A Travellerspoint blog

Indochina Discovery - Roam Vietnam - Part II

Told you Part 2 would come in quick succession! Lots of long bus journeys in Laos means I have no excuse not to write up my blog entries. And Lizzy has hired an accomplice - Dad now mentions the next blog entry every time I talk to him. Sneaky.

Hue
We left Hoi An early in the morning and drove 3 hours to Hue - through another t
hunderstorm. If I wasn't so convinced of imminent death, I could probably appreciate that the lightning in these storms is seriously impressive. We stopped at the Marble Mountains but it was bloody hot so I left the others to it and went for a 'coffee' with Sepi. Except that they don't really do coffee. And Vietnamese tea doesn't quite cut it.

Hue wasn't amazing but we were only there a night, basically as a stop off on the way up the coast. We went on a dragon boat trip in the afternoon which took us down the river and stopped at one of the Buddhist temples.

IMG_0145

IMG_0145


Modelling new shorts!

We arrived in time to see the monks praying and chanting which was really interesting. Some of them were so young - pretty crazy level of discipline for such small boys.

IMG_0159

IMG_0159

The place was seriously serene, no thanks to the 16 of us and the other tourist groups who showed up whilst we were there. They had a car on display which a senior monk from that temple had used to drive into Hoi Chi Minh city, where he got out, sat down and burnt himself to death in protest against government policy.

IMG_0152

IMG_0152

IMG_0158

IMG_0158

Sepi, Becky, Heather and I managed to get completely and utterly lost on the way back to the hotel. No thanks to The Worst Map In The World supplied by the hotel. An hour of absolute trauma followed during which A RAT RAN OVER MY FOOT! Horrendous! And I got chased up the street by a rabid dog. Sepi helpfully shouting after me - 'it can smell your fear'. All very useful. After our spontaenous walking tour of the city, I was really very happy to see the hotel. After two big nights in Hoi An, we had a pretty quiet evening with a nice dinner and a few drinks at a bar. More rain followed - perhaps even more impressive than in Hoi An. Got drenched to the bone on the way home. Basically, Hue is NOT my favourite place in Nam!

The next morning we took a trip to the citadel where the Emperor used to live with his family. Pretty impressive place and Hue began to slightly redeem itself in my eyes!

IMG_0170

IMG_0170

IMG_0183

IMG_0183

IMG_0186

IMG_0186

That afternoon, we had to get on our longest night train - 3pm - 6am. Much less eventful than the last one and we had learnt by this stage to bring plenty of food so we basically spent 15 hours eating and drinking. No men in toilets. No loud tannoys. Most interesting was when someone threw themselves at our cabin window. Thankfully I had relocated to a neighbours cabin for a game of cards so missed that particular episode. Night trains seem to attract nutters basically.

HALONG BAY

The night train arrived on time in the capital - Hanoi, where we got on a bus and drove to Halong Bay. I thought it was a bit of a pain to drive up there, to turn and come back to the capital... How very wrong! Halong Bay was absolutely amazing. I knew nothing about it so it really snuck up on me - some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen.

We checked into our rather nice hotel - by this stage, Sepi and TJ almost brawl in the lobby when deciding who gets to have me for the night. May have to go back to court to try and organize a more amicable settlement I fear. Sepi won that round though. Hotel was lovely with big balconies etc. We had a couple of hours until our boat ride so Sepi, TJ and I hit the beach and lounged around on sun chairs and in the sea for a bit before meeting the others.

We had absolutely beautiful weather for our 6 hour boat trip through the 960 islands surrounding the mainland. After our seafood lunch, we lay on the upstairs deck and soaked up the rays for a bit. This was my default position for most of the day -

IMG_0216

IMG_0216

We all got off to go through a walk through one of the naturally occuring caves - looked like something out of a Harry Potter set. Experience would have been further enhanced if our really shite guide, 'Mr Friday', hadn't made us gallop through it at the speed of Laurent in search of a toilet. He was NOT a hit with the group. Bad Mr Friday basically.

IMG_0235

IMG_0235

After another bit of boating about, some of the others got kayaks and manouevered themselves into a cave to see some monkeys. Way too much like hard work for most of us... so we spent most of the afternoon diving off the boat. Some of the least graceful photos of me in existance resulted from this activity. Definitely not making the blog cut. Won't stop me putting a picture of the others up though...

IMG_0272

IMG_0272

We stayed on the boat to watch the sunset before sailing back to the mainland.

IMG_0266

IMG_0266

There are some really nice trips to do round Halong Bay, with 2 night cruises etc which would be amazing.... Have to see if I can organize a repeat performance at some stage, I'm sure Slaughters will give me so much holiday that I won't know what to do with it. Some chance.
After a rather heated discussion with the infamous Mr Friday about departure time the next day, we managed to wangle another morning/early afternoon out of him so that we could spend more time in Halong Bay rather than head up to the capital first thing the next morning. With that victory under our belts, we went for dinner and had some beers on the beach. (Yes, I'm learning to drink beer in SE Asia, all part of my gap yah experience).

On our borrowed day the next day we hired bikes and headed off to explore the mainland and Halong City (which, it turns out, is a bit of a dump). The roads/traffic were slightly different to my experience in sleepy Hoi An! Slightly concerned when we sailed through a toll bridge, onto a slip road and onto a rather main road across the bridge. Sepi was driving though and she took very good care of me - well impressed by her biking skills. Even if her frequent bursts of speed meant my helmet spent parts of its day hanging round my neck!

IMG_0284

IMG_0284

Slightly misleading shot - wisely, I spent very little time at the helm and choose instead to sit behind, shut my eyes and hang on for dear life!
Tj managed to be the first casualty of the day - falling on her arse when we were playing around on some dirt tracks - no drama, the girl seems to bounce pretty well. We biked about for about 4 and a half hours before returning the bikes to The Dodgiest Men in town and headed for some lunch before bus'ing it back to Hanoi.

HANOI

We arrived in Hanoi around dinner time and quickly moved into our home for the next two days before heading for dinner. It was a Friday night and we were in the capital so ovo needed to head out on the tiles a bit. Headed to a couple of bars which kept closing on us - how inconsiderate. Found a better place though that was polite enough to keep us entertained until 3ish, when we jumped on a couple of motorbikes and headed back to the hotel. Managed to catch a cheeky bugger with his hand in my bag at one stage in the evening - which was round my neck btw! Thankfully I am blessed with the reflexes of a cat and am as agile as a fish so managed to stop him. That or I just got lucky - take your pick.

Our last day with the group took off at a fairly slow pace as we peeled ourselves out of bed around 11am. Went for some lunch on the lake but it was pissing out of the heavens so we quickly retreated to the hotel afterwards. After a bit of Ice Age, my conscience got the better of me and I went to meet some of the others who were out exploring. Hanoi's shopping area is split into sections so you get streets that only sell bags/umbrellas/silk etc - quite cool. Again, bag weight is a serious shopping disincentive. Really hoping Lizzy and Billy are gonna lighten my load a bit when they show up. Had some more Fanny ice cream on the way home - LOVE THIS STUFF.

We picked up a newbie who is just doing the Laos part of the trip and dollied ourselves up for our last night together. All very sad :-(. Had dinner in a great place and then followed a similar pub crawl to the night before but this time with the whole group. Had a really fantastic night out together - the rest of the group will be sorely missed as we are reduced from 16 to 6 for our last part of the tour. Bit of a photo bonanza on the last night.... Modelling one of my new dresses.

