Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Travel Blog: New Zealand

Kaikoura, New Zealand

This is yet another place that photographs and words can do no justice to. Imagine a seaside town - small and picturesque, quaint and sunny.  But, lining the backdrop in the distance are stunning, snow-capped mountains. Here I had another 'wow' moment.

As soon as we'd arrived and dropped our backpacks, we set off on a 4 and a half hour trek through the hills, which included stopping at a wild seal colony.  This town boasts more marine life than probably most places in the world, including dolphins and whales.  That was the main reason we stopped off here, to swim with dolphins.  

However, when we turned up at the date and time I'd booked months ago, the weather conditions were really bad. The tour could be cancelled at any point, as strong winds were causing a very heavy sea, meaning that if we found the dolphins we may not be allowed into the water to swim with them.
We were leaving the next day.  Our only option was to rearrange and book onto the first tour of the next day - at 5.30am.

So the following day was VERY busy.  Getting up at 4am, we only just made it in time but it was SO worth it.  It was such a beautiful morning, without one tiny cloud in the sky.  Once I'd wetsuited up for the first time in my life, (with hood+snorkel+flippers, the lot) I looked awesome and was ready to find some dusky dolphins.  We found a pod of around 100, and most people on the boat got right in the water.

The experience is hard to recount, because it was the best but worst feeling.  Obviously, if you know anyone who has swam with dolphins they will tell you it was amazing, the best day of their life etc.  But that was almost definitely all the time in tropical waters, with trained dolphins in captivity.  So how many of those people you know who have done it conventionally, have swum with wild dolphins in the open ocean??  Because this is quite a different experience.  As they are wild, we cannot touch them and the boat does not entice them with bait or in any other way - they just look for the pods.  Have I mentioned previously how COLD it is in NZ?  Well this is apparently the start of their Summer, and I don't know if it's because I arrived from a total opposite climate but it feels like Winter.  When I submerged into that early morning Pacific Ocean, it was so cold I nearly had a panic attack.  I couldn't breathe! And then I had a slight snorkel incident, where I swallowed my own body weight in seawater, and this was all before I'd seen any dolphins! My body was desperate to get back on the boat, but my mind knew I couldn't ruin this once in a lifetime opportunity.  I stayed in the water for about half an hour, and when the dolphins came close I could forget about the water temperature.  Some of the them kept eye contact and circled me, which was really cute.  They are one of the most acrobatic of the species, and they happily jumped out of the water, even doing flips like they were showing off.  But when I got back on the boat I was quite happy to take off my wetsuit and just watch them from there!

Once we were safely back on land, we proceeded on a 2 and a half hour bus journey up to Picton, where you can travel to the North Island.  We had planned to get the ferry, which takes 3.5 hours, but was told by a local that flying only takes 25 minutes.  It was also a scenic flight, in a small charter plane over the Marlborough Sounds.  So we opted for the second, faster option, which I thought would be quite exciting. Wrong!! It was terrifying.  The plane was absolutely miniscule, had maximum 10 seats and only one pilot, who kept repeating "Make sure your seatbelt is nice and tight!"
It was a rocky flight, you could feel every gust of wind and it is well known that Wellington, our destination, is referred to as Windy Wellington.  The views of course were spectacular, but I never want to get on a plane like that again!

So, a rather eventful day...swimming with wild dolphins, crossing the Cook Straight in a charter plane, sleeping in our first dorm room with some very weird people...the fun continues!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Travel Blog: New Zealand

26/11/12 - Christchurch

So, the coolest thing about this city is the hostel we're staying in.  It's a historic jail, built in the 1800's, and only closed in 1999.  Our room is a tiny cell, with a bunk bed and a tiny window.  There is no heating, so it's absolutely freezing at night. (NZ = COLD. Way colder than Sydney on a cloudy day).  But they give you an extra quilt and offer you a free hot water bottle, which is cute!  A few cells have remained the same to create a sort of mini-museum, along with artefacts and paper clippings from over the years. There's a really unsettling one about a breakout that occurred, where all the officers were beaten unconscious.  My favourite part is a cell containing a prisoner's artwork on the walls.  It gives a chilling insight into the mind of a prisoner - one of which was one of the last inmates of 1999.

Yeah so not much to say about Christchurch at all.  The city is still in the process of picking up the pieces from the 2011 earthquake - there's still a cordon in the centre.  But unless you have a car, to drive to the outskirts and the lovely scenery, (which we don't) there's not a lot to see or do at all.  So we've just recharged our batteries, and booked our coach up to Kaikoura.

I feel the same about NZ as I did at first about Australia - not overly impressed, but there's no way I can judge the whole country from this one city.

Travel Blog: Sydney

25/11/12 - Sydney

 On arriving in Sydney, with serious jet lag after a delayed 9 hour flight, I was not in the best of moods.  In addition, it was grey, cloudy and absolutely freezing compared to the sunny, humid weather I was dressed for, which we'd left behind in Thailand.  I hadn't really packed for cold weather as we were arriving in time for Australia's Summer, so I was not expecting this cold blast! The weather here is all over the place...they still have the air con on full blast though! It's unbelievable, I've spent the last 3 weeks running into the nearest 7/11, as it's the only place in a 10 mile radius with aircon in 35 degrees+ heat - and now I'm cold there's aircon everywhere I go.

So, back to the point, I was even more disappointed by the realisation that Sydney looked just like the UK.  Did I really travel all this way for cold, cloudy weather and sky scrapers that look like a carbon copy of London?!  The city's comparison to our capital is uncanny - they have a Hyde Park, King's Cross, Paddington, Oxford Street...
I'd spent almsot a month in the East, just started to adapt to the culture and enjoy it, and then at the click of a finger ( or a 10 hour night flight) I was back in the West.  I didn't like it!! I guess Australia has been so hyped up recently, and the fact all we could see was the inner city buildings, that it was purely under-whelming.

