2017: Through a lens

2017 was an amazing year of travelling for us. Being able to travel for 40% of the year allowed us to visit some of the most incredible places around the world. With the travel, there were plenty of opportunities to capture every moment through a lens. This post will show you just some of our greatest pictures of 2017.

During our trip to Iceland we were constantly stopping to take pictures of all the amazing scenery. Seeing waterfall after waterfall, being lucky enough to see the northern lights and being able to see one of Iceland’s best glaciers, we could have uploaded most of our Iceland pictures. However, we have narrowed down to what we think are our best:

Hong Kong was our first stop in Asia, and was the first time that we had been outside of Europe. Originally, Hong Kong was just a place for us to start, as we thought that it wouldn’t be as much of a culture shock. However, we soon realised that Hong Kong was more than just a place for us to get in the swing of things. Hong Kong has so many amazing things to see and we tried doing most of them A particular favourite was the dragons back hike and seeing the Big Buddha. Here are some of our pictures:

Our second stop on our 3.5 months Asia trip was Malaysia. After spending around a week in KL, it quickly became one of our favourite cities. During our time in Malaysia we also spent time in the Cameron Highlands where we got to learn about its history, its tea plantations and how local tribes hunt food.

Spending two weeks in Cambodia, allowed us to really explore Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Being able to see Angkor Wat and the many temples (many golden) during our stay in Cambodia was awesome! Cambodia has its own story and was very different from any other places we had so far visited in 2017. Being able to educate ourselves on the genocide that took place in the 1970’s by talking to locals was an extremely sobering experience.

Spending 17 days in Vietnam was truly special. Vietnam is a country that has everything that you could want. Beach lover? Then Vietnam beaches are up there with the best in the world. Prefer the mountains? Why not go for a trek in the region of Sapa. In Vietnam, we visited Ha Long Bay, Sapa and travelled down the coast as part of a Buffalo Tour where we met some incredible people from all over the world. We also got the unique experience of driving the Hai Van Pass in ex-Vietnam war army trucks. A particular favourite memory was our stay in Ha Long Bay. Being on your own private island, rock climbing, kayaking, wake boarding etc etc, whilst partying with over 100 people every day is pretty special.

After leaving Vietnam, we spent the next 3 weeks in Thailand where we visited the major travelling places. Spending the first week or so visiting the Thai Islands, we got to party on the beaches of Koh Phi Phi, obtain our diving license in Koh Tao and saw Koh Samui whilst riding motorbikes. After spending a few days in Bangkok, where we visited the Royal Palace and Koh San Road, we travelled north to explore the wonderful city of Chiang Mai before adventuring further north to Pai.

Having the chance to visit Japan whilst predominantly travelling around SEA was quite weird. SEA cultures although have many differences, also are very similar. So to experience a whole new culture like Japan was fascinating. Tokyo was different from what we expected it to be and was rather disappointed. However, Fuji was an amazing place as we stayed at a great hostel that made the traveller feel welcome and comfortable. Having the chance to climb Mt. Fuji and seeing a glorious sunrise made the whole trip from SEA to Japan worthwhile.

Lastly, we visited India where its safe to say it didn’t have the best start. After being scammed as soon as we landed, we had to shake it off and focus on making the most of our time as it was our last stop of our Asia tour. Going from a country like Japan to a country like India is definitely a culture shock for many reasons (the toilet situation is one that comes straight to mind!) That being said, visiting the Taj Mahal and spending a week in Goa and Hampi were truly enjoyable moments.

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!

 

Hong Kong: A City of Life

After visiting Hong Kong for the first time, we were pleasantly surprised by just how good the island really was. We expected a lot as we had done a lot of research on what we should do once we were there, but we were not prepared for the sheer awesomeness of Hong Kong.

 

 

With a 3 hour delay extending our stay in New Delhi Airport to about 14 hours, it felt good to finally arrive in Hong Kong. I would definitely recommend picking up an octopus card while you’re in the airport. It costs HK$150 ($50 deposit, $100 initial top up) and can be used on nearly all public transport through the city, as well as many fast food restaurants and shops. It’ll save you a lot of time on the MTR (think tube), which we used as the main method of transportation through the city. Fast, easy to use, and not once late, the MTR is one of the best public transport systems I’ve ever used. At the end of your visit you can return the octopus card to any MTR customer services desk for your deposit back, along with any remaining balance minus a HK$9 handling fee. When it came to leaving the airport, we chose the cheaper but slower airport express bus to get to where we were staying, Mong Kok. Sitting on the upper level as the bus drove through the streets really got us excited for the rest of the trip. (NOTE: £1 = $9.1)

 

 

After getting settled into the hostel, we decided to walk around the city and get to know the place. Our first stop was the Museum of History. Although this wasn’t one of the best things we did it was a nice way to start the trip as it gave a good history of Hong Kong: geographically, politically and culturally. From there, we took a leisurely walk down to the Star Ferry Pier in order to see the bay in the dark. In the evening we took the last Star Ferry so we could get a better view of the picturesque skyline. The ferry cost $180 which is quite expensive, but it does include refreshments and a snack for the hour long trip. This was one of our favourite activities and provided the perfect opportunity to get some great pictures of Hong Kong.

