Lights Camera Backpack are back on the road!

To the East, to the East, the road beneath my feet,
To the West, to the West, I haven’t got there yet,
And to the North, to the North, never to be caught,
To the South, to the South, my time is running out.

From ‘The Road’ by Frank Turner

 

When do you know you’ve finally settled somewhere? Is it when everything in life starts to fall into place? Your favourite mug at breakfast, every morning; effortless evenings in with friends; the easy familiarity of the once daunting workplace; the satisfaction of routine jobs, taking out the bins, keeping the firewood stocked up, feeding the rabbits; the joy of watching the same garden bloom from tiny seeds to abundant food? Yes, that was when we knew we’d settled down.

For those that don’t know, we took some time out from travelling and spent the last year in Cumbria, out in the wild North West of England. We wintered in Ennerdale Bridge, chilled by the harsh weather but warmed by the people, safe among the mountains, and spent summer out on the coast, living in a castle, of all places. This land became our home, the people our family. Finally we had put down roots and found our place. But all this would come to pass because, in the bleak midwinter last year, we booked one-way tickets to New Zealand for November 2018. There was no way we were going to put up with another winter like that for some time. A trip to the Southern Hemisphere seemed like a brilliant idea.

So here we are, in New Zealand, back on the road. We’ve only been here for about a month we’ve already fallen in love with this beautiful country. Friendly people, awesome scenery and abundant wildlife. What more could you want? That’s right, a burgeoning craft beer scene and top notch coffee culture. Well, it turns out they have that sorted too.

After a four day stopover in Singapore – all familiar streets, hawker centres for mala hotpot to melt our faces all over again, the super-trees all lit up at night, hawker centres for the best laksa we’ve ever tasted, the superbly curated National Gallery and more hawker centres for insanely delicious barbeque pork rice – we arrived in Wellington, its bay stretched out before us, its mountains cloaked in lush greenery hiding mysteries beneath and its short runway causing our Boeing 777 to hit the ground with rather more force than we’d have liked.

Jet-lagged and haggard, Hollie, a friend from way back, met us at the airport. Just for clarity, it was us that were jet-lagged and haggard, not Hollie. And so we spent a week in absolute luxury, hosted by Hollie and Tom, her fiance, enjoying the spectacular views from their hillside home, whiling away the evenings playing board games, reminiscing about the old days in the West Country and looking forward to the new days to come.

Unlike us, Hollie and Tom are respectable(ish) people with respectable jobs, which meant that during the day we were free to explore windy Wellington. Why ‘windy’ you ask? Not because it doesn’t have straight streets – the city is laid out quite sensibly – but because of the incessant wind that batters the place. Sometimes it’s a warm, welcome kind of wind and sometimes it’s a bitter wind from the South, straight from Antarctica, but it’s always there. Fortunately, the best bits of Wellington aren’t on the outside, but in its bars, cafes and museums, so we ducked out of the gales and checked them all out. More on this in our next post.

Stay tuned.


 

High on Hedgehogs

It’s not every day you have the chance to attend a hedgehog appreciation evening, so when we saw an advert in the superb Penang Free Sheet calling all hedgehog owners and adorers to meet at The Lightbulb Cafe in George Town, we knew we had to go.

Leaving our Uber and heading through the monsoon rain to the ultra-hip Lightbulb, we didn’t know what to expect. As we introduced ourselves to the group of young hedgehog enthusiasts, they seemed baffled as to our presence there. However, far from giving us a prickly welcome, they were eager to get us acquainted with their cute little erinaceinae (that’s Latin for hedgehog in case you were wondering).

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We ordered some shockingly overpriced lemon and ginger teas, and without further ado we were we haphazardly handling hedgehogs in the hipster haunt. We learned that these spiny creatures are a popular pet in Malaysia, as well as many other parts of Asia. The majority are a breed of African hedgehog which is much smaller than the wild UK variety that we’re familiar with. Entirely domesticated, they are fed cat food, but also meal worms as a treat, and would probably not survive in the wild. Although feeding a hedgehog cat food sounds a bit odd, all of them looked very healthy so it must do them good!

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Neither of us had ever handled a hedgehog before, and it was pretty strange at first. Their spines weren’t as prickly as expected, but felt plasticy, as if they were made for a toy hedgehog instead. Their clawed feet were reminiscent of those on the pet guinea pigs and hamsters from our formative years, and their bellies were soft, silky and satisfying to tickle. All the while the little hogs sniffed away at us with their prominent snouts. Being virtually blind, they rely heavily on smell to guide them through life, so they like to become familiar with your aroma. This complete lack of spatial awareness also means that if you let them walk on a table, you have to be very careful that they don’t just walk right off the edge. It’s a responsibility we weren’t expecting to have.

