Inle Lake was just such a lovely place and the people were so friendly and kind.
We arrive in Hoi An in the rain and decide to get the umbrellas out and go for a wander. 5 mins later we are back as it turns into an absolute down pour.
The rain doesn’t stop so it’s dinner in the hotel and an early night with the hope for a better day tomorrow.
Next day the rain has subsided but the clouds still look dark, so we go to explore and find a place to sit and people watch.
We have arrived in the middle of the lunar new year celebrations so the 2017 light festival is in full flow. The river is lit by big dragons and other creatures and there is a stage with a singer, who sounded a bit like Asian Lulu and seemed to be stuck on a continuous loop. You could also find stalls with games like coconut shies and target shooting.
Hoi An is well known for it’s lanterns. We missed the one night a month that they turn the lights off and everything is lit by lanterns, but we’d imagine this must be so nice.
For the price of about 30p you can buy a little floating lantern with a candle in it from the old ladies then you can float it down the river. As it floats off be prepared for the eco friendly recycling as the women collect them down stream put fresh candles in and then off to market they go for resell.
It’s a pretty village just full of colourful lanterns, more coffee shops than you will ever need, some lovely local markets and so many places to eat. Then the rain comes again and an umbrella isn’t going to save us this time so we duck into the clothes market. The stall holders are happy to have a captive audience. There are also many tailors here but most are not real tailors.
They all sell similar designs and are just windows to the same factory who makes them. If you really want to get clothes made here you will need to check out tripadvisor for reviews. Deb liked the idea of having something made but being a seamstress, looking at quality and price soon put her off. Fabric is very very over priced and costs of making it just too expensive for what you get. The shop keepers get 10/10 for persistence. One guy was particularly persuasive and had about 4 sets of people on the go. Unfortunately it seems to be the younger set that get suckered in and end up not being able to say no. The chatter on the street is full of people comparing what they paid and people concerned they have wasted money buying something they will never wear. Meanwhile Deb and Steve were content with the $1 t-shirts from Cambodia that surprisingly washed up really well.
Rain stopped and we make a swift escape, back to the hotel ready for a spruce up and to discover Hoi An at night.
Hoi An at night is really pretty. All the bars and streets light up with lanterns and reflect on the water, it’s a beautiful site. We can now see why it seems to be everyone’s favourite place in Vietnam. We did the usual, wandered up and down looking to choose a place to have a cheap drink and then wander around again unable to decide.
We walk to the end of the bars and find a nice stop on a roof terrace called Purple Rain. This place is NOT recommended! Yes, we have been watching ourselves in Vietnam to avoid scams only to nearly get done but a western run bar! Everywhere you go everyone is working hard to provide a good clean service, open kitchen so you can see your food being cooked and until now we hadn’t even given it a thought that they always open your beer bottles at the table, until that day that they don’t! Our beer came not only already open but in a beer cooler, nice touch we thought. Steve has a taste and said this is not Saigon beer? We pull the bottle out and it has no labels. When challenged the waiter laughs with one of those, yes you caught us moments, the owner does the, I told you not to take beer from there and we don’t pay for the beer and wave goodbye.
Next day, time to go find a Banh Mi. Everyone raves about them and there is a shop in Hoi An that are supposed to do the best one ever! Off we trott, you won’t miss it they said, you will see the queue. We find the queue, see that it’s only 70p if you sit in to eat it, find a table and beat the queues. Not sure what was in the baguettes but they tasted ok.
Finally on the last day in Hoi An the sun comes out and we get to see the place looking beautiful. Amazing just how different it looks.
Time to pack and off we go again. This time by car to Hue.
Debs and Steve
Careful in Ho Chi Minh everyone said.
It’s so busy, hang on to your stuff. Everyone you meet has had something stolen there. So we are ready for this place that even the Vietnamese seem to be afraid of this big sprawling metropolis.
We get on the very empty Qatar flight. Steve looks like billy no mates again and off we go. We couldn’t go by land as we didn’t have a visa to cross the border.
There are so few people on the flight that when we go to collect our luggage we can’t find the carousel until we realise they didn’t bother and had just chucked the luggage on the floor. Good Morning Vietnam!!
The free hotel transfer was waiting and off we went through the empty streets. We knew that some things would be closed and some people leave the city for Vietnamese New Year or as it’s called here Tet but really weren’t expecting it to be so quite?
The hotel is in a good location in District 1 and the things we came to see are within easy reach. After a bit of a “negotiation” with the hotel we get an up grade. We had made double sure that we had a room with a window as Deb and her hotel claustrophobia would not have coped without a window out. This is where we learnt our next lesson. Don’t think just because you have double checked your room has a window, as many hotels in Asia don’t, that this “window” may just be a pane of glass that looks into the hotel air vent!
From now on it’s another special request on the booking form. Special requests followed by emailing the hotel to confirm go something like this.
- Window with view to the outside.
- Whether you want a city, beach, mountain or garden view. Quiet room, not near stairs, lifts, next to fire doors or near the hotel entrance/exit or over conference/ballrooms.
- High floor, especially if in a city.
- Something else we have found handy in Asia is to make sure that on arrival you have a screen shot of the photo of the room you booked online. This is how we got our upgrade as the room was not the room in the description. Naughty Naughty!
Our new room even has a jacuzzi bath, or as it later became known as, the washing machine!
We enjoy the evening on the roof top bar of the hotel we had booked as we were concerned about just how busy it was going to be down on the street. The hotel was better than we expected for the price we paid.
Next day after a very asian breakfast of chicken and chips? We go off to find the war museum and find it closed until 13:30, luckily for us we decided to do it today as the next day is a bank holiday and all goverment buildings are closed but the Cu Chi Tunnels will still be open. It’s an interesting place, a lot of words and some very graphic photos. Bit of an information overload on agent orange and after so many upsetting graphic pictures and some very upset locals it’s time to leave and go wander.
As it’s Tet, the streets are full of bright lights and as it’s the year of the rooster, a lot of large rooster statues. We even come across some chinese dragon performances in the streets and find a flower festival that we will visit next day. As not much was open we wander through the huge mall near our hotel to find something to eat before heading back up to the bar in the hotel to watch the city lights.
Bright and early we hop into the minibus to go to the Cu Chi Tunnels with a bunch of middle aged Lithuanians, one who just can’t seem to live without a beer in his hand! We are with Kim travel on a small tour of only 8 people and our guide for the day is a war veteran who can tell you 1st hand as he was there and at 69 years old you can still see the emotion in his eyes. He was by far the best guide so far, funny, interesting, engaging and not to forget rather cheeky! And yes, Deb did want to climb in the hole but would the butt fit? Nope!
Whilst at the tunnels you realise that although we paid about 10% over the average tour price, what we got was so much better service. Our guide knew everyone, understood when to hang back and wait for the big coach tours and young tour guides to rush past. He would then give us a really personal account of the area we were in, unlike the young guides who just repeated the daily words to a group of about 30.
