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Sup and Nic's World Tour!

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After a crazy last month in the UK, hustling at car boot sales and on ebay, spreading joy to charity shops all over Reading and squeezing every last possession into any place we could find, we finally made it out with just one piece of hand luggage each and 2 immense backpacks - Black Thunder, bursting with a selection of electrical goodies and Silver Lightning, overflowing with makeup & hair straighteners!

It's been an emotional few weeks and parts have been quite surreal at times. We have had a lot of farewells from family, friends and work friends... thank you to everybody who supported us along the way and gave us a great send off, you will all be missed.

Now just so you know, we'll both be taking turns at writing entries on the Blog, so it may sound a little schizophrenic at times!

We hope you all enjoy sharing our adventures with us!

Sup and Nic's World Tour 2010 Grand Finale!

London, United Kingdom

On our incredible adventures, Sup and Nic's World Tour 2010, we travelled over 50,000 miles to a total of 99 different places, on 41 different modes of transport, making our home in 85 hostels and trying over 115 new food and drink from around the world. We met wonderful locals and travellers from all over the world, far too many to count, but all remembered. During our amazing travels, we saw around 92 animal species in their natural habitat, enjoyed 39 separate beach experiences and braved 28 extreme activities, taking on both personal and joint achievements, one of which was a 30 metre high rock climb for Sup, and an 18 metre dive below the sea for me. We both also plunged magnificently 15000 feet through the air.

We broke a number of flip flops and cheap sunglasses through overuse, but our trusty camera, video camera and laptop were guarded viciously and were with us to the end. Our two gigantic travelling bags Black Thunder and Silver Lightning survived being thrown carelessly onto aeroplanes, ferries, longboats, mopeds, taxis, Tuk Tuks, trains and subways, tearing at the edges, zips busting at the seams, caked with sand and mud from around the world, wheels worn down with the mileage, but still standing at their final collection at London Heathrow airport. We discarded around 31 items of clothing as we moved from Winter to Summer to Winter to Summer, and replaced suntan lotion-stained tops with brand new clothing from our shopping extravaganza in the States.

We had encountered Dengue Fever, bedbugs, rats, cockroaches, mosquitoes, raccoon and monkey thieves, and endured extreme weather in the form of the Cambodian floods & flood evacuation, an earthquake tremor in LA, and torrential rain, thunder and lightning throughout Costa Rica, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Our most expensive accommodation was the horrendous hotel in Washington DC at $90 (£60) a night, an astonishing contrast to the least expensive accommodation which was a lovely little place in Luang Prabang, Laos for £2.50, and the longest journey we travelled was the 26 hour seemingly endless sleeper bus from Laos to Vietnam.
Throughout the most intense and unforgettable year of our lives we experienced an array of manmade wonders including casinos, palaces, temples, ruins, monuments, bridges, towers, cathedrals, museums, harbours, zoos, prisons, shopping malls, forts, markets, a theme park and a sports stadium. In addition to these, the superb natural beauties we encountered included waterfalls, lakes, rivers, mountains, oceans, thermal pools, forests, beaches, glaciers, snow covered mountains, fjordlands and Sounds, seal colonies, flowers, trees, volcanoes, sunsets, sunrises, stars, caves, bays, and tea, coffee, pineapple and banana plantations

Our food cravings at various points were pizza, pasta and sandwiches for me, and Indian curry, chilli and roast dinner for Sup. We spent almost an entire month eating pasta in New Zealand, and almost an entire three months in South East Asia eating curry. We have consumed more fast food than we will ever eat again, and to counteract this damage, we have eaten a vast amount of fresh local fruit and drunk gallons and gallons of bottled water.

The highlights of a trip filled with a million memories are hard to decide, but being famous for a month in Hollywood was a childhood dream come true for me, and for Sup seeing the world in itself was a huge dream fulfilled.

We calculated our own countdown on our return as a stunning summary of our experiences:

20 kilos Nic's average weight of bag (Sup's was 22kg)
19 longest hours on Greyhound bus, USA
18 metres dived under the sea
17 main places of worship
16 waterfalls
15 airports
14 currencies
13 countries
12 Lonely Planet books
11 exceptional sunsets
10 National Parks
9 yucky food
8 big event celebrations around the world
7 pesties pesting us
6 archaeological ruin sites
5 celebrities
4 exceptional sunrises
3 continents
2 jobs worked and
1 engagement proposal & acceptance

We would like to say a massive thank you to everyone for following our blog and we hope that we have entertained and informed you throughout our account of our world travels. We have loved being able to connect so many people to our experiences and the feedback and support has been amazing.

Our blog is now successfully completed. It has been hard work at times but a source of great pride and pleasure for us both, and an incredible documentation of a year in our lives where Sup and I have taken on the world together and returned happier and healthier and closer than ever.

We would like to leave you on a fantastic note with some silly giggles from around the world...! But before we do, a disclaimer is in order...The following signs are in no way intended to cause offence of any kind, they are simply signs we have noticed in various places around the world with unfortunate translations and double meanings. Sup and Nic in no way endorse any offensive or derogatory words towards any person and hope that our audience will appreciate that the giggle is on the signmakers only and not on the meaning behind any of the words printed. Some of the exhibits below will appeal to individuals more than others, some might not make any sense, some are a little bit silly, some are downright immature, and some are quite naughty in nature, so please do not continue if you are easily offended. And if not, Enjoy!!!

Random silliness...

Confused translations...

The Rudies...

Sup & Nic's 2010 World Tour... DONE!!!

permalink written by  SupandNic on January 4, 2011 from London, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: Sup and Nic's World Tour!
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Bustling and Booty-Full Bangkok!

Bangkok, Thailand

Ariving in the bustling city of Bangkok, we felt a real sense of having achieved something, like two characters reaching the last level of a computer game - energy depleted and yet exhilarated by the obstacles we had overcome and the incredible things we had seen. The serious tones of Vietnam and Cambodia with their heartbreaking histories had left us with many thoughts and feelings, and entering Bangkok reawakened feelings of pride, in ourselves and each other, and a sudden awareness of the immense journey we had travelled together.

Having already seen a vast amount of temples and sights throughout Asia, we were happy to take the pace down a notch while preparing for our impending trip home. This meant enjoying the wonders of Khao San Road entertainment and souvenir shopping, and binging on our final feast of spicy and satisfying Thai red and green curries. I have to admit that many months in Asia caused me to start craving three specific things - pizza, sandwiches and pasta. Don't get me wrong, I have eaten some of the best food in my entire life while travelling, and Vietnamese, Malaysian, Laos, Cambodian and Thai curries are absolutely amazing, all in their own special and delicious ways. The thing is, I'm an English girl through and through, and my body would periodically scream out for some bland ordinary down to earth nosh, so at various points I literally had to give myself a little rest and go Western.
Sup was horrified that one of these times was a couple of days before we were due to leave for home! In my defence I have not been trained in the same way he has and I marvelled at his relentless hunger for curry, twice a day every day without a second thought. Sup had a favourite food stall that he had first discovered during our stop over in Bangkok before Chiang Mai, and he returned many times for his 60p dish of red curry and rice!

We drank freshly squeezed orange juice from little bottles sold on the street, ate chunks of freshly cut pineapple and braved a few meat sticks, while veering well away from the locust and scorpion stand - we would both need a big pay packet to attempt a bushtucker trial thank you very much! Speaking of pests, we busted this little guy desecrating a street shrine munching away on whatever offerings had been left by Buddhist worshippers!

As well as scouring Khao San Road for souvenir treasures, which of course included the obligatory DVDs, CDs, jewellery and printed t-shirts, we travelled to one of the large local markets and spent the day perusing the stalls, although we were aware that a lot of the goods were actually more for people living in Bangkok, rather than tourists. We found incredible wooden carved furniture that we would have loved to take home, as well as beautiful paintings and some of the cutest puppies you could find, along with whole stalls dedicated to dressing your pup like a diva! We found a few things that took our fancy (none of the above!), and walked to see the local park before returning home after a tricky time bargaining with taxi drivers.

On one of the rainier days, we took off for a trip around the MBK Mall in Bangkok, a big indoor mall with prices that were maybe a little too Western for our budget. I bought some cute high heeled shoes for £4 though after we rifled through a shoe shop for hidden gems and we ended the trip with a cheeky McDonalds while we waited for a sudden burst of torrential rain to clear. After hailing a taxi after what seemed like a long time, we were then stuck in horrendous traffic, so much so that after 15 minutes complete stand still, we paid the driver, got out and went back to into the mall to sit out the jam! We then later hopped on a bus that we had to run up and then down the street for as we were on the wrong side of the road, no doubt a source of amusement for the locals!

