A Travellerspoint blog

Summer in the USA

New York and Washington D.C.

sunny 30 °C

As my taxi barrelled down the highway to the airport, I couldn't help but think how incredibly lucky I am.
I was leaving on another holiday, having completed my second year of teaching in China and I was going to America for the first time ever!
So far, in the last 2 years, I've travelled around China where I'm inordinately lucky to live, I've been to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and America, and over the next year I'm going to Japan and India!

The first flight from Zhengzhou to Seoul was ok, Korean Air is comfortable enough and even though the trip was only 2 hours, I got a pretty good meal.
The issues began once I reached South Korea...

I had no money, so I asked where I could find an ATM and was informed that I had to go outside - on the plus side, I now have a south Korea stamp in my passport ^_^

After several attempts to withdraw some money, without success, I realised that once again, my bank had frozen my account.
Normally, this happens when I already have some money to pay for the international call to my bank, however on this occasion, I only had 50 yuan which, when converted, wasn't enough to even buy a phone card!

I painfully inserted coin after coin into the pay phone, got connected to my bank for a whole 10 seconds before the money ran out.
This happened a further 3 or 4 times before the cashier refused to give me any more coins.
I used what little change I had left to buy a pretzel and a bottle of water before giving up entirely.

I did get a free foot massage though which was nice!

5 hours later, I got onto my connecting flight and began my trip the wrong way around the world to the USA.

After a tediously long 13 hour flight with very little sleep and poorly edited films done and dusted, I topped up my UK phone online which now had signal and called my bank.
They unfroze my card while I was on the tarmac at JFK and by the time I'd discussed how short my little fingers are in comparison to my other fingers with the nice immigration officers, I found an ATM, hailed a cab and began my USA trip!

Now those of you who now me well enough will know, probably from personal experience, that I'm a natural mimic, especially of other people's accents... needless to say, when I asked where the ATM was, the NYC accent seeped into my brain, so much so, that when I told the taxi driver where I was going he said, "welcome back"...

Hanna Mantle: Citizen of the World!

I finally arrived at Shelly's house in Queens (after a somewhat uncomfortable conversation with my Bangledeshian driver about how much he hates his wife) to Shelly's mum, a hot shower and an air-conditioned room.

Over 24 hours later and 3 different time zones, I had arrived in New York! Boom!

I stayed awake until 1am to see Shelly when she got in from work and we had a little catch-up before going to bed.

By the time I'd woken up, Shelly had already left for work again and I had a hair appointment to get to!
I ordered a taxi and made my way to "Touch of Brazil" where another Michelle was waiting for me!
She was lovely and really looked after me.
I got highlights and a cut and it felt nice being able to actually discuss my hair with the person cutting it, unlike in China!

I desperately needed to buy some new clothes so I went down Steinway to the street of shops...
Oh my!
With my hair cut and that damn street, I must have spent at least $300!

I made my way back to Shelly's to await the arrival of Matt who arrived safe and sound around 3.30pm.
We had a brief catch-up, got ready and headed into Manhattan on the subway to meet Shelly at work.
We went to Pier 81 and got on the restaurant boat where Shelly works, went for a 30 minute cruise and had some dinner before heading to Union Square to meet Tanya for drinks.

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Union Square is a strange, eclectic mix of types of people - hipsters and street performers, students and working people enjoying a break in the setting sun, and people eagerly awaiting an opponent for their chess game, set up with crates and stools and even office chairs to sit on and enjoy a game.

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We went to the oldest pub in NYC where they only sold light and dark ales and I managed to go to the toilet in the men’s...!

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We walked around a little more until we went into a seemingly innocuous hot-dog shop until Mish stepped inside a phone booth in the shop, picked up the receiver and pressed a button when all of a sudden, the back of the phone booth opened, revealing a speak-easy from the prohibition era!
Very cool.
We waited for a few minutes before being seated in a booth in the living-room sized bar, hidden away from the rest of society.
The drinks were so strong we could only sip them and then moved on to the next place.
We stopped at the Sin Palace to check out the decor, only to be accosted by a drunk man who insisted he was from Liverpool and liked kissing strangers on the neck apparently...!
(I can still feel his stubble!)

We ended up in a Dominican and Mexican restaurant, Matt and I being the only Caucasians in there and had midnight nachos before clambouring into a cab and heading home.

The next day we woke up late but early enough to enjoy pancakes, crispy bacon and eggs over easy for breakfast and then went to Metro PCS to get me an American phone for my travels.
We bought some snacks and then made our way to Chinatown to get the bus to Washington D.C.

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After 5 or 6 hours we arrived in D.C, went to our hotel, and then made our way to the White House.

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D.C. is so different to New York, a third of the people and so clean it was almost like nobody went outside.
We walked around the lit up monuments surrounding the White House until pangs of hunger overwhelmed us, so we made our way to Adams Morgan to get some food and drinks.
We went to a soul food bar called Madam's Organ and it was amazing.
The decor looked like the inside of my wildest imagination; dark reds and blacks, random items handing from the ceiling and the walls, dark, shadowy corners with little tea-lights providing minimal light and crooked staircases leading to tiny balconies.
We order dinner and enjoyed cocktail and the live band before admitting defeat and heading back to our comfy hotel beds for some much needed rest.

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The next day, we checked out of our swanky apartment and headed for the open-top bus tour. My bag was so heavy, still not sure why, so the bus was a welcome break from carrying it around.

We travelled around D.C. learning interesting information and hopping off and back on again whenever we felt like exploring things a bit closer.
We even got a free ticket to Madam Tussauds with our bus ticket, so we went to have a look and took some pictures with our new friends.

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We stopped for a bagel and to see Mr. Lincoln before heading to Chinatown for sushi and Chinese food (of which I ate only Sushi as Chinese food is my normal food every day!)

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We waited for the bus back to NYC and all 3 of us pretty much passed out until the bus got to Philadelphia and we perked up a bit until reaching NYC.

On Sunday, Michelle had to work a double so Matt and I ventured our alone.
We stopped at a cafe on 52nd st near the subway and had Philly Cheesesteaks for lunch - oh my yummy!
We then hopped on the subway into Manhattan and up to the National History Museum.
We got a little confused with the express trains but eventually got to the museum 2.5 hours before it closed.
The most confusing layout of a museum, ever!
We gave up trying to use the map and just walked around until we found something of interest.

When we left the museum, we were opposite Central Park, so we grabbed a hot-dog and a giant pretzel and entered the most beautiful inner-city park I've ever seen.
Green and water as far as the eye could see, the tops of building only just visible overhead.
We found the Angel fountain and the Home Alone bridge and Matt got selected to participate in a street performance act - so good!

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After walking around Central Park for hours, we got on the nearest subway and headed to Times Square.
Holy moly, that was a busy area!

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We bought some postcards and souvenirs, including some very fetching "I love NYC" jammies for me before attempting dinner at the Olive Garden.
It was so busy that we gave up and decided instead to try and get to Little Italy, which also proved too difficult without Michelle to guide us, so we stopped in "Hoomoos" and had a quick bite for dinner before heading back to Queens.

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I had the most mouth-watering falafel and humus pita, I can't even describe how tasty it was!
Everyone deserves to eat this food at some point in their lives.
Amazing.

Monday came and went without much to report.
We had a lie-in, then Mish went to work so Matt and I had bagels and cannolies then chilled out.
We all went for pizza at an Italian place near Mish's house and had an early night.

The next day we ventured out to the Bronx to visit the zoo - it is truly incredible that there is so much green and land not occupied by buildings in New York.
The zoo was great, quite a trek as you walk around the whole place (and it's huge!).
All of the enclosures are big, green and open and the animals look healthy and well-cared for.
As zoos go, I was really impressed with the treatment of the animals, less so with the prices of food and drink, but it's to be expected.
Overall, a definite trip for all ages.

In the evening, we met up with Shelly's friend Gallie at Caracas in Williamsburg and had the best plantains I've ever eaten and these amazing arepas which were like goodness stuffed corn bread pouches! mmmmmmm! So good.

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We then went to a rooftop bar in the Wythe Hotel and took in the fantastic views of Manhattan at night, before walking around Williamsburg, taking in the hipster collective that has gentrified Williamsburg and created a hipster ghetto!
We went to a gay bar with barely anyone in it before heading back to the main street to enjoy our first ever tacos from a taco truck and a disgracefully chocolaty milkshake (which I later regurgitated..... stupid lactose intolerance!)
We had a sleepy taxi ride home and crawled into bed.
Good times!

We’d pre-booked tickets to the Statue of Liberty online, so after a quick breakfast, we jumped on the 7 train to Times Square, transferred to the 1 train to South Ferry and walked the short distance to the cruise ships.
We passed through security with ease and made our way onto the top deck of the boat.

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As we approached Liberty Island we snapped away, taking in the glory of Lady Liberty before docking and collecting our free audio tours for a closer, more in-depth experience.
I love audio tours, you can do everything at your own pace, skip things and choose extra options to listen to.
I found it particularly interesting that women were not allowed to attend the unveiling ceremony of this magnificent structure, despite the fact that this 93 metre high statue signified freedom and liberty and is of course, a woman…

After admiring Lady Liberty, we got back on the ferry and headed to Ellis Island to try and find any ancestors who came to America – I found a potential family member, but it probably isn’t!

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I enjoy the idea that we could have relatives all over the world and none of us know about each other; keeps things interesting!
We stopped for food before getting on the ferry one last time to go back to Manhattan.

We hopped back on the 1 train and went to the 9/11 memorial, Wall Street and the Stock Exchange.
I like to think that the giant, perpetually revolving water of the 9/11 memorial signifies the constant movement but ultimate reincarnation of life and that people can never truly be gone or forgotten as they are reborn and re-join our lives over and over again.
That might just be me, but I take comfort in that notion.

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Once again, we headed to the waterfront, this time to get on the Staten Island Ferry as we went to watch the Yankees play baseball!
It seemed fitting that we partake in this American pastime, plus we got a free cap, bobble head, Yankee Stadium figurine, a hot dog and a drink with the ticket AND I got a baseball from the game!
BASEBALL! USA! ETC…!

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About half way through the game, the heavens opened and a killer thunderstorm was unleashed above us, effectively ending the game, and forcing us to wearily make our way back to Shelly’s where we promptly crawled into bed and went to sleep!
The following day, we enjoyed another American pastime – going to the Laundromat! ^_^

Everyone should go to the Laundromat! $3 to do all your washing and drying?
Bargain.
We waited for Mish to get her nails done and then we rented a car for a few hours with Zipcars – you can rent a car from them hourly and it’s not very expensive at all, we went for Greek food and then went to Roosevelt Island between Queens and Manhattan.

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We walked from one end to the other, saw the northern lighthouse and the abandoned smallpox hospital at the southern point.
From Roosevelt Island we could see the PepsiCola sign in the distance and decided to try to get to it.
We found it in Long Island City and walked around there for a while before heading back.

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Mish let me practise driving an automatic on the let (which I’d never done) in preparation for when I would rent a car here later on and it was breeze.
I’ve missed driving!
We gave the car back and then went with Mish’s mum to a Colombian restaurant in Jackson Heights where we all shared 2 plates as they were so huge!

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Portion size here is out of control!
We walked back to Mish’s and say on the front porch for an hour just talking and enjoying the cool night air before bed.

Friday morning, Matt and I put on our walking shoes, grabbed a bagel and got on the 7 train to Manhattan.
We got off at Grand Central to take some photos and then went down to 33rd street to get to the Empire State building.
We knew to get there early and it’s lucky that we did!
We arrived around 10am and it was already quite busy but when we left around 11.30, people were queueing out the door!
We got tickets for both the 86th and 102nd observatories and the views were truly spectacular.
Matt and I are now members of the 102 elite; or so the elevator informed us, not like some weird sex thing.
Unfortunately, there was no King Kong but we later found him chilling in the gift shop.

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After we left the Empire State building, we made the arduous trek up 5th Avenue…!
So. Many. Pretties…!
We had 2 missions – find the Apple Store for Matt and Tiffanys for me!
I bought a beautiful little necklace with the Tiffanys lock on it and squealed like a little girl when she handed me that turquoise gift bag with the turquoise box and white ribbon inside.
I’ve never been very girly, but when I had that gift bag in my and, I felt like Audrey Hepburn!
It was love at first sparkle!

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We went to the Apple Store so Matt could buy an IPad and had to swiftly leave before I did the same!

We grabbed a sandwich in this narrow but amazing coffee shop where I bought a man his coffee as it was cash only and he only had his card, hopefully he paid it forward like he promised!

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We sat in Central Park and ate our lunch then began the trek to Macy’s, past the Plaza hotel and some dandelion fountains until we saw it; Macy’s!
I just wanted something from Macy’s so I bought a scarf in the sale which I got a further 10% off just for being a tourist and some make-up from the Benefit counter before running away from the expensive pretties!

Matt wanted to go to the highline which is a disused railway line that has been converted into a walkway garden.

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So we went there and walked along this natural overpass above the city bustle below, blissfully enjoying the shade that buildings and plants provided before heading back to Shelly’s for a rest.

We chilled at home for a few hours or so before getting ready and heading back into Manhattan to Theatre Row to watch Naked Boys Singing.
We were thoroughly impressed – it was excellent!
7 beautiful guys in all their natural beauty singing a mix of heartfelt ballads and comical gems. Fun was had by all!

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The next day was a chilled day, I went to the shop to buy a hung-over Mish some ice tea and ginger ale and then we had a big BBQ on the porch with Sangria and just relaxed into the evening with a new, furry friend.
In the morning, we met up with Gallie for IHOP breakfast…… oh my pancakes!
They really shouldn’t write the calories for each dish on the menu…!
Your whole daily allowance in one meal!

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After breakfast, we went to the cinema to watch Maleficent – so good!
Mish went to work so Matt and I headed to Bushwick for a free music festival only to arrive and find there was nothing happening. Sad face.

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Monday came around again with Matt and I venturing to Brooklyn to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.
We walked up through Chinatown and into Little Italy for lunch.

