Most useful Travel Apps

Most useful travel apps

Just thought I’d mention some travel applications that we’ve been using to make travelling a little easier. Get them whilst you still have wifi!!

Duolingo – Handy little app to learn Spanish if you have none. Super annoying reminders about how long you’ve spent not looking at it though. It’s a bit of a smart ass of an app to be honest but it gets a job done.

Google Translate – with offline language pack (don’t think the offline pack is available on iPhone but John has it on his android phone). This is so useful when you have no idea how to communicate with a local – just show them the screen!

Maps.me – Google Maps hasn’t been great in South America. Maps.me had come up trumps for us on a number of occasions – it even has a map of within the grounds of Macchu Picchu! You just need to remember to download each country to your phone before you get there. It’s not great at pinpointing your exact location if you don’t have wifi but it’s very detailed.

OneDrive – 15GB of storage for free (more if you pay). We upload all our photos here just in case we lose our camera/camera card. It’s useful to get the space back on the camera card anyway.

Pinterest – I wasn’t going to add this in but it’s useful to search for the country you’re in to see pictures of the places you’d like to visit (also I’m addicted to Pinterest). Same goes for Instagram.

Pocket Expense Personal Finance – We’ve just started to use this to keep account of our budget. Bit late I know but what you gonna do. It’s very simple to use and you can see charts of where your money’s going. You need to play around a little with this when you get it first but it’s very handy once you’re used to it.

Skype – As we have an Australian account for Skype we got an amazing deal of $38 for 12 months with 300 minutes of calls to landlines and mobiles per month. This has been very handy for calling banks when we’ve had issues! (again wifi permitting).

Spotify – You can download your favourite songs to your phone; it’s an easy way to keep up to date with new music or listen to oldies even if you’re in the jungle.

WhatsApp – I use WhatsApp every single day, wifi access permitting, to keep in touch with home.

XE Currency App – Very useful when you have currencies with many zeros…my head isn’t great for maths so I’d have no idea what I was paying for anything if it wasn’t for this current currency exchange guru of an app…and John.

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Singapore

My first impression of Singapore was that it is essentially a series of interconnected shopping malls. Mega malls mind. They even have River Island!! VERY EXCITING. We stayed at the Swisshӧtel the Stamford which is one of the tallest hotels in Asia. Accommodation is ridiculously priced in Singapore so it’s kind of an ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ situation so either book five years in advance/cozy up with an industry professional/max out the credit card. Our hotel was connected to the trés cheap metro line at City Hall. You get one S$1 back when you put your ticket back in the machine. It was nice to get some money back for once 🙂

The Merlion with the CBD in the background

The Merlion with the CBD in the background

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

We spent our first evening wandering around the central business district (CBD), checking out the myriad of restaurants and coffee shops in the area. You can see the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore, on the way to another famous landmark, the Cavenagh Bridge. Well actually there are two statues of Señor Raffles: the real one which is down by Victoria Concert Hall (or somewhere along those lines) and the one on Boat Quay which marks Stamford Raffles’ (English dude) original landing spot from back in the day. The statue near the concert hall is currently under a load of scaffolding so couldn’t really check it out 😦

We strolled down to see the Merlion statue – a lion/mermaid, positioned in front of the CBD with a viewing platform so tourists can get a photo with the CBD’s lights in the background. Good stuff.  You get a pretty great view from this platform. The Esplanade Theatres across the water (which look like the Durian fruit) and the Marina Bay Sands resort are definitely worth using up some memory card space. The Merlion cub statue in a fountain a few metres away from the viewing platform is also worth checking out.

There are loads of places to go out in the evenings; including three specific areas dedicated to eating and drinking – Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay. Apparently restaurant owners aren’t allowed to tout for your business but that’s definitely not how it goes here!

Chinatown is definitely worth checking out – it’s fantastic – one of the best we’ve seen (even including China!!). It’s really colourful, plenty of great buildings, old shophouses, restaurants, souvenir shops…and it’s got its very own stop on the metro!!

During the day the place to be is stomping around Orchard Road, a beautiful tree-lined street. It is literally filled to the brim with shopping centres (313 Somerset, ION Orchard, Ngee Ann City/Takashimaya Shopping Centre…) Every year there’s a ‘Great Singapore Sale’ which we JUST missed. Sickening!!

