Ubud is the cultural hub, where deep conversations over organic coffee’s, yogic retreats and breathtaking scenery are the reason many decide to stay. Tourists have been flocking here for decades, hoping their dreams of an “Eat,… More
Travel is one of the few experiences that transforms your life. It’s impact is felt to the very core as your whole perspective on life changes. You emerge changed, almost reborn into a newer, better version of yourself. It happens gradually when you travel, then POW! It hits you when you return. You realise nothing has changed. Your friends are doing the same thing, your home is the same, the job you left is the same. But you’re not the same. You feel restless, impatient and disappointed that the return is such an anticlimax to a mind-blowing experience. Nobody understands. You want to get back on a plane. You ask yourself, how and why did this experience have such a profound effect? Was it the trekking in the Himalayas that did it? Or was it the cute Orangutan in Borneo! Did skydiving in New Zealand really do this or was it listening to the stories of a stranger in Burma. You know – it was all these things and more. Here’s how travelling changed our lives forever.
We learned a lot about ourselves
Travelling was tough. Catching many flights across different time-zones, not sleeping properly for days, long uncomfortable train journeys and flight delays. Add to that death-defying taxi rides, near misses, slips and falls and lugging your back-pack around in unbearable temperatures was definitely character building. On many occasions we went hungry, got food poisoning (mostly me) and had to visit doctors on several occasions. All this taught to us to adapt to situations, not worry about things and continue moving forward.
Travel inspired us to make big changes in our lives
On returning, being tied to a corporate didn’t seem so great. So I took a leap of faith. I started a business. It was nerve-wracking to give up the stability of a permanent job but I couldn’t let the experience of travelling just fade away into a memory.
Our perspective on the world changed
Yes – travelling turned our world upside down! Like most people, we had a 9-5 job, got married and had a home. However, after living out of a backpack for almost a year and experiencing the freedom that travel offers, you realise you don’t have to be pigeon – holed into living a life that involves just working and paying bills. The definition of living changed for us. Travelling was true living. Experiencing and engaging everything the world had to offer and growing as a person was a revelation.
We appreciate life more
You have back-packers then you have flash-packers. I guess we were flash-packers as we never stayed in dorms or real hell holes! Saying that we came across a few grim places in an effort to save money. In the end it taught us to appreciate what we have. These days, we have shorter showers, watch less TV and spend less money. We appreciate the seasons and use our time more constructively.
We’ve made friends from all over the world
It starts with a drink (or three) and ends with a promise to stay in touch. Next thing you know, you’re in another country and so are they! That’s when you know you’ve connected with friends. Interacting with strangers on the road does wonders for your social skills. There’s no hiding when you travel.
We’ve developed a taste for global food
Eating our way across Asia was one of the joys of travelling. The food is inspiring, cheap and delicious! So much so I decided to take a cookery class in Nepal, Thailand and Malaysia. Mealtimes are not the same anymore. You’ll often find Morning Glory with garlic & chilli or red fish curry on the menu. I really miss chicken Momo’s so that’s next on the shopping list!
We realised all you need is a back-pack
You start with loads of stuff in your backpack but you soon come to realise you don’t need it. I actually ended up with less clothes than Asad. If I needed anything I’d just buy it. Carrying the bare minimum was cathartic and empowering. On returning I found I was less attached to our material possessions. Even our home. It didn’t mean as much to me. Spending almost a year among vast landscapes in Asia meant we felt trapped by the tiny surroundings of the UK. It took us a long time to adjust.
We discovered what it means to be in the present
We are all raised to constantly think of the future. What’s going to happen in the next hour, day, week or year. We plan our lives around this, running around leading busy lives- barely taking time to stand still and just be present in the moment. Sometimes we pay others to tell us to stand still. That’s why travelling stops you in your tracks and forces you to take a look at how crazy beautiful the earth is!
We have more of respect for nature
We’ve seen a lot of wildlife and nature on our travels. From the Orangutans in Borneo to the Proboscis Monkey’s and birdlife down the Kinabatangan river. We’ve seen chickens ritually killed by shamans and tens of buffalo slaughtered by tribes in Sulawesi. We’ve bathed elephants in Chiang Mai and experienced dolphins and whales in New Zealand. It’s a privilege to share the earth with such amazing creatures.
Our thirst for travel never died, it just got stronger
You would think that a year and a half later, the urge to travel would fade and we would slot right back into our lives in the UK. But it hasn’t. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t think of getting on a plane and just going somewhere. Sometimes I wish we didn’t feel that way. It’s unsettling and we both still suffer from a restless desire to just pack up and go!
We discovered our adventurous side
We went mental in New Zealand. Probably because we bumped into a friend who was a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Before you know it, Asad had performed a skydive, I had ziplined and paraglided my way over the Remarkables. We would never have even contemplated any of this before! It just goes to show that the confidence you gain enables you in so many ways.
We learned people are the same
People are the same the world over. It doesn’t matter what religion or race you are, everyone has the same needs. Everyone works, looks after their families, plays candy crush and enjoys a good drink! Everywhere we travelled people received us with an open-heart. Strangers shared their food and stories with us. In China we felt like celebrities. They were intrigued by us. Asians with a British accent. Even in remote areas where the locals were not used to tourists, people may have been reserved but there was never any hostility. We’ve learned that people are essentially good. Even in countries such as Myanmar (Burma) who only opened their doors to the world in the past few years, people were friendly and warm. I miss that.
We learned religion is more diverse than we thought
We experienced alot of Buddhism and Hinduism across South-East Asia. But Indonesia was really amazing. Bali had such a diverse form of Hinduism, nothing like you see in India or Nepal. Sulawesi was breathtaking and threw the usual concept of religion out of the window. Mosques displayed ancient Torajan symbols and some Christians still practiced cliff-burials. It was all surreal and magical.
The planet we live on is an amazing place. Go see it with an open heart and an open mind and I promise it will teach you something no book or university will.
Let us know what you think of this post! We’d love to hear from you.
Think of Tibet and images of spinning prayer-wheels, yak-butter tea, clifftop monasteries and breathtaking mountains spring to mind. A visit to this land is something to be savoured as the air, heavy with juniper incense, guides you to the doorways of Tibetan Buddhism.
Spanning the world’s largest and highest plateau, Tibet is home to some of the highest mountains on the planet and the source of major rivers including the Yangtze, Mekong and Ganges. Essentially Tibet is a geographical dream of humbling and epic proportions.
