Lisbon: 21st Birthday Celebrations

Before our Asia trip had even ended we were already starting planning a new trip for our 21st Birthday. As two of us share a birthday close together we wanted to share it in style. We brained stormed the usual ideas like Vegas, even flirted with the possibilities of climbing a mountain like Kilimanjaro. However, we realised that if we wanted to spend it with our friends, we would have to do something less expensive but still incredibly exciting. That’s when we thought of it… Lisbon.

For those of you reading this who have already visited Lisbon before, you’ll know why we decided on it. Lisbon is one of those cities that has such a great buzz about it, with so much to do and an incredible night life. After visiting Lisbon in 2016 and being taken aback by how much we enjoyed our stay, it was a no-brainer for us.

Coming up with an itinerary a little different from a normal trip, we decided to keep it secret from the other four people in our group. The challenge would put the two birthday boys against each other, where the teams would compete in different activities. Upon arriving at Manchester airport, Max and I (The team captains) picked names out of a hat to decide who was on each team.

Team Emilio: Emilio, Ben, Haydn

Team Max: Max, Ollie, Ed

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After the teams were picked, we announced some of the rules that the group would have to follow. Some included not being able to say certain words like “TEN” or “MINE” as this led to the forfeit of ten push-ups. Other rules included: that anyone being sick lost your team points, and if you were late in the morning you had to take a random bean boozled sweet. Anyone who has tasted these before will know just how disgusting the bad sweets are. By the end of the trip we were incredibly good at doing push-ups as we got caught out so many times.

After a delayed flight, we arrived in Lisbon and headed over to our hostel – GSpot Party Hostel. The hostel is the only party hostel in Lisbon which was one of the reasons why we wanted to stay here. If you have read our other posts, in particular our Krakow post, we explained why we like to stay in party hostels for these kinds of trips. The hostel was as expected, pretty basic, but a great place to get incredibly drunk for cheap. The hostel runs a pub crawl every night where you get free beer or sangria for an hour at the second bar you visit. Also remember to get your free shots at the hostel and the first and last bars, as when you get more drunk you’ll probably forget.

On our first day back in Lisbon, we woke the group up to let them know what the first event of the trip would be – Go karting. We would take part in a 10 min qualifying session before a 30 minute race where the teams would compete for points. The point system we came up with was between 5-1, 5 being for first place. Obviously, this meant that the person who finished last would get 0 points for his team and therefore do a forfeit. Karting was really enjoyable and it ended with Team Emilio winning on points 9-8, with Max coming first, Ben second and myself third! The difference between Ollie and myself over 30 minutes was 0.5 seconds… as you can imagine the racing was unbelievably intense! As Ed had come last, this meant that he would have to do a forfeit that the group would decide later in the day.

After karting, we got an uber back to our hostel before walking the short distance to a restaurant called Bonjardim which the hostel recommended. The prices were reasonable and the chicken they served was excellent. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we ate here multiple times throughout the week. After drinking a couple of beers and eating dinner, we walked to a place called Park Bar which a friend we met in Asia recommended to us. Park Bar is a quirky roof top bar with chilled vibes. One of the main attractions of this place is that it has amazing views over Lisbon city. (Pints are around 4 euros). However, be warned it is a faff to find.

From here, we walked back to the hostel where we relaxed before signing up to the hostels pub crawl. For 15 euros you get free entry into the club as well as free sangria or beer for an hour at the second bar. You also get free shots at the hostel as well as each bar you go to. Obviously for the price its incredible value. The pub crawl is organised by hostel staff which means that you don’t have to spend time researching where the best bar is etc. The first night we signed up for the pub crawl we also signed up to the beer pong tournament for 10 euros, where the winner wins a bottle of vodka. However, we think this was fixed as every night we were there, the hostel staff won. Nevertheless, beer pong was fun and this is where we gave Ed his forfeit for coming last at go karting. We thought as it was the first forfeit we would start off nicely and just make him play beer pong shirtless. Safe to say he looked a bit of an arse.

The pub crawl was enjoyable and as you can imagine got very messy, very quickly.

After getting back at around 4 am and waking up nice and early it was time for the second event. However, before announcing what the event was it was time to give someone the dummy. This was given to the person who was the biggest dummy during the last day or night out. As you can imagine, throughout the week the nights out caught a lot of us out…

Nevertheless, not much happened during the night out which constituted as being that dumb. But we gave it to Ed as he tried getting me my drink in the second bar before losing my free alcohol cup to the bar staff. Not the best start to the holiday for Ed. (Finishing last, a forfeit and now the dummy).

