Category Archives: Uncategorized

Seven Continents in 4 months

We did not aim to do this, but it is just the way that it happened.

Starting our year off on a cruise headed for Antarctica (a long held dream) we found ourselves starting our year spending New Years Eve floating off Copacabana Beach in Brazil after having already spent some time taking in the sights of Brazil.

Having done that, we spent the next little bit bouncing around South America as we headed towards Antarctica.

This saw us visiting Uruguay (Montevideo) and Argentina (Buenos Aires, Puerto Iguazu, Puerto Madryn, and Ushuaia) then Chile (Punta Arenas, Valparaiso and Santiago).

This saw us dumping the boat and continuing on land in order to see the absolutely magical Iguazu Falls. 

But before that, our Antarctica exploration took in Drake Passage, Gerlache Straight, Dalhan Bay, Paradise Bay and Elephant Island.

We saw icebergs, glaciers, seals, whales and penguins (on icebergs) and basically fully ticked the Antarctica experience box fully.

From here it was back to bouncing around South America after we hopped off the boat in Valparaiso (Chile). We experienced our first ever earthquake (5.0 magnitude) before heading back into both Argentina and Brazil to take in both sides of the absolutely amazing Iguazu Falls.

The South American bounce continued with forays into Paraguay (Asunción), Bolivia (Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Samaipata), back to Argentina and Chile before heading back up to the US flying into Miami. After some time in Miami we continued our journey on another cruise ship that took us into the Caribbean, South America and importantly into some previously unvisited Central American nations.

So leaving Miami our first port of call was into Costa Rica for an up close and personal experience with sloths, and then on to Cartagena (Colombia) for yet some more wildlife encounters.

A few more Caribbean islands (Bahamas, Jamaica) and it was back in Miami readying ourselves for a decent sort of Transit to Europe. Nothing too silly this time around just a quick visit to France and Portugal.

Before heading off to Northern Africa for bit to see Morocco (with a special stop off to visit Casablanca) and then on to Tunisia.

Leaving North Africa it was back to Europe to stop into, and be totally blown away by Malta. And then on to Turkey where we were shocked by the prices.

But despite the prices charged in Turkey, we did get to see some global bucket list items (Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia).

From Turkey it was a quick dash to Asia (Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam) to catch up with mates, before heading into Australia for a snappy 48 hour turnaround before hopping on the next boat out again.

And that was it. New Year’s eve watching in the new year from Copacabana Beach in Rio De Janeiro and by the 12th of April we were in Australia having touched down on every continent. Once again, it was not something that we planned or aspired to do, just the way that the cards fell.

But an interesting little sideline to our ongoing adventures nonetheless.

A year in the life of the Jill and Richard

So when we started this leg of the journey, we set off from Brisbane on the 6th of December 2022. We have now ticked over a full year away and it seems like a good time to reflect on what we have done in this time away.

To start with, lets look at where we slept during those 365 days:

We were lucky enough to be able to stay with family and friends for a bit over a month of the time away, while two months were spent on cruise ships of various types. There were 83 hotels or hostels that housed us for 253 days. The remainder was spent in typically uncomfortable trains or on overnight flights.

In moving about to see stuff we travelled around on planes, trains and automobiles. Ignoring the little commute stuff around town we travelled enough by plane to almost circle the earth 3 times, we sat on trains enough to cross America ( or Australia and a bit eat to west), and we rode buses for almost the entire length of the east coast of Australia.

Having done this we then move on to what we saw along the way. We were able to visit 56 different countries or territories and visited or slept in 127 different cities. To do this we needed to access and use 33 different currencies.

The first thing that we did was to leave Brisbane and head to Sydney where we joined up with the cruising crew and took an Australian cruise that saw us in Sydney, Hobart and Adelaide with a side trip up the hills to Hahndorf. From here we headed to Perth (via Melbourne) and up to our block of land at Jurien Bay (I had bought it and Jill never even saw it so we went for a looky loo).

Leaving Australia we transited through Kuala Lumpur on our way to a leisurely month spent kicking Back in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Here we climbed up and down temples and just generally relaxed while Jill got destressed after her year of working.

After my time in Emu Park, I was already pretty chill.

Keeping up the relaxed pace we headed to Thailand for a general poke around. Having done southern Thailand and the beaches before we decided to head up north into the mountains.

From here we went to the Philippines for another month. It was our first port of call when we took off last time but we really only saw Manila and the Taal Volcano. So this time we thought we would do it properly, bouncing around several of the islands and taking in many of the sights. What our month in the Philippines told us was that we need to come back and we need more time.

From the Philippines we headed to Vietnam for a yet another month where we took in the cities of Ho Chi Minh, Danang, Cham Island, Hanoi, Cat Ba Island and of course Ha Long Bay. We caught up with old friends, met new ones and revisited some old favourites and got to share our love for the place to some who had never been before.

The next thing was a quick 4 day cruise around Asia, leaving from Singapore and touching upon Penang in Malaysia and Phuket in Thailand before returning back to Singapore. Doing an Asian cruise was a very new experience for us. Usually the bars and pool decks are packed but not on an Asian cruise. The Casino on the other hand is standing room only.

