Saturday, 11 May 2013

Laos and Chiang Mai

After our crazy few weeks in China we flew to Vientiane, Laos, where we spent a day exploring the city and getting massages. From here we went up to Vang Vieng, which is now actually fairly quiet because of the tubing ban, but we had a nice few days here. We went to the Blue Lagoon where we spent a fun afternoon swimming and sunbathing. We also went tubing, which wasn't all it was really cracked up to be as the bars have now been closed down, and the river was really empty. On our last day in Vang Vieng we met back up with our friend Phil from New Zealand and all went up north to Luang Prabang together. We spent our evenings at the famous Luang Prabang night market, and a day at the Kuang Si waterfall, swimming in some of the pools and visiting the bear sanctuary holding about 20 asiatic black bears which were so cute. Phil and Eli also went on an adventure to find a cave, but returned muddy and grumpy an hour later having been massively ripped off (still unsure if this cave actually exists). 

We said bye to Phil here and flew over to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we had a really nice few days staying at the Green Tulip Guesthouse which was so great, anyone who visits has to stay there! The staff were amazing - they actually told us one day that we brought them happiness- and every single wall of the hostel was a different colour. What more could you want. 

We spent the first day in Chiang Mai on a Thai cookery course, learning to make curries, stir fries, noodles, soups - all of which were fantastic if we do say so ourselves. We also spent a day learning to be mahouts at the Baanchang Elephant park which rescues mistreated elephants in Thailand. We learnt how to ride and command the elephants to go, stop, turn and sit down, and we got to feed, bathe and ride the elephants bare back. 
It was a really great once in a lifetime day out, which we'd recommend to anyone. For our last day we visited the Don Su Thep temple, which we found much more impressive than the temples in China, and a much calmer atmosphere too. Last stop was Tiger Kingdom, where we went into the tiger enclosures with the tigers - though a cool experience, I think we were both a little too scared to fully relax and enjoy it! 

We're now in Koh Samui, with Emily, Jessie and Rio, and are having a great time relaxing after an unbelievably crazy 4 months - though without a doubt the best of our lives. See you all in a week! 

Saturday, 27 April 2013


Oh China. Where do we even start. We arrived in Beijing, and coming from the luxury of Tokyo we soon realised we were in for a bit of a shock. Our first impressions of the place were not great - we turned up ready for the Chinese summer heat only to be met by absolutely freezing weather, and no appropriate clothing to go with this (not helped by the fact that our hotel didn't have heating). The language barrier made life really difficult - later on in the trip, one guy on our tour accidentally asked a waitress how much she cost a night while actually trying to just say thank you - and we were met by cold stares and generally really rude people. The Chinese hygiene was a bit of a culture shock - we found ourselves immersed in a society where people spit every all the time and children's trousers have bum slits so they can poo in the street... However we did get to see some of the tourist destinations Beijing has to offer, spending our first day on the Great Wall which was a bit of a rude awakening for us, given that we've been doing virtually nothing but eating, sleeping and sunbathing for 10 weeks, but a really good day out. We visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City which were both really interesting, and also the Olympic Park - cool but again, not as good as London. We also went to a Kung Fu show, which weirdly had the same story line as Star Wars 3 according to Eli. Chess wouldn't know, she fell asleep. It was from Beijing to Shanghai that we had our first overnight train experience - 3 tier bunk beds, which even we were having trouble fitting into, squat toilets and indoor smoking areas for 16 hours. Having now done 5 of these, we can firmly say we never, ever, ever want to experience one again.

We arrived in Shanghai hoping things could only get better and luckily the did. We visited Yu Gardens - small Chinese markets - and in the evening went to an acrobat show which was awesome, and Chess even managed to stay awake in this one. We went up the Shanghai World Financial Centre to the 100th floor glass lookout over the city, which would have been great had the smog not been so bad, and that evening we did a river cruise looking out on the night time Shanghai skyline.

Next up was Xi'an, where we had much better few days. We tried lots of traditional Chinese food including hot pot and dumplings and visited all the touristy sites too. We cycled along the city wall, which was really fun though neither of us could sit down for 2 days afterwards, and visited the Terra-cotta Warriors which we really enjoyed. We went to a karaoke bar that night too which was great fun, Eli banging out the Eminem raps, while Chess chose One Direction and Justin Bieber - maybe a little bit of Steps too...

From Xi'an we took a boat cruise down the Yangtze River - via the zoo where we saw pandas! It was cool to see them, but sad too as the animals weren't really being looked after properly. From the zoo we boarded the boat, our home for the next 2 days while we cruised down the river, going through the three gorges and ending near the Three Gorges Dam.