At least at the next event, Ed had a chance to redeem himself as we knew that he was pretty good at it – Laser Quest. Taking a taxi from the hostel to laser quest we had a little wait in the lobby where we played some arcade games. When it was time to start, we separated into our teams and got the game underway. Team Emilio won the first two games, before team Max won the last game and getting the bonus point for having the highest combined score which meant it ended 2-2 for the day. What was nice is we got free beer in between the games which was needed as it got incredibly hot inside the arena. One of the funniest moments was when Ollie jumped into Max at full speed trying to get in between two pillars. Unfortunately, Ed did not live up to the hype and came last again and therefore had another forfeit to go along with his dummy.

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After Laser Quest we got an uber back to the main square where we again ate at Bonjardim as we had such an enjoyable experience yesterday. Here, we came up with Ed’s next forfeit which we decided would be a drinking forfeit. He would have to drink 6 shots of dark rum which is his least favourite drink. Although he claimed he would be sick, we didn’t change the forfeit.

During our second night out, we signed up to the pub crawl again and started taking advantage of the free sangria in the hostel. Playing some card games, we targeted Ed as we knew he would be drinking a lot tonight and getting him sick would mean his team would lose a point. However, as everyone got so drunk we forgot about his forfeit and ended up losing each other in different clubs. However, we all re-united at the end of the night at McDonalds where we were amazed that McDonalds seemed to have ran out of everything.

The next day, we again started by giving the dummy to someone. As Ed was the current owner he could give it to someone he thought was the most stupid yesterday. He gave it to me on the grounds that I jumped out of a moving taxi after 5 seconds. Which I couldn’t really argue much with…

However, I wore my dummy with pride and announced the next event which was a scavenger hunt. Here we got booklets which explained the challenges that we had to do. The first part was finding landmarks and finding out information about them, the second part was a photo challenge and the final part was a shopping list of random things. We spent around 3/4hours doing this event before meeting back at the hostel where we set a deadline. After much discussion Team Emilio won the event 2-1 which meant that Team Max had to do a forfeit. We also said that Ed had to catch up with his forfeit that he forgot to do the night before. The scavenger hunt was a really good way to see a lot of Lisbon. So, if you want a way to see Lisbon without doing much research just look up scavenger hunts online!

Tonight, we decided to eat somewhere else, and ate near the Rua Augusta Arch. Although we knew it would be a little more expensive the smell of the food caught our attention. The food was really good here, especially the paella. However, we have been warned that the ones that had steak, weren’t overly keen.

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As the night went on, we started buying Ed some of his rum shots and started using small pegs to “peg” each other. Basically, if you get pegged and cannot find the peg within 5 seconds you must down your drink. In the space of a couple of minutes, Max had downed 1.7 litres of beer which very quickly came back up. Ed then thought it would be a clever idea to buy absinthe shots mixed with another spirit which as you can imagine tasted great… Not!

By the time we had arrived at the club everyone was incredibly drunk. However, little did we know that Ed had already been sick in the club and got kicked out. As we continued to enjoy our night it became clear that Ed was missing. Worryingly, the barman said that he had got kicked out hours ago. Becoming aware of this, we left the club and started looking for him. Sadly, when he arrived back at the hostel he was visibly distraught and later we found that he had been mugged of all his possessions. Unfortunately, Lisbon does have a reputation for muggings as it seemed to have happened to a lot of people from what we have heard. It later happened to Haydn, however, Haydn did punch his mugger in the face! (Where the two trams are located on the steep hill is where muggings apparently occur on a regular basis. This is where Haydn was nearly mugged so be aware).

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Nevertheless, the next morning Ed was surprisingly in a banterous mood and he had to be as I gave him the dummy for getting blind drunk. Unfortunately for Ed he was told he would have to quickly sober up as we were doing an escape room and he needed to be focused on the next challenge. As the receptionist gave us the rules of the escape room, we learned that Ed had already broke one rule. “Being intoxicated.”

The escape room which I won’t explain and ruin, was a very challenging but incredibly fun challenge. Having some general knowledge is a good little tip if you want to be able to beat the clock. Team Max won this event by being the first team out, however both teams did complete the challenge. After getting our pictures taken looking like Sherlock we decided to rent some go cars from across the road. These are bright yellow little three-wheel cars that are insane! As it started to rain the cobbled roads became stupidly slippy and the back wheel kept getting stuck in the tram lines.

We did have some near misses and hits as we nearly got arrested by the police for illegally parking and then taking off when the police came over to us. We also crashed one of the go cars as we ended up racing them on the highways. Nevertheless, if you don’t want to be reckless and stupid like us, you can take a guided tour as the car comes with GPS which follows a route of your choice. You have 3 routes to choose from and the GPS comes with audio which explains a little about each landmark around the city.

During the night time what became a common theme of the trip was we somehow all kept losing each other along the way and turning up at random parts of the night. Even though we kept doing the same thing during the nights (albeit going to different bars) we were still having a great time. As my team lost, our forfeit was to sing karaoke in the most packed bar I have ever seen. Luckily, they picked us a good song to sing – ‘Like a Virgin’ by Madonna, which wasn’t embarrassing at all.

