Come early evening it was time to say goodbye to Bali. I caught a taxi to the airport and was soon on my way to Australia.
Another taxi dropped Eric off at the airport before carrying on with me to Seminyak. In the afternoon I visited the office of the dive company we'd used at the start of the trip to complete an enriched air diving course. I then got on with some admin in a nearby bar.
With time to kill in the morning, Eric and I chose to split our journey to the airport with a late morning stop at Jimbaran Beach.
Having already decided on a specific destination, our taxi driver insisted that an area 5 minutes further up the beach was much better, and that there was a very good restaurant. What he took us to was run down, mostly empty and overpriced. The food tasted nice though, and we finally had coconuts.
We both later developed food poisoning, and found out that the taxi drivers get paid commission for taking people there!
28 August 2017
Our final act as a trio was to head to Uluwatu Beach and have drinks while watching the sunset. Asher caught a taxi to the airport a short time later.
On Eric and my penultimate day, and Asher's last, we returned to Bingin Beach. While Asher and Eric chilled in the shade, I ventured out on a surf board. The conditions were much less choppy or consistent than they had been at Seminyak Beach; I spent most of the first hour lazing around waiting for waves and trying not to get in the way of the more experienced surfers (with mixed results). When the waves did come, they were good fun, although I was burying the nose of the board and getting thrown off for frequently than I would have liked!
27 August 2017
We did the done thing and joined swarms of tourists at Uluwatu Temple for sunset. There were almost as many monkeys, some of which seem to have learnt that by stealing peoples' glasses, they can expect to receive food when a nearby vendor happily steps in to facilitate the recovery, with the expectation of receiving a small sum of money from the grateful tourist. We witnessed this firsthand when Eric's glasses were whisked from his head in the blink of an eye. It's no wonder that so many of the monkeys looked obese.
We made it to our hotel in Uluwatu in time to head down to Bingin Beach for lunch; it was unmistakably a surfer's hangout.
26 August 2017
Balian Beach was gorgeous; sparkling black sand, dynamic scenery and a beautiful sunset; we couldn't have asked for much more. Asher tried to teach me to body surf, and we tried to make the most of the lighting to get some nice pictures of ourselves.
The drive from Permuteran to Balian Beach had some nice scenery, but was mostly spent stuck behind the many trucks using the road to get to Denpasar.
On our final morning in Permuteran, Eric and I rose early to go for a guided walk in Bali Barat National Park (Asher found the idea of a lie-in more appealing). Our guide educated us about the many types of biome and plant life in the park, including a multitude of mangroves, scrub and monsoon forest. We also saw many interesting animals including mudskippers, giant squirrels and black langur monkeys.
25 August 2017
In spite of yesterday's sunburn, I went out snorkelling again in the lunch break; I could appreciate why free-divers aren't so keen on diving with all the bulky equipment used in scuba.
We had another excellent day of diving out at Menjangan Island. Now in a smaller group, we were taken first to a site called Eel Garden, an excellent area of coral wall and flats split by open sandy areas where the garden eels could be found. Throughout we were carried along by a strong current; the sensation of floating in the blue whilst being pushed up and into the wall wasn't always pleasant!
In the afternoon we went to Mangrove Point, another wall site with more great topography.
24 August 2017
We only had a few hours out of the water after returning from Menjangan Island. Come sunset we were back for our first proper night dive!
This time we were diving just off the beach and jetty in Permuteran. It was clear from the rubbish and detritus on the bottom that we were close to a town, but I was still astounded by the sheer amount and variety of life we kept bumping into in the gloom. Some creatures I was just seeing in a new light, while others were brand new to me. My favourites were the anemone-covered crabs and tiny blue and yellow squid.
It was also interesting to see the area's Bioroack project, built to stimulate the growth and recovery of coral.
Both dives on day 1 of diving had impressive visibility and warm water, making it very pleasant to be underwater again. We were dropped on 2 different sites on the coral walls fringing the island; these had healthy and varied coral, and descended well out of sight.
Despite the long term damage from bleaching, dynamite fishing and crown-of-thorns starfish evident in the shallows, it was was still clear to see why the island used to be considered one of the best diving areas in the world, and still has much to offer!
The day after arriving in Permuteran it was time for more diving! Only a few days before we changed our booking to another company to save money. It was clear from the rusty buses and lower level of service that we were with a more budget operator, but it was more than sufficient for our needs.
After morning pickup and delivery to the jetty in Bali Barat National Park, we were transferred to small wooden boats to carry us out to Menjangen Island.
Over the course of the day we did two dives, with a break for lunch and some snorkelling. It was an idyllic spot, with warm clear water and views across the channel of Java's volcanoes.
23 August 2017
On arrival quite late in Permuteran, and under the pressure of Asher's hunger pains, we were forced into a quick decision with restaurant choice.
