Here we still are, four years later celebrating our fourth year on the road together, and our passion for travel remains just as strong. Though now we are fours years older, we have grown up a lot, our travel standards are starting to change and our life goals are not just about travel anymore. It’s been a hell of a journey to get here and yet we are so excited for what’s still to come. We’re 23 and 25 years young, and isn’t it a wonderful thought that some of our favourite adventures haven’t even happened yet!
As we do each year, here is a round up of our travels from the past 12 months. For the first time our travel decisions haven’t been dependant on anything, unlike in previous years.
Four years ago we set off to travel the world with no money so the destinations we visited in our irresponsible first year of travel depended on visiting family and friends in different parts of the world who welcomed us into their homes. To fund our second year of travels we volunteered around Europe in exchange for food and accommodation, so our journey depended on where we could find volunteer jobs. And in our third year of travels we were completely restricted to the status of Will’s Australian visa application.
Therefore, this year it was almost overwhelming to have complete freedom to decide exactly where we wanted to go, with (almost) no restrictions.
Here’s what we got up to…
1. Gold Coast, Australia
This time last year we were back on the Gold Coast of Australia enjoying life with a base in between travels. We were both working in the hotel industry and really made the most of our days off on the Gold Coast. We experienced almost every attraction in Surfers Paradise and on the Gold Coast on our days off, and during this time we also got engaged!
2. Moreton Island, Australia
Through working in Guest Services I was invited along with other staff on a Moreton Island Day Tour (as this is a trip we sold at work) and had an amazing time. You can book your Moreton Island Tour here.
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Travel is rebellion in its truest form. We follow our hearts. We free ourselves from labels. We lose control willingly. We trade a role for reality. We love the unfamiliar. We trust strangers. We own only what we can carry. We search for better questions, not answers. We truly graduate. We, sometimes, choose to never come back. 👋🏼
3. Sydney, Australia
Then Will’s mum and step-dad came to visit us on their first ever trip to Australia. So we spent 3 weeks showing them around our new home and even took a trip to Sydney together.
4. Melbourne, Australia
We spend Christmas with Sandy’s family in Melbourne, where we enjoyed a traditional Polish ‘Wigilia’ with 12 vegetarian dishes on Christmas Eve.
5. Byron Bay, Australia
One of my favourite travel bloggers from wheresmollie.com flew over from the UK to host a meet up with travellers from around the world so we joined and met some cool people in amongst chasing waterfalls in NSW. Watch the epic video from the day here.
6. Bangkok, Thailand
And then the time had finally come. We’d committed to having a base between travels for 12 months, and achieved all the goals we had aimed for, so it was time to set off to travel freely again. Since we had a lot of debts to pay this year, bought a car, got engaged and prioritised a comfortable lifestyle, our savings were just enough to comfortably travel for a few months in ‘cheap’ countries.
So we decided our next big stint of travel would be through the countries of South East Asia that we hadn’t visited before (and save travelling around the more expensive continents for when we get the funds up again). We quit our jobs, stored our car and booked a one way ticket to Bangkok where we stayed for a week to settle in to the nomadic lifestyle again.
7. Pattaya, Thailand
In Bangkok we coincidentally bumped into an American couple who we met online 4 years ago through our Facebook Travel Page (before we had the blog). They ended up missing their next flight on purpose so we spontaneously took a trip to Pattaya for a few nights together – the closest beach city to Bangkok. While there we visiting the gorgeous Ko Long Island on a day trip.
8. Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Since we’ve been to Thailand‘s major holiday destinations like Phuket and the Phi Phi Islands before, we decided that this trip would be all about exploring the mainland parts of the country. So the next stop inland was the town of Kanchanaburi for 3 nights, a place famous for the Bridge Over The River Kwai built during WWII and the very stunning and magical Erawan Waterfalls.
9. Ayutthaya & Sukothai, Thailand
As we crossed the middle of the country to get to the mountainous North we made 2 stops over 3 nights to see Thailand’s historic cities and UNESCO World Hertiage Centre at Ayutthaya and Sukothai, to break up the long bus journeys. We started to realise that our travel standards were changing and that we’d much prefer to stay in guest houses or hotels over private rooms in hostels. And since we were in South East Asia this was very affordable considering private rooms in cheaper local hotels and guest houses only cost us $12-$20AUD per night (on average).
Tip: Although this may sound super cheap already, if you’re travelling long-term and wanting to stay in hostels, to get a roungh idea on how much to budget, a bed in a dorm room is on average only around $3AUD per night in Thailand!
