Harling Honeymoon

One year honeymoon around the world...17th April 2007 to 9th March 2008! Yes we're home!!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

China!! Saturday 1st March 2008

We’ve arrived! Immigration was a breeze: the easiest yet. All the desks were manned and open. Very efficient. About 20 in all for residents and visitors combined and absolutely no queues. Has anyone ever seen Heathrow open all the desks?? Maybe they’re saving them for a busy day :-)

When we filled in our visa application in Singapore we had to state where we were intending to visit and what our occupation is as certain trades are not allowed in. We’d already fibbed as we didn’t think it best to say ‘Unemployed’ so we put ‘Bank Clerk’ and I gave Goldman’s address and my old desk phone number J So I’m expecting to be grilled about why we’re in China and I’m ready to say “I’ve come to see the Giant Pandas” and the happy smiling Chinese man simply puts a pen tick on my visa, stamps my passport with the date and smiles as he hands back my passport! Easy peasy! Fastest immigration yet!

Also worth a mention was the interactive feedback panel on the counter – five faces ranging from big smiles for “Greatly Satisfied” to upset face for “Greatly Dissatisfied” and you were encouraged to push the face that you felt. I happily squished the Greatly Satisfied button as I skipped away from the desk. Ben and I later wondered if there was a spot prize at the end of the shift for the border guard with the best rating and hence they were so smiley and quick. If anyone knows anyone who works at a UK airport please suggest this! And preferably before we return into LHR :-)

The next excitement was found at the baggage carousel. Now please correct me if I’ve been mislead but is there not an unspoken code amongst Westerners that if you’re first to the baggage carousel with your trolley then that is YOUR space and someone can only squeeze up to the belt temporarily to retrieve their bag as it passes and must then move back…!!??? Well not the case here in China. I was outsmarted by a man shorter than me who executed a deft Bend & Snap maneuver. If you’ve seen Legally Blonde you’ll know what I mean. He bent past me towards the belt reaching for his luggage (or so I thought) and without picking anything up he snapped back up swinging his hips left and knocking me clean out of the way. And he didn’t even blink. Not a sign of acknowledgment that I had been standing there. I know that Asian queuing is a new concept to us English and Ben and I are getting the hang of that but purlease he barged me out the way!

So Ben switched with me and when his rucksack came off the belt he whacked it into the guy’s leg…accidentally of course :-)

For those of you unfamiliar with Asian queuing, if you can’t smell the shampoo on the person in fronts head then you are not in the queue and someone will very quickly stand in front of you. They will also step around you in a roped queue if you have not filled every available space and if you try to hold onto the rope with one hand you must not let go to scratch your nose else they’re round you before you get your fingers to your face!

Unfortunately whilst I used to be an extremely considerate person and would hold open doors for others and would know who had been waiting in a shop before me it’s wasted here, you snooze, you lose, and this morning Ben said I cut up an old lady waiting to pass through a door way. Like I said, you snooze you lose here.

We’re checked into our Hostel but again it’s more of a hotel and very nice at that for 20 GBP a night. Looking forward to exploring Beijing tomorrow.

Sam x

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Today we rode the Escalator DOWN... went to Hong Kong Disneyland and then rode back UP

So get this - between 8am and 10am the Mid-Level Escaltors run downwards to help get everyone down to the City to work and shop! So this morning we got to ride all the way down to the bottom :-) We then grabbed brekkie at our usual haunt (McD's - its cheap and it's NOT noodles!) and jumped on train to Hong Kong Disneyland.

I am somewhat of a Disney fanatic having been to Disneyworld Florida 7 times, Disneyland California twice and Paris 3 times so was quite excited to check out one of the Asian efforts (There is also a Disney Park in Tokyo but unfortunately we're not going to Japan). I must say that with the exception of choice and variety of rides it beats Paris hands down for atmosphere. The people are extremely friendly and smiley and must have been sent to the USA for happy face lessons. We went into Mickey's House and were virtually escorted round as smiley Cast Members announced we were now in "Mickey's Bedroom" (the big bed kinda gave it away) and Mickey's Kitchen (again, the huge fridge was a clue) but they are so lovely we just smiled and said thanks.

