Japan: A Taste of Tokyo

After a long flight from Bangkok to Tokyo which included a long stopover in Malaysia, we were finally out of Southeast Asia. For the first time in over 2 months, we were no longer on the ‘normal’ backpacking route of travelling Asia. As regular readers of this blog know, we absolutely loved our time in Southeast Asia and anyone who is thinking about going should definitely go. However, the idea of going and visiting Japan really excited us especially as we knew we were going to attempt to climb Mt. Fuji.

Starting our Japan adventures in Tokyo, we started by exploring the city on foot. Tokyo like many other developed capitals is extremely expensive, and taxis are no exception. When we arrived at Tokyo airport, the public transport system was closed as it was the early hours of the morning. This meant we had to take a taxi which ended up costing us the equivalent of £60 between us for around a 15-minute taxi ride. As you can imagine, we quickly decided that walking was the best option.

As the main point of our trip to Japan was going to Fuji, we didn’t have a long stay in Tokyo. This meant that we had to prioritise what we wanted to see. During our time in Malaysia, we had met someone who had visited Tokyo many times. When we discussed that we were going to Japan but dedicated most of our time to climbing Fuji, he soon started ranting about just how great Tokyo is and how you could easily spend two weeks there. With this in mind, we decided months in advance that for this reason, we would have to be wary of time and make sure we see some of the main points of Tokyo. Therefore we wanted to try and get a mix of activities that were relatively cheap but also relaxing, as we wanted to rest for the long climb to Fuji. So, we decided to start the day by walking around the Imperial Palace Gardens which was genuinely a really nice pastime. Although the gardens aren’t anything particularly special, it was nice to just take a stroll around the nice scenery and be able to talk about our trip so far. Again walking on foot for about an hour we decided to head to Sensoji Temple. The walk allowed us to experience Tokyo in ways that if we had decided to get public transport we would never have seen. During our walk, we saw authentic Japanese markets, restaurants and shops which was something really cool to see as obviously they’re so different to what you see anywhere else. We were pleasantly shocked how cool the temple was when we first got there. The tourist information centre gives you a map where you go and visit the different points around the temples, which included a five-story Pagoda. Sensoji Temple is Tokyo’s oldest temple so it was quite remarkable that the temple was still in such good condition. After walking around the temple area for some time, we decided we wanted to go and visit the World Trade Centre in the heart of Tokyo. One of the reasons for this was to see the stunning views that many people had talked to us about. When we arrived at the World Trade Centre, we ended up spending over an hour just looking at the magnificent views of the city on every side. On days where the visibility is clear, you can apparently see Mt. Fuji from this tower. Unfortunately for us, this wasn’t the case.

 

Something that was quite a unique experience, and one we definitely weren’t expecting, is nearly having a Buddhist conversion. As we were walking around the city towards the end of our day, we were invited to a temple by a Japanese tour guide. Whilst in the temple we were asked if we wanted to take part in some Buddhist rituals and chanting. As we always like to take in the culture of any place, we started taking part in the rituals. As soon as we finished we were asked many times whether or not we wanted to convert to Buddhism and the language barrier made the experience very funny. Although many people may not like this to happen to them, it was one of those random funny moments that when you look back on your trip it just adds to the experience. All in all, it was fun to take part in the rituals, even though we didn’t want to convert.

 

The Kawasaki Daishi Temple is one area that we would highly recommend visiting when in Tokyo. If you like history, culture, traditions and authenticity, then this area has all of that combined into one. The temple was founded in 1128 and is a sect of Shingon Buddhism. The temple is actually a stunning piece of architecture, and if you would like to get involved in Buddhist rituals the temple allows anyone to take part in these. Furthermore, and something that personally I really appreciated about the area, was the surrounding marketplace. The marketplace had great energy and sold all kinds of weird and wonderful items. Something that you want to take advantage of is the free sweet tasters that they give out. Although we found some of the sweets to be absolutely disgusting, you can’t turn down free food, especially when you don’t want to pay Tokyo prices!

Obviously, when you’re in Japan you have to try Japanese foods. During our trip to Japan, we tried many. In Tokyo, we tried Sushi and as someone who personally hates it, I can admit that it is a lot better in Tokyo than anywhere else in the world I have had it. As a group, we tried many different Sushi’s and even ordered more after our first three trays! For all you sushi lovers, Tokyo is the place to eat your sushi!

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Overall, although there were some good things to do, and we didn’t have much time at all in Tokyo, the hype that surrounds the city for us did not live up to our expectations. Many of our friends say they would love to go to Tokyo, and we aware that if we went back and spent more time there then maybe we would love it too, but the general feeling we got was just not really a place where we would want to spend much time. The city itself feels more tailored towards business people, rather than travellers, and the cost is another factor. I’m sure you could have some very fancy nights out which would be a lot of fun, they were just well above our pay grade. When we left Tokyo to travel to Fuji, we instantly fell in love with the place, and it has made us want to go back to Japan and travel around its other cities.

View the rest of our Tokyo pictures here

Siem Reap: Cambodia’s Gem

After a 6hour bus trip from Phnom Penh, the three of us finally arrived in Siem Reap. Unfortunately, one of us was ill during our last day in Phnom Penh so as we arrived we chilled in the hostel, appropriately called the Siem Reap Hostel. We would recommend this hostel for anyone who wants to chill but also meet people! The hostel is really big, has its own happy hour deal and a big pool. Additionally, the hostel offers many tours which are easy to sign up to and transport to other places around Southeast Asia.

After chilling and settling into our new place, we finally met up with our friend that had already been in Cambodia volunteering for 5 weeks. During the night we hit Pub Street which is the go-to place for anyone wanting to have a great night. Pub Street has many bars, clubs and restaurants and the drinks are super cheap! During our first night, we visited Temple Bar which had its own live music and bean bag sitting area on the open air top floor. Beers were about US$1, which is actually at the upper end of the price range! This was really chill and enjoyable, and it set the tone for the rest of our travels in Siem Reap. There’s also a night market pretty close to pub street and the hostel which is worth checking out.