Bangkok is a vibrant city and a fantastic place to have ended our incredible adventures. The spirit is palpable in the streets, and it is pure modern Thai culture at its finest, badgering tourists for food, souvenirs, Tuk Tuks, drinking, and the inevitable ping pong show, your attention taken by the various popping noises the guys made to spark your curiosity. We had reached the final destination of Sup and Nic's World Tour 2010 and we were finally ready to return, a stronger team than ever before, for the next adventures of our lives; to begin our chosen careers, to find a new home, to get married, and to take on all the new challenges that were waiting for us back home in beautiful England.

permalink written by  SupandNic on October 31, 2010 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Sup and Nic's World Tour!
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The Horror and Hope of Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Cambodia was the last country left to visit. I have to warn you that some of you may find this entry difficult reading/viewing. We travelled by bus from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh arriving in the afternoon. We opted to stay in the cheap backpacker district by the lake. The accommodation was great value, the staff were friendly, the food was awesome and the hammock decking out the back was suitably chilled. Some of the houses were in need of urgent repair!

The following day we hired a tuk-tuk for the day in order to learn about Cambodia's devastating past.

A brief intro to the history....

The French withdrew from Cambodia in 1953. US supporter General Lon Nol and his Cambodian party Khmer Republic overthrew King Norodom in 1970. With support from the new government the US bombed the Cambodian countryside in an attempt to destroy the Viet Cong. A bitter peasant army soon developed, fronted by a man named Pol Pot. King Norodom Sihanouk named this army the Khmer Rouge and called upon them to fight against Lon Nol.

In April 1975 the peasant army soldiers of the Khmer Rouge stormed government buildings, offices and houses in Phnom Penh. Those that weren’t executed immediately were marched to the countryside where they were forced into slave labour for the next 4 years, to meet Pol Pot’s dream of creating his ideal and perfect country. Approximately 1.7 million people died in total.

First stop was a visit to the Tuol Sleng Museum, formerly the Tuol Svay Prey High School that was taken over by Pol Pot and his army and transformed into the S-21 prison. At the time it was the largest incarceration centre in the country.

After taking power the Khmer Rouge set out to completely change Cambodian society. Khmer Rouge ideology was influenced by 4 interrelated principles of: total independence and self-reliance, preservation of the dictatorship, total and immediate economic revolution and complete transformation of Khmer social values. The first step involved reforming the urban classes through hard labour so they could contribute to the new agrarian economy which fundamentally focussed on a huge increase in rice production. They transformed the country into a rural and classless society by abolishing money, transportation, private property, religious practice, non-revolution entertainment and traditional Khmer culture. Buildings such as hospitals, schools and places of worship were either shut or turned into prisons. The Khmer Rouge believed that only the “pure” were qualified to build the revolution and anyone they did not regard as “pure” was arrested and executed, which included intellectuals, city residents and minority people.

The prisoners were expected to adhere to evil, rigid and extreme rules at the S-21 prison.

In mid 1976 the Khmer Rouge felt threatened by the possibility of revolt by the general population and internally within its own ranks. The Khmer Rouge leaders believed that “hidden enemies were burrowing from within”. They conducted a second wave of arrests against anyone they deemed to be “suspicious”, killing people immediately or imprisoning them where they were interrogated and tortured into making “confessions”. Many of their own soldiers and party members were accused of being traitors.

The classrooms were transformed into torture chambers where the prisoners were held captive and subjected to extreme forms of suffering and/or death. Blood stains were still visible.

Barbed wire was used to prevent the prisoners from jumping and committing suicide.

The interrogators utilised the gallows for their interrogation. They would tie the prisoners hands behind their back and hang them upside down until they lost consciousness, then submerge their head in water where the prisoner regained consciousness.

One of the rooms housed an exhibition displaying interviews with former members of the Khmer Rouge. Many stated to have joined the regime for fear that Khmer Rouge would kill them and their family if they resisted. Ex members appeared to have dampened their role, claiming that they did not partake directly in the actual torture or killings. In my opinion a certain degree of denial and diffusion of responsibility was present throughout.

Photographs of the victims were displayed in a number of rooms.

Profound statements had been written on the wall of another room.

Former chief of the S-21 prison known as Duch, ordered for his subordinates to take the survivors of the prisons, including the S-21 prison, to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek for execution. Choeung Ek was the largest genocidal camp in the country, approximately 14km from the centre of Phnom Penh. 86 of the 129 mass graves found were excavated and approximately 8,985 corpses exhumed. It was hard to imagine the horrors that took place so recently. Remains of clothing, bones and teeth had surfaced. A disturbing experience.

The tree Pol Pot's men used to kill babies as their mothers were forced to watch before they themselves were brutally murdered. Duch ordered for babies and children to be killed to avoid revenge in later life.

The memorial on the grounds comprises a towering glass stupa displaying the skulls of 8000 victims and their remaining clothing. The stupa was erected to preserve the remains and commemorate the death of the Kampuchea people under the Pol Pot regime. The 17 tiers of the memorial house different types of bones. We lit incense at the entrance as a mark of respect.

The Vietnamese invaded on 25 December 1978 and Cambodia was liberated from Khmer Rouge rule on January 7th 1979. Faced with severe famine, 625,000 people died from starvation the following 2 years. Although Pol Pot is now dead there are still a number of Khmer Rouge leaders alive. Duch is the first (and highest ranking) Khmer Rouge official to stand trial for the mass genocide that took place. He has admitted to being responsible for the execution of 15,000 people that passed through the S-21 prison. The remaining 4 senior leaders awaiting trial deny all knowledge of the atrocities that took place. Some younger Cambodian's argue that the costs associated with bringing all those responsible to justice would actually be better spent on the development of their economy. Controversial.

Just as we were leaving I was about to take a photo of Nic in our tuk-tuk when this little lad ran across and wanted to pose for the picture. The day had been hard going and by the end we felt emotionally drained and sickened by the extent of what people can do to each other. It is scary how history repeats itself and people do not learn.

The next day we went to explore the centre, enjoying a walk along the river and running into KFC for a quick ice cream when the heavens decided to open.
We waited for the rain to stop then went on our way to visit the Royal Palace. Just as we were about to enter the rain started again ridiculously heavy and showed no signs of stopping. We ran across the road to buy some ponchos and then went to check out the grounds. The buildings and the grounds were beautiful and truly reflected the image I had of Cambodian architecture.

Arriving back at the hostel we were greeted by little fish as the water level of the lake had risen above the decking. Although at first it did seem pretty cool having fish literally swimming in our hostel, we didn't quite realise the extent of the situation.

The water level had risen excessively high, people’s rooms were flooded (up to the level of the mattress of the bed in some cases) and the whole area out the back was submerged by water from the lake. Luckily for us our room was in a section of the building that was raised although water was just starting to seep in. I went to check on the situation of the bathroom and almost vomited as raw sewage was coming up through the drainage system. By this time I think it is fair to say that Nic started to panic a little. The hostel made the most amazing curry so I was up for moving to a room upstairs. The response I got from Nic when communicating my idea to her is probably not appropriate for this blog so I went outside and called a tuk-tuk with the intention to stay somewhere on higher ground. Carrying the bags above our heads we evacuated our hostel and thanks to our tuk-tuk driver we found another place. The floods will have no doubt severely affected a number of locals as all the hostels on the lake appeared to be flooded. It is not as easy for them to simply remove themselves from the situation.

We took a bus the next day to Siem Reap passing some beautiful landscape along the way. Seeing some of the begging children during our rest stop was a little emotional.

Arriving into Siem Reap it was clear to see they had been affected by the heavy rainfall too, so much so that the river had burst its banks in places. Hostels, hotels, homes and livelihoods were flooded. It didn’t ruin the spirits of all though, I did see a Cambodian child literally swimming in the flooded road!

Child sellers were a common scene in Siem Reap. They appear very confident, approaching you and asking where you are from and then proceeding to reel of a list of factual information about your home country like a robot. Child slavery is a big problem in Cambodia and while buying from the children can appear to be supporting them, it is damaging for the long term as it is only encouraging others to exploit them further.

The town had lots of restaurants, bars, cafes and a great ice cream parlour that we visited regularly! There were also some night markets that sold some awesome pictures. I saw one guy painting some beautiful sunset pictures that I wanted but thought I would not be able to transport them due to the size. I was happily surprised to find that they simply removed the canvas from the frame,
rolled them up and gave them to me in a bamboo carry tube... awesome! I decided on 2. I also bought some Cambodian percussion instruments to sample in my music when I get back to England.

The food stalls served up cheap and tasty noodles = good times!

On one of the evenings we were treated to some traditional Apsara dancing and live music. We stepped up on stage for a quick photo...

We arranged a tuk-tuk to see the temples of Angkor for the following day.

The temples were as expected, very impressive and the site was far bigger than I anticipated. The main temples situated in a circuit so our tuk-tuk took us from one to the next. It was like we had travelled back through time as we explored some of the ruins. Below are some of our favourite ruins.

