All of the Hoi An lights

Wow that was one long bus journey. At times a little fractured due to baby screaming and someone playing music loudly on their phone whilst others try to sleep. Turns out the music was for the baby to stop him screaming. A trade off everyone was pleased to make.

Waking at 6am to find out we had arrived was a bonus. I don’t normally sleep on any kind of transport. Poor Emily, who is normally the better sleeper, didn’t get quite as many hours in. Slinging our heavy rucksacks over our backs we marched the 15 minutes to our new home.

The Serenity Hotel. Ironic, as their was another hotel being built next door and building anything is far from serene. To be fair we couldn’t hear anything in the room. Still, it was cheap, the staff are super friendly, great breakfast and good pool.

So what did we want from Hoi An? They say the travellers see’s what they see whilst the tourist sees what they have come to see. I guess we are a little of both. Emily aka CEO of “Hawkins Tours” does a great job of adding a framework to our time in a place. Without which we would miss out on the highlights. We also sometimes just walk, cycle or ride a motorbike to random places to get lost and see what we can see.

One must was to eat a Banh Mi from a local restaurant that we had seen on “No Reservations” by Anthony Bourdain. Our friends Alex and Michelle gave us a great tip. Don’t queue for a take out, walk past the line and eat in. We did exactly that. I have no idea why everyone was queuing to eat out when their were empty tables upstairs… It didn’t disappoint and was to be the start of my obsession with Banh Mi.

Wandering the streets of Hoi An is a joy. Endless independent quirky stylish shops and restaurants. Beautiful photo opportunities everywhere. It all got too much so we stopped for coconut coffee and a pain o chocolate.

We also tried these little tasty morsels called “White Rose”

Sat on the corner of a busy street people watching and playing UNO. Simple, inexpensive, precious. These are the times we will both cherish when our travels come to an end.

As the lanterns light up Hoi An so this smile lights my days.

As dusk decended and all of the Hoi An lanterns began to glow we fell in love with this beautiful city.

Cambodia and the Temples

A big shout out to the Phuket Airport hotel. They know their niche and they nailed it. Close to the airport, obvs, beaut of a pool, neat lush gardens, fast WiFi, cheap clean spacious room, free transfer to the airport at 4am!

We arrived at Siem Reap airport at 7am only to realise we had left our passport photos in checked baggage. “Not to worry you can avoid this necessity with a fee sir”. At least we got our visas, even if it did cost us a little extra.

Our hotel, Sakmut Boutique, offered free airport transfer and true to form they greeted us at the arrival gate with a sign and they managed to spell my name right. Exceptional service for roughly £50 a night. They bill themselves as an “Affordable Luxury Hotel”. I think we would both go along with that. As we had arrived so early they offered us free breakfast. Pretty amazing given checkin is normally 2pm and that our room was ready for us to bag drop then chow down.

This bad boy was waisted on us #lazybones

We used the rest of the day to catch up on blogging and sort out accommodation for further down the line and work out our plans to explore Siem Reap.

We decided that the best way to visit the vast amount of temples was to spread it over two days with a pool day in between.

Small Circuit

Angkor Wat – Undisputedly the largest religious building in the world. A massive 3 level temple mountain style structure dominated by 5 central towers.

Two monks enjoying the lake at the entrance to Angkor Wat.

I know it looks empty but we got lucky with this shot before the crowds took over

This little one had enough temple action

Plenty of cheeky monkeys feasting on scraps

Ta Prohm – made famous by the film Tomb Raider.

This was one of my favourites as it was the most atmospheric. The jungle has definitely taken over in parts and has made it more beautiful than some of the restored parts.

Bayon – The Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and smiling stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak.

It’s funny when you visit a lot of temples in a day or two. You get to understand the saying “same same but different”. On the whole we enjoyed visiting so many as we did it at a leisurely pace and didn’t try and squeeze in too many. It was also nice to quench our thirst with a cold one at the end of a hot sticky day.

Khao Sok Snake Diaries

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Day Two in Khao Sok started bright and early as we headed out for a full day tour of the National Park and Cheow Lan Lake. This destination is well documented as the jewel of the park and having seen lots of awesome blogs and videos about it, we’ve been really excited to explore. Cheow Lan is a 71sq mile artificial lake built in the 80’s in conjunction with a huge dam for power generation and to combat flooding.

Khao Sok village in the Surat Thani province is where we are staying and is the gateway to the park. We were picked up by a mini van and we drove for an hour before we reached the pier and piled onto a long tail boat.

Almost immediately we could appreciate why so many people raved about the lake. It is incredibly vast and it’s surrounding scenery is stunning. The lake is an incredible blue colour and studded with huge limestone cliffs and mountains that majestically jut out of the water. As we ducked and dived around the rocks we felt like we had the lake to ourselves, barely passing another boat.