The next day we wanted to try something different than just looking at temples or what we have experienced on our trip so far. Max and his volunteering group asked us if we wanted to join them driving quadbikes around Siem Reap. We didn’t hesitate to accept! Although this may not be for everyone, we absolutely loved it. What made it even better was it started pouring down with rain which meant that it was more slippy which made it more fun! During our quad bike adventure, we mainly stuck to the rural parts of Siem Reap, which were stunning. Staying in the rural areas also meant that many times we got the opportunity to really go full throttle, allowing the whole experience to be more enjoyable.

Quads

Something that we really wanted to do and were incredibly excited about was a Cambodian cooking class. As we previously mentioned in our Phnom Penh post, Cambodian food was incredible. This cooking class only proved to us how amazing the food was. The cooking class was split up into different sections. You originally get picked up at your hostel and drive to a local village where you give them food as an offering, and in return, they show you around their home, and how they grow and cook their own food. The money you spent on your cooking class goes into the local villages who provide the school with the food in the first place. This was one of the reasons why we were so happy to do the cooking class, as we were helping the local village as well as educating ourselves on how to cook local Cambodian food. We got to cook minced fish sticks, a Cambodian yellow curry, and a rice desert referred to as a cake to locals, but I would say it was more of a cross between a pancake and a waffle. We even were given a cookbook to keep the recipes we just followed and more. It’s safe to say that this is something we recommend any food lover to give it a go.

We also visited the Siem Reap circus, which again the money goes into educating the people who perform in the circus. Cambodia has many schemes like this where the money you pay directly goes back into educating people. Although at first, the circus seemed quite expensive, around $20. It was totally worth it, as for over an hour and a half you were constantly entertained and we really could not recommend this enough. I think we laughed for the whole time, and it was such an enjoyable activity.

We were recommended to visit Phnom Kulen Mountain by our friend Max who had already visited. However, even though we enjoyed our visit here, we had already pre-booked our tour before visiting. Although we got to visit some temples along the way as well as getting our food included, this was very expensive, and I would suggest not to pre-book a tour beforehand, something we have spoken about numerous times in our past articles.  The recommendation from Max was good and if we had just booked a tour to get there through our hostel we would have saved a lot of money. Our tour was about £90 each when we booked, and although we got a private car, tour guide (who was very good), and $10 back to spend on lunch, we could have probably got a tour for less than a third of this price. Nevertheless, Kulen Mountain is definitely worth a visit. The waterfall is stunning, and you can also take a swim! Just don’t repeat our mistake of trying to swim underneath the waterfall itself, there’s a lot of water and it feels like you’re being slapped! Phnom Kulen is considered a sacred mountain, as shown by the huge Buddha at the top, so obviously be respectful.

One of if not the biggest reason for visiting Siem Reap is to see Angkor Wat, and even if this isn’t the purpose of your visit you really must give it a day. Built in the early 12th Century, Angkor Wat is the biggest religious structure in the world, earning its title as one of the world wonders, and truly makes for a spectacular visit. Many people think that Angkor Wat is a Buddhist temple due to Cambodia being a predominantly Buddhist nation. However, although some of the smaller surrounding temples are Buddhist, Angkor Wat is a Hindu temple. Usually, people go for sunset or sunrise as it makes for a fantastic view and picture opportunity. We decided to go for sunrise, but unfortunately, the weather let us down and it was very cloudy, somewhat degrading the experience. Nevertheless, it was still incredible to see Angkor Wat in the dark and slowly being lit up. Another plus is that when its dusk, it’s easier to get a picture without capturing many people in your pictures, as there are so many people who go and visit Angkor Wat. Whilst visiting Angkor Wat we also saw the other Angkor Temples, known as for example, Bayon, Baphuon, the Terrace of Elephants and Ta Prohm.  After Angkor Wat, our favourite was Ta Prohm. Given the nickname the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’ after Angelina Jolie visited to film for the 2001 movie, Ta Prohm is hidden in the jungle, somewhat isolated from most of the other Angkor Temples. What made this temple really stand out from the rest was how it had aged over the centuries. Huge trees have grown up through the temple, and though some people might argue that the ‘damage’ has ruined the temple, it really added to the authenticity for us. Although it was an incredible experience visiting all these temples, it does get repetitive later in the day. After spending hours and hours visiting these temples we did decide to call it a day as we didn’t want to ruin our experience. This is something we would say to look out for as some people have said they found it a little ‘boring’ after making the effort to see all of the temples. The guidebook we had, said it recommended devoting at least 3 days to the temples, but if you get up for the sunrise like we did, I think one is sufficient unless you really would like to see all of them.

On our last day in Siem Reap, we took a motorbike tour around the city and its rural areas, so we could experience and understand Cambodian culture better. During our tour, we visited a local school, where our money was going to provide the school with teachers, textbooks and equipment. Like the cooking class, this was one of the reasons why we were happy to pay for the tour. We also visited local rice fields, cattle farms as well as other local Cambodian agriculture in order to understand why Cambodia is a farming nation and the development that is taking place within Siem Reap. At the end of our tour, we were asked to donate a sum of money that we thought was adequate for the tour, as well as going to help the school develop. Minimum donations are $50 which may sound expensive. However, we did have an entire day motorbike tour, free food, and the money goes to a great cause! As you know from our other posts, if something is not worth it, or overpriced we aren’t scared to say it. Nevertheless, this tour was genuinely worth at least $50!

To end our stay in Siem Reap, we again hit pub street with Max and his friends from his volunteering course. This time we went to the club area of Temple Bar, which was incredible and something we just didn’t expect from Cambodia. The nightlife down Pub Street is genuinely amazing and if you haven’t visited, or don’t plan on going then you’re missing out on a great aspect Siem Reap offers. Siem Reap was my favourite place in Cambodia, and one of my favourite places in Southeast Asia. If we hadn’t pre-booked our flights to Vietnam beforehand, we would have definitely stayed a little longer. Siem Reap is a great mix of chilled, friendly and crazy. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything more you could ask for!

