Tag Archives: south east asia

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Gili Meno – The Girl and The Sea

20th October 2015

gilimeno_04 Gili Meno is the smaller of the three Gili Isles so you’d assume it would be less developed, but you’d be wrong. Gili Meno has the feel of a rich persons playground, or at least a middle class persons sandbox. There are nicer bars, bigger shops and lovely hotels lining the main area of beach…and then there is nothing. This island feels like it’s about to be a crazy popular tourist destination, but right now it’s still peaceful and well stocked. I still prefer Gili Air , but I’m glad we went.

We basically repeated our first few days on Gili Air, but with a little more snorkeling and a lot more sleeping. Being lazy turns out to be hard work.

gilimeno_05 gilimeno_03 I don’t have photos of our snorkeling adventures (Go Pro, you will be mine). It mainly involved me having a panic attack the second I stepped in the water and climbing onto Lee as if I was Scooby Doo. He calmed me down and I soon got use to the tide and the current, which is very strong on the Gili’s. We also both had to master the art of walking on the sharpest rocks known to man. I swear that Gili Meno once had a boat filled with broken glass crash on it’s shore and now it’s coast is a challenge even John McClane would fear.

gilimeno_07 gilimeno_02 We persevered and managed to snorkel enough to see a casting session for Finding Nemo down there. Bruised, battered and bleeding from the coral I headed back to the comfort of my sun lounger, happy with my day’s sightings. I told Lee I was tired, but the truth is I was scared my tiny cut was chumming the water enough for all the worlds sharks to descend on me . While I was shading myself from the midday sun I looked out to see a flailing Lee in the water. I instantly assumed a herd of Jelly Fish were trying to get his lunch money and I started to panic. There was no one around so I had to wait like a nervous maiden in a Bronte novel as Lee came back to the beach.

A manic Lee finally made his way to me and started dragging me into the water…”come on, come and see”.

I instantly assumed he had Sea madness and fought him off.

“Why do I need to go in the sea?” I screamed, digging my heels into the sand.

This is the part in the story where Lee turned to me with a face filled with more excitement and glee than I’d ever witnessed and screamed “theresaturtleinthewater”. That, by the way, is not a spelling mistake. He definitely didn’t put a single breath or break in his joyful sentence.

We waded out into the late afternoon waves , which were swelling quite a lot and becoming quite scary. Lee tied his size 13 waterproof shoes tightly on to my tiny feet so that I didn’t lose a toe on the razor like coral and we swam out to the deep waters. This is where it all started to go wrong. Lee’s shoes got tangled on my feet and were getting pulled the wrong way by the current, Lee was swimming far ahead and my mask was leaking water into my eyes that contained more salt than the rim of a good margarita. Suddenly all the water around me turned freezing and I felt I was getting pulled down. Panicking comes natural to me anyway but at that moment even Woody Allen would have asked me to “geez lady, just calm down” (please read this sentence in Mr Allen’s voice for full effect).

Lee was too far away to help so as I got dragged down I had to compose myself and untangle the shoes with my eyes closed telling myself that as soon as it was fixed I could just swim to the surface. Unfortunately I was wrong and I was never seen again…. No , of course not otherwise you’d be luck enough to not be reading this drivel. I resurfaced , emptied and tightened my goggles and went back down into the water just in time to see a beautiful sea turtle swim past us and away into the very wide, very blue, very scary ocean. Lee and I were elated. We hadn’t expected to see one at all and felt very privileged to have been given the chance to see this fantastic animal in the wild. We left the water on a high, my high not only from the turtle sighting but from the exhilaration of remembering how to function like a normal human in the water and not let my anxiety take over. That sea be damned scary.

Over all the Gili’s completely shocked us. The coffee was foamy, the people nice , the cocktails plentiful and the views…spectacular. I am not going to lie to you, I am extremely happy that Australia happens to be within a long weekend distance of these small islands. See you soon Gili.

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Well deserved wine and a cut up leg.

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Gili Air – Who Knew Water Could Be That Blue?

18th October 2015

giliair_07 By the time we got to Gili Air we were 11 countries in. Before we even stepped onto our boat we felt ready to just get to Australia and start our next adventure. We couldn’t imagine prettier beaches that the Philippines or a more relaxing atmosphere than Koh Rong Samloem in Cambodia. We were a bit exhausted from travel and ready to never pack a bag again. Luckily we stuck with the plan and arrived on the beautiful Gili Air.

Gili Air is one of the three Gili islands in Lombok. It is wedged between the tiny island of Gili Meno and the large , very popular island of Gili T. We decided right away to skip Gili T for the same reasons we skipped Kuta Bali. We heard it was filled with young teenagers on gap years eating magic mushrooms and partying into the wee hours. We looooooove a good party. In fact my liver’s future health was probably the main factor in needing to leave Korea , but after all these months we just wanted to do nothing. Not ‘tours of the island, climing mountains’ kind of nothing but actual ‘lay on the beach for a disgusting amount of time’ type of nothing.

