Back on the 23rd January 2012, I was sitting in Heathrow airport waiting to board a flight to Mumbai, after weeks of bricking it, sleepless nights and the tough task of having to say good bye to everyone, here I was about to start off an adventure, which has now been going on for a year.
Having not booked a hotel or changed any money, I turned up to one of the biggest cities in the world ready to get going, unfortunately after about 10 minutes of being in the country I got well and truly fucked by the local airport police, the rest of my time in Mumbai didn’t really improve! And after a couple of days in this shit hole of a city I booked a ticket to Goa and went on my first long bus trip of many (18 hours). But it was well and truly worth it, Palolem was a beautiful beach and the whole experience was just such a good and relaxing way to start off the trip.
By the time February had come around, I was in much better spirits then I’d been for the last few months. Before leaving I didn’t have a clue what to expect and the whole idea of flying out without a return ticket was something that I couldn’t really get my head around, but the 2 and a half weeks I spent in Palolem well and truly changed that, and opened my eyes to a whole new sort of travelling; sitting on a beach doing fuck all! I did get tired of doing nothing though, and days of leafing through my lonely planet reading about all these cool places around India made me leave Palolem in mid-February. My next stop was Hampi, to this day still one of my favourite places, absolutely stunning scenery, a really relaxed vibe, and loads of cool guest houses and people made it a place which I didn’t want to leave. Unfortunately in my infinite wisdom I had booked my ticket to Kerala the day I arrived and only left myself 3 days to stay in Hampi. After wasting so long in Goa I really felt that I should pick up the speed a bit if I was to have any chance of seeing lots of India in 10 weeks, so I booked my ticket with that view in mind. One day I would like to go back to Hmapi though, just to see if it still has that charm after seeing all the stuff I’ve seen since. As I mentioned, after a short stop in Hampi I was off on my 2 day quest to get to the state of Kerala, Allepey to be precise. This was the longest day travelling so far, an overnight bus of 12 hours and then a train the next day for just as long, followed by a 2 hour bus, but it felt good to be eating up the miles and the scenery on the way was really nice. As soon as I arrived at the train station in Kerala, I bumped into a fellow Brit called Mike who agreed to check out Allepey with me and after walking around in circles for ages we found a hotel recommended to me, which is still probably the nicest place I’ve stayed for cheap. I spent about a week in Kerala, taking in the local culture and cuisine before I took a long train east to the other coast and Chennai. My flight to the Andaman islands was not too far off, so I didn’t really have too much time to explore the places around Chennai, but what I did see was nice.
I arrived in Port Blair, capital of the Andamans, on the 1st of March and up until the day I left I didn’t manage to see anywhere else in India! In other words I bloody loved Havelock, it was such a nice island with such cool people and I think I cancelled my flight to Kolkata (scheduled for 2 weeks’ time) the day I arrived. As great as the place was, I couldn’t really spend much time relaxing while I was here, after a moment of madness I decided to sign up for a divemaster course which took up 3 weeks of my 5 weeks on the island. I can’t lie, there were good moments and overall I probably had a fun time, but it’s always easier to remember the bad stuff, either way I came out of it certified which won’t do any harm. Looking back at this time on old diary entries, it does make me sad that I didn’t have more time to hang out with the group there, in my first week we all had such a good time together, like when we all celebrated Holi festival and all the live music we saw, but as I was doing the course more and more everyone started leaving until I was left with none of the original crew. Then Dad turned up and I experienced my first visitor whilst away! He was there for my last 2 weeks in Havelock, spending his time, sleeping and reading, basically any activity which involved a hammock. Leaving Havelock was so hard, not only was it my first experience of this feeling when you’re just not ready to go, but I was going to China!!! A place I didn’t have a fucking clue about, up until now all I’d heard were warnings not to go alone and other general negative remarks on the country as a whole, fuck did I not want to leave India!
