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.

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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