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After spaghetti meatballs and cocktails, we ventured uptown a little further to Central Park and stopped into Eve’s Garden to buy some toys unavailable (without embarrassment in China) then went into Central Park to try and find the zoo… which was closing in half and hour…! Boo!
We admitted defeat and headed back to Michel’s, ordered some sushi and vegged out for the evening.

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On Tuesday, we went for breakfast, then got on the subway for the long journey to Coney Island.
Now I know why it took the Warriors from the seminal 1979 movie so long to get home, and we weren’t even being chased by rival gangs!
We arrived in Coney Island and were greeted by the most classic Theme Park I’ve ever seen; Wonderwheel, a ghost train, games to win toys (competed in successfully by us, I might add!) and seconds away from the boardwalk and beach.

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We stayed and played for hours, had Nathan’s famous hot dogs for lunch and continued playing until around 5pm.

We stopped in a cool artsy store and bought some things before getting back on the subway and napping until we got to downtown Brooklyn, changed trains, hopped in a transfer shuttle bus and got back on the train into Queens. Matt and I got off one stop early for Wendy’s (an apparent ‘must-have’ dining experience!) then walked back to Shelly’s to find Gary (Shelly’s now husband, but fiancé at the time!) had arrived safely from Ireland!
Matt left the following day, so Mish, Gary and I went to the Cinema and then I left early the next morning…

Posted by Lady Mantle 20:37 Archived in USA Tagged new_york baseball chinatown nyc manhattan grand_central_station williamsburg lighthouse statue_of_liberty brooklyn little_italy brooklyn_bridge washington_dc ellis_island pancakes sushi queens central_park falafel empire_state_building union_square bagels lincoln_memorial sunnyside macys hipsters the_white_house the_capital 5th_avenue tiffanys the_natural_history_museum speak_easy_nyc ny_yankees staten_island liberty_island coney_island warriors_1979 zoltar bronx_zoo hoomoos zipcars roosevelt_island smallpox_hospital western_food taco_truck ihop philly_cheesesteak touch_of_brazil steinway 7_train i_love_nyc Comments (1)

Vietnamese Cooking... the recipes!

I apologise for the wait....!

As promised, here are the recipes and instructions for the food we learned how to make at cafe 43.

Steamed Chicken in Banana Leaf

1 tsp smashed ginger
1/2 white onion
1/4 red pepper
bunch spring onions
small handful of sesame seeds
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1 tsp garlic
1 x tin foil piece
1 x banana leaf
200g chicken fillet - thin slices, no bones.

1. Add the garlic, pepper, salt and sugar to the chicken and mix together - leave for 3 minutes
2. Slice red pepper into thin slices.
3. Quarter, then halve the onion and peel each slice
3. In 2 tsp oil (coconut or olive), add the ginger and stir for few seconds.
4. Add the chicken and stir for 1 minute.
5. Add the onion slices and red pepper slices and cook for 3 minutes
6. Put mixture into the centre of the banana leaf
7. Add the spring onions and sesame seeds
8. Fold leaf from corner to centre x 4
9. Wrap banana leaf parcel in tin foil
10. Steam it for 5 minutes on top of another banana leaf/in a wicker (duck pancake) steamer.

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Papaya Salad

1 cup of mint
1/2 cup of peanuts
1/2 cup of fried onion bits
1 tsp ginger
1/2 lemon
1/2 green mango
1/4 green papaya
1/2 carrot
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
3 1/4 tsp sugar
100g minced shrimp (chopped very small)

1. Add garlic, pepper, salt and sugar (1/4) to shrimp
2. 2 tbsp oil in the pan - add the shrimp mixture - stir for 3 minutes
3. Grate carrot and papaya into long slices
4. Wash and drain
5. Add 3 tsp sugar, ginger and lemon juice to carrot and papaya - leave for 3 minutes
6. Peel skin from 1/2 mango and grate like carrot and papaya
7. Squeeze excess liquid from papaya and carrots
8. Add shrimp mixture, mit, onion and peanuts to the remaining ingredients and mix together gently

  • Tip - Use some prawn crackers as bowls and enjoy

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and the main event!

Pork filled fried squid

1 x squid (whole, with innards removed and washed)
1/2 white onion
1/4 carrot
bunch of spring onions
100g minced pork
chopped garlic
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
vegetable oil

1. Add garlic, pepper, salt, and sugar to pork - mix - leave for 4 minutes

  • KEEP THE FOLLOWING SEPARATE*

2. Cut and dice onion into thin slices
3. Cut and dice carrot into thin slices
4. Chop small spring onion

5. 2 tbsp vegetable oil into hot pan
6. Add pork mixture and stir for 1 minute
7. Add white onion and carrot
8. Cook until soft and then add spring onion
9. Stir for 3 minutes on a low heat
10. Using a long-handled teaspoon, spoon pork mixture inside the squid and push down (tight!)

  • The squid is super slippery, so nails help to grip it!*

11. Use 2 toothpicks to close (should look like $ from a birdseye view!)
12. 2 tbsp oil into pan and add squid - medium heat
13. Turns brown on cooking side, turn over to brown other side
14. Serve on bed of lettuce and cut the top of the squid (with scissors) into slices but not all the way through!
15. It should look a little like sushi rolls, as long as it was compacted enough before shallow frying.

  • Tip - make a dipping sauce out of 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp salt, and the juice of a small lime!

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Yummy!

Posted by Lady Mantle 08:08 Archived in Vietnam Tagged food travel vietnam travelling hoi_an foreigners cafe_43 cooking_course stuffed_squid papaya_salad vietnamese_recipes vietnamese_pork_stuffed_squid squid_recipe steamed_chicken banana_leaf_recipe Comments (0)

Vietnam

Mui Ne, Hoi An (and My Son, Hoi An)

semi-overcast 25 °C

It was dark when we arrived at the bus office in Mui Ne, barely any lights were on in nearby buildings and the only people that seemed to be around were those that had been on the bus with us or were waiting to get on.
A little walk down the road was all it took to find our hostel.
The dozing guard soon regained consciousness to open the petite, I suspect merely decorative, waist-high gate and showed us to the reception.
We collected our door and locker keys and were shown to our very crowded 12 bed room, trying to make as little noise as possible to not wake our new roommates.
The next day, nearly everyone had checked out so we got some lunch in a restaurant across the road then headed to the pool, metres away from the beach.

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We stayed there basically all afternoon, indulding in juvenile swimming challenges and just chilling out.
We made friends with two lovely ladies from England, Alison and Becks, and spent the remainder of our time in Mui Ne hanging out with them and one of there friends.

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We had dinner, breakfast and then dinner again with them and didn't do much else!
More hours at the pool were logged than anything else, and then we all left on the same day.
There wasn't masses to do in Mui Ne, at least not where we were, but we appreciated that.

Hoi An

We got on the bus to Hoi An on the Monday at 1pm and arrived Tuesday morning around 6am.
We had a nap midday as we didn't get a lot of sleep on the over-night bus, then we went out for some food.
Our hostel gave us a map and we were off.

The streets of Hoi An reminded me of a place I went to in Beijing, only pretty much every shop was for tailor made clothes or shoes!

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Ricky found some cowboy boots that he wanted made to measure, and I found a beautiful, Chinese style top that I too had tailor-made just for me.
It's quite a novelty having clothes made specifically for you.
It's not the same when you do it yourself!

We booked a tour of My Son for the following day and arranged a cooking course across the road in Cafe 43 for after, and then we met up with a new friend and had dinner together.

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After we were made aware of some issues with Ricky's Chinese visa, it put a dark cloud over our visit, but nevertheless we went to our cooking course anyway and were taught and made Pork Stuffed Squid, Banana Leaf Baked Chicken and Papaya Salad.... yummy!
(Recipe and instructions to follow in another blog!)

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My back was hurting so I went for a massage, and although relaxing, resulted in a massive peeling symptom to occur as I got sunburned pretty badly in Mui Ne :(

Oh well, went to Moe's Tavern for a drink and some pool to top off an overall quite enjoyable day.

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Hoi An may well be my favourite place in Vietnam!

Posted by Lady Mantle 05:51 Archived in Vietnam Tagged temples mui_ne hoi_an my_son tailor_made_clothes moe's_tavern cafe_43 cooking_course stuffed_squid banana_leaf_chicken papaya_salad boat_trips japanese_bridge Comments (0)

Vietnam

(Sorry for the delay!)

sunny 30 °C

We got royally screwed by a taxi driver, paying $7 instead of the $1.50 it should have cost, but we were greeted with smiles and open arms by The Town House 50E hostel, Ho Chi Minh City - very nice after a long journey!

We put our stuff away and showered before we got talking to Johnny (friendliest, most kind and helpful employee I've ever encountered).
He helped us to book an open bus ticket so we could get up Vietnam, getting on and off at our chosen destinations/pre-booked accommodation; he helped us to book a tour to the Cu Chi Vietcong Tunnels which gave us the Vietnamese account of the intrusion of American forces.
We befriended a lovely couple who became our day-trip buddies which was fun.

Naturally we went to a factory place before we got to the Cu Chi Tunnels, to buy a drink or a snack or perhaps an 8ft carving.....?!
As tedious as these planned shopping opportunities were, this place and the skills required to create these beautiful pieces was quite interesting.

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When we first arrived at the Cu Chi Tunnels, we watched a short documentary about the war.
Obviously we were brought up knowing about the Vietnam war, but it was incredibly interesting to hear the other side of the story.
This video spoke about war heroes of Vietnam based on how many American intruders were killed.
It described how these simple villagers used their farming and land knowledge to lay animal traps for the American troops and after the video concluded, we were shown some of these traps!
They are quite brutal (naturally!), but when untrained 'soldiers' were facing highly adept troops, the designs of these traps were truly revolutionary in warfare.

Bamboo was fully utilised providing hidden underground spikes under moving boards; ventilation and airways in man-made anthills for the tunnels they lived in underground; and as crockery to cook and store sticky rice. By using the forest they'd lived in their whole lives, they knew how to survive, protect themselves and avoid getting killed - they even cannabolised the US bombs and shells to make new weapons.

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Ricky bravely went in a hidden hole into the tunnels that I wouldn't have got a leg in and secured the camouflaged roof above him.
We didn't even know it was there until our guide pulled off the top!

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We walked around (on the path, for fear of unrecovered landmines!) lerning more information as we did so. There was an opportunity to fire an M16 or AK47, but neither of us was so inclined as the noise was unsettling enough!

We made our way to the tunnel entrance and descended into the dimly lit chamber preceeding the tunnel itself.
It was small, stupid remark I know, but it was.
I thought we'd have to crawl but we ended up doing weird half stoop/half dog-on-it's-bum shuffling.
I had my knees bent a little and my back was brushing the roof of the tunnel.
I managed to go a whole 20 metres before imagining scenarios of my getting trapped and dying before escaping up top through a side tunnel.
Ricky and our day-trip friends "mmm" and Adrian continued and apparently it got quite squeezy in some places.
I'm still proud of my 20 metres with nothing but the torch I luckily had in my bag, (I probably wouldn't have fit a few years ago!)

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After the full 200 metre tunnel system available to tourist, Ricky, Mmm and Adrian emerged, hot, sweaty and a little dusty, but generally not too worse for wear!

We walked back to the minibus contemplating the lives these people must have lived underground, knowing that in this day and age, we wouldn't be able to.

We got back to Saigon and said goodbye to our day-trip friends before heading back to the hostel to wait for the bus to Mui Ne.
We left around 8.30pm and arrived in Mui Ne at 1.30am......

Posted by Lady Mantle 23:18 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam bamboo ho_chi_minh_city traps cu_chi_tunnels vietcong the_town_house_50e Comments (0)

Siem Reap (Cambodia)

Into the jungle, into the temples of Angkor and into the shoes of Lara Croft....

sunny 35 °C

Oh my night bus!
We booked a sleeper bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap (11.5 hrs) from 8pm at $19 each...
After some very poor (but stereotypically Asian) management, we found 2 "beds" together and nestled in for the night.

To describe our arrangement as slave-ship-like was not untoward.
It was like a human-traffickers wet-dream.
2 to a bed, approximately 24 beds (so 48 people) all lying down with an incline of the equivalent of two pillows jutting upwards at the head of the bed; aircon-circle-thingies pointing in every direction except where we wanted them; the smells of the onboard "luxury" toilet (which may as well have been a hole looking down to the erratically passing "tarmac") and peoples' foot odour kept wafting around; the gentlemen in front of me not fully comprehending the "sleep" concept of "sleeping" bus by using a torch to read a book - the type of torch used to find Rose on that door after the Titanic sank, a torch which lit up the bus like the 4th of July; and of course, the moth-eaten, damp and musty smelling blanket that provided less warmth than an ant's fart could provide wind.

However, contrary to popular Cambodian locals' belief, we in fact did not die in a firey, horrendous crash, so our blessings were truly counted.

We arrived in Siem Reap around 7:30am and were slightly perturbed to discover our driver from the Panda Guest House was in fact, not waiting for us, leaving us at the mercy of the piranha-esque shoals of tuk-tuk drivers, thirsty for their next fare.
We arrived in one piece but $6 lighter at our hostel and were pleasantly surprised.
A well-kept building with a healthy white exterior and pleasantly decorated interior, and helpful informative staff who supplied us with everything we could possibly need to get the most from our stay.
We even arrived a day early, and although they had no rooms available, they went out of their way to find us a room for the night nearby.

A lot of travellers complain about hostel-organised tours, but to be honest, it saves a lot of time and effort and you get above and beyond service.
It may be a few dollars above other places or going it alone, but I'd rather pay the extra and have some piece of mind that a jewellery or silk shop bombardment isn't lurking around the corner...!

Anyway, our room for one night was very nice and spacious with a large balcony and good views and only a stones throw away from the Panda Guest House.

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We ventured into town for some lunch, and as Ricky had been craving Mexican food in Sihanoukville, when we saw a Mexican Restaurant, our decision was made for us!

