It is well known that 2016 was a year of mixed fortunes for many across the world. Social media and the newspapers would have you believe that 2016 was a year to write off the records. Well for us, this sentiment couldn’t be further away from the truth. For Katherine and I, 2016 was the most incredible year; individually, and as a couple. It’s time to get a little more personal than usual because we want to share with you just some of the wonderful times we have had this year.
KATHERINE TURNED 21.
The year started with Katherine’s milestone 21st birthday. And what an occasion. To begin with, we celebrated with her friends on a cold night in Stoke-on-Trent, dressed as The Incredibles. A fair few drinks later and her big day was well and truly celebrated.
But that was nothing compared to the debauchery of the party with her family the week later. Her sister-in-law trashed the house in excitement, her brother danced on the table, and Katherine ended up hunched over the toilet bowl at about 9pm. Still she didn’t manage to upstage the events of my 21st, but that’s a different story…
In 2016, both of us graduated from university courses. In January, I graduated from a Masters course at the Barbican Centre in London in what was the proudest moment of my life so far. Katherine’s moment of academic glory came in an intimate ceremony in her university’s chapel. Clad in her gown and mortarboard she strutted across the small stage, head held high to receive her honours. Our university years went by far too fast and we had some truly amazing moments; but it’s a fondly remembered chapter in our lives that we will never forget.
February brought Valentines Day, that unapologetically commercial day for celebrating your better half. Cynicism aside, we love celebrating each other and though this day is not different to others we did do something new. We took the chance to visit a new city, Liverpool.
Now, the UK is famous for blustery weather, but if you’ve been to Liverpool – or anywhere in the North – you’ll know that it is NOT warm. In fact, it was near arctic temperatures during our visit. Liverpool is perhaps most famous for producing one of the most beloved British bands ever; the Beatles. We went to the Cavern Club to catch the weekly Beatles tribute band and then found a new Indian restaurant, Mowgli, which we now adore.
UNITED ARE THE TEAM FOR ME.
For many people, it’s a religion. For some people (who are wrong) it’s called ‘Soccer’. In the UK, it’s a rite of passage for many fans to visit their team’s home ground. I’m a life long Manchester United fan, and though it took me 22 years to get there, I finally made it to the Theatre of Dreams and gee, was it worth the wait. Manchester is likely to be our new home when we eventually hang up our backpacks and return to the UK, so I can’t wait to spend more time at Old Trafford.
2 YEAR ANNIVERSARY.
Back to us: we celebrated two years of being together by returning to a wet Manchester. This time we were on the trail of the Best Backpacks for Budget Travellers ready for the start of our trip. It was a fair slog, but it was really exciting because we knew it meant we were getting closer to leaving on this wonderful journey. We did some other silly cute things like picnicking in a local park, and exchanging gifts with each other.
As I said, we don’t pay too much heed to the pressures of gift-giving for things like Valentines, but occasionally, it is important to demonstrate your feelings for your other half. Anniversaries are an example of when simple, thoughtful gifts can put that smile on your partner’s face. The smile that makes you feel like you’re on top of the world.
THE WEDDING OF THE YEAR.
Katherine’s sister got married to the love of her life in a humanist ceremony in a beautiful part of the UK; Devon. Framed by rolling hills upon a background of the blue ocean, the happy couple spoke their emotional vows and serenaded each other with Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler – a really romantic treat.
As the festivities continued, we indulged in gorgeous food carefully chosen by the couple for the guests. We listened to heartfelt speeches, had some pimped-up Prosecco, and danced the night away. Tears streamed freely, the couple loved deeply, and we had one of the best days of the year. Weddings bring out the best out in people. They’re just the most amazing occasions.
TICKET TO RIDE.
In preparation for a 2-hour hack we wanted to take in the countryside surrounding Siem Reap, Cambodia, we took a riding lesson through the dense forest of Matlock in Derbyshire. Katherine is quite an experienced rider, but it was my first time on a horse so as you can imagine, I was slightly nervous. We walked around the hillside, through the woods, and over muddy meadows.
I felt jealous of Katherine who was able to ride freely because she’s ridden before. My horse had to be led as I’m such an inexperienced rider. Nevertheless, it was still a great feeling being in such close contact with the horse, riding through beautiful undulating countryside.
GOODBYES IN LONDON.
Though we are travelling for a while, family is important to us. Before we left, we said Farewell (But Not Goodbye) to Katherine’s family in London. We ate a magnificent brunch at the Shard, watched Aladdin on the West End, visited wine bars and generally enjoyed each others company for the last time in 6 months. It was a great weekend, and a really happy send off for us.
