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Crossing a special sea between Bali and the Gili Islands

It was a day that started serene, went chaotic and became serene again. A chaos sandwich, if you will This is the final post in the series ’90 Days in South East Asia’ Bali | Gili Air | Crossing the Lombok Strait | A strange cure for seasickness | The Wallace Line |Tips for staying safe on the Lombok Strait | Frederico the Flamingo *** … Continue reading Crossing a special sea between Bali and the Gili Islands

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To Bali and Beyond…

The final week of our amazing 90 days backpacking in southeast Asia arrived far too soon. In search of some some rest and recuperation we travelled to Bali. Author’s note: It’s been over 3 months since our return from travels in India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia yet due to something called blog-lag (where bloggers travel quicker than they can blog) I … Continue reading To Bali and Beyond…

Thoughts on returning home after backpacking around Southeast Asia for 90 days

Or … why you can never really ‘do’ a country Clapham | London | August | About lunchtime | Raining We’ve been back now for six weeks after our 90 days travelling in south east Asia. I’ve been working out some numbers; in all, we stayed at 37 places and visited 8 countries: North East India getting stuck in thunder storms on tea estates and … Continue reading Thoughts on returning home after backpacking around Southeast Asia for 90 days

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Things that can go wrong when travel-blogging

How to blog on the go when you’re in a relationship | when your thumb decides to blog without you | how I blog on the go| the origins of the word ‘posh’| why having a scrapbook when you travel is so good *** Did you get strange blogposts from heyloons.com? You may have got two very odd posts from me this week. (I did … Continue reading Things that can go wrong when travel-blogging

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Turtle island, Selingan Island, Borneo

The islands between Malaysia and the Philippines must be some of the loveliest islands in the world. During the day we relaxed and snorkelled but it was after sunset that the centrepiece of our visit was about to unfold. *** Selingan Island | Sulu Sea | Sabah Province | Borneo | Malaysia After a night in a rainforest lodge, on the banks of the Kinabatangan … Continue reading Turtle island, Selingan Island, Borneo

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How to see orangutans in Borneo

We arrived in Sepilok in Borneo, the world’s third largest island, famed for its wildlife. We saw orangutans at play in the afternoon sun, spent a night in a rainforest lodge, made a jungle night-walk and sailed to an island of white sand and crystal-clear waters where turtles laid their eggs in the light of the moon. Sepilok | Sabah Province | Borneo | Malaysia … Continue reading How to see orangutans in Borneo

Things to do in Singapore

We’d landed in Singapore, our 6th country and 28th place on our 90 day travels around southeast Asia We immediately took to the city’s perfect organisation; we walked its clean streets, its huge shopping malls, its wide green spaces, through its characterful areas of Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street where the Mrs found her perfect perfume made of the unlikeliest of ingredients. The Shopping … Continue reading Things to do in Singapore

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Things to see on Lake Inle in Myanmar

After a one hour flight from Bagan, a 45 minute taxi and a 50 minute boat ride, we were in a hotel room on stilts in the middle of an expansive and beautiful lake. Lake Inle | Southern Shan State | Myanmar We did so many activities by the lake in those three days but best of all was the just the thrill of the … Continue reading Things to see on Lake Inle in Myanmar

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What to see in Bagan, Myanmar

Imagine over 2,000 ancient stone temples, the fruits of devotion that have lasted almost a millennium. Some grandiose, topped in gold, others small and humble, dotted across a sandy plain of 40 square miles. This is splendour laid out on the grandest of scales making Bagan like nowhere else on earth. Bagan | Mandalay State | Myanmar We loved Bagan so much we decided to … Continue reading What to see in Bagan, Myanmar

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What to do in Mandalay

The lay of the land can be a great tell about a people just like a first view of Myanmar on a sunset landing. Mandalay | Mandalay State | Myanmar (Burma) The flat land around Mandalay had thickets of bulbous trees, winding rivers and parched sandy embankments; there were ponds and oblong fields stitched in with trees and bushes. But it’s the temples and pagodas … Continue reading What to do in Mandalay