Most of the hedgehog fanciers in attendance were breeders themselves, owning from 3 to 30 animals each. Breeding hedgehogs sounds like a lucrative operation. Some sought after breeds, such as the pasty albinos with bright red eyes, can sell for 600 RM each. When you consider that the median monthly income in Malaysia is only around 400 RM, they’re a potential goldmine.

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Whilst we’re still not sure if we’d ever own a hedgehog ourselves (they’ve got nothing on cats),  it’s obvious that they make nifty little pets. With their fluffy bellies crying out for a tickle, and their almost strokable spikes, they score high on the cute factor. The owners’ adoration for the rodents was infectious, and there was definitely something soothing about spending time in their presence.

Even though the price of the tea was extortionate, it was just about worth it for an evening with some delightfully friendly locals and the for their sniffling snugly hedgehogs.

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24 hours in Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur was probably great once. It might be great again one day, but for now it’s just a network of building sites connected by a web of dirty, smelly alleyways. For some reason, we thought it was a good idea to spend 4 nights in KL. This was far too long. Luckily we had an awesome Couchsurfing host, so we didn’t pay for accommodation. If you find yourself in the city for a day, here’s a suggested tour to help you enjoy your 24 hours.

Top tip: Download Uber before you arrive. We usually like to walk around cities, but it’s often impossible in KL. The public transport system is poorly planned and badly connected, so even if you get the LRT or Monorail as close as possible to where you want to go, you will usually find a 40ft concrete wall or a dual carriageway between you and your destination.

8:00 – Start at Old Town White Coffee for breakfast – This is where locals eat their breakfast if they fancy something other than chicken rice. They serve great coffee and offer a sumptuous selection of baked goods – a great way to start the day!  Try some traditional Kaya toast or go for the French toast if you’re feeling continental . There are loads of these around the city, so it’s easy to find one near wherever you’re staying. Sure, it’s a chain, but trust us, it’s way better than Starbucks.

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9:00 – LRT to Batu Caves – For once the LRT actually drops you off near your intended destination, although the Port Klang line that goes to Batu Caves only runs one train every 45 minutes at off-peak times. It’s best to go early in the day before it gets too hot because you have to climb 272 steps to get to the top. That, and you might be cajoled into a bit of manual labour along the way. Nick had to carry 2 heavy buckets of rocks all the way to the top and no one explained why.

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The 140ft tall gold Murugan statue that guards the caves is surely impressive when it isn’t surrounded by scaffolding, and the 400 million year old caves must be spectacular when they’re not covered in discarded building materials and rubbish. On the plus side, a lot of monkeys hang out in the caves, so that’s pretty cool. Just hold on to your sunglasses!

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12:00 – Central Market for lunch – Get the LRT to Pasar Seni, take the exit where the open sewer flows into the river and walk to Central Market. There are some lovely souvenirs on offer here and a food court where you can grab some reasonably priced nasi goreng or Thai chicken. It’s not the best food court we’ve ever been to (KL’s got nothing on Singapore), but the food is fairly tasty, served quickly and you can get fresh fruit juices and cheapish bottles of Skol lager – inexplicably the lowest priced beer in most Malaysian restaurants. There’s also a 3D illusion art museum on the second floor, if you like that kind of thing.

Top tip: If you go to the museum and then pretend to change your mind about visiting, they’ll give you a discount coupon.

14:00 – Menara KL / KL Tower – The viewing platform here is 100m higher than the Petronas Towers Sky Bridge and costs less. Get the free, but usually packed, GOKL bus from Pasar Seni to KL Tower, then get the free shuttle bus from the bottom of the hill on Jalan Punchak to the base of the tower. There are 2 different viewing platforms, but we recommend just paying for the first one because it’s half the price and almost as high as the second one. The view is pretty impressive too, despite what they tell you at the ticket counter!

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16:30 – Amusement Square at Berjaya – Take the Monorail from Bukit Nanas to Bukit Bintang and walk to Berjaya Times Square. On the 6th floor you’ll find Amusement Square – probably the best arcade we’ve ever been to. Battle it out on Time Crisis 4, speed your way to victory on Mario Cart and try not to pee in your pants while playing Dark Escape 4D. We were lucky enough to visit on their 30th Anniversary, so we paid RM50 for both of us and had unlimited plays on all of the games. Nick thought he’d died and gone to heaven! Keep an eye out for special promotions like this on the Times Square website.

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19:00 – Wong Ah Wah for dinner – Walk to Jalan Alor (otherwise known as food street) and at the far end you will find Wong Ah Wah. Famous for its BBQ chicken wings, it is a sprawling restaurant with tables and chairs all over the ‘road’. The servers carry walkie talkies and bark your order at the relevant hawker chef from your table – it’s a slick operation. We can recommend the satay and the sambal prawns!