10. Chaing Mai, Thailand
We were very excited to finally get to Chiang Mai as this was where we would tick off a bucket list experience of visiting rescued elephants at an ethical Elephant Sanctuary. A day trip to the Elephant Nature Park was the only activity we had booked in advance on this trip, due to their calendar always being full with volunteers months in advance. The torture some elephants go through in Asia for tourism is absolutely heartbreaking, so it felt really great to support an organisation that is actually making a difference. Check out our Guide to Chiang Mai for tips on other things to do in this city.
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Such a unique experience with these rescued elephants at @elephantnaturepark 🐘 Learning about how horribly mistreated elephants are in the tourism industry in Thailand and how much abuse + torture they have to go through to perform for trainers (out of fear of getting tortured again) is very heart breaking! The hidden truths aren’t promoted, and not many people know what happens behind the scenes to make an elephant unnaturally do what their trainers want. Many people who choose to ride elephants ‘for fun’ or see them in a show have no idea what pain and suffering those elephants go through every day (I certainly didn’t 4 years ago when I took my first trip to SEAsia). It’s only recently that I’ve taken an interest in watching documentaries about this topic, and if you choose to learn more I can assure you you’ll never want to contribute money to this abuse again. But thankfully the team at #elephantnaturepark have done such an incredible job at rescuing as many of these poor elephants as they can and created a protected sanctuary for them to rehabilitate + happily enjoy the rest of their lives roaming free. From first-hand experienced I’ve seen how well the elephants get treated here and how patient the team is with them. They let them decide when they’re ready to interact with other elephants again and when they’re prepared, if ever, to interact with humans again. You can see it in the elephant’s eyes that they’re happy + grateful to be here and it’s heart-warming to see. We had the opportunity to feed + bathe these gentle giants at the sanctuary whilst respecting how much time they wanted to spend around us. This kind of ethical interaction with elephants beats ANY other kind of elephant encounter (even if they WERE ethical), so if you ever want to get close to elephants when in to Asia please do it this way. And be sure to do your research (other companies claim to be ethical and offer ‘no riding’ but still use hooks to hurt their elephants). @elephantnaturepark is the only good one I know and it’s truly a great place with genuine values. It’s rewarding to be part of a great cause. Without people donating to visit they wound’t be able to fund the sanctuary.
11. Pai, Thailand
After 10 days of exploring the areas surrounding Chiang Mai and extending our tourist visas, it was time to take the 3 hour windey road up further North through the mountains to the small hippy town of Pai.
It’s one of those places where you can see everything within a day, but the cheap living costs and slow pace of life really draws you in, so a lot of backpackers end up staying here longer to take a break from constant travel. We absolutely loved relaxing in Pai so we decided to extend our stay…then extended again…and again…until 2 weeks flew by. We highly recommend adding Pai to your Thailand itinerary and we even wrote a full Guide to Pai to help in planning your trip.
12. Chiang Rai, Thailand
The journey ahead was to travel to Laos, a country we’d never been to before, and to get there we travelled by bus via Chiang Rai in Thailand to visit the insta-famous White Temple. After a couple of nights in Chiang Rai we took a local bus to a town called Chiang Khong on the border of Thailand and Laos to get the connecting bus over the border. The plan was to spend a night in the Laos border town of Huay Xai, but at the time we were very exhausted from an uncomfortable journey and too tired to go through immigration paperwork, so we booked a nice hotel in Chiang Khong to relax for the evening instead. For all the details on travelling through Northern Thailand read our full Northern Thailand Route, check out our 30 Day Thailand Travel Budget Guide for Couples, or watch our full Northern Thailand travel video.
13. Gibbon Experience, Laos
Luckily we didn’t book anything in advance because when we arrived in Laos we found out about the Gibbon Experience in Huay Xai, and there was no way we were going to miss the opportunity to go hiking and ziplining through the jungle to stay overnight in a treehouse during this trip! This spontaneous decision took a nice chuck out of our travel budget but at least we knew the money was going towards the National Park’s conservation project, and looking back The Gibbon Experience was one of the main highlights of this whole South East Asia trip.
14. 2 Day Slow Boat, Laos
After returning from the Gibbon we spent another night in Huay Xai before catching the 2 day slow boat to Luang Prabang the following day. The boat journey was very long and boring (no phone service) and I’d probably recommend paying extra to get a bus that only takes one day. But in saying that, I’m glad we did it because we got to enjoy the beautiful scenery along the Mekong River and see tiny rural villages that were completely off the beaten path. We also witnessed extreme poverty on this journey, which was very confronting and sad, yet made us feel overwhelmingly grateful for everything in life.