Gili Air was exactly what we had hoped for. No cars, no fuss…just pure beautiful laziness on sand.

giliair_04 giliair_01 Our only major issue with Gili Air was that we were as poor as poor can be by this time. We were counting the pennies (or as I like to call them, cocktail tokens). There was only one atm that was almost always out of money, and we were hoping to pay by card as much as possible. This lead to a lot of walking around the island, which you can do easily in an hour or two. Each morning we would find a beautiful beach bar, ask if they took card and get a few lost looks. When we would eventually find a bar that took card, they would get the pleasure of our company until the sun had long thrown in the towel. In one bar they had sun lounges on the beach and our days were filled with reading, snorkelling and spring rolls. Eating breakfast, lunch and dinner in one bar was surprisingly liberating. They also obviously wou giliair_05 giliair_06 ld want to get rid of us and top up our cocktails with a little too much island liquor. We loved it.

We spent three days on our arses and I regret nothing. I did wonder how a holiday island would work that was mainly Muslim , but it was very respectful and surprisingly tolerant of Westerners skimpily clothed and drinking. This might sound naive to some people reading this, but after living in Saudi Arabia for a number of years it was a fantastic surprise. The call the prayer at 5am was actually quite soothing and reminded me of the early hours in Saudi where the songs would come floating through the house. If you are a light sleeper I’d make sure your hostel or hotel isn’t near the one main mosque on the island, but if like us you don’t check and are right next to it, it’s still easy to sleep. Coming from me this means a lot since the sound of an ant tickling its cousin could wake me.

giliair_08 giliair_09 giliair_10 After Gili Air we begrudgingly moved on to Gili Meno. We loved Gili Air so much that we couldn’t believe we were leaving it. Luckily we did because Gili Meno is just as lovely if not even quieter. ….but I’ll save that long winded tale for another time. Mainly because I want to throw more pictures of blue azure seas and random cocktails at your eye holes.

Happy Weekend Everyone. signature

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Nusa Ceningan – Wrinkly Fingers and Scooters.

11th October 2015

banner After relaxing in the tiny town of Ubud we did what any smart person would do and instantly went somewhere to relax even more…oh it’s a hard life.

We settled on the tiny island of Nusa Ceningan. While still officially Bali , this tiny island that is attached to Nusa Lembongan is a little off the coast of the main tourist area of Kuta. It is a forgotten island by most tourists so it is extremely untouched. No atms*, no real roads and beautiful untouched scenery are what you’ll find on this tiny island. There are some roads but they look like a blind giant got drunk and laid them.

nusacennigan17 The only problem with wanting to go to a tiny remote area is that getting there is a pain in the arse. There were quite a few boats but they basically wanted you to donate your kidneys to buy a seat. We decided to take the risk and take the local boat. After 3 months of travel we liked the word ‘local’. It normally translated to ‘cheap’. This local boat was A LOT cheaper, which should have been a sign. We soon discovered that we should have just paid through the nose for the other boat. At least there was a chance our nose would still be attached to our face after that trip…on this rickety, packed to the rafters boat…we would be lucky to be alive.

In the 5 foot waves we waded out with our bags to the floating shack. At one point a wave hit me that was so strong it took my feet from under me. We finally boarded the boat, soaking wet and ready to hit the (very) high seas. This is when we were told in broken English that some more cargo needed to arrive. We were already sitting on and among an array of boxes of all shapes and sizes so I dreaded to think what was on its way. What came aboard was two hundred ,ten foot planks of wood, a fridge freezer and of course, a motorcycle. Watching 4 men try to move a heavy bike onto a tiny boat while getting battered by waves was extremely entertaining and improved the trip immensely.

nusacennigan03 We were finally on our way and woozy from the petrol fumes. We pulled up to a beach covered in men screaming ‘TAXI’ at us. We knew we had a pick up from our hotel waiting so started looking for our people. They were nowhere to be found until finally one of the taxi men got excited and everyone started pointing at some people walking away from the beach. We ran up to these two and had to convince them that we were in fact the people staying at their hotel. They were having none of it. A recurring problem we’ve discovered while traveling on this trip is:

  1. Lee is an Asian name
  2. We booked our flights and hotels from Korea.

 

Everyone thought that Lee and I we would be Korean on arrival, most didn’t seem to mind but I could tell that some people had been brushing up on their ‘hangul’ for our arrival and were slightly disappointed in the pastie faced Westerners arriving on their doorstep .