What followed was probably the least pleasant meal of the trip so far. Tiny bugs infesting the table cloth and the customer on the adjacent table sending back raw chicken were the most significant of a number of warnings. However we toughed it out (mainly due to a mis-understanding of the subtext of "I'm happy to leave").
The food was edible and no one had any digestive complaints, but we could have probably found somewhere much nicer.
Close to sunset and closing time, we had a brief dip at Air Panas Banjar Hot springs.
Half way down to the coast, we parked up and followed the signs down the valley to Munduk Waterfall.
Curious to see if it lived up to the photo on the cover of the guidebook, we tried to stop at Pura Ulau Danau Bratan. However, the front gate was backed up with other cars trying to get in. Instead we parked up a bit further up the road and found a much quieter side-entrance.
Close to Danau Beratan, a crater lake, we stopped in at the Bali Botanical Gardens.
Yearning for independence and the open road, we hired a small automatic to drive us up to Permuteran. It proved to be a great little car, comping admirably with all except the steepest and windiest of the mountain roads.
Along the way we stopped at a small roadside restaurant where we finally got to try Babi Guling (a traditional dish of suckling pig).
We encountered fantastic scenery driving through Bali's centre, especially in the vicinity of its crater lakes and as we drove down to the coast on the other side.
22 August 2017
After sufficient napping, Eric and I intended to visit Ubud's Monkey Forest. However, the entry fee was a bit steep, and their were more than enough monkeys to see outside.
The next morning we were picked up at 2am and driven in a cramped car to Gunung Batur. For some reason we had convinced ourselves that climbing a volcano in the early hours of the morning was a good idea. So too had half of Ubud it seemed, judging by all the torches we could see snaking up the side. The darkness seemed to make the climb more bearable, and we made very good time to the top. However, this meant more time spent shivering and waiting for the sun to rise.
The views were a sufficient reward for our efforts; we could see Bali's highest peak Gunung Agung, and the even higher Mt Kintamani on Lombok.
The descent was more of an ordeal, thanks to the huge crowds and slippery volcanic scree making it a very slow process. I'm also still finding dust from the trip on my stuff 2 weeks later.
21 August 2017
After returning from a busy day exploring, I was looking forward to a relaxing trip to a spa. Unfortunately I did not arrive in the best state of mind or body thanks to a mad dash across town to try get there in time.
The Balinese Massage was worthwhile, if perhaps a bit too strong at times!
Afterwards we went to a nearby BBQ restaurant which was a bit too expensive, but tasted good and even had baked beans!
Our final stop was the Goa Gajah Temple, notable for its gardens which were home to many interesting critters.
Our fifth stop was Gunung Kawi Temple. This very old site felt like something straight out of Indiana Jones!
Stop 4 was the Tirta Empul Temple, famed for its healing spring water. After we stopped for lunch at a restaurant overlooking rice paddies.
Stop 3 was a coffee plantation, where we were able to try a huge range of coffees and teas, including the famous Kopi Luwak, AKA Civet Poo Coffee. Supposedly the civets eat only the finest coffee fruit, meaning that the beans extracted from their poo can be made into the finest of blends! It was indeed very smooth and relatively pleasant to taste. However, I didn't think I was enough of a connoisseur to justify buying any.
Our second stop was the picturesque Tegallalang Rice Terraces.
On day 2, we arranged for a private tour guide to drive us to various sites in the vicinity of Ubud. Our first stop was Tegenungan Waterfall.
20 August 2017
Night time in Ubud was very busy, but still attractive and enjoyable.
Itching to get out into the great outdoors, we spent most of our first full day in Ubud attempting a hike recommended by our Lonely Planet guidebook. It proved to be quite an adventure, and took much longer than the expected 3-4 hours.
The first hurdle came in trying to find our way to the river. It seems in the 2 years since the book was published, building work had changed some of the paths considerably.
Having descended a steep path, we were greeted by a gate guarded by a man who charged a high fee to cross through. Asher insisted on going "off-road" to climb around. This demonstration allowed Eric and me to negotiate a lower fee.
At various points the path vanished, reappeared, divided and cut back on itself. Eventually we were able to find the route out. We were exhausted, but glad to have had the experience!
19 August 2017
In the evening we discovered a bar whose happy hour's end was very indeterminate. The cheaper cocktails based on Arak were interesting, and mostly pleasant.
After we arrived in Ubud, it didn't take long to pick up on the town's 'Eat, Pray, Love' peculiarities.
The weather had dried up by the time we had reached Semarapura, allowing us to take a look around Kerta Gosa, and site notable for the intricate paintings on the ceilings of its buildings. It also contained a museum which taught us about the Dutch colonisation of the island.
Next stop was rainy Sidemen. The area is known for its scenery, and while the rain did add to the atmosphere, we couldn't stand to be out of the car too long.
