El Nido and paradise at Nacpan beach.

I arrived on Palawan Island in the Philippines, excited to get to the beach after a month of City and Country. I landed in Puerta Princesca, the capital of the island. I knew it was pretty easy to get to El Nido in the North via a minivan. It cost around £10 and took 6 hours.

El Nido is basically the name given to the area you stay in to explore the Bacuit Archipelago, a group of karst islands that is unparalleled paradise.

The journey there was beautiful too, through lush jungle and past dramatic coastline. It was a bit uncomfortable but there was one stop to stretch the legs and eat/buy snacks/toilet.

I finally arrived in El Nido and for some reason hadn’t really planned my itinerary there very well. But I’ll go through it anyway! I stayed at a little hostel called Pawikan which was cheap, clean and only sharing with one other person.

The first thing that struck me about El Nido was how small the little town seemed, stuck between huge karst cliffs, it felt like I had reached a different world. I immediately set off to wander the streets, full of nice looking restaurants, shops and beachfront bars.

El Nido is famous for it’s boat tours, of which you can do A,B,C or D or a combination of them. So there were plenty of places to book, all offering them at similar prices. For reasons unknown even to me, I didn’t book the boat trip immediately, instead I decided to drink a few beers on the beach, got some amazing deep fried chillis and booked a mid morning bus to Nacpan beach for the following day.

Nacpan beach is found North of the town, down a small dirt track that was barely passable. There was one or two hotel/bar/restaurants on arrival, but I was staying at the only hostel. Located right on the beach, The Mad Monkey is a well known chain for backpackers across South East Asia.

After about ten minutes of walking along the beach, a good bonding session with a Swedish guy who had also been on the bus we arrived in paradise. Beautiful beach, clear blue sea and a bar. After checking in we stripped down and got straight on the beach.

I ordered a couple of beers and spent the next 2 days soaking up the sun, drinking heavily, making new friends and enjoying our little slice of paradise.

The mad monkey offered all you can drink for one mad, happy, crazy hour every evening. This is how probably the best experience of my trip started. I had made friends with a Dutch guy called J, and a Ukrainian girl called Svetlana. So we met on the first evening and started drinking, and these were strong rum and cokes and red horse, a 7% San Miguel.

Feeling a little tipsy, I agreed to Svetlana’s request to go for a night swim, now I’m not recommending drunk swimming as it can be dangerous, but off we went with J and a Canadian girl called Sam and dived in. As we were swimming we noticed something odd, we realised that glowing plankton was all around us. Every time we splashed in the water it lit up, if we dived down lights glittered around us.

It was truly an incredible experience, we were so excited and spent so long swimmimg and couldn’t believe our luck. The people working there said it’s super rare to see.

On my last day I felt super ill, hungover and unable to bear the heat. So I cut my trip short by a night, booked a room in El Nido with air con, bought enough snacks to last me at least 2 days and spent the afternoon hibernating. Feeling a little refreshed I finally booked one of the boat trips for the following day.

I was up early and ready to go, our boat left from the main beach and we were soon on our way to small lagoon We arrived and everyone jumped into kayaks, but being on my own I just jumped in the water and started swimming, it was amazing, the water was warm and so clear. It was a lot of fun going through the little cave and emerging into this pool surrounded by vegetation and cliff faces. I couldn’t believe how cool it was.

The next stop was big lagoon! This was just as interesting, it was so shallow as we walked between two cliffs to then dive into the deepest blue lagoon ever. I could see fish swimming in the depths beneath me and it was a nice way to cool off.

Even sailing between all these islands was amazing, like a less crowded version of Ha Long Bay in it’s beauty. We stopped on this tiny beach for lunch and got to explore and swim a bit. The lunch was great, even for a veggie like me.

It was too rough and busy to go to the secret lagoon which was a little disappointing, but we headed off to 7 Commandos beach. Here I went snorkelling for ages, saw clown fish, a big white sea snake and loads of other colourful fish. Then I attempted to play beach volleyball, I was pretty bad but it was still fun. Although I think the Filipinos were a bit more competitive than me. I was also told you could sometimes see turtles!

After lazing on the beach with a coconut it was time to head back. I had really enjoyed the trip and to top it off we had a karaoke competition on the way back and I won! With a beautiful rendition of Oasis – Wonderwall.

After a busy day swimming and still feeling a little rough from Nacpan beach I had a tasty dinner and booked my bus back to Puerta Princesca in the morning. Looking back I wish I had spent more time in El Nido and planned my itinerary a little better. I rushed off and regretted not going to Coron and even maybe doing a different boat trip, but there’s always next time!

