Gili Islands- Part of the furniture

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

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

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

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

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

Clever move guys….

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

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

New Zealand, North island: The land of the long white cloud ☁️ 🇳🇿 

This is a really tough blog to write, especially as I feel like we’ve seen and done so much in the past couple of weeks exploring the North island. New Zealand is a country I’ve always been fascinated by. I’m not really sure why to be honest, apart from I’ve always really liked the idea of going somewhere where you can ski in the morning and surf in the evening. Whilst New Zealand does offer this (you’re never further than 100km from the ocean here) it offers so much more; way more than I can cover in a single post. I’ll start by saying this: THIS COUNTRY IS AMAZING. 

We’ve been exploring in our trusty camper, who we’ve nicknamed Leroy (for no reason really, just because). Our trusty steed has been our accommodation, kitchen and home the past couple of weeks and he’s done us proud every step of the way. Whilst I’m somewhat biased clearly, I can’t really imagine exploring this awesome country any other way! It’s so nice having the freedom to literally park up or go anywhere as we please. What I can say straight away is I wish we had more time (and money) here; 40 days to do both islands clearly won’t be enough! 

New Zealand is so well known for its array of adrenaline fuelled activities, but I honestly think the thing I’ve enjoyed more is the landscape. This place is mesmerising at every turn! The mountain ranges that cover the majority of the country are absolutely breathtaking. At so many points I felt like I was in a country totally untouched by mankind, there really are so many points where all you can see is countryside, mountain range, beach or river. Both Kelly and I have had to rack our brains constantly to find a word to replace “wow” as we are both saying it way too much. Seriously, you cannot fathom the beauty of this place unless you see it with your own eyes. 

We had just over 2 weeks to see as much of the North Island as possible. Although NZ is minuscule in comparison to its big brother next door, driving around isn’t a quick exercise. The roads meander up, down and around and through the mountain ranges making 10km take 30 mins in some cases at a push. The roads are all maintained exceptionally well, but being in a converted VW van with an extra 200kg of worktop, kitchen and beds dumped in slowed us down somewhat. Regardless, driving around NZ is an experience in itself. These are by far the most enjoyable and visually pleasing roads I’ve ever driven hands down. If you ever asked me to drive a minimum of 4 hours a day anywhere else I’d tell you to do one! Here I’d go as far as saying it’s utterly enjoyable (apart from in Auckland, that just reminded me of my dreary daily commute up the a12 to work!). On one of our first days, we drove up and down a bunch of monsterous mountains, through a rainforest (where we stopped to see one of the oldest and biggest trees in NZ), across an old glacial flat, alongside rivers containing some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen, along the spine of a peninsula parallel to a beach spanning 90miles, and finishing up the day sleeping out overlooking a vineyards sloping farms. You just don’t get that anywhere else! We both said separely we feel like we’ve driven through about 5 different countries and two film sets in one day on more than one occasion! There are far too many photos to put up of the landscapes, but I’ll do my best. 

Anyway enough of the driving. This is what we’ve been up to the last 15 days. 

Auckland/Browns bay

We had a couple of mates to meet up with who are also traveling. They were staying with a mate who had co ownership of a bar in an Auckland suburb. Meeting up for a quick pint resulted in a night on the sauce indulging in some pretty fantastic food and spending more in one night than we did at any point in all of Asia; a good way to start NZ clearly! The following day we tested our freedom camping (free camping basically) and parked here, attempting to remove any hint of jet lag and just soaked in this for a view! 


The day after we explored the coastline with a rather hungover Oli, had a dip in the sea (slightly colder than Thailand) before starting our trip further up north towards 90 mile beach and the most northern point of the country. To break up the journey, we stayed at a brewery called Hallertau, a fantastic brewers with an equally good restaurant and bar. The next day, we endured the 6 or so hour to hit the cape, and stopped to see the biggest tree in NZ; this thing was HUGE at nearly 3m radius and 50m tall.


 We were fortunate enough to stay at a boutique vineyard overlooking the cape. We obviously had to enjoy a bottle of their vino and ended up chatting to the owner of the vineyard all night. Pretty awesome 😀. 

Cape Reinga/90 mile beach. 