View the rest of our Cambodia pictures here

2017:  A Year for Travelling

2017 has been an amazing year for the three of us. Travelling for 40% of the year and visiting 13 different countries has made 2017 the best year of our lives to date. This blog post will look back at everywhere we have been and what made it so amazing.

In February, we travelled to Krakow as a group of 8. This was the biggest group of people that we have travelled with and it lived up to all expectations. Some of the best highlights of Krakow were visiting Auschwitz and the salt mines. Although very sobering, Auschwitz was an incredible place to visit and you felt a sense of disbelief at walking around and listening to the tour guide. Should you get the opportunity, we would highly recommend visiting Auschwitz as it’s an incredibly important historical place. Additionally, going in the winter where it was -8°C allowed us to at least experience some of the weather conditions in which the prisoners had to work in, the difference being we had appropriate winter clothing. A truly reflective experience.

The salt mines were also incredible. We weren’t expecting much, but it really blew us away. I remember us walking through and we came to a chapel completely built out of salt. The architecture involved was mesmerising and anyone who is thinking of going definitely should! Obviously with Krakow comes great nightlife, and it didn’t disappoint. The hostel, The Little Havana Party Hostel, made sure that we all had a great time with its constant free drinks and games.

After Krakow, we travelled to Iceland. We knew that Iceland was going to amaze us, but it was better than we could have ever imagined. Renting a car really did give us the flexibility that made our trip so great. Picking a couple of highlights from this trip is just too hard. From snorkelling in Pingvellir national park, to the Blue Lagoon and seeing Geysers erupt. Honestly, Iceland is one of our favourite places and it is up there with one of our best trips. I think what made Iceland so good for us is that it felt for the first time that we were travelling properly. We had learnt so much from our other trips that now we had learnt enough to feel that we were doing things right.

Why people should visit Iceland is that it genuinely has everything you could want to see or do. Whale watching (although we didn’t see any whales) was a wonderful experience seeing the number of dolphins and sea life that we did. Being able to experience the Northern Lights in the most amazing way was truly an experience that we will never forget. Iceland had so many highlights that it should be at the very top of everyone’s bucket list!

In April we planned some small trips to Edinburgh and Dublin. These trips were planned as we wanted to go somewhere in the Easter holidays, and it would be our last trip before our Asia trip. In Edinburgh, we visited the dungeons, the castle and Arthur’s seat, as well as drinking enough alcohol to last us a lifetime. Like in Edinburgh, we also drank far too much alcohol in Dublin. Dublin’s bars are a crazy and surreal atmosphere of beer, fun and laughter. One highlight was in a pub on the Dublin pub crawl, where a couple from Barcelona started Irish dancing and the whole pub went crazy for it. We also stopped off at the Guinness Brewery where, you guessed it, Guinness is made. This was actually a really cool experience, not only for the free Guinness but also learning how it has been brewed throughout its history.

Our Asia trip began in Hong Kong. At the time only two of us started the trip together as the other was volunteering for 5weeks in Cambodia. Hong Kong was our first experience of Asia, and its safe to say it only got us more excited. The favourite bit of Hong Kong was completing the Dragons Back Trail. Whilst hiking through the jungles and mountains of Hong Kong, we saw some absolutely stunning views before finishing at one of the best beaches we’ve ever seen. This is something that anyone visiting Hong Kong should put right at their top of their to-do list. Other memories of Hong Kong include going to see the Big Buddha, and to get to it we took the longest cable car journey in the world! Also walking down to Star Ferry Pier where we took a boat tour of the harbour to see the city all lit up of Hong Kong. We thought Hong Kong would just get us used to the culture without changing too much from England. However, it got us so excited for the rest of the trip that we instantly fell in love with HK.

Malaysia is really where we started to do all the typical travelling stuff. During our 9 days stay in Malaysia we met so many people from all over the world, many of whom we still are in regular contact with. The people we met in Malaysia were amazing and really made us have an awesome time! One person, we’d like to give a big shout out to was the hostel rep, Kat. Kat was the hostel rep for the pub crawl which happened 5 times a week and was the reason why the pub crawl was so fun. Unfortunately for you if you’re thinking of visiting, she no longer works at the hostel, which is a big shame for anyone who is wanting to visit Kuala Lumper. Not only did she make sure everyone was so drunk that it was impossible not to have a good night, but she also made me meet my current girlfriend. So, it’s safe to say that Malaysia really was incredible. Activities that added to our wonderful experience whilst in KL was visiting the elephant sanctuary and the Cameron Highlands Tour.  The elephant sanctuary was fun and interesting to go and see. It gave us an educated insight into the torture that so many elephants experience all around the world, but particularly in Southeast Asia. Visiting the Cameron Highlands, where we saw stunning mountain ranges and learned about the history of the tea plantations there, which date back to the British Empire. This was something quite different than we had ever done before and found it surprisingly interesting. Both activities are something that we would highlight as things to do in Malaysia. Before we started our trip, I didn’t really want to go to Malaysia that much compared to the other countries, but I can honestly say that Malaysia has a place in my heart.

Moving onto Cambodia where we spent the next two weeks soaking up the sun and experiencing the Cambodian culture. Staying in Phnom Penh for around a week, we visited many of the temples and took a bike tour around some of the islands that surround the Cambodian capital. The highlight of Phnom Penh was learning about the Khmer Rouge and the genocide that happened around 40 years ago. As we mentioned in our article, we were frustrated to learn about the genocide in depth, which we previously knew little about. This genocide was beyond horrific, as it affected every Cambodian family and still effects Cambodian life today. Visting S21 and the Killing Fields was a solace moment for the both of us, something we can only compare to Auschwitz. Even if history does not interest you, this is so important to learn about as it really widens your eyes to the horrors that took place so recently.

Our 2nd week in Cambodia was spent in Siem Reap where we later met up with Max and met some of his volunteering group. Obviously visiting one of the world wonders, Angkor Wat, was a phenomenal memory that we will never forget. Although it wasn’t the best sunrise we could have had, it was still a magical moment and feeling around the place. Its quite surreal that Angkor Wat was built so many centuries ago, and is still standing today in all its glory. What we loved about Siem Reap was that it had more of a travel scene compared to Phnom Penh.  The more relaxed, party-like atmosphere created a great buzz where it was easy to have fun.  A couple of activities we enjoyed were driving quads around the countryside, and riding motorbikes around the city which were amazing and something that everyone should do when visiting Siem Reap! Something we loved about Cambodia was the hospitality of the people. They always made you feel so at home and always made you laugh and have the best time possible. We have so many memories of Cambodia and Cambodia really added a lot to our trip.

