Thursday, 18 December 2014

A Weekend in Stockholm: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

The next morning we explored Södermalm, a creative and trendy district just south of Gamla Stan.

A Weekend in Stockholm: Part 1

It's strange how the act of travel so frequently defies our expectations. Rarely does a country feel precisely as we imagined it, and no matter how many stories we've heard or photos we've seen, nothing compares to living and breathing the real thing. One thing I've learned from travel is that no country or city is a fixed constant, that they are always evolving, and places never feel quite the same when you return to them for a second or third visit. I think part of this is physical change - change of weather, new buildings, fashion trends, and so on - but the traveller's internal changes can also have a marked effect on the surroundings. Your mood, your energy, your circumstances...these can change the atmosphere or quality of a place in immeasurable ways.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Rishikesh - City of Yoga

Barring a brief return to Delhi, our final stop in India would be the small city of Rishikesh. It was only a half-hour tuk-tuk drive from our previous stop, Haridwar, and it's said that if you visit one you may as well visit the other. Plus, we'd met some fellow travellers who'd recommended Rishikesh to us for its relaxing, zen atmosphere, as a place to escape from the craziness of so many other Indian cities. Known as the yoga capital of the world, the Beatles famously stayed at an ashram there before returning to the UK to record the White Album.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Haridwar - City of Colours

It's pretty cool that after leaving Varanasi, which must have been the greyest, gloomiest, most shadowy city that we visited in India, our next destination was Haridwar, easily the most multicoloured, vibrant city on our journey. Like Varanasi, it's a holy city where people from all around flock to bathe in a river, though up here in the mountains of Uttarakhand, it's a much cleaner affair. In Varanasi, the Ganges looks like a fetid, moving swamp, whereas in Haridwar it's much cooler and more crystalline. Granted, this is India so I'd be surprised if it's that clean, but at least it looks the part. In any case, while it might not have the same wow-factor as Varanasi, it's a much more accessible, relaxing place for a tourist to explore, with fewer touts and a much more sanitary atmosphere.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Varanasi - City of the Dead: Part 2

Varanasi - City of the Dead: Part 1

I've been keeping this blog for over two years, and for most of that time I've updated it at a steady pace, rarely documenting anything more than two or three weeks after the event. However, since Angela and I finally made it to the UK towards the end of last month, and since we've been visiting friends and family that I've not seen for two years, as well as doing lots of job-hunting, I've now lost all motivation to finish these remaining blog posts. Well, not all motivation, otherwise I wouldn't even be writing this. But let's just say I'm too preoccupied by other matters to churn out these things at the rate I once did. I'll finish, eventually. But I don't know if I have the energy to put out more than a few per posts month, and I may not always write them with much depth or clarity of thought.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Agra - City of the Taj

No visit to India would be complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal, so on our way out of Rajasthan, Angela and I travelled with our driver Bubloo to Agra, the host city of the world's most famous mausoleum. The Taj Mahal may be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, but Agra itself is a dirty rundown dump of a city, even by already very low Indian standards. As we drove in and searched for our hotel, we passed streets piled with so much rubble and trash it felt like the aftermath of a war. We tried to find some character or charm during our navigations of the city, but every single street seemed just as grimy and drab as the next, all of them completely lacking in the colour and energy that permeates much of India.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Pushkar - City of Camels: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

Later that evening, we rode some camels out into the desert.

Pushkar - City of Camels: Part 1

Angela and I were almost finished with Rajasthan, but we had one final destination left to see in this ancient realm of royalty and dust. Centred around a holy lake said to have appeared when Brahma dropped a lotus flower in the middle of the desert, Pushkar is a pilgrimage town that draws a colourful melange of characters: bearded babas and bathers, Hindu devotees, tourists and tribal musicians; all of them congregate along the bazaars and ghats that encircle the sparkling lake filled with holy water.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Udaipur - City of Lakes: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

The next morning, we were off to explore the City Palace, which was built over the course of 400 years by several different Rajasthani kings.

