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Dec. 11th, 2010

Me

SE Asia done... for now!

So I've been back in cold old blighty now for just over 24 hours so I need to finish off my adventure. After leaving Singapore for KL we flew to Tawau which is in northern west Borneo (the Malaysian part) where we were picked up by our scuba company Scuba Junkie and taken to a little coastal village called Semporna for the night. Since Claudia was recovering from food poisoning and didn't want to eat anything remotely Asian we headed to KFC for dinner. On our way to and from dinner we realised what a dump Semporna is and we glad we were only staying there for one night. The next morning we awoke early to catch the boat to Mabul; an island where we would be staying for the next 3 nights. The first day was spent Scuba diving around the island and relaxing in the hotel bar. Because we were staying in a resort just for scuba divers and snorkellers everyone was pretty like-minded and really friendly.

The reason we went to Mabul was to dive around the world famous SIpadan; a protected island with only a limited number of permits thus limiting the number of visitors. When Claudia and I first contacted Scuba Junkie all the Sipadan permits were full for the days we wanted to visit but we were told out names would go on a waiting list and fingers crossed we would be able to dive around the incredible island. Fortunately (as it would have been a shame to travel so far for nothing) our wishes we granted and both Claudia and myself were given last minute permits to dive at Sipadan and by god was the diving amazing! Sipadan is surrounded by a 600m wall of coral which means the marine life is incredible. Sharks come up from the ocean depths to feed on the large fishes of all colours and shapes. The diving was indeed world class, we lost count of the numbers of turtles and sharks we saw and the fish we some of the most incredible I've ever seen. The day was exhausting, a 5.30am start followed by 4 dives but it as completely worth it!!!

On our third day we dived around another island; Siamil where there were tonnes of macro organisms to see. It wasn't as amazing as Sipadan (I doubt many places our) but it was still great fun. Over my travels I hacked done a total of 30 dives!!! Increasing my mere 7 I came away with to a much more respectable 37 and I can feel a massive improvement in my abilities. That evening we were able to finally relax as we didn't have to get up early the next day and therefore enjoyed a little rum with our dive masters and ended up on the beach until the early hours.

The following day, which was started by a much needed lie in was a haze of rain and an awful lot of travelling. After a boat, bus and plane journey we arrived back into KL in the evening where Hairah, a friend from our toxicology masters was waiting to pick us up (THANK YOU again)!! That even we stayed at her sisters house (just outside KL) and spent the night chatting and catching up, it was lovely! Hairah drove us into town on Wednesday morning where we eventually found a place to stay for the evening. After out goodbyes we explored the city and headed to the KL tower for afternoon tea. Unfortunately the weather the rubbish and all we could see from the 300m high revolving restaurant was clouds and rain plus the cake we had for tea was pretty nasty. The clouds started to clear and we were eventually able to see the Pertronas towers and the city scape which was pretty cool! That evening we headed into town for some ladies night action (read: free drinks) and a little bar hopping. We ended up in the Luna Bar which is on the top floor of a skyscraper where the views of the city at night are incredible. We got there after the bar had shut but we were still able to behold the city from the swimming pool and surrounded sofas at the bar.

The Thursday was our final day in Asia and we spent the majority of it shopping around China Town. We all spent far too much and took far too long doing it so we were unable to see Little India or anything else for that matter. In the evening we went to the airport to board our final plane journey, a 13 hour flight to London. The flight was of course delayed and we feared it would even be cancelled but it wasn't and we arrived into Stansted at 6.30am on Friday. Mum and Dad were waiting for me with some tasty sandwiches and I said goodbye to Claudia and Martin who had to wait until 1pm for their flight to Berlin.

The last 2.5 months have been completely amazing and I am already desperate to go back to SE Asia and see much more. I think my favourite places have been Hong Kong, Vietnam and Northern Thailand and even though I hate to admit it tubing in Vang Vieng was one of my highlights. There are many places we didn't get to see or spend enough time in but I'm still young so there is plenty of time to go back. I would like to see more of Vietnam including Sapa, Dalat, Muine and more of Hoi an and the Mekong Delta. I would like to see the coast of Cambodia and spend more time exploring Laos. I really want to go back to Thailand and see more of the north and dive in the Simalan islands. We hardly saw anything of Malaysia so I definitely want to go back there (including Borneo again) but the country I really want to see the most is Indonesia.

I'm actually happy to b home (despite the cold) because it is so festive here but that doesn't stop me yearning to go back, which hopefully wont be too long away.

Fingers crossed it wont be too log until I update this blog again xx

Dec. 3rd, 2010

Me

Bangkok and Island Hopping (Thailand and Singapore)

Hello folks, I am in Kuala Lumpur airport waiting for our flight to Borneo and the internt costs a fortune so I'm going to have to be super quick even though I have about 3 weeks of catching up to go.... d'oh!!!

Last time we chatted I was heading towards Bangkok where Daire would be replaced by Martin (miss you). I only spent 2 days in the capital which really wasn't long enough as it is so big and there is so much to see (read shop)!!! First of all, after thinking we would miss our flight in Chaing Mai and going actual bonkers at the minibus driver, Lena and I then had to navigate ourselves to Chinatown which is where we were staying. After a slightly terrfying journey along the dark alleys we made it to the hotel where Claudia and Martin were waiting for us (on the rooftop bar). The next couple of days were spent shopping at the weekend market (totaly huge and too crazy to orientate) and Khao San Road. An evening spent bar hopping was followed by a morning spent at the immigration office where Claudia and I literally begged for 2 weeks visa extensions... we were only given 1 week and it cost 40 quid not including the monsterous taxi fares!!!!

That evening we bused it down south where our 2 weeks island luxary time (or so we thought) was about to begin. First stop Ko Tao!!

