Australian Adventures

We woke up yesterday to an email advising us we’d been charged by WordPress for a renewal of this domain, so we thought we better write something! Could say the last few postcards got lost in the mail (wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s experienced Australia Post).

We are currently living and working in the Daintree Rainforest (Far North Queensland) at a campsite/ restaurant/ wildlife sanctuary. Where the work day can be anything from making coffees to cleaning cabins to feeding the wallabies it’s been a welcome change to settle down into a routine again.

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The White family who own Lync-Haven Retreat have been here for 5 years, they have two hyperactive kids who keep us busy with cricket games and bracelet making. Charlotte (10) is a gold medal winning gymnast who has drawn lots of pictures to decorate our room, and Dan (8) who wants to be a bin man when he grows up, takes Isaac fishing on the creek. The other couple working here are from Middlesbrough but have been in Australia for 8 years, securing their citizenship a few weeks back. Finally there’s Marney the chef who is full of tales and gossip about Daintree life.

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“The shed” (as we’ve affectionately named our home) is a small donga originally used to house fly-in-fly-out miners  in the outback. We’ve spent time making it our home, with artwork drawn by Charlotte, fairy-lights up and 1000 piece jigsaw in progress outside.

Lync-Haven is home to a range of animals, both hand reared and wild, we have crocs, wallabies, birds, dingoes, snakes and a resident cassowary, a few are pictured above/below. 

Love, Ella and Isaac

 

 

The Mekong Delta

At the end of March we were in South Vietnam looking to cross the border into Cambodia. We had heard good things about tours of the Mekong Delta, which is where the Mekong river (which starts in China, goes through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia) eventually ends through Vietnam and into the South China Sea.

We managed to combine a tour with crossing the border, so this worked out well for us.

The first day the tour drove from Ho Chi Min City to the Mekong. We were taken by boat to the islands that sit in the Vietnamese Mekong. Here we visited a large sitting Buddah, a honey bee farm, we’re taken in tiny banana boats to lunch at a crocodile farm (crocodile menu optional) before the group split.

One group went to the hotel and 6 of us were taken on a tiny motor boat (so tiny we didn’t think it would take us + our bags!) along the river at dusk to a lovely home-stay. It was amazing to see how the local people live on or right by the river, their houses only have 3 walls – completely open to people passing by on the water.

Top Tip: Really shop around for your Mekong Delta tour, this is an extremely popular tourist activity, and we didn’t visit anywhere that wasn’t busy with other groups. When in Ho Chi Min we were quoted from 400 thousand up to 3 million Dong (~£14 to £100) for pretty much the same itinerary, and might be even run by the same company! The home-stay option is normally more but was so worth it! We chose our tour because the agent offered us the option of going straight from the Mekong to the border, instead of coming back to Ho Chi Min city, which was perfect for us.

After our home-stay we woke up early the next morning to go out of the tiny boat again, we were taken up to the floating market. Unlike the popular floating markets in Thailand which mainly exist now as a tourist attraction, the Mekong Markets are fully functional wholesale markets used by locals who come down from the cities. It was incredible to see boats full of pineapples, watermelons and coconuts and the people approach the stalls by boat to purchase large quantities (often 10 kilos minimum ) of fruits and veg; watermelons flying through the air as they were thrown to the next boat. Boats hang up what they sell from high masts above the river, so you can see what seller you are aiming for! After this we went to see rice noodles being made, walked round a beautiful fruit farm and visited a candy factory, where we saw how the coconut candy is still hand made by the Vietnamese people in the Mekong.

Following this we actually missed our bus to the border (the bus was running uncharacteristically early) which ended up with us taking a high speed taxi to chase down the bus which kindly pulled over for us in a motorway gas station! The tour agents here will do anything to help you out as a tourist, our agent from Ho Chi Min even contacted the bus driver when we didn’t reply to her WhatsApp and he confirmed we were on the bus by sending the photos below!

With that excitement over, we were on our way to the border town of Ha Tien and over into Cambodia the next day.

Love Ella & Isaac xxx

Christmas and New Year in Thailand

From Laos we returned to Thailand to meet Ella’s family in Bangkok on Boxing Day. There was a brief meltdown when Gatwick was closed for 48hours (thanks drones) but they were allowed to fly eventually!

We spent Christmas itself in a place called Hua Hin, about 3 hours drive from Bangkok this was the nearest beach we could get to. We would compare it with Marbella, built up and full of bright pink Europeans but had a huge beach we could enjoy and the novelty of our own kitchen, which we hadn’t had for months.