General Singapore: There are signs EVERYWHERE saying ‘no this and no that’ (not literally) – EVERYWHERE!! We were warned that Singaporeans joke that their city is a ‘fine’ city. Jaywalking is taken very seriously here. We were staying just across the road from the Raffles Hotel which is also quite a Singaporean landmark. It’s even got its own (fancy schmancy) shopping arcade. The Formula 1 track is pretty easy to see all around the city. They were putting up some stands on our visit; pretty cool to say you’ve walked on a Grand Prix track.

Orchard Road

Orchard Road

Off Orchard Road

Off Orchard Road

The Fullerton Hotel

The Fullerton Hotel

Chinatown

Chinatown

The Quays

The Quays

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

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Welcome!

Jesselton Point

Jesselton Point

Just admiring the kick-ass view

Just admiring the kick-ass view

Amazing Sunset

Amazing Sunset

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Caught a 2 or so hour flight from KL to Kota Kinabalu with Firefly (yep, I hadn’t heard of them either but randomly came across them on Google so obviously we trusted them with our lives). Touching down in Kota Kinabalu (formerly known as Jesselton – MUCH better name) we saw this AMAZING view from the aeroplane and were instantly excited about Borneo:

We got a great deal at the Meridien Hotel in the centre of town so shacked up there for a few days. There are a few markets in the surrpunding area that are pretty interesting to walk around; there’s a traditional ‘Filipino Market’/Pasar Kraftangan which was probably great a few years ago but now it’s full of souvenirs (made in China). Definitely worth walking through if you’re not claustrophobic though. The back streets of the main town are worth a walk around too; we came across a great disused building/burned down concrete box filled with fantastic graffiti (I have a little obsession with photographing graffiti). Just across the road from here is the Suria Sabah, a ‘shopping centre’ which has a fantastic French restaurant in a really hidden spot on the top floor – mighty find! Back in the town centre the Atkinson Clock Tower/Lighthouse (built in 1905) is worth a photo or two. You can walk up to Signal Hill from here to get a view of Kota Kinabalu from a height.

We also took a day trip to Sapi Island – lovely beach although we did nearly die on the boat trip back – riding high on massive ways – the dude needed a spotter out the front of the boat just to know what was out in front. Needless to say we didn’t do the beach a second day.

So you’re either supposed to climb Mt. Kinabalu or head to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre when you visit Borneo. We did neither. You have to book accommodation on the mountain months in advance – hundreds of euro for a night in a DORM too (crazy) and you need a National Park Pass which also costs a few hundred. Turns out Sepilok is a flight away from Kota Kinabalu too…so yes, we went to Borneo and didn’t see a mountain or an orangutan. Do some research! You have been warned.

Can’t wait to go back to Borneo!!

By Jessleton Point

By Jessleton Point

Sapi Island

Sapi Island

View from the plane

View from the plane

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers

So it started raining on the Perhentians on the day we were leaving. I’d usually be happy to leave the rain behind…but not when you have to get on a speedboat. Needless to say we may as well have put clothes on directly from the washing machine – that’s how wet we got. Good luck trying to change out of sopping clothes when you’re already late for a 9 hour bus trip as your boat driver (?) tries to fit as many people on to his 12-person max vessel. Good times! So we got to KL (that’s what the cool kids call it) after a cross-country trip in the fanciest bus ever. 3 seats wide – 2+1 with leather armchair type seats. Very flash. It was pretty surreal actually seeing the Petronas Twin Towers on the way in – well done there Mr. Architect.

So KL is basically another shopping mecca. That’s pretty much all there is to do. We visited the Aquaria KLCC which is a pretty good aquarium at the base of the Petronas Towers. The KLCC is KL’s new(ish) city centre area and houses the Towers as well as KLCC Suria – a pretty good shopping centre (they have Harrods!!). Got the hair done for c.35 euro – not too shabby! Some more of KL’s shopping centres include Lot 10, the Pavillion (which has a pretty great crystal fountain at its entrance), Starhill (didn’t spend much time here with Mr. Armani), the Berjaya Times Square (the world’s 5th largest building and has an indoor rollarcoaster – pretty cool)… There are some cultural things to do too. We checked out Merdeka Square which was all decked out for Malaysia’s National Day (August 31st). Chinatown is definitely worth a visit; surprisingly small area but nice to stroll around.

