up sharing the journey with our new regular travel buddy Frank. He was supposed to leave for the Highlands they day earlier, but partied too hard on the Perhentians and couldn’t face the 6 hour journey with a stinking hangover.

The bus journey took us through some truly breathtaking landscapes, consisting mainly of rolling hills, plantations, and forest land stretching as far as the eye can see. Whilst this was obviously stunning, it’s still such a shame to see so much deforestation taking place in areas, as well as previous arable land being swapped for profitable palm oil plantations, known as the primary cause for insane levels of deforestation and ecological destruction in Borneo. It seems in asia, this rampant destruction of land is somewhat unavoidable sadly.

Arriving into the Highlands gave us all mixed emotions I think it’s safe to say. Whilst the views were utterly breathtaking, they were shared with such high levels of tourism that totally took away from the picturesque views we had all anticipated. Driving through to the main areas tourists say involved driving past crappy little theme parks, themed hotels (including a Smurf hotel! Seriously; WTF) and a myriad of hawkers selling fluffy minion dolls, Hello Kitty EVERYTHING and the now synonymous in Asia penis shaped bottle openers (again, WTF). It transpired that this is an incredibly popular destination for local tourism as well as tourists from China and Japan who apparently love this stuff.

Conversely, we felt like we’d been transported to mountain ranges in Europe. The architecture here is so different from anywhere else in Asia. The buildings look more like ski chalets you’d find in the swiss alps than something you’d find in other parts of rural Malaysia. I would certainly compare the Highlands to Dalat in atmosphere and general look and feel. Food is obviously a huge thing here just like in Dalat, with hugely vibrant fruit markets and farms, selling an abundance of fresh fruits you seldom see in Asia normally (apples and strawberries, rather than pineapple and mango).

By the time we arrived in Tanah Rata we got exactly what we expected; a small highland town with the proper local delicacies we had hoped for. Our driver dropped us at 8 Mentigi Guest House after a request for a cheap place to stay. At 25 Ringit a night for a bed this was one of the cheapest places we stayed in Malaysia (less than a tenner a night for 2 beds is pretty damn good)! The owner was super helpful, filling us with knowledge about hikes, plantations, and other activities to keep us occupied, and the other staff were simply hilarious. To top it all off, the location was perfect, literally minutes from the main strip but far enough to give us a good night sleep.

We didn’t plan to spend too long in the Highlands; most people we spoke to recommended two full days, which sounded perfect. Kelly and myself and our new travel buddy Frank planned a hike the following day up to the second highest point in the highlands, avoiding the costly tours ushering hoards of tourists around the same sites over and over again. I’m so glad we did this! Not only did we save the best part of $30 doing this, but we had a unique experience on our own without dozens of other people. There are a number of hikes around the highland for all abilities, spanning the jungle areas of the land, or through the rolling tea plantations. We opted for jungles, meaning we could dedicate the following day to plantations. The hike was so worth it! We opted for a number of hikes straight from the center of the town, meaning we would get a number of the routes done in one day, peaking about 2/3 of the way through the trek. Now, we’ve done a bunch of hikes in Asia, so we sort of knew what we were letting ourselves in for, and this was no different to so many we’ve done. The trails were certainly overgrown, and pretty much non existent at points, or offered a number of ‘wrong turns’ that could have got us stuck in the highlands for days. Perhaps my favorite part of these treks though is the fact the unearthed roots effectively act as steps up mountains. This hike didn’t let us down and was made up predominantly of just this! I would certainly not say it was the easiest hike of my life, but it was fun none the less. Doing it with great people obviously helped! At the summit (about 1800m up) we had some awesome views over the highlands and a nice stop to catch our breath and rehydrate before enduring the ‘tougher route’ down. A word of warning for any novice hikers in Asia. If someone says it’s tough here, it probably means its really tough! The decline the whole way back was quite simply insane! It reminded us quite a bit of some of the hike we did in Cambodia, which involved abseiling down a dried up waterfall. Whilst no ropes were involved this time (only bamboo ropes), it was pretty tough on the ol’ knees and feet. Still, a great day out!