I also tried on Mickey's shoes...

Ben's favourite ride as I predicted was Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters - we sit in a small spaceship-car equipped with lazer guns which we use to help Buzz save the Universe from the evil Emperor Zurg by zapping as many Z's symbols as we can and get points for doing so.
As you might imagine it becomes a fierce competition and apart from the first ride which I won, Ben won the next 5 times. Yes we went on 6 times, like I said it was Ben's favourite ride :-)

Adrenaline rides are the seriously lacking at HK Disney. They've done a great job with Space Mountain which left us both feeling slightly nauseous even though it doesn't go upside down but otherwise all the rides are incredibly sedate.

Everything is in Mandarin, Cantonese (two Chinese dialects) and English and most times is done very well. However on the Jungle Cruise we may as well have been on a Chinese speaking boat as neither of us had any idea what the girl was going on about despite it supposedly being in English. But again she was a lovely smiley girl we didn't mind and laughed about it.

We had our pic with Mickey and Minnie when we arrived and we also saw Winnie the Pooh and Buzz himself! The weather was gorgeous all day - not too hot but the sun shone all day with beautiful blue sky.

We stayed for the fireworks at 8pm which were great.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Today we rode the Escalator from bottom to top...!

...But first we rode the Peak Tram to the top of Victoria Peak and checked out the amazing views on a beautifully sunny day.

Back down on the tram and we walked across HK island and took the Star Ferry for a bargainous S$2.20 (14p) across to Kowloon. Across in Kowloon we can see we are defs staying in the posher end of town, not hotels wise but regular accommodation. Next door to a Holiday Inn is the dreadful Chungking Mansions: crumbling block of "dirt-cheap hostels, guesthouses, curry house, immigrants and all manner of merchants". Looking at it from the outside it really should be knocked down and looks very out of place on the shopping street.
Back to the waterfront and we sat in the afternoon sun looking across the harbour at Hong Kong Island before taking the ferry back.
As we were now at the bottom of the escalators we set off to ride the entire length then walk back down to our hotel :-) We weren't the only crazies and their was another couple taking pics at the top and then heading back down :-)
Tomorrow we're off to Hong Kong Disneyland!

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

City Stops...Kuala Lumpur, Singapore & Hong Kong

Tonight....we rode the escalators of Hong Kong Mid-Levels! It's fab! This part of the city is built on a huge steep hill so there is a convenient set of up-escalators and down steps with lots of breaks so you can check out the funky bars and restaurants of Soho. According to the Lonely P this escalator is in the longest escalator system in the world transporting pedestrians 800m from Queens Road Central via Soho all the way up to Conduit Road in Mid-Levels in 20minutes - that's 800m UP!

Going back to Thursday last week (21st Feb) we said bye to my M&D at Phuket airport, Thailand and took a plane to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We'd bought the ticket online with budget airline Air Asia. Whilst our RTW ticket allows us 2 checked bags each the budget airlines limit you to 1 checked bag of 15kg.
Bearing in mind we'd just stripped back our rucksacks of non-essentials for our last month and overloaded my M&D with our stuff we were still over: mine by 1kg and Ben's by 3kg. And the guy wanted to charge us 660 Baht for 4 kilos excess! That's about 10 GBP/USD$20! Neither of us has ever paid excess baggage before and we already flew with Air Asia from Bangkok to Krabi 2 weeks ago with no probs so we weren't about to pay now.

So we whipped open our bags and started putting on clothes to get us down to the requisite 15kg: we changed our flip flops for trainers and socks, ben pulled his jeans on over his shorts, and we carried our fleece and rain jackets in a carrier bag. A quick check showed my bag was now 14kg so I squeezed in some more of Ben’s bits and we got both bags to 15kg exactly! Once through immigration Ben took his jeans off. Very daft really as we still took the same amount, and weight, of stuff on the plane.

