Nearly 3 months behind schedule, but here is our first entry...
Hi Guys and Girls, Welcome to our travel blog…
Firstly, a massive apology that it's taken such a long time to make our first entry. It's been a crazy first two Months that has seen us step foot in 7 countries to date. We began our trip leaving Heathrow, London on 20th October 2011, arriving in Bangkok, Thailand on 21st of October. As I'm sure most of you are aware, the country had experienced flooding north of the city and it seemed as though it would only be a matter of time before the waters would flow in to the center of Bangkok. We spent 3 days in the city, before deciding to re-route our trip and travel east towards Cambodia over the land border crossing in Poi Pet.
The bus trip took around 6-7 hours in total and we missed immigration that day, arriving shortly after the 8pm cut off time. We stayed at a small hotel on the Thai border, and passed in to Cambodia the following morning.
Our first night in Cambodia was spent in Siem Riep and we really liked the town. There were narrow streets with nice restaurants and we ate in a place where they served crocodile, python, frog legs, squid, chicken, beef, and lamb. We chose to eat python, crocodile, chicken, squid and beef and had to cook the raw meat at our table with a fondue along with some vegetables. We had not had python and crocodile before but both really liked it. The crocodile was similar to the alligator meat we ate in America.
Unfortunately Emelie got sick shortly after, so we chose to visit the temples of Angkor for one day only. It was very impressive to see but we were satisfied we had chosen not to buy a 3 day ticket!
We also visited the mine museum outside Siem Riep and got to know that Cambodia still have between 3-6 million activated mines in their country. After seeing this museum we were already a bit exhausted after seeing all the cruel things that happened not long ago but determined to follow our plan we headed towards Phnom Penh to see the Killing fields and S21. Both were very interesting places and it was a real history lesson we took part in. The Killing fields had a horrible story to tell and everything it told us had happened so recently. We walked around in a very peaceful garden where there were small lakes, birds singing, green areas and benches, but 30 years ago it had been used as a site of mass genocide, used to executed their own inhabitants under the most horrific methods imaginable. We were given audio books to listen to when walking around and people who had been there to work or had been able to escape told us the stories. They had 5000 skulls kept in a glass building and you could see how the people had been murdered by looking at the skulls. Also when walking through the garden, there was fragments of bone and teeth and old clothes from that time on the ground and during the rainy season, the earth brings more things up to the surface. It took us a couple of hours to walk around there and after this we went to Tuol Sleng, S21 which is the prison where they imprisoned people prior to the killing fields in which they were tortured. There are photograph, stories and still blood in the cells. The prison was originally built as a school called Tuol Sleng Primary school and Toul Svay Prey High which they rebuilt into cells to make a prison 1975- 1979. Pol Pot thought that the educated people made Cambodia too western and he wanted people to work in the countryside and be self-sufficient so he captured, tortured and killed his own people. Doctors, Nurses, Teachers, Dentists were among those who were murdered but he himself had a degree from France. Approximately 2-4 Million people (21 % of the Cambodian population) died during this time. There are still people responsible for the mass genocide that have still not been prosecuted after all these years, including a man called Khang Khek Ieu, A.K.A Dutch who ran the S21 prison. Whilst in Cambodia I also read "First they killed my father", a book really worth reading, It describes the account of a young girl living in Cambodia during that time.
After our time in Phnom Penh, we went south to Sihanoukville. Anders had been telling us about it and with his stories, seven years ago it sounded like a pretty amazing place with very little development. This was not the first time I had been surprised how much things had changed so quickly in the seven years we hadn't travelled in Asia. The beach we went to had rows of sun chairs and lots of bars and people who wanted to sell us things. We met an English couple there. The girl was from New Malden just below where I used to work in England. We spent three days with them and went out to an Island where we slept one night in beach huts. There was just one restaurant with a bar there and this turned in to a beach bar party during the night with virtually only English backpackers high on Marijuana. For us it was enough to stay there for one night, even though the beach was beautiful.
