A Travellerspoint blog

Our First Fortnight of Beautiful Thai Beaches...

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Firstly let me start by apologising for my lack of blog updating recently, my only excuse is the amount of time I've spent lazing on an array of beautiful Thai beaches...
We arrived on our first Thai island, Koh Tao, on 14th December after starting our journey to Thailand from Cambodia the previous day! We started with two buses taking us from Battambang, Cambodia to the border, where we then transfered to a mini bus which took us to Bangkok. The mini bus jaunt was by far the most awful journey of our whole trip (up to this point!) - the driver, a Lewis Hamilton wannabe, took corners at over 100kmph, overtook lorries, weaved throughout traffic and genuinely made me fear for my life! Upon arriving in Bangkok, we got on the first available night train taking us to Chumphon, where we then took the ferry across to Koh Tao! This amounted to 26 hours of travel overall - we were both exhausted!
Arriving in Koh Tao, this journey from hell was all made worthwhile - the island is absolutely beautiful, and was a perfect introduction to the Thai islands and beaches.
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After Koh Tao, we decided to skip the tourist trap that is Koh Samui and the party, drug-renowned Phangnan island and headed straight to the opposite coast, The Andaman Sea side. So, trumping our journey to Koh Tao was our journey leaving Koh Tao - an overnight 8 hour boat! I was expecting a fairly well equipped ferry with personal cabins - as you'll see in the below photos, the reality couldn't have been further from this! My face pretty much sums up how happy I was with this situation! I get really sea sick, and this tiny slaveship-esque fishing boat did nothing to help. For days afterwards I felt like I was swaying!!
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(No, our boat wasn't the brightly lit fancy thing in the background, it was the small dilapidated fishing vessel in front of it.) 2013-12-17_20_58_47.jpg
The journey was absolutely worth it though as the area we stayed in, Ao Nang in Krabi, was gorgeous and without a doubt home to some of the most beautiful beaches I'll ever see. My favourite was Railay peninsula, which is a 15 minute longtail boat ride from where we were staying. It was absolute paradise.
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Ao Nang Beach

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Sunset on Ao Nang Beach

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Railay West Beach

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Hat Phra Nang Beach - my most recommended place so far. It felt as if I'd walked into a postcard. The sea was so calm, clear and warm, and the sand so soft and golden.

After a few nights in Ao Nang (not long enough) we took the ferry over to Koh Phi Phi - yes, it is just as stunning as you'd imagine! Amazing karst peaks intermingle with dense green forestry to create a beautiful backdrop. We stayed away from the Magaluf-esque main town, instead choosing a little resort on the East side of the island with it's own private cove of beach. We had a cosy bamboo bungalow right on the beach, where we woke each morning to the sound of waves breaking the shore - bliss! The perfect place for some r & r - I got in plenty of quality time with my Kindle!
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The view from our beach bungalow.

During our stay in Phi Phi we made the thirty minute, sweaty jungle trek to the highest point of the island, to the viewpoint. It gave us a gorgeous view of the island as the sun was setting. And gave me an excuse for an ice cream when we got back!
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We left Phi Phi on Monday, after three blissful nights, and headed to Koh Lanta - the location of our luxury Christmas break. We've been here five out of seven nights now, and I am so wishing we could stay longer! I can definitely appreciate why so many expats hole up here. It's not as beautiful as some of the other islands, but it's just so laid back and unassuming. The beaches aren't too shabby either.

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Christmas Day was definitely a different experience! It was very bizarre lounging in 30 degree heat round the lovely hotel pool, whilst knowing how different the day would be spent were we at home. I have to say though, for that one day I did wish I was back in ol' Blighty with our family.
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Santa still managed to find us!

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AND we managed to find a fab Irish bar that served us a Turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and a Baileys chocolate cheesecake for dessert - without a doubt the best meal I've had in the last two and a half months!!

We're looking forward to our last few days in Koh Lanta before travelling to our next stop in time for NYE celebrations!

Seasons Greetings!! xo

Posted by AmyRossiter26 20:12 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Siem Reap, Amazing Angkor & Brief Battambang

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So we arrived in Siem Reap last Friday night, with little in the way of expectations after our slightly underwhelming start in Phnom Penh. Arriving at the hotel we were really impressed - it was fab! Free fresh fruit, tea & coffee, and a fantastic outdoor pool and jacuzzi ready for us to jump in to! The next day, we decided to indulge in a little R&R by just chilling poolside and making the most of the gorgeous weather. In the evening we ventured into town (courtesy of the hotel's complimentary tuk tuks) where we were pleasantly surprised - you still get the incessant sales pitches from tuk tuk drivers and massage parlours, but the town itself is lots cleaner than Phnom Penh, and no street beggers. They have a great night market, which we enjoyed walking around, haggling for bargains. And some excellent restaurant choices. We settled for one down 'Pub Street', where we both had amazing traditional Khmer curries.

