Europe

Euro road trip

It started with a ticket, map and vague plan to cross Europe… I ended up visiting 17 countries and clocking up 10,000 km along the way.

Holland, Luxembourg and Switzerland

Crossed via the tunnel and spent the first weekend in The Hague, staying with some lovely Dutch sisters I met in Laos. Beautiful city, with a town like feel and sandy beach, what’s not to like!
Then rode south and visited an old house mate in Luxembourg who showed me the sights and sounds of the smallest country I ever been too. Continuing south I stayed a night in France before riding across the epic countryside that is Switzerland.

Italy

Met up with Miguel. Our last adventure together involved riding across the Himalayas. We now plan to spend two weeks riding across the Balkans. Starting with 2 incredible days riding across the mountains in the north of Italy, including the infamous Stelvio pass with it’s 75 or so hair pin bends!

and my personal favourite, the mountain roads in the dolomites. Should be more photos of these epic mountain roads, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves stop.

Croatia

Spend 6 days in this beautiful country, riding south along the incredible coastal roads. Twisting and turning though picturesque villages set along side the turquoise sea. Strongly recommend Split, a living piece of history that’s not yet overrun with tourists. For some strange reason camping is twice the cost of Italy, €40 a night to pitch your own tent! Jokes… Luckily the locals rent out rooms around €20. Look for “App”/”Apartment”/”Zimmer” signs outside.

Bosnia

The adventure begins, ride along dirt roads, past minefields and abandoned war torn buildings. Beautiful countryside. Visit Mostar bridge


and stay the night in Sarajevo. Real mix of cultures. Lot’s of rain.

Serbia

First stop is Guca a Eastern European Trumpet festival, bands playing from bar to bar with crowds following and dancing in the street. Real carnivalesque feel to it! Locals are super friendly and a little too generous with their deadly home made Rakija, up to 65% and kicks like a mule! While only small with 10,000 or so revellers, it is what I can only imagine Glastonbury use to be. Entry is free, pay around £10 per vehicle and 0-£20 for 5 days camping.

Spend the next night in Belgrade, great city and people. Very cheap even in sophisticated restaurants. Though slightly puzzled how they can build fancy new glass banks next to bullet ridden, bombed out buildings.

Romania

Beautiful country and the main reason for our trip. Lush countryside, medieval cities, horse drawn carts and the best mountain pass in Europe. The Transfagarasan highway…

Climbing to just over 2,000 meters it’s high for Europe but small compared to the Andes (4,000) or the Himalayas (5,300). But still a lot of fun!

Poland, Berlin and Ghent

Said goodbye to Miguel in Budapest. Wasn’t sure whether to go east or north, chatted to a Polish biker and my mind was made. Breakfast in Hungary, lunch in Slovakia and dinner in Krakow Poland. Krakow is a beautiful medieval city, spent few days there before riding across to Wroclaw for a night then up to Berlin. Fantastic party city, really love East Berlin. Few long nights here then across Germany is the rain and to Cologne. Last night was in Ghent, smaller version of Burges. With friendly locals, amazing beer and lots of chips and gravy.

Arrive home drenched, tired and deeply satisfied.

This was 5th big trip with a motorbike and easily the most comfortable on my Suzuki vStrom 650. Made it over 10,000 km without any major mechanic problems. Awesome ride.

Bolivia

Bolivia is an incredible country. The landscapes are varied, changing from a cowboy westerns to salt flats to mountains to jungle. It´s so easy to escape into the wilderness. Only half the roads paved, but thats perfect for a moto adventure!

Combined with a friendly people soaked in culture and a conversion rate to make you feel rich. This country feels truely unique and is up there as one of my favourites.

First stop is Tupiza, a dust town but good for excursions. Such as the Cannon de Inca, a tranquil horse ride away… Or a much better off roading session! Following horse tracks and dung I cut through the serene countryside, bouncing across rocks while doing my best to avoid cacti.

Tupiza –> Uyuni

Beautiful 7 hour dirt road/off roading trek across the countyside. After 5 hours my welded rack gave in and cracked in three places. This ended up dragging my spare petrol tank and leaking its almost needed contents. Luckily my bike made the 210km, had it been another 40km I would have been screwed.. in the middle of no where, dark and cold!

Uyuni

Had an awesome time riding across the largest salt flats in the world. Rode 100km west, surrounded by sheer white emptiness. Turn round and headed east, back to civilizations and on to the el cementerio de trenes.

Potosi

First hotel tries to charge my 300 Bolivianos, get next one for 35 Bolivianos.. a mear £3.5. So the reason I´m here is the same as everyone else, the mines!