The main reason for hitting Ko Tao was for some scuba diving! Many people rave about the diving on the island but in all honesty it isn't that special. There are more divers than fish and the marine life isn't really anything amazingly special. We saw some turtles, sting rays and cool fish but I've been to better places. Asides from dissapointing diving the island itself was a dream and definitely one of my favourites. It is pretty small and not so built up so you can get a really good feel for the places in only a few days. We went to some lush beached (Nang Yuan) and ate some yummy food including a crazy hot curry that nearly burnt my face off. We had a few nice days of sun and on the day it didn't stop raining we hired a taxi to drive us around the place which was really interesting. The only bad thing that happened, which I completely blame crystal divers for is some dodgy wiring from a non existent light bulb on a staircase... the result... my electocution!!!!

After a 4 night stint we boated over to Ko Phangan for the only and only Full Moon Party! Not only did we get to meet up with the lovely Bob and Natalie again (miss you too guys) we had a brilliant time at FMP which I was originally feeling sceptical about due to the abundance of 18year old pissed kids. Apart from Haad Rin being a complete and utter dump, we got to chill on some nice beaches, the weather wasn't shocking and swimming at sunset after FMP was stunning. We also checked out some Muay Thai boxing and ate some amazing pizza pre FMP and bucket frenzy.

After the party I decided to check out Ko Samui whilst Claudia and Martin stayed to rent a moped. To be honest I almost wish I hadn't bothered because Chaweng was pretty awful. Samui is the largest of these 3 islands and to me it is lacking that essential island vibe that is so present on Ko Tao. Maybe if I had seen more of the island I would feel differently but I definitely wouldn't bother with Chaweng again. After an epic journey down both ends of the beach (which is very nice) I tried and failed to find a second hand book shop so resorted to the English Pub (oh yes) and had a chicken curry pie, delicious!!

After a much needed early night in front of the telly (once I finally found my hotel because I couldn't rember where it was or the name for that matter) I awoke early to catch the ferry to Krabi where I was reuntied with the Germans AKA Claudia and Martin. Krabi is on the main land and we decided to stay in Krabi Town (cheap and cheerful) and catch a long boat to the beach instead. We hung out on Railey beach which was completely stunning if not a little over crowded with fancy resorts. Claudia and Martin went rock climbing, I managed to finally find a book shop (I finished the beach and veronica decides to die and am now reading life of pi) and we checked out the night market.

After a couple of days of relaxation we went over to Ko Lanta for some even greater R&R time. Whilst Ko Lanta is a pretty big island the relaxation vibe is intense. I chilled by the beach / pool, went swiming and snoozed almightly. The weather was still a bit hit and miss at this stage but that's what happens when you go to Thailand in November, it rains!

Ko Lanta was followed by a not so relaxing 3 night stint on Ko Phi Phi. First and foremost, Ko Phi Phi is amazing and definitely my favourite island. It is beautiful, the water is gorgeous, the island is alive with people but not a dump like Haad Rin, the diving was the best I've done to date and the most amazing thing is you can't even tell the 2004 tsunami destroyed the majority of buildings on the island!!! I went a bit mad on the diving in Phi Phi and managed to squeeze 6 dives into 1.5 days. I did a wreck and night dive which were really cool plus the more standard dives where we saw turtles, leopard sharks, sting rays, massize fish, millions of nemos and general awesome stuff!! I was very fortuante to do most my dives 1 on 1 with my DM which was certainly not the case on Ko Tao (8 people in one night dive group, no thanks)!! Phi Phi has a great night life too and there was loads of cool fire shows going down on the beach in the evening plus 10minute frenzies at each bar where you can get free buckets. The shopping is [retty great too but by this stage the funds are dropping with all the diving I've been doing.

After Phi Phi we hit up Phuket; our final stop in Thaiand. By this stage mine and Claudia's visa's had expired but more on that later. The only reason for coming to Phuket was to catch a flight to Singapore. We were staying in Phuket Town which was close to being a dump but I did manage to see Harry Pooter 7.1 at the cinema which was a nice treat especially since I got free popcorn, free drinks plus a massize sofa chair completel with blanket, lush! Claudia and I did a couple of dives which were OK (not as good as Phi Phi but more expensive)! We didn't manage to get to Patong beach but since Phuket is so massize on the tourism front it wasn't really are scene anyway.

On our final night in Phuket we went out for dinner to this 'nice resturant' where they used old TV sets as fish tanks (pretty cool) and served really delicious food which later caused Claudia to develop food posioning.

On Dec 1st (visa minus 3 days and a 30 quid fine) we flew to Singapore. Claudia still feeling rough stayed in the hostel the entire time except for a ride to the hospital on our first evening where she was diagnosed. Martin and I checked out the rides and beach on Sentosa which was lots of fun. We went on the ludge where I managed to drop my flipflop from the chairlift (hilarious) and the megazip where I thought I was going to die with fright!!! We walked around Clarke Quay which is the place to go out night and we also went to see the pretty Christmas lights on Orchard Road (but did no shopping; damn you expensize Singapore). The following day we explored Little India, Arab Town and China Town but were caught in a thunder storm. We also tried to see the Singapore Flyer (a bigger London Eye) and Marina Bay but had to give up due to the rain. After the rain setteled we headed to the north to see the night safari which was really fun. There were tons of animals so doing their animal business but under the cloak of darkness ie way more interesting than a standard zoo.

Today we caught a flight to KL in Malaysia before heading of to dive around Semporna in Borneo. Claudia is feeling better and it looks like we might get some good weather for the next few days. I can't belive I'll be home in a week, the last 2 months have gone so quickly and even though I have seen so much there is still loads we've had to miss out. I'll probably fill out the last blog post once I'm home as we only have 2 more places to visit. Hopefully we wont be stranded out here due to the snow at home because a. I really want to get home now and b. I have literally run out of money which is never a good thing.