IMG_0313

IMG_0313

IMG_0312

IMG_0312

IMG_0315

IMG_0315

IMG_0323

IMG_0323

IMG_0334

IMG_0334

6.30 am came very early the next morning as the 6 of us headed off to the Laos border. We had such a fantastic group for this tour. I wasn't even supposed to be on it! My tour was supposed to leave the day after but no- one was signed up on it. Some things are meant to be I suppose! Think my original tour is now running the day behind us for this last section - Roam Laos - and consists of a Swiss couple and an Italian gal. Think my tales would have been very different! Had an absolute ball with everyone and lots of opportunities for London massif meet ups. We'll miss the Aussies/Kiwi tho!
Hope everyone at home is good - missing everyone as per usual. Prepare for some big nights on my return! LOVE TO ALL. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Oh, and a few stereotypical Vietnam shots to round off this two - part extravanaganza....

IMG_0161

IMG_0161

IMG_0076

IMG_0076

IMG_0002

IMG_0002

Posted by laurajhous 02:06 Comments (0)

Indochina Discovery - Roam Vietnam - Part 1

Motorbikes, Robin Williams and Happy Endings....

GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!!! Two words - bloody marvellous. 'Nam' far surpassed all expectations and my fellow travellers weren't too shabby either. Potential holiday highlight?! I'm likely to be in deep s%*t for suggesting such a thing but it certainly rivals NZ/Oz. I'm now finished that part of the tour and into Laos but I thought I should probably blog in two chunks to make it less thesis-like. Plus, I can't be arsed to sit and write about the whole thing in one sitting....

CHAU DOC

We jumped on private minibuses to take us from Cambodia, across the border and into Vietnam. I could get used to this private minibus malarky - they're pretty dam good. And after witnessing two public bus crashes in two journeys, getting dripped on when the rain started and enduring hours of Cambodian karoke on the public buses, my faith in public transport isn't sky high. Saying that, our private minibus did get a flat tyre. Not so flawless after all.... Border crossing was pretty easy although we were immediately aware of how strict this place can be - Rusty got told off for playing cards and for taking photos. How daring. That night we stayed at a sleepy little border town called Chau Doc. Not much to see/do but most of the group went on a motorbike ride up to the mountains to have some drinks and watch the sunset. Thankfully, all we had to do was sit and hang on to the guides - no driving skills necessary. Just as well considering I am barely past stabilizers on a push bike. Everyone else seemed content to hang on at the back. I, on the other hand, hung onto this poor guy for dear life - as demonstrated below. Pretty sure he loved it.

IMG_3801

IMG_3801

The sunset was a bit shite but it was rather nice to lie in a hammock in the middle of the mountains and drink coconut milk straight from a coconut.

IMG_3773

IMG_3773

IMG_3771

IMG_3771

After an uneventful journey home (Mr driver and I seemed to pick up serious momentum when hurtling down the mountain though), we had dinner at the hotel. Bit of an experience in itself - none of us really knew what we had ordered until it arrived. Despite the prolific use of photographs. Who needs a photo to tell them what an 'orange juice' is?! God knows.

SAIGON

After another long journey on the bus, we made our way to Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh city. Jumped on the ferry for about 5 minutes to cross the river.

IMG_3836

IMG_3836

We stopped for some very local lunch - immune systems seem to be holding up pretty well in the face of all the local grub. Constant stream of immodium dealing goes on within the group but you will all be glad to hear that I'm healthy as a clam.

Saigon was absolutely bloody nuts. I have never seen anything like it. I think Vietnam has a population of about 80 million. And they like to say that that means there are 80 million motorbikes. Crossing the road is an absolute nightmare. And I hate crossing roads at the best of times! The girls took to just grabbing my hand and making me come with them. The key seems to be to just walk slowly across and let the bikes dodge round you rather than try and make a run for it. Lizzy would literally have had a coronary if she'd seen some of the situations we got into...! That evening we met up with 6 new people who joined us for our whole time in Vietnam - 4 British gals and 2 Aussie guys. Joining tours half way through can be a bit of a bitch but we all got on like a house on fire. We all went out for dinner and some drinks, partially to wave off Christian, Jo and Simon who were leaving us :-(. Amy ensured that I got thoroughly tipsy as she ensured a constant stream of cocktails. You won't see me complaining....

IMG_0665

IMG_0665

The next day we took a trip to Cu Chi tunnels - an intricate system of underground tunnels used by the Vietnamese during the war. Seriously anti-American sentiment - perhaps unsurprisingly. Our tour guide, 'Hero', was really good and it was pretty class to go down through the tunnels. Not for the claustrophobic it has to be said! They showed us some of the original traps used to capture American troops - they were pretty inventive... (and completely barbaric).

IMG_0312

IMG_0312

IMG_0699

IMG_0699

IMG_0727

IMG_0727

After sorting out another flat tyre, we made it back to central Saigon and I had to embark on the camera hunt after mine had decided to pack in. All very helpful. I marched off to Vietnam's 'Currys' equivalent and only got slightly ripped off - score. Pauline took us to Fanny Ice Cream Parlour. Make your own jokes about this in conjunction with the Vietnamese currency - dong. Bloody good ice cream though - well impressed. Stopped at a bakery on the way home (got to keep the blood sugars up!) to collect some supplies for our first night train experience.

IMG_0019

IMG_0019

We used the night trains three times in Vietnam... They really cut down on the 'travel days' that are wasted on buses so I am all for them. The little cabins have two sets of bunks so Sepi, TJ, Pauline and I bunked up for the nights. The group had four cabins between us and we usually just whipped out the cards and the wine and put in our evenings pretty well!

IMG_0073

IMG_0073

NHA TRANG

The night train got to Nha Trang really bloody early. So we trundled off and arrived at our hotel before breakfast started. John put in a particularly good effort at breakfast time - managing to conquer 9 eggs in one sitting. LAD. We spent most of the day on a boat trip and got really good weather for it.The boat was quite an experience... It took us to some snorkelling sites, a private beach and an aquarium. But along the way, the crew dressed up in coconut bikinis, picked up their instruments and pumped out some tunes. All a bit bizarre! Before we got back to the harbour, they set up a floating bar, gave us all rubber rings and poured shots down our necks. Those guys were definitely drugged up - they were completely nuts. All good fun though - not a bad way to spend a day in the sun.

IMG_0038

IMG_0038

IMG_0043

IMG_0043

That evening, I headed into town to get a massage - another experience! The massage involved two therapists working at the same time and they were brutal! Absolute animals. They jumped up and down off me like yoyos and I began to get a little worried that we were going to have a repeat performance of the shoulder palavar! No need to fear though - they let me go in one piece. Just about. Think I'll stick to Thai massage in future. Masochists. At least I wasn't asked if I required extra services, unlike other members of the group! I made it back to the hotel just before the storm arrived - I've never seen rain like it. 'Torrential' doesn't do it justice - it flooded our bedrooms it was so heavy. And the thunder and lightning was unreal. In truth, I thought the end had come. But, surprise surprise, we made it out alive and we had a really nice dinner at the Sailing Club on the beach. Tough life.

After a much needed lie in, we spent the next morning/early afternoon at the mud baths where we wallowed about for hours - all for less than a fiver. After the success of dinner, we went back to the Sailing Club for a late lunch and lazed about on their private beach until it was time to head back in prep for the next night train! And dinner - no meal skipping on this trip!

IMG_0069

IMG_0069

The next train was a bit more of an experience! A number of events culminated in a slightly odd evening! First off, a man tried to jump in the window of the toilet whilst one of the group was in there. Like, who does that?! Charlotte then preceded to scare the shite clean out of me by killing bugs on our shared wall and I thought someone was about to land in on top of me. Finally, after messing around with the volume of the speaker (thinking it was the airconditioning control), we got the scare of our lives when it started BELLOWING a Vietnamese annoucement at about 2 am. I sat up so fast, I nearly went through the roof of the cabin. Potentially scariest moment of my life thus far. I also managed to lose my phone on that train. Along with the broken camera incident. And a lost laptop case with DVD player. I knew my record couldn't stay so clean forever!