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It wasn't the best in the world but good enough.
We walked around for a while but it was quite hot and my legs hadn't quite recovered so we went into the covered market and spent ages bartering for various things.
Ricky sold me to one of the female stall owners at one point, she hugged me and said I was the best purchase ever and super skinny!
I liked her! haha!
After that, I dropped my dirty clothes off at a local laundry place and had a nap.

We went for dinner at The Sun where I had a Caesar Salad with chicken as my tummy wasn't very happy with me so I didn't want to overload it.
We then made our way round the corner to Pub Street.
Aptly named, given the vast expanse of pubs and drinking holes lining both sides of the street.
We went to the Triangle to enjoy some singing and Linga for a drag show before heading to Temple to enjoy a street party.
It felt like Mardi Gras!!

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I left after that but once again, Ricky danced the night away. I think the 75 cents draft beer may have been having a bad influence on him!

The next day we checked out of our temporary accommodation and went across the road to Angkor Wonder for breakfast and to see Mr. Whynot - ask him anything, his response will probably be "Why not?!"
We had some food and were about to leave with all of our bags when Mr. Whynot asked if we'd like a free tuk-tuk to our other hostel as it was only down the road and we had all our stuff with us.
We asked if he was sure that was ok, and his reply?
Why not!
Such a nice man!

We got to the Panda Guest House (again!) and went up to our room - lovely.
2 large, comfy, twin beds, a desk, a fan, ensuite bathroom with a hot shower and really well decorated.
This place was perfect - quiet during the day and night but only a 10 minute walk to Pub Street and the markets, etc.
Very impressed.

Ricky wanted Indian food, so we set off out again and headed towards the restaurants.
Ricky, having worked in an Indian restaurant for a while, was not overly impressed, but I thought my food was quite nice...!

I'd been having toothache for a few days by this point and I didn't really want to wait until we got home to China to get it looked at, so I asked the hostel if they could recommend a place.
They didn't know anywhere at first, but with some research online and a quick phone call later, they found one and arranged a tuk-tuk to take me there.

You can imagine my fears and ideas about the hole in the wall, back-alley "dentist" I was unknowingly being taken to but actually, I think it was the nicest dentist I'd ever been to in the UK - It was clean and well-presented, the staff spoke English and didn't mind at all that I'd just dropped in without an appointment.
10 minutes or so of waiting and in I went - good sized room, clean, modern equipment, and a dentist (always good!).
Long story short, and only a little wimpering later, I had gained two fillings and lost only $20 for the priviledge.
Much better.
My dentist visit of course left me without my nap so after dinner of crocodile fritters and an unpleasant burger and Amok fish, I went back to the hostel.
Ricky came back around 5am.

The next day we didn't really do a lot, slept in, went for walk, got some lunch then went for drinks in the Triangle as they had double beds hanging from the ceiling with small tables in the middle for drinks and food to go on.
We stayed there for a good few hours before returning to our hostel to go to dinner and an Apsara Dance show.
It was a buffet-style meal and after 2 plates of various worldly cuisine, Ricky and I were both stuffed, so we waited for the show to begin.
It was pretty interesting; traditional clothes and a story or two told through the dances.

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That finished around 8:30pm and we went straight back to the hostel as we had an early start the following day...

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Angkor Wat; the Temples, Flooded Forest and Floating Village

Our day started abruptly at 5am.
We got into the tuk-tuk with our driver for the day and still in the darkness of night, we made our way to Angkor Wat for sunrise.
We had to wait an hour or so and although not mind-blowing, the sun rising over this giant monument of a past civilisation was quite impressive.

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As soon as the sun had risen, we made our way inside and the "don't get anyone in my photos" game began...

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Our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off at each place and told us where he'd be waiting for us.
We explored the various nooks and crannies and even got duped into buying incense for "good luck" (a fact, that would later, become painfully ironic!)
We moved on from temple to temple, each time the temperature climbed higher and higher...

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We arrived at Ta Prohm - The Jungle Temple, and I was suitably pleased with the surroundings;
giant trees rooting themselves into the crumbling ruins, piles of abandoned rubble and delapidated doorways.
It was quite a stunning sight to behold.

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We had a break for lunch, having not been hungry enough for breakfast, and after feeding our driver, we made our long journey to the river boats to go to the Floating Village and Flooded Forest...

The cost for the boat trip alone was $25 each and in all honesty, wasn't worth it - especially considering all the tipping we had to do...
Now I know tipping is not compulsory, but when a very poor person is standing in front of you having just done you a service, you can't really refuse.
We went around the village before docking at a floating platform and changing into a much smaller, hand-paddled boat - our captain and first mate of this smaller vessel being a girl and boy both under the age of 12!

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They dutifully paddled us into the floaded forest and around on a boat no bigger than a tic-tac but I think that was one of the most enjoyable parts.
After tipping the children and exploring the very well constructed jungle canopy walk way, we got into our original boat and continued up the river to a huge lake that looked more like an ocean.
Before long, 2 women on separate long boats pulled up alongside us with cold drinks and snacks.
We enjoyed the novelty so bought some drinks for us and our captain and 3 large multipack bags of snacks for the village children.

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As we sailed back through the village, the children obviously knew what was happening and they started crowding the banks.
We tried to throw individual packets to them but it didn't really work.
In no time there were dozens of kids all around us when one boy ran off the edge and jumped into the water.
Soon half a dozen children were wildly swimming towards us as we showered them with snacks before continuing back to the "dock".

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We were once again asked to tip our captain, furthering our concern as to what exactly our $25 each paid for!?

On the journey back to the hostel, I couldn't help but think about how happy and content those villagers were with their lives, even though they barely had anything by Western standards.
They seemed to appreciate every little thing like it was the best in the world. It was refreshing to see.

It took an hour or so to get back to our hostel, where I showered and climbed into bed! It was only 6pm!

The next day, I was a little perplexed how nearly $500 of mine and Ricky's money had mysteriously escape from our private, locked room...
We spoke to the manager who said they'd had the same cleaner forever etc, etc and that we should have put our stuff in their tiny safe sticking out of a wall in reception...
However, my money was in a ziplock bag, in an inside, zipped-up pocket in my rucksack which was under a desk..... so someone had to have gone snooping around through my bags to find it..... peeved doesn't even cover it.
(So much for "good luck" incense....!)

We walked around for a bit, had some food, then decided to go to the Crocodile Farm...

As far as I could tell, it was a farm to produce leather, and the living conditions of the smaller crocs especially wasn't great - a lot of them had deformed spines due to the cramped conditions which was quite depressing.

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The depression continued however when we asked to buy fish to feed the larger crocodiles with, only to be told there were none - only live ducks and chickens....
Now I know what you're thinking, how cruel is it to feed a live duck or chicken to a group of hungry crocodiles?
Crocodiles need to eat too, and if they didn't eat them, a human being would have eaten them anyway.
I was still mercifully apologising to the duck the entire time I was holding it though.

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We had to wait around for our night bus to Vietnam so we went for an hour massage and drag show (for only $4) then we went to the bus office for 10:30pm and got on the bus around 10:40pm before setting off at 11pm.
We arrived in Phnom Penh around 6am where we waited for 2 hours for the bus to Ho Chi Minh City.
After a ferry crossing, a passport control stop and a different stop to scan our luggage, we entered Vietnam and arrived in HCMC around 3pm...

Posted by Lady Mantle 05:07 Archived in Cambodia Tagged landscapes lakes people children trees animals boats temples food ruins cambodia angkor_wat adventure kids hostel duck asia triangle travelling crocodiles poverty tuk_tuk massage rubble foreigners linga tomb_raider social_etiquette natural_beauty beautiful_buildings drag_queens bamboo_boat ta-prohm lara-croft terrace_lepers terrace_elephants cambodian_dentist panda_guest_house the_sun_restaurant Comments (1)

Sihanoukville (Cambodia)

Heading to the beach...

sunny 34 °C

I personally didn't mind our location in Sihanoukville, (Don't Tell Mama's Hostel, Otres Beach) but I'm less of a nightbird than Ricky and being at the end of the quiet beach, put us 10 minutes away by tuk-tuk to civilisation (and bars).

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Although we initially agree to change hostels closer to the town, we decided that we weren't really staying long enough for it to be an issue so just made do with the distance.

During the first actual day in Sihanoukville (given that we arrived at 6pm the evening before), we went to the beach.
The whole 40 or so steps it took to get there...!

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We stayed by the beach for about 5 hours, bearing in mind that we didn't go there until 12pm!
We came back to our hut, had a nap, and then went to Serendipity Beach around 9:30/10pm for beach BBQ.
It was scrummy - BBQ Tuna steak, prawns, squid and pork with a gorgeous salad, rice and garlic bread... not bad for $5

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Now in order to go to Vietnam, we needed to get a visa from Cambodia beforehand.
I had photocopies of our passports so was less afraid of leaving our actual passports with the nice man who got our visas for us for $65 each!
Phew! Pricey!
He told us to come back the next day around 5pm to collect our passports with the newly acquired Vietnamese visas in them.
Whilst sitting there getting all of this information, we saw a boat trip; 3 islands, 8 hours, breakfast and lunch included. $15 each.
Well obviously that had to be done.

I liberally applied sun cream to my face, chest and arms but somewhere in between ordering breakfast and passing the sun cream to Ricky, I forgot to apply any cream to my legs...

The first island we went to was for snorkelling, a hobby which, for anyone who knows me, knows I love very much, but sadly my mask leaked so I couldn't get a clean view but I did go for a swim anyway and there were so many fish swimming around me, I felt like a mermaid!
Ricky, given his previous encounter with the ocean on our trip to Thailand, decided he wasn't quite ready to get out of the boat into open (ish) water, so he stayed on the boat.

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We stayed for an hour or so, then went to the next island for lunch.
A beautiful stretch of white sand and tropical water greeted us.
We had an hour before lunch so Ricky and I ventured down the beach where there were no other people at all.
It was like our own slice of paradise.
We had a quick swim, then sat on the beach to dry off.

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We made our way back to the others for lunch; salad, a baguette and the most beautifully succulent barracuda steak.
I'd never had barracuda before, but after that, I'd highly recommend it!

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We got to stay for another 2 hours, so we found some hammocks and chilled out in the shade until our lunch had gone down.

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It wasn't until we moved along the beach in the other direction and sat down for a while that I realised how hot my legs were getting so I went for another dip in the sea to cool down.

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Of course, what I didn't acknowledge was that the damage was already done and by the time we'd gone to the last island for more swimming/snorkelling, my legs were the colour of the setting sun! :(

We got back to our beach and had some Lok Lak Beef (traditional Khmer food) and got accosted by a 12-year old girl (who I agreed to make some bracelets for me, she was quite the little business woman with excellent English), so we had a chat for a while and she gave me a free bracelet for Chinese New Year ^_^

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We went to collect our passports with their new Vietnamese visas in and made our way back to our hut for a much needed cold shower.
Sleeping that night was uncomfortable to say the least.
I felt like I was on fire and my head was spinning - you'd think after nearly 26 years on this earth, I would remember how little the sun and I get on...!
(And mother, if you're reading this, no "I told you so", please!)

Well our plan for our last day was to go to the iBall Adventure Park that we'd read about, only to discover that it no longer exsists :(

So instead, we went to the Casino Fortuna where I spent about $7 in total and I won $35 off a $1 bet! Not bad for someone who's never played Roulette before, and by betting on my birth day! :D

After chilling by the beach until 6pm (in the shade, obviously!) we grabbed a quick dinner and went to collect our bags to get on the night bus to Siem Reap...

Posted by Lady Mantle 02:08 Archived in Cambodia Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises beaches skylines children animals sky boats snorkelling food flowers travel cambodia adventure summer swimming tropical duck asia travelling sihanoukville body dying white_sand foreigners serendipity_beach otres_beach my_future_home rubber_duck natural_beauty 3_islands_tour don't_tell_mama Comments (0)

Cambodia continued.....

The Royal Palace and Central Market

sunny 30 °C

After lunch, we continued our day by going to the Royal Palace.

Gorgeous, elaborate buildings dotted the spotless grounds with large trees and topiaries providing natural beauty to compliment the elegant man-made structures.

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A "few" lighthearted snaps and an unexpected introduction to a group of monkies climbing around a scaffolding site of reconstruction brightened our otherwise reflective day until we returned once again to our hostel, this time for a late afternoon siesta...

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When we woke up around 6/6:30pm, the air was cooler and the night life began to start.
We went to Happy Herb Pizza for dinner; just your regular margherita pizza with cheese, onions and marijuana...!

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That's right folks, "happy" preceeding any kind of food in Cambodia means that the oregano you thought you were enjoying was in fact weed.

And what better way to follow a weed pizza, than with a gay-friendly bar for a drag show?!

Of course, not a normal correlation of events, but after a few Baileys, it seemed to be the perfect combination...
Evidently, beautiful boys do not always make beautiful girls...

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My night ended after that, but as usual, my darling Ricky made a friend and ventured out into Phnom Penh after dark to dance and drink the night away...!

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Central Market

I woke up around 11:30am and had banana pancakes for breakfast, did some writing and then woke Ricky up around 1pm.

We began walking to the Central Market, only to get far too hot and confused trying to read the map, so we jumped in a tuk-tuk and had the nice man take us there instead :)

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I can see why they'd call it Central Market...
Everything you could possibly desire was for sale; beautiful silks and linens, watches, jewellery, sunglasses, shoes, bags, well you get the idea...!

After a good few hours we'd seen most of the market.
Ricky bought some Ray Bans that fold down to practically nothing, a pair of Berkenstocks, a watch and a bag.
I bought some earrings, a bag and some replacement flip flops!

I think after having lived in China for over 18 months now and having visited many places in Asia, Ricky and I have got this bartering thing down!
If they don't like your highest offer, the walk-away will seal the deal if they're really ok with the price! Winning!

Now the original plan was to get some food and then go to the Russian Market afterwards, however, we decided to go to Happy Herb Pizza again...
Instead of sharing a large pizza between us, we order one each and the happiness once again eluded us.... or so we thought...

We went back to our hostel for a drink and a quick nap...
I woke up at 11pm.... we got back to the hostel at 4pm.... I think I found my happy!
Ricky apparently found his too as he'd spent the entire time I was asleep watching videos of people falling over and willing his legs to move.... evidently, they did not!

