Goa … The perfect ending.

After an incredible journey starting on 4th February 2015 from London Heathrow we had reached the final destination of our yearlong travelling adventure. It’s impossible to sum up a million memories into a few words but Goa was perhaps the perfect way to complete our voyage of discovery.

The beach

goa-2Arriving in Goa we stayed at Veeniola Holiday Home, an idyllic setting offering exactly what you want as a backpacker. The rooms were clean and well furnished, the staff were great, especially the manager Charlie who helpfully answered all of our questions, and most importantly the wifi worked! We kept extending our stay at Veeniola which totalled around two weeks and although it wasn’t the fanciest of places or the most lavish, it gave you everything you needed and made us feel at home.

Most of our time in Goa was spent reflecting and relaxing as we prepared ourselves for the big return to the UK. We were a 10-minute walk from a dreamy white sand, clear blue sea beach and spent our days kicking back with beers, diving through the waves and walking for miles through the sands under a perfect cloud free sky.

We have been to many destinations where there are so many things to do that you never have enough time to do them all but Goa was exactly what we needed at exactly the right time. Cavelossim beach had the perfect balance of beach hut restaurants and natural beauty. Alex’s Beach Shack is a must if you’re in town but you won’t be disappointed in any of the shacks along the beach, each with something different to offer, from fresh fish nights to Karaoke parties.

FC Goa

goa-9Being without football for most of the year, K was desperate to see a live game so we bought tickets for FC Goa vs Northeast United. The Indian super league was in its second season and included some global stars including Roberto Carlos and Robert Pires. On show in our game was World Cup winner and Brazil legend Lucio as well as former Portugal international Simao Sabrosa.

In terms of footballing quality, the game was lacking although it was scattered with some elements of class, including Reinaldo’s equaliser, but the most incredible part were the fans. As with anything in India, people want to be entertained and everyone was in party mood. The football was like the music at a house party, you know it’s there and without it you wouldn’t have a party but you don’t really pay attention to it. The infamous vuvuzelas from the 2010 World Cup were handed out before the game as well as FC Goa flags and everyone was in high spirits. The match ended 1-1 but we doubt the majority of the fans knew or even cared about the score. Fireworks were set off and the stadium was over-crowded but like everything in India, it was so wrong it worked just right.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR2898.Without a doubt Goa was our most relaxing stint in India despite the craziness of the Indian Super League! Our next biggest trip was going to the cinema to watch Spectre, as we’ve mentioned before we adored the cinemas in India, superb quality, cheap tickets and fab range of drinks and snacks, the ultimate movie experience!

Goa was complete and utter paradise, the longer we stayed the more we loved it. We’re intending on heading back in 2017 and perhaps this time we will see more of what this beautiful state has to offer. It might not be as traditional as the rest of India but sometimes we can all have a bit too much Indian, and to end a year of craziness, sleepless nights, long journeys and living out of a backpack, to do absolutely nothing was bliss!

 

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Marvellous Mountains

3After an eventful time in Delhi next up were the Northern regions of India. A few weeks with cool breezes, mountain views, and peaceful evenings was exactly what we needed.

The plan was to head to Mount Abu, Shimla and finally Punjab to visit K’s family. Mount Abu is a hill station in Rajasthan, and being honest wasn’t actually on our agenda. K’s mum had always wanted to visit, so we decided to stop off for a few nights. We must admit it turned out to be fantastic, and we’re so glad we didn’t skip it! We stayed at the “Babbar Den” home in the hills which offered a great service, friendly staff, and also an awesome cave suite!

Mount Abu wasn’t short of attractions, if you’re looking for something unusual to do we would suggest the Dilwara Jain Temple. Known as one of the finest Jain temples around the world for its extraordinary architecture and marvellous marble stone carvings, this was without a doubt one of the more interesting travelling experiences we’ve had!