Worth every extra penny. He even managed to get Steve trying the local snake rice wine.
After we return it’s off to the flower festival that stays open until 23:00. It was a beautiful display of orchids, dragons made from vegetables, the most amazing bonsai trees we had ever seen and more people taking selfies than you can imagine.
Soon we have had enough of flowers and fighting off selfie sticks in our path and we head back to get ready for our next flight to Hoi An. If there’s a time to go to Ho Chi Minh City it must be Tet as we found the city completely comfortable, no crowds and no traffic and it appeared the pickpockets had gone home to the countryside to show off their new found wealth.
Debs and Steve
Time to hop in our taxi transfer from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. You can go various ways and prices, from flying, taxi or the Giant ibis which looks surprisingly good for $10.
We are taking one of the staff with us too, so she can visit her family for the day or should we say a few hours, as the journey is 6hrs there and another 6hrs back but about the only time she can visit due to work. Generally the staff all work away from home and only get back to see family once a year.
On route along the only main road, you see so many sites. A man on a motorbike with two live pigs tied on, various people going the wrong way up the road, lorries over flowing with people and last but not least kids of about 6 to 8 years old riding motorbikes along the main carriage ways. It’s an interesting ride and we choose to stop for lunch at Skuon, aka Spider town. We have a good look around but can’t bring ourselves to buy spiders or any of the other insect snacks and instead buy pineapple and sweet potato crisps. Little do we know that someone in the car has……. So once on route we get to try Tarantulas, Steve manages a leg and Deb eats legs and a bit of body but can’t manage any more!
We say goodbye to the guys and settle into our hotel. Phnom Penh is hot, sticky and rather smelly.. Our reason for coming is to visit S21 and the Killing Fields and learn what went on 1st hand during the Khmer Rouge Rule.
You soon notice how poor Cambodia is, if you stop and take a look around. 70% of the population are under 36 and hardly any wear glasses as they can’t afford them. Deb noticed this early on as drivers seem to drive slow and over careful, thankfully our 6hr taxi driver did wear glasses.
Something that very much surprised us in Phnom Penh was the amount of older white men and young Cambodian women, far far higher than we have seen anywhere in our travels, along with a huge red light area. Get your accommodation wrong here and you will know about it! We spend a few nights feeling like odd ones out in restaurants, the only couple amongst a load of old fat single guys with big ears!
Everyone else has these romantic dreams of sitting by the Mekong or going on a cruise along it.. In Phnom Penh you can pay the $18 each and do just that through the rubbish and dirty water whilst sucking in fumes from the boat engine. The people are busy fishing, foraging and using the water to make a living.
Advice is to do the museum 1st, we hire a tuk tuk for the afternoon and go off to the museum called S21, previously a school, where the Khmer Rouge over took and used as a secret prison and torture centre. The story of the Khmer Rouge is truly horrific. Make sure you buy the audio tour as it will enhance your visit.
The museum has real photos of real people who never made it through the camp and some photographs of the horrid torture they went through. During the rule of the Khmer Rouge, over 3 million died, this equates to 1 in 4 people and anyone with an education were the 1st to die. Of the 20,000 people that are recorded as going through S21 only 7 survived.
As we walked out to the exit there were two of the survivors selling their stories in a paperback and art work. This was such a hard thing to see, really puts a lump in your throat.
Next up was the killing fields, an execution centre and mass grave site was found. After seeing S21 then going to here to see the final destination of the poor people and hearing further awful stories that we won’t go into.
Time in Phnom Penh was short as we only stayed 3 days, luckily for us we had a nice small hotel to disappear back to 5 mins walk from the noise and mucky river but also close enough to everything. We struggled to find it on arrival as it was up an alley but once inside it really was a little oasis of calm and had only been open 3 months.
You have to watch yourself in Phnom Penh, there are so many little barefoot dirty kids running around smiling with big eyes asking everyone for 1 dollar. Don’t give in to it, here is a thought to leave you with, everytime you part with a dollar it’s another day that the kids parents don’t wash or cloth these children. The average hospitality worker who brings you your meal and beer earns on average $3 a day, a modern new build one bedroom apartment in the very best part of town costs $6300 to buy. If you have money to give away, make sure you give it to the right places.
Cambodia has a long journey ahead and so much help is needed there, the aftermath of war and genocide really has taken a toll on the country. If you are in the area, put it on the list to really understand what we mean.
As we walk back to our hotel to pack up, Steve spots a UK plated van and we start to wonder how it managed to get here? Lo and behold the owners arrive and we start chatting. Turns out these guys retired early, sold their home and bought the van to drive around the world but were currently unable to get into Thailand as the rules had changed again meaning the van was not allowed to cross the border.
Also time for Steve to say bye bye to the Cambodian Crocodiles and move on to our next stop, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Debs and Steve
We arrive at the airport in Siem Reap, Cambodia and are picked up free of charge by some more smiley people as part of the hotel package.
It’s not far from the airport and slightly outside of the town but close enough to be in town in 10 minutes by the hotel free shuttle.
The Flourishing Spa is our base for the week to explore the temples of Angkor Wat and have a relaxing bit of down time from the constant moving around from place to place.The hotel is perfect and the room lovely. How did we end up here? Having spent much time googling places to stay we have come to realise that although Trip Advisor is a good guide to look at hotel reviews, it is far from the best at supporting the new and up and coming businesses due to the way it seems to work out the scores and ranking.
You can be a great new hotel but fall very low on the rankings as you don’t have enough reviews, so we have started to look at accommodation differently to ensure something good doesn’t get missed just because it’s new. The room was beautiful and so well designed, we even have a private little garden and our bathroom looks on to it. The pool was gorgeous too and just lovely to come back to after a dusty day in temples and town, we can thoroughly recommend it.
Deb starts by planning our days out to ensure Steve doesn’t get completely bored looking at temple after temple. There are more than 1000 temples, built between the 9th and 13th centuries, so where do you start? Deb starts by reading a lot of blogs on the subject and starts a list to see what comes out the most appealing and comes out with a plan.
You can pick up lots of tours of the temples but end up doing certain circuits and with herds of people meaning you miss so much and see just the usual stuff.
We opt for a 3 day pass, valid over a week. Our tickets cost $40 each but we didn’t realise just how lucky we were as the private company has just been taken over by the government and ticket prices rise in Feb 2017.
Starting February 1, 2017, the cost of the one day pass will increase to $37, from the current $20 and a three day pass to $62, from the current $40.
That’s a lot of cash when you think that in 2016 2.2 million visitors came through the gates and in 1993 only 7650 were recorded.
