Komodo, Land of Dragons.

Today was the day we had been looking forward to, we were off to see the Dragons! We had been on Flores Island for a few days and booked the trip while we were there through Seeksophie for £45pp. Seek Sophie

This was a full day boat trip to 4 locations and we were so excited for each one. We were picked up at 5:30am and taken to our boat for the day. There were 12 other people on the boat and we bonded with a girl from Perth and a guy from India.

It was pretty quick and easy getting on the boat and sorting money etc out. You have to pay between 300,00-460,000IDR in national park fees depending on how many people are on the tours. We were given all this information in our emails from seeksophie, and ended up paying 350,000.

So off we sped! We went to the top of the boat and watched the sunrise, it’s beautiful out on the water with all the little islands and villages on the way.

Our first stop was Padar Island, famous for it’s views of 3 beaches, one pink, one black and one white. It was 3 hours away but it went so quickly, you could say it sailed by!

Arriving at a little jetty it’s a pretty steep hike up to the top when you consider the heat even at 9am, but there are lots of places to stop and admire the amazing views. The landscape is truly incredible.

The downside was the black beach, there was a lot of rubbish on it which was a sad sight.

There were cute deer on the main beach eating old coconuts and playing in the water, we had some time to spare waiting on others to climb down so checked out the crystal clear water and the jetty.

We had an hour here and once everyone was back on the boat it was on to our next stop. As we sailed around the island we enjoyed the views and the interesting rock formations, some of them looked like animals or shapes.

Pink beach is about an hour away, named because a certain red coral mixes with the white sand making it a gorgeous pink colour. There were only 2 other boats and it didn’t feel crowded at all which was amazing.

The beach exceeded all expectations, it was so pink! The water was crystal clear and the snorkeling was amazing, we saw so many fish including a clownfish. The surrounding area is also photo worthy, we both wish we’d had more time here as 45 minutes was not long enough.

The excitement of the next destination prevented us from being too sad though. We were headed to Komodo island! Finally after months of looking forward to it we were here!

This time we met up with a few other boats and there was quite a large group of us. We were given a few rules and then taken into the island on a 2.5km walk by the park rangers armed with sticks.

We spotted some wild pigs and deer, then as we approached a watering hole we spotted two Komodo dragons lazing in the sun! There was even a baby Komodo walking around which is quite rare as the adults eat them.

The park rangers helped us take this amazing photo and we stood watching the Komodo for a while, they’re pretty big but they seemed chill as they mainly sleep in the heat of the day.

We were then herded along the track to see if we could spot more, but we found ourselves at a cafe/bar. There were two huge Komodo sleeping under some steps and it was fun having a super cold Bintang after trekking in the heat.

Then we were all hurried along to the boat, as we were walking along the jetty we spotted a small reef shark swimming along which was cool!

Our next stop was Manta Point where we’d hopefully see some Manta Rays! Indonesia is where the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet and the current between them means there is a huge variety of marine life.

We passed some amazing looking islands and sand bars on the way, definitely worth a trip if you have time.

We were warned that the currents out here are pretty strong, and the depth is about 10 metres. We jumped in and the current was really strong, I’m not an amazing swimmer but we stayed close to the boat and it wasn’t too bad.

There were no Manta though! We saw a few fish including one with a long nose and I’m pretty sure I saw a bamboo shark laying on the bottom. However our snorkeling got cut short as the girl from Perth was struggling with the current.

We all had to jump back in the boat and sail over to rescue her, and after this there was no more snorkeling. It was sad that we didn’t see Manta but we were happy everyone was ok, there’s always another time!

Everyone was tired after the heat of the day as we made our way back to the mainland. So we watched another magical sunset behind us and arrived back in the town at 18:30. 13 hours after we left! We stopped off at Warung Mama for dinner to talk about the spectacular day we’d had.

The food here is great, you pick what dishes you want from a glass counter with some rice, the vegetarian options were great and the spicy sauce is a must!

After that it was time to walk back to our hotel, obviously with a pit stop at the supermarket for ice cream. I couldn’t recommend this day enough, it felt like such an adventure in a wild part of the world.

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.

Temples, Tamsui, and Taipei 101. Taipei part 2.

