Tag Archives: Finale

Two Years of Travel in Pictures: Julie’s favourite photos of our trip (Uzbekistan to Brussels)

The final instalment of my favourite photos of our trip! Part 1 covered Latvia to Thailand, and part 2 from Kuala Lumpur to China.

Inside Chorsu BazaarI added a fisheye lens to my camera kit in Uzbekistan. Inside the dome of Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent was the perfect place to give it a trial run

Rows upon rows of fresh produce, like this one of potatoesPotato sellers perched on a bench in Tashkent’s Chorsu Bazaar

Uzbeki lady touristsI got chatting to this group of ladies after I took this sneaky photo and found out that they were visiting Tashkent from the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon

Looking through the entrance of Barak Khan MedressaLooking out through the entrance of Barak Khan Medressa to Khast Imom Square, Tashkent

Dome detailOne of my abiding memories of Uzbekistan is the colour blue, from the turquoise of the mosques to the clear blue skies

Laghman noodle soupLaghman noodle soup with a round non bread and a side of the ubiquitous tomato and cucumber salad was a favourite lunch during our time in Uzbekistan

Registan at nightThe Registan in Samarkand was jaw-droppingly beautiful by day and by night

Sunrise in SamarkandA bright orange sunrise seen over the rooftops of Samarkand

Jo photographing mausoleum at Shah-i-ZindaThe second time that Jo joined us on the trip was in Uzbekistan. Here she’s photographing one of the mausoleums at Shah-i-Zinda in Samarkand

Stick insect on tiles at Shah-i-ZindaA bright green stick insect on the vibrant tiles of a mausoleum at Shah-i-Zinda

Samarkand cemeteryUzbek gravestones feature portraits of the deceased. We enjoyed wandering through the cemetery in Samarkand and practicing our Cyrillic transliteration skills

Char Minar, BukharaChar Minar in Bukhara was the gatehouse of a long-gone 19th century medressa

Knitting stallholder in Tosh-hovli PalaceThe souvenir stalls in Khiva offered lots of thick woollen socks, often made by the stallholder like this lady inside the Tosh-hovli Palace

Uzbek dancerWhen we ascended the watchtower of the Kuhna Ark in Khiva to watch the sun set over the city we were surprised to find a music video being shot and spent as much time taking photos of the dancer as of the historic buildings

Moynaq boat cemeteryThe ship cemetery at Moynoq which used to sit on the edge of the Aral Sea really brought home the environmental tragedy caused by the Soviet Union’s irrigation projects in the area to increase cotton production. Moynoq was a thriving fishing town at the edge of the lake in 1960 but is now 150km away from the still retreating water

Silk vendor at Margilon BazaarVendor of traditional Uzbek silks at Margilon Bazaar in the Fergana Valley

Jeans stall at Margilon BazaarThe Uzbek people were some of the friendliest we came across and we spent a lot of time saying hello and answering questions at the enormous Margilon Bazaar

Pigeons in flightPigeons frightened by a cat outside Yeni Cami in Istanbul

Blue Mosque interiorMagnificent interior of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Jewellery in Grand BazaarNecklaces for sale in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

Tiled interior of Rustem Pasha MosqueA man begins his afternoon prayer in the Rustem Pasha Mosque

Lokum shopWe couldn’t resist the Turkish Delight shops in Istanbul

Andrew in Istanbul Museum of Modern ArtAndrew getting a different view of “Bring Yourself to Me” by Handan Boruteçene in Istanbul Modern

Basilica CisternThe huge Basilica Cistern in Istanbul lay forgotten for almost a hundred years after the Ottoman Conquest

Topkapi Sarayi on a rainy dayThis photograph really captures the day that we visited the Topkapi Sarayi, the former palace of the Ottoman sultans in Istanbul – rainy and grey

In a Turkish playparkWhen Steph, Tom and Olly visited us in Istanbul we got to see the local playgrounds and behave like big kids!

Passengers feeding gulls from the ferry to the Princes' IslandsPassengers on the ferry to the Princes’ Islands feeding gulls

Haghia SophiaThe iconic Haghia Sophia stands in the centre of Istanbul and dominates its skyline. Its dome rises 56m above the floor and looks much smaller than it actually is from below

VallettaMalta’s traditional architecture is very distinctive and nowhere more so than in the capital city Valletta with its golden limestone, narrow streets and wooden covered balconies

Looking back towards the start of the walk at Dingli Cliffs. Not bad for a day in NovemberLooking back towards the start of the walk at Dingli Cliffs. Not bad for a day in November

Prickly pearThe prickly pear grows throughout the Maltese countryside and the fruit is both eaten and used to make a liqueur

The defence command and situation room in the Lascaris War RoomsThe Lascaris War Rooms were a fascinating insight into WWII history

Beer and crisps on the beachA can of beer and a packet of crisps on Għadira beach after a long day’s walk around the northern coastline

Church detail at Addolorata CemeteryRoofline of the church at the Addolorata Cemetery in Paola, Malta

Mdina street lampsStreet lamps in the twisting streets of Mdina, the fortress city in the centre of Malta

Vittoriosa churchStormy clouds behind St Lawrence’s Church, Vittoriosa

Salt pans on GozoThe fantastic Segway tour that we took on Gozo went past the natural salt pans on the north-west coast

Traditional fishing basketTraditional fishing baskets are still used by Maltese fishermen who let them down and mark the spot, collecting them several hours later

Crater on Mt EtnaIt was eerie to see steam rising from vents in the snowy Monte Barbagallo crater of Mt Etna

