All good things must come to an end

In August 2009 after eleven months on the road we returned to the UK, ending our round the world trip. In that time we visited three continents and eleven countries, from the tiny Cook Islands to the vast provinces of Canada.

In the individual countries we visited, we covered a lot of ground seeing both coasts in the US and Australia, plus  the northern and southern ends of New Zealand, Vietnam and Thailand. We traversed these countries via train, plane, bus and campervan, with the longest land journey the 2,500km drive down the west coast of Australia.

Our visits coincided with major events in several of the countries we visited: election campaigns in Canada, the USA (a particularly historic one) and New Zealand, a solar eclipse in India and devastating bushfires in Australia. All these events, we witnessed through television and newspaper reports.

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Kharma Coma

“In India, anything is possible,” a tour guide we travelled with was fond of saying. Probably the occasion where this phrase seemed most apt was when we got to see the Dalai Lama in the flesh.

The day after arriving in Mcleodganj, the Himalayan hilltown that serves as the base of the Tibetan government in exile, we decided to visit the temple where the Dalai Lama teaches most regularly. While there, we were informed that his holiness would be visiting the temple for private prayers two days later. We couldn’t believe our luck – he spends only three or four days a month in Mcleodganj. Continue reading

In search of the real Cambodia

Originally uploaded by littlesaint_uk

 

During our time in Vietnam we heard a lot about what it was like to travel around Cambodia – most of it negative. Undeterred by these reports we decided to go and see for ourselves and arrived in Phnom Pehn after one of the more sedate coach journeys of our trip to date. So far, so good.

Phnom Pehn seemed pretty lifeless after the hustle and bustle of Saigon and Hanoi. Another difference we’d noticed on arrival in the Cambodian capital was how visible the country’s poverty was. Around one of the city’s many temples, amputees would sit on the steps begging, while young children would approach you asking for dollars.

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Southern Comfort


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Originally uploaded by littlesaint_uk

As our taxi driver in Hanoi told us, the problem with Vietnam is it is “a very small country, but a very long country”. I was reminded of his words several times as we made our way slowly to Ho Chi Minh City, which was known as Saigon when it was capital of South Vietnam before reunification in 1975.

Our journey to Saigon started appropriately enough on the Reunification Express, which chugs up and down the 2600km track between Hanoi and the southern city. After a fairly comfortable night in a sleeper berth we reached our first destination, the city of Hué, the capital of Vietnam until partition. Continue reading

What’s the story morning glory


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Originally uploaded by littlesaint_uk

It’s not too hard to find Vietnamese food in London: just walk ten minutes up Kingsland Road from Shoreditch and you’ll find London’s Little Hanoi. But the food I tasted in Vietnam was nothing like the food I’d sampled in London’s Vietnamese restaurants.

While I’d always enjoyed the food in Vietnamese restaurants in the UK, my expectations of the real thing was very low. I expected that a typical Vietnamese dish would contain lots of rice, various different parts of an animal’s anatomy and few vegetables. When I got to Hanoi, I found out that the only thing I got right was the bit about the rice.

In contrast to my expectations, I discovered the Vietnamese use lots of fresh ingredients, especially vegetables. Our first experience of true Vietnamese cuisine was Pho Bo, a thin beef noodle soup, flavored very simply with lemon grass and basil. In the north, this is served with lime wedges and fresh chilli, which you can use to change the flavour. As you travel south the optional extras become more extensive, to include fresh basil, mint, greens and bean sprouts. Continue reading

Hanoi Rocks


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Originally uploaded by littlesaint_uk

After nine months traveling around English speaking (apart from a brief Quebecquois interlude) countries, we were long overdue some culture shock. We reckoned Vietnam would provide this, and it did to some extent.

We’d been warned about how crazy the roads were, and yes, everyone seems to have a scooter and drives it everywhere (including tiny little alleyways). But it wasn’t the complete chaos you’d be led to believe. It is still possible to cross the road, which is a relief. You do, however, have to abandon the Green Cross Code and stride out slowly into the road and the traffic drives around you. Continue reading

Coast to Coast

Australia’s East Coast is Australia for many visitors. The Pacific Highway from Sydney to Cairns is heaving with campervans during the busy summer months. In contrast, the West Coast feels empty, even its capital Perth is notable for its lack of bustle.

During our visit to Australia, we took a road-trip in a campervan along both coasts (though admittedly, we only saw a 1,000km stretch of the east coast). Aside from the differences in visitor numbers, the two coasts share a lot of similarities. Both have reefs, National Parks and lots of sandy beaches. Here’s a crude comparison of their main assets. Continue reading