The Plan

How it all started

22nd August 2009

Me and my husband Paul are planning the biggest adventure of our life so far. We are working towards leaving England to Travel the world, starting in January 2010. I currently work as a Performing arts teacher/ Support worker at a college and Paul works as an IT Manager. We plan to leave our job’s at the end of the year and set off around the end of Januray 2010. We plan to try and travel for 6 months, we will see how long we can survive. We are going on what i would call a true adventure! This will involve taking risks, experiencing some discomfort at times, spiritual and personnel growth, exhiliration and finally I hope the adventure will leave us desiring more.

Thinking Of Leaving My Job

23rd August 2009

I have been working as a support worker in a College for nearly 3 years now. In september 2008 I was offered two afternoons work teaching in performing arts. FANTASTIC I thought, more money, more focus on my music, more responibility. However this also resulted in LESS TIME! I have enjoyed aspects of this role, for example seeing the students grow and develop, watching them perform on stage and seeing them overcome barriers. At the same time I feel that it has taken my focus away from what I really want to do in my life, that is to perform and write. Whilst it has been a fantastic experience for me I feel it’s time to move on, at least for now. I guess I have been scared of admitting that I didn’t want to teach any longer. I finally admitted it to myself and told my husband how I feel.”I don’t enjoy teaching and I don’t know what to do about it?”  I told him ”Quit” he said. ‘Quit?’ is it really that simple I said to him. ‘Yes, just quit’. When he said that to me it sounded so tempting but then I started going over all the inpracticalities in my mind. I’d be on less money, I’d be leaving behind a job with a good status, what would other people think, would my parents and friends support my decision? So many things went through my mind and I said to  him ‘It’s not that simple’. He still held strong and said ‘yes it is, you don’t like working there so just quit’. I could hear what he was saying and it sounded amazing but the fear of what I’d do after scared me.

Quitting My Job

24th August 2009

I decided to go with my gut feeling and take the plunge the next morning- I wasn’t 100% sure about what I’d do after but I just knew I wanted to leave and that was all. Having my travels to focus on made this decision alot easier. So 10am monday 24th August I went into college and told my boss I didn’t want to teach anymore in the new year. Wow the feeling I got after was electrifying. It felt amazing to get that off my chest. It felt like I’d run a marathon and finally reached the finishing line. My boss was amazingly supportive of my decision and when I told her about my  plans to travel she said ‘I don’t blame you, it’s the right time to do it, whilst you’re young and before you have children’ I guess the feeling I got after telling her was my confirmation that I’d made the right choice! It really was as simple as Paul said “Just quit”. Who know’s where this decision will take me, so many people will think I’m crazy for leaving behind a good paid, respected job. However in time people will see why.

Preparations

Planning Our Route- World Tour 2010

7th September 2009

Now that we have decided to leave our jobs and travel  the world, we can get down to the planning . It is almost impossible to focus on your goals when you have things stopping you from achieving them. Now that we have both handed our notice in at work, we can finally see our goal to travel the world coming true. So my advice to anyone planning on traveling is to simply ‘do it!’. If you have things stopping you from achieving that goal, then make sure you make changes in your life. Don’t let barriers stop you from getting what you really want!

Planning your trip can be tiring, confusing, at times things will seem impossible, but most all the planning stage should be full of excitment. You will have lot’s of questions as I do, about how to go about your travel plans. Here are a few things to consider in the first stage of your planning.

When do you want to set out on your world tour? How long do you want to travel for? How will I make money on my trip? Which countries do you want to visit? Do you want to get a world ticket or seperate flights? How much money will I need? What do I do about visas?

I will answer these questions in more depth on my FAQ page, but I will just share a few of my thoughts so far with you, in regards to these questions.

When do you want to set out on your world tour?

A goal that is not time bound will proberly never happen, as you will keep saying I will get round to it soon. People who say this generally don’t achieve their goals. I strongly believe that If you want something to happen, you have to set a time to achieve it. We plan to set out on our travels in the first week of February. It is no good just setting a date without putting any thought into it. It has to be realistic. You may need to consider things like: giving enough time for handing a notice in to work, time to sort out documentation like visas and passports, saving enough money and you also need to consider your current circumstances. Once you have a date set you can start telling people about your plans. This will make your goal feel even more real.

How long do you want to travel for?

This will depend on your circumstances. Have you got a job to come back to? How much money have you got saved? Once you have considered everything, you should make a budget plan to see how long you can fund your travels for. We have decided to travel between 6- 12 months. This will depend on how much money we can make whilst we are away.

How will I make money on my trip?

Imagine your life travelling the world and getting paid money as you do so. This sounds amazing right? Well it is possible. I will just share a few tips that I have picked up. Making money whilst travelling allows you to extend your travel time. I have looked into various ways of making money. Here are a few ideas:

There are many other ways of making money, which I will share with you at a later date. I hope this has given you some hope in knowing that it is possible to bring in money as you travel.

Which countries do you want to visit?

Make a list of the countries you want to visit in priority order. It is good to be ambitious, but you also need to be realistic. Once you have got a list in priority order, you can start to look at various travel pages. You will need to look at your budget and make a decision. You may, like me, want to be more flexible about your travels, and decide certain places as you go. If this is the case you will still need to know roughly where you are going, so you can look into visas.

Do you want to get a World Travel Ticket?

Now for the vital question. Do you want a world travel ticket, or do you want to get seperate flights as you travel? This decison will depend on the type of traveller you are. Are you someone who likes to know exactly what is planned ahead? Do you like order and a set routine? Have you already decided the exact destinations you want to go to? If this sounds like you then a world ticket is proberly the best option for you. A world ticket allows you to select the destinations you want to go to and select the dates of travel for each. This then calculates the amount for your world ticket. On the other hand you may be the sort of person who likes flexibilty. Are you the sort of person who wakes up one morning and thinks, I want to go there today. Maybe you have no exact route planned yet, and therefore you don’t want restricted travel dates. If this is the case you could just get a one way ticket to your first destination and but air tickets as you travel. I will go into more depth with this on my travel tips page.

I hope this information has given you some food for thought. I will go into more depth at a later date. So keep reading! Until then, happy plannin:)

World Ticket

28th November 2009

World Ticket

In my last blog I was contemplating if we should get a world ticket or not. Well we have finally decided to go with a world ticket. After a lot of research we decided it would be the cheaper option. We have gone with a company called Travel Nation. The world ticket lasts for a year and you can change your plotted dates as often as you want, by ringing up, for no extra cost. We have decided to only book the major flights through travel nation and we will book other smaller flights in and around Asia once we are over there. There is an airline called air Asia which do budget flights around Asia. So we will just book other small flight once we are out there.

We set off on 3rd February and we plan to be traveling till the beginning of December 2010.  Our travel route is as follows:-

Thanks for reading. My next blog will inform you about the necessary jabs you need before you go traveling.

Indian Visa Application

5th January 2010

Indian Visa

This information is for UK Citizens only-but other nationalities will find this information useful.

Today we applied for our Indian Visa’s. This needs to be completed at least 1 month before you leave to give you plenty time to allow it to be processed. You can either complete your application online or you can print the application and fill it in. You also have the option of either posting your application or you can book an appointment at your nearest application center. We have sent out application in and it should be processed withing 15 days Max. You can download your online application form here.

There were a few questions that I was stuck with when filling in my application form.

Once you have filled in your application form you will need to attach two passport photos on the application. If you are planning on posting your application you will need to attach two passport size photos to your application, prepare a self addressed envelope for the return or your passports, this will need to be special delivery. You then send the application special delivery to:

India Visa Application Center
1-3, Canalside,
Uxbridge Road
Hayes, Middlesex, UB4 0JN

You will then need to  pay for your visa application either online or by postal cheque. The cost of a 6 Month Tourist Visa for a UK Citizen is £30 excluding the VFS service charge of  £9.05. You can see a chart of the different prices here.

I hope this post has helped inform you about Indian Visas. I would reccomend you to avoid ringing the premium number that is provided on their website as they charge 95p per minute. If you have any queries either get in touch with us or you can also check out their official website for Indian Visa Applications.

Thanks for reading

Ruth and Paul :)

Declutter your life!

27th January 2010

Preparing for this trip has changed me and Paul in so many ways, and that’s before we’ve even set off! One of the biggest things I’ve learnt, is how much our possessions can tie us down. It may sound ridiculous, but it is true, that even a sofa could stop you from travelling the world.

We have been decluttering our house for over two months now, in preparation for our world tour. This has involved giving things away to friends, family and charity shops. Taking things to recycle centres. We have also done a few car boat sales, which is an excellent way of getting rid of junk, and making a bit of money for your trip.

We got married in April 2009, and with part of our wedding money we bought furniture for our new place. The furniture has served us well for the 9 months we’ve been married, but now we have sold it all, so that we don’t have to pay for storage. This would cost us approximately £800 for the 10 months we plan to be away. I definitely feel more free, now that we know we don’t have constant money coming out, paying for furniture, that we may not even want, or need, when we return!

It is amazing how free you feel when you start to declutter your life. It is hard at first, but gradually it gets easier. I am not talking about chucking out everything. I love memories and I hate chucking out sentimental things. I have kept a journal, from the age of 10 (I am not 26), and I certainly would never chuck them out! There are ways however, of reducing the space that keep sakes take up, thus making room, for new memories! Here are a few suggestions:

Why not try some of these things for yourself. Although it takes up time in the short run, in the long run it will save you a lot of time. When you come to moving house, you won’t have to go through heaps of stuff and you won’t end up chucking keep sake items, in a panic, when you only have a few hours left, to get your possesions into the van.

India

Arriving in New Delhi

5th February 2010

We arrived in New Delhi 4 hours behind schedule. We had read on the Internet that you could get metro from Delhi airport to the city center. Well this is true, except it hasn’t been built yet! So we got a pre-paid taxi instead, which cost us 250 Rupees (3.43 GBP)  for a 17 mile journey. You need to make sure you get the Pre-Paid taxis, as others will try and charge you more! You can pay for your Pre-Paid taxis inside the airport.

We got to our hotel fine. It is nice enough, but the bathroom is, well interesting! Paul was right we should of brought toilet roll:) They told us there was Wi-Fi in the hotel, but there wasn’t any internet at all! I guess this is just a way for them getting you to stay! We will be checking in future!

So after settling in we decided to brave New Delhi City. This can’t be too hard I thought. My Dad had warned me about the touts, but I didn’t think it would be this bad! As soon as we left our hotel we had people trying to coax us to going to a tourist information. We just thought they were trying to be helpful at first, until we found that when we got to the tourist information, they sit you down and try to sell a package of train tickets to you! We decided not to let them bother us anymore. However we then went to Mc Donalds (Yes Paul has already persuaded us to go there) and sat down. Two guys came over and asked if they could take a spare seat. We said no problem. After a while they asked us where we were from and then we just got chatting and they told us about different things in the city. I guess this was to build up our trust. They told us to avoid the touts and only to use a company called ‘Incredible India’, which we had previously heard on the internet. After showing us where it was we were back inside another ‘tourist office’ trying to sell us a package of train tickets for 250GBP each. Today we got this same package for 30 GBP each from the New Delhi Train station. When you go inside the train station it is upstairs on the first floor. I will warn you the touts will try direct you away even when you arrive at the station. Trust me, we went round in circles yesterday! Well we’ve learnt our lesson!

Today we booked our trains from New Delhi to Agra for Monday 8th February. We will stay there one night, then we head to Jaipur on the 9th for two night. Then we leave for the overnight train from Jaipur to Mumbai on 11th.

Today we will be looking at the sites in New Delhi.

speak to you all soon

Ruth and Paul

Famous in India

6th February 2010

We have just settled into our new Hostel. It is fairly nice. We are staying on Main Bazar near the New Delhi Train station. The street is a market street, full of stalls. Yesterday was a much better day for us both, as we had a better idea where things were and we also didn’t let the touts get to us. We had a nice sleep in to catch up with sleep and then we went to book all our trains up until Mumbai. Then we booked our accommodation up until Monday, when we leave for Agra.

Famous in India

Famous in India

Yesterday we visited India Gate and also the house of Parliament. When we arrived at India Gate a group of about 20 school kids came up to me asking for my picture. I thought this was funny so I just agreed. Then another group of people also asked could they get there picture taken with me. I said I’m not famous! They just wanted their picture taken with me because I was Foreign, they said. I think it’s also because of my height. It is unusual to see anyone my height here, let alone a woman. People really do stare at us. I think we need to work on blending in more. You can tell travellers who have been travelling for while, as they start to blend into the background more. We will work on this!

You’ll be pleased to know Paul is still fixing problems. Yesterday a guy’s car broke down on a busy main street in New Delhi. Paul and another guy helped push the car to get it started again. He has been tempted on several occasions to help locals who are busy working on the paths here. They are trying to get the place ready for the Common Wealth games, which will be in New Delhi this year. They will be lucky to get it complete in time, with the manual labour only. They have not got heavy machines like we do!

Ruth infront of India Gate

Ruth infront of India Gate

Today we are heading to see the Red Fort, ISKCON temple and the Lotus Temple, which looks very similar to the Sydney Opera House. Then later on we are visiting the Garden of Five Senses. I will tell you more about these places, once we have visited them.

Bye for now

Ruth and Paul

Visiting the Taj Mahal

9th February 2010

New Delhi was a place we wouldn’t wish to go to again. Although there were some beautiful buildings there, which we are glad we got to see, a few days was enough for us. It is just too busy and you get no peace! Our best day was when we were treated like royalty, when we walked into the Iskcon Temple. This is a Krishna Temple. We walked in to have a look around, and noticed people were cueing for something, so we cued also. A man came over and rushed us to the front of the cue. They were all being served food, before a worship service. We tried the desert, which was very similar to rice pudding. They were so kind to us and showed us around. It was so nice to get away from touts and the hectic city, at least for a while.

We got the train from New Delhi to Agra Monday morning. We took a autorickshaw (taxi) from Agra cannt station to Agra Fort station, as that was where our train was going from the next morning. The driver tried telling us there were no hotels in Agra Fort, and that he would drive us to the station in the morning. Well there were loads of hotels in Agra Fort, he was just trying to get more money out of us! We went to see the Taj Mahal on Monday afternoon. The building and grounds are stunning.

Ruth and Paul outside the Taj Mahal

Ruth and Paul outside the Taj Mahal

A man came up to me saying, do you want me to take a photo of you both with your camera, I thought he was just being nice, so said yes. Then he kept taking more, and at the end he said what tip will you give me. The cheek of him! We got some good shots so I gave him 45 Rupees (60p). Then I went over to get a picture on the Diana Seat, thinking I’d have to pay for a professional one, as its too busy there. However when I got over there, the professional photographer came up to me saying, people wanted there photo taken with me. So I decided to say ok, so long as you take a free shot for us, so he did. It is crazy how many people wanted their photo with us. Also parents were coming up to me and handing me their babies to hold. I still don’t fully understand why, if any one knows, please tell me, why this is?

Our Fans in Agra

Our Fans in Agra

Well I will post more later. We are currently in Jaipur. We just arrived this morning and will be staying here for two days.

Speak soon

Ruth and Paul

Jaipur

18th February 2010

Jaipur was a lovely city. We spent 2 days there. Most of the city is made of pink buildings. It is known as the ‘pink city’.

We tend to do a few tourist attractions in every city we go to, then we spent the rest of our time wandering down streets that look interesting to us. That always seems to turn out being more interesting than anything else. We could see in the distance a fort on top of a hill, and we both decided we wanted to climb it, so we headed towards the fort. The fort is known as ‘Nahargarh Fort’, and overlooks the pink city of Jaipur. As we headed towards the fort, we ended up on a small backstreet, that probaly never got many tourists coming down it. Everyone came to their doors and windows from above and wanted to wave to us. Children were running up to us, wanting to shake our hands, and people were shouting hello from their roof tops. Once again we felt like royality!

We finally got to the foothill of the fort and began to climb it. As we walked up the fort we could see kites being flown from all the roof tops. We asked a young local boy why everyone was flying kites, he said it was in preperation for a competition in Jaipur. It reminded me of the film ‘Kite Runner’ You have to cut someone elses kite with your string, then you run to catch it.

The view from the top of the fort was amazing. You could see all over the city! It  is definatley worth climbing, if you ever go to jaipur.

The next day we visited Gandir, which is a hindu temple, known as the monkey temple, because of the amount of monkeys that are there! This was another beautiful sight from the top. You climb up a hill, and the temple is on the top of the hill. A lady greeted us at the top. She lives in the temple. It was passed down to her through generations.

 

Ruth and the owner of the monkey temple

Ruth and the owner of the monkey temple

Paul outside the Monkey Temple

Paul outside the Monkey Temple

Jaipur was definatley worth visiting!

Ruth and Paul

Mumbai

20th February 2010

We stayed in Mumbai for 4 nights. This was just enough time! Even though Mumbai is another big city, we managed to have a much more relaxing time here! We decided to take things at a slower pace, as so far we had been rushing here there and everywhere, and wearing ourselfes out too fast!

We were staying right by the coast, so we took walks every evening down the coast and enjoyed watching the sun set each night.

Whilst in Mumbai we visited Elephanta Island, which is an island that you can reach from Mumbai harbour. You go to gateway of India to get your tickets. The ferry tickets cost 120 Ruppees and it costs 250 Rupees to get in. Make sure you get your tickets from the desk rather than the touts. They tried to sell it to me for 1700 Ruppees. On Elephanta Island there are the Elephanta caves, which have been carved out of rock.

Elephanta Caves Mumbai

Elephanta Caves Mumbai

Ruth standing outside one of the caves

Ruth standing outside one of the caves


Juhu Beach, Mumbai

21st February 2010

Whilst staying in Mumbai we also enjoyed a lovely day on Juhu beach. You can get to juhu beach on a suburban train. It cost us as little as 40 ruppees for us both to get to Juhu beach, from Mumbai Central. This is less than 50p! If you stick to public transport, like buses and trains you will get the local prices!

Juhu beach is well worth a visit. There are some nice shops close by and lots of places to eat along the coast. It is good to get away from the hectic city for a while and just relax!

Ruth on juhu beach, Mumbai

Ruth on juhu beach, Mumbai

A local group of boys that wanted their picture taken

A local group of boys that wanted their picture taken


Arriving in Goa

22nd February 2010

We left Mumbai on the 16th February 2010 at 6.55 am, and arrived in Madgaon station, in Goa at 18.45. The train cost us 1564 Rupee’s, which is just over £20, for both of us. This is for 2nd Class Air Conditioned. Travelling by train is a good way of seeing the country, and also is very cheap. Just make sure you always buy your tickets from the official train stations. Touts will try and sell you tickets for a lot more!

The train journey from Mumbai to Goa went very fast, as we chatted with a guy from Sweden that we met, called Johan. He just arrived in Mumbai the night before, and already he’d managed to get tricked into buying a traditional Indian outfit, a train ticket that cost him way above the normal cost, and he got talked into given his comfortable shoes to the Indian guy, who had ‘helped’ him during the day, with getting his train tickets ect. On your first day in India, these things just seem to happen to you, and it’s only till you wake up the next morning, that you realise, you have been tricked! After a few days you learn! His stories made us laugh anyway, and made us realise we are not the only ones who have been fooled!

If you are reading this, I hope you are getting used to those Indian shoes you bought!

We also met a lovely guy from India, who was on his way to his home in Goa. He had travelled a lot, so was able to share his experiences with us, about different countries. It was nice having the opportunity to talk with a local, who was not trying to sell something to us!

As the train pulled in to Goa, we saw a massive change from the North of India. There was water and greenery everywhere. It looked so fresh and clean. It looked stunning. We were excited about being able to just relax for a while, after being in such busy cities!

We got a pre-paid taxi from the station, to our hotel in Colva. We stayed in a hotel called ‘La Ben’, near Colva beach, for the first two nights. Then moved to an apartment on Thursday 18th February.

We will update you on our stay here in Goa soon

Ruth and Paul

Colva, Goa

23rd February 2010

We have been in Goa now for 1 week. We love it here so much, and will be sad to leave. Goa is definatley somewhere we would come back to. It is so relaxing and laid back, that you don’t want to leave. We read in a book, before we arrived, that Goa is a place that keeps you forever. This is very true!

It’s just been so nice being able to relax, and wake up every morning and go for a swim in the sea. The beaches here are so beautiful. We have enjoyed walking up the beach each day and meeting interesting people along the way!

There are still a lot of people selling you things here in Colva, but that’s beacause we are in a tourist spot. There are quiter beaches further up the coast, which allows you to get away from sellers and other tourists for a while. One day we were laying on a beach when a young Indian girl came up to us, she was trying to sell jewellery to us, I kept saying no, but she kept persisting. She started to lay all her jewellery out on Paul, asking if he wanted some. She couldn’t understand why Paul wouldn’t want to wear any of this haha. She also kept calling Paul milk bottle! Which was quite funny!

Paul with a display o Jewellery on him

Paul with a display o Jewellery on him

We have mostly taken this week as an excuse to relax, after being in busy cities. We hired out bikes one day, and cylcled up the coast. This was a great idea and only costs £2 each for the day.

Paul on Colva beach

Paul on Colva beach

There are also lots of nice restaurants to eat out, in Colva. We have started to get into the food here, and have finally learnt to enjoy the Indian Cuisine! A meal for one, including a drink, costs about £2 each. That is for good quality food!
We are just about to go out for a swim and a walk. We will post more later. We are leaving this Thursday for Chennai. We get an overnight train from Goa-Chennai, which will arrive Friday morning.
Speak soon,
Ruth and Paul


Goa to Chennai

27th February 2010

We arrived in Chennai yesterday morning after a 22 hour train journey from Margao, Goa to Chennai Central. The train journey was a really pretty journey, we passed many beautiful mountains and waterfalls.

Arriving in Chennai was quite stressful as any city can be. As soon as we got off the train we were back to being bombarded by rickshaw drivers. All trying to get commission for directing us to a hotel. We finally found a hotel for the night. It was fairly clean and comfortable, the only downside is that we had to spend a good 1/2 hour killing cockroaches, before going to sleep. We are glad we are now out of that place, and staying in a brand new hotel, that only opened this week.

Today we visited different temples. We went to see the famous Kapaleeswarar Temple, which is a Shiva Temple, located in Mylapore, Chennai. We also visited Santhome Cathedral Basilica, which is a Christian church. The name of Santhome Cathedral Basilica was derived from the name St. Thomas who is an archbishop of the Catholic Christians. St. Thomas who is a hard-core devotee of Jesus Christ was buried in this place and as a tribute to his soul a church has been built up in this southern part of Marina beach.

Kapaleeswarar Temple, Chennai

Kapaleeswarar Temple, Chennai

Santhome Basilica

Santhome Basilica

We will post more later.

Ruth and Paul

Goodbye to India

3rd March 2010

We have been in India for 1 month now, and it has certainly been an eye opener to both of us! We have seen some beautiful, amazing and also disturbing things,  as we have travelled through India. One month here is not enough to grasp the fullness of the Indian Culture, however for us we feel we are ready to move on!

Arriving in New Delhi was one of the toughest travel experiences we have ever had to go through. That is not surprising though, considering neither of us have ever set foot into Asia before. When you arrive in a place like Delhi, you are leaving behind all your home comforts and you are entering a place that you know little about. You are curious about what people think of you and the locals are very curious about you. At the beginning we were confused about why people wanted our photo so much. Every time we would walk down the street, a local would ask if they could have our photo. Some children would even just want us to take a photo of them. Although I do not fully understand this, it has become a little more clear to me now. In India you are seen as a millionaire if you have a camera, lap top, ipod ect. So it is not surprising when they see us with our cameras, to be fascinated with us. Of Course we are not rich, as far as English standards go, but to them we are! Also the Indian Culture is not as diverse as our own. Most of the time, when we were out in public, we were the only white people in sight. So people would stop and stare. At first I found this amusing, but in the end it gets a bit tiring. Sometimes you just want to go out and not be stared at. There are some simple ways to blend in a little, for example cover up as a sign of respect. Indians take modesty very seriously, and it is respectful to cover shoulders and legs, whilst in public. As much as you try to blend in however, one thing you can’t change is the colour of your skin! So be prepared to be starred at whilst you are in India.

India is such a big country and an easy mistake to make, is to rush through the country, without taking time to appreciate the things around you. I would suggest if you only have a short time in India, then it would be better to see less places, than to rush through places, and in the end just wear yourself out. A great way to travel, is by train. We had no problem with the trains at all. They are comfortable and very cheap! It allows you to see the landscape in the country and it is a very interesting way of travelling. You also get to meet a lot of other travellers and it gives you a chance to speak with locals.

We really enjoyed our time in Goa as it gave us time to relax and slow down for a while. However if we had only gone to Goa, we wouldn’t of seen the true Indian Culture that a lot of tourists miss by just going to Goa. Even though Delhi was tiring and hard work at times, looking back we realise just what an experience that was. The madness of the place is what made the experience worth while. Walking down the street with goats, cows, pigs and monkeys, is not something you see every day, not to mention seeing a boy with a monkey tied to a string, hoping to make some money from it! People really do what they can here, to make money for themselves, and you have to respect them for that! I was fascinated to see men on the street with weighing scales, taking money to weigh people. Also it was not uncommon to see people getting there hair cut on the side of the street, or men getting a shave on the street.

We will always look back at our time in India as a time of learning! It has given us a glimpse at a culture that is so different from our own. It has also made us appreciate the things we had at home, but didn’t really appreciate enough at the time! Things like having a home, clean water, a job, safe roads, laws and not to mention our family and friends. You certainly learn to appreciate these things a little more, when you realise how many people here are without homes! There are so many children pleading for food and money, and it is hard to say no, but it is impossible to help everyone! Whilst we are overeating and chucking food in the bin, people here are starving.

I couldn’t pin point what my favourite place has been as such, as every place has been completely different! For relaxation I would say Goa, it is a beautiful, laid back place. It is very tourist friendly, in fact so much, that sometimes it is hard to meet locals! Everything has been an experience, some good, some bad, but all of which I’m glad we went through!

We will be leaving for the airport shortly. We arrive in Singapore 6 pm, their local time. We plan to stay there for about 5 days, then head to Indonesia. I will keep you all posted!

Love

Ruth and Paul

Singapore

Arriving in Singapore

5th March 2010

We arrived in Singapore yesterday evening at 6pm, Singapore time. We are now 8 hours ahead of GMT. We set of from Chennai at 3am in the morning, local time. So we decided to go to the airport after checking out of our hotel in the afternoon, to save us carrying our bags around all day! The problem was we didn’t know they wouldn’t let us in to the airport. Unlike most airports, you are not allowed into the airport until 3 hours before your flight! So we had to go back into the city. We found a left luggage place in the airport to leave our bags for the day.

Our flight over to Singapore stopped by Hong Kong first. We flew with Cathay Pacific. Which I was very impressed with! Their service was fantastic, and the food was very good quality! Hong Kong airport was quite impressive! A massive contrast after coming from India! We had a 2 hour stop over in Hong Kong airport, then left for Singapore.

Arriving in Singapore was completley the opposite of our experience arriving in India! When we arrived in Delhi, we were greeted by touts trying to charge us more than the local price for a taxi. When we arrived in Singapore, we were greeted by locals and airport workers, who were kindly directing us to the MRT (Train into the city). They even went as far as to come with us to show us how to select the ticket and to show us exactly where to get off! There was also a tourist information with leaflets and maps! You may think this sounds like an obvious thing to have, but it has been a while since we’ve seen a place so organised!

I am glad for both types of experiences however! Singapore looks like a really organised and clean city. Which will be a breathe of fresh air, for a while. However, I know eventually, we will miss the uniqueness of India! India is something you just have to see for yourself!

We are staying in a hostel called, footprints. Which funilly enough is in a place called ‘Little India’. Just when we thought we had left India behind, we are right back here! The hostel we are staying in is lovely, really clean and great facillities! We have WiFi at last! There are also washing machines and dryers on each floor! There is a lovely sitting area and cafe down stairs and breakfast is served every morning. Although we missed it this morning, because we were too tired!

I will let you know more about Singapore later! We are off to explore!

Love Ruth and Paul

Singapore a modern City

6th March 2010

Singapore is such a modern city. Everything is in such order and everyone seems to follow rules with no question. This is the complete opposite to India! It is taking us some time to adjust oursleves, and to realise that we no longer have to push and shove when getting onto public transport. The people are so polite. It’s like everyone has gone through some kind of training that they have to conform to!

It is a great city. There seems to be a lot going on for young people! There is a lot going on for young arists. We watched some local people performing today in a Theatre. Also regular performances on open air stages seem to be happening every night this week. It is nice seeing people express themselves. Sometimes it’s just about giving peeople the opportunity! This week in Singapore there are going to be regular performances from a company called ‘Noise Singapore’. I love to see unsigned bands and musicians performing. There is something very raw about it.

Today we looked around the city. There are so many shopping centers. Every 5 minutes you walk and there is a new shopping center. Shame we don’t have loads of money and space in our bags, to go shopping! The shopping centers are quite impressive! There is a lot of thought gone into the layouts and design of each building:) There are also millions of places to eat too! There is a wide variety of food, from sushi, thai, indian, fast food, chinese ect! It’s hard when you don’t eat fish though, as every meal seems to have fish in! Paul is very happy that McDonals have beef burgers here! He missed them in India! Although he has promised me that he won’t eat McDonalds every day!

Here’s some pictures from today!

A ship on top of a building

Paul in China Town, Singapore

Paul in China Town, Singapore

We will be in Singapore till Saturday 13th March. Then we fly to Bali for two weeks.
Speak soon
Ruth and Paul


Singapore Botantic Gardens

12th March 2010


Botanic Gardens

Botanic Gardens

We went to visit the Botanic Gardens  yesterday. It is free to get in and there is lot’s to see. I would definatley reccomend going! There is an Orchird Garden, within the Botanic Gardens, which costs $5 spd to get in. That is also well worth visiting. The park is open from 5.00am till Midnight, and the Orchird garden is open from 7.00am till 7.00pm. It was nice to get out of the city for the day. It is a very popular park for jogging and cycling. We saw some people doing meditation and also Yoga.

Yoga in the park

Yoga in the park

We took quite a few photos, to have a look at them just go to the gallery

We leave Singapore tommorow afternoon, to fly to Bali. We plan on staying in Bali for 2 weeks, then we fly to Bangkok. We have enjoyed being in Singapore, however after a few days here, we are ready to move on. Things are very expensive, compared to the rest of Asia, and there are so many shops, but as a backpacker this is not what you want!

There are a few things that I would definatley reccomend, when coming to Singapore.

Speak soon

Ruth and Paul

Indonesia

Arriving in Bali

15th March 2010

We arrived in Bali on Saturday 13th March, 8.00pm local time. When we got off the plane, and went through to passport control, we realised that we had to pay 25 US$ each to get a visa on arrival for Bali. We planned on getting our local currency out at the airport, from an ATM. We asked for an ATM, but they were after security, so we had to leave our passports, and go through to the ATM. I went to draw out money from my card, but the machine was saying card restricted! Paul then tried his card, but he was also unable to take money out.

We decided to try and find a phone, to try and ring our banks, as our cards may of been blocked. We found a phone box, but the only way of paying for the call, was with a Credit Card, but our cards weren’t working! So we went to ask for help. We explained the situation, and told them we needed to phone our banks at home, as our cards weren’t working. They kept directing us to a phone box, that takes card! Finally they understood and took us to the office. We were told that the phones can’t call internationally, so they had to get someone from our airline, Air Asia, to come and help us. There was nothing they could do either, they had no way of us calling outside of the country.

I decided after several attempts to take money out, to try one more time. Luckily this time it worked! Otherwise, maybe we would be in the airport still!:)

We got a Pre-Paid taxi from the airport, to our hotel in Sanur. This is about a 20 Minute journey, and cost 95,000 IDR (7 Euros). 1 Euro is 12,000 IDR. We had to take 1.5 Million IDR out, which  I guess makes us Millionaires! Shame it’s only here!

We are staying in a place called Prima Cottage in Sanur. It is a lovely cottage, with a beautiful garden and a swimming pool. We are fairly close to Sanur beach, about a 10 minute walk.

Yesterday we went for a walk along Sanur beach. We walked North East along the beach. The beaches are black sand beaches, due to it being a volcanic area. The first part of our journey had nice paths, but the further we got from Sanur, these disappeared, so we had to walk on the sands, and cross the numerous small rivers, by wading knee-deep. It was a nice walk, I would just recommend you leaving yourself plenty time to get back before sunset!

Today is the Eve of the Hindu New Year. The Bhuta Yajna Ritual is performed on this day in order to vanquish the negative elements and create balance with God, Mankind, and Nature. Devout Hindu Balinese villages usually make ogoh-ogoh, demonic statues made of bamboo and paper symbolizing negative elements or malevolent spirits. After the ogoh-ogoh have been paraded around the village, the Ngrupuk ritual takes place, which involves burning the ogoh-ogoh. 

Ogoh-Ogoh

Ogoh-Ogoh

 On New Years Day (16th March 2010) all of Bali, including tourists observe a Day Of Silence! This includes:

  • Amati Geni: No fire/Artificial Light
  • Amati Karya: No working
  • Amati Lelunganan: No traveling
  • Amati Lelanguan: Fasting (Hindus) and no revelry/self-entertainment
  • We thought we would be able to at least leave the hotel, however this is not allowed. Poilce Patrol the streets, to enforce this. It should be an interesting day, and certainly a challenge for me!

    We will post more about the cellerbrations of today, later.

    Ruth and Paul

    Hindu New Year in Bali 2010

    19th March 2010

    Hindu New year, otherwise known as Nyepi Day, was a relaxing and peaceful day. The whole of Bali goes silent for this day, and this is taken very seriousy! The police patrol the streets, making sure no one goes out. Everyone must stay in their homes, and tourists must stay in their hotels. We were able to go and sit down by our pool, so we chatted with the other guests in the hotel. I was prepared to have a day of silence, even though I would struggle, however all the guests were talking to eachother. So we swam and talked all day. It was weird looking out onto the street and not seeing a single person in sight.

