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Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Varadero

Cienfuegos

 

Jill has two great loves in life…trains and chicken buses. On our last major foray travelling she could not go past a good train ride and when they aren’t available, enter the chicken bus. You have all seen the movies, dodgy little buses with some overly rural looking woman holding a live chicken (caged or uncaged). Well this is Jill’s idea of fun.

So for our 250 km journey from Havana to Cienfuegos, this was her choice. We hopped a cab to the bus station for me to be pleased that there was not a chicken anywhere in sight. In fact the long distance bus fleet was more modern than anything else on the road. We sat in a comfortable, air conditioned coach doing around 100km/h, on a well maintained 2-3 lane road almost the whole way. And when we got off that we got on a standard dual carriageway, in good repair, that ran through beautiful farmland. Later on, it ran parallel to the ocean throwing up some of the most stunning shades of blue imaginable. Playa Larga and Playa Giron were two of the stops along the way…while this may mean very little to most of you, Playa Giron is better known as the “Bay of Pigs”, where the Kennedy administration tried to invade and overthrow Cuba.

img_2214After a relaxing and pleasant journey we arrived in Cienfuegos mid afternoon and checked into the best of the home stays available (Bella Perla Marina) got the grand tour and headed out for our usual exploratory walk. As it happens, 2 hours is enough time to see all of the sights of Cienfuegos. We saw the town hall, theatre, cathedral (de la purisima concepcion), museum and a mock version of the Arch de Triomphe (Arco de triunfo).

 

     

What would we do with the next 36 hrs.

We headed back to the guesthouse for a fantastic meal and one hell of a sunset from the rooftop garden and viewing platform.

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The vehicle fleet in Cienfuegos was quite different from that in Havana. The big flashy convertibles were non existent, but had been replaced with much better maintained versions of the Havana “B” fleet. Still lots of 1950’s vehicles but not as big and not as ostentatious. But the main type of taxi was the horse and cart and it seemed like around the corner from our joint was the local cab rank.

     

Day 2 of Cienfuegos saw us wandering along the malecon to the ritzy resort end of town. This part of the world is the home of 1960’s architecture and some of the homes are seriously cool, and immaculately maintained. We checked out the yacht club and some of the flashy hotels before catching a pedicab ride back to an expensive seafood restaurant and a lobster lunch (total bill under $40). Another great meal that night at the guest house and prepare for the next chicken bus.

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Trinidad

After a short 2 hr, chicken free, bus ride we arrived at the hilly town of Trinidad. Cobblestone streets meant that I had to use my bag as an actual backpack for the 4th time since owning it. Usually I can just use the wheelie bag option, but cobblestones make that a no go. So after trying to remember what happens when you unzip the straps, we did the 850 meter walk up and down hills lugging our packs on our backs. We were staying at yet another guest house (casa particular) and despite the $20 a night price tag, it was by far the best one we stayed in the whole time in Cuba.

Trinidad is another of those see it in 2 hrs kind of towns. So after a cold shower, did I mention that it is hot and humid in the tropics, we did the schlep. Once again we hit all of the sights early: the museum (x2), cathedral, church, Plaza Santa Ana. And settled in to some Cuban music and drinks on the steps of plaza Mayor.

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That is until a tropical downpour started. And it poured, for about an hour and a half it teemed. So we had cervezas and mojitos with a French couple until it finished.

An interesting sideline that we came across in Havana and now again in Trinidad was the use of old cannons as bollards in the street. I guess with the Spanish and pirate heritage of the region, there were no shortages of cannons either laying about or contained within sunken vessels near the shore. Many of these have been salvaged, repurposed and buried to block traffic into pedestrian areas. It is nothing massively noteworthy but adds to the charm of the place.

  

Fourteen kilometres down the road from Trinidad is Playa Ancon one of the best beaches in the country. So on day 2 we hopped a cab and spent 4 hours lazing on pristine white sand underneath palm frond umbrellas. I lolled about in the water while Jill worked on her Canberra tan.

  

You wouldn’t believe it…I got sunburnt…I haven’t been sunburnt in decades. Something about the tropical sun, breeze and water got me. I got red as a beetroot on my chest and a bit on my back. It is a shame it is about a week early otherwise I could have blamed it on the “April Sun in Cuba”.

Another early start for a 6 1/2 hour bus ride to one of the few beaches in the country reportedly better than Playa Ancon.

Varadero

Varadero is little more than a resort town, so very little in the way of tourist sights. No cool looking buildings, just rows of modern resorts, bars, trinket shops and restaurants. What the resorts do offer are all inclusive packages and many of them offer child free experiences. So for people like us who do not enjoy noisy rugrats messing up your holiday bliss, this could have been for you. But in reality it just a town full of drunk eurotrash.

An interesting note that we learned was that Al Capone had a mansion here right on the ocean front. Of course it has now been turned into a guest house and restaurant.

  

The fact that most of the resorts offer all inclusive packages means that all of their food and drink is included. As such, there is very little need for them to leave. Which means that competition at the local restaurants is fierce. This we thought would be great news for us as we were not doing the package thing. But it was anything but, the restaurants tended to be more specialist or boutique. The prices were through the roof (by Cuba standards), the food was below par and according to Jill the mojitos were weak.

Don’t get me wrong, the beach was nice (if a little too much seaweed by Australian standards). You could get an ok meal cheaply. And Varadero could be considered a good holiday by some… just not us.

But as with all of Cuba, the classic cars were everywhere. We got a 1957 Plymouth as our standard cab from the bus station. We wandered the street to see gangs of drunken package tourists, clinging to their refillable booze jugs or kegs, being generally loud and obnoxious. And I am sunburnt, here I am an Aussie surrounded by Europeans and I am the one glowing red. I feel like I should hand back my Australian card…poor form.

In short Varadero was hellish, but it was insightful as an example of everything that we would never want to do on a holiday.

Cuba an overview

On the whole I loved Cuba and am so glad I got to experience it before the tourist hoards turned it into every other largely homogenous island nation. But it is an island of contradictions. Many of the things that give it its charm are also detractors to its effective operation.

Rubbish collection is a major issue in Cuba with many corners occupied by stinking, messy skip type bins awaiting removal. Dogs infest the streets during the day, rifling through the uncollected rubbish bins. Cats cannot be seen during daylight hours but come out in force at night and (yep you guessed it) raid the uncollected rubbish bins. This means that very little of the rubbish remains inside the original receptacle but rather is scattered in the vicinity. And when it does get collected, only that which remained in the bin gets removed, leaving piles of filth and stink on many corners.

