The Good, The Bad and The Useful of Travelling in India

Spending a month in India, we didn’t even scratch the surface of this vast land and culture. However, we did begin to appreciate some of its quirks, people and regions. We have summarised these into some useful tidbits of info for travel in India.

We’ll start with the useful:

India may be the 7th largest country in the world but in terms of population it ranks in second place. Over 1.3 billion people to be more precise spread across 29 states and 7 union territories. There is more diversity than you might think for one country including religion, over 20 different languages, cuisine and culture. We met Indians who felt like foreigners when visiting other Indian states.

Many restaurants in India are confusingly called ‘hotels’, We’re not quite sure why. The majority of restaurants are vegetarian (as Hindus do not believe in inflicting pain on animals) and often restaurants serving meat advertise themselves as a ‘non-veg’ restaurants since it is less common.

You’ll never find beef on the menu as cows are considered sacred and kept for milking only. Pork is also less common because of the Muslim beliefs about the pig being a dirty animal. The meat you will find in non-veg restaurants will be most likely chicken, lamb or goat.

If you are white, tall or blonde at some point during your time in India you will most likely be asked for a selfie. It can make you feel like a film star at times and annoyed at other times. Love it or hate it, a lot of Indians just aren’t used to seeing foreigners and therefore you’ll need to get used to being stared at. A lot. As a female, have your wits about you, sometimes selfies frustratingly encouraged ‘unwanted touching’.

Indian people generally dress conservatively, especially the women. Ladies, I feel for you as you need to cover up your legs and shoulders and it’s very hot. However, it’s much better to dress in line with the locals as a sign of respect and to avoid unwanted attention. Maxi dresses or long pants are ideal.

The good:

One of the appeals of travelling in India is the cultural experience you can get for your money. The cost of living is very low in comparison to the U.K. For example, a decent size meal can cost between 30p to £4. Accommodation for a private double room with an ensuite and air conditioning cost between £10-£20 per night. Buses were inexpensive and trains were reasonable (the rate dependent on the class).

You can see so much fascinating wildlife and stunning landscapes in India. Periyar National Park in Kerala was very picturesque with wild elephants roaming around. Ranthambhore National Park was great for spotting Bengal tigers. The Indian peafowl or peacock is India’s national bird and we saw plenty during our travels.

There was much less Western tourists in India compared to South East Asia for example. You certainly get the local experience.

The food is amazing. Particularly the breads and curries. Trying the food and snacks from different regions of India was one of our highlights as they were so different! Delhi belly is a reality though so best to eat at reputable restaurants or street food vendors where you see them cooking the food in front of you. We stayed away from meat a lot of the time and didn’t touch salads or fruit unless you could peel the skin like oranges and bananas. The water is definitely not drinkable, we wouldn’t even advise using it to brush your teeth!

Not to stereotype, but we found the Indian people to always be so smiley and friendly. Even if it was broken English or using hand signs because they spoke no English at all, we found their hospitality to be second to none.

The bad:

If you arrive in Delhi or another big city in India, it’s unlikely you’ll avoid witnessing poverty in India. It can be really hard to stomach the scale of it and seeing so many old, young, men, women and children sleeping on the streets.

It is not uncommon to see cows, pigs, goats, dogs and cats walk freely amongst the streets. The sad part, is that unfortunately a lot of these animals look malnourished and are often seen near or on piles of rubbish on the side of the street. I watched one cow gobble up 10 plastic cups, it was pretty awful to watch. The stray dogs and cats are often wounded and flea-infested.

Not necessarily a bad thing but something to get used to – foreigners pay more for things. Generally Indian states have a local rate and a higher foreigner rate for all of the forts, palaces and sights requiring a ticket to enter. The same can be said for tuk-tuks and buses. Sometimes as a foreigner you will be stopped and charged to enter free places of worship too. Normally you just have to suck it up and pay it. The only time you can negotiate is with tuk-tuk drivers. An Indian man told me, “when they see white people, they see money”, meaning many Indian people believe white people are rich. It helps if you have a rough idea of how much you should be paying for something.

