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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Snorkeling in the Celebes Sea

After three days on the Kinabatangan River, we decide that the only way for us to avoid the mosquitos is to be underwater.  So we head to the coast.  Borneo has some of the best places for scuba-diving and snorkeling in the world.  Mr Beet doesn’t have a scuba qualification, and I am only licensed to 12m, so we opt for snorkeling.

After one night in the town of Semporna (a dive of a different sort) with a rat tap-dancing on our ceiling, we get a boat to the island of Mabul for the first of three days of snorkeling.  As the boat took us to the first dive site, I was pleased that we were snorkeling rather than diving.  The divers were still getting all their gear together and having detailed briefings, whereas we just stuck on our masks, snorkels and flippers and jumped in.

The only places I have ever been diving before are:

(1)  the swimming pool in Thornton Heath Leisure Centre; and

(2)  a muddy gravel pit in Slough.

So when I put my face into the water for the first time, it was a revelation.  It really was like Finding Nemo down there. The coral was so beautiful and there were so many fish.  The dive instructors tell you special fish to look out for, but even the common fish that nobody gets excited about were new to me and so colourful.  Even the grey ones that are not so pretty try to make up for it by swimming round in huge shoals, so you can get caught in a cloud of fish sparkling silver in the sunshine.  I suppose that wildlife spotters in Borneo like to see the orang-utans because they are so like us, but they like to see the fish because they are so alien.

The first hour’s snorkel went by in a flash of me pointing out every little thing to Mr Beet and going “…’oook! ‘oook!…ahhhh…’ootiful!“.   We had three snorkels in different locations that day.  At the end of the day, I was delighted but Mr Beet was a bit disappointed that we hadn’t seen any turtles.  So that was something to keep our fingers crossed for the next day.

The next day we saw turtles aplenty, big green ones and smaller hawksbill ones.  We saw so many that I’m not entirely sure how we managed to miss them on the first day.  We must have been too excited to look around properly.  After two dives, and many a turtle spotted, Mr Beet decides that he has fulfilled his snorkelling ambitions and will take the rest of the afternoon off to take advantage of the hammock outside our room and the free wifi.  I’m not sure, but his decision might have had something to do with the banded sea snake we saw on his final dive.  The guide was telling us all about it: “That’s a sea snake.  They stay at the bottom for long periods, but they breathe air so they come up every once in a while.  They’re really cool.  Their bites are lethal to humans.”

I’m still having an amazing time, so I sign up for more snorkels on the third day (even though this means I have to go straight from the salt water to the airport afterwards).  Everyone else in our group seems to lack stamina though, and they start dropping off so that by the final trip of the day I am the only snorkeller.  I’m slightly concerned about this, as I’ve seen that film Open Water and I’m worried that if I’m the only one I might get forgotten.  As it turns out, my fears are well-founded as the boat does indeed forget me.  OK, so I was with a guide and we were within swimming distance of the jetty, but even so!

We saw loads of beautiful fish.  My favourites were some of the ones that weren’t unusual, including what I can best describe as the fish played by Willem Dafoe in Finding Nemo.  Some of the more interesting things I spotted included turtles, sting rays, moray eels, ribbon eels, sea snakes, lion fish, scorpion fish, crocodile fish, goat fish, unicorn fish, pipe fish, file fish and trumpet fish (thanks to little79bear, dandandanRyan, Tchami, berniedup, TRACC-Borneo, atomicshark, Nemo’s great uncle and Boogies with Fish some flickr members with waterproof cameras, for the photos).