Must dash, this internet bill is quickly racking up and we probably need to check into our second flight soon. I'm really looking forward to the diving around Spidan because it is meant to be the best in the world, see you soon xxxx

PS no time to do spell check so excuse my terrible spelling =)

Nov. 13th, 2010

Me

Laos and Northern Thailand

I'm going to have to write this quickly or at least try to because I don't have too much time. The last time I wrote it was the night before we left Siem Reap on an epic 26 hour bus journey to Vientiane in Laos. The bus journey wasn't actually as bad as I thought but that probably has something to do with the Valium we bought. I spent most of the day reading Dexter so I was happy but was sad we didn't have time to stop in 4000 islands which is meant to be beautiful... damn our time constraints!! We arrived in Vientiane early on the morning of October 30th and after an extremely quick breakfast we boarded another bus to Vang Vieng.

If you've ever been to SE Asia you will probably know about Vang Vieng, it is a small town in the middle of nowhere with not a whole lot to do except the infamous tubing. For those that don't know tubing is when you sit in a yellow rubber ring and float down a crappy river. On the way down the river you are pulled into many bars where there are buckets full of booze, free shots with insects in plus rope swings and slides to injure yourself upon. By the late afternoon everyone is pretty intoxicated and having the time of their lives. Out aim was to do this on Halloween and of course we did not let ourselves down. We did it 2 days in a row despite the fact I almost fatally injured myself on a rope swing. After a day of tubing everyone heads to the Bucket Bar for more free booze!!! We stayed in the most fantastic hostel called Spicy Laos. You sleep in wooden huts and hang out around a massive fire talking about your day on the river. On our second day tubing a bunch of us from the hostel went together and we all spray painted our right foot green, random I know but that's tubing for you!!! Despite Daire nearly drowning both days (he can't swim) we had a blast =)

To be honest we didn't really do much else in Vang Vieng except chill out and eat pancakes. On our third day we left for Luang Prabang on the most terrifying bus ride ever!! LP is a UNESCO world heritage site due to the massive amount of temples used as places of worship by the orange robed monks and because of this there is an 11.30 curfew. Whilst here we shopped in the amazing night market, wandered about and went to see a magnificent waterfall. It was a pretty chilled out couple of days to make up for the madness of Vang Vieng.

We left Luang Prabang for Thailand on a epic 3 day trip. The first third on the trip consisted of a full day boat trip up the Mekong to Pakbeng. We had to stay the night in the tiny little town where only 1 bar existed. On the second day we caught another boat to Huay Xai on the Laos-Thailand border. We arrived too late so had to stay the night but this time the town was a decent size and we spent the evening drinking and playing Israeli card games with our fellow travelers. On the third morning we had a 3 minute boat journey across the river (border crossing) to Chaing Kong, Thailand where we caught a 7 hour bus to Chaing Mai where we reached our first proper Thailand destination. That evening we checked out the might Sunday market and ate some delicious food.... mmmm I LOVE Thai food.

In Chaing Mai I did an 'elephant experience' for a day where we got to learn Mahot training techniques, feed the elephants, ride the elephants bare back and wash them in the river. It was fantastic but I don't think I'd ride an elephant again since I was terrified of falling off most of the time. That evening Daire had a bit of an experience with the crazy red bull they sell over here (which is banned at home) but all was all right. The following day Claudia, Lena (our new German friend) and myself did a Thai cooking class for the day. I made a Thai green curry, friend prawns in curry sauce, hot and sour soup, spring rolls and sticky coconut rice with mango for desert. We got to eat everything we made and could barely move after. It was fantastic!!!! That evening was a bit of a chill since we were all too full to move.

On the 10th it was Claudia's birthday so we spent the day wandering around the city. By this stage I had finished my 4 Dexter novels and The Alchemist so I went to a book shop, sold The Alchemist and bought The Beach and Veronica Decided to DIe. I am currently reading The Beach and it is completely addictive, I love it!! After our trip to the book shop we went to buy some cake followed by a long jaunt at the Night Bazar. I decided (somewhat stupidly) to but a beautiful handmade bed throw and matching cushion cases. Don't get my wrong, the bed throw is stunning and cheaper than the one I almost bought in Laos but I takes up a fair bit of room in my rucksack which is now overflowing!!!! Nevertheless it was something I really wanted to buy. Because it was Claudia's birthday she wanted to get one of those fish feet massage things so of course we all had to oblige. It was pretty weird and we all spent the first 10 minutes screaming but it did leave our feet nice and smooth. We went out for some yummy food and hung out with the hotel neighbours who were lighting lanterns and let u join in, lovely!

On the next day Claudia and Daire headed off to Bangkok on the night bus to meet Martin (Claudia's boyfriend) on the 12th. Lena and I decided to go to Pai for a few days instead, which is where I am currently writing this. Pai is a little like Vang Vieng but bigger. There is a fairly big hippie scene here and loads of Reggae bars. It's nice and relaxing so I'm glad I ditched Bangkok for 2 days. We have been to hot springs which were too hot to get into and a waterfall that was too cold to swim in. We checked out the markets and local shops and generally chilled out. We keep bumping into people Lena met in Nepal and these 2 Israeli guys keep driving us about on their mopeds which is fab... free travel and all that!!! In the evening we have checked out the locals bars and eaten more delicious Thai food.

Pai has been a much needed escape but this afternoon we head back to Chaing Mai where we will fly to Bangkok this evening. It's only an hour flight instead of a 12 hour bus journey so woop!!!

I think that is everything but every time I write in this blog I always realise I left something out. I'm not lookinh forward to Bangkok too much since I haven't been in a buys city for ages so it'll come as quite a shock. Daire has gone home now which is a shame and I've only got a month left which is no time at all.

Laos was an amazing country and I would really love to go back and see more. The country side was beautiful and the people were so friendly, it really is the perfect retreat. Thailand has been fab so far and I can't wait to get to the islands in the South but I'm really worried I wont get to see everything I plan to. I'm kind of regretting having a booked flight home but what can I do?

We only have a couple of hours left in Pai to chill out so I best dash xxxxx

Oct. 28th, 2010

Me

Vietnam and Cambodia, done

Sorry it's been a while but I've been super busy and haven't had the best of internet access apart from trusty wifi on my phone.

