It’s hard to summarise in words everything we’ve done so the best way to showcase it is through some facts…
117 hours of self driving
44 hours of coach journeys
26 public bus rides
14 boat trips
12 rented bicycles
11 train journeys
1 crazy tuk tuk
8 Air bnb’s
2 Boat sleeps
1 Sleeper train
1 Airport sleep
16 amazing sunsets
5 kayaking trips
5 snorkelling trips
4 rides down the luge
2 paddle board sessions
2 mountain bike rides
2 shooting stars
1 surfing lesson
1 shot over jet ride
1 cliff jump
1 whale watch
1 black water rafting experience
1 mountain climbed
1 game of mini golf
1 trip to the zoo
Infinite amounts of walking and hikes
13 bug exterminations
3 bouts of The Bali belly
2 bouts of The Thai tummy
2 bouts of The Saigon squirts
2 packets of Imodium
1 foot wound
1 leg wound
1 missed flight
1 lost bum bag (later found in a basket)
Infinite insect bites
Infinite repacking of bags
109 days without any major fallouts
60 litres of sweat
60 unnecessarily bought protein bars
19 nationalities befriended
18 dogs we named Alfie
14 books read
14 bottles of suncream
7 vodka buckets
4 near death experiences crossing roads
2 kisses from a ladyboy
1 new year in Thailand
Infinite amounts of street
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Well, it’s finally upon us and I cannot believe this is the final blog but we certainly ended this incredible adventure on a high. We booked onto a two day, one night cruise around Halong Bay. As I mentioned in the previous post, by paying for the top ship known as the ‘Dragon Legend’, we were allowed access to the unexplored Bai Tu Long Bay where only two boats are allowded to sail (this is in direct contrast to the two hundred boats that have access to the main section of Halong Bay). It was worth every penny from the moment we stepped on board. The room was twenty seven square metres with a king size bed and five star furnishings, it had a jacuzzi bath with panoramic views of the islands. The food was seven courses at every meal and consisted of fresh seafood the crew members caught. We always dined on the outdoor deck as we slowly passed all the islands around the bay (one thousand nine hundred and sixty to be precise).
The first day we sailed to one of the islands, departed the boat for kayaks and then made our way across the still ocean to a secluded beach where we relaxed for an hour or so. It was quite surreal that we were the only people in the world on a paradise island in the middle of Vietnam! After another incredible seven course dinner we did some night time squid fishing and although we were unsuccessful, the crew managed to catch a few which were served for lunch the following day.
The second day (after an absolutely glorious sleep) we sailed to a cave (again only two companies are allowed in it as opposed to up to four hundred people in the main halong bay caves) and saw some pretty stunning views from the top. We met some really cool people on the cruise and this, combined with the night time Vietnamese musical performance from the staff, the exceptional food and perfect weather, it was the best end we could have had for our travels. On the four hour drive back to Hanoi, we all converged at a local water puppet show and watched an impressive performance which demonstrated the culture and lives of the Vietnamese population, all illustrated by handmade puppets.
So after 10 hours on the sleeper train sharing with a family of Vietnamese above us we arrived into Hoi An pretty shattered. Hoi an is definitely Vietnam at it’s finest. The beaches are paradise, there are working water buffalo and rice paddies all around, miles of vibrant green in every direction, all viewed from bicycles which we took out for the day. As you can see from the video, the roads remained pretty manic and it wasn’t perhaps the safest mode of transport but it was definitely a highlight of the country.
As impressive as the day time is, visiting An Bang Beach for instance, what really makes Hoi An special is the night scene. Every single evening, thousands of lanterns are displayed in the ancient town and can be seen from miles away. You walk through a floating world of these multi coloured displays to find your restaurant and then have dinner while you listen to the locals play music and perform shows, it was genuinely stunning. We went here both nights of our stay and have also decided Vietnamese food has surpassed thai food for us!
Our final domestic flight came after the short but brilliant stop in Hoi An. Another standard early start to the airport, accompanied by a strange Vietnamese breakfast and we made it to the capital Hanoi! We can’t quite believe that this is our last major stop before our return home but have made the most of our time in order to squeeze as much in as possible. This included a trip to Hoa Lo prison which was used both in the French colonisation of Vietnam and the American war. The prison still contained the guillotine used to behead revolters and all the cells on ‘death row’. It also displayed the actual sewer that over 100 prisoners managed to escape from (how grown men fit through those spaces is crazy). We also took a trip to the women’s war museum which showed the impact and contribution women all over the country made during the brutalities of the war.