    In the evening the sky looked amazing, as there were no street lights disturbing the night sky! It was nice seeing everyone follow in this tradition!

    The night before New Year locals make these Ogoh Ogoh statues and parade them around the streets. The streets were packed with tourists, who came to visit  to see this event.

    Check out our youtube video’s to see the Ogoh Ogoh on Parade .

    http://www.youtube.com/atrueadventure

    Ruth and Paul :)

    Ubud Bali

    22nd March 2010

    We arrived in Ubud on the 17th March and stayed till the 20th. We really liked Ubud and would definatley reccommend anyone coming to Bali, to spend a few days here. We stayed in Teba House, near the center of Ubud. The gardens here were beautiful and the staff were very friendly and helpful, they did not hassle us at all! Breakfast was included, and was brought to our porch every morning. We would definatley stay here again.

    Teba House Hotel

    Teba House Hotel

    Whislt in Ubud we went to the monkey forest. This costs 20,000 IDR each, which is $2. Locals will try and tell you that you need a guide, but this is not true. It was a lot of fun going to the monkey forest. Their ae loads of monkeys just running free around the forest. They look like they were having a lot of fun:)

    Paul in the Monkey Forest

    Paul in the Monkey Forest

    We also went to watch an amazing performance. This was a traditional dance in Bali, called the Kecak and firedance. You can watch these performances daily around Ubud and it costs around 75,000 IDR each. It is well worth seeing. Click here to view our video’s.

    Kecak Performance

    Kecak Performance

    There were so many music shops in Ubud, I bought a couple of small indonesian instruments, I would of liked to buy more, however I can’t carry them all the way around the world with us! My ukulele is still with me and I practice most days, but miss my guitar, it is not the same! I may buy a cheap guitar once we get to Thailand.

    That’s all for now

    Ruth and Paul

     
     
     
     
     

    Journey to Kedisan, Kintamani.

    23rd March 2010

    We left Ubud on Saturday 20th March. We were picked up by a driver from the Surya Hotel, in Kedisan, where we were heading. This was a free pick up, included in the hotel price. The journey from Ubud to Kedisan was about 1 hour. The driver kept trying to get us to go to places on the way, to get money out of us. We kept saying no, just take us to our hotel, but he kept on asking!

    As we got closer to our hotel, we started to ascend up hill, so I assumed we would be staying up high. Then just as we got close, we went down a very steep, winding hill, that took us down to a lake, surrounded by volcanoes and mountains. The whole area is a feature of volcanic eruptions called a caldera.The larger caldera is 10km by 13km and was formed 28,500 years ago and the inner caldera which is 7.5km wide was formed 23,670 years ago and now contains lake Batur.

    When we arrived in our hotel our driver continued to ask if we wanted to be taken places later, we kept telling him no, but I don’t think he understood! We were met by a member of staff from the hotel and taken to our room. We had asked for a standard room, which costs $10 a night for both of us. When we went to pay, the man charged us $15 dollars a night, I didn’t realise until I went back to my room, so I went back to enquire about it. He told me that the room we were staying in cost that much. So I explained that we asked for a standard room, which according to the website cost $10 a night. He just kept saying this is the price my manager told me. We were finally shown another room, which they said was the standard room for $10 a night. It only had cold water, even though the website states that all rooms come with hot and cold water. We were ready to leave and find another hotel, until the guy told us we could have the original room for $10 instead of $15, so long as we didn’t tell any of the other guests. Maybe the information on their website needs to be changed, to stop more confusion in the future! We had planned on staying in the hotel for 3 nights, but left after the second night. The rooms were not clean, the toilet didn’t flush, there was no fan in the room and there were bugs everywhere. We were also sick of being sold things every 5 seconds. It was either a knock on the door trying to sell us art, or whilst tringto sit and relax in the bar, we were being told that we must come on the trek up the mountain with them, for $35 dollars each. This hotel is fantastic for location, as it is only 30 mintues walk from the foothill of Mount Batur, but other than it having a great location, I would not recommend it. There are a few other hotels in the area, so it may be worth looking around.

    After we finally settled in our room on the Saturday, we went for a walk around the tiny village of Kedisan. We also walked to Pura Yati, another village close by. There isn’t many restaurants or shops around the area, and I didn’t see any cash machines, so take cash with you. We finally found a small cafe, so we decided to stop for something to eat. There wasn’t much choice on the menu, we just decided to get some frys each and some garlic bread. The garlic bread was very interesting. It was two slices of buttered bread sandwiched together. We took the top slice of bread off, to find cloves of chopped garlic spead over it. Well I guess they took the name ‘garlic bread’ litterally.

    Just before we left the cafe, we asked the lady where we could start the trek up Mount Batur. Everyone keeps telling us that we must go with a guide and the guides are charging between $35 and $60 each. We found out from research on the internet, that this is not true, and that the locals just say that to make money. The lady in the cafe, kindly told us where we could start the trek. She also warned us about guides trying to tell us that we needed a guide. She said just say you are just looking, if they ask.

    We decided we would do the Trek up mount Batur the next morning. Leaving at 3 am to arrive at the top in time to see the sunrise.

    We will post a blog soon about our amazing trek up Mount Batur

    Ruth and Paul:)

    Climbing Mount Batur

    25th March 2010

    We went to leave our hotel at 3.15 am on the 20th March. We got to the exit of our hotel, to find that the gate was locked. Rather than waking up the staff, and getting the hassle of being told that we needed a guide, we decided to just jump over the gate. I guess the adventure started here.

    The walk to the foothill of Mount Batur, took about 25 minutes from Hotel Surya. We had our wind up torch ready with us, which we needed even just to walk along the dark road, leading to the foothill. Lucky it was a wind up torch, as if our batteries had gone, we would have been stuck!

    Just as we got to the foothill of the Volcano, a guide with a group came running up to us, saying, where are you going? I will go and take you to the Trekking office to pay for a guide. We replied by saying ‘where are you going?’ He finally got the message, that we did not want a guide.

    So the trek began. We started from the lake side of the mountain, opposite a small shop. The path was wide at the beginning, but got narrower as we climbed higher. It was hard with just one torch, so I would suggest everyone in your group takes a torch. We took the walk slowly in the dark, as we wanted to make sure we were sticking to the correct path at all times. Most of the time the path was clear, but at times there were a couple of ways to go, and in the dark it was hard to see which was the easiest path. Most of the time we were walking completely alone, but eventually a few groups with guides came up behind us. The guides kept asking, how many are in your group? We would reply, just us two. They were trying to get us to join their group. We are sure it is nice going with a group, and if you manage to find other travelers who want to climb with you, that would be a good idea. However we did not want the restriction of having a guide tell us, what time we had to leave and what time we had to start our descent down the volcano. Also most guides charge $35-$60 each. Which we felt was a monopoly, as this is much higher than the average wage in Bali.

    The first half of the walk was mostly flat, with just a slight gradient. When we got to the base of the mountain, it became much steeper and rockier. However, other than loosing breath at times, this part of the walk was safe and manageable for most people. We just needed to take our time on the rocks, making sure they were stable. So far we had both managed to stay of both feet. Just as we got close to the top, a guide in front, decided to try and be helpful by giving me his hand, to steady me. Funny thing is, this is the only time that I fell!

    The walk to the first peak took us around 1 ½ hours. This is where most guides take their groups to watch the sunrise. We decided to also stop here. Sunrise was around 6am. Watching the sunrise from the top of Mount Batur, was a beautiful experience, which I would recommend to everyone. Lucky for us the sky was clear, apart from a few clouds. So the view across the lake and mountains was amazing. Across the lake we could see Mount Abang and just behind that Mount Agung.

    Ruth watching the sunrise at the top of mount batur

    Ruth watching the sunrise at the top of mount batur

    We had to put our jackets on for the first time since being away, as the air was fairly cold up high. We sat for about 1 hour watching the sun slowly come up. This was such a peaceful experience. I will certainly always remember this moment!

    We decided to continue our walk up to the 2nd peak, at around 7am. This part of the walk is more difficult, but still safe. It is just one steep, sandy hill, upwards. I found it easier to let my feet sink one at a time, to give me some grip; otherwise I seemed to be getting no where. This part of the walk only takes around 10 minutes, however we had to stop a few times, to get our breath, as the hill was very steep. It was encouraging to hear the voice of a lady at the top, saying, you’re nearly at the here!

    We are so glad that we walked up to the 2nd peak, as this is where you see the Crater of the Volcano fully. You can also see volcanic steam, coming from the crater. We saw an egg cooking on one of the vents. You also have a 360 degree view of the surrounding area, where you can see, several volcanoes, the lake and even the ocean in the distance. We stopped here for a while, to just sit and take it in!

    After walking to the 2nd peak, there is the option to walk around the rim of the crater. The edge along the crater looked narrow and a lot harder. I decided I wasn’t up for walking around the crater, as I am not great with heights, and thought that I would not enjoy this part of the walk. Just when I had convinced Paul, that wasn’t going to walk around the rim, I saw a little American girl aged around 10 years old, who inspired me to keep going. She dragged her Mum along, saying, look lets walk around there, it looks awesome. She was right it did look ‘awesome’; I was just letting my fear stop me. So I said energetically ‘Ok, let’s continue’!

    So we continued the walk. At first it didn’t seem so hard, but as we got to the middle of the rim, the path became very narrow and there were no longer any edges to hold onto. This is when I started to wander, what the heck I was doing out here! Paul kept encouraging me, which helped a lot. I finally pulled myself together, and continued. It was important that I stayed confident, as it was when I was scared, that I would loose my balance.

    Once I became more confident, I started to enjoy the walk much more. It was definitely worth it! We made sure we stopped plenty times, to take the view in, as it is hard to appreciate it, whilst walking, with shear drops, at both sides of you.

    Even though we didn’t have a guide with us, we were not alone. A small dog followed us all along the rim of the crater. How he got up there I do not know. He became our little guide, making sure we got down ok. Although at times, he got in our way, as he kept walking under our feet, making us trip over.

    The hardest bit of the walk was the descent down the rim of the crater. This was just a sandy hill, so it was very hard to stop. It would of been easier to slide down!

    We got back down to the foothill of Mount Batur, around 12pm. We were the only ones up there at this point, as everyone else had been taken down with their guides. We are very glad we didn’t get a guide, as we would not of seen half of what we saw.

    Walking up Mount Batur, was amazing, and if you are in Bali, I would highly recommend you to walk up. You do not need a guide, but if you are alone, I would suggest that the company would be good!

    Ruth and Paul

    Kuta, Bali

    29th March 2010

    We spent the last few days of our time in Bali, in Kuta. This is a very built up, touristy place. It is known for it’s beaches, and many people come here to Surf. We enjoyed our time here, we were staying in a beautiful hotel, right by the beach, called Fat Yogi. We would definatley reccomend this hotel. We had a lovely large room, that was cleaned daily, with Air-Con, a pool, and breakfast was served to the room daily! We had no trouble with this hotel, and the staff were very friendly! Paul was working for a few days, whilst in Kuta, so we stayed still for those few days, and just enjoyed swimming in the pool and going to the beach.

    Paul by the pool

    Paul by the pool

    Kuta is mostly full of young people, wanting to party. A few days there was fine, but we found it a little over populated with tourists, and it didn’t really give us much of a taste for Bali. It was worth a short visit, but we much preffered our time in Ubud, and our visit to Mount Batur!

    We really enjoyed our time in Bali, and could of done with 3 weeks in total there, but we have plenty more places to see in the world, so we have to keep going!

    Kuta Sunset

    Kuta Sunset

    Ruth and Paul :)

    Thailand

    Our journey to Ko Phi Phi Island, Thailand

    29th March 2010

    We left Bali for Thailand on Saturday 27th March. We flew with Air Asia from Bali to Bangkok. Arriving in Bangkok at 3.20pm. We then got a bus from the airport to Hualamphong train station. If you go to the information desk in the arrivals hall, people will direct you to the bus stop. It was the AE4 bus that we had to get to the station. This cost us 150 BAHT each (£3), and took around 45 minutes.

    We hadn’t booked our transport to Koh Phi Phi Island, we had read on the internet and heard from other travellers that everything was pretty straight forward, so we trusted everythign would be ok.

    Well they were right, it couldn’t of been anymore straight forward. We went straight to the ticket desk in the train station and told the man we needed to get to Krabi as soon as possible (this is where you get the ferry to Koh Phi Phi). He told us exactly what we needed to do. We had to get a train to Surat Thani, then a bus to Krabi.  We bought a 2nd Class  joined train and bus ticket, which cost us 650 BAHT each. Our train left at 7.30pm that evening and arrived in Surat Thani the next morning at 6.30 am. The train was fairly comfortable, but it didn’t have Air/Con just fans, so the windows were left open, which lets a lot of mosquitos in! We would of paid for Air/Con, but they were all sold out. Considering we just got our train ticket on the same day, we didn’t do too bad!

    When we arrived in Surat Thani the next morning, we had to wait for our bus to Krabi. We thought the bus would take us directly to the ferry port in Krabi, but it doesn’t. First you are taking to a bus station, that is nothing more than a small yard. Here everyone is split up and given different colour stickers, depending on which Island you are going to. We finally got our bus to Krabi 2 hours later. Then we had to get another bus from Krabi, which took us to the ferry port. We got our ferry to Ko Phi Phi at 1.30pm Sunday 28th. It took us 1 1/2 hours on the ferry, which now totals 27 hours of travelling to reach Koh Phi Phi. Was is worth it?

    Read on to find out…

    Ruth and Paul :)

    Arriving on Koh Phi Phi Island

    29th March 2010

    We arrived on Koh Phi Phi Island at around 3pm Sunday 28th March. The journey over on the ferry was beautiful. We passed a few other tiny little Islands and also lot’s of large lime stone rocks, which look stunning!

    phi-phi-island-map1

    When we got off the ferry we went to find a hotel. This was not hard to find as they are all along the front when you get off the ferry. The prices range from £10-£80 a night. We finally found a nice hotel, called The Whites hotel. It is very clean and the service is fantastic. We checked in for 3 nights.

    After showering and settling in, we went for a little walk around, but because we had been travelling for over 24 hours, we decided we should sleep! This was a good idea and we felt much better this morning when we woke up!

    Ruth and Paul

    Kayaking around Koh Phi Phi Island

    29th March 2010

    We decided we wanted to take a kayak out and adventure around the island. There are loads of places along the beach, in Loh Dalam Bay where you can hire Kayaks from. We hired ours for 500 BAHT (£!0) for the whole day. We got a 2 persons Kayak. You are also given a water proof bag, to put your camera, money ect into, this then clips onto the Kayak.

    I haven’t been kayaking for over 6 years, but I soon got the hang of it again. Paul was really keen on taking the kayaks out and I was certainly up for having a go. I enjoyed it very much and would love to take them out again!

    This is the route that we took

    This is the route that we took

    It is a great way to explore and get away from all the other tourists! We left the bay around 10am and headed to Nui Bay, which is a small cove that  has a beautiful beach. This is a great spot for snorkelling as the waters a beautiful and clear. We could see a lot of coral as we arrived.

    Ruth Nui Bay

    Ruth Nui Bay

    I have never seen sea so clear and blue, except in holiday brochures, which is probaly photoshoped, but this is the real thing! We went swimming here for a while, then decided to go for a walk up through some trees. It looked like it led to somewhere interesting. After walkig for a while through the trees, we could see another beautiful beach. We went back to get our Kayak and decided to go around to it. This was called Loh Lana Bay. This was our favourite spot. No tourists, clear blue water, beautiful soft golden sand, it really did look like paradise! We stopped here for a while and enjoyed swimming in the shallow waters.

    Paul and Ruth Kayaking

    Paul and Ruth Kayaking

    We then headed over towards Yong Kasem Bay, but a storm started, which made the sea very choppy, so we decided to head back. We had a great day out and really enjoyed relaxing on the other quiter beaches. We are planning on exploring around Phi Phi Don Island tommorow. Then on Wednesday we plan on going on a boat trip around the Island. We get gear to go snorkling. We also then go to Phi Phi Ley Island, which is a small island just off this island. This is where ‘The Beach’ was filmed. We will tell you more later:) So far we are really enjoying this Island. It will probaly be hard to pull us away!

    Ruth and Paul:)

    Kayaking from Phi Phi Don to Maya Bay- (Phi Phi Leh Island)

    4th April 2010

    We really wanted to visit Maya Bay (The Beach from the film ‘The Beach’), on Phi Phi Leh Island. This is a very popular beach to go to, because of popularity since the film. We knew it was going to be busy so we wanted to find the best way and time to visit. From Phi Phi Don you can go over on a day tour with a ferry or long boat. We didn’t like the thought of going on a big ferry with loads of tourists and being told when to leave. Most of the boat trips only take you to Maya Bay for about 1 hour, unless you take a private taxi boat. The tour or private taxi boat costs about 500 BAHT per person.

    We decided to read up about Kayaking over to Maya Bay. It didn’t look too far from Phi Phi Don, but this is hard to tell when you are just looking across the sea. We read about a couple of people who had kayaked around Maya Bay, but they used a long boat to get their Kayak there. They mentioned that if you were a strong Kayaker, that you would probably be ok Kayaking back from Maya Bay, to Phi Phi Don. Does Kayaking for one day make me an expert? Other than that we didn’t find any mention of kayaking across from Phi Phi Don to Phi Phi Leh. Still we decided to go ahead.

    So we set out on April 1st 2010 at 10.30am to find a kayak. We went to Ton Sai Bay, as this faces Phi Phi Leh. We rented out our Kayak for the day, for £10. We were given a dry bag to put all our things into. Once we were all set we set off. Everything was going well; we left the safety and calmness of Ton Sai Bay, and headed into the open Indian Ocean, heading towards Phi Phi Leh. We immediately noticed how much rougher the sea was and we could feel the wind starting to pick up. When looking ahead you think the sea looks so calm, but once you have left the shelter of the cliffs and walls, the ocean takes control of you! We needed to use a lot more strength to keep up, as the winds became stronger. 

    Our route from Ton Sai Bay- Maya Bay

    Our route from Ton Sai Bay- Maya Bay

    Once we hit the corner of Phi Phi Leh, we kept in by the side of the cliffs, but not too close, as we were afraid that the winds could push us up against the rocks. This seemed to be more sheltered. I felt a lot safer now that we were by the side of the Island and out of the open Ocean. Long Boats and big ships kept passing us, with their passengers waving. In fact we saw the same boats passing us again on their way back from Maya Bay, still waving. We kept strong, determined to make it! We finally could see the boats turning, which meant we must be close. As we started to turn into Maya Bay, the waves from the other ships entering pushed us from behind, which gave us a nice break from Kayaking.

    Arriving at Maya Bay felt amazing. The bay is more beautiful and stunning, as you could imagine! Just block out all the other tourists and big ships and you will be in heaven! We pulled up in our Kayak and people were smiling and starring at our Kayak, pointing at it. They probably thought we were crazy, well they were right! We made though and that’s the main thing! The great thing from now was, we didn’t have to rush off, and we could enjoy the beauty of Maya Bay, for as long as we wanted.

    Ruth on Maya Bay

    Ruth on Maya Bay

    So many tourists visit each day, but if you arrive early or after 4pm it does get a lot quieter. We arrived at Maya Bay around 12pm, taking us around 1 ½ hours to Kayak over. It was very busy at this time, but around 3pm it got quieter, allowing us some quite time on the beach! We went walking around the bay for a bit. There is another small bay that you can see if you walk further in land. There is a ladder that we had to climb over, to get to this bay. We noticed a hole in the wall here, which would allow you to push your Kayak through. This is a quick way to the back of the Island. It also may help you leave Maya Bay, if the sea was very rough.

    There is a small shack that sells drinks and snacks. Be prepared to pay double the price from Main Land. There is also a toilet. If you also want, there are camping trips to Maya Bay. This can be organised from Phi Phi Don.

    The beach is really heavenly and it is no wander it was chosen for the film ‘The Beach’. The large limestone rocks make a beautiful back drop. If only we could of discovered this beach and kept it for ourselves.

    We decided to leave Maya Bay around 4.30pm, giving us plenty time to get back before sunset. Just as we left Maya Bay, the winds were very strong, making it more difficult to make head way. Once we got round the bend, it became a little easier. The journey back was a lot harder than the journey to Maya Bay. One thing you can’t control is nature. All you can do is stay calm and do your best to stay on course.

    We made it back! Taking us around 1 ½ hours to return. We had a fantastic time at Maya Bay, but we were glad to be back on land! The guy who we rented the Kayak from, asked us how our day was. We told him we had kayaked to Maya Bay. He looked shocked and was laughing telling his friends where we had been. Maybe he will use it as a selling point from now on! Kayak to Maya Bay! I guess it is not a popular thing to do, seen as we were the only Kayak on the island!

    Although this isn’t for everybody and I would certainly not recommend it to anybody who is feeling unsure. It is however possible and takes around 1 ½ hours each way. You would need to be fit and I would recommend you wear a life jacket. If you want to Kayak around Maya Bay, you can also take a Kayak over on a Taxi boat. This would seem like the more sensible option and it still gives you the freedom and time that you may be looking for. Why didn’t we just go with that option? I do not know! It was certainly an adventure!

    From Ko Phi Phi to Ko Lanta

    7th April 2010

    We got our ferry from Koh Phi Phi to Koh Lanta on Friday 2nd April. We really enjoyed our time in Koh Phi Phi and would definitely suggest you pay a visit if you can. You will not be disappointed with the beautiful beaches. It is a little crowded around the island, but there are quieter beaches that you can go to. Long beach is a nice beach with beautiful sands and is good for swimming and snorkelling. There are also nice restaurants along the beach. We would stay on that beach if we were to go to Phi Phi again. It is busy, but not as busy as Ton Sai Bay. The crowds are close to the ferry port. Nui Bay and Loh Lana bay are also beautiful beaches. They were two of our favourite spots on the island. These two beaches are very quite, so if you want to get away from tourists for a while, I suggest you hire a kayak and go there, or get a taxi boat to take you there and pick you up later.

    The ferry over to Koh Lanta took around 1 ½ hours and cost 300 BAHT each. You can purchase your tickets from the many ticket offices on Koh Phi Phi. Just make sure you purchase the day before in the busy season, as the boats do fill up.

    Many locals came up to us on the ferry, trying to advertise their hotel to us. We finally agreed to going to see one of the hotels when we arrived on Koh Lanta. The guy told us that the hotel had internet, which we made quite clear was essential to us, because of work. He promised all rooms had internet.

    When we got off the ferry we were put into a 4 by 4 car along with 5 other tourists. Two guys from Germany, 2 girls from Germany and 1 guy from Australia. When we got to the Blue Adaman Hotel, me and Paul were separated from the rest of the people, and told to go with the guy who told us about the hotel. I then realised that he must be on commission and that it wasn’t his hotel at all. This would have been fine, if he didn’t lie to us though. We got there and he was quoting the rooms at a much higher price and also we found that there was no internet in the rooms at all, but that it was only by the pool and you had to purchase a card to get on. The man got very angry at us when we told him we didn’t want to pay for a room at this price, when he had told us we would have internet. He angrily told us to leave the hotel. We went to find the official reception. The prices were a lot cheaper and the staff much friendlier.

    We checked into one of the rooms with a balcony and that was air conditioned, for 550 BAHT a night. The hotel is right by the sea, and the pool looks over the sea. We can also see the beach from our balcony.

    View from Hotel Room (Blue Andaman Lanta)

    View from Hotel Room (Blue Andaman Lanta)

    Even though the guy was very rude to us, we are glad we stayed here, as the hotel is very nice and it is in a lovely quite location, with easy access to other beaches.

    Blue Andaman Hotel Lanta

    Blue Andaman Hotel Lanta

    We will write more about our time in Ko Lanta

    Ruth and Paul

    Koh Lanta

    12th April 2010

    We stayed in Koh Lanta for 4 nights. Koh Lanta is a much quieter island than Phi Phi. It is a good island to go to, if you want to get away from the crowds of tourist and want a relaxing time away. We were staying on a very quite beach called Pru Klom Beach. This is about 20 minutes drive from the ferry port. This beach wasn’t the best beach for swimming in, as it was very rocky and when the tide was low you had to walk over lots of rocks to get to the sea. If you drive further south, to Klong Nin and Klong Hin beach, you will find it a lot better for swimming in.

    We hired out a Moped for 200 Baht (£4) a day for a couple of days. We drove to Klong Nin and Klong Hin Beach and we went to Kan Teang Bay, where you can walk through jungle to get to a waterfall. The walk was beautiful, through trees and a running stream. The thing is after arriving at the waterfall, we realised it had no water on it! Still a beautiful walk! You can do Elephant Trekking here also, where you ride the Elephant through the jungle. We also went to Klong Dao Beach in the evening. This is further north and is close to the ferry port. This would be a great beach to stay on, as the beach is great for swimming in, also there are nice restaurants along the beach and it is close to the ferry port, where you will find the main shopping area. On our 2nd day in Koh Lanta we drove to the viewpoint, where you can see the Island from a height. This is a beautiful sight!

    Then we set off to Lanta Old Town. We came to a corner on the bike, where we had to turn right. We slowly took the corner, but as we did Paul realised there was a 3 foot deep pot hole in the road, so he tried turning away from it, but the bike didn’t turn in time, so he braked, this made us come off our bike. Luckily we were only going about 2 miles an hour, so the damage to the bike and us, was only small. We both got a few grazes that I was able to clean up with the first aid kit I was carrying. Lucky I came prepared! This did shake us both up a little. The roads are quite dangerous, as there are so many pot holes around. If you don’t spot them in time, you have no chance. Whatever you do, wear a helmet. Lucky we were! After cleaning ourselves up, we continued to Lanta Old town. This is only a small town, with a church, a port and a few shops. You can get ferries to other small islands from here. My ankle and knee were sore, from falling off the bike, so we decided to go back. We went back to the hotel and spent the day relaxing in the pool. The next day we went to Saladan Village, right by the ferry port. This is where the main shops are. We looked around the markets there and also the shops in the village. We really enjoyed our time in Koh Lanta, it was very relaxing. Our hotel was very nice. We enjoyed having a pool on the sea front, and enjoyed being able to watch the sunsets every evening.

    Sunset Koh Lanta

    Sunset Koh Lanta

    Ruth and Paul

    Arriving in Chiangmai

    17th April 2010

    I was particurally excited about coming to Chiangmai, as my Dad has been many times, and I wanted to see some of the places and people that he had talked about so much. Thailand was the place I most desired to come to and now I see why my Dad and many others love Thailand so much.

    We got a coach from Krabi to Bangkok and then stayed over night in the @Hua Lumphong Hotel, just opposite the Hua Lumphong Train Station. This is a lovely hotel to stay in and is convenient if you want to be close to the train station for an early train/bus the next morning. We got a bus from Bangkok to Chiangmai the next day on Thursday 8th April. We bought our ticket from the train station. It cost us 850 Baht each. The first place we went to tried charging us 1000 Baht. The train is much cheaper, but because of Thai New year, they were all booked out.

    The bus to Bangkok left at 10 am and arrived in Chiangmai at 8.00pm. The bus was very comfortable and also had a TV on. They played movies, but only in ThaiL We also stopped for lunch on the way, this was included in the price.

    We arrived into the Arcade Bus station in Chiangmai at 8.00pm on Thursday 8th April. We were met by my Dad’s friend from Thailand, Suriya. He took us to find a Hotel in the centre. We stayed in the Lux Thai hotel for our first night. This is a nice hotel, with Wi-Fi and a swimming pool, for 650 Baht a night.

    The next morning Suriya took us to another hotel called the Rux Thai. This hotel costs 490 Baht a night. We booked into this hotel for one week, as we wanted to have our accommodation sorted for the Songkran Festival (Thai New Year).

    More blogs will be coming very soon about our time in Chiangmai. There is so much to say, and the reason why, we have not kept up to date with the blogs this week, is because we have been too busy. Chiangmai is really a great place to be!

     Ruth and Paul

    Chiangmai Temples

    17th April 2010

    On our first day in Chiangmai we went around Chiangmai city, and looked at the many Buddhist temples. There are over 300 Buddhist Temples in Chiangmai. The temples are funded by donations made by locals and tourists. The temples are beautifully finished and made to stand out, using colourful glass and gold leaf and dragons.

    Detail of Temple Roof

    Detail of Temple Roof

    Each temple houses a Buddha as their centre piece. A Buddha is a very Holy person in Buddhism. The word Buddha means ‘He woke up’. The man who started Buddhism was named Siddhartha Gautama. Some people call him the Buddha, but others call anyone who has found enlightenment, Buddha. If you are close to finding enlightenment, you are called, Bottishattva. Some people pray to the Buddha, but it is important to note, that they do not see Buddha as God, but as a teacher.

    A Buddha is a human being who has woken up and can see the true way the world works. This knowledge totally changes the person beyond birth, death, and rebirth. Nothing can annoy him anymore, even the circulation of incarnation, since his enlightenment put him outsides of this eternity circle in time and space. This person can help others become enlightened too in a proper way. (Wiki)

    Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is the cities most popular temple, and dates back to 1383. Wat Chiang Mang is the oldest Temple in the city, that dates back to the 13th Century.

    We went to see many temples, we can’t remember all of the names as there were so many. We went into the temples and spoke with the Monks. They are very friendly and happy for you to go and talk with them. The monks live in the monestary and study there. They are given food and donations by locals and tourists. You can purchase baskets of food in the town, that you take to the temple, to donate to the monks. They live off these donations.

    Talking with two Buddhist Novices

    Talking with two Buddhist Novices

    The temples are open for everyone to take a look, and they are very happy to talk with you about the temples. They are very friendly and very welcoming. It is respectful to cover your arms and legs before going into the temples, and also to take your shoes off. They have clothing outside a lot of the temples, if you need to cover up.

    Ruth and Paul

    Chiangmai Hill Tribes

    19th April 2010

    On Saturday 10th April me and Paul set of with Suriya for our first tour of Chiang Mai. He has known my Dad for over 18 years, as he was the tour guide for the tours my Dad organised for his previous business. My Dad organised tours from England, and took groups of people around the world. What a great job!

    Suriya took us to the Lisu Tribe and Elephant Training Centre Chiang Dao. My Dad has visited this tribe many times and knows the people there very well, as this was the tribe he visited 18 years ago, when he first came to Chiang Mai. The people in the village were very excited to meet me, and wanted to give me gifts to welcome me. It was wonderful meeting with people that my Dad knew, and seeing how excited they were to meet me. My Dad had known some of these people when they were just young, and now they are grown with children.

    Some of my Dad's friends from the Lisu Tribe

    Some of my Dad's friends from the Lisu Tribe

    After talking with them we went to look around. There is an Elephant training centre here, and you can go Elephant Riding and Bamboo Rafting on the river. This costs about 1200 Baht for both. We didn’t do this today, as we planned to come back next week to do so.

    Suriya then took us to the Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe, just outside of Chiang Mai. Here you can see several tribes in one. The most famous being the Karen Long Tribe. This will cost you 500 Baht per person to get in. Luckily for us we were with Suriya, and he managed to get us in for 200 Baht only.

    The Long Neck women famously wear brass rings around their necks. This distorts the growth of their collarbones and makes them look as if they have long necks – which they don’t. This row of brass rings do not actually stretch their necks but in fact squash the vertebrae and collar bones. A woman generally has about twenty or more rings around her neck, and starts to wear them from around the age of 5 years old. They get a new ring every birthday. They also wear rings around their upper legs, to hold their socks up, over their knees, whilst they are working in the fields.

    Long Neck Tribe

    Long Neck Tribe

    This is a great place to visit as you get to see a lot of the tribes in one. There is the Famous Karen long neck tribe, the Aka tribe, big ear tribe and a few others which I forget. The only downer is that it is full of tourists, as it was built especially for tourism. Suriya was explaining that the long neck tribe wouldn’t be in Thailand if it wasn’t for this place being created. They have been brought over from Burma, and through the money they make, from tourism, they are able to send money back to Burma, to their families. So at least it is helping their families. It is just a shame to hear that they have to be separate from their families.

    We both really enjoyed being at this Village. We got to watch the different tribes make things and play musical instruments. I had a go playing a couple of the instruments. They were mostly different variations of a guitar. I also tried the rings on my neck, they were extremely heavy! How they wear them every day, I don’t know. I guess they must get used to them.

    We will write more about the rest of our day, visiting various animal parks.

    Ruth and Paul

    Chiangmai Animal Parks

    21st April 2010

    Saturday 10th Continued…..

    In the afternoon, after visiting the different tribes, we went to a snake, monkey and Tiger park. There are many animal parks in Thailand. It has become a huge tourist attraction. After talking with Suriya and learning a little bit about these parks, it is really sad to hear that some of these parks do not treat the animals well at all. In fact Suriya has stopped taking his tours to the Night Safari because of bad treatment to the animals.

    First we went to see the Elephants at the Chiang Dao Elephant Training Camp. Here you can go Elephant Riding and Bamboo Rafting, for about 1200 Baht (£24). The Elephants go up the River and this is followed by a bamboo raft up the river. We decided to leave this till next week.

    Ruth and Paul at Chiang Dao Elephant Camp

    Ruth and Paul at Chiang Dao Elephant Camp

    We then went to the Snake Park. I don’t like snakes and have never touched or held one, and I never had any intention of doing so! The snake park costs 200 Baht (£4) to get in. This includes looking at the snakes and a snake show. When we got there the snakes were in the cages. We were just looking around, then one of the workers came over with a snake in his hand, and put it on my head! I was a little freaked out! I guess that’s one way of getting over your fears, being forced to!

    Snake Hat

    Snake Hat

    We were then guided to the seating area, ready for the show. The show was packed out, consisting of just Paul and myself. We arrived just before 4.00pm; this is a great time to arrive, if you want to be the volunteer for every act! Maybe I should have come earlier!