We were travelling a lot by public busses in Cambodia. The bus service was pretty awful and such hard work! We travelled distances which would normally take no more than two hours in Sweden but took around seven hours in Cambodia. After Sihanoukville, we travelled by bus (again) to Ho Chi Minh City, also called Saigon in Vietnam where our history lesson continued. Arriving in a busy motorbike city late at night we decided to go to the Cu-Chi Tunnels outside Ho Chi Minh the following morning. We got up early and went on the Mekon River for about two hours on a speedboat before arriving at the tunnels. We had a guide from Vietnam that had lived and fought for America in the war so he had a lot of very interesting stories to tell. We were shown some of the designs of traps which the Vietnamese built for disabling American soldiers in the jungle. The tunnels were really narrow and dark but you could go through one of them which had been made bigger for the tourists. The guide said that they were built small so the "fat Americans" couldn't get down there but nowadays the Vietnamese people have difficulties going in them. I can say that the tunnel for the tourists was still very small and claustrophobic. This was the Viet-Cong 's base and they were living in those tunnels, 10's of meters down underground in the heat for long periods of times throughout the war. Sometimes whilst the Americans were bombing they had to remain in the tunnels for days on end without coming to the surface at all. At the end of the guided tour we could choose to shoot with some of the weapons they used so Scott and I chose an AK47. We had ten shots with it which went FAST and was very LOUD! After a morning at the tunnels we went back to HCMC and decided to go to the War museum where they had lots of big American aircraft, tanks and other equipment left behind or donated after the war. Inside the museum they showed many pictures from the war and they had different rooms for different things including one with the pictures of deformed people caused by Agent Orange chemical weapons. Today, children are still born with these deformities as a result of the bombs used during the war.
Because we already had a plan in our heads of the things we wanted to see in Vietnam, we booked a flight up to Hanoi where we stayed a couple of nights, saw the city and had some nice food before we went for a sailing trip in Halong Bay. It was an incredibly beautiful place with limestone cliffs as far as the eye can see. We first sailed for one day with lots of other people from Portugal, Norway, Austria, Finland and Israel. The Vietnamese, as well as the rest of SE Asia love karaoke so of course there was be some karaoke in the evening. Our guide started singing and it was just awful. After a while, one of the Norwegians took over the microphone and we were thinking, oh my God, how will this now be? Staggeringly, it turned out that he was a really good singer and we learned the day after that he used to sing but owned a restaurant nowadays. We also met a Finish couple who killed no less than 24 cockroaches in their room and they hated the sailing tour. We were actually meeting up with them again in our trip in Thailand so you will hear more about them later, really nice guys. Anyways, we did some beautiful kayaking around the lime stones and the floating islands where people live. They say that the people that are born on the water live there and die there and never go to the mainland. The kayaking was beautiful even though the fins found a condom floating by their kayak. In the evening we also did some squid fishing. I'm sure you're thinking wow, but it wasn't so wow. We sat at the back of the boat, dipping a fishing rod down in the water and there was loud karaoke coming out from the speakers behind us and tons of floodlights. I think you find the squids in dark and deeper water so it was of no real surprise that we didn't catch any…
Our room was lovely anyway and the food on the boat was pretty nice. We went to Cat Ba Island the day after where we chose to stay two nights. The first day we went around to the hospital cave which I found pretty nice to see. This was where they hid the injured soldiers during the war so it was like it sounds - a hospital inside a cave. We were bicycling there so we passed through some villages and saw lots of nice things. In afternoon we left for Monkey Island. We went through floating villages and between limestone's out to this island and it was so beautiful! BUT on the island there were lots of aggressive monkeys and they circled around a Swedish girl and showed their teeth and also stole one French guy's jacket and hung it in a tree. Scott also got to see the teeth but they never bit fortunately. We rented motorbikes and went around the island our self to some other caves and to a national park where we climbed up on a mountain in the hope to see the Cat Ba Langurs (small cute monkey). We didn't see them so I bought a T-shirt with one on instead where it says: Save the Cat Ba Langurs. Also clumsy as I am, I fell with the motorbike and Scott over me and scratched my leg up but it has healed up nicely.