So April came along and I said my goodbyes to Dad, and Havelock and India as a whole, but promised one day to return as I had completely neglected the North. Arriving in China I really didn’t know how to feel, how to act or really how to do anything! Even in Beijing no one speaks English, something I found out the hard way after having to spend 4 hours running around the city looking for an empty hostel. Rule number 1 to anyone, always have a place to go when arriving in a new country, there’s no worse a feeling then having no idea where you are and having to find somewhere to stay. At least the day was all very interesting, just being in China is nothing like I’ve ever experienced before, the place is a completely different world. One downside was that it was fucking cold the whole month of April. After a week tasting all the different aspects of Beijing culture, and seeing most of the sights, I was off to North Korea for what turned out to be the most interesting week of my whole trip. Whether we were visiting the world’s largest hotel or the world’s most factually incorrect museum, every day was so bloody interesting, and I encourage anyone to go. Once I got back from North Korea, I spent my time in Beijing very much the same as before, I had some desperate craving for Chinese clubs all month. Then me and Greg, a guy I’d met just before North Korea, and a few times whilst in Korea set off for a month’s travelling around China, with our first stop scheduled for Pingyao, an ancient Chinese city. After missing one train and having a whole day’s delay, we did make it eventually and the place was just so nice and seemingly authentic Chinese, even if it was a little overpopulated with Chinese tourists. This is where we started to come to grips with our new found fame as we were stopped all the time for photos and/or handshakes by pretty much everyone.
In April I was in India, China and North Korea so it was a pretty hectic month, much needed experience for the month of May where me and Greg fought our way across China. After leaving Pingyao our first stop was Xi’an, the old capital of China where we spent almost a week dividing our time between seeing the sites and going out, a lot! After a lot of posing for pictures, one near death experience and way too much alcohol and not enough girls and a couple cool sights, we managed to get our asses out of Xi’an and on to Yichang on a 15 hour train for a 1 day visit to the 3 gorges dam, which turned out to be a complete fucking let down, and so we got on another 15 hour train to Chengdu. Chengdu was such a cool place, it had so much to do and so much to see including a pretty awesome panda sanctuary which I’m certain never to forget, and the largest Buddha statue in the world. After a few days in Chengdu we went even further South to Kunming and then up in to the South West province of China, the Yunnan, where we started at Lijiang, a really beautiful old town Chinese village. But we had no time to waste as Greg was nearing the end to his time in China, so the next day we hopped on another bus and after it got dark made the stupid decision of starting the trek along the tiger leaping gorge with no light whatsoever. Luckily a nice old man saved us, and over the next couple of days we finished the jaw dropping trek in the valley of the Himalayas. And then Greg was off never to be seen again, he was a bloody legend and the first person I actually travelled with for a distance. Having now covered a massive chunk of China, I took it a bit slower in my last couple of weeks, only briefly visiting Shangrila and Lugu Hu, and then spending quite a long stint in Kanding frustratingly waiting for the West Sichuan region to be opened again. Kanding was a nice place, despite it being ridiculously cold and quite quiet it was here that I met a completely different sort of Chinese people, one which compares to the Tibetans way more.
June started very brightly with me going back up to Chengdu, having now spent almost 3 weeks in ridiculously high altitudes it was time to come back down to earth and finally experience some warm weather. After Chengdu I went to visit Little Bear’s family, by this point I’d only known her a week or so and there was no real relationship, so it was just interesting to see how the Chinese really live and experience it first-hand. It was all a bit awkward but such good fun, plus it was a good excuse to leave Little Bear behind (or so I thought) and carry on travelling. After I left Chongqing I went to Chishui, probably the most testing place I’d been so far, literally not one person speaks English, plus officially tourists weren’t supposed to go there so there were no hotels that would accept foreigners. All in all a bit of a mission, but as with the rest of China you just take everything with a pinch of salt and it’s all quite easy to laugh about. Plus Chishui was home to a fucking huge waterfall which completely blew my mind away. Leaving Chishui wasn’t that hard, I was starting to get bored with the whole celebrity status thing, especially here where they literally see no westerners, and I knew that my next stop would be the complete opposite. Unfortunately for me to get to Guilin, I had one of the longest travelling days ever, with multiple trains and buses, and a door to door time of something ridiculous like 40 hours. Was it worth it? Short answer, no, the place was full of tourists, and having now been in China for a while I really wasn’t used to that, and in all honesty couldn’t cope with it. After seeing some nice scenery, some crazy humid weather, a bike crash and the world’s largest rice terrace I left Guilin, after some debating with myself, to Shanghai to meet up with that Chinese girl again. Originally Shanghai was going to be a city which I wanted to avoid on my trip, another busy Chinese city except this one is westernized, and at that point that really didn’t sound too appealing. But you can’t spend so long in China and miss it out, plus I was having visa issues and Shanghai seemed like an obvious place to go! I spent the first week waiting for my visa and travelling to the places in and around Shanghai with my little Chinese woman, trying loads of food I never knew before and trying and failing to master any Chinese past hello, thank you and beer. I spent a bit of time in Shanghai after Little Bear left, sampling all the night life and meeting a group of really important socialite teenagers which is always fun.