The lack of internet was annoying but less of an issue than I thought it would be. The adoption of the French attitude to smoking (including at meal tables) was more of an issue than I thought it would be. But the people are wonderful. There is virtually no crime, no drugs, no guns just sunshine and sea breezes.

Propaganda (anti US) remains high to this day. Billboards are filled with images of Fidel Castro or Che Guevara and words like viva la revolution are commonplace, especially in the country areas.

And of course there are the cars…

 

                        

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Cuba

 

Havana

After less than a day…this place is everything that I had hoped it would be…I love it. You get an idea in your head of what a place will be like and are usually disappointed…but not here.

We arrived late afternoon and had an absolute nightmare at the airport trying to get our money changed over. They have unmanned money changing machines…not ATMs but rather you scan your passport place in euros and retrieve the local equivalents… and there are only 4 of them…this doesn’t work very well when you cannot get the local currency (the CUC) elsewhere and you have 3 plane loads of people trying to get cash…simultaneously.

It is probably timely to mention that Cuba has two currencies that operate in parallel. The one that tourists use is the CUC which is worth the same as a $US. But if you try and swap a $US for it, it will attract a 10% surcharge. Euros and Canadian $ are the currencies of choice and they attract no surcharge. The second currency is the CUP which is used by the locals and is the equivalent of about 4 cents. So one CUC will buy you 26.3 CUP. Obviously, this adds a degree of difficulty to getting change.

So back to the airport, we stood in line and waited…something that we are learning is also a very Cuban thing to do. We got to our accommodation to find that they were full so we would stay 2 doors down at the neighbour’s place…Cuba does not do much in the way of traditional hotels or hostels, it is more like a home stay, where you rent a room in someone’s home…it was all good and we finally met up with our intended host the next morning.

Our accommodation was in the middle of everything but nowhere near anything…we were relatively equidistant between Old Havana, New Havana and Chinatown…but still quite a walk from most things. On night one, after the airport, money and housing debacle, we headed out for a walk and a meal. We got to the water and wandered along the esplanade (Malecon) seemingly not having passed by any restaurants. Either this was wrong, we were unlucky or we just had yet to pick up on the rhythms of the place. Having eventually found a place for dinner and eating well (if expensively by Cuban standards) we called it a night.

For $5 a head the little home stays offer breakfast, and ours was no different. So our first full day in town started with fresh fruit, fruit juice, coffee, fresh rolls, egg, ham, cheese and a great chat with Charlie another houseguest (Canadian). We then got about the rest of our day. This started with a walk towards old town and the checking out of all of the old buildings.

And here the real Cuba kicked in in true style. After bartering a bit (from 80 down to 40) we hopped into our huge 1950’s yank tank for a one hour tour of Havana. While this is incredibly touristy and stereotypical, it was exactly the experience that I had wanted. We sat in the back of our huge red and white convertible (Jill wanted pink but the guy with the pink one wouldn’t barter with me), being chauffeured by a dude wearing a Panama hat, while Cuban music blared through the stereo. I managed to get the dude to let me stage a photo with me in the drivers seat (he even put his Panama hat on me briefly).

 

 

So it is probably time to talk about cars in Cuba. For the most part they are all pieces of shit. The most common vehicle that you will see is the Russian made Lada. They are ugly, loud, smoky, smelly and quite frankly it is mid blowing that they are still even running. The next is the classic yank tanks…the majority of these are clapped out, poorly maintained, bashed up, beaten and in sad need of either TLC or scrapping. Then there is the convertible tourist fleet that are shiny and pretty for us tourist types. And finally there is a combination of little taxi (type) options…these range from pedicabs, horse drawn carts, old motorbikes (with or without sidecars) and the freaky bubble looking tuk tuks.

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So we cruised the streets (either in our car or just walking about) while we took in the sights, sounds and smells of Cuba. For the most part it was enchanting. The people of Cuba seemingly want for nothing, but at the same time they have very little. Education and healthcare is free. Food ration books ensure that everyone has enough of a broad range of food groups, but very few extras or luxuries. The system works but the wants of consumerism are pervasive.

Some of the buildings around Havana are stunning. But for every beautiful building, there is about 20 in a state of disrepair. Added to this are the hidden gems, a virtual oasis enclosed behind a nondescript door on a dodgy looking street. I have never been in any city in the world where I have felt so safe or secure. Crime is virtually non existent and everyone is smiling, happy and willing to greet you with a grin and an “hola”.

On our last night in Havana we headed down to plaza Vieja where we stopped in to ‘La Vitrola’ and we had some small bar snacks, beverages and live Cuban music. I have entirely fallen in love with the jamon croquettes, while Jill cannot seem to be able to say no to a $3.50 mojito complete with a sugar cane swizzle stick. Add to this some bruschetta, cheese balls and fried chorizo and ice cold cerveza (beer) and life is good.

Oh and guess what… Cuba has a $3 bill.

 

 

 

 

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Lima, Peru,

Well if first impressions count…I am going to hate this place.

The traffic was horrendous. And this coming from two people who spent so much time in Asia. I have not seen traffic so bad in a very long time. The volume of cars was high, the honking and beeping was constant and the fact that lane markings were not even considered made this place a hellhole…and that was just getting from the airport. We turned right from the left hand lane, across 3 normal but 5 actual lanes of traffic, at speed. It was certainly a white knuckle ride and we both decided that perhaps it was better if we just didn’t look.

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But everyone I spoke to told me I would love Lima…so lets see…

After a nap (early morning flights and another 2hr time zone change) we headed out for a late afternoon stroll and a bite. While the traffic remained devilish there was some semblance of order to it…but not enough to trust. We wandered along the park in front of our hotel towards the centre of town

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We came across a seafood restaurant that we had seen during our “what is nearby” searching that has become commonplace when we hit a new city…so we gave it a try. And wow…we picked well. The early bit was just basically bar snacks, corn kernels (concha) plantain chips and a mayo and a salsa type dip. All incredibly salty but perfect for ordering more cerveza (beer).

