Top 5 Countries That I Have Travelled (2015-18)

Over the last 3 years, I have visited 31 different countries, which makes writing this article a difficult task. Nevertheless after much deliberation, I have come up with the top 5 countries that I have visited!

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5.

At number 5 on the list is Vietnam. In the summer of 2017, I spent 17 days in Vietnam and started my travels in Hanoi. Before setting off to Asia, I pre-booked through Vietnam Backpackers Hostel trips to Halong Bay and Sapa. I also booked a weeks long adventure down the coast of Vietnam called the Buffalo Run.

Being able to spend a couple of days on your own private island at Castaway was such an unreal experience. Arriving on the island with a hundred different people, you get to do pretty much whatever you want. Drinking all day, booze cruise, kayaking, wake boarding, rock climbing and much more! Knowing you’re doing all of this in one of the world’s natural wonders definitely makes you savour every moment more.

Having a nights recovery, we set off on a 6 hour sleeper coach to Sapa. Spending a night out a luxury hotel we rented bikes and rode around the Sapa mountains. Bar a scary moment when I fell off my bike, I think I enjoyed Sapa more than Ha Long Bay. Being able to see some incredible views with the mountain ranges silhouetting in the background was awesome. The highlight of Sapa without doubt was the 2 day trek through the mountains, which included a home stay.

After returning back to Hanoi, we set off on our week-long adventure down to the south of Vietnam. Meeting people from all over the world unquestionably made the whole experience better. Probably the most enjoyable part of the Buffalo Run was driving the Hai Van Pass in ex-Vietnam War army jeeps. Being able to do this is something that I will never forget and would recommend anyone who visits Vietnam to do!

4.

Number 4 on my list is Thailand. My first experience to Thailand was after I visited Vietnam. Originally starting in the Thai Islands + Krabi, I can only describe these places as absolutely mad. If partying and drinking are your things then look no further than Koh Phi Phi. Although personally, Koh Tao is my favourite Island out of the four we visited, all the islands offer their own unique experience. Unfortunately, we messed up and missed the full moon party at Koh Phangan which definitely left a sour taste.

Why Koh Tao was my favourite island is because I loved diving so much. We originally just did a fun dive and then left Koh Tao, however, as Haydn and I enjoyed the fun dive so much we came back to the island after one day to get our open water licenses. I also liked how chill the island seemed – probably because everyone just wanted to dive or chill with a beer.

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We then moved onto Krabi and continued partying before moving onto Bangkok and then the north of Thailand. The north of Thailand is epic and I really do want to explore this region more. So far, I have only visited Chiang Mai and Pai but both places are just incredible! I have since been back to Thailand another 5 times and spent around 8 months of my life there. I recently visited Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand as well as Phuket and both places are just so different from each other but also sums up Thailand so well. I like that Thailand offers the traditional Thai style in some places, but then in other places, you’re having mad parties with everyone from around the world.

3.

This one may surprise a lot of people, but Guatemala is definitely in the top 3 places that I have visited. Spending only around a week here we had to rush many things, but I could have easily spent months travelling this country. This country is just epic and has SO much to offer!

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Prior to travelling to Guatemala, we read and were told all the scare stories about muggings, shootings and killings. However, after enduring a difficult trip in India we did feel ready for what we expected to see. Nevertheless, these scare stories could not have been further from the truth! What I will say is that Guatemala does have a high crime rate so do be careful but go open-minded!

After landing in Guat City we took a uber to Antigua which is an old colonial town. What I loved about Antigua was just the chillness of the place. We visited the markets, chilled by our hostels pool and ate a lot of traditional Guatemalan food! One awesome thing you can do from Antigua is climb Acatenango (Volcano) where you get to camp overnight on an active volcano! This was definitely one of many highlights from Guatemala. 

From Antigua we took a 12 hour overnight coach ride to Tikal, where we went and saw the ancient Mayan ruins. Tikal again has a very travellers feel to it and if that’s what you like then Tikal is perfect. What also made my experience of Tikal so good was that we met some people that we spent a couple of days with that we really got on with! It is also a good gateway to go and visit Semuc Champey (although 7 hours away) it’s worth the long uncomfortable minibus drive.

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Semuc Champey is just one of the must see places of Guatemala in my opinion. It’s just an incredible place! Although there are only two hostels in Semuc Champey, we opted for the one that was in the middle of the jungle and we definitely made the right choice! Sleeping in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle was an interesting experience, as well as an enjoyable one. During our time in Semuc Champey, we visited the national park, jumped off a 20m Waterfall and went caving. Like Antigua, I really wish we had more time to just relax in Semuc Champey because it was just one of those places where you sat back and just thought about how awesome life is.

