Friday, 19 April 2013

Northern Thailand

We arrived in Bangkok in the evening, and had unknowingly booked a hotel room right on khaosan road, so we arrived in the midst of the craziness that is the khaosan road night markets! What an introduction to south east Asia! We spent a total of three nights in Bangkok, slightly longer than intended because the trains were fully booked. I had heard such mixed things about bangkok so I wasn't sure what to expect, but I really enjoyed our time there. We saw all the main tourist sights; grand palace, wat Pho and the huge reclining Buddha, anatasamakhom throne hall, chitrala palace park and golden mount temple amongst others.

My favourite thing about the city though was just watching the busy daily life buzz around you, markets lining every street, the tiny cramped shops of china town, women selling flowers on the pavements, zipping up and down the river on water taxis and of course the continuous buzz of scooters and tuk tuks that I have come to associate with Asia!

After 4 days in Bangkok we caught the night train to Chiang Mai. We loved this city, both the city itself as well as the stunning surrounding area. The old walled city was beautiful and had a lovely small town feel about it, with great night markets and hundreds of temples. Mike won't forgive me if I don't mention breakfast world (the highlight of his holiday!) a breakfast restaurant set in a pretty little garden serving over 65 different breakfasts, we even got given cheesecake with our morning croissants and fruit, amazing but enough food for a whole day!

The second day we hired a scooter and drove up to the mountains into the Doi Suthep-Pui national park. The views of the city from the mountain were stunning and there were several waterfalls along the way that we stopped to hike around and even have a little waterfall shower! We continued on up the mountain to the hill tribe villages, where many different tribes live rural and traditional lives.

The next day we kept the scooter and visited a local lake where we could chill out on the lake in a tube, go for a swim and relax in the lake side huts. Although I did discover my vegetarian cucumber salad was full of tiny fish heads after I took a few huge mouthfuls!

We also got close up to some amazing animals whilst in Chiang Mai. We spent a day at a local elephant park learning the skills of an elephant handler, including feeding, cleaning and riding... It's much easier getting our puppy to sit than a few ton elephant!! Washing them was my favourite part of the day as the elephants seemed to love it just as much as us, and seemed to delight in spraying us with their trunks!

I also visited the baby tigers at tiger kingdom, which was amazing. I had done a lot of research trying to find a park where the animals are well treated, both with the elephant and tiger park. It was great to see how well the elephants were cared for and the relationships they had with their trainers. The baby tigers also seemed very happy and healthy, had an adequate amount of space and were very lively. They obviously were treated well by their keepers as they repeatedly went to the keepers for cuddles and fuss. Both parks claimed that the animals were all rescued from poachers and poor conditions, and that any babies born were kept as part of their breeding program or sold to zoos around the world for breeding. I really hope that this was the case, It does seem a little exploitative to allow people in to pet them, but without the tourists money they couldn't afford to feed them and keep them, so it's a bit of a catch 22. And I have to say I did enjoy the experience!

We spent a total of ten days in northern Thailand, with the plan of spending a similar amount of time in the south at the end of our trip before flying home. From Chiang Mai we traveled to Chang Khong to get a boat across the border to Laos.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Gili isles and last few days in Bali.

After our stay on Lombok we caught a very crowded local ferry to Gili Air; people And produce we're crammed in until the boat was so heavy the water lapped at the rim! It was a great local experience, although I am glad weren't on the boat with the live animals!

The sun came out just as we arrived on the island and we found a nice little cabin near the beach. The first thing we did was hire some snorkelling gear and head out for a swim. The sea was crystal clear and there were beautiful fish everywhere. After a while Mike signalled to me to look to the right just as a huge sea turtle swam right past me, close enough to touch! The sea was only about 1.5 meters deep and the turtle spent the next ten minutes or so feeding around the rocks right underneath us. We had seen lots of turtles in Sri Lanka when we were surfing but every time I put a snorkel on they Disappeared. It was amazing to see this one so close up and to watch for such a long time in its natural habitat.

Later that afternoon we hired bikes as we had heard it was the best way to get around and see the whole of the small island. The island is only a few km long, but the short cycle takes a surprisingly long time when the path is made of sand!! It was like trying to cycle through treacle, hard work in the heat, but very funny. The scenery was beautiful though, the whole island is fringed with white sand beaches and the sea is turquoise and clear. Every time you round a corner the colour of it changes due to the currents and depth of etc, you really are spoilt for choice with beaches here.

After a night on Gili Air we caught a ferry to Gili Trawangan where we stayed for 2 more nights. This island is livelier with more bars and restaurants, although was a bit quieter because we were there out of season. Again we spend our day snorkelling and cycling and generally chilling out on the beaches. There are no cars or scooters allowed on the islands, which makes it even more relaxing, especially after the buzz of Bali's traffic! The only vehicle is a horse and cart, even the police on the island use one to get around.

The next day we visited Gili Meno which is the smallest and quietest of the three islands, with just a couple of restaurants and guesthouses. We walked around this small island instead of cycling, and also visited the salt water lake at its centre. The beaches were stunning, and mostly deserted, and the sea was the bluest I have ever seen. It really is a paradise island... I could definitely come back for an extended holiday.