We met my brothers and girlfriends for one day on their way home to Ireland on a holiday – that day turned out to be my birthday so we had some Afternoon Tea in Harrods and went up to check out the view from the Petronas Twin Towers. Finished off the trip with a night out in an airport hotel with some lovely girls singing ‘Happy Birthday’. Good times.

The Pavillion’s Crystal Fountain

The Pavillion’s Crystal Fountain

Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

SUCH a tough commute

SUCH a tough commute

After a lovely 5am rise in Georgetown we hopped on a mini-van with about six other people and took off on our six hour trip across peninsular Malaysia to Kuala Besut. As the Perhentian islands have next to zero facilities you have to bring enough money for your entire stay (or walk about a kilometre in Kuala Besut and the speed-boat will take off without you). You have to pay a 10RM conservation fee at the port. Then you hop on a speed-boat for about 45 minutes and you’re on the Perhentians!

So off we got from the jetty in Kecil and had a lovely leisurely breakfast on the beach. Then we started looking for accommodation. Island. Booked. Up. Come back tomorrow morning. What now? After a major struggle with backpacks on the beach and countless reception desks we took a water taxi to the Pulau Perhentian Besar (big island) in search of accommodation there. Eventually we found a shack in the ‘Tuna Bay Resort’. Resort my eye, they had a communal TV, woo. We hid out here for one night and one major thunder and lightning show which continued until 4am whilst I was freaking out that we wouldn’t be able to get back on to Kecil (which houses much cheaper accommodation).  Got a speedboat back to Long Beach in Kecil the following morning and found a shack (quite literally) in ‘D’Rocks Garden’ which we booked for over a week. This shack = 4 x plywood ‘walls’, 1 x plywood ‘floor’, 1 bathroom with over-toilet shower and open air to the room, a balcony with a beautiful sea view and about 19.5billion insects. All for €23 per night. Bargain. Well that’s actually a bargain in Malaysia. It was fine once we bought mosquito coils, insect repellant, OFF! spray (for spraying on all exposed skin  mosquito saviour). We stayed there for eight nights – it was about 30 feet in the sky at the end of the beach and into the jungle so we both have some pretty epic calf muscles now. Moved to the ‘World Cafe’ for a further eleven nights which is directly on the beach and not so shack-y, although shack-y all the same. It has sporadic wifi too which is semi-useful.

The Perhentian Islands are probably the most laid back place we’ve ever been. It’s pretty much white sand, turquoise water and coconut trees (although they do have a pretty serious litter problem). There are no roads here, just beaches and one path from the two main beach areas. Supplies come pretty regularly from the mainland although many places run out of things by midweek. It’s a diver’s paradise, that’s actually pretty much what the islands are all about – diving and snorkeling. You can do the PADI 3 day dive course here for approximately €200 – I believe it’s one of the cheapest places in the world to get certified. Most of the shops and speedboat taxi stands here rent out snorkeling gear. An umbrella and two beach-mats will set you back 10RM – about €2.34 (at current exchange rates!) – do you hear that Spain??? That’s about the only cheap thing here though. A can of beer will set you back €2.50 and a bottle of wine upwards of €20. We had one really nice dinner in ‘Bubu’ for a special occasion – we ate a lot and it cost about €85. It’s a nature lover’s paradise here – we’ve spotted plenty of monitor lizards (one particularly large one), innumerable species of fish, some sea-jellies (I’ve recently learned that jellyfish is an incorrect term), geckos, turtles…

We spent most evenings in Ewan’s Café at Coral Bay on the other side of the island, a whole ten minute walk/hike (it’s a pretty steep hill so I’m going to go with hike here) away. Owned by a lovely family, it’s one of those places you see the same faces in every night. Most days were spent lounging on the beach although it can get quite hot – think it was about 34 degrees during our stay.

Advice if heading to the Perhentians: Bring more money than you think you’ll need, bring way more sun-screen than you think you’ll need, don’t arrive at the weekend unless you have accommodation (it’s really busy at the weekends and then really quiet midweek), Get off the speedboat at Coral Bay; they’ll charge you more and take you to a second boat if you go all the way to Long Beach; it’s an easy walk.