After the Halong Bay experience which was really beautiful but very touristy, we decided to go back to Hanoi and travel further up to Sapa which is just by the Chinese border. This small village with their hill tribes and rice terraces was reached by night train, a jumping load thing, in a room with two Vietnamese elderly men who decided to talk on the phone lots of times during the night and which departed evening and arrived very early morning around 4 or 5 am. In Sapa we rented motorbikes and also trekked to the villages. It was amazing. The motorbike rental was a chapter by itself though which kind of ruined part of our Sapa experience. First we got a puncture and angry as I am we called the guy we rented from by using someone's phone. Of course, we had to go and fix it at the village mechanic after arguing about the price which we finally agreed on. Then when we drove to see a waterfall, the bike just stopped working. We were so angry by that time so the guy understood the seriousness and went for picking us up. The funny part is that we did a lot to get this bike to work and also got help from some guys but no one could fix the bike. Then suddenly, this woman came up and touched the bike and as if by magic, it worked again. By this time, the other guy had arrived to get us, we drove back following him to our hotel and suddenly the tyre goes again, a puncture for the second time. There is a lot to write about this event but we will have to take it another time. On the upside, we ate the best pizza ever in Sapa at an Italian place. Can you believe that, in a Vietnamese-Chinese border town we found a great Italian restaurant J
Back in Hanoi again we stayed for a few days. Hanoi is also a funny city where you find hotels, restaurants and travel agencies by the same name all over town. If the business has built a good reputation, they copy each other to mislead tourists. You have to be so careful to make sure you arrive at the correct address the place in on, otherwise you often end up where you don't want to be which can be very frustrating. After Hanoi we took a flight down to Bangkok and further down to Krabi where we stayed for a while in a hostel we really liked. We went out to Railay for an afternoon where we spent time on the beach and looked at the monkeys. We ate in Krabi towns' local food market and it was nice food for really cheap prices so we really recommend stopping by if ever you're there. One day we decided to go for some elephant riding and swimming in a river. It was nice and we fed them too. The oldest elephant was 40 years old and they were well looked after.
We heard a lot of stories about Phi Phi Island and that it was too touristy and just a party Island but we still wanted to make our own minds up and decided to take a ferry there and later go to Koh Lanta. We ended up staying on Koh Phi Phi for eight days. When we arrived, the island was so small and there were just people everywhere. Scott had decided to take his diving license so we asked around for some prices but soon realized that everyone charged the same price. We ended up in a place called Blue View divers which was away from the Tonsai Village (Tourist Village) and Scott decided to go for them. He started his training the day after and it was a bit nerve wracking because he has always been frightened by the ocean, but his diving instructor was good and I also did a scuba review there because it had been such a long time since I last dived so I sat with Scott and watched all of the instructional films. One of the diving masters also needed someone to train with to sign off some things so I got offered to do a whole scuba review in the pool so it was like taking a new diving license again! Scott went through all of the days with training and we then had the last two dives together. We went out to Phi Phi Leh which is the Island where Leonardo Di Caprio filmed "The Beach". We were diving by that Island and saw nice Turtles and lots of fishes, but it wasn't my favorite place to dive. I thought it was quite poor marine life so I didn't want to do more than those two dives in Thailand. We thought for a while that we would go to Kao Lak and out to the Similian islands and Richeileu rock but after some consideration we chose to go for more diving in the Philippines and I think we did the right thing!
We spent most of our time on Phi phi diving and after the course we went to another beach for good snorkeling off shore. There, we saw Black tip reef sharks and lots of nice marine life. We went up to the View point and took lots of nice pictures and tried to imagine how it looked like when the Tsunami came in and destroyed the Island. We also ran to the nicest beach there, held a Spider monkey, fed lots of kittens with eye problems and went to a yoga class. This is also the place where we met up with our Finish friends from Halong Bay. We spent some afternoons with them, having dinners and drinks. One afternoon we went to hidden lagoons, monkey beach where we saw some monkeys mating, caves and back to Koh Phi Phi Leh which is very beautiful but just not really beautiful anymore because of all the boats and tourism. We struggled to get back from the island because of a huge thunderstorm, lightening and heavy rain. Phi Phi Island is also very beautiful but because of the party atmosphere and the notorious beach full of drinking and drug taking it has ruined it somewhat. There are some places on the island to go for more beautiful spots and peace.