The next day we did something a little different and went to the beach. However, as it was April it wasn’t exactly sunbathing weather. However, we would be getting into the sea as we were having a surf lesson! At the start we all were being coached on the right form and the right time to get up. By the end most of us had the hang of it and could stay up for a wave! Surfing was genuinely incredibly fun but also so tiring. Something I would recommend trying if you have not done it before!

However, the beach fun didn’t end with surfing as we had another team challenge in the form of volleyball. Unfortunately for my team, we didn’t perform at our best and lost the challenge badly. This would mean it would come down to the final challenge on our last day where the winner would take all and the loser would have to do a forfeit.

On our penultimate day, we had booked a beer bike where we get as much beer as we could drink for about 1.5 hours. The beer bike was really fun to do even though it was quite cold and rainy. Annoyingly, we had booked to have tapas but they said there had been a mix up with the booking.

The last event would be beer pong where both teams had everything to play for. With the scores tied, we played a best out of 3. Team Max won the first game before Team Emilio won the second. The last game came down to 1 cup each with both teams hitting the top of the cup numerous times. However, unfortunately for my team we ended up losing which meant we had to do the dreaded forfeit.

The forfeit was that we had to get spray tans and these tans were dark. Luckily, my spray tan came out okay as I had been to Thailand before I went to Lisbon, so it didn’t look too bad. However, Haydn’s ended up turning a nice Trump like orange.

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All 6 of us loved our time in Lisbon, especially as it was a completely different type of trip to any that we had done before. Lisbon is a great place to do these kind of trips as it has a great night life, chill vibes and lots to do. Although we didn’t go and get to see the castle which we really liked the first time we visited Lisbon. We visited the Christ the King monument which is like the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio.

View the rest of our Lisbon pictures here.

 

 

 

Norway: In a Week Part II

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

View the rest of our Norway pictures here.

 

 

 

 

Vietnam: 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.

Japan: Mission to Climb Fuji

After spending the last couple of days exploring Tokyo it was finally time to set off to Fuji. As this was our main reason for wanting to travel to Japan, we were very excited. During our trip in Thailand, we had decided that we would walk from station 0 instead of taking the bus up to 5th station like most of the “Fuji Climbers” do. Leaving Tokyo by its central station we took a bus to Fujikawaguchiko which cost around 2,300 Japanese Yen. After spending around 2 hours on the bus, we arrived in Fuji and headed to our hostel. This is where we came into a bit of trouble as none of us had any internet to google map our hostel. We decided that we should get a map from the bus station, thinking that this would make it easier for us to locate our hostel. However, we couldn’t be more wrong, as when we asked the locals for help they didn’t speak a word of English meaning we ended up walking what was only a 10 minute walk, about 1.5 hours. Nevertheless, when we got to our hostel we decided to chill and check the area of Fuji out.

One thing we would really recommend is making sure you get a good hostel or guest house in Fuji as it will help you for your climb. Many guest houses advertise tours, where your host will also take you up Fuji. Personally, we don’t recommend that you book a tour, as you follow thousands of people doing the same route. The hostel we stayed at was called ‘K’s Hostel’ and we could not recommend this enough. The hostel is relatively cheap, very nice and also the hostel was very helpful. Another thing that we liked is the fact it had its own kitchen as we were starting to run out of money, as Japan is so expensive. This allowed us to make our own food and save money that way. A useful tip is to check the weather so you know whether you will see a good sunset/sunrise, depending on the time you choose to climb Fuji. Another great thing about K’s Hostel was that they had a computer that you could use to check the weather or anything else you would like to know. The hostel was also the most chill place, with hammocks everywhere, a suntop terrace and was close to many authentic Japanese restaurants.

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During our first proper day in Fuji we really didn’t do much apart from extend our stay at K’s Hostel as we really felt welcome and enjoyed our stay. Additionally, as we were told by the reception the weather was going to be bad the next day we chose to not climb Fuji. After chilling at the hostel during the day we decided to go and eat authentic Japanese food at an authentic Japanese restaurant. After asking the hostel where they would recommend, we decided to go to an authentic Japanese restaurant where the owner spoke no English and it was almost like you was entering someone’s home. With the menu being in Japanese we had no idea what the price was for anything that we may order. However, we thought this just added to the experience. We decided to order some ramen noodles and we have to say that these were amazing. It’s one place that if you want to eat good Japanese food, then this is the place to go.