Once we met up with Ella’s family we spent two days in Bangkok, a few days jungle trekking in Khao Sok and then moved to the island of Koh Tao. We had a great time, chilling out by the pool, exploring the island on mopeds and finding the best Thai food to eat each night! We saw in 2019 (or year 2562 as it is in Thailand) on the beach.

Unfortunately, the rest of the family were speedily removed from the island on 3rd January when Tropical Storm Pabuk approached. Koh Tao went into lock down and there was absolutely nothing left on the 7/11 shelves! We were left to shelter in the hotel as all boats to and from the islands were cancelled for 3 days.

Thankfully, the cyclone which was predicted to flatten the island, ended up missing it completely, so all we saw was pretty heavy rain.

We spent the next 10 days on Koh Tao, getting our scuba diving licences and enjoying the better weather!

Isaac made this video of clips of both times we were in Thailand, enjoy!

love Ella & Isaac xxx

Northern Thailand

We arrived in Chiang Mai after a 10 hour night bus from Bangkok. We had read some horror stories about this journey but it was completely fine, we managed to sleep ok despite everyone being woken up at midnight for “FOOD” *cue dramatic miming of eating and us returning our eyemasks and ear plugs*. The worst thing was the cold because the air con was on full blast!

Chang Mai is a beautiful small city surrounded by mountains, the central ‘old city’ is 1.5km squared and as you walk down each road going east to west or north to south you can see the mountains not far away. It is the capital of the north but less than 150,000 residents. It felt busy whilst we were there as there was the annual Yi Peng festival, world renowned for its sky lanterns, at the same time as the Loi Krathong festival where people release floating lanterns onto the river (to symbolise letting go of the previous years’ worries and problems).

We kept coming and going from the city using it as our base as we took a scooter up to Chiang Dao, a bus to Pai, a trek out to Pha Deng national park. It worked out that we were in the city for two different Sunday’s so got to go to the Sunday market twice which we loved, full of stalls for trinkets and food.

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We spent a day at Elephant Rescue Park, recommended by Ella’s Aunt, Uncle and cousins who visited last summer. It was a truly, once-in-a-life-time, incredible experience.

Top tip: we would urge anyone visiting elephant “sanctuaries” in Thailand to do research on how they are treated, we were shocked at how many camps still offer riding and openly use chains and stick hooks, and even more surprised at the amount of tourists who still endorse this behaviour which we thought was “out of fashion” now… Many elephants are rented by parks in the high season and then returned to their logging, riding or circus jobs once the tourist have left. To our knowledge the Elephant Rescue Park owns all the elephants it cares for and treats them medically for injuries and illnesses they’ve received in their old jobs.

We spent one night in Chiang Dao, 70km north of Chiang-Mai. This tiny town has only a few restaurants and two beautiful temples, one a kilometre deep into the caves where a guide lead Isaac in by oil lamp (Ella opted out!) and the other is a working monastery in the mountain, we climbed up just after sunrise and the monks were eating breakfast, it was amazingly peaceful and the first “silence” we had heard since arriving in Thailand! On the way back on the scooter we took a detour to see the “sticky waterfalls” where, due to the limestone, it’s not slippery and you can grip and climb the face of the Waterfall.

A few days later we took a speedy minibus the “762 turns” up the mountain to Pai, and although we didn’t count the hair pin corners ourselves, once someone had been sick at the back of the bus it felt like double that! We booked into a hostel in Pai which doubled as a skate park, full of the nicest people and plenty of Bristolians and Londoners so it felt like a slice of home. The local kids come by to use the park as well! Pai has been given the unfair comparison to Koh San Road (a road in Bangkok renowned for partying and tourists) and although you can get an avocado on toast on the high street, the town is in a beautiful mountain setting with friendly people and a lot to explored in the surrounding countryside. We only had a few days to stay there but the views are stunning and Sunset at Pai Canyon is a must see.

We then went on a 3 day trek from Chiang Mai and stayed in two different Karen villages, the trek had amazing mountain views and lots of stops to swim in waterfalls. Pau, the trek leader, made us cups and chopsticks from bamboo in the jungle and in the evening we cooked up curries with our hosts and shared games and stories. One night was completely clear and we could see amazing stars, although the temperature felt close to freezing at night as we were quite high up we were wrapped up under mosquito nets in bamboo huts and were grateful to see a western toilet when we returned to Chiang Mai!

