Istanbul: A Bazaar Weekend

One of the best things about Istanbul is just how many cultures are visually impacting the city at any given time. Bridging the gap between Europe and Asia, the city is situated on the banks of the strategically important Bosphorus strait, known historically as a meeting point for much of the Old World’s trade. Founded in 330 AD as Constantinople, Istanbul is now a modern day gateway to experiencing a mix of religion, culture and history. One of the main reasons why I wanted to visit Istanbul for so long was due to the geographical split between Europe and Asia. The cultural riches of Europe and Asia being carefully blended with Turkish and Arabic just made the ancient city incredibly exciting to visit.

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From a traveller’s perspective, a great thing about Istanbul is that it’s ridiculously cheap. Despite only stopping in the city for 72 hours, we managed to see most of the main attractions, experience traditional Turkish activities, order more Turkish food than we could finish and try the different Turkish beers (which for an Islamic country where alcohol is against the cultural norm, were surprisingly good). However, on average we spent £170 each due to it being so cheap overall that we didn’t really care about being “proper traveller” and looking for the cheaper places only.

One important tip for travelling to Istanbul is taking steps to ensure you don’t get ripped off. A major part of this is definitely downloading the taxi app “BiTaksi”. If you want to save money then this app offers the perfect platform to do so. For example, some taxis were quoting 50 Lira when you called them off the street compared to 12 Lira when you used the app. However, you could be waiting up to 20minutes+ just to get a taxi because how Istanbul is laid out is really frustrating (not least as it’s essentially three cities built directly over each other as the centuries have progressed). As mentioned earlier, Istanbul was founded millennia ago, and the city feels like it’s just been built upon over the last 2000 years instead of properly planned out. Therefore, if you have less than 72hours in Istanbul I would recommend just spending a little bit more money on calling down a taxi and haggling with them. The key thing is you can see how much the fare would be on the app and use that to haggle a price. (Note: £1 = 7.7 Lira as of 31/5/19) A heads up on the toll road going under the Bosphorus that you take to get over to the Asian side. The toll is 23 Lira, however, taxi drivers argue so much with you that in the end, the wasted time isn’t worth the Lira you save. We got 3 taxis that took the toll and paid 40, 23 and 32.

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When we first arrived in Istanbul we decided to get a taxi from the airport to the Besiktas area. Following a recommendation from a friend, we ate breakfast at a hotel restaurant near the Bosphorus river. The restaurant, Ortakoy Hotel, served a delicious Turkish breakfast which in reality we had no idea what we were getting ourselves in for. Omletes, cheese, fresh salads, olives, breads just kept coming to our table and before we knew it we couldn’t finish it. The people were so welcoming and hospitable, allowing us to try free Turkish coffee and tea which as someone that doesn’t like either was surprising really nice!

From here, we left to go to the Hagia Sofia which was located about a 5-minute walk away from our hotel that we were staying at. Our hotel, found on AirBnB, was around £30 each for 2 nights and was in an amazing location. Our place was called “The Heart of Sultanahmet & Family Apartment III” – if you’re looking for a budget place with a great location then this is the place for you.

What I will say about both the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque directly opposite, the architecture of both buildings is absolutely stunning. Truly standing the test of time, you can only stare and marvel that these buildings which were built many centuries ago stand in such perfect condition. The entry to the Hagia Sofia is 60 Lira (You can pay by cash or card). Although, annoyingly at the time of our visit, inside there was some scaffolding though this doesn’t take away from the architecture and the chandeliers inside which were really impressive. We spent some time here taking some pictures and walking around the different parts of the old church-mosque. We eventually left the Hagia Sofia before walking across the park to the Blue Mosque. Although we went into the Mosques garden outside, we didn’t actually end up going in. With it being an active mosque, we found that you need to go at the right time as when prayers are on you cannot enter.

To put our stay in Istanbul into some perspective, we landed at 5.30am in the morning and couldn’t check in until 2 pm so we did spend a lot of time in the Hagia Sofia area as we were so close to our hotel, exploring the local markets which only prepared us for what was to come. When we did eventually check in to our accommodation, however, we quickly left to head to the Grand Bazaar. It is believed to be the first shopping mall in the world, with some 5,000 venders along 60 different indoor and outdoor streets. In 2014, it was the most visited attraction in the world with over 91m visitors. As you can imagine attracting that amount of people makes for the whole experience to be “Bizarre”. It’s one of the craziest places I have ever visited, and probably one of my favourite things I have done whilst travelling. Until you go, it’s hard to imagine being surrounded by thousands of people, crammed together with people shouting you over to buy from them. But the thrill you get from haggling and experiencing the hospitality of the locals is second to none. If you only had time to do one thing in Istanbul I would 100% recommend doing this before anything else. You can also eat local cuisines as well as relax and enjoy a drink within the Bazaar as well.

Upon leaving the craziness of the Bazaar we headed over to the Galata Tower, to hopefully watch the sunset and get something to eat at its 360 view restaurant. Unfortunately, the tower had a line about a mile long all the way to the restaurants in the vicinity, so we decided to just eat elsewhere and then later go to a bar. One of the rooftop bars we went to was called “Snog” which we liked so much so we re-visited the next day. It has a really good view of the European and Asian parts of the city, whilst also giving you a great view of the tower. Although we were very tempted to enjoy the nightlife, we got home around 2ish as were we exhausted having not slept the night before. Nevertheless, the bars we did go to were actually really good! If you’re thinking of going out in Istanbul, the reviews online are all really good, and there is a pub crawl you can sign up to.

The next day we woke up relatively early and ate at one of the restaurants around where we were staying. Usually, I would get the name of the restaurant, but genuinely in the area, we were staying they were all pretty much similar to each other. Again, we enjoyed a delicious Turkish breakfast before going over to a traditional Turkish Bathhouse. The bathhouse we went to was called Cagaloglu Hamami. You can opt for a range of packages of what you want to do. We opted for the bath experiences + the face mask which was £25 each. To some, this may sound quite expensive, but I can honestly say I have never felt so relaxed during or after an activity. Laying down inside the steam room was so relaxing and allowed you to just rest and enjoy where you were. We were tempted to get the Turkish massage as well, but as we didn’t know how long it would take we opted against it.

