Classic backpacking errors

We’ve all been a rookie traveller at some point in our lives. Whether it’s trying to get the best deal on your upcoming snorkelling trip or mistaking that your flight is in 1 hour instead of 12 …. We had a few nightmare moments on our first big adventure backpacking and whilst we can look back and laugh now, it wasn’t so funny at the time! Hopefully giving you the heads up will mean you don’t make the same mistakes we did!

  1. That guy at the station 🚂

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Travelling abroad, especially in Asia, can cost you peanuts compared to the overpriced tickets to sit on the delayed, overcrowded central line. However, as with most things when out of your comfort zone, it’s not simple.

You get to the train station and there is a ‘line’ longer than when queuing for your favourite ride at Alton Towers. No one speaks any English and you begin wondering why you ever left the tried and trusted underground.

Out of nowhere, a smiling face approaches you and offers you assistance in accented English. You feel you have found your saviour as he directs you to the “foreign tourist office” just outside the station.

Never be fooled by the tourist desk outside the station, it does not exist and is only a sure way of paying a premium to reach your desired destination or never reaching it at all!

Top tip: Always lookout for the English sign posts. There is quite often is a designated tourist ticket office within the station but will never be outside the station’s grounds.

  1. Don’t assume 💭🚫

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When you’re away from home you can’t help but compare how things are back where you’re from. Whether it’s the mannerisms of the people you meet or simply the colour of the road signs but everything isn’t always as it first seems. As they say; don’t judge a book by its cover.

On H’s first trip to India she was surprised to see so many of the men holding hands along the street. H said she never realised there was such a large gay community in India… she quickly discovered they weren’t gay and that’s just how things are in India! Men often link hands or cuddle each other along the street with friends and family.

When you’re in a new country and they do things a bit differently, it’s always good to wait for a second glance before assuming!

  1. Mixing currencies at the airport 💵💴💶

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Ever mixed up your pound coin for a euro when at home? Tried getting rid of it by unlocking a shopping trolley or hoping the shopkeeper doesn’t spot it? We went one further when trying to get shot of our final few Filipino coins … at a Thailand airport! It was all for a good cause though, we scraped together enough change to get one last Krispy Kreme just before our flight!

Using a mixture of pesos and Baht we managed to scrounge together enough money across two different countries in an international airport. Unfortunately after we had finished the doughnut our tactic was discovered and we were sought out by the Krispy Kreme crew…  luckily we apologised and got away with paying for the doughnuts by card (probably should have done this in the first place!) lesson learnt here? Don’t get tight in an airport!

  1. Mistaking times for tickets 🎟

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It’s midnight and we’ve had one too many Bintangs on our last night in Bali. We decided to treat ourselves with a bit of luxury on our final night with a nice hotel. We’re safe in the knowledge that we have a bit of a lay in tomorrow as our flight isn’t until 13:00 tomorrow… 1.00pm … 1.00 …. 01.00 … 1am!!!

This wasn’t the first or the last time we almost missed our flight and if there is anywhere you don’t want to be overstaying your visa it’s Bali. Our top tip for any and all travelers would be to double, triple and quadruple check your flight times, no matter how organised you think you are, it’s a very easy mistake to make!

  1. Researching the country you’re in 📝

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When you’re visiting a new country you’re likely to have done some research especially if it’s a one off holiday. After a few months of backpacking and making a new home every few nights the easy mistake to make is feeling too comfortable with your surroundings.

When we first arrived in the Philippines we did a bit of research on Google images and thought we knew it all and that the whole of the Philippines was going to be a mixture of Palawan and Manila!

Unfortunately for us things took a turn for the worst almost immediately. When leaving the airport we jumped in a cab and directed the driver to San Jose, he responded by asking why we were going there? This wasn’t curiosity in his tone this was confusion and when we arrived we knew why! It was a very intimidating environment with nothing of relevance anywhere near us. We soon moved on but this wasn’t the end of our naivety.

When on the outskirts in Manila we knew that this was one of Australasia’s largest cities. We could see the skyscrapers far into the distance so we again hailed a cab but this time we felt sure we knew where we were going. To the city we said! The driver gave us that same confused look and asked where exactly we wanted to go.

We literally responded by pointing to the skyscrapers asking to be taken to the city centre – not even knowing the district we needed to get to was Makati! We got in the cab and 45 minutes later were dropped off at a mall. Not quite what we wanted but looking back what did we expect was going to happen? Always research your dream adventure before it turns into a nightmarish reality!

6) Wet washing – not a good look … or smell! 👕👖

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Being a backpacker, having your clothes washed is probably one of the most important yet annoying things to do as it takes a bit of planning! In most countries we’ve come across our hostel / hotel could arrange a laundry service for you, which we strongly advise you to use! Washing in the bathroom sink and hanging your underwear all around the room is pure agg! However, a word of warning is you’re likely to need 2 / 3 days before your washing is returned, so don’t leave yourself too short on clothes and give yourselves plenty of time!

We once had to catch a bus before our washing was ready and asked them to return it as it wa… half finished. That resulted in a screwed up damp pile of clothes in a carrier bag which we couldn’t pack and took AGES to finally dry. When they did they had to be rewashed because they stunk!

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We could go on and on about more of the silly mistakes we’ve made whilst travelling, it’s always going to happen! We just hope pointing out a few of the more obvious ones may help you out even a little bit when you’re visiting a new country for the first time!