So, it was 11pm, we both decided we were hungry, and it's only a vague recollection now, but I'm pretty sure we drove around for a while in a tuk-tuk until we found an open restaurant.
I think I had a cheeseburger...

We went to sleep and when we woke up, we checked out and waited for the bus to Sihanoukville.

5 hours and a brief pit-stop later, we arrived in the shabby main-town of Sihanoukville, got into a tuk-tuk and made out way to our hostel...

Posted by Lady Mantle 18:47 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temples food flowers shopping cambodia phnom_penh cheap asia tuk_tuk royal_palace silk pancakes monkies sleepy foreigners central_market evil_monkey rules_of_asia happy_herb_pizza beautiful_buildings Comments (0)

Cambodia

Chinese New Year in Cambodia and Vietnam...

sunny 34 °C

Our journey began in the typical tradition of us, barely getting to the airport on time.
The error this time however not being our oversleeping or going to the wrong airport in the same city, oh no. This error revealed itself in the form of me underestimating the Chinese ability to tell time.
I specifically requested a car to the airport at 11am to allow for adequate travel time and traffic, but when our driver finally arrived just shy of 11:30am, we had no choice but to ‘Home Alone’ run through the airport to our check-in desk!
However, due largely in part to my obsessive positive thinking to resolve all worldly issues, we arrive with 15 minutes to spare for check-in and 15 minutes early for what became a slightly delayed flight anyway!
Thank you, universe!

We arrived in Shanghai starving, but slightly warmer due to its southern placement within the vast land mass that is China!
With food dutifully scoffed and suitable seating acquired for a quick nap, we settled in for a while until our connecting flight to Phnom Penh departed.
It wasn’t until we went for a cigarette near our departure gate (27) that I glanced at the board listing all departures and noticed a flashing sign next to our flight…
Thinking our positive thinking had finally failed us, I read the flashing note:
“Gate changed to 214”
Lady Luck was still with us and we walked (quite a distance) to Gate 214 only to wait for 10 minutes before boarding our flight :)

The flight was nothing special; standard seat, standard food, standard safety instructions. However, the journey was made slightly more intriguing by the 10 deaf Chinese passengers that accompanied us in the occupation of the back of the plane.
The gentlemen sat next to me was so happy, he took a picture with me and Ricky and laughed in a way I can only describe childlike. It was beautiful!
I brought a magnetic travel game of 5 across (thanks to a Christmas present from one of my students!) and without realising, the group of Chinese people were our eager spectators!
It was fascination watching them communicate effortlessly with each other, in a blissfully silent world, all of their own.

The flight arrive 25 minutes later than it should have and with a lack of Bureau de Changes where we live, we didn’t have any US Dollars to pay for our Cambodian Visa! After faffing around losing a massive percentage through airport exchange rates, we got out visas, our US Dollars and our fingerprints scanned….Apparently, this was some form of Cambodian security against roaming foreigners!
Good job that we’re usually good people… most of the time!

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Now our hostel, Me Mates Villa, had agreed to pick us up from the airport (very kind of them, given that we were supposed to arrive at 11:15pm but didn’t actually leave the airport until 12:30am!) and they were still waiting for us with my name emblazoned on a piece of card!
Into the tuk tuk we Dre, our hostel helper, and away to the hostel we went.
They told us to go up to bed and check-in when we woke up as we were obviously tired!

We crept into our 8-bed dorm of 4 bunk beds, spacious and comfy with clean linens and a fresh towel. Not bad for $6 a night.
The bar was lovely with its 75₵ draft beer and incredible food, and the staff learnt our names instantly!

On the way to our hostel from the airport, Dre was telling us about all the tours we could do and what sights to see (not that my anal planning hadn’t already written down what to do in each of our destinations…!).
I was aware of course that planning trips through the hostel tuk-tuks would probably be more expensive than going it alone, but it is comforting to know our driver would be waiting for us wherever we went.
When we woke up the next day, we showered, had breakfast, organised our money and jumped in the tuk tuk with our driver for the day…

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S-21 Prison and the Killing Fields

Our first outing took us to the Killing Fields where Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge movement took thousands of brutally tortured and slaughtered prisoners from S-21 to be disposed of.
On the way, our driver stopped and bought us some medical face masks as the road to the Killing Fields was incredibly dusty and underdeveloped.

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Having lived in China for over 18 months now, Ricky and I have grown accustomed and desensitised to the sights of westernly-deemed, unsanitary food stalls, stray cats and dogs and children roaming the streets. These things would probably provoke a discussion between other western travellers, but to us, that just reminded us of home!

After about 20 minutes or so of driving, we turned down a pleasant enough road through trees and green fields until we pulled up to large, elaborate gates: The Killing Fields.
On first impression, the place was really quite stunning – beautiful greenery and flowers, large open spaces of nature in its purest form…

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Upon receiving our audio guides and headsets, it didn’t take long to realised the genocidal atrocities lurking beneath all of that natural beauty.
As we progressed around the numbered path of this hauntingly beautiful place, we were audibly assaulted by the terrifying ordeals these people suffered.
Large plaques stood in place of the buildings with detailed descriptions of those buildings purposes.

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As we moved around and continued to listen to this reasonably modern horror story, we were introduced to mass graves of nameless men, women and children.
Visitors had begun a tradition of leaving holiday bracelets and Riel (small Cambodian currency) as tribute to those lost souls.

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We listened to survivor stories of dying children, no food, constant gang-raping and beatings.
One man spoke of a female worker who was bludgeoned to death with a hatchet to the neck, finished off with a sewage plunger until she violently convulsed and died – all for supposedly stealing a banana that was actually given to her by one of the guards…
We saw glass containers of rags and clothes, teeth and bones, and countless mass graves of the victims of S-21 Prison.

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We saw the tree where babies were smashed against the trunk until they too died and were discarded in an open grave nearby. Another place of tribute from visitors to this harrowing sight.

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A beautiful tree, named the magic tree, told a tale of loud music playing over the grounds to muffle the sounds of people being tortured and killed.

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Finally we arrived at the sompiah – a tall monument that we saw when we entered the sight built as a memorial to all the lost souls, displaying their bones and skulls as a visual aid to the already destroying aural tales of this place.

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We finished the audio tour and returned the equipment in total silence. We left through the now less elaborate, and more confining gates and stepped back into normality.
We had a cigarette, found our driver, sat down and continued to say nothing.
Eventually Ricky turned to me and said, “I have no words to describe that”.
Nothing truer had ever been said.

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We continued to S-21 - the prison that these poor people were sent to to be destroyed mentally before going to the Killing Fields to be destroyed physically.
Once again, apart from the dated buildings, the natural beauty of the place outside was juxtaposed by the inherent lack of beauty inside.

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Wire beds, solitary in an otherwise empty cell, with only the odd shackles or torture paraphernalia to accompany them. Photographs of those victims hung solemnly on the wall.

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We moved through the grounds into each building only to be greeted by hanging gallows, tiny cells devoid of even a chair and walls and walls of photographs. Nameless masses of victims, their identities gone from their hopeless eyes. Only numbers adorned their chests which provoked flashes of number-engraved Jews and other victims of the Nazi regime springing to mind.

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As the modern world progressed just over the barb wire-topped walls, I couldn’t help but notice that life inside this place appeared frozen, with only birds and stray cats let patrolling the grounds.

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We went back to our hostel to get some lunch before continuing our day by going to the Royal Palace…

Posted by Lady Mantle 19:32 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh travelling tuk_tuk genocide pol_pot chinese_new_year killing_fields khmer_rouge life_lessons s-21_prison late_to_the_airport natural_beauty horrible_history Comments (1)

New Year in China

A Gregorian New Year and a soon-to-be Chinese New Year quickly approaches...

sunny 7 °C

I felt it was time to evaluate my life in China so far, what with the dawn of the Chinese New Year fast approaching and the Year of the Horse wielding unknown potential.

I'd like to share with you some things I have learned from living in this amazing country:

1. No matter what ailment is troubling you, be it a headache, menstrual cramps, a cold or the flu, a chesty cough or generally just feeling a bit under the weather, hot water will be your best friend and ally during these tenuous times!

You will be hard pressed to find a Chinese person, especially where I live, without a flask, mug, glass jar or some other nondescript container filled at least three quarters of the way with hot water.
Now don't get me wrong, I already understand the value of water; it's good for your skin and keeps your body hydrated, it provides much needed moisture to maintain strong brain power, it can even aid digestion. However, it is not just the miracle of water that the Chinese understand and appreciate, oh no! It is hot water, with its glorious cleansing steam gliding up into your sinuses, it is the warmth spreading through your chest into your stomach and down to your toes as this apparent heavenly hand guides its warming embrace throughout your entire body.
Whenever in the past year and a half, I have experienced any kind of medical annoyance, the first thing any of my students or Chinese friends have advocated is this, 'Drink hot water, keep your body warm', and although sage advice, it is not only this, but also an undeniable truth.
I drink hot water in restaurants, at home, whenever I feel a cold coming on, or am experiencing particularly uncomfortable cramps - out comes my very own flask which locks in the magical heat and within a day or two, I am back to feeling tip-top again.

2. You will never be as popular anywhere in world with people you've never met, than you will be in China.

Every single day, I walk to school, or I get a bus or a taxi into town; I meet my friends, I go shopping, I'll stop in somewhere and maybe have some hot water (with tea in it!) - I do a myriad of things throughout my weeks and months, often different things or trying different places, or trying to find the place I really like but that appears to have closed down...! One thing however remains constant:
Every single person you walk past will either want to, will know how to, or actually does say one or all of the following phrases to you...
'Hello' / 'Nice to meet you' / 'My English is very poor'

I have made more friends on the streets of this town, in the short space of time that I've lived here, than I have in my previous 20 odd years in the UK.
Everyone is so desperate to interact with a foreigner that they usually pluck up the courage and put their limited knowledge of the English language to use.

The best part is, that if these brave souls happen to be girls, usually of any age, or younger boys, when you reply to their 'Hello' with an equally matched response, they will giggle, run away and then point and talk about you with a group of their friends who never seem to be very far away.

It has gotten to the point now where I genuinely cannot remember if I've met, seen or even spoken to this person before me offering a cordial greeting as it happens so often, I've almost lost track.

3. People you have never met, or have perhaps met during one of the aforementioned bravery conversations, will have photographs of you on their cameras or their phones and they will have passed these photos on to at least 5 of their friends, or better yet, they will simply have posted these pictures on to one of Asia's many social outlets. QQ, WeChat, Weibo etc.

My first encounter with the stealth photographers happened when I arrived fresh-faced and excited in Beijing. The sights, the smells, the immense number of people, the strange language on every sign, the incredible feat to find and navigate the subway system (read some of my earlier blog entries for that thrilling debacle!)

It was however, on the subway, that my suspicion peaked... through the wonders of peripheral vision.... I saw them.
Slowly, almost unnoticeable to the human eye, people's mobile phones were creeping up over other passengers’ shoulders, heads, arms, each one pointing their judgemental camera's eye directly at me.
I waited for the sound, the give-away that a picture had indeed been snapped, but nothing.
Just as eerily as they had appeared, the phones slid back into pockets and bags, calculatedly waiting for their next prize photo opportunity.

4. At more than one interval throughout the day, you will eat an entire meal from a plastic bag:

It doesn't matter how much money you do or don't want to pay for your food, whenever you buy food outside or even from a little shop, you will be served your succulent meat or soup or rice or noodles, all together, in one bag (after all - it's going to end up like that in your stomach once you've masticated it!)

Once you've gained the skill of not eating a little piece of the bag with each bite, you get to really understand and enjoy the bohemian thrill of it all - no plates to clean, no cutlery to wash; you just put the disposable chopsticks you were given into the empty food bag, tie it off in a neat little bow and boom, straight into the bin it goes.

Restaurants, of course, have a little more western etiquette to them, you get to enjoy your food on plates with sturdier chopsticks and separate dishes for you to portion out your required amount of food. There is demonstrably the added benefit of once again, not having to do any washing up or tidying up of any kind; but to think you escaped the bags?
How foolish of you.
Once you've eaten your fill, the kindly waiter or waitress will appear with several empty bags, pick up your leftovers (from the serving dish, rather than your individual plates or bowls) and pour said contains into the plastic bags.
Taking home any uneaten food is very important here, again, at least where I live, as the government is trying to cut down food waste and if you don't want it now, you'll probably want it later so why not just pop it in a doggy bag and take it home with you?!

The same practise of using a bag over crockery also applies in Qingdao during their annual beer festival - instead of tables for you and your friends to sit around and discuss current affairs, there are hooks on the walls for you to hang your beer bags on.
(It saves space, allowing more beer bags to be purchased by more patrons)

5. If you have any colour hair, other than black or dark brown, you are suddenly the Messiah:

My Australian friend who lives here with his beautiful Chinese wife once told me that he had a friend (male), with shoulder length blonde hair, who took a trip on one of the marvellous trains we have all over the country, and decided to take a nap as it was going to be a long journey.
When he woke up, he saw before him several concerned and awe-stricken Chinese passengers staring at him.
Now given the previous points of foreigners being interesting commodities, it would appear to be understandable to have a group of unknown voyeurs to this man's train journey.
It was however the large chunk of hair he was missing that these travellers were more put out by....
During his nap, someone had decided that his golden locks should be shared amongst his earthly comrades and thusly cut off a large piece of his hair as a keepsake.

As a fellow blonde, my roots ache for that man's lost locks, but luckily (for me!) I have yet to encounter any serial hair collectors.
My hair dresser here does however tell me, more often than not, that my hair is too soft to do anything with.
I take that as a compliment!