Walk among prostrating pilgrims who, carried by the centrifugal force of the Kora, gravitate to the spiritual heart of Tibet – the Jokhang Temple. Breathe in the magnificence of Potala Palace as it soars above the city – immense in size and symbolism. Meander through the whitewashed back-streets of the old Tibetan quarter or simply stand still and be captivated by the sheer diversity of people. Nomads from the Kham regions of Tibet with their braided hair and ornate daggers and those from Amdo walk by spinning their prayer-wheels, clothed in sheepskins and striking coral headpieces.
Lhasa is just one part of a complete experience. Venture further into this mesmerising land of surreal geography and a sensory adventure will unfold. Bumpy roads and rugged highways reveal traditional rural scenery – vast fertile plains that stretch as far as the eye can see. Dusty towns once the centre of thriving trades, offer a glimpse into the past and winding roads zig-zag through vertiginous mountains that reveal glistening turquoise lakes below. Old ruins spread across sweeping plains are a reminder of past invasions while beige mud house settlements adorned with colourful prayer flags, raise a nostalgia and innocence that is fast disappearing.
A Dramatic Arrival
What better way to arrive in Tibet than overland on the highest plateau on earth. Though controversial, The Qinghai – Tibet Railway provides an exhilarating taste of the natural wonders of the Tibetan Plateau. Sweeping panoramas, mesmerising mountains, turquoise lakes and wandering nomads are all part of the magical journey that involves being catapulted into head-spinning altitudes.
Without doubt, Tibet has a unique spirituality. You’ll see it in the architectural wonder of the monasteries that balance precariously on mountain sides. You’ll feel it in the presence and majesty of spectacular landscapes that make you feel insignificant and you’ll hear it in the whispered prayers of monks and pilgrims congregating in flickering candle lit prayer halls.
One thing you’ll notice on arrival in Lhasa will be the heavy and authoritarian presence of the Chinese military. Add to that the rapid development of fast food chains, hotels and imposing construction of factories and it won’t be long before the remote mystery of Tibet will be diluted. Despite this, you won’t fail to recognise the inherent spirituality and resilience which is at the heart of the Tibetan people. Despite a tragic past, an ever-shifting present and uncertain future, they display an unflinching strength in their fight to express their religious freedom and an openness and generosity to all who take the time to get to engage with them.
The political situation means tourism is strictly controlled. Currently independent travel isn’t possible and travellers have to arrange a pre-arranged tour to visit the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Here are a few guidelines:
- All foreign visitors must get a Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) permit to enter Tibet and an Alien Travel Permit (and other permits) to travel outside of the capital Lhasa.
- All tourists will need to pre-book an itinerary, guide and transportation with an agency before travelling to Tibet.
- It’s not unusual for restrictions to result in Tibet being completely closed to foreigners, so check the most up-to-date regulations with travel companies.
- You will need to show your TTB permit before boarding a plane or train to Lhasa.
- You’re required to stay with the group throughout your entire stay in Tibet and are prohibited from taking pictures of tourist sites unless accompanied by a guide.
- Avoid taking pictures of the military, police or govt officials otherwise the tour agency may be asked to pay a penalty or be at risk of having their licence revoked. They are held accountable for your actions!
- There are frequent police checkpoints along the major roads outside Lhasa. Your guide will normally deal with this by showing and registering your passport for you. However, at times you’ll be required to present this information in person.
Tibet is a privilege waiting to be explored. Don’t be deterred by the politics or the expectation of a rough ride. In fact, it’s for these very reasons that you should go. Learn about its troubled history, witness its geography and experience the warmth of its people. There’s a rawness and remoteness in its beauty. It’s like going back in time. Go now before it’s innocence is completely lost.
I promise it’s unlike anything you’ll ever experience again!
Since China launched the first train service to Tibet in July 2006, the Qinghai – Tibet Railway has carried thousands of awestruck tourists across the excruciatingly beautiful Tibetan Plateau. Considered an impressive feat of modern engineering, the railway was built despite the technical difficulties of building on permafrost, not to mention the challenges of constructing at high altitude and concerns surrounding environmental impact.
Known as the world’s highest railway, the Qinghai – Tibet Railway runs through the Tanggula Pass which at 5072m (16,640 feet) above sea level, literally makes your head spin due to the effects of altitude. Extending 1956km, the railway has 675 bridges, 10 tunnels, (two of which are the highest and the longest in the world) and specially designed carriages that pump in more oxygen, much to the relief of all its light-headed passengers.
Although miraculous in its achievements, not everyone is impressed. Pro-Tibetan groups see the railway as a political knife, slicing through the heart of what is now known as the Tibet Autonomous Region, in an attempt to dismantle its unique culture and quash any hope of independence. The Chinese Government on the other-hand remains adamant that the railway brings prosperity to the Tibetan region, claiming the increase in tourism and trade benefits a struggling Tibetan economy. With Chinese migrants now outnumbering Tibetans, Lhasa’s unique charm slowly being chiselled away and the presence of an imposing railway through a once untouched and fragile wilderness – it remains to be seen whether Tibetans have benefitted at all.
In the meantime, although politics constantly hovered in the air, Asad and I had other things on our mind.
It was 7.30am and we had just arrived at Lanzhou after catching the midnight train from Zhangye where we had seen the amazing Danxia landforms. Having had only four hours of fitful sleep, we were exhausted. To make matters worse, we had five hours to kill before boarding the train to Lhasa. Nevertheless, despite the fatigue, we were excited! This was going to be the start of our final adventure. An epic train journey across the rooftop of the world, followed by eight days in Tibet and a walk across the Friendship Bridge back to Nepal, where we’d started our travels so many months ago.
Lanzhou was surprisingly developed. We were greeted by the usual Chinese construction of imposing high-rise buildings. There was a heavy military presence and as we sipped our coffee in one of the many fast-food chains, we watched groups of army personnel march too and fro, machine guns at the ready. There had been a serious of mass stabbings at railway stations in Kunming and Guangzhou, where knife-wielding gangs had gone on an indiscriminate stabbing rampage, killing many. As a result security had been tightened all over China.