Long Beach, Pulau Kecil

Long Beach, Pulau Kecil

Our view from D’Rocks Garden

Our view from D’Rocks Garden

Volleyball on Long Beach

Volleyball on Long Beach

Bonfires on the beach at nights

Bonfires on the beach at nights

Monitor Lizards – loads of these guys on the island

Monitor Lizards – loads of these guys on the island

Coral Bay, Pulau Kecil

Coral Bay, Pulau Kecil

Coral Bay restaurants

Coral Bay restaurants

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Typical Georgetown Buildings

Typical Georgetown Buildings

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Caught an AirAsia flight to Penang after a last minute decision to skip Thailand’s islands (don’t ask). Eventually found a bus to Penang’s capital, Georgetown, after a little while wandering around the construction site they’re calling an airport.

Our first evening’s walkabout in Georgetown didn’t really endear us to the area. We went to get some food and almost hit the ceiling with the prices; Malaysia is hands down the most expensive country in South East Asia. There’s a 7% tax and a 10% service charge on food (of course they put this in a tiny sentence at the bottom of the menu that you’d need a magnifying glass to see – just put the actual price on the menu lads!) We came across this pub street, an entire street cordoned off with outdoor seating areas and fairy lights – there was like four people in the whole area. The Malaysian government have realised that heavily taxing alcohol makes a tidy little profit (they must have an Irish expat adviser) even though most Malaysians don’t drink as they’re Islamic. Stayed in a guesthouse called the Red Inn Heritage on Love Lane; nice communal area, pool table, internet access…outdoor toilets – what more could a girl ask for? We spent a lot of time exploring the town…

Day-time in Georgetown went down better; it’s actually quite a charming, picturesque place, recently added to UNESCO’s heritage list. There is a lot of building work going on; it’s more of a ‘watch this space’ place than a tourist mecca at the moment. We actually enjoyed this though, it’s nice to get somewhere before McDonalds sets up shop (although Starbucks have already settled). There’s one area which is pretty heavily modernised, fancy schmancy shopping centre and all!

We wandered around the old town area for a good few hours, taking in the beautiful City Hall and Town Hall down by the sea, Fort Cornwallis where the British landed however many years ago, some temples (obviously), a pretty cool clock-tower, (HSBC!), one of the only (I would have guessed the only) train-stations in the world without any tracks, the pier area, the most amazing building in the universe apparently owned by some famous people but the security guard was hush-hush about this (so why say anything in the first place? It’s the type of building anyone would kill to own even a studio apartment in and there was a great open-air courtyard which housed a young female violinist in the evenings as well as plenty of art exhibitions in some of the upstairs rooms). Georgetown has some pretty great wrought iron art strung on the side of buildings randomly strewn across the city.

All in all, a nice place to spend a few days. We booked a bus to take us to Kuala Besut from here, the gateway to the Perhentian Islands off the north-east coast of Malaysia.

British much?!

British much?!

City Hall

City Hall

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Local Vendor

Coloured Candles

Graffiti wall story

More Tourists!

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok Life

Bangkok Life

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Tuk Tuk!

Khao San Road

Khao San Road

First trip to Bangkok

This trip was from Siem Reap to Bangkok and included lots of random waiting at border-control. Bangkok traffic was Crazy. Note that capital C. We did get there at the speed of light though thanks to our mini-van driver. Stayed just off Khao San Road on the first night. Ya, shouldn’t have done that. Did not sleep a wink in our little cell. On a positive note – there’s a Boots AND Starbucks!!!! Good times. Khao San Road is not how it looks on the Barry’s Tea ad. (Mum, I still didn’t find any tea-bags in my bag and I’ve emptied it a few times…) It’s basically bars, shops, clothes-stalls, food-stalls…and Boots and Starbucks. Actually Starbucks is just off Khao San Road and housed in the most beautiful old building, all nooks and crannies. Bangkok doesn’t smell at all and it’s pretty clean. There’s a street parallel to Khao San Road with ‘nicer’ places to eat and some roomier bars – and a really cool walking street with stalls of random crap (read: tattoo parlours, t-shirts, flip-flops…) to get between the two main roads. Plenty of ahhem ‘working girls’ parading around the place too. We moved hotels on our second day and found an alright place with exceptionally rude staff. Land of smiles my ass… Found an English café with TETLEY tea called ‘Oh my Cod’. Sure you’d have to pay them a visit with a name like that. You had to pay more for the Tetley too as I think it’s considered posh or something? Well, what’s a girl to do when she gets no Barry’s in the backpack.