I arranged for a driver to pick us up early in the morning to take us to Ubud. The service included stopping various points of interest along the way,
First was a site known as the "Bat Temple".
18 August 2017
Once Eric, Asher and I had returned from our respective diving trips (they now qualified divers), we went out for a wander around Padangbai. There were a few temples on the hill, and many colourful boats off the beach. In the evening we picked our own fish to be grilled at a small beach-side Warung.
For the second day of diving, I headed to Nusa Penida to visit more advanced sites.
We had been dropped off in Padangbai the night before by the dive company so that I could jump straight onto the boat the next morning.
The conditions were choppy, and it was uncertain that we'd be allowed to visit a 3 of the planned sites. During the ride I got to know the other divers who all seemed to be far more experienced than I, and had many interesting stories to tell.
Luck was with us, and we were able start off with Manta Point, named for its Manta Ray feeding station. The site delivered; at one point there were 5 different giant rays gliding overhead.
Site 2 was Crystal Bay, a deep and very cold dive. I mostly hovered above a thermocline, and only descended further when Mola Mola were spotted. We saw two medium sized fish being cleaned, and at the end a much larger animal swam by.
Site 3 was an entertaining drift dive; it felt as if a roller coaster was carrying me along the reef!
17 August 2017
We were picked up early in the morning and driven up to Tulamben. There we would be diving on the Liberty Wreck, Bali's most famous dive site, for what would be Eric and Asher's first two Open Water dives and my first dives in 2.5 years!
Access from the shore wasn't easy, requiring us to stumble across giant pebbles in full gear. Underwater, the conditions were ideal, with good visibility and warm water. This was my first time on a substantial wreck, and it did not disappoint. Throughout the 2 dives, swimming through the various openings was diverting, and there was a wide range of coral and fish to see. Despite the popularity of the site, it never felt too busy underwater.
16 August 2017
Dinner was delayed a bit by an encounter between Eric and a storm drain; a persistent gash on his ankle and reminders from Asher and I ensured he didn't forget this incident.
While Asher and Eric were starting their scuba diving course, I had set my sights on learning to surf!
I joined a surf school for a morning lesson, and was up on my feet surprisingly quickly. Despite the the very strong undertow, I still had energy in my arms and legs once the lesson finished, so I headed out again to practice for another 2 hours in the afternoon.
Late afternoon on Seminyak Beach was quite a spectacle, despite or perhaps because of the vast numbers of people.
15 August 2017
Upon our early morning arrival in Bali, we headed straight to our hostel. It was some time before we could check in and get access to our room, and then it was a case of waiting for Eric to land and then try to guide him through the ordeal of picking up an Uber from the airport.
Nonetheless by evening we were a three, in time to head out for dinner.
We chose to arrive at the airport some time before our 5am flight. One of us managed to sleep much better than the other during the wait.
14 August 2017
Straight after the sunset we rushed down to the Gardens By the Bay to catch the light show in the Super Tree Grove.
In the evening we made a speedy change into smarter clothes so that we'd feel comfortable entering the architectural wonder that is the Marina Bay Sands hotel. Our intention was to see sunset from the bar at the top. By the time we reached the sky-deck, it was already packed. Luckily we found an opening!
Along the way we did the most touristy thing we could think of by stopping at Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling.
Left to our own devices for our final day, Asher and I caught the train to Orchard Road, which seemed to be Singapore's Oxford Street. From there we gradually made our way to Marina Bay.
13 August 2017
I couldn't have said I had truly visited Singapore without trying durian. Zi found us a stall on our walk home. The smell was disappointingly mild, and the flavour was pleasing although not fully to my taste. The creamy texture was strangest of all.
Just as I was thinking Zi's family's hospitality couldn't get any better, they treated us to an extremely fancy dinner at the Song Garden Restaurant.
We were served up culinary delight after culinary delight. The food tasted so good that I only realised how full I was once I stood up to leave at the end!
Next we were ferried across to the Chinese Swimming Club, where Zi's family are members. There I had a baptism of fire on the badminton court. It was exhausting, but provided much needed exercise, and given how much I enjoyed myself, I should probably look to play the sport more in future.
To cool down, we took a walk along the beach nearby.
Cloud Forest Dome Pt 2; I might have gone a bit overboard with the photos!
Zi had carefully planned out our second day in Singapore to be jam-packed with activities. To kick things off, we visited the Gardens By The Bay. Recognisable by its "super-tree grove" featured in a sequence in Planet Earth II, it is also home to two domes acting as vast greenhouses.
We just had time to visit the Cloud Forest Dome, which had more than enough beautiful sights to keep me fully engaged!
We finished up the evening with Karaoke. Fortunately it was much more authentic than the places I tried in Japan. I tried my best to belt out the English songs, but it was clear that most of the others were much better singers, perhaps through natural ability or having visited places like this far more often.