48 Hours in Manila

So, before I left on my journey around SE Asia, all the info I found on Manila was basically telling me not to go. The capital of the Philippines does not have a good reputation, a lot of it is centred around the awful traffic, while other bits I read just said it was too vast, too run down to bother with. In my opinion, you’re missing out by not exploring this wonderful capital.

My plan was to spend just a couple of nights there, spend one day exploring and take a flight over to Palawan the next day. After checking hotels I decided to book one well in advance for my first night and stay somewhere really nice, at least that way I could enjoy the hotel even if I didn’t enjoy Manila that much. The thing that hit me immediately about Manila was that I had suddenly arrived in a place in Asia, that uses pesos as currency, has San Miguel adverts everywhere and my taxi driver was called Pedro. I was in love.

I arrived from Taiwan early and the first thing I did was get a sim card, I think it cost about £10 for 5GB of data, and I soon had the Grab app up and running, this time I booked a pool journey over to Makati as it was so cheap. It took about 45 minutes, and traffic was pretty congested as we got further into the City but I think being prepared for the worst helped me. The City Garden hotel was incredible when I arrived, great service, big comfy room and an amazing rooftop pool.

I decided to freshen up and head straight out, and Grab was a godsend during my stay in Manila getting me about everywhere for cheap cheap prices, I booked one to take me up to the old Intramuros area again this took around 40 minutes or so but cost about £4. The driver dropped me off at Rizal park and I had a great little wander around there, the Philippines has such an incredible history of Spanish colonialism followed by American influence and the destruction that WW2 wrought, and this park had tributes to some of the leaders of an independance movement.

Rizal was a key member of the Filipino independence movement who was executed by the colonial Spanish government after the Philippine revolution, which was partly inspired by his writings.

Realising I hadn’t eaten anything since morning, I noticed a fast food joint across the road from the park called Jollibee. I would later find out that this is a Filipino institution and is found pretty much everywhere across the country. I walked in and soon realised that there wasn’t much for a vegetarian so ordered a milkshake and large fries and tucked in. Refreshed and rejuvenated with the echoes of Jollibee songs stuck in my head, I walked up to the gates of Intramuros and Fort Santiago.

Fort Santiago is a citadel that was built around 1590 and is one of the only remaining historical sites in Manila. Built and occupied by the Spanish, it has also experienced British, American and Japanese rule. Intramuros is the surrounding area contained within the old walls, and I started my exploration of the area.

I realised I could walk along the old walls and immediately bounded up the steps, here I found beautiful views of the City and surrounding area. The old moat area has been turned into verdent golf course, lush with grass and plants and a sharp contrast to the ram shackle city towers.

I wandered along the walls, marvelling that this was free and apart from a few kids shielding themselves from the sweltering sunshine it was just me. After some time I decided to head back down into Intramuros, grabbed a beautiful pineapple shake for about 50p and found some very cool old colonial buildings and churchs as I wound my way towards the Fort.

I soon found the Fort and entered for around 75 pesos. There’s not a great deal to it, but it’s very beautiful, a long wide avenue takes you down to the main gate and walls, whuch you cross a small moat to enter. Then you find yourself in a big green courtyard with some amazing old walls, a few buildings open to explore and some more great views over the river and City. It’s also got a great museum centred around Rizal and his life and death, as he was jailed here in 1896 and executed.

As with most executions of political revolutionaries this only caused more strong will in the Filipino people for independence. The thing I appreciated the most about Rizal’s story, was his insistance that education and national identity were the main things in achieving freedom.

After around and hour and a half I had explored every inch of the Fort I decided it was time to head back towards the hotel but taking the long way around as an adventure. Little did I know just how long it would be. As I walked towards the exit to Intramuros I found some amazing street art which I had to get pictures of, and found some old artillery which was pretty cool.

Once out of Intramuros I took another grab to the seafront which I thought would make a lovely walk, how wrong I was, looking out across the bay it seemed the waves were made of garbage, and the small shacks dotted along the promenade were people’s houses. It was the first and last time in the Philippines that I felt unsafe and upset about the amount of rubbish.

With this in mind it seemed like a good idea to head into the City and the general direction of the hotel, hopefully via a huge mural on the side of a building. I stopped at a 7/11 for snacks and pocari sweat to re-hydrate and carried on my walk. It took me through some very interesting areas to say the least before I finally found it, but I never felt unsafe. By now it was getting late and I realised I was walking along a triple carriageway on what barely counted as a curb.

