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Lasts weeks in Thailand & New Zealand

Ko Pha Ngan, Krabi, Bangkok, Auckland, Whangarei, Paihia & Rotorua

overcast 20 °C

Kia Ora!

I know it’s been quite a while, almost a month since my last post… time is indeed flying! At the moment I'm in Taupo, the largest town near Tongariro National Park. Tomorrow I'm going to do the trans alpine crossing with two French girls I met earlier today. It’s going to be a long day as I have to get up at 5.15 and walk for approximately 8 hours. And as you well know, exercise is not my main hobby! But apparently this crossing is one of the must do's in Kiwiland so I've just stocked up on food and will try to get to bed early. I've never done so much hiking in my life as here in NZ... but it’s wonderful!
Since my arrival in NZ on the 31st of March I've spend a few days in Auckland, two in Whangarei, three in Paihia (Bay of Islands), two in Rotorua and now I'm in Taupo already. A quick summary; Auckland was a nice start! I spend the night in an easygoing hostel in the Parnell neighbourhood, the loveliest in Auckland! I climbed Mt Eden, visisted the Auckland Museum and went to Rangitoto, a volcanic island in the Hauraki Gulf near the town. Fortunately I met a nice French guy in the hostel, Jacques, who’d been in NZ for a while on a work and travel visa and we explored the city together.
After that I spend two days in Whangarei (pronounce Vangarai -- WH is V is Maori), a quiet and slightly boring place, but I had a nice bush/country walk to the local waterfalls and met up with a few other travellers to check the glowworms in the local forest which was very cool! At some point they were spread over de entrance of a small cave, seemed like something out of LOTR! The next day I moved on to Paihia where I met up with Patrick (whom
I know from back home). We travelled around the Bay of Island for a couple of days. Went on a dolphin cruise, saw the Treaty Ground where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, walked around Russell (former hellhole of the Pacific) and viewed another waterfall. The power went off for a couple of hours one evening so we spend the time playing sh*thead with candlelight with a group, which was quite cozy! I'm pretty dimwitted when it comes to cardgames, but surprise, surprise I was actually pretty good at this one, or lucky anyway! After three days Paihia I went on to meet Lennart (friend from AEGEE) in Rotorua to spend the weekend together. He just moved to Auckland and already knew some nice places in Rotorua and could show me around. Haha pretty typical.. I'm travelling the world but I've hardly spend a day not speaking Dutch so far!!
The first full day we went to a local Maori village (Whakarewarewa) and saw some traditional dancing and singing. It was nice but also felt a bit awkward somehow. In addition, a Maori local showed us around the thermal pools they use for cooking food and bathing and we saw the Pohutu geyser erupt! Pretty neat! After that we walked around the bush and found a fast flowing river with some cool waterfalls. When we heard the screaming and laughter from the people rafting on the river we decided to do that too! So this morning we went on the crazy river near Okere Falls and had a huge jump down from the waterfall! Very exting and scary... but great! After that our last stop together (while already on the way to Taupo) were some remote thermal pools and we had a relaxing swim together with two French hitchhikers (Rozann and Agathe) we had just picked up. The water was so warm, a very odd experience! And I’m happy to say not as smelly as most pools near Rotorua … I'm glad to finally breath clean air again! Well, that's as far as my Kiwi experience goes so far. I love it so far! I've never seen such bright greens and blues, it’s definitely a different colour spectrum here. Guess you have to see it to believe it!
Furthermore, I also want to share with you a little about the last two weeks in Thailand. It rained almost the whole time which was very disappointing of course. I'm happy we did have nice weather and endless slumbering on Ko Tao. As we could do so little because of the bad weather we felt even more confronted with our approaching split-up. We had become like an old married couple, worrying immediately if the other was away a little longer than expected haha! After Ko Tao we did a visa run to Burma (a very long boring day) and then turned to Ko Pha Ngan where we stayed in a remote, unfriendly resort (but relatively cheap!) and just went out for food and the Full Moon Party. Most of the time we were reading in bed, eating bad 7/11 food while the rain poured down. It was pretty much the same in Krabi where we spend our last few days together. But the Full Moon Party was nice, it’s absolutely an experience! Drunken en drugged people lying asleep on the beach or going for a swim… we felt underdressed as most party-people had on neon outfits and painted faces! We partied till half past six and then took a bumpy, nauseating ride back to the resort... a once in a lifetime experience! So many people, everybody talking to each other and going crazy, great fun! After Ko Pha Ngan we moved to Ao Nang, a beachside near Krabi which was a bit dull but nice. The weather was the same unfortunately so we couldn't rent a motorbike or spend a day at the beach anymore. On the 27th me and Marije split up and I took a horrifying endless bustrip back to Bangkok. The streets were floated and the driver would not drive on without a full bus making a 9 hour trip into a 14 hour one! I arrived in BK around 1:30 at night and had to look around for a hostel on Khaosan Rd for about an hour. The next two days I walked around town, bought a lonely planet for NZ, shopped, and had time to catch up with Matthias and Jeroen (Groningers me and M. met twice before in Hanoi & Siem Reap). We had some drinks and tried a shisha before saying goodbye on the 30th when I flew via Kuala Lumpur to lovely, sunny Auckland! I won't bore you with any more details, I know this post is way too long already!