Since we hadn’t spent much time over in the Asian part of the city, we decided to get a taxi via the app to the Fenerbahce area where we headed over to the marina and got a drink. We wanted to take some canoes out on the Bosphorus river, however, after some walking, we just couldn’t find the place where maps said it was located. That’s one thing you should just come to accept about Istanbul, taxis and maps can be very, very frustrating. Nevertheless, the marina area was really nice and due to it being such a nice day was the perfect place to stop and get a drink and a cheesecake.

When we were back in the European part, we headed over the Cistern Basilica, which had been supplying water to the city from the 6th century when the Byzantine Romans had built it. The entry fee is only 20 Lira but to be honest it was really an underwhelming place. Although I am not sure what I expected from the place, the lack of water and just the large number of people didn’t make for the place I thought it would have been….. However…

We then came across a little “photo op” area where there were professional cameras and outfits people were trying on. We decided to pay the 40 Lira to dress up and get our photo taken, and the next 15 minutes were so random that it made for such a great experience. We got dressed up in traditional Ottoman outfits, and after you can pay for the CD of your photo shoot (or just pay for hard copies of four select photos). Let me know what you think of our outfits below…

After we got changed back into our regular clothes, we headed back over to the Galata Tower area where we ate again at one of the many restaurants in the area. What I liked about this area so much was the range of food available, especially Turkish food. The good thing about Turkey is that you can tell its a very proud nation, namely from the abundance of flags and images of national figures virtually everywhere, meaning that it hasn’t just become a Western tourist trap and that its food is available everywhere.

Like the previous night, we headed over to Snog bar to catch a glimpse of the sunset and have a couple of drinks and relax on our last night. Before we headed to our hotel, we went and smoked some shisha, as when you go to Turkey it’s one of the things that the locals keep telling you to try.

On our last day in Istanbul, we only had a few things left to tick off our list. The first of them was the Galata Tower which I had wanted to go up since the first day we arrived. The entry was 35 Lira which, considering the view, is pretty reasonable. One of the reasons I really wanted to visit so much was because of the 360 degree view of the city at the top. The view was actually so good! You got to see all the major landmarks, and I do wish we had the chance to see the sunset from up here. The drinks are also reasonably priced in the tower, as coke and freshly pressed lemonade were just 7 Lira.

Finally, we ended our trip in Istanbul back at the Grand Bazaar where we just walked around, hunting for deals, and enjoying the experiences. I will repeat again, the Grand Bazaar is definitely one of the best places I have visited anywhere in the world, so if you get the chance to visit Istanbul do not miss it!

I would like to end this article by just explaining how amazing Istanbul is as a city. It can be quite frustrating, especially when you want to get from one place to another. However, the food is just sublime and the people are so friendly and welcoming. In terms of the religious, cultural and historical importance, there is truly no better place than Istanbul.


View the rest of our Istanbul pictures here.

Ayutthaya: A Day Trip

Back in March 2018, I visited Bangkok for my fourth time in the last 7 months. Having pretty much exhausted most of the main tourist attractions, I wanted to visit other places that I hadn’t previously been to. My girlfriend, Sita, suggested going to visit the ancient capital city of Thailand, Ayutthaya. She explained how the Burmese burnt the city leaving now ancient ruins. As someone who loves history, this got me very excited to visit!

Ayutthaya is a place that you will find fun to explore if you’re interested in learning more about Thai culture and its history. However, I know some of you won’t be interested in history, temples and ruins, and so I thought I would pre-warn you!

Modern-day Ayutthaya has been built on top of the ancient ruins left by the Burmese attack. It’s quite strange to be able to walk around an ancient city that has all the amenities of a modern day city. The two intertwined so much that it does make for a great experience to be able to compare two completely different eras at the same time.

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In this post, I won’t go into every temple that we saw in Ayutthaya, as we visited most of them and there isn’t that much to say about each and every temple! However, I will sum up the best temples, and give some tips on how we got there and how we got around the city.

Starting our trip in Bangkok, we took a minibus from Bangkok Mo Chit Bus Station which took about 2.5hours to reach Ayutthaya where we got off at the final stop. (The minibus costs 60TBH for a single ticket).

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After getting off the bus, we walked around the city a little bit before hiring push bikes for the day. Originally we were going to hire a motorbike, but decided that as everything in the city is so close together, it would be fun to cycle. The bikes cost 50TBH for the day (Until 7pm). They also give you a map which clearly shows you where all the attractions are, making it nice and easy to locate your way around the city.

Soon after getting our bikes, we set off on our temple hopping tour and started at Ayutthaya’s Historical Park, which has most of the city’s ruins. If my memory serves me correctly, it costs 50TBH per temple for non-Thai citizens and 10TBH for Thai citizens. The Historical Park is probably the main attraction of Ayutthaya. As a bit of a history nerd, learning about the history and culture of the Ayutthaya Kingdom was so interesting! The site also has a model located at the front of the park which shows you what the Kingdom used to look like before being burnt down by the Burmese.

After we had finished walking around the Historical Park, we set off on our bikes again and visited Wat Phra Sri Sanphat. This was the holiest of the temples in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. Personally, this was one of my favourites, as the architecture was just awesome. Unfortunately, like most of Ayutthaya, the temple has succumbed to the destruction of the Burmese and has taken substantial damage. Nevertheless, the damage adds to the historical importance of the building as it is where the 35 Kings of the Kingdom would come and use for royal ceremonies.

