Lombok

17/8/16 We made a run over to the SW corner of Lombok to check it out and bide a little more time while we wait for our chance to make the next leg of our journey back to Oz. We have 3 broken cameras on board atm so no more photos for a while, which is a bummer as this has to be one of the prettiest spots in Indo – both below and above the water, and it’s still a bit of a secret which makes it all the more appealing to us. (SECRET ISLANDS) This area is great for sailing around – good winds and a large sheltered bay (shelter from swell – there are surf-breaks nearby). There are numerous islands and reefs for us to explore in between boat jobs and games of backgammon. The water is lovely and clear (and clean), although a little nippy – wetsuits are required for us to get in. On our walks on mainland Lombok we have discovered that there is “gold up in them there hills”. We saw a few shops with guys out the front stirring large ceramic woks – never seen that before – we went over for a sticky beak and one guy spoke a little english and said it was gold. Don’t really understand the process, but there are also lots of round metal barrels spinning around here, I had been guessing they were old fashioned washing machines but now we think it’s something to do with the gold – the clunking noises we hear as they turn support the theory. In the water there is a lot of aquaculture and marine conservation.

19/8/16 Celebrated Graham’s 49th with mini pizza and chocolate cake all made by his lovely wife (hehehe). Checked out Gili Gede, where there is a proposal to build a marina – pretty sheltered spot and very scenic sitting back at happy hour and looking toward the hills. Did a few walks on the island and took the tender over to the mainland where we walked to a market to restock. Gili Layar was a favourite – we found great walks around the islands and up the hill to enjoy a REALLY nice view (spewing no camera). And under the sea we viewed some really nice coral – a lot of run though so we waited for slack tide otherwise it was a little silty, which spoilt the colour. Loads of soft corals and different sea creatures to spot. We spent 3 days there enjoying snorkelling and the walks – we were lucky to jag some light winds during that period as it’s definitely a fair weather anchorage. The weather forecasted winds to increase along with the surf so we moved back over to the mainland for a more sheltered spot and so we could rent a scooter and check out the world famous surf break Bangko Bangko – or Desert Point. Unfortunately it was flat as a tack when we got there – after a hell mission on the bike (what a “road” or should I say “what road?”). After our disappointment there (Graham was hoping to see some big waves) we rode over a hill, past all the gold prospectors to a gorgeous beach where we sat under a shady tree while we guzzled some water and snacked on some locally made crisps – and we bought a green coconut off some kids to take back to the Nap for happy hour. With that ticked off the list the next day we sailed over to Gili Asahan where we walked all the way around, past goats and cows and then sat in the water under a shady tree – heaven. Next stop was Gili Nanggu (there’s about a dozen islands to explore down here). Had a lovely little headsail over and jumped straight in – it was pretty milky but lovely reef. Really need to pick neap tides and go in at slack to have the best experience. A bigger reef than Layar, look forward to checking it out again when the run eases off.

After a fortnight we decided to go for a sail up the coast to Senggigi, where Graham could sit at the bow watching the surf break with his morning cuppa while I plodded around town gathering a few more provisions. After all that shopping it was only fair that he took me out for dinner – I chose Mexican as cheese is such a treat out here. The next night we had the hugest curries at a different restaurant (definitely going back there). On the Sunday Graham discovered some quarter finals for the rugby were on so he sat and watched while I popped next door for a massage – we each have our own way of relaxing after such a busy time down in the Southern Gilis. We rented a scooter so Graham could strap the gas bottle on the back and take it for a ride up to the Medana Bay Marina where they have an Aussie adaptor and fill them for $2/kg as opposed to $6 or $8/kg in Bali (tip for fellow cruisers). He remembered to come back and take me for a ride up the coast – stunning. Love coastal rides with surf and great views. 6/9/16 we sailed back down to the Southern Gilis, hoping to spend more time checking out Gili Nanggu, Tangkong and Sudak. Spent a night at Sudak but moved over to the mainland next day when a forecast for 20+kn came in. These islands offer up deep anchorages and mostly on the southern sides making it onshore – best to move to a more secure anchorage. Spent a few days back down in the south before sailing back up to Senggigi so Graham could watch more footy – unfortunately when we arrived it was onshore and HUGE surf so we carried on a bit further north to a more sheltered bay in from the “Northern Gillis”. Rented a bike and rode up into the hills from some col air and great views back down the valleys to the sea. And then it was time to head back to Bali – with great memories of Lombok which we must try to hang onto since we have no photos to prompt us. So good to have some decent winds for sailing again and although no decent fish for Graham to spear or jag on a hook we both enjoyed our time underwater here.

15/9/16  Back in the smelly dirty waters of Serangan where we will leave the Nap while we fly back to Perth so we can make a visa renewal and visit family. On our return we will grab some fresh food, the rest of the fuel and some water (didn’t want to load her up too much before we left or she will sit low in the dirty brown water – got all our dry stores though) and continue heading East.  Hoping to clear into Thursday Island early November. From there we will be making our way down the Qld coast, expecting to reach the Gold Coast by March. Looking forward to sharing a few beers with our dear friends and family as we catch up along the way. Hope this gets you all up to speed, answers a few questions and finds you all well. Cheers from The Nappers.

Categories: Indonesia | Leave a comment

Amed – Bali

IMG_7851

After leaving Lovina we took three days to get to Amed…and this mountain seemed to follow us everywhere. Sure is a scenic coastline.

IMG_7838

IMG_7860

The wind was either non existent or on the nose the whole way..bad for us but great for the little Lapita sails.

IMG_7889

Finding a secure spot to anchor in Amed was tricky – sand over stone – but came with a great view.

IMG_7905

Amed is all about underwater so that’s where we spent most our time. Our first day we checked out the snorkelling nearby..average but the water was clear, and cooler than around the corner. The following day we rented a scooter so we could head back to USAT Liberty – we had tried anchoring there on the way past but it was either too deep or rocky, anyway good excuse to fire up the bike. We waded in and in no time at all were on the wreck. Neither of us had ever snorkelled on a wreck so it was a bit exciting. Once again clear water and this time LOADS of fish and even big fish like we haven’t seen in years – I could see Graham trigger finger twitching! Oh yeah the wreck was pretty cool too.

IMG_7913

IMG_7918IMG_7934

The fish were super friendly…

IMG_7919

Maybe a little too friendly at times…

IMG_7925

It was only 0830 but already there were loads of scuba divers – we were the only snorkellers. The bubbles looked cool coming out the holes in the wreck – those photos didn’t really work out too well so you have to take my word for it.

IMG_7947

Now I have a pretty basic camera that goes in an underwater bag – check out this guys camera!!!

IMG_7891

The beach at the anchorage was full of smooth black rocks making it tricky to get ashore. The bay around the corner (Jemeluk) had some sand and smaller stones AND massages on the beach as well as cold bintang and huge tasty lunches so that’s where we hung out a few times. There was also snorkelling off the shore, once again average, though the western headland had some decent sized fish and was clearer most days.

IMG_7950

Took the bike for a burn around the coast and up into the hills. Had a snorkel on the Japanese Wreck nearby – a bit of a let down after the USAT Liberty,and CROWDED! The water was so clear and a great view from a height, and the drive along the coast gave some cool views, up in the hills wasn’t a patch on the scenic drives around Lovina but still fun and Graham just loves being on the bike, great value entertainment for $5/day! 2nd of August we thought we had a weather window to try and make it down to Serangan (SE Bali – so we could get that last visa extension done), but once we rounded the corner the wind was hard on – and full on. We did a huge tack through what seemed to be a sailing regatta, but turned out to be the friendly fishermen making their way back into shore in their sturdy little boats with fascinating sails. Once we got closer to Lombok the wind and waves eased up a tad so we decided to run down the coast and take another shot at Serangan the next day from the SW corner of Lombok (which looked very nice btw and worthy of a return trip). In Serangan harbour we found ourselves a spot to anchor out of the way of the moorings and went the next day to  report in to the local harbourmaster and then over to Benoa Harbour for customs and immigration, which took us most of one day (since we walked there and back – fools that we are). The following day Amanda went into Denpasar and started our visa extensions – 12 days later our passports were handed back to us (12 days!). During those 12 days we tinkered with boat jobs and started the restocking process – slowly getting things ready for our mammoth voyage back to TI – 1725nm away, via the Kai Islands. In the evenings we sat up the front to watch the kite surfers, beer in hand (us not them). We couldn’t get out of Serangan Harbour fast enough once our passports were back in hand. Plan to spend the next month cruising Lombok. Last two weeks of September we are back in Oz to renew visas and visit family in Perth. On our return we continue East. ETA Torres Strait sometime in November. Yes this year!

See you all soon. Stay safe. Have fun. Live life to it’s fullest. Cheers from The Nappers.

Categories: Indonesia | Leave a comment

Lovina – North Western Bali

IMG_5567

We arrived at Singaraja, near Lovina, in the North of Bali  9/10/16 and started the visa extension process the next day. There’s a form to complete, sponsor letters to gather, photocopies of a heap of stuff (even a few pages from your passport,  which seems odd since they keep it anyway). We had 9 pages in total! Drop that all in then return in 2 days for photo, fingerprinting and payment and another 2 days to collect. So you are kinda stuck in one place for a week really. It was pretty handy though as we were able to anchor very close to immigration, and caught up on laundry and grocery shopping while there. Once that was all sorted we moved to Lovina and anchored out from the jetty at Kalibukbuk. This became “home” for the next 9 1/2 weeks, and we ended up just walking the 5km to Immigration or catching a bemo for our next 2 visa extensions. Anchorage was calm even when the wind picked up – reef out the front kept the swell at bay. There’s a jetty but you can’t use it at low tide as it dries out, it’s easy to dinghy ashore then. We quickly sussed out where the pasar was (for all our fresh produce), where to get water, fuel, cheapest laundry and most importantly cheapest beer shop as we were going to need a few Bintangs to keep us sane in one anchorage for so long! We passed our days catching up on boat jobs, befriending the locals and taking motorbikes up into the hills (fantastic views and cooler climate). The highlights were the motorbike rides and when our friend Paul came for a week followed closely by family. As the picture shows..it’s all about dolphins, religious ceremonies and black sand beaches here.