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21:00 – Grab a drink at the Heli Lounge Bar – you can walk here from Wong Ah Wah in about 15 minutes, or get an Uber for about RM3. We didn’t actually go there because they wouldn’t let us in with our cut-offs and flip-flops, but we’ve heard great things from fellow travellers. We did see it from KL Tower and thought it looked pretty cool, so if we ever have to go back to KL this will definitely be on our list. Heli pad by day, bar by night, the Heli Lounge Bar is on the roof of Menara KH and has no fence or safety rails to stop you from plummeting to your death. It’s probably best not to drink too much here, but drinking is generally frowned upon in KL anyway.

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Photograph stolen from the Heli Lounge Bar Facebook page

22:00 – View the Petronas Towers at night – get the monorail from Raja Chukan to Bukit Nanas, then change to the Kelana Jaya line and get the LRT to KLCC. You can exit the station right at the foot of the Petronas Towers, then walk around the KLCC Park to get a great view of them lit up. We think the twin towers look much more impressive from the outside than the inside, plus it’s free to look at them from the park.

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Our ‘24 hours’ ends here because, if like us, you didn’t want to pay for accommodation, it’s probably time to head back to your Couchsurfer host and pass out with exhaustion.

 

15 Reasons why you should go to Singapore right now

1. The food – We love great food. We love reasonably priced great food even more. We might go on about the food in Singapore, but once you get here you’ll understand why. There aren’t many places in the world where you can get a Bib Gourmand meal for less than the price of a big mac, but Singapore is full of talented hawker chefs who will cook up a flavoursome feast in a matter of seconds. In fact, according to the ArtScience Museum, there are so many hawker stalls in Singapore that it would take 160 years to try them all. How do you choose? We like to play a little game called ‘hawker roulette’. The game involves joining the longest queue (long queues mean good food) and waiting until you get to the front of the line to look at the menu. Hopefully live bull frog porridge isn’t the only option.

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2. The coffee – Having been disappointed with the coffee scenes in a lot of other cities, we were overjoyed at the choice on offer in Singapore. Rich, tar like kopi is brewed in large metal jugs and pored down an elongated spout into a hot glass mug. Delicious!

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3. The shopping – Whether you’re on a budget or you like to splurge, Singapore has everything you could ever want. Head to Orchard Road to browse designer brands and big labels in air conditioned comfort. China town and Bugis offer more affordable, if not so genuine, merchandise. Nick’s watch died in a snorkelling accident in Fiji, so he bought a probably fake Casio on a Bugis street corner and to our surprise it’s still working! Bugis Junction shopping mall even has an air conditioned roof garden with a fishing pond. Don’t ask us why.

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4. The architecture – Singapore seems to be one big juxtaposition, and the architecture is no exception. Original colonial mansions and colourful Malay fishing cottages clash with ultra modern skyscrapers clad in glass and chrome. The Marina Bay Sands Resort boasts a giant ship structure, balanced on top of three buildings. We thought it was hideous, but it seems to be a hit with everyone else. This ominous super structure looms over the ArtScience Museum which looks like a huge bunch of white bananas, but with some cracking exhibitions (usually with an entry fee), it’s well worth a visit..

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5. The public transport – It’s efficient, clean, easy to use, never late, never too crowded and the trains show videos explaining how to be polite and courteous to each other. It’s everything the London Underground wishes it could be. Take note Sadiq Khan!

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6. The art – Due to it’s strict no graffiti policy, there’s not much street art in Singapore. It’s no problem though, because the Singapore Art Museum always has excellent exhibitions, and on Friday night you can visit them for free! We were lucky enough to visit one of the exhibitions about Singapore’s independence and were given an unexpected private tour by a very proud and enthusiastic curator.

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7. The education – Singapore is known to have one of the best education systems in the world, and the arts education here is particularly exceptional. We thought that the Arts University Bournemouth was good, but it’s nothing compared to Nanyang Technological University which has a sweeping, living roof, or LA SALLE College of the Arts which hosts high quality and sometimes controversial exhibitions for the public.

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8. The people – Everyone we met in Singapore was courteous, polite, friendly, helpful and happy. No one ever seems to be in a rush and you never feel like you are in the way. Even the ticket machines are programmed to say ‘thank you, have a nice day.’

9. The Supertrees – Taken straight from the film Avatar, the Supertrees stand 25-50 meters tall and are covered in over 162,900 plants. These breathtaking living structures provide shade and a peaceful place to chill out during the day, and an exhilarating light show in the evenings. Best of all, entrance to the Gardens by the Bay is free!

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10. The airport – Changi Airport is constantly awarded the prestigious title ‘World’s best Airport’, and we have to agree it is amazing. There is a koi pond, a rooftop swimming pool, a butterfly garden and a 24 hour free cinema. On the way to your departure gate, you can relax in one of the many free massage chairs. It’s almost worth the airfare just to go to the airport, then fly home again.

11. The Night Safari – A Zoo without cages? That’s right. Thanks to the clever use of trenches and wire, you can come face to face with elephants, lions, hyenas and rhinos when they are at their most active – at night. There are some animals that are behind glass, such as the tigers and leopards, for obvious reasons, but it’s still cool to see them prowling around at night rather than sleeping during the day. A must do in Singapore.