Drying salt codBaccala, or salt cod, is a typical regional ingredient in Sicily. In Catania’s fish market we saw it drying in the sun

Interior, Santuario della Madonna delle LacrimeLooking up inside the conical Santuario della Madonna delle Lacrime in Siracusa. We nicknamed it the ‘Cone of Shame’

Temple of VulcanoTemple of Vulcano at Agrigento where we spent an unexpectedly cold and slightly snowy New Year’s Eve

Banyan treeFantastic banyan trees in Giardino Garibaldi, Palermo

SpritzSpritz o’clock became a late afternoon institution during our stay in Sicily where the refreshing cocktail is served with complimentary bar snacks

View from La Rocca, CefaluViews up the coast from the former fortress atop La Rocca over Cefalù, Sicily

Monreale CathedralThe mosaics inside Monreale Cathedral tell stories from the bible to assist in medieval times when the vast majority of the population were illiterate

Trees in Palermo's botanical gardenSculptural Silk floss trees from South America in the Botanical Garden in Palermo

Stanze al GenioThe rather unlikely sounding tile collection of Stanze al Genio in Palermo ended up being one of our favourite sights in Sicily. We dreamt about starting our own collection in an attempt to make our own home so beautiful

Fontanelle Cemetery skullsLocals leave offerings for skulls in the Fontanelle Cemetery in Naples

216On one of the rare sunny days of our fortnight in Naples we spent exploring the house and grounds of the nearby Reggia di Caserta

Andrew in curved corridor of the dome of St Peter's BasilicaWe climbed to the cupola atop the dome of St Peter’s Basilica for views across Rome but hadn’t expected the staircase to be inside the sloping walls of the dome itself

Dome gallery, St Peter's Basilica, Vatican CityEntering the base of the dome at St Peter’s Basilica was an unexpected treat for the vertiginous view to the floor of the church

ColosseumLooking down into the Colosseum from the third tier trying to reimagine ancient Roman times

Dome of St Peter's Basilica through the keyholeThe view through the keyhole of the Villa del Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta was surprising in its perfection even when we knew what to expect

Piramide, RomeA pyramid in Rome? Yes really! It was built in around 12BC as the tomb of Gaius Cestius

Rome metro trainThere’s a lot of graffiti in Italy. Most of it is fairly unsightly tags but occasionally it is well enough done that it improves whatever it is sprayed onto, like this line B metro train in Rome

Synagogue, RomeThe main synagogue in Rome stands imposingly above the River Tiber

Baptistry carving detail, PisaThe leaning Tower of Pisa is part of a complex known as the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). The Baptistry has incredible acoustics which are demonstrated every half hour by the guard who stands in the centre of the room and sings a few notes which resonate for so long that he can create chords with his own voice!

Camposanto MonumentaleThe Camposanto Monumentale cemetery in Pisa is slowly being restored after being damaged by bombing in WWII

Swiss AlpsWe loved catching up with our friends Heidi and Olivier in Switzerland and once again admiring the spectacular scenery of their home country

Stained glass window of bridge in LuzernSunlight streaming through the stained glass window of a tiny chapel on Spreuerbrücke in Luzern

CERN monument‘Wandering the immeasurable’ by Gayle Hermick stands outside the visitor centre at CERN and is inscribed with major discoveries in physics in the language that they were made

Sunset, Aix-en-ProvenceThe sun goes down behind the tree lined Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence

Interior, Carcassonne cathedralInside the diminutive Basilique Saint-Nazaire in the medieval La Cité, Carcassonne

La Cite, CarcassonneCarcassonne’s medieval walled fortress town, La Cité

Church of the JacobinsReflections inside Toulouse’s Church of the Jacobins

Salon des VinsThe bread, cheese and wine in France was just as good as we’d expected

Cathedral spires, Luxembourg CityLuxembourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral has three spires, each different from the others

Smokers outside Centraal StationSmokers outside the ornate Centraal Station in Amsterdam

Rooftop winch on a canal houseAmsterdam’s canal houses were built with a pulley projecting from the gable to more easily move goods to the upper floors and they are still in use today

National Monument, Dam SquareNational Monument and Royal Palace in Dam Square, Amsterdam

'Tolerance' by Alaniz‘Tolerance’ by Alaniz is one of the artworks featured in Amsterdam’s Street Art Museum

RijksmuseumLooking down the pond in Museumplein towards the Rijksmuseum

TulipsWe got up early to catch the dew on the tulips at Keukenhof Garden before meeting up with Dan, Clare, Scott and Emma

Windmills at Zaanse SchansAll of the windmills at Zaanse Schans village are working, milling items as diverse as logs, spices and dyes for paint!

Fairground ridesA funfair was squeezed into Dam Square for the King’s Day celebrations

Tulip fieldWe enjoyed cycling through the colourful bulb fields of the Netherlands

European Parliament, BrusselsThe European Parliament in Brussels

Atomium detailThe Atomium was built for the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958 but its architecture still looks futuristic

Two Years of Travel in Pictures: Julie’s favourite photos of our trip (Kuala Lumpur to China)

I really enjoyed reviewing my photos and picking out the best ones. Part 1 covered the first 11 months of the trip up to Thailand. Here’s part two of three…

Petronas TowersLooking up one of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur

93Yellow-billed Stork at Kuala Lumpur Bird Park

Flower vendor, DhakaA flower vendor relaxes on his stall in Hindu Street, Dhaka

Sadarghat boat terminalBoats jostle for position beside the Rocket Steamer at Sadarghat Boat Terminal in Dhaka

Street food vendor, SadrghatStreet food vendors sell snacks at Sadarghat Boat Terminal

Mr Colin's tea standMr Colin’s tea stand in Khulna. He was so chuffed to have foreigners drinking his tea and taking his photo that when we went back later in the week he wanted us to show the photo to his friend!

