A “Wherever We May Roam” Interview…

Which one was your favourite country?

Seda. Vietnam. I didn’t know much about Vietnam but I had heard that it was what Thailand used to be 10-15 years ago. Visiting Hanoi first, we stayed in the Old Quarter which is a delightful area keeping the charm of the “real Vietnam”. Their history and the determination these people had to have to save their country really touched me deeply. There were no McDonalds or Starbucks there, in fact no Western style shops at all. People were eating or selling on the pavements and villagers sold fresh fruit for the equivalent of 20 pence!

Andy. Every country we went to had it’s own charm, but I would have to say Australia. For me, living there for 3 months and spending over half of that time house-sitting, and therefore living in people’s houses, gave us a real feel for Australian life. We travelled all over the East coast and went to many towns and cites – all of them different. The weather helped too!

Least Favourite Country…

S. Least favourite has to be South Korea. So boring that even the recorded commentary on the sightseeing bus didn’t have much to tell us about Seoul.

A. South Korea for me too actually. It didn’t help that it rained constantly for the whole week we were there, but we really couldn’t find anything to do. We went to the National Museum which was really boring unfortunately. 

Your Favourite food…

S. Bun bo nam bo- the gorgeous Hanoi dish that contains green leaves, beef, oyster sauce; lemongrass served with rice noodles and topped with peanuts and fish sauce.

A. Indian food for me. I have always really loved Indian food anyway, but to sample it on home soil was a fantastic experience never to be forgotten. When we eventually found out about “Thali”, that was a huge turning point. It’s great that you can sample 3 different dishes, rice, pickles and bread all on one divided stainless steel plate, and all for just £1!

Least Favourite Food?

S. In The Philippines I really struggled to find anything I liked. They eat a lot of pork which is something I don’t eat, so it left me with pretty much chicken and rice most days which kind of got a bit tedious after a while. One day I ordered some prawns, and they came unshelled so I had to spend about 15 minutes shelling them by which time they had gone cold. Andy helped me as I was getting rather upset before the restaurant owner saw us struggling and thankfully offered to warm it up for me. 

A. I think I’ll have to say Korean Hotpots. They just tasted a bit bland to me, even though everything pointed to them being anything but. They usually had a variety of ingredients which you mix up with chopsticks and a poached egg so when I first had one I was quite excited, but it was rather dull I’m afraid.

Your best experience…

A. Bungee jumping in New Zealand at the first ever commercial jump site in the world – Kawarau Bridge at Queenstown. A pure adrenaline rush and worth every penny.

S. Well of course bungy jumping was a fantastic thrill but I have to mention something I did on my own and ticked it off from my bucket list…paragliding. I went to the internationally renowned Bir-Billing in Himachal Pradesh, India which is the best spot for Tandem Paragliding. As I was gliding in the sky, loving every moment, the only thing I thought that could have made it better for me would have been having a cup of coffee in my comfy seat in the sky!

Your worst experience…

A. There were quite a few of these over the year, but I think what grabbed the prize for worst experience in my opinion was the almost never ending hassle of dealing with banks back home. The problems we encountered with our credit and ATM cards seemed to be never ending and at some points it felt like we were making complaints to them every few weeks. 

S. I totally agree that financial dealings drained us and caused us so much grief! The most recent horrible moment for me was when they told us we couldn’t fly home because all routes were closed after the COVID-19 outbreak. It felt like the freedom we had over the year has disappeared within a second.

Which was the most exciting place?

S.  Philippines. I enjoyed the marine life at it’s best there. I had never seen nor had I ever imagined such vibrant colours and so much life in crystal clear waters. Where else I wonder one could see schools of sardines 10 meters from the beach? We swam with whale sharks, stood right by sea feeding turtles as they munched away, and had fish of every colour and style swimming around us. All without paying a fortune and still feeling safe. The canyoneering we did there was top level adrenaline and maximum enjoyment which we loved every minute of.