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We have no shame stealing this image from the Night Safari website, it was too dark for us to take photos! 

12. The surreal experience of Haw Par Villa – Also known as Tiger Balm Gardens, Haw Par Villa is as close to a bad trip as you can get without actually taking hallucinogens. Check out the 10 Courts of Hell if you would like some new ideas for nightmares. It’s free to enter, so it’s worth going if you like being utterly baffled.

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13. The toilets – It might sound a little bit strange to recommend a city based on its toilets, but Singaporeans seriously know how to do their business in style. Beautifully designed and clean enough to eat from, it’s amazing that we didn’t have to pay once to use a lavvy in this city.

14. The Cat Cafes – Need we say more? There are 5 cat cafe’s in Singapore. We like The Company of Cats on Mosque Street, which serves tasty snacks and drinks to enjoy with their 10 adorable rescue cats.

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15. It’s the world’s first Smart Nation – The Singapore Government has implemented an undisclosed number of sensors and cameras around the city to track it’s citizens and collect data. This all sounds a bit Orwellian, but it’s difficult to argue against a system that makes a city run so smoothly.

Singapore is a beautiful, diverse, culturally rich nation full of happy people, clean streets and incredible food. If you’ve never been, or you are thinking of going again, we urge you to book your tickets right now! See you at Changi!

Kopi and Crustaceans – Eating our way through Singapore

We could not stop eating in Singapore. For Nick, who thinks about what to have for dinner whilst eating breakfast, Singapore was a dangerous place. There was so much food on offer that we had to plan our days around meal times to make sure we didn’t miss a chance to visit one of the many hawker centres. Sure, there are shiny sights to see, tranquil temples to refresh your spiritual side and hyper-commercialised malls to lose all sense of self in, but what it came down to for us was the food. The obscenely delicious and bewildering cheap street food.

You might want to have some snacks at the ready now because reading any further will make you hungry – a bit like how watching Bake Off makes you crave cake.

We arrived in Singapore at 5am after a 9 hour flight from Fiji. Needless to say, we were tired. Our priority was for coffee. Very strong coffee. We set out around Chinatown naively hoping to find a hipster cafe serving flat whites and espressos, but it quickly became apparent that we weren’t in that kind of gentrified neighbourhood.

We started to worry that we wouldn’t find any coffee here and we’d be stuck with the sachets of instant from the hostel kitchen (the horror, oh the horror). But then we hit Chinatown Complex, a no-holds barred, multi-storey market. On the first floor, we found row after row of hawker stalls. Amongst them we found one that claimed to sell coffee, but there was no espresso machine in sight. Fearing we’d be served up Nescafe or worse, we ordered anyway – 1 black and 1 white coffee. It took us a while to explain we didn’t want any sugar – it seems everyone takes heaps of sugar here – but then we watched with great smiles on our faces as treacle thick coffee poured from a giant conical jug into 2 ceramic mugs, one of which had been prepared with condensed milk. These were topped up with hot water and we were given our first dose of kopi – coffee Singapore style. It was incredible. The smoothest coffee we’ve ever had, with deep rich roasted favours and just the right balance of bitterness. Flic, dubious of the condensed milk situation, was bowled over by the caramel sweetness. We ordered kopi with condensed milk every day since – the cheapest kopi can be found in the superb Chinatown People’s Park Complex – 1.60sgd for two cups! – and we found ourselves purposely avoiding places with espresso machines. Crazy.

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We could go on for hours about the cut price Tiger beer served in heavy duty glasses with ice or the fresh juice stalls that will juice up pretty much anything you can think of (try soursop and kiwi fruit and you will not be disappointed), but we won’t because we’re here to talk food.

As a couple it’s healthy to hold different opinions, and for us this was the case with our favourite dish in Singapore. Nick was truly taken by the Mala Hot Pot stall which can be found in the already mentioned Chinatown People’s Park Complex. After trying to explain that we’d never tried hot pot and we didn’t know how it worked, the delightful old dear running front of house simply piled a large tray with an assortment of uncooked greens, phallic looking mushrooms, meats and, in spite of our protestations, thick slices of potato. With no idea what would happen next, we handed over 14sgd (about 8 quid) and were told to wait. After a few minutes, we were given a massive bowl of utterly delicious stew, containing everything that had been crammed onto the tray beforehand. It had all been stir-fried perfectly and combined with a red hot steaming broth. Not only was the stew bursting with chilli heat and tidal waves of omami, it was packed with Szechuan peppercorns. These little blighters caused a slight tingle on the tongue and the lips which quickly became all out narcotic numbness, somehow amplifying the chilli heat. Nick drank so much of the broth that he went into a sweaty face-melting chilli trance. Great fun for him. Not so pleasant for everyone else.

