The final leg home…

Kuala Lumpur - Petronus Towers (2)Day 346, Sun 19 Jan

A day of sightseeing after a lie in but not a lot to see really in Kuala Lumpur. The one thing T wanted to do, the Petronus Towers, meant that we had to get up around 6 in the morning… never going to happen! :-)

Saw another china town, but these are 10 a penny nowadays!

 

 

 

Kuala Lumpur - Keir, Hannah, Agnes, Tracey, Joshua, LennyAttempted to check out Kampung Baru for the cool old wooden houses, but there seemed to be few, so we gave up and nipped home for a shower before meeting my old colleague Lenny, his wife Agnes, and their twins, Joshua & Hannah for a nice Malay dinner, and watching the fountain at KLCC while Keir taught Joshua how to dance ;)

Day 347, Mon 20 Jan

Went up to see the Bird Park – supposedly the largest aviary in the world. Actually really good & often you have birds flying around your lugholes. T even liked it as well.  Only problem was that we spent so much time there that had no time left for the market… T wasn’t happy!

Had another shortness of breath episode on the walk back… about the 5th in the last fortnight… might have to get this checked out…

Then caught the late plane to Singapore.

TKuala Lumpur - Bird Park (17)orn between the central market and the Bird Park, we decided to do the latter – I foolishly thought that I might still get time for a shop, but no. This is beginning to feel like a conspiracy… The park was actually really good though.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Mar ’14

Day 348, Tue 21 Jan

New Hostel nice but had to lug the bags up tons of flights of steps :-(

T convinces me, after another breathless episode, to get checked out in A&E… not that I needed a lot of convincing… & it was very efficient; I had an ECG within 10 mins of arriving… 3 hrs & about 3 ECG’s later, I no longer had any chest hair (Ouch!) & I was admitted for a proper diagnosis.  The initial diagnosis matched T’s google one – Angina.

Still, Singapore’s Changi ‘hotel’ was better than T’s place – had a large screen TV & my own ‘maids’! :-)

Keir had another chest pain episode in the night, so I decided enough was enough and that we had best get him checked out. If it IS angina, it is caused by a blockage, and I have started to worry that it might be another blood clot… We managed to get ourselves together and make it to A&E about 1:30pm, and by 4pm he had been admitted – lots of frantic calls to the (conveniently) premium rate number for the health insurance in between! – went back to the hostel alone, and in a mild panic…

Singapore - Keir in hospital (1)

This pillow was obviously for a spurs fan…!

Day 349, Wed 22 Jan

After giving the doctor a bit of a ‘gee up’ the night before, today was all efficiency. Saw the Cardiologist early who agreed with me that I had to conduct a test under ‘stress’ to simulate the same conditions.  So, after an angiogram, I was strapped up & plonked on a running machine… sure enough after 9 minutes of increasingly strenuous running, I was feeling short of breath, with chest pains & a numb left arm… I didn’t want to say ‘I told you so’, but…

The cardiologist admitted that she was surprised by the result, considering my fitness & age… yes, she actually thought that I was quite young to be experiencing this!

I think T was just pleased that they’d found I had a heart after all! :-)

This resulted in an afternoon of having dye flooded around my system whilst under camera & then the cardiologist advised that they put a stent in when she showed me the 80% blocked artery… all over in 20 mins whilst under local anaesthetic… the wonders of modern science!

Popped up to see Keir after breakfast, well, I guess it was actually lunchtime :-), to find he had been whisked off for a test and that they wanted to do an Angiogram to find out where the blockage was – Keir was adamant they do nothing unless they had to; they were threatening no flying for 6 weeks if they had to intervene, and our flight home is in 2!

Visited again this evening, Keir was very sleepy, but seems ok. They had to operate as he had an 80% blockage in one of the main arteries – not safe to fly with, especially with the tendency to DVT – Went back to my dorm bed (no double room available tonight :-( ) and re-organised all the hotels, cancelled what I could, etc; I am VERY relieved that he is okay, but hope this wasn’t just a ploy to keep me busy ;-)

Day 350, Thu 23 Jan

Singapore - Keir in hospital (2)Poor old T hustled over to spring me out of hospital & then they made us wait ages whilst they sorted the paperwork… got to say she has been an angel; think I may have to call her ‘Saint Tracey’ now!

The staff at Changi hospital were great & facilities fantastic – can’t say enough good things about them both.

Unbelievably, they are letting Keir out today! I popped over to the hospital because he was ready to come out – think I have spent more time on the metro here than I do in London! – and then waited 2 hours for the bloody paperwork. Oh well, at least all is ok! We need to stay in Singapore a little longer now, so time for the Night Safari tomorrow – hooray :-)

Day 351, Fri 24 Jan

A gentle day in Singapore with T treating me like paper then the night safari!

When we got there it felt completely touristy but it turned out to be absolutely excellent. We started on their tour bus & then wandered around ourselves. The animals seemed not to be bothered by people at all, & we saw a lot of them that would have been hidden away in daylight.

A spot of light shopping in an unanticipated sale – finally a new dress! – a shower, and then the Night Safari. It was pretty cool. Even if there were no decent photos as my camera is not very good in poor light conditions without a flash. It is nice to have Keir back too :-)

Day 352, Sat 25 Jan

Singapore - Gardens by the Bay (21)Spent the day wandering around the Gardens by the bay – lots of different types of gardens & sculptures… T even got me up high on an aerial walkway… that was good for my heart!

Then back to another overnight bus; this time to Penang.

Gardens by the Bay was a bit like the Eden project inside, but with some high-walkway connected Super Trees outside, which generated the power and collected water for the gardens. Nice views.

Singapore – Mar ’14

Day 353, Sun 26 Jan

Penang - Pinang Peranakan Museum (5)Booked into our very nice hostel where the owner had previously had a similar issue to me & been fitted with stents.

Then a day spent doing a walking tour of Penang – cool graffiti & wrought iron signs, Cheong Fatt Tze’s mansion, Fort Cornwallis, Khoo Khongsi clan house, temples, mosques & churches.

Highlights were the graffiti, Cheong Fatt Tze’s mansion (the Chinese Rockefeller!) & the stone carvings in the clan house.

Went out to the cinema in the evening – nice to see an English film again.

Penang street art (8)Had a lovely day today, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion was beautiful, Khongsi clanhouse too, not quite so sure about the fort personally, but Keir seemed to like it, and we managed a bit of a street art tour – just to make us feel like we were home :-). The hotel is great, and the owner/ manager seems to have bonded with us over the near-cardiac arrest experience. Plus we had the BEST, if possibly most expensive, breakfast for some time!

Day 354, Mon 27 Jan

A day spent doing tax & travel insurance paperwork then tootling around the town.

Yuck, tax. Why do I always leave it until the last minute? :-(

Day 355, Tue 28 Jan

Took the bus to Batu Ferringhi & wandered along the beach.  Not as nice as some places we’ve stayed (hostel only had cold water!! & place was a bit touristy) but great that T had booked us in for some sea time here instead of Langkawi.

T managed to find a good place for dinner & then we found a lovely bar on the beach for a nightcap with some Swedish friends we met.

The 90-odd percent rated hostel was clearly more aimed at much younger, skinter people than us, or possibly musicians as the guy seemed to have a full studio there. Sadly the rest of the facilities were somewhat lacking. The bed was way too soft, but I have to say that the owner giving me his mattress as a replacement was probably beyond the call of duty! Keir was in a foul mood about the cold water shower, which it WOULD have been nice to know about, but at least it is hot outside.

I confess that Langkawi sounded a lot nicer, but we cannot fly, so I had to do something…

Day 356, Wed 29 Jan

Batu Ferringhi - Spice Garden (2)A day out in Batu Feringhi; visited the Butterfly gardens & the Spice gardens where we saw some Minkeys running around. T was keen to take them home – v cute.

Liked the Spice garden so much that we came back for dinner that night on a platform overlooking the sea – magical!

The butterfly gardens were great (and I didn’t get freaked out, fortunately), lots of beautiful (and not too large) specimens fluttering around us, but the gibbons at the Spice Garden were undoubtedly the highlight – weird white eye sockets with black eyes made them look oddly like the toy animals with moving eyes that I remember from childhood; cute.

The cocktails and food at the Spice Garden were phenomenal, if you are in the area, you should definitely go!

Day 357, Thu 30 Jan

Penang street art (4) Penang street sign (3)Took the bus back to Penang, stored our bags at our old hostel & then saw the clan jetty & murals, followed by a trip up Penang hill for the beautiful views & walk back through the woods in the dark.

Then back into town for the late bus overnight to Melaka.

A last ditch attempt to see the rest of the street art, including a high proportion of minions(!), and trying to find somewhere that I could eat that was actually open for dinner – Chinese clearly out as most of them are on extended holiday for Chinese New Year – we had to settle on Italian in the end and I unfortunately got the cream dish; urgh, why do they never tell you when the whole dish is going to be covered in cream?

Then off to Melaka on the rather late midnight bus!

Penang, Malaysia – Mar ’14

Day 358, Fri 31 Jan

Arrived in Melaka to find we’d booked a motel a wee distance from the town by mistake; however, the upside was that we had the biggest room this side of Christendom!

Spent the afternoon wandering around this ex Portuguese/ Dutch town; lots of old buildings & colourful tuk tuks,

Excitingly (for Tracey), there was a night market :-( , My what fun we had wandering around that!  

They even had one of these huge viewing platforms that looked a flying saucer – you strapped yourself in with about 40 others & then were winched to the top of the tower before gently descending.

P1540523Oops, I was clearly a bit worn when reorganising the last 2 weeks as I somehow forgot to check the location of the hotel. Beautiful room, but a complete pain having to get taxis every time we wanted to go anywhere, including for breakfast :-(.

Melaka is nice though, some cute streets to wander around, a lovely river lined by cafes and restaurants, the most bling tuk tuks I have ever seen, and a few interesting sights to see; unfortunately these did not included the tat night market, and we need to buy presents for the family. Damn

Day 359, Sat 1 Feb

Tried to have breakfast at a nice little café by the canal we’d seen the day before… they took our order then came back 15 mins later to say that the chef was now too busy to cook the all-day breakfast they’d advertised…

Not surprisingly T took a dim view of this & told them so in very loud tones that soon had had the whole restaurant looking on… woe betide anyone that tries to get between T & her breakfast!

So, don’t bother with the Dutch Harbour café… they’re officially crap!

P1540498We pottered around town & we did see this amazingly huge monitor lizard sunning itself on the banks of the river – it wasn’t bothered by anything.

Another evening at the cinema – there won’t be much left to see when we get back!

Possibly the most useless service ever. I simply could not believe that a restaurant would wait 15 minutes AFTER TAKING your order and then come back to tell you the chef was now busy, but you could order something off the lunch menu. It says ALL DAY BREAKFAST and that is WHY we came into this restaurant in the first place!!!! Tossers. In fact that word is definitely NOT strong enough. Boycott them and try the place across the river where they actually know what ‘all day’ means.

We spent the rest of the day, I was obviously in much milder mood after I had managed to eat, wandering around some lovely, albeit shockingly expensive, antiques stores, and finally located a shop that could fulfil most of our gift needs. OK, so the products were mostly from Kashmir, but Malaysia is a melting pot, and probably no-one will know anyway :-)

Melaka, Malaysia – Mar ’14

Day 360, Sun 2 Feb

We took the bus to Singapore back a day early so that we could be back in time for my hospital appointment on the Monday.