HOI AN

The train rolled into Hoi An a couple of hours late - think we were all glad to see the back of that one to be honest! Hoi An is absolutely amazing - completely fell in love with the place. It was almost completely unaffected by the war so still has a lot of its old world charm. The older parts of Hoi An are preserved as a UNESCO heritage site and it is really beautiful. After another good feeding, we went to the tailors, armed with half my suitcase to get replicas made. The tailor industry is a bit nuts in Hoi An - think there's about 350 tailors in this tiny little town. After picking fabrics, taking measurements etc - I ordered up two dresses and a pair of shorts and made my fitting appoiintments for the next day. If it wasn't for the fact that my rucksack is already about 23 kg, I could have completely lost my senses in that place. They have loads of magazines, catalogues etc and you can just point and order up whatever you want in whatever fabric you want.

Dinner that night was at a very local 'all you can eat' place which fed us a constant stream of roll your own spring rolls.

IMG_0080

IMG_0080

The waitresses were very hands on in their demonstration of how to make the things - hand feeding most of the group. Think they took a particular liking to the boys... Maybe Laurent in particular?!

IMG_0835

IMG_0835

Took a bit of a walk along the river afterwards and got some ice cream - Pauline is a big fan of ice cream, hence its frequent appearance in evening time activities!

IMG_0084

IMG_0084

Then the evening took a turn for the drunken as we headed to 'Before 'N Now' bar and started on the card games.

IMG_0110

IMG_0110


Some new friends apparently!

At about 12.30, we decided to head to the beach party so jumped tandem onto the back of a couple of motorbikes (ignoring the free shuttle apparently!) and continued our merriment on the beach.

IMG_0111

IMG_0111

Lots of fun had by all, think we got home around 4.30 - our little motorbike man was standing waiting when we left the bar.
After a slightly slow start the next day, we went for our first fitting at the tailors at 11 and then spent the rest of the day on the back of a couple of motorbikes that some of the boys had hired. We headed down to the beach, got some lunch and had a splash in the sea before heading back into town. The beaches were absolutely gorgeous - well impressed. Probably the nicest so far in Asia.

IMG_0113

IMG_0113

TJ even did some driving on the way back - Chris is a pretty brave boy. I gave the throttle a bit of a turn but that was as far as it went. I make a bloody good passenger so gonna stick to that role. I think everyone who knows me will agree that that was a very wise idea?! After another fitting at the tailors, Charlotte, Catherine, TJ and I went for a Vietnamese cookery class. The food was amazing - mackerel stuffed with lemongrass and wrapped in banana leafs, chilli chicken, wontons with sweet and sour sauce and vegetarian spring rolls.

IMG_0126

IMG_0126

IMG_0131

IMG_0131

After eating ourselves to a standstill, we headed back to the same bar and things took on a familiar routine as we played some cards, drank some drinks and went to the beach later on - this time opting for the free bus...

IMG_0411

IMG_0411

More to follow very soon..... LOVE LOVE LOVE XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Posted by laurajhous 04:37 Comments (0)

Indochina Discovery - Roam Cambodia

One week into my trip round South East Asia so I thought I better get my finger out of my proverbial and do a bit of an update. If I leave it until after this four week tour is over, I will have to take a weekend out of my holiday to write the bloody thing up! Much as I love it.... Think Lizzy and Billy are on the countdown until they arrive now. As am I of course. Although I am a little concerned as how a Tuk tuk driver will react to the three of us jumping into his glorified wheelbarrow. Probably kill the poor man! Asia is absolutely amazing - not like anywhere I've ever been and probably the first time I have seen real poverty. Just finished a week in Cambodia and really loved the place - the people always seem to smile and wave despite their history of war and their difficult way of life.

Sydney

After the Adventure Tours trip, I flew back to Sydney for two nights before my flight to Bangkok. It was lovely to have another couple of days in the city - I still really love this place! Wayne and Amanda (from the Topdeck tour) were still staying in the hostel we had stayed in previously so I bunked in with them and it was lovely to see some familiar faces. Also bloody good to get a nights sleep without fear of dingo death. Wayne was working during the day - have to say I was well impressed, 5am starts and everything! So Amanda and I met up with Franci (also Topdeck) and had a bit of a catch up and shop! Absolutely no need to do any shopping to be honest. My bag at Alice Springs had been 25 kg. It's no surprise that the only time I carried that mofo was between terminals at Heathrow Airport. Managed to miss the sign for the shuttle bus and almost gave myself a hernia. Also managed to get my thatch of hair reined in a bit on some special offer at a rather nice salon in Sydney. Not a bad way to put in the day... Even if I did feel like I had been scalped by the end of it. Think I am becoming one of those people who hate getting their hair cut. Call me Rapunzel.

After a fairly hardcore repacking session (got to make sure I did a thorough search for drugs before I hit Asia according to Lizzy!) I managed to get the old rucksack back within the weight limit. Threw out all unnecessaries - including my new hiking shoes I had worn all through the Outback. Let's face it - there aren't going to be any repeat performances of that any time soon! Then I caught up with Sam and Sarah who I met on Contiki last year. They hadn't changed a bit and it was really lovely to see them. Knew I could rely on Sarah to find a nice place for dinner (although Sam swears it was his find).

IMG_3392

IMG_3392

So after some pretty amazing thai food, followed by a boomerang buying session and some promises to come and visit me in London, I said farewell and headed back for my last sleep in Oz!

Bangkok

Flew into Bangkok on Tuesday evening after a very easy nine hour flight. I sat and balled through the Last Song on the plane. Must have been the altitude - we all know I don't cry at films, except Bambi. Felt like a right idiot - the woman beside me must have thought I was on an institutional transfer to another looney bin. Met a man on the other side who was holding a LORNA HOUSTON sign and took my chances. Seems it payed off and I ended up in a mini bus all to myself. Plushest mini bus I've ever been in and the serious air con helped me look less like a par boiled tourist. We drove into Bangkok through a serious storm and the thought did cross my mind that my new nemesis may be lightning in this continent rather than wildlife. So far so good. Maybe Pappy took the hit for the whole family when he got his jolt years ago... Got to the hotel just in time to catch up with the group at the meeting - after a bit of info from our lovely Thai group leader - Pauline - we braved the rain and headed out for some Thai grub. Definitely a big attraction of a trip to Thailand! The group got on great right from the start. Some big characters to keep us all amused! There are 12 of us so people don't tend to splinter off as much as in bigger groups and everyone is after the same sort of experience so it makes life very easy! That night, after terrifying a Thai couple by trying to break into the wrong room, I slept in a proper bed and not a top bunk for the first time in 2 months. ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. Didn't realise I had missed it so much! Because there are three girls (TJ, Sepi and I) travelling alone and the rooms on the trip are twins, I flip between the other pair like a child in a joint custody agreement! After having so much company for two months, I hate the idea of being by myself so it suits me perfectly - I'm a pretty atypical 'only child' in that regard (maybe not others?!).

SIEM REAP

After an early breakfast (postive lie in by Outback standards), we got into our air conditioned minibuses and headed to the Thai/Cambodia border. We stopped just before the border to get some lunch. It was a proper authentic Thai cafe - no Western options for the faint hearted. Most of us took it fairly safe though and ordered up the Pad Thai. Safe?! So we thought. Rusty (the Kiwi of the group) had to removed a spider from his in the middle of lunch. Needless to say, my hunger subsided a bit after that! Our bags were then loaded into wheelbarrows and pulled by these tiny Thai men and women across the border and onto the other side to wait for us as we walked through. Way to make us feel guilty as we towered over the top of these human pack horses...