We did A LOT of touristy stuff on this trip. Yes, that includes the zoo. Although they had an elephant show of which I do not approve. There’s a great public water bus system in Bangkok that HAS to be done (although you probably don’t want any of that Chao Phraya river in your mouth so no talking). It’s a great system, very efficient. I think meandered is the right word for what we did around Chinatown. It’s a maze. There’s one market called ‘Sampeng Lane’ and it’s literally a kilometre long. You’d get anything you can imagine here. Actually there were shed loads of beads/sequins/sewing/dress-makers/tailor-type shops (Don’t do it Jayne!). We also found a TESCO here. Nothing like home mind. But still. Stopped in a shopping centre called ‘River City’ just to get some air-con and actually got the best sausage-rolls you can imagine. We took Bangkok’s skytrain system too. So efficient I thought we were in Berlin! We found an epic cinema, we’re talking VIP leather seats, which recline (of course!) and a Starbucks in the cinema (Cinema + Starbucks = Happy John) and all for 10 euro total. Not each. Epic.   

Second trip to Bangkok

So we kinda did this one properly. Stayed at the Grande Centre Point, Ratchadamri. Epic. So epic we stayed three nights instead of two. More like serviced apartments (we had our own washing machine!) with fantastic facilities; sauna, steam room, jacuzzi (separate male and female quarters of course!), outdoor swimming pool, reading room, cinema room, gym, tennis court, playroom, DVD rental… I kinda want to live there.

We basically spent three full days touring the blissfully air-conditioned mega-malls of Bangkok, armed with two credit cards and four arms ready for the ‘challenge’. My sincere thanks to AIB and Bank of Ireland. You rock!

I can’t even explain how fantastic the shopping is in the Siam area of Bangkok. Here’s a little rundown of the epic acreage; Siam Paragon (which had the most amazing gourmet food emporium – I bought Lucky Charms!!) Siam Centre, Siam Discovery, Siam Square, CentralWorld (tourist privelege card!), Central Point, Gaysorn, Digital Gateway, Erawan Bangkok, Pantip Plaza and MBK. That’s not even all of them. Unfricking believable.

Hopped out to airport in no time on the Airport Express. 

P.S. The shopping is not that great in the airport. Stupid misinformation in blogs! Saying that John did buy a hoodie in Ralph Lauren and I bought a watch. Oh and we also got some tax back. (If you spend more that 2,000 baht in a shopping centre in the same day you can claim your 7% tax back at the airport. You have to get a form stamped at the shopping centre, before check-in and then you get your money back after check in). Oh and AirAsia is way better then Ryanair!

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Graffiti

Tha Pae Gate

Tha Pae Gate

Chiang Mai Train Station

Chiang Mai Train Station

Took an overnight IRT Deadliest Roads trip from Luang Prabang to Houayxai/Chiang Kong on the Laos/Thai border.  An experience to say the least. Obviously we had no Laos kip left to pay to get across the water into Thailand. The Mekong River is the natural border between Laos and Thailand…and most other places around Asia to be honest! We had to get some breakfast from a street-vendor and paid him in US dollars to get Laos kip (they’ll take anything you’ve got!  Didn’t quite want to give up the rolex). He had to go to another shop to get his laughing cow cheese supplies for our rolls. I fell, of course, getting off the boat on the Thai side. Good times.  I don’t know why they even bothered putting a border official on the Thai side – it was super quick. We took a bus to Chiang Rai on a public bus (complete with some old-lady admirers for John and the back door wide open – in the RAIN) from here to see if there was anything to see there. There wasn’t…so on we continued to Chiang Mai.

We found a lovely guesthouse in Chiang Mai, no idea of the name though as it was only in Thai. It was more like an apartment really (except with zero amenities) with a lovely lady owner. We may have been the only ones staying here actually. Plenty to see in Chiang Mai, lots of temples, a great night bazaar and lots to do in the surrounding area. I bought a few bits and pieces here. You could literally spend weeks just wandering around the place. We found the most amazing Italian restaurant, ‘Pizza e Vino’, in the world/outside of Italy. It’s just off Tha Pae Gate, and actually run by an Italian. We ate there five nights in a row. No joke. And oh my God the wine. Our first night in Chiang Mai consisted of the Italian restaurant, the night bazaar…and a lady boy/cabaret show. Great laugh though. One guy did a Whitney Houston impression with fluorescent blue lips. Indescribable. Most of the other nights went the same way.

