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

 

A Backpackers Guide for Packing

With 25 countries under our belts, we’ve definitely had some problems when packing. For the majority of our short-haul travels, where we were inexperienced in the art of travelling, we just used a 20l bag. This worked well for us as we didn’t want to pay for checked baggage. However, when we travelled to Asia our mind shift changed and we decided to pay for checked baggage and take 60L bags. We quickly learned in our first place in Hong Kong, that not only did we overpack, but we brought too big a bag.

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I find that when you have a bigger back you pack more things as there are more spaces to fill. As silly as this sounds it was true for the three of us. Our bags ranged from 13-16kg, which travelling around for 3.5months was way too much. Since coming back, I have travelled back to Thailand and Bali with a new 30L bag and it worked perfectly for me. So, what are the essentials for travelling?

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Firstly, try to pack as lightly as possible. We have read many blogs that suggest pack once, then re-pack with half the things you did the first time. This advice should not be so easily dismissed. The things that we would recommend taking are:

  • 1 week’s supply of underwear
  • 1 week’s supply of socks
  • 5-7 T-shirts
  • Flip Flops – travel in trainers
  • One travel towel – Usually a good travel towel is light, takes up little room and dry’s quickly.
  • One waterproof travel coat
  • Swimming trunks
  • 2/3 Shorts

These were the bare essential things that we needed whilst travelling Europe or Asia. The key is not to pack too much because you’ll find you don’t use half of the things anyway. Other things that I would recommend bringing are a lock for your bag and a lock for the locker in your hostel. Most hostels offer lockers to put your valuables in, and if not, then don’t stay there. When you’re staying in a dorm that can cost as little as £2 a night, anybody could be staying there (although in general travellers are awesome folk) and it’s worth locking up your valuables.

One thing that you really do want to spend the time to get is a way to access money free of charge, and don’t charge you fees for using your card abroad. Some credit cards offer this, but we found it easier to use a debit card from a company called Monzo. Our article on “How we Travel” talks more about a Monzo card and why this is a useful card to travel with.

Monzo Logo

Having an unlocked phone makes your trip so much easier and enjoyable. Most international airports have kiosks where you can buy temporary SIM cards. It is possible to get SIMs with international calls, but we just got data-only packages. Use of the internet comes in very handy for finding your way around, looking up the location of your next activity, as well as contacting people at home occasionally.

Something that most people usually forget until the last minute is travel insurance! If you are travelling for months on end and know you’re going to be doing a lot of adventurous activities, such as diving, climbing mountains or even just driving a motorbike (the roads are mad!) then make sure you have travel insurance. We usually use compare the market as it allows you to set different filters and compare prices with ease. For our small trips, we don’t usually take out travel insurance. But we did for the Asia trip, and it paid off when one of us lost a phone! A thing to remember is ‘gadgets’ such as mobile phones, tablets, and laptops are not covered under most basic policies and require an additional cover plan.

Something I wish I had listened to before I left is that you can buy a lot of the things you need abroad, and for much cheaper. One thing that I think is essential for a lot of countries is insect repellent. The mosquitoes are a nightmare, and the bites in Asia were a lot worse than those I’ve had in the UK. Bug spray makes your life so much easier. I took 4 cans of bug spray and only got through 2 cans. Taking 1 can and then buying it out there not only saves you space in your bag but also money.

During our time in Asia, we bought so many clothes, whether that be tank tops, shorts or flipflops. Basically, we bought a whole new ‘Asia wardrobe’. You’ll soon find out that the clothes you brought are too thick, so you chafe and sweat. Another thing is that if your clothes are too thick then they won’t dry when you have to cram them into an overly small tumble drier, so you find yourself wasting more of your time abroad waiting for laundry. Most clothes in Asia cost a few pounds if that, and it’s better to buy out there than take your good clothes. A lot of countries aren’t the cleanest, and clothes often get dirty beyond reuse.

Again, don’t worry about bringing loads of toiletries beforehand as you can buy these in Asia for a fraction of the price that you would pay back home. Ladies, (or fellas if you’re so inclined!), we found that a lot of long-term female travellers had given up on daily makeup as the heat just makes your face melt. You might want some for the odd special night out or fancy dinner, but packing everything you use at home will only weigh you down.

