Tag Archives: Travel

Scotland, Aye!

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With Jessica off for two weeks at Easter and Aaron off for the Friday and Monday.  We decided to head up to Scotland with a couple from the house we stayed in when we first got here.  After Aaron finished work on Friday at 17:30 so we rushed to Kings Cross station in North London to catch our 18:15 train to Edinburgh.  We made it with time to spare and we can say the first leg of the train was nice, but when we had to switch in York then things got interesting!

As soon as we got on the next train we saw 5 or 6 young Scottish guys sitting with a whole bunch of 12 packs.  From that moment on we knew it’d be a rowdy carriage.  The guys were quite and reserved at the beginning, even gave a beer to Jess, but as we went further into the black of night it got loud.  First off it was louder and louder talking and then an iPod playing to accompany.  Soon it turned into chanting and singing.

There were ten bombers in the air,

There were ten German bombers in the air,

There were ten German bombers, Ten German bombers,

There were ten German bombers in the air,

And the army from Britain shot one down,

And the army from Britain shot one down,

And the army from Britain, The army from Britain ,

And the army from Britain shot one down,

There were nine German bombers in the air,

They subbed in Scotland half way threw and did a few numbers a couple times. It was entertaining, but towards the end of the four and half hour train it was unbearable.  Even when the train arrived in Edinburgh we couldn’t escape their chanting as we could hear it throughout the train station.  Eventually we got away and wound up at McDonalds for a quick late night supper before our search for the apartment we rented for the weekend.

The couple we went with, Scott and Raphael, took the bus from London and got there at 1900.  They didn’t have any issues finding the apartment and now at 23:30 we were going to attempt to do the same.  We were on the right trail, until Jessica had to ask a guy who turned us around the same way we came.  Then we asked these two girls who told us we were going the right way!  Oh boy!  Once we finally arrived, the apartment we rented really WOWed us and Scotty and Raph too.  It was a good size, really well equipped and had a home feel.  We can’t remember the name of the company, but we found it on Edlets.com.  Highly recommend it.  To stay here it was cheaper then a hostel and way cheaper then a hotel.  Plus we could cook our meals.

On top of Carlton Hill

On our first full day in Edinburgh we wound up walking up and around Carlton Hill.  Where you can get great views of the city, although not as good as Arthur’s Seat, and see some cool sights.  Now an extinct volcano, Carlton Hill has an unfinished replica of Athens’ Parthenon called Edinburgh’s Folly, Nelson’s Tower for an even better view, a Portuguese cannon, the City Observatory and a few other things.  It would be a great place to take in a sunset or rise.  After that we wound up walk to the National Portrait Gallery and learn about some famous Scottish people.  To finish up the day we wound up walking around almost aimlessly, but sort of towards the Royal Botanical Gardens.  When we finally did arrive it was closed and we wound up at a pond full of swans and other types of birds.  The last few breathes the day had left, we spent here before heading home to cook dinner and relax.

The following day we had our eyes set on Edinburgh Castle, but had a few distractions and we got there in the late afternoon.  Sited on top of an extinct castle as well, Edinburgh castle provides great views and natural defense too.  In fact, it had such good defense it was never taken over from one single attack (the only way it switched hand was by waiting their water and food supply out) and no army ever got past the 3rd or 4th gate of 7.  There is a lot see here including the Scottish Crown Jewels, the 1 o’clock gun, and the National War Museum of Scotland.  One cool thing about the 1 o’clock gun is traditionally they set off 12 cannons at noon for the ships, however the Scots being cheap on set off 1 at 1 o’clock.  Does the same trick, costs less cannon balls and gives them more time to eat haggis.

We were a bit rushed touring the castle as we had a ghost tour booked at 17:30.  A bit of a shame giving the ticket of admission is a steep £14.50, oh well.  Now the ghost tour I don’t have much to say on that, it was interesting at time but ultimately boring I thought.  Jess enjoyed it and it was sort of neat being in the underground roads/passages of the city.  Earlier in the day we had plans to cook a big Easter dinner and erase our memory of the terrible movie Rob Roy with Braveheart.  We went to Lidl, got all the fixings for supper and headed home.  Everything was going smoothly, the pork roast was in the oven and supper was only a couple hours away.  Until Jess checked on it and noticed the oven was on broil.  Here we had a crispy top with a pink bottom.  Fast forward to around 23:30 and we finally ate a la super rich.  Dinner was fantastic, but maybe not for the wait we had to do.

The Forth Bridge

The following morning after our late night, we had to rush to the city for our Scottish Highland tour with a company called Hairy Coo.  On a suggestion from a teacher Jessica knows, the Hairy Coo runs their tour for FREE!  All they as for is a tip for what you feel the tour is worth.  This deal is great considering most companies charge over £40 for a day trip to highlands and you don’t even get to ride in bright orange buses like the Coo’s.  It was our tour guide, Nicola’s, first tour with the company and she did a great job aside from hitting a pheasant.

The Forth Road Bridge

This tours first stop was at the Firth of Forth where we saw the Forth Bridge an iconic cantilever bridge for trains and the Forth Road Bridge which is a suspension bridge.  Next stop was the National William Wallace Monument, located on top the hill which is where Wallace supposedly watched King Edward I gather his army before the battle of Stirling Bridge.  The monument looks like a Gothic style watch tower that over takes the treed landscape.  After the Wallace Monument, Nicola took us quickly to short look at Stirling Castle and then on to highlands.  Just before the highlands we stopped at the only lake in Scotland, the only lake you ask.  Well it’s the only lake in Scotland that is referred to a lake, the rest are lochs the Scottish Gaelic word for lake.  Not a 100% on the background, but it has something to do with the English on why it’s called Lake of Menteith and not Loch of Menteith.

Lake of Menteith

Almost as soon as we drove a bit from Lake of Menteith the scenery changed pretty dramatically.  What once was fairly low lying land was now hilly with valleys and a more colourful landscape.  It reminded us of the Okanagan with a bit more rock, fall colours and not as green.  It was really pretty to say the least.  After a bit of driving we stopped in a small town for lunch and after a bit of convincing Jess we ate at this on the suggestion of our guide, Nicola.  WOW!  The food here was unreal, they made good sandwiches, pie, burgers.  Out of the four of us nobody had a bad thing to say!  Just full cheeks and big smirks.

Once lunch was done we all piled back on the bus and made our way to see some Hairy Coo’s.  Now you might have asked when you told you the tour company we went with, ‘what is a hairy coo?’  Well it is a hairy cow, just the way the Scottish accent comes out cow sounds like coooooooooooooo.  They are pretty darned cute!  The rest of the tour went pretty quick we stopped at a couple look out points, one other loch, a famous hairy coo in Hamish The Highland Cow, and Duone Castle which is famous from the Monty Python films.

A Hairy Coo!

Overall, all four of us thought the tour was great and a good alternative from the cookie cutter bus tours out there.  Something we would recommend if you are ever in Edinburgh.  After we said our goodbyes to Nicola we went to a whisky bar to indulge.  Just a block or two from where the bus dropped us off, we quickly melted into the pub chairs and drank.  We met this gentleman Stevie who was in town from Glasgow watching rugby.  After a while of chewing the breeze he offered to take us to the Scotch Malt Whisky Vaults in Lieth, Edinburgh.  Scotty and Raph had to jet off cause they were going to meet up with a friend and so off we went with Stevie in a cab to this place called heaven.  Now the Scotch Malt Whisky is a members only and is the only place in the world where they buy casks directly from the distillers.

Both Jess and I learned a lot about Whisky here, Jess even got into Whisky!  Some facts about whisky we learnt were to be considered Scotch whisky it must be oak casked in Scotland for atleast three years and one day, they usually use old wine casks to mature now and even ones from the American bourbon/whisky industry as regulations require them to use new casks everytime.  The gentleman we came with Stevie and the bartenders were fountains of information on whisky.  When we were picking out something to drink we soon found out the whiskys here can be a lot more then to 40% you see on the shelf.  Most are inbetween 50% and 60% however there are some in the +70% range.  So it’s not unheard of for some people to water them down, as they do have water on all the tables here.  Whisky can vary a lot cask to cask and for a brands like Glenfiddich, Macallan, Glenlivet, etc they dilute it with water and use colouring to give it a rich and consistent appearance.  We soon asked the questions well why not cask a whisky and leave it there for 50, even a 100 years.  Every year the cask loses about 1.5-2% a year of alcohol and volume which is known as the angels share.  If you leave it too long you’ll have nothing left and also anything below 40% from the cask is not known as Scotch whisky.

Inside the Scotch Malt Whisky Vaults

After we got schooled in whisky we ordered up a round and some beers and then another round and some beers.  Soon it was last call and time to leave.  We said our thanks to Stevie and parted ways.  That was the end of our last full day in Scotland!  On our last day, we had time to kill until 15:30 when our train left for London.  Scott and Raph were staying an extra day since they didn’t work Tuesday  and Scott has a cousin in Edinburgh.  Our train ride should have been easy, however somebody wanted Subway and we were left with little time to get to our platform.  Running around like a mouse in maze we found our train platform through the construction mess of Waverly Station as our train was leaving.  Well, atleast we live in a major city and the next train was in 30 minutes.  We found some unreserved seats on the train, didn’t get a fuss from the ticket collector, all in all it was good end to Scotland and a quick 4 1/2 hours back to London.

There is another long weekend on the first week of May and Oslo might be the plan.  We’ll report back in then!

Cheers,

Aarissca

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Break On Through To The Other Side

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This holiday season, as usual, came quick and flew by even quicker.  The week before Christmas Jessica had off from teaching and we spent the week getting ready for the holiday season.  Buying gifts, wrapping gifts and gallivanting around London.  The by the time the 23rd of December rolled around we were heading to Kent with Jessica’s cousin Helen, her husband Andy and her 12 year old son Ben.  They live north of London in Sheffield and drove down and picked us up.  For Christmas 2011 we were going to spend it with The Bakers, Andy’s side of the family, in Kent.  A quick little 1 hour drive south from the bustle of London and you are in the quaint county of Kent.  It is called the garden of England, so you can imagine how nice it is.

It starts to get dark in England around 4:30pm, so sadly when we were driving to Kent we didn’t get to take in any of the beautiful country side.  Once we arrived at Andy’s parents, they quickly sat us at the table and fed us fish pie.  As far as traditional British food this has been our favorite so far.  Chicken tikka masala is the national dish of the British and probably our favorite, but we don’t think it really counts as real British food.  As much as we got sick of eating out on our travels leading up to London, I think we turned a corner and became sick of cooking every night.  It was great to be served great meals for the 4 or 5 days we stayed.

The days leading up to Christmas we explored Rye (Paul McCartney lives here), Hastings and Bodiam Castle with our tour guides Helen, Andy and Ben.  Both Rye and Hastings are small cute little towns.  We walked around Rye first popping into a few shops here and there.  Then we headed to Hastings where we looked in a maritime museum, walked along the ocean, had some really good fish & chips and then headed back.  Really massive difference in the way of life in England outside of London.

On Christmas day, it was just the usually suspects at the Baker house for gift opening and dinner.  It was a great spread for dinner, getting hungry thinking about it again, and the only real difference from Canadian Christmas dinner was their Christmas pudding for dessert.  Which is pretty much just a fruit cake they drench in brandy, light on fire, blow out and then serve with brandy butter or custard.

Everyone at the table kept on asking us if there were many difference between British and Canadian Christmas, but we couldn’t see any besides dessert.  However we couldn’t for the life of us land on the traditional  Canadian dessert.  Jessica thinks it is pumpkin pie while Aaron thinks it is fruit cake.