But as soon as it began, June was over and we were in to July. I spent the first few days of July just getting to Thailand, I first had to negotiate the most full train I’ve ever been on, thank fuck I managed to get myself a seat for the 24 hour ride, then I had to get on a bus all the way down to Macau before eventually getting a flight out to Bangkok. Leaving China was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve had to do on this trip, I desperately fell in love with that country, the people, the fucked up government system, all the incredible architecture from back in the day, the food, just bloody everything about that place and I had a lot of sleepless nights towards the end just because I had no inclination of leaving. But after 3 months it was time to go and meet up with a special guest star in Bangkok, Feds! The whole idea of meeting up with friends all the way out in Thailand seems completely farfetched to me, but that’s what happened, and it was just really nice to see someone from home for a couple of weeks. Plus our first destination of Martin’s little farm out in the North East of Thailand was a great place to start and try and forget about the wonders of China. After a while there, the 2 of us went to the North West to check out Chiang Mai and meet up with another old friend, Greg. Then the 3 of us just spent a couple of weeks going around Chiang Mai and Pai, another bloody special place which I really want to go back to and in the end back to Bangkok. It was so nice to see Feds, but the time went really quick and reminded me of just how much I was missing England, I was just so jealous that he got to go back and eat all that great food while I was stuck here in Asia eating rice. After Feds left, me and Greg spent a bit more time in the North visiting a few places including the bridge over the river Kwai. I didn’t hate Thailand, but after a month in the North I really wasn’t too keen on the place and apart from Pai and Martin’s place there was nowhere that I thought would ever be worth going back to, so it was time to head South…
The first week of August was spent just wasting more time in the North and waiting for Pops to turn up so that we could get down South. Eventually she did make it, and boy was it weird seeing my big sister again! The 3 of us didn’t waste any time and by the next day we were on a train down to Surat Thani, having already ridden in 3rd class and experienced our fair share of horror stories, me and Greg weren’t too fussed with going on a long one again, but this one was full and even longer so it wasn’t too fun. But we did make it and finally I went to my first beach since Havelock all those months ago, Railay beach, if this was what the rest of the islands in Thailand were going to be like, I wasn’t holding out too much hope as the island was a bit of a shit hole. Luckily we did find a secret beach which was just stunning and we only stayed there a couple of days before going to Phi Phi and meeting up with Bex. Now our little foursome was complete and we could get the party started on one of the most notorious party islands (it was never going to be notorious for stunning beaches!). We spent a few days here attending the local beach parties before making the trip across Thailand to the gulf coast and to Samui, on one of the worst travelling days of mine, as for the first time since I left I was ill. Luckily that illness only lasted the morning and we did make it to Samui with no hiccups, first impressions were definitely that this was the best island we’d been to so far, cheaper, cleaner and just all around much nicer we were all very happy to make it here. After spending a few days just chilling out our final guest turned up, my Mother. Having been away a good 8 months, she was understandably very happy to see me and it was really nice to just sit and catch up face to face after all this time. Due to the whole time zone fiasco and the lack of wifi in a lot of places I actually barely ever get on Skype and if I do it has to be some big organized thing, so it was nice to be sitting here with ¾ of my family and chatting over the dinner table like old times. August was most importantly the month of my birthday, which we had all decided to spend on Phagnan, so after Mum’s first day in Samui we took a boat over there and up North to bottle beach. By far and away the nicest beach I’ve seen in Thailand with the nicest bungalows I’ve stayed in too. Boy was this place worth the wait! And I had one of the funniest birthdays ever, getting well and truly smashed and shooting fireworks at each other, great night. The end of August was quite sad in many ways, yes we did have full moon which was a fucking brilliant night, but everyone left me and after 2 months of being with people from home, I was back on my own again. It was so bloody hard having to say goodbye to everybody yet again, but it had to be done and I had to hit the road to Indonesia.