After the boat cruise we arrived in Yangshuo, a small touristy town which was our favourite place. We did bamboo rafting on the Li River, and visited the is baths and hot springs in the water cave. We cycled back from here - anyone who's experienced Chinese roads will know how terrifying this was! We were riding in between the cars, on dual carriageways and roundabouts, with no helmets and little to no brakes! We also did a Chinese cooking lesson here, where we learnt to make dumplings and other yummy Chinese dishes.

Last stop in China was Hong Kong where we didn't have much time before flying to Laos, but we visited the waterfront and spent a fun evening at the horse races, losing far more money than we won. We can say that China was 'an experience' - though an experience I'm not sure we were really ready for!

Friday, 26 April 2013


We didn't get off to the best start in Tokyo, it taking us about 45 minutes to find our hostel which was supposedly a 7 second walk from the station, but from there it was all plain sailing. We spent the first day in Tokyo at the Sensoji Temple which was really pretty as we were lucky enough to be there in cherry blossom season. Leading up to the temple was a row of markets where we got to try some traditional Japanese food, including bananas covered in blue icing, random.

The next day we took 2 tubes, 3 trains and a car ride to get to Mt. Fuji, where the weather was so bad we couldn't see the summit of the mountain. We soldiered on anyway and took the gondola up to a lookout, and managed to see a fair amount of the mountain and the lakes and town below. From here we took the train to Kyoto, and managed to get some great views of the mountain on the way out so the visit wasn't a total loss! In Kyoto we spent the first afternoon visiting the Golden Temple and then onto a blossom park in the evening which was great fun. We also visited the Silver Temple, which compared to the Golden one we were a bit disappointed by as you couldn't see much of the actual temple itself.

We then took the famous bullet train back to Tokyo where we spent the next 5 days in the city and met up with Chess' mum and brother. We reaped the benefits of having a hotel and not a hostel, spending a large amount of time in the spa, eating fab food and stole way too many toiletries from the housekeeping kart. We visited the Imperial Palace, where you can actually only see the grounds and not the actual palace which was a bit of a let down, Ueno Zoo where we saw pandas, bears and ligers, and we went to the famous Shibuya scramble crossing. We spent a day at Disneyland, which bar the ridiculous queues was loads of fun. We strolled in towards the first ride, followed by a stampede of Japanese kids all sprinting to get in. Literally every single person was running for their lives. It was also in the hotel in Tokyo where we had the slightly awkward situation of not being able to work out how to flush the (heated, bum cleaning and drying) toilet. In the end, Chessie's mum had to find it for us - after travelling alone for 2 months it seems we still can't function without occasional adult supervision.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

New Zealand

So we've just finished the Kiwi Experience and have had the most fantastic 3 weeks, doing some incredible things and meeting some amazing people. Tara, Dani, Isla, Jake, Dan, Becca, Phil, Pete - the list goes on- we've had the best time with you all, thank you for making our trip so special. We miss you already!

Our trip got off to a rocky start in Auckland, having only been there an hour when we were evacuated out of the hostel when the fire alarm went off. Unfortunately, Eli was in the shower. Lols. From Auckland we got on the Kiwi Experience bus and drove via Hot Water Beach to Waitomo, where we did 'Black Water Rafting', which is tubing through the caves looking at the glow worms on the top. We thought this was all very romantic until we found out that the bit of the worms that makes them glow is actually their poo!

Next stop was Rotorua,where we went to a Maori culture evening, where we got to take part in Maori games, watch a concert showing off their traditional songs and fighting techniques and the infamous haka. There we got an amazing dinner, cooked in the ground in the traditional Maori way. In true Eli style, 5 courses later and we can safely say that it was $90 well spent...

Up next was Taupo, which was where Chess did her Skydive! Adamant she wouldn't do it for 8 weeks, she signed up the day before and had the most incredible experience ever. Jumped out of the plane at 15,000 feet, free fell for 65 seconds and then enjoyed a 5 minute parachute ride over Lake Taupo - not your average Tuesday morning!

Last stop on the North Island before Wellington was River Valley, where we stayed in 32 bed dorms - made for an interesting nights sleep... The next morning we decided to go on, what we thought would be, a leisurely walk but actually led to us having to abseil/fall down a muddy slope to go and look at the river, which we could see from our room anyway. While Eli and Dani were lapping up the adventure, it's fair to say Tara and Chessie were not. At all.

After a short stop over in Wellington we got the ferry to the South Island, where one of our first stops was Westport, where Eli had her first surfing lesson. Although the weather was terrible, she managed to stand up and had a great time catching some waves.

Our next stop was Lake Mahinapua, where on the way we stopped at Cape Foulwind seal colony and got to see baby seals playing around in the water which was so cute. The place we stayed here was called 'The Poo Pub'. Guess the name should have given us some warning, but when we turned up at what can only be described as a shed on the side of the road, it took us a while to realise the drivers weren't joking and this was our home for the night. That evening we had a water themed party, and we all tried our best to win the fancy dress competition but were completely outshone by a girl who came as a shower. Head, curtain, water and all...

