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Vang Vieng - Laos

Adventure awaits....

all seasons in one day 30 °C

We took a minibus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng at around 9:30/10am, which cost 45,000 kip each ($5.40/£4) and arrived in Vang Vieng around 1pm.
The road between the two towns was long and winding going up and over a large mountainous range and sections of the road were missing, replaced by rubble and what looked like clay, from what I can only presume was the result of a landslide.
If you suffer from travel sickness, stock up on pills and pop them all because that journey will send your stomach through an assault course of internal anguish!

We arrived in Vang Vieng and luckily for us, our accommodation was only a few doors down from where the minivan dropped everyone off so we collected our suitcases and walked the few metres to our room.
Our accommodation was a 'guesthouse' apparently but in actual fact was more like a stable behind a restaurant. I'm not talking Mary and Joseph style stable of course but almost like a converted stable with a bed and bathroom inside.
It wasn’t horrible but for the price was acceptable. The whole town wasn’t of a particularly high standard anyway so the accommodation available seemed to follow suit.

We paid for a standard double which apparently means fan-only and to have use of the aircon would have cost us a further 120,000 PER DAY ($14.50/£10.80) so naturally we stuck with the fan and were lucky that Vang Vieng was not as hot as Vientiane had been.
We went for a walk around but to be honest there isn't much to see.
It appears that Vang Vieng is nothing more than one major road, full of restaurants and tour operators and some side streets of much the same.
However there is a nice view of the small river with the backdrop of mountains, but that was it really.

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There is also a large number of Korean establishments, which isn't an issue unless you're not in the mood for kimchi!

We stopped in to a few tour operators to see what kind of activities were on offer and there were many!

Vang Vieng got a bad reputation not too long ago for tourists getting drunk and rowdy by the river and then going tubing where they ultimately met an untimely demise.
However, the town has closed nearly all of the illegal pop-up bars by the river and everything seems to be more regulated now.

We booked an all-day tour of tubing through an underground water cave, kayaking and to visit the blue lagoon.
This should have cost 200,000 kip each ($25/£18) but instead we paid 120,000 ($14.50/£10.80) as he needed to fill seats - always look for a good deal!

For dinner we bought some sandwiches which were hardly in short demand as there were at least 5 venders within arms reach of each other offering the same food at the same price!

Now these sandwiches were only 10,000 kip ($1.20/£0.90) for a basic chicken with salad, fried onion and fresh garlic but they were some of the best and most filling sandwiches I've ever eaten.
We had one every day because they were the cheapest food available that would keep us full.

Ever since we spent more than a reasonable amount in Thailand we've been trying to tighten the purse strings in Laos, which is inherently difficult as you don't get as much money per exchange and everything is more expensive than most Asian places.

With 1,000,000 kip ($120/£90) we managed to buy food (not even expensive or fancy meals!), some trinkets from the night market, a boat trip and some entrance tickets to things like a museum or temple.

With the same amount in Thailand or Vietnam we'd have lived like kings.

Anyway, we got some rest before our adventure filled day the following morning.

We were collected in a tuk tuk, complete with a roof rack full of kayaks, at around 9am and after picking up others on the tour we made our way out of town towards the water cave.
It wasn't a particularly long trip and as we'd become accustomed to, bumpy, pothole filled roads led us to the river.
We put on our life jackets and accepted our free water with gratitude as the morning was already warming up under the suns powerful rays and we walked across a wood and rope bridge, over the river, towards the mountains.

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Our guide led us through a quiet, little village with locals observing us as we passed, their internal monologues most likely commenting on how ridiculous we all looked trudging along in life jackets despite not being near water yet!

After walking through wheat fields and climbing over what looked like and reminded me of old school gym apparatus (particularly the 'wooden horse' you had to jump over during gymnastics!) we arrived at a welcoming pool of water and settled down on the benches provided.

Our guide advised us that we'd be there for a while as after going tubing inside the water cave we'd be having lunch before moving on with the day’s activities.

As a larger woman with even larger breasts, life jackets are incredibly annoying as your ample bosom can go one of two ways, down towards your belly button and putting a strain on your chest muscles, or, as was the case for me, up into your throat.

I looked like a male bird of paradise attempting to attract a mate with my bulbous uni-boob protruding from atop the life jacket opening.

Ridiculous.

We were given head torches and advised to leave our things on the benches as they were ours for the morning and no one else would be using them (I'd have liked our own flag or something to put on the tables to indicate ownership but it doesn't work like that anymore…!).

We made our way down to the water, silently wishing we'd bought some form of water shoe with us, either a thin, porous trainer or even jelly shoes would have sufficed as tiny pebbles and unseen rocks are a foot's worst enemy!

The water was colder than I was mentally prepared for but on the plus side I got a free fish pedicure from the little bastards nibbling away at my feet and legs!

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We were each handed our tube (the inner tube of a tractor tyre) and hopped on, before grasping hold of a rope that would lead us inside the water cave.

Although not connected to each other, our whole group moved as one along the rope-system within the cave and slithered our way deeper inside, marvelling at the vastness around us.

At one point we had to abandon our tubes and wade through the shallower waters within, lest our backsides be grazed and nicked!