15. Luang Prabang, Laos
When we arrived in Luang Prabang we were surprised at how clean and beautiful this city is, and it’s so well cared for that it even makes the cut for being a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can see the French influence in the food and architecture, and you can also venture out to visit caves as well as the famous Kuang Si Waterfalls nearby. If you had to choose only one city to visit in Laos, Luang Prabang is it.
16. Vang Vieng, Laos
Our next stop in Laos was the popular backpacker party destination of Vang Vieng, half way to the capital city of Vientiane. Besides stoping over to break up the bus journey and to see the gorgeous blue lagoons, the main reason for stopping in Vang Vieng was to go to the crazy tubing party along the river. We’re not too into partying but thought this would be that one time on this trip that we’d ‘let loose’ a bit. Though when we got to Vang Vieng not one bone in our body felt like doing anything at all. We didn’t have the energy to go, and relaxing in a nice hotel room sounded much more appealing, so we had the shocking realisation that maybe we’re getting too old for backpacking!
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After not actually having the energy to go to the tubing party that Vang Vieng is so famous for we had the shocking realisation that maybe we’re getting too old for backpacker life. Chilling out in a nice hotel room sounds much more appealing.😂 But we still wanted to have a tubing experience so decided to visit the water cave here that you can go tubing in (without the hangover). This pic was taken when we got there though just before we found out the water was too shallow for tubing. Oh well, let’s go to the waterfalls instead then…on our way to the waterfall we realised the dirt road was WAY too muddy for our scooter to get through so we had to go back. And by the time we got back to our guest house we were too tired to do anything else for the rest of the day.😆 Anyone else know the feeling when you’ve made all these exciting plans for your travels but when you’re actually there things either don’t go to plan or you just want to chill the FO? 🙈#couplegoals #vangvieng
17. Vientiane, Laos
We got to a point on this trip where the travel burnout had got real. We’d travelled non-stop many times before and usually we’d start feeling burnt out at around the 8 month mark, not after just 8 weeks! But every time we set out to travel long term we’d be staying in one place for at least 4-6 weeks at a time before moving on…never before had we been moving from place to place every 5 days or so. So for the first time ever we understood what people mean when they say “I could never travel long-term like you.” In Vientiane we splurged a little and stayed 3 nights in a nice hotel with a pool and buffet breakfast while we explored the capital city of Laos. For all our tips on travelling through Laos read our Where to go in Loas guide and watch our full Laos travel video.
18. UK & Bali
Although we went with the flow a lot we still had a rough ‘plan’ for this trip and originally planned to fly from Vientiane to the North of Vietnam (instead of the 24hour bus journey to Hanoi!), where we’d start our Vietnam travels and make our way down the coast all the way to the South of the country, then travel across to Cambodia and potentially loop back to the Southern parts of Laos that we’d missed. Though by this point we were craving familiarity and just wanted to rest for a while.
Will was missing his family back home in the UK and I was feeling such a huge pull to go back to my beloved Bali. Even though it didn’t make sense logically, geographically, or financially, we decided to trust our intuition and go our seperate ways for 2 weeks. Will flew to England to break up the travels and catch up with family and friends, while I flew to Ubud in Bali where I spend my days truly relaxing, getting back into my yoga practice, and refueling my body with high vibing food. It was exactly what needed to happen and we both felt so rejuvinated when we flew to Hanoi to reunite and start a brand new adventure throughout Vietnam.
19. Hanoi, Vietnam
First impressions of Hanoi were: culture shock, extremely hot and humid, and very crazy busy. Even though we’ve travelled in South East Asia to many different cities before, nothing could have prepared us for the extreme traffic in Vietnam. We had a few days here exploring and mainly taking it easy, though it felt really good to leave for Ha Long Bay.
20. Halong Bay, Vietnam
We chose to set off for a 3 day trip on a boat that included one night onboard and the other in a hotel on Cat Ba Island, which was a good balance to experience Ha Long Bay from both land and sea. Ha Long Bay truly has that postcard perfect scenery, it’s very beautiful and we were very lucky to have a nice sunny day on the first and most important part of the trip. Unfortunately though it rained heavily on the last 2 days so we missed out on the main hiking trail on Cat Ba Island as well as a trip to Monkey Island, but to be honest after seeing many monkeys and hiking many trails in Thailand we didn’t feel like we missed out on much.
Tip: We can’t remember the name of the boat we went on but there are hundreds. We recommend booking a boat tour once you’re in Vietnam because it’s a lot cheaper to book at your hotel or at a tour desk in Hanoi than online.
