It has been five months full of experiences, good and bad. We have learnt and grown from being thrown into a world of unknowns. From getting nearly irreversibly lost in South Korea, to finding ourselves in a strange car with two strange men – I think we are ready to take on the world now! Since returning to Maputo people seem very interested in what we have learnt or how we have changed. Despite having thought and talked about this a lot, neither of us have a clear answer to these questions. We always end up glancing at each other in a desperate attempt to give some sort of insightful remark. Instead, we mumble a few –
Well… You know
And even with all that stuttering and fidgeting, we still have nothing. I can without a shred of doubt say that this trip has changed me immensely, and yet I just cannot put my finger on what exactly that change may be.
By the time this post is released, Louise and Niamh will have parted ways after five amazing (but sometimes trying) months, to continue on their journeys in separate directions. Louise will be on her way to Greece to spend a month inter-railing through Europe, while I will be staying in Africa – the continent to which my heart belongs. To celebrate the past five months of traveling together we have compiled a wrap up post to beat all other wrap up posts. Here you will find all our best and worst moments, all that we have learnt about travelling, and (hopefully) much, much more.
Top 10 food moments
10. Pastel de Nata
When you buy a Pastel de Nata not only do you get the joy of exciting your tastebuds, you also get the quintessential Maputo experience. While you sit there chatting to a friend or, better yet, with your nose in a book, you get the privilege of listening to the bustling city. An engine is revving, people saunter by shouting greetings in passing and laughing great big-bellied laughs, street hawkers try in vain to sell phone chargers or beautiful batik; amiga, amiga!
You simply cannot visit Maputo without trying one of these Portuguese tarts. They can be found in many of the roadside cafes and are best served warm (either early in the morning or around noon) with a shot of strong espresso and a sprinkling of cinnamon. And take my word for it – the first Pastel de Nata you get your hands on will be the best one you ever try, so make it count. If you are in Maputo, I highly recommend Padaria do Bairro, which is right on the corner of Av. Armando Tivane and Av. 24 de Julho.
Still quite shell-shocked, tired and confused from our arrival in Korea, we will never forget this lunch – the picture just says it all. Hungry after a very strange day (check out top 4 weirdest moments below), this meal was needed. Our very first WWOOF host, Baek, brought us to this canteen-like restaurant, where she ordered a delicious and very traditional Korean meal of sticky rice wrapped in Lotus leaf, broth, and plenty of panchan. This was also the day we got to try the Lotus tea, which was a taste experience that will live with me for many years to come. So, a huge thank you to Baek – who we know is reading 😉 – we really appreciate everything you did for us in those two short weeks!
You all remember my rant about these heavenly rolls, so I will not bore you with the details once again – the post says it all! The evenings spent in the queue alongside all the hard-working people, tired after a long day at work, will always be a fond memory for us.
7. Ice cream in Hanoi
When I look at this picture, all I can see is the struggle I went through to take it. It was a complete and utter (yet not unappreciated) misunderstanding that we ended up with two cones each – cone, scoop, pff what’s the difference anyway? With a clunky dSLR to maneuver, I ended up with one cone in my mouth, using my wrist to set the lens… I had the whole ice cream shop giggling.
We had been craving ice cream since our arrival in Ha Noi, and they could not have come at a better time. We were wrecked from our few days in Ha Long Bay, and needed a little treat to keep us going. As we wandered around the lake, watching all the kids playing games, couples on benches, and lights reflecting in the water, we got to enjoy what turned out to be the absolute best ice cream of our trip!
6. Bah Mi
Although my sensitive gut was not happy with all the wheat consumed during our two weeks in Vietnam, I don’t regret all those Bah Mis! What makes Vietnamese cuisine so different from the rest of South East Asia is the French influence. The Bah Mi seems to encompass so many different things, the base of all of these being the warm, crusty baguette. Louise made it her goal to try the Bah Mi in each of the towns we visited – the best, we have concluded, were in Saigon and Hoi An.
This street food is found on every street corner of Vietnam, costs nothing, and is scrumptious – a must try if you are ever in that wonderful corner of the world!
5. Thai Desserts
There are too many great moments which include Thai desserts, so we decided to pile them into one big moment. Everything from Mango sticky rice by the river in Nakhon Nayok, to the time Tic (from Chwta gardens) bought a whole selection of treats for us to taste, to the sharing in Pak Chong’s night market, Thai desserts are some of the best we have tasted.
This ‘food moment’ is definitely one that is more dependent on the experience rather than taste… In other words the finished product was not the best Mandoo we had while in Korea. Nonetheless, the process was such a fun and memorable experience to land it a baffling 4th place. We spent the morning packing meat into the little rice dough circles with a giggling grandmother – who obviously didn’t think we were doing a great job. This whole experience really gave us a glimpse into Korean culture.
