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!

The Asian Circle Summer Party 

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By popular demand, The Asian Circle are holding their 2nd Summer Party. They are delighted to be hosting the multiple award-winning Comedian and Columnist Shazia Mirza and other guest speakers. We would like to invite our fellow travellers, volunteers and friends to come and enjoy a fun-packed evening including a complimentary drink, canapes, prizes, guest speakers and an opportunity for you to network with some fantastic ladies. ‘The Asian Circle’s Summer Party’ is being held at the Bangalore Express. A special 20% discount has been arranged allowing you to enjoy the Asian culinary delights of Yogesh Datta the UK’s top Indian chef at a great price.

If you are interested in attending the party please get in touch for ticket details.

All ticket donations will go towards the Asian Circle current project supporting vulnerable women in South Asia.

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Happy HOLIdays

The last two weeks have been as jam packed as the others, however the school holidays have now started and we are all enjoying some time to relax, especially as the temperature is rising by the day!

IMG_0384Last weekend we had the opportunity to experience something new and very unique. There was a local movie premiere being held in the town close us, Kalpetta. Chacko and Avi, who run the Our Home, are good friends with one of the main actors so he very kindly donated tickets to all of the children. ‘Take Off’ was a Malayalam film but we were able to understand the storyline with a little help from the older boys. It was far from your typical Bollywood movie and instead focussed on real life ISIS events when a group of Indian nurses working in Iraq were stranded in the war torn city of Mosure. It was a very touching storyline that we thoroughly enjoyed, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it does well as it’s being shown exclusively in Kerala at the moment but it has the potential to go big in India! Our first ever movie premiere was brilliant and we even got to meet some of the actors. A memory both us and the children will never forget.

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The onsite school has closed for summer now and the children all had mixed emotions. Some are excited but others are sad at the thought of not seeing their friends for two months. The last day at school was a busy one, the Science Exhibition was held as it had been postponed from its earlier date. They were all so enthusiastic to show us their inventions and we couldn’t believe some of the masterpieces the kids from local villages had created. Our favourites included real electric fans made from cardboard, batteries and tiny motors and clay volcanos complete with lava and dinosaur models! There were also awards to be given out from the sports and art days held earlier in the year and we were delighted to be asked to present these to the kids. It was a great atmosphere as all of the winners collected their medals and trophies.

We missed Holi Festival due to the exams so to celebrate the end of the school year we bought some powder paints to play with on the first day of the summer holidays. It was just as we expected having seen many photos of Holi Festival and the amount of colour was overwhelming. We ran about chasing each other with the paint for a good couple of hours and it was so fun! It was a really good activity to get both the girls and boys involved in and we were like big kids too. We got some incredible photos of the children playing and this day is such a special memory that will stay with us forever.

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Throughout India there is still a huge amount of work to be done before women will be considered equal to men. Having worked with the Asian Circle we want to do everything we can to work towards equality for women and girls of this country. An estimated three million girls are out of school in India and it’s shocking statistics like this that need to change. At Our Home the girls are treated exactly the same as the boys and they all receive the same education, Chacko and Avi are such an inspiration in the work they do with these children and we wanted to enhance that. We spent a day with the girls simply chatting about how important their education is, what they wanted to do when they grew up and motivating them that if they put their mind to it they can achieve anything their heart desires!

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Our meal this week meant an early start as we decided to change it up a bit and cook breakfast. We opted for omelette with plenty of chilli and onion served with bread bread, sweetened of course as we can’t find regular bread anywhere. This dish was an improvement on our attempt at sweet chilli noodles, and the children loved the taste … as did we!

All in all it’s been two weeks filled with a good meal, lots of laughter, celebrations and our first Indian movie premiere! There’s always something unexpected in store and that’s what we love about India.

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Delhi Belly

2Following on from one of the most incredible experiences in Agra, Delhi was next on the list. We decided buses were no longer an option with K’s mum, once was enough! We hired a car from our hostel in Agra to Delhi where we had booked to stay at Smyle Inn, right in the centre of New Delhi and bang in the middle of Main Bazaar road. The car dropped us at the end of a tiny little alleyway and we made our way through with all of our luggage, passing outside urinals, sleeping dogs, spitting men, whilst attempting to not get run over by motorbikes. When we reached Smyle Inn it was a pleasant surprise and in fact we visited Delhi three times and opted to stay here each time. A very warm welcome, clean rooms equipped with everything you need; wifi, free breakfast, a great location (despite the alley) and most importantly, cheap! This place was perfect for us.

Delhi 3First up was a visit to the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, more for K’s mum being a traditional Sikh, but it turned out we all really enjoyed it. Upon entering we passed an elderly man with a kind face and he was completely amazed when H greeted him with “Sat sri akaal mamaji” one of those moments that will always stick out! The temple was peaceful and we were able to completely relax, dipping our feet in the holy water and people watching the locals doing the same. A delicious meal was served of dahl, chapatti and kheer to finish. We had an unexpectedly good time here, in fact, better than when we visited the Golden Temple, but we’ve not got to that yet.

