Mar
27
2013

The Islands

So this blog is going to be fairly short as we really haven’t done anything for the last 3-4 weeks except, sunbath, swim and sweat!

Ko Tao

So a plane, bus and boat later we arrived at our first island, Ko Tao! It’s a really small island in the middle of the gulf of Thailand next to the two main famous party islands Ko Pha-ngan and Ko Samui. We stayed well clear of these as we weren’t interested in the Full Moon parties and just wanted a nice place to relax and chill out.

We met a cool German couple on the boat that we got talking to and ended up following them to Freedom beach as Antya had been there 5 years ago. We hung around with them for a couple of days before they continued on with their travels.

Ko Tao was definitely the place we were looking for with a couple of lovely quiet beaches and a couple of really nice but cheap restaurants. There were a few bars a short walk away so you weren’t completely away from nightlife. The snorkelling was amazing and Abby even strayed too close to a reef with a very protective fish that tried to nibble her leg!


Railay

After 6 nights in Ko Tap we got an overnight ‘Slow boat’ to Krabi and then a Long-tail boat to Railay beach. I got a couple of pictures of a squid boat that we passed around 3am which looked cool with all its green glowing lights.

We had met loads of people that said Railay was like the new paradise island in Thailand. Railay is strictly not an island as its part of Krabi mainland but completely inaccessible by road because of its mountains. There are two sides to Railay, East which is pretty rough still after the tsunami in 2004 and doesn’t have any real beach area. A few bars have sprung up and it has quite a bit of cheap accommodation perfect for us backpackers.

The West of Railay is a different story with 2 beaches (a really big one and a supposedly really beautiful one) with a few big and expensive resorts separating them. The bigger of the beaches was quite busy but it didn’t seem overcrowded as it was a fairly long stretch of sand. Railay is also perfect for rock climbing fanatics and offers a lot of beginner and advanced climbs so it attracts a lot of people and it is littered with rock climbing schools offering half or a full day climbs.

We decided to go to the better of the two beaches on the second day but we must have only been there for 45 minutes before we left. There was just boat after boat load of tourists arriving for a day trip and Abby got quite naggy with people walking past kicking sand over her, purely by accident of course. We decided Railay wasn’t what we were looking for so left on the third day.


Ko Lanta

We had heard good things about Ko Lanta which is a fairly big island located on the Andama coast. People we had met said it was lovely and probably just what we were looking for, but after being disappointed with Railay, we weren’t getting our hopes up too much!

When we got there we headed for Long beach which really was ‘Long’ and it seemed fairly empty at times. We found a perfect little bungalow on the beach for £12 a night, complete with hammock hanging from the porch and fan in the room. A good selection of restaurants and bars along the beach meant we had plenty of choice when it came to eating.

We quickly found our favourite place and spent quite a few nights dining on the beach, eating Barracuda and Shark cooked on the BBQ while watching the odd lightning storm out to sea. Abby has got a bit obsessed with fish and prawns which is a good thing considering she left home nearly 7 months ago not really liking anything like that!

We did hire a scooter for a day and explored the island and found a lovely little beach we had pretty much all to ourselves!

Before we knew it we had spent 13 nights here so decided to move on for our last few days. This is definitely a place I would recommend for people from the UK looking to see what Thailand is like. Flights into Phuket and then a 1.5 hour ferry to Ko Lanta! Easy! We will most certainly be returning here at some point in the future!


Ko Phi Phi

We left beautiful Ko Lanta for Ko Phi Phi famous for having ‘The Beach’ and for supposedly being paradise. We had been warned by many other travellers that it wasn’t a great place anymore and so expensive for what it was but we went anyway. I would advise people not to bother. We stayed for one night and left! If you are in your late teens or early twenties looking for 24 hour parties on the beach then yes, it would be a good choice!

Over-developed, dozens of bars and ruined beaches by just the amount of people present, empty beer bottles, litteretc … not our idea of paradise. We got a couple of nice pictures of Abby the beach but it was due to clever photography from me cutting out everyone else around us!


Phuket – Nai Yang

We left the spoilt Ko Phi Phi hoping our last few days in Phuket would be better. Again we had heard that south Phuket was like a mini Bangkok so we headed right up north (all Abby’s doing) and headed for Nai Yang beach! The beach was massive with some very expensive resorts along the edge. We found a nice little place 5 minutes from the beach with a pool and it turned out that we had the hotel all to ourselves except another couple that arrived on our last day.

Lots of seafood restaurants on the beach and a few bars meant that there is quite a bit to do. Again another place I would certainly come back to in the future!

So that’s pretty much it for this trip. Flying home tonight via Dubai so looking forward to the snow waiting for us back home!

Mar
5
2013

Bangkok and Chiang Mai

So we flew into Bangkok from Hanoi and I don’t know what it is about this place, but whatever time you land its always bloody hot. As soon as they open the airplane doors, the heat hits you and you instantly start sweating!

We were hoping to actually see some of Bangkok this time instead of the inside of a guest house but again, it was not to be. Unfortunately Abby’s stomach bug hadn’t got any better since Vietnam so we when to the pharmacy to get some antibiotics and spent the next few days just hanging around the room waiting for them to kick in. We also missed our chance to do a trip to see the bridge over the river Kwai and a ride on Death railway which was something we were both looking forward to. Oh well, we’ll have to come back at some point!

So from Bangkok we headed north to Chiang Mai putting our Vietnam night bus experience behind us, we thought we’d give the Thai night bus a go – plus the trains were all sold out and flights were too expensive for when we wanted to go. Not making the same mistake twice we went for the “VIP” night bus. This was so much better than we thought. This was luxury. We actually had seats, they reclined all the way and even had a little TV to watch – ok it only showed TV shows in Thai but was better than nothing. We even had a bus steward who came around with water and snacks! We actually got quite a few hours’ sleep and before we knew it we were there.