An afternoon spent shopping… do they have a lot of malls in Singapore or what? T was like a woman possessed!

Luckily managed to get two of the last bus seats for Singapore by looking online  – I had tried every single bus kiosk window at the station on Friday without success. It is almost as if people want to travel back after New Year or something… ;-)

Day 361, Mon 3 Feb

Singapore Sling at RafflesWent for the Hospital appointment & got the all clear then some shopping for the delayed Xmas.

We popped into Raffles for the famous Sling… but it was a disappointment to be honest. The bar is a reconstruction of the famous Long bar.  Still, ticked it off in the ‘book’!

Despite the hospitals assertion that the appointments were usually pretty much on time, they were about 30 minutes late, and annoyingly I had just finished my book causing Keir to have to deal with a bored me prior to seeing the doctor. Never mind, at least we are all clear to fly home!

We ate some great Indian food and then made our way to Raffles – I note that Keir quizzed the doctor fully about whether he could drink alcohol – he had somehow got the idea 2 weeks ago that he was not allowed to drink at all – you can imagine the relish with which he enjoyed his first beer! The Raffles bar was ok, overpriced for the privilege of throwing monkey nut shells on the floor – perhaps that seems more fun if you are Singaporean and banned from throwing rubbish anywhere, but since I don’t normally…

Day 362, Tue 4 Feb

Went to Sentosa Island & had a fun time on the Segways… another way around the world!

Very happy to have got this one in as we’d been on about it for the last year!

The Chinese New Year celebrations were moving apace & we came across a Chinese dragon blessing all the shops – quite a big job in a place like Singapore!

Headed off to the airport for the flight home where we saw a fantastic light installation.

By now I’m very excited & looking forward to heading home – a year’s a long time. But I think T could have happily carried on for ever!

It seemed surprisingly anti-intuitive manoeuvring the Segway, but I reckon that I just need to get used to it :-), fun though, I might have another go sometime! Then a quick Lebanese and off to the airport – unfortunately our last minute change of flight meant we had to fly on Finnair, an airline that seemed to be roughly equivalent to American Airlines with a movie screen smaller than the screen on my phone. It was meant to be Cathay Pacific too, but hey ho, we had to take the only re-route we could get!

Day 363, Wed 5 Feb

K&T return_5 Feb 14Back in Blighty!!!!!!!!!

My Mum & Dad picked us up from the airport & back to theirs for toast & marmite – the taste of Britain!

Here endeth the blog – 363 days (don’t ask me what happened to the missing two days) of chat, reminisces & general tittle tattle. If I have any Advice for someone doing a trip like this… don’t write the blog daily!!! :-)

A quick stopover in Helsinki, where thankfully we did not have to exit the airport, 30 degrees to 0 would have been a bit of a shock to the system! Instead we had the 13 degrees of a rather rainy London to look forward to – apparently it has mostly been doing that since we left :-)

It was lovely to see Maggie and Ian at the airport! And I had cheese! And sloe gin! Hmm, maybe I can get used to the cold again, after all…

The Road to Mandalay

Day 335, Wed 8 Jan

Mandalay - view of the old Palace wallA rather rubbish, but free, breakfast at the hotel, and off in the taxi for our flight to Mandalay. Unusually, despite our early arrival, the plane was actually on time, and rather posh – a Middle Eastern airline – and we had exactly enough time to watch Despicable Me 2, hooray!

As our hotel was a mere 2 blocks from the drop-off point from the free Air Asia shuttle, we managed to check in and get out in time to walk the – rather longer than anticipated – road to Mandalay Hill for a rather lovely sunset.

Yes, what looked like a short walk was a rather long trek… beautiful sunset & view from the top through. There are beautiful, huge moated city walls with nothing inside them but an army camp & rather crap concrete replicated of the palace… courtesy of the American air force again!

Inwa - Bagaya Monastery (2)Day 336, Thurs 9 Jan

Booked a taxi with the obliging Mr Winn to drive us around Sagaing Hill, Amarapura & Inwa today – U Beins bridge at sunset and the horse and wagon drive to the teak monastery in Inwa were especially fabulous – it is good to know that there are still temples that wow us :-)

U Bein's Bridge (2)Then off to a very nice dinner at Super 81, and an absolutely terrible Moustache Brothers show. It WAS educational, I definitely do not know enough about the human rights violations in Burma, and one of the brothers, Par Par Lay, had been arrested and then passed away in jail as a result of lead in the prison water supply, but I sadly cannot say anything positive about the performance :-(

 

 

Sagaing Hill (1)Great day – saw lots of beautiful sights – in particular U Bein’s bridge & Sagaing hill. T loved trundling around Inwa in the back of a horse & cart! The teak monastery was absolutely beautiful & you could feel the history emanating off of it.

U Bein's Bridge (16)I was glad to support the Moustache Brothers but it’s just a tourist con now… you’d see a better performance in a kindergarten show.  Donate the ticket price to Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.

 

 

Day 337, Fri 10 Jan

We decided to visit the sights in town today, the undisputed highlight of which was the stunning Golden Palace Monastery, made of wood and still with traces of the gilding that previously covered the entire building inside; the carvings were phenomenal. And we finally managed to take a Mandalay - Shwe Nandaw Kyaung (11)trishaw – it was bloody slow and we felt so sorry for the driver that we gave him extra money anyway , but it was both fun AND a new way of travelling :-).

Got back around 4 and did some last minute shopping for the train journey to Thazi at 5pm tonight, and next train at 5am to Lake Inle tomorrow – yuck, yuck, yuck.

The Golden palace… probably the 9th wonder of the world – absolutely beautiful. The history, carving, guilding… all added up to a wonderful building. The fact that this used to be King Mindon’s palace that was originally in Inwa, then taken down & re-assembled – once in the moated city, & then moved again when he died, to its current location – is itself quite impressive. It makes you wonder what the city would have looked like. Unfortunately I think the Brits may have been involved in the looting of the city during the days of the Empire before it was finally destroyed in WWii.Mandalay by trishaw (2)

Great old train to Thazi – the springs were so shot that we basically bounced our way there… :-)

Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma) – Jan ’14

Day 338, Sat 11 Jan

Up at 3:30, when we were delighted to find, that despite paying extra for a room with bathroom, there was no water; not the best start. The train was not too bad, however, obviously the seat springs went some time ago, but there was some pretty scenery and I had a great (guilty pleasure) book!

P1530049Arrived in Yaungshwe at 3pm and Keir immediately snared a taxi driver to take us to our guesthouse in Nyaung Shwe, about 30 minutes away. Frankly I was eager to eat something healthy, get some coffee and some juice, after rather disgustingly eating an entire box of Pringles on the train. Unfortunately the combined issues of not being able to find Google translate for Burmese, and meat generally featuring in most local cuisine, meant that I was not ready to risk whatever they were selling at the train stations en route…

We wandered, we ate, and we sampled the local wine, which was actually not bad; we may have to nip to the local winery tomorrow…

P1530254No water; no the best start to the day at 0330! My, how T was happy!

Great rickety train ride through the country.  Beautiful scenery, although the seats are a bit threadbare, with switchbacks up the mountain side before a long slow descent down to Nyaung Shwe… about 10 hrs in all… glad to get off & head for some food in the end.

Day 339, Sun 12 Jan

P1530002Rented bikes today and somehow managed to cycle around 26km! Fortunately it is pretty flat, and, I am relieved to note, the traffic here is not nearly as bad as that in Vietnam! We took a little boat across from the Hupin hotel (some nice views) and decided we had better stop for immediate refreshments when we spotted a sign for the Inle Heart View – cocktails & cooking lessons – halfway along the west-side. And what a gem this little place was, we both had lovely cocktails, free Jasmine tea and pickled green tea with deep-fried tofu, while admiring the stunning views of the lake and the sugar cane fields waving in the breeze. Nice.

P1530105Of course, we also had to stop for a wine tasting about 15 minutes later when we saw the Red Mountain vineyard, lucky we had taken some ballast on board! Not a bad sunset there either, though we hurried home pretty sharpish so as not to have to cycle in the dark; my night vision is not the best…

Dinner at Sin Yaw tonight, another Trip Advisor recommendation – great fish curry, and some wonderful ginger & mint tea!

Beautiful cycle around the lake through the countryside. The highlight was the end though; first ‘Inle heart Hotel’ had great views & lovely cocktails, then the vineyard capped it with better views & a wine tasting menu… we wobbled home!

Day 340, Mon 13 Jan

P1530057We decided to rent a boat for a trip around the lake and various villages today, $20 for 2 of us for 10 hours; not bad!

It was absolutely freezing on the lake at 7:45, but luckily our boatman had provided blankets and we sat in our little wooden chairs watching the local people boat around produce, go fishing, and leg row their boats – something to see there!

P1530147After a disappointingly fruitless search for sweet bamboo sticky rice at the market, we saw Blacksmiths, silk weavers, boat builders, silversmiths and umbrella makers – while it was very interesting to see people actually making things, even I started to get a bit shopped out after a while… the products looked good, but really $15, for a bamboo lacquered box that I could buy back home for less? My shopping will have to wait for another day!

P1530335No jumping cats at the famed monastery, sadly, they seemed more like jumpy cats to me, but perhaps having hundreds of tourists tramping around your home ground on a daily basis, is not so relaxing for them. (they sat on my lap quite happily… :-) )

P1530413We then motored out to the middle of the lake for a beautiful sunset and headed home for a pre-prandial shower

Lovely day motoring around the lake; the usual touristy stops to try & sell us something but it was interesting seeing blacksmithing, silver-smithing, weaving & boat building being done in a very medieval way… real artistry.  The lake was lovely, particularly as the light changed through-out the day… sunset was glorious across the lake & what a great value trip.

Lake Inle, Myanmar – Jan ’14

Day 341, Tue 14 Jan

Bagan temples (59)Caught the flight from ‘He Ho’ airport (what a name!) near lake Inle to Bagan.

By the time we’d got there & checked in, just time to head off to dinner; at one of the restaurants that T had researched of course! V nice & cocktails after at another bar… we wobbled home!

Got to Bagan, bought our train tickets to Yangon for a couple of days time and went off to try the highly recommended Weather Spoons (no relation to the chain), not bad, I had a fantastic ginger salad – this may be a new favourite :-)

Day 342, Wed 15 Jan

Bagan - electric bikeRented an electric bike (eBike) today & headed off into the plains. All was going well, with a few Temples & stupas under our belt, when T got a puncture! :-(

What was interesting was that she didn’t know how long she’d had it for… & the tyre was completely flat!

By the time they came & sorted the bike out we’d hung around for an hour or so. Still, off we headed again & had a wonderful afternoon visiting ruined temple after temple.  We selected one for sunset; up a vertical climb… my how I loved it! Whilst I clung, & I do mean clung, to the temple T was Bagan Temples (38)harassed by lots of little kids trying to sell us stuff.  The romantic sunset we’d envisaged whilst drinking a bottle of wine remained a thought as the bottle stayed firmly in the rucksack & we fled back down the vertical face of the temple.  Well, when I say fled, for that read gingerly picked my way back down like an old woman!

 

The drive back at dusk was interesting with T now doing the impression of an old woman as she drove so slowly that cyclists were overtaking us!

