As travellers on a very tight budget we are always looking for ways to save money and extend our time travelling on limited funds. We stumbled across the website https://www.workaway.info/ by accident whilst in France in May 2013 during the second phase of our trip. The philosophy of Workaway is described as “a few hours honest help per day in exchange for food and accommodation and an opportunity to learn about the local lifestyle and community, with friendly hosts in varying situations and surroundings”. By joining the website community for a minimal annual fee ($38 for a couple, for a year) you have access to over 25,000 hosts in 155 countries worldwide. You can search within specific locations and narrow the kind of ‘work’ you would like to participate in through categories such as farming, gardening, eco projects, helping with tourists and art. You have your own profile with a description of your interests and skills, plus some photographs, and every host has a page where they describe what’s expected and some information and photos about themselves. The added bonus is that feedback can be left by ‘workawayers’ who stay with a host, and vice-versa about you as a volunteer, so the system is self-monitoring.
Throughout our 854 days on the road we have participated in 7 Workaway placements, all quite varied but all enjoyable experiences. In Spain Andy did some graphic design work while I helped out at a hostel, in Croatia we helped a couple realising their permaculture lifestyle dream and in Hungary demolished walls and painted hundreds of beams to restore an old mansion. In Greece we cleared land, fixed chicken fences and built a vegetable garden and in Armenia helped establish an eco-project and walking trail network. Two weeks in Montenegro was spent photographing the local beaches off-season for a hostel owner and in India we made environmental education videos and helped a local guy develop his sustainability project.
The advantage of a Workaway placement, which for us was generally from 10 days to a month, is that you get to pause in a place which after weeks and months on the road, constantly moving, is a welcome change. You get the opportunity to become part of a community rather than just passing through places and gain a real insight into what life is like for local people in the country that you are visiting. You can ask all those questions that have been mystifying you about a place to actual local people and enjoy traditional food, culture and hospitality in a welcoming home. By timing our Workaway in Mumbai with the time period we were waiting for our car shipment to arrive, we saved on accommodation and food costs for almost a month.
Through Workaway we have collected and pickled mushrooms in Croatia, wine-tasted in Hungary, milked goats in Greece and been invited to local festivals. We joined Bollywood dance classes in Mumbai, skipped with orphans at an orphanage in India and celebrated Easter at an ancient Armenian Monastery.
It is essential to be flexible with Workaway, most hosts are quite laid-back and sometimes there are issues with communication through the website- have a few back-ups… people not replying is not uncommon! Be clear about what the work arrangement is; 4-5 hours a day with 2 days off is the general rule and be happy about the accommodation offered which can range from a luxurious cabin to a patch of grass where you pitch your own tent. Generally, good communication from day one when you first contact a potential host, right the way through your placement, makes for a much more positive and happier experience for everyone.
In summary, despite not earning any money while on a Workaway, the fact that you are not spending any is equally as valuable when trying to maintain a long-term trip. In the future we plan to build our own sustainable home and have learnt many new skills through our placements which will help enormously when that time comes. We have made life-long friends with our hosts and some of our best memories of a country have come the through Workaway experiences.
Small, steaming stalls surround a central area of Formica tables and plastic chairs, quickly filling up as evening approaches with groups of friends and families. Buckets of ice with bottles of beer are ordered and brought to the tables from the drinks stalls by waitresses, then dishes are selected and paid for from your vendor of choice and your table number given. Simple, no-fuss, fast, delicious, sociable and great value… welcome to hawker food eating in Malaysia.
Hawker centres in Malaysia are essentially permanent collections of street-food stalls, normally in an open-air complex, with communal tables. A wonderful diversity of nationalities, culture and religions in Malaysia has resulted in a fusion cuisine which boasts some of the world’s best street food.
Extensive menus seem to defy the limited space and basic set-up of each makeshift food outlet, staff whirl round in a cramped space; barbequing meat, draining steaming noodles, tossing unidentified morsels in sizzling woks and stirring huge vats of bubbling soup. Bowls of raw ingredients are lined up and meticulously displayed on the stall fronts; cubed tofu, black mushrooms, sliced raw vegetables, squid rings, dumplings, prawns, shellfish, gelatinous noodles and chopped crab sticks.
Our big, empty table at the CF night food court in George Town, Penang Island, was soon filled with a laughing group of local friends, who quickly included us in their beer-top-ups as bottles of cold Tiger flowed continuously. Chatting to them, they said they came to the food court every week, preferring the laid-back atmosphere and bustle to more formal restaurants. The beers washed down plates of Char Kuey Teow; greasy, thin stir-fried noodles topped with egg, prawns, spring onions and beansprouts and wrestled with chopsticks. Three young cabaret singers belted out pop covers from a round, glittery central stage, pausing every time the electricity cut out then starting each tinny, rhythmical ballad from the start once the power surged back.
On another evening in George Town at the Red Garden night food court we tried Penang’s signature dish of Assam Laksa, a pleasantly pungent, fish-based soup with sour Tamarind and noodles, chilli, cucumber, lemongrass and prawn paste.
In Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, we sampled Nasi Kandar, an Indian-influenced rice dish topped with different meat, seafood, vegetables, with a speciality being fish head curry. An array of oily, spectacularly spicy, chilli-infused dishes are laid out to choose from, then added to light, fragrant rice.
For breakfast, find a small space on a street bench for Roti Canai, delicious fresh, puffed flatbread served with a dish of spicy lentil Dhal and a mug of sweet, milky chai.
In the Bukit Bintang area of Kuala Lumpur the street of Jalan Alor heaves on both sides with bustling restaurants, stalls and pop-up eateries. Crowds of locals and tourists perch on plastic stools around pavement tables. Sticky jack fruit is sliced into finger-licking pieces, tiny stalls crammed with piles of Kuih Kosui banana-leaf wrapped sweet coconut dough parcels and no-nonsense menus of dim sum and fried fishcakes line the walkways.
From our shared table at Wong Ah Wah eatery we people-watched and picked at Batu Maung Satay, a selection of different grilled meats on thin bamboo sticks dripping with a rich, thick peanut sauce. Not just a means of satisfying your hunger, Hawker centres are an entire experience of food and friends as you rub shoulders with fellow diners and enjoy a whole menu of weird and wonderful new snacks and dishes.
Arriving into Thailand after a full-on, hectic four and a half months in India followed by a strict two week Myanmar guided tour we spent our first night camped in Taksin Maharat National Park near the Northwest border. The immediate quiet and organisation of the place was a shock to the system! Off season, the camp site was empty so we had an entire site for us and our French family friends in their motorhome who we’d travelled across Myanmar with. A basic yet sufficient wash block meant we had clean water, shower and toilet facilities and a huge open, flat space to clean, hand-wash, re-order (and relax) after our Indian odyssey.
There are 127 National Parks in Thailand, varying from quiet, low-key areas with basic camping facilities to tourist-tastic parks complete with Hornbill keyrings and Deer tame enough to take a selfie with. They are excellent places to plan your route around as the facilities are perfect for overlanders and the cost minimal- with incredible jungle, mountains and coastline they are perfect places for relaxing in nature and spotting (surprisingly easily) many of the hundreds of species of animal, birds, reptiles and insects.
Mae Surin National Park offered an escape from the steep tarmac roads, as beautiful, sedate sand tracks weave along the edges of unspoiled forest. Wild camping was easy with viewpoints and picnic spots overlooking an undulating, tree-covered horizon.
Our next stop was Khao Yai National Park, in the East of Thailand, where we stayed 3 nights at Lumtakong Campsite where the less-than-shy resident Sambar Deer outnumbered campers several to one. Drinking tea with the beating of Hornbills wings flying overhead and jumping as a huge water monitor lizard strides past you, slipping into the nearby river and gliding across.
Dawn hikes through swaying, orange sunlit grassland with wild elephants crashing through the undergrowth nearby and gibbons howling and acrobatically swinging through the jungle canopy above. This is the gem of Thailands Parks, with a modern visitor’s centre and over 50km of marked, extensive, beautiful hiking trails.
Southwest of Bangkok, we visited Kaeng Krachan National Park, staying in Ban Krang campsite where salt licks attract huge aggregations of colourful butterflies (over 300 species!) at the camps entrance. A stream flows through, with Malabar squirrels hanging from tree branches above and stump-tailed Macaques chattering in the tree tops.
Smaller, low-key reserves dot the Thai coastline, our first experience of this was at Hat Wanakon on the East coast. With our hammock slung between two beachside pine trees we watched a stunning sunset over the water as fishing boats bobbed past. In the morning we wandered through pine groves, large vivid lizards diving for their burrows, on our way to the outdoor showers.
Crossing the narrow band of Southern Thailand to the West coast we camped at Laem Son National Park, fringing an idyllic stretch of beach with forested outcrops. Khao Lampi Hat Thai National Park further south boasted a completely empty campsite, beautiful solitude right on the beach- coastal wilderness with the luxury of toilets and showers in a scenic pine forest. Karst limestone islands loom from the waves in Krabi province, creating a surreal landscape around Hat Chao Mai National Park. Along this deserted stretch of beach on the Andaman coastline we saw no one but the odd curious cockle collector and were able to swim and sunbathe in peace with the tide lapping all the way to our table and chairs.
Timing is key when visiting Thailand’s National Parks; they are far more enjoyable when quiet so try and visit off-season if possible and during the week. The bigger parks have a reasonably budget-denting entrance fee (eg- Khao Yai is £8/$10 each) but this covers your entire stay, no matter if you visit for an afternoon or four days. We chose fewer parks but stayed longer to make visits more economical and give ourselves enough time to relax and hike the surrounding area. Camping is extra but only around 60p each a night and the facilities are basic but generally well-maintained. In contrast the smaller coastal parks charge only £2/$3 entrance so you can afford to stay in several for single nights. The security of patrolling rangers on campsites means you can stay ‘set-up’ and wander off into the wilds and sleep better without that ‘on-guard’ feeling when wild camping. Of all the countries we have travelled in, Thailand’s National Parks are by far the best, managing to maintain that wonderful wilderness feel while providing fantastic, affordable facilities across the entire country. It’s a great way of seeing wildlife while contributing directly to its protection.