Delhi 2Something on H’s bucket list was to see a Bollywood show in India, and that we did. We booked tickets to see Zangoora, the BIGGEST Bollywood stage show ever and we were not disappointed! We took the metro and surprisingly it was a good idea. Definitely worth a try and much quicker than tuk tuks if you are travelling longer distances, however we must emphasise one thing; DO NOT travel during rush hour. Imagine being on the central line in London and multiply the people by a hundred! It was unbearable. The show was located in its own little magical world at the Kingdom of Dreams, it’s what you imagine India to be like. Filled with colour, food, bhangra and more, minus all of the bad bits! We loved walking round and exploring this unexpected place. Zangoora was in Hindi but luckily K’s mum was on hand to translate when needed. It was a fabulous show that we all immensely enjoyed. We couldn’t help but be immersed into Indian culture with the music and dancing and we jumped to our feet at the end when the finale was to Jai Ho. The show finished late so we decided to get a tuctuc back to main bazaar and eat local… which was a mistake. Nothing was open and we were content to just go to bed, but K’s mum was insistent that we ate and found a back street veggie place. Now don’t get us wrong, the food was good but little did we know we were all about to encounter the dreaded Delhi Belly!

H woke up after a few hours spewing her guts up and K and his mum came down with it a few days later. Trust us when we say it was beyond awful, we ended up having to go the hospital as K just couldn’t shift it! But anyway, what’s the point in going to Delhi if you’re not going to experience chronic food poising?! All part of the experience!

K and his mum had a day out visiting Qutb Minar and the Lotus Temple which was a strangely relaxing experience (something you don’t often get in India) whilst H was unwell in bed. The striking flower shaped building which is deceptively large is a place of worship which is open to any religion. It is simply a place for prayer which holds no judgements, a rarity when it comes to religion.

1The following day we went to The India Gate war memorial, it is very similar to the Gateway to India in Mumbai but not on the edge of the sea, and as well as being a good Instagram opportunity there is a lot of history behind the famous arch.

Other places we visited whilst in Delhi were Connaught Place, great for little eateries and shopping and we also found a Nandos! Saket Mall had a fantastic Hard Rock Cafe which we couldn’t get enough of, we really lived it up in Delhi trying all of the cultural food. The Jama Masjid temple (yes another temple) was a less peaceful experience than what greeted us at the Lotus Temple. We had a bit of a bad experience here with H, being completely covered up and respectable but still treated unfairly, told to pay a fee no one else was and asked not to take photos whilst everyone was taking photos of her! Unfortunately, this ruined what was meant to be one of Delhi’s top sights, but you just learn to move on from these experiences whilst travelling, it’s all part of it. One place we didn’t get a chance to visit was Rashtrapati Bhavan the presidential residence. We’ve heard how beautiful it was and just simply didn’t get time.

DelhiAfter one long visit to Delhi, and two shorter stop overs we became really fond of it, even the little alley leading to our hotel from main bazaar road started to feel like home. We learnt where to hold our nose and close our eyes and all was fine. Main Bazaar was also great for a bargain, with lots of traditional Indian gifts, cool clothes and very cheap silver, we did lots of shopping here for family gifts as India was our last stop before returning home.

As mentioned before the main cities in India get a lot of stick, and we can understand why, Delhi is absolutely crazy. You have to completely immerse yourself otherwise you will get lost along the way. It’s absolutely filthy, poor, filled with street kids begging in the middle of traffic and people who want to rip you off. However, if you are able to let go and take things with a pinch of salt, it is incredible. We guarantee you will enjoy it and learn so much about the culture and yourself. There is nowhere else in the world that is such an assault to the senses as Delhi, and that’s what makes it so special. We felt something that is pulling us back, drawing us in, and we can’t wait to dive in head first again!

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A tale of two Taj’s

So after exploring the less obvious areas of India, we finally got round to doing the mainstream routes starting with Mumbai and Agra.

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mumbaArriving in Mumbai we were back in another bustling city full of extreme heat, overcrowding and pollution and you know what? We absolutely loved it!

However, things did not get off to the best start as accommodation was hard to come by, especially for a backpacker! Paying almost up to £13 a bed in a hostel and £20 for a private room, Mumbai was one of India’s most expensive regions for accommodation but you did not exactly get what you paid for.

FullSizeRenderOn our first night after another long and uncomfortable journey, we were excited for a shower and a comfortable bed. The shower was decent enough (standard dripping taps and stained towels) we rolled into bed and drifted off. Before long we were tossing and turning and itching bites all over our body, we have had more than our fair share of mosquito bites in our time and were almost immune to them by now but these were different. After waking up in the middle of the night to check for gnats we turned the light on and found tens of lumps all over our bodies from bed bugs!

With no one at reception we laid the stained towels down and tried to sleep through the bites and come the morning K had a lump in his eye the size of a golf ball. We reported the issue to reception who were very apologetic and allowed us to change rooms. This was thankfully our first and last case of bed bugs from our travels and it was not an experience we wished to suffer through again!

