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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Thai Food

The burning question about Thai cuisine has to be:- which is superior; red, yellow or green curry.  After extensive research I can reveal that it is…Mussaman Curry.  This unexpected contender includes big chunks of carrot and potato and generally kicks the collective arse of the traffic-light triumvirate.

Mussaman curry

The other national dish that we had to sample was Pad Thai, which comes with an assortment of frankly terrifying-looking condiments.

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Bangkok

Apologies for the lack of bloggage recently. At least you have had Yoda looking after you. My excuse is that I have been ill in India. I will try to catch up now, which shouldn’t take me too long as I have been sleeping 16 hours a day for the past few weeks, and therefore there isn’t much to report.

So we left off in Chiang Mai, from where we caught the sleeper train to Bangkok.

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Bangkok was in full swing preparing for the King’s 84th Birthday, which is a big national holiday. Our plans for Bangkok were just to catch up with some chores that can only be accomplished in a big city, like getting a new memory card for the camera and eating some fake Nandos. We did visit the National Museum and did some Christmas shopping in Chatuchak market, so we ticked the sightseeing box as well.

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parkrun on tour – 3 December 2011

Today’s parkrun was in Lumphini Park in Bangkok.  It’s a lovely park, with lots going on including lots of other runners.  They even have a measured running route so that I could run a proper 5k.  Usually I have no way of measuring myself so I just do about 30 minutes, which should be about a 5k for me.  Today I timed myself over the 5k route and came in at 29.44, so my estimate was pretty much bang on.

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parkrun on tour – 1 December 2011

I’m afraid that I missed last Saturday’s parkrun. Unfortunately, it is pretty tricky to go for a run in the middle of the jungle. But you’ll be pleased to know that I did get my fair share of exercise hiking all day. Anyway, I’ve done a mid-week run today around the city moat in Chiang Mai for my first Thai parkrun to catch up.

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Ironically, the first week I miss a Saturday run is the same week that I am mentioned in the parkrun show podcast as “Mystery International parkrunner”.  I must try to do better in future, jungle or no jungle.

McDonalds World Tour – Thailand

Unfortunately, there were no McD’s, KFC, Burger King or similar to be had in Laos, so my junk food challenge has been somewhat thwarted. However, Thailand offers a wealth of junk food possibilities, so I am at least back on track. I thought I should start experimenting with some of the local specialities, so I tried a Samurai Pork Burger. I’m not sure what makes it “Samurai”.

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Chiang Mai

We were allowed to cross the border from Laos to Thailand despite looking and smelling like a couple of hobos, and got a bus all the way to Chiang Mai.  We immediately noticed how much more developed Thailand is compared to the other countries we’ve been in recently.  After travelling in Laos and Cambodia, we have a new-found appreciation for tarmac.  We arrive in Chiang Mai in the middle of the bustling Sunday night market, take a room in the first guesthouse we can find and immediately collapse for the night.

The next morning, we take full advantage of being in a tourist centre by popping to the Irish pub for breakfast.

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You can imagine how good this tasted after nothing but rice for a week.

We had scheduled a day in Chiang Mai to go to the Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for rescued elephants.  We got to feed the elephants by hand.  They each get their own special basket of food made up depending on their favourites; some have more bananas, some like pumpkin.  Some of the elephants are very polite and take the food daintily with their trunks.  Others are a bit more snatchy and will throw the food away if they judge it to be too small to bother with.

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After lunch, we got to go into the river with the elephants and give them a wash.  Some elephants like to be washed by the tourists, others prefer to splash around by themselves.

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Thanks to a smooth trip from Laos (the yellow bracelets have still not let us down), we arrived in Chiang Mai a day earlier than we expected. So we had an extra day to spend on one of the many tourist activities on offer. I vote for white-water rafting, Mr Beet chooses batik painting.  Since we have been doing a lot of adventure type activities recently and nothing creative, we ultimately decide on batik.  Then I remember that I still have “paint a picture” outstanding on my list of things to do before I’m 30. So it’s an opportunity to tick that box as well.

Our teacher is a very friendly Thai woman called Anne, who takes us through the whole process; sketching a design, canting on the wax, painting, fixing and finally putting the whole thing in boiling water and hoping for the best. We are pleasantly surprised by the results. I’m sure this is not due to our latent artistic prowess, but rather the subtle guidance from Anne.

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Some more pictures are on Mr Beet’s flickr page here and here, but the batik photos have been censored as someone may be getting one of my efforts for Christmas and I don’t want to spoil the surprise.