Location: Bang ma Kok, Thailand
...is there anybody out there?
So, we've bored you all stupid for the last seven months but fear not - you need suffer no more - we're outta here in T minus 7 hours; if they let us on the plane drunk, that is.
We've had an awesome time and have loved recieving all your messages and emails (thanks, Mum).
We've journeyed by plane, boat, bus, train, taxi, tuk-tuk, elephant & bamboo raft, across 10 countries (and currencies), 4 continents, countless languages (well, 4 anyway) and thousands of miles.
We've laughed, cried (at the smell of Rik's Tevas), moaned and delighted.
We've met some fantastic people and been to some absolutely awesome places. South America, you rock!
See you all in a matter of hours...
The Whoots xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
A short hop by Asia Airways touched us down in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The contrast between Cambodia and Thailand hit us pretty hard as the lasting effects of the Khmer Rouge regime were all too clear. We got the distinct impression that where in Thailand people were living, here they were surviving. We faced a non-stop barrage of amputees and young kids selling fake books and postcards. We use the term kids loosely as these children had the demeanour of adults - their sad, distant eyes got us every time.
We only spent three nights in PP, just long enough to visit S-21, a school which was turned into a torture centre for all middle and upper class Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1978. We couldn't face the Killing Fields where most of these people actually died as it was just too sad (and had also been privatised by the Japanese which greatly upset the Cambodian families).
From PP we took a bus up to Siem Reap to see the Angkor Wat temples. You'll see from the pics that some of them are straight out of Tomb Raider and were very impressive. It would have been even better to have seen them prior to them being destroyed by the KR. The temples are always compared with Machu Picchu but in our opinion MP wins hands down.
From Siem Reap we flew to Phuket via Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. With the money we saved flying via KL rather than Bangkok, we spent the night in a plush hotel in KL which had the best bath in the world and you could actually watch TV from it! We then journeyed on to Phuket where we were forced to spend 1 night before heading to Ko Phi Phi - the island we are currently on,which is all you'd expect from a tropical island - sun, turquoise sea, palm trees, etc.
We will now rest our weary bones (not) on different thai islands for the remaining couple of weeks or so of our trip...
...it's a dirty horse, but someone's gotta ride it.
Location: Chiang Mai cont.., Thailand
"'Tuk-Tuk? Tuk Tuk? Where you go?''
''Same same...but different!''
OK, so if you haven't been to Thailand you might be wondering what we're on about, but trust us you can buy t-shirts with these phrases on you hear them so often!
After 3 weeks we pretty much know all the tuk tuk drivers and Thai boxing 'flyer boys' by name but the smiles just keep on coming. The Thai people really are the friendliest bunch we've met which makes exploring the colorful town of Chaing Mai a delight.
Fried everything left us yearning for some calorie burning action so we took to hooning down Doi Suthep mountain on some decidedly dodgy mountain bikes. For a 'beginner' run it was alarmingly testing. The very steep and dusty paths involved more than a few screams... and wipe outs! Both of our fingers were burning from holding on to the brakes for our dear lives but thankfully we had some very good padding - we hope you appreciate the 'laser quest' style outfits (see pics).
After so much excitement we needed something to calm us down so what better than a 3 day/2 night Buddhist retreat to settle mind and spirit. Early on we learned about mastering our 'monkey-minds' and various types of concentration meditation. From 5am 'till 9pm we practiced sitting, walking and lying meditation techniques with 5 monks. The grounds were lovely and the food was pretty good too. Little Whoot, however, decided that her mind was full and sneaked out of the hall early one night, only to find herself tracked down and told off by one of the monks!!! Believe it or not, this particular monk suffered a little from Ego and wasn't particularly nice. It was pretty clear that not all Monks join out of generosity of spirit and appreciation for people, there are quite a few who are in it for a nice standard of living and free travel and education.
We celebrated completing our introductory course with the people we met over the course and despite the fact that we hardly new each other (we weren't allowed to talk!) we all got on like we'd known each other for years, which was great. We then spent the next few days recovering from the hangovers with our fantastic new Canadian buddies Jaime and Ian.
In our final few days we went elephant trekking and explored the local area by scooter with our new mates. The elephant trek was fun but 45 minutes was enough for us as at times we were practically dangling from our seats! It was definitely something different but not the kind of thing you sign up to do again straight away.
The heat and humidity is fierce at this time of year - even the locals were commenting on the temperature, so we decided to seek out some of the waterfalls to cool us down. It was great fun zipping round the busy roads en masse on our scooters and finding some really nice isolated falls where we were pleased to be the only Farang (that's jonny foreigners to you an me) there. As we walked up and explored the area we were welcomed by locals offering us whisky and redbull :)
Next installment is Cambodia. We actually landed on Cambodian soil last week and are having a great time - will update the blog soon we promise!!!
Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Swaa di ka from Thailand!