20140322-170030.jpgShait Gumbad (Sixty Dome) Mosque at Bagerhat actually has 81 domes, but 60 pillars. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and dates from the 15th century

Bangladeshi busBangladeshi buses are a colourful but scary way to travel through the country, crammed with people and luggage and driven by seemingly suicidal drivers

Forest floor, SundarbansRoots sticking up from the floor of the forest in the Sundarbans National Park

ButterflyWe didn’t see any tigers, but there was plenty of other wildlife on view in the Sundarbans National Park in Bangladesh

Street restaurant kitchenBangladeshi food is cheap, satisfying and delicious, many of the country’s restaurants have the ‘kitchen’ outside in the street

Govinda Temple, PuthiaBeautifully proportioned Govinda Temple at Puthia

Chicken seller, RajshahiChicken seller in the New Market, Rajshahi

WatchersAs foreigners we were curiosities wherever we went in Bangladesh, here we are being watched through a hole in a wall at Sona Masjid

Sunrise at PaharpurMisty sunrise behind the stupa ruins at Paharpur

Fruit seller, RajshahiA greengrocer hangs grapes from his stall in the market at Dinajpur

Tea plantationA peaceful tea plantation near Srimongol

Water buffalosLife in the waterways near Srimongol

Fishmonger, SrimongolA fishmonger proudly displays his wares in Srimongol

111Adverts line the street on election day in Sonargaon outside Dhaka

Gardens by the BayThe Gardens by the Bay at Singapore Marina are dominated by the huge SuperTree structures which are lit at night

Singapore Art MuseumA family plays with the sound produced by pots of soil: “Sound of the Earth” by Chen Sai Hua Kuan at the Singapore Art Museum

Takayama float festivalThe Daikokutai team ready themselves to move their float at the Takayama Spring Float Festival

Parade ornamentPhoenix topping a box to be carried in procession during the Takayama Spring Float Festival

20140424-174759.jpgCherry blossom in Kanazawa Castle Park

Noh masksA display of masks at the Kanazawa Noh Museum

Theatre interiorInside the traditional Kureha-Za theatre at Museum Meiji-Mura

Rest house along the Old Post RoadRest house along the Nakasendo, or old post road, between Magome and Tsumago

Matsumoto CastleMatsumoto Castle is the oldest wooden castle in Japan

20140515-111529.jpgJapanese Macaque eating pussy willows at Kamikochi in the Japanese Alps. The monkeys are also known to bathe in natural hot springs

Shrine reflectionShrine reflected in the moat of a burial mound in Nara

Temple roofThe traditionally constructed roof of Kongobuji temple, Koyasan

Jizos with apronsJizos with aprons in the Okunoin Cemetery, Koyasan

Yabusame archer taking out the final target at full speedA Yabusame archer takes out the final target at full speed

Sun through maple leavesJapan was much greener than we’d expected with plenty of beautiful countryside and well tended gardens

Mountaintop monument, MiyajimaMonument on top of Mt Misen, Miyajima

Wisteria canopy at Kawachi Fuji GardenWisteria blossoms gently waving in the breeze at Kawachi Fuji Garden

From the ferry to YakushimaFeeling blue. Kyushu island coastline from the ferry to Yakushima

On the trail to Jomon SugiAndrew with our hostel friends and fellow hikers, Brian and Claudia, on the trail to Jomon Sugi, the largest cedar tree ever found in Japan which is estimated to be over 2000 years old

Resting hikersHikers rest on the riverbed below the trail to Jomon Sugi

Lee Ufan, Naoshima‘Relatum-Point, Line, Plane’ by Lee Ufan stands at the entrance to his museum on Naoshima

Sushi conveyor beltConveyor belt sushi in Kobe, lots of fun

Kyoto rice paddy reflectionsClouds reflected in rice paddies on the outskirts of Kyoto

Temple gardenGarden at Shoren-in temple, Kyoto

20140619-205819-75499618.jpgBright red gates line the path up the mountain at Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

Recreating the zen gardenWe spent a fascinated hour watching the gardeners at Ginkakuji Temple recreating the zen garden

Sacred treeA rope encircles a Yorishiro or sacred object, in this case a tree, at Kurama-dera

Lake SaikoLake Saiko is one of the Five Lakes around Mt Fuji

Observation deck at Mori Art MuseumTokyo Tower from the observation deck of the Mori Art Museum

20140707-144505-53105880.jpgFishmongers sawing up frozen tuna at Tsukiji Market, Tokyo

Tsukiji Market‘Unicorn’ fish for sale at Tsukiji Market, Tokyo

20140711-212637-77197767.jpgLooking 350m down from Tokyo Skytree

Stepping stonesSunlight shining across rounded stepping stones in Koshikawa Korakuen Garden in Tokyo

Shinto weddingTraditional Shinto wedding procession at the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo

Bowl of ramenJapanese food is famed for being light and healthy, but a bowl of ramen noodles with extra braised pork is satisfyingly rich and hearty

20140721-224958-82198318.jpgA man rests under the trees near Beomeosa temple in Busan

Seokbulsa temple carvingsCliffside carvings of the Buddha at Seokbulsa Temple, Busan

Lotus flowerLotus flower, Gyeongju

Bulguksa TempleColourful carvings in the eaves of Bulguksa Temple near Gyeongju

Traditional Korean breakfastA Korean breakfast of abalone rice porridge, fish and kimchi at our guesthouse in Hahoe Folk Village