Five hours later and we joined the swarm of people scrambling to get on the train. A mixture of Tibetans, some nomadic in appearance, Buddhist monks in burgundy robes, Chinese business men and of course tourists. We were among the handful of western tourists. We boarded the train, showing the ticket and Tibet permit to the conductor and headed for our hard-sleeper compartment. Hoping to get a lower berth so that we could sleep and sit in relative comfort, we looked at our tickets only to realise that it wasn’t meant to be. I had the top bunk (again) and Asad had the middle. Oh well, I thought, trying not to let fatigue turn to irritation, it’s going to be another night of staring at a ceiling inches away from my face!
The train rolled out of the station and away from the urban sprawl of Lanzhou. There was little to do but sit back and enjoy the view. The carriage was narrow, with the beds taking up the majority of the room. With only two window seats outside of each compartment, we made sure we claimed them. Armed with my camera I didn’t want to miss out on the amazing views that were yet to come. The landscape from Lanzhou, said to be one of the most polluted cities in China, had started off grey and industrial, changing to mountainous sandstone with layers of varying terracotta hues. Rural scenery unfolded slowly before our eyes but was tainted by industrial chimneys belching out black smoke and vast bridges that cut through mountains. The speed of construction was visibly shocking. Climbing higher we saw temples masked by block rectangular buildings and high-rises. It seemed the ancient ways were being wiped out at an immeasurable rate. Once in a while a minaret would glisten in the sun. A silent signal competing for recognition against the cacophony of communistic development. Mountains lay broken and crumbling, ravaged by development that revealed layers of cretaceous history. Cities were being built whether anyone liked it or not.
A curious walk through the train several hours later revealed various classes of accommodation. Business men lounged on soft sleepers, two of the second class carriages were full of army personnel. They eyed us as we walked through, young men with blank expressions. Some stern. It was all too serious for us so we decided to break the ice and said “Ni Hao” to everyone as we walked past. After that the serious faces dissolved into laughter and lots of hello’s. Some sniggered like school boys, showing their age whilst others eyed us curiously. China had been confused by our British accents and Asian features. We called ourselves “Yingguo” or British, if anyone asked where we were from. It was like the penny dropped when we said that word only to be followed by a confused look when they pointed to our hair or skin. They were curious about our origins. Asad said we were foreign foreigners!
We headed back to our compartment and chatted with our jolly room mates. Middle-class Chinese tourists excited about travelling to Lhasa. Somehow we managed to hold a conversation thanks to their English being better than our attempt at Chinese that drew squeals of laughter from the girls and confused looks from the guys. The Lonely Planet phrase book wasn’t working! For some reason they thought we were university professors – how nice!
It was getting dark. A trip to the hot water dispenser to fill up some pots of noodles sufficed as dinner. I scrambled onto my top bunk that night in an attempt to sleep and looked down at Asad. He looked as if he was fast asleep, but then opened one eye and looked at me, smiling. We would be travelling through the Tanggula Pass that night and I thought to myself, I’d be higher than Asad when we’d pass through it! I wondered when the symptoms of altitude sickness were going to hit us. We’d been okay so far.
Morning revealed glorious sunshine in an achingly beautiful blue sky and the start of a headache. After reaching 16,640 feet during the night, it was inevitable that being catapulted this high and so quickly was going to have an effect on us. We drank as much water as we could. Brushing my teeth in the open wash basins with other people was a revelation. I’d left my self-conscious self behind in the UK and adapted pretty well to washing in public. We did this a lot during our trek in Nepal. There was a lot of clearing of throats and spitting which we’d become accustomed to. I understood why they did it. Asia was pretty polluted. The trip to the toilets that now overflowed and sloshed around wasn’t so great and involved hiking up my trousers and tiptoeing around with a look of horror on my face. Everyone else seemed amused. I hated wet floors. A tinned can of coffee did the trick in waking us up and as we sat by the window, nature unfolded before our eyes to remind us why it should have remained untouched.
The landscape revealed a smooth carpet of greenery. Sheep dotted the hillsides – stone walls reminiscent of an English countryside. Nomadic herders watched as the train passed by, their Yaks grazing on the greenery. I’d watched scenes like this on TV and never thought I’d see it for myself. It was like watching a documentary. Faded prayer flags attached to nomadic tents or rocks fluttered in the wind. A reminder of Gods presence. Passing through a station we spotted a guard who saluted the train until it rolled away and we couldn’t see him anymore. Eagles drew large circles in the sky and I almost dropped my camera in amazement as what I thought was a Tibetan fox revealed itself among the camouflage of browns and ochre that made up the colours of the vast plains. We all pressed our faces to the windows in awe.
Huge mountains ranges now came into sight. A magical fantasy of nature. Meringues dusted with icing sugar. Set against a beautiful sky, it felt surreal. A dreamlike vision. We breathed it all in – each and every moment of it.
When we thought we’d seen it all, we travelled past Namtso Lake, the largest salt lake in Tibet. Surrounded by huge mountains it literally took our breath away!
By midday we were withering away. My headache had gotten worse. Having had just only a few hours sleep that night and the night before, we were again exhausted. Oh well, we only had four more hours to get through! The lack of space was beginning to get to us and I just wanted to get off the train and run across the plateau! Luckily the train stopped at Nagqu station for five minutes and we got off thankful for some “air” and space before the guard ushered us back on again.
By now altitude sickness was affecting many on the train. A walk through the train revealed a lot of people were ill. Some vomited in the wash basins, whilst others sprawled lethargic on floors as they probably could only afford standing tickets. A young Chinese girl came up to me and asked if she could have my bed to sleep in as she wasn’t feeling well. She looked pale and we could tell she had a headache from hell. I of course obliged as suddenly a trickle of blood appeared from her nose. That’s when I got worried. Several rolls of tissue later and a consoling hug, she flaked out on the bed then reappeared looking much better. We opened the oxygen outlets and breathed deeply trying to ignore the smell of cigarette smoke secretly coming from the toilets! The human body was not meant to climb so high and so quickly.
Four hours rolled by pretty quickly and before we knew it we had arrived in Lhasa.
Asad and I are both lovers of train journeys and this was certainly an experience. It was so different to some of the other train journey’s we’d taken throughout South East Asia. It’s obviously a modern spectacle so lacks the nostalgia associated with the past. A lot of what we saw from the window actually felt like the past being slowly erased. That aside, it was an unforgettable experience. We met some great people and saw some of the worlds most outstanding scenery.