Unfortunately, as we only had a week by being on such a tight schedule, we couldn’t do everything that we would have wanted to do in Guatemala. Lake Atitlan is one such place that I really did want to visit, however it does give me a great excuse to plan another trip back!

2.

Iceland is number 2 on my list. Iceland was probably my first out-and-out nature trip and its got me hooked to do more of this kind of travelling. Anyone who has been to Iceland can vouch for the spectacular geography on show. As we didn’t have much time in Iceland due to university and money, we really tried to cram everything in a small time frame. This meant sometimes going to sleep at 1/2am and waking up at 6/7am.

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Reykjavik

One of the highlights of the Iceland trip was visiting Pingvellir National Park. Here we decided to go snorkelling through the North Atlantic Ridge (which is the separation between the North American plate and the Eurasian plate). You also have the chance to scuba dive here if you wish but unfortunately we could not do that as we didn’t have our license. Oh and also make sure your dry suit is zipped up properly (Unlike Max), or you’ll feel 2 c water rushing in!

Gullfoss is another cool area that we visited. One of the best natural things that I have experienced is definitely seeing a Geyser erupt! Although having to wait every 10 minutes to see it explode in the freezing cold isn’t that nice, the eruption is worth the wait. Gullfoss also has a series of some pretty awesome waterfalls that you can check out after the Geysers.

From here we went to a place that we hadn’t heard much about, Hraunfossar. We did take a bit of risk driving here because it was about 2-3 hours away from Reykjavik which is where we were basing ourselves. However, I am so glad that we took the risk because the waterfalls were just stunning and arguably still the best waterfalls that I have seen. What also made the whole region so good was the huge Volcano in the background, as well as the breathtaking scenery we saw on the drive.

Iceland also gave me the chance to tick 2 items off my bucket list: The Blue Lagoon, and the Northern Lights. As you can imagine being able to do both of these things was just immense! The Blue Lagoon, although expensive, was just such a cool experience and is 100% better than what you see on Facebook. Probably THE highlight of the trip though was being able to see the Northern Lights. Not only did we get to see them but we were able to get some amazing pictures of them dancing around!

We also had the opportunity to explore the southern coast of Iceland which is part of the Iceland ring road. Black Sand Beach and Fjaoragljufu are probably my favourites things that we saw on the south coast.

Although I had an amazing time in Iceland, and managed to tick 2 items off my bucket list, I simply didn’t spend enough time here and also had a really disappointing day whilst whale watching, that for now, Iceland cannot be the best place that I have visited.

1.

So the big finale.. What’s my number one place I have visited? Have you guessed yet? Well… It’s Norway! The plan was to travel from the south to the north and back down to Oslo again in just 8 days by car. A total of 5,500km! Although extremely ambitious the fact we got to do everything that we planned I think only made the trip even better. Even the immigration officer told us “Good luck!” Despite Oslo being underwhelming, the rest of the trip was just phenomenal and one that I would unquestionably do all over again.

For me the trip really started when we got to Stavanger, where we took a ferry over to Tou. Here, we completed the Pedersgata Hike which was a magical experience. We were walking through the middle of the forest in the mountains, when it started to snow! Although it’s hard to convey how cool this was, it’s absolutely one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. On our second day in Stavanger (also our last) we drove to Frafjord, which is a huge fjord which is unbelievably picturesque. This is one of the reasons which makes Norway just such a good place to see, because you constantly stop and get out of the car to take a photo as the scenery is just spectacular.  

From here we visited a waterfall called Manafossen, which was a massive waterfall where you just stood and marvelled at the beauty around you. Manafossen is undoubtedly one of the best waterfalls that I have seen! We then visited a place called Gloppedalsura which has stunning rock formations surrounded by stunning mountains and lakes on either side. Honestly, Stavanger and the surrounding areas are just simply beautiful and if you can only spare a couple of days then Stavanger isn’t a bad option! Weirdly enough, we only came to Stavanger because Haydn had to get a later flight than us.. Luckily!

After picking up Haydn, we drove to Bergen where again, we only spent a day exploring the area. Although this doesn’t seem much time I do think that this is enough time in Bergen because in spite of Bergen being aesthetically pleasing, there wasn’t that much to do here. We did climb up a mountain called Ulriken and got to Montana point which did give some awesome views of the city. Personally, I do think this is the best thing you can do in Bergen as the “World’s famous fish market” didn’t really seem like a market.

