Brisbane

Brisbane

We arrived in Australia with a sigh of relief to be back within the familiarities of Westerm culture. An added bonus was that we were staying with Roseanna’s friends who she hadn’t seen for nearly ten years, they met us at the airport and we felt immediatley that we would like it here.

Our days in Brisbane were quickly organised by Charissa and we had an itinerary before we knew it, this was something of a shock to our system as we’re much more see-how-it-goes kinda girls but it was pretty nice to not have to think about our plan. Emma had also been warned that Charissa and Tiff are serious gamers and was thrown into it right from the start; a theme which continued throughout the week as a board or cards were whipped out at any opportunity.

One of the highlights of our trip was going to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary / zoo. We got to see all kinds of Australian critters- galahs, kookaburras, wombats, platapi, dingoes (not birds as Roseanna first thought) and emus. We also got to feed and hang out with some very tame kangaroos, had to shield our head from being attacked by swooping plovers and Roseanna touched a koala.

We were lucky enough to borrow a car for a few days and drove down the Gold Coast to Coolangada where we stayed for free in a swanky seafront apartment with Tiff and John. The next day we did a road trip to Byron Bay with some sick stop offs to a couple of seaside towns for beach walks and great food. Byron itself is a long beach and little town, with very surfer-y vibes, which we enjoyed mooching around.

Because we had our own local ‘tour guides’ we were taken to all the Brisbane highlights, including view points, a river cruise, the art gallery and pancakes in an old church.

All in all we’ve been particularly jammy so far and really appreciated the incredible hospitality of the Norries. Their generosity gave us a taste of normality after four months of strange lands and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks guys!

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Singapore

Singapore from Satnah

With what seemed like the longest bus journey and the weirdest border crossing we all got to Bangkok for our last evening together. We said goodbye to Rog at the airport the next day as we flew to Singapore and she flew back home (Rog we’re so glad you came, we miss you already).

Singapore is worlds away from anywhere we have been for the last 4 months. Both of us aren’t massively keen on the big cities but it has been nice to have some home comforts we’ve been missing, mainly orange juice.

Emma’s dad very kindly offered to pay for us to go to Raffles for afternoon tea, so we did our best to de-crease our shirts and look slightly presentable. Neither of us had heard of Raffles so we didn’t know what to expect – lets just say it’s posh! We enjoyed 3 tiers of sandwiches and cakes to the sound of a harp, getting even more treats up at the buffet. Our manners were on point until Roseanna’s cake crumbled in her hands and we got the giggles. Thank you Papa Bryden we had the best time.

Today is the end of our time in Asia as we fly to Australia to start the next leg of our journey.

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Cambodia

Cambodia

Koh Rong is a small island off the coast of Cambodia – we arrived and departed in the rain, but the days we actually spent on the island were wonderful. We relaxed on the white sandy beach and dipped in and out of the sea.

We wanted to visit ‘Long Beach’ on the other side of the island, where you can view the sunset, but you either have to trek through the woods for about an hour, or get a boat round to the other side. We decided to trek, but frustratingly couldn’t find the way. The path was not well marked and we didn’t want to still be lost in the woods when it began to get dark, so we headed back to the beach that we had started at. We then asked around for a boat trip to Long Beach, but all the locals told us that the waves were too big, and that they wouldn’t risk taking us. Eventually an old Cambodian man, wearing soggy green briefs, agreed to take us out to see the sunset from his boat. We still didn’t believe them about the waves, as the water looked calm, but after just a few minutes on board, we realised they were very right! We screamed, a lady cried whilst clinging to a life jacket, grown men were crouched in the middle of the boat, all whilst Mr Green Briefs smoked a joint and laughed at our fear. After persistently coaxing him to turn around (despite the sun not even being set yet) he did, and we arrived back on solid ground, our nerves just about in tact.

After dinner, we went for a late night dip in the sea, and noticed that as we moved, the water around us would glow. It was the glowing plankton, which entertained us for a while. Until we discovered that our wallet was missing. The day was dampened as we realised that the only Cambodian currency any of us had, Emma’s credit card and driving license, and our travel tickets for the following day, were all in the wallet. Let’s just say that it made the next morning a very interesting one, as we were trying to leave and there were no ATMs or banks on the island.