A.  Some of the Sri Lankan scenery we saw was truly amazing. We got to explore some less known parts of the island because we stayed with an old friend of mine, and what we saw was breathtaking. Just driving around the bits we did see, plus the train journey we took from Kandy to Colombo was beautiful. It has its similarities to India, but its all its own country for sure. It definitely had a buzz about the place, and we’d love to go back and see more of this gem of an island. 

Any silly mistakes…?

S. I will never forgive myself for the time that I miscalculated the exchange rate and gifted a lot of our money to an exchange office in Melbourne.

A. Planning to go and visit the Taj Mahal on a Friday – the only day of the week that it’s closed for cleaning! D’oh!

Thing that surprised you the most?

S. I’d say the different modes of transport in each country… Like the 7 hour journeys that took 12 hours in India, the joy of riding a motorbike in Thailand, the affordable and efficient rail system in Malaysia. It was scary during the taxi-scooter ride I had in Vietnam when I thought my legs would be chopped off as they brushed the hundreds of others on the roads. Also, there was the brilliant sleeper car we had in NZ and Zach (a tiny Suzuki Swift hire car) that we did over three thousand kilometres in Australia.

A. The sheer volume of scooters in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. There is a combined population of around 17 million people in these two Vietnamese cities, and comfortably about the same amount of scooters coming at you from every direction at all times. You have to grow eyes in the back of your head in Vietnam.

Yes, really!

What unexpected things have you encountered during your travels?

A. Meeting some amazing people during our journey, whether that be locals or fellow travellers. Some of the travellers we met along the way we have stayed in touch with and some we even met up with again in other countries along the way. Hopefully we will see them again too. The world is not such a big place sometimes.

S. I never thought we would be given an opportunity to help English learners. The teaching experience in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam was very hard, demanding but very satisfying. Once we were given a class full of learners, half for Andy and half for me and we even got to have a little competition with our teams. My team won of course!

Do you think the trip has changed you in anyway?

A. Before we set off I was always the sort of person that would like to know where I was going, where I was staying and how I was getting there well in advance. That changed for me once we started travelling. It still occasionally made me nervous during the last year, but nowhere near as much as before. One thing you learn is that there are always plenty of places to stay anywhere in the world, and with the aid of technology these days, it certainly makes things easier. I’m not sure I would fancy doing this 20 years ago with just a Lonely Planet book as guidance though.

S. My OCD! I slept in filthy sheets, stayed in shabby places, shared bathrooms with people who had never heard of flush or hand wash. But for someone with OCD, it doesn’t get tougher than India. If I saw where and how the food I ate was made, I probably would have never eaten in India! But I did eat the food, had my share of food poisoning but tried and tested everything I could with an open mind.

Anything that didn’t live up to expectations?

S. Whilst a Singapore Sling did live up to my expectations, some aspects of the bar didn’t. After a long wait outside and a hefty payment inside, we were finally seated at a table with a massive bag of monkey nuts. I love monkey nuts but the weird thing was throwing the shells on the floor, just like that the whole floor and under every table was covered with monkey nut shells. This is the world famous Raffles Hotel and as you walked, shells crunched under your feet like a walk in the park in autumn.

A. The Great Barrier Reef was a bit of a let down for me. We went on a tour which included snorkelling over the reef, but it was just a bit bland and colourless in the part we went to. I expected it to be really vibrant colours and full of life, but there were hardly any fish and all the coral was grey. I’m sure it’s better in other places, but the bit we saw was a bit dull. 

Any country that you’d like to see more of…?

S. Vietnam. We spent a cumulative 6 weeks there over 2 visits and only went to 4 places – Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Sapa and Dalat. I’d love to go back one day and experience Da Nang, Nha Trang, Ha Long Bay and Hoi An. Another thing we’d heard lots about was doing the Ha Giang loop on motorbikes. It’s in northern Vietnam and meant to be stunning scenery, but we are not proficient motorbike riders, so we’d have to do it with a guide. 

A. Philippines I think. There are over 7000 islands and we only managed to see 3. We had a great time in all of the places we went to and had some fantastic experiences spending hours in the water. We had numerous boat trips and snorkelled all the time. Just be careful of the Red Horse Beer, it’s got a bit of a kick! Also, if you ever go to Palawan, keep an eye out for our lost wedding rings!