After the trek was finished we headed on a bus towards the border with Laos. We made a brief stop in Chiang Rai to see the White Temple and spent our last night in Thailand in a left-a-lot-to-be-desired Guest house in Chiang Kong before crossing Friendship bridge into Laos on 1st December (cutting it fine as our visa exemption ran out that day!)

Love Ella & Isaac

Airplane Graveyard

On our first visit to Bangkok we decided to venture out of the city centre to explore an Airplane Graveyard that Isaac had read up online about. It sits in the east of Bangkok so we got a Grab on the way there (south East Asia’s answer to Uber) and hopped on the river taxi on the way back – an interesting, bumpy, smelly experience in itself.

Top tip: there is an “all day tourist ticket” for the boat which is 200 baht, but to ride from one end of the canal to the other is maximum 19 baht so unless you plan on literally sitting on the boat all day from one end of Bangkok to the other we don’t see how the all day ticket makes any sense! 

Once you arrive at the site a massive 747 looms over you, there are large “no entry” signs but a young man quickly came to let us in (in exchange for 200 baht (~£5) each) he spoke decent English and is one of 3 families squatting on the plot, inside 3 plane shells, and making a good income from the tourism it appears! 

At first we were the only people there and it was amazing to climb inside the huge 747 and the smaller MD-82 planes. It felt like a scene from Lost as we clambered through the wrecks, in some places there were tyres stacked into make shift stairs but some we had to heave our selves up into.

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Another couple arrived at the lot and told us that one plane is the wreck of a 2007 crash, we read up about this after and it seems true that one of these planes crashed in Phuket and killed 82 people, including some British, due to extreme weather and the crew being overworked. 

It’s not too clear how these planes came to be there, some sources say they were bought by the land owner and stripped for parts to sell, which makes sense as a lot of the interior (seats, TV sets etc.) have been removed from the aircraft, although we did eerily find an oxygen mask remaining.  Below are some photos we took – hope you enjoy! Love Ella & Isaac xxx

Sri Lanka!

We arrived in Sri Lanka, naively believing it would be the same (or similar) to India, it’s often described as the “light” version of the two countries, but we found that they are worlds apart. Sri Lanka is less crowded and much smaller, people are just as, if not more, friendly. The curries are completely different, less rich with a passion for dried fish that we really didn’t share. There was nowhere near as much vegetarian option as in India, despite the 75% Buddhist population. The beaches are cleaner, the transport is just as mad!

Our route around the country was: 

Colombo > Kandy (where we caught an England vs Sri Lanka cricket match) > Dambulla > Polonnaruwa > Sigiriya > Kandy > Ella (the “most beautiful train ride in the world” or the “most crowded train we’ve ever been on”?) > The coast (Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa) > Negombo. 

Top tip: the 7 hour train journey from Kandy to Ella has become extremely famous and rammed full of tourists, if you’re desperate for a reserved seat, tickets sell fast when they are released a month before travel (mostly by agents who they resell these at inflated prices). If you miss out of reserved like we did, you have a few options, you can buy one through an agent, just accepting that you’re paying up to 10x the price of the ticket, you can go to the station before Kandy to secure a seat, or we would suggest buying third class unreserved, instead of second class, we ended up moving down to third anyway where there was more room and after a few hours we got ourselves a seat. Sit on the right hand side before Nuwara Eliya and left hand side afterwards for the best views! 

Sri Lanka has seen a huge increase in tourism in the last 5-10 years, but it’s clear that no one is bending backwards to cater for your western needs – which we like (excluding a few fancy resorts on the coast which we did not manage to squeeze in!) For example, to travel from tea country to the coast, you either live like a local and take a 6 hour bumpy bus for 300 rupees (£1.40) with no guarantee of a seat or you pay 15,000 rupees (£70) to be taken the same journey by air conditioned taxi, there’s no in-between. We took the former, the bus time table is kept in a hand written note in the Curd shop on Ella high street, it’s not well publicised (probably to help the taxi drivers out). We got a seat no problem, but it was not peak season so a lot less busy than normal. 

One thing is for certain, Sri Lanka is beautiful. Everything is green and luscious, so every train and bus ride has amazing views, if a little (read: very) bumpy/crowded. We saw elephants, buffalo, peacocks, sea turtles, tropical fish, monitor lizards (and cockroaches, but we won’t dwell on that). We climbed Pidurangala, Little Adams Peak, up to Uva Halpwette tea factory, and Ella’s Rock. All had spectacular views and best done at dawn, before the crazy heat. Our favourite was Pidurangala, which is not the famous Lions rock in Sigiriya, but the one opposite. It was 500 rupees entry instead of 5000 and we would argue even more beautiful. It is less crowded, we had the entire top to ourselves, whereas we saw a queue of about 100 people for Lion’s rock, although apparently the climb is a little more difficult on Pidurangala, the paths completely disappears at the end and there’s some rock climbing required.

