70 Facts: Our Four Month Backpacking Trip

backpacking, couple, Travel, Travel Tips

It’s hard to summarise in words everything we’ve done so the best way to showcase it is through some facts… 

Travel

 
117 hours of self driving
44 hours of coach journeys
26 public bus rides
15 flights
14 boat trips
12 rented bicycles
11 train journeys
1 crazy tuk tuk

Accommodation

21 Hostels
15 Hotels
8 Air bnb’s
2 Boat sleeps
1 Sleeper train
1 Airport sleep
1 Tent

Highs

42 cities/towns
29 beaches
16 amazing sunsets
15 lakes
12 waterfalls
7 countries
7 temples
6 museums
5 kayaking trips
5 snorkelling trips
4 rides down the luge
3 caves
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

Lows

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
2 scars
1 foot wound
1 leg wound
1 earthquake
1 missed flight
1 monsoon
1 migraine
1 lost bum bag (later found in a basket)
Infinite insect bites
Infinite repacking of bags

Miscellaneous

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
6 massages
4 haircuts
4 near death experiences crossing roads
2 kisses from a ladyboy
1 new year in Thailand
1 birthday
1 anniversary
Infinite amounts of street 

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109 Days Later 

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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. 

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Lanterns Of The Night

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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.  

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Time For A Bit Of History

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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. 

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Trunks and Tuk Tuk’s

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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! 

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Oh Barnacles!

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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.

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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! 

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Twenty Four In Singapore

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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. 

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The Gili Islands

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​Chapter 1: The good 

As mentioned previously, our Ubud driver fixed us a cheap deal across to the island of Gili Trawangan or ‘Gili T’ as it’s informally referred as. This magnificent island has a population of about 3500. It also has laws forbidding any engines on land. This means the only form of transport is via horse and cart or bicycles! We settled for the latter to avoid placing any further strain on the already over-worked horses. Biking was brilliant, you can cycle around the entire island in less than an hour and it is also a lovely loop hole for drink driving! The constant hassling from businesses remained as constant as ever but instead of taxis you are offered magic mushrooms (legal on the island). For the first 3 nights we stayed in the luxurious Villa Nero, way beyond our budget but Brogan paid for it as my early birthday present which was an awesome surprise! The second three nights we were back to budget accommodation in a hut (but it had air con so who’s complaining?!) On Gili T, we went on a full day snorkelling tour in the crystal clear waters (cost £6 and the safety definitely reflected this). We saw sea turtles and a surprisingly good amount of fish considering the price we paid. We also stopped at the quiet Gili Air for lunch which is even smaller than Gili T.

We ate at the fly infested night market (incredible food), drank beers on the beach while watching the sunset from the tiny island. We got drunk, went paddle boarding, had a laugh with the locals, encountered another batch of Bali Belly but it’s all part of the fun! Yep, a dreamy island, what could possibly go wrong you might ask…?

Chapter 2: The bad

On the day of our departure, Brogan and I were woken up by a strange shaking sensation. After confirming I wasn’t having one of my monthly nightmares, we established that we were actually awoken by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake which was moving the hut side to side and shaking the curtain poles. It was quite scary as anything over a 6 can instigate a tsunami (with a tiny island being the last place you want to be for such an event). We thought the earthquake may have affected our fast boat back to Bali to catch our flight the day after, but in true Balinese it was business as usual. It’s difficult to describe the boat journey other than absolutely crazy. The crew did not hold back at all on speed and given the sea was seriously rough from the quake, this led to some pretty risky travel. Every minute or so the boat would leave the water and slam back down with a lot of passengers screaming out each time. The sick bags were out and people were throwing up left right and centre. The whole floor of the boat shook and made some worrying noises each time we plummeted back on the sea. I found the whole thing brilliant (you pay good money for rides like that at Disneyland) but Brogan was less impressed, and I don’t blame her, the journey was genuinely dangerous looking back. An hour and a half later we made it back to Bali, ready for our flight in the morning. 

Chapter 3: The worst

So for 3 months, we haven’t made one mistake. Flights, buses, trains have all been caught with no fuss and we’ve planned all our days and budgets with very few issues. Why should the most important flight of the travels to meet our two friends Dan and Leila be any different? After establishing the flight departed at 13:00pm, we had a relaxed morning and began to pack. At 9:45AM, we rechecked the flight schedule and to our horror the departure time clearly stated ’10:45AM’. Perhaps inevitable at some stage, we’d misread the arrival and departure times, which almost instantly caused a severe influx of stress in the room.

We raced around, threw some clothes on, dragged our bags downstairs and managed to convince the receptionist’s husband to ‘fast drive’ us to the airport. The time was 10:25 when we arrived at the airport and our flight departed at 10:45. Drenched in sweat, we sprinted through security, made it to the check-in desk and after arguing for 10 minutes…… we were not allowed to board. What a disaster I know. We have now booked onto another flight and with a lovely 8 hours of airport time to waste, what better time to write a blog hey?! If you thought it couldn’t get worse, our friends who we should now be with are chasing down their main luggage which has arrived in Pakistan!!!