The Banteay Kdei ruins....

Many of the temples had intricate carvings and the locals made rubbings on rice paper to sell to tourists.

The Ta Prohm temple was our favourite and you may recognise it from the Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider films.

The tree roots were crazy! They have literally grown though the ruins... very cool indeed!

I thought there would be more restrictions as to where you could go (as there were at Chichen Itza in Mexico) although I am sure it won’t stay this way forever.

A local man was selling some crafts and I purchased a wooden cow bell instrument from him.

Below is my impression of people that like to get in the way of my photos!

Nic climbing up high.....

The view from the top...

There were many sellers all around the ruins, most of them situated just as you approach each temple. Although we were successful in our gaunlet run we found this little girl on top of top of the temple trying her best to sell a postcard to Nic. She was very sweet but I was king of the castle!

Our driver had a pet parrot that chilled on the front of his bike as he drove us about! Nic must have scared him when she held him though, as he crapped himself all over her leg! That makes it 1-1, as I was unfortunate in Miami if you remember?!

We prepared for another downpour...

The final temple of the day was a visit to the famous grandaddy of all temples, the national symbol Angkor Wat. We captured some great photos, but unfortunately there was some restoration work taking place so we didn’t get to climb the steps. It was only when we walked around the main level that we truly appreciated its size.

The approach to Angkor Wat...

Just before we left I went off to take my last photos of Angkor Wat leaving Nic to defend herself against the kids!

We had a great day but by the end I think it is fair to say we were both fully templed out. You would have to be a serious temple enthusiast to buy anything other than the 1 day pass, although there were a fair few people in the multiple day ticket line at the ticket booths.... nutters!

The Cambodian people were an inspiration. They have been though such a horrific time and come though the other side with great hope for the future. The people have such pride for their country and love that tourists want to visit. They are some of the friendliest and genuine people we have met on our travels, similar to the people of Laos in that respect.

Final stop... Bangkok. We had heard quite a few savage stories about the journey from Siem Reap to Bangkok so we set off on our way open minded. I am happy to say that other than a 2 hour wait at the border the journey was not actually that bad. Time for my belly to begin its preparation to eat as much Thai curry as humanly possible... bring on the stomach ulcer... off to Bangkok for the last stop of our world tour... Woohoo!!

permalink written by  SupandNic on October 11, 2010 from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Sup and Nic's World Tour!
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Vivacious and Volatile Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

With the luscious beauty of Laos behind us, we were now ready to face the hustle and bustle of the city once more. Unfortunately for us, to get there would require a 26 hour journey across the border on a sleeper bus...on my birthday!! The bus arrived late and by the time we had sorted our accommodation in Hanoi it was about 9.30pm and my birthday was fast running out.
The hunt for a nice place to eat didn't go quite as planned, mainly as most places were closed, and I ended up with a squished mush of a 'burger' in a cafe while the waitress forgot Sup's dinner altogether! We left in a huff, but were luckily saved on the way home by a group of
teens who kept us topped up with free Sangria-style punch while making spare ribs and chicken curry for us to take out. We had inadvertently arrived on the night of a street party full moon celebration, so the city was full to the max with colourful lights, overexcited locals and a million gazillion mopeds. Overwhelming to say the least!

The following day we were still becoming accustomed to the insanity that is Hanoi, and we took a walk down by the river before escaping to view the mayhem from a distance, chilling on the roof terrace of the local KFC!! Hanoi was to be revisited twice more after our initial stay as it is the hub from where we ventured North-West and East. In our subsequent trips, we found better food, were still harassed beyond belief by tuk tuks and taxi drivers and managed to fit in a visit to the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, aka the 'Hanoi Hilton'.

We walked around the prison learning of the brutal treatment of prisoners and seeing the disturbing remains of history, as well as reading about the bold escapes, and later of the captured American fighters who were kept at the prison during the Vietnam War, one of which was US Senator and former Presidential candidate John McCain.

Hanoi was most definitely defined by its chaotic nature, so it seemed fitting that our last moments before we moved on were spent on a hair raising moped ride through the town. We were rather taken by surprise when we were picked up from our guesthouse by a couple of guys on mopeds as we were expecting a minibus to take us to our sleeper bus.
I have to admit I was pretty reluctant and not in the most positive frame of mind. Sup, however, leapt at the experience, and in the end we both enjoyed one hell of a ride, despite almost getting our arms and legs ripped off as the bikes weaved in and out and around oncoming traffic. They certainly turned out to be preferable to the taxi drivers, who tried their very best to rip us off at every opportunity, as well as the women of the ticket counter at the train station who would be likely to spit in outrage at the very idea of customer service! We also had a lot of fun spotting the most insane moped drivers, carrying up to 6 passengers at a time, including babies and small children, and the more ambitious ones loaded with boxes and crates of beer – nothing fazes these guys at all. Complete and utter Moped Mania!

From our first stop in Hanoi, we headed to Sapa, in the North highlands of Vietnam. The sleeper train journey there was actually pretty cool and we shared our carriage with a nice couple who didn't steal our bags which was a bonus! Arriving in Sapa at 5am was an experience, and the hour minibus ride took us higher and higher through incredible black and white views before the sun came up and brought the land back to colour. The mysterious and beautiful mist that settled on the mountains, however, was there to stay, and when we later explored the town, barely able to see our hands in front of our faces, we were concerned that the promised spectacular landscape would remain hidden from view. The town was very sweet, with a European feel to it, and drinking super strong Vietnamese coffee and eating brownies at the French-style bakery was an excellent way to spend some time the next day while we waited for the sky to clear.

Our peaceful chill out time was unfortunately destroyed at other times by the persistent pestering of the village women who came to the town to sell their wares. They were charming, spoke fantastic English, and were very amusing at times, but being interrupted and approached constantly to buy the same things over and over again soon lost its novelty, and we began to long for the less intense vibe of Laos. Spending some time with the villagers outside of the town and on their own territory, however, proved to be a far better experience as we found the next day when we took the village tour to trek through the famous Sapa rice fields.
In a small group we were accompanied by a gaggle of villagers who practised their English with us eagerly and kept a tight grip on me as we waded through slippery mud on steep slopes. They made it look far too easy, while I was trying hard to keep my grip, and people were falling over left, right and centre. They even refrained from persuading us to part with our money in exchange for their handicrafts until the very last moment, so the trip was nice and stress-free! Walking through their village, we came across some interesting sights, from kids riding a water buffalo in the rice field, to a man sitting by a small fire looking suspiciously like he was about to start cooking a rather rigid looking dog... at that point I walked quickly on, afraid of being traumatised and of losing my lunch. The scenery backdrop to our little trek with the beauty of the lush green fields and mountains was outstanding.

After spending the afternoon admiring the lake nearby, we set off back to Hanoi once again on the sleeper train and spent far too long that night interviewing tour operators to establish which one we could actually trust, before embarking on our very first mini cruise – to the hauntingly beautiful Halong Bay.

We had selected a more upmarket tour in order to ensure that our experience was the best, so in true cruise style we began our journey with an amazing culinary feast on board our boat.
We had a great group of people sharing the experience with us, 18 of us in total, and we enjoyed sharing travel stories with two other couples from Brazil, America and Israel over lunch before we transferred to a smaller boat to take us to the 'Amazing Cave'. Having seen quite a few during our travels, we agreed that it was definitely a great cave, although the given name was perhaps a little ambitious...!

A sunset kayaking trip was the perfect end to the day and our guide took us to a stunning lagoon, where we were surrounded 360 degrees by looming limestone rocks.
Following another delicious feast, with seafood as the main attraction much to my delight, we tried our hand at squid fishing from the end of our boat. A lively 12 year old English boy provided the best entertainment of the night in the form of Vietnamese rock karaoke, a performance that had us in stitches and we were sorry not to have filmed it for the world to enjoy on YouTube!

The real excitement, however, started at bedtime. Relaxing in our rustic little boat cabin, the lights down low, we were congratulating each other for selecting the best cruise for our Halong Bay experience, when a surprise midnight visitor made themselves known to us. Lying under the air conditioning unit, I watched a rat with a body the size of a man's hand stomp across the slats in the unit and begin scratching away at something in the corner.
We stormed back up onto the deck to complain, but there was nothing that could be done. Thank goodness for Ipods to drown out the noise so we could forget about our furry little intruder and get some sleep. The feedback form they later gave us, however, was a delightful opportunity to vent!;-) Fortunately this was still an upgrade from the army of bed bugs that had attacked Sup in our hotel in Hanoi, leaving him with red itching lumps all over his back – curiously, they had absolutely no interest in me...evidently my blood is not up to bedbug standards!