The number one thing that we would recommend leaving at home is jeans. In a nutshell, they’re just the wrong clothes for the Asian climate. Not only do they never dry, but you will no doubt chafe in the humidity. Besides, you want to carry as little weight as possible, and jeans are relatively heavy when it comes to trousers.

Like jeans, you don’t really need to bring any smart shirts unless you really want to look smart at a restaurant or bar. However, most of the time we visited clubs in tank top, swim shorts and flip-flops. One of the best things about dressing like this is that this was the norm! Also, irons in hostels are a rarity so if you’re washing your own shirts be prepared to wear them creased. Save yourself the time and effort and leave jeans and shirts at home.

Travelling Asia – How much?

After travelling around Asia (mainly Southeast Asia) we found that once you’re out there, it is possible to do most places on a small budget. Although we spent more during the 3-month trip than we expected, Asia, in general, is inexpensive (bar Japan). The usual question we get asked is how much did your Asia trip cost? And although we can put a price on our expenditure, that doesn’t mean that your trip will cost the same. Many factors are dependent on what activities you do. So let’s begin!

Accommodation – Accommodation in Southeast Asia was pretty much similar price throughout the region. Dorm rooms in hostels are they key to saving money! During our stay in Cambodia, we could find dorms for around £2-£5 a night. If you don’t mind ‘roughing’ it, save money on accommodation so you have more money to spend on the activities! The most expensive places we stayed during our time in Asia was Japan, where we found hostels for around £20+ a night. However, Japan is expensive, so saving on hostels is a must if you want to stay in Japan for long. Another tip, if you don’t know how long you will be staying in a certain place, either book the first night on Hostel World and then book nights if you choose to stay longer, or when you arrive in the city just show up and book a room.

In Asia, rooms are more expensive if you choose to take an AC room. During our stay in India, we did not take an AC room as we had a communication issue. We suffered badly! Although an AC room is more expensive, if you want that extra comfort (and trust me you will) it is worth paying the £2-£4 a night more for it. Obviously, if you’re staying in the touristy areas of a city, or on the Thai Islands, then prices will be higher. The Thai Islands (article here )were usually very expensive if you wanted to book a good hostel. If you’re sticking mainly to Southeast Asia, budgeting £5-£15 a night is very safe. The most expensive hostel during our time in Southeast Asia was around £15 a night in Koh Phi Phi. If you are travelling around India, most hostels are around £2-£7 depending on if you want AC, And Japan is anything from £20-£35, depending on where you are staying.

Transportation – Transportation in Asia is again very cheap, excluding Japan. I remember us getting a bus in Goa, where our journey was about 50 minutes and we spent 20 rupees each (about 23p). If you want to travel cheaply and easily, then the best way is to travel by bus. During our stay in Cambodia we travelled from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and this cost us around £12 for a 6hour bus ride. Even in Thailand which we found to be usually the most expensive Southeast Asian country that we visited, public transport was around 20baht (50p).

Again, travelling is all about making memories and having experiences. You want to be able to spend more on your activities and save money wherever you can. Saving money on transport, when you’re travelling for months all adds up. Taxis are usually 3 times more expensive than public transport and sometimes more. Sometimes when we were tired, and we just arrived in a place, we took a taxi over public transport and it cost us more. Arriving late at night in Japan, the buses and trains had stopped running for the day and we were forced to take a taxi to our hostel. The journey was little over half an hour long, and came to the equivalent of £60! Although it may seem daunting at first, using public transport is the way to go if you want to see a lot of places.

When you’re in Southeast Asia, you have to experience a Tuk-Tuk ride. However, I wouldn’t suggest doing this all the time as Tuk-Tuk’s are more expensive than a bus. Although you can haggle a Tuk-Tuk price down, usually you still spend more than what you would on a bus.

If you want cheap flights as one of our previous article said, use Sky Scanner! The cheapest flights are usually with Air Asia, VietJet Air or Tiger Airways. They’re basically the Ryanair of the Asian market.

Putting a figure on how much you should budget a day for transport is hard because it really depends on many things. What I would say is just try and travel as cheaply as possible. Walking, renting a motorbike or taking the bus are the cheapest options!

Food – Food in Asia is incredibly cheap and delicious. Our favourite foods were from India and Thailand, and if you want to eat a lot then Asia is the place to be. What is important to remember is that Western meals are much more expensive than local cuisine. In Thailand, Pad Thai was roughly 50baht, but a pizza or a burger was touching 200baht. Also, local cuisine is so much better than Western food that you really cannot go wrong with it!