We were glad to have made it to Phnom Penh after all the drama, and took the opportunity to visit the ‘killing fields’ just outside the city. We had heard lots about it from other travellers, but didn’t know very much about the Cambodian civil war or the genocide which affected the country so prevalently in the 1970s. Learning of the people’s history was very moving and we are glad that we managed to make it.

For our last stop in Cambodia, we spent a restful couple of days in the city of Siem Reap. The night markets make for good pre and post dinner browsing and although they are mostly full of all the same things we have seen at every market in South East Asia, there did seem to be a few alternative, handmade products on offer.

We ventured out before dawn, to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, a world heritage site. The temples around the area were built in the 12th Century and although areas are in ruins, you can still see a great deal of detail, especially the intricate carvings all over the walls. We visited several temples, driven between each by TukTuk, and the trip totally wore us out. We were home by 10am and back in bed for a nap.

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South Vietnam

South Vietnam

We breezed through the south of Vietnam, making only a couple of stops.

Da Lat – Another horrendous night bus journey. This one involved hours of unsurfaced roads, and pieces of dried fish between our seats. Needless to say, we weren’t feeling too perky towards the end of the thirteen hours, and then, to change our mood completely, we woke up to catch the most amazing sunrise over the mountains! Honestly the most incredible view we have ever seen.

Da Lat is a city in the mountains, meaning the temperature was a lot cooler and we saw a fair bit of rain during our two day stay. Lacking character, the city didn’t really captivate us, but we did enjoy the bakery.

On Sunday we went on a tour, visiting a Buddhist monastery, and three waterfalls – the last of which was the best. We were able to climb up on the rocks and walk through the water (they’d never let you do anything like that in England – health and safety and all that). We also rode an elephant near a lake that we stopped at – a slow but fun ride.

Ho Chi Minh City – Our one day in Ho Chi Minh was spent searching for the underwhelming ‘Notre Dame’. On the way, we found a very nice shop/cafe, and visited the market, where Emma and Rog bought some knock-off trainers. Later on, we had takeaway pizza in our hotel room – such westerners.

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Motorbiking Saga

Motorbiking

Hue to Hoi An

Vietnam is renowned for it’s motorbikes and even after we had heard lots of bad stories amongst the good regarding hiring bikes out, for some reason we chose to travel the next part of our journey by motorbike – without a guide or tour. It was Roseanna’s birthday so we were up for a bit of an experience and adventure.

We were told that it should take six hours from Hue to Hoi An, were given the most shocking map ever, and were on our way.

The first part of the journey was idyllic, quiet beach roads where we could get to grips with the bikes.

As it was a blazing hot day, we made sure to make stops for water and shade. At our first stop, we met a Vietnamese girl who gave us a seat and we had a little chat. The other stops along the way weren’t quite so pleasant. We’ll sum it up with dead hanging ducks covered in flies, and a rock as a toilet.

This was made up for by the insane views along the way – absolutely incredible! The oncoming traffic took our breath away a bit too. Eighteen-wheeler lorries not able to stick to their side of the road due to unfinished road works everywhere (typical Vietnamese road standards).

Before we had time to realise, we were tackling hair pin bends on a mountain road, feeling as though we were on an episode of top gear. We were sure that after six hours of travelling, we must be nearing our destination. We weren’t anywhere close.

We descended the mountain straight into city rush hour traffic. That combined with a useless map, hunger and fatigue, was the recipe for disaster of some kind. Considering our lack our bike experience, and having zero knowledge of the Vietnamese road etiquette (or lack of) we did pretty well to get away with just near-misses. The stress of the city roads caused us to pull over, close to tears and totally drained after eight hours on the road.

After only having a packet of Ritz shared between us all day, we decided food was a priority if we were going to press on. Roseanna’s birthday meal ended up being a KFC burger and some popcorn chicken shared with Emma. Staying classy since 1990. We spent a while to-ing and fro-ing with whether to give up and get a taxi the rest of the way, or whether to muster up enough courage to complete our journey.