The next day, we hired a bike to explore the surrounding areas and obviously, the tea plantations. Spending the day driving around this area was such a joy, especially as the windy and undulating roads were up there as some of the most fun to ride in Asia! We stopped at 2 of the larger tea companies plantations, Royal Plantation Tea and Boh Tea (the largest tea manufacturer in Malaysia; it’s basically a posher PG tips). Whilst the first plantation was rather small, Boh was a total monster, and you could tell in the offering of their tourist services. Royal tea had a tiny tea shop and restaurant, whilst Boh had a museum, live working factory for drying and packaging (they do everything internally rather than outsourcing to other companies), a cafe with some of the nicest views in the whole area, and a wonderful shop offering a huge array of fruit, ice, and loose leaf teas. If you’re ever here, i highly recommend the Boh plantation to get a real idea of what’s involved, and what some of the better teas can taste like (try the mango fruit tea; it’s a total winner!) The rest of the day consisted of exploring the surrounding hills on the bike, and again, was a total joy. I can definitely see why there’s such a pull here for tourists.

I couldn’t not mention the food up here, which was a total shock to us all. I’d go as far as saying we had some of the best Indian, Nonya, and Malay food we’ve had in all of Malaysia in the Highlands! Discovering some of the local secrets is all part of the fun. Special shout out to these guys. This deaf couple run a small street food restaurant that’s only open till 5pm, serving Malay food cooked fresh to orer. Their hospitality was so good, we went back 3 times in the end. Plus to make things better right next door is a family restaurant selling the best Satay beef and Chicken we’ve had since Thailand! Seriously, go there; you won’t be disappointed.

So that was it for the Highlands. It was definitely worth the journey, and i’m so glad we made the effort to get there. We had planned to head to Borneo, but now we’re at the end of our trip, the purse strings are being pulled tighter than usual, so we simply couldn’t justify a near $400 trip there and back for a few days. We traveled back to KL to have one last day with our buddy Cadmon. In true Cadmon fashion, he took us on a couple of food odysseys, consisting of a monster night market never normally seen by western tourists, a top notch dimsum restaurant, and a traditional stop off selling congee (a kind of chicken rice porridge; believe me it’s nicer than it sounds). It’s been so great linking up with someone we met so long ago now on their home turf and getting a real feel for life here not always seen by tourists.

Our time in Malaysia is up sadly. It’s been wonderful and so much more than we expected. Malaysia really is the perfect example of multiculturalism in action, and other nations (including the UK) could learn so much from it. The sights, the food, the people, and the culture are all wonderful, and i’ll genuinely miss being here! But it can’t last forever. We’re now in our final country for the last month of our trip; the Philippines! Hopefully the weather stays on our side (it’s Typhoon season here) so we can really enjoy this last part of our trip.

Langkawi and the Perhentian Islands- Paradise lost 

After such a great few days in Penang, we took others advice and made the short journey to Langkawi, a collection of a hundred or so islands north of Malaysia and basically on the boarder of Thailand (arguably it’s actually over the land boarder at points but still Malaysian territory). We did the journey with Cormac, our new travel buddy who is seemingly doing the same route as us in Malaysia at the same time. He was meeting a lady friend Belinda at our hostel, so we’d have another member of our group for a few days. 
Langkawi is a popular weekend destination for locals we were later to discover. Not only because it’s bloody beautiful, but because it’s a tax free island! Apparently this is somewhat historic; something to do with a promise made by a ruling leader years ago to never tax the land, that’s stuck in place. In more recent years this has obviously resulted in areas becoming a full on tourist trap, and Langkawi now boasts an airport, the largest aquarium in Asia, a number of very upmarket (and eyewateringly expensive) hotels, and obviously, a bunch of activities to please the masses. This, as a budget conscious backpacker didn’t interest us massivey; most of the activities on offer would easily decimate our £15 a day each budget within merely looking at what’s on offer. Because of this, we bypassed the Sheraton and four seasons hotels, and stayed at a great little place just off the super touristy road, offering everything we needed for about £14 a night. Result!