No visit to Cambodia, and in fact SE Asia, would be complete without a visit to magnificent Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world with 150 square miles containing more than 100 beautifully carved temples and shrines.
Despite a restless night in a humid roof tent with an all-night deafening amphibian chorus (how can frogs be that loud!) we stumbled down the ladder at 4.30am, determined to make the most of our budget-extravagant $40 3-day passes.
Our first dawn stop was the show stopper of the ancient site itself; Angkor Wat. As the sun rises over this centrepiece of the vast Khmer Empire capital, reflected in an orange glow in the surrounding moat, your breath is simply taken away. No matter how many times you’ve glanced the iconic silhouette on postcards and guide books, it’s still a guaranteed jaw-dropper.
Inside, the religious site is still very much active with saffron-clad monks placing smoking incense and offerings at the feet of Buddha statues. Shady, green lawns surround the central temple complex of colonnaded walkways, carved stone towers and steps into grey courtyards surrounded by sculpted Hindu gods, the huge, iconic lotus-bud towers rising above.
Away from the crowds and the manicured lawns, it was the semi-ruined temples that encapsulated the true lost-city feel of Angkor Wat. Preah Khan was the perfect example of a crumbling fusion of Hindu and Buddhist ancient architecture, hidden amongst dense jungle with huge tree roots penetrating the mighty stone walls to a point you weren’t sure which was supporting which. Amongst the dark corridors, sunlight peacefully infiltrating where the ceilings had collapsed, were glimpses of a violent recent history where many Vishnu and Krishna statues had been ‘decapitated’ by Khmer Rouge forces.
For me, the feeling of nature taking back many of the temples across the site is what gives Angkor it’s mystical beauty; roots and vines so intertwined with temple walls it’s difficult to see where one ends and another begins. Man-made history merging seamlessly with present natural structures. Intricately carved patterns on walls are thinly shrouded with beautiful pale-green lichen, this slow-growing, dry algal fungus as delicate as the statues they gracefully envelope.
Our second eye-watering early start was a climb to the less-visited Pre-Rup for sunrise, sat silently among the rock-carved upper terrace as the changing dawn light turned the stone through a myriad of orange and red hues.
The incredible Ta Prohm was another magical example of ancient ruins intertwined with nature, a few Angelina-esque jumps through root-twisted archways as we ventured through the original jungle ‘Tomb Raider’ temple, with lichen-covered relics and giant tree roots both destroying and holding ancient stone structures together.
“If Pre-rup is lego, with its small, tightly packed brickwork then Ta Keo, with its enormous bulkly blockwork is Duplo” Andy, 2016. The early mornings clearly getting to him.
A short distance away from the main Angkor site, we visited Banteay Srei Hindhu Temple, containing some of the finest, most intricate stone carvings on earth. Beautiful, fine carvings in rose-coloured stone grace the walls and archways of this very delicately different small temple.
Early on our third morning, Bee-bee paused underneath the huge stone archway of the Victory Gate entering Angkor Thom, last great capital of the Khmer empire, with Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara staring down commandingly.
We rubbed shoulders with hordes of colourfully-dressed, selfie-obsessed Chinese tourists entering the incredible Bayon temple; 54 stone towers graced with 216 huge carved stone faces of Buddha staring both contemplatively yet domineeringly down on us.
The first level of the temple contains an enormous walkway with carved Bas-reliefs depicting life in 12th Century Cambodia; elephant processions, hunting, fishing, dolphins, turtles, deer, lions and underwater pond scenes. The upper terrace boasts huge, stone towers four-sided with the giant carved faces of Avalokiteśvara amidst a labyrinth of shaded, vaulted walkways.
An afternoon hot, sweaty climb to the top of the Baphuon, in the 12th-century royal Buddhist city of Angkor Thom was rewarded with spectacular views across the temple courtyard and gardens. Bee-bee posed in front of the splendour of the carved wall ‘terrace of the elephants’ and we rounded off our final Angkor adventures with a sunset climb back up to the Bayon. Eeerily devoid of the earlier tourist crowds, a light monsoon shower fell amidst the many stone faces of Buddha making them look serene, like closing their eyes into the sunset and our time here.
The entire, epic site is breath-taking and worth every cent of the budget-denting 3-day pass. I think even Andy considered walking through ancient history to be worthy of 3 consecutive pre-dawn wake-up calls, a must for any travel to the region and one of our finest SE Asian memories.
With all the planning, spreadsheets and lists in the world it is impossible to always climatically be in the right place at the right time. We found ourselves in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos for the onset of the monsoon; a time of heat, humidity and torrential downpours. However, we overlanders are/should be predisposed to enduring the elements and despite the climatic and logistical challenges presented by monsoon travel we found enormous benefits to touring during this season.
