Travel Planning: Spectacular, spectacular Sri Lanka

Okay, so our trip is getting nearer – 68 days, to be exact! If the count down wasn’t enough, our sore arms – quite reminiscent of pin-cushions after our latest travel immunisations, are another reminder that our big trip is inching closer and closer.
Along with our growing excitement and also some nerves here and there, our ‘to-do’ list is also getting bigger and bulkier by the day. Sure, we just ticked off tetanus and the flu vaccine off our list, but we also added another 100 odd things to it, too!
As per usual, Em’s been scouring through forum after forum, blog after blog, websites, travel magazines, guide books, travel literatures and anything else even slightly related to get ideas, information, and be inspired.
We decided that, although we’re quite laid back travellers; backpackers who want to meet lots of people, go where ever we so choose, follow advice of others, find our own way etc. etc. … we need to have a rough plan.
Planning is something we’re both good at by trade; it’s a big part of our daily work and lives, so – isn’t it funny that we’re actually pretty lazy when it comes to travel. Really, we can’t work out if we’re shit at planning travel in general, or that we just hate to do it becuase we like to leave things to chance, and pre-booked accommodation gets in the way of that.
When it comes to places like mainland Malaysia, Thailand, India (to an extent), Vietnam and Singapore, we have no plans. We will probably at some stage before arrival organise the first night or two of accommodation and leave the rest to chance… However, places like Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Malaysia Borneo, we’ve read and heard over and over from various sources – you need to have a plan.
So. We might as well start with our first major destination – Sri Lanka. Spectacular, spectacular Sri Lanka. It’s a country that we didn’t really know too much about – instead it lured us in with its beautiful scenery, walking trails, tea plantations, lucious beaches, tantalising food and friendly looking faces.
After reading and hearing from a number of people, it seems as though (and correct us, if we’re wrong) budget accommodation can book up reasonably well in advance in certain areas, leaving the more pricey guesthouses/hotels as the only options. As long-term travellers, we need to be living on the cheap whenever possible, which means we can’t really risk, nor do we want to, have to stay at the Hilton or the likes of, night after night. We’ve read this is also the same sort of situation for Myanmar, and Malaysia Borneo…
Another reason we want to plan some of the places we’re going to, is becuase we have a limited time there and want to make sure we get the most out of it; to get to the places we want to go. This of course can also be done without prior planning, and we fully intend to work this way in some of the other countries we are heading to, but again – we want to book accommodation in advance, and that requires planning the places you’ll go and where, in turn, we will stay.
Sri Lanka, if we wern’t already excited, and didn’t already love it before we started really planning; well, we sure do love it now and we haven’t even touched down! In less than three months we’ll be travelling through Sri Lanka, and we simply can not wipe the smiles off our faces every time we think about it.
Spectacular, spectacular Sri Lanka; we can’t wait to meet you!
What is your travel style? Do you like to plan ahead or see where your journey takes you?

A Taste of Asia

It’s probably obvious by now, that we love Asia. We heart it with all our might; especially the people, the cultures and the foods!

I was feeling terrible yesterday; homesick for Asia, and as such, just ‘happened’ to end up at the Asian grocery store in the CBD.

Strolling through the isles, familiar smells filled my nostrils and the sight of some of the products made me feel really nostalgic.
I ended up walking out with just a bottle of ‘Oishi Green Tea’, and felt a lot better instantly. This tea had been a staple for us during or Asia trip, and when I fell violently ill for several days, Oishi was the only thing I could keep down. Ever since, I hae had cravings for it.
That, and Yakkult…

All this nostalgia got me thinking about the miriad of different foods (common and not so common) that we fell in love with while abroad.

…In Laos, ‘Laughing Cow’ cheese, baguettes and fruit shakes fast became ‘the usual’, replaced further North with hawker style foods and lots of rice. Oreos – they were our staple snack throughout Laos; cheap cheap and readily available no matter how remote we were. Larp filled with fresh herbs and sticky rice was a dream dish, and warm Lao bread is a must eat if you happen to stumble across it on a menu! (Hard to find!)…
We had delicious smokey grilled chicken on bamboo skewers, and lots of noodle-y dishes, which always left our stomachs satisfied. Often, we washed down our meals with either a yakkult, a cup of bitter, strong black coffee, or a big Beer Lao.