Chiang Mai seemed to be quite busy in terms of available hotels and hostels and we spent a good few hours wandering round trying to find somewhere we could stay. After asking at numerous hostels we managed to get a room in quite a dingy place but the room was clean enough, we only saw one monster cockroach.

We visited some of the temples around the city which were pretty extraordinary, much more exquisite than the ones we’ve seen before. Not having her glasses, Abby thought statues of some monks were of real people therefore was completely astounded when tourists were going up close to them to take pictures!

We did a day’s cookery course which was fantastic! Both Abby and I finally learnt how to cook our favourite Thai dishes properly, which we’re going to perfect even further when we get back home. Our host, Yui, was brilliant. She was so funny and knowledgeable about the ingredients and processes etc, the day went so quick! We even learnt how to crack and egg with using only one hand and without hitting it against anything. Abby managed to crack it in a way which saved the yolk – pretty hard to do, Yui was impressed.

A trip to the market introduced us to some of the local delicacies, bee and ant lava. Neither Abby nor I tried them, they looked disgusting. The market also sold pink eggs, which were left to ferment for over 12 months and we got the impression they’d be bloody horrible too so we stayed well clear.

The next day we visited an elephant orphanage which was such fun! We were a bit sceptical at first as we weren’t sure how well the elephants were treated but we could easily see that these loved their environment. Each elephant had a Mahoot (a keeper) who pretty much looked after them 24/7. We were in charge of looking after Niaomi for the day. She was very friendly but very big and uncomfortable to ride!

There was also a baby elephant of only 3 years old who would give out free kisses for a banana. It was the funniest thing ever watching Abby received her kiss!

We got to feed the elephants for 45 minutes (they eat so much!) and after riding them through the jungle for an hour we took them to the river to wash and bathe them. It started off ok and Niaomi was enjoying it, but then it just turned into a big water fight and she nearly drowned us. So what do you do in a situation like that? Well I seized the opportunity of having a 4 tonne water pistol under my control and declared war upon the other people washing the other elephants. Great fun and I do believe we won!

So we left Chiang Mai after a couple of days and flew back down to Bangkok for one night before we were due to get a bus even further south and a boat to our first island! You’ll be glad to know neither of us was ill this time while in Bnagkok (third time lucky) so we had a proper sample of the nightlife and food! Also Abby dragged me round the biggest market in Bangkok with over 8000 stores selling the same crap! Hopefully she has had enough of markets now for the rest of the trip… I doubt it!

Feb
26
2013

Vietnam – Hanoi and Ha Long Bay

Abby didn’t feel much better over the next few days but as we really had to move on towards Hanoi we opted to take the overnight bus (including bike). OMG was this a mistake looking back at it!

It started off by some random guy that wasn’t associated with the bus company at all syphoning every last drop of our petrol and then putting it in his own bike before riding off into the distance. Once two of the travel company guys had finished throwing our bike into the luggage area of the bus, we boarded what was to become our prison for the next 12 hours. Pictures will never tell the whole story of how bad this bus was and I can’t even begin to describe what the toilet area smelt like. The smell was on par with places in Delhi and I’m glad there were people crammed into the aisles sleeping as it certainly discouraged those that wanted to toilet from actually using it. Every time that door opened, us and the people in our vicinity nearly threw up.

The ride was the bumpiest I have ever been on, I’m sure all the springs were snapped or missing. Abby managed to grab the only two beds left that were next to each other and unfortunately they were the top bunks, so I let her have the one by the window while I chose the middle. Abby did manage to get a few hours sleep while I lay there all night gripping the side of the bunk trying to stay in it.

To cut a long and very smelly story short, we finally arrived in Hanoi to only find the constant bumping had smashed one of our bike's mirrors and snapped off the clutch handle. I confronted the driver to try and get him to give me some money but he had lost all ability to speak English so I just left him to it. As we watched the bus drive away and the crowd of passengers disappear into the streets, Hanoi seemed very quiet for 6am. As I pushed the bike through the streets looking for some fuel or the a local garage to fix my clutch lever, I remember thinking at least it isn’t raining!

If anyone is wondering what the picture above is all about, the silver car had parked up (in the middle of a roundabout) and the driver had jumped out to either get a KFC or go the bank! Mental!

So Hanoi was a nice place but not really much to see or do which was good as we spent a day or two just around the hotel hoping Abby would start to feel better soon. I used this time to fix and sell the bike which I managed to do before our trip to Ha Long Bay. I managed to get most of money back for the bike so it really did turn out to be a good investment! Sad to see her go but might have to get a bike when I get home!

From Hanoi we travelled by bus to Ha Long bay where we spent two days and a night on-board a boat just floating among the 2000 or so limestone islands! Amazing!

Whilst in the bay we did an hours kayaking and went to visit the floating village where the boys from Top Gear ended their challenge in that particular episode.

We would certainly recommend a cruise around the bay to anyone who is thinking of visiting. The food on-board was some of the best we had in Vietnam and our cabin was beautiful. Abby even did a spot of squid fishing in the evening which she enjoyed.

We spent one more night in Hanoi before we were due to fly into Bangkok again for hopefully a better time that the last time we were there!

Feb
18
2013

Vietnam – The central regions

The countryside between HCMC and Da Lat which was up in the mountains was magnificent. There were so many shades of green it was like looking at a colour chart in B&Q!