Our next stop along the way was the Maldives. Oh my lord, what an amazing place to be. The colours of the ocean were truly awesome and the swimming and snorkelling was something to behold. Our trip saw us here during Ramadan so we had an alcohol free fortnight. Importantly, this was the place that saw my stupid ass jump in the water with about 25-30 sharks with the biggest one being around 3.5 meters.

Malaysia was next. This is a regular transit point for us and Penang is one of my favourite cities on the planet. But this time around we got off the beaten path and explored a little more widely than usual. This broader exploration saw us taking in Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Tioman Island, Kuantan, Jerteh, Pulua Perhentian, and Kuala Besut.

We swam, we snorkelled, we ate amazing Malaysian food and had a very leisurely month kicking back. It is a good thing that we did as this marked the end of our relaxation. We popped home briefly (to satisfy a travel insurance requirement) and we entered into the whirlwind that was to be our European leg.

A monster flight took us from Australia to the Greek capital of Athens where we took in the sights for about a week before hitting the Greek islands of Syros, Mykonos, Paros, Naxos, Santorini, and Crete. Our month in Greece was amazing taking in the history, scenery and food. Sadly, the usual tourist spots (Mykonos and Santorini) were our least favourite. Granted they are beautiful, but the volume of ignorant tourists (yes I see the irony) are ruining them.

Next was the Czech Republic, a place I had been to before and thought Jill would love. And I was not wrong. We spent a fantastic week wandering around the city of Prague taking in the castles, churches and the huge abundance of statues. Not to mention being able to sample some of the best beers on the planet.

From Prague we did one of what would be many stops into the Netherlands (more specifically Amsterdam) as this became our European transit hub. The reason for the first visit was to board a cruise ship to Iceland that would also take in Northern Ireland, England, Ireland and deliver us back in the Netherlands.

Coming from Australia, Iceland is possibly the most different place that you can visit, which was the attraction. Waterfalls, glaciers, volcanos, the Northern lights…why would you not want to come here. And we loved it. Apart from being brutally expensive, the place was fantastic and we are both so glad that we made it.

The other stops on the cruise took us to Northern Ireland, England (Liverpool) and Ireland (Cork/Cobh). They were not our main goals but we still got to see some iconic tourist attractions that included popping in to the Giants Causeway.

After the cruise it was back to Amsterdam to transit to journey on to Hamburg Germany to catch up with family. This was an amazing time catching up with my cousins and spending quality time together.

Sadly, my cousin Uwe was taken by cancer a few weeks later, but our memories are of a great fortnight hanging, laughing, eating and seeing the sights of northern Germany. Our arrival saw the whole family getting together and spending quality time with Uwe in his last month. If nothing else, our memory of him was great times, fun and laughter. And we are both glad we got to spend this time with him.

And just as importantly, the rest of the family could not have been more welcoming, friendly or generous. A great time was had. We even got to do a day trip up to Denmark taking in two more cities and adding a tick box to my countries visited list.

At this point, we did the inconceivable and flew almost 7,700 kilometres from Europe to Vancouver in Canada.

The reason for this was to meet up for Claudia’s 50th birthday celebration. This celebration would involve great friends taking a cruise from Alaska down to Vancouver in Canada.

But if we were here, we were going to see as much as we could. So Vancouver was first. This is one of the world’s best harbour cities. Even taking in the Sydney example, Vancouver offers at least as much and possibly even more. We met new friends and were treated to some views of the city from the water thanks to Paul and Francesca.

From Vancouver it was up to Anchorage Alaska where we would spend a few days before training on to Seward to catch the cruise ship back to Vancouver. Once on the ship we headed to and stopped at the Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Haines, Icy Straight Point, Ketchikan, and the Inside Passage before being delivered back in Vancouver.

On this cruise, in Alaska and the various ports we for to see moose, bears, and eagles at almost every turn. Add to this the stunning scenery, rivers, lakes, glaciers, mountains and harbours. You are virtually guaranteed to have good time, and having done on of these trips, we would both happily do another.

After the cruise was a few more days in Vancouver seeing the bits that we missed and then another 7,700km flight back to Amsterdam to begin what was to be the biggest whirlwind trip that we have ever done. Starting in the EU we raced through eastern Europe at a pace that left us and our poor readers heads spinning.

In the 44 days from 19 July to 31 August we were to go to 20 different countries, visiting 29 different cities. It started on trains until they ran out and we then found ourselves on buses and just generally making a mess of the map and my poor little mind while I tried to work out where I was and where I had been.

In this period we went to:

The Netherlands – Amsterdam

Belgium – Ghent and Bruges

Luxembourg – Luxembourg

Switzerland – Zurich and Sargens

Lichtenstein – Vaduz and Balzers

Austria – Vienna

Slovakia – Bratislava

Hungary – Budapest

Slovenia – Ljubljana

Croatia – Zagreb, Knin, Split and Dubrovnik

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Jablanica and Sarajevo

Serbia – Belgrade

Romania – Bucharest

Moldova – Chisinau

Bulgaria – Sofia

North Macedonia – Skopje

Kosovo  – Pristina

Montenegro – Podgorica, Kotor and Budva

Albania – Tirana

Greece – Athens

While we saw all of the tourist sights, we saw them at a pace that made it almost impossible to keep track of what it was that we saw and often even where we were.