So it was back to grab and what was a 30 minute walk on google maps turned into an hour and 15 minute journey by car, in all fairness it was rush hour, and I had a great chat to my taxi driver Carlos. Now extremely sweaty, covered in a fine layer of dust a shower seemed appropriate before heading up to enjoy the sunset and city lights of Manila from the rooftop.

An ice cold beer and a cooling dip in the pool was just what I needed, and I got chatting to two Canadian girls who had missed their flight to Palawan that day and had to book a last minute hotel. They seemed to be taking advantage of it as they ordered some more shots for us all. As we hung over the rooftop edge enjoying the heights and the sunset, we agreed to get ready before meeting up later for some drinks.

Now anyone who knows me, knows I take around 15-20 minutes to get ready, including a shower. This left me ready with time to spare before we met, so I went off in search of food, as my stomach suddenly reminded me I had barely eaten all day. The hotel is located near some really cool bars on and around Don Pedro street and I was excited to try them out.

I found a cute little kebab place that did falafel and rice, it was cheap, huge and delicious, in fact it was so big I probably didn’t need the fries I got, but they seemed to disappear quite quickly too. Fuelled up I walked back along the street to a great looking bar with a little terrace I had noticed earlier.

I found a little spot overlooking the street and ordered and amazing take on the old fashioned, the girls messaged me to let me know they were on their way, so I leaned back and relaxed. Once they arrived we ordered some of the bars locally brewed beers and swapped travelling tales. Beofre we knew it the bar called for last orders, so we discussed further drinking plans with a final beer.

The girls had noticed another street nearby full of bars, so off we trotted in search of more drinks. P. Burgos street was a complete contrast to where we had been, big bold brash and full of expats, I think the best way to explain it is by the first thing I was offered by a young man on the street….viagra. Not letting it deter us we stopped at one of the many bars along here sat down, ordered some beers and people watched.

Before long the night was up, so we walked back along to the hotel, making those sort of drunk plans to meet up further along the line that we all knew would never happen. Back in my big comfy hotel room I soon slipped off to a peaceful sleep.

The next day I moved hotels to a cheaper hostel called The Fort Budget hotel, I was in a sharing room which was fine for the price and they had an amazing rooftop area that you could enjoy. So I dropped my stuff off here and took a short walk to the Bonifacio area. It used to be part of the Philippine army camp, but after a lot of redevelopment it’s now one of the most financially successful areas of Manila, and a complete change of scenery to the metropolitan area I had walked around yesterday.

It’s all big shiny skyscrapers, wide avenues and lots of greenery. I actually thought it was a beautiful City inside a City but it’s crazy that all this wealth is in Manila but you still have slums everywhere too.

My main reason to explore this area was to check out some of the street art on offer here, I had found a really great map to follow which showed some of the more prominent works. I stopped for a quick pancake session at an IHOP, somewhere I loved back in the states, it also showed the relationship between the Philippines and the United States, a lot of American culture has been adopted by the Filipinos.

So filled with red velvet pancakes I was ready to go! I checked the map and decided to visit the American-Manila WW2 cemetary. It’s a beautiful and peaceful memorial to the lives lost in WW2 in the Pacific battles against Japan and subsequent liberation of the Philippines by the United States.

The grounds with white crosses spreading out in every direction was very sombre and impactful, while the main memorial in the centre was exremely informative about the battles that had happened. It’s something I didn’t have much knowledge of previously so it was good to learn a little more about the history of the Philippines during the war. It’s also free to enter and a great oasis from the metallic City surrounding it.

I walked from here to the art centre, with a few really cool murals hidden around it such as a giant astronaut and a cool bookcase showcasing aspects of culture from around SE Asia.

A lot of the next bits of art work were located in and around Bonificao high street, ranging from small pieces hidden down side streets to huge murals! I was really loving it and the high street was actually really impressive too. If you enjoy shopping it’d be a great place to visit, I had a great time visiting a huge book store, some interesting clothing stores and there was so much choice for food!

Back to the street art, I found an amazing Stranger Things mural and a really cool Filipino farmer mural. This self -guided tour had taken up most of the day, but even as I walked back to my hostel I found some more really cool pieces.

I got back to the hotel via a 7/11 with evening snacks and drinks, and I sat watching this vast City go by from the rooftop. I really enjoyed Manila, but it was time to head out for a bit of beach life and adventure.

Heading to Taipei, Capital of Taiwan.

Today I was off to my next Taiwan destination, the capital Taipei! It’s an easy journey from Taichung. I took the regular train which took around 2 and a half hours, but you can also take a bus or the high speed rail which only takes around 40 minutes!

