Riga: A Birthday Weekend Away

Back in 2016, I wanted to go travelling for my birthday. Although we had previously done a trip to Europe in 2015, it wasn’t really what we expected. However, we wanted to give travelling another go! Luckily, we gave travelling another shot as the rest is history..

I had heard many good things about the nightlife in Eastern Europe, mainly from travellers youtube videos. Also, we had been to Prague in 2015 and the night life was crazy! I remember at the time, people were quite surprised we had decided to spend my birthday in Riga, but honestly it was one of the best weekends of my life. We met a huge group of crazy people and had chances to do things that most people don’t ever do!

When we first arrived in Riga we checked into our hostel (Riga Old Town Hostel & Backpackers Pub). Honestly, this hostel is great! What I really liked about the hostel was it allowed you to meet some awesome people and have an awesome night! Unless the rules have changed, the bar stays open until 3am so you can carry on the party very late into the night! (After checking on hostel world, the bar still closes at 3am). Also between the hours of 5pm-7pm there is happy hour – which means 30% off all tap beers!

The hostel has a sister hostel round the corner, The Naughty Squirrel. This is where the pub crawl starts if you are interested in having a mad night! However, this hostel is a bit run down and personally I am really glad we stayed out Old Town. Another quirky thing about Old Town is that it has a campervan as the reception and bar area within the hostel!

On arrival, we accepted a free welcome beer (always the sign of a good hostel) and we were give a free map guide where the hostel staff told us what they key attractions were. They also explained about the tours and activities which they can arrange.

As we landed in Riga at night time, we decided to just have a quick walk around the local area and see some of the historical monuments around the city. However, with it being -5C and our hostel having a bar and a pub crawl, we decided to get ready and sign up for the crawl.

After signing up, we went to the sister hostel (Naughty Squirrel) where we played party games and met loads of people from all around the world. This was the travelling that excited us, the idea of meeting lots of cool people. Unfortunately, we didn’t really do that during our first Europe trip. We also tried a new drink, Riga Black Balsam, which although not many people seemed to like, I really did! However, having 4 or 5 of these drinks can quickly escalate your night! The amount of free shots and drinks that you get on this pub crawl, and the cheapness of the drinks means that you soon become incredibly drunk! Which for a birthday weekend is perfect!

After visiting many bars we ended up at one of the biggest clubs I have ever been in. Unfortunately I cannot remember the name, but if you sign up to the pub crawl you’ll visit for sure! Downstairs in the first room, is a takeaway shop, where you can buy pizza slices and burgers! The second room had a huge cloak room to put any coats and bags, before another room having loads of pool tables. The other remaining rooms have several bars and the final room downstairs is the club area. It is incredibly easy to get lost here, however such an awesome place!

The next day after waking up ridiculously early to say we returned about 4am, we got our free breakfast beer. Yes, that’s right! Beer for breakfast! Although as you can imagine these were going down really slowly. During the day time we walked around Rigas old town as well as walking to do some escape rooms! We ended up getting carried away and trying to complete 3 escape rooms. Unfortunately, we wasn’t very good. One of the escape rooms, was called casino and 5 people is usually the recommended number of people for this room. However, with just the 2 of us we so nearly completed it!

After spending the day walking around Riga, we went back to the hostel where we decided to try a beer tasting tray. You get 14 beers to try and some were very good beers! Others… my word were they bad! However, I would still recommend doing the beer tasting because you get to try locally brewed beers from Riga. After we finished the last of the beer tasting, we signed up for the pub crawl again and met up with everyone we saw the day before. The night went pretty much the same way as we spent the last, having a great time and consuming a lot of alcohol!

The next day was going to be our best day yet! Through the hostel we booked to go winter bobsledding! This was an amazing chance to do something really unique. We had gone with some people we had met at our hostel which made the whole experience really fun. The whole tour was a really good package. The hostel provide transportation to and from the hostel which makes your life a lot easier.