Another amazing day was when we cycled round Polonnaruwa in central Sri Lanka, which contain the restored ruins of what was once the capital of Sri Lanka in around 800 AD, before being deserted by 1200. 

Once we got to the coast you can see it is being built up, in most seaside towns there is a parade of shops and bars along the beach, practically touching the ocean, we learnt that it was a lot more built up prior to the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that devastated the country. We stayed in a great hostel in Unawatuna with a family and their adorable 2 year old son Leo, who quickly enlisted Isaac to build Lego guns with him. In Hikkaduwa, Isaac managed to bag a serious offseason gem and get a beautiful hotel and swimming pool at a fraction of its peak season price. 

1 blog really isn’t enough to do Sri Lanka justice, but hopefully this video Isaac made will show you why we loved it here. 

Shoulder season in south Goa

After moving almost every day or two for a month we were excited at the prospect of relaxing on a beach in the sun. We planned to start off in Agonda, a peaceful village in the South of Goa.

October is shoulder season in Goa, with monsoon nearly over and high season not until November, Agonda was just waking up again after a summer asleep. In the week we were there beach huts were uncovered from their monsoon protection, bars and restaurants started to open up and whole resorts were being built. 

A pro of visiting in shoulder season is that you still get off season prices and nowhere is full, after staying a night in a very budget and pretty grim room in the north of Agonda we wandered down the Main Street and everyone was keen to show us their spare rooms. We ended up with a beach view room at “Red Villa” in the centre of town with a guy called Marseille and his family, they were so nice bringing us a coffee and biscuits during a storm and a candle for the blackouts. The mum made us a huge bowl of chicken biryani that went down very well with Isaac! We even came back at the end of our 2 weeks in Goa for a few extra nights stay. We bagged a deal at 800 rupees (~£8.50) a night, whereas most of the resorts in Agonda are averaging 3,000 rupees a night. This was good news as we had gone a little over budget in the first month of our trip!

The weather might be seen as a con of shoulder season, and we were definitely a bit deflated on our first night when we were sitting in our room in the dark after the 4th power cut and forecast said we were in for 2 weeks of the same thunderstorms. However, the forecasts changed by the hour, and we ended up with only 1 day in 2 weeks where it rained torrentially and mostly the rain came at night. On average Goa only experiences 5 rainy days in October. Even the storms were pretty incredible, lightening lit up the entire sky and thunder was the loudest we’d ever heard. The towns were plunged into darkness and candles were lit, a lot of chai drunk and card games!

Sitting on a beach in Goa you could be on any beach in a hot country, the sand is golden and the sea warm and blue, until something undoubtedly Indian reminds you where you are: the smell of fish curry from a beach-front hut, a herd of cows wandering along the beach, or a woman emptying the contents of her outhouse into the sea(!) 

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Whilst in Agonda we walked to the secluded Butterfly beach. We read up a lot about this and the prognosis was that you should get a boat there as the trek was “difficult” however, it was about 1500 rupees each and we both wanted to save that money for some delicious Portuguese-inspired Goan seafood! So we went for the walk, which it turned out was incredibly easy. It took us an hour from Agonda through the jungle, we met two other people on the way and the path was clear cut, although you could imagine parts getting muddy during rainy season. The beach is beautiful and full of butterflies, but quite sadly now polluted with plastic and litter. From here we attempted the trek to the next beach “Honeymoon bay”, which was the opposite to the easy walk to Butterfly beach! It was a treacherous hike over a cliff and there was hardly any path, the beach itself was pretty underwhelming and we decided that these names were only given as tourist traps! 

After Agonda we hired a moped (Isaac was in charge) and drove around to find a working ATM (the one in Agonda was sill under construction) and we drove to the nearest town Chaudi, and to see a few other beaches; Palolem, Putnam and Colomb. We then spent 4 days in Palolem which is bigger than Agonda and had slightly more going on. We found some beautiful beach huts right on the beach to stay in (again for discounted off-peak price) and believe we achieved the relaxation we had arrived in Goa looking for! 

From Goa it was a series of night trains to Bangalore and then to Madurai. We couldn’t believe our time in India was over, still so much to see and explore, we will definitely be back. Next stop: Sri Lanka…

Love Ella and Isaac xxxx