6. If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend in China, not only will your parents be thrilled, but so will clothes manufacturers throughout the country:

The Western world is already aware of the massive influence Asian countries and their trends have had on popular culture; Hello Kitty, Sushi restaurants, glasses without lenses (Asian Hipsters!), coloured contact lenses, brightly mismatched clothing etc.
What the Western world has yet to cotton onto is the booming market of girlfriend/boyfriend shops.
Now don't get me wrong, we have 'His and Hers' towels and bathrobes, but we’ve got nothing on the Chinese niche for boyfriend/girlfriend matching outfits.
That's right folks.
Couples in Asia don't just want you to know they’re a couple, they want to show you through the medium of fashion.
Whole boutiques dedicated to sweatshirts and hoodies sporting the same colours and logos - bigger sizes for him; petite, perfectly figure-hugging sizes for her.
This phenomenon even extends to shoes, hats and trousers.
You and your partner can walk into one of these boyfriend/girlfriend shops and kit each other out in perfectly harmonised ensembles.

7. Poorly translated and often comical signs and menus:

When picking your food in restaurants or trying to figure out where you are in the major metropolis can be daunting, but fear not, because someone, somewhere, with a basic understanding of English has attempted to assist you in this ordeal.

Pictures, clear as day, show you a delectable dish of Chicken with potatoes and vegetables in a colourful blend of culinary excellence, and although the Chinese, if you're fortunate enough to understand it, tells you that that is indeed what this dish entails, the English version will probably put you off eating for the rest of your life.
I once saw a similar dish described as 'Flavoured Fungi and assorted entrails', even though the Chinese characters told me it was Chicken and vegetables....
The fun continues with warning signs or polite notices.
In a hotel I saw a sign in the corridor outside the elevator, with a picture of pursed lips and a single finger laying gently over them, telling me to 'put it mildly, and then put it mildly'.
Common sense would dictate that this probably means, 'Please be quiet when walking about the hotel so as not to disturb other guests', but alas, this elegance was somewhat lost in translation.
Another interesting warning came from what I presume was a 'Slippery when wet' or 'Uneven steps' sign in a tourist attraction of ancient art and temples, with a sign that simple read 'Don't fall down' accompanied by a picture of a foolish naysayer falling down some steps.
The list is of course, long and endless, but usually full to the brim with hilarious mistranslations and equally amusing illustrations for added effect.

8. If you're outside, feel free to spit wherever you like, even out of a car window, whilst on the move.

Now as a quintessentially British childhood moulded my sense of propriety and manners, spitting was never an appropriate past time, but in Asia, if it's in your mouth, you need to expel it as loudly and thoroughly as you can.

You are all probably aware of the guttural wrenching sound people make when they have a particularly stubborn phlegm build-up in the back of their throat or nose. Well this sound is only part of the cacophony of sounds one hears on a daily basis in China.
If it's not a taxi honking it's horn to see if you require a lift; small, barely audible speakers shouting at you to buy the freshly picked produce or children departing school en mass, then the pise de résistance, will be the spitting.
If Disney were to recreate Fantasia using the sounds of Asia rather than actual instruments, the sound of spitting would account for the percussions, strings and probably brass sections as well.

But have no fear readers, because cleaners are on hand 24/7 with their bamboo handled, mesh and feather street brushes to clear the congealed mess away…

9. If you can still breathe, then there is enough space in this taxi, subway car, bus or ticket office for more people:

If you've ever wondered why Asian people tend to lack basic manners in regards to space awareness and entry/exit protocols, look no further for your answers.
It all starts here, in Asia.
If you want to get on that subway train in the UK or the US and there doesn't seem to be a lot of room, you will probably have the basic instincts of self-preservation to wait 3 minutes for the next train.
If you want to get on that subway train in Asia, you get on the damn subway train, regardless of that child's face you've now squashed against a window or that small family of foreigners you've all but forced into a vacuum, slowly suffocating them to death.

Not only will you hardly ever see a queue or something to that effect, you won't see a patient Asian person either.
If you've got somewhere to be, you get there no matter the cost, damage or possible offence it may cause.
If you need a ticket but the mass conglomerate ahead of you doesn't have your best interests at heart, you force your way to the front, interrupt the employee who is already dealing with another customer and thrust your money into their hands, talking over the previous patron.
It reminds me of that scene in Titanic when everyone is trying to evacuate the sinking vessel and the lower level passengers are all pushed up against that padlocked gate, clambering on top of one another for just a glimpse at their possible freedom and escape.
Even without the threat of imminent death by frosty cold drowning, the assertion to survive and be the first to do so lives on in the heart of pretty much every Asian person alive.

10. Pyjamas are not just an inside outfit, but don't wear indoor shoes outside, obviously:

During the harsh winter months, I've learned that PJ's are not just a comfy, cosy, indoor outfit for you to nestle into on the sofa with your mug of hot chocolate, oh no.
Pyjamas are actually giant layers of padded warmth that you wear over your normal outside-clothes and when you combine these two fashion masterpieces together, you get a warm outside look with all the comfort and cosiness of your inside outfit.
The best part about wearing your pyjamas outside is that everyone else is doing it too so no one thinks you look utterly ridiculous and some of the designs and patterns could even be deemed fashionable.
The rooky mistake however, is mistaking indoor shoes for outdoor shoes.
It's completely acceptable for you to wear pyjamas outside, but if you wear flip flops in summer or the matching cosy booties that go so perfectly with your PJ's in the winter then you are opening yourself up to ridicule and the blatant question 'Why are you wearing slippers outside?'

Overly fluffy or felt-style boots are slippers.
Flip-Flops are slippers.
Shower-shoes are slippers.
Slippers are slippers.

And at no time is it appropriate to wear any of these items of footwear outside.
Even if you are wearing a Michelin-man inspired pyjama set.

Posted by Lady Mantle 20:34 Archived in China Tagged shopping china asia subways new_year spitting trends food_in_bags life_lessons rules_of_asia social_etiquette asian_hipsters lost_in_translation winter_wear year_of_the_horse Comments (3)

Trip to Xian for the National Day holiday...

sunny 28 °C

So the journey began with a taxi to the train station; a taxi that should have cost about 10-15 yuan (£1-1.50) but because it was the National Day holiday and because we're white, we were told it would cost 30 yuan!
We informed the taxi driver that was too expensive and we would pay 15 - He said 20 and although it was still extortianate, we had no choice.
We arrived at the train station here in Xinxiang to see a massive queue, so adopting the Chinese way and relinquishing our British upbringing, we basically went to the front of the queue!
Rude, I know, but when Rome and when you're running late, screw the Romans and side with the Chinese!
There were no seats on the train, and although we were a little hungover, we were only on there for an hour or so until we got to Zhengzhou to get our connecting train to Xian.

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After having a decadent McD's for lunch, we wondered around outside the train station for about 2 hours then went back in side to get the train to Xian.
Ricky and I had seats at opposite ends of the train, so with our headphones at the ready, we climbed aboard and settled in for the journey.

The fast trains in China are pretty much the best trains I have ever been on - big comfy seats that recline, foot rests, free food/nibbles and drinks and a small Chinese boy telling you a story about a tiger and a monkey in near enough perfect English.....
Ok so that last one as only on this particular journey, but you get the idea!

We arrived in Xian and tried to follow the instructions of how to get to our hostel.....
We tried to find bus 251.....

After an hour and refusing some rathe pushy taxi drivers, we started walking away from the station and said bolshy taxi drivers in search of this mystical bus, only to conclude that we were in fact walking further away from civilisation and into what looked like the remains of the world in 'I am Legend'....
So, refusing to return to the pushy taxi drivers, we flagged down a different one and were on our way.... ahh Aries!

Trying to follow the instructions for Your Tour International Youth Hostel's location proved harder than anticipated, but given our astrological stubborness, we trekked onwards and with some help from the universe, we managed to find our hostel!
After some worrying minutes waiting for Ricky's passport to materialise, we were all checked-in!

It was a nice enough hostel with the added experience of getting to make your own bed (really is like a home away from home!)
My locker box was broken, but with a simple request to swap boxes, the woman a reception happily obliged.

If you wanted 5* luxury accommodation, this is not the place for you - it's clean enough but the beds have less cushioning than a yoga mat and the decor in the bathroom and shower rooms leave a lot to be desired.
As reasonably accomplished travellers and being accustomed to Chinese ways,, it didn't really phase us, but others may be less accommodating for this hostel's abvious drawbacks.
The staff are friendly and helpful, but for 50 yuan a night (£5) you can't expect too much for your money.
Although the street itself is quiet during the day, at night that is not always the case and for some reason, peoples' conversation volume attempts to break the sound barrier....
Provided you can block out the noise mentally or with ear plugs, the sleep you get is enough to see you through the following day.
The food, although exorbitant (in price not amount) for a hostel, is actually quite tasty and filling - seriously not good price-wise though!
The hostel is quaint and small but there's hardly any atmosphere in the common area downstairs.

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If you just want a bed to sleep in, this place is fine for ou, but if you want the opportunity to meet other foreigners or a livelier place, then Jano's Hostel is proably more for you.
The staff at Jano's are equally as lovely but with the adjacent Belgium Beer Bar and local street markets, it's location and clientelle easily exceeds Your Tour's...

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Having dumped our stuff and made our beds, we ventured out in search of food...
3 hours later, we'd walked most of Xian inside the wall!
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of places to eat but we were feeling particularly fussy and indecisive!

We ended up at the Drum Tower and ventured into the Muslim Quarter..
My, my, that was busy!
2 lanes of human traffic had formed to avoid causing a blockage, which, although organised, left a whole side of the street unvisitable!
Fantastic smells and foods and a bustling atmosphere, the walk was interesting enough and with a little light bartering, some trinkets and niknaks were purchased successfully.

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Our broken and tired bodies begged for slumber so we clambered into a tin box on wheels, told the driver where we wanted to go, and with some directions on our part, he eventually got us back to the hostel where we fell (carefully) onto our wooden boards for the night!

The next day we studied some maps and plotted the root to the Small Goose Pagoda (an apparent 'must-see' in Xian).
We walked from the South Gate of the wall (near our hostel) and headed south until we got to the Pagoda.

I imagine the Big Goose Pagoda is more impressive but the grounds surrounding the Small Goose Pagoda was quite beautiful and a sense of calm washed over me.

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A relaxed walked around and a few pictures with Chinese people (at their request rather than ours!) and we began the walk back to the hostel.

A quick nap and a shower then we went to meet our friend for dinner and drinks but once again my body wanted sleep so I left Ricky to dance the night away whilst I headed back to my pillow and board!

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The next day, despite Ricky's hangover, we decided to cycle around the wall again (like we did last year!)
Only this time, for some reason, we did it in less time and actually cycled all the way round - Obviously a bit fitter than last year!
Still hurt the next morning though! ha!

So Ricky and I had concluded that on this visit to Xian, we would go to see the Terracotta Warriors... what we hadn't accounted for was that everyone else had the same idea.
We arrived at the train station to get the bus to the Warriors only to be greeted by thousands of people trying to do the same thing!
6 different taxi companies approached us, advising of their prices to get us to the Warriors and back, all of which were above and beyond what we were willing to pay to get there and after an hour with barely any progress made in the queue situation, we decided to call it a day and concluded we'd go to the Warriors next time we were in Xian....!

Posted by Lady Mantle 22:23 Archived in China Tagged travel adventure china xian hostel cheap cycling travelling sleepy foreigners night_market city_wall sore_bum budget_travelling small_goose_pagoda your_tour_international_youth_h janos_hostel_xian national_day Comments (1)

Medical Massage...

sunny 27 °C

So today I went to see my Chinese friend for lunch.
Nothing strange there - She owns a restaurant in town and I cooked Christmas dinner there for everyone last year (hopefully a tradition that will continue this December as well!)
I told her that I hadn't been sleeping well and that my back, neck and shoulders were in desperate need of a massage.
She advised me that in our town there is a special kind of hospital that is run by blind people who specialise in using their hands as their sense of touch is heightened by their inability to see.
Needless to say I was intrigued and out the door we went to get on the number 20 bus for about 5 minutes or so, all for the extortionate price of 20p!
We arrived at a rather shabby building with a worn down medical cross sign outside.
Through the apparently popular plastic meat curtains we entered.
It looked a little like a make-shift hospital concocted when an unforseeable war suddenly strikes an area.
Hospital beds in odd places, dark little rooms and corners with muttering, hushed voices and people in distressed white coats floating from what appeared to be patient to patient.
I was seated at a cluttered glass table with my friend and a young woman clad in an aforementioned white coat.
She asked relative questions; my age, where I live, my profession and what appears to be the problem...
My friend dutifully translated both ways until the young woman left into one of the rooms to the side, only to return moments later with an older gentlemen, somewhat more befitting of the coat, with a white stick guiding his way to the desk and to me.
He asked my friend if I was in great pain and if an injury had been the cause of my discomfort, I advised of the no such injury but described my medical issues as more of an ache, a constant ache, like my muscles were too weak to hold me together anymore.
My friend advised me to turn in my chair so my back was to the gentlemen who began to move towards me, using the edge of the desk to find me.
His hands were warm and unthreatening as he placed them on my shoulders. A little pressure here, a gentle squeeze there and some quick questions at my friend then lead him to put his hands between my shoulder blades. Bam. The source of my ache was located.
I was moved to one of the beds in plain sight of every other person in there and told to lie face down with my head in the little face-hole in the table/bed.
A white sheet was placed over me and another man was called over. Even though the situation was quite surreal, knowing my friend was sat there on the bed next to me watching everything unfold made me feel safer than had I been alone so my ability to actually relax was much easier.
For half an hour this other man, equally befitting of the white coat he wore, applied hard and accurate pressure to different points of my back, my shoulders and my neck.
After 20 minutes or so I was advised to lie on my back as he massaged my shoulders, neck, head and forehead - pushing all of the pressure points until I felt almost ethereal.
It was like he knew where my body needed attention before I did. He kept applying pressure then asking my friend to ask me if it hurt and it did, every time - not from what he was doing, but rather from his heightened sense of where the energy was being blocked in my body.
I was then told to sit on the chair as he finished my shoulders and neck with some stretching and pulling - I think I grew a whole inch by the end of that!
I paid my 30 RMB (a whole £3) for the experience and was told to come back regularly to help ease the ache away completely.
I was told by the first man that the reason for my aches and pains could be down to three things:
1. My bed is not supporting me properly when I sleep.
2. My head hangs forward more often than it should, so I must work on keeping my head up and my neck strong.
and my personal favourite -
3. I'm letting too much cold wind get to my neck and it's getting into my bones.

