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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Hoi An and My Son

So from typhoon-hit Hue (I’m being over-dramatic, it was actually sunny by the time we left) we got the bus South to Hoi An.  Even though it was just a 4 hour trip in the middle of the day, it was a stage in a longer journey and therefore it was on a sleeper bus.  We had the worse seats because people who had been on the bus since Hanoi had understandably cherry-picked the better ones.  We were right at the back, over the back wheels and there were 5 of us across the width of the bus.  Memories of our night spent 8-in-a-bed in the mountain hut on Fuji came flooding back.  Sitting up was not an option, and there was insufficient leg room even for me, so we spent the four hours on our backs, with our knees bent up, as if waiting for a smear test.

I was pretty sticky and dishevelled by the time we arrived, but the good people of Hoi An did their best to cheer me up by engaging me in conversation and telling me I was very beautiful.  You are never safe from this guerrilla flattery; I was even chatted up when I was on the back of a moped on the way to the hotel by a girl driving alongside.  This is one of two main techniques for winning tourist business for a particular tailors (there must be over 100 in little Hoi An).  The other technique involves bellowing “HelloBuySomething!!!!” at tourists from shop doorways.

I did consider having something made to measure, but quickly realised that this would involve lots of decisions about cut, fabric, hem lines, neck lines etc that I am simply not equipped to make.  It would be like a trip to the hairdresser (which I hate) where they ask me lots of questions that I don’t understand and I just have to mumble “umm, well whatever you think really” .  I settle for buying an off-the-peg vest top to supplement my travel wardrobe.  The sales assistant offers me a medium, which she holds up against me to check the size.  She scowls at my chest and goes to get a large.  She hold up the large, inspects my chest again, rolls her eyes and gets me an extra-large.  

The extra-largeness may have something to do with the amazing food in Hoi An.  The food in Vietnam has been delicious and especially so in Hoi An.  It’s based on a lot of seafood and peanuts, both of which I usually dislike but the food is so good here that now I love them!  Plus they have the French influence, so there’s great bread and pastries for breakfast.  The second thing that Hoi An is famous for, after tailors, is its restaurants and cookery schools.  Mr Beet and I enrol on a day course at the Lighthouse with Linh at the Lighthouse Restaurant. 

We start off our day with Linh taking us around the market.  We try some street food (meatballs in a ginger syrup – weird but nice) and learn a bit about the types of beans, rice, fruit and herbs that are used a lot in Vietnamese cooking.  We get to try some new fruits (jack fruit, logan fruit and custard apple).  They’re ok but there’s probably a good reason why some exotic fruits have made it to the UK and others haven’t.  We then head back to the restaurant to don our aprons and cook shrimp spring rolls (with tomato rose garnish), chicken in a clay pot, squid stuffed with pork in a caramel sauce (less bonkers than it sounds) and water spinach with garlic.  Then we get to eat it all!  Om nom nom…

Col goes to the top of the class for being able to identify turmeric root

Lol stuffing a squid
The fruits of our labour

As well as tailor’s shops and amazing restaurants, there are some well-preserved historical buildings in the form of shrines, meeting houses and private family homes in Hoi An’s old town.  The whole place floods regularly, but everything is in impressively good condition considering.  You can get a ticket that gets you access to five of the monuments, so we had a nose round the first five we stumbled across.  This included the Japanese Bridge, various shrines and the house of a wealthy merchant family, where Mr Beet got told off for not listening to the tour guide’s spiel. 

 Col on the Japanese Bridge

"Photo!  Photo!  You take photo with drum now!"

Family shrine in Tan Ky House

The main cultural attraction close to Hoi An is My Son, a collection of ruined holy buildings built by the Cham people, who were Hindu.  It’s like a mini Angkor Wat.  If you want good photos, it is recommended that you go at 5am so that you miss most of the tourists.  Well, screw that, if you want good photos you can always do a google image search.  The ruins have been damaged by American bombs and simply by being in the jungle for 1000 years, so the site was originally a lot more extensive.  But there’s still plenty left to see and some of the detail that has survived is incredible. 

 My Son

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There’s a nice beach close to Hoi An and apparently the local Vietnamese people go there en famille first thing in the morning around sunrise, when it’s not too hot and the tourists are in bed.  So we decide to join in and set our alarm for 4.30am.  At 2am we are woken up by enormous crashes of thunder and hammering rain.  Another typhoon is passing through the region and we are on the edges of it.  So we scrap the beach plan and switch off the alarm.  But then by morning it is a beautiful day, so we go after all but  instead of getting there for dawn we arrive at the more civilised hour of 11am.  Mr Beet joined me for a parkrun and then we spent the rest of the day on the sun loungers and paddling in the sea to recover.  
Col parkrunning on Cua Dai beach

More photos of Hoi An on Mr Beet’s Flickr page.