In the end, the railway is an amazing example of modern Chinese engineering. However, I can’t help but think that it comes at a cost, not only to the cultural and religious independence of Tibet but also to the sanctity of the fragile environment that is the Tibetan Plateau. Like the thousands of light-headed passengers, perhaps skyrocketing to these altitudes for the sake of modern development and political investment, may in the end prove to be a headache the government just can’t get rid of.
We booked the tickets through China DIY. The website is run by an expat couple who live in China and make the process of booking transport so easy. In fact we used them for all our travel in China and thoroughly recommend them to anyone.
Useful tips for the train journey
1) Drink plenty of water before and during the train journey to help with any symptoms of altitude sickness
2) Read up about altitude sickness and consult your doctor if you’re not sure of anything. At the start of the journey you will be given a form to fill which basically clears the staff of any responsibility if you are seriously sick. I thought this website gave a good explanation about altitude.
3) Bring plenty of toilet roll and wet wipes. The toilets start off clean but quickly turn into a living nightmare
4) Bring lots of snacks for when you get hungry. There is a restaurant carriage on the train but for some reason there wasn’t much food available, other than noodles.
5) Last but not least – enjoy the view!
Have you been on the Qinghai – Tibet Railway? We’d love to hear what you thought of it!
Unless you’ve already discovered the freedom and truth behind long-term travel, escaping the 9-5 for most of us is restricted by time and money. The travel industry leads you to believe that holidays are just about glossy travel brochures, all-inclusive resorts and over-priced tours. You’re clinically chauffeured around the world without even getting your feet dirty. Your contact with locals is a controlled environment and you leave with a one-dimensional view of where you’ve just left. The travel industry pushes the notion that you’ve worked hard for your money so they try to solve the problem by offering package tours as value-for-money options for time-poor people. It’s just not true. You can travel how you want, where you want and it’s usually cheaper than what you’re lead to believe.
So what do people do with their holidays? According to various surveys that monitor consumer behaviour, it seems the British are creatures of habit. Apparently millions of us go back to the same place, the same resort and even the same pub year after year. Some people even sit in the same spot! Talk about a groundhog holiday! But the travel industry pushes this as an easy, stress-free option, so that’s what we do. We go for the easy option.
It’s time to get out and do something different! It’s time to start thinking independently. Without the tour operator.
I’m not saying you should avoid all tours, in some countries such as China, you have to join a tour just to enter and travel around Tibet. There are many independent tour companies that offer amazing activities and we’ve used many. They serve a purpose and after all this is your holiday. Your time. Try and see if you can do things by yourself, get around by yourself and possibly save a whole heap of money in the process. Don’t waste the time that you’ve worked so hard for, to just go back to the same place and do the same things time and again just because someone is telling you that’s all there is. You’re missing out on so many new experiences that could change and inspire your whole outlook on life.
A few years ago Asad and I took a two-week trip to Vietnam. This time we booked every part of this trip independently. No tour operators, no brochures, just a desire to do something different from the usual hotel and beach combination. What we experienced in those two weeks changed us forever. It was a turning point in the way we would travel going forward and a realisation that there are so many options to travel.
So how can you make a holiday more adventurous, exciting and inspiring? Well, here are 10 ways to turn your holiday into a travel adventure!
1) Go Somewhere You’ve Never Been Before
Budget, time, exchange rate, the weather and the type of trip you want, will all affect what destination you choose to visit. It may sound obvious but the first step in making your holiday more adventurous is going somewhere you’ve never been before. Don’t keep visiting the same place just because it’s easy to get to and easy to be in. Go somewhere that offers a diversity of culture, food and people. Be open to new experiences. We never would have thought we’d end up in China, but it one of our highlights and an amazing country with warm, friendly people. We learned so much by visiting China.
The world is an amazing place, see as much of it as you can!
2) Avoid Tours – Go Explore Yourself
Some tours are better than others, but generally a lot of them involve being herded around like sheep. The whole experience can feel rushed and depending on the guide, you can either come back none the wiser or be overwhelmed with too much information. Imagine having a lifelong dream of visiting Angkor Wat. Would you really want the experience to be anything less than amazing? Why risk it? This is your time. Get on the internet, find out how to get to where you need to and explore by yourself. You’ll have all the time in the world to take in the sights at your leisure.
You’ll save money and the whole experience will be on your terms
3) Take Public Transport
Many of the fond memories we have about travelling around South East Asia is the sheer amount of options available to get to your destination. Trains, planes, taxi’s, tuk-tuks, songthaews, scooters, bicycles and yes, horses, donkeys and elephants! When possible, instead of flying to your destination, why not take a train. Though quick and convenient, you miss out so much when flying. On a train, you’ll see some amazing sights on the way, take in the scenery and get a glimpse of life as you cross urban cities and rural landscapes. You get a feel of the country and gain valuable insight and a real understanding of what that country is about – plus you’ll get a chance to mingle with people from all walks of life. Why not see how the locals travel and either get on a bus, bike or catch a lift in a songthaew.
The journey is part of the experience
4) Get Out of the Hotel
It’s easy to stay in the comfort of a resort. Everything is within reach. But isn’t it fair to give to the local economy of a country and not just put money in the pockets of the big chain hotels? Why not explore local restaurants, soak up the atmosphere and try the amazing street food. It’s usually the best and far cheaper than the hotel. For those of you who can (and want to), break away from the “all-inclusive” mentality. It’s just a monetary prison that keeps you in a hotel bubble restricting your movements and mindset. As you’re constantly thinking about meals and drinks, inevitably you don’t spend enough time outside of the hotel.
Get out and discover a whole new world out there!
5) Explore on Foot
To actually experience a place, there’s no better way than to hit the streets and walk! Why be confined to a cab when you can see, feel and experience everything on the street. We’ve walked for miles through the chaotic streets of Asian cities, trekked up mountains, through forests and hiked remote villages. We’ve got lost only to discover serendipity, shared stories with random people we’ve met along the way and had hilarious conversations that we’ll never forget. We’ve been shocked, saddened, inspired and touched by things we’ve seen whilst walking through some of the most amazing places in the world.
You’ve taken the time to visit a different country – be part of it. Become part of its story
6)Get on a Motorbike.
