A Travellerspoint blog

Laos - Luang Prabang

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When we arrived in Luang Prabang from our Mekong cruise we were separated in to minibuses to be ferried to our respective hotels. We were the last to be dropped off but we couldn’t find our hotel! After driving around for nearly an hour we decided to stop off at a hotel and ask for directions.


Turns out the hotel we asked directions for was the hotel we were looking for! They had changed their name but had yet to update their details on the booking websites! Cheers then! We had passed it several times already!
Tired and hungry we dropped the bags off and headed in to town to explore the night market and find somewhere to eat. The market was quaint with wonderful trinkets of interest and exquisite pieces of art which we wished we could take with us.
Then down a small side alley we found a what could only be described as a busy street food court. The smells were delightful emanating from foods we could not describe!


We chose an ‘All You Can Eat’ stall, paid our thirty thousand Kip (£2.84) and went on to fill our plates with as much as we could. The food was delicious but neither of us could tell you exactly what most of it was!
The following day we explored the small colonial city rich in a troubled and diverse history as reflected in the architecture on show, having suffered invasions from the Vichy French, Thai armies and Imperial Japanese forces.


But today the only invasion came from paying tourists. (Of which there were many!)
Here is where the Nam Khan River meets the Mekong.
The temples in Luang Prabang showed remarkable attention to the smallest details in the buildings and surrounding areas.


We finished up our exploration with a steep hike up Mount Phousi in the centre of the city to watch a spectacular sun set.
The following day we jumped on a Sŏrngtăaou (Pronounced ‘Song-chow’. A pick up truck re-purposed to hold passengers in the back.) and headed out to the Kuang Si Waterfalls.


Before we entered the waterfall area there was a sanctuary for Sun Bears (Or alternatively called Moon Bears.) that had been rescued from poachers. Unfortunately these bears would not survive in the wild if they were released as they had been taken as young pups but were clearly well looked after here and appeared to be happy in their surroundings.


The Kuang Si Waterfalls, much like the sticky waterfalls of Bua Tong in Thailand were formed from the mineral deposits left from the flowing water. Hannah, as usual, couldn’t wait to jump in to the jade waters in one of the lagoons that allowed swimming.
There were several magnificent waterfall formations winding up to the dazzling main waterfall at the top. Being the crazy explorers we are (And a glutton for self punishment!) we chose to climb the cliff-side to the top of the waterfall.


At the top it appeared that the jungle had been flooded as the water had settled here before crashing over the waterfall. An eerie experience.
After a short while we climbed down the other side back to the foot of the waterfall and made our way back to the Sŏrngtăaou which took us the forty five minutes drive back in to Luang Prabang.

Link to our Luang Prabang Gallery here.

Posted by philosipha 19:24 Archived in Laos Tagged waterfall street_food Comments (0)

Laos - Pakbeng

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Our first foray into Laos has to be one of the easiest and relaxing ways to cross a border.
Taking a very comfortable two day slow boat along the Mekong River out of North Thailand in to Laos stopping at various places along the way.
The boat was large with only a few people on board so plenty of room to move about and delicious fresh food cooked on board. (And as much coffee or tea as we could drink!)


It was truly charming to simply just watch the world go by, with stunning views of jungle and mountains and basking buffalo. The odd motor boat here and there carrying people from one place to the next as our ferry snaked around the rock formations protruding from the river’s surface.
Our first stop off was to visit a hill tribe village about thirty kilometres out of Pakbeng.


A very humble place that was home to very poor people. As soon as we stopped on the river bank we were swarmed with children trying to sell us wrist bands that they had made.
We made our way up the bank and in to the village. A surreal experience that felt uncomfortably a little like a human zoo.


However, our guide was happy to translate any questions we had to the locals which gave us a revealing insight in to the lives of the people that lived here.
And the children appeared to be happy to see us as they followed us around the village.
After about an hour we hopped back on board our boat to head on to Pakbeng.


We arrived about an hour before sunset and made our way up to our hotel. We were setting off early in the morning so wanted to have a little explore before the light disappeared.
Pakbeng village is quite rural and undeveloped. The people here live a very simple life. We made our way up a hill where there is a temple that afforded striking views down over Pakbeng to the River Mekong as the sun set over the mountains in the distance.


Shortly after we headed back down through the village for some food as we had a very early start in the morning.
The following day while drinking his obligatory coffee Scott witnessed the daily alms giving to the Buddhist monks. The owner of our hotel knelt opposite her establishment and gave each of the young monks some rice she had prepared then they blessed her and her business.
Then it was back to the boat for the second leg of our boat trip.


After a couple of lazy hours we stopped at another hill tribe village. Following our experiences yesterday we decided we wouldn’t partake in this excursion, it simply didn’t feel right. So we wandered the open river banks taking photos of the surrounding scenery.


The final stop before we landed in Luang Prabang was to a cave temple called Pak Ou Caves. Here was home to thousands of Buddhist statuettes squeezed on to any flat surface that could hold them. A strange sight to a westerner but apparently a particularly holy place for Buddhists.
On the final stretch of our boat trip our guide pointed out a building that was a prison for VIP mafia criminals. Apparently less of a prison and more of a holiday home that they couldn’t leave!

Welcome to Laos!

Link to our Luang Prabang gallery here.

Posted by philosipha 06:46 Archived in Laos Tagged mekong_river cave_temple ferry_trip Comments (0)

Thailand - Chiang Rai/Chiang Khong

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The boat ride to Chiang Rai was long but wonderfully pleasant taking in many beautiful views away from civilisation along the way. Although we did get a little wet from the rapids we braved en-route.
Our backs were thankful when the slightly uncomfortable ride finally came to an end. It was great fun, but four hours was enough!
We had struck up a conversation with a couple of other travellers and had invited them to share our taxi in to the centre of town a couple of miles away.