 

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9 Backpacking essentials not to forget!

So, you’re planning your big trip backpacking 🎒, super exciting right? Well yes, but we also know how stressful the preparation can be; how will all of your clothes fit in your bag? Sorting visas, travel insurance and trying to remember absolutely everything you will need! Well, we’ve seen plenty of lists with what not to forget; camera, passport, wet wipes … but having experienced a few incredible backpacking trips, we found that there was something we always forgot that wasn’t on those lists, so we’ve put together nine crucial, unusual things to remember when you’re packing your bags!

1) ☕️ A ceramic mug ☕ Okay, a weird one you may think … but if you’re travelling in India you will learn that there are no mugs, anywhere! Your hot drink will be served in an even hotter metal cup, which is impossible to hold! This was more for when we were volunteering so we weren’t travelling around with the mug, but we’re sure if you wrap it in a pair of socks it will survive!

 

2) 💁🏽 One for the girls ; Tampons! 💁🏼 If you haven’t been to Asia before you won’t even think of this but buying tampons is not an option – in most countries we couldn’t find them anywhere … seriously. It was such a pain as it meant at certain times of the month H couldn’t swim etc, not ideal when you’re in paradise!

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3) 👂 Ear plugs 👂🏽 This may seem like an obvious one, but apparently we forgot! For all of those crazy nights in hostels when you just want a bit of shut eye, we could have really done with a pair of these!

4) 🎧 Headphone splitters 🎧 Saving space meant we only packed one iPad and for those long sleeper journeys we had to take it in turns to watch downloaded movies. For our second trip we invested in a headphone splitter so we could both watch on the go, and it was a million times better!

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5) 🏥 First Aid Kit ⛑ Again this might seem a little bit obvious but we were getting seriously annoyed with the amount of people asking for something from our first aid box that K’s brother and sister in-law very kindly put together for us before our big trip. We had everything, from antiseptic wipes to diarrhoea tablets, trust us, at some point you will need everything!

6) 💩 Toilet roll 💩 Another Asian thing but tell us something more essential than toilet roll and we’ll tell you you’re lying. Most toilets do not have any toilet roll, you may be able to master the squatting but the bum gun requires an element of skill not everyone possesses! ALWAYS have toilet roll on you and pick up as much as you can, when you can … you’ll thank us later!

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7) 🍵 Nescafe Cappuccino sachets 🍵 Whilst backpacking we found that some countries served up delicious coffee, however others were completely slacking, too sweet, too strong, no milk, we so often just couldn’t find coffee that we enjoyed. When we went back to India to volunteer we packed plenty of little sachets and they were life savers, most hostels/hotels will provide a kettle, and then you’re good to go!

8) 🔊 Bluetooth speaker 🎼 We didn’t take a speaker for the first year we spent travelling, however we did on our second trip and we can’t believe we ever lived without one! We had it on constantly and added a bit of soul to those evening’s when you’re kicking back with a cool Kingfisher (or alternative international beer🍺)

9) 🙋🏾‍♂️One for the lads; a sarong 🙋🏼‍♂️ This is probably something most girls will pack anyway, but boys … we bet you’ve never considered packing a sarong! In Asia you will visit more temples than you can count and most of them require you to cover your legs. This means no shorts and it’s always far too hot for jeans! Save a bit of money and pack a sarong, they’re often overpriced outside the temples.

So there you have it! Happy Travels guys! ✌🏽

Coming home … again!

Some of you may have read our blog on coming home back in 2015 after we returned from a year long backpacking adventure. We were finding it so difficult to adjust back to reality and tried to express our feelings for other travellers to relate to. We had to realise it was okay to feel like we didn’t fit in with our society anymore but we found it extremely hard to explain it to the people around us and somehow writing about it was easier.

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So what happened when we finally started to settle back in to normality? We established a routine at work, enjoyed spending time with friends and family and then… decided to go again!

After just 12 months of being home, we did exactly that, this time not to backpack but to spend a few months at Our Home Community, as well as squeezing in some more of India and ticking Sri Lanka off our bucket list too.

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It was harder to leave this time, although it was what we both wanted, we had more doubts about going, right up until the journey to the airport. Were we doing the right thing going again? At 25 & 26, are we too old? Should we be buying a house and settling down? All these questions went round and round in our heads, and when we booked our flights to go, we were really emotional, not excited. Scared.

If leaving to go away for our second time was hard, imagine how hard it was to come back.

As we left for the airport we were so incredibly anxious, especially with it being 3:30am, we were actually still saying it’s not too late to change our minds. However after a power nap in the car, something clicked and as we arrived to the airport excitement kicked in. OKAY, WE’RE GOING AGAIN! It was like the polar opposite of what we’d been feeling in the weeks building up to our departure.

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After the emotional goodbyes before we knew it we were back in India and this time it was even better than before. We had two weeks to explore before heading to Our Home and we kept expecting something bad to happen, but it just didn’t! You either love or hate India but for us, each time we go gets better and better.

The main purpose of our trip was to spend a substantial amount of time with the children, for them to really get to know us and feel that they have us there to support them, no matter where in the world we are. We wanted them to know that from the day we met them in 2015 we are always going to be there in whatever way we can. (read about our experiences at Our Home)

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What could possibly be bad about spending three life changing months with the most amazing children and community in the most beautiful place in the world? Leaving.