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Flic’s favourite dish can be found in the always crowded Amoy Street Food Centre, tucked away behind the charming and shady Ann Siang Hill Park. The famous A Noodle Story stall claims to sell the only Singapore ramen in Singapore. A bold claim perhaps, but they’re clearly on to something because the lunchtime queue was about 30 minutes long and the two young chaps running the stall have been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand, which is a kind of runner up prize to a Michelin star.

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What we were served, after waiting in line in the stifling humidity of the food court, was just about worth the wait. The two hawker upstarts have clearly learnt their trade in some fancy kitchens because the bowl was a work of art to behold. With it’s carefully sprinkled garnish and perfectly arranged components, we had to check we were still in a food court – the 5.80sgd price tag was a good reminder.

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What did it taste like? An oh-so-porky Singapore-spicy broth held together just beyond al dente wanton mee (noodles) with a Japanese style braised egg and slow cooked, super tender belly pork. This was accompanied by a prawn wrapped in spiralled potato which had been deep fried. What this addition had to do with Singapore is a little beyond us, as we didn’t see this carb-crustacean combo offered anywhere else. Still, it was pretty tasty and added some crunch to the dish. Altogether this was an impressive, if slightly pretentious, addition to the already vibrant Singapore food scene. The locals may grumble about the unnecessarily long queue and a loss of traditional cooking values (and they do have a point here) but if this finesse and fusion is the start of a new movement in Singapore street food, we look forward to tasting more of it soon!

Fiji Top 5 -where to stay, what to do and top tips for budget travel in Fiji

It’s easy to blow a lot of coin on a trip to Fiji, but it’s also possible to visit this beautiful country on a budget. The less money you spend, the longer you can stay. 2 weeks is simply not long enough in paradise. Here’s how to make those Fijian dollars go further.

Top 5 places to stay

Whilst staying on the mainland is more budget friendly, it’s not the Fiji you see on postcards. Head to Pacific Harbour for some white water rafting on the Upper Navua River, go for a shark dive off of Beqa Island, maybe stay a night in Nadi. Just make sure you catch the morning boat from Port Denarau and get out to the Mamanucas and Yasawas as quickly as possible!

1. Bamboo Backpackers (Nadi – Mainland) – This should be your first stop when you get to Fiji. With cheap dorms, reasonably priced private rooms and free airport transfers, it’s a great place to find your feet before heading to the other islands. There’s a friendly crowd, delicious food (we can recommend the Pho!) and cheap beer. What more could you want?

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2. Bounty Island (Mamanucas) – By far our favourite island in the Mamanucas, Bounty Island is a true paradise. We quickly fell into the routine of watching the sunrise, kayaking around the island, feeding the turtles, snorkelling and eating way too much food. You can drink the tap water, take a hot shower and rent water sports equipment for free. The staff are friendly and welcoming. You’ll be serenaded on arrival, departure and at every meal with traditional Fijian folk songs as well as a few modern covers.

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3. Naqalia Lodge (Yasawas) – More of a home stay than a resort, you’re welcomed as one of the family at Naqalia Lodge. The private bures are easy on the budget and there is a small dorm available, with cold water showers and clean toilets. You can refill your water bottles from the tap in the bar and there is never a shortage of kava. There are no activities on Sunday, except a trip to the local church where you can witness the astounding local choir sing their hearts out. Meals are eaten as a family, so don’t be late!

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4. Mantaray Island Resort (Yasawas) – If you plan to visit Fiji to swim with the famous manta rays then a stop off at Mantaray Island Resort is a must. Whilst this is a fully fledged resort teeming with families on holiday, it also has a 30 bed dorm to accommodate a lively backpacking crowd. The island boasts an incredible protected marine area just off the shore, with some of the best snorkelling to be had in all of Fiji. There is also a hearty hike available for free, and many other activities at not-so-budget prices – except the diving which is surprisingly cheap. The restaurant serves a huge variety of food, and it’s all utterly delicious. However, you pay a hefty daily meal charge of 95fjd for this, but we reckon it’s worth it. Stop off here if you’re in need of a bit of luxury and a comfortable place to rest your weary head.

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5. Barefoot Manta (Yasawas) – Not sure about the swankiness of Mantaray Island Resort? No problem – just head around the corner to the next island and you’ll find another chilled out paradise. This is much more suited to backpackers and you’ll find a friendly crowd and extremely welcoming staff here. It’s telling that this is the place that we shared half a bottle of rum round a bonfire with some awesome fellow travellers. The sun rose up right outside our dorm and the sun set outside of the pricier luxury bures, but this beach was still only a minute’s walk from the bar. Even if you miss the manta rays, you’re sure to leave with good memories.

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Top 5 Things to do

1. Swim with manta rays – a chance to swim with these gentle giants should not be missed. You can get a boat from White Sandy Beach for 40fjd, but they go every day without checking where the manta rays are, and you still have to pay even if you don’t see them. The boat from Barefoot Manta is 65fjd even though it is a much shorter trip. You have to be ready at 6am and wait for the dive team to beat the wooden drum to signify a manta ray spotting, but you are guaranteed to see them and you will get there before anyone else.