Bagan - Iza Gawna Pagoda (1)Oh, how easy it is for Keir to take the piss out of me, Lets bear in mind that I cannot drive and have never experienced a puncture, I thought it was the sand when I nearly crashed into a passing bus… didn’t figure the bike tyre was flat! However, I can say that climbing up a temple was not a major achievement for me, in fact I also climbed up the bamboo scaffolding to another temple that Keir was too chicken to try :-)

And I want to add that my journey back was partially in the dark (my night vision is deplorable) and I had been clicked by a stupid driver who had nearly run me off the road. Of course when we were overtaken by a couple of pedal cyclists, I did have to concede that I may not have been going at optimum velocity…

 

Day 343, Thu 16 Jan

Bagan temples (63)Grabbed another eBike for the day – this time just the one with T on the back. Bit more unsteady with the extra weight (bum, did I just say that; she’ll kill me!) if you know what I mean… when we hit sand T took the easy option & walked.  But a lovely day visiting the ruins between Nyaung U & Old Bagan. Stunning views, ruins & enough time for food & a shower before hopping on the overnight sleeper train to Yangon.

Bagan temples (16)T had hung onto the bottle of vino we had left over from Bagan & we happily consumed this as the countryside bounced by & the sun majestically set… fantastic!

Amazingly there are still a few temples to see – I think they said almost 4,000! I rode on the back of Keir’s back today, time being of the essence ;), and my, was I uncomfortable – no springs on the back and a very low seat. I could barely move when we took the bike back, fortunately a restorative G&T and some nice dinner sorted me out enough to get the train!

The train was interesting. First Class in about 1930 and not very well maintained, but we had our own mini-carriage with a private, though still not very pleasant smelling, loo, drank our slightly warm white wine and bounced along like Zebedee – I was feeling slightly sick, but the views and the sunset were cool.

Bagan, Myanmar – Jan ’14

Day 344, Fri 17 Jan

Yangon - Shwedagon Paya (16)Awoke bumping along through beautiful Burmese countryside – almost felt like days of the Raj looking out over neat fields segregated by rows of palm trees (not sure if these are indigenous or imported in days of the Empire…

Left T sleeping whilst I opened up the sliding window & let the day in… there really is nothing better than just trundling along on a rickety train whilst watching the world go by with a good book in your hand… apart from having a G&T in the other!

Dumped the gear off at our Hostel – Aung Si – & headed out to see the No.1 sight of Yangon (Rangoon in old money!) – Shwedagon Paya. What a disappointment that was… felt like a Myanmar version of Disney up there.  There was no view at sunset – just nice reflected light on the giant stupa.  If I was to recommend anything I’d say photograph it at a distance in the daylight & then again at night-time when it’s lit up… don’t bother getting all up close & personal – it’s not worth it.  The same can’t be said of Chaukhtatgyi Paya – a giant concrete reclining Buddha. It was so disappointing that we didn’t even bother with the other concrete monstrosity of Ngahtatgyi Paya.

Still, a nice, cheap meal on the way home followed by some expensive alcoholic drinks… where T wouldn’t let me sit anywhere near the TV screen… a reply of the Gooners v Aston Villa was on… harsh I say! L

Epic 17 hour journey over, we finally arrived in Yangon for some much needed breakfast and a wander to the few sights we had listed for Yangon. Shwedagon Pagoda was nice enough, but we really had seen it all before, and as Keir said, the ‘fabulous’ sunset there seemed indded to be fable…

Day 345, Sat 18 Jan

A gentle day meandering around Yangon looking at markets (my what fun!) & Stupas (Sule & Botataung Paya). The last two weren’t exactly that impressive. Got to say that we could have given Yangon a miss; not very historic & not a lot going for it.

Late flight to Kuala Lumpur – country number 32!

Markets? I don’t remember that…

Yangon, Myanmar – Jan ’14

Hué and Cry

Day 326, Mon 30th Dec

P1510685It turns out the train ticket office is mere metres away from our hostel, so we sorted all of our Vietnamese train tickets and then took an afternoon tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, where the Viet Cong hid out, and struck from, during the war. The (enlarged) tunnels were interesting to see, but the tour was dull and formulaic – Keir said it would have been better to get the old men who had been involved to take the tours – and I am sure their stories would have made the place come alive. The video afterwards kept referring to ‘hero American killers’ – so no toning it down there! I am not sure if there were any of our US brethren present, if so, they kept it to themselves…

The tunnels were interesting, if only in the ingenuity of fellow man & woman in how to maim & kill each other using simple tools. Crawling around the tunnels, which had been enlarged for westerners, was enlightening; made me think that the Yanks who used to volunteer to go down them to search out VC were even braver than I thought.

It was, not surprisingly, very one sided propaganda; you wouldn’t have thought that the Yanks were fighting alongside southern Vietnamese troops.  Just very sad all the loss….

Day 327, Tue 31st Dec

Up at the crack of dawn for our train to Phan Thiet, nearly disastrous as we had to leave appallingly early and had been locked in by the hostel owner – fortunately our attempt to escape woke said owner who let us out – hooray! Then in a Vinasol taxi – which I think had an ok meter – to the station and on the train to meet Efrain and Dina again!

I enjoyed some very enlightening conversations with a couple of old men on the train about Ho Chi Minh, freedom of speech and Vietnam’s special brand of communism while Keir slept, who knew that a train ride could be so educational! Reached Mui Ne at about 11:30, both knackered and hungry and not really ready to engage in the kite surfing that Efrain had planned; I had to have a nap in our lovely room instead:-).

Cocktails on the balcony with Efra and Dina, then a quick shower and off for some great seafood; with unexpected, and not so great, durian sauce on the side – at least I have tried it now – very weird flavour, very, very bad smell! And then the Dragon bar (I think) with Dina’s cousin and her boyfriend for some GREAT mango daiquiris and some dancing to ABBA with lots of Russians – and not just the ones we had brought with us :-)

Unfortunately I was still shattered, plus worse for wear after the evening’s wine + rum combination, and started to fall asleep around 2:30. Keir gallantly took me home. Oh dear…

The train to Phan Thiet was meant to be along a beautiful stretch of coast & countryside… so beautiful that I slept most of the way- Doh!

Fantastic to meet up with Efrain & Dina, plus her cousin & boyfriend. Had a nice evening (although in a very Russian manner) before I had to escort the young Miss T home from too many cocktails… about 2 cocktails I think it was! How the mighty have fallen! :-)

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam – Jan ’14

Day 328, Wed 1 Jan

Ah, the glories of having to get up and travel on New Year’s Day. Luckily the hangover is not too bad, I am just tired… a rather expensive triple taxi ride, train and plane later, we got to Hoi An around 9pm – I am not convinced the Mailinh taxi’s are ok either, we shared the cab with a German couple that we happened to meet at the airport and paid 260,000 dong for half the fare, yet the trip back was only 280k for the two of us! Is every taxi driver in Vietnam a crook?

Yes, very dodgy taxis but just glad to get there… this part of the trip was planned as a bit of a rollercoaster – 4 places in about 8 days!

Day 329, Thurs 2 Jan

Hoi An (1)     Hoi An is a lovely little town and I really wish we had longer here, the sights, on the other hand, are not that inspiring. Perhaps if we had not been to China they would have been great, but all of the houses and temples were so tiny that there was not so much to look at, the charm was in the wandering around.

Hoi An (24)We bumped into the nice German couple from last night’s taxi – Kerstin & Elmer – lucky, as we had not quite gotten to swap details – and went out to dinner at The Little Menu Restaurant. It was our third choice, but the green tea crème brûlée was worth a visit alone. On the down side, they clearly eat very early here; we were last in the restaurant and then managed to be last in our post-prandial bar too :-)

My Son (25)Lot’s of beautiful old houses converted gracefully into shops, restaurants or bars… T was very much at home. The river meanders slowly by so we had drinks & watched it go by, browsed & found a bookshop for T to swap some books. Luckily met up with Kerstin & Elmer, & T’s choice of restaurant was again spot on.

Managed to get a morning trip in to My Son – the old Cham capital. Some beautiful carvings but not a lot left after American bombing in the war; in hindsight we’d have probably given this a miss.

 

Hoi An, Vietnam – Jan ’14

 

Day 330, Fri 3 Jan

Hue - The Citadel (32)    …and we are off again, this time to Hué. Honestly, every time I let Keir plan a country we seem to go even faster than usual!

Our hotel here was incredible, $8.99 a night for a double room with bathroom and the most phenomenal service I can remember. We were met at the train station, put into a pre-paid cab, greeted by the manager at the start of the alley in which the hotel is situated, and our bags were whisked to our room while we were given complimentary fruit and a welcome drink. When we reached our room, we had rose petals on our bed. What a find!

Hue - Thien Mu Pagoda (1)Yes, as T said – hotel was a little faded but 5 star service – absolutely fabulous! Managed to get out & about & see the Citadel & what’s left of the ancient moated city & palaces of the Ngung Emperors – the Vietnam war destroyed a lot of it unfortunately.

Day 331, Sat 4 Jan

One day in Hué, and the train tonight, so we decided we would visit the Pagoda & the Citadel by cyclo – a sort of one person sized chair, into which two people can squeeze, with a cyclist at the back – in the morning followed by Hue - Tomb of Khai Dinh (20)a tour of the Royal tombs in the afternoon. A slight ‘mistake’ by the tour agency meant our guide showed up half an hour early while we were eating and in the ensuing attempt to make it right we were each popped on to the back of a moto taxi and whizzed out to join the tour – a result as we missed the dull bus journey and had the rather more ‘exhilarating’ motorbike ride instead. Fab!

The tombs were really interesting, completely different architecturally and fascinating to visit, Hue - Tomb of Minh Mang (1)we could have done with a little longer at the last, and best (for us, anyway) tomb, Khai Dinh, but were unexpectedly switched to a different tour involving a boat trip home – not actually that great due to the miserable weather, but I had actually fancied this trip, just

Hue - Tomb of Tu Duc (12)

Pot calling kettle…

baulked at the cost. The upshot was that we got the best of both worlds for the lowest tour price available – result. All this and then we caught an overnight train to Hanoi :-)

A very productive day… before we then got on another night train. :-(

Hue, Vietnam – Jan ’14

Day 332, Sun 5 Jan

Woke up in Hanoi after an epic sleep and a pleasant chat with Brett (Australian) & Robi (French), we seem to do pretty well with our train cabin sharers! The traffic here seems even worse than Saigon, at least in the old quarter – it is virtually impossible to cross the road without serious life risk and one can rarely walk on the pavement due to it being used as a moto parking zone; insanity…

Hanoi - One Pillar Pagoda (2)After a lovely breakfast in the Ladybird restaurant we went for an afternoon constitutional to check out some of the 36 streets, each of which houses a particular trade. Then off to the water puppet show – odd, but good, I especially liked the fire-breathing dragons swimming around the stage – and dinner.

Walking the streets was fun; T is not that aware of the traffic around her… so had some near misses! Loved the fact that each street had a different trade – particularly liked watching the ironmongers/ blacksmiths & the guys making ‘tin’ boxes & the like – as per the cabinets you find in bathrooms. The water-puppet show was cool… the water pool was the stage & all the puppets appeared out from it with the puppeteers behind a curtain – they even had fire-breathing dragons – Gerry Anderson eat your heart out!

One rant – every m*ther-f*cker around me Hanoi - Water Puppets (3)was taking pictures – if you weren’t blinded by flashes then all you could see were the screens of phones & cameras held up in the air to get a better angle for the video.  If you did this in London you’d be thrown out… quite rightly! Where’s my sawn-off when I need it!

