At the end of each month I am going to send out a summary of the highlights of the month and update you on our plans for upcoming trips and activities. Here is the summary for December 2017.

Happy New Year

Welcome to 2018! I wish you good health and happiness, and of course lots of travel for the upcoming year!

Last month I called November the month of no wifi, and unfortunately most of December didn’t improve on that, so again I got less blog posts out that I hoped. Even when I thought we would have wifi, the universe conspired against us. Oh well, maybe January will be an improvement and you will get to hear more about the fantastic places we have been to soon.

We started December in Agra, India. You may remember our disastrous day before, and that we had missed visiting the Taj Mahal. We had to at least “see” the Taj Mahal, so we visited Mehtab Bagh, a park across the river behind the Taj. Visibility was quite poor (we were told it is not pollution, but rather fog, but I’m not entirely convinced) but we did indeed see the Taj Mahal.

India

Our Taj Mahal view

While in Agra we also called past the Agra Fort, a huge complex worth a visit. We were totally taken by the squirrels running around everywhere. I was standing still at one point and one ran up my leg! It just sat there for a few seconds, then realised I wasn’t a tree and off it scampered again.

India

The gates to the Agra Fort

Agra Fort

I wasn’t even wearing the right colour to be mistaken for a tree

That same afternoon we made our way to Jaipur by local bus. We had to try to recoup the extra money we had spent the day before somehow. We did take the “better” local bus, and to be honest, it was quite okay!

We only had one full day in Jaipur so hired a driver for the day. It was a full on day and we covered most of the popular sights. The Amer Fort was one of my favourites, along with the Hawa Mahal and the Jantar Mantar. The latter is a whole pile of astrological instruments built back in the 1700s. I was surprised that I found it strangely fascinating.

India

A decorated archway at Amer Fort, Jaipur

Jaipur

The beautiful Hawa Mahal, or the Palace of Winds as it is sometimes called

India

One of the astrological instruments from Jantar Mantar

More flights the next morning saw us back to our regular scheduling (before the impromptu visit up north) and we landed in Kochi. We again saved our cash and boarded a local bus for the ride down to Alleppey (or Alappuzha as I discovered it is now officially called). I was starting to kind of enjoy these crazy bus rides. They literally cost only a dollar or two, were air conditioned (read “no windows”) and mostly we had a seat so what more could we ask?

The night was spent chilling out at a hostel before we boarded our Kerala houseboat for three days of almost complete relaxation as it made it’s way around the backwaters! Or at least that’s what we thought would happen. In fact, it was three one day trips, so each day we would have to pack up and disembark, wait a couple of hours, then board the boat for the next day. India is nothing if not interesting! It always kept us guessing.

India

The peace and serenity of the Kerala backwaters

Next up in our travels was Sri Lanka. It was only a short hop over from Kochi, but it felt half a world away, which surprised me. With such close proximity, I had always bundled the two countries together in my mind but Sri Lanka was much less chaotic. It was cleaner and greener two. We only spent one day in Colombo before heading up to Habarana. The trains were on strike, so getting around the country had become a challenge which was to continue for the coming days.

While in Habarana we went on a safari tour to Kaudulla National Park. Here we jumped into the back of a jeep to spend a couple of hours bumping around while occaisionally spotting crocodiles, birds including peacocks, monkeys, buffalo…oh, and one or two elephants!! Well, more like a hundred elephants! And right up close. At one point they literally came to within a metre of our vehicle. The whole experience feels a bit commercial becasue there are quite a few jeeps all looking for the elephants, but once watching them grazing and moving around, that is all forgotten.

Habarana Sri Lanka

Just a few of the elelphants we saw in Kaudulla National Park

We also visited a few other local attractions such as Sigiriya, Dambulla Cave Temple and the ancient town of Pollonaruwa. The best part about our stay though was just being in a relaxed, green jungle area. It was so nice to see birds all around, monkeys in the trees, lizards and squirrels running around. Even the buffalo grazing up and down the roads with their bird companions added to the peace.

Sri Lanka

One of the buildings in the ancient city of Pollonaruwa

Sri Lanka

Monkeys are always entertaining!

Habarana

Sunset over the lake right behind where we were staying

We eventually had to move on, and with the trains on strike still we decided to try the local bus. At less than $2.50AUD for both of us we figured we could cope with it for a couple of hours because we were really looking forward to getting to Kandy. The name has always conjured up good thoughts, and while we enjoyed our time there, a lot of it was spent blogging, booking further travel and backing up our data because for the first time all month we had wifi good enough to do it. We did do a day tour to check out some of the main attractions like the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and the Botanic Gardens, and popped into the crazy Helga’s Folly hotel which is fast becoming an attraction in itself.