When we talk about Our Home if you know us, you know we’re so passionate, and it’s because we’ve found our happy place. This is where we feel like we belong, we were born to do this. And therefore leaving was one of the worst, and most emotional days of our lives. The week building up to it was unbearable in itself and we had plenty of conversations with the children about why we couldn’t stay forever which was truly heart breaking. These children needed us and to have to leave was awful.

We told ourselves when the day was upon us we would be strong and not get upset, but that went straight out of the window when we woke up at 4:30am to find one of the boys just sitting outside our room waiting for us. It was like a slap in the face that our journey had come to an end. Every single child woke up extra early to see us off and give us letters and flowers, their little faces were just too much to cope with and we couldn’t stop hysterically crying. So much for being strong.

We had to take contentment that we achieved more than what we originally went to do, not only teaching and helping with day to day duties but building relationships and bonds with them that can never be broken. They all know that we will ALWAYS be there to support them and we will visit as much as we can, although it was the end of this trip it was just the start for our future with them. We came away with the best memories, together we experienced not only fun, laughter and love but we also endured the rawness, truthfulness, tears, emotions and overcome so many firsts. In the words of the children “You going time you no cry, you going time you happy only.” As we pulled away from Our Home we turned back to see them all just looking longingly with such emotion in their eyes, it’s a memory that will stay with us forever.

We had just over a month left to travel some more of India; Hampi, Bangalore and Goa before heading to Sri Lanka. It took us a while to get over feeling sad and couldn’t help but feel guilty in everything that we did, we had to give ourselves a good talking to and realise if we weren’t going to enjoy ourselves we may as well go home there and then. Not going home immediately was actually the best thing we could have done as it gave us a bit of time to adjust before going back to reality.

Our incredible trip very quickly came to an end after a life changing five months. We had a wonderful last few weeks but not only did we stay in luxury hotels, see beautiful views and eat delicious new delicacies but our time sleeping on the floor with no water or electricity, eating boiled rice for days and experiencing first hand what a cruel world it can be was what made our trip. We shape our world and we have the power to change it. We feel so lucky to be experiencing life and all it has to offer together, hopefully doing something along the way to help.

Landing back in England was just as we imagined, I mean we knew right? We’d done it before. Wrong. This time was so much harder, and it’s because we’d left our family in India behind.

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How is it possible to even try and settle back into every day London life when you’ve spent months living such a basic life with orphaned children in India? How can we justify spending £15 per day to travel to work when this is enough to feed them all? How can we spend hundreds of pounds on new clothes or on a night out when there is still so much suffering in this world? Our lives are a daily struggle of trying to fit back into society but also not forgetting what’s going on out there.

There is no answer to these questions … we just don’t know and are still trying to figure it all out. The truth is we will never be the same again. Our friends and family tell us how we’ve changed, and of course we have, you couldn’t experience what we have and be the same person.

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It’s an overwhelming sense of emotions coming home, not only because we miss the children but because we’re back to our same old life where nothing seems exciting. Everyday we have an overpowering wanderlust and always find our conversation drifting to “do you remember when we did …” we will never not have the desire to explore and experience new things, but how far do we go? Do we keep going again and again when there is that pressure on us to settle down, buy a house, get married and have our own children? Why can’t we be that couple that goes and settles down in an orphanage an India? That may sound crazy to you, but to us it couldn’t make more sense.

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It’s a really confusing time, and honestly? We don’t know what we want. Yes it’s the perfect fairy tale ending that we’ve spent eight amazing years together, seen the world, volunteered in India and now we should have our fairytale wedding and do everything by the book. Sounds great right? We’re not so sure …

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

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Sri Lankan Paradise; Trinco

Trincomalee was the final stop on our Sri Lankan adventure and what a way to end it was! Picture perfect paradise from start to finish and the best way to look back on our time in India and Our Home before finally reminiscing on our incredible experiences in Sri Lanka.

Where to stay:

Arriving via bus from Sigiriya we jumped in a tuk tuk from the station to our home for the next few nights; Trinco Blu by Cinnamon. What a home this was, as soon as we walked through the reception we were greeted with a cool drink, a refreshing flannel and a beautiful view which was on par with some of the best hotels we’ve ever stayed in.

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If we didn’t feel like we were in a movie already we sure did when we were informed that our room had been upgraded to the ultimate beach front cottage! The room was huge with such an airy feel to it. The whole place just forced you to relax and as we pulled the curtain back things just got better. Looking out was the stunning picturesque beach dotted with palm trees and a giant anchor. We could simply wake up and roll out of bed straight onto the beach!

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The hotel pool was also an oasis with two restaurants to choose from including a buffet option and a fine dining experience at Crab.

What to do:

We were enormously disappointed when we were told no whales had been seen in the waters for over a week and were strongly advised not to go on a whale watching experience with such a high chance of a no show! Nevertheless we did manage to visit Pigeon Island which was an experience on par with the Great Barrier Reef in Australia!

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We snorkelled through the rainbow of coral for a couple of hours and no matter how many times we’ve been snorkelling we’re always astounded at the beauty beneath the surface of the sea. Alongside the coral was an array of marine life from Nemo to Dory and all in between but that was nothing compared to what came next.

