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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Nara

After our few days in Kyoto, we headed out to the nearby town of Nara, which used to be the capital of Japan once upon a time and, after Kyoto, is the second biggest place for Japanese historical monuments.  We’d timed our two days here to coincide with the O-Bon Festival, which is a festival to remember the dead and is celebrated with lights and bonfires.  We arrived late afternoon, and after settling in and getting some dinner, it was getting dark and the festival of lights was well underway and looked really spectacular.  Unfortunately, neither of us are sufficiently adept with the camera to properly capture the spectacularness of it, so you’ll just have to take our word for it.

Nara Park is also home to hundreds of deer, who are far from the shy creatures that we are used to in the UK, and generally mingle with the crowd, pestering people for food and terrorising small children. 

This festival seemed to be like our bonfire night, and certainly didn’t feel sombre.  There were lots of interesting food stalls and we made a mental note not to have any dinner the following night, so that we could try some of the street food. 

The next day, we went out and did more or less the same sights by day.  Nara’s piece de resistance is a properly massive golden Buddha, which is kept inside the “Daibutsu-don” which I thing more or less translates as “Buddha Shed”, which claims to be the largest wooden building in the world, although I seem to remember somewhere in Kyoto making the same claim so I am dubious.  One of the wooden pillars inside has a hole in it which is meant to be the same size as the Buddha’s nostril.  If you can squeeze through you are assured of enlightenment, so the kids all line up to have a go.  Plus, there was one fully-grown (and rather chubby) tourist trying his luck when we were there.  We watched him huff and puff for a few minutes, but later on while we further away we heard a big cheer, so we think he made it. 

We saw all the shrines with their lanterns ready to be lit again that night.

 

We came back at night time and took our pick from the food stalls.  A lot was similar to what we had at home; candyfloss, sausages, chips.  Neither of us fancied octopus tentacle on a stick, so Mr Beet had a sausage and I had a cabbage – egg -bacon fritter thing, which was a bit like bubble and squeak. 

We watched some monks conduct some kind of religious service, then a dignitary of some sort carried a big burning stick over to light a bonfire.  When the moon rose over the hill, that was his cue to light his bonfire, which in turn was the cue for people on the hillside to light a big fire in the shape of the Japanese character meaning “big”. 

Even though there were no fireworks (I am a huge fan of fireworks), Mr Beet and I agreed that this was one of our favourite things in Japan.  It was also our last night in Japan.  The next morning we had to get up at ridiculous o’clock to get the train to Kobe, and then the boat to Shanghai.