We actually went zip-lining with this crowd called ‘Flight of the Gibbons’. Saw a few gibbons alright but I’m pretty sure that was a bit of a scam. Staged-gibbons I tell you!! The zip-lining was crazy though. You’re harnessed and you basically jump/are pushed off tree-top platforms and you ‘zip’ down a metal line. They have thirty-something lines strewn hundreds of feet up in the air around the rainforest. Pretty great day out. One of the lines was pretty scary alright. You have to jump off like Superman (woman in my case). The girl in front of me was freaking out. I was thinking ‘this is no bother, would she come on’…then the Skyranger AND her boyfriend pushed her off. Still I was fine. Then I looked over the edge. Couldn’t do it. Managed it the second time then though!! Thanks for the helping hand there John. We found the coolest little bar (the size of a poker table on the side of the street) called Ben’s Bar where we whiled out a mega-rainshower and then some. Spent the night/early hours chatting with a lovely Norwegian and a crazy ex-pat psycho who loved himself. Found a fantastic book shop run by a guy from Fermanagh. I was only allowed to buy five books though. Stupid AirAsia.

Attempted to book a first class railway sleeper cabin to get to Bangkok but all booked out. Three days beforehand. (First class because of other train experiences + my serious dislike of bugs). Hampered.com. Booked a seat on a ‘sprinter’ twelve hour train instead. It was actually grand, you could even recline. Thanks again Mr. Valium 🙂

Chiang Mai Market

Chiang Mai Market

There's a woman in there!

There’s a woman in there!

Daily Life in Chiang Mai

Daily Life in Chiang Mai

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Book Shop

Book Shop

Night Market

Night Market

Plenty of Gibbons to be seen

Plenty of Gibbons to be seen

‘Always stay attached’; Exactly the sign you want to see hundreds of feet in the air…

‘Always stay attached’; Exactly the sign you want to see hundreds of feet in the air…

Luang Prabang, Laos

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Street Art

Overnight bus from Vientiane, literally do not remember one minute of it. Thank you Mr. Valium. Some guy met us off the bus and asked if we’d like to check out his guesthouse. It was perfect – balcony and television so there we slept. I actually ended up spending one whole day stuck in this room as I was ill. Blaming Mr. Valium from Laos. The Laos people are so friendly, quite like the Cambodians – all smiles the whole time. Luang Prabang is probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The whole town is a UNESCO world heritage site (I have to get that list and start ticking these off!) so the buildings have to conform to certain standards; it’s all mahogany and teak. The buildings look like renovated French farmhouses. Beautiful.

We found a lovely café run by a Laotian and Canadian, the ‘Arthouse Café’. Great art collection to check out whilst you’re waiting for your meal, right on the river so a great place to people-watch too! There’s a pretty good night market to wander around too. Lots of local arts and crafts and plenty of tourist-tack too. Saw some pretty crazy rainfall in our time here, once the thunder starts you’re in trouble! Oh and there’s a curfew of midnight in the whole town. Party spot if ever I’ve seen one.

We rented a motorbike and took the 30km trip out to Kuang Si sixty metre waterfall after a ‘petrol’ stop from a 1.5 litre bottle of Coca Cola. There’s a bear sanctuary just before you trek to the waterfall. By trek I mean climb the well-trodden path for about ten minutes. It actually looked like a pretty cool place for rescued bears, plenty of space and play-areas for them. Bought the t-shirt!! John did the jump from a rope thing into the water and nearly kill yourself…and I just did the nearly kill myself bit. Fell in. Not once but twice. It’s ok, saved the Havaianas.

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Vientiane, Laos

Patouxai

Patouxai

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That Louang

That Louang

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We’re heading back to Bangkok after Laos so I’m going to write all that together later on.