12 August 2017
Before dinner we had wandered around marina bay, seeing the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel for the first time. After dinner, we went up the Singapore Flyer observation wheel, in order to see the nighttime skyline.
For dinner we met up with one of Zi's friends and one of his brothers. We ate at Wing Seong Fatty's restaurant, which they have apparently been visiting for many years. I could see why; the flavours of each dish were all amazing, and the chilli crab was especially delicious!
We visited the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The gold-work inside was stunning, and I enjoyed learning more about Buddhist beliefs in the museum and taking some time for peaceful contemplation!
Zi Chao and his Dad very kindly collected us from the airport and took us to their home in central Singapore. Within what seemed like very little time at all, we were out in Chinatown with Zi experiencing one of the our tastiest and best value for money meals.
We quickly learnt that Singapore is an island of people unified by their obsession with food!
With an unpleasantly early start, it was time to say goodbye to Vietnam.
I had a fantastic time there and with so much of the country still to see, I could well back again in future!
11 August 2017
To round off our day, we had the excitement of returning to our hostel by motorbike taxis.
Pho for breakfast, ice cream for lunch, and Vietnamese BBQ for dinner!
Following on from Hiroshima and Seoul, I made a solo trip to the War Remnants Museum which documents Vietnam's war against the French for independence and the subsequent "American War".
I knew not to expect a pleasant experience, but was still more taken aback than I had been at either of the two previous museums. Especially harrowing were the accounts of torture conducted in the political prisons and the short and long term damage caused by chemical weapons such as Agent Orange. I think what made this stand apart was the degree of direct human involvement in causing suffering to others.
Regardless of knowing that the museum is a one-sided account, it was laid bare how much the Vietnamese people had suffered, and it struck me as all the more impressive that the country is now so successful!
After arriving and dropping off our bags at our cheap and not very cheerful hostel by the airport, we allowed ourselves the day to explore Ho Chi Minh City.
While not as vibrant at Hanoi, there was still a lot of activity and plenty of history to absorb.
10 August 2017
After 4 days of doing little of anything, we were refreshed and ready for something more exciting. We shared a taxi to Nha Trang with a couple we'd met at Jungle Beach.
We had dinner and killed time before catching another overnight train to take us to Ho Chi Minh City.
Jungle Beach had its flaws. The thatched panels making up most of the walls were terribly thin, the construction work on a neighbouring plot made sleeping in difficult, and sand flies were a constant menace.
However, the place had a huge amount of rustic charm, and was a pretty good place to relax after days spent rushing around cities.
9 August 2017
Sunsets were proving to be quite quite spectacular, with more rainbow-fringed clouds.
Once the sun was low enough on day 3, I ventured out to practice for my underwater photography ahead of scuba diving in a week's time.
8 August 2017
After dinner we spent a lovely evening on the beach by the fire getting to know the other guests. This included being given an impromptu lesson by a progressional photographer from Germany.
Most of my 2nd day at Jungle Beach was spent hidden in the shade away from the beach. Sunburn was still a bit too sore for my liking. At least the mid-afternoon fruit plate offered some respite.
7 August 2017
Spent the day relaxing, reading and swimming; much needed R&R after a couple of bad nights sleep. In the afternoon the cloud came over and produced this peculiar rainbow effect in its fringes.
All in all it would have been an ideal day, had I not forgotten that while sitting in the shade I was safe from direct sun, but the sun reflected off the sand would be more than sufficient to turn me pink all over!
While having to get off a bus at 4 in the morning won't be my fondest memory of the trip, it was more than made up for by the sunset that greeted us on our arrival at Jungle Beach.
We caught a sleeper bus from Hoi An to near our next destination, a rustic beach resort called Jungle Beach. We arrived at a petrol station in the middle of nowhere earlier than expected, and as our arranged car wasn't due for another 45 minutes, had to hastily arrange our own taxi to finally get to Jungle Beach at about 5 in the morning.
Note: Sleeper trains >> Sleeper Buses
6 August 2017
With suits finally in hand, it was time to leave Hoi An.
I had my first experience of Vietnam's take on the sub sandwich, Banh Mi.
The restaurant is called Banh Mi Queen, a title that is well deserved!
With 3 visits to Kimmy's spread across it, our final day in Hoi An was a bit constrained. We visited a few more Meetign Houses and the central market, before settling down for areas for a few hours.
5 August 2017
To our surprise, we had managed to book to be in Hoi An at the same time as their monthly lantern festival!
Working around our first suit fitting at Kimmy's, we spent day 2 in Hoi An exploring the Old Town, including:
- the Japanese Covered Bridge; built to connect the Japanese and Chinese part of the town before all Japanese merchants were recalled to Japan when it shut its borders to the outside world.