3. Breakfast at Tantai's
We have no pictures of our breakfast at Tantai farm, so instead here is a picture of all the volunteers playing Spoons. Tantai’s was really a time for community and relaxation, and the best time of day was by far the mornings. After an early start (and after a cup of coffee, of course) we would all head out to complete the morning tasks around the farm. During our stay, our tasks mainly consisted of fencing in the garden beds and tending to the compost piles. After two hours we were all starving, so we would head back to the house where a feast was being prepared by whoever stayed behind. Most mornings, breakfast consisted of homemade yoghurt with honey, eggs collected that morning, fresh papaya straight from the garden, and whatever else one could think of. We had french toast, Turkish fried dough, tomato and onion omelettes, etc. No breakfast has ever tasted as good as Breakfast at Tantai’s!
Anh, who taught us all about Vietnamese cuisine. Anh, who brought us out for coffee in the evening. Anh, who has reminded us of his existence every few days by tagging us in photos and sending us LinkedIn requests via email – I don’t even have a LinkedIn profile! Anh is the man who made Hue great! His cooking class (Hue Cooking Class) is a must, if you are in Hue. After bringing us to the local market to buy beautiful fresh produce, we learnt how to make three Vietnamese dishes – which we of course got to eat once they were done. Not only does the experience of the class give it the awesome 2nd place, but the food was completely on par with the fun.
1. And finally, Korean Barbecue!
One of my regrets when reminiscing over our time in Korea is not splurging a little on a really good barbecue restaurant. Even so, Korean Barbecue beats all other moments. Our (second) last night in Seoul was spent with a group of new friends at a packed Barbecue restaurant, where Louise and I stayed far away from the Soju… We had already had a few too many soju nights. What is so great about Korean Barbecue? Well, aside from the delicious meal of grilled meat and various side dishes, it must be the interactive aspect of grilling, drinking, and wrapping little packages of goodness. Also – in Korea they cut their meat using scissors! This last night in Seoul may very well be one of the most memorable and spontaneously fun nights we had on the trip – alongside many other nights in Seoul!
Top 5 moments to remember
5. The Dark cave, Phong Nha
A day of adventure and adrenaline, of which we – as of yet – still do not have any footage of. You will have to use your imagination. The dark cave was, yes, very dark, which meant walking around with a headlamp on our helmets. We walked through the narrow, muddy tunnels and slid down natural slides. We floated on silky mud and flew over the crystal blue lake on a never-ending zip line.
Of all the caves we visited in Phong Nha, this is the one I would recommend to anybody with a love for excitement. We purchased the Dark Cave and Paradise Cave Tour, which included an delicious lunch looking across at the dark caves and drinks after the adventure. It comes highly recommended from Louise and I.
4. Lunches in Yangpyeong
Lunchtime at our host’s farm in Yangpyeong was one of our favourite experience of the two week stay. We ate with the grandparents, who seemed to lead a very traditional Korean lifestyle and didn’t speak a word of English. Everyday we had some variation of the same meal – sticky rice, broth, panchan, and some sort of meat or egg. On the picture above, you can see us eating the Mandoo we helped make – a very appreciated break from the repetitive lunches. Although we sometimes struggled to get through all the food put in front of us, we look back on these times with a great fondness. We remember the way young Ujo would have to be spoon fed as she stubbornly turned her back to the table and her patient grandmother. We remember how Louise used to get teased for her lack of chopstick etiquette. We remember the slurping, grunting and burping. And most fondly we remember how the grandmother would giggle and smile at her husband, as he quickly chomped on rice.
3. Board game cafes with Rao
The one way to break the ice between volunteer and host is to play a board game with them … especially one that involves bluffing. We enjoyed these nights so much that they land a baffling 3rd place! After dinner we would all pile into the car, Nick lounging in the boot for unknown reasons, and head to the cafe where we would play board games until we were tired. Just in general, we had a great time with Rao in Bangkok. The opportunity to work with someone not so much older that us, someone equally passionate and excited by the prospect of a green and sustainable lifestyle was great. Also, we are so grateful that we got to join him in Buriram for the Permaculture convergence!
2. Filming 'Tillykke Bedste'
The video says it all… although we are still disappointed in how bad the quality turned out. We had such a great time filming this – it got us out and moving around the town, and seeing things we would otherwise have seen. Also it never ceases to make us laugh when we think about how I fell off the hammock during the filming process… Watch the blooper section to see this!
1. The Kimchi Guesthouse
The Kimchi was a special place. We met so many special people and made lots of meaningful connections. It was also a strange time for both of us… what with Louise nearly running off with an older, tattooed man, and me turning into what can nearly (nearly) be considered a social butterfly. The Kimchi will always be a place we look back on with great admiration – it was the time that really made us aware of the importance of human connection. We still long for the nights in the basement with friends, soju, and music; the days spent on the sofa, under a blanket, binging through black mirror; the times we wandered through Seoul with that night’s gang of friends; and of course the mornings spent with a raging headache and greasy sandwiches.
All those pictures of backs
Yes, we realise that we take a lot of pictures of Louise’s back. So here is a collage of a few of the best (and one or two of Niamh’s back):
Top 4 weirdest moments
4. Somehow we nearly always managed to sleep on the same side of the bed – Niamh on the left and Louise on the right. We did this totally subconsciously, and didn’t realise until the bitter end… We are creatures of habit, but won’t admit it.