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What I loved about bobsledding is that you had the chance to do something that not many people have done! Being able to travel at speeds of 110kmh as well as experience 4G’s was such an unreal feeling. What I can say, during the run it feels a lot faster than 110kmh! The constant turning of the sleigh, and feeling every bump on the track made the experience come to life. I remember when the driver started running down the slope of the track, I was wondering if I had made a mistake as the driver had warned us that people had died before due to the drivers being poor and overturning the sleigh. However, as soon as the run was over (which it ended so quickly!) I just wanted to go and do the whole experience again. The adrenaline rush was immense!

After having done one of the most unique experiences of our lives, we were all in such a good mood on the way back to the hostel. As soon as we got back, we got some beers in and just talked about how crazy the day had been! As like the other nights, we signed up to the pub crawl again and had an awesome night! Apparently.. It was a bit too awesome as we woke up with only 1.5hours left before our flight was scheduled to depart. Now this might not sound bad, but we still had to check out, and get to the airport which was a 20 minute drive away. By the time we had got to the boarding stage, we were on last call, but thankfully made the flight home! We learned a valuable lesson, don’t get home 1 hour before you have to leave for the airport, because you will fall asleep! Not that we have stuck to this lesson..

For those of you who hadn’t thought about Riga, or maybe even heard of the place before this article, honestly look into it! Riga is a fantastic getaway city, and if you stay in the right hostel like us, you’ll meet some awesome people who just want to have a good time! If you’re an adrenaline junky, then go try out the bobsledding as it is truly an immense experience!

View the rest of our Riga pictures here.

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.

Norway: In a Week Part II

After leaving Bergen relatively early in the day, we began our 7-hour journey to Geirangerfjord. Again, 7 hours might seem a long time but with the Norwegian scenery, car journeys are hardly a chore. Usually, on our trips, we don’t like sticking to a set routine, but because we still wanted to see Lofoten Island and Tromso in the next four days we had to. Our warning for anyone who wants to do a similar journey is that the roads in the winter can be very dangerous. Although gritters and snow ploughs are constantly trying to clear the roads, it only takes one snowstorm and you’re back doing 40kmph for the next 4 hours again. If you are wanting to go in the winter so you have a chance of seeing the northern lights, make sure you give yourself plenty of time as the north is spectacular. We found that the north was much better than the south and we wish we had spent more time here. Stavanger was a bit of an exception, but Bergen and Oslo didn’t really offer much that interested us. Of course, this could be different for you so make sure you do your research before visiting.

By the time we got to the Geirangerfjord, it was late at night and as you can imagine we were more than ready for bed. Again, Airbnb found us a really nice place. If you’re considering using Airbnb, you can save £25 for just sending a signup email and getting them to sign up. Therefore, if you’re travelling in a group then this is a fantastic way to save money and believe us when we say you’ll need all the money saving tricks you can find in Norway! The next morning, we started the day at 7ish, as we knew we had to take a 1.5hour ferry that goes right through the fjord. Unfortunately, due to severe bad weather, the ferry crossing was closed for the winter which really scuppered our plans. So, if you’re wanting to do this ferry crossing then it’s only open in the summer months, so maybe that is something to think about before choosing what season you want to visit Norway in. This meant that we had to head back the way we just came from for about 45 minutes to take another ferry crossing. You might wonder why we didn’t just take the one next to us in the first place, but the crossing that went through the fjord looked amazing compared to the one we eventually took.

After taking the ferry crossing, we then drove to the Ornesvingen viewpoint. Another warning here and as you will see by the picture below, the roads are beyond awful to drive on. Several times we skidded at ridiculously slow speeds. If you do make it to the viewpoint, then the views are out of this world and worth the risk. Overlooking the fjord, it gives you an amazing view of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The sun was just above the mountains which made the view all the better. From here, we visited another viewpoint, Flydalsjuvet which gives another spectacular view of the fjord. However, you are just viewing the same thing so if you are short of time then it may be worth just visiting the Ornesvingen viewpoint.