After here we stopped at Franz Josef for 2 days, where on the first day we did a 3 hour kayak on the lake with the mountains on one side and the rainforest on the other. Though it was tiring the views were stunning and we had a really great afternoon. The next morning we took a helicopter up to the Franz Josef glacier, where we hiked up to the top and back again which was amazing, and being the geography geeks that we are found it all rather more exciting than everyone else. We spent the afternoon at the hot pools, where we stayed in the water for so long we all resembled prunes when we got out!

Next up was Lake Wanaka, stopping at Ships Creek on the way to see the dolphins, and then we went onto Wanaka where Eli did her skydive. Same height and length of freefall, but had views of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea and the snowy mountains. Now that we both had a taste for adrenaline we didn't want to stop there and when we got to the adventure capital of New Zealand, Queenstown, we made the most of what they had to offer. Eli did the Nevis Bungy (at 134m high it's the 3rd highest bungy in the world) - albeit in a pin drop manner rather than an elegant dive and spent the next few days hobbling like an old man. Chessie did the slightly less scary option of the canyon swing with Isla, where you freefall for a couple of seconds off the side of a cliff and then swing around at the bottom over the canyon. Having left home promising each other we we would do none of these things, we've now done the 3 scariest things in New Zealand! We also enjoyed the nightlife Queenstown had to offer, and of course the food - probably took one too many trips to Fergburger (where the burgers are literally the size of your face).

Last stop was Christchurch where we stayed in a converted jail. We still cant work out whether it's cool or wierd...

We've had a brilliant 3 weeks here and have left New Zealand with great new friends, amazing memories and far too many free t-shirts! Roll on Japan!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Sydney and Melbourne

So after 6 weeks, 4 flights, 10 bus and 3 boat trips we've travelled 4030km from Cairns to Melbourne and our time in Australia has come to an end. In Sydney we met up with Nat (Chess' cousin), and had a fab time in the city being tourists and taking in the sights like the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. 
We also took a tour around the Olympic Park, where we spent the whole time slaughtering everything we saw, comparing it to London 2012 (go team GB!), which was miles better. We visited the world famous Bondi Beach, which wasn't nearly as busy as everyone thinks but we still had a fun afternoon watching some incredible surfing and from here we walked to Coogee Beach taking in the coastal scenery. One evening we were lucky enough to go to a circus/burlesque show, 'La Soiree', at the opera house which was great fun - our favourite act being the 'English Gents', whose main talent was their fantasic abs. Our other favourite acts included a topless man in a bath, a topless man on a unicycle, and a topless man lifting himself up a lampost...

After Sydney we took the dreaded overnight bus to Melbourne, where we arrived in surprisingly high spirits once we saw the first rays of sunshine in 3 and half weeks! We're staying in the chilled area of St. Kilda, a small town by a beautiful harbour and we spend most of our days sunbathing on the beach. It's a hard life. We also saw some friends we met at Fraser Island (the ones who told us about the amazing chocolate shop Max Brenner), and re visited the shop for the 4th time. It was just as good as the first And second and third. We took trips into the city to explore places like the Sports Precinct, home to Melbourne Cricket Ground, Carlton Gardens and Queen Victoria Markets. Although they were nice to see, we were a little underwhelmed by what the city had to offer so didn't end up spending too much time in the actual city itself. However the highlight of Chess' time in Melbourne was the Neighbours Set Tour (for a non neighbours watcher like Eli, her excitement was brilliant to watch.) We got to visit the outside sets, and see the real Ramsay Street! The tour came with a 'star meeting' and we got to meet Libby (not Karl like Chess had hoped) which was a strange experience, just because she was so wierd.

Overall we've had a really great 6 weeks in Australia, even though the weather hasn't been great. It wasn't what we expected at all, but we've done so many amazing things in such a short time, our top experiences being the Uncle Brians Tour, Whitsundays and Fraser Island (and for Chess of course the Neighbours tour). We can't believe we're one country down and a third of the way through the trip, but are so excited to be moving on to New Zealand tomorrow!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Noosa, Brisbane, Surfers Paradise and Byron Bay

After Rainbow Beach we headed to Noosa, where we spent a romantic Valentines Day at Australia Zoo, set up by Steve Irwin. On the coach on the way there we got to watch re runs of The Crocodile Hunter and realise how crazy he actually was. First stop at the zoo was the elephants, where we got to feed them lunch, and then onto the koalas. Although cute and fluffy, holding one proved to be less pleasant than expected as they actually smell really bad. Later on we watched the main event at the zoo, the crocodile show. It started well, until the trainer dropped the meat he was using to entice the croc to a place where neither of them could reach it - rather an anti climax. The trainer then proceeded to accidentally trip into the crocodile pool, and from there it went downhill. Overall a little disappointed, but still worth a visit. The English weather also seemed to catch up with us here and we had to cancel our plans for the rest of our time in Noosa - not exactly what we were hoping for.