Street food in Southeast Asia is ridiculously cheap. Some street food costs around £1 which means there’s plenty of opportunities to get seconds. However, most restaurants are cheap and usually only cost £2-£5 depending on your order. I wouldn’t worry too much about setting aside lots of money for food if you like Asian food. If I were pushed to suggest a budget for food I’d say between £10-£15 per day, when eating out for all 3 meals. Anything more and you’re eating at the wrong places! When visiting Hong Kong and Japan, we spent much more on food than we did in the rest of Asia. But that was mainly as the street food was less available and more expensive.

If you do decide to travel to Japan we would recommend booking a hostel that has its own kitchen where you can make and prepare your own food. This is what we did, and we saved a lot of money on buying food from a supermarket in bulk, rather than buying from a restaurant. Nevertheless, do set aside some money to eat proper Japanese food at an authentic Japanese restaurant, as the experience is amazing and really should not be skipped!

Activities- As our last article mentioned, it’s not a requirement to book activities in advance, and you’ll often find the same activities for cheaper once you’re out there. A lot of hostels will book trips for you or will be more than happy to recommend places where you can book them yourself. Unless you know you’re going to be struggling for time, we really wouldn’t suggest pre-booking. Not only does it cost you more money, but it doesn’t allow the flexibility you want during your trip.

As with everything else, activities in Asia are pretty cheap. However, they will make up most of your daily budget. Our activities in Vietnam included Ha Long Bay, Sapa and the Buffalo Run, and cost around US$830. Nevertheless, this isn’t the norm for many of the activities. Most day tours can be as cheap as £10 a day depending on the activities. I’d recommend researching into what you want to do and how much they cost (remember they will be a little cheaper when you get out there, but this means you can have an estimation of the amount of money you need).

Suggested budget- As Asia is relatively cheap for almost anything, I wouldn’t worry about spending too much money. Obviously, the more places you visit and the longer your trip is the more overall money you’re going to need. However, if you take the advice this post has offered you could get away with spending £20-£30 a day. I would recommend having an added safety buffer of between £5-£7 so you don’t run out of money. If you choose not to stay at a hostel and eat at fancy restaurants, then you could be looking at around £50-£60 a day. Save money wherever you can so you can travel for longer!

How we Travel – The Travel Guide for Students

Many people ask us on a regular basis, how do you travel so much? Being university students, we know that it can be hard to see how you can travel so much. Many people get put off travelling for many reasons. Usually, a lack of time or money means that people cannot travel, or so they think. In 2017 we travelled for 40% of the year and visited numerous places. Since we finished 6th form we have regularly planned trips, whether that be on a large or small scale and always made it work.  In the last two years alone, although we have been students at university during this time, we have travelled to 25 different countries spanning two continents. And now we will share our secrets with you.

It may sound obvious, but having a job at university really helps with being able to plan your trips. Our motto is always ‘When you’re out there, you just have to do it, and worry about money later.’ Although this may seem irresponsible we rarely spend money that we do not have. A prime example of this is a recent trip to Thailand. (Thailand article here). We decided to do a fun dive and then loved it so much we decided to get our divers license. In Koh Tao, diving costs around £180, which is obviously a lot of money to spontaneously decide to spend. But that motto has always worked for us and is one of the reasons we have always enjoyed ourselves on our trips. Having a job at university has allowed us to be able to have this motto and stick by it. Many of you may wonder how you can balance work and university, and the key is time management. If you can manage your time for your Uni work, then you can work more hours. Working more hours means more trips. It’s that simple.

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A common question we get asked a lot is how much our trips cost. And of course, this varies depending on destination, activities and length of time travelling. But one way we can assure that you will save money is using travel-friendly websites.  Sky Scanner and Hostel World are your friend! Sky Scanner is a flight website that checks every airline that offers that flight and sends you the cheapest prices. We often have found ‘hot deals’ including £9.99 return flights! The key to Sky Scanner is to be as flexible as possible. As a Uni student I know this can be difficult. However, during reading week, Christmas holidays and Easter, you have a significant amount of time to choose a certain date for departure and your return, that you should instantly save a lot of money. Hostel World is also a brilliant website. Like Sky Scanner it shows you all the hostels in that area and rates them on price, security, location etc. You can choose yourself which one you think is the most important to you. For us, it’s s price and location. We usually pick the cheapest price with the best location. A lot of people who don’t travel on a regular basis ‘sneer’ at the thought of staying in a hostel. But depending on how much money you want to spend, you can get a nice hostel. A lot of the time we have had a good hostel that is clean, secure and much cheaper than a standard hotel. For us, a hostel is just a place to sleep at night, other than that we aren’t that fussed. Most travellers like to stay in hostels (especially solo-travellers) as this is one of the best ways to meet people! We really cannot recommend staying in hostels enough!