Our hotel arranged us a tuk tuk for the day or half day and we chose the “Bespoke Millies Tour” as below. We may not have seen all 1000 temples but it’s a cross section of different types and styles without getting bored.
Day 1 Tuk Tuk
04.30am pickup, go and buy your 3 day pass.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat, it was OK, but it is so busy with people. Soon as you have seen enough, head to the back of the temple and go backwards to everyone else, it’s then much quieter and you get photos without people in them and the monkeys haven’t woken up yet. If you’re not an early morning person you could skip it and see it later in the morning once the wave of sunrisers have left.
Then straight to a couple of temples with a jungle book feel, Prah Kha and Ta Prohm, roots of trees growing through them, as it’s still early and you are ahead of the bus groups you get a better look around then back to your hotel early afternoon.
Day 2 Tuk Tuk
12.00pm pick up from hotel and go straight to Banteay Srei, it’s a way out from the rest of the temples but worth seeing, the carvings are amazing and so detailed and the journey there is interesting as you get to see a bit of real life. Sad that many of the people out here are just so poor when you think of the amount of money flowing into Angkor Wat.
Transfer to Ta Som, a nice place to take a photo of a tree through a gateway and super quite. You won’t spot it at 1st just keeping walking and turn around.
Then off to Pre Rup, good views from up high but get your head for heights on. The stone steps are very steep, Deb is not one for heights so didn’t look back or go close to the unbarried edges up top and couldn’t go back down the same way as she got a bit stuck looking downwards but don’t worry, there is a set of wooden steps with hand rails at the back of the temple..Much better. Then it’s time to return for the evening and off on the free shuttle to town for dinner in Pub Street with beer at just 50 cents.
Day 3 Tuk Tuk
If you fancy another early morning you can see sunrise at Prasat Kravan, we were going to do this but forecast was not so good so had a lay in instead in our super cosy bed.
14:30 off to Terrace of Elephants and Terrace of the Leper king, take your time here. So many people skip through with a quick look, make sure you go into the terrace as inside are some amazing well preserved carvings. As you keep walking you arrive at Banyon, you should get there just as the sun casts some lovely light on the many faces of the towers, in fact there are over 2000 large faces carved on the 54 towers and also some superb carvings too.
If the weather is good then take yourself to Bakheng for sunset before return to hotel.
Steve’s favourite temple was Banyon for the faces and Debs was the amazing carvings of Banteay Srei.
The rest of the days are spent chilling, eating and people watching in town. Our biggest surprise was the amount of middle aged travellers over here.
Time to now head off to Phnom Penh to visit S21 and the Killing Fields.
Debs and Steve
We are met by our second guide, San, in Vientiane airport and start straight on a tour at 08:00 as our hotel check in is not until 14:00.
Our guide is an ex monk.. Although we learn alot from him, Deb and Steve quickly get bored of his bossiness and the lines that started with “Buddha says” and “sit here and listen, then you can take photos”
He then goes on to tell us about not being able to have children but by the end of our 2 days, Steve enjoys having great fun with him. Turns out day one was a rushed tour because he and his wife are trying for a baby and he had to rush home because it “was time” By day two Steve has taught him new English words, revolving around ovulation. San was going home to tell his wife she was ovulating and that they are trying to conceive.
We found ourselves in Vientiane as Deb wanted to see the Buddha Park. It’s about 45 mins from the centre and was built by a man in 1958. It’s an interesting place and even Steve liked it as he had already over loaded on Buddhist temples and really didn’t want to see more, although this one is different and interesting.
Upon returning to the hotel we chill out as we’ve been up since 5am to catch the flight down south. In the evening we wander to the night market, very busy and just full of the usual tourist rubbish, street food was limited so we walked back and had dinner in our hotel.
Happy Birthday Deb, 16th Jan and what do you do on your birthday in Laos? Well you start by checking your guide had a “good night” Wink, Wink.
Then you pop off to a lovely temple and get to make a wish and bong the gong inside a big temple. Rather intimidating having people and monks watching you.
Next you go to COPE (Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise) which is the main source of artificial limbs, walking aids and wheelchairs in Laos. Unexploded weapons still litter the countryside as a result of the Vietnam War and continues to injure and maim thousands of people in Laos. Well worth a visit, free and it’s very interesting to see and read about.
Last stop is lunch at Makphet, a restaurant run to help Street kids get a career in the hospitality industry. Food service is a bit hit and miss, well they are in training. Steve enjoys his lunch and then about half an hour later Deb enjoys hers, our guide jumps about behind Deb and Steve hasn’t a clue what he’s on about but says yes.
Soon the guide returns and all the staff come out of the kitchen singing happy birthday with a great big creamy cake. We have a piece and then let the staff share the rest, so sweet.
We go back to the hotel and relax, then start planning the next part of our journey when there is a knock on the door and the staff of the hotel are all at the door singing happy birthday with another big creamy birthday cake. Traveling is never going to make us thinner, cakes, beer because it’s cheap than water, me thinks we need to join a gym when we get home. Vientiane is really only a one day stop as there’s not much to do, so if you don’t have time you could easily give it a miss.
Next morning it’s up at five again to catch the next flight to Pakse, we arrive in the airport and meet guide number three, surprisingly he also says just call me San. This time we have a guide who practices Animism and Hinduism so get another perspective of the temples and religion. Just two temples here as we have come to visit 4000 islands and the nature.
As we arrive super early again, the tour starts at a local market, the smell…… Not something easily forgotten. You name it you can get it, fermented fish, dry fish, half live fish, fried fish stomach, raw fish complete with flys. Apparently chewing a stick of raw dried buffalo skin is rather nice too! We could go on but won’t. Then it’s a quick temple stop to re-hear another version of the story of Buddha, amazing just how many different interpretations there are?
Then we trundle off to Muang Champasak to go and see a temple ruin Vat Phou, believed to be earlier than Angkor Wat. It has very few tourists and has a rather interesting tale to tell, right down to the pre-Angkorian human virgin sacrifices. This place was so warm, there was no breeze. Now we know why our guide has a girly umbrella with him. If you look around carefully you can see carvings found no where else in Angkor depicting Krishna ripping someone called Kamsa apart.
Ask Steve about carvings in South Laos, he can tell you all about the Hermits and Indra riding an elephant. It had become the standing joke between Deb and Steve, our guide would spend most of the day saying “Steven, look at the hermit, Steven look at Indra riding the elephant” He seemed to be stuck on repeat.
We look at the time and realise why we are flagging and feeling a bit shabby, it is 14:00. We go off to find lunch at a restaurant over looking the river and then back to the hotel for a snooze. There aren’t many hotels around here, our room is huge and rustic, we have an outside shower and no hot water, what we think are bats in the roof, bed was very very small and last but not least the fastest WiFi yet, how does that happen?