Today I was visiting one of the previous holders of tallest building in the world, the Taipei 101 tower! I was super excited as I love the design and could add it to my list after visiting the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur.

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I am getting a little ahead of myself though, as first up I was going to get a little culture, a little nature, and some amazing food. Taipei is huge, especially when you include the surrounding areas, but luckily the rail system is amazing. Today I planned to head North stopping off at some interesting sights along the way.

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My first stop was Yuanshan and the Taipei Confucius temple. Confucius was a Chinese philosopher who began the way of life or religion ‘Confucianism’. It’s a cute temple with lots of cool architecture, it also has a plaque inscribed by Chiang Kai-Shek which translates as ‘Education without discrimination’.

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Next up on the tour is something you’d never expect in a City, Mangroves! I took the same metro line to Hongshulin, and after a little education on the mangroves I wandered along raised wooden walkways looking for snakes and crabs. It is pretty cool that there are mangroves just a short journey from the centre of a huge City like Taipei.

The weather wasn’t great but I didn’t mind, I had my waterproof jacket and decided to walk along the water front to Tamsui, my next stop. Tamsui is famous for its Old Street, full of restaurants and shops but it was also the site of a Spanish colony. This was built in 1629 but in 1641 the Dutch expelled them from the island and took over the fort.

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It soon went to the Chinese and became a major port, but recently it has become a big tourist destination thanks to all the amazing food and waterfront views. On a clear day you can see an old volcano on the opposite side of the river too!

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I made it to the town and instantly fell in love with the seaside vines, architecture and especially this little side alley and staircase with amazing realistic artwork painted all over the walls and floor. It was a really pretty little area and even with the rain coming down I loved taking pics of it all.

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I walked along the waterfront and up to the old Spanish fort of Santo Domingo. This is just an okay tourist location. Some interesting history of the area but I wasn’t blown away by it.

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I followed the path up past the Oxford College and back down to the main street. I was starving and it was lunch time, so I did what any normal person would do, bought a whole cheesy egg cake and munched down! It’s one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tried wobbling about in its box.

I didn’t quite finish it all in the end, popping it in my bag for later, it was time to jump back on the metro to Jiantan. I had read you could do a little hike in some hills here in the middle of the City which really appealed to me. So I found the little path near the station and up I went.

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t was a nice walk through the trees and if it weren’t for the clouds it would’ve been an amazing view from up there. Luckily the walk coincided with another sight…The Grand Hotel. It’s one of tallest Chinese classical buildings in the world at 285 feet high. It’s pretty impressive, and several notable people such as Eisenhower, Nixon, Mandela, and Yoshida.

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My aim from here was to get to Elephant mountain on the East side of the City. Using google maps I organised a route to take that would go past a couple of points of interest, first up was the 823 artillery park memorial, dedicated to the conflict between Taiwan and China in 1958. There were a couple of military planes and guns and a memorial statue, and some weird bird that I got a little video of.

I saw there was some kind of arch of Yuanshan scenic area but that would have taken me back up into the hills I believe. SO it was onwards to the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ shrine. The building houses 390,000 spirit tablets of people killed in the various wars that the Taiwanese have been involved in. I was lucky enough to arrive there during the changing of the guard which was a great experience. I also loved the architecture with another wide avenue and interesting buildings surrounding it.

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Eventually I made it to Dazhi station and took the underground over to Xiangshan station. I was really looking forward to this as I wandered past a little ecological park for tree frogs, unfortunately I couldn’t see any. At the end of Xiangshan park is the trail up Elephant mountain. I wasn’t too concerned about the hike up and bought a pPcari sweat to keep me going. However it’s actually pretty difficult going up all the steps in the heat and you climb it quite quickly. I had to take a rest about halfway up before getting some amazing views….The reason you climb the mountain is to get a great picture or image of the Taipei 101 tower. At one point there are two rocks which you can climb up to get a really great shot.

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I really enjoyed this and finished walking to the top, amazed at the nature you can find in the middle of this massive place. After seeing the tower from afar it was now time to climb it! I walked over rather than took the underground and planned to go up for sunset. The problem was the enormous cloud coverage. So instead I opted for a night time view.

