HO CHI MINH – HOI AN – NHA TRANG
HOI AN – HANOI – HALONG BAY
HO CHI MINH – HOI AN – NHA TRANG
HOI AN – HANOI – HALONG BAY
Having caught the ferry across to Picton, our first overnight stop on the South Island was Abel Tasman. It’s a beautiful little town situated in the heart of a national park right by the ocean. Since we had a free day here we decided to do a half day walking and kayak tour. In the morning we set off from our hostel along the coastal path that runs through the national park. Along the way there are a number of bays that you can stop off at and the views were amazing. In order to meet our guide for the kayaking we had to walk for about 3 hours until we reached one of the larger bays. Once we arrived we had a picnic lunch on the beach, which included the yummiest chocolate cake. We then set off in our kayaks and began the 3 hour paddle back to our starting point. The views from the water were even more beautiful than from the coastal path and we even got to see seals and their cubs on one of the islands.
Next stop after Abel Tasman was Franz Josef, the home of one of New Zealand’s most famous glaciers. Unfortunately, while we were there the weather was awful, meaning we were unable to actually go and see the glacier, since you have to get up there via helicopter. Instead we used our free time as an opportunity to relax and visit the hot pools, which were really cool. That night our hostel ran an event called Pizza Fest, in which you paid $20 for 2 hours of all you can eat pizza – I was in heaven!
From rainy Franz Josef we then arrived in sunny Wanaka, which was my favourite place in New Zealand just because of how unbelievably beautiful it is! Before arriving in Wanaka we stopped off in Fox Glacier, home to Lake Matheson. We were given time to get off the bus and do the two hour walk around the whole lake, which is absolutely breathtaking. There is one viewpoint in particular where Mt Cook can be seen rising up over the lake. The water is so calm that it reflects a perfect mirror image. None of us could believe how beautiful it was!
Once we had arrived in Wanaka we decided to spend the day by the lake and have a picnic whilst enjoying the sun. We had also been told about the Wanaka tree, which is supposedly the most photographed tree in the whole of New Zealand! We decided we needed to see this for ourselves so went for a walk to go and find it that afternoon. Safe to say it did not disappoint and truly was outstandingly beautiful.
The next day we ambitiously decided to climb Roy’s Peak, which takes about 3 and a half to four hours to reach the top. Having done the tongariro crossing, which is a lot longer, I thought this would be easy in comparison… But I was so wrong. There were very few flat sections, so we found ourselves climbing up the side of a mountain for the best part of 4 hours in 25 degree heat. Although it was a struggle and not something I would willingly put myself through again the views all the way up and especially from the peak were absolutely stunning!
After Wanaka we headed to Queenstown, which is in very strong contention with Wanaka for being my favourite place in NZ. We were especially excited because we would be meeting up with a couple of friends who had been on our Stray bus previously! The day we arrived happened to be St Patrick’s Day and the whole town was absolutely buzzing as a result. We quickly got into the spirit ourselves and had a brilliant night celebrating! The next day we were feeling a little worse for wear, which gave us the perfect excuse to try the infamous Ferg burger, which has made a huge name for itself and which we’d been hearing about since before we even arrived in NZ! Safe to say it did not disappoint and was without a doubt the BEST (and probably the biggest) burger I have ever had in my life!
Being the adventure capital of the world, it would have been wrong not to try one of the extreme activities that Queenstown has to offer. Unable to muster up the courage to do the world’s longest bungee jump, we decided instead to do the canyon swing. This involved throwing ourselves off a 109m high platform, free falling, and ending in a swing. There are supposedly over 70 different ways that you can jump off so Hannah and I decided to do it in tandem.. backwards…! The feeling of free falling was 100 times worse than with a skydive because you literally just feel like you are falling with nothing attached to you. Hannah and I were so scared we couldn’t even scream. Once we reached the bottom and started swinging we were both caught in a fit of giggles, unable to quite believe what we had just done. It was so so scary but absolutely awesome at the same time!
Before leaving Queenstown we decided to go up the gondola to see the panoramic views of the whole town. Just like Wanaka it was absolutely beautiful and hard to believe that people actually live and work so close to such beautiful scenery.
