The count down is on with less than three weeks to go! Trying to work as hard as possible to get some money together for the trip.
New set back I have some how injured my knee! Think i am just falling apart!
John got another question: how many entries can you have on this page? can you vary it? just thinking if we're on holiday and someone wants to read our advantures from the beginning can they?
Wednesday - our first real day (although the jet lag is definately kicking in!) We were up at 6.30 to leave for the Great Wall ofChina at 7.30 - about 1 1/2 hrs from our hotel. The city ios vast and very polluted, the white smog covers the distance and even on the Great Wall you can't see for miles. It's a shame because this place would be absolutely breathtaking if you could get a long distance view - no panoramic phoots! The Wall itself is amazing, just looking at the structure and wondering how on earht they managed to build the thing, it wiggles forwards and backwards across the mountains and in some places it looks as though there are 2 or 3 walls running parallel. Apparently this was done to confuse the monguls. The wall was very steep and a combination of lots of different sized stairs and steep flat slopes to climb. Pretty scary at times. We were there for 2 hours and walked 1.4 km. There were fantastic views of the mountains and surrounding countryside, if only we had the digital camera we would bore you with pictures, you'll just have to wait for our return. Matt's knee survived too - just! We had lunch and headed to the Ming Tombs - possibly the most boring attraction in the world, although we had no guide to take us around so perhaps with a little more info we would have been slightly more excited by it. Not much to see except pictures of famous chinese people who have visited - and the Queen. Although on the way out there seemed to be the museum full of artefacts (too late by then though - doh!)That evening we headed into Beijing for a look around their shopping Mall and some food - ate at 'Be There Or Be Square' an award winning food place - 2 pounds a head!
Xian is as busy as Beijing and it seems to be filled with even more smog. Our hotel is in the middle of the town. Once we had checked in and showered we headed for breakfast and had the 'real' chinese thing - carrot and chilli, random parcels of meat and strange sweet fried patties. What no cereal?! We met our new guide who took us to the ols walled city of Xian. It was built in the Ming or Ching dynasty (Not too sure which, it's all a bit confusing). The walls are about 10m high and you can cycle along them. We hired a tandem and rode 6km - not bad after about 5 hours sleep - along the wall, there would have been some spectacular views but after about 30 minutes, the fog/smog had descended and the visability was down to a couple of hundred metres. We climbed down the wall and headed into the old town for lunch. We had Dim Sum at Xians most famous restaurant - absolutely delicios. We tried lots of different types of Dim Sum and then had some noodle soup - the tiny dimsum are cooked inside it at your table. This involves a big pot of soup in the middle of the table and a huge fire burning underneath it. When the fire goes out, it's ready to eat. The soups put in bowls and you have to see how many Dim Sum you have - the number has different meanings. Matt had none -this meant better luck next time. Debs had 2 -this was double good fortune ;) After that we walked into the Muslim Quarter of the city. We visited the Grand Mosque, a builsing that was built in 782. It was very pretty there, lots of ornate carvings and we arrived in time to see all of the muslims flocking to prayer ( and being told off for being late and turning up without their hats!) We wandered through the markets and went into some old officials buildings - where the most important family in the town lived about 400 years ago. The place was just a tiny doorway in an alley but once you stepped through there were about 30 buildings linked by gardens and pathways. We're out for more local cuisine tonight and then off to the Terracotta Warriors tomorrow. If we can face the heat of this Internet Cafe we'll head back here tomorrow to update this.
Also, for all of you who think we're sunning ourselves in this beautiful country, we seems to have brought the gold old British weather with us because it has rained every single day!
an adventure in itself, how do you fit 5 cars into 2 lanes? They seems to manage it with a lot of honking but somehow we got there...saw lots of locals on the way, selling pomegranates fresh off the trees, transporting pigd by tying them onto wheelbarrows and sitting out having breakfast
...the site is huge and the most western/organised looking tourist attraction we've been to. The warriors were discovered by a farmer (who now sits signing autographs in the gift shop) in 1974. 4 pits have been excavated so far but the public can only visit 3 of them. Our guide told us that over the next 20-30 years they plan about 6 more pits and hope to develop the technology to open the tomb of the emperor. Legend has it that it is surrounded by a lake of mercury - thankfully we're drinking bottled water (although seeing as the most available brand is the Coca Cola filtered water maybe we'd be better off with the mercury!). Pit 1 is the largest, containing over 6000 soldiers, it is quite an unbelieveable sight to behold. The soldiers vary from 1.80 - 1.96cm in height. Each one looks different, weighs a different amount, has different clothes etc etc. You can't really appreciate the sheer emormity of it from any TV programmes... don't worry, we'll bore you with the pictures! You can get within about 6 feet of the outside warriors. The 2nd pit showed a few of the warriors with the coloured paint still on them. All of the warriors and horses were painted before being put into position but when they are excavated the colour disappears within a couple of hours of being in contact with the air (not surprising considering how polluted it is!). This is also something they are working on sorting out so that more of the colour can be preserved. The 3rd pit shows the excavation work in progress. The warriors were placed in 'buildings' with wood timbered roofs. These have been fossilised with the warriors beneath them and so they are working slowly and carefully to dig away the dirt to reveal the wonders below. We also saw some of the weapons that hadn't been plundered by villagers and peasants - incredibly they had been chrome plated (how fashionable!) - quite amazing considering this wasn't invented until 1930 by the Germans and the 1950"s by the Americans! All this 2200 years ago. This afternoon Matt went to visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda - a huge structure (10 storeys high) in a flat part of the city in the suburbs of Xian. Its a buddhist temple and is the home of 'Monkey Magic'! Much fun had by all the boys there! Sadly no Kung-Fu impressions. We're off out for more Dim Sum now (Debs will try not to spill soy sauce all over her shirt today - we'll tell you the story sometime).
Back to the five star dumpling house for more Dim Sum. A little bit trickier this time, without our local guide, being presented with a totally chinese menu which didn't even have any pictures to help us! We opted for the Dumpling banquet - 60Y (about 3 pounds) per person. We had a selection of 'appetisers' - including some strange yellow jelly strips, fish, and a bird - head and all... we managed to try most of the stuff (although the birds head was more involved in photo opportunities rather than being eaten!) and then had about 20 different types of dumpling, soup (Matt and I got 2 dumplings each this time - double joy for both of us) and some melon. Feeling full and ready to take on the world we walked to a Chinese club to check out the nightlife. It was pretty much like any Western nightclub - although it takes about half an hour to just order and get a drink! There were some businessmen paying for the attention of beautiful young girls but everyone seemed to be having a good time. With beers at 30Y we only stayed for one and caught a taxi back o the 'hotel'.
Nothing to get up for today so we had the luxury of a lie in! Although not much of a luxury considering how uncomfortable the beds are! It's still pouring hard so all we've managed to do is pack up our stuff, get KFC for breakfast/lunch (I know it's crap but sometimes you can't face rice, noodles and veg for breakfast, lunch and dinner) and come to the Internet cafe. This afternoon we fly to Guilin and then go onto Yangzhou (I think) where we'll see some of the countryside. the lonely planet has advised us that the traditional dishes of the region are snake soup, cat and rat washed down with snake bile wine - no there's something to look forward to!
We took a bus to Xian airport and had an internal flight to Guilin. It took a couple of hours and was pretty uneventful. We arrived in Guilin at 7.30 and were greated with illuminated plastic palm trees - very Vegas - and 33 degree heat - now that's more like it! We had an hour and a half drive to Yangshou (the town we're staying in)... Even though it was dark, the scenery was amazing. Out of the darkness loomed these huge shadows -the limestone karsts that we have visited today (Mon). There were loads of people sitting outside their houses having dinner, playing cards etc. It was fantastic having an insight into Chinese life. All of the houses seem to have their living rooms on the ground floor and all of them are open onto the street. It was great seeing people watching TV and getting on with family life. There didn't seem to be any difference for people who lived in grand town houses or cobbled together shacks. We arrived in Yangshou and found our backpacker hostel - not bad, 2 double beds in each room and a lot comfier than the places we've stayed so far. The town is really lively, full of street stalls selling food, clothes and nick-nacks. Debs' lack of shopping really showed, eyes on stalks! We ate at the restaurant next to our hotel. We tried the local speciality Beer Fish - the fish is made to swim in beer for a few days before it gets caught and cooked. But didn't try the Bamboo Rat, Snake or dog that's on the menu!
Up and out again. We went on a 20km bike ride today through the countryside. The views were spectacular, absolutely breathtaking. The paths wind through the landscape which is covered in towering limestone pillars. They are absolutely huge. We cycled through little villages (and saw someone bringing their freshly killed cat dinner home), crossed a river on bamboo barges, stopped at a framers house for dinner. Matt watched the farmers wife catch, kill and cook 'Betty' - our delicious chicken dinner. On the way home we stopped at 'Moon Hill', one of the lmestone pillars and climbed the 806 steps (200m up) up to the top where we had views over the countryside - winding river, picturesque villages etc etc - more pictures to bore you with!!! It has been fantastic to get out of the city and see more of 'real' China - and have some warm weather too.
Drove for 40minutes out of Yangshou to Xing Ping - a town on the banks of the Li River. We took a 2 hour cruise along the river - more of the beautiful limestone karsts to see. The river is perfectly clear, the scenery spectacular. We saw people fishing and doing their washing on the river banks. It was nice to visit somewhere and be able to sit back, relax and enjoy it. Unfortunately the mosquitoes enjoyed Debs too. After the trip back to our hotel we sat around for a leisurely lunch and then went for a massage. It cost 35Y for an hour massage (Just over 2 pounds!)...and Debs is now feeling beautifully relaxed, gorgeous smooth skin and worth every penny. Matt found it a little harder to relax and spent the hour jumping everytime his masseuse tried to touch him! This evening we catch another sleeper train (Oh joy!) to Guangzhou and then get the Hydrofoil to Hong Kong. We're both looking forward to seeing Hong Kong although it will be sad to say goodbye to everyone - and then it's the start of travelling by ourselves!
We drove from Guangshou, the place we were staying, to Guilin. It was fantastic to be able to see the scenery in daylight. The limestone karsts streth for miles and miles. There are layer upon layer of them in all directions and it is hard to resist the temptation to snap away taking more and more pictures. It's great just to spend time watching the world go by, looking at the beautiful scenery and seeing a bit of life as you pass through small towns and villages (if you can do that with the mental driving that is!)We got the 8pm sleeper train to Guangzhou. We were slightly wary as the last sleeper had been a bit of a shock but this one was much better. The bunks were more enclosed, comfier than any bed we have slept in so far and they had 'trolly dollies' patrolling the carriage selling melon and keeping us entertained.
It was clean and comfortable and we arrived in Guangzhou at 9.30 - we were due in at 7.20 but, after all, this is Chinese time. It was a bit of a frantic rush across town to catch a bus to get us to the ferry terminal (it should have taken 1 hour 40, we did it in about an hour!) but we made it and spent 2 hours on the hydrofoil getting to Hong Kong. It was pretty impressive seeing the Hong Kong skyline as we travelled into the country. There are so many skyscrapers. At 8pm tonight we're heading down to the harbour to watch a lazer show on all of the buildings there, it should be fab. This is the last night that our tour group are all together so we're off out for a final dinner and one or two drinks too I expect. China has been a fantastic and unforgettable experience, we have seen so much and met lots of great people and this is just the beginning!