That night, after a power-nap, we took a walk to the harbour to see the iconic sights of Sydney.  The Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge was only a 20 minute walk from our hostel, so we were in a great location.  Lit up at night, it was a spectacular view and I soon decided Sydney was way better than London!
The following day, we did the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, which was expensive but worth it. [I take this back, we could really do with that $300 now.] The whole experience made me giggle - they take longer dressing you up and giving you all the prep than they take walking you up and down the bridge. You need a jumpsuit, fleece, belt and attachment, hat, gloves, handkerchief...you have to walk through a metal detector, do a breathaliser test...it makes you believe the climb is going to be hardcore and dangerous.  But in essence, it was literally a few stairs, about 6 ladders, and there you were on the top arch.  The views from the top were incredible, and we got to see the sunset on the harbour.  What struck me is how huge Sydney Harbour acually is; the bridge is more or less central, and each side the water looks like it goes on for miles.  Before the bridge was built, if you did not want to get across the water via boat it would take 5 hours to reach the other side!

We also managed to cram in Bondi Beach, which was lovely but looked a lot smaller than it does on the TV show 'Bondi Rescue!'  The sea was, as predicted, laced with surfers.  While the weather was a lot warmer and sunnier today, I still thought it was too cold to strip down to my bikini!  It looked like what I imagine America's beach cities to look like, such as Miami or L.A.  I've never been, but it looks similar to TV programmes and films from the USA. There's a bunch of seafood cafes and restaurants along the beachfront, just like the one Ryan from The O.C. worked in.

We also found 5 hours of our time to spend at Taronga Zoo. Which was amazing, as I got to get up close to a koala!! They were soooooo cute, very sleepy though, it's hard to get a photo of one with their eyes open.  But they do sleep 20 hours a day, and I wouldn't want to disturb them, they are the cutest things EVER. 
I feel like our time here has been a complete whirlwind, and there's so many things left to see - plenty more beaches, parts of the harbour and obviously the Blue Mountains.  So hopefully we will find time in our year ahead to come back at some point.



So I have to apologise!!
It has been soooo long since this was last updated, but we've had internet problems, (you'd think it would get better as we get into more developed countries, but no they just rip you off) and New Zealand was so hectic we didn't even have time to get on a computer. BUT it's all written down in my journal, and now I have a fun few hours of typing it up....

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Travel Blog: Goodbye to Thailand...

Monday 19th November - Koh Phi Phi - Bangkok

We chose the perfect day to leave Koh Phi Phi.  The weather was cloudy with showers, and hellishly humid.  Much like when we arrived, but the seven days inbetween have been glorious.  It usually rains during the night while we lie in bed, and it's quite nice listening to our bungalow get battered - until we find a few leaks in the morning!

Saying bye to Phi Phi was hard, we'd become so attached to it! It's the longest we've stayed anywhere for nearly a month.  It really was the purest form of paradise I've ever seen, which can be said for most of the Thai islands.  Their beaches are plentiful and unspoilt, no teenagers whizzing round on jet skis and banana boats.  And the lush landscapes inbetween the beaches are just as pretty.

Bet HERE is definitely not.
Here we are again, on one of our ridiculous night journeys.  We decided to get the train, you get a sleeper bed to yourself and presumably it's the fastest form of transport.  Boat and bus to Suratthani train station all ran smoothly.  Then on arrival, we get told our train is 2 hours delayed, and we already had an hour wait.  Now this train station is not somewhere you want to be, for 2-3 hours, at nightfall.  It' laughable they can call it a major train station.  The arrivals and departures are written on a whiteboard. There is one tiny shop.  Squat toilets, again.  And did I mention the RATS?  What makes this journey particularly worse is that it isn't worth all this.  We're heading back to Bangkok, where we really don't want to be!  Then we have a 9 hour flight to look forward to. (With Emirates at least, so we'll have a pleasant journey for that haha).

However much I'll miss Thailand's beauty, I am ready for a change of scenery.  On our last night in Phi Phi we agreed we was going to eat some Thai food, until we saw a Grill Joint....all you can eat BBQ?! How could we resist.  So we ate there and said it was to prepare our bodies for Aus, where they eat a lot of meat and bqqs all the time. Yay!  But I'll miss all the little things...taking off your flip flops every time you walk into a shop or restaurant, saying 'Sawadee Kaaaaa,' getting massages whenever I feel like it, hearing Gangnam Style every day.  However there's not much to miss of Khoa San Road or Bangkok, as there's only so many times you can politely say "No I don't want to buy a suit/lighter/wooden frog/spinny light thing," "No I don't want a tuk tuk" and "No I do not want to see a ping pong sex show!!"

I'm really excited to see Sydney now, and we have booked our Sydney Harbour bridge climb, so we will see it from the best possible view!

But for now, there's only one thing left to do....say Farewell to Thailand!  I was going to do this by eating a cricket, and posting the proof here, but once again we couldn't find the stand last night!! :( I'm half happy half relieved about this.

Goodbye Bangkok, G'day Sydney! x

Travel Blog: Thailand

16th November - Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Ley

So today I jumped off a cliff.

Yes, it was the most adventurous thing I've ever done! And I wasn't even scared until we turned up at the tour centre, and was handed a waiver to sign just in case we get injured or died.  Oh right!! I didn't realise it was that dangerous....

It was all part of a boat trip around Phi Phi Ley, a tiny island so close to Phi Phi that it is almost connected.  It was the best 500 baht/tenner I ever spent.