We saw thousands of years of European history and evolution. We wandered in and out of various Old Towns around the continent and observed the remnants of the flow of conquering civilisations and the effects that they had on the landscapes, cultures and food across the region.

Thanks to the Romans and the Turks it is virtually impossible to find a nation that does not sell pizza, pasta and kebabs as one of their staple foods.

And statues, so many statues.

The sheer number of statues of all shapes and sizes, honouring every national hero or contributor to national identity.

They were everywhere and had us researching and reading about a bunch of people that we had never heard of before.

We saw so many castles, churches, forts, cathedrals, galleries, edifices and amazing architecture that our heads just swam. We walked through slums and palaces, inner city squares, parks and gardens.

After the whirlwind that was Europe we did a quick few stops in the Middle East stopping originally in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Here we sweated more than we had in months and got to experience the pure arrogance of Saudi Arabians. This is where we found that Saudi’s treat all other nationalities with absolute disdain, particularly if you have any form of south Asian heritage.

From here we popped into Qatar (Doha) and the UAE (Abu Dhabi and Dubai). Here we took in the sheer opulence of the Middle East where millions of dollars have been poured into the desert. It truly is an amazing example of what can be achieved when you have the will to achieve something and the funds to make it happen.

And despite all of the incredible things to be seen, it really did not appeal to us that greatly. The exception to this was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which was truly incredible. We officially hit our highest ever temperature that we had been in (52 degrees centigrade) and found ourselves hiding from the heat most of the day. On the up side, we managed to get upgraded to a suite in almost every city.

Oman for us was the exception and standout for the middle east. It was actually genuine. Our foray into Muscat saw us eating local foods (not the US chain stuff that many of the others had on offer), visiting old fortresses, and palaces. It was more than a huge bucket of money that had been dumped in the desert.

Heading home (for our obligatory insurance check-in) we pulled into Sri Lanka and Malaysia on the way in. Sri Lanka was once again incredible and we were fantastically looked after by Ruwan and Dilani. Ruwan had been tracking our progress in the earlier adventures and had planned something completely different for us. So we found ourselves glamping in the middle of a national park and photographing wildlife like elephants and leopards.

This was our second foray into Sri Lanka which has left us looking forward to and trying to plan our third. Apart from the sheer ineptitude and corruption of the previous government, the rest of the place and the people are fantastic. It is a shame that the poor residents need to pay the price for governmental misuse.

A very short transit in Australia gave us the opportunity to catch up with friends and family and even meet the newest addition to the Pieper clan.

Family feasts, chats and fun before dashing off to Samoa, and Fiji the next places on the list.

To say that the Pacific Islands are beautiful is an understatement and in reality, is probably pretty redundant. But a couple of weeks each in Samoa and Fiji was a fantastic way to recharge the batteries, especially after the flurry that was Europe. The hospitality that we received from Fiame, Pam and all the others we met was incredible.

A quick pop back to central Queensland and we were off again. This time it was a flight from Brisbane to Rome for a few days before we commenced what would become the cruising leg of our journey. This started with a 13 night Trans-Atlantic crossing (stopping in the Canary Islands) before a back to back Caribbean adventure that would see us going from Miami to 10 of the island nations and back and even included a pop into Colombia in South America.

We went to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, St Kitts & Nevis , Barbados, Aruba, Martinique, St Maarten, Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Curacao.

But unlike Europe, we had the time between stops so that we could actually soak up the feel of each of the places. Our 12 month anniversary ticked up on the last day of the cruise as we rolled into Miami.

We met up with old friends and we made new friends, we shared good times and laughter, and all the time we kept seeing a little bit more of the world.

The year at a glance – by the numbers:

  • 56 countries
  • 127 cities
  • 33 different currencies used

How did we get around?

Flying – we took 44 flights with 19 different airlines travelling over 106,000 kilometers. Frighteningly we spent over 160 hours in the air getting between one place and the next.

Trains – we took 17 trains travelling 4710 kilometers including two overnight sleepers

Buses – 18 buses travelling 3181 kilometers

Oh and by the way, this may surprise some of you but…I managed to sample the odd beer or two from around the world as we travelled around.

Chiang Mai

Our previous forays into Thailand saw us in Bangkok and in Phuket, neither of which really appealed to us at all. The food has always been good (with the exception of the coriander) however the general feel of these two areas have been too touristy and aggressively in your face for our liking.

So this trip we thought that we would head north, up into the mountains near the Laos and Myanmar borders. Another area with lots of old temples and hopefully some great food options. Myanmar was one of our favourite countries to visit, however, the current political situation has made it an international no-go zone, we figure we will be close enough to the border that some of the culinary offers may have leaked through the border.

About Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai was founded in the 13th century (1296) and is set high in the mountains. It was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom (18th and 19th century) where it was (and remains) the religious and cultural centre of the region. The old part is a walled city with 4 gates.

Within the walls of the old city, the narrow streets are filled with shops, bars, restaurants, markets and more temples than you count. In the centre of the Old Town are the temple ruins of several temples along with many brand new and functioning ones. In fact there are over 300 wats scattered throughout the city and surrounding countryside.

Dead centre is the Chiang Mai arts and cultural centre along with the Three Kings Monument with the Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang Temple just to the left as you look at it.

The Temples (Wat)

The sheer number of temples (known as Wat) within the walled city is amazing, you virtually cannot walk a block without hitting at least one, often times more. The other thing that is fair to say is that one Thai temple is remarkably similar to the next and the one before.

The anatomy of each Thai temple is pretty similar, there is the Phutthawat which is the area devoted to buddha. It can contain several buildings but would typically include a Stupa (Chedi) the bell shaped tower, prang (a tower), an ordination hall (bot), shrine/s (wihan), and several pavilions (sala) for receiving religious education or merely for shade.

The Sangkhawat contains the majority of the working parts of the temple including the kitchen and the monks living quarters, there may also be pavilions in the sangkhawat.

The roofs usually are split into 2-4 tiers and the bargeboards are ornately decorated with a serpent style carving known as a lamyong.

Things to do in Chiang Mai

Our early research showed the abundance of temples, bars and of course food. The Three Kings Monument is in the heart of Old City in front of the arts ad cultural centre. The statue portrays the three founders of Chiang Mai, in the 13th century – King Mengrai, King Ramkhamhaeng and King Ngam Muang.

The gates

The Chang Phueak (Chang Puak) Gate faces north and is in very poor condition, however it is the site of the best street food markets virtually every night of the week. Head to the gate, take your life into your hands crossing the road and turn left. There are stall after stall selling almost anything you want for not very much…and it is all good.

The tha phae gate faces east and is the best, most preserved (renovated) and most tourist friendly of all of the gates of the old city. Because of this it is always busy and has developed an unusual tourist attraction – the pigeons. Groups of roaming touts feed masses of pigeons to get them to cluster then charge tourists money to take photos of them after banging and yelling loudly to get the pigeons to fly. The end result is a lot of noise and some photos of people with birds fluttering about them.

The Chiang Mai gate faces south and is in a reasonable state however due to COVID many of the businesses in the vicinity are closed so many of the shops are not operating.

The Suan Dok gate is to the west and is possibly the second best preserved of the gates. However similar to the south gate many of the businesses are not currently operation (early 2023).

At the north-eastern corner of the city you will find the Si Phum Corner. This is the site of the original unrenovated wall that is slowly crumbling into the canal that surrounds the old city.

The temples around town

As mentioned before, the sheer number of temples in town is staggering and there is no way that I am going to list or visit them all. But here is a sample of some of them and a bit of an idea about each.

Wat Chedi Luang is at the centre of the city and is commonly known as the big temple. Wat Chian Man is the oldest of the temples in Chiang Mai built around 1296-97. Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (also known as Wat Hua Khuang) is one of the most beautifully maintained and grand looking temples 

Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang was built over 700 years ago and literally translates to “temple of the city navel”, due to its location in the center of old city. Wat Umong Mahathera Chan is not as ornate and is basically a collection of brick stupas for monks to meditate inside.

Night Markets

The Sunday night market (or Sunday walking market ) is the most famous and the most popular but there are night markets oevery day of the week if you care to look a little further afield. As mentioned above in the gates section we regularly hit the night food markets outside the northern gate but it was just for food and not really for shopping.

The Sunday walking market is essentially the one for the tourists and is the most popular with them. It has a wide variety of the expected local art, craft, music. The thing it does possibly better than the others is the incorporation of food stalls (and ore importantly somewhere to sit and eat them) in more than one location. In addition, the various massage vendors are there and on hand to offer a foot massage should it be needed.

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is probably the largest of the markets with hundreds of shops in one place and it is open every day.

It is outside the old city on the eastern side. This night bazaar offers virtually everything including shoes, bags, clothes, handicrafts, artwork, sunglasses, and electronic items. The Anusarn Night Market, Ploen Ruedee Night Market and Kalare Night Markets are all in the same vicinity and as far as I could tell they would be indistinguishable as to where one stops and the next one starts. But they are all open each evening from 6pm.

The Wualai walking street and Gate markets are situated at or just outside the southern gate of old town while the Wororot markets can be found in the heart of Chinatown.

I got my shoes resewn here for the ridiculous price of $3 as I had a blowout – probably from all the stairs.

Getting Around in Chiang Mai

The local preference and probably easiest for getting around is the Songthaew – pronounced song tail (aka Road-Daeng, Red Taxi or Red Truck). It is basically a converted ute with two rows of seats in the back. The most common one used in Chiang Mai is red and all you need to do is hail one down, tell them where you want to go, ask the price and if it is in the general direction they are heading then they will take you. If not, try the next one. As a guide about 30 baht ($1-1.30) will get you almost anywhere in town. If you don’t want to share your ute with the locals then you can pay more and hire a private one (similar to a taxi).