Now the three of us were finally together, Vietnam was our next stop. The next 17 days were hectic but probably the best 17 days of our lives. It’s going to take some trip to beat our experience of Vietnam. Starting off on Castaways Island in Ha Long Bay, we spent two nights here partying with about 100 other people. On the second day you get your own private party boat where you tour Ha Long Bay and have a mad party at the same time. Other activities you can do in your time here include kayaking, rock climbing, tubing and wake boarding. If you choose to visit this place just expect to have a crazy time! After our mad adventures in Ha Long Bay, we travelled from Hanoi to Sapa where we spent the next three days trekking in the mountains. The North of Vietnam is stunning, and the view in the mountain ranges are phenomenal. If you enjoy trekking, then you will absolutely love Sapa because some of the walks, mountain views and scenery are out of this world. This just added to the Vietnam highlight reel and really was one of our favourite things we did our entire Asia trip. Rounding off Vietnam with an absolute bang, was spending a week doing the Buffalo Run with some of the best people we’ve ever met from all over the world. Starting in Hanoi and finishing off in Hoi An, the buffalo run was a weeks long adventure down the east coast of Vietnam. Attempting to replicate Top Gear’s Vietnam Special (in reverse), we completed the Hai Van Pass in army jeeps from the Vietnam war, learnt a lot about the war and Vietnamese culture, played plenty of volleyball, as well as seeing some of the most beautiful beaches all with the best company. As you can tell, we couldn’t have enjoyed Vietnam more if we tried.

Now we were halfway through our Asia trip we flew to Thailand to spend the next 21 days, island hopping, drinking and spending our time relaxing with the most amazing views to look out. Starting off our trip island hopping through the islands of Phi Phi, Samui, Pha Ngan and Koh Tao, we enjoyed 10 days of absolute madness. Ranging from the mad parties on the beach, to spectacular waterfalls and completing our diving licenses, Thailand really couldn’t get much better. Or so we thought. After completing our diving courses, which we all agree was one of the best things we have done to date, we really thought that the rest of our travels in Thailand couldn’t be beaten. However, we were so wrong. After stopping over in Bangkok for four days, we travelled north to the city of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai was incredible and stopping at the elephant sanctuary where we fed and cleaned the elephants was really enjoyable. After the elephant sanctuary took us on a trek to see some waterfalls and later gave us the amazing opportunity to do river rafting, we all agreed that Chiang Mai was one of our favourite places. From Chiang Mai, we travelled to Pai, where our hostel had a pool that overlooked the mountain ranges of northern Thailand. Renting a motorbike and driving around the countryside, seeing waterfalls, canyons and fantastic views, Pai was a place which we never wanted to leave. Unfortunately, due to time constrictions we only spent 48hours there. Nevertheless, we all agree that we will return to Pai as soon as we can.

Japan was our next stop on our travels. Although we visited Toyko for two days the main point of our Japan trip was to attempt to climb Mt Fuji. During our time in Fuji, we stayed at a brilliant hostel, K’s house, which was very relaxed and chilled out. If you choose to climb Mt Fuji, you’ll find this is exactly what you’ll need afterwards. We really enjoyed walking around all the lakes and looking at all the mountain views from our hostel. At the hostel, we met a traveller called Andy who made the trip to the top with us. The climb itself which took over 24hours straight to ascend and descend was probably the physically hardest thing we’ve ever done. However, it was by far one of the most rewarding as it was an amazing feeling reaching the top and then being back at the hostel again. Even though we weren’t overly keen on Toyko, we loved our time in Fuji and we really want to go and visit other Japanese cities such as Osaka and Kyoto. Our short stay in Japan really made us get the Japan bug, and Fuji was one of those places which we really do like.

The last place on our itinerary was India. When we were travelling to India we all couldn’t believe just how quickly the last 3months of our trip went. But we were determined to make the most of our last 17 days. While we had a difficult start In India (getting scammed in Delhi), we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Agra and it was just what we needed. Needless to say, seeing the Taj Mahal at both sunrise and sunset was an unbelievable experience and one we won’t soon forget. The architecture and level of detail put into the interior decoration is absolutely incredible. However, India gave us many problems that we just didn’t encounter on the rest of our travels. One major problem was our train was somehow delayed over 8hours. This significantly cut our time short in Jaipur, where we only got to see some of the attractions like the Amber Fort. We ended our trip in Goa, visiting the amazing town of Hampi along the way. Hampi, like Pai, was just an incredible place that is hard to explain to people that have never been. All we can say is that these places are a backpacker’s heaven and anyone wishing to visit these places will truly be mesmerised by them. Unfortunately, we didn’t have long in Hampi either as we had to head back to Goa to catch our flight back to the UK. During the last few days in Goa, we booked a resort which was close to the beach, so we could just relax and look back on what an incredible time we had. Everyone says you experienced a once in a life-time trip, and travelling around for so long has all got us in agreement, that we will  make it not a once in a life-time trip!

Rounding the year out with returning to Thailand and visiting Bali in early November was an awesome feeling. Visiting my girlfriend that I had met in Malaysia during my Asia trip, and now visiting her some months later was a strange moment. During our time in Thailand, we visited the markets in Bangkok, as well as eating lots of Thai food. We left Bangkok to fly to Bali for the next five days where I had my first luxury holiday without my family. Usually, we are used to hostels but this time we stayed in a 4-star hotel which had its own pool and a shuttle taxi to its private beach. Although in Bali we mainly relaxed while only seeing a few of the things that Bali has to offer by hiring a motorbike, the trip made me want to visit Bali again and see it properly. The Indonesian people reminded me a lot of the rest of the  Southeast Asian people, very friendly and very kind. Finishing our travels in Bali really topped of our 2017 travels and got us excited for what’s to come in 2018. Although we only have two trips planned as of now, (Norway in January and Lisbon in April), we are excited to see what the future has in store!