    By the end of the show I had held a Python and a Cobra. I jumped out of my seat when a snake was thrown my way! However this was only a piece of rope! Silly me falling for it! The snake park was really good fun. The show was really entertaining and definitely worth 200 Baht!

    Fake smiles with a python around our neck

    Fake smiles with a python around our neck

    We then went to a Monkey School. This was close by to the snake park. This also cost 200 Baht (£4) to get in. The Monkeys train here. Unfortunately the Monkey’s are on chains during the day. They say this is because they can be dangerous. In the evening they are set free. We looked around at the Monkeys and then watched a small show. The Monkeys are very clever. They were able to add and subtract and remember the position of wooden numbers that were faced down. I was asked to move these numbers around and then pick 2 numbers. The monkey was able to add the 2 numbers and turn the correct number over.

    I also played a game of basketball with one of the monkeys. I was asked to throw the ball 3 times into the hoop. I got one in. The monkey got all 3 in. How embarrassing to be beat by a monkey!

    Our last stop of the day was Tiger Kingdom. Suriya asked us if I wanted to go into a cage with a Tiger. Without putting much thought in, we just went ahead and said yes! At this point I couldn’t really understand how this was possible.

    We got to Tiger Kingdom, and there was the option to see either the small, medium or large Tigers, or the Lions. You get 15 minutes in the enclosure with them. The Medium and Big Tigers cost 320 Baht (£6.40) each. The Lion and small Tigers cost 520 Baht (£10.40) each. There are also several packages to see 2 or more. We decided to go and see the Big Tiger. This was the cheaper option, probably because most people are intimidated! We were given a number to wait for our turn. Whilst you are waiting you are free to go and look around at the other Tigers and Lions.

    We had to read and sign a waiver before entering, to say that we would not hold them responsible if anything was to happen to us. Scary stuff! Also before entering the enclosure with the Tigers, we had to listen to guidelines about how to approach and handle the Tigers. We were told not to approach them from the front and not to touch their face or front paws, as they would take this as a sign of wanting to play. Their version of playing is a little too rough for us!

    We met with two Tigers. We laid down with them and rubbed their bellies. I also held the tail. This is very heavy! I then held the paw of the tiger in my hand. At first I was very nervous around the Tiger, but once I became familiar I relaxed. It was a very strange experience. I certainly never imagined I would be sitting beside a Tiger!

    Ruth and Paul at Tiger Kingdom

    Ruth and Paul at Tiger Kingdom

    Many people have asked me are the Tigers drugged or sedated. I have asked many locals, tour guides and researched on the internet to try and find out. Suriya has asked the staff at Tiger Kingdom many times, but has never managed to find out much information. From what I’ve read on the internet they don’t appear to be drugged or sedated, however I have not found enough evidence to back this. From what I could see they were treated well and had a lot of open space. They were also fed regularly. There is a lot of bad treatment to animals in Thailand, but there are also a lot of places who care well for the animals. Suriya tells me that a lot of the Elephant parks free the Elephants in the evening. I guess this is better than being trapped in a cage always!

    I will write more about our time in Chiangmai Later. There is so much to write, that I am a little behind.

    Ruth and Paul :)

    Songkran Festival in Chiangmai 2010 (Thai New Year)

    22nd April 2010

    The  Songkran Festival (Thai New Year) runs from 13th-15th April. We decided to cellerbrate this in Chiangmai as this is where the cellerbration originated from. In the 20th century it spread across the rest of Thailand, and is now cellerbrated across the whole of Thailand. However Chiangmai is still regarded as the best place to be for the festival, and the cellerbrations there go on for 6 days and more.

    The main way people cellerbrate Songkran, is by throwing water over eachother. Many tourists come to Chiangmai especially for this event. Every shop stocks up with water guns and by the end of the festival water guns are left behind in guest houses by tourists, and probably sold on again next year.

    People also visit Wats (Buddhist Monasteries) to pray and they also give offerings to Monks. People also go o visit with family and friends. During the festival a parade is performed around the city. Here you can gently throw water over beauty queens and Buddha images and shrines. This water is mixed with Thai fragrance and is believed to bring good luck and prosterity for the New Year.

    The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this “blessed” water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder.The water is meant as a symbol of washing all of the bad away and is sometimes filled with fragrant herbs when celebrated in the traditional manner. (Wiki)

    Throwing water over the Buddha Image

    Throwing water over the Buddha Image

    Even though the Festival runs from the 13th-15th April be prepared to get soaked for a few days running up to this time. The locals and tourists are eager to get started with the water throwing. The best place to be in Chiangmai is around the Moat. During the festival all around the moat is packed with tourists and locals throwing water. People buy buckets on string and thwo it in to the moat to fill up with water. No one stays dry! You can get a taxi, tuk tuk and even stay in doors, but guaranteed someone will come and wet you! In fact people like to target people who are trying their hardest to stay dry in a taxi.

    The festival is a lot of fun. The locals are very welcoming to tourists and you can join in with everyone and have a lot of fun. During the festival guest houses and bars have massive barrels of water outside to throw at people passing. Also people go around on pick up trucks with buckets of ice cold water to throw. This is quite nice in the heat, and helps cool you down:)

    We spent the first day of the festival around the Moat and joined in with locals and tourists and had a lot of fun getting wet and soaking people. We bought ourselves super soaker water guns. These are very powerful and can hurt if you shoot them too close. We stayed out for most of the day. People continued to wet eachother till about 7pm. We also watched the parade during the day.

    Paul waiting for passing Taxi's

    Paul waiting for passing Taxi's

    On the second day of the festival we also meant around the moat again. There was a foam machine spilling out foam all over the street. This was a lot of fun! People were runnign around in it and throwing it at eachother. In the afternoon we went to spend time with Suriya and joined in with some of his friend in a near by guesthouse. They had massive cubes of ice in massive buckets of water. We soaked every person passing by on this quite street. There is no escaping the water, not even on a small quite street!

    Foam on the streets of Chiangmai

    Foam on the streets of Chiangmai

    I would definatley suggest you visit Chiangmai during the Songkran Festival. We had so much fun with the locals. They are so welcoming and ensure that you have an amazing time! Be prepared to get soaked! It is a nice way of cooling down in the heat!

    Pictures of Songkran coming soon,

    Ruth and Paul

    Elephant Trekking

    24th April 2010

    On Saturday 17th April 2010 we went with Suriya to the Mae Ping Elephant Camp in the Chiang Dao District. We paid for a multiple ticket for 1,200 Baht (£24). This included watching the Elephant show, riding the Elephants for 1 hour (around the camp and up the Mae Ping River), taking a ride on an Ox Cart and floating down the Mae Ping River on a bamboo raft for 45 minutes, finishing with a delicious Thai lunch at the Royal Ping Garden Resort. We would definitely recommend this package. The day ran so smoothly and everything was extremely enjoyable.

    We arrived in time for the last Elephant show which starts at 10 am, an earlier one starts at 8.30am. I would advise you to arrive early, as the show starts promptly. After buying your tickets you will get to watch the Elephants being washed in the Mae Ping River. From here they proceed to a demonstration area, where you will get to sit and watch the Elephants do various tricks and tasks. Such tricks include, carrying a sign that welcomes you to the show, kicking a football, painting and shooting a ball into a hoop.

    We were surprised to see how well the Elephants were trained. We didn’t realise an Elephant could be trained to do such tasks. Elephants are an important animal in Thailand.

    Elephants have played an important role in Thai history: nation, religion and royal affairs. From the beginning of Thai history, the elephant image was displayed on the Thai flag, it was also the vehicle the Thai King used for fighting battles and protecting the country. We have used elephants for logging and heavy labor. (elephantvillage.com)

    After watching the show, your guide will direct you to a high platform, where you will wait for your Elephant. Suriya managed to get us to the front of the queue. Once seated on the Elephant we started our trek around the Elephant Camp, which involved walking through the Mae Ping River, which was around 4 ft deep. The Mahout (Elephant driver) directs the Elephant by pressing behind the Elephants ears with his knees. He also carries an Elephant hook, which is only used if the Elephant misbehaves. The hook is inserted into the elephant’s sensitive skin, either slightly or more deeply, to cause pain and get him to behave in a certain manner. At times we would get quite close to a sheer drop and the mahout would have to direct him back.

    Paul and Ruth Elephant Riding

    Paul and Ruth Elephant Riding

     The scenery we passed was beautiful yet the ride was very bumpy. We passed by several tree top shops, where you can purchase food, such as sugar cane and bananas for your Elephant. Our Elephant kept grabbing the sugar cane with his trunk, demanding that we bought it for him. I didn’t want to mess with him! Elephants need a lot of food, this is not surprising, considering the size of them!

    Because of their immense body size, elephants need great volumes of food and water everyday. They consume an astonishing 150 to 300 kg. of jungle fodder and about 200 litres of water per day. They enjoy bamboo shoots, grass and all sorts of vegetation. (elephantvillage.com)

    We really enjoyed the Elephant riding. I would of liked to experience sitting on his bare back, maybe next time.

    Next we took a short Ox-Cart ride. This took us round a circuit that went up and down hill. Shame this circuit was circular, as we ended up back where we started! The poor Oxen carrying us no where useful! The ride was very bumpy, especially when going down hill as the cart was pushing the Oxen.

    We then took a very peaceful ride on a Bamboo Raft, down the Mae Ping River. We were surprised at how steady and calm the Bamboo Raft was. You could easily fall asleep on it. The driver pushes the raft along using a long bamboo stick. It took around 45 minutes to get to the hotel resort, where we went for lunch.

    Relaxing on a Bamboo Raft

    Relaxing on a Bamboo Raft

    The service and food at the Royal Ping Garden Resort was of a very high standard. All food including water was included in the price of our ticket. If you require any other drinks, you may purchase them at an extra cost. We were served rice, steamed vegetables, spring rolls and a tofu dish with a sweet and sour sauce. We were offered extra vegetables and rice. We were then served a fresh fruit salad. We were extremely satisfied with the food and service.

    The day ended around 2pm. We had an amazing time and would recommend this package to anyone!

    On the way back to Chiangmai we went to the Orchid and Butterfly park, which is free on entry, when going with a guide. Here you can see many types of Orchids and butterflies. This was small in comparison to other Orchid Gardens we have gone to. There is also a restaurant and souvenir shop, where you can buy various Orchids preserved with resin, which almost resemble glass.

    More blogs on Chiangmai coming soon,

    Ruth and Paul

    Chiangmai Hot Springs

    27th April 2010

    On Friday 16th April 2010, we went to visit some hot springs with Ning and pi Toiy, a friend who works with Ning. Alot of locals go here to bathe their feet into the hot springs, and some even get fully in. This seems crazy in the heat! I managed to slowly put my feet into the water, but I found it too hot to keep it in their for too long! We looked around for a while and then went for lunch together.

    Hot Springs

    Hot Springs

    On the way back we went to visit some shops. We went to see where Silk is made. First we went to a demonstration room, where you can see them making the silk on the machines. They have to concentrate so much as they have to count how many of each colour they have done, and keep count of the changes in the pattern. After watching them weave scarfs we went to look around the shop. You can purchase several things like scarfs, bedding, clothing, table matts and small sovouneirs.

    We then went to see where bamboo umberellas are made. The umbrella frames are made completley of bamboo and the cover is decorated with different paintings.

    Bamboo Umbrellas

    Bamboo Umbrellas

    We saw many beautiful things in the shops, but we had to resist! We can’t carry that much backage around! Plus we would soon run out of money if we kept buying.

    Ruth and Paul

    Saying goodbye to Chiangmai

    27th April 2010

    We had a fantastic time in Chiangmai. I have always wanted to go, after hearing many stories from my Dad and I was more than impressed. The people are so friendly and Chiangmai city has so much character. It is both modern and cultural at the same time. There is so much to see around Chiangmai that we were unable to do everything in 2 weeks. We definitely want to return! We would of liked to see Chiang Rai and more of the surounding areas. We also want to return to the Lisu Village to spend more time there and maybe stay over in the village.

    It was especially good having Suriya and Ning to show us around. You really get to see a more ‘real’ side of a place when you are with locals. They took us to local restaurants, local super markets and local attractions.

    We went out for dinner with Ning and her family one night, to a large local restaurant. You all get a heater in the middle of your table and you go and select what meat, vegetables, noodles, sauces ect that you want and cook it on the heater. This is a really nice way of lengthening your meal out and socializing at the same time. There was so much choice of meat and fish, so that wasn’t so good for me, being a vegetarian, but it was still fantastic! We really enjoyed being surrounded by the locals and eating like they do, and tasting Thai food in it’s true form. Ning was explaining that alot of the Thai food in the tourist restaurants is nothing like traditional Thai food.

    Eating out

    You could eat as much as you wanted at the restaurant. You just keep going back and cooking more food up! The total of the food for all 8 of us was roughly the same price as a meal for 2 in a tourist restaurant. So it’s best to eat with the locals or at least in the local restaurants! If you can find them that is. They are never in the tourist areas, you need to go a little bit out.

    Summary of Chiangmai
    Average price of a Budget Hotel- £5-10
    Average meal cost- £2-£3
    Favourite Day out: Hill Tribes, Elephant Riding on Mae Ping River.

    Journey from Chiangmai to Bangkok

    28th April 2010

    We left for Bangkok on Wednesday 21st April. Ning took me to get our bus ticket from Chiangmai to Bangkok a couple of days before. We got our ticket for 600 Baht (£12) each. This is 250 Baht (£5) cheaper than we paid getting to Chiangmai from Bangkok. You get charged more when you go to a tour office, as they take a commission and will charge you as high as they can. Our mistake was that we didn’t look around more. When you are rushing to get a ticket it’s difficult though. Most of the time they will always drop their price, so there’s no harm in trying!

    We left Chiangmai at 7.00 am and arrived in Bangkok at 5pm. The bus was really comfortable. We were served food and drinks throughout the journey and stopped half way to get a meal in a restaurant, that was included in the price. They didn’t have any vegetarian option though so I just had a plate of rice.

    We stayed in the @Hua Lamphong hotel. We stayed here last time we were in Bangkok and were really happy with it. The staff are so friendly and helpful and the rooms are beautiful and very comfortable. The hotel has wifi and a Cafe. The staff in the cafe are extremely friendly and give you the best service! We were really impressed with this hotel and would definitely stay there again, if we return.

    We only stayed in Bangkok for 4 nights. It is quite crazy in Bangkok at the moment because of the protests, so it wasn’t worth risking anything by going out. A lot of the streets are blocked by baracades made of car tires and sharpened bamboo. We were there when the blasts happened, just around the corner from our hotel. Luckily we were safe in our hotel that night.

    We took a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap in Cambodia on Sunday 25th April 2010. We will write about that journey in our next Blog.

    Paul and Ruth :)

    Cambodia

    Bangkok to Siem Reap

    29th April 2010

    We took a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap on Sunday 25th April. Our Thailand visa ran out on this day, so it was important to leave, otherwise we would get charged 500 Baht (£10) for each day we over stayed our visa.

    We organised our bus with our hotel. It cost us 950 Baht (£19) each. We were in a rush to get a bus as our visa was running out. We later found out, that if we had got our bus ticket from Khao San Road, that we would of got it for a lot cheaper. It should have been about 300-400 baht (£6-£8) each. So it is best to shop around. Also remember if you get it with your hotel they will be taking a commission, so it will cost a lot more!

    We were picked up by a taxi from our hotel at 7 am and dropped off on Khao San Road. We had a guy following the taxi on a moped. He works for the bus company, to make sure we get on the bus. We were told we would be getting a coach, but we were led to a small mini bus, seating 12 people. We weren’t happy about this, as the mini bus option was a cheaper price; we purposely paid for the coach.

    We set off at around 8.00 am. The journey from Bangkok to the Poi Pet border, took around 4 hours. We were dropped off at a travel agent shop, near the Poi Pet border. We were all greeted by 3 members of staff, who gave us an arrival card to fill out and a visa form. You can apply for your Cambodian Visa on the border, so we were confused as to why we had stopped here. We soon realised what was happening. The bus company drop you off at this travel agent, where they tell you that you need to get your visa here. They charge you 1200 Baht (£24), and they drive to the border with your forms and passports and get your visas for you. We were all confused and at one point everyone from the bus, stood up and said ‘This isn’t the official place to get our visa’s’. A man from the UK was amongst us, and reassured us that it was ok as he had done this many times, and got his visa through them. He explained that they charge you a little extra, for the service of going to get your visa, but that he felt it saved a lot of hassle at the border.

    In the end we just decided to go with it, as the guy had reassured us. Well we got our visa ok. The guy came back on the bike with all our passports, with the visas inside.

    Once everyone was ready, they walked us to the border. We were told that it was too busy at the border and that’s why we have to fill our forms out with them. Well we still had to queue when we got there, and would have had plenty time to fill out two forms in a queue that we have to stand in anyway.

    Although it worked out fine getting the visa with them, we wouldn’t do it again. When you get to the border you can pick up the forms you need for your visa. You just need to fill in an arrival and departure card, and a visa form. You need to make sure you have two passport photos for your visa. Also take some dollars with you. The price of the visa on the border is $20 or 1100 baht .They were charging us 1200 baht . So when they tell you they are only charging an extra 100 baht it doesn’t seem so bad, however 1100 baht is $35 Dollars. So if you pay at the border with dollars, you save yourself 450 Baht ($15).

    These agents make sure they pay in Dollars. So in total they are making 550 Baht per application.

    On top of this they try to get you to take out 10,000 Baht (£200) on the Thai side of the border, we didn’t fall for this but many in our group did. They will tell you that cash machines in Cambodia only give out Dollars at a bad exchange rate. When you get across the border, they get you to change your 10,000 Baht into Cambodian Riel (at a very bad rate). They will tell you it’s the best place to change it. However Cambodia mostly deals in US dollars. Everything in shops and restaurants is priced in Dollars and all cash machines only dispense US Dollars. You will get a more competitive rate when you change your Dollars in the country and not at the border. The travel agent must be getting a commission for persuading us to change our money at the border! They were very persuasive and when I told him I was going to wait till I get to Cambodia, he said but there are hardly any cash machines and you will get a bad rate. These were all lies. There are loads of Cash machines in Siem Reap!

    The bus journey from Poi Pet to Siem Reap took about 4 hours. We stopped half way at a café for about 45 Minutes. We were told we had to get off the bus. The only place we could sit was in the Café where you are pressured to buy food and drink. This must have been another commission stop!

    We arrived In Siem Reap about 6pm. We were dropped off in a field (apparently Siem Reap bus station) where there were 5 Tuk Tuk (Taxi’s) waiting for us. The host on the bus directed us all to our Tuk Tuk. The host had been talking to us on the bus, telling us that when we get to the bus station a Tuk Tuk will take us to find a hotel and also organise a tour of Angkor Temples for us. We didn’t fancy paying for a Tuk Tuk and being hassled like this. So we decided to try and make our own way. We saw a sign saying Siem Reap Centre so headed towards that. We were in a built up area within 20 minutes of walking. We finally found our guesthouse and checked in to our room.

    We are staying in Ta Som Guesthouse in Siem Reap. It costs $12 a night. The room is a good size and very comfortable. It also has Wifi and breakfast is included.

    It was hard work getting here, with all the hassle from people, however Siem Reap is a very nice city and the Angkor Temples are more than stunning. We will write all about our adventures around the Angkor Temples in our next Blog.

     

    What you need for your Cambodian Visa

    2 Passport photos

    $20 or 1100 Baht (£24)

    500 Baht (£10) for everyday you have over stayed your Visa

    Will power to not give in to touts and people who will try and con you!

    Smile and patience

     

    Paul and Ruth :)

    Angkor Temples

    1st May 2010

    On Tuesday 27th April, we got a Tuk Tuk from our hotel (Ta som) to the Angkor Check Point, where you buy your tickets. This is about 3 km from the city and shouldn’t cost you any more than $2 for a Tuk Tuk. They tried charging us $5, but I bargained them down to $2, and they were more than happy to do this. You will need to go back to the check point every day you go to the temples, to get your ticket stamped.

    You can hire a Tuk Tuk out for the day, for about $10. This will include being driven around to all the temples, for the whole day. If you want a guide on top of this, be prepared to pay around $15 for the day, or $3 individually for each temple, on top of transport costs. This can either be arranged before you set off, through your hotel, or when you get to the temples. It is cheaper to wait till you get to the temples to get a guide, as the hotel takes a commision on top of the guides price.

    The other option is to hire out bicycles and bike around the temples. It is about 6 km from the city to the Angkor Wat Temple and a further 3 Km to Angkor Thom.

    We hired out bicycles for $1 each, for the day. You can pick the bike up early in the morning and drop it back off around 10 pm.  We found this a great way to get around, as you have the freedom to stay or leave the temples as you please. Plus you can explore some of the other temples, close by, that tour guides will not include. Just get yourself a map of the Angkor area, a guide book, a bicycle and your off. This will cost you no more than $4 dollars each and you will have all the freedom you want! Plus it keeps you fit:) Just one tip, bring water in a thermos flask if you can. This will save you a lot of money, as they will charge you a lot more for water around the temples. However I managed to get 3   500 ml bottles for $1. They will try and charge you $1 a bottle.

    Entering Angkor

    Entering Angkor

    The ticket price for all the Angkor Temples is $20 for a 1 day pass, $40 for a 3 day pass or $60 for a 7 day pass. We got a 3 day pass. Most people told us that a 1 day pass would not be long enough. They were right. 3 days will give you a good glimpse at most of the temples, however if you want to explore them all, at a more relaxed pace, I’d say get a 7 day pass.

    What you need for your day out at Angkor

    Map of angkor

    We will write about our experience at the Angkor temples in our next blog,

    Ruth and Paul :)



    Passports Stolen in Cambodia

    5th May 2010

    Sunday 2nd May 2010 (Part 1)

    You may want to sit back, put your feet up and relax for this next blog, as it may take a while!

    Sunday 2nd May at 8.30pm, me and Paul left the Asia Hotel, in Phnom Penh, to go to get something to eat.

    We were heading towards the river front. We had been walking for about 5 minutes, when we got to Preah NorodomBoulevard. We stood on the pavement waiting to cross the road. We stood forward getting ready to cross. Then I noticed in the corner of my left eye that a motorbike with 2 people on, was coming very close to me. I tried to stand back quickly, but before I could, I was knocked back. Paul started running, as he could see they had taken something from me and also thought that they had hit me. I quickly noticed that they had my bag in there hand. I started running up the road and shouted to Paul.

    They have my bag, and it has our passports in!

    I was running behind Paul as fast as I could. I was shouting help and I finally came across some young guys on motorbikes, from Cambodia, who stopped. They didn’t speak much English, but they were able to understand that my bag had been stolen.

    Paul was still running at this point. He got close to them, and could see that they had turned right at the lights, but he couldn’t keep up. They were on a motorbike after all!

    The young guys told us to get on their bikes. They told us they would try and help us find them. I guess we didn’t know weather we could trust them or not, but at this point, we didn’t know what else to do. We got onto their motorbike and followed in the direction that the thieves had gone. They were well out of sight by now and the chances of finding them were small.

    They drove us to the nearest police station. The police didn’t speak much English, so the young guys explained what had happened. I’m not sure why, but they were unable to help with the situation. I thought that’s what police were for, but I was wrong.

    They continued to drive us around. They took us to a man on the street who spoke good English. He told us that going to the police wouldn’t help much, but that we should go to the British Embassy first thing in the morning. He tried to reassure us and tell us everything would be ok.

    We started to realise that looking for them wasn’t going to help much. So we asked if they could take us back to our hotel. They kindly drove us back to the Asia Hotel and we thanked them for all their help.

    I had shouted for help so many times. So many people just stopped and starred, but these guys genuinely wanted to help. That meant a lot to us!

    We got back to the hotel about 9.30pm. I was feeling very distraught. I was crying wondering what we were going to do. No one, not even the police seemed to be able to tell us what we could do.

    In my bag was mine and Paul’s passports, my wallet with all my bank cards, driving licence in. A few coins, but not much money at all, maybe 2-3 pounds in total, which was good. Also my IPod touch was in the bag, and a few other things which I couldn’t remember at the time.

    It was annoying loosing my IPod Touch, but our passports were the main thing! We couldn’t go anywhere without them.

    I tried to hold back the tears as I explained to the hotel what had happened. They listened and replied by saying,

    We have a safe deposit box for each room, here in reception, for you to keep passports and belongings in.

    I was thinking, well thanks for telling me that now. That knowledge would of been good before we went out!

    One of the hotel staff could see I was crying and came over with a tissue. He said to Paul,

    Tell your wife not to worry, this happens all the time in Cambodia. Passports are stolen a lot!

    This wasn’t helping either, or making the situation any better! We just wanted to report it to the police an see if anything could be done. We asked one of the members of staff to call the Police for us, he said it was late and would be better if we waited till the morning. It was only 9.30pm. We didn’t want to wait till tomorrow. I asked again, making it quite clear that we wanted to speak with a police officer tonight. He finally listened and called the police. A police officer was at the hotel within 10 minutes.

    He took down the details of the incident and said that if we wanted the police to deal with it, we would have to go to the police office either tonight or tomorrow. We said tonight. The member of staff from the hotel was translating for us, as the police officer didn’t speak much English. He told us that no translator was available till the morning. We didn’t know what he was translating, but he said that the police officer had said it would be best to go in the morning at 7.30am. We agreed, not knowing what else we could do!

    The police officer told the member of staff to write down the address of the police station. He gave a card top Paul with the address on. Paul decided to check with the police officer if this was the correct address. He shook his head and went over to him. I’m not sure what had happened as they were speaking Khmer. I guess he had wrote the wrong address down or something, as the police officer scribbled the address down and wrote the correct address down.

    The police officer took Paul on his motorbike to show him the police station and also got Paul to point out where the bag had been stolen from.

    I went up to the hotel room waiting for Paul to return. I was hoping and praying that a miracle would happen, and that he would return with my bag with everything in, but he returned with only his broken flip flop, that had fallen off his foot when he was running after the thief’s.

    We both sat in the room wondering what we were going to do. We finally pulled ourselves together and managed to do the essential things. I rang up to cancel both my debit cards. Then I also realised that they had my Ipod Touch, which had my hotmail, facebook, skype and several other things on. So I changed the password on all my accounts. I noticed that I had an extra contact on my skype account, so they must of signed in for a while, but I managed to change the passwords before they could.

    We then looked up all the details about what to do if you loose your passport. We found out where the British Embassy was in Phnom Penh, but there was no Irish Embassy. The closest Irish Embassy was Hanoi, in Vietnam. Paul would need to apply for an exit visa from Cambodia, a temporary passport and then he would need to go to Hanoi to get his full passport. I needed to go to the British Embassy in Phom Penh and apply for a new passport, which costs $202 andcan take up to 30 days to receive. Then I would need to apply for a new Cambodian Visa to exit the country, which costs $45 (even though the visa I originally had only cost $20). So in total it would cost us both around $500 for new passports andexit visas. Plus it would take around 4 weeks to get out of Cambodia and then a further 2-4 weeks in Hanoi, for Paul’s full passport.

    When we read all of this, we started to loose hope, thinking we would just have to go home. As it was going to cost so much.

    We finally went to bed around 1 am knowing we had to be up early in the morning to go to the police station. It was not a good night sleep however, worrying about what was going to happen tomorrow!

    Click here to read part 2

    Passports stolen in Cambodia

    5th May 2010

    Monday 3rd May 2010 (Part 2)

    If you have not read part 1, please click here

    Monday morning at 6.30am, the alarm went off to wake us up. I woke up feeling confused and worried, but knew I had to be strong today. Somehow I managed to get the strength and remain calm. We got ourselves ready to go to the police station. The phone in our room rang around 7.15 am, whilst Paul was in the shower. I answered and the lady in the reception told me that my friend was in the reception and wanted to talk to me. I told Paul to get ready as quick as possible. I went down alone to see who it was. I thought the receptionist meant they were actually sitting in the reception, but she meant on the phone. The receptionist said that a lady had called for me. She had to call her back and she said she had hung up.

    It was a woman. She couldn’t speak much English, so it was hard to understand. She said that she wanted to meet me to tell me her story about my bag! I didn’t understand what she meant. I thought maybe she was trying to say that she saw my bag get stolen, but then I thought how would she know I was staying at this hotel. I asked her if she had my bag, but she just kept saying I want you to come to my house to hear my story about your bag and how you lost it!

    I asked the receptionist at the hotel to speak to her as the lady didn’t speak much English.

    She explained on the phone to the receptionist, that she had my bag and wanted to give it back to me. She had found a receipt for the hotel in our bag, which is how she was able to contact us. The receipt had our room number on. I asked if she could bring it to the hotel, or the police station, but she said no, because she was too scared in case the police thought it was her that stole my bag.

    She wanted us to go to her shop/house and collect it there. The receptionist took down her address and phone number and said that if I went to her home, she wanted to talk to us and tell us how she found my bag. Then the receptionist said would you give her a tip or something for finding it. I thought it was a bit strange that the receptionist was telling us to give a tip, but we didn’t really think much about it at the time, as we were just glad she had my bag and our passports!

    Another guy in the hotel asked us if we had been to the police yet. When we replied no, he then told us that the best thing would be to take a taxi, with the hotels taxi driver and go to the ladys shop. We were anxious and worried about doing this, but we didn’t know what else to do!

    He rang up the lady getting more details about what was left in the bag and double checked our names matched the names on the passports. He then said to us it will take you at least 30 days to get a new passport, so it is best for you to go and talk with the lady. He said my taxi driver will take you to the shop and Wait with you and bring you back. I didn’t trust this guy at all, there was just something about him, but were stuck with what else to do. We needed our passports back!

    If we went with the police we were scared she wouldn’t give them back, or deny she had them, and she wouldn’t bring them to the hotel or the police station, so we felt we had no other choice.

    So we went with the hotels taxi driver to the Lady’s shop. It cost us $15 for the return journey, plus for the taxi drivers waiting around.

    We were driving in the taxi for about 10 minutes, when we stopped on a remote street. There was no traffic in front of us so we were wondering why we had stopped. The taxi driver made a phone call and was speaking to someone in Khmer (Cambodian). I really wish I was able to understand the language, so I could of known what he was saying! Paul then asked him if we were there. He said he tried calling the lady but she didn’t answer. I don’t know whop the person he was talking to then? I don’t know why her not answering the phone would stop us from driving, because the taxi driver already had the address of her shop. I started feeling unsteady about the situation.

    The taxi drivers phone rang again. He spoke briefly to someone, who I believe to be the lady in the shop, as It was a woman speaking. He put the phone down and then drove on.

    We passed a shop within seconds of driving. There was 1 lady and 4 men starring into the car. We thought that must be the shop. The taxi driver pulled up just passed the shop. We both got out of the car and the taxi driver followed us in.

    The lady and men in the shop were really happy to see us and were smiling and waving. They welcomed us into their shop, where they had two seats waiting for us to sit on. The lady went to get my bag, and showed us the passports left in the bag and my visa cards, driving licence and a few pieces of ripped paper. She handed me the passports for a while to let me flick through them, making sure all the visas were still in there.

    She then took them back off me and put them back in the bag. The lady and the son kept showing me all the things left in my bag. The son said,

    I think what has happened is who ever stole it from you, just took all the valuables, then left the rest.

    My Ipod Touch and a few other small things had been taken from the bag, but the important things were left. He then picked up my two visa cards, saying it’s good that they have left these for you.

    I picked up my visa cards and me and Paul snapped them in half, as we had already cancelled them with the bank last night, so thy were no use anymore.

    The lady and son were confused as they watched us snap them into pieces. She finally understood that they were no longer working.

    She then asked me how my bag was stolen. We explained that two guys on a motorbike had pulled it off my shoulder. She then showed me the bag. The strap had snapped on it, so that’s how it must of come away from me. I had it over my neck, so I wondered how they would of got it off me, but it looks like when they pulled it, it snapped.

    They then wanted to show us the back of the shop, where they had found my bag  last night. There were pieces of paper from my bag on the floor, including ripped receipts. I thought it was strange that the pieces of paper were ripped.

    I started to notice that we had been at the shop for nearly 15 minutes and the lady was still holding my bag. This was strange. If she wanted to return my ag, she would of handed it to me by now.

    I felt really uneasy and wanted to get out as soon as possible. The lady, her son and the other 4 men took us back round to the front of the shop. They told us to sit back down. They were just smiling and looking really happy. You would think this was because they had found our bag and were able to return it to us.

    Paul got his wallet out to give $20 as a tip for finding the bag. Paul emptied his wallet in the taxi, taking all his debit cards and other money out and he put them in his pocket.

    He showed the lady his wallet and took out his last $20, and said

    I know it’s not much, but thank you so much for returning our bag

    I quickly noticed the sons face as he looked at the money Paul was offering. I knew for sure that things weren’t right and that we had to get out quickly. The lady wasn’t taking the $20, she was shaking her head. For a moment Paul thought this was just because she didn’t want any money at all, but I knew that wasn’t it at all!

    I took the $20 from Paul handed it to the woman and said thank you and quickly grabbed the bag that she had clenched to her chest. I had realised but Paul told me after that just before I got hold of the bag the son had said,

    No! $200 or you get nothing back

    I had hold of the bag, but the lady still had hold of the strap. I asked the taxi driver to help and translate for me, but he just replied by saying,

    Sit down and listen!

    He also blocked the door way not letting us out.

    Paul was behind me at this point. Whilst me and the lady were fighting over the bag, Paul realised we needed to get out and that there would be no reasoning. He quickly grabbed back the $20 and put his wallet safely away.