The border crossing from Nong Khai on the Thai border into Laos was super quick. No joke – they didn’t even look at John’s passport, too busy chatting. Obviously I look fairly shady though as mine was checked 😦 We took a songthaew (Laos version of a tuk-tuk) into the centre of Vientiane with a few locals gathered en-route. We stayed in a lovely place called the ‘Vayakorn Guesthouse’; no shoes upstairs! So basically there’s NOTHING to do in Vientiane. We booked our overnight bus to Luang Prabang for tomorrow night. Whilst in Vientiane we rented some bicycles and popped out to their version of Paris’Arc de Triomphe – called Patouxai. Nipped up to the top of that for the view. Saw a few temples! Continued out the road to the Laos national symbol, ‘That Louang’ – a gold stupa. It was raining and I think perhaps this hampered our view. It wasn’t too exciting at all. Shh, don’t tell the Buddhists. Actually there was a temple right next to it which was probably one of the best temples we’ve seen. Spent most of the day on the internet AND I got to read a magazine…from February 2009 but a MAGAZINE no less. Mighty stuff!

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Doing his duties

Posers at Angkor Wat

Doing his duties

Doing his duties

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Beautiful painting

Beautiful painting

Got a local bus from Battambang to Siem Reap (a mere 3 hours), packed to the rafters it was. Bucket as a seat in the aisle anyone? They left us off the bus about 7km from Siem Reap, after they had driven through the middle of town. Huh? They drive the bus into their own yard and shut the gates, giving waiting tuk-tuk drivers (who pay a few hundred dollars each year for the privilege of being inside this closed gate) a free-for-all on all the tourists (just us) getting off the bus. You obviously have to take a tuk-tuk the 7km back the road already travelled. These tuk-tuk drivers actually want your ‘temple-business’ though, not the silly little 7km trip. They’re on a selling mission all the way into town. “How long are you going to be here?”, “You have somewhere to stay? I bring you to a good hotel” (where I also work), “I can take you to the temples”, “Only $50 for three days”.  Since the couple we had met in Battambang paid $70 for their temple-trekking we were like “sold!”. So Som (a nineteen year old charmer) was our tuk-tuk driver for 3 days around the gazillion or so temples dotted around the area. He said he’d take us out to Angkor Wat to see the sunset on our first evening (for free!) so obviously we did that. It was eerily quiet. You’re on your tuk-tuk on the way out there and there’s a huge moat all around the outside. You don’t see Angkor Wat until you’re right in front of it and then… it’s amazing.

Day 1: Temple-gazing. Must have seen around ten temples today. Little kiddies at all the temples trying to sell postcards and screaming “only $1” and then counting the postcards (ten in total) in about four different  languages. Very funny but they’re way too young to be out working – and in their bare feet. So here’s a rough rundown of the temples we saw today: Angkor Wat (again. Come on though, it’s Angkor Wat), Angkor Thom, the Elephant Terrace, Preah Khan, Bakong, Preah Ko, Lolei and about a million others. Only spent from 9am – 2.30pm temple-gazing but we were so wrecked after it we had a well-deserved two hour nap. Yes, we’re eighty now.

Day 2: Temple-gazing. On our trip out to the archaeological park a little gecko ran up Som’s back and he nearly fell off the bike. John was like “eh Som, there’s a gecko on your back” and he freaked out, bike veering off to the side of the road – “please get it off, I am very afraid”. More of a had to be there moment really but it was damn funny. Obviously it wouldn’t have been funny at all if it had happened to me! We visited Ta Prohm today – none other than the Tomb Raider/Lara Croft tomb…which I had never heard of before we got here. Obviously it was pretty cool to be somewhere Angelina had been so I took all the prerequisite photos. When in Rome… Toured the central market and the old market – bought a t-shirt, trousers and a dress for $11. Not bad for a day’s work. Plenty to do in the evenings here, the main ‘going-out’ street is called ‘Pub Street’ (what else). There’s one epic bar called ‘Angkor What?’. Loving their work.

Day 3: Som took us on the 37km trip to Banteay Srei, a temple well hidden in the jungle. Pretty small and pretty crowded but pretty all the same! It had the best set-up of all the temples; a museum-type building with explanations of the temple and conservation efforts; a café and plenty of rice paddies around the outside. Oh and MASSIVE spiders. Back to Angkor Wat then again, as I wasn’t appropriately dressed to climb to the top the other day. You have to have your shoulders and knees covered as the very top is considered a holy place. Good luck wearing trousers and a jumper there though. A pashmina in the bag just won’t do. Melting-pot hot.  I’m talking the back of your knees sweating. Not lady-like at all.