Tuk Tuk – is the second most common transport however is more expensive than the Songthaew with the rates starting at 60 baht for a short trip and 100 to 150 baht for longer distance.

Taxis – There are actual taxis that exist however they tend to park up at the airport, railway station, bus station, malls, and hotels.

Ridesharing – is available and they generally use the apps either Uber or Grab. In fact if you are planning on spending any significant amount of time in SE Asia it is probably worth downloading the Grab app as it is widely used in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Bus – the Smart city bus was introduced in mid 2018 and for a flat rate of 30 baht you can get on and get around. Coins can be used as can the rabbit card that is used in Bangkok for use on the MRT or the BTS Metro Systems. Two tourist card options can be bought that will give you unlimited riding for 180 baht for one day or 400 for 3 days.

Samlor – this is the traditional Thai rickshaw – powered by some skinny old guy pedalling you around. I cannot tell you the prices as I can not bring myself to order one. The thought of a 70 year old, 40kg Asian dude struggling to peddle my fat ass around is something that I will just not do.

Rent a motorbike – this is very cheap at about 100-200 baht for 24 hours that will get you a 100cc motorbike and 2 helmets with the more powerful 110-125cc bikes with automatic transmissions costing more. Beware some places will want to keep your original passport as collateral. Also as a westerner you will be stopped frequently by police to check that you have your helmet, international licence and that the bike is not too powerful (read here that you will need to bribe your way out if you do get stopped).

And of course car rentals and tours are always available.

Things to do around Chiang Mai

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

This is the most famous and most frequently visited of the temples in the region It is easy to get to (about 15 km from town) with most of the transport options (explained below) getting you there with very little fuss. It was built in the early 19th century and is set atop a hill with amazing views over Chiang Mai.

Upon arrival you are met with the usual tourist stalls before you find the stairs (306 of the buggers) to the temple. The stairs are lined by the seven-headed serpent statues (naga) – there is a funicular if you really are not up to the stairs.

Once you have made it up the hill you will find the temple where a golden pagoda sits that is said to contain a bone from buddha’s shoulder. On the terrace you will find a statue of the white elephant that allegedly carried the bone to the temple. As usual for this sort of place you will also find the obligatory shrines and monuments. For those willing to pay the money there is also a night tour available.

If you are willing to pay a little more and take a private trip, there is a night tour available.

Bhubing Rajanives Palace was built in 1961 as the king’s residence when he came to stay in Chiang Mai.  It is about 22 kms from old town on Buak Ha Mountain. The gardens are perfectly manicured with extensive plantings that would send a gardening nut into fits of rapture. From my side…it was very pretty.

Doi Inthanon National Park is the highest point of Thailand and home of the beautiful King and Queen pagodas. There are tours heading here all the time and many of them will include some of the items listed below as well. This is a truly stunning spot and well worth the visit. While there are a ton of stairs to get to the Pagodas they have thoughtfully considered us old buggers and put an escalator (up only) to the top of each side…very civilised.

Chiang Mai Zoo and aquarium is a is a 200-acre zoo with over 400 species of animals that includes a 133m aquatic tunnel and they have a night safari. Oh Claudia, if you are reading along…they have pandas.

Elephant Sanctuary – The Meaklang Elephant Sky Camp is reported to be an ethical Elephant Sanctuary where the elephants are taken care of very well. The ads recommend that you bring spare clothes and a towel for if you join in to the elephant bathing.

As we have done numerous elephant sanctuaries in Sri Lanka and Laos we chose to skip this but those we met spoke highly of the experience.

Wachirathan Falls is one of the largest and most beautiful waterfalls in the country at over 80 meters tall the waterfall creates a mist that feeds the surrounding vegetation. Sirithan Waterfall is a stunning 50-meter cascade, fed by the Mae Klan River. Paths all around this one gives you many angles and photo opportunities.

Chiang Mai Street Art

Similar to Penang, Chiang Mai has a thriving street art scene that has not been advertised and is rarely written about. So much so that we didn’t even know to look but Jill kept stopping and taking photos of these amazing scenes or funky pictures. The same sort of thing exists in Penang but somebody has put it together as a tourist attraction as a sort of hide and seek for the artworks.

The same thing could easily be done here. I am certain that we have missed a heap of these and a google images search assures us that we have, and we saw others but parked cars ruined photos. The bottom line is that if you care to look there are amazing artworks often hidden down tiny alleys or side streets and if you are willing to roam patience is required to find these hidden gems.

Long story short – here is a business opportunity for anyone willing to make a map and add it to the tourist agenda. A complete list of the artworks and a treasure map of where to find them would keep people amused for hours and would add greatly to the local tourism scene and things to do list.


This bit surprised me a little given all that we Aussies have heard about Thailand’s tolerance of drugs – or lack thereof. Cannabis can be bought simply and easily almost everywhere through old town and beyond. The smoking of weed is totally legal at home or in private places but not in public.

WARNING – Fines for smoking weed in public are about $1000-1200 Australian and 3 months imprisonment.

