Thursday, 31 July 2008

We've made it!

Finally, we're in Auckland, New Zealand!

We landed in the midst of a storm late in the afternoon, but have woken to blue skies this morning. It's supposed to be winter, but we're walking around in just jumpers - it does feel weird having to wear socks and shoes again though.

I can't believe I have to start work in 4 days, though it will be nice to start using my brain properly again (All I've had to do recently is remember how to say 'thankyou' in Thai!).

We've got loads of photo's to still to upload, and once we get our own computer from the shipping we'll upload some of the videos we took whilst travelling.

Hope all is well in blighty. Heard that the weather's been pretty good recently (I don't believe it, it's nearly August!)



Friday, 25 July 2008

Wow, it's only some more bloomin pictures!

I know, I'm spoiling you all now. We've just finished our scuba diving course (PADI Open Water) on Ko Tao. It took 4 days, and we're now spending our last day here chilling out/on the internet.

Here's some photo's from the last couple of weeks, from Ko Phi Phi, to Krabi, then Kao Sok National Park (trekking and staying in the floating huts):

Ko Phi Phi - our beach hut was at the end of the beach behind Jody (near the big cliff)

Some fire dancing on Ko Phi Phi

Our beach hut (8 quid a night!)

Our view from the beach hut

Monkeys on monkey beach - Ko Phi Phi

Kayaking back to the main beach on Ko Phi Phi - it was raining (heavy) but we still got burnt!

This is how jody burnt her belly!

Ko Phi Phi from the viewpoint - worth the 20minute, near vertical climb!
Sunset from the viewpoint - Ko Phi Phi

Minutes of perseverance allowed me to capture the lightening!
Big limestone rock - Krabi
On a longtail boat - Krabi
In our jungle hut, with our new hammock and adopted dog - Kao Sok national park

Monkeys at a nearby Temple - Kao Sok
Big spider!!
Kao Sok
Kao Sok
On the way to the raft huts on a huge resevoir - Kao Sok
The raft huts
Some sort of reptile clinging to some sort of vegetation
Big stick insect

A flying chameleon


Right, time for a beer me thinks.




Sunday, 20 July 2008

Cambodia pics!

We've finally got around to uploading a few pictures from our hop over the border in to Cambodia. The main reason was to visit the temples of Angkor of course, hence the bulk of photos are from there.

The Stoupa at the killing fields in Phnom Penh, a monument filled with the skulls of Cambodians murdered during Pol Pots reign (Kymer Rouge).

The Grand Palace in Phnom Penh

Angkor Wat

Bayon Temple

The one where Tomb Raider was filmed!

Sunset at the temples - You can see Angkor Wat over our shoulder.



Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Down to the islands!

After leaving Cambodia behind following the bus journey from hell, we've now made it down to the thai islands. We flew from Bangkok to Phuket, stayed one night there in Patong (like Benidorm on steroids). We then got the ferry over to Ko Phi Phi. This was the island which you'd all have seen on the news when the tsunami hit in 2004. The narrow bit of sand between the two rocky islands only gets to about 2m above sea level. they didn't stand much of a chance when the 6m wave came.

The island is now back to it's former glory, and is really beautiful. The sea is proper warm and calm, and there are no cars on the island, so it's relatively quiet (except for the occasional fishing boat motor!). We stayed here for two nights in a beach hut about 20m from the beach on a quiet stretch of the island (away from the backpackers accomdations which are crammed in). The final day before the ferry to Krabi we hired a sea kayak to go snorkling around the island. We went to a beach called Monkey Beach, which surprisingly had a colony of monkeys living on it. One tried to rob our stuff off the kayak, so i tried to scare it off, which prompted it to bear its teeth. I filled my pants at the prospect of being attacked and contracting rabies, but the little bugger just ran off. I'd learnt my lesson, I think.

The snorkling itself was amazing, with corals and tropical fish everywhere. There were areas of desolate sea bed where the tsunami had destroyed the corals. It will take hundreds if not thousands of years for them to grow back. Although it was cloudy and even rained on our way back to the main beach, we both got quite burnt. Will I never learn?? The aftersun was in the fridge last night! The locals are fascinated by the colour of my shins, hence i wore trousers last night for dinner.