Next up after Noosa was Brisbane, and having been in so many beach towns it was nice to get back into the city. We spent days along the South Bank and visiting the markets, which reminded us of a summers day in London, bar the artificial beach. We were told by some other travellers to go to 'Max Brenner's Chocolate Bar' (the best advice we've got all trip), where we queued for 50 minutes to receive the best chocolate experience of our lives. Not wanting to stop there, in true flashpacker style we decided to hit a French steak restaurant for dinner. Needless to say, neither of us have any money anymore and are back to living on Nutella and toast.

Our chocolate heaven

After Brisbane, our next stop was Surfers Paradise where we were back into the bad weather. However, in true English fashion, we didn't let is stop us and we spent the days at sea world, movie world theme park and a water park and had some of the best (but by far the coldest) days of the trip. It seemed we were the only ones willing to brave the weather and we didn't have to queue for a single ride. We took, what we thought would be, full advantage of the empty park and sat on the front of the biggest rollercoaster. However our greed came back to quite literally slap us in the face, after we had to endure a minute of going through the rain at top rollercoaster speed, leaving our faces stinging and the rest of us soaking wet. Finishing off a top couple of days, we headed out to take advantage of the first good nightlife we've come across since arriving in Oz.

After the rollercoaster in the rain

Proof that we have actually been out at least once this holiday!
When we got to Byron Bay, because of the bad weather there wasn't a great deal to do, but we did spend a strange day at the hippie town of Nimbin. We enjoyed perusing the shops with names like "happy high herbs" and found the posters "politicians are slave driving bloodsucking parasites" and "legalise weed and stop the war" mind boggling, but somewhat amusing. We felt like we'd stepped into the 70's! We also discovered hemp ice cream - who knew that existed?!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Agnes Water, Fraser Island and Rainbow Beach

We finally made it out of Airlie Beach after a week and our next stop was Agnes Water, where we went on the renowned Scooteroo Tour, where you ride around the town spotting kangaroos on motorbikes for 3 hours. Before we saw the bikes Eli was raring to go, and Chessie was - to be fair- bricking it. However the tables turned when we actually got onto the bikes, with Eli narrowly missing running over the instructor and then driving into a tree, whereas Chess found her inner biker almost straight away. We were immediately put onto the road - or in Eli's case into the path of another car. However after a while, she did manage to get the hang of it in time to enjoy the ride and take in the sunset.

Us getting into the biker spirit

From Agnes Water we drove to Hervey Bay, where our tour to Fraser Island would leave from the next day. Keeping true to form and adding to our string of unlucky journeys, the bus was 3 hours late and arrived with broken aircon. However, we found refuge with a group of true Australian hippies, mellowing out to Bob Marley in a camper van painted like a scene from Finding Nemo- only in Australia.

We spent 2 days driving through Fraser Island, on what they called 'roads', but to any other normal person - death traps, and despite the relentless mosquito attacks we had a fantastic time and met a group of really great people. On day one, we visited Lake Mackenzie, the most famous spot on the island. Unfortunately the weather didn't quite go our way, but we still got to appreciate the beauty of it.While still brushing the sand from the beach at the lake off of us, we were lead into the rainforest for the afternoon. It amazed us (as keen/lame geographers) that the two could be in such close proximity to each other. The next day we swam down the freezing cold Eli Creek, which was the highlight of Eli's day. We walked to a group of sand dunes where we had endless jumping off the top and rolling down, and then visited the Champagne Pools - natural rock pools which filled with bubbles when the waves crashed past. Last stop of the day was Indian Head, a large cliff face which we climbed up to hopefully catch a glimpse of some sharks or dolphins in the water below... we didn't.
Now that we've been here almost a month, we've developed a few daily routines, one of which consists of Eli eating her own meal, and then finishing the rest of Chessie's, which earned her the ever so ladylike title of "remorseless eating machine" on our tour. lol.

Excitement overload 

Eli doesn't mess around

We travelled from there to Rainbow Beach, the name being fairly misleading, unless a rainbow consists of only the colours brown and black. We spent the afternoon sand boarding on a giant sand dune, not realising how steep it was until we'd actually reached the bottom, or in Chessie's case fallen off the board half way down, flipped, and then rolled down the rest of the way, crash landing at the bottom - lets just say not as elegantly as Eli. There was sand in places sand should definitely never be...

Before the crash!