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.

61261878_438555903369622_5751145218627862528_n

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.

61361911_298492681037709_5829312068636901376_n

 

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.

Norway: In a Week Part I

Our plan to travel the whole of Norway, from the south to Tromso in just 8 days was ambitious and most people we met were all saying the same thing; ‘good luck’. However, we never like to give up and decided that there was no harm in trying. Starting our Norwegian adventure in Oslo, we decided that just like in Iceland, we would rent a car from the airport. People reading this might ask why we didn’t just fly, take a bus or get a train, well as we are four students, we were on a budget and heard that driving in Norway is part of the fun. That is something that we would like to point out. Although some of the journeys were so long in between places, the amount of times we stopped just to look at the scenery made all the driving worthwhile.

 

After researching online for what we can do in Oslo, we found very little that interested us. Therefore, we gave ourselves half a day to see what we wanted to see and then set off on the near 8 hour car journey to stavanger. We started our day bright and early, and drove to the Opera House which is on the coast of Oslo. Side note here, if you’re going to drive be prepared for out of this world parking fees. Obviously, we knew it was going to be expensive to park in a capital city, but we spent over £20 for an hour and three-quarters of parking. Nevertheless, the Opera House did you a good view of the coast as it allows you to walk on the roof! However, just be careful if you go in the winter time like we did, the thick snow and ice walking up a slope can be fairly hazardous as you’d expect. From here we walked down the pier where we came to a place called Vippa which is like a modern, hip food court. We ate a place called ‘Hot Hot Harmonica’ where we ate chili con carne, and it was really really good. Everything is homemade, including the sauces which really added to the taste. If you can find this place, as it took us a while to find it, then we definitely recommend eating here! However, like the rest of Norway it is expensive to eat here, around £14. From here we visited the Vigeland Sculpture Park, which may be the weirdest 40 minutes of my life. For anyone who is interested in statues of naked people, this is right up your alley. After walking around the park and looking at all the weird statues, we started a long drive south to Stavanger where we would later pick up Haydn.

 

Arriving in Stavanger just before 11pm, we stayed at an Air BnB called Hostel Gusto with a lovely host called Cristian. We must just point out that along the drive to Stavanger before it hit absolute darkness we did see some wonderful scenery and stopped off at a place called Langesund, originally for a toilet break until we turned around and saw an amazing view. As we arrived at the hostel, Cristian made us feel very welcome and we asked lots of questions about Norway and about what we could do in Stavanger. He was incredibly insightful and helpful and recommended us things that normal tourists would probably not do. However, Cristian does have some cats, so if you’re not a cat person then this place may not be for you.

 

The next day, following Cristian’s advice we took a ferry from Stavanger to Tou which took around 20-30 minutes. Big warning here, ferries in Norway cost A LOT and us stating this will be common throughout this blog as we had to take so many. Costing around £30 for a short journey, we arrived in Tou on our way to do the Pedersgata hike. If you do go, when you arrive at the barriers turn left before going through as there is free car parking if you do not go through the barrier. If you do, you will find out (like we did) that you just spend an extra £20 on parking for a few hours. Nevertheless, after buying and renting some equipment from the information centre, we headed up on the hike where it started to full on snow which only made the climb more magical. We really did want it to snow as we thought it would add to the effect of us being in Norway and climbing a mountain, and it certainly did! The views along the way became more spectacular the higher you got, the only problem was that sometimes the visibility got bad so you couldn’t always see the view that well. If you are thinking about visiting Stavanger and you only have a day or two, then definitely think about doing this climb because it was one of our favourite excursions down in the south of Norway.

 

After we had departed with another £20 for parking, we headed on home by taking a different ferry that was slightly cheaper, but further away from our hostel and then went to a bar where Cristian worked at. The bar was called Boker Og Borst, and was actually really nice, with live music, and an outside that had blankets and heaters to keep you warm in the winter. The place was hip and chill and Cristian gave us some free samples of Norwegian beer which we really appreciated. He also recommended we go and check out a place called Ost pub, where it was chill but fancier so the prices were expensive even with student discount!

 

Our final day in Stavanger was going to be a relative short one as we had to go and pick up Haydn at about 3pm from the airport. Again Cristian recommended us things to do so we wouldn’t be waiting around doing nothing in the morning. All we can do is thank Cristian for recommending the things he did because the views, mountains, and waterfalls etc were out of this world. At first when we arrived at the places he told us, we were quite confused as they were random coordinates he put in google maps. However, we kept driving and just saw stunning geography all around us. Starting at the Frafjord which is a huge fjord which leaves picturesque views on all sides. If you continue to drive through the fjord, a couple of kilometers further on you come to Manafossen, which is a stunning waterfall, probably the biggest we have seen up close. We must have spent about 30 minutes here just taking pictures and videos and just marvelling in its natural beauty. From there we carried up climbing up to “Man” which is a viewpoint overlooking the entire fjord which as you can imagine was phenomenal. We did have quite a comical experience climbing down as it was so icy and all downhill that we just kept falling over constantly, something we caught whilst on video. To round the sightseeing off, we drove back on ourselves and headed nearer to the city, on the way we stopped at a place called Gloppedalsura which are rock formations, surrounded by stunning mountain views and lakes. Some of this scenery was better than anything that we had ever seen by a country mile. The second day of our stay in Stavanger is best summed up by us constantly stopping getting out of the car and saying ‘Wow’.

 

Picking Haydn up from the airport and briefly stopping at the Sverd I Fjell, otherwise known as the 3 Swords, we headed onto Bergen which was going to take around 6 hours to get there. Here we used AirBnB again as we had such a good experience with Cristian – that was the first time that we had ever used it before as we usually just stay in hostels. Our stay in Bergen was short as we had such a long trip up to Tromso and many places to stop along the way. Whilst in Bergen we started our day visiting Bryggen which is a row of houses, shops and where the famous fish market is. However, only do this if you’re nearby because there’s not that much else to look at, and the famous fish market was a lot smaller than we were expecting. We then aimed to go up the cable car to Ulriken which is a mountain that overlooks the city and surrounding coastline.

 

However, sometimes things never work out the way you want them to and the cable car was shut due to high winds. At the time we were very confused as there was no wind at all where we were standing. The good news was that you can actually hike up the mountain if you choose to, which we did. However, in the winter the hike is incredibly slippy with ice and snow everywhere with steep rocks you have to climb. After climbing for about two hours we reached a point called Montana which is very close to the top, and that is where we found out why the cable car was closed. The wind was so strong here it’s probably the strongest wind we have ever been in! It was impossible to talk or even look into the wind, so we quickly but safely climbed back down to where the wind was not as strong. From here, we looked at the incredible view that was on offer before the arduous journey back down to the car. When we finally got back to the car we set off on our way to Geirangerfjord where we would begin making our way northwards.

View the rest of our Norway 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!

 

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.

25627494_10215144105499974_213961856_n

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?

edit

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.

Monzo Logo

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.