Whilst waiting I went to  food court at the basement of the tower and feasted on kimchi ramen, once done I was ready to go! It costs around £15 to go to the top, which is quite a lot but compared to a lot of places around the world it’s not too bad. I queued up before taking the lift up to the top, and the views were unreal. I love being so high in a City and being able to see everything for miles. I was glad I went after sunset too as I saw the City come alive with all the lights.

After a while walking around and learning a bit more about the construction of the tower, it was the tallest building in the world from 2004 until the Burj Khalifa was built in Dubai. In 2011 it won an award for being the tallest green structure in the world, and it has amazing features to withstand earthquakes and tropical storms.

It’s design is based around the traditional Asian pagodas, along with a stalk of bamboo and Chinese money boxes stacked on top of one another. It’s truly an architectural marvel.

 

After such a big day of exploring I was ready for a beer, so after a quick change back in the hotel I walked over to the gay area behind the red house near Ximen station. I was surprised at how many bars and people were there. I enjoyed a few beers in one of the main bars in the square, then headed to a club called Commander D. It was fun but as one of the only Westerners there it was hard to get away from a lot of unwanted attention.

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I was soon back in my little underground bunker bed, hoping for a really fun day out tomorrow.

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Back once again in Bangkok.

Waking up in Chachoengsao I packed up the few things I had taken out of my bag and Liam, via 5 minutes of driving down the wrong side of the road got us to the station.

The ticket cost about 10 Baht to take us on the hour long journey to central Bangkok. I got some tasty coconut batter snacks for the train and we began our short journey. It was so pretty as we passed rice fields filled with storks and the scenery starting to become less country and more City.

Liam had recommended a hotel near Asok train station so we alighted there and ten minutes later we were checking in. It was a really nice hotel and I had splurged for the executive lounge so we could get breakfast, afternoon snacks, and free drinks in the evening.

After a chillout by the pool with a Pina colada we got some free lunch at the lounge and headed towards Siam Square for the magical rainbow cheese toastie. Bangkok is pretty easy to navigate with its metro and SkyTrain and along with 7/11s they make a nice reprieve from the heat.

We arrived at Siam Square and found the Hokkaido Cheese Toastie shop on the ground floor of the mall. We ordered some drinks while we waited for the rainbow toastie and then realised they were cheesy drinks! Actually they were delicious, Liam had strawberry and I went for matcha and they had a cheesecakey float on the top.

Then the rainbow toastie arrived and it was everything we were hoping for and more. So pretty but also super weird as the different colours are different fruity flavours. But cheese.

We wandered around the mall for a bit checking out the randomness of it all, then found the Hello Kitty cafe. I was super excited but it was actually a bit disappointing inside, and the menu was overpriced so we didn’t stay. Instead we walked along the skywalk, checking out Erawan shrine from above and finally jumping the SkyTrain back to Nana for a beer and to people watch.

We sat here for a while watching ominously as dark grey clouds closed in on us before the heavens opened up. It was past 6 at this point and we wanted to enjoy the free drinks and food at the hotel, and after a soggy 40 minutes of being packed into the SkyTrain and metro like sardines we made it.

The food was great and they had plenty of vegetarian options, Liam was super happy he could drink white wine too as it’s something of a luxury for him. Feeling a bit tipsy we got changed before heading to Tuba antique restaurant and bar. A cool little place off the beaten track that Liam had suggested.

We arrived via taxi and it was pretty cool, lots of random objects dotted about the place and tasty cocktails which were huge! We sat at the bar and chatted through the night till I was too tired to talk. So we walked slowly back to the hotel and I passed out almost immediately.

I woke early in the morning, and went for a refreshing swim before trying literally everything vegetarian on the breakfast buffet. I waited for Liam to wake up and we got ready to head out. We wanted to head to Chang Chui market with its cool abandoned planes but realised it’s closed on a Wednesday.

Instead we headed to Jim Thompson’s house as a last minute decision, and it turned out to be pretty cool. It wasn’t super expensive about 200 Baht, this includes a tour of the house in your language. It was cool seeing this snapshot of post WW2 life for an expat and the gardens and decor were stunning. It’s also easy to get to, just take the SkyTrain to National Stadium and it’s a 5 minute walk from there. We also checked out the canal just past the house.

e took the BTS down towards Lumphini park, this place is famous for its water monitor lizards though unfortunately Bangkok council had the majority of the big ones removed as they were becoming a nuisance in the City, including one casually walking into a Tesco.