Sri Lanka

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy

Sri Lanka

The botanic gardens in Kandy were a great escape from the chaos of the city.

Sri Lanka

The quirky Helga’s Folly in Kandy

We had all our fingers crossed in Kandy because one of the things we really wanted to do on this trip was to ride the scenic train between Kandy and Ella. We were lucky with the strike ending just the day before we had to travel. We jumped on the train – along with hundred of others who had been waiting in Kandy to do this exact same trip. It was standing room only! We were all squished, and in with limited luggage room, bags were in the aisle and under our feet. It all needed to be moved every few minutes as local sellers moved through the trains selling all sorts of food and drinks. About three hours in I finally got a seat, but Simon stood for the whole six and a half hours. Luckily Ella was worth it!

Sri Lanka

It is absolutely compulsory to sit in the doorway with your legs dangling out for at least a small portion of this train trip!

For the first time in weeks we were almst cold. The temperature in the highland town was about 20 degrees, and when we got up at 5am to do a sunrise walk up Little Adam’s Peak we had to dig out our rain jackets to keep us warm. The highlight of the visit was hiking out to the Nine Arches Bridge and watching a train clatter across.

Sri Lanka

The Nine Arches Bridge hiding in the jungle just out of Ella

The relief was short as we moved onto Galle. Again we chose to catch a bus (no train going that way, and drivers were so much more expensive). This trip was a real “chicken bus” experience. It was hot and noisy and we were completely squished in. The driver had Sri Lankan music blaring the whole time and brakes were definitely optional. This trip clearly demonstrated that the unspoken rule of the road must be “give way to everything bigger than you”. Our bus was the biggest thing on the roads!

In Galle we stayed at a fantastic little guest house. Basic, but right on the edge of the jungle. While the mosquitoes could get lost, I loved the squirrels, lizards, birds and monkeys that were all around us. To get even more out amongst nature, we did a bicycle tour around some of the rice fields. It felt great to be doing something active after no real exercise for a while, but I am glad we went early as the going got tough as the day heated up. The highlight was the water monitor we saw which was easily bigger and heavier than me!

Galle also has a nice fort area which is really worth a visit with some great restaurants and hotels. While we didn’t stay in this area, I can see why it would be a great place to consider.

Sri Lanka

The light house and sea walls of Galle Fort

Our last full day in Sri Lanka was again spent on a train, this time back to Colombo. We then bused up to Negombo and spent the night there as it was closer to the airport. We had planned to go out and explore, but we arrived much later than expected to ended up relaxing instead. We had a big day and night coming up.

I was really excited to be on a flight back to Singapore. We’ve been here so many times now that it feels familiar and we know it is easy to travel through. We were here for only one night, mostly to see the Christmas lights on Orchard Road, but also to catch up with Simon’s cousin Tricia, who almost always seems to be out of town when we are there. Of course we also managed to get in some ouf our favourite food, with char kway teow for dinner and chicken satays as a late night snack.

Singapore

The display over the road is the gateway to the light displays

Singapore

The giant Christmas tree, clearly sponsored by Pandora!

Less than twenty-four hours later we were back on a plane to Hong Kong. This would be our second visit to the city. I had felt rather ambivalent about it after the first visit. I was sick at the time with a sinus infection, and we spent two of our four days there at Disneyland, so really I hadn’t given it a proper chance. This time I loved it! We did some of the big name things such as the Peak Tram and visit Lantau Island. Christmas Day was spent relaxing in our AirBnB. I had hoped to spend the day Facetiming our kids, parents and other family, but the wifi (and the tv – it was a cable issue) weren’t working. The hosts were great and gave us a mobile wifi device, but it had limited data and we had to make short calls only. Better than nothing!

Hong Kong

The Hong Kong skyline from The Peak. Going up early meant avoiding the crowds, but the morning fog had still not cleared.

Lantau Island

These incense sticks were as tall as me!

Lantau Island

Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island has some amazing roof decorations

The day after Christmas we caught the ferry over to Macau for our first visit. We were lucky to be there during that annual light festival so spent the rest of the day and evening exploring the old part of town then watching the lights. The second day was spent checking out some of the casinos, hotels and shopping centres. This place is seriously so over the top. We’re not gamblers, but just wandering through the casinos watching other people play is an eye opening experience. The amount of money that is spent in the fifty plus casinos in the city is just obscene.

