Saturday, December 31, 2016

Day 39 - Happy New Year!

It's the 1st of January 2017, happy new year! Gemma, Ben and I rang in the new year at a restaurant/bar called Romeo's. Plenty of horns, a lot of shaking hands and wishing people a happy new year, and Auld Lang Syne playing vaguely in the background.

We've been in Bali for 9 days now. I'd heard mixed things about Bali, with a lot of people saying it was pretty destroyed by tourism. After a lot of research, we decided to stay in the Seminyak area, which is supposed to be a more chilled out, but still lots to do, area of Bali.

From what we've seen of Kuta, we made the right choice, however, we were not aware of the constant traffic here, nor of the fact that at this time of year, our nearest beach becomes the deposit station for the sea's rubbish, something that both hindered our holiday enjoyment and made me sad for the environment.

Some checking in with Chris informed me that we weren't on the best side of Bali for the beaches, I guess my online research let me down there, but hey.

We're staying at the Baleka resort and spa. It has equal parts pleased us and let us down... Rooms are gorgeous, pools are wonderful, price is right, however, restaurant is lacking, we've had a few power cuts and the water has occasionally vanished from the taps and shower...

But that's enough negativity, and unwarranted too because we've actually had an amazing time here.

It's been very much a holiday 'break' in our travels as we've stayed put in one place. We've had many a pool day, which has been seriously relaxing, and a nice little luxury since we know this option won't come along a lot on our travels. We've mixed it up with a bar day (a lot of cards played), a cinema trip (Rogue One), and a day at the water park (just, all kinds of awesome).

We spent Christmas day watching Balinese dancers and a relatively poor drag show with Curtis, Punchie and Curtis' sister, Charlotte.

Tomorrow night, Gemma flies back home... Hopefully with a more pleasant journey than she suffered on the way here, and Ben and I check out the next morning... We're headed to the Gili islands where we'll get the beach time we missed here, on our way to our pre-booked surf retreat we're also planning to spend a few days in Ubud, as we've heard nothing but good things.

We're nearly a third into our Indonesian travels already... Where does the time go??

Friday, December 23, 2016

Day 30 - More Samui and Bangkok

So, we completed our yoga retreat, and met some lovely people while we were there, and felt slightly more broken with each passing day. I made two classes a day, that's 3-4 hours of yoga a day. By check out I was in much need of a rest. Ben made two classes... in total, and came away knowing yoga is not his thing.

If anyone wants specific information on the yoga retreat (Vikasa Yoga Retreat), I left a detailed review on Tripadvisor or you can message me!

Upon checking out, we decided to eschew any plans to cram another island into our travels and headed further north on Koh Samui to Chaweng beach for a couple of nights.

We booked into the Chaweng Budget Hotel, which was far from budget! It was pretty similar to a Premier Inn, and Ben and I settled in very happily, donning the provided robes! Chaweng itself was alright, though it rained the entirety of our second day there, which was particularly annoying as our hotel, paired with it's 'sister' hotel across the road, had a very nice pool. Instead we ended up in a little café enjoying some pastries...

Oh, and I was very pleased to spot a bottle of Hendrick's behind the bar of the place we went for dinner...

Served up with sliced cucumber and everything. I was happy. Ok, so, Samui airport is beautiful, I didn't take a picture for some reason but, good for you to know.

We landed in Bangkok early evening and got to our hotel, took ourselves out for a tasty dinner (and entertaining chat with the people next to us) then met Curtis and Punchie for drinks! Curtis is Ben's friend who currently lives in Bangkok and Punchie is his girlfriend for those who don't know.

That turned into a good little night with Ben and I eating cheese and ham toasties in bed at about 3am.

The next day... started late. Dragging ourselves out of bed for breakfast (read, lunch), we then journeyed to Curtis and Punchie's place to chill.

This is where we spent about six hours. It was glorious. The next day, deciding we really should do something 'cultural', Ben and I trekked to Wat Pho. It was pretty hot and about a mile away so by the time we got there we kind of dragged ourselves around half heartedly...

Though I have to admit, the reclining Buddha really is a sight to behold.

It's really hard to convey the size in a picture but, trust me, it's huge. Anyway, done with being cultural and faced with the walk back, I talked Ben into a foot massage which were readily available and in demand at Wat Pho. 30 minutes later with our freshly moisturised feet sliding about in our flip flops, we trekked back to our little Guesthouse, which, I've just realised I haven't mentioned yet!! We're currently staying in BB House, it's awesome.