The best option is to go from Mantaray Island Resort. The manta ray swim is only 42fjd, and similarly to Barefoot Manta you only go out if manta rays have been spotted. If you’re really lucky, the manta rays might swim right up to the beach (they did this 2 out of the 3 mornings we were there) in which case you don’t need to pay anything!

Another great thing about Manta Island Resort is that it is surrounded by a marine conservation area, which has been protected for 12 years. The variety and quantity of coral and fish is astounding, so even if the manta rays don’t swim up to the beach, you’re in for a great snorkel and will likely see stingrays, reef sharks, octopus and maybe even turtles.

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2. Climb Vatu Sawalo – The rocky peak of Vatu Sawalo dominates the skyline of Waya Leilei Island, and a tough hike will reward you with incredible views of the Mamanuca and Yasawa Island chains.

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There are well trodden paths from Waya Leilei Resort and Naqalia Lodge, but you will need to do some free rock climbing to get right to the top. You can also get a boat from Kuata Island for about 25fjd per person and a guide will lead you up the old track, which is shorter but a lot steeper. We took the old track (unaware that there was an easier option) with a very knowledgeable Aussie called Peter (thanks for the bird watching lessons!) and a lovely guide named Ben, who took us to his house for a huge mug of sweet Fijian tea and fresh coconuts afterwards.

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3. Cook a lovo – this traditional underground oven style of cooking is usually reserved for celebrations such as weddings and birthdays. We were lucky enough to be invited to the joint birthday party of two women from the village neighbouring Naqalia Lodge. Naturally we offered to help with the catering – Flic’s Dad would be so proud!

Here’s how to cook a lovo:

  • Fill a large pit with rocks and light a fire. Let the fire burn until the rocks turn white from the heat.

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  • Weave palm fronds around chicken, pork legs, fish or even a whole pig if you’re really hungry.

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  • Remove any burning remnants from the fire and cover the hot rocks with banana leaves.
  • Pile your wrapped meat onto the banana leaves, then throw a ton of potatoes on top.

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  • Cover everything with more banana leaves and palm fronds, then bury it in sand.
    Make sure no smoke is escaping from the mound and leave it for several hours, depending on the size and amount of meat you’re cooking. A whole pig should take around 20 hours Fiji-time.

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  • Dig up your dinner and enjoy the smokey delights of lovo!

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4. Help out at a turtle conservation project – In Fiji, turtles are protected by law and it’s illegal to touch them or interfere in any way if you stumble across them on the beach. Getting involved with a turtle conservation project, such as the one on Bounty Island, is a great way to get close to some cute baby turtles without going to jail. You get to feed them every day and once a week you can clean them with a toothbrush! It’s great fun, a step towards sustainable travel and it’s totally free! +10 budget traveller points.

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5. Rafting on the Upper Navua River – Probably the best thing we did in Fiji. Ever wanted to go white water rafting with Tuco Salamanca from Breaking Bad? This is your chance. Not only are the raft crew insanely good at rowing, they are also generally insane and will entertain you with rude jokes and lurid stories of their ancestral past. You glide down a stunning canyon with the occasional grade 3 rapids to keep you on your toes, passing waterfall after waterfall, giant bamboo towering over the steep cliffs and wild orchids clinging on to the rocks.

It costs around £150 per person (we booked online in advance), which is great value considering 20% of that goes to the local village to help with the cost of educating the children and keeps the logging companies at bay. You also get some delicious food included in the price, and they can arrange transfers to pick you up and drop you off at your hotel.

waterfalls-on-the-upper-navua-river-fiji-white-water-rafting

Top Tips

1. The popular Bula Pass might not be the cheapest way for you to island hop. We recommend staying on each island for at least 3 nights, so you won’t be using the Yasawa Flyer very often and it might cost less to book each transfer individually. Some resorts might even come and pick you up in a tender boat for free if you ask nicely. We didn’t have to pay anything for our transfer between Barefoot Kuata and Naqalia Lodge or Mantaray Island Resort and Barefoot Manta. If you’re looking at a pass that includes accommodation, just be aware that most places charge 75-95fjd per person, per day for your meals and this is not included in the pass.

2. Don’t assume that there isn’t any medical help available in remote places – Flic suffered with an ear infection for 3 days in the Yasawas before asking to buy some paracetamol from the hotel reception. They promptly whisked her away to the local medical centre which was only a 5 minute boat ride away (Nick loves a ride in a boat – whatever the circumstances). It was temporarily operating from a shipping container because cyclone Winston had taken the roof off of the building, but the cheery nurse handed out painkillers and antibiotics like they were smarties!