There’s nothing better than getting on a motorbike and exploring. With the wind in your hair and the sun on your face, there’s something about the freedom of getting around on a bike that’s unparalleled. There’s a sense of unrestrained freedom involved and you can go wherever you want, when you want and how you want. You become totally immersed in the scene irrespective of whether you’re in the mountains or the city. We’ve hired bikes in many places except countries such as Nepal, where even getting on a bike would be a death-wish! It’s also enabled us to take some great photos of places we wouldn’t normally be able to reach by car.
There’s some moments you’ll never be able to create ever again – take a camera!
7) Challenge Yourself – Do Something You’ve Never Done Before!
I mentioned earlier that a trip to Vietnam changed us. Back then we classed it as a holiday, but looking back it was actually a travel adventure. We literally travelled from the North of Vietnam to the South and managed to shoe horn three days in Cambodia! In those two weeks we saw Hanoi, Halong Bay, took a three-day motorbike tour starting in Hue, (never done that before) through the mountains of Vietnam, across the Ho Chi Minh Trail ending up in Hoi An. We visited the beautiful beaches of Muine, hired a motorbike and explored the Cham temples, spent a few days exploring Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), took a flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia spending three days exploring Angkor Wat (independently) and then flew back to Hanoi. All that in two weeks! Was it tiring? Yes it was. But was it totally amazing? Hell – Yes! Did we save money by arranging it all by ourselves – yes of course!
I’m not saying you should run around like a crazy person trying to see as much as you can in a couple of weeks. It’s about filling your time with different experiences, seeing and doing amazing things that inspire you and take you outside of your comfort zone!
8)Make Each Trip Count – Get That Bucket List in There!
Everyone has a bucket list – a list of things to do, see and visit before the end is nigh! Everyone’s bucket list is different. It may include bungee jumping, sky-diving, seeing orangutans in Borneo, watching the Northern Lights or just camping under the stars with a few friends. Whatever you’ve always wanted to do, make sure you do it. When I look at my bucket list and the number of things I’ve ticked off, I wish I’d done them earlier and made the most of my two-week holidays.
The more you travel, the more you realise bucket lists get longer!
9) Mix Up Your Accommodation
Unless you’re looking for luxury and want privacy, don’t stay in a hotel. There’s something about hotels – I’m not sure what it is, but we never made friends in a hotel. There’s a certain awkwardness that transcends cultures and stops people talking to one another without feeling weird! Try hostels, you’ll be surprised at how many great hostels there are out there that offer clean, spacious private rooms with their own bathrooms. Hostels have gone beyond dorms now. With great communal eating and lounge areas, the atmosphere is more conducive to striking up a conversation easily and getting to know people. It’s a great way of sharing experiences, getting some great advice about the destination you’re in and exchanging stories. A lot of hostels also arrange nights out, activities and events where everyone can get to know each other in an easy setting.
Couch Surfing is also a great way to not only save money but really discover how locals live. You stay in someone’s home and hangout with them gaining local knowledge and experiencing a country through the eyes of a local. If Couch Surfing is not for you and you prefer to do your own thing, try airbnb. We had a great one bedroom villa in Bali in the middle of a rice paddy field. It was ridiculously cheap and had everything we needed. Whilst travelling, we’ve stayed in many places, from hotels, camp sites and wood cabins to villa’s, hostels, hutongs and guesthouses. Not only did it all add to the experience but we got to know a great bunch of people this way.
10) Make Use of the Internet
The internet is a great source of information. Use it well! There are millions of people travelling the world at any given time doing amazing things, sharing information and exchanging ideas about how to get around the world the quickest, cheapest and safest way. From online guides and travel forums to travel blogs, it’s mind-boggling what you can learn just by searching the internet.
So as Spring is just around the corner and thoughts of warm Summer days on beautiful beaches once again comes to mind, think about how you can make this summer holiday, more inspiring. You never know, it may be the start of something unexpected.
This is a list of just some of the resources we used to book flights, hotels and trips.
Skyscanner – skyscanner.com
Expedia – expedia.com
Agoda – agoda.com
Hostelbookers – hostelbookers.com
Hostelworld – hostel world.com
Tripadvisor – tripadvisor.com
Airbnb – airbnb.com
Couchsurfing – couchsurfing.org
It’s a beautiful frosty morning. The sun is shining, there’s not a cloud in the sky and I’m reminiscing. Another year is drawing to a close and as I think about what the new year will hold for me and Asad, I’m also thinking about what an amazing year of travel we’ve had. It’s got me thinking of how I can sum it all up in one post without boring the pants off everyone! Then I thought of Facebook.
When I look back at my travel Facebook posts, it’s a virtual timeline. A diary. A reminder of all the places we visited, the sights we saw, the people we met and how we felt. It jogs my memory of events that six months later are fading but that are never truly forgotten. It’s written in the moment without the heavy thought process involved when writing a full post. Not all the pictures are perfect but that doesn’t matter. It’s a spontaneous insight into all the places we went to that are not yet written about on this blog. All those empty drop down menu’s that I’ve yet still to fill with inspiring posts of our adventures around South East Asia.
It’s a taste of what’s to come.
So here are just a fraction of our top Facebook posts of 2014 that highlight the best of our travels.
In the meantime…
I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. May all your travel dreams come true!
May 25th 2013 – Poon Hill, Nepal – So after 4 days of trekking to Poon Hill, up and down 10,000ft, the best we could get of the Annapurna range was….
June 25th 2013 – Fun, fun, fun! Just got in from the Full moon party! Crazy fire ropes, a few fights, plenty of booze buckets, boogying and well some other dodgy stuff going on! – Koh Phangan
June 27th, 2013 – What a lovely day! Zipped around the island discovering best beaches and hidden coves. Som Tam and watermelon for lunch followed by a mad dash through dirt track and jungle to finally see a perfect sunset — Had Salad, Koh Phangan
July 1st, 2013 – Exhausted! Woke at 3.00am, took taxi at 4.00, a ferry at 5.00, hopped in a transit van at 8.00, bundled into a bus at 9.00, train at 10.30, 9 hrs later we took another train to finally reach our hotel!! The saga will start again tomorrow at 4.30am when a flight to Blighty is on the cards!! I need sleep and some more mossie spray!! – Bangkok.
November 3rd, 2013 – Great to see how Diwali is celebrated around the world! Today Kathmandu is alive with people getting ready for tonight’s celebrations. Happy Diwali to all our friends, may you always be blessed with health and happiness!