Helen and Ben skipped town on boxing day and went to Malta for a vacation.  While the rest of us held down the Baker’s house for the influx of guests.  Andy’s brother and sister came over for the day with their families and it was a lively day.  Kids running around, Christmas gift opening, play with the new toys (this air cannon was the star), Jessica snoring in the corner and board game playing.  It was an exhausting day to say the least!  After a well deserved sleep we packed up, said our thanks to Andy’s parents and hit the road for London.  Our flight was leaving early the next day for Amsterdam and Andy was going to crash at our place and drive us the next day.  Once we got back to London, Andy headed out to explore while we…well Aaron packed for the trip.  When Andy came back we all headed to the pub for supper and a few pints.  The following day Andy graciously drove us to the airport and off we went to Amsterdam, which was less time then flying from Edmonton to Calgary.

Once in Amsterdam, we had a bit of time to kill before we could check into the hotel.  Around town we went searching to exchange our Sterling pounds to Euros and eventually found out banks in The Netherlands don’t handle physical cash or exchange money.  Only those dodgy looking Western Union kiosks do, oh well.  We shopped around for a bit for the best rate and then hoped for the best.  It was almost nearing check-in time so we headed to the hotel and got all checked-in.  The apartment-hotel was beautiful, could not have asked for more!  Modern decor, big gas stove, lots of room and comfy beds.

During our time in Amsterdam we checked out a lot of museums.  On day 1, in the morning we went to the Van Gogh museum where they have a large collection of Van Gogh’s work, paintings that inspired him, paintings he inspired and some of the paintings he and his brother Theo collected.  We easily lost track of time in the musuems three floors of beautiful paintings and interesting letters between Van Gogh and Theo.  You get a real sense of Van Gogh from the museum.  Next we jetted across the street to the Bols Experience, where they have a little museum on the Bols alcohol brand.  Which is the oldest distillery company in the world.  The real highlight of the Bols Experience is the free tasters and 1 cocktail of your choice.  A stiff drink was the perfect ending to a museum day, Jess went with the Original Collins and Aaron the Holland House.  We both had known the Bols brand back in Canada, but just thought they produced that blue liqueur in the weird shaped bottle.  However my friends, they produce mainly Dutch Gin, almost 40 kinds of liqueurs and that weird shaped bottle is highly engineered for bartenders.  All in all it was a cool place.

Day 2 involved going to the Rijkmuseum and taking in some beautiful Dutch Golden Age paintings as well as fairly large Asian collection.  The Dutch was a super rich country back in the day.  Continuing with our drink after museums tradition, we went to the Heineken Experience after.  Touring the original factory, taste testing, interactive ride and finally enjoying a few pints.  Again it’s just what the doctor ordered!

All of a sudden it was New Years Eve and we had not made a plan on what to do!  After much researching and looking around we found a place that hadn’t sold out.  For the stroke of midnight we went to this nightclub call Rain.  Which was packed, but did have a disco dance floor.  New years day we were all hurting and just wound up watching Wallace and Gromit.  However the next day we went with Rachael to the Anne Frank museum which was really neat and we were glad we went early.  The queue  here was huge by the time we came out.  I don’t know what it is with Amsterdam, but buy your tickets online and beat the lines.  They are ridiculous.

The last ‘big’ thing we did in Amsterdam was go to a place called Nemo’s which is a big science center.  We were expecting it not to be so kid oriented, but it was still a good time.  They had soap bubble stations, this chain reaction-domino show every couple hours, science lab, ball factory and a bunch of other pretty neat stuff.  The novelty didn’t last too long and we probably spent more time on the roof looking at the panoramic view of Amsterdam.

As soon as you knew it, we were packing our bags and checking out!  With some time to kill before our flight we wandered around Amsterdam, having a sit for dinner, taking some photos and did a canal tour.  All in all Amsterdam was a success.  It’s a really world class city with lots of sights and things to do!

Brilliant Music Scene

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We recently picked up a weekly magazine called TimeOut: London, which we first encountered in Mumbai, that keeps you up to date on what’s going on in the city from arts to plays and everything in between.  This is where we came face to face with how many quality bands play London.  Now obviously it makes sense being a world class city, but it still boggles our mind.  You can honestly find a concert you’d like to see everyday of the week.  The amount of good bands playing here is in that large of quantity.  Jessica soon saw The Secret Sisters were playing here (we saw them at the Edmonton Folk fest this past August) and Aaron saw a local act King Krule that interested him.  We didn’t end up going to any of those two, but we did break the London concert ice by going to the English dub step producer James Blake’s concert the following week.

The venue James Blake played in was a unique old theater with high red ceilings and Roman looking art work done in gold.  It was a type of venue you would not find in Edmonton or even Canada for that matter!  The show was good, a young London based band named after the Amsterdam park, Vondelpark, opened up and put on a good show.  James Blake set was good playing his major hits like The Wilhelm Scream, CMYK and his cover of Canadian artist Feist’s song Limit To Your Love.  His music is mostly electronic ballads that carefully build up in intensity, so the crowd vibe was not high energy.  Some people were even sitting on the floor!

Rapper Big Daddy Kane sporting the infamous hi-top fade.

Once the concert bug bite, we soon went to another concert this time to see Toro Y Moi.  His music wasn’t Jessica’s cuppa tea, but he plays an lo-fi electronic/pop, garage, chillwave type genre.  If that makes any sense to anybody.  Sometimes at these show, especially the indie/hipster crowd, people watching over takes the show.  At the Toro Y Moi show there was this tall guy with a huge hi-top fade that would make 90’s hip-hop artist green with jealously.  This guy just happened to get the front middle spot for the show too.  His head and hi-top rose  above the crowd like a mountain peaking through the clouds.

After we bought some drinks we tried to make our way to the stage and wound up pretty close to the guy with the hi-top fade and his buddy.  Out of the corner of our eyes we peaked over at them here and there and noticed they were huffing and passing a paper bag back and forth.  Some peoples children.  All the openers and Toro Y Moi put on an enjoyable show.  With that second concert it sort of started a Wednesday date night tradition for us.  Where we have tried to do something special every Wednesday to spice things up a bit.  Other then that it’s the same old, same old in London.  We moved out of the Guesthouse into a place her son rents out down the street and it’s been nice so far.  We only have 2 roommates, a washing machine, kitchen to our selves pretty much, our own private bathroom and shower.  Can’t complain!

Toro Y Moi in the flesh

What Aaron was trying to take a picture of

One last thing, at our new place the bedroom window looks onto a small backyard and one day Aaron saw a bunch of birds lined up on a roof. Wanting to take a picture he quickly ran out the basement door and started clicking away through the gap between the wood gate and stone fence in the backyard.  When all of a sudden somebody yelled ‘there’s a pervert’.  Just thinking that this pervert must be somewhere down the street or something, Aaron continued taking pictures.  Then he heard it again, so Aaron put down the camera and saw a group of 6 or 7 people walking down the street.  Someone in the group asked ‘where?  where?’ and at that moment Aaron made eye contact with the boy who cried pervert.  Sorry mom, the pervert was Aaron.  Quickly Aaron yelled at them ‘no, no, no, no I was just taking pictures of the birds up there’ and pointed to the roof.  The group of them collectively looked up, went ‘ohhhh’, said sorry and continued on walking.

The shot that got Aaron called a pervert.

Here’s a song by each band we went and saw if you are interested:

Pip, Pip, Cheerio

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As we write this blog entry, a quick 3 weeks has already passed in London and more like 3 months since this was posted.  Our plane touched down in the afternoon on October 31st and after a long immigration line plus a wrong train we finally arrived at our guesthouse!  With a 5 and a half hours time difference and a 1am arrival, it made for a really long travel day.  Right off the bat we made friends at Mrs.Wilson’s Guesthouse by opening the door for Kat, a Aussie, who was coming back from hockey forgot her key.  In our brief late night chat, we talked with her about living in London and soon found out she is a teacher also.  After our talk with Kat, we all went up the stairs to retire for the night.

Before we set off to Japan, we never set up shipping for our proper clothes to get to London and obviously we didn’t take care of it during our travels!  Here we were in London stuck with hot weather travel clothes and nothing really fit to work in.  The housemate we let in the previous evening, Kat, had the day off from work and offered to take us around to do some shopping in Lewisham, a borough of London.

View from Greenwich Park

First stop was a store called Primark where they have decent looking clothes at an affordable price.  For 31 pounds Jess bought a pair of dress pants, a sweater, some dress shoes and just like that she was ready for her orientation tomorrow.  We also did a bit of grocery shopping before we headed back to the house.  The place where we are staying at, Mrs. Wilson’s Guesthouse, is an old English house with 11 rooms.  In total there is about 15 people staying in the house and let’s say things can get a little crazy during supper time with only one kitchen!  Overall we have been happy here aside from the lack of fridge space, but we manage.  Located in a part of London called Greenwich (pronouced Gren-itch) we are rubbing elbows with some of the rich and powerful of London.  It’s not the expensive area in London, but it has lots of upper class Londoners who like how close it is to the city yet it feels far away with it’s open green spaces.  Greenwich park is absolutely beautiful and only a 5 minute walk from our doorstep.

On day two in London, Jess had her orientation at 10am with the agency she is working for.  It seemed simple on paper get on the train at Westcomb Park, take it to Cannon Street, then get on the underground and we should be there!  Unfortunately, it quite didn’t work out that way in practice.  Once we arrived at Cannon Street, quickly we became disoriented as we couldn’t find the route to the tube station (lots of construction is going on to the underground for the 2012 Olympics).  With luck on our side we asked the right (I’m sure UK spell check will turn that to proper) Londoner as she was heading in the same direction as us, but walking.  Running a bit late we hustled with our guide and quickly found it wasn’t a very far from where we were.  Once you get into the city, London is a very walk-able city as everything is relatively close.

One of the resident foxes in Mrs. Wilson's backyard

Eventually we got to Jess’s appointment a bit late, but it was better late then never!  After she did her orientation and all the formalities we went to open a bank account.  With her letter from the agency saying she has a job off we went to the bank to open an account.  We went with HSBC and they have this, what seemed cool at the time, little device called a secure key here.  It looks a like a calculator, is almost the size of a credit card and it’s propose is to protect you from online banking fraud.  When you enter your details to log-on to your internet banking everything is the same except there is one extra step.  Where you have to turn on your secure key, enter your PIN for it and then it generates a 6 digit code you have to enter into the computer to complete the log in process.  How it works is, your secure key will generate a specific code at certain times of the day and HSBC’s servers know this code.  Your internet banking account is linked to the secure keys serial number on the back, so it’s unique code.  It is a little annoying to use in reality although.  Opening an account took another couple hours and next was seeing a company that will take care of Jess’s taxes.

In the UK it is your employers responsibility to file your taxes every year.  So in Jess’s case since she is a ‘contractor’ in a sense she needs to hire a company to do this for her.  Sort of sucks since they take a percentage of her pay, but it’s needed.  That was the last thing we did on day two aside from getting a pay as you go chip for Jess’s phone.  You have so many choices for cell phone providers out here and it’s pretty cheap.  A lot cheaper when you compare it to Canada, that’s for sure.

The rest of the week we spent just getting used to where we are and settled in a bit.  We also checked out London’s National Gallery on the weekend and WOW!  They have a huge and diverse collection.  In total they have 40 or 50 rooms with over 2,000 paintings and large collections of famous painters.  It will take anyone numerous visits to take it all in, thank goodness it’s free admission.  As a matter of fact almost all the museums in London are free, it’s just the special exhibits museums host that charge an admission fee.  Like the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit the National Gallery is hosting right now.

An afternoon in Greenwich Park

By the time Monday morning rolled around on the next week, Jess was all dressed and ready to go teach!  She got five days in for the week, knocked some socks off and did it all in the same Primark outfit!  That weekend a housemate, Koorri, was celebrating her birthday so the house cooked up a feast with chicken parmi’s (crazy Aussie lingo, Chicken Parmesan in English) as the main event.  After we were all full and merry from Rachel’s cooking, we stuck around the house for a few drinks and then headed to the train in dramatic fashion to go out.  Most of the housemates came out and danced the night away in the city.  The next day was slow moving in the house with a lot of laughs over the pictures taken that night.