90 mile beach isn’t actually 90 miles sadly; l have no idea why it’s called that. Regardless it’s pretty bloody long! In fact it’s the longest peninsula in NZ, and ends at cape Reinga, a sacred Maori area where it’s believed spirits of the dead sail off to the motherland (called Hawaiki). Cape Reinga is also the most northern point of New Zealand, there’s literally nothing out from the cape for thousand of miles, and we couldn’t have been much further away from the UK at this point. 

When we got to the cape, there was actually a traditional Maori funeral ceremony being held there. Obviously we didn’t get involved or watch/ film, but it was quite a sight to witness. One thing I love about the Maori culture is its connection to wildlife and nature, and this was even more apparent during the ceremony. 

After an hour or so enjoying the sites of the cape we drove back down the beach to another astonishing site; sand dunes! Now I didn’t expect anything to match the dunes I’ve experienced in the UAE but these were damn impressive, especially when sandwiched between beautiful green mountain ranges and a stunning coastline stretching as far as you can see! This was definitely something that couldn’t be missed. Kelly and I obviously boarded down the dunes (I may have climbed the biggie too and jumped down that at full pelt). What a cracking thing to do, and the sites over the highest dune were something else! To finish up this end of the trip, we drove to another peninsula (Karikari) to ensure we were close to Waitangi for the national celebrations the following day. 



 Waitangi (Waitangi day)


We were really fortunate to be in Waitangi for Waitangi Day, a kiwi national holiday celebrating the birth of New Zealand following the signing of the treaty between the Brits and Maori. We were somewhat warned off experiencing this celebration at Waitangi as (according to locals) it’s rife with protest normally. To be honest if this was classified as protest I’d challenge the locals to go to any major city around the world and see what’s going on right now! Yes there was some obvious resentment to this new era of New Zealand but I’d hardly call anything protest! Overall, the day was filled with brilliant cultural experiences, including traditional song and dance, obviously the haka, and Maori tribes bringing the traditional boats (waka) into the shore. This was a great thing to witness and really gave us an insight into traditional Maori culture. Below are a few videos I captured of the activities. 

To finish off a cracking day out with even better weather, we drove further down the coast to a neighbouring town to experience some more history. We stumbled across the oldest British built stone building and an area that was once a Maori settlement, before settling in for the night ahead of another day of driving. 

Coromandel peninsula 

This peninsula is famous for the ocean drive and its stunning beaches. It certainly didn’t disappoint! We drove pretty much the east and west coast of the peninsula, only just missing the tip due to time constraints. Again the sights experienced on this drive were unforgettable. It was another classic of every turn we took we were blown away once again. 

Along the peninsula is a famous beach called hot water beach. This part of the north island is the start of the geothermal highway, where hot pools and geysers are pretty commonplace. On this beach, if you dig a hole, you’ll quickly burn your feet with super heated water! The common activity here is to dig a jacuzzi sized hole and mix sea water with the hot stuff to make a comfortable pool. Sadly this is only really possible at certain points during the day when the tide is right, and due to turning weather we got it wrong: instead we had to accept a casual burning of our feet in the rain. Regardless it was quite a thing to experience! To finish up a long day of driving we headed to cathedral cove, another must see piece of landscape, hoping to start the following day with a hike along the shore. Sadly, the weather turned on us again, so we got stuck in the camper enduring a thoroughly soggy evening. The weather stayed like this the majority of the following morning so we abandoned plans and got on the road again.  



Hamilton/Waitomo

Kelly had set a must see attraction at our next stop, the glow worm caves in Waitomo. 

En route, we stopped In a tiny city called Hamilton, mainly to get a feel for a generic kiwi city. As I said, this place is Tiny! By English standards it would be a small town, and definitely smaller than my home town of Colchester! Regardless, we had a nice wander around getting a feel for the place, which is soon to host a two week arts festival, something we’d both have loved to have experienced. After killing a couple of hours we drove straight to the caves. 

These historic caves are honestly like looking up at the stars, and are definitely a unique experience! The glow worms illuminate the caves with a wonderful blue/green Hue that covers the whole ceiling and obviously shine beautifully bright when in total darkness. We actually rode through the caves on a small man powered boat in complete silence which really added to the experience. Sadly no photos allowed in the caves but this is what it looked like. 