 

Phnom Penh: Cambodia’s Old City

After spending the last 9 days in Malaysia, we flew out from KL and arrived in Phnom Penh. As we arrived in the late afternoon we decided to just walk around our hostel and sample some Cambodian food. Our first experiences of Asia were Hong Kong and Malaysia which are much different to Cambodia. Like Hong Kong, where it felt everyone had somewhere to go, Phnom Penh was just so busy. It was a bit of a culture shock as we learned as soon as we got out of the airport the roads were mental!

Before expanding on our trip to Cambodia, we would just like to point out that Cambodian food is incredible. Although most of our posts have raved about the food, (and deservedly so) we really did appreciate the Cambodian food. Not only the food, but the culture and people are incredible. Everyone is so friendly, and really make you feel welcome. You hear a lot of scare stories as Cambodia is a relatively poor country compared to other SEA countries, but we always felt safe and welcomed where ever we went.

For our first proper day, we relaxed and took things nice and slow. As we had scheduled to have a lot of time in Phnom Penh we didn’t feel the need to rush things. Although we spent way too much time in Phnom Penh (one of the many mistakes we have learned from), there were still lots for us to see and get involved with. We started our trip by just walking around the city and getting a feel for Phnom Penh. In other words, we just wanted to chill whilst still enjoying our time. As is very common in Cambodia, we were soon stopped by so many different Tuk-Tuk drivers asking us if we wanted a tour of X, Y, and Z. Some people may be put off by this constant nagging, but just remember your business is how they make a living and feed their families, and usually, the Tuk-Tuk drivers were very friendly. After a bit of persuasion, we decided to take a Tuk-Tuk city tour around the city, in which we saw the old city and the newly built part. During our trip, we stopped at many attractions, like the war monument, many Buddhists temples, and the Grand Palace. Although our day was pretty ‘tame’ compared to our whole Asia experience, for once it was nice to chill and just take in the city. The breeze you get in the back of a Tuk-Tuk is always very welcome!

During our second day, we decided to again go by Tuk-Tuk and experience Phnom Penh. During the day we visited Monkey temple, where we got to hand feed some bananas to the monkeys there. One little monkey wasn’t allowed to be fed as the big monkey, unfortunately, get very territorial over the bananas. After we visited a temple in the shape of a boat, a quite strange temple, and you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that it’s called Boat temple. This was included in the package we negotiated down, but if it wasn’t we wouldn’t recommend. The temple is nothing special and not worth going out of your way in our opinion. An activity we did enjoy was visiting Silk Island and its surrounding temples. Having to get a ferry boat over, we first visited a family’s house to see the weaving process. It looks quite a difficult task, and if you like you can purchase a pure silk scarf, tablecloth or other garments at a much lower price than you would get it at home. We then went to a more ‘industrial’ place (although not like you would see at home) where they made silk on a slightly larger scale. We got to see the silkworms here and learned more about how the silk was actually produced. There are a few other attractions at the site, such as a few (caged) animals. One of our highlights of our day was sitting on a big swing chair and just looking over the river and listening to our tour guide tell us about his life, and experience with the Khmer Rouge. Although we had to leave just before seeing a good sunset, it was a really enjoyable way to end our trip to silk island. We made one more stop off at the so-called Golden Temple. Again, the name literally explains what it is, a golden temple. However, unlike the Boat Temple, we really enjoyed walking around all the golden temples and buddhas. It had a lot more to offer and a lot more to see. Throughout our trip to Asia thus far, we had been trying local cuisine wherever we went. However, we decided to go and eat some western food at a burger place close to our hostel. The place called ‘Cousins’ was a French-owned restaurant and it served amazing food. The burgers were some of the best we have ever had, and we didn’t think we would be saying that in Cambodia.

The next day involved a bike tour that we had booked before leaving for Asia. The tour group consisted of us, two Australian guys, and our tour guide.  After cycling for a couple of hours, we reached our first destination, another silk weaving family. Here we tried some locally grown fruit: rambutans, mangosteens and dragon fruits. I have to say that these tasted delicious. After we had eaten we set off again and stopped at a local primary school where the kids suddenly became more interested in us than they did their studies. This was great fun as every child wanted a hug and a high five. The Cambodian children almost made you feel like you were a celebrity, and this was another fitting example of the welcoming feeling you got from the place. Finally, we ended our 5hour cycle tour seeing some temples and being blessed by a monk. We found this very interesting and enjoyed the experience as we had never been blessed by a Buddhist monk before.

On day 4, we met up with a friend that we had met in Malaysia. After having a catch-up and breakfast together, we decided to visit the Royal Palace and the National Museum and not do much else. The Royal Palace was a great piece of architecture, but it seemed a bit pricey for what you get to do. You are not allowed to walk inside the actual palace, which for us really killed the buzz. Nevertheless, the National Museum was very interesting and had hundreds and hundreds of artifacts spanning back over 1000 years. The Museum was a time warp into Cambodian culture and history and is worth taking a look.  Most of you will be happy to know that beer is incredibly cheap in Cambodia. With beer only being 50 cents during happy hour, we decided to have a little bit of a night out for the first time since arriving in Phnom Penh. We eventually stopped at an Irish bar at the end of our pub crawl and watch Wimbledon, where Nadal lost in nearly a 5-hour match. Safe to say one of us wasn’t happy the match went on too long.

Even though we went out the night before, we got up early so we could visit Tuol Sleng Prison (S21) and Cheoung Ek Killing Fields. As someone who is immensely interested in history and politics, learning about the genocide in Cambodia really frustrated me.  In the West, we don’t get taught about it, either at all or in any kind of depth. It’s hard to believe that the atrocities committed here by the Khmer Rouge happened only 40 years ago, and the places both feel so surreal. Almost all the local people of Cambodia have been affected by and lost family members to the evil deeds of the Polpot Regime. It made us reflect just how lucky we are that not only are we able to live in a free country, but were able to visit Cambodia and learn about the culture, history and the remarkable progress it has made since. One of the policies of the Khmer Rouge was to execute any educated people to prevent possible uprisings, and it is thought by many that this is a large part of the causation of Cambodia’s poverty-stricken situation. Comparable only to places such as Auschwitz, if you visit the country you really must visit these places to be able to take into consideration the scale of the nefariousness of the Khmer Rouge.