Day 333, Mon 6 Jan

Well, today was going to be Halong Bay day, but as the weather reports are inconsistent and it would involve an 8 hour return trip for 4 hours on a boat in Hanoi - Temple of Literature (10)possible rain, we decided to bin it and see some more sights instead – the highlight of which was the 11th century Temple of Literature – somehow Keir’s usually unfailing sense of direction does not work in Hanoi, so we also spent much of the day walking in the wrong direction…

We also had some very bad news this evening, when Keir’s grandfather, Tom, passed away.

The temple was a highlight – it’s actually a university (established in 10 something – before the battle of Hastings!) where the Vietnamese would come to do their final administrative & poetry exams.  The emperor initially actually presided over the final exams – very impressive!  So when Harold was getting one in the eye & William was busy subjugating the Saxons, destroying their history & building his castles, the Vietnamese were passing exams in poetry & the like!

Hanoi - Temple of Literature (7)The day finished badly with the news of my Grandfather; he’s been poorly for a while but been struggling on. It’s hard not to be there with the rest of my family to support them & I seem never to be in the right place when any of my grandparents have passed away….

Hanoi, Vietnam – Jan ’14

Day 334, Tues 7 Jan

Despite ambitious plans to the contrary, we managed to merely to check out and have breakfast before having to catch the airport shuttle for our flight back to Bangkok. Well, I guess I did start reviewing my CV at least, just didn’t get very far with it…

Sadly, the hotel I had chosen in Bangkok – due to the need to take another flight from a different airport tomorrow – was in the middle of nowhere, thus leaving me with no chance to go to the night market (one of the better ones) and little option but to have dinner in the local ladyboy bar – it was ok, but flouncing and hair tossing featured more heavily than table service; at least the sort we were after :-)

Not a lot to say – hotel was nice but in a crap part of town.

Holiday in Cambodia

Komplung Pluk Village on Lake Tonle (59)Day 321, Wed 25th Dec

Woke up to pressie’s on Xmas morning – I got a new leather passport holder from T & she seemed to like the assorted scarves & lights I bought her… relief!!!

Hired a Moto-remorque for the afternoon & headed down to see the stilt villages on lake Tonlé – houses that are on stilts up to 20’ in the air in the dry season, but at water level in the wet season!Komplung Pluk Village on Lake Tonle (66)

Beautiful day chugging about the backwaters in a variety of boats & seeing a bit of rural Cambodia. Great dinner & a few sherbets… only downside for T was that we missed the nightmarket… shame! :-)

Komplung Pluk Village on Lake Tonle (41)My first Christmas day in the sun! Pressies in bed, then off to Kamplong Pluk, a stilt village on lake Tonlé Sap, with a flooded forest to boot – really beautiful, Keir got to drive the boat for a while and I tried water snake for the first, and possibly last, time; it wasn’t really bad, just excessively chewy, and I didn’t think snakes had bones…. I hope the boatman wasn’t lying to me…

We tried some local food at the Khmer kitchen and I attempted a look around the night market, almost an impossibility with a recalcitrant Keir in tow, I think he managed a whole 15 minutes before I had to give in and agree to save it for Dina’s arrival…

Angkor Wat (72)Day 322, Thu 26th Dec

Dina & Efrain arrived & we met them with a Moto-remorque & headed off to see all the temples around Angkor Wat – Angkor Thom, Bayon, Baphuon temple,Terrace of the Elephants & Terrace of the Leper King, Ta Prohm & then finally Angkor Wat for sunset. Slightly disappointed that we didn’t make it to the top of Angkor Wat – they shut the stairs just as we arrived, but we saw sunset in the lake outside over the gatehouse.

Angkor Wat (110)Great to see Efrain and Dina again, can’t believe they are the only people we have managed to catch up with during our grand tour; we were close to meeting Rob a couple of times, but that was it. I guess with a trip schedule as aggressive as ours it may not be so fun for a holiday :).

Luckily the four of us could fit into our rented tuktuk, so off we drove off to Angkor Wat, absolutely gorgeous! I took too many photos again…

Siem Reap at Night (17)

Managed to score a last minute table at the Haven Training restaurant for dinner – great food, highly recommended, but you clearly should book more than a day in advance – and then off to a bar for an unnecessary Sambuca or two; our poor travelling companions looked so tired too!

Day 323, Fri 27th Dec

Final day in Siem Reap – another day with a Moto-remorque & we all headed off to Banteay Kdel temple, Sra Srang, Banteay Srei, Kbal Spean (River of Lingas) & back to see Ta Som, Neak Poan, Preah Khan & finally up Phnom Bakheng to see sunset over Angkor from a different perspective.

River of Lingas (7)Feeling distinctly rough today, I initially thought this was merely a hangover, but it seems that relaxing my rule about not eating the lettuce may have been a mistake; my stomach is distinctly unwell :(.

We took our tuktuk to the out of town sights today (definitely worthwhile, and there is a lovely waterfall at the River of Lingas), but failed once again to make the tower at Angkor Wat; I guess it was just not to be…

Angkor Wat (97)Another quick dinner in Khmer Kitchen with Efrain and Dina, another missed night market opportunity :-( – and we were off on our Giant Ibis bed bus to Phnom Penh, we shall meet our friends again in Vietnam. The bed bus was pretty good – double beds, so that could go very wrong or very right if you were travelling alone! – and after reading reviews of the other bus companies online, I am glad we paid the extra!

Siem Reap, Cambodia – Dec ’13

Day 324, Sat 28th Dec

Phnom Penh - Killing Fields (5)Arrived at 0530 in the morning in Phnom Penh… this must be the first time we’ve ever wanted the bus ride to last longer… we we’re both happily asleep next to each other in a bed-like arrangement. Moto-remorque to the hotel &, what do you know, they have a room already available – so back to sleep – Hurrah & Huzzah!!

Went to see the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek – very sobering what humanity can do to itself in the cause of doctrine/ religion… but in all intents and purposes, probably greed for power & money.  Only 2/3 of the mass graves have been opened & they’ve already yielded nearly 10,000 skeletons… over only a 4 year period in power the Khmer Rouge killed nearly 4 million people out of a total population of only 8 million.  What I didn’t realise was that this particular site is only 1 of hundreds of mass burial/ execution sites al around the country.

Spent the afternoon seeing the slightly more upbeat sites of the Grand Palace (complete with silver tiled floor, gold & diamond Buddha plus an emerald Buddha) & the Wat Phnom.  Both were slightly disappointing – the former as most of the buildings were constructed in the 20th century out of concrete (including lot of the statues/ castings), & the latter as there wasn’t much of a view up there, nor the promised minkeys (from T’s perspective!).

Phnom Penh - Wat Phnom (7)Oh, how I love it when hotels let you check in early :-). Blissful extra nap, then a rather depressing, but moving, trip to the killing fields. Everyone is given an audioguide as they go in, and it is the individual stories, that you can choose to listen to, which are most affecting. Fortunately it also means that there are no noisy tours tramping all over the sites.

Day 325, Sun 29th Dec

Sunset over Phnom Penh

Sunset over Phnom Penh

Took the 2pm bus to Saigon today – and that is what most of the locals prefer to call Ho Chi Minh City, despite what the ruling party might say – we were warned of attempts to steal our stuff, mislead us, rigged taxi meters, and the like; I was slightly paranoid, but mercifully our hostel turned out to be 2 blocks from the bus station and no dodgy taxis were needed.

Settled in, ate, and then took the Lonely Planet walking tour – the city is bigger than I thought, so we sort of missed some of the sights… never mind, we have probably seen enough Buddhas, and neither of us really fancied a harrowing trip to the war museum after yesterday.

Another bus trip, another city. A nice walk around town, although twilight overtook us.  For a communist city this town has every western brand I’ve seen & oceans of motorbikes & scooters… you just walk across the roads & the part around you… felt very biblical!

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Dec ’13

 

Me love you Lao Lao!

Day 310, Sat 14th Dec

Another day, another border crossing. Arrived in Vientiane & wandered around for the day – nothing particularly to write home about,  The hostel tried to rip us off on the price of the overnight bus ticket to Luang Prabang, but T soon put them right on that! :)

Of course the train breakfast was not up to much, but at least it was food :). The border was pretty straightforward after we managed to knock the tuk tuk driver down by 75% (then realising we only had the equivalent of a £20 note to pay him, could have been embarrassing if a chap we had agreed to include in our vehicle had not lent us 50 Baht.

More negotiation for the minivan to Vientiane ensued – I am going to have to thank the occasionally useless Lonely Planet for telling me how much this should cost – whoever wrote that chapter did a good job.

And finally… the bus ticket. The hostel was great, Siholme Backpackers, the fact that they add 50% onto the price of the bus ticket is not. Fortunately the man agreed to return my money, rather interestingly telling me that if I had seen the ticket cheaper it was probably not the VIP sleeping bus and that I was paying 220k instead of 170k because we could trust him. A possible precursor of the fabled Vietnamese liberality with the truth… we shall see.

Vientiane, Laos

Day 311, Sun 15th Dec

A day sightseeing & starting to update my CV (it’s almost that time to look for a job) & then the overnight bus to Luang Prabang. This was a new one for us in that the seats/ beds were in 3 rows of bunk beds running from front to back down the length of the bus.  A little bit uncomfortable, but better than normal seats. T really wanted a top bunk, but had to settle for the lower – maybe next time.

Vientiane (64)After a wonderful breakfast at Le Croissant D’or (I think), where I was forced to suspend my non-wheat diet in favour of an almond croissant, we walked around to see the few remaining sights that Vientiane has to offer. Keir did his CV and I went to the lovely Wat Sisaket, no photos inside unfortunately, but it was full of niches with small Buddhas in each, very old, very beautiful..

I was VERY excited about the Mobilhome bus, we had been reading some Vientiane (74)hilarious reports of the bed bus, but this was actually very good – there was a little well for my feet, which they unfortunately had to share with my bag, but a good reclining position and a blanket. We had to remove our shoes as we got onto the bus, but luckily I had the forethought to keep my flip flops handy for the loo – one does not really want to enter any toilet with bare feet, especially a communal one – that said, it was one of the better bus toilets I have experienced, even when the bus driver decided to turn the lights and water off while I was in there…

Day 312, Mon 16th Dec

Wat Souvannapoumaram (7)Arrived 2 hours late due to truck having had an accident on the road here, but Luang Prabang looks nice. Lots of tropical plants, very green & French colonial architecture.  More importantly from T’s perspective – French inspired cooking!

Hostel is nice & the town feels very chilled.

Nice hostel with unbelievably friendly Vietnamese staff, it was too early for check in so we had some breakfast, and went for a walk to see a wat or two (like we were not burnt out after all those temple visits in Thailand!, then sorted some trips for tomorrow – including some last minute ziplining with Green Discovery – they suddenly CAN do the 20th, it is going to be a bit of a pain to get to Pakse in time, but we can do it!Wat Xiengthongratsavoravihanh (4)

LP is bloody freezing compared to everywhere else for the last 6 weeks, and unfortunately our hotel aircon only does cold L. At least I managed to score a blanket to augment the large towel bedcover (very weird, same in Pakse!), and the shower is super hot…

Dinner at a restaurant called Lao Lao, where we tried Laotian Lap (this is food, before the questions start coming in), and I tried making another Coxtail with Lao Lao whiskey. It was good. Very good :)

Day 313, Tue 17th Dec

Kuang Si Waterfall (19)We headed off on two half day trips – the first one up river to see the caves of Pak Ou stacked with Buddhas.  The boat trip was nicer than the destination to be honest. The afternoon trip was to the waterfalls at Kuang Si – this was beautiful.  The dissolved limestone in the water has coated everything like stalagmites/ stalactites so you get these beautiful smalls pools with petrified falls & trees in beautiful shades of aquamarine/ turquoise. We could have stayed there for hours.  A bit too cold for bathing but T had a wade.