Our luggage was enroute during week two in London, after some technical difficulties and with the help of Aaron’s parents & his friend Jeremy.  In perfect condition out luggage arrived on Friday right before Koorri’s birthday, so it was really good timing!  Thanks again!  Excited to now have more London appropriate clothes, Jessica was ready for another week of teaching and couldn’t wait for Monday to roll around.

Or maybe not, since on Monday she slept in and didn’t call into work to see if they had any work…opps.  They eventually called her with something, but she used the old I have a Doctor’s appointment.  We used that stolen Monday to get some some errands done and tried to head to the Doctor’s to register for a NHS number to make the day off look legit but it was closed.  The NHS number is exactly like your Alberta Healthcare number, but in England it’s country-wide.  For the remaining 4 days Jess woke up on time, sort of, and worked the rest of the week with varying success.

The Imperial War Museum

Aaron during this time as been applying for jobs in the morning and then being a tourist in the afternoon.  He’s seen the Remembrance Day celebration, The Imperial War Museum, The National Maritime Museum, a couple National Gallery’s and just strolling down in the city.  This next week he’s been told by two parties to stop looking for the perfect job, so potentially he might be educating children as a teachers assistant.  Keep your eyes on the news for updates on that.

Aside from that you are up-to-date on London!  We are in full stride now, but still not used to flicking the light switches the opposite way and looking the wrong way when crossing the street!

-Aarissca

Bombs Away, Bombay!

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Thanks tips!

Everybody we talked to about Bombay on our travels said skip it, garbage, crap, hell hole and few other words we shouldn’t repeat.  With only a week before our flight to London and tired of moving around we opted to ignore the negativity and stay 7 days in the city.  No Goa, no Taj Mahal, no Rajastan, just Mumbai (okay this is where we turn Bombay to Mumbai).

We landed in Mumbai mid afternoon with nothing booked and not a clue.  However after a quick talk with an ex-Jaguar worker, we hopped in a cab to Mumbai’s Colaba area where most tourists stay.  Now, the drive from the airport was a wild one!   It was full of honking, motorbike weaving in between cars, and non-existent lanes or traffic lights.  We didn’t keep track, but the drive probably took over 2 hours.  Which is crazy when it’s only 25 kilometers at most,  Edmonton international to the north side is about 50km to put it in perspective. Once we arrived in Colaba, we now begun our search with the driver for the hotel we were thinking of (and can’t think of it now!).  Then out of the corner of our eyes while we were scanning side to side, we saw a sign for another hotel we thought we would check out, Hotel Moti International.  In what seemed like a good location we said ‘STOP!’ to the driver and got out.  We toured the room with the owner, Raj, and decided it was good for us.  Mumbai has real estate prices as high as Manhattan in some areas (mainly the Colaba area), and we figured 2,500 rupees (about $50CAD) a night was a not bad for where we were.

Police Officer on Colaba Causeway

Raj, gave us some great tips on where to eat, what to do, what not to do and so on. Every single restaurant suggestion of his we tried was great. There is no doubt we ate great for cheap in Mumbai, you’d struggle to spend 10 dollars on a meal for 2. Our meals usually came to 300-600 Rupees, so about $5-11 CAD for two. Out of Raj’s suggestions Olympia & New Laxmi Vilas were our two favorite for Indian dishes. The famous Leopolds was good too, a little more expensive, but still cheap in Canadian terms.  The shopping was pretty good on Colaba Causeway too.  Lacoste, United Colours of Benetton, Nike, Puma, etc all had shops and most prices were a lot less then back in Canada.  We both picked up a couple things each.

On the first day of Diwali (Big Hindi celebration in India), we were walking to get some sweets to give to Raj & his family for the Hindi celebration and a man came up to ask if we wanted to be in a Bollywood film. It was one of the things we wanted to do, so we listened to what he had to say. Everything seemed to be in order, except he only wanted males for this scene. Discouraged, we walked away after giving him a ‘no thanks’ but then turned around and said we’d do it…well Aaron would do it. He told us be out in front of the McDonalds tomorrow morning at 8am (last time I was told that the hamburgler robbed me blind). After our Bollywood casting agent encounter, we made our way back to the hotel with the sweets in hand for Raj.

Rolling out the 5,000 fire crackers

The Diwali celebration is the most important celebration for Hindu’s and we don’t know all the details of it.  However we do know it involves a lot of fireworks & firecrackers and we aren’t talking crowds taped off, 20 minute display.  Diwali is in the street right in front of you, ‘oh my god you almost hit me’ and ‘he just got hit in the eye’ type of fireworks.  It is chaos for days, at all hours of the day.  We spent the start of celebration at the hotel where Raj, his family and the hotel staff lit lots of fireworks and this big roll of 5,000 firecrackers.  Once that roll was done it felt like your ear drums were pushed inside your brain.  Once the festivities at the hotel were over, they gave us some sweets (none of the ones we gave to Raj, what’s up with that?) and then they retired back to their place.  That night we just ended up walking the streets, with ear plugs in of course, watching little boys and girls light fireworks.  Then eventually retired as well to rest up for the 8am Bollywood adventure.

On the following day, we went down to the McDonald’s for 8am and waited around for a bit. This was a hint of things to come! They piled us into this bus with shot shocks and that wasn’t a good combination with Mumbai’s cobble stone & rough roads. After a long drive we arrived at the movie studio and we’ll leave it at it was no universal studios. Off the crappy bus and into the crappy studio we all went. All 15ish of us extras sat in a big, dirty, empty room on plastic lawn chairs, while we waited to goto costumes and makeup.

They pulled us to get suited up in groups of 4 to 5 at a time and played a sick, sick game with us foreigners.  A team of 3 and two racks of the worst knock-off clothes you’ve ever seen was the costume room.  If you were wearing shorts and sandals they gave you a whole new outfit with the pull of the lever on the clothes rack slot machine.  Maybe you’d get baggy jeans with a middle finger patch on them, a worst then pleather jacket, or some ballin’ wigger shirt.  These 3 people I’m sure loved in that they were making us look like douche bags.  Aaron got off pretty lucky, they just gave him a pleather jacket and a guitar necklace.

Watching the show at the hotel

Next up, was the hair and makeup room.  Equipped with hair gel and hair gel this is where they massacred poor Aaron.  At first all Aaron got was a bit of powder on the face and a few strokes of a comb.  Then while he was standing around the Indians started talking loud and pointing at him, not exactly sure what they were saying and what to do Aaron just gave a WTF face.  Eventually they sat him down again and pulled out the number one weapon in their arsenal, hair gel.  Gobs of it, inhuman amounts of gel plopped on Aaron’s head and then they proceeded to slick his hair back.  One half of Aarissca is glad there is no pictures of the Bollywood adventure, more on why later.  We still aren’t sure why they were yelling and pointing at Aaron, but it might have been he didn’t look douchy enough or maybe it was his travel facial hair scruff.  We will never truly know.

Once costume, hair and makeup were done they sent us down to the set which was suppose to be a London night club.  Now we’ve never seen a London nightclub (at the time, of course), but this place we were sure was nothing like one.  It resembled Peewee’s Playhouse on drugs with lots of crushed velvet, but not real crushed velvet…that would be too expensive.  A Brit in the group of douche foreigner’s later confirmed, ‘the director of this movie is a golly-wag.  This looks nothing like a London nightclub.’  All us foreign and Indian extras stood around on the set for a while with no real clue as to what was going on.  Bored with time to kill, rumors started to create and float around ear to ear.  The main one was this scene is taking place in a gay bar and that was totally plausible as the only females on the set were 2 bartenders.  There was probably 40 foreign and Indian extras on the set…oh god what was half of Aarissca’s Bollywood debut going to be?

The infamous Leopold's Cafe

Eventually the stars of the film appeared on set and did their fake ‘hollywood’ hugs & kisses to different important people on the set and the last little bits of their makeup.  The main star was Akshay Kumar who is one of the biggest Bollywood stars and is doing a movie with Russel Peters!  When they were finally ready to do some shooting, the scene began with 2 actors walking down some stairs into the nightclub.  All of us extras were suppose to be full of energy having the time of our lives…with no music.   This was really hard to do.  The scenes we shot before lunch with the actors went well as they didn’t need many takes, but after lunch is where it turned ugly.

When we came back from lunch, they finally allowed the girlfriends, wives, daughters, etc on set after a lot of discussion with the security guards.  The ladies were all sitting on the staircase the actors walked down in the scene we shot before lunch and they were all snapping pictures while nobody was watching.  Then during one of the breaks to change the set,  Aaron came over and someone on the set caught Jessica taking a picture.  Here we were, looking down seeing people on the set talking on radios and looking in our direction.  Eventually a lady came over and asked us to delete the picture.  So Jessica thinking she was all sly and deleted just one picture then cycled backwards through the camera to show there were no more.  This lady was not going to be fooled that easily and asked to see the camera because she knew her trick.  Needless to say the camera came back empty, oh well.

Up next, they were shooting the scene with dancers on stage in the nightclub.  This would have been fine if dancer number 6 didn’t keep on screwing up.  Every take all you would hear from the director was something about how bad number 6 is.  At least with these scenes they had music playing, so it wasn’t as hard to be’ high energy’.  However, it quickly became annoying hearing the same 15 seconds of some Hindi song 25 times.  Hiya, huya, piya, fiha, bleh.

Crows chilling in an alley

Dancer number 6 finally pulled his dancing legs out of his @$$ and we wrapped up a little after 6pm.  All in all we seriously shot 30-45 seconds for the movie, pretty sad.  Right after they called a wrap, we went up stairs and returned our high quality costumes to wardrobe.  However Aaron got to keep his 3 pounds of hair gel!  Right after we were all returned to our normal clothes they loaded us back on the bus, paid us each our 500 rupees and headed back to Colaba.  Keep your ears and eyes out for the Bollywood hit Housefull 2 in spring 2012!  When we got back to Colaba, we went out for supper and drinks with a few people from the movie.  Before we all went our separate ways for the night we made further plans to hang out the next day since all our hotel/hostels were close.

The following night started with us Bollywood stars (Brad, Jono, Dustin & Aaron) and a star stuck fan (Jessica) gathering outside our hotel for some drinks.  Quickly the booze was all gone and we all went to a kebab shop to grab a late supper.  This place was a road side restaurant with cheap tables littering the sidewalks and side of the street.  Our food was really good, but we apparently were not.  People repeatedly came over and told us to be quieter.  So in turn we bolted from there as soon as we were done eating.  Next stop was a locals bar called Gokul right by the kebab place.  This place was a cramped, tight, two-story, dingy bar.  However it served cold, cheap Kingfisher and it didn’t scream tourist so it was good with us.

The night in question

Again, we were apparently too loud and the locals didn’t like it.  Two or three rounds of beers and we left cause we felt like we over stayed our welcome.  Dustin & Jono said that was enough and retired for the night while we went with Brad to find a night club.  Everything in Mumbai for night life doesn’t stay open too late and it was past midnight so our choices were in between nil and none.  However, we did get into one dead club for a mojoito and lesson on cricket from Brad.  Indian’s LOVE their cricket, but they wouldn’t let Brad watch the end of the game to see if Australia would pull out the dub.  Once they kicked us out and closed the door on our butts we walked back to Brad’s hotel.  Eventually we all fell asleep in Brad’s room and woke up the next morning feeling rough.

Brad was set to leave Mumbai for Hong Kong that evening so we all just aimlessly walked around Mumbai until it was time for him to head to the airport.  Our last couple of days were pretty uneventful in Mumbai.  We did a bit of shopping, had to move rooms twice in the hotel and that was about it as the night of drinking really put us out of commission.  Our flight to London couldn’t come quicker because feeling under the weather without familiar comforts sucks!  When October 31st came around, we got to the airport and onto our flight without a hiccup.  We were glad we gave ourselves a lot of extra time because India security is really intense with all the terrorist attacks Mumbai has seen recently.  Leaving India was bittersweet.  We loved it there and want to go back, but we were ready to put some roots in the ground.