Next day we have recovered and are up and ready for a day on the Mekong exploring the 4000 Islands, where the river becomes 14 kilometers wide. Opposite the hotel is our boat driver waiting to take us to meet our guide on the other side of the river bank. As we drift across you see the river in full use. Where else do you see a lorry crossing like this?
Once we land we transfer to a mini bus for a 2 hour drive to Ban Nakasang to take a boat to Don Knone. About half an hour in, the van has a blow out, the remolded tyre completely comes apart. Luckily we are all safe and have a replacement, another bus stops to help put out the eco friendly warning triangle which consists of 3 piles of branches laid along the road. Eventually the wheel is off, the herd of cows has gone by and we set off again, then we stop again to push the bumper back up, go again, stop again to screw the spare tyre bracket back in, then finally are on route!
We arrive at the next boat and hop on and down river to Don Knone, passing loads of tiny islands and grazing buffalo on route.
We arrive at a lovely island with stilted houses and locals in abundance, our tuk tuk driver is waiting and off we go down a bumpy track to take yet another boat to go and seek the Mekong river dolphin or Irrawaddy dolphin, which in Oct 2016 has been classified “functionally extinct” in Laos as there are only 3 left and no breeding pairs.
Are we lucky enough to see one? Of course we are, feeling very privilaged and not going too close, we do see one and get a picture of a hump, more that most people will ever do. Local word is that the dolphins have been killed by the illegal fishing technique of electrocution of the water to get lots of fish but this in turn just kills everything.
On our return we have lunch at a riverside restaurant and enjoy watching the locals going about their business, kids practicing for the local dragon boat races and everyone using the disused railway track as a crossing over the river. Our guide, keen to learn new English words takes a few more lessons from Steven the teacher, wanting to know the word for the big lorries of gravel that are being used to make new roads. “Hardcore?” This english word has many meanings, yes? Says San..Next new English word he learns from us is “impressive” Then everything we visit he says, “this is impressive,yes” 10/10 for wanting to learn English. Next question from him was, don’t you BBQ crows in England? We had some intresting chats as the journey continues.
Back out into nature we go and off to visit Lippi Falls, interesting place that holds a sort of mysticism for the Lao people who believe the falls capture evil spirits. There is also a tree that used to sit on a rock in the waterfall, the country saw this tree as sacred and when it finally fell into the water the Laos goverment brought a helicopter and rescue team to pull it out and it now sits in a temple by the falls so people can still come and worship it.
The falls are beautiful and rather mesmerising and if your crazy enough you can always have a go at canoeing the rapids? When we were there, we watch the guys shooting down and bobbing back up somewhere else.
Soon we are back on the mainland and off to see another waterfall, The Khone Falls are the largest in SE Asia and are the main reason that the Mekong is not fully navigable into China. There are thousands of small islands and countless waterways as far as you can see, hence the name ‘The 4,000 islands’.
To end our beautiful day out Deb slips on the boat and slides a lovely old nail into her knee and peels off a bit of skin and cuts and grazes another bit. Dr Debs 1st Aid kit to the rescue again. After a rinse in freshly opened clean bottled water, sterilisation of a pair of tweezers then unpick the skin that’s rolled inside the cut, a squeeze of anti bacteria cream, a couple of butterfly stitches, a non stick sterilised pad we are all sorted and ready to go to dinner. That’s one all now due to Steve slipping on mud in The Philippines whilst avoiding bikes and super pickup trucks and leaving a tasty bit of finger in a dirty puddle for the bugs.
Time to catch the next flight off to Cambodia,
Speak again soon,
Debs and Steve
We land at Luang Prabang after a very surprising flight experience with Lao Airlines. The flight was only 45 mins but the service was brilliant, we got a drink and a snack on route and it was better than a normal british airways flight and the flight was almost empty too.
We had arranged a guide for part of our stay in Laos and San was ready and waiting to collect us and take us to our 1st hotel over looking the night market.
Little did we know that “San” seems to be the name of all our tour guides in Laos?
Our room is lovely albeit a bit noisy but we are only in the hotel for 2 nights and over look the night market, before heading to a quieter area just down the road.
We unpack and go off to explore.
The market is full of a mix of stuff, some you see everywhere in Asia and others are things made by the locals and tribes people. Many restaurants seem to have a lot of french influence, there are alot of French patisseries and French wines, even gluten free options, if you are prepared to spend the money.
Steve and Deb thought better of this and went off to find the little alleyways of street food. Crammed into a little tiny alley were loads of meat and fish all waiting to be bought, then reheated by barbecue and consumed at small benches next to huge stalls of salad bowls of assorted vegetables we didn’t recognise.
After a chat about do we risk it, Steve and Deb go for it. 2 big bottles of Laos beer, Deb goes for a whole chicken and we mean whole, head, feet and all. Yes she even tried chicken brain, whilst Steve went for a sensible chicken breast. Yes we survived but next day after seeing it in daylight we would most probably not have taken the risk…..
After a very noisy night of ladies who cook coconut pancakes near our hotel, singing badly whilst packing up in the early hours of the morning and the street cleaners coming along to get everything cleaned up before 06:00 am. We wake up and see where we are. Deb just loves arriving places when it’s dark so you get a nice surprise in the morning, good or bad. Today is a good morning, the area is lovely and 1st impressions of Luang Prabang are good.
After breakfast it’s a wander around the streets. We are close to the old town and people are busy doing what they do. The monks are nothing like Thailand, they appear to be very local and much more natural in the way they live. If you want to photograph monks going about their day to day business this is the place to come.
BUT if there is one thing to say about this, it has to be PLEASE DON’T get up early to see the Monks Alms via a tour. Deb got up to go and have a peep at the daily ceremony when the monks get given food by the locals and get a blessing and was truly horrified by the lack of respect by tourists.
All standing close up, in the way, grabing Monks to take selfies with them, flashing in the faces of everyone, big video cameras.. Awful, people be respectful, this is not a tourist show, it’s real life!! If you want to see this, walk away and view from other parts of the village. Alms goes on from many temples all around Luang Prabang, you can stand on the other side of the road and just quietly watch it take place and take photos without a flash.. Rant over! You only need to ask nicely and monks are happy to smile for a photo.
Lunch is in a local resturant everyone raves about called Tamarind, personally Deb really wasn’t fussed apart from the Luang Prabang Sausage, traditional Laos food was not so tasty. Steve being a man, soon munched his way through everything.
We soon find ourselves at the spot that becomes “our local” with a lovely view over a river that flows into the Mekong. Coffee is cheap and the Laos coffee is extremely good and the service nice and friendly. Laos is full of surprises, Luang Prabang is a super place. Not sure what we expected but it has no one hassling you to buy anything, people are lovely, it’s clean and tidy, chilled and even has a very french feel. Definitely recommend.