We're now in Krabi, back on the mainland. It too has some amazing beaches and sea kayaking opportunities, which we're going to explore today. After staying here for another night I think we're going to Khao Sok national park to do some more trekking (maybe a nightime one?).

Hope you're all doing fine. Missing you all loads, why don't you all come to Thailand, then to NZ???!!!


Sunday, 13 July 2008

Trekking - The report, finally!

We arrived in Chiang Mai early morning after getting the overnight sleeper train from Bangkok (14 hours). We booked the well recommended 3 day trek through the well recommended Royal Guest House. The next day we were picked up at 9:30am by our guide, along with the 7 other guests from the guest house. These were two Irish guys, a family of four from Holland (two children) and one Bristolian.

The trek was only 1500 baht, which is about 23quid, and included all food, two night’s accommodation and all travel (pretty much everything except for drinks – the huts had cool boxes with beer and water, etc!). The travel was to be in the form of truck to the national park, bit of an elephant through the jungle, a bamboo raft down the river before the truck back to our guest house. We walked the bits in-between, hence, ‘trek’ (about 9 hours in total).

So, first stop was a waterfall. Normally we could have swum in the pool but there hasn’t been much rain so far this year, so it turned in to a wade/paddle. The waterfall was very impressive though, like one you’d see in an Indiana Jones film. It also rained like hell whilst we were there, so there was no chance of getting/staying dry afterwards. After a lunch stop it was time to start walking. Almost immediately we started climbing a steep slope which continued for about 20 minutes. The unfit ones of the group weren’t very talkative at the first rest stop, but they were rather sweaty! The rest of the walk was fairly steady, with our guide ‘Sunshine’ stopping from time to time to point out edible plants, fruits, (and encouraged us to eat them) bugs, and to remove the odd leach which had attached itself to his flip flopped feet (everyone else was wearing trainers or boots!). Everyone did seem to get at least one leach (except me!), although they didn't hurt, just left a bloody stain in your socks.

The first village we stayed at was quite small (about 50 locals?). The hut/lodge was a cool timber building raised above the ground on stilts. They did this for hygeine reasons, and it also stops the animals (domestic and wild) getting in to them. Our sleeping quarters amounted to a dozen or so padded matts and mosquito nets. We all slpet like babies though, until the cockrels woke us up at about 5:30am!!! Nearly forgot the frog hunting before we went to bed. One of the guides mentioned earlier in the day to me that he liked eating frogs (but not the heads!), but I thought he was just winding me up. But at about they midnight they took the other 3 lads out in the pitch black to catch some frogs. Me and Jody watched from our elevated dining room as they dissapeared towards the paddy fields with torches and knifes (to deter the snakes and lynx'). They returned about 20 mintues later with a 2 litre water bottle about half full of live frogs. We all went to bed after this surreal evening. We woke, early, to find fried forgs for breakfast. I tried some, it didn't taste bad, but the fact they hadn't disguised the fact it was still a whole frog was a little offputting.

Anyway, the second days trekking was scheduled to take about 5 hours, and it was lashing it down, so rucksacks we're wrapped in plastic bags, etc. The trek itslef was quite cool, but not very eventful. The more surreal stuff started when we got to the next village. First off was an elephant ride, weird enough. But then we we're asked if we wanted to have fresh pig for dinner. We had to buy it of course, about 200baht each (3quid), and then they asked if one of us wanted to kill it too. One of the Irish guys, Cormac, jumped at the chance, claiming it was on his 'to do list' in life. So five of us and the guide (we left the kids, and Jody, at the lodge) walked to the other side of the village to get the hog. Basically the pig was tied up underneath someones house, and was led to the front of the house. Cormac was given a heavy piece of timber and told to hit the pig on the back of its head/neck hard, but precise. I thought we were about to witness the bloodiest slaughter ever seen in this peaceful tribe, but Cormac did a pretty good job (I'll upload the video one day). The pig did seem to cotton on to what was about to happen, and began running around like, like a wild animal, so Cormac had to chase it for a while before landing the carniverous blows. We carried the pig back to our loadge just like you've seen in the films, legs tied together, hung on a stick and carried by two people on their shoulders. In the end, it tasted delicious (you might have realised I'm getting bored and wanted to hurry the story up abit now!)