We pretty much had the roads to ourselves up to Da Lat which made Abby feel a bit more comfortable as we’d seen a couple of crashes the day before. They were all relatively low speed crashes, mostly were 2 people going opposite directions both decide to turn and cross each other and eventually hit each other about 10mph. After they have picked themselves and the bikes back up, there is normally a bit of an argument and then they go on their way.

The south of Vietnam was incredibly hot (top 30s) so our biking attire consisted of just t-shirt and shorts although I had opted for trainers instead of flip flops because changing gear the day before kept hurting my big toe. As we climbed into the mountains it got colder and colder (down to around 10-12C I guess) and as we were riding through the clouds, we had to stop to put something a bit warmer on.

Da Lat was a beautiful place nestled right in the mountains and a bit off the general tourist trail. It was centred round a huge man-made lake which had quite a lot of pedal boats (swans and motorcars) for hire. Although we were quite high up in the mountains, the temperature had risen again to mid 20Cs and a wander round the lake was quite pleasant. It reminded me a bit of a Spanish or Italian town build in a hill interconnected with hundreds of tiny side streets and alleyways.

Abby continues to attract attention and make friends everywhere she goes!

I again got dragged around yet more markets, although I did find something rather interesting this time!

We didn’t stay in Da Lat for more than a couple of days before we hit the road again and headed for the cost to Nah Trang. Nah Trang looked a nice place at first but upon closer inspection had been westernised beyond belief. It had also become a bit of a party destination so finding accommodation was very tricky. Although we had arrived around midday, it took until 3-4pm to find somewhere that had a room and it was right on the outskirts of the town. We decided to only stay here one night and as there were much nicer places to go further up the coast.

The only thing I really remember about this place is that there was a proper all American Memphis bar and grille right in the middle of town, decorated with American flags, music, the works. It was quite ‘in your face Yank’ if you know what I mean and I wondered how the Vietnamese had let them settle.

Further on up the coast the country got quite narrow and you are pinned to the coastline by the mountains the run up the Vietnam and Laos border. Again the scenery was beautiful as we were riding with the sea on our right and the paddy fields and mountains on our left. Also the roads were fairly quiet here and dual carriageway so we had a bit of tarmac to play with.

We broke the journey to Hoi An up with an overnight stop in a small little town called Quih Non. We were literally the only tourists here and as it was Valentine’s Day, we decided to go for a romantic stroll along the beach to find the American Tank that had just been deserted and left after the war. We never actually found the tank (I think we strolled in the wrong direction) but we met loads of really friendly locals that just wanted to come and talk to us to see where we were from and to practice their English. As it was still the TET holiday (the week off they have for New Year’s) loads of locals were steaming drunk. As we got to the top of the beach and were about to cross the road, a guy pull up on his bike, clambered off and ran over to Abby and gave her a big hug and a kiss. Another group of locals nearby crowd cheered as he ran over and kissed me, then staggered back to his bike (stinking of Whiskey) and proceeded to wobble down the road.

We found a great little place to eat called Aroma which was a BBQ restaurant and each table had its own little BBQ set in the middle of the table were you get to cook your own food. It was a great Valentine’s Day in all and topped off later on by the fantastic news that our good friends Dan and Rosie had got engaged. Congratulations both! It’s about bloody time Dan! Abby even had a little cry at the news!

 

Hoi An

Hoi An is a real old town with a river running through it renowned for its hundreds of tailor shops. I resisted the urge to get a whole tailored suit made although the quality was fantastic and the price was even better! I did find the shop where Clarkson and May bought Hammond his model galleon from on Top Gear but Abby stopped me from getting one. There really was no room on the bike anyway.

We visited yet more markets (sigh) and bought even more stuff for the house and to carry round (double sigh). In the evening it was very pretty around the Japanese covered bridge to see all the coloured lanterns in the water floating round.

We stayed here for a couple of days to give ourselves a little rest and also decided to shed some weight by sending home a big box of things we had bought. The bike really was getting heavy now and I had refused to carry anything else as Abby had gone on a market spending spree for lanterns the night before! We’re going to have to move when we get back as there just isn’t enough horizontal surfaces in our house for everything she has bought!

 

Hue

The journey from Hoi An to Hue took us through the best scenery Vietnam had to offer. The ride up into the mountains really was one of the best roads I’ve even driven/ridden on and they were virtually empty. The road hugged the coastline but curved and dropped with some spectacular hairpins as it clung to the side of the mountain. We found ourselves going about a mile at a time then stopping for photos until we realised we’d been on the road for a few hours and hadn’t even got halfway along the relatively short distance between these two places! Amazing!

Hue used to be the capital of Vietnam until it was changed to Hanoi in 1945. We again stayed here for a few days and visited the Citadel which was just littered with memories of the war with America. Crashed planes, abandoned tanks, guns and thousands of bullet holes covered the whole place and it was a great day out walking round the place. It was an immense place and would have been a fantastic strong hold in its time which is probably why it featured some of the most horrific fighting of the war.

We had planned on doing an organised day trip to the DMZ although we could have gone on our own. They just advise you to be careful as only some of the paths through the DMZ have been cleared of mines! Anyway, Abby picked up a stomach bug and as this trip wasn’t high enough up our priority list, we didn’t bother.

Feb
11
2013

Good morning Vietnam!

Ok so before I start with Vietnam, I just want to let you know I have upgraded my blog site to get rid of a few bugs and to allow me to add video to future posts (as per Dan’s Vine request). So if anyone is experiencing any issues, it’s worth pressing the CTRL and F5 buttons on your keyboard to make sure you are getting the latest pages from the server. Also, if the videos don’t work for some people, let me know as it’s still a bit experimental.

I have only added 2 videos to previous posts (links below), so don’t feel you need to revisit everything blog post looking for videos, as you will only be disappointed.