Our second full day in Siem Reap, we decided to tackle the temples! By bicycle I might like to add!
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Angkor is around a 15km cycle from the hotel, so we set off fairly early with the expectation to see them all in the one day... Mistake! We managed to see about seven (around a quarter!) Some were really impressive, whilst others not so much.
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This one, called Ta Prohm, was the backdrop to the Lara Croft 'Tomb Raider' film. This was my favourite visit of the day - it's really cool how the tree trunks have interwoven between the temple's stones.
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This one, as you can tell, was very underwhelming. It was well off the beaten track - we'd ditched the bikes for the time being, meaning we had to trek a kilometre on foot through a village and farmland to find it. We weren't best pleased when we found it undergoing conservation and covered in scaffolding!! At least we got to spend some time amongst this beautiful scenery though (minus the fact I was constantly on the look-out for tarantulas and snakes!)
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The 40 kilometre round cycle the first day meant we were more than willing to take a tuk tuk for our second day at The Temples. And I am so glad we did - we definitely saw lots more than we would have had we not, and it also meant we didn't need to do a third day! As impressive as they are, there's only so many you can see without them starting to look "samey" (please don't judge me for saying this!) As we were paying for the tuk tuk, we thought we may as well get up for sunrise at the most famous of the temples - Angkor Wat.
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Early awaiting! We look surprisingly fresh for 5:30am.
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The time just before sunrise does make for a lovely photograph (if you can manage to wade through all the other lunatic tourists, who're also mad enough to get there at 5:30!)
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Ben patiently awaiting the sunrise, which by this point had sort of come up without us noticing! Spot the mass of tourists also waiting in the background!
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Here it is!! Worth the hour and a half wait?... Debatable. It definitely doesn't compete with sunrise on The Great Wall!

The rest of the day was very pleasantly spent walking around the enormous structures, taking in the immense craftmanship that went in to their construction. It's amazing that they have withstood the tests of time - most are over 1000 years old! Most amazing are the engravings and carvings that still remain, and how detailed they still are. To think each of the thousands of stones, making up each temple, was hand carved - how many people must it have took just to build one of the huge temples, and how long?! The dedication to the construction of these temples is mind blowing.
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Just some of the fantastic stone carvings.

My favourite temple overall was The Bayon, set within the ancient walled city of Angkor Thom. It's easily the most aesthetically pleasing.
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The temple's construction is focused on the huge warrior-like faces carved into the outer-facing stone walls. It must have been an important structure in its day, as to me the warriors seem to symbolise protection over whoever was inside.
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Toward the end of the afternoon my attention span began to wane, but the beautiful forested scenery the temples are set within made for a welcome distraction. A landscape photographer at heart, I loved wondering around snapping away.
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The only real downer on our Angkor experience was the annoying sales merchants, stationed outside every temple trying to flog you anything and everything. When you've been walking around in the heat all day, feet and back aching, the last thing you need or want is someone trying to sell you a flipping scarf! Someone even tried to sell Ben an exact copy of the t-shirt he was wearing!
In the below photo, the poor people couldn't even escape a sales pitch whilst in their tuk tuk!
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We left Siem Reap behind yesterday, catching a four hour bus to Battambang. We've only been here the one night but are already eager to leave - despite the beautiful surrounding countryside, the town itself has little to offer. If you do venture here, make sure you visit Sunrise Coffee House for their amazing warm brownies - so far, the only saving grace here! Tonight we're off to the infamous circus, lets hope it's the towns redeeming feature.

Posted by AmyRossiter26 01:49 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

A Sobering Start In Cambodia...

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After a seven hour bus journey from Ho Chi Minh crossing the Cambodian border, we arrived at our first stop - Phnom Penh. First impressions of Cambodia; It looks much the same as Vietnam, with extremes ranging from vast expansions of tropical forestry to the dirty, litter-lined streets of the villages and towns.
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View of the Cambodian countryside from our bus.

It's evident there's a greater level of poverty here than in Vietnam though, as lots of people beg for money, and walking the streets at night there's a surprising number of homeless families. It's quite heartbreaking seeing little babies lying on dirty scraps of blanket. More heartbreaking though are the parents who use their children to beg for money; from ladies who carry their babies around the tourist sights using them as a sympathy tool, to the children who are sent to beg by their families. Despite these drawbacks, Cambodia as a country has a fascinating yet brutal history which the sights around Phnom Penh helped us learn more about. In prep, I'd read a book on the atrocities of Pol Pot's and The Khmer Rouge's three year reign over Cambodia before we came, but even so it was still really shocking to see the evidence firsthand.