We have been in Thailand for around 2 weeks now and we're loving it. We started with a 3 night stay in a posh(ish) hotel in Bangkok where we enjoyed such luxuries as a bath and a TV.
We then headed up north on the train to a place called Phitsanulok so we could visit the ruins of the old Buddhist city of Sukhothai and all its temples (Wats). We hired bikes and pedalled our way from one Wat (eh, what?) to another which was great fun but sooo hot!
The next day we headed further north to Chiang Mai, where we will be staying for 3 weeks or so. We arrived at night and were bundled into a tuk-tuk (basically a moped with a carriage on top) and headed into the city which was all lit up and looked gorgeous. Since arriving in Chiang Mai, we've done a lot of eating thai food (and recovering from some of it - Kate), walking round fantastic markets, visiting wats and generally lazing around.
Tomorrow we will be doing a bike tour of the nearby mountains which should be great. We're also going to do some yoga classes, stay overnight in a monastery, ride on an elephant and get a thai massage or two. So you see, we'll need the next 2 weeks in Chiang Mai! Oh, and the people are just so friendly which makes wandering round the markets etc so much nicer and less hectic than in other places we've visited (we're not mentioning any names, Peru!).
We'll update again soon, with hopfeully some pics of cute elephants and things.
Location: Cairns, Australia
Too easy mate!
After Byron Bay we headed further up the east coast to Queensland which is much more tropical and humid. En-route we came within an inch of lives whilst innocently eating some dinner in a cafeteria....
"There's a snake behind you" said our guardian angel as calmly as if he'd just asked us for the time. Turning round we did indeed see a cheeky and very aggressive 'Brown Snake' slithering hungrily towards our ankles! It wasn't long before we were out of striking distance (although Kate somehow managed to find time to run back and get her bag - as if the snake was going to steal it?!) Half the resteraunt were jumping on tables and screams could be heard for miles. Cool Kate remarked that it was probably just a grass snake to which Steve Irwin, who casually dealt with the snake with a kitchen broom, replied "Nah mate, that thing'll kill ya in 15 minutes". It turns out that the brown snake is actually one of the biggest killers in Australia. GULP.
Having recovered from our ordeal we made our way to Fraser Island, the biggest sand island in the world, containing more sand than the Sahara Desert. We had a fantastic time swimming in fresh water lakes (no swimming in the shark infested sea allowed) and walking through virgin rain forest which was just magical. A couple of Dingoes crossed our path as well as dolphins, manta rays and a sea-turtle which we saw from the Indian Head cliff. Rik was also lucky enough to get a fantastic shot of what we think is an Osprey (Dad French please correct us!) as it flew right up to him on top of Indian Head (as Kate was screaming "turtle! turtle! Rikko, get a picture of the turtle!"). To be fair, the turtle couldn't really be seen as anything more than a turtle-shaped black blob floating around in the sea so perhaps the osprey made a better photo opportunity...
We then made our way up to our final destination in Oz, Cairns. The bus journey up to Cairns was fantastic with really great scenery and lush forest everywhere. We even saw wallabies & 3 Cassowaries - big ostrich-type birds which can disembowel you with one toe (as the bus driver never tired of telling us). From Cairns we did a snorkelling trip to the Great Barrier Reef for Kate's bday which was a great day, although the waves were pretty choppy and we didn't see quite as much as we thought we might. Gail, I now realise just how fantastic that snorkelling trip in Malaysia was - to see so much and in crystal clear, calm waters. Hopefully we'll get to see some more in Thailand.
Speaking of Thailand, we're off this very day to Bangmakok (no kidding, this is the proper name for it) which we're really excited about. We can't believe we're on our final leg now!!
Hope you're all well back in Blighty...we hear spring has finally sprung : )
Location: Byron Bay, Australia
'Too easy mate'! It doesn't get much better than being in Oz when England drum Australia 2-0 in the one day finals. Taunted for days by every bronzed sport-loving Ozzie about the spanking that we 'poms' were going to take made us smugger than the proverbial Cheshire Cat and we're still riding the wave of glory.
Yes, unbeliveably we've become Cricket fans. We hold Mike and Emily responsible, who we met in NZ, and since then we haven't heen able to resist tuning in to all the latest scores! Australia is full of pumped sports fanatics so our arrival in Sydney was pretty lively. We sought cover in a cool hostel called the Blue Parrot which (as we were to find out on arrival) was worringly close to the notorious 'Kings-Cross' district. We were told horror stories of how dingy the area was but decided to have a look for ourselves discovering that it was fine, not a patch on Coldharbour lane(!) - i think the Brits abroad that were trying to scare us have gone a bit soft!
The Opera House delivered the goods and we were treated to some smooth Jazz in the Opera House bar which has the best vantage point over the harbour. Rik saw his future before him as a tanned Jazz veteran mixed one chilled out number to the next on his fancy decks (CDJ800s for the crew in the know ;)).