Then came the entrees…mine was (tequenos) a South American version of a wonton, usually made with cheese but this one replaced the cheese with crab, deep fried with an incredible dipping sauce…but despite this, Jill was the clear winner…she got some Panko covered prawns that were set on a tube of polenta, slathered in crab meat, with a sauce that I cannot describe and of course the obligatory cerviche (this one did not have “ass weed” (coriander/cilantro) on it). Then came two seafood skewers set on a bed of tiny potatoes and mushrooms. All this for under $40.

I may like this place after all…

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The next day we set off on the walking tour from the hotel. It was atrocious…the guide basically said “hello friends, follow me” and began to walk past everything that looks interesting (without a word)… about 2 kilometres later in the main square he handed us off to another guide and was never seen again. Despite his indifference, the city sights were good and my opinion of Lima softened once again.

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The piece that I really want to do is the street food. I have heard so much about it and have coveted it as I walked past it, but am yet to dip my toe in the water. Hopefully, today will be the day. The key they tell me to Peruvian street food is that it must be 3B

  • Bueno (good)
  • Bonito (beautiful)
  • Barato (cheap)

I did, as it happens, get to try some street food from two of the many carts around but was mainly foiled by my wife who NEEDED to sit down to eat like a civilised person. And after one of the generous servings (generally with change from a $20) the need to eat any more is both unnecessary and virtually impossible.

Alright…I really quite like this place…

So today became a day all about culture. We went to two museums the National Museum of the Archaeology, Anthropology, and History of Peru and the Larco Museum. They were both excellent and we got a real sense of the history dating back around 12,000 years.

The Larco Museum was another level altogether. The first impression is stunning. It is housed in an 18th century vice-royal building that is covered in bougainvillea that are old and amazing. It is a private museum and was 3 times the price of the first one so we were highly skeptical. But we paid and entered. The intro was a 10 minute video and then the walk began. What immediately strikes you is the absolute quality of the pieces, they are virtually pristine. As you finish the tour through the actual display there is another room off to the side…this is the overflow. It is massive. A virtual warehouse of pre-Colombian artifacts that is seemingly endless. There was enough high quality pieces in the overflow area to stock another 10 museums. It is no wonder that the pieces on display were of such high quality, with such a massive range to choose from.

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On our last day in Lima we finally bit the bullet and headed to Miraflores. It is the main tourist neighbourhood in town, that is described in the tourist blurbs as an upmarket suburb having a western feel. It is clean, safe, beautiful and is full of shops, restaurants and ritzy cafes…all those things that we try to actively avoid.

It has the ‘Malecon’ a 6 mile clifftop boardwalk starting at the marina and following the Pacific coastline. It hosts one of the world’s best paragliding spots as people launch themselves off the cliffs and for $US50 you can get strapped to one of the and launch yourself too…we did not do that.

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Miraflores was everything that it promised to be…it was just not for us. It was an expat enclave in the heart of Peru. All the usual chain stores and the culinary delights of McDonalds, KFC and Subway washed down by a Starbucks. And all of this for 4-5 times what you would pay in any other neighbourhood. It was pretty and the boardwalk was nice. but we were both so glad that we stayed in the centre of town rather than out here on the coast. On the up side, we did get to see the Pacific ocean from the other side. PS our side is bluer and cleaner. The one thing that surprised us was the sight of a Paddington Bear statue on the top of the cliffs at Miraflores. When you went to the plaque it said from deepest darkest Peru…and it all fell into place.

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The final thing that we did on our last night was head across the road to the Circuito Magico Del Agua or the water fountain park. It is a light, laser and fountain show that runs almost every night and is quite the sight to see.

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And because this was only a teaser trip to see if we should comeback we missed the main reason that most people come to Peru…thankfully…Miraflores has big photographic murals on the walls so you can cheat and pretend that you went.

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Santiago, Chile

Well we left Sydney at around noon, flew sleeplessly for the next 12 hours to arrive in Chile a bit after noon on the day we left… in notional terms we left at 11:10am to arrive at 12:20 the same day. In actual terms… long haul flights seem tougher now than they did when we were younger.

Being both sleep deprived, and in a Spanish country we were happy to have the siesta…so we asked the dude at the hotel who replied “we don’t have that custom here”…well we did…so we crashed for a couple of hours to try and cope with no sleep and a 14 hour time difference. Upon waking we headed along the road to reach Plaza de Armas…this is in essence a large square surrounded by some absolutely stunning buildings.

The town hall, the tourist office (now a museum), and the the post office lined the northern edge of the plaza. As you pan to the left the cathedral (of Santiago de Compostela) is a major feature before the square blurs into shops, cafes and restaurants.

Possibly the most stunning thing for us was the fact that the park was actually used…in fact it was packed at all times of the day. Coming from Australia there are many parks and green spaces but for the most part they are empty. Not in Chile…as we wandered around the city every park bench was full, and the lawns were also crowded. There were preachers, artists, activists, couples, people watchers and dogs…lots of dogs.

 

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We took the “tip only” walking tour a few days later and got the history behind these and many more local sights of the city.  The walking tour saw us adding the High court, Pre-Colombian Museum, Congress (former), Presidential palace (which was once the mint and now bears the title La Moneda), the stock exchange / financial district and the opera house.

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On day two we did the walk across the river to Barrio Bellavista, the bohemian quarter of the city. It is packed with bars, nightclubs and restaurants and the streets are adorned with street art and murals of all shapes and sizes. But we were here to visit San Cristóbal Hill. This is the hill that rises around 300m (984 ft) above the city and is the site a 22 meter statue of the Virgin Mary and the place to get almost panoramic views of the city as it lays nestled among the Andean Mountain Range.

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And of course my job was to sample some of the local ales. This is a task that has long since challenged me, but I endure. Add to this some of the fantastic scenery and even a view from the rooftop bar our accommodation.

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Finally moving again…

Well it has been a long time between blogs. The world finally caught up with us and forced us to be adults again. Doing all of those things that you must do to fund the things that you want and need to do. This has seriously curtailed our travels, a fact that I am seriously unhappy about.

Life should not be about the job that you do or the items that you own…it is about the experiences that you have and the people that you share them with. On this front both Jill and I have been blessed.

We returned to Australia after our last big overseas jaunt in debt and jobless…this necessitated a consolidation and some pulling in of our ears. Alas along the way we both found jobs (in completely new industries) that we liked and that it seemed that we were both pretty good at. Add to this the fact that we fell in love with the lifestyle that Perth has to offer and we kind of landed and stayed put.