- The Chinese Meeting Houses; each is named after the region of China its congregation originated from, and acted as the centres of these communities.
4 August 2017
For dinner we visited Ms Nam's stall amongst a line of other food sellers. We sampled White Rose, a local delicacy, and definitely one the the tastiest dishes we've had.
I also had the pleasure of witnessing Asher enjoy a beer for the first time!
Between haircut and dinner, we wandered around Hoi An's Old Town, marvelling at the buildings which were little changed from how they looked in the 1800s when Hoi An was one of the busiest ports in the Far East.
Despite how great everything looked, we couldn't shake the the thought of how artificial and tourist focused everything seemed to be, as if we'd just walked into "Vietnam Village" at Disney World's Epcot Park.
After 18 months and with scuba diving approaching, it was time for the beard and most of my hair to go!
I wasn't expecting the hair to be quite so short, at least it will now last longer!
Challenge now is to deal with the tan lines...
The suit saga recommences!
A few days reflection had made it clear that we still wanted to get tailored suits made. We visited one of the highest rated tailors in Hoi An, whose prices turned out to be more reasonable than the those we'd found in Hanoi. Opting for the full 3 pieces, Asher went for a vibrant blue, while I went for charcoal.
Another entry on "Adam and Asher eat their way through Vietnam".
Having tried a few other restaurants and found the prices to steep, we settled on this small vendor set up on the pavement. For about £1 each, we had one of the better meals of the trip so far!
Our home in Hoi An was a branch of the Vietnam Backpackers Hostel. Our twin room was probably the nicest and most modern we had encountered so far.
During the trip, we had been wondering where all the young British travellers were. Turns out they were at places like this, and we had been sticking more to the "older middle class" route.
We caught the tourist sleeper bus down to Hoi An. I was glad of the experience, but pleased it was day time and the we'd instead taken the train to Hue.
3 August 2017
On our hotel receptionist's recommendation, we checked out some interesting food options at a nearby night market.
More novel food, this time spring rolls and pancakes!
The main attraction in Hue is the old Imperial City. It is the former seat of power of the Nguyen Dynasty Emperors.
I could see a lot of parallels to the palace I visited in Seoul; both had been greatly damaged by warfare and occupation in the past century, and are undergoing renovation to restore at least some of their former glory. Although the site in Hue has further to go, I found those buildings that had already been restored seemed more vibrant and interesting than those in Seoul.
We had a completely novel culinary experience at a small backstreet restaurant in Hue. I found the Banh Beo and Ban Nam tasted amazing, but the the gelatinous texture was a bit much for me towards the end.
We slept well aboard the sleeper train; it was our first lie-in in quite a while, and the rocking of the train probably helped.
We arrived in Hue mid-morning and, feeling the well rested, were out exploring before long.
2 August 2017
For our final meal in Hanoi we returned to the first restaurant we had visited. From there, we caught a taxi to the station and boarded the sleeper train than would take us to Hue.
We made our way back through Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay, stopping for a boat changeover and for lunch. Upon returning to dock, we got on the bus and returned to Hanoi.
We stayed overnight on Cat Ba Island at the Hung Long harbour hotel. Loved the view first thing in the morning!
1 August 2017
On the way to our stop for the night, we passed one the the floating villages where local people are allowed to live in the protected area.
For the second kayaking trip of the tour, we paddled to one of the few natural beaches in the area. Despite the party boat moored alongside, we had a relaxing time on this small strip of sand.
Although I was warned to expect it, it was still saddening to see so much rubbish floating in the area. In our hour or so at the beach, I fished out half a dozen drinks cans, about 4 pieces of fishing net, and many other bits of plastic.
We very much enjoyed our tour of Cat Ba island, despite (or perhaps because of) the snake wine and sketchy 'rock climbing'.
After a change of boats, we motored towards Cat Ba Island.
Vega Tours seemed to be working us hard to ensure we'd get the best experiences! First thing in the morning, we climbed up Titop Mountain to get a view of the surrounding bays, before having some time to relax on the beach at the bottom.
31 July 2017
Had a great dinner on board the boat. Although the food was trying a bit to hard to fit western norms, we had a great time getting to know the other guests and trying the challenges posed by our guide Louis.
Had a lovely time kayaking through the Luon Cave at the end of the day once most of the other tourists had gone.
We stopped at Hang Sut Sot (Surprising Cave), Ha Long's largest (and apparently also busiest) cave.
Our tour began by taking us to Bai Tu Long Bay, Ha Long's smaller but still impressive neighbour, in order to avoid the highest densities of tourists.
We were very happy with the state of our accommodation for the first night on Ha Long Bay.
Joining a small tour group, we left Hanoi and snoozed through most of the 4 hour bus journey, before we finally got our first glimpses of Ha Long Bay.