Sri Lanka - The Hill Country
India - Punjab

So, Vietnam... best place in Asia we’ve been so far! We have found the Vietnamese to be a friendly, welcoming lot who love to drink (heavily) and eat at really random times of the day. There is no real breakfast, lunch and dinner times here, if they’re hungry, they’ll eat! The scenery has been breath-taking which you will see below and the driving is no crazier than other Asia countries.

However, Vietnam is the only real place we have seen crime while being away and we have been warned by many other travellers to be extra careful with our bags while out and about. While in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC – the old name for Saigon) we saw a few motorbikes riding really close to women and grabbing their bags and then riding away. In one particular incident, the girl had her bag over her opposite shoulder, so when they grabbed it and rode off, she just got dragged into the road until they let go. I went over to see if she was uninjured, which she was, just a little shaken up.

So, our timing has been impeccable as always and we arrived in HCMC the day before New Year’s Eve. As Vietnam share the same new years as China and Korea, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to celebrate with them. The major downside was that the whole country pretty much closed down for 7 days after so not much was open and worth visiting while we were in HCMC. Bummer! Still there were quite a few bars and restaurants open and the Vietnamese food was quite similar to Thai food so both Abby and I were in our element.

Also grabbed a picture of the overhead power cables as I’m sure Nige would enjoy working on these!

On New Years’s Eve, we met up with a load of guys and girls from the USA, Australia and London so ended up just hanging out with them playing drinking games for most of the night. I’ve noticed it seems to be the international standard now to only be allowed to drink with your left hand, and if caught drinking from your right, you have to drink up. I introduced the Aussies and Yanks (and also the Londoners) to the game I’ve been playing for most of my life, first introduced by my good mate ‘Bully’ on one of our Quid’s In nights out in the George. The game pretty much has the same outcome but the main difference is as follows. When the minute hand is on the right hand side of your watch, you drink with your right hand and when the minute hand is on the left, you drink with your left. Simple really! Nobody dares take a swig around half past or o’clock as it’s just not worth it! It was a good night as hardly anyone was wearing a watch.

Oh I must also mention we weren’t allowed to say the words ‘TEN’ or ‘MINE’ and the consequence of saying either of these was 10 press-ups regardless of where you were or traffic conditions. Abby turned out to be really bad at this part of the game and everyone was really impressed by the number of press-ups she did during the night in the middle of the road. And none of those girly press-ups either! Well done love!

So New Year’s Eve was pretty mental, and I think all of HCMC’s 7.5 million motorbikes were out on the streets at the same time. It made quite a sight!

Abby also let me buy a motorbike while in HCMC and I picked up a little Honda Win 100cc for just over six million Dong. We planned to copy Top Gear and drive it up north saving on bus and train costs. This turned out to be a great idea as we saw some of the amazing parts of Vietnam we wouldn’t have got to see and also there wasn’t many trains or buses running (if any) because of the new year holiday. I’m sure we both looked like Harry and Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber!

We managed to find a shop that sold decent helmets although by UK standards they were still quite illegal but I felt better than just the baseball cap style the local’s wear. So having got all geared up, we headed north with no road maps as there were no shops open to buy any! The poor bike did very well given its severe lack of power and although it was carrying around 3.5 people in weight, it didn’t struggle that much.

The ride out of HCMC was crazy. We left early hoping the traffic would be quite but it was just mental and we found that to be the case all times of the day! Abby took about 30 minutes to get into it and from then on she loved it which surprised me. She’s even considering letting me have one now when we get home.

Jan
31
2013

Punjab

On the train to Amristar we met a girl called Hayley who had been travelling across India like ourselves. We ended up staying in the same cabin so we quickly got talking and all became friends. Amristar is a fairly small place compared to some other cities we have been to but is home to the Golden Temple, the Sikhs prise place of worship. Having been to a Sikh temple in Delhi with our driver, we knew exactly what to do to make us try and fit in. Also my only word in Punjab that I had learnt from our driver Singh was ‘Satshreaca’l which was a bit like Bonjour and used through Punjab as a greeting. I must have impressed a couple of older Sikh guys with my greeting as I was rewarded with a couple of handshakes that turned into hugs.

Abby and Hayley were constantly asked for photos with people’s mums, sisters and daughters which was funny as well. That evening the three of us shared a Tuk Tuk to the Pakistan border (about 20 miles away) to watch the closing ceremony which happens every evening. I have seen the ceremony on the TV before on some Michael Palin travel programme I think and always wanted to go. The ceremony lasts for about 30 minutes and is basically a contest between the Pakistan and Indian border guards about who can hold the longest note down a microphone, who can march the hardest and swing their leg the highest. It was all very good and ends in a guard from each side of the border shaking hands before the gates are closed and locked for the night.

The whole setup was a bit of a joke though as tourists and VIP get the better seats but are constantly shuffled around to try and squeeze more in. We had got ourselves some good seats near the front, but as it started to fill up, some idiot guard decided he wanted me to go to the very back and wouldn’t let me sit with Abby or Hayley. So after shouting some abuse at him for a minute (this guard didn’t have a gun so I thought I could get away with it) it made no difference so off to the very back I went. It was only about a minute later after he had decided to put a bus load of German tourists in between me and where Abby and Hayley were sitting, he signalled to me that it was ok to sit together again. How he expected me to climb over 50 Germans was beyond me so he got a bit more abuse from the back row to which he just left us be. The armed sniper that was standing behind me in his nest didn’t get spared either. After telling him that the guy down the front was stupid and that the Pakistan tourists seem to have a much better view and could swap sides, he decided to shut me up and let me stand in the nest with him. Best view in the house I would say as he needs to see all so he can shoot anyone that crosses the border illegally.