The transfer from the boat to Cat Ba island for one day and night gave us the opportunity to experience the last National Park of our travels. A hike through mud in a cool little forest brought us to a tower with a sensational view of Cat Ba's finest greenery, although the view required a test of nerves. Only five people were supposed to be on the structure at one time, so naturally about twenty people surged forward at once to make the rusty climb

When our jelly legs finally got to the top, we were greeted with precariously placed wooden floorboards
with considerable gaps, and a corrugated iron roof, most of which looked like it had been ripped off in a strong wind – yikes! The remainder of our time on Cat Ba was spent together on a wonderful cliff-side walk to a beautiful beach, followed by a romantic stroll back to the hotel at sunset by the harbour.

The famous Fishing Village of Halong Bay, made known to the world through Top Gear (!)
was the last destination of our cruise adventure before we embarked on our journey back to Hanoi and straight on to our next destination Hoi An, with a short stop in Hue in the pouring train to make a connection.

The bus driver transporting us from Hue seemed like a sweet older man, until a car wouldn't move in his path and he began cursing in Vietnamese before pulling out a wrench from behind his seat and wielding it with conviction. At that point, we ceased complaining to each other about his questionable driving skills and kept our mouths firmly shut!

Hoi An was a nice bite-sized colonial town, so the one day we had allowed for exploration was perfect.
We walked along the pretty riverside, stopping for a relaxing drink on the way, and took some photos of the 500 year old Japanese bridge.

That night another long sleeper bus journey took us on to our last Vietnamese destination of Ho Chi Minh City, but not before throwing us out at 5.30am in Nha Trang while we waited for another transfer. We didn't mind too much though, as the couple of hours off the bus allowed us to enjoy sunrise on the beach and a nice breakfast. Many locals were up early engaging in Tai Chi, running and all manner of exercises in the park by the beach which put us to shame. Visiting Nha Trang also gave us the opportunity to see our first Vietnamese beach, although we both later agreed that the beach of Muni that we glimpsed out the window during our travels looked even better.

Ho Chi Minh City, previously known as Saigon, was a really nice surprise for us. Although still a hectic Vietnamese city, we felt it had a far better vibe than Hanoi and a real charm to it. Our accommodation was great and the street where we were staying had fantastic souvenirs, food and awesome donuts! Apart from eating and shopping though, our main aim was to learn more about the Vietnam War. This meant a trip to the War Remnants Museum. Twice. The museum was fascinating and gave us considerable insight into the complexities of the war, the involvement of the USA and the horrific consequences that still continue to this day.

Sup provided a quick background history for those who don't already know (including me!)...The French colonial domination in Vietnam lasted for nearly 100 years, until they surrendered to Ho Chi Minh's communist Viet Minh forces in 1954 and independence was granted to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Shortly after, Diem, the anticommunist leader of the southern zone, rejected the agreement for a unified government, questionning how 'free elections' could be expected to take place in the communist north. Vietnam was officially divided into North and South. The Vietnam War was fought between North Vietnam (supported by its communist allies) and the government of South Vietnam (supported by the anti-communist US who claimed to be helping the whole of South East Asia from communist takeover.). The Viet Cong, a Vietnamese communist guerilla group was founded to fight against Diem.

They had an impressive collection of aeroplanes, helicopters and tanks outside and we overheard an American family in high spirits loudly and proudly discussing which plane the father had flown in the war. Later walking through the gallery filled with photographic evidence of the devastation caused, we watched the same family leaving the room in quiet distress, holding their father up as he visibly struggled with the demons of his past.

A haunting photograph captured the moment when an ex-guard of the prison years later met with a man he had tortured daily for several years. The strength of the victim in facing his torturer, compared with the weakness of the man who was forced to face the horrors of what he had done was a moving image.

The barbed wire tiger cage was just one of the shocking torments prisoners were subjected to. Of particular interest was the use of chemical warfare, Agent Orange and Napalm, and many will recall the famous photograph of the young children running screaming as the planes soak them and their land in deadly chemicals. Many children of both Vietnamese and Americans who were exposed to these chemicals were born with severe deformities and unexploded land mines from the war still remain a serious threat. The photographs in the museum documented the chilling legacy of the war, including the Mai Lai massacre where an entire village of men, women and children were brutally murdered by soldiers. Most images were far too graphic to post.

In contrast, and in true Vietnamese spirit, there was also a whole area dedicated to presenting with pride the progress that Vietnam has made in the post-war period. It is amazing to see how the country has picked itself up in relatively little time and transformed its war torn landscape back to life. We certainly came away from the museum understanding a little more about the Vietnamese people's fierce pride and determination.

In between our museum visits, we took a tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, stopping off at a fantastic little factory along the way where people with various disabilities made the most beautiful souvenirs, creating pictures using crushed eggshells and seashells.

The Cu Chi Tunnels were very informative, as well as interactive, and we had great fun experiencing the tight squeeze and marvelling at the genius of the villagers who created an entire habitation underground for protection. Their counter attack was savage and successful – using an advanced and deadly form of recycling, they turned the materials from the destroyed enemy war planes to make their own bombs and weapons, and set horrifying traps.

Our final day in Vietnam was spent at the Independence Palace, the site that marked the end of the Vietnam War as the North Vietnamese tanks rolled into the grounds and Saigon surrendered to the North.

It was a beautiful building, very grand and richly decorated and we enjoyed the sweeping views from the roof terrace while drinking our favourite drinks – Sup is Team Pepsi while I am a Coke girl for life! On the way to the souvenir market later on, the traffic started to build up on the roads and, hearing a loud noise a little bit closer than we would have liked, we turned to see a line of mopeds mounting the pavement without breaking speed and heading straight for us...!

We dodged the crazy locals as best we could, but once the rain came down, everyone was in a hurry and the pavement became the overtaking lane, at which point we were forced to leap into a nearby flowerbed for safety and let the insanity die down!
The market was as hectic as expected, filled with fantastic souvenirs and hardcore sellers noticeably less willing than the Thai marketeers to do favourable business. We had practised our technique well in Thailand and Malaysia however, so we were prepared for their games and came away with some nice surprises. We passed an outside stage on the walk home and stopped to watch the children rehearsing dance routines which was very sweet, before continuing our journey through the lovely local park.

Vietnam was without a doubt the most challenging country of our travels. We were exhausted at times by the effort we had to make to dodge the con artists and find legitimate travel and tour operators, exasperated by the attitude of some of the more defensive hostile natives, and exhilarated by the beauty and rich history and culture of the country. Vietnam was an eclectic mix of amazing highs and frustrating lows, a real rollercoaster ride that pushed us to the limits and delivered rich rewards. We had to work to get what we wanted out of Vietnam and we learned some valuable lessons along the way. If I could do it all again, I wouldn't change a thing.

permalink written by  SupandNic on October 6, 2010 from Hanoi, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Sup and Nic's World Tour!
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Laid Back Laos...

Luang Prabang, Laos

With Thailand successfully completed we embarked on an overnight bus journey from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang in Laos. We were lucky to stop near the border for one last Thai temple exploration. The white temple was the king daddy of all temples and our mission through the rain was indeed worth it. The temple design was one of the most diverse I have seen. In the photo below you can see the walkway leading to the temple and the eerie section of hand sculptures reaching up from the ground.

Arriving into Luang Prabang in the early morning with severe lack of sleep meant that bed was in order. After catching up on a few hours sleep we went off to explore. We were impressed. The town had a great mix of Asian and European influence. The beautiful temples, French architecture and the former grand palace provided us with some excellent photo opportunities.
Monks could be seen all around, walking down the lush tree lined streets which were surrounded by both the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. The food was also some of the best and we both enjoyed our daily chicken and Mekong River fish from the laid back night markets and riverside food stalls. What's more the locals were so friendly and genuine. This was one relaxed town and we sunk into the lifestyle just fine ;-)

We spent some time visiting the various temples situated around the town. The Phu Si temple was positioned high up on the hill providing us with great views over Luang Prabang.

Wat Xieng Thong was the most famous temple in the town and dates back to 1560. At one of the other temples we were lucky to speak with a couple of young 15 year old monks. It was interesting to learn about their culture and dedication they put in. Nic couldn't get too close as they are not allowed to have any contact with females! They had only been learning English for a short time and their interaction with tourists is a great way for them to boost their vocabulary and for us to also learn about their lifestyle. Later that evening Nic went to see a Laos dance theatre performance which she enjoyed, while I spent some more time looking around the town.

Pak Ou Caves was next up on our list. The cave was accessed by a 1 and a half hour boat ride upstream a beautiful stretch of the Mekong River. There are 2 caves within the cliff both full with a variety of Buddha statues. Whilst the cave was a good visit,
the scenery during the boat trip was the highlight of the morning. Our boat made a stop at the Ban Xang Hai village, otherwise known as 'Whisky Village'. We met the locals who showed us a range of bottled whiskey they had made, each containing a different creature, including snakes, scorpions and geckos. The whiskeys are made for a variety of purposes including joint pain and building strength. We each tried a shot of 60% proof whiskey which was potent to say the least.