November 21st, 2013 – Wow! We completed the Annapurna Circuit, culminating in a very quirky and death-defying last-minute ascent on a mountain pony (Asad got altitude sickness) to the highest point Thorong La pass. At an altitude of 18,000 feet this was a real achievement for us lazy city folk! So proud of ourselves! A massive thanks to Amrit our very creative and entertaining guide and our very strong, singing porter Rajendra. Without your humour and faith we couldn’t have endured the acclimatisation exercises up hundreds of meters a day, the freezing cold temperatures, the endless dal bhat, freezing cold showers (or no shower) and the squat toilets! But it was all worth it to see the jaw dropping scenery of the Himalayas!
December 3rd, 2013 – My favourite pic on our travels so far ! – Chitwan, Nepal
December 25th 2013 – Wow! What a journey on the Yangon to Mandalay Express! Ironic it’s called the express, it took 15 hours!! Anyway, it was shall I say, a memorable experience. Why? Because the train thundered through some of the most beautiful rural scenery we’ve seen. It was so bumpy we were often catapulted off our seats, even airborne for a second! The train rolled from side to side, creaked and swayed and groaned all the way! Let’s see what Mandalay has to offer. Today’s travel tip? Maintain sense of humour whilst travelling!
December 27th, 2013 – What a fun day! After yesterday’s escapade trying to get back to the hotel, we bravely decided to rent a motorbike and explore Mandalay the easy way. Well not that easy! We had no mirrors, no clutch, helmets that didn’t fit and the bike kept on stalling much to the amusement of everyone around us! On the agenda was the heavily guarded Mandalay Palace and U Bein Bridge – the longest and oldest bridge in the world. Somehow we got back alive after dicing with death a few times, weaving in and out of crazy traffic and nearly coming off! A totally hair-raising experience! Today’s travel tip: When in Myanmar DONT get a bike!!
December 30th, 2013 – Today we experienced the sun rising over the Bagan temples! Walking up the steep steps of the Shwe San Daw Pagoda barefoot at 5.00am, we were excited and full of anticipation! When dawn broke revealing hundreds of mist covered temples we were tickled. When the sun came up in all it’s glory we were wowed by the beauty and tranquility of it all. Finally, when the hot air balloons went up one by one and covered the sky, it was the icing on an already delicious cake!
On the flip side, we spent 9 hrs zipping from one pagoda to another, when suddenly the bike finally gave up and came to a grinding halt. Asad decided to try some chivalry out and pushed me on the bike back to the hotel. (I opted to walk of course) but he wasn’t having any of it)! Guess what? Yes, the locals once again found it hilarious! Mmm I think there seems be a recurring theme here!!
February 3rd, 2014 – Well it’s goodbye Thailand! We’ve had an awesome time. Bangkok was exciting with its bustling streets, great food and fabulous shopping. Chiang Mai was a perfect meeting point for friends we’d picked up along way with the odd ladyboy thrown in for a bit of fun. From cookery classes to Ethical Elephant tours and a bit of Muay Thai and markets galore – Chiang Mai was to our relief cheap and definitely cheerful. Fast forward and we hit the very touristy beaches of Ao Nang only to shout oh no!! So we ran away and found our little piece of heaven in Klong Muang. Here we met some great people and had an amazing time! So Selamat Datang Langkawi! Malaysia here we come!!!
March 4th, 2014 – Kota Kinabalu
So it’s almost the end of our time in Malaysia! It’s been real fusion of culture, people and food. Langkawi was a beautiful island, very laid back. Kuala Lumpur was fantastic – uber modern. The Cameron Highlands were a nostalgic throw back to British colonial times where walking amongst tea plantations and lychen forests lifted our spirits. We then moved on to Borneo; From Kuching – Kota Kinabulu – Sandakan, we travelled. Jungles, Orangutans, floating down the Kinabatangan river, watching Probiscus monkeys, flying bats, snake birds and the beautiful Kingfisher – all in their natural environment. Amazing! Tomorrow we fly to Singapore!
March 6th, 2014 – Just a fleeting visit to Singapore!
March 19th 2014 – So it’s that’s time again, we are leaving Sydney. Tomorrow we go to New Zealand for a 3 week fly drive tour of the beautiful South Islands. Australia was unfortunately just a pit stop and not really in our plans to visit. But a stupidly cheap flight from KL came up and we thought let’s go!! We had visions of travelling around but the cost has been enormous and hey we still have other countries to budget for! Shame, we would have loved to have experienced the outback, aboriginal culture and of course Ayers Rock! Alas it was not meant to be this time. So apart from seeing the usual sites of Sydney and a trip to the fabulous Blue Mountains, we have to say that the highlights were meeting our friends. Firstly, staying with Craig and Lorena in Canberra, then meeting Matt who used to work with us in London and Samma and co who we met in Nepal and who treated us to some home-made Momos! Thanks guys, you made Sydney memorable!
March 22nd 2014 – So today we started our 3 week drive around the south islands. Checked out of our prison lodging – no seriously it was a converted prison, very novel! (Bit concerned at the picture of Asad as he took to being an inmate too easily)!
Well it’s time to say goodbye to New Zealand! In 3 weeks we’ve had a taste of what makes this country awesome – it’s landscape! We’ve travelled over 3300 km from Christchurch to Kaikoura and experienced so much in between. We’ve been so spoilt – stared at the Milky Way on most nights, seen whales, seals, penguins and some amazing bird life! Every corner you turn, you simply can’t believe how stunningly beautiful this land is especially at this time of year. So tomorrow we head off to Bali to relax for a while before we explore Indonesia. Farewell New Zealand it’s been a blast!
April 17th 2014 – Great night catching up with Federica and Sal again! – Ubud, Bali
April 22nd 2014 – Third day of funeral ceremony and we well and truly got what we expected! A mass slaughter of 8 buffalo! It was terrifying, shocking and insane! The will to live pervades through everything that lives and breathes and to see such a large beast still trying to get up after an almost decapitation is beyond words!! Still – we managed to get through it surprisingly well! It was still worth going and a privilege to be part of a tribal tradition that spans hundreds of years. Tomorrow the family of the deceased will bury the person in a cave high in the hills with an effigy that bears a resemblance. We’ve learned so much about these mysterious people – it’s an anthropologists dream! Plan for tomorrow? No more funerals – just mountain hikes and serene village walks here we come! – Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi.