IMG_3398

IMG_3398

We all got our Cambodian visas without any problems (my chequered history must have passed muster) and managed to convince quarantine that none of us would drop dead in the next 6 days so we successfully made out way into Cambodia. We were met by a group of young guys taking pictures of us on their phones – think the light skin and blonde hair is a bit of a novelty over here. Paparrazi stress...

IMG_3406

IMG_3406

We jumped on another bus which took us to our hotel in Siem Reap. The bed situation got even better when we realised we had a double bed each. I feel spoilt rotten by the accomodation on this tour so far - things are just so much cheaper here! Because of the rain during the day, the water in the streets came up past our ankles which made for an interesting trip to the supermarket! After buying some presents for the kids, we headed out to a local school run by the New Hope Assocation. This group do some amazing work - an ex Buddhist monk set it up in one of the poorest slums in Siem Reap and it has since grown to include a medical centre, tourism service and restaurant - all the profit from which goes back into the school to provide education to kids who have no chance of being able to afford public school. The average income around that area is around 10 dollars a month and that may need to sustain a family of more than 6/8 people. Completely crazy. We were able to help the kids with their English class...

IMG_3420

IMG_3420

Their eagerness to learn was pretty impressive, as was their English, and it was amazing to see the work that this tiny assocation has accomplished. Afterwards, we ate a 5 course Khmer dinner in the association's restaurant and some of the current staff and students chatted with us about the school. One of them was from Londonderry! Small world...

IMG_3423

IMG_3423

After a pretty hairy tuk tuk ride, we made it back into the city centre and went for a walk through the nightmarket. Managed to pick up a bracelet, a cocktail and a foot massage for less than ten dollars! Score. A world apart from Landan!

IMG_3436

IMG_3436

Got home to find panicked messages from Lizzy to tell me that she has blocked my iphone because she rang it, got someone foreign and assumed it was nicked.... The mind boggles. The said iphone spent the entirety of its day in my handbag with no foreign people answering it for me... Over zealous? Mum?! Never.

Our full day in Siem was spent at the famous temples - Angkor Wat, the ancient town of Angkor Thom where we visited numerous temples and then a trip to the temple where much of Tomb Raider was filmed. We peeled ourselves out of bed at 5 am in the hope of watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Unfortunately the weather let us down and we saw dam all. One minute it was dark, the next the sun was up - shite. The club sandwich breakfast the hotel had sent us was pretty odd. All about embracing the culture, I know. But still, who eats egg sandwiches at 6.30am?! Not me apparently. The temples were seriously impressive. Building them now would be an unthinkable feat, let alone 1000 years ago.... And the heat was unbearable - I spent my time dodging between shadows like a proper Brit. We had paid about ten dollars each for our private air conditioned mini bus and our guide 'Kim' who stayed with us all day - still can't get over the value for money over here!

IMG_3455

IMG_3455


Photo of Angkor Wat

IMG_3506

IMG_3506


Buddhas at Angkor Thom

IMG_3552

IMG_3552


TJ and I

IMG_3519

IMG_3519


Elephants

We finished off with a walk up to another temple at the top of a mountain (glorified hill by Outback standards!). Decided it wasn't worth waiting for sunset, especially after the sunrise sickener! So we trotted back down the hill again - this time opting to walk down the elephant track. Grave error. There were at least two occasions where I was sure the end was nigh as two elephants overtook each other on this tiny track as I was pinned to the wall. Rather unceremonious way to go.... Against all odds, we made it down in one piece and back to the hotel. That night, Pauline took us to 'Pub Street' where we ate ourselves to a standstill for another ten dollars and watched some traditional Khmer dancing.

IMG_3587

IMG_3587

After the success of the night before, we returned for more massage - this time head and feet! Then the rain started and we thought it only wise to take cover in the bar and have a few bevvies until the storm passed before we tuk-tuk'ed our way to bed.

The next morning some of us headed over to the floating village – which involved an hour round trip on a tuk tuk – perhaps a highlight! I love these things and am gutted to realise that Vietnam doesn’t have them. I’m considering jacking in the law and setting up a tuk tuk business in Portrush – think it would go down a storm. It was pretty amazing to see the little community they have made for themselves on the water. We saw fish farms, floating shops, the floating school, a pig farm – whole little floating world! Whilst it was interesting, the whole place felt like a bit of a tourist trap. Smaller boats would pull up alongside our boat and small kids would jump in to sell drinks – modern day pirates! Or a boat would pull up with a small child with a snake around his neck. As soon as you dared to lift you camera, said boy would start chanting ‘one dollaaar, one dollaaaar’. Little shit!

IMG_3628

IMG_3628


Me and floating village

IMG_3617

IMG_3617


Floating pig farm

IMG_3608

IMG_3608


Floating school

Phnom Penh

That afternoon we headed to the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, on the public bus which was an experience in itself. TJ got drenched by a rather unfortunate drip above our seat and a Cambodian karaoke video played for the duration... Not quite Ulsterbus anyway. That night we ate at a restaurant, the profit from which goes back into the affiliated orphanage which was set up by a local man. Even managed to pick up a Lonely Planet guide to Vietnam for 4 dollars from one of the saleskids. None of the pictures are in the right places but whose complaining for 4 dollars?! Becoming quite the bargain seeker over here!

The next day took a more sombre turn as most of us headed on a private bus with a private guide to see some of the remenants from the Communist Pol Pot regime. We first visited the S21 jail (or euphemistically called ‘security unit’) which had previously been a secondary school. Most of the prisoners were educated people who were seen as a threat to the regime. They arrived in their thousands every day and were tortured non-stop until they admitted to being a threat (often falsely) and were then left chained up in cells measuring 2m x 1m.

IMG_3639

IMG_3639

I was particularly surprised when Mr T, our guide, pointed out two of the seven survivors who still spend their days at the museum, answering questions and helping to write the history books. One of them is almost deaf and blind from the electric shocks he received at S21. Mr T said that this is one of the only ways for them to earn enough money to sustain themselves - seems crazy that they have to spend any time there after their past experiences though.

We then visited a killing field where the prisoners were then taken to be killed and buried in mass graves. There were some pretty horrific sites including a tree which babies were beaten against until they died, all in front of their mothers. They have built a monument to the victims in the centre of the fields but they still have a large amount of graves to excavate – pretty horrific.

IMG_3659

IMG_3659

After a bloody good lunch, we took a quick trip to the Royal Palace where the Cambodian family still live when they are in the country. It was a pretty impressive display of wealth although slightly hard to swallow in light of the poverty we have witnessed throughout the country.

IMG_3690

IMG_3690

IMG_3700

IMG_3700

Some of the gals and I then went to visit the orphanage affiliated with the restaurant from the night before. The kids were in great form – dancing around like maniacs and finishing off a painting they were doing together. There were a set of identical twin girls who couldn’t have been more than 2 and were completely joined at the hip, never leaving each others sight – sweetest thing ever! Some of the kids had been on a recent trip to Japan and showed us the (many many) photos with serious enthusiasm! I can only imagine its what anyone visiting my house at the moment has to endure with my holiday pictures and Apple TV. Apologies!

That night, a pretty impressive storm hit the city and we were effectively imprisoned in the bar/restaurant. Worse things could have happened I suppose! Particularly because it was a Saturday night and there was a rather amusing Latino band playing.