We were treated to bats hanging from trees and very scary spiders in Sydney's Botanical gardens, check out some of the pics for an idea - definitely a nice place to relax after a hard day's work (well, appart from the bats and spiders!).
Our attempts to view the famous Blue Mountains were foiled by very bad weather unfortunately. It was amazing how quickly the climate changed as the clouds drew in. Although we were disappointed not to see the great views we found a laid back 1920s-style coffee house to get stuck into our books and our latte's.
Kate's old work friends, Jezza and Caroline, were great hosts and enterntained us for the next few days at their lovely pad in Balmain. Embarrassingly kate and i were too scabby to get in to the cool revoling restaurant that gives you a 360 degree view over Sydney. Caroline looked stunning in her classy work attire but we couldn't quite cut it "sorry, no shorts and thongs" still rings in my ears (btw, that's flip-flops to the lay person, other wise i don't think the 20 something doorman would have been complaining!)
A short stopover in Manly saw Kate get friendly with a blue bottle jelly-fish (they're not speaking anymore) before we endured the 14 hour bus ride to Byron Bay. We're now relaxing at a lovely place by the beach and getting used to the impressive coast line. We got some swimming tips from a fantastic ex Bondi Beach lifesaver hippy who had amazing eyes, one green the other blue! The Waves here demand respect and he taught us to body surf properly and how to dig your fingers in to the sand as you dive under the turbulance from the waves looking up until it's all washed over you!
Next on the list is Dolphin Kayaking (i'll try not to fall off this time and will be buying a waterproof camera!) before we head off to Brisbane!
Location: Queenstown, New Zealand
We have finally gotten round to writing about New Zealand! We have been here for a month in all, and we have seen the sunshine for a total of 3 days in that time...hmmm...
We raced round the North Island in about a week as many things were cancelled due to bad weather (including rafting over the world's highest raftable waterfall!). Those skydives and bungy jumps will just have to wait for next time! We're gutted too, but there it is.
The highlight of the North Island had to be a fantastic 8 hr trek into Mordor which the weather just about allowed us to do. It's called the Tongariro Crossing and since we did it in reverse by mistake it was a pretty difficult hike! We did start to wonder when everyone else was going the opposite way to us and skipping merrily along as it was mainly downhill for them but hey, we Brits like a challenge!
We also managed to get a bit of body-boarding in on a fantastic surf beach but Rik didn't last long as he thought he was so tough he'd choose to get fins (flippers) over a wetsuit. Kate was laughing as the waves were so tiny fins were pointless but he would insist. Needless to say, as Kate paddled around in her lovely warm wetsuit, Rik was running out the water and shivering like a lost child within minutes. He has learned one important lesson from it though...that Katie is always right!
We ended our tour of the North Island with a 4 day stay at our friend Frodo's plush batchelor pad in Wellington which was very, very welcome as he had a guest room, TV, internet, washing machine and best of all, a bath! We sure have missed relaxing in a hot bath since we've been away (almost as much as we've missed curries). We also met up with Naomi and Greg in Wellington and played on the beach with their kids Sam and Abigail for an afternoon which was really lovely.
The final highlight from the North Island (esp for Rik) was a Welly Boot throwing competition, which, unsurprisingly, Rik won by a clear mile...he beamed all day after that. Bless.
Next stop was the South Island. This piece of land is pretty damned amazing, with every drive taking you through breath-taking scenery. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side though so it has rained an awful lot.
We walked along the coast with turquoise waters and white sandy beaches, stayed in the ever popular 'Barry Town' (where our arrival doubled the population) and tramped across a giant glacier (where we got soaked to the skin and nearly became part of the glacier!).
We are now in Queenstown which is their skiing capital and is a really beautiful place, on the edge of a huge lake and surrounded by mountains. Our idea of heaven. We also tried 'luging' here yesterday which was so much fun - see pics!
All in all, New Zealand is a great country with very friendly people and the most amazing old trees, but the weather has dampened things somewhat. We have therefore decided to cut our time in NZ short so we head to Sydney in 2 days!! So excited about that : )
Hope all is well back in Blighty and that the English winter isn't too harsh. Oh, and btw, for those Butlers Courtians amongst you, we have been travelling with one Emily Chissell for the past few days! She recognised me from primary school!
Location: New Zealand
HAPPY NEW YEAR to one and all : )
Not much explanation needed here as the photos pretty much speak for themselves. Christmas on the Cook Islands rocked, and after a tropical storm on Christmas Eve, the weather was fantastic. We snorkelled, kayaked, scootered and scapered...well, after a 5 hour delay which was just awful as we had to spend it eating a free breakfast on the beachfront. It's a hard life.
We are now back on tour, and are up in the north of the North Island, in the Bay of Islands.
More to follow soon...