x Sanne

Posted by sanneastri 22:49 Archived in New Zealand Tagged islands auckland rotorua of bangkok bay taupo ko paihia ngan ao nang whangarei pha Comments (0)

A Week and Cambodia & Stay on Ko Tao

Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Bangkok, Ko Tao

sunny 35 °C

Hello again!

It’s been nearly a month since my last post from Phu Quoc island, our final stop in Vietnam. After another nauseating boat trip and brief wait at the borderpost Prek Chak we arrived in Cambodia. Our week-long trip through the country started in Sihanoukville on the coast, after a few days we moved on to the capital Phnom Penh and ended in Siem Reap near the legendary Ankor Temples.
At the moment we're on Ko Tao island, a tropical paradise filled with happy tourists riding around on scooters in flip-flops spending every night at the Lotus Bar watching the fire dancers. We ended up partying, swimming, relaxing and we actually did a course and received an open water diving license!
In a few days we have to do a visa run to Burma as it turns out that if you enter Thailand over land you just get a 15-day visa and there is no such thing as a 15 day extension, so we have to cross a border before the 15th and then re-enter the country.
The options were Burma, Laos, and Malaysia. Though we really wanted to stop in Laos at first because of all the überpositive stories, we eventually decided not to spend the largest part of two weeks in a bus. So now we're going to do a one day run to Burma and then extend our visa one day before flying out. After the visa run the plan is to go to Ko Samui and attend the Full Moon Party which takes place on Ko Pha Ngan on the 19th. It feels good that our last few weeks together will be a bit more relaxed and we can actually stay in one place for more than one or two days!
But first, let me elaborate a bit on our week in Cambodia! We really loved it! The sand is reddish everywhere and there is a lot of forestry, little rivers and the people are very friendly. Sihanouk was a bit disappointing, relatively deserted and very dirty everywhere. In addition, after swimming at Phu Quoc the beach was also a bit of a letdown. However, I reckon we also didn't really try to find a nicer beach as we were so exhausted after another horrid boat and bus trip. After walking around a bit and relaxing we left for Phnom Penh after three days. In PP we took the tuk-tuk and did a day trip to the Killing Fields and to the Tuol Sleng Prison. Both stops were interesting and impressive, especially the ground around the monumental stupa where the clothes of the victims still lay scattered all over the property. It seemed so strange that they did not clean it up.
After another day in hot and stuffy PP we went on to Siem Reap where we spend one day in the town itself, scouring the market place and wandering through the residential areas. In Cambodia, at least in the three places we visited, you can find the jungle or the deserted village roads just behind the tourist streets. It’s a cliché but poverty and modernity lie so close together. Cambodia certainly appears much poorer and more disadvantaged than the quickly developing Vietnam. The first full day in Siem Riep we cycled to the temples and visited Ankor Wat, Ankor Thom and some of the surrounding temples. The day after we went with our own tuk-tuk driver for a day and he showed us some more remote temples, among which Ta Phrom (from the Lara Croft movies) which was stunning! Cycling was a nice way to see the temples, but I've never been so hot in my life. I was so pleased when we had a tuk-tuk at our disposal for our next visit. Just before we left for Bangkok we met up with Matthias and Jeroen, two guys (Groningers!) we met before in Hanoi and we had a drink and introduced them to our favourite Indian place in Siem Riep! We loved the food so much that one day we actually took a doggy bag and breakfasted with curry! Because we left early the next day we could not stay late but it was good to see some familiar faces again. It’s such a coincidence if you're able to meet up again when everybody has such different plans. Always nice to swap some stories!