 

nusacennigan02 nusacennigan01 We jumped on board their tiny scooters, covered in bags and started the ride to Nusa Ceningan and our hotel. About half way on our journey along the bumpiest roads I’ve ever experienced, I turned around slightly and couldn’t see Lee and his driver anywhere. I started to worry so shouted in the ear of the young girl driving that we’d lost them. I now knew her extremely well since I was clinging on to her for dear life. She paused for a while and waited but there was still no sign of them. She made the executive decision to carry on and hope they were just taking in the sights. What had actually happened was Lee’s guides bike couldn’t handle the weight of two grown men and three suitcases, so had given out. Lee had to get off and walk up any hill that lay ahead of their path. This is probably a good time to note that even mountain goats would come to Nusa Ceningan and think it was too ‘hilly.’

Finally Lee and his guide arrived at the hotel and we were given our beautiful room. It over looked our ‘private’ pool. It wasn’t meant to be private, but the two other villas were empty so for all intensive purposes we decided that it was our pool for the week.

nusacennigan05 nusacennigan06 nusacennigan11 We stayed at the ‘Da Fish’ Hotel and I’d recommend it to anyone. Great views, fantastic food brought straight to your balcony, lovely people and great location for seeing the blue lagoon.

We did nothing for the week apart from ride our scooter around the island and **prune our fingers. Hiring a scooter is something we never thought we’d do. Scooters are always part of peoples horrible travel stories. But without a scooter it’s impossible to get around Nusa Ceningan or Nusa Lembongan. We drove around, saw the island, ate at tiny restaurants and watched the sun set, but most 50% of the time was spent in the ‘private’ pool. We were definitely those smug annoying tourists for a few days.

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best part of travel? All the puppies and kittens

nusacennigan12 nusacennigan09 nusacennigan08 Nusa Ceningan is a tiny place but perfect for a couple. If you are travelling on your own or with your friends then I’d say Nusa Lembongan is better. More restaurants, music bars and even a local outdoor cinema. A bit more life to it and more places to drink, but for us Nusa Ceningan was where we belonged. Everyone needs to find a place they can pretend to be fancy tourists in once and a while. nusacennigan16

Lee throwing all the moves

Lee throwing all the moves

This is definitely the forgotten island and I’d recommend it.

*there is one atm but it is rarely filled. I think that it probably empties before the money delivery guy is even back on his boat. You can get money out from the money exchanges for a fee in an emergency, such as a ‘we need more pina colada’s’ emergency like we had.

** Pruning fingers is when your fingers have been wet for a long time and they get wrinkly. Lee laughed a lot when I used this term and I discovered it wasn’t a universal or even a local phrase.

Let’s Go To Asia – Travel Video

27th September 2015

So as the astute among you may have noticed, we are already finished with our trip. We are in lovely Australia. I still have a few posts about our trip to come, but I recently finished editing this little video together and couldn’t wait to share it.

So here is just a few of the best parts of our trip:

Ubud – Chilling out, Maxing, Relaxing All Cool

19th September 2015

header Oh Ubud. I thought I was in love with you before we even arrived. I had lived vicariously through blog posts, books and the eloquent ‘word of mouth’ that you have inspired. I always knew that our trip would include Ubud. I just hoped it would live up to the sky high expectations I’d already put on it.

We arrived for our 5 day adventure at Bali airport and were both amazed. Airports aren’t exactly known for being stylish or very different from one another. Bali airport is very different, they have redone the airport and have made sure that your first impression is a good one. A huge entrance gate full of statues and fresh flowers greets you from the plane. It really sets the holiday off to a good start. ubud006 ubud002 ubud001 ubud005

Then came our long taxi ride to our hotel. Ubud is about 45 minutes away from the airport and it was so dark that Ubud kept itself hidden. We arrived at our hotel and we experienced the magic that is an Ubud hotel. Many of the hotels have been built into temples so when you walk in you are faced with the detailed stone mosaiques, the smell of sandalwood and the beautiful flowers strewn all over the temple floor.

Just a casual street in UBUD

Just a casual street in UBUD

We woke up to the sounds of the jungle and we couldn’t wait to explore.

Ubud is bizarre, it’s a vibrant, funky little space. Hipster-ish but in the best kind of way. Walking around Ubud makes me want to do nothing but eat healthy, do yoga and drink smoothies. Everywhere you look there are temples, small markets and beautiful flowers.

The Balinese culture is so unique and probably one of my favourite cultures to discover. Each store and home has a small bamboo bowl filled with candles and flowers which is their daily tribute to the gods. They believe in family and don’t really believe in leaving Bali or in some cases even Ubud. This was especially strange to discover while talking to a local. He asked me and Lee a million questions about our exploits, but when it came time for him to decide if he’d love to see these places for himself he seemed completely content where he was. He said ‘Balienese people love stories but we love home more’. Bali is unique because it has somehow kept its traditional charm while still being very modern. Each restaurant still stares out onto endless rice paddies, Balinese traditions are everywhere you look and yet you can still use atm’s and buy anything you could possibly imagine. Other places around the world could definitely learn something from Ubud on how to retain their charm as tourism starts to take over.

ubud007 ubud013 We were lucky that a day after we arrived we were joined in Ubud by our friends Carly and Conner. Carly is my Ubud guru. Not only did she introduce me to the place but she also introduced me to the wonder that is Yoga. After just one class I was hooked. It only made sense that since we were in Ubud we would have to go to the one and only Yoga Barn. The Yoga Barn was made famous in Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and has become THE place for yogi’s from around the world to relax and display their skills. Having a class here guarantees not only a beautiful setting but the knowledge that you are being taught by the best of the best.