But things change, as they always do, and we found that life was pulling us in different directions. The beauty of this is that other things were going on in the world that were also fuelling the urgency for us to get back into the travel sooner rather than later. Not least of these was the opening of the borders between the US and Cuba. The thought of Cuba being ruined by hoards of US tourists homogenising the place to oblivion was the trigger to act.

Cuba is a place that has long interested us but the 35+ hour flights/transit to get there has meant that we had continually delayed that trip. Our timeline was extended thanks to the election of Donald Trump who proceeded to wind back all of the border opening moves that Obama tried to bring in. Combine that with my impending turning of 50 and it was time to act.

img_1973Enter into the equation two new players…Jeremy and Claudia. New for you, but long term friends of ours. Jeremy and I first met in our late teens when we played rugby against, and later with, each other. Decades of interactions has seen us both simultaneously and interchangeably embrace the title of “Jimmy Lau Lau”. This title started as some rubbish spoken in a bar has endured for over 30 years. So with our respective birthdays only a month apart…so began the notion of “Jimmy and Jimmy’s Caribbean vacation”.

 

 

 

 

The domestic legs

So the first leg of this journey began with me flying to the other side of the nation to join my wife. This is one of those understated “things that change”. Work opportunities and changes has seen us living on opposite sides of the country for the preceding 8 months. Still happily married with no intention of anything different, just separated by around 3718 kilometres.

Princess took up a position as the CEO of an aged care company reporting directly to the board of directors. This was a move that she needed to make. Frustrated by being a middle manager and unable to make the improvement changes that she wanted. So if those above you are resistant to change…then be the boss…and she now is.

For my sins I landed a job (primarily) as a writer. It is a government style gig that focuses on the Emergency Management Sector. Specifically…if the world went completely wrong tomorrow (cyclone, flood, fire, storm etc.)…how well would we (as a state) cope…would all of the pieces come together as they should or would we flounder…

And this became my job…and it was awesome…while my main task was to produce a summary document of how prepared we were…the real work was in developing what we actually needed to be able to consider ourselves capable in the face of an emergency. The complexity of this is mind blowingly interesting, and has contributed greatly to us delaying our travels.

Anyway, enough catchup…I flew to meet up with Jill and spent the next 3 days helping her get squared away and ready to travel. Did I mention that she was a CEO…I guess they actually have a lot of things that they are responsible for. So skipping out for a month took some scrambling and organisation.

Once that was done, it was off to Sydney for a few wind-down days with Jeremy and Claudia before things started in earnest.

The usual routine kicked in the moment the 4 of us got together…a trip to the Sydney Seafood Markets. This necessitated loading up on tiger prawns, bugs, oysters, and sashimi quality fish. A quick trip to the bakery added fresh baked crusty sourdough. And the fruit shop gave us some avocado and seafood sauce. Jeremy added some homemade chilli sauce to the mix… and we were set.

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Another couple of relaxing days in Sydney and we were out of the work mindset and ready to travel.

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Inle Lake

This is a 2017 post and not a 2014 post like most of the others. Having run out of money and going home to be adults and work for a while we saved our pennies and came back to Myanmar. This time to catch the bits we missed and see some of the things that were under construction or renovation on the first trip through. And the big ticket item that we missed was Inle Lake.

Jill was looking for a bit of pampering on this leg so the accommodation was significantly more extravagant than we normally use. We stayed at the Novotel and to be fair…it was both very nice and well priced for what it was. As usual in a western hotel in Asia…the food sucked. The buffet breakfast was good but the a-la-carte fusion thing just never works and this was no exception.  But it had (as I have been told) the bathtub to die for, a swim up pool and views across the lake that really shone at around sunset.

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The lake itself is about 26 km long and 10 km wide at the widest point. And Dr Google tells me that there are about thirty species of snails and fish that can be found nowhere else in the world. But for most of us it is just pretty. The commuting by longboat water taxis makes for an interesting time and there is so much to see and do around the area. That said, it will cost you a lot of money to do it (especially by Myanmar standards).

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Everything here is more expensive. The taxis, the boats, the food, the beer…everything. And this is without even factoring in the Novotel factor (which adds extra onto the bill if  they find out where you are staying). But it is pretty and is certainly worth the  trip.

A major factor of interest around Inle Lake is the rolling markets. The markets alternate on a five day cycle between the little townships and villages along the shore (Heho, Nyaungshwe, Taunggyi, Minethauk, Shwenyaung). This means that every morning you can head off by boat to a new township and see a different market. There is the obvious tourist junk that is at every one of the markets, but there is also a local flavour to each of them and each one is just a little bit different.

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The other thing of note with the rolling markets is the sheer beauty of taking  the boat rides to get to them. Needless to say over the years we have been to any number of floating villages. For the most part these have  been tourist traps designed to part you from your dollars. But here on Inle lake, they are almost all floating villages. It is not a gimmick it is the lifestyle…and it is charming. So the boat rides to the various markets see you riding along past ramshackle residences and shops all perched on stumps above the water.

Another major attraction of coming to the lake is to meet with the Kayan people of Myanmar. For those  that do not know they are the group that place brass coils around their neck. Most often they have been seen on the Thailand border (having fled the former fighting) the Kayan people have largely migrated back closer to their original home base. They have been referred to in any number of ways, that not surprisingly they find  somewhat offensive. Names like giraffe women and long neck women are less than appreciated. They are however  more  than comfortable being referred to as the ladies with the long elegant necks.

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Another unique thing about the lake is the local fishermen and their rowing style. They perch on the edge of these insanely narrow and shallow boats while casting and retrieving  fishing nets and simultaneously rowing the boat using their legs. This is a sight not to be missed and for us mere mortals, a zen like demonstration of both concentration and balance. The fishermen come in two varieties…the actual fishermen who use modern nets and the touristy ones that use bamboo nets as perhaps was done once upon a time.  The second type just do it to pose for tourist photos and stage capturing fish by throwing them into their nets after the fact. Both types are highly entertaining.

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And lets not be silly…it is Myanmar so there is no shortage of stupas, pagodas, temples and monasteries to go to. The lake is littered with them. You can cruise the lake stopping at any one that you like.

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And other than this…almost everything that you can imagine happens on the water. The weeds are harvested manually and are used for fertiliser for crops. The lake itself is turned into a massive hydroponic tomato cropping area.  The lake bed is dredged manually for dirt and building materials, the banks are used to distil rice down into what passes for the local hooch. In short there are so very many things to see and do on Inle Lake.