IMG_5549

Went to Jimmy Hendrix Dance School where your donation goes toward helping to purchase new costumes and musical instruments for the students. A tiny kid dressed as a monkey shimmied up that tree! They were all so cute.

IMG_5573

Enjoying the serenity and the views from the nearby Buddhist Monastery on one of our rides.

IMG_5583

Nearby Melanting Waterfall in Munduk

IMG_5595

Up in the hills there are the twin lakes and Lake Baretan

IMG_5719

Sekumpul waterfalls – half a dozen waterfalls cascade into a couple of freezing cold pools of water, a scenic hike down some pretty steep and sometimes hairy stairs. And then you have to get back up!!!

IMG_5609

Rice terrace views on the walk down to the falls…

IMG_5611

More of the scenery and a confusing sign??

IMG_5619

Now that’s one ugly baby…

IMG_5620

Is that a Mohawk and is he poking his tongue out at me?

IMG_5622

Ho hum life in front of the paparazzi.

On a coastal motorbike drive we headed west as far as the Pura Agung Pulaki temple which is full of smelly monkeys – across from them was some better ventilation for snapping the monkeys. There was a religious ceremony going on while we were there – our second visit to this temple and the second time my camera played up within the temple grounds – spooky. We visited here previously when we left Lovina for a week to explore the coastline and visit Pemuteran Beach and Menjangan Island. Pemuteran not really impressing us and Menjangan not a safe anchorage, and average snorkelling. Another scenic ride we did was over to Balian Beach so Graham could enjoy watching the surf – loads of rice paddies, terracing, jungle,old villages and super friendly locals. Riding on the bike you caught the scent of cloves in the air – a pleasant change from “eau de asia” as Graham calls it. Since we use cloves when we make chai (indian tea) we stocked up.

IMG_5627

IMG_5666

One of many rice paddies near our anchorage.

IMG_5675

No shortage of boat captains to take you out on a dolphin chasing tour!!!!!!!!

IMG_5676

My view from under the shady trees where I had my weekly $5 beach massages. The skinny “spider boats” you go out on for the dolphin chasing tours. We were actually alone as the other yacht had been abandoned since September 2015. On spring water lows the fishermen would wade out almost to the Nap with long bamboo poles  and fish for hours for a small catch of tiny fish.

IMG_5709

The boys enjoying a cuppa and the view over the twin lakes (we did this trip several times but this was the clearest day). Paul is that grimace due to thoughts of drinking poo coffee (aka Luwak coffee).

IMG_5703

Boys in skirts. Back at the monastery with Paul this time.

IMG_7737

IMG_7738

Our darling nieces Ava and Ellie spent many a night on board, so we got to enjoy early morning wakeup cuddles, breaky on the tramp, followed by feeding the fish the crusts…

IMG_7677

…dinghy rides to a nearby snorkelling spot…

IMG_7800

…underwater fish feeding…

IMG_7773

…watching the girls progress in their snorkelling prowess…here’s Ava (9) following Uncle Graham down…she’s like a little mermaid…

IMG_7819

…Ellie (5) told me what it felt like to “catch Uncle Graham’s bubbles”, this started an underwater bubble blowing contest. We had loads of fun.

Life in Lovina just wasn’t the same after they all left, and within a couple of days we left too. Cheers from the Catnap Crew safe and well in Northern Bali.

Categories: Indonesia | Leave a comment

2016 South to Bali

IMG_5160

Finally, after 3 months on the hardstand – (2 while we were doing our overland travel through Cambodia, Vietnam and Northern Thailand, and the other month working our butts off on the Nap), we were ready to go back in the water. We had new headsails made and new side clears (all long overdue and essential for the trip home), we did our own antifouling as usual and also painted top side around the bow and some of the waterline, by hand using the roller tip method for the first time (which surprisingly worked out okay). Then there were the usual bits and pieces to keep us busy until finally we were ready to say farewell to G&T Boatyard and hello ocean. We made our way straight over to  nearby Nacha Island and rested up and tidied up before a great sail south to Ko Lipe where we celebrated Amanda’s birthday before clearing out of Thailand for the last time on 17/2/16. And yes thankyou I had a lovely birthday and spoiled myself with a massage then did lunch and dinner ashore and of course cocktails at sunset with my darling husband. We are sure gonna miss the yummy Thai food – except Penang Curry as we have stocked up with loads of the curry paste and got the recipe off a local cook. Then it was a quick pit stop in Langkawi  to load up on duty fuel and booze. This dragged out into 2 weeks while we waited on a new windlass (It packed it in as we were pulling up anchor to leave Ko Lipe). We managed to pass the time quite easily at Cenang Beach indulging in a few meals and drinks on the beach and downing a few cocktails at sunset. Caught up with Hubert and Jasmin off Investigator II for a few days when they anchored next to us – he was waiting on a part too – bloody boats!

IMG_5180

As soon as we got the new windlass in place we set off for Penang, each about 3kg heavier. Had a dream sail and got there in a day! We went into Straits Quay Marina so we could send chain in to be regalvanised. While we were there we stocked up on food which is made so easy with 2 supermarkets within walking distance – one inside the marina complex! When the heat became too unbearable we sauntered around the supermarkets in the a/c dawdling over our shopping list. We enjoyed really cheap and tasty indian food in the nearby tesco shopping centre on a regular basis, also in a/c – it was way too hot to cook onboard! We later found out they were having a heat-wave. Early each morning we woke up and felt like we were back on the hardstand – and we were in a sense. Yep the whole boat touching bottom, with the bows actually lifted up out of the water a bit.

IMG_5271

Had great winds and managed to sail most of the way down the Malacca Straits. We cleared out at Malacca on 19/3/16, which once again was quick and easy, and within 3 days we were crossing the Singapore Strait for the second time – this time under sail. We managed to get across without having to change course once or having to wait for a ship – don’t know what all the fuss is about (private joke – I stress, fuss and sometimes close my eyes, while Graham steers us across stress and worry free). Last time we noticed piracy measures like barbed wire on many of the ships – this time we also saw mannequins positioned around a ship. We arrived in such good time and with a storm fast closing in we decided not to anchor outside the Nongsa Point Marina at Batam, Indonesia until morning but head straight on in. Now we are not usually marina people but here we were using 2 in a fortnight! The reason we came into the marina was that we were entering Indonesia without a CAIT and trying their new system. We were told we could only do it at one of 18 points throughout Indonesia and this one being the first one as we entered the country we decided to do it here so we could make legal stops throughout Indonesia. We weren’t allowed to clear in ourselves here and instead had to go through the marina – hence the marina berth. Fellow cruisers – it was a breeze (and we quickly forgot about the $65AUD total for marina berth and clearance – which was far better than $300 for  CAIT and all the frigging around DIY which we did last time), and by 1pm the next day we had our clearance papers delivered, cast our lines and departed. But not before we had taken advantage of the water and washed our boat, hung out a load of washing and then wallowed about in the resort pool for the rest of the arvo.

IMG_5305

Plenty of obstacles to watch out for while sailing – unlit nets, some unlit small boats (you smell their cigarettes but no light on the boat), floats for crab/fish pots, and then of course plenty debris, and unless the fisherman is on his FAD/Fishing platform (above) then there are no lights on these and they can be in quite deep water just to trick us. Even on anchor you have to remain on alert – we dropped the anchor to wait for some wind one arvo and half hour later we heard a scraping noise from the bow so we went out to investigate and discovered ourselves caught in a drift net with the fisherman now behind us and still winching in his net (and us). Amanda yelled and waved for him to stop (surely he must have realised but oh well, point out the obvious – “you haven’t caught the motherload you have caught us, so STOP pulling”) while Graham went below decks to lift our motor before the fisherman pulled it off. Just then something had to give and thankfully it was the net which snapped in two and drifted away from us to the sound of a cry from the fisherman “my net my net”.

IMG_5329

Different village different style.

IMG_5353

Not sure of the real name but I call them spider boats.

IMG_5358

Some precision anchoring..just enough swing room amongst the boulders and reef.

Up until the end of March we were able to sail every day, dropping anchor each night (to avoid the unlit obstacles), with only the one overnighter to Bangka Island. The day we sailed over to Belitung the wind was howling and on the nose so we were unable to make it to the NW corner of the island where we had heard most cruisers stop and enjoy the clear water for snorkelling. We were ready for a bit of a break, but unfortunately couldn’t get there, so we headed to the SW corner and enjoyed a couple of peaceful bays all to ourselves. Unable to locate a weather channel on the HF we were in need of an Indonesian SIM to check the weather for the next leg of our journey as this would be a 3 day trip and we didn’t want to get caught out in a blow. So for once we didn’t want a peaceful bay to ourselves we wanted a village – and it was really hard to find one. The wind dropped out completely and we had to motor most of the way around the southern end of the island to find life…and a SIM. Found a little village when Graham hopped on a motorbike and went about 10km for a SIM and some manky potatoes and bananas. After checking the forecast we saw that we were in for a few days of no wind so we made our way further around Belitung to Lalang Beach to reprovision while waiting for some wind. Enroute Graham jumped in one day to check the hulls for any growth, nothing to see other than a couple of sucker fish lurking around. When we went ashore looking for bensin (petrol) or pasar (market) we “think” a man told us there were crocodiles there. The coast was mangrovy and the area murky so we weren’t too surprised.