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Without a doubt, the temple that I found most interesting has to be Wat Mathathat! Its location near the Grand Palace made it one of the most important temples throughout the Kingdom. Why I find this temple so interesting is how most of the Buddha’s heads are chopped off all the statues. So when you’re walking around it’s quite a weird experience to just go past statue after statue of Buddha with no head! Another interesting point to make about this temple is that there is a Buddha head in the roots of the sacred tree. This is where most of the tourists head first so it can get quite packed. Whilst there I noticed many tourists only came to see the Buddha head in the tree and leave the site soon after. However, I would advise walking around the whole site as it makes for a really nice walk. Also, the unusual sight of headless statues makes for a thought-provoking walk on why the Burmese did this.

 

Although I was told that the Burmese were the ones that chopped off the heads as they believed gold where inside. It seems that after doing some research, it was actually looters that had cut the heads off and sold most of them to collectors in Europe and the United States. Unfortunately for Thailand, after asking for part of their heritage back they were declined as they form part of many modern-day museums.

Before we headed back to Bangkok, we decided that we should go and get some food from one of the restaurants just outside the Historical Park. The food is really good and incredibly cheap! I got a Pad Thai for only 35TBH!

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Most of the people that travel to Thailand skip out Ayutthaya as it isn’t really a place that many people have heard of before. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed my day trip to see all the ruins and I am glad I delved deeper into learning about Thailand’s history.

After the fall of Ayutthaya, Thailand decided to move its capital city to Bangkok which was designed in such a way to keep out foreign invaders. For centuries Thailand had been at war with its neighbours, especially the Burmese. By moving their capital to Bangkok, they had hoped that due to the defence of the capital being a lot stronger, this would put off future invasions of the Kingdom. 

Although I am a bit of a history nerd and thoroughly enjoyed my time in Ayutthaya,  I wouldn’t recommend going for more than one day, as all the ruins can be seen if you arrive early enough. The city doesn’t really have that much more to offer bar the ruins and temples and there are better places to spend more of your time in Thailand!

Unfortunately, as I broke my phone, the only pictures I have left of my trip are saved from what I put on Snapchat so I apologise for the lack of pictures!

Check out the rest of our Ayutthaya pictures here.

My Best Travel Moments (2015-18)

This post was inspired by one of my latest blog posts, (Top 5 Countries That I have Travelled 15-18). As this post did so well and had so much positive feedback, I decided to write a blog post on my best moments whilst travelling. However, just like the last article, being able to narrow my list of awesome travel moments down was extremely difficult. Nevertheless, after much thought here are my top 5!

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Climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan is number 5 on my best travel moments! Climbing Mt. Fuji was part of my Asia trip with Max and Haydn, so being able to experience the climb with them only made the experience better! We also met someone called Andrew at our hostel who we also did the climb with.

Although the last couple of hours back to the hostel were extremely painful as I had injured my knee running a half-marathon a couple of months before. The whole experience was incredible and looking back something I am so glad I did. One of the best decisions was definitely not taking the bus to 5th station and actually walking the entire way from the hostel. However, what this meant was an 11km walk to station 0!

 

Nevertheless, station 0-5 was a pretty easy climb and I got to see some spectacular views along the way. Being above the clouds really made for an impressive view! Another benefit of walking meant that by the time I reached 5th station, the sun was setting and the sunset was just surreal. However, at station 6, I started wrapping up and putting on as many layers that I had. Being above 2,500m and with the sun setting, it got really cold, fast.

 

 This was the part of the climb that seemed to go on for a long time as the stations started going up in halves now instead of 5-6, 6-7. The cold also started to become a big factor. I remember stopping at the side of the walkaway and laying down for a while and just shivering so much as my body temperature plummeted. The other issues were that the climb started to get a lot steeper and this meant that any slow people ahead of you made you slow down which meant that you were getting cold again!

In spite of the cold, walking in pitch black and the steep climb to the summit, I finally got to the top at around 2 am which meant that I had been walking for a total of 14 hours so far. However, the issue I had now was that the temperature was well below 0c and I had to just find a place to keep warm until the sunrise. Initially, Max and I found a bench that we laid down and drifted off to sleep. But, within minutes our bodies woke us up shivering! That’s when I saw that they let people into a restaurant type area where they charged a ridiculous amount for food and drink just because they knew people were desperate to be allowed inside.

 

After finally getting in and warming up, the sun started to rise! Rushing outside to get some pictures of the sunset as well as our climbing group, it made the whole experience more than worthwhile. The sunrise was just incredible. The different colours that bounced off the skyline and the surrounding mountains were just out of this world! I really cannot describe what a unique experience it was being able to see a sunset this good.

 

After the sun had rose it was then time for the descent back to the hostel. The climb down didn’t take as long but by the time I made it to the hostel I had been climbing for over 24 hours! However, this didn’t take away from what an incredible experience it was and actually made the whole trip more rewarding.

 

Even though I only spent around 4 days in Fuji, it quickly became one of my favourite places. It has great lakes, great mountains, gives you the chance to climb a 3,800m mountain and offers great Japanese food!

4.

Sunset Point in Uluwatu is a moment that I cannot stop thinking about. Every time I look back at my pictures from my trip to Bali, this is always one that stands out the most. Every trip always has a couple of moments that become your highlight, and this sunset is definitely that!

Sunset Point is located on the coast which has a small bar where hundreds of travellers come to watch the sunset. They bar has a swimming pool, a rooftop seating area, as well as bean bags placed everywhere. Luckily, Sita and I managed to get right to the front where we just chilled with a beer, listening to music and watching the sunset.

 

As you can see by the pictures below, the tranquillity of the place is unreal! Why this makes my top 5 best travel moments, is just because when I was there watching the waves come in and the sun setting, I just thought how amazing my life was and how lucky I am to experience these kind of moments

 

For anyone who is visiting Bali, then make sure you visit Uluwatu and in particularly Sunset Point. Personally, what I enjoyed about the area so much was that it was just full of travellers who all came to relax, have a drink and just watch the sunset. This gave the place a great atmosphere and a really nice place to chill. The sunsets that I saw in Bali, but in particular the sunset I saw in Uluwatu, was probably the best sunset I have ever seen!