    I was still trying to get the bag back at this point. She had a strong hold of the strap around her hand. Paul began pulling it with me and luckily the strap snapped off the bag, allowing me to have full hold of the bag. I transferred the bag over to Paul as he was closer to the exit. The son kept telling me it’s ok and just sit down and stay calm. I knew not to trust him and just get out. Paul waited for me to get out. The lady was still trying to get the bag back, so I pushed her down to the floor and barged past all 4 men and the taxi driver, who were all blocking the way. One of the guys was pulling onto Paul’s Tshirt not letting him get out. Paul elbowed him in the stomach, whilst I pulled Paul by the arm.

    We were out, with the bag! We ran as fast as we could. I stopped in a garage asking for help, as I could see the lady and son on a motorbike behind following us. I shouldn’t of stopped, it was no use! No one spoke much English and no one was helping, just starring. The lady caught u with me on the motorbike. I had my bag in my hands, but Paul had already taken the passports out and put them in his pocket.

    The lady got off the motorbike and grabbed hold of my hair. I was asking the men in the garage for help, but they just starred. Paul ran back and grabbed the ladies wrist and pushed her away. We kept running, but they were still following us on their motorbike.

    We saw some police officers in the distance and thought, great they will be able to help us!

    The lady raced ahead on her motorbike and spoke to the police officer. I don’t know what she said, but the police officer wouldn’t speak with me  or listen. We soon realised that even the police weren’t helping, so we just continued to run, with them still chasing us on their motorbike.

    We came to a big junction where the police were closing the road for someone important coming. This was to our advantage as they were no longer able to follow us on their motorbike.

    We kept running as fast as we could. Once we got away, we decided to try and stop another police officer, but he just pointed to another police officer in the distance and said you need to speak to him. Other police were just laughing.We don’t know what was going on, but all we knew was there was no point asking any of the police for help!

    So we just kept running. We didn’t know where we were, but we had a map so Paul managed to locate where we were, and get us back to the Asia Hotel.

    It was about 10am by the time we got back to the Hotel. We walked in shaking and sweating. Our adrenaline certainly kept us going! We were just glad to be back with our passports! It was a miracle that we had them back!

    We went straight up to our room. We didn’t want to talk with any of the hotel staff, as we didn’t feel we could trust them! The guy who organised the taxi for us and told us the taxi driver would come in with us and wait for us, knew what was going to happen, I’m sure!

    The taxi driver was a part of it. He had tried to block us in the shop and demanded I sit down, when I tried to run away.

    We locked ourselves in our hotel room and packed our bags up and got ready to check out.

    Whilst we were packing the bags up, we got a phone call to our room. It was the guy from reception, who had organised the taxi for us. Paul answered and he said,

    It’s ok now, you don’t have to worry, they have gone, you can come down now!

    We were thinking how did he know what had happened. We hadn’t spoken to him or any other member of staff since coming back into the hotel. We didn’t trust him at all!

    We finished packing our bags and made sure we had everything. We then went down to reception to check out. We had already paid for the hotel, so all we had to do was hand our key in.

    The same guy who had organised our taxi, was at the reception desk. He asked Paul where we were going. As if we were going to tell him anything!

    We had paid $15 for the taxi to the shop. I wanted to report what had happened and complain about the taxi driver. I told them that the taxi driver had demanded I sit down, and blocked me from getting out of the shop. They didn’t say anything. I said I want my $15 back for the taxi, and said he didn’t even bring us back anyway! The man just replied by saying,

    You ran away, so he couldn’t bring you back!

    Of Course I ran away. He was trying to block me in the shop!

    It was no use. We just decided to leave, so we started to walk out of the hotel. As we were walking away the man shouted,

    Wait! We need to check your room and make sure everything is still in the mini fridge!

    After all that had happened to us and after paying for a taxi, who had demanded we sit down and don’t leave the shop, all this man cared about was if everything was still in the mini fridge!

    We just walked away. We hadn’t taken anything out of the mini fridge!

    We found another really nice hotel and settled into our room. We were just so happy to have our passports back. It was a struggle to get them, and was dangerous. We certainly don’t want to go through anything like that again! We were also so happy to be out of the Asia Hotel. We didn’t feel safe there at all and we didn’t trust any of the staff!

    At least now we have our passports and can leave Cambodia! :)

    Some Websites we wish we had read before!

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g293940-d456195-Reviews-Asie_Hotel-Phnom_Penh.html

    http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/advice/cambodia

    http://cambodiacalling.blogspot.com/2009/08/usd1000-reward-for-2-lost-passports.html

    Thanks for reading. We are both safe now and continuing our travels. We are heading back to Thailand today. We were meant to be going to Vietnam, but we don’t want to wait around in Phnom Penh for our Vietnam visas. We may go to Vietnam at a later date.

    Love Paul and Ruth :)

    Visiting Angkor Wat

    8th May 2010

    April 27th-30th
    On our first day we decided we would take a Tuk Tuk to the entrance gate for Angkor, then walk the rest of the way. From the ticket office, it is about 3km to Angkor Wat. This walk was ok and we were ok walking around Angkor Wat. However if you are wanting to try and fit other temples in to the same day, I would suggest you hire a tuk tuk for the day.

    The distance from Angkor wat to Angkor Thom is a further 2-3 km. If you have only got a short time, make sure you definatley fit in Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.

    On our second day we hired out bicylces for $1, from the city center. This was a great way of getting round, as we were able to do things at our own pace and see as many temples as we wanted. There is so much to explore, that it is impossible to see everything in just a day. We had a 3 day ticket and we still didn’t get to see everything.

    There was so many un even stairs to climb, around the temples. If you are at all afraid of heights, you would find climbing the temples difficult. However there is still plenty to see without climbing.I was a little uneasy coming down the stairs of the temples, as they are so narrow and un even.

    Sorry this blog is so short. We just wanted to get something up about the temples, as our last blog kind of got in the way. Although we had a bad experience in Phnom Penh, we want everyone to know that Cambodia it self is a beautiful country and we are glad we visited Siem Reap, especially. Please take a look at our photos.

    We will write more soon:)

    Click here to see our photos from the day

    Love Ruth and Paul

    Thailand

    Bangkok Protests

    16th May 2010

    We are now back in Chiang Mai, where we will stay for about 2-3 weeks. We stayed in Bangkok for about a week, but mostly stayed inside, due to the protests! We managed to get to see a few sights, including some of the temples, such as Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaeo. Wat Pho is famous for it’s reclining Budda, which is 47 meters long and 15 meters high. This is very impressive to see!

    Ruth at Wat Pho

    Ruth at Wat Pho

    When visiting the temples make sure you are covering your arms and legs, as you will not be allowed to enter! We also visited China Town and a few parks, including Lumphini Park,which was hit by the protests the We would of liked to see more, but with all the protests going on at the moment, it was safer to stay inside!

    We were staying at the @ Hua Lumphong hotel, which we have stayed in every time we’ve been in Bangkok. The rooms are really comfortable and the hotel staff are extremely friendly! There is a living room area for guests to use, where you can sit, chat, relax and watch TV. There is also a beautiful little Cafe downstairs, with excellent food and warm, friendly staff!! I would recommend anyone who is going to Bangkok to stay here, you will not be disappointed! It is right opposite the Hua Lumphong train station, so it is in a perfect location, for a quick stop in Bangkok.

    We will be staying in Chiang Mai for a few weeks now, where I have to  wait for things to be sent  from home, because of my bag being stloen in Cambodia. Our next stop will be China. We are disappointed that we will not be going to Vietnam now, but maybe some other time we will:)

    We will write more soon.

    Ruth and Paul

    Visiting Wat Doi Suthep

    31st May 2010

    Wat Doi Suthep is a Buddhist Temple, situated in Doi Suthep-Doi Nathional Park, just outside of Chiang Mai. We decided to visit this temple at the weekend after hearing so much about the views from the top. We walked to the Chiang Mai zoo from Chiang Mai city centre, which took around 40 minutes. Then we got a Red Taxi (Shared taxi-which is the main source of transport around Chiang Mai) from the zoo-which cost us 40 Baht each (£1) for a 20 minute journey up a steep winding road, which took us about 1,600 m above sea level. The taxi dropped us at the foot hill of the temple.

    We prepared ourselves for the 304 steps that we had to climb to get to the top of the temple. There is the option to get a train up, but we decided to take the difficult path, as always!

    304 Steps leading to Wat Doi Suthep

    304 Steps leading to Wat Doi Suthep

    It was worth it-to see the view over the city from the top. You can see over the whole city and over the forests of Doi Suthep National Park. The entrance fee into the temple is 30 baht for foreigners (65p). Like all temples you have to make sure you are dressed respectively, covering shoulders and wearing long trousers.

    Wat Doi Suthep

    Wat Doi Suthep

    Wat Doi Suthep was founded in the 14th Century but has been renovated many times since. Unfortunately it was in the middle of being renovated when we were there, so we weren’t able to get the best photos.  When we got to the temple, there was a young Thai band playing music, and young dancers. We sat and enjoyed the music and looked over the view of Chiang Mai city!

    Over looking Chiang Mai City

    Over looking Chiang Mai City

    Useful Information

    • Opening Times; 5:30am-7:30 pm
    • Entrance Fee-30Baht (Foreigners)
    • Located 16 Km (10 miles) NW of Chiang Mai Province
    • Red Taxi’s from Chiang Mai Zoo to Doi Suthep cost 40 Baht per person (When in a shared taxi with 8-10 People)

    We got the bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok today and will be getting a flight tomorrow to Hong Kong. Thailand is a beautiful country which we will miss very much! We practically enjoyed our time in Chiang Mai, and will miss the city and the beautiful people. I’m sure we will be back one day though!

    It is hard getting back on the road when you have stopped for such a long time, but we are excited about discovering a new country and meeting new people.

    Speak soon

    Paul and Ruth

    China

    Arriving in Hong Kong

    4th June 2010

    We arrived in Hong Kong Tuesday 1st June around 9pm. We decided to sleep in the airport, as we didn’t want to start looking for accommodation in the city whilst it was dark. Hong Kong airport is a great airport to sleep in-there are loads of places in the departure and arrival lounge where you can get plenty rest. There is also the Plaza Premium Lounge where you can pay to get a private space to rest, there are also showers that you can pay to use.

    www.sleepinginairports.net

    Terminal 2 is the best place to rest, as it’s quiet and there are lots of benches and chairs to sit on. Also the announcements don’t come over the speakers, to disturb you:)

    Paul in Hong Kong airport

    Paul in Hong Kong airport

    The restaurants and food places close around 11 pm, but the 7/11 shop, which can be found on the 5th floor terminal 2, stays open all night. We finally found a spot to sleep. Although it wasn;t the most comfortable night ever-it was worth it for one night-and it didnt cost us a penny! :)

    The next morning, we got our bus to the city. There are several ways of getting to the city. You can take a taxi, airport express (Mrt) or there are local buses directly outside the airport. We decided to take the bus, this is the cheapest option, costing us 33 hk Dollars each (£3), for the journey which is about 30km. Hong Kong Airport is on a small island of it’s own, connected to the other islands by bridges.

    Map of Hong Kong

    Map of Hong Kong

    We are staying in Kowloon, just of Nathan Road. We are close by to Victoria Harbour, where we can see the stunning Hong Kong skyline. (see the yellow star of the map for location) We were shocked at the prices of hotels, compared to the rest of  Asia. So far we had been paying around £10 a night for a nice spacious room, now we are paying £40 for a box room, that only fits a bed and a small bathroom. I guess this is just preparing us for our return home, as you do not find hotels for £10 a night in Ireland or England, or meals for £1!

    Hong Kong is a very exciting city, with a similar feel to New York. The city doesn’t sleep, the lights on all the buildings make the evening look like day time!

    We took a walk down to Victoria Harbour last night to the Avenue of Stars. The Avenue of stars is found along the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade in Hong Kong, and features hand prints of stars and sculptures, including a two metre tall statue of the legendary kung-fu action star, Bruce Lee. Every evening there is a light show at 8pm.

    A symphony of Lights, is the largest permanent light and sound show, recoded in the Guinness World Records. It covers more than 40 buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbour. This looked spectacular! Here is a short video we recorded.

    We will add the pictures soon

    Ruth and Paul

    Giant Buddha Hong Kong (Lantau Island)

    8th June 2010

    Saturday 5th June we went to Lantau Island to visit the ‘Big Buddha’. To reach this we took the MRT from Kowloon Station to Tung Chung Station and then we took bus number 23 to Po Lin Monastery (costing us 17 HK each-about £1.50) The other option is to take a cable car from Tung Chung Station to the foothill of the giant Buddha. This is a more expensive option but it is meant to be very scenic.

    The bus journey took us on a steep, windy hill-the view was beautiful, looking over to the many little islands of Lantau  Island. We could see lot’s of little beaches on the many islands and a backdrop of mountains all around. The journey took around 30 minutes, then we arrived at the at the village where the Giant Buddha is.

    Tian Tan Buddha, also known as the Big Buddha, is a large bronze statue of a Buddha, completed in 1993, and located at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, in Hong Kong. The statue is located near Po Lin Monastery and symbolises the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and religion. It is a major centre of Buddhism in Hong Kong, and is also a popular tourist attraction. (Wiki)

    The Buddha is 34 metres (112 ft) tall, weighs 250 metric tons (280 short tons), and was the world’s tallest outdoor bronze seated Buddha prior to 2007.

    We had to climb 268 steps in order to reach the Buddha.

    268 steps to the top

    268 steps to the top

    When at the top we were able to walk around the Buddha and see the view all around. In the distance you can see Lantau peak, which is the 2nd tallest peak in Hong Kong, 934 m above sea level. We wished we had got there earlier to climb to the top-but the sun was already starting to set by this time! A lot of people climb up the peak early morning, to watch the sunrise from the top.

    View from the top

    View from the top

    After taking lots of photos and enjoying the view from the top, we started to walk back down the 268 steps. Then we took a walk on the ‘Path of Wisdom’. I’m sorry to say that we don’t feel any wiser after this, as all the words of wisdom were written in Chinese on tree trunks!

    Paul climbing the path of wisdom

    Paul climbing the path of wisdom

    You could easily spend a whole day here as there are lots of things to do including seeing the Giant Buddha, taking lots of walks, including climbing Lantau Peak and there is also a small village with lots of shops to look around.

    View of the Giant Buddha from the village

    View of the Giant Buddha from the village

    Will write more soon. We are going to pick up our China Visa today-it takes 4 days to receive. Hopefully everything has gone ok with it-if so we will leave Hong Kong on Thursday. We have decided to go to Beijing next. We have a booked a train from Hong Kong to Beijing, costing us 517 HKD each (£45), the journey will take us 24 hours.

    Speak to you all soon,

    Paul and Ruth

    China Visa in Hong Kong

    10th June 2010

    China Visa in Hong Kong

    On Tuesday we picked up our China Visa in Hong Kong. As a UK citizen I am allowed to be in Hong Kong for 180 days, Paul as an Irish Citizen is able to stay for 90 days, but in order to go to the rest of China we had to obtain a China Visa. This can be done within Hong Kong, if you are heading there first. If you want to go to another part of China first, then you will have to obtain your China Visa in your home country or in other nearby countries whilst you are travelling, ie in Bangkok.

    Chinese Embassy

    Address:

    Ministry of Foreign affairs

    7/F Lower Block

    China Resources Building

    26 Harbour Road

    Wan Chai

    Hong Kong
    View Larger Map

    Opening times:

    9am-12 2pm-5pm

    Monday-Friday

    What to take with you

    You have to fill out a visa form when you get to the embassy, or you can download it online and fill it in before, to save time.

    When you get to the embassy, there will be two queues outside, one for people applying for a visa and the other for people who are coming to collect their visas.  The line can get quite long, so I suggest you arrive early and remember they close from 12-2pm for lunch.

    When you get inside you will find a form that has to be filled in, there are desks for you to do this on, and computers that take you through all the questions, to help you with your answers. Then you will be given a number, which you have to wait to be called, before you take your form and passport up to the desk. It took us about 40 minutes to get our number called.

    Once our number was called we went over to the desk and it was very straight forward from then on. We just handed over the forms and our passports and we were asked did we want the express service or normal service. The normal service is the cheapest and takes 4 days to process. This is what we went for, but if you are in a rush to get your visa you can pay for next day service.

    The fee for a UK citizen is 450 HKD (£40) and for Irish Citizens it is just the standard fee of 150 HKD (£13). So thank goodness Paul is Irish, as it made it a lot cheaper for us!  To see all the prices for different countries, see the link below.

    http://www.fmcoprc.gov.hk/eng/zgqz/blsjfy/

    You are given a receipt and told that you can pay when you pick it up, 4 days later. Your passports are left in the office, as they put your visa on a whole page inside.

    The process for getting a China visa in Hong Kong is very straight forward, but remember if you are not planning on heading to Hong Kong first, then you must obtain your visa before coming to China.

    We are heading to Beijing today (10/06/10). We are getting the 3.15 pm Train from Hung Hom Station in Hong Kong to Beijing. The train journey will take 24 hours. We purchased our tickets 3 days before from the Hung Hom station. There were not many seats left, so I guess it is always best to book your ticket at least a week in advance.

    We have to get going now, so we will update you all when we arrive in Beijing,

    Ruth and Paul

    Train from Hong Kong to Beijing

    12th June 2010

    We purchased our ticket from Hung Hom train station in Hong Kong a few days before we wanted to depart. There were only a few tickets left at this point, so I would suggest trying to book your tickets at least 1 week before, especially if there is a big group of you wanting to be sat together.

    There were three different ticket types: Hard Sleeper, Soft Sleeper and Deluxe Soft. The hard sleeper, sleeps 6 people with  a three tier bunk bed on each side of the room. This is the ticket we went for. Our tickets cost us 574 HKD each (£50 each). If you are on a budget you must book at the train station and book a upper hard sleeper bed, this is the cheapest option.

    Hard sleeper consists of open bays of 6 bunks (upper, middle & lower) on one side of an aisle. In spite of its name, berths are padded, bedding is supplied, and many budget western travellers prefer it.  There are fold-out seats in the aisle either side of small tables.

    The train corridor

    The train corridor

    Soft sleeper consists of spacious carpeted & lockable 4-berth compartments, with toilets & washrooms at the end of the corridor.  Note the lacy decor & flower in a vase on the tablecloth!  Some trains even have personal TV screens for each berth.

    Deluxe Soft Sleeper 2-berth deluxe soft sleepers have upper & lower berths on one side of the compartment, a wardrobe and armchair on the other side. This room also has a private toilet and washroom.

    Train T98 runs from Hong Kong to Beijing on odd dates in Jan, April, May, Aug, Nov, Dec 2010 & even dates in Feb, March, Jun, July, Sep, Oct 2010. It runs at 3.15pm and arrives at Beijing West station at 14.50pm the next day.

    Check www.mtr.com.hk for up to date train times and fares.

    We got to the Hung Hom station 1 hour before we had to depart. We were told to give ourselves plenty time as you have to go through security and go through passport control. You will need to show your passport with your China Visa and also your departure card for Hong Kong.

    Once we went through security we had to find the room with our train number on. It’s lay out was similar to an airports departure hall. All the announcements for the trains were called out in Chinese, so make sure you ask or look out for your train number, on a board that they hold up. One guy missed his train, even though he’d been sat there the whole time, he just didn’t realise his train had been called. You have to wait in the waiting room like you do in an airport, for your train to arrive and then you board about 30 minutes before. The gates close 10 minutes before departure and you will not be allowed on if you are late.

    We got onto the train and found our beds. We were in a room with 4 other Chinese locals. There is luggage space under the bottom beds and also near the upper beds. There were two seats outside everyone room, for you to sit on whilst you weren’t sleeping. The problem is there are 6 people in each room, so it’s not also easy to get a seat. Further more only some seats had plug sockets beside them, which caused quite a fight between people wanting to charge phones and lap tops.

    The journey was comfortable although it was very long! It is good because there is plenty space on a train for walking around to stretch your legs. I also sat and enjoyed the many things we passed on the way and used the time to catch up  writing in my journal and plan our time in Beijing.

    We arrived in Beijing at 14.50pm on Friday 11th June. When we got off the train we had to go through passport control again and we got a stamp in our passports, showing us we had 30 days in China. We had our reservation at the hotel booked and planned on getting a taxi to the hotel. This was not as easy as we had hoped! We had the address written down in English, but none of the taxi drivers could read it. This was very frustrating as we were tired, but it was our own fault for assuming they would be able to read it. We managed to get onto the lap top and find the hotel phone number and we finally gave that to a taxi driver. This was 1 hour after we had arrived at the train station.

    Nothing is written in English at the train station so it is difficult to understand what to do and where to go. When we came out of the train station Taxi drivers were coming up to us trying to get us to get in a taxi-they tried charging us 150 HKD (£15) for the journey. Paul finally noticed a sign for a taxi rank and we realised that we were in the wrongplace to get taxis. That’s when we decided to go down to the taxi rank. All the taxi’s here have meters and charge you 2Yuan (20p) per km with a minimum of 10Yuan. Just remember if you don’t see a queue then it’s probably not a taxi rank also make sure they use the meter.

    Well we finally got to our hotel. We are staying in the 1 Hai Inn (also known as the Candy Inn), located near the Lama Temple in Beijing. The hotel is really nice. There is a bar and lounge area and the staff all speak English and are very helpful. We are central and close to a subway station, so it is great for getting around the city.

    1 Hai Inn Hotel Beijing

    1 Hai Inn Hotel Beijing

    We will write about our time here in our next blog.

    Ruth and Paul 

     

    Beijing Zoo

    14th June 2010

    We decided to go and check out Beijing Zoo. We got there by tube-which cost us 2 Yuan each (20p). The entrance fee was 20 Yuan each (2GBP). After visiting the zoo we can see why it was so cheap to get in, and that is because it is so run down. We were both very disappointed about the condition of the animals and their living conditions. A lot of the animals were kept in cages just about big enough for them to stand in. I was confused as to why there were animals like flamingos locked in small cages, when last week we were able to see flamingos naturally and happily swimming on a lake in Hong Kong.

    I know zoo’s are not natural places as such but you are still able to create a natural environment for these animals and a cage as big as them is certainly not good enough! Most of the animals were walking around in circles in their small living spaces, whilst we were able to enjoy the open space of the zoo. There was even a massive lake that was empty. I would suggest they put their ticket prices up a little, so that they can start putting money back into treating the animals better.

    We went to see the Panda’s in the zoo-which is the main reason we went. The pandas were filthy and although there was an area outside for them, you could see it hadn’t been used much as everything was so overgrown and the water outside in the pond was fithy also. I really hope this zoo improves.

    On the bright side we went to visit a beautiful park on Saturday- Jing Shan park. It cost 2 yuan (20p) to get in, and was well worth visiting. In the park you are able to climb up a hill to the Pavillion. This is where you will see the best view over Beijing city. You are able to see the grounds of the forbiddon city, and over the Beijing City. This is the highest peak in the city, so it is well worth the climb. We just sat up there and enjoyed the beautiful view over the city.

    View of Beijing

    View of Beijing

    That’s all for now:)

    Ruth and Paul

    Great Wall of China at Badaling

    17th June 2010

    On Tuesday 16th June we visited the Great Wall of China at Badaling. This is the most popular place to see the great wall today, as this section has been restored many times. We got a public bus from De Sheng Men bus station to Badaling. The bus you are looking for is the No. 919 bus and is green. There are a few buses along the way that say 919, but the one you are looking for will say to Badaling on the sign. The bus costs 12 yuan (£1.20) each way and the journey takes about 45 minutes. A few people may try and get you to go into smaller buses or a taxi and may even tell you that the 919 bus isn’t running today. This is a lie, they are just trying to get money out of you.

    Bus 919

    Bus 919

    We got the bus around 11.30 am and got to the entrance of the great wall around 12.30pm. The bus drops you off near the ticket office. The entrance ticket to the great wall is 45 Yuan (£4.50) each. You then have the option to either walk to the entrance of the great wall, this will take no longer than 20 minutes, or you can take the pulley/cable car up. We decided to walk up.

    We walked to the 8th watch tower, which is one of the highest points of the Badaling section of the wall. The paths get very steep at times, it was a struggle, but we got there. The wall seemed to go on forever, in many directions. We didn’t have enough time to walk the full part of the Badaling section, you would need a full day.

    Great Wall of China-Badaling

    Great Wall of China-Badaling

    The wall is made of granite and stone slabs and is 6-7m high with a width of 4-5m at the top.

    Here’s a map of the Badaling wall.

    badaling-great-wall-map

    badaling-great-wall-map

    Our legs feel well worked out after walking up those steep slopes!

    We got the bus back to the city around 4.30pm. The buses stop running around 5pm. When we got to the bus stop there was a huge queue, but no buses. The buses finally came, but even though people had been waiting, other people decided to run up and skip the queue. This caused quite a lot of fights, including one man punching another and several people shouting. This was an interesting end to the day!

    Summary

    That’s all for now,

    Ruth and Paul

    http://www.atrueadventure.com/gallery (Check out our pictures)

    Visiting Beijing

    26th June 2010

    We stayed in Beijing for a 2 weeks, from Friday 11th June till Thursday 24th June. We stayed in the Hai Inn, close by to the Lama Temple. This hotel was in a fantastic location, right beside the underground and in walking distance of most attractions. Also the staff spoke good English, which was really helpful as so many people don’t speak English in China. Most people who come to China seem to be on tours, this is probably because of the lack of spoken English. We managed to get on fine though, as the hotel staff were able to point us in the right direction. We mostly used the underground to get around the city, the stops are written in English and it is easy to follow. A journey on the underground to any destination, costs just 2 Yuan each (20p). We will get a shock when we return home and have to pay over £2 for a 15 minute journey on the bus!

    We really enjoyed our time in Beijing. It is both a modern and cultural city. Parts of the city look similar to any other built up city, with lots of modern shopping centres and restaurants. Whereas other parts of the city have kept onto their Chinese routes, with traditional Chinese roof tops and traditional houses and buildings.

    Must see streets in Beijing
    There are a few streets in Beijing which you should definitely visit whilst you are there.

    Wangfujing Dajie
    We went to this street in the day and the evening. There are a few shopping centres here and also market stalls. In the evening there is a night market, which we went to one evening. You will be able to taste lots of traditional Chinese food here, that is if you are in to eating lots of different meats. Being a vegetarian I wasn’t too keen on seeing the many meat treats on offer! Whole ducks, with their heads left on, liver, …..and who knows what else they were selling!

    There were lots of traditional Chinese gifts to buy, including paintings and many musical instruments. Be prepared to bargain as they will put the price right up at the start. You have to type the amount you want into their calculator, as most people will not understand the amount you are saying. I was buying a fridge magnet and I asked one stall how much and they said 30 Yuan (£3). I decided to go to another stall to see how much they would say, for the same magnet and they said 55 Yuan (£5.50). I knew then that they were just saying whatever price they wanted, so I walked away. She shouted back to me 30 Yuan, 20 Yuan. She could see that I was still walking away, so she shouted 5 Yuan (50p). So I went back to get the magnet. I probably could have got it cheaper, but I was happy with this price.

    How to Get Here
    Take a Subway to either Dongdan or Dengshikou (Line 5). The journey will cost you 2 Yuan.

    Sanlitun Bar Street
    This is where you will find most of the Bars in the city, hence the name ‘Bar Street’. There are also lots of shops here, including a new shopping centre which will be opening very soon.

    How to get here
    Take Subway line 2 to Dongsishitiao Qiao or Subway Line 10 to Changhong Qiao.

    Xidan Beldajie
    This is where you will find Modern shopping centres in Beijing, with lots of designer names like, Guess and Louis Vuitton.

    How to get here
    Take subway line 4 to Xidan.

    Qiannien Dajie
    This street was one of our favourite streets. Although it has been developed in recent years to be more modern, it still captures the look of traditional Chinese Street. There are both traditional Chinese shops and many high street stores also.

    There were also some nice little side streets with stalls. I bought a new instrument. The lady had a stall full of lot’s of Chinese instruments. She didn’t speak English but someone she was able to communicate to me about how to play the different instruments. I wanted to buy them all, but I had to restrict myself to one. I’m not sure what the name of the instrument is exactly, I will find out. Here’s a picture of it

    Chinese Instrument

    Chinese Instrument

    She tried charging me £25, but in the end I managed to get it for just £7. I want to buy one of the wooden flutes; I’m going to have a look out for one. There are lots of different sizes to choose from.

    Parks in Beijing
    We also visited many parks. You have to pay in to most things in Beijing, but most of the parks only cost about 2 Yuan (20p) so it’s not too much at all.

    View over Beijing City

    View over Beijing City

    Yuyuantan Park

    Yuyuantan Park

    Street near Qian Hai Lake

    Street near Qian Hai Lake

    Other things we did whilst in Beijing

    We got the train from Beijing to Xian on Thursday 24th June. The train set off at 4.30pm and arrived at 5am the next morning. The train cost us 250 Yuan (£25) each.

    We will write more about our time here in Xian later.

    Speak soon

    Ruth and Paul

    Visiting Xi'an

    1st July 2010

    Xi’an is the capital of the Shannxi province. The old city has an old defensive wall built around it. We were staying within the centre of the wall in a hotel called Shanxinanfang Hotel. We were the only tourists staying in the hotel. The staff spoke very little English, but we managed to get by fine. We had to move rooms the first day because the bathroom smelt really bad. I was trying to explain to the lady on reception that we wanted to move room and why, but she didn’t understand. So the only way I could get the point across was by using hand gestures. She finally got the point and I think all the other customers waiting at the reception also did! Other than that the hotel has been great. We are located 5 minutes walk from the Bell Tower, which is the central point of the city.

    Walking up to the drum tower

    Walking up to the drum tower

    Xi’an is a beautiful city with lots of character. There is a bell tower and drum tower in the centre of the city, which we went to visit. The bells are rung at dawn and the drums are played at dusk every day. The entrance ticket for the bell tower and drum tower costs 40 yuan (£4) for both tickets. You can get them on the subway on your way over to the bell tower. We watched a performance in both the drum tower and the bell tower.

    Drum Performance in the Drum Tower

    Drum Performance in the Drum Tower

    In the bell tower a group of Chinese Musicians played various traditional instruments, including the wooden flute, Erhu (2 stringed fiddle), Yangqin..

    Paul outside the drum tower

    Paul outside the drum tower

    Getting around Xian is easy, most things are within walking distance so there’s very little need for public transport, apart from when you are visiting things outside of the city, like the Terrecotta Army. (we will write about our trip to the Terrecotta Army in our next blog)

    With only having 5 days in Xi’an, we feel that it wasn’t quite enough time to see everything. We are heading to Shanghai today. We leave on the train at 5:45pm local time and will arrive in Shanghai at around 14:30pm tommorow.

    Sorry this blog is very short and not very detailed but we are rushing to get out of the hotel for checkout time. We will write more when we arrive in Shanghai.

    Ruth and Paul

    Terracotta Army

    4th July 2010

    We went to visit the Terracotta Army Museum on Monday 28th June 2010. We took the local bus (No.915) to the museum. This cost us just 7 Yuan (70p), once again much cheaper than the tours where they charge over £15-£20 each! Getting the local bus was very straight forward; we got it from the the Xi’an Railway station (East of Railway station). It is in front of the East ticket office, there are a large number of buses waiting here. The bus is green and has Terracotta Army written on the front. Other people will try and get you to go with them in smaller mini buses, just keep walking towards the big buses and you will find it. Just ask the lady or man on the bus to tell you when to get off, as the bus goes to several destinations. The journey takes about 45 minutes.

    Bus 915 to  Terracotta Army

    Bus 915 to Terracotta Army

    The Terracotta Army was discovered in 1974 in the eastern suburbs of Xi’an, Shaanxi Province by local farmers drilling a water well 1.5 miles east of Mount Li. This discovery prompted archaeologists to investigate. The Terracotta Army is a form of funerary art buried with the First Emperor of Qin Shi Huang, “shi huang” means the first emperor in 210-209 BC.

    Their purpose was to help rule another empire with Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife. Consequently, they are also sometimes referred to as “Qin’s Armies.”

    Terracotta Army

    Terracotta Army

    The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits. The figures are various heights from 6ft-6ft 5 inches.

    4 different types of soldiers

    4 different types of soldiers

    The Entrance ticket to the Museum costs 90 Yuan (£9). This get’s you in to all the pits and all the other buildings.

    Ruth in front of the Entrance to Pit 1

    Ruth in front of the Entrance to Pit 1

    We really enjoyed our visit to the Terracotta Army. We had seen images of the Terracotta Army on TV before, but didn’t really know much else about it, so it was really interesting to see it and learn more. Many people come to visit this site, Xi’an is made popular by the Terracotta Army.

    Ruth in Pit 1 of the Terracotta Army

    Ruth in Pit 1 of the Terracotta Army

    Pit 1 is the largest and most restored of the 3 pits. However many of the army are still damaged and in the middle of being restored.

    Paul decided to join the army

    Paul decided to join the army

    In the exibition hall you will find many ancient swords, different kinds of bronze weapons and two bronze chariots and horses . The sets of bronze chariots and horses are the most delicate bronze ware unearthed in China and are the biggest  and most valuable bronze works in the world.

    They were found broken into more than 16,000 pieces in a collapsed coffin, but attain their original glamour after the restoration.

    Bronze Horses with Chariots

    Bronze Horses with Chariots

    We spent about 3-4 hours looking around. There’s a lot to take in and a lot to see. You can hire a private tour guide once you get there for 50 Yuan (£5). This is a lot cheaper than going on a tour with your hotel. However if you want to make your trip even cheaper, get a book or just read the many signs that are placed around the pits.

    We got the public bus back to the city. It was Number 914. This number bus starts from the museum. The 915 bus that we got to the museum doesn’t come into the museum itself, however you can get it from the road just outside.

    We are now in Shanghai. We arrived Friday afternoon at 3pm. We got the k558 train from Xi’an to Shanghai. We had to pay for 1st class, as all the other seats and trains were fully booked. Our ticket cost us 490 Yuan each (£50) and the journey lasted 22 hours. This train was quite old and the 1st class was no where near as nice as the second class on our other trains. If you have a choice of trains try to book the modern z94 train (the z class are newer trains). The high demand for trains to Shanghai is probably due to the Expo 2010 (world fair) being held in Shanghai this year . Hotel prices are also higher because of the Expo, so be prepared to pay more whilst the Expo is on.