I cannot believe I am writing this but our final activity of the incredible four month trip is a visit to the world heritage site ‘Halong Bay’ on a one night two day cruise on a ship called the Dragon Legend. The boat is one of a very small number who are allowed to travel around the unexplored ‘Bai Tu Long Bay’ which is off the beaten track from the hordes of boats which now saturate mainstream Ha Long Bay. We feel this will be a special way to end the trip and the pot noodle dinners are not a particularly difficult burden to bear. We will let you all know how it goes and include it in the final blog before we make our way back to home soil.
It’s scary how quickly time has passed us by and that in in a few days time our final week of the four month adventure will be over. We’ve definitely saved one of the best stops until last in Vietnam and are already half way up this beautiful country.
Up first was the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh city where we stayed for two nights. As a prime spot for robberies and taxi scams we kept our wits about us more than ever. A few little tricks like playing google maps on full volume at the start of a journey seemed to do the trick. As we only really had one full day in Ho Chi Minh we had to maximise time and therefore had a full day of activities planned. First stop was the famous war remnants museum which illustrates all the awful incidents and war crimes which occurred from a Vietnamese perspective (a lot of people think the Viet Cong were ruthless but after seeing what the Americans did it is seems it was a pretty level playing field). As sad as it was, the museum was really interesting and had war tanks, planes and helicopters that the Americans left behind. There were also genuine photographs of the continued effects of agent orange which still impacts two generations of Vietnamese families.
Next up was the Cu Chi tunnels which were absolutely brilliant to see. Our tour guide took us through the jungle where we saw just a snippet of the endless tunnels built by the Vietnamese and crucial in their efforts to repel the Americans. He showed us how all the Americans weapons and equipment was constantly recycled into deadly traps laid out amongst the tunnels, we also got to try the potato meals they lived off. As you can see from the picture, I volunteered to go inside a genuine tunnel (the ones tourists usually enter have been widened as a couple of people died of heart attacks in them). It was an extremely tight squeeze and when they shut the lid it was a weird sensation to think people lived in them for years (30 seconds was enough for me). We finished with a lovely claustrophobic 60 metre walk through the tunnel and popped up out of one of the many concealed exits.
A quick 30 minute flight took us to Da Lat which was quiet but stunning. Although this stop wasn’t jam packed with activities, we had some great meals including a picnic by the lake, met some cool people in the world’s strangest/most dangerous bar and visited the ‘Crazy House’. So this bar we came across on trip advisor was called 100 roofs and they were not lying. You enter into what can only really be described as a cave, buy your drinks and then are free to literally ‘get lost’. There were just so many exits and routes to take, down small tunnels and then up some very tight spaces in the roof (not a good place for anybody with claustraphobia). There were two toilets but they took us about half an hour to find as they are situated deep inside the maze… Surprisingly there is a pretty social atmosphere inside, mainly because you end up asking every other randomer for directions with each person knowing as little as the next. We hit it off with some Londoners and spent most of the night with them.
We sweated out the hangover the following morning and caught the public bus for 4 hours to Nha Trang which was interesting to say the least. You have an arched bed on two tiers which caused both Brogan and myself some travel sickness as it’s not natural to be laid down so high on a bus but we eventually got over that and relaxed. The buses have a fairly bad reputation for crashing and theft but all we experienced was excessive honking of the horn and a few of the usual long stares at the Westerners. One thing we weren’t expecting when we were told about the ‘toilet stop’ was that the bus literally just stopped in the middle of some tarmac and about 10 old ladies got off the bus, whipped their trousers down and squatted their bare bums in front of the entire bus (you’ve got to admire their distinct lack of care for what people think). When the yellow waterfall was finished, we carried on and made it to Nha Trang.
There wasn’t a great deal here other than a nice beach, a theme park and some relaxation. The last of our brutal journeys is now over as we have just completed a ten hour train journey in the soft sleeper berths (we’ve been up since 3am). This afternoon we will have made it to Hoi An and that leaves two more stops before the journey back to reality begins.