We transfer to our new colonial style hotel in the old town, that sits just opposite a beautiful temple and go off to visit some temples with our guide who is from a local tribe called the hmong hill people. Temples here are just so much nicer, not so gold and just small donation boxes asking for donations to help with electricity for lighting. We visit Wat Xieng Thong which is one of the most important of Lao monasteries.
At 16:00 the gong sounds for ten minutes to call the monks to prayer. This is a great photo opportunity as you can see the monks popping out from everywhere to go pray, our favourite spot was down by the river where, if your lucky you can see the monks crossing the river.
Next day we travel into the jungle to The Kuang Si Falls, a bear sanctuary and a butterfly farm.
Picnics don’t get much better than this! Best view for a lunch time stop, the waterfall is so so blue, nature can make some great things.
We take a hike to the top, Deb and Steve now look like they have been swimming fully clothed, it’s so so hot and humid. It’s dry season now but as soon as the rain starts most is pretty impassable and the leeches come out. Once you get to the top the view is amazing and the water source is a natural spring that just flows and tips over the edge like an infinity pool. If you fancy it you can walk into the water and look over the edge by standing on a bamboo platform and looking down… It’s a long long way down…
On route back to the car park you walk through the bear sanctuary, the bears look so happy and healthy. Most have been rescued from the Chinese as they want them for their bile to make medicine and then it’s off to the butterfly farm.
Deb has a natural fish foot spa in a free flowing river whilst the butterflies flutter around her head all for the handsome price of nothing.
On our final day in Luang Prabang we take the boat up to another respected holy site, Pak Ou Caves, dating back thousands of years it’s a cave in the rocks packed with over 4,000 Buddha icons and a shrine to the river spirit.
Whilst the cave is small and very busy the boat trip up the Mekong is beautiful and a relaxing ride. We stop at the local whisky making village and check out bottles of pickled snakes, bear paws, scorpions and insects all used by shamans to help cure ailments of everything from headaches to infertility.
We decline some dodgy snake wine and instead sample some local black rice wine, then Deb is a sucker for a scarf hand weaved by a young girl in the village, well it was only a few dollars. We notice that wildlife along the bank is pretty sparse and after further investigation this turns out to be because the locals have pretty much eaten anything that moves, rats, birds, insects so the food pyramid has disappeared.
Final stop is a climb up to the view point over the town before packing up to go visit, what we are told is one of the smallest capitals in the world, Vientiane.
Debs and Steve
Off to the markets we go to have a look around and find something to eat. Chiang Mai is an easy place to get around.
We find the night market and manage to tuck into some local street food for about £2.00 for two, then take a wander back passing through what we called ting tong alley or lady boy land. Presumably the red light area and full of contractors and a random selection of western people and all the burger and chips you can eat!
Next day we are booked into a thai cooking class, they pick us up and off we go with 6 other people. Amazing, nearly everyone we met were lucky enough to have got extended leave from work of about 12 weeks to be able to travel and they thought it was great that we were brave enough to actually give up work to follow our dream and have enough courage to know we can find new jobs when we return back to the UK in March. Wonder where we will end up, seems a long time away but it will soon come around.
Steve has a great time showing off his cooking skills and giving Deb an excuse when they get home to say “it’s your turn to cook tonight.”
Next morning we are up earlier to catch our ride to Chiang Rai to see the White Temple and Golden Triangle. We did contemplate an overnight stay but since our hostel was good and cheap we went for the 14 hr minibus trip. Just as well as Chiang Rai town looked ok but nothing special.
On route we stop for a comfort break at a warm natural spring. So natural the geyser is powered by pump, yes crazy tourists, if you don’t believe us just take a look when you pass back at night as it’s been switched off!
The White Temple is amazing, built by a guy who is still alive and he spends all his time still extending it. Should be finished in about 90 years. When we were there he was giving a talk that looked very light hearted as everyone was laughing but we didn’t have a clue what he was saying?
It’s a modern interpretation of Buddhism and really worth going to see. The only gold here is the toilet block, yes this really is a toilet block and representing the greed of mankind.
There aren’t loads of donation boxes and he self funded the build so he doesn’t have to comply to the wishes of those donating. He will accept money but only small amounts. As you walk over the bridge you look down and see hundreds of hands reaching up, these are hands of men and if you look carefully the hand of a woman with a red finger nail. Apparently this is because it is more men who want the power and to get to the top and most women are more caring and kind.
You cannot take photos inside due to the exquisite art work by Chalermchai Kositpipat as he does not want it copied. It was amazing and so detailed, very modern, it depicted all the bad things in the world. There was an American president sat on top of a rocket flying through the air, the twin towers on fire, batman and robocop standing by being fake super heros. He questions the world’s lack of real heros, as there are no super heros to save mankind from themselves. Pop stars, mobile phones and corporate brands all trying to make you desire possessions over being kind and thoughtful. It’s very modern and some people really didn’t like it.
Next we travel to a hill side tribe called the Karen people. You will have seen these people in photos, ones with long necks and brass rings around them. No photos here as this is an awful tourist place that is a tat market of so called dressed up tribe people selling, so called handmade items that just happen to be the same as all other markets. If you want to see the long necked people its an extra cost. Did Deb and Steve want to see kids forced to wear brass rings to help make money.
No thank you!! We quickly left.
On to the golden triangle where three country borders meet, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. It used to be one of the largest opium areas in Asia but now it’s just tourist central. The views are good and if you like you can take the boat trip to Laos but we are going to the country later so no need to waste our money now.
Final part of the trip is to the boarder control into Myanmar, just a quick stop to see the boarder crossing and see just how poor the country is compared to Thailand. These guys were fishing in the river, not sure what they thought they were going to catch in the filthy river?
Then it was time to zoom back and we mean ZOOM..Our driver was weaving and dodging and over taking on bends but we make it back safe and sound.
Then it’s Sunday. If you are planning to come to Chiang Mai try and plan a Sunday night here. There is a big local night market and it actually sells real hand made local crafts and real genuine pieces of art. Must be good as even the locals are seen shopping here.
What no tales of the elephants we hear you say. That’s what Chiang Mai is famous for? Once you have seen elephants in the wild, you will understand why we did not entertain seeing these majestic creatures in captivity. Just think before you want to go ride one or want to treat it like a pet.
No sooner than we arrive it is time to leave the crazy people of Chiang Mai and the very heavy pollution. If you’re a sufferer of chest problems make sure you bring your inhaler and wear a mask. Deb spent most of her time here annoying Steve with the super asian pollution cough, it was delightful! Now time for our flight to Luang Prabang in Laos and no this is not Steve, he hasn’t changed this much. 😂
Debs and Steve
We arrive in Bangkok and head to our hotel ready to see in The New Year.