After 45 minutes on the boat we reached a set of floating houses on the lake. With nothing else around for miles it was impossibly peaceful. We did have the option to spend a night here but having peaked into the rooms which are essentially dark boxes with a filthy looking mattress on the floor, I’m pretty relieved we didn’t go for it.

We did however stop there for a great lunch of fish and stir fried chicken dishes before we embarked upon a trek in the National Park.

Our tour guide had really been selling this big hike which would take 3 hours in total and culminate in a spectacular cave walk. He reiterated the importance of plenty of water and proper trekking shoes so were anticipating a hefty slog in the midday sun. Turns out the route was no more than 3 km in distance, but did take us across streams, scrambling over rocks and on paths crisscrossed by huge tree roots. Major tripping hazards that, much to the amusement of Gary, I managed to stumble on repeatedly.

Immersed in the greenery and dwarfed by insanely tall bamboo, it was awesome. We saw monkeys and a wonderful array of butterflies sunbathing on the river bank. So many butterflies that dispersed when disturbed that they looked like confetti.

Once we arrived at the cave entrance we were told to turn our headlamps on and advised that once inside to stick to walking and not climbing.

Turns out that the ‘cave walk’ was essentially potholing in the pitch black with no helmets and the world’s worst lamps that illuminated a two cm spot a meter in front of us. Our guide gave us no advance warning of how slippy the rocks were or the best route to take and he went at such a pace that the 13 of us in the tour group were struggling to keep up. We were fumbling along, tripping over rocks and then falling into water. At some points we were in ankle deep water and at others we were plunged into icy cold pools where the water was so deep it came up to our necks and took our breath away. It was so farcical that it was almost funny……that is until I heard the dreaded words shouted back by our guide to “watch out for the snake.” Needless to say, I lost my shit. A horrid snake perched on a little ledge eyeing us up. It’s the only time our guide displayed any real care and attention so I can only assume it was poisonous. After gingerly crawling past and giving the beast a wide berth we continued on our way, this time without gripping the walls and rocks for balance. I was so nervous about touching or grabbing any more snakes lurking in the darkness.

We got to an opening where bats were congregated and then returned the way we came. Whilst an interesting interlude and another new experience for us, it’s not one I need to do again in a hurry.

We walked back to lake and spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and sunbathing and drinking beer in the most picturesque of settings in Thailand. The swimming was glorious and easily my favourite part of the day. It’s sometimes hard to fully appreciate your environment when you are there, and already I wish I’d taken it in more. The pictures do a great job of reminding us of the incredible grandeur of Khao Sok though.

We enjoyed the gorgeous beaches of southern Thailand so much that it had to be something pretty spectacular to pull us away. I’m pleased we made the effort to get here and experience a different side of Thailand. I’m surprised that Khao Sok isn’t completely inundated with tourists because it really is beautiful and well worth the trip.

Khao Sok National Park

As we left our great Phuket digs the guy gave us a wonderfully tacky key ring with the name of the guesthouse “Glitter” embossed. I just looked at Emily and she smiled. If your called Gary and travelling around Thailand the last thing you want is a little label that says “Glitter”.

The journey from Phuket to Kao Sok National Park would take around 4 hours on a bus. I don’t really mind the bus journeys too much but they do eat into your day. We decided to get an early one so we could go on a canoe trip in the afternoon. Time for a little nap then.

The bus dropped us off at the side of the road and we managed to score a ride in an old jeep with no roof to the Paradise resort. Sure it was nice but Paradise was over egging it somewhat.

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Being the dry season the river was a little low but we climbed into our inflatable kayak and the guide paddled us down the river.

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As you can see I was still tired from the journey 😜

All along the route a local dog called Coffee followed us. At one point he even tried to get in the boat and I had to fend him off until he got the message. We saw lots of monkeys fooling around on branches over head. We even saw a snake in the water looking up in hope that one of the monkeys would fall in.

The scenery was stunning and at time reminded me of a summers day in a Welsh valley. So green and lush.

Halfway along the river we stopped and the guides heated up water in bamboo and made tea and coffee. A nice treat.

Four Days in Phuket

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Having enjoyed a wonderful few days on the peaceful island of Yao Noi, we took a speedboat over to Phuket to experience the ultimate contrast. Phuket is just 36km away but the two islands are worlds apart in terms of culture, vibe and footfall.
Phuket really is an ‘anything goes’ island that attracts huge numbers of package tourists with its dizzying array of attractions engineered to relieve you of your hard earned bhat. We’re talking anything from tiger ‘sanctuaries’ to snake shows, adrenalin sports and ladyboy cabarets. Whilst we’d read that the beaches have retained their tropical beauty, we were a little sceptical about whether we’d enjoy the rest of the island.