3. Don’t trust Fijian hiking advice – We went on a couple of beautiful hikes during our time out on the islands. We quickly learned that Fijians give awful hiking advice. They told us that we were going on a long but easy hike, or a tough but short hike, that sandals would be fine and we’d be finished by lunchtime. Every time, the reality of the situation was completely at odds with their estimations. We found ourselves scrambling up bare rock faces within 2 minutes of starting, or we found that the hike actually took 2 hours instead of the supposed 20 minutes. This is not because Fijians want to mess with unsuspecting tourists – it’s because they’re just so damn good at hiking that they can’t understand why we find it so hard. While we’re doing up our hiking boots, they’re taking off their flip-flops because they prefer hiking in bare feet. While we’re out of breath, sweating and complaining that we can’t take one more step, they’re running up the steepest part of the trail without breaking a sweat. Our advice is this – always wear hiking boots and always assume you’ll be hiking all day, whatever your guide says.

4. Take the local busses – The busses on the mainland only seem to cost 1fjd no matter where you want to go. They have a maximum speed of about 3mph and usually no windows, although some busses inexplicably boast free WiFi.

5. Go in low season and book a dorm rather than a private room – You can save loads of money and you are often the only one in the dorm room, so it’s like you have a private room for half the price! Great for your budget.

Top 5 Fijian Words

The main languages spoken in Fiji are Fijian, Hindi and English (the official language). Most Fijians speak really good English so most tourists don’t bother to learn much Fijian. We wholeheartedly recommend learning a few essential words, as you’ll be treated much more like a local – even though Fijians seem to have a genuine love for tourists.

1. BULA! – It’s likely you have already come across this word if you are planning a trip to Fiji. It means ‘hello’ as well as ‘welcome’ and apparently anything else that you want it to mean. It is shouted at full volume several hundred times a day, and you are threatened with starvation if you don’t reply accordingly – no big Bula, no breakfast!

2. Vinaka – this means ‘thank you’ as well as ‘good’. It can be added to other words such as ‘kana’ (food), which translates directly as ‘food good’ but means ‘tastes great’! It’s even better if you can learn some of the local dialect while you explore the islands, and it’s surprisingly easy. In the Yasawas, say ‘vinandu riki’ and really roll the ‘r’ in ‘rrrriki’, instead of ‘vinaka’ when you want to thank someone. Try it and see what happens!

3. Sa Vakacava Tiko – this means ‘how are you?’. The pronunciation is a little tricky here because a ‘c’ is pronounced ‘th’ in Fijian, but you’ll get it with a little practice. The correct reply to this is of course ‘vinaka’ because you’re in Fiji, so everything is good.

4. Wananavu – this means ‘awesome’ and is always accompanied with a two-handed thumbs up, so make sure you finish your Fiji Bitter before attempting a wananavu!

5. Sega na lega – this is Fiji’s hakuna matata – it means ‘no worries’! You’ll be using this one a lot, because there really is nothing to worry about in paradise!

How to go on the road – a guide to abandoning your responsibilities as a grown adult

Once you make the decision to go travelling, there’s a surprisingly large amount of work to do and even more important decisions to make. Here, we aim to guide you through the process of quitting your life so you can join us on the road!

1 Tell your family first! It might be tempting to shout your plans from the rooftops, but make sure you tell your family before anyone else – even your friends.

2 Do your research and book your flights. This is the fun bit. Where do you REALLY want to go? When is the monsoon/rainy/typhoon season? Is there a particular event that you don’t want to miss, such as Rio Carnival, the Yi Peng Lantern Festival or the Running of the Bulls? Looking at special events and festival dates, as well as the climate, is a good place to start when you’re planning your route. If you’re not sure exactly where you want to go, STA travel offer some great round the world packages.

3 Tell your friends – and maybe even your colleagues, but make sure they know not to tell your employer before you do!

4 Hand in your resignation. Check your contract thoroughly and follow the resignation procedure. Luckily we both worked for small businesses and were able to hand in our notice further in advance than contractually obliged, which gave them more time to find a replacement. It is risky, as they may ask you to leave immediately, but the companies we worked for appreciated the long notice period and one of them generously offered one of us a position when/if we return to the country! If you’re lost for words when writing your letter of resignation, Reed have some good templates.

5 Sort out your living arrangements in your home country. If you live in rented accommodation, you will usually need to give 1 month’s notice to your landlord. If you own a property, you will need to decide whether to sell or let. Check your options with your mortgage provider first, as you might not be able to let your property on your current mortgage. Our mortgage is with Nationwide and they approved our consent to let application. The whole process was very quick and easy – a big thumbs up for Nationwide! We listed our flat on Open Rent and had 48 viewing requests by lunchtime. Open Rent can sort out the referencing, credit checks and the contracts so it’s a super easy process. Definitely recommended!

6 Re-home your petsThis is possibly the most difficult part of packing up and leaving. Who would want to leave this little fluff-ball behind? But if you speak to your friends and family, you’re sure to find someone who will open their home to your creatures. We’ve been really lucky that our best friends Rob and Zoe will look after our cat Bella, and we’re sure she’ll get on just fine with them.