First stop is the shop to buy gifts for the miners. Get to choose between drinks, coca leafs, 98% alcohol or Dynamite! For only 3 pounds, god knows why I didn´t buy any.. redneck in me would love to play with explosives.

Tour is excellent, really fascinating but a sobering experience. The conditions are terrible, akin to medieval times. Back breaking work, carrying rumble by hand through semi flooded shafts without electricity. Guide tells us the average life expectancy is 50, with children as young as 14 working the mines. Didn´t see any children but a lot of the miners had nasty coughs.

Ride North

Ride to Surce with a friend, my favorite city in Bolivia. On the way we stop to chat with farmers, who teach us how to separate the corn from the sheath by fling it up into the air with a pitch fork.

From Surce I head north to CoChaBamBa (gotta love the names here), 2 day ride across dirt roads without a road sign in sight. I end up taking a wrong turn and riding along this tiny farmer’s road across the hills. Beautiful. Talk with lots of the locals who are surprised to see me. Fantastic experience.

The food in Bolivia is a little disappointing; their national dish seems to be cold fried chicken and chips. Everything has to be served with chips.. even rice. Best eating is on the markets, hearty soups and stews. Damn tasty!

South of CochaBamba is national park famous for dinosaur fossils and footprints. Chat to a local who offers me some freshly stolen honey. Go caving, surprised at how small the gaps are we have to squeeze though.

Head West

La Paz isn’t my favorite place, super touristy and the locals like to overcharge tourists. Death road was fun on the moto but not nearly as death defying as I expected. Would be a lot more scared if I did it in a car, the passing points are way too narrow! But on a bike, loads of room.


Ride to Copacabana, beautiful trip but the destination is a little overrated. Often the way, that it is the ride it´s self, not the destination that was the best part of the trip.


Getting out of Bolivia into Peru was an absolute nightmare with corrupt officials. A story best told in person.

Chile

Santiago

I spent a lot of time here in the Capital. After 8 months on the road it was nice to settle down. Before long I had bought a motorbike, learnt my way round the city and made some good friends.

Moto mates

The bike I bought had a few issues and needed some work to to get it ready for my trip. The first garage tried to charge me £300 for some of the work.

But in typical good travelling vibes; it didn’t take long for this problem to solve it’s self. Less than an hour later I see a modified version of my bike riding down the street, the owner clocks me checking out his ride and stops for a chat. My new friend Luis Lynch loves motorbikes and is more than happy to help out. So the next morning I pop round with my bike and meet his mechanic friend who works on my bike for the next few weeks. Costing around £100.

First Trip

I head out with a friend to the mountains village of Farellones a few hours east of the City. But it doesn’t go oh so well. On the outskirts of Santiago’s surrounding suburbs we break down. I change the fuse and it blows again. Have to take a bus back. The next day my new friend Luis tows me using his motorbike. 2 bikes and 1.5 meters of rope. Certainly not the cleverest of ideas, as one wrong turn and we´re pull each other off our bikes. It’s a 20km ride back to the city, and a hair raising experience. Luis is far too confident and even filters through traffic with me in tow! My bikes handle bars are a lot wider and I knock a wing-mirror clean off some tourists rental car. Opps!

Bike’s electrical problems are fixed and I head out back out a few days later.

Valpo

With the bike behaving it self I set off to explore the centre of Chile. First stops the coast. Valparaiso has cultural city status.. however on first impressions it’s hard to tell. Looks like a dump, full of crazy drunk hobos with crime statistics to match. Next day I take a tour and discover the charms hidden beneath the grimey chaos.

On the plane over from New Zealand to Chile I meet a local student, end up staying with Andres and his family for 3 nights. His family treat me like an old friend, and Andres introduces me to the local drink, Piscola. Great experience.

Pichileumu

Cute little surf town with crazy 15 meter waves.. though I was there to ride dirt tracks across the countryside. That and eat lots of tasty seafood! Had an epic 5 hours session riding east of Pichilemu, sliding around on gravel and dirt. Riding through forests. I stumbled upon an old 1930’s water mill still being used to by an elderly couple to grind flour.

Santa Cruz Wine

A famous wine region, infamously started by a former arms dealer. Wanted on international arrest warrant for selling weapons to Saddam Hussain, he decided to stay and invest in the wine industry. Met an interesting artist named Juan, who has incredibly cycled through 120 countries.

Fire on board

Driving back to Santiago, notice a strange smell. Pull over, to see the luggage bag closest the exhaust has melted and is smouldering. Thankfully realised this might of happened so deliberately packed unimportant stuff… sorry flip flops! Time to get a proper rack made. Shop quotes me £150. See my Chilean friend Luis who knows a welder and get it made for £20. Happy days.