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We decided to base ourselves in Kata, a beach town located approx 20mins south of the infamous Patong. Patong is a party town, famed for its cheap booze, sleazy bars and all-round debauchery. Whilst Kata has a buzz and plenty of tourists, it’s much quieter than Patong and has a stunning beach.

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The sand is so fine and the sea is wonderfully calm and inviting and we happily whiled away most of our time at the beach, reading and listening to podcasts. We also discovered The Surfhouse, a cool beachside bar with a ‘double flowrider’ surf simulator as it’s centrepiece.

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Always keen for adventure and trying something new, Gary was keen to give it a go and by calling upon his snowboarding experience he got the hang of it immediately. It looked really tricky but so fun. The wipeouts were also pretty spectacular.

We rented a scooter on one of the days to visit Phuket Old Town on the east of the island which was great.

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The old town has a core of beautiful Sino-Portuguese architecture and many of the buildings have been lovingly restored to their former beauty.

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We wandered down lanes with wonderfully colourful shopfronts adorned with gorgeously ornate fresco work and decorative tiles.

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Phuket Town also has a neat collection of cool street art that is reminiscent of the talent we saw in Georgetown in Malaysia.

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We stumbled across a cat cafe which I couldn’t resist. This is basically a place where you can grab a coffee and a slice of cake and pet a load of pampered pussycats that laze around.

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Such a strange concept but I loved it. I think these felines had been over pampered because they were very aloof when it came to tummy tickles and cuddles. Not sure Gary was particularly enthused by the whole experience but he did approve of them serving beer.

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Just enough time for Gary to get his hair cut in a supercool barbers before we headed for some dinner. Haircuts have tended to be nerve wracking affairs since we’ve come away, with a worry that Gary’s requests will be lost in translation and he’ll come away with a bubble perm or skinhead. Thankfully this place was pretty good (although painfully slow) and we left happy.

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We found a wonderful restaurant to have dinner in before heading back. I had my first taste of lamb since we’ve been away and Gary had the signature dish of steak and tempura prawn. It was delicious and made a lovely break from the usual Thai.

Big shout out to the awesome markets and street eats that we’ve indulged in since arriving in Phuket. There is a lovely little evening market close to our B&B that serves the most amazing pork ribs that we’ve become addicted to.

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Exploring food markets and gawping at all the fresh veggies and exotic fruits is my favourite thing to do in a new destination and makes for incredible people watching.

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We’ve really enjoyed our time over the last few days and we are so pleased we uncovered an alternative Phuket to the stereotype it’s become famed for.

Hiding out in Koh Yao Noi

Of all the forms of transport we have experienced on our travels I love the boats more than anything. I think it’s the freedom to set your own course, unencumbered by traffic through stunning scenery.

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Whilst waiting to set off from Railay to Koh Yao Noi we were treated to a little musical interlude from an Aussie with a face that looked like a bulldog chewing a nettle. I do hope he doesn’t read this 😬.


We had chosen Yao Noi because we had watched a film in Le Dream Boutique, back in Penang, that used it as a location. Predominantly Muslim population we knew it would be sleepy and rustic and that is just what we were after before the busy crowds of Phuket.

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These guys welcomed us with sweet sticky mango rice, banana fritters and freshly brewed coffee and tea.

The first afternoon we wandered along the road to Pasai beach and I made friends with a bull. Gently stroking its head and feeling the incredible power when it shook off a fly and a horn caught my arm. Wow, I can’t imagine the damage these things can do if they really want to hurt you.

We wanted to find out about a tour to one of the neighbouring islands but didn’t have the heart to rouse this sleepy man.

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Pasai beach had a great little vibe about it. Cool little bars and restaurants with lots of character. Rustic beach with swings and hammocks free for anyone to use.

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We spent a very pleasant afternoon and evening drinking Caiparinhia and Mai Tai’s, playing UNO and eating delicious masaman curry.The next day we sought some adventure and the only way around the island was to hire a moped. Cruising along the coastal road we stopped at various points of interest.

Up in the north west we came across some interesting chalet style buildings. Being cheeky I wandered  up the hill and took a closer look.

 

On the way back we came across these cute little fellow bikers.


Taking one of the back roads to explore a bit further we encountered a battered wooden sign “Restaurant and View Point”. The only problem was it was pointing up a dirt track. With the memory of the Duli beach puncture still fresh in our minds we were both reluctant. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The track wasn’t as bad as the Duli track but it was bad enough near the end that Emily got off and walked up the hill whilst I scrambled the bike over the rocks to go on ahead and make sure it was worth it. What a treat we received at the end of this dirt track.

Welcome to The Hideout

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This place was amazing. It was a very small resort with a restaurant and pool. Free to use provided you bought a drink. Two Mojitos then please.