Kuala Lumpur
I really liked KL. Modern City but the people in general still retained their culture and dress rather than adopting western fashions en masse like Singapore & HK. Funniest thing was the underground. Think Canary Wharf Jubilee Line. A mass of silver escalators and glass walls and doors preventing you from falling onto the platform. Well as we stepped off the escalator to the same environment but all the people were queuing nicely outside the doors whilst leaving ample space for people to get off the train! We couldn't help but giggle. And when the train arrived they did let the people off but then they cramped themselves on like the best of Londoners.
- ChineseNew Year - Petronas Towers - KL Tower - Little India

I was rather underwhelmed by Singapore. I think you need money to enjoy Singapore and at this stage of our trip cash is lacking. Or perhaps I should say cash for posh meals and unnecessary shopping is lacking but it is to be expected given we've been unemployed for almost a year now. It was clean but not spotless as it is reputed to be and I expected the people to be more orderly and a strong police or official presence but I didn't see a single policeman in 3 days. No one queued at trains like KL. .

We were staying in the chinese red-light district (Singapore Air Show had doubled hotel prices plus most places were booked out) so we saw the real Singapore: people crammed into huge high rise blocks of flats.
Singapore -met Anna. Raffles Singapore Sling. Sentosa. Tiger Beer. Chinese Visa.
TBC......in HK for next 4 nights... then fly to Beijing.

Phuket, Thailand


Thursday, 14 February 2008

Koh Phi Phi - island of diving, tsunami devastation and "the Beach"

We arrived in Koh Phi Phi and swarmed off the ferry with the crowds, intent on finding a place to stay as quickly as possible. We had read that everything was expensive but were pleased to find a small guesthouse with good cheap rooms not far from the pier.

Koh Phi Phi is an extremely beautiful island of towering cliffs, turquoise seas and white sandy beaches. Most of the town on KPP was devasted by the tsunami at the end of 2004 but the local people have done a good job of recovering from their town being flattened. I really liked the fact that there were no cars on the island and it was great to stroll around the small streets and dusty trails on foot.


Tour of the Phi Phi Islands

South to Krabi, Climbing, Canoeing and Diving

After leaving Bangkok we took a short flight with AirAsia down to Krabi in the southern part of Thailand. After a bus ride and a long-tail boat trip we arrived at TonSai Beach in the Rai Leh (Railay) Area. We were greeted with spectacular scenery; towering limestone cliffs, lush jungle and turquoise sea. We had a couple of days to chill out in Tonsai which is a backpackers beach with a few laid back restaurants/bars and relaxed accommodation. It was then on to the climbing course. We had a fantastic three days scaling the limestone cliffs on a variety of bolted roots. Our instructor despite being only about 4' 10" was a great climber and a good teacher too. By the end of the course we were leading multi-pitch climbs and had learnt an amazing amount about the safe use of all the equipment, knots, belaying, rapelling etc. We're looking forward to putting it all into practice again back in the UK.
After the climbing we had a great day cruising round the bays in a canoe, we found our way through a few limestone sea caves at the bottom of cliffs and stopped off at some great beaches. The next day we were off to the island of Koh Phi Phi!

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Back in Bangkok!

Hello! No I haven't managed to wrestle the laptop back from Ben; we're in an internet cafe (less arguments- joke) :-)

We overlanded today all by ourselves from Siem Reap in Cambodia to Bangkok. We left our hotel in SR at 7.45am and arrived at our hotel in Bangkok at 4.15pm - we reckon it must be a record as its a heck of a way.

Flying to the islands tomorrow for some serious beach time and hopefully get chance to catch up on blog.

Absolutely loved Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. All different and equally amazing. Can't wait to tell you all about them.

Off for Bangkok street eats.


Saturday, 26 January 2008

Bindi, Osama, the Cu Chi Tunnels and an AK47!!!

This was a crazy day! We had booked a half-day trip to the famous Cu Chi tunnels.