We decided that as we had around a 21-hour journey up to Lofoten Island that we should set off as soon as possible. This journey was brutal, as trying to sleep in a relatively small car was difficult. Our idea was one driver and one passenger stays awake for a shift and then when they got tired they swapped over with the people who had been sleeping. The only problem with this plan is sometimes the people in the back couldn’t sleep, which obviously makes it difficult and dangerous when the people in the front want to swap. Therefore, if you are deciding to do a similar trip give yourself more time than just 8 days. Obviously, we would have liked to have given ourselves more time, but we had to come back for the start of our university semester. Nevertheless, we powered on through and about 19 hours later we made it to our ferry crossing in the early hours of the morning. Unfortunately, we missed the ONLY ferry that day by 15 minutes! As you can imagine after driving for that long it was soul destroying as Lofoten Island was one of the places we really wanted to go and see.

After missing this ferry crossing it left us with two options, drive another 6 hours straight to Tromso or drive two more hours to another ferry crossing point to Lofoten Island. Even though by this point we were absolutely knackered, and would not have much time exploring the island, we decided to take another ferry crossing. The ferry took around 45 minutes and again as we mentioned in our previous Norway article, was incredibly expensive. However, when we got to the other side, we were so pleased that we had decided to go and check out Lofoten. Although there is so much to see in Lofoten and you could easily spend 3 or 4 days here and see puffins, whales, the northern lights etc, we decided that as we had limited time we would check out a place called Trollfjord. Trollfjord is a huge fjord with miles and miles of stunning lakes and mountain ranges. As it was winter time, there were only around 4 or 5 hours of daylight, so the skylight is amazing! The different colours bounce off the snowy mountains and lakes and it makes for an unreal experience. We spent around 3 hours just driving around the fjord as every time we wanted to leave, we would drive a little before stopping just to gawk at the view.

 

 

At this point, we had been up for around 36 hours (with intermittent sleep) and still had another 4 before reaching our final destination, Tromso. Luckily, and quite surprisingly, the roads got a little better from Lofoten to Tromso, so this meant that we didn’t lose too much time having to slow down. We again used Airbnb and got a really luxurious place with a little hut that had a log fire where we ended up lighting and having a barbeque and some beers in the middle of winter! This was one of the reasons why we wanted to get this place as we wanted something unique and different to add to our experience. The place is called “By the sea” as it’s literally (you guessed it) by the sea and you can see the northern lights from here if the conditions are right. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the northern lights from our place, so we drove around 20 minutes to different points around the city to see if we could see them. However, as we had been awake over 48 hours, we called it a night just after 11pm because there were no signs of the northern lights and we were struggling to keep awake. Another tip for those who want to see the northern lights is to download apps called Aurora and Northern Lights Shutter as these apps allow you to track and take a picture from your phone! They worked so well for us while we were in Iceland, but unfortunately, we didn’t see the northern lights during our time in Norway. Tromso is apparently one of the best places to see them so one day we will go back and try and see them again!

 

 

When we were planning on where we should go for a little trip, and we found cheap flights to Norway, we didn’t really know that much about the place. Hearing reviews from friends and looking online there was quite a lot of reviews for Tromso, but mainly on the northern lights. However, we absolutely loved our stay in Tromso even though it wasn’t in the place 24hours. This might sound silly, but Tromso had a great atmosphere about it and it was really pretty.

Waking up ridiculously early again, we set off to what might be one of the best activities we have ever done; husky sledding! As we are all dog lovers, the prospect of meeting all the dogs and giving them some love was immensely exciting. When we got to the dog sledding place it was around -15°C and the breeze on your face is killer so wrap up warm! The sledding place gives you some wool-lined overalls and thick boots, but still wear lots of layers or you’re going to freeze.

