The next stop on our brief journey through Japan was in the city of Kyoto. The city is of great cultural and historic importance, having been the capital of Japan for over a thousand years until the title was moved to Tokyo in 1868.
Unfortunately the weather was rather mixed for our two nights in Kyoto, however we still endeavoured to see as much of the city as possible. We arrived after a very short train journey from Osaka, and after checking into our hotel immediately set about exploring.
Our first stop was at Maruyama Park, which is well known as one of the best places in the city for cherry blossom viewing. We wandered around the large park, entering through the impressive Yasaka Shrine. As with Osaka the sakura trees were in full bloom, and there were crowds of tourists admiring the beautiful pink and white blossom.
After being reunited at Manila airport, we had a long day of travelling before arriving into Osaka, where we would be spending the first two nights of our trip to Japan.
Even on the very efficient Japanese public transport it still took us around an hour to reach our hotel, and it was late by the time we had checked in. We were very hungry by this point, and were fortunate enough to find a late night ramen shop just around the corner, which gave us a delicious first taste of Japanese food.
We only had one full day in Osaka, and therefore had lots to see and do. This was made considerably easier by the 1 day Osaka Amazing passes that we purchased the following morning. The passes cost ¥2,700 (£19) each, and gave us unlimited rides on the Osaka metro system as well as free entrance to over 40 tourist attractions.
We decided to start the day by exploring the area around Osaka Castle, which was reached with just a short metro journey from our hotel. Our visit to Japan was timed perfectly with the famous Cherry Blossom season, the blooming of Sakura trees which usually lasts no more than a week in a single location. We took a closer look with a visit Kema Sakuranomiya Park.
After another short flight, I arrived into Caticlan Airport which is on the northern tip of Panay Island. From here it was a short tricycle ride to the ferry terminal, where I boarded an ancient looking Bangka for the journey across to Boracay.
The famous holiday island has been the Philippines most popular tourist destination for many years, however it was closed by the Government in April 2018 to counter the damaging effects of overtourism on the environment.
After significant improvements were observed, the island reopened in October with new regulations limiting the number of hotels and tourists that can visit the islands, while many beachside bars and restaurants have been permanently closed.
Once I had checked into my hotel, I made my way to the famous White Beach, which is the reason the island originally became so popular. The beautiful beach stretches around 4km along the western side of the small island, which covers an area of just 10km2.
After a short flight from El Nido, I arrived into the busy city of Cebu, which is the second largest in the Phillipines after the capital Manila.
The city seemed to be one endless traffic jam and it took over an hour for my taxi to travel the short distance from the airport to the bus station. This was followed by a three hour bus journey south, and it was late by the time I reached my final destination, the small coastal town of Moalboal.
For the next two nights I had arranged to stay in a Nipa hut, a type of traditional Filipino stilt house. It was a great experience, although I was thankful to have plenty of insect repellent with me and I was less keen on the lack of air conditioning!
I woke early the following morning to the sound of some extremely loud roosters, which seemed to be a daily occurrence in the Philippines. Continue reading
With Rachael leaving me to explore the Philippines alone (long story), I began my weeklong visit with two days exploring El Nido.
El Nido is located at the northern tip of the island of Palawan, making it the perfect location to explore the 45 islands of the Bacuit archipelago.
I spent my first afternoon in the small town relaxing on the beach, which was surprisingly empty. However, this soon changed as it reached 4pm and the day’s island hopping tours began to return to land. Before long I was surrounded by the traditional Philippine Bangka boats and their disembarking passengers.
I spent the evening in the busy Happiness Beach Bar, enjoying some excellent middle-eastern food and very cheap San Miguel beers. Despite it seeming like the party was only just getting started, I returned to my hostel relatively early in preparation for my own island hopping tour the following day. Continue reading
We decided to reduce our travelling time by booking a flight to Langkawi, which takes just 35 minutes from George Town. Despite the short journey time, Rachael still managed to sleep through the entire flight.
Langkawi Island is the largest in a cluster of 99 islands that are located around 50km from the Malaysian mainland. As we made our approach into the island, we were treated to the sight of beautiful turquoise water and white sand beaches, which we couldn’t wait to get a closer look at.
After a short taxi journey, we arrived into the islands’s main resort town of Pantai Cenang. We had managed to time our visit not only with the Malaysian school holidays, but also with the LIMA ’19 Airshow. This is one of the largest such events in Asia, and meant the island was inundated with visitors.
Undeterred, we decided to go straight to the beach which surprisingly was almost completely empty. We found a nice spot on the waters edge, where we spent a few hours working on our tan. After complaining about the freezing ocean waters in Australia, we had the opposite problem here with a swim in the lukewarm water failing to cool us down.
After a great time in the Highlands we returned to the coast, taking another bus several hours north to Penang Island. The large island is connected to the mainland by several bridges over the narrow Penang Strait.
Located to the northeast of the island is George Town, which is the second largest city in Malaysia and we decided to base ourselves here during our visit. Much like Melaka, the city’s historic Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is full of narrow streets and colonial style buildings.
The city is also well known for its collection of street art, and we begin our visit with a self-guided walking tour around all of the most popular artworks.
The next stop on our journey through Malaysia was in the Cameron Highlands. The bus journey from Melaka took around six hours, including a brief stopover in Kuala Lumpur. The final hour of this involved a steep climb along very narrow roads, and we were both feeling a little queasy by the time we eventually arrived.
With only two nights in the region, we decided to arrange a full day tour to take us around all of the main attractions. After looking through the various tours on offer, we decided to book the Experience Tour with Eco Cameron which cost RM90 (£17 each).
Our guide picked us up early the following morning in a well-worn Land Rover Defender, and after collecting one more guest we were ready to begin the tour.
After several days in Kuala Lumpur, our next stop was in the historical port town of Melaka (Malacca), which can be reached by a short two hour bus journey from the capital.
We were still getting used to carrying our huge bags around, after the luxury of leaving them in the campervan for most of our time in New Zealand. This was made worse by the now useless coats and other warm clothes that we had to pack for the first leg of our travels.
Despite this, the journey proved very straightforward. The bus terminal was easy to navigate while the bus itself was great, and despite the tickets costing very little, the seats were more business class than economy.
Our visit to Malaysia began with two days exploring the capital, Kuala Lumpur. The modern and diverse city is dominated by sparkling sky scrapers and huge shopping malls, and is home to lots of different ethnic groups while also having a large western influence.
The star attraction in Kuala Lumpur are the landmark Petronas towers, which at 452m were the tallest buildings in the world from their completion in 1998 until 2002. The towers are the centrepiece of a huge complex that includes the six storey Suria KLCC shopping mall, the Kuala Lumpur convention centre and the large KLCC Park.
The park was our first stop after arriving into the city, and we made it just in time for the daily light show. It was a beautiful and colourful display of lights and water, although we were less keen on the accompanying music.