 

 

As we decided against climbing Fuji on our second day we chose to explore the lakes and parks around Fuji. Walking around Lake Kawaguchi for about 4 hours we saw some spectacular sights and mountain ranges. Sometimes you forgot that you was in Japan, as it’s not something you expect to see. If hiking is an activity that you are interested in then walking around the lakes is something that might interest you. On our way back we stopped at a museum cafe, which was about the history of Fuji and had a beer. Also we stopped by at a local temple in Fuji which was just in a random location along the lakes pathway. The temple didn’t really have much to see but we just thought as were we already here, we may as well check it out. When we got back to the hostel, we met a traveller called Andy who also wanted to climb Fuji and was looking for someone to tag along with. Obviously, we asked if he wanted to climb with us as we didn’t want him to climb nearly 4000m by himself.

 

 

Day three in Fuji was the big day for us. Finally we were going to climb Fuji as we had made sure that the weather was going to be good for us to climb, and also for the sunset the next morning. What we would recommend is to take a small bag, probably a 20L bag, so you can put in extra layers, food and drink. This is because food and drink are ridiculously overpriced, and at the bottom of the mountain it’s too warm to wear all your layers. After choosing to start from station 0, we went even further and decided to start from our hostel. The four of us all agreed that if we were going to do it, we wanted to do it right. The walk from the hostel to station 0 was around 1.5 hours to begin with. In hindsight this probably wasn’t a good idea as the full trip to the top and then back down to the hostel took over 24 hours. Nevertheless, we were told that no one had ever attempted to start from the hostel and then walk the entire way. This only spurred us on to try this!

 

 

After finally reaching station 0 we were now on the main trail for the ascent. Most people who choose to climb Fuji get a bus to first station that costs 1,900 Yen. However, we didn’t see the point paying for a bus, which is expensive, and seemed to go against the point of coming to Japan to climb Fuji. The beginning of the climb from station 0-5 seemed pretty easy, and we were making good time in order to see the sunset. One memory of Fuji I won’t forget, is when we saw the view for the first time above the clouds. Being around 1840m in the air, allowed us to see some amazing views above the clouds.

 

 

After reaching station 5, we decided to take a bit of rest as we had been walking for about 5 hours straight from the hostel. The good thing about setting off so early, meant that we were at 5th station for sunset. After spending around 20 mins watching the sunset, we decided to start climbing again. After station 5, the climb gets progressively harder as you are climbing on ice, snow and through the dark. As darkness was approaching, there was a sudden drop in temperature so make sure you bring plenty of layers in your backpack. After layering up at station 6, we continued to head up the mountain. As its pitch dark by the time you make station 6, there’s not really much to see. However, at this point your main is aim to keep going so you keep warm. We found that stopping at some stations made you really cold and it took awhile for you to get warm again. Unless you need a break from the climb, then try to stop as little as possible. If you really want to, you can hire a bed and a room at the different stations, but these were ridiculously expensive, and really not worth it. We managed to climb Fuji, with no previous climbing experience, and although it took us ages, and we were in pain and so tired at the end, we are glad we didn’t waste money on these rooms.

 

 

By the time we had reached the summit, we had been walking for around 14 hours and now we were waiting for the sunrise. We initially, laid down on a bench and fell to sleep as we were so tired. However, our bodies were shaking so much from the cold we soon woke up and realised that there was a line to get inside a food cafe. Although we knew we would have to buy something, at this point we were so cold, and so hungry, that we wanted to buy something anyway. If you are going to do this, make sure you’re first in line when you reach the summit, and then eat your food really slowly so you can stay in the warm. The food as you can imagine is a rip-off, but when you’re hungry and so cold you have little choice but to pay the price.

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After spending an hour in the warmth, we decided to head outside to see the beginning of the sunrise. Seeing this sunrise made the entire climb worth while! The sunrise was genuinely one of the best sunrises that we have ever seen, and it made the pain of climbing all worthwhile. If you ever get the chance to climb Fuji and see the sunrise you will appreciate just how amazing nature can be.

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Many people start the climb by getting a bus from the town to 5th station. And although this is a lot easier, it is so rewarding actually climbing from the bottom to the top! Just keep in mind that at the top it is so cold and that you need to make sure you have adequate clothes. I remember one conversation I had with max, that is shown on the video below, saying wow it must be so cold, before coming across some of the biggest icicles we have ever come across. Also what you need to keep in mind is that when you finally get to the top you have to get back down. You could either do what Max and I did, and walk down all the way, or what Haydn and Andrew did, and walk to 5th station and get a bus back. In the end, the bus only saved them 2 hours, but obviously it meant that they could get home sooner.

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All in all, if you’re thinking you wanna climb a mountain but don’t wanna pay a lot of money to climb one, then Fuji is a great opportunity and experience to see whether you like climbing them. If you don’t end up paying for the busses there and back then climbing Fuji is free, and it is something to knock off your bucket list. Something we all agree on is that Fuji was one of the most rewarding activities that we have ever completed.

View the rest of our Fuji 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!

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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