Adios

Chile.. is definitely a place where the people make it special. They are extremely friendly towards tourists, and seemingly go out of their way to help. Always taking time to communicate with my Span-glish. I’m regularly invited for dinner at peoples homes. Travelling through Chile has been a lot of fun, tempted to come back and find a job.

South America

March 2013
From my trip so far. I’ve realised that I get that sense of “travelling” most when I’m riding a motorbike. The freedom of having your own ride, allows you to go wherever, whenever.

In contrast to the tourist bus that’s only ever going somewhere touristy. So with that in mind, it’s time to find a bike!

Motorbike

Euromot 200 GXT, never heard of it before?.. no me neither! Motorbikes are super expensive here. However the engines a carbon copy of the solid Suzuki DR200, lots of good reviews and they sell them in most countries so should be able to find parts. It’s also ideal for the roads or lack of in Bolivia!

Euromot 200 GXT

So I took the plunge and bought Chinese.

with luggage

With improvised luggage rack.

Route

Rough plan of my route for the next 3 months, will cover over 5,000km. My biggest motorbike trip yet!

map

Plan to ride over the Andes and head into Mendoza, Argentina. Famous for its wines. Then explore the north and cross over into Bolivia. Ride through the Salt flats and across Bolivia for La Paz and “Death road”. Continuing on to Peru for Machu Picchu and some more exploring then head back to the north of Chile to sell the bike and head home.

Plans deliberate vague so I’m flexibly to change my plans on a whim.

Documentation

Buying a bike here is fairly complication and the bureaucracy’s a bitch. So before I’m allowed to leave Chile with one of their bike’s I have to wait 3 weeks for all the paperwork to arrive in my name. But it’s a good excuse to explore Chile!

Stay tuned…

A blog too far

So as you’ve probably gathered I’m 5 months behind on this blogging m’larky.

I have since travelled to Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Sydney and New Zealand.

It’s been amazing but for one reason or another I haven’t found the time to write about these experiences. It seems that travelling has become a full time job with as little time as possible spent tapping away at my computer.

So I’ve decided to jump ahead 5 months and tell you about what I’m up to now..

Vietnam – Motorbiking the North

October 2012

Hanoi is a unique city where east meets west, oozing a more Chinese influence than Western Siagon in the south. I wander around, soaking up the sights and sounds of this strange new land. Though after a few days of eating my way around the city. Something is lacking, I’m craving another motorbike adventure!

Time to get a bike and explore 2,000km around the countryside of the north, driving along the Laos and Chinese border!

Finding a bike

Motorbikes and scooters are extremely popular in Vietnam, which makes life easy as there cheap and almost every village has a mechanic no matter how remote.

There are a few choices for bikes in Vietnam, I decided to rent a Honda GL 160.

Honda GL 160

You can buy these for around $600 but for me it was easier to rent at $15 a day. This is a fantastic bike that I can strongly recommend for touring. Although at 160cc it’s a lot smaller than what I would usually ride back home, it packs enough punch for SE Asia. Where the roads are more dangerous and unpredictable, its safer to ride under 100kmh.

The gearbox is a Chinese replacement so instead of the usual 1 down 5 up it has a quirky circular gearing system where 5th goes up to neutral then up again to 1st. Takes some getting use to.

Although you can buy a Honda Win for half the price, it is only 110cc and has a light, cheap feel when riding. Another problem is that it is also physically very small so uncomfortable for anyone.. erm.. not of Asian statue.

Another choice is the Russian Mink, a motorbike classic but far to prone to breaking down. Can’t beat the Japanese for reliability… or so I thought.

The route

A 2000km clockwise loop around Hanoi, riding along the Laos and Chinese border. Although it doesn’t look so far, it’s a little further the length of Vietnam to Siagon.

Adventure begins

With my panniers packed, map and compass at the ready I was set to go. Leaving Hanoi was confusing like any big city, with hordes of other bikers so you have to be super careful.

In typical Asian fashion most drivers remove their mirrors and rely on their horn. Chaotic but better than Delhi. Anywhere’s better than Delhi!

As I was leaving the outer suburbs of the city, an uneasy feeling comes across me as I noticed a strange meat. Roasted dog.

Heading south to Hoa Binh, enjoying my new ride. But something isn’t right. Stall 3 times over the next hour. Change the spark but it’s still stalling. So take it to a mechanic who discovers a broken fuel line, replaces a part and cleans the throttle valve 100,000 dong; or for me and you, three pounds.

Riding along cold and wet, stop for a drink. Bike refuses to start. Clean the fuse connections and it springs back to life.

Set off again but still plagued with problems, this CLANGING noise is definitely getting worse. The chain is too loose, try to tighten but its missing a metal plate to hold it in place. Was okay this morning, mechanic must have forgotten to put it back on after the demonstration. Missions.
Stop at a metal workers and with the help of some excellent pointing skills he makes a copy using the plate from the other side as a template.