I opted for the regular train from Taichung main station to save some cash but also to enjoy the Taiwanese countryside. If you want to take the high speed just hop over to Xinwuri and the high speed rail station.

The train journey was very comfortable and I arrived in Taipei around midday. The York hotel was just a short walk south of Taipei station on Nanyang St. It was also a bit of a shock! I’d only briefly glanced at the photos when I booked my room, so when I arrived I was given a key and room number and told to go down to the basement.

When I got there it was completely decked out like a nuclear bunker! It was actually pretty cool and fun after the initial shock and for less than £20 a night to have my own room in the centre was pretty good!

I dumped my stuff and checked my lovely planet guide and found an architecture walk I could take, so thinking I’d give it a try I headed out to explore Taipei.

The start of the walk was a little further from the hotel, so I incorporated the Huashan 1914 creative park into my little tour. It’s an art and film hub located in and around an old sake factory. It was pretty interesting to wander around with some cool exhibits.

So far I was impressed with Taipei, it was super quirky and futuristic but with a lot of traditional buildings around too. I started this self guided walking tour, and soon found myself extremely bored and regretting it. I’m not sure if it was my architectural ignorance or if it was just not very interesting.

The mayor’s residence art salon was ok, but probably the highlight. Luckily the tour didn’t take too long and it ended right by a much more interesting spot. First up was the East gate, a reconstruction of the old Japanese gate that once stood there.

Not far from here is Liberty Square. The central point of Taipei, not only is the Liberty Arch here but also the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall. Chiang is a controversial figure, a Chinese general who fought the Japanese in WWII but also ruled as a dictator. However he is seen as a hero on Taiwan for repelling the Communist advance from Mao.

It’s a beautifully created square, vast and open and I really enjoyed learning some history of Taiwan. It’s an interesting place as they take so much influence from both Japan and China. As you can see below the memorial building is amazing too.

From here I checked out the President’s office building and took a detour through the peace park nearby. Getting a little taste of tranquility in the big City.

My next destination was the north gate, and from here I wandered through a pretty interesting part of Taipei, with some great old buildings and a bit of street art to Ximen district and the Red house.

Built as a market in 1908 it’s now used as a theatre and for shopping, but it’s a pretty interesting building. Plus behind it is the main gay area in Taipei. Ximen as a district was also really cool, filled with little food stalls, futuristic shops and arcades and an awesome street art section.

It really reminded me of Japan, and the street art was out of this world, I probably spent an hour wandering the back streets finding more art stuff to look at, and I easily could have spent longer.

Once I’d had my fill of the graffiti, I needed my food fix. So I checked the maps and noticed a night market about 30 minutes all north. So off I went! On the way I discovered a cute little park that was a reservoir in WWII used to put out fires from air raids. A market was built on top of this and then demolished after years of decline.

Finally I made it to the market and was overloaded to the max with sights, smells and tastes. I had tasty vegetable gyoza, some more eggy pancakes, and ice cream to finish! It was late now, so I took the underground back to my hotel. After a little planning I was soon fast asleep.

24 Hours in L.A.

How do you spend a short amount of time in a City as vast as Los Angeles? Part of it depends on where you’re staying, and what you’re interested in.

Flying through from London on my way through to Melbourne, it almost felt like the pressure was off to see and do things in L.A. However, I was meeting Craig there and we had 2 nights and one full day to try and capture at least a small essence of California life.

Our hotel was a little far out (Woodland hills) and we knew traffic could be horrendous and time consuming, but after a chilled first night we were ready to go. The LACMA was high on our list, mostly for the amazing Urban Lights installation. A collection of lamp posts might not sound interesting, but check out the pics! Definitely an instagrammable spot.

The LACMA itself was actually closed on a Wednesday! So we had a little wander around the grounds, checking out some of the weird arty installations and the Brea tar pits, where I met a lovely giant sloth! I thought this was a cool little side quest to the main adventure of the day.

We then walked over to The Grove, an outdoor shopping area which is pure USA. We stopped at Sprinkles cupcake and picked the tastiest looking one.

Next up on our list was Monty’s burger, a purely vegan burger place that was recommended to me by a friend. Located in Koreatown it was so easy to take the bus along West 3rd Street. The best thing is that even the ‘plastics’ and containers are compostable.

Monty’s was amazing! A little pricey but the burgers and tater tots were soooo good, made from impossible fake meat patty’s we took 2 doubles and shared the tots. The vibe inside was very cool too. Another perfect Instagram moment.