IMG_5374

How skinny are their fishing boats!?! Lalang Beach…thankfully no crocs here but really friendly people. We managed to hitch a 10minute ride into the city – Mangarr (they really roll the rr’s around here) – and load up on petrol and fresh produce – we found drinking water nearby. A friendly lady allowed us to take some water from her well so we were also able to get on top of our stinky laundry (phew). One arvo Graham felt a breeze and we were off. By 0600 the next morning (18hours later) we had only travelled 70nm. Oh boy, this was going to be a long slow journey. We wanted to head East along the south coast of Borneo and for the first couple days we could, then the “wind” (very light wind) changed and we set a course for Karimunjawa islands.

IMG_5382

Thank gawd we loaded up on petrol. Jumped in for a cool off in the middle of the ocean while waiting for a breeze to pick up and saw our pet sucker fish still tagging along.

IMG_5383

Indo Fishing Boat

IMG_5389

Took us three days and 40L of fuel to travel very slowly for about 200nm to land. But we made it. Anchored up at Benkoang – one of the islands in the Karimunjawa group. Enjoyed a couple of days snorkelling there for R&R. Had it all to ourselves.

IMG_7673

Karimunjawa underwater world.

IMG_7662

We saw a mass of feelers poking out from under some coral – I asked Graham to dive down and take photo of all the baby cray….…As he got closer they all came out and said “cheese”

IMG_7669

Graham stroking the feelers of the baby cray. They were super friendly, no wonder you see bags of live baby cray for sale, they would be easy to grab.

IMG_5392

Pulling into the main island in the group (where the village is) Hassim came out to greet us and show us the best spot to anchor. He gave us a couple of coconuts and said “welcome to Karimunjawa with a big grin”.

IMG_5398

Did lots of walking and took in the views from the hills.

IMG_5404

IMG_5407

Rented a motorbike for a day – and Amanda was allowed to drive as the traffic was minimal and roads easy going (except for the bumpy bits). A very strange thing happened and we are still not sure exactly what….Graham went to fill up the motorbike, he went inside and paid the guy and then came out and jumped on the motorbike. About 15mins later the bike spluttered and stopped as we went down a hill. He managed to start it a few times but it would keep konking out. The last thing he checked was the fuel (as he had filled the tank to the very top)….EMPTY. WTF. Luckily we stopped right next to a stall selling bottles of petrol so we refuelled and continued on our way. At another stop he lifted the seat to put something under it and remembered there had been a fishing net there when he fuelled up. It wasn’t there now. “Shit I think I have taken the wrong bike after I fuelled up”. So he left me on the side of the road (so he could make better time) and raced back to see if there was a vacant bike full of fuel sitting there and a bike owner scratching his head looking for HIS bike. Na-da. Did he take the wrong bike or did the bike owner follow him around the corner to the fuel stop and VERY quickly drain the tank and take the net while Graham was inside paying(seems unlikely given the time frame)? We will never know but puzzled over it most of the day and cringed when the police drove past….All seemed okay when we returned the bike, mind you the guy we rented it off wasn’t the owner and was in a rush and we left the next day…

IMG_5411

Raking the rice along road side.

IMG_5438

The “town square” was more an overgrown oval where Graham enjoyed watching the guys play soccer in the evening. We sometimes followed the game with a simple dinner served to us on a tarp on the side of the oval where we sat cross legged at a tiny table. Here we are eating at a fancy venue – up off the tarp on chairs and eating at the only table at a roadside stall.

IMG_5435

And this is what we are eating with toothpicks..tiny shells and scallops…fingerlicking spicy delicious sauce.

IMG_5428

Common sight that Graham “loves” – busted arse house and satellite dish.

IMG_5335

Heading into Jepara to see about getting a new frame made for our door. Lots of obstacles to tack around.

IMG_1637

The day after we arrived in Jepara we met Thomas and Jerry who couldn’t do enough to help us find someone to make a door frame. Jepara is famous for beautiful timber furniture which is exported worldwide. It’s certainly impressive and worth a look. We thought it would be easy to get one of the carpenters to help us out but comms were a problem – something that Thomas and Jerry helped us out with. We also discovered some fantastic flavours for breakfast lunch and dinner with these guys. The water buffalo soup (soto kerbau) was a hit with Graham (I preferred a vego version with tempe – the tempe was divine). Graham also tried his first beef rendang and has been chasing it ever since – not found one as good yet Thomas. Can’t remember the name of the style of restaurant we went to but it was a buffet style – Graham thought his chicken was a bit strange tasting and texture, then decided he must have picked some tofu (which he eats a little of but doesn’t really like). Jerry then informed him it was brains!

IMG_5440

We thought they were going to use an electric router, but with the timber held between his feet he just whittled out the groove.

IMG_5459

Heading out at sunrise – just us and a few hundred fishermen.

IMG_5484

The winds were light but favourable for us to sail close to the north coast of Java, giving us a close up of village life – and plenty fishermen and fishing nets to watch out for.

IMG_5470

We LOVED the decorated fishing boats in NE Java. And the fishermen were mostly REALLY friendly.

IMG_5476

IMG_1656

A stop for the night at Gillyang. The village kids followed us back from our walk then helped us drag the dinghy into the water. We had to then drag the dinghy out over reef as far as the fishermen in the background before we could jump in and start her up. One of the many joys of cruising. On the evening of 9/5/16 we finally arrived at Singaraja to extend our visas, from there we plan to go to Lovina. Long trip down from Thailand but we were happy and surprised to be able to sail as much as we did – BONUS. Once we extend our visas we look forward to catching up on some rest, some boat jobs and checking out what the North of Bali has to offer, before continuing to Australia.

Categories: Indonesia | Leave a comment

N Thailand 2 Chiang Mai

IMG_1605

Woohoo Happy New Year Chiang Mai style. The lanterns and fireworks reflected in the moat. Some lanterns wound up in trees. Great fun.

We took a scenic bus ride from Chiang Rai city to Chiang Mai city, arriving the day before NYE. We decided to find a place in the city centre; which is surrounded by a moat and still has the old city “gates” standing. We’d heard that’s where the main fireworks would be and we wanted in on the action. We took a walk around the city enabling Graham to locate a nearby golf course and me to take note of the massage joints. We feasted on Thai curries and the next day, NYE, Graham got himself warmed up for the action with a game of golf while I tried out one of those massage joints.  (Note a trend here!) New Years Day we woke without hangovers and decided to repeat the previous days’ activities!

IMG_4662

“Hey I wonder if those little bungalows are for rent?”

IMG_4676

Turns out they were…and just in time as it’s beer o’clock.

On the 2nd Jan (can’t believe a new year) we hired a bike and set off for the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) just outside of the city.  First up we had to find a bed which wasn’t as easy as we had thought. We had hoped to stay at the ENP but the rooms were fully booked.  There weren’t any signs for accom – plenty for the various nature parks, but just as we were getting nervous about finding a bed for the night we spotted these bungalows on the river. We went to the nearby resto and used our limited Thai and by now excellent charade skills to ask if the bungalows were for rent and if they owned them etc. In no time at all we had a cute little bamboo and leaf bungalow on the river for $10. Woohoo. Not even a squat toilet – but the hardest bed you can imagine – if it hadn’t been so cold it would have been softer to sleep on the bamboo floor – Graham said it would be good to play ping pong on! We have waited SO long for this visit to the ENP. Although we originally arrived in Thailand with plans to ride an elephant, after learning how they are”tamed” we decided against it and chose a different option for our elephant encounter. Here we felt we could do some good and still make contact with elephants. I have 250 photos to sift through so I am going to make a separate post for the ENP where I can store my photos offline and share with our family and friends (not the whole 250 obviously). I will also see if I can upload our precious video of “Baby Elephant rolling in Mud and Farting…very loudly”.

IMG_4655

We dumped our bags and went exploring on the bike. We stood on a bridge and puzzled about what these rafts were for. Later on while having sundowners at the hut half a dozen tourists went past on them like SUP’s.

IMG_7968

MAE HONG SON LOOP

After our day with the elephants we set off elated in search of our next bed. We had decided to do the Mae Hong Son Loop with our little 125cc bike. Graham wore the day pack on his chest, I loaded our main pack on my back (it wasn’t that heavy since we were wearing almost all of our clothes), and we stuffed a few bits and pieces under the seat. And we were off; up the very windy hills in search of stunning scenery, hilltribe people, yummy food, new friends, adventure and of course cold beer. Part way up the hill we were losing light and pulled into the Road View Hotel for the night – we haggled away for a good price and scored a REALLY nice room. Ahhh the bed was so comfy. Next morning we were so excited to get going we could hardly wait for the mist to lift, we piled ourselves on our little bike rugged up in all our summer clothes, donned our helmets, and used socks as gloves (it was FREEZING) and were off. We both regret not asking someone to take a photo – we must have looked a sight – we cracked ourselves up just looking at each other quite regularly. This loop has thousands of curves and hairpin bends and for the most part is a good road. There were some potholes on the way up to Pai, our next stop. This is a really cool laid back Rasta Village. They have the BEST markets we have ever seen – and that’s coming from a couple who hate markets and shopping. The stalls themselves had a different array of goods (instead of the usual repetitiveness), and the whole market had loads of items we had never seen anywhere else which was refreshing. It’s open air on the roads at night, (instead of cramped) so Graham didn’t constantly bang his head on things. Lots of yummy street food – we enjoyed curries and chai to warm ourselves, played pool and listened to live music in the evenings at various bars. Took the bike for rides during the day.

IMG_4923

It was late in the day and we were keen to get off the bike and wander around Pai so we grabbed the first place we could find. The hammock on our verandah was a hit, and the rail was good for drying some hand washing but we weren’t into the shared bathroom over in the paddock, so we found another bed the next day. This was our only shared bathroom the whole 2 month trip in our budget accom.