May 13th 2014 – What a hectic day! Last day in lovely Ubud which called for some last-minute sightseeing and a bike ride to see Mount Batur. Got fleeced on the way up by the local police who fined us IDR 250,000 for not having an international driving licence! We’ve driven everywhere in South East Asia and get fleeced here! Left Ubud, drove an hour and now in Seminyak. Asad had another craving for something bland – aka BURGER so ended up in Wacko Burger. Nice! Ended up having a drink in some random place called Frankensteins. Random photo included!
May 18th 2014 – 12 years ago was the last time we saw Ranjan in the UK. Now he’s living in Hong Kong with his lovely wife and family. Had a great evening catching up! – Discovery Bay, Lantau Island, Hong Kong
May 26th 2014 – Tomorrow we start another adventure – we are off to China! We’re excited and slightly apprehensive as we have the challenges of language, culture and of course politics to contend with. But it will be totally worth it as we have an awesome bucket list!
May 31st, 2014 – Supposed to leave the delightful Hutongs of Lijiang and saw-toothed mountains of Tiger Leaping Gorge a few hours ago to discover Beijing. But what do you know – the flight’s delayed! After zero communication from anyone we have found ourselves still here 3.5 hours later! I wouldn’t mind but the info board still says boarding! Anyway, they gave noodles away! Here’s some pictures of what we left behind!
June 2nd 2014 – We had a great day today visiting the lovely Forbidden Palace and the Soviet inspired, centre of Communist China – Tiananmen Square. Asad seems to have turned out to be a bit of celebrity. Wherever we go the Chinese want their picture taken with him! No luck for me I’m afraid Don’t you just love the outfits!
June 6th 2014 – Been in Datong two days now! A coal mining town with a socialist feel that has had the history kicked out of it and rebuilt again. Why do the Chinese do that?! No English spoken here and the menus are well dodgy! (Erm can’t even read them)! Pictures of Bullfrog, lamb spine, brain and here’s a new one – Donkey! Our dietary restrictions of no pork and no beef are stopping us eating well and I think it’s beginning to show. We’re existing on one meal a day now! Anyway took a couple of buses to the Yungang caves today – Buddhist statues dating back 1500 years. Laughed with the locals, had a few more pictures taken of us and went back to the hotel for our one meal of the day. Yeah you guessed it – noodles! – At Datong County, Shanxi
June 12th 2014 – Had a fabulous time in Pingyao walking through the historical streets of the old town. Met Sebastion, a fellow traveller who entertained us with his adventures through Mongolia and China. Arrived in Xian after a very long train journey of 10 hrs and what do you know we met up with another friend from London! Had a fabulous two days catching up with him and his friends over drinks and seeing the amazing Terracotta Army!
June 15th 2014 – Wonderful day at the rainbow mountains! The next three weeks are going to be tough but awesome. Bring on Tibet! A dream about to become reality!
June 17th 2014 – Finally arrived after an epic 38 hour journey on board the Qinghai to Tibet Railway in a non-smoking pressurised train with everyone smoking!
June 24th 2014 – Back where we started our journey, after an epic trek across Tibet via Everest! Off to Pokhara and Kathmandu for a few days to meet up with friends.
July 1st 2014 – So the day has come when we have to post our final travel Facebook status. We are going home tomorrow. We’ve travelled across 10 countries by foot, plane, train, taxi, songthaew, rickshaw and boat. From the majestic Himalayas in Nepal to the mysterious death practices of Sulawesi. From the awesome landscapes of China to the Tibetan plateau and finally Everest Base camp! We’ve lived, breathed it all. It’s been an amazing experience. We’d like to thank you all for your support and for taking the time to read our posts – it means a lot to us. To the new and old friends we met along the way especially Federica and Sal, Ariela, Pemba, Amrit, Rajendra, Tim and Jenny, Toni and friends, Alan, Ranjan, Craig, Matt, Samma, Shally and Musi. We will never forget you. You will all remain in our hearts forever for the laughter and experiences we all shared! For those of you who wish to travel the world – do it! Do it as soon as you can. Don’t wait for the promise of tomorrow – it may never come. It will give you a sense of freedom never experienced before – that of your heart and your mind!
So there you have it. Tell us about your travel highlights of 2014…
Looking back at our time in Thailand, Klong Muang in Krabi has to be one of the most memorable. Blissfully tranquil and refreshingly unhurried, Klong Muang is the picture perfect, laid-back alternative to the tourist trap of Ao Nang. Little did we know that the crowds of Ao Nang would have us running right into the arms of this hidden gem.
In fact, arriving in Ao Nang was a shock! We’d expected a cool, chilled out and authentic vibe, but instead Ao Nang was extremely over-developed. Chain restaurants served bland food, hotel resorts concealed traces of a once understated charm and western watering holes blared cheesy live music. Great if you’re looking for that type of thing. But we were looking for something less obvious. Something with a local feel. We made the best of what we had, choosing to relax by the pool instead of the overcrowded beach, eating at the few local restaurants we could find and soaking up the glorious sunsets in the evening before exploring the town. We lasted three days then escaped to Klong Muang, recommended by a random conversation with a local. We couldn’t get away quick enough! In our haste to leave, we missed out on visiting the famous Railay beach!
Nestled in-between Ao Siew beach and the upmarket Tubkaek beach, Klong Muang was reminiscent of a sleepy fishing village. It had a simplicity to it. A certain charm. There was only a handful of restaurants and the beach was almost deserted. Just what we were looking for. Just what we needed.
Luckily we’d managed to find a room at one of the few locally owned budget guesthouses in the area. It was the perfect hideaway. The beach was ten seconds away, the bar was ten seconds away and the massage beds were ten seconds away! Utter bliss!
We were only meant to be in Klong Muang for a few days – a week at the most. But something special happened. We met a great bunch of people right on our doorstep. Some of them stayed at our guesthouse, some of them were random strangers. But we all connected and for about ten days we called this beach our home.
Night after night we all got together to exchange travel stories and watch spectacular sunsets until the very last glimpse of amber light disappeared over the horizon. By day we’d soak up the sun on pristine, white sandy beaches overlooking views of the outrageously blue Andaman. Sometimes we’d zip around on scooters exploring Krabi town or just taking in the views. Close to the Koh Hong islands, we hired long tail boats and spent time island hopping and fishing.