 

Islands, Thailand, The End.

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After Koh Phangan and the Full Moon Party, we hopped back on the mainland and switched from the Eastern Gulf to the Andaman Coast. Everyone talks about how beautiful Koh Phi Phi (pronounced Pee Pee) is and that was where we wanted to go on the Andaman side. In order to get to Phi Phi we had to drive to Krabi and catch another ferry from there, but as things always seem to go in Thailand we arrived at the port well past the time of the last ferry. As we jumped out of the van at the port, there were tonnes of Thai hustlers yelling at us “you need a place to stay? My friend, my friend good price for you!” Tired from the long day of travel, we decided to look at these brochures and choose a place to sleep for the night, with plans to resume going to Phi Phi in the morning.

Oddly enough the place that we chose to stay was called the N.S. Mountain Resort and had a full on cowboy bar in the middle of nowhere. It was no surprise however, that the only other people staying there were Canadian (2 German girls too, but they don’t count). Animal heads mounted on the wall, staff with cowboy hats, yep that would draw Canadians in wouldn’t it. We arrived at a dude ranch in the dead of night, with a man we just met, in the middle of nowhere. Visions of a slasher movie were galloping through our minds, but we were more than thrilled when the escort to our room revealed a spacious, clean, comfortable, poolside room. In fact considering that this place was a bargain price of 500 Baht ($16 Canadian) a night, we couldn’t be happier and settled in for some much-needed sleep.

Kayaking

The next morning we woke up with the best intentions of heading to Koh Phi Phi, but the hotels hustler wasn’t letting us go that easily. The before you knew it he had us convinced that Koh Phi Phi was just too expensive to go to and he could arrange diving, kayaking, and ocean tours here, with the bargain price for our room attached. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that we kind of got “lost” here for a few days. In fact, every single day we tried to leave we were reassured once again that this was a terrible idea and wound up right in our room again. After having a Aarissca team meeting we decided that if we were going to stay in the twilight zone then we might as well make it worth while and planned to do a few things.
On day 2, we woke up early and met our tour guide at the front desk to go kayaking.  For the tour we went around a few of the limestone islands, into a couple of bays, through a mangrove forest and peaked into a cave or two. Some of these areas were tight and tricky because they aren’t always accessible as the tide plays security guard. Since the tide was still high we were, barely, granted access in and we’ll let you decide on who was the kayak master to get Aarissca out of this conundrum. Maybe say who you think it was in the comments section, and we’ll reveal the hero in the next blog post. We can give you a hint though, ONE of us continued to spin us in circles, and whine how sore their arms were. The other was the master of kayaking and made sure to proclaim “look how good I am at this! I’m the best!”

After we managed to kayak back to where we started the tour, there was some refreshments and once they were done we headed back to our hotel. Our plan was now to try to head over to Phi Phi with the rest of the afternoon left in the day, but again this plan didn’t come to fruition. Later in the afternoon we decided to take a day trip and hopped on a boat from the pier by our hotel a nearby island named Railay. The cool thing about Railay is it’s connected to the mainland, but it’s not.  There are sharp limestone cliffs that separates the two and make it impossible to get to here by land, so now it’s only accessible by boat. A short 20 minute long-tail boat ride (our first on the trip) later we set foot on Railay Beach, ahoy matey! Starving for both food and a sunset view we walked from the East beach where we were dropped off to the Western facing beach.

Sunset At Railay Beach

Being a small ‘island’ we didn’t have much choice once we got on the West beach and just did ennie, meanie, minnie, moe with a little bit of which one is busy. Shortly after we finished eating a fork in the road came up. Do we catch a boat back now and beat the late night hike in price or take in this sun set fully? Feeling naive and like high rollers, catching the rest of the sunset with some deep-fried ice cream was our choice (Aaron is now hooked). Once we were tired out, we walked back to the Eastern beach to hail a boat but the story didn’t go that way. We walked up and down the Eastern beach to find anything that floated that was heading back to our pier, but there was nothing. Eventually a resort worker informed us there were no boats here and nothing was probably coming to the island. He did mention a resort boat for the workers was coming, but was not sure at what time, and that we could catch a boat on the West beach to Ao Nang still… probably. With that being our only option, off we trekked back to where we caught the sunset in hopes of finding a boat to Ao Nang and then a cab back to our resort.

Once we got to the other beach we saw a taxi boat docked in the water, so we promptly started looking for its captain. Eventually we found him in a bar, half cut and eager to charge us out the ears for our misfortune. The drunk sailor wanted us to wait for more passengers and more beer, so he said just wait on the beach for a bit. We waited on the beach alright, if wait means running back to the one on the opposite side. Hoping for the last time, we made the walk to Eastern Beach to try and find a fluke boat or the resort one. When we got to the beachone half of Aarissca went to buy water, while the other half kept watch. Not a 100% sure, at the time, but there was something in the distance that resembled a boat that we needed to check out. Off we sped walked to the other end of the beach with our fingers crossed. Quickly we started asking everybody around the tractor (the tide is so low they carry people by tractor to/from boats at night) “where is this boat going?” Everything was peachy it was going to where we needed, except it was a staff only boat. After some discussion among the security guards and a few of the staff they said we could get on. Phew! That was a big relief! Once we got to the pier we gave the boat driver a big thanks (and our luck the ride was free!) and walked back to our dude ranch resort to crash.

Boat on The Water By Phi Phi Don

The following day, we made our way to another pier in Krabi to catch a ferry to Koh Phi Phi (pronounced Pee Pee). We were going in blind with no place to stay, until we broke down at the ferry terminal and booked four nights online at the PP Natural Resort. The ferry ride was about 2 hours long and 350 Baht a person. The ferry arrived at Tonsai Bay on Phi Phi Don (Koh Phi Phi is actually 6 different islands) and right off the boat they charge you 20 Baht to keep the island clean. Which you will notice is probably true, the island is better looking then Miss USA. We knew our resort was located on the most northern tip of Phi Phi Don and was only accessible by long-tail boat. So when one driver said 1,500 Baht to get to our resort we choked. Seeming like a lot we looked around to see if anybody else was going where we were. Eventually we pulled out our change from the keep Phi Phi clean fee and said 960 Baht is all we have. He reluctantly accepted and got his boat ready.

A 30-40 minutes long tail ride from the main pier and we were at our new place of residence. The boat dropped us off on the opposite side of the beach as our resort and we had to walk a good 500 meters to the resort. Once we got the PP Natural they greeted us with a juice, cold towel and the bags off our shoulders. This resort isn’t the nicest on the beach (Zeavola or Holiday Inn are), but it is still nice and has a lot of amenities and is less expensive. Once we got all checked in, we got into a golf cart and went to our bungalow. The place was nice, big, and private. The decor was a little dated, but wasn’t a big negative at all. That evening we went out for supper and had great pasta dinners on the beach in candle light.

Taking a Lunch Break From Diving

For our first full day, we slept in past the free breakfast buffet, did a bit of snorkeling off the coast, swam in the pool and oh yeah booked a diving trip for the next day(which Aaron did not want to do at all but Jessica made him.) We opted to try diving in the resorts pool the following morning in order to get the nerves out safely. Learning the hand signals, how to clear your mask, operating your BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), clearing your mouthpiece, etc in the pool also. The best part of this was the totally rad underwater hight five the instructor gave you when you did it right! We even got to witness some wildlife in the pool on our first dive as their was a dead giant crab sitting at the bottom. After that, we loaded up a long tail boat with all the gear and headed to the Northern tip of Phi Phi Leh to do a couple dives. On both dives we saw lots of fish, coral, artificial reefs, giant clams and eels. The seas were really rough that day (our boat just about flipped heading back). The hardest part was getting into the water because you had to hold onto the edge of the boat and jump in, with a weight belt on and hold on for dear life that you didn’t sink untill your gear was tossed into the water and was put on you to cause you to float. But we had a great time, so great, we booked to dive again the next day when we got back.

Scuba Diving on The Second Day

On day 2 of diving, we had a speed boat this time and about 10 people. However only 3 customers and 4 instructors were actually diving. We were going with the same gentleman as yesterday, Peang, and the rest were going with a German girl. I think people at this dive shop just look for excuses to go diving. We dove the same island as the day before, Phi Phi Ley, but did the southern part of the island in hopes of seeing turtles and sharks. Both dives this day were great, we hung around sea turtles for a good 20 minutes as the just swam around us and then hunted for sharks. We did manage to swim with some black tip reef sharks but when one came close to us Jess would swim over and grab the instructor to hide. Not exactly the bravest fish in the ocean. After our two days of diving we were probably better off doing our PADI or SDI (getting certified so you can dive up to 15 meters by yourself), but we only had two and a half days. Where it takes at least 3 to 4 days to complete the classroom time and dives for either PADI or SDI. Just a couple of notes on scuba diving in Thailand, Koh Phi Phi has a price freeze all dive shops comply with for getting certified, 13,900 Baht. Koh Tao on the Eastern Gulf Coast is where the most divers are certified world-wide. The diving there isn’t the best they say, but you can get a steal of a deal to get your PADI/SDI there. If we had a rewind button and more time we would have gotten certified in Koh Tao or Phangan, then head to Phi Phi and Similan Islands to dive a bunch of times for cheap.

One of Our Sea Turtle Friends

Later that evening we headed to the main pier on Phi Phi Don to meet up with Ian & Sheree, who we met in Koh Phangan, for dinner and drinks. Our first stop was for a drink at the bar formally known as Poo’s Bar, but now goes by Pu’s Bar. Pu was a really interesting guy and gave us a bunch of laughs all the way from the neck of the bottle to the bottom. Next, was finding a restaurant called the Orange House. Which we were all shocked Ian found, it was really tucked away far back. The lady who owns and cooks the food here is known as a crazy lady with a bunch of cats, but the food is to die for. The only gripe against the place is they don’t serve beer, so Ian and Aaron took care of that by borrowing the lady at the restaurants bike. Doubling up (and cradling each others male body’s oh so gently) on that tiny bike didn’t work what so ever, and Aaron just ended up biking to the store and back while Ian waited in the street. Convincing the store owner that Aaron can manage to carry ten bottles of the big Chang Beer on a bike took a bit, but 500 Baht ($16 Canadian!) later he was off to meet Ian and then back to the restaurant. Successful mission! Minus the gash on Aaron’s leg from the crash.

Once we were all full, we wandered around the town off the beach browsing here and there. Eventually we landed back at the beach at a place called Stones where we watched fire dancers. These guys were so much better than the ones on Phangan at the Full Moon Party. We thought the whole party scene here was more of our kind of party over the Full Moon actually. It’s an expensive little island, but we enjoyed it the most out of all the ones we went to. As the night went on we remembered the boat we hired was still probably waiting. We told them to wait for us till 10:30pm, but we’re having too much fun and kept on partying. When the night finally ended for us, we crashed on Ian & Sheree’s spare bed in their bamboo hut. Then the next day we all headed back to our resort so we could check out and take in some of the good snorkel right off our beach.

Hermit Crabs Hanging Out On The Beach

Then we all headed on the ferry from our resort that stopped at the main pier, so Ian and Sheree could get back to their place, while we carried on to Phuket. We arrived in Phuket late in the afternoon with no plan for the evening, just a plane ticket to Bangkok the next day. Sitting in the dock terminal finger dancing thru books to find a place to stay, we decided to head to Patong and finally just wing it. We whistled for a cab and when it came near he saw right through us and knew we didn’t have a place to stay. So he drove us to his uncle’s tourism shop where we booked a room for a really good price at the AO Mansion.

We got all checked and settled in then headed out to change over some more money (Phi Phi wasn’t easy on the pockets) and have dinner. After walking up the main drag a time and a half we decided on eating at a Korean BBQ restaurant. The food was good and really filled us up! After supper we went back to the hotel to catch some Z’s and eventually a flight; Or so we thought. The next morning we got out the door around 9am and proceeded to hound a cab to the airport down. After a lot of walking and bartering we finally got a cab for a not bad price.