Gender equality hasn’t quite reached the same level as western countries. I know in some areas there is gender equality (from working with Indian women in the U.K.) but we still felt there seemed to be a strong perception of women staying at home and raising children. There were times when Indian men would speak to Jonny and would ignore me when I spoke. The question I would get asked most commonly was “Do you have any children? Why not?”. We even saw some restaurants advertised as ‘women-friendly’.

Public transport in India by bus and train was generally always overcrowded. If you purchase a seat, it generally meant you had to share it.

The Indian head nod, was both fun and frustrating for us. We’d ask a question and sometimes get the head shake in response which meant it was hard to decipher a concrete yes or no. We think it just means okay, I hear you.

The toilets are generally pretty basic, especially those on the trains. No toilet paper but a tap for running water – Indians use their left hand to clean themselves. Some Indians thought toilet paper was unhygienic so bring toilet paper with you if you don’t want to clean yourself the Indian way. If you are eating in a restaurant or shaking someone’s hand, remember to use your right hand!

In conclusion:

India is 100% worth visiting. The diversity, culture, landscape, sights, wildlife and food are breathtaking. There are so many incredible places to visit both in the cities, countryside and coastline.

As a backpacker, it’s amazing how much you can see and do with a relatively low budget. Plus very authentically as there are less tourists that South East Asia for example.

However, I would say keep your wits about you, particularly if you are female. Look out for scams and be open-minded.

Read up as much as possible about the culture and the places you will visit in advance if you can. Use your hotel/homestay/hostel as much as possible to help you during your stay if you have any questions.

Oh and remember to bring toilet roll (and Ladies, bring tampons as you’re unlikely to be able to buy them in India!).

We hope you have an amazing trip!

You can read our other blog posts about India here:

Kerala, South India: Our 2-week itinerary

Thrissur Pooram – An Outsider’s Perspective

India: The Golden Triangle and Rajasthan in 2 weeks

4 days in Hong Kong

Disclaimer: this travel blog was from August 2017.

The very last part of our 5-month trip around Asia was spent in Hong Kong. Instead of a lengthy blog post, we thought we’d put in a few highlights of the few days we spent here before returning back to the UK.

Highlight 1 > the food, especially the Dim Sum!

We loved Dim Sum Square and Cantom Dim Sum Expert. For huge portions of dinner (not Dim Sum) Tsui Wah was a good shout and fairly cheap too.

Highlight 2 > walking some of the dragon back ridge

Offering incredible views over Hong Kong we would recommend the hike. We got a bus to the start and walked to the view point.

Highlight 3 > seeing the large seated Buddha

The seated Buddha was a little out of town but experiencing the glass floor cable car was really cool. To get the seated Buddha there are quite a few steps up, however, the views were amazing, oh and the Buddha is huge!

Highlight 4 > going to Macau for the day!

We took the first boat out from Hong Kong and the last boat back. Macau is like the Vegas of Asia but also has a cute Portuguese town as well. It was definitely worth a visit!

Highlight 5 > the city skyline

We managed to get a free open-top bus tour of the city because some travellers hadn’t planned their time properly. We also took the peak tram with the sky pass to get the view over Hong Kong.

3 Weeks in Indonesia

Disclaimer: This blog post is referring to travels in August 2017.

Kuta beach, Bali (3 nights) >> Tegallalang (2 nights) >> Ubud (2 nights) >> Kuta, Lombok (4 nights) >> Gili Trawangan (5 nights) >> Canggu, Bali (2 nights) >> Nusa Dua (3 nights) 

Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands.

For the Indonesian part of our trip, we visited Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. We’d wanted to go to Java to visit Mount Bromo and Komodo Island but time and money were both running out.

Bali

We visited Bali at the start and end of our trip to Indonesia, but for this blog post we’ll bung all the Bali destinations together.

As you can see we barely scratched the surface of Bali. We tended to stay in the tourist spots which meant it was easy to get between them via buses.

Our first stop was Kuta. It hasn’t got the best reputation but we wanted somewhere close to the airport on a small budget. Despite it being touristy (and busy), it meant there were lots of shops and restaurants. We enjoyed doing random things like going to the cinema and Jonny was delighted to find an English roast dinner one evening.

A happy Jonny with his roast dinner. Smoothie bowls here were also very tasty for breakfast.

