30 September 2010

Phuket & Ko Samui

Sunset on Karon Beach
 The highlight of Phuket has to be its amazing sunsets - it is our first beach stop so we were in for a treat when we stumbled across one of the most colourful sunsets either of us have ever seen.

Kayaking in Ko Samui
We decided to take the 'make the most of the pool and beach' approach and have a relaxing couple of days. We walked to Kata Beach one afternoon and had a wander around. The natural beauty of the area has been slightly spoiled from all the hotels and touristy shops and we grew a little tired of saying that we didn't want a suit, massage or tuk tuk, but I guess it is all part of the fun!


Following Phuket was Ko Samui, our first island stop. After an eight hour journey, we arrived at the port and somehow (I'm not pointing any fingers James...) managed to miss our bus to the station, so were left grumbling as we haggled with another merry band of tuk tuk men.

James's beloved moped
Our current dwelling is set on a small beach, used by only a couple of bungalow-type hostels and is pretty much picture perfect. Aside from the odd lizard or two (I know they eat all the bad bugs, but they just run so fast across the walls), we have enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere of this beautiful island.

We hired a moped to see the popular Chaweng Beach and were not disappointed - it is one of our favourite places we have been so far! Today, we went kayaking (after coaxing James away from the 2008 Ryder Cup Highlights programmes - the 2010 tournament hasn't even started yet and he is already hooked).

We have one more day in this little island of paradise and then we go to a smaller, less touristy island called Ko Phangan for three days.

After that, we head to a new country and a new journey begins as we cross into Malaysia.

Pam


25 September 2010

Chiang Mai

Yui demonstrating how to cook Thai green curry
Pam and I decided to improve our limited culinary 'skills' at a Thai cookery class, run by Yui - a lovely lady who will be appearing on a Channel 4 documentary later this year to show Gordon Ramsay a thing or two.

The day started off with a visit to a local food market, where we were told how to select the best ingredients and choose the freshest meat. We were picked up in a cool VW campervan and taken to Yui's home, where she demonstrated how to cook three dishes: pad Thai, hot & sour soup and Thai green curry. We each had our own work station (not to mention razor sharp chef knife!) It was so much fun and somehow, all our fingers remained intact, although Pam did manage to evaporate most of her soup by turning the heat on the hob up rather than off - a true 'Pamism'.

Trying to look like we know what we're doing!
It's quite ironic that the best Thai food I've eaten in Thailand was cooked by my own hand! I would offer to cook for you all when I get home, but as Pam claimed she was a better cook than me, I'll nominate her to do that instead.

After a busy couple of weeks in the city, we decided to take some chill out time and soak up some morning sun by the pool. The only problem is, I soaked up a little too much and am now as pink as Pam's nail varnish.

Since this horrible incident (which left me only able to lie and watch football for a day - how terrible), we have flown to Phuket, where we are staying just 50 metres from the beautiful Karon Beach.

Hot & sour soup
Pam had to venture out alone to explore on the first morning while I 'recovered', but she came back in one piece and even brought me chocolate - score!

Tomorrow, we are going to see the final of the Kata Beach surfing competition, which should be interesting seeing as the red flags (meaning it is too dangerous to swim) will be flying. Hopefully, I will pick up some tips for surfing in Australia - Andrew, take note!

James

20 September 2010

Big Macs and lizard attacks

Ronald McDonald: renouned Thai chef
After a long overnight bus ride, we have arrived in Thailand's second city, Chiang Mai. Our first impressions are that it's a cleaner, cooler, calmer version of Bangkok.

Tired and hungry, following our 12 hour stint on the bus, we checked in and went straight to bed to get some much needed sleep. When I woke, the thought of a burger from McDonald's was at the forefront of my mind (as is usually the case).

Such was my desire for my beloved Big Mac, I googled, only to discover there was just one McDonald's restaurant (I use that word lightly) in the entire city. I was too hungry to focus on its exact location and decided to instead eat from the stalls at the market.

Picture the scene: we take a tuk tuk through the city, get dropped off next to hundreds of stalls, look to our left and there it is, shining in beautiful yellow and red, the big M. Some things are just meant to be!

The wee bugger

After the market, we arrived back at our room and started to get ready for bed. We were quietly pottering about when, without warning, Pam shrieked, leapt up on the bed and bounded for the opposite side of the room, screaming. I've never seen her run so fast. I soon realised there were three of us in the room - me, Pam and, scurrying up the wall, a chingchock (house lizard)! In the end, we were given a free room upgrade because of the little blighter, so I guess we owe it something!

James

17 September 2010

Kanchanaburi

James gets a shot at playing captain at the floating market
Hong Kong - check. Bangkok - check. Now time to experience the true life of a backpacker. We started on our voyage by taking the local, non air-conditioned bus to Kanchanaburi - a town sitting alongside the famous River Kwai.

After melting on the bus, we were hit with sweltering heat (finding out later this is one of the hottest places in Thailand) and clambered onto the very unusual pick-up truck taxis to Apple's Guesthouse. Here, we met one of the nicest people ever - Noi - who has greeted us with a smiling face everyday of our stay.

The Death Railway
Our time in Kanchanaburi has been a tale of two halves. First of all, there was the floating market at Damnoen Saduak. Setting off at 4:30am (a time of day I am definitely not used to) we took two buses in search of the sought after market but were left disappointed. Chatachuk Market had set the benchmark high.