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Landing in the sea at Halong Bay, Vietnam

We arrived via seaplane, landing in a sea filled with spectacular limestone cliffs rising out of the water. Hanoi to Halong Bay | Vietnam I realised this wasn’t going to be a normal flight when I saw the weighing scales at the check-in counter. There were the usual baggage scales but also a neatly placed set of bathroom scales in front of the desk. The … Continue reading Landing in the sea at Halong Bay, Vietnam

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What to see in Vietnam: Hoi An, Hué and Hanoi

We visited the ancient trading port of Hoi An and the old royal capital Hué, and then on to Vietnam’s vibrant capital, Hanoi Hoi An, stepping back in time We decided to spend three nights in Hoi An, a world heritage site, and a preserved ancient south East Asian trading port. Stepping down those alleys to the waterfronts, felt like stepping back in time, 500 … Continue reading What to see in Vietnam: Hoi An, Hué and Hanoi

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Getting over a fever in central Vietnam

Getting rid of a fever | Central Vietnam We’re now half-way through our 90 days backpacking in south east Asia and we had just arrived in central Vietnam when Sarah started to notice that I was getting lethargic, had had some night shivers, had lost my appetite and was wanting early nights. Some of this is middle-aged-ness. Some of it, like a 39 degree fever, … Continue reading Getting over a fever in central Vietnam

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Visit the Saigon Opera House

Ho Chi Minh City | Vietnam There are many tourist activities to do in Ho Chi Minh City but we preferred to walk its streets, gaze up at its elegant colonial architecture and attempt to not get run over. *** There couldn’t have been a bigger contrast in airports as we left Pakse in south Laos bumped along clouds in turbulence and landed at the … Continue reading Visit the Saigon Opera House

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On our way down south in Laos

A beery game of boules, realising the growing pains of middle-aged backpacking and a flight to the deep south of Laos. Savannakhet | Savannakhet Province | Laos This post is part of the series called 90 Days in South East Asia and was written on-the-road. We took a short 3 hour bus ride south from Thakek to Savannakhet. It was slightly chaotic, being ferried from … Continue reading On our way down south in Laos

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Caves, a jungle trek and the mysterious turquoise lake

We arrive in central Laos; take a jungle hike; visit caves and a mysterious lake; enjoy a Mekong sunset Thakek | Central Laos We traveled 8 hours south by bus from Laos’s capital Vientiane to a small town called Thakek on the River Mekong, a base for visiting nearby national parks, long underground caves that swallow rivers, and striking limestone karst scenery. *** We are … Continue reading Caves, a jungle trek and the mysterious turquoise lake

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In the laid-back city of Vientiane

We arrived in what must be the world’s most laid-back capital city; temples; national monuments; a moving rehabilitation centre, and we’re getting in to the swing of this backpacking malarkey. *** Saturday night | Vientiane | Laos We got off the bus from Vang Vieng in the centre of the city just before sunset. It was Saturday night in the capital so I assumed it … Continue reading In the laid-back city of Vientiane

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A slow and unintended minibus to Vang Vieng

We made our way on a tricky bus journey to Vang Vieng, a town in a lush setting of towering karst hills which was once a rave town. We have a weird temple visit; I have weed for breakfast; I am banned from booking rooms. By minibus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng | Laos We decided to travel south. In the north west are … Continue reading A slow and unintended minibus to Vang Vieng

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Luang Prabang in Laos: the jewel on the Mekong River

We arrived at a picturesque town of French colonial architecture, swam in clear blue waterfalls, ate local food in night markets and saw silk being made. May have consumed worm poo. Propeller planes? I hate ’em Chuck, I hate ’em Propeller planes? I don’t do propeller planes. Who do you think I am, Louis Bleriot? I can barely fathom how normal jet airliners, massive hulks … Continue reading Luang Prabang in Laos: the jewel on the Mekong River

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Replanning our route, re-routing our plan