IMG_3755Mumbai itself was a beautiful city, full of British architecture and incredible buildings, we walked from Central Station, past the Asiatic Society Library and military base and visited the ‘Prince of Wales Museum’, or to the locals Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalay (definitely worth a visit to see the stunning grounds), before eventually reaching the Gateway of India. A major tourist attraction, the gateway was crammed with people and security but it was still a fantastic place to be. The usual fluttering of senses tingled you to your core as you immersed yourself into India’s culture. You look from the street stalls, families living on the streets and animals roaming the roads and then lift your head to the great Gateway of India. Extraordinary.

A stone’s throw away is The Taj Hotel, a lavish and grand hotel which epitomises exactly what India does so right. In spite of the extreme poverty, dangers and various flaws, India enables itself to offer the very highest of standards to those willing to pay for it. K’s mother came to visit us in India and met us in Mumbai in an emotional and long awaited re-acquaintance between mother and son. We decided to go for Tea at the Taj and were not disappointed.

IMG_3758As soon as the air con hits you and the doors close, you are in an entirely different place. A world of designer brands, gold and silver service greets you in such a way that even the most luxurious of Western brands would struggle to match. The walls are lined with marble and gold as you pass through the corridors before finding the grand staircase leading to the restaurant. The Taj Hotel really is all it’s made up to be and if you ever wish to try the finer things India has to offer then this is the place to be.

Mumbai is the perfect example of the wealth contrast and how extreme the casting is from rich to poor in India, going from the Taj Hotel, to the slums of the city…

IMG_3757Normally when you see a film set in another country you’re often told they are not an accurate representation or things are exaggerated. We took a slums tour in Mumbai with the fantastic “Mystical Mumbai Tours” (A great trustworthy tour operator… hard to find in India!) and actually visited the exact locations of Slumdog Millionaire where it looked like the movie was filmed yesterday. The word slum is thrown around a lot these days but this area in Mumbai was on another level. There were mountains of rubbish, children roaming riot, unbathed and underfed, animals around every corner and yet everything seemed to work. The alleys were so small, if you took a wrong turn you’d had no choice but to continue walking as there was simply not enough room to turn around. If you’re claustrophobic, then this place definitely isn’t for you!

slumsDespite the millions of people living in severe poverty the whole place just seemed to click. Everybody knew everyone and each had a role to play in this community. It’s not until you climb onto the roof of one of the seemingly collapsing buildings that you realise just how big the slums are. They go on for as far as the eye can see with each person trying to break through financial barriers in the home of Bollywood.

The main cities of India seem to get a lot of stick from tourists, but we threw ourselves right in and fell in love with Mumbai. Yes, it was sweaty, dirty and busy, but there was another side that we adored. The buildings, the people, the buzz, the food, and learning all about the culture.

Agra

JaipurTravelling with K’s mum we decided to show her a bit of the backpacker lifestyle we had now been living for so long and took her on a rickety old bus journey through the night to get to Agra. Flying round the bends at over 100mph, we must admit she handled it very well!

We spent a few nights in Gujurat, Rajasthan and Jaipur and we would love to tell you every detail but if we did that this would be more of a book and less of a blog. Watch out for the hardback version of KHTravels coming soon!

Agra is famous for one thing and one thing only. We had been looking forward to seeing this monument ever since we stepped onto that first plane when leaving Heathrow and now we were almost there. Stories have been told and a million and one pictures have been taken but until you’re there, until you see the sun rise over it and until you feel the marble beneath your feet you never really understand just how incredible it is. The Taj Mahal.

Hannah and Kieran TajArriving early for sunrise, our hostel was a short walk away from one of the new seven wonders of the world. The number of self-proclaimed tour guides almost outnumber the tourists but this is one of those places where you do your research beforehand and you just come to absorb the beauty. The whole place is huge, as you walk through gates and first set eyes on the marble marvel you gain a sense of accomplishment, like you’ve really done something and you’ve now seen something you’ll remember forever. In reality you’ve done nothing but open your eyes but this magnificent structure has stood strong for almost four centuries and still looks as awe provoking as ever.

The Indian sun is one of the most beautiful sights in the world, it sounds strange to hear that because the sun is the same anywhere in the world, but it really is different here. Rising over the dusty plains and shining through the pollution, it symbolises hope. That another day is here and anything is possible. Combine that with the wonders of the Taj Mahal and you create something that lasts a lifetime and goes beyond words.

 

The realities of coming home…

2380Two people, two back packs, nine countries, twelve planes, ten months and then … home. Did that just happen? Did we really just spend the majority of 2015 living our dream, fulfilling our wanderlust, exploring, adventuring, and travelling the world… to now be home?

The harsh reality is coming home is harder, much harder than going away and this is our first really personal blog. We’re going to let you into our minds and see how we are feeling now we’re home. If you’re NOT a traveller the likelihood is you won’t have a clue what we’re talking about reading this, and if you ARE a traveller we know you’ll be able to relate to this more than anything else you’ve read today.

Our year travelling Singapore, Australia, Bali, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and India came to an abrupt ending the minute we arrived back on home turf. As the plane landed in Heathrow we were a mixture of emotions; tired, sad, shocked, excited to see our families (we were surprising them) uncertainty, and most of all it all just seemed like a big haze, a dream, we couldn’t accept that we were now home. They say time flies when you’re having fun, well boy, we must have had a blast because it felt like we simply blinked and we were home again.