After Phi Phi comes Lanta. Lanta was supposed to be a beautiful and relaxing island according to Lonely Planet and lots of people we met. Sure, we stayed on Koh Lanta for seven days but that was more because I got sick and we felt tired of travelling around. We lived in a place with a swimming pool so we could do swim training which was really good and we also ate in lots of nice relaxing places on the beach where we laid on pillows or sat up in tree houses having food but we never really understood what was so special with the island. The beaches were not nice. We rented motorbikes again and went around the Island. There is a place called Hammock house there where they sell very nice hammocks so we went there and decided to order one later from Europe. One day we also went out to Koh Rock where we did a lot of snorkeling and also saw lots of huge Commodo Dragons. It was a nice island but it started chucking it down with rain which was a big shame. First night we also met the finish guys again. Coincidently they were on the same beach so we spent again a lot of time with them, having dinners and long talks which we really enjoyed.
In Koh Lanta we planned for the date to go to the Philippines and finally decided that December 10th was the perfect day to go but we still had a week left in Thailand so we decided to head back to Railay again. Railay is a beautiful island and we stayed there the last week but it would turn out to be the a week we wished we could forget. We trekked through the jungle and one day rented a kayak to go over to another island and some caves. We packed our valuables down in the drywell and with dry bags around it but the kayak flooded and absolutely everything worth around 2000 pound got destroyed. The island we went to was beautiful but we saw nothing of it because it was spent frantically trying to dry our things. We have since replaced our things and have managed to put it behind us.
We decided to go to a cooking class to try something a bit different and to attempt to cheer ourselves up so we chose a lady who had taught Gordon Ramsey to cook Thai food. It was fun but expensive and I was sick so I now associate all my favorite Thai food with me being unwell and because of this I now struggle to eat it. I was so unwell thereafter, Scott did his trekking by himself up to a lagoon and he then spotted Spectacled Langurs which I really wanted so see too so I am now a bit jealous. After Railay we went to Phuket to fly further to Singapore and then the Philippines. In Singapore we had to wait all night at the airport so we slept on the floor for a while and went to check in at 6 am. When we came to the check-in desk they told us that we would need to present an onward ticket from the Philippines if we were going to be allowed to pass through immigration and we just had one from Bali so we had to go and buy one…. We did this after a long argument and after we'd spoken to another guy with the same problem. This guy later became our travelling friend for three weeks.
When arriving in the Philippines no one asked us for an onward ticket (of Course) so we got upset because we planned to stay in the Philippines more than 19 days but now had to restrict our plans. However, outside the terminal building we met the Dutch guy that had found himself in the same situation in Singapore and some Swedish guys. The Swedish guys planned to go to Malapascua Island and we planned to stay in Cebu city for a night and attempt to catch up on some much needed rest after only managing a few hours on a cold floor in Singapore airport. We got together with the Dutch guy in a cab and headed towards the city. Scott and I had our own room while Coen had his own. We walked around town for a while and ate some lunch, went back to sleep for a while and then went out again for dinner. In the morning, we got a letter from Coen saying we should leave for the Malapascua with the bus. He had slept for 16 hours without waking up! We went to the bus station and took a seven hours public bus out to this adorable island with pure white sand and absolutely crystal clear water with incredible diving. We stayed on the Island for six days and decided to go and compare the diving schools already the second day. We found one which had opened the day before! So we got completely new gear and managed to get a really good price. The dive instructor was from Blackpool, England and he was such a nice and funny guy! First day we went to Gato island to do two dives, 45 minutes each at around 20 meters deep. The first was so nice with corals just by a wall, massive schools of tropical coloured fish and one really long snake. On the second dive we saw no fewer than SEVEN White tip sharks at really close distance. First one was under a stone and we all leaned down on the ocean floor and saw the fin gliding back and forward under their which was so exciting! What was sad after this was that Coen damaged his ear drum because he was having difficulty equalizing (pushing out trapped air in the ears) so he couldn't dive anymore…. Scott & I woke up at 4 am in the morning the day after to go out on the ocean and see the Thresher sharks and yes we were very tired but wow! What an experience! We saw TWO of them. You have to look up what a Thresher shark is on the Internet if you don't know what it is! Look at their fin! We also saw this really nice special Turtle with cleaning fishes stuck on it. It was so beautiful. The rest of the day was then spent on the beach and in the islands absolutely nicest restaurant called Angelina with beautiful Italian food. The day after we did our fourth dive which I chose because I'd been told it had colorful coral gardens and lots of fish… again, we were not disappointed. It was nice and shallow, and because of this, we managed to do a really long dive because we had better air consumption and would only be diving once that day. We managed well over an hour of "bottom time". After this dive we decided to leave the island and go back to Cebu because of the typhoon which caused the flooding which I am sure you all heard about. Even though Malapascua is usually protected by the bad weather because of the mountains on one side and Cebu city on the other but we didn't want to get stuck on an island for a long time because of the lack of boats. So the three of us went back to Cebu city and stayed there one night. Scott and I decided to buy a laptop so we finally could update our travel diary for you all.