Temperatures were a sweltering +40°C in the lead up to the start of the monsoon but once the rains actually arrived, showers reduced the temperature often by 10°C. Humidity was high but the accompanying monsoon breeze made the stickiness bearable and by 8pm the temperature had fallen to below 30°C, which was the crucial difference between a good and a sweaty, restless night’s sleep in the roof tent.
Rain itself presents obvious challenges when you are overlanding in a 4x4 and live outdoors. We learned to read the skies and approaching cloud formations when deciding if we had the necessary 45 minutes dry period necessary to rustle up and eat a stir fry for dinner. Our awning has attachable sides which are perfect if the rain is not accompanied by strong winds, in which situation the awning is more hassle than it is worth with sides flapping towards the stove and water being blasted by gale-force winds through the many gaps. On this occasion we take comfort that our fridge still delivered our beers at a refreshing 3°C and that SE Asian countries sell an amazing array of beer snacks- dried squid and pea crisps for tea-time in a steamed-up, front of the car, substituted dinner on more than one occasion.
An unavoidable downside to monsoon conditions is the surge in blood-sucking critters, particularly mosquitoes (everywhere) and leeches in the jungle. It’s never a pleasure to have to smear thick, pungent insect repellent on when your skin is already sticky with sweat and covered in sand and salt but it does work. Camping away from swamps and long grass reduced the numbers dramatically.
The last thing you want to do when the day eventually cools off slightly is to put clothing layers on, but this is when the worst aerial assault begins. Generally long sleeves and trousers kept the biters at bay. A small price to pay when watching the evening illuminated dance displays of emerging fireflies, which also increase in numbers during this season and gracefully light up the night sky.
Persistent precipitation leaves clothing, blankets and towels damp for days but the sun does eventually come out and then everything is dry within an hour. Rainfall is typically short and sweet and only lasts for a few hours of each day.
There is something beautifully wild and romantic about sitting on a deserted beach with waves crashing on the shore and dark storm clouds swirling in the sky. We witnessed some incredible lightning storms from the (relative) safety of our roof tent and the gentle pitter-patter of early morning raindrops can be as soothing as a lullaby when there is no work to get out of bed for.
We adventured through Cambodia and South Thailand in June, described by travel guides as the ‘low season when visitors melt’. The plus side of visiting at this time is that most tourists are far more sensible than us and follow this advice, leading to an empty Ta Prohm temple at Angkor Wat early in the morning. The surrounding beaches of Krabi and Phuket region, with sands crawling with tourists in the high season of November to February, were abandoned. We could wild camp undisturbed and wander endless stretches of empty sand gazing at an uninterrupted horizon of waves and karst limestone rock islands.
National Parks were deserted so we could enjoy wildlife trails all to ourselves, with numerous sightings of normally crowd-shy animals and birds. Camp sites were uninhabited and in many we were the only occupants, with the exception of sharing the site with wild deer and the shower block with the odd water monitor lizard. Paradise. Most chalet and beach-hut resorts are closed but now and again they let us camp there for free and use the facilities. On one occasion we were invited to join the builders for sundowner beers and fresh crab and shrimps after a day of cabana restoration preparing for the next season. If it’s peace and not parties you’re after, off-peak travel in Thailand is bliss.
The first thing that hits you when you wander into one of Laos markets is the smell; the pungent aroma of fish sauce, for me, will forever be synonymous with Southeast Asian bazaars. Added to this, an olfactory fusion of garlic, frying shrimp paste, spices, chilli, mango, coconut, honey and fresh herbs and your senses are overwhelmed.
Meat and fish form a large part of Laotians diet, in the market your dinner couldn’t get much fresher (if a tad unhappy) with cages full of ducks and chickens. Plastic sinks and concrete tanks writhe with Catfish and Tilapia, traders dipping nets in and trying to contain the flapping, protesting catch on archaic weighing scales before tipping the ill-fated fish into a plastic bag. Breathing purchases are not just limited to everyday livestock; frogs, lizards, crickets, cicadas and even some very unlucky rodents are lined up in boxes for the more exotic Lao tea-times. No part of an animal is wasted in Laos, women meticulously pick the meat from a pig’s ribcage while the trotters and snouts are piled high. Piles of tripe are folded carefully for sale alongside severed buffalo hooves and entire pig’s heads. A woman cuts slices from a huge plastic bowl containing bright red congealed blood, as always the butchers section is not for those with weak stomachs!
Colourful canopies of overlapping parasols and awnings shade the piles of fruit and vegetables from the strong Laos sunshine, creating a rainbow of light over an already vibrant display of lychees, passion fruit, strawberries, cherries, oranges and apples. The midday heat starts to hit the stall holders busy since dawn and women doze head-down on piles of cabbages or snooze stretched-out on loungers next to their flapping fish stand.