Udaipur - City of Lakes: Part 1

The third stop on our roadtrip through Rajasthan was the beautiful, watery city of Udaipur, known for its shimmering lakes and pearlescent palaces. If Jaipur's principal colour was pink, and Jodhpur's blue, then Udaipur is drenched in shades of cream, ivory and taupe. Located among the green heights of the Aravalli mountains, its temperate, Venice-like cityscape felt very different to the desert settlements we visited elsewhere in Rajasthan. It was also much cleaner, so polished and Europe-esque for an Indian city that it almost felt like we were in a different country. The shore around Lake Pichola, decorated with fairytale palaces, onion-shaped mansions and nacreous crescents and cupolas, was easily one of the most romantic places we've seen on this trip.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Jodhpur - The Blue City: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

In one part of the fort, we listened to this man play some spiritual, meditational music on his santoor, a percussive string instrument originating in Persia and Kashmir.

Jodhpur - The Blue City: Part 1

After admiring the gaudy, pink palaces of Jaipur, Angela and I were now bound for Jodhpur, the Blue City. Many of the houses in this old city - Rajasthan's second-largest - are painted bright Vishnu-blue, making for some striking cityscapes as one explores its narrow streets. These buildings encircle a steep orange bluff topped with one of India's largest fortifications, the mighty Mehrangarh Fort, which overlooks the city from its very centre, making it visible from practically every district.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Jaipur - The Pink City: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

After booking our cinema tickets, we reentered the old city, passing through another one of the many pink gates that surrounds it.

Jaipur - The Pink City: Part 1

Now that Delhi was done and dusted, Angela and I had an overland journey through northern India ahead of us. While we would be riding some of the country's famous long-distance trains a little later during the trip, for now we had our own private driver named Bubloo (though I found myself constantly referring to him as "bubbly") at our disposal. Over the next eight or so days, Bubloo would take us by car across the romantic province of Rajasthan, a realm of maharajas, desert palaces, colossal forts, camel trains and lost treasures. It is India's largest province, and one filled with so many historic towns and cities, and such a variety of landscapes and cultures, that it could almost be considered a country in itself.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

New Delhi: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

From Lodi Gardens we went to Gandhi Smriti, the house where Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his life, and where he was assassinated in 1948.

New Delhi: Part 1

After leaving the grime and chaos of Old Delhi behind us, Angela, Sylvia and I moved on to New Delhi, the modern heart of the capital territory. While it is not without its own share of noise and hustle-bustle, it certainly feels like a much cleaner, more developed place, with newly-paved roads, clean-cut grass and contemporary-looking buildings. Walking around New Delhi, you almost feel like you're in a fully-developed, first-world city.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Old Delhi

India. The name alone carries so many connotations, so many associations, such historic, cultural and religious overtones. In some ways, it feels like these past seven months have been, for us, a warm-up, a training session in preparation for this vast, triangular subcontinent that lurks over everything. As momentous and exciting as it was to travel through Southeast Asia, we've always had India on the back of our minds. Me, I've been pining to see this place for years, as it has always seemed the absolute pinnacle of the exotic, a country more far-flung, colourful and downright exciting than any country ought to be. As for Angela, was on her mind for different reasons. So many people have told us how "everyone there is after your money," and how "it's gross," and how "something as simple as buying a train ticket can become the biggest headache you'll ever experience." Yes, I suppose, in some ways, I can't blame Angela for dreading India.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Hiking the Poon Hill Trail: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

Soon we were descending into the Deurali Pass, a narrow canyon filled with lush, green vegetation. This was one of favourite parts of the hike.

Hiking the Poon Hill Trail: Part 1

We did Kathmandu. We did farming. Now it was time for mountain trekking. A trip to Nepal seems almost incomplete without at least one hiking adventure in the Himalayas, and given that Angela and I were not at our best level of fitness, we decided to try the Poon Hill Trail, one of the shorter beginner treks in the area. From Pokhara we took a taxi to the village of Nayapul, and begun our trek without a guide, using only a map and the advice of local villagers to help us find our way. We got lost at first, going the wrong way round the trail, which meant turning back on ourselves and adding two hours of unnecessary hiking to an already long hike!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Pokhara - Nepal's Lakeside Trekking Town

On our way to an adventure in the Himalayas, Angela and I recently stopped in Pokhara for a few days. It's a pretty lakeside town just south of the Annapurna Conservation Area, with three out of the ten highest mountains in the world located within 30 miles of it. As such, it has grown into a popular trekking hub, where backpackers congregate to buy their hiking gear, hire guides, and browse maps. We stayed there for a few days, preparing for our own five-day trek in the mountains.