First we stopped at some cliffs to do the jump.  We had to put special shoes on and literally rock climb, through jagged and slippy rocks, to the top of this cliff.  Unaided I may add!  I was expecting some stairs, then a run and jump?! No chance.  These were real cliffs, with a jagged edge to leap off if you dared.  So what was it like? For me, quite unpleasant!  The first cliff was only 8m apparently - but it still took me a good 3 seconds to hit the water.  And that's what it felt like, a massive slap.  For some reason my bum felt it the most, even though I did what the guide said and jumped in like a pencil.  Then as I plunged deep underwater, my head felt like it was going to explode.  I thought I was never going to make it back up to the surface, then when I finally did, the waves were so choppy that I kept gulping water and found it hard to swim back to the boat with my backside still stinging!
Most people went back for more, to try the higher jumps, but one was definitely enough for me. At least I can say I did it!  Only one person on the whole boat had the guts to do the big 18m jump.  Rik went back to try the second highest, about 12m, but soon changed his mind and clambered back to the lowest one.  It is soooo much higher and scarier when you're up there than when you're watching from below.  But I'm really glad I did it.

From there we went round the corner to monkey beach, where you guessed it, monkeys live.  But they were wild and fierce, not small, cute or cheeky like I'd imagined!  When we'd had enough monkeying around, our tiny longtail boat zoomed off into the sea to take us to a beautiful lagoon.  Surrounded by giant cliff faces, it was so peaceful and the water was amazing, so we all jumped in for a swim.

After a bit of snorkelling by a rocky wall (which me and Rik epically failed at) our guides then took us to Maya Bay - the actual beach where 'The Beach' was filmed.  But our boat didn't pull up on that beach, oh no - we had to go on a little adventure.  Just like in the film, it is actually a national park and we had to pay a national park entry fee.  Once that had been collected, we were led to a cave where once again, we tried our hand at a bit of rock climbing.  It was like a passageway under a cliff, but still in the sea with some very tight squeezes!  But it was all part of the fun, and as we ascended into the light again, we came to the steepest staircase known to man.  Another 10 minute walk and there it was upon us: that exact, breathtaking view from the film....ruined by a few boats and 50+ tourists.  But still, it really is the most amazing beach, it's no wonder the director chose this location.  It almost makes it a fact that Maya Bay is the most beautiful beach in the whole of Thailand.  We spent about an hour there, and was nowhere close to getting bored. I just couldn't stop taking photographs, I wanted to remember this view forever.

But the trip was not over yet.  As the sun set on the horizon, we were whisked away to our very own private beach fro a bbq and a party.  It would be hard to beat Maya Bay, but as the boat pulled in to our location I knew it wouldn't disappoint.  A small beach lit by flames, that led into a beach cavern, where fires and a little mini bar were set up and the music was pumping.  There were only around 30 of us on this beach, so more of a friendly, cosy mini-party which was a perfect way to end the day.  We ate, drank and chatted to a few people.  Then one of our guides brings out a gutiar, and asks if anyone wants to play...next thing we're all singing Oasis round the campfire.  There's no word to describe this apart from surreal.  Do you ever get that moment where you think "This isn't real, I'm in a movie right now."  Well this was definitely one of them. Following our sing-song the Thais got up and showed off their fire twirling skills - which everyone does here by the way, I think Thais come out of the womb twirling a firestick and throwing it to the next newborn across the room. It is entertaining though!  Then they led us into the sea to show us the glowing plankton, as it was pitch black by now.  They were wicked! If you stayed still, theres nothing but black all around and in the sea, but if you move or splash in the water, lots of tiny light dots appear, just for a few seconds, then disappear again.  Fascinating sight to end the day with.

To conclude our night, we headed back to the village for a few drinks.  It was just the best day ever.  But now tomorrow is our last day, and I really really DON'T want to leave!!!

Rik on his 2nd jump:

Travel Blog: Thailand

Viking Resort, Koh Phi Phi

It is hard to describe this amazing place, so I'll just put it simply:

Bamboo huts, in trees, with a beachview.  Everything is made of wood, from the bed to the clothes hangers.  We have a terrace/balcony with a huge hammock, and lots of cute hanging shell mobiles.  It is the only room we've stayed in so far with a fridge, which is filled with drinks, and where breakfast is included every morning. There is one downfall - STILL not hot water - but I'm quite enjoying washing my hair in the sea now, especially as there's 2 private beaches to choose from. So we originally booked 3 nights as it's a bit pricey, but as soon as we were shown to our room I fell in love, so we went back down to recpetion to book another 3 nights.  This takes us up to when we have to leave for Bangkok.

So that night, we went into the village for dinner and what did we come home to? A cockroach infestation.  I freaked out, as we had run out of the killing spray from last time!  Luckily reception had some brought up for us, which did the job (and now we're fully stocked up for emergencies!)  It may sound silly that I wanted to stay here, in this all-natural resort, yet not want to share it with these creepy crawlies.  Why didn't I expect this?! I don't know.  I guess paradise comes at a cost, which I'm willing to pay.  Anyway, we've not had much trouble since so fingers crossed they've learnt their lesson.

Travel Blog: Thailand

12th November - Koh Phi Phi

We started our day by climbing to 'The Viewpoint' and I guaruntee those 10,0000000000+ steps are worth it! Right in the peak of the mountains, you get a perfectly clear view of the bays mentioned previously, with the turquoise sea lapping the beaches from both sides plus a backdrop of sky high jungly cliffs.  Words don't really do it justice, and neither does a camera but it's better than nothing:

After the hike we rewarded ourselves with a relaxing day on a secluded beach cove.  Nothing else to report as of yet except Rik is in heaven because there's a ridiculous amount of Italian food here.  Oh and we had a slight cockraoch incident last night...luckily my hero advanced on the nearest shop to get some spray and kill the mofo.  He also enjoys killing mosquitoes with his bare hands...I love him!