Though we've peeked in the downstairs rooms and we're definitely lucky that a terrace room was available. I'm actually sat up here now writing this blog post. Got me a big bottle of Leo, my little iPod is blasting a Nichola-variety playlist and I'm enjoying the heat of the Bangkok sun, steadfastly ignoring the guy who previously asked me to put cream on his fresh back tattoo the other day...

But I digress.

That night, Curtis and Punchie joined us for a night on khoasan rd.

We started in roof bar, which Fiona and I had enjoyed a lot in our time in Bangkok, but we got there a bit early so it was quiet, though the guy did a nice rendition of The Chainsmoker's 'Closer' which has become our travel song.

We met Punchie and Curtis in Hippie de Bar, where I had started on the cocktails...

En route to the next bar, Ben and Curtis stopped for scorpions, as you do.

The next day... was a bit of a write off... asides from dragging ourselves out for provisions, Ben and I essentially had a recovery day. We got to bed early with every intention of heading up to Ayutthaya for the day, but late on, after researching the train journey length, the suggested time needed to see the main viewpoints... well, in summary, when the alarm went off at 7am, we turned it off and slept till 10am instead.

So, our cultural trip went out the window and instead we headed to MBK centre for a bit of shopping and saw Passengers and Assassin's Creed.

This turned out to be a pretty good choice since I was suffering the after effects of a deliciously spicy fried rice from the night before...

And that brings us to today. Today folks, we bought the things in Thailand we've been meaning to buy for a while, little pair of shorts for Nichola, and a pair for Ben, elephant trousers for Nichola and another vest for Ben who is throwing out his previously packed t-shirts left, right and centre.

Today's our last day in Thailand. We fly to Bali tomorrow. Thailand's done. How did that happen?! We've finished a whole country in our travel plan. We've finished a whole month! It doesn't feel like a month. At the same time it doesn't feel like we arrived yesterday. We're just on some kind of time pause, but then, I guess that's why you go away, isn't it? To slow down, to not think about getting through a day or getting to the weekend, to not measure the time passing...I guess I should stop naming this blog posts after days gone...

On that note, I can't even begin to convey how much I haven't noticed Christmas is coming up. I haven't watched a single Christmas movie or heard a Christmas song, and asides from the occasional Christmas tree I've spotted... I've just forgotten about it!

Hope all of you back home and everywhere else are thoroughly in the Christmas spirit though!! 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Day 19 of travels, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and trains

Well, Chiang Mai seemed to like us. We certainly liked Chiang Mai! Here's what we've been up to in the past ten days. So, we flew from Krabi and arrived to be picked up by our Guesthouse driver, in our first tuktuk. Nice little bonus!

Since we arrived around dinner time, we dumped our bags in our new abode at Libra Guesthouse, which was basic, but clean and decent, and went locally for dinner... Which meant mini burgers!

And then we found an Irish pub which promised to be showing the England v Australia rugby game and did not disappoint.

We went to bed happy with the win. 

The next morning we explored Chiang Mai old city and all the many temples it housed.

Coming out of Wat Chedi Luang (our favourite of them all), we saw the Sunday market had set up. The lady who ran our Guesthouse had said a lot of positive things about the Sunday market, less hard-bargaining than the standard night market that everyone visits. The stalls run from the Three King's monument down to Wat Chedi Luang so we came out of the temple at one end. We perused and bought quite a few bits!

We went for pizza that night... Tasty tasty pizza from Boutique Della Pasta.

Trust me, we eat plenty of Thai food, we were just mixing it up here by throwing in a burger then pizza night... The next day we took a long wander. Seeing more of the outskirts of old city.

Stopping for some lunch...

And then walking to Art In Paradise, where we had a lot of fun being silly...

I think I can safely say the following day was our favourite in Chiang Mai. We had booked a morning elephant sanctuary visit. And even though we were none too pleased to be up at 7, it was totally worth it.

This little two year old elephant was as mischievous as any human two year old. When we came to wash these lovely animals, the little one snuck up on me and pushed me! And I'll tell you, it's a bit scary being shoved by a baby elephant!

He clearly liked Ben though, who had no fear getting up close to the elephants, while I kept a suitably wary distance for the most part.

For the ethically minded, we booked with Lanna Elephant Kingdom who do not allow riding of the elephants and who do not use hooks or chains. The elephants are rescued and well looked after as far as our research has shown us. We had a wonderful morning feeding the elephants, washing them with mud then brushing them, and making them vitamin balls which we then fed to them. We were provided with a DELICIOUS pad Thai lunch as well. Loved it.

