A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about pancakes

The Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas

And the joys of renting a car in a foreign country!

sunny 34 °C

My flight from New Orleans to Atlanta didn't take very long, but after the 3 hour flight to Phoenix and the 4 hour drive to Flagstaff, I was knackered!
I picked up my rental car at Phoenix airport - sounds simple enough but I'd had to cancel a previous rental agreement because the US Customs decided that my international drivers permit was not important enough to actually deliver and even now, after 6 months, it still hasn't been delivered! But my friends in NOLA advised me that rental companies barely ask for it, so I took the risk by booking with another company that wasn't asking for an IDP and I was away!

Now in Britain, we drive on the right side of the car. In China and in America, on the left side. Now I've driven a car in China, but having sat in taxis and friends cars, I was familiar with the right hand drive, automatic gear box stuff, plus Michelle had been kind enough to let me drive a little in New York so I was confident that I wasn't going to die!

Oh my god, how I had missed driving! Being on the wrong side of the car meant nothing, I was driving again and I had forgotten just how much I enjoy driving! Then I realised just how long roads in America are and just how far away everything is and well, my newly rekindled love of driving soon died out! So as soon as I reached Flagstaff, I checked into an over-priced and totally not worth the money or my time motel, but salvaged the experience by having the scrummiest Greek food at Alpha and Omega on Route 66 for dinner before having an early night, ready for the Grand Canyon in the morning and the big old drive to Vegas!

I got up around 6 am, showered, had a little breakfast, checked out of my room and head out towards the Grand Canyon.
The roads in the US are so long and wide and seemingly never-ending!
I eventually got to the Grand Canyon, paid my $25 car fee and parked up near the visitors centre.
I followed signs towards Mathers Point and was subconsciously picturing what I was about to see.
I was wrong.
My mind could not produce the sheer magnitude and vastness of the chasm before me.
I was literally speechless, I don't even think a 'wow' uttered forth from my parted lips, more of a squeak peeped out.
It is truly an incredible sight to behold. I felt so insignificant against that backdrop, and oddly serene.
There's something comforting and calming about looking at the Grand Canyon that even I have difficulty describing.

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I walked along the trail for a while before getting on a free shuttle bus that takes you to other points along the rim, all equally stunning.
I nice Korean lady offered to take a picture of me on my phone standing precariously close to the edge but feeling unafraid of the abyss below me.

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I felt nothing bad could happen at the Grand Canyon, with so much beauty surrounding me.
I stayed and walked around for about an hour and a half, then in true me-as-a-tourist fashion, got in my car and drove away as hordes of cars desperately tried to find parking spaces.
My advice to anyone visiting the Grand Canyon would be to arrive early, that way you will be blessed as I was with minimal people and maximum parking options!

~ ~ ~

I began driving to Vegas and it wasn’t until I saw a sign for it that I realised the Hoover Dam was on route, so I stopped there for 20 minutes ($10 for the privilege to park!), took a few snaps and then left as there were no more tours that day.

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I think one man was hoping to recreate the dam at home, at least I can only imagine as such given the number of photos he was taking of roughly the same area!
By the time I reached Vegas I was almost out of gas and had been driving on and off for about 8 hours!
Things are not as close as they look on maps!
I found my hotel and had a much needed early night.

The next day I didn’t really do much; I went to a 50’s Diner for pancakes at 1pm and then chilled out in my room watching T.V. I obviously needed the sleep because another early night later and it was Tuesday!

I’d booked tickets for Cirque du Soleil on livingsocial.com - a great website for discounted tickets and needed to collect them from the box office at Treasure Island so I got in the car and made my way down the strip.

Vegas is like Disneyland on crack.

For adults.

With hookers.

It’s bright and gaudy and you forget that you’re in the middle of the desert until you acknowledge how thirsty you are!
I parked (for free!) in the Treasure Island carpark, got my ticket, and then went for a walk.

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It is hot in the desert!

I went into Paris to get the monorail and was accosted by various people trying to sell me above and beyond expensive skin care products before eventually finding the monorail.

They’re very sneaky in Vegas, putting the thing you need miles away through a vast array of things you might want in shiny glass cabinets and brightly dressed window displays….!
I resisted temptation however, paid for my $5 one-ride monorail ticket and went back to Treasure Island.

I went back to my hotel for a 2 hour nap then headed out again to watch Cirque du Soleil.

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It was INCREDIBLE!
Everyone should go and see at least one of their many shows.
I was totally blown away. The physical endurance and ability those performers had is nothing like I’ve ever seen before; simply breath-taking.
I was going to walk around for a bit after the show, but the streets were heaving and I wasn’t in the mood for hen and stag do drunkenness so I headed back to my hotel!

The next day I went to Denny’s for brunch then did some laundry, called my bank who had once again blocked my bank card and the chilled out in my room.

Vegas as a solo traveller is a little boring but I suppose it’s what you make of it.
Meeting friends tomorrow so hopefully my opinion of Vegas will be improved…

I went for a late breakfast before going to the airport to pick up the girls and dropped them off at the Paris Hotel and Casino, gave them some time to wind down and get settled then met them in their hotel room to decide what to do.
We went casino hopping and had quite a bit of luck!

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We saw the fountain show at the Bellagio and walked up the strip for a while, admiring all the varying types of people and groups before admitting defeat and needing sleep so I said bye to the girls at the MGM Grand and went back to my hotel, ready for the next league of my journey!

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Posted by Lady Mantle 20:57 Archived in USA Tagged desert las_vegas bellagio rental_car pancakes treasure_island winning gambling monorail route_66 cirque_du_soleil the_strip the_grand_canyon the_hoover_dam paris_casino mgm_grand mystere fountain_show caeser's_palace the_hangover right_hand_drive left_hand_drive alpha_and_omega mathers_point stunning_views wonder_of_the_world transformers denny's livingsocial.com disneyland_on_crack hookers gaudy skin_care Comments (0)

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)

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)

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)

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