Asia here we come, right back where we started from…

One month from today will be our “last day in Australia for a while.”

4 and a half weeks. 
31 days.
744 hours.
44,640 minutes.

Who’s counting?

It’s a strange feeling to know that in in just a few short weeks, everything we know – our comfort zones and safety nets – will be stripped from us. We’ve had so long to prepare, yet it still hasn’t sunk in.
What will we miss? What won’t we miss?…

It’s a big bag of mixed emotions when we think about how we feel about departing Australia,  and “going home” [in a sense] to Asia.
There is this extreme excitement that is, some days, simply uncontrollable. We frolic about, skipping rather than walking, with this joy that I can not explain. 
Other days, we feel filled with a worry, or a fear of the unknown; For our health, for our safety… 
We’re nervous too. It’s hard to pin-point exactly what that’s about.
And, we’re a little stressed: We’ve got 4 VERY busy weeks left of work, a house to move out of, our lives to pack up into boxes and backpacks, and a heap of loose ends to tie-up.

I look forward to soon being able to write non-mundane, rather; exciting and interesting blog posts about fascinating places.

Even more so, I simply look forward to experiencing Asia.

I have a feeling this trip is going to open up doors that right now, neither of us can imagine.
We’re off to Asia again, which in a way, feels like where we started from.

 

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Reality: The Count-down is On!

It’s official. In exactly two months from today, we will be on our way to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Two months from today marks the true ‘beginning’ of our journey; we are so excited and, not gonna lie – a little bit nervous about what we will experience… but at the same time, we couldn’t be happier.
Our to do list is growing, but at the same time, we’re starting to tick more and more off as the “important tasks” like applying for visas, booking remaining flight paths, organising travel insurance and enduring those all important travel injections, start getting done.
Em started a packing list yesterday, and quickly felt overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we’re going to have to carry around. “Seriously, do we even need that?!” is becoming a familiar question…
Jake’s baby – aka his car, is up for sale. Anyone looking for an amazing, almost new, well looked after car?
We stored a lot of our goods already at our parents homes, and our wardrobes are looking bare due to the large amount of clothing we culled recently.
Yet, we are still (well, Em is – Jake might have some slight hoarding tendencies), overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we still actually own! Again – “Seriously, do we even need that?!”
It starts becoming real, doesn’t it, when the count down is on. With just a few more shifts at work, resignation letters start getting written, our life starts getting packed into boxes and the car is up for sale. And fuck! – we bought daggy travel sandals! You don’t get much more real than that in our opinion! (We kid, we kid…)
The next two months are going to go so quickly, and there feels like so much to still organise. And then we start thinking about how much we are going to miss our family, friends, our annual trip to Wangaratta Jazz Festival we love so much and Melbourne in general.
Bittersweet though – we’re about to embark on a journey of a lifetime: and without a reminder of home, what would travel be? We know to, and are reminded to appreciate everything even more so.
We can’t wait for this trip – it’s been our main topic of conversation and, for the last 6 months our lifestyles have been adjusted to scrimp and save, and work towards and for this trip.
We want this.
We know it’s going to be so amazing, so challenging, so life changing in so many ways – we’re just not sure yet how. There in lies the beauty of travel, and we are so excited, and feel so privileged to be able to do this.
2 months.
8.5 weeks.
59 days.
59 sleeps.
1416 hours.
…and counting down.
Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Borneo… Here we come.

Daggy Sandals, Baggy Pants… and Nepal thrown in for good measure!

Jake and I spent 6 weeks wondering about Cambodia, Laos and Thailand in a pair of black Havianas, that by the end of the trip, were pretty well worn, filthy and on their last legs. Not to mention; our feet were in poor form after hiking, biking, waterfalls, dirty backroads, 12-hour walking sessions and god-knows what else we stepped in, with only little pieces of rubber to protect our feet…

In the last part of our trip, Jake broke one of his thongs (flip-flops/slippers – we call them ‘thongs’ in Australia) and we spent a good few hours wondering about the little market bazaars trying to find him a new pair. Normally, this would’ve been an easy task, but when you have size 16 feet, even more so, when you have size 16 feet in Asia, this task was impossible, and he spent a week or so walking around with his heels hanging off the back of the (tiny in comparison) thongs. Em found it funny, Jake probably just found it uncomfortable.

So yesterday, we made an exectutive decision to buy those daggy heavy-duty travel sandals. Yes, we know, we know… We know we’re not the only farangs to be wandering about in these bad boys around Asia town, but it didn’t stop us from feeling like we’d aged about 30 plus years in a matter of minutes… Em’s refusal to try them on without socks didn’t help to make the fashion statement any more stylish.

The boy at the shop laughed and kindly said “you know, you are welcome to try them without the socks on…”
Em’s face was priceless; a look of horror, as was her response “…I’m sorry, I just can’t…” Em hates feet with a passion, and the suggestion of taking her socks off was akin to that of being asked to get naked infront of everyone in the shop.

Still, after winging, moaning, deliberating over ‘should we, shouldn’t we…’, Em laughing/dry reaching at the sight of Jake in a pair of sandals, and complaining that ‘I never thought I’d do this, I never thought I’d ever wear these…’, yes, we bought them. Em claims she heard her wallet crying as she handed over her VISA.

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Sandas in hand, we walked silently amongst the busy shoppers. No doubt, we were in shock. We know, we know – slight over-exaggeration, but true. With that, it was on to our next stop – to buy some travel pants. Em got a pair that ticked every box.