Soooo, where did I last leave you? Oh yes Hoi An in Vietnam. After another horrii night bus journey from Hoi An we arrived at the crack of dawn in Nha Trang, a lovely town on the coast of Vietnam with a nice long beach. We ended up spending nearly an entire week here because a) I did my Advanced Open Water PADI course plus Claudia and Daire did their Open Water PADI course and b) I celebrated my 24th birthday there and was to hungover to undertake another night bus ride for a few days.

The diving was brilliant, definitely one of the better places I've dived and the course was great. I specialized in navigation. deep, photography, night and search & recovery. I was really happy Claudia and Daire decided to dive too because it means we can dive together in Ko Phi Phi, Ko Tao and Borneo =) I dived with Rainbow who were brilliant so if you are ever in Vietnam check them out!! After the course I joined Claudia and Daire at Octopus Diving and did a few fun dives which were extremely enjoyable due to the intensity of the advanced course. I saw loads of amazing fish plus I racked up quite a few numbers in my dive log.

On the 17th I celebrated my birthday with a few friends we've made whilst traveling. Natalie and Bob bought me a conical hat which is hilarious and I'm dong my best not to loose it (or squash it). Claudia bought me a beautiful silk kaftan and we went out for dinner where I had some over priced lobster which unfortunately wasn't worth the money I paid. Several bars ensued plus some paddling in the sea and we eventually arrived back at the hotel in a pretty bad worse-for-where state at 5am. I managed to get a bar to play some Green Day and ended up with a free bottle of champagne and chocolate cake, brilliant!!!

The 2 days were spent sleeping on the beach and we eventually left on another night bus for Saigon. Nha Trang was brilliant and even though it was a bit over cast the ocean was lovely and warm plus the town had a really good atmosphere about it.

Once again the night bus dropped us off at 6am in Saigon where we had to spend 3 hours napping in a hotel reception until a room was available for us. Saigon was fantastic whilst it was even bigger and busier than Hanoi it was more exciting and I would definitely go back. During our time there we went to the Cu Chi Tunnels and the War museum plus a pagoda and crazy market. The tunnels and museum were really interesting yet a completely harrowing experience. Whilst my history about the Vietnam war wasn't so great before I embarked on this trip I have learnt so much about the atrocities the US army did to the people of Vietnam. Yes, the Viet Cong did some awful stuff too which was very apparent at the Cu Chi Tunnels but the War Museum really showed the extent of the Holocaust like action the US Army caused with Dioxins and the other chemical they dropped on the country.

Anyway, enough of a history lesson. After Saigon we left Vietnam (1 week later than scheduled) and arrived in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. Whilst here we visited the Silver Pagoda (mega rip off), Killing Fields and Genocide Museum. This was another depressing day learning about the action of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pott's regime. The Genocide Museum (S21) is a bleak prison where thousands of Khmer people were sent for fear of bringing down the communist regime from the inside. The majoirty of people sent here were completely innocent and had to endure horrific interrogation and torture. The place reminded me of Auschwitz which I visited last year whilst inter railing. After being sent to the S21 the prisoners were then transported to the Killing Fields (just outside the city) where they were immediately executed. Babies and children were even killed here and now the person in charge of these actions is awaiting trails!!! Despite the reason for the Killing Fields it is quite a tranquil place and a memorial has been constructed in the centre where is holds the bones of the people who were murdered there.

After a few days of really depressing day trips we headed up north to Siem Reap (our current location) to marvel at some wonderful temples. We bought a 3 day pass for the Angkor temples and since then we have seen a crazy amount and personally I never want to see another temple again!!! On our first day we did the 'small circuit' which included Ta Prom my favourite temple of the 3 days. It is huge and has not undergone much renovation so is still in its original shape plus it has all thee magnificent tress growing through the rocks and looks completely stunning. It was the temple used in Tomb Raider so you would probable recognise it. We also went to see Bamteary Seria pink temple 30km outside the city and another one I can't remember the name off!!! There was a temple we wanted to see even further outside the city with a waterfall but our tuk tuk driver would not take us there unless we paid more and since we had already spent a significant amount on the temple pass we opted out.

On the second day we did the 'big circuit' which included some truly wonderful sights the temples of Angkor are unlike any temples you would normally see, they are in fantastic condition complete with intricate wall carvings plus they are HUGE!!! At the end of the second day we climbed the mountain (read large hill) to another temple to view sunset however the overcast weather made this a slight waste of time. That evening we checked out the market and met up with Natalie and Bob to explore Pub Street and eat Mexican food, yum yum!!! We knew we had to get up early so headed back to the hotel in good time however a problem struck... Daire, who was the last one out of the room locked the door but left the key inside.... Okay not to much of a problem because all hotels have spare keys right? WRONG!!!!! The crappy hotel we are staying in seemed to have a spare key for every room except ours. We spent over an hour trying to get in. We tried to pick the lock and failed, the staff tried to take the lock of the door and failed. Eventually Daire constructed a massive rod thing with a coat hanger at the end weaved t through the window and managed to pick up the key!!! It was all rather hilarious but a bit scary at the time since we almost couldn't get in!!!

After a short sleep and early 4.30am rise we headed to Angkor Wat to see sunrise. Angkor Wat is meant to be the most magnificent temple of them all because it is in such good condition and is huge!!! Anyway the sunrise was a complete waste of time and despite the grandeur of the temple I really wasn't 'feeling' it. Nevertheless we headed to Angkor Thom next where Bayon temple reside. This temple was really great because it is covered in faces carved into the towers. We looked around a few more temples and eventually headed back to the hotel at noon for some much needed sleep. This evening we are meeting people again for dinner, the night market and maybe doing that thing where you stick your feet in the water and the fist eat the dead skin!! Tomorrow we are headed to Laos and have to take a 24 hour bus journey because they plane is too expensive, joy!!! Cambodia has been a strange country and whilst the prices are surprisingly high and the people cam seem somewhat unfriendly I have enjoyed the contrast of war vs temples. However, I am really looking forward to Laos and tubing on Halloween.