After Siem Reap we spend two days in buzzing Bangkok. On the bus from Cambodia we met a French and a German guy and we shared a taxi to the hostel and had dinner later that night. The French guy, Stephàne, who went to Bangkok every year for his business, took us to a shopping mall and to a nice restaurant near the legendary Khaosan Rd. It's quite an experience! You can find everything a traveler could possibly want crammed into a crowded, noisy street with flashing lights and annoying salesmen. They even sold fake licenses, student cards, and diplomas (from Oxford for example!) and when Marije made a picture of it she was forced to delete it quickly! But contrary to popular belief the prices are pretty reasonable in Khaosan Rd if you know where to look and we got a pretty good deal for our combi-tickets from the city to Ko Tao. I guess if you go to Bangkok you just have to visit the place!
Next, we took the night bus to Ko Tao island where we have been for more than a week now. It’s a pretty small, cozy island but one with a lot of bars, restaurants, massage parlors and diving schools. We expected it to be far less touristy, but it is overflowing with young
Swedish people and at least half of the people have piercings or tattoos and drive their scooters without a shirt on haha!
But its good fun! We went to the Lotus Bar, the gathering place on the beach for two nights in a row and had a great time. We were soon convinced by all the positive stories to try a diving course. Apparently Ko Tao is the cheapest place in the world to do a diving course so everything is focused on it.. diving schools everywhere! After a test ‘drive’ in the pool we decided to sign up with Phoenix Divers and we are now the proud owners of a diving license up to 18m!
The first day we had class and practiced some skills in the pool and the next we went to open water, though still quite shallow water. In the pool I was able to equalize my ears quite easily but in the sea it was pretty hard and it really hurt! Since I was a bit slow in adjusting I had my two dives of that day together with one of the dive masters (George from Greece). After I while I learned to equalize and we slowly followed the group and did some exercises under water. Things like taking your mask of, taking your regulator out and finding it again, giving somebody else your extra regulator etc., basic stuff but still a bit exiting when you do it at sea!
The second dive of the day me and George kind of lost the group and ended up on the other side of the bay, so he had to pull out an orange-balloon thing to alert boats to our presence and afterwards we swam back to the boat, to the amusement of the other dive instructors who teased George for being unable to read his underwater compass! I quite enjoyed just having a private instructor, no other fins kicking you near the face and only one person to keep your eye on. It was a really strange sensation to be so deep under water! You go down with a huge rope and lower yourself while equalizing and letting the air out of your BCD (Buoyancy compensator). The rope is also handy to find your way back to the boat.
The next day we did two more dives which were nice but less spectacular than the day before, maybe because it was the first time. Some people we met yesterday saw turtles and even a whale shark (imagine that! 8 meters long) but we weren't that lucky unfortunately. On the final diving day there was a camera guy joining us and he filmed everything, so after we received our license we celebrated by buying the instructors a beer and watched the video… me and Marije struggling with the gear and doing very clumsy jumps into the water!
Next we went to dinner with some of them but that was more than a bit disappointing! They we incredibly negative about all our plans, be it OZ and NZ for me or Indonesia and Malaysia for Marije! They thought everything besides Ko Tao sucked and they were very rude! I was ready to leave but eventually we sat through dinner and one drink and then made our way to some nicer people. I guess some of these dive-people just live in their own little bubble (pun intended). They do three or more dives a day and drink all night only to get up again at six! It’s crazy how they manage!
For the last few days we have been just recuperating from the exhaustion of the diving. Yesterday we paid another visit to the Lotus Bar which ended in a pretty bad hangover that lasted all day today! Tomorrow is our last day on Ko Tao and we're probably going on a snorkeling trip before doing the visa run to Burma... and then moving on to Ko Samui!

x Sanne

Posted by sanneastri 07:08 Archived in Thailand Tagged boat diving beach bus bangkok wat bar reap ko siem sihanoukville tao ankor phnom penh Comments (0)

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