Cambridge 

Considering we both met, studied, worked and lived in Cambridge, we had to really! Cambridge (NZ) is actually the equine and cycling capital of NZ, and even has its own velodrome! We were here to meet Kelly’s old school friend Becks though, who emigrated a few years back and is now married with two kids. After a night camped by a picturesque lake we ventured back to Cambridge to meet her. 

It was great to find out more about life in NZ and in Cambridge, and to spend time with the wee family. We actually ended up having a night out on the town, enjoying far too many drinks at a cracking craft beer bar. Needless to say my head hurt somewhat the following day. Oh well, more fun to be had! 

Hobbiton

I’M GOING ON AN ADVENTURE!!

Now I’ve got that out my system



Time I got my geek on! Obviously if you’re in the north island you have to stop here. When the Hobbit trilogy was made, the entire set of hobbiton was permanently rebuilt to size. They’ve done such a great job making this set so lifelike, they even employ three full time gardeners to keep the place looking tidy, and growing the monster pumpkins like you see in the initial scenes of the first hobbit movie. 


It’s quite ridiculous that all of this was done just to film for about ten seconds, but I’m glad they did. Visiting hobbiton was definitely a must do on the list, even if it was experienced slightly hungover 😵 


Rotorua 

The land of the geothermal wonders! Rotorua is famous for geothermal activity like acidic pools and geysers, traditional Maori activities, and fun stuff like Zorbing! It should also be famous for being the smelliest place on earth! Sadly we couldn’t afford to do all the fun (story of our life out here) but did we manage to experience the cultural wonders in the town. Bizarrely, an old friend from high school who now lives in Queenstown just happened to be sat at a bar on eat street with her family, so we agreed to do some stuff together the next day. We agreed to head to Te Puia, a sacred Maori site that is made up of geysers and a traditional Maori arts workshops. The stuff that is carved out of wood is pretty spectacular, and it’s great to see the art form kept alive by sites like this. The array of geysers are obviously very impressive too!


As we’ve obviously had far too many days doing far too many strenuous activities 😜 we booked into a geothermal spa just outside the town called Waikite valley (in our defence we only spent a night here as it was only $10 more than a normal paid camp site). What a cool thing to do though! There were 6 different pools all using the naturally heated (and cooled) mineral water. Out of the ground, the water is at boiling point so has to be naturally cooled via waterways etc. We spent a good few hours getting wrinkley the night we arrived and the next morning; bliss! 


The following day we had booked onto a Maori cultural evening with a company called Tamaki. From the moment we got on the bus to the site we were having a great time. Our bus driver was the most entertaining I’ve ever endured and had the whole bus in stitches! The rest of the evening consisted of experiencing a traditional welcome ceremony, learning to do the haka (badly ill admit), learning about traditional Maori dance, and enjoying a feast cooked in a traditional hangi (I am so building one of these when I grow up. Overall it was a brilliant evening that I’d highly recommend to anyone visiting rotorua 

 

Taupo

Sadly our time in Taupo was cut somewhat short thanks to another bout of bad weather. We were hoping to spend a couple of days here but we arrived to wet weather and only had one day of predicted clear skies the following day, so had to change our plans. regardless, taupo is a cool place. Lake Taupo was formed after a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago; its the size of Singapore! Seriously, you can’t fathom the size of this place. Whilst we didn’t really get to enjoy the area properly, it was great to experience the black sand beaches and strangely enough, the black swans and ducks! Bit weird…. en route to taupo we stopped off at a local recommendation, Hukka falls. This rapid area is flodded with hundreds of thousands of litres of water a minute thanks to a dam system further up stream. The water was a beautiful blue Hue and it’s really quite a sight! See for yourself below. 


Tongariro Alpine Crossing 

This is without a doubt the highlight of my time in New Zealand so far, and the reason why we had to abandon taupo. We’ve done some tough hikes to date on this trip, but this won the award for the steepest and generally most impressive! 