This was either unknown to the backpackers or they just didn’t care as it didn’t seem to stop them smoking away as they walked down many of the streets and alleys late at night.

Siem Reap – Take 2

Well after several years of having our wings clipped, we finally got ourselves offshore again. The first major port of call was somewhere that we knew well and had enjoyed – Cambodia. More accurately Siem Reap. Our first foray here was back in November 2013 with a subsequent visit with the boys a year later in November 2014. The place and people are lovely, it is cheap and the food is great. A good way to ease ourselves back into the world of global nomadding again.

Khmer Empire

Before we get too carried away lets get some of the basics down to provide some context about what is going on here. Between the 9th and the 15th century Khmer or Ankorian Empire existed within SE Asia and at its peak was said to be larger than the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine) which existed around the same time. Kicking off in the early 800’s the empire the grew to be one of the largest going and satellite images show that at its peak it was the most extensive pre-industrial urban complex in the world. Long story short, there are about 50 Buddhist and Hindu temples dating back to the 8th-12th century in the vicinity of Siem Reap. Many of the structures have collapsed or been swallowed by the jungle but the structures that remain and the carvings in place make the are a must see and listed by UNESCO.

Touring the temples

Step One – buy your ticket. The prices are in USD and they range as seen on the right (prices correct as at Nov 2023). Note that these tickets are for the main temples etc and they do not give you access to all things. If for example you wanted to go to the Kulen Waterfalls then another ticket would be required.

There is an inner loop (ie the ones close to town) and an outer loop of temples that can be done. The inner loop takes in the big ticket items of Angkor Watt, Angkor Thom, the Bayon temple and Ta Prohm Temple (which became famous in the tomb raider movie and game with its image of the tree growing out of the wall). The inner loop can be easily done in a day but does involve a lot of walking and a lot of stairs. The outer loop takes in the temples requiring a little more driving and are generally a little less impressive or less well preserved. These too can be done in a day but there is more tuk tuk time and fewer stairs. From here there are the far away temples. These are considerably further from town and individual negotiations would need to take place on both price and type of vehicle required.

What to wear when visiting the temples

Dress is simple. You are off to visit temples and holy sites so dress accordingly. This means that your legs and shoulders should be covered for the period when you are inside the temples. For such a simple concept this still continues to confuse the majority of the women that attend these sites. The innate need for short skirts and strappy tops is obvious…so too is the absolute requirement to show as much skin in your influencing photos and videos. However, the inability to throw an overshirt or the ubiquitous elephant pants on for the few minutes you are in a temple seems too impossible a task to muster. And guys the world will be able to survive for the few minutes it takes while you put away the gun show – especially those northern European (glow in the dark) biceps.

How to get to Siem Reap temples

You you can hire virtually any type of transport that you want to take you around and through the temples. You can have a bus all to yourself if you really like. There are private cars, motorcycles, bicycles and tuk tuks. If you take the private air-conditioned car or bus, you will find that the short distances between temples means that you have arrived at the next temple before the air conditioning has had a chance to kick in.

You can ride a bicycle, but that would mean that you would have to ride a bicycle. Motorcycles mean that you are either on the back of a local’s bike or that you have hired your own and would need to know your way around the various temples.

Tip Number One: Take a tuk tuk. The tuk tuk is cheap, easy and has great air flow, especially if you choose one of the more open types rather than the more enclosed versions. This means that you are cooling down immediately after having hiked up and down the temples, rather that sweltering looking for relief. We had the one on the left (below) driven by the lovely Mr Thou and it was fantastic.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is clearly the most famous of the temples and is the main attraction for the region. It was built in the 12th century to worship the Lord Vishnu (a Hindu deity) and allegedly served as the funerary temple for the bloke who commissioned it, King Suryavarman II. It is set on 402 acres and surrounded by a 5km moat which contains an outer wall of 3.6 kilometres. Once inside there are three rectangular galleries and the main building. At the centre of the temple stands the five towers (that google tells me is called a quincunx – not a word that typically lives in my vocabulary but hey lets go with it).  

The five lotus towers are 65 metres tall and are decorated with around 2,000 stone carvings of Apsaras (celestial dancers). In all reality, virtually all of Angkor Wat’s surfaces are carved. There are kilometres of carvings that include battle scenes, fictional animals and all sorts of other things that give credence to the legend of the day.

Angkor Thom

Once you leave Angkor Wat you (typically) head across for a bit to Angkor Thom or Big Angkor. It is the largest site in the Angkor Archaeological Park and contains a number of smaller temples and archaeological sites. Our first stop was the south gate (one of five 20-metre-tall gates that surround Angkor Thom). The gates have intricate stone carvings of elephants and the 4-faced Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, while the bridges leading up to the gates are lined with carvings of devas (gods) on the left and asuras (demons) on the right. Both the gods and the demons appear to be playing tug of war on a snake (Naga). You tend to come through the south gate as the vandals have stolen the heads off many of the statues on the other gates so they are considerably less impressive.