781After three months in India the journey in a black cab down the M25 was somewhat different to a tuctuc zooming around Delhi. All of a sudden we were being bombarded with being home; red busses, Ford KA’s, level roads, road signs, Costa Coffees, rain and we had to take all of this in as we made our way into Essex. Culture shock going to India? Forget that, coming home after so long is the biggest culture shock ever and you’ll either settle back in going back to your old ways or you’ll feel this now alien country is no longer home.

Our first few weeks home were incredible. Seeing the looks on the faces of both our families and friends when surprising them after so long was priceless, emotional and completely unforgettable. Sleeping in our own bed, the build up to Christmas, the welcome cold weather, the partying, it was good to be home. You know you’ve been away for a long time when you can feel yourself talking in slow, broken English to your mum!

However, as the weeks passed we both started to feel unsettled. Imagine being together 24/7 for nearly a year, just us in our own little bubble, doing what we want, when we wanted with no one to answer to and not being held back by the reality that is society. We feel it may have been easier if we came home and were living together, but we’ve both had to go back home to our parents, and we’re hugely thankful to them, but truthfully we just want to be together in our own little routine that we built whilst travelling.

671We’ve both had to adjust back in to our old lives, new clothes, hair and makeup done, nights out and expensive dinners. Gone are the days of 20p beer in the street with Pad Thai for dinner wearing anything we could reach for from our backpacks including the tops with international beer logos on (we would never wear those at home!) We found this really difficult, why can’t we walk around bare foot anymore?

As we’re writing this we don’t really know where we are going or what we are trying to say? It’s hard; it is really hard being home and we think people underestimate that. All we want to do is look for new and exciting opportunities, spend time on our blog, keep talking about the incredible experiences we’ve encountered and keep posting our favourite travel snaps. But the truth is no one really cares. At first this is hard to accept, but it’s true and you will soon realise that no one cares about the name of the volcano you spent a day climbing and were so proud of yourself for doing so. Yes of course everyone wants to know how it was… How was it? How was your year travelling? What was your favourite country? How can we answer any of these questions, have you got another year to listen to us? No not really, so you reply with “It was great, we can’t tell you our favourite country as they were all so different” If someone asks a question and you actually begin to open up and elaborate into your magical story, well to you it is, it’s almost guaranteed you will notice the person is not paying for attention, because they don’t care! And in all fairness why would they?

1051You experience all of these wonderful countries, with beautiful cultures and you embrace them throwing yourselves in head first. The people you meet become your family and you rely on them as much as you would your parents. We spent a lot of time volunteering so got to experience first-hand a lot of local communities and we fell in love with all of them particularly, Our Home Community in India. We now spend our days missing them and wondering why we aren’t there, we feel we could be of so much more use out in the big wide world, where we can freely express our love, passion and understanding that has become who we are.

We want to spend every minute of every day together because only we know what each other is feeling, but we can’t. That isn’t reality is it; we have to work to make a living so it’s back to our 9-5 desk jobs whilst our minds are still wandering to the days where what we would have for dinner was our hardest decision. We now realise the simplest luxuries that we took for granted, normal toilets and no more carrying around toilet roll? Much easier right? But so boring.

1118Travelling gave us a sense of purpose, and belonging that we can no longer feel here? And will we ever? It’s been three months since we returned and we still have the same hunger and desire to be waking up in the morning to something new, a different adventure every day. We miss the simplicities in life that is travelling and appreciating the treats when you get them! Our first Nando’s in Chennai was literally like heaven on a plate after six months. Being able to have it every week in Romford Brewery isn’t exactly the same. The excitement of having a decent Wi-Fi and being able to contact your friends and family for a real catch up is brilliant. So is being able to update yourself with the world of social media, not having it on hand every second of every day. Spending evenings watching countless friends episodes was a real treat, here they’re on Comedy Central all the time! The novelty wears off…

We were lucky travellers, only one case of bed bugs, a few Delhi belly occasions, a little bit of travel sickness, some sleepless nights. But we’ve come home with something much worse. We have a very bad case of the travel bug, and what’s the cure for that? To go again…

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<<<Our Home Country, The UKThe West End>>>

 

Elephant Nature Park

There are many opportunities to visit elephant sanctuaries whilst backpacking throughout Thailand and Asia, but we must start with a very serious matter. Do not just go to the cheapest one with the best salesman, please do your research and select an organisation that really does support the endangered Asian Elephant. So many places describe a safe haven for elephants but they are chained, beaten and abused into submission. If you are offered an elephant ride or see an elephant in chains please avoid it at all costs as this is a clear indication of an illegitimate sanctuary.  If all you’re after from an experience with elephants is a new profile picture and you don’t care how you get it then you are not welcome here!

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Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre in Northern Thailand and our time there was one of the most memorable days from our travelling adventure (we know we say that a lot!) We started the day with some background information about the organisation and were told story after story of how many of the elephants were now blind, severely injured or bearing scars from previous owners. Elephants are giants of the mammal kingdom but are such gentle and playful creatures. The stories brought a tear to your eyes, half in sadness but half in joy that these elephants finally got to live their lives in a world without chains and abuse.