From the book "The Tunnels of Cu Chi"
"One of the more remarkable but little known campaigns of the Vietnam War was fought inside the 200 miles of secret tunnel networks around Saigon between Viet Cong guerillas and special american forces known as "Tunnel Rats". This is the harrowing account of soldiers of great courage who volunteered to enter the black tunnels armed only with pistols and knives and often fought in deadly hand to hand combat with the enemy"

Our guide was a rather toothy mad vietnamese guy who shouted at the top of his voice most of the time. There were some guys in the minibus from Australia and the guide then proceeded to tell us everything about Australia in a barely intelligible accent as if nobody had ever even heard of the place. Apparently there is a city called Sydney located in the state of New South Wales! The guide's ramblings continued and he began telling us about muslim terror attacks - he told us about 9/11 as if he was revealing something that only he knew about. The randomness of the guy continued, topics including Nicole Kidman, Bindi 'the jungle girl' Irwin (of whom he had a laminated picture - rather disturbing) and to top it all he proceeded to tell us that Osama B L was hiding out in the Cu Chi tunnels.

After the obligatory stop at a crappy workshop designed for ripping off tourists we eventually arrived at the tunnel complex. To be contd....

Don't Miss Saigon!

Our day in Saigon.....

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Down to Ho Chi Minh City (form. Saigon)

We arrived in Saigon this afternoon. It's pouring down! Checked into a small guesthouse down a back alley. Fortunately it has all just been renovated and at USD18 a night it's pretty cheap. Just been for a traditional vietnamese pizza and salad :o) As the weather is so lousy we have decided to chill out in the room and then head out later for dinner.

South to Hoi An

Hoi An

Halong Bay

Overnight boat trip in Halong Bay

Saturday, 19 January 2008

A day in Ha Noi!

Sam has let me on the computer for a change and it's my turn to do a quick summary of the day. Hanoi (Ha Noi in Vietnamese) is one manic city. The traffic (consisting mainly of mopeds and cycle rickshaws (cyclos)) is absolutely incredible and the noise and pipping of horns is absolutely incessant! On our way from the airport yesterday it was dark and the city looked grey and dirty and thoroughly unappealing. However once we'd arrived at our hotel and started to explore the place immediately grew on me and by the end of today I was really pleased that we had decided to come to Hanoi.

Our visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was a rather interesting experience even if I did get a reprimand from a guard for walking disrepectfully (I had my hands behind my back!). There was a family in front of us with a couple of teenage kids (think Kevin and Perry) - the elder son was severely scolded for wearing his baseball cap but I think it was just because he had a serious attitude problem!

We had a fantastic lunch in a very simple local cafe. A soup, rice and 3 main dishes plus drinks cost a grand total of GBP 3.00. Later on today we braved the streets again and checked out a couple of markets which were selling mainly a load of crap so we headed on to another area for evening food. We decided to go for a proper meal instead of "street-eats" as we have now termed it.

For anyone unfamiliar with Asian "Streateries" - Street eats basically consist of any area on the pavement dedicated to the preparation and serving of food. After 3 weeks in Asia we are becoming quite adept at sniffing out places where you can eat cheaply but without contracting a horrendous bout of gastroenritis. Some "street-eats" are literally 4 plastic chairs on the pavement and a women with a wok on a bucket of coals and a wooden block with a few ingredients on it hovering around 3 inches above the gutter.

The washing-up gets done in 2 stages: stage one let any animals in the area (if they've not yet been cooked!) lick the plates clean. stage two throw the cold plates into a bucket of cold greasy water, wipe with a rag which looks like it's been used for mopping floors for the last 5 years and then rinse under a random tap sticking out from the nearest building. Whilst all the above may sound mildly off-putting it is actually a very interesting and usually tasty experience nourishing oneself at "street-level".

After bumping into 2 Chilean girls who we have met several times since trekking with them near Chiang Mai we headed off to alittle Tapas restaurant. The food and atmosphere were fantastic and we forgot for a while that we were actually in Hanoi. After the dinner we headed back to the area where we are staying which consists of a warren of narrow streets dubbed the "old quarter". We decided to sit in one of the tiny street bars at a busy 4 way intersection and watch the world go by. The bar consisted of a bunch of plastic chairs which would look at home in a kindergarten kicking around in the gutter. Inside the tiny shop sat an elderly couple and a couple of kegs and a few soft drinks. The beer was delicious and tasted like Hoegaarden with one slight difference...it only cost 2500 Dong per glass (around 8 pence :o)))). Perhaps I should mention at this point that the Vietnamese currency is called the Dong!!! :o))) (there are around 30,000 Dong to the GBP). It was great to watch the miriad of scooters darting in all directions and the occasional 4WD driven by some idiot who had got lost.