Sadly our time in New Zealand was coming to an end, but not before our last stop – Mt Cook. We only had one afternoon here before we were due to leave for Christchurch the next morning so we decided to spend it doing the Hunter Valley walk. The walk itself was pretty easy, being all fairly flat and only taking about an hour and a half one way. The view of the mountain once we reached the end was absolutely amazing and just goes to further show what an absolutely stunning place New Zealand is.
Leaving New Zealand was extremely sad – not only because we had the most wonderful time there but also because it meant that we only had 12 more days left of travelling and one more country left to visit! Next stop Vietnam!!
So on Monday 27th February we began our hop on hop off tour with Stray. Dragging ourselves out of bed and to our pick up location at some ungodly hour we met our tour guide/bus driver/fellow backpacker Jinx. He informed us that he had been given this nickname during his first week of training with Stray because everything he touched seemed to breakdown, which boded well for our forthcoming journey. One of the best things about Stray is it gives you the opportunity to meet all sorts of people from all over the world.
Our first stop was Hahei, a beautiful area in the Coromandel. Before checking in we stopped off at hot water beach, which is located directly above a hot spring – hence the name. The beach is known for digging your own natural hot tub. I was pretty sceptical at first but it actually does work! On our first night we made a group dinner all together, consisting of barbecued steaks and sausages with salads, coleslaw, and mash. Having recently been living on a diet of eggs on toast, Hannah and I were extremely excited to be having this meal and it was a great way to bond with the group. We then had a free day in Hahei, in which we explored the nearby beach and did the coastal walk all the way to stunning Cathedral Cove Bay.
Next stop was Raglan, which is most well known for surfing! It’s actually one of the only places in the world where you can ride the same wave for 5 minutes!! En route to Raglan we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls, which was extremely impressive.
Once settled in our hostel we were given the option to have a yoga session at ‘Inspiration Point’. Hannah and I jumped at the opportunity, having been wanting to try yoga since we started our trip. It was extra special to be able to do it on a platform looking over the ocean with the sound of cicadas all around us. Although our yoga skills may not have been up to par, the view most definitely was.
After Raglan we stopped off at Waitomo on our way to Rotorua. This was one of the stops I was most looking forward to as its where you can go caving and see the glow worms. We spent a total of 4 hours working our way through the underground caves, scrambling over rocks and wading through the freezing water. The highlight was floating through a section of the caves in rubber rings where all you could see in the pitch black were thousands of tiny lights from the glow worms that clung to the ceiling. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before and looked like millions and millions of stars.
After staying one night in the geothermal town of Rotorua, we moved on to Lake Aniphenua where we would be staying in a Maori village. Having been delayed an hour due to our bus breaking down, we were extremely happy to arrive and the views of the lake and surrounding scenery more than made up for it. The Maori family we were staying with were extremely welcoming and told us all about their tribe and the traditions of their people. We spent the afternoon doing various activities – some of us learnt how to make bracelets out of reeds while others learnt a special form of martial arts, including the haka which they performed for the rest of the group later that day, much to our amusement! I decided to take the cooking lesson, in which we learnt how to make special fried bread. The recipe itself was pretty straightforward and a lot of fun to make. The pressure was on as the bread we were making would be used for the group dinner that night! Once we had finished we got to try the bread with golden syrup – it was so delicious!
That night we had the most incredible traditional Maori feast prepared for us. To prepare the meat they wrapped it all up and placed it in a hole in the ground in which they used fire and water to smoke it. They covered it in tarpaulin and damp sheets and buried it all under soil to keep the heat in. It was then left to cook for 2 hours and by the time it was ready it had a wonderful smokey flavour. With the meat we had stuffing, potatoes, salad and our homemade bread. After that meal I had never felt so uncomfortably full in my life, but the food was so delicious it was definitely worth it!
Look out for my next post to hear about my adventures in the sky…
First things first, Happy New Year to you all!! I can hardly believe that it is now 2017 and I am already over a month into my trip!