Made our way down to the Harbour for 8pm. Just seeing all the buildings lit up is pretty spectacular and when the light show begins it looks even better. It's not particularly flashy - a few of the taller sky scrapers have lazers and huge spots lights sweeping the sky but it is mostly loads of neon flashing and strobing up and down buildings, almost too much to take in all at once. Having watched and taken pictures, we took the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong Island for some food. Had dinner in a really lively area of town but the bars were all too packed for 15 of us to fit in to so we had to head home (to possibly the noisiest hotel room in the world!). Hong Kong is so amazingly efficient with its transport system - we've been enjoying the octopus cards on the bus, ferry, boat and in the 7 Eleven - kind of like the Oyster cards in London. One of the more exciting sights we saw on our journey back was a girl walking down the road - imagine if you will... big chunky trainers, holey fishnet stockings, a studded black leather g-string and matching bra! Just casually strolling through Hong Kong. Brought a smile of disbelief to our faces ;)
Up and about this morning for Digital CAmera shopping... Took the bus to the Star Ferry Terminal and went shopping down town there. There were 5 people in our tour group who wanted to buy a camera so we all stuck together with the hope of getting a good deal - and it worked. Matt is VERY pleased with his new toy...He says "Its a Canon S500 5Megapixel 3x optical zoom and lots of features ;-) for only 250quid!!! could have easy got a better one but its nice and small fitting in me pocket" so, pictures should be appearing here in the not too distant future. After that Debs went window shopping along Nathan Road (seriously testing her will power) while Matt continued looking at boy's toys. This took almost the entire day. This evening we went back onto Hong Kong Island for dinner but are heading home for an early night as we've got a busy day shopping and sightseeing ahead of us tomorrow.
Met up with some of the others from our group and headed down to Central where we got the local bus over to Stanley (the other side of Hong Kong Island). We'd heard (and read in the lonely planet - our bible at the moment!) that there was a great market there and fancied checking it out. The bus journey was good - comfy and fully air conditioned (like almost all buses in HK)and it was nice to check out the beachy areas of the Island. They looked good and it was tempting to skip the market for a couple of hours relaxing in the sun. As it turns out, we probably would have been better off doing that! The market was pretty small and even though we saw some stuff we liked it will be cheaper for us to pick it up elsewhere on our travels! We managed an expensive (but delicious) Haagen Dazs icecream instead though. We headed back to Central and caught up with more people from our tour group. We went en masse up to Victoria Peak - via the longest escalator/travelator in the world - 1.4km long. It takes about half an hour to travel up it. At the peak we sat sipping cocktails, watching the sky grow darker and the illuminations begin to take over the skyline. Matt has got some fab pictures on his new camera so hopefully you'll be able to see them soon! After that we took the Peak Tram down the hill - we were like very excited children, it's REALLY steep and we had to do lots of standing up and leaning backwards - to Lan Kwai Fung for dinner and one or two drinks after. The whole area is full of restaurants and bars and everyone is out on the street. The place was packed as apparently Friday is THE night to go out in HK. We caught a couple of drinks at Happy Hour prices and then they doubled but we still managed to get a bit tipsy and dance in the street - much to the amusement of everyone else. Matt became extremely trigger happy (over 100 photos!) so no doubt there'll be drunken pictures appearing on the site soon too. We staggered onto the last MTR home (yes, a huge group of horribly noisy drunken tourists - how pleased must everyone have been!) and crashed into bed. ZZzzzzz.
Here are some of the photos
Some things never change ;-)
More photos to come once i get the ipaq back ;-)
No rest for the wicked (or slightly hungover), we were up and about to go to Lantou Island to see the Buddah there - the largest outdoor Buddah. We took the MTR (tube) as far as we could and then caught a local bus. The island is very hilly and the bus winds it way up these hills at about 10 miles an hour. We covered most of the Island - seeing its Prison on the way. It was good to catch a glimpse of the Buddah on top of a hill after about an hour but after a tantilising peek it disappeared again and about half an hour later we arrived at the Monastry. It cost us 60 HK dollars for a buddhist lunch ( a bit too much tofu for our liking but it filled a gap!) and entrance to the top of the Buddah. After lunch we climbed the 224 steps up to the Buddah's feet. This thing is huge and very impressive (and yes there are photos to follow), we walked around the outside and then into the Buddah himself - this was full of pictures of people or names stuck on the wall (presumably dead people) and then bits of a holy man who had been cremated and his body had turned to crystal. We climbed back down, headed to the port and caught a ferry back to Hong Kong Island. In the evening we wwent to visit 2 of our friends from the tour who were house sitting for a girlfriend's uncle. He's a Cathay Pacific pilot and had a plush apartment on Robinson Rd. We hung out there for a bit enjoying some luxury before heading back home to a tea of pot noodle and malteasers!
The end of our time in Hong Kong :(. We have really enjoyed the city and want to return. Debs is definately coming back - the shopping is AMAZING!!!! At the airport there was a little confusion about the amount of people on the flight and we volunteered to move onto a later flight. While the airline were sorting themselves out they gave us vouchers for a free lunch - having eaten non-western food for 2 weeks we headed straight to Spagetti House for some good lod spag bol - it hit the spot nicely and was even better being free! On returning to the check in desk they teased us with the possibility of being upgraded to business class on the later flight but after only 15 minutes that dream was cruelly torn away from us as we were crammed onto the original flight 10 rows apart. Still, we were on our way to the 3rd country in as many weeks! Arrived in Bangkok safely to a very hot 34 degrees. Got the bus to the hotel - very nice. A bit of 4 star luxury - and a comfy bed at last (although no 100% cotton sheets which was a bit of a let down). We checked out the pools which seem ok, headed to the reastaurant downstairs and then crashed out.
In Hong Kong Matt had bought (another) new toy for our travels, an IPaq. Unfortunately this broke this morning and so we spent today finding computer shops to try and get it fixed. We've seen quite a bit of the city around where we are staying, visited some posh shopping centres and taken our 1st Tuk-Tuk ride. Quite an experience, squashed into the trailer attached to a motorbike, whizzing through the city. More of those to come no doubt! We also picked up new SIM cards for our mobiles so if you want to text us then our numbers are: Debs +6640798235 Matt +6640798236
We planning our next leg of the adventure but plan to be in Bangkok for a few more days...
Spent the morning planning our next leg of the journey - not sure when that'll be (all depending on the bloomin' IPaq!) so took a trip to get our visas for Laos and Vietnam sorted... will have them by Friday. We also booked ourselves onto the sleeper train to Chiang Mai on Friday (with the option of changing should the computer rule our lives). We've also organised to go trekking, both walking and on elephants, for a couple of days. Popped down to the Khao San Rd in the evening - having heard the many tales we were slightly disappointed with what greated us (although maybe we would have been more surprised if this was our first destination) - lots of neon lights and bars but surprisingly few ladyboys (we only spotted 1)had dinner in a local Thai restaurant. Matt went for the Thai Green Curry - specially made with no spices but had the hidden chilli in the bottom of the dish and a lot of chopped chilli in the sauce - he was very red faced, watery eyed and sweaty by the end but finished it none the less! Stayed on the KSR for a few drinks before heading home.
Had to leave the Asia hotel this morning as our time there was up, so spent our time packing and checking out. Moved to a new place on the KSR - not as luxurious but it is clean and seems fine. Only downside is that our room faces directly on to the street - if it's too bad then we'll move hotels again tomorrow. Spent the afternoon wandering along the street - Matt bought some 'Diesel' boardies and Debs bought a 9 treatment facial. Witnessed our first tropical thunderstorm - pretty spectacular it was too. Huge amounts of thunder and lightening and water about 2 inches deep in the street - running like a river down the road. As we write this an hour later, almost all of the water has drained away and things are back to normal - if only things were the same back home! While the storm was going on we sat and had dinner and a drink in a really nice restaurant and once we're done in this Internet Cafe it'll be back for a few more beers!
As predicted spent our time in a bar - an Irish Pub to be precise. There were a couple of bands playing -the 1st one was pretty good, playing lots of covers but doing it well. The econd band were far to shouty and noisy and it all seemed to go on for far too long! Anyway, drank lots of beer, watched many boys be picked up by the pretty local girls! And stumbled home to bed.
Hooray! The iPaq is fixed, much to Matt's relief it was free too. Having been to pick it up, we went to try to see Wat Po (the reclining Buddah) and the Palace - a bit of a mommoth feat in tself as we seemed to pick up one of the imfamous Bangkok taxi drivers who even when you show them where to go on the map, doesn't have a clue! Matt directed from the back seat with much pointing and gesturing and eventually we got there - he'd been moaning about lack of adventures but they're starting to happen now! We'd left it too late to have a proper look around the palace and were trying to make our way around to Wat Po when we were accosted by a friendly off duty tour person from the palace. He told us all about how beautiful it was - better than Buckingham Palace apparently - and how David Beckham and Michael Owen had visited etc etc. He showed us some good free sights on the map and we had a nice time chatting to him. Then he called over a Tuk-Tuk driver and asked him to take us to all these places - he wouldn't take no for an answer so we decided to go with the flow... Of to the 1st Buddah - the largest standing Buddah in the world. Pretty impressive and the guy who looked after the place was very chatty and informative (we even learned all about his sister's wedding and honey moon to Phuket - she would rather have gone to Chiang Mai...) and we left with a smile on our faces and headed off to the next venue... Or not. About 2 minutes around the corner and there we were at the tailors - oh joy. The man in there was from Nepal and we sat chatting about travelling, havng escaped from there, our Tuk Tuk driver wanted to stop 2 doors down the road. We refused but Matt took pity on him and said we would stop once more before continuing the sight seeing. So, off to another tailors where Matt was almost talked into buying a suit (100% cashmere, silk lined, hand made etc etc). We left the shop with the guy calling out lower and lower prices to our retreating backs! By the point the Tuk Tuk driver realised that we weren't up for all these stops. He took us to a monastry and then swiftly deposited us back on the Khao San Rd - no doubt to pick up more gulliable people. We came back to an ever darkening sky and Debs watched the huge thunder clouds roll down the road - frantic stall holdes putting up plastic awnngs. Within about 10 minutes the heavens opened and it was time for another spectacular storm. We're planning on heading to a film cafe ths evening for some food and free entertainment. We leave Bangkok tomorrow, it's been interesting being here but I don't think either of us will miss it too much.
Having sorted all of the computer stuff (and with a big smile on Matt's face) we headed out for some food and to watch 'The Day After Tomorrow' - true Thai rip-off with lots of shadows of people walking across the screenas it was filmed in the cinema and truly bad sound. The sub titles made us laugh though. Before the film finished we were invited to join a table of 4 other english people and ended up whiling away the rest of the evening drinking Sam Song buckets (Thai whisky, Red Bull and Coke)... pretty revolting, although you don't really remember much at all! We stumbled down the road - all our plans of packing and being organised having flown out of the window (or sailed down our necks along with the drink!)