Enroute to the airport we hit some bad traffic and it was now after 10am. So a little scared about our 11 am flight time we dug in the bag for our tickets and saw our departure was actually 10:20am…opps. Eventually we arrived at the airport at 10:30ish and proceeded to do the walk of shame to the ticketing office. We tried the sob story that our cab broke down on the way here, but we got no sympathy and had to pay a change fee. 2:30pm was the new time and needed no double checking. After killing a lot of time in the airport, meeting a couple Canadians and a couple hours of flight delays we finally broke the sky. The plan was to be in Bangkok for 2 full days, but now we had 1 and a bit. For the nights in Thailand we booked our stay at the Banyan Tree Hotel and boy was it nice. Bangkok has some of the top rated hotels in the world and they are cheap by North American standards. Whether it’s the roof top bar of Lebua, the unique experience of the Chakrabongse Villas, wicked infinity pool of the Hilton Millennium, the good nightlife at the Conrad or the world-class spa of the Grand Hyatt Erawan, Bangkok has something for your tastes.

Our package included a 90 minutes spa package, 2 free set meals at the restaurants in the hotel and access to the Banyan Tree Club. As you can imagine we were tired from packing our lives around every two days, a few shady places to sleep, and the life of a vagabond in general. It may sound fun but somewhere in between the bartering, living on a non replenished cash diet, adjusting, and then re adjusting, we were quite run down. This two night hotel heaven splurge was just what we needed. We were given refreshing towels, champagne glasses full of a mystery juice, and our heavy bags of burden were removed from our shoulders and we were escorted to a private check in lounge for the elite on the 19th floor. This place had everything! Smoked fish on crackers, chocolate mousse, jars full of all kinds of treats including chocolate chip cookies and m&m’s and FREE BOOZE!! In fact everything in this place was free for us big ballers, too bad our clothes made us look like we were invited here by a help the needy committee. In fact, by the way we were slurping down glasses of red vino and salmon carpaccio we defiantly looked shady… to say the least. Jess continued to repeat “have I died? Are we in heaven?” and Aaron was eating too much to even talk. The lady who escorted us up here was arranging everything for us as we enjoyed ourselves and then came over to hand us our complimentary tickets and to escort us to our room.

Located on the thirtieth floor, was our heaven. This room sported a bathroom larger than Aaron’s bedroom at home, no joke. It was contemporary in decor and the best part was a gigantic soaker tub with incense, bath oils, epsom salts, and a candle. I mean honestly, we had been showering over the toilet the entire trip. We actually had a bath tub. Incredible. The next two days, were fairly uneventful to tell our readers. We ate delicious food, snuggled, enjoyed a complimentary massage each, Jess had a pedi, and just really enjoyed spending some tlc together.

We only ventured out once to the largest farmers market in the world, the Chatuchak weekend market. This market was divided into sections, clothes, electronics, art, and pets. Yes that’s right, pets. This was the most disarming part of the market. Everytime we have seen a pet dog in Asia they have seemed a little, lets say, not right in the head, and at this market we found out why. The dogs here are smaller than any dogs we have seen in the world, obviously inbred from people wanting smaller and smaller versions and shady laws regarding animal rights in general. We both felt terribly sad to see a little pug with eyes on the side of his head instead of the front, and cages and cages full of pups crying for someone to take them home. We were not aloud to pet the dogs, or take pictures and after trying to pet one puppy a lady pointed to a posted sign that comically stated “no fingering the dogs.” We decided it was time to find our way out of this nightmare, which was a little easier said than done. Jess wandered to see them all, almost drawn to witness their plight but repelled at the same time. There was more than dogs here, turtles, fish, lizards, kittens, and flying squirrels to name just a few. Finally we wandered out of this maze and ended up on a street full of clothes. If you ever go to Thailand we recommend that you season yourselves with other markets before this one because even being avid market goers we were lost, overwhelmed, and cross-eyed by the time we found the exit of this place. In fact their was so much stuff here that we really didn’t purchase much at all. All the decisions and varying prices just made us want to run back to the hotel and crawl into a big ol’glass of wine.

So that’s exactly what we did, drank a glass a wine and looked out the window at the glittering night lights of the country we had come to love. Thailand had its hardships, and we can’t say that things always went the way we wanted them too. In fact some things in Thailand were downright confusing and frustrating, but as we were leaving our room with our packs on our back for the last time, we both had teary eyes. Neither of us wanted to leave this beautiful country, there were so many more things to do, more adventures to discover, more hardships and set backs to face, things we wouldn’t change for the world. Thailand opened our eyes to a different way of life, to accept being three hours late to everything, to plunge headfirst into a deep blue ocean, strapped with eight pound weights on our wastes, sink, and trust that whats below would be spectacular. It taught us how to let go and be free, to just enjoy whatever was thrown at us and to realise that in the end we had each other, and as long as we stuck together and looked after each other it would turn out somehow in the end. So in reflection and hesitation we caught our last cab to the airport, and had to giggle when the guy refused to take us the cheaper route and made us pay the toll fee for the “express highway.” At the airport we hit our final snag, the border police. Now don’t get carried away thinking we were drug mules or harbouring weapons. No we were just illegal aliens, having come to Thailand on foot from Cambodia we had only a 15 day visa instead of a 30 by air travel. So we were pulled out of line, had to pay a fee, and sign a ticket stating our 5 day over stay.  Then with an empty wallet and shiny new stamp, we were set free to board the plane to India and leave our new home behind.

We are now safely in India and have no Internet, but keep with us, the next leg of our adventure will thrill and excite you, remember to leave your guess on who the kayak master was in the comments section below,

Thanks for reading!

-Aarissca

Full Moons Not Bums, The Party

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On our way back from Cambodia, we were planning on heading to the coast for some beach time next. However by the time we arrived in Bangkok it was around supper time and we decided to spend the night in Bangkok and hit the road the following morning. A couple of folks from the Netherlands, we got well acquainted to on the sardine bus back from Cambodia, were spending their final days of their trip in Bangkok.  Having no place to sleep for the night we hitched along with them to their hotel. After checking in and cleaning up we all headed out to find something to eat and drink. We walked around for a little bit and wound up settling on something normal in all our books, pizza! Pizza pies, garlic bread, chicken wings, salad and Pepsi. It was definitely a nice taste of home, Johan couldn’t stop smiling and eating all of the chicken wings. We were all stuffed by the time we were done mowing down.

Content food wise it was time to find something to do! There was rumblings of a market in the area and off we went to sniff it out. After a few broken english conversation with the locals we soon found out it was already over and the night market a district or two over was closed because it was pouring with rain. Scratch that idea and to the bar for some drinks it is! Jess spotted this super tall building in the skyline and said ‘that place must have a roof top bar, lets head there!’ A block or two of easy navigating the Bangkok streets and we were at the base of the behemoth building, Baiyoke Sky Hotel. We all ventured into the lobby and found out there was indeed a roof top bar on 83rd floor.

Up we went, settled in and ordered up some drinks!  We wound up sipping cocktails, chatting, and swaying to the über chic music the DJ was playing, one drink turned into more, and eventually we wound up staying there way past close. We think it was now sometime after 2am when we finally headed back to the hotel, the Samaran Hotel that is.  The girls  had to use the facilities after the long elevator down, and searched for one in the closed market stalls below. The original plan was to walk back to the hotel but after being grossed out by bathrooms in the market we scratched that one.  Now our game plan was to try and find a cab. Taxi’s in Bangkok are super reasonable if you use the meter, which they are supposed to by law, but a few refuse to anyways and throw out a ridiculous set fare. We have learned that if they tell you ‘no meter, 100Baht then you must be really close to where you need to go and you may as well walk (thus they are trying to rip you off). Our night and luck was going too well up to this point, there was no way we were going to meet a reasonable cab driver.  100 Baht, 50 Baht, 49.9 Baht, but nobody was willing to do the meter for a 2 block cab ride and the girls had to pee! Finally after asking all of Bangkok to take us home, this tiny Thai driver said yes to the meter and we were off to the Samaran Hotel.

Now, the only trick to the meter is I’m pretty sure they pretend they don’t know where your hotel is and do a pit stop to this group of cab drivers to discuss where it is while the meter is running. Seen it before and saw it again with this guy. We even pointed to where it was on the map, but still no dice. There is something about Thailand that makes navigation rather difficult, and earlier in the drinks lounge we were all discussing it. The thing is, us foreigners can pick up a map or a book of Thai and try our best to say the name to the driver. For example we may tell them “we need to go to Samaran hotel” and they will stare at us and say “huuuh?!”.  We can repeat Samaran at least ten times and finally the guy will say “ooooh you mean SAAAAMMMAAARRRAAAAAAN Hotel?!” and the word will be a high-pitched squeaky version of the word you have been repeating for the past 15 mins with no recognition. This is not a con by the Thai people but a difference in how they pronounce words. You can have a Thai language book, and try your best to pronounce what you’re looking for to the Thai people.  However I can guarantee you, when they finally realise what you’re saying they will squeal back some Spongebob Square Pants voiced version that will make your head spin. So it was hilariously coincidental that this guy was probably the most enjoyable cab driver we’ve gotten on our trip. When we tried to tell him the Samaran hotel, this exact thing happened and he squealed a high-pitched SAAAMMMAAARRRAAAAAN at us, we all burst into laughter. He caught on that this was making us laugh and we kept asking him “sir can you tell us where you are taking us please?” and he would frequently squeal Samaran, which got us all giggling the entire way home. He also dropped some gems like ‘where you want to go? Shopping?’ and ‘why you goto sleep? Bangkok never sleep’ among others. (others being trying to convince us to go to a lady boy show, or a ping-pong show, and by ping-pong we don’t mean the sport with paddles) eek! We all got back to the Samaran Hotel and headed up to the room and said goodnight with visions of an 8:30 breakfast and an early start.

At Breakfast With Johan and Anita

No real suspense here, that didn’t happen and we didn’t get packed up and checked out till 11:30-12:00.  Behind the ball a bit we went hunting for a Western breakfast with our 2 Dutch friends.  After not too bad of a search we found one in a hotel right next to the train station, which was perfect.  A few guesses of what the piano-man was playing, folding the napkins into something different, and pictures later we all headed to the station to catch our train to the bus station and say goodbye.

A bunch of stops later we got off and started to make our way to the bus terminal. It was staring right at us, but 6 lanes of Bangkok traffic was between us. Did we mention that cross-walks are non-existent here? We made it to divider and then were stuck trying to cross the last 3 lanes for a bit. Until a couple young guys popped off a bus and said ‘you goto Rayong?’ We gave them a yes and they promptly ran out into traffic to stop it so we could jump on the bus. It seemed like perfect timing and our good luck was continuing! The bus was empty which was the cherry on top!

This bus had a group of 5 Thai’s in their 20’s running the show. Hanging out the door calling out something in Thai and occasionally pulling over to pick up passengers who would bite at the call out. It was only supposed to take 2-3 hours to get to Rayong. However, it was about 6pm when we looked at each other and wondered when are we going to get there. When we got on this bus it was empty and the guy collecting the money from passengers only had our money. Fast forward a few hours and he now had a fat stack of cash with a packed bus, these guys had their hustle on. Eventually we found out the bus will arrive in Rayong at 8:30pm, a solid 3-3 1/2 hours later than it should have.