The Laos snack-of-choice, fried pigskin, is portioned in bags sitting alongside rows of mystery powders, dried plants, obscure berries and roots and clear bottles of unidentified liquids and oils.
The market is not just a practical place for supply purchase, it’s the pulsating hub of the community, a place where livelihoods are made and the rewards of hard work are earnt. Families work together and friends catch up over coffee and noodles, children run between the stalls and young people meet on scooters.
If all the browsing makes you hungry, every market has snack stalls serving endless portions of the ubiquitous noodle soup- a steaming bowl of clear chicken broth into which additions are ladled from plastic containers under the bench; fish balls, shredded chicken, spring onions, bean-sprouts, rice noodles, cabbage, fried garlic, chilli and fish sauce. It takes some skill to work the small ladle/chopstick combo but once mastered this dish is a delicious shop-stop and a healthy fast-food bargain at less than £1 a bowl.
We spent most of our time in Laos driving the small mountain roads, particularly in the north of the country. Remote and rural, at times we found ourselves bumping along pot-holed surfaces or driving in billowing clouds of dust on half-finished tracks. The scenery was magnificent and often the roads followed the routes of Laos’ many rivers, climbing high into the hilltops, then dropping down through lush jungle fringing the watercourse. One of the highlights of taking such minor roads was the chance to experience life in the hill tribe villages. At times it was like driving through a National Geographic article; men in traditional tribal dress, women weaving bright patterned cloth on ancestral wooden looms, timber houses balanced on carved stilts and children chasing chickens and piglets.
Old ladies gossip under the shade of Hibiscus trees while men in woven bamboo hats herd lumbering black water buffalo uphill along the road. Hammocks swing in the stifling midday summer heat, gently swaying snoozing occupants in the shade under wooden stilted houses.
Self-sufficiency is vital, villagers trek back to the village from the surrounding fields, straps round their foreheads balancing bamboo-woven baskets piled high with vegetables and green leaves on their backs. Small, terraced paddy fields fringe the valleys, bare-footed rice collectors paddling through the bright green swathes.
Freshwater fish is the Laotians main source of protein and fine nets are thrown from dug-out canoes on the rivers, while youngsters wait patiently with handmade rod and lines. Small fish are neatly tied in lines on sticks, fried and sold from small roadside stalls, while live catfish and snakehead fish squirm in buckets hours away from a spicy sauce and sticky rice.
A menagerie of livestock pecks, waddles and lounges beneath the timber homes; ducks, chickens, geese, boar, buffalo, cows and goats wander through every village. Without mains water, families gather around communal taps, women modestly washing under sarongs while children scream naked, splashing each other.
Sadly, it’s not all romantic crafts and cute kids, the villagers face very real threats from logging operations in the surrounding hills- deforestation is a massive problem and on a few occasions while driving the road was filled with acrid smoke from ‘slash and burn’ land clearance as entire hillsides smouldered. The US bombing campaign in the 60’s and 70’s has left an ugly legacy with unexploded ordnance still a risk to villages, particularly children who find the deadly, small cluster bombs. Water shortages are frequent and water quality is often poor, access to education and health care is also a problem in the smaller, more remote villages.
Despite the poverty and struggles of a rural existence, the villages have a warm and welcoming atmosphere; betel-stained mouths smile and wave as you drive into each settlement, people filled with both curiosity and warm hospitality.
This is the English translation of our interview with Matsch-und-Piste. You can view the original article in German here....
What was your inspiration to make a world trip?
Emma had previously travelled on expedition across Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Yemen as a production manager of a wildlife documentary series. In 2010, I needed a holiday and so we did a 10-day trip across the UAE and Oman. It became apparent quite quickly that we were good travelling partners. Later in the year via a Skype conversation the subject was raised of where we should go on our next road-trip. One of us jokingly said “lets drive around the world”. 1 and a half years later we set off!
How did you prepare for your trip? How long did the preparation take?
We spent about 1 and a half years planning. We spent a lot of time on the internet researching trips undertaken by other people. This is when we discovered ‘overlanding’, before that we were just going on road trips. We were unaware it had a name, websites and a whole community. Andy researched 4x4’s religiously and compiled a short-list of potential vehicles.
Why have you chosen the Toyota?
The second value of the Toyota Hilux Surf is very low, especially one that is 22 years old. The car has just a very basic ECU, so doesn’t require special software or a computer to fix it. One of the reasons we chose a Toyota Hilux Surf (apart from the fact we couldn’t afford a 70 or 80 series Landcruiser) for this trip was because of the availability of parts. The Hilux Surf shares many parts with other Toyota models including 4Runners, Hilux pick-ups, various Landcruiser models and some obscure models that are only available through South-east Asia. 4Runners are prevalent throughout Europe. Surfs and Landcruiser Prado’s (which share our 1KZ-TE engine) are widespread through Russia, Central Asia and South-east Asia. The only country we’ve travelled through where we didn’t really see many old Toyota 4x4’s was India.
How do you finance your trip?