    We will be spending another 3 days here in Shanghai, then we leave for Tokyo on Wednesday 7th July. Well we will write more about our time here later.

    Ruth and Paul

    Visiting Shanghai

    7th July 2010
    We spent 5 days in Shanghai City. We were staying in the Green Tree Inn. This was a nice hotel-very clean and a good size room with really nice bathroom. We were also fairly central which was good.

    Arriving in Shanghai was fairly straight forward. We found a left luggage place in the train station, to leave our bags whilst we looked for a hotel. This cost us £2 each for the whole day. This was a really good idea, as sometimes we have ended up walking around the city for over 2 hours searching for a place, with our bags on our backs. This is not a good idea, and always makes arriving a lot more stressful than it needs to be!

    We found a hotel within 20 minutes, the Green Tree Inn. We settled in, then went back to get our bags. The station was just a 15 minute walk away.

    We really liked Shanghai City from the moment we arrived. It is a very clean city with lot’s of high rise buildings,  Modern shopping centers ,markets andbeautiful small Alley ways with old traditional Chinese houses on. It is such a contrasting city, whilst parts of the city reminded us of the modern feel of Singapore other parts of the city reminded us of some of the streets in India (small alley ways, with locals chopping fruit or walking around in their pijamas, and people sorting through rubbish)

    A local lady preparing her vegetables outside

    A local lady preparing her vegetables outside

    It has a very exciting feel to the city, with so much going on both day and night. It was very busy whilst we were there because of the 2010 Expo (world fair) being held there this year. The hotel prices were a lot higher than usual because of this.

    On our first day in Shanghai we went to Wujiang Road (Nanging West rd Station). This is known for it’s snacks, and shops. It is just a small street, but packed with lot’s of traditional chinese/western restaurants, snack bars and small shops. If you are lucky you will be walking down the street just when they are handing out all the free samples of foods, like we we were. Although this wasn’t Chinese food, it was krispy kreme donuts:)

    Wujiang Road

    Wujiang Road

    We also went to see a free Art Exhibition, not far from Wujiang road. It was an exhibition of traditional Chinese Art. A lot of the museums and Art galleries cost money to get into, so we were lucky to come across this exhibtion and it was well worth seeing.

    This is an example of some of the art we saw.

    Chinese Art

    Chinese Art

    On our 2nd day in Shanghai we decided to walk down to the Huangpu river (the largest river in Shanghai). It divides the city into two regions:Pudong(east) and Puxi (west). We were on the Puxi side, looking across the river to Pudong. The river front is both stunning in the day and night. As you are walking along the river, you can see the high rise buildings across the river on one side, then on your other side you have the Bund, which houses 52 buildings of various architectural styles such as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical, Beaux-Arts, and Art Deco. These buildings are mostly banks and custom houses.

    The Bund at night time (Along Shanghai Huangpu River)

    The Bund at night time (Along Shanghai Huangpu River)

    It was fairly quite during the day when we walked to the river front, but in the evening it was packed. Maybe because everyone was at the visiting the Expo during the day? It was still worth the visit even though we could hardly move walking!

    Paul at Huangpu River Front

    Paul at Huangpu River Front

    We wanted to go and visit Yuyuan Garden, so we took the subway to Yuyuan Garden station. When we exited the subway station it was packed with locals and tourists. This is a huge shopping area, packed with markets andshops. We never did find the garden, all though we know it does exist. After reading on the internet, we see that other people also struggled to find the garden. This is a great place to see, all though it was a little over packed with tourists for my liking! Also people hassle you a lot here, trying to get you to buy things. It is not easy to relax andstroll aroundthe shops, like we wanted to. People stand on the streets asking you do you want a watch or a bag. I guess they must get commission or something for taking you to shops.

    We also visited Peoples Square, which is where you will find many department stores, restaurants, museums and modern shopping centers.

    After researching on the internet we decided to go to Taikang  Road. If you’re in the mood for some shopping but are tired of touts shoving fake watches in your face, head to Taikang Road. This is a great place to stroll and relax, whilst you observe Shanghai life at it’s best! You will be able to see locals just going about their everyday life: chopping up fruit, washing clothes, hanging clothes on the line andselling food on street vendors. Then find alley 210 and wander down the lane. It’s full of shops and cafes, where you can just look and relax, with no pressure! This place is not to be missed! One of my favourite spots in the city!

    Ruth on one of the Alley's off Taikang Road

    Ruth on one of the Alley's off Taikang Road

    We both had a great time in Shanghai. It’s hard saying which place we liked most in China, as everywhere is so different, but we’d definatley put Shanghai at the top.

    We have now landed in Tokyo. We got a flight from Shanghai Pudong airport to Narita Tokyo airport this morning at 11.50am. We landed at 15:45pm Japanese local time. (Japan is 8 hours ahead of GMT) We flew with JAL. It was nice flying with one of the one world airlines, rather than just Air Asia budget flights. We were fasinated with the screens on the plane that showed live video footage from the front of the plane. We were also served a meal on the flight, although I asked them for vegetarian, as I have booked on as vegetarian on all the flights, but they said the option today was meat only? So I ate the salad.

    We had a really smooth arrival in Tokyo, which I was surprisedby. I thought we would find it really difficult, but everything was really straight forward. We had already booked a hotel (Kangaroo Hotel), which was a great decision! We got the train from the airport, on the Keisei line to Nippori station, then we had to change at Nippori for the JR line to Minami Senju. The tickets costs us 1300 Yen (£9.70) each from the airport to our hotel (60 Minute journey) Our hotel was a 10 minute walk from the Minami Senjustation, which we found no problem.

    We have now settled into our hotel. It is a really nice small hotel. All the rooms are Japanese style, with just a matress on the floor. The bathrooms are shared. There is a microwave, kettle and small kitchen area on each floor. There is internet in all the rooms and also 2 Apple Mac’s downstairs which we are free to use. There are also washing machines and dryers on the bottom floor. The hotel is very minimalistic, like a lot of Japanese traditional homes. The member of staff who greeted us at the reception is very helpful and extremley friendly. We have certainly been welcomed into Japan with smiles so far. People seem very helpful and when we have been looking at our map, locals have helped us and pointed us in the right direction. 

    Well we best get to sleep, we want to get up early tomorrow. We are really excited about exploring the city. We will have to cram so much  in to the short time we have here, just 4 days.

    We will add pictures from Shanghai as soon as possible

    Ruth and Paul

    Japan

    Visiting Tokyo

    19th July 2010

    We were in Tokyo for 4 nights, from Wednesday 7th July-Sunday 11th July. Arriving in Tokyo was very straight forward. We had pre-booked a hotel called Kangaroo Hotel, near the Asakusa district of Tokyo. We had to take the subway from the airport to Nippori (Keisei Line), then from Nippori we had to change to the JR (Joban line) and get off at Minami Senju. This ticket cost us 1300 Yen each (£9.70) and the journey took around 1 hour.

    Hotel Reception-Kagaroo Hotel

    Hotel Reception-Kagaroo Hotel

    From the station our hotel was a 10 minute walk. There are street maps all over Tokyo so it is pretty easy to get around…and also Paul is FANTASTIC at directing, thank goodness, because I am hopeless! The hotel was really nice. Very basic, like many Japanese homes but extremely clean and it had all the facilities needed. A kitchen area on each floor, with a microwave, kettle and sinks. The rooms were very small, with a toilet on each floor and showers downstairs. The hotel staff were extremely friendly and helpful.  If we come back, which I hope we do, we would stay there again.

    On our first night we went to Akihabarawhich is the biggest place in Japan for electronics. There are many shops on the street and also a big shopping centre with floors and floors of electrical goods. You are free to test things out and no one bothers you-which is great! We were testing out the new Ipad-I think Paul really wants one now.

    Things we did in Tokyo:

    Rainbow Bridge Tokyo

    Rainbow Bridge Tokyo

    Ginza-Tokyo

    Ginza-Tokyo

    Kiddy Land in Harajuku-Big Kids Shop

    Kiddy Land in Harajuku-Big Kids Shop

     

    Tokyo Imperial Palace is the main residence of the Emperor of Japan. It is a large park-like area located in Chiyoda, Tokyo close to Tokyo Station and contains various buildings such as the main palace and the private residences of the imperial family. The total area including the gardens is 7.41 square kilometers. (WIKI)

    Palace Gardens

    Palace Gardens

    Looking down at the busy street in Shibuya from starbucks

    Looking down at the busy street in Shibuya from starbucks

    The Kaminarimon Buddist Temple

    The Kaminarimon Buddist Temple

    Asakusa Markets

    Asakusa Markets

    It was such a pleasant change to be able to walk around markets and not be pushed into buying things. The Japanese are a lot less pushy and just allow you to look around.

    Replica of the statue of liberty at Odaiba Island

    Replica of the statue of liberty at Odaiba Island

    We have so much more to say about our short but amazing time in Tokyo, but this will have to do for now. We loved how it was such a safe city with some of the kindest people we’ve ever met. We definitely want to go back and experience more of Japan and hopefully next time we’ll get to go and see my Uncle/Aunty and counsins who live in the South.

    We have been in Brisbane for 1 week now. We are staying with Marey an old friend of my sister Leah’s, from when she lived in Australia 10 years ago. Mareyhas been so amazing and welcomed us into her home. My sister Leah is also here in Australia, we have spent the last week with her here in Brisbane and will be spending at least 1 more week here.

    Catching up with my sister Leah in Brisbane

    Catching up with my sister Leah in Brisbane

    We will fill you in on our time here in Brisbane very soon.
    Ruth and Paul

    Australia

    Brisbane, Australia

    5th August 2010

    We have been in Brisbane for nearly 3 weeks now, so I thought it was about time I wrote something about our time here. We arrived in Brisbane on Monday 13th July. We were met at the airport by Marey (an old friend of my sister Leah’s, from when she lived in Brisbane 10 years ago).  My sister Leah and her friend Elissa were also waiting at the airport for us. When we came out on this trip we didn’t know Leah was going to be in Australia at the same time, but she decided to do a trip around America, Australia and also Asia, and it just happened that  we were in Brisbane at the same time. It was funny seeing Leah in the Brisbane airport after not seeing her for 5 months. It felt like we’d only been away for a couple of weeks after a while of speaking to each other, the time has gone so fast.

    We went back to Marey’s house, where we are currently staying in Brisbane and Leah went back to her friend Elissa’s. Marey is really laid back and friendly, she has made us feel very welcome in her home. The first day we just slept as we hadn’t got any sleep on the overnight flight from Japan to Brisbane. Then in the evening after sleeping, we went for a walk into the city to Kangaroo point. The walk from Marey’s house to the city takes about 1 hour.

    First week in Brisbane (13th-20th July)
    Monday 14th July- We met up with my sister Leah on our first day in Brisbane city. It felt weird catching up with my sister in Brisbane, on the other side of the world! Leah lived in Brisbane for 1 year, 10 years ago, so she knew her way around the city a little. We went to visit the art gallery, although I have to admit I don’t remember much about the gallery as me and Leah were just chatting and catching up with each other. We then walked over to Roma street parklands. There is a large lake in the middle of the park and Lot’s of different tree’s. We then took the sea-cat (ferry) across the river and got some beautiful cold rock ice-cream. This is ice cream prepared on cold rock, you chose which ice cream you want and what sweets/chocolate you want added to it.

    Ruth and Leah in Roma Street Parklands-Brisbane

    Ruth and Leah in Roma Street Parklands-Brisbane

    Other things we did this week:
    Visited South Bank, where there is a man made beach over looking the city. This is a really lovely area in the city, where you can swim, relax on the sand or grass and have a barbecue or a picnic. There are electric barbecues all over the city, where you are allowed to use them free of charge.

    Thursday 16th July we went to the Sunshine Coast with Elissa (an old friend of my sisters, from when she lived here). Elissa met us at the train station and drove us to Noosa beach. It is winter here in Australia, so the water was a little cold, although we couldn’t complain as their winter is like our summer (better actually). Elissa brought her 4 year old son Sam with her. Paul was enjoying building a big sand castle on the beach with him. Then Paul decided to start digging in the sand to see if he could dig right down to the water. Sam decided to try also, and was just as competitive as Paul. I told Sam, yours is much deeper than Paul’s, he didn’t believe me however and wanted to keep digging.

    Paul and Sam digging till they get to the water!

    Paul and Sam digging till they get to the water!

    The beach was gorgeous, with beautiful golden sands, and a relaxed atmosphere. It felt amazing to be laying on the beach in the middle of winter and yet it was over 20 C.

    Ruth and Leah at the Sunshine Coast

    Ruth and Leah at the Sunshine Coast

    After relaxing on the beach for a while we went to Coolum beach to get ice cream and we just sat by the beach for a while. Elissa took us on the scenic drive home, it was so beautiful seeing the land from up high and also seeing how flat Australia is with the occasional mountain in the distance. Sam was keeping me occupied in the back with his transformer toys, so I have to admit I probably missed a lot of the views from outside the car window. It was just so nice to be on the road and to see things that you wouldn’t see if you just got on a train.

    Friday 17th July-We had a very chilled out day today by south bank, relaxing by the water and taking lot’s of pictures. We also located where we were going to have our barbecue for Saturday. Leah had planned a barbecue to get together some of her old friends from 2000 when she lived in Brisbane.

    Saturday 18th July- We went to woolworths (Supermarket) to get food for the barbecue. Paul was very excited about having sausages for the first time in 5 months. We walked into the city, which takes about 1 hour from where we were staying. We found a barbecue by south bank, in the city. All the barbecues are free for anyone to use, the only thing is trying to get one before everyone else does. We got there early so that we could reserve one. Everyone started arriving at the barbecue about 1pm. Leah’s friend Jason Kay came from Gimpie, with his wife and 2 children. Jade, Carol (Grace) and their 4 children came. Marey Christou, Justin Obrien and Elissa Hooper (Guy), her husband Michael and two children Sam (age 4) and Katie (age 8) came. Everyone brought their own food along. It was really nice meeting some of the people Leah knew from when she lived here. It’s funny seeing how people have changed or what is new in their life. There were 8 children in total. I was once again highly entertained by the children, as usual. They had me playing chase with them on the grass, they were too fast for me to keep up with them. Children have so much energy!

    We had so many sausages left over at the end. The Ibis’s (birds) kept coming up to the barbacue and stealing them. I threw my veggie burger out to see if they would eat it, but they just stuck their noses up at it. I guess they are too spoilt with all the barbacues around.

    Ibis stealing the sausages from the Barbecue

    Ibis stealing the sausages from the Barbecue

    We went for a swim at south bank (man made beach) with Jade, Carol and their 4 children. It was pretty cold in the water, but I braved it anyway! Jade and Carol’s children were showing us some break dancing, the youngest is only 2 and even he knew some moves! After saying goodbye to Jade and Carol we walked Leah over to the west end, where she was meeting Justin to go to a latin dance class. Me and Paul went to the ciema to see The Twilght Saga (Eclipse).

    We will add the other blogs from week 2 and 3 soon. We are currently staying near the Sunshine Coast, in a town called Nambour. We are staying with the parents of one of my sisters friends. It is a really lovely home, with a swimming pool outside.

    Ruth and Paul :)

    Mt Coot-Tha Brisbane

    7th August 2010

    Second week in Brisbane (20th-27th July)

    Tuesday 20th July
    - We visited Mt Coot-Tha/Botanical Gardens- We got the bus from the city (Adeleide Street) to Mt Coot-Tha (Bus Number 471) We got a daily ticket which cost us about $7.90. (This allows you to use the ticket as many times within these zones, all day) The bus took us right up to the foothill of the lookout. You have the option of getting out at the botanical gardens, which is just before the lookout, but we decided to do that on the way back down. Mt-Coot-tha is a great place to view the city. We sat on the hill and just looked over the city whilst eating our lunch, which we had prepared before coming out. Leah brought some cards with her, so we were playing a few card games.

    On the way back from Mt-Coot-That we went to the botanical gardens, which are free to enter. The gardens were really beautiful, with lot’s of different types of trees and lot’s of birds flying around. There was a lake in the middle of the gardens with black swans on.

    Mt. Coot-Tha Botanical Gardens

    Mt. Coot-Tha Botanical Gardens

    We went to see Leah’s old house in Bowen Hills when we got back to the city. This was the flat that she used to live in Ros Lowther, then when they moved out, Elissa Guy and Marey Christou moved in to it. We walked over to a church near the house, that was up on a hill and we were able to see the sun setting over the city.

    Wednesday 21st July- Today we went to the science museum in the city. Then we went to visit the Botanical Gardens in the city center.

    Thursday 22nd July- Today we went to Cleveland Point, which is about 1 hour south of Brisbane. We got the train from Buranda  Train station (near where we were staying). There were lot’s of inland water ways, with each house having it’s own private pier with a boat. We were eyeing up all the houses, there were some beautiful one’s. After walking around the houses we walked over to the beach and sat for lunch.

    Cleveland Houses

    Cleveland Houses

    Then we got a train to Wellington point, which is 10 minutes North. We walked from the train station to Wellington Point, where we sat and watched the sunset over the city. It was really beautiful here, with great views across to smaller islands and over the city. There are places here to have barbecues and also a cafe where you can get food.

    Wellington Point Sunset

    Wellington Point Sunset

    In the evening I decided to go busking in the city for a while. I lent a guitar from Marey’s brother (who we are staying with). I haven’t busked since I lived in Dublin so I was afraid I’d find it really difficult, suprisingly I was ok. I really enjoyed it, although it was a quiet night, a Friday or Saturday night would be much better!

    Friday 23rd July-Today Paul needed to work in the morning. In the afternoon we walked over to where my sister Leah was staying (with her friend Sarai in Annerley). We went into the city in the evening to go to the night markets at South Bank. The night markets are on every Friday and Saturday night in the city. The city is really lively in the evening, yet still has a very relaxed and laid back atmosphere. We saw a lot of buskers out, some very good ones, including a guy playing spanish guitar and a girl playing the cello by South Bank.

    Saturday 24th July
    -We went to the Gold Coast today with Sarai and David (Who leah was staying with in Brisbane). Sarai’s parents live by the Gold Coast and they go most weekends, so she said we could go with her. It is about a 1 hour drive from Brisbane. We set off around 1pm. Sarai dropped me, Paul, Leah and her husband David off by the beach. The Gold Coast is a lot more built up than the Sunshine Coast, with high rise buildings all along the front. This really blocks out the sun unfortunately. A lot of locals prefer to go to the Sunshine Coast as it is more laid back and less built up, I would have to agree! Although the beaches it self are very beautiful.

    We walked along the beach to Surfers Paradise. Me and David were the only one’s brave enough to get into the water. It was a little cold, but still beautiful. I just couldn’t come to the Gold Coast and not go in at least for a while!

    Ruth and David-Gold Coast

    Ruth and David-Gold Coast

    Surfers Paradise is the most built up spot on the Gold Coast, with a shopping center and lot’s of food places along the beach. We stopped for Copenhagen Ice Cream…..BEAUTIFUL!!

    Sarai picked us up from Surfers Paradise, and took us back to her parents house where we were staying for the night. They lived in a lovely bungalow about 10 minutes drive from the Gold Coast. Her Dad was making dough for pizza’s for us. He had to go out, but David finished them off. They were delicious!

    Sunday we went to Mount Tamborine with Sarai and David. It is a lovely drive up here, with gorgeous views over the coast. There are lot’s of lovely tourist shops up here and cute little cafes. There is also lot’s of food tasting and wine tasting places up here. We went into a small olive oil shop with Sarai, as she likes to cook. They had loads of  different tasters out. We were testing different olive oils dipped with bread and seeds. After looking around the shops we went into a cafe to get Scones with cream and jam.

    More coming soon……
    Ruth and Paul

    Loan Pine Koala Sanctuary

    11th August 2010

    Monday 26th July 2010

    Today we went to Loan Pine Koala Sanctuary. We were trying to decide between this place and the Steve Irwin’s Zoo. Marey, leah’s friend told us that the Loan Pine Sanctuarywas well worth a visit and very good value for money. The entrance fee is $30 (£17) per person. This allows you to watch all the shows and get really close to most of the animals, you even get to pet most of them. We got bus number 445 from stop number 41 on Adeleide street in the city centre. You will need to get a 3 zone pass, and if you are planning on returning to the city, then you are best getting the daily ticket, which costs $9 and allows you to use the ticket all day, between the 3 zones.

    We got to the Koala Sanctuary in time for the first show at 10am. There are different shows running all day, but some only run once, so you are best getting there just before 10am. The first show was a sheep dog show. The farmer was showing us how the sheep dog is trained to get all the sheep in to a huddle and also how he get’s them into small spaces. The farmer whistles to signal the dog and the dog circles the sheep to get them into a huddle. Then when the farmer wants to get them into a gate, the dog keeps jumping over the sheep, to make them move over. He continues jumping over them, until they are all in the gate.

    sheepdog jumping over the sheep to get them into the gate

    sheepdog jumping over the sheep to get them into the gate

    We went to several shows throughout the day, including a bird show, koala show, wombat talk, koala talk and several others. We were able to get close to most of the animals. It was so nice to be able to walk amongst the kangaroo’s rather than just look at them through a cage. They were very tame and you were able to sit with them and pet them.

    Sitting with the Kangaroos

    Sitting with the Kangaroos

    It was really fascinating watching the kangaroos interact witheach other. At first we were a little unsure how tame they were, but we decided that if it was save enough for us to be walking around withthem, then they must be. We just sat with them for a while and took lot’s of pictures. We also got to pet an owl, Koala and hold parrots.

    Paul holding the birds whilst they were feeding

    Paul holding the birds whilst they were feeding

    Paul next to a Koala

    Paul next to a Koala

    Leah and Ruth sitting with the Kangaroos

    Leah and Ruth sitting with the Kangaroos

    Paul hopping with the Kangaroos

    Paul hopping with the Kangaroos

    We had a great day out at the Santuary and enjoyed learning about all the different animals. It made a change to be able to get up close to the animals, rather than just look at them in cages! We would definitely recommend this place to people. The animals are well looked after and it’s great value for your money.

    Ruth and Paul

    Road Trip in Queensland, Australia

    11th August 2010

    Friday 30th July 2010-Road Trip

    We decided it would be a good idea to hire out a car one day, so we went into the city on Thursday to find the best company to go with. We found that Euro car had the best deal, for 1 full day at $47. Split between all three of us including petrol, this worked out cheaper than us getting trains all day, so it was well worth it.

    Thursday night we made a rough plan of some of the places we were going to go to, and we borrowed a road map from Marey. We set off at 9am Friday morning, to get the car for 10 am. We had the car for 24 hours. Leah did all the driving. We set off towards the sunshine coast, and stopped at several places along the way.

    First of all we stopped at the Beerburrum Lookout. There was a 1/2 mile climb up to the lookout, although this wasn’t much, it was all up hill at nearly a 45 degree angle. This wasn’t easy in my flip flops! Once we got to the top we were able to see out to the glass top mountains. These are a group of volcanic plugs. These are the centre of the volcanoes (lava) after the rest of the volcano has eroded away. It has left a picturesque landscape. We stopped and relaxed for a while looking at the beautiful views in the distance.

    Glass Top Mountains

    Glass Top Mountains

    We then descended down the hill. The descending is sometimes harder than the climb, as it is hard to stop yourself from running down. When we got back to the bottom, we stopped for some lunch. We prepared a cool box with sandwiches and fruit before coming out.

    Next stop was Buderim Ginger Bread factory, in Yandina. It used to be in Buderim, but had since moved to Yandina. BuderimGinger factory has been running since 1941. You are able to watch how the ginger is made in the factory and also look around the many shops at the outlet. The tickets for entrance to the factory cost about $20 each for adults. We decided just to look around the shops, although I’m sure it would have been well worth a visit. We all got an ice cream. All the flavours had ginger in it. I got Raspberry and ginger flavour. This was delicious.

    Ruth and Paul enjoying their ice cream

    Ruth and Paul enjoying their ice cream

    There were several different shops, souvenir shops, macadamia nut shop (we were testing all the different Macadamia nuts). Leah bought some chocolate with macadamia nuts in. We then looked around the shops and bought some ginger bread to take home. There was a beautiful forest area that we walked around. There were many different trees and birds in the forest.

    Outside the ginger factory

    Outside the ginger factory

    After spending about 1 hour at the factory we drove on to Coolum beach along the sunshine coast. We went in for a little while, but the sun was starting to go down, so the water was fairly cold. We spotted a lot of jelly fish along the beach, so we were watching where we were walking. After spending a short while at the beach we dove on to Noosa Heads National Park and drove up to the Lagoon Lookout to watch the sunset. This is a great place to watch the sunset over the mountains in the distance. There were a few clouds In the sky which made the sunset look really stunning! We were so lucky to find a perfect spot in time for the sunset.

    Sunset at Lagoon Lookout

    Sunset at Lagoon Lookout

    We decided to finish off the day by driving to Mt Coot-Thalookout, which we have been to once before during the day. We didn’t realise how busy it would be up there! Everyone else had the same idea as us. It was a great place to be at night time, as the city looks great from the lookout with all the lights. There is a café at the top which stays open till about 10pm, we got hot chocolates and just sat and watched the city.

    It was a great day and we got to see a lot. It was definitely worth hiring the car out. It would of cost us a lot more getting around by trains, plus we wouldn’t have got to see half of the things we did on public transport. Ideally we would have had a car for the full time.

    We had to get the car back to the city Saturday morning. Leah picked us up in the morning at 9.30am and drove the car back to the city. There was a big picnic in Roma Street parklands, in the city, which we decided to go to. It was a picnic to raise money for cerebral palsy. There were several bands playing in the park, including the Empty Chair Project, which was a big band, Spacifix, which was a New Zealand group whose music was a fusion of reggae, funk, pop and rock, also a group called Dave Dow and the human grove (a 12 piece funk, reggae, soul band. The event was really well organised and the entertainment was excellent. All the money was going to the Cerebral Palsy League (CPL)

    Empty Chair Project

    Empty Chair Project

    The Cerebral Palsy League supports children and adults with disabilities to pursue their own personal goals and dreams. They provide them with expert therapies, technologies, equipment and employment to meet their individual needs.

    Leah had to go about 1 am as she was going to a car rally event in Redcliffe with her friend Marey. Me and Paul decided to continue watching the entertainment in the park.

    Last week we were staying with Elissa’s (Leah’s friend) parents, in a town called Nambour, near the sunshine coast. We had a fantastic week their and loved being beside the coast and enjoyed our stay with Liz and David Guy. They have a beautiful home in Nambour, on top of a hill. The town is an old country town with about 10,000 people living there. We will write about our stay there in our next blog.

    We are heading to Melbourne tonight. We fly from Brisbane to Melbourne at 6.00pm local time. (9am GMT 11thAugust 2010). We are flying with  jet star. We found this to be the cheapest company. We are going to be staying with a friend called Rachel Haymes (Bowness) who we have known for most of our life. She is now married to Jarrod with 3 children and lives in Melbourne.

    We hope everyone is well and we look forward to speaking more to everyone once we get to Melbourne.

    Ruth and Paul

    Sunshine Coast-Queensland

    29th August 2010

    Monday 2nd August- Wednesday 11th August 2010

    We spent this week at the sunshine coast. We were staying in a small town called Nambour, with Liz and David Guy. Leah knew their daughter Elissa from when she lived in Brisbane 10 years ago. Liz and David kindly let me and Paul  stay in their house for the week. They have an area downstairs especially designed for when guests are staying. There is a living room, kitchen, bedroom and a bathroom. David did most of the work in the house himself. There was also a swimming pool outside.

    We arrived in Nambour on the Monday night about 9.30pm. David Guy met us at the station and drove us back to his house. Leah went to stay with Elissa Guy in Petrie about 1 hour away.

    Tuesday 3rd August

    Today we got up early and got a bus from Nambour train station to Maroochydor beach. Maroochydor is just south of the river. We walked along the beach to Mooloaba beach. The beach was gorgeous here, with beautiful soft golden sand. We relaxed in the sun for a while and just enjoyed watching the surfers. The weather at the Sunshine Coast was beautiful, about 22 Degrees most days, with a nice sea breeze.

    Maroochydore

    Maroochydore

    Wednesday 4th August

    Today we looked around Nambour town. Nambour is an old farming town with about 10,000 people living there. We both really liked the town, it had everything you needed. A shopping center, clothes shops, restaurants, banks ect. It is also surrounded by hills and greenery. Where we were staying there were just 2 other houses on the hill, so it was very peaceful, with no light or noise pollution.

    In the afternoon we got the bus to the Kawana Shopping World (about 1 hour journey from Nambour). Leah rang us to say she would be at Moolooaba Beach about 4pm with Elissa, her children and her parents. We decided to head there to meet up with them. We all went for fish and chips near the beach.

    After eating we all went back to Liz and David Guy’s house, where we are staying. Liz is very creative. She makes blankets, walll signs, teddies and many more things. She was showing me some of teh scrap books she has done for her children and to document her life. I thought it was a great way of putting photos and journal enteries together. I have kept a journal since I was 10 years old, so you can imagine how many journals I have by now. I think i will do some scarp books when I get home.

    Thursday 5th August

    We had a chilled out day in Nambour.

    Friday 6th August

    Today we got a bus to Caloundra. We got bus number 602 from Nambour train station. The ticket cost us $21.20 for 2 tickets. This allowed us to use the buses within zones 15-18  for the whole day. The journey to Caloundra took about 1 1/2 hours. We got off near kings beach. It was such beautiful weather, about 22 degrees. We sat of Kings beach for a while watching some kite surfers. Then we decided to walk along the coast.

    Caloundra Beach

    Caloundra Beach

    We followed a beautiful walkway from kings beach all the way to Moffat beach. It took us up higher, where we were able to see beautiful views across the sea. We passed by gorgeous houses along the way.

    When we got to Moffat beach, we found a Chip shop, where we sat and ate some hot chips. Then we walked up to Moffat lookout, to watch the sun setting over the mountains. The sky looked amazing, with blue, purple and pink colours.

    Paul Moffats Lookout

    Paul Moffats Lookout

    After watching the sunset we walked on to Dicky beach, where we got the bus back to the Sunshine Plaza. We took a look around the plaza, then got bus 602 back to Nambour.

    Saturday 7th August

    There was a festival on in Nambour today, which we went to. There was free entertainment and market stalls. There were also free music and dance classes for children. We loved it and thought it was a great idea to have a festiva like this every year. There were lot’s of familes there together.

    Monday 9th August

    Today we got a bus from Nambour to Noosa Heads. We  walked along the beach from Noosa Heads to Coolum beach. This is about a 10 mile walk. It was a beautiful sunny day. We wanted to make the most of the sunshine as we knew Melbourne was going to be alot cooler.

    Sunshine Beach-Noosa

    Sunshine Beach-Noosa

    The walk was really beautiful and peaceful. The sands were golden and the sea perfectly blue. We took our time, stopping along the way on several beaches. The walk took us about 3 hours in total.

    Coolum is a really beautiful beach, with a smalll town close by to the beach. There are lot’s of restaurants, bars and shops here. We took a look around, then got our bus back to Nambour.

    Tuesday 10th August

    We got a train from Nambour to Petrie this afternoon to go and stay with Elissa Hooper, the daughter of the couple we were currently staying with in Nambour. My sister Leah was also staying with Elissa. We spent the evening playing games with Elissa’s 2 children, Katie and Sam (age 7, 4). Micheal, Elissa’s husband made a beautiful dinner for us all. He made vegetarian Lasagne especially for me, and beef lasagne for everyone else. He also made a vegan chocolate cake. I would never of believed it was vegan, as it just tasted like any other chocolate cake. He gave me the recipe so I must try to make it myself when I get home.

    Wednesday 11th August

    We chilled out this morning with Elissa and her two children. Our flight was around 6pm from Brisbane to Melbourne. Elissa kindly offered to drop us off at the airport. We flew with Jet Star. This seems to be the cheapest airline around Australia. Another airline we found cheap were Virgin Blue. When we got to Melbourne airport we were met by Jared Haymes. We have known his wife Rachel all our life, through church. She moved over to Australia over 10 years ago and is now married with 3 beautiful children. Rachel and Jared kindly allowed me, Paul and my sister Leah stay with them in Melbourne.

    Blogs on Melbourne coming soon

    Ruth and Paul

    (Sorry for the delay in our blogs, we haven’t been on the internet much and our current hotel in Sydney doesn’t have the internet, so we just get on when we get into a internet Cafe)

    Melbourne

    31st August 2010

    We were in Melbourne from Wednesday 11th August-Tuesday 24th August 2010

    Paul, Leah and myself were met at Melbourne airport by Jared Haymes on Wednesday night. I have only met Jared briefly before, but I have known his wife Rachel for most of my life. She used to go to the same ward as we did for church when I was little and our families have been good friends ever since. The journey from the airport to Rachel and Jared’s house was about 1 hour. We arrived about 11pm at night. Rachel was in bed, but woke up when we arrived. It was really good seeing Rachel again. The last time I saw Rachel was in 2006 when Rachel was over visiting her family in England along with her husband and 2 children. She now has 3 children and another on the way.

    Thursday 12th August 2010

    Jared took a couple of days off work, so that he could drive us around and take us to a few places. Today we went on a drive with Jared, Rachel and their 2 children Hannah and Laura. We drove along the coast and went up to Arthur’s seat. Here you can get a good view over the coast. We stopped up here for a while to go walking. The views were beautiful and the tree’s were gorgeous. We got chips along the coast between us. We haven’t had chips in a long time so that was a nice treatJ They are very different to British chips though, not as greasy and more crunchy.