Monday, 22 September 2014


During our return to Kathmandu, Angela and I made a daytrip to the nearby satellite city of Patan. It has its own Durbar Square, which is very similar in appearance to the one in Kathmandu, but when the architecture is this stunning we thought we'd check it out anyway. We also took a walk around the streets nearby, admiring the russet-coloured buildings and bustling markets.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Eco-Farming in Chitwan National Park: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

Every day we woke up at 6am, often greeted by an eerily beautiful sunrise.

Eco-Farming in Chitwan National Park: Part 1

A few months ago, Angela and I did some volunteering at a hostel in Tanah Rata, Malaysia. It was an amazing experience that allowed us to help a local businessman with his newest project, see some off-the-beaten-path places we wouldn't have discovered by ourselves, and immerse ourselves in Islamic culture through Ramadan meals and Bangladeshi dress-up sessions.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Cremations, Stupas and Dream-Gardens: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

Local Buddhists turn a prayer wheel, which contains a mantra written in Sanskrit. According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, spinning the wheel will have the same effect as orally reciting the prayers.

Cremations, Stupas and Dream-Gardens: Part 1

Having thoroughly explored the labyrinthine streets of Thamel and the beautiful palaces of Durbar Square, Angela and I had a few more places to visit in Kathmandu before leaving for the countryside. First, we went to Pashupati, Nepal's most sacred Hindu shrine, where local funerals and cremations take place along the Bagmati River. Then we went to magnificent Boudhanath, one of the largest stupas in the world. Finally, we visited the Garden of Dreams, a European-style garden providing a peaceful respite from the chaos of Kathmandu.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Kathmandu, Nepal: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

Durbar Square must be one of the most aesthetically spiritual places we've seen. The architecture, the prayer flags, and the Hindu clothes of the locals all come together to create a scene from a mystical fairytale.

Kathmandu, Nepal: Part 1

It's taken a while, but Angela and I finally made it to Nepal a couple of weeks ago. Southeast Asia was the six-month-long centrepiece of our journey around the world, and there wasn't a single country there that we didn't enjoy. Now, though, we were ready for something a little different, and that meant moving on to the colourful delights of southern Asia.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

A Return to Ubud: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

Parking our bike by the road, we entered the coastal temple of Tanah Lot.

A Return to Ubud: Part 1

Angela and I spent our last two days in Bali back in Ubud, a town we'd fallen in love with on our first visit about a week previous. Before, we'd only had enough time to explore its mossy labyrinthine streets for one day, which clearly wasn't enough. This time we would get to see Monkey Forest and some stunning rice terraces, and we also rented a motorbike and drove to Tanah Lot on the coast.

Monday, 1 September 2014


Following our beachside wedding, Angela and I spent most of our remaining time in Nusa Dua at the Courtyard Marriott, which was such a palace of luxury compared to most of our recent dwellings that we wanted to savour every second we had there. However, we did make a couple of small excursions, first to Marriott's private beach, then to Uluwatu, a coastal region of dramatic cliffs and temples.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Our Wedding in Bali

When I left England back in 2012 to embark on a teaching career in South Korea, I never expected that within two years I would be a married man. As someone who was single for most of his twenties, and who had not been on so much as a date in several years, I had no high hopes for finding love abroad. If anything, my mind was focused more on the experiences and adventures I would find there. As it turns out, though, I met the love of my life only a week after arriving in Korea, and she would shape and define my time there in incalculable ways.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Pre-Wedding Errands in Kuta

After a day of shopping in Ubud, Angela and I had just a few more tasks to complete before our big wedding day in Nusa Dua. We had arranged appointments at our respective consulates to receive our certificates of no impediment to marriage, as well as a meeting with our wedding company a couple days before the big day. Also, despite much frantic browsing in Ubud, Angela still hadn't found a wedding dress, so we needed to do some shopping in nearby Kuta.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Shopping on Monkey Forest Road

Bali. Indonesia's Jewel. Island of Gods. Morning of the World. Following almost seven months of travel, it would be our last destination in Southeast Asia. We'd seen so many rich cultures, toured so many old temples, and motorbiked through such a wide variety of vibrant countryside, that it really took something amazing to wow us at this late stage in the journey. Somehow, though, this little island did just that. Or more specifically, Ubud did.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Gili Islands

With the last of our volcanic exploits behind us, Angela and I caught a ferry from Java to Bali, before bussing across the island so we could catch another ferry to the Gili Islands. We would explore Bali more later, but for now we wanted to check out the quiet, tropical getaway of the Gilis, which had been recommended to us by so many people we'd met on our travels. The archipelago comprises three small islands just off the coast of the larger island of Lombok, and they are famed for their gorgeously turquoise waters, quiet bungalow-lined streets, and plentiful diving opportunities.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Ijen Crater - The Eye of Java