Tregallalang was a complete contrast to Kuta, with a village-feel, surrounded by rice paddies. It was very peaceful. We stayed in a homestay with a lovely family who cooked breakfast for us each morning and lent Jonny a guitar to play. From here we could visit the rice terraces, go coffee tasting and experience white-water rafting.

We stayed at Ubud Sawah Homestay which was actually not in Ubud centre but a small village close to the rice terraces. It was a good base for white-water rafting too!

Coffee tasting in incredible surroundings. We also tried the most expensive coffee in the world made from Civet poo! 🙊💩

The Tegalalang rice terraces, which were pretty spectacular. This is a big tourist spot however.

If you’re going to Bali, it would be hard not to stay at Ubud at some point during your trip. It acts as a great hub for a number of activities and is packed with restaurants, Yoga classes and fresh & organic foods.

We enjoyed relaxing by the pool at Raka & Rai bungalow (cheap private room with a lovely breakfast). We loved Kafe in Ubud for the fresh meals!

Whilst in Ubud we walked some of the Campuhan Ridge Walk which escapes the crowds and has nice views over Bali.

Walking the Campuhan Ridge from Ubud.

There is a forest in Ubud which is home to lots of monkeys within walking distance.

Monkey forest in Ubud.

From Ubud, we decided to take an early morning trip to climb Mount Batur, which is an active volcano in Bali. We set off at 4am to reach the peak for sunrise. Sadly the clouds only broke for one brief moment revealing a glimmer of sunshine and views. The hike up itself wasn’t so bad, it’s 1717m high. It did get tougher towards the top however as it was mainly sand which meant for every step forward you slipped 3 back. You could also see steam and hardened volcanic ash during the climb which was really cool!

Climbing Mount Batur, an active volcano 1,717m high.

A glimpse of sunrise from the summit.

The next place in Bali we stayed at was Canggu which is near Echo beach. Here the sand is black and it was very popular with surfers. The town had a chilled out vibe, and we even went to a local farmers market during a weekend morning.

Canggu near Echo Beach.

Our last beach stop was at Nusa Dua. We stayed in a nice hostel and rented sun beds from a hotel on the beach. We pretty much took most of this time to relax on the beach, with the occasional sing-song to the locals with Jonny and his ukulele.

The golden sands of Nusa Dua. We stayed at aptly named “Cheap Hotel”.

Lombok

To get to Lombok you have to get a ferry, and from Bali there is a fast and slow boat. Unfortunately, the seas were rough which meant only the slow boat was running. It felt really slow and cramped, so slow that I read all of Orwell’s 1984 during the boat ride.

We stayed in Kuta in Lombok.

Once we finally arrived, we stayed at Kuta beach (a far cry from from Kuta in Bali). The beach itself had spots which were barely populated but absolutely stunning. This is definitely going to become popular in a few years time! We walked most of the beach, down the main end it’s a good place to learn to kite-surf.

Kuta beach in Lombok. Barely anyone around!

The best thing about our walk along this beach was when we walked to the end and a litter of puppies came to say hello and then promptly fell asleep on me. This moment deserves a single photo collage.

One happy Senorita 🐶🐶🐶

Our accommodation was a cross between a homestay and a hostel called Join Homestay. There was a cat who befriended us and sat on our porch daily and chickens running freely around the garden. I went on a run one morning and got completely lost as paths merged into people’s back gardens. Everything was very open here which gave us the sense you could trust people.

There was a great viewpoint we went to on bikes and a nice yoga retreat called Ashtari cafe for dinner to watch the sunset.

We took a bike to Merese Hill viewpoint (the local kids loved the bike). The views were worth the trip! Recommend Ashtari cafe for dinner (also a Yoga retreat).

Next, we got a boat over to the Gili islands.

Gili Islands 

The Gili islands were probably my favourite part of Indonesia. Being a total beach bum, and loving snorkelling and diving, the Gilis were perfect.

The three Gili Islands off the coast Lombok.

We stayed on the busier island of Gili Trawangan or Gili T as it is affectionately named. This is the biggest of the three islands and it has no cars or motorbikes which can be a welcome relief from Bali (where you have to be on guard for motorbikes all the time). There are also no dogs on the islands, only cats.

Pituq cafe became one of our favourite lunch and breakfast spots serving delicious smoothie bowls and veggie wraps.