That night we got quite drunk on the beer and rice whisky which the tribe makes itself (legally?). So, in the morning, feeling a little bit hungover we walked down to the river to begin the bamboo rafting. The journey down river was planned to take about 4 hours. It was pretty cool, and it felt a bit like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, expecting an ambush from the river banks any minute. Some bits of the river were fast flowing, but we only had one problem. This was when we we're a bit late deciding if we were to go left or right around a big rock (Jody and Pat we're steering at the back, and the guide, Sunshine at the front - not paying much attention). We ended up sideways pressed against the rock, with the river threatening to snap the raft in two and send our belongings in to the murky water. Pat wasn't helping as he tried to push us out, but was instead pushing the raft further on to the rock! We all jumped in the river and pushed the raft off the rock, saving our blushes and dry clothes.

Not long after we got to the end, and had fried noodles for our reward. The journey back in the truck was pretty quiet as everyone tried to catch 40 winks of some much needed sleep.
All in all it was brilliant trip with numerous 'once in a lifetime experiences', and we'd recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in this part of the world.



Cambodia was a shock to my system! I don't know what i was expecting but i wasn't prepared for it.

When we arrived it bombarded our senses, the foul smells and the dirt evcrywhere and i felt so out of place - like it was so obvious that i didn't belong. I'm sure all they see is $$$ floating above our heads. That was my first impression anyway of phnom penh. We stopped in a hotel but it was so dirty and there were mossies in the room - not good, but no window (where were they coming from?) the towels definately hadn't been washed and we were concerned about the cleanliness of the sheets. There was also something dripping from the ceiling onto our pillows.

Things did take a turn for the better when we went out for dinner. Although i felt upset seeing young girls begging for money with babies, we went to an uplifting restaurant that was run for ophans to raise funds for the kids and they did a traditional dance for us while we ate, so we had hope that someone was doing something for these people. After one night in the hell hotel we checked ourselves into a beautiful hotel with a pool and super clean rooms. (Are we snobs??)

We went to the killing fields which was harrowing! To think something so horrible had happened so recentantly in history, it made us wonder about what might be going on in other countries now, without us fully understanding!???

We moved onto Seim Reap, which is near the Angkor temples and found it much better. The people were so happy and you felt as though you weren't constantly being ripped off (unlike Thailand) and they were wonderfully helpful. Both tuk tuk drivers we had while we were visiting the Temple at Ankor were good and i couldn't complain. The street were much nicer at night and full of energy with the crazy japanese singing along with the live bands. All round a good atmosphere in Seim Reap.

The Temples were amazing such detail and vastness. It is hard to believe they built such amazing structures so long ago that have pretty much survived until today with out the use of cranes and other heavy machinery although a local guy tried to explain how they used elephants and bamboo but i still don't know how they got the amazingly tall temples up with or without elephants.

The bus ride out was another matter though. When we booked it, they said it would take 10 hours to cross the border and reach Bangkok. We double checked and booked some flights to Phuket for 14 hours after we set off. 4 hours for things to go wrong, was fair i think. Anyway, the whole think was just laughable. There was no space on the bus for bags or people (i'll get James to put up a pic) The driver just put bags in the aisle 3 high and 3 people had to sit on plastic garden chairs in the aisle at the front and 1 guy had to stand it was ridiculas and highly dangerous. But hey 'when in rome' (well Cambo anyway). There was no aircon so everyone had their windows open which let tons of dust in. I got quite freaked by this as i had dust on my teeth - a weird feeling and my white top was a red sandy colour (eek) my skin wasn't much better.
When we reached the border we were told we would have to wait a couple of hours for the Thailand bus, meaning we could only just make it to the airport in time and that's without any problems on route, taking us very close to missing our plane. We took no chances and took a taxi - worth it just for lack of stress and aircon. Needless to stay we made the plane, Yay!!!!