The boat trip to Pak Ou was nice, but a little chilly – perhaps we should have gone for the shielded seats at the back! The cave was interesting, but really only for 20 minutes max, so rather a long journey for a short visit… perhaps a trip for a warm day! On the other hand Kuang Si was spectacular, even if we did wimp out of the swimming part! It was a little like Semuc Champey, just without the heat…and with a Moon Bear sanctuary near the entrance!Moon Bear Sanctuary at Kuangsi Falls (3)

Got back and managed to score a last minute table at Tamarind; the tasting plate and the Ko Lap (fish version) were phenomenal, as was the Lao Lao and Tamarind cocktail, very reasonable prices too. I cannot recommend this place too highly; go.

Day 314, Wed 18th Dec

A final day sight-seeing & chilling before the horrendous journey to Pakse for our zipline/ treetop adventure. This time on the overnight ‘bunk-bed’ bus T got a top bunk – it was like being next to a child… she was soooo excited!

Keir decided he needed to do admin today, so I was left to wander around by myself – trying desperately to keep out of the shade for the sake of warmth – I have given into the temptation of reading Twilight; we are going to have at least 16 hours of travelling and I am not sure the Spanish Elmore Leonard I am reading is sufficiently easy fodder for a journey of that magnitude.

Got the bus, same one as before, but TOP Bunk; hooray!

Luang Prabang, Laos

Day 315, Thu 19th Dec

So, the overnight bus was followed by a tuk tuk to the Southern bus terminal where we caught the 0715 bus towards Savanankhet.  We then swopped from that 9 hrs later to another bus going to Pakse.  We finally arrived there at 9:30 at night, dropped our stuff off after a bit of wandering around in the dark & caught the Indian just as they were shutting – perfect, a curry & beer before bedtime :)

It seems there is no VIP day time bus to Pakse, and no express bus running today. Damn. The ticket office told us the bus would arrive at 9 or 10pm and we seem to have little choice – the Savannakhet changeover is the quick way, maybe 8:30pm, if we are lucky L – on the plus side, I was actually really enjoying Twilight, I suspect this series may become a guilty pleasure…

The hotel we are staying in looked far from promising, a lobby full of motorcycles and a monosyllabic receptionist, but the room was actually very nice; a pleasant surprise!

Day 316, Fri 20th Dec

T’s like an over-excited child – we’re off ziplining!

Trekked through the forest to the edge of a huge escarpment & then had a simple but wonderful lunch out in the clearing; the beef jerky was excellently spiced.

Then we were flying through the air past trees & waterfalls – exhilarating, if not slightly scary!

All very safe, but you get that moment of uncertainty when you launch yourself off the edge of the platform out onto the zipline… then the adrenaline hits you & you’re off!

We got down to the base camp to be rewarded by the magnificent sight of the Kamet waterfalls towering over us – absolutely beautiful with the sunset.  Aron will be jealous to hear that we reprised our sunset/ moonlight shower routine from Angel falls, this time with a Canadian (Peter)!

Then we had to zipline to our treetop cabins before lights out when the generator shut down!

Green Discovery Ziplining  Up early and in a frantic rush to get to the Green Discovery office for 8:30 with no breakfast, luckily we had a bit of time at the office (well Keir did), while I hared around trying to find somewhere to make us a takeaway omelette…

Then off to the forest! A light hike to the camp, safety briefing from our guide, Hot, and then off we went. Fantastic! We started on some short lines to get us accustomed to braking with a stick and progressed to longer lines. It was really good fun, and we were surprisingly tired and hungry by the time we got back for dinner. Had a natural waterfall shower – perhaps not have been the best idea as I ended up with soaking wet hair & towel – but how often do you get an opportunity like that?Kamet Falls

Unfortunately the promised ‘romantic’ treehouse for 2 did not materialise, only 2 small cabins left and 3 couples. We let the honeymooners take one and cut the cards for the other, we lost. Never mind, they are individual beds with one person sleeping bags anyway :)

Day 317, Sat 21st Dec

Day 2 in the camp started with us ziplining out of our treehouse for breakfast. We then did ever increasing ziplines across chasms until we did a 450m one… it went on for over a minute – v cool. Our only note of concern was when our Russian colleague, Vlad, suddenly fainted on a tree-top platform 60’ up in the air… scary. Fortunately he was karabinered on & one of the others caught him as he fell.

Lunch under the Kamet falls with minkeys running across the rocks at the top then time to start heading back.

Green Discovery ZipliningWe hiked back up the side of the waterfall & finished the final 100m via the ‘Via Ferrata’ – a vertical & horizontal climb. I quelled my internal wailing & gnashing of teeth – heights & I are not the happiest of bed fellows – & manfully stepped up ahead of T to show her how it was done. I’d like to say that I shimmied up there like a rat up a drainpipe, but in truth I think it was more sloth-like – slow & measured!

Up early for breakfast and more ziplining, first one was from our treehouse :)

Poor Vlad was not feeling well, I secured him some hot water with ginger and an immodium, but this Tracified medicine was clearly ineffective when he fainted after one of the long ziplines – he had not been able to brake very well – like me in fact – and nearly careered into a tree (luckily Hot and the boys were there to catch us!), this was clearly too much for his depleted state; poor guy had to be zipped and walked back to the huts for some recovery time.

We, meanwhile, zipped along merrily, did a couple of weird steel cable like bridges, some light hiking, lunch and then picked up Vlad (now feeling a bit better, for the rock climbing – which I actually really enjoyed; unlike Keir, I fear…The Via Ferrata

Back to Pakse for a last Indian at Nazim’s, great food, but could be massively improved by offering alcohol other than beer (another booze- free evening for me – I seem to be practically tee-total now, and it is not by choice…). We stayed at the Nang Noi this time, not quite as nice a room as the Lankham, but since it is a third of the price, does decent breakfast, and Bounthong, the owner, is extremely helpful – read, the opposite of surly and non-communicative – it was a great find!

Pakse & Green Discovery

Day 318, Sun 22nd Dec

Up early for the 3 hr troop down to Si Phan Dhon – 4,000 islands. Arrived at Don Khon slightly wary as we’d heard that often they try & rip you off by selling you a ticket including the ferry only to then try & charge you for it when you arrive. But amazingly we had no problems as we are dropped off 300 yds from our guesthouse. This turned out to be very nice & perfectly placed by the French bridge for getting around & G&T’s for sunset. :) Sunset from Don Khone

This was even more amazing as T had incomprehensibly booked the wrong guesthouse the night before as we sat & researched them together?!

There was even a dragon boat racing festival on the river.  A gentle meander round town after lunch followed by sundowners on the veranda – perfect.

P1500672We were glad to note that our slightly more expensive ticket to Don Khone really did include the ferry ride, thus actually making it a good option – all went amazingly smoothly and we bumped into the nice Austrian couple, Alime & Juergen, that we had met on our cooking course in Chang Mai :)

Keir finally cheered up about my mis-booking the guesthouse when he saw it was a good one. It is very chilled here, and very hot again, nice.

Day 319, Mon 23rd Dec

Hired bikes enabled us to get about the island, see some beautiful waterfalls, countryside & the backpacker intensive Dong Don. We had met some friends from Chiang Mai on the boat over so we had dinner with them – a perfect end to another chilled day.

P1500736Waterfalls were great, and an unexpected treat, we really just came here to see what it was like… We were expecting Don Det to be pretty backpackery and full of noisy youth, but it actually seemed nice – at least during the day time – I think we would have been as happy there as on Don Khone!

4000 Islands, Laos

Hotel Villa Um Theara, Siem Reap

Hotel Villa Um Theara, Siem Reap

Day 320, Tue 24th Dec

A day of traveling from 4,000 islands through the border, onto Kampong Chang & then onto Siem Reap.  We left at 0800 & it took over 17 hrs, involving a ferry, minibus, border crossing, 2 buses & a Moto-remorque (type of Tuk tuk).

Finally arrived in our hostel at 0130 on Xmas morning… :(

Another hideously long journey, but we were prepared as one of the ladies for our ziplining tour had kindly emailed to say just how long and draining it was… It really would have been nicer to fly, but we just can’t justify that on top of the Green Discovery trip! The boat to the bus station was smooth and quick enough, then we had an hour hanging around waiting for the bus, being asked to pay $30 for our $20 visas etc, followed by the mammoth journey… at least the changeover at Kampong was reasonably rapid and our hotel in Siem Reap is lovely!

(More than) One night in Bangkok

Day 305, Mon 9th Dec

P1500015

Royal Palace

We had a highly efficient day ourselves; picked up the new passport (15 mins), got the Thai visit transferred from the old passport (took hours!), left the passports at the Vietnamese embassy to get the visas & I got measured up for 3 new suits… lovely jubbly.

We even wasted a couple of hours in the evening trying to find a non-existent train station to get to the bridge over the River Kwai on the morrow.

Hooray, my passport is back! Nipped to collect it and then spent 3.5 hours starving in Thai immigration waiting for them to transfer my visa – not impressed by THAT ridiculous bureaucracy, the woman was actually trying to ring Chiang Mai immigration to find out which individual had signed my visa extension; FFS. It is not like the border official is going to mind! Fortunately the Vietnamese embassy trip was far more efficient, albeit rather expensive…

We celebrated with some extremely late lunch, then showered and went out for G&T :-)

Ayutthaya - Wat Maha That (1)

Tracey’s new friend – Wat Maha That

Day 306, Tue 10th Dec

A very cheap (60p!) and old-fashioned train ride to Ayutthaya today, where we met and then promptly failed to meet for dinner a nice Scottish/English couple, we felt bad, but believe me, not going back to the hotel to drop the bikes off before complete darkness was not a favourable option… me riding a bicycle in full daylight is hazardous enough; for everyone!

 

The ruins were beautiful; recommended. Our guesthouse – The Old Palace Resort  – is also surprisingly wonderful, and they have a cute puppy too. :-)

 

Day 307, Wed 11th Dec

Ayutthaya (267)Back midday to Bangkok after visiting the final wat on our itinery.  Picked up the passports from the Vietnamese embassy – only Burma (Mynamar) to go now!

A last cycle in Ayuttahaya, fortunately incident free, then back to Bangkok on the less interesting and slightly pricier bus.

 Ayutthaya, Thailand – Dec ’13

 

 

 

Day 308, Thu 12th Dec

Around Wat Arun (2)A bit of sight-seeing (reclining buddhas & towering Stupas) then back to pick up the passports with the Burmese visas- sorted… Laos, etc, here we come.

An evening spent at another night market – T was in 7th heaven again – & a quick scurry around to find some Xmas pressies for T. Not sure I’d want to see her face if she didn’t have something to open on Xmas morning… perish the thought!

 

P1490863Queued for an hour to hand in our passports at the Myanmar embassy – so busy in comparison to Vietnamese one – then off on the ferry to see Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn – beautiful), the giant golden Buddha and Royal Palace.

 

 

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

We didn’t quite make the latter, sadly, after a 15 minute queue to borrow additional clothing – my shawl was insufficient to cover my shoulders, it seems – then walked to the entrance to find we didn’t have enough money, oops! Didn’t realise this one was 10 times the price of all the other sites… Just made it back to pick up our Burmese visa before embassy closing time.