The second part of our trip is where I think it got even better but also more challenging! We began by leaving Bergen and driving for 7-hours to Geirangerfjord. After a bit of faffing about, we took a ferry through the middle of the fjord which offered some breathtaking scenery. The fjord is simply a must see place if you’re travelling Norway. It’s one of the places where you constantly are stopping the car at every single view-point to take a picture.

The next part was where it got really tough. We had a 21-hour journey up to Lofoten Island which in hindsight was probably a little stupid. However, completely worth it! Despite the fact that we didn’t really get to see much of Lofoten Island and probably could have spent 3 or 4 days here, I’m still so glad that we at least got the chance to see it! As we didn’t have much time, and we still had to get to Tromso and then all the way back down to Oslo in the next 2 days, we decided to go and see one of its best fjords (Trollfjord). As we were now in the Arctic circle, there were only 4 or 5 hours of daylight here so the skyline was permanently amazing! The colours that bounced of the lakes, mountains and snow just made the place unbelievably stunning.

Unfortunately, we had to leave and plough on for another 6 hours to Tromso, which is weirdly one of my favourite cities. Although we only spent about 15 hours here, I just really liked the chill, beautiful look the city gave you. We originally hoped we would be lucky enough to see the northern lights again. However, we were not so lucky and that did put us down a little. Nevertheless, we decided that on our last proper day travelling we should do something awesome to top the trip off. We contemplated whale watching but after a disappointing time in doing this in Iceland, there were no guarantees that we would see one here. Therefore, we decided to pay £180, yes… £180.. To husky sledge!! (Probably one of the best activities I have ever done even for the price). As someone who owns a dog, being able to spend 3 hours with the dogs and also be able to go sledging with the sun setting was just a unique experience. This absolutely ended the trip on a huge high and is why Norway is my favourite place that I have visited. Although some of you maybe gawking at the price, honestly, it’s just such an incredible activity, and you’re getting to do it with amazing scenery in the Arctic circle. For me you couldn’t really ask for anything more!

The final thing for me which really made this trip my best, is probably the fact that we had complete freedom to go to any place and to leave any place any time that we wanted. Although we had our outbound flight booked already due to university commitments, we only had a rough itinerary of places that we researched were good to see. This kind of freedom allowed us to really get to see the very best of Norway in the little time that we had, and I’m so glad that we went!

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Countries I have visited 2015-2018.

Belgium Cambodia Costa Rica Cuba
Czech Republic France Germany Guatemala
Hong Kong Hungary Iceland India
Indonesia Ireland Italy Japan
Latvia Malaysia Mexico Netherlands
Norway Oman Poland Portugal
Scotland Singapore Spain Thailand
Vietnam Wales

 

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.

Vietnam: Riding The Buffalo Run

After one final night in Hanoi after Sapa, we left to start the Buffalo Run. The Buffalo Run is an epic week-long adventure where you start in Hanoi and finish in Hoi An. Inspired from Top Gears Vietnam Special, the Buffalo Run gives you a great chance to experience the culture, the scenery and history of Vietnam. Like the other trips, it also gives you a great chance to meet new people from all over the world and since you’re with them for a week, really get to know each other.

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On the first day of a trip down to Hoi An, we cycled to a local temple where our tour guide (Ricky) explained about history of Vietnam and its kings. After this we took a two-hour boat tour through caves and around mountains where they filmed ‘Kong: Skull Island’. This was a lot of fun as everyone we met got competitive and we made it into a race to see who could get around the quickest. This was funny as our guides who were rowing us also got competitive. We won the first leg, but unfortunately, one of us had to help another boat which was stuck after disembarking to explore an island and so we only could claim second place. After sweating profusely during the boat race, a shower at a hotel was more than welcome before taking the night bus to Phong Nha.

Day two was one of the funniest days of our stay in Vietnam, if not the whole trip. After driving from about an hour from our hotel, you get to take a 400m zip line trip across the river before entering the dark caves. In Vietnam, they have a naming method in English which is very exact. So, the dark caves are genuinely just caves that are dark. However, these caves had a mud bath right at the end, where many a mud pie was thrown when the lights were turned off. Nevertheless, it was a great laugh, especially the mud slide back into the river at the end of the cave.