    Yum Hot Chips

    Yum Hot Chips

    We went to Jared’s Dad’s on the way back to meet him and his wife Faith. Paul was fixing a few problems on Ron’s (Jareds Dads) computer. Paul always seems to find broken things, no matter where we go. They had a Japanese student staying with them so I was chatting to him a little. They have different students staying with them. I thought this was a great idea. They loved meeting people from all over the world and it helped them to learn a little about the different cultures.

    Friday 13th August 2010

    Today we all went out as a family. There was Jared, Rachel, Laura, Hannah, Leah, Paul and myself. (Beth there other daughter was at school). First of all Jared asked us did we want to see Ramsey Street where neighbours is filmed. I don’t even watch neighbours but still I was excited to see Ramsey Street. So we drove over to see the street. It is actually called Pinoak court in Vermont. Regular people live on the street. It is only used for the outside filming and they have studios for the rest. When we got to the street there was a big tour bus showing people around Ramsey Street. We just tried listening in on what they were saying. We got some pictures on the street, maybe you will be able to tell me whose house I’m standing outside?

    Ramsey Street

    Ramsey Street

    We then drove on to Grants Picnic grounds, where there were loads of Cockatoos, Kookaburras, Roselle’s and many others. We put crackers in our hands to see if the birds would come over to us. I was a little nervous at first but relaxed. They were landing on our hands and we even managed to get a kookaburra to land on us. I was impressed with how brave Hannah was (she is 2 years old). She loves animals and insects. She was trying to give the cockatoos a kiss and hug goodbye.

    Paul with a Cockatoo

    Paul with a Cockatoo

    We then drove up to One Tree Hill. This is up high on a hill, surrounded by tree’s. We could hear Kookaburras everywhere. There were loads of Eucalyptus trees. I picked up a few leafs. I’m going to make book marks out of them.

    Ruth and Leah

    Ruth and Leah

    We then drove on to Mt Dandenong, which is where you can view the whole city from above. We just took a quick look and got a picture together. Jared and Rachel were sat waiting in the car, as they charge $5 for taking your car in, so we just walked up.

    Mt. Dandenong with Laura and Hannah

    Mt. Dandenong with Laura and Hannah

    Next we went to Kalorama Park, to stop for lunch. There was a beautiful view from here, looking over a lake. We were also able to see lot’s of Kookaburras from here, After lunch we went to William Picketts Sanctuary, where you can see loads of Aboriginal Art and sculptures. We followed a 30 minute walk path that took us around.

    William Picketts Sanctuary

    William Picketts Sanctuary

    Saturday 14th August 2010

    Today we went to Philip Island with the whole family. Philip island is reached by a bridge so there is no need to get a boat over. The island is about 30 Km in length. We went to Kitty Miller bay. This was a small bay surrounded by rocks.

    Rachel, Jared, Beth, Laura and Hannah

    Rachel, Jared, Beth, Laura and Hannah

    We drove on to the nobbies, where we were able to see penguins along the side of the rocks. It is really beautiful here, surrounded by cliffs.

    Penguins at the Nobbies-Philip Island

    Penguins at the Nobbies-Philip IslandRuth and Paul-nobbies-Philip Island

    I’m trying hard to catch up with all our blogs-it’s hard when you get behind on it!
    Speak soon,
    Ruth and Paul

    Great Ocean Road-Queensland

    31st August 2010

    I have got behind with my blogs, so I thought it was a good idea to share teh writing with my sister Leah. This next blog was written by her. I will add my bit to the end.

    Thursday 19th August Ruth, Paul and myself took to the road to see the Great Ocean Road. Before leaving on my trip around the world I had never heard of it, but while I was up in the Daintree north of Cairns I met a lady from Melbourne who told me about it. That’s the beauty of meeting new people from around the world, you get to hear about new places to discover. I’m so glad I heard about the Ocean Rd, it was amazing. We hired a car for the trip as there is no other way of getting there and we wanted to stop lots along the way.

    We probably could have spent a few days along the Great Ocean Rd exploring the area, as there are lots of walks and areas to see inland from the ocean, but we decided to do as much of it in one day. Our main aim was to make it to the 12 Apostles as this is one of the main sites along the way.

    Ocean Road is recognised as one of the world’s most scenic drives, the Great Ocean Road follows the stunning coastline of Victoria’s south-west. Stretching 243 kilometres from Torquay, just south of Geelong, to Allansford, just east of Warrnambool, the road winds along cliff tops, up to breathtaking headlands, down onto the edge of beaches, across river estuaries and through lush rainforests offering panoramic views of Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean at every turn.

    Building the Great Ocean Road

    The road was built after World War I by returned servicemen and stands as a memorial to those who served in the 1914 – 1918 war. What an amazing memorial to those who served their country. Not only does it make Victoria’s Southwest coastline accessible, but the views you get to see along the way are breath taking.

    We started out just after 6am so we could get to the beginning by sunrise. We have been staying in Seaford which is on the other side of the bay. So we had to make our way up to the city and around the bay before we could even start our trip.

    The first stop on our journey was Geelong. This isn’t technically part of the Great Ocean Road, but a nice place all the same, so we stopped on the seafront before heading to Torquey.

    We couldn’t have asked for better weather for our road trip. Although it is winter here in Australia at the moment, until I came down to Melbourne I hadn’t been too cold. Both Cairns and Brisbane have quite mild winters with day time temperatures getting into their 20’s. It could be seen as a very good British summer. However Melbourne isn’t quite the same and I’m told that they are having the wettest/coldest winter in 10 years! Typical! But the sun was shining and was even warm enough for Ruth to take off her jacket and just have her t-shirt on. And as it is winter we didn’t have to deal with the crowds of other tourist that you might get at other times of the year.

    This first stop on the road is Torquay, this is the gateway to the Great Ocean Road. We stopped here briefly to take a few photos before heading on our way. We didn’t really have any plan about where we were going to stop or when, we just took it as it came. As long as we made it to the 12 Apostles before sun set I was happy :) As I was driving, which I didn’t mind doing, I kept asking if there was anything I was missing out on behind or to the side of us. I had to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on the Road and not on the scenery. It was so beautiful, it was hard to sometimes. But the road is by no means straight, so I had to focus.

    Scenic Lookouts

    The Great Ocean Road offers some of Victoria’s most stunning views of the Southern Ocean from lighthouses, lookouts and viewing platforms. Discover the famous Twelve Apostles, rugged cliffs, picture-perfect sandy beaches, islands and ancient forests from some of the best places to stop and savour the panoramic vistas.

    Below is listed some of the lookouts and sites to see along the road. We didn’t stop at all of them and once we got to the 12 Apostles we turned back along the inland rd as the sun had gone down.

    Torquay to Lorne

    Lorne to Moonlight Head

    Moonlight Head to Port Fairy

    Twelve Apostles
    Outside Apollo Bay the road winds through the centre of the Great Otway National Park with its beautiful untouched rainforests, before returning to hug the coast for the entire length of the Port Campbell National Park. This is the most famous section of the Great Ocean Road featuring an amazing collection of rock formations known as the Twelve Apostles which have been carved out of the headland by the fierce waves of the southern ocean.
    It was beginning to get late and we still had a short way to go before we would reach the 12 Apostles, so we decided we couldn’t make any more stops so we would make it before the sun set. As we were driving along the sun was beaming through the clouds and being the fanatical amateur photographer that I am I couldn’t resist stopping to take a photo, but I knew we weren’t far so thought it would be OK. I guessed we would make the 12 apostles by sun set and maybe this would turn out to be even more beautiful than seeing it in the middle of the day. But as you can see from the photo to the left there is no colourful skies that you usually get with a beautiful sunset. After I stopped to take a photo of the sunset and the closer we got to the coast the winds began to pick up and then the rain started to come down thick and hard. When we stooped at the 12 apostles lookout the rain was coming down so hard and the wind blowing so fast we were almost being blown over trying to take photos. But we had driven too far to not see this beautiful site.
    So what had started out as a beautiful day ended up in a storm with strong winds. But it was an amazing day, I’m so glad I got to drive along the Great Ocean Road!
    Leah Lisgo (www.leah.lisgo.com)
     
    This really was a great drive. We loved every bit of it. It was just so nice to have the car and be able to stop when we wanted. A lot of people reccomended this drive to us and now we can see why.
    We will write more about our time in Melbourne soon
    Ruth and Paul

    Melbourne City

    1st September 2010

    Melbourne City- First day in the city

    We visited Melbourne city Monday 16th and Tuesday 17th August. We got a daily train ticket from Seaford train station (near where we were staying). This cost us $9.90 each (£6) and allows us to use it all day on trams, trains and buses. The journey from Seaford into the city was about 50 minutes. We got off at Flinders street, which is a busy shopping street.

    Leah, Paul and Ruth on the big Screen-Flinders St

    Leah, Paul and Ruth on the big Screen-Flinders St

    I had heard that Melbourne had a look of English cities. It felt very like England when we came out of the train station and it was windy and raining. In Brisbane we got away with just needing our jacket in the evening, but here in Melbourne we needed our rain jackets, scarves and clothes (which we borrowed from Rachel). The buildings also reminded me of England, with their old Cathedrals. St. Paul’s Cathedral is just across from Flinders station. We took a look around there first The church is beautiful with lot’s of decoration in the windows.

    We then took the tram to Parliament, where we were given a free tour of Parliament.

    Parliament

    Parliament

    We were feeling a little cold, so we went to a café opposite Parliament to have hot chocolates and cake. We are going to need to buy some more jumpers ready for New Zealand, as it’s going to be cool there also. We only bought summer clothes with us, as we knew we wouldn’t need jumpers for at least 6 months.

    We looked around St. Patrick’s Cathedral next. (Found opposite Parliament).

    St. Patricks Cathedral

    St. Patricks Cathedral

    We also visited China Town-It doesn’t feel so special after having visited China itself. It was just a small China town.

    Next we got tram No. 30 from Central station to the Docklands, and we walked along the waterfront. There were loads of shops and restaurants along the waterfront. It had a lovely relaxing atmosphere here.

    There is a free tram that you can get around the city, called the circle tram. It takes you round in a loop. This is the old traditional trams. We took this tram around the city.

    Free Circle Tram

    Free Circle TramWe got a tram to Lygon street. This is known as the Italian Quarter of the city. This is where you will find all the Italian restaurants and bars. We got talking to a man in a restaurant who was from Sicily and hadn’t been home for over 20 years.

    Day 2 in the City

    This morning we visited Victoria Market in the city. This is open every day apart from Mondays. We looked around at the souvenirs and I also bought some Cinnamon Almonds.

    We went to Visit St. Francis Church.

    Then we walked over to South Bank where the Casino is. South bank is a really nice walk way along the river, with restaurants and bars. We looked around the Casino. The Casino was massive, much bigger than any one that I’d seen before. Also in the casino there was a theatre, cinema, bars and restaurants.

    We really enjoyed our time in the city. It had an English feel to the city, with old cathedrals and buildings.

    We also went into the city one more time with Beth (Rachel and Jared’s daughter), on Saturday 21st August. She loved coming into the city with us. We took her around the botanical gardens, docklands and went for dinner together.

    Botanical Gardens

    Botanical Gardens

    Ruth and Paul

    Sydney

    8th September 2010

    Tuesday 24th August-Thursday 2nd September 2010

    We flew with Jet Star from Melbourne to Sydney. The flight took 1 hour. When we arrived in Sydney airport we went to get our bags. We saw Paul’s bag coming around the belt, with the rain cover off and all the straps were  un-done. My Chinese Instrument was rolling around loose on the belt. Unfortunately the mouth piece of the instrument got broken. We went to speak to a member of staff to find out why the bags straps were all un-done-but they had no explanation, and just said they could of got caught. I guess I’ll have to go back to China to buy another one of those instruments…..that was a disappointment, but never mind.

    We had a smooth arrival in Sydney. We got a train from the airport into the city. We knew of a few hostels in Kings Cross, so we just got the train to there. We got off at Kings Cross and checked into the Formulae 1 hotel. It cost $89 a night (£52). The room can sleep up to 4 people, for no extra cost. We knew my sister Leah was going to be staying with us for a few of the days, plus other rooms we looked at were more or the same price, so we went with this place. We could see the Opera house and Sydney Harbour Bridge from our room, which I was excited about.

    View from our hotel room

    View from our hotel room

    On our first night we went for a walk in to the city. We were just 10-15 minutes walk from the centre. We walked over to Darling Harbour. The harbour looks really nice at night time. There are loads of restaurants and shops around the harbour. There is also a massive IMAX cinema (The biggest screen in the world). We went to watch Hubble 3D. This is a documentary about the Hubble Telescope in space. It looked amazing watching it on the big screen.

    Wednesday 25th August

    We were up and out by 8.30am this morning. When we get to a new place, we are always excited about adventuring around. First of all we visited Hyde Park. There is a beautiful fountain in the middle of the park, also St Mary’s Cathedral is found here.

    St Marys Cathedral in Hyde Park

    St Marys Cathedral in Hyde Park

    Next we headed over to Sydney Opera House. There was a Japanese Marching band playing, so we stopped to listen to them.

    Japanese Marching Band

    Japanese Marching Band

    After listening to the band, we took a walk around the harbour. The Opera House looks amazing up close. I’ve always wanted to see the Opera House, so it was great finally getting to see it! We walked over to the Opera House. I didn’t realise the building was split into 3 pieces.

    Sydney opera House

    Sydney opera House

    Paul and Ruth in front of the Sydney Opera house

    Paul and Ruth in front of the Sydney Opera house

    We then walked over to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This is the largest steel arch bridge in the world, but not the longest. We decided to take a walk over the bridge. This was a great place to get the best views of the Opera House. After walking over the bridge from Sydney Cove (The opera house) you will end up in Kirribilli.

    There is a short walk directly opposite the opera house, which gives you some great views. We stopped here and ate lunch.

    Looking over at the Opera House from Kirribilli

    Looking over at the Opera House from Kirribilli

    After lunch we walked back over the bridge and went to the Botanical Gardens. We have seen many botanical gardens around the world now, but I still never seem to get bored of them. There were loads of Cockatoos in the gardens. They kept landing on us, I think they were trying to see if we had any food on us.

    Cockatoos in the Botanical Gardens

    Cockatoos in the Botanical Gardens

    Looking Nervous

    Looking Nervous

    When they started pecking my hand I decided to get some bread out so they didn’t eat me!!

    We decided we would watch the sunset from the park. We found a perfect spot, directly opposite the opera house, with the Bridge behind it. It was close by to Mrs Macqarius Chair-this is a chair that was carved out for Mrs Macqaries by her husband, it was her favourite spot in Sydney.

    Sydney Opera House Sun Set

    Sydney Opera House Sun Set

    This picture was taken in the same spot a couple of days later by my sister Leah

    This picture was taken in the same spot a couple of days later by my sister Leah

    More blogs on Sydney coming soon

    Ruth and Paul

    Things to do in Sydney

    8th September 2010

    Other things we did in Sydney

    We did so much in Sydney, that it would take me ages to write everything in detail, but here’s a list to fill you all in on some of the things we got up to.

    Thursday 26th August

    Friday 27th August

    Barracks

    Barracks

    Saturday 28th August

    Today we got a return on the train from Kings Cross to Bondi Junction, costing us $4.50 each (£3). Bondi Junction is about 2km walk to Bondi Beach. There was a beautiful coastal walk from Bronte Beach to Bondi Beach which we did.

    Bronte to Bondi Beach

    Bronte to Bondi Beach

    The views along the walk were stunning. We could see right down to the beaches and cliffs along the coast. There was a massive grave yard that we passed by in Bronte, looking out to the sea. We noticed a lot of Italian names on the graves.

    Grave yard in Bronte

    Grave yard in Bronte

    Walking Towards Bondi Beach

    Walking Towards Bondi Beach

    Paul along the coast by Bondi Beach

    Paul along the coast by Bondi Beach

    We had a great day walking along the coast. The weather was perfect and the views were amazing!

    Bondi Beach

    Bondi Beach

    Saturday evening me and Paul walked down to Darling Harbour, to watch the fireworks. We also met up with my sister Leah Briefly before she set off on a ferry around the harbour. Leah arrived in Sydney on Friday afternoon and came to stay with us in our hotel from Sunday 29th August-Tuesday 31st August. We met up with Leah Sunday evening. After leah dropped her things of in the hotel on Sunday, we walked down to Darling Harbour to take a walk around. Then we went over to the Opera House and got Copenhagen Ice Cream…YUM Yum.

    I will write more soon about our day out with Leah and the rest of our time in Sydney.

    Ruth and Paul

    Things to do in Sydney

    14th September 2010

    Sydney- Day out in the City with my sister

    Leah stayed in the same hotel as us on Sunday 29th August and Monday 30th August. Leah had been to Sydney 10 years ago when she spent a year living in Brisbane, so she knew some of the places she wanted to see. Also we had already spent a few days in the city, so we were able to also advise on a few places she may want to see.

    We started off the day with breakfast at Paul’s favourite place-Mc Donalds! Yes that’s right, even after all the wonderful food we have tasted all over the world, Paul still wants Mc Donalds…..and he is still craving a Kearne’s Sausage sandwich (he will have to wait till he’s at home in Ireland for that one).

    The first place we went to was Hyde Park. We looked around the gardens then took a look In the Cathedral.

    Leah and Ruth-Fountain in Hyde Park

    Leah and Ruth-Fountain in Hyde Park

    Then we walked over to the Domain Gardens and the Botanical Gardens. We took some photos in the botanical gardens, looking over to the opera house. Then we took a walk over to the opera house.

    Ruth outside the opera house

    Ruth outside the opera house

    Then we walked over the Sydney Harbour bridge. We got a large chips to share for lunch on the other side of the bridge.

    Walking over the Sydney Harbour Bridge

    Walking over the Sydney Harbour Bridge

    Paul, Ruth and Leah after walking over the Harbour Bridge

    Paul, Ruth and Leah after walking over the Harbour Bridge

    Leah really enjoys taking photos, so she wanted to make the most of her last day to take photos in Australia, before leaving for Singapore.

    We went to Queen street Mall and looked around some shops. Leah was looking for shoes, but couldn’t find any.

    We went back to the botanical gardens to watch the sun setting over the Sydney Opera house. It was a beautiful sunset and Leah was able to get some good photos.

    To finish off the day we decided we should go out for Leah’s birthday which was coming up soon (13th September). We took her out for dessert at a place called Pancakes on the Rocks. It was delicious, but extremely filling. Here are some pictures to make you feel hungry.

    Yummy Pancakes from 'Pancakes on the Rocks'

    Yummy Pancakes from 'Pancakes on the Rocks'

    Pancakes on the Rocks

    Pancakes on the Rocks

    Tuesday 31st August

    My sister Leah left today to go to Singapore. She got a shuttle bus from outside the hotel to the airport at 12.30pm. It was weird saying goodbye; we have got so used to Leah being with us. We had been travelling on our own for 6 months, but have spent the last 2 months with Leah. It has been nice catching up with Leah and sharing time with her in a country that she loves so much. Leah lived in Australia for 1 year, 10 years ago and wanted to re-visit some of the places and people that she knew back then. We have mostly been staying with friends of Leah’s in Australia. We have been looked after so well and will never be able to thank them enough. They will be more than welcome to stay in our future home, where ever that will be. Leah went on to Singapore and will be spending 2 weeks there. She is staying with a friend of hers, who now lives there.

    Sydney-Manly Beach

    Wednesday 1st September We spent our last day in Sydney at Manly Bay. We got a ferry from Sydney Cover (by the opera house) to Manly Bay. The ferry cost us $14 (£8) each, for a return. The ferry took about 30 minutes to get there.

    Manly Beach

    Manly Beach

    When we got to Manly bay, we took a walk along the beach. Then we went on a walk up along the cliffs. We came across an old defensive gun pit, from World War II.

    Paul in a WWII Gun Pit

    Paul in a WWII Gun Pit

    We were able to see some amazing views from the cliff tops.

    Looking down on Manly Beach

    Looking down on Manly Beach

    We really enjoyed our time in Sydney. It is a city I would like to revisit sometime in the future.

    Ruth and Paul

    New Zealand

    Sydney to Auckland

    14th September 2010

    2nd September 2010

    We left Sydney for Auckland-New Zealand on Thursday 2nd September. We got a shuttle bus from the hotel at 7am, getting us to the airport for 8am. We flew with LAN airlines to Auckland. The flight was good, although the checking in took forever. We got to the airport 2 ½ hours before our flight and still we had to run through security to get to our gate in time for our flight.

    Arriving in Auckland was pretty straight forward. We got through passport control very fast, with no problems. I get 6 months in NZ and Paul gets 3 months (with his Irish Passport). I’m not sure why he gets less than I do. We got the airbus into the city from the airport. It cost us $15 each (£7) for a single into the city. The journey from the airport to the city takes about 30 minutes.

    We got off on Queen Street This is the main shopping St. in Auckland. Our hotel was just 5 minutes walk away on Wyndham St. We didn’t book before, but we’d looked up a few hotels before. We stayed in the All Seasons hotel. It cost $65 (£32) a night. The room comes with a small bedroom with a double bed, small kitchen area and a bathroom. We would definitely recommend the hotel. The room was small, but it had everything we needed and it was right in the centre of the city.

    We will write more about our time in New Zealand very soon. We are currently driving around the North Island in a camper van. We have been on the road for 10 days now. Here is a Picture of the route that we have taken so far. We are currently in Wellington.

    Our Journey so far

    Our Journey so far

    We still have another 11 days in our camper van. We will be dropping it back in Auckland, then flying to the south Island and hiring another camper there.

    Paul outside our Camper-that we are driving around the North Island with

    Paul outside our Camper-that we are driving around the North Island with

    Ruth and Paul

    21 Days driving around North Island New Zealand, In a Spaceship (Camper van) WK 1

    28th September 2010

    Hey everyone,

    Sorry it has been so long since we have wrote anything on here. We have been driving around the North Island New Zealand for 3 weeks. We had an amazing time and we have now just arrived in Christchurch tonight. We flew from Auckland to Christchurch this evening at 16:45pm. We will be staying in Christchurch for a couple of days, then hiring out a camper again to drive around the South island.

    Here is a map to show the route that we took through the North Island

    Map of our route on the North Island

    Map of our route on the North Island

    Week 1 Monday 6th September-Sunday 12th September

    We arrived in Auckland on Thursday 2nd September, from Sydney. We stayed in Auckland for 4 nights, whilst we sorted out a camper for our travels around the north Island. We were excited about the opportunity to cover most of the North Island. Giving ourselves 3 weeks, would give us time to take roads that most people would have to normally cut out, because of lack of time.

    The original plan was to go to the South Island first, then finish with the North Island. However there was a 7. Earth Quake in Christchurch on Saturday 4th September, which meant made us decide otherwise.

    We booked our camper with Spaceships. It cost us $31 a day. It had a bed in the back, that you pull out. It also had a small cooker, pots and pans, dvd player, water supply and a small fridge. The car was automatic, which I’m not used to driving, but I was pleased to have an automatic in the end, with all the hill starts we had to do.

    Paul outside our Spaceship

    Paul outside our Spaceship

    Day 1-Monday 6th September-Auckland to Thames.

    We set off in our Spaceship Camper at about 4pm on Monday 6th September. We had a rough plan of our route mapped out and a rough idea of when we wanted to reach certain places by. However like all plans, they need adjusting along the way.

    Me and Paul are not used to driving at all. I passed my test over 8 years ago, but only had a car for a short while, and Paul passed his test nearly 2 years ago, but hasn’t had a car since. We soon got used to driving.

    On our first day we drove towards Thames, on the Coromandel Peninsula. We drove through the towns of Whitford and Clevedon. Our first stop was Kawakawa Bay. Then we drove by Seabird coast and Miranda. We didn’t have much daylight time as we didn’t set off till 4pm, so we stopped overnight in the camper in Thames.

    Day 2- Tuesday 7th September- Thames to Hamilton.

    We woke up early this morning, at about 5.30am. It had rained all night, the rain is so loud on the van. We set off at about 7:00am and drove to Coromandel. We got to Whitianga and Hahei at 9am and we were at Cathedral Cove by 10am. We parked up and walked down to Gemstone Cove. This is a popular spot for snorkelling in the summer. We were the only people on the beaches this morning, as it was wet and windy. It meant that we got the beach to ourselves, but I still think I’d prefer a beach with people on and sunshine! Maybe we’ll have to pay another visit in the summer.

    Cathedral Cove, gets its name because of the large Cove on the beach. There are also many stacks (coastal rock feature) out at sea, which make the whole view look amazing.

    Cathedral Cove

    Cathedral Cove

    Paul-Cathedral Cove

    Paul-Cathedral Cove

    We drove on to Hot Water beach in the afternoon. It was still raining, but we decided to still keep going, we just tried imagining everything in the sunshine. People go to hot water beach to dig in the sand and make a hot water bath. The water underneath is hot from volcanic rock under the sand. We dug a little hole in the sand to dip our feet in and it was lovely and warm.

    hot water beach

    hot water beach

    DSCF5855

    We then drove on to Whangamata, then to Waihi. Waihi is famous for it’s gold mining and Quartz.

    Gold Mine in Waihi

    Gold Mine in Waihi

    We didn’t realise how much we stood out as tourists. When we were walking around the small town of Waihi a local man shouted from his car, Welcome to New Zealand! We can’t even blend in here in New Zealand….we’ll have to work on that.

    We got as far as Hamilton tonight, and slept in our camper there.

    Day 3-Wednesday 8th September 2010 Hamilton-Raglan

    We woke up early this morning and drove to the coast at Raglan. First of all we stopped at ‘Bridal Falls’ on the way. The name ‘Bridal Veil Falls’ comes from the fact that it looks like a Brides Veil. There are a few places to view the falls, we looked from the top and also walked down to view it from the bottom.

    Bridal Veil Falls

    Bridal Veil Falls

    We then continued driving on to Raglan. First of all we stopped in the town of Raglan and took a walk around the lake. Then we drove on to the beaches there. First of all we stopped at Whales Bay, which is famous amongst surfers, because of the waves that they get there. We stopped at a few other beaches on the drive back towards Hamilton.

    Whales Bay-Raglan

    Whales Bay-Raglan

    We checked into a hotel in Hamilton this afternoon, so that we could shower and get on to the internet. We were both feeling really tired, so it was great to get a good nights rest.

    Day 4-Thursday 9th September 2010 Hamilton-Matamata-Rotorua

    We checked out of our hotel (Auto Lodge) this morning at 10am. It was great having a proper bed to sleep in. We went for a short walk around Hamilton before leaving and took a walk along the river. We went to K-Mart to buy me a new pair of jeans and new trainers for Paul. He had holes in his shoes and my trousers have been sewn back up so many times, that I was definitely due a new pair of trousers.

    We drove on to Cambridge from Hamilton, about a 20 minute drive away. It was a nice town with an old town hall, cathedral, park and one main shopping street. We took a quick walk around the town before driving on to Matamata. Matamata is famous for the town of Hobbiton from Lord of Rings. You can pay for a tour around the set from Lord of the Rings. This costs about $60 (£30) each. We decided not to do this, as we probably wouldn’t even recognise anything anyway. We could see a tour bus just about to drive off, so we quickly got in our camper and tried to follow them, but by the time we got round to the tour bus, they had driven off! So we decided to just drive around to see if we could see anything. Well we did see a lot of green, rolling, hills, but we didn’t really know what we were looking for, so we gave up. We met a guy the day after who had done the tour, so he filled us in. He said they only have one of the original buildings left up, but that they are re-building the Hobbiton Town for filming later this year. We got to see some pictures, so we were satisfied by that, plus it didn’t cost us anything.

    Hobbiton Town-Matamata

    Hobbiton Town-Matamata

    We drove on to Rotorua next, which was a 1 hour drive away from Matamata. Rotorua is famous for their thermal pools and Maori culture. Over 70% of the population are Maori. As soon as we arrived in Rotorua we noticed the smell of rotten eggs. This is caused by sulphur, because the earths crust is so thin here and causes a lot of geo-thermal activity.

    We didn’t arrive in Rotorua till the evening, so we just took a quick look around and decided to wait till the morning to do anything. We slept in our camper again tonight. After a few nights, we were getting used to sleeping in it.

    Day 5-Friday 10th September 2010-Rotorua.

    This morning we went to Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland, which is a geo-thermal park, 20 minutes drive from Rotorua. It costs $30 (£15) each to get in, which includes getting to see the Geyser going off at 10.15am. We thought there must be some trick involved in making the geyser go off, at exactly 10.15 am every morning. We found out that there was. They put a soap substance into it which makes it explode up to 15 meters high. Under the surface there are two chambers of water, one hot and one cold. The soap mixture breaks down the surface tension between the 2 chambers and allows the hot and cold water to mix. This then creates the Geyser. It was first observed by an English convict, who was washing his clothes near a stream. They dropped a bar of soap into the geyser by accident, which caused it to react and reach a height of 10-15 meters high. After discovering this, they would throw bars of soap in on a regular basis, for entertainment purposes.

    Lady Knox Geyser

    Lady Knox Geyser

    We saw many different volcanic features around the park. Here are a few pictures.

    Red/Brown Colour caused by Iron Oxide

    Red/Brown Colour caused by Iron Oxide

    Ruth outside-Devils Bath-Green colour is caused by Colloidal Sulphur

    Ruth outside-Devils Bath-Green colour is caused by Colloidal Sulphur

    The smell of eggs

    The smell of eggs

    In the afternoon we went to visit a Maori village just close by to Rotorua center. I spoke with a man in the village for a while and he shared stories and facts about his culture.

    We then went to the Rotorua Museum. The entrance fee was $12 (£6) each. The museum is an old bath house, that closed down in the 60’s. People used to travel from all over the world to come to the bath house. First they would go and see the Doctor and he would prescribe a certain bath treatment for each client. The building was going to get knocked down once it was closed, but finally it was agreed to make it into a museum.

    Rotorua Museum-Old Bath house

    Rotorua Museum-Old Bath house

    We stayed the night in Rotorua, as we still wanted to visit another Maori village in the morning.

    Day 6-Saturday 11th September 2010 Rotorua-Taupo

    This morning we went to visit the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village-A Maori Village, just 10 minutes drive from the city. It cost us $28 each for entrance to the village for the whole day, this includes a guided tour and cultural performance.

    For over 300 years they have utilised the geothermal resources for daily cooking, bathing and living. They cook their meals outside in something that they call a Hangi. It’s a steam cooker, powered by the hot water under the earth. They also bath outside. We all enjoyed sitting on the warm patio by the baths whilst the guide told us stories about the village. We walked around the village our self after we went on the tour.

    Ruth and Paul-Whakarewarewa Thernal Village

    Ruth and Paul-Whakarewarewa Thernal Village

    We also watched a cultural performance given by some of the people who live in the village. Men traditionally stick their tongues out, this is a symbol of defiance, to fight away evil spirits. They also bulged their eyes out. They would do this along with chanting before war, to intimidate the other side. Well there were only 5 performers doing the dance and it intimidated me, so I think a whole army would definitely do the job!

    Whakarewarewa Thermal Village

    Whakarewarewa Thermal Village

    After our visit to the village we drove on to Lake Taupo. We drove down highway 5 from Rotorua, taking us about 1 hour. We stopped at a geo-thermal power station on the way and also Hukka Falls. The river at the falls was so powerful, creating a short but powerful waterfall.

    Hukka Falls-Taupo

    Hukka Falls-Taupo

    We got to lake Taupo at about 5.30pm. We stayed here for the night, ready to explore around the lake in the morning.

    Day 7-Sunday 12th September 2010 Taupo

    This morning we went back to Hukka Falls to do a walk along the river. It was a 2 hour walk, taking us through a forest area close by to the river. We ended up by a thermal pool, where there were a group of guys bathing in it. Not a bad idea, if only we had our swimming stuff with us! We then drove on to where the dam is and at 2pm we were able to watch the dam gate being opened. This happens every day to allow water in.

    In the late afternoon we drove to Accicia Bay. We did a walk through a wooded area, taking us to the bay. The cliffs in the background looked amazing.

    Paul-Accicia Bay

    Paul-Accicia Bay

    We stayed the night in Taupo.

    Click Here to read about our 2nd week on the North Island

    Ruth and Paul

    Wk 2 Travelling around North Island, NZ in a Campervan

    29th September 2010

    Monday 13th September-Sunday 19th September WK 2

    Day 8-Monday 13th September Taupo-Tongariro National Park-Wanganui

    It was beautiful and sunny this morning when we woke up. So we were able to see the gorgeous views around Lake Taupo before leaving. We went to Pak n Save (supermarket) to get food for our journey, then we set off for Tongariro National Park. Unfortunately it was raining heavy on the way and it was extremely foggy. This was such a shame as we were passing mountains that we were unable to see fully. We drove past Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhue (Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings).

    We stopped in Whakapapa village and did a 2 hour walk, taking us to Taranaki Falls. It was raining really heavy, but we decided to just keep going. Even though we got drenched, it was still well worth it. We could see remains of lava flow, from when the last eruption. When we got to the falls we walked right down to it, the spray coming off it was really powerful. If I wasn’t wet enough already, I was now!

    Ruth-Taranaki Falls

    Ruth-Taranaki Falls

    We were drenched when we got back to the van. We decided to use the rest of the afternoon, catching up with my journal and Paul had some work to do. So we stopped in Wanganui to get onto the internet. We drove onto Palmerston North tonight, and straight in our campervan there.

    Day 9-Tuesday 14th September 2010 Palmerston North-Wellington

    This morning we took a look around Palmerston North. We took a look around the Plaza and also looked around the town. Then we drove on to a town called Fielding, just outside of Palmerston. Fielding was voted best town in New Zealand for 14 years. It was a cute little town.

    Paul could see wind mills in the distance and wanted to know where they were, so we asked about it in the tourist information. We found out that it was the largest wind  farm in the southern hemisphere. We decided to take a drive to see it. It was close to the town of Woodville and is named Te Apid Windfarm.