Eventually dragged ourselves out of bed and checked out of the hotel. Leaving our stuff in storage we grabbed breakfast and decided to walk to Wat Pho (not up early enough for the Grand Palace - we'll do that next time) a bit of a silly mistake as it was the hottest day so far and so we ended up very very sweaty! having been told by various helpful Thais that it wasn't open to tourists and that now was the time to pray to Buddah (we weren't buddhist were we?) we continued along anyway and found our way to the entrance. Having paid our 20 Baht, we went straight to the reclining Buddah and were amazed by how huge, gold, ornate and beautiful it was. Many pictures were taken. We spent a happy hour wandering around the place, sheltering in various temples to avoid the sudden downpours and getting thourughly Buddah-ed out. We left and took a water taxi home (it cost us 9p each!) and leant on the side of the boat watching Bangkok go by - not the most scenic of trips, it was more interesting watching the comings and goings of the monks, school kids and women shopping. having got back to the hotel we headed off to pick up our passports (with shiny new visas for Laos and Vietnam inside) and went to Bangkok central train station. After a quick dinner on the station concourse we got on the sleeper train to Chiang Mai. Not as good as the sleeper trains in China. It was clean and the beds were comfortable (if you were smaller rather than taller - exactly 6 foot long!) but we both had top bunks and they were pretty rocky and bumpy. At times it felt as if you were on a ship sailing the high seas! Coupled with the fact that the lights were on all ight and the sounds of people snoring, constantly coughing (for goodness sake, get a drink of water) and the air con being freezing meant we didn't slepp too well. Grrr!
Pleased to arrive in Chiang Mai - this looks more like the Thailand we expected, lots of green and hills and a bit more of a reasonable temperature. We greated our hotel room with glee and promptly caught up on a couple of hours sleep! Up and about we checked out the local area, had dinner in the night bazaar and were both happy with the entertainment provided (Matt watched the footie, Debs watched traditional Thai dancing and drumming). Off to pack now for some hill trekking tomorrow.
We'll try to update this when we get back in a couple of days time. Have a good weekend!
Minibus came to pick us up from our hotel and once we had picked up the other people coming with us we drove onto the market where our guide bought food for our trek. After another hour and a half we arrived at the start. The beginning of the trek was pretty easy - walking along paths throw flat land. We stopped for lunch after an hour - the farmers wife delighted in showing us the hugest black and yellow spider!
Having refuelled we continued onwards and upwards. We had to remember to look at the scenery NOT just at our feet, it was spectacular. We climbed for three more hours (9km) tracing the stream's path back up the hillside. We took a few breaks when crossing the stream and had the chance to shower under a waterfall. We arrived hot and sweaty in the small village we were staying that night. The village, belonging to the Karen tribe, was 1100m up and 6 families live there. The village consists of 10 bamboo huts on stilts with chicken, pigs, dogs and cattle running underneath. We were made to feel welcome and could wander through the villlage freely (as long as we were prepared the crafts that they had made). Having chilled out and put on clean clothes we watched our guide a delicious dinner for us. By the time we had finished eating night had fallen. We sat around the camp fire chatting, looking at the stars and watching the villagers smoking opium. We chatted for hours but even then it was only 10 o'clock when we went to bed! We were sleeping in a large bamboo hut on matting on the floor - not the comfiest bed in the world but still an adventure.
What a restless night with people snoring and pigs liturally grunting underneath us as they played underneath the hut! The floor was incredibly uncomfortable and the cockrels started crowing just before dawn about 4am! We lay there till seven when the guide came and got us for breakfast. Then left for more trekking at 8. We had half an hour of very steep up hill climbing before the long decent to the bottom of the valley. We thought that this would be easier but turned out to be far more trecherous than we could imagine! Part of our trek took us through unmaintained fields where we just had to plough our way through as there were no paths. This is what we had hoped more of the trekking would be like. We walked on narrow paths through rice fields and then down steep muddy paths with tree root and rocks jutting out of them. We were about 10 minutes away from a waterfall that we were going to swim in when Debs lost her footing, slipped and landed on her wrist, which made a loud crack! In pain and tears it was bandaged up and we carried on. The waterfall looked inviting and despite the temperature (it was freezing) we spent 20minutes cooling off.
Matt then had to dress Debs (he "didn't sign up for this!") and they gingerly continued on their travels. After 20 minutes, and still feeling wobbly, Debs had her second accident slipping in the middle of the paddy field, off the 1 foot wide path into the rice and water below.
We trekked for the last hour and then had lunch. No more walking, just rafting and elephant ridding before home, what could possibly go wrong? First we drove to rafting. The rafts were made of eight lengths 8m long bamboo strapped together with strips of old tyres. We were on a raft with two other people, the girls sat in the middle on the "seat" while the boys took turns at the back either steering or laying back. Whilst Matt was steering there was a sharp turn in the river whilst having rocks on both sides. This made for a white water moment. The front of the boat made it through the gap but the back hit the bank before the corner. This sent Matt off the boat and into the water, closely followed by the boat! The boat then swung out again towards the outside of the bend sending Matt into a nice boat-Matt-rock sandwich! Matt was left with lots of cuts and grazes and a gash on his elbow. The elbow injury was only noticed when the boat behind called out asking about it. The blood had run across the whole back of his forearm down to his hand - very dramatic! The rest of the rafting was (thankfully) less eventful. So we drove to the elephant place. Our elephants were ready as soon as we arrived so we jumped on and began the walk up the hill.
It was pretty slow and lumbering and at times it felt as though we were going to fall out but nice to be doing something that didn't require a lot of effort on our behalf. Half way round our guide got off to make a phone call! The elephant took us the rest of the way by ourselves. Having done that we took a painful ride home. Having rechecked into the hotel we took a trip to the hospital. The place was completely empty (no injuries on these roads!) and Debs was seen straight away. The nurses were very kind and helpful and after an x-ray (which showed no broken bones) diagnosed torn/strained ligaments. She was bandaged up and sent home. This has meant that our travel plans have changed and we will be staying in Chiang Mai for a few more days. Nice to have a chance to relax and see more of the town before moving on.
Having a lazy day recuperating in bed and at the pool.
Another lazy-ish day. We were going to go and see some of Chiang Mai's 300 odd temples but as soon as we stepped outside we realised that the afternoon should be spent laying by the pool... Which we duly did. At about 4 ish we'd finished baking and decided that as it was a bit cooler we'd go and see the sights. We walked to the old wall around the city and climbed to the top of the wall (not much to see). The wall is about 700 hundred years old. We crossed through the gate and wandered for a while looking at the temples - there's almost one on every corner - and generally seeing what was about (basically more of the same - bars, restaurants, street stalls and market type things). We stopped at a bar for a drink (or two) and after a couple of hours two of the people who were on our trek passed by. The rest of the evening was spent sitting and chatting with them (they're heading to Laos too, the day before us) and eating and drinking. We walked back to the hotel with them and just went to bed.
Up and about at 6.30!!! For a day of visiting Tribal Villages near the border with Burma (Myanmar). We were picked up by Noi our guide at 7.45 and headed out on our days adventure. First stop was at Mea Rim - a butterfly and orchid farm. We weren't there long. The butterflies were huge (but didn't move too much thankfully) and the orchids were beautiful. Matt got some close up practice with his camera. After that we continued on to Mae Taeng where we saw how to turn Elephant Poo into paper (wash the stones out of it, boil it, bleach it, wash it again, dye it and then press it flat - easy!) About 20 minutes up the road we stopped at the Chiang Dao caves - it is a place where monks used to meditate (300 years ago) and as you go into the caves there are lots of buddahs. In the depths of the cave is a monument of the monk who meditated there first. There are also lots of stalagmites and stalagtites and it was nice to get out of the heat for a bit. From there we headed to our first tribe - the Mhong people - who came to Thailand from Southern China about 200 years ago. The village was quite big (500 people) and we wandered through. There were lots of kids playing in the street doing pretty much what any kid would do - a large group of boys playing marbles, a little girl 'painting' (with a stick and water onto a rock) hearts. There were 3 little girls of about 3 years old playing with an umbrella - we took their photo with the digital camera and then showed them the picture. They thought it was the funniest thing! We really needed to capture that moment with another digital camera! After that we went for lunch in a roadside 'cafe' type thing. The food was good (as it always seems to be) - quite a big chinese influence - and then we carried on to Thaton - on the border with Myanmar. There are about 5 or 6 Buddahs on the hill and we went and looked at the largest one that all the people in the local area pray to. To be honest once you've seen 1 Buddah you've seen them all (not strictly true as there are 7 different Buddah's, one for each day of the week!) and we were more interested in the stunning scenery - lots of lush greenery, rice fields and mountains than yet another statue! We travelled onto a village between Muang Ngam and Santisuk where we saw three types of tribal people - all descended from the Karen tribe (who we stayed with while we were trekking) and originally came into Thailand from Myanmar about 300 years ago (although some of the people we were talking to only came over from Myanmar a couple of years ago!). The first people we saw were the Akha - we've seen them selling their wares in Bangkok and here in Chiang Mai and they wear huge silver headdresses (worth about 30 - 40,000 Baht) which they never take off (probably due to bad hat hair ;)). We also saw the Long Neck tribe (the girls have bronze rings around their necks) - there are about 20 long neck girls/women in the tribe we visited - when the girls are about 5 they start having the rings put on, like a coil and it's passed from the elders onto the younger members of the community. The weight of the rings makes their shoulders drop and when they take the rings off it feels uncomfortable. It is done for beauty and also to protect them from being killed by tigers biting the backs of their necks (although perhaps if they weren't weighed down by bronze they could run a bit faster!). We also saw the Big Ear tribe (they have their ears pierced and stretch the holes) and the Black Teeth tribe - where the women stain their teeth with bitter nuts to make them black. This lasts for about 50 years and supposedly makes them more sexy?! After all of that it was a 3 hour drive back to Chiang Mai for some food and then packing up to move onto the next country.
OUR NEXT STEPS
Tomorrow (Friday 8th October) we are going to Chiang Khong where we will stay the night before crossing to Huay Xai in Laos. We will then spend 2 days getting the slow boat down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. We plan to spend a couple of days there before heading to either Vang Vieng or Vientiane (the capital of Laos). From there we'll fly to Pakse in southern Laos and from there fly to Siem Reap in Cambodia. We have heard that Laos is much poorer than the other countries around here and that internet access etc is harder to come by. So, don#t be surprised if you don't hear from us for a while - we're taking good care of ourselves and one another and will fill you in on our adventures a.s.a.p!
We were picked up in a minibus at about 12ish (the last to be picked up which meant we had the 3 front seats to ourselves - hooray, space!) and faced a 5hour drive up to Chaing Khong. The drive was ok, not as bad as our maniac driver yesterday but still pretty crazy. We arrived in Chiang Khong just before dusk. The Guest House we were staying in was right on the river and we could see Laos about 100m away
We settled in for the night, had dinner and watched the lights of Laos blinking at us. We met some of the people who will be on our boat trip and then had an early night - border crossing at 8.30 tomorrow.
Up bright and early, had breakfast and then drove about 50m to immigration (could probably have walked it quicker!), checked out of Thailand, took a 3 minute trip across the river and checked into Laos, easy as pie! We then walked to another part of the river to board our boat - home(ish) for the next 2 days. We thought we'd been pretty lucky to get a wooden bench to sit on (rather than the floor or a plastic chair) but as the boat filled up and it got to the point of fitting 3 people onto a bench, we began to change our minds. The scenery was beautiful - lots of green trees, fields and mountians, clean sand at the edge of the river etc etc
But it took hardly any time at all to realise just how uncomfortable the seats were - and the fact that we had 6 hours of sitting on them ahead of us. Stupidly we had both packed our books into our big rucksacks and so had to make do with scenery (and a bit of music) to pass the time. The boat pulled over to pick up Lao villagers occasionally from their villages at the side of the river which provided us with plenty of photo opportunities.
And a chance to see a bit of Lao life too. After about 5 hours we were just pulling out of a little riverside village when there was a horrible crunching noise from under the water. The boat tried to carry on down river but had no power to it at all. We drifted over to the bank and the driver/captain got out to see if he could sort the problem - which turned out to be kinda tricky as the drive shaft had snapped! Oops! We were stuck on the side of the river - which gave everyone a chance to stretch their legs, meet the locals or catch up on a bit of sleep.