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But the most impressive of all…is the people. This is as true for Inle Lake as it has been throughout Myanmar. It is impossible to walk down the street without being met with a huge smile and somebody greeting you with the local “Mingalabar”.  This is even more evident with the little ones. Shy kids (generally) under the age of 4 will be beaming and waving as you go past. They will try a ‘hello’ if they are old enough or they will merely beam a huge smile and wave.

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And lastly, as we always do…we eat local. We ignore the hotels and we find dodgy little shacks to eat at.  Our options this time around were a little limited as we were in an out of the way location. But a short 2km walk away was the long jetty at Maing Thauk. This is the location that you could come to to get a boat for the day if you did not want to add  the ‘Novotel’ premium to your price. But it is also the location of some local fare that is just delicious. The jetty itself is quite the tourist  attraction and makes for some stunning sunset photographs along with some very tense moments in the dark as you wander along in the pitch blackness hoping not to hear a big splash meaning that Jill or I has hit the water.

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But we didn’t…and we found about 4 different restaurants along the jetty serving local food, cold beer and heapings of smiles and hospitality. Plates give way to lily leaves and the local salads come to the fore. The local avocados are the smoothest and creamiest that I have ever tasted and the other offerings that they put forward are tough to beat. And needless to say, for a village on the lake…they know how to cook a really good fish. We tried many incantations of the fish and they were magnificent.

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So if you are a traveller looking for a place to come, Inle Lake should be high on a list. It is on the pricey side (activities) for those on a tight budget but it is definitely worth a look…if you can swing 5-6 days here you will get to sample each of the townships and the markets. The big hotels are well priced  by western standards (half to one third of back home) for the rooms but comparable on the food and drinks.

 

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We live in WA now…

So we are here…in Perth…it has been a monster journey and we have seen and done so very much along the way.  Before we get into the world of Perth we will have a little summary of what it is we have done in the preceding 18 months…

We both left well paying jobs in Canberra to share our adventure together.

Overseas – We ran away offshore and spent 433 days backpacking through Asia. Hit 13 different countries, slept in 121 different cities and visited many more. We saw sights, climbed mountains, and sampled the local foods, beverages and culture at every step of the way.

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Australia – We bought a new car, drove almost the full height north to south and did drive the full width east to west. We saw family and friends and even tried living in a tiny remote town. All up we drove over 14,000 kms in a 8-9 week window and that included a 3-5 week block of time in the middle where we went nowhere.

normanton to perth

We got back to Australia with nothing but each other and debts… within a reasonably short period of time…we both found well paying jobs again, have cleared our debts and have racked up a wide variety of experiences along the way. I guess the moral of this story, for us at least, is that it is very possible to run away, give up all semblance of our former lives and careers and leave everything behind. Then once you have sampled sections of the globe you can come back, settle in a new place, both start new careers, in different industries, earning collectively as much if not more than you were before…and not miss a beat.

And now life continues…

We left the last post with us having driven into Perth and with me job and house hunting. Jill’s new job was working for an aged care company and as we rolled into town they gave us bridging accommodation within one of their facilities while we found a place to live. In short…we were living in a retirement village.

To be fair I had no concept, knowledge or experience of what a retirement village was like and my knowledge was limited to TV shows that depicted depressing, institutionalised looking places that looked like hell on earth. Jill had long been interested in this area as the boom area of the future and over the last decade we had embarked upon numerous conversations about the future of aged care.

These conversations led to the facts that with the retirement of the baby boomers and the first real generation of self funded retirees coming through that the industry focus has been shifting from the stereotypical versions I had imagined to an almost hospitality model where the client is used to levels of service and value for money.

Clubhouse 2And this is what we found… We stayed in a manager’s unit that was centrally located within a retirement village above “the clubhouse”. They are not called retirement villages but rather they are independent living units but for my purposes retirement village works just fine. In reality it was a suburb of about 160 townhouses surrounding a centralised community area. Each townhouse was freestanding, fully independent and spectacularly maintained and the communal area had the clubhouse that contained a gym, library, pool, bowling green, putt putt course, pool table, art and craft rooms, an industrial kitchen and heaps of dining and recreation space.

Being independent units, the cooking was generally conducted in your own home but each Saturday they would hold an optional communal event for those that wished to attend. This was organised by the residents and rotated each week. There were raffles, drinks and pleasant company and for about $5 they organised various food option nights…things like fish and chips, chicken, pizza etc. On the odd night about once a month they held a special night when some of the ‘menfolk’ took over the kitchen and prepared a monster feast.

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Every afternoon at 3pm (just after the scratch lawn bowls game) the bar would open in the clubhouse and beer, wine and soft drink was available for the ridiculous prices of $1 for a wine and $2 for a beer can or bottle. Needless to say that after job and house hunting through the day, this became a regular home for me while Jill was still at work. And of course my beer sampling continued…including some uniquely  local brews.

While we were on average 15- 20 years younger than everyone else we found some great friends here and were inspired by what life in such a village was actually like. While having a beer one evening I casually inquired about golf. By noon the next day somebody had sourced a set of loaner clubs for me and a group of us headed out to the local course for 18 holes.

People there basically kept doing the things that they had done and enjoyed before moving in. But now they shared the activity for those that may be interested. We met a lady that was a fitness instructor before she retired and she became the host of water aerobic sessions each morning for those that wanted it. There was workshops and now men’s sheds for the wood and metal workers, sewing  and knitting rooms. It was all organised by the people there and they were all ‘opt in’.

In short it was great and led to the why wouldn’t you get into one of these joints as soon as you turn 55 (the eligibility for entry) conversations.

perth aerialAnyway…I found us a place to live a job for me. Our home is walking distance to everything the CBD has to offer and has a restaurant strip walking distance in the other direction. We are about 250 meters from the Swan River as the crow flies and half way across the the river is Heirisson Island (a landscaped nature reserve) that contains a mob of Western Grey Kangaroos. This is a favourite for tourists as it is a leisurely 2km circuit walk around the island and you are almost guaranteed to see the roos.

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Perth waterfront is lined with parkland and green space which means at most angles looking either in or out from the city the views are stunning.  On the city side is Langley Park, a 900m x 100m rectangular open park that was used as an airstrip in the 1920’s and is now used to host any number of riverside events. On the south Perth side is Sir James Mitchell Park which was named after the 13th Premier of WA and the park is similarly used. There are running and cycling tracks along the length of both sides and huge open areas that are full each weekend.