We firstly visited the sight of former prison camp S-21. Before the genocide, the prison was a school, but visiting it you can't imagine it ever was. The classrooms were turned in to interrogation rooms and tiny prison cells.
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An interrogation/ torture room where the body as shown in the photograph on the wall was found.

In total, around 20,000 people were detained at the prison during the period (17th April 1975-7th January 1979) and of those, only 7 surviving people were found at the prison after the country's liberation. Since it has become a museum (Tuol Sleng Genocide Centre), some of the rooms throughout the four buildings have become home to large photographic displays, which combined, show each person that was ever detained at the prison. Their hollow faces seem to stare at you through the pane of glass that separates them from you. In some you can read their plea for help, in others it looks like they're already resigned to their doomed fate.
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Barbed wire was put up to stop prisoners committing suicide by jumping from the higher floors.

Following the visit to S-21 we took a tuk tuk to The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. The tuk tuk was a new experience, especially as in Cambodia the roads are so dirty and dusty - the driver stopped at this ominious roadside shack and handed us what looked like surgeon's masks, but were actually face masks to stop the dirt choking us!
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The Killing Fields are where many people, including the prisoners from S-21 (or bodies of) were taken. It was very harrowing, yet surprisingly peaceful too. With the shining sun, grassy fields and beautiful lake it could be easy to forget why all us tourists walking around with our audio tapes are there.
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The plaques signalling the various torture sites and sites of mass graves are a sobering reminder. The below photograph, as the plaque next to it reads, housed loud speakers which blared music with the intention of drowning out the cries of those whose time it had come to meet the slaughter fields. As even when there, most people didn't know what fate awaited them.
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The tree which babies and children were beaten against. Today visitors leave bracelets in memory.

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In 1989, the above 'Stupa' memorial was built to house the bodies of the victims. In all, 9000 remains are now kept here to honour the lost lives. Included in these remains are 450 bodies found in one mass grave site, along with 166 headless corpses found at another.

Sadly, these weren't the only Killing Fields discovered - throughout Cambodia there are over 300 Killing Fields similar to that which we visited, but as this is the largest it's now thought of as the honour place of all lives lost during the genocide. In total, around 4 million Cambodians perished during this period, whether it be at the direct hands of The Khmer Rouge, or indirectly through famine or disease.

It's hard to believe when back in Phnom Penh city that the awful genocidal period happened. The place is abuzz with markets and shopping centres, and has lots of schools - education and commerce were two things completely prohibited during Pol Pot's reign. Some parts of the city are quite pleasant too, especially the area around The Royal Palace.
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Today we have moved North West, to Siem Reap, where we are hoping to instead celebrate some of Cambodia's rich history by visiting what some have labelled the eighth wonder of the world - The Temples of Angkor!

Posted by AmyRossiter26 08:06 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Hectic Ho Chi Minh City!

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View To Asia and Beyond!! on AmyRossiter26's travel map.

Our most recent stop has been Ho Chi Minh City, which I absolutely loved!! Along with fantastic bakeries and coffee shops, an exciting buzz and friendly people, the city has so much history on offer to explore - what's not to love?! I also found somewhere selling Pinot Grigio very reasonably (£1 a glass!!)
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We spent our first full day, after arriving the previous evening, walking around and exploring the city. We visited The Reunification Palace (photo below), which I found really interesting (but it bored Ben...). It's still in use today as an important meeting place for political purposes, but the higher floors and basement have basically been preserved since it was inhabited by Ho Chi Minh. Complete with seventies furnishings and war-esque electronics such as transistor radios it's very much like stepping back in time. It also has a heli-pad and mini-bar on the roof which was pretty cool!
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We also visited The War Remnants Museum, which has hands down been the most interesting and thought provoking place we've visited in Vietnam. It gives in-depth accounts of the horrors of the Vietnamese War. The museum also has a whole room dedicated to the atrocious after-effects of the agent orange toxic chemical the US used initially as a means of deforestation, with the intention of killing the VietCong's crops and with it their food for survival, but which had effects I think even they underestimated. Namely, the infection of several decades worth of gene pool, causing unspeakable deformities to not only those who came in to direct contact with the toxin but to their children and grandchildren too, whose DNA was tainted even before their birth.

Monday we took a guided tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels - an underground 250km labyrinth of tunnels, hand-dug by the VietCong in the Cu Chi region of Vietnam during the war as a means of survival. These innovative tunnels acted as home to many Vietnamese in the region during the war, where they'd have a kitchen space, a bedroom space, and lower down (10 metres) a space to hide during times of attack. The kitchen space would only be used at 5am so that if US military planes were flying overhead, they would mistake the steam rising from the tiny chimneys as morning mist. It's clever construction elements such as these which helped save so many lives during the war. Despite this though, many people died in these tunnels from starvation or disease.
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Ben in one of the tunnel's entrances - such a tiny space!!