We had visions of taking the village over for the evening - which we were up for (don't know about the locals though!) but after about 30minutes another boat came to collect us. We climbed on board, our luggage was throw on and we carried on for an hour to Pakbeng. We stopped here for the night and had our first taste of Lao hospitality, which was good. Matt was disappointed to discover that there weren't any TV's (the electricity went off at 10pm anyway) and so he would miss the England match. We went for dinner, chatted to people and marvelled at the amount of flies and bugs that were everywhere (Debs's was particularly unimpressed with the large cockroach that landed on her back - yuk!). On a nicer note the fact that we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere and there wasn't any light pollution meant that we had a fantastic view of the stars and could marvel at the milky way. Then another early night as there is no electricity after 10 and our boat leaves at 8.30 tomorrow.
Up and out and on the boat by 8.20 ready for another bum numbing 7 hours to Luang Prabang! There wqas some kind of commotion on the boat with the captian doing lots of counting of passengers (60 officially but I think that's the number of tourists and then as many Laos people as you can squeeze in!) - we finally left at about 9.40, already feeling uncomfortable. Not only are the seats hard, we even had cushions on this boat but it was still uncomfy, but they are small and narrow and have no leg room. Had a pretty uneventful journey - more looking at scenery, collecting and delivering villagers and their wares and we'd unpacked our books so we could read too today. We arrived in Luang Prabang about 5ish and came straight to the Guest House we'd read up about in the Lonely Planet...seems nice. Plus there's a restaurant, pub, internet café and travel office all in the same block of buildings! We're going to be here for a couple of days to see a bit of the town and to plan our next move!
Nice to have a lie in and a lazy breakfast downstairs, watching the world go by. Chatted to Kelly and Darren (some people from our boat trip here) and a guy from Brighton who also happens to be staying here - small world. Heard tales of Cambodia and Vietnam that made us excited to go there... Set off to the travel agent over the road to book bus tickets out of Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng and then flights to take us to southern Laos. With that done we headed into town, about 5 or 10 minutes walk. The town has a couple of main streets, Luang Prabang is a peninsular betewwn 2 rivers so there's basically a road by each side of the river and one running down the middle. The middle road has all the cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, temples etc (although this makes it sound far bigger than it actually is). We wandered along the road, bumping into people we'd met on our boat trip before we stopped at an Internet café. Matt wanted to sort out all the photos we've taken so that everyone can get to see them on the website and it was a good chance to email people with our news. After about an hour - and a pretty slow connection - Debs gave up and went for a stroll to check out the town for herself. It was very peaceful and relaxing and perfectly safe just to wander along looking into houses and shops, window shopping of course, seeing Lao life, watching the monks in the temples (there are about 30 temples here). She stopped for a chat with one of the monks - they all want to practice their English - and then headed back to collect Matt and drag him around the newly discovered sights, traditional houses, river picturesqueness, a woman with a pet monkey... Having done that, we headed out for dinner - watching the Geckos catching moths while we were eating our curry. Then we wandered through the nightmarket.
After that we went to a bar and bumped into Jane and James (from trekking). We whiled away the evening chatting about the horrors of the boat journey down here until all of the bars had shut and it was time for us to go.
Our last day here in Luang Prabang as we get the bus tomorrow morning to Vang Vieng so we wanted to make the most of it. First we wandered into town, stopping off at Phu Si - temples on the slopes of a hill. We climbed up the steps (knackering but we're getting used to it now after The Great Wall, Moon Hill etc) to That Chomsi, the temple at the top,and looked at the fantastic panoramic views - and the russian anti aircraft gun up there! - then we meandered down paths and steps stopping off to look at various temples, Buddhas and monks on the way.
Having done that we walked to the Royal Palace Museum. Unfortunately the museum had shut and was closed for the rest of the day but we went in to a throne room type place within the compound and took some pictures of that instead.
From there we continued walking to a couple more of the temples in town, photographing some of the monks on the way.
Then it was time for a bit of adventure! We'd heard from other people travelling here that there was a big waterfall (Kuang Si Falls) worth visiting. You can take organised minibus tours out to visit it - via some tribal village on the way - we decided to do it outselves. As the waterfall is about 30km outside of Luang Prabang we figured cycling wasn't much of an option (too many injuries) and as neither of us was 100% sure about motorbikes or scooters that was out of the question too. Instead we found a very smiley Jumbo (minivan) driver who drove us to the waterfall, waited for us, brought us home - stopping for photo opportunities - and bought us bananas too, all for $10! Bargain. The waterfall was huge
And having stood at the bottom getting wet from all of the spray we decided to climb up to the 'second tier' of it - quite a challenge as once we'd climbed up the mud slope we had to climb around the edge of the hill - which had bits of the waterfall running down it - under tree trunks, through streamy bits etc. We made it though! But that part of the waterfall was a bit too fast flowing and too full of rocks so we climbed back down to ground level and Matt was brave enough to jump in and have a swim - it was cool and refreshing and lots of fun.
On our way down the hill back to our Jumbo we stopped to look at a rescued tiger they have. She is 5 years old and was taken by a poacher with her 2 brothers when she was a cub a few weeks old. She is in a huge enclosure but when we arrived she had just been brought inside as it was her dinner time (a small buffalo 3 times a week). She was in a cage and her keeper was there with her. He beckoned us over for a closer look and then said that we could put our hands through the bars and stroke her! She felt just like a cat and sat there pretty contentedly - just making noises occasionally because she was hungry - we stayed away from her head just incase she got too hungry! What an amazing thing to be able to do.
After that it was back to the Jumbo, a bumpy ride back to Luang Prabang and then showers, dinner, the Internet café and then packing for our move tomorrow.
Having had a random discussion earlier in the evening about the size of Gecko's when they hatch from their shells, we returned to our Guest House to find said thing crawling about on the stairs...
Another travelling day, a 6hour minibus journey along the famous (and feared) Route 13 to Vang Vieng. A lot more picturesque scenery although a bit too cloudy to see that much of it. Still plenty of looking out the window as we were driving through villages on the hillsides. It was a very long and windy route, the scenery is full of limestone karsts - though not as impressive as the ones we saw in China (hark at us!). The journey was pretty uneventful (thankfully) although we did see lots of blokes with guns slung over their shoulders. For those of you who don't know, Route 13 has been the place where robberies have taken place and last year 13 people were shot - the government aren't sure who is behind this and seem to put it down to bandits. The safest way to travel is in a private minibus - which is what we did - and we arrived into the warmth with smiles on our faces, pleased to be walking around. If we had thought that there would be any real danger then we would have flown here but more than 50 people do the trip everyday so it's pretty safe despite the headlines. We wandered through the "town" (there are about 4 streets and a disused American airstrip) along the path of the river and found ourselves a beautiful riverside bungalow to stay in... own bathroom with hot shower, fan, double bed with mosquito net and a gorgeous view of the river and the karsts... all for $6. We sat around enjoying the peace before walking into town for some food and to check out the nightlife...
Wandered into town and found one of the many film cafes in which to have dinner. Having done that we wandered around to check out the nightlife and see what the bars were like... We'd already seen lots of bars and restaurants offering their special "happy menu" and the pubs that we went to were full of people who had obviously attacked the menu with gusto and then smoked a few more joints on top for extra happiness... We stayed for a drink and then headed back to the film cafes.
Today was the day for tubing - the sun was shining and the river inviting (kinda). We walked to the main strip and hired our tubes (inner tubes from tractors) and then got taken by Tuk-Tuk about 3km up river. The tuk tuk driver dropped us at the end of the road and pointed us in the direction of the river. With our tubes over our shoulders we strolled on down to the rivers edge, deciding rhe best way to get in and get going... Whilst deliberating, a couple of the local kids borrowed Matt's tube for a bit of fun. Having retreived the tube, we gingerly set off - looking for the smooth slow entry point into the river. This we did, although it was a little too slow but we got drifting down stream. Within about 100m we saw our first "bar" - some guys on the river bank with a bucket of beers and a long pole to pull you into the side with. We skipped the first 2 bars (we'd only just got started and it seemed a shame to stop) but were drawn into the 3rd - it had the added bonus of a stereo! After a couple of bottles of Lao beer we set off down river again. Drifting along, watching the karsts go by, looking at the hippos (oh, ok, they're water buffalo) and generally relaxing. We stopped at another bar - where some of the people from our bus trip down here were and after another beer comtinued on our way. Unfortunately by this time the sun was behind a few clouds but it was a pretty relaxing way to spend three and a half hours! After showering and getting rid of river mud we headed back to the film cafe for dinner (no film sadly, lots of episodes of friends though) and after that Matt decided that it was time for a haircut. Found a local barber and mimed the style he wanted... not difficult to mime as you will see...Pics to follow. (It must be all the temples we've been visiting!)
We leave here tomorrow for Vientiane (the capital) where we should be able to add pics for you to see more of our adventure.
After all that, needed a beer
Bus arrived at 9.30 (only 30 minutes late, not bad for Lao timing) to take us to the capital. Unfortunately we got the lucky backseats of the minibus! It was pretty hot with 12 of us crammed in and no airconditioning to speak! So we set off on another bumy journey but it only took about 4 hours and we arrived safely. Vientianne is pretty small - 3 main streets to speak of. We found a nice guest house - with a very friendly owner - and having dropped off our stuff headed out for some lunch. The restaurant over the road from the guest house was rumoured to have the best spring rolls in Laos, so they had to be tried... and yes they were pretty good. Matt was especially pleased as they even had mash potato on the menu! I guess the waiter thought it was a pretty weird order - spring rolls and mash - but it worked for us! We wandered around for a little while, but didn't get far, and then returned to the hotel. The owner was telling us about Muang Lai Lao (Lao boxing) and how there was a special evening of boxing happening tonight (which had been postponed earlier in the week) if we were interested. As we hadn't made it to the Thai boxing we figured it would be worth a look. Plus it was only 5000 kip(about 35p)so would be a cheap night out! We met the owner at 8 and jumped on a tuk-tuk with his Sister, Dad and a couple of other Lao people. We arrived at the 'stadium' - a big corrugated iron shed type thing but open on the sides, with tiered seating on 3 sides, plastic chaired "VIP" area by the judges on the 4th side and a boxing ring raised in the middle. We paid our money, and the hotel man showed us to some seats in the VIP area. We were the only westeners there! It was pretty amazing. The smell of deep heat as the boxers came into the ring and when they were fighting, the sound of the commentator, a band of 3 playing (drum, hand cymbals and some pipes)and the shouts from the crowd and just watching it all happen. The crowd was pretty mixed; young and old, men, women and children... and us 2. We watched about 8 fights. Each one having 3 or 5 rounds - depending on skill and age. Some of the kids looked about 12 while some of the fighters were in their 20's and the last match looked like the old timers.
Debs sat next to a sweet old Lao man who spent the evening explaining to her what was happening - unfortunately all in Lao but she smiled and nodded and pretended to know what was going on! At the end of the evening we were introduced to several of the fighters (friends of the family we'd gone with) before all sharing a tuk-tuk home.
Another hot and sunny day so after a bit of breakfast we headed off to see some of the sights of the city. There's not a huge amount to see here and we're both feeling a bit templed out so we walked to see the Patuxai - Vientiane's replica of the Arc de Triomphe.