After meeting all the dogs in our team, we set off and over the next 45 minutes had one of the best times of our lives. As we didn’t see any whales whilst whale watching in Iceland, we really wanted to whale watching again. However, the prospect of dog sledding was too good to turn down and it seriously lived up to all our expectations. The dogs are incredibly well looked after and have great nutrition, so there isn’t any worry of animal abuse! The place we booked with was the Tromso Villmarkssenter and it cost around £180 each – which we know is ridiculously expensive, but because the animals are so well looked after the cost is a lot. The guide there said the dogs go through 2 tons of food every week, so no wonder it costs that much! However, although very costly and with us being students we are on a tight budget, it was worth every penny! You get some lunch (reindeer stew for us, but there was a vegetarian option) at the end of your sledding trip as well as transport to and from Villmarkssenter. We ended our Norway tour by viewing the Arctic Cathedral, which is pretty cool but not something you should prioritise. Before we left Tromso, we just drove there from the city which is about 5 minutes away took some pictures and left.

The journey back from Tromso to Oslo was roughly around 24 hours. Our route back took us through Sweden and Finland and was not easy. Our total journey meant that we had been driving over 5,500km in just 8 days so you imagine just how tired we were by the end of it. However, we made it back to Oslo and had such an incredible time in Norway that we would recommend it to everyone!

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Nevertheless, there are some things that you need to consider that you may not have thought about. Check the driving laws before coming to Norway. Although we did, we saw so much misinformation that we had no idea what was happening. We had just about every colour in the rainbow flash at us from different speed cameras and couldn’t find any consistent information about what they meant.  It was really confusing and quite a stressful experience. Toll roads are something to think about. We spent around £140 between us on toll roads, which between 4 of us is under £40 each, if you’re going by yourself or with just another person then this can become expensive. Also, the alcohol limit for driving is an eighth of what it is in the UK, so don’t even consider having a drink with your meal if you’re driving afterwards. One final thing to bear in mind is that the ferries are just ridiculously expensive. Our route meant that we took over 15 ferries and on average of around £40 per ferry, regardless of their length. Some may be 10 minutes, and some could be 45 minutes, but the prices seemed quite random. Just make sure that you have enough money before setting off to Norway. It is such an expensive country, but if done right then the price is worth the incredible experience.

View the rest of our Norway pictures here.

 

 

 

 

Vietnam: Climbing The Mountains of Sapa

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

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

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

View the rest of our Vietnam pictures here.

India: A Roller Coaster Experience

As the title probably explains, India is a crazy experience with so much happening at once. India for the three of us was like a roller coaster of highs and lows, one minute you just wanted to go back to Southeast Asia and the next, you never wanted to leave. The main problem we had in India happened straight away, by getting scammed in New Delhi. However, we tried to be as open minded as possible and tried to enjoy the rest of our stay.

Arriving from Tokyo in the early hours of the morning, like most travellers, we just wanted to get to our hostel and sleep. However, the next couple of hours were the most unexpected and most annoying of our travelling lives. As were in our taxi to our hostel, we came across some police barriers where a guy told our taxi driver that we could not pass due to the riots. He continued to explain, that he should take us to a tourist information centre, where they would help us out and find us a new hostel. However, what did happen was a (seemingly) nice and helpful Indian man scammed the three of us out of £60 each. He did this by saying that we needed to leave the city as there were no point in staying in Delhi as the riots meant most of the city was closed. He also encouraged us to phone other hotels up, where he would dial the number and the person down the line would quote us hundreds of pounds per night. What we later found out, was that it was just a person in the other room and that there were many people in on the scam. In the end we ended up paying £60 each for a taxi to Agra, which obviously really frustrated us. Nevertheless, we found out that many people who chose not to pay, later were mugged of all their belongings, so we were glad that we only paid £60. It seems many people are falling for this scam all across India, and our only advice would be if this happens to you just get out at the point where you’re not “allowed” to cross, before you’re too far in.