Back in our room now and looking forward to our trip to HaLong Bay tomorrow. More on that later!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Saturday 19th Jan... Ha Noi, Vietnam

Crazy crazy crazy City. We've survived almost 24hours without getting run over so hopefully we've got the knack now - you have to walk nice and slowly, no sudden movements, and make eye contact with as many crazy motorbike riders as you can.

Ha Noi is a dirty, busy city but has real character and the people in general are very friendly. The standard of English is a cut above Thailand and Laos. And we were expecting to have to be hard-nosed rude people with taxi/tuk-tuk/mototaxi/street vendors but actually it's easy enough to say no and keep walking. Also the noise isn't as bad as I was expecting. Yes the Vietnamese use the horn like we use indicators/brakes/accelerator pedal but it somehow seems to work. They beep to say, "I'm here", "I'm overtaking/undertaking", "I'm turning/pulling a very dangerous U-ee"

Also the basic road safety rules of Traffic Lights, Left and Right are missing.

We did however take a Cyclo-Rickshaw this afternoon. It was like sitting on a Disney simulator ride: the bikes and cars would come towards us, round us, behind us, past us and I was incredibly calm and our bike just maintained it's speed and smoothly took us along the streets.

Yes we both squeezed in there!

Flight last night was good. We chose Vietnam Airlines over Laos Airlines as Laos do not publish there safety records... erm...?? Also we met an Irish guy called Marc who been a pilot with Vietnam Airlines for the last 3 years and he said whilst there maintenance isn't quite european standards they do have relatively new planes. We were also faced with 24hours on a bus or 1 hour flying.

We arrived at Ha Noi airport and a guy had our name on a piece of paper from the Hotel we'd reserved. We hadn't booked a transfer but it was same cost as taxi so we took it. Very enterprising are the Vietnamese. On arrival at hotel they didn't actually have a room for us but took us next door (room was perfectly adequate but on 5th floor up an inordinate amount of stairs! Ben was complaining of altitude sickness :-)) This morning we came back to the Viet Anh Hotel for a free breakfast and then checked in! And they have free wifi! I'm happy! Getting all photos uploaded to flickr and blogging.

Had a very yummy dinner last night - Vietnamese food is very similar to Thai but less spicy or not spicy at all. The food is so much fresher and crisper than the greasy oriental rubbish we are served back in Europe. The meat though is below average and given the veggies are so delicious I'm sticking to vegetables and rice most of the time. We overdosed on western cafe food in Vientiane so happy to be back to asian food here in Ha Noi.

This morning after sorting out our plans for the next few days (Halong Bay tomorrow for 2 days, then we fly to Hoi An for 3 days then fly to Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon) we jumped in a taxi to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The definition of Mausoleum is "a large burial chamber usually above ground".

Quote from Lonely Planet..."In tradition of Lenin, Stalin and Mao, the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh is a glass sarcophagus set deep within a monumental edifice.... Ho Chi Minh's embalmed corpse gets a three-month holiday to Russia for yearly maintenance..."

For those that are unfamiliar with Vietnam's history...and this is entirely my interpretation so don't quote me... in roughly 1880 France colonised Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh (this is a man) founded the Vietnam Revolutionary Youth League in 1925. During WWII Vietnam was able to resist Japanese occupation due to the Communist-dominated Viet Minh (Ho Chi Minh's forces). At end of WWII Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam independent. The French tried to retake control which led to full-scale war in which the American's got involved in 1965. A cease-fire agreement was signed in 1973 which included total withdrawal of US troops and release of POW's.