Even though I’d read a lot about the place it was nothing like I thought it would be. I have only been to two different yoga studios I suppose so I am not an expert, but I thought it would be a building with a large room for yoga…nope! It’s huge! There are cafes, restaurants, and a garden area with a stream. This is all leading to a huge open air atrium that goes down to a great (if not very expensive) yoga shop and of course the large yoga room. You could easily spend a week here. I wish we’d had time to do more than one class but we just did the one and I loved every moment of it. One of the reasons I’m looking forward to staying in one place for a while is so I can get back into a good fitness routine. It’s not impossible on the road and there are countless bloggers that look amazingly fit and healthy while they travel, but Lee and I love being lazy and eating our way around the world when we travel which doesn’t leave much room for gyming it.

indo3 ubud008 We honestly just spent 5 days being pampered, eating and driving bikes around this beautiful town. We got to see one of Lee’s favourite animals, monkeys in the monkey forest. I’ve never seen him as happy as when he had a monkey on his shoulder. We ate incredible food. Hummus, fresh fruit, olives and delicious treats are abundant in Ubud. The massages are super cheap so we had quite a few of them and were instantly annoyed that we hadn’t had more during our Asia experience.

ubud012 ubud011 ubud010 ubud009 It is a beautiful place and I’m sad that we couldn’t spend more time there. I think it’s definitely a place that we both felt we could easily live in for months and months. Who knows maybe one day we will.

Happy Ubud Faces

Happy Ubud Faces

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Yogyakarta – Asia’s Hidden Gem

20th August 2015

banner When we were planning our Indonesian route Lee stumbled on a little city in Java that peaked his interest. As a History buff Lee saw the words ‘largest Hindu temple in Southeast Asia’ and his eyes lit up.

yogya09 yogya13 The most important thing to know about Yogyakarta is how to pronounce the darn place. I was calling it yogi-o-karta until I arrived at the airport. Indonesians  pronounce it ‘Jog-ja-karta’ but the locals call it ‘Jog-ja’. This is what everyone calls it and it’s much easier to get by once you know that.

We were only in the town for 3 days and we spoiled ourselves with a nice place. There was a roof top pool and large comfy beds. Unfortunately the hotel is also where local school kids stay over night on school trips. Our room was surrounded all night by loud teenagers running up and down the halls. Its safe to say, as two ex-middle school teachers ……we weren’t impressed.

yogya06 yogya08 The kids weren’t the only down side of our first day on the trip. I also received some horrible news from home and spent my night curled up with Lee feeling horrible and very very far from home. Luckily I didn’t have time to think about everything too much since we had already planned a trip that started at 4am. I didn’t have time to think. I just had time to try and close my eyes before the alarm went off and we were on our way to Yogyakarta’s famous temples – Prambanan and Borobudur.

yogya02 yogya03 yogya07 yogya10 We took a tour to Prambanan organised by our hotel. We had a lovely driver and arrived at the temple complex just as the sun was rising. When you arrive at the temples you are given some water, a snack and a stylish sarong to wear. We leisurely wandered around the temple. Taking in the intricate carvings depicting Buddha’s pilgrimage and lifeline, beautiful surroundings and miles of jungle all around us.

The only thing to disturb the peaceful surroundings was the hundreds of kids that are taken there on trips. Schools take kids there to practice their English. We found it quite endearing because they were so cute and lovely shouting ‘mister , Mrs picture, picture’. We must have posed for at least 12 photos and managed to grab a few of our own.  It did take away from the beautiful sights a little especially since the concentration of kids was on the iconic roof of Borobudur where we wanted to take the most photos but couldn’t. But it was another welcome distraction on a sad day.