This hike was made globally famous (to those not into hiking) from the lord of the rings movies, as mount Doom and mordor scenes were filmed here. After getting agreement from Kelly to spend Valentine’s Day here (seems the perfect way to me) we spent the day hiking across some of the most unique and breathtaking landscapes in New Zealand. This was totally out of this world! At points we felt like we were on the surface of mars, at others we were in Australian bush, then quite simply stomping up an active volcano (or 3)! 14 miles, 1km of elevation, and 6.5 hours later we’d completed this epic hike and felt very proud of ourselves! Again, if you ever visit NZ, you HAVE TO DO THIS! 


Wellington 

After a full day of driving, we hit our final spot on the north island. This is by far the quietest capital city I’ve ever been to! Seriously, we drove in and didn’t even realise it! Regardless, Wellington is a really cool city. We spent an afternoon on the waterfront enjoying the local activities like open air salsa classes and very cool bars and restaurants. To be honest the waterfront itself, let alone the inner city is beautiful in itself and well worth an explore. It all hinted of a quiet waterfront area of London, but maybe 20 years ago. Either way, a very nice place to base ourselves for a couple days. I was lucky enough to meet up with two mates from the UK at different points. It’s such a nice experience; meeting up with people you haven’t seen for years on the other side of the globe. 


The museum in Wellington is another must visit site. I’d go as far as saying it’s probably the best free museum I’ve ever been to! On our first day in the city, we stopped into the ground floor to get a feel for the place, and saw some fantastic exhibitions all about the local and unique wildlife, flora and fauna, geology and landscapes. To top this off they’ve also got a real collossal squid on show, and a full exhibition on how they came to capture it (it was dead before capture, don’t worry). The following day we explored the incredibly harrowing and unique exhibition on the kiwi involvement in world war 1. This included some incredibly detailed models of those who fought that stood well over 10ft tall, alongside all the emotive displays about the atrocities that occurred. The whole museum was absolutely stunning; yet another must see. 

So as you can see, we’ve had a terrible time here so far! In all seriousness, I’m utterly blown away. I have full on caught the kiwi bug and can see why so many others do too! Even when hacking it down this place still seems to be somewhat stunning (I’m sure sun worshiper sweeney would disagree). I can’t wait to see what the South Island brings, as friends who have done it say it raises the bar yet again with natural beauty

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

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

Ao Nang

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

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

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

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

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

Koh Lanta

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

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

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

Koh PhiPhi 

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

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

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

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

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

Saigon- A home away from home

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

​ Varanasi- An atheist abroad

Okay so the title may be misleading, I’m basically atheist, but I don’t tend to define as atheist as I’m not that clear cut for me. I believe that science can explain way more than religion can, as has been proven time and time again from my perspective. I believe religion has many benefits to society, but sadly from my perspective these are generally overshadowed by the turmoil that surround most, especially with regards to the wars and attacks we seem to witness daily across the globe now. I would never go as far as saying these things wouldn’t happen if religion wasn’t a thing, but I do believe we’d be in a very different world and sadly in some ways,coffee the better. For me, religions set clear principles and values that when adhered to (to a point) can shape a fantastic society, and a happy community, and improve societies. Obviously, though, there’s a flip side to that as well.
I’ve always been interested in theology, but not really studied it in great detail. Coming from an atheist family, but marrying an Irish Catholic girl and my family moving to. country in the Middle East my exposure to Islam and Catholicism has increased exponentially over the years. Plus, I’m now very much at that age where I’m spending more in time in churches for weddings and christenings, and sadly far too often, funerals, so the impact religion has become more commonplace in my life.
“Why the bloody hell are you chatting about religion Matt, this is a travel blog!?”
For those that don’t know, Varanasi is the most holy city in all of India. It’s history dates back thousands of years, and millions of Hindus make a pilgrimage to the holy city every year. Hindus believe that if you are cremated and released into the Ganges River (River Ganga) you will break the cycle of reincarnation and go straight to Nirvana (minus Cobain obviously😬). For this reason there are hundreds of cremations every day at a number of burning ghats, which I’ll talk more about later.img_8261
The city isn’t just Hindu though, across the skyline of the cityscape you see the minarets at mosques dotted all over the place, and hear the choir of the call to prayer. Alongside this, a scattering of beautiful Buddhist temples. Around our hotel in the old town, we could see at least 5 mosques, and had at least 5 Buddhist and Hindu temples within our immediate vicinity (as the crow flies, it probably would have taken hours to find them on the narrow backstreets of the old town). Because of this, Varanasi has an amazing aura around it, with so many people visiting to follow emir believes alone. As you can imagine, this brings with it a true melting pot of cultures and experiences. At one time, I was walking to see the Hindi Ganges ceremony while hearing the Islamic evening call to prayer whilst walking past coach loads of Buddhist monks who were arriving for a Buddhist festival. You wouldn’t see that at the Vatican!
The city itself is amazing, truly amazing. It’s so unbelievably different from Kolkata, with car horns and traffic jams replaced with rickshaws and cows. Yep, cows. The Hindu faith regards cows as holy creatures, so they are everywhere! The labrynth-like experience of the back streets around the old town is made even more ingesting by dodging cows, cow shit, stray dogs, uneven stones for the walkways, and locals on their motorbikes. That in itself is an experience, especially when you see a couple s having an argument! Whilst the are beggars and people trying to flog you stuff everywhere, the poverty on the streets is nothing like what I saw in Kolkata. I must say these street sellers week utterly relentless, and by the end of my 4 days there I was getting rather pissed off with a few of them repeatedly trying to sell me some cheap crap or give me a hand massage. Seriously, these guys will try anything, t always use he standard chat up line of “where are you from?”
For me Varanasi is about the sights and spirituality, the spirituality being the things that’s totally alien to me