Our next stop was downtown and the Arts District, so we hopped back on the bus, only costing us $1 each for the ride into the City. We got off near Pershing Square and walked over to 4th Street to start the Arts trail. This end of downtown is a little run down with some interesting characters, but there was some very cool street art to be found.

I had noticed a couple of brewery’s on Google maps and the Arts District brewery was out first stop. It’s located in an old warehouse and there’s plenty more street art to be seen around this area including a few pretty famous ones.

The beer was good, the weather was amazing and we sat outside watching the world go by. Angel City Brewery was next up and even better, their outside space is amazing, free water and some cool pieces of art to look at as you drink. I also had a great pineapple beer here and there was such a great vibe. If you are in L.A. for a while I’d definitely recommend it.

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Our plan was sunset at Santa Monica, and after getting a bus that didn’t really go anywhere, we checked and realised we could take a train the whole way. So we jumped on the blue line, and realised we were on the wrong blue line 😆. So we quickly got off and made our way onto the correct train.

It took about 45 minutes to get over to Santa Monica and there were some nice views over the City. We arrived just in time to get to Santa Monica pier for the sun to set. It was absolutely stunning and we loved wandering up the pier and being on the beach.

At this point we were starving, so we went to 800 degrees for pizza and salad, once you get over the weird ordering system the food was so good, it was pretty cheap, around £30 for mains and drinks total. After both of us flying across the Atlantic and Pacific respectively we were pretty tired so it was a cab ride home and bed.

The next day we only had a few hours to spare before flying on to Australia. So we decided to do the Getty museum, located on the 405 near Beverly Hills, it was built by the Getty family, a huge oil tycoon who loved art. The best thing? It’s free!

Our Uber took so long because of traffic, so always bear that in mind when planning L.A.

The architecture of the place is actually incredible, and there are some interesting pieces from Turner, Monet and Van Gogh. I liked the contrast of each building housing different examples of art such as photography or historical pieces.

The highlight for us was the central gardens, with beautiful landscaping and views over the City, we loved just wandering through looking at the different plants and flowers.

We had our lunch in the cafe, this was a nice food court type place with plenty of choice, even for vegetarians. Knowing the traffic could be bad we headed back to Woodland Hills and got some snacks and booze to take back to Australia from Westfield mall.

L.A. is so big it can feel a little daunting to get around and see things, but it’s definitely worth making that extra effort. If the weather has been a little less windy on our first day we would’ve hiked up to the Hollywood sign which is still on our list! I hope this gives you a little inspiration of things to do with limited time and budget.

36 hours in Berlin.

So an impromptu visit to Berlin was on the cards, I’ve visited before and loved it as a City. This time we were going over for a concert and a quick sightseeing adventure.

Arriving late we headed straight for our Air BnB before hitting a couple of pubs, wandered across check point charlie and grabbed some beers from one of the ‘spatis’, the famous late night shops you can buy booze and snacks from.

The next day we were up pretty early and headed in the direction of the closest piece of the Berlin wall, one of the most famous monuments in history. Walking along the wall gave a real perspective of this barrier separating a nation. We stopped for a quick breakfast where I had a matcha latte to die for.

Continuing our walk we found another piece of wall before wandering through Berlin, checking out some souvenirs and then sombrely navigating our way through the Holocaust memorial site.

The maze like structure takes up a good amount of space and it’s an interesting and haunting place as you walk between the various shapes blocks.

From here we found ourselves at the Brandenburg Gate, the famous Berlin landmark built over 200 years ago.

Moving on we spotted the memorial to Gypsies murdered in the Holocaust, a peaceful circular pool almost hidden away in the city park. It was a short walk from here to the Reichstag building, it was mostly burnt down in 1933 under suspicious circumstances which the Nazis used to their advantage against the communists.

We hung out here for a bit before checking the map and heading over to the Soviet war memorial in Tiergarten. It’s a pretty impressive monument and one of 3 you can find in Berlin. We stopped for lunch and had some yummy Asian food to fill us up, then wandered back through the City towards a bunker museum about Hitler and WWII.

This was actually super interesting, detailing Hitler’s life and how he changed into this maniacal dictator, and how the country and the political climate allowed him to gain such a control over Germany. We spent so long here we had to rush to get ready and go out to see The National.

The rest of the night was spent chaotically trying to find karaoke and then a bar to drink in! It was fun to spend a little break in Berlin and catch up on some sights.

A day on the lake in Inle, Myanmar.