I arrived in Indonesia on the 5th of September, happy to be out of the monsoon, and also happy to be back to travelling again, despite it being so hard to say goodbye to everyone it’s always nice to have some time alone. I turned up in Indo without any clue, I’d only booked the flight back in June in order to get myself a Thai visa, I didn’t have any real intention of definitely going, but here I was. And first impressions were that I’d made a mistake, Bali is just a playground for rich and annoying Australian surfers, and so my first week was a bit shit. But soon enough it all turned around and I met an English legend, James, and we hopped on a boat East to Lombok with his friend Fernando. Kuta Lombok was an absolutely brilliant place; it was cheap, beautiful and had the most friendly locals. So after originally planning to only stay a week, it wasn’t hard to convince myself to hold out and I spent a whole 3 weeks checking out the scenery and beaches. Plus our little crew of James, Laurie and I plus all the others who came and went made the time really nice. The month was capped off with a trip up Gunung Rinjani, which was breath-taking and well worth the effort.
I had a really good time in Indonesia in September and was well up for more of the same in October, it turned out to be a completely different month but still very interesting. At the start of the month, I sorted out an extension on my visa for another month and left everyone behind and headed all he way to Flores on a bloody long day of travelling. I spent just under a month in Flores and a pretty interesting time, after my mammoth journey I turned up on the far West coast of the island, Labuan Bajo, the jumping off point for boats to the Komodo Islands. Apart from seeing those big lizards, and almost being attacked by one, I didn’t really do much else in this sleepy little port town. My next stop was Ruteng, the first place where I saw what Flores really had to offer, incredibly beautiful landscape. Here I met a really cool group of locals who showed me around to all the cool sights, but due to the arctic conditions at night, I had no intention of hanging around too long. So I went off to Bajawa, on the way I see yet more jaw dropping views, but not really much else. A defining feature of Flores was that there really wasn’t much to do, so I was left with lots of time to read and try and learn some of the local language. Learning Bahasa (Indo language) didn’t actual turn out to be very difficult, but once I’d learnt everything I really needed I didn’t bother so much with becoming a pro at it, looking back I really should’ve put more time in. After Bajawa it was on to Ende, another port town with not much going on, except one cool Indo guy who showed me round. Moni was probably my favourite place in Flores, I was staying with a really nice family, who cooked great food and the scenery was so nice, not only was there Kelimutu, the legendary 3 coloured lake, but all the landscape around it and the endless rice terraces really made for god viewing. Towards the end of October I was starting to run out of time on my visa so I made the decision to go to East Timor and get a new one there. This meant a long and very interesting boat ride to West Timor, Kupang to be precise, and after a 2 hour sleep off the ferry I went to the east Timor embassy and applied for a visa. Then after that mammoth trip I get back to the hotel and am told that they’re not issuing 2 month visas anymore in East Timor, fucking brilliant! So after a week waiting in Kupang, the most boring place on earth, I flew to Kuala Lumpur.
November started off wet, it was my first real experience of the rainy season since I was in Thailand, and I wasn’t best pleased. I spent about a week in KL sorting out my visa for Indo and just sitting around while I waited in vain for the endless rain to ease up. It’s probably the rain that did it for me more than anything, but I did not like KL! Once I’d finally booked my flight, I was back on a flight to Indo, and Makassar in Sulawesi. The city was by far the biggest I’d seen so far in Indo, so it was interesting o see how they organize chaos over here, luckily I was taken in by a group of marine students who showed me all around the city, even taking me to karaoke, and also letting me say a their halls. Those guys were awesome, and the first group of teenagers I’ve hung out with in Indo, feel really bad that I never went back to see them…one day I’ll make it. After getting the full on guest treatment from those guys and a lift to the airport, I was off to Papua to go do some diving again. Despite being the 2nd biggest island in the world, the place feels like the 2nd least developed in the world, just so much green and a completely different type of people that I’ve been seeing so far, and not just due to the darker skin. After a week pissing around for my Father, and fundraiser, to turn up we went to mansuar island in Raja Ampat (home of the four kings) and got settled in to our awesome homestay. A really nice bungalow on an effectively private white beach with turquoise water and sunsets in the background, not to mention the incredible food, yeah this place was fucking special. Plus the diving wasn’t half bad! November all in all was a bloody good month considering how it started, but it was starting to become apparent that rainy season was coming and it was coming hard.