Travel Blog: Thailand

11th November - Koh Phi Phi

Something strange is going on in Thailand.  Remember when we were in Koh Tao, in their monsoon season, and it was scorching and didn't rain a drop?  And in Koh Chang, at the start of their high seaosn, and it rained at least once a day?  Well, we arrive into Koh Phi Phi - bearing in mind it is their high season, hottest part of the year as of 1st November - and it is cloudy.  Not only is it dull and cloudy, but as we are exploring, about 40 minutes away from the village and our hotel, it starts to pour down.  When I say pour down, I mean tropical rainstorm/monsoon heavier than I've ever known, lasting at least an hour.  We had to literally wade through the streets, knee deep, to get back to our hotel and that is honestly no exaggeration.  So, not the greatest start to Phi Phi, especailly when one has spent a mere 15 hours getting here.  And that journey was eventful...

On such long journeys it is common to travel through the night, which is good because you aren't wasting any days travelling.  So from Koh Tao we got on a nightboat back to the mainland, lasting 8 hours.  We walked onto this boat and I could not believe my eyes.  There was one deck, inside, covered wall to wall with tiny attempts at mattresses.  our tickets had numbers, and sure enough there were numbers around the room matching each 'mattress.'  But these numbers were so unbelieveably squished together, that if you were slightly taller or fatter than the average person you'd have no chance.  And there were no seats or chairs on the boat, your given mattress was the only thing to sit or lie on, and there was no room to stand up should you wish to.  So, taking it all in, we took up our cosy bedside position, awkwardly making friends with our neighbours.  There was no shop, no proper toilet ( a squat toilet - a hole in the ground - is considered sufficient in Asia) and the heat was unbearable.  When the boat set off, all the lights went out and the whole boat went pitch black.  I looked at us all, squished together lay down like sardines on a fish market and I could only compare it to one thing: a slave ship.  While we may not have been handcuffed, we didn't have a choice to move anyway and it was honestly like a scene from 'Amistad.'
Saying this, after I spent the first 2 hours looking out of the window at the amazing display of stars, I slept through the rest of the journey, so it couldn't have been too bad.  Then, when we docked at 5am, someone fell into the water whilst getting off the boat!!  I guess he was still half asleep....it's not funny really, there's no health and safety round here.  Following this, we had our usual long distance shannanigans where different jeeps and trucks pick us up and drop us at random travel agencies for hours, then drop us at the coach station, then drop us at the pier for our last leg of the journey to Phi Phi.

Phi Phi is said to be the most beautiful of them all, and even through the cloud she delivered.  With crystal clear waters and countless white beaches and coves we spotted on the way in, I couldn't wait to get exploring.  Then, to my amazement, I discovered this island had no roads, or vehicles.  A taxi here refers to a large cart on 2 wheels to carry your luggage to your hotel!  It's incredible.  However, the no road description paints an entirely wrong view of this island - the main village is the biggest and busiest I've seen out of all the islands we've visited, and making your way through the hustle and bustle is hard.  There are many shops, markets, restaurants, hotels and bars - countless bars, that get very lively at night!  So it really does make you wonder how, with no roads, this thriving civilisation exists.  How did they transport all the concrete and machinery to build all these buildings?? Most locals have bicycles, and the police have scooters, but that's it.  You see staff from the bars and restaurants hauling around their stock with their carts I mentioned earlier every day, and it's really endearing.

Phi Phi was hit by 2004's tsunami, but there is no sign of it today.  We are staying quite high up on a hill, and the hotel next door has an evacuation sign.  If there's a warning of another tsunami, people would flock there to safety.  Which is quite reassuring at the moment, until tomorrow when we're moving beachside!  The main village is built on a very narrow strip of land,with sea on both sides so it is evident how the whole island would have been devastated by it. [This makes me feel guilty for moaning about getting caught in the monsoon earlier.  I wasn't lying, the paths transformed into rivers but it must have been nothing compared to the tsunami floods].  A few restaurants have photographs inside of the rebuild, and there are a few books about it in the bookstores, so it has made me want to research it more.  I found an interesting fact when I hit my first source, Wikipedia. (Obviously!)  On Phucket, the neighbouring island to Phi Phi, two separate British tourists noticed the warning signs of a tsunami.  One was a teacher, and the other a 10 year old girl who had been studying tsunamis in geography.  Apparently the water receeded far more than usual, and bubbles could also be seen.  The Brits were on separate parts of the island, and both managed to get their beaches evacuated to safety before the tsunami hit.  This made me feel really warm inside.

OK so now it's time to plug Rik's travel blog, here it is:

You may think, if you're reading mine, why should you read my travel partners, as it will be exactly the same. I can't tell you how wrong you are my friend! Me and Rik see the world in VERY different ways, and therefore find different things of higher importance to mention in our blogs.  Plus it is a lot funnier than mine, so have a read :)

Travel Blog: Thailand

9th November - Koh Tao

I just got back from a morning yoga class in a beautiful studio which is part of a beach resort. Amazing to say the least!  I was so excited to learn they had classes on the island, and it did not disappoint, such an uplifting way to start the day - 2 hours of yoga practice.  And the teacher incorporated our picturesque surroundings into the class by saying things like, "Be aware of all the water surrounding us on this tiny island."  And it's strange, thinking about blatant simple facts such as that.  I bet not one of us in that class, since arriving here, had thought "Hey, I'm on a small Thai island surrounded by water on all sides.  How does my mind and body feel about that?"
(The answer of course, unless you have a fear of the sea, is great).