IMG_4935

We heard about this place called “The Canyon” so we went to check it out. The first part was easy to walk out to but to get out to the really cool parts was a mission. There were some really really narrow parts, slippery parts and parts where I needed a helping hand to get up. I have to say at one point I was ready to turn back but Graham urged me on and I’m glad he did. We never did get back for sunset but heard it’s meant to be spectacular. The scenery was great, and we really enjoyed the physical challenge. By the end of this day out we were filthy.

IMG_4962

Next day another early start in search of adventure. But first we needed to fuel up – thick toast, a couple of boiled eggs and some piping hot cuppas on the side of the road out the front of our new accom (Pai In The Sky) and we were off. We rode past rice paddies, through quaint villages, and went in search of waterfalls

IMG_4953

Went to a traditional Chinese Village where they had mud houses, and a tacky castle…I challenged Graham to archery and managed to retain my title, then we went up a hill and sipped chinese tea and looked out over the village.

IMG_4969

Then back on the bike, through more rice paddies and villages and suddenly in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere we stumbled across Isara Garden – a funky little cafe and guesthouse in amongst the rice paddies and fields. The woman even had a beehive.

IMG_4970

Peeling off the layers as the day heated up…down to his blue wiggles shirt (aka sunsuit) and only one tshirt. Looking very relaxed.

IMG_4973

I’m not sure if the day pack has slipped down or he’s just excited about his bike ride. He was really loving those hairpin bends on the bike…me not so much. We really enjoyed Pai but it was time to leave as we had a lot of hairpin bends to round. We staggered out onto the street for another early start and found piping hot noodles for breaky, green tea and a little fire in a bucket which we totally hogged. We set off but had to pull over twice just to warm up with a coffee. The early morning mist makes for some great photo ops but we were freezing. I was wearing 3 tshirts, 4 long sleeve shirts, 2 pair of bike pants and 2 pair of long pants (all summer wear of course), socks on my hands (and feet) and my sarong wrapped around my neck. Graham had on all his clothes plus a red shirt we picked up at a “used clothes” stall in Pai and the raincoat (for warmth, no rain thankgoodness). We both wore surgical face masks just  to keep the chill off. Graham was in front copping most of it, at least I could snuggle behind him.

 IMG_4976

4 seater crazy swing..how does that work? Feeling like we are on top of the world.

IMG_4981

The scenery on this ride is fantastic, unfortunately the skipper didn’t pull over as often as I would like for photos – he was enjoying the windy road too much. We stopped at a guesthouse and met this SA guy who was cycling around the loop – and he was also going up a hill and doing an extra bit we had decided not to do as “it would be too much on the motor bike” – we had already lifted the front wheel off the road twice trying to get up some hills. Of course after talking to him we extended our route, and kept bumping into him on the way round. Wow what a mission on a bicycle! We stopped for lunch at a little place next to Wat Huai Pha (which was interesting to walk around). Great views and one of the tastiest pad thais around.

IMG_5004

Made it to Mae Hong Son (the capital), and checked into the Jongkam Guest House which was near a lake (helps us navigate if we are near water). Took the bike up the hill to the Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (temple) for sunset and decided the view was actually so good we would return for sunrise. Sunrise was spectacular and you just felt like you could step out onto the clouds.

IMG_5030IMG_5032

After our “floating on clouds” morning we set off on a day trip to Ban Rak Thai – a little Chinese Village situated on a lake fringed with tea houses. The scenery along the way was once again breathtaking. We walked around the lake in search of lunch – pork leg in a bowl of broth was popular but not a fave for us…we ended up back where we started and ordered a pretty plain meal before heading back to Mae Hong Son. Made up for food that night with a scrumptious curry from a local market (not the tourist one, so it was super spicy as we like it). Sat beside the lake and watched the world go by sipping hot green tea soy latte – YUM!

IMG_5023

Not often Graham grabs the camera to take a photo but this time was an exception. We thought the clouds looked so cool.

IMG_5077

Next morning we were up bright and early once again to brave the cold and head up into the clouds.

IMG_5093

Then we were off on our longest day trip yet – 164km to Mae Sariang. We had planned on a shorter ride to Mae Lanoi but we blinked and missed it. The scenery was changing – fewer rice paddies and more bush. Still good roads (mostly), friendly people and of course plenty temples. The very first guesthouse we stopped at was within budget (whoohoo – sometimes it takes a few attempts to find one  or just plenty haggling). We were tired from our day and didn’t feel like haggling. The shower was piping hot – dare I complain too hot since the last few had been freezing – which soothed the aches and washed off the dirt and bugs. After a little rest (we’re getting old) we went in search of a drink and found ourselves a lovely little bar with views over the river and cool jazz playing in the background. We pulled up a dentist chair (all sorts of odd furniture to be found) and rested our feet on the balcony while watching the world float by on the river. Finding a cheap feed was a mission and we thought we were being given a bum-steer when directed to the bus station…no they weren’t telling us to get out of town, there really was delicious pad thai to be found there.

IMG_5092

Mae Sariang is where we had planned to turn off and head back to Chiang Mai, instead we extended our bike hire for the third time and continued SW to Ban Mae Sam Lab. SO GLAD WE DID THIS.

IMG_5105

IMG_5108

We headed over the bridge to Salawin NP then turned left about 4km before it. The scenery started to change…as did the condition of the road – the last 10-15km was either badly damaged or no bitumen at all. The road was steep and boggy in parts – Graham pretended we had a dirt bike instead of our little road bike. The villages became more “authentic” as we neared the Salawin River….bamboo sticks and leaf huts….all covered in dust from the road. People were super friendly despite the language barrier and seemed surprised and happy to see us.

IMG_5120

We finally arrived at the boat landing, on the Yuam River at the Thai/Myanmar border – pretty low waters atm. Had the WORST lunch ever and have absolutely no idea what it was – Graham tried feeding his to the dog under the table while the shop keeper was busy wrapping betel nut in leaves for his customers. I think it was a bit too authentic here. We managed to make it up the hill and back to base in Mae Sariang by 3pm, more than ready for another hot shower and cold beers.

IMG_5125

Next day we checked out of our hotel and headed for Mae Cham, 152km away. Once again it was freezing cold and we had to pull over after 90mins for a hot cuppa and a defrost. People would often motion to us that we needed a jacket but Graham insisted we were fine as it was only for a couple of hours each morning then conditions were fine – and I would have ended up with the jackets in the backpack for the rest of the day. We drove through a pine forest and then land cleared for farming, that looked like giant patchwork quilts for miles. Although another long drive this one seemed easier – perhaps due to the ever changing scenery – kept our minds occupied. Not so many hills and we made good time, arriving for lunch. Having not had enough of the bike and thoroughly enjoying the road as we came in Graham took off for a ride on his own while I indulged in a well earned massage (hard work carrying that pack on my back). The whole trip we had been looking for hill tribe experiences (without going on a commercialised tour). A few times we rode through ethnic villages but at Mae Cham markets there were loads of hill tribe people selling their produce and going about their shopping all dressed in their lovely bright ethnic costumes (and of course I didn’t have the camera as we were only going for breaky!). We didn’t see any other tourists and felt like this was an experience not to miss so we hung around for a couple of days. We ate breaky at the market – hot broth, the hugest plate of fried rice with fried egg on top for $1. We visited a local weaving shop – Tin Tok Art – the prices were VERY reasonable, and it helped out the poor and disadvantaged by encouraging them to keep their art and culture alive and giving them an income.

IMG_5128

No idea which of the 13 villages of Ban Thap we are in but we found cold beer, “lunch” and a view.

I’m not even sure how we heard of Ban Thap, a nearby subdistrict of 13 villages, but since the area was so scenic we decided to leave the packs and head off into the hills and see if we could find it. Well who knows since there were no signs and google wasn’t really helping us, but we enjoyed the ride anyway. We were looking for a resto in the hills with a view – the best we could find was a little shop where we bought a cold beer and packet of crisps – which the very friendly shop keeper opened and served to us in a bowl with tomato sauce on the side (the crisps were like shoestring chips and we later discovered the sauce comes in the bag – we thought it was some novel way they had thought of to eat the crisps).

IMG_1620

We made it safely back to Chiang Mai handed in the bike and flew back to Bangkok – this trip was coming to an end all too soon. In Bangkok we stayed at The Krungkasem Srikung Hotel, near the train station (making transport to and from the airport easy)and decided it was time to check out Khao San Road – I think you have to do it but we wouldn’t want to sleep there (or try to).

IMG_1621

My 3rd time of coming across critter dinner and I finally worked up the courage just to photograph them – beetles, worms, slugs, frogs, scorpions and of course tarantulas. Ugh those big hairy tarantulas really freak me out. We were wondering if they were just there for the farangs (tourists) and if the store keepers sniggered when the farangs actually ate them – but we met a local lady who not only told us how the tarantulas are one of her favourite delicacies but also how she goes out and catches them. Ugh my skin crawls just remembering! Time to return to the Nap, finish off our hardstand jobs and sail down the Malacca Straits while there are still some NE winds around. Time to make our way back to Oz. See most of you at the end of 2016.

Categories: Thailand | Leave a comment

N Thailand 1 Chiang Rai

amanda-1057_thumb.jpg

We arrived at Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport five days before Xmas. Took the free shuttle to the Suvarnabhumi airport (level 2 between gates 2 & 3 – 1 hour trip – just show your boarding pass/ticket), which gave us our first  glimpse of Bangkok – what we saw looked tidy and modern and we were surprised and impressed. From there we flew to Chiang Rai. Yiha…waited over 2 decades for this.  We booked into the B2 Night Bazaar Hotel…fortunately there wasn’t any noisy night market on site, it was peaceful, modern and VERY clean. It felt fancy after most places we had stayed – we even got a swipe card instead of a key! Next morning we were up bright and early for a wander around to find breaky. We stopped at an open air Muslim Resto for curry and this became our fave breaky spot. Mmmmm nothing like a spicy curry for breaky to warm you up and get your day started. We took a wander around and found the traffic easy and the people friendly.

