The Gappies

So, that´s the end of our year around the world. By way of celebration, please don your black tie / party dress for the announcement of the Gap Year Awards “Gappies”.

Best Outdoor Activity

In 3rd place:  Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos

In 2nd place:  White water rafting in Buller Gorge, New Zealand

And the Gappy goes to…kayaking in the Abel Tasman Sea, New Zealand

Best Hike

In 3rd place: The Pinnacles in Mulu National Park, Malaysia was technically the toughest hike.  So steep, that you have to climb virtually vertically

In 2nd place: The Inca Trail

and the Gappy goes to… The Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah.

Best Educational Activity

In 3rd place: Cooking class in Hoi An, Vietnam

In 2nd place: Batik class in Chiang Mai, Thailand

And the Gappy goes to…Star-gazing in New Zealand

Best Cultural Event

In 3rd place: Chinese New Year, Malaysia

In 2nd place: El Gran Poder Festival, La Paz, Bolivia

And the Gappy goes to…O-bon Festival in Nara, Japan

Best Historical Monument

In 3rd place: The Great Wall

In 2nd place: Machu Picchu

And the Gappy goes to… Angkor Wat

Best Beach

In 3rd place: Hot Water Beach, New Zealand

In 2nd place: Varkala Beach, Kerala

And the Gappy goes to… Nam Cat Island, Ha Long Bay

Best Hostel

In 3rd place: Giggling Tree, Yangshuo, China

In 2nd place: Treetop Lodge, Ban Lung, Cambodia

And the Gappy goes to …El Tesoro, Elqui, Chile

Best Mode of Transport

In 3rd place: Sea Plane, Taupo, New Zealand

In 2nd place: Bamboo boat, Li River, China

And the Gappy goes to…Bamboo train, Battambang, Cambodia

Best Food

In 3rd place: Shaved ice with adzuki beans, Japan

In 2nd place: Tim tams, Australia

And the Gappy goes to…Pho, Vietnam

Best Museum

In 3rd place: Natural History Museum in New York

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In 2nd place: Buddha Park, Laos

And the Gappy goes to…Pinang Peranakan House, Penang, Malaysia

Best Animal Encounter

In 3rd place: In a strong category, third place goes to Madidi National Park in the Amazon.  As we were fishing for piranha, we turned around to see a mother and baby tapir (usually nocturnal) crossing the river.  Our guide was even more excited than we were.

In 2nd place: A dusk hike in the Malaysian island of Langkawi.  Langkawi is more of a beach resort / duty free haven so expectations for wildlife spotting were low.  We got about two feet away from a buzzard pinning a lizard to the ground.  Then we saw flying lemurs (with tiny babies clinging to their bellies), flying squirrels and flying lizards.  All either inside or about ten minutes walk from a big hotel complex – unbelievable.

Flying Lemur & Baby, Bohol

And the Gappy goes to…snorkelling in the Celebes Sea off Mabul Island, Borneo.

Turtle

Best City

In 3rd Place: Singapore. Many people find Singapore too sterile, too controlled, too boring. It probably wouldn´t have made my top three if it had been the first place we went to, but it makes the list for two reasons: (1) after a month in India, sterility, order and a bit of luxury really hits the spot and (2) it had Elephant Parade! Plus it has great museums, a nice waterfront and all the home comforts you could want.

2nd Place: Hoi An – beach, mini Angkor Wat, amazing food and everyone there tells you that you’re beautiful.

And the Gappy goes to…Tokyo, big, full, colourful, insane.

Best Country

In 3rd place: Bolivia, salt flats, street parties, amazing wildlife in the Amazon and the picture-perfect Isla del Sol.

In 2nd Place: Japan the craziest place in the world.

And the Gappy goes to… Malaysia, which takes the crown because whereas we only spent two weeks in Japan and Bolivia, Malaysia kept us entertained for six whole weeks and was fabulous throughout. Apart from the time we nearly died on Mt Kinabalu. And the mosquitos in Kinabatangan. And Kuala Lumpur’s town planning department. But apart from that, amazing.

So that’s it from my fantastic year off. Back home now, job-hunting and and that. All subscribers to this blog please feel free to unsubscribe now, because it’s going to get a lot duller from now on.

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Yangshuo Triathlon

After a day in Guilin, which was mostly spent unsuccessfully trying to organise train tickets (we still don’t know how we are getting to Vietnam, all we know is we have to leave China by 16th, which is when our Chinese visas expire), we moved on to Yangshuo.  This involved getting a “bamboo” (actually plastic pipes) raft and drifting lazily down the Li River.  This area is famous for its scenery – it’s full of limestone peaks called karsts and terraced paddy fields.  Gorgeous.  We even spotted water buffalo on our journey. 
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 Yangshuo is very touristy and there’s a big, pushy, noisy service industry developed to cater to the tourists – the evenings here are like being in Magaluf (or so I would imagine).  Everyone knows at least one word of English -“Hello!” – and as soon as you get off the boat you are assailed with people shouting hello to you.  If they are trying to sell you something it will be “hello drinks”, “hello t-shirts” or “hello peanuts“.  They then poke you with said item.  If you have a peanut allergy then don’t come to Yangshuo.  Even people who aren’t trying to sell you something will say hello just to be friendly.  Even though it’s a touristy spot, they still seem excited to see Westerners – I suppose that’s the Chinese tourists rather than the native Yangshuo-ers who must be rather blase about it by now.  We’re still posing for people’s photos and we have a rule now that when they ask to take a photo of us, we take one back of them.  They are even more excited when they hear the word London – “Olympics!  Olympics!” 

There are plenty of activities on offer here designed to allow you to make the most of the countryside.  Today we did our own little triathlon.  We hired bikes and cycled out along the Yulong river.  Three separate people said to us, in all earnest,  “nice day for a bike ride today, it’s not too hot.”  It’s 32 degrees.  Now, I can sort of ride a bike but I’m a bit Bambi on ice, but I only fell off once (and it wasn’t so much a fall as an exuberant dismount into a paddy field). 
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 After about 3 hours we stopped off at “Dragon Bridge”.  This is what the guidebook has to say about Dragon Bridge:

Locals say the water under the bridge is 7m deep.  It’s certainly a great spot for a swim.” 

I love that – “We can’t tell you that you can jump off the bridge, because if someone breaks their back then we will get sued, but we’re still going to put the idea in your head.”  Anyway, I didn’t jump off the bridge and nor did anyone else while we were there.  Considering that we had to do a shortened route on our bamboo boat cruise yesterday because the river level was low, I don’t think it would have been advisable.  But I did have a swim, much to the amusement of the bamboo boat drivers and passengers.  

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 I tested our camera’s claim of waterproofness and got some photos of cormorants on a fishing boat. 
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They are the birds that the fisherman train to catch fish for them.  They weren’t on duty when I saw them, and if they had been accompanied by their fisherman at the time then I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to get a free photograph – I think the fishermen make more money from the tourists than they do from the fish.   

We then cycled back on the other side of the river, missed the bridges back across and had to haggle with a bamboo boat man to ferry us and our bikes over to the right side on a proper bamboo raft, so at least we can say we were on one, even if only for a minute.  After returning our bikes, we were absolutely shattered and it was starting to get dark, but it’s a Saturday today so I had to do a parkrun.  I’d worn my running gear all day in the hope of finding somewhere to run.  I know that going back to our room would be fatal – we’d sit down and not get back up – so I dragged poor Mr Beet to Yangshuo Park, where I did my very slow run.

More photos of Yangshuo on Mr Beet’s flickr page.