We took a trip to see the Kung Si Waterfall in the afternoon. We were greeted at the Park entrance by a big happy sun bear! The reserve has a conservation scheme for bears rescued from poachers. He looked in good shape and we were both impressed with the size of the bears enclosure.

Kung Si Waterfall is one the most stunning waterfalls I have seen on our travels to date. The water runs from the main pool throughout the jungle, passing over a number of smaller falls which were equally as beautiful as the main fall itself.
We set on a trek to the top and half way up realised we should have made our way up the other side. The route was so muddy and it was only a matter of time before we took off our flip flops and continued bare foot. The views from the top were awesome. We were a little anxious standing at the top, seeing the water rushing over the edge. One false move and we would have been falling a long way down.

On the way home we predictably stopped at a local village where the women and children were selling all sorts of handmade crafts. Nic made the gigantic mistake of buying a wristband from a woman outside her house and within seconds she was surrounded by a gaggle of children chanting “You buy from me, You buy from me”, much to my amusement. I, however, managed to escape. Afraid that she may never make it out of the village, Nic leapt into the van thinking she was safe, however, the 'Children of the Damned' still circled like vultures.

Later that evening we met up with Rich, an Australian guy we had met on the way to Laos and went for some drinks. It was a great evening, although as I have been drinking less since coming away travelling I have turned into a bit of a lightweight. It's all good, it made for a cheap evening!

Vang Vieng was to be our next destination and we enjoyed the scenic bus route which passed through the beautiful Laos mountains. Vang Vieng was a great little town and the surrounding scenery was simply stunning. 'Friends' was shown in just about every restaurant and bar. It seemed to do the job of getting people through the door. We did get a few sneaky surprises on occasions, mainly getting passed the opium menu while waiting for our food. Crazy. When the French invaded back in the day they permitted opium production to flourish and Laos became a big producer of the crop. In 1998 Laos was the third largest illicit opium producer in the world. As a result of the government's commitment to address the issue, during the period of 1998 and 2005 the country's opium cultivation was reduced by 94% and addiction dropped by 80%. Pretty impressive. I contemplated having an opium spliff starter but after giving it some thought I felt it wouldn't have complimented my Laos chicken curry. (!!!)

Tubing is of course the main activity that people come to Vang Vieng for. This is basically where you float down the river in a big old tractor inner tube, stopping along the way at make shift bars before jumping back in the river via rope swings! We were a little disappointed to learn that the tubing operators weren't due to open because of the high waters the previous few days rain had bought. After grabbing a bite to eat we were pleased to see that with no sign of any further rain in sight the tubing operators had in fact opened so we picked up our tubes and took a tuk tuk to the launch site. We were informed of how 3 people have died tubing already this summer through a combination of high river conditions, back flips, drink and mushroom shakes. We were beginning to wonder if we would make it through alive!

The launch point involved sliding down a big metal slide straight into the river... great fun! The river was flowing pretty fast so as soon as I hit the water I was off. Nic was up next and the strong current had made her veer off to the wrong side. She ended up getting stuck under a bridge because the water was so high. It was a little scary to be honest but me and another lad nearby got her free. We re-energised with a big hug (after the obligatory screaming in my ear for 10 minutes from the shock!) and then jumped back in our tubes and made our way to the first bar, which by now was rammed with travellers. The rope swing had to be done so I stepped up first. It looks pretty damn high when you climb up (especially when you are just on some rickety old bits of wood). I reached for the swing and took a big jump which felt like I was plummeting for eternity before I was plunged deep in the river. You then get thrown a rope so you don't end up floating off for miles. Nic stepped up next and seeing her face was priceless! The photos aren't the best (no waterproof camera) but you get the idea! Floating down the river surrounded by such amazing views was epic.

Our Kayak tour turned out to be one our Laos highlights. We kayaked 18km downstream and there was no better way to see the stunning surroundings of Vang Vieng.

There was definitely something wrong with our kayak (or Nic?!) though as we managed to capsize a total of 3 times. Things were getting a bit silly. I think our guide just thought we were both positively rubbish at kayaking until he had switched to the kayak with me. We set off on our challenge to paddle up the rapid... without success... we capsized. This was only the second capsize in our guides 10 year kayaking history. He couldn't believe it.

This was a good time to re-fuel and we stopped for our barbeque lunch which of course
was delicious. Laos food is big in the game. They know how to feast well. After lunch we were back on the river. We stopped off along route to visit one of the nearby caves. The water was unfortunately too high for us to enter the cave but the short hike to get there was worth it nonetheless, as we passed through lush green rice fields. I have recently become a fan of rice fields and when you see the photos it is easy to see why.

Next up was a stop at an organic tea farm for a fine cuppa before continuing kayaking further downstream to visit one of the other nearby caves called Tham Non, also known as 'sleeping cave'. In order to enter the cave we had to pass through a cool spring which was very refreshing. We had to swim upstream through the cave clinging on to bits of rock and forming a human rope line. It was great fun and such an experience to explore an undeveloped cave with nothing more than candlelight. Awesome! Once we made it to the end we able to explore the the main cave room. It was an impressive room that was home to hundreds of locals that took refuge from the bombs during the war. It was hard to imagine people living in the cave day and night.

Having found a rock climbing operator in the area I signed up and enjoyed a days climbing over the amazing scenery below me. First we had to hike a short distance to get to the rock face crossing farmland, streams and a rocky incline towards the end.

The limestone cliff provided us with some great climbs although the midday sun made it hard work at times. It appears that Laos climbing safety equipment is not quite up to the same standard as Thailand , however. The woman who was also climbing with me was an experienced climber from Australia and after she inspected the anchor at the top she was looking rather anxious. There were also no bolts on route to the top, but instead there were slings (loops of rope attached to the rock) so when our guide asked if I wanted to lead the climb (climb with the rope and attach it to the top) she strongly advised me against it. I thought it was best to listen to her as she seemed to know what she was on about.

Despite the slight safety issues we had a great days climb and it did give me more determination not to fall off. I also completed a 6b+ climb which is my toughest climb yet so I was chuffed. We had another tasty barbeque lunch which our guide cooked up... top stuff.

On our final day we went to explore the most well known cave of the area, Tham Jang. This cave was used as a bunker in defence from the Chinese in the early 19th century. Once in the cave grounds we were greeted by a welcoming blue spring so naturally we jumped in to cool off. After having a little swim we made our climb to the top of the steps to visit the cave. This was a developed cave and was good fun to explore. Again we were treated to some awesome views.

Last stop on our itinerary was the capital city Vientiane. After checking into the hotel we went into town to see the sights. Vientiane again had a mix of predominantly French and Asian influence, a result of the French rebuilding much of the city in the early 20th century, after the destruction that had been left by the Siamese invasion. We enjoyed some donuts from one of the French bakeries on route to the museum. Although there was only a small amount of English in the museum it was an hour well spent. Further research helped us to understand the missing links. During the 60's and early 70's Laos was effected by an unacknowledged conflict known as the 'Secret War'. Northern Vietnam used eastern Laos to move huge quantities of war material down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The USA responded with the largest bombing campaign in history. 2 million tons of bombs were dropped by the USA between 1964 and 1973. Approximately a third of these bombs didn't explode. These are disasters waiting to happen, especially for children and farmers. Understandably then Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) is a serious killer today in Laos. The British organisation MAG (Mines Advisory Group) has been helping to clear UXO in conjunction with UXO Laos since 1994 so slowly things are improving. Cleared land can then be used for long term development including agriculture, schools and irrigation canals. Check out http://www.maginternational.org/laopdr/ for more info. They are doing a good job. There is a long way to go, however, the reality is there are still over 200 casualties per year, almost half of which result in death. These are the consequences of a bombing campaign that finished almost 40 years ago. Absolutely shocking.

We continued on our journey through the town stopping off at some of the temples, the city fountain and the palace, although we did get hurried out of the grounds very quickly by the guard. Ooops, I don't think we were supposed to be in there. We had a fantastic curry on route too. Nic noticed the sun beginning to set over the river in the distance so we set off in the direction of the sun. I am very glad we did as we witnessed one of the most spectacular sunsets of our whole trip.

The next morning we hired some push bikes costing a whole $1 each for the day. Value. The purpose for hiring the bikes was to visit the Pha That Luang, the most important national monument in Laos. It symbolises Buddhist religion and Laos sovereignty. When the sun shines on it it looks very impressive and can be seen from afar. Nic's bike had some crazy stand device that she had trouble using. It was very funny watching!