Hannah and I had a fantastic New Year’s Eve in Sydney. We decided to treat ourselves to a dinner out at a Japanese restaurant called Saké in the Rocks in Sydney. The meal was some of the best sushi we’d ever had, including popcorn tempura prawns with spicy mayo and selections of sashimi, nigiri, and sushi rolls! We were in heaven!!
After the meal we went to a nightclub called The Argyle, also in The Rocks – very near the Sydney harbour. We enjoyed a few drinks there before walking over to the harbour bridge to catch a glimpse of the famous Sydney fireworks! Safe to say they did not disappoint – I would even have to admit that they are better than London’s!
Since New Year’s Eve we decided to explore some of the other beaches in Sydney, including Manly beach and Palm beach. One of the best things about our trip to Manly was the journey there. You have to catch a ferry from Sydney harbour, which goes right past the harbour bridge and opera house and gave us stunning views of the Sydney coastline.
My favourite beach we visited was definitely Palm Beach, which you might know from the tv program Home & Away. We had to get a 2 hour bus ride there, but it was definitely worth it! After grabbing a bite to eat we spent a couple of hours relaxing on the beach. The highlight of the day was doing the lighthouse walk up Barrenjoey headland. It was only about a 20 minute walk up there but it was very steep so quite a challenge in flip flops! Once we reached the top the views were absolutely breathtaking!
Sometimes when you’re travelling for an extended time and are without home comforts it’s good to do things that you would do at home to make you feel normal! We decided to go to the cinema and it actually made me temporarily forget that I was in Australia. We saw Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard’s new film Allied and I cannot stress enough that it is a MUST SEE – definitely one of the best films I’ve seen in a while! It was one of those films where with only five minutes left you still don’t know how it’s going to end. Set during World War II, it tells the story of a Canadian intelligence officer and a French resistance fighter who meet on an assassination mission in Casablanca and fall in love. In a world plagued by suspicion and unrest, Pitt’s character is ultimately forced to grapple with his undying love and trust for his wife and the British government’s suspicions of her true identity. I won’t give too much away, all I will say is that it perfectly balances romance and drama and won’t leave a dry eye in the house.
Now, taking my analytical English lit graduate hat off…. On the walk back to the hostel after the film we decided to stop off in a lovely little chocolate shop on Bondi road that we’ve been eyeing up for days. We each bought a few of their freshly made choccies, which were to die for! My personal favourite was the salted caramel chocolate heart!
Continuing along the theme of food, we visited some wonderful bars and cafes while in Sydney. Three words: wine, cheese & hiphop. If I told you that it’s possible to visit a bar that combines all three you’d probably think I was crazy. But such a place does exist and it’s amazing!! It’s called Big Poppa’s on Oxford Street and if you’re a fan of these three things, like I am, then I urge you to visit it if you’re ever in Sydney.
Also, Preach cafe on bondi beach serves the most yummy (and healthy!) food! It wasn’t until the waiter had visited our table 3 times that we finally decided what we wanted to eat as there were far too many amazing things to choose from. We even took a picture of the menu so that later that evening we could make our own version of their zucchini noodles, with chicken, pesto, tomatoes, avocado, and pine nuts!
Before leaving Sydney we were determined to visit the Blue Mountains. We decided to do it through a tour company advertised through our hostel called Oz Tours. Unfortunately, the tour itself was quite disappointing, as they made a number of mistakes with our booking and the actual tour itself was poor, unless you were willing to pay extra for the activities offered at each stop. Thankfully, being able to see the beautiful blue mountains and specifically the Three Sisters made up for it!
As I write we are currently on our way to Byron Bay, where temperatures are being reported at 47 degrees Celsius – wish me luck!!!
Bye for now,
As much as I loved Gili T and Lombok, it has been great to explore some of the regions of the Balinese mainland. Despite its size, Bali is such a diverse island, with Seminyak at one end of the scale, being a modern and bustling city, and ubud being at the totally opposite end, bursting with traditional Balinese culture and picturesque scenes.