Chiang Rai has some amazing sights and we couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
The following day we hired a driver and set off for our sightseeing tour.
First on the list was the magnificent Wat Rong Khun, perhaps better known to foreigners as the White Temple. This temple is a contemporary, very unconventional and privately-owned art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple in the Chiang Rai Province. It is owned by the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat who designed, constructed and opened it to visitors in 1997.


This place is a sight to behold. The early cloud had yet to disperse and made for a dramatic backdrop to the brilliant white structure. The dazzling bridge to the entrance was surrounded by desperately grasping hands reaching up from a dark nether world below.
Inside the artist has portrayed the vices of the modern world as demons that will destroy civilisation. In the walls and floors everywhere there are sculptures of exquisite but often pained faces. It would take more than a day to look at every small detail here. Unfortunately our time was limited and there was more to see at this site.


Across from the white temple was a beautiful golden temple like building surrounded by a moat housing many of the artist’s and his associates work.
Although we had little time we did snatch a few minutes inside the warehouse where we could observe the many artists working on further projects.
Our only regret was that we couldn’t spend more time here but there was more to see on this tour so we jumped back in to the car and headed off to our next destination, Wat Rong Suea Ten better known as The Blue Temple.


The clouds had passed and the sun had now appeared making for a fitting backdrop to our next sight.
In October of 2005, a small village in Chiang Rai turned their attention to building a distinctive and sensational blue and gold temple inspired by a fusion of the modern and ages old tradition.


Named for the tigers that once roamed there Wat Rong Suea Ten is a six-acre property located in Rim Kok, a subdistrict of Chiang Rai. The monastery and pagoda were built upon the ruins of an ancient temple abandoned eighty to hundred years prior but had now been turned in to the remarkable place it is today.
Walking under the thirty foot high striking blue statues you’d be forgiven for thinking that you are entering a big budget fantasy movie.


The attention to detail here is astonishing and every turn of the head reveals something new to marvel at.
But again our time was short and our itinerary long so after as many pictures as we could we jumped back in to the car to continue on to Baan Dam, the Black House.


A short drive from the middle of Chiang Rai city, Baan Dam is the unique creation of national artist, Thawan Duchanee. (Now deceased.)


Part art studio, part museum, Baan Dam is an eclectic mix of traditional northern Thai buildings that look more akin to a Viking village interspersed with some outlandish modern designs. Baan Dam is a thought-provoking combination of the surreal and the macabre with a great many number of animal skulls, skins and shells. Though often it’s references to sex and genitalia will raise more than a wry smile.
Next our itinerary took us to the Mae Fah Luang Gardens which included Zip Lining!


The gardens themselves were beautifully tended and had different themed areas. But we had not come here for that.
After a short safety brief we kitted up with harnesses and dashed up the ladder and in amongst the branches.


We love this type of thing and today was no exception. After traversing the many rope bridges and often climbing higher in to the tree tops we enjoyed our first zip line experience of our trip. There was even a second and even longer zip line for the bravest of visitors which of course we did without a second thought!
But there’s no time to hang around and the day is getting late. Around fifty miles to the north of Chiang Rai sits what is called the Golden Triangle.


This is the point where the three countries of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. This area is of particular significance as it was the epicentre of the Opium Wars that occurred in the mid 19th Century. We have come here to visit the 212 Opium Museum to learn more about the events that led up to and what happened at that time. It was clear that the wars had a massive effect on the populace even up to today.


On our final day in Chiang Rai we thought we would take a break from all the excitement and have a somewhat more chilled day. We had read that there was a cat café called Cat ‘n’ a Cup. We were not disappointed after ordering a wonderful coffee we sat down in a room with over twenty beautiful cats of various breeds who were only too happy to welcome you to their home.


After the coffee was finished and the cat café got busier we decided to visit a delightful local flower festival. Millions of flowers arranged in a charming garden was a joy to be around. (And a welcome reprieve from the hot sun as the flowers were being sprayed with a cooling water mist to protect from the dazzling sun.)


We have now come to the end of our Thailand trip, all that is left is for us travel to Chiang Khong for one nights stay before we cross the border in to Laos by slow boat.

Link to our Chiang Rai/Chiang Khong gallery here.

Posted by philosipha 02:42 Archived in Thailand Tagged garden flower_show zip_line white_temple blue_temple black_temple Comments (0)

Thailand - Tha Ton

An understated town with hidden gems.

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The mini bus from Pai dropped us off in a town about twenty miles out of Tha Ton so we had to find a local bus the rest of the way.
When our local bus finally arrived it didn’t get more than a mile before one of the tyres blew! Thankfully the driver had passed a garage on the other side of the road just as it happened so the bus limped back to get a new one fitted. No body was hurt but it did add over an hour to the already long journey.
With a new tyre fitted we raced to Tha ton.


After the thrill and excitement of Pai arriving in Tha Ton appeared to be an anti climax at first. The place was a bit of a ghost town and there were no other tourists in sight. Normally we would book our hotel in advance but on this occasion we threw caution to the wind and decided we would rock up and see what we could find.


After alighting the bus we sheepishly looked around. Thankfully there was a German chap drinking coffee nearby who recommended some riverside bungalows ten minutes away so we went to check it out. The place was perfect so we booked ourselves a couple of days and settled in.


Tha Ton is a place that is quite understated and it’s treasures hidden. The next morning we ventured out for some breakfast and googled the local sights to check out. First on the list was Wha Tha Ton Temple (Phra Aram Lunag) and Wat Thaton Chedi temple. This temple overlooked the town of Tha Ton (Read ‘up a long and steep hill!’). The ascent was peppered with many beautiful Wats and statues along the way.
Wha Tha Ton Temple was a working temple with many monks in training beavering about setting up for the day’s prayers. Inside the temple were lavish paintings describing a popular Buddhist story.


When we finally arrived at the summit we were met with a stunning statue of two huge dragons that required a good few minutes to take in all the details, a wonderous piece of art. Opposite was the exquisitely decorated Wha Tha Ton Temple.