Being as big as they are, there was only ever going to be one thing to start with; feeding! Standing on a platform nearly three metres high, we were surround by tens of elephants! Their muscular trunks reached up through the barrier to grab everything from melons to bananas. The first time you come into contact with these magnificent creatures, you realise something. They are alive! This may sound silly but they really are alive and it’s magical, you sense their emotions, their moods and best of all … they sense you.

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Moving on we explored the enormous grounds of the sanctuary and we were delighted to see that each and every elephant was free to roam as it pleased. No forced feeding sessions, no blockades, just freedom. We came across a pair of elephants in their 80s first, a real pair of golden oldies. They were just being themselves, no showing off with tricks and definitely no riding, just a bit of back scratching on the nearest tree trunk.

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Now, we have all seen the video of the two baby elephants playing in the pool, however, we had no idea just how much fun these gorgeous animals had in the water. With the larger elephants soaking up the midday sun in the river, large lumps starting appearing in the water … There were five adorable, younger elephants splashing and rolling around! It was an incredible sight and watching these elephants grow safely and happily is truly something special.

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There was a show of real collectiveness too as a few dogs turned up and decided that they wanted to join in on the fun. The dogs were eyeing up one of the younger elephants and the baby started yelping for help. The ground started trembling and another slightly larger baby elephant stomped over out of nowhere, blowing its trunk and the dogs soon scarpered.  It was so funny and cute to watch and after the drama, the elephants returned to their day of eating, back scratching and relaxing.

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The best part of the day came towards the end. With the sun setting, some of the larger elephants moved into the shallower river and continued to eat their array of fresh fruit. We stripped down into our swimwear and joined the elephants in the river and bathed them in the dimming Thai sunlight.

Whether you’re an animal person or not, we implore you to see reason and open your eyes when travelling abroad. If something is too good to be true, it invariably is. You get what you pay for in life and if you spend a little more, you can get the experience of a lifetime without adding to the misery of  these incredible, endangered animals which are subject to the horrifying tourist trade and temple rituals.

An elephant never forgets … 

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Thailand, THE place to satisfy your inner wanderlust

Bangkok

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Thailand was one of our most highly anticipated destinations alongside Vietnam and it  certainly lived up to expectations! Arriving in Bangkok straight from Cambodia really highlighted the substantial disparities between these neighbouring countries. Still maintaining the core of a bustling Asian city your senses succumb to the smell of street food, bright lights and an unwavering heat.

Our first night in the capital could not have gone any better with us arriving on the Queen’s birthday. With roads closed, flags raised and stages set, the evening was full of entertainment. We began the night having our first taste of the local Pad Thai and became addicted to street food with immediate effect. If you’re hungry in Bangkok, skip the restaurants and fast food joints and head straight for your nearest Pad Thai stool, we’re still drooling over it now!

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Our adventurous feedings from our time in Cambodia had continued through to Thailand as we tried some of the more “exotic” local food. After being approached by a woman with hair like an Oompa Loompa and a smile like the Grinch we were offered the chance to try scorpion! With a crunchy texture and stinging taste, it was probably our favourite invertebrate, and we would certainly recommend giving it a go!

From street parades to enormous firework displays, our first night in the city was a real party. The nightlife in Bangkok is incredible and this was the perfect start to one of our now favourite worldwide destinations.

Boy oh boy, ladyboys

When you think of Bangkok you think of two things, The Hangover and ladyboys! After spending a few nights in the city, getting accustomed to the culture and the people, we went on the prowl for our first taste of the ladyboy scene. Being novices at looking out for female strippers with penis’, once reaching the red light district we had to ask a few locals for the best hangout spots and we were approached by a woman (I think) with a beaming smile…

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She asked us if we wanted to see the full or half ladyboys, wanting to jump straight in we asked for the full throttle showing. Walking into a strip club with over 25 girls on stage, pole dancing and grinding their way to the floor, we were keeping a close eye for any apples and pears only to be left disappointed. With a front seat view, we were approached by a group of strippers and found out that they were indeed men who were now completely disemboweled. We swiftly moved on in search of the real deal ladyboys, leaving behind the crowd of fake boobs, flat bums and broad shoulders.

A short walk away and we had finally found what we were looking for. Sitting down next to a pair of Japanese boys, we settled down with a beer to see what all the fuss was about. Now, for all those that have been on the more adventures search tags of your most favourite adult website, you may be thinking you know exactly what to expect. However, this was far from the truth for us as we were approached by a 6ft 2″ blonde with an upper body like Jordan while being hung like King Kong. The performers were all actually very approachable and humoured our stupid questions, “so have you got a willy?!”

If ladyboys is not what you’re after, there are plenty of all women strip joints to visit or you could even give the gay street a visit, no honeys just homies. As we would like to keep this blog as PG as possible, we will leave the rest to your imagination, but Bangkok is more than just boobs and booze.