We bought little copy-book sets the other night to give to some kids. You wouldn’t believe how happy they are to get anything. It’s so sweet. There was a little boy sleeping inside Angkor Wat so John left a little ‘Ben 10’ copy-book near his feet, hopefully he realised it was for him when he awoke!

We spent a few café days around Siem Reap. Found a lovely place called ‘Joe to Go’ – it’s a boutique and a café – 100% of proceeds go to a charity – ‘the Global Child’. Strolled out to the Royal Residence, positively miniscule compared to their stately shack in Phnom Penh. Random fact about Siem Reap: Tuk-tuk drivers shout at you ALL day ‘lady, lady’/’sir, sir’. Off to Bangkok tomorrow.

Ta Phrom/The Tomb Raider temple

Ta Phrom/The Tomb Raider temple

We're off to see the wizard!

We’re off to see the wizard!

Siem Reap Night Market

Siem Reap Night Market

Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang's Central Market

Battambang’s Central Market

Fine spot to pick up some petrol

Fine spot to pick up some petrol

Took a local bus from Phnom Penh to Battambang, a sleepy little town in the north-west. Bus was going quite well until our first rest-stop when the boys decided to tamper with the bloody engine. Only took about an hour (in the searing heat) to start the bus again so not too much of an inconvenience. I think you need to go to Cambodia with a fairly laid-back attitude to all these things and you’ll be grand. Once we arrived, to tuk-tuk drivers literally banging the bus window to get our attention we were brought to this guesthouse which didn’t have a sink in the bathroom. What the hell? I budget you not. Off we went to the ‘Holiday Hotel’, which was lovely. Our fanciest bathroom yet!

So Battambang is Cambodia’s second largest city, apparently. The street names are as follows; Street 1, Street 2 and…Street 3. There are also streets 1.5 and 2.5. Epic. On our first night we watched a kids karate class on the square by the river. This little girl, about 2, was watching her older brother and copying all his karate moves – hilarious. She’ll be a mighty little mover! It must be so nice to be able to depend on the weather to plan a whole week in advance for an outdoor class.

Found a great café that sells hot oatmeal AND brown toast, the Sunrise Coffee House. So good. Rented some bicycles for $1 each (have to do all this cycling to stave off the 50 stone I would have put on otherwise as a result of all of these café days) and pottered around. Saw some temples, bridges, parks, Governer’s Residence from early 1900s and a night food-market. Such a relaxed place. On one of our temple expeditions I decided it was high time for a rest under the most non-shade providing tree you can imagine. So off John went cycling around the temple. When he wasn’t back 15 minutes later I was pretty worried. Turns out he was off chatting with a monk! John told the monk he had pretty good English, to which the monk replied that yes, he does study a bit alright. The monk asked John if he spoke Cambodian and John said yes of course, then renditioned him with the only Cambodian he actually knows: ‘som ket loi’…the bill please.

Rented a motorbike (no, neither of us has driven a motorbike before but John said he’d chance it after a quick lesson from a 14 year old girl) the next day for $6 and visited ‘Ek Phnom’ temple a few kilometres outside Battambang. This place includes a huge Buddha and some ruins from 1027 A.D. Two little girls decided to make it their business to show us around. Obviously we were going to give them something for their ‘troubles’; the older of the two (aged 6 and 12) pipes up “Please Sir, for help with my school”. Sure how could you say no? We had read about visiting this abandoned Pepsi factory which has some squatters living there too and we found that pretty easily. Wandered in and it was so eerie – there are still empty Pepsi bottles in crates around the place. Found another café run by a lovely American girl called ‘Café Eden’ by the river. They had a really good acoustic guitar singing session and some really great food. The make their own crisps! (which we only know because John ordered chips…)

We were supposed to get the bus out of Battambang and on to Siem Reap the next day but couldn’t be doing with that bus malarkey so off to the Sunrise Café we went…for five hours! Met a lovely couple from Essex who gave us some great tips for our travels. Sometimes you need a day off…

Big Buddha!

Big Buddha!

Our Little Tour Guides

Our Little Tour Guides

Ek Phnom Temple

Ek Phnom Temple

Temple gazing

Temple gazing

Abandoned Pepsi Factory

Abandoned Pepsi Factory