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After a quick bite to eat we walked over to the other side of the island to delve into the deep blue again but this time we were told to stay close to our guide. Having snorkelled a fair few times before didn’t expect to see much we hadn’t seen before but Pigeon Island is most definitely our best ever snorkel experience!

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After a few minutes of swimming we found what we were looking for; the most spectacular sea turtle we’ve ever seen! The most wonderful thing about this experience was its comfort and naturalness around us, it didn’t swim away or even towards us, it just went along with its business which made for some amazing pictures!

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With all our attention locked on the turtle we didn’t even notice the other incredible sea creatures lurking just beneath us…

After some frantic pointing from our guide we finally noticed that we were surrounded by a herd of black tip reef sharks! We were terrified but amazed at the same time, especially when one of them swam towards us at a significant pace before turning away. The sheer speed of these magnificent sea creatures was amazing and even more scary given they were nearly two metres in length! We were so amazed we forgot to breathe through our snorkel at times as our jaws dropped with their awesomeness despite being underwater. We can’t think of enough superlatives to describe this amazing adventure.

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Other than our boat trip, we spent our time relaxing in the hotel going between the beach and pool and throughly enjoying some time to relax.

Where to eat:

Being at Trinco Blu we were already staying in the same quarters as some of the best restaurants in Trinco. Although they weren’t cheap, you get what you pay for so we decided to treat ourselves to a night at Crab and it was delicious, however, not quite as enjoyable as our meal at The Fat Crab in Colombo but the beach side setting in Trinco was gorgeous. We also had breakfast included in our visit and loved the array of different options the buffet had to offer.

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We actually spent most of our evenings eating at Tonic’s, a beach shack located just next door to our hotel. The food was super tasty and reasonably priced for its location which added up to us revisiting at least eight times in four days! Gaining an alcohol license in Sri Lanka can prove difficult but Tonic’s had a unique way of getting around that, just ask for a “strong cup of tea” and thank us later.

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Our whole experience in Trinco was incredible. We absolutely loved the hotel, the food and our once in a lifetime snorkelling experience. A place to recommend? Absolutely and without doubt, we extended our stay for an extra night and if we didn’t have to catch a flight home, we’re sure we’d have stayed even longer!

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Mauritius; The star and key of the Indian Ocean

 

Mauritius is one of those once in a lifetime destinations. A honeymoon spot for many or just an extraordinarily luxurious holiday that creates memories to last a lifetime. We were lucky enough to win a trip to the star and key of the Indian Ocean through the #BeachLife photo competition with Stylist Magazine and Veranda Resorts. If this blog teaches you anything please let it be that yes, people really do win those incredible holiday competitions you see on the TV and in magazines, just give it a go!

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Flying with Air France we were not looking forward to the 12-hour flight that awaited us but it turned out to be one of our most comfortable flights ever with a whole row to ourselves… each! We were able to sleep the full journey and arrive in the country we had been dreaming about ever since we got THAT tweet from Stylist Magazine.

We had never been to Africa before and although this wasn’t mainland Africa, we still didn’t know what to expect. Arriving in September it was pleasantly warm and we set off on our journey to the very north of the island. With the island being a mere 2040km² we drove the full length of the island within an hour, picking up some insightful information from our driver with the usual taxi chat. Did you know Mauritius’ biggest export is Prince’s tuna? Neither did we but we were more interested in the local rum which was to come later!

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Veranda Pointe Aux Biches was absolutely incredible. We have had a number of discussions since returning whether this was our best holiday ever and the hotel was definitely a major factor. The reception immediately set the tone with a sand and wooden theme almost forcing you to relax. Upon arriving the first thing you are asked to do is take your shoes off and immerse your feet under three water spouts representing peace, love and happiness. This might be a bit cringe for some but what a fantastic change to arriving and being asked for your booking details and credit card before so much as a hello!

We were toured through the hotel which was the most wonderful and peaceful setting we have ever encountered on holiday. The hotel has two pools, bars, restaurants , a spa, plenty of activities to get involved in, a private beach and the most welcoming staff you will ever meet. Being based in the Privilege room, we were free to eat at either of the two restaurants which offered very different but equally delicious food and impeccable service. The Sandy Lane village bar, pool and restaurant were for adults only, all-inclusive customers but really, you would have the holiday of a lifetime in any room in. We were free to roam to any part of resort and that’s exactly what we did, spreading our time between the Sandy Lane and Foot-Loose areas.

Our room was filled with complementary coffee, tea, fruit, snacks, coke and beer which were all replenished everyday. The towels were shaped into different animals each time you went back to your room and the view of the balcony was so perfect you could have a good time without even leaving the room.

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Although it wasn’t the height of summer, we couldn’t resist swimming in the pools and sea. We also made the effort to take out some of the free to use water sport equipment laid on by the hotel such as windsurf boards and kayaks. The Pina Coladas flowed all day, everyday and we soon found the coconut rum to be our drink of choice. A few nights ended with us being slightly more flamboyant that usual thanks to a few too many cocktails but if you can’t get carried away on holiday you may as well stay at home!

The Senses restaurant was a buffet style setup with fresh grilled steak, fish and chicken with an everlasting spread of supplements to go with it. The vegetable gratin was one of the most heavenly things we have ever had and for us to pick out the vegetable as our favourite item you know it was good! The all-you-can-eat style meant you could spend hours eating and chatting as the night wore on with the the cocktails still flowing freely.