Mount abu 1

On our first evening we witnessed of the most beautiful sunsets ever, sitting at the top of Aravali Hills with a perfectly clear view and not a cloud in the sky, the welcome chill gave it an enchanting feeling. As we watched the night arrive, sunset point soon filled with tourists, locals and couples, all there for the same thing. We met a young local magician who was entertaining the crowds trying to earn money for his family. We got chatting and ended up taking him for dinner and despite the obvious language barrier he was really grateful and very sweet. We bumped into him again the next day and went on a pedalo ride in the town centre lake, it was great fun and something else we would recommend whilst in Mount Abu. Unlike a most of India, it has a really peaceful feel as the sun shines down onto Nakki lake.

The shopping in Mount Abu was also great, lots of novelty souvenirs, cheap silver and good quality clothes. You also have the opportunity to dress up as a local and have a photo-shoot in the town, which we didn’t do but it did attract a lot of attention! There are plenty of restaurant choices offering traditional Rajasthan dishes or western food, and also lots of great ice cream places! With so much to do whilst you are here we recommend hiring a cheap driver for the day to make sure you don’t miss anything.

5Leaving Mount Abu we travelled to Shimla which is famous for Indian tourists as their holiday destination for the cool breeze. Located in the Himalayas it was actually very nippy, but unfortunately we didn’t get to see any snow. It’s an incredibly scenic part of India, filled with monkeys and all sorts of other wildlife. There are plenty of tourist attractions which are great for families including pony rides, different games and balloons to buy. It almost had a Brighton type feel to it, without the sea, with children running about having fun, parents relaxing and gorgeous views.

6First on our agenda was visiting the ancient Jakhoo Temple and at a height of 2,455m above sea level it offers a panoramic view of the Shivalik Ranges and the town of Sanjauli. It is a moderate climb up a footpath, just ensure you have plenty of water if it is a hot day! There are many cheeky monkeys around looking for opportunities to nab your belongings, so keep them safe, a top tip is to take your sunglasses off your head. H made this mistake and encountered a huge monkey jumping on her for them! The temple is home world’s tallest statue of Lord Hanuman, good luck fitting it all in a single photo!

A little way from  Shimla, we stopped to take a cable car ride through one of the many valleys in the mountains. This was a first for both of us, and certainly something to tick off the bucket list! We would be lying to say we wasn’t a tad scared, but we felt like we were on top of the world. We also took a guided tour of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study also known as Viceregal Lodge, a building made of beautiful architecture, it is located on stunning grounds that you can explore whilst enjoying the view of Shimla. There is a lot of history associated with the building so be prepared to take in a lot of information! The tour guides were great though and catered for whatever language you spoke which is always useful and you will also get some great photos here.

Some of our best times in India were spent in the mountains, including Munnar, taking a step away from the chaotic cities and seeing some of the natural beauty India has to offer. We highly recommend visiting Shimla and Mount Abu if you’re travelling India, and look out for our little magician by the lake!

 

We’ve got 99 problems but travelling isn’t one!

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.

Mumbai

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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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.

temple pp

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!

volunteer

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.

killing fields pp

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.

chum

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

Angkor wat

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

beer

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!

food

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.

cambodia

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:

YMCA Cambodia

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On our travels our aim has been to volunteer as much as possible, whilst exploring different countries and cultures. From the minute we arrived in Cambodia, we were exposed to such poverty and shocking homelessness including many victims of agent orange and survivors of the Khmer Rouge. This really encouraged us to do what we could to help.

After our fantastic time spent with the Vietnam YMCA, we decided to contact the YMCA Cambodia to see how we could get involved. After meeting with the Executive Director and seeing what a great cause this was, we decided to spend a few weeks a the YMCA Cambodia Learning Centre, a school for children of a local village, which funded community projects in Cambodia. We planned to spend our time teaching children aged 2-16 years old, as well as redecorating the nursery room, and redesigning the school playground.