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On the western end of the city atop mount Eliza is Kings Park. This is a 1000 acre park on the fringe of the city that is made up of grassed parkland, botanical gardens and 2/3 of the grounds are conserved native bushland. From here you can see some of the best views of Perth and for a short period I got the opportunity to work closely with the CEO of the park and set up my makeshift office out of the boardroom of the park…with magnificent views overlooking the city and the distractions of random backpackers stripping down to bikinis to soak up the WA sunshine…right outside my window.

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So we settled in…started bashing our debts over the head and in less than a year we were back in the black and saving for our next adventure…We will keep blogging as we go… we have fallen in love with the beauty and variety that the West of our country has to offer…and rightfully so.

 

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The Journey summarised

Well the initial adventure (the planned one at least) is over…As we have landed back in a country with no ties and a world of opportunities ahead of us…as such the adventure will continue. We will keep the BLOG going and will continue to push the boundaries of exploration but perhaps in a more localized manner…So before the Australian leg of our adventure begins it is timely to assess what we have achieved over the last little bit.

So here goes…

We left Australia on 13 October 2013 and returned on 20 December 2014…that is a 433 day Asian odyssey that saw us hit some spectacular highlights and tick off so many bucket list items that it was not funny. Some of these “Bucket List” items were the obvious ones that we all know about or have heard of like climbing Mount Everest, the Taj Mahal or walking the Great Wall of China. Others were ones that the travel channel or documentary watchers may have seen and added. And some were 100% unknown to us but in hindsight these things truly were that special. And there were others that we knew nothing about but have since learned of and now have extended our own lists.

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In total we technically visited 13 different countries…I say this because I remain jaded that Taiwan, Tibet and Hong Kong all just count as China. Further to this, while we zigzagged the India-Nepal border popping in and out numerous times, we cannot in all honesty claim Nepal…as much as I may want to.  We spent the night in 121 different cities while day tripping, transiting and sight seeing a great number of others. The countries and locations were:

Thailand – Bangkok and Phuket

Cambodia – Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Pursat and Battambang,

Laos –  Vientiane, Luang Prabang

Myanmar – Bago, Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay

Malaysia – Kota Kinabalu, Sepilok, Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, Manana, Penang and Georgetown

Brunei Darussalam – Bandar Seri Begawan

Vietnam – Danang, Hoi An, Hanoi, Cat Ba Island, Halong Bay, Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), Phu Quoc and Can Tho

Sri Lanka – Mirissa, Galle, Colombo, Kandy, Polonnaruwa, Pinnawala and Sigiriya

South Korea – Seoul and the DMZ

China – Beijing, Shanhaiguan, Harbin, Dalian, Dandong, Jinan, TaiShan, Qingdao, Pingyao, MianShan, WuTaiShan, Taiyuan, Datong, Hohhot, Yinchuan, Dunhuang, Jiayuguan, Lanzhou, Xining, Xiahe, Mount Everest, Lhasa, Shigatse, Kashgar, Urumqi, Jiuzhaigou, Chengdu, Guiyang, Anshun, Dali, Shangri-La, LiJiang, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Kunming, Guangzhou, Yangshou, Guilin, Wuhan, Chongqing and Xian.

Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek

Philippines – Manila and Taal volcano

India – New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Mumbai (Bombay),Goa, Mangalore, Fort Cochin, Alleppy, Thiruvananthapuram, Kanyakumari, Pondicherry, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Metupalaiyam, Ooty, Kolkata (Calcutta), Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad, Hampi, Aurungabad, Bagdogra, Siliguri, Darjeeling, Varanasi, Amritsar and Shimla.

 

We explored the natural wonders of Asia, saw architectural marvels, ornately carved churches, mosques and temples, checked out exotic landscapes, vibrant cultures, gastronomical delights, languages spoken, experienced fairs and festivals and generally immersed ourselves in a world of different cultures. We stopped in on traditional tourist spots as well as off the beaten path gems (and duds). We experienced both the best and the worst of humanity…often within minutes of each other.

Some of the trips to countries were merely teasers for future travel while others were fully fledged explorations of the countries visited. Some were so fantastical that we were left needing and craving more…whilst others were more than enough. As a general rule it must be said…the traditional tourist destinations were by far our least favourite spots. They tended to be trashy, commercialised, more expensive than everywhere else, painful, full of really pushy touts and generally just unpleasant to be in.

China was the place that we spent the most time, with about 215 days in China all up. Believe it or not…this was not enough. China is like Australia…it is huge and each region is unique. So while we saw more of China than most Chinese will ever see…we were still left wanting more and ruing the fact that we had run out of time and money.

TRAINS

It became clear very early on that my wife had developed a train obsession and loved almost all things train related. As such we did innumerable train journeys…especially if there was something a little unusual or quirky about the trip. So we rode the worlds fastest train (the Maglev in Shanghai which hit 433kph), we rode the worlds highest train (through the Himalayas which includes the Tanggula which at 5,072 m (16,640 feet) is the world’s highest railway station) and we rode some of the famous railways of the world (both steam and other). We hit the rail bridge over the river Quai, the destroyed train bridge between China and North Korea and the shot up train in the demilitarised zone between north and South Korea.

Nilgiri Mountain Railway

Nilgiri Mountain Railway

Some of these journeys were truly memorable possibly the greatest for me was the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. This was a 5 hour (50km) journey in a steam powered, rack and pin train through the blue mountains of India. The train stopped at tiny little stations to refill with water and when the mountains got too steep the rack and pin would kick in and literally crank the train up the hill. As it turns out this also happened to be my mother’s mode of transport to get to and from school as a teenager.

Another of the major highlights was the Sri Lankan rail journey between Colombo and Galle. Three hours of cruising along in air conditioned comfort parallel to the ocean was simply stunning.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is a toy train that snakes its way through the Himalayan mountains as the train criss-crosses the road and runs through the heart of the towns. The train goes so close to the town buildings that you could honestly steal from the shops by merely reaching out the window and taking things off the shelves as the train goes by.

Myanmar gets the title for the worst trains in the world. The train started with an insect and arachnid riddled upper class sleeper cabin and got much worse once the wheels started to move. The train bumps, jumps and rattles its way through some beautiful countryside but will leave you beaten, bruised and bloodied.