I've started to look at yoga in a new light.  I mean, I've gone to classes on and off for about 5 years, but only for the physical benefits; as a dancer it increases flexibility and strength, and helps you focus before a technique class or performance.  It harmonises mind and body, no doubt about that.  But I've always dismissed the spiritual and meditational side of yoga, which I know plays a large part in the practice.  Well I've recently had a change of heart.  Maybe it'e because I'm reading Liz Gilbert's 'Eat Pray Love?' [I know I know, total cliche travelling read...I just had to!  I'm also starting to write in the same sarcastic autobiographical tone....maybe I should stop!?]

Anyway, from what I can tell from the various classes I've attended with teachers from all over the world, there are a few important themes.  Positivity and thankfulness are up there - half a yoga class is usually dedicated to saying thank you to the sun for the light and warmth it gives us day by day.  And we certainly do take things like that for granted these days.  I think we all need to be more thankful, even for the simplest of things we have been given in this life.  So this, mixed with elements such as peace and compassion - how can I ignore these statements in yoga? I believe in all these things separately, so why not as a physical practice?  All I know is I want to take up a lot more yoga classes in Australia.  So that is how I spent my morning, sweating my back out in yoga...how did I spend my afternoon?....

Washing my hair in the sea.  Why the sea, I hear you ask! Because the shower in our room only has an arctic blast button, that's why.  No hot water at all.  Which is nice and refreshing, in this heat and humidity, for about 3-5 minutes.  But washing my hair takes at least 10!  And the sea was so much warmer than our shower, so I just took my shampoo and conditioner down to the beach and got at one with nature! I was slightly angry at first that our shower wasn't hot.  I don't expect an electric shower if we're staying in a beach bungalow or a mega cheap hostel, but we're in a large, well equipped resort.  But Koh Tao is in a massive water shortage crisis right now, so they may have turned off the hot water to stop people spending a long time in the shower.  Well, probably just the cheapest rooms we're in! For example,it is now supposed to be monsoon season here, but we've seen then hottest and driest weather since arriving in Thailand.  Not one spec of rain.  We're also being bitten to death, I think the island needs some rain to kill off some mozzies!  Up until now, Rik was taking enough bites for the both of us, so we came to the conclusion that I just wasn't tasty enough.  But now, I've just found 5 massive bites, right on my bum cheek. Nice. [Note to self - no more skirts.]

We're in for another horrific night journey tomorrow, to Koh Phi Phi.  This island is said to be the most stunning, and well worth the travelling. I really hope so!  So that's it for Koh Tao...one last thing.  At night the stars here are our of this world, I wish I could take a photograph  of them.  I have never ever seen so many.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Travel Blog: Thailand

8th November - Sairee Beach, Koh Tao

So we had to leave Bangkok before nightfall when the insects come out....so that little bushtucker trial will have to wait till next week before we catch out flight!

But now here we are in Koh Tao, one of the best spots to scuba dive in the whole world.  Nearly all the hotels are diving resorts, so we decided to stay in one because they had cheap rooms - no air con, no hot water...I'll come back to that! - and they had not 1, but 2 pools! Which we thought was a great bonus, except every day they are both full with beginners' scuba classes, so we've only had chance for a quick dip.  If we were staying longer, me and Rik have both said we'd love to do a course, but hopefully in Australia we can do one on the Great Barrier Reef ( no doubt it will be a lot more expensive there though).  The ocean is so crystal clear here however, that there is no need to go underwater, snorkelling or diving, as you can see right through the water to the seabed.  It's a nice beach, but with a narrow sandy strip and it's very built up all the way along - bar after restaurant after bar.  Doesn't beat Koh Chang I'm afraid![But as time passed I decided it was a 'grower']. It has that similar lazy atmosphere, where the seats are just cushions on a beachside wooden platform. It's apparently the low season here, but it is still busier than the previous island we visited and I'm enjoying the more 'resort' feel here.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Travel Blog: Thailand

7th November - Bangkok

Back to Bangkok...luckily just for the night! We're leaving at 6pm tonight for Koh Tao.  A very long haul 12 hour journey....not looking forward to that, but I'm presuming it will be worth it.  I really want to try a cricket or a scorpion before we leave Khao San Road, but I'm not sure if I'm brave enough! Check back to see.....

Travel Blog: Thailand

6th November - Bangkok

Remember Remember the 5th of November - the day that Rik had an epiphany and announced he is never again going to buy a PlayStation.  Hallelujah!

So my mission has been accomplished in just one week of our trip.  His eyes have been opened to how differently a lot of the world live.  In Koh Chang, he witnessed Thai's living in tiny rooms behind their shops or bars, most of the time without doors, never mind luxuries such as a television.  Children have to accompany their parents to work, be it at a shop, hotel resort or massage parlour - definitely not playing on nintendos; they have to make their own fun.  The other night we seen someone bathing their baby in a tiny tub outside their shop....very cute!  So all this seemed to affect him somewhat, and last night, as we sat staring out at a huge, black ocean on a wooden swing, he said those magical words.

But enough about Rik, you want to know about the elephants right?! We not only rode them but swam with them in a river.  I don't think words can do it justice, it was one of the hihglights of my whole life.  I was slightly sceptical and very cautious when deciding if I wanted to visit an elephant camp.  I was worried that it may be cruel on the elephants, and even if it was perfectly humane in how it treats them, I'm sure an elephant's favourite past time is not necessarily carrying around humans all day.  In Thailand elephants were used decades ago to carry loads through the difficult terrain, before cars and lorries.  Knowing this, and doing a bit of research into different elephant camps - for example some make them do shows similar to a circus, which I am definitely against - I decided I would probably feel like a fly on its back, and did not want to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to get close to these beautiful animals.  I suppressed my eco-hippy and embraced the whole experience.  For 2 hours, we trekked (very slowly) through the jungle, where our mahout - the guide who directs the elephant - pointed out many a scary insect for us.  When I'd seen pictures of friends elephant riding, I didn't like the look of the seats attached to their backs.  I wondered why you couldn't just sit on its back, like you do a horse or a camel.  Well now I know! Going up and down very steep hills,even slowly, it feels like a slo-mo rollercoaster and there's no doubt about it, if you weren't locked in that bench you'd be on the floor in no time.