My favourite part of the day was when Lee and I went off the beaten track and climbed the hill over looking the Borobudur complex. We sat and watched the mist roll over the mountains in the distance and literally had time to smell the roses…and frangipans (at least that’s what I’m told they are called). Being so far up above the clouds was beautiful and I just wanted to stay there forever with Lee.

yogya04 yogya05 Since it was a tour , we didn’t have time to stop for too long. Our next stop was Prambanan. It was built in the 9th century and has a number of temples, each dedicated to different gods, The Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva). There was also a temple for Ganesha which is one of my favourite of the gods since it is half Elephant and half god. He is the god known for removing obstacles. He is seen as a patron of the arts and Hindus ask him for help during writing sessions almost like a godly muse. I’m not Hindu but I love the idea of a god that inspires imagination. It seems very fitting for a blogger to like him I suppose. He is also the god of beginnings. I had just discovered I had lost someone extremely important to me and it was nice to think of it as a beginning rather than a sad end. I am lucky to have known my aunty well enough to feel she was with me at every step of our journey.

yogya01 yogya12 yogya15 yogya16 Lots of things end but sometimes its nicer to think of them as changing. Maybe not always for the better but change opens us all up for new experiences and we also carry with us the things we learnt in the past. These temples were hidden from the world for so long and now they are there for everyone to see, even before that , in another life time they were strong central pillars to a community and a civilisation . People came to these stones for hope. It’s a wonder to be able to travel and see these sights that have been viewed by so many others.

A lot of people hate the idea of tourists or other people discovering something before them but I like it. I find it kind of satisfying to share these sights and incredible places with people I would never meet or even live in the same century as. It’s a privilege that I hope I never take for granted.

I am sorry for this reflective and slightly sad post but I don’t mean it to be . It was an uplifting trip and one I think we will both hold dear. Lee actually says he prefers these temples to Angkor Wat. I love them both equally but I also think it’s such a huge shame that Prambanan and Yogykarta itself is so over looked.

I’m really glad we stopped off in this nice little city as our first port of call in Indonesia. It was cheap  and a little grimy but the temples alone were worth the visit.

Our first impressions of Indonesia are high. I can’t wait to see what else we find.

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Happy People at the Happy Elephant Home

27th July 2015

banner When I was young I use to have VHS tapes that I would watch over and over again (ask your parents what a VHS is kiddies). One of these was Dumbo. I loved the beginning when all the baby animals were brought by the stalks and would land in their little homes. But, like most children the thing I loved the most about the film was the elephants. I loved Dumbo. His big ears and his little trunk. I am not the only kid that was traumatised when he’s separated from him mum, and has to hug her through the bars. Even hearing the ‘baby mine’ song makes my eyes fill up. Since then I’ve always been fascinated by these huge, gentle creatures, and passionate that they shouldn’t be locked up. I learnt a lot about them as a kid and loved how smart they seemed. It was a huge item on the bucket list to see one.

When we went to Thailand two years ago we both knew that seeing elephants something we wanted to do. But once we started researching how horrible most Elephant excursions were we were heart broken. We didn’t want to give money to anyone who would treat these incredible animals badly. After a hell of a lot of research we found the incredible Elephant Hills in Surat Thani national park and the experience blew us away. As is the way with most travellers bucket lists we crossed off ‘seeing an elephant’ and replaced it with ‘see elephants again’.

elephants6 When we added Thailand to our itinerary this time around it was the perfect opportunity to have another heffa related experience. Unfortunately with us traveling constantly for 4 months our budget didn’t allow us to fly the length of Thailand to go back to ‘elephant hills’ so we crossed our fingers and hoped we’d find a place in Chiang Mai that we could catch a glimpse of the gentle grey giants.

elephants7 Our requirements for our elephant experiences:

. We do not want to ride them – they are not made to bare weight and their backs aren’t able to carry humans let alone a huge chair.

. We do not want them to be chained – enough said.

. We do not want them to do tricks – They have to be ‘broken’ when young to be trained and its impossible to achieve this without pain.

. If we can’t touch them but they are happy then we don’t mind – we’d rather see a happy dot in the distance than a sad animal up close.

I would honestly recommend that most people should stick to these rules when booking an elephant experience. Call the place, read reviews on trip advisor and ask around in your hostel or hotel. Just being the word ‘humane’ or ‘eco’ is on the leaflet doesn’t mean they are actually these things.

Our friend Kaleena , wrote a great piece about her time in an elephant home that you should all read. And as she points out, it’s incredible to be near these creatures but we are aware that it is only because of the past abuse they’ve experienced. If tomorrow there was no more elephant attractions but we could see them with binoculars in the wild, we would be happy. Anyway rant over…

 

elephants9 elephants14 We researched and researched, ignoring the many places in Chiang Mai. The only place that seemed reasonable was The Elephant Sanctuary. It was much more expensive than the others but we were happy to pay it. Unfortunately due to our awful planning (mine, not Lee’s. He is a jedi at planning) it was fully booked , but we were sent to another place they recommended , and it was also recommended by some friends of ours. We were pretty confident it would be humane and the elephants were actually being saved from horrible ‘eco-friendly’ excursions.

elephants12 Happy Elephant Home is where we went.

And we LOVED it.