We wasted no time on arrival to Gili T by getting our swimwear on and diving straight into the sea. The snorkelling was excellent with very good visibility. I saw a turtle and a school of squid on our first swim! We took one scuba dive during our stay and saw reef tip sharks along with countless turtles.

To get around the island we hired bicycles (less than £2.50 per day) and cycled around the island stopping along the way. There were some great restaurants and bars on the west side to watch the sunset.

Gili T – what an incredible island. This place is popular for a reason!

We spent two days visiting the other two islands: Gili Air and Gili Meno. There was a public ferry twice a day operating between the islands that cost £1.50-£2 each way.

Gili Air was a little quieter than Gili T with great snorkelling and a great chilled vibe. We spent the day lounging around before walking around the island.

Gili Meno was the most remote island but had the best snorkelling in our opinion because we saw three turtles, two octopus, starfish and lots of beautiful fish. The downside was there was less choice of restaurants. As you walked more around the island you could find beautiful isolated beaches but you’d want to bring food and drinks with you as there were no shops and restaurants in some parts of the island.

The incredible beach of Gili Meno. Beautiful white sandy beaches and perfectly clear waters- a picture perfect postcard of paradise.

Singapore in 2 Days! 

Disclaimer: This blog post is referring to travels in July 2017.

Singapore (2 nights) 

It felt like we were in Singapore much longer than we actually were. We really liked how walkable the city was which meant we could cram quite a lot in. Although it is more expensive, we actually managed to stay close to our backpacker budget by making the most of the free activities on offer and eating street food.

Singapore skyline.

After travelling from Melaka in the morning, we had 1.5 days to explore before our flight to Bali. We stayed near Bugis Junction (a shopping centre) in a small backpacker guesthouse because it was the cheapest place we could find. It actually turned out to be a great location because we were within walking distance of most the things we wanted to see. The restaurant below the Guesthouse called Seng Huat Coffee House had great food, in fact there was often a queue down the street!

The small but busy Seng Huat Coffee House bear Bugis Junction.

On our first evening we wandered down to the Gardens by the Bay to enjoy the light show which occurs most evenings. It is accompanied by music (this time it was musical theme). It looked very pretty.

Gardens by the Bay light show runs almost every evening. You can watch it for free at ground level.

Afterwards, we went to Boat Quay for drinks with Oonagh, a friend from Worthing now living in Singapore.
Boat Quay – a popular outdoor eating/drinking spot, particularly with expats.

The next day, we were up early to explore but the heavens opened so we had to wait it out a while and decided to look at the free shark exhibition at Park House.

Once the rain had eased off, we wandered through the colourful houses and little shops on Haji Lane and Arab St.


Next on the list was Little India with the most colourful buildings. Mustafas, a department store, felt more of a bizarre with absolutely anything and everything inside from gadgets & gizmos to body lotions and potions. Not to mention every type of biscuit and chocolate you could want – it’s worth a peek inside.

All the colours around Little India.
Our third stop was Chinatown. We took the metro to save time and enjoyed sampling some of the street food at the many hawker stalls here.
Chinatown is definitely a good place to visit if you’re on a budget. Good food and lots to look at/explore.
In the evening, we walked to the Merlion and watched the light show in Marina Bay. For a free show it was pretty spectacular!

The free light show at Marina Bay.

Our flight to Bali was at 5am the next morning, which meant we had to leave for the airport at 2am. Having been busy sightseeing, we’d not booked any accommodation for Bali so it was a bit of a last minute scramble and very little sleep!

Malaysia: A One Week Visit

Disclaimer: This blog post is referring to travels in July 2017.

George Town, Penang (4 nights) >> Kuala Lumpur (3 nights)  >> Melaka (1 night)

It was a brief visit to Malaysia but we enjoyed every minute. After the night train from Thailand, we made our way to George Town.

George Town, Penang

A UNESCO heritage Town in Penang, George Town was such a good spot for travellers. The town itself is very walkable, making it ideal for those on a budget. We didn’t have much time to do our research before we arrived but just by wandering around we stumbled upon beautiful old Chinese architecture, endless cafes and incredible street art. This is a hipsters playground.

George Town was even home to a Cat Cafe where we lost pretty much lost an entire morning to the cats.

The Cat Cafe in George Town.