The best part was definitely in the river.  The mahouts took the seats and all the equipment off the animals and then, finally, we could climb onto their bare backs.  And soon enough they'd threw us off them into the water to cool down.  After a few attempts, we finally climbed back on and me and Rik had our elephant all to ourselves.  I came to the conclusion that our elephant was rather old and tired, as it wasn't moving very much whilst the other two seemed more playful.  But who can blame him, like I said he was probably fed up of carrying humans around all day for their amusement, and it was still amazing.  So amazing that I want to do it again! And for $15*, we easily could. I'd spend that on a trip to the cinema back in the UK, and this was obviously far more exciting!

*I can't find a pound sign on this Thai keyboard....I obviously mean fifteen pounds :)

Travel Blog: Thailand

3rd November - Lonely Beach, Koh Chang

Well, due to our flight times and a lot of jet lag I didn't get to update you on Bangkok. To be honest, there's not much to tell! It's as cliche and predictable as you imagine - hellishly humid, crowded and dirty.  The city that never sleeps, every street is a cramped market and they have a million forms of transport to choose from.  There's the sky train, tuk tuks, motorbike taxis and even river buses.  All reasonably priced too.  My highlight was Wat Pho, one of Thailand's most famous temples.  It was so peaceful and calm ( not sure how this is achieved in the middle of the city but it was) with beautiful gardens and courtyards, and definitely the most Buddhas I've ever seen.  We're going bank in a few days so if I have any more feelings on Bangkok I will report them here.

But where we are now is our favourite place so far, in a complete league of its own.  Koh Chang gave me my first 'Wow' moment, as soon as we climbed into the 'taxi' off the ferry.  I write 'taxi' because it was more of a safari jeep, with 10 people squashed in the back and our bags on the roof.  The vehicles have to be like that to navigate the roads....the island is pure jungle, and the roads are so steep and winding to make way through the difficult terrain.  There are mountains full of trees as far as the eye can see, laced with breathtaking beaches.  We have settled in Lonely Beach, which is quite small and secluded and the area has plenty of cool wooden restaurants and bars.  They're so authentic and chilled out, most of them just have cushions on the floor to eat and drink on.  We are staying in a bungalow which is a few seconds walk to the sea, and a 10 minute secret jungle path to the sandy beach.  It really is breathtaking to do a 360 degree look around the spot we are; a beautiful sandy beach overlooked by a lush, hilly rainforest.  Paradise! Part of me wants to just stay here for te rest of our 3 weeks but I know there are plenty more islands to explore.

I write this on our balcony terrace as a tropical rainstorm pounds the leaves surrounding us. Peaceful yet quite surreal.  Another amazing new experience I tried today...Thai massage on a beach! It wasn't exactly relaxing but it was pleasant in a...different way! They certainly make you crack, let's put it that way.  One to tick off the list!  We're going to stay 2 more nights here before we have to say a teary goodbye.  But before we do...we're going elephant trekking tomorrow! Far too excited.  Just hope all this rain doesn't turn it into a Glastonbury-esque mudfest for us.

Well, bye for now, because Rik is making me go and watch the football.  Here we are in paradise, and all he wants to do is find out what's going on back home in the Premier League! Men.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Travel Blog: Dubai

30th November 2012

I want to skip Dubai really because we were only there for about 3/4 of a day and feel I can't write a lot about it.  But I can't make a travel blog and skip bits can I?

My first thoughts of the city are mixed - from the sky, as the plane is landing,the towering buildings like something from a NYC landscape, but then the urban metropolis disintegrates into sand and I am reminded that I am, in fact, in the middle of a desert.  On the ground, the buildings aren't quite as impressive, (except for the Burj Khalifa of course) and we walked around all day without finding The Palm or even a glimpse of the sea. Gutted!  

On the bright side, we did find the aquarium in the centre of the Dubai Mall and that was lots of fun.  The Mall was surely 10 times the size of The Trafford Centre in Manchester, and the food court was 5 times bigger and 100 times cleaner! That's one thing you notice in UAE; it's very clean.  So the Mall was of course full of designer shops, which if you ask me, look very strange with Arabs shopping in them! It just looks like a massive oxymoron, you don't expect those kinds of people to be materialistic but there they are in their hummer with their Versace bags....

Now we are sat in the most amazing airport, on reclining chairs, both of us writing our journals as we managed to be 5 hours early for our flight to Bangkok. So, I'll leave it there for this city but one thing I will say about Dubai is they love a good water feature, and they must be some of the most impressive in the world.  Oh, and I didn't enjoy all the staff we encountered ignoring me and speaking directly to Rik! Sorry, 'Sir Rik.' Errr hello?!! Yes, UAE is a man's world but fool them that the hotel booking was in MY name, and I had all the money to pay for stuff. So ha. Also, here are just a selection of the words Rik used for the currency, which is Dirhams:

  • Dunhams
  • Dunhelms
  • Derkers!
[Funniest thing was, when we arrived in Bangkok he started calling their currency, 
Baht, Dirhams]. 

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Travel Blog:

3 days to go….