Inside the temple was more of a museum of Buddhist relics and modern arts than a temple used by monks. We spent a good few hours here as there was so much to take in.
The staircase that wound around the centre of the building was in the style of a spectacular dragon who’s head was at the bottom and as we climbed we could see the underbelly of the of the dragon in the floor above. At the very top was yet another beautiful diorama depicting two dragons and various other artefacts.


The views from the top were breath-taking and we could see for miles around in all directions.
The following day we decided we would take a walk around the village nearby. This would give us an insight to daily lives of the locals. It was very sweet when the children would shout “Hello!” from within their homes.
Now the next adventure begins. We had booked a small ferry boat to take us the four hour trip along the Kok River to Chiang Rai.

Link to our Tha Ton Gallery here.

Posted by philosipha 05:11 Archived in Thailand Tagged temple wat riverside Comments (0)

Thailand - Pai

762 Vomit-Inducing Curves to get there!

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Pai is a town in the Mae Hong Soon Province of Northern Thailand. A backpacker haven and popular holiday destination. It sits in a valley on the banks of the Pai River and is known for its nearby gorges, hot springs like the Tha Pai Hot Spring and waterfalls like Mo Paeng Waterfall. The last two hours of a five hour drive to Pai consisted of very twisty roads around glorious mountainside. 762 turns to be precise! There was a poor woman on our ride who’s stomach contents threatened to not stay put by the time we arrived. (Indeed, we saw her about half an hour after we arrived being sick on the roadside, poor woman!)


Our beautiful little guest house overlooking the valley was a little out of the main town away from the hubbub (!) of the young backpackers below .
The day after we arrived we hired a moped to explore the area further. Taking in the delights of the Big Buddha, Historical Bridge and the wonderful


Thai Pai Hot Springs where you could take a dip in the water. The water was so hot from the mouth of the springs you could boil an egg, in fact many were! With steam emanating from the mouth it looked like something from a Jurassic Park movie! Further down the from the mouth were various pools. Here you could take a dip in the water which was hotter than a hot bath! Very surreal experience! But immensely relaxing nonetheless. Then rounding off the day from sunset point to watch the sun disappear behind the mountains in the distance.


The following day we headed North West to find the Pam Bok Waterfall. Along the way there was a farm that had suffered a huge land split. A huge crack that lasted for several hundred yards right through the middle of the farmland. You could walk right through it. (Hoping it didn’t suddenly decide it was going to close up!) The farmer had rather enterprisingly set up a juice shop for visitors which was most welcome as the day was scorching hot. (I guess a means to recoup some of the money lost from the now unfarmable land.)


After a short wander around the site we continued to the Pam Bok Waterfall. The picturesque chute cut deep in to the cliff rock with beautiful pools at its feet. Wonderful to wade in to and sit on the rocks and simply relax while listening to the water and the local wildlife.
Once we had had our fill we headed on to the Bamboo Bridge. Now we had visions of a bridge over a stretch of water simply made of bamboo.


What we saw when we arrived was not quite what we had imagined. Probably several miles of raised pathways made of bamboo snaked around a paddy farm with shrines, buffalo or other distractions peppered along the way. An exceptional place with a quiet and serene Buddhist temple at the very far end. We’re very glad we came here.


There’s plenty to do in Pai and day three was no exception. Our trusty moped took us up the rather precarious road to Mo Paeng Waterfall about eight miles out of town. A lush natural area with an impressive and multi faceted waterfall with many pools to take a dip. A wonderful place to take in the fresh air and epic scenery. A few hours in and we were ready to head to our next destination, Santichon Chinese Village.


Santichon Village (more favorably referred to by locals as Pai Chinese village) was once a settlement for the Chinese who escaped the Mao regime. It’s said that the local culture was once a mixture of Yunnan Chinese and Thai. The village is not quite an authentic village and more of a commercial centre. But there was plenty to see and was an interesting place nonetheless.


Behind the Chinese Village and high up the hill is the Yun Lai Viewpoint. A predominantly Chinese establishment with utterly spectacular views across the valley and mountains overlooking the Chinese Village below. We enjoyed a pot of tea while taking in the dramatic scenery. Next stop is the the Pai Canyon.


Pai Canyon is an impressive sandstone canyon set in the Pai countryside. A labyrinth of precarious pathways bridging the gaps between outcrops of rock surrounded by sheer drops either side. You really need to pay attention here as the sandstone is very soft. (We got covered in it!) It is advised to wear decent shoes and definitely not flip flops! The views from the top were nothing short of breath taking!
After our epic day we made the long trek back to our guest house to freshen up. We had heard from other travellers of a ‘happening’ bar in town so decided to go check it out.


The bar was part of a very large hostel complex and so was very popular with younger travellers. When we arrived there were hundreds in attendance. By the time we were a couple of drinks in we were treated to a dazzling fire display of poi, staff and hoops from a dozen or so performers. The excitement in the crowd was unmistakable. When the performers had completed their routine out of nowhere a guitarist started a rendition of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’. With everybody joining in with the singing. The vibe had become electric. A very special moment that still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand when I think of it.
Truly wonderful.

Link to our Pai Gallery here.

Posted by philosipha 19:33 Archived in Thailand Tagged canyon hot_springs waterfall fire_display Comments (0)

Thailand - Chiang Mai

Happy New Year. Asian style.

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From our research we had heard that Chiang Mai is a wonderful place to celebrate New Year.
So the day after Boxing Day we booked a ferry back to the mainland to catch a flight to the north of the country.
When we arrived it appeared to have been raining. We were certainly in a different climate now.


Exploring the city uncovered some exceptional sights within its square perimeter. The many temples offered stunning architecture with meticulous attention to the smallest details. (The night market however was a little too crowded for our liking so didn’t hang around too long.)