Our living room was the beach, where we spent lazy days and balmy nights at the Little Jamaican Bar. This bar bought us altogether. Whoever passed by couldn’t resist the charm of this place, often leaving their 5* star resorts to join us. Honeymooners, pilots, cabin crew, travellers – you name it. They all descended on this quirky little bar. Made entirely out of reclaimed wood and defying gravity, Sharkey the owner, literally lived and breathed this place. He’d organise beach BBQ’s and whilst we sat under the stars by the glow of a beach fire listening to the sounds of Bob Marley, he’d make some mean cocktails!
Time inevitably crept up on all of us. The group got smaller and smaller as people went home or continued their travels. Day after day we’d bid farewell to someone, until only Asad and I were left. Our last memory was standing by the road side at 5.00am waiting for our taxi to the airport. It was time to go. Time for a new adventure – in Malaysia!
For us, Klong Muang was special. Not just because it had idyllic beaches, amazing sunsets and a peaceful seclusion, but because we met some great people. It played a huge part in the whole experience. We were inspired by these people, definitely entertained and in awe of the travel stories they shared with us. Most of all, we’ll always remember it’s the simple things in life that make us happy – a beach, friends, a few beers and Bob Marley!
Where to stay
Most of the accommodation in Klong Muang is composed of 4* and 5* hotels with a few 3* dotted around. We stayed at the budget friendly Vacation House which in February cost £8 a night for a double room and huge breakfast thrown in. Bargain! This is a lovely family owned guesthouse with a simple but delicious lunch menu. Ask for Laila who will organise scooters, transfers and tours for you. We loved it here!
Koh Kwang Resort which was literally across the road from Vacation House, was another budget – friendly option. We stayed here a couple of nights. Accommodation ranges from rooms with fans or A/C to garden bungalows. They can also organise tours and have a restaurant.
Little Jamaica Bar
One of the few beach bars on Klong Muang, this is a great place to watch the sunset. It’s got a couple of tables, a hammock, a tree swing and chill out area. With live music most nights, it’s just the perfect place to hangout!
Getting to Klong Muang
Krabi town is about 30 minutes from Klong Muang. You can take a songthaew, taxi or tuk-tuk to Klong Muang. Ao Nang is a mere 20 minutes away, perfect for when you fancy a night out or a bit of shopping.
Klong Muang beach is better than the beach in Ao Nang. Not that I’m a beach snob – after all a beach is a beach! But it’s far less crowded and the sand is softer. As Ao Nang is the main hub for trips to Railey and other islands, the beaches have many boats waiting to pick up tourists. You won’t see this at Klong Muang. Instead it’s just local fishermen with long-tailed boats for hire.
There is no nightlife! However this is gradually changing and as I’m writing this I’m sure a new restaurant or bar has popped up! Apart from a couple of beach bars and Paddy’s Pub on the main road, there is nothing to do here in the evenings unless you’re staying in a resort where the entertainment and dining is of course, all in-house. There are a handful of locally owned restaurants and the atmosphere is decidedly relaxed.
If you want to experience the tranquility and peaceful surroundings of Klong Muang, I would go now. Capture that faint whisper of local charm before the silence is discovered by the Ao Nang crowd!
We’d love to know what your favourite beach experience was. Why not share your comments with us!
Since the highly respected but controversial visual artist Chalermchai Kositpipat began building Wat Rong Khun in 1997, the White Temple of Chiang Rai has evoked much debate over the years. Placing traditional Buddhist imagery alongside modern pop culture continues to spark criticism amongst traditionalists. However, step into the quirky world of Wat Rong Khun and you can’t help but admire its celestial beauty.
The first sight of Wat Rong Khun will take your breath away. An ethereal architectural wonder that radiates a frosty, luminescence against the canvas of a deep blue sky. Landscaped gardens with sweeping lines frame its exquisite facades while the surrounding lake reflects a perfect mirror image of the purity of Buddha.
Heavily steeped in symbolism, a walk through the grounds of this temple reveals a surreal and non-conformist journey into the evils of desire and the trappings of a modern world. Demonic faces and a sea of twisted hands rise up from the grounds. Mystical creatures frolic in the gardens whilst characters from movies adorn walls normally reserved for the divine. Strangely sculptured heads hang from trees and demons wielding swords point accusingly. Chalermchai Kositpipat cleverly combines the weird and bizarre with Buddhist teachings chiselled into every detail of this exquisite structure. It blows away any expectation of a typically Thai temple experience. Provocative and controversial it may be, but one thing for sure is that it absolutely succeeds in its message of delivering a Buddhist architectural nirvana.
Getting to Wat Rong Khun
We hired a motorbike in Chiang Mai and took Highway 118 all the way to Chiang Rai. It was a great ride – all 185km of it! Once you escape the traffic of Chiang Mai, you’ll ride through winding roads with great views of rolling hilltops. There are many cafes in scenic spots to stop off for breaks, some with quirky giant rubber ducks floating in a lake and outdoor seating straight out of a children’s book!
Songthaew or Bus
Songthaews or covered pick-up trucks are easily available near the bus station in the centre of town. In Chiang Rai the Songthaews are blue. As a rule, the more people in a Songthaew, the cheaper the fare but the cost is still reasonable if there are only a few of you.
Alternatively head to the old bus station and take the bus to Wat Rong Khun.
Wat Rong Khun is open from 6.30am to 6.00pm.
Entrance is free.
Location: 13km outside Chiang Rai city, Highway 1
Things to do in Chiang Rai
We only spent two nights in Chiang Rai, with most of day one riding there. To be honest we didn’t find Chiang Rai that interesting. I can understand now why it’s considered as living in the shadow of Chiang Mai. You just can’t compare the two! For me it lacked personality. Still, we managed to visit Chiang Rai Night Bazaar where we browsed the small market stalls and had some amazing food at the food court.
After that we walked to the Golden Clock Tower built to honour the King of Thailand by none other than Chalermchai Kositpipat. Every evening at 19.00, 20.00 and 21.00 the clock tower comes to life in a light and sound display. Frankly it was a little bit bonkers but hey this is Thailand! I actually filmed the event which only lasted a few minutes and it still makes me laugh to this day! I wouldn’t go out of your way to see the Clock Tower, but if you’re passing, it’s worth watching this strangely amusing phenomenon!
Location of Clock Tower: At the junction of Phaholyothin, Jet Yod and Banpaprakan Roads
Chiang Rai Night Bazaar: Located between the bus station and Phaholyothin Rd in the centre of town.