Imagine a super touristy road in any country. You’ve all seen them. The buzz of Khao San Road in BKK, the main strip in Ibiza, spots around parliament square in London. Langkawi had one too that ticked all the boxes, massively overpriced food, dozens of shops selling utter shite with a 200% markup, a number of bars trying to out do each other with their touristic enticements, the works. On our first night we hired scooters and rode up said street in true Asian fashion (the wrong way up a one way street) to see if we just got a bad first impression. We didn’t, it was shite, end of. To add to our entertainment, an obviously new to Asia Aussie traveller and her partner looked aghast when they spotted us and shouted ‘what you doing???? It’s a one way!!’ Welcome to Asia my dear! 

So after effectively deciding that we’d avoid this strip like the plague, and subsequently we’d be missing out many of the tourist laden activities, we set a plan for the next few days to hunt out many of the free activities that were available. Fortunately, Langkawi is blessed with some absolutely glorious topography, beaches, waterfalls, lookouts, and roads so this wasn’t too difficult! 

In the end, the four of us agreed we should probably do the SkyCab, the number one attraction on Langkawi. It’s also one of the steepest cable cars in the world, and the views from the top are supposed to be pretty amazing. As soon as we arrived here, it was apparent this is a SERIOUS tourist spot, with almost a mini theme park surrounding the site offering everything from 4d cinemas, amusement arcades, a very weird 3D art museum, even go karting! Obviously none of that really appealed so we didn’t pay any extra for those, but gained entrance to some as part of our 55Ringit entrance fee (about £10, so an expensive commitment immediately sending us over budget for the day). More on those activities later though. From my perspective the SkyCab was really worth it. The views from the top were pretty spectacular, with lookouts at 3 different points overlooking pretty much the whole island. The views were definitely impressive, and made even more impressive once we also did the sky walk, the worlds highest single suspension point bridge. This spot offered equally impressive views across the hundred or so islands dotted across the horizon. Perhaps the most impressive thing for me was the water. In all the time we’ve been on the road I don’t remember water to have such an expansive turquoise hue, which made for such a beautiful site from so high up. 

Once we ventured back down the cable car, we gave the 3D art museum a go. Whilst this is clearly geared towards the younger end of the age spectrum, there were some great instalments to immerse yourself and interact with. We may have taken a few shots with some of them, once we could battle our way through the hoards of Chinese tourists who seemed totally oblivious of personal space, order and, well, anything around them at all really! 

To finish off the day, we rode to a couple of local waterfalls. The benefit of these was twofold. One, they were free, and two, they could cool us down! The first required a bit of a hike but was totally worth it, greeting us with a natural water slide and beautifully naturally cooled water. At the base of the waterfall was an evidently popular local spot for a dip, with a huge number of locals tourists enjoying the various spots to get drenched. This was a very impressive waterfall, with probably 100ft from summit to base. God I love a good waterfall! 

The following day, the four of us donned our bikes, and spent the day riding around the island, exploring the more unseen areas off the beaten track. Cormac identified a hill we could drive up, which evidently turned out to be the highest point in Langkawi. After a fairly arduous ride for about 45 minutes we made it to the top, paid our £2 to enter the lookout for even more impressive views than the day before! The panoramic views, matched with a clear day free of overcasting clouds made for a great view of the whole island and surrounding islands, and was totally worth it. One issue though to finish this off; I was basically out of fuel! We had to freewheel the best part of 12k back to the main road down the mountain, only tapping the throttle to get us up the larger inclines, before praying to the petroleum gods we’d make it to the closest fuel stop, a good 10k away. I’ve mentioned many times the infrastructure in Malaysia is immensely better than other Asian countries we’ve visited, and sometimes this brings with it a downside. In Cambodia or Indonesia, the primary method of filling up your bike is from a small roadside stall with litres of petrol in old vodka bottles. These tended to be everywhere but here, totally non existent. Hunting out one of the half dozen petrol stations on Langkawi always involved a drive, but unfortunately for us these were all in totally the wrong direction! Regardless, we made it, filled up, said our goodbyes to Cormac and Belinda (both catching a boat to mainland that afternoon), and went about our day. Then we found this. 

This is what I really love about backpacking. You hire a bike, just ride randomly around the area you’re in, and discover hidden gems totally off the tourist track just like this beach. Honestly, at this point we could have been on a near deserted Thai island, as we only shared the beach with about a dozen other people. Obviously, we made full use of this and stayed for a good couple of hours, soaking in the vitamin D and great views. 