1st thing you notice about Thailand is the amount of black and white fabric draped everywhere and huge pictures of the king who had passed away in 2016 or as called in Thailand 2559. We knew Thailand was in a year of mourning but did not expect to see so much black everywhere. You cannot go anywhere without seeing the respect for the king. In an average kilometer you see maybe 7 or 8 large shrines to him. They are outside all the company’s buildings and inside the lobbys. It’s amazing the time and effort everyone has put in to it. Even the televisions have a broadcast on it every 20 mins or so.
We get to our hotel after our delayed flight in the early hours of the morning and take a peek on the balcony to see we have a lovely temple view. Little do we know that the excitement of the 1st temple will soon drift off. We knew there were alot but Steve got templed out pretty quick with Deb following slowly behind. There are just so many temples everywhere that you have to pick just a couple to look at.
Bangkok is just our mini stop for New Years Eve. During the day we spend our time evading the tourist scams and are disappointed that we don’t get to zoom around in a tuk tuk. Seriously, if you want to save money just take a taxi. The tuk tuks charge on average 4 times more than the cost of a taxi, it’s got A/C and you don’t have to breath in the pollution!
Did we manage to dodge all the scams? Nearly, just over paid for 2 bottles of water, instead of 7 bhat each we paid 15 bhat as it was late and we were so thirsty. Watch yourselves out there, those friendly people trying to help you on the streets seem to always be in the same spot, it’s not a coincidence ????
New Years Eve is spent in Khao San road with buckets of rum and cokes and watching the strangest of people. Steve doing the usual dodgy dancing and Deb doing some rather bad singing but this year no fireworks? Out of respect to the king, fireworks had been banned!
Then it’s time to head off to Chiang Mai to see why everyone raves about it.
First we stay just outside Chiang Mai for three days to chill out after The New Year and do a bit of reflecting and planning the next part of the adventure. We pick an Airbnb called Monkey House. We are met at the airport and whisked off to the country side. We open our door to an amazing room. The biggest bath we have ever had. How Deb has been missing a lovely bubbly bath and the bed so soft and comfortable we sleep really well.
This was better than most of the 5 star places we had stayed in the past. The owner of The Monkey House was born in the year of the monkey hence the name and also had a business club for the locals called the Monkey Club. He also has an organic farm, surprisingly this is called Monkey Farm! True local entrepreneur, although he knew nothing about opening a hotel and the marketing, he set to it as he had built a beautiful new home with a dream for his whole family to come live with him but they all had other plans.
May 2016 they opened the doors to guests. Beautiful place and lovely kind staff.. This place came in over our room budget but we make up for it by staying in a hostel for the preceding nights in the centre of Chiang Mai and it was well worth every penny.
Whilst here we took a Songthaew (local red bus) up to the famous temple on the hill, Wat Phra That Soi Suthep and got blinded by a huge amount of gold (and sadly, way too many donation boxes!)
Now it’s sad face time as we have to leave Monkey House and find out what’s in store at the hostel we have booked in Chiang Mai.
Monkey House are such lovely people that they run us into town and drop us off to the hostel.
The Sabia hostel is located in a quiet spot in town and the ensuite room is much bigger than expected for only £10.00 each. The tip to get the best rate in Asia is to look it up on the big hotel booking web sites and then go direct. We on average seemed to be able to save between 20% to 30% by doing this.
Time to do a super wash of clothes and turn our room into a chinese laundry. Last time we used a local laundry and they obviously thought that because we were British that we liked cheddar cheese as all the clothes came back smelling rather cheesy. Yuk.
Debs and Steve
2 flights later and we are in Bohol just off Panglao Island.
We drop Nikki off to check into her hostel, Full Moon, then it’s off down a few dirt tracks to our hotel, Scent of Green Papaya. As the saying goes, never judge a book by it’s cover. We turn down a bumpy road covered in tatty signs.
A few minutes later we end up in a beautiful place that is to be home for Christmas with Nikki joining for Christmas and Boxing day and are greeted by the smiliest and friendliest customer service team and a really reasonably priced room with all the modern comforts.
We settle in and catch the free tricycle/bus ride provided by the hotel and pick Nikki up on route and in 5 minutes we are at Alona Beach. Beautiful relaxed resort with reasonably priced restaurants and fresh fish on display ready to choose from . You can pretty much walk the beach in 20 minutes. The atmosphere is relaxed and homely and massages on the beach are in abundance, so Nikki and Deb slip off to get a massage and Steve goes off for a wander.
The beach has nice soft sand and the water is warm, there are designated areas for swimmers who don’t fancy having to dodge boats. We spend most of our time on Alona beach and in the pool, well it is Christmas. When things get too hot it’s time to slip into the Buzzz Cafe, with a choice of air conditioned room or covered terrace.
The view is straight on to the beach and the lovely blue sky. Prices on this beach are good and it feels alot more local, apart from the hideous Hennan Resort Hotel that seem to have a monopoly over getting approval to knock down local buildings to build jumbo hotels at all the best beaches in the Philippines.
Christmas eve is spent touring with a private driver and car for £40 for 8 hours, he will take us wherever we want to go.
Off we set and pop in to say hi to our drivers family as he has to drop off a pig for their Christmas dinner. His kids were so cute 😍
1st stop is the Corella Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary, these creatures are just so cute. An endangered species who’s bloodline apparently go back as far as 45 million years. They are nocturnal primates and have a brain that is not as big as one of their eye balls.
If these over sensitive creatures get stressed they commit suicide by banging their tiny head against trees until they fall off the tree and die on the ground. There are various places you can see them but check the place out 1st. Some cage them and place them on trees for visitors. They are territorial and always like to return to the same place to sleep during the day so our guide could spot them easier and mobiles can zoom in to take a picture as they sit fairly low, but remember no flashing, how would you like a flash in the eye if your eyeball was bigger than your brain!
2nd stop was to take a look at the boat trip up Loboc river. Pretty much a 1 hour tourist load you on, give you a buffet lunch and return you back, so we declined as it was more than a fresh fish and prawn meal with drinks whilst sat on the beach watching the sun go down, having been to Costa Rica it was never going to match a boat ride in the jungle canals!
3rd stop is to visit the Chocolate Hills, Nikki hires a quad bike and Deb and Steve opt for an ATV.
The Chocolate Hills are a natural phenomenon of 1268 hills that are made from deposits of coral, so global warming and sea levels rising? How come these are in the middle of the island then..We would love someone to answer this question?
The views are amazing, we did try for sunset but the clouds came along and then the rain appeared so time to return back to the hotel and our poor driver had a 2 hour bike ride in the rain to get home. We couldn’t help but give our driver a super christmas present of 2 days of his wages to help him give his family an even better christmas than they had already planned. He was so so grateful and really didn’t want to except it until we persuade him.
Then it was Christmas day.
What do you do in the Philippines on Christmas day? Well you start with a lovely breakfast at the Green Scent of Papaya served by super smiley people, then off to the beach for a swim followed by a nap in the sand. Once we are all too hot and probably a bit pink, time to cool off in the pool and read a book.