After a couple of days exploring the city with its wonderful and rich history we prepared ourselves to join in with the New Year. Just five minutes walk from our hotel was a square where thousands of people congregated, waiting for the big countdown.
Countless lanterns peppered the night sky, most written with messages of hope or sentiments for friends and family.
We had a wonderful yet sentimental evening. Thinking of those who we couldn’t be with, and for those who couldn’t be with us.

A few days after New Year we booked a tour led by the hotel proprietor to go see the Sticky Waterfalls. A crazy concept that we simply couldn’t get our heads around until we experienced it for ourselves. The tour also included a trek through the Thai jungle, a trip to a cave and a visit to some natural springs.


Along the way our driver stopped to show us sticky rice being made. He explained the process of how the sugar and raisins are added then cooked over a fire inside lengths of bamboo, he even bought us all a portion so we could try it for ourselves. It was delicious!


The tour started about two hours drive out of the city to a village where our driver said he had grown up as a child. When we arrived we were joined by a local trek guide who was accompanied by his dogs. As we walked through the jungle the dogs kept watch for anything that might want to eat us! Our guide explained about life when he was young, about the superstitions of the locals and of the flora and fauna that could be found here.
Next we came to the hot springs. Hannah being the water-baby she is couldn’t wait to get in. Scott wasn’t so keen on covering himself in the sulphur smelling H2o so satisfied himself with taking some photography of the area.


Now we headed off to see the Wat Tham Chiang Dao caves. These caves had been carved out of the rock over thousands of years by spring and rain water but now lay host to a handful of shrines within the long and winding shaft. The main sections were beautifully lit up with coloured lights to give the impression of a magical cave. There were sections that did not have any light and would require a paid guide to take you through. We took the opportunity and paid our money. We followed our guide down some stairs and through a very small hole into a huge unlit cavern.


Our guide would point out various animal shaped rocks using her gas lamp to illuminate the corners of the cave. (The animal shaped rocks were tenuous to say the least!)
Then finally we drove to the Bua Tong Waterfalls or ‘Sticky Waterfalls’. The waterfalls are made up from limestone and mineral deposits that make climbing the waterfall very easy. A strange experience when you are expecting everything to be slippy yet you stick to the rock like rubber! Climbing to the top was great fun!
Our only disappointment was that we couldn’t stay here any longer.
Tired but very satisfied we drove back to the hotel.

Link to our Chiang Mai gallery here.

Posted by philosipha 02:05 Archived in Thailand Tagged trek caves jungle waterfall lantern new_year Comments (0)

Thailand - Koh Phangan

We have a party to go to tonight!

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Our journey from Sri Lanka to Thailand started early with a taxi to the airport. Our driver was a very insistent young man who wanted to incessantly practice his English with us. Blearily we arrived at the airport and worked out which was our flight. Two hours in the air and we had arrived in the land of smiles. We had to take a connecting flight down to Surat Thani but it wasn’t on any of the flight boards. It was sheer luck we heard the final boarding call over the tannoy. In a blind panic we raced across the airport to our departure gate. Breathless we arrived just in the nick of time! Only catching our breath once we had taken our seat on the plane!


Another hour later and we were touching down in Surat Thani. Now we had to endure a three hour coach ride to catch a ferry to the islands. A calm two hour ferry ride finally saw us on the shores of Koh Phangan. We had the foresight to book a minibus to get us to our hotel once we docked. We had spoken of how we were going to try and get a couple of hours sleep when we arrived at the hotel but when discovered they had a beautiful pool we promptly jumped in to cool down!
And we got a free upgrade on the room! Jackpot!


The last time we were in the country we missed the Full Moon Party due to ill health. There was no way we were going to miss it again!
Several hours ago we were waking up in another country and here we are about to get ready to party in another. A very surreal experience!
Following a short dip we then prepared to party.
Wearing our dancing togs and raving smiles we jumped aboard the Songtaew. (Pronounced “song-chow”. It is a pick-up truck fitted with seats and a roof on the back.) Along the way we struck up a friendship with a lovely young and excitable American couple who we ended up partying with for the rest of the evening.
Before we entered the party Hannah got ‘Neon’ed up’ with some glow in the dark face paint. She looked awesome!
The beach was a sight to behold. Thousands of revellers up and down the stretch of sand with dozens of sound-systems blasting out popular or underground dance music.


Those that know us well know we like a good rave-up so we got stuck right in!
Further down the beach we saw a large group of people huddled around something. On closer inspection we could see that the locals had a large skipping rope and limbo bar that they had drenched in fuel and set alight. It was funny watching the drunken youngsters trying to skip. (And failing! There was always one that couldn’t get it right. Haha.)
A great night full of smiles and drunken shenanigans that won’t be forgotten for a long while.


We were blessed with a wonderful room right on the beach with sunset views and some of the best snorkelling ever. And as it was Christmas too we treated each other to our own snorkels. (It’s not pleasant to hire them. You don’t know where they’ve been!) Furthermore we had an exquisite bar/restaurant nearby that looked like a pirate hideout from Pirates of the Caribbean!


Koh Phangan is not a huge island and can be circumnavigated in a day. We hired a scooter and went exploring to see some of the other beautiful beaches and to see if we could catch some more snorkelling. One of the more memorable beaches were on Koh Ma. A small island about a hundred metres off the coast connected by a thin stretch of sand while the tide is out or about a foot of water when the tide is in.


We waded out to the island and donned our new snorkels. Hannah couldn’t wait, she dived straight in…
Seconds later, screaming she ran back out of the water! “Aaargh, there’s jellyfish everywhere!”
But there were other people snorkelling and they didn’t seem fazed by the jellyfish. OK, maybe they are not of the killing and maiming kind?
Tentatively we slowly walked back in to the water and dipped our heads under the surface. Amongst the beautiful tropical fish we could see what looked like tiny clear carrier bags floating here and there.
OK, lets do this. Throwing caution to the wind we dived in. We’re so glad we did. To swim amongst the jelly fish and other marine wildlife was exhilarating, if a little unnerving!


