Monday, October 19, 2015

Heading South to Phuket

People in Thailand are so friendly we have yet to encounter a rude or not smiling person! Sad to leave Bangkok but knowing we still have loads of adventures ahead of us J and I  boarded a plane to the south of Thailand.

Well if we thought Bangkok was hot it has nothing on Phuket. A wall of humidity greeted us at Phuket airport but then so did our smiling Thai transfer that was taking us to our hotel the Andaman Seaview Hotel. Where we discovered that not only did we have a room but an entire suite complete with towel bunnies and flowers on our beds. Rocking it! Big up to J  for organising this one.

Arrival sunsets seem to be our thing in Thailand as we topped off our first night in Phuket with a rainbow, sunset walk on the beach and dinner at a very fancy restaurant on the rocks by the sea. Then last but not least we treated ourselves to pedicures. This is the relaxed life.

A sleep in at our palacial accommodation was devine not to mention our breakfast where there was everything on offer from bacon, eggs, fruit, cereal, yoghurt, waffles, curries, rice and  the list goes on and on.

Plan for the day: off to Phuket town to go and check out the architecture and shopping. To get there we needed to get the equivalent of a tuk tuk down here which is like a little half loaf van like the one in the movie 'Under the Tuscan Sun' that the Polish workers pile off of. Imagine a truck but a mini me version with the seats along the side and no glass in any of the back windows so that air can flow through.

Phuket town was interesting especially as there was a Vegetarian Festival on the go so there was so many street food stalls and red lanterns hanging about. It was also so hot it felt like we were actually in huge sauna. So much sweating!

Walking around we passed by the food stalls and got some steamed dumpling type buns that had black beans and pumpkin in them. We also managed to find the old town which was great for photography but not so great for avoiding taxi drivers hoping to drive us anywhere. 'No thank you we have seen the big Buddha, yes and the monkeys and no thank you no shopping' become the words of the afternoon.

Fails of the day include us wanting to catch one of the cute red 'Honey I shrunk the truck' vans but accidently getting a normal car taxi. People really shouldn't sleep in cars that aren't theirs. Note to self ask a taxi driver which car is his first before agreeing to get in.

Wins of the day were getting a yummy meal just 10 minutes before the special finished for the day and for the win Miss J and her excellent bartering skills when buying a new handbag!

Arrival Bangkok

There is much to be said about embarking on an adventure knowing that there is a friendly face waiting for you on the other end of a 15 hour flight.

Life long friend and travel companion Jenna.  Not only an amazing friend who to be honest I can't even remember how we met as our friendship has always just existed in the fabric of my memory. Together we plan to explore as much of Thailand as we can before she leaves me to jetset back to South Africa and her job and I carry on to what will hopefully be a trip around Vietnam and Cambodia. But I'm getting ahead of myself...first Bangkok!

Art of miscommunication and its abundance. After checking into our hotel we found ourselves a little bit hungry and needing to break some big 1000 baht notes so we went into the 7 Eleven next door where  we discovered delicious looking sausage and cheese toasted sandwich. We ordered with glee and salivating anticipation only to receive sausages in a bag smothered in melted cheese. Lesson one learnt more hand gesturing and broken English is needed. Maybe learning some Thai would be good too.

Catching the river boats on our first night we got caught in the tourist net by getting the blue tourist boat for 40 baht when we could have gotten the orange boat for just 14 baht. You know what they say about's a #*$*

Oh well Bangkok 2 J&T  0.

Actually to be fair it all worked out pretty well the blue boat cruise was not as crowded and we could sit and enjoy the views while we stressed over whether we were about to miss the central pier stop. After a couple of false alarms we found the right stop and a short walk later we were ascending the 64 floors to the sky bar at the top of the Lebua State Tower like slightly underdressed superstars. Two expensive cocktails later we were sitting catching up while the sun did it's thing and set dramatically over the sprawling city of Bangkok. For just one night we lived the highlife literally.

J&T  64 - Bangkok 2

Being 64 floors up can make a girl hungry so next order of business was some dinner so off we went to get a taxi to a market and food area.

'You want tuk tuk 150 baht'
J: 100 baht
Driver: yes

And with that exchange and our first thai negotiation we were off in what I can only describe as a cross between a golf cart and a motorbike with a cart stuck on the back that would never have passed a road worthy test. Zipping and weaving through the traffic we hoped to goodness this guy knew what he was doing. Of course we were taking photos and selfies that our driver decided he would turn around and join us for! Who says you need to keep your eyes on the road when driving. Our first tuk tuk  ride and a massive check on our Bangkok to do list!!

Next item food with J ordering her first ever phad thai with roasted pork. Having had it before myself I decided to go with a soft shell crab version. Which as it turns out is in fact a small crab deep fried. He came sat on top of my phad thai looking at me. Let's just say I gave it a good ole  try but a lot of his limbs got pushed to the side.

Day two in Bangkok brought our first full day of exploration. Our goal was to visit the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha Temple, Wat Pho and anything else we could fit in. So it was off to the boats again this time buying orange tickets to make our way to the Grand Palace.