So we were up super early today to explore the lake by boat. I think it was around 4am we were getting ready, the tour was through the amazing hostel I was at…the Song of Travel.

Ready for sunrise we set off down the river towards the lake, it was so calm and peaceful as we passed through the town. Once we entered the lake it wasn’t long before we spotted the traditional fisherman. Unfortunately they are posing for the money, as fishing techniques have moved on, but it was cool to see them.

Next up was breakfast! Sat on our little 5 man boat we tucked in as the sun rose, unfortunately it was really cloudy so the sunrise wasn’t the best. Though it was cool when the shafts of light started peaking down through over the mountains.

We were soon off again, the lake was beautiful and we could spot fishermen paddling with their one leg, so they had both hands free. Pretty ingenious!

Our first stop was at a traditional silver smith, where we were shown how they make silver and watched them make extremely detailed pieces of jewelry. It was interesting but I enjoyed the cats that were hanging about more than the shop at the end.

After this we travelled past some incredible floating gardens, with loads of tomatoes growing in all different colours. Then stopped at a ‘floating market’ that was actually all on land apart from a couple of boats trying to sell us souvenirs.

I enjoyed walked around and checking out the various produce and no one is very pushy in Myanmar which made the whole experience more relaxing.

As we left we also spotted a lady wearing traditional brass neck coils, the traditional clothing of the Kayan tribe. It was a good spot and she smiled and waved at us as we sped by.

Our next stop was the Shwe Inn Thein pagoda, this was near the small village of Indein and the journey there along these small waterways was amazing.

The little village we stopped by was cute and the old ruined Pagoda were amazing, you have to pay a fee to take photos, I thought I was templed out but wish I had done it now. You can rent longyi, the traditional cloth worn in Myanmar there too. I enjoyed hanging out by the bridge while some of the others wandered around.

We went Speeding back through the little waterways towards the lake again, our next stop was to learn about lotus and cotton production. This was really interesting and we learnt a lot! A few people on the your bought some clothes from here too.

I was excited for our next stop, lunch! We were brought to a stilted village on the water and led into a room where we had some snacks and tea.

This feast they made for us was so tasty, I couldn’t have the fish but all the sides and salads tasted so fresh. I loved the green tomatoes grown on the lake. The food was soon devoured and we lay out for a rest, I even fell asleep for a moment.

Then the women who had cooked for us had us paddling them around the village in little wooden canoes. They were giggling at us trying to row the whole way, finally before we left this little guy posed for us.

I even saw a snake pop his head up out of the water as we rowed the little boats around! Our final stop was to see traditional cigars being made, I’m not much of a fan of cigars but I enjoyed trying the flavoured ones, especially banana and I liked that they made them with 100% natural ingredients.

We ended the trip going through big water plants and at the same bridge we had been on the day before. We didn’t stay long here and started the journey back to the hostel. This was one of my favourite parts as I enjoyed the views across the lake.

We finished the day with some amazing food, including tea leaf salad, and a few beers at a bar in the center of town. The next day it rained from morning till I got my night bus to Yangon, but the staff kept us we fed with evening snacks. The hostel and their staff were incredible and I would recommend everyone to stay there.

The inside scoop on Inle Lake, Myanmar.

So the bus was actually pretty nice, I managed to sleep almost the whole way and although it was annoying arriving at 4am, I decided to walk as there was no rush to check in. It wasn’t far and the only scary part was a big dog pack that I took a detour to avoid.

I arrived at the Song of Travel hostel. £8 a night and great reviews had led me to this place, plus the façade looks like a giant boom box. There was someone at reception who checked me in and let me use the ground floor bathroom and gave me a bed to lie down in till I did check in later.

I opted to pay 2000 kyat for a pancake breakfast when I woke up after a quick nap, and booked onto a boat tour around Inle for the next day. At breakfast I met a German guy who was doing a bike trip round the lake, I had thought about doing this so we agreed to meet in a couple of hours and then head out.

We managed to find another guy, Andy from Sheffield to bike with us, and after choosing from the free bikes provided by the hostel we were on our way. Stopping off at the local market, I got some deep fried tofu and a little bottle of garlic chilli sauce and a drink.

We went North first, past a cute little lake to a monastery, it wasn’t that great after seeing the ones in Mandalay and I’d probably give it a miss next time. So we were now headed South towards Inle lake, it’s a pretty easy bike ride, with just one hill that nearly killed me. Bearing in mind the last time I properly rode a bike was 3 years ago in Vietnam (that was all flat too) I didn’t do too badly, but not long after we got to the top of the hill we had a steep climb up to a pagoda with great views of the lake.