On arrival to the school, the exterior of the building was quite simply a health and safety officers paradise. In the UK this school would have been closed down before even entering the building. Motorbikes parked in the children’s play area, piles of bricks stacked next to swings and dozens of mice and cockroaches running around. Once you entered the building it was actually quite a nice school, much more developed than what we have seen in other countries, however, cleanliness was a big issue. The older students had fairly nice classrooms with whiteboards and they had decorated them with their work and kept them tidy, but we were appalled by the nursery room which was for the children 2-4 years old.

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All of the children had fevers and it was no surprise based on the condition of the room they were sitting in five days a week. There was mouldy foam flooring which the children constantly tripped over, rotten curtains barely hanging from the window, dirty walls, ant infestations in every corner and the worst part, a bathroom that we could not even bare to enter because the stench was so foul. What we did notice though was the sink was blocked and had quite obviously been for some time as their was actual life beginning to form! Little tadpoles were swimming around, this may sound funny but it is no joke when this is what children were exposed too. We decided to make redecorating that room our key focus, as well as teaching the children English.

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For those two weeks we became full time teachers, and we can tell you it was no easy task! We spent the weekend before lesson planning and shopping for prizes, stickers and game ideas for the children, this was super fun. Their little faces were so delighted each time they won a prize or a sticker and it was a joy to see. For the younger students our teaching varied from nursery rhymes, colours, animals, comic strips and basic English. For the older students we helped with their pronunciations, grammar, new vocabulary, and even taught a bit of syntax and sentence structure to some evening classes of Cambodian Adults which we really enjoyed, it took us back to our uni days! The children were enthusiastic to learn and extremely happy to have us with them, but we must admit teaching seven classes a day was tiring and very hard to keep the smaller children entertained all of the time. Neither of us are teachers and after this experience we give our upmost respect to them!

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At the weekends we got an insight to these children’s lives when we went to do a bit of shopping at the local market, which has a name that actually translated into “dirty market.” This was where most of the children lived with their families who all had stalls selling meat, fruit, veg, toiletries and other general bits. The market stunk and the flies around the fresh produce was gross, we had to walk through holding our noses! The only good thing about this place was the fact we were greeted by so many of the kids from school with huge smiling faces wanting to introduce us to their parents. The children were filthy, still in their school uniforms on the weekend presumably because they had no other clothes and were all helping out on the stalls, doing what they could to help make a living. Again it was another moment for us that made us realise just how privileged and sheltered our lives have been growing up in the UK.

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So, with our mission being to completely freshen up the nursery room, we bought materials and paints and got to work. We ripped up the horrid old foam flooring to clean and disinfect the floor underneath, which was actually well tiled! We ripped down the horrid curtains and pulled off the peeling paint from the walls. After washing everything what felt like a million times, we painted the walls white which instantly made the room feel so fresh, we also painted pictures the best we could (neither of us are artists!) as well as sticking educational posters on the walls. Once finished and comparing the room before and after we are not shy to admit we are so proud with what a difference we were able to make. Unfortunately we could not sort the bathroom out, that needs professional work! But hopefully the nursery room will now be a much more enjoyable environment for the little ones to be in.

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Next we focused on the playground, which was of a decent size and location it just needed sorting out. We informed all staff at the school that bikes were no longer to be parked in the play area. We moved the bricks to the front of the school and asked for them to be collected, we picked up the litter and washed the floor and walls as best we could to try and ensure that the rodents stayed away. We then painted the walls with rainbows, weather and animals making for a brighter and safer environment. This is a playground after all and is meant to be fun!

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The two weeks quickly passed as we were so busy having a great time, meeting and teaching the children being our highlight. It was definitely the hardest voluntary activity we have participated in, but seeing the results at the end and knowing the children would be happier and healthier were well worth it. We can only hope that the staff at the school are encouraged by what we did, and amongst themselves decide to keep the school clean and continue to make improvements!

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10 things to do in Hong Kong… as a backpacker!

We were SO not prepared for how “unbackpacker friendly” HK actually is and have therefore put together our favourite attractions which won’t break the bank whilst you’re exploring on a budget!