30 July 2017
Finished off the night on the roof terrace of Bar Betta, enjoying their edgy beats and the fresh fruit we'd picked up en-route, before another amble back through the Old Quarter.
Got back to Hanoi in a bit of a heatwave. Returning to cafe hopping seemed to keep to temperature at bay.
It was time to leave our home for two nights; if you ever visit Ba Be NP, we'd highly recommend checking out the Huynh Ha Homestay.
29 July 2017
Heading home, the scenery seemed to get better and better as the sun dropped lower in the sky.
Our final stop of the tour was at a small island in the middle of the lake, where could swim and dive in from the rocks.
Stop 4 was an island in the lake that was home to a small shrine. It was built to honour a defeated General and his subordinates who chose to commit suicide on the island rather than face their king.
Stop 3 was the Fairy Pond. Unfortunately, it wasn't at its best due to the higher water level and conglomeration of food stalls.
Stop 2 was the Dau Dang Waterfalls, an attractive site made all the more interesting by the abundant bug-life we found walking to and from the falls.
Our first stop was at the Puong Cave, a magnificent structure eroded out of the limestone by the Nang River and filled with the noise of water dripping and bats screeching.
Our second day in Ba Be was spent mostly on the water. We boarded our boat and set out for the first stop on our lake-tour, whist trying not to be too gobsmacked by the scenery.
28 July 2017
Yet another delicious meal, served at the homestay and accompanied by many shots of 'happy juice' (apparently corn liquor/wine) served from a plastic water bottle. A bit sketchy, but tasted surprisingly good!
The destination of our tour was the Hua Ma (Horse's Head) Cave. Set halfway up the valley-side, this cavern was otherwise empty of people, and packed packed with pristine rock formations.
Asher suggested we visited Ba Be National Park as he had heard great things about it and was off the normal Vietnam tourist trail. I was not sure what to expect, but was certainly not disappointed.
It is a biodiverse and unique landscape, consisting of lush forest centred around Vietnam's largest and highest freshwater lake.
The park is home to some of the minority ethnic groups we had learnt about at the museum. We stayed at a 'homestay' in one of their communities.
After dropping off our bags, we hopped on some rickety bikes with Bobby who took us on a late-afternoon tour of the area.
On our drive we witnessed some of the most stunning scenery I have ever encountered. Most of the journey consisted of successive valleys with rice paddies and villages at the base and steep jungled ridges and mountains on the sides.
We stopped for yet another amazing meal at a small roadside restaurant.
We stopped off at the Museum of the Cultures of Vietnam's Ethnic Groups. It was fascinating to learn about the sheer diversity in language and customs amongst the 54 distinct groups.
Next stop Ba Bé National Park! We were picked up by our guide at driver and 07:30, and after some admin at the travel companies offices we began the drive north.
27 July 2017
Part 2 was spent in the bar of Hanoi's fanciest hotel, where a drink cost more than 6 times more than each of our meals earlier.
At least they brought us bar snacks!
A night of 2 extremes. Part 1 was our delicious dinner of "steamed glutinous rice" topped with pork, costing the equivalent of £1.
Had amazing views from the Lotte Center Observation Deck. Thank you Asher for putting up with me faffing about with long exposure photography!
We were surprised to encounter an 'aquarium' in the supermarket while we were waiting to go up to the viewing deck.
Had an exciting time riding UberMotos through Hanoi's rush hour traffic.
Hanoi's Temple of Literature was one of the nicest historical sites I have seen on the trip so far. It's dedicated to Confucius and his teachings, and was the site of Vietnam's first University.
Asher and Adam thought they could get nice tailored suits for £130 each.
Asher and Adam got excited over bespoke tailored suits.
Asher and Adam realised suits were actually 3 times the price.
Asher and Adam were sad.
Lunch stop comprised invertebrates and kumquat liquor. I enjoyed my grasshoppers and was more than happy to help Asher with his crabs!
Checked out across the lakes at the north end of Hanoi, before grabbing a second coffee of the day.
Note: the Vietnamese like their coffee strong, and I have a low caffeine tolerance --> I didn't feel great.
On our way we passed through a market which shifted from food, to aquarium supplies, to what my have been wedding flowers, but we're not really sure.
On Day 2 in Hanoi, we began our wander by heading north of the Old Quarter.
26 July 2017
While Asher dealt with his sleep deficit, I grabbed some dinner and tried to take in and capture the buzz of the Old Quarter at night.
After more than 3 weeks of hostel living, I was more than happy to upgrade to a twin room for a couple of nights!
First cultural stop at the Bach Ma Temple.
After Asher arrived mid morning, we went for our first wander around Hanoi's Old Quarter and beyond.
My first takeaway is that motorbikes are a lot harder to navigate than the bicycles I was used to in Cambridge.