The sights

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There are a number of fantastic shopping outlets and markets to visit in Bangkok, from getting the best cut price deal on a new Nike top to getting yourself a fully tailored suit cut from the finest threads. Koh San Road is the main backpackers shopping hub, lined with bars and market stalls, you can spend days walking up and down the same few streets and finding exciting new products everyday.

If you’re after a more cultural experience then there are a number of temples to visit but none more extraordinary than Wat Pho. The huge 46 metre long statue of a golden laying Buddha is a must see. Be warned though, this is one of the busiest spots in the city so be prepared to be patient to get that perfect picture.

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If you’re just looking to chill out and explore the city then hop on one of the local river boats. For less than a pound you can enjoy a scenic view from the main river through the heart of the city. Stop off at Chinatown or one of the shopping malls for a break on the mainland and watch the sun go down over this rampaging yet wonderful city.

Lastly, journeying outside of Bangkok, there are lots of options and we would definitely recommend a floating market day trip. Sitting in single file on a rickety old boat you drift through the waters with a coconut ice cream to hand. Use this opportunity to get some great photos, barter some bargains and get to know traditional Thailand.

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Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a world away from Bangkok but just as incredible in its own way. You might recall in the Hangover II they visit a town “just outside the city” called Chiang Mai but don’t be fooled, it is a 9 hour drive away!

When reaching the northern city we were greeted by a wet welcome as we trudged along the roads in the early hours of the morning through the pouring rain. Things soon perked up though, and after a nap and a much needed shower we hit the streets.

The main part of the city is enclosed by a moat and what you will find within is everything you need to kick back and relax with a cool Chang beer. With a fantastic array of restaurants and a great nightly food market, your tummies will be well looked after and make sure you stop by La Mango for some mango sticky rice, it’s awesome!

If you’re up for some shopping there are various markets on most days but the best market is the Sunday Chiang Mai Walking Street. With so much on offer, the market is huge and bustling with people. A great experience and perfect place to pick up a quality bargain, you could easily spend hours walking through the busy streets.

There are plenty of excursions on offer in Chiang Mai from mountain biking to white water rafting, but we opted for one of our favourites, trekking. With beautiful Thai mountains, local delicacies for lunch, small villages on the way to enjoy a Chang Beer and ending the day swimming in a waterfall, why wouldn’t you want to trek? On your way back, ask your tour guide to stop by the Golden Triangle of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.

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Now visiting Thailand and especially up here in the north, you are going to want to experience the amazing elephants. However, we cannot stress enough DO NOT RIDE, TREK, VISIT CAMPS etc where the elephants are hugely mistreated and abused in order for you to do this. Splash out a little bit more and volunteer at a legitimate elephant rescue rehabilitation centre, you can read more about our fantastic time at Elephant Nature Park here.

Chiang Rai

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If you manage to make your way up to Chiang Mai make sure you take some time out to visit Chiang Rai and the incredible Wat Rong Khun, better known as the White Temple.

Of all the temples and religious sites we have seen on our travels, this one has to be the most unique. You will see Superman flying through paintings on the wall, hands reaching upwards from the hell beneath the bridge you walk on and a ghostly tree with the heads of batman and Hellboy amongst others!

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The temple was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat and works are still ongoing to complete construction on this astonishingly abstract temple. There are deep Buddhist meanings and metaphors to be found beneath the layers of hanging superheroes and paintings. The meanings relate to escaping greed and desire but even without the religious context, the White Temple is a magnificent structure.

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Whilst up North you cannot skip Pai. Thinking of words to describe this place and we can come up with cute, beautiful, cute, stunning scenery, cute… oh and CUTE! Hiring a bike is a must to explore this mountainous region, although we must warn carry a rain jacket!

You can spend a day purely visiting the cafes including Love Coffee and Strawberry fields, although we would recommend getting there early as they are popular tourist spots. There are lots of photo opportunities here and little quirky things to look at and enjoy, this was definitely a girly thing to do!

When visiting Pai canyon give yourself a couple of hours to venture through by foot, and you’re sure to find lovely little spots to enjoy, beware though, some parts are not an easy walk!

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The countless number of viewpoints in Pai are also must visits and we’re not just talking about the ones on the map. You will know what we mean when you’re biking around Pai, everywhere is just beautiful and well worth lots of stops to get those perfect snaps.

Other highlights included visiting waterfalls, hot springs, The Memorial Bridge, temples, markets and the many different eateries. It was one of our favourite towns throughout our travels and we would love to return.

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The Islands

We only managed to visit two islands while travelling through Thailand as there was just so much to do time was always against us despite having over a month in the country.

Our main priority was to spend an evening at the full moon party on Koh Phangan and it certainly lived up to expectations! We went to the party with a group of Filipinos (our new found favourite people!) and soon fell in love with the best beach party in the world.

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There were a number of activities on offer which would have been a disaster waiting to happen at any party, but this wasn’t any party, this was the Hadrin Full Moon Beach party! Starting off there was a huge skipping rope which had been set on fire as people randomly joined in and jumped for their lives. There was an ongoing limbo tournament in which the bar had been set on fire and there was a slide to go down where you jump through a hoop… That was set on fire!