We sold all our possessions, worked 2 jobs and moved back in with our parents to save money. We work a little as we travel, writing articles for magazines and doing the odd graphic design jobs. We prolong our money by doing work exchanges as we travel through websites like workaway.info
What does your trip approximately cost per month?
The cost per month varies depending on route, how much many work placements we do and other factors, but on average a trip like this costs about £0.25 a mile (or €0.32 per 1.6km)
How do you navigate? What equipment do you use to navigate?
Initially we had a Garmin Handheld GPS 60csx, this was stolen in Tehran when our car was robbed. We now use our smartphones. We use an app called Galileo for the iPhone (https://galileo-app.com). This works offline using opensource maps. We also use a similar app for Android called Maps.me (http://maps.me/en/home). Both are great, we might upgrade to a designated iPad for navigation soon. Another great map app and resource is iOverlander (http://ioverlander.com). We also carry paper maps which are much better for planning routes and overviews of the country.
How many countries have you been to? How many kilometres have you driven?
We are now in country 51 and have completed more than 140,000km.
What have been your most lovely experiences so far?
The real highlight for us was driving through Central Asia, especially the notorious Pamir Highway. Many overlanders have a holy grail; some want to drive the Bolivian Death Road others the Road of Bones in Siberia. For us, the infamous Pamir Highway in Central Asia had been on the top of our list for some time. It is the world’s second highest international highway; the surface is mostly unpaved. The road traverses the Pamir Mountains and travels through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan reaching an altitude of 4,655 metres.
Part of the highway requires a special permit as it passes through the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan. The scenery was wild in every sense of the word. We experienced landslides, rock-falls, earthquakes, floods, high winds and political unrest; all factors that rate it quite highly on the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Roads’ list.
Have there been any set backs? Any situations where you have experienced fear?
Like all long term trips you are likely to face set backs. Our trip has had many. Whilst in Central Mongolia we received news that both Andy’s parents had been diagnosed with Cancer. We decided that the best course of action was to return home whilst our visas still allowed us to do so easily. We turned around and drove straight back to the UK in a pretty impressive 15 days. We had to put our trip on hold which cost us a lot of money in fuel, losing insurance, Carnet fees and other expenses.
In Turkey we cracked the cylinder head on the car as it overheated. This was a costly repair and set us back a couple of months.
In Iran our car was robbed and we lost most of the contents of the car.
We have never really experienced fear – we have had a few near misses and avoided several accidents mainly caused by bad drivers. We’ve encountered a lot of wild animals – snakes, leopards and elephants!
You were robbed in Tehran. What did they take and how did you manage to get back on the road?
In an ironic twist of fate, we were robbed whilst in Iran making an overland documentary film about how great the people are. Entrusting our security to our guides and sponsors, our few habitual self-imposed rules that had kept us safe through 45 countries were temporarily broken. We never drive at night, we never leave the car in the same place for long periods of time and if we stay in a hotel or in a city we make sure the car is in secure parking.
Unfortunately in Tehran our situation was different and somewhat out of our control. We were assured by our Iranian TV director that the neighbourhood was safe but regrettably we had no secured parking and much to our unhappiness we had no choice but to leave the car on the street.
Being woken at 6am to be told the window on your precious home has been smashed was not a nice experience. In my sleepy state it hadn’t dawned on me that we might have been robbed. For some reason, in my naivety I just presumed our car had been vandalised because we were British.
We called the police immediately, and then spent a heart-breaking hour and a half peering in through the smashed window trying to work out the extent of what had been taken.
Two Iranian motorcycle policemen arrived and, with a complete lack of compassion, promptly told us the robbery was our own fault for parking on the street! They wrote down my details, told me to go to the nearest Police Station and left without even getting off their motorbikes.
And then it began… the long, painfully slow, soul-destroying job of filing a police report in a foreign country. In total the whole frustrating procedure, with lengthy discussions in Farsi translated to only a few English words, took 4 full days with multiple visits to four different police stations to attain all the correct rubber stamps, forms and signatures before an investigation could begin. Annoyingly and somewhat expectedly we haven’t heard from them since!
The thieves indiscriminately took 6 Flatdog Wolf Boxes containing clothing, car parts, medical kit, camping equipment and personal items. Sadly, this included the box that contained Emma’s travel diaries, all our used maps and books plus every sentimental little souvenir and gift we’d acquired en-route. They also took a few larger items including my tool roll, our recovery equipment, pop-up toilet tent and the cooker.
In total it would cost approximately £6,500 to replace the items that were stolen. The financial loss was devastating but the inconvenience and time wasted was really problematic. When you travel in this way every item you carry has a purpose and we had specifically spent a lot of time researching the products we’d purchased. Trying to replace some of the ‘essential’ items in Iran proved to be near impossible especially as our visa was slowly ticking away. The stress in the days that followed was crippling, re-living every detail and not knowing if we could feasibly continue with our trip.