Definitely our favourite day! Especially since it was the first day I could drink after I over-cautiously accepted antibiotics for a broken nail and was stuck with tea as my best drinking option for five days.

I think I'm getting my days confused here but anyway, one evening I went to a yoga class. It was super amazing to get back to a class after nearly four weeks since my last one. It was at Freedom Yoga, which was only twenty minutes from our Guesthouse, and it felt great.

We did check out the night market, but curtailed our spending somewhat. When you're looking at 4 more months of travelling, loading up your bag with goodies is not the best idea.

On our check out day, partly because we needed to kill the day before our evening train and partly because we'd been chided by the woman who ran our Guesthouse for not going, we went to visit the temple on a hill, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

It was pretty cool, very gold...but we decided later that we could've taken or left it. So, if you're ever in Chiang Mai with limited time, I'd say you're good to skip this one, in my opinion.

Onto our first class sleeper train journey from Chiang Mai to Bangkok!

Ben and I had this lovely little 'cabin' for the night which transformed into bunk beds.

A comfortable-ish journey was had, though we were woken up at 6am with still an hour and a half left of the journey. Bleary eyed we tried to decide how to continue onwards to Koh Samui. We would arrive early enough to jump on a day train which, after a bus-ferry combo would get us into Koh Samui about 8.30pm... However, did we want to spend ANOTHER 12 hours on a train. We decided not, but also decided not to spend the night in Bangkok and instead, holed up in a mall for the day. Weird, yes. But comforting and easy. It reminded me of the day Fiona, Chris, Tom and I had in Bangalore, another stopover spent similarly six years back.

So, after a Burger King breakfast, don't judge, it was the only thing open and it had standard wooden chairs which, since I'd fell over on my arse in mud on the way there, meant I wouldn't be destroying any furniture. After killing an hour in there, the mall opened and, after buying new trousers, Ben and I hit the arcade!

We then went to see Fantastic Beasts, and had a few games of bowling.

After a yummy dinner, we trundled back to the station to take our second class sleeper to Surat Thani, where we would take a bus to Don Sak pier, where we would then take a ferry to Koh Samui and finally a mini bus transfer to Lamai beach on the island, where we were staying. You know the famous saying, it's the journey, not the destination? Not in this case.

Now, there are no pictures of second class, partly because I was tired and partly because I was freaked out by the little bugs I saw. Second class is generally fine, and I think it's just that it's an older train than the first one we took... But I'm not good with bugs so waking up with what looked like a mini cockroach at the end of my bed, didn't thrill me any.

No wake up call for second class apparently so it was with luck we realised we were at our stop and able to grab our stuff together fairly sharpish. Having to wait an hour for our bus meant ordering from the little cafe that seemed to be organising our next phase of the trip (and conning us out of 100 baht in the process). Nevertheless, happy to not be hungry for our sub-par breakfast, we boarded some pretty good seats on the bus (reclining, with nobody behind) and chilled the hour long journey to the port.

45 minutes on a ferry, another hour on the minibus (first time we've been the last dropped off) we checked into New Hut Bungalows, which were adorable.

Not to mention right on the beach.

We spent two nights here, spending the days chilling and the evenings wandering the mile into town to the many bars... Though most were pretty empty. Still, we enjoyed some chill out time after two nights on a train and a lot of culture vulturing in Chiang Mai.

Yesterday, we checked into Vikasa Yoga Retreat. And I'm writing poolside, enjoying the heat and the most spectacular views I could ask for. Actually, here's a picture Ben took an hour ago...

So we're here for four nights of which we've spent one. I was up at 6.30am for two hours of yoga...I feel like I should be more tired, then again lying by the pool isn't exactly strenuous.

We're hitting the beginner's class at 4pm, just a couple hours away, and then possibly the 6pm restorative yoga class. So, it's a lot of yoga if you didn't get that, though last night we went to a meditation called singing bowls... It was interesting.

The food here is so good so far. Ben isn't impressed but I LOVE it. Check out this Mediterranean bowl I had for lunch yesterday!

And the chickpea curry I had for dinner was great too. The focus, as you've probably guessed, is very much on 'well-being' here. So our food is for the most part vegan/vegetarian. We were pleased to spot some drinks on the menu though and I was pleasantly surprised to spot Bombay Sapphire on the menu! Might have to splurge the 300 baht and enjoy a little G&T!

Bye for now! Ben says hi.