After being scammed and being really annoyed, we decided to enjoy our time in India and make Agra our first proper stop. We started our day by hiring a day’s long tuc-tuc so we could tour the city. Our tuc-tuc driver recommended a lot of different places that we should visit. Firstly, we visited Akbar’s Tomb which personally we didn’t think was that good. As the name says it was just a tomb, and not something we would recommend going out of your way to see. However, as it was part of our tuc-tuc tour we didn’t mind doing it. Afterwards, we visited Mariam’s tomb, but only from the outside gate as Vickie, our tuc-tuc driver, said it was not worth paying to get in as there was nothing inside. One of our favourite parts of the day was going to a Sikh temple and meeting some of the nicest people we will probably ever meet. Vickie told us that we could get a free meal here, but as we didn’t know what to expect we walked in to look where to pay. As soon as we went inside, people came up to us giving us free food, and water. Without even asking, they kept refilling our trays until we didn’t want anymore. We all agree that the Dal we eat was one of the best meals that we have ever had (although very spicy). It’s not compulsory, but we did leave a donation as we enjoyed the hospitality we received. We finished the day by going to Mehtab Bagh gardens opposite the Taj Mahal for the sunset. The friendliness and hospitality we received from different people was really what we needed after being scammed.

The next day we again chose to do a day tour with Vickie where we would go and visit the big attractions in Agra. We began by visiting Agra Fort which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Costing 550 Rupees, about £6, I have to say was really good value for money. Agra Fort was one of the best attractions we visited in India. After spending nearly 2 hours walking around the Fort and its surrounding gardens, we set off to visit the Baby-Taj. As the name suggests it’s literally just a smaller version of the Taj Mahal, but it was actually really cool to visit and again like the Fort, walk round the surrounding gardens. Here we also met some Indians who were jumping into the Yamuna river, where it was absolutely filthy. Vickie found our reaction funny as he said most people bathed and washed their clothes in this river. Our last stop on our day tour was at Chini-Ka-Rauzah, which is older than the Taj Mahal. We really did like this place as it was filled with spectacular gardens, walkways and history. Everything that we did during our second day in Agra we would fully recommend for anyone to do.

During our last day in Agra, we woke up early so we could visit the Taj Mahal for sunrise. As we had already visited the gardens opposite for sunset, we decided that it would be better to see the sunrise so we could see them both. However, unlike the gardens, the entrance fee into the Taj Mahal is 1000 rupees for foreign visitors. We expected that when we got inside we would never be able to look at it properly, or take a good picture, as there would be so many tourists. Surprisingly, this was not the case, and it was actually really enjoyable to see the views of the city and of the Taj itself. We must have spent around 3 hours at the Taj Mahal, seeing what can only be described as the perfect sunrise. Seeing the sunrise at the Taj Mahal was truly an incredible experience, and we can fully appreciate why the Taj is a World Wonder. As we were leaving Agra that day to catch a train to Jaipur, we stayed at one of our favourite local restaurants playing games and trying to eat as much Indian food as possible. The restaurant is called “Good Vibes Cafe”, and we would recommend this restaurant to anyone, as the food is good and cheap, and the the owner is very friendly.

We had already pre-booked our train from Agra to Jaipur, and this is an important thing to remember as Indian trains get booked up months in advance. The only problem with this is, that when there is a delay all you can do is wait. Annoyingly, our train was delayed for 8 hours and meaning we didn’t get the train until 2.30am. As you can imagine, by this time we were knackered due to waking up extremely early to see the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. Arriving in Jaipur in the early morning, we decided to just sleep as soon as we got to the hostel. Before sleeping we had arranged a tuc-tuc tour of the Amber Fort and Jal Mahal as we only had one day in Jaipur. Due to this, we wanted to prioritise the main attractions from our original plan. Although we really enjoyed the short time we had in Jaipur, we really do wish we could have spent more time here and is somewhere that we would like to return too.