Our plan was to catch the ferry in Rayong to get to the island of Samet for the night. Not going to happen so much. The bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere in Rayong and we had no clue what to do with no hotel in sight. So we started walking and passed an electronics store. Browsing in we looked to see if they had computers to look up somewhere to stay or something, but alas didn’t see any so we kept on walking. Eventually we came to an intersection, stopped and walked back to the electronics store where we had a chance encounter. The owner of the store was there and owns a hotel just down the road. The two of us, him and his daughter all jumped in his SUV and off we went to the hotel. It couldn’t have worked out better! His daughter spoke very good english and even helped us plan our time in the area while we ate. After we filled our stomachs and heads we said thanks again and retired for the night.  Highly recommend Madina Hotel in Rayong! (Just think ‘Funky Cold Medina’)

 

The next morning we got up and headed to Ban Phe, just 15 minutes from Rayong, to catch a boat to Samet.  Everything went fairly smooth, we rode there in a local truck/taxi called a sangthang and then got on a speedboat to take us to the island. We found a nice bungalow at a good price and had a relaxing few days on the island. We had hopes of going to a turtle conservation center but as this is low season in Thailand for tourism all of the boats that were heading to the island were un-booked. In Thailand, if you want to take a boat you buy your ticket and then wait for 6 other people to buy tickets before they leave. Sometimes the vessel of transport seems so packed you have no idea where they are planning on putting these magical extra people but you have to wait for them before you can go. Also don’t forget Thai time is never on time. So because there was no 6 other tourists to go to turtle island, the boat men wanted us to purchase an entire boat ourselves, and at just over 200 Canadian dollars, Jessica’s dreams of playing with baby turtles were left in the dust. Instead we took this time together to relax, swim in the ocean, eat some great surf and turf and of course lay on the beautiful white sand for two glorious days.

After our relax time we made our way back to Bangkok, and it went 1,000,000% smoother. From the bus station in Bangkok we headed to catch an overnight train to Surathani and then a boat to the island of Phangan for the full moon party! Now we are sure you faithful readers remember our urine soaked adventures of the last overnight train we took, but something had finally happened for us on our trip and everything we did seemed to work out just perfectly. This overnight train only had the two of us in our bunk, as opposed to 4 in the previous one, and although not the Ritz it did not smell badly and arrived on time. We were herded into a van after the train and onto the boat ferry pier to go to Koh Phagnan.

Our Beach in Koh Phangan

This ferry pier had the most tourists we have seen in all of Thailand and it seemed to us (or at least seemed very much to Jess) that these tourist were just looking for a reason to go crazy(giggdy, giggdy). This place was girls gone wild, Thailand style (GOO!) and it really didn’t do much to uphold the reputation of tourists on a whole. Thai people are generally modest, with the exception of some sex trade workers, and wear all of their clothing when swimming in the ocean. It is however acceptable for foreigners to wear bikinis on the beach and tank tops in the heat. This is not an eye sore or a problem. But on the main land pier were tourists, men and women, who were in full on bikinis and speedos sticking their junk out like hill-billies on trash day. Aaron didn’t seem to mind these ladies so much (wonder why?!). This theme seemed to continue for our time in Koh Phangan as we saw tourists doing many things when drunk and partying that made our heads shake with a chuckle. Including getting retarded tattoos, riding motor bikes like Evil Kenevil (Jess had a foot in mouth moment on this topic), dressing more naked than new-born babies, and playing with fire, literally.

The Nice Resort Next Door

We had wisely opted to stay on the beach further down from the partying and had a really great time here. Our accommodations were booked in advance due to fear of not finding a place due to the influx and was really nothing like the pictures.  The beds even had plastic covers on them because of all the puking tourists who must have ruined beds before. Trying to escape from our not so nice place, we wandered down the beach and saw a heavenly ocean side pool that belonged to the resort behind it. We soon discovered that with the purchase of lunch or a drink at the swim up bar, we could use the pool for free! It was here that we met our new friends from London, a couple named Sheree and Ian. We spent that night with them at their bungalow and were introduced to some friends they had traveling with them. Once again one drinks turned into many and before you knew it we were really, really, drunk.

Chillin' In The Pool

One of us was much more drunk than the other, and happened to prove the plastic bed useful as he got sick all over it, all night. Not naming names here but HE really sucked that night, because every time the sheets were changed and we were safely dozing off to sleep, he woke up and got sick all over again. The most hilarious part of this was when Jess was trying to help someone change their soiled clothes and he stated “I’m big boy, I can look after myself! Go to bed!” And then fell back asleep covered in grossness. Oh dear (don’t remember, probably didn’t happen). So need less to say we weren’t really moving too quickly the next day and slept it off on a bare mattress of plastic, with most of our clothes at the cleaners.

Freshly Face Painted At The Full Moon Party

The last eventful thing that happened at Koh Phangnan was of course the full moon party.  We went down to Haad Rin (The Beach where The Full Moon happens) the night before the party to eat some sushi and see what we were up against.  This area was a gong show to say the least and it wasn’t even the night of the party!  Fast forward to the next night, we went down to Haad Rin (pronounced Hat Rin) around 11pm.  Number one on the menu was getting painted up a bit.  Not entirely sure what we wanted and overwhelmed by choices a lot of time was spent moving from artist to artist.  Eventually Jessica suggested the Mike Tyson tattoo for Aaron and Jessica just told the artist do whatever then wound up with a butterfly.  Next up we bought a bucket, which contains a mickey of your favorite poison & mix, we went with the original rum, red bull, coke and headed to the beach.  What a sight it was!  There was lots of beach side bars pumping music, platforms with people dancing, water slides from the top of bars, massive skipping ropes on fire, and fire poi.  When we were watching one fire poi performance some guy ran into the circle and started running around.  From our point of view he was getting awfully close to the fire and trying to do cart wheels.  He never got hit, but from what we saw the night before these guys aren’t professionals and do sometimes lose control!  The following day on our way out of Koh Phangan we met a girl who had the rope braid burned into her thighs, looked really gnarly.

At The Full Moon With The Brits & Americans

There aren’t a lot of real toilets at the party, maybe enough to cover 4,000-5,000 people but not the 20,000-30,000 they estimate, so you have people just going in the ocean.  Some go out a ways (but not too far, that’s the champagne room) and others just do it right off the beach, squatters included.  You could get yourself into some serious trouble here, good & bad, with 150-300Baht buckets ( about 4-8 CAD).  Don’t worry we had learned our lesson and took it slow on the drinking.  Eventually we ran into our British and American friends we made at the resort randomly at a fire performance and hung out with them for the rest of the night.  Some good-hearted fun later all decided it was a good time to head back and skip the sun rise.  When we left the beach looked like war zone with all the passed out people in the sand.  You take the busiest night club in your city, dump all those bodies on the beach and that’s how many passed out people there were.

Hint Hint On Who Got The Hangover

We had a pretty big group heading back to the same beach and we all filled up a truck easily.  Handed the driver a 100Baht per person and nothing…the driver made us wait for more people when we had no more seats!  Eventually two more people came and sat on the tailgate but now were arguing because he was charging them 200Baht each.  This was an extremely painful process and after lots of banging on the truck by the passengers we were off.  Once we got back straight to bed we went and didn’t wake up until around 11am when a large group of partiers came back.  Singing, chanting, yelling we really don’t know how they lasted that long.  Without even blinking they sat down at the lounge at the resort and continued drinking!  This is where having a hut close to the beach and restaurant sucked and not being able to sleep any more we got up to eat some breakfast.  While we were waiting for our food, buddy at the rowdy table said walking by ‘it’s the full moon party, come over and join us’.  We replied maybe after we finish our eggs we’ll hop over to the crowded party table.  The rest of the day after The Full Moon was quiet lots of hangovers soon kicked in, even half of Aarissca!  The tables turned on this instance.

Little Girl On Our Way Back From Phangan

The next day, we had a boat to catch at 7am in order to get to Krabi and explore Thailand’s Andaman coast.  Another failed earlier morning rise, we finally arrived at the pier for the 1pm boat and got on the boat with no extra charge even although our tickets were non-transferable!  We arrived into Krabi later in the evening and are now preparing for some more beach time.  Next time we’ll write you the events in that chapter and the conclusion of our Thailand adventure!  Thanks for reading, till next time!

-Aarissca

Brace Yourself, My Dear: It’s a Holiday Camboadia

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Well, we are sorry to our devoted readers that it has been a long time since our last post, things have been busy over here and internet connection has been poor. We are happy to inform you that the next leg of our trip was indeed to Siem Reap, Cambodia. If you guessed we went to visit the temples of Angkor Wat, you were correct! To get to back to Bangkok from Chiang Mai was an ordeal and to actually get to Cambodia was going to be no different. We had a pretty comfortable first leg of our trip to the Thai-Cambodia border. Aside from these weird American’s behind us and stopping every hour to fill up (Natural gas doesn’t make a good fuel for vans). Once we got close to border we stopped to switch vans and get some logistics in order. Soon after that 30 minute pit stop we made our way to the Thai Immigration line, which was pretty big and long. The line did move quick if you had your stuff in order, however we witnessed a girl who was denied exit because she over stayed her visa. Something Thailand views as a big offense, and charge 500 baht a day. Her’s was going to cost her a cool 6,000 baht so about $200 Canadian to get over the Thai border and into Cambodia.

Cambodian Gas Station

Once we got past the Thai side of the process it was time to start filling out the Cambodian visa paperwork and get in line. Now Thailand is by no means a very well off country, but Cambodia is a step way back and it shows right as you cross the border. Little kids wandering around some with clothes some without, trucks loaded well beyond what they should (seriously 15 feet high from the ground), people pulling carts and mostly dirt roads. Getting the Cambodia Visa was pretty quick and painless aside from the border guards asking for $3 USD extra. This corruption is well-known at the Cambodian border and you can beat it by applying for the Visa online before hand, which was an option we were not organised enough to take.

$45 USD later and we both had shiny new additions to our passports, Cambodia Visas. Next we had to meet up with our taxi ride from the border to Siem Reap, which we thought would be quick and painless. We didn’t opt for the bus because we were told a taxi would be faster and you would not have to wait for it to fill up with people like the bus would. However, we had to wait for 45 minutes and watch 2 buses fill up & leave while they ‘waited’ for a guy to clear the border who was apparently supposed to be in our taxi too. So much for being quicker(more expensive), private taxi.

We finally did get in a cab and onward to Siem Reap about 3 hours away from where we were. It was a pretty uninteresting ride aside from hearing how much others paid for their visas (some as high as double more) and seeing the Cambodian ‘gas stations’. They have a these wooden stands with about 20-30 reused 1L bottles of pop and liquor filled with gas. Cambodia is pretty green and flat otherwise. Our taxi driver was quiet and we don’t think he spoke much english, but he did inform us once we got closer to Siem Reap it was flooded…about 70cm in the center of town. We just can’t win!

Flooded Siem Reap

When we got closer into town, we eventually switched from our taxi to a truck to take us further into town and finally to our hotel. We all piled out of the taxi and piled in to the truck. Not even 5 minutes into our drive in the truck the driver informed us they can’t take us to our hotel because the water is too high there, but they could take us to this hotel that is a friend of theirs. We had been told that this was a scam in Cambodia where the drivers get commission to take tourists to certain hotels so we declined his offer, he was very insistent though. In fact he refused to take us to our place and told us to get out in the middle of the water. So we walked with caution in water as high as our shins on a street we had never seen dry. That is until we realized the hotel wasn’t just down the road it was still a ways. Low and behold we got into a tuk-tuk to take us the last little bit of our journey. The road was a little flooded on the way to the guesthouse, but the place itself was dry as can be, thank god!

Jess with a cocoon.

After we got all checked into the hotel, they gave us the best news all day we got a free upgrade in rooms cause they overbooked the one we wanted! Not too much went on our first ‘full’ day in Cambodia since it took us 9 hours to get here. The next day was pretty slow-moving too but we did get a guide for Angkor booked and headed to a butterfly sanctuary. We got the butterfly place a little late and the person at the ticket place informed us that the butterflies weren’t that active at this time in the afternoon. We could have saved it for another day and went to the landmine museum just up the road, but our tuk-tuk driver wanted more money to go another couple of kilometers.

