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

P1080046

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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Battambang

Battambang is a small town (the provinicial capital I think, but a small town to my eyes) and the guide book waxes lyrical about is colonial architecture.  But let’s face it, we’re here for one reason and one reason only – bamboo train!

We get here from Siem Reap by boat and it’s a long but pleasant journey as we keep stopping to pick up passengers and cargo from the floating villages along the way.  When we arrive, it’s a tuk-tuk driver feeding frenzy, as the drivers jump on board just as we’re all trying to disembark, trying to sell their services.  Our driver is called Bun (he says his surname is “Intheoven”) we have trouble understanding him, not because his English is bad, but because he sprinkles his conversation liberally with English idioms he’s picked up and likes the sound of, like “you’re my brother from another mother” and “a dingo stole my baby“.

We engage Bun to take us on a tour of Battabang’s sights the next day.  First stop is of course the bamboo train.  There’s a ten mile stretch of railway and the trains consists of an engine, wheels and a bamboo frame on top.  It goes pretty fast, or at least it seems to because you are out in the open and so close to the ground.  There’s only one track, so when you meet someone else coming the other way, one of you has to disassemble your train and remove it from the track to allow the other to pass.

Bamboo train

The driver catching up to the train after jumping off after his hat

The village at the end of the track has made the most of its position on the tourist trail and two little girls of 8 and 10 make us jewellery out of palm leaves and show us around their village’s brick factory as if it were a major tourist attraction.  When one of the girls gives Colin a palm leaf ring, I joke that they are now married and she will have to come back to London.  The girls giggle, but their mum remains stony-faced and says “No, she is too young.”  Maybe it wasn’t the best joke to make in a country with a significant child sex tourism problem.

Col and two little Cambodian Alan Sugars

Also on the tour was Wat Banan, a temple up the top of a mountain (hill) which is supposedly the inspiration for Angkor Wat, but nobody really believes that apart from the locals.  There is a mine clearing operation going on on the hill and lots of reminders to keep to the marked path.  

Col at the bottom of the steps to Wat Banan

Landmine clearance

Bun also stops the tuk-tuk at one point to show us a tree heaving with huge fruit bats.  Bun says that they eat bats in Cambodia and that they (predictably) taste like chicken.

Bats

Having exhausted the delights of Battambang, we return to our hotel, where we have the following conversation with the proprietor.

Hello, key for room 10 please.”

“Blass pee mee”

“Excuse me?”

“Blass pee mee!  Blass pee mee!  You know this word?”

“Errrr…no.”

“In the Alien film, the woman is fighting the alien and the alien says “I am evolution” and the woman shoots it with a gun and says “Blass pee mee!!“”

Errrr, can you write it down? …Oh blasphemy! “

“Yes, blass pee mee.  What does it mean please?”

“It means saying something bad about god, or saying god does not exist.  It doesn’t tend to come up a lot in conversation to be honest.”

“Ok, I see.  Blass pee mee.”

“Blass fur mee.”

“Blass pee mee.”

“OK, yes.”  

More photos of Battambang are on Mr Beet’s flickr page.