On our final day in Phnom Penh, we decided to make it all about the markets. The Central Market in the daytime is huge and is so easy to get lost in (trust us, we did). We must have walked down the same aisle thinking it was a different one over 5 times. As someone who doesn’t have a massive interest in markets, I had to say I really did enjoy this one. In fact, both of us did! With clothes being so cheap, we decided to buy a few tops each as we wanted something that would fit the climate and also stop the constant “Tuk-Tuk?” calls. Obviously, we opted for the ‘No Tuk-Tuk T-shirt’ each, and you’ll be surprised to hear that they didn’t work.

All in all, although we agreed that we spent far too long in Phnom Penh and could have done everything in a much smaller time frame, we did thoroughly enjoy our stay. The people really did make us feel welcome, especially our Hostel, the Sla Boutique which we can recommend. We would defiantly recommend visiting Phnom Penh so you can visit S21 and the Killing Fields, but we wouldn’t stay there as long if we went back. Again, it comes down to not pre-booking your travel arrangements, as we would have left for Siem Reap a couple of days earlier if we hadn’t already paid for the bus and hostel.

View the rest of our Cambodia pictures here

 

A Backpackers Guide for Packing

With 25 countries under our belts, we’ve definitely had some problems when packing. For the majority of our short-haul travels, where we were inexperienced in the art of travelling, we just used a 20l bag. This worked well for us as we didn’t want to pay for checked baggage. However, when we travelled to Asia our mind shift changed and we decided to pay for checked baggage and take 60L bags. We quickly learned in our first place in Hong Kong, that not only did we overpack, but we brought too big a bag.

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I find that when you have a bigger back you pack more things as there are more spaces to fill. As silly as this sounds it was true for the three of us. Our bags ranged from 13-16kg, which travelling around for 3.5months was way too much. Since coming back, I have travelled back to Thailand and Bali with a new 30L bag and it worked perfectly for me. So, what are the essentials for travelling?

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Firstly, try to pack as lightly as possible. We have read many blogs that suggest pack once, then re-pack with half the things you did the first time. This advice should not be so easily dismissed. The things that we would recommend taking are:

  • 1 week’s supply of underwear
  • 1 week’s supply of socks
  • 5-7 T-shirts
  • Flip Flops – travel in trainers
  • One travel towel – Usually a good travel towel is light, takes up little room and dry’s quickly.
  • One waterproof travel coat
  • Swimming trunks
  • 2/3 Shorts

These were the bare essential things that we needed whilst travelling Europe or Asia. The key is not to pack too much because you’ll find you don’t use half of the things anyway. Other things that I would recommend bringing are a lock for your bag and a lock for the locker in your hostel. Most hostels offer lockers to put your valuables in, and if not, then don’t stay there. When you’re staying in a dorm that can cost as little as £2 a night, anybody could be staying there (although in general travellers are awesome folk) and it’s worth locking up your valuables.

One thing that you really do want to spend the time to get is a way to access money free of charge, and don’t charge you fees for using your card abroad. Some credit cards offer this, but we found it easier to use a debit card from a company called Monzo. Our article on “How we Travel” talks more about a Monzo card and why this is a useful card to travel with.

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Having an unlocked phone makes your trip so much easier and enjoyable. Most international airports have kiosks where you can buy temporary SIM cards. It is possible to get SIMs with international calls, but we just got data-only packages. Use of the internet comes in very handy for finding your way around, looking up the location of your next activity, as well as contacting people at home occasionally.

Something that most people usually forget until the last minute is travel insurance! If you are travelling for months on end and know you’re going to be doing a lot of adventurous activities, such as diving, climbing mountains or even just driving a motorbike (the roads are mad!) then make sure you have travel insurance. We usually use compare the market as it allows you to set different filters and compare prices with ease. For our small trips, we don’t usually take out travel insurance. But we did for the Asia trip, and it paid off when one of us lost a phone! A thing to remember is ‘gadgets’ such as mobile phones, tablets, and laptops are not covered under most basic policies and require an additional cover plan.

Something I wish I had listened to before I left is that you can buy a lot of the things you need abroad, and for much cheaper. One thing that I think is essential for a lot of countries is insect repellent. The mosquitoes are a nightmare, and the bites in Asia were a lot worse than those I’ve had in the UK. Bug spray makes your life so much easier. I took 4 cans of bug spray and only got through 2 cans. Taking 1 can and then buying it out there not only saves you space in your bag but also money.

During our time in Asia, we bought so many clothes, whether that be tank tops, shorts or flipflops. Basically, we bought a whole new ‘Asia wardrobe’. You’ll soon find out that the clothes you brought are too thick, so you chafe and sweat. Another thing is that if your clothes are too thick then they won’t dry when you have to cram them into an overly small tumble drier, so you find yourself wasting more of your time abroad waiting for laundry. Most clothes in Asia cost a few pounds if that, and it’s better to buy out there than take your good clothes. A lot of countries aren’t the cleanest, and clothes often get dirty beyond reuse.

Again, don’t worry about bringing loads of toiletries beforehand as you can buy these in Asia for a fraction of the price that you would pay back home. Ladies, (or fellas if you’re so inclined!), we found that a lot of long-term female travellers had given up on daily makeup as the heat just makes your face melt. You might want some for the odd special night out or fancy dinner, but packing everything you use at home will only weigh you down.

The number one thing that we would recommend leaving at home is jeans. In a nutshell, they’re just the wrong clothes for the Asian climate. Not only do they never dry, but you will no doubt chafe in the humidity. Besides, you want to carry as little weight as possible, and jeans are relatively heavy when it comes to trousers.