Must dash now, lots to do plus I have to pack. The bus leaves a 6am, FUN!!!! Laterz xxxx

Oct. 12th, 2010

Me

Hue and Hoi An

Whilst Hanoi was a city bursting with life, noise and colour Hue, a city in Southern Vietnam was much more tranquil and less exhausting. The night bus journey to Hue was pretty horrific but once we got there and settled into out hostel, Hue Backpackers (FYI it was amazing - free beer!!!) we instantly feel in love with the place and it's chilled out atmosphere. The first day in Hue was spent exploring the old citadel which to be honest was a bit dissapointing especially when compared with the Forbidden City in Beijing. The weather was absolutely boiling which really did not add to my appreciation of the ruins. When we arrived in the citadel we bumped into Ben and Fran, an english couple we met in Halong Bay and arranged to go for a drink that evening. After exploring the old ruins and all the surrounding streets we headed back to the hostel for free beer, fish n chips and headed out for the evening. We went to a couple of bars including one with the most mental waitress I've ever met. Apparently she was called Crazy Bonkers and not only ws she extremely annoying but hilarious she also had the most high pitched deafening laugh ever!!!!! The evening was a succession of jagerbombs and cocktails... not the best idea considering we had to get up at 7.30am the next morning.

After an early start we headed out on a boat tour to visit some tombs and temples. The temples were pretty templely (as if I'm templed out all ready) but the tombs were really fascinating. We saw 3 in total and each one was better and more grand than the previous. I can't remember their names and I don't have 'the bible' handy so I'm not even going to try and guess but I would definitely recommend checking them out if you are ever in this part of the world. Each tomb was completely different in terms or design, size and architecture but each fascinating to walk around and wonder how the emperors used to live way back then. Some of the sites were merely for burial purposes but other had live in areas and hence much larger in size. We meet another English couple on the tour, Bob and Natalie (we seem to have a thing for picking up these Brits) and that evening the 5 of use met Ben and Fran for some good English grub minus the beers and plus the hangover remnants.

Another 7.30am rise meant we could catch the early bus to Hoi An, a small city on the coast where tailor made clothing is a speciality. We arrived in the high heat and decided to stay at the first place are eyes meet. This happened to be a luxary hotel next to the bus stop and for $6 each we were in heaven complete with a swimming pool, a first on this trip!!! After a swim, it started to rain so I decided to have a cheapy facial and pedi (Daire had a massage!!!) until the weather died down and we could hit the streets to get some clothes made. After looking for ages I fiound a place to have my 2 dresses made. A replica of a shift dress I already own and a floaty maxi dress perfect for summer parties and evenings on the beach. Daire had a suit and 2 shirts made and Claudia got a top and playsuit.

That evening we meet all the Britis again at an arranged time and place and enjoyed happy hour cocktails and beers plus some non vietmanese food!!!!!! Once again not ideal for a 7.30 wake up call but fun nevertheless.

Today we went to check out My Son, an ancient Cham temple in the jungle which was pretty interesting but really run down. It was hit badly during the war and not much is really left standing. If I never see a temple again (except Angkor Wat!!!) it'll be too soon!!!!!! The afternoon was spent collecting out tailor made clothes. Daire and I got ours made in the same shop and they did such a good job neither of us needed any adjustments. Claudia however was not so lucky and is waiting to pick up her adjusted items as I type. Tonight we have to catch another night bus to Nha Trang, our much need beach stop!!! I plan to scuba dive and hopefully pick up my advanced PADI plus laying on the beach reading my Dexter novels will be a well deserved treat fromm all our early mornings and busy days.

I got a little sun burnt today but hopefully it'll sort itself out by the time I go diving! Last night we also had to say goodbye to the Brits as they are on a much longer and more relaxing time scale than us. The night bus this evening will probably be as horrific as the last one but at least we'll get a few relaxing days on the beach to catch up on sleep. It was pouring with rain again today so fingers crossed for some nice weather. After the beach we are heading to Hoi Chi Minh and the Mekong Delta before entering Cambodia where things will calm down significantly and we wont be as busy... phew!!

Anyway, must dash now. Bus to catch and shower to have. Speak soon xxxxxxxxxxxx

Oct. 8th, 2010

Me

Hanoi and Halong Bay

My last blog post felt rather rushed so I'm going to take my time to do this one properly.

On Sunday evening I arrived in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam where I met up with my friends Claudia and Daire. After a lot of catch up chat we feel asleep and woke up to a hot busy city on Monday morning. Hanoi is many things, terrifying, busy, colourful and delightful. It is terrifying because of the sheer number of mopeds over running the streets, crossing the road is a pure nightmare and on several occasions I've come close to having my toes lobbed off!!! On October 10th Hanoi celebrates 1000 years of being capital so you can imagine how absolutely crazy busy it is. More mopeds than usual, more people selling crap than usual, more people in general and most of all a complete wonderful buzz around the entire city, especially the lake area. A far as colour goes Hanoi is bursting with life. The streets are full of lanterns, the shops fronts are full of toys, the trees are full of glow-in-the-dark lights and there roads and people are covered in yellow and red celebratory ribbons and stickers. Whilst all the noise, air pollution and killer traffic may not be your cup of tea and certainly not relaxing the city is still a delight and full of old traditional buildings, funny looking houses, happy people and most of all cheap-as-chips beer =) enough to keep anyone happy!!!

Even though Hanoi is a huge city there isn't too much to see on the sight seeing front. We spent a full day walking around the Museum of Literature where Chinese architecture was in abundance. We also saw the 1 pillar pagoda, the lake, a few other pagodas and caught a dodgy rickshaw ride. Unfortunately we couldn't see the Hoi Chi Ming mausoleum because he's body is apparently in Russia but we did wonder around the grounds a little and I even got booted out of a church for wearing shorts, oops!!!! The evening was spent enjoying 'less than $1 beer' and eating random Vietnamese food i.e rice rice and more rice.