Having done that (and seen the spire of Pha That Luang - a golden temple - the most important in Vientiane but too far away for us to be bothered to walk to!) we went to Si Saket.
This is the oldest temple here, built in 1818 by the king at the time. It is full of over 300 statues of Buddhas, some from the 16th and 17th centuries. We also saw lots of Naga (snake god) statues. Then we headed for a bit of shade and a cool drink by the river. This evening we plan to have a look at the night food market (although we've already seen loys of live bugs for sale) to tempt us! And then up early to catch the 6am flight south.
Up at 4.40am!!! The lovely manager of our guest house had arranged a tuk tuk for us, so we hopped in the back and headed for the airport. It was interesting driving through the city as it was still dark but we still saw people jogging and doing Tai Chi (I guess it's the coolest time to do it) and kids riding around on bikes plus some of the sights we were too lazy to walk to yesterday! We arrived and checked in - the airport seemed about the size of a school hall, no café to get some breakfast at and no chance for any shopping! We sat in the 'departure lounge', watched it get light and then walked over the runway to the plane. The flight was fine, we had doughnuts and coffee/tea for breakfast and an hour and forty minutes later we arrived in Pakse. We took another tuk tuk to the Southern Bus Terminal - a big dusty field on the edge of town where buses and sangthews (like Jumbos) gather to take people wherever... We were offered plenty of rides and were pretty tired and confused by it all but found 3 other westeners doing the same thing and tagged along with them. We caught a sangthew - with about 6 locals towards Si Phan Don. The journey was one of the best journeys so far - good tarmac roads for 90% of the journey (and then a very dusty track at the end), people hopping on and off etc etc. About 2 hours later (150km - and it cost $3) we reached the end of the line and had to get a boat across to the islands. As there were 5 of us we got the price down to 7000 kip each (there are 19000 kip to the £) and about 15 minutes later arrived at Don Det - of the 3 populated islands, this is one of the smallest. We found ourselves a guest house for 10000kip a night, settled ourselves in and went for lunch. After all the effort of getting here, we spent a quiet afternoon hanging around in the hammocks outside our huts watching the Mekong river flow by (and under) us. Tiring work this travelling malarky! Having showered the dust off we sat down with Zoe, Will (who we found out live in Hove!) and Giorgia (from Italy) - the 3 people we came with - had a few Beer Lao, some dinner and an earlyish night.
Up early (it's kinda hard to sleep in with all the wildlife being so noisy and the villagers getting on with their daily lives) and packed up as we had decided to move to some new huts further up the river - good views of the sunset and the hills of Cambodia (we're within swimming distance of the country).
Having settled ourselves into our new home and had breakfast we decided to take a walk around the island. We'd been told it was a 3km walk around the entire island. We set off but pretty soon the sandy track that we'd been walking on petered out and we were left to navigate our way through and around paddy fields - who knows what the local people farming made of 4 westeners wandering along the edge of their fields!
We were fairly hot and none of us had water with us so instead of trying to walk around the edge of the island (beginning to seem like an impossible task) we headed into the middle! Within about 15 minutes of walking we began to encounter civilasation (huts selling drinks) and stopped by the old railway bridge (the only thing the French built here - but they never actually laid the railway line) for some water and to admire the views. Our walk was going to continue across the bridge onto the other side of the island - where there is a waterfall - but the 5000kip fee to cross the bridge and the fact that we were knackered made us decide to head back to our hammocks! Easier said than done, we followed the path which ran alongside the river but it took about another hour to get home ... Think the island is probably more than 3km! Having returned home we spent another busy afternoon reading in our hammocks before getting up to watch the sunset
Have some dinner, look at the stars (amazing) and head back to bed.
Had a bit of a lie in (honestly, travelling is really tiring ;) ) and then set off to sort out leaving the island. The people we came here with are leaving for Cambodia and we decided to spend a couple of days on Don Khong - the largest island here. We chartered ourselves a boat and at 1pm set of on the 16km journey up river. It took about 1 1/2 hours and was nice to see some of the Islands and sandbanks that this part of the world is famous for. We were hoping that we might catch a glimpse of the Irrawaddy fresh water dolphins that live around here but no luck so far. Matt checked out the town and the guest houses (there are about 5 places to stay and 2 roads!) We checked into a hotel on the bank of the river and continued relaxing!
After breakfast we walked into 'town' - well 500m along the river bank to a collection of 4 guesthouses. We hired a couple of bikes for the day with the idea of cycling around the Island. Yet again, the planning of our adventures was slightly mistimed and we ended up cycling through the hottest part of the day! We set off towards the end of the island on our 'Dorothy bikes' (Wizard of Oz style, complete with bells and baskets!), pretty hard going as we had to pedal constantly - no gears and no coasting ability. Luckily the roads were pretty flat and the majority of them were tarmaced too. After about an hour we stopped for drinks and then continued, finally stopping for more water and for Matt to buy a hat (his newly shaved head wasn't used to the sun!). The final 8km were quite a trial, hot, tired and pretty fed up of cycling by that point (we'd done 3 and a half hours!) and with very saddle sore bums... But we made it. We must have cycled about 30km - not a huge distance but a bit of a marathon in these conditions! We had lunch, wandered back to our hotel and collapsed! When we'd recoveredv we wandered back into town for some dinner (at the only restaurant around!) and our last night of quiet island life for a while.
Standing on the side of the road at 8.10 waiting for the bus to Pakse (due at 8.30 but for once in Laos it was early!)... Clambered on board with our rucksacks - much to the amusement of all the locals on board - and settled back for one of the most comfy journeys we have had... Big reclining seats. Ummmm. The only downside was the VERY loud Lao pop karaoke which played for the entire journey - thank goodness for the MP3 player, after about 30 minutes we had the headphones plugged in and the volume turned up! The journey was good and we arrived in Pakse at 10.30. Caught a tuk-tuk straight to our guest house and sorted our things out - we leave Laos tomorrow morning (another early start, airport at 6am! Travellling in Laos is definitely a morning thing) and head to Cambodia, Siem Reap for a few days of temple spotting at Angkor.
Up early (again!) to the airport. So early infact that the airport wasn't even open! (Ok, too much planning on Deb's behalf!) But we sat and watched the sun rise, the centipedes crawling on the floor and theother creepy crawlies. Once the place had opened we checked our bags in (and found that a baby gecko had gone through on Deb's bag - and been xrayed, probably deformed for life now) and waited for the plane. The flight into Cambodia was fine (although the pilot wasn't too hot on taking off and landing - not the smoothest we've experienced - but hey!) and once we'd landed we joined the queue for our visas - duly issued without any hassle. Having successfully passed into the country we made our way to a nice guesthouse, found a good room and slept! At the guest house we met a very friendly tuk-tuk driver (Mr Sophal) who is going to look after us for the next 3 days. At 4.30 he took us to Angkor to get our tickets for the next 3 days and then onto Phnom Bakheng - a big hill with a temple at the top. We climbed up to watch sunset (along with a couple of hundred other people)
and also see our first glimpse of Angkor Wat. Then it was back into town for some food and an early night...
The alarm went off at 4.45 and we were up and out and on our way to Angkor within half an hour. We made our way to Angkor Wat to watch the sun rise. The temple itself is the largest religious building in the world but we didn't step inside... The sun rose, we took pictures, it was good
then we headed on to see The Bayon. This is a memorial temple and has hundreds of faces (216 infact) carved into square 'pillars' - from a distance it looks a bit like a pile of rubble but once you get close to it it is amazing. One of our favourite places we have visited. As the sun rises over the tree tops the light casts lots of shadows making it even more spectacular.
We spent the morning seeing lots more of the temples and buildings... too many to list
But the heat and lack of sleep began to take their toll. We headed back to the guesthouse for a siesta and woke up feeling refreshed. We wandered around the local area, found a street of bars and restaurants and settled ourselves in for the night!
4.45am start again! We headed for Angkor Wat again but this time went straight to the Wat itself and climbed to the top to watch sunrise. The climb is pretty steep (thank goodness for the hand rail) but we were two of only 6 or 7 people up there and it was very calm and tranquil. The sunrise was good
and we walked around the building for a while before clambering down while there weren't any crowds of people trying to get up
Then it was breakfast - so many places to eat here - and more temples...
We only mamaged 5 hours of sight seeing today and were back home by 11.30 for more siestas (a very good plan!) and some time to chill out.
P.S. Some of you have been asking how we are; we are both well and enjoying ourselves as much (and maybe more) than the pictures show. Matt is fine, leg is holding up, cuts and bruises are all gone and his head is getting used to the sun (although needing a hat and/or suntan lotion!). Deb's wrist is much better and only hurts occasionally ("Carry a heavy bag? I can't, I've got a bad arm!") ;) We are eating well and enjoying the food, especially with the appearance of baguettes (the French did well here) on the menu. Matt has found lots of food he likes and Debs is being more adventurous and trying the local food (although no bugs, frog or dog)... We'll let you know if anything goes wrong, so just assume we're fine ;)
Having seen most of the temples at Angkor, we headed out of town - about 16km - to some of the earlier temples built here(about the 8th century ish). They were less well looked after than the ones in the Angkor Archeological Park but were still part of the renovation and preservation process - which seems to involve holding the temples up with planks of wood and bamboo scaffolding, we haven't seen much work going on. We're feeling a bit templed out so weren't massively enthusiastic (plus we're starting to feel tired, being constantly on the go, never settling in one place for more than a couple of nights - roll on the beach!) but were impressed with some of the temples and the sanskrit carvings.
We're were back at our guesthouse by 8.30 and headed to a bakers (Blue Pumpkin) for some breakfast - good pastries ;) - and then a wander around town to find the post office and a bank. It was nice to see parts of Siem Reap although, like a lot of the places we have visited, most of it is under construction. We wandered past these trees - full of bats
and while we were stood there, a woman wandered past with a tray of food for sale - huge deep fried spiders (about half the size of a tarantula but that kind of thing)- YUM! Thankfully we haven't seen any of the live variety crawling around - and Debs likes to think that the woman in question breeds them in a cage, rather than finding and catching them! After that we headed back for a siesta and booked our tickets to Pnomh Penn... we're off there tomorrow.
We were collected from our guest house and transferred to a coach to take us to Pnomh Penh. They provided us with breakfast - which looked like tasty pastries but instead turned out to be full of some vile fish paste! Luckily we'd been to the Blue Pumpkin and stocked up on tasty treats. The journey was fine - no loud pop music but Cambodian traditional love stories to watch instead. We had booked our guest house when we were in Siem Reap and when we turned up in P.P they were ready and waiting for us (well actually for a Mr Fargim but I guess that's what happens when you try spelling words over a dodgy phone line!) We hopped onto the back of two mopeds and headed off, weaving through the busy traffic to our guest house. Once installed, we went out to explore the area... We were lucky to be right in the middle of town. We went to the national museum - full of treasures from Angkor (which would be better off in a museum there!) but pretty impressive none the less. Having done the cultural bit for the day we made our way to the FCC (Foreign Correspondants Club) for a bit of luxury and a drink. It's a huge colonial building on the river front. The bar is on the first floor and you can just sit and watch the sunset over the Tonle Sap river and the mad traffic weaving around below. Once finished we headed to a Khmer (Cambodian) restaurant for a spot of traditional food. The waiter was really keen to help us choose things we would like - and to practice his English - and after we'd finished dinner (delicious) we spent an hour helping him prepare for tomorrow's English lesson - mainly the correct pronounciation of words... It felt good to be helping someone out. With a warm glow, we headed home...