We headed back to our hotel for a bite to eat then back out in to the sea nearby for more snorkelling. This time we made a little yellow friend. A very small fish (I think it was a Pilot fish.) followed us for hundreds of metres while we explored the coral. Such a sweet little thing and we were sorry to leave him behind when we left.
We jumped back on the scooter and took the drive up to the 360 Bar. A drinking hole on the highest hill with views all around the island. This was the perfect place to watch the sunset and round off yet another amazing day.

Link to our Koh Phangan gallery here.

Posted by philosipha 05:49 Archived in Thailand Tagged snorkelling full_moon_party Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Kandy/Nogumbo

A beautiful train ride through the tea plantations.

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The slow train ride from Ella to Kandy was long and beautiful. The train snaked through hundreds of miles of tea plantations as far as the eye could see. Every now and again hardy looking men carrying baskets of questionable food would walk through the busy carriages.


They would have small doughnuts (With chilli), little batter balls (With chilli), and various other small pastries (Also with chilli!) They would have this odd patter that they would say as they passed. It was in Sri-Lankan so not quite sure what they were saying but it sounded a bit like: “eeh- wantonbentonfentonlanton ,eeh- wantonbentonfentonlanton.” Very strange to hear but the locals seemed to know what was going on.


The train was very busy and when we embarked there were no seats. Admittedly a third was filled with loud young backpackers singing 'Wonderwall' (We aren't fans.). A little embarrassing as we were one of them! (We were one of the quiet old ones.) Since our time in India we had gotten used to being off the backpacker’s trail (And quite happy to be.) and following the path of our own design.


The train doors were wide open the entire trip. If a seat wasn’t available, then people would hustle to try and sit in the doorway with their legs dangling out of the train! This afforded them uninterrupted views of the landscape surrounding us as we passed by.
With no seats available we found ourselves a nice doorway perch and took a seat. (Really couldn’t see this being allowed in the UK!) As the train rushed through hillside and jungle we would have to pull our feet in quick for fear of losing a shoe to a bush. (Or a knee to a rocky outcrop!) But totally fun though! And the views were spectacular. We had read that it is one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, and we can see why!
It was dark and the sun had set by the time we arrived at Kandy. As soon as we got off the carriage we were surrounded by rickshaw drivers vying for business. However, we had chosen to use a local app called ‘Pick Me’, similar to ‘Uber’ that showed a much cheaper price than the ones they were quoting.
A lonely young traveller from Sweden had spotted us and asked if we would share transport in to town. Of course we agreed and shared stories of our travels as we headed through the suburbs and in to town. Our hotel looked pleasant enough from the outside but the bathroom left a lot to be desired!


The following day we went to go see the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Apparently this temple houses Buddha’s sacred tooth! As we are meandering around the beautiful but busy temple we found ourselves in a large room upstairs filled with people. We were ushered in to a queue of hundreds of people all waiting to give offerings of flowers or money around a barrier that soon prevented our escape from the line. Shoulder to shoulder and toe to toe we slowly shuffled around a cordoned off area full of flowers with a monk sat in the centre to a small alcove at the back. The devotees were verging on the aggressive in an attempt to get a glimpse of the relic and give their offering. Once we reached the alcove we could see a room full to the brim of golden trinkets, elephant tusks and a plethora of other explainable items. The worshippers would give their alms and be blessed by the monk stationed just inside.


Honestly, it was a small relief to get out of there. Believer’s are a crazy bunch!
Now out of the complex we took a walk around the lake that sat beside the temple. Every now and again we could see huge monitor lizards draped over a branch or near the water basking in the hot sun.
We had now come to the end of our Sri Lankan trip. We found a pleasant hotel in Negumbo only a few miles away from Colombo airport. Here we relaxed and enjoyed the pool and sun for a couple of days before we jetted off to Thailand!

Link to our Kandy/Negumbo Gallery here.

Posted by philosipha 02:40 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged trains temple Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Ella

The land of breath-taking landscapes.

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The long drive to Ella was made more comfortable as we shared our mini bus with a young friendly couple. We shared stories, good and bad, of our travels so far. The terrain was flat up until about ten kilometres away from Ella when the roads started to wind considerably as it traversed the lofty hillsides. We would hold our breath and grabs the seat in front with white knuckles as we overtook the slower, larger traffic on the way up with only inches between us and the sheer drop below!


We could see in the distance a magnificent waterfall as the minibus weaved in and out of the highland. As we neared, the scale became clear. Luckily, we drove right past the foot of the waterfall and the driver asked if we would like to stop to take a better look. Eagerly we jumped out and stood at the at the bottom and looked up. Easily over one hundred feet high with thousands of gallons of water flowing over the ridge the magnificence was breath-taking and was to set a precedence for what to expect from Ella. After a few shots we proceeded on to the town a few more kilometres further.
We had read the town centre was a bit of a backpacker haven and knew what this translated to. Youngsters being youngsters! So we booked a hotel a little out of town. (Read further up the mountainside.) On arrival we couldn’t believe our eyes.
Our guest house had only two apartments. With a balcony that overlooked a huge and beautiful valley with yet another waterfall opposite, a picturesque railway snaked around the valley passing below our guesthouse. This has to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We could feel our souls reinvigorating from our surroundings.


The next day we ventured out to see what we could find. Ella is over a thousand feet above sea level so the air was cooler but the humidity was draining. We walked a couple of kilometres to a place called Little Adams Peak, a mountain top point with stunning views. Certainly not for the faint hearted, it was a very precarious path that required serious climbing skills with sheer drops either side. However, once we arrived we could see why the effort was worth it. Never have I witnessed such spectacular vastness. Really puts things into perspective.