We left Papua at the start of December and flew back to Bali stopping off at Makassar first, itself engulfed in a torrential downpour. Getting back to Bali and more specifically Kuta was a bit of a culture shock, not only were there westerners everywhere, but there was electricity, noise and most importantly lots of Western foods. Not to offend any people back home, but the thing I really miss more than anything has to be the food, I can’t go 10 minutes without thinking about it! Me and Dad had an incredible dinner that night we got back, and stayed in a posh hotel, but he was off the next day and I was back to a life of trying to save the pennies. Waking up in Kuta and seeing it in the morning really reminded me how much I absolutely hate this place, and having seen so much more of Indo it just feels stupid to come back to this shit hole, so I moved and went down South to hook up with Laurie in Padang Padang instead. I had rented myself a bike for the month and given how great the roads are in the South I should have a pretty good month. Seeing Laurie again was such a bonus as well, plus all the other people who we got to know staying around the place were really cool. Unfortunately all these people were surfers, and I was not, plus I had a really bad motorbike accident, so December started to turn sour. A trip to Gilis and Laurie’s birthday quickly changed my spirit, plus a quick visit to Ismael and more of a taste of Lombok was really nice. Once we got back from Gili Trewangan, Christmas was in full flow, and with our guest house now full of English guys (and one Finnish) the festivities could really begin. Shame Indo doesn’t really know what it’s doing in that respect, and we were given a less than impressive xmas dinner, still it was really cool to be in a nice hot country for Christmas, even if it did rain. And that’s what did it for me, the bloody rain, I was ready to leave Indonesia!
At the start of January me and Marcus jumped back to Lombok to celebrate a rather unusual new year’s eve with Ismael and his friends. After jumping into the New Year with a bang, we headed back over to Gili Trewangan to see if we could have just as good a time as when I went with Laurie. Unfortunately we didn’t and instead it just rained all day every day. It was here that I booked my ticket to Thailand, I’d had enough of the weather, the whole Muslim culture, and most importantly the bloody food! So there it was, after 4 months (the longest stint in any country) I was ready to leave, first we had to get through one last week in Kuta with his annoying friend from home, Kata. But it got to the fateful day and we were finally off on a flight out of Indo, and after a rain soaked stop in KL we made it to Krabi. Going to new countries is something I hate more than anything, but leaving a country when you’re ready to leave and going back to a country that you already know makes the whole process quite easy. After a lot of different types of transport, we made it to Koh Chang, a really special island, by no means the best I’ve been to, but definitely good enough. It’s just so nice to have a holiday, something I really needed (everyone rolls their eyes). My last 2 weeks of January were spent here, and on the 23rd January 2013 I had officially been travelling for one whole year!
It’s been a pretty amazing year, when I left I wasn’t too sure what to expect, and more importantly how long I’d be gone for. But having now been gone for a whole year, I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever go back to the Fatherland, as much as I love England it just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do, and every time I sit down to look at buying a ticket back I always think to myself ‘just one more country’. I will come home for a few months at some point this year though as I would love to see everyone. I’ve seen some pretty incredible stuff over the last 12 months, probably too much to be honest, I now have such high expectations from countries that I can often be let down. I left thinking that seeing all these cultures might change me, and my view on life, and maybe even give me some answers to life’s many questions. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened, but I’ve had such a great time and if you don’t know the answers you might as well try and have fun while you’re trying to work it out.
I’ve really enjoyed doing all these blog entries over the year, I know it may seem like I’ve been getting slack, but I really have been in places with not too much wifi so it’s been difficult. But I really appreciate your support, and hopefully I’m still writing this for a long time to come. Much love guys xx