Hayley found a beauty place that looked ok so her and Abby decided to go for a manicure and pedicure while we had time to kill on our last day. This was Abby’s first experience of anything like this as she has never had any nails to do anything with for as long as I have known her. However, coming to Sri Lanka and India has stopped her biting them in case of getting really ill so let’s see if she can keep it up! I don’t think the whole experience was quite what Hayley had expected though (being an expert in it herself) and it turned into a more cringy experience than a pleasant one. I just sat there laughing at the both of them!

We also went to a local mall that had a McDonalds as Abby really wanted the new McSpicy (like a spicy McChicken I suppose) as it has been on all the adverts on TV. While in the mall, Hayley decided she wanted to buy a warm top and a body warmer as she was heading to Nepal as didn’t think she had enough warm clothes. While in the mall some random guy came over to talk to me but I could instantly tell something wasn’t right. He spoke to me for about 3 minutes without taking a breath and only about 10 of those words were English. I had no idea what was going on and there was something about the way he looked and spoke that wasn’t right. He wanted to shake my hand so I allowed it seen as though he was already in my personal space and I thought this might be the way to get rid of him. The handshake went way past the point where it started to feel weird and uncomfortable and I had to use my left hand to prise open his fingers to get my right hand back. He then disappeared into the shop and just stood meters away staring at Abby and Hayley. This didn’t please me much either. We left that shop and went upstairs into a really girly clothes shop and he just followed us around like a bad smell. Hayley shouted at him in front of some staff members who went and got security and he was escorted from the mall. One of the shop guys came over to tell me he had gone and that he was a ‘Crazy guy’ which is what I had suspected. It has been quite cold up in Amristar compared to the temperatures we have gotten used to so we are looking forward to our last Indian train back to Delhi so we can fly to Bangkok. Also I am quite glad at leaving India now as we have been constantly eating carbs in the form lovely Paratha, chapatti and Nahn breads so looking forward to some spicy but fresh Thai food with less carbs!

Jan
28
2013

The Triangle

We considered taking the train from Bangalore to Delhi as opposed to flying but that soon changed after we learnt it was either a 2hr 30min flight or a 39hr train! We paid the extra and flew!

We were both not looking forward to Delhi from what we had heard about the place and what we imagined it to be like. Abby’s feelings for the place weren’t helped by Vineeth after he was telling us to make sure we didn’t take tuk tuk’s at night, not to walk around too much unless we were in a group and pretty much don’t stray too far from the hotel after dark.

I must say I was amazingly shocked by the place for all of 45 minutes! Landing at Delhi International airport, it was immaculate and quite frankly a very arty styled building. Everything was quick and simple and in no time (less than 15 minutes after de-boarding) we had our bags and were heading for the airport Metro station. The Metro itself looked brand new and if there weren’t a handful of people at the platform, we would have been the only ones on the train. Blue LED displays inside the carriages tracked the train’s progress from the airport to the centre and I don’t ever recall being on a cleaner or more impressive metro in any city I have ever visited. I was beginning to wonder what everyone was going on about.

It took just 30 minutes to get from the airport to Delhi central railway station which is pretty much the middle of the city and not far from our hotel. Then my bubble was well and truly popped! Climbing up the stairs to street level from the railway station was indescribable. Stepping over sleeping people, dog and human crap on every other step, the sight and smell of urine that was slowly cascading down the steps in an elegant yellow coloured waterfall! It’s at times like these you really wish you weren’t wearing flip-flops!

I’ll skip over all the other horribleness and just say we got to our hotel after a 10-15 minute walk which was right in the middle of what looked like the most horrible street in Delhi but was just in actual fact, any normal street in Delhi.

The next day we asked a Tuk Tuk to take us to the official Delhi Tourism office so we could book the triangle tour of Agra and Jaipur. Knowing where is was on the map I was holding in my hand and with my sense of direction telling me that we were not going in the right direction, it was no surprise when we arrived at a scam tourist office. A quick look at the sawdust on the floor confirmed he was trying to scam us so after threating not to pay him, he took us to the real ‘government’ tourist office. When we arrived here, I could again tell this was a scam, even though it had government written on the door it just so wasn’t the official place. We decided to just head for Connaught Park where I started to chat to two tax office workers that were out getting some air on a break. They basically told us to see the Delhi sights in a day and then get out as it wasn’t worth wasting any more time here! And that’s coming from two guys that have lived there for over 40 years! They also showed us were the official, official tourist office was so we were able to book our tour.

We saw the sights of Delhi for the rest of that day with our driver ‘Singh’ (first name unpronounceable) but it was a little disappointing as the Red Fort and India Gate were closed due to the Republic parade that was planned from the following day and security were guarding the areas.

Singh also took us to his local Sikh temple and explained exactly what happens and what the Sikh religion is all about. I must admit I do remember a lot of what he said as religion stuff doesn’t normally stick in my head. He took us through the kitchens (we just walked in with no questions asked) and looked at how they cook the free meals they provide each day to the visitors to the temple. There is no charge for meals and they don’t ask for any donations.

 

Agra

Now we had both heard that the home of the Taj Mahal was supposed to be even worse than Delhi but both Abby and I disagree. Sure it was no Bangalore but I would say it was a lot better than New and Old Delhi and didn’t really have a problem with it.

The journey to Agra was supposed to take around 3hr 30mins but because everyone in Indian seemed to be visiting Agra on that day (over the long weekend) it took around 7hrs. The queue for locals to get in was over 3hrs long so it’s a good job the price tourists pay (£8 as opposed to 20p) allowed us to just walk straight in.