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UNO score, Emily 0 – 4 Gary #unochamp

 

Motorcycle Diaries to Lanta Old Town

Keen to get out and about and see more of Lanta we rented another scooter and actually got to choose one this time. With the memory of the “El Nido puncture” still burnt into my brain I chose a Honda 125i Click with brand new back tyre.

“Check out my sweet ride”

Don’t worry Hawkins clan we don’t go over 40km/hr when Emily is riding pillion but I did see how fast it could go solo.

We decided to take the long way around to see what we can see on the way. One thing we have noticed all over Thailand is the “tapping” of trees.

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In order to collect the latex that is eventually turned into rubber, farmers make cuts across the tree, just deep enough to reach the vessels without harming the tree’s growth, in a process known as rubber tapping. The latex is then collected in small buckets.

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It’s quite pleasing to see row upon row of neatly planted rubber trees.

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A little further down the road and we saw an advert for Emily’s favourite show.

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The 40 minute journey was most pleasant. Pootiling along the decent roads surrounded by lush rural tropical plants. It is easy to forget how hot it is when the breeze is cooling you down. Arriving in the old town and walking the pretty main street we were drenched in sweat within minutes.

A quick explore and we decided to quench our thirst in lovely restaurant called “Fresh”. This one even had a swing with picturesque views.

After a couple of shandy’s and a few games of our new favourite, UNO, we set off to find a new beach.

As luck seems to have it we drove passed a dirt track with a hand made sign saying “Beautiful Beach this way”.

The sunset wasn’t bad either.

Chinese New Year in Langkawi

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Penang has been one of our faves on the trip so far and it’s been made all the better by the awesome hotel we are staying in.

The hotel has really great little extras including free afternoon tea, free flowing ice cream and wine in the evenings and movie nights with popcorn on the terrace. They clearly know the way to our hearts…cake and booze.

Having 5 days here has been great and given us enough time to properly explore but at a really leisurely pace. It’s incredibly hot and really draining walking a lot in the midday sun so plenty of cafe stops has been good.

We’ve now moved on to the island of Langkawi which is north of Penang.

We flew out on Chinese New Year which wasn’t the best decision. The run up to the holiday has been hectic to say the least with accommodation being booked up everywhere and travel routes charging inflated prices. That said it’s cool to be here at a time of celebration that we don’t have back home.

Ever since Singapore we’ve seen lanterns everywhere and elaborate decorations in the malls and at all hotels. It’s such a huge event and people have been setting off fireworks and incredibly loud firecrackers throughout the evenings.

The airport was absolutely rammed but a smooth check-in and insanely short flight of 40 mins later we touched down in Langkawi.

Due to the lack of accommodation options we ended up in pretty rustic digs for our time in Langkawi.

We are in a traditional Malay hut on a working farm and rice paddy complete with water buffalo and chickens.

It’s really beautiful and kinda unnerving at the same time. It’s very picturesque and we are completely immersed in nature, but the roar of insect life in the evenings is intense!

Langkawi is a busy island but we’ve avoided the pricy touristy tours and made the most of the great beach and yummy food. Pentai Cenang is a gorgeous beach with a huge, wide swathe of white powdery sand and beautiful turquoise sea. We’ve enjoyed lounging around and reading on the beach whilst dodging the intensely hot sun. It’s great to lounge around and have the odd lazy day which we are becoming more than accustomed too.

Chinese Medicine man

Tearing ourselves away from the ever interesting George Town we Uber’d our way to the beach resort of Batu Ferringhi. With a long stretch of powdery sand and a legendary night market it was the perfect location to chill and enjoy Valentine’s Day.

Settling down into our loungers I noticed an old man carrying a book approaching people on the beach. People read the book, then he held their hand a told them something. Their facial reaction was always one of surprise. I was intrigued about what he was saying. I am a natural skeptic about pretty much anything “Mumbo Jumbo”. I like evidence, facts, a scientific approach. That said when Terry Yiap, the Chinese healer held my hand and told me he could fix my back issues I was intrigued. Maybe it was a guess, most people my age have a bad back right..? Anyway I read all the reviews in his book and agreed to be “healed” by Terry. How do I describe the treatment? Hmm. I would say it was a combination of massage, mumbling, mummifying me in gauze, smearing strange smelling liquid on to the gauze, clicking bones, muttering, stretching, head rubbing and more mumbling. Sounds very scientific huh. How did I feel after? Amazing. How did I smell? Like I had waded through a Buffalo’s watering hole.

Here is Terry doing a head stand, apparently it’s his thing.

Given it was Valentines day we decided to enjoy the sunset with a couple of Rum n Cokes and watch the world go by.

In the evening we ended up at a table in the night market with two ex-policemen from the UK. Very random. Ask Emily how she got them to leave abruptly…The food was once again amazing with a selection of satay, pad Thai and beef noodles.

Hats off to the super cool uber driver who let us play our own playlist and sing very badly on the way back to our hotel.