I love China, Chinese people and their views and interpretations of the needs of our bodies.
For a thorough and in-depth half an hour sports massage for £3, I wouldn't be surprised if I'm not in there several times a week!

Posted by Lady Mantle 00:19 Archived in China Tagged medical china cheap energy body massage blind_doctors Comments (1)

Back to China :)

After a summer holiday in the UK...

sunny 28 °C

So... after having been in China for 10 months, and then spending 5 weeks in the UK to catch up with old friends over the summer, I find myself back on my home soil - China.

It's strange to go from living somewhere so familiar for a such a long time, to move to somewhere so different in so many ways, only to feel more at home and at peace with yourself in your new surroundings rather than your old ones.

China is so incredible and has been the best decision I think I've ever made. Asia is so beautiful and so are the people, their cultures and how they treat people. I feel so at home here and welcome. When I finally returned, people welcomed me with love and open arms and I've never been so happy to be anywhere in the world.

Obviously the proximity to other Asian countries is ideal for travelling and allowing me to see other wonderful cultures on this side of the world, but more so than that, it allows me to continue soaking up the atmosphere and really emerge myself in the culture and customs and especially the language of this amazing country.

Ay, there's the rub! The language! It still eludes me but everyday I feel as though another word or the correct pronunciation sticks in my brain a little longer. It's so unfamiliar having to use tones and intonation to change a word rather than provide emphasis as we do in the English language. However, I welcome the challenge and will hopefully reap the rewards in due time.

People tell me I am an inspiration - I enjoy this idea but don't believe it. I feel very blessed to have found the strength to do what I have done but it was inspiration that drew me to this place; I can only hope that my story helps others find the inspiration to do something they will truly love with their whole heart as I do now.

At the minute however, I feel very disconnected from myself which is making me feel disconnected from China so this needs to be rectified immediately! I think my brief time in the UK has reset me somehow, so I feel like I have to re-tune myself to my surroundings and rejoice in them once again. A brief moment in time showed me that although I love it here, and I do, when something happens and I cannot find a friend here to console me, I still have people in my life, albeit in a different country, that can still bestow good wishes and vibes on me which is reassuring and gives me hope that even though rivers and oceans separate me from the most important people in my life, they are never truly that far away.

This new school year promises to be a fruitful one - my kids from last year are my kids this year so I get to enjoy their growth from the beginning until the end, which will be very rewarding. The plan for Chinese New Year is Cambodia, Vietnam and possibly Malaysia so watch this space for another look at the Asian world through the eyes of a soon to be once again optimistic western traveller :)

Posted by Lady Mantle 05:52 Archived in China Tagged cambodia malaysia vietnam work chinese_food travelling students teaching teachers foreigners tefl new_beginnings chinese_games starting_again Comments (0)

The last entry for "3 Weeks in Thailand"

Heading South and Island-hopping: Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao...

sunny 33 °C

We arrived in Bangkok from Chiangmai around 6am, hopped in a mini-bus to the airport where we bought disgusting, overpriced 'breakfasts' then found a quiet corner to sleep in for 4 hours, before checking in for our flight.

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The irony being that AirAsia charged us for our baggage, but had we checked in 4 hours earlier it would have been a lot cheaper.
Livid.
I paid for our baggage on the way back right there and then - £20 to Surat Thani, £5 back - Ridiculous!
We bought our bus and ferry tickets on the plane so we didn't have to faff around when we landed.
Within an hour and a bit we arrived in Surat Thani, then had to take a 2 hour bus to the ferry port.

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We arrived about 5.30pm and boarded the ferry just before 6pm.
About an hour and half after that we docked in Koh Samui and were bombarded with people charging 800 baht for a taxi!
We hopped on a red bus again for 100 baht and half an hour later we arrived at our hostel.
Knackered and hungry, we showered, grabbed some food, walked along the beach for a while then went to sleep.

I'm not going to lie to you, we stayed at The Wave (nice enough) on Chaweng Beach on the east side of the island in what can only be described as the offspring of Falaraki and Benidorm, with equally annoying clientelle.
Not my idea of an island getaway.
Upon reading my guide book, I discovered that the whole of Chaweng Beach is the party district of Koh Samui so I forgave as much as I could of the gaudy, over-westernised chips and gravy restaurants as possible.
Everything there was very expensive as well, when a few streets over there was authentic Thai food at half the price - that's more like it!
We got some food and Ricky and Mish got some cocktails from a little street kiosk and we walked around.

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After a day on the beach and my skin being fairer than fair, I was suitably sunburnt and ready for bed so I went back to the hostel and those guys headed to the bars.
Another day at the beach and a hearty rescue by me later and we met up with the other girls in their hotel for a pool party right by the beach - so many scrummy men in tiny pants!

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Om nom nom!
The best part about going away with a girl and a gay is that you all appreciate the same scenery!
We wanted to go to Laen Din Market, and not knowing entirely where it was, we hopped on a red bus, told him where we wanted to go and off we went.
Now we knew this market was only about 10 minutes away and we were reasonably close to where we'd already been that day so after 20 minutes and no more town, we figured that something was wrong.
Naturally our first thought was 'this man is stealing us...'
Our second thought was 'I wonder how much I'd sell for in a Hostel (the movie) style situation...'
Tanya stopped the bus and Ricky got out to investigate.
Yep.
He was taking us to the south of the island to Laen Don Beach....
O_o
After we turned around and headed back towards town, he tried to drop us off by loads of closed shops and restaurants;
Tanya quickly ran into the 7Eleven to ask where the market was and then told the guy to go up the road some more.
We eventually found it, only to the realise it was the exact same market we went to before and it was literally 5 minutes away from our hostel.
300 baht down the drain!
We got some yummy street food, they got cocktails, we jammed out to some music and then headed back to the hostel.
We woke up the next day about 11am, had some breakfast then went to rent some mopeds/scooters for the day to go exploring.
2,000 baht deposit and Ricky's provisional driving license later (as we certainly were not going to leave our passports with them) we hit the road.
Mopeds are awesome for independent sight-seeing; you can stop where you want, buy gasoline from the side of the road and drive off into the sunset.
Following a map as best we could, we found a beautiful beach that led to the island of Koh Fan.
And of course, we saw a man with the most impressive moustache I have ever witnessed...!

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We walked through the shallow warm water for a little while - Choeng Mon was much more my type of an island getaway!
We played around in the sea and explored the miniature island just off of Choeng Mon beach then after writing some messages in the sand for our wives and partners (what with it being Valentine's day) we got back on our mopeds and carried on around the top of the island.

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We got to Bo Phut pier and Fisherman's village, grabbed some lunch and a drink at the Karma Sutra Cafe then headed in land through the jungle to try and find one of the many waterfalls.

Then we almost died.....

Approaching a massive hill deep in the jungle, we see two girls further up that have either given up trying to get up the hill or have fallen off their mopeds, and Mish taps me on the back and tells me that Ricky is waving at us to stop.
So I stop the moped half way up a hill.
Everything happened so fast.
Mish flew off the back of the bike, hit her head on the ground and started rolling down the hill towards Ricky who had stopped his moped to help her but then his bike started rolling backwards down the hill, so he jumped off and it skidded sideways down the hill.
Mine and Mish's bike tried to roll on top of me so I grabbed at the handles and accidentally got the throttle, revved it and flew with the bike towards the edge of the hill straight into the barricade and a very upset Ant Hill until I could reach the keys to turn it off.
Only after checking that everyone was alive and well, did we burst into uncontrollable laughter as some man in a truck with his family tried to help us!

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We stopped for 10 minutes or so after rolling our bikes down the hill, had a celebratory cigarette then decided the waterfall could wait and we headed back to the main road.
Ricky then mentioned he needed gas which was the original reason for his signalling us, so after purchasing some gasoline in an old wine bottle from a nice man by the side of the road, we went back to the hostel.
Funny day, funny, funny day!

We left Koh Samui and got on a boat to Koh Phangan.

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We met an English guy called Mike who we named Alan after a private joke mentioned in our shared taxi to the port in Koh Samui.
He taught English and was going to see some friends on Koh Phangan.
When we arrived in Koh Phangan, the taxi wanted to charge 300 baht to take us to our hostel - we knew it was close so we asked a local who confirmed our suspicions and within less than 3 minutes we'd walked to our hostel.
Kylie aptly described our hostel as Barbie's Dream House!
It was pink and purple with play boy bunnies everywhere!

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Ghastly, but oddly homely!
We checked in and went upstairs to survey the 20-bed hostel.... oh my.
A whole wall lined with double and single bunkbeds that were all connected to each other...

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When someone at one end moved, everyone else felt it all the way down to the other end.
I'm just glad no one had sec in there during our stay, I fear I may have got motion sickness!
After chatting to Alan (Mike) we knew which bars we wanted to visit and headed to the beach to get a boat to the less road-accessible parts of the island.
The boat ride was interesting - with nothing but a head torch to the guide the boat around the rocks, we arrived on another part of the island and jumped into the coarse sand of the beach.
The captain pointed to our destination that was partly submerged by boulders and jungle.
We headed to our first destination - Eden.
As we got off the beach, we found ourselves on a rickety wooden walkway precariously balanced on the rocks and boulders below, reminiscent of the wooden walkway in the Hobbit!
Although there were no orcs or trolls hindering our journey, every step was laced with dread as sharp rocks protruded viciously beneath us.
After walking the plank and negotiating a rock face, all the while questioning a drunk person's ability to not die out here, we found a bar.
Alas, it was not Eden, but we did meet a guy called Shawn who runs a TEFL programme in Taiwan that pays substantially more than China.... it's all about networking!
We got his email and he directed us to Eden - you guessed it, back down the rock face and across an even more rickety wooden branch walkway.
After safely passing this walking test and being deeply disappointed to have not won a crystal in this zone, we found Eden.
I found home!
Black lights everywhere, giant psychedelic UV posters and throws on the walls and squidgy cushion seats all over the floor, I joined my fellow hippies and for about 2 hours was totally at peace with the world and with nature and I let the music guide me.

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We were befriended by a beautiful pit-bull bitch who later would become our personal guide!
After Tanya had go her fill of chatting to some new people, we went to head out to Guy's Bar, only to realise we didn't know where it was!
Luckily, a marvellously hippy woman told us she was heading that way, so with her and our new dog to guide us, we headed up through the jungle...
A lot easier to do once you've climbed a huge mountain!
We went up and down and around the jungle using nothing but the torch on my phone for light until we reached a different beach.
This is where our hippy guide left us but our trusty pit-bull continued to show us the way!
A few minutes more walking in the dark and following the music (and the dog!) and we found Guy's Bar - a black light hippy Neverland of hammocks and cushions and moving wooden platforms with small tables on and dancing.
Oh the dancing.
To feel so free and uninhibited by social pressures and conformities so people, regardless of how it looked, let their bodies physicalise the music into visual poetry.
Even thinking about it again is bringing back the Zen in me.
No one was there to judge you, no one cared what you were wearing or if you'd fixed your hair properly; they were just there, to be... well, to be!
So we danced, quite controlled at first, trying to get a taste for the crowd, the atmosphere; then we danced.
Oh lordy lord, did we dance.
I think I lost 5lbs that night!
We danced in the jungle until 4am.
I got kissed by a random Iranian man who was so overcome with joy that he needed to share the love.
The girls and I found a comfy nook to chill in for a while before heading back down to the beach and the boat that would take us home.
Our pit-bull led the way back down the random stepping stones of the jungle to the beach, the ethereal weightlessness helping the journey down run smoothly.
Then the feeling of pure happiness slowly started to ebb away with each gentle wave breaking on the sand as the wait began.
Not the wait for the boat, oh no, the boat was ready.
We were waiting for enough people to fill the boat.
The boats on the island are privately owned so they wouldn't leave unless at least 8 people were getting the boat.
So we waited.
Then we waited some more.
Then finally, people!
Damn, still not enough.
We waited some more.... until eventually the right number of people arrived, 300 baht each later and we were on our way to our side of the island.
As we walked away from the beach the the fire shows through the multitude of drunken fist-pumpers we found a very drunk and slightly burnt Alan (Mike), who had been playing with fire himself.
Resound to going to bed, we left drunk Alan with drunk Alan's friend and returned to our crowded but well ventilated room at the Moonstone Hostel.
We never did see Alan again.

Kylie went home (NYC) at 9am the following morning and with no Ricky (who had stayed on Koh Samui with some new friends for an extra day, we were down to 3.
Tanya booked herself into her hotel so Mish and I went to meet her before heading to the beach.
The sun was so hot on Koh Phangan and my poor English skin couldn't take it so I headed back tot he hostel only to be greeted by Ricky chilling on the sofa!
He regaled his adventures during his extra day on Koh Samui and I told him about our expedition then we ordered a shisha pipe and relaxed on the sofa and watched films all afternoon!
Later that afternoon, UV face and body paint at the ready, we prepared our flesh for the half moon party with the other people in our hostel.
Painted up and ready to go, we got in a tin bus taxi and headed out.

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We arrived, paid our 500 baht, got our free drink (Which I gave to the others!) and entered party central.
A large collection of girating foreigners eye-fucking and grinding their way around the sand and mud dance floor, like a scene from the Serengeti, packs of males scoped out and hunted down their female pray.

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Too much for me, I much preferred the atmosphere at Eden and Guy's Bar, so I retreated into the jungle to enjoy the music without being subjected to the antiquated mating rituals below.
A guy from Cardiff of all places who works as a primary school teacher in Qatar plonked himself down next to me and we chatted for a bit then when the conversation dried up, he carried on with his life and I did the same.
The party ended pretty swiftly for me and I was in bed by 4am - the others rocked up at around 7am...!
The next day was pretty chilled, we got some falafel for lunch then Ricky and I wasted the day away in a Rasta Bar after buying some special cigarettes..........

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........

I went to bed after that - 'smoking' always makes me sleepy but the others went to a floating bar and the next day we hopped on another boat to our final island: Koh Tao.