There are 8 metre high walls and a moat surrounding Angkor Thom. The faces on the entrance gates were added later than the original gates and they reflect the faces that can be found on the Bayon Temple (also contained within the walls of Angkor Thom). Within Angkor Thom is a range of smaller temples that include Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Prasat Suor Prat and many others however these have and are falling into great disrepair. Notably you will see the terrace of the Elephants and the terrace of the leper king that are prominent and are both currently undergoing considerable preservation and restoration works.

Bayon Temple

The Bayon Temple is probably the second most recognisable after Angkor Watt as it features approximately 50 stone towers with intricately carved faces. The blurb tells me that the faces are the 4 faces of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (not really sure what that means but hey, I can go with that too). Bayon is in the midst of Angkor Thom and it too was built in the late 12th century. Each of the stone carvings of faces are 4 metres high and oriented toward the 4 cardinal points. It is surrounded by long walls that have some seriously intricate carvings of battlefields, markets, and religious rituals.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm is the famous a Tomb Raider temple. Very large trees with impressive roots have grown out of, through and amid the various walls and roofs of the temple.

The other temples

Needless to say, there are 50 of them. They are too numerous to mention and they are in varying states of disrepair but here are a few of the more common ones to look out for. The Preah Khan (Sacred Sword) temple complex is notable as it is surrounded by a moat and the roads are lined with sculptures on the way to the temple. The Roluos group of temples is about 13 km east of Siem Reap and was the original head of the Khmer empire from the 9th century before being taken over by the main ones in the 12th century. Thought to be the first capital the group of temples include Bakong (largest temple in the Roluos Group), Lolei, Preah Ko (temple of the cow) and the smaller Prasat Prei Monti.  

Ba Phuon (newly restored and reopened), Phnom Bakheng (sunset hill), Prasat Banteay Srey (citadel of women), Koh Ker (about 90 minutes away with around a dozen temples dating around the10th century), Baksei Chamkrong (Temple pyramid near the South Gate of Angkor Thom).

Kulen National Park

Phnom Kulen (Mountain of the Lychees) is a national park around 40 kilometers outside of Siem Reap. While it is not that far, the state of the roads make it a 90-120 minute trip and it must be done in a car or even a 4WD in the rainy season. It is said that Phnom Kulen is the birthplace of the Khmer empire and was even the site where King Jayavarman II declared independence (around the 9th century). Much of the stone used in the temples of Siem Reap was mined here and transported to the temples. But today it is the site of a couple of really nice waterfalls, a reclining buddha and the river of 1000 lingas (phallic symbol of the Hindu god Shiva – so I am going for the river of 1000 dicks).

The first thing to note is that the temple ticket that you have does not count for this area…so you have to pay for another one. We ended up travelling around 40 km out of town, we spent 3 times the price on transport to that paid for seeing the temples. In hindsight I don’t think it was worth it. The waterfalls were lovely and there was a nice outlook spot that we stopped at on the way that provided a different kind of view of the area. The buddha had seen better days but was still ok and the River of 1000 dicks was at best disappointing. If you have plenty of time then sure go ahead but on a limited time this one could be skipped.

Cambodia during covid

The Cambodian ticket site has some pretty amazing stats on exactly what the COVID pandemic did to tourism in the region. Prior to the pandemic the temples of Angkor were receiving 2.6 million visitors per year and generating nearly $5 billion in revenues. These revenues were employing people and paying for the renovations, restoration and upkeep of the various temples. However border closures and travel restrictions dropped visitor numbers down to about 300,000 and knocked Cambodia’s income from tourism down to just $184 million last year.,

It is clear that money was expended on the roads as these have been upgraded well and some of the major temples still saw some of the renovation and renewal budget. But some of the lesser temples (especially within Angkor Thom) have paid a significant price for the drop off in available funds. Recent months have seen a significant upturn and within 2 months there is expected to be easing of the Chinese travel restrictions that may see numbers and dollars flying back in.

Finally moving again…

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

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

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

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

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

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





The domestic legs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Inle Lake

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

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

23131985_10157405592993084_3768830559614561937_n 23032587_10157405592433084_7471585188894579123_n IMG_1489[1] IMG_20171104_170638 IMG_20171103_165229 IMG_20171103_171537

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

IMG_1483 IMG_1475  IMG_20171104_102941

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

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

IMG_1432 IMG_20171104_112429 IMG_20171106_092143

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

[wpvideo ZQriB72C]

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

23231664_10157409616198084_8572453547276053962_n 23032770_10157409617238084_1633870651981261245_n 23131675_10157409616043084_7614800796353443782_n

