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!

 

Thailand: Islands and Krabi – Adventure Hard Party Hard

After having one of the best times of our lives in Vietnam for 17 days, (Vietnam: Home of Adventure) we finally left for Thailand. Initially, we were going to give ourselves a couple of days in Phuket but decided against this and headed straight to the islands. Arriving in Phuket late at night from Ho Chi Minh City, we went straight to bed so we would wake up early(ish) before getting a ferry over to Koh Phi Phi. The next morning, we checked out some markets in Phuket before heading over to the ferry point. Disclaimer: Before we set off on our travels, we had researched how to get from one island to another. We found very confusing information that made it sound very difficult and hard work. However, we got 6 ferries in total to all the islands and back to the mainland, and never experienced any issues and problems at all!

After arriving in Koh Phi Phi after a two-hour ferry journey, we headed over to our hostel. We had originally just booked a one-night stay at a hostel that I would not recommend. After we had checked in to our hostel, we decided to spend the rest of the day at the beach and just drink a few beers. This is one of the reasons that makes Phi Phi such a wonderful place to visit. In the daytime, you can just relax by the beach and then have a crazy night out.

The next day we checked into our new hostel where we would spend the next couple of days. I would definitely recommend Blanco Beach Bar hostel. This hostel offers trips, tips and a mad night every single night. From its fire dance shows, limbo competitions and its infamous hand grenade challenge, there’s no chance that you will not have a great night. As soon as we arrived, we signed up for their boat party. There are two prices you can pay either 1300Baht or 2000Baht. Obviously, we went for the 2000Baht, which included 10 free drinks after the boat party, a Blanco boat party tank top and a barbeque. Whilst on the boat party you can jump off the boat, snorkel and kayak, as well as meeting a load of new people that you’ll be spending the rest of the night with. It’s safe to say that the boat party is worth its money as you get drunk on the boat, as well as being able to “cash” in your 10 free drinks when you get back to the hostel.

After the boat party finished, we met up with one of our girlfriends and her friend, and one of our friends we had met in Cambodia. We’d like to say that we remembered the night. However, as you can imagine, the amount of drinking that is involved staying at Blanco’s means that night becomes hazy. What we know for sure is that there were a lot of drinks, party games and competitions. Even in our drunken state, we managed to come runners-up in the beer pong tournament. Our third and final day in Phi Phi started with a lay-in before walking around some of the shops. Later we headed to the beach where we relaxed all day, before “crashing” a pool party at the hostel next door. However, this wasn’t the best so we headed back to our hostel to get prepared to go to the viewpoint in the evening. To get to the viewpoint you have to climb hundreds of steps before finally getting there. Nevertheless, the view overlooking the island with the sun setting is phenomenal and definitely worth the climb!

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Back at the hostel, we decided as it was our last night, that we would attempt the Blanco’s infamous hand grenade challenge. For 600baht, you have to do shots of tequila, amaretto, jaeger, vodka and some even mixed with beer.  Safe to say we were all hammered after this. The good thing about staying at Blanco’s, is that the limbo competition means every time you do the limbo, you get a free shot (however it is watered down). Nonetheless, after you’ve been doing this for a long time it still gets you really drunk.

After a second crazy night out in Phi Phi, the five of us decided to get a ferry to Krabi and stay at Slumber Party Hostel. Known for being the best party hostel in Thailand, you can imagine what happened here. There’s only one word to describe Slumber Party – MAD. Free food at 8pm every night, quickly leads to getting people downstairs before free shots are dished out by the reps. A funny story was when one of us was showering, they came into the bathroom and poured a free shot into our mouth whilst we were showering. In other words, stay at this hostel if you want to party hard! The pub crawl here is immense. Paying onto the pub crawl gets you: Slumber Party tank top as well as a bucket of alcohol. (The bucket is literally just alcohol, or might as well be). The pub crawl leads you to several bars where the party doesn’t end and continues all night. The nights out that we experienced at Slumber Party were some of the best of our trip.

