1 Year, 4 Continents, 12 Countries

This is our biggest video yet!

2016 was absolutely amazing! We travelled to 4 Continents, 12 Countries, over 30 Cities/Towns/Villages, took countless flights, trains, and boats, and met unforgettable people.

Shout out to Khao Lak Adventures and our Similan Island Live Aboard Dive Boat group, The Gibbon Experience in Laos for the experience of a lifetime, Rin our local guide for showing us rural Vietnam by motorbike, the people we met while travelling with Stray New Zealand, our Contiki Oktoberfest group, Trawangan Dive for showing us the best diving Gili T has to offer (watch video here), and to everyone who has made this year one to remember.

Please excuse our Vietnam spelling mistake in the credits, we’ve had a lot of technical difficulties while making this video and going back to fix some things would mean pretty much starting over.

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2017 Here we come!

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Our Favourite Places in: South East Asia

Favourite Places

Since the end of our South East Asia trip and relocating to England the question we’re asked the most is what were our favourite places from the trip. To us it’s a nearly impossible question to answer as every place we’ve been to has had its own charm and things we’ve liked. But we did some thinking and were able to put together a list of all the places we visited over the three months we travelled South East Asia, that now have a special place in our hearts.

 

Hoi An, Vietnam

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Vietnam would not be at the top of the list for places we’d go back to, solely because it was just too loud and too busy, but Hoi An is where we found a little slice of Vietnamese paradise.

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Nestled amongst the hustle and bustle of Hoi An is the Hoi An Old Town. This area would have been the original parts of the city before it grew into what it is today and it’s like stepping back in time. There are no cars allowed down the narrow streets, only pedal bikes and motor bikes (between 10AM and 6pm), and even then there aren’t many motorbikes. It gets quite busy and crowed during the day so we found the best time to walk around peacefully was early morning when the motorbikes aren’t allowed on the walking streets and people haven’t made it out of their hotels yet.

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We liked the Old Town so much we didn’t really venture out to anywhere else. The food was SO good, the locals were friendly, and at night the whole area gleamed with the glow of lanterns. It was the first time I really felt like we were actually in Vietnam.

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Hoi An is where you’ll find the lanterns Vietnam is known for. At night the stalls and store entrances are lined with lit up lanterns that give the streets a romantic feel. By the night market is where the lantern stalls are, with walls on walls of lit up Vietnamese Lanterns, and couples taking their wedding photos. It’s absolutely stunning and photos do not do it justice.

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And we can’t forget about the food! In case you didn’t already know, we’re huge foodies, and Hoi An did not disappoint. The city is most famous for its Banh Bao Vac (White Roses), and Cao Lau.

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Banh Bao Vac are special dumplings made with rice flour dough and stuffed with minced pork and spices, then pinched together in a way that make them look like roses. They are served warm with crispy fried onions and a sweet/tangy sauce. They are such a Hoi An specialty you literally cannot get them anywhere else in Vietnam. They are made by only one shop who distribute them all over Hoi An, and they’ve been doing so for generations. So whether you have them in the Old Town or somewhere else, they’ve all come from the same place.

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Cao Lau is a noodle dish that comes with a delicious, thick flavourful pork broth, fresh greens and herbs, refreshing bean sprouts, spiced sliced pork, and to make it that much better, it’s topped with crispy pork skin. Excuse me while drool a little.

You can get it anywhere, the pricier restaurants, the cheap restaurants, even from the street food vendors. But the best we had (in our opinion) was at Thuan Y, a little river front restaurant that also had the best banana shakes.

 

Gili Trawangan, Bali

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Oh Gili T, how you stole our hearts from the first day we ever saw you.

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Our first visit to Gili T was back in October of 2014, when we did a short trip during our working holiday year in Australia. We fell hopelessly and endlessly in love with the island, from its quiet nature to its drop dead gorgeous waters. It’s a diver’s paradise, a seafood lovers heaven and a beach bum’s eden. There are no cars, no motorbikes, only horse-drawn carts and pedal bikes. Every evening the night market springs to life with the smell of satay and flame grilled corn, and the restaurants display fresh seafood caught that day.