3.

For those of you who read the article that inspired this one (Top 5 Countries That I Have Travelled 2015-18) then you’ll know how much I love Guatemala. As I said in that post, Guatemala was a place where we were given many warnings prior to arriving. But, as this all turned out to be hearsay and incorrect, it made the whole trip so much better.

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Climbing and camping on an active Volcano – Acatenango, is as you can imagine, a fantastic experience. One of the major reasons why I enjoyed this so much was because we met such an awesome group of people that were all liked minded. As we got to know each other, we all shared stories of our past or current trips which were really interesting to listen to, as it made you want to go to the places that they have visited.

 

One of my favourite memories of climbing Acatenango was just being around the campfire with our group just drinking some beers and watching Fuego, another of Guatemala’s volcanoes blowing smoke. (Fuego had erupted about three weeks before we had arrived). The rest of the day was spent eating, drinking and sharing more travel stories, before watching the sunset.

Again like our climb on Mt. Fuji, as darkness fell, so did the temperature. Although this time, we had a tent and sleeping bags which were actually warm. The only issue was that if you wanted to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, which I did, it was absolutely freezing! We woke up around 3.30 am to set about climbing the final 1000m so that we could see the sunrise. The climb up the final 1000m was harder than the climb up Fuji, but nevertheless we made it to the summit in time.

 

When we were at the summit our tour guide gave us some volcanic rock to hold which warmed up our hands no problem. It was just a reminder that, wow, we are actually standing on an active volcano. As the sun started to rise the whole skyline kept changing colours and you could see an entire mountain range silhouetting in the distance. I personally found the sunrise at Acatenango better than the one at Fuji just because of the whole experience of being able to camp on an active volcano.

2.

At number 2 of my best travel moments has to be dog sledging whilst in Tromso, Norway. Up until this point, my time in Norway  had just been immense. So good in fact, I rated it as my number one country to visit!

 

One of the reasons why I rated Norway my best trip to date, was definitely because we got the chance to dog sledge. What made the experience so good was that we got to spend around 3 hours with the dogs, where we got educated on where the dogs had come from and how they are looked after. Also the sled drivers were from all over the world. The driver of my sled was from Northern Italy and he shared his stories of why he came to Norway and where else he had been.

 

The main highlight of course was actually sledging! The sledging lasted about 45 minutes, however it felt a lot shorter than that. With Tromso being in the Arctic circle and us being there in late January, we were lucky enough to have apparently, the first sunrise of the year whilst sledging! Our Italian driver said it was the first time they had any sun for the last 3 months. The sunrise was simply mesmerising as the sunlight bounced of the snow and surrounding mountains.  

 

The whole day’s experience with the dogs was just so enjoyable and they give you plenty of time to interact and play with the dogs. As well as letting you see some new puppies! We also enjoyed Reindeer stew for our lunch after sledging which to my surprise was really nice. One of the reasons why dog sledging ranks number 2 for me is because I haven’t done anything like this before. It made for such a unique and cool experience that I don’t think I’ll ever forget!

1.

Without any doubt, seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is by far the best travel moment that I have experienced. Just being able to see the Aurora is unique in itself and took a lot of patience and driving around to see it. However, the moment when I saw the Northern Lights, it was such relief and I felt so much excitement that it definitely has to rank number 1. 

 

We spent several days driving around Iceland to find the best place. We usually went near Pingvellir National Park which is about 40 minutes away from our hostel. As it turns out, hundreds of people go to the lighthouse just outside of Reykjavik to see them. So if you’re in Reykjavik and want a place where someone has spotted them, then try the lighthouse!

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Another special thing about being able to see the Northern Lights is that when they dance around it is such a spectacle to watch. I remember us just laying down on a freezing concrete path, just watching them swirl around in the sky and thinking how amazing nature and the world is.

 

What made my sighting of the Northern Lights so special to me, is that this was the third night of waiting hours in the freezing cold just hoping that I would finally see the Aurora. The night that I did see them, was my last night in Iceland, so being able to see them was just such a relief. What makes this experience even more important, is that when I was in Tromso, I didn’t end up seeing the Lights. So luckily, I got to see them whilst I was in Iceland!

 

Malaysia: A Look into Paradise

After thoroughly enjoying our stay in Hong Kong, it was now time to head onto the second country of our tour of Asia. Malaysia was the next country and we didn’t really know what to expect. However, when we landed in Kuala Lumpur we instantly fell in love with the city and ended up staying for what some people might say, is way too long.

We arrived in KL late at night and took a taxi from the airport to our hostel ‘Sunshine Bedz’. Little did we know this hostel would be one of the highlights of our entire 3.5month trip. As soon as we got there we decided to go to bed so we could wake up early and start exploring. We began our day by eating at Dragon’s View Restaurant (DVR) where we tried some local cuisine and quickly left to visit the KL Forest Eco Park. The park had a walking canopy where you can walk through the forest and see an abundance of wildlife. However, the Eco Park seems more of something you would do if you prefer hiking than wildlife, as dynamic of the Park seems more built around hikers than animal lovers. After spending a couple of hours at the Eco Park, we left to go and visit the Batu Caves for the 1st time. We got to see most of the Batu Caves, which we would recommend visiting as it’s a really cool place. The caves are full of Hindu paintings and statues and it gives you an insight into some Hindu spirituality. Unfortunately, we could not visit the main attraction as one of us wasn’t wearing appropriate clothing. To enter, you can wear shorts and a T-shirt but your knees and shoulders must be covered, so keep that in mind if you’re thinking of visiting.

As our first day in KL was coming to an end we went back to the hostel to get showered before visiting the night market. Personally, the night market was my favourite place in KL. As a food lover, this market is amazing. During the course of our stay we must have eaten here most days. After eating all different kinds of weird and wonderful Malaysian cuisine, we headed back to the hostel where the hostel Rep, Kat, convinced us to come on the pub crawl tonight. The reason we needed convincing is that we had an elephant sanctuary visit at 7am the next day which we didn’t want to miss. However, even though the next day was a massive struggle, we were so glad that we decided to go out that night. Not only did we have a great time, but also met some incredible people! KL has a great night life down Bar Street and the club Sutra is awesome. KL has a policy where it’s ladies night, 5 times a week!