On Tuesday we left Hanoi for our 2 night tour of Halong Bay. We arrived on the boat and enjoyed a delicious sea food lunch and meet some wonderful people. Halong Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site and consists of 1000+ islands poking up from the Gulf of Tonkin, it is a beautiful and peaceful place where the water is warm and the light breeze blows against your skin. The afternoon was spent cruising around the island (some look like animals eg fighting cock island) walking through an amazing cave full of more animal shaped rocks and finally taking a swim in the lush water. Claudia and I being the dare devils we are jumped off the boat's roof!!!! After more yummy food for dinner we finished the evening drinking beer and singing karaoke!!!! I am not normally a fan but couldn't resist joining in for Bohemian Rhapsody, Boys Don't Cry and  some other tasteful delights. We slept on the boat and were made to awake at 7am for an adventure packed day of kayaking, bicycle riding, jungle trekking and experiencing Cat Ba island from the inside of a hot sweaty mini bus. After the jungle trek on an island I can't remember the name of, Claudia, Daire and I were left in a remote village to spend the night in a bungalow instead of the hotels everyone else was heading too. The bungalows were basic yet endearing except for the giant spiders we made the bungalow owner man kill with a massive stick. Fortunately our beds came equipped with mosquito nets but that didn't stop us being horrified from all the creepy crawly noises we could hear in the dark. After another early start at 6am the 3 of us cycled back to the harbor to catch a boat to Cat Ba island where we were reunited with our other tour members. We spent a few hours cruising around the islands of Halong Bay and were taken back to the main land for lunch and the 3 hour bus ride back to Hanoi. Because we stayed in the bungalow we missed out on a trip to the beach and due to the not so great weather we were unable to visit monkey island =(

Halong Bay was an absolute dream and so relaxing making our arrival in Hanoi last night rather chaotic plus the air pollution felt 100 times worse after spending 3 days by the coast where only a few mopeds could be seen. Daire and I are getting so sick of eating rice we insisted on finding a pizza place for dinner. The pizza and fries was glorious!!!! We spent the evening walking around the lake and witnessing all the celebrations. The air was full of happiness and cheer, glow-in-the-dark toys were in abundance and the skies were full of flashing lights. After a sneaky cocktail we headed back to the hostel and enjoyed a much need sleep.

Today we leave Hanoi for Hue, a southern Vietnam town on the coast. The bus journey is 14 hours but hopefully my Dexter novels will keep me going. The bus leaves this evening so I think we'll spend the day chilling, walking around a little, blogging (obviously) and maybe buying some food for the horrific bus ride.

The weather here is nice, not too hot but high enough we can spend the day walking around in shorts and dresses. I'm getting really paranoid about being bitten by buys though!!!

Speak soon xxxx

Oct. 3rd, 2010

Me

Beijing and Hong Kong

 Wow, it certainly has been a busy week for me so I guess the best place to begin is the very beginning.

After an exhausting 18 journey from London including a 4 hour stop over in Dubai I arrived in bright, sunny Beijing. Beijing was a fantastic place sight seeing wise and boy was there a lot to do. The first day I spent walking around the city and exploring the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, Jingshan Park, hutongs and markets. The Forbidden City is where the Chinese Emperors used to live and was completely banned from the public, hence the name. The architecture is traditional Chinese and completely beautiful. All the buildings are made with wood and panted in beautiful colours. There are large pots all over the grounds which used to be full of water to put out fires. You can look into loads of the buildings and see all of the ancient treasures, it's completely amazing! After walking around the Forbidden City and the beautiful Imperial Gardens I walked down to Tiananmen Square. There were guards all over the place making sure protests break out and keeping a look out for any other trouble.

In the afternoon I attempted to find a place to eat lunch mentioned in my tour book. I spent ages trying to find the restaurant only to discover it was full. So I walked around the hutongs (traditional Chinese streets) and found another place that served all kinds of weird meals. After lunch I explored the Temple of Heaven Park and more Chinese architecture and climbed to the top of Jingshan Park to see over the city and all the roofs on the Forbidden City.

After an exhausting day walking I rushed back to my hostel Peking International (lovely place) and went out to see some Chinese Acrobatics which was completely amazing! Those people can move in ways you wouldn't even imagine! 

Wednesday was my Chinese high light because it was the day I walked along the Great Wall of China. Words cannot describe how amazing this day was. The views were the most fantastic I have ever seen, walking across the crumbled ruins for 3 hours was breath taking and I can't wait to show you all the photos. It was an exhausting trek but completely worth it, amazing!!!! 

That evening I walked through the night market and saw all the weird food on sticks eg snakes, beetles and worms, gross!!! I also went out for some famous Peking duck which was completely delicious. Beijing was a fantastic experience, the Chinese traditions were beautiful but the hygiene was disgusting. Their toilets are literally holes in the ground and completely horrid!!!!

On Thursday I flew to Hong Kong to met Charlotte. We've had such a fun time here and I'll be so sad to leave, Hong Kong really is one of the most amazing places on earth. The first night there we went out with Charlotte's work colleges in the famous Lan Kwai Fong where the atmosphere was buzzing and the people were in abundance. Everyone was playing ICE where you have to kneel down when presented with a bottle of Smirnoff Ice and down it! The next thing we knew one guy had bought an entire crate of bottles, hilarious!!! After exploring many bars including one on the 23rd floor of a skyscraper with amazing views we headed home to sleep in preparation for a few days of sight seeing.

On Friday we went for delicious Dim Sum for lunch followed by the bird and ladies market where I bought a few cheap treats. We got the famous Star Ferry across to the markets and back again so at night when all the building had their lights on the views were fantastic. In the evening we went out for Mexican food (a welcome change from Chinese) and headed back to the flat. 