The evening comes and we go off to town for a traditional lechon (Suckling Pig) a tribal show and treat ourselves to a bottle of imported wine. All priced at about a quarter of the price of christmas day english roast with no entertainment or drinks.
We weren’t disappointed, we had a great time. Fireworks, all evening long show and a boogie with the locals to finish the evening.
Next day Nikki disappeared off to stay at Loboc river at Fox & The Firefly Cottages then meet us back at the airport in a couple of days. She spends her days paddle boarding the river up to a waterfall and waiting until night fall to paddle off to see the fireflys and lay on her board bobbing in the river watching the bright stars in the unpolluted black skys.
Meanwhile, Deb and Steve take the easy option and take a boat ride to another part of the island to go and find the fireflys… Beautiful, trees covered in sparkling, twinkling insects. Such a shame you can’t take photographs that are worth showing to anyone.
After an evening at the hotel where one of the staff does a parting gift of a great fire show, it’s time to get up and leave the lovely hotel and staff to continue onwards to our next stop over in Manila before Nikki flys back to Yangon to meet up with her boyfriend from the UK and we head off to Thailand.
Debs and Steve
Following our minibus ride from Puerto Princesa we arrive at El Nido feeling rather over jiggled and arrive at our guest house, it has a great view and a nice chill out bar but the rooms leave a bit to be desired, very average and the double bed was tiny, even for us! Talking to people in resort it seems it’s hard to get anywhere very good to stay.
Although El Nido is marketed as one of the top destinations in the world, 1st impressions aren’t that good. The beach is full of rubbish and a lot of broken glass, you can’t walk barefoot. Tricycles and motorbikes seem to use the best bit of the beach as a short cut.
Off we go to look for a place to eat. The food looks good and you really can eat right on the beach front. We started the night with happy hour before taking our spot in a seafood resturant. The fish and prawns were really fresh.
This place is the 1st time we’ve encountered kids begging. Throughout the Philippines the kids have just been happy to see you and wave at you, here they have learnt tourists mean money which is a real shame.
Next morning we are off on a boat trip, we didn’t book prior to arrival because if the weather is no good and you have already paid you don’t get a refund. We simply got up and grabbed one on the day. Lucky for us we ended up on a good boat with plenty of shade and a great crew, J and JR were our hosts. Get it wrong and you get an awfully small boat, no shade, no life jackets, rubbish food and have to tentivley skirt the rocks as it’s rather choppy and we noticed the small boats can’t cope with the swell.
We went on tour A, small lagoon, big lagoon, secret lagoon and should have gone to a snorkeling area but the water was too rough. You need to be happy on the water as just getting to the boat has you wading up to chest height, with your bag over your head and the waves are pulling you back and forth. Once on the trip you stop at various locations. You then understand why everyone rates El Nido!
7 Commandos Beach.
Pretty gorgeous beach. You get 45 mins to chill with a coconut drink or swim. #nofilter
The rock formations and lagoon are simply beautiful. The sea really is this clear and blue. If you are not afraid of jelly fish stings you can swim in the lagoon but we saw alot floating about, tiny and bigger. You do have to pay an extra 400 PHP for a kayak for 3 but it’s worth it.
We also stopped here for a lovely lunch on the boat. Getting into the small lagoon is pretty congested as it only a small gap but it takes you into the tranquil lagoon, so mind your head!
This was a bit scary, the sea was rough and the boat struggled to get very close to the bay due to the swell and rocks in the cove. If you are not very confident it’s not a good idea to get off as the secret lagoon is a bit boring. It’s just a small opening in the rocks that you climb through that takes you into a murky pool.
It’s hard to get into and the waves push you into the rocks. Deb struggled to get through and couldn’t help but laugh and what a site the other passengers had to endure. Middle aged women, slightly chubby in a bikini trying to wedge herself through the hole in the rocks. No photos here!! We had 5 minutes on the beach and then a super swim back to the boat.
Half way back on our swim to the boat, it gets tangled with another boat and we have to tread water and fight the waves whilst the crews move back and forth to try and release them. Ours has to pull back out towards the sea and we are left trying to swim against the tide.. Crew were brilliant and very conscientious. They helped pull the people in life jackets to the boat while the rest of us swam over.
We pull up amongst loads of boats and it’s time to swim or kayak again. After the last stop people were a bit apprehensive. Some took kayaks but Deb, Steve and Nikki were heros and swam. In parts of the 2km swim you could stand in places until you got closer then it drops away to 20 meters deep. Snorkeling was good in the shallows but once inside it just became murky. Swimming in the lagoon was a challenge as smaller boats and kayakers were zooming all over the place so you really had to watch yourself.
We had to miss this place during to rough sea but it’s supposed to be great for snorkeling.
Suddenly it was 16:00 and time to go back.
On route back a guy told us about a great place for sunset. So we don’t miss it, still soaking wet we hop on a tricycle and go to Las Cabanas beach… WOW.. Amazing beach bar and view and cheaper drinks. We end up walking along the beach and staying for dinner at a nice restaurant looking like we have just been washed up on the shore from a ship wreak.. We know how to do style!
By the end of the evening we go back to our room and Steve goes on to fight a spider the size of your hand while Nikki continues to party at the El Nido Police station christmas party complete with police cars providing disco lights until 03:00 am
Next day and it’s back to Puerto Princesa to catch our flights out to Bohol for Christmas.
If your going to El Nido and your budget can take it, look to stay out of town and just go in to visit or catch boat trips. There are beautiful beaches and resorts along the coast and on private islands. If you’re backpacking, our daughter stayed in Spin hostel and had a great time. Free cocktail evenings, good atmosphere and breakfast. If they had a private room with ensuite we would have stayed here too!!
We missed Nacpan Beach but if you can fit it in one morning, do the hike up on the hill at the end of the beach as we have been told the views are spectacular but there is a strong rip tide/current if you want to swim so be careful out there. Have lunch in town then take a tricycle to Las Cabanas for the rest of the day and walk down the beach for sunset.You will find cheap happy hour along this beach and a super beach side bar.
Debs and Steve
We make it to Manila after having had our flight cancelled and the flight times changed twice. The Phillipines is a hard place to try and manage the logisitics from A to B. Half of our flights have been cancelled or moved to different times which causes knock on effects to connections, pick ups and hotels. Luckily for us Deb the super planner knew this could happen but not to the extent it has. Deb had tried to arrange flights with contingency to ensure that should this happen we should still be able to be put on a later flight and if early enough maybe squeeze on to the earlier ones.
We make it and our daughter Nikki makes it from Malaysia to get the connections to Palawan. We stay near the airport at Puerto Princesa, sounds like it should be lovely but it’s not! We need to stay over as we have a 6 hour bus journey ahead of us in the morning. Since we started our travel we keep an eye on the latest goverment travel websites and on 23rd Dec, the day after we left, the south of the island became pretty much a no go area as westerners are at risk of being kidnapped.