After being convinced that drinking 2 for 1 long Island Iced Teas all night was a good idea, it actually took the hostel receptionist to wake us up at 7am so we didn’t miss our bus to the elephant sanctuary. After what was a horribly bumpy, hungover, 3 hour journey, we arrived at the elephant sanctuary, via the Batu Caves, which we once again could not see the parts we didn’t see because we weren’t i wearing adequate clothing. However, the second time we actually did not know that we would be stopping at the Batu Caves. At the elephant sanctuary we started the day by feeding the smaller elephants that had clearly been in captivity at some point in their lives. Some of the elephants couldn’t even stand on one of their legs. Nevertheless, it was fun to be able to feed the elephants as it felt like, although our contribution was very small that we were in fact helping just a little. The day continued with us watching educational documentaries on why and how they poachers are capturing elephants. However, even though the reviews on trip advisor for the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary were good, we quickly saw that the sanctuary might not be treating the elephants as well as we imagined. The set up of the day seemed to be more about the elephants being a tourist attraction rather than travellers coming to help volunteer at the sanctuary. Personally, we would not recommend coming to this elephant sanctuary as the one we visited in Chiang Mai, was much better ran and the elephants treated with a lot more respect!

Our third day in KL was a very busy one. We woke up quite late as we were still so tired from the night before and went back to DVR for a quick lunch. Today we decided to visit some temples as well as just explore the city by walking around and taking it at our own pace. We began the day at the Guan Di Temple, which is a Taoist temple dedicated to Guan Di, the Chinese God of War. This was an interesting visit as we had never been to a Taoist temple and therefore became educated on Taoist rituals. After, we visited the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temples in Kuala Lumpur. What draws your attention to this temple is the architecture. The front of the temple is decorated with depictions of Hindu Gods sculpted by artisans from Southern India. Both temples don’t take long to visit so if you have some spare time you can fit these into your schedule. Merdeka Square was the next place we wanted to visit as we had heard that you can just relax and watch the city go by. Literally “Independence  Square”, here is where the Union Jack was lowered and replaced by the Malayan flag in 1957 for the first time. The annual National Day parade is held here, although we weren’t there at the right time to experience it. We actually spent quite a while at the square, although there isn’t much here to do. We enjoyed just sitting and chilling on the grass.

We then decided to walk for at least an hour to visit the National Monument and War Memorial. For those of who you have our blog before, you will know that history and politics interests us and therefore this was a must do for us. However, be aware that it is quite far away from the city centre, so if you do not want to walk, getting a bus is probably the cheapest way. The monuments were stunning pieces of design and symbolised the soldiers who fought for the British Empire. We ended our day by visiting KL’s Botanical Gardens and visiting the Batu Caves for the third and FINAL time, this time appropriately dressed! The Botanical Gardens is like most other Botanical Gardens, with large walking areas with nice scenery. We only stumbled upon it during our walk back from the War monuments. We left here to go to the Batu Caves which we finally could go and see the caves that we were not allowed into the first two times. With 272 stairs up to the cave, we definitely went at the best time of the day (just before closing time) when the heat had calmed down a bit. Although we felt the caves we had already seen were much better than the cave we were finally allowed in to see, the sunset and view over the city coming out of the cave was really good and definitely worth third visit. Like most days, we decided to go and try some more local cuisine at the night market which is located close to our hostel. We tried stingray, which is still one of our favourite dishes to date!

With it being Sunday, we decided to chill and just relax in the hostel and catch up on some much needed rest. The heat and humidity in Malaysia was not an experience we were used to coming from the north of England. By the time we decided to get up and do some exploring, it was afternoon and we decided to just go for a walk and see where it took us. It led us to going on a 2 hour walk through Little India, which is a street which gives you a taste of India, and onto Thean Hou Temple, which is probably one of my favourite temples. We had been walking for over 2 hours on the hottest day we’d had to date, by the time we got to the temple we were dripping in sweat but the temple architecture made it all worthwhile.  You can just get a bus or a taxi to the temple, but we really wanted to just go for a walk. The temple has elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism and mixes modern and traditional designs together. Everything combined makes for a stunning temple, and when you get to the top the view over the city is just as good. Personally, if you’re not really a temple person then only go and visit this temple in KL because it is worth the visit.

When we got back to the hostel, one of us became really sick because we had started to take our malaria tablets for our trip to Cambodia. Nevertheless, we still got convinced to go out, even though it was a sunday and we wanted to just chill. Again the hostel rep Kat convinced most of the hostel to come out on the pubcrawl and again we met so many awesome people that we are still in contact with today. One of us met their now girlfriend on this pubcrawl. Although Kat no longer works at this hostel as a rep, she made our stay in Malaysia amazing. Not only did she make us feel comfortable and convince us to do stuff that we might have not done otherwise, she was really fun to be around and to talk to too.

After demolishing too many 2 for 1 Long Island Iced Teas all night (breaking Kat’s record of the most she’d seen someone drink by far!), we were completely written off the next day and actually did nothing during the day time but eat and stay in the hostel. We did pull ourselves together enough to go to a pub quiz where we failed spectacularly as a group to put many answers together. We left the night early as we were heading to the Cameron Highlands the next day and did not want a repeat of our journey to the elephant sanctuary.  