We walked down through a tea plantation to head for the famous Nine Arch Bridge. Stopping along the way at a café selling fruit smoothies to take aerial photos of the imminent train. Masses of people congregated along the bridge and we were worried for their well being until we saw the train and realised that there’s plenty of time to get to safety.
The trains that use the railway in Ella are slow and infrequent and will sound their presence to any unsuspecting track walkers. After our visit to the bridge we took a long and enchanting walk through the nearby tunnel and along the tracks back to our guest house.


The following day we caught the train to Haputale, Famous for its miles of tea plantations. From the station we took a rickshaw up through the mountainside, so high in fact we were above the clouds that had gathered over the fields of tea bushes.


After nearly an hour of ascending and walking the last kilometre to the peak we finally arrived at Liptons Seat, a favourite look-outpoint for Sir Thomas Lipton. The godfather of tea. However, by the time we got to the summit the clouds had risen so much that we couldn’t see anything! Just a blanket of white everywhere! (We should have gone earlier!)
From here we decided that we would walk the four kilometres back down through the tea bushes to the bus stop to catch a bus back in to Haputale.


The bus appeared to be built of holes held together by rust! A very exhilarating but scary ride back down the mountainside saw us back at the station to catch our train home.


The following day we went to climb Ella Rock. we woke up before sunrise and was treated to a spectacular concert of colour. (After this we would often wake up early enough to catch a sunrise. A truly beautiful display and like nothing we have ever seen before!)
After breakfast we set off for our climb. It took over four very sweaty and exhausting hours to reach the peak. Many touts at the foot of the mountain would try and steer us the wrong way in an attempt to ply some trade. But we had done our homework and knew how to get there.
The views from the peak overlooking Ella were nothing short of astonishing and worth the sweat and tears to get there. There was even a Buddhist shrine. The Buddhists certainly like to make work for themselves!


The would-be mountaineers and young Instagram'ers were vying to sit on the hazardous outcrop of rock and take the breath-taking photo overlooking the valley. Of course we did too!
Ella is without a shadow of doubt one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We will definitely come back one day.

Link to our Ella Gallery here.

Posted by philosipha 21:16 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged waterfalls mountains shrine Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Yala National Park

Today we go on safari!

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One of the things we were hoping to see much of while on our travels was wildlife. To see exotic animals not in cages but to witness them in their natural habitat.


We had heard about a wildlife safari on the Yala National Park in the south east of the country. After some research we found a highly recommended safari guide who has spent a great deal of time and effort in the conservation of the wildlife at the park particularly the leopards in the area of which sightings were very rare.
The guide also ran the hotel so it was an all in one package.
It takes about an hour and a half to drive from the hotel to the park. We needed to be there for half past five to get to the front of the large queue when the gates opened. Wearily we dragged ourselves out of bed at four in the morning after only a few hours sleep and prepared ourselves for the day ahead.


Along the cold and dark journey we were lucky enough to see a porcupine before it dashed back in to the trees. There was even an elephant poking out of the bush at the roadside that was nonchalantly eating, apparently not concerned with our presence. It was almost as if he (Or she.) was say hello!
Finally we arrived at the first gates where our guide purchased the tickets. We waited here for a while until the next gates were opened allowing us to grab a coffee at the roadside. Then our guide beckoned us and we jumped back in to the truck for the dash to the main gates to the park. It was good advice to get there super early as we were the first in the queue of easily over a hundred vehicles waiting to get in! Another tentative wait and as the sun rose we were finally through the official gates and into the park.


Our guide knew exactly where to find the elusive leopards and raced for the location while the other trucks darted off in different directions. After one hour of driving the truck slowed down occasionally switching off the engine while he looked deeply in to the bush.


Then without warning the driver stopped the engine and everyone went silent. It seemed like ages before we saw anything.
Then finally at last. What we had come here for. A sighting of a leopard!
The excitement in the truck was tangible.
The big cat casually appeared in front of us and sat on it's hind legs staring at the truck, then walked across the muddy track in front then disappeared back in to the bush as casually as it had appeared. We couldn't believe our luck! One of the very few leopards who live here at the park and we got to see it!
We continued on to search for more. Unfortunately that was the last leopard sighting we had, however after stopping to talk to other trucks that came the other way we soon realised that we were the lucky ones as the other trucks hadn’t seen any!


While on the safari we also saw many crocodiles, buffalo, birds of all sizes, monitor lizards and many elephants. At one point near the end of the day we stopped at a lake and watched as a herd of around eight or nine elephants slowly walked down to the waters edge.


Two who appeared to be adolescent jumped straight in and were clearly having fun as they jumped on top of each other. There was also a very young elephant who didn’t stray far from its parents also having a lot of fun splashing around in the water.
We have been playing animal bingo since we started travelling and today we have ticked off many.

Tired but wholly satisfied with what we had witnessed we drove back to our hotel.
Tomorrow we drive to Ella.

Link to the Yala National Park Gallery here.
(This has to be our favourite photo collection to date!)


Posted by philosipha 22:05 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged elephant bird safari crocodile reptile leopard Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Unawatuna/Marissa

Discovering marine wildlife.

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Our next stop was Unawatuna. A town in southern Sri Lanka known for its coral reef and palm-lined beaches, like Unawatuna Beach. Nestled in nearby jungle, the Japanese Peace Pagoda has a large stupa (Buddhist monument.) with ocean views.
It also offered some great snorkeling, so we didn’t waste any time getting back to the beach to get our heads wet and find some underwater wildlife. We were not disappointed. We saw many Puffer/Porcupine fish, Moorish Idol fish, Blackfins, Pennant Bannerfish and loads more.


Further along Sri Lanka south coast is a place called Marissa. Now we had come here for one reason only. Whale watching!
Hannah had extensively researched legitimate and reputable companies that provide this service. As much as we wanted to sea wildlife on our travels we have been extremely careful not support companies that are unscrupulous with their business practices. Like feeding the animals before the tourists arrive so they can guarantee sightings or scare the animals when approached by boats or trucks. We wanted to ensure that we observe them in their natural habitat with no human coercion.