The second day at Krabi, we decided to do the hostels “Island Awesomeness” tour where you visit Krabi’s top beaches and go snorkelling. The first thing you do when you get off the boat at the beach is a shotgun at 10am. Safe to say many people struggled with this. Nevertheless, the day was packed with awesome stuff, from seeing the best beaches, going through caves to a secret swimming point and snorkelling. The cool thing we were shown when we were snorkelling, was to take some rice with us and squeeze it and all the fish would come. The only problem with this is, as we ran out of rice the fish started to bite us!! When we arrived back there was no time to relax, as we were forced to go on the pub crawl for the second night and enter the beer pong tournament. Unfortunately, we lost in the first round but we met loads of people so was worth it anyway. The second night we all got split up with one going home with a girl, one going home with his girlfriend and another “enjoying” his time with a lady boy…

 

The next day we took a flight from Krabi over to Koh Samui where we stayed at a hostel called Casa Luna. The hostel was very nice and the receptionist was ever so helpful. He recommended us to rent some bikes and explore some of the island. We only planned one night in Koh Samui as we had heard that it was overpriced and not worth it. However, if we had more time in Thailand we would have stayed for at least one more day as after a week of hard partying it was nice to just relax. During our stay in Koh Samui we drove to some waterfalls and trekked up the mountain to Na Muang Waterfall 2. This was awesome as we saw an amazing sunset with a stunning view. However, we would like to point out that when you get there, there is an option to take a truck to the waterfall. The people their claim its 30minutes away. But this is not the case!! They charge you 100baht to take you 2minutes down the road and then you have to climb for 30minutes. Do not fall for this scam! After we had finished watching an amazing sunset, we decided to head to a sports bar and watch some football before leaving for Koh Tao the next day.

Arriving in Koh Tao by ferry at early evening, we checked into our hostel, Taco Shack 1 and headed out for some food! We can recommend a fantastic restaurant called Seafood by Pawn. We enjoyed it so much we went back three times over the course of our stay in Koh Tao. The restaurant is usually really busy (a testament to how good it is) but the service is also really good! They serve excellent fish dishes as well as any Thai curry you could want. When you go to Koh Tao you can’t really come without trying diving. Our hostel was advertising trying some fun dives and this really interested us. One of us had already got their open water in Cambodia earlier in the trip and recommended it to us. If you book with Taco Shack 1, in the morning you are collected and driven over to the sister hostel Taco Shack 2 (The diving hostel). Here, we decided that we would go for two fun dives to see if we liked it or not. At the beginning, you learn the basics of scuba diving before heading out to a max depth of 12m. We enjoyed it so much two of us wanted to get our open water and one of us our advanced. However, the problem was we were leaving Koh Tao to head over to the half-moon party in Koh Pha Ngan the next day. Nevertheless, we decided to come back to Koh Tao after the half-moon party and take a diving course.

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Arriving in Koh Pha Ngan and staying at another Slumber Party Hostel, we quickly saw that we had made a huge mistake. Remember us telling you we wanted to go to the half-moon party? Well.. the half-moon party happened the day before we arrived. “Luckily” one of us was quite ill meaning that we would have missed it anyway as we always like to stick together. Nevertheless, it was an annoying mistake as we booked our stay at our hostel in Koh Tao in another two nights. As the island was pretty much dead, we decided to go and take on “The Challenge”. Like the total wipeout course you have probably seen on TV, there are obstacles that you must complete to get to the next level. We spent the entire day here and enjoyed it so much. The only problem is because it’s all upper body exercises, after spending five hours here we were dead. Still, when we got back to the hostel we headed out with some friends that we met and enjoyed a good night with the hostel!

After spending two nights in Koh Pha Ngan, we headed back to Koh Tao to start our diving course! The next couple of days in Koh Tao was spent with the two of us learning our open water courses, and the other, learning his advanced. Just a top tip, after saying in both Taco Shack hostels, I can honestly say that the Taco Shack 2 is a lot better. Although further away from the pier, it offers a great pub crawl and offers diving courses as well! The next three days were some of the best of the entire trip as diving is such a cool and incredible experience. We were all glad that we decided to head back to Koh Tao, even if it did leave us being skint. At Taco Shack 2 we met loads of people and got a good group together, where we went out and enjoyed the pub crawl! Passing our diving courses on our final day in Koh Tao was such a fantastic way to end our island experience. All three of us agree that Koh Tao was our favourite island and diving only added to that! Now we were leaving Koh Tao it was time to head to Bangkok and see the rest of Thailand.

View the rest of our Thailand pictures Here.