Tuesday, 8 July 2008

24 Hours In Bangkok

We arrived in Bangkok and straight away we were bombarded with taxi and limo people fighting for our custom. Luckily we had our trusty Thailand book (Thanks Fay) and we knew there was a bus from the airport to the city, so we politely turned them down and got the bus.

Bangkok Bangkok Bangkok.. What can I say? It’s insane!!

People selling passports on the street, with police standing chatting to them. Pubs selling "Strong beer and we don't ask for ID"

Tuk Tuk drivers constantly asking and asking whether you need taking somewhere, and when you say no, they suggest places we should want to go.
James and I fell into one of these traps on the second day. We were merrily walking to the Grand Palace which we could see from the hotel and had already turned down millions of Tuk Tuks, when a friendly looking local ask where we were going (there was no tuk tuk in sight so we thought we were safe) We said we were headed to the Grand Palace and he most helpfully told us not to bother, that it was closed for lunch and would not be open for another 2 hours and we were unlikely to be allowed in anyway because my sleeves weren’t long enough and James was wearing shorts. He then got a map out and started circling places which were open and free to get in to - a sitting budda, a laying budda and a giant standing budda. He said if we went to all of these we would be back in time for the Grand Palace re-opening. To this day I don’t how but we ended up in a tuk tuk, (which the helpful man had made appear out of nowhere.) On our way to the sitting Budda for a price of 20 Bahts for the next 2 hours (30p), what a bargain we thought as we zoomed through the city. The Budda was ok and we met a nice guy that didn’t sell us anything.
Back on the Tuk tuk things started to go wrong, instead of seeing another budda we ended up being dropped off at a factory that sold suits, (not cheap ones but English prices) We were polite and looked around and left without buying anything.
Tuk Tuk again! This time he was ranting about tourist not knowing anything and how we NEEDED to see a tourist office, so he drop us off at one- the lady in there proceeded to plan the whole month of our holiday and trying to book flights and treks and hotels. I felt sick for a minute- James was nodding along in agreement with her- I felt trapped. James snapped out of it though and we realized it was a scam a little too late as we had booked one flight to Cambodia but that was a relatively small mistake compared to the bigger ones we could have made. Fed up with tuk tuk man now but with no idea where we were, we got back on. Here goes the scam bit (as if the rest wasn’t) He said he needed a fuel ticket and he could get one if we just looked around a jewelry factory and it would be double if we bought something which would make him very happy, James and me looked at each other both realizing that this had been what the trip had all been about, but as polite well brought up English folk we agreed to go. We marched around bought a packet of crisps and left thinking finally we could carry on the sight seeing. Alas no, we had not bought JEWELRY, so he had not got his ticket and he would have to take us to another factory.
Another suit factory infact, where we did not buy anything but realized time and that we had been on the Tuk tuk ride from hell for 4 +hours and we were in danger of missing the train for Chiang Mai. We demanded to be taken back to the hotel and he obliged, so we assumed he’d got his fuel ticket. I don’t know if James was joking but he said we should pay him more as we’d had him for nearly 5 hrs, but I paid him the 20 Bahts as arranged (I think he should have had less as we only got to see one Budda and not the Grand Palace at all!!)
Since this experience we have met lots of Tourist who have had the same scam put on them, So beaware in Bangkok is all I’m saying!!

Jody xx

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Chiang Mai Trekking Pictures

Full story to follow, but for now, here's some pictures from our trek through the mountains of North Thailand.

In order:
Jody in the waterfall
View over a villages orchard/fields (we picked some fruit for dinner)
Paddy fields of the village we stayed at the first night
The dinner table of the first night's hut
Local preparing our dinner (Thai Green chicken curry)
Fresh frogs (live) caught in the night.
Deep fried frogs for breakfast!
A bridge (totally safe!)
Elephant beetles (found inside a dead bamboo trunk) (x2)
Praying mantis
Nice view (misty)
Dinner table at our second night's hut
Local sat on an elephants head
Us lot on the elephant trek (x2)
Freshly killed pig (not by me!)
Freshest meat we'll ever eat (and all the crackling you could ever want!)