Sihanoukville

After another public bus adventure, we arrived in Sihanoukville the next day. This place is on the coast and the relaxed pace of life was immediately apparent! Our hotel was run by an Aussie couple and had a good bar, spa and pool – not too shabby! Sepi and I headed down to the beach to find that the tide was seriously high and we had to perch on the side of the beach bars to avoid a total washout! I have learnt on this trip that I am pretty bad at saying no. During our couple of hours, I managed to give into numerous sellers and ended up with a manicure, pedicure, foot massage, fruit salad, bracelet, anklet and a cocktail. I must have MUG written across my head. That or the word spreads that I am just the girl who doesn’t say ‘No, piss off’.

We all went to one of said beach bars for a good dinner and partied there for a fair part of the evening – involving an elegant game of limbo. No prizes for guessing that I was not the winner of that particular activity! Lots of fun had by all tho.

IMG_3720

IMG_3720

Our full day in Sihanoukville was spent on a boat trip out to Bamboo Island. We woke up to torrential rain and the thought of a day in the spa began to sound pretty dam good. Alas, the rain conveniently stopped and we headed out on our ‘boat’. This thing was seriously rustic and the choppy seas made getting up the step ladder a serious feat! Most of us rolled onto the deck like beached whales – all very sophisticated. The sea was pretty rough but we all kept our breakfast down, against the odds and a few suspect moments. We stopped to snorkel but the only thing we spotted was a mean looking jelly fish was caused mass hysteria and a quick re-loading of the ‘boat’.

IMG_3736

IMG_3736

The island was pretty cool though – very remote and completely unspoiled. Better still, no one selling things! Saved me a fortune. John, the joker of the pack, was nursing a hangover and gave us all a fleeting moment of panic when we spotted him washed up on the shore. Particularly as another boat had just arrived and were stopping over his beached body to get onto the sand. Christian, being the decent guy, went to the rescue to find a very relaxed John. Not dead after all. Damn!

After we safely made it back to terra firma, Sepi, Amy and I went for an amazing massage. May have been the best I’ve ever had and it cost 10 dollars for an hour. You would pay 100 minimum in London. Loving the massage situation over here. Made the most of it in Cambodia because the Vietnamese massage is supposed to be really rough and leave you black and blue – thanks but no thanks! We rounded off our time in Sihanoukville at the pub quiz at the hotel. After putting in a surprisingly good performance in the first half, we ended second last... Poor.

IMG_3743

IMG_3743

The next day it was ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ as we left lovely Cambodia and headed to the border. We are in Vietnam for 12 days so I will leave that one for another mass update. You know you love it... Actually, if you’ve made it to the end of this, kudos to you. I think I’m getting wordier if anything! Missing everyone. No facebook here although Pauline tells us she knows the proxy address to avoid it so perhaps I won’t be cut off from all civilsation after all! LOVE xxxxxxxx

P.S. Thought I would include some of my favourite snaps of the sights of Cambodia...

IMG_3412

IMG_3412


A truck laden with baskets at the Cambodian border

IMG_3615

IMG_3615


A boy floating around in a bathtub at the floating village

IMG_3683

IMG_3683


Tried to take a picture of the Buddhist monks but as with everything in Cambodia - the tuk tuks got in the way. Captures two of the things I saw the most of though!

Posted by laurajhous 11:39 Comments (0)

A Tale of Survival Against All Odds....

Adventure Tours Trip from Melbourne - Alice Springs

I SURVIVED! It may come as a shock to all involved, not least myself, that I have emerged unscathed from the Outback and my Adventure Tours trip... The difference between the past 2 weeks and the East Coast tour was unbelievable - hard to believe it was all the same country! Trip format was also rather different - I think I consumed about three units of alcohol over the whole thing, in bed before midnight every night and always up before 6 am. Some would say - personal hell. Zoes?! I would probably have agreed before now. In fact, when I read over the details of the trip before I came away, I nearly wet myself. Hadn't realised what I had signed up for that day in STA at all - hiking, camping, doing dishes?! But so glad I did it - real experience and I feel like I've had a more 'balanced' Aussie experience. Really had the chance to find myself.... Ok, that bit might be bullsh*t - but I did, against all odds, really enjoy myself. Apologies in advance for the length of this - can't see it being a quick one for the length of time it covers!

MELBOURNE

My last blog entry finished with my first couple of hours as the one-man wolfpack. I survived admirably in Melbourne on my first few hours as a 'solo traveller' - largely thanks to an awesome hostel with lovely people, great weather and a familiar face... Caught up with Gary from Emma on my first night there. Managed to get the right tram and everything, even if I did forget to buy a ticket and spent the whole journey slightly past myself at the prospect of being deported for fare evasion. Had some great grub, wine and went for some drinks at Cookie which seems to be a big Melbourne hot spot. Was lovely to see him - very jealous of his time in Melbourne. Definitely a place I would like to come back to - didn't really get a proper chance to see round the CBD.

IMG_2743

IMG_2743

The next day I had booked onto a day tour to go to Phillip Island, primarily to see the 'Penguin Parade' which happens there every night when thousands of little 'fairy penguins' march out of the sea at sunset, up the beach, onto the footpath and home to their digs. Apparently its about a 2km walk them and they are 30 cm tall and have no knees. Mission. Joined the tour round lunchtime - a full bus consisting of me, a lovely German girl and 17 Japanese tourists. I've never seen so many pictures taken in my life - what do they do with them all?! We stopped at a animal sanctuary and fed some kangaroos. The wallabies are all well and good - very cute, an acceptable size etc. I fed them some of the food we had out of my hand - perfectly nice...

IMG_2749

IMG_2749

Kangaroos, on the other hand, are a little terrifying. They're bloody massive beasts that come bouncing at you like something possessed. Needless to say, I promptly dropped my tub of food and retreated. I've heard these things will stand on their back legs and use their claws to disembowel you. Didn't see any positive sightings of such behaviour on the day in question but you can never be too careful.

The penguin parade was definitely worth the trek - about 4 hours return. They are pretty gorgeous. The first ones get washed onto the shore, look around, realise they are the first and promptly turn and swim back out until there is more of a crowd assembled - real herd animals. Couldn't take any pictures because it hurts their eyes. Needless to say, some nationalities ignored this rule. Loved this sign tho...

IMG_2822

IMG_2822

We stopped for pizza on the way back and when I got back to the hostel, most of my roomies were in the bar so I stayed with them for a bit and had some cheeky bevvies. (Little did I know, this would be my last for a while!) Could very easily have been convinced to pack in the tour and stay with these guys in Melbourne for a bit - really landed on my feet with that hostel. By the time 1.30 came around, thought I better call it a night especially when my pickup was 6.15 am. That pick up time should have been a warning of things to come!

MELBOURNE - ADELAIDE

I was booked onto a tour from Melbourne - Alice Springs but it transpired that it was actually two seperate tours. One from Melbourne to -Adelaide, a day in Adelaide and then another tour from Adelaide - Alice Springs. The little buses they use are a far cry from our luxury coaches on Contiki and Topdeck. Tiny little things with your knees up round your ears but they got us from A to B. Which is a tough enough task when A and B may be 2500 km apart so can't really complain!

IMG_2971

IMG_2971

The tour group for the first part were lovely and we had plenty of free seats on the bus to spread out (unhook knees from ears). Most were European but most also spoke excellent English - put my languages to shame big style. All I could remember in German was 'I would like to go to the cinema' and 'Oh my goodness, I have no idea' (thanks Laura!) and my French was little better - Mr Lytle would have been mortified. Two girls - Kahina (French) and Alicia (Scottish) - and a lovely German family were doing the whole trip to Alice so I quickly zoned in on them! Definitely a particular skill of an only child after holidays spent eyeing up other potential 'friends' at swimming pools.
The next three nights, two days, were spent making our way along the Great Ocean Road and then through the Grampians to Adelaide. Got loads of pictures - most of it was gorgeous scenery so the pictures sort of do the talking - you will be glad to hear!
Very early on, we stopped at Bells Beach which is one of the most famous surf beaches in the world. My surfing pro gals would have been in their element after their lesson in Byron.... Or maybe a little out of their depth?! Apparently the surf was particularly good but we didn't see anyone catching a wave. Seemed to just be fannying about with their boards, chatting and generally putting on a pretty poor show for us. Think I would have been better waiting in the car park where apparently there were postive sightings of surfers getting changed....