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We'd adopted an Irish girl, Virginia, who we aptly named Irish, from our hostel and when we arrived in Koh Tao and got attacked once again by taxi drivers we just took her to our hotel as she hadn't booked anywhere to stay!
After we checked in we got in the pool and didn't really leave the whole time we were there!

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Whenever the rest of the town went to sleep, the party continued by our pool, so until the early hours of the breaking day, pool parties were rife and the music was blasted out...

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Tanya and I walked along the beach, through the shallow warm water right to the edge of the world and looked into going snorkelling but Mish twisted her ankle and could barely move it so we didn't go in the end which was a shame.

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To be honest though, at the end of our 3 weeks in Thailand, I was so knackered I didn't even want to move!
We did however manage to do a lantern on the beach for good vibes and our wives!

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Ricky and I were going to get tattoos in Bangkok but thought they'd probably be more expensive so we found a beautiful hippy boy and he helped design our tattoos then I got a bamboo one by Mama, and Ricky got an old tattoo covered up by machine by Papa!

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That hippy boy was so beautiful!
I'm so going to move to Thailand and have beautiful jungle babies with a beautiful hippy man!
We chilled by the pool then headed down to the port to get a boat to Chumporn (no that's not shark-bait themed adult movies!) then got a bus to Bangkok.

We arrived at 5am, checked in, slept until 11am, check out, then vegged out and watched Twilight in Thai on giant floor cushions.
This is the life, sat in hareem pants, on the floor under a fan, sweating away in 35 degree heat!
Ricky and I ventured out in the midday sun to spend what little money we had left on souvenirs and cigarettes! (Naturally!)
We were stood outside, not moving, under a shade looking at the niknaks and trinkets and the sweat was pouring down our backs.
We'd forgotten how humid Bangkok was.
We saved 100 baht each for the taxi to the airport, bought some food and water with whatever remnants of change we had left and went back to the hostel.
We resumed our positions on the floor cushions, chowed down and chilled out.
At about 4:30pm we went to book the car to the airport, only to discover that the 4pm bus has gone and the next one was at 8pm and our flight left a 7pm...

Balls.

So we walked towards the main road, away from the hustle and bustle of Kohsan Road and hailed a cab.
"How much to the airport?"
"500 baht"
I look in my wallet, I look back at the driver...
"I can give you exactly 340 baht."
It was literally all the money we had left.
He looked at me and said...
"400 ok?"
I took the 340 baht out of purse and said again...
"I only have 340 baht - this is it, this is all of our money..." gently shaking the tattered notes in his direction.

Eventually after sad eyes and begging smiles, he accepted and by 4:50pm we were on our way.
Now before we left, we were told that it would take an hour and a half to get to the airport...
We set off at 4:50pm...
Check in at the airport closes 45 minutes prior to departure....
This was going to be a close one.
We sat in traffic for a while and the panic set in. I know my credit card wouldn't cover 3 flights if we missed it but I could think of worse places to be stranded.
We get to the airport at 5:25pm - less than 45 minutes!
Winning!
Now we had no money and only a bottle of water each so we tried to ignore the hundreds of delicious food places beckoning us in and checked in for our flight.
Ricky got changed into his China clothes, ready for the cold -2 degrees on Beijing.
I much preferred the 33 degrees we were currently enjoying!
We headed to our gate and were in, on and up within the hour.
Free drinks, a delicious meal and a nap across the 3 free seats next to me and we landed in Beijing.

Holy hell was that cold, and when Thailand stole all of your shoes, leaving you with nothing but flip-flops, you lose feeling in your toes almost instantly!
Determined to carry on, me, my flip-flops, my hareem pants and my strap top headed to passport control and immigration.
Mish and I felt very Asian, what with our socks and flip-flop combos...

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After a painful wait for the woman behind the counter, who I'm pretty sure didn't even work there, finally checked us through, we went to baggage claim and departed the airport.
We knew the drill in China so when the taxi guy said 450 Yuan, we told him to do one, and 90 yuan later, around 2am, we arrived at our hostel for the night.
What a dump!
Mish and I had 3 quilts and still had to huddle for warmth.
I instantly missed sleeping in my underwear under a fan.
We eventually shivered ourselves to sleep, woke up at 10/10:30am and got the heck out of there!

Next hurdle, get to Beijing West Train Station, get tickets our friend had booked online, get on the train at 12:13pm.
We got to the train station at 11:45am only to be told we needed to go to a different booth.
11:55am we get to the front of that queue, she speaks excellent English, we eventually get our tickets and head up to the platforms.
Beijing Xi (west) is huge.
12:05pm we find out what platform we need.
12:10pm we get to the gate.
"Boarding closes 5 minutes before departure"
12:13pm, our train leaves without us.
12:15pm we head back downstairs to buy new tickets.
12:25pm we go downstairs some more to the the previous tickets refunded.
12:45pm we go for a much needed cigarette.
12:55pm we give up and go to McDonalds.
13:30pm we go to our platform and wait to get on.
By 2pm, we're on the train, music on, headphones in, pillows strategically made from scarves and jackets, eyes shut, world is gone.

Tired, grotty, dirty, bruised, twisted, beaten, we get home - our lovely clean apartment, showered, washing in the machine, jammies on, sleep.

Oh Thailand. Totally worth it.

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Posted by Lady Mantle 18:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged waterfalls mountains beaches adventure bangkok hostel beijing mcdonalds koh_tao cocktails cold half_moon_party koh_phangan koh_samui uv 3_weeks_in_thailand beautiful_hippies my_future_home blacklight rasta_bars choeng_mon koh_fan chaweng_beach party_central bo_phut moonstone_hostel lotus_resort the_wave kohsan_road Comments (2)

The next chapter of "3 Weeks in Thailand"

Chiangmai: Elephant trekking, Tigers and Death Mountain!

sunny 32 °C

We arrived in Chiangmai at about 6am, and naturally, what with us being westerners, it being breakfast time, and us being in Thailand, we went to McDonalds..!
It just doesn't taste the same - which is probably a good thing!
We got a taxi to our hostel [Deejay's Hostel - Excellent!] from the bus station for 200 baht - not too bad, but it was cheaper in the red bus-taxi rather than a regular taxi.
I'll explain later if I remember!
When we arrived at our hostel, we knew we were in Northern Thailand - greenery everywhere, backdrop of a huge mountain and clear blue skies!

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Our hostel looked like the Secret Garden; hanging vines, trees and plants, secluded little seating areas, orchids and other flowers - beautiful!

We followed suit when we got to the front doors and took off our shoes before entering. The hippy in me rejoiced at the chilled, Zen atmosphere of this hostel, of this place - everyone relaxing and conversing with one another on beanbags in baggy pants with ankle bracelets and wooden jewellery.
We arrived far too early to check in but within 20 minutes we were in our room and Mish and Ricky were asleep! I'd slept on the bus so I ventured outside into the early morning sun.
It was about 30 degrees when I eventually left the hostel at 8am ish but it wasn't humid like Bangkok so it was a pleasant walk.
I found some cute boutiques, decent cafes and coffee houses including this little beauty plenty of street vendors and dogs in abundance.
As I ventured further out, I discovered the moat that encased the old city within Chiangmai and a beautiful park. I bought a bag of what appeared to be carp pellets for 5 baht and dutifully fed the birds and the koi carp in the park until there was none left and only the memory of fishing with my father lingered on my hands as I rubbed the smell of carp pellets into my already heavily worn pants.

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I headed back to the hostel past a smorgasbord of fresh, heavenly smelling fruits so I decided to take a mango which was promptly sliced, bagged and pierced with a stick ready for my consumption.
The sweetest, juiciest fruit dissolved effortlessly in my mouth - there is nothing like a thirst-quenching ripe fruit off of the street in the sun!
This life I could adopt immediately.
I have never felt so at peace in a place in such a shot amount of time. I eventually floated my way back to the hostel to find those two still sleeping away so I hopped in the shower which proved to be even more refreshing than the fruit!
When I got out of the shower, they were awake and ready for the world - we headed out. We went to one of the cafes I'd found previously on my solo excursion, the owner of which was a retired English man - he was nice, and clearly a genius - what a fantastic place to retire!
Tanya and Kylie (Mish's friends from NYC) met us and indulged in a smoothie and some yummy food and then we went to book a 2 day trek through the jungle and elephant riding!
We tried to meet the girls later at a Reggae bar but we lost them. After a worrying night of trying to solve some personal issues happening in China, we eventually went to sleep around 2am.
When the alarm went off in the morning, I wanted to die - little did I know that would be the theme of the next 2 days!
We got our bags, hopped in a tuk tuk and made our way to the girls hotel where we discovered we couldn't be doing the trek together and they promptly left.
Therefore, we took the most obvious option of stealing their complimentary breakfast... Winning!
Our truck eventually turned up to take us to the jungle, but was already full, so we got the VIP treatment and sat in the cabin with the driver!
We stopped at a random Orchid and Butterfly farm and I bought some more fresh mango! More than addicted now!

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We set off again and arrived in an open thicket of trees with bamboo towers and then there they were: Elephants!
We approached with caution - Elephants are really big and feel like a wire brush - they're so hairy!!
A woman sold us a bag of bananas and sugar canes and a mini frenzy began! I think that elephant's trunk explored every part of me looking for those bananas!

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We had some lunch - egg and chicken fried rice wrapped in a banana leaf!

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Then it was elephant riding time! :D
We climbed the bamboo towers and boarded our mighty beasts!
I had an unmanned elephant for a little while so demonstrably he buggered off at considerable speed with me bobbing around on his back!
All of a sudden, my elephant dipped his head down and there was a cute Thai man sat on his head; then we were off through the jungle!

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Holy hell that was toasty, but you couldn't get too hot as the elephants sprayed you with water fro their trunk every 5 minutes!
We trekked for about an hour before arriving at a different elephant camp.
We dismounted and began walking down some steps towards a river - then I saw it!
A zip-line across the river and a rusty, metal cage attached to it.
I was first to go!
After clambering into the cage, I was swiftly shoved to the other side of the river!
I'm just glad I made it to the other side in one piece!

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On the other side there was an elephant being washed in the river, so I headed on down and bathed the elephant. As soon as Ricky and Mish had come across in the metal cage, they too were in the river bathing the elephant with me!

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That's when we got told off by our guide because washing the elephants wasn't part of our tour! whoops!
Then the 4 hour trek up the mountain began...

I have never done anything as hard as that in my entire life. The amount of sweat pouring out of me was tantamount to the waterfall we eventually got to go in to cool off! Insanely hard work and it was only going to get harder.
The hour and a half we just practically marched was the easy bit according to our guide!
After a quick dip in a pleasantly freezing waterfall, we continued on our epic uphill climb!

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There are no steps in the jungle, only elephant footprints and rocks. Luckily our guide had cut down some bamboo for us to use as walking sticks.
That stick saved my life!
The climb was so steep at times I had to hoist myself up on a nearby tree and my bamboo cane!

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Then it happened - I started to fall behind as my legs had never had such a workout, and cardio? More like cardiac arrest!

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I was dying but I had no where to go but up, as I sure as hell wasn't spending the night in the middle of the jungle alone!
so on I trekked, the words "You can go hard, or you can go home" ringing in my ears... (that may also have been the rush of blood I was forcibly pumping around my body!)
Every time I eventually joined the rest of the group who thankfully stopped and waited for me!
Some of those women hadn't even broken a sweat! Bitches!
After what felt like days, not hours, we could see the top of the mountain laced with bamboo huts - our home for the evening.

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Exulted doesn't even cover the level of joy I felt at that moment, but we weren't there yet!
Onwards and upwards we climbed until finally it levelled out.
Flat ground!
Huzzah!
With only a last few minutes of walking to push through, we arrived at our bamboo hut, threw our stuff down and selected a cold beverage from the awaiting cool-box!
I have never truly understood what quenching one's thirst felt like until the moment that icy cool liquid drenched my mouth. I was so appeased by it that I inadvertently drenched my chest too, but it didn't matter, I think I even heard my skin yelp with joy at the unexpected refreshment!
We chose our beds for the night and got change and within no time at all, our guide had whipped up an incredible dinner for all 13 of us using nothing but a clay pot over an open fire pit and a torch in the nook of his neck for light.
Our fire pit was lit after we the watched the sun set over the mountains and played with some of the local children - exquisite.

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Drinks in hand and night ascended, we engaged in Chinese drinking games that attracted the attention of the least offensive French person who gratefully joined in.
After being serenaded by small tribes children for well over 6 minutes, we were then engaged in brain teaser games by our guide.
I was happy as I figured out a few of them when others couldn't - genius child!
The night sky on top of that mountain is by far the most beautiful I have ever and probably will ever see. 360 degrees of an uninterrupted navy blanket showing every constellation available, each one clearer than a telescope could hope for.
Incredible.
I will never forget that sky or how I got to see it.
We climbed into our beds, pulled our mosquito nets over ourselves and settled in for the night.

~ / ~ \ ~

The sun came streaming through the gaps in the bamboo walls and palm tree branches roof as the multitude of cockerels announced that morning had indeed arrived.

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I was the first of our group to get up. I had a shower, popped in the jungle and got my stuff together.
Our guide was already up making scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast, we paid for our drinks from the night before, finished our breakfast and were on the move again.
We split into 2 group as some were doing a 3 day trek whereas we were only doing 2 days.
We got a new guide, a young boy, not older than 14, traipsing off ahead of us.
"It's very steep" he said, "so no crying; only happy faces!"
Down was easier than up for me, but was harder to get your footing - once again, my bamboo cane swung into action and prevented me from falling on my ass down a mountain at great speeds!
About 30 minutes in we had a few minutes rest and I felt much better than the day before. On we trekked down steeper and steeper parts of the jungle until giant rocks and boulders began protruding from the earth
- [ Now please don't misconstrue what I'm saying here; it wasn't an earthquake or anything, there were just suddenly rocks and boulder when there had been none before! ] -
My leg decided to try and make a break for it and got badly scraped down the left side of my left leg.
Me being sensible, looked at it and though it was just dirt and carried on down the mountain until our guide stopped me and told me to wait.
It was only then that I looked down at me leg to see it as pissing out blood, until our guide returned with a few leaves, used one to wipe the blood away, then crushed the other in his hand and gently rubbed the green pulp onto my wound.
Genius.
I just got healed by the jungle!
A little slowed now on our way down, we eventually came to a huge waterfall and took off our bags and shoes ready to get in.