The Ghats

The ghats offer a myriad of services, but basically, they are stairs to the Ganges. There are a number of ghats in Varanasi (83 in total I believe), the most famous are the Assi Ghat (where the river Assi meets the Ganges), Dashashwamedh (where the wonderful Ganja Artii celebration is held every evening) and the Manikarnika Ghat, where the cremation ceremonies are undertaken, about 400 each day.img_4080
Each Ghat obviously offers its own experience, but my favourite had to be Dashashwamedh with the ceremonies. Every night, people gather to watch the prayers to the river Ganja, thanking it for its good givings and bringing life to the people of India. It’s without a doubt the most wonderful religious activities I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, and we were very fortunate to be there with about 10000 other guests on Ghandis birthday, and to top it off we were speaking with a Krishna throughout the before and during the ceremony about everything from Hinduism to world economics (and more importantly, the false economies and impact of gentrification on modern day society), global warming, and India on the whole. This Krishna completely went against the stereotypical “religious guy” image, and reminded me a lot of the chaplains from my old stomping ground, Anglia Ruskin (big up Nigel and Tony, you guys rock).img_8117
Many people I’ve met have talked about the burning ghats no sadly most of the focus tends to go to the smell. To be honest this didn’t bother me, but seeing the whole process was quite overwhelming and emotional, from preparing and washing the bodies, preparing the fire, placing the bodies, covering with more wood, and finally taking the ashes to the river. Even though I had no idea who was being cremated the openness was obviously alien to me, but the wealth of emotions around the area were very powerful. It’s just such a shame there are still people exploiting the ceremony by trying to catch out unaware tourists (take note people, if someone says to you they are asking for donations for the hospice, they aren’t, they are lying).

Processed with Snapseed.
Processed with Snapseed.
We spent our time at Assi Ghat watching the sun rise. We only just made it, t seeing the sun rise over the Ganges was beautiful, and following that was a fantastic yoga and meditation session run by a Krishna, definitely something I won’t forget any time soon!

I started this blog by talking about my position with religion. I can say hand on heart that Varanasi was the most spiritual place I’ve ever been. Whilst it hasn’t made me flick any internal light switches to on, it has definitely grown my interest in Hinduism, and question many of the priorities in my own life. How long that will last I don’t know but Varanasi will always hold a close place in my heart.