Suns starting to set and low and behold my front light doesn’t work!
Seriously starting to doubt this bike, is there anything else that could go wrong?
The wiring is a mess so decided to make most of the dying light and find a hotel before its pitch black. Least the bikes sounding better now.

I only managed 90km for all the problems I encountered. Eager to put that day behind me I settle down for an early night and early start.
BANG BANG, woken up at 10pm by hotel manager who angrily demands my passport.
Had provided a photocopy, as my passport is with the bike rental company for a deposit. Failing to explain this to the upset manager, I phone the bike rental owner who thankfully manages to calm him down.

Bike owner assures me that this was rare and I wouldn’t need to return to collect my passport. Thankfully never had any other problems.

Day 2 – Out comes the first aid kit

Next day I set off for Son La. It’s another wet day and I come across a scooter that’s crashed, he’s bloody and in shock. I patch him up and calm him down. Set off again, a little more wary of these wet gravely corners. Made it 200km to Son La without hitch, relieved the bikes behaving it’s self.
8pm and the only restaurant open is selling snails, really popular with the young locals but not in the mood for trying strange foods. End up at some crappy stall with dodgy meat sticks, should of gone with the snails. Head back and crash.

Another day another Pho

Heading out to Dien Bien Phu. When the French lost this city it was their final blow to colonial rule. Of course the Americans stepped in but they didn’t fare much better. Vietnam was finally independent.

First stop is Pho, quite possibly the tastiest noodle soup known to man and thankfully Vietnam’s national dish. So you can can get it anywhere and it’s always delicious.
Step aside egg noodles, because here rice noodles are king.

This meaty broth is often cooked for hours and you can get all gourmet with a selection of chillies, herbs and limes to suit your tastes.

Ordering food in the countryside was tricky as there aren’t any menus to decipher. So it often came down to pointing at what others were eating. With my limited vocabulary of around 10 words, most days involve at least one bowl of Pho.

Pho – Pronounced “fur”
Bo = beef
Ga = chicken.
Sin jow = thank you

On my way to Dien Bien Phu and finally the sun is shinning, music is flowing and wheels are rollings. Now it’s starting feels like an adventure.

Dien Bien Phu is okay, wouldn’t personally recommend going. Despite lonely planets glowing reviews. Other travellers I met gave mixed reviews. Museums in Vietnam are always amusing, so much blatant propaganda. Literally every sword, rifle and rice bowl has a story of some communist hero behind it.

Often bought big bag of sweets when I could, great feeling to stop in the middle of no where to hand out candy.

Beautiful sunny ride north through paddy fields and mountains. Listening to 60’s rock, popular with anti Vietnam war movement, happy days.

Sinho

Final 30km stretch to Sinho is awesome, steep climb and twisty mountain roads. Difficult riding but so much fun. Wonder around town and market, much to the bemusement of the friendly locals. Like other parts of Asia their impressed at my height and how pasty my skin is. .. and theirs me thinking I had a respectable tan.

Get invited in for tea with local family. Cant speak much English so we just smile lots. Eat Pho again for third time in a row. Only food I can eat again and again and not get sick of it.

Another beautiful day of riding in the the hills. Come across a landslide but it’s quickly cleared by a demolition team. At this time of the year the countryside is prone to landslides, advised not to ride in or shortly after heavy rain. More tricky riding, closer but not as extreme as the Himalayas.

Caves

Ride past something interesting. Thankfully that nagging feeling at the back of my head pays off as I’ve stumble upon an awesome cave. First exploring with only my camera flash. Photo, step, photo, step. I get only so deep before I get scared and return with a torch.

The deeper I go the eerier it feels. Sheer drops hidden in the dark, torch isn’t great. Heart starts pounding, as the realisation shivers across me at how dependant I am on this faintly lit touch. Feels like something out of this world. So much more fun exploring caves on your own than the touristy caves with crowds, proper lighting and flooring installed.

Sapa

Later arrive in Sapa, a destination once considered off the beaten track is now firmly on the tourist route. Quick drive through town and it’s full of tourists and international restaurants.

All very touristy but that’s fine with me as I haven’t met anyone who speaks English for the last 5 days on the road!

Pull up at hotel and before I’ve checked in I’m drinking shots of “happy water” and enjoying tasty pancake wraps with the owner and his friends.

Happy water is a home made spirit that is usually stored in old water bottles. Thus the name. Its seriously strong and usually taste nasty. However this stuff is better as the owner proudly explains how he’s stored it for 3 years to mature.