Laos has blown us away. The country has matched up to the old style South East Asia I had pictured in my head. It was a part of Asia that I had not yet come across. The country is beautiful and we both enjoyed being surrounded by the natural beauty rather than travelling far to find it. There appears to be a positive future for Laos and the local people seem to recognise that too. The issues surrounding Laos have made me think about communist and capitalist politics and the future that lies a head for the country. It has sparked an interest and I look forward to learning more. It is great to see the country benefiting from tourism and rising out of poverty, but this comes at a price. With a growing number of tourists the country will no doubt change at an alarming rate just like it's Asian neighbours have done over the years. Will it manage to retain its soul? Now that is the question.

permalink written by  SupandNic on October 5, 2010 from Luang Prabang, Laos
from the travel blog: Sup and Nic's World Tour!
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Chiang Mai & the Dismal Dengue

Chiang Mai, Thailand

After passing through Bangkok for one night only, our final Thai destination was to be a short stopover in Chiang Mai, before our adventures began in Laos. Unfortunately, a rogue mosquito in Koh Phangan changed our plans considerably when it went beyond the normal pesky bite, and a 5 hour wait at the local hospital followed by a blood test confirmed that I had been infected with Dengue Fever.
I had started to feel pretty poorly during the long journey, but once in Chiang Mai the savage fever took hold and I was sick, weak as a 140 year old woman and confined to my bed for about a week. Meanwhile, inbetween making sure I had everything I needed, Sup had to entertain himself in the town with temple visits, admiring the intricate golden decorations and impressive structures, and a gallon of...you guessed it, Thai curry!

With a lot of pills, TLC and mini bananas, I finally dragged my frail little body out of bed and began the road to recovery – pizza and iced coffee were two of my cravings and they soon brought me back to life!

Sup had found that although the town had a lot of lovely places, it was not a lovely place in itself. The nightlife was seedy throughout and it was hard to escape this, even in seemingly ordinary restaurants. The gentle Thai vibe seemed to have been lost here and seeing a young guy parading a scared baby elephant around the busy town on a chain for money further added to the general dubious atmosphere we felt here.

One of the lovely places he had discovered, however, was the town park, so we hired a picnic mat and chilled by the park lake for the day in the sun, feeding the big Koi fish, thousands of which lunged to the surface as we sprinkled pellets for them to eat.

In the evening we indulged in a little entertainment in the form of Thai boxing – Muay Thai! It was a really fun night, starting with feisty 15 year old boxers with surprising potential, followed by 17 year olds with high spirits and impressive coordination, before the 18 year olds burst into the ring with the fire, determination and ass-kicking moves of future champs. During a break, a group of thai boxers were blindfolded and sent into the ring to cause mayhem with each other, which they certainly did...arms and legs were flailing everywhere, and at one point a boxer pounded the ref by mistake, which resulted in an almighty flying kick of retaliation that sent the boxer soaring across the length of the ring.

Then came the final fight of the night, and the one we had been waiting for – a tough looking Thai facing off against one hulking great beast of a man from England. We had watched him prepare throughout the night, being spurred on by his little Thai lady, smearing Tiger Balm all over his muscles and generally strutting like a true boxing champ. And that he was. Within a couple of rounds the brave Thai was pulverised into a heap on the floor and the crowd went wild.

The excitement of the Thai boxing had finally re-energised me and by our 9th day I was well enough to take on a challenge of a tour. We began with a visit to a beautiful orchid farm filled with an array of colourful flowers. Sup was keen to move on after about 2 minutes, one flower looking pretty much like the next to him! We continued our journey by minibus which brought us close to our next destination, and then a 15 minute trek (my favourite kind!) took us through luscious rolling green hills and rice fields to come face to trunk with 7 almighty elephants...

We spotted the biggest most impressive bull and lingered at the back so that we could ride on the star of the show, but we were about to find out that this was a flawed plan indeed. In short, our elephant was crazy! Worse even, a combination of crazy, rebellious, incredibly strong, and above all – hungry!
The ride consisted mainly of climbing for an hour through wet mud up a steep incline through forest and back down again. With me and Sup perched precariously on a wooden seat on his back and the 'Mahout', or elephant handler, sat snugly on the neck with one foot behind each ear to steer (!) we took just a few steps before our 'graceful' beast snorted about a gallon of liquid mud and shot a steady spray all over us in an effort to cool himself down. He then made it his sole mission to search, eat and destroy every bamboo tree in sight, snapping whole trees as easily as if they were flower stems and devouring everything in sight.

It was a hilarious experience, as were the tricks we were shown by another mahout and his elephant. Using her trunk as a lift, she hoisted her master up onto her almighty back, and then scooped his flip flop up from the ground and passed it up to him without even being asked!

There were times when our awesome ride became a little scary – the mud made the elephant slip occasionally and we had to duck from the heavy branches that came crashing towards us as he wrenched down the trees, all the while clinging on for dear life.

Incredibly, we escaped with all limbs intact and we waved goodbye to our crazy friend and headed out to a waterfall for lunch – some lovely flavoured chicken rice wrapped in a banana leaf. Sup had forgotten to bring his contact lens case, but he could swim around in the cool shallow water. I, however, had other ideas...my eye was on the rock slide! (that's me at the top of the slide in blue, with an audience at the bottom!)

After shooting down a vertical rock face at 100 miles an hour into a freezing waterfall pool, I was ready for more and we set off for a double rafting session. Our first rafting experience was in an inflatable dinghy on a rapid river – kind of a tame version of white water rafting that left us wanting more. After bouncing over a few gushing waves, we then transferred to a traditional bamboo raft for a lazy float down the river, with Sup as the captain. No waterproof camera = no photos unfortunately, but we were left with some fun memories.

We visited a local village on the way home and gained some insight into the simple life, meeting some of the residents and admiring their homemade crafts. Further on down the road we stopped by a huge swing made by the villagers and we both jumped on for some good old-fashioned fun!

The next day we finally moved on from Chiang Mai on an overnight bus crossing the border to the land of Laos. Thailand was officially done - the islands had introduced us to the stunning beauty of Asia, the town had suggested something darker lurking underneath, and we were about to enter the emerald realm of luscious Laos, an Asian backdrop of epic proportions...

permalink written by  SupandNic on October 2, 2010 from Chiang Mai, Thailand
from the travel blog: Sup and Nic's World Tour!
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Koh Phangan – Full Moon Par-tay!!!

Ko Phangan, Thailand

The spirit of Koh Phangan of course lies in the wonders of the Full Moon Party – a gratuitous night of dancing on the beach, drinking buckets of dubious alcohol and generally having an awesome night of fun. There is, however, also an incredibly beautiful island to discover in the light of day.

We made our home in Haad Yao, a stunning stretch of beach that captured our hearts. Our first night's accommodation was nothing special, purely functional while we dumped our bags to look
for somewhere better, and when we found it, it was most definitely worth the wait. For the rest of our time in Koh Phangan our home was an amazing little hut right on the beach, with a beautiful garden of flowers, rows of tall palm trees and an awesome view of the sea. We had our own balcony with table, chairs and our favourite of all things – a hammock!

On our first night, we had enjoyed dinner in a lovely little restaurant on the beach inches from the sea, however after sampling the food made by our guesthouse, we were soon living the high life and ordering dinner to be sent to our room so that we could eat on our private balcony overlooking the beach!

When the day of the Full Moon came, we sunned ourselves on the glorious beach and then set about getting ready for the big night, with Tiger beer for Sup and Red Bull for me as a starting point. A long and bumpy taxi van ride then took us to the infamous beach on Hat Rin and we were greeted with a massive row of colourful stalls selling body paint, neon t-shirts and shorts, and above all buckets! Well, it would have been rude not to indulge in local custom so we got our hands on a rum, coke and red bull combo and went off to blend in with the thousands of happy faces dancing on the sand. One bucket quickly turned into two, and then three, and I just managed to drag Sup away from a potential bucket number four with the promise of pizza to ensure that we would be able to actually find our way back home.

We had a lot of fun on the beach, there was definitely more commercial dance and chart music than underground to our surprise. The drum and bass tent, however, was pretty lively and we spent most of our time there until I demanded that we dance to some of my tunes for a while and pulled Sup through the crowds. It was here I found the fire slide...what a crazy idea, to climb up army style netting and slide through fire into a crowd of drunken tourists while tipsy – it was too good to be true and before Sup could say a word, I was already on my way! He got a photo of the slide itself, but I shot down so fast there was no time to capture me in action! After noticing that I had my eye on the flaming fire hoop, I was soon dragged back through the crowd before I got any more ideas, which on reflection was undoubtedly a very good move.

Following the loony antics Full Moon Party, we slowed our pace for the next few days and relaxed on the beach, sometimes with new found friends. Thailand seems to have so many friendly dogs full of character, and one cheeky guy took a shine to me and took Sup's place on his sunbathing towel next to me when he got up to take a photo!