 

Bangkok Night Market

Bangkok Night Market

 

 

We decided (well, I did), that it would be fun to take the ferry to the Night Market for the evening – I have to buy Keir a Christmas present somewhere – it was really pretty with hundreds of cool arty stalls, I wanted to browse some more, if only one of the girls was here, Keir has a very low tolerance for markets… Great food options too, I had been craving an Indian for about a week!

 

Day 309, Fri 13th Dec

The suits are ready & look good. We packaged them up with some of our winter clothes & diving books & sent them back to the UK by the slow boat. Then an afternoon visiting the Golden Mount with views across the city – farewell Bangkok. We are now Laos bound on the overnight train to the Border by Vientiane. Fairly impressed with the sleeper – seats that convert to beds; just like the train on 28 hr train ride I did with Elaine through India.

2nd class sleeper Bangkok to Vientiane

2nd class sleeper Bangkok to Vientiane

Very bad tempered today as Keir made me wait until after 2pm for breakfast, and then we didn’t have time to go back to the Royal Palace :-(, I cheered up eventually, of course (Food + Tracey = Happines!).

Our second class sleeper train was great, better than the Chinese trains, especially the toilet – believe me, you never want to use the toilet on a Chinese train unless you are 100% desperate – we even had the option to order breakfast!

Bangkok, Thailand – Dec ’13

Sleeping with the Fishes…

Day 298, Mon 2nd Dec

P1490471Finally, a lie in… then a day walking up & down Phrae- Ae & Klong Dao beaches. Probably a 10k hike, but plenty of stops for lunch drinks & the obligatory cocktails… now this is what we should have been doing for the last 10 months!

A nice sunny day today, and we had grand plans to hire a scooter and drive around the island, but discovered we were actually knackered and would rather just wander instead; may as well make the most of it, the weather forecast is not looking so great.

We were almost stranded by the incoming tide after our beachside dinner; luckily only shallow water to wade across! it made it more of an adventure anyway :-)

DCIM100GOPRODay 299, Tue 3rd Dec

First day on the Advanced diving course – Navigation & Peak performance buoyancy.  Both went well, but then, if I’d have failed the underwater navigation that would’ve been slightly embarrassing as a former Naval officer & submariner to boot!

Water visibility wasn’t great & the fish life was just ok – the daily downpour arrived late afternoon; by then we were back on the boat. Don’t think that I’m ever going to be in love with this sport, but T seems to really like it… it’s better than sitting in the office. :-)

DCIM100GOPRO

 

Did surprisingly ok on my Navigation course with Blue Planet diving today; our diving instructor, Kev, managed to explain how the compass worked – I know it should be easy, but for some reason my spatial dyslexia usually throws my brain into confusion and prevents absorption of any directional information. Peak Performance Buoyancy was not quite so successful, despite my being able to comfortably hover in a cross-legged position whenever I did not need to demonstrate a skill, I seemed unable to optimise my position when Kev was actually watching…

DCIM100GOPRODay 300, Wed 4th Dec

Second day of diving today, a Deep Dive and a multi-level computer dive for our PADI Advanced, and then a fun dive with a rented Go Pro; I quite liked diving with gadgets. It was slightly alarming how similar it felt to be at 12m or 30m though, especially when 30m is considered the limit of a ‘safer’ deep dive. I thought I would panic, but actually it was good.

DCIM100GOPROIt is a shame about the visibility, although better than our last dive in Colombia, this is a place where it can get up to 40 meters; we were lucky to get 10… The camera was kind of interesting, but I hadn’t realised there would be no viewfinder, this made the experience a rather hit and miss affair… especially as I didn’t figure out what the button was doing until half way thought the first dive – lots of random videos and strange consecutive photos!

DCIM100GOPROI was looking forward to the deep dive as this feels like something far more advanced; in reality, it was a breeze & I liked using the dive computers (more gadgets!). I think we’ll have to get hold of a manual dive computer to get more proficient on it; not sure I want to just rely on a glorified watch (call me old fashioned!).

Photos did seem a bit hit & miss – Looks like we have about 1 in 20 that were any good!

Visibility hasn’t been fantastic, but enough to not miss out on anything. Had a nice fish meal (Keir eating fish! And not just fish fingers :-))in the local town Saladan; T got to choose her fish (fortunately already dead, not sure I am quite ready to give the death sentence to a live one) so was very happy.

DCIM100GOPRODay 301, Thurs 5th Dec

Final day & the one I’ve been looking forward to – the wreck dive (on the sunken car ferry – King Cruiser).

The dive was good, although, apart from some old toilets & a urinal there wasn’t a great amount to see.  The second dive on Anemone reef was good – lots of colours & things to see.  There was a fairly strong current so it was particularly educational in dealing with that… for T the navigational part was also fairly educational, if not successful!

The current on the wreck dive was a little scary, as was my inability to know where I was without a compass – luckily Kev lent me one, and my buddy has a sense of direction :-).

My plan to explore (and potentially do some light shopping) in town was scuppered by the rain, boo (Hurrah!).

Day 302, Fri 6th Dec

P1490530

Tracey & Candice

No sight of T’s passport at the British embassy in Bangkok… T’s starting to worry…

Had a chilled day, massage & then met our friends from Chiang Mai (Candice & Will) for dinner on the beach – absolutely lovely. :-)

Finally a massage! It was pretty good too. Dinner with our new American friends was also great, Candice and I decided to make up new cocktails using the fresh fruit shakes on offer :-)

Day 303, Sat 7th Dec

P1490518

View from our restaurant

Another chilled day in Koh Lanta; weather was much nicer – it’s such a beautiful bay.

I am persevering in my attempt to be able to swim, managed a whole 6 lengths of breaststroke today – given it is the largest pool we have had on our travels, it was pretty good for me. We even managed to go into town for some (failed – Huzzah!) shopping and dinner, made all the better by the mango sticky rice I found on offer; yum.

P1490539

Our bay – Klong Dao

Day 304, Sun 8th Dec

Early ferry back to Krabi, and met a lovely French couple, Charles & Charlotte on the transport to town before our flight back to Bangkok. 

Up early and off to the boat across to the mainland. Our flight is after 3pm, so we spent a couple of hours having a much needed breakfast with our Gallic companions AND I even managed to find some 85% Lindt chocolate in the airport – it may have been £4 a bar, and probably enough to buy several meals, but it was worth it :-)

Koh Lanta, Thailand – Dec ’13

Day 291, Mon 25th Nov

The day was meant to start with the first day of our massage course but they cocked up the booking… so a day of admin & trying to sort out our visa extension. Oh, & Tracey took us shopping… bought a T shirt to replace the 2 that Tracey ruined in the washing – my Brazil T shirt & new T shirt are now tie dyed!

(Or in fact Thai-dyed since the dye seems to run on all new clothing…)

Chiang Mai - Hot Chilli (4)

Met a lovely American couple (Will & Candice) in the Funky Dog café who told us of a cute restaurant with swings… T duly had us off searching for it & reserved a swing seat for later.  We arrived to find a large queue; which we bypassed to take up our

reservation on the highly sought after swing seats.  A lot of jealous looks later from the queue, T was ensconced in her red swing seat wearing a new red dress & her red shoes… she didn’t stop smiling all night! :)

The restaurant is Hot Chilli if you want to try it – expensive by Chiang Mai standards, but worth it for the swing and the beautifully presented (extremely tasty) Mango Sticky Rice. I was obviously in my element :D

Day 292, Tue 26th Nov

So, eventually started a 2 day massage course – it’s really good; worked on the legs & arms… T’s very happy.  Finished mid-afternoon & took in some temples.

The massage course was good, but surprisingly tiring, and there is a lot to learn (much practice needed!). Keir seemed to get a slightly worrying sadistic pleasure out of pressing excessively hard on my muscles too…

I don’t remember any temples today, maybe his mind is going ;)

Day 293, Wed 27th Nov

Final day of the massage course – head, neck & back… I think T will be expecting a massage every day now, & I have no excuse… damn, how short-sighted of me!

Then Temples, temples & more temples….

Said goodbye to our massage teacher, Miss Wanna, and promised to practise – let’s hope we do! Then off to visit a few temples – definitely NOT time to go and see the tigers today – decided we will stay in Chiang Mai a couple of extra days anyway – the prospect of rushing off to Sukhothai and back just seems too exhausting after all these activities!

Chiang Mai - Siam Rice Cookery Course (40)Day 294, Thu 28th Nov

Thai cookery course day…. Wish I read the references on the website that said miss breakfast!  There were 7 courses to cook & eat; I felt stuffed after the 1st course.

Who knew that I was such a great cook? The Penang curry and Hot & Creamy soup were fabulous – obviously I couldn’t taste Keir’s food as he put chicken in everything, grrr  – and Mango Sticky Rice for dessert – my new favourite.

 

Tracey & Rob

Tracey & Rob

 

Unfortunately Rob picked tonight to have dinner with us – it was a struggle to eat any more – but we had to try the tea salad at the Burmese restaurant (The Swan), very tasty. Bit knackered after all that eating, but we managed a few post-prandial drinks before Keir started nodding off in the bar

 

:)

 

 

 

Day 295, Fri 29th Nov

Chiang Mai - Tiger Kingdom (132)At last, a lie in.  Then we sorted out our visa extensions & headed off to Tiger Kingdom, where you get to get in & up close to anything from baby to fully grown Tigers… when I say get close, I mean get close – i.e. cuddle, stroke & lie down next to.  Supposedly they aren’t drugged in anyway, just been hand reared next to humans.  Had to keep telling T that, “No, they are giant teddy bears or pussy cats & that we can’t have one…!”

Was a bit awe inspiring when you see the majesty of these beasts, also it was very difficult to be at ease when you know how quickly cats can just turn on you & put their teeth/ claws in… they were just like giant ‘cats’ in everything they did.

Left the place though feeling sad for them; they are out with humans all day in medium sized enclosures then locked up in cages at night…. Not even a giant enclosure for them to run around in.

Whilst being in two minds about visiting the tigers, we decided to see for ourselves. There are obviously lots of reviews on Trip Advisor, some of which suggest drugging, some of which refute it…I am no expert, but the baby tigers certainly seemed playful enough and wouldn’t stay still for long. The big cats were moving around, going for the occasional swim – to the surprise and sudden soaking of the hapless visitors standing next to them at the time :) – and the guardians are very alert (one accompanies every group), so you definitely feel a sense of your own mortality. The urging of the keeper to put my head on the tigers stomach was not something I felt inclined to do! But it is true that they do not have much space to wander in, and even if they have been hand reared and well-fed, it is obviously not a natural environment for a wild animal to live in…

Last night in Chiang Mai, so Keir got me mortally drunk in the Roots Rock Reggae bar on slushy cocktails – I had hoped that the high water content would save me; a foolish assumption :(

Chiang Mai - Wat Pra Singh Voramahavihara (38)Day 296, Sat 30th Nov

Went off to see a final few temples – they really are lovely; but starting to feel a little templed out now – & then the afternoon at the Sat market… how happy was Tracey!

Night bus to Bangkok; going to miss Chiang Mai. It has a really relaxed air about it. Far more to do than we’ve even scratched the surface on & it’s a fun place to be.  I really feel on holiday now… beach & diving next!

Damn, I have a hangover :-(

After a very late breakfast, we made it to Wat Suan Dok temple – really beautiful, but undergoing some restoration – and the rest of the day just seemed to disappear before we got on the Nakonchai Air bus to Bangkok. No first class left unfortunately, so we are slumming it on Gold…

Day 297, Sun 1st Dec

Got off the night bus to find the Gooners won 3-0 at Cardiff – A Ramsey double with Ozil pulling the strings. What a great start to the day! :-)

Arrived in Ko Lanta, picked up our dive books & ensconced ourselves in an excellent hotel chosen by hers truly… basic double cabin, but beautiful view from the hotel across the bay & an infinity pool in front of the restaurant… result; all for £11 a day – I love Thailand!