My journey from Seoul to Hanoi was more eventful than I would have liked. At check-in it seemed for a brief time like I wouldn't be allowed through due to some visa issues, we were delayed taking off, and upon landing we had to wait in the plane for ages.
Once out of baggage collection, I was picked up by a 'cowboy' taxi driver who insisted he had been booked for me, but it transpired didn't have my name or even know what hostel I was supposed to be going. Eventually made it to the hostel, although I had to pay far more than the going rate!
25 July 2017
With Ben having departed in the morning, I was left to my own devices for my final day in Seoul.
After a final wander around Itaewon, I stashed myself in a Starbucks for the afternoon to get some much needed admin done, before grabbing my bag from the hostel and traveling to the airport.
24 July 2017
On the way to the cinema to see Spiderman, Ben and I stumbled across a food market; of course we had to stick around after!
On Cam's final day in Seoul, we headed over to Gangnam. No sign of that song about. We had a break from BBQ and C&B, and then checked out the D'Light Experience in Samsung's global flagship store.
23 July 2017
Finished off the afternoon wandering around the Hyundai City Outlet Department Store; seemed like a John Lewis, but larger.
Had some interesting encounters with various iterations of massage and exercise equipment, and a very fun time in the VR experience on the top floor.
On day four in Seoul, we took a walk along the Cheonggyecheon Stream to reach one of the city's biggest shopping districts.
The walkway adjacent to the stream was shut due to debris from a storm the night before, but it was still enjoyable to see a large amount of nature in the centre of the city.
22 July 2017
We held a belated celebration of Ben's birthday over EVEN MORE CHICKEN AND BEER!
On our return to Seoul, we headed to Gyeongbokgung Palace. On the way, we ran into multiple noisy demonstrations, each protesting for a different cause. Apparently this is normal for a Saturday in Seoul.
The palace used to be home to the king, and while a lot was destroyed during the Japanese occupation, much has now been rebuilt and further restorations are ongoing.
On our third day in Seoul, we went on a tour of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) and Joint Security Area (JSA). There was plenty to learn about the ongoing hostility between North and South, Korean culture, and expectations for the future. On top of that, we made a brief border crossing!
21 July 2017
Experiencing the culinary delight that is CHICKEN AND BEER!
Our second day in Seoul was mostly spent at the Korean War Memorial and Museum.
I learnt a great deal about a conflict of which I previously had next to no knowledge. Beyond that, I found it quite interesting to compare this experience to that at the museum in Hiroshima. Although each museum had a different focus, the message of each seemed indicative of the two countries having quite different attitudes to war.
20 July 2017
After coming back down the mountain, we had our first delicious experience of Korean Barbecue.
On our first night in Seoul, we caught a cable car to the North Seoul Tower to meet up with others from the ORP and watch the sunset.
We had an easy journey across to Seoul, and soon were at our next hostel. We were staying in Itaewon, a district next to the US military base and home to many western-style restaurants, bars and clubs.
Making an early start, we caught the train out to Fukuoka Airport to leave Japan for South Korea.
19 July 2017
Late night exploration of Fukuoka, including research into sake and whisky prices.
After a late start, we spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach at Momochi Seaside Park.
18 July 2017
In the evening, we caught our second Shinkansen in order to travel to Fukuoka, a city on the West coast of Kyushu Island and our final destination in Japan.
We made a quick visit to Hiroshima Castle before departing for Fukuoka. The castle was destroyed in the atomic bombing and rebuilt many years later. Today it houses a museum showcasing the city's history and its relationship with samurai and warlords.
On our third and final day in Hiroshima, we visited the Peace Memorial Museum. It was unsurprisingly a harrowing experience, graphically presenting the horror of atomic warfare. The artefacts of the victims and the survivors' testimonials were particularly affecting.
17 July 2017
We met up with others from the Overseas Research Project who happened to be on Miyajima at the same time. Together we watched sunset by the Itsukushima Shrine. This was without a doubt the most picturesque moment of my trip so far.
The heat, humidity and my general lack of fitness made the climb up Mt Misen a challenge. However, the views from the top more than made up for this.
In Miyajima, we visited the Daisho-in Temple before beginning our climb of Mt Misen.
For our 2nd day in Hiroshima, we caught a ferry out to Miyajima Island, where we ate more nice food, climbed a "mountain" and visited the picturesque shrines.
16 July 2017
Upon arriving in Hiroshima, we left our bags at our hostel and went for a walk around Peace Memorial Park at sunset. They many memorials commemorate the lives taken away by the atomic bomb and highlight the need for peace.
Fuelling up with a Chinese before our exciting Shinkansen journey to Hiroshima.
On our last day in Kyoto, we visited its Imperial Palace. It was home to the Emperor before the seat of power was moved to Tokyo.
15 July 2017
That night, we joined what seemed like the entire population of Kyoto at the Gion Festival.