We spent the entire day at the park. We prepped food and medicine for the animals (also dogs and cats), cleaned out their sheds, travelled to a local sugar cane farm and cut down the food for the elephants, watched them have a mud bath, got muddy ourselves, and watched them bathe in the river. It was a great day from start to finish. The elephants seemed happy and content. Playing with each other and enjoying their food and treats.

elephants16 elephants10 elephants8 elephants11 elephants5 elephants1 Being next to these creatures is very humbling. They tower above you and even though they aren’t aggressive in any way you are aware you are next to a wild animal and we were in awe of their intelligence. The only issue we had with the park was that they had a new baby who was tied to his mum with a rope. We asked about the rope and the onsite mahout who lives with the animals told us that the baby was a few months old (and he was adorable). Unlike most baby elephants who are taken from the mother straight away he was allowed to stay with his mum but since they only have 4 elephants it’s a lot smaller than the natural herd in the wild. The baby would normally be looked after by everyone. The elephants had acres and acres of space and the baby (when it wasn’t tied to mum) tried to see every inch of the grounds. This was upsetting the mum because she couldn’t keep up with him (due to her injuries after years of being abused) so they tied them together to keep the mum calm and to stop the baby getting into trouble or falling into the river when no one was looking. The relationship between the mum and baby was beautiful and it is a shame that they can’t both be free but it’s nice to see how happy they are in this new home. I hope that this place can keep growing and growing.

We felt extremely privileged to be near these incredible animals and as you can see from the photos, it was the happiest day of the holiday.

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Chiang Mai – A Town of Markets

12th July 2015

banner I was so stupidly excited for Chiang Mai. Every person we spoke to told us it was their favourite place on earth. After hearing similar things before arriving in Hoi An in Vietnam and falling deeply in love with the place , my expectation were sky high.

My first impression of Chiang Mai was that it wasn’t what I was expecting. I imagined small streets with lanterns hung on every corner, peaceful streets and quiet surroundings. This isn’t what we found, but it wasn’t nessesarily a bad thing.

chiangmai3 chiangmai6 The best way I can explain Chiang Mai to someone that hasn’t been there is , it’s town built to hold markets. Every single corner we walked around had a new set of canopied stalls selling all the clothing and trinkets a backpacker could ever need.

My disappointment that this little town was a lot more active and modern than first expected quickly dissipated when we were walking through the Saturday market. Locals playing instruments on our right , woman selling beautiful ornate jewellery on our left, and the delicious smells of Thai food all around us made me happy to have come to this little town.

I think the most surprising part of Chiang Mai was how modern it all felt . 7-11’s everywhere, modern trendy burger bars and fantastic health food shops are very common here. I suppose the fact that most travelers end up living here for a while has brought with it all the amenities from home. But I was expecting a little more. I was longing for the ‘old town’ as it’s named to have hidden secrets around every corner but everything looked very shiny and new.

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It seems that spirits love red fanta

That isn’t to say it’s not beautiful because it is. So much detail can be found on every building and even on the guard posts along the street. The temples, as always in Thailand, are a little bit bigger here, a little bit brighter and a whole lot more spectacular. We were extremely lucky to wander into the ‘City Pillar’ festival being held at Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Wat Chedi Luang is an incredible  temple on any day of the week but during this festival people from all over North Thailand come and leave flowers and donations at the temple . The town believe that all the souls of the past residents is housed in a central pillar contained inside the temple. People come and pray for rain and to thank the past residents for watching over them. Every inch of the temple was covered in about 4 foot of flowers  and people sang and danced through the night. The streets surrounding the temple also held a special week long market to celebrate the event (yes, another market). We were very lucky to experience the event. We’ll definitely remember it for a long time.

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Some fancy purple robes to help us get in the temple.

chiangmai2 chiangmai11 chiangmai12 The main problem I had with the markets was that we arrived on a Saturday so went straight to the Saturday market , which in our opinion is by FAR the best market.Unfortunately with no point of reference we didn’t realise this until the market was gone. I stupidly expected the Sunday market to be the same so I put off buying a lot of things and could I find the things again? Hell no. I will now sadly have to live life without a deathly hallows tank top…it’s a sad day.

The Sunday market was more food and craft based. I got to try my first mango sticky rice . It was amazing! I’d would cover everything in that coconut sauce they put on the dessert…I want to bathe in it ! chiangmai9 chiangmai14

chiangmai Apart from the Saturday market and the temples the only other thing you MUST do if you are in Chiang Mai is visit the lady boy show. It was cheap, you got a free drink and it was filled with a good two hours of fantastic entertainment. Those woman on stage were stunning and they were pulling dance moves that I dream of achieving. I even got a bit misty eyed when one of the ladies un-did her beauty routine to the song ‘My Way’.

chiangmai15 Chiang Mai is also the place we got to visit the ‘Happy Elephant Home’, which was so fantastic that I need to dedicate a whole post to it. I wish I could dedicate every post to it because I loved it so much but Lee feels that may be slightly excessive