It was a feast for the eyes! So much mosaic, patterns, colours and different textures you almost didn't know where to look. The only thing I can think of from Europe that has this much colour, design and patterns are Gaudi's pieces in Barcelona.

The Grand Palace is a big complex of buildings and has been used for about 150 years as the official residence of the King. Inside the complex you find the Emerald Buddha Temple also called the Wat Phra Kaew. The Emerald Buddha is actually made of jade. When it was discovered it had a clay layer over it so no one knew there was anything underneath until the Buddha's nose flaked a bit a revealed green stone which they mistakenly thought to be emerald at first hence the name. It is quite small and located up high on a pyramid type altar but the Buddha is carved from a single block of jade which is cool.

What we have learnt about temples so far: they are called 'wat's '. They have strict dress code rules that are not always enforced. Although we enjoyed the Grand Palace J and I both agree that a guide or the audio guide would have been more helpful to actually know the significance of what we were looking at. Wat Pho was awesome to visit. It sits just behind the Grand Palace complex and is a UNESCO world heritage site. At this Wat there is a huge golden reclining Buddha who is chilling out. It's so big!! And the rest of the buildings are in all different stages of decay it was amazing and so much more relaxed than the Grand Palace. It kinda left like we were walking around scenes from the Tomb Raider movies.

Finding the local flower markets proved more difficult than we thought and on the way J discovered a Boots store! Which made her body lotion and my sunscreen (without whitening, yes they have ones that do that) dreams come true! The flower markets then just miraculously appeared in the roads behind the Boots. Where flowers cost only R3.25 / €0.30! A flower lovers paradise.

Question of the night: the difference between street food and a restaurant on the street?

Same same just different me thinks!

Bangkok, we didn't know what to expect from you. It was like a proper old school blind date and but after just two days our vote is you get a second date.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Washington D.C

Of all the cities and small towns that I visited on my epic Grand Southern Contiki tour of the United States of America Washington D.C was one of the ones that surprised me the most. I was so fascinated by this city which in fact is not a city or a state nor is it even part of a state. It is in fact a very unique federal district created specifically to be the seat of government.

Founded in 1791 on land that had previously been part of Maryland and Virginia it is designed with four quadrants all leading to and meeting at the centre - the Capitol Building. Showing that in this strange space created to lead the people that literally all roads lead to the Capitol.

Not only does it have the allure of its strange status as a federal district but it wins over the hearts of visitors every year with its gorgeous monuments that stir the notion of making our lives matter and making a difference in us all.

So I went back with some friends late at night when most tourists and politicians had gone to bed to take some photos of the National Mall at night. Below are photos of the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building, the National WWII Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.  Enjoy :)

Looking down the National Mall towards the Washington Monument. 

The Capitol Building 

Washington Monument 

The National World War II Memorial 

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool 

The Lincoln Memorial 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

New York, New York!!

I have no idea where to even start with New York, what a place. It is huge and there is so much going on. The city is just so alive all the time! The Grand Southern Contiki Tour that I did finished in New York City so I decided to spend three days there before flying back to London. Three days was totally not enough time...

New York City is just busting at the seams with things to do, to see, to experience and of course one of my favourites things to eat! After spending 29 days in the US since I began my journey in Los Angeles I had encountered BIG food already - portions that could be gigantic! Starbucks even has a size bigger than venti (WHAT??!!!) that is a lot of coffee even for me (and that is saying something!). Little did I know that New York was going to pull out all the stops with the largest and cheapest pizza slices I have ever had! And wait for it the BIGGEST piece of cheesecake I have ever been served. Let's just say that I provided a bit of morning entertainment to the table of girls next to me at Carnegie Deli while I attempted to eat it. To give you an idea it was so big that I was just eating it from the side and the waitress even came over to check if everything was okay as it looked from her side that I hadn't touched it at all. For the record it defeated me but the bright side was that it was delicious and my very kind and helpful Airbnb host's scored themselves some cheesecake.

I visited Top of the Rock, walked around Ground Zero, strolled for hours in Central Park (which did you know is bigger than the principality of Monaco!), went to a Broadway Show, had drinks in Times Square, met up with some fantastic friends some of whom were on my tours in Europe, went to the Chelsea market, ate two Gray Papaya hot dogs, went to so many museums and still I barely even scraped the surface of what there is to experience in this vibrant city.

So decision made - I will just have to go to New York again and experience more! 

Here are some of my favourite shots from the Big Apple.

(Above) View from Top of the Rock

The 9/11 Memorial 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I never thought I would see the Grand Canyon

One of the natural wonders of the world 
It is the third largest canyon in the world
Its base is about 1/3 of the Earth's age 

Scientist's take an educated guess that it took 3- 6 million years to form 
At 446km long it is thought to be carved by the Colorado River 
3028 million litres of water flow through it every year

It is 548m wide at its narrowest and 29km at its widest
On average its only 16km from rim to rim
It is essentially tilted with the Northern Rim being higher than the Southern Rim. 