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The Real Bali

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Although our time in Seminyak has been brilliant, tourism has continued to boom and has gradually overshadowed the culture of the Balinese. We did however stay in a place called Ubud which resides near the centre of the country and is much less touristy, meaning it still maintains much of its natural beauty. As Ubud has so much to offer in terms of visits, the best way to maximise time was to hire a private driver for the day (it cost £30 for a full day 8-5pm). This was such a good decision as it meant we got to hear about the traditions from the perspective of a true Balinese, and he also acted as a tour guide throughout our many stops during the day. 

First we visited the rice fields where much of the countries supply comes from and learnt about the process of how it is all made (no machines in sight). 

After here we took a trip to the main temple which our driver was not allowed to go in (due to some complex rules on female menstruation – I won’t go into it, and sadly his uncle passing away recently). There were several areas to the temple and a special cleansing bath which is supposedly to ensure God keeps you in good health.

From here, Awan (our driver) drove us to a coffee plantation which was again, very interesting. The whole process of picking the beans, hand roasting, and grinding the beans was shown to us, finishing with a ‘free’ tasting session (with the option to buy of course – they have their business heads screwed on over here, I bought the coconut flavoured one).

After the coffee tour, we went to the biggest waterfall in Bali. The pictures don’t do it justice but the power of the water was dangerously strong, we both agreed something like that would not be publicly accessible in most countries ! Our final stop was the most anticipated one. The famous monkey forest, home to the sunglasses stealing, bag opening, food pinching primates! Within ten minutes of us arriving, the heavens opened and we were absolutely drenched, we had to buy two ponchos (still haggled them down though which in torrential downpour is a serious commitment to a bargain. Some time later we entered the forest and it was as good as we expected. Monkeys traversed people’s bodies to steal orange juice and bananas, we managed to get them to climb on us by by holding dried sweetcorn. Brogan had a little painful encounter as the monkey decided to use her ponytail as a swing for the exit on its way down! It was genuinely a really good day and we got to know all about Awan’s beliefs and his family, he even sorted us out with a massively discounted boat ride to get to our next destination and blog… The Gili Islands. 

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Sunsets in Seminyak

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So with the expensive destinations out of the way, our next step of the adventure was to touch ground in Asia, specifically Bali. Given we have arrived from the developed likes of New Zealand, Australia and of course England, Bali was quite a contrast to where we have been exploring up until now. 

Perhaps magnified by the fact we left a deserted Cairns airport, we entered an extremely frantic Bali airport. More or less from exiting the aircraft, people were trying to take our bags (for tips), surrounding us shouting taxi quotes at us, looking at our phones ‘claiming’ our plan for a taxi was not possible, basically finding any way to make us part with our precious Pennies! After a lot of negotiating and a fair degree of stubbornness we jumped in a taxi and made it to our budget hotel in Seminyak. We weren’t actually booked in for the first night which caused a few issues, not to mention the huge cockroach roaming the walls of reception! The joys of Asia!

Seminyak was really cool, the food is so cheap (dinner for two = £8, beer = £1), and the beaches are nice (although not quite on a level with Australia). We both loved Bali as soon as we got here, once you get past and ignore the constant haggling and touting at every step you turn, realising that these irritants are only trying to make a living, it’s hard not to love the friendly Balinese, their green beautiful country, and of course their awesome cooking skills. 

Towards the end of our short time in Seminyak we visited our friends down in Uluwata who we met up with in New Zealand some time ago. After a short walk past several drug dealers, and then ironically a swat team with semi automatics (one of them was genuinely on candy crush), we arrived at a place called Single Finn beach club which was a really good (albeit sweaty and overcrowded) drunken night. Heading home in a taxi was a bit of a nightmare (you’ll see why at the end) and rather irresponsibly, we paid a random old Balinese couple to take us on an hour and a half journey back to our hotel in a banged out car featuring cockroaches and some weird noises coming from the boot mid journey (we were too drunk to care). On the subject of taxis, the local drivers in Bali HATE Uber with an absolute passion as it is so cheap (a half an hour journey is around 98p), and the hostilities have turned quite aggressive as of late (local drivers have been following uber drivers and beating them up – not the customers). As a result of this, Ubers will either not pick you up, or will WhatsApp you first ensuring that there are ‘no dangers if I pick you up sir’. 

During our time we were lucky enough to have a clear night and watch the incredible Bali sunset. It was pretty perfect, lounging on the La Plancha bean bags at the beach, beer in hand watching the sun go down… pretty sweet right? We also spent a day at the popular Potato Head beach club, which although pricey was a lovely afternoon for a spot of lunch and swimming (cool place to go). 

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