Archive for July, 2008

Published by Linda on 20 Jul 2008

Singapore – End of Tour

We arrived in Singapore for the end of our tour and it is exactly how I imagined, very clean and orderly but I’m not so sure it has a real personality, particularly coming from some of the interesting places that we have seen. Myself and Amy did stroll around Little India and Chinatown, where the latter was holding a chicken rice eating competition!!!! Other than those interesting spots, or if you want to shop, it’s a pretty sterile place in terms of atmosphere and I think if I was going back to a big city, I’d pick Kuala Lumpur instead.

We just had one night here, although some of us stayed on for another night before going our separate ways. We had a few drinks, took some photos and said our farewells which was sad but we were all pretty excited about going on to our next adventures too.

It feels like I met this bunch of people last week and yet our 7 week tour has come to an end. It’s been a blast and I’ve met some genuine friends on this trip, friends who I really hope to keep in touch with. To begin with I was a little nervous going on such a long tour, I was thinking if they all turn out to be “crazies” then I’m locked in for almost 2 months!!!! I have heard some nightmare stories of people who have been on tour with pyscho cases and no matter how well you get on with someone coupled with strange food playing havoc with tummies and enduring some pretty tiring journeys all take their toll. I think in this particular case, we were all really lucky to have found a good group up for a bit of craic (for all you Brits – that’s how you spell the non-cocaine version!!) And I know I’ll miss them all when I’m wandering around Indonesia.

More Photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157606221364205/

 

Published by Linda on 17 Jul 2008

Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur & Melaka

Got a free upgrade to a nice coach to KL which made up for the cockroach festival last time. Lots and lots of shopping in Kuala Lumpur so I had to use all my self restraint not to buy and guess what….. I succeeded!!!

Went to see the Petronas Towers being lit up at night and I thought yeah, yeah just another couple of skyscrapers but actually they are very beautiful. Check it out…

When I went to see the twin towers in NYC I lay down on the pavement (or sidewalk :-) ) to take a picture and so I decided to do the same with the Petronas Towers…….

A bunch of us went to a beauty salon – of sorts anyway!! We decided in our wisedom to plunge our feet into a pool of piranhas. Don’t think these were quite the flesh eating kind but more like the “cleaner” fish you see on sharks and whales. They nibble all the dead skin on your feet (or your whole body if you’re feeling brave!) It was such a weird, weird sensation.

The following day we went to see the botanical gardens. We took the Monorail (Homer Simpson would be proud!) and then walked what seemed like miles and miles. The gardens were lovely but unfortunately a couple of them were closed that day which was a bummer. Finished up the evening with a japanese meal which was so fresh and just what the doctor ordered after the recent overload of curries!!

We also headed off to see the Chinese market which I was looking forward to because last time Suze (Tour Leader) was there it got busted by the cops and the whole place cleared in seconds!! No such drama this time but we browsed around and some of the girls bought designer hangbags and the like.

After KL we got the bus to Melaka which is such a lovely place. We were based in Chinatown and it’s a gorgeous little place. It kinda reminds me of Hoi An in Vietnam way back when. Loads of little art galleries and shops. Got to meet and chat to one of the artists whose work was amazing. Had a lovely Malaysian dinner that night and took a liking to the wine so myself, Suze and Fiona decided to make a night of it. Suze and I even did a little impromtu singing at one bar – not that we were invited to but they didn’t seem to mind too much :-)

The following day we went to a museum which had 3 floors. First floor seemed to be a museum about museums??? Second floor was a Kite Museum which featured kites from all around the world. The real highlight though was on the 3rd floor which of course wasn’t air conditioned….. The Museum of Enduring Beauty. It documents what is considered beautiful around the world, i.e. Chinese foot binding – ouch!! Now I know I have big giant man hands but these shoes are really tiny, literally 3 or 4 inches long!

Most interesting and some of it looks incredibly painful – think I’ll just make do with what I have. Also spotted a couple of monitor lizards on our travels – hopefully will get to see the Komodo dragons which I head for Indonesia!!

 

Finished off the evening with a really local Indian – again too afraid of what’s breeding on my hands to eat with them so opted for the knife and fork option instead.

And that was our last stop in Malaysia, onward now to Singapore which marks the end of our seven week tour of South East Asia!!

More photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157606158730896/ and

 http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157606218810021/

 

 

Published by admin on 17 Jul 2008

Malaysia – Penang (Georgetown) & Cameron Highlands

We left Koh Samui and began our long journey to Malaysia which involved a bus-boat-overnight train-bus-boat-bus and voila a mere(!) 23.5 hours later we arrived at our hotel in Penang or Georgetown. That journey knocked the socks off me I have to say.

Our first port of call was to go to a Chocolate Boutique which I think I mixed up in my head as a Chocolate Factory and I was all ready to Willy Wonka it up!!!! Well there was no choco river but it was a lot of fun trying all the different kinds of chocolate. I liked the sesame white chocolate and the chilli chocolate was usual but strangely enough a really good combination :-) A couple of hours testing later and we were full to the gills.

Spent a couple of hours at the night market working it off. Okay so I made myself a promise before I left not to buy any “tat” and up until then I succeeded……… This night market broke me down though in more ways than one. First off I bought some jewellery including a toe ring – which now means I’m an official backpacker I guess…. Then to add insult to injury, I bought a full length hippie (ish) skirt so that was the final nail in the coffin. Dear god I’m a crusty backpacker!!!!! Not sure if I’m very comfortable with that title but I guess that’s what I am. Hmmmmmm.

The following day found us wandering around Little India which was kinda fun. Browsed in a few of the shops – never knew how many types of bangles there were!! This shop is completely devoted to them!! We continued the evening with a nice Indian meal which we ate from banana leaves. Didn’t eat with my hands though, not because I didn’t want to, just because I reckon they are waaaay too dirty!!

The next day we left to go to the Cameron Highlands on a really crappy bus. So crappy that one of the girls had a cockroach on her seat (which isn’t massively uncommon) so her boyfriend swatted it away only to find that there was a NEST of them living in the seat!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was sitting at the front of the bus but I would have had a complete wobbly if I was sitting near there. Yuck, yuck, yuck!!!!!! Don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing them to be honest.

Anyway we arrived in the Cameron Highlands and for the first time since leaving home I put on my fleece because it was actually cold!!! Felt nice to be all cozy wrapped in the clear air and not “sweaty-betty” for a change. We also sat around the campfire at our hotel having a couple of drinks and one of the locals played the guitar.

The following day was action packed, did a little trekking in the jungle, found the largest flower in the world the inside of which looks like this…….

……it’s really just a type of mushroom but I think it looks pretty unique all the same. So after a lot of sliding around in the mud we went to a very cold waterfall to get cleaned up and a nice cold drink of water from bamboo stalks. 

We also went to an Aboriginal Village and took aim with some blow darts…..

…see I really could be on Survivor :-)

The afternoon took us to see a tea plantation, the scenery and views of the valley were lovely and we finished off with a spot of afternoon tea. Had to force myself to drink a cup!!!

Afterwards we went to see an insect farm which was really interesting. Check out this cool Rhino beetle….amazing huh?

Also held a stick insect which just look like matchsticks, a snake and a scorpian!!!! Didn’t think I would but sure when will I get the chance to do these things again, right?

We finished up our day by going to a strawberry farm and sampled some great milkshakes, ice-creams and jams took the cheesiest photo imaginable…….

More photos as always on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157606029794742/ and 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157606050263531/

Published by Linda on 10 Jul 2008

Bangkok Revisited & Koh Samui

And so we found ourselves back in Bangkok after a overnight train from Chiang Mai which was only about 4 hours delayed!!!! We were to lose 3 of our group and pick up 4 new people so we will be a group of 18 heading to Koh Samui. Bangkok was just the same as we left it really. We had a good going away night for Dee, Jen & Justin. Dee & Jen are the Irish contingent so now I’m the only Paddy left on tour :-)

Saturday found us going to the most fabulous buffet dinner where I had potatoes – Yippeeeeeeee!!! It’s been a while so I was really excited. This was followed by a Lady Boy show, which to be honest I wasn’t hugely interested in but actually it turned out to be really entertaining. Some of them were pretty convincing and much more glamorous looking than us I can tell you, particularly now that we’re crusty backpackers :-)

I should explain a few of the photos on my flickr account. When we got back to the hotel, we decided to see if we could fit inside this laundry bag, followed by expert face painting. We ended up giggling like little kids and left Amy zipped up in the bag outside our Tour Leader’s door and played runaway knock. I know, I know real mature and you had to be there but it was funny as hell :-)

 

Balmed out by the pool on sunday which is nothing exciting but we did see this incredible rainbow, couldn’t fit it all in one photo and the ones I took don’t do it justice but it was basically a rainbow circle around the sun. Never seen anything like it. Also it confused the crap out of my leprechaun instincts……how you find the pot of gold if there’s no end to the rainbow!!!!