Looking out over the DMZ towards North KoreaVisiting the de-militarised zone (DMZ) which divides Korea was an eerie experience after learning some of the history of the conflict

Sunset over SeoulSunset over Seoul from the edge of Namsan Park

Mung bean pancake stallMung bean pancake stall in Gwangjang Market, Seoul

Andrew and the Bund BullAndrew and the Bund Bull in the old banking district of Shanghai

The Mountain-in-View TowerThe Mountain-in-View Tower, Humble Administrator’s Garden, Suzhou

Bonsai treeBonsai tree, Humble Administrator’s Garden, Suzhou

SketchbookSketchbook with a drawing of the Hall of Distant Fragrance, Humble Administrator’s Garden, Suzhou

Duck headsDuck heads and chillis on a street food stall in Hangzhou – no we didn’t try them…

Nanjing Massacre MemorialMirrored wall in the garden of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial

Stairway to Dr Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum, Nanjing, ChinaView up the stairway to Dr Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum near Nanjing. Considered the founding father of modern China, he’s a very popular guy

Yellow Crane Tower roof tile detailYellow Crane Tower roof tile detail, Wuhan

Hankou railway station waiting roomHankou railway station waiting room. The newer stations on China’s high speed rail network look more like airports to us

Queueing for glass plank pathQueueing for the glass plank path on Tianmen mountain, Zhangjiajie

Cable car, Zhangjiajie National ParkThe cable car line to Huangshizhai runs between the rock pillars, Zhangjiajie National Park

Oil lampsOil lamps burning at Aidao Nunnery, Chengdu

Two Years of Travel in Pictures: Julie’s favourite photos of our trip (Latvia to Thailand)

When we were thinking about wrapping up our two years of travel it seemed like a good idea to have a round up of our favourite photos. To speed up the process we decided to each go through the photos that we took and compile our own selections. It hadn’t really occurred to me how long it would take to just physically look through the 42,485 photos that I had saved, never mind decide which 50 or so were the best. It was a lot of fun though and we found ourselves frequently stopping to share a photo and ask “remember this?”

I’d say that the most photogenic countries we visited were Mongolia for stunning landscapes, Bangladesh for its friendly people, Japan for its culture, and Uzbekistan for a mix of buildings and people as well as phenomenal weather (a bit of sunshine can make the difference between an OK photo and a good one).

It quickly became obvious that I wouldn’t be able to whittle my favourites down to 50, so here is the first of three long instalments…

20130326-104743.jpgThe reconstructed House of the Blackheads on our first evening in Riga, Latvia

Dried fish in Riga's marketA display of dried fish in Riga’s amazing covered market

20130326-105509.jpgPickled vegetables are a big part of the food culture in the Baltics and Russia and we got quite a taste for them. This stall is in Riga’s market

4Evangelic Lutheran Church in Sigulda, Latvia

5Sibelius monument detail on a grey and rainy morning in Helsinki, Finland

6One of the domes of the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood in St Petersburg, Russia

20130418-223439.jpgSt Petersburg’s Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood was one of my favourite sights in Russia, and the interior was just as spectacular as the exterior

8Cadets stand guard at the statue of the Motherland at Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery in St Petersburg where 420,000 victims of the Siege of Leningrad are buried

Fountains at PeterhofLooking through the Grand Cascade at Peterhof

Domes at PeterhofI loved the onion domes on the Russian Orthodox churches and these gold ones at Peterhof are particularly striking

Russian dollsNot buying myself a Russian doll is a small regret from my time in Russia though I probably would have been sick of carrying it very quickly!

Tsar Cannon in the KremlinThe huge Tsar-Cannon in Cathedral Square at the Moscow Kremlin has supposedly only ever been fired once

20130515-110123.jpgKomsomolskaya metro station in Moscow

Icon, Sergiev PosadAn icon and candles in the monastery in Sergiev Posad, part of Russia’s Golden Ring

River Yenisey in KrasnoyarskLooking up the River Yenisey in Krasnoyarsk

20130610-084624.jpgAs we moved into Siberian Russia, the landscapes got noticeably bigger and heavily forested. The view from the Stolby Nature Reserve near Krasnoyarsk seemed to go on forever

Snowy mountains above BaikalskoeSnowy mountains above the small village of Baikalskoe on the northern shores of Lake Baikal

Buryat sacred tree on Olkhon IslandThe Buryat people of Siberia practice animism, this sacred tree on Olkhon Island is tied with offering scarves

19On our first evening staying at Nikita’s Homestead on Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal we watched a spectacular sunset

Rotten boat, Olkhon IslandA dilapidated old boat lies on the lakeshore in the north of Olkhon Island

20130701-211903.jpgLooking along the length of the train as we leave Russia

Monastery door handlesDoor handles at Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Young monks in UlaanbaatarYoung monks carrying a milk churn through Gandan Monastery, Ulaanbaatar

Sunset at Erdene Zuu monasterySunset at Erdene Zuu monastery in Kharkhorin

Oogii our Gobi Desert guideOogii, the guide on our 9 day tour to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia

Tsagaan SuvragaA thunderstorm swept through as we arrived Tsagaan Suvraga in Mongolia, leaving us with moody skies and sunlight with which to admire the eerie looking rock formations

Mongolian roadA typical road in Mongolia stretching off into the distance with no other man made feature in sight

GersMore than half of the Mongolian population still live in gers

20130728-220113.jpgA huge full moon rising over the Gobi desert in Mongolia

Chinggis the dogThis dog decided to accompany us on a walk through Terelj National Park in eastern Mongolia. In honour of the great khaan we called him Chinggis!