With the Overseas Research Phase of our trip complete, Cam, Ben and I could relax!
I had a chilled out day in Kyoto, visiting the Rokuon-ji, AKA Golden Temple, with Cam while Ben was stashed with our bags in a Starbucks before we could drop them off at our new hostel.
14 July 2017
We took a final group photo after a day spent pulling the ORP report together.
13 July 2017
Out final ORP company visit was to Kyocera; think I learnt even more about ceramics in their museum than I did in my final 2 years at uni!
For lunch we stopped off in the town of Nara; oh dear!
We encountered creepy robots at the Kyoto Institute of Technology. At the moment they're supposed to help remote communication, but they seemed more like the embodiment of uncanny valley.
12 July 2017
Visited the firm Hilltop to learn about their rapid prototyping and design services. Afterwards we were treated to a wine-party in their office!
11 July 2017
Tried the Kyoto speciality Okonomoyaki at a restaurant called Donguri, followed by late night wander in Kyoto's Gion district.
After 4 days of spending too long on the loo, I finally decided enough was a enough and got myself checked out. Ben was gracious enough to take the day off the project with me in order to be by support. Two hospitals later, I emerged with medication and celebrated with a Mos Burger!
10 July 2017
Long day spent visiting the factory of automation firm OMRON in Nishikusatsu.
9 July 2017
On our day off from the project, most of the group fought off hangovers and a torrential downpour to make it to and from the stunning Fushimi Inari Shrine.
8 July 2017
We had a night out in Kyoto after a day of report writing and visiting an organisation called ASTEM. It wasn't quite a the traditional karaoke we were expecting, and it didn't take long for English songs to dominate, but I managed to have a good time despite being sober.
7 July 2017
In the afternoon, we had the privilege to observe and take part in a traditional tea ceremony. Don't know when sitting cross legged for an extended period became so hard though.
Visited the Tsukuba Katsura Sake Brewery. Fascinating to learn about their traditional processes and taste the product, but alcohol, illness and dehydration did not combine well in me.
Early morning arrival in Kyoto, after not much sleep. After hanging around waiting to be able to drop of our bags at our hostel, there was just time to change into smarter clothes before our first company visit of the day.
6 July 2017
Overnight bus to Kyoto; not most comfortable sleep of the trip...
On the way to picking up our bags, we stopped at the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen-jinja Shrine; a bit of a mouthful!
After the Fanuc visit we had some time to kill. After getting lunch, we climbed up to the Chureito Pagoda in the hope of catching a glimpse of the peak of Mt Fuji. Our patience was rewarded!
In the morning we visited the HQ and factory of the robotics and automation company Fanuc at base of Mt Fuji.
5 July 2017
Having arrived in Fujisan and settled in to our hotel, we checked out a restaurant where the sushi was delivered by bullet train; it tasted great, but might have been start of my week of feeling very unwell.
Left Tokyo and traveled by bus to Mt Fuji.
On the way back to Shinjuku station, we stopped off for food in an area known as Camera city, due to the multiple blocks dedicated solely to consumer electronics.
Final view of Tokyo from the Metropolitan Government Building.
Final Tokyo company visit, to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Having the move out of our first hostel, we had a crazy trip through Tokyo in rush hour carrying 20kg+ of luggage en route to our company visit with Hitachi.
4 July 2017
Mad dash to catch Shibuya after dark, before briefing presentations back at the hostel.
After the IBM visit we headed to Roppongi district for dinner, and took in the amazing view from Mori Tower.
We had our first company visit to IBM, and made a new friend in the form of their concierge robot!
On the way to IBM, we had a whistle-stop visit to Tokyo's Imperial Palace and gardens, the current home of the Emperor.
On the morning before our first Company visit, there was time to visit the vast Tsukiji Fish Market; some of us might have lost our bearings just a little...
3 July 2017
Explored Meiji Shrine; the surrounding trees come from across Japan and are now part of a self sustaining woodland.
We poked our heads into some arcades in Sotokanda; the noise of the 'Pachinko' slot machines was deafening, and virtual horse racing was surprisingly popular!
Went into a restaurant expecting traditional Japanese cuisine. Somehow we didn't realise until after we'd finished our bowls of pasta that it was an Italian. The writing on the wall on dried pasta on the bar also hadn't given it away.
Shi-shi-shibuya crossing, a stereotypical Tokyo scene. I didn't seem quite as busy as in the movies.
Before commencing our Overseas Research Project in earnest, we had a day of acclimatisation in Tokyo. Our first stop was the Senso-ji Temple.
2 July 2017
3 hours after landing, finally made it to the hostel.
Dubai airport does not disappoint. Fish look like they could do with some enrichment though.
1 July 2017
Successfully made it out of the UK, in spite of passport hiccup!