#WHENTWOWANDER WAS BORN
2016 was just the start of our traveling lives. We were influenced by other bloggers in the industry who wrote extensively about the benefits of travel blogging. We started blogging for the same reason most people start travel blogs, as a platform for our families and friends to read about our journey.
It’s also a great way of writing down our own memories to reflect back on in the future. Recording what a new destination really feels like, what the food tastes like, and how the other senses are affected to create the overall experience of a place. We love writing, taking photos, and making videos for WhenTwoWander, and we will be carrying on for a long while yet; so keep reading.
We are so lucky to be traveling the world together. Doing it as a couple is something that I wouldn’t exchange for anything. Solo travelers tell us all the time that they much prefer the independence of traveling alone. They tell us we’re crazy for doing it together and they’re always surprised when we say how long we’re away for. It’s great to be able to share these memories with someone.
2016 saw the start of our journey around Asia. In August and September, we spent our time in Thailand. We started in Bangkok then moved up north to Chiang Mai where we frolicked with Elephants and learnt to cook Thai food. Phuket and the Islands were next, where we spent 80% of our time in the water; snorkeling, swimming, and diving. We went to the crazy Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, and drank cocktails on the beach in Koh Samui. It was a packed out five weeks and it went by too fast.
At the end of September, we crossed the Thai-Cambodian border into a world to which we were wholly unaccustomed. The tourist-saturated comfort of Thailand was replaced by bustling, underdevelopment. This being said, the horror stories you hear about this crossing are completely overblown.
As long as you’re prepared, and don’t allow yourself into situations where scams are likely, you will be fine. We hailed a taxi driver as we got over the border (turned out to be some random guy with a car) and arrived in Siem Reap two nervous hours later.
In Siem Reap, we made a sunrise visit to the Temples of Angkor, spent some time partying at Pub Street, and went on a two-hour hack around the countryside on horseback. We made many new friends in our hostel and it was the first time we felt like real backpackers.
Next stop was the island paradise of Koh Rong where we navigated our way through the jungle unguided, even abseiling down cliffs using tree branches and vines. The prize was a gorgeous, undeveloped white beach on the other side of the island. In Kampot, we visited pepper plantations and stayed in a bungalow with an open wall to the river. Phnom Penh was our last stop and is the location of the Choeung Ek Memorial Centre (aka the Killing Fields) and S-21 Prison. A sombre end to a great experience.
Related: WhenTwoWander… Cambodia.
The last two weeks of October were spent in Laos. Slowly joining the Banana Pancake trail of Southeast Asia, Laos is pretty unique. Two weeks isn’t really enough to see the country properly, because it takes hours and hours and hours to get anywhere. Public transport is not even comparable to Cambodian levels and Lao people do everything to their own very lax time limits. Still, there are some excellent redeeming features.
In Vientiane, we took over our hostel walls with #whentwowander and revelled in the annual Boun Awk Phansa Festival celebrations. In Vang Vieng, we grabbed a truck inner tube and floated down the karst-lined river, with a beer in hand. Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, plays host to the famous Kuang Si Waterfalls – a great place to get great photos.
Related: WhenTwoWander… Laos
November brought us to Vietnam and the Philippines. Great food, mixed weather, and tailor-made clothes summarizes our time in Vietnam; a country so diverse because of its history and people. Mui Ne in the south completely contrasts Phong Nha in the north and the capital city of Ho Chi Minh is a fast-paced metropolis. But be careful, Katherine almost had her phone snatched by the city’s infamous motorbike-mounted thieves.
Related: WhenTwoWander… Vietnam
The Philippines has some of the most beautiful landscape, and opportunities to interact with nature are plentiful. We flew into waterfall pools from rope swings, and clambered over rocks through rivers. Pure beaches gave perfect panoramas to brilliant sunsets, colours so vivid that no photographs can do them justice.
Related: WhenTwoWander… The Philippines
In December, our time in Asia came to an end with two weeks in Indonesia. In Seminyak we had photos with crocodiles and dinosaurs and in Ubud, we climbed through the clouds to the top of a volcano in time for a blue and white sunrise. Monkeys became our new favorite animals and we swam so close to turtles we could see them smile. Bali gets such a bad rep because of some of the tourists in Kuta, but if you dig just a little deeper, you’ll see that it has much much more to offer than booze and drugs.
We’re in Australia for the majority of 2017. That means sun, sun tans, and sun burn. It means more beer, bugs, and barbecues. We’re spending time with family and we are travelling this amazing country. Perhaps we’ve been lucky in the opportunities we have had this year, but they are opportunities we have worked hard to achieve. Travel is a life-changing journey and the things we’ve seen and done in just four months will stay with us forever. We can’t wait for what the next 12 months will bring.