Ovoo in eastern MongoliaOvoos, small cairns of rocks, are commonly found beside roads in Mongolia. Passing travellers add a rock to pray for a safe journey

20130829-085144.jpgActually this photo was taken on Andrew’s camera but I snuck it in as it always makes me smile. We found this public artwork in Beijing’s 798 District

Great WallChina’s Great Wall seen through a window in one of the towers of the Jinshanling section

Pingyao city wallIt was great to have my parents visit us for two weeks in China and I love this photo of them walking along Pingyao’s city wall

20130914-225210.jpgAt the City God Temple in Pingyao we happened upon a play performed twice daily

20130914-225222.jpgTemple visitors in China try to throw a coin into the pot for good luck

Terracotta warriors Pit 1The scale of Pit 1 at the Tomb of the Terracotta Warriors near Xi’an took my breath away

Bell tower, Xi'anBell tower in Xi’an – we never saw the bell, but judging by the size of the tower it must be pretty big!

20130911-100943.jpgI would happily have spent hours watching the pandas at the breeding centre that we visited near Xi’an

Busker in YinchuanI don’t have many people photos from China, largely being too intimidated by the crowds I think, but I’m glad I stopped to ask this busker in Yinchuan if i could take his photo

Temple building at Summer PalaceSide building near the Temple of Buddhist Virtue and view down to Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace in Beijing

Star Ferry in Hong Kong harbourThe Star Ferry which crosses Hong Kong’s harbour has a distinctly retro look

20130919-143608.jpgHong Kong’s skyline is justifiably famous. Every evening at 8pm there is a free light show

Mong Kok bird marketThe Mong Kok area of Hong Kong is famous for its markets including song birds which locals keep as pets

Incense coilA burning incense coil hangs from the ceiling in one of Hong Kong’s temples

Spring rollsWe found the world’s best spring rolls in a small restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam

Umbrellas in Sa PaWe joined a very rainy walk to some local villages along with an entourage of local ladies selling crafts during our stay in Sa Pa in northern Vietnam

Bathroom near Sa PaDuring a homestay visit near Sa Pa we took a traditional herbal bath in the house of the sister of our host family

20131018-160509.jpgAndrew having the first of many street-side haircuts, this one was in Hanoi

20131018-160155.jpgThere are far more varieties of noodles than I ever dreamed of for sale in Vietnam

Vietnam Museum of EthnologyOur friend Jo visited us for the first time in Vietnam. I was trying to brighten this photo which we took at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and really liked the effect I got by changing it to black and white

Ha Long Bay cruiseOne of our fellow daytrippers diving off the boat during our cruise around Ha Long Bay from Cat Ba Island

Silk lantern maker in Hoi AnA lady making silk lanterns at a craft shop in Hoi An

Wooden masks on a wall in Hoi An, VietnamWooden masks on a wall in Hoi An, Vietnam

Market display in Hoi AnGarlic and chillis are frequently used in Vietnamese cuisine

Shopper in Cai Rang floating marketThe floating market at Cai Rang was fascinating and we loved watching the locals’ standing up rowing technique

20131111-210141.jpgVietnamese boats have eyes…

Crabs for saleCrabs for sale at the Cai Rang land market

Bacon the Vietnamese pigBacon, the pet pig at Nguyen Shack homestay made very cute grunting noises when we scratched his back

MartiniOur trip was occasionally glamorous… To celebrate an incredible two weeks travelling through Vietnam with Jo we had cocktails in the rooftop bar of the Sheraton Hotel

Electric wires in Phnom PenhWe really felt for the guys who have to fix any faults with the electrical systems in China and Southeast Asia. This tangle was above the streets in Phnom Penh.

20131125-125238.jpgThe atrocities committed at the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh during Pol Pot’s regime defy belief

Rush hour in Phnom PenhRush hour in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, as seen from the back seat of a tuk-tuk

Playing pool in Phnom PenhAndrew breaking the pool balls in a bar on street 172, Phnom Penh

Rice fields near KampotPalm trees and rice paddies near Kampot, Cambodia

Calf near KampotA curious calf near Kampot, Cambodia

20131206-110943.jpgA man paddling across to collect a box from the boat we took from Battambang to Siem Reap

Sunrise at Angkor WatIt was worth getting up at 4am to see the sky slowly turning pink behind the iconic towers of Angkor Wat

Temple detail, CambodiaStone carving detail at Preah Khan temple, Angkor

Tree roots at Ta SomTree roots engulfing a gate at Ta Som temple near Siem Reap

Lizard, CambodiaA Changeable Lizard in the undergrowth at Bakong temple, Roluos Group, near Siem Reap

Bicycling boysThese Cambodian boys thought it would be a hoot to chase after our tuk-tuk on their bikes when we drove past!