We finally found a company who we were happy to go with. Slightly more expensive but we could enjoy the whales with a clear conscience.
Setting off at six in the morning we boarded the boat and were treated to breakfast and coffee. (Scott can’t operate without coffee!) and we sped off out to sea.


We must have been travelling for at least three hours before we saw anything but we finally saw the whale watchers getting excited, this certainly woke us all up from our sleepless stupor! They were aware of sightings of a pod of fin whales in the area and they knew they were close by.
At last a break in the water’s surface, a noise as the whale exhaled and then the huge long body slowly curling as it swam back under water. We even managed to see this several times for nearly fifteen minutes before they disappeared.
And then we searched some more.


We probably didn’t see anything for a very long hour after that moving from one patch of water to another.
Then someone spotted something else! This time it was Orcas!
The excitement in the boat was huge. Everybody clamoring for a good position to see them. We must have been blessed as we could spot numerous Killer Whales for the next half an hour or so. Truly wonderful!
Unfortunately I was only able to successfully snap a couple of whales as they were too quick for me. So I’ve cheekily included some of the shots that the whale watcher crew took in our gallery.
Link to the Unawatuna/Marissa gallery here

Posted by philosipha 22:33 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged snorkelling whales Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Hikkaduwa/Galle

We swam with Sea Turtles!

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Thanks to a bit of inside local knowledge we took a train south to Galle from an earlier station than we first intended. This was to be an outstanding idea. We had arrived early to beat the crowds. We took a seat and ended up talking at great length with a young nun who taught at the local school about her life here.
She had warned us that it would be chaos once the train was pulling in to the station!


She wasn't wrong. As the train's horn sounded it's arrival people were running, pushing and shoving for their spot. With Hannah racing ahead to find some seats and Scott behind carrying both heavy packs! Hannah was able to secure the elusive right-hand side window seat that would allow us great views of the coast on the journey.
It would have been impossible to get a seat at the next station with more people now standing than sitting!
The train ride was a magnificent four hours of beautiful coastline and an insight in to the lives of those who live beside the railway lines. Often having to move out of the way for the passing train.


During our journey Hannah was doing more research for what to do in Sri Lanka. We then passed through a place called Hikkaduwa. Hannah mentioned that we could swim with wild Giant Sea Turtles here! We debated whether we should disembark now and change our plans to stay there instead. After looking at the map we realised we could do it as a day trip so continued onward to Galle.


Galle is an interesting place seeped in Dutch colonial and naval history. All over the old garrisoned town were buildings left behind that had now been repurposed for tourism and hospitality. With idyllic side streets that would take you back to a time long gone.
So, back to the Giant Sea Turtles. We hired a driver and set off back up the road to Hikkaduwa. It didn’t take us long to find the stretch of beach where the turtles came in to feed. Plenty of vendors were trying to hire us snorkels and there were a few excited people in the sea! We chose our snorkels and dived in.


Three turtles came in to the cove which was quite close to the beach. They didn’t appear fazed by all the people trying to feed them seaweed. In fact they appeared to be enjoying it, making no effort to try and get away.
There was indeed some fantastic coral reef and other wildlife around so often we would leave the turtles for a moment and go see what else we could find. There was a small section of coral that was in a horseshoe shape about twenty feet wide in about six feet deep water.


While Hannah was exploring this section alone she felt the current push her a bit too close to the coral. When she turned around, to her surprise Hannah had come face to face with one of the turtles who had come to join her in her exploration of the horseshoe coral! She couldn't believe her luck.
This was a truly magical experience that we will both cherish for the rest of our lives.
The snorkel hire was only for three hours, so we reluctantly gave them back and returned to our hotel smiling from ear to ear.

Link to our gallery from Hikkaduwa/Galle here.

Posted by philosipha 03:47 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged trains sea_turtles Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Colombo

Lets begin country number two!

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We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we flew into Sri Lanka. The country is still in deep political turmoil from the last civil war. With some confusion over who is their current legitimate prime minister.
Excuse my ignorance (But that’s why we’re travelling!) but Sri Lanka was a lot more developed than we had imagined.


We observed that China has been investing heavily in the infrastructure and business development, something we have seen a great deal of throughout Asia.
Our flight landed late in the afternoon. Another two hour coach ride in to Colombo city centre and then an extortionately overpriced rickshaw to the outskirts saw us finally arrive at our home-stay.


The owner welcomed us and treated us with warm hospitality. When taking our usual rooftop recce he came and joined us and spoke at length about the troubles his country has been facing. It also gave us an opportunity to share with him the craziness currently happening in the UK.
The following day we took the local bus back in to the city centre. A busy and modern place that still retained remnants of its old Dutch colonial past next to high rise buildings of commerce and a huge lotus tower overlooking the city. As expected, there were still many temples and Wats to explore.


The first temple we visited appeared to be more of a Buddhist museum than an actual temple. The main room was currently being repainted in magnificent colours. Garish and beautiful all at the same time!


Passing through the main room to the small courtyard outside stood a sacred tree with what appeared to be wooden structure at its bass. While we looked on we saw many people make offerings of flowers or water and give silent prayer to their deity.
Taking taxidermy to the extreme the temple housed a stuffed elephant! Apparently the elephant lived in the temple and was loved by all who attended so when the elephant eventually passed away it was decided that it should be stuffed and put on display so future guests can enjoy it’s presence.


Across the small complex was a store for all the weird and wonderful things followers had donated to the temple. It looked more like a bric-a-brac store except some of the items were clearly priceless. It even boasted to have Buddha’s footprint and the smallest Buddha statue. (In town? In Sri Lanka? In the world? Who knows, it didn’t say!)


Later we stopped for a cup of tea. (We are in Sri Lanka after all!) It was clear that the café was serious about their tea when the tea was served with a sand timer to time the brew to get the exact strength required!
After two days in Colombo we set off to begin our tour of Sri Lanka.