ANIMALS

Along the journey we encountered any number of animals (at least partially due to my mini obsession with visiting zoos). We went to many different zoos in many different cities and had massively different experiences in each one. The positive experiences saw us marvelling at pandas in Chongqing and Chengdu and the negative ones saw Indian patrons abusing animals and huge tigers in tiny concrete cages.  We got to see a range of animals that we had not seen before both within the zoo setting and generally wandering about in our travels.

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We saw cobras in baskets being charmed by tourist hungry Indians, panda babies, rhinos, elephants, hippos, giraffes, all manner of birdlife, yaks, more monkeys than you could poke a stick at, crocodiles, orang-utans in the wild on Borneo, lions, tigers, fat bottomed sheep, incredible convoys of ducks and the usual zoo type fare.

Not only did we get to see the animals but on occasions we got to ride on them too.

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TRANSPORT

If you can imagine it we used it…almost. We used just about every type of transport available to man. From hauling along at 433kph on the maglev train to putting along on steam locomotives, to riding elephants through the Laos jungle, rubber duckies along the waters off Borneo, Junks in Halong Bay in Vietnam, tuk tuks almost everywhere, camels through the Indian desert, longboats through Thailand’s canals and along the floating markets of the Mekong, rickshaws, trishaws, trams, motorbikes, jeepneys, horse carts, camel carts, ute backs, bamboo rafts and bamboo railways and every now and then we even rode in a car or flew in a plane.

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GASTRONOMY

Lets not be silly here…the food was spectacular. We had the amazing opportunity to travel through some of the culinary centres of the world and sampled the local fare every chance we got. The key meals throughout were meat on a stick and curry… whether it was Indian, Sri Lankan, Thai, Laotian, Cambodian or Malaysian…curries were a staple. And for all the differences between them…they were magnificent…all of them.

China did not have a curry equivalent (that we found)…but we did have smorgasbords full of fantastic meals all the way throughout. Each region was different and this variety just ramped up the experience. For the ultimate foodie paradise then Penang is my choice…it has the best of all things…Tibet is by far the worst…serving up a terrible mix of yak jerky, two minute noodles and hot water.

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Highlights

Obviously the bucket list items were highlights…the great wall, Angkor Wat, the Terracotta warriors, Mount Everest, the hanging monastery, cruising Halong Bay etc…but there were so many more. They were the unknown (to us) gems such as Jiuzhaigou (China’s blue lakes) and panda breeding centres…further to that there were the human interactions and the unexpected artistic elements that we saw along the way. I cannot fully explain the joy we felt when we walked around the corner in Datong and saw the large naked fat man hanging from the wall of the city.

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The other of the great pleasures was catching up with our friends along the way…walking the great wall of China with my cousin, going to the Hong Kong Rugby 7’s with best friends from school or catching up with Canberra friends in Hong Kong, Cambodia and Thailand. Experiencing things with the wife was great…but sharing them with friends is even sweeter.

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The journey for us is continuing…but the next little bit will be here in Australia…so I hope you maintain interest and follow along the  rest of the way…

 

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Brunei Darussalam

Leaving Labuan we hopped the ferry to go to Brunei Darussalam. The main reason for this was to tick up another country…we were only a 90 minute ferry ride away so why wouldn’t you. The first thing that must be said is that Brunei is strictly Muslim and is dry…the whole nation…no alcohol to be bought…anywhere. It would be a short visit. The next most important fact is that Brunei has the largest oilfields in Southeast Asia…so Brunei hasn’t turned its rainforests into palm plantations. Darussalam in Arabic apparently means ‘abode of peace’.

So we hopped a ferry and headed to the capital Bandar Seri Begawan or BSB for most. The ferry ride was fine and clearing customs and immigration was a relative breeze…other than the visa cost was 4 times that which was quoted in the travel guide…but hey it was about $20 each so no real damage done. We hopped off the ferry and headed to the bus stop for the shuttle to take us to town. We knew that this was an infrequent service but talking to the locals it had not run for the last 2 days. No reason given…it just didn’t turn up.

We decided to cut our losses and caught a black list taxi (the only guy nearby offering to take anyone even near town). And $35 later we arrived at our accommodation. This place was GOOD, VERY GOOD…and the staff were possibly the nicest we have encountered in all of our travels thus far…this is high praise after a year of hotels. For those planning a trip you honestly can not go better than the Capital Residence Suites which are a 300 metre walk from the Royal Regalia Museum and 700 metres from the mosque.

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As we arrived in the late afternoon we hit the road walking to the main tourist spots. Stopping at the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque cruising along past the Kampong Ayer (the water village) and stopping for icy cold (non-alcoholic) beverages as this place is hot. January is Brunei’s coldest month when it gets down to a frigid 30.4 degrees. We zipped around and made it back to the hotel for its nighttime free shuttle to the Tamu Kianggeh (food night market). We cruised the market where almost everything cost a dollar. We ate, we looked and happily sampled the local delicacies.

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On the drive to the market we passed the Jame’asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque which is the largest in Brunei and was built to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the sultan’s reign. It is massive. On the way back we conned the shuttle driver into stopping for photos. Upon returning to the hotel we then got the hotel staff to tell the driver to take us to the Istana Nurul Iman which is the residential palace of the Sultan. Alas you can only really get decent aerial photos of the palace but the hotel was happy to allow us to use their driver and van as our own personal tour guides…at no cost.

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The next day we would leave but in the morning we headed to the Royal Regalia Museum (Bangunan Alat Kebesaran Diraja) which displays the royal accessories used during the coronation, and the various gifts received by the Sultan from all dignitaries etc from around the world. Now this is a fascinating concept…what do you give to the man who has (or can afford) everything. The entire museum is filled with gifts and trinkets from all over the world along with the carriages, uniforms, and regalia used during various official functions.

From here the hotel once again offered us the shuttle bus to take us back to the ferry terminal…at no cost. These guys were lovely, every staff member from the desk, driver, restaurant and the cleaners were incredibly nice and were genuinely interested that we had enjoyed our stay. Luckily I met with the general manager of the hotel over breakfast and was able to tell him how good his staff were. We have not previously recommended anywhere to stay as this trip is not about that…but these guys were so far and above everything else we had encountered that we had to give it the wraps.

Oh…and all this was for about $50 a night…breakfast included.