Slept really badly for some reason, I guess I have become unused to overnight bus travel in the last couple of months, and arrived in Bangkok about 6am. Our flight is in 7 hours, but we figured with the protests in the city centre and possible traffic issues, that it might be best to just head to the airport early.

We managed to kill several hours in a nice café, with a waitress taking photos of us and our food; it was almost like being back in China! Unfortunately I think she may have been doing the same in the kitchen, that is the only explanation for the stone-cold, but perfectly presented poached eggs presented to me :)

Chang Mai, Thailand – Nov ’13

Does my bum look big in this….?!

BEE'S Elephant Sanctuary - Mae Kam & Mae Jumpee (2)BEE'S Elephant Sanctuary - Mae Kam (4)

Day 277, Mon 11th Nov

Emily and Burm came to pick us up around 9am to take us to their elephant sanctuary, BEES. After a hasty trip to the post office to apply for a new passport – the space issue has become pressing – they took us to see a couple of beautiful waterfalls and the highest mountain in Thailand before arriving at the sanctuary to see the elephants and 8 or 9 cats and dogs!

The elephant Mae Kam and Mae Jum Pee are very cool, we fed them guavas and then accompanied the mahouts to the stream to bathe them. Then a nice Thai supper and some cuddles with the little dog Kip and one of the cute grey cats. What an amazing first day :-)

Had a lovely journey up with Burms & Emily; visited lots of waterfalls on the way home – v spectacular.  Then we fed ELEPHANTS – VERY COOL!!!!

Their farm as a couple of authentic Thai buildings around a beautiful fish pond with 10 dogs (Mimi, Toto, Gong, Toby, Mollie, Kip, Pailin, Panda, Sun, Dow) & 8 cats (Gizmo, Tigger, Lucky, Suki, Dani, Milo, Mee Suuk, Cocoa), 3 tortoises, a terrapin, oh, not forgetting the two rather large elephants. :-)

Day 278, Tues 12th NovBEE'S Elephant Sanctuary - Welcoming Ceremony (3)

Up earlyish and then a walk with the elephants and more guava feeding – Mae Kam in particular seems to be an eating machine! (she’s amazingly, she’s like a conveyor belt; in one end & out the other ) Then back to base to help with tidying up in the elephants sleeping area – much elephant poo to shovel – cleaning out the tortoise and terrapin pool and feeding the fish. It is almost like a mini open zoo here. Oh, and we helped to make an elephant pool for bath time later.

Loved damming the river & digging out an elephant bath… Mae Jum Pee was particularly funny when we used it; we threw buckets of water over her to bathe her & she hosed water everywhere with her trunk!

Most of the elderly people from Maecham came down for an opening ceremony this evening, we were welcomed, blessed, and given two string bracelets from each person; it was really lovely and all of the old folks seemed very happy.

It was a lovely ceremony; I’m sure they also loved the chance to get together for a quick gossip as well. What’s particularly nice is that the elephant sanctuary may be run by Burm & Emily, but it involves the whole village.

Day 279, Wed 13th Nov

A slightly later start today (hard work on the new hut starts tomorrow) and off to cut some elephant grass and sweetcorn stems for Mae Kam and Mae Jumpee to eat later, before another of Burm’s delicious lunches and a little jaunt to see the two old ladies that could not make it to the ceremony yesterday – more bracelets for us and a small gift of soy milk (they love it apparently) and some baht for them, we both love the way that the sanctuary helps the village as well as the animals.

Pretty easy day today, but hot! We are both a bit dozy…

A day of prep for me on building site – clearing it of weeds – & then of to cut some elephant food; those callouses are building on my hands… & not for the usual reasons!!! :-)

Day 280, Thurs 14th Nov

BEE'S Elephant Sanctuary - Work on the new hutThe day of building starts – man’s work of course, so the girlies have to go off & do their nails or something…?!

Fascinating how they seem to be able to make anything with a bit of wood, a hammer & a hatchet.  By the end of the day we had 9 concrete footings in & the posts up as well – all starting to take shape. :-)

A relatively easy day for me, until we discover that the water, and then the power are off, and I have to spend 2 hours washing by hand – I have a very sore back!

Day 281, Fri 15th Nov

Day two in the house…. No Charlene, Chardonay or Big Brother ‘Geordie’ voiceover in sight.  We have the full structure up & rafters on… these boys go long on the discussing but also don’t mess about in the construction… probably the lack of tea breaks…

A bucket shower this morning – the water did not come back in time, unfortunately – then off to harvest rice in the fields with Emily and Mae La (Burm’s mum), I think we may have been as much of a hindrance than a help though, poor Mae La had to chop down the length of our rice stacks as they were too long, or not all the same length; whilst also managing to cut about 3 times more rice than either of us… then back to the house to rest while poor Mae La made lunch – the woman is a workaholic!

I learnt to make sweet sticky rice in a bamboo tube too, and taste it later :-)

Day 282, Sat 16th Nov

Up early to cut lots of corn for the elephants – and they eat A LOT – then back for lunch and elephant bathing (+ water fight). Emily and I ended up wetter than the elephants, I am sure this had something to do with Burm and Keir…BEE'S Elephant Sanctuary - Mae Kam, Mae Jumpee, Emily, Keir & Tracey (2)

It’s not my fault if T is on the other side of the elephant to where I am… a few drops of water overshot, the next thing I know & T & Emily are dousing me in water… Mae Jum Pi looked on in amusement as I was soaked… the injustice of it all!

Then a shower and off to Loi Krathong, the first day of the festival, in Maechaem. We had fun playing a couple of games (Keir sucks at darts, but seems to be a crackshot!), trying interesting looking street food and alcoholic slushies whiles watching the lanterns light up the sky.

I’d like to point out that:

  1. The darts were lighter than the actual balloons themselves…you had to hurl them to even reach the balloons!
  2. I hadn’t had any alcohol at this point… 

2 cans of Chang beer later…

  1. I shot the bullseye out of the target on the pistol range (it was just like watching Hank in Vegas, but sadly without the magnum!).
  2. I threw the tiny hoop over the beer bottle from 10 feet away… & walked away with a litre bottle of Chang beer (which I promptly gave to Shin).

 

Thank god for beer! :-) Meachaem - Loi Krathong festival (4)

Lighting the paper lanterns & watching them head skywards took me back to my last visit in Thailand for Elaine’s birthday & our 2010 new year’s eve in Cornwall. These lanterns are even more fun – they have fireworks attached so bangers, roman candles, etc keep going off as they head into the night sky… cool :-)

There were also lots of shopping stalls… how happy was T!  She suddenly found that she really needed the flip flops that she didn’t buy in Chang Mai… they were only 50 Baht (£1) so I gave in… more shoes to carry.

 

 

 

Day 283, Sun 17th Nov

Burm, Emily, Shin, Shin's friend & Tracey with KrathongsThe boys are still hut building, so we began making our Loi Krathong offerings – much to the amusement of Burm and Emily’s helper and English student- Shin. Apparently we have made them too large, or something…

Time to start getting the roof on & adding the posts for the porch… it’s really coming together now.

That evening we are back at the festival to release the Loi Krathong offering into the river – they’re like floating flower arrangements. T’s done a great job of our offering & we make a joint wish as we release it… Arsenal for the Premiership… don’t tell Tracey!

Watching local Thai boxing was interesting – some real mis-matches there – particularly some of the kids getting battered senseless!

Whilst Burm, Shin & were doing this Emily & T went shopping… be afraid, be very afraid!

Day 284, Mon 18th Nov

More work on the roof – almost there. Good timing as we get torrential rain later in the afternoon – fortunately it’s proven to be waterproof. :-)

A side trip to the internet café (still no wifi L) for some travel research and to check our emails – just found out that Martin is going to be a dad!! Then back home to clean up the old hut and go through yet more photos – I wish I didn’t take so many…

Day 285, Tue 19th Nov

Finished the roof & then back into the saw-mill to cut more logs to put the floor in…

There still seems to be a big gap in the roof to me – I hope that is not Keir’s idea of being a completer finisher…?

Ha, Ha, ran out of tiles 2 short of a full roof… But a heavy downpour half an hour later proved beyond a doubt that it was waterproof :-)

Went for a half-day elephant walk this morning – though it took almost half a day to find them – you would think it would be easy to spot two 3,000 odd kilo animals, but apparently not! Then came back for lunch (some more cooking lessons) and some sewing with Emily; I have just made my first pillow case :-) .

Day 286, Wed 20th Nov

Burm’s dad came round today to help us put all the floor beams & braces in… we now have a floor…. Hard part is done.

Not much for me to do today, it seems that a woman’s place is most certainly NOT on the building site… so I made an envelope cushion on Emily’s sewing machine instead :-)

Day 287, Thu 21st Nov

Mae Hong Son - Sunflowers (22)Up exceptionally early, 0300… T was obviously happy!, to head to Mae Hang Son to see the sun flowers. The best bit was lying in the back of the pick-up with T wrapped in a duvet watching the night sky turn to dawn. 

The getting up was a bit traumatic, but it seems that one can sleep surprisingly well in the back of a pick up as long as covers and pillows are to hand! Poor Shin, Emily and Burm had to sit inside the truck.

The sunflowers – not the same as our ones – were amazing, there were literally thousands of them (and a similar number of photos to cull, unfortunately – we spent a couple of hours messing around and posing with them before driving back via Hot Coffee (fab café & orphanage – though only one child to be seen in the former) and the temple in which Burm served as a novice.

Day 288, Fri 22nd Nov

P1480600Burm & Emily made sure we spent the whole day with the elephants today – followed the stream into the jungle until we caught up with them for lunch then took them down the to the river to bathe… they were like two little children playing around in the river – blowing bubbles with their trunks, squirting water then splashing each other… magical.

The elephants bathing in the river were a real highlight of our stay with Burm and Emily; very cool and very funny to watch these two old ladies messing about in the water. Shin’s sweet bamboo sticky rice cooked over a fire alongside the river came a close second today; I may be addicted…

 

Day 289, Sat 23rd Nov

We were lucky enough to be invited for the day to a local wedding between friends of Burm & Emily’s (Gunn – Thai & Laura – Dutch); great fun, & we met a load of other nationalities who taught at the international school in Chiang Mai.  A few of them even came back with us to see the elephant – lovely to see other people’s reaction to feeding the elephants.

Up and out for the very early – they start at breakfast here – wedding of Burm’s friend Gunn. We had a great time meeting Laura, Gunn and their friends, joining in the dance procession, drinking rum (well, I did, 2 weeks of temperance were beginning to take their toll) etc. Then bringing Max, Nok, Karen and Tara back to see the elephants. Karen, a lovely Scottish girl recovering form a bad, but very lucky escape from a scooter accident was particularly enamoured, it was really lovely to watch.

Day 290, Sun 24th Nov

A beautiful start to the day as we had breakfast with the elephants… felt positively frugal as Mae Kam wolfed down half a ton of fruit for my 2 bits of toast & sausage!

Then the sad trip back to Chiang Mai & the end of our elephant adventure… we’ve had a fantastic time & I’ve learnt a lot about building with wood… roll on the castle! :-)

Caught up with Tracey’s friend Rob for a few G&T’s at a couple of bars with cool music… definitely ‘Led Zepp’ Rob…!