This morning we went to the S21 Genocide Museum in the centre of Pnomh Penh. This is where the Khmer Rouge held their prisoners and tortured them before sending them to the Killing Fields. We were in time for a film following the life of one of the prisoners (a 25 year old woman) and detailing some of the history. After that we walked around the prison. You can walk freely around the complex, wandering into the cells and seeing some of the artefacts (photos, beds, torture equipment) that has been left there. It is an incredible place to visit - a very sombre and sad place to be and everyone has an overwhelming feeling of disbelief and horror. An important place to visit though - definately a lot to think about there.
After that we went to the Killing Fields (about 14km away down a VERY dusty and bumpy track). Also a sad place. There are many pits that have been excavated, the skulls forming part of a huge memorial to the dead
as well as an area which has yet to be uncovered. It is hard to believe that no one was ever made to answer for the atrocities that occured - it seems a bit late now.
After a serious morning we headed back to the city and went to visit the Royal Palace. Unfortunately we were unable to visit about half of it as they were practicing for the coronation of the new king on Friday. When we arrived in P.P the owner of our Guest House was telling us about the new king but neither of us paid much attention - if only we'd listened more! However, we were able to see the silver pagoda - which contains a life size solid gold buddah with over 9000 diamonds on it - pretty impressive. Matt then wanted to go and update the blog etc but Debs forced him back to the FCC for more happy hour drinks. We met a really nice Australian couple there who we spent a couple of hours chatting to before heading off for food and then hoe to p[ak ready to move on - again! We'd heard horror stories of Pnomh Penh but it's actually been ok, we haven't been hassled much (there are street kids and landmine victims begging but less so than in Siem Reap) so we're leaving with smiles!
Yet another country! Up early for a bus journey to the border and then into Vietnam. The journey was hot, bumpy and tiring but not too bad. Actually crossing into the country took a long time - with endless counters to stand at, pieces of paper to wave around and odd sums of money to be paid but we obviously looked like the upstanding citizens that we are and we headed into Vietnam without any problems (except for the bag people who wanted $1 for moving our bags half way across the border for us... hmmmm, is this the start of scams to come?). Once into the country it was a 2 hour bus ride to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The drive was good, and watching the town go by was interesting too. It's another place where everything is work in progress (a building site)... the houses that have gone up are cool though, any colour and design you can think of... a pretty eclectic mixture from ultra modern minimalism to 1920's art deco to spanish villas! We checked in to our guest house and then organised a tour to the Viet Cong tunnels tomorrow.
We went to the Cu Chi tunnels today - where the Viet Cong lived, fought and all that type of stuff. Really interesting to see. Matt got to fire a hand gun (very loud!)
and crawled through the tunnels used by the V.C (120cm high, 80cm wide and 100m long). Debs was a bit of a scardey cat - way too claustrophobic! We were taken round by Mr Bean - a Vietnam Vet (who fought on the side of the Americans) and it was really interesting to hear his stories about "what it was really like" - a very passionate man!
On the way back into town we stopped at the war museum - lots of American tanks, planes, helicopters, bombs etc etc
and some interesting photos of the war (and some horrible pictures of the effects of Agent Orange - although there are quite a few people begging on the streets who are suffering from this so you get to see it first hand too!). We'd had enough of death and destruction and headed back to sort out our next move - a trip up the coast to Hoi An (shopping time!!!!).
A wander around Saigon and then an over night train to Danang (near Hoi An). We'll be in touch soon...
Got to the train station, found our train and were helped by a very friendly Vietnamese lady to find our carriage and sort ourselves out. Once she's made sure we knew where we were going, we sat on the station concourse with her and chatted until it was time to leave. Clambered onto the train and settled in for the night. Not too bad (except for an elderly Vietnamese lady who had some really stinky food with her - it smelt like gas - which was pretty unpleasant for 16 hours!).
Arrived in Danang and found a taxi to drive us 30mins to Hoi An (And we've survived! Maddest driving so far has been here in Viietnam!). We met a nice Canadian girl in H.C.M.C who recommended a hotel to us (a bit of luxury as we've been on the go for ages!) which we checked in to... a room with a balcony and staircase down to the pool! (Only $6 each a night!) - and it has a bath which is even more of a luxury (although we discovered that it leaks so no lazing for hours in the tub!). After that we walked into Hoi An and had dinner at a restaurant serving Cao Lau (a Hoi An noodle speciality). Very good :). We found an internet cafe that (FINALLY) let us read our emails (we've been having some trouble getting the connection for a while) - but frustratingly wouldn't let us reply!... Off to the tailors tomorrow. Shopping, yeah!
Found the tailors we had been recommended and sat looking through catalogues and magazines picking the clothes we wanted. Then onto choosing the material and getting measured. It's quite weird picking material and choosing clothes without actually seeing what they look like as a finished article but the ladies at the shop are attentive and lovely and offer advice (although everything seems "very nice"). Back tomorrow for our first fitting.
Back at the shop less than 24 hours later and already most of our clothes have been made! A mammoth trying on session followed and then clothes were sent back for alteration - and returned within about half an hour resewn to fit perfectly!
We were really impressed with everything made and ended up buying more. We were obviously good customers as one of the women who owns the shop invited us to dinner with her family; a bit scary - what would we be fed? but nice too. Unfortunately when we returned to the shop to meet for dinner, their cook/homehelp was not working that day. We were taken to a local eating place - you see loads of them here in S.E Asia - low tables, little chairs and piles of food. We had some pork pancake type things, spring rolls and special shrimp fried pancakes. Tasted good and was interesting eating in a place where we were the only westeners (the restaurant for westeners is around the corner!).
As our clothes are all sorted, it was off to buy shoes. Yep, you can even get your shoes tailor made here! (dangerous for Debs!) We've bought
2 skirts, 3 dresses, 4 pairs of trousers, 4 shirts, 2 silk tops, 1 linen suit, 1 formal suit (with trousers and a skirt), jeans and 2 pairs of sandals
Matts list...(the most shopping he's ever done in his life I think!)
1 formal suit, 1 smart/casual suit, 1 linen suit, jeans, 2 pairs of linen trousers, 6 long sleeved shirts, 4 short sleeved shirts and 2 pairs of leather shoes.
All for under $500. All tailor made! Very pleased ;)
A day of relaxing before packing all of our stuff up for shipping - we can't carry that lot around! - to Oz. Then packing up to move on to Hue tomorrow.
Got the bus from Hoi An to Hue - supposedly the best journey to take in Vietnam. The scenery was good - mountainous with waterfalls - for the first couple of hours. After that it was villages and rice fields (seen a million!)... but the bonus was that the journey took 4 hours rather than 6. Dropped off at a hotel and then wandered to the Forbidden Purple City - where the emperor used to live. Kind of a smaller version of the Forbidden City in Beijing we'd imagine - except the Americans bombed most of it into the ground!
Having wandered around there for a couple of hours, we headed back to get Debs photos developed and get food. (Photos will be sent home soon Mum and Dad)
Having a spare day here in Hue we headed down the Perfume River (not actually all that fragrant smelling!) to some of the famed tombs which this region is known for. We went to the 1st tomb (Ta Duc) and it looked pretty similar to how we imagine the Forbidden Purple City would have looked.
The tombs were pretty expensive and our boat didn't stop for long enough to have a good look around so we gave up on the tombs and enjoyed the river cruise instead.
This evening we catch another night train to Hanoi. We plan to be there for a day or two before heading to Halong Bay. We leave Vietnam on 12th November.
Debs and Matt
The train journey up here was fine - we had two old and amused Vietnamese people to share our cabin with... No stinky food this time. They enjoyed watching us playing backgammon (and Debs beating Matt for a change ;)) but still went to bed and we had to turn the lights out by about 9.30... and then they get up before 6 - and doze for a while. Why? It's just one of those things we don't get. so, we're still pretty tired. Anyway, we got taken to the Old Quarter of Hanoi - lots of little back stretts (filled with plenty of cars and bikes - like the rest of Vietnam) - and found a guest house to stay in. Being a Sunday, our plans were slighty scuppered... we wanted to book a tour of Halong Bay and also get our flight to Bangkok sorted but didn't have enough dollars on us, the banks were closed... blah, blah, blah. So we get to stay here for an extra day (at the start rather then end of our time in Hanoi), see some of the sights and (even more importantly) get our washing done! Found a good cafe to book the Halong BAy tour through and aim to go there Tues am. Will keep you posted...
A day of sorting stuff out. We're feeling pretty tired from the constant travelling and Vietnam (Hanoi in particular) is beginning to get on our nerves - it feels as if you are being poked and prodded (not literally) from every angle by the people here to see how much money they can extract from you. Everyone is scamming to get as many dollars as they can. We understand why and that is part of travelling but it gets tiring when you are constantly hassled to buy postcards, food, drinks, clothes, bike journeys, tours etc etc etc and are shot changed when you do buy things. We'll be glad to get to Halong Bay!
Met our group in the Kangaroo Cafe ready to head off to Halong Bay. We drove to Halong City (about 3 1/2 hours) where we stopped for a delicious seafood lunch. From there we headed to the harbour and boarded the junk. We were allocated our cabins and then headed up on deck to enjoy the sunshine, fresh air and beautiful scenery.
The sunshine didn't last very long but the scenery was stunning (and perhaps more spectacular with the clouds) and the ride calm and peaceful and everyone relaxed and forget the stresses and strains of the city. It was the perfect antidote to the way we were feeling yesterday!
The junk dropped anchor and Matt went for a swim.
While we were swimming, the crew prepared our dinner - more delicious seafood - and we ate on the boat. After that, we sailed to a peaceful cove (where you could go for a moonlit swim if you wanted - but instead we sat drinking wine and chatting) where we stopped for the night. It was so calm that the boat didn't even feel as if it were moving. A few of us braver souls decided to sleep up on deck - it was pretty hot in the cabins (and some small cockroached had been spotted!) - it was so beautiful looking at the stars and once the generator stopped it was silent too. It wasn't the most restful of sleeps - it started raining twice! - but it was fantastic waking up to see the moon setting and the sun rising in some amazing scenery.
We sailed to Cat Ba Island where we got off the boat and checked into a hotel. We had breakfast and then headed on a smaller boat to some caves - more beautiful scenery on the way. The caves were quite a journey away and are rarely visited but are beautiful
Then we took a different boat out to Monkey Island. Where we spent the afternoon watching the monkeys
lazing on the beach and swimming in the sea
As the sun set we headed back to Cat Ba Island for dinner and a few drinks.
After breakfast we were back on the junk to sail back to Halong Bay. We stopped for more swimming on the way
and it was beautiful and sunny. When we docked in Halong City we stopped for lunch before heading back to Hanoi. We had had such a relaxing time (the rest that we needed) and met some lovely people. Back in Hanoi we had our last night (quiet dinner with some friends we met on the trip) and were ready to leave!
Flew by Thai Air (very impressive - delicious food, real metal cutlery, wine in real glass wine glasses - and it was only 10am!) back to Bangkok. Greated by 35 dgree heat and a lot more humidity than we'd had for a while! Pleased to be back to a place where we can retrieve our emails - so you can expect to hear from us soon. Planning our move down south...