At this point the clouds above us suddenly opened up and it began to pour down. So we did the only sensible thing and waited it out with our snacks.

It soon cleared up, and we were back on our way, having a pretty good conversation as we rode on. Andy mapped our way and we found ourselves in the Tofu village. Where for 5000 kyat. (£2.50) we got a full tour of this guys traditional village.

It was pretty cool and the guy literally fed us the whole way around as we saw different ways to make tofu and some tasty Myanmar snacks. Finally we were back at his house to eat some fried tofu with a great chilli dip.

At that point the rain came back 10x worse and we had to wait a while before we could get the boat across the river. So we spent our time eating, and chatting with this guy about Myanmar life and Buddhism. It was really interesting, but the rain eventually stopped and we were on our way again. We put our bikes in the long wooden boat and settled in as we sped through small waterways, motor chugging away behind us.

Unfortunately it was still raining a little so the views of the lake were a bit obscured, but we saw fishermen paddling in their tradition manner, using their foot to steer so their arms are free to catch. We made it to the other side of the lake and walked our bikes along a wooden bridge to dry land.

Who knew Myanmar would have its own wineries?! Not me, but as we cycled back to the hostel it was there, up a steep hill and with views for the grapevines that spoke of Italy or France more than Southeast Asia.

For 5000 kyat you got a 4 wine tasting, 2 white and 2 red. They were all drinkable but even my unrefined palate could tell they weren’t top class. However, it was a fun thing to do and the views including a great sunset made it well worth the visit.

It was a short ride back to the hostel, where after relaxing for a little while we met up on the rooftop, with the addition of Julia from Belgium. After a couple of beers we headed out for some great food at a Myanmar/Dim Sum place nearby. Julia and I were up early to take a boat tour of the lake and I was soon tucked up ready for more adventures.

Gili T and the Waterlice

Even after doing so much sightseeing every day, 2 days of relaxation and chilling out was enough for us so we decided to take a boat trip out to some cool snorkeling spots where we might see more turtles and some other cool sealife. Our hotel organised it and after being escorted to the boat we jumped and were given the chance to have flippers.

The boat was fun and pretty rocky as we crossed between the islands to Gili Meno and turtle point! Once we reached our spot everyone jumped in and followed our snorkel guide. As we were swimming it felt like something had stung or bit me! I had a bit of a panic and quickly looked around me but I couldn’t see anything.

This continued for the rest of the swim as we watched turtles far below us grazing on the seabed, one of them came swimming up to the surface and the whole group went crazy trying to get close to it, why can’t we just enjoy things without having to touch?

I later found out that the little stings I was getting were from sea lice – more on them here : https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/oceanfit.com.au/education/sea-lice-an-itchy-problem/amp

The swim took us to our boat which had gone ahead and was waiting for us all. We jumped back on and sped off to the next snorkelling spot a little closer to the shore. The fish here were good and it was fun being a bit further out than I had dared the day before, but after the 3rd spot it all became a bit too similar. Even though we were in a group of 20 or so I never felt too crowded apart from the turtle moment.

We stopped on Gili Air and had a little wander and a beer to celebrate a good days snorkelling before heading back to Gili T as the sun was starting to go down. When we got back Peter decided to go for a massage, but I was only interested in seeing that amazing sunset one more time.

So I walked over to the West side of the island and sat at a table, ordered a beer and watched an incredible sunset over Bali. It was sad to think that tomorrow would be the last day we spent in Asia. That night we went back to the BBQ place where I had lobster and Peter had steak. It was so good and cheap compared to back home, but expensive compared to the rest of Bali.

Gili T and the Turtle

Today we decided to relax on the beach on the North West of the island and do a lot of snorkeling, so we met up with Liv and Jord and took the same track from yesterday up to the beach.

It was hot and beautiful as we walked along, showing the others the swings and pointing out a few of the more interesting parts of the route. We made it to the beach and, donning our masks we started off through the shallow rocky water to get to the good stuff. We did see a few starfish on the way, but as soon as we dove into that clear water a whole world was revealed.

We saw all sorts of colourful fish, definitely more than the day before and as we got further out huge schools of fish greeted us and we followed them around, spotting some pretty big fish in the depths.

I even saw a barracuda hovering near the surface only a few feet away. Thankfully we didn’t see anymore sea snakes, and it was nice alternating between snorkelling and sunbathing. I would say that you could do with getting some aqua shoes as the shallow part of the sea was pretty rocky and spiky.