Chiang Mai was definitely our days of activities. I think we did more excursions and trips than any other place. We also managed to squeeze in a cooking lesson on a rainy day and Lee learnt how to cook his favourite food..PAD THAI! I am excited to get him cooking all of these meals he’s learnt along the road, but he has already been checking what Australian Mc Donalds sells so that may not be for some time.

chiangmai7 chiangmai10 Overall we did like Chiang Mai. Would I say it was my favourite place in the world? Probably not but I did love the experiences I had there and I’d recommend a visit to anyone but just make sure you hit the weekend on your visit since the market was my favourite thing in the city. In fact after re-reading what i’ve written I’ve realised there was so much I loved about this place so the town probably just suffered from our expectations being unattainable. So maybe I should tell you all it’s awful so that when you arrive you all fall in love. Chiang Mai is a place you some how love more after you leave. chiangmai5 signature

5

Our Own Personal Hell: The Thailand border

8th July 2015

we were told this was for 'no kidnap' ?!?

we were told this was for ‘no kidnap’ ?!?

Our time in Cambodia had come to an end. We wanted to save money so instead of taking a flight into Thailand from Siem Reap we decided to take the bus. We heard it wasn’t the best trip but, hey how bad could it be? If this was a 80’s movie you would now cut from two bright eyed and bushy tailed travellers stood in Siem Reap to two angry, tired, hot and sweaty people in a 4 hour queue at the Thai boarder.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll start at the beginning.

Getting into Thailand by bus is a popular choice. We wanted to get to Bangkok, one of the closest cities to Siem Reap so it was the smart option. A bus would cost us from 7 – 14 dollars if we did it cheaply , where as a flight would cost almost 60 dollars. It was an easy decision.

We research and researched (and RESEARCHED) every company that does the trip and we established three things we needed to be aware of:

. Leave as early as possible. Arriving at the border after 11am will have you waiting in huge queues.

. Go with a company that uses a bus not a minivan since most people have horror stories of being left in service stations for hours until they bought expensive perfume or food and then also being packed so tightly into vans that they were sitting on their own luggage in the aisle.

. Don’t pay for the most expensive since its pretty much the same as the next cheapest.

 

So armed with these rules we approached about 6 companies and struck up a deal to leave at 8am, be picked up from our hotel and get a coach all the way through the border to Bangkok. We paid more than the average since we really wanted a coach. Lee’s long legs don’t allow for minivans and we wanted to avoid the evil scams mentioned above. We paid about 17 dollars which was quite an expensive option (they do go all the way up to 40 dollars but PLEASE don’t pay that).

We felt we’d prepared as best as we could. We were ready and waiting at our hotel at 7:30 , which is when they were due to arrive. So we waited, and waited……and waited some more. Any one that’s done any travel in Asia knows this isn’t surprising . We assumed that we were just on their route and everything would be okay. At 8:15 we got the hotel to call them. Apparently they were on there way….45mins later we still had no bus. FINALLY after it was very apparent that there was no 8am bus , a man on a tiny Tuk Tuk pulled up shouting our names. This was even more confusing since we were expecting a bus. He loaded our bags precariously on the tiny car and told us not to worry, he only had two more people to fetch. Unless they were sitting on the roof I don’t know where they were meant to go. Luckily they’d given up and gone with another company (smart people) .

3 When we arrived at the bus company building we were frustrated but happy to almost be on our way. another half hour later we were pulling our knotted traveler hair out. The bus pulled up at 9:45 and I will tell you that it was lovely. A huge bus for about 9 people, lots of room and even some drinks and snacks. This did make up for the morning issues and we arrived at the boarder in comfort. Yet again we were lulled into a false sense of security. Somewhere the boarder gods were laughing at our relief.

We were told to get off the bus at what looked like a market that sold nothing but bad dreams and our bags were thrown at us. Since we were told our bags would be staying on the bus our entire trip this was not a pleasant surprise. We worked out as a group , since English signs or telling us would spoil the surprise, that we needed to join the throng of people in front of us.

5 They should be a a Twilight show episode about the disappearance of queues in Cambodia boarders because we sure as hell didn’t see one. It was like a scene in a disaster movie .People screaming and pushing, ladies holding their babies above their heads. I was half expecting a alien race to appear and start shooting .

We made our way through the Cambodian border and then walked under the bridge that separated the two countries. I was hoping for a enlightening travel moment as I walked through one country to the next. I though that feeling the earth beneath my feet would transform me into an enlightened traveler with a soundtrack playing in the background…something by an indie band that wear flower head bands. Instead I was accosted by Cambodian men trying to steal/carry my bag for me, woman screaming at me to buy their bracelets and one woman in a shell-suit circa 1989 shouting ‘give me the money!’ like a bad Jerry Maguire..but this is why we like travel, the unexpected moments.