After this we decided to go to Moalboal and this was mainly because we heard that they spotted whale sharks down there. We came there after a crazy public bus tour and went out for food in the evening. I think we already then saw that that place wasn't what we had really been looking for. The town was full of virtually just German sex tourists and the beach was destroyed by concrete wall from all of the restaurants by the shore. The snorkeling was great with a big drop a few meters out. Scott and Coen were snorkeling for hours and used Coens new underwater bag for his camera and they saw a lot of nice fish and corals. Later in the day when I would try, I swam straight over a huge jelly fish which burned my whole body. I had been getting lots small ones on me before and usually get them every time I'm swimming but this was really painful. I came up on the beach twisting and Coen thought that this might just be a bit of a girly thing but my body was completely red and I had what looked like scars and rashes everywhere so Scott ran to buy vinegar to put on. When one of the girls put vinegar on me she said "your body is so nice" so we couldn't help but laugh. The vinegar helped quickly, but the reaction stayed until the day after.
We also met a French girl living in Surrey in England there and the next day we all went to a wonderful waterfall outside Moalboal. On the way there we stopped at the bakery because Coen is dependent on his sugar every day J We swam in the waterfall and also had some food with us which we ate there. It was a very nice day out but after that day and after we had seen more German sex tourists we decided to continue down to Bohol but we knew it would be a long trip down there because we were already in south Cebu so we would have to go by buses, ferries, jeepny's and mopeds to get to the place we wanted to see. We wanted to see the Chocolate hills and Tarsier monkeys. We decided to stay in a place called Nuts Huts which was on the middle of the island, by the river but in the jungle. We travelled from 7:30 in the morning until late evening and arrived there each on our own motorbike after a very long and sketchy jungle path downwards.
Nuts huts was recommended by Lonely Planet and there had been a lot about it written on TripAdvisor but we later learned that this was because the Belgium owners had invited them in there and because of this they managed to get a great deal of publicity and their own section printed in Lonely Planet. We read almost just bad critics about Nuts Huts on TripAdvisor but we wanted to make up our own minds. Immediately after arriving, we had to walk lots of stairs down to come to a restaurant. We stopped there to have dinner and met two other Dutch guys and also sat down together with the owners. We very soon realized that they wanted to defend what was written on TripAdvisor about them and that was the only thing they spoke about. We still thought the place looked very nice and it was just by the river and very high up with a jungle view. After dinner we continued downstairs, many, many stairs down until we came to the lodge where we would stay. We had decided to stay in the dorm all together but when looking in there was wood all over the beds from termites, no lock on the door and just a very badly organized room. None of us are picky in any kind of way but it was just not a very nice place. We then decided to take one each double room instead and me and Scott went into one but there was no space at all to put our bags instead and of course there was lots of wood from the termites also there… However, we decided for those rooms and saw that we didn't have a lock so we took the pad lock from the other rooms which created a lot of confusion the day after when we had to explain this to the owners. This can seem a bit strange but the rooms had different movie names so we had taken the padlock from Free Willy but we were staying inside the Big Fish and Coen was staying in Finding Nemo. So for us and other people staying there, it was very simple to understand but the owners had real difficulty understanding it. We started to dislike the place more and more and one night when we had dinner and some drinks, the owners had gone to bed and the time was 10pm. They had left their staff to tell everyone that the restaurant was closed so we all had no choice other than going to bed which was extremely odd, almost as though we were on a school trip with a curfew. Anyway, we went to the chocolate hills and they were green at this time of year because of the rain. There are times during the year when it is drier and they resemble large chocolate drops, hence the name. It was beautiful to see but like so many other places, very touristy. After the Chocolate Hills we decided to go and try the zip line they have on the Island. You fly 120 meters high over a river, laying down in a harness, flying like birds. Me and Coen tried it out first and he filmed the whole thing! It was really fun but was soon finished but you had a return ticket so we went back as well. After this it was Scotts turn and he really thought it was great fun too.