The park itself is a nice break from the city and you can rent bikes or pedalos. We visited in 2015 and it seems like it’s in a constant state of fluctuation. We enjoyed the lizard hunt and were rewarded for our endeavours by spotting a big one eating an even bigger fish.

From here our plan was to take the BTS around to Sala Daeng and hit the unicorn cafe, but Liam dropped his phone somewhere in the park. Luckily a local found it and we managed to get it back but by this point it made more sense to walk down to the cafe.

It was about a 25 minute walk from Lumphini to Silom district where the cafe is and it was totally worth it. Bright and garish it was like a crazy acid trip, with unicorns hanging from the ceiling and the most colourful desserts menu I have ever seen.

We ordered some iced drinks and one of the rainbow waffles, the drinks were so sugary and sweet we had to wait for the ice to dilute them a little but the waffles were incredible.

Buzzing from the sugar rush we wandered up towards the main street in Silom near the BTS and grabbed a couple of beers. We were going to head to some of the gay bars but they didn’t open till 6pm and like needed to get back to Chachoengsao.

It turned out we probably could’ve gone there as the BTS was full of commuters so we decided to risk the Bangkok traffic and take a taxi for 100 Baht. Google maps said it would take 45 minutes but almost 2 hours of bumper to bumper cars we finally arrived at the Avani.

Liam quickly sorted out a taxi back home and I prepared for my morning departure to Myanmar, the first official leg of my tour.

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.

NOS Alive and a day at the beach. 

So today was the start of the festival! We were pretty excited to see what NOS had to offer us as we belatedly got up and had breakfast. Shout out to Sarah and Lee who always had coffee and something cooking for us all in the mornings. The views from our apartment this morning were ace.

NOS is located a few train stops out of the City so we walked over to Santa Apolonia, the station that served us so well over the course of the week. From here we went straight to Cais De Sodre where we jumped a train to Alges. Our plan was to pick up our wristbands before heading to a nearby beach for a couple of hours.

Because of the heat in the day the first acts don’t start until around 5-6pm and go on till 2-3am which is a pretty good idea! Anyway we arrived at the festival gates only to find a huge crowd in front of us waiting to get in. After waiting in the hot sun for what seemed like forever, a band started playing Pearl Jam’s ‘Alive’ and we walked through security. Unfortunately Sarah and Lee had the caps from their liquids taken off them, so they had to sort a makeshift one out of plastic and husbands.

Finally though we were in! We walked under the welcome arch where the band was playing and surveyed the terrain. It’s not a big festival with only 2 stages, a dance tent and a bandstand. It was around 3pm now so the beach idea was scrapped in favour of a beer idea. The sun was shining and we sat on the astroturf that was laid out over the concrete with a beer and looked through the bands that were playing today.

There were a load of freebies being handed out including hats, wristbands and sun cream! Getting hungry we walked over to the food area…basically the length between dance and 2nd stages has tables and chairs and loads of different types of food. I lumped for a burrito which wasn’t satisfying at all so I got a kebab too! Excited for our first European festival we had a few more beers and learnt a few lessons over the 3 days.

  1. NOS is easy to get to, but hard to get from, they close off the train station from one side so you have to walk for about 40 minutes along an overpass, squeeze onto a train, then try and get a taxi or walk to your hotel once in the City.
  2. They have people walking around with beerpacks, so you don’t need to go to the bar, the bar comes to you.
  3. Portuguese people don’t really dance, or singalong much, so it can feel a bit awkward at times.
  4. It’s not super packed with people so you can always get to a good spot, especially important for the smaller people along us!
  5. It’s great to party in the sun but it actually did get colder at night than we expected!
  6. You can get free T-shirts in exchange for plastic cups. (My sister Hannah got especially into this, I think managing to get about 5 or 6).
  7. It’s a great festival overall, the line-up has to have enough on it to make it worth it though, we had to make big decisions on who to see as all the acts we wanted to see were on later at the same time.