Pad ThaiPad Thai was one of our favourite Thai street food meals

Buddha statue detail at Wat PhoBuddha statue detail covered with offerings of flowers and gold leaf at Wat Pho, Bangkok

Buddha statue, Chiang MaiBuddha statue at Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai

Buddhist monks, Chiang MaiReal monks checking out the spookily lifelike fibreglass models of their venerated predecessors at Wat Pha Singh, Chiang Mai

Street art eyeStreet art in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Monk collecting almsA young monk collecting alms at the annual alms-giving to 10,000 monks in Chiang Mai

New Year lanternsLanterns floating above the moat beside Chalyaphum Road in Chiang Mai to wish for good fortune in the New Year

Butcher's stallA butcher’s stall at the Tonlamyai market in Chiang Mai

Wat Prathat Doi SuthepWat Prathat Doi Suthep stands on a hilltop overlooking Chiang Mai and is notable for the amount of gold covering its monuments

White Temple, Chiang RaiThe intricate White Temple near Chiang Rai is full of popular culture references as well as traditional Buddhist iconography

Bundles of herbsBundles of herbs for sale in the market near the cookery class we took in Chiang Mai

20140208-144418.jpgWith my elephant Bunjun on our day as elephant owners

Stalagmite in a caveStalagmite in Mueng On Cave, north of Chiang Mai

20140304-064238.jpgBuddha at Wat Mahathat, Sukhothai

Elephant chedi detailImages of elephants are everywhere in Thailand, including surrounding this chedi at Wat Sorasak, Sukhothai

Grand Palace, BangkokThe impressive Grand Palace in Bangkok

Chinatown shopA shop in Bangkok’s Chinatown

Footsteps on Long Beach, Koh LantaFootsteps on Long Beach, Koh Lanta

Boat detailI especially liked this boat detail that I spotted in Koh Lanta’s Old Town as it looks like a J – I assume it’s actually a Thai letter

How to pack for a Two Year Trip

As we mentioned before we set off in our packing dry-run and what do you pack for a two year trip posts, there’s plenty written about what to take on this kind of extended world travel and why to take it. Once you’ve read your fill of those posts and made your kit decisions, here’s a post on how to pack that kit for epic adventures!

Our large rucksacks with space to spare from our packing dry run 4 months before we set off

Our large rucksacks with space to spare from our packing dry run about 4 months before we set off

We carried two rucksacks each – a small one for valuables and day trips, and a large one for everything else. The smaller rucksacks are great for carrying shopping when we visited markets, and for overnight trips like when we spent a few days in Chiang Rai from our base in Chiang Mai, Thailand, or as an overnight bag when we slept on the caravan sofa bed my brother and family hired in Amsterdam.

First, some general tips on packing rucksacks:

  1. Put everything in separate carrier bags – this is to make the contents waterproof. They want to be no more than ¾ full so the top of the carrier bag can be rolled or folded over. If it’s electrical: cables, batteries, camera memory cards, or made of paper (books, leaflets or entrance tickets) use two – they’re light and take up no extra space.
  2. Put the heavier stuff at the bottom – this will make it easier to lift, easier to carry, and its better for the spine too.
  3. Have a place for everything – it might take a few un-packs and re-packs starting out, but 3 months in we had our systems down to a fine art. The benefits are not just being able to quickly find stuff when we needed it, but we knew we had everything before we left because we got used to the order everything had to be packed in!

How to pack a rucksack

Basic rucksack packing guide

Basic rucksack packing guide. The photo was taken outside the Hostel Hospital in Sabile, Latvia near the start of our trip

Top Pocket: Handy stuff we might need in a hurry: raincoat, hat, scarf, gloves, toilet roll

Side Pockets: More space for handy stuff! We’d typically put things like mugs, forks and spoons, suncream and mosquito repellant and padlock and chain-lock to deter opportunist thieves in the side pockets.

Starting at the bottom, here’s how we’d pack an empty rucksack..
Bottom: Heavy, bulky stuff at the bottom and towards the back (i.e. closest to the spine when it’s worn): Spare shoes, flip-flops, clothes in separate bags. I bought dry sacks, but carrier bags will do just fine. One bag for underwear, one for trousers, bottoms and swimwear, another for t-shirts and tops, and don’t forget a bag or two for dirty clothes or laundry – I try to find a colourful bag for laundry so it’s easy to spot.
Middle: This is the area hardest to reach as most rucksacks have openings at top and bottom. Here we put things we think we won’t need while we’re moving between places, such as souvenirs or books we’re not currently reading. This is also the place for toiletries. It’s worth having a wash bag (yes, even for the guys!) as it’s so much easier to carry toothbrushes, toothpaste, shower gel, shaving gear and deodorant to shared shower rooms down the hall from hostel rooms if it’s all in one bag. I took a medium-sized LifeVenture washbag which was perfect, but a carrier bag worked just as well on occasion.
Top: Anything we might need first when we arrive at our destination: Charging cables, any food provisions we had left over such as bags of pasta, tea & coffee, stock cubes and seasonings, sweeties, etc.

Side note.. on the pros and cons of rucksack liners:
Julie used a big waterproof rucksack liner, and on the whole would have preferred separate smaller bags for the single reason that invariably the thing you need is at the bottom which means unpacking your entire bag. That said, on the one occasion of our trip where our bags were completely soaked, everything of Julie’s stayed dry and our guidebook, which was in my rucksack but not in a plastic bag, took 4 days to dry out properly!

Given our experiences, we’d avoid rucksack liners in favour of carrier bags and smaller dry sacks because of the convenience. It’s a pain having to completely unpack when in dorms or we’re only staying somewhere for a few nights.

Day sack: On the move..

1 year in, Joypurhat, Bangladesh

1 year in. 17th March 2014, Joypurhat, Bangladesh – waiting for a bus to Paharpur (photo credit: Roman, a very kind student we met on the train)

When we were moving we’d have a quick think about what we were likely to need and pack that in our smaller rucksack, such as our sleeping bag liners, toothbrush and toothpaste and earplugs if we were on an overnight train. We’d always keep the most important things in our smaller day sacks as they’re much easier to keep with us or close by, and they’re easier to secure with a padlock.