With drinks buckets available for under £3 this was a crazy yet fascinating experience. From dancing the night away on stage to Hannah crowd surfing her way to the DJ area there are so many untold stories that we hope remain that way!

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We actually decided to revisit the beach the next day to see the aftermath of the night before and we were pleasantly surprised. The team behind the party did a fantastic job of cleaning up and the beach was spotless with no evidence of litter, vomit, blood or …wait we’ve said too much!

The islands are not just about the parties though, there is an abundance of sheer natural beauty to absorb too. Rent out a moped and spend some time riding through the hills and along the coastline cliffs to find the perfect beach.

We eventually moved to Koh Samui and enjoyed this island just as much. With a huge hangover lasting longer than expected we kicked back by the pool which was metres from the beach and soaked up the sun for our last few days in Thailand.

Whether it’s ladyboys your after or a party or both, Thailand is the place to go for an amazing Asian adventure.

Cambodia; more than just Angkor Wat

A country still visibly showing the scars of recent bloodshed and war, yet filled with beauty and an enormous history still beats strong.

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Pnom Penh

We began our journey in the capital city of Pnom Penh and spent most of our time volunteering at the YMCA, which you can read about here, but when we weren’t working we were often found eating at Mad Monkey!

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MM was our first hostel in Cambodia and probably the favourite of our travels! A bold statement to make, however, this is a hostel that offers unlimited beers two nights a week, a backpackers paradise… Yet this wasn’t even the highlight of our time here. With multiple themed nights during our stay, knowledgeable staff and most importantly, a restaurant that featured some of the finest meals we have had in Asia, this was a westerner’s dream in Cambodia.

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As a backpacker you will appreciate after plenty of rice, rice and urm… more rice, a menu offering succulent BBQ ribs, fiery fajitas, a vast array of burgers featuring juicy beef patties cooked to perfection, this place was like a heaven for us. This may sound like a sales piece but it really isn’t, if you’re backpacking in Cambodia, definitely spend some time at Mad Monkey, even if it’s just for the free beer. Alternatively head down to the local market to try the famous PP delicacies including the Angry birds fish .. on a stick! Yes, you heard that right!

Killing fields and Toul Sleng

Onto the serious stuff now and we did do things other than eat and drink in Cambodia. Visiting the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng museum was a truly harrowing experience. Within the last half a century, Cambodia lost 2/3 of its population when the Khmer Rouge campaign, led by Pol Pot, slaughtered millions of men, women and children.

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The Killing Fields were unimaginable. When entering the site, you face a huge tower filled with the bones of hundreds of people, separated into different age groups, type of death and even body parts. When walking through the site, you pass sign after sign asking you to respect the deceased by not stepping on the bones which surface along the beaten path among the now green fields. Continuing your journey, you arrive at the killing tree and immediately feel your insides turn as you are told the gruesome stories of how children were flung against the tree to their death in front of their mothers.

The Tuol Sleng museum was another heartbreaking experience. A former school before the Khmer Rouge takeover, the museum takes you on a journey through what it was like to be tortured, often to your death, by your own people. Once you pass the thousands of head shots of the men, women and children that came and never left, you reach an old, gentle and happy man selling books.

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Chum Mey was a survivor of Tuol Sleng and had now published a book on his experiences. The most extraordinary thing about this man was his smile. Sitting in the same complex where he heard the screams of his family and friends being tortured to death, he was at peace now, knowing his beloved Cambodia had moved on from the terror that roamed the lands not so long ago.

Siem Reap

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Siem Reap is made for tourists, in complete contrast to Pnom Penh.

Full of restaurants, bars and fantastic markets, we spent eight days relaxing and taking in all that this wonderful town had to offer. Of course you really only go to Siem Reap for one thing; Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat was a wonderful experience which you could not compare to any other. Built in the 12th century and yet still standing strong, the structures of these temples are breathtaking.

Arriving at 5am, find yourself a quiet spot in the grounds amongst the grass and rocks, and watch the blazing sun rise up as the first rays of light creep over the temple. This was a moment that will stick in our memories forever.

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Later in the day, we spent our time meandering from one temple to another, each unique and each as awesome as the next. From the “Bayon” temple featuring hundreds of faces carved into the stone, to “Ta Prohm” used to film Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider. Trees the size of sky scrapers, drape over, around and even through the stone to the earth following hundreds of years of growth, epitomising the phrase, “life will find a way”.

Exploring Siem Reap

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Siem Reap is also a place where we experienced a lot of firsts, with plenty on offer to do, these were a few of our favourites…

We encountered the famous fish foot spa, of course with a free Cambodia beer!

We also took part in a Khmer cooking class, choosing from traditional dishes such as curries, banana leaf salads, sticky mango rice, fried banana, spicy shrimp salads and more. Learning about the spices used and how to get the flavours just right was great fun! After a few hours in the kitchen we were able to sit down and enjoy the masterpieces we had created!

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Lastly, we ventured onto a street food walking tour. Up to this point we hadn’t been too adventurous in terms of trying strange delicacies in Asia so we braved it out and did it all at once! Stuffed Frogs, chicken hearts, crickets, cockroaches… You name it we tried it! Would we do it again? No. But it’s something to tick off the bucket list! Whatever it is you want to do, Siem Reap is sure to offer it.