After sunbathing and relaxing with a beer or two Jord and I headed back out to snorkel. We went pretty far out and saw some big fish and even tried to find some reef sharks to no avail. After about an hour or so we were about to give up our turtle hunt when I noticed something in the distance. Wildly gesturing to Jord we Sam like mad men in that direction and as we got closer our excitement grew. It was definitely a turtle!

It was so majestic as we swam alongside it, we took a few photos and the turtle seemed so relaxed. We followed it for quite a long time before realising the sun wax going down and we were a good 20 minute swim/walk from the others. So we said our goodbyes to the turtle and headed for shore, making it back just in time to watch the sun set behind Mount Agung. It’s definitely in my top 3 sunsets I’ve ever seen, the sky was such a deep red as we sat there listening to nice chill out music and sipping a cold beer.

After all the excitement and swimming we were pretty tired so headed back to the hotel and ate at the restaurant before turning in, wondering what tomorrow would bring.

Gili T and the Seasnake

The journey from Ubud to Gili Trawangan, the largest of the 3 Gili Islands should, on paper, be simple. However, these types of journeys are rarely easy in Asia. Our taxi was late picking us up, and I knew as we got on that the empty mini bus was a bad sign. Sure enough we went to another 3 hotels to fill the bus out before heading off to the port of Padang Bai where our 1pm boat would be waiting for us.

We arrived at the pier just before 1 to crowds of people, and no sign of any boat. Basically a boat would come in, they’d shout a company and everyone with those tickets would board. Luckily we could buy beers, juices and snacks while we waited. I think our boat arrived at around 4pm. We randomly met a couple from a village not far from where I grew up who were waiting for the same boat.

We all crowded on, I bought a few beers for the 2 hour boat crossing and we sat near the back. I had read that the boat crossing wasn’t great and it turned out to be very true, the boat stank of petrol fumes and was pretty rocky. I was stood by the door with a bit of breeze but I don’t doubt the reason everyone fell asleep was because of the fumes.

Finally we made it to freedom and jumped off onto Gili T, after a full 8 or 9 hours of travel. Luckily it’s not a huge place and it was only a 15 minute walk along a main track which circles the island to our hotel, the Pearl of Trawangan. A beautiful bamboo restaurant and bar awaited us and a lovely little cabin in amongst the foliage.

We were pretty tired and once we had unpacked and relaxed for a bit we walked out to the beach and had a little wander before heading to the restaurant and enjoying a couple of beers and some great food. We had a little walk up the strip and sat on some bean bags at a beach bar. We were soon ready for bed so went back to our cabin and had a great night’s sleep.

We had a bit of a lie in the next day and enjoyed the free breakfast back up in the restaurant. Our plan today was beach beach and more beach, our hotel opened out onto beautiful white sandy beach and we chose a spot with some loungers and set up camp.

After a while sun bathing we decided to cool off and do some snorkelling. I’ve only really been snorkelling in Koh Samet, Thailand and this was a million times better. There were fish everywhere as we swam along grassy banks and over rocky areas.

As I was following some fish over one grassy peak I was greeted by the sight of a black and white striped sea snake heading straight toward me. I basically panicked, thrashed about a bit and turned round swimming like hell in the opposite direction. Looking back I probably scared the snake more than anything but there was no way I could act cool when one of the most poisonous animals was coming towards me!

I didn’t let this put a dent in my snorkelling fun and continued to explore, secretly hoping to see a turtle. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be and after trying to relax a bit more on the beach we got itchy feet and decided to spend the afternoon walking around the island.

We stopped our stuff off and started heading along the one track. The walk took us past super posh looking resorts, little huts selling magic mushrooms and a bit of a rubbish tip in what looked like an abandoned hotel development.

The best bit was finding some bleached trees out on the beach with a swing to enjoy the scenery and take some great Instagram pics. We continued on to the next bar and stopped for a drink and some shade from the sun for a bit.

Gili T is such a relaxing place in the daytime, the weather was gorgeous and you could see excellent views of Bali and Lombok across the sea.

We continued around the island and hit the beginning of the main strip, this is full of bars, hostels, restaurants and street food.

We grabbed a bite to eat at Scallywags, a BBQ place with unlimited salad bar and a hatch where you can order various meat and fish and tell them how you want it cooked, which sauces, rubs etc you want on it and they’ll then bring it to your table.

The food was really good, even the salad bar had some good stuff on it. Once we had eaten our fill we met up with the couple from the pier the previous day and went for a few drinks and a dance on the main strip. We had such a good time and agreed to meet up the next day to do some more beach chilling and snorkelling.