The day after exploring the volcanic wastelands of Mount Bromo, Angela and I rose early once again, this time to climb Ijen Crater, a volcano containing a one-kilometre-wide acid lake at its centre. Just like at Bromo, there were many spectacular views to enjoy as we approached the volcano, and the crater itself, with its turquoise colours and sulphurous aura, provided yet another awesomely alien-planet-like experience.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Fire over Bromo: Part 2

Fire over Bromo: Part 1

After a few days of sightseeing in Yogyakarta, Angela and I had to figure out how we'd get to our next destination, the mighty volcano of Mount Bromo. You can go there independently by taking a train from Yogyakarta to Surabaya, then another train to Probolinggo, then a bus to Cemoro Lawang, a village on the slopes of the volcano. We figured that since this was such a long-winded itinerary, it should be much cheaper than taking a tour. When we went to the train station in Yogyakarta, however, it turned out a ticket to Surabaya would cost us 45 dollars, and that was only half the journey! So much for Indonesia being a cheaper place to travel (this has been one of our peeves with this country so far: way too expensive, for way too much hassle!).

Friday, 15 August 2014


Wat Arun...Ayutthaya...Angkor Wat...Kek Lok Si... At this point in our trip, Angela and I have been to so many bloody temples that it really takes something special to impress us now. Fortunately, there are still some adequately spectacular ruins out there for us to see, as we discovered on the tail end of our visit to Yogyakarta, when we took a tour of Indonesia's most famous temple, Borobudur.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Yogyakarta - Cultural Capital of Java

After a couple of days spent travelling from Malaysia to Jakarta and then across Java by train, Angela and I finally got to do some actual exploring on foot when we stopped in Yogyakarta for a few days. Renowned as a centre of Javanese artistic and intellectual heritage, Yogya (as it's known, for short) is second-only to Bali as Indonesia's most popular tourist attraction, primarily due to its proximity to Hindu-Buddhist temple complexes like Borobudur and Prambanan, as well as its fine art culture such as music, poetry, puppet shows, ballet, and batik. We would visit one of those aforementioned temples in due course, but first we focused our explorations on the old city itself, wandering through the charming residential alleyways and water palaces that surround the kraton, a palace where a local sultanate still operates today.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A Journey across Java by Train

After saying goodbye to Malaysia, Angela and I were bound for the biggest archipelago, the largest Islamic community, and the fourth-most populated country in the world. Indonesia would be our first foray into the southern hemisphere, meaning we'd be travelling during the cooler "winter" period, quite a relief after being in places like Thailand and Vietnam during their hottest, most humid months. Being this close to the equator, it would still be pretty warm, but way more bearable than most of the places we've been to.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Twelve Days in Malacca

Leaving Penang behind us, Angela and I headed south to Kuala Lumpur with a lot of time to kill. We'd booked our flight to Indonesia for the 6th of August so we could avoid the busy travel rush of the Muslim fast-breaking festival, Eid al Fitr, or Hariraya as it known in this part of the world. But this meant we still had around two weeks left in Malaysia. We decided to use this time doing some volunteering at a hostel just on the outskirts of the capital, since it would give us something to do without spending a whole lot of money.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A Reunion in Penang: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

On our third day together, the four of us rented motorbikes from Happy Ken, a cheerful character who sung and danced between showing us our new rides.

A Reunion in Penang: Part 1

For Angela and me, Penang will always hold a special place in our hearts as the place where I asked her to marry me. But we'll also remember it as the place where we met up with our two Canadian friends, Matt and Kimmi, who we befriended while teaching English in Korea. Having recently finished their contracts, they too were doing some travelling in Southeast Asia, and they took a plane from Singapore to Penang just to meet us. The four of us spent several days exploring the island together, seeing the colourful temple of Kek Lok Si, riding motorbikes along the coast, and chilling on several beaches.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A Proposal in Penang

With this blog, I've always had a tendency to avoid dwelling on personal life, instead focusing on the sights that Angela and I have seen, and the activities we partook in. So there's been a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff going on - life-changing stuff - that's never surfaced in written form. For example, back in Phnom Penh, Angela and I had some very serious conversations about our future together: what was our overall plan? What would happen once our travels were finished? Were we going to live in the US or the UK, or some place else? What sort of careers did we want to have for the rest of our lives? We were anxious to figure out what our goals were, and how to fulfil them, and consequently it was a very tense time in Phnom Penh, even if I never mentioned it in the blog.