The fourth of the seven-tiered Erawan Waterfalls
The floating market may not have been a success, but the next day more than made up for it. We booked a tour that involved a trip to Hellfire Pass (a point in the Thai-Burma original railway line), the Erawan Waterfalls, a trip on Death Railway and a visit to the River Kwai bridge.

The waterfalls were so beautiful - even if we looked like two Scottish lobsters after the steep walk. We considered swimming in the falls, but the huge, scary looking fish that 'nibble but don't bite' put us off!

Now, we are off to Chiang Mai - a 17 hour bus journey awaits!

Pam

     

12 September 2010

Bangkok

Pam at Chatachuk Market
If our hotel in Hong Kong was a 6 out of 10, the Davis Bangkok Hotel gets at least a 9! This is our final stay in luxurious lodgings (honestly, we are going to be staying in hostels) and we've hit the jackpot! For reasons unknown to both Pam and I, upon checking in to a modest studio room in the corner building, we were unexpectedly upgraded to a luxury suite in the main tower. Our room is huge and there is a spa and a swimming pool on the top floor. Whoever said we'd be living rough as travellers?!

Our hotel room at the Davis Bangkok
Our first impressions of Bangkok are that it is noisy, the people are friendlier than in Hong Kong (which, in truth, isn't saying much) and that it is extremely difficult to walk anywhere. Traffic jams are a constant feature of the city.

With that being the case, our ride in the back of a 'tuk tuk' (a motorbike driven two-person carriage) was amazing! We took our driver on such a long route to get back from a market we were at that his flip-flop began to burn from keeping the accelerator down for so long! We gave him a big tip for his efforts. Watch the video to see our crazy driver in action:

video

Yesterday afternoon, we went to the enormous Chatachuk Weekend Market, where there are over 8,000 open-air stalls. The sights and smells were incredible and there were bargains galore! Pam bought a long dress and sandals; I was happy to sample to food on offer!

Pomegranate - yum!
Later that night, we had dinner and cocktails on the 52nd floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel (at the 'Latitude Bar'; the 'Vertigo Bar' on the 59th floor was closed because of heavy rain). It was all very posh and we felt like kids pretending to be adults, but it was a treat we'll remember for a long time!

Fried potato spiral - delicious!
Today, we went by sky train to the river, where we took a 25 Baht (60p) boat ride to the Grand Palace, which lived up to its name. The buildings are amazingly colourful and decorative, though there are lots of con men outside the Palace Grounds who tried to tell us it was closed for an hour for the locals to pray and to spend an hour in their shop and/or restaurant!

We are now going north-west from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi. We will be in a guesthouse that does not have internet, so it may be a while before our next post. Please keep commenting on the blog - we love reading them!

James 

Outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok








10 September 2010

Happy Valley Racecourse & Llama Island

On the sampan in Aberdeen harbour: floating restaurant in the background


 Happy Valley Racecourse
After checking the football scores online, it seems that choosing to sleep instead of watch the Scotland game in the early hours of the morning was a good decision! I can't wait to see how we'll fare against the reigning European and World Champions...

Following a suggestion from Pam's dad, we went to the horse racing at the Happy Valley Racecourse, which I'm told is famous throughout the world. The only horse racing I'd been to before was at Hamilton Racecourse and it's fair to say that this topped it. 


video

From the eight races, Pam chose two winners. My only success came about because of a local punter's private tip ("Number 3 is a good horse" - who was I to argue?!) Just before the final race of the night, there was a huge thunder storm. Check out this (very short) video of the lightning:

El Capitan
The following day, we decided to head to Hong Kong's very own Aberdeen (a sunnier, more colourful version of the Scottish city, although with a similar fishy smell in some parts). When we arrived, we took a sampan tour of the harbour with a rather eccentric guide (see picture). The water was packed with traditional fishing boats, houseboats and even a floating restaurant!

Bargain hunting at the market
In the evening, we took a ferry to Llama Island, on the advice of the guidebook. Unlike the vast majority of places in Hong Kong, there are no cars on Llama Island. Instead, there are lush green hills, bicycles galore and cheap, interesting restaurants. The one we ate at suffered slightly from an over attentive waiter (who hovered around nudging the salt shakers and topping up our drinks, presumably to appear busy) and also from a meal that will probably remain a once in a lifetime 'experience': braised baby pigeon (I'm a cruel man, I know...)

James

Mmmm... ice-cream!
Aberdeen Harbour sunset
The neon lights of Nathan Road

7 September 2010

Hong Kong

After 12 sleepless hours on the plane, we relieved to see our rucksacks arrive on the luggage rack.
After staying the night at Calum and Meg's very nice new flat in Ealing, Pam and I took the first big step of our seven month round the world trip: the flight from London to Hong Kong.



We plan to stay in youth hostels most nights in each country we visit, but we thought we'd treat ourselves for our first few nights abroad. For the 3 nights we are in Hong Kong, we are staying in The Royal Pacific.

Our hotel (we're staying in hostels mostly!)
We didn't check in at the hotel room until around 9pm, but we nipped out for look around a few of the main streets nearby. The shops and shopping malls are amazing! There are big fashion names with huge, expensive stores here: Hugo Boss, Armani, D&G. They even had an H&M.

I sampled noodles with spicy shredded beef, which was delicious (and as hot as a vindaloo). This was the first time in my life I had eaten an entire meal with chopsticks. It may well be my last.

I'm debating whether or not to stay up to watch Scotland versus Liechtenstein online, although, having been awake for 33 hours straight, going to sleep seems like the better option. Mind you, watching the match might get me there quicker. Over and out.

PS: Our own photos will be on the way soon!

James