2nd bar had some type of fusion swing on… very retro but nice, drinking G&T’s with the night sky above us… I’m actually starting to feel like I’m on holiday for once :-)

BEES - Working on the new hut (1)A surprise last breakfast down by the mahouts hut nearly went gloriously wrong when Mae Kam smelt the guavas in the back and started moving at quite a pace in pursuit of the pick up. She also seemed quite keen on our breakfast before Aneit and Pong (the mahouts) distracted her with some more suitable fare – I am sure a couple of sausages, scrambled eggs and papaya would have done little to slake her formidable appetite, but she would have enjoyed them nonetheless.

Then sad goodbyes to the boys, Mae’s Kam and Jumpee, the dogs and Lucky the wondercat, sadly couldn’t find my little favourite Gizmo, he was probably off destroying Burm’s mum’s crops or up to some similar mischief.

Emily and Burm took us to see a few more sights and have some lunch and then we were back in Chiang Mai. We will miss them and their household!

Met Rob (Barty – he is really Sara’s friend, but we have now adopted him) for a turn about some nice little bars and then fell into a much-needed slumber. Getting up at 6am every day takes its toll, despite the early nights :-) 

BEES, Maechaem, Thailand – Nov ’13

 

Slow boat through China – Chengdu to Chang Mai

River Li trip (12)Day 268, Sat 2nd Nov

A trip on the River Li today, where we met a lovely Spanish couple, Ibone & John, before being told we were not allowed on the boat with them as we had different destinations… so, we ‘bamboo’ rafted down the Li with some nice Chinese girls, Joy and Freya instead. Disappointingly, the boat was actually fibreglass… the modern world does have a habit of creeping in to ruin my ideals; never mind.

Lovely day boating down the Li… I’d like to say floating in the quietness & majesty of the scenery (it really was that majestic) but the bloody great engine strapped on the back of the raft with the long propeller made a hell of a racket…

Freya and Joy very kindly gave me a flower crown to match theirs and some Pomelo (a fruit) – I am converted. Then we headed off to Xingping – cute town, not much to do, but some nice views – and then Yangshuo – touristy, but lots of nice restaurants and bars – before taking our leave of the girls and heading back to Guilin for dinner.

Xingping had a lots of little alley ways & non touristy shops… not quite real China but not far, where-as Yangshuo was built for the tourists… I think a place maybe to base yourself from & head out into the countryside.

Day 269, Sun 3rd Nov

Another organised trip today (I don’t really like them, but it is impossible to do in a day otherwise and since I met Swedish Jenny in Guatemala who told me that the rice terraces in Guilin were her favourite place in China, we HAD to go).Guilin - Long Ji Rice Terraces (17)

So, the downside was that we were tied to the tour schedule, roped into doing some stuff we didn’t really want to do, and then only had a 20 minute walk up to view the recently harvested rice terraces. I had thought we were walking in the terraces for a couple of hours from the tour description, but no. Also the terraces had been harvested on October 1st so were not as stunning as they would have been (we were prepared for this). It was still nice, and we met more nice people, but it was not really worth the price of the trip. We will have to try rice terraces elsewhere, I suspect.

We knew the rice terraces weren’t at their best – neither wet & shimmering nor golden & ready to harvest – however, glad we went to see them (if only for the exercise in climbing yup to view them & back down).

Guilin, River Li & Dragon bone rice terraces, China – Nov ’13

Day 270, Mon 4th Nov

Had a manic run around frantically trying to find the supermarket to buy supplies for our 3 Gorges cruise; apparently we won’t like the Chinese food – possibly more bits of animal that no Westerner normally eats for Keir, and a choice of meat for me!

The sunny day morphed into quite a rainy one, and my dreams of disembarking at the first port of call for a G&T with a nice view were scuppered once again :(

A day of travelling to catch up with the boat & cruise down the Yangtze.

Arrived on board & they tried to put us in a 6 berth cabin when we paid for a 4 berth (a bit of economising). Fortunately, they didn’t realise who they were dealing with… T soon put them right on that one & we were given a 4 berth cabin… on our own – result!

It became even more of a result when we realised that we were the only Guilos on board… the Chinese treated us like celebrities!

The boat was late in leaving & we ignored the first stop that night.

Day 271, Tues 5th Nov

P1470343Decided to give the first trip of the day a miss as it did not sound that exciting, and ventured out.

A few gangplanks and hulking old ships later, we found our breakfast; not wanting to be accused of non-adventurousness, I decided it was time to trust to my Mandarin phrases for what I did and did not eat and trust to the chance of a Chinese breakfast. I THINK it was congee, though it just seemed like undrained rice with some yellow stuff, and a couple of (I hope) tea boiled eggs. Keir went for full-on beef dumpling noodles – at 8:30am?!?

Didn’t want to ask what it was… but it tasted delicious :)

Back on the boat and we passed through the first gorge, Qutang, pretty, but the weather is so misty that we are definitely not seeing it at its best. The 3 lesser gorges were beautiful, but again the weather slightly impaired the experience; still, at least it was not raining.

Fortunately I happened to meet the only guest on the boat who spoke English, who conveniently translated that we needed to disembark boat number 1 for a smaller boat - god only knows where we would have ended up otherwise – where we were treated to singing boatmen and music from the houses built into the sides of the gorge, nice.

3 Little Gorges trip was great fun – T even had a go at the ‘dodgy outfit’ photo – & beautiful at the same time. V impressive.P1470305

Emboldened by my non-disastrous breakfast this morning, we even risked the Chinese food on the boat, it was pretty good, though the boat restaurant seemed to subscribe to the same insane need for fresh air that I have been constantly subjected to in China – it doesn’t seem to matter that it is about 9 degrees outside!

Day 272, Wed 6th Nov

Attempted to get up for the optional excursion this morning, but they seem to have made it earlier than suggested in our itinerary, and as we cannot understand a word of the announcements, we missed it. Still, the sun has come out today and it is glorious!

More fibre glass ‘dragon’ boats – wasn’t too bothered about missing this one.

After an hour up on deck admiring the scenery, and having our photo taken by, and with, 90% of our fellow passengers (it is good luck to photograph a guilo, apparently). We headed to Yichang for our overnight train back to Chongqing. Hard sleeper tonight – obviously we had to try all classes of train travel :)

I was disappointed with the 3 Gorges cruise – bit of an adventure but the gorges weren’t that impressive & there were a lot if industrial works along the banks. If anyone asked me I’d say give it a miss.

Day 273, Thurs 7th NovP1470362

Arrived back in Chongqing with about 5 hours to kill – the hard sleeper was not too bad with ear plugs, though the beds did seem strangely narrow and I had to insist on some clean bedding – clearly my face said what my mouth could not – and after a protracted breakfast we decided we had little time for anything other than photos, admin and a quick electric submarine ride (with guns that caused some of the targets to squirt water!) before the flight to Lijiang that afternoon.

We made the airport early for a change, sod’s law dictated that our flight was therefore 2 hours late…

Killing time catching up with mail, photos & T organising the next leg of the trip.

Yangtze River cruise, China – Nov ’13

Arrived in Lijiang & it took us 3 attempts to find a taxi to take us anywhere near our hostel…  even then we had to rely on my Nokia drive app (again) to find our bed for the night as the taxis aren’t allowed in the old town.

Day 274, Fri 8th Nov

P1470403Up early for our transport to Tiger Leaping gorge. It is a beautiful day and we have a 5 hour walk, with 28 bends on the ascent apparently :?, these were tough, but we were pleased to see, that lack of fitness notwithstanding, we still seemed to be able to walk faster than our younger fellow hikers, and this is with my frequent photo-stops, of course. The gorge is just stunning, a lovely walk.

The gorge was fantastic & we blitzed it without even really trying.  Got to say that the 28 bends went on forever though…

Arrived at our destination point for dinner (the Halfway Guest House – ingeniously named as, you guessed it, it’s half way along the trek) to be met by the most disinterested staff ever. The only plus point was that the view from the khazi was as beautiful as the Lonely Planet & Michael Palin described it to be!

So we had a quick drink & headed 5 mins up the road to our, quote, unquote, ‘family run, friendly guesthouse’… Obviously a triumph of marketing over substance.  Any family presence had long since disappeared & a couple of young boys now managed the place… very badly – nothing clean & nothing on the menu (apart from Pumpkin!).

Tracey, not surprisingly, refused to take the first room we were shown (dead bugs in the bedding) but, as we were the only ones there we had the choice of rooms.

The bullock having his tea in the courtyard was quite an authentic touch though…

So, a quick shower & back to the disinterested hostel for dinner.

Day 275, Sat 9th Nov

P1470583Final day in Tiger Leaping gorge – having woken up late (dawn surprisingly late here as China only uses one time zone throughout) we quickly re-thought our idea of going all the way to Walnut Garden then down to the gorge, before our 15:30 pick up. Just as well as the gorge ascent nearly killed us, note that Keir insisted on using the path rather than the ladder down – scaredy cat :)

Cool, final touristy day in China; amazed to find our place had hot water in the morning & had a breakfast whilst various wildlife (including a ‘kid’ – of the baby goat variety!) gambolled around in the courtyard.

The hike down to Tina’s Guesthouse (where we we’re picking up our transport) was a bit of a killer, but the vertical climb down to the gorge & back up was worse.  Vertical steps cut into the cliff face. T obviously had a show off & use the rickety ladder partially down the cliff face. Discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to take the steps! The young French couple we’d met at the top had said that it was very dangerous & took an hour to get down, 1.5hrs to get back up…  took us 1 hr 20 mins inc. sightseeing… there’s still life in the old dogs yet! (oops, hope T doesn’t read this; I may be in trouble for that metaphor!).

Loved the gorge; really dramatic, wonderful scenery & waterfalls… lots of dangerous drops & scarily narrow paths… Health & Safety be damned!!

Tiger Leaping Gorge, China – Nov ’13

Day 276, Sun 10th Nov

Arrived Kunming at 7am, not 100% sure what time our flight is – it has moved 3 times – decided we may as well head to the airport on the shuttle bus and find out :-), hmm 12 hours to go, so back into town then…

Found a lovely hostel, I think it was called Secret Garden or similar – aptly named as it was hard to find – in which to while away the afternoon eating, drinking and booking a last minute flight out of Thailand so that we could get the visa on arrival… before hasty meal and another late dash to the airport – thankfully they even close the international flights 40 minutes before departure, I was sure we would come unstuck this time.

Kunming, China – Nov ’13

Arrived Thailand to (fortunately) discover that we did not need to pay anything or provide photos for a Visa on Arrival – just get our passport stamped (horrid man still used one of my 4 remaining blank pages despite my asking him not to :(). It is about 7:30pm and lovely and warm. Got to hotel and then checked out the night market – very cool, I bought a dress, long sleeved shirt for the elephant sanctuary work and a new pair of shoes, all for about £12 and little haggling – undoubtedly I paid too much, but when someone’s opening price is £4.00, it is difficult to argue…

Left our bags at the airport in the morning for an evening flight & still nearly missed it… idiots! Still, afternoon was v chilled & we got a lot done. T was the happiest I’d seen her for a while in the night market – we actually had something to buy & she could shop for Britain… & she did! She was actually looking for a new pair of flip flops but when I saw some bright red, rubber sandals…. She HAD to have them!

Hostel was v nice – we had a little chalet around the central pond, but the other residents were a bit rowdy late into the night until T gave them a piece of her mind!