Lunch consisted of DIY spring rolls, before venturing onto a cave in which 80 people became trapped and died from in a US bombing campaign. Ricky explained a lot about the history of why the US bombed the area and it was a sobering activity. What we liked about the Buffalo Run was it was a good experience learning about the history of Vietnam, with almost constant fun as well. After visiting the war cave, we went to a farm stay where we sat by a pool drinking beer and watched a beautiful sunset. It was the perfect ending to a great day and a start to a great night. We later bought drinks from a shop and stayed playing drinking games in a hotel room, having a fantastic time.

Day three, we decided to go in the back of a truck to our next place instead of taking bikes. This was a fun experience but not exactly a luxurious journey, as the truck didn’t have the most advanced suspension system. If you decide to do the Buffalo Run you do get the option the night before on your mode of transport, whether that be bicycles, scooters or a truck like us.

Day three was not as hectic as day two. We thought it was strange that our guide Ricky kept on specifying that the pub we were going to had cold beer, but the place was actually called ‘The Pub with Cold Beer’. Here, you can relax in hammocks with a beer, play volleyball, and then cool off in the river afterwards. This was a very nice addition as the volleyball got quite heated when we started a tournament that pitted the British and Irish Lions vs ‘Canasians’ (Canadians and our Asian tour guide, Ricky), especially when we introduced the rule that the losers had to buy the winners a beer each!

Also at the Pub with Cold Beer you can partake in a more unusual, perhaps once in a lifetime activity and kill a chicken. The method for doing so is somewhat brutal (a machete to the back of the neck) and not for the faint of heart. However, everyone in the group agreed that the chicken tasted phenomenal and it was a very rewarding experience to take responsibility for ending the animal’s life that you were about to eat.

On day four we travelled to Hue, whilst also stopping at a land mine museum as well as some Vietnam war tunnels. Again, our tour guide explained the history behind the land mine museum and the war tunnels. This was very interesting as the three of us did not know much about the Vietnam war prior to our trip. After arriving in Hue, at another Vietnam Backpacker Hostel, there was a pub crawl with the theme ‘shit shirt night’. The whole of team Buffalo Run made a strong effort for the event. In our shit shirts and matching shorts, we were ready for a crazy night. Here, we also met some friends that we previously met in Ha Long Bay and made plans to meet up in Hoi An.

Day five of the trip was a beach day! However, we stopped off at a temple first, where the car in which a monk drove himself into the town square and set himself alight to protest the anti-Buddhist regime was kept. After Ricky had educated us more on this temple, we finally set off to the beach and spent the day there. All of us decided to play volleyball in the sea as well as playing another competition for beer. Probably wasn’t a clever idea as we kept losing more than we were winning. In order to play, we first had to find buckets and bottles, fill them with water and throw it on the volleyball pitch, as the sand was far too hot to play on. One of the most ridiculous things we did, but Ricky had assured us it worked beforehand. If it’s stupid and it works, then it isn’t stupid.

On day six we travelled to Hoi An via the Hai Van Pass in ex-army jeeps from the war. It is also possible to do the pass on motorbikes through VBH, but we decided to take the jeeps and felt it was the right decision. This was such an incredible experience as big fans of Top Gear. We also stopped off for lunch and had a swim at the beach before arriving in Hoi An. Again, stopping at a Backpackers hostel, we signed up for the ‘Beer Olympics’ but were cheated out of a victory! But it was all just fun and games really, and there was the opportunity for everyone to get involved.

On the final day of the Buffalo Run, we rowed in bamboo boats and went crab fishing. Accidentally, one of us dropped a crab in our boat and as the guide went to pick it up the crab pinched him. This was funny though as he made a massive joke out of it and we continued to have a really fun experience. As it was our last day we had one last game of volleyball in the hostel pool before going out for our last night out together. Here we met up with our friends from Ha Long Bay and had an amazing night. Unfortunately, the next day we had to leave to Ho Chi Minh City as we were flying out of there to go to Thailand. Although we deliberated whether we should just stay another night we finally decided to leave.

On arriving in Ho Chi Minh at night and not having much time there before leaving for Thailand, we visited some markets and walked around the city a bit. We didn’t experience much of the city so we can’t say much for it. But this just means it’s somewhere we will have to go back and visit!

Overall, I wish we could have spent a lot longer than just 17 days in Vietnam. It was all absolutely incredible, and we did so much but it felt like we were only scratching the surface. If you’re going South East Asia and not visiting Vietnam, I would strongly recommend changing your schedule.

View the rest of our Vietnam 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.

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!

 

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.

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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!