No doubt about it, the Taj was impressive! It would have been even more so if there wasn’t 1.3 billion other people in there with us. It was beyond packed. There was no way either my Dad or Nigel would have gone in there knowing both their love of crowds and people.

It was amazing we actually got any decent pictures of it really but it did involve me laying down on the floor where Princess Diana sat with Abby trying to stop people standing on me. She wasn’t so good at this but I think it may have been worse if she wasn’t at least trying.

There were so many people in the actual Taj itself that guards were basically pushing people in and pulling people out as we circled the tombs. It was like being in a lazy river as you had no control over your own movements!

The funniest part for me was after we had come out from the lazy river, some bloke ran up to Abby and threw a baby at her (to which she instinctively caught), he then proceeded to take a photo, grabbed the baby from her and ran back off into the crowd. It all happened in no more than 10 seconds. Abby’s face was brilliant! It was worth braving the 1.3 billion people just for that!

If anyone can take any useful information from this post it is this: Do not go and see the Taj on a government/bank holiday! Just don’t!

 

Jaipur

The journey to the Pick City was fairly quiet compared to the madness the previous day. We spent a good few hours in the Amber Fort and the Palace which were set on top of a massive hill overlooking the town. The palace had so many passages, tunnels and rooms it was brilliant. It would have made an excellent place to have a massive game of paintball with about 100 a side, or even a terrain on Call of Duty! Awesome!

We also visited the Water Palace and Janta Manta which is the ancient observatory (oldest in India I believe but don’t quote that) which contains large stone and marble monuments of the 12 stellar constellations that we regularly associate with our horoscopes. These were marbleous!

It also contained massive instruments to measure all sorts of celestial measurements of foreign bodies and also the earth, including what we were told was the largest working sun dial on the planet. This was quite good actually but difficult to get a decent picture of without defying gravity.

The food in Jaipur was really good too and I had one of the best Thali’s I’ve eaten in India.

The next morning we made our last visit to the palace inside the Pink City itself and its museums which was nice to see but I didn’t think was as good as the other palace and fort.

The journey back to Delhi to catch over overnight train to Amristar was a bit scary as we thought at one point we weren’t going to make it. Again, it was Monday after the long weekend so everyone was on the move again and the traffic was just horrific. The road between Jaipur and Delhi is nowhere near as good as the road from Delhi to Agra as they are redoing it all. Maybe in a few years the 8hr journey time will be halved but for now it’s just chaos!

While we were sitting on the platform waiting for our 20:35 train, a Sikh guy from the army came to sit by me and talk to me for 30 minutes. He also gave me some of him mum’s homemade cake which after 5 minutes of trying to ask if it had nuts in it, I just gave up and tried it. It was very good so I went in for another piece! He found it funny as I was wearing shorts and t-shirt and everyone else in Delhi was wrapped up as it was quite cold in the evenings!

Jan
24
2013

Party Capital, Bangalore!

We got the overnight train from Alleppey to Bangalore which took 14 hours or so but arrived bang on 10:00am. I must say I’ve been impressed with the trains in India, far from what I imagined them to be. Gone are the days of hundreds of people sitting on the roofs hanging on for dear life on the overcrowded local routes. They are still way overcrowded but people just tend to hang out of the sides instead. The long distance trains generally run on-time and have all been fairly clean so far if you can overlook the odd cockroach here and there. The toilet areas however are disgusting to say the least and Abby has of several occasions nearly thrown up!

The weather in Bangalore is pretty much the same as that of Kerala, maybe a little warmer as there is no costal breeze. We have both continued to sweat our arses off in temperatures around the mid 30s. Bangalore itself doesn’t offer much to the average sightseer and is not a very touristy place. The main reason in coming here was to meet up with my friend and former colleague from BT, Vineeth, who now works and lives here.

The city is generally quite new, clean, well designed and well laid out, maybe even the cleanest city in India. Wow, that’s that big claim if it’s true! As it’s is one of India’s few IT hubs, the traffic on the outskirts of the city is mental in the morning and evening but that makes it better for the city itself. It is fairly Western city with a couple of McDonalds, KFCs and a few well known coffee chains littering the main city centre. There is also a lot of shopping outlets with brands that we commonly see back home, this made Abby happy although she has no room to carry anything should she buy.

We visited the top three sights that are mentioned in Trip Advisor when you Google Bangalore, but to be honest they’re not really worth doing. The most interesting of the three (and by most interesting I mean, still only a 3 out of 10 on the interesting scale) is the Bull Temple. I was expecting a big monument with a massive statue of a bull in there which has been carved from one giant piece of stone. The Bull was impressive but it was housed in a really small cave like building that took away its glory as it just didn’t appear as big as it really was.

The park area in Bangalore is really nice and we spent an hour or so just laying round and taking in the sights and people watching. We also went to what was Bangalore’s version of Chelsea Flower Show which was good but way too hot to be wandering around in poly tunnels etc. I thought I’d put a few pictures up for my mum and to let her know I didn’t spend the whole day walking round sneezing like I did at Chelsea last year!

Vineeth took us to one of the city’s best restaurants which is located on the roof of one of the tallest buildings in the city. The food was not so much Indian themed but more a mixture of fancy stuff at a reasonable price. Very tasty and very well presented! The view from the top of the building was fantastic and as the evening went on, the roof got busier and busier as it was also one of the city’s best bars complete with a live DJ. It did amaze me that there wasn’t that much security there as I could imagine a few people getting a bit too drunk, having a bit of a fight and it ending up with one of them being thrown over the not so high barriers that surrounded the roof area.

It was a good evening and we enjoyed catching up with Vineeth and it’s a shame we weren’t staying longer. Will definitely visit the city again at some point in the future.