Wetook the sky train (pretty unimpressive once you've been in the MTR in Hong Kong and not impressed with the views but we only went 3 stops...) over to the notorious Patpong District (Ping Pong shows and dancing girls a plenty so we heard) of the city for some dinner and entertainment... we decided that as we were here we'd ee what it was all about. We filled ourselves with food and headed into the night. We found a street that had a night market running down the centre (loads of rip off clothes, shoes, bags and watches) and all the girlie bars along the edge. We wandered aroung for a bit and they all seemed to be "Same Same.." We decided to head to 'Supergirls' and were ushered upstairs into a small bar. There were 2 other couples a a couple of western blokes mauling the girls in bikinis. In the middle of the room was a platform where girls stood in bikinis, looking bored and moving from 1 foot to the other (you couldn't call it dancing). The most excitement came when a giant cocktail glass was lowered from the ceiling. It was full of bubbles and a girl stood aroud 'dancing' and soaping herself. No nudity and everyone concerned looked bored. The girls were not stunning local beauties (or really any kind of beauties if we're being honest) and we were pretty bored so we headed off to anoter bar. This one was livelier and had a lot more girls (enough for us to play Spot - The - Ladyboy anyway) although the initial speil of 100 baht for your first drink soon turned into 300 baht! As we'd paid the money we sipped our drinks slowly and waited for the entertainment. At first it was the same old bored dancing but then we saw an interesting version of hoopla, and a long string of beads emerge from a girl... Not really erotic, just kind of puzzling (how does it all fit???)... then it was more cocktail glass dancing. We also watched a ladyboy (we could tell) do some fire eating. We were a bit fed up because not only do you pay extortionate drinks prices but afer every 'show' the girls come round expecing a tip! We ended up being a bit disappointed by it all... Definately a case of the mystery surrounding it all being better than the actual thing! Sorry - no pictures ;)
We went to the Golden Palae this morning - it was full of millions of tourists (well, it is Saturday) and very hot so we didn't stay too long. the buildings were beautiful - very shiny! And we got to see the famous Emerald buddah (made of Jade not emerald).
After that we headed to a dive shop and organised our 4 day PADI course. We leave for Ko Tao (on the Eastern side of the peninsular) tomorrow evening and will spend a week on the island.
Having done some last minute shopping and got as much emailing and website stuff doen as possible (while we're in a place where computers are reliable!) we are catching an over night bus south and then getting a boat to take us to Ko Tao. We plan to have a couple of days relaxing before starting the diving course. Debs is a little nervous - not a big fan of being underwater but hopes that once she is 'swimming with the fishes' it'll be cool. Matt is more excited... We'll keep you posted.
A lie in and then back into the classroom. Lots of videos to watch and new stuff to learn. All pretty straight forward though. We even had home work!
Classroom in the morning and then off to the pool after lunch. This was the bit that Debs wasn't really looking forward to! Having squeezed into wet suits, weight belts, air tanks etc etc we walked off to the pool. Eventually in the water it was just a matter of going under. Matt was fine with this but it took Debs several attempts. Eventually, overcoming the rising panic, we were both down there! The feeling of weightlessness was cool and, once you got used to it, breathing became easy (although it's weird having to concentrate on it). Then we had to do our skills - float in mid water (cool), use an alternate air source, take off our masks (horrible - and you breathe in loads of water if you're not careful!), tow another diver etc etc. It was pretty hrad work and tiring and after 3 hours (of swallowing water, being uncomfortable, feeling panicky and crying) Debs had had enough! Our dive instructor, Alex, was encouraging and helpful but the thought of being in the sea at much greater depths and not being able to surface quickly was enough for her to call it a day. She'll try again some other time. Matt found it easier and is ready to go out into the big blue sea...
After watching the final bit of video - all about navigating (Debs was clueless!) it was onto the final exam - which was pretty straight forward (except for the dive table questions where Matt had to 'help' Debs - ok, she copied his answers as to her the tables just read 'blah, blah, blah'...) In the afternoon Matt went out on the boat for 2 dives. The water was beautifully warm (29 degrees) and the visibility was ok. They went to Koh Naang Yuan - two little islands joined by a sandbank just off Koh Tao. Matt saw plenty of fish (but missed the turtle that lives there on his 2nd dive - doh!) and had a good time. It was nice to put the things learnt in the pool and classroom into practice. The only thing he didn't like was having to do some of the skills e.g. taking your mask off and floating for 10 minutes (he's convinced he can't float) - but all that's done now. Debs spent the afternoon safely on dry land working on the tan and reading. Much happier with that!
Up early for the final 2 dives - boat left at 7.30!!! Debs came on the boat and was in charge of photos. Once we's got to the dive site everyone got ready
and jumped in...
Then it was time for Debs to do more sunbathing! The 1st dive was ok but the visibility was pretty poor and so everyone was a little bit disappointed when they got to the suface. On the 2nd dive, things were much better. Lots of fish and beautiful coral. Matt saw a Trigger fish (it was attacking the fins of one of the diver's in his group) and everyone came up smiling.
From there we headed back to dry land, caught up on sleep and then met to get the Open Water Diver cards (all official now!)
After that we went into Sairee ( the next town along the coast) to celebrate ;)
No reason for us to have to get up and do anything so after a lie in we walked along the coast to Saire - it was beautiful wandering along the shore, looking at the palm trees and just taking in how pretty the island is. Stopped for some food and then lazed around at a cafe, reading books, listening to the waves lapping the shore etc etc. Went swimming in the sea, lay by the pool - hard life eh?!
We are meant to be leaving Koh Tao tomorrow (heading over to the West coast before monsoon hits here) but are going to stay on an extra couple of days for Matt to do his Advanced Open Water course (and for Debs to do a bit of snorkelling - perhaps - and a lot of sunbathing!). Lets hope the rain stays away for a couple more days...
More school for Matt! As he's doing his Advanced Open Water Course. And then out on the boat in the afternoon. Went back to a site he'd dived/dove before - What is the correct term? - while Matt was off taking pictures of the turtle and all the pretty fishes, Debs went snorkelling on the surface. The water's so clear that you can see the bottom (about 10m) from the boat. She saw a trigger fish, barracuda and loads of other pretty fish. She enjoyed seeing all the divers below and swimming through their bubbles - like swimming in glitter. After a couple of hours we returned to dry land feeling pretty knackered!
Matt was up early for the morning dive - boat leaves at 7.30. He went off to Chumphon for his deep dive (down to 30m). He saw a shoal of butterfly fish, some scorpion fish and some turquoise rays plus all the usual stuff. No sharks though. Unfortunately he didn't get any narcosis from going so deep...He's off for a night dive this evening. We leave Koh Tao tomorrow and head to Phuket
Time to leave Koh Tao - which is hard as we've had such a good time here and it is very relaxing, beautiful and chilled out - but a typhoon is due to hit the island in 48 hours (already the night ferry and dives have been cancelled!) and we could end up stuck here for a while. We got the boat to Koh Pha Ngan at 10 and after 2 hours of a very rocky ride (at one point the ferry leant over to about a 45 degree angle and we all thought we were gonna die!) we arrived at K.P.N swapped boats and headed off on a gentler ride to Surrantthani (via Samui). From there we hung around for about 1 1/2 hrs until a minibus came to drive us to Phuket (a 4 hour journey - not too bad though as the minibus came equipped with a DVD player and Troy!). We arrived - feeling very tired - at 10.30pm. Found a place to stay - it's the place that they used in the film 'The Beach' as the Guest House from the Khao San Rd (Bangkok)... it's fairly run down with paper thins walls and it's a bit grubby looking but fine for a night.
Heading off to Koh Lanta (an island a bit further down the west coast). Catching a boat via Koh Phi Phi - where we may end up staying for the night - then plan to spend just over a week there before heading back here to Phuket and flying to Kuala Lumpar (avoiding the dodgy southern areas!)... we'll keep you posted if we can.
We caught a ferry to Koh Phi Phi and as there were no onwards ferries had to stay there for the night. The island is beautiful but very very crowded and touristy - you could be in Spain or any other big beach resort! However, we found a room, wandered along the beach and stopped at a bar for a drink and some food. We watched the sunset, had a few more drinks and just chilled out. We'd met an Australian guy called Dylan on the ferry and he hung out with us. After dinner and drinks, Debs went home to relax and the boys continued exploring the bars! Many hours later they returned!
Our onward ferry to Koh Lanta left at 11.30. Matt just about survived the journey (mental note: don't go out drinking the night before a boat trip!) We got to Lanta - a pretty big island with rain forest in the centre and coral beaches around the edges...
Having found a place to stay we went exploring...
not many people about! Then headed back to the bar
and watched the sunset
It was stunning. As it got dark we could see a huge lightening storm about 50 km away - which kept us entertained for quite a while! Tried to capture it to show you didn't quite manage it. Later in the evening we watched a fire show...
and watched the moon come over. It was full moon (we even saw a huge "moon ring" - like a big white circle around the moon, very cool!) and the Thai people had been talking about the celebrations all day. We watched them float flowery candle decorations (pretty unsuccessfully) on the water and then let off some fireworks - not much of a celebration and a bit of a let down really!
Hot hot hot! While slowly cooking we decided to go explore the island. We've hired a scooter (don't worry we have crash helmets and are driving safely!)... we'll let you know how our explorations go!
We got up (having slept really well as it is sooo peaceful around here - not even any crowing cockerels!) and headed out on the bike. This time we ventured south to the end of the island. After about 10 minutes, the roads ran out and turned into dusty tracks. We negotiated these but finally gave up (some of the hills were kinda scary and we didn't want any accidents!) and returned to a gorgeous sandy beach we'd spotted...
we parked the bike under a shady palm tree and headed to a little beach bar
for some light refreshment! Then it was a quick dip in the sea before heading home to escape the mid day sun. We spent the midday hours sitting outside our bungalow reading and then when it had cooled a little, moved to the beach. After that more of the same - sunset, drinks etc etc. What a hard life eh?!
Same old stuff...sun, beach, books, laziness, sunset, blah,blah,blah! Not to make you too jealous ;-)
After a bad night's sleep (Matt discovered an 'intruder' in the bathroom in the middle of the night - a huge cockroach! - and was pretty restless after that!) we surfaced to yet another day of reading and sunning ourselves... Same old stuff!
This morning's excitement was finding a large toad outside our door... then we sat down to try and sort our next moves... onto Malaysia and Singapore. We're feeling pretty travel weary and have little info about good stuff to do in Malaysia (plus we only have a week max and fly into KL to avoid all the trouble in southern thailand)... so it's been pretty difficult to decide - any ideas? After that, more of the same (sun, books, etc).
Hey - it's December! Hope you all got advent calendars and are only opening them one door at a time!
This week has been a really hard one. Most of our days have consisted of lazing around working on our tans. We discovered that the hotel down the road has a pool and so we have snuck off there most days. The beach here has rocks on the shore line and we're too lazy to walk over them to get to the sea, it's nice to have another place to swim! On Friday we hired a scooter again and travelled to the other side of the island. There's meant to be a sea gypsy village there - but we couldn't find it. We also visited Lanta Old Town - the pretty fishing village the island built up around. On the way back to our side of the island we saw a big lizard about to cross the road - -at least a metre long - it ran away when we got close. We stopped in the main town and bumped into some friends we met in Laos...Apart from that activity, it's been a truly relaxing time!
Back to Phuket... We fly from here to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow morning. Spent the day catching up with emails (internet is cheap here) and discovered that some friends from home were here. In the evening we headed over to Patong to meet up. Phuket is a pretty expensive place to go out so after a couple of drinks in an Irish bar we headed to a different kind of place. Ka-Toys-Are-Us is run by a friend of our friends. All of the girls that work there aren't actually girls! It was amazing to see these beautiful (mostly - although still one or two ugly birds!) girls and it wasn't until you heard some of them speak (or until they got on the bar to dance and you could see the buldge in their pants) that you realised they were blokes! They did us a good deal on cheap booze and we staggered out of there at about 1.30... On the way to the 7Eleven we stopped at a busker and spent a merry time dancing on the street - we even managed to encourage people to join us! Unfortunately during this dancing Matt's knee gave way - after all that we've done in the last 3 months it was this that did it! We collected some ice from a nearby street vendor and headed home...