3. Missing our flight to Vietnam… No need to dwell on that. It was a stressful experience, and I still blame it on the darn internet – Korea has the fastest internet in the world? I think not!
Our first full day in Yangpyeong turned out to be slightly unnerving, as we were brought to visit our host’s sick mother in hospital. Now at this point we had been told nothing, and were just left in the corridor with a juice box… We had some very dark and depressing thoughts in those moments!
I cannot explain to you how weird and utterly confusing a stay we had in Hwaseong. All I can do is tell you to read the blog posts linked above (if you haven’t already) – maybe then you can grasp a smidge of the weirdness.
Top 5 favourite places
It took ten long hours in the backseat of a car to get to this little piece of heaven, but it was definitely worth it. It was three very interesting days we spent in Buriram, where we met all kinds of unusual people from all over the world, gathered only by our common awe of nature, and learned… maybe not exactly what we’d hoped to but still a few valuable lessons – one thing being ,that the stereotypical hippie community we met here is, essentially, bullshit. However, it was a gorgeous and serene little spot secluded from the outside world and the insidious influences of “normal people”, but I wouldn’t mind visiting again if the opportunity should arise.
It is ironic how wonderful missing our flight out of Seoul ended up to turn out – first, we have an amazing last night in Seoul and secondly we got to see Ha Noi during the weekend when it turns into the most charming, exciting and lively place full of people and entertainment. We would definitely not look back on our time in Ha Noi with the same warmth and yearning had we stayed there during a normal day-to-day week. It, being my first visit to a third-world-country, took me a while to adjust to these totally foreign circumstances but the shock was definitely softened by the wonderful atmosphere we met in the centre of town, not too far from our hostel, in the afternoons and evenings.
Creepy, beautiful, ominous and stunning are just some of the words that come into mind when I think back on the late morning we spent in the abandoned waterpark in Hue. It was stinking hot when we walked around in this nearly deserted (it has become a proper tourist attraction, so there were plenty of youths on motorbikes cruising around and locals selling overpriced snacks and drinks) and decrepit place and all the colours of the amusements shined brightly where they were not covered by algae. While we rummaged the site we would tell each other of some creepy experience we’ve had and repeatedly we’d also hear this roar coming from an undetermined direction – Niamh suspected it might be a wild hippo hiding in some of the pools (which of course aren’t found in Asia), but it turned out to be just a cow. Speaking of animals, the place has a history of being invaded by crocodiles which only added to the excitement of visiting this nightmarish paradise.
If I ever return to Mozambique I will make sure to also swing by Inhambane – it is the most charming, romantic and peaceful little town I’ve ever had the pleasure of strolling through. It didn’t take much more than 24 hours before I had completely fallen in love with the place, its harbour, its market and its little town square. The beach is only a short ride away and though we didn’t get to spend any real time there when we visited, I hear it’s awesome – with loads of activities. which we, on the other hand, did get to try. We went snorkelling in our very own catamaran (boat) with an all-you-can-eat lunch and drinks, however, due to our bad planning the snorkelling itself was not all what it could be but with both of us being novice snorkelers that was only a small caveat.
I mean, the picture says it all, am I right? Ha Long Bay is hands down our undisputed favourite place of our trip and a must-visit to all who consider visiting Vietnam. We spent three days on a private island in Ha Long with a bunch of drunk people and without even touching a drop of alcohol ourselves we still managed too act like total fools and have a great time. The company was great, despite there state of constant inebriation, the food was good (though not impressive), the music was loud, and the scenery, where ever you looked, was out of this world. My favourite part of our favourite place was definitely the rock climbing that allowed me to get an astonishing view of the island, and Niamh’s was probably the kayaking we did around, underneath and inside the islands.
Top 5 greatest lessons learnt (mainly about traveling)
5. Check the date of departure… Check again… Check one more time.
4. Basically the entirety of Jesse Bering’s Why is The Penis Shaped Like That?: And Other Reflections on Being Human. We had a whale of a time reading and discussing this insightful novel. It has become our Bible.
3. Take your time and don’t stress! Remember that deadlines are only what you make them out to be.
2. Don’t over-plan your trip ahead, things will inevitably change along the way. Also don’t waste money on flex-tickets or cancellation insurance: it’s utter bullshit! Especially if it is AirAsia… Actually just don’t trust AirAsia at all. They are out to get you.
1. Embrace the clichés: human connections are what make everything worthwhile – a big shout-out to Morrie Schwarts (read Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom) and all the wonderful people we’ve met along the way.
With Bushfire festival beginning tomorrow our trip is drawing to a close and after this last adventure we will part our ways. But not to worry, we are not done with this blog yet and you can all still expect regular updates from each of us here so don’t forget to visit our blog… And click subscribe to keep updated with our travels
We have thoroughly enjoyed having this blog as a place to offload, and we hope our readers have enjoyed the updates. We would love to hear from you, so comment below and tell us what your favourite moment was.
//Niamh and Louise