21. Sa Pa, Vietnam
From there we headed back to Hanoi overnight where we caught a bus up North to Sa Pa the following day. We didn’t have much expectations as we were only stoping here to break up the journey to Ha Giang (further North), and most people we met who did the Ha Giang Loop said it was much better than the touristy town of Sa Pa, but boy were we surprised. It was so nice to be in the middle of the humid South East Asian Summer but for it to actually be cold and feel like we were in The Alps. This is the place were we caught the longest and highest cable car in the world up to the top of Fansipan Mountain (3143 high) and it was freezing at the top! We highly recommend to not skip Sa Pa on your Vietnam trip.
22. Ha Giang Loop, Vietnam
Now, travelling the Ha Giang Loop was a totally different experience. It was an 8 hour bus journey to get from Sa Pa to Ha Giang where we rented a motorbike that we’d ride 350km along breathtakingly beautiful mountainous roads completing the Ha Giang Loop over the next 3 days. It’s very rural and a pretty dangerous route so very easy to have an accident. We’d only recommend it to the adventurous traveller seeking a bit of danger. Though if you’re confident on motorbikes, very careful and responsible it’s also easy to get around the loop in one piece. Here’s our full guide to travelling the Ha Giang Loop with details of all the stops we took. Definitely a highlight of our whole South East Asia trip!
23. Ninh Binh, Vietnam
After safely arriving back in Ha Giang we had to allow a full day to catch a bus back to Hanoi, then another shorter bus journey the following day to our next stop: Ninh Binh. We really liked Ninh Binh as it was a very chilled out rural town that stood out for not having crazy traffic like most other places in Vietnam but still catered to foreigners. There’s a stunning temple there at top of a hill that makes you feel like you’re in a fairytale.
After a couple of days here we caught an overnight bus to Hue as it was literally the only option to get there (unless you’re willing to pay 5x more for an overnight train).
24. Hue, Vietnam
The next stop was Hue, known for it’s historic Imperial City and also the place to hire a motorbike and ride the Hai Van Pass to Hoi An. The journey can be done in a couple of hours and does not compare to the Ha Giang Loop, but a beautiful and safe way to get to the next stop. Also a perfect alternative for travellers who skip the Ha Giang Loop, to experience riding a motorbike in Vietnam.
25. Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An really surprised us with it’s beauty. Literally anywhere you look there’s a photogenic back drop, and it’s very nice to cycle around the Old Town. It is here that we made the decision to cut our South East Asian travels short due to being very burnt out again. It was possible to see the Southern parts of Vietnam over the next couple of weeks but we decided to extend our stay in Hoi An, instead of rushing through the next few places without being fully present. It was hard to digest the thought that we’d be missing out on places we wanted to see, but we’ll no doubt come back again in the future to explore the South of Vietnam and Cambodia.
26. Da Nang, Vietnam
After over a week relaxing and wedding planning in Hoi An, we decided to stay a couple of nights in Da Nang, which was the nearby city that we’d be catching our next flight from. While here we visited Marble Mountain, enjoyed the beach and got super excited for the next destination.
27. Nusa Dua, Bali
We had always planned to come back to Bali at the end of this trip to book our Wedding venue for next year. So although we skipped a lot of the places on our South East Asia bucket list it was very exciting to be back in Bali making plans for this very special future milestone. We ended up booking our wedding venue in Nusa Dua for next year, and really looking forward to it.
28. Hotel Tugu Bali
From Nusa Dua we travelled to Canggu where we had a pre-organised collaboration lined up with Hotel Tugu Bali, which was honestly one of the best hotels we’ve ever stayed in. After months of travelling through developing countries we were craving a bit of Western lifestyle so we indulged in 5 Star Luxury at Tugu, and it was the best way to end this trip.
29. Ubud, Bali
We managed to find a cheap flight back to Australia departing the following week so we spent the rest of our time in Bali relaxing in Ubud, a familiar place that we always come back to.
30. Gold Coast, Australia
It’s been an epic fourth year on the road, and coincidently we are celebrating our fourth year travel-versary on a flight back to the Gold Coast, which feels so right to be coming home this time. We’re closing this South East Asia chapter and are fully ready to write the new one with plenty of blank pages yet to fill. We don’t have much of a plan for the next 12 months…our only certainty is our Destination Wedding in Bali mid next year, which will probably be followed by a honeymoon. Though whatever ends up happening between now and then, it will most definitely be a great story…
Read Next: 2018-2019 Travel Round Up
Have you been to any of the places mentioned in this post? Leave us a comment below…
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