Everyone’s extremely welcoming, but quick glance around the table and it’s clear that the happy waters taking it’s toll on everyone. Time to excuse myself before I’m too drunk to explore town.

Coc pai and beyond

I lost my map a few days ago so finally find a decent one in Sapa and head out to Bac ha. Beautiful scenic ride. Have arrived early so decide keep riding. The bike shop recommended coming back the way I came as it a difficult road ahead. Not shown on my map, I ask some locals who draw me a map.

Drive straight past the turn off as it’s a small dirt road with no signs or name. Very much a local route for farm animals and motorbikes. Difficult off-roading, but so much fun. Best decision yet! Reminds me of riding in the Himalayas. Motorbike handles it well, so much lighter than the Royal Enfield. Real pleasure to ride.

Exciting route as I’m never sure I’m going the right way. Ask the rare local. Stop at local school in the middle of nowhere, hand out two bags of lolly pops. Children are young and very excited. Wish I learnt some more Vietnamese, so I could interact more.

Track appears to end in this remote village, ask some locals who gesture that I’ve missed a turn off. Find this really steep dirt path that’s very slippery. Too narrow for a car, I slide my up it for 2km and come out at a road. Again no signs so just follow the compass north west.

Arrive in late afternoon, check in and crash out. Later meet a retired German named Clause. He’s travelling by car and has had to hire a driver as tourists aren’t apparently allowed to drive cars.

Ha giang

Run outta dong, dollar short for the hotel. No ATM’s anywhere, later change some dollars at a bank. Roads are now mostly sealed on my way to Ha Giang, beautiful ride past waterfalls and rice paddies. Children are more use to tourists here, speak little English and put out their hands for drive-by high fives 🙂

Arrive in Ha Giang, lots of people exercising around the Ho Chin Min statue. The statue it’s self is interesting. Ho Chin Min was the founder of Communism in Vietnam and the statue portrays him as a father, commander, teacher and possible lover.

See an advert for a magic potion that can increase your breasts by just adding 3 drops to a glass of water and drinking. Amazing!


Where are all the men?

Been driving around for a while, can’t help but notice the lack of men working the fields. Always women, children and the elderly slaving away. Not sure if they’re working in the bigger towns or slacking off. Speak to a few Vietnamese about it but no clear answer. Think the men are off drinking somewhere.

Really sad as its back breaking worth, especially when the kids are so young.

Drive through to Meo Vac, beautiful pass through the mountains. Lots of curvy roads as well as some curvy rock formations, appropriately named “fairy breasts”.

Nice cool riding in October but seemingly always a fog that makes it difficult to capture the scenic landscapes.

Fog

Driving up some remote hill visibility drops to a few meters. Slow down and mission on. Not sure I’m even on the right road. Locals don’t recognise the map but that’s pretty standard in remote areas. Once the fog clears it beautiful views and riding once again. Arrive in Bac lo earlier so fill up on Petrol and Pho and head on towards Cai bang. Stopping at some small village 50km away.


Waterfalls

Set off for the waterfalls via Cia bang. Stop there for supplies and get some free gum and a marriage proposal. Have had 3 or 4 in the last month. Cant keep track! Haha

On my way north I see 6 pigs on the back of a bike. Manage to snap a shot as I’m riding. Records still hold by lady with 3 fully grown pigs on the back. Also seen 4 adults on one bike.. Ridiculous!

More beautiful riding past and through massive rock formations. Again more women and children in the fields.

Long ride back

First stops cave tour, not nearly as exciting when its so well organised with proper lighting and flooring. Much more fun staggering around in the dark.

Ride east for a longer loop back to Cao Bang, hugging the Chinese border. Once back in Cao Bang I head south to a home stay in the national park Ho Ba Be.

Last day

Go for boat ride on the lake, beautiful trip but don’t see any bears or tigers. Head off in the afternoon for Hanoi. Decide for first time to use google maps, get horribly lost in the middle of no where. Trusty compass comes out and I just keep heading south east. Need petrol and haven’t seen anything in hours. Locals look surprised to see me here.

Eventuality find civilisations, give up on reaching Hanoi today and head out for dinner. Eating alone I’m often invited to join others. The hospitably here is second to none, my new friends insist on paying for my food and drinks.

This night the happy water comes in with vengeance. Shot after shot as I find myself drinking between two tables. Despite the language barrier we have a funny night. Everyone’s trashed, and staggers off. But before I can make my escape the owner wants some shots which finishes me off.

Conclusion

In a word.. Awesome!
While not as technically challenging as the Himalayas, it presented it’s own thrill as I had only myself to rely upon. I absolutely loved travelling through Vietnam, from the beautiful landscapes to the friendliness of the people. I’m already thinking about my next trip here.