7 SAVE MONEY! It will be tedious, but when you’re sat on the beach in Fiji and want another cocktail, you’ll be glad you didn’t buy that overpriced dress in Topshop that you didn’t even need. One of the easiest ways to save money is to stop going out to eat, as it can be a real drain on your coin – yet constantly telling your friends that you’d rather stay in does get pretty tiring. Trust us, it will be worth it in the end and you can just invite them round for dinner anyway!

8 Get vaccinated. Make sure you do this well in advance because some vaccinations require a course of injections for longer than a month. We also opted to have a rabies vaccination at £145 each for the full course of 3 injections, because it sounds like having rabies sucks. Check a malaria map to see if you are travelling to an area where malaria is present. Taking anti-malaria medication doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get malaria, but it’s a good place to start. We have both completed mefloquine trial with no side effects (yippee no psychosis!) so we can take the weekly drug rather than the expensive daily Malarone pill.

9 Sort out your finances. If you are self employed, let HMRC know that you are leaving and do your tax return. If you are renting your property, you will need to register for self assessment to declare your income from property. You can do this yourself, or assign an agent to act on your behalf. Get Organised are friendly and reliable and will be taking care of our boring tax stuff so we have more time to do fun things!

10 Get rid of all of your worldly possessions. Store or sell? Bear in mind that you may be gone for a long time, and do you really want to be paying for your sofa to sit in a concrete box every month? No. Offer furniture to friends and family and Gumtree the rest. Anything that doesn’t sell in time can be given to charity.

11 Check your bank cards, driving licence and passport. Renew anything that is going to expire in the next couple of years. It’s surprisingly easy to renew your driving licence online and only costs £14. Your passport is a bit more costly, but it’s the most essential thing on this entire list! Most banks are happy to renew your cards so that the expiry date is extended. Check the fees on your bank cards for using them abroad. We’ve got a Clarity credit card with Halifax which doesn’t charge any fees for worldwide transactions. We also have a Revolut card each which is an international top-up money card that doesn’t charge any fees for withdrawals.

12 Buy insurance. Probably your parents have told you to do this – a million times. It’s another tedious activity but it’s very important. Check the small print and the excess. We found that a lot of providers don’t cover gadgets such as cameras, phones and laptops. We ended up getting the gold package with Cover For You (no excess) and separate gadget cover for Flic’s camera.

13 Sort out your bills. Let your gas, electricity, water, sewage and internet provider know that you’re leaving town. We’ve found this to be far easier than expected, and it’s been pretty fun telling strangers in call centres about our plans. You’ll be surprised how many people will share stories about their own travels as they close down your utility bills!

14 Cancel your subscriptions. We’ll miss you, Has Bean! You’re not going to use Netflix or Spotify on the dodgy hostel Wifi, so cancel. You can also cancel your home/contents and car insurance – you might even be entitled to a refund! Some mobile phone providers will make you buy out of your contract, which is a pain, but make sure you get your phone unlocked when your contract ends. You can take it with you and use a sim card from any other country, plus you’ll need a phone to top up your Revolut card.

15Say your goodbyes. If you’ve sorted out everything we’ve mentioned above in plenty of time before you leave, you’ll find you can enjoy your last few weeks at home. It’s important to spend some quality time with the friends and relatives you’ll be leaving behind. You don’t want to be stressing out about any of this whilst you’re saying your final farewells. So, plan ahead and all that you’ll have to do is add your passport details to your flights and pack your bags!

Cotton Eye Joe

You’re probably pondering some combination of the following questions…

Where did you come from?

Where did you go?

Who the hell are Flic and Nick?

Why should I care?

To answer some of these questions, here are some lovely maps:

Where we’ve been

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We’ve been to Belgium, Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Malta, Morocco, Netherlands, Rwanda, Spain, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States (Florida, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire).

Where we’re going

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The Grand Plan

plane emoji Bournemouth-Singapore-Brisbane-Nadi(Fiji)

boat  Nadi-Mamanucas-Yasawas-Nadi

plane emoji Nadi-Sydney-Singapore

trainSingapore-Kuala Lumpur

plane emoji Kuala Lumpur-Penang

boat Penang-Langkawi-Pulau Tuba-Langkawi-Koh Bulon-Krabi-Ko Lanta-Koh Jum-Krabi

boat trainbus Krabi-Bangkok

plane emoji Bangkok-Yangon

train Yangon-Bago-Tuangoo-Inle Lake-Thazi-Mandalay (sail to Bagan)-Yangon

plane emoji Yangon-Hong Kong

By the time we get to Hong Kong we will have run out of money, so we’ll have to work for a while before we carry on to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and all of the other countries we want to explore!

As for your questions about who we are and why you should care, hopefully you will find out in the coming months!

Where have you been and where are you going? Can you give us any tips about the places we’re visiting? Let us know in the comments!