    Paul-Te Apid Wind Farm

    Paul-Te Apid Wind Farm

    I can understand why they have the wind farm there. It is extremely windy up on those hills. I could hardly hold myself up. We stood right under one of the wind mills.

    Next we stopped in the town of Woodville, for cheesecake at ‘Yummy Mummy’s cheesecake’. We got white chocolate and raspberry to share.

    Then we drove through Levin and stopped at Hokid, Otaki and Otaihanga beach.

    We drove all the way to Wellington tonight. We arrived there at about 5pm. It took us a while to find a hotel. It was a bit of a nightmare trying to park up in the city. Everywhere charges at least $4 (£2) for 1 hour. Most parking in the city is free after 6pm.We finally found a hotel to stay in. We stayed in Downtown backpackers for $80 (£40) a night. The hotel was a little out dated, but the room was fine and comfortable. A nice change from staying in the campervan anyway!

    Day 10-Wednesday 15th September 2010 Wellington City

    We checked out of our hotel this morning at 9am. We had to find somewhere to park up for the day. We finally found a car park close to the city that cost $10 (£5) for the whole day.

    First of all we went to Te Papa Museum. This is one of the best museums I’ve been into for a while and it was totally free. There was so much to see and learn about and there is so many interactive activities for children and adults. There was an earth quake display, fossils, large interactive map of new Zealand, Maori Culture, kids activity room and many more. There was enough in there to spend at least 3 hours, but we only had a short time so spend in there.

    We went to the Botanical Gardens. There’s an old cable car that takes you up to the gardens from the city. You can get a beautiful view over the city from the gardens. Although the gardens were only small in size, compared to others we have been to, the location is still a great place for viewing the city.

    Next we went to Old St Paul’s. This has to be my number one spot of the day, because of the wonderful lady that we met there. Her name was Mary and she moved to New Zealand over 30 years ago with her husband. She was originally from Windsor. She showed us around the church and told us of the history there. It always helps to hear about history from someone who is passionate about what they are speaking about. I could of listened all day to Mary.

    Old St Paul's

    Old St Paul's

    Old St. Paul’s is one of New Zealand’s greatest heritage places, and is one of the finest examples of timber Gothic Revival architecture in the world. It was the parish church of Thornton and Cathedral church of Wellington from 1866 to 1964. It is no longer a parish church, but still consecrated. It can still be used today for weddings, funerals, christenings ect. They also have concerts in there, which are open to the public. I would of loved to see a concert in there, maybe one day I will.

    Next we took a quick look at the parliament buildings. Unfortunately we were running short on time as we had to leave by 5:00 pm. I was going to meet up with my friend Clare tonight and her Fiancé John. Clare moved over to New Zealand over 6 years ago with her parents. I met Clare when I lived in Liverpool in 2002-2003, when studying performing arts at Liverpool Hope. We worked on our final piece together, where we had to devise a short performance. We based our performance on the story of Midsummer Nights Dream and wrote songs to go with our performance. I really enjoyed working with Clare, she was a hard worker with a lot of talent.

    We went to Clare’s and John’s house for dinner. It was great getting to meet up with Clare again and to meet her Fiancé John. They get married in a couple of weeks. We would of loved to be there, but unfortunately won’t be able to be there. It was great catching up and sharing stories together. Hopefully if we ever make it back to Wellington, which I hope we do, we’ll meet up again.

    John, Clare, Ruth and Paul

    John, Clare, Ruth and Paul

    After spending many hours chatting with Clare and John we decided we best get on the road, as we planned on driving to Masterton tonight. This was a 1 hour journey, around mountains. I’m glad Paul was driving, as the roads were so windy and steep.

    We got to Masterton about midnight and straight over night in our campervan.

    Day 11-Thursday 16th September 2010 Masterton-Gisborne

    We left Masterton early this morning and drove all the way to Gisborne. First we stopped in Hastings. This was a fairly big town. We took a look around the shopping streets and stopped for lunch. Then we drove on to Napier. Napier was a really nice town, surrounded by beautiful green top cliffs. We took a walk along the beach and also visited a cathedral that was re-built after an earthquake hit Napier in the 1930’s.

    We finally got to Gisborne at about 6pm. We were both really tired after all the driving, so we just took a quick walk around the city, then got to sleep in our camper.

    Day 12-13-Friday 17th Saturday 18th September 2010 Gisborne

    We woke up early in our camper this morning. We found shower facilities in the city, just near the McDonald’s. It cost us $3 ($1.50) each for a 10 minute shower, this included towel hire. We’ve been lucky enough to find shower facilities in most places.

    We planned on spending the morning in Gisborne, then moving on to our next destination. However things did not go as planned.

    We parked our car up and decided we would take a walk along the river. Paul saw some wooden posts right by the river and decided he wanted to jump from one to the other. He said ‘video me, video me.’ Without giving me time to even respond, he had gone ahead, as confident as ever and took a leap. What he hadn’t realised, was that what he thought was a solid river bank, was actually 2 feet of sinking mud, and yes he landed right in it!

    The post Paul attempted to jump from

    The post Paul attempted to jump from

    His face soon changed from confident to embarrassed, as people were walking right by. Paul soon realised that the mud was sucking his shoes in and it was difficult to get out. He had to pull his feet away from his shoes in order to get out. He pulled his hands and feet out of the mud and pulled himself back up on to the path, leaving his brand new trainers in the mud.

    He had mud all up his jeans and you couldn’t even see his hands with all the mud on them. I quickly asked him where’s your wedding ring. He realised it wasn’t on his finger, and in panic he just thought maybe he’d left it at the showers. I drove back to the showers, but it wasn’t there. He soon realised that he had put it back on and it must be in the mud. It must of slipped off his finger as he was pulling his hand back out. The ring was getting very loose on him, so this would of easily happened. He also realised that his right index finger was bleeding. I took a look and it was fairly deep, I tried taking him to the hospital, but he refused and wanted to fix it up himself.

    We were both really upset that the ring had gone, but didn’t know what to do, as the tide was coming back in and the mud was so sticky. We decided we wouldn’t leave without trying to get it back. So we went to the shop to buy some equipment, wellies, a basket with holes for the mud and we found two planks of wood to stand on, to stop us from falling in to the mud. We waited for the tide to go back out, which was around 5pm.

    Trying to look for the ring

    Trying to look for the ring

    Paul searching through the mud

    Paul searching through the mud

    Paul dug through the surrounding area of where his hand could of gone, trying to find the ring, but we had no luck. The sun started to go down and we hadn’t got anywhere. We decided to call it a day. In the morning we were still frustrated that we hadn’t found it, but just felt that digging through again wouldn’t get us very far. So we decided to drive on. I’m still upset that we didn’t get it back. Maybe one day we’ll go back for it, with a metal detectorJ

    We went to the Cinema in the evening to see ‘Grown ups’ with Adam Sandler in. We hoped this would take our mind off loosing the ring, but as soon as we got out we were thinking about it again. It is not so much the value of the ring in cost, but rather its sentimental value. We will be looking for a new ring for Paul soon, but it will probably have to wait till we get back. It’s funny because the day before the ring got lost we had both mentioned about getting our rings engraved and Paul said it would be a good way of someone returning it to us, if we ever lost them.

    We drove from Gisborne to Turanga on Saturday. We stopped in Tokomaru Bay. There was a small village near by, of which was mainly Maori people. We passed by a few other bays and beaches-Te Piu Springs, Waipro bay, Hickes Bay. Unfortunately my camera batteries fell out of my camera on one of the beaches, so I wasn’t able to get any more photos until we got new batteries. Paul decided to draw the beach that we were on instead…..I never knew Paul was an artist! Haha.

    It was a long drive to Turanga on the coastal road, but the scenery made it worth it.

    We arrived in Turanga at about 6pm.

    Day 14-Sunday 19th September 2010 Tauranga-Whangarei

    We went to the tourist information In the morning to get info on Tauranga. We were recommended to climb up Mount Maunganui.

    Mount Maunganui is regarded as a coastal resort town, although Port of Tauranga, a major facility, is also partly located on the western (harbour) side. It is also well-known for the quality of its surfing conditions, though parts of the beach are notoriously dangerous. The harbour bridge was opened in 1988, linking Mount Maunganui with Tauranga. The construction of a duplication bridge was completed in December 2009, forming a vital link in Tauranga and Mount Maunganui’s growing motorway system. (Wiki)

    We drove over the bridge to Mount Manganui foothill. We took the 1hour steep climb to the top of the Mount. You get an amazing view of the bay.

    View from Mount Manganui

    View from Mount Manganui

    In the afternoon we drove on to Whangarei. The winds were really strong. There were a lot of storms around the North and South island with winds up 120 km Hr. Luckily we managed to miss most of these storms. We arrived in Whangarei at about 9pm. We slept in our campervan again.

    Wk 3 Blog coming soon

    Ruth and Paul

    North Island, New Zealand, Driving around in our campervan, Week 3

    1st October 2010

    North Island, New Zealand, Driving around in our campervan, Week 3

    Day 15-Monday 20th September 2010 Whangeri

    This morning we went to see Whangeri Falls, which were just a short drive from the centre, Then we drove to Whangeri heads and went to Ocean Beach. This was one of our favourite beaches with white sands, beautiful green hills behind us, sand dunes and trees everywhere.

    Whangeri Falls

    Whangeri Falls

    Ocean Beach-Paul writing a message in the sand

    Ocean Beach-Paul writing a message in the sand

    Ruth on ocean beach

    Ruth on ocean beach

    In the afternoon we drove to Abbey Caves. We walked down to the cave and took a look in, but there was a lot of water in the cave and we would of needed a torch to go inside fully.

    We also went to see one tree hill, Marsden point and an oil refinery. Then we drive through the town of Waipu, which is an old Scottish town. Then we drove to Waipu cove, a beautiful long sandy beach.

    We strayed in Whangeri for the night.

    Day 16-Tuesday 21st September 2010 Whangeri-Bay of Islands

    We left Whangeri early this morning, and took the twin coast discovery drive towards the Bay of Islands. We stopped at a few beaches on our drive towards the Bay of islands. First of all at Whangeum Bay, which was a cove beach, then to Matapouri Bay, where we wrote the birthday message in the sand for, Jeff, Steven, Nan, David, Louise and my Mum. We also stopped at Whale Bay.

    Paul writing a birthday message for our families

    Paul writing a birthday message for our families

    We arrived in Russell (Bay of Islands) at about 4.30pm. Russell was the first capital of New Zealand, until 1841 when it became Auckland and then Wellington. We took a look around Russell, which is a small but lovely town. We walked up to view point in Russell, where we were able to see a fantastic few over the Islands.

    Bay of Islands, view from Russell

    Bay of Islands, view from Russell

    We decided to drive just across the bay from Russell to Paihia. This town was much more built up, with shops, café’s, hotels and a tourist information. We booked a cruise trip around the Bay of Islands for tomorrow with Explore NZ. We had a voucher for buy 1 get 1 free, so we got both tickets for $89 (£45). This was for a 4 hour cruise trip, taking us around the different Islands and also to see the Dolphins.

    We found a car park in Paihia that cost $12 for 24 hours to park up. Campervans are allowed to stay in the car park, so we decided to sleep there for the night.

    Day 17-Wednesday 22nd September 2010 Paihia

    We woke up this morning at 7am in good time for our cruise trip, which started at 9am. It was raining when we first got on to the boat, but luckily it soon cleared up. I’m so glad we took the cruise as it’s a perfect way in a short time to see the Bay of Islands. The boat took us close by several of the islands. There are 144 islands in total but only a few have people living on them. We were shown around some of the islands that are privately owned by people. They have car takers who look after the islands for them, not a bad job!!

    Bay of islands-Privately owned Island

    Bay of islands-Privately owned Island

    Island that we stopped at for lunch

    Island that we stopped at for lunch

    We got to see lot’s of Dolphins out today.

    Dolphins-This is the best picture I could get

    Dolphins-This is the best picture I could get

    We stopped at the biggest island, which was owned by a member of the cruise crew. It was passed down from the generations through his family and now it belongs to him. We stopped on the island for lunch.

    I would definitely recommend doing a tour with Explore NZ. It was a great way of seeing the islands and the staff make the whole trip very enjoyable, plus they know a lot about the islands and are there to answer any questions along the way.

    In the afternoon we visited Haruru Falls. Haruru means ‘Big Noise’ in Maori. Maori legend states that a taniwka (water monster) lives in the lagoon below, so be careful! When we got to the falls there was a beautiful rainbow coming right over the waterfall.

    Haruru Falls

    Haruru Falls

    Rainbow-Haruru Falls

    Rainbow-Haruru Falls

    Next we went to the Golf course in Paihia. This is a great place to catch a sunrise as it’s up high and looks over the bay of islands. We went down to the rocks by the golf course as we had spotted dolphins in the sea in the distance. Unfortunately they had gone by the time we got back down.

    We slept in Paihia tonight.

    Day 18- Thursday 23rd September 2010 Paihia-Cape Reinga-Kaitaia

    We woke up at 5am this morning, so that we could go and watch the sunrise up at the golf course. Luckily for us the sky was really clear, so we were able to catch an amazing sunrise.

    Sunrise in Paihia

    Sunrise in Paihia

    After sunrise we got showers in a near by town and set off towards Cape Reinga (Light House at the northern tip). We stopped off in a place called Manginangina, to go on a walk around a forest, where there were loads of Kauri trees. Kauri trees take over 600 years to grow and grow really straight. They used them for masts of ships, because of their strength and straightness. Unfortunately there are not many of them left.

    Kauri Trees

    Kauri Trees

    We also stopped in a small harbour town called Mangonui for ice cream. Then we stopped off in Kaitaia, before heading on to Cape Reinga.

    Paul had been reading this morning in a news paper about whales that had been washed up on the shore, because of the strong winds. This happened on spirits bay, not far from Cape Reinga. We decided to stop off on our way. There were loads of volunteers there, helping to keep the whales in the water. Over 40 whales had already died after being washed up onto the shore. They planned on trying to get the rest onto trucks and take them to another bay that was more sheltered. They managed to rescue about 10 of them.

    volunteers with the whales

    volunteers with the whales

    Beached Whale

    Beached Whale

    We finally got to Cape Reinga at about 5.30pm. It felt weird standing right at the tip of the country. We walked down to the light house and got some quick pictures before getting blown away. It was so windy.

    Ruth and Paul-Cape Reinga

    Ruth and Paul-Cape Reinga

    We went back to Kaitaia (about an hours drive back) to sleep there for the night. There is nothing but a light house at Cape Reinga, so we couldn’t stay there.

    Day 19-Friday 24th September 2010 Kaitaia to Whangeri

    Today we went to see 90 mile beach. We drove to the first entrance to 90 mile beach, where you are able to drive on, when the tide is out. We weren’t able to drive on the beach however, as our car hire doesn’t allow it. Many cars get wrecked on the 90 mile beach and stuck, which is not surprising. It made me laugh when we arrived at the beach and saw a sign giving the speed limit on the beach as 100km Hr. We certainly would not rate the beach as one of our top beaches. The water looked so unclean,  this is probably from dirt and pollution because it is used as a road. Bus tours and cars come up the beach daily.

    We drove  to another entrance of the beach, more north. This was a nicer part of the beach, however it was still very polluted. We parked the car up and took a walk up the beach and walked on the sand dunes which are  all along the beach.

    After spending the morning on 90 mile beach, we continued driving on to Whangeri. We arrived in the evening at about 6pm. We stayed there for the night.

    Day 20-Saturday 25th September 2010 Paul’s Birthday-Whangeri to Auckland

    Today was Paul’s birthday. We started the day off by going to Ocean Beach at Whangeri heads (where we had been before). On the way I hit a large bird called a Pukeko that was running across the road. I didn’t have time to stop. It was a horrible feeling hitting it. I had tried to swerve but the bird ran under the car and hit the back wheelsL We planned on watching the sunrise, but unfortunately it was so cast over, that we couldn’t even see the sun.

    We went to Paul’s favourite ‘Family Restaurant’ for breakfast….yes you’ve got it…McDonalds. He got pancakes and I got a toasted Bagel. Then we drove back to Auckland (2 hours drive). I asked Paul what he wanted to do for his birthday and he said go to the cinema, I didn’t think this meant going 3 times in 1 day, but that’s what we did. First of all I chose to see ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at the IMAX cinema. I think we were the only couple in the cinema without kids, oh well. It had an extra song in the film ‘Human again’, which is also in the stage musical version. Next we went to see ‘Wall Street’ then ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’. We finished off the day with Domino’s Pizza. He would of loved a Kearnes sausage sandwich, but I couldn’t pull that one off. That will just have to wait till Christmas, when we are home in Ireland.

    Day 21-Sunday 26th September 2010

    Our camper was due back today. We checked into the City Travellers hotel before taking our spaceship back. Luckily everything was fine with our retuned camper, so no extra costs were added. We really enjoyed having the camper and don’t think we could of got around any better way!

    Friday 1st October 2010

    We stayed in Auckland until Tuesday 28th September, then we flew to Christchurch (South Island). We have been staying in a beautiful honey moon suite for the last few nights, here in Christchurch. We managed to get the room at a very good price, so couldn’t refuse. It will be hard leaving the room and going back to sleeping in a camper. Today we will be picking up another spaceship camper, to tour around the south island for 2 weeks.

    We will keep you updated as soon as possible about our time here on the South Island.

    Paul and Ruth

    New Zealand, South Island-2 Week Road Trip in a campervan

    16th October 2010

    Friday 1st October-Thursday 14th October 2010

    Day 1-4 (out of 14 days travelling around South island, NZ)

    Map of our Route on the South Island

    Route we took on the South Island

    Route we took on the South Island

    We spent 3 weeks touring around North island New Zealand and after having such a great time in our camper there, we decided we would go with the same company on the South Island (Spaceships), for 2 weeks. Having a camper really gives you the freedom to be flexible and wake up and decide where you want to go. We wouldn’t of seen half of the places without having our own vehicle. Plus it has been our accommodation for the last 5 weeks, so we saved a lot of money staying in the camper.

    We had heard that the South Island was even more beautiful than the North Island. We had seen so many beautiful places already on the North Island and didn’t see how this could be possible. Well after spending 2 weeks touring around the South Island I can stand by what the majority of people have told us about the South Island, it is by far the most beautiful part of the world we have seen so far. Each  country has had something different that stood out to us, but New Zealand wins the top award for pure and natural beauty!

    There is so much contrast in scenery in New Zealand, high mountains, low plains, fiords, forests, glaciers, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, beaches ect. We were constantly wanting to stop to take pictures. There wasn’t 5 minutes that went by without seeing something that we wanted to stop and look at.

    I will write about the highlights from each day, but there is just so much to write about that you will have to wait to see us, to hear about everything in more detail. We slept in our camper every night this time, and showered in various public shower facilities we found along the way. When we asked at the I-Site they would tell us where there were shower facilities.

    Day 1- Friday 1st October 2010 Christchurch-Timaru

    Today we picked up our camper van at about 9am. After going to the supermarket to get some food for the road we headed south from Christchurch to Timaru. As soon as we got on the road we were able to see snowy mountains all around us.

    We stopped briefly in Ashburton then continued onto Timaru (160km from Christchurch).

    Timaru has been constructed on rolling hills created from the lava flows of the extinct Mt Horrible volcano, which last erupted many thousands of years ago. The result is that most of the main streets are undulating, a clear contrast with the flat landscape of the Canterbury Plains to the north. This volcanic rock is used for the construction of local “bluestone” buildings. (WIKI)

    Timaru was a really scenic town, surrounded by snowy mountains. We decided we would stay here for the night, so we parked our camper up. We took a walk over to Caroline Bay Beach. There is a really nice park there with out door exercise equipment for the public to use and a massive park area for joggers.

    Timaru-Caroline Bay

    Timaru-Caroline Bay

    Day 2- Saturday 2nd October 2010

    This morning we went to Caroline Bay to enjoy the scenery of the mountains and we also decided to play Frisbee for a while. I was trying to master my Frisbee skills, Paul was giving me lessons on how to throw in the right direction. I will have to keep practising. Paul also wanted to test out his model aeroplane that I’d bought him for his birthday.

    Then we set off to Oamaru (80km from Timaru). This town has a lot of Victorian and Edwardian heritage, which is easy to see when you visit, as they have kept a lot of the original buildings and all the new buildings keep in style with the rest. I really liked this town, it had so much character. There was a radio station called ‘Heritage Radio Station 88.3′. I went in to speak with the guy running the radio station. He showed me around. There wad loads of old radio and recording equipment that had been donated to the radio station. The radio station is run by volunteers.

    Various old radios-Oamaru Heritage Radio Station

    Various old radios-Oamaru Heritage Radio Station

    Paul on his big bike-Oamaru

    Paul on his big bike-Oamaru

    We spent about 1-2 hours looking around Oamaru, then we set off to Dunedin (120km South of Oamaru). We arrived in Dunedin at about 5pm. Dunedin is the second largest city in the South island. The word Dunedin is an old Gaelic word meaning Edinburgh. Like Oamaru, Dunedin has also preserved their Victorian and Edwardian heritage. This is also very clear in the style of their buildings around the whole city. Dunedin was one of our favourite city’s. Tonight we just took a quick walk around the city and then got an early night, ready to explore Dunedin in the morning.

    Day 3- Sunday 3rd October 2010

    This morning we went to see New Zealand’s only Castle, Larnach Castle-although it wasn’t really a castle as such, just the closest thing they have to castle. It is in a beautiful location, just outside of Dunedin and overlooking the Otago Peninsula. It was built in 1873 as the residence of William Larnach, who was a politician. The house was left to despair after William Larnach committed suicide, and it was later bought over by the Barker family in 1967. It is now open to the public. We just paid for entrance to see the castle from the outside and the gardens. This cost $12 each (£6).

    Larnach Castle

    Larnach Castle

    View from Larnach Castle

    View from Larnach Castle

    After looking around the gardens and enjoying the views, we drove on to Taiaroa Head, on the Otago Penisula. This is where the Royal Albatross center is and where you can view the Royal Albatross…unfortunatley we didn’t get to see one, but we went to centre anyway to learn about them. They fly from 500-1000 km a day and spend 80% of their time in the air. Their wing span is up to 3m. We did see the ‘Little Shag’ bird however.

    Little Shag

    Little Shag

    The view from Taiaroa is beautiful, just like everywhere in New Zealand.

    View from Taiaroa Head

    View from Taiaroa Head

    Next we drove on to Sanymount Road, where there are several short walks to beautiful view points. We walked up to a lookout of the Otago Peninsula.

    Lookout of Otago Peninsula

    Lookout of Otago Peninsula

    We then walked over to lovers leap, where there was an archway in a rock.

    Lovers Leap

    Lovers Leap

    We drove back to the city at about 4pm and spent the remainder of the day looking around Dunedin. The buildings are all victorain and Edwardian style.

    Dunedin Railway Station

    Dunedin Railway Station

    Day 4-Monday 4th October 2010

    Today we set off towards Invercargill, on the tourist route, taking about 5 hours, with stops along the way.

    Here is a list of our stops along the way to Invercargill

    Nugget Point-Lighthouse

    We drove to nugget point where you can see yellow-eye’s penguins at certain times of day. We looked and looked, but couldn’t see any. We then drove on to the lighthouse at nugget point.

    Nugget Point-Lighthouse

    Nugget Point-Lighthouse

    Purakanui Falls

    This is a cascading waterfall.

    Purakanui Falls

    Purakanui Falls

    Matai and Horse shoe falls

    Matai Falls

    Matai Falls

    Florence Point Lookout-where you can see the Bluff in the distance-South Islands most Southern town.

    Florence Point Lookout

    Florence Point Lookout

    Lastly we watched a beautiful sunset over the plains about 30 minutes drive from Invercagill. We were on a road where there were no houses, just the sound of birds and all we could see was greenery and tree’s….such a beautiful site!

    Sunset over the plains

    Sunset over the plains

    We arrived in Invercargill at about 9pm.

    I will write about the rest of our time on the South Island as soon as possible.

    Ruth and Paul

    Day 5-7-New Zealand-South Island Road Trip

    17th October 2010

    Tuesday 5th October-Thursday 7th October 2010

    Day 5-Tuesday 5th October-Invercargill-Te Anua

    First thing this morning we went for a shower near the clock tower in Invercargill. It cost $1 for the shower and you can also hire towels for $1. Staying in a camper van for 6 weeks makes you appreciate every shower that you get. I didn’t realise how good warm water could possibly feel! When we left England to come travelling we had to get rid of most of our possessions and we had to make sure we only brought the most essential things with us-as we had to carry it around for 10 months! This wasn’t easy at first, but as we started to get rid of things, it became easier and we started to realise that most of these things were not that important. I must admit however, I do miss dressing up:)

    After showering we drove to th Bluff-which is the town in the most southern point of New Zealand. We drove up to the lookout there, where you can get a great view of the land.

    We then drove back to Invercargill to visit the Museum and Art Gallery (found by the tourist information). We were able to see the Tuatara-which are only found in New Zealand.

    The tuatara is a reptile endemic to New Zealand which, though it resembles most lizards, is actually part of a distinct lineage, order Sphenodontia.[2][3] The two species of tuatara are the only surviving members of its order, which flourished around 200 million years ago.[3] Their most recent common ancestor with any other extant group is with the squamates (lizards andsnakes). For this reason, tuatara are of great interest in the study of the evolution of lizards and snakes, and for the reconstruction of the appearance and habits of the earliest diapsids (WIKI)

    Tuatara

    Tuatara

    Tuatara

    Tuatara

    We also went to Queen’s park, which is a fairly large park with an Aviary in it.

    We set off towards Te-Anua at about 11am. This is 168 Km away, on the scenic route, which we took. The drive was extremley scenic, as is most drives in New Zealand. We stopped off at Calac Bay, Mullet Bay and Monkey Island. It is called Monkey Island, because of a Monkey Winch they used to pull the boats up on to shore. We walked over to the small island, where we were able to see a beautiful view of the snowy mountains across from us.

    We also stopped at McCrakens Rest lookout. This is another great spot for viewing the mountains.

    Beautiful view from our car

    Beautiful view from our car

    We continued our drive on to Te-Anua and on the way we came across a few fields with deer in. We walked over to look at them and they just stood and stared at us. They were extremely inquisitive trying to figure us out. As we walked closer they walked further. As we walked further away, they started to look back towards us to see if it  was safe.

    Paul looking at the Deer

    Paul looking at the Deer

    They were so silent when they were watching us, and they all stood closely together.

    We continued driving to Te-Anua. We got to Lake Manapouri at about 7pm.

    Lake Manapouri is a lake in the South Island of New Zealand. Its name is Maori for “sorrowful heart”, though this name is misapplied due to an early cartographical error (the real Lake Manapouri was North Mavora Lake, which lies some distance to the east). Local Maori called Lake Manapouri Moturau, which means “many islands”. (WIKI)

    They were going to flood Lake Manapouri for the use of Hydro-electric power. Luckily for everyone, locals and tourists, this didn’t go ahead because of campaigners. It would of been such a shame to destroy this beautiful area.

    Manapouri

    Manapouri

    Paul-Lake Manapouri

    Paul-Lake Manapouri

    We got to Te-Anua at about 8pm. It was just a small town, but it had everything you needed, restaurants, shops, tourist info, supermarket, internet, laundry and beautiful surroundings.

    Te Anau is a town in the South Island of New Zealand. It is on the eastern shore of Lake Te Anau in Fiordland. Lake Te Anau is the largest lake in the South Island and second only within New Zealand to Lake Taupo. The 2001 census recorded the town’s population as 1,857. The town has a wide range of accommodation, with over 3,000 beds available in summer. (WIKI)

    Te-Anua is the best place to stay when exploring Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park. We went to the tourist information briefly to find out about cruises of the Fiords and Milford Sound. We decided to wait till the morning to book our cruise, as we wanted to see what the weather was like.

    One of the advantages of sleeping in a camper van is that you get to pick what view you want from your window. Tonight we slept with the view of snowy mountains from our window.

    Day 6-Wednesday 6th October 2010-Te-Anua

    We woke up this morning in our camper, to a beautiful sunrise over the mountains in Te-Anua. After getting ready we went to the tourist information to book our tickets for the cruise at Milford Sound. We decided we also wanted to go to the Glow Worm caves, so we booked a double package for a cruise of the fiords at Milford Sound and a cruise to see the Glow Worm Caves on the Te-Anua Lake. We were unsure of which one to do today, but decided we would go with the caves, as it looked a little cloudy outside. We are so glad we decided to do this, as later we found out from someone who did the cruise at Milford Sound, that it was so wet and cloudy that they couldn’t even see the fiords!

    The package to see the Glow Worm caves and go on a 2 1/2 hour cruise of the Fiords at Milford Sound cost $14o each (£70). You save about $15 by booking both together.

    The trip to see the caves wasn’t until 2pm. We met at the Real Journeys office, found next to the tourist information in Te-Anua at about 1.40pm. We were told to wear worm clothes and good shoes, because it can be a little cold and slippery in the caves.

    The ancient maori name ‘Te Ana-au’ means the ‘cave with a current of swirling water’. It was this translation that led to the discovery of the Te-Anua Glowworm caves in 1948.

    First of all we went on to a cruise boat, taking us over to the entrance of the caves. The journey over is also part of the whole package, as we were able to see the amazing views over the lake, of snowy mountains.

    On our way over to the Glowworm Caves

    On our way over to the Glowworm Caves

    When we arrived at the caves we were led into a visitor centre, where we watched a short video showing the cycle of the glowworms life and a member of staff also gave us a brief history of the caves.

    Lifecycle of the Glowworms

    When we finally entered the caves, we were led by a guide. We were split up into smaller groups and left 5-10 minute intervals in between. The entrace to the caves is very low, and we needed to bend right down to get in. There is a hand rail that you can hold on to guide you through the caves. The caves are 6.7km deep. The 12,000 year old caves are carved from limestone rock which is over 35 million years old.

    Unfortunately we have no pictures, as you are not allowed to take photos in the caves. This diminishes the effect of the glow worms.

    After walking through the caves for about 20 minutes, we arrived at a small boat, that our guide led all 13 of us on to. The guide switches off her torch at this point, and tells us all to stay in complete silence. She pulled the boat along with a rope that was above her head. At this point we were able to see glowworms everywhere. This is such an amazing site, like stars in the sky. The atmosphere is amazing, as there is not a sound or any artificial light, just the beautiful glow of the worms.

    Here is a picture to show what our boat ride looked like

    Glowworm Caves

    Glowworm Caves

    I would definatley recommend a trip to the caves if you get a chance. It was a unique experience. We arrived back in Te-Anua at about 4pm.

    It was a really nice evening, so we decided to go for a walk around Lake Te-Anua. We did a 1 1/2 hour walk. We drove around to the start of the walk, which is just a 5 minute drive from Te-Anua. The walk takes you through the Fiordland National park. It is a 60km track, but we just did a little part of it.

    Lake Te-Anua-Kepler Track

    Lake Te-Anua-Kepler Track

    Kepler Track Walk-Sunset

    Kepler Track Walk-Sunset

    Day 7- Thursday 7th October 2010- Milford Sound

    Today was a day we were both really looking forward to, as we were going to Milford Sound to take a cruise to see the Fiords. This is the number one tourist destination in New Zealand.

    Milford Sound (Piopiotahi in Māori) is a fjord in the south west ofNew Zealand’s South Island, within Fiordland National Park and theTe Wahipounamu World Heritage site. It has been judged the world’s top travel destination in an international survey (the 2008 Travelers’ Choice Destinations Awards by TripAdvisor) [1][2] and is acclaimed as New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination.[3]Rudyard Kipling had previously called it the eighth Wonder of the World.[4]

    We set off from Te-Anua at about 9.30 am to give us plenty time to get there, ready for our cruise at 12.30pm. They say to give yourself about 2 1/2 hours to get there, as the roads get quite windy when you get closer to Milford. Also in the winter you have to watch out for snow on the roads. We also made sure we topped up the car with petrol in Te-Anua, as there are no petrol stations on the way, or at Milford (apart from emergency petrol at Milford, which costs a fortune).

    The journey to Milford is so scenic. We stopped a long the way at several places. Here’s some pictures of our journey towards Milford Sound.

    Journey to Milford Sound

    Journey to Milford Sound

    Mirror Lakes

    Mirror Lakes

    This lake was so still, that you could see a perfect reflection on the mountains.

    Kea Parrot

    Kea Parrot

    We saw this rare Parrot, known as the Kea, on our way to Milford. They are very mischievious birds, and like to pull at things.

    The Kea (Nestor notabilis) is a large species of parrot (family Strigopidae) found in forested and alpine regions of the South Island of New Zealand. Measuring around 48 cm (19 in) in length, it is mostly olive-green and has a large narrow curved grey-brown upper beak. The Kea is one of the few alpine parrots in the world. Its omnivorous diet includes carrion[2] but consists mainly of roots, leaves, berries, nectar, and insects. Now uncommon, the Kea was once killed for bounty as it preyed on livestock, especially sheep. It only received full protection in 1986.[3]

    There were so many places to stop at along the way, but we had to make sure we got there on time, so we had to leave many places out. We arrived at Milford Sound at about 12 pm. giving us plenty time before our cruise at 12.30pm. The weather was amazing, hardly a cloud in site, we were so lucky, as Milford get’s a heavy down poor of rain and rains an average of 182 days a year.

    We got on to our cruise at about 12.15pm. We decided to sit up stairs, in the open, to get the best view possible.

    Our Cruise Ship-Milford Sound

    Our Cruise Ship-Milford Sound

    Milford Sound runs 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea and is surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) or more on either side. Milford Sound was initially overlooked by European explorers, because its narrow entry did not appear to lead into such large interior bays. Sailing ship captains such as James Cook, who bypassed Milford Sound on his journeys for just this reason, also feared venturing too close to the steep mountainsides, afraid that wind conditions would prevent escape. Today between 550, 000 and 1 million visitors come to see the Fiords at Milford Sound, each year.