A large stalactite hung down, bathing us in fresh water as it poured from an unseen opening above.

Upon reaching an expanse of 'open water' (still within the cave and quite deep under the mountain) our guide instructed us to turn off our headlamps.

Complete blackout.

I wish we’d have a waterproof camera or go-pro as we’ll only have our memories of that adventure when we’re old, but alas, what better way to witness these wonders of the world than with your own eyes.

After making our way out of the water cave, we went back up to our benches and settled in for lunch.

Now anyone who’s been on one of these organised tours that include lunch are probably aware of the usual spread, a little bread maybe and some fruit?

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Well, we got a small baguette each, 2 large chicken kebab skewers and a banana leaf package of rice and vegetables as well as a huge platter of fruit.

Everyone in the group was pleasantly surprised, no doubt from having suffered previous ‘included lunch’ before and we were all happily stuffed by the end of lunch.
This was both a good and bad thing, as we weren’t really hungry for the rest of the day, but after lunch we went kayaking and it put quite a strain on our digestive systems!

Now I’ve been kayaking before in Halong Bay, Vietnam on my previous visit, but the fiancé had never done it before.
If you’re also a first timer for kayaking and you’re considering it, make sure you get some kind of tutorial beforehand or it can be a little scary when your kayak starts veering off and you instinctually choose the wrong side to correct it – as my fiancé quickly learned!

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Luckily for him, I deliberately sat at the back of the kayak as there is more power and control from there so I could correct any issues with our trajectory.
That didn’t stop him from ferociously trying to paddle on the wrong side causing us to change direction, despite me telling him which side – sometimes his listening skills are somewhat lacking…!

We stopped after about 1 hour and lord knows how many kilometres for the others in our group to do a zip-line course (something they’d paid for but we had opted out from).

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I’m sure after my acrophobic fiancé got over the volume of distance between him and the ground he may have enjoyed the adrenaline from such an activity, but given my density I felt being suspended metres above the ground by nothing more than a wire was probably not the best move and that I should never be suspended in mid-air, other than on an aeroplane!

The rain has been following us from country to country and true to form, an unholy downpour was released, masking out the distance mountains and thoroughly drenching anyone caught in it.
Including but not limited to the people from other groups still kayaking on the river and the apparently blissful people gracefully floating down the river on inner tubes.

The fiancé and I sought shelter at the starting point of the zip line and were graciously received and given chairs out of the rain, when the fiancé noticed a small black and yellow banded snake creeping out of the wooden boards beneath us.

Now anyone who knows me will know that snakes, lizards, anything reptilian or amphibious, anything with scales or crystal eyes, does not bother me, in fact I think they’re beautiful, unlike spiders which are nasty little 8-legged demons straight from proverbial hell!

I digress, baby snake – the fiancé has a deep and often comical fear of snakes, including ones in the zoo and fake ones… he really is an amusing man!
I’m in no way belittling his fear, as if you tossed a decorative spider at me, I would most likely soil myself. Fear is real people!

But this snake that decided to join us out of the torrent of rain was:
1) no longer than my forearm
2) as thin as a pencil or one of those thick straws for drinking smoothies
3) at least 2 metres away from us, also heading away from us

It was so insignificant in size that when fiancé first pointed it out, I thought it was a big worm.

I’m the inquisitive type that gets killed by animals for getting to close to them, I’d be one with my face chewed off my chimpanzees or the one destroyed by a hippo for encroaching on their territory, so naturally I got up to get a closer look at the beautiful serpent.

Black with yellow stripes.

Stunning.

It slithered away out of the rain, up a bamboo pole and inside through a little hole at the top.

When I turned around to return to my seat next to fiancé, he had both feet up off the floor and was wildly searching around the base of his chair for any other guest that may join us.

Other than the biggest toad I’ve ever seen, there was nothing else from the natural world coming anywhere near us.

As the rain began to settle, the zip-liners returned and we went back down to the kayaks and continued on down the river.

The fiancé seemed much more suited to his kayaking on this second leg of the journey and we were frequently working the paddles in unison, moving effortlessly along the river.

  • Side note – there was an awful lot of effort, I felt like the hulk by the time we were done, definitely arm day in the world gym!

We got back in the tuk tuk that was waiting for us by the edge of the river and made our way to the blue lagoon which I’m sure would have been more beautiful had the sun been shining but I was grateful for less UV rays attacking me after I felt my shins burning from the first kayaking leg.

I thought the river had been cold but this lagoon, this was ice water I was sure of it and after jumping off of a tree branch and plunging into it, I ultimately felt refreshed and contemplated opening a glass-cutting business with my nipples.

After an hour or so, we made our way back to our accommodation, got a 10,000 kip sandwich from our usual lady, had a shower (after eating said sandwich, we’re not into bathing with our food) and promptly passed out for about 15 hours.

The following day was mainly revolved around eating sandwiches, sleeping and resting our weary bodies, and before we knew it the time came to book a minivan to Luang Brabang and we watched Vang Vieng disappear into the distance.

Posted by Lady Mantle 21:03 Archived in Laos Tagged nature travel adventure laos kayaking snake tubing vang_vieng sandwiches water_cave 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)

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)

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)

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