That was really the end of excitement for us in Langkawi. We had two more days there, but spent one by the pool undertaking much needed life admin, and another totally rained in. Sadly these things happen, but in the near 300 days we’ve been on the road now we’ve had surprisingly few like this. 
Next stop was the Perhentian islands off the north east coast of mainland Malaysia. We set off in the afternoon, and after a fairly arduous collection of journeys (boat/bus/boat/boat), including a 3.30am arrival in the middle of nowhere, we finally made it! Kelly and I had heard a bunch about these islands, but still didn’t really know what to expect apart from ‘they are stunning;just go’. First impressions weren’t far off. The crystal clear water was a beautiful turquoise colour with clear visibility all the way to the bottom. Plus there were monitor lizards everywhere which is really cool. 

This one was a baby. Some were basically dinosaurs
Mixing this with stunning soft white sand and some spectacular sea life surrounding the shores you could imagine yourself to be in paradise again. 

One problem though; tourism is destroying this place. 

You see it all over the world. A place becomes popular because of a new lonely planet review, a few famous instagrammers posting stunning photos at a now iconic spot, or a shitty TV show goes somewhere, and suddenly it’s the new spot to visit. Over the past year, we’ve heard so many times that place X is ‘what Y used to be like before it became touristic’ and sadly, the perhentians falls into the category of being overrun by tourism now. The main beach on the smaller island, Kecil, is literally laden with small shacks blaring reggae from water damaged PA speakers, selling paint stripper bottles of rum/whiskey, overpriced beers, and crap quality food laden with monosodium glutamate and E numbers (the regulations in Malaysia on flavour enhancers appear to be non existent so the processed foods are nearly all full with such chemicals). Accommodation here ranges from tents you pay £12 a night for the pleasure of,  to pretty crappy quality DIY chalets you pay an arm and a leg for, and finishing with the new array of villas at the few opulent hotel complexes that I imagine cost hundreds or thousands a night. 

The type of place we stayed on our first couple of nights
Whilst the beach is beautiful, it’s not big, and is totally overrun with small passenger boats. Walking down the beach is akin to walking along a minefield whilst you spend your time dodging the anchors dug into the shallow waters or sand, broken whiskey bottles dead coral or rubbish. Add to that the constant smell of petrol from the over choked boat motors constantly whirring guests in and out, the percussive rattle of the generators powering every beach front stall (there’s no grid system here, all the power is from generators, and most accommodation only has power during evenings), finding a quiet, quaint, and peaceful spot can be somewhat of a challenge. Perhaps the most upsetting thing on this island was the rubbish. There’s no infrastructure for dealing with the vast amount of rubbish that is generated from so many people, so the resorts, restaurants, hotels and guesthouse just seem to dump, burn, or hide everything. Sewage pipes could be seen running straight into the sea all over the island, or running along the coastal edge from one establishment to another. I discovered at another hotel complex we walked though, they just dumped most of the cans and plastic under the main building out of the view of guests, before carting off into the island later on to burn. For someone who cares deeply about the environment, and has made a real concerted effort to be a sustainable traveler wherever possible, this was deeply upsetting. To top it all off, there is no drinkable water on the island, so you are forced to drink water shipped in from mainland in plastic bottles. I dread to think how many thousands of bottles are disposed of every month, and how easy it would be to combat this in a few simple steps.   

Long beach probably contains about half a dozen dive shops too, obviously appealing to the young clientele keen to dip their proverbial toes in the water and to get a cheap PADI qualification. Everyone I spoke to undertaking the courses seemed really happy with the quality of the courses, training and support, and the price was certainly en par with the outrageously good value found in Koh Tao, widely known as one of the cheapest places to learn to dive in the world. I think it’s safe to say if you want to learn to dive during the day for cheap, party at night, have a short term bender on an island, and cook yourself a little in a state of permanent hangover, this is a great place to be! 

Having said all that, we didn’t partake in any of these activities, yet we still bloody loved it here. 