Like jeans, you don’t really need to bring any smart shirts unless you really want to look smart at a restaurant or bar. However, most of the time we visited clubs in tank top, swim shorts and flip-flops. One of the best things about dressing like this is that this was the norm! Also, irons in hostels are a rarity so if you’re washing your own shirts be prepared to wear them creased. Save yourself the time and effort and leave jeans and shirts at home.

Travelling Asia – How much?

After travelling around Asia (mainly Southeast Asia) we found that once you’re out there, it is possible to do most places on a small budget. Although we spent more during the 3-month trip than we expected, Asia, in general, is inexpensive (bar Japan). The usual question we get asked is how much did your Asia trip cost? And although we can put a price on our expenditure, that doesn’t mean that your trip will cost the same. Many factors are dependent on what activities you do. So let’s begin!

Accommodation – Accommodation in Southeast Asia was pretty much similar price throughout the region. Dorm rooms in hostels are they key to saving money! During our stay in Cambodia, we could find dorms for around £2-£5 a night. If you don’t mind ‘roughing’ it, save money on accommodation so you have more money to spend on the activities! The most expensive places we stayed during our time in Asia was Japan, where we found hostels for around £20+ a night. However, Japan is expensive, so saving on hostels is a must if you want to stay in Japan for long. Another tip, if you don’t know how long you will be staying in a certain place, either book the first night on Hostel World and then book nights if you choose to stay longer, or when you arrive in the city just show up and book a room.

In Asia, rooms are more expensive if you choose to take an AC room. During our stay in India, we did not take an AC room as we had a communication issue. We suffered badly! Although an AC room is more expensive, if you want that extra comfort (and trust me you will) it is worth paying the £2-£4 a night more for it. Obviously, if you’re staying in the touristy areas of a city, or on the Thai Islands, then prices will be higher. The Thai Islands (article here )were usually very expensive if you wanted to book a good hostel. If you’re sticking mainly to Southeast Asia, budgeting £5-£15 a night is very safe. The most expensive hostel during our time in Southeast Asia was around £15 a night in Koh Phi Phi. If you are travelling around India, most hostels are around £2-£7 depending on if you want AC, And Japan is anything from £20-£35, depending on where you are staying.

Transportation – Transportation in Asia is again very cheap, excluding Japan. I remember us getting a bus in Goa, where our journey was about 50 minutes and we spent 20 rupees each (about 23p). If you want to travel cheaply and easily, then the best way is to travel by bus. During our stay in Cambodia we travelled from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and this cost us around £12 for a 6hour bus ride. Even in Thailand which we found to be usually the most expensive Southeast Asian country that we visited, public transport was around 20baht (50p).

Again, travelling is all about making memories and having experiences. You want to be able to spend more on your activities and save money wherever you can. Saving money on transport, when you’re travelling for months all adds up. Taxis are usually 3 times more expensive than public transport and sometimes more. Sometimes when we were tired, and we just arrived in a place, we took a taxi over public transport and it cost us more. Arriving late at night in Japan, the buses and trains had stopped running for the day and we were forced to take a taxi to our hostel. The journey was little over half an hour long, and came to the equivalent of £60! Although it may seem daunting at first, using public transport is the way to go if you want to see a lot of places.

When you’re in Southeast Asia, you have to experience a Tuk-Tuk ride. However, I wouldn’t suggest doing this all the time as Tuk-Tuk’s are more expensive than a bus. Although you can haggle a Tuk-Tuk price down, usually you still spend more than what you would on a bus.

If you want cheap flights as one of our previous article said, use Sky Scanner! The cheapest flights are usually with Air Asia, VietJet Air or Tiger Airways. They’re basically the Ryanair of the Asian market.

Putting a figure on how much you should budget a day for transport is hard because it really depends on many things. What I would say is just try and travel as cheaply as possible. Walking, renting a motorbike or taking the bus are the cheapest options!

Food – Food in Asia is incredibly cheap and delicious. Our favourite foods were from India and Thailand, and if you want to eat a lot then Asia is the place to be. What is important to remember is that Western meals are much more expensive than local cuisine. In Thailand, Pad Thai was roughly 50baht, but a pizza or a burger was touching 200baht. Also, local cuisine is so much better than Western food that you really cannot go wrong with it!

Street food in Southeast Asia is ridiculously cheap. Some street food costs around £1 which means there’s plenty of opportunities to get seconds. However, most restaurants are cheap and usually only cost £2-£5 depending on your order. I wouldn’t worry too much about setting aside lots of money for food if you like Asian food. If I were pushed to suggest a budget for food I’d say between £10-£15 per day, when eating out for all 3 meals. Anything more and you’re eating at the wrong places! When visiting Hong Kong and Japan, we spent much more on food than we did in the rest of Asia. But that was mainly as the street food was less available and more expensive.

If you do decide to travel to Japan we would recommend booking a hostel that has its own kitchen where you can make and prepare your own food. This is what we did, and we saved a lot of money on buying food from a supermarket in bulk, rather than buying from a restaurant. Nevertheless, do set aside some money to eat proper Japanese food at an authentic Japanese restaurant, as the experience is amazing and really should not be skipped!

Activities- As our last article mentioned, it’s not a requirement to book activities in advance, and you’ll often find the same activities for cheaper once you’re out there. A lot of hostels will book trips for you or will be more than happy to recommend places where you can book them yourself. Unless you know you’re going to be struggling for time, we really wouldn’t suggest pre-booking. Not only does it cost you more money, but it doesn’t allow the flexibility you want during your trip.

As with everything else, activities in Asia are pretty cheap. However, they will make up most of your daily budget. Our activities in Vietnam included Ha Long Bay, Sapa and the Buffalo Run, and cost around US$830. Nevertheless, this isn’t the norm for many of the activities. Most day tours can be as cheap as £10 a day depending on the activities. I’d recommend researching into what you want to do and how much they cost (remember they will be a little cheaper when you get out there, but this means you can have an estimation of the amount of money you need).