IMG_4396

We rented a scooter and took a ride out to the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

IMG_4398IMG_4388

Beneath the “bridge of the cycle of rebirth”….The hands symbolise unrestrained desire..and here I was thinking they were coming up from hell and screaming help!

IMG_4391

After crossing the “bridge of the cycle of rebirth” you come to the gate of heaven guarded by two creatures who decide the fate of the dead. Even Graham enjoyed this “temple”.

IMG_4401

Nearby KhunKorn Falls. We finished the trip in a lot less time than we’d planned and decided to go further afield.

IMG_4402

IMG_4407IMG_4405

And so it was up into the hills of Doi Chang. So picturesque….coffee and tea plantations…lovely roads for the bike. Wished we had brought the pack so we could overnight. Anyway this wet our appetite for a greater adventure on a bike. We returned to Chiang Rai (the city) for a couple days so Graham could play golf, Amanda could get massaged and we could both get drunk and play pool at the Cat Bar while enjoying some live music. Been a while since we have done that! Great fun. Christmas eve we rented another bike and took off northwards into the hills of Doi Mae Salong this time. Although dry season the vistas were still stunning. We both thoroughly enjoyed the whole trip, and for a change Graham was more than happy to keep pulling over to take in the views and snap off a few shots.

amanda 1110

Doe Mae Salong Village Tea Market Area…so colourful and can sample tea and local wine (we opted for the local wine of course…too sweet).

amanda 997

Good roads and sculpted tea plantations abound.

amanda 982

Typical village. They may not all have a tin roof but someone’s always got satellite!

amanda 985amanda 1044

Our guesthouse…we stayed in bungalows out the back for $10 a night, felt like we might go through the floor in parts but it was okay. (Meat drying in cage at back, and market to the right of that). Although we didn’t see many westerners the whole time we were there, 4 travellers did stay next door and we caught up for drinks and chats each evening. Finnish girl, Spanish guy and a Venezuelan couple and us Ozzies made for a great mix and we enjoyed hearing about their travels and homelands, in their various accents and stilted English.

amanda 1085

Christmas Day we woke up, said Merry Christmas, ate breaky then took off on the bike to the nearby village of Tha Ton (which is actually in the Chiang Mai Province). The roads were fantastic for most of the way…Graham was loving those curves.

amanda 1081

We ventured up to Wat Tha Ton for some great views over to Myanmar. Stylish as ever…gosh he’s a lucky man. Still cold and still determined not to buy winter clothes. That’s the Kok River in the back which divides Thailand and Myanmar. The village has changed hands several times as the border moves. A lot of history here as well as beautiful scenery and people.

amanda 1101amanda 1106

While Graham was enjoying the curves with the bike Amanda was loving the old plough and haystacks…and hanging on for dear life.

amanda 1029

Climbed 718 steps to a temple behind our accom for a sunrise photo with half a dozen other quiet early morning risers. It was a spiritual moment…so peaceful and breathtakingly beautiful watching the world awaken below. And then the dogs started howling!!!

amanda 1016amanda 1035

Back down at the bottom the market was bustling away. Akha Hilltribe ladies down with their fresh produce. Pigheads…no thanks. Banana pancakes to go…yes please.

amanda 1122

Christmas Eve we rode the bike to Ban Thoet Thai, a multi ethnic village about 20km north.  Most famous for being the former base of Khun Sa aka The Opium King. We found the Khun Sa Museum and saw lots but didn’t learn much as it was all written in Thai. We did however enjoy the adventurous ride out there and surprised a guide “how did you know about this place and how did you ever find it”. Tried to find Ban Ah Hai (a supposedly picturesque Akha Village) which is only 6km west but it eluded us..maybe for another day.This old guy was whittling away on some bamboo, at first I thought flutes but then he showed me..he loaded a stone in it and “shot the dog”. As it was almost NYE I can only guess it was something to do with that and maybe fireworks of some sort but I honestly don’t know as he didn’t speak English.

amanda 1128

This old lady and her friend were sitting on side of road in a village. I motioned to camera to ask if I could take photo (apparently some think the photo will steal their spirit so it pays to ask). Her friend nodded and was smiling away the whole time but this old lady kept bending down to poke at the dog under the platform. I decided she may be afraid I was going to take her spirit and then her friend said something to her and she looked up. When I showed her the photo she gave the most gorgeous toothless wide grin and a cackle.

Our last evening in Doi Mae Salong we enjoyed a really lovely spicy thai meal at the nearby “bakery”. (Up until then we had been eating average food at the guesthouse, the bakery is only a few steps away). The owner was watching Muay Thai (Thai boxing) on a tv behind a curtain and came out and invited us to join him – I passed but Graham thoroughly enjoyed it.

amanda 1136

On the way back to Chiang Rai city we stopped off at the Black Temple (Baan Dam)! This was surprisingly another “temple” Graham actually enjoyed.

amanda 1141

More of a museum the grounds house loads of animal skulls and hides…

amanda 1146

…and other weird stuff.

We decided on spending our last night just out of  Chiang Rai city at the Akka Hill House. They offer a free transfer out there but of course we wanted to take a bike. Anyone else attempting this be warned google maps was way the heck out in this area. We ended up in the middle of a field looking for our bed under a tree – it was another 10km away! Directions from locals had us zigzagging all over the place so we got to see plenty of the countryside before arriving. It took about 2 hours for a 1/2 hour trip! I think we navigate better on the sea! Well worth the effort though. The surrounding area was beautiful and we stayed in a simple bamboo hut with super views.

Our dodgy balcony with an excellent view. Sunrise was spectacular.

Our bathroom – what a lovely sink. Our first squatter (in our accom anyway). It was clean and the shower was hot so I was happy and the bed had a net to keep out any creepy crawlies thank goodness.

A dodgy bridge which led to …

a lovely little waterfall. We did some great walks. We’d definitely like to go back. A couple more games of golf back in Chiang Rai and then it was time to catch a bus to Chiang Mai for NYE.

Categories: Thailand | Leave a comment

Vietnam

IMG_3861

We survived the boat trip from Phnom Penh and arrived in Vietnam by way of Chau Doc. While everyone else caught a bus and continued on we had decided to stay the night at Chau Doc since it was already 5pm when we arrived. Our Vietnamese was non-existent and we had no map of the town or accommodation booked. When in doubt turn right. We walked along the foreshore for about 1/2 hour and only found one hotel – where was the “hub”. We finally decided to accept a ride with a 100 year old man on a bicycle rickshaw. The seat looked like it would hold one westerner but we somehow managed to squeeze our backpack, daypack, me and Graham in it – once he concertinaed his long legs in we were off. We daren’t move – not even to dig out the camera – I laughed at Graham perched like a frog all the way to our guesthouse and wished we had a photo. We stayed at Thanh Nam 2 hotel – cheap and clean and comfy with a balcony overlooking the street.

IMG_3868

Next morning we took a bus to Can Tho and like everyone else we visited the floating markets next morning. Have to say floating markets were a bit of a let down (think we have just had too long in Asia and spend so much time at markets doing our weekly shopping it wasn’t such a novelty). We did, however, enjoy our boat ride and checking out the people living along the river banks.

IMG_3901

We caught a bus to HCM and found a bed near the river (can navigate better when we know where the water is). We were really surprised at how CLEAN this city is. Apart from one insane road we found the traffic to be manageable thanks to traffic lights that most motorists obeyed. For breaky we found pho (the noodle soup) just outside our hotel (for $10 a night we mostly had spacious modern hotel style rooms throughout Vietnam). We went for a couple of massive walks around the city playing tourist and fending off the mobile cobblers – they drove us mad, although I did succumb to one as both the soles of my joggers were flapping around – he glued and stitched then cleaned them for 2 bucks – still we were hassled by them and Graham had new joggers. In the evenings we would find a little street cafe where we sat in tiny kiddy chairs on the footpath and one night we sat next to a local guy who had studied in Australia. Finally – someone who spoke english – even the hotel staff didn’t speak english so we were really struggling around the place. Anyway he helped us choose a delicious meal, which gave us a break from pho. He even shouted us a lovely dessert (which we got first up).

IMG_3895

Checked out a couple museums.

IMG_3907

After a few days in the city we had had enough and wanted some fresh air and a more mellow pace so we flicked open the lonely planet guide to Dalat and off we went. We booked our bus tickets (DIY and save on commission – it’s not that hard) – only bummer was that they only had sleeper buses from HCM to Dalat and we had been warned to avoid them. Anyway we thought how bad can it be if you aren’t actually going to sleep in them – pretty bad, Graham couldn’t even get his knees into his and he was lucky as the cup holder/tray was broken off otherwise he would have had his knees tucked under his chin. We passed some lovely scenery once we got out of the city which was good as it took your mind off the speeds going around the corners. Just like in Cambodia they made comfort stops where you could get off the bus use the squat toilet and order strange looking (and tasting) food… It cracks me up again just looking at this photo – we had such a fun trip, and Graham seemed to have a lot of time with his knees up.