Jan
21
2013

India, Beautiful Kerala

We arrived in Kochi at 2:30am after 8 hours in the taxi. Having not booked anywhere to stay but expecting there to be at least 1 hotel or guest house with a 24hr reception, we were severely disappointed to find out it was like a ghost town! The driver felt sorry for us after dumping us on the corner of a street, so he insisted on driving us round for 30 minutes waking up various guest houses only to be told they were all full. He must have been to at least 5 or 6 places before he told us he had to really get going as he had an 8 hour return journey to make before he saw his bed!

We decided to wait in the park until morning as most places would open around 7am but just as he was driving off and I was preparing for 4 hours of mosquitoes killing mayhem, 2 police officers arrived on a moped that looked like it was from the 1940’s.

They weren’t happy to see we were just hanging around the streets and if it wasn’t for the driver coming back to explain to them, I don’t think they would have bought our 8 hour taxi ride story. Anyway, they told us to follow them back to the police station which was about 50 yards away and when we got there, we realised that they had decided to drop all policing responsibility for the town of Kochi and help find us somewhere to stay. After a few shouts over the radio, 3 more policemen turned up and Abby and I just sat there while 7 or 8 coppers started phoning all the guest houses they could get phone numbers for.

The mood lightened somewhat when they found out we were from England, at which point they took great pleasure in trying to tell me how India had given us a good stuffing in the cricket that day! The cricket that was being played about 10km away from Kochi and the reason why all the hotels and guest houses were fully booked! I jokingly asked the main bobby if we could just spend a night in the cells and look for a place in the morning, to which he replied we could but he was required to record our passport numbers in the book and it might give us trouble later on in other regions of India. Hmm...

At that point some guy with a massive afro turned up on a motorbike who was a mate of one of the coppers that they had just phoned to get him out of bed. He told me to jump on the back of the bike and we proceeded to roam the town waking up all guest houses that we found. We eventually found a room for the night and even though it had a massive ants nest in the corner, it had to do.

The next morning (within 5 minutes of leaving the nest) I found a place for us to stay a further 2 nights so we were all set! I don’t think we would have got that kind of service from GMP hey Lynne?

So what was Kochi like? Well it’s beautiful. Loads to see and do, the food in the south of India is probably the best in the country (a lot more spicy and tasty than the north and what we know back home).  The local fishermen use old school Chinese fishing nets (something the Chinese don’t use anymore) to catch all sorts of fresh loveliness which you can buy direct from them and then go over the street to get it cooked.  An old Dutch fort and the oldest European church in India are worth a visit too, and a walk around the massive spice markets are a must do.

While we were in Kochi we took part in another cooking course, in which we learnt how to cook some of the amazing food we had been eating over the last few days. We cooked four meals in total and also learnt how to make chapattis properly! There were two Canadian’s on the course as well who had done a lot of travelling in their time, so they gave us some good tips for Thailand.


Alleppey

So we left Kochi with a 15 minute ferry over to Ernakulam and then the train down to Alleppey as the next day we had booked to stay on a Houseboat and go on a day tour of the Backwaters.

Abby’s tolerance levels with the whole ‘India thing’ were dwindling by this point and I was hoping a nice day relaxing on the Backwaters would calm her down. She has been getting really snappy with everyone and everything (and I don’t blame her really) as she has had to put up with a lot of blokes staring at her and people trying to fuss over her (which she does not like). Also, those of you that know Abby will know she’s “Little Miss Recycling” at home, so it’s fair to say she’s not at all impressed with the rubbish and litter that covers India. In fact, she’s become so snappy, that I have started to call her Carrie (from the show “King of Queens”), as that woman is constantly angry!

Anyway, it got to a point while waiting for the train to Alleppey, that Abby spotted some bloke on the opposite platform get up from his seat, walk past the bin and heave his drinks bottle onto the rails. Enter Carrie!

I managed to restrain her but I wasn't quick enough as she had jumped up and started to hurl abuse at the guy! A lot of people were looking at us by this point so she sat in silence for the next five minutes as I didn’t feel she was quite ready for me to take my hand from over her mouth. By the time we reached Alleppey (1 hr later) she had calmed down!

I didn’t think Alleppey itself (as a town) was anything special compared to some of the other towns we had stopped in or passed through but its surroundings made it special. It’s located right on the edge of a massive labyrinth of canals (both small and large) referred to as the Backwaters.

We turned up at 11:30 at the main boat Jetty expecting to see 100 or so houseboats. How wrong were we! There was hundreds all moored up together, 3 deep in places and stretching for about a mile along the bank. It was an amazing sight!

Once we found our boat, we were greeted with fresh coconut milk (which Abby didn’t like) so I ended up drinking both to be polite. Our boat was massive with 2 bedrooms although we were the only occupants excluding the three crew. And even though so many boats were being boarded, it wasn’t crowded at all once we got out into the Backwaters. There were just so many different canals and passages to get around, each captain had their own scenic route that they liked to follow.

The journey itself was beautiful and relaxing but the meals were way too big. It’s as if they were still catering for 4 even though there were only us 2! Massive but yummy meals indeed! The meals did include a dish called “Fish Fry” which was exactly that!

At one point I spotted a snake in the water but it had disappeared before I could get the camera to hand. I did see this guy below that looked like he could do with a good meal. I named him bob!

Also, this was the local supermarket that provided much needed food to some of the locals that lived on the islands that weren’t accessible by road or ferry!

We can both definitely recommend a trip on a houseboat around Alleppey as it was one of the best things we have done so far in India. Thank you Vineeth for recommending the houseboat company we went with!

So that’s it for our Kerala trip as we spent not far off a week in total, so it’s time to get the overnight train up to Bangalore for a few days to see some friends before we head even further north.