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{ Our favourite BBQ spot }

The island has everything you could possibly want. Want to go shopping? They’ve got designer clothing stores to souvenir stalls. Want good food? There’s fresh oven fired pizza, seafood BBQ, vegan cafes, italian restaurants, authentic Balinese, and even gourmet burgers. Want to go to the beach? Parts of the beach are busy but if you walk far enough around (you can walk around the whole island in about 4 hours) you’ll find quite, secluded beaches. You want it, they’ve got it.

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And we can’t forget about the diving! World class dive sites are right out your front door. We dove with Trawangan Dive both times because, A) It is a Dive resort, meaning you can you can get dive and stay packages, making it slightly cheaper and hassle free; and B) we like the all around vibe of the place. The guides, instructors and helping hands are amazing. They’re all cheerful and outgoing and really make you excited for you’re dives. It’s just a super chill environment and we absolutely loved it.

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No questions about it, Gili T is our favourite place on Earth and it will forever have a special place in our hearts.

 

Koh Tao, Thailand

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Koh Tao is similar to Gili T in the sense that it’s definitely a divers niche. It is, after all, the cheapest place to get certified. In the high season the diving is pristine, with visibility up to or more than 30 meters and you may even be lucky enough to spot a whale shark or two. On top of that the water is SO warm, we never had to wear wetsuit! On average it’s about 30 degrees or more and thats at anywhere from 30 to 18 meters down. It’s the most free a diver can feel, diving with nothing but a bikini or shorts and your BCD. Heaven I tell you, Heaven!

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The night life is great (in high season), with fire shows every night, a pub crawl every Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and decent bars with live music.

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Koh Tao has that low key, relaxed, island vibe that we love and as long as you’re just around Sairee Beach it’s relatively quite in terms of traffic because there are no cars in that particular area. We’re small town people, we like to be away from the noise and busyness of big cities. What makes it great is it has a little something for everyone, great diving, good nightlife, nature walks, island tours, 5 star resorts, you name it. It’s the perfect place to recover from it’s rowdier sister island, Koh Pha Ngan.

Similan Islands, Thailand

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Another diver’s paradise (apologies for repetition but our happy place truly is in the water). The Similan Islands are rated one of the top 10 places to dive in the world. You have a great chance of seeing Whale Sharks and Manta Rays here as well as plenty of other sea life you might not see anywhere else and the water is so warm you can get away with only wearing a 3mm shortie.

What’s unique about the Similans is the best way to dive around them is to do a Live Aboard Dive Boat. You can go for anywhere between 2 – 7 days and on a number of quality boats costing from 17 000-32 000 TBH.

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Our live abroad is what made the Similans so memorable for us. We chose Khao Lak Scuba Adventures because of the quality and the price of their particular tours. We were on the boat for 4 nights and it was incredible. We saw so much sea life that we’ve never seen before, Will did his Advanced Open Water certification, and we saw a Manta Ray!

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{ The highlight of our Live Aboard }

We got to dive 4 times a day which helped us become more confident as divers and taught us a lot about our own strengths and weaknesses in the water. We learned a lot and to me this is important when travelling, because not only did we come away with great stories but we came away self-improved. Those five days were definitely a big highlight of our trip.

Read all about our dive trip in the Similan Islands on our 50 Shades of Blue post, here.

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Khao Lak itself doesn’t really have much going on. You can take day trips into the National Park and it is a good place to get into Khao Sok National Park. It is also one of the places that got hit the hardest by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, the damage of which you can still see today.

 

Vang Vieng, Laos

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Vang Viang is known among backpackers (and probably all other travellers) as a place to party, but there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

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The scenery alone won us over the day we got there. The mountains, the trees, and the river, all make for a stunning back drop. Everything is so green and colourful with nature. There are caves to explore, the Blue Lagoon to swim in, motorbikes to rent for exploring. It’s a great little town trying to rid itself of its dark and partying past.

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{ The Blue Lagoon }

There’s a cafe/restaurant that plays Friends on repeat all day, every day. Restaurants with special menus if thats what you’re looking for. Bars with free drinks (Nope, I’m not joking. They literally line the bar with shots of whisky just waiting for you to choose your mix, ALL free between 8 and 9). And the baguettes, oh those baguettes! We still crave them!

