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.

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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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Langkawi

From Penang we took a ferry to another Malaysian island, Langkawi. It is a real tropical paradise; golden sands, warm seas and swaying palms. Plus the interior of the island is dense jungle packed with wildlife.

For the first time on our trip we hired a car and explored the island.  We started off at the Sky Bridge.  It takes two cable cars to get up there and the views over the island are fantastic.  You can see birds of prey wheeling at eye level. 

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After that we hiked to the Seven Wells waterfalls, where I took a dip. 

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We had been planning to do a guided wildlife trek in Langkawi, but we managed to see so many animals just hiking about by ourselves that we wondered if it would be worthwhile.  We’d already spotted.

1.  Macaques

2. Cute dusky leaf monkeys
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3. Snakes having snake sex
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4. A big lizard
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We decided to do the guided trek anyway and we are so glad that we did, although it was not what we expected at all.  Most of the trek went through a hotel resort complex.  What wildlife could we expect to spot there?  As it turned out – loads.  Before we’d even started the trek, the guide waved us over to show us something that he had spotted on his way in.  A young buzzard had caught a lizard almost as big as itself.  It couldn’t carry it away, so it was crouched in the undergrowth right by the hotel entrance, pinning its prey to the ground and waiting for it to stop struggling. 

Once we’d started the proper trek, the first thing the guide showed us was a tree with some lumps protruding from its trunk.  On closer inspection, the lumps turned out to be sleeping flying lemurs, but they were so well camouflaged that you would never have spotted them if you didn’t know what to look for.  The lemurs would start getting active around dusk, so we would come back there later. 

We also saw a giant squirrel, which we’d also seen in Laos and India, but we got a closer view this time, more dusky leaf monkeys and ubiquitous macaques. 

Then we went into the jungle and our guide explained a bt about the types of trees.  He showed us some huge termite mounds and told us that the locals can predict the weather by the termites.  A few days before the rainy season starts the Queen termite produces a generation of winged termites who will leave the nest to set up elsewhere.  If you see flying termites it means that rain is on its way.  

Further into the jungle I spotted a small lizard on a tree.  Just as I pointed it out, another lizard flew in to join it.  These were cool gliding lizards and our guide was beside himself to get such a good view of them.  He started telling us that the male can puff out his throat during courting, something that he’d never seen in the wild, only in documentaries.  Right on cue, the male started puffing out the sides of his throat to show bright red patterns on either side.  

Just before we left the forest, we came across a termite mound that appeared to be frothing.  There were hundreds of termites scurrying over it and hundreds more flying out.  So rain might be on the way. 

Back on the hotel complex we sat watching the sleeping lemur tree, waiting for the sun to go down.  The change from day shift to night shift is a very active time and we hardly knew where to look.  The monkeys were going to bed, the bats were coming out and the lemurs were starting to wake up.  As they began to move about, we could see that two or three had cute little babies clinging to their bellies.  When they fly, they spread out their limbs and gliding membrane so they look like big pancakes gliding through the air. 

We also saw some other flying creatures (it seems that everything on Langkawi flies); flying squirrels and tiny flying pygmy squirrels that we so quick that they were just like little darts. 

We didn’t expect to see this much wildlife before we got to Borneo.  We came to Langkawi for the beaches really, so this was a real bonus.  Speaking of beaches, we got plenty of beach time as well. 

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More pictures of Langkawi are on Mr Beet’s flickr page, and in case you were wondering, the termites got it right.  Later that night, we were woken up by thunder and torrential rain.