Thankfully the people of Iran and our friends back home proved how amazing they are and came to our rescue helping us source and replace many of the items that were taken. Our friends in England set-up a donate page for us and people donated enough that we could carry on.
Fortunately the robbery didn’t dampen our adventurous spirit and we have continued our trip.
What countries did you like most? What countries would you most likely not visit again?
We loved the wilderness off Mongolia. The driving there was amazing and the people are extremely friendly. Morocco is great because it is so close to home and has much to see and do. The landscape and terrain is also very varied from sandy desert to high mountains and the Atlantic coast to lush green valleys. The whole of Central Asia was amazing – The Pamir Highway! We also loved Thailand. Andy would really love to go back to Russia and explore the far North west!
May 1st was your 800th day on the road. Your web site is named "Around the World in 800 Days". Were the 800 days actually a goal? Why did you choose this name for the site?
The name of the trip was inspired by Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’. For us though we prefer to take our time and so we added an extra ‘0’; Around the world in 800 Days! Our goal is to visit as many countries as possible in our car, we’ve had setbacks so reaching 800 days was a big deal for us!
Is there an end to your trip in sight? Or is overlanding your way of life?
The current stage of our trip is nearing an end as we have nearly run out of money. We will be heading back to England in July. We have started making plans so that we can continue to South America but this depends on lots of factors. We have been on the road (on and off) since 2012 and we are both a little tired. We have lots of plans to earn money in the UK which are related to overlanding! The dream is to be able to make enough money as you travel to continue this lifestyle.
What character traits does an overlander need?
Persistent, stubborn, a good problem solver, a little brave, a little stupid and most definitely ambitious.
If someone wants to do a world trip. What advice would you give him?
Don’t wait. People find too many excuses not to follow their dreams. Just do it! Even if you don’t think you can and you don’t have enough money, just go. You’ll have an adventure or you’ll die trying!
Never drive at night.
Never leave the car in the same place for long periods of time.
Keep on top of car maintenance.
Andy is 40 years old, a practising artist who has exhibited worldwide. Along side this he is a keen graphic designer and has a healthy interest in all areas of creativity, especially architecture.
Emma is 38, a biologist specializing in fresh water fish, ecological conservation and has worked as a production manager for a wildlife documentary series, planning and managing expeditions across Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Yemen.
This article was originally posted on http://matsch-und-piste.de/
When we first set out in 2012 Burmese land borders were well and truly closed, so back then our option was shipping from India to SE Asia. In 2014, with a shift in political power, land borders opened up to foreigners. For once our delayed itinerary had gone in our favour and allowed us more country-crossing options.
To drive across Myanmar in your own vehicle requires being escorted by a government-approved guide plus numerous permissions, documentation, fees and taxes. Apparently it is possible to arrange the paperwork and permissions yourself but that would involve flying into the country in advance, costly and definitely stress-inducing. The simplest way is to travel with an agent-organised tour; the more people in your group, the cheaper it works out per person. The agent needs a month to organise your documents so you need to plan way in advance. Being flexible with dates also increases your chance of finding fellow travellers to join your group and reduce costs. We eventually went for a 14 day tour which, once we had joined a French family of four, was not much more expensive than an exhausting 5 day dash or shipping.
Our group comprised of us, the Pleau family (two adventurous French motor-homers and their two young sons) plus a ‘pilot car’ with driver, tour guide and officially appointed government guide. We still don’t know the purpose of our government guy; friendly enough but barely interacted with us other than to take the occasional video and photo reconnaissance records. He certainly had a nice holiday out of us!
Logistically, the Myanmar route is simultaneously relaxing and restricting. It was the first time we have ever had a guide which was wonderful; escorted through borders, explanations of menu items, ordering food, a constant enthusiastic source of local information and a mind of historical and cultural facts. Plus, a genuinely lovely bloke that we can now call our friend. Hotels are all pre-booked so the daily mystery of where to pitch that night is removed, itineraries meticulously scheduled so there’s no scouring the guide book for sights and activities and you follow the pilot car so no maps or GPS required. I have to admit that after the full-on experience of 4.5 months overlanding in India this was a lavish travel hug. It’s like cotton-wool-wrapped touring, 14 consecutive nights of the kind of luxuries we normally only treat ourselves to once a month; A/C, showers, clean linen, Wifi and breakfast buffets. So this is how normal people travel! No wonder other tourists always look and smell better than us.
But your cotton wool is wrapped tight and you lose the flexibility and freedom to stay longer, deviate, take a new route suggested by locals or stop to join in with a spontaneous celebration. Diverting, pausing and ‘getting lost’ is after all a huge part of the overlanding experience. Luxury without liberty. The cost was also eye-watering to us and as much as we enjoyed 2 weeks of increased comfort, we could normally travel for 3 months on what it cost us for 14 days (ouch).
We were certainly not disappointed by Burma as a destination- it is truly an incredible country. From the giant Buddha’s in Monywa, ancient temple plains of Bagan and Royal splendour in Mandalay to Buddhist devotion in the caves of Pindaya, floating culture and traditions of Inle Lake and the city splendour of Yangon with breath-taking Shwedagon Pagoda.