Before leaving for Asia, we booked the Cameron Highlands tour with Anuar who we would like to personally recommend as a great host and incredibly knowledgeable guy. He picks you up from your hostel and drives you for 4 hours to the Cameron Highlands, which is a place everyone should visit if you’re in Malaysia. During our trip to the Cameron Highlands we learnt how to hunt with a blowpipe by getting a demonstration from a local tribe, as well as visiting some amazing waterfalls. Other activities included strawberry picking, where you get to pick your own strawberries, and the time tunnel, which show a history of the Cameron Highlands dating back to when the British first invested in the area. After visiting the “time tunnel” where Anuar had educated us on the history of Malaysia as well as the Cameron Highlands, we took a visit to  the butterfly centre where we got hands on with snakes, scorpions and other exotic creatures. We ended our visit by going to the BOH tea plantation where we got to see up close the process of how the tea was made and how many different countries import their tea from the Cameron Highlands. We even got to taste the tea at the end, and even for someone who isn’t a big tea lover, the tea was great!

As we were coming to the end of our stay in KL we were thinking if we should leave KL and go and explore other areas of Malaysia which we really wanted to or leave and visit another place like Bali. As we had a couple of more things we wanted to see, we decided we would put the decision on hold. As we had visited Hindu and Taoist temples we decided to go and visit the National Mosque as we were in a Muslim Country. Visiting the Mosque was quite a brief experience as we were not allowed in the main area as we aren’t Muslim. Therefore, we headed over to the National Museum which gave you an insight into everything related to Malaysia. From prehistoric animals and early civilisation to the British Empire, the Museum was really fun, interactive and educational. We ended the night again going on the hostel pub crawl (again) where we met some Australians who were leaving to go to Bali the next day. We got on so well and we really wanted to go with them so badly, but the money we’d lose on our flight to Cambodia and activities booked there persuaded us against it.

We ended our trip in Malaysia with visiting the Petronas Towers, which with student discount only cost around £12. The Petronas Towers give you an amazing view of the city from every angle and was incredible as we headed there for sunset.

Even though we spent 9 days in KL and only had day trips out of the city visiting other parts of Malaysia, it is still one of our favourite countries. Not only did we fall in love with the city, but we met so many amazing people from all over the world. We enjoyed the food, the culture, the night life and it’s of the reasons why we just couldn’t leave!

View the rest of our Malaysia pictures here.

 

 

Vietnam: Riding The Buffalo Run

After one final night in Hanoi after Sapa, we left to start the Buffalo Run. The Buffalo Run is an epic week-long adventure where you start in Hanoi and finish in Hoi An. Inspired from Top Gears Vietnam Special, the Buffalo Run gives you a great chance to experience the culture, the scenery and history of Vietnam. Like the other trips, it also gives you a great chance to meet new people from all over the world and since you’re with them for a week, really get to know each other.

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SONY DSC

On the first day of a trip down to Hoi An, we cycled to a local temple where our tour guide (Ricky) explained about history of Vietnam and its kings. After this we took a two-hour boat tour through caves and around mountains where they filmed ‘Kong: Skull Island’. This was a lot of fun as everyone we met got competitive and we made it into a race to see who could get around the quickest. This was funny as our guides who were rowing us also got competitive. We won the first leg, but unfortunately, one of us had to help another boat which was stuck after disembarking to explore an island and so we only could claim second place. After sweating profusely during the boat race, a shower at a hotel was more than welcome before taking the night bus to Phong Nha.

Day two was one of the funniest days of our stay in Vietnam, if not the whole trip. After driving from about an hour from our hotel, you get to take a 400m zip line trip across the river before entering the dark caves. In Vietnam, they have a naming method in English which is very exact. So, the dark caves are genuinely just caves that are dark. However, these caves had a mud bath right at the end, where many a mud pie was thrown when the lights were turned off. Nevertheless, it was a great laugh, especially the mud slide back into the river at the end of the cave.

Lunch consisted of DIY spring rolls, before venturing onto a cave in which 80 people became trapped and died from in a US bombing campaign. Ricky explained a lot about the history of why the US bombed the area and it was a sobering activity. What we liked about the Buffalo Run was it was a good experience learning about the history of Vietnam, with almost constant fun as well. After visiting the war cave, we went to a farm stay where we sat by a pool drinking beer and watched a beautiful sunset. It was the perfect ending to a great day and a start to a great night. We later bought drinks from a shop and stayed playing drinking games in a hotel room, having a fantastic time.

Day three, we decided to go in the back of a truck to our next place instead of taking bikes. This was a fun experience but not exactly a luxurious journey, as the truck didn’t have the most advanced suspension system. If you decide to do the Buffalo Run you do get the option the night before on your mode of transport, whether that be bicycles, scooters or a truck like us.

Day three was not as hectic as day two. We thought it was strange that our guide Ricky kept on specifying that the pub we were going to had cold beer, but the place was actually called ‘The Pub with Cold Beer’. Here, you can relax in hammocks with a beer, play volleyball, and then cool off in the river afterwards. This was a very nice addition as the volleyball got quite heated when we started a tournament that pitted the British and Irish Lions vs ‘Canasians’ (Canadians and our Asian tour guide, Ricky), especially when we introduced the rule that the losers had to buy the winners a beer each!

Also at the Pub with Cold Beer you can partake in a more unusual, perhaps once in a lifetime activity and kill a chicken. The method for doing so is somewhat brutal (a machete to the back of the neck) and not for the faint of heart. However, everyone in the group agreed that the chicken tasted phenomenal and it was a very rewarding experience to take responsibility for ending the animal’s life that you were about to eat.

On day four we travelled to Hue, whilst also stopping at a land mine museum as well as some Vietnam war tunnels. Again, our tour guide explained the history behind the land mine museum and the war tunnels. This was very interesting as the three of us did not know much about the Vietnam war prior to our trip. After arriving in Hue, at another Vietnam Backpacker Hostel, there was a pub crawl with the theme ‘shit shirt night’. The whole of team Buffalo Run made a strong effort for the event. In our shit shirts and matching shorts, we were ready for a crazy night. Here, we also met some friends that we previously met in Ha Long Bay and made plans to meet up in Hoi An.