IMG_2826

IMG_2826

After lunch, we headed up the start of the Great Ocean Road. The first half is known as the Surf Highway whilst the second part is the Shipwreck Coast.

IMG_2836

IMG_2836

It's supposed to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world and don't get me wrong, I was well impressed. But the North West coast of NI could give it a run for its money any day of the week.... We stopped to do a tree top walk at Ottaway Rainforest which took us a couple of hours, giving us a chance to talk to each other a bit as we wandered round. I was much more enamoured by the 12 Apostles (or 8 and a half apostles). These are big bits of coast line which have come off the mainland and now form little islands. Not gonna lie - don't really remember the specifics... Geographers would have been in their element.

IMG_2891

IMG_2891

After an overnight in a tiny place - population of 8 - where we had a BBQ and watched a film, we got up at 6 am, had breakfast and headed back onto the road. Breakfast is something I have had to learn to do on this trip - when you have to get up in the middle of the night, its a bloody long time until breakfast! I think Dad (and plenty of other Houstons) would have struggled with this trip foodwise! The father in the German family suggested he was going to claim off the Health Insurance for weight loss! Don't think I was so lucky but I certainly learnt to eat when any food was offered. In the morning, we drove along the Shipwrecked Coast and it was pretty easy to see why it is so named. The big bits of rock which have come away from the coast make it a pretty hazardous place. Wouldn't have liked to be anywhere near this place in our Whitsundays boat - we would definitely have ended up in that lifeboat! We stopped at Logans Beach to do some whalewatching - unsuccessfully. Although I'm pretty sure that Blind Bartamaous here would need the whale to be beached a couple of meters away to spot it. Did our first big of proper hiking that afternoon through the Grampians. Tough enough number (most of you will know, I am not exactly the hiking type) but well worth the effort. Took about three hours to do the return 8km trip...

IMG_2927

IMG_2927

Stayed in a lovely cabin at Halls Gap where we were all in together. Our tour guide made some good spag bol (I was even able to help without any calamity)and we watched an Aussie Rules match. The kangaroos bounced past the windows whilst we were there - just in case we needed any reminder of where we were!
On the last day of this tour, we stopped at the McKensie falls where we walked down to the foot and back up - pretty sweet....

IMG_2951

IMG_2951

Stopped at a (very) pink lake - apparently because of the reaction of the salt and some bacteria and then drove solidly for the 400 km to Adelaide, only stopping for a photo op at the border of Victoria and South Australia.

Adelaide is a pretty tiny place - the Aussies have a very strange concept of 'city'! Apparently its the first Aussie city to be freely settled rather than by prisoners - knowledge. Our hostel was a bit odd - very quiet and my first encounter with an inhabitant was an old man walking around with his trousers down. Nice. Some of the group and I went for dinner and drinks on the 'nightlife' street which I have since heard described as a 'feral' place - perfect word I think! Rough as arseholes is how some would desribe it - sorry Granny....

The next day, we had a pretty impressive lie in before we headed out to take a stroll around Adelaide. It's actually a really nice place - not saying I could stay for weeks on end, but perfectly nice for a free day. Gabrielle and I went for some pub lunch and I bought some essential camping supplies for the rest of the trip - funny enough, I did not possess a sleeping bag, torch, liner etc - this is a new world to me! That evening I caught up with Danni, a friend from Contiki who lives in Adelaide. It was really lovely to see her - she drove me out to 'the Bay' area at Glenelg where she gave me a bit of a guided tour and we went for dinner. Then hot chocolate. Had a good catch up and reminisce about Contiki and had a really lovely evening. Highlight may have been sitting in the car watching The Drunkest Man In The World try to stand up. At 8pm. Epic fail.

IMG_2990

IMG_2990

ADELAIDE - ALICE SPRINGS

After another very early start, our next tour commenced. This time, the bus had one empty seat so it all became a very tight squeeze! Again, we had a really lovely group and a great little mountain goat of a tour guide - John. Lots of my fellow passengers were students from Europe/Canada who are on an exchange to Adelaide uni and get a couple of weeks off at this stage so do a bit of travelling. Our resident, and favourite, German family were still with us and our main mountain man, Josh, came from Arizona. Or more specifically Scottsdale, remember the goldfish racing Sarah?! On the first morning, we drove to Quorn which was to be our home for the next two nights. Kayna, Alicia, Melanie and I set up camp in a room before we had lunch. John alerted me to the presence of a fatally venemous red back spider who was camping out under the Coke machine. Thus, creating one of life's greatest dilemmas - cope without my DC fix or risk death by spider. Needless to say, the DC won out and I tried my luck with the spider. And won. Point to me.

That afternoon we went for a hike through the Flinders Range, up Dutchman Stern. Think we did about 8km at about a 10% gradient (lingo!) so it was a good enough workout. Good views from the top though. Thought I better include proof that I had made it.

IMG_3010

IMG_3010

On the way back, a family of kangaroos bounced past us...

IMG_3022

IMG_3022

Had a BBQ dinner back at Quorn and a bit of a chat in the dining room there. The place used to be Mill so there main buiding is rather nice. And they had a bloody good heater - score.

On our second day at Quorn, we drove to Wilpena Pound which is a circular mountain foundation and walked through the middle of it. Had really nice weather and the walk was all flat so the 5.30 am start was less painful. Stopped in the afternoon to check out some Aboriginal cave art

IMG_3048

IMG_3048

And some old sheep station ruins - which the girls model beautifully....

IMG_3065

IMG_3065

The next day we headed to Cobber Pedy - the world's Opal capital. This place is in the middle of nowhere. I don't understand how people live some remotely - if you wanted a night out, you would have to drive 2 days there and 2 days out. Would need to be a hell of a night out. In the Outback, you literally drive for 5/6 hours and see nothing. I've never read so much in my life. Which is quite a feat when your knees are tucked round your ears and your fellow passengers are screaming like banshees in the seats beside you! Cobber Pedy is built almost completely underground - very odd. There is very little on the surface and even if there is a small house, most of it will be built under the ground floor. Maybe Gemini Homes should consider a new venture... Although I suspect the heat is less of a problem in Portrush. We went on a tour of the Opal mines - check out my hat. Good look.

IMG_3098

IMG_3098

That evening, we all went out for pizza which was a bloody nice change. And then dandered down to the kangaroo orphanage run by a local couple. They take in any babies whose parents have been killed on the road etc and look after them 24/7. Get up and feed them all through the night, let them sleep in their beds - its a bit nuts. One of them took a particular liking to my hair...

IMG_3114

IMG_3114

After our night in an underground bunkhouse, we headed on a (ridiculously) long drive to our first night of camping. Drove most of the day, stopping now and again for various sites. Also had to stop when we ran over a dog - true story. Bit sad :-(. The Aboriginal owner asked for petrol money to take it to the vet but was last seen walking in the bush - probably to bury it. Also stopped for some picture moments - including when we crossed into the Northern Territory...

IMG_3126

IMG_3126

The drive was absolutely worth it though as we made it to 'Uluru' or Ayer's Rock for sunset. After all the hype about it, I thought I would find Uluru a bit of a let down but it's absolutely amazing. It's massive and made up of one single rock. And apparently it goes about 5km underground so you only see the tip. We got a great sunset as we sipped on some bubbly and ate some crackers - tough life.

