5 of our biggest travel surprises in 2015

Jo overlooking the Bosphorous, Istanbul, Turkey

Whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, you know that some things when you travel will just be great.

Until they’re not.

We’ve had quite a few bad moments in 2015 but we’ve also had a fair share of pleasant surprises.

By the end of this blog, you’ll see why you should never give up on a day of travel.

1. Marble Mountain, Da Nang, Vietnam

While travelling through Vietnam, we decided to do one leg of the trip on the back of a motorcycle (a so called “Easy Rider”).

The route from Hoi An to Hue was pretty cool, including the excellent Hai Van pass, but we were aware there would be some tourist stops too. One we weren’t too keen on was the Marble Mountain.

The main cave inside the Marble Mountain
The main cave inside the Marble Mountain

Yet while the town was among the most touristy in the entire country – selling marble statues that aren’t even carved in the area – the Marble Mountain attraction was pretty damn cool.

A hollowed out mountain of marble, the site contains numerous temples, religious statues and caves, all wonderous and charming. And yes, it is still a tourist magnet, but it was one of the most pleasant travel surprises we had while travelling through Vietnam.

2. Coconut Farm boat ride, Hoi An, Vietnam

The owner of our homestay in Hoi An kept telling us to go to the Coconut Farm. He even said he could take us, so after a few days of him mentioning it we decided to go.

And what a good decision it was. Have you ever been to a coconut farm? This one is a giant marshland area, full of crabs (Ash has a phobia of them), where coconut plants sprout up as far as the eye can see.

Our guide paddling around the Coconut Farm, Hoi An, Vietnam
Our guide paddling around the Coconut Farm, Hoi An, Vietnam

The ladies working at the farm use small tub boats, no bigger than a bathtub, to paddle between the trees picking out the coconuts.

For a few dollars, we took a tour in one of these tubs. The lady showing us around was a fantastic guide for having only learned English from tourists, and really showed us what her working life is like.

It was one of those fun, daunting, and unexpected travel surprises (even in unbearable 45 degree heat).

3. Rooftop restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey

We had heard about a secret rooftop restaurant in Istanbul but were a bit sceptical of its existence. Sure, there was some info online, but the descriptions telling you to go into an apartment block and up to the fifth floor in an inconspicuous elevator seemed a little hard to believe.

Well we found the address, said our pre-emptive goodbyes in case it was a drug den, and went on up.

As soon as we opened the lift door, we were greeted with the smell of slowly roasting vegetables, the sounds of parties of people cheering and celebrating the night, and the cosy warmth of a wood-burning fireplace.

The rumours were true: the rooftop restaurant did exist. And for a reasonable price, we ate the biggest plate of vegetarian food you’re ever likely to see. One of our weirder travel surprises, that’s for sure.

Two big plates of food
Would a drug den serve this?

4. The Asian side of Istanbul, Turkey

When most people go to Istanbul they barely leave the tourist areas of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and so on. While these places are fantastic, going to the Asian side of Istanbul is a trip that we can totally recommend.

For under a euro (around 3 Turkish Lira) there are ferries to Kadıköy on the Asian side, departing from Beşiktaş, Kabataş and Eminönü (the European side).

The view of the Galata Tower and surrounding area from the ferry
The view of the Galata Tower and surrounding area from the ferry

While you might not notice any difference at first, take a look at the architecture – it’s less grand, but less European too.

And the people – they’re not rushing for another place in central Istanbul. They dress slightly differently, take a different approach to tasks, and slow everything down just a little.

The pier in the Moda district on the Asian side
The pier in the Moda district on the Asian side

With the Moda area only a short walk along the coast from Kadiköy – a route we also recommend – the other side of Istanbul is a peaceful, tranquil getaway that warrants a proper visit, not just one to say “I’ve been to Asia!”

For more tips, check out this awesome blog on the Asian side of Istanbul.

5. Air Serbia

Alright, you rumbled us: our typical flight operators of choice are Norwegian and EasyJet (simply due to budget reasons).

But while we enjoyed flying with Turkish Airlines on our way to Turkey, the best part was the flight to Belgrade, Serbia, where we needed to transfer.

This part of the journey was with Air Serbia, a company we had barely heard of.

The flight was punctual, there was free food and drink onboard, the staff were friendly, the seats were spacious, and the luggage was free. While the in-flight entertainment was non-existent, taking a book or tablet with you quickly solves that problem. And when you can get free drink, who needs entertainment?!

A really underrated airline that surprised us greatly. We would use them again for sure.

So what have been some of your biggest travel surprises?

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