A document wallet is the best place to keep passports, pre-purchased travel tickets, copies of travel insurance, spare SD-cards for digital cameras, emergency cash (in USD), and driving licences. Together with a document wallet each, we’d also carry our sunglasses, digital cameras (and spare camera lenses), iPads and my laptop in our day sacks.

Day sack: Out and about..

Andrew with a baguette in Dijon, France

The full french experience – carrying a fresh baguette through the markets of Dijon, France

If we were staying in shared accommodation we’d put all of the important stuff in Julie’s larger day-sack and padlock it, then put it in a locker or leave it with the reception in their luggage room. My smaller day sack was perfect for carrying the stuff we needed while we were out sightseeing or heading to the markets.

If you have any packing tips for long-term travel, please share them in the comments!

Two Years of Travel in Review: Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve met so many wonderful, friendly people on our travels. Some have become good friends who we’ve kept in touch with and even visited on our way home, and others like shopkeepers and market vendors we just got on really well with. As we got talking there were some common questions asked of us, especially when they enquired about how long our “holiday” was.. it usually went something like this:

Inquisitor: “Great, so how long are you here in [insert city / country]?”

Julie or I: “about a week/month.. we’re on a pretty long trip”

Inquisitor: “really? how long?”

Julie or I: “about two years”

Inquisitor: Astonished smiley

Inquisitor: ..

Inquisitor: “Wow!”

Q: What’s your favourite country?

This is usually the first one and a really difficult question to answer because it’s so hard to choose! Our answer through Mongolia and most of China was Russia as our experiences were still fresh, but 19½ months and 25 countries later we now reply with “different countries for different reasons“..

Q: Which country did you like the least?

The first time we were asked this we really had to think hard about it, and even then we didn’t really come up with an answer – everywhere we’ve visited has had so many overwhelmingly positive traits that the odd negative things hardly register. As we found we were asked this question more frequently, we thought about it some more and came up with 2 for pretty much the same reason.. first was Singapore – we were only there for a week with the intention of recovering from the beautiful sensory overload that was Bangladesh, and we couldn’t have picked a more contrasting country to follow. Singapore was sterile, sensible, and spotless to our eyes. We enjoyed our time there, but it just doesn’t stack up against the other countries on our list for the kind of adventurous backpacking travel we love.
The second is on Andrew’s list for its initial impression having just arrived from Japan.. and it’s South Korea – this time the perfection of the Japanese, well, everything, had raised my expectations and South Korea was a little disappointing. But, it was a slow burner and the combination of Korean hospitality, history, culture and food won me over about a week or so into our month there. Would I go back? In a heartbeat!

Q: Which country surprised you the most?

As well as having our preconceived notions completely reset by Russia, the other surprising country was Japan – we expected it to be all skyscrapers and neon lights but that’s really just some districts of Tokyo – the country is so much greener than we were expecting. Like us, the Japanese love the outdoors so we did plenty of hiking followed by thermal onsen baths!

Q: How big are your bags / how much stuff are you carrying?

We read a lot of other travellers’ experience and advice about what to take and how much to take, and the oft-quoted wisdom that came up again and again was this:

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” – Susan Heller, NYT

And it’s sage advice. We didn’t quite adhere to Heller’s suggestion, and between us we carried 2 big rucksacks (65ltr, 65-75ltr), 2 smaller day sacks (35ltr, 12ltr) and Julie had a small handbag. We wrote about the kit we set off with, and I also did a quick review after a year or so, but in hindsight we could have travelled lighter!

Q: How many countries have you travelled to?

The total number of countries we visited on this two year trip is 25. Of those, 19 countries where new to us, and it brings our individual totals to 39 for Julie and 40 for me. If you like numbers, we have a full post of them you might want to check out!

Q: Haven’t you killed each other yet?!

We’re both pretty easy going (“yeah, right!” – Julie), but being in each other’s pockets 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for two years meant we were bound to rub each other up the wrong way now and then. And they’ve been the things most couples usually argue about, like money; deciding between us which activities, museums and side trips we really wanted to do; how often we wanted to eat out; and just generally which countries to visit, which sights to see, and which routes to take through those countries. In hindsight we think we’ve disagreed very little during the trip and one of the main reasons for leaving our often more-than-full-time jobs to travel in the first place was so we could spend more time together :o)

Q: Which places that you’ve visited would you like to live in?

We like this question, and our friends half expected to receive a postcard from some far-flung place saying that we’d found paradise, bought a beach-house and if they wanted to see us again they’d have to jump on an aeroplane! It’s also a question we’d often ask ourselves of cities and countries as we walked around – “would we live here?” – and, of all the wonderful places we’ve experienced, a few stand out as having our perfect combination of culture (history, museums, theatres, street life and architecture), weather, and of course, food! In trip order, our ideal settling cities are:

  • St Petersburg, Russia – a relaxed version of Moscow, with great museums, and a European influence of varied cuisines and fresh produce
  • Hanoi, Vietnam – amazing food, Bia Hoi (fresh beer), and I’d love riding a scooter everywhere in the mayhem of Vietnamese traffic!
  • Anywhere in Japan – amazing food, fascinating culture and history, beautiful countryside, everything runs to the second and Tokyo had the fastest internet access we’ve experienced!
  • Palermo, Sicilythe freshness of the produce at the markets (can you tell that food is important yet?!), the language was easy to pick up and fun to speak, and it’s surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea so the weather’s warm too
  • Bern, Switzerland – now that we’ve found Julie’s winter sport, we can add Switzerland to our list! Cheese? Wine? Stunning mountain hiking in the summer? And we’d see more of our long-time friends Heidi & Olivier.. Yes please!
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands – we loved the architecture, the Dutch trading history which influenced the diversity of the food, the liberal, pragmatic, tolerant attitude towards everything, the museums, the Belgian-like beers and the cycling everywhere!