Sri Lanka

September 2012

It was really by chance that I stumbled upon Sri Lanka. I had wanted to fly straight into Bangkok, but the city often’s floods during September (monsoon season). So I decided to detour around Sri Lanka for 15 days then start in North Vietnam (beginning of their cool season) and work my way south to Ho Chin Min city (Saigon). Cutting across Cambodia to arrive in Thailand for a sunny November. Worked a treat.

So on a whim of good reviews and a tight deadline, my flights were booked. Now 6 weeks later I’m standing at the airport with little to no idea of what to expect. Time to buy a lonely planet and form some sort of plan.

Trip

Route of Sri Lanka

First north for some kitesurfing (b), east to tour the ancient cities (c, d) and Sigiriya (e), south into the hill country for some white water rafting (g) and tea plantations. Finishing with a safari (j), beach(k) and day in the capital (l).

As I only had 15 days I often slept in a new town every night. Traveling mainly by public bus which was dirt cheap and a great way to meet the locals.

Having come from India I was initially cautious of locals and had my guard up. But it didn’t take long to realise that this trip would be completely different.

Sri Lanka is an incredible country with a proud honest people that go out of their way to welcome you.

This was a big relief and made traveling super easy.

Colombo

The capital is busy and a little dirty by Sri Lankan standards and not particularly special. While waiting for a my bus I met a local reggae promoter who I treated to lunch. 2 delicious curry’s and cokes for 200 Rupes. A mear £1. Bargain!

I was proudly given the best seat in the front of the bus next to the driver. But this was short lived as within 2 minutes of leaving the bus had crashed. Luckily no one was hurt. Bus drivers was too busy texting as we sat in traffic. Hadn’t noticed the SUV in front stop and we rolled straight into the back of it. Cracking our windscreen and ruining their rear end.

I jumped off and had to wait an hour for the next one. Which thankfully made it without incident.

In a tiny village on route between local buses I met two friendly locals. The first buys me tea and a snack and the second brings me to meet his family. I sit down in their modest home and the whole family crowd in to hear my story. I’m the only one served tea, in their finest china. A real honour.

I later realise that this is Tami land. An area off limits during the 26 year civil war.

Kitesurfing

Just south of Kalpitiya there is a small lagoon for kitesurfing. It’s a fun spot but was particularly shallow this year from a unusually dry wet-season. Punishing on those bad landing.

I rented gear for 3 days from a guy called Mike. Who in typical kitesurfing fashion told me that it’s always windy here. Got 2 days out of 3 days of wind, so not bad but they ideally needed some bigger kites. An idea he scoffed at. I was riding 9-12m North gear.

Bit of a secret spot so, hush hush

Unfortunately there’s not much budget accommodation in the area. With a lot of places charging more than they should, rustic should read basic.

One evening I popped into Kalpitiya, bus ignored me. So hitch hiked and a tuk tuk gave me a free ride, now that’s a first!!

Locals are all very interested in talking and it makes the trip so much more rewarding. In India I had the strange feeling that locals look up to westerns too much, which is a little uncomfortable. Here in Sri Lanka the locals are proud of their own culture, often wearing local sarongs (a long cloth that men wrap around their waist) and speaking with you as equals.

Ancient cities

Next I head to Anuaradhapura the first of two accident cities. It takes a couple of local buses and 4 hours later I’m there. Check into hotel and go exploring. First stop’s a 2,000 year tree. Cant see the base of the tree, but it certainly doesn’t look any older than 200 years. But hey, the praying monks look convinced.

Meet two Londoners and tag along for some sight seeing in their car. In the evening we visit the drivers friend. Again the finest china comes out and only for guests.

Unfortunately the tickets for the ancient cities and Sigiriya are ridiculously overpriced, at $30 a pop. So the next day I agree to an illegal entry where the tuk tuk driver avoids the ticket people.

Now the lonely planet makes a big deal out of this place as some must see tourist attraction. In reality the ruins are over 2,000 years old and there is often very little left to see beside a few old bricks scattered around. Lots of Dhoba temples that aren’t so old, though big and impressive they kinda of all look the same after a while. Often shown Buddhist mediation spots, which given the nature of mediation, are pretty boring to look at.

I recommend skipping Anuaradhapura altogether and heading straight to Polonnaruwa.

That afternoon I jump on another local bus, this time playing reggae music and head to Polonnaruwa. Check into a room without a celling but at ó a night who cares!

Polonnaruwa is “only” 1000 years old, so is much more intact and visually impressive. It’s a relatively compact site and ideal for renting a bike and cycling around. No Angkor Wat but well worth a visit.

Sigiriya and Kandy

Jump on another local bus and head to Sigiriya. Famous for it’s rock you can hike.