On Sunday evening we departed Bangkok for the second time and boarded our overnight train to Southern Thailand. This was followed by a bus ride, ferry ride and another bus ride to get to our hotel in Koh Samui. Journey took 21 hours and was pretty tiring and we were glad to see the sun was splitting the stones on our beach.

Koh Samui is pretty much as I expected – completely commercialised. There are a number of Boots Chemists and Tescos. There are some unspolit parts but you kinda have to look for them now. If we were travelling between November and March we would have gone to Koh Phi Phi which is meant to be far more unspoilt – but them’s the breaks.

We had a few chilled out days soaking up the sun on the beach and didn’t do a whole lot to be honest. We did have a night out which was good old craic, spotted a few more ladyboys but the bars and clubs were kinda sleazy and one night was definitely enough.

The mossie war continues…..on our last night we got a lovely dinner right on the beach – of course we were bitten alive, so much so my legs were completely swollen deformed the next day. I was in the chemist stocking up on malaria tablets for Indonesia and the pharmacist just looked at me said “Oh no, what happpened to your legs?” Arrrrrgggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!! She’s sooooo not meant to say that!!!!!! I won’t miss Thailand for them I can tell you, the Thai buggers seem to really be fond of me.

That evening we got the ferry back to the mainland to get a bus to catch our overight train and that ended our time in Thailand. I’m not too sure I’m sad to have left there. I have very mixed feelings about Thailand, in some ways I love it but in an other way I feel very unsettled there. There’s no real reason for this as it is very safe. I think it’s just a feeling that not so long ago it was completely unspoilt and now it has completely sold out and become too westernised for it’s own good. Also I think they do depend on tourism quite a lot, especially in the islands but some treat you as if you’re tiresome and annoying them. I guess tourists are ten-a-penny out there. They call Thailand the “Land of Smiles” but I saw more 7/11 stores than smiles to be honest. That said there must be a 7/11 on every corner so I guess it’s not so bad.

 

 

More photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157605931538542/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published by Linda on 06 Jul 2008

The Power Canoe to Chiang Mai

And so the day we’d been dreading for so many weeks dawned. It was a dry day which was a good start. Monica still triple-bagged all the contents of her bag and double-bagged her entire rucksack just in case!! I know that’s overload but you get really wet sitting in the canoe so it stands to reason that you might as well prevent ALL your gear getting wet too!! I should mention that the guidebooks don’t recommend that you use this canoe as they have flipped from time to time resulting in fatalities!!!!!

Anyway we had a lucky break in that 4 of the group decided to fly, which meant we could use their seats – seats being a very loose term!! Only 4 people per leg (2 hours) had to sit like the pic below…… 

…..whereas it should have been all of us. It was a long journey though and loads of us got really sunburnt but we made which was the main thing. The scenery was spectacular going down the Mekong River and you could see particles of gold in the sand when we stopped for breaks. Had to do the boarder crossing when we got to Thailand and then a six hour bus journey which was luxury compared to the boat!! Anyway we got into Chiang Mai at about midnight and put it all behind us. I’m kinda glad I experienced it too – now that it’s over anyway.

Chiang Mai is jam-packed with things to do. I decided to go for an elephant ride and bamboo rafting. Horrible to say it but the elephant ride was horrible. It seemed to be okay at the beginning but the four of us that went wanted to leave ten minutes after getting there. There were loads of elephants in a kind of barn and we couldn’t understand how they were all standing so close together until we saw them chained up on really short chains so they can only just stand there. We just felt awful and fed the poor fellas loads of bananas to ease our guilt. It should be noted that another lot of us went elephant riding, in a different facility, the following day and had a much more positive experience. it just so happened that we chose the wrong one.

After that we went bamboo rafting which is really just a gentle trip down the river but pleasant nonetheless. Just as we had got over the whole elephant experience we floated by one which was tethered to a tree and he was trying to pull his chain out of the ground!! Just kill me!! Kill me now!