Q: Have you ever had anything stolen, or had anything bad happen to you on the road?

Of course! Even though we were pretty seasoned travellers before we embarked on this two year trip, we were still caught out by professional scammers or the odd con-artist now and then, and of course stuff goes missing and things don’t always go according to plan. Our previous experience has been that even though they’re unpleasant at the time, the bad circumstances often make the best stories! Here are a few mishaps and mis-steps from our trip..

  • Missing our flight to Bangladesh – We booked our flight, turned up at the airport in Kuala Lumpur with a little over 2 hours before our original scheduled departure of 7pm to find that the Bangladeshi airline we’d booked with had rescheduled the flight to 6am that morning, without telling us! – no notification, no email, nothing. Apparently it’s a regular trick that particular airline pull, as we were told by the girl at the desk of the only other airline running a flight out of KL to Dhaka that night, which fortunately for us still had seats available!
  • Scammed by a money changer in Uzbekistan – The exchange rate from US Dollar to Uzbek Som was ridiculous. We changed all of our money on the black market which meant standing in public counting fistfuls of money. To their credit, we were never rushed at all by any of the money changers when we insisted on double-counting each pre-bundled house-brick of notes. We’d gotten pretty adept at counting quickly and at our last money change in Fergana I had also gotten a little complacent with the changers as I handed a counted bundle back to the guy to hold and he must have creamed a little from it while we counted the last bundles. Oh well!
  • Stolen? Or just misplaced?From the kit we took, we only lost or had stolen Julie’s penknife and a necklace, my beat up metal Sigg water bottle, and a pair of socks with “Friday” written on them that didn’t come back from the hotel laundry!

Q: What was the hardest or most challenging country to visit?

There were a few for different reasons:

  • Mongolia was difficult for the kind of independent travel we like to do because the people are nomadic which means there’s little infrastructure outside of Ulaanbaatar because there simply isn’t the demand for it. While there are busses to the centre of every aimag or province to and from the capital Ulaanbaatar, and local busses from each of those to the other towns in each aimag, Mongolia is still very difficult to navigate and travel independently of organised tours or private hire drivers. That said, we managed a couple of short trips from Ulaanbataar to Kharkhorin and Zuunmod under our own steam, even hitching a ride on a bus full of French pensioners to get to a campsite!
  • Bangladesh was easier to visit from a planning and getting around point of view, but we missed a few creature comforts like clean running water, non-smelly toilets and pavements! Despite these, or more likely because of them, we absolutely loved it.
  • Finally, China was challenging for communication. Our dear friends Isaac and Rebecca from Beijing did their very best to teach us some Mandarin as we bounced along the Mongolian steppe, but outside the capitals we found the Chinese to be very shy about speaking English when we’d try to ask for directions in patchy Chinese – so much so that even if they could they’d often prefer to shake their heads and duck away rather than try. That difference in culture is the reason to travel, but it makes asking for directions tricky! Also, the pronunciation is hard – we tried to buy train tickets at the English counter for Zhangjiajie and they had no idea what we were saying! (We tried to say it as we would read it in English, whereas it’s actually pronounced “Djang-Jar-Jay”!).

Q: Did you ever get homesick?

Yes and often. Missing family events and gatherings was hard, such as weddings, Christmas, and the birth of our niece Emma, and we both lost loved ones while we were away – those were some of the emotionally toughest times of the trip because we wanted to be home to share the comfort and the grief. We imagined the conversation with our dearly departed when we pondered the question “should we go back for the funeral?” only to hear them in our heads tell us in no uncertain terms to keep following our dreams.

Q: What’s the most exotic thing you’ve eaten?

We like to think we’re pretty adventurous eaters, and I don’t think we passed up the opportunity to try anything we saw or were offered on our trip. The most exotic things we tried would be silkworm larvae and crickets in Matsumoto, Japan, pig’s trotters in Chengdu, China, insect essence from a female water beetle used to flavour a dip for a steamed pancake wrap in Hanoi, Vietnam, and we’d read about a local speciality which we tried to ask for in Korean, but ended up with a bowl of boiled sheep’s intestines instead in Suwon, South Korea. I must confess that I tried the intestines but I left most of them and drank the broth.

Q: What’s the strangest place you’ve stayed?

While the capsule hostels in Japan were quirky, and the container hostel in Kuala Lumpur stands out, the winner goes to one of the first places we stayed in – the Hostel Hospital in Sabile, Latvia! As Norman commented: “that’s more Urbex than hostel :D”

Q: Did you get tired of living out of a suitcase?

Yes! That was a factor in our deciding to slow down our travel, taking a month or more in Thailand, Tokyo, Malta, Rome and Amsterdam.

Q: When are you going to write a book?

Even before we set off we were asked if we’d write a book! Let’s just say that while it’s not in our immediate plans, we haven’t ruled it out either. One question we’d have about writing a book is this: what would we put in it? We’ve already written about our travels here on this blog! (Answers on a postcard, or in the comments please!)

Q: Where are you going next?

We think we’re going to need another two years to catch up with our family and friends up and down the UK! In our first two weeks we’ve already been to London, York and Gateshead, and next week we’re off to Nottingham! Travel-wise, we’ve come back with a list just as long as when we left, from talking to other travellers.. but right now we’re enjoying hearing all of the news we missed from our loved ones ;o)