1. DisneyLand, £59: 

Disneyland
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Okay, so this definitely isn’t the cheapest thing to do whilst in HK, however it was one of our best days and you cannot miss skip Disney! We actually found that eating in Disneyland was cheaper than eating on Hong Kong Island … crazy! If you haven’t been to Disney before, imagine being 10 again and genuinely so excited you find yourself running between the characters, rides, and shows! The Lion King performance here is unmissable, as well as the parade and night time fireworks. We guarantee you will have the time of your life here, even as you enter the park you get to ride a Disney themed train! Also keep an eye out for discounts and special offers which they regularly promote!

2. Big Buddha, free:

Big Buddha
The HK Big Buddha is extraordinary and probably our favourite from the many we’ve seen! Take the bus up the mountain rather than the cable car, it saves a lot of money and is an enjoyable drive. Once you arrive at the top you immediately have this overwhelming sense of tranquility and peace. A great photo stop and place to experience the Buddhist culture in Hong Kong, you could easily wander around for half a day.
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3. Sky100, £17:
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Sky 100
We chose to book a “Night Package for 2” which offered a discounted price as well as a 241 drinks vouchers, which was a great added bonus. Sky100 is a fab opportunity to ditch the backpacking gear, get dressed up and have a cocktail whilst witnessing the most incredible city view we have ever seen. HK is Asia’s concrete jungle and seeing this magnificent city light up is incredible.
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4. The Peak, £3.32 tram:
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The Peak
We purchased a return tram ticket and this was an experience in itself, especially if you’ve never been on one before. We didn’t opt for the viewing deck ticket at the top, as the view was already breathtaking enough. We ventured up in the day and not only do you get a great view of Hong Kong’s mountains and skyscrapers, but there are also plenty of shops and restaurants to keep you amused for hours, including our favourite Bubba Gump’s!

5. Ladies Market, free:

ladies market
Right in the heart of Kowloon, Ladies market is one of our favourite markets, not only in HK, but ever and we went back three/four times! You have the hustle and bustle of the crowd and some great cheap restaurants around whilst you immerse yourself in the rich culture. Grab yourselves a bargain on souvenirs and postcards with all starting prices being heavily negotiable, of course!
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6. Kowloon swimming pool complex, under £5 on weekdays:
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Kowloon pool
Presumably you will be staying in a budget hostel as a backpacker meaning complementary swimming pools are be a no no! If you need a break from the humid city then this complex is perfect, with a huge indoor pool and three outdoor pools, pull up a sunbed, sit back and relax!
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7. Stanley Market, free:
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Stanley Market
The bus ride here is a great drive as you head out of the city and into the Hong Kong mountains along the coast. Stanley market is another opportunity to haggle yourself a few bargains, the clothes in particular here were our favourite. The location is fantastic, you can have a walk around taking in the views, visit a few temples and sit back over happy hour with a cold beer to watch one of the street entertainers that come out at night.
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8. Avenue of Starsfree:
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Located in Tsim Tsha Tsui, right on the edge of the river Avenune of Stars is unmissable. Not only do you get the opportunity to see Hong Kong’s favourite film stars and snap photos with their handprints, this is a good opportunity to get a great view of HK Island without paying. Grab an Ice cream, take a stroll up the promenade and you could easily spend an afternoon here admiring the view.
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9. Hong Kong Museums, free on Wednesdays:
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Visiting the museums in Hong Kong is a excellent way to learn about the city you’re visiting whilst experiencing the different exhibits these museums host. Check out our favourites which were the Space, Science and History Museums, all on Kowloon Island and in walking distance of each other.
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10. Ocean Park, £44.30 :
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Ocean Park
Unlike any other theme park this is located in the HK mountains and you even have to take the cable car between some rides, brilliant! It hosts a good selection of rides however we would rate this theme park more on its huge aquarium and selection of Asian animals. Another fun day out if you still have money left in your budget!