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{ Will started being called Mr.Chicken because we had so many baguettes }

There are still remnants of the French influence in Laos and baguettes are one of them. They’re just a little smaller than a foot long subway sandwich and you get just as many filling options as subway, although you only get lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes as salad and mayo, chilli, and ketchup as sauce options. I don’t know how or why they are so good, and I probably don’t want to know but they are delicious!

 

Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Angkor Wat has been at the top of our Bucket Lists for years, so actually stepping foot into the grounds was an experience of a life time. We’ll never forget walking up to the gates at 5am in the morning and getting that surreal feeling like we couldn’t believe we were actually there.

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I’m a huge archaeology buff, after all, it is what I studied in my first year of University, so I was having a field day (HA! pardon the pun) walking around all the sites and exploring all the nooks and crannies we could.

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There is way more too it than most people expect because Angkor Wat is just one structure our of hundreds in the Angkor area. We only got two full days to explore the area, which was plenty of time but I think one more day would have been just perfect.

Check out more of our photos from Angkor here.

 


 

So those are our Favourite Places from our past South East Asia trip. It was an amazing adventure, one we had been planning for years and we will never forget the experiences we had, the people we met and all the incredible things we got to see. Stay tuned for a possible series of Favourite Places posts, from our previous trips to our current travels. If you have any questions about other places we visited or companies we went through don’t hesitate to ask, we’d be happy to help.

12 Days in Laos

So a while back, before we left New Zealand for Asia, we started trying something new for our videos. In the past we spent a lot of our free time on the road going through and editing all of our GoPro footage into videos so that we were able to upload them as we went along. This sometimes takes away from our experiences, instead of going out and exploring our new surroundings we found ourselves cooped up in front of the computer. So now we use the app 1 Second Every Day to put together short videos of our travels while we’re on the road. We use both videos taken on our phones and the GoPro. We then use iMovie to edit, add music and add text to the final video. This saves us a lot of time and energy and is easily done while on the move, i.e. night trains, tour buses, planes, etc.

We’ve been a little backed up in terms of posting, so we thought the best way to showcase our time in Laos would be to show you our highlights of the country with a video.

We’ve also done this for both our New Zealand road trip from Queenstown to Auckland and our first Month in Thailand. You can see both videos here on our Vimeo page and here on our YouTube channel.

 

Our Gibbon Experience

Situated a short drive from Huay Xai, Laos, there lies Nam Kan National Park. Designated a National Park in 2008, the area where the Gibbon Experience operates, helps protect against illegal logging, poaching, destructive land use and more. The company employees are all Laos people (with the exception of a few foreigners), most of which come from the Nam Kan area. With sustainable tourism in mind it was an easy decision for us to join the Gibbon Experience on their Classic 3 day 2 night trip into the maze of tracks, trails and most importantly: ziplines.

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There are over 15 KM of wire for you to zip around on, the longest single run being 414m (if we remember correctly), exploiting the amazing views and breathtaking heights above the forest canopy. You have plenty of opportunity to experience it all, don’t worry.

Day One starts at 8am from the Gibbon Experience office in Huay Xai. They recommend only taking what you need for the three days as everything you bring you must carry in on your back (they supply a safe place to leave your belongings). After all the boring stuff, paperwork, safety instructions etc. we were packed into the back of a 4×4 and sent off with a group of (soon to be) new friends, all wondering what our fate will be over the next few days.

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After a short 1½ – 2 hour drive out of town, the truck turned down a dirt track. From here it was a very rough and bumpy half hour drive to the village where the actual trekking starts and where we met one of our guides. During monsoon season it’s not always possible to reach the end of the track and you may have to walk the last bit into the village.

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NOTE: BE PREPARED TO DO A LOT OF WALKING. We definitely were not mentally prepared enough for the amount of trekking that was actually involved. We knew it would be about an hours trek before reaching our tree house but we were not prepared for just how physically tiring it really was. The majority of it was up hill with 3 zip lines (4 including the short one into the tree house). Needless to say our legs were jelly by the end of it.