IMG_3915

Anyway Graham was pretty glad I didn’t make him travel in a horse drawn pumpkin carriage. Dalat was lovely, cool, peaceful and situated around a lake that had a few of the usual bits of tackiness but charming no less. We took some great walks around the lake and Graham found golf so he was in his element. I had my dodgiest ever massage! Can’t even go into it. We went on a cable car ride to a temple which was great value and picturesque (I had to keep the fact we were going to a temple away from Graham or he wouldn’t have done it – and enjoyed it). In the evening we put on ALL our (summer) clothes – for me that was 6 tops – long  and short sleeve, 2 pairs of bike shorts and 2 pairs of long cotton pants) and went out for dinner capped off with warm locally made soya milk drinks and cake. I used my sarong as a scarf and fortunately I had brought a beanie for the plane trip – we weren’t expecting to get so cold in Vietnam (der!) After a few days we decided we wanted to rent a motorbike and drive the scenic route north through the highlands and on to Hoi An, but were strongly advised against it unless we went with the easy Riders, due to cops busting foreigners. Graham didn’t want to sit on the back of a bike – he wanted to drive it, so instead we took another wild bus ride down the hills making an overnight stop at Nha Trang. There really was beautiful scenery whizzing by on the way down.

IMG_4003

And the drive became more exciting when the roads got wet and slippery – and then we were kinda glad we weren’t on a bike.

IMG_4020

We got out on one of the comfort stops and checked out a wood carving shop – really cool stuff … but check out the size of this pig!

IMG_4032

We stopped at Nha Trang so we could overnight before catching the train to Danang and then a bus onto Hoi An – most tourists (who seemed to be mainly Russians) venture here for the beach, we were trying not to do beachy things since that’s all we do day to day. The train was comfy but cold. I couldn’t find my face mask so had to improvise. You can imagine the jokes Graham made about my head wear. The food trolley came around but we didn’t know what was on it and the hostess couldn’t speak english so we ventured down to the buffet car in the hope of finding recognisable food or someone who spoke english. We ate lunch with chopsticks and washed it down with beer.  It was a scenic ride for a lot of the way – past beaches and then rice paddies and hills. We really enjoyed the views and it was a nice change from the bus.

IMG_4059IMG_4033IMG_4053

We arrived late in Danang and had pre-booked a room for only the second time – and it was another fizzer – I kept my sarong over my face all night so I wouldn’t have to breath in the mould and to keep the mosquitoes off me (they were entering via a some holes in the wall). My toes kept getting stuck in the holes in the sheets, there was no hot water – Son Tra Hotel, close to the train station but best avoided. We went out for a gross dinner and warm beer. When we got back the receptionist gave me a kettle to boil water for a bath and a plastic bag to stuff in the broken plug hole. The breaky that came with the room was good though – warm scramble egg roll with some unidentifiable “stuff” on it that was actually quite tasty. We were pretty happy  when morning came and we could leave.

IMG_4096

We got off the train at Danang so we could catch the bus for the short ride to Hoi An. We loved it here and didn’t want to leave…kept extending our stay. When we saw this little old lady crossing the road we knew we were going to have some fun. When Graham saw signs for BIA HOI 3000 dong (draught beer for about 20cents) he knew he was REALLY going to have some fun and didn’t want to leave.

IMG_4101

IMG_4109

Hoi An is a quaint little town that lights up at night with candles and lanterns. Popular with domestic travellers as a wedding/honeymoon destination. It was our first real taste of tourism and hospitality in Vietnam – everyone spoke English so we had more success communicating which helped heaps, the temperature was just perfect, we scored an excellent room in a guesthouse with balcony and fridge for $10 a night, we rode bicycles ($2/day) through the rice paddies, visited the beach, Graham found golf – I had nice massages, we found our best food here (we each lost 3kg in 3 weeks in Vietnam living on pho – we didn’t really enjoy the food until we came here)…can you tell we REALLY loved it here. The only thing that didn’t improve were Graham’s tiny cups of lukewarm coffees – in fact they got worse when at our breaky joint they came out stone cold with a tea light candle underneath to heat them up! Haven’t these people heard of a kettle…as usual my tea was hot and in a big cup, and I don’t know why he didn’t switch to tea this trip as it became a standing joke with us. After breaky I would leave Graham waiting for his coffee to “boil” over the tea light candle while I popped back next door to our room to pack our daypack and organise the bikes.

IMG_4193IMG_4244IMG_4238

IMG_4183

Scenic bicycle tracks through the rice paddies enroute to the beach.

IMG_4163

It was fascinating watching these little round boats come in and go out through the surf.

IMG_4209

One morning Graham went to play golf. Our guesthouse owners invited me next door to a relatives wedding where I was taken in like one of the family, a space made for me at the table and a continuous flow of vietnamese tea. Only one lady there spoke English (which contradicts what I said earlier about everyone speaking English), but I was used to miming to have conversations. Everyone was super friendly and I think they thought I was a movie star as I had to appear in all their photos, and then they invited me back to the “real” party with booze and stuff but I didn’t go as I couldn’t figure out how far away it was and how I would get back. I never did figure out what the mannequins were about. And the bride wore red!

IMG_4224

I went to a traditional tea house where the staff were all mute/deaf – they gave me pencil and paper and some little blocks that said things like “cold water” “thankyou” etc. It was a pleasant (and different experience). Graham didn’t come of course – he played golf and then met me at a pub!

IMG_4228IMG_4232IMG_4231

IMG_4273 - Copy

We really didn’t want to leave Hoi An. And I kinda wished we hadn’t gone that particular day as when we got to the train station back at Danang to get our tickets (as usual no planning just make it up as we go along) we were told there was only one “soft seat” left. So soft seat is actually a  soft seat, and you are in a  nice carriage, have a/c (should be heating) and a different food arrangement to those in the hard seat carriages. Guess where I was – in the hard seat carriage (since i carry my own natural padding I said I would take it). Unfortunately this was going to be our LONGEST trip to date – about 12 hours! In my carriage we had the 2 seater wooden bench with 3 of us in it and 90 degree wooden backrests. For my a/c we opened the windows which I thought I would prefer over a/c anyway but our window was jammed open a couple of inches from the bottom and it rained most of the way. Fortunately the kind lady opposite me gave me her rain jacket to stuff in the gap as I was down wind and copping the rain and bitterly cold air (which got colder and colder the further north we went and). Graham came down to check on how I was doing (and see if I wanted to change seats). He got such a shock when he saw the conditions and had to trudge through 3 carriages to find me wedged in my cramped seat, pressed against my broken window, wet and cold and still smiling. He wanted a photo but I couldn’t budge to get the camera as I was completely hemmed in with passengers, and their freight and luggage. There were bodies in the aisle and under seats on straw mats – some people had overnighted like that. Anyway he said “so long as you are alright I have to go back to my carriage as I think they are serving champagne and strawberries now”. He came back a while later to complain about how cold the a/c was in his carriage and let me know the seats weren’t as good as the last train we went on, and that a lady was sitting next to him eating dried squid (smelly). I couldn’t even feel my seat by then, and we had worse things than dried squid being consumed in my carriage. On Graham’s way back I noticed he high fived a group of old men who must have thought he was pretty cool.  Everytime the train stopped (which was often) I had to help raise the window up so the hawkers that didn’t come on the train (some did and everyone seemed to sell the same junk anyway) could shove their wares through the window while the ladies around me haggled and bartered away. Gosh we wish we had a photo as that was unbelievable (we haven’t been to India yet). I was so relieved when after 5 hours he came to say the carriage had emptied out a bit and there was a spare seat next to him – OMG cushioned seats never felt so good. It was an experience though.

IMG_4304

We got off the train at Vinh so that (god forbid) we wouldn’t have to sleep on it, and next morning we stopped for hot tea and tiny cold coffee – with ice cubes in it this time – at the cafe with all the train conductors. The owner wanted a photo of Graham as he seemed like a giant to them. I must say his height comes in handy when you are in the crowds and trying to find something, as he can just peer over the top of everyone. It was really cold here, Graham had taken to wearing his rashy as a skivvy under all his layers as it was of no use here for swimming.

IMG_4337

We finally reached Hanoi – which we found to be dirtier than HCM and a heck of a lot colder. The traffic was a little more unruly and we saw 2 motorbike bingles in 2 days at the same intersection! We slept in a different bed each night as we hadn’t booked in advance and it seemed that everyone else had and they had booked our beds. At night we had to beg for extra blankets, sleep fully clothed and still we were cold. We decided not to bother with trekking in  Sapa or exploring the highlands when we heard it was snowing up there! Instead we sorted our Thai visas and hunted around for the best BIA HOI spots which we decided were on an intersection so you had plenty of street entertainment while you were trapped in your tiny chair on the footpath, shivering away and trying to keep warm wearing layers of summer cotton clothes and consuming vast amounts of really cheap draught beer. We know we could have bought winter clothes and drank hot coffee…but then that wouldn’t really be us would it? We only wanted carry on bags and have no further use for winter clothes – might be best to come back mid year next time when it’s warmer.

IMG_4342IMG_4349IMG_4350IMG_4357

View from our tiny seats on the Bia Hoi corner. Great place for a cheap beer, entertainment and to meet fellow travellers, buy a hat, gloves…or a mop and bucket off a bicycle. Someone arrives with a little burner and some tubs of food and sets up a little “restaurant”..until the real restaurant behind opened up and shooed her away. We had planned to take a bus through Laos and then into Thailand but we were running short on time – still had a boat to get back to, finish off and then sail to Bali before the winds turned…otherwise we could have continued with our backpacking adventure a little longer. Laos isn’t going anywhere, but with 60 day Thai visas in hand we were. Northern Thailand here we come.