The next day myself, Kat and Suze decided we would abseil down a 55 metre waterfall. It was brilliant!!!! Some rush! Didn’t look down much because I think I would have freaked myself out. It was dead slippy though so we were sliding all over the place. It was a single rope system which basically meant you fed the rope through with one hand and released it with the other. Had some nice looking rope burn by the end of the descent!!! This is myself and Kat looking fantastic in our gear :-) Suze had her waterproof camera, which we’ve had some technical difficulties with, but hopefully I’ll be able to post them up soon. Had a lovely swim under the waterfall after we’d finished and felt like we’d conquered the world!

We finished off our day by visiting the highest point in Thailand and saw the King’s and Queen’s Pergodas. Really beautiful spot, unfortunately the photos are a bit misty as we were literally up in the clouds!!!

So tired that evening that I treated myself to a thai massage which cost about 4 euro and ended our evening on the hotel veranda with pizza and beer. That summed up my activities in Chiang Mai but there was a pile of other things to do like white water rafting (I’m holding off until New Zealand), caving (did my time in caves!!), rock climbing and thai cookery courses. Amy also did a few days meditating and living with the monks which was pretty cool.

Must also mention the hotel that we stayed at which was like a mini jungle sanctuary. Loads of wildlife including birds, a parrot and a few turtles. Very leafy and lush spot and I’d recommend it and Chiang Mai to anyone.

 

 

 

Published by Linda on 01 Jul 2008

Lovely Laos – Vientiane/Van Vien/Loang Prabang

My friend Seanin (who kindly let me stay with him in Hong Kong) told me Laos is lovely. And he was right, it really is. Very chilled out here. No big long list of things to do which is a nice break after a 21 hour journey here!!! (More boarder crossings and train delays – Siobhan there was a dead cow on the track……I’m not joking… but had to laugh thinking of your Cork/Dublin journey)

So we arrived in Vientiane and have been relaxing since we got here. Did go to see a Temple  and you won’t believe it but it’s the first temple I’ve actually liked – not too full of gold stuff :-) Guess what though…..we weren’t allowed to take photos in there – typical!! We also took a Tuk-Tuk ride around town. It rained solidly on our second day here so we left that as our cultural intake for the day. We did pass by this monument, which mirrors L’Arc de Triomphe. There’s a funny story behind it though. The American gave Laos concrete to build a runway and instead they decided to build this. Excellent!!!

Basically just chillaxed for the rest of the day and then got a great massage which actually even chilled me out for a while and that’s no mean feat!!!!!

We moved onto Van Vien after this, arrived after a bus journey into the mountains to more rain which didn’t bode well for our long planned tubing event!! Tubing is basically sitting on a rubber ring, floating down a river and being pulled into bars for drinks!! Would have been so much fun. Anyway we went on a bike ride to see some caves instead. The Lao people have a different idea of “seeing caves” though – we actually ended up on our bellies crawling through some very small, mucky caves and ended up looking like this……..

 

Had to clean up in the river afterwards which was lots of fun.

One of the girls on tour, Fiona, had her birthday in Van Vien too so we celebrated in style. Loads of fun that night, even demonstated a little Irish dancing!! Van Vien is very, very chilled and would have loved a couple more days there.

Horribly hungover, we left for Loang Prabang the following day. We had a nightmare of a bus journey (complete with mental bus driver) back down the windy mountain road!!! The driver was a lunatic and only calmed down slightly when the back door opened and a couple of our rucksacks fell out!! Loang Prabang is great too and the sun was out to greet us after the dreadful journey. We weren’t fit for much afterwards – I’ll tell you that. The following day a few of us decided not to join the group (to see more caves – think we’d served our time!!) and had a lie in followed by a leisurely breakfast. Then we went to see this amazing Waterfall and had a swim in the Lagoon which was just fantastic. Was feeling brave that day so I jumped into the water from this tree…..

 

….it was only about 4 metres above the water but it was enough. Was also going to jump from here…..

 

…..but I totally lost my nerve and afterwards I found out a guy did it and dislocated his shoulder so I was kinda glad I choked!

And so the eve of our speed canoe journey was upon us and lots of us were feeling kinda nervous to be honest. All the guidebooks recommend to make alternative travel plans as the canoes have been known to flip and 4 of the girls decided to fly. I kinda wanted to prove to myself I could do it and thought it might be fun actually. If I survive I’ll let you know how it goes……