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Bugger me was that cold!
We stayed there for a little while before pushing ahead with the downwards trek.
My legs felt like jelly and all I could hear in my head was my mother saying "have a banana, it will make you feel better" but I was bananaless so continued on my wobbly way!
We walked through the jungle, dodging rocks and the river as we followed the path that ran along aside it. After some strategically placed but poorly made wooden ladders to cross, we came to a tall tree that had fallen over the water and dubiously climbed across (all the while, fighting the temptation to re-enact that scene from Dirty Dancing!)
The ground flattened out after that and we eventually came to a regular road cut into the mountain.
Mish and I had a casual stroll as the others marched on ahead - we were just thankful to have made it to flat ground again!
I was particularly thankful that aside from the rock attack, I hadn't fallen down.
We took a turn and began heading down to some white water rafting boats ready to make our way down the river when it happened - less than 10 feet away and I slipped and fell on my ass!!
I was so disappointed!
I'd made it so far!!
After squeezing my boobs into a life jacket and my head into a helmet, we boarded our rafts and were off down the river - Stroke! Stroke!
The water wasn't very high as the rainy season isn't until May/June time so it wasn't particularly difficult to raft down the rapids.
We floated along for a little while until we got to some bamboo rafts that were awaiting us - we switched vessels and continued on the last leg of our journey - Frodo ain't got shit on me!
The bamboo raft was ok but it didn't float particularly well and at one point I was pretty sure we were going to re-live the sinking of the titanic!
The raft kept tipping up and Mish was clinging on for dear life!
Very amusing!
We pulled up next to a little bamboo rest stop, had some scrummy Pad Thai for dinner, got back into the truck we're come to the jungle in and headed back to our hostel.

If you're tired after reading all that, just imagine how we felt!!

~ / ~ \ ~

The next day we didn't move, not by choice anyway - our bodies were so stiff, when I woke up I feared I had become paralysed!
Getting down from that top bunk to pee may well have been harder than climbing down that mountain that day.
I could feel muscles in my legs that i didn't even know were there!
We bummed around the hostel for a bit in between copious naps and when evening fell, we ventured out into civilisation!
We went to a night market and bought some bits and pieces (mainly for ourselves!), saw some Chinese New Year dragons dancing through the street, then retreated back to the hostel to rest our legs!

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The next day we checked out of our room but left our luggage at the hostel, hopping in a red bus and went to find breakfast - falafel and hummus!
Om nom nom!
Mango smoothies been and gone, bill paid and we jumped in a tuk tuk to go to the Tiger Kingdom.
About 20 minutes later, we pulled up at the Tiger Kingdom, paid just over 1000 baht (£20ish) after selecting the biggest and smallest tigers then headed inside.
The baby tigers were first - some of them were sleepy but others they were playful and running around.
It was like trying to photograph children, they kept running away!
We'd paid extra to have a photographer some with us to get the perfect shots.
The babies were so beautiful and little, we enjoyed them a lot!
On to the big cats; we had to wait a little while as there were quite a few people waiting to get in with the big cats. About 45-60 minutes later, we were in.
Bugger me, those cats were big!
We cuddled them and played with their tails and rubbed their bellies - they seemed to like that!

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Before long, our time was up, we bid our new cat friends adieu, picked up our photo CD's and got back in our tuk tuk which was patiently waiting for us.
We headed back to town, picked up our luggage and headed to the bus station ready to catch an overnight bus back to Bangkok - if I was going to live anywhere in Thailand - it would be in the North, probably Chiangmai - I've never felt so at peace.
We boarded the coach for the evening and began our 24 hour travelling spree to the islands in the south of Thailand....

Tune in next time for chapter 3: The Islands of Thailand

Posted by Lady Mantle 20:42 Archived in Thailand Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises mountains skylines animals sky trekking elephants adventure games chiangmai tigers pancakes dying night_market mosquitos 3_weeks_in_thailand bamboo_cane beautiful_hippies my_future_home deejay_hostel Comments (2)

3 weeks in Thailand....!

This is going to be a long one so I'll start with Bangkok and see where we go from there!

sunny 35 °C

With our bags packed and our sleepy but excited selves at the ready, we left our warm apartment and ventured out into the -5 degree weather of China and hopped into a taxi.
Half an hour later we were at the new train station in Xinxiang ready to head out to Beijing to catch our flight.
When we arrived in Beijing there was snow and slush everywhere so we trudged over to the airport shuttle bus, paid our £1.60 and chilled out for 40 minutes to and hour.
We got to the airport terminal then had to get another shuttle bus to our terminal - Beijing Airport is massive!
We got our tickets and checked in our bags then went to get some food, which is when I actually looked at our plane tickets..... our flight was at 19:45 but our boarding time was 21:00.... balls.
I look at my watch to see that it was only 18:07 - we were going to be here for a while!
So, in true British (and American) fashion, we found a bar, got a drink and played Uno! Within no time at all, well, within 3 hours, we were sat by our boarding gate... where we stayed for another half an hour... and a little more... and once the last person had gone through the doors to the transfer bus, then and only then, did we get up and proceed to the boarding counter and handed over our tickets.
Well the plane wasn't going to leave without us!
It then didn't leave until 23:17, just to spite us!
The flight was pretty standard; 5 hours, a little sleep, a little food, random sections of a film, the old "you have arrived in Bangkok".
We stepped off the plane into a wall of thick, warm heat.
Yes.
We had definitely arrived.
It was 5am and 34 degrees! Tasty!
We jumped in a cab and were on our way to our hostel [We Bangkok] - Naturally we were ripped off by the cab even though it was on the meter and paid about 400 baht more than was necessary, but it still only cost about £13 so I'm not really that hung up on it.
We were slightly worried that we were not allowed to fart in the taxi...

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We threw our bags in our room (quietly, as someone was sleeping in there!) then went up to the rooftop to chill in the heat of the night.

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About 6am, we got into bed and power-napped for about 4 hours, then we were up and out to explore our new surroundings...

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We went to meet up with Mish's friends from New York who had also come to Thailand then headed into town.
Upon arrival at the million stories high mall, we went to the top and got some lunch, we left Ricky to shop his little socks off and fill his empty bag with summer clothes and us girls went to see some temples and the Grand Palace and have an adventure of our own!
We found an amazing street market with all types of food and had the most delicious mixed fresh fruit smoothie :) mmmmm!

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We then spent about half an hour bartering with different taxis and tuk tuks to take us home, eventually convincing one to take us all back for 250 baht - about £5!
We found Ricky at our hostel, suitably shopped out so we got changed and ventured into town to see what the night could offer us in Bangkok...

Holy hell!

We we not mentally prepared - we walked into Patpong Night Market [basically a long street with hundreds of stalls selling fake goods at 'good prices for you'....] with all the counterfeit goodies you could ever want and then BOOM!

"PING PONG SHOW! YOU WANNA COME PING PONG SHOW?"

Every 2 minutes another man was thrusting a laminated sheet of lies in our faces asking if we wanted to see a woman squirt various objects at us from her vagina... naturally, after a heavy discussion about the price [100 baht each for all the shows and drinks] we entered the house of Pussy Pong.
A seedy black room where miserable, almost unmoving lady boys clunkily swayed next to a pole, as a pregnant stripper slinked between them, caressing her rotund belly and uncovered breasts; then it happened.

A Tupperware box of ping pong balls was slid centre stage and a short, dumpy woman plodded on behind it in nothing but a bra. She preceded to lie on a towel on stage (cleanliness is next to Godliness...) and with her vagina poised, ready and pointing at us, the balls began to fly left, right and centre with a healthy coating of glistening discharge. Then the paddles came out for those of us not firing things out of our lady gardens and the game began - Pussy Pong Extreme.
Every time one of those juice-encased balls projectiled towards us, Ricky was there batting them away - at one point I thought he was trying to return them to their point of origin!

Anyway, after a ghastly shower of balls and moist vagina, a different woman came on stage with a box of her own. She took down balloons fro the poles that were still being belittled by motionless lady boys and handed said balloons to everyone in the audience.
She assumed a similar position to the other woman but instead of a ping pong balls being plunged into the void, a 6-inch hollow metal pipe, almost like a penny whistle, found its way into her iridescent cleft. She then placed a tiny dart into the pipe, ordered us to hold up our balloons and bang!
The dart fired out of her vagina tube with more speed and precision than an AK-47 and popped the balloons - first time, every time.

Now, throughout the course of the evening we'd noticed several foreigners arguing with what appeared to be the manageress of this establishment. We were ready for her and we were thoroughly aware of how these places made their money.

We finished our drinks, prepared our 100 baht notes and moved towards the door...
"No, no, please sit!"
We advised her that we wanted to leave...

"No, no, please wait a moment, sit, sit!"
No, we were leaving, and began heading to the door...

"Ok, ok!" she says and she goes to get what appears to be a pre-printed bill for 4,200 baht!

The shit hit the fan.

Ricky's telling her hell no, Mish is telling her the guy outside said 100 each, and I'm watching the money.
This woman really didn't like Ricky yelling at her and she got angry.
I stepped forward and told her she either accepts 100 baht each or we leave and she gets nothing.
"Ok, ok, 300 baht. You pay now."

Ricky hands her 200 baht and Mish hands over 100 - I didn't realise until it was too late and I too handed over 100 - she snatched the 400 baht, so I, quick like a cat, snatched it back, took the extra 100, threw the 300 back at her and walked out like a fucking boss!

A quick hi-5 in the street and we went to find dinner. Bangkok hadn't got us yet!

So after walking past countless more ping pong shows and lady boy bars we made it back to the main road and searched for food.
We didn't want anything huge and we didn't want chain food so we went down a small street with chairs and tables outside and local Thai people chowing down.

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We ordered some chicken and rice, Ricky got a beer - Ricky and Mish ate mine as I wasn't a fan and then the people we'd bought it from tried to rip Ricky off!
So far, Bangkok was behaving badly but we were prepared.

A little further down the road we found 'Boy Street'... On first reading, you're probably thinking a street of beautiful girls all provocatively gyrating for the passing men.

You'd be wrong.

This was a street of beautiful boys, provocatively gyrating for the passing men.

Neon signs boasted the "Sexiest boys in Bangkok", some were less classy but more to the point, like "Boys! Boys! Boys!" - either way, it was a sexual avenue of promiscuity and lust at every turn.

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Oddly enough, I felt safer and more at home in that homosexual wonderland than anywhere else in Bangkok!

Ricky went to the toilet, and when he started walking back towards us, he looked like he was trying to escape the River Styxx - swirling in and out of throngs of bodies and clawing hands, his face lit up like a kid in a candy store, as multiple, beautiful boys dragged him left, right and centre - at one point I feared that he might be quartered!
When he eventually got to us, all we heard was "I need more money" his eyes wide and wild - we told him we had money and asked him where he wanted to go first... "Oh, I know where I want to go!" he replied, raising his eyebrows, a sure indication of trouble!

Then he took us both by the hand and whisked us into a nearby neon hot spot with 10 to 20 boys lined up around a thrust stage and every 30 seconds or so they moved to the left like they were on a perpetual sexy carousel.
Each boy had a number and for 500 baht you could pick one and take him out of the meat market - we worked as a team; I handled the money, Mish discussed prices and services, and Ricky picked the one he wanted.

The deal was struck, the money paid, and the sexy cowboy-boots-wearing buff went to put real people clothes on!
Mish and I followed a few 100 yards behind the 2 boys walking hand in hand when our homo beckoned us to him - with the slip of a 500 baht note they crossed the street to a shady looking hotel - Mish and I waited it out nearby...

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Apparently, when you use Mish and I to negotiate prices and handle the cash exchanges, you also get added protection services as well.

About 20 minutes later, not even that, we saw our paid and saddled Thai boy scurrying back towards the bar we bought him from. Our cue had arrived, on our feet and across the road in less than 15 seconds, we headed towards the hotel to see an angry and confused Ricky walking towards us.
There just wasn't enough money in our pockets to pay for ass in Bangkok.
Bangkok - 1 : Us - 1

Tired and defeated by Bangkok's sexual frivolities, we went back to the hostel to chill out. There are a lot of rats in Bangkok, and cockroaches in the shower! Bleurgh!

The next day we went to Tanya and Kylie's hotel - it was beautiful, so naturally we stole their pool and preceded to fanny around like idiots for an hour or so completely forgetting that we should have checked out from our own accommodation already.

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A quick trip back to our hostel, our stuff crammed back into our bags and back we went to the girls hotel.

We ventured out to find some food, I had Pad Thai, it was scrummy :)
Ricky decided he wanted to be a bit more adventurous so ordered the grilled tongue.

Before I knew what was happening, I saw my fork going towards his plate, I was more surprised when it pierced a piece of grilled tongue and started making it's way back towards my own tongue (ungrilled!)

So apparently, I like tongue now. Who knew!?

This is my life - Ricky is adamant that we'd eat bugs on this holiday, knowing us, we probably would!

We went back to the girl's hotel, grabbed our bags, hopped into a taxi and headed to the bus station.
We got onto the bus/coach for our 9 hour overnight trip north to Chiangmai in the most luxurious seats and service I've ever experienced on a coach. It was better than some flights I've taken! We got fully reclining seats with leg rests, a blanket, a neck-loop-pillow thingy, water, snacks, some weird flavoured juice boxes and AC - not bad at all for £10!

Tune in for the next entry - Chiangmai and Death Mountain! xxx

Posted by Lady Mantle 23:54 Archived in Thailand Tagged temples bangkok pad_thai tongue lady_boys boys_boys_boys we_bangkok_hostel cheap_buses 3_weeks_in_thailand budget_travelling patpong_night_market ping_pong_show Comments (3)

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