For something different, we visited the Tech Dome which had a laser maze, climbing wall and a vertical free fall drop.

Josh did so well on the climbing wall, Jonny needed some attention in the laser maze.

Food wise, the night hawker stalls were a good option with freshly made satay chicken skewers.

May I present to you Satay Chicken 😋

On our last day in George Town, we strolled through the free Botanical Gardens. The monkeys picked on unsuspecting tourists planning to eat in the gardens- not cool if you were said tourist but otherwise providing further free entertainment for us. Note: do not bring food into the Botanical Gardens.

The free botanical gardens near George Town, Penang.

Chew Jetty should probably get a shout out because it is entirely built upon handmade stilts, literally buckets of concrete. It reminded me of a smaller and much more authentic Pier 39 in San Francisco with all the little shops and stalls.

Exploring Chew Jetty. We decided to mark the occasion with henna tattoos.

Kuala Lumpur

We caught a bus to Kuala Lumpur and stayed near Central Market which had lots of shops and stalls (great for buying souvenirs/gifts) and food places.

On the outskirts of Kuala Lumpar was Batu Caves. They were easy to get to as they were situated at the end of the metro line, but remember to save all your energy for the steps!

Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur.

We visited the Petronas Towers at dusk to watch the transition from day to night when the towers light up. Then it was time for our last supper with Joshua before he sadly departed back to the UK.

The mighty high Petronas towers in KL.

Melaka City

We took the morning bus to Melaka so we had all afternoon to explore. Melaka is another UNESCO world heritage site in Malaysia due to beautiul old architecture. We really enjoyed this town; the quaint streets, boat ride down the river, the red square and street art made it a great place for an afternoon visit.

The colourful town of Melaka.

We ate at two really yummy places: Kocik Kitchen and Calanthe Art Cafe. I had a Laksa curry at both I loved the dish so much- a lovely coconut based soup with noodles. I had both a prawn and chicken one and both were great.

From Melaka, we took a 4-hour bus ride to Singapore.

One month in Thailand

Bangkok >> Krabi >> Ko Phi-Phi Don >> Khanom >> Ko Tao >> Ko Phangan

Brits get a 30-day visa exemption for Thailand which makes it a popular destination for holiday makers, gap-year students and travellers. Not to mention the cost of living is low, the weather is great almost all year round and Thailand hosts some of the best beaches in the world. So it’s no surprise that it can feel like half of Blighty are there with you. Safe to say we were a little apprehensive about visiting Thailand.

However, contrary to our initial apprehension we were left wanting more! As a self-confessed beach bum, the majority of our time was spent island-hopping in South Thailand. And boy, is there a lot of islands – some completely deserted. Even the secret paradise beach that Leonardo Dicaprio found in the film ‘The Beach’ can be located in South Thailand – though that beach admittedly is quite touristy now.

Here is a taster of what Thailand has to offer and that’s before even mentioning the food…

One month of travel distilled into nine photos. Tricky.

Our route: 

I couldn’t produce the usual Google map route because we visited islands in Thailand, so instead you have this amateur markup.

A) Bangkok – 6 nights (over two trips)
B) Krabi – 4 nights in Ao Nang and 1 night in Krabi Town
C) Phi-Phi island – 2 nights
D) Khanom – 5 nights
E) Ko Tao – 9 nights
F) Ko Phangan – 5 nights
Plus 1 night on the overnight train to get to the Thai/Malaysian border.

The Thai food had to be one of the cuisines we were looking forward to the most and on the whole it didn’t disappoint but watch the chili- it blew India out the water.

Thai food was very tasty as long as it was of a ‘Farang’ or foreigner spice level! Our favourites were the classic Green Thai curry, Massaman curry, Pad Thai and Mango sticky rice for dessert.

Bangkok

We actually went to Bangkok twice; the first time after India and the second time after Vietnam. On our first trip to Bangkok we visited the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.

Modelling the staple Thailand attire at Wat Phra Kraew and Wat Pho temples. Have you ever seen so much gold?

We stayed close to the notorious Khao San Road, a road famous (or infamous) for its bars and restaurants serving alcohol by the bucket. It was really fun, except for the fact I was still recovering from food poisoning in India so we didn’t hit the parties full force.

Khao San Road antics.

The second trip to Bangkok made up for that though with a lot of socialising and catching up with old friends.