We decided to go and see the Tarsiers (world's smallest primate) in one of the Centers they have for them because they are very difficult to see in the wild. They have them at different places in the Philippines but at some of the centers you can hold them or they are inside of cages and this is not good for them at all because when you do this they are prone to depression and can be suicidal. They often kill themselves by hitting their heads on the cages or by holding their breath. Because of this, we thought it was very important that we went to a wild center where they are free in the jungle. We saw four of them and one of them with a baby. They sleep in the daytime and hunt during the night time. They eat insects and even geckos. The way we went to the Center was funny. We decided to hitch hike but after an hour of disappointment, A big guy on a motorbike came along offering to drop us there presuming we would be taking different bikes, but it ended up with 4 of us on one motorbike J You will see the picture of us! After this we decided to go to the town to try to organize things for Christmas and then thereafter we were invited for a Philippine Christmas party. We went there in the evening and they were showing dances and were singing a lot of songs and there were lots of different types of local foods. I forgot to tell you the story about the other Christmas party we were to in Malapascua. I wish we had a video to show but this party was for the kids and there were lots of ladyboys doing the show, doing splits and "dancing" and also dressed up in weird clothes and scared the kids. So different but funny. In the Philippines they celebrate Christmas all of December which is great fun and the people there are so friendly! After our Christmas party in Bohol it was raining so no motorcyclist wanted to bring us back to Nuts Huts. We started walking back on the jungle road and tried to hitch hike with everyone we saw but no one wanted to pick us up at 10 pm. Finally an ambulance stopped with us and took us back!
After that day we packed up our bags again and left Nuts Huts by boat on the river. It was a delight to get away from there and we had decided to celebrate Christmas on Panglao Island. We found a hotel that had opened the day before and we all stayed in one really nice hotel room for Christmas. We ate food on the beach and stayed by our swimming pool on Christmas Eve. Scott and I went for two more beautiful dives there and we saw big schools of Travallies which was so cool! Thousands of them swimming above our heads and we also saw Turtles and so much fish and live coral. It was an absolutely brilliant dive and was done at Balicasag Island!
The same day we did these dives, we came back and Coen had booked a room for us in the town close by. We again packed our bags and went with a tricycle all of us together and with our bags on there. In the evening we went to a restaurant which was quite fun because there was just deaf people working there so you had to do sign language to order but there was a telephone to use to call the kitchen with to place orders if we found it difficult to communicate, which of course we did. After this day we went back with the ferry to Cebu city and we stayed there for another night before we flew to Singapore.
In Singapore we stayed for the afternoon and evening, went for dinner and cakes and saw some of the city. At midnight we took the night bus to Kuala Lumpur and arrived there 4:30 am. We spent six days in Kuala Lumpur in the best hostel to date. Coen had recommended us to stay there and the woman that owned the hostel was so nice and friendly. At New Year, she made her own buffet for all of her guests and was incredibly helpful with travel advice. We shopped around in Kuala Lumpur. I got a new phone and Scott bought a new system camera. We went to China town and New Year's Eve was spent by the Petronas Towers which was great with the fireworks. You can see our film greeting from there posted on Facebook! We stayed in Kuala Lumpur longer than planned because our place was so nice and we ate lots of Indian food and sushi during our time in the city. We then took the bus down to Penang Island and spent one night there before heading off to Medan in Sumatra. Sumatra was not in our initial plans from the beginning but because I love Orangutans and Coen had been in Sumatra for a month and absolutely loved it so we decided to go there. We arrived here three days ago and we are now in Bukit Lawang. I have had trouble with my throat and lost my voice for a while and Scott has had back problems so we couldn't go for the jungle trek from the start but we are planning to go tomorrow.
And so it's 2012. Can barely believe another year has come and gone again, we will try and make it our New Year's resolution to try and update our blog as often as possible so that we don't have to write pages and pages back dating like we've had to this time around.
Expect lots of Pictures uploaded soon and we look forward to hearing from everybody posting comments on Facebook or on our blog!
Love to you all, and we wish you the very best for 2012 from the other side of the world.
Emelie & Scott.