We had a very stormy trip back to Bali the next day, the boats hadn't been running for days due to a storm, which we caught the end of. But we did see a small pod of dolphins from the boat, which made up for the bumpy, delayed journey! During our last few days in Bali we headed to the West coast to Balian. The scenery here was stunning, miles of beautiful coast on one side of the road, and green rice paddies on the other. The beach here was black volcanic sand but the hotel had a lovely beachside pool where I could watch the boys surf, and keep a look out for sharks! This beach has has had numerous shark attacks recently and Mike and Sean spent most of their time here winding each other up about the sharks... Which made for a rather nerve wrecking surf, especially when they glimpsed something grey as soon as they got in the water! Every evening we ate at the local markets, where they did a great selection of local foods, and the best pancakes we have ever eaten... More like a cake than a pancake!

Our time in Indonesia was nearly over, just time for a couple more nights at SukaBeach, our trusty guest house in Kuta, and a trip to beautiful Uluwatu, one of our favourite beaches on the island. Next we were moving on to Thailand and our trip around south east Asia.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013


After spending a few days in Ubud, mike and I caught a shuttle bus/boat to Lombok and then another bus to Kuta in the south... Very different to Kuta in Bali! This Kuta was a tiny, quiet beach town where most of the tourists were surfers. We stayed in lovely guesthouse run by a very sweet girl who called me sister and mike was "brother Max" (she couldn't master 'mike' so she stuck with calling him max!).

On the first evening we went for a walk on the beach and at the far end were mangrove trees growing straight out of the water at the sea edge. As we watched a family of monkeys ran out of the forest and sat in the mangrove trees grooming each other.

The following day we hired a scooter and went to Gerupuk, a village along the coast so that Mike could surf. The breaks here are off shore so we got in a boat and drove out to the inside break. The scenery here was absolutely stunning, green hills and blue sea. Mike surfed and I read my book on the boat surrounded by the scenery.

Unfortunately on the second day Mike was surfing when someone fell off their board and put their elbow through the rail of his brand new board, resulting in an unhappy Mike and the board being in the shop being fixed for a couple of days. To add to this I was unwell for a few days, so we had a quiet relaxing couple of days. We went to a lovely cafe/restaurant called Astari, right on top of the hill with views overlooking the whole bay. It did amazing cakes and healthy, fresh food.

We also spent some time driving around on the scooter, on the very bumpy potholed roads, and seeing the scenery. I love the scooter now and it's a great way to see country.

After a couple of days the board was fixed and I was feeling better so after one last quick surf it was time to move on to the Gili Isles.
With love from Amy and Mike xx

Monday, 4 March 2013

Bali: Ubud and Mount Batur

After 2 weeks at the beach of sun, surfing and pancakes, Mike and I move inland to the small town of Ubud. The town is incredibly green and covered in blankets of rice paddies. Apparently there was such an abundance of rice that the farmers had time to work on crafts, and as a result the town is the centre for crafts in Bali. Some of these crafts include, Batik, watercolour, wood carving and jewellery and kite making.

I had signed up to do a Batik course and when I arrived at the studio I was the only student there, when usually there are 6-8 people, which meant I got brilliant 1:1 tuition and lots of attention! The teacher talked me through the steps and the techniques and I chose a very simple flower pattern from a book on Balinese arts and used this to make my design. I had tried batik once at school about 10 years ago, so I was very much a novice! But the teacher was great and took a lot of time to help me with the various stages and try out different techniques. For the purpose of the course he only makes up bright dyes so the piece is a little bit loud to hang in our house but i was very pleased with it nonetheless and it will make a great souvenir!

After the batik course we went for a walk through the rice paddies, which are so, so green! Ubud is a busy, quite touristy town due to its craft reputation so it was amazing to find the rice paddies just behind the main road and stretching up through the hills. It is a nice opportunity to escape the hustle and to see the Balinese farmers at work in the peace of the fields.

Like many Balinese towns there were many temples and stunning buildings in Ubud, all hand painted and gold leafed. We visited one temple that stood in the grounds of a beautiful lotus garden.

The following morning (or should I say middle of the night!!) we got up at 2am to leave for our trip to Mt Batur, which is an active volcano. We arrived at about 3am and after a very early breakfast and coffee tasting session, which was great for waking us up, we set off on the trek in a small group with our local guides and our torches. The patch quickly became steep and challenging because you climb over the loose, uneven rocks created by the lava. After climbing/walking for about an hour and a half we reached the viewpoint at the top, where we wrapped up warmly and were treated to our second breakfast, including special volcano cooked boiled eggs. After breakfast we climbed another half an hour to the rim of the crater. From here, now that the sun was up, the views were incredible! The volcano is surrounded by other mountains and volcanos, with a 9km lake at the bottom. At the top you could see the steam rising from gaps in the rock, reminding us that it wasn't just a mountain, but an active volcano!!

After walking around the rim of the volcano, We climbed back down, the much easier route down the side of the volcano covered with black volcanic sand. It was another amazing trip and a great walk. The treks we have done, such as Adams peak, Hortons plain and Mt Batur seem to have been the highlights of the trip... Well worth the early start and the tough climbs! We are off to Lombok and the Gilli isles next.

Lots of love, Amy and Mike xxx