Leaving Asia! Some Highlights and Lowpoints

29 May

It seems hard to believe that our four and a half months in Asia are over: they have both flown by and felt like a lifetime.  Our travels around South East Asia began in Vietnam, worked their way through Cambodia, lingered in Laos, flew through Thailand and Singapore, and have gently wound themselves down in Java and Bali.  A few highlights, recommendations, and – just as inevitably – not so great moments – and lots of pictures!

The good, in order: the dramatic scenery of Halong Bay in Vietnam; picturesque Hoi An (getting my wedding dress made there was a particular highlight!); having some of the less famous temples at Angkor Wat all to ourselves at sunrise; trekking in the Mondulkiri province, Cambodia; spotting Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong in Kratie, Cambodia; lazing in Laos in front of Muang Ngoi province’s stunning views; Lao New Year – waterfights in Luang Prabang; Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park in Thailand; the ancient ruins of Sukhothai, Thailand; enjoying a Singapore Sling in Raffles Hotel; a sunrise trek to the base of the world’s most active volcano, Gunung Merapi, Java (Indonesia); getting a motorbike to explore the rice paddies of Bali.














…and the not so good, again in order: developing a phobia of dogs due to the many angry ones which wander the streets of Asia unchecked, looking for a Western leg to nibble on; ANY KIND OF TRANSPORT, but in particular buses, and even more in particular this little incident between Hoi An and Saigon way back in Vietnam (through the window you can just see the bus caused the smashed window by crashing into the back of us); and of course, the bane of any traveller’s existence…the bloody, thrice-cursed tuk tuk drivers!




















And finally, as promised, some advice to anyone doing a similar journey who, like me, had never done anything like this or been to Asia before – although truthfully, you probably will have to learn them yourselves first hand:

  1. Before you go – if you can, take a couple of motorbike lessons; if you have a driving license, send off for an international license (should be free an they accept nothing else in much of Asia); get out lots of US$, they’re useful everywhere and in Cambodia they’re more commonly used than their own currency.
  2. You will DEFINITELY need: a STRONG torch (flashlight); pocket knife (preferably with bottle opener attachment); towel; flipflops; a scarf/sarong for temples (men too, if you’re coming to Bali); a  million plug adaptors, they tend to break when being shoved into plug fittings wired by the hotelier’s drunk cousin; heavy duty mozzy repellent and sun stuff; buckets of antibacterial handwash; and most imporantly, clothes you won’t mind throwing away.  My biggest regret – bringing clothes I actually liked.  There is LOADS of wi-fi out here so bring a device that connects to the internet – weirdly, everyone seems to have them, even in, say, Laos.  Finally, if you are a tea or coffee drinker, a portable kettle and a year’s supply of teabags or coffee.  The latter is served very very sweet all across SE Asia (usually only condensed milk is on offer) and the former…oh em gee.  Don’t get me started on how much I hate Lipton.
  3. You are likely to be flying into a BIIIIG, noisy, dirty, intimidating Asian city – Bangkok, Hanoi. Don’t let it overwhelm you, but if it’s your first time in Asia, I would advise – don’t stay in the city long.  There will be plenty of time to come back and explore it if you want to once you’re a bit more acclimatised, but straight off the plane you’ll find it bewildering, stressful, and every rip off merchant out there WILL see you coming a mile off.
  4. As soon as you possibly can, work up the courage to hire your own transport – bikes/motorbikes.  There are no words to describe how much more fun it is to do things under your own steam, and public transport (both local and tourist) is a constant and never-ending hassle.
  5. In any transaction, never, ever be afraid to just walk away.  If it feels wrong, you’re being charged too much, you don’t like the guy’s shoes, whatever.  There will always be someone else around who is willing to take your money.

And so there we are!  Yesterday we arrived into Sydney, and we are already delighfully overwhelmed with all the little things we’ve horribly missed and can now find – we woke up this morning, had a proper cup of tea, did a spot of shopping, and for lunch had a beef pie and a pint of real ale!  Absolute bliss.  Even the cold is weirdly welcome.  Here’s two our final month and half of traveling!

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