Day five of the trip was a beach day! However, we stopped off at a temple first, where the car in which a monk drove himself into the town square and set himself alight to protest the anti-Buddhist regime was kept. After Ricky had educated us more on this temple, we finally set off to the beach and spent the day there. All of us decided to play volleyball in the sea as well as playing another competition for beer. Probably wasn’t a clever idea as we kept losing more than we were winning. In order to play, we first had to find buckets and bottles, fill them with water and throw it on the volleyball pitch, as the sand was far too hot to play on. One of the most ridiculous things we did, but Ricky had assured us it worked beforehand. If it’s stupid and it works, then it isn’t stupid.

On day six we travelled to Hoi An via the Hai Van Pass in ex-army jeeps from the war. It is also possible to do the pass on motorbikes through VBH, but we decided to take the jeeps and felt it was the right decision. This was such an incredible experience as big fans of Top Gear. We also stopped off for lunch and had a swim at the beach before arriving in Hoi An. Again, stopping at a Backpackers hostel, we signed up for the ‘Beer Olympics’ but were cheated out of a victory! But it was all just fun and games really, and there was the opportunity for everyone to get involved.

On the final day of the Buffalo Run, we rowed in bamboo boats and went crab fishing. Accidentally, one of us dropped a crab in our boat and as the guide went to pick it up the crab pinched him. This was funny though as he made a massive joke out of it and we continued to have a really fun experience. As it was our last day we had one last game of volleyball in the hostel pool before going out for our last night out together. Here we met up with our friends from Ha Long Bay and had an amazing night. Unfortunately, the next day we had to leave to Ho Chi Minh City as we were flying out of there to go to Thailand. Although we deliberated whether we should just stay another night we finally decided to leave.

On arriving in Ho Chi Minh at night and not having much time there before leaving for Thailand, we visited some markets and walked around the city a bit. We didn’t experience much of the city so we can’t say much for it. But this just means it’s somewhere we will have to go back and visit!

Overall, I wish we could have spent a lot longer than just 17 days in Vietnam. It was all absolutely incredible, and we did so much but it felt like we were only scratching the surface. If you’re going South East Asia and not visiting Vietnam, I would strongly recommend changing your schedule.

View the rest of our Vietnam pictures here.

Vietnam: Climbing The Mountains of Sapa

After returning from Ha Long Bay to Hanoi for the night, we woke up again at 6.30am to leave to Sapa. A six-hour bus journey into the mountains takes you to a hotel for a one-night stay. However, the bus was incredibly cramped as we were stuck right at the back where its almost like mattress. If you are going to take a bus to Sapa from Hanoi make sure you are one of the first ones on so you can guarantee yourself a comfy seat in a normal sleeper seat.  The hotel we stayed at was amazing and for us very luxurious. Staying in a 6 bed room where only the three of us stayed, meant that we had lots of space to just chill out and have a good nights sleep. The hotel offered a motorbike rental scheme, which we decided to take advantage of and visit some waterfalls, as well as Sapa’s breath-taking mountain range views. Note if you are renting bikes in Vietnam (or most countries in South-East Asia), please be careful when riding as the roads are crazy and the rules most Westerners have grown up with do not apply. One of us was forced to fall off a bike when a lorry decided he didn’t want to wait any longer to pull out in front of us, but luckily escaped with no injuries. It was a shame we couldn’t say the same about the bike!

The next day a local guide came to our hotel and took us to the starting place of our two-day expedition through the mountains. The treks last most of the day but we did have some free time to swim in the river and grab a bite to eat. The trek is phenomenal and give you the opportunity to see Sapa in its true glory. Some of the sights were memorising, and quite frankly out of this world. There aren’t any hotels or hostels in the mountain ranges of Sapa, so your only chance of a bed for the night is a homestay, provided by the locals who live there. After finally reaching our home stay late in the day we got food and got to know the people we trekked with better. The locals who host you are really friendly and make you feel very welcome. They serve some western food but mainly Asian cuisine. They also offer rice wine, which if anyone has ever tasted before it is something to miss.  I would recommend getting an early night however, as you will be trekking again all day until you come back out of the mountains and get another six-hour bus journey back to Hanoi.

After trekking for 6hours, mainly up steep hills and then back down steep slopes, we eventually arrived at our tour guides home where his family served us dinner before we left for our coach back to Hanoi. The hospitality of the guide and the locals were more than we could ask for and really added to the whole experience. By the time we got back to Hanoi, it was late at night and as we had to get up early to leave for the Buffalo Run we decided to get an early night and go to bed.

View the rest of our Vietnam pictures here.

Japan: Mission to Climb Fuji

After spending the last couple of days exploring Tokyo it was finally time to set off to Fuji. As this was our main reason for wanting to travel to Japan, we were very excited. During our trip in Thailand, we had decided that we would walk from station 0 instead of taking the bus up to 5th station like most of the “Fuji Climbers” do. Leaving Tokyo by its central station we took a bus to Fujikawaguchiko which cost around 2,300 Japanese Yen. After spending around 2 hours on the bus, we arrived in Fuji and headed to our hostel. This is where we came into a bit of trouble as none of us had any internet to google map our hostel. We decided that we should get a map from the bus station, thinking that this would make it easier for us to locate our hostel. However, we couldn’t be more wrong, as when we asked the locals for help they didn’t speak a word of English meaning we ended up walking what was only a 10 minute walk, about 1.5 hours. Nevertheless, when we got to our hostel we decided to chill and check the area of Fuji out.

One thing we would really recommend is making sure you get a good hostel or guest house in Fuji as it will help you for your climb. Many guest houses advertise tours, where your host will also take you up Fuji. Personally, we don’t recommend that you book a tour, as you follow thousands of people doing the same route. The hostel we stayed at was called ‘K’s Hostel’ and we could not recommend this enough. The hostel is relatively cheap, very nice and also the hostel was very helpful. Another thing that we liked is the fact it had its own kitchen as we were starting to run out of money, as Japan is so expensive. This allowed us to make our own food and save money that way. A useful tip is to check the weather so you know whether you will see a good sunset/sunrise, depending on the time you choose to climb Fuji. Another great thing about K’s Hostel was that they had a computer that you could use to check the weather or anything else you would like to know. The hostel was also the most chill place, with hammocks everywhere, a suntop terrace and was close to many authentic Japanese restaurants.