El Nido better be worth it!
We walk into town from our budget hotel, the Blue Lagoon. The hotel is just a cheap stop over and the town is not much to rave about, market stalls seem to mostly sell toy guns and BB guns that look pretty real, gun culture in kids seems to get promoted here and you’re not sure if the kids have real ones or fake.
Good news is you can get a magnum ice cream for 60 Pesos (£1) when in the UK you are looking at about £2.30 and donuts are just about everywhere!
We walk on down to city baywalk park…. Not a good place, pretty average really but the local kids are all happy enjoying it, smiling and asking us our names. It starts to rain so we take shelter with them, this is not like the rest of Asia we have heard about, none of the kids want anything and are just happy to share the shelter and show us the big christmas tree.
We stop at a bar for a drink as it’s super hot and we walked further than planned. Toilets become “local” a pan and a pot of water to flush it, reasonably clean but full of mosquitoes just as well we are mosquitoe repellent covered as we are in malaria/dengue territory now!
Not to be looking like over uncomfortable tourists we sit and have our drink next to the sign “deadly weapons not allowed” Gosh don’t we feel safe NOT! As we walk back you start to adjust and feel much better, then catch a tricycle back the rest of the way as it’s still raining.
Whilst Nikki pops off to a local bar for a mango shake, we eye up a resturant for the evening. Result, our chosen resturant, Ka Inato turns out to be rather good and cheap, they also employ some local deaf people, Deb has sizzling beef ribs, Nikki grilled chicken and Steve has a crocodile sisig.. Tasted good but no idea what was in it but it must be better than the green hulk burger on offer in the hotel 🤔?
06:00 am and up we get for our 6 hour journey.
After the most erratic 6 hour drive with a guy who couldn’t seem to drive for more than an hour without stopping to meet someone, we finally arrived. The drive is long and there is not much apart from jungle and paddy fields full of rice.
We pass all the other minibuses who had stopped at a rather nice midway stop to end up in a small tatty village in a small cafe, albeit a nice view of the sea but a bit of a smell of sewage. Nice!
We had booked our transfer via the hotel a while back as thought the hotel wouldn’t pick a rubbish transfer as they have a reputation to keep. We were sorely disappointed, anyone reading this who finds themselves going to El Nido, stay away from Lexus tours! Camarih are so much better. Of course, you also have the more local transport, Jeepneys. If you like the adventure, it takes longer and you have a good chance of being held up by bandits that pick on tourists 1st as they are easy rich pickings.
Mini bus costs return to Puerto Princesa -1000/1200 PHP
Local coach without A/C – 500, with A/C – 700 PHP
Jeepney- 200 PHP
Our advice would be to get yourselves out of Puerto Princesa as soon as you can. The locals we spoke to told us that Honda Bay was not worth the boat trip if we were off to El Nido as it’s much better there. You will also be pushed into trying the trip to the caves in Subterranean River National Park, although trip advisor rates it, we met people whose trips were cancelled due to choppy sea and had heard tales that for being hailed one of the new 7 wonders of the world, you could do better but the choice is yours. We chose to spend the money else where!
Off to check out El Nido town and what it has to offer.
Debs and Steve
1 Week into Asia and its off to Carabao Island.
This island is near Boracay just across the sea, it is a small island about mid Philippines. It only has a few hotels, electricity is only on between 14:00 until 06:00, no ATM’s, no one takes credit card and the internet is poor. Sounds idyllic and it was!
Prior to setting off Deb and Steve head off to go to the ATM and get some cash. Small problem?
It’s the weekend, Korean and Tiawainese had cleared the ATM out as you can only get 10, 000 PHP at a time, so they use multiple cards to get more, worth remembering should you want cash at the weekend.
Luckily for us the hotel in Bulabog takes PayPal and we still have the Monday morning before the speed boat comes to collect us from station 1.
We pack up and grab the 1st tricycle we see then head off to D’Mall to go cash hunting. This was an experience, we head off and then realise he had no tricycle number, the guy couldn’t have had a licence as he was blind but he slowly made his way down the alleyways and negotiated all the pot holes like he could see, it did the trick and we got close to the ATM. He had to drop us off close to the main road as he said he would get in trouble with the police if he went any further . As we pulled over and got out the local boys on motorbikes were having a good giggle. Deb turned to them and said were we brave or stupid and made them laugh even more! 😂😂😂
Out boat arrives at 12:00 and off we go.. It looked calm until you get in the open sea.. Turned out to be very wavy. Whilst Deb was enjoying being bounced around and zipping about, Steve really wasn’t so sure but the guy steering certainly new his stuff and negotiated the big swell well.
Within 25 minutes we arrive at Lana Beach and to our beach front apartment and an amazing view that looks just like a postcard! We sit and have a drink and a lovely lunch, prawn cocktails have never tasted so good that Deb decided to have the same for dinner but with the addition of rice. Meanwhile, Steve munches his way through Ronnies special Thai Curry and a beef stir fry. Before we know it it’s dark and we are into our third local beer and rum and coke….Well at £2.80 a round would be rude not to.
So what’s Carabao Island like? Some of the beaches are more coral than sand, much better for beachcombing and shell finding.. The sea is still as blue and clear and the corals are closer to the shore as the beach is not so shallow as Boracay. How many starfish were there, so many everywhere you look at a range of big to small and loads of colours. No product placement here, this was just as it was!
You can sit and watch the locals fishing from their small boats, go kayaking or snorkeling.We even saw the biggest pig on the beach being chased around as the guys try and load him on a boat to take him to market.
The main road is a small concrete path in some places and in others just a muddy track, you really are in the real Philippines.
10 mins walk and you are in rice fields, all the locals seem to own one carabao, a few chickens, goat and pig or wild boar. Although we didn’t do an island tour, you can arrange to buzz around on the back of a motorbike with a local and go to the main town San Jose. We just did a lot of chilling 😎😎😎, swimming and wandering.
Everyone is so happy, they all say hello and the kids all wave at you.. It’s so lovely! We even got invited to join into the locals karaoke at their house. As Debs version of Tom Jones “My Delila” could burst the ear drums of anyone close by we thought it would be best not too..
Strangely we come all the way over here from the UK to be staying on a little know Island and are met by Mark and Amanda from Brighton in the UK who run the hotel and Ronnie the German chef, the owner of the hotel is Norwegian, crazy hey?
The hotel is in a lovely setting, right on the beach front, the price is great (less than an average B&B in the UK) and the most amazing horizon for the sunset, just the place to chill and enjoy the natural local culture.
Off to the airport for another plane to Manila and meet our daughter to fly out to the next island Palawan.
Debs and Steve