Even if the butterflies weren’t that active it was nice to have this young guy give us a tour of the complex. He showed us the butterfly area and pointed out which ever ones were flying around, all the caterpillars in cocoon and also a bunch of different caterpillars too. The guy was very knowledgable and friendly. He seemed to really enjoy his job and told us that he loved working there, and loved the butterflies. This genuine experience was very nice to have, as it seemed many people in Cambodia were just looking for ways to part us with our money. On our way back we pulled over to catch the sunset on the moat of Angkor Wat which was extremely pretty.

Day 3 was the beginning of the 3 day tour of Angkor we booked with our guide Kim. On day one of Angkor we toured around Angkor Thom, which was the city and in english means great city and boy was it ever great. In Angkor’s time of use it was believed to have a staggering population of 1 million.

Close Up of The Gods on Angkor Thom Bridge.

To put this into perspective, at the same point in time London had a lonely population of 50,000. The houses where the people actually lived are no longer standing, they believed humans should live in wooden houses and gods in stone. The wooden houses did not stand the test of time, but the temples themselves held up. What is left of Angkor Thom is a bridge crossing a massive moat with decorative humans fighting a naga (cobra in english) on one side and the gods fighting a naga on the other. The 4 gates to city are also left standing one each on North, East, South and West. These gates were used on different occasions victory, defeat, etc.

Also left standing in Angkor Thom is a temple called Prasat Bayon with 49 peaks that have four-sided faces on each of them, signifying the 49 states in the Angkor empire. Most are still standing and about 200 faces remain. To build these temples they had to bring in stone from a mountain some 70 kilometer away by elephant. The size and complexity of this temple is outstanding, it’s just unfortunate they built it with lava rock and then sandstone on top. Father time and mother nature have taken their toll on the temples that weren’t consumed by the jungle after it was abandoned. If they didn’t, Thai Soldiers or the Khmer Rouge certainly did. In fact the soldiers stole many of the decorative heads off of the statues by cutting them off and these are repaired now by a modern-day restoration, a true shame. Also in Angkor Thom, we saw the terrace of the elephants which is where the king lived. The kings place of residence no longer stands fully stands, but a beautiful stone carved promenade stands along with some stone gates and towers. This is also where the king watched performances and his victorious army march into the city.

The temperature during the morning in Cambodia is RIDICULOUS and the afternoon is no different. Most people head back to town in the afternoon to have lunch and then come back for the later afternoon and catch a sunset. After we finished Angkor Thom it was a bit after twelve and we decided to delay lunch and scratch Angkor Wat off the list seeing as it would be dead right now. Angkor is the jewel of all temples and is the biggest religious building in the world, not bad for being built-in the late 12th century by King Suryavarman II.

Angkor Wat in the background

As you look Angkor Wat dead on you will see the peaks of the temple in the background, then a large gate and lastly a long bridge crossing an even bigger moat then Angkor Thom. Angkor Wat has the same mortals on one side fighting a naga and gods on the other on its long bridge. This is a type of artwork is something you’ll find all over Cambodia. Once you cross the bridge you’ll come face to face with the large gate. The significance of this gate is it has 5 different entrances one for the king, one for royalty, one for monks, one for elephants and one for common folk. Everyone enters different gates when they come to worship, but once they are in they all enter the same way to the temple. Walking through the gate will give a grand look at Angkor Wat and what that massive gate was hiding behind it. Aside from the temple and its surrounding structure all there is on the inside grounds are two libraries, one for the monks and one for the people.

Walking around Angkor Wat we noticed it was in a lot better shape and just a lot grander. You can climb the stairs still to the top of the temple and thank goodness we came when we did because our guide Kim told us during the peak times the line is huge. The original stairs are no longer in use because they are steep and small so they have built ones over top, but they still really aren’t stairs, they are more like a ladder. Once we got to the top there was just us and the bats hiding up in the dark hallows of the temples peaks. The view was pretty great! Another little tidbit of information; no building in the outlining town of Siem Reap is allowed to be as tall or taller than Angkor Wat. It’s still pretty tall, but it puts some limitations on those big hotels that keep sprouting up.

Waiting For The Sunset

Once we climbed back down the stairs to ground level, we snapped a few more pictures and then headed back to town for lunch, a break and a swim. Kim picked us back up at 4:30 and we made our way to catch a sunset at a temple we haven’t seen yet. When we got there Kim informed us he can’t make it up the hill and temple because of the wound he told us about earlier in the day. He got shot in the knee by a AK-47 back when Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia, we’ll go into more detail on that later. Up the hill we climbed to catch this sunset. On our way up we were expecting this hardcore climb if Kim couldn’t make it, but as the temple was in our sights we wondered why couldn’t he do this. We soon found out to climb the temple on top of the hill was the hard part. Just like the stairs at Angkor Wat we met earlier except not as many and no new stairs were erected on top.

The Steep 'Steps'

It was interesting to see a group of people using both their feet and hands to climb these stairs. Glad to say we both made it up with no cuts, bruises, broke bones or dirty underwear. We sat around for a bit waiting for the sunset, but it just wasn’t happening today the clouds were too thick. So down all 300 of us went and of course those ridiculous stairs also. When we got to the base of the hill we met back up with Kim to share our sunset disappointment. We all hoped into the truck and headed back to town where Kim dropped us off at one of the Children’s Hospitals called the Jayavarman VII.

This evening we were going to watch a Swiss Doctor play his cello, who also ran the hospital and 4 others in Cambodia. Dr. Beat Richner played his set giving the audience information on the hospital and Cambodian children in general in between songs and at the end of his performance. Dr. Richner came to Cambodia in the 70’s to work in the children’s hospital, but soon Pol Pot came to power and destroyed it. After Pol Pot was removed from power in the early 90’s the Cambodian King asked Dr. Richner to please rebuild the hospital, so he did. There are now 3 of these hospitals in the capital Phnom Phen, 1 in Siem Reap and another set to be opened in Phnom Phen.

All these hospitals are 100% free for the children (they even pay for your mode of transport to hospital) and over 90% of their budget is from private sources. The Cambodian government gives the hospital about 3% of its yearly budget and the Swiss around 7%. Pretty amazing. The hospitals on average sees 2,800 children a day, has decreased mortality rate in children from 65% to less than 1%, has one of the lowest cost per patient of any hospital, pays every employee a high wage to stop corruption (In the form of bribes, stealing, etc), is mainly Cambodian staffed (I think they have 1 other expatriate) and I’m sure we are missing other amazing information. They also recently opened a maternity ward and started taking in the mothers because they can eliminate the transfer to babies of HIV infected mothers. Studies there have found a happy and healthy mother greatly increases the child’s odds. At the end of the concert the Doctor asks for you to either donate money or blood as they are both greatly appreciated.  Dr.Richner did pose a question to us that really made us think though. He told us that from start to finish it only costs 240 dollars to save a child’s life, and with all of the poverty in the war-torn country; is the life of a child a private matter. Having to beg for the money in private donations to save these children, why are governments not becoming more involved. You can find out more information on this hospital at their website here: http://www.beat-richner.ch/

The Temple With No Historical Significance

The following day was our second day with Kim and we did some more temple sightseeing. We went and saw a temple fairly far away from Angkor Thom and Wat. The temple has no big historical significance, but was extremely beautiful and in good condition. After that we went to a school where they teach Cambodians the art forms used by their ancestors. They create Buddha’s out of sandstone, jade, soapstone, wood and maybe a few others. There is also tile work and painting done and taught here. There really is no artistic freedom here, but it is interesting to see.

For the second half of our day, Kim brought us to the temple where they shot the scenes from Tomb Raider. This temple has had major jungle growth where 300 year old trees have grown in, on, and around the temple. Some just have their roots spidering across them, where others have a massive tree that just grew out of them. Really makes you wonder how they found some of these temples because the growth of the forest here is incredible. We can only imagine what 300 years of growth would do. Kim’s expertise on what temples are busy when really paid off this time too. Us three and one other person were the only ones there. It felt very secluded and peaceful. That evening we didn’t try to catch a sunset because it was super cloudy. However, that evening we got some interesting news. Aaron’s friend Joseph, whose travelling South East Asia with his girlfriend Devon were going to be in Siem Reap the next day.

At Beng Mealea

On our last day with Kim, a temple called Beng Mealea was on our itinerary. This temple is famous for being in rubble, a beautiful disaster if you will. The day was a rainy one so it just added to the atmosphere of being a treasure hunter, collecting the massive ruby and running out of the temple as it collapses. They have plans to try to reconstruct the temple by sorting out the stones that are piled rubble and putting them back up again. We actually got to see before and after pictures of one of these reconstructions and it was very well done. We ended our last day with Kim by visiting a village that was built on the water. There was even a barge that was turned into a school and after asking Kim, we got to go aboard and visit the children. Jess tried to get them going by teaching them a Canadian song but they were very shy and just stared at Jess like she was crazy, Aaron helped by staring at her like she was crazy also. Mission Cambodia Floating School=FAIL! So it was back to the hotel in Siem Reap and time to say goodbye to our friend Kim who just happened that he would like to visit Canada sometime. Aaron and Jessica future employment, tour agency!

Out For Drinks With Joseph

It was time to wrap up our trip to Cambodia, and we spent our final night there with two friends from Canada.  Joseph, who Aaron worked with at Kiewit and his girlfriend Devon were only a few blocks away from us and we met them at a Mexican restaurant for some much-needed frozen drinks on a very hot evening. We’re sure you can imagine that one drink turned into two, and our rowdy party grew from four to around ten. We met a man from San Francisco with an amazing mustache, and even a Canadian from Nova Scotia!  We decided to have an evening of dancing together and when the crowd went to bed Aarissca ventured together to a nightclub called the temple. We danced and sipped cocktails all evening, it was really a great night together and the perfect way to end our time in Cambodia.

The Impressive Moustache.

The next day we moped in bed and tried to kill our hangover with fried eggs and a lot of rest, packing late in the evening when it felt safe to move. We caught the same service back to Bangkok as we had already paid for it and it was much of the same as on our way there. This time it took a mind-blowing 13 hours, which was only made less painful because of the nice couple we met from the Netherlands who made the journey with us.

That is all the time we have for this blog, next up we hit the islands and the beaches. Life is GOOD!

Thanks for reading

-Aarissca

Rolling Down The Ping River

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For our final full day in Chaing Mai we booked an elephant trek outside the city in same area we were the day before, Doi Inthanon.  Our guide picked us up from our guesthouse bright and early, and we hit the windy Northern Thailand roads.  The ride wasn’t exactly the most enjoyable as we were in the back of a songthaews (think small truck with a canopy on it) for about an hour and a half.  The stop for coffee and a quick bowl of noodles helped break it up!  When we arrived at the elephant camp a group of elephants was just leaving the camp to go on their trek and one ventured over to us in the back of the truck.  The pesky elephant could smell the bags of banana’s in the back of the truck with us.  So this big trunk was poking through the windows in the back trying to find these banana’s!  One of the trainers quickly came over, got that elephant’s trunk out and back with the group of elephants leaving for the trek. It was this moment that we realized just what we had gotten ourselves into, these fellas were big! Really big, playing with an elephant all day sounds really fun, but in reality the earth shakes with every step these big guy take. Were supposed to boss them around? Yikes!

The Elephant is More Scared

Once that big group of elephants left all that was left was us, our guide, and this elephant eating in the distance.  Overall the elephant didn’t look that big, until he brought her over and all 4000kg towered over us!  We spent the next hour or so just feeding her the banana’s from the back of the truck and getting to know her, we like to think of this as bribing our new friend to like us.  After all the banana’s were gone we sat down to learn the khmer commands to control the elephants, about elephants in general (ladyboy elephants even exists, males without tusks), and about this particular elephants history.  Our elephant, Aryana, was 65 years old and worked in the Burma lumber industry dragging logs down the mountain before she was saved and brought to Thailand.  She sometimes can be stubborn and not listen, but usually the 3rd time she will! The guides like to call  her The Rock, because she seems stoned all the time. She doesn’t listen on the first command like she is too baked to hear you, unless food is involved aka she has the munchies!