Categories: Vietnam | Leave a comment

Cambodia

IMG_1574

After a fast trip down to Langkawi to renew visas and stock up for the hardstand, we made our way back to Phuket as quickly as we could. On a nightsail we decided to anchor up after we had hooked up on pots in two separate occasions and then eventually snagged a net with one of our daggerboards…not realising immediately…and dragging a fisherman in his little boat while he was trying to hang onto his net. Flying along under full sail we had to quickly hove-to, furl in the headsail, then Graham tried to lift the daggerboard to release the net (and said fisherman) while Amanda tried using her limited Thai to explain to the fisherman if he could give us some slack then the net would just fall away. But with a big toothless grin he held on tight and continued to pull. When we finally set him and his net free he had a LONG row back to his village (sorry about that – but lights would have allowed us to notice him and his net). After slogging it out in the heat on the hardstand in Phuket here we are happy and relaxed having just arrived at Siem Reap to start our 2 month overland trip…and away we go. Off to our first guesthouse The Angkor Reas” – one of only 2 beds we booked in advance when arriving late, (the rest we just found as we went along). I wish we had a photo of this room – it was unbelievable. Great location, lovely pool and while I’m sure most rooms are probably fine (according to trip advisor), ours was an absolute dump. We are NOT fussy people, we only need a bed (thankfully the bed was awesome). Seriously this room looked like it was being demolished – lights, fan and switches were ripped out of the wall and ceiling leaving gaping holes all over the room, the basin in bathroom was ripped out, the door handle broken off, toilet missing cistern lid, and so on, but what really concerned us was the sign warning us we would be fined if anything was missing from the room, with a charge beside the items slippers (none), remote for tv (none), hair comb (?) etc etc, who knows what they would charge for missing lights, doorknobs and sink as they weren’t listed. We weren’t taking any chances and raised our concerns at reception and then went off in search of dinner – scored with a tasty curry and FREE beer!  Bright and early next morning we went in search of new digs and found the Siem Reap Drop Inn just a few doors down – excellent and only $10/night which was our budget per night (we were pretty successful for the whole 2 months, and always had our own bathroom – except once). Nearby we found our favourite breaky haunt – (Khmer Taste) where we enjoyed $1 scramble eggs/omelette and toast with tomato and cucumber.

IMG_3345

Some other breaky choices…

IMG_3349

Frogs and baby turtles (or are they tortoises?)…

IMG_3348

…quick this one’s getting away

IMG_3352

We were both really moved by the photos and stories told to us by our guide Tom at The War Museum. Tom talks first hand of his experiences as well as providing you with a lot of historical information about the Khmer Rouge.  At 14 the Khmer Rouge took him (and some mates) to fight and clear the way (from mines). He lost his left arm from shrapnel. It was hanging like a rag until his friends “anaethetised” him with only some marijuana before removing his arm completely with a bit of wire – the same wires used to  trip the mines. To this day he doesn’t know what happened to his family. He is one of many volunteers and he said he does it to educate people and and begged us not to let this happen again to his people. In 3 years, 8 months and 20 days 1.7million people died. Not all by bullet – to save a bullet babies were thrown in the air and caught on a bayonette, people were buried to their neck and then driven over by tanks…and so on… and then there was all the horrific tortures. Tom said there are still a million landmine victims alive today and no Govt assistance. As they are deformed/disfigured work is hard to come by, and they are looked down upon. Tom speaks excellent english and hoped to work in a hotel but they wouldn’t hire him with one arm.

IMG_3357

Tom said there are still mines near the Thai border – they can be seen via satellite. It costs $10,000US to remove each one. Some mines were made from plastic so they can’t be detected. We were pleased to hear none are Australian made. The above shells were recycled to be used as very heavy prosthetic legs, when the plastic legs ran out. Graham and I were very moved by our tour of this museum and we both learnt a lot, and I had tears pouring down my cheeks on three occasions. We read some history books beforehand but Tom made it so real. We HIGHLY recommend a visit to this museum.

IMG_3380

We were given a tip – go and get your temple tickets the day before as only so many are sold on the day (someone even said they didn’t sell them in the morning – don’t know if that is true). Our driver took us to the ticket booth after the war museum, and killing fields tour. We then did sunset on the banks of Angkor Wat.

IMG_3390

Siem Reap Drop Inn

IMG_3396

Our driver Cal Vinklein!!! Each time we returned from a wander we found him a sleep in his hammock strung up  across his motorbike cart. At the end of the day we wandered around for a half an hour looking for him! Take a photo of your driver, there are hundreds all looking the same! (Ours had actually gone away – supposedly to do an oil change!)

IMG_3397

You can get a one day or a three day pass – Graham wanted to know about a 3 hour pass (not really into temples). You can go by bicycle or the motor bike cart (forget the name) – I am so glad Graham drew the line at bicycle – we would have melted.  We got another hot tip – if you aren’t joining the hordes for sunrise at Angkor Wat don’t start there first thing in the morning, as about 2,000 people are all pouring inside. Graham wasn’t keen for a sunrise thing (we did that at Borobudor) and after seeing someone’s photo – hundreds of hands and cameras in the scene – neither was I. So we went to Angkor Thom first, then the Indiana Jones temple and finally Angkor Wat (the only down side was it was noon by then and pretty hot outside the temple – but we did manage to avoid the hordes all day – and it was cool enough inside). Now to cull the 2,000 temple shots….

IMG_3440IMG_3469

Hah Graham the navigator – another dead end!

IMG_3481

Tidda and Fran I don’t want to hear any bigfoot jokes. These steps were REALLY tiny…

IMG_3484

…and steep and plentiful…many people were half crawling up and down – me included.

IMG_3495

 Indiana Jones Temple (Ta Prohm). Everyone waited ages to take this shot – waiting for some Japanese tourists to “get out of the photo”.

IMG_3512

IMG_3567

And no temple tour would be complete without the monks…the boy monk was playing a flute just to add to the ambience…the ones I cut out of the photo were playing with their smartphones.

IMG_3601

Last but not least Angkor Wat and he’s still smiling…cos it’s time to go. Back home in time for me to have a massage and for Graham…to sit on  the balcony at “home” and enjoy a cold beer and watch the crazy goings on in the street.

IMG_3492 So many rules when you go to the loo…you see footprints on the seat regularly, the last two are no using the bum-gun to wash your feet or have a shower.

IMG_3629

IMG_3633

One day Amanda played tourist and went on a free tour of a silk farm while Graham played tourist and drank beer around the pool.

IMG_3655

We did a night out on Pub Street – the name says it all. Graham was challenged by another bloke to help him eat one of the giant tarantula’s from a street cart – he ate a leg! I was too freaked out to take a photo and didn’t want to stick around and watch the guy eat the big hairy body. Ugghhh!! Okay so I am not completely over my arachnophobia and I can’t say this helped.

IMG_1583

Next we were off to Battambang for our Vietnam visas. These buses are cold (hence the scarf and beanie), lots of people coughing (hence the mask – but also helps with the cold air on throat), these buses are also noisy due to karaoke videos – we took earplugs!

IMG_3715

Getting our Vietnam visa in Battambang was a piece of cake. While we waited for it we enjoyed walks along the river and then a cool down in a riverside a/c coffee shop. We even stayed a second night so we could look around a bit more and plan our next move. Found the Sky Bar with great views and cheap drinks and food – recommend it.

IMG_3668

Not sure if they are selling baby corn or baby and corn at this street food cart. Note flames at back for boiling the corn.

IMG_1590

I think that’s a dessert bowl my margaritta came in. Tasted good though. Note my $2 razor haircut – why do I call it that? Because she cut it dry with a razor blade – freaked me out! The lopsided Bindi fringe freaked Graham out.

IMG_3669

Come on there’s room for plenty more boxes.

IMG_1592

Can’t have everything…filthy street but at least it’s crowd-hassle-free! (It’s actually the market).

IMG_3844

Typical street scene from one of our balconies.

IMG_3735

You want me to walk across this road? (BTW Six on a bike is a record we have seen twice in Asia). We travelled through Cambodia with capitol Tours and found most the buses to be quite comfy, very cheap and consistently about 1/2hour late to depart yet most arrived on time. We passed through some real slum areas just before hitting the capital. We thought we were pretty hardened to poverty by now but were so stunned by some of the dwellings I didn’t even think to get the camera out. Then suddenly we were in the capital. We stayed at the Okay Guesthouse near the river and when we wandered down we found ourselves in a mega crowd – it was the water festival and there were fireworks and a heck of a lot of people. We secured a seat in a rooftop bar and enjoyed the view from there.

IMG_3751

We visited an old jail that now housed a museum…

IMG_3753

IMG_3781We spent a lot of time walking along the river – it was easier than trying to walk around the streets. On the morning walks we saw the tuktuk drivers out the front of our accom still asleep in their vehicles or just waking up and doing their teeth and hair. So hot, no fans and all the mozzies it must be awful living in their tuktuks.

IMG_3799

It wasn’t only tuktuk drivers living in their vehicles/their livelihoods. There were bodies sleeping all along the riverbank and in the streets. We saw whole families asleep on fold up chairs – saw a kid asleep in a closed beach umbrella – this later opened up and shaded their street stall. There were families who were selling caged sparrows. People bought them and released them, then the kids would try catching them again to sell.

IMG_3829

Then it was time to get on a long narrow boat and take the trip down the river to Chau Doc, Vietnam. We had to change boats near the border and the second boat was wobbly as well as being long and narrow – the driver would keep turning around and telling people to get back in their seats – you could feel the boat rock side to side as people moved around. Have to say it was rather unnerving. We we could tell how unstable the thing was – but some people just didn’t get it. Tune in next time to see if we survived the dodgy boat ride to Vietnam!… Love to all. Amanda and Graham xx

Categories: Cambodia | Leave a comment

Family Catchup in Phuket

IMG_2481

Ko Ta Bai needs a closer look next time – I kayaked up to the cave and it’s huge – but what’s with the little house perched on the rock (someone was actually there lighting a fire!)

IMG_7560

The crew enjoy sailing again – Sasha doesn’t even notice she’s slipping off her bean bag bed. Leaving Phuket.