Quick Drying? Tick.
Light Weight? Tick.
Non Crease? Tick.
Suitable for travel/hiking? Tick.
Daggy? Tick.
Ugly? Tick.
Baggy and Un-flattering? Tick.
Unattractive? Tick.

Jake bought some new underwear; his friend’s wise words echoing in his mind. “You’re going to India, man. Sometimes, underwear means the difference between getting to the toilet in time, or feeling the shit trickle down your leg.” – Charming, yes. True, yes, probably. We better stock up… sigh.

With the shopping done, feeling defeated and happy with our purchases at the same time (read: Hideous shoes to make us look even more like rich farangs, baggy pants for India to hide Em’s legs from unwanted attention, and underwear to help control things just that little bit more when we are shitting ourselves…), we went home.

Whist strutting about in our sandals, Jake in his new underwear and Em in her baggy pants […what!? You don’t do that…?] Em had a sudden thought.

Why aren’t we going to Nepal? What reason do we have not to? We’re there, near the border, why not just skip accross for a week or so?

So with a little more strutting about in our sandals and baggy pants/underwear, a little research and then dinner out at ‘Old Faithful’ with our friends who have been to India and Nepal in the past, it was decided what we should do.

So, cheers guys! Jake and Em are proud to announce the following:

We own daggy sandals that scream ‘rich farang’…
Em owns a pair of quick-dry, non-crease, light-weight, hideous baggy pants…
We’re well stocked-up on underwear for our trip…

And were off to Nepal! Fuck yeah! Country number 8 – Welcome to our list…

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?

Budgets, Bookings, Backpacks and Borneo!

It’s ticked over to April and that means there is less than three months until we depart! It’s actually becoming quite daunting to think this is all happening so soon! We leave for our big trip in a mere 88 days!

There is a lot to organise, and we just gave our selves a whole lot more to plan, becuase as of today we have added Malaysia, Borneo to our itinerary! Exciting stuff!

Our new itinerary is as follows:
Melbourne – Malaysia, KL – Sri Lanka – India – Malaysia, KL (transit) – Burma – Thailand – Vietnam – Malaysia, KL (transit) – Singapore – Malaysia, Borneo: Kuching – Malaysia, Borneo: Kota Kinabalu – Malaysia, KL – Melbourne.

It feels as though we made all these ‘to-do’ lists months back but haven’t really made much more progress since then – like we made all the plans and haven’t put anything into action…
However, that isn’t actually quite the case.

Here’s a bit of an update as to where we are with our current travel plans. It’s interesting to see what we have actually done, and what we still need to do. It feels like all we’ve done in the past few months is add to the list, rather than cross things off – it keeps growing!

Important Stuff:
– Open a bank acount and commit to a set amount to deposit each week
– Start a budget – a work in process.
– Save like never before – a work in process.
– Em: finish your studies before June! – Two electives complete, two half-complete, and one still to start.
– Jake: finish your thesis before April! – He’s being a big slacko.

Travel Stuff:
– Travel Insurance – We’re looking into it.
– Get more passport photos taken for Visas, and to have on hand 
– Organise Visas, apply for visas, pay for visas, get visas – This month we’re onto it, and we’ll get our Vietnamese visa whilst in Bangkok.
– Book the remaining flight paths 
– Read like crazy every travel book, forum, guide, article etc… No, Jake, that does not include Manga! – A work in progress.
– Photocopy doccuments for family members and each other.
– Give flight itinerary to family members.
– Read through guide books we purchased, and start planning the routes we want for each country
– Start planning and researching and finding out about the places we want to go to in each country.
– Start making a general time line
– Make a budget for when we are overseas – A work in progress.
– Look at the travel gear we have, and then work out what travel gear we still need. 
– Jake needs new travel shoes. And should probably stock up on thongs/flip-flops-jandals (whatever you call them) for the duration of the trip… size 16/ EU 51 feet are hard to accomodate for when buying shoes in Asia…
– Finalise a Packing list – packing list will be started on this week.
– Pack backpacks

Medical Stuff:
– Dentist Checkups for us both – booked!
– Orthodontist Checkup for Em
– Optometrist appointment for Em
– Travel Doctor Appointment (February)
– Any outstanding jabs to be had, must be endured – Japanese Encephalitis, Flu Shot, Tetanus: Appointments need to be booked for April/May
– Prepare and organise all medication for travel, along with doctors letters etc. Photocopy this stuff too.
– ‘Build’ up a first aid kit
– Em – begin vetetarian diet one month before departure, book appointment with dietition.

House Stuff:
– Organise the sale of Jake’s car – hopefully starting this process this week.
– Sort through our belongings and try to get rid of the stuff that is clogging up so much of our space
– Cull our clothing and wardrobe; give to charity.
– Store our good stuff – thanks mum!
– Try and sell the useless stuff – what we don’t actually need
– Give to the salvo’s the stuff we don’t want to keep and are too lazy to sell… and of course, mostly because we are generous people.
– Finalise and cease renting

Other Stuff:
– Redirect Mail
– Mobile phones – whats happening with them?
– Call Plan International – organise a visit to Em’s sponsor child in India – in the process.
– Buy AU netbook plug
– Quit our jobs
– Keep going to gym – ….shit.
– Em: Have an early birthday party
– Organise a going away celebration with family and friends somewhere.

Items to buy before travel:
– Steri-pen
– Mosquito Net
– Hiking Shoes for Jake
– Adaptor Plugs
– A decent drink bottle for Emily
– New thongs/flip-flops for our trip
– Jake: New pants and shirts for travelling
– Emily: New prescription glasses and sunglasses

Over the next 88 days we have a lot of stuff to keep us busy!… With a bit of luck, we might get most of it sorted!

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?