This post has been a long time coming but I’m so glad I made time to sit down and write about the hiking in South Island. It’s no secret that we both loved our time in New Zealand and looking over old pictures for this post has made me so keen to go back some day! Just like North Island, there are plenty of epic South Island hikes, and it’s so worth squeezing in at least a couple of them on your trip.
Japan is well known for its interesting and sometimes unusual culture and our visit didn’t disappoint. From a live action robot show to making sushi, and from exploring the ancient temples of Kyoto to hand feeding tame deer in Nara, there are so many things to do it can be hard to work out what to prioritise fitting into your trip. If you have a couple of weeks to explore these are our all time top 10 things to do in Japan, that will mean you make the most of your time in this amazing country.
I have to be honest, Newcastle wasn’t one of the original stops we had in mind for our 1 month journey of Australia’s east coast. We met some awesome girls from Newcastle when we were in South America and they invited us to come and see them when we reached Australia, promising to give us a tour of the area. Turns out there’s loads to do in Newcastle, it’s a beautiful little spot in New South Wales that’s a perfect base for exploring the local region and we had an awesome time there.
We’d decided it was essential to block out a day for visiting Nara from Osaka as we knew we wouldn’t have enough to occupy us in the city for the 3 days we had booked there. Not to mention we were desperate to see the thousands of adorable deer that roam free around huge areas of the city! Luckily we weren’t disappointed and had an amazing day exploring one of Japan’s ancient capitals – one of our first glimpses into this history after spending the initial few days of our two weeks in Japan in Tokyo and Osaka.
We were pretty worried about how we’d find travelling in Taiwan – it’s not exactly a renowned backpacker destination after all. After doing some research we decided trains were best for inter city travel but didn’t work out how to navigate the cities until arriving in them which was interesting at times! Having heard reports of people getting horribly lost and having real trouble finding any English speakers to help out with buying tickets etc we were expecting it to be a bit of a disaster.
I wasn’t going to write this post as so many bloggers have written amazing things about travelling on this side of the world. As it stands though, our 10 week South America Itinerary and our 1 Month Australia Itinerary are some of our most popular posts. It’s also an opportunity to look back on our adventures as I can hardly believe that a whole 6 months has passed since we arrived to start our 10 weeks in Australia and New Zealand, with a bonus stop off in Fiji. Time flies when you’re having fun!
So many people who visit Taiwan never make it out of Taipei, which I think is a huge mistake when there are so many other awesome cities to see! Despite a somewhat dodgy start, we found loads of awesome things to do in Taichung, and it turned out to be our favourite city in Taiwan. Deciding to save money by walking the 30 minutes from the station to our hostel we found ourselves walking through some pretty sketchy looking areas. Tower blocks, concrete high rises and busy roads made the whole place feel pretty bleak and soulless and we thought we may have made a bit of an error. We figured that we only had a one day in Taichung anyway so perhaps it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we had to stay in our apartment and get some work done…
For most people the images that come to mind when they think of sakura (cherry blossom) season in Japan are probably of blue skies and sunshine, beautiful trees in full bloom and people chilling out in parks enjoying spring picnics. Whilst I’m not here to dash all of your hopes and dreams and we definitely had some incredible days admiring the blossoms, visiting Japan in sakura season isn’t necessarily the experience you might expect.
Arriving in Taipei was an instant culture shock of the best kind and we loved every minute of our time in this amazing city. It’s one of the few places where my overly high expectations didn’t leave me disappointed and actually as we’ve continued our journey round Taiwan we’ve fallen more and more for the country. It’s a little crazy, very busy and intense at times but the people are so friendly and there’s so much to do that you can’t really help but love it. Do make sure that if you visit Taiwan you leave time to spend at least 3 days in Taipei exploring all the city has to offer.
Despite our best intentions to capitalise on all the cheap flights we saw advertised, I feel like we took a crazy amount of buses in Vietnam. Mainly because they are ridiculously cheap but also because we are hopelessly disorganised and never managed to book flights far enough in advance for them to be cost effective.
Case in point – when I first looked flights from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh on our dates were a mere £15 per person… by the time we sat down to book them it was going to cost £116 for both of us to fly.
I struggled to find examples of itineraries I liked when preparing for three weeks in Vietnam. There are lots out there for two weeks, and even more for four weeks due to most people opting for either the free 15 day visa or the entry level 30 day visa. Whilst some examples of three week recommendations were available, none entirely ticked our boxes so we decided we’d share ours.
Before we dive on into this itinerary post a quick disclaimer that one week in Malaysia definitely isn’t long enough to see everything that this amazing country has to offer. If like us though, you’ve found some cheap flights and decided to have an extended stop over, you can definitely see plenty of incredible places in a week. Kuala Lumpur is one of the biggest transport hubs in South East Asia and hosts Air Asia HQ meaning there are tons of cheap flights into the city from many different countries.
Now don’t get me wrong, we loved Hanoi. From our beautiful little hotel in the old quarter to the amazing food, crazy streets full of mopeds whizzing past you and historic sights, we had a great 4 nights here. We did feel however, that we were constantly either getting scammed or narrowly avoiding it, more so than any other place we’ve visited with the exception of maybe Marrakech which was also pretty terrible.
There are few things worse than taking the bus from Vientiane to Hanoi. Scooping your own eyes out with a rusty spoon? Drowning in quicksand? Or watching the sequel to 50 Shades of Grey perhaps.
When it comes to our worst ever transport nightmare, nothing compares to our 25 hour, overnight sleeper-bus from Vientiane (Laos) to Hanoi (Vietnam).
Turns out that despite reading many many horror stories about the slow boat from Thailand to Laos (and the reverse journey) it was actually not that bad at all. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s been one of my favourite long distance journeys on this trip.
After a few busy months of travel we were looking forward to a week in Chiang Mai to relax. The plan was to treat ourselves to a nice hotel, get some work done so we could top up the bank account and eat loads of good food and just generally look after ourselves a bit better for a few days. This became all the more important after having spent a fortnight in Myanmar where I’d been ill pretty much constantly and where we’d had little or no wifi to allow us to work.
Inle Lake was our absolute favourite place in Myanmar. Although some travellers find it a little touristy – especially in the context of the wider country which has relatively few tourists – we loved it. It has a laid back and chilled atmosphere, making it the perfect place to spend a few days relaxing and taking in what’s on offer. There are so many awesome things to do in Inle Lake we could have spent at least a week here.
We weren’t sure what to expect when it came to budgeting for Myanmar – whilst we knew it had a reputation for being more pricy than neighbouring countries, we were keen to track our spending and see how our final costs turned out. Our travel style is probably mid range backpacker, so we’re keen to find bargains and not waste money unnecessarily but don’t mind paying out for a decent meal or day out.