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365 days…

Well today officially marks 12 months since we left Australia on our midliferadventure. We flew out on 13 October and here we are a year on… Both of us fitter, skinnier, more tanned, better travelled…and yes more broke. Some of you think that we have been on a long holiday which in part is right but the counter point to this is the fact that this sort of trip transcends a holiday and becomes hard work.

I got into a Facebook drama with my sister Karin about this point as she seems to think that this has been one very big, very easy jolly…which it has not been…she seemed to be further supported by my other sister and KAT. Perhaps some of you will never be convinced of such a fact but this has been hard work. We have gone past the holiday and are firmly into traveling…a nuanced distinction many of you will probably not make but trust me it is a very real distinction. Especially when you are married to a slave driving, mountain goat such as my wife.

Don’t get me wrong…I would not trade this experience in for the world and we have done some incredible things along the way…we have ticked off some major bucket list items… Including some that were never even on the list. So a year into the trip it is time to take stock and see what it is that we have actually done. Needless to say at times Jill and I have had different views on the best and worst bits of the trip thus far.

So this post will be a snappy recap of the best and worst bits and some basic stats on just what it is we have done over the period away from friends and family.

Number (#) of days – 365

# of countries – 8

Actually a bit dirty on this number…Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet in my mind are all different countries but officially they all only count as China.

# of cities – 101

This obviously does not include the transits.

# of photos taken – 18,682

We had previously done a 9 week honeymoon through Europe and Egypt and came back with 36 photographs. So this number represents a major shift in philosophy on our part.

# of different beers – 135

This only includes those that I have sampled on this tour…but it seems like a worthwhile thing to continue.

# of plane flights – 48

Wow…even I had not thought that the number had gotten that high. We are frequent fliers on almost every airline group that exists these days.

# of airlines – 17

# of train rides – 52

This is only the long hall transit type train journeys and does not include the metro rides within a city. The shortest was one hour long (excluding the maglev) and the longest was 26 hours. The fastest hit 431kph on the maglev in Shanghai while the slowest was under 10kph on the Ooty train.

# of bus rides – 20

Once again this does not include airport transfers, local busses or the various short journey chicken busses.

Highest point – 5248 metres above sea level

Best and Worst

Category Jill Richard
 
Best Day Taj Mahal and Fort Halong Bay
Worst Day Sick in Jaipur Climbing Tai Shan
Best Experience Cant split between Hampi, Everest or Jiuzhaigou Food glorious food
Worst Experience Bhubaneswar Mt Everest – nearly killed me
Best Country China China – variety won
Worst Country India India (also had some of the best bits)
Best City Hampi Penang
Worst City New Delhi Bhubaneswar
Best Airline Indigo Air Asia X
Worst Airline Spice Jet Spice Jet
Best Hotel Garden Hotel Datong Garden Hotel Datong
Worst Hotel Sri Shyam Calcutta Sri Shyam Calcutta
Best Driver/Guide Tappa (Hampi) Tappa
Worst Driver/Guide New Delhi driver Most Indian Tuk Tuks
Best Toilet Xiamen Airport KL Airport
Worst Toilet Mt Everest Base camp Mt Everest Base camp
Best Meal Crab in Mangalore or feasts ordered by Frank in Beijing Too many to narrow down
Worst Meal Anything Tibetan Yak meat in Tibet
Best Sunrise Sri Lankan Beach The ones I sleep through
Worst Sunrise Kanyakumari The ones spent transiting
Best Sunset Sri Lankan Beach Alleppy houseboat
Worst Sunset Kanyakumari Beijing Smog

Most expensive / cheapest

Category Expensive Cheapest
 
Country Australia Vietnam
City Hong Kong Hanoi
Tourist Attractions Sri Lanka (Government run) China free museums for foreign passport holders
Coffee Urumqi airport $20 for nescafe instant Indian Railways 13c a cup
Beer Korea – Aussie nightclub prices Hanoi – beer hoi 40c for a big glass
Meal Hohhot (Lamb leg worth every penny) Hanoi $2 a head including beers

Most Overrated attractions or events

Couldn’t decide between the terracotta warriors or Yangtze River cruise.

Notable friends made along the way

Ruwan and his wife in Sri Lanka

Heath – Our real estate selling mate that we found lost in Shangrila and who showed us all around Jinan.

Emily and Simon – the Brit couple we met in Urumqi and caught up with again in Kyrgyzstan. Got to share good times, meals and drinks.

Foons – The two Aussie Paramedics cycling from Melbourne to Edinburgh. A familiar accent and sense of humour when we were furthest from home.

Cindy – The Canadarian / Chinese, rock climbing Mt Everest dynamo

Jills Favourite Pics

 

Floating markets Can Tho Vietnam

Floating markets Can Tho Vietnam

View from top of Sigiriya Rock Sri Lanka

View from top of Sigiriya Rock Sri Lanka

St Sophia's in Harbin

St Sophia’s in Harbin

Mount Everest plus prayer flags

Mount Everest plus prayer flags

View from the train to Lhasa

View from the train to Lhasa

Camel in Kashgar square

Camel in Kashgar square

Sunset on the beach at Phu Quoc Vietnam

Sunset on the beach at Phu Quoc Vietnam

Fat bottom sheep at the Kashgar Sunday Market

Fat bottom sheep at the Kashgar Sunday Market

Snowcapped mountains from the plane

Snowcapped mountains from the plane

Jiuzhaigou blue lakes

Jiuzhaigou blue lakes

Jiuzhaigou snow capped mountains

Jiuzhaigou snow capped mountains

Jiuzhaigou stream

Jiuzhaigou stream

Chinese pond with stone bridge

Chinese pond with stone bridge

Prayer Wheel and burnt remains of Shangri-La Old Town

Prayer Wheel and burnt remains of Shangri-La Old Town

Stone Forest Kunming

Stone Forest Kunming

Pagoda in Hangzhou

Pagoda in Hangzhou

Feeding the Koi

Feeding the Koi

Varanasi by the river

Varanasi by the river

Jodhpur the Blue City

Jodhpur the Blue City

Fat Man of Datong

Fat Man of Datong

Mt Everest plus Yaks

Mt Everest plus Yaks

Ruins in Hampi

Ruins in Hampi

Camels plus Driver in the Jaisalmer Desert

Camels plus Driver in the Jaisalmer Desert

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Lighthouse in Galle Sri Lanka

Lighthouse in Galle Sri Lanka

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