Research is essential when you have decided where you want to go. Many people do not realise just how much research we put into our trips, to allow us to do the best things in the time we have. Although after our recent 3.5-month trip to Asia taught us that ‘winging it’ can free your time up, researching what are the best places to do in that place prior departing is key. Although we recommend to not set a time limit to a certain place (if possible) we do highly recommend to research what there is to do in each country. For example, on our recent trip to Vietnam, (Vietnam article here) we researched into Ha Long Bay, Sapa and the Buffalo Run. All these activities made our Vietnam trip special and we might not have known about them unless we did our research. Additionally, wasting time in your hostel searching ‘What to do in x’ is not only a waste of your time but a waste of your money. You obviously wanted to go to this place for a reason, so research before you go what you can do! Another top tip,  if you want to plan a long trip where you will be visiting several countries, do not pre-book your flights from one country to another. We found that when we did this, we ran out of time in a certain place where we would have liked more. As we got better with this, we found that the trip was more enjoyable, relaxing and flexible which gave us the perfect chance to explore each country and city as much as we wanted.

When you have decided what activities have made you want to visit a certain place. You will probably look to pre-book most of your activities if not all of them. And although it is helpful to pre-book your activities as you get the payments out of the way and feel organised, nine times out of ten, you can book these activities during your stay for much cheaper. Finding a good hostel is key to booking your activities. Although we pre-booked our activities in Vietnam, our hostel that we stayed at (Vietnam Backpackers Hostel) offered all the trips we did for a slightly cheaper price. This is why researching your hostel and activities is key to saving money and saving time. Not pre-booking your activities also gives you the freedom to decide what you want to do whilst you’re out there. Sometimes making yourself stick to a schedule, takes the fun out of it and makes your trip less flexible.

Obviously figuring out how much spending money you should take is always difficult and depends on many factors. But remember, your trip will likely cost more than you first plan it to. Something most people seem to forget is factoring transport costs whilst you’re in a country! Try taking public transport as much as possible as taxis are very expensive and add up quickly. When you take off your tourist coat and became a true traveller, you will find that settling for the “lower standards” that locals use every day will not only save you money, but help you get a real feel for the place; more than the façade that most visitors to the country see. The first trip we ever did, although we enjoyed at the time, looking back now was nothing compared to what we have done ever since. Since we have learned so much from each trip, we just try and earn as much money as we possibly can whilst trying to save money on accommodation and flights. One thing that catches many people out is international banking charges on most debit cards. If you’re not lucky enough to have access to a credit card, then get a MONZO CARD. Although recently they have changed their policy where now you are allowed £200 a month free withdrawal before paying a 3% charge. Monzo used to allow you to withdraw £1000 a month for free before you were capped withdrawing anymore. However, during my recent trip to Bali where the changes had come into place. I never needed to use my Monzo card to withdraw as I just paid for everything on my card which is free. Seriously, if you like to go abroad, even once a year and you want to save money, apply for a Monzo card!

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Finally, it is important to state that there is no right way to travel. People should choose to travel how they most feel comfortable. Travelling allows you to meet people from all over the world whilst experiencing different cultures, people and seeing the best sights. Our number one tip is whilst you are out there, just go for it. Don’t have any regrets. Venture out of your comfort zone. Once we did, we never looked back!

Bangkok – A Stepping Stone

After completing our last dives and passing our diving exam in Koh Tao, we decided that it was time to hit the mainland of Thailand. We booked a ticket which would take us to Bangkok where we would spend the next three days. Taking a two-hour boat and then an 8-10-hour bus ride to Bangkok meant that when we got there, it was late and so we decided to just go straight to bed. For the first time on our Asia trip, we had all been split up. With one of us having to go back to Koh Phangan to collect forgotten credit cards, and another staying with his girlfriend in Bangkok, it meant that the three of us were all in different areas of Thailand for one night.