Cambodia is a country which you visit for its people as much as you do its sights. A nation crippled by murder and injustice in the not too distant past that recovered and prospered in the face of near extinction. The smiles that greet you still bear the scars of death but shine brightly and with hope.

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Travels

We have travelled 22 countries so far, and visited the majority of those during a year we spent backpacking through Australasia and Asia.

Travelling is something that is a priority for us, we’d even go as far to say a necessity. We have a hunger to explore, and will continue to fulfil our wanderlust through budget travelling and luxury breaks.

We’re currently back in London after four months volunteering at Our Home Community Orphanage. You can read about our adventures below:

Good morning Vietnam

Vietnam is one of those places where if you haven’t been, you won’t understand, a real “if you know, then you know”. Coming from Hong Kong, we left the luxury of air con and sky scrapers behind to enter into a world of pho and fun.

Hanoi was our first stop with the old quarter being one of our favourite hang out spots. With freshly brewed draft beers for £0.20, an array of awesome food and some great people, Vietnam was quickly becoming one of our favourite countries.

If you are thinking about taking a trip to Vietnam you will almost certainly be looking at carrying out a variety of excursions and spending a lot of your time travelling the country. A trustworthy and reliable service operator we found was “The Sinh Tourist“, they diligently sorted the majority of our travel plans and also offer travel to neighbouring countries such as Cambodia and Laos.

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Our first trip took us North to the mountainous region of Sapa. This was our first view of the real Vietnam and we loved it! Taking the night train journey North was confusing but after a little help from some new Vietnamese friends we found our way. Sapa is a gorgeous town with endless eating opportunities but you come to Sapa for one thing and one thing only. Trekking.

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Trekking up the rice field mountains, we were led by a group of tribal women who had lived in the mountains their whole lives. This was one of our best experiences yet, the classic phrase of “don’t look down” was used more than once! Walking on the very edge of a mountain side with a water logged rice field in front of you and a 50ft drop behind you, was literally living life on the edge.

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Following a few days in the mountains, our next trip took us to Ha Long Bay which was incredible on a whole other level. Rated as one of the natural wonders of the world we knew why as soon as we arrived on the boat. The name Ha Long actually translates to “descending dragon”. This is in reference to the legend that a dragon came and placed hundreds of mountain islands scattered across the sea to stop rivalling countries from invading Vietnam.

Beautiful, amazing, wonderful, unbelievable, describe it how you will but words cannot do it justice, just make sure you visit this heaven on earth if you get the chance.

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Two moments stick out strong in the memory from this trip. The first of which was our time canoeing through the open sea from island to island after visiting “Surprise Cave”. Free from the world you canoe to your own private island, each unique and each magnificent.

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Watching the moonlit sky across the open sea and through the islands we witnessed one of the biggest lightening storms we have ever seen. Forks of electricity shooting across the sky in utter silence as we gazed through our open window was a once in a lifetime moment, never to be forgotten.

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Heading further south our next stop was Hoi An. A beautiful little town with a real French heritage located along a river, this was one of those places where you could liver forever while doing very little but never having nothing to do. You should definitely give this place a visit, especially if you are after a tailor made suit for a cut price deal!

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Back to the adventure, next up was canyoning in Da Lat, one of the scariest but most fun days of our travels! Starting with a simple trek through the hillsides we made our way to a river and spent the morning sliding through fast flowing streams. Great fun but still quite easy and safe, this soon changed…

Arriving at a huge waterfall the harnesses were strapped on, as one by one we abseiled our way through the water. The current was ferocious as it lashed against our legs, with strict instructions to follow, legs shaking and water almost suffocating our face came THE moment.

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A slip of the foot and both of us had fallen and began smashing against the rock. Water pounding on our heads, the rock sliding beneath our feet, we were holding onto the rope for dear life! It really was a do or die moment (maybe a slight exaggeration but that’s allowed).

With sheer determination we made it to our feet and climbed down the final few metres before jumping into the deep pool of water below. With a crazy cackle as we climbed ashore we made it, only to realise this was just the beginning as we were given the good news… We had another, bigger, fiercer waterfall to abseil down.

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With a genuine fear of falling to our deaths driving us on, we climbed down this waterfall with less drama, practise makes perfect after all. With instruction to keep our arms and legs tucked in when reaching the bottom,  we were forced underwater for what seems an eternity as we bashed against the rocks before finally reaching the placid lake. Canyoning was one of those things which you look back on and think, “I loved it and so glad I did it but I will never do that again!”

Once leaving Da Lat we moved down to our last stop Ho Chi Min City, previously known as Saigon. Most of our time was spent volunteering with the YMCA, which you can read about here.

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When not volunteering we happily spent our days wandering the busy, motorbike filled streets, finding new places to eat and enjoying a Saigon beer.

The War Remnants Museum is unmissable. This beautiful country and their welcoming people were put through enormous agony and strain. Now thriving with its independence, this is a country which is proud of what it is and where it has come from and so it should be. With people still bearing scars from the war with smiles on their faces, it is a clear reminder as to just how lucky we are.