Catching up with some old friends in Bangkok.

We checked out some of the humongous shopping centres complete with car showrooms and full gymnasiums. We also shamelessly went to Tesco Lotus just because it was like home.  Terminal 21 was particularly cool with each level represented by a different country, at the top was San Francisco with delicious food court.

The Golden Gate Bridge… in a shopping mall.

Krabi

We’d heard only good things about Krabi from other travellers so we decided to make this our next stop. Flights were really cheap too costing about £20 each. The main attraction of staying in Krabi is for island-hopping, aside from the bar crawls. It’s quite a big place and there are numerous places to stay- we chose Ao Nang which sounded like it would be lively and have lot of options for island-hopping.
June maybe wasn’t the best time of year for a visit because it was monsoon season. During our time in Krabi, I’d say 70 percent of the time it was overcast and 50 percent it just rained. A Thai massage became a great rainy day activity!

Singing in the rain.

Luckily, we did manage to get some breaks from the monsoon and enjoyed island hopping to Chicken Island (named after it’s shape) and Tup Island which connect by a sand bar at low tide.

The first deserted islands we visited via longboat. Pretty darn beautiful aren’t they?

We also went to Railay beach which you can only reach by boat. It had a beautiful cove (and monkeys!) and was popular with rock climbers. There were also nearby caves, one weird cave with penises in and one fairly normal cave (called Diamond Cave).

Railay beach and some strange caves.

Ko Phi-Phi Don

Ko Phi-Phi Don or Phi-Phi island was our next destination. Interesting fact, ‘Ko’ means ‘island’ in Thai.

We stayed for just two nights on the party island but managed to squeeze in a lot. The first afternoon, we got our bearings, stroked one hundred cats and lazed away on the beach with Chang beer and Jonny playing Ukelele.

Trippy snapchat filter.

The island-hopping boat trip from Phi-Phi was a full day stopping at the stunning Bamboo island, monkey beach, a gorgeous turquoise pool of water surrounded by rocks and Maya bay – famous because it was where the ‘The Beach’ was filmed. Getting to Maya bay was pretty funny as the water was too shallow for the boat to anchor so instead we had to rock climb and use a net to clamber up to gain access. We could then do the classic run through the palm trees, like Leonardo, to reveal the bay. Though it had got a little cloudy so it wasn’t quite the same beach.

Being like Leo and finding not-so-secret beaches (anymore) for the day.

Phi-Phi island although beautiful, did have a dark side: alcohol buckets at silly prices (£3.50 for a bucket of G&T), UV paint, beach and pool parties and even a bar with a boxing ring in the middle. As you can see in the photos below, we naturally stayed away from all this nonsense. This was also the night I lost my Thailand 7/11 toastie virginity – a staple most gap year students will mention.

Damn that toastie was worth it.

Khanom

This place was our retreat. A non-touristy town compared to the rest of the places we visited, with a beautiful stretch of white sandy beach.

Barely a soul around.

It is also home to pink albino dolphins and we were lucky enough to see two on a trip organised by our host.

Great 2 second capture by Mr Mansell of the speckled pink Dolphins.

We stayed at a really homely Homestay called Happy Resort and had a small bungalow all to ourselves with a kitchen so we could even make our own food- it was so nice to have cereal in the morning!

Our little bungalow complete with dog and hammock free of charge (and husband…just kidding).

Other highlights of our stay in Khanom were Hin Lat and Samet Chun waterfalls, the night market and Khanom Seafood restaurant which had an endless list of fresh seafood cooked in your preferred style. Scooters and motorbikes we £3 to rent all day so we took one each to get around.

Waterfalls, biking, hiking and eating- what else could you want?! Actually I could answer that, better roads would have been nice!

Ko Tao

We made Ko Tao mainly a diving trip, planning to do our Advanced Open Water PADI certification. The diving (and snorkelling) was incredible seeing so much underwater life including turtles, rays, barracudas, groupers, parrot  and bat fish and more. Sadly, we didn’t get to spot a Whale Shark which frequent the water around this area.

How to even begin to capture the diving and snorkelling to be had in Thailand.

We also went to Yuan Island which was gorgeous. The beaches and snorkelling around Ko Tao were great as well including Tanote Bay, Shark Bay, Freedom Beach and Mango Bay stopping at another view point.