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…In Thailand, we ate copious amounts of cut fruit, whole pineapples and freshly squeezed pommegranate juices. Yakkult, Bubble Cup and fresh Thai iced coffee/tea were our daily drinks.
Insects were a nice experience, but mango and sticky rice was a real treat. Most of our other meals came from hawker stalls, where we stood eating, surrounded by smoke and BBQ smells.

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…In Cambodia, Em fell inlove with a vegetarian hawker food – spinach, garlic and ginger wrapped in a pummelled rice dough and fried until golden brown, and the inside veggies cooked through. The plump stall owner promised, in broken English, he would be in the same spot each night, but unfortunately, was never to be seen again. Crushing.
We came across fresh sun-dried bananas, fresh banana candies, and fresh BBQ’d banana – all were eaten almost as quickly as they were discovered.
Jake salivated over some salty doughnut thing (really, any sort of doughnut), and we found delicious treats and delacacies and random foods on every street corner and at every second market stall.
We gorged on mounds of fresh Kep crab, and still grind our Kampot-grown (and bought) pepper onto our meals.

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…In Singapore and Malaysia; dahl, roti, naan and teh tarik were readily available, and were a daily feast for us. Nasi Lemnak saw Em devour blue coloured rice, and the pineapple cookies were so delicious!
Chendol and Ice Kechung were savoured treats, with joy in every spoon of the grass jelly and weird beans.
Banana-leaf meals were a real experience, and downtown China Town and Little India let us explore more of what the countries big cities had to offer.

…In Japan, everything we ate was a piece of art and tasted as such; amazing – it’s impossible to say what the best meal there was; there were too many to count!
But, it was those little things – the egg cubes on a stick, the sushi rice triangle-shaped snack things, the interesting flavoured ice creams, conveyor belt sushi and sheets of sea weed that were our ‘go-to snacks.’
Green tea and Royal Milk Tea from a can, hot or cold, were the drinks of choice.
The tempura melted in our mouths, we drooled over the okonomiyaki frying on hotplates infront of us, the takoyaki balls were incredible, and the ramen left us slopping and slurping….

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…Come to think of it, really we have had hardly any mediocre or ‘bad’ meals whilst travelling in Asia. Food was, and is a rich experience for us, and something we really enjoy exploring. It is important to us to see and taste  local flavours and traditions; to eat what the locals eat (within reason – no beating snake hearts for us, thank you). Meals bring people together. Many times, eating and sharing a meal was an unforgettable experience: from simple grilled street food skewers to a Japanese banquet.

We honestly can not wait to see and taste more of the foods of Asia.

We’d love to hear from you: What were your favourite foods and ‘go-to’ snacks, drinks, sweets and meals whilst you were travelling the globe? What foods and drinks would/wouldn’t you reccomend?

Happy eating. 

Our Top 10 Picks for Thailand, Cambodia and Laos

We packed a lot into six weeks and three countries; Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Barely touching the surface of Thailand, we spent just four days in bustling Bangkok before heading to Vientiane, the beautiful, weathered capital city of Laos. After 2 and a half or so weeks in Laos, we ended up in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where we frolicked amongst temples from sun rise to sun set. Another 2 and a half or so weeks in Cambodia, and it was time to leave for Australia, while still feeling as if we had only barely scratched the surface of our Asian adventure…which is true, really. During those 6 weeks, however, we did more than we might’ve done all year back ‘home’…

We met so many people; travellers and locals, and shared memories we’ll hold with us forever. Our lives and perspectives were changed, and we learned so much about not only the countries and their histories, but of their people, cultures, religions, superstitions, beliefs, and ways of life. We learned about each other, and we learned about ourselves. Sometimes we laughed, sometimes we cried…or laughed until we cried! We danced and sang, smiled and frowned. There were things that shocked us to our core, things that stopped us in our tracks, and things that bought us closer together; things that made us fall in love with the world, and things that made us feel ashamed. We made friends and made memories, and fell madly, deeply, completely in love with Asia. Asia grounded us, she pushed us to our limits frequently, she gave us perspective, and taught us lessons we can take with us for the rest of our lives. Asia also gave us the time of our lives…

So, after so much thought and deliberation, a million good memories, and hours of pouring through photographs of our trip, here are our Top 10 South East Asian Picks: Part One (There will be a part two… and probably three… maybe four.)

1. Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang, Laos! As hard as it is to pick a winner, Kuang Si Falls has to take the spot. A highlight; awesome tuk-tuk ride there, sweltering heat, amazing hike UP the side of the falls, over the falls, and DOWN the other side… then a cool dip in the crystal blue fall pools. One of the most amazing times in our lives. We would recommend it to anyone, however, the hike up over and down the falls is very steep and slippery and there is little to hang on to. It’s also not the easiest of hikes/climbs but SO worth it.

2. Bike Riding Tours! We did them in Bangkok – Thailand, Vientiane – Laos, Battambang – Cambodia, and Phnom Penh – Cambodia. We thoroughly recommend them to people of all ages and abilities! Grasshopper Adventures is a fantastic company, as well as Soksabike tours – both companies were so well run and real highlights, and they also look after the locals, which was important to us!
We also hired bikes in a few different places; it was always really cheap and a fantastic way to get around! Just be careful of the sometimes chaotic traffic!

3. Temple Hopping! From Angkor Wat to Ta Prohm, Bayon Temple and Pre Rup, Banteay Srei, we tuk-tuked and hopped around, over, in, through, and under historic temples and stone carvings and marvelled as we saw the sun rise, the sun set, and the colours change over these incredible temples. They took our breath away countless times.

4. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21) and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia! Not a place we ‘loved’ going to, but a place we needed to go to. It’s haunting, gut wrenching, and I was on the verge of tears, if not crying, most of the time while I was there. But I learned so much, and when I left these two places, I stepped out into the sunlight and saw smiling Cambodians. This is a country rising from sheer torment and torture, with a new attitude and way of life. They are inspiring people and gave us perspective, and the saddening visit to these two memorials was something we had to do, and are glad we did.

5. Luang Prabang, Laos! What an awesome place! It’s got everything you want and need. Amazing temples, pagodas and stupas, bike friendly, beautiful river scenery, a fantastic night market and masses of interesting street foods, a relaxed chilled-out atmosphere, a cool morning market, friendly people, interesting architecture, and lots to see and do! How we wish we could go back there…right now!

6. Cooking Schools! Yep – we donned the daggy looking aprons and got cooking in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia! You’ve got to do it; be brave and add that extra birds eye extra spicy chilli, explore those markets and try those very foreign looking herbs, fruits and vegetables! It’s amazing, and even if you don’t cook them back home, it’s so much fun, a great way to meet other people and it tastes so good!

7. Kampot, Cambodia! What a cool, dusty little town to spend some down time in. Find a cool guest house, wander the streets, hire a bike, take a trip on a tuk-tuk to Kep, eat some good food, wander along the river bank, buy some little hand made treasures from a local craftsperson, eat some feel good food for a good cause, and take a tour to see and eat the famous and amazing KAMPOT Pepper!!! So delicious! We’ve still got it in our pepper grinders!

8. ‘Phare Ponleu Selpak’ Circus, Battambang, Cambodia! – A school of performing and visual arts for anyone who wants to attend. These kids are off the streets and working and studying hard, and their talent is incredible! Look at the visual art on display, look at the school, and make sure you do not miss the circus! An absolute highlight of our trip, Battambang was an amazing place…and then we went to the circus. Can’t wait to go there again and see what these incredibly talented kids have to show off!

9. Plain of Jars, Phonsavan! We did a day tour here, to see the Plain of Jars as well as local villages, bombed fields (with live cluster bombs still sitting in the ground!!) and a waterfall trek. The whole day was amazing, run through the guest house we stayed at. Plain of Jars is a must see! Amazing to ponder what they were used for, why there were there, and how they got there…It was also just as amazing to see the landscape of a country once, and still littered with bomb craters and bombs. It’s shocking, confronting, and opened our eyes.

10. Zip Lining at Tad Sae Waterfall, Luang Prabang, Laos! So much fun, but not for those afraid of heights! A trek UP and UP and UP will find you in the tree tops high above the group. You get clipped in, you pull back, you hold on at first, take your feet off the ground and scream with delight as you literally zip through the tree tops, over rain forest and waterfalls. Amazing, and SO much fun.

It was SO hard to limit it to only 10 (and in some cases, we’ve disguised a number of things under the one heading) because we just had the time of our lives, but hopefully this offers you some insight into the best experiences we had abroad in Asia…
Do you have any to add to the list?