    The cruise trip was fantastic. We saw so many beautiful waterfalls coming down the mountains. The fiords look amazing. I can see how James Cook didn’t venture out into the fiords, when you are going towards them, you would think there was no entrance to the fiords.

    Here are a few photos of our cruise of the Milford Sound Fiords.

    One of the many waterfalls at Milford Sound

    One of the many waterfalls at Milford Sound

    Fiords-Milford Sound

    Fiords-Milford Sound

    Ruth and Paul-Milford

    Ruth and Paul-Milford

    Baby Seal's

    Baby Seal's

    Waterfalls-Milford Sound

    Waterfalls-Milford Sound

    Penguin that we saw whilst on the cruise

    Penguin that we saw whilst on the cruise

    Waterfalls-Milford Sound

    Waterfalls-Milford Sound

    We have so many photos from the cruise, which I will put up into our gallery asap. We really enjoyed the cruise and would definatley recommend the Real Journeys company. The staff were fantastic and gave us commentary on the way.

    On our drive back to Te-Anua we stopped off a few times and did a couple of short walks. There are so many walks to do, you could spend a couple of days there at least, doing walks around Fiordland National Park.

    Paul standing on the snow

    Paul standing on the snow

    Paul-near Milford Sound

    Paul-near Milford Sound

    We got back to Te-Anua at about 7pm. We decided we would drive on to Queenstown tonight. This was another 2 hours drive away. Queenstown is extremely built up around tourism. It is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand and is known all around the world, for being one of the first places to home the bungy jump.

    We parked our camper up near the waterfront, and took a walk around the town. Then we crashed for the night, as we were extremely tired.

    More blogs coming soon on our time on South Island, NZ. Just to keep you all up dated, we are now in Christchurch, staying in a hotel. We get a flight to Auckland tomorrow afternoon. We will spend a couple of days in Auckland and then we fly to Quito on 21st October.

    Speak to you soon

    Paul and Ruth

    South Island, New Zealand, Day 8-14 of our Road Trip (Final South Island Blog)

    20th October 2010

    Friday 8th October-Thursday 14th October 2010

    Day 8- Friday 8th October- Queenstown

    Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. The city is packed with tourists, particularly young back packers. The city is set in beautiful surroundings, with mountains all around and the beautiful lake Wakitipu. Queenstown is packed with café’s, bars, restaurants, shops and hotel’s.

    Queenstown Waterfront

    Queenstown Waterfront

    We took a walk around the city this morning. We went to the Queenstown Gardens, which is based in the city. We saw people playing a game called Frisbee Golf. It is very similar to golf, except the Frisbee is the ball. This has been played in Queenstown since the 1980’s. You will all be disappointed or glad to hear that we didn’t do a bungee jump, like a lot of people do when they come to Queenstown. We were thinking about it, but when we went to find out the price, we decided we didn’t want to pay it ( $180 each £70). I’m not sure if I’d actually be able to bring myself to jump anyway.

    We drove to a near by town, called Arrowtown, in the afternoon. Arrowtown is famous for it’s gold. In the 1980’s it attracted a massive amount of gold miners. Tourists still come to Arrowtown today to see if they can spot any gold along the river bank. We did a 40 minute walk along the riverbank and tried to see if we could spot any gold, but no gold for us! Arrowtown is a lovely town to visit. It has kept it’s history alive by keeping a lot of their old buildings. You feel like you have gone back in time.

    The rain came pouring down in the early evening. We drove back to Queenstown and decided we would go to the cinema to watch ‘Dinner for Smucks’ starring Steve Carell in. It was extremely funny.

    The rain didn’t stop. We slept in our camper in Queenstown tonight.

    NOTE: Shower facilities in Queenstown found at the Event Centre swimming pool and Frankston Motor Camp.

    Day 9- Saturday 9th October 2010

    Today we drove on towards, Franz Joseph Glacier. If we wanted to put money into doing adventure activities, we would of stayed a few more days in Queenstown, but when you have been travelling for 8 months, you have to think about watching your money.

    We took the World Heritage Highway to Franz Joseph. We stopped at the following places on the way:

    Kawarua Bridge-Queenstown

    Kawarua Bridge-Queenstown

    View from Mt Iron

    View from Mt Iron

    Fantail Falls

    Fantail Falls

    Paul-Rock Slides

    Paul-Rock Slides

    Thunder Creek Falls

    Thunder Creek Falls

    Haast Beach

    Haast Beach

    Knights Point

    Knights Point

    The drive to Franz Joseph was one of the best drives yet. There is so much to see, that we were stopping every 5 minutes. We arrived in Franc Joseph at about 10pm. It was just a small town, yet highly visited because of its Glacier. We went to sleep in our camper as soon as possible.

    Day 10- Sunday 10th October 2010

    We woke up this morning to extremely heavy rain, which is not unusual for Franz Joseph. Franz Joseph receives about 300,000 annual visitors, making it the busiest tourist stop on the west coast, supported completely by a Glacier.

    Most people take a guided tour of the Glacier. This is the safest way to view the Glacier and it is advised that you only walk it on your own if you are experienced. We decided to just take a walk to view the Glacier, as it was extremely wet, also we were running short on time, as we only had 4 more days left on our car hire. We drove to near the Glacier, where we did a 30 minute walk to the view point of the Glacier. We were able to get a good view of it from here. There were several other walks to do, but we were already completely wet through. The Glacier is now retreating. It is melting faster than it is moving.

    Franz Joseph Glacier

    Franz Joseph Glacier

    We drove on to Nelson this afternoon. We drove through Hokitika, Greymouth and we stopped in Punakaiki, to see the famous ‘Pancake Rocks’ and Blow Holes.

    It was still pouring down with rain when we arrived in Punakaiki, but we still decided to get out and go and see the Pancake Rocks. There is an information center there, which is a great place to go first to learn a bit about the history of the formations. They were formed over 30 million years ago from fragments of skeletons and shells. These limestone rocks have been sculpted over the millennia by weak acidic rain, wind and sea water.

    Pancake Rocks

    Pancake Rocks

    We saw a Weka bird just before we left the Pancake Rocks. This is a native bird to New Zealand, found mostly on the West Coast. They look similar to the Kiwi and can’t fly.

    Weka Bird

    Weka Bird

    We continued our drive on to Nelson. We didn’t stop on the way, except a brief stop in Westport, as the rain was still really heavy. We arrived in Nelson at about 8pm.

    Day 11- Monday 11th October 2010

    Nelson is just about the most central place in New Zealand. It is o the shore of the Tasman Bay. It is a great location to place yourself, when discovering the North of the South Island. Today we drove along the coast from Nelson-Cape Farewell Spit. This is found in the northern tip of the South Island. We drove through the town of Motueka and also through part of the Tasman National Park.

    When we got to the Farewell Spit, we walked along part of it. There are high sand dunes all along the spit. We took a walk up onto the sand dunes.

    Paul on the Farewell Spit

    Paul on the Farewell Spit

    After spending about 1 hour walking around the spit we drove back towards Nelson. We stopped at Waikoropupu Springs on the way. This is the largest spring system in NZ, and one of the 100 top largest in the world. The water was so clear that you could see everything beneath it.

    Pupu Springs

    Pupu Springs

    We stayed in Nelson again tonight.

    Day 12- Tuesday 12th October 2010

    Today we drove to Picton, which is another 1 hours drive from Nelson. Picton is in a fantastic location, near the Queen Charlotte Sound. A sound is a river valley flooded by the ocean.

    We stopped at Cullen Point lookout in Havelock. This is one of the best places to view the sounds.

    Cullen Point Lookout

    Cullen Point Lookout

    We did several walks in Picton. We did a 1 hour walk to Bobs bay and also a 1 hour walk to the harbour view lookout. The views from here reminded us of being on Phi Phi island, with such beautiful greenery and blue water.

    Picton

    Picton

    We really liked Picton and its lay backed feel and gorgeous scenery. We drove on to Blenheim, which is a much more built up city about 30 minutes south of Picton. Then we drove on to Kaikoura, which is a great place to stay if travelling to Hamner Springs. It is just a small town by the sea.

    Day 13- Wednesday 13th October 2010

    This morning we took a look around Kaikoura and drove to a beautiful bay near the town, where we were able to see seals on the rocks. They are known as the New Zealand Fur Seal.

    Fur Seals

    Fur Seals

    We drove on to Hamner Springs today. Unfortunately I’m in a rush to get this blog up, so i will have to fill you in on the rest later.

    Day 14- Thursday 14th October 2010

    We took our camper van back today. First of all we checked into the So Hotel in Christchurch, to get rid of our bags. There were no problems with the camper, it just took two minutes to get it looked over, then we walked back to our hotel.

    We have really enjoyed travelling around the South Island. At first we didn’t know weather we would get to see the South Island as well, but we’re so glad that we did. The South Island is just stunning and it would have been such a shame to miss it out.

    It was great to be back in a hotel. We didn’t realise how tired we were. The hotel was fantastic. It has everything you need. The room was small, but cosy. There was free Wifi, a gym, free Mac’s to use downstairs, restaurant and laundry facilities.

    We stayed in Christchurch from 14th-18th October. We are now back in Auckland and we fly to Quito tomorrow (Thursday 21st October) afternoon. We can’t believe how fast time is going. We have just 6-7 weeks left now until we return to the UK.

    We will up date you as soon as possible about our arrival in Quito,

    Paul and Ruth :)

    Ecuador

    Day 1 and a Stolen Camera-Arriving in Quito, Ecuador

    23rd October 2010

    We got a flight from Auckland to Quito on Thursday 21st October. We left Auckland at 5pm (NZ Local time) and we arrived in Quito at 9pm on October 21st. We had a stop over in Santiago (Chile) and we also touched down in Guayaquil (Ecuador). We were so tired when we arrived in Quito as we’d been travelling for a total of 22 hours. It was so confusing arriving in Quito just 4 hours later than when we left Auckland, because of the time difference.

    Our flight into Chile was beautiful, taking us over the Andes. We wished that we had booked a few nights in Santiago now, but we didn’t think about it at the time.

    We were a little bit nervous about arriving in Ecuador as we’d been back in the Western world for 4 months (Australia and New Zealand). We loved our time in Asia and we were sad when it came to leave. At first we found it strange being in Australia as we were no longer being starred at and things were ‘normal’ again. I guess we missed the unfamiliarity of Asia. However after a few days went by, you start to slip back and relax. It was nice having 4 months where we could just enjoy every place we went to and most of the time, feel fairly safe.

    We decided to do a lot of research about South America, just so we could be prepared for things that may happen when we are there. So we both felt pretty prepared for the situations that we could be in.

    Arriving in Quito was actually quite a breeze. We got off the plane and went through passport control with no problem. You get a 90 visa on arrival (free of charge) if you are from the UK and Ireland and several other places…check projectvisa.com for more information. You are given a stamp on arrival with the date marked in your passport.

    We had a hotel booked, as we knew we were arriving late, so we got a pre-paid taxi to our hotel. There is a cash machine just outside of the airport and the taxi booth is just on the inside, as you come out of baggage claim. The local currency is the US dollar. You pay for the taxi at the booth and then they show you to your taxi. We had read a few scams that go on with taxi’s. One is that they tell you that the taxi is broken down and ask if you will help get out and push it-then they drive off with your bags in the taxi! Well lucky for us we arrived at the hotel fine.

    We are staying in the old town of Quito in a hotel called ‘Hotel Real Audiencia’. We are just staying here for a couple of nights as it’s a little expensive for what we can get here, but we wanted the first 2 nights to be comfortable. Our hotel is in a really nice location, with mountains around us and we are right near the square of the old town.

    We were both extremely tired when we got in so we got to sleep straight away. We woke up this morning at about 7.30am with banging headaches, we were unsure about weather it was just because we were tired, but then we remembered that Quito is actually over 9,000 ft above sea level. It says in a lot of the books we’ve read that you can suffer from Altitude sickness. We have both felt light headed all day, but I’m sure we’ll adjust soon. We’ve been drinking lot’s of water. It just feels like we are out of breath all the time.

    We decided to take an adventure out into the city today, but first we made sure we were all secure. Making sure we only had necessary things on us and that everything else was locked away. So we put our passports and money in the safe and all we took out with us was a little bit of cash (in my bra) and my small camera-which I tied around my waist. So we both felt pretty secure.

    First of all we went out to look around the old part of Quito. We loved all the narrow little streets, with brightly coloured buildings. I love all the sounds that you hear when you go to a new place. We could hear people shouting from stalls, cars beeping, trams with music playing from them, people selling fruit and veg.

    I’d forgotten how it felt to be starred at. We got used to it in Asia and didn’t mind in the end, but I guess even 6 months in Asia wasn’t enough to get me used to that feeling. As soon as we came out of our hotel it was like we were in the spot light. I thought maybe I could blend in after 8 months of tanning, but no!! haha. We stand out so much. I try not to take the map out so much, just so we can at least blend in a little.

    In the afternoon we got a trole (tram) from the old town to the new city of Quito. The trole just costs 25 cent per person, no matter where you are going in the city. The new city is where all the shopping centres are and high rise buildings (and Mc Donalds says Paul). We took a look around the shopping centres there and went to a couple of the markets to look at food prices. That is definitely a positive thins about Ecuador, the price of food is cheap again. You can get a meal for just £1-2 and a bottle of water is just 10-20 cent.

    We took the trole back to the old town. It was packed, we were literally like sardines in a can. I hate the feeling of being trapped in, and that’s exactly how it felt. We had 7 stops to go and it was getting more and more packed. I was holding onto my camera as that was the only valuable thing anyone could get from us. Paul felt a woman put her hand in his pocket, but luckily he had nothing in there. I was making sure I was holding the case of my camera as we were getting so close to people. We just had 1 more stop to go and I couldn’t wait to get off. I looked down at the case of my camera was open and the camera had gone!! I was so angry because I’d had my hand on it for the whole time. I couldn’t believe how still someone had managed to get into the case and get the camera without me noticing. I guess they are experts! I tried looking around to see if I noticed it on anyone, but of course they had probably got off by now! In the end I’m just annoyed at myself,  I guess I need to be even more careful! Luckily it only had a few photos on from today and we still have our better camera. I just don’t know how to succesfuly take the camera out without getting stolen and we want to take photos, so it’s a difficult one. Paul is in the process of trying to come up with a solution. He managed to lock the camera up so well that we couldn’t even get it out to take photos, haha. If you have any suggestions please let is know.

    So overall it’s a pretty good start to our time in South America! Let’s hope tomorrow is better!

    Ruth and Paul

    Word of the day= Ladrón! Thief

    TelefériQo Quito, Pichincha Volcano

    26th October 2010

    We are starting to get used to the Altitude and seem to be getting less headaches. For the first 3 days we had banging headaches and we were finding it hard to breathe. The body can cope with up to 8,000 ft, but we are over 9,000 ft.

    Since having 1 of our camera’s stolen, on a local bus on our first day, we have decided to take even more precaution. I am no longer wearing my wedding rings (Paul lost his anyway), I only take out a small amount of money and we only take the camera out if needed. It feels so good going out with no valuables, you feel a lot more free and it is easier to enjoy the day. One suggestion was given to us to buy disposable cameras when in busy areas, I know they are not as good, but its better than having our other camera stolen.

    We moved to a new hotel on Sunday, as it is half the price. We are now staying in the Alston Hotel, in between the old and new town.  The hotel is more basic than our last hotel, but it is only $29 (£18) a night and it has everything we need.

    Monday 25th we decided to check out the Teleférico. This is a cable car ride that takes you up the edge of Pichincha Volcano, which is an active Volcano.The highest peak is 15,696 ft. The cable car ride takes you to the Cruz Loma lookout which is at 13,400 ft.

    We decided to walk to the foothill of the Volcano, where you get the Cable Car. On google earth this walk only looked about 20 minutes from our hotel, but when you get closer it’s all up hill to the cable car, so in reality it took us more like 1 hour. It was a good work out, that’s for sure. No one else seemed to be walking it apart from us, and all the taxi’s were beeping us to see if we wanted a ride, maybe that would of been the easier option!

    Pichincha Volcano (TelefériQo)

    Pichincha Volcano (TelefériQo)

    The entrance ticket for the return on the cable car cost $8.50 for foreigners and $3 for locals. We were in a cable car with a mother and daughter from New York. Our ears were popping on the way up. The journey up takes about 20 minutes. By the time we got to the top we had gone from 8,850 ft to 13,400 ft. I was trying to grasp how high up we were. Well the empire state building is 1,250 ft, so we were the height of nearly 11 empire state buildings.

    This really is the best place to view the city as a whole, on a clear day you’d be able to see for miles in every direction. It was cloudy when we first got to the top but it started to clear up.

    At the top there is a small cafe and a shop but apart from that it’s just you, the other tourists and the scenery that goes on for miles. It is quite impressive looking out from such a height. You can climb a further 2,000 ft to the peaks of the volcano, but our ears weren’t up for it.

    Paul 13,400 ft above sea level-Up Pichincha Volcano

    Paul 13,400 ft above sea level-Up Pichincha Volcano

    How did this horse get up this high?

    How did this horse get up this high?

    Ruth-Pichincha Volcano

    Ruth-Pichincha Volcano

    We had a cable car all to ourself on the way back down. It was definatley worth waiting till a week day to go, because at the weekends they are meant to get really busy. There were only about 10 other people at the top, which was great.

    Heading back down in the cable car

    Heading back down in the cable car

    There are taxis always waiting around at the foothill and also a bus that costs $1 each, so you don’t need to worry about arranging transport. We decided to walk back anyway, as at least it was down hill this time!

    That’s all for now,

    Paul and Ruth

    Virgin of Quito and our visit to the Equator

    31st October 2010

    Tuesday 26th October we decided to climb up the hill in the Old Town to see the statue of the Virgin of Quito, which is located on top of El Panecillo hill.

    El Panecillo is a hill located in the middle west of the city at an altitude of about 3,016 metres (9,895 ft) above sea level. A monument to the Virgin Mary is located on top of El Panecillo and is visible from most of the city of Quito. In 1976, the Spanish artist Agustín de la Herrán Matorras was commissioned by the religious order of the Oblates to build a 41 metres (135 ft)–tall aluminum monument of a madonna, which was assembled on a high pedestal on the top of Panecillo. Made of approximately 7,000 pieces of aluminum, the monument was inaugurated on 28 March 1976, by the 11th archbishop of Quito, Cardinal Pablo Muñoz Vega.

    We decided to walk up to the statue instead of taking a taxi. The walk up to the statue was the most interesting part. When walking up to the monument, we passed by locals houses and small shops. We saw lot’s of homes on the hills that were like shanty homes. The more we walked up the hill, the more people stopped and starred, I guess they mustn’t get many tourists passing by.

    We passed by this girl who was about 2 years old. She was sat on her Mum’s and Dad’s knee, with a news paper in front of her. They were using the paper to teach her to read, I thought this was very cute.

    The higher we went up the more we able to see over the city. The buildings over the city are all different colours, red, yellow, pink, orange. We could also see may cathedrals around the city.

    The one thing I didn’t like about the walk up to the statue was the amount of dogs that come over barking at you. I don’t know who owned the dogs, they just seemed to be roaming free.

    After about 30 minutes of up hill walking, we finally got to the Virgin of Quito Statue.

    Virgin of Quito

    Virgin of Quito

    After about 5 minutes of being at the statue a thunder storm started. This was a great place to view it. We saw some amazing strikes of lightning right across the city and also close by to many in coming aeroplanes. This was more amazing than the statue that we had come to see.

    Wednesday 27th October we went to visit ‘Mitad Del Mundo’, translated as ‘Middle of the World’. This is where the line of the equator is and also a monument that was built to mark the equator.

    The Mitad del Mundo is located in the San Antonio parish of the canton of Quito, north of the center of Quito. The 30-meter-tall monument, built between 1979 and 1982, was constructed to mark the point where the equator passes through the country in the geodetic datum in use in Ecuador at that time. A line down the center of the east-facing staircase, and across the plaza, was meant to mark the equator, and countless tourists over the years have had their pictures taken straddling this line. In the modern datum of the World Geodetic System, which is used in GPS systems and computer mapping products like Google Earth, the equator is placed about 240 meters north of the marked line. This discrepancy is partially due to increased accuracy but primarily due to a different choice of mapping datum. Similarly, the line marking the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich in England is roughly 100 meters from the exact zero of longitude as indicated by GPS receivers.

    So even though this is where everyone goes to see the equator and get their pictures taken ect, it is actually 240 meters off the mark.

    We got to Mitad Del Mundo by bus from the city. First we took the yellow metro bus from ‘Ave America’ to Ofelia transfer station. Then we got a blue bus marked ‘Mitad Del Mundo’ on the front to the equator. This took about 1 1/2 hours in total and cost us 55 cent each.

    Mitad Del Mundo is completely  built up around tourism. As soon as we got off the bus we were bombarded by tour guides, asking us did we want a tour. The answer was of course no. So we set off and did what every other tourist does and got our picture standing on the line of the equator.

    Paul standing on the line of the equator

    Paul standing on the line of the equator

    It was pretty cool to be standing on the line of the equator, one foot on the southern hemisphere and the other on the northern hemisphere, but other than that there really isn’t much else to see. There are tourists shops and a few restaurants at the site, but of course the prices are high compared to anywhere else.

    Thursday 28th October we took a look around the old town of Quito. This is where you will find the narrow, colonial streets.

    Ruth walking in Old Town Quito

    Ruth walking in Old Town Quito

    According to UNESCO, Quito has the largest, best-preserved, and least-altered historic centre (320 hectares) in Latin America, despite several earthquakes. It was the first city that was inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage List, in 1978

    The old town is by far the nicest part of Quito. We visited many cathedrals and old buildings.

    Church and Convent of St. Francis

    Church and Convent of St. Francis

    Basílica del voto nacional

    Basílica del voto nacional

    Quito Centro Históric

    Quito Centro Históric

    This is just a quick over view of our first few days in Quito. We will write about our time in Otavalo very soon. We have just got back to Quito from Otavalo today, after spending Friday night there and going to a massive market, which is held there every Saturday.

    Ruth and Paul

    Otavalo Markets

    2nd November 2010

    Friday 29th October we got a bus from Quito North Bus station to Otavalo. We got a yellow metro from ‘Ave America’ to the transfer station and then we took a blue bus labelled ‘Ofeila’ to the North Bus station. It cost us 25 cent each to get to the North Bus station.

    As soon as we got off the bus at the North Bus Station we could hear people shouting ‘Otavalo’ Otavalo’ Otavalo’. So it was pretty straight forward finding the right ticket booth. We purchased our ticket to Otavalo which cost us $2 each for the 2 hour journey. All the buses are labelled on the front with their destination, so it is pretty straight forward.

    There are no specific bus times for the journey from Quito to Otavalo, they simply wait for the buses to fill up and then leave. Friday is a busy day so the bus filled up staright away. You are given a seat number on your ticket, but just as a warning they double book their seats at times, and some people end up standing up. Luckily no one was in our seat!

    The buses were very nice and comfortable. They have reclinable seats and there was even a tv on the bus. They played a film, however it was in Spanish.

    We set off to Otavalo at about 3pm. When the bus left the bus station it then stops along the way to pick up more locals. A few people were even standing up for the whole journey. Also every time the bus stopped at traffic lights people would get on to sell things like, water, sweets, dvds (fake) and other food items. Sometimes there were about 5 different people walking up the isles selling. It can become quite hectic.

    We got to Otavalo bus station at about 5pm. We decided to take a taxi to our hotel. We were staying in the Hostal Chasqui, which is just 10 minutes walk from the centre of Otavalo, and the markets. The hotel cost us $20 for the night. The hotel was really nice and the owners were extremely helpful. As soon as we were settled in the lady who worked there showed us where the markets were on the map and also informed us of other things to do in and around Otavalo. She was originally from Scotland, but moved to Otavalo 3 years ago and now lives there permanently.

    Otavalo is a largely indigenous town in the Imbabura Province of Ecuador.Has 30,965 inhabitants. The town, which is in a valley, is surrounded by the peaks of Imbabura 4,630m, Cotacachi 4,995m, and Mojanda volcanoes.

    The indigenous Otavaleños are famous for weaving textiles, usually made of wool (that is sometimes as black as a raven), which are sold at the famous Saturday market.

    We took a walk around the centre of Otavalo. The town is really beautiful, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. Tourism is becoming more and more popular here, because of the famous markets that they hold.

    So Saturday morning we woke at about 6am to go to the animal market that is held every Saturday from 7am to 10am in Otavalo. It is found near the Panamerican highway. Locals come to sell their sheep, cows, goats, pigs, guinea pigs, chickens, hens ect. It is held in a big field near the town of Otavalo. Once we got closer to the location of the market, we were able to use our ears to direct us!

    We found a near by bank that we sat on. We were able to see all the action up here and not have to be amongst the craziness. We had never seen anything like this before. So much was going on that we were constantly turning our heads to try and catch everything. By 7am the field was full of sellers with their animals and locals walking around the view the animals and decide which they would buy. People were also arriving all the time with new animals either in a truck or simply walking them with a string tied around them.

    Otavalo Animal Market

    Otavalo Animal Market

    Paul at the Otavalo animal market

    Paul at the Otavalo animal market

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    We noticed one man who bought a pig and then sold it on to someone else, he must of been good at haggling. At times the pigs would break out into a fight and some of the pigs broke free from their owners and they had to run after them. We got a short video of this.

    Notice the woman at the back slapping the pig, this made me laugh!

    We couldn’t seem to pull ourselves away from the animal market, it was just so fascinating, but we wanted to check out the other main market also. We decided to take a quick walk amongst the animal market before heading off. This was crazy and after just 5 minutes I wanted to get out. There were animals running all over and so many people trying to push by to buy an animal.

    We noticed people were calling over taxi’s to put their animals into the boot!

    Putting their hens into the taxi boot

    Putting their hens into the taxi boot

    We were trying to find out how much the locals were paying for these animals. We managed to catch one woman selling a pig and she got $100 for it.

    Checking the money is real

    Checking the money is real

    If you are in Otavalo make sure you check out the animal market on a Saturday morning from 7am to 10am. Most of the selling is complete by 8am so get their as early as possible.

    Next we went on to check out Otavalos main market which you will find on all the streets of Otavalo centre. It just keeps going on and on! We haven’t really bought much on our travels, as we didn’t want to be carrying it around with us, plus it gets costly. However we decided we would buy a few things as we only have 1 month left before we head home. The markets have so many things to choose from, most of which is hand made by the locals. You can get some really good deals, but you have to be prepared to haggle as they will start the prices really high. Also if you arrive in the mid afternoon when all the other tourists are around, they will be less prepared to put the prices down as other tourists will pay more!

    Paul had seen some nice chess sets in Quito, so decided he would look out for one on the markets. He finally found one he wanted. The lady wanted $15 for it but we managed to get it for $10.

    Chess Set

    Chess Set

    I also wanted to buy a musical instrument. I went to one stall where a local man was showing me how to play the different instruemnts. He had different varieties of pan pipes, and many other flute type instruments. After spending about 20 minutes playing the different intruments I settled on the Rondador which is a set of chorded bamboo pipes.

    The rondador is a set of chorded bamboo panpipes that produces two tones simultaneously. It consists of pieces of cane, placed side by side in order by size and closed at one end, and is played by blowing across the top of the instrument. The rondador is considered the national instrument of Ecuador.

    He had all different varieties of sizes and keys of all the instruments. He was able to play them all extremely well. It will take me a lot of practice!

    Rondador

    Rondador

    He wanted $15 for it, but I managed to get it down to $10. We bought a few other small gifts for people. I could of kept buying, but I had to stop myself. We always went lower with the first price they said, and funnily enough they never hesitated, which tells me we could of gone lower!

    We really enjoyed looking around the markets and wished that we’d planned to spend another day in Otavalo, but we had left our main bags in our hotel in Quito, so needed to head back.

    Otavalo is a great place to meet the indigenous people of South America. You will notice that the locals here wear the traditional clothes.

    Otavaleña women traditionally wear distinctive white embroidered blouses, with flared lace sleeves, and black or dark over skirts, with cream or white under skirts. Long hair is tied back with a 3cm band of woven multi coloured material, often matching the band which is wound several times round their waists. They usually have many strings of gold beads around their necks, and matching tightly wound long strings of coral beads around each wrist. Men wear white trousers, and dark blue ponchos.

    Paul walking around Otavalo Market

    Paul walking around Otavalo Market

    We took a bus back to Quito at about 3pm. We just went to the Otavalo bus station and as soon as we got there the bus to Quito was ready to leave, which was lucky for us!

    Today we are heading to Manta, along the west coast of Quito. We are looking forward to a few days of relaxation at some of the beaches along the west coast.

    We will be taking a 9 hour bus journey from Quito to Manta, with a bus company called Panamericana Internacional. The bus leaves at 10.30 pm and gets us to Manta at about 7am. We will keep you up to dated about our arrival in Manta as soon as possible.

    Ruth and Paul

    Manta, Ecuador

    15th November 2010

    We decided we wanted to have a few days relaxing on the coast of Ecuador. We checked out of the Alston Hotel in Quito on Tuesday 2nd November at 9pm. The bus station was just a 5 minute walk from our hotel, so we were able to just walk there. We had read about many buses that go to Manta from Quito and the best reviews were for Panamericana buses, so we decided to go with them.

    panamericana-bus

    panamericana-bus

    The 9 hour bus journey from Quito to Manta cost us $10 each. The bus was extremely comfortable with reclining seats. They also play a movie on the bus, which is in Spanish and they give you a drink along the way.

    We were a little nervous about the bus journey, as we had read so many nightmare situations, where people had their bags stolen. We just made sure we were extra careful, keeping valuables in our money belt and keeping our back packs on our knee. The big bags go under the bus and you are given a tag too show that’s your bag. Luckily we had no problems what so ever, and we arrived the next morning with all our possessions!

    The bus drops you off at the Panamericana bus office in Manta, which is just a 5 minute walk from the coast. We hadn’t booked a hotel, so we had to go looking for a hotel. This wasn’t such a wise idea, after spending a whole night on a bus and not getting much sleep. We finally found a really nice hotel, that was above our budget, but we decided to take it for the night, as we were so tired. The hotel was called Los Almendros Hotel and Spa. The room was $70 a night for a double room. This was way above what we wanted to pay, but the room was extremley nice, so I guess we just couldn’t resist!

    As soon as we got into the hotel we crashed. It was so nice to be in a comfy bed again. We slept for about 5 hours. Once we woke up we decided to take a walk along the coast. The beach was just 5 minutes walk from our hotel.

    There are lot’s of restaurants and shops along the sea front. We took a short walk, but didn’t go too far as we were still feeling fairly tired. Our first impressions of the coastal area at Manta, were just ok. There is quite a lot of rubbish around and the sand was no where near as nice as some of the sands we’ve seen on this trip! However it was nice to be away from the hustle and bustle of Quito.

    We stayed in Manta until Sunday 7th November. We spent our few days there just relaxing by the beach. We moved to another hotel called the Albatross Hotel on 5th November for 2 nights. This hotel was just $40 a night and had a swimming pool. I’d definitely recommend this hotel. The staff were extremely friendly and the rooms were basic but very nice and clean. Also we were just 5-10 minutes walk from the beach and it was great having a swimming pool in the hotel.

    Manta Beach

    Manta Beach

    We also watched a parade in Manta one day. I’m not sure exactly what it was in aid of, but it seemed to be a parade for different regions in the area. They had a beauty queen for each area, leading the parade.

    Parade in Manta

    Parade in Manta

    We got a bus back from Manta to Quito on Sunday 7th November. We then got a flight on Tuesday 9th November from Quito to Lima. When you leave Quito airport you have to pay $40 per person to leave the airport. You are not told this when booking flights, in fact the flights say ‘all taxes included’. We flew with LAN airlines to Lima. The flight was 2 hours long, leaving at 9.15am.

    When we arrived in Lima we got a pre-paid taxi from the airport to our hotel in Miraflores. We were checked into the Kusillus Hostal, 30 minutes drive from the airport. This area is very built up and is the main tourist area of Lima. It is in a great location, right by the coast.

    Paul-Lima Coast-Miraflores

    Paul-Lima Coast-Miraflores

    We will write more about our time in Lima very soon.

    We are currently in Cusco, Peru.

    Ruth and Paul

    Argentina

    The end of a fantastic 10 months!

    2nd December 2010

    I can’t believe how fast the last 10 months have gone! Today is the last day of our travels. We set off from the UK on 3rd February 2010 and arrived in our first destination New Delhi. Arriving in India was a big shock to both of us. Although my parents had been and we’d heard many stories about the poverty there and way of living, it didn’t hit us until we actually arrived there. Although we had a great time in India, at the time I was also looking forward to leaving, as it felt so draining there. The funny thing is now it’s the one place I actually want to go back to. I am interested to know how we would deal with things a second time round.

    I want to write a detailed blog on my thoughts on the whole trip, but right now we are rushing to catch our flight, so I must keep this brief.

    We have both had an amazing year. We have seen so much, yet feel there is also so much more to see! We have enjoyed learning about different cultures and seeing the many beautiful places that there are in the world. It has been a year of learning, not only about the world but also about ourself and each other. We look forward to exploring more of the world in the future:)

    We are just about to head off to Buenos Aires (Argentina) airport. Our flight from Buenos Aires to Manchester leaves at 1:15pm local time (4:15pm GMT). First we fly to Sao Paulo, then we fly to London Heathrow, then finally Manchester. If the flights aren’t delayed at all (which I have a feeling they may be, due to snow) then we should arrive in Manchester airport at 9:55am on Friday 3rd December.

    We look forward to seeing all our family and friends very soon!

    I will write a more detailed blog when I get home and also write up about our time in Peru, Machu Pichhu and Buenos Aires.

    Ruth and Paul