Exploring Koh Tao on our non-diving days.


Koh Phangan

The home of the Full Moon Party! There wasn’t actually a full moon when we went but a half moon so instead we got tickets to the Half Moon party in the middle of the jungle! Josh, our third wheel, who had nothing better to do joyfully came out to meet us in Thailand. We had a lot of fun catching up and nursing his hangover the next day.

Half moon spectacular.

Besides partying, we enjoyed some of the beaches and waterfalls on the island.

Koh Phangan away from the parties.

Then it was onwards and upwards to Malaysia! The journey involved a boat, a long drive, one overnight train journey and a second train once we crossed the Malaysian border. It was long but actually didn’t feel too bad, the sleeper train had beds with curtains and all the transport ran very smoothly.

Nighty, night!

15 days in Vietnam – VietDAYUM – An almost useful blog

Ho Chi Minh City >> Hoi An >> Hue >> Hanoi >> Halong Bay

DAYUM, Vietnam was really good. I was excited to visit before we crossed the Cambodian border, then I had a bowl of pho from a street vendor who warmed my insides. Vietnam continued to warm my insides until we left 15 days later.

Get in ma belleh.

We were granted 15 days entry to ‘Nam without a visa as a UK citizen. In fact being a UK citizen in ‘Nam was great, I don’t think our empire did anything embarrassing over the years to mean we should be sheepish or coy wandering the streets. This feeling follows on from our Indian escapade.. “Where are you from?” “England… Sorry”

Where did 15 days go?

(A) Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) (Saigon) ~ 4 days
(B) Hoi An ~ 4 days
(C) Hue ~ 2 days
(D) Hanoi ~ 1 days
(E) Halong Bay ~ 3 days
(F) Hanoi ~ 1 day (stayed near Noi Bai International airport)

Our route through VietDAYUM.

HCMC is famously the set of The Avengers and the Iron Man films, Stark Tower is right here. Ok that might not be true, but I did read that the helipad is useless because the pressure pulsations from the chopper rotors would damage the glass sides. Tony Stark would never have designed it like that.

I. AM. IRON. MAN. Bitexco Financial Tower

HCMC was really walkable for a pair of relatively fit 20-somethings.

Vietnam life: coconuts, The Notre Dame (Who’d have thunk?!) and an unusually good looking Post Office.

The War Remenents Museum was really interesting, sobering, shocking, harrowing, I’m sure there are more adjectives.

The War Remnants Museum in HCMC.


The Vietnam War is a topic I find pretty difficult to think critically about, there is so much biased information out there. The museum is no exception, but it’s nigh on impossible to ponder on the politics when such horrific images are on display.

Nothing much held back in the museum exhibitions.

One small thing I noticed, (US) documentaries would call North Vietnam “communists”, the museum referred to the North as “patriots”. There were other small differences but ignoring the history, it is incredibly sad, particularly the multi-generational impact dioxin exposure (Agent Orange) has had. Let’s all just get along!

Photos of victims of Agent Orange in the War Remnants museum.

The place is worth a visit, as were the Cu Chi tunnels where most Westerners are too large to get into the original sized holes!

Gangly man problems

On a lighter note, I had a huge amount of hyperinflated Dong. We got around 30,000 dong for each Pound, so we were Vietnamese millionaires. What a feeling to have so much Dong.

We were lazy and paid a tour company to take us to the Mekong Delta for what I envisaged as a quiet afternoon, gliding through narrow jungle lined waterways. In reality that happened for about 5 minutes, followed by countless opportunities for us to relinquish our Dong at a thousand different souvenir shops. Lesson learnt!

Enjoying our 5 min ride on the Mekong Delta.


With our 15 day allowance depleting, we flew to our next stop Hoi An (We flew to a place called Da Nang 30 minutes away, there is a dragon bridge there that breathes fire, but it’s no Clifton Suspension Bridge).

Hoi An was very romantic and picturesque after sunset, with visitors cruising down the river along with candles placed in lanterns that light up the evening.

The lanterns in Hoi An make for great snaps.

The western girl that was working at one of the bars berating us for not wanting to drink all we can in exchange for my Dong just didn’t fit in here. I will keep hold of my Dong, thank you Missy.