The problem with places like this that they become so overrun with tourism (and lame tourism too) is escaping it can be a real challenge. But when you do, it can be totally blissful. After two nights staying near long beach we made the move to the other side of the island. This much quieter and more tranquil side still boasted a number of dive shops, hotels and small beach from restaurants. Move beyond the beach however, and you can find basic yet idyllic chalets for dirt cheap, which feel like they are in the middle of nowhere. We managed to get a chalet overlooking the islands and sea for about 70MR (£13) a night; a pretty decent price for this island. The beauty of this spot though was definitely it’s tranquility. One evening we watched a somewhat cloudy sunset whilst reading on our balcony, and felt like no one else was around. The reggae battles from the other side of the island were totally inaudible, the party scene non existent, and the stress levels depleted. 

After moving to the other side, we spent a day exploring the area, discovered an almost secluded beach or two that looked ideal for snorkeling, and decided to head back the next day. The sea was so calm it almost looked like glass, and being so clear we had ideal conditions for a few hours out exploring under the sea. Whilst we didn’t see any turtles, we did spot some very cool looking schools of fish, the biggest trigger fish I’ve ever seen (seriously, this guy was a monster, and probably would have taken a toe off if he’d come for me), a number of needle fish, blue spotted stingray and a small group of baby black tip reef sharks nestling in by the shallow rocks. Overall, pretty awesome! 

Once we found our secluded little spots, we didn’t do a great deal. Days consisted of reading, snorkelling, sunbathing, and that’s pretty much it, but that’s really all we wanted from these islands. 

I guess it’s inevitable and unavoidable really; somewhere is discovered and word spreads, local micro economies naturally tap into increased demand by creating offerings for impending tourists, normally trying to squeeze the most out of profit margins, and before you know it you’re basically in Magaluf, or a stupidly expensive resort. Part of the fun of backpacking on a budget is definitely hunting out the unknown spots where you can live a frugal yet satisfying existence for very little. Sadly the Perhentians probably aren’t that spot anymore (although we did manage to just about stay in our £15 each a day budget, but only just), but it’s certainly not geared up perfectly for those of a slightly more budget conscious disposition. There are so many islands off the Malaysian coast, I’m sure most are equally as stunning with equally as clear and warm water. I just wish we had longer to explore more of them. 

Penang- A dream for foodies and photographers

So after the best part of a week in KL we decided to head to a slightly more chilled part of Malaysia, yet equally as infamous. Penang is a small island about five hours north of KL, made famous for its relaxed island life feeling whilst also having enough infrastructure and services to keep a homesick westerner happy. More importantly though, Georgetown is here!
Georgetown is without a doubt the most famous area in Penang, and for good reason too. The capital of the Penang state became a UNESCO world heritage site in 2008 due to its historic architecture and historical value (it was the landing point of colonialism in Malaysia). If you walked down the streets and just looked at the architecture, there’s no way you’d ever think you’re in Asia, the buildings look way more suited to pre war European dwellings, all offering slats over the windows, almost Victorian style decor inside, high ceilings and vaulted entrances. Whilst some look pretty run down this just adds to the experience for me. Whilst this is wonderful to experience from the outside the inside can have its downsides. The UNESCO status effectively means many of the buildings are listed, so no internal or external changes can be made. For hotels looking for workarounds, this often results in rooms made out of semi permanent plywood, with no permanent fixtures (like lights for example), super creaky floors and windows that never shut. We managed to endure this for one night before feeling like we were getting a raw deal, and checked into a hostel with quite the reputation.

We ended up moving to Tipsy Tiger party hostel. The clue should have been in the name really. This place offered free breakfast, free drinks, a bunch of drinking games and incentives for all residents (which ended up being rather deadly), and normally ended with being up way too late, spending way too much money, and having a hangover from hell the next day. Fortunately I didn’t partake in the spending too much, but did milk the free drinks for all they were worth, so had to endure the headache to end all headaches once or twice. ANYWAY, this is definitely not the reason we came here, I just wanted to highlight this is a great place to meet people and blow off some stream!

Georgetown is known for three things in particular. Incredible street food, street art, and architecture, but there is so much more here to please any kind of tourist. More on that later though. We spent our first day hunting out the famous street art. What’s worth noting here, is there is so much more then what’s commonly advertised in lonely planet guides. It’s really worth spending a day exploring everywhere rather than just following a street art map, as there’s such a great mix of styles around the city. This was just on the end of our hostel road for example, but wasn’t advertised anywhere!We’ve seen some great street art on our travels, but this art seemed to blend into the surroundings so much more than other places. Of course, everyone hunting out the street art HAS to pose in the cliche manner, so I decided to do things differently (obviously). 