Although we loved the buffet area, the Sandy Lane restaurant was on another level. Michelin style service was matched by scenic views made for memorable moments. The restaurant continued with the sand theme as you felt your toes settle into the sand as your listen to the waves crashing beneath the stars of the sky.

The food was impeccable with a different five course meal served up each night. From succulent steak to freshly caught fish brought in from the sea just a few metres away, this was a real fine dining experience. Deserts ranged from coconut emblazoned crème brulee to hand made profiteroles fit for a king. The food at Veranda Resorts was something we are sure we will never experience again, and that is a very upsetting thought!

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Wanting to see more of the country, we did venture out of the resort as we visited the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden and L’ Aventure du Sucre. The botanical gardens were a beauty and we recommend taking a picnic with you as it is a great place to explore where you can spend hours losing yourself within the exotic plants and giant tortoises. The sugar cane factory is great if you are keen on finding out more about the heritage of this incredible little island. It is more than just a sugar factory and explanation of processes, it also tells you about the people of the country, their customs, values and their beliefs.

We visited Trou aux Biches on a few occasions and thoroughly enjoyed taking some time away from the resort to see the real Mauritian people as we walked through small villages and chatted with the locals. The beach itself was yet another breathtaking setting but the same could be said about most of Mauritius. We also took a Veranda catamaran cruise to Bernaches Islet where we enjoyed a BBQ to conquer all BBQ’s, and spent a few hours taking in the perfection of Mauritius.

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On our last day we rented out some bikes to ride out to the sugar cane fields. Cycling through the winding roads and listening to the roar of the waves beside us, we made it to the fields which were a bit further out the way than they had seemed in the car! The long ride was well worth it though as we settled down and explored the fields that could have lasted forever if we only had our eyes to judge it by.

Mauritius has become that holiday that will never be beaten. That luxury break that cannot be topped and that memory that will never be lost.

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The Asian Circle

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KHTravels are working with The Asian Circle on a mission to support vulnerable women in India and South Asia. We are honoured to be assisting with their social media campaign raising awareness of the fantastic work that they carry out daily. Please help spread the word and follow them on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram!

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The Asian Circle is working together with Oxfam in the tribal Adivasi communities in North East India to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women. Oxfam is helping the government, police and judiciary to apply the laws that protect women. This includes setting up support centres in police stations to provide shelter, legal advice, counselling and launching a state-wide campaign to raise awareness of and change attitudes towards violence against women.

Around the world, 35% of women and girls suffer physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a day dedicated to raise public awareness about this and other appalling statistics and that is what we’re doing!

Adventures in Sigiriya

We traveled to Sigiriya from Kandy via bus which was one of the better bus journeys we’ve experienced in Asia, and we always enjoy seeing a new country’s landscape despite what the bus may be like! After several hours of travelling we were wondering when and how we were going to get off the bus as there seemed to be no sign of Sigiriya or slowing down by the driver. Suddenly the bus stopped on the highway in what seemed like the middle of nowhere leaving us standing at the side of the road with all our belongings and no sense of direction. It was only when we looked up that we saw the incredible golden temple overshadowing us.

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We always had the intention of returning to Dambulla once settled in our accommodation in Sigiriya but this surprise stop had saved us that extra journey. The temple itself was like much of Sri Lanka; magnificent. The giant buddha on top is as big as it sounds and there are surprisingly few tourists around giving you the time you need to explore and capture this wonderful temple. Perhaps as we wasn’t expecting to be exploring this temple there and then we were all the more excited, and it was by far our favourite temple of Sri Lanka.

Where to stay

We stayed in Sigiri Rock Side Homestay after reading several of its five star reviews on TripAdvisor. The place lived up to its reviews with the couple management team doing their utmost to making us feel welcome and comfortable.

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The best place about Sigiri Rock Side Homestay was the fantastic hospitality you receive. As well as an enormous breakfast you have the offer of dinner for $5 and it is our duty to tell you that it was incredible but be warned, make sure you leave lots of room as it’s literally an endless stream of food! We would definitely recommend eating their rather than eating out if you do stay as most of the options close by offer food no better than average, and we loved sampling the many traditional Sri Lankan home cooked dishes. The rooms were really cute and cosy, with chairs outside to relax in the evenings whilst you’re surrounded by wildlife and even are visited by plenty of monkeys!

What to do

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Lion Rock is voted one of the best places to visit in the whole of Sri Lanka and we were not disappointed. At $30 a ticket it’s not cheap but like with the rest of Sri Lanka; you get what you pay for. This was a heritage site that was well maintained, well guided and simply awe-provoking. The climb itself wasn’t easy but it wasn’t too difficult so you should be fine with a bottle of water and some cool clothing. We saw a number of people stop at the halfway stage but we would say that once you’re there the hard part is over so make sure you continue your ascent when you’re ready to reach the summit. Once at the top you explore the grounds of this once great fortress and are taken aback by the views of this beautiful part of planet earth! The whole experience is a once in a lifetime moment that we will never forget, we could have stayed up there for days, it was stunning.