Jan
21
2013

India, Tamil Nadu

India, what a place! Landed in Chennai at 7am and quickly left. Completely different to what I imagined it to be and didn’t want to spend another minute there. We headed south to a town just outside of Chennai that neither Abby or I could pronounce correctly. Google maps calls it Mahabalipuram.

After an initial battle with the Taxi man to take us to our hotel without forking out more money for the ‘town toll’ (which I was adamant I wasn’t paying as it was just a scam) we eventually found the place.

After only 2 hours in India Abby wanted to go home. She couldn’t handle the amount of people everywhere, walking in front of traffic without looking (even though living in Oswestry you’d have thought she’d be used to that by now). The constant horn blowing of tuk tuks, cars, buses and motorbikes was driving her crazy. The cattle and goats just trotting down the street willy-nilly and let’s not even start on the mounds of rubbish which was everywhere, and that is not an exaggeration. It all got a bit too much. I on the other hand was loving it again as it was exactly how I remembered except on a much smaller scale. Hopefully she will have gotten used to it before we hit Delhi otherwise I may be in trouble, again!

After a cold drink she started to relax. Unbeknown to us, we had arrived at the start of a public holiday for this region of India and the place was heaving with Indians from all over the county. We were constantly stopped and asked to pose with families for pictures which were funny at first, but after appearing in 12 different pictures in only about 20 yards, it made trying to get anywhere to see things painfully slow. We explored the town and visited the major attractions, Krishna's Butter Ball, Shore Temple, Five Rathas.

The butterball was very strange but my favourite of the attractions (a massive rock in the middle of nowhere just perched on a hill). We both did give it a good old shove to see if we could move it but it was remaining stationary.

This part of India is famous for its stone carvings and there were hundreds of them. They were all fantastic and I would have loved to take home something for the garden. There was a 6 foot (lifelike) crocodile that I took a fancy to and I reckoned I could have got the bloke down from the £9k he wanted to something more reasonable. It did apparently weigh around a tonne though!

The only other thing to mention was Abby went and had a pair of trousers tailor made for her which she is well impressed by and hasn’t taken them off.

We left Mahabalipuram and got the train down to Madruai where we were going to spend a few days. The Indian railway system is much more developed that that of Sri Lanka and they have around 10,000 trains a day. As you can imagine, the reservation process is somewhat complicated to say the least. In fact, it’s more complicated to understand than some of the more difficult mathematical equations I used to have to do as part of my degree. There are also 8 different classes of travel on Indian trains and none of which now allow me to sit on the roofs! (Well maybe in the north they will as it’s busier but for now I can still hang out the doors!)

We opted for the AC 2 class as most of the non-long distance trains don’t have AC 1 or AC Chair (which are the first classes). Our carriage consisted of berths of 4 separated by 2 solid walls and a curtain with 2 upper and lower bunks.

Sleeper class (which is how most of the Indian population travel) is similar to this but with 6 to a berth, no AC and is pretty grim.

Unreserved class is the cheapest and you can travel some real long distances for not a lot of money, but is not for the faint hearted! This is where everyone is just packed in together along with the local chickens and goats, with not much change or being able to turn your head, let alone move.

As it was nearing dinner time, every station we pulled into I jumped off and went and bought something different from the guys selling food on the platform. It was a bit like Russian Roulette for me with my peanut allergy as I didn’t have a clue what it was or what was in it. Also, my chief food tester had reserved her right to not have to test anything for peanuts if it looked too hot to eat!

We arrived in Madurai around 1am with no accommodation booked but quickly and easily found a hotel with 24hr reception and checked in for 3 nights.

The only major thing we wanted to do in Madurai was visit the Meenakshi Amman Temple which was located right in the centre of the city. Again as it was a public holiday there were thousands of extra people there and it was manic. The temple was really nicely decorated with the colours etc but non Hindu’s were not allowed in certain parts of it so we didn’t get to see everything. Loads of people keep asking Abby and I to be in their photos with them outside the temple. People also kept stopping us and asking us to take pictures of them, with our camera. It’s funny as they don’t generally smile in photos, so it just looks like I have stopped some random strangers and asked them to stand there while I take photos of them.

Every day India so far has been a constant battle to fend off beggars and stopping people trying to sell you things and dragging you in their shops. We have given change to some poor people but where do you stop? Also, people normally leave you alone if you just say, ‘No Thanks’ but we found people here to be quite rude if you said no and just kept harassing us.

One bloke (who must have been mid 40s) came up to me just outside the temple and grabbed my arm and started screaming at me for some reason. At first I thought he wanted me to take a picture of his daughter who couldn’t have been more than 5 years old. But then I realised he was getting aggressive and either mistaken me for someone he had an issue with, or just wanted to fight me.  Anyway, he gave me a slap on my shoulder and stormed off with 2 others. Well I stood there for a few seconds in disbelief looking at Abby and looking at the other Indian people around me who were by now staring at me.

I don’t have the longest fuse in the world as it is, so I decided to follow him at a pretty quick pace. He turned around and saw some fuming white bloke charging after them at which point he said something to the others and they all dived into a crowded shop. I stood outside for a few seconds looking at them, looking back at me and when Abby caught up we just left and headed back to the hotel.

The next day we were due to leave on the 16:35 train towards Kochi but due to the complexity of the train reservation system we ended up as positions 1 and 2 in the waiting list for cancellations so we not allowed to board.  I did get on and tried to bribe the ticket inspector but he was having none of it! So we wandered back into town and stupidly got a taxi to take us there and then to Kochi instead of checking in for another night and waiting until the morning. Who knew 270km was going to take 8 hours!

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