A Street cafe breakfast of omelettes and rice | Chiang Mai | Northern Thailand This post is part of the blog series ‘90 Days in South East Asia’ A quick update: Hope you’re enjoying the blog series, we’ve had an amazing time so far. One advantage of backpacking, even if it’s just for 90 days, is that you can replan your route as you go. … Continue reading Replanning our route, re-routing our plan

Chiang Mai, pretty little temple town

After 20 hours of travelling from the Himalayas we got to the laid-back town in north Thailand, Chiang Mai; we feel the heat; get fined by cops (again); visit a night market; learn how to respect The Buddha and ride mopeds in the rain. Oh, and there’s temples. Lots of temples. *** Chiang Mai | Lanna | Northern Thailand Imagine a small 800 year-old walled … Continue reading Chiang Mai, pretty little temple town

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Kalimpong and a Magical Himalayan Wedding

We woke early to see the world’s third highest peak and there she was, Kanchenjunga, at dawn, ready to witness a perfect wedding day in the Himalayas. Kalimpong | West Bengal | India This post is part of the blog series ‘90 Days in South East Asia’. When we were planning our 90 days backpacking , what you could call a gap-quarter-year, it was a … Continue reading Kalimpong and a Magical Himalayan Wedding

A tale of a dry day in India (it must be election time)

Departure Lounge Bar| Kolkata Airport | India We’re just about to leave India and go to Thailand on our 90 days backpacking around south east Asia. We’ve had a few alcohol-free ‘dry days’ due to the Indian elections, but since I’ve been coming to India I’ve known that alcohol bans (whether due to elections, wedding etiquette or not having a licence) are very loose arrangements … Continue reading A tale of a dry day in India (it must be election time)

A time of unbridled joy: the Assamese bihu

Man, those Assamese know how to celebrate. It’s the spring festival of Rongali Bihu and when we arrived in the capital, after leaving Kaziranga, it was in throngs of energetic merrymaking; the city’s open spaces were full of stages of singing dance troupes, their hips swaying, spinning and arms aloft; there were thumping drum beats, horns and yelps; and everywhere there was the iconic red … Continue reading A time of unbridled joy: the Assamese bihu

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Where the Rhinos Roam

We’re in Kaziranga National Park in Assam, a UNESCO world heritage site which has two thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos and the highest concentration of tigers in any reserve in the world. Kaziranga National Park | Central Assam | North East India We arrived in Iora, a spacious, landscaped resort, with spa and massages, for three days R&R. I wish all backpacking was like … Continue reading Where the Rhinos Roam

Helpful hints on how to climb a 17 foot elephant on your wedding day

From Jorhat we travelled west for one and a half hours till we got to Kohora, a small village on the highway on the edge of Kaziranga National Park, a world heritage site; it’s home to rare one-horned rhinos, and boasts the highest concentration of wild tigers anywhere. Kohora| Central Assam | North East India We got off the state transport bus at Kohora because … Continue reading Helpful hints on how to climb a 17 foot elephant on your wedding day

An unexpected treat on the River Brahmaputra

We got lucky. By an unexpected act of kindness we were spending the night aboard a luxury boat all to ourselves. On the Brahmaputra River | Moored at Nimati Ghat | Upper Assam | North East India While we were in Majuli ,my cousin Ashish had got wind of us being in Assam and he whatsapped to ask where we were. Then he pinged back, … Continue reading An unexpected treat on the River Brahmaputra

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Things to see in Majuli, the world’s largest river island

We sailed to the world’s largest river island, Majuli, in the mighty river Brahmaputra and cycled in stunning Assamese countryside to tribal areas and 500 year old Hindu monasteries … Sivasagar to Nimati to Majuli island | Assam | North East India From Sivasagar we took a minibus called a Traveller on the highway for one and half hours, towards Jorhat, that cost 70 rupees … Continue reading Things to see in Majuli, the world’s largest river island

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To Sivasagar: home of the Assamese kings