Stress isn’t even the word. I don’t know what I’m feeling right now, but it definitely isn’t excitement, there are no butterflies in my tummy. WHY?!

I have just finished trying to pack my backpack. (Emphasis on trying).  There’s just no way everything I need is going to fit. I don’t even think it’s the clothes that are the problem, it’s the toiletries. They are never ending. But surely I need them ALL?!  I definitely need sun lotion, after sun, insect repllent, deodorant, baby wipes, bathroom essentials and make up.  And that is my attempt at packing light.  I don’t know how these female travellers do it. I’ve been reading all their blogs, there are even some girls who don’t do checked in baggage at all.  They have a tiny, carry on board rucksack for travelling the world. I take my hat off to them I really do (let’s not mention hats I’m going to have to wear my huge floppy sun hat on every flight as there is no way on earth that is fitting in any backpack).  I honestly thought I was one of those girls who could do this no problem, I’m not exactly high maintenance.  For example, when I tell most of my female friends I’m not taking a suitcase, but a backpack, they nearly have a fit.  Here is a conversation I had with my friend the other day:

“What are you going to do in Australia….I mean, they have no fashion over there!”
To which I replied, “That’s the point.”

I’m sure they do have fashion in Aus, it’s by far a fashionless third world country, but she was trying to say all they wear are shorts and t-shirts 24/7.  (Slightly cliché but hey, neither of us have been before! I’ll let you know).  Well I, for one, can’t wait to get into that lifestyle.  I am so sick of this country and the never ending consumerism that is bound to it.  We’re all the same – we see an item of clothing, we HAVE to have it, then as soon as we’ve bought it we catch a glimpse of the next latest fashion and we buy that too.  It’s an everlasting, depressing cycle and I am so sick of feeling this constant need for more.  I am going to love having to not care about what I look like, what I’m wearing, or if the locals think I’m trendy.  Because none of that is going to matter.  Those everyday thoughts I used to have will seem so insignificant to what I will be seeing and experiencing.

Having said that, I am obviously not parting with my mac make up.  A girl has needs.  So I need to find a way to fit it all in! I am doing quite well with the traveller sacrifices, I’ve surrendered my ghd’s.  Give me some credit please! Au natural hair….not looking forward to that.  No doubt I’ll be posting frequent updates about my Monica frizz, on a scale of 1-10.
My next post will be from Thailand! x

Monday, 15 October 2012

Travel Blog:


So in case you haven’t heard (how could you not know, where have you been?!!) I am embarking on a travel adventure in two weeks’ time.  Welcome to the first post of my new Travel Blog! My boyfriend Rik and I have had the trip planned for a good few months, and I thought it would never arrive.  But all of a sudden, time is rushing past faster than that guy who jumped from space, and before I know it we will be halfway across the world.

It’s not unusual at all these days for people to go travelling for a long period of time.  Especially for graduates, [like me and Rik] who are completely unable to fulfill their potential in this failing country.  To be honest, I graduated a year and a half ago and feel totally de-motivated by the type of work I’ve had to do.  Nothing I was doing in my minimum wage jobs was constructive and I feel like my brain has been placed in a mouldy jar and is slowly rotting.  So, apart from always wanting to see as much of the globe as possible, I feel that travelling the world and understanding other cultures will be far more constructive than what I have been doing recently.  My facebook news feed expands daily with friends’ exotic photographs from all corners of the earth, and I trawl through them with amazement/envy.  I still can’t really believe that now it is my turn.

We’re not exactly doing a whole round the world trip – our main destination is Australia, so we’ve just added some other countries along the way.  We are doing a pit stop tour of Dubai, three weeks in Thailand, 11 days in New Zealand and then on to Aus. The most exciting (or daunting) fact is that we haven’t booked our return flight. We’re being spontaneous, seeing how it goes and coming home when we actually want to.  Now if you know me personally you will know this is extremely out of character for me, but it actually feels nice to know that nothing is certain, anything can happen.  After spending much of my life organising and planning down to every last detail, I feel I really need to take a backseat and enjoy the adventure day by day.

It is also important to explain to those who haven’t known me since primary school the significance of our key destination, Australia.  For some reason, from a small child I have had an obsession with this nation, despite the fact no one in my family has ever been there even for a holiday.  It all started with koalas; they were the chosen subject for all my ‘school projects’, I had hundreds of small grey teddies, and my parents bought my birthday and Christmas presents from an Australian charity’s website that helped the endangered species.  Then, aged eleven I began to write my first novel…..titled ‘Ayers Rock – UNTOLD!’  It is unfinished, but I still have it in my possession and it proves a truly amusing read.  Maybe when I see it in reality I will be inspired to finish it…

I just can’t believe that soon enough I will be living these childhood dreams – watching the sunset behind Uluru, holding a live koala, diving in the Great Barrier Reef.  And this is not even mentioning witnessing the spectacular landscapes of New Zealand, and visiting the Hobbiton LOTR set.  Add to that a few weeks in paradise sleeping in beach bungalows and riding elephants, and it’s fair to say I am a VERY lucky girl.  So I am going to try my best to update this blog as I go along, so please keep reading about my journey!  Even if we don’t get internet connection everywhere, I will write on paper everyday and upload when I can.  And who knows, I may even let Rik write a line or two….OK probably not. But I’ll include the funny shit he says.    

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Arty highlights from Berlin!

1. East Side Gallery

Probably the most famous piece of art in the city, this is the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall still standing. When it fell on November 9th 1989, this part of the wall was left standing and artists from all over the world travelled to make their mark on it.  Riddled with colourful, industrial, motivational, and political quotes and images, the artists have left Berliners with a beautiful piece of history to lighten those dark years when the city was split.