One of the best bits of the 3 days was being able to visit the beach, only a ten minute or so journey past the NOS stop is Carcavelos where you can get off and walk another 10 minutes to find yourself at a beautiful beach. We arrived here the 2nd day of the festival, got food and sangria at one of the restaurants and spent a few hours playing on the beach and in the very cold Atlantic! The water was really clear though and we could see fish swimming around us.

We relaxed on the beach for a bit longer with some beers and ice creams, we then headed back via another beachside restaurant which was so good! Hannah got these huge prawns that tasted amazing. We got the train back to the festival and spent another great night there. Rocking out to the Foo Fighters. The walk back wasn’t as bad either because we were more prepared for it.

We fully intended to go to the beach again on the third and final day, however I think everyone needed a rest after the past few days of drinking. So instead we chilled out and then went straight over to the site, meeting some crazy Portuguese Depeche Mode fans who were adamant they should play ‘Personal Jesus’. NOS and doing a festival abroad was so much fun and we’re already talking about where we could try next year, after all it’s a Glastonbury fallow year so that’s out of the equation.

Out of the mountains, into Barcelona. 

Today was my last day of a great solo trip, and it was good to know I could bear my own company for a week.

I was heading out of Andorra into Spain, purely for economical reasons, as flights from Girona to Manchester are really cheap.

Unfortunately it wasn’t till after I booked that I realised the only way to get to Girona was through Barcelona. This turned into a nice little bonus, even though I’d only have a few hours there. I had booked a hotel right next to Girona airport as my flight was at 7am. I decided to treat myself by booking a hotel with a pool and spa.

I travelled from Andorra La Vella bus station straight through to Barcelona, taking about 3 hours and arriving at the Central bus/train station. The descent down from the mountains was ace with golden fields laid out in front if us when arriving in Spain.

The underground in Barca is so good, especially on a hot day with the air con. As I only had limited time I went straight to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, there are still cranes towering above this cathedral but it doesn’t deter hordes of tourists taking pictures.

This is the second time I’ve visited and for some reason I still haven’t gone inside! It’s a must do really so it’s still on the list. I saw a lot of Barca last time I came so I tried to visit somewhere I hadn’t been before. Checking on the map I realised there was a whole park called Parc de la ciutadella we had missed when I came with my friends. So I walked down towards their version of an arc de triomf, built in 1888, in the sweltering midday heat.

Walking through the arch and down a long wide boulevard I made it to the breezy park. Here I could slowly meander and check out the sights including a huge water feature which may have been partly created by an unknown Gaudi, a random wooly mammoth, and the castells dels tres dragons, a building designed to look like a castle. The park also houses a zoo and the parliament of Catalonia.

I was getting hungry now so walked towards the bus station that would take me to Girona airport, enjoying the beautiful streets as I went. I ate in the station, some lovely Spanish pastries and a donut. I took the bus out to Girona airport where my hotel was a 5 minute walk away along a main road. Here i relaxed in the spa pool and jacuzzi, after a week of walking non stop, traveling between cities and countries it was an amazing way to end it.

I’ve enjoyed travelling solo, I definitely prefer to travel with someone though. The parts of the holiday where I longed for someone to experience the moment with, such as the riverside in Toulouse, or the top of the mountains in Andorra were also the most enjoyable. It just would have been better with someone for those jaw dropping moments.

I also wish I had pushed myself to go to bars or restaurants on my own. When I did it was enjoyable and didn’t feel weird but it was also easier to grab takeout and also cheaper!

It was simple flying back home and I had the knowledge that I would be flying out again soon with my ‘festival crew’ to NOS Alive in Lisbon.

Part time traveller, how to make it work.

One thing I’ve heard a lot over the past few years is how do I manage to have so many holidays a year. I think most people think I’m secretly rich (I wish) I have no social life (half true) or Peter is my sugardaddy (again, if only!). The truth is, with good preparation, flexibility and a real thirst for travel, you can go anywhere/do anything you like. 

  • FLEXIBILITY

I am lucky in some ways, my jobs have all been shift work, which is more flexible. For instance, I could ask to work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday all day, but get Thursday to Sunday as my days off, then vice versa – have Monday to Thursday off and work Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I do understand that not everyone is in this position, but hey, on the flip side most people get every weekend off. 