Ubud was a great place for the bucket list. You might remember from my first post that one of the things I wanted to do whilst in Bali was to climb to the summit of Mt Batur in time to watch the sunrise. Well, I did it! And it was one of the most challenging, rewarding, and breathtaking experiences (both in the literal and metaphorical sense!!). Hannah and I were both apprehensive about the 2am wake up and the long, and by no means easy, climb to the top. However, once we finally reached the summit at 6am, just as the sun was beginning to peek over the surrounding mountains and scenery, it was all worth it.
Our experience of climbing Mt Batur was made even more incredible by our sighting of macaques (Balinese long-tailed monkeys) on our way down the mountain. There were so many of them, including little baby monkeys which were adorable. They were extremely tame and so would happily jump on your back, making for an excellent selfie opportunity! As part of the trek we also visited the famous coffee plantation and rice patties of Ubud.
Later that afternoon, Hannah and I decided that we hadn’t quite had enough of monkeys and so we went to visit the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Not only is this nature reserve full of macaques, but it is also home to a beautiful Hindu temple.
Our final day in Ubud was spent at one of Bali’s small zoos, which is home to a number of ginormous elephants and baby orangutangs. Having never seen an elephant in the flesh before, I was stunned at the size of them. It was great to get the chance to ride on top of one. However, the highlight of the day was getting to cuddle and take a selfie with a baby orang.
I would describe Canngu as a happy medium between Ubud and Seminyak; slightly bigger and more modern than Ubud, but far less developed and more relaxed than Seminyak. The highlight of Canngu for me was the food we got to try whilst there, especially the breakfasts and the traditional Indonesian dishes.
For our final couple of days in Bali we returned to Seminyak and enjoyed a relaxing day at Potato Head Beach Club, which is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Next stop, Australia!…..
So the first week of my travels has been completely jam-packed, hence my delay in updating my blog – sorry!
Our unexpected stop-over:
It’s safe to say our journey to Bali wasn’t exactly straight forward! And I thought packing would be my biggest challenge!!
After we said our emotional goodbyes to our parents, we were off! Everything was going as planned.. Up until it came to trying to land in Doha! The pilot began the descent a total of three times, with each one resulting in him pulling back up and changing course. Eventually we were informed we would have to land in Bahrain and wait there due to poor weather in Doha. By the time we did make it to Doha we had missed our flight connection and so were put up in a hotel until the next flight which was at 3.15am. We finally touched down in Bali at 5.30pm local time, a full 13 hours after we had been scheduled to arrive there.
Living the Contiki dream:
Thankfully, our first week in Bali has more than made up for our difficulty in getting here. We booked onto the Bali Island Hopper tour with a company called Contiki, which took us to Gili Trawangan and Lombok – you should definitely look them up if you’re thinking of travelling, they run tours all over the world! We made some amazing friends on the tour, who we hope to catch up with again on our travels!
Main tour highlights were:
I fell in love with this little island. It has absolutely no motorised transport so we hired bikes to get around or rode in cidamos (little horse-drawn carts). Everything about the island was vibrant and colourful, from the turquoise blue seas, to the striking sunsets over the beaches. Even the horses were dressed up in brightly coloured accessories, like headdresses and ankle bracelets.
The whole group went out snorkelling on our second day. The clarity of the water meant that there was so much to see, and being able to swim with turtles was definitely a highlight!
I am a massive foody, so getting to try the local cuisine was great. My favourite dishes were their famous beef randang, chicken satay, and a Balinese style chilli con carne! All the restaurants we went to in both Gili and Lombok were amazing. One in particular being in Gili, called Casa Vintage, where we ate whilst sat on cushions on the beach around a small hand-made wooden table with a bonfire and lanterns.
This place is famous for its waves. With most of the group being beginners, it was great to have our own instructors and by the end of the day everyone managed to stand up – me included to my surprise!
You’re unlikely to believe me when I tell you that I was able to have an hour full body massage and an hour foot massage for under £15! Their cheap price was in no way a reflection of the quality of the massages though, which were amazing!!
We never wanted this tour to end or to say goodbye to the wonderful people we’d met.
Now the tour is over we are back in mainland Bali for another week and are currently staying in Seminyak. In a couple of days we will be travelling to Ubud, which is further inland. I’ll let you know how I get on in these places soon!
Bye for now!