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During our first proper day in Fuji we really didn’t do much apart from extend our stay at K’s Hostel as we really felt welcome and enjoyed our stay. Additionally, as we were told by the reception the weather was going to be bad the next day we chose to not climb Fuji. After chilling at the hostel during the day we decided to go and eat authentic Japanese food at an authentic Japanese restaurant. After asking the hostel where they would recommend, we decided to go to an authentic Japanese restaurant where the owner spoke no English and it was almost like you was entering someone’s home. With the menu being in Japanese we had no idea what the price was for anything that we may order. However, we thought this just added to the experience. We decided to order some ramen noodles and we have to say that these were amazing. It’s one place that if you want to eat good Japanese food, then this is the place to go.

 

 

As we decided against climbing Fuji on our second day we chose to explore the lakes and parks around Fuji. Walking around Lake Kawaguchi for about 4 hours we saw some spectacular sights and mountain ranges. Sometimes you forgot that you was in Japan, as it’s not something you expect to see. If hiking is an activity that you are interested in then walking around the lakes is something that might interest you. On our way back we stopped at a museum cafe, which was about the history of Fuji and had a beer. Also we stopped by at a local temple in Fuji which was just in a random location along the lakes pathway. The temple didn’t really have much to see but we just thought as were we already here, we may as well check it out. When we got back to the hostel, we met a traveller called Andy who also wanted to climb Fuji and was looking for someone to tag along with. Obviously, we asked if he wanted to climb with us as we didn’t want him to climb nearly 4000m by himself.

 

 

Day three in Fuji was the big day for us. Finally we were going to climb Fuji as we had made sure that the weather was going to be good for us to climb, and also for the sunset the next morning. What we would recommend is to take a small bag, probably a 20L bag, so you can put in extra layers, food and drink. This is because food and drink are ridiculously overpriced, and at the bottom of the mountain it’s too warm to wear all your layers. After choosing to start from station 0, we went even further and decided to start from our hostel. The four of us all agreed that if we were going to do it, we wanted to do it right. The walk from the hostel to station 0 was around 1.5 hours to begin with. In hindsight this probably wasn’t a good idea as the full trip to the top and then back down to the hostel took over 24 hours. Nevertheless, we were told that no one had ever attempted to start from the hostel and then walk the entire way. This only spurred us on to try this!

 

 

After finally reaching station 0 we were now on the main trail for the ascent. Most people who choose to climb Fuji get a bus to first station that costs 1,900 Yen. However, we didn’t see the point paying for a bus, which is expensive, and seemed to go against the point of coming to Japan to climb Fuji. The beginning of the climb from station 0-5 seemed pretty easy, and we were making good time in order to see the sunset. One memory of Fuji I won’t forget, is when we saw the view for the first time above the clouds. Being around 1840m in the air, allowed us to see some amazing views above the clouds.

 

 

After reaching station 5, we decided to take a bit of rest as we had been walking for about 5 hours straight from the hostel. The good thing about setting off so early, meant that we were at 5th station for sunset. After spending around 20 mins watching the sunset, we decided to start climbing again. After station 5, the climb gets progressively harder as you are climbing on ice, snow and through the dark. As darkness was approaching, there was a sudden drop in temperature so make sure you bring plenty of layers in your backpack. After layering up at station 6, we continued to head up the mountain. As its pitch dark by the time you make station 6, there’s not really much to see. However, at this point your main is aim to keep going so you keep warm. We found that stopping at some stations made you really cold and it took awhile for you to get warm again. Unless you need a break from the climb, then try to stop as little as possible. If you really want to, you can hire a bed and a room at the different stations, but these were ridiculously expensive, and really not worth it. We managed to climb Fuji, with no previous climbing experience, and although it took us ages, and we were in pain and so tired at the end, we are glad we didn’t waste money on these rooms.

 

 

By the time we had reached the summit, we had been walking for around 14 hours and now we were waiting for the sunrise. We initially, laid down on a bench and fell to sleep as we were so tired. However, our bodies were shaking so much from the cold we soon woke up and realised that there was a line to get inside a food cafe. Although we knew we would have to buy something, at this point we were so cold, and so hungry, that we wanted to buy something anyway. If you are going to do this, make sure you’re first in line when you reach the summit, and then eat your food really slowly so you can stay in the warm. The food as you can imagine is a rip-off, but when you’re hungry and so cold you have little choice but to pay the price.

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After spending an hour in the warmth, we decided to head outside to see the beginning of the sunrise. Seeing this sunrise made the entire climb worth while! The sunrise was genuinely one of the best sunrises that we have ever seen, and it made the pain of climbing all worthwhile. If you ever get the chance to climb Fuji and see the sunrise you will appreciate just how amazing nature can be.

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Many people start the climb by getting a bus from the town to 5th station. And although this is a lot easier, it is so rewarding actually climbing from the bottom to the top! Just keep in mind that at the top it is so cold and that you need to make sure you have adequate clothes. I remember one conversation I had with max, that is shown on the video below, saying wow it must be so cold, before coming across some of the biggest icicles we have ever come across. Also what you need to keep in mind is that when you finally get to the top you have to get back down. You could either do what Max and I did, and walk down all the way, or what Haydn and Andrew did, and walk to 5th station and get a bus back. In the end, the bus only saved them 2 hours, but obviously it meant that they could get home sooner.

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All in all, if you’re thinking you wanna climb a mountain but don’t wanna pay a lot of money to climb one, then Fuji is a great opportunity and experience to see whether you like climbing them. If you don’t end up paying for the busses there and back then climbing Fuji is free, and it is something to knock off your bucket list. Something we all agree on is that Fuji was one of the most rewarding activities that we have ever completed.

View the rest of our Fuji pictures here