We stayed at a super swish, super cheap guesthouse very close to a quiet, sandy, long stretch of beach.

The beach near Hoi An – An Bang Beach. Looking back, it doesn’t get much better than this!

Maybe it’s just me but before this trip, sandy beaches didn’t spring to mind when I thought of Vietnam. We were travelling during monsoon season, so we were thankful that our pad was close to the beach when the apocalyptic sky launched relentless bullets of water. Only afternoons were affected and it was quite therapeutic taking in the sounds of the rain from a sheltered balcony.

Hey Dog, I’m no storm chaser but I reckon you’re going the wrong way pal.

We begrudgingly caught a bus to Hue next, pronounced like ‘Way to go’, or “hoo-way to go”, “which hoo-way?” Hue.

We’re living in the future, freaking buses with lying down seats, incredible.

I’m partial to an amber ale, and here there was a beer called “Kuda” which was the closest thing I’ve tasted in Asia so far to an amber ale. It was properly cheap too, so thankfully I could hang on to the majority of my Dong.

Hoo-way

The citadel in Hoo-way is the star attraction, and for good reason. We spent most of the day roaming around. It reminded us of the Forbidden City in Beijing. In terms of old stuff that we have seen on our travels, this didn’t feel particularly old or historic and possibly took away from the experience slightly – but then I’m English, we have pubs older than time itself.

The Citadel.

Another flight, (hang on we’re supposed to be budget backpackers??) this time to Hanoi, pronounced Hanoi. Another very walkable city, but the underground train system that was under construction whilst we were there would’ve been appreciated a couple of times, it was freaking hot.

The gate to the old quarter and a few photos from the exclusive Mansell’s Wondering Walking Tour. No insurance provided to cover death by motorbike.

Lots of sights to take in; the old quarter, Ba Dinh square, pagodas.. We had a great time absorbing it all.

Hanoi City. The guys at the bottom thought I was gangly Jesus.

Our favourite sight was the train track that runs disturbingly close to houses and shops through the centre of Hanoi. It was awesome/slightly stupid to stand next to when one of the two daily trains cruised by. I’m surprised the locals have never accidentally derailed the train before with the fires, leftover barrels and building material we saw on the tracks during the day.

“I walk the line”

Last but not least we took a trip around Halong Bay with a dreaded tour company argh! A significant chunk of my Dong was handed over for this magical trip.

No one can hear you scream.

Our lucky stars must’ve aligned that day, we were upgraded to a higher class cruise boat! Our room was easily more swish than 90% of places we’d stayed on dry land.

We spent our time cruising through the bay, kayaking around, walking to a view point and eating nicely presented food (I’m more of a big dirty burger kinda guy but sure, the food looked great)

The upgrade felt like Titanic for us, not the end bit of the film just the first half

Does an anti sweat filter exist? Sweaty mess at the Ti Top viewpoint

After snoozing onboard, we stayed on a private island south of Halong Bay, it was a pretty sweet set up. The highlight was partying with a group of vacationing Vietnamese medical workers. They were incredibly keen for us to drink their seemingly infinite supply of beer as quickly as possible with them.. who are we to say no?! It took me much longer than it should to realise the female company in the group were in fact “hired in help”! Thinking back, it’s hilarious how much fun we all had given that we barely understood one another.. the universal language of getting wasted on cheap lager I guess.

Halong Haloooong will I slide, separate my siiiiiiiiiide. Red Hot Chili Peppers famous song inspired by Halong Bay (Absolutely not true)

We ended our trip back in Hanoi with rooftop drinks joined by our new Portuguese friends Diana and Pedro.

The day after the night before!

We could easily write another blog on the grub during our trip. The Vietnamese cuisine features pretty high on my list of favourites, especially bún chả (pork ribs with noodles and greens paired up with crispy spring rolls nomnomnom).

The food gods were on my side in ‘Nam, I didn’t get ill at all (Delhi belly FU) and it was cheap and freaking delish

So after 15 days in ‘Nam, I have no more use for my Dong. I exchanged my Dong quite a bit for goods and services in Vietnam but there is still Dong in my pocket. If anyone is interested in buying the remains of my Dong don’t hesitate to get in touch so you too can have a wonderful time using my Dong in Vietnam!