IMG_3157

IMG_3157

IMG_3170

IMG_3170

That night, we lit a camp fire and slept outside in waterproof sleeping bags or 'swags'. With my extensive knowledge of all things dangerous, I was able to discuss the dingo risk at length. Reciting facts about dingo fatalities etc. But I was eventually persuaded so after some marshmallow toasting, I took my place in my swag - making sure I was sandwiched between plenty of other people.

IMG_3191

IMG_3191

Lo and behold, I was not eaten by a dingo. Or strangled by a snake. Or trodden on by a camel - all of which had crossed my mind. Felt like I had only just gotten into my swag, when we had to get up at 4 am and head to Uluru for sunrise. Definitely worth it...

IMG_3210

IMG_3210

IMG_3247

IMG_3247

We then did the 10km walk round the outside of the rock. You can climb the rock using ropes on a guided tour but you are asked not to. The original Aboriginal owners view the Rock as completely sacred and the only time they climb it is when the elders are performing ceremonies. As part of the government lease, however, they have to allow people to do it. Despite this, everywhere you look there are signs asking you not to and apparently 35 people have died attempting it. Needless to say, I did not attempt it! After Uluru, we drove to the sister park - Kata Tjuta where we walked through a gorge. Spotted a wild camel - apparently Oz is the only place to still have wild camels. It was completely unphased by its audience! I think I should bring one home as a companion for Bella when the inevitable happens and Poppy pops her big fat clogs. About the same size anyway.

IMG_3290

IMG_3290

After another long drive, we got to Kings Canyon for our last night on tour. After having ticked 'sleeping in a swag' off my list - I was quite content to sleep in a tent. My usual roomies, however, spent another night outside so I decided to move house and sleep in with Sophia and Lena. Not sure how I am going to cope with sleeping by myself again! After our pretty amazing campfire, we hit the sack for our last night.

IMG_3298

IMG_3298

The last morning was spent doing the most strenous walk of the trip, round the rim of Kings Canyon. The first 20 mins was hell but the other 3 hours were amazing. By the end I was actually beginning to enjoy these walks! Almost... Maybe I should have joined the Cambridge University Hillwalking Club after all.

IMG_3329

IMG_3329

IMG_3342

IMG_3342

After our last lunch tonight, we did our last big drive to Alice Springs where the tour ended. We drove past the Finke River which was flowing hard - something it apparenty does only twice every fifty years. Glad it made the effort for us. Alice Springs is a strange little place. The sign posts point to places like Adelaide and Melbourne even though they are about 2000 miles away. Just proof that there is NOTHING else in between! Crazy.
We had a nice group dinner and said some sad goodbyes...

IMG_3388

IMG_3388


So basically, the whole thing made me pretty hard core. Like to think of myself as a mountain climbing, camping, dish washing nature buff now. These sign were everywhere - often thought to myself that people at home would thing I should be NOWHERE NEAR the 'Explorer Highway'.

IMG_3073

IMG_3073

IMG_3128

IMG_3128

It's definitely a trip where the idiom that 'the journey is more important than the destination' rings true. Most of it was spent in the bus but it was awesome to see that side of Australia. Could I do it again next week?! No way! But really glad I did it. Back in Sydney now with Wayne and Amanda which is lovely. Currently watching TV and might even have some wine. Controversial. And I don't have to worry about death by dingo/snake/camel/spider. Leaving Aus on Tuesday to start my 7 weeks in Asia. Cannot wait but will be very sad to say goodbye to this place - it's been Pretty Dam Good. I dreamt last night that Lizzy doesn't want to come to Thailand to see me any more, so if anyone is interested, I'm taking applications. Miss and love y'all. xxxxxxxx

Posted by laurajhous 04:18 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Island Suntanner...... Part II

The closing chapter of the Wolfpack...

Installment 2.....

Again, good intentions of keeping it shorter as Zoe informs me that reading my blog is taking over her life. Sorry Zo, brevity is the aim of the game! My co-writers have now pissed off to Hong Kong anyway so the amusement involved in writing the blog is greatly diminished.... I'm sure they're missing the pleasure of blog-writing as much as I'm missing lectures on trade marks. Missing you already tho ladies, the one man wolfpack is a greater risk to herself and the public without your supervision.

FRASER ISLAND

So, after our night with the cowboys, we headed to Fraser Island for 2 nights. Dad and Sam apparently visited this island a few years ago (25?!) and I would hazard a guess that very little has changed - its pretty rustic! We got the ferry over to the Island - no vommers on this particular water excursion. Praise be. I had been told that this was where the funnel web spiders and red back spiders like to hang out so I was a bit concerned by the situation - both of them are fatally venemous and by my accident track record on this trip, it wouldn't be surprised if the little buggers congregated to track me down. We were all briefed on 'dingoes' - wild dogs which have been known to eat children. Literally. Kirsty was less than enamoured by the prospect of child-eating wild dingoes. In the event of a confrontation, the advice was to stand back to back, act like an adult and back away slowly. After a practice, we discovered that standing back to back, whilst backing away slowly, is nigh impossible. Despite concerns, however, there were no positive sightings of deadly spiders or dingoes, let alone deaths.

We rocked up at our lodge where all 17 of us stayed together. They were pretty basic but it was nice to all be in together - despite the unfortunate noises Adam made throughout the course of the weekend. We trotted off to watch the sunset over the bay. The group's amusement was provided by numerous simulated spider offensives on poor innocent me.

IMG_2423

IMG_2423

After a bit of photo comparison, we headed out for a buffet dinner together and played some games involving beverages until we headed back to our lodge. Fraser Island isn't exactly a happening night life destination - probably no bad thing in light of what was to follow in Surfers.

The next day, most of us went on the full day trip round the Island. Our mode of transport was a 4 x 4 bus which made the day feel like a never ending rollercoaster - much fun. Thought I better include a picture of the ride in question...

IMG_2450

IMG_2450

The trip hurled us around the Island for about 8 hours. Whip lash claims to follow.... We stopped at Eli Creek where we waded through the water, a la Crocodile Dundee... Numerous occastions where KT thought it was amusing to shout 'shark' as I risked my life tramping through this stream. My nerves are gonna be shot to hell before I ever make it home.

IMG_2460

IMG_2460

Stopped to check out a ship wreck, the coloured sands and generally got off the bus when we were told to - taking plenty of pictures along the way.

IMG_2464

IMG_2464

IMG_2498

IMG_2498

In the afternoon, we headed to one of the big lakes - Lake Birrabeam (?! - no idea if that's it's real name - missing Kirsty's amazing memory for this blog). The sun had crept in by this stage but we still had a bit of a paddle about before JW threatened to freeze over and we got out. Apparently the sand is really good for your skin so we claried ourselves in that - can't say I see any difference, let's be honest.

Had another fairly chilled evening - dinner and drinks and then home to bed. Highlight being the shuttle of old men on a conference who were very keen that we sit on their knees rather than remain standing for the trip home. Tempting.... Still not really sure how we withstood their charm offensive.

SURFERS PARADISE

We jumped on the ferry back to the mainland the next morning and hit the road to Surfer's Paradise - a very different destination to sleepy Fraser Island! We got out in Brisbane for a few hours - the capital of Queenstown. Seems like a really nice place. Had a Wagamamas (little bit of Asian home!) and tramped round some of the shops. Have to say the thought of carrying around my purchases for another three months is a serious shopping disincentive. Maybe that partly makes up for the fact that I apparently spent £68 downloading ONE song on my iphone this week.... My bad. Stopped on the way out of the city for a photo op..