Following a fantastic two weeks with our friends, we were once again airbound and headed for chiang mai ‘aka elephant land’. As elephants are an issue in Thailand (with the ridden and working elephants enduring awful lives, not to mention the behaviour that goes on to get the elephants to submit to riding in the first place) we decided to book onto an ethical tour. The company’s purpose was to home elephants and care for them where others fell short. The income from the tours was primarily spent on food and medicine for the upkeep of the nellys. We both agreed this was one of our favourite days in Thailand.
Throughout the day, we fed the elephants, gave them treats (sugar cubes), we then went into a thick mud pit and rubbed sludge all over an elephant who was loving every minute of it (this is done to cool the skin down and the elephant fully lies down which was awesome). We spent most of the day feeding and washing the animals and they were so well looked after it was brilliant to see. At the end, we all washed ourselves in the mini waterfall and the elephants soaked us all with their trunks! We also had homemade thai food and learnt all about the country and heard some sad stories from the tour guides. After we said goodbye to the animals we were taken to a waterfall to do some cliff jumping. My stupid foot was still causing issues at this point meaning I wasn’t able to do it but Brogan took the plunge and nearly blew her eardrums up as a result! As time was so short we were back in the air again the following morning, bound for our final destination in Thailand… Bangkok.
Our accommodation in lady boy land was quite strange, it was a hostel above a massage parlour (although ours seemed to be the only one on the street not offering happy endings). On every corner there were provocatively dressed boys, no wait girls, no wait boys with girls’ bits… never mind, there were ‘humans’ on every corner in mini skirts enticing men all over the place. We felt like three days was enough in Bangkok but were impressed with the ginormous shopping malls and eye catching temples. We enjoyed 70p meals at the terminal 21 food court, experienced the infamous tuk tuk, watched locals all over the place blasting each other with water pistols (Thailand new year) and even managed a sunset on the marriot rooftop (happy hour 241 cocktails of course). We both concurred that one lady boy show was enough (in Koh Samui) and avoided a repeat in Bangkok! I nearly got to meet up with my friend Jake who I lived with in Leeds for two years through university but the time slot was too thin and we weren’t able to make it happen which was a shame! A fantastic end to our time in Thailand and a perfect prelude to Vietnam!
Island hopping has continued but unfortunately we have been bombarded with relentless rain nearly every day which for the islands is not ideal at all. First on the agenda was Krabi which we used as a gateway to visit 3 more islands on a tour (we took advantage of a rare sunny day): chicken island, tub island, and koh poda. Everything was going swimmingly until the snorkelling started. Jamie and Dan were exploring the sea life and as Jamie put his head out to clean his snorkel he kicked out really hard to stay above the water and (cue the cringing) sliced sliced his foot straight down a barnacle. The staff on the trip were on it, drowning it with antispectic and cleaning up the trail of blood he left on the boat. After bandaging it, the tour guide told us she would have to take him to a doctor when we landed which kind of ruined the rest of the day for him as he could no longer walk… everyone else had a blast though! Anyway, to cut a long story short, he should have had stitches but because the wound is right across the base of his foot, the stitches would just tear so he had to just let it heal slowly by itself. The doctor was really helpful and as the boat operators should have apparently informed us of the barnacles and rocks it was technically their fault and obligation to pay (woop).
It’s been a nice change in dynamic with Dan and Leila and really good to get much closer to them. They also helped plan a lot of our days as they’ve been to Thailand before! After Krabi we arrived at Koh Phangan (aka the ‘party island’). Aside from finding a really cool outdoor cinema, the snorkelling wound meant we couldn’t get our dancing shoes on as originally intended and combined with the constant rain, really brought everybody’s mood down. As a last minute solution we decided to change our plan and spend 4 nights in the most developed island, Koh Samui. This was the best decision we ever made as the rains continued to pound us but we had plenty more options on Samui. The airbnb we stayed in was brilliant and brought the mood back up. We thought it might be interesting to give Thailand driving a go so we rented a car for a few days. This allowed us to travel over the entire island and was good for honing the driving skills as we constantly had scooters taking us on either side and floods to avoid on most roads, not to mention the absence of a police force on the island (you can imagine the driving conditions).