Knee strapped up we headed off to Phuket airport and had a good flight into KL. We found a hotel with hot water and a bath - after 3 weeks of cold showers we enjoyed a good long soak! We are staying in China Town a busy bustling part of the city. The only downside of staying here is the amount of Durian stalls - Durian fruit is banned in hotels, shops etc because of its smell - you can smell the stall from about 20m! we now know that the old woman with the stinky food (on our overnight train in Vietnam) was carrying 2 boxes of Durian... YUK!
Went exploring Kl... We visited the Menara Tower (a big telecommunications tower) it's 421 m high and is the 4th tallest telecommunications tower in the world.
We took the lift up (58 seconds) and wandered around the observation deck (276m). Saw good views of the city and learnt what lots of the buildings were.
At the ground floor we also saw 2 of the worlds tallest men. From the tower we headed to Times Square - Asia's biggest shopping mall (7.5 million sq metres. It has 10 floors of shopping and then a 5 floor hotel on top!). We visited som,e of the shops but spent most of our time in the theme park (the biggest indoor theme park in the world). It's quite crazy being on all the rides inside a shopping centre!
From there we went to the Imax cinema (it opened a week ago) and saw 'The Polar Express' in 3D ;-)
Settling back into Western ways nicely!
We were up early and went to the Petronas Towers - the Twin Towers.
They are now the tallest building in the world. We had tickets to the 41st floor and could walk alog the sky bridge there. It was good to see this view of the city but didn't feel like we were that high... From there we did a bit of shopping (mostly the window variety!) at KLCC and then went to see The Incredibles at the cinema. We both enjoyed that.
*Leg is much better*
Spent the day putting all things Internetty in order and headed off to the cinema (again - I know but it has been 3 months!) to see Oceans 12. Then back to our guesthouse to catch the end of the football and pack up ready to move on.
8.30 train to Singapore - pretty comfortable (and with 2 TV's in the carriage) but the journey took 3 hours longer than we were told! Spent many a happy hour reading (thank goodness for Dan Brown) and watching Malaysia drift by - lots and lots of palms and greenery... Unfortunately it rained for most of the journey and was still raining when we got to Singapore ... Hmmmm perhaps that's why so many English people are there, familair weather! Found a place to stay and wandered around the local area. When we came back to the room to sleep we discovered that our bed, walls etc had loads of little orangey beetles that seemed to appear from nowhere. Safely zipped into sleeping bags we stayed for the night but planned on getting out of there sharpish!
Moved onto a lovely, clean, bug free place a few blocks away... Wandered the town shopping and plan to go to the night safari this evening.
Night Safari... Made our way into the depths of Singapore to the Night Safari. Had a very cool time wandering through the dark and leafy path ways spotting all the animals. We also took the tram ride around the park too. It felt kind of strange being in a zoo at night but it was nice and peaceful and interesting to hear all of the nightime sounds - particularly loads of lions roaring! Reminded Debs of being back in Africa! We were just a bit too scared to go into the flying fox/fruitmbat cage because of it being dark and there being too many big flying things!
A lazy lie in and then onto the serious business of shopping! Debs and Matt went there separate ways and came back with shoes, skirts, nail varnish and a laptop (you decide who did what shopping!
This message is brought to you via matt's new laptop, we're sat outside in a courtyard with a water fountain - who ever said you have to slum it whilst travelling ;-)
In the evening we went to the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel for the obligatory Singapore Sling
and some Monkey Nuts - yes Dunc, we threw some shells on the floor for you! Then we headed to Boat Quay for dinner and more drinks. And staggered home!
We packed up our things and then spent the afternoon doing some last minute shopping (yes, buying a handbag was really important!) before heading out to the airport. Checked onto the flight, and wasted a couple of hours... The flight to Sydney was fine (although far too many crying children on there for us to get any sleep). We arrived feeling knackered and headed over to meet Adam and have our first proper cup of tea in ages - and boy did it taste good! We chilled out for a bit and then Adam took us for a wander to see the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House (Matt had seen them before but it was all new for Debs - although smaller than she'd imagined). Strange that we feel much cooler here after the heat of South East Asia - but actually quite a welcome change! After more tea we checked into our hotel, caught up on some sleep and then headed back to Adam and Holly's for dinner. So nice not to eat in a restaurant - and a good veggie chilli, thanks Adam.
Went to the visa office and got our shiny new visas put into our passports, we're officially allowed here for the year now! Spent the rest of the day getting our bearings around town and finding out about phones, bank accounts etc etc. Having done that for about 5 hours we headed for food and an early night.
(More) Shopping - as our shipping isn't due to arrive for another 6 weeks Matt needed to buy some jeans and trainers. We got new phones - expect calls/texts soonish and then we're heading off to meet up with Holly and Adam for dinner later...
It's 37 degrees today and is absolutely boiling. How does it manage to get so hot so quick? Only last night we were wishing we had jumpers with us on the walk home! Anyway, because it's so hot Adam and Holly have invited us over to their appartment building - it has a pool and a spa! What a hard life eh?!
Matt's also going bald again to deal with the heat!
Been here over a week now and are settling into life down under. Have seen some of the sights; the Opera house, the Harbour Bridge (climbed the pylon tower for a view of Sydney)-complete with massive cruise ship, the Botanical Gardens and the flying foxes/friut bats that live there, the 3 Wise Monkeys (a bar)... and spent time wandering around town finding our bearings.
Most importantly we have found a street nearby with lots of good (and cheap) restaurants and with a great little Italian place - with an ice cream parlour downstairs. Perfect! The antidote to too much rice and noodles! We have caught up with Debs - really nice to see a familiar face. We move in with Holly and Adam tonight for the next week and will be heading off to the beach (hopefully - if it doesn't rain what's all that about eh?!) tomorow for Christmas day. After Xmas and New Year it is down to the serious business of looking for work and a place to live!
Very strange being away from the cold, dark, usual Christmas... Adam and Holly woke us up with party poppers! We opened our presents (the Christmas Chicken... surely there was a chicken in the stable?! We figured that perhaps Mary and Joseph had scrambled eggs for breakfast - same as we did!... and a guide to Oz)
Then we all headed off to see Adi, Rachael, Amy and Edward (Adam's uncle, aunt and cousins). It was nice to be in some ones home and be with little kids getting all excited about presents.
After lunch we all had a snooze in front of the TV and then went out for a walk on Mosman beach. Unfortunately it was a jumper day (only about 23 degrees and pretty overcast). Where's our sunny Christmas?
P.S. Hope you all got our Christmas email...We tried to send you a photo of us infront of the harbour bridge (it's on the website) and we spent a couple of hours trying to get it to work... Sorry if you didn't get it!
Boxing Day - and beyond
On Boxing day we drove over to have brunch with some friends of Adam and Holly's. Delicious food - thanks Alex! Then as it was beautiful and sunny we spent a few blissful hours in a local beer garden - sipping drinks and topping up the tan! Before we knew it night time was beginning and it was time to head home!
Yesterday we went to the Jenolan Caves, a series of caves about 200km west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains. We went on the Lucas Cave tour - an hour and a half long. It was discovered in 1860 and contains the highest and largest chambers at Jenolan... pretty spectacular (and the best caves we have seen so far). After that we headed home (via a special sweet shop selling English sweets!!!), stopping off at Big Boys Thai. A few games of Whist and off to bed.
Today was the last day that we had the car so we were up bright and early and out to Bondi beach. Surf was up and there were plenty of mad people swimming! It was pretty windy and the water was freezing (nothing like the 30 degree water in Thailand).
After a stroll along the sand we went to the head land (South Head - Vaucluse) found some pretty spots to stop
and took some cool photos of the view of the city.
Just a quick note to say how shocked we have been to see all the pictures of the Tsunami that hit South East Asia and India. We can't believe how lucky we are to be here and it is mad to see the places we were only 3 weeks ago in such a state of devastation.
Firstly, Happy New Year to you all, hope it was good... Here's a quick catch up on all that we've been doing.
After our trips out over Christmas and New Year we were hoping to take it easy for a few days. A friend of Holly's knew someone who was looking for a house/dog sitter for a couple of weeks and Matt and I were looking forward to having a house to ourselves and no living expenses... Unfortunately that all fell through and so we were thrown into a slight panic (realising that we had to get organised) and set out on a mission to find a place to live. This has filled most of our time, finding places, calling people, visiting flats. We've seen a really nice place (waiting to hear but not getting our hopes up too much...) but are continuing to look.
Interrupting our house hunting was New Years Eve. We headed over the bridge
(marvelling at how many people were already squashed onto the harbour with 6 hours still to go!)to a house barbie (with a friend of Adams)... having eaten, drunk and feeling a bit merry we headed back out to the bridge to see the 9pm fireworks... pretty impressive.
Then back to the house for a few more drinks before catching the midnight fireworks (not as good as the ones at 9pm if you ask us - but I'm sure they looked better on the TV).
We continued partying for a couple more hours and then staggered back across the bridge and crashed into bed!
New Years Day we headed over to Manly for a 'Recovery Barbeque'... a lot of sitting around relaxing - very nice. Then took the ferry home for a spa and a night infront of the TV with some pizza! Perfect.
Since then we have moved out of Holly and Adam's - and are staying at the Maze hostel. We are busy house hunting ... we'll keep you posted.
Just to let you all know that we have found a place to live. We are sharing a 3 bedroomed place with 2 other couples. The place is nice and spacious and the people are friendly. We are living in Pyrmont - about 5 minutes from darling Harbour, behind the Fish market. On the ground floor of our building is a pool, gym, jacuzzi and sauna... we will be visiting it soon! It has been nice to unpack all of our stuff, settle on a sofa infront of some crap TV (they have satellite TV so there's plenty of junk to watch!) and eat a home cooked dinner!
PLUS... OUR SHIPPING ARRIVED YESTERDAY!!! A month earlier than expected. Hooray for our jeans and trainers! Plus it means that we now have suits and smart clothes for the job interviews that we'll be having soon (hopefully)!
We haven't been up to much really - saving money now that we have rent to pay, jobs to look for, travelling to be done in a few months etc. We are of out tonight to the Belgian Beer Cafe for some mussels and beer to help Nicole celebrate her birthday.
Another update... We are settling into the flat - the roach man visited last night and the cockroaches are dying off - which is nice! Debs had an interview at an education agaency and is fully registered... just waiting for the work to come in now. Matt has applied for several jobs and is waiting to hear back...(Keep your fingers crossed for us!) He has even found a cafe nearby with some sort of WiFi, so things are looking up. Tomorrow evening Debs is off to the Open Air Cinema to see Breakfast at Tiffany's - it's a girls night out. It'll be nice to meet some more people (I have been missing everyone lots! It's been kinda tricky settling into a place where everything you do is new and, therefore,seems difficult!) Matt will be having a boys night... We are catching up with Ben and Lou on Saturday and there is a free 'Barcardi Latino Festival' on at Darling Harbour over the weekend (lots of booze, dancing and skimpily clad Latino types) which we might check out. The weather is warming up nicely - it has been over 30 degrees everyday this week. Hooray for Summer!
Last updated 4th March 2009