Once we were fully recovered we rented a moped for the last time so that we could see a bit more of the beautiful island of Koh Phangan, so often missed in the shadow of the Full Moon frenzy. Once again, the views did not disappoint and the journey was wonderfully smooth compared with the drama of Koh Tao. It was fantastic to be able to enjoy both the hedonistic spirit of the Full Moon Party and the chilled out paradise of the rest of the island and we both felt it was the perfect place to end our Thai island adventures.

On our last night, we soaked up every last second of the brilliantly colourful beach sunset, although after far too much time paying attention to the sky I started to demand Sup's attention back onto me and rightly so!

The islands of Thailand will always be special to us and the experiences unforgettable. We emerged from our wonderful month by the sea a confident rock climber and diver, masters of the moped, fully fledged members of the Full Moon Party crew and above all, engaged! With so many wonderful memories behind us, we couldn't wait to see what else South East Asia had in store for us!

permalink written by  SupandNic on September 24, 2010 from Ko Phangan, Thailand
from the travel blog: Sup and Nic's World Tour!
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The Underworld of Koh Tao...

Ko Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao exceeded all expectations and gave me one of the best experiences of my whole life. Diving! But in addition than that, it became our home for 6 whole nights – a fantastic dive resort on a stunning beach, with a chilled out vibe, great people. incredible sunsets, delicious Thai curries and a lot of affectionate dogs.

The Padi Open Divers course was something I had been considering, but due to time, money and competency worries, I was at first reluctant. Sup, however, made me see sense and encouraged me to go for it as he knew that I would love it. And that is one of the million reasons I love my man!

Even the thought of going 'back to school' for 3 days was exciting to me and it felt good to be in front of a text book learning something new. The resort we chose for my course was beautiful, aptly named Coral Grand, and situated on a gorgeous stretch of white sand with turquoise waters that were perfect for swimming in even long after dark. I had the first night off to relax before getting started, so we explored the small town and soaked up the last rays of the setting sun. The sunsets on the beach were absolutely spectacular in Koh Tao and Sup was in his element.

The next day I was off to work and Sup finally got some well deserved peace and quiet, and time to relax
in the sunshine with his favourite treat of the moment - a stick of juicy pineapple from the friendly Burmese beach vendor. He later enjoyed a slightly less healthy snack in the form of a delicious Nutella pancake from the fastest pancake maker in the whole of South East Asia!

After a couple of hours watching videos about diving and answering quiz questions I was free to go so I tracked Sup down at the beach and we headed out for dinner. As my nerves was starting to get the better of me, my appetite dropped considerably – luckily Sup was on hand to ensure that nothing was wasted and he gladly tucked into his second curry of the night. Later on I did some heavy duty swatting in order to have a head start on the practical exercises the next day in the swimming pool.

I met with my group early in the morning - two German lads Markus and Sharon, Helen from Switzerland, who was to be my buddy for the duration of the course, and our German-Canadian instructor Dave. Although I was a little overwhelmed at first by the scuba equipment, I was surprised by how quickly it all seemed to make sense, and as Sup watched from a sun lounger by the pool, step by step I learned how to use the equipment properly, how to survive underwater in emergencies, and how to assist my buddy. As you can see, I felt very comfortable in my lovely wetsuit, although the flippers and incredibly heavy scuba tank took a bit more getting used to. After one minor incident in the pool when I pretty much drowned, died and was resurrected, I refined my technique and was raring to go.

With just a couple more theory sessions under my belt, I soon found myself on a dive boat sailing out on the open water ready for dive 1 and 2 of the program, with more than a few tingling nerves. Sup came along to master his snorkelling technique, and it was great to have my partner in crime there with me to share my first open water experience. And what an experience it was!!

I zipped up my wetsuit, attached my weight belt round my hips and eased on my buoyancy control device (BCD) with the scuba tank securely fastened to the back. With the respirator in my mouth and my mask over my eyes I took a giant stride off the boat and landed with an almighty splash, inflating my BCD right away so that I could float safely in the choppy water. As a group we then swam over to the buoy line and prepared for our descent, although nothing really could have prepared me for the incredible experience of sinking down into the ocean to discover the magic of the underwater world. It was truly spectacular.

Our 1st and 3rd dives were fun dives, with the 2nd and 4th dives being designed to test our skills and ensure that we were eligible for certification. Over a 2 day period I became more confident in the water and by the 4th dive, when we were clowning around underwater and being filmed for the DVD, I felt less like Tinkerbell of Hollywood Boulevard and more like The Little Mermaid!

When I received my Open Water Certification after passing the final exam, I immediately booked to do 2 fun dives the next day, along with renting an underwater camera so that I could capture the brilliant fish of the Gulf of Thailand. Taking photos while diving made the whole experience even more incredible, and while I ran out of air a little early on the first dive from getting overexcited chasing fish, I was smarter the second time round and conserved my energy to ensure a longer stay in the depths of the sea.

The Bannerfish were my personal favourite, along with the brilliantly coloured Butterflyfish. For one scary moment we came across a grumpy Triggerfish, which is a little bit daunting as these can actually cause fatalities if you catch them on a really bad day. I was brave for about a second in order to snap one photo, but then moved on swiftly before he decided to object to my presence. The Pink Anemone fish were adorable, bobbing in and out of their home to check us out, and I was ecstatic to see a family of Clownfish on a previous dive, better known as 'Nemo', circling their coral real estate, although I was unfortunately without a camera at that time.


Butterfly fish...

Trigger Fish...

Pink Anemone...

Being circled by gigantic schools of Barracudas and Trevellys was fantastic, and spotting Sup's favourite fish from Fiji, the Sergeant Major, was great, along with the colourful Parrotfish, the deadly Lionfish (from far away!) and lazy Groupers lying on the rocks on the ocean floor. The landscape of the sea bed was magnificent and sitting on the sand 18metres underwater watching the bubbles rise above resembling the inside of a lava lamp was a breathtaking experience.

Back on dry land the next day and reunited with Sup, we decided to explore the rest of the island, once again by trusty moped. Only this time, the journey was pretty close to a nightmare! Our starting point became a vertical pothole ridden one way route to danger, and we swiftly turned around before an inevitable accident happened. The route back down to safety required extreme care to the point that Sup had to get off and make his own way down while I straddled the moped and walked it down the steep incline, cursing dry land the whole way down and praising the virtues of the sea.

Not to be deterred, we continued our journey in another direction and were rewarded with some beautiful views and a rather impressive skeleton of a whale shark on display after being found stranded on the beach some years ago.

On our final night, we relaxed on the beach together and enjoyed the flaming displays of the fire poi performers as we reflected on the beauty of Koh Tao. Completing the Padi divers course was a real achievement for me and an experience of a lifetime on a paradise island. Watching the DVD of our diving antics with my underwater buddies also provided excellent entertainment! With both
our climbing and diving courses completed, and our confidence soaring, we were ready for new challenges – but first, the ultimate celebration of our successes in our final island destination, and just at the perfect time of the lunar cycle...!

permalink written by  SupandNic on September 23, 2010 from Ko Tao, Thailand
from the travel blog: Sup and Nic's World Tour!
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Koh Samui Celebrations!

Ko Samui, Thailand

The island of Koh Samui was a great little place to celebrate Sup's 26th birthday and our 10 year anniversary!

Having travelled most of the big day on a ferry and bus combo we settled into our new home and then ventured out onto the beach in the evening to explore. Our anniversary dinner was to be an incredibly romantic candlelit Thai curryfest with a seafront view on luxury sunbeds on the beach. To make it even better we had free entertainment in the form of firework rockets and Thai 'good luck' lanterns that were repeatedly being launched into the sky – I of course tried to convince Sup that I had planned all of this for our special occasion!

To counter the disappointment of a young guy who eagerly wanted to sell drugs to us, we politely declined and instead agreed to buy a lantern from him so that we could bless our anniversary in true Thai style. As we lit the lantern, watching it burn brightly as it floated away into the starry night sky, we allowed the reality of our 10 year journey to sink in, and felt truly blessed. (note – this is exactly why Sup wouldn't let me write the Koh Lanta engagement blog, LOL!!). Before returning home we were treated to our 3rd fire display of the night – some martial arts masters showing off their impressive pyrotechnic skills with fire poi – a spectacular sight indeed.

On returning home to a throng of topless young Thai guys wearing pants and leather studded belts, we soon realised that we may well have inadvertently booked into the gay district of Koh Samui. I enjoyed a good old giggle as the cheeky guys tried to flirt with a horrified Sup and the 'Boyzone' club and men's massage suddenly seemed glaringly obvious...!

The next day I was up bright and early in order to get a delicious slab of brownie and some candles from the local deli and to sing Happy Birthday to my long suffering fiance! (Anyone who has had the misfortune to hear me sing will agree!). We had a lovely birthday meal and chilled on the beach with chilli chicken sticks while Sup came to terms with being nearer 30 than 20, although the sunshine, beach and glorious sea certainly seemed to take the edge off.