Never letting the rain stop our plans, we experienced a live escape game, waterfall walk (Jamie perfected the hobble walk further – probably not doctor advisable), visited a few impressive temples, and enjoyed our first ladyboy show! We also watched a sunset from our balcony with some drinks which was pretty damn sweet. As with many Asian countries, stray dogs continue to be a big issue in Samui, and we drove to one of the biggest shelters on the island to try and understand the problem and donate some money to support the respectable cause. It was quite upsetting to see so many abandoned animals when we are used to our pampered pooches back in England, but at the same time we have the utmost respect for the owner who works every day to feed, wash and care for these poor animals.
The time has gone incredibly fast and we have completed our twelth flight to make it to Chiang Mai, home to the elephants! From here we fly to Bangkok and then onto our final destination of the trip, Vietnam!
Before we had chance to say Singapore Slinger, we were back in the air on our way to Phuket, one of the many stunning Thai Islands on our itinerary. Having your birthday abroad has it perks, my present from my parents was a two night stay in an Anantara two bedroom villa which was nothing short of insane. The private pool was bigger than most communal pools and for a short time we had a taste of the good life. Although it was a struggle, we did leave the villa and explore the island via bicycles. There were a couple of restaurants we visited to try out the authentic thai dishes. We were also impressed with how friendly the staff were, they were constantly working from morning to night yet the smiles rarely left their faces.
Relaxing turned to stress when we boarded the ferry over to the next island known as Phi Phi. Unfortunately we arrived at the port in the middle of a torrential downpour, our bags were completely drenched and as the island has no transport we had to walk to our accommodation, it was one of those moments where you could only laugh as you waded through ankle high water. Our rooms were nice enough and built up in the jungle which is of course home to our primate siblings! On mornings we were greeted with monkeys which just sat on our balconies eating the food they stole from the kitchens and one of them was even clever/cheeky enough to attempt to slide the balcony door open in Dan and Leila’s room (thankfully it was locked). People pay good money to visit monkey sanctuaries and we were living in one!
Phi phi was a contrast to Phuket in that the island has more of a party vibe and hence home to the infamous ‘vodka buckets’. The first night we tested these out and watched thai boxing which was really entertaining. There was one organised match and the rest of the fights were fearless audience members who fought to win the prestigious award of… you guessed it, a free vodka bucket!
Feeling a bit hungover the morning after, we woke at 6am to beat the crowds to Maya Bay which has become intensely popular as ‘The Beach’ with Leo DiCaprio was filmed there. A quiet Thai man took us on his very wethered but beautiful long boat to the island and we had four stops including lagoons, snorkelling spots, a Viking cave , and of course ‘the beach’ itself. The day was fantastic and we ended it by once again getting back on the vodka buckets to watch a fire show which verged on madness. At one point, 5 volunteers put cigarettes in their mouths which were then lit by the performers who spun two blazing sticks in circles and got uncomfortably close to the audience member’s precious faces. Only in Phi Phi!
After the disastrous start with missed flights and lost luggage, the issues ironed themselves out and we began the next leg of the travels as a four… first stop Singapore! Check in was smooth and the rooms were okay but we did notice an unusual amount of high heeled, short skirted thai ladies dotted around the streets. A bit of research quickly confirmed our suspicions that we were staying in the red light district area! By night we may have been kept up by certain noises and moving beds as it seems our hotel was a sort of meeting point for clients and workers, but by day we really made use of our short time there.
The second day of Singapore happened to be my (Jamie’s) birthday and what a birthday it was. Universal studios during the day ended with a thai curry, followed shortly by roof top drinks on Marina Bay Sands and a wander through the Supertree Groves to finish, all enjoyed with our friends who travelled 20 hours to join us on our adventure. It is certainly a birthday that will stick in my memory for some time! The following day we also got to meet Dan’s brother at Mambo Beach Club. The place was really cool as it played music throughout the whole day and also had some deals on the drinks. Perfect spot for a sunbathing day!
Although we only had 3 nights there, Singapore was a genuinely beautiful place to visit and a perfect warm up for our Thailand escapades.