Link to our Colombo Gallery here

Posted by philosipha 21:49 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged city capital Comments (0)

India - Alleppey/Kochi

Sadly, we're coming to the end of our India trip.

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We travelled to Alleppey by a very hot and definitely not air conditioned train.
Alappuzha (or Alleppey) is famous for its house boats and sprawling backwaters. A huge network of waterways that connect some of the remotest parts of the region.
We were keen to stay on a houseboat but decided that the cost was a little too much for us budget travellers.


So alternatively we took a ferry boat from Alleppey to Kottayam about 15 km away. The trip was a wonderful peek in to local life, but after three hours we were starting to get quite uncomfortable on the hard wooden seats!
The ferry was much like our own bus services at home with many stops.
We were unsure of which jetty to get off from. (We knew none of the stops were near the town, we would have to get a rickshaw the rest of the way.) Thankfully there was a very young Indian couple who appeared to be on a date that could speak a little English.


Being in a bit of a helpless position we asked for help hoping we were not disrupting their day too much.
Turns out they had the same plan as us! So when we disembarked from the ferry the four of us shared a extremely cosy rickshaw in to Kottayam town.
The young lady, Angel, knew of a restaurant so we trekked across town to find it. After about thirty minutes we found the place and took our seats. It felt like we had found a real locals café, the place was bustling with people coming and going and the volume of general conversation quite high.
After our delicious Thali (We have quite enjoyed these, even if they have blown our heads off!) our friend Angel suggested we get a local bus back to Aleppey.


A short walk later we found the bus station and waited for the announcement for our bus.
While sat in the very hot waiting room Scott struck up a conversation with an older local gentleman who spoke a little English. After explaining that he had learned to speak English in the UK Scott asked him about the English colonialism of India and if it was a good or a bad thing. Surprisingly he suggested that it was a good thing and said that India had pretty much gone to waste after the English left. He praised our necessity for bureaucracy and how it keeps things working and the machine well oiled. And regarded the introduction of the railways, postal service and local government has helped the country hugely.


When our bus was announced finally (Thanks to Angel who heard the tannoy. We would have missed it as it came over in Indian!), we raced to find seats only to discover that they were all occupied. As the elderly and women had priority Scott had to stand the entire 2.5 hour hair raising journey as the driver raced from town to town through the Indian countryside.
We now know why it is custom for locals to hold on to the seat in front…

Indian bus drivers are prone, without warning, to slamming on the brakes!
After a few days we headed for Kochi. We had heard that it is a little more pleasant to stay around Fort Kochi rather than in the built up city so we hired a rickshaw to take us across the island bridges to our destination. Kochi (also known as Cochin) is a city in southwest India's coastal Kerala state.


It has been a port since 1341, when a flood carved out its harbor and opened it to Arab, Chinese and European merchants. Sites reflecting those influences include Fort Kochi, a settlement with tiled colonial bungalows and diverse houses of worship.
Cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, typical of Kochi, have been in use here for centuries.


On our final evening in Kochi (And indeed in India!) we bought tickets to a local Kathakali theatre show with wonderous costumes and face decoration that took so long to apply that the theatre opened 2 hours earlier so audiences could watch the performers get ready.
The actors put tender seeds of sollanum pubescence into their eyes to make their iris’s look black which gave the performers a strange comic like quality on top of the makeup.
To make things a little easier for the audience of mostly Europeans and Americans we were treated to a short demonstration of the explicit eye and hand gestures that would convey the emotion of the actor. This was particularly helpful as the performance was entirely without spoken word with only a drum accompaniment.
Tomorrow we set off for Sri Lanka!

Link to the Alleppey/ Kochi gallery here.

Posted by philosipha 07:49 Archived in India Tagged house_boat colonial kathakali Comments (0)

India - Kollam

An unexpected Carnival.

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Kollam is a quiet and sleepy town which seems to be Hindu and Christian in equal measure. Our hotel looked out across a stunning lake offering a beautiful views out across the water when we woke up in the morning.
On the day after we arrived we joined the other guests for a visit to Munroe Island. Munroe Island or Mundrothuruthu is an inland island located where the Ashtamudi Lake and the Kallada River join.


We took an early Rickshaw across town and over a ferry bridge to the island. Our driver was very proud as being the best rickshaw in town according to the various newspaper clippings he had kept. (In fairness he knew a lot about the locality and was very happy and friendly.) He even asked us to write a comment in his guest book!


The trip consisted of a beautiful and highly interesting backwater canal trail around the villages and shrimp farms. A fascinating insight in to the lives of the local people. We saw lots of wildlife along the way including black and blue kingfishers, water snakes and buffalo.


About an hour in we stopped off for some coconut beer, a local speciality, it was disgusting but we didn’t have the heart to tell the brewer! Further along our ride we stopped off where some women were making rope from coconut fur. A surprisingly strong material for such uses.
After about four hours it was time to get back to the hotel.


Our wonderful rickshaw driver who had brought us here was waiting patiently for our return. While on the road he told us about a street celebration that was going on nearby. We decided we would take him up on his offer to take us and bring us back to the hotel. We are so glad we did. It was wonderful!
As soon as we arrived we could see a elephants up ahead. We jumped out of the rickshaw and briskly walked up our lane to the noise up ahead.


Finally there we could see the procession, elephants painted and dressed in gold and bright colours. In a state of awe and wearing huge smiles we walked alongside the elephants. Further along the procession we realised that this was a carnival, with spectacularly decorated floats and drum troupes banging out rhythms. Every now and again there was a truck carrying a massive sound-system followed by groups of ecstatic kids throwing shapes. It seemed everyone was getting in on the carnival spirit.
A fabulous end to a wonderful day.
Tomorrow we set off for Allepey.

Link to our Kollam gallery here

Posted by philosipha 03:37 Archived in India Tagged carnival backwater Comments (0)

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