Two final shout outs to finish this post. The manager at our Guest House, Sanjeev, was an absolute legend. If you ever visit this wonderful city (and you should) I can’t recommend the Shivakashi guesthouse high enough. Sanjeev went out of his way on so many occasions to help us out. He got us train tickets, gave plenty of local advice on where to eat and go, and had I spoken to him sooner, would have even got us a boat ride down the Ganges, stopping us from getting ripped off! Sanjeev, if you are reading this, you truly are a legend and thank you for your help on manning our trip so special.img_8265
The final shout out goes to Matt and Charlie, a wonderful couple I met in the French bakery. We ended up chatting for about two hours about the world (they’ve been travelling a while chasing the best dove locations around Asia), and met up today as well over Lassi. We will hopefully meet up in Jaipur too if things work out. It was so nice to meet such a lovely couple who seemed to share a scary number of experiences, both whilst on the road and back home.
Sorry this is such a monster post. If you’ve made It to the end, CONGRATULATIONS! I’m sorry this is such a long one, but Varanasi really struck a chord with me, and I hope I’ve done it justice relaying that. I’m also writing this whilst on a 14 hour train journey and it’s only 9pm locally so I’m nowhere near sleepy yet! I’ll try and write something more succinct on our next stop, Agra.

What we used to help plan

The things we used

As I work in the technology world, we obviously made use of all the stuff out there. Here’s a list of stuff we made use to help plan our our route, things to do, places to stay, etc:-

Pinterest

Kelly and I got into a habit of pinning EVERYTHING we found that could be of use. We started off with a private board for the whole trip where we pinned anything that could be useful or worth reading, and when we got to a point where we had so many pins, we sub-divided by each country. The original board can be found here. My advice would be to use Pinterest, and just search for anything (for example, India Backpacking). We found loads on there; too much to actually use to be honest!

Recommendation: Start with country based boards. The process to move the posts to other boards was a mission.

YouTube

This is probably quite an obvious one to be honest, but a good ol’ search can help a huge amount.

I won’t lie, I got a little obsessed with watching videos of people vlogs in every (and I mean EVERY) county/area we are going to. I actually got to the point of watching videos of individual things we were planning, to get a good idea of what to expect and what others thought.

I found a couple of vlogs particularly useful.

HK2NY

These guys obviously had a bunch of money or got paid en route, but I really liked the videography and content. Karl is also really active on Instagram and often replies to comments. I’ve picked his brain quite a bit to be honest…

The only caveat I give here, is these guys were party animals. I accept i’m not well past it yet, but I am not really planning a trip of epic binge drinking sessions, so a lot of the stuff they do I won’t be doing. Likewise, they had about £30k for 9months, and we have nothing like that (and going for longer), so use this as a guide only.

FunForLouis

Another beautifully crafted video blog. These guys have done a similar journey to what we plan (in parts) so watching a bunch of the videos were SUPER useful. They tend to do videos every other day, so you get really nice little chunks of life on the road. Again, this is in parts NOT a realistic example of budget for a trip (I think they probably got paid/sponsored, as Louis is a big name on the scene) but I still found this really useful. This was one of my favourite videos (yes I did binge them like Netflix).

Everything else

To be honest, and as you’d expect, there are MILLIONS of videos that can help you out. I just got into searching for very specific things, which really helped me decide on specific places to see, or at least consider seeing.

Recommendations:

  • Find something/somewhere you may wanna go, and just look at the footage
  • Don’t get pent up or lost in individual ‘you must do this’ blogs. Everyone has an opinion, and opinions vary dependent on so many factors (such as your budget, who you’re with, when you go, the weather, the political situation in the local area, etc). There are so many variables no one can tell you what’s best for you, but video content is a good platform for giving you a feel of what’s worth seeing
  • Watch the relevant videos. I found loads of stuff on the recommended videos on YT that were really helpful.
  • Read the comments! Sometimes people will massively disagree with what’s in the content, and may lead you to something special. I found this quite a few times.

Couchsurfing

Whilst we haven’t actually used this yet (i.e. we haven’t stayed with anyone), we’ve used this loads to gather info, get places to stay, and more importantly, get inside knowledge. If you haven’t heard of Couchsurfing, it’s a great community site where people offer a place to stay FOR FREE. It’s not always a solo room, but if you get to meet locals, it’s probably worth doing. I signed up to Couchsurfing after a blog recommended it, so thought i’d have a go. I posted a public tour saying we’d be in India through October, and Fiji in March. Within about 2 days, I’d had about 4 invites to stay with people  in both countries. Not only did we get offers for accommodation, but we got advice just offered to us on things to do, offers for local tours, and people just offering to meet up and help out. Amazing really. We will be making way more use of this site for sure!