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Before booking our experience we read the website looking for a bit of an insight into what to expect and our advice; don’t bother. It didn’t say anything about how much walking would be actually involved, and I don’t just mean a leisurely stroll to the shops. For better insight check out reviews on Trip Advisor.

Trekking through the jungle, carrying only what you’ll need for the trip, for roughly 1 ½ hours depending on the speed your group walks, brings you to ‘The Village’, the first stage of the GE camp (which is spread throughout the jungle).

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Here you receive another safety briefing, are split up into smaller groups, assigned your tree house number and given your harness, your best friend for the next few days.

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Depending on which tree house you are in depends on how far you have to go from here. Personally TH7 is the best, that’s where we stayed. Each TH has their own perks: ours was definitely the view, and the view from the bathroom, especially the shower. There’s something mind-boggling and intensely strange, yet invigorating about showering naked outside whilst your group members are within ear and possibly eye shot if they look through the gaps in the floorboards. It was like showering on your balcony, bare ass to the world only here your only audience are the birds. Through the bathroom floor boards you can see the jungle floor; the slots are rather large so careful not to drop the soap! From the west side of the tree house you can see jungle for miles into the distance until it fades into the sky. And the noise… its hard to pinpoint any of it, however together its like a perfectly orchestrated symphony.

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Sleeping arrangements were two person double mattresses on the floor with mossy nets provided (they were more like tents), we ate, hung out and slept all in the same area. It was great being able to fall asleep to the uninterrupted sounds of nature.

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Day two was supposed to have us up at 6:00am to look for Gibbons, but due to the lack of sleep from our previous night on a sleeper bus, we didn’t get out of bed until 7:00am. Luckily no Gibbons were spotted that morning, although we were still able to hear them singing in the distance. Check out the video below to listen.

We were up and out of the tree house by about 8:30am. Again the trek was tough but this time we were prepared so it wasn’t as bad; luckily for Will. He had already put up with my moaning about the previous days trek. We spent most of the morning at tree house 5 where we were able to zip back and forth in three different directions.

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We played around like monkeys well past the allotted time but the guides we’re great and let us have our fun. We didn’t want to leave but eventually hunger caught up with us and we started back to our own tree house.

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The day was rather itinerated which is also not specified on the website. It says, and I quote, “You will choose how you want to spend your time, there is no strict schedule”, which I suppose is partly true but if you don’t go with your guide and their schedule you don’t really get to zip line much. It then goes on to say things like ‘food will come when you get hungry’ when in reality your food arrives at your tree house when it’s ready, whether you’re there or not. This happened to us for dinner and tea on the second day, however the food remained hot so it wasn’t really a problem. I just think the website could be a bit clearer.

We did manage to spot some gibbons on our final day, so that gave us a boost of energy and a spring in our step, (or leap off a platform). That morning we were woken up to Boun (our guide) whispering, “Gibbon, Gibbon”, it was 5:30 in the morning but we climbed down from our sleeping pad and sat with the rest of the group while Gibbons swung in the distance (unfortunately we were all too sleepy to get out the cameras so non of the group got photos). It was the perfect start to our last day in the Nam Kan National Park.

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Overall, we really enjoyed our group and we really enjoyed the experience as a whole. The tree houses are a spectacular feat of engineering, you sleep on mats on the floor which are more than adequate for a good nights sleep. The food was delicious; everyone just livens when they hear the sound of someone zipping over to bring us food, and the guides were awesome, both of which grew up in the area. Boun is from a small village about an hour from Huay Xai and our second guide (his name escapes me) actually grew up in the village where we started our trek. They helped us out when we got stuck or didn’t quite make it to the platform, were really knowledgeable about the jungle, and always friendly. Both nights Boun stayed and played cards with us, he was a great mix of guide and friend.

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{ Boun showing how flammable the sap is from the trees that the tree houses are built on. }

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{ Boun }

The hiking up and down the steep valleys on the sometimes hazardously narrow tracks whilst sweating absolute buckets makes everybody bond in a certain way. And whilst it was tough to endure, it’s definitely one of those feelings where you appreciate it that much more afterwards. It’s all quite surreal and a definite must do for everyone.

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