Macau

The ruins of St Paul’s all lit up for the light display

Macau

Even the Christmas trees are over the top in The Venetian

Our departure from Macau was – well, challenging to say the least! Our plan had been to catch the ferry back to Hong Kong then the MRT to the border with Shenzhen and get a five day visa on arrival. To cut a long story short, we could not get a visa so were at a loose end. Did we stay in Macau another day? Or Hong Kong? We looked at accommodation and the prices were crazy. Between Christmas and New Years is a peak travel time and prices were reflecting this. I started to look at flights, and again nothing was super cheap. We had planned to  travel to Cambodia next, and had already arrange our e-visas, so that was an obvious choice. I saw a relatively cheap flight, so we started to make our way to the airport. It was for 7pm, but I didn’t want to book until I was sure we would be on a ferry early enough to make it. After all, on the way over to Macau, when we got to the ticket counter the earliest ferry we could get tickets for was four hours later!

As is just our luck, the ferry we got tickets for this time was the very next one only ten minutes away – and we had to rush through the long immigration lines. Luckily the ferry was a few minutes late, and we made it on board. I kinda wish we hadn’t, because it was a rough ride. I don’t suffer any kind of motion sickness, but I do have a very weak stomach, and the sounds and smells around me made for a very unpleasant trip!

At the airport I tried to book the flight – and it errored at the payment stage. I just couldn’t get it to work. No worries, we will find someone at the airport to sell us tickets. Nope, there is no one. Even the check-in is done by a different company, and they don’t have the ability to do any ticketing. I had to give up on that flight, and came up with another indirect flight, leaving at 11:25pm, stopping for four hours in Kuala Lumpur, and finally getting to Phnom Penh at 8:30am. Not ideal, but we were already at the airport, and all six days of our accomodation in Phnom Penh was about the same as we would have to pay for just one more night in Hong Kong.

This of course meant our first day in Cambodia was spent sleeping. Our second day was spent exploring the city centre, and getting our bearings. It was so nice to sit at a cafe on the riverfront and enjoy a cold drink. We were also thrilled to discover our hotel has fantastc wifi so we can finally catch up on all that online stuff while we are here.

Cambodia

The Phnom Penh Museum

New Years Eve was another quiet day and in the evening we made our way down to the riverfront. We hadn’t even got there and the madness had kicked in. I have never seen traffic like last night here. It was literally not moving because intersections were just jammed packed with cars, buses, motorbikes, tuk tuks, bicycles and pedestrians, and everyone was moving just inches at a time to weave their way through the chaos. And yes, there are traffic lights, but they tend to be mere suggestions, particularly for motorbikes.

The roads weren’t the only place that had traffic. The footpaths were fair game for anything that could fit there too. Walking was the quickest way to get around, but it was an adventure too.

It wasn’t long before the crowds became too much and we retreated. We found a little bar a couple of streets back with good music and decent drink prices. We ended up bringing in the new year while playing pool. Just the kind of low key night we like!

Coming Up

We will be in Phnom Penh for a few more days before making our way to Siem Reap to check out Angkor Wat. I plan to get up and see it at sunrise, but we will see how that goes! After that we will be going to Danang in Vietnam. We were forced to buy a ticket leaving Cambodia before they would check us in on our flight in (and then no one asked for proof anyway!!) so in a rush we picked Danang. I am thinking we will spend a week or two around the area, visiting Hue and Hoi An, perhaps even the Phong Nha caves.

After that, things get vague again. We hope to get to Laos, and maybe Chang Mai in Thailand by the end of January. By the end of the month we will be down to only three months left on our gap year, and still so much more to fit in!

Catching Up

In case you missed them, here are my December blog posts:
November 2017 Summary
Travel Diaries – Turkey
Travel Diaries – Jordan
Two Days at Petra
Jordan Pass – Is it Worth It?
Travel Diaries – United Arab Emirates

Don’t forget to follow along on social media where you will see some content that does not make it onto my blog.
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/josiewanders
Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/josiewanders
Instagram – http://www.instagram.com/josiewanders
Pinterest – http://www.pinterest.com/josiewanders

Blogging Wins

This will be a short section this month, because to be honest there haven’t been a whole lot of wins. With such bad access to internet for most of the month I have struggled again just to get blog posts out and a small amount of promotion done. Traffic has therefore been down, and of course everything depends on traffic! Having said that, I have had some great clicks on banners, and have had my best month ever of Google Ads – a whole $3.79!

And one offer for you to end the month. We just booked a tour with Urban Adventures and when I got my email confirmation it came with a referral link. We’ve used these guys a few times now in our travels, and have always had fantastic tours with them, so consider having a look at what they have to offer in your next destination. If you use this link we will both get a $10 discount on one of their tours. https://www.urbanadventures.com/friends/JKFRIEND348762

Until next month, take care.

*Note – this post may contain affiliate links. If you book using these links, then I receive a small percentage to help me fund this page. Thank you for your help.