But beyond all of these facts the Grand Canyon when standing looking out over it 
stretches out so far that even the imagination wonders if it realises how big it really is 
or how many mysteries these rocks capturing a timeline of the Earth's history could be holding

Some times it is hard to believe that you are doing things that you only ever dreamt about doing. I never thought I would see the Grand Canyon. It was just one of the many places and things on my bucket list, but not only have I biked along parts of the rim of the Grand Canyon but I even did a helicopter ride over it.

It was one of the ME Time Optionals on the Contiki Holidays tour that I did and it was the one that I was most looking forward too.  It did not disappoint! I was blown away by its sheer size, colour and ability to appear barren when in fact on the base it is very much alive.

I got to sit on the edge and look out over a natural wonder of this world. I even had to pinch myself to make sure it was real. Just goes to show sometimes you do get to do the things you never thought you would. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dawn is coming so open your eyes in the Monument Valley

The three Mittens in Monument Valley are part of the Colorado Plateau and is located on the Arizona-Utah state line. The valley lies within the Navajo Nation Reservation. 

Ever been somewhere that instantly reminds you of lyrics to a song? Well that is what happened to me when I visited Monument Valley. For those that know me this won't be strange as you have no doubt been around when something you have said has sparked me to start singing some lyrics from a song, in a not at all good singing voice.

Monument Valley with is magnificently red and orange coloured soil and rocks instantly had me humbling this little gem called Stay Alive by Jose Gonzalez. If you have never heard the song give it a try because in the words of Jose the dawn is coming so open your eyes and look into the sun as a new days rise!

There's a rhythm in rush these days 
Where the lights don't move and the colours don't fade 
Leaves you empty with nothing but dreams 
In a world gone shallow 
In a world gone mean 

Sometimes there's things a man cannot know 
Gears won't turn and the leaves won't grow 
There's no place to run and no gasoline 
Engine won't turn 
And the train won't leave 
Engine won't turn 
And the train won't leave 

I will stay with you tonight 
Hold you close till the morning light 
In the morning watch a new day rise 
We'll do whatever just to stay alive 
We'll do whatever just to stay alive 

Well the way I feel is the way I write 
It isn't like the thoughts of the man who lies 
There is a truth and it's on our side 
Dawn is coming 
Open your eyes 

Look into the sun as the new days rise 
And I will wait for you tonight 
You're here forever and you're by my side 

I've been waiting all my life 
To feel your heart as it's keeping time 
We'll do whatever just to stay alive 

Dawn is coming 
Open your eyes 
Dawn is coming 
Open your eyes 
Dawn is coming 
Open your eyes 
Dawn is coming 
Open your eyes 

Look into the sun as the new days rise 
There's a rhythm in rush these days 
Where the lights don't move and the colours don't fade
Leave you empty with nothing but dreams
In a world gone shallow
In a world gone mean 

But there is a truth and it's on our side 
Dawn is coming open your eyes
Look into the sun as a new days rise 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Up, UP and AWAY!!

Never, ever, ever say no to a hot air balloon ride. Why would you? 

At the end of last year I made the trip across the Atlantic Ocean to a not so little country called the United States of America. Bound for a Contiki Holidays tour called the Grand Southern. The tour was going to go for 26 days starting in Los Angeles and ending in the big apple, New York city.

I have travelled quite a lot over the last few years (and that is definitely putting it mildly) but I really didn't know what to expect from the USA. It had been a while since I had been travelling in a country where they actually spoke English.

What did I find? Well I was amazed at the diversity of the USA. It was one of the things that I loved the most. Not only did the landscape change but the people completely changed with it. It was like you were crossing into different countries every time you entered a different state.

Over the next few weeks I am going to be posting some of my favourite photos and memories from the trip. Please excuse the fact that they won't be in any order besides which photos I wanted to go through first :)

Hot air ballooning was one of the best things that I did in the USA. It was on our last morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and those of us doing the ballooning had to get up very early even before the sun to get picked up and taken out to a big open area where we watched as our balloons began to be put up. Growing like something straight out of Alice in Wonderland the balloon or should I say envelope (yes no lies that is the proper name for the big bag that traps the hot air) rose into the dusk air. The gondola or wicker basket was made ready and we were asked to jump in...a leap of faith on our part that all was good and that this the oldest successful human-carrying flight technology was going to live up to its reputation.

And man did it ever! We slowly started ascending into the just starting to lighten sky. The sun rounded and rose from behind the foothills of the Sandia Mountains and coated the trees and us in the beautiful morning light filled with golden hues. If there is ever a good time to go on a hot air balloon ride here I would highly recommend October time as it is autumn and all the trees are showing off their best yellows, oranges, reds and greens. Add that golden morning light and you have pure visual magic.

Cruising over Albuquerque with its exotic river the Rio Grande (so exotic because like the Nile it flows through a desert) below and watching the town awaken was a fantastic way to spend my last day there and if ever someone offers me a hot air balloon ride I will never, ever, ever say no.