I wander down to a lake and watch wild Elephants drinking. Edging my way closer for a photograph but then they are suddenly spooked by a “Safari” elephant in the distance and bolt in the opposite direction. God knows why tourists ride on these “Safari” elephants. You can hear the clinking of every step, from the chains around their feet. With the handler’s occasionally poking it with a large spear. Kinda sad to think that these highly intelligent creatures spend the majority of their 70 years in captivity.

In the evening I meet a French guy called Eric. We swap stories on India, he has by far the worst tale I’ve heard. Upon landing in Delhi he got a cab from the airport, driver jumped the red lights and crashed. Sending his driver through the windscreen. Where he died in the middle of the road.

Anyhow’s, the next day I cough $30 to hike up Sigiriya rock. Although it’s overpriced it’s good fun and has some ancient paintings in small caves.

In the evening I head to Kandy. Meet Simon a cool Swedish guy who loves to hitch hike his way around . As we’re in a city it’s now legal to drinks so we head out to some local bars. Though this turns out to be a bizarre experience with a lot of unhappy drunks.

Our first encounter is with a drunk local who follows us into a bar and tries to order a drink on us. We refuse, he gets aggressive so we head to a different bar. He tries to follow but thankfully looses interest. We chat for a while but the pub has a bad vibe. Some locals are way too drunk. One repeatedly hits on the wall why shouting randomly. The drinks are relatively expensive and we’re pestered with locals wanting a free beer. Even a drunk police office tries his luck.

The next day I head to a small village called Kitulgala for some white water rafting. Was good fun but only grade 3 so a little tame. Eager to try some harder rapids in new Zealand.

Do some exploring around the jungle like terrain and stumble upon the bridge used in the classic movie “The bridge over the river Kwai”.

The following day I head into hill country. Tea plantations scatter the stunning countryside as I travel to a small town nick named little England. It’s cold, wet and strangely similar to west country with quaint cottages, grand colonial buildings, red phone boxes and traditionally British root vegetables being sold. But with a slightly surreal twist as tuk tuk flies past.

Sri Lanka is world famous for it’s “British” tea. Lipton anyone? Most expensive in the world, though somewhat surprisingly most of it is exported to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Visit a tea plantation and catch a steam train west to Ella.

Lonely planet recommends Ella, no idea why. Northing here.
Make friends with an awesome (just encase their reading) Portuguese couple. Their heading south for a safari trip and invite me along. Love traveling with such loose plans as it allows ultimate flexibility in changing and making the most of last minute opportunity’s.

They’re flashpacking in style with a hired car and driver, covering twice the distance I can on public buses. We’re soon at Yale national park, where we see more elephants, eagles, crocodiles and the infamous spotted leopard!

Luckily our driver has a keen eye, as we’re all rubbish at spotting anything other than bushes and trees.
Later we notice a tree with 10 jeeps parked up, bingo! The jeeps jostle for positions, and we finally spot the spotted leopard!

Difficult to get that perfect shot, leopard is lying down after devouring half of Bambi. Jeep gets a better position closer to this incredible beast. Finally catch a glimpse of it’s face but the camera shutter is a moment too late, obscured by foliage.

Feel pillaged to have spotted the leopard, as it’s an endangered species with sightings in only 1 in 5 trips.

That evening I have one of my best meals in Sri Lanka, pumpkin curry, incredible.

On my way back I’m walking down a dark alley way and see large group of guys drinking. Cautiously walk past, expecting some sort of hassle but far from it. Invited to join them for food and shots. Have to excuse myself after my 5th or 6th shot and stumble back. Clambering over the 8ft security fence into the hotel complex and into my room. KO.

Leopard

Look closely

South beach coast

Next day we spend on the beach, first of my trip. Portuguese have been great company for last 3 days, made me want to visit Portugal. Another one for the list.
Also been refreshing to get past the usual “Where you from? / been? / going?” questions that you get when traveling.

Verdict

Countryside in Sri Lanka is as beautiful as it is diverse. You can travel from mosquito jungle to hill country to savannah like safari to white sanded beaches in only a few hundred kilometres. The country is not plagued with rubbish like India, much more respectful culture in more ways than one.

It is the people of Sri Lanka that make this country so incredible. They are extremely proud to welcome you to their country and enthusiastic to chat and help you out. Large areas were closed to tourists during the civil war that raged for 27 years. And it maybe due to this, that the locals have yet to be corrupted by the high prices they could extort from tourists.

Although this is a relatively small country it has a lot to offer and I strongly recommended going. From Kitesurfing, surfing, blue whale watching (one of the few in the world), safari’s, beautiful beaches and some of the friendliest people I have met. This country is seriously underrated!

I’m 9 countries into my tour and I’m torn between Sri Lanka and Vietnam, both fantastic.