Graham finally returned 6th November and we spent a couple of days catching up and relaxing together before hoisting the sails and making our way back down to Langkawi, (for visa reasons). Gosh it was lovely to be sailing again. Spent a week in Ko Lanta, Graham tee-ing off on the driving range and Amanda sipping Margueritta’s on the beach (I went for a massage but it was raining and this bar looked really cool…and…it was still relaxing). We hired a scooter as usual and discovered a few new spots, and Amanda was actually allowed to do some driving (down dirt tracks) and Graham even hopped on the back this time – brave! Wow maybe I will get my own scooter next time! We started at the northern end of the island and by the end of the week we’d managed to sail down the the southern end and it was time to move onto the Butang group for some snorkelling. Did loads of snorkelling, kayaking and beach walking … it felt like another honeymoon (even though we had a few jobs on the boat to tinker with). 25th November we arrived back in Langkawi late arvo, did our fastest clean up, restocked with fuel, water and food, had a quick catchup with Tim and Megan (a couple we met out in the Solomons) and cleared back out on the 27th. Why so fast? Because we were due to meet family in Phuket on the 1st December, and because of the 30 day visa we were leaving our Thailand arrival until the last minute so that we could spend Xmas and NYE in Thailand too. In fact we were so fast we didn’t even have time to think about changing our clocks and consequently sat onboard for an hour waiting for the clearance offices to open on our departure day (meanwhile they were already open due to the time difference). Our first day heading north we made it to Ko Ta Bai – a little island just south of Ko Phetra. There looked like some cool caves/hongs to explore but we arrived late and left early so it’ll have to wait for another day. We arrived with a day to spare before catching up with the family. Graham’s Mum, Dad, sister and our 2 adorable little nieces had 3 weeks on Phuket and stayed in a gorgeous resort in Karon Beach so we made full use of the facilities and had a lovely catchup and felt like we were on holidays too.

DSCN1920

We loved having the family onboard for a few day sails. Our adorable nieces Ava and Ellie had a ball. They are like a couple of fish in the water. We enjoyed some Aunty & Uncle bonding time when they had sleepovers with us. Ava (8 years old) jumped on Graham’s paddle board and was off on her own no probs, while Ellie (3 1/2) hitched a ride on the kayak with one of us. They were swimming under the boat and we took them snorkelling for their first time to spot fish and starfish and anytime we went somewhere in the dinghy Ava drove…really well actually! Just before bed we slipped in a Fairies dvd (don’t ask why we have this onboard) but it turned out to be “fairy dancing” so on went the fairy headbands and out came the pointy toes and pirouettes (SO CUTE). One evening Graham spied some squid around the boat so out came the jig…and of course Ava wanted a go…I don’t think Uncle Graham really thought she would actually catch one but she caught several – the first one squirting the boat and all of us – especially the girls who had just had their shower! Uncle Graham soon learnt that he should assist in getting the squid she caught on board! We really enjoyed having you all on board and especially our Aunty/Uncle time which we’ll never forget. Lots of laughs! Thanks for coming. xxx

IMG_7524

Ava got the hang of the dinghy straight off….

DSCN1900

…Then it was onto bigger boats!

IMG_7512

We really enjoyed sharing your resort!IMG_7541

We celebrated our wedding anniversary with Graham’s folks and all went out for an Asian Buffet, with Thai dancing & a Muay Thai (Thai boxing) demo. The food was out of this world….I followed this with some spicy prawn soup (Tom Yam Kung) & then all sorts of delicious curries. I’m salivating again just remembering.IMG_7557

Then it was time for farewells and ice-creams and elephants!?! Huh! After dinner one night we stopped into a cafe to squeeze an ice-cream in and this little elephant came up and befriended us. She was so gentle, watching where she put her feet (near Graham’s) and her trunk waved over the table – we were sure something would get knocked over or squashed but she was so graceful and so aware…Shortly after this shot she took off through the adjacent undercover market at a pace. It was hilarious from our angle…woulda been a bit nervous had we seen her charging toward us in said market – the walkway was narrow & low!

 

Categories: Thailand | Leave a comment

Phuket 2nd Vego Festival 2014

WARNING SOME OF THE FOLLOWING PHOTOS ARE NOT FOR THE FAINT HEARTED..2nd VEGO FESTIVAL PHUKET 2014IMG_1379-2_thumb_thumb.jpg

Okay so this is not one of the photos I was warning you about, but I have warned you.

Graham went back to Oz for another 2 month stint to work on our house while Sasha and I stayed in Phuket on anchor. It was nearing the end of the SW monsoon and as the weather was swinging it was a little hairy at times and we had to move the boat as the weather came in hard from different directions. (When I say we – Sasha doesn’t really help out that much but she is part of the crew). I chose Phuket this time as the Vegetarian Festival was on while Graham was away – in fact they held two this year (more about that later). My last anchorage was at Ko Nakha Yai and I loved it there (adjacent to where I dropped Graham off – I was only moving in a tight circumference seeking shelter). I spent my days walking around the island, kayaking and keeping the waterline and chain clean (barnacles grow so fast here). The painting and sewing jobs were behind me (I’m not just a lady of leisure while Graham’s back in Oz slogging it out!) There’s a small Muslim village here, about 60 people I was told.  The people were so lovely and friendly even though I only met  4 that could speak english. The first morning I went in to walk, as I went past this tiny “restaurant” the ladies were having cuppas and motioned me over, I motioned back that I would finish my walk then stop for a cuppa. This became a morning ritual, and we would sit and smile at each other for 1-2 hours and I would watch all the going’s on, while sipping my 10 baht (app 30c) cup of “cha” (tea) – with endless hot water refills (I’m now making 2 cups of tea per bag onboard). Between them they had about as many english words as I have thai words – though I learnt a few more while there.  But my absolute highlight was meeting this old fisherman called Norris – he had great english so I chewed his ear off each time I saw him, and I think he liked practising his english with me. He had one of those smiles that lit up his whole face and he was very entertaining and interesting. He is a fisherman and he explained all about his nets and the tides…and gave me bags of live blue swimmer crabs (which I haven’t had in years) and whole baby sea perch (which I panfried up straight away and devoured in one meal – so sweet). He wouldn’t take any baht for these gifts, so i baked him and his family some banana muffins and picked up some extra limes and fruit when I went to to the market on the mainland.

Just briefly, for our records, the Vegetarian Festival began in 1825 and is held each year on the ninth lunar month in the Chinese Calendar. This year there were two 9th lunar months which is rare (the last 182 years ago and the next in 95 years), so they had 2 festivals. It all began when a travelling Chinese opera company who performed for the tin  miners in the Kathu District on Phuket caught an illness and then kept to a strict vegetarian diet to honour 2 of the Emperor Gods. The sickness then disappeared. The local people asked how it was done and so became the Annual Vegetarian Festival, where I believe they now worship 9 Emperor Gods. It’s not just about about vego food – there are all sorts of rituals, like welcoming the gods who descend on a big pole that’s erected at midnight, processions of gods images, and the Ma Song perform amazing feats like blade walking, bathing in hot oil, fire-walking and the one I came to see – the facial shall we say “piercing”. The Festival is loud – as the firecrackers and drums are sounded to drive away the evil spirits, and smoky (from the fire crackers). It is so ALIVE. Shame Graham missed it, but I held off until the 2nd one in the hope he’d return in time. Boy it was a mission just to get to town to see it. I had to hitch a ride to the nearby Mosque to catch the bus into town the day before – turned out I missed the last bus. I managed to then hitch a ride with a father and his young daughter…on the back of their scooter, out to the main road. They wanted to take me all the Phuket town judging by the motions and only words I understood “Phuket Town”. But “no thankyou”…not through all that traffic on the back of a scooter as the 3rd person with no helmut! As we were discussing/charading this option a local bus (songthaew) came along so I was able to make my escape.  Once in Phuket town I found myself a little room for 300baht ($10), grabbed a quick shower then went out for a bite to eat and a couple beers…and a chocolate bar before returning back to my room to get some sleep, ready for an early start. At 0530 I made my way down into the street, haggled with a motor-bike taxi and was off. It was cool making our way to the Kathu Shrine, people were setting up tables and offerings along the roadside, and bikes loaded up with people and giant skewers were whizzing past so I knew we were on the right track. I was getting excited. On arrival there throngs of people dressed in white and I wasn’t really sure where to go first. i soon worked out when I saw one of the Ma-Songs enter the main temple (they are possessed by spirits and display supernatural powers and acts of self-torture throughout the festival). Okay so this is where it gets a bit gruesome…IMG_2411_thumb_thumb.jpg

By the way…this was the only one I saw wearing surgical gloves. I did however notice some people using toilet paper to mop up any body fluids (it wasn’t blood – there wasn’t any blood!) So the Ma-Song enter the temple by charging in making a lot of noise, slap their hands on the “altar” and are then dressed by their “handlers” (for want of a better word). They then proceed outside to another little altar and slap their little whips and chant a bit before sitting on a chair for some facial skewering. Mostly you don’t see them flinch. I noted a few had fresh scarring from their recent piercings at the first vego festival – about a month earlier.IMG_2409_thumb_thumb.jpg

 Yow! That’s gotta hurt!

IMG_2424_thumb.jpg

I could keep posting more…but you get the picture. I actually got to the point where I had to leave as I feeling squirmy. Suddenly there was a lot of firecrackers going off and the parade began.IMG_2437_thumb_thumb.jpg Noisy and smoky – if you go to this take earplugs and a face mask! I decided to walk with the parade into Phuket town. This took a couple of hours and it was so hot. IMG_2446_thumb_thumb.jpg They light the firecrackers and hang them over the “god idols” that they carry. There’s a lot of noise and smoke and finally an extra loud bang when all this red confetti comes out. IMG_2472_thumb.jpg He’s been walking for over 2 hours, and now he has to turn around and go back to Kathu Shrine where it all began. It is middle of the day and stinking hot…and no shoes! IMG_2435_thumb.jpg

Categories: Thailand | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.