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

IMG_20171104_103458 IMG_1357  IMG_20171104_103519

IMG_1481 IMG_1482 IMG_20171107_083919-ANIMATION

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

IMG_20171104_135400 IMG_20171104_135628 IMG_20171104_113200 IMG_20171104_115059 IMG_1465 IMG_1428

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

IMG_20171104_104107 IMG_20171106_115130 IMG_1450

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

IMG_1386 IMG_1406 IMG_1389

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

IMG_20171108_174422 IMG_20171103_140310 IMG_20171108_174202

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

IMG_1423 IMG_20171103_135921

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


We live in WA now…

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

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

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


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

normanton to perth

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

And now life continues…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

perth aerial4

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


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

perth aerial3

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


The Journey summarised

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

So here goes…

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


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

Thailand – Bangkok and Phuket

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

Laos –  Vientiane, Luang Prabang

Myanmar – Bago, Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay

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

Brunei Darussalam – Bandar Seri Begawan

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

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

South Korea – Seoul and the DMZ

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

Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek

Philippines – Manila and Taal volcano

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


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

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

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


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

Nilgiri Mountain Railway
Nilgiri Mountain Railway

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

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

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

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

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


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

IMG_0246 IMG_20140113_103822 IMG_0182 IMG_0187 IMG_3469 IMG_3470 IMG_0983 IMG_1566 IMG_1766 IMG_1336 IMG_0623 IMG_20140215_141258 IMG_2704

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

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

IMG_0373 IMG_4133 IMG_1686


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

IMG_4443 IMG_1058 IMG_3212 IMG_3226 IMG_3591 IMG_3654 IMG_20141101_114600 IMG_20141102_080604 IMG_20141102_081653 IMG_0256 Camel cart (2) IMG_0488 IMG_0489 IMG_20140111_172457 IMG_3146 IMG_20141107_071414 IMG_3015 IMG_20140706_133540


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

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

IMG_4327 IMG_4329 IMG_3874 Hot Pot at Shancheng Hotpot King, Haymarket. IMG_0463 IMG_1524 IMG_1861 IMG_1920 IMG_2155 IMG_2298 IMG_2303 IMG_2346 IMG_2446 IMG_2448 IMG_2885 IMG_3651 IMG_20131229_123426 IMG_20140329_143759 IMG_20140421_121706


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

IMG_2016 IMG_20140509_111957 IMG_20140603_091406 IMG_0385 IMG_2548 IMG_3087 IMG_20131119_111954 IMG_0169 IMG_20131101_122739 IMG_4455 IMG_4497 IMG_4527

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

IMG_20140428_145628 IMG_3155 IMG_0654 IMG_0668 IMG_20140303_172933 IMG_0905 IMG_0301 IMG_20140112_180105 IMG_0739 IMG_0752 IMG_3729 IMG_3750 IMG_3771 IMG_3811 IMG_20140726_131741 IMG_2454 IMG_20140809_200435 IMG_20140328_184711

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


Brunei Darussalam

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

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

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

IMG_3402 IMG_3406 IMG_3415 IMG_3419

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

IMG_3421 IMG_3423 IMG_20141019_203745 IMG_20141019_205905

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

IMG_3408 IMG_3431 IMG_20141019_172807

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

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

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

365 days…

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

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

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

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

Number (#) of days – 365

# of countries – 8

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

# of cities – 101

This obviously does not include the transits.

# of photos taken – 18,682

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

# of different beers – 135

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

# of plane flights – 48

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

# of airlines – 17

# of train rides – 52

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

# of bus rides – 20

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

Highest point – 5248 metres above sea level

Best and Worst

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

Most expensive / cheapest

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

Most Overrated attractions or events

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

Notable friends made along the way

Ruwan and his wife in Sri Lanka

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

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

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

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

Jills Favourite Pics


Floating markets Can Tho Vietnam
Floating markets Can Tho Vietnam

View from top of Sigiriya Rock Sri Lanka
View from top of Sigiriya Rock Sri Lanka

St Sophia's in Harbin
St Sophia’s in Harbin

Mount Everest plus prayer flags
Mount Everest plus prayer flags

View from the train to Lhasa
View from the train to Lhasa

Camel in Kashgar square
Camel in Kashgar square

Sunset on the beach at Phu Quoc Vietnam
Sunset on the beach at Phu Quoc Vietnam

Fat bottom sheep at the Kashgar Sunday Market
Fat bottom sheep at the Kashgar Sunday Market

Snowcapped mountains from the plane
Snowcapped mountains from the plane

Jiuzhaigou blue lakes
Jiuzhaigou blue lakes

Jiuzhaigou snow capped mountains
Jiuzhaigou snow capped mountains

Jiuzhaigou stream
Jiuzhaigou stream

Chinese pond with stone bridge
Chinese pond with stone bridge

Prayer Wheel and burnt remains of Shangri-La Old Town
Prayer Wheel and burnt remains of Shangri-La Old Town

Stone Forest Kunming
Stone Forest Kunming

Pagoda in Hangzhou
Pagoda in Hangzhou

Feeding the Koi
Feeding the Koi

Varanasi by the river
Varanasi by the river

Jodhpur the Blue City
Jodhpur the Blue City

Fat Man of Datong
Fat Man of Datong

Mt Everest plus Yaks
Mt Everest plus Yaks

Ruins in Hampi
Ruins in Hampi

Camels plus Driver in the Jaisalmer Desert
Camels plus Driver in the Jaisalmer Desert

Halong Bay
Halong Bay

Lighthouse in Galle Sri Lanka
Lighthouse in Galle Sri Lanka