That's just one example of the many "drama of life" moments that we've been dealing with while travelling. Elsewhere, there've been disagreements, debates, fears, worries, and arguments (mostly minor ones, fortunately). We have a lot of shit to deal with besides this journey, but this blog has always been exclusively about the travel experiences.

With that said, there are times when the journey itself becomes a stage for important milestones in our relationship. Angela and I recently made a big life decision: we're going to get married. We both make each other immensely happy, are comfortable being ourselves with each other in a way that we've never felt with anyone else, and when we imagine ourselves growing old, we grow old together, just the two of us.

Since we came to the decision mutually, it didn't seem necessary for me to propose. We knew it was what we both wanted, so posing the question on one knee seemed somehow redundant. On the other hand, despite not being a very traditional person, I couldn't help but wonder if the marriage would lose something if I hadn't done the sacred deed. What if our future selves looked back and regretted the omission of this amorous gesture? Plus, a little romance never hurts.

So, with only a handful of places left to visit before our big wedding day, I decided I would propose on the Malaysian island of Penang. Originally I'd considered doing it from the summit of an Indonesian volcano at sunrise, but I was worried about the weather conditions: often it's cold and drizzly at such altitudes. The island of Penang, on the other hand, seemed suitably balmy and tropical.

So, we made it to Penang's capital, Georgetown, did some typical touristy things, and then, under the pretence of heading out for some food, I bought Angela a ring while she was napping at our hostel. That was the easy part. Picking a good location was a little trickier...

Our route by bus from the Cameron Highlands to Georgetown, Penang.
Crossing the road from mainland Malaysia to the island of Penang.
On our first day we had a brief look around the old, historic heart of Georgetown, but mostly rested since we were tired from our journey.
Exploring by night.

The next day we went to Little India to seek out some apparently delicious samosas that some friends in the Cameron Highlands recommended to us.

There was a lot of really tasty street food along this Ramadan market.
Samosa time! We ate quite a few of these over the course of our stay.

Many of the streets of Little India are filled with colourful stores selling saris and Bollywood DVDs, with loud Hindi pop songs blaring down the street.

One popular attraction in the area is Pinang Peranakan Mansion, a stately home about a century old. It was once owned by the Baba-Nonya, who were an acculturated community of Chinese who adopted customs of the local Malays and colonial British, creating a unique style of their own.

More explorations of Georgetown.

The charming Armenian Street.
Georgetown is known for its street graffiti, and we saw plenty during our explorations.

One of the many mosques in the city.
Having some delicious Kashmiri curry for dinner.
Sunset was approaching, so I decided it was time to find a place to propose. Originally I wanted to do the deed at the beautiful temple of Kek Lok Si at sunset. But then I found out it closes to tourists at 6pm, too early for the sunset. So instead...
...I took her to Komtar, the tallest building on Penang. I was going to take her to the top and propose as the sun set over Georgetown, but then the security guard told us it was closed for refurbishments. The sun was already on the verge of setting at this point, and I was determined to propose that day, so I hailed a taxi and told the driver to take us to Batu Ferringhi, the premier beach destination of Penang.
Fortunately we arrived before nightfall, and the orangey-turquoise colours in the sky were perfect.

I took Angela down to a quiet spot in the middle of the beach, knelt down, and proposed. For some time I'd been planning what I would say, but when it came down to it, all plans went out the window and instead I just spoke from my heart. Angela became teary-eyed and said yes, and for the remainder of the evening we were the giddiest and happiest we've ever been together.
Celebrating with some cocktails on the beach.

It took a long time for the euphoria to die down. For the longest time we couldn't stop grinning, couldn't stop calling each other "fiancé/fiancée," and couldn't stop admiring Angela's new ring on her finger. Neither of us, when we first came to Korea in 2012, ever foresaw that we would be engaged to the love of our lives in less than two years. We were both so happy with how the proposal went as well, despite me frantically searching for the right location at the last minute! It was a beautiful moment, and we are so happy to be committed to one another fully, forever.

This wasn't the end of our time in Penang. Our friends, Matt and Kimmi, would arrive the next day, and we would spend several days exploring the island with them.