 

 

On the second day we woke up early and headed to Lantau Island to see the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery. We took the scenic cable car to Ngong Ping which was such a good experience as it was completely different to anything either of us has ever done before. At 25km long, the cable car journey is the largest in the world and it gives an easy way to see some of the spectacular views Hong Kong has to offer. A piece of advice when heading up to Ngong Ping is to bring a raincoat as it must have rained at least 5 times during the time we were there. After staying inside a shop to miss the rain, we started walking up the many stairs to the Big Buddha. Although neither of us are very religious, it was fascinating to see people coming from all around the world to worship the statue. Next on the itinerary was Po Lin Monastery, where people were lighting incense sticks and saying prayers to practice their religion. After a long day walking around Ngong Ping we came to the conclusion that we should go and relax on the beach. We wanted to visit as much as Hong Kong as we could for the 6 days that we were there, so we went to Sai Kung to discover it’s beaches. Although we got there at around 5pm and didn’t take the boat to go to its more famous beaches, we found a good enough sandy spot near the harbour and relaxed there. There was a huge range of restaurants along the coastline where they kept live seafood, ranging from crabs and lobsters to more unusual species such as eels and strange clam-like animals called geoducks. You could pick your dinner and they would take it there and then to the kitchen to be prepared for you to eat. As appealing as this was, all of the live food was too expensive for our budgets and we settled on a less expensive (albeit still delicious) meal on the pier and chilled with a few beers before heading back to Mong Kok.

 

 

Day 3 was a particular highlight for the both of us as we completed the Dragon’s Back hike. The hike is an 8.5km trek through the mountains and took around 3 hours for us to complete, but this obviously depends on how fast you walk. The first part of the journey was tough, as it’s mainly uphill in sweltering heat and humidity, but you get a fantastic view of the city and surrounding mountains and coastline from the top. After the first 2km or so, the route starts to flatten out as you get deeper into the vegetation. Passing numerous water falls and a large variety of different wildlife (including the biggest spider I’ve ever seen!), the hike is something spectacular. Personally, it was my favourite activity that we did in Hong Kong. What made the hike even better was at the end there is a stunning beach called Big Wave Bay which was a great reward after walking for over 2hours in the sun. There are also small shops that sell refreshing cold drinks and food that you can buy before heading to the beach to relax. After spending a couple of hours at the beach, we chose to buy some local food which although was a little expensive was still worth it. Later that night, we decided to take the MTR to Hong Kong Central Station to visit some bars before heading to Lang Kwai Fong. This is the place to go if you want a good night. However, like the rest of Hong Kong the bars there are super expensive (around the equivalent of £6 minimum), so many people head to the 7Eleven to pick up some cheap booze. Hong Kong doesn’t have any open container laws, so crowds gather in the street to drink and party together at a fraction of the price of the clubs while the blaring music is loud enough to enjoy from outside.

 

 

Day 4 was more of a relaxing day as we wanted to go back to Lang Kwai Fong in the evening. A friend had told us that we should visit the Nan Lian Garden and the Chi Lin Nunnery and as we didn’t have much planed that day we decided to go and see it. The garden took us by surprise as we weren’t expecting so much from it. It was a nice way to take in the surroundings completely different from the liveliness of most of the city. My personal favourite was the Chi Lin Nunnery as it had some spectacular building designs and big golden Buddhas. After we visited the garden and nunnery we wanted to go to Victoria Peak. However, there was an hour and a half queue so we decided to go to Hong Kong Park instead. The park was filled with a bird aviary, lakes, water falls and nice gardens. Nevertheless, I would only recommend visiting the park if you’re passing by. We decided that we would stop doing any more sight seeing that day and instead go to the pub so we could end up at Lang Kwai Fong later. We went to a pub called The Stone Nullah Tavern which had an offer on between 5pm-7pm. The offer allowed unlimited drink and food (fried chicken and beef jerky) for $109, and we made sure we got our money’s worth. After making the most of the offer we ended up at Lang Kwai Fong and carried on drinking the rest of the night.

 

 

On our final full day, we visited the remaining temples that we wanted to see. We first headed to Man Mo Temple as we had read a lot about it before the trip. However, we found this a little disappointing compared to the hype. We prefer the Wong Tai Sin Temple which is much bigger and it’s always cool to see a large amount of people gathering to practice their religion (especially one you don’t know that much about). If you have time I would go to both temples as both are good to see but if not prioritise Wong Tai Sin. After walking around both of these temples for hours we decided to go and look at the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery. This was one of the weirdest but coolest things that we have seen. It’s hard to explain what it was like to walk past 10,000 golden Buddhas. But it’s definitely a thing you should do. However, try and not do it in 90% humidity as it’s mainly all up hill, definitely not our smartest move!

 

 

After being in Hong Kong for six days I must say it has taken us by surprise. Hong Kong has many a lot to offer and as mentioned earlier, the Dragon’s Back hike is one activity everyone should do. Although Hong Kong can be expensive, if done right you can visit everything and still remain on a budget. We averaged spending (including the hostel) £32.23 per day. Not the cheapest country in Asia by far but certainly not much more expensive than many countries in Europe. Hong Kong is now one of our favourite places to visit, maybe you’ll make it one of yours.

 

View the rest of our Hong Kong pictures here.