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Unfortunately we spotted no lions during our time at Lion Rock (just kiddin’ we know there aren’t any, but we enjoyed letting our minds wonder!) so next up was time for some wildlife spotting! We had intended on visiting Wilpattu National Park but time was running out for us so we did some research and found you could do a wildlife safari right here in Sigiriya at Minneriya National Park! We only found this out after speaking to the kind people at our homestay who set up our safari in the morning and by the afternoon we were standing tall on a safari jeep wading through the jungle at less that $100 dollars for the pair of us.

We were worried that our last minute change of plan was going to result in a half hearted safari but this just wasn’t the case. Climbing Lion Rock and embarking on a safari made for one of the most memorable days of our lives! An absolutely incredible experience as we came across peacocks, pelicans, eagles, giant lizards, hundreds of elephants and so much more!

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We saw a few complaints on Trip Advisor saying the plains were dominated by elephants but this was perfect for us as we both love these gentle giants from our experience at Elephant Nature Park.

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We watched from the roof of our private jeep as the elephants roamed free in a natural environment where they could be themselves, naturally and safely. The baby elephants rolled in the mud, the teenagers tussled and played while the elder statesmen ate their own body weight in food! An absolutely magnificent day with nothing but fond memories and awesome photos for us to look back on with.

In case you haven’t got the drift by now we absolutely loved Sigiriya as we seemed to be falling in love with all of Sri Lanka. Next on our trip was Trinco and surely it couldn’t get any better, could it?

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Colombo; What to do & where to eat

A city we fell in love with instantly, that crazy, intense, knock you off your feet kinda love. Arriving in Colombo straight from India, we thought we knew what to expect; smog, bikes, tuctucs, rubbish, too many people, too many horns, too little pavement and a variety of smells that send your senses spiralling out of control. However, we were wrong! Never judge a book by its cover, Colombo was so far from what we expected, and in the most wonderful way.

As we left the airport and headed straight down the highway at 5am towards the city, we immediately felt a kind of culture shock. Having spent three months in India, being a passenger in an electric car on a smooth road with accompanying signs and markings was somewhat strange, but oh so good!

Where to stay

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We were spending three nights of luxury at the wonderful Jetwing Colombo Seven, a brand new stylish hotel located in the heart of the city. If you’re looking for slice of paradise during your Colombo stay than this is the place to be. Panoramic views of the upcoming skyline, a rooftop infinity pool and cocktail bar open until 2am, huge rooms with the most beautiful decor, an indulgent spa and room service to die for, this was heaven and the perfect place to celebrate K’s birthday and our eight year anniversary!

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What to do

Our first evening was spent wandering the cute, cobbled streets of the Old Dutch Hospital which offered plenty of eateries to choose from, we opted for a little Chinese place and whilst in Sri Lanka you have to try the garlic Kankun, its incredible and very similar to Vietnam’s morning glory. There are plenty of bars to choose from, our particular favourite was the Tap House serving very cheap beer and great pub grub! The area is also home to several shopping outlets open till late to quench your thirst for shopping.

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We love experiencing a new country’s culture and whilst in Colombo we visited Gangarama and Seema Malaka Buddhist temples. Both so beautiful, entry fee is 300lkr which admits you into both which is an added bonus. The temples oozed culture and with so many buddhas around we didn’t know where to start. There was something very special about these temples and despite being in the middle of a huge downpour it didn’t stop us enjoying their uniqueness. Seema Malaka is located in the same lake as Gangaramaya Park and has great views of the surrounding areas.

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Next up was The Sri Lanka National Museum which had an entry price of 1500lkr per person. It was another lovely building and very informative about the history of this amazing country, located on huge grounds it’s worthy giving yourself a couple hours to explore the museum and surrounding areas.

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We wanted to see a Sri Lankan shopping mall and chose Arcade Independence Square from the many options. The quirky layout was great to wander around and so different from the standard shopping centre. We were lucky with the weather and when we came outside to see the Bandaranaike Memorial we could relax and enjoy the sun! We love trying out the cinemas in every country we visit, not only because they’re substantially cheaper than the cinemas in the U.K. but throughout Asia they seem to be so classy! This one was a little on the small side but so clean and welcoming and had a very traditional feel.

Pettah market is great to check out if you want to experience some local markets and get away from the tourist hubs. You can simply wander around taking in the hustling streets of traders and maybe even try some traditional local snacks. The red mosque in the centre of it all is also worth paying a visit.

Where to eat/drink

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We’re big foodies and first up on our list of restaurants to try was The Fat Crab. We opted for the fish platter which was nothing short of delicious, overflowing with lobster, calamari, scallops, tiger prawns and of course their famous crab… we have been dreaming about this place ever since!

Next up was the highly recommended Gallery Café, with crab to start and beef and tuna steaks for main, the food in Colombo just seemed to be getting better and better! Unfortunately, we had had one too many cocktails and didn’t have room for a dessert which is what they are renowned for with over 30 on the menu! Oh well … we will have to return to Sri Lanka one day.

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Barefoot Cafe is also an unmissable place to visit, both for the food and the shopping. Whilst visiting the cafe we enjoyed Lion beer, fresh falafel pittas and beef bagels with such fresh and healthy ingredients. After our tummies we’re nicely full we enjoyed shopping through their endless supply of organic products which are all made in Sri Lanka, it is a shop you could spend hours in admiring each carefully crafted item!