For me, what is seriously missing in this ‘exploration’ of a country is an opportunity to get out into the wilderness and experience the wildlife and natural habitats of Myanmar. The chance to sit by a river for a couple of days and watch birds in the trees and lizards on the rocks. With the countryside often a blur as you dash from town to town this is one area of visiting a new land that is a huge sacrifice through this arrangement.
In addition, there is a moral and ethical quandary of travelling in a country where human rights abuses are very real and being carried out at the hands of the peoples own ‘democratically elected’ government. In Myanmar particularly, where a large part of our travel budget goes directly into the hands of that same government in the form of fees, permits, visa and guides. Without the ability to choose your own hotels, you also risk financially supporting establishments owned by government officials and their families. The only way we could offset this in some way whilst travelling in the country was to eat at smaller restaurants and buy goods from small, independent shops. Travelling in a culturally-conscious way in a country so recently opened up to the potential negative influence of the ‘West’ is also important, with cultural and environmental damage a significant threat in Myanmar (no one, especially the Burmese, want to see arse cheeks hanging out of skimpy shorts rolling across the border from less-conservative neighbouring Thailand).
Quandaries and logistical changes aside, Myanmar is a stunning destination and an extended transit far more enjoyable than the alternative option of shipping. With opening land borders a step in the right direction for overlanders, hopefully one day the country will stabilise and the remaining militant rule diminish, allowing peace for the people and real adventure for travellers.
Drums beating, cymbals crashing, lamp glowing, makeup shining, eyes glaring, face twitching, mouth gurning, hands undulating, feet stamping, costumes spinning, jewellery glinting, brow sweating, rhythm escalating. Welcome to the world of Kathakali, Keralan ritualised dance-drama with little unchanged over the last 1,500 years. Originally performed in the 16th century in temples, palaces and at religious festivals, the sacred dance-drama tells stories of Hindu mythology and the lives of the Gods.
The venue was Trivandrum’s striking Kanakakunnu Palace, surrounded by lush gardens, with wooden echoing flooring, gold-patterned walls, quaint balconies, luxurious chandeliers and colonial-style ceiling fans.
Always performed at night, Kathakali is enacted in front of a traditional kalivilakku butter lamp. The musicians assembled on stage; first 2 drummers, one with a horizontal drum strung around their waist and one upright. They were joined by two men on vocals and percussion, one with small symbols and one with a wooden rattle-like instrument. A loud narrator introduced the story, the Hindu epic of Ramayana, and the audience fell silent in anticipation.
Rama burst onto stage, luxuriant yellow satin skirt, purple velour top, and a silver-tiered headdress. His face was thick with bright green, lurid paint and his eyes glowed red and glared deeply into the captivated gaze of the audience. Dancers paraded down the audience aisle as the second act began, with 2 additional drummers increasing the volume and rhythm of the musical accompaniment.
The words of the singing vocalists behind are translated into actions by the soundless performers through a series of poses, bodily positions, facial expressions and sign language.
A small man with a big, bushy black beard and moustache leaps on to the stage, furious at Rama breaking Shiva’s bow. The singing paused as he began dancing angrily to frenetic drumming, Clenching his fists, he repeatedly and energetically jumped up and down, eyes and eyebrows twitching frantically whilst waving his red and gold tomahawk-style axe. He repetitively brandished his silver-tipped finger in accusation at Rama, who bows with hands together at every denunciation.
Periods of singing are interspersed with interludes of rapid drumming, with the drummers becoming faster and sweatier. The bearded character (clearly very pissed off about that bow still) is passionately expressive, constantly gesticulating and signing with his hands, eyes staring and intense facial expressions. The movements of his hands and fingers are detailed and intricate, known as ‘mudra’ these movements allow the silent actors to convey the story. The music gains momentum and volume to accompany escalating dancing and foot stamping. Just as you thought it was winding down, again he would begin stomping and spinning around.
Rama takes his, more sedate, turn for dancing, ignored by the bearded man who covers his ears. He responds by raising his axe towards Rama in a frenzy of drumming and hopping round the stage, beating his chest and forehead and preening his impressive moustache forcefully.
After two hours of intense drumming, singing, stomping and staring the performance reached its tinnitus-inducing peak. Rama and the bearded man dance together, passionately building up to a fight. A final tussle over the bow and suddenly Rama is recognised as a reincarnation of Vishnu which has an immediate calming effect on the angry bearded man who turns from violence to worship and embraces Rama.
In the humid, sticky Keralan evening I don’t know how the thick face-paint didn’t melt off but it stayed as still and perfect as the faces of the actors wearing it. Over two hours of one of the most intense and passionate performances I have ever seen left you feeling exhausted and wondering how the audience felt after the traditional all-night-long plays, let alone the actors and musicians with their unwavering stamina and intense concentration. A magical experience and the perfect finale to our enchanting time in the state of Kerala.