Flying to Goa the next morning, meant we had to try and arrange a taxi in the early hours. The problem with this is we struggled badly trying to organise anything. The hostel said it booked several taxis all for them to cancel our booking. This meant that we were cutting it really close with missing out flight. But luckily, we managed to find in the end. Some advice would be, if you need to get a taxi early in the morning make sure you give plenty of time so you don’t miss a flight or bus etc. When we got to Goa we had a really strange experience where during our taxi ride, our taxi driver got out off the taxi and started arguing loudly with another driver. We were told that the South was much more chill than the North but at first this did not seem the case. However, during our stay in Goa where we stayed at a beach resort to just unwind before ending our 13 week Asia trip, it was one of the most chill places we have been. Even though we really didn’t do much in Goa as we just wanted to relax on the beach, it was exactly what we needed.

During our trip to Goa, we also decided to take a 10 hour ride to Hampi. What we can say is about Hampi, is it is a MUST DO! Hampi was beyond incredible, from all its different temples and it’s Palace, to all its different random rock formations, Hampi was a traveller’s paradise. Hampi, like Fuji and Pai really felt like a proper travelling place and not just a tourist destination. This is why Hampi was such an incredible place, because not everyone goes to Hampi, which means the things you do and see aren’t setup for tourists, and also aren’t overpriced.

India is a place which for us is filled with many different emotions and feelings. During our stay, it was a place that gave us a lot of frustrations, such as being scammed and our train being delayed 8 hours. However, seeing the Taj Mahal and being able to experience places like Hampi, Goa and Agra were incredible. Many different we met during our trip kept telling us that you cannot prepare yourself for India, which may not be useful information. But when it comes to India it really is a roller coaster experience because you never know what is going to happen next. What we can say is visiting India really makes you appreciate so many different aspects of your life, giving us a better understanding of extreme poverty (although it really isn’t all poor), as well as different cultures and just helping us become better travellers in general.

View the rest of our India pictures here.

 

 

 

Japan: A Taste of Tokyo

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

View the rest of our Tokyo pictures here

Siem Reap: Cambodia’s Gem

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

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

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

Quads

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

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

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

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

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

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

View the rest of our Cambodia pictures here

2017:  A Year for Travelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Phnom Penh: Cambodia’s Old City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View the rest of our Cambodia pictures here

 

Chiang Mai & Pai: Hidden Gems

After spending three nights in Bangkok, we had caught up on sleep and felt refreshed. Because we went back to Koh Tao to do our diving course and had to be back in Bangkok to fly to Tokyo four days later, we decided to take a flight to Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand.

Limited on time, we knew that we had to make the most of what little we had in the north. Throughout our travels, we had heard many stories about Pai and how we HAD to go there. As the saying goes “All roads lead to Pai.” Making sure we arrived in Chiang Mai early to have the most time possible, we wasted no time in getting on the sightseeing. We checked into Chiangmai Gate Capsule Hostel, which we would highly recommend. The hostel is cheap, around £4-5 a night, and the woman at reception was incredibly helpful. The hostel offers a huge range of tours and activities that the lady will book for you, often as discounted prices, and if you booked through her the lady gives benefits such as free accommodation for one night. She even included breakfast when the tour was leaving early! We booked an elephant sanctuary tour and our bus to Pai with her, and we couldn’t help but leave a 5-star review. Our only regret is we cannot remember the lady’s name!