We’ve made our way to the ancient capital of Assam, full of monuments of the Ahoms. Digboi to Sivasagar | Upper Assam | North East India We’ve been really well looked after by friends and relatives and far from the backpacker roughing it style. Apart from long, bad dreams from the malaria pills, I’m sleeping well and eating a little too well. Bad dreams when … Continue reading To Sivasagar: home of the Assamese kings

Digboi, the oil town in the rainforest

We’ve made our way to the easternmost corner of Assam, to a sleepy town by a rainforest called Digboi. It’s Asia’s first oil town and has a blend of technology and jungles. Digboi | Assam | North-east India We’re staying with my cousin Umi and her husband Abhjit who manages safety in the oil refinery and live, with their daughter Ruhi, in a grand old … Continue reading Digboi, the oil town in the rainforest

On the lazy man’s road: the story of Dhodar Ali

We’re travelling further east in Assam, towards Digboi on an old road that has a curious tale about it. Dhodar Ali means the Road of the Dhods, or the lazy men, the slobs, the good-for-nothings. In modern day, an Assamese woman might berate her husband using this moniker if he forgets to put the rubbish out or buy the shopping. The road goes through typical … Continue reading On the lazy man’s road: the story of Dhodar Ali

A storm in an Assamese tea cup

We’ve arrived in Upper Assam at the start of the tea plucking season; the tea-pluckers are out in full force, filling their cane baskets with the first flush to the distant growl of pre-monsoon thunderstorms Tea gardens near Sapekhati |Upper Assam, North East India | Not far from the Myanmar border | About lunchtime We’re staying at my cousin Manikut’s tea garden, in a bungalow … Continue reading A storm in an Assamese tea cup

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Flying past Mount Everest to Assam

Delhi to Dibrugarh, Assam, North-east India. Flight time: 2 hours 25 minutes. Blogging with a view of the Himalayas. It’s day two of our ninety days holiday. Neither of us are homesick but this morning Sarah said she wants to FaceTime the cat. Till now, FaceTiming a cat was not a known side-effect of Malarone. I’m going to suggest a paper for the British Medical … Continue reading Flying past Mount Everest to Assam

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How to sleep on a flight (Aches on a plane).

Overnight flight from London to Delhi. 9 sleepless hours Sleeping vertically has never been a human trait unless you’re Spider-Man; it’s more for bats, elephants, horses and animals that can’t really lie down like lizards and ants. Sleeping on flights can be a quite an achievement especially in the middle seat, which is where I’m sat now, probably bummest seat of all bum seats. You … Continue reading How to sleep on a flight (Aches on a plane).

Travel anxiety: I’m about to go on holiday for 3 months, so why do I feel so anxious?

It’s weird, pre-travel anxiety. It’s that jittery feeling, not quite butterflies in the stomach, just a gentle fluttering of moths in your intestinal tract. I don’t know if you get that feeling too before travel? Some people, those of the stuff-your-case-and-just-make-your-flight school of thought, won’t quite understand the continual checking and re-checking of the suitcase, the passport validity, the charger, the visas, the money. Checking … Continue reading Travel anxiety: I’m about to go on holiday for 3 months, so why do I feel so anxious?

I’m backpacking around South East Asia for 90 Days

When a rare opportunity for extended travel arrives, you just have to grab it with both hands I’m going backpacking in South East Asia for 90 days. I know, I hate myself too. We haven’t plotted a route yet but it may possibly cover Burma, Vietnam, Laos and perhaps Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines; and if we have time, South China. And to start off … Continue reading I’m backpacking around South East Asia for 90 Days

10 Annoying Behaviours on the London Underground

Londoners have a love-hate relationship with their metro system The Tube; but it’s more than just standing on the wrong side of the escalators or not moving down the carriage that gets their goat. Today there’s even more to be annoyed about, like the Pole Hogger, the Backpack Whack and the Ticket Gate Overtake to name just a few. Just see how many of these … Continue reading 10 Annoying Behaviours on the London Underground

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Great travel annoyances of our times: the hotel toaster