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On K’s Birthday, we went to the famous Galle Face Hotel for bellinis by the sea in both the Pool Bar and Travellers’ Bar. It was lovely to spend a couple of hours simply relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere of this stunning hotel.

Although just a flying visit our time in Colombo was wonderful, we fell in love with the people, the sights, the food, the cleanliness, the transport, literally everything. We couldn’t fault anything about our time here and we’re incredibly excited to see what the future holds for this incredible city.

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When not to Goa!

Goa was the perfect ending to our year travelling the world in 2015 so we thought what better pick-me-up after leaving the kids at Our Home than a few weeks of luxury back there. Unfortunately, it was a far cry from the seaside paradise we remembered from last time we visited.

Cavelossim

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Carrying on from where we left off last time we returned to Cavelossim to stay at Veeniola Guest House. Upon our arrival it all seemed a bit quiet as this place was full of travellers last time we visited but there was a spark missing this time around as we soon found out it was low season.

We never thought being in Goa during low season would be particularly bad as we quite enjoyed the thought of quiet evenings sipping pinocoladas on the beach front. What we didn’t expect that there would be nowhere left to get a pinocalada from! All the shops that were thriving from our last visit had been closed for weeks and the many beach shacks had been reduced down to one.

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Instead of relying on the local beach we hired a scooter and in the evenings rode into the local town for dinner and drinks with Mike’s Place being a particular favourite. We spent the days relaxing on the beach and going for long walks, but to be honest we were pretty bored and hoped we could find better elsewhere!

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Moving to Agonda we decided to treat ourselves to some nice accommodation as despite the friendly staff at Veeniola it didn’t exactly trigger that holiday feeling you hope for.

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We stayed in a beach shack at Jojolapap’s and it was a stark improvement. You get what you pay for and Veeniola was considerably cheaper but Jojolapa’s beach front setting enabled us to relax as we wanted to when first heading to Goa. Oh, they also have the cutest puppy pug you’ll ever meet, just don’t grow too attached as you can’t keep him.

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The beach was lovely and significantly better than Cavelossim which had deteriorated in the two years from our previous visit with a lot more litter scattered in the sand. The sea at Agonda was very wavy just as we like it, the beach was clean and we enjoyed walks up to the rocky area to watch the sunset over the cove.

If you’re in Agonda beach you have to visit Fatima’s for some of the best food you’ll encounter in India! Everything on the menu was exquisite and it costs between £3-£5 a meal! Although it was still very quiet and a lot of the little shops were closed, it still had a good atmosphere which is what we needed!

Cola Beach

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We hired a scooter at 300 rupees for the day and decided to visit Cola Beach. We had read reviews saying it was a hidden gem of a beach and when asking for directions we were told the journey is “a little rough” but how rough could it be?

After 20 minutes of smooth riding we came to a cross roads that directed us to a side road to Cola Beach. The problem was that this was no road it was just sand and boulders which has been slightly flattened. We muddled our way down the route and H got flung off the back of the bike one too many times but when reaching our destination we soon found it was all worth it.

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Climbing down the steps of a steep cliff we found the most incredible secluded beach with a fresh water lake to one side and 5 metre waves of sea on the other! This was something we’ve never experienced before and if you are ever in a position to visit Cola Beach this is one place you don’t want to miss! Make sure you pack yourself enough water to last however as you won’t find any beach shacks here!

The North

All good things come to an end and as we left Jojolapa we had hope that the north of Goa would be livelier than the south and having never visited the north before we were excited for what it had to offer. As we reached our next destination in Mandrem we were delighted to see that Fab Hotel actually reflected the pictures when booking the accommodation! The hotel had nice large, airy rooms, an on site bar and restaurant and swimming pool enclosed by arched palm trees! This bar was also where we were introduced to Bira beer which had now become K’s favourite Indian beer!

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Sadly the hotel was as good as it got in Mandrem and for the rest of north goa. We explored several of the local beaches and we were disappointed to see that they were full of rubbish, dog poo and just not a nice place to be. You could tell we were out of season as the whole area felt like no one cared anymore which is not how any environment should be treated. Overall we are certain that if we return to Goa we will be sticking to the south and avoiding the landfill like north.

We left Mandrem with the knowledge that the only good thing about the area was Fab Hotel and were by now just looking forward to our next trip to Sri Lanka. We thought four nights in Panjim would be too much before our flight so we booked at apartment for two nights in Arpora.

We booked to stay at Zeebo Suites and as soon as we pulled up to the hotel we felt like we had been let down again. However, you should never judge a book by its cover and this was exactly the case here! We were led to our top floor apartment overlooking the huge swimming pool and were absolutely delighted. We had a full private kitchen complete with gas stove and washing machine, a living room with premium HD which was replicated in the bedroom. We had sofas, two balconies, a huge fridge and it even had great wifi! This apartment was less than £20 a night for two people and we were debating moving in permanently!

We actually chose to visit Arpora for the night market but as with most of Goa it was closed but that didn’t bother us as it meant we could make the most of our new pad! (You can see how disappointed with Goa we must have been to be excited to stay in the apartment!)

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The best part was yet to come however as almost all the restaurants were closed we were wondering what we were going to eat. Then miraculously a leaflet was slipped under our door advertising The Pink Chilli. We don’t believe in religion but this was a sign from God to say “treat yourself, you deserve it!”