Even without this measure of flexibility in work, flexibility with your travel destination is key. I like to use Skyscanner app for my flight needs, and I have the easyjet/ryanair apps on my phone. The best thing to do is use Skyscanner, use your local airports and select everywhere. You soon get an idea of where is cheap, and be mindful that weekend flights like Thurs/Fri to Sun/Mon will usually be more expensive…along with kids holidays etc.

My other recommendation is to think big…why go to one country/city when you could do two, or three, or more! Often the flight out to one country will be super cheap, but the return with the same airline will be much more expensive. I like to look at nearby places that are accessible from the place you’re flying to, and have flights back to your home airport. 

(Renting a car to travel through Romania)

Examples I’ve done are to fly to Sofia for dirt cheap, spent a couple of days there as it’s not a huge city, then got an overnight train (Well bus but that’s another story) to Istanbul. I also flew to Bratislava, but got a boat to Vienna and flew back from there. In Romania we flew to Cluj in the North, but spent 7 days driving through Transylvania, ending up in Bucharest and flew back from there. 

In April 2017 I’m flying out to Montenegro. I want to go to Bosnia and Serbia while I’m there but don’t want to do a round trip, flights from Sarajevo or Belgrade are expensive or unavailable so we’re flying back from Budapest for about £30. 

This is all a long winded way of saying be flexible, be adventurous and you will always find exciting opportunities for travel. 

  • PREPARATION 

This next one is also key to travelling on a budget. I have studied and studied books on travelling europe and the world and a basic understanding of geographical locations of places really helps. The main thing though is advance planning, find out when airlines release their flights for different seasons. The budget airlines usually release their flights later than long haul as people will book long haul flights earlier to pay them off etc. 

(Vang Vieng River – where infamous tubing takes place)

The earlier you manage to get your flights the cheaper they usually are. I try to book my flights first well in advance. I’ve booked flights 8 or 9 months in advance sometimes, and usually at least 6 months. For 6 weeks in SE Asia we booked our flights Jan 1st to depart October 20th. This meant we had 10 months to set aside our spends. 

This means I can allocate part of my monthly pay to the flight, then the next month maybe allocate money to the hotel. I always know then that I have months to save and book things that I maybe would otherwise struggle to afford.

  • ONCE YOU’RE THERE

Last but by no means least, is what you do when you get somewhere. Again this can take a bit of planning but things like, is there a bus from the airport rather than a taxi. In Riga it was less than 2E for a bus ticket but a taxi cost around 14E. On the flipside a taxi between 4 might be the cheaper option. 

Go for the cheaper hotels, I rarely stay in hostels but go for the low to mid range hotels. I find http://www.booking.com to be the one I go back to time and again. Not only do you soon become a genius member and reap some benefits but the reviews are usually pretty accurate. In Asia we trawled them for cockroach sightings and only ended up having one hotel that was filled with the little buggers. If travelling in larger groups apartments often work out cheaper and you can usually stock up on cheap supermarket food if there’s a kitchen. 

It’s also different depending where you go. In Europe last minute hotel deals are rare and usually the prices go up the closer to the date you get. In Asia we booked places the day before or even on the day a couple of times and it was still super cheap as they have the backpacker market to consider. 

(Package holiday to Bodrum – standing on the site of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus)

I find that eating out and alcohol really rack up the costs of holidays. Obviously there’s nothing better than a cold beer in the afternoon on a hot day in Europe but it does soon add up. We sometimes found that a cold drink or coffee was more than a beer though! 

Sometimes it’s nice to push the boat out in restaurants, in Bratislava/Vienna and Romania we treated ourselves to a nice big meal one night but then ate in normal range places the others. In Asia we really took advantage of the street stalls and small plastic cafe type places, we couldn’t believe how cheap everything was. Sometimes a package holiday can be the best and cheapest way to get somewhere, if you check what excursions or day trips out you can do you may get to see a lot of the country you’re in. 

If you have the thirst to travel but aren’t sure where to start, I hope this has given you some good tips to get started. 

(Travelling by boat along the Danube)