At the hotel breakfast, that metal appliance that toasts your bread on a little conveyor … I mean… how hard can it be to use? In theory it’s dead simple right? Pick up a bread slice with tongs; place it on the conveyor … et voila … your little white carb is whisked upwards on its very own sun-bed and then it slides down to … Continue reading Great travel annoyances of our times: the hotel toaster

Farewell to the land of a thousand hills – epilogue

Well, it’s taken 42 blog posts and over 60,000 words, but I’ve managed to get there – this is the final post in the series ‘Letters from the Heart of Africa’. Thank you for following and if in some small measure it’s brought you some extra insight of Rwanda, a place of so many complex layers, beauty and grief, memory and progress, pain and hope, … Continue reading Farewell to the land of a thousand hills – epilogue

The bar that sold bananas

Wise words I once heard while buying bananas in a bar in Kigali, Rwanda in 2008: ‘Nothing can heal without truth; education seeks truth; so, nothing can heal without education.’ *** Occasionally on the way home from work at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda, I would go down to a little grocery shop down a dusty side-street off the Boulevard de L’Umuganda to pick … Continue reading The bar that sold bananas

7 tips for volunteers in Africa

It’s almost time to fly home. These seven months in Rwanda have felt so much longer – the richness of new experiences, meeting new people, hearing their stories and living in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, have given my time here some apparent stretch. Rwanda is enigmatic and bittersweet, both joyous and sad, harbouring hopes of a rosy future but with … Continue reading 7 tips for volunteers in Africa

The Ragged Children of Kinigi

When the ragged children of Kinigi danced, it was a scene of both joy and sadness, those imposters both, two vagabonds who travel this land of a thousand hills, hand in hand and appear when they are least expected. Continuing the series, Letters from the Heart of Africa *** We got to the lower slopes of the Karisimbi volcano and passed huge trees of howling … Continue reading The Ragged Children of Kinigi

Unexpected hosts: gorillas after the mist

After noon, we started the descent in to the mists of Mount Karisimbi, the highest peak in the Virungas, a mountain chain in the centre of Africa. The crisp blue sky gave way to a veil of grey chiffon as we headed down a long black slope of crumbling volcanic earth. My head was already aching with every step down from 4,700 metres, a dull … Continue reading Unexpected hosts: gorillas after the mist

Climbing Karisimbi

The snowman in the heart of Africa – Climbing Mount Karisimbi (part 2)

Continued from part 1 I walked towards the fire where there were two crouching silhouettes outlined in bright orange. I sat with them panting. One poked the embers with a stick, another lay on his coat  and stared sideways at the white-hot burning log. The warmth was comforting, and staring in to those dancing flames I forgot about my bout of claustrophobia. Further down the … Continue reading The snowman in the heart of Africa – Climbing Mount Karisimbi (part 2)

Climbing Mount Karisimbi

CLIMBING MOUNT KARISIMBI , a snow-capped volcano between Rwanda and the DR Congo, the tallest peak in the Virungas, was an arduous and fascinating experience. Many mountains, no matter how high, give you ice-field after ice field, lenghthy scrambles over loose scree and unending deja vu of switch-backs. But Mount Karisimbi is a consummate entertainer, performing a play of carefully crafted scenes, curtains of mist their … Continue reading Climbing Mount Karisimbi

Travels with Dr Muss – Healing the Memories

I started ‘Letters from the Heart of Africa’ over 15 months ago and now, 34 posts and 50,000 words later I’m finally nearing the home straight. Thanks so much for following this series so far, I’ve certainly enjoyed writing it and going through my journal which had lay untouched for 10 years before I starting blogging. In fact, if it hadn’t been for my wife Sarah’s continual … Continue reading Travels with Dr Muss – Healing the Memories

When Memories Come Calling

Memories are like kites dancing on warm zephyrs on high – with just a tug, and if our strings of remembrance are strong enough, we can bring them down from the ether, in to our grasps. Often, just tiny reminders can trigger them off; that perfume scent to recall an old flame; the smell of freshly mown grass invokes that sunny childhood summer of ice … Continue reading When Memories Come Calling