2. Jewish Memorial

The full name of this sculpture is 'Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe' which could be deemed harsh by some but quite fair and necessary to most that know anything about German history.  Having looked it up before I went to Berlin I wasn't too excited about it, but the truth is photographs do not do it justice at all.  Designer Peter Eisenman has created 2,700 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern at varying heights and widths.  This memorial was not built to look at, and visitors are encouraged to enter it to gain the full experience.  The floor is also varied throughout, taking visitors on a long, confusing tour of concrete, at times towering above one's head which creates the desired effect of anxiety - even though you can clearly see the exits all around you.  The journey is powerful, and for some reason sadness radiates from the coffin-like blocks at the entrance to the towering grey rectangles looming in the centre.

3. Panorama of The Ancient Metropolis at the Pergamon Museum

The Pergamon Museum is one of many on Museum Island, and the only one we had chance to go into. It revolves around two huge artworks - an ancient Greek/Roman altar, excavated and rebuilt completely in the museum, and a panorama painting by Yadegar Asisi.  The latter was by far the most interesting, as the altar was rather underwhelming after witnessing the panorama first.  The huge artwork, sealed together in a giant cylinder shape, paints a scene from the ancient city of Pergamon in 129AD.  On entering you have to climb quite a few floors up to the central viewing gallery, but it is all worth it once you get up there.  Music and clever day-night time lighting turn this almost into a cinematic experience, as it is easy to imagine the characters in the painting going about their daily lives.  This panorama style artwork was truly awe-inspiring, and I doubt I will ever see something similar in my lifetime.  Unfortunately, photography was prohibited, but I do have some snapshots of the altar.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Turn Festival

 3-5 May 2012. Contact Theatre, Manchester

Turn Festival has been hosted by Contact this year, as a Green Room Legacy project.  With a selection of  unknown talent from around the region, Turn has something for everyone, including the chance to perform your first Wedding dance, watch a wrestling match in an office, and witness a young girl give in to her most impulsive thoughts. (Most unforgettably emptying a bowl of noodles all over herself).  Unfortunately I couldn’t attend all three nights, but here are a few of my highlights…

Emma Lansley and Eve Stainton created the perfect opening to Friday’s evening’s performances.  Better Because I wear Vintage offered a light and humorous approach to the current trend of wearing dated clothing and acting kitsch.  A Conversation: Part 1 offered an intelligent response to psychological topics such as sanity and obedience.  Mainly using text to open the duet, the piece then developed into some interesting, fluid movement.  I hope this is a work in progress by Hannah Buckley and Dwayne Antony, as it left me wanting to see more.  Moving on to my absolute favourite – Work Songs by the dangerologists.  On paper, this piece explores ‘masculinity in the office [and the] mindless drudgery and hopeless alienation that is the normal working day.’  In physicality, it is so much more – the two male dancers produce a comical, physically brutal performance, which escalates into a violent conflict.  The performers have amazing acting ability, and deliver truly convincible characters, which most of the audience could probably relate to.  This piece will no doubt inspire many people to leave their monotonous office jobs and start living.

Hofesh Shecter

Hofesh Shecter – Political Mother. 27/4/12 The Lowry, Salford.

The programme states ‘Shecter’s first full length work burst onto the world stage in 2010 and since then has been an unstoppable force, touring the world to great acclaim.’  This is due to the mesmerising ensemble pieces, consisting of raw, committed movement and powerful images.  Exploring themes of power, oppression and conformity – which are a common trend recently – the dancers take the audience on a painful journey to subjection and back again, in which the choreographer allows the dancers’ individuality come to light.

The element that sets Politcal Mother aside from many other contemporary dance pieces is the choice of a live band and the bold style of music.  The musicians are such a part of the staging, and make up almost half of the performers, that Shecter has made a whole performance genre of his own.  The daring, deafening music dramatically increased the atmosphere throughout the piece, and continually created the tension.  It is fair to say that without the rock music/ gig element, the dancing would be rather underwhelming.  Having said that, Political Mother is still an undeniable masterpiece, and I doubt the ‘unstoppable force’ of the piece worldwide is about to slow down.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Black Keys with Band of Skulls

7/2/12 Manchester 02 Apollo

Band of Skulls – No nonsense, no crowd-pleasing.  No facades or fabrications.  No pyrotechnics.  Let the music speak for itself.  Kings of Leon with a female, quirky addition.  Dirty riffs.  Grungy guitars.  Dark, dingy atmosphere created for an un- reactive crowd.

The Black Keys – Flashing lights.  Mixing it up.  Place the drummer at the front, why not.  More dirty riffs.  Seductive rock rhythms.  Toe tapping, head nodding, melody singing stuff.  American rock stars who attract an unlikely diverse audience.

Two up and coming bands who offer something completely unique to the British music scene.

Monday, 30 January 2012

We are all in need of....

A motivational quote!

I don't usually do autobiographical posts, but I feel at a dead end recently and have a feeling many people are with me.  So I am spending my morning wallowing, wondering why it is that everything I try to achieve, every job or audition I attend always comes back with the same answer.  I'm always the understudy, I was just "pipped to the post", I've made the reserve list.  I wish someone could pinpoint what I'm doing wrong, but they never can - everyone else is just somehow better.

So a friend advised me to read a sort of 'self help' book - which I admit I had reservations about.  It's called The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, and some of the stories and quotes in there really have kept me going.  Here's mine for today:

"No" is a word on your path to "Yes."  Don't give up too soon.  Not even if well-meaning parents, relatives, friends and colleagues tell you to get "a real job." Your dreams are your real job.
-Joyce Spizer

[Coincidentally, whilst writing this I got a call for an interview.  No doubt I'll still be reading a bit of Jack when they decide to reject me and say I'm next in line if another position comes up.]