Recommendation: Sign up properly, check reviews of those offering to host, and don’t just say yes to the first person to offer you a place.

Others Blogs

Yeah okay, I accept this is a bit obvious, but i’ve got to include it really haven’t I? Again, I found most useful blogs via Pinterest, so recommend trying the two together.

Blogs can be a really useful tool for getting a really personal feeling for where you’re planning to go. Very much like YouTube vloggers though, you need to remember that there’s so many variables that affect someones experience of a place. Likewise, i’d recommend finding bloggers that are taking a similar approach to you on your trip away. The things I looked for were couples travelling, budget travelling and obviously the locations we’re heading to.

Couple of bloggers I’ve found particularly useful :-

Nomadic Matt

Matt’s blog feels more like a massive community of advice now. He has some awesome guest blogs that i’ve used loads (especially the ones about couples travelling).

The Broke Backpacker

Matt (the broke backpacker) has been travelling for YEARS, and done some on a skeletal budget. He’s also a bit of a legend so really worth checking out his stuff. He’s also a great fan of snapchat, and I love watching his daily adventures.

A Brit and a Broad

I’ve actually known Macca since I was a kid, so I accept i’m a bit biased here, but these guys are super knowledgeable, and I really enjoyed reading their stuff, and watching all their content. I’d also really recommend the book Macca wrote about planning your trip. Kelly read it cover to cover and found it super useful.

AirBNB

We’ve used this as a treat to be honest. Most places are out of our price range, or can be found on other sites (like Agoda, see below) but on the odd occasion it’s a bit of a treat. For example, over Diwali, we’ll be in Mumbai (Bombay). We’re using AirBNB to stay with a family who openly offered to let us join them for local madness. We are paying £120 for 4 nights, but over a national holiday in Mumbai I don’t think this is too bad (this sounds expensive for India I know, but for 2 people for 4 days it’s pretty good in Mumbai).

Recommendation: Do lots of searching. I’d recommend contacting a few people you find in a location you’re happy with. Introduce yourself properly and say what you’re about/after, then weigh up your options.

Instagram

I bloody love Instagram! It’s my favourite social network without a doubt. I’ve always loved photography, and since the boom of mobile tech i’ve effectively abandoned my SLR, as I find I can get pics just as as good, with quicker/easier/more effective editing from my phone now (I know, sorry all you avid photographers out there). For the record, all pics on this blog are taken and edited on my phone….

I searched for accounts related to places, liked the pics, and took notes. Simple really. There are so many out there, i’m not going to recommend any on here, but just have a search yourself. You’ll find loads of useful stuff. Again, check the comments!

An example is below. We got engaged in NYC in March 16 (on our anniversary) but that day we checked out Little Italy because of things I saw on Instagram and read in the comments. It was well worth it. This is a pic I snapped at the gateway.

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STA

If you’ve started planning a trip, you will have started looking at STA stuff i’m sure (if you haven’t, you should). I AM NOT SAYING BUY STUFF VIA THEM THOUGH!

I found that the STA routes gave a really good indicator of good routes & things to check out. Whilst the prices initially seemed pretty good, local advice (via things like Couchsurfing) made me realise that actually, I could get much lower prices locally. As a start, STA is really useful, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you book through them.

Recommendation: Get their booklets and go for a chat, but do more research before handing over a card!

Reddit

Don’t be afraid of Reddit if you haven’t used it before. Some of my mates thought I was doing some dodgy stuff on the dark web when I mentioned I was using it for travelling! It’s actually really useful.

Reddit is basically a bunch of forums where you can ask questions, post stuff, etc. The most useful thing for me was finding really specific subreddits about specific places I was going and asking questions about local advice. For example, I got some great advice about Fiji from people who live there. We’re going off season so wanted to check what was not going to be open, that kinda thing.

 

In no way is this list exhaustive, and I wasn’t religious in my use of any of these things, but all really helped keep my thinking organised. The great thing is, I was able to use things like Pinterest to do just that (keep my thinking organised).