So the people (again my view) see Ho Chi Minh as being the person who got them independence but for all his efforts and against his wishes (he wanted to be cremated) the guy has been pickled and stuck in a glass case for locals and tourists to gawp at.

For the rest of the blog when you see HCM its short for Ho Chi Minh.

Our experience at the HCM Mausoleum was chucklesome but also disconcerting. We checked in our bag but kept our camera as there are lots of other buildings in the complex in addition to the tomb. We then queued up with lots of other people, asian and western, and went through a metal detector and I was given a red bag for the camera. We then filed out of the security room and we made to stand in two single file lines. We were then walked, still single file, across the complex to another hut where we now had to deposit the cameras. More single file walking to the front of the Mausoleum. Ben was holding his hands loosely behind his back and a army-looking type with a bayonet (aka gun with a very sharp knife on the end) told him he had to have his hands by his side (mine already were). We then maintained the two lines as we walked 3 sides of a square around the glass cabinet housing HCM.

We went to the Bodies exhibition in Frankfurt years ago (the one where bodies are preserved and cut in various ways) so this wasn't remotely gory by comparision - just looked like a wax work. He looked at peace, asleep. The spooky thing about the place was the regimentary staff. Staff is the wrong word as they appeared military people but maybe that's just the socialist/communist way. This is the first South-East Asian country (been to Thailand and Laos) where I've felt I a serious need to conform. Thailand and Laos are much more laid back.

I collected the camera and we wandered around other buildings but only from the outside: palace, house-on-stilts, museum.

We then took the Cyclo-Rickshaw ride to the Old Town and went for lunch... I've come full circle.

Bye x

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Vientiane - Capital of Laos

Our last stop in Laos was Vientiane, the capital city. We'd heard it was a sleepy town with little going on. After an easy peasy 3 hour mini-van ride we were there. Roads were much less windy than the Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng journey. We really liked it.

We were dropped by the river and after a quick look in the Lonely P to see where the main congruence of hotels were we put on our rucksacks and went for a wander. A couple of nice-looking places had FULL signs. The first place we went into had one double room left (result as we often get stuck with twins) and on inspection was fab! and 22 USD. More than Vang Vieng but Vientiane has a lot of expats and more upmarket tourists than backpackers.

We dumped our bags and went out to find lunch. Outside a Swiss couple who had been on our minivan were huffing and puffing that we got the last room and virtually implied it was unfair as they had tried to run there but gone down the wrong street. The girl was clutching the Laos LonelyP. I realised there was a room-finding etiquette with regards to the LP in that most guesthouses have maybe 10 to 20 rooms so when several bus loads of backpackers hit the town within an hour, without reservations, there is a mad dash to find a room. We'd been too slow in Vang Vieng and had taken nearly an hour to find a vacancy but that day we'd been lucky as we hadn't even been looking for a particular guesthouse :-)

That reminds me... I have a rant about backpackers and minivans. Anyone with a remote business brain knows that to make money you need to fill all your seats in the van. So why is it when we're the last two people to be picked up and have to squeeze in with the other 7 to 9 people we get dirty looks and people sigh! Especially in Asia the van is not going anywhere until the bus is full. The swiss couple I just mentionned had commandeered the first row (which seats 3) and were trying to make me sit in the front between the driver and another strange man. Like I want to be squished between 2 big blokes on a non-seat without a seatbelt so I can be the first to headplant through the window if the driver brakes too hard. No thanks!

Back to lunch... we went in search of JoMa, a western style bakery as we were craving a bread fix. Actually we had quiche and salad but the point was it wasn't rice. Deeelicious!!

Sightseeing wise, we headed on foot to Patuxai. As per LP, "Vientiane's haughty Arc de Triomphe replica..." was built in 1969 (so not exactly old). The best bit is they built it using cement donated by the USA which was intended for a new airport.
On the way there we stopped to check out Wat Si Saket.


Ben trying streeteats - dried fish on a stick - whilst we watched the sunset over the Mekong

Wat Si Saket...


Sunset Drinks & Stickys...

Vang Vieng - Tubing & Caves


motorbike to caves

Luang Prabang