This was the smallest queue of the day

This was the smallest queue of the day

We rounded the corner and joined the huge queue to get into the Thai broder control building. It was annoying to line up outside but at least it wasn’t raining….it started raining. After 40 minutes Lee and I were called forward and we ran up the stairs triumphantly, trying not to get to the top and re-create the famous Rocky moment. We turned, walked through the door and realised , to our horror, that THIS is where the queue actually began.

A great lightning storm in the sky's of Siem Reap

A great lightning storm in the sky’s of Siem Reap

I’m not going to tell you every detail of our 4 and a half hour queue but I will tell you that i’ve never been so close to punching a stranger. That air con not working in a tiny space with about 400 people in it would be how I imagine hell now . And that if I ever meet the Chinese lady that was queuing behind us again I will punch her in the spleen. The entire time that we queued she  refused to believe she wasn’t pushing past us, like adults we should have just given up and let her past but we aren’t adults so we had to create a human shield with our bags and bodies. She even tried to push past Lee once and got a face full of sweaty arm pit. I’d say that was quite a punishment in itself.

To explain to you the anger every person felt in that line let me tell you that when we could almost touch the customs desk and had just one more lady in front of us a man walked up in a fancy suit, got a wad of money out of his jacket and offered a line of poor travelers a load of cash to let him cut in line…the line screamed ‘NO!’ and called security to have him removed.

We got to the other side of customs, found our bus and danced a little dance of happiness. I can only imagine it’s how people feel when they find water in a desert…okay that may be a little dramatic but at that moment I think we would have kissed the Thai floor if it wasn’t covered in spit and gum.

To celebrate our victory (and while we waited another hour for all the other people on the bus to get through customs) we treated ourselves to a 7-11 binge , which if you know Thai 7-11’s you’ll know that this is a great country to do this in. It was the best toastie and Big Gulp we’ve ever had.

4 hours later we saw the lights of Bangkok appear outside with the skyline out in front of us. We were so excited to return to a city we’d loved so much the first time around, even if we it had been a bit of a disaster. With our eyes fixed on the lights far away the bus seemed to slow down, and it kept slowing until it stopped and the driver shouting in Thai what we can only imagine was ‘get the hell off my bus you filthy foreigners’ …but it was probably something much more polite.

We realised we’d been duped yet again once the bus pulled off and then paid another 15 dollars for a taxi to our hotel.

skyline1 Overall it wasn’t the best trip…in fact I now imagine hell to be that customs room but every time you get to the end you enter into the exact same customs room only a few degrees hotter and the people a tiny bit ruder (if that’s possible).

So would we advice getting the flight in Thailand from Cambodia? HELL YES! for the small mark up (when you add up all the extra hours, taxi’s, water to live in the hellish heat of those offices and our sanity). I’d take the one hour flight any day.

(sorry for the lack of photos but you weren’t allowed to use cameras inside the offices and I didn’t want to remove it from my bag in case I used it as a weapon to get to the front of the line). signature

 

 

Angkor Wat – Temples , Temples Everywhere

23rd June 2015

angkorwatsunrise When people say they are going to Cambodia it’s normally an un-said assumption that they are also going to Siem Reap to see the beautiful ruins of Angkor Wat.

We were really excited to go to the ruins but at the same time we were a little worried that we had heard and seen so much of it online and in people photos that it would be a little under whelming.

We had been given the perfect plan of attack for this big complex by our friend (which i’ll post for you guys soon). We decided that because we have been traveling so much that just the one day would be the perfect amount of time for us in the complex…we were also warned from many people that unless you are a History graduate studying the building , you will probably be ok just doing the one day.

angkorwat3 We payed our tuk tuk driver to take us to pick up our tickets the evening before from the Angkor Wat offices. This allowed us to see Angkor Wat while it was quiet (with the added bonus of the beautiful dusk light as the sun set).

The next day we woke up at early o’clock…4am…urrrrr and headed to see the rest of the temples. I am no expert what so ever on the history of the temples but I will say that my favourites were the temple of faces named ‘Bayon’ and the temple made famous from the movies ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Tomb Raider’ called Tah Phrom. Tah Phrom is recognizable because of the tree’s that have been left to grow out and around the buildings making the stone structures more jungle and artifact.

Pictures can’t do this place justice but here are a select few.

bayonwheelpose bayon2 angkorwatsunrise2 angkorwat2 angkorwat1 angkorwat 1 spiderweb tahphrom2 tahphrom3

The town of Siem Reap itself is like an adult Pleasure Island from Pinocchio. We really liked it and it was a shame we didn’t have more time to spend there. I got to have a drink in ‘Angkor WHAT?’ and drink a Costa coffee (the british style starbucks) so I was a happy camper.

I don't care what anyone says...this is a dinosaur carved into tha phrom

I don’t care what anyone says…this is a dinosaur carved into tha phrom

A great lightning storm in the sky's of Siem Reap

A great lightning storm in the sky’s of Siem Reap

Small and Tall do Angkor Wat

Small and Tall do Angkor Wat