Pink Chilli was a 20 minute walk from the apartment but it was so worth it. Arriving at the restaurant you’re greeted with a pink tuc tuc and enter into a world of quirky Indian imagination. Bollywood posters from all eras are plastered on the walls, you’ll find the Indian version of the Mona Lisa and Michael Jackson in a turban! The food was fabulous as well, not the cheapest place to eat but it was worth every penny and you have to try the pulled chicken tikka burger!

After much deliberation we decided staying in our apartment was not better than flying to Sri Lanka so we moved to Panjim for two nights before our flight.

We stayed at Hospedaria homestay which is extremely highly rated on TripAdvisor. The accommodation was lovely and the room was one of the biggest we’ve seen at a homestay but we couldn’t justify exactly why it was so highly rated as we thought it was just a nice place to stay.

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We visited Panjim Church which was a nice building but we wouldn’t say you’d be missing out if you didn’t visit during your stay in Panjim. What we do recommend you do is find yourself a good local restaurant as try the fish thali! A mixture of battered, fried, grilled fish complete with clams and rice for under £2 means you can’t go wrong! We’d suggest you look for the busier ones to avoid a case of the Delhi belly but it’s definitely something you should try if you’re in Panjim.

If you’re after something more western then Route 66 is the place for you. This American diner is tucked away upstairs on the main street, near Panjim post office.

We can honestly say we have never had a better burger in India from a standalone restaurant! They also offer up some mean cocktails and do that wondrous Bira beer. Lionel is the manager there and he offers great hospitality, our #1 place to eat in Panjim.

Overall our experience of Goa was saved by Jojolapa, the Zeebo Suites apartments and some of the best food we’ve had in India at the Pink Chilli and Route 66. Not really what you expect from a blog on Goa where you imagine a beach paradise but that just wasn’t the case for us. Sri Lanka however, was a different story…

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Exploring Kandy

 

 

Travelling to Kandy from Colombo was our first time using public transport in Sri Lanka and after spending so long travelling India we were pretty sure we knew what to expect but it’s always daunting the first time you travel in a new country.

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Clock Inn were really helpful with our planning and said we didn’t even need to prebook train tickets, which we found hard to believe! Following their advice we got to Colombo train station, purchased our tickets and boarded the train with no problems at all which was a pleasant surprise. Although we bought second class tickets we had to sit in third class due to a lack of seats but this wasn’t a problem and we couldn’t really tell the difference between the classes. The journey itself took just over four hours and it was beautiful as we left behind the bustling city and headed for the mountains. It felt so much easier than travelling by train in India and we also met the kindest lady who bought us some peanuts even though she didn’t speak a word of English!

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Kandy itself is the second largest Sri Lankan city and a lot of travellers use it to explore surrounding areas. We booked the Kandy day trip with ‘Perry’ via Clock Inn at 2500lkr for both of us and although it was a bit more expensive than what the local tuc tuc drivers offer we still had a great day and couldn’t fault the service.

First stop on the tour was the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, however we decided to skip this due to the controversial stories of the elephant welfare and Perry very kindly instead took us to an additional three temples which were off the beaten track, away from the tourists and very sacred. One of them actually appears on the 500 rupee note!

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Another stop on the tour included a tea factory and plantation which was great. Although we’ve visited the tea plantations in Munnar this was just as good and really informative. The local girls presenting the tour were excellent and the tea sample with the honey sugar cubes was delicious!

We requested to stop off at a spice plantation as believe it or not it’s something we’ve never done before. Again it was really interesting and we thoroughly enjoyed it, the highlight being the rare baby pineapple plants which were the cutest things ever. We wanted to take them home but we’re not sure customs would have allowed that!

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We decided to skip the Botanical Gardens as at 1500 rupees each we didn’t think we would make the most out of it, being 147 acres in size there was no way we would get around them quickly!

The Big Buddha was the highlight of our trip, the giant white statue towers over the entire city and we were surprised that when we arrived there weren’t many tourists so we could enjoy the peaceful temple and beautiful views to ourselves. Unfortunately we can’t say the same the the Temple of the Tooth which we were quite disappointed with. Of course if you’re visiting Kandy this is probably number one on your to-do list but for us it was very underwhelming. The tooth only comes out once every five years and the temple itself wasn’t as spectacular as many others we’ve seen.

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In Kandy we found a couple of great eateries including Slightly Chilled Lounge Bar, also known as the Bamboo Garden to the locals, which served up delicious Chinese food, beers and cocktails and even showed the football to K’s delight. It had such a relaxed vibe and offered incredible views of the city so it’s definitely worth a visit. Our other favourite was Buono, not really a dinner option but it’s excellent to grab a drink and a snack. It’s so tiny and really hidden away but had a lovely atmosphere and offers fab milkshakes, cakes and three varieties of burgers which were actually quite good! It was a funny little place and somewhere the local uni students used as their hang out, a good way to experience a bit of the young Kandy culture.

Unfortunately during our time in Kandy we both came down with the Sri Lankan ‘Delhi Belly’ and therefore didn’t get to do as much as we wanted, including a trip to Adam’s Peak. We did however research this thoroughly and many travellers either use Kandy as a hub to do day trips to the surrounding areas including Dambulla and Sigiriya or you can use it as a short stop on the way to your next destination which is what we did. It’s a really friendly little city and we loved the cleanliness, people and the sights it had to offer.

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