Suggested budget- As Asia is relatively cheap for almost anything, I wouldn’t worry about spending too much money. Obviously, the more places you visit and the longer your trip is the more overall money you’re going to need. However, if you take the advice this post has offered you could get away with spending £20-£30 a day. I would recommend having an added safety buffer of between £5-£7 so you don’t run out of money. If you choose not to stay at a hostel and eat at fancy restaurants, then you could be looking at around £50-£60 a day. Save money wherever you can so you can travel for longer!

How we Travel – The Travel Guide for Students

Many people ask us on a regular basis, how do you travel so much? Being university students, we know that it can be hard to see how you can travel so much. Many people get put off travelling for many reasons. Usually, a lack of time or money means that people cannot travel, or so they think. In 2017 we travelled for 40% of the year and visited numerous places. Since we finished 6th form we have regularly planned trips, whether that be on a large or small scale and always made it work.  In the last two years alone, although we have been students at university during this time, we have travelled to 25 different countries spanning two continents. And now we will share our secrets with you.

It may sound obvious, but having a job at university really helps with being able to plan your trips. Our motto is always ‘When you’re out there, you just have to do it, and worry about money later.’ Although this may seem irresponsible we rarely spend money that we do not have. A prime example of this is a recent trip to Thailand. (Thailand article here). We decided to do a fun dive and then loved it so much we decided to get our divers license. In Koh Tao, diving costs around £180, which is obviously a lot of money to spontaneously decide to spend. But that motto has always worked for us and is one of the reasons we have always enjoyed ourselves on our trips. Having a job at university has allowed us to be able to have this motto and stick by it. Many of you may wonder how you can balance work and university, and the key is time management. If you can manage your time for your Uni work, then you can work more hours. Working more hours means more trips. It’s that simple.

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A common question we get asked a lot is how much our trips cost. And of course, this varies depending on destination, activities and length of time travelling. But one way we can assure that you will save money is using travel-friendly websites.  Sky Scanner and Hostel World are your friend! Sky Scanner is a flight website that checks every airline that offers that flight and sends you the cheapest prices. We often have found ‘hot deals’ including £9.99 return flights! The key to Sky Scanner is to be as flexible as possible. As a Uni student I know this can be difficult. However, during reading week, Christmas holidays and Easter, you have a significant amount of time to choose a certain date for departure and your return, that you should instantly save a lot of money. Hostel World is also a brilliant website. Like Sky Scanner it shows you all the hostels in that area and rates them on price, security, location etc. You can choose yourself which one you think is the most important to you. For us, it’s s price and location. We usually pick the cheapest price with the best location. A lot of people who don’t travel on a regular basis ‘sneer’ at the thought of staying in a hostel. But depending on how much money you want to spend, you can get a nice hostel. A lot of the time we have had a good hostel that is clean, secure and much cheaper than a standard hotel. For us, a hostel is just a place to sleep at night, other than that we aren’t that fussed. Most travellers like to stay in hostels (especially solo-travellers) as this is one of the best ways to meet people! We really cannot recommend staying in hostels enough!

Research is essential when you have decided where you want to go. Many people do not realise just how much research we put into our trips, to allow us to do the best things in the time we have. Although after our recent 3.5-month trip to Asia taught us that ‘winging it’ can free your time up, researching what are the best places to do in that place prior departing is key. Although we recommend to not set a time limit to a certain place (if possible) we do highly recommend to research what there is to do in each country. For example, on our recent trip to Vietnam, (Vietnam article here) we researched into Ha Long Bay, Sapa and the Buffalo Run. All these activities made our Vietnam trip special and we might not have known about them unless we did our research. Additionally, wasting time in your hostel searching ‘What to do in x’ is not only a waste of your time but a waste of your money. You obviously wanted to go to this place for a reason, so research before you go what you can do! Another top tip,  if you want to plan a long trip where you will be visiting several countries, do not pre-book your flights from one country to another. We found that when we did this, we ran out of time in a certain place where we would have liked more. As we got better with this, we found that the trip was more enjoyable, relaxing and flexible which gave us the perfect chance to explore each country and city as much as we wanted.

When you have decided what activities have made you want to visit a certain place. You will probably look to pre-book most of your activities if not all of them. And although it is helpful to pre-book your activities as you get the payments out of the way and feel organised, nine times out of ten, you can book these activities during your stay for much cheaper. Finding a good hostel is key to booking your activities. Although we pre-booked our activities in Vietnam, our hostel that we stayed at (Vietnam Backpackers Hostel) offered all the trips we did for a slightly cheaper price. This is why researching your hostel and activities is key to saving money and saving time. Not pre-booking your activities also gives you the freedom to decide what you want to do whilst you’re out there. Sometimes making yourself stick to a schedule, takes the fun out of it and makes your trip less flexible.

Obviously figuring out how much spending money you should take is always difficult and depends on many factors. But remember, your trip will likely cost more than you first plan it to. Something most people seem to forget is factoring transport costs whilst you’re in a country! Try taking public transport as much as possible as taxis are very expensive and add up quickly. When you take off your tourist coat and became a true traveller, you will find that settling for the “lower standards” that locals use every day will not only save you money, but help you get a real feel for the place; more than the façade that most visitors to the country see. The first trip we ever did, although we enjoyed at the time, looking back now was nothing compared to what we have done ever since. Since we have learned so much from each trip, we just try and earn as much money as we possibly can whilst trying to save money on accommodation and flights. One thing that catches many people out is international banking charges on most debit cards. If you’re not lucky enough to have access to a credit card, then get a MONZO CARD. Although recently they have changed their policy where now you are allowed £200 a month free withdrawal before paying a 3% charge. Monzo used to allow you to withdraw £1000 a month for free before you were capped withdrawing anymore. However, during my recent trip to Bali where the changes had come into place. I never needed to use my Monzo card to withdraw as I just paid for everything on my card which is free. Seriously, if you like to go abroad, even once a year and you want to save money, apply for a Monzo card!

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Finally, it is important to state that there is no right way to travel. People should choose to travel how they most feel comfortable. Travelling allows you to meet people from all over the world whilst experiencing different cultures, people and seeing the best sights. Our number one tip is whilst you are out there, just go for it. Don’t have any regrets. Venture out of your comfort zone. Once we did, we never looked back!