Another moped adventure took us on a tour of the island on our final day, and the sights in Koh Samui turned out to be interesting to say the least...the infamous 'granddad' rock brought quite a crowd of giggling tourists as you would expect.
By now we had lost count of the waterfalls we had encountered on our journeys, but we still raced on to see the sight, especially as it gave us a chance to see the elephants, although we agreed to save our elephant trek for later on in Chang Mai. Seeing a forest full of these gentle giants was a lovely experience, and then we were off again on our way back to enjoy the last of the sun on the beach.

Having been approached a total of 6 times in a space of 10 minutes by various sellers of food, clothing and general junk, we decided that perhaps Koh Samui was a little less chilled than our previous Thai destinations. The scores of Italian Stallions in their tight Speedos with their bronze, thong clad ladies trotting alongside them also gave the game away as to the package tour feel of the place and suddenly we realised we may well have been the only scruffy backpackers on the crowded beach for a change!

Our final meal in Koh Samui was of course Thai red curry for Sup, but for me – I mus apologise in advance for being such a Philistine, but the pizza craving was too strong for me to resist. And I didn't regret my choice one slice!

That night on the beach, a relaxing Thai massage was the perfect end to our 4th Thai destination. And when I say relaxing, I mean in the 'bone breaking' sense of the word...these little Thai women can bend steel! As we lay listening to the sounds of the sea, our legs and necks were pummeled and cracked and we had the entire weight of a human being concentrated on the small of our backs. At one point, I opened my eyes to come face to face with my torturer, a young Thai female grinning sadistically as she entwined her whole body with mine and turned, forcing me to bend ridiculously with her, vaguely reminiscent of a WWF move, I felt sure! It was actually a great experience and we felt refreshed and surprisingly relaxed afterwards, psyched and ready for our next big adventure in Turtle Island, the magnificent Koh Tao.

permalink written by  SupandNic on September 21, 2010 from Ko Samui, Thailand
from the travel blog: Sup and Nic's World Tour!
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Railay Gecko Style!

Krabi, Thailand

Railay... what a magical place. This was the Thailand I had imaged in my head: beautiful beaches, long tail boats, and limestone cliffs jutting out of the sea. The long tail boat travel was again a little hairy but we kept good faith in our boat man. It was a good job we both loved the place on arrival as we were to be spending the next 4 days here.

The reason for our travel to Railay was primarily so I could take full advantage of the surrounding cliffs... so immediately I signed up for a 3 day intensive rock climbing course with one of
the many climbing schools. The course was designed to teach me the basics of climbing: rope knots, belaying, top roping, lead climbing and self rappelling. I met Jay my instructor and I knew I was in for a hard 3 days. Nic wasn't up for climbing as she had other plans for her big adventure although as you can see in the photo she could have tackled the rocks with ease!

Having secured my place on the course I left Nic with the bags and went searching for accommodation. I negotiated us another bargain! £6 for our bungalow equipped with fridge, TV and hot water. The resort also had a pool overlooking Diamond Cave (one of the climbing walls I learnt on) and was great for cooling off after a hard days climb.

The vibe on Railay East where we stayed was very relaxed and laid back. In the evenings we spent our time exploring. There were a few different beaches around Railay all
within walking distance of each other. We enjoyed eating dinner by the sea watching the tide come in. We also found a bamboo cafe which served great hot chocolate and I quickly became a big fan (although I think the taste was greatly enhanced by the awesome views).

The first day of climbing involved learning the skills of basic knots, belaying and top roping. Before we set off I was given a harness and a pair of climbing shoes to try on. Basic rule number 1 of climbing: if your shoes are not crippling your feet then they are too big. They should be so tight that they are forcing your toes to curl. This will ensure your grip when climbing on the rock face (as your toes are the main part of your foot that you use for climbing), as I was soon to find out.

It was vital I got to grips with the basic knots as these would be responsible for keeping me safe, especially on my descent. A good dose of repetition helped nail it home. Belaying involves keeping your partner safe while they are climbing on the rock face. It is a process of securing the climber by using a rope and belaying device to hold the climber's weight should they fall. Top Roping involves climbing up a rock face attached by a rope that has already been taken up the rock face by another climber I.e Jay my instructor. The rope will have been run through a fixed anchor at the summit of the climb. Once Jay was back on the ground I could then be attached to the rope so that I could climb safely. The photo below shows my view looking down.

For the first 2 days I climbed on the popular beginner walls of Diamond Cave and the 1,2,3 Wall. Pretty much as soon as we preparing to start we heard rustling from above followed by a great thud. A monkey had fallen over 30m and appeared to be dead. After a few minutes of discussing what to do the money came round and shot off into the trees. I have no idea how he survived (The photo isn't of the exact monkey but he was similar to this little guy we saw later on). The Local guides said that in all their time in Railay they have never seen a monkey fall. Maybe this was a bad sign?!

The hardest part I found was during the rappel: trusting a complete stranger with my life! It was crucial they had the rope taught and therefore I would be safe. I was surprised to learn that the majority of your strength should come from your legs and not your arms (whenever possible). Using your arms just tires you out very quickly. When resting on the rock face it is important to have your arms and legs spread far apart, otherwise again you will lose energy rapidly. The photo on the left shows me pleased with my effort after reaching the top.

Lead climbing involves the leader climbing up the rock face with a rope attached to their harness clipping it into to carabiners as they climb. When I was lead climbing Jay my be-layer fed me enough rope that allowed me to climb, making sure he didn't feed me too much slack. As I progressed up the
rock face I clipped one of my many quick-draw clips that were on my harness on to the titanium bolts in the rock face which were every 5 metres or so. I then fed the rope through the other section of my quick-draw clip. This then limited the length of my potential fall. It was a great feeling performing a lead climb and it gave me a good sense of achievement watching other people then climb on the rope I had taken up.

On my final day we went to a climbing site on Hat Phra Nang beach and the photo above shows the views from one of my climbs. This was a beautiful secluded area where I was treated to some spectacular views at the summit. Jay had taken me there to teach me the skills of self rappelling (which I am doing in the left photo). Rappelling or abseiling is the means by which you lower yourself off the rock face. Self rappelling is required when there is no metal anchor at the top of the climb to feed the rope through. Instead there may be some rope, in which case you have to use one of your quick-draw clips as an anchor.
It can also be used if you were lead climbing and you couldn't make it to the top (eg if the climb was too difficult to complete). In both cases self rappelling is used so that no quick-draw clips are left up on the rock face. It also means that you can rappel down without needing someone on the ground to perform the rope work. In order to self rappel I had to first secure myself at the summit with my safety clip. I then had to undo the rope from my harness and feed it through the belay device. I could then slide down the rope using the belay device to control my speed of descent.

Jay was happy with my practise runs so we moved on to one of the larger rappels in the area... which happened to also be out of a cave (above photo)! The only way down from the cave was by rappel so Nic was also going to have a taster (with Jay performing the rope work). The view from the cave was awesome! I went first and it was a great feeling knowing I was in full control of my descent as opposed to the previous day when Jay had been in control. Below is a photo of the cave and if you look carefully (in the second photo down) you can just see the back of Nic as she prepares for her descent.

At the start of my course I was climbing grade 5 climbs (based on the French system). By the end I was climbing grade 6A+ which I found very challenging (although probably relatively easy for an experienced climber). The start of these climbs usually involved a overhang that required you to just use your arms until you were high enough to position your feet. No-one else in the group was able to tackle the start of the climb which you can see in the photo below and I did feel a great sense of achievement tackling it on my first attempt ;-)

Further up though was a different story. The rock face became incredibly flat (to me anyhow, especially in comparison to those I had previously been climbing) as you can see in the photo left. My toes were perched on what felt like little nuggets of rock and I found it very hard to secure a good hand hold. The route I had to take all seemed very obvious to Jay down below as he was shouting up his words of encouragement.
My footing was all wrong and my arms were supporting my weight. I was tiring very quickly and I couldn't gather the energy I needed to make the last part. I was hanging on with every ounce of energy I had left and it wasn't long before I fell. You can see the frustration and disappointment on my face in the photo. I had a little rest before having another go but the same thing happened. Well... I don't give up and I wasn't going to be beaten and I am very happy to say that I conquered it on my third attempt :-) Below are some of the best photos...

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of my rock climbing course and would recommend it to everyone who likes to physically push themselves. It was such a great feeling being responsible for the lead climbs and also for rappelling myself back down. The views from the top were an added bonus and were an excellent way to appreciate the hard effort made to reach the summit. Being that high up a rock face and knowing it was only me that could get myself to the top was a challenge that seriously gave me a buzz. It is definitely an activity that I could really get into and I would like to pursue further once back in England.

permalink written by  SupandNic on September 2, 2010 from Krabi, Thailand
from the travel blog: Sup and Nic's World Tour!
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