Yesterday, we went over to Lantau to see the massive Buddha. after queueing for what felt like forever we got the chair lift over the island where the views were stunning. After climbing 200+ stairs to see the Buddha which was amazing we had some noodles for lunch and joined the queue again for the chair lift again. We headed back to the flat for dinner and then went up to The Peak to see more stunning views of Hong Kong a night. The Peak is the largest viewing point on the island and boy were the views incredible. There really is no other place on earth like the Hong Kong skyline, it is completely breathing taking a night with all the sky scrapes and lights. After a few cocktails at The Peak we caught the rickety tram back down the hill.

My time in Hong Kong with Charlotte has been amazing. I've seen so much, been to so many places and experiences so many things. This city is probably one of the best places I've ever been and I hope I can come back one day. Compared to Beijing, Hong Kong is so clean and exciting. I throughly enjoyed both places and am really looking forward to meeting Daire and Claudia in Hanoi, Vietnam later!

See you later x

Sep. 26th, 2010

Me

Off again

Today I begin my next adventure, South East Asia with my two friends from uni Claudia and Daire. First stop Beijing and then Hong Kong to visit Charlotte. I'm very excited and but also scared as I'll be in Beijing on my own for 3 days. After visiting Hong Kong I'm meeting Claudia and Daire in Vietnam. We will also travel to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and hopefully Bali. I'm back on December 10th and will miss you all. I'll try and blog about my adventures as often as I can but who knows what the internet will be like out there!!

Last night I discovered that my camera is broken, I can't get the battery out to charge it PLUS I can't even find the battery charger!!!! I'm going to buy a (cheap) camera in China but so far this isn't a great start...

Take care and see you in 2.5 months

Hannah xxxxxxxxxxx

Sep. 18th, 2009

Me

Final chapter

I've been home a couple days now and realised i need to finish my blog so here goes.

Berlin was fab, I did the free tour of East Berlin and it was amazing! We saw loads of Pre WWII sights as well as Nazi related buildings, artefacts from the Cold War and memorials, excellent! I would have tipped the guy more than a fiver but i really couldn't afford too. He was brilliant, told loads of interesting stories, including the most dramatic account of the fall of the Berlin Wall and completely made the city come alive with history, I would definately reccommend it! I also went to the East Side Gallery which is the largest remaining section of the wall, it is covered in art which is currently being repainted to celebrate 20 years since the fall. The art was fantastic! I also went into the Reicstag, to view the city from the famous glass dome which was really beautiful, despite queueing for an age in the cold.

The next day I wondered around the city a bit more to see some other sites and have a stroll through the beautiful Tiergarten. That afternoon I was meant to catch the direct train to Copenhagen. I was half an hour early so patienly waited on the platform for the train. Some how the train came and went without me even realising. How this happened Im not sure but it was definately the most retarded thing that happened to me. I managed to find an alternative route where i had to catch 4 train, I arrived in Copenhagen at 2am, fun! Berlin was amazing though, I love the city and really want to go back. There aren't many bulidings standing that were built pre WWII but those that are, are covered in bullet and shell holes, graffiti and all sorts, it really make the history come alive and make you realise how recent the war was. Berlin is still a beautiful place dispite suffering so much trauma in the last 100 years!

Copenhagen was ace, apart from the terrible bedroom i had! The city was beautiful and serene with plenty to see and do. There were bikes everywhere and I was convinced I would be run over (fortuantly not)! I walked around for hours, went to see the Little Mermaid (not great), the harbours, Tivioli (the hugely popular themepark where i went on the rides on my own, sad!) and other sights which i can barely even remember now. I ate the most amazing mussles of my live and really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. The next morning i took a trip to Kristiania which is a free community (seperate from the EU) in the heart of the city. Everyone was on drugs, most stoned, and the atmosphere was so chilled out you could have fallen asleep at the various bars. Everyone lives together and work alongside each other to keep this communtiy going and too not become a refuge for the junkies. There are frequent raides from the Danish police but generally the place is really peaceful. You aren't allowed to take photos which is ashame because there is a lot of beautiful graffiti art and nature as its pretty much a park wit a few buildings.

I found some amazing vintage shops in the city, the selection of clothes and accesorises was amazing, unlike the prices!! The high cost is a running theme throughout North Europe, Copenhagen wasn't the worse place for rip off prices but it was still bad. Despite that the city was an amazing place.

That afternoon I caught the ferry to Oslo. On board I watched Harry Potter 6 and slept! Not the most exciting part of the trip!

I arrived in Oslo the next day with no clue where to go! Eventually found the hostel, dumped my stuff and proceeded to explore as i was only in the city for 24 hours. Oslo was very pretty but with little to actually see. Everything was expensive and the free museums weren't amazing. I saw some cool Viking artefacts but the museum with the impressive boats was too far away.

My next port of call was Stockholm which was much more interesting. First of all the city is massive therefore there is a lot more to see. I went to the palace and saw the crown jewels, royal apartments and the museum. I went to the view point, the harbour, wondered around the old town for hours, I went to the comic shop which was full of FREAKS! I have nothing against comics, i read them myself but the people here were a new bred of weird!! I was mesmerized byt the half marrathon that afternoon and ended up watching against the road side for at least an hour, the people were amazing and i found myself a bit emotional by the whole experience. One of my room mates at the hostel had actually ran it so it was fun talking to him that evening about the whole experience! I want to run the London Marathon one day so my first step is going to be to dig out some trainers and start running.

My final journey was to get another overnight ferry to Helsinki, where I proceeded to sleep for 12 hours. Helsinki was amazing! I wandered around the markets, took a boat trip around the islands, went christmas shopping and more. By the end of my trip i had seen so many churches, cathedrals, parliments, city halls i couldn't really be arsed with doing that in Finland so I just walked and explored without a tour book. I chatted for ages with the people at the Hostel and generally had a great time in the vibrant city. I went to an Irish bar and had a stupidly priced cider and tried to buy reindeer meet but 50 quid was too mcuh for a tin!!