Returning to our bikes in the dark, we chose to continue, after having heard that Hoi An was actually only half an hour away. Ha Ha. A quick answer to prayer meant that we managed to follow some guys across the bridge we needed, but couldn’t find, and we were on the road to success.

Two hours later and only one wrong turn, we finally found Hoi An, and happily returned our motorbikes. We were dirty, sweaty, hot and exhausted, but super jubilant. The sense of pride and achievement for having not died or been injured (and for generally just finding our way) was next level.

It took us eleven hours in the end. Quite a day, rounded off with a much needed birthday beverage.

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North Vietnam

Vietnam1We’ve spent the last 2 weeks travelling in the north of Vietnam. It surprisingly has a very different feel from the rest of South East Asia so far, which we’ve really enjoyed.

Hanoi – We arrived in Vietnam pretty late so our first experience of the manic traffic was waking up to the incessant horns in the morning. Rog’s friend Katrina just happened to be staying 5 minutes down the road (what are the chances?!) so we met up with her and her friends and had a nice afternoon together enjoying a sit down in a cafe and shop hopping in the heavy rain.

After exercising our haggling skills, we managed to get a decent price for a day trip to Ha Long Bay. There had been storms and bad weather in the north for the last 10 days, cancelling boat trips, so we were praying for good weather. We were so fortunate as the day was sunny and bright, allowing us to appreciate the views even more.

We got our first night bus (13 hours) southwards to Hue, which was quite a hideous experience. Let’s just leave it at that.

Hue – We started with an accommodation disaster – thanks to our air BnB host for double booking us. Pushing us over the edge after such a night on the bus.

The weather continued to heat up and we spent time on the beach and seeing some sights. At one of our shade and water stops, a Vietnamese man approached us trying to selling us marijuana. Despite us declining, he hung around for a chat, casually telling us about his drug dealing, his supplier, and that the bench we were sat on is usually where he sleeps. He was friendly. We stopped for lunch at a place that had been recommended to us and had some great food. Vietnamese spring rolls are definitely a new favourite of ours!

The journey to our next destination is worthy of it’s own blog post, so you can eagerly await that coming soon. Trust us it’s worth it.

Hoi An – After such an ordeal getting here, we were glad to have a solid 5 days in Hoi An to relax a little. It’s a pretty old town with lanterns everywhere and lots of tailoring shops. Emma got a matching maxi skirt and top custom made, and Rog got a leather rucksack made up.

We could use the kitchen at our ‘homestay’ so we cooked for ourselves a couple of nights, picking up our supplies at the market by the river. One evening saw us running round the lanes desperately hunting for coconut milk.

We spent some time on the beach, had a day trip to Cham Island with some underwhelming snorkelling and enjoyed a lunch where we spent ages chatting to a lovely Australian couple.

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Chiang Mai

ChiangMai

We went to Chiang Mai via bus with many a free treat. Most of our time there was spent getting lost, even though this is the first place where we’ve had a map (we actually had about 7). I think our map reading skills leave something to be desired. In the evenings we wandered round the night bazaar and fully used our haggling charm.

One of the afternoons we went to a cooking class with the most eccentric Thai lady called Mam. She took us round the market to buy all our ingredients, then we went back to her house to learn loads of Thai dishes. We each made spring rolls, noodles, curry paste, curry, soup and puds. Downside was Emma nearly fainting mid coconut soup.

We found out later that Emma actually had a hook worm (Harold) within her foot, making its way to her lungs, which was making her queasy. We did a classic google diagnosis after we questioned the first pharmacist, who labeled it as herpes which “came from the air”. It’s dead now.

Another highlight was a days leather workshop with a local man. We made so many leather goods. Apparently we were super fast so we got to be creative and make our own designs at the end. We’ve both been craving creativity but he made us jealous
when he told us his leather course had cost him 2p per hour when he was training.
He charged us a lot more.

Low lights: Walking round for over an hour for a bagel and ending up having one right where we started. Having no water in our bathroom for hours, but the ceiling leaking from the people above having a shower.

We flew down to Bangkok from there, meeting and greeting Rog at the airport who has come to join us on our travels for the next month. Bangkok wasn’t all that, other than the really friendly church we went to on the sunday – Grace City church.

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