Sorry, I couldn’t resist 😳. I did take some normal ones though..

So, the following day we tried to find some of the lesser known tourist type activities that didn’t cost an arm and a leg with our new room mate Cormac (we actually met in KL and happened to be sharing a room here). Starting the day at the chocolate and coffee museum was a massive let down. Essentially this is an overpriced shop with a room describing the production process.

One of the only interesting parts of the chocolate museum
Feeling totally underwhelmed we wandered to the floating part of the city. This is essentially a bunch of houses on a jetty. It was great exploring the small alcoves and alleys all precariously perched over the water, but what really astounded us was the ingenuity of the structural engineering! I mean check this out!

Sadly I suspect quite a lot of this is also human excrement
Following this we caught an uber to the north of the island to explore the tropical spice garden. Now this was a great find! Essentially it’s a chunk of the national park edge that’s dedicated entirely to showing off the stunning array of plants, herbs and spices that grow in Malaysia. Penang was originally formed as part of the spice trade route, so obviously this was a huge part of the garden. Wow, what a place! I never thought I’d enjoy walking around a garden so much! In particular, it was great to see the raw form of so many plants I frequently use in Asian cooking, but had no idea what the plant or tree looked like! We spent a good two hours here at least enjoying the coffee and tea plantations, spice gardens, whole areas dedicated to palm and bamboo, and even a section on deadly plants before heading back to the city to decimate the street food.

I can’t stress this enough, the street food here is something else, and in huge abundance. You could spend a month here and not eat at every stall that’s for sure! We used our own top tips for street food selection (eat where the locals queue) to get what we hoped would be the best, and I’d like to think we did rather well. That night the three of us shared so many snacks and dishes, in an attempt to enjoy as much as possible. We had everything from noodle broths, Laksa, satay, fried spring rolls, Malaysian deserts, and my personal favourite, named granny fried oyster (basically an omelette fried with clams, no grannies were harmed in the making of this omelette). What a great way to end a great day! 

It should be said that the food options in Georgetown are in no ways limited to the street food, which only really comes alive at night. Down every street there’s something magical to be found, and just like in KL the smaller districts like chinatown and little India offer some real gems. During our five days in Georgetown we went on a few voyages of discovery for the best local food, and found quite a few. The absolute show stoppers for me we’re both in little India, one place only serving tandoori chicken and biryani (arguably the best tandoori chicken I’ve ever had, even beating India!) and another selling pandan thali for about £1.20 for effectively all you can eat. If Indian cuisine isn’t your thing, there are hundreds of eateries around, and I’d challenge you to find a bad feed. It really is worth a trip to Penang just to eat your way across it! You’ll need a while though….

Even the street art relates to food!

Some Bangin Tandoori chicken

Indian sweets just like mama used to make (in India)

The best Chinese food I had in Penang
After so much eating (and drinking) the three of us agreed some exercise was needed, as well as actually exploring a wider part of the island! We got a cab to the national park, and undertook the hike to the turtle sanctuary directly through the park. The lady at the entrance told us this was the tougher hike, but totally rewarding. She wasn’t wrong! The hike was nothing in comparison to Rinjani (no volcanoes involved this time) but was a slog none the less, especially as we didn’t set off until the midday sun was at it hottest. We never learn… after two hours of rather interesting terrain we made it to the beach. At this point it all became worth it! What a stunning and secluded beach! Only accessible via boat or via the jungle, we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves! Later, we managed to hitch a boat ride to another beach called monkey beach which was equally as beautiful! Malaysia seems to have beautifully white beaches (albeit fairly coarse) but the water is a beautiful pale blue unlike any I’ve seen elsewhere. It’s really all rather lovely. 

So in a nutshell, that was our five days in Penang. Totally worth the trip, but I wish we had longer to explore other parts of this island. It’s definitely got its own character and I can why there’s such a strong tourism pull. Our next stop is as far north as we can go without being in Thailand, the island group of Langkawi!

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!