After 2 nights in this fab city it was time to get my plane home! A guy from the hostel was also travelling to London and was on the same flight as me, excellent, so it was fab to have company on the otherwise boring 3 hour journey. Mummy met me at Gatwick and after seeing her i realised the trip was at an end!

I had a bloody amazing time and so glad i went, even on my own. It did get a bit lonely at times but i still had the best 5 weeks ever and can't get over how many places ive been and how much ive seen, A LOT! It was nice to come home, I was completely exhautsed and in desperate need to vitamins plus i missed everyone a bit by this stage but im determined to do more travellling now, but with some friends!

Now that this journey has ended the next is about to begin. In a week and a half i start my masters at Surrey Uni and im mega excited! I don't think i'll update this blog until my next adventure but who knows you can never be too sure! So until next time, go see Europe everyone cos its great!

Sep. 5th, 2009

Me

Eastern Europe. Done

It's been a while but I've been so busy i haven't been able to sit down on a computer for more than a few minutes. Im in Berlin now after an exhausting ride on the over night train and instead of looking around the city today I've slept instead!

Last time I wrote I was nearly finished my time in Zagreb where I would be leaving for Budapest. I am probably the only person to say this but i really didn't like Budapest, the city was vast and full of trashy building and dirty roads. My hostel was pleasant but in the morning, without fail, the builders / protesters / commuters would wake me up with their screaming and drills. The sight seeing didn't go to well either,  after walking for an age i stumbled across Buda (old town) and found the castle, the cathedral and some lovely little cobbled streets lined with candy box coloured houses. Ok so far you may think, until i got horrifically lost trying to find the river again to cross back into Pest (new town). Bear in mind the Danube is massive but i still managed to spend 2 hours tracking it down. Eventually made it across, found some more churches and the biggest Synagoge. A couple were getting married at one place which was extremely romantic, except for the horrid tacky car that waited for them outside. I tired to find my way back to the hostel but didn't know where to go so just hopped on the metro instead. I spent the evening hanging out with the hostel folk which was extremely enjoyable.

I would go back to Budapest in the future with some friends in hope for a better experience but i think the big city style put me off as i've been used to smaller locations.

Next stop was Bratislava. I already had some doubts before i even got there and the grey concrete box of a train station and graffiti didn't do much for my opinions: Went out the first evening with my rooms mates (a bunch of friendly english boys and 2 extremely obnoxious welsh girls) to a local club which was pretty awful except for the cheap drink. It was a Sunday night so the place was dead but i was taught to appreciate minimal music so it wasn't all that bad. A friend of the boys (the most obnoxious, ignorant arse of a man i've ever met) was extremely drunk and started to sing racist songs, take his clothes of and be an all around idiot and then wanted to know why he didn't have a girlfriend... shocking!!! Went sight seeing the next day and my impressions of the city quickly changed. The city centre was tiny but extremely pretty with its little colourful streets and eye catching buildings: I walked around the castle, saw the changing of the guard at the government building and wandered about the markets.

The following day I was back on a train but this time to Veinna. The journey was only an hour long and the two cities are the closest capitals to each other in Europe and possibly the world. Vienna was AMAZING!! Big but so much to see, it really is a city of art and music. I went to the butterfly house which was beautiful if not a little scary when these massive insects were flying directly at your head. I walked around the old palace, the opera house and into the museum quater which is where i spent all afternoon. I went to the Leopold Museum which had a nice collection of art including the biggest collection by Egon Schiele which was really interesting. Then there was KUNSTHALLE which was full of modern art, some of it i liked (the photography portraits) but some of it was really strange (videos or utter randomness). The last gallery was MUMOK which was full of contemporary art, again some was interesting whilst other pieces were completely bewildering! My favourite place was the Haus de Musik which was a museum dedicated to the art and science of music. There were loads of interactive sections where you could create music and then there were the sections about the great composers and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, I could have listened to the music all night!

The hostel I stayed at was super, it had it's own bar and was so much fun. The first night there i had two cocktails and due to a recent lack of alcohol consumption i felt slightly inebriated. The second evening was time for an early night due to catching an early train in the morning to Krakow.

After a long bookless journey (Id finished Breaking Dawn several days ago) I arrived into Krakow which is beautiful. The people in my cabin on the train started drinking beer at 9am and began shots at midday, I politely declined when they offered me a vodka!! Except for the extremely unfriendly Polish locals this city was a joy to stay in. The hostel was great, we had a BBQ in the beer garden and the basement has been converted into a brilliant bar and pool room.

The following morning i went to Auschwitz which as you can imagine was rather horrific! The place wasn't as bleak as i had imagined as a lot of the building are red brick but despite that it was still ghastly. The day i went also happened to be cold, damp and grey so the atmosphere was even worse. There were literally rooms full of human hair and personal belongings. The tour was great, in terms of depth of information but i can't say i wasn't glad to leave. I don't think it ever properly sunk in that over 1 millions people died there (90% Jewish) and a lot of the really terrible parts i.e. the 'shower' rooms and incinerators had been destroyed when the Nazis tried to burn the evidence of what was going on there but despite that it was still utterly disgusting!

Back in Krakow I walked around the castle (another one i hear you say) which was really pretty and other parts of the old town and down to the river. That evening i caught the night train to Berlin. The night train was a first for me and i was terrified of being robbed as i've heard so many stories. It was fine except i didn't sleep well due to the freezing, noisy carriage and the obvious uncomfort of the bed! I shared the cabin with a group of friendly people which is more than i can say about the neighbours who sounded like they were having a riot because so many noises were coming through the walls.

We arrived in Berlin this morning (3 hours late) where i will be based for 2 more says before heading to North Europe. Im planning on doing one the the famous Berlin free tours tomorrow and going to the Jewish museum. I've only got 10 days left before i return home and im glad to be in a more civilized part of Europe

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