We had heard a lot of bad things about Bangkok which we tried to look out for. Many people said that we did not want to spend too much time there because it’s ‘sweaty’ and other areas of Thailand are much better to visit. However, personally, I didn’t think Bangkok was as bad as many made out. Although it doesn’t have the golden sand beaches of the islands or the spectacular mountain views of the north, Bangkok still has a lot to offer.

For our first proper day in Bangkok, we decided to walk around the city and just get a feel for it. Bangkok is saturated with cafes and restaurants, so you’ll not have any trouble eating amazing food wherever you go. Food portions weren’t always that big, but at 50THB (just over £1) for a meal, you’ll never have to break the bank to fill yourself up.

There’s one street in Bangkok that you’ll definitely want to visit regardless of the purpose of your trip. During the daytime, Khao San Road is filled with market vendors selling a variety of merchandise, such as dirt-cheap knock-off versions of designer clothing and more tradition garments. All three of us invested in at least one pair of vibrant shorts or trousers, which are some of the most comfortable clothing we’ve ever had. The trousers are also very light, which comes in very handy in places where you have to cover up, such as the royal palace and a lot of different temples. As well as Thai restaurants, Khao San Road also features some western cuisine, such as an Irish bar and even a McDonalds should you be missing your home “comforts”. However, we really don’t recommend visiting these places, as they tend to be more expensive than everywhere else, and local Thai food is genuinely some of the best in the world.

After dark is when Khao San Road really comes. Bangkok doesn’t let the side down when it comes to a messy night out. The street becomes filled with tourists and locals all with a shared interest: to get off their faces. There are plenty of bars and clubs, but if you really want value for money you can get a bucket (literally a bucket like what you’d take to the beach as a kid) of spirit and mixer for around 100THB and take part in the street rave. The clubs are also a good time, but if you do venture into one be prepared to be searched first, as this is common practice in a lot of SEA nightclubs.

 

 

There are many great attractions that you can visit when in Bangkok, and one of the best is the Royal Palace. Although a little overpriced at 500THB per entry (like most, we found most of the Palaces are), the Royal Palace is a grand symbol of Thai Monarchism. It is, however, an extremely touristy attraction and practically impossible to take a picture of the architecture without lots of other people in your shot. You do need to cover your shoulders and legs to enter, which is where the trousers aforementioned are useful as you can just slip them over your shorts while you’re in the palace.

 

As many of you reading this will already know, Bangkok has temples located practically everywhere around the city. My favourite was Wat Pho – the temple of the reclining Buddha. This temple was quite different from the other temples which seem to all be the same and become quite repetitive. The architecture and building designs were quite obscure and the change was well needed. As impressive as they are (and as bad as this sounds), there are hundreds of temples and after 4 or 5, they all start to look the same. We recommend choosing a few and seeing those, then moving onto something else.

Another thing to add about Bangkok is the weather. It reminded me a lot of Hong Kong (which you can read here) in the sense that the weather changes rapidly. One minute it’s sunny without a cloud in the sky, and the next it’s pouring it down. Although we went in rainy season – so obviously it was going to rain, the humidity was terrible. Visiting Hong Kong and Malaysia beforehand which are countries that suffer from high humidity probably helped us. However, if Bangkok is your first place then be prepared for being sweaty all the time. We found that the best solution is wearing tank tops as much as possible, especially the ones with a low cut underneath the armpits. If you wear your regular clothing in Bangkok you’ll quickly find it quite unbearable!

To tell you the truth, when we got to Bangkok, the rest of our travels were starting to catch up with us. Although we did have a night out, visited the main attractions and ate a lot of food, we didn’t really go off the beaten track. After recently going back to Bangkok for the second time, there is more to a lot more to it than just its temples and the Royal Palace. Bangkok is home to the biggest market in south-east Asia and has a range of spectacular viewpoints where you can sit back with a drink and watch the world pass you by. I would recommend people starting their journey in Bangkok, as it is a good warm-up for the rest of Thailand or the rest of South East Asia. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t stay more than three or four days, as Thailand has so much to offer and Bangkok is just a stepping stone for that.

View the rest of our Thailand pictures here.