Up We Go Song Sung Style.

Soon after we were schooled on elephant commands, the trainer did a little monkey-see, monkey-do on the different ways to get on the elephant.  First up was the head down method, so you’d say ‘jalong!’ and the elephant would put it’s head down so you can leap frog up.  The next was he showed us was leg up, where the elephant lifts and bends his front leg like a stair so you can climb up (song-sung was the command for that one).  The last and hardest one for the elephant was Malong, lay down.  Where they actually get down on their stomach, this one took the trainer 4 times to say before Aryana  would do it!  After the trainer did all three it was Aaron’s turn to do monkey-do (as Jessica was still pondering whether or not she was going to run home).  Both head down and leg up went off without a flaw!  The lay down method wasn’t done because it’s tough on the old girl.  After getting on/off down pat, it was time to ‘Huh!’ aka ‘Let’s Go!’ in Khmer.  Off Aaron went around the camp getting the hang of turning (say peh and put the bull-hook on the opposite side), stopping (say how and grip her with your legs a bit) and backwards (say toi and put the bull-hook on her forehead).  Aside from the small detour to a pumpkin patch a little off in the bushes, controlling the elephant went well. We will also mention to our animal lover friends that we never used our bull hook to hurt Aranya, and neither do the trainers at the camp. This hook was blunt and not pointed and does not break or scratch her skin, it only alerts her which way we would like to go.

Playing With The Water

Now it was Jessica’s turn, but she wasn’t exactly fond of the idea at this moment still.  Instead it was off to the water hole to cool off Aryana and get her a drink.  Jessica and the traininer brought out the hose and bucket to cool and hydrate all 4000kg of her.  About 30 minutes later, the trainer asked if Jess was now ready and she gave a head shake.  It took a lot of hyping up and cheering Jess on the elephant too but she did get on!  With her knee not being a 100% yet from surgery, Jessica got on from one of the trainers hut just to be careful and the trainer rode with her to make her feel safe.  After Jessica rode Aryana around the camp for a bit without a hiccup, she got off and we went back into town for lunch.

 

We had a quick bite to eat, then met back up with Aryana and another elephant to go on our trek.  Jessica got the new elephant and Aaron got old tested and true Aryana.  Up the mountain we started to go walking through mud, over logs and stopping at camps once and a while.  Aryana showed her veteran prowess taking side paths to avoid logs while Jessica’s young buck took them all on.  After our trek we took the elephants back to where we picked them up, dropped off Jess’s and took Aryana swimming with us in the river to get cleaned up!  Rolling around, spraying water, relaxing, Aryana was sure enjoying the water and the scrubbing and we were enjoying the cool waters break from the heat!  It was pretty amazing when she layed down in the river it turned from quick moving to standstill.  Once Aryana was squeaky clean we got out of the river, kissed our new friend goodbye and headed back to Chiang Mai.

 

 

 

The next day we had to take the train in the afternoon back to Bangkok.  So we got all packed up but during this time we could hear an siren outside go off with some talking on a PA, we heard that sound the day before and didn’t think much of it.  At the reception desk we got to talking with the receptionist and she mentioned there was some insane flooding in the area.  We knew it rained a lot that evening, but not enough to wash houses and people away!  During this talk with the receptionist we found out the trains where cancelled and we had to head to the train station to get a refund.  Some collective thinking later and we had our plan of attack so we could catch our ride to Cambodia tomorrow at 7:30am.  We waved goodbye to our guesthouse and walked up to the road to catch a tuk-tuk to the train station.  It must have been luck of the draw, but we got a smoking good driver!  Expecting a big lineup at the train station for refunds, we forgot about traffic.  The bridges were all packed with cars and people taking pictures of the overflowing river.  Then the main roads were slow moving being under 20-30 cm of water.  However our driver got us off the main roads and down back alleys to beat the flooded streets.  Quickly we pulled up to the train station, with no lines, and got our refund then headed to the airport!  At higher ground in the airport we shopped around for the cheapest flight to Bangkok via the ticketing kiosks, found it and booked it.

Our Tuk-Tuk

Our flight was originally suppose to leave at 5:10pm, then was delayed till 6:40pm and then again till 7:40pm.  We finally got in the air sometime after 8pm and landed in Bangkok after 9pm.  Which sucked cause we booked a 5 star hotel for the night cause we figured it’s be nice for a change, too bad we only got to spend probably 8 hours in it!  The next morning we left our hotel at 6:30am and caught our ride on time to the Cambodian border then Siem Reap.

Getting to the Thai-Cambodia border went off without a hitch, getting through it was another story.  Long lines and corruption all make for a lot standing around.  In all it took us almost 5 hours to get our visa’s and back in a cab to Siem Reap.  From the Cambodian border town, Poi Pet, it was another 2 1/2 hour drive to Siem Reap.  Once we got into town we had to switch to truck cause the cab couldn’t go deep into the town cause of…flooding, oh boy.  The truck took us as far as they were willing to our hotel, cause apparently it’s Atlantis, and told us to walk the rest.  With water up to the middle of our shins we walked for a bit then said ‘we have no idea where we are lets get a tuk-tuk’.  We hopped in and off we went, the driver also offered to take us to a different place cause he also confirmed it was flooded out too.  Not too keen on the offer onward we went to the one we booked and low and behold it was high and dry.  2 cabs, 1 van, 1 bus, 1 truck and 1 tuk-tuk later we finally made to our final destination!  Here we are dry and safe in our hotel planning out our days in Cambodia, somewhat dreading that trip back to Thailand.  Stay tuned, next blogs hint, a Blockbuster hit was filmed here. Thanks for reading!

-Aarissca

Chiang My Oh My

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Well,  were sorry to say that we don’t even recall where we left off last. We have so much to tell that we might have to scrap the blog and do a novel!  On our final day in Bangkok we ventured out of the city a bit to a place where they hold a market called the Damndensaduak Floating Market, which sounds really original and cool.  At this market you hire a boat and they paddle you down this canal to all the different vendors.  You can also hire somebody in a boat with car engine transplanted on the back and the drive shafted in the water with some kind of propeller attached.  Here’s something Jess would say, only Americans would hire those boats cause they are loud and obnoxious.

The Floating Market

The market really was a massive tourist trap of the worst kind, because once a vendor got a hold of your boat (with a long hook and pulls you in whether you want to or not!) you almost had to swat at their hands to get free, and the constant “you buy, you buy” was enough to make you want to throw your wallet into the river and watch everyone dive in whilst you paddle far far away from there. The market had lots of non-interesting souvenirs at ridiculous prices, but their was  some good food here and there.  It was pretty interesting to see how they do sales when you want to buy something that is on the other side of the canal.  Jess was the initiator for that one, they pass a basket on a stick with the goods over to you then you drop your money in it and send it back.  A lot harder then it sounds, especially with all these tourists stopping to take pictures.

We braved one of these transactions for some Thai carrot pancake things, but soon had buyers remorse as all the passing started a boat to boat to boat traffic jam that Bangkok would be jealous of.  Oh yeah, and one piece of advise keep your hands in the boat at all times or the angry old lady driver will lose it.  Seriously, she made the I punch you gesture at us, and then later asked for a tip. I don’t think so lady! After the market we had boat tour of the further canals where the vendors of the market lived.

Passing of The Food & Money.

Once we got back to Bangkok, we had a night a train to catch to Chiang Mai.  Which was interesting in it’s entirety, 4 bunks in a room and a strong lingering smell of urine.  I didn’t think it was that bad, Jess would rather walk for three days with her pack on her back.  We didn’t expect the train to be exactly on time, but by the time we actually rolled into Chiang Mai it was almost 4 hours late…sort of killed the day for us but we were told that things here run on Thai time, must be a great excuse to be late for work. After we got checked-in to our guest house, we hopped into a cab with some  delicious supper from the place next door and headed to the Tiger Kingdom outside the city.  Waiting for the dinner to go made us a bit tight on time as the place closes at 6 pm, but with some insane driving from our taxi we got there just minutes before.  Since it was so late in the evening and the tigers were becoming active they couldn’t let us play with the larger ones, we had to settle on the smaller ones, still pretty great!

Playing With The Little Tigers

In we went, to play with these little 2-3 month old Tigers and they play hard!  Biting, scratching, jumping, these guys almost had endless energy and actually were pretty gentle with people but aggressive among themselves.  When they did go a bit too hard with people all the trainers did was give them a little bonk on the nose and they’d stop!  Since it was so late in the evening we got to see the tigers get fed their nightly meal of chicken and play fight with each other. It gets super dark early here so it was hard to get good photos, but in the hour we spent watching and taking pictures of these big cats we got a few good ones.

One of The Big Cats

The following day, we walked around Chiang Mai looking into different stores and Jess trying to find a place for a pedicure.  We did go upstairs to one place, sat down and waited for the lady to do it.  However, soon left because the nail polishes she used weren’t up to Jessica’s standards, so she eventually went to a place beside our hostel. (come on those nail polishes were crappy and had no good colors!) That evening we went to a night market where Jess broke down her shopping famine and bought her first things on the entire trip, who would believe Jess had trouble shopping. Picking up some cool bulb lights, a tank-top and a panda egg holder.

Day 6 in Thailand, involved a tour of the Doi Inthanon national park where Thailands highest peak is located.  On the way up our tour guide was asking us whats the highest mountain in the world, then South-East Asia and then he started going into specific countries of where people in the tour were from.  Our guide knew Germany’s & USA’s off the top of his head but not Canada’s!  Which is mount Logan in the Yukon at 5,959 meters. Our first stop at Doi Inthanon was a waterfall called Wachirathan. We greatly enjoyed this tour as the temperature at this height was only plus 16 degrees c and gave us a break from the sticky heat that we have endured on this trip. We were hopeful of a swim in the falls but after we saw them we realized that these falls were much too fast for swimming.

The king's waterfall

At the top of the mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tour guide on this trip was excellent and told us, that the king and queen of Thailand had been trying to help the mountain people who lived in these high northern mountains because they were clear cutting much of the forest for money and killing much of the wildlife. Causing a migration of the animals that lived there.  Apparently there even used to be tigers in these mountains, but due to the tribes all of the animals moved to deeper jungle. The king and queen in these mountains had their own waterfalls and temples as well and we were able to view both on our trip. We were also able to go to a real village, not a tourist trap one and see the king and queens idea to help the tribes people make money, to prevent them from deforesting the mountains any further. The kings waterfall was the first one we saw, as we mentioned called Wachirathan and was very large and fast moving, the queens was smaller but more remote and the more beautiful of the two by far.

Playing on elephant statues in the park.

There were also many elephant statues around the national park, as the elephant is sacred in Thailand and considered the national symbol. Everyone laughed when the tour guide asked us what Canada’s national animal is and we sheepishly replied, the beaver. So after the waterfalls we went to the village and we saw first hand the coffee plants growing beans that the king had given to the people as a way to make money, we were also able to drink a cup of it for 20Baht and it was fresh and delicious. Then we were taken to a room with a loom and were able to see a women making wool scarves, but as it was a real village there was no one there bugging us to buy things and there was a small donation box, we were told that this was the queens idea to help out the villagers in making some money.

The kings temple and a view of the gardens.

 

Lastly we were taken up to the highest mountain in Thailand and to the king and queens temples, which were built to honor them and there efforts for the mountain people. The kings temple was much like the water fall, grand in size but low in decoration. The queens was very ornate and delicate and Jessica’s personal favorite with a narrative batik made of colored clay tiles on the roof. The grounds between the two temples was also a beautiful garden with many flowers in bloom and was very well kept! The tour was then over and we headed back to Chiang Mai to rest up for the exciting adventure we had planned the next day.

 

That’s all the time we have for this installment, have a train to catch back to Bangkok and then onward to Angkor Wat.  We’ll leave you with this picture below to give you a hint on what we left for next time!  Thanks for reading!

Dun, dun, dunnnnnn

-Aarissca