Hostel

After checking in, we went to get some food at a place called ‘SP Chicken’. This was recommended by our dive instructor Jason, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. He told us it was some of the best chicken he had ever had, and soon it would be some of the best we ever had. Remarkable prices and great taste, it made the 30minute walk from the hostel worthwhile. We then decided to start visiting the temples which are located all over Chiang Mai. We first visited Wat Chedi Luang where we were impressed with the architecture of the building as well as the amazing paintings inside. However, this did have a ‘No women allowed’ sign, which we didn’t know about beforehand, so make sure you research places before you go! Nevertheless, it did not put us off from going to see another temple, where we had to take a taxi truck up the mountain to go and see it. Wat Prathap Doi Suthep has to be one of the best temples or religious buildings that we have ever seen. Honestly, we cannot stress just how amazing this temple was. It was made up of many gold buildings and amazing paintings throughout the entire site. A little tip, don’t pay for the lift to the top from the bottom. They advertise that there’s a lot of stairs but it’s not worth paying for the lift. During the night time, we decided to check out Chiang Mai’s night market which was surprisingly much better than we anticipated. Stalls, food, and entertainment everywhere really made the market have a great atmosphere for everyone to get involved in.

The next morning, we woke up nice and early to meet our guide to take us to the elephant sanctuary. After about an hour and a half bus ride, which we shared with people from all over the world, we finally arrived. After having a brief introduction and an explanation why there is a need for an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai (there are many), we got to feed the elephants with bananas and sugar cane. After having fun feeding all the elephants we had to make our own scrubbers to clean the elephants. This ended up the staff getting everyone drenched and turned into a massive water fight! We then had lunch and bonded with the rest of our group before trekking to a waterfall where we all swam. The highlight of the day and there were many, was white water rafting down a river which was an incredible experience. The entire day put on by the elephant sanctuary was amazing and we would highly recommend visiting. Unfortunately, none of us remember the name of the sanctuary but if you do stay at the hostel it is the one advertised. However, the day wasn’t over yet! We asked the hostel where we could eat good Thai food. She recommended We’s restaurant, which was around the corner from our hostel. We decided to eat the Khao Soi, and what a good decision it was. A traditional Northern Thai dish, the Khao Soi was ridiculously cheap and probably the best food we had had all of the trip, which is saying a lot as we had great food in every place we visited. We would 100% recommend trying Koh Soi at We’s. We liked it so much we tried going back the next day, but it was closed. After eating some of the greatest food we have ever tasted we ended the night watching Thai boxing. As someone who hasn’t watched much Thai boxing, it began quite slow and laboured. Before it stepped up and really got intense with one fighter having a bloody nose and being knocked down three or four times before finally winning.

The next day we again had to wake up early to catch our bus we arranged through the hostel to Pai. Taking around 2 hours to get there we arrived at our hostel, The Famous Circus Hostel. This hostel is the definition of chill. It had its own pool, overlooking a phenomenal view of the mountain range, as well as hammocks around the courtyard for you to just chill and watch the world go by. After checking in at midday, we quickly hired some motorbikes so we could ride around and see all the amazing sites Pai had to offer. We started by seeing some incredible waterfalls before seeing the white Buddha. One of the funniest things was when we visited the hot springs. We were not aware that there were two different types of hot spring; one for people to bathe in, and one in which you can boil an egg. To our demise, we sat in the wrong one for way too long. What is supposed to be a relaxing and soothing activity turned out to be quite painful – a mistake we only learned about when we got back to the hostel and don’t want you to repeat! After emerging very red from the spring, we travelled to Pai canyon where we saw spectacular views of the countryside and its mountain ranges. Pai has some wonderful views, and if the waterfalls don’t win you over then the views from Pai canyon will!

On our final day in Pai, we watched the McGregor-Mayweather fight with locals and other visitors of the town. One benefit of the time difference was that we got the fight at about 10am local time, so didn’t have to wait up until the early hours of the morning like we would have had to in the UK! The atmosphere was buzzing in all the bars and it was amazing to be in there. After the fight, we had some time and petrol left, so we rode around Pai for a while and just took in all its spectacular scenery. Something we all agreed on, we wish that we had more time in Pai because it truly was an amazing place, with so much more to offer than what we saw. We spent just over 48 hours in Pai but could have easily spent a week. It’s definitely on the list of places to revisit. Later that afternoon we headed back to Bangkok to get our flight to Japan, where we would attempt to climb Mt Fuji.

View the rest of our Thailand pictures Here