Friendliest country…

S. Asian people are always very welcoming and hospitable. Language difficulties may hinder the communication a little bit but there is always a lovely smile or offering of help when you need it. Since Asian people are financially less fortunate, they are always appreciative of little things. Their generosity touched me the most when they try to share with you what very little they have.

I am holding the above mentioned Red Horse beer.

A. I think New Zealand has been arguably the friendliest place we’ve been to. We thoroughly enjoyed our time touring around the two islands in our amazing sleeper car seeing so many breathtaking sights, but everywhere we went the people were extremely welcoming.

Any place where you didn’t feel welcome?

S.  Although not all the time, there were a few occasions in Taiwan where I felt no westerners were welcome there. This country made its way into our plans because of it’s harmonised Chinese and Japanese influence. However, we had been on roads in Taipei with not a single letter of latin alphabet on signs, shops or menus. All Chinese or Japanese.

A. We had a couple of bad experiences in Chandigarh, India. Firstly we were turned away from an OYO hotel because we weren’t Indian, even though we had a reservation. Secondly, the next time we found ourselves in this town we were flying onto Mumbai and when we got to the airport, it was closed!

Any regrets about the trip?

S. Being greedy, I would have loved to have seen more of Australia. We spent 3 months there and covered over five thousand kilometres but there was still more to see. I would have loved to visit Adelaide, Perth, Cairns and even Tasmania.

A. Not going to Cambodia and Laos whilst in South East Asia. We decided not to because of the paid visas, and even though I don’t regret the route we eventually took, I would still liked to have seen these countries. Maybe one day.

Are you happy with the route you took? Order of countries etc.

S. Absolutely. Starting from India, going through Asia and ending in Australia and New Zealand was definitely the right way to do it. Asia is wonderful but not without its challenges. I’m glad we dealt with language difficulties, cultural differences and extreme heat when we were full of energy and hungry for the adventure. We hadn’t walked on proper pavements until we arrived in Singapore, 6 months into our travels.

A. Very much so, although I kind of regret going to South Korea now. We went because the flight from Hanoi was a bargain, but it was a bit of a let down. Looking back I think we should have just paid more for a flight to somewhere else. Maybe we could’ve looked into going to Myanmar. 

How did COVID-19 affect your trip?

S. New Zealand was always the last country of our planned trip. It was always going to end in Christchurch where we’d drop our sleeper car after seeing the country for 6 weeks and we would take a flight out. All that happened as planned, we’ve seen everything we wanted, dropped our car but only couldn’t fly when we arrived at the airport. So no, it didn’t really affect the trip but added a bit of a compulsory extension.

A. It only really affected the end of our trip. It meant that we stayed in New Zealand a lot longer than we originally planned, and didn’t get to visit Dubai and a few European cities on our way home. 

Any tips for future travellers…?

S. My first suggestion is don’t ever put your dreams on hold, if you want to travel the world, just list everything that may scare you about the idea and one by one, address them and decide ways to overcome. 

My second advice is to do your research. If you read forums, blogs, articles, you will arm yourself with masses of useful knowledge that reduces the numbers of bad surprises. Then you can focus on having more fun!

A. Loads! Being flexible is key. You may have a planned route, but things change all the time while travelling. You may really enjoy a place and want to stay longer, or you may well hate it and want to leave early. We generally booked one night at a new place and that first day we would have a wander around and see what we thought and if we wanted to extend our stay. 

Do your research about bank cards before you leave your home country. We had 2. One was for withdrawing money and one was a credit card with no charges whilst being used abroad. There are lots out there so just have a look and compare. We had a problem with our ATM card when the chip got damaged and wouldn’t work in the machines. It left us with no cash, but thankfully we were in more developed countries by then so could pay for things with a credit card. 

12/5/19 just leaving home for a year of travelling

A&S. If you’ve got any questions or want to ask about travelling, we are always happy to chat to you. Just drop us a message and we’ll get back to you.

Happy travels…!

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