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Slightly bigger tunnels, just 3 metres down. These have been widened for us tourists to go in, but even so they felt very cramped and claustrophobic. Cannot imagine what it must have been like to spend weeks, let alone months, down in them.

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Also at the tunnels Ben got the chance to fire a genuine machine gun, opting for an AK47!! He was like a little kid at Christmas!

On our last full day in Ho Chi Minh City (and Vietnam too!) we took a trip to The Mekong River. Despite thinking it would be picturesque and a lovely traditional Vietnamese experience, the whole day felt like a tourist trap and was a bit disappointing! Despite this, we still saw some cool things.

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Watching bees make honey for honey tea, it was really sweet and delicious! Yes this is me holding a tray covered in bees!!

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Women making coconut candy (which sounds tastier than it actually is!) This would have been interesting had it not felt like a trap just getting us to buy some of the disgusting candy.

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Taking a trip down the river on a tiny wooden boat - loved the hats!!

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Crocodiles!!

All in all I really enjoyed HCMC. The city was even getting in to the Christmas spirit, with decorations and lights up in most shops and restaurants. I may be thousands of miles from home, but it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas....
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Posted by AmyRossiter26 18:06 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Mui Ne & My Birthday!

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View To Asia and Beyond!! on AmyRossiter26's travel map.

After a brief three night stay in the very touristy Nha Trang (which I wasn't overly enamoured with) we moved on to the lovely Mui Ne. The weather in Mui Ne was absolutely fabulous (the same couldn't be said for Nha Trang, where the roads flooded to knee height!) and so luckily this gorgeous place is where I'd chose to celebrate my birthday!

For our first three nights in Mui Ne to cover my birthday period, we were lucky enough to stay at the amazing Cliff Resort & Residences - only possible in our backpacker budget due to my boyfriend's lovely parents whose birthday present it was to me. Ben had sorted it too so that we were upgraded to a larger, sea view room which was fantastic.
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We indulged in infinity pools, comfy sun loungers, delicious buffet breakfasts (real cheese! Pancakes with peanut butter! Pastries with homemade jams! English sausages!) and the comfiest bed and pillows I've experienced in any hotel, ever... Ahhh, the pillows!! They reminded me of marshmallows! If only I could have fit one in my backpack...

Considering I was away from home for it and missing my family and friends lots, Ben made sure my birthday couldn't have been more perfect. I woke up to champers in bed, and cards from home (which had travelled in our bags since we left on our trip!). My lovely boyfriend had also bought me a couple of bars of Toblerone, which I had to resist eating for breakfast. I didn't have to wait long for a chocolate fix though as the hotel bought a gorgeous cake to the room for me (I have a feeling Ben had something to do with arranging it though).
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We spent the day sunbathing in the hotel's beautiful surroundings, occasionally cooling off in the gorgeous pool.
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Late afternoon, we went into town (by taxi - fellow travellers will agree, taking a taxi anywhere is a luxury!!) to Moloko Spa where, thanks to my friends who'd very kindly given me money as an early birthday present, Ben and I both had fantastic massages, and I had a mani-pedi.
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Moloko had just opened so was offering a very generous discount on treatments but even without the discount applied their prices are very reasonable. They were so kind too - when I'd booked the treatments the day before I'd mentioned it was for my birthday, so when I arrived I was given some beautiful flowers and a delicious cake!
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After the spa, we took (another!) taxi to Sandals Restaurant for an amazing birthday meal. I had pork belly and Ben had seabass, and they were both so good! I also had my first glass of rosé in nearly two months, which made me deliriously happy!! Wine is just too expensive in Asia (unless you're brave enough to have rice wine)...
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At the restaurant I was also gifted my third cake of the day, as I was carrying my flowers they had guessed it was my birthday so bought out this amazing chocolate brownie with candles.
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After dinner we headed to a random bar, where I sunk a few cocktails and shots (as the Birthday Girl, it had to be done) before taking our THIRD taxi of the day back to the hotel, where back in our lovely sea view room, I promptly sunk in to my pillow of marshmallows...

Although checking out of the hotel a few days later was a harsh crash back down to backpacker reality, I still enjoyed our remaining days in Mui Ne. We found a within-budget hotel that had pools and was centrally located so we couldn't really complain, and the weather remained absolutely gorgeous.

Today we have left the scorching sun and sandy beaches of Mui Ne behind for the excitement and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City - we only arrived a few hours ago, but already I can tell I'm going to like it here!

Posted by AmyRossiter26 11:25 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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