Especially recommend Sri Lanka if your considering North India (excluding the Himalayas, of course!).

India – Sightseeing

Delhi

After our trip we were both pretty exhausted. Miguel was flying out in few days so it made sense to stick around Delhi. Chill out and visit a few tourists sights.

Our favorite area was around Hauz Khas Village. Nice restaurants, gallery, shops and a few parks where you can almost escape the sound of car horns.

However it’s generally best to escape Delhi ASAP!

I decided to complete the golden triangle by visiting Agra and Jaipur then heading south for Udiapur.

 

Agra

Jump on a train and head south to Agra, first stop on the golden triangle. There’s only one reason tourists come here and that’s the iconic Taj Mahal. Although I’ve seen a hundred photos before (all better than my overcast shots) it’s still impressive. Tick!

Strangely as a westerner with white skin I’m also a tourist attraction, with many Indian tourists wanting a photo with me. For some reason they absolutely love westerners. However this celebrity like stardom grows somewhat tiresome after the twenty-something photo.

 

Japiur

Is known as the pink city, as citizens of the old town are required by law to paint their buildings pink. This colour was originally chosen to welcome the prince of Wales in the 19th century.

Here I visited some temples, amber fort and elephant stables.

Highlights were most definitely charming a snake and watching a monkey steal a tourist’s burger!

Nice place but full of scammers. I was twice befriended by gem scammers. The first occasion was fairly elaborate with them spending a few hours chilling out, showing me some sights and generally building my trust.

The scam

Smuggling Gems via Fed-Ex with the victim flying back to collect the parcel of worthless glass. Checked online and its fairly common scam. Guess people are blinded by greed.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

What was most frustrating is having your trust broken. End up treating all the locals with suspicion.

Alas a night train later and I was in Udiapur.

Udiapur – city of lakes

Generally the trains in India are fantastic. But last night was fre-fre-freeezzing. Was directly under the AC, avoid top bunks!

Udiapur is beautiful city, known as the city of lakes from the vast reservoirs that surround it.

City palace museum was so badly done that it encouraged me to setup a trip adviser account to warn others. Majority of the paintings seemed fake, either that or just really bad!

Spotted some banksy style graffiti, possibly inspired by the banksy t-shirts they sell on the market. Squirrels instead of rats 🙂

Went horse riding which was fun, though a little tame and got soaked.

Heading south in monsoon seasons was not such a wise idea, rain poured, nearly continuously for 4 out of the 5 days that I was here.

For me the most interesting tourist site was a dancing show at Udiapur. A traditional dance. Set in an atmospheric court yard.

This type of show was originally designed to impress the king and his guests.
Involving a number of ritual dances and circus like tricks. Such as balancing a ridiculously high number of pots on ones head while dancing. Walking on “glass” etc. Entertaining and a fascinating insight into the past.

Food poisoning for the 4th time, in as many weeks. Now even the smell of curry makes my stomach churn. It’s literally poison. Sticking to tourist food.

Such a shame as I love Indian curry’s back home, and was looking forward to the cuisine.
Hate to say it but the curry’s in England are far superior!

Just seems to be no basic hygiene here. A little harsh I know, but I haven’t been ill once in the next 3 months of travelling.

Train back to Delhi for my flight out to Sri Lanka!

 

Verdict

I found India a difficult country to travel in. Delhi was especially chaotic and unpleasant.
Constantly being harassed by touts, street sellers, scammers and tuk tuk drivers.

Paharganj a backpacking area of Delhi, was one of the worst areas as all the touts and scammers concentrate here to practice their art of cheating tourist. You constantly have to have your guard up and trust no one. Forever arguing over prices that are 10x the going rate. All this makes for extremely frustrating and tiring experience.

Now i’m sure that the Indians are lovely people, it’s just unfortunate that the majority of people you encounter would gladly rip you off at the first opportunity.

As this was my first country I assumed this was just the hardship of travelling and dealt with it.

Only after visiting other countries did I realise quite how difficult it had been. On the flip side, it made everywhere else super easy.

However to put all of this into perspective you have to consider how tough life is here.
The level of poverty is extreme, with thousands of children sleeping rough on the streets.
Society has seemingly failed them and many others.

Life is fierce, leaving little room for human decency.

Us back packers “slumming” it in £5 hotels are millionaires in their eyes.
And I suppose… fair game.

Updates!

First off, apologies to anyone who’s been checking for updates. I’m now nearly 2 months behind and have since traveled through Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Cambodia!

I dont really have any good excuses other than I’ve been busy travelling.
It’s a full time occupation 😉

Currently at siem reap, and am all templed out!

Will do my best to catch up over the next few weeks.

For now, here’s a wee teaser