IMG_2525

IMG_2525

I got stranded on the wrong side of the road for a good ten mins whilst the others seem to make it across unscathed. You would have thought London would have taught me to cross those bad boys. No such luck. Carers to the rescue. Oterhwise I would still be there - doesn't bode well for the new one man wolfpack!

Arrived at the (rather lovely) Vibe hotel in Surfers and immediately hit the jacuzzi to watch the sun go down. What can I say - its a tough life! Headed out to the Surf Lifesavers Club for dinner. Disappointing talent tho ladies, don't get too jealous. Dinner was good though and obviously that's all we were concerned about! Headed out to an Irish bar for a few cheeky bevvies and then onto the classy Sin City night club.

IMG_2532

IMG_2532


Nemesis Adam with JW and I. Who needs a big brother when you've Adam on your back all day?!

IMG_2535

IMG_2535

In light of an unfortunate and unexpected onset of a headache the next morning, we decided to give the theme parks a miss and lay on the beach like a pod of whales all day. Only moving for a McDonalds and transfer to the pool because our backs were sore lying on the sand.... I may be unpopular for including a bikini shot but here we go anyway. They'll have forgiven me by December.

IMG_2540

IMG_2540

Our second night in Surfers was spent bowling. We were assured that we would be given enough pizza to fill us up even though there wouldn't be one each. The fear flooded over the wolf pack at the prospect of insufficient supplies so we ate ourselves to an uncomfortable standstill. It seems there was enough. Pizza paralysis was pretty serious. I lost at the bowling - whose surprised?!

IMG_2545

IMG_2545

BYRON BAY

Final proper stop for our 2 week trip was Bryon Bay. It's not far from Surfers although we went through the mountains on a scenic route... Got out and did a bit of a walk, really pretty place. Standard group photo as proof...

IMG_2571

IMG_2571

Byron Bay is pretty amazing - really loved it. Although if I were considerin g a more permanent relocation, I think I would have to discuss the 'no shots' rule with the Council. As part of their sensible drinking initative, they don't allow bars to serve shots. And there is no McDonalds. If those small problems could be overcome, I would buy a caravan, build on a granny shed for Lizzy and move out to this place. It's very chilled - full of surfers and people who just don't get stressed about anything. Except shots apparently. Had a fantastic couple of days here. We stayed in little caravans, or 'sheds' as we affectionately referred to them. JW and I bunked up and the weekend would have been flawless if it weren't for the noisy shed neighbours (KT,AS) and ever present risk of death by snake. I marched everywhere because apparently vibrations scare them. People made fun out of me but I didn't get bitten, did I?! (Although it is accepted that neither did the non-marchers). We went out to Rails for dinner together and then to Cheeky Monkeys for some dancing on tables. All good clean fun.

The next morning, we got up bright and early for our surfing lesson. After some practice on sand, we hit the sea and on Attempt Number One, I dislocated my shoulder. Epic Fail. The shoulder is letting me down a bag full these days! So I proceeded to paddle about in the water, dragging my board about and offering commentary for the remainder of the lesson. I'm sure I would have been quite the natural if my physical imperfections hadn't impeded my progress. Although credit to Anna, she was definitely the natural of the bunch. The whole excursion left everyone pretty knackered so after buying some BBQ supplies, we spent the afternoon at the pool in the shed park. Watching numerous shed-bound geriatrics speed by on automatic wheelchairs - need to get myself one of those sets of wheels as soon as I'm back. Life would be so much faster.

Our final official night was spent with a BBQ and some goon. I opted to avoid the goon - after the Heartburn Near Death Incident. Wolfpack is ready for Masterchef was soon as we're reunited it seems.

IMG_2582

IMG_2582

BBQ was a lot of fun - we had a fantastic group on this trip and it was really pretty sad that it was our last night on tour.

IMG_2587

IMG_2587

SYDNEY

The next day involved the longest drive in the world to get to Sydney. Over 500 miles in one sitting! Well, not counting toilets/McDonalds stops. Poor Leigh, our tour guide, has to turn and do it again the following day as he starts a new tour going in the opposite direction. MISSION! Got to Sydney around 7.30 - very surreal driving in past the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge! Very exciting though and we had a really great few days in Sydney.

First night we went to Chinatown and met up with the rest of the group for some drinks and the first of the goodbyes! All a bit sad.

Next day we set off bright and early and walked miles down to Circular Quay and took some snaps and hung out on the steps of the Opera house in the sunshine - so lucky with the weather. Some of us stopped for some light refreshments on the way down...

IMG_2610

IMG_2610

Circular Quay is rather nice - very much what you think of when you think of Sydney!

IMG_2620

IMG_2620

IMG_2629

IMG_2629

While we sat on the steps, there was a free show involving a 55 year old man and a digger and some opera singing. Very odd.... Quite impressive though - I can see a bit of diversification here for Gemini Homes if Dad and Sam brush up their expressive dance skills. Portrush would love it.

In the afternoon, we caught up with Ben - a friend from school who moved out here over a year ago. Was lovely to see a familiar face and he took us for some dam good pies which we ate in the sun at the harbour. Not too shabby at all! Had a bit of a BA reminisce before we waved him off and took Anna back to the hostel in time for the shuttle base. Cue another very sad goodbye - Anna was sorely missed in our last couple of days in Sydney! Had a quiet one that night - think we were in mourning. Thai food and then SALT at the cinema - Saturday night in Sydney sort of passed us by! JW was even caught sleeping in the cinema - she should have been given OAP discount, the old doll.

The next day, we met up with a friend that the girls had made on Contiki a couple of years ago in the USA. It was lovely to spend time with a proper Sydney'er! Kesh drove us to Coggee and we walked the 6km walk round to Bondai. Sun shone the whole time so I didn't even complain. Much. And I got an ice cream at the end so not too many grounds of complaint!

IMG_2674

IMG_2674

Sunday afternoon/evening was spent with other Contiki friends the girls had made and we met up with our tour guys after dinner.

IMG_2692

IMG_2692

More sad goodbyes. Vodka acted as a mild painkiller. Was very sad to say goodbye to Tash :-(. Reunion 2011 will be massive.

Our last day in Sydney, after getting up at unholy hour to skype 55 Wood Vale (100% worth it tho ladies), we headed off to catch the ferry to Manly Beach.

IMG_2697

IMG_2697

Again, bright blue skies made for a rather nice afternoon in Manly. Had some lunch at an outside cafe and lay on the beach before consuming a cheeky Ben and Jerrys.... Got to keep the bloody sugar levels up. Particularly in the heat. Headed back up to the ferry and into town before too late so that we could make the most of our last evening.

On numerous recommendations, we headed to the Opera House Bar for some wine before dinner. The harbour looks completely different at night...

IMG_2731

IMG_2731

IMG_2737

IMG_2737

Rather nice way to spend our last evening! After some dinner and a few drinks, we headed back up to the hostel to say some very sad final goodbyes. We will be holding people to their promises to come to London/NI next year. Paging Dr Faggott.....

Left Sydney bright and early on Tues morning - the girls flew to HK this morning and I flew down to Melbourne. No big emotional goodbyes - I was turfed out of the shuttle at the domestic airport so bus hugs limited the potential for Airport Anxiety and Departure Depression! Had such an amazing 4 weeks with the girls - absolutely fantastic and they will be sorely missed. But.... Melbourne seems amazing. Staying in St Kilda at a really lovely hostel where people are lovely and girls get free champers. So life isn't too tough! Seeing Gary tonight and going on a trip to see the penguins tomorrow before I leave to head to Alice Springs on a ten day tour on Thursday. Go, go, go....but as Contiki say, go hard